To Let, by John Galsworthy

XI

Timothy Prophesies

On the day of the cancelled meeting at the National Gallery, began the second anniversary of the resurrection of England’s pride and glory — or, more shortly, the top hat. “Lord’s”— that festival which the war had driven from the field — raised its light and dark blue flags for the second time, displaying almost every feature of a glorious past. Here, in the luncheon interval, were all species of female and one species of male hat, protecting the multiple types of face associated with “the classes” The observing Forsyte might discern in the free or unconsidered seats a certain number of the squash-hatted, but they hardly ventured on the grass; the old school — or schools — could still rejoice that the proletariat was not yet paying the necessary half-crown. Here was still a close borough, the only one left on a large scale — for the papers were about to estimate the attendance at ten thousand. And the ten thousand, all animated by one hope, were asking each other one question: “Where are you lunching? “Something wonderfully uplifting and reassuring in that query and the sight of so many people like themselves voicing it! What reserve power in the British realm — enough pigeons, lobsters, lamb, salmon mayonnaise, strawberries, and bottles of champagne, to feed the lot! No miracle in prospect — no case of seven loaves and a few fishes — faith rested on surer foundations. Six thousand top hats, four thousand parasols would be doffed and furled, ten thousand mouths all speaking the same English would be filled. There was life in the old dog yet! Tradition! And again Tradition! How strong and how elastic! Wars might rage, taxation prey, Trades Unions take toll, and Europe perish of starvation; but the ten thousand would be fed; and, within their ring fence, stroll upon green turf, wear their top hats, and meet — themselves. The heart was sound, the pulse still regular. E-ton! E-ton! Har-r-o-o-o-w!

Among the many Forsytes present, on a hunting-ground theirs, by personal prescriptive right, or proxy, was Soames, with his wife and daughter. He had not been at either school, he took no interest in cricket, but he wanted Fleur to show her frock, and he wanted to wear his top hat — parade it again in peace and plenty among his peers. He walked sedately with Fleur between him and Annette. No women equalled them, so far as he could see. They could walk, and hold themselves up; there was substance in their good looks; the modern woman had no build, no chest, no anything! He remembered suddenly with what intoxication of pride he had walked round with Irene in the first years of his first marriage. And how they used to lunch on the drag which his mother WOULD make his father have, because it was so “chic”— all drags and carriages in those days, not these lumbering great Stands! And how consistently Montague Dartie had drunk too much. He supposed that people drank too much still, but there was not the scope for it there used to be. He remembered George Forsyte — whose brothers Roger and Eustace had been at Harrow and Eton — towering up on the top of the drag waving a light-blue flag with one hand and a dark-blue flag with the other, and shouting: “Etroow — Harrton!” just when everybody was silent, like the buffoon he had always been; and Eustace got up to the nines below, too dandified to wear any colour or take any notice. H’m! Old days, and Irene in grey silk shot with palest green. He looked, sideways, at Fleur’s face. Rather colourless — no light, no eagerness! That love affair was preying on her — a bad business! He looked beyond, at his wife’s face, rather more touched up than usual, a little disdainful — not that she had any business to disdain, so far as he could see. She was taking Profond’s defection with curious quietude; or was his “small” voyage just a blind? If so, he should refuse to see it! After promenading round the pitch and in front of the pavilion, they sought Winifred’s table in the Bedouin Club tent. This Club — a new “cock and hen”— had been founded in the interests of travel, and of a gentleman with an old Scottish name, whose father had somewhat strangely been called Levi. Winifred had joined, not because she had travelled, but because instinct told her that a Club with such a name and such a founder was bound to go far; if one didn’t join at once one might never have the chance. Its tent, with a text from the Koran on an orange ground, and a small green camel embroidered over the entrance, was the most striking on the ground. Outside it they found Jack Cardigan in a dark-blue tie (he had once played for Harrow), batting with a Malacca cane to show how that fellow ought to have hit that ball. He piloted them in. Assembled in Winifred’s corner were Imogen, Benedict with his young wife, Val Dartie without Holly, Maud and her husband, and, after Soames and his two were seated, one empty place.

“I’m expecting Prosper,” said Winifred, “but he’s so busy with his yacht.”

Soames stole a glance. No movement in his wife’s face! Whether that fellow were coming or not, she evidently knew all about it. It did not escape him that Fleur, too, looked at her mother. If Annette didn’t respect his feelings, she might think of Fleur! The conversation, very desultory, was syncopated by Jack Cardigan talking about “mid-off.” He cited all the “great mid-offs” from the beginning of time, as if they had been a definite racial entity in the composition of the British people. Soames had finished his lobster, and was beginning on pigeon-pie, when he heard the words: “I’m a small bit late, Mrs. Dartie,” and saw that there was no longer any empty place. THAT FELLOW was sitting between Annette and Imogen. Soames ate steadily on, with an occasional word to Maud and Winifred. Conversation buzzed around him. He heard the voice of Profond say:

“I think you’re mistaken, Mrs. Forsyde I’ll — I’ll bet Miss Forsyde agrees with me.”

“In what?” came Fleur’s clear tones across the table.

“I was sayin’, young gurls are much the same as they always were — there’s very small difference.”

“Do you know so much about them?”

That sharp reply caught the ears of all, and Soames moved uneasily on his thin green chair.

“Well, I don’t know, I think they want their own small way, and I think they always did.”

“Indeed!”

“Oh, but — Prosper,” Winifred interjected comfortably, “the girls in the streets — the girls who’ve been in munitions, the little flappers in the shops; their manners now really quite hit you in the eye.”

At the word “hit” Jack Cardigan stopped his disquisition; and in the silence Monsieur Profond said:

“It was inside before, now it’s outside; that’s all.”

“But their morals!” cried Imogen.

“Just as moral as they ever were, Mrs. Cardigan, but they’ve got more opportunity.”

The saying, so cryptically cynical, received a little laugh from Imogen, a slight opening of Jack Cardigan’s mouth, and another creak from Soames’ chair.

Winifred said: “That’s too bad, Prosper.”

“What do you say, Mrs. Forsyde; don’t you think human nature’s always the same?”

Soames subdued a sudden longing to get up and kick the fellow. He heard his wife reply:

“Human nature is not the same in England as anywhere else.” That was her confounded mockery!

“Well, I don’t know much about this small country”—‘No, thank God!’ thought Soames —“but I should say the pot was boilin’ under the lid everywhere. We all want pleasure, and we always did.”

Damn the fellow! His cynicism was outrageous!

When lunch was over they broke up into couples for the digestive promenade. Too proud to notice, Soames knew perfectly that Annette and that fellow had gone prowling round together. Fleur was with Val; she had chosen him, no doubt, because he knew that boy. He himself had Winifred for partner. They walked in the bright, circling stream, a little flushed and sated, till Winifred sighed:

“I wish we were back forty years, old boy!”

Before the eyes of her spirit an interminable procession of her own “Lord’s” frocks was passing, paid for with the money of her father, to save a recurrent crisis. “It’s been very amusing, after all. Sometimes I even wish Monty was back. What do you think of people nowadays, Soames?”

“Precious little style. The thing began to go to pieces with bicycles and motor-cars; the war has finished it.”

“I wonder what’s coming?” said Winifred in a voice dreamy from pigeon-pie. “I’m not at all sure we shan’t go back to crinolines and pegtops. Look at that dress!” Soames shook his head.

“There’s money, but no faith in things. We don’t lay by for the future. These youngsters — it’s all a short life and a merry one with them.”

“There’s a hat!” said Winifred. “I don’t know — when you come to think of the people killed and all that in the war, it’s rather wonderful, I think. There’s no other country — Prosper says the rest are all bankrupt, except America; and of course her men always took their style in dress from us.”

“Is that chap,” said Soames, “really going to the South Seas?”

“Oh, one never knows where Prosper’s going!”

“HE’S a sign of the times,” muttered Soames, “if you like.”

Winifred’s hand gripped his arm.

“Don’t turn your head,” she said in a low voice, “but look to your right in the front row of the Stand.”

Soames looked as best he could under that limitation. A man in a grey top hat, grey-bearded, with thin brown, folded cheeks, and a certain elegance of posture, sat there with a woman in a lawn-coloured frock, whose dark eyes were fixed on himself. Soames looked quickly at his feet. How funnily feet moved, one after the other like that! Winifred’s voice said in his ear:

“Jolyon looks very ill, but he always had style. SHE doesn’t change — except her hair.”

“Why did you tell Fleur about that business?”

“I didn’t; she picked it up. I always knew she would.”

“Well, it’s a mess. She’s set her heart upon their boy.”

“The little wretch,” murmured Winifred. “She tried to take me in about that. What shall you do, Soames?”

“Be guided by events.”

They moved on, silent, in the almost solid crowd.

“Really,” said Winifred suddenly; “it almost seems like Fate. Only that’s so old-fashioned. Look! There are George and Eustace!”

George Forsyte’s lofty bulk had halted before them.

“Hallo, Soames!” he said. “Just met Profond and your wife. You’ll catch ’em if you put on steam. Did you ever go to see old Timothy?”

Soames nodded, and the streams forced them apart.

“I always liked old George,” said Winifred. “He’s so droll.”

“I never did,” said Soames. “Where’s your seat? I shall go to mine. Fleur may be back there.”

Having seen Winifred to her seat, he regained his own, conscious of small, white, distant figures running, the click of the bat, the cheers and counter-cheers. No Fleur, and no Annette! You could expect nothing of women nowadays! They had the vote. They were “emancipated,” and much good it was doing them. So Winifred would go back, would she, and put up with Dartie all over again? To have the past once more — to be sitting here as he had sat in ’83 and ’84, before he was certain that his marriage with Irene had gone all wrong, before her antagonism had become so glaring that with the best will in the world he could not overlook it. The sight of her with that fellow had brought all memory back. Even now he could not understand why she had been so impracticable. She could love other men; she had it in her! To himself, the one person she ought to have loved, she had chosen to refuse her heart. It seemed to him, fantastically, as he looked back, that all this modern relaxation of marriage — though its forms and laws were the same as when he married her — that all this modern looseness had come out of her revolt; it seemed to him, fantastically, that she had started it, till all decent ownership of anything had gone, or was on the point of going. All came from her! And now — a pretty state of things! Homes! How could you have them without mutual ownership? Not that he had ever had a real home! But had that been his fault? He had done his best. And his reward — those two sitting in that Stand! And this affair of Fleur’s!

And overcome by loneliness he thought: ‘Shan’t wait any longer! They must find their own way back to the hotel — if they mean to come!’ Hailing a cab outside the ground, he said:

“Drive me to the Bayswater Road.” His old aunts had never failed him. To them he had meant an everwelcome visitor. Though they were gone, there, still, was Timothy!

Smither was standing in the open doorway.

“Mr. Soames! I was just taking the air. Cook will be so pleased.”

“How is Mr. Timothy?”

“Not himself at all these last few days, sir; he’s been talking a great deal. Only this morning he was saying: ‘My brother James, he’s getting old.’ His mind wanders, Mr. Soames, and then he will talk of them. He troubles about their investments. The other day he said: ‘There’s my brother Jolyon won’t look at Consols’— he seemed quite down about it. Come in, Mr. Soames, come in! It’s such a pleasant change!”

“Well,” said Soames, “just for a few minutes.”

“No,” murmured Smither in the hall, where the air had the singular freshness of the outside day, “we haven’t been very satisfied with him, not all this week. He’s always been one to leave a titbit to the end; but ever since Monday he’s been eating it first. If you notice a dog, Mr. Soames, at its dinner, it eats the meat first. We’ve always thought it such a good sign of Mr. Timothy at his age to leave it to the last, but now he seems to have lost all his self-control; and, of course, it makes him leave the rest. The doctor doesn’t make anything of it, but”— Smither shook her head —“he seems to think he’s got to eat it first, in case he shouldn’t get to it. That and his talking makes us anxious.”

“Has he said anything important?”

“I shouldn’t like to say that, Mr. Soames; but he’s turned against his Will. He gets quite pettish — and after having had it out every morning for years, it does seem funny. He said the other day: ‘They want my money.’ It gave me such a turn, because, as I said to him, nobody wants his money, I’m sure. And it does seem a pity he should be thinking about money at his time of life. I took my courage in my ‘ands. ‘You know, Mr. Timothy,’ I said, ‘my dear mistress’— that’s Miss Forsyte, Mr. Soames, Miss Ann that trained me —‘SHE never thought about money,’ I said, ‘it was all CHARACTER with her.’ He looked at me, I can’t tell you how funny, and he said quite dry: ‘Nobody wants my character.’ Think of his saying a thing like that! But sometimes he’ll say something as sharp and sensible as anything.”

Soames, who had been staring at an old print by the hat-rack, thinking, ‘That’s got value!’ murmured: “I’ll go up and see him, Smither.”

“Cook’s with him,” answered Smither above her corsets; “she will be pleased to see you.”

He mounted slowly, with the thought: ‘Shan’t care to live to be that age.’

On the second floor, he paused, and tapped. The door was opened, and he saw the round homely face of a woman about sixty.

“Mr. Soames!” she said: “Why! Mr. Soames!”

Soames nodded. “All right, Cook!” and entered.

Timothy was propped up in bed, with his hands joined before his chest, and his eyes fixed on the ceiling, where a fly was standing upside down. Soames stood at the foot of the bed, facing him.

“Uncle Timothy,” he said, raising his voice; “Uncle Timothy!”

Timothy’s eyes left the fly, and levelled themselves on his visitor. Soames could see his pale tongue passing over his darkish lips.

“Uncle Timothy,” he said again, “is there anything I can do for you? Is there anything you’d like to say?”

“Ha!” said Timothy.

“I’ve come to look you up and see that everything’s all right.”

Timothy nodded. He seemed trying to get used to the apparition before him.

“Have you got everything you want?”

“No,” said Timothy.

“Can I get you anything?”

“No,” said Timothy.

“I’m Soames, you know; your nephew, Soames Forsyte. Your brother James’ son.”

Timothy nodded.

“I shall be delighted to do anything I can for you.”

Timothy beckoned. Soames went close to him.

“You —” said Timothy in a voice which seemed to have outlived tone, “you tell them all from me — you tell them all —” and his finger tapped on Soames’ arm, “to hold on — hold on — Consols are goin’ up,” and he nodded thrice.

“All right!” said Soames; “I will.”

“Yes,” said Timothy, and, fixing his eyes again on the ceiling, he added: “That fly!”

Strangely moved, Soames looked at the Cook’s pleasant fattish face, all little puckers from staring at fires.

“That’ll do him a world of good, sir,” she said.

A mutter came from Timothy, but he was clearly speaking to himself, and Soames went out with the cook.

“I wish I could make you a pink cream, Mr. Soames, like in old days; you did so relish them. Good-bye, sir; it HAS been a pleasure.”

“Take care of him, Cook, he is old.”

And, shaking her crumpled hand, he went down-stairs. Smither was still taking the air in the doorway.

“What do you think of him, Mr. Soames?”

“H’m!” Soames murmured: “He’s lost touch.”

“Yes,” said Smither, “I was afraid you’d think that, coming fresh out of the world to see him like.”

“Smither,” said Soames, “we’re all indebted to you.”

“Oh, no, Mr. Soames, don’t say that! It’s a pleasure — he’s such a wonderful man.”

“Well, good-bye!” said Soames, and got into his taxi.

‘Going up!’ he thought; ‘going up!’

Reaching the hotel at Knightsbridge he went to their sitting-room, and rang for tea. Neither of them were in. And again that sense of loneliness came over him. These hotels! What monstrous great places they were now! He could remember when there was nothing bigger than Long’s or Brown’s, Morley’s or the Tavistock, and the heads that were shaken over the Langham and the Grand. Hotels and Clubs — Clubs and Hotels; no end to them now! And Soames, who had just been watching at Lord’s a miracle of tradition and continuity, fell into reverie over the changes in that London where he had been born five-and-sixty years before. Whether Consols were going up or not, London had become a terrific property. No such property in the world, unless it were New York! There was a lot of hysteria in the papers nowadays; but any one who, like himself, could remember London sixty years ago, and see it now, realised the fecundity and elasticity of wealth. They had only to keep their heads, and go at it steadily. Why! he remembered cobble-stones, and stinking straw on the floor of your cab. And old Timothy — what could HE not tell them, if he had kept his memory! Things were unsettled, people in a funk or in a hurry, but here were London and the Thames, and out there the British Empire, and the ends of the earth. “Consols are goin’ up!” He shouldn’t be a bit surprised. It was the breed that counted. And all that was bull-dogged in Soames stared for a moment out of his grey eyes, till diverted by the print of a Victorian picture on the walls. The hotel had bought three dozen of that little lot! The old hunting or “Rake’s Progress” prints in the old inns were worth looking at — but this sentimental stuff — well, Victorianism had gone! “Tell them to hold on!” old Timothy had said. But to what were they to hold on in this modern welter of the “democratic principle”? Why, even privacy was threatened! And at the thought that privacy might perish, Soames pushed back his teacup and went to the window. Fancy owning no more of Nature than the crowd out there owned of the flowers and trees and waters of Hyde Park! No, no! Private possession underlay everything worth having. The world had slipped its sanity a bit, as dogs now and again at full moon slipped theirs and went off for a night’s rabbiting; but the world, like the dog, knew where its bread was buttered and its bed warm, and would come back sure enough to the only home worth having — to private ownership. The world was in its second childhood for the moment, like old Timothy — eating its titbit first!

He heard a sound behind him, and saw that his wife and daughter had come in.

“So you’re back!” he said.

Fleur did not answer; she stood for a moment looking at him and her mother, then passed into her bedroom. Annette poured herself out a cup of tea.

“I am going to Paris, to my mother, Soames.”

“Oh! To your mother?”

“Yes.”

“For how long?”

“I do not know.”

“And when are you going?”

“On Monday.”

Was she really going to her mother? Odd, how indifferent he felt! Odd, how clearly she had perceived the indifference he would feel so long as there was no scandal. And suddenly between her and himself he saw distinctly the face he had seen that afternoon — Irene’s.

“Will you want money?”

“Thank you; I have enough.”

“Very well. Let us know when you are coming back.”

Annette put down the cake she was fingering, and, looking up through darkened lashes, said:

“Shall I give Maman any message?”

“My regards.”

Annette stretched herself, her hands on her waist, and said in French:

“What luck that you have never loved me, Soames!” Then rising, she too left the room. Soames was glad she had spoken it in French — it seemed to require no dealing with. Again that other face — pale, dark-eyed, beautiful still! And there stirred far down within him the ghost of warmth, as from sparks lingering beneath a mound of flaky ash. And Fleur infatuated with her boy! Queer chance! Yet, was there such a thing as chance? A man went down a street, a brick fell on his head. Ah! that was chance, no doubt. But this! “Inherited,” his girl had said. She — she was “holding on!”

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