To Let, by John Galsworthy

Part I

I

Encounter

Soames Forsyte emerged from the Knightsbridge Hotel, where he was staying, in the afternoon of the 12th of May, 1920, with the intention of visiting a collection of pictures in a Gallery off Cork Street, and looking into the Future. He walked. Since the War he never took a cab if he could help it. Their drivers were, in his view, an uncivil lot, though, now that the War was over and supply beginning to exceed demand again, getting more civil in accordance with the custom of human nature. Still, he had not forgiven them, deeply identifying them with gloomy memories and, now dimly, like all members of their class, with revolution. The considerable anxiety he had passed through during the War, and the more considerable anxiety he had since undergone in the Peace, had produced psychological consequences in a tenacious nature. He had, mentally, so frequently experienced ruin, that he had ceased to believe in its material probability. Paying away four thousand a year in income and super-tax, one could not very well be worse off! A fortune of a quarter of a million, encumbered only by a wife and one daughter, and very diversely invested, afforded substantial guarantee even against that “wildcat notion”— a levy on capital. And as to confiscation of war profits, he was entirely in favor of it, for he had none, and “serve the beggars right!” The price of pictures, moreover, had, if anything, gone up, and he had done better with his collection since the War began than ever before. Air-raids, also, had acted beneficially on a spirit congenitally cautious, and hardened a character already dogged. To be in danger of being entirely dispersed inclined one to be less apprehensive of the more partial dispersions involved in levies and taxation, while the habit of condemning the impudence of the Germans had led naturally to condemning that of Labor, if not openly at least in the sanctuary of his soul.

He walked. There was, moreover, time to spare, for Fleur was to meet him at the Gallery at four o’clock, and it was as yet but half past two. It was good for him to walk — his liver was a little constricted and his nerves rather on edge. His wife was always out when she was in Town, and his daughter WOULD flibberty-gibbet all over the place like most young women since the War. Still, he must be thankful that she had been too young to do anything in that War itself. Not, of course, that he had not supported the War from its inception, with all his soul, but between that and supporting it with the bodies of his wife and daughter, there had been a gap fixed by something old-fashioned within him which abhorred emotional extravagance. He had, for instance, strongly objected to Annette, so attractive, and in 1914 only thirty-five, going to her native France, her “chere patrie” as, under the stimulus of war, she had begun to call it, to nurse her “braves poilus,” forsooth! Ruining her health and her looks! As if she were really a nurse! He had put a stopper on it. Let her do needlework for them at home, or knit! She had not gone, therefore, and had never been quite the same woman since. A bad tendency of hers to mock at him, not openly, but in continual little ways, had grown. As for Fleur, the War had resolved the vexed problem whether or not she should go to school. She was better away from her mother in her war mood, from the chance of air-raids, and the impetus to do extravagant things; so he had placed her in a seminary as far West as had seemed to him compatible with excellence, and had missed her horribly. Fleur! He had never regretted the somewhat outlandish name by which at her birth he had decided so suddenly to call her — marked concession though it had been to the French. Fleur! A pretty name — a pretty child! But restless — too restless; and wilful! Knowing her power too over her father! Soames often reflected on the mistake it was to dote on his daughter. To get old and dote! Sixty-five! He was getting on; but he didn’t feel it, for, fortunately perhaps, considering Annette’s youth and good looks, his second marriage had turned out a cool affair. He had known but one real passion in his life — for that first wife of his — Irene. Yes, and that fellow, his Cousin Jolyon, who had gone off with her, was looking very shaky, they said. No wonder, at seventy-two, after twenty years of a third marriage!

Soames paused a moment in his march to lean over the railings of the Row. A suitable spot for reminiscence, half-way between that house in Park Lane which had seen his birth and his parents’ deaths, and the little house in Montpellier Square where thirty-five years ago he had enjoyed his first edition of matrimony. Now, after twenty years of his second edition, that old tragedy seemed to him like a previous existence — which had ended when Fleur was born in place of the son he had hoped for. For many years he had ceased regretting, even vaguely, the son who had not been born; Fleur filled the bill in his heart. After all, she bore his name; and he was not looking forward at all to the time when she would change it. Indeed, if he ever thought of such a calamity, it was seasoned by the vague feeling that he could make her rich enough to purchase perhaps and extinguish the name of the fellow who married her — why not, since, as it seemed, women were equal to men nowadays? And Soames, secretly convinced that they were not, passed his curved hand over his face vigorously, till it reached the comfort of his chin. Thanks to abstemious habits, he had not grown fat and flabby; his nose was pale and thin, his grey moustache close-clipped, his eyesight unimpaired. A slight stoop closened and corrected the expansion given to his face by the heightening of his forehead in the recession of his grey hair. Little change had Time wrought in the “warmest” of the young Forsytes, as the last of the old Forsytes — Timothy — now in his hundred and first year, would have phrased it.

The shade from the plane-trees fell on his neat Homburg hat; he had given up top hats — it was no use attracting attention to wealth in days like these. Plane-trees! His thoughts travelled sharply to Madrid — the Easter before the War, when, having to make up his mind about that Goya picture, he had taken a voyage of discovery to study the painter on his spot. The fellow had impressed him — great range, real genius! Highly as the chap ranked, he would rank even higher before they had finished with him. The second Goya craze would be greater even than the first; oh, yes! And he had bought. On that visit he had — as never before — commissioned a copy of a fresco painting called “La Vendimia,” wherein was the figure of a girl with an arm akimbo, who had reminded him of his daughter. He had it now in the Gallery at Mapledurham, and rather poor it was — you couldn’t copy Goya. He would still look at it, however, if his daughter were not there, for the sake of something irresistibly reminiscent in the light, erect balance of the figure, the width between the arching eyebrows, the eager dreaming of the dark eyes. Curious that Fleur should have dark eyes, when his own were grey — no pure Forsyte had brown eyes — and her mother’s blue! But of course her grandmother Lamotte’s eyes were dark as treacle!

He began to walk on again towards Hyde Park Corner. No greater change in all England than in the Row! Born almost within hail of it, he could remember it from 1860 on. Brought there as a child between the crinolines to stare at tight-trousered dandies in whiskers, riding with a cavalry seat; to watch the doffing of curly-brimmed and white top hats; the leisurely air of it all, and the little bow-legged man in a long red waistcoat who used to come among the fashion with dogs on several strings, and try to sell one to his mother: King Charles spaniels, Italian greyhounds, affectionate to her crinoline — you never saw them now. You saw no quality of any sort, indeed, just working people sitting in dull rows with nothing to stare at but a few young bouncing females in pot hats, riding astride, or desultory Colonials charging up and down on dismal-looking hacks; with, here and there, little girls on ponies, or old gentlemen jogging their livers, or an orderly trying a great galumphing cavalry horse; no thoroughbreds, no grooms, no bowing, no scraping, no gossip — nothing; only the trees the same — the trees indifferent to the generations and declensions of mankind. A democratic England — dishevelled, hurried, noisy, and seemingly without an apex. And that something fastidious in the soul of Soames turned over within him. Gone for ever, the close borough of rank and polish! Wealth there was — oh, yes! wealth — he himself was a richer man than his father had ever been; but manners, flavour, quality, all gone, engulfed in one vast, ugly, shoulder-rubbing, petrol-smelling Cheerio. Little half-beaten pockets of gentility and caste lurking here and there, dispersed and chetif, as Annette would say; but nothing ever again firm and coherent to look up to. And into this new hurly-burly of bad manners and loose morals his daughter — flower of his life — was flung! And when those Labour chaps got power — if they ever did — the worst was yet to come!

He passed out under the archway, at last no longer — thank goodness! — disfigured by the gun-grey of its search-light. ‘They’d better put a search-light on to where they’re all going,’ he thought, ‘and light up their precious democracy!’ And he directed his steps along the Club fronts of Piccadilly. George Forsyte, of course, would be sitting in the bay window of the Iseeum. The chap was so big now that he was there nearly all his time, like some immovable, sardonic, humorous eye noting the decline of men and things. And Soames hurried, ever constitutionally uneasy beneath his cousin’s glance. George, who, as he had heard, had written a letter signed “Patriot” in the middle of the War, complaining of the Government’s hysteria in docking the oats of race-horses. Yes, there he was, tall, ponderous, neat, clean-shaven, with his smooth hair, hardly thinned, smelling, no doubt, of the best hair-wash, and a pink paper in his hand. Well, he didn’t change! And for perhaps the first time in his life Soames felt a kind of sympathy tapping in his waistcoat for that sardonic kinsman. With his weight, his perfectly parted hair, and bull-like gaze, he was a guarantee that the old order would take some shifting yet. He saw George move the pink paper as if inviting him to ascend — the chap must want to ask something about his property. It was still under Soames’s control; for in the adoption of a sleeping partnership at that painful period twenty years back when he had divorced Irene, Soames had found himself almost insensibly retaining control of all purely Forsyte affairs.

Hesitating for just a moment, he nodded and went in. Since the death of his brother-inlaw Montague Dartie, in Paris, which no one had quite known what to make of, except that it was certainly not suicide — the Iseeum Club had seemed more respectable to Soames. George, too, he knew, had sown the last of his wild oats, and was committed definitely to the joys of the table, eating only of the very best so as to keep his weight down, and owning, as he said, “just one or two old screws to give me an interest in life.” He joined his cousin, therefore, in the bay window without the embarrassing sense of indiscretion he had been used to feel up there. George put out a well-kept hand.

“Haven’t seen you since the War,” he said. “How’s your wife?”

“Thanks,” said Soames coldly, “well enough.”

Some hidden jest curved, for a moment, George’s fleshy face, and gloated from his eye.

“That Belgian chap, Profond,” he said, “is a member here now. He’s a rum customer.”

“Quite!” muttered Soames. “What did you want to see me about?”

“Old Timothy; he might go off the hooks at any moment. I suppose he’s made his Will.”

“Yes.”

“Well, you or somebody ought to give him a look up — last of the old lot; he’s a hundred, you know. They say he’s like a mummy. Where are you goin’ to put him? He ought to have a pyramid by rights.”

Soames shook his head. “Highgate, the family vault.”

“Well, I suppose the old girls would miss him, if he was anywhere else. They say he still takes an interest in food. He might last on, you know. Don’t we GET anything for the old Forsytes? Ten of them — average age eighty-eight — I worked it out. That ought to be equal to triplets.”

“Is that all?” said Soames. “I must be getting on.”

‘You unsociable devil,’ George’s eyes seemed to answer.

“Yes, that’s all: Look him up in his mausoleum — the old chap might want to prophesy.” The grin died on the rich curves of his face, and he added: “Haven’t you attorneys invented a way yet of dodging this damned income tax? It hits the fixed inherited income like the very deuce. I used to have two thousand five hundred a year; now I’ve got a beggarly fifteen hundred, and the price of living doubled.”

“Ah!” murmured Soames, “the turf’s in danger.”

Over George’s face moved a gleam of sardonic self-defence.

“Well,” he said, “they brought me up to do nothing, and here I am in the sere and yellow, getting poorer every day. These Labour chaps mean to have the lot before they’ve done. What are you going to do for a living when it comes? I shall work a six-hour day teaching politicians how to see a joke. Take my tip, Soames; go into Parliament, make sure of your four hundred — and employ me.”

And, as Soames retired, he resumed his seat in the bay window.

Soames moved along Piccadilly deep in reflections excited by his cousin’s words. He himself had always been a worker and a saver, George always a drone and a spender; and yet, if confiscation once began, it was he — the worker and the saver — who would be looted! That was the negation of all virtue, the overturning of all Forsyte principles. Could civilisation be built on any other? He did not think so. Well, they wouldn’t confiscate his pictures, for they wouldn’t know their worth. But what would they be worth, if these maniacs once began to milk capital? A drug on the market. ‘I don’t care about myself,’ he thought; ‘I could live on five hundred a year, and never know the difference, at my age.’ But Fleur! This fortune, so wisely invested, these treasures so carefully chosen and amassed, were all for her. And if it should turn out that he couldn’t give or leave them to her — well, life had no meaning, and what was the use of going in to look at this crazy, futuristic stuff with the view of seeing whether it had any future?

Arriving at the Gallery off Cork Street, however, he paid his shilling, picked up a catalogue, and entered. Some ten persons were prowling round. Soames took steps and came on what looked to him like a lamp-post bent by collision with a motor omnibus. It was advanced some three paces from the wall, and was described in his catalogue as “Jupiter.” He examined it with curiosity, having recently turned some of his attention to sculpture. ‘If that’s Jupiter,’ he thought, ‘I wonder what Juno’s like.’ And suddenly he saw her, opposite. She appeared to him like nothing so much as a pump with two handles, lightly clad in snow. He was still gazing at her, when two of the prowlers halted on his left. “Epatant!” he heard one say.

“Jargon!” growled Soames to himself.

The other’s boyish voice replied:

“Missed it, old bean; he’s pulling your leg. When Jove and Juno created he them, he was saying: ‘I’ll see how much these fools will swallow.’ And they’ve lapped up the lot.”

“You young duffer! Vospovitch is an innovator. Don’t you see that he’s brought satire into sculpture? The future of plastic art, of music, painting, and even architecture, has set in satiric. It was bound to. People are tired — the bottom’s tumbled out of sentiment.”

“Well, I’m quite equal to taking a little interest in beauty. I was through the War. You’ve dropped your handkerchief, sir.”

Soames saw a handkerchief held out in front of him. He took it with some natural suspicion, and approached it to his nose. It had the right scent — of distant Eau de Cologne — and his initials in a corner. Slightly reassured, he raised his eyes to the young man’s face. It had rather fawn-like ears, a laughing mouth, with half a toothbrush growing out of it on each side, and small lively eyes, above a normally dressed appearance.

“Thank you,” he said; and moved by a sort of irritation, added: “Glad to hear you like beauty; that’s rare, nowadays.”

“I dote on it,” said the young man; “but you and I are the last of the old guard, sir.”

Soames smiled.

“If you really care for pictures,” he said, “here’s my card. I can show you some quite good ones any Sunday, if you’re down the river and care to look in.”

“Awfully nice of you, sir. I’ll drop in like a bird. My name’s Mont-Michael.” And he took off his hat.

Soames, already regretting his impulse, raised his own slightly in response, with a downward look at the young man’s companion, who had a purple tie, dreadful little slug-like whiskers, and a scornful look — as if he were a poet!

It was the first indiscretion he had committed for so long that he went and sat down in an alcove. What had possessed him to give his card to a rackety young fellow, who went about with a thing like that? And Fleur, always at the back of his thoughts, started out like a filagree figure from a clock when the hour strikes. On the screen opposite the alcove was a large canvas with a great many square tomato-colored blobs on it, and nothing else, so far as Soames could see from where he sat. He looked at his catalogue: “No. 32 —‘The Future Town’— Paul Post.” ‘I suppose that’s satiric too,’ he thought. ‘What a thing!’ But his second impulse was more cautious. It did not do to condemn hurriedly. There had been those stripey, streaky creations of Monet’s, which had turned out such trumps; and then the stippled school; and Gauguin. Why, even since the Post-Impressionists there had been one or two painters not to be sneezed at. During the thirty-eight years of his connoisseur’s life, indeed, he had marked so many “movements,” seen the tides of taste and technique so ebb and flow, that there was really no telling anything except that there was money to be made out of every change of fashion. This too might quite well be a case where one must subdue primordial instinct, or lose the market. He got up and stood before the picture, trying hard to see it with the eyes of other people. Above the tomato blobs was what he took to be a sunset, till some one passing said: “He’s got the airplanes wonderfully, don’t you think!” Below the tomato blobs was a band of white with vertical black stripes, to which he could assign no meaning whatever, till some one else came by, murmuring: “What expression he gets with his foreground!” Expression? Of what? Soames went back to his seat. The thing was “rich,” as his father would have said, and he wouldn’t give a damn for it. Expression! Ah! they were all Expressionists now, he had heard, on the Continent. So it was coming here too, was it? He remembered the first wave of influenza in 1887 — or 8 — hatched in China, so they said. He wondered where this — this Expressionism — had been hatched. The thing was a regular disease!

He had become conscious of a woman and a youth standing between him and the “Future Town.” Their backs were turned; but very suddenly Soames put his catalogue before his face, and drawing his hat forward, gazed through the slit between. No mistaking that back, elegant as ever though the hair above had gone grey. Irene! His divorced wife — Irene! And this, no doubt, was her son — by that fellow Jolyon Forsyte — their boy, six months older than his own girl! And mumbling over in his mind the bitter days of his divorce, he rose to get out of sight, but quickly sat down again. She had turned her head to speak to her boy; her profile was still so youthful that it made her grey hair seem powdery, as if fancy-dressed; and her lips were smiling as Soames, first possessor of them, had never seen them smile. Grudgingly he admitted her still beautiful, and in figure almost as young as ever. And how that boy smiled back at her! Emotion squeezed Soames’ heart. The sight infringed his sense of justice. He grudged her that boy’s smile — it went beyond what Fleur gave him, and it was undeserved. Their son might have been his son; Fleur might have been her daughter, if she had kept straight! He lowered his catalogue. If she saw him, all the better! A reminder of her conduct in the presence of her son, who probably knew nothing of it, would be a salutary touch from the finger of that Nemesis which surely must soon or late visit her! Then, half-conscious that such a thought was extravagant for a Forsyte of his age, Soames took out his watch. Past four! Fleur was late. She had gone to his niece Imogen Cardigan’s, and there they would keep her smoking cigarettes and gossiping, and that. He heard the boy laugh, and say eagerly: “I say, Mum, is this one of Auntie June’s lame ducks?”

“Paul Post — I believe it is, darling.”

The word produced a little shock in Soames; he had never heard her use it. And then she saw him. His eyes must have had in them something of George Forsyte’s sardonic look; for her gloved hand crisped the folds of her frock, her eyebrows rose, her face went stony. She moved on.

“It IS a caution,” said the boy, catching her arm again.

Soames stared after them. That boy was good-looking, with a Forsyte chin, and eyes deep-grey, deep in; but with something sunny, like a glass of old sherry spilled over him; his smile perhaps, his hair. Better than they deserved — those two! They passed from his view into the next room, and Soames continued to regard the Future Town, but saw it not. A little smile snarled up his lips. He was despising the vehemence of his own feelings after all these years. Ghosts! And yet as one grew old — was there anything but what was ghost-like left? Yes, there was Fleur! He fixed his eyes on the entrance. She was due; but she would keep him waiting, of course! And suddenly he became aware of a sort of human breeze — a short, slight form clad in a sea-green djibbah with a metal belt and a fillet binding unruly red-gold hair all streaked with grey. She was talking to the Gallery attendants, and something familiar riveted his gaze — in her eyes, her chin, her hair, her spirit — something which suggested a thin Skye terrier just before its dinner. Surely June Forsyte! His cousin June — and coming straight to his recess! She sat down beside him, deep in thought, took out a tablet, and made a pencil note. Soames sat unmoving. A confounded thing cousinship! “Disgusting!” he heard her murmur; then, as if resenting the presence of an overhearing stranger, she looked at him. The worst had happened.

“Soames!”

Soames turned his head a very little.

“How are YOU?” he said. “Haven’t seen you for twenty years.”

“No. Whatever made YOU come here?”

“My sins,” said Soames. “What stuff!”

“Stuff? Oh, yes — of course; it hasn’t ARRIVED yet.”

“It never will,” said Soames; “it must be making a dead loss.”

“Of course it is.”

“How d’you know?”

“It’s my Gallery.”

Soames sniffed from sheer surprise.

“Yours? What on earth makes you run a show like this?”

“_I_ don’t treat Art as if it were grocery.”

Soames pointed to the Future Town. “Look at that! Who’s going to live in a town like that, or with it on his walls?”

June contemplated the picture for a moment. “It’s a vision,” she said.

“The deuce!”

There was silence, then June rose. ‘Crazy-looking creature!’ he thought.

“Well,” he said, “you’ll find your young stepbrother here with a woman I used to know. If you take my advice, you’ll close this exhibition.”

June looked back at him. “Oh! You Forsyte!” she said, and moved on. About her light, fly-away figure, passing so suddenly away, was a look of dangerous decisions. Forsyte! Of course, he was a Forsyte! And so was she! But from the time when, as a mere girl, she brought Bosinney into his life to wreck it, he had never hit it off with June — and never would! And here she was, unmarried to this day, owning a Gallery! . . . And suddenly it came to Soames how little he knew now of his own family. The old aunts at Timothy’s had been dead so many years; there was no clearing-house for news. What had they all done in the War? Young Roger’s boy had been wounded, St. John Hayman’s second son killed; young Nicholas’ eldest had got an O. B. E., or whatever they gave them. They had all joined up somehow, he believed. That boy of Jolyon’s and Irene’s, he supposed, had been too young; his own generation, of course, too old, though Giles Hayman had driven a car for the Red Cross — and Jesse Hayman been a special constable — those “Dromios” had always been of a sporting type! As for himself, he had given a motor ambulance, read the papers till he was sick of them, passed through much anxiety, invested in War Bonds, bought no clothes, lost seven pounds in weight; he didn’t know what more he could have done at his age. Indeed, it struck him that he and his family had taken this war very differently to that affair with the Boers, which had been supposed to tax all the resources of the Empire. In that old war, of course, his nephew Val Dartie had been wounded, that fellow Jolyon’s first son had died of enteric, “the Dromios” had gone out on horses, and June had been a nurse; but all that had seemed in the nature of a portent, while in THIS war everybody had done “their bit,” so far as he could make out, as a matter of course. It seemed to show the growth of something or other — or perhaps the decline of something else. Had the Forsytes become less individual, or more Imperial, or less provincial? Or was it simply that one hated Germans? . . . Why didn’t Fleur come, so that he could get away? He saw those three return together from the other room and pass back along the far side of the screen. The boy was standing before the Juno now. And, suddenly, on the other side of her, Soames saw — his daughter with eyebrows raised, as well they might be. He could see her eyes glint sideways at the boy, and the boy look back at her. Then Irene slipped her hand through his arm, and drew him on. Soames saw him glancing round, and Fleur looking after them as the three went out.

A voice said cheerfully: “Bit thick, isn’t it, sir?”

The young man who had handed him his handkerchief was again passing. Soames nodded.

“I don’t know what we’re coming to.”

“Oh! That’s all right, sir,” answered the young man cheerfully; “they don’t either.”

Fleur’s voice said, precisely as if he had been keeping her waiting:

“Hallo, Father! There you are!”

The young man, snatching off his hat, passed on.

“Well,” said Soames, looking her up and down, “you’re a punctual sort of young woman!”

This treasured possession of his life was of medium height and color, with short, dark-chestnut hair; her wide-apart brown eyes were set in whites so clear that they glinted when they moved, and yet in repose were almost dreamy under very white, black-lashed lids, held over them in a sort of suspense. She had a charming profile, and nothing of her father in her face save a decided chin. Aware that his expression was softening as he looked at her, Soames frowned to preserve the unemotionalism proper to a Forsyte. He knew she was only too inclined to take advantage of his weakness.

Slipping her hand under his arm, she said:

“Who was that?”

“He picked up my handkerchief. We talked about the pictures.”

“You’re not going to buy THAT, Father?”

“No,” said Soames grimly; “nor that Juno you’ve been looking at.”

Fleur dragged at his arm. “Oh! Let’s go! It’s a ghastly show.”

In the doorway they passed the young man called Mont and his partner. But Soames had hung out a board marked “Trespassers will be prosecuted,” and he barely acknowledged the young fellow’s salute.

“Well,” he said in the street, “whom did you meet at Imogen’s?”

“Aunt Winifred, and that Monsieur Profond.”

“Oh!” muttered Soames; “that chap! What does your aunt see in him?”

“I don’t know. He looks pretty deep — mother says she likes him.”

Soames grunted.

“Cousin Val and his wife were there, too.”

“What!” said Soames. “I thought they were back in South Africa.”

“Oh, no! They’ve sold their farm. Cousin Val is going to train race-horses on the Sussex Downs. They’ve got a jolly old manor-house; they asked me down there.”

Soames coughed: the news was distasteful to him. “What’s his wife like now?”

“Very quiet, but nice, I think.”

Soames coughed again. “He’s a rackety chap, your cousin Val.”

“Oh! no, Father; they’re awfully devoted. I promised to go — Saturday to Wednesday next.”

“Training race-horses!” said Soames. It was bad enough, but not the reason for his distaste. Why the deuce couldn’t his nephew have stayed out in South Africa? His own divorce had been bad enough, without his nephew’s marriage to the daughter of the co-respondent; a half-sister too of June, and of that boy whom Fleur had just been looking at from under the pump-handle. If he didn’t look out, Fleur would come to know all about that old disgrace! Unpleasant things! They were round him this afternoon like a swarm of bees!

“I don’t like it!” he said.

“I want to see the race-horses,” murmured Fleur; “and they’ve promised I shall ride. Cousin Val can’t walk much, you know; but he can ride perfectly. He’s going to show me their gallops.”

“Racing!” said Soames. “It’s a pity the War didn’t knock that on the head. He’s taking after his father, I’m afraid.”

“I don’t know anything about his father.”

“No,” said Soames grimly. “He took an interest in horses and broke his neck in Paris, walking down-stairs. Good riddance for your aunt.” He frowned, recollecting the inquiry into those stairs which he had attended in Paris six years ago, because Montague Dartie could not attend it himself — perfectly normal stairs in a house where they played baccarat. Either his winnings or the way he had celebrated them had gone to his brother-inlaw’s head. The French procedure had been very loose; he had had a lot of trouble with it.

A sound from Fleur distracted his attention. “Look! The people who were in the Gallery with us.”

“What people?” muttered Soames, who knew perfectly well.

“I think that woman’s beautiful.”

“Come into this pastry-cook’s,” said Soames abruptly, and tightening his grip on her arm, he turned into a confectioner’s. It was — for him — a surprising thing to do, and he said rather anxiously: “What will you have?”

“Oh! I don’t want anything. I had a cocktail and a tremendous lunch.”

“We MUST have something now we’re here,” muttered Soames, keeping hold of her arm.

“Two teas,” he said; “and two of those nougat things.”

But no sooner was his body seated than his soul sprang up. Those three — those three were coming in! He heard Irene say something to her boy, and his answer:

“Oh! no, Mum; this place is all right. My stunt.” And the three sat down.

At that moment, most awkward of his existence, crowded with ghosts and shadows from his past, in presence of the only two women he had ever loved — his divorced wife and his daughter by her successor — Soames was not so much afraid of THEM as of his cousin June. She might make a scene — she might introduce those two children — she was capable of anything. He bit too hastily at the nougat, and it stuck to his plate. Working at it with his finger, he glanced at Fleur. She was masticating dreamily, but her eyes were on the boy. The Forsyte in him said: “Think, feel, and you’re done for!” And he wiggled his finger desperately. Plate! Did Jolyon wear a plate? Did that woman wear a plate? Time had been when he had seen her wearing nothing! That was something, anyway, which had never been stolen from him. And she knew it, though she might sit there calm and self-possessed, as if she had never been his wife. An acid humor stirred in his Forsyte blood; a subtle pain divided by hair’s-breadth from pleasure. If only June did not suddenly bring her hornets about his ears! The boy was talking.

“Of course, Auntie June,”— so he called his half-sister “Auntie,” did he? — well, she must be fifty, if she was a day! —“it’s jolly good of you to encourage them. Only — hang it all!” Soames stole a glance. Irene’s startled eyes were bent watchfully on her boy. She — she had these devotions — for Bosinney — for that boy’s father — for this boy! He touched Fleur’s arm, and said:

“Well, have you had enough?”

“One more, Father, please.”

She would be sick! He went to the counter to pay. When he turned round again he saw Fleur standing near the door, holding a handkerchief which the boy had evidently just handed to her.

“F.F.,” he heard her say. “Fleur Forsyte — it’s mine all right. Thank you ever so.”

Good God! She had caught the trick from what he’d told her in the Gallery — monkey!

“Forsyte? Why — that’s my name too. Perhaps we’re cousins.”

“Really! We must be. There aren’t any others. I live at Mapledurham; where do you?”

“Robin Hill.”

Question and answer had been so rapid that all was over before he could lift a finger. He saw Irene’s face alive with startled feeling, gave the slightest shake of his head, and slipped his arm through Fleur’s.

“Come along!” he said.

She did not move.

“Didn’t you hear, Father? Isn’t it queer — our name’s the same. Are we cousins?”

“What’s that?” he said. “Forsyte? Distant, perhaps.”

“My name’s Jolyon, sir. Jon, for short.”

“Oh! Ah!” said Soames. “Yes. Distant. How are you? Very good of you. Good-bye!”

He moved on.

“Thanks awfully,” Fleur was saying. “Au revoir!”

“Au revoir!” he heard the boy reply.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/galsworthy/john/tolet/chapter1.html

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