The butler himself opened the door, and closing it softly, detained Soames on the inner mat.
“The master’s poorly, sir,” he murmured. “He wouldn’t go to bed till you came in. He’s still in the diningroom.”
Soames responded in the hushed tone to which the house was now accustomed.
“What’s the matter with him, Warmson?”
“Nervous, sir, I think. Might be the funeral; might be Mrs. Dartie’s comin’ round this afternoon. I think he overheard something. I’ve took him in a negus. The mistress has just gone up.”
Soames hung his hat on a mahogany stag’s-horn.
“All right, Warmson, you can go to bed; I’ll take him up myself.” And he passed into the dining-room.
James was sitting before the fire, in a big armchair, with a camel-hair shawl, very light and warm, over his frock-coated shoulders, on to which his long white whiskers drooped. His white hair, still fairly thick, glistened in the lamplight; a little moisture from his fixed, light-grey eyes stained the cheeks, still quite well coloured, and the long deep furrows running to the corners of the clean-shaven lips, which moved as if mumbling thoughts. His long legs, thin as a crow’s, in shepherd’s plaid trousers, were bent at less than a right angle, and on one knee a spindly hand moved continually, with fingers wide apart and glistening tapered nails. Beside him, on a low stool, stood a half-finished glass of negus, bedewed with beads of heat. There he had been sitting, with intervals for meals, all day. At eighty-eight he was still organically sound, but suffering terribly from the thought that no one ever told him anything. It is, indeed, doubtful how he had become aware that Roger was being buried that day, for Emily had kept it from him. She was always keeping things from him. Emily was only seventy! James had a grudge against his wife’s youth. He felt sometimes that he would never have married her if he had known that she would have so many years before her, when he had so few. It was not natural. She would live fifteen or twenty years after he was gone, and might spend a lot of money; she had always had extravagant tastes. For all he knew she might want to buy one of these motor-cars. Cicely and Rachel and Imogen and all the young people — they all rode those bicycles now and went off Goodness knew where. And now Roger was gone. He didn’t know — couldn’t tell! The family was breaking up. Soames would know how much his uncle had left. Curiously he thought of Roger as Soames’ uncle not as his own brother. Soames! It was more and more the one solid spot in a vanishing world. Soames was careful; he was a warm man; but he had no one to leave his money to. There it was! He didn’t know! And there was that fellow Chamberlain! For James’ political principles had been fixed between ‘70 and ‘85 when ‘that rascally Radical’ had been the chief thorn in the side of property and he distrusted him to this day in spite of his conversion; he would get the country into a mess and make money go down before he had done with it. A stormy petrel of a chap! Where was Soames? He had gone to the funeral of course which they had tried to keep from him. He knew that perfectly well; he had seen his son’s trousers. Roger! Roger in his coffin! He remembered how, when they came up from school together from the West, on the box seat of the old Slowflyer in 1824, Roger had got into the ‘boot’ and gone to sleep. James uttered a thin cackle. A funny fellow — Roger — an original! He didn’t know! Younger than himself, and in his coffin! The family was breaking up. There was Val going to the university; he never came to see him now. He would cost a pretty penny up there. It was an extravagant age. And all the pretty pennies that his four grandchildren would cost him danced before James’ eyes. He did not grudge them the money, but he grudged terribly the risk which the spending of that money might bring on them; he grudged the diminution of security. And now that Cicely had married, she might be having children too. He didn’t know — couldn’t tell! Nobody thought of anything but spending money in these days, and racing about, and having what they called ‘a good time.’ A motor-car went past the window. Ugly great lumbering thing, making all that racket! But there it was, the country rattling to the dogs! People in such a hurry that they couldn’t even care for style — a neat turnout like his barouche and bays was worth all those new-fangled things. And consols at 116! There must be a lot of money in the country. And now there was this old Kruger! They had tried to keep old Kruger from him. But he knew better; there would be a pretty kettle of fish out there! He had known how it would be when that fellow Gladstone — dead now, thank God! made such a mess of it after that dreadful business at Majuba. He shouldn’t wonder if the Empire split up and went to pot. And this vision of the Empire going to pot filled a full quarter of an hour with qualms of the most serious character. He had eaten a poor lunch because of them. But it was after lunch that the real disaster to his nerves occurred. He had been dozing when he became aware of voices — low voices. Ah! they never told him anything! Winifred’s and her mother’s. “Monty!” That fellow Dartie — always that fellow Dartie! The voices had receded; and James had been left alone, with his ears standing up like a hare’s, and fear creeping about his inwards. Why did they leave him alone? Why didn’t they come and tell him? And an awful thought, which through long years had haunted him, concreted again swiftly in his brain. Dartie had gone bankrupt — fraudulently bankrupt, and to save Winifred and the children, he — James — would have to pay! Could he — could Soames turn him into a limited company? No, he couldn’t! There it was! With every minute before Emily came back the spectre fiercened. Why, it might be forgery! With eyes fixed on the doubted Turner in the centre of the wall, James suffered tortures. He saw Dartie in the dock, his grandchildren in the gutter, and himself in bed. He saw the doubted Turner being sold at Jobson’s, and all the majestic edifice of property in rags. He saw in fancy Winifred unfashionably dressed, and heard in fancy Emily’s voice saying: “Now, don’t fuss, James!” She was always saying: “Don’t fuss!” She had no nerves; he ought never to have married a woman eighteen years younger than himself. Then Emily’s real voice said:
“Have you had a nice nap, James?”
Nap! He was in torment, and she asked him that!
“What’s this about Dartie?” he said, and his eyes glared at her.
Emily’s self-possession never deserted her.
“What have you been hearing?” she asked blandly.
“What’s this about Dartie?” repeated James. “He’s gone bankrupt.”
James made a great effort, and rose to the full height of his stork-like figure.
“You never tell me anything,” he said; “he’s gone bankrupt.”
The destruction of that fixed idea seemed to Emily all that mattered at the moment.
“He has not,” she answered firmly. “He’s gone to Buenos Aires.”
If she had said “He’s gone to Mars” she could not have dealt James a more stunning blow; his imagination, invested entirely in British securities, could as little grasp one place as the other.
“What’s he gone there for?” he said. “He’s got no money. What did he take?”
Agitated within by Winifred’s news, and goaded by the constant reiteration of this jeremiad, Emily said calmly:
“He took Winifred’s pearls and a dancer.”
“What!” said James, and sat down.
His sudden collapse alarmed her, and smoothing his forehead, she said:
“Now, don’t fuss, James!”
A dusky red had spread over James’ cheeks and forehead.
“I paid for them,” he said tremblingly; “he’s a thief! I— I knew how it would be. He’ll be the death of me; he . . . . ” Words failed him and he sat quite still. Emily, who thought she knew him so well, was alarmed, and went towards the sideboard where she kept some sal volatile. She could not see the tenacious Forsyte spirit working in that thin, tremulous shape against the extravagance of the emotion called up by this outrage on Forsyte principles — the Forsyte spirit deep in there, saying: ‘You mustn’t get into a fantod, it’ll never do. You won’t digest your lunch. You’ll have a fit!’ All unseen by her, it was doing better work in James than sal volatile.
“Drink this,” she said.
James waved it aside.
“What was Winifred about,” he said, “to let him take her pearls?” Emily perceived the crisis past.
“She can have mine,” she said comfortably. “I never wear them. She’d better get a divorce.”
“There you go!” said James. “Divorce! We’ve never had a divorce in the family. Where’s Soames?”
“He’ll be in directly.”
“No, he won’t,” said James, almost fiercely; “he’s at the funeral. You think I know nothing.”
“Well,” said Emily with calm, “you shouldn’t get into such fusses when we tell you things.” And plumping up his cushions, and putting the sal volatile beside him, she left the room.
But James sat there seeing visions — of Winifred in the Divorce Court, and the family name in the papers; of the earth falling on Roger’s coffin; of Val taking after his father; of the pearls he had paid for and would never see again; of money back at four per cent., and the country going to the dogs; and, as the afternoon wore into evening, and tea-time passed, and dinnertime, those visions became more and more mixed and menacing — of being told nothing, till he had nothing left of all his wealth, and they told him nothing of it. Where was Soames? Why didn’t he come in? . . . His hand grasped the glass of negus, he raised it to drink, and saw his son standing there looking at him. A little sigh of relief escaped his lips, and putting the glass down, he said:
“There you are! Dartie’s gone to Buenos Aires.”
Soames nodded. “That’s all right,” he said; “good riddance.”
A wave of assuagement passed over James’ brain. Soames knew. Soames was the only one of them all who had sense. Why couldn’t he come and live at home? He had no son of his own. And he said plaintively:
“At my age I get nervous. I wish you were more at home, my boy.”
Again Soames nodded; the mask of his countenance betrayed no understanding, but he went closer, and as if by accident touched his father’s shoulder.
“They sent their love to you at Timothy’s,” he said. “It went off all right. I’ve been to see Winifred. I’m going to take steps.” And he thought: ‘Yes, and you mustn’t hear of them.’
James looked up; his long white whiskers quivered, his thin throat between the points of his collar looked very gristly and naked.
“I’ve been very poorly all day,” he said; “they never tell me anything.”
Soames’ heart twitched.
“Well, it’s all right. There’s nothing to worry about. Will you come up now?” and he put his hand under his father’s arm.
James obediently and tremulously raised himself, and together they went slowly across the room, which had a rich look in the firelight, and out to the stairs. Very slowly they ascended.
“Good-night, my boy,” said James at his bedroom door.
“Good-night, father,” answered Soames. His hand stroked down the sleeve beneath the shawl; it seemed to have almost nothing in it, so thin was the arm. And, turning away from the light in the opening doorway, he went up the extra flight to his own bedroom.
‘I want a son,’ he thought, sitting on the edge of his bed; ‘I want a son.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54