Two days after the dinner at James’, Mr. Polteed provided Soames with food for thought.
“A gentleman,” he said, consulting the key concealed in his left hand, “47 as we say, has been paying marked attention to 17 during the last month in Paris. But at present there seems to have been nothing very conclusive. The meetings have all been in public places, without concealment — restaurants, the Opera, the Comique, the Louvre, Luxembourg Gardens, lounge of the hotel, and so forth. She has not yet been traced to his rooms, nor vice versa. They went to Fontainebleau — but nothing of value. In short, the situation is promising, but requires patience.” And, looking up suddenly, he added:
“One rather curious point — 47 has the same name as — er — 31!”
‘The fellow knows I’m her husband,’ thought Soames.
“Christian name — an odd one — Jolyon,” continued Mr. Polteed. “We know his address in Paris and his residence here. We don’t wish, of course, to be running a wrong hare.”
“Go on with it, but be careful,” said Soames doggedly.
Instinctive certainty that this detective fellow had fathomed his secret made him all the more reticent.
“Excuse me,” said Mr. Polteed, “I’ll just see if there’s anything fresh in.”
He returned with some letters. Relocking the door, he glanced at the envelopes.
“Yes, here’s a personal one from 19 to myself.”
“Well?” said Soames.
“Um!” said Mr. Polteed, “she says: ‘47 left for England to-day. Address on his baggage: Robin Hill. Parted from 17 in Louvre Gallery at 3.30; nothing very striking. Thought it best to stay and continue observation of 17. You will deal with 47 in England if you think desirable, no doubt.’” And Mr. Polteed lifted an unprofessional glance on Soames, as though he might be storing material for a book on human nature after he had gone out of business. “Very intelligent woman, 19, and a wonderful make-up. Not cheap, but earns her money well. There’s no suspicion of being shadowed so far. But after a time, as you know, sensitive people are liable to get the feeling of it, without anything definite to go on. I should rather advise letting-up on 17, and keeping an eye on 47. We can’t get at correspondence without great risk. I hardly advise that at this stage. But you can tell your client that it’s looking up very well.” And again his narrowed eyes gleamed at his taciturn customer.
“No,” said Soames suddenly, “I prefer that you should keep the watch going discreetly in Paris, and not concern yourself with this end.”
“Very well,” replied Mr. Polteed, “we can do it.”
“What — what is the manner between them?”
“I’ll read you what she says,” said Mr. Polteed, unlocking a bureau drawer and taking out a file of papers; “she sums it up somewhere confidentially. Yes, here it is! ‘17 very attractive — conclude 47, longer in the tooth’ (slang for age, you know)—‘distinctly gone — waiting his time — 17 perhaps holding off for terms, impossible to say without knowing more. But inclined to think on the whole — doesn’t know her mind — likely to act on impulse some day. Both have style.’”
“What does that mean?” said Soames between close lips.
“Well,” murmured Mr. Polteed with a smile, showing many white teeth, “an expression we use. In other words, it’s not likely to be a weekend business — they’ll come together seriously or not at all.”
“H’m!” muttered Soames, “that’s all, is it?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Polteed, “but quite promising.”
‘Spider!’ thought Soames. “Good-day!”
He walked into the Green Park that he might cross to Victoria Station and take the Underground into the City. For so late in January it was warm; sunlight, through the haze, sparkled on the frosty grass — an illumined cobweb of a day.
Little spiders — and great spiders! And the greatest spinner of all, his own tenacity, for ever wrapping its cocoon of threads round any clear way out. What was that fellow hanging round Irene for? Was it really as Polteed suggested? Or was Jolyon but taking compassion on her loneliness, as he would call it — sentimental radical chap that he had always been? If it were, indeed, as Polteed hinted! Soames stood still. It could not be! The fellow was seven years older than himself, no better looking! No richer! What attraction had he?
‘Besides, he’s come back,’ he thought; ‘that doesn’t look —-I’ll go and see him!’ and, taking out a card, he wrote:
“If you can spare half an hour some afternoon this week, I shall be at the Connoisseurs any day between 5.30 and 6, or I could come to the Hotch Potch if you prefer it. I want to see you. — S. F.”
He walked up St. James’s Street and confided it to the porter at the Hotch Potch.
“Give Mr. Jolyon Forsyte this as soon as he comes in,” he said, and took one of the new motor cabs into the City. . . .
Jolyon received that card the same afternoon, and turned his face towards the Connoisseurs. What did Soames want now? Had he got wind of Paris? And stepping across St. James’s Street, he determined to make no secret of his visit. ‘But it won’t do,’ he thought, ‘to let him know she’s there, unless he knows already.’ In this complicated state of mind he was conducted to where Soames was drinking tea in a small bay-window.
“No tea, thanks,” said Jolyon, “but I’ll go on smoking if I may.”
The curtains were not yet drawn, though the lamps outside were lighted; the two cousins sat waiting on each other.
“You’ve been in Paris, I hear,” said Soames at last.
“Yes; just back.”
“Young Val told me; he and your boy are going off, then?” Jolyon nodded.
“You didn’t happen to see Irene, I suppose. It appears she’s abroad somewhere.”
Jolyon wreathed himself in smoke before he answered: “Yes, I saw her.”
“How was she?”
There was another silence; then Soames roused himself in his chair.
“When I saw you last,” he said, “I was in two minds. We talked, and you expressed your opinion. I don’t wish to reopen that discussion. I only wanted to say this: My position with her is extremely difficult. I don’t want you to go using your influence against me. What happened is a very long time ago. I’m going to ask her to let bygones be bygones.”
“You have asked her, you know,” murmured Jolyon.
“The idea was new to her then; it came as a shock. But the more she thinks of it, the more she must see that it’s the only way out for both of us.”
“That’s not my impression of her state of mind,” said Jolyon with particular calm. “And, forgive my saying, you misconceive the matter if you think reason comes into it at all.”
He saw his cousin’s pale face grow paler — he had used, without knowing it, Irene’s own words.
“Thanks,” muttered Soames, “but I see things perhaps more plainly than you think. I only want to be sure that you won’t try to influence her against me.”
“I don’t know what makes you think I have any influence,” said Jolyon; “but if I have I’m bound to use it in the direction of what I think is her happiness. I am what they call a ‘feminist,’ I believe.”
“Feminist!” repeated Soames, as if seeking to gain time. “Does that mean that you’re against me?”
“Bluntly,” said Jolyon, “I’m against any woman living with any man whom she definitely dislikes. It appears to me rotten.”
“And I suppose each time you see her you put your opinions into her mind.”
“I am not likely to be seeing her.”
“Not going back to Paris?”
“Not so far as I know,” said Jolyon, conscious of the intent watchfulness in Soames’ face.
“Well, that’s all I had to say. Anyone who comes between man and wife, you know, incurs heavy responsibility.”
Jolyon rose and made him a slight bow.
“Good-bye,” he said, and, without offering to shake hands, moved away, leaving Soames staring after him. ‘We Forsytes,’ thought Jolyon, hailing a cab, ‘are very civilised. With simpler folk that might have come to a row. If it weren’t for my boy going to the war. . . . ’ The war! A gust of his old doubt swept over him. A precious war! Domination of peoples or of women! Attempts to master and possess those who did not want you! The negation of gentle decency! Possession, vested rights; and anyone ‘agin’ ’em — outcast! ‘Thank Heaven!’ he thought, ‘I always felt “agin” ’em, anyway!’ Yes! Even before his first disastrous marriage he could remember fuming over the bludgeoning of Ireland, or the matrimonial suits of women trying to be free of men they loathed. Parsons would have it that freedom of soul and body were quite different things! Pernicious doctrine! Body and soul could not thus be separated. Free will was the strength of any tie, and not its weakness. ‘I ought to have told Soames,’ he thought, ‘that I think him comic. Ah! but he’s tragic, too!’ Was there anything, indeed, more tragic in the world than a man enslaved by his own possessive instinct, who couldn’t see the sky for it, or even enter fully into what another person felt! ‘I must write and warn her,’ he thought; ‘he’s going to have another try.’ And all the way home to Robin Hill he rebelled at the strength of that duty to his son which prevented him from posting back to Paris. . . .
But Soames sat long in his chair, the prey of a no less gnawing ache — a jealous ache, as if it had been revealed to him that this fellow held precedence of himself, and had spun fresh threads of resistance to his way out. ‘Does that mean that you’re against me?’ he had got nothing out of that disingenuous question. Feminist! Phrasey fellow! ‘I mustn’t rush things,’ he thought. ‘I have some breathing space; he’s not going back to Paris, unless he was lying. I’ll let the spring come!’ Though how the spring could serve him, save by adding to his ache, he could not tell. And gazing down into the street, where figures were passing from pool to pool of the light from the high lamps, he thought: ‘Nothing seems any good — nothing seems worth while. I’m loney — that’s the trouble.’
He closed his eyes; and at once he seemed to see Irene, in a dark street below a church — passing, turning her neck so that he caught the gleam of her eyes and her white forehead under a little dark hat, which had gold spangles on it and a veil hanging down behind. He opened his eyes — so vividly he had seen her! A woman was passing below, but not she! Oh no, there was nothing there!
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50