In Chancery, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 14

Soames Discovers what he Wants

It is so much easier to say, “Then we know where we are,” than to mean anything particular by the words. And in saying them Soames did but vent the jealous rankling of his instincts. He got out of the cab in a state of wary anger — with himself for not having seen Irene, with Jolyon for having seen her; and now with his inability to tell exactly what he wanted.

He had abandoned the cab because he could not bear to remain seated beside his cousin, and walking briskly eastwards he thought: ‘I wouldn’t trust that fellow Jolyon a yard. Once outcast, always outcast!’ The chap had a natural sympathy with — with — laxity (he had shied at the word sin, because it was too melodramatic for use by a Forsyte).

Indecision in desire was to him a new feeling. He was like a child between a promised toy and an old one which had been taken away from him; and he was astonished at himself. Only last Sunday desire had seemed simple — just his freedom and Annette. ‘I’ll go and dine there,’ he thought. To see her might bring back his singleness of intention, calm his exasperation, clear his mind.

The restaurant was fairly full — a good many foreigners and folk whom, from their appearance, he took to be literary or artistic. Scraps of conversation came his way through the clatter of plates and glasses. He distinctly heard the Boers sympathised with, the British Government blamed. ‘Don’t think much of their clientele,’ he thought. He went stolidly through his dinner and special coffee without making his presence known, and when at last he had finished, was careful not to be seen going towards the sanctum of Madame Lamotte. They were, as he entered, having supper — such a much nicer-looking supper than the dinner he had eaten that he felt a kind of grief — and they greeted him with a surprise so seemingly genuine that he thought with sudden suspicion: ‘I believe they knew I was here all the time.’ He gave Annette a look furtive and searching. So pretty, seemingly so candid; could she be angling for him? He turned to Madame Lamotte and said:

“I’ve been dining here.”

Really! If she had only known! There were dishes she could have recommended; what a pity! Soames was confirmed in his suspicion. ‘I must look out what I’m doing!’ he thought sharply.

“Another little cup of very special coffee, monsieur; a liqueur, Grand Marnier?” and Madame Lamotte rose to order these delicacies.

Alone with Annette Soames said, “Well, Annette?” with a defensive little smile about his lips.

The girl blushed. This, which last Sunday would have set his nerves tingling, now gave him much the same feeling a man has when a dog that he owns wriggles and looks at him. He had a curious sense of power, as if he could have said to her, ‘Come and kiss me,’ and she would have come. And yet — it was strange — but there seemed another face and form in the room too; and the itch in his nerves, was it for that — or for this? He jerked his head towards the restaurant and said: “You have some queer customers. Do you like this life?”

Annette looked up at him for a moment, looked down, and played with her fork.

“No,” she said, “I do not like it.”

‘I’ve got her,’ thought Soames, ‘if I want her. But do I want her?’ She was graceful, she was pretty — very pretty; she was fresh, she had taste of a kind. His eyes travelled round the little room; but the eyes of his mind went another journey — a half-light, and silvery walls, a satinwood piano, a woman standing against it, reined back as it were from him — a woman with white shoulders that he knew, and dark eyes that he had sought to know, and hair like dull dark amber. And as in an artist who strives for the unrealisable and is ever thirsty, so there rose in him at that moment the thirst of the old passion he had never satisfied.

“Well,” he said calmly, “you’re young. There’s everything before you.”

Annette shook her head.

“I think sometimes there is nothing before me but hard work. I am not so in love with work as mother.”

“Your mother is a wonder,” said Soames, faintly mocking; “she will never let failure lodge in her house.”

Annette sighed. “It must be wonderful to be rich.”

“Oh! You’ll be rich some day,” answered Soames, still with that faint mockery; “don’t be afraid.”

Annette shrugged her shoulders. “Monsieur is very kind.” And between her pouting lips she put a chocolate.

‘Yes, my dear,’ thought Soames, ‘they’re very pretty.’

Madame Lamotte, with coffee and liqueur, put an end to that colloquy. Soames did not stay long.

Outside in the streets of Soho, which always gave him such a feeling of property improperly owned, he mused. If only Irene had given him a son, he wouldn’t now be squirming after women! The thought had jumped out of its little dark sentry-box in his inner consciousness. A son — something to look forward to, something to make the rest of life worth while, something to leave himself to, some perpetuity of self. ‘If I had a son,’ he thought bitterly, ‘a proper legal son, I could make shift to go on as I used. One woman’s much the same as another, after all.’ But as he walked he shook his head. No! One woman was not the same as another. Many a time had he tried to think that in the old days of his thwarted married life; and he had always failed. He was failing now. He was trying to think Annette the same as that other. But she was not, she had not the lure of that old passion. ‘And Irene’s my wife,’ he thought, ‘my legal wife. I have done nothing to put her away from me. Why shouldn’t she come back to me? It’s the right thing, the lawful thing. It makes no scandal, no disturbance. If it’s disagreeable to her — but why should it be? I’m not a leper, and she — she’s no longer in love!’ Why should he be put to the shifts and the sordid disgraces and the lurking defeats of the Divorce Court, when there she was like an empty house only waiting to be retaken into use and possession by him who legally owned her? To one so secretive as Soames the thought of reentry into quiet possession of his own property with nothing given away to the world was intensely alluring. ‘No,’ he mused, ‘I’m glad I went to see that girl. I know now what I want most. If only Irene will come back I’ll be as considerate as she wishes; she could live her own life; but perhaps — perhaps she would come round to me.’ There was a lump in his throat. And doggedly along by the railings of the Green Park, towards his father’s house, he went, trying to tread on his shadow walking before him in the brilliant moonlight.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37