To Let, by John Galsworthy

V

The Fixed Idea

“The fixed idea,” which has outrun more constables than any other form of human disorder, has never more speed and stamina than when it takes the avid guise of love. To hedges and ditches, and doors, to humans without ideas fixed or otherwise, to perambulators and the contents sucking their fixed ideas, even to the other sufferers from this fast malady — the fixed idea of love pays no attention. It runs with eyes turned inward to its own light, oblivious of all other stars. Those with the fixed ideas that human happiness depends on their art, on vivisecting dogs, on hating foreigners, on paying supertax, on remaining Ministers, on making wheels go round, on preventing their neighbours from being divorced, on conscientious objection, Greek roots, Church dogma, paradox and superiority to everybody else, with other forms of ego-mania — all are unstable compared with him or her whose fixed idea is the possession of some her or him. And though Fleur, those chilly summer days, pursued the scattered life of a little Forsyte whose frocks are paid for, and whose business is pleasure, she was — as Winifred would have said in the latest fashion of speech — ‘honest-to-God’ indifferent to it all. She wished and wished for the moon, which sailed in cold skies above the river or the Green Park when she went to Town. She even kept Jon’s letters covered with pink silk, on her heart, than which in days when corsets were so low, sentiment so despised, and chests so out of fashion, there could, perhaps, have been no greater proof of the fixity of her idea.

After hearing of his father’s death, she had written to Jon, and received his answer three days later on her return from a river picnic. It was his first letter since their meeting at June’s. She opened it with misgiving, and read it with dismay.

“Since I saw you I’ve heard everything about the past. I won’t tell it you — I think you knew when we met at June’s. She says you did. If you did, Fleur, you ought to have told me. I expect you only heard your father’s side of it. I have heard my mother’s. It’s dreadful. Now that she’s so sad I can’t do anything to hurt her more. Of course, I long for you all day, but I don’t believe now that we shall ever come together — there’s something too strong pulling us apart.”

Her deception had found her out. But Jon — she felt — had forgiven that. It was what he said of his mother which caused the fluttering in her heart and the weak sensation in her legs.

Her first impulse was to reply — her second, not to reply. These impulses were constantly renewed in the days which followed, while desperation grew within her. She was not her father’s child for nothing. The tenacity, which had at once made and undone Soames, was her backbone, too, frilled and embroidered by French grace and quickness. Instinctively she conjugated the verb “to have” always with the pronoun “I.” She concealed, however, all signs of her growing desperation, and pursued such river pleasures as the winds and rain of a disagreeable July permitted, as if she had no care in the world; nor did any “sucking baronet” ever neglect the business of a publisher more consistently than her attendant spirit, Michael Mont.

To Soames she was a puzzle. He was almost deceived by this careless gaiety. Almost — because he did not fail to mark her eyes often fixed on nothing, and the film of light shining from her bedroom window late at night. What was she thinking and brooding over into small hours when she ought to have been asleep? But he dared not ask what was in her mind; and, since that one little talk in the billiard-room, she said nothing to him.

In this taciturn condition of affairs it chanced that Winifred invited them to lunch and to go afterwards to “a most amusing little play, ‘The Beggar’s Opera,’” and would they bring a man to make four? Soames, whose attitude towards theatres was to go to nothing, accepted, because Fleur’s attitude was to go to everything. They motored up, taking Michael Mont, who, being in his seventh heaven, was found by Winifred “very amusing.” “The Beggar’s Opera” puzzled Soames. The people were unpleasant, the whole thing cynical. Winifred was “intrigued”— by the dresses. The music too did not displease her. At the Opera, the night before, she had arrived too early for the Russian Ballet, and found the stage occupied by singers, for a whole hour pale or apoplectic from terror lest by some dreadful inadvertence they might drop into a tune. Michael Mont was enraptured with the whole thing. And all three wondered what Fleur was thinking of it. But Fleur was not thinking of it. Her fixed idea stood on the stage and sang with Polly Peachum, mimed with Filch, danced with Jenny Diver, postured with Lucy Lockit, kissed, trolled, and cuddled with Macheath. Her lips might smile, her hands applaud, but the comic old masterpiece made no more impression on her than if it had been pathetic, like a modern “Revue.” When they embarked in the car to return, she ached because Jon was not sitting next her instead of Michael Mont. When, at some jolt, the young man’s arm touched hers as if by accident, she only thought: ‘If that were Jon’s arm!’ When his cheerful voice, tempered by her proximity, murmured above the sound of the car’s progress, she smiled and answered, thinking: ‘If that were Jon’s voice!’ and when once he said: “Fleur, you look a perfect angel in that dress!” she answered: “Oh, do you like it?” thinking: ‘If only Jon could see it!’

During this drive she took a resolution. She would go to Robin Hill and see him — alone; she would take the car, without word beforehand to him or to her father. It was nine days since his letter, and she could wait no longer. On Monday she would go! The decision made her well disposed towards young Mont. With something to look forward to she could afford to tolerate and respond. He might stay to dinner; propose to her as usual; dance with her, press her hand, sigh — do what he liked. He was only a nuisance when he interfered with her fixed idea. She was even sorry for him so far as it was possible to be sorry for anybody but herself just now. At dinner he seemed to talk more wildly than usual about what he called ‘the death of the close borough’— she paid little attention, but her father seemed paying a good deal, with a smile on his face which meant opposition, if not anger.

“The younger generation doesn’t think as you do, sir; does it, Fleur?”

Fleur shrugged her shoulders — the younger generation was just Jon, and she did not know what he was thinking.

“Young people will think as I do when they’re my age, Mr. Mont. Human nature doesn’t change.”

“I admit that, sir; but the forms of thought change with the times. The pursuit of self-interest is a form of thought that’s going out.”

“Indeed! To mind one’s own business is not a form of thought, Mr. Mont, it’s an instinct.”

Yes, when Jon was the business!

“But what is one’s business, sir? That’s the point, EVERYBODY’S business is going to be one’s business. Isn’t it, Fleur?”

Fleur only smiled.

“If not,” added young Mont, “there’ll be blood.”

“People have talked like that from time immemorial.”

“But you’ll admit, sir, that the sense of property is dying out?”

“I should say increasing among those who have none.”

“Well, look at me! I’m heir to an entailed estate. I don’t want the thing; I’d cut the entail tomorrow.”

“You’re not married, and you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Fleur saw the young man’s eyes turn rather piteously upon her.

“Do you really mean that marriage —?” he began.

“Society is built on marriage,” came from between her father’s close lips; “marriage and its consequences. Do you want to do away with it?”

Young Mont made a distracted gesture. Silence brooded over the dinner-table, covered with spoons bearing the Forsyte crest — a pheasant proper — under the electric light in an alabaster globe. And outside, the river evening darkened, charged with heavy moisture and sweet scents.

‘Monday,’ thought Fleur; ‘Monday!’

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/galsworthy/john/tolet/chapter28.html

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