Swan Song, by John Galsworthy

Chapter X

That Thing and this Thing

On the following Monday at breakfast Val said to Holly: Listen to this!

“DEAR DARTIE —

“I think I can do you a good turn. I have some information that concerns your ‘Sleeping Dove’ colt and your stable generally, worth a great deal more than the fifty pounds which I hope you may feel inclined to pay for it. Are you coming up to town this week-end? If so, can I see you at the Brummell? Or I could come to Green Street if you prefer it. It’s really rather vital.

“Sincerely yours,

“AUBREY STAINFORD.”

“That fellow again!”

“Pay no attention, Val.”

“I don’t know,” said Val, glumly. “Some gang or other are taking altogether too much interest in the colt. Greenwater’s very uneasy. I’d better get to the bottom of it, if I can.”

“Consult your uncle, then, first. He’s still at your mother’s.”

Val made a wry face.

“Yes,” said Holly, “but he’ll know what you can do and what you can’t. You really mustn’t deal single-handed with people like that.”

“All right, then. There’s hanky-panky in the wind, I’m sure. Somebody knew all about the colt at Ascot.”

He took the morning train and arrived at his mother’s at lunch time. She and Annette were lunching-out, but Soames, who was lunching-in, crossed a cold hand with his nephew’s.

“Have you still got that young man and his wife staying with you?”

“Yes,” said Val.

“Isn’t he ever going to do anything?”

On being told that Jon was about to do something, Soames grunted.

“Farm — in England? What’s he want to do that for? He’ll only throw his money away. Much better go back to America, or some other new country. Why doesn’t he try South Africa? His half-brother died out there.”

“He won’t leave England again, Uncle Soames — seems to have developed quite a feeling for the old country.”

Soames masticated.

“Amateurs,” he said, “all the young Forsytes. How much has he got a year?”

“The same as Holly and her half-sister — only about two thousand, so long as his mother’s alive.”

Soames looked into his wineglass and took from it an infinitesimal piece of cork. His mother! She was in Paris again, he was told. SHE must have three thousand a year, now, at least. He remembered when she had nothing but a beggarly fifty pounds a year, and that fifty pounds too much, putting the thought of independence into her head. In Paris again! The Bois de Boulogne, that Green Niobe — all drinking water, he remembered it still, and the scene between them, there . . . .

“What have YOU come up for?” he said to Val.

“This, Uncle Soames.”

Soames fixed on his nose the glasses he had just begun to need for reading purposes, read the letter, and returned it to his nephew.

“I’ve known impudence in my time, but this chap —!”

“What do you recommend me to do?”

“Pitch it into the waste-paper basket.”

Val shook his head.

“Stainford dropped in on me one day at Wansdon. I told him nothing; but you remember we couldn’t get more than fours at Ascot, and it was Rondavel’s first outing. And now the colt’s sick just before Goodwood; there’s a screw loose somewhere.”

“What do you think of doing, then?”

“I thought I’d see him, and that perhaps you’d like to be present, to keep me from making a fool of myself.”

“There’s something in that,” said Soames. “This fellow’s the coolest ruffian I ever came across.”

“He’s pedigree stock, Uncle Soames. Blood will tell.”

“H’m!” muttered Soames. “Well, have him here, if you must see him, but clear the room first and tell Smither to put away the umbrellas.”

Having seen Fleur and his grandson off to the sea that morning, he felt flat, especially as, since her departure, he had gathered from the map of Sussex that she would be quite near to Wansdon and the young man who was always now at the back of his thoughts. The notion of a return match with “this ruffian” Stainford, was, therefore, in the nature of a distraction. And, as soon as the messenger was gone, he took a chair whence he could see the street. On second thoughts he had not spoken about the umbrellas — it was not quite dignified; but he had counted them. The day was warm and rainy, and, through the open window of that ground-floor dining-room, the air of Green Street came in, wetted and a little charged with the scent of servants’ dinners.

“Here he is,” he said, suddenly, “languid beggar!”

Val crossed from the sideboard and stood behind his Uncle’s chair. Soames moved uneasily. This fellow and his nephew had been at College together, and had — goodness knew what other vices in common.

“By Jove!” he heard Val mutter: “He does look ill.”

The “languid beggar” wore the same dark suit and hat, and the same slow elegance that Soames had first noted on him; a raised eyebrow and the half-lidded eyes despised as ever the bitter crow’s-footed exhaustion on his face. And that indefinable look of a damned soul, lost to all but its contempt for emotion, awakened within Soames, just as it had before, the queerest little quirk of sympathy.

“He’d better have a drink,” he said.

Val moved back to the sideboard.

They heard the bell, voices in the hall; then Smither appeared, red, breathless, deprecatory.

“Will you see that gentleman, sir, who took the you know what, sir?”

“Show him in, Smither.”

Val turned towards the door. Soames remained seated.

The “languid beggar” entered, nodded to Val, and raised his eyebrows at Soames, who said:

“How d’you do, Mr. Stainford?”

“Mr. Forsyte, I think?”

“Whisky or brandy, Stainford?”

“Brandy, thanks.”

“Smoke, won’t you? You wanted to see me. My uncle here is my solicitor.”

Soames saw Stainford smile. It was as if he had said: “Really! How wonderful these people are!” He lighted the proffered cigar, and there was silence.

“Well?” said Val, at last.

“I’m sorry your ‘Sleeping Dove’ colt’s gone amiss, Dartie.”

“How did you know that?”

“Exactly! But before I tell you, d’you mind giving me fifty pounds and your word that my name’s not mentioned.”

Soames and his nephew stared in silence. At last Val said:

“What guarantee have I that your information’s worth fifty pounds, or even five?”

“The fact that I knew your colt had gone amiss.”

However ignorant of the turf, Soames could see that the fellow had scored.

“You mean you know where the leakage is?”

Stainford nodded.

“We were College pals,” said Val. “What would you expect me to do if I knew that about a stable of yours?”

“My dear Dartie, there’s no analogy. You’re a man of means, I’m not.”

Trite expressions were knocking against Soames’ palate. He swallowed them. What use in talking to a chap like this!

“Fifty pounds is a lot,” said Val. “Is your information of real value?”

“Yes — on my word of honour.”

Soames sniffed audibly.

“If I buy this leakage from you,” said Val, “can you guarantee that it won’t break out, in another direction?”

“Highly improbable that two pipes will leak in your stable.”

“I find it hard to believe there’s one.”

“Well, there is.”

Soames saw his nephew move up to the table and begin counting over a roll of notes.

“Tell me what you know, first, and I’ll give them to you if on the face of it your information’s probable. I won’t mention your name.”

Soames saw the languid eyebrows lift.

“I’m not so distrustful as you, Dartie. Get rid of a boy called Sinnet — that’s where your stable leaks.”

“Sinnet?” said Val; “My best boy? What proof have you?”

Stainford took out a dirty piece of writing paper and held it up. Val read aloud:

“‘The grey colt’s amiss all right — he’ll be no good for Goodwood.’ All right?” he repeated: “Does that mean he engineered it?”

Stainford shrugged his shoulders.

“Can I have this bit of paper?” said Val.

“If you’ll promise not to show it to him.”

Val nodded and took the paper.

“Do you know his writing?” asked Soames: “All this is very fishy.”

“Not yet,” said Val, and to Soames’ horror, put the notes into the outstretched hand. The little sigh the fellow gave was distinctly audible. Val said suddenly:

“Did you get at him the day you came down to see me?”

Stainford smiled faintly, shrugged his shoulders again and turned to the door. “Good-bye, Dartie,” he said.

Soames’ mouth fell open. The return match was over! The fellow had gone!

“Here!” he said. “Don’t let him go like that. It’s monstrous.”

“Dam’ funny!” said Val suddenly, and began to laugh. “Oh! dam’ funny!”

“Funny!” muttered Soames. “I don’t know what the world’s coming to.”

“Never mind, Uncle Soames. He’s taken fifty of the best of me, but it was worth it. Sinnet, my best boy!”

Soames continued to mutter:

“To corrupt one of your men, and get you to pay him for it. It’s the limit.”

“That’s what tickles me, Uncle Soames. Well, I’ll go back to Wansdon now, and get rid of that young blackguard.”

“I shouldn’t have any scruple, if I were you, in telling him exactly how you got the knowledge.”

“Well, I don’t know. Stainford’s on his beam ends. I’m not a moralist, but I think I’ll keep my word to him.”

For a moment Soames said nothing; then, with a sidelong glance at his nephew:

“Well, perhaps. But he ought to be locked up.”

With those words he walked into the hall and counted the umbrellas. Their number was undiminished, and taking one of them, he went out. He felt in need of air. With the exception of that Elderson affair, he had encountered little flagrant dishonesty in his time, and that only in connection with the lower classes. One could forgive a poor devil of a tramp, or even a clerk or domestic servant. They had temptations, and no particular traditions to live up to. But what was coming to the world, if you couldn’t rely on gentlemen in a simple matter like honesty! Every day one read cases, and for every one that came into Court one might be sure there were a dozen that didn’t! And when you added all the hanky-panky in the City, all the dubious commissions, bribery of the police, sale of honours — though he believed that had been put a stop to — all the dicky-dealing over contracts, it was enough to make one’s hair stand on end. They might sneer at the past, and no doubt there was more temptation in the present, but something simple and straightforward seemed to have perished out of life. By hook or by crook people had to get their ends, would no longer wait for their ends to come to them. Everybody was in such a hurry to make good, or rather bad! Get money at all costs-look at the quack remedies they sold and the books they published now-a-days, without caring for truth or decency or anything. And the advertisements! Good Lord!

In the gloom of these reflections he had come to Westminster. He might as well call in at South Square and see if Fleur had telephoned her arrival at the sea! In the hall eight hats of differing shape and colour lay on the coat-sarcophagus. What the deuce was going on? A sound of voices came from the dining-room, then the peculiar drone of somebody making a speech. Some meeting or other of Michael’s, and the measles only just out of the house!

“What’s going on here?” he said to Coaker.

“Something to do with the slums, sir. I believe; they’re converting of them, I heard Mr. Mont say.”

“Don’t put my hat with those,” said Soames; “have you had any message from your mistress?”

“Yes, sir. They had a good journey. The little dog was sick, I believe. He will have his own way.”

“Well,” said Soames, “I’ll go up and wait in the study.”

On getting there, he noticed a water-colour drawing on the bureau: a tree with large dark green leaves and globular golden fruit, against a silvery sort of background — peculiar thing, amateurish, but somehow arresting. Underneath, he recognized his daughter’s handwriting:

“The Golden Apple: F.M. 1926.”

Really he had no idea that she could use water-colour as well as that! She was a clever little thing! And he put the drawing up on end where he could see it better! Apple? Passion-fruit, he would have said, of an exaggerated size. Thoroughly uneatable — they had a glow like lanterns. Forbidden fruit! Eve might have given them to Adam. Was this thing symbolic? Did it fancifully reveal her thoughts? And in front of it he fell into sombre mood, which was broken by the opening of the door. Michael had entered.

“Hallo, sir!”

“Hallo!” replied Soames: “What’s this thing?”

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