The war dragged on. Nicholas had been heard to say that it would cost three hundred millions if it cost a penny before they’d done with it! The income-tax was seriously threatened. Still, there would be South Africa for their money, once for all. And though the possessive instinct felt badly shaken at three o’clock in the morning, it recovered by breakfast-time with the recollection that one gets nothing in this world without paying for it. So, on the whole, people went about their business much as if there were no war, no concentration camps, no slippery de Wet, no feeling on the Continent, no anything unpleasant. Indeed, the attitude of the nation was typified by Timothy’s map, whose animation was suspended — for Timothy no longer moved the flags, and they could not move themselves, not even backwards and forwards as they should have done.
Suspended animation went further; it invaded Forsyte ‘Change, and produced a general uncertainty as to what was going to happen next. The announcement in the marriage column of The Times, ‘Jolyon Forsyte to Irene, only daughter of the late Professor Heron,’ had occasioned doubt whether Irene had been justly described. And yet, on the whole, relief was felt that she had not been entered as ‘Irene, late the wife,’ or ‘the divorced wife,’ ‘of Soames Forsyte.’ Altogether, there had been a kind of sublimity from the first about the way the family had taken that ‘affair.’ As James had phrased it, ‘There it was!’ No use to fuss! Nothing to be had out of admitting that it had been a ‘nasty jar’— in the phraseology of the day.
But what would happen now that both Soames and Jolyon were married again? That was very intriguing. George was known to have laid Eustace six to four on a little Jolyon before a little Soames. George was so droll! It was rumoured, too, that he and Dartie had a bet as to whether James would attain the age of ninety, though which of them had backed James no one knew.
Early in May, Winifred came round to say that Val had been wounded in the leg by a spent bullet, and was to be discharged. His wife was nursing him. He would have a little limp — nothing to speak of. He wanted his grandfather to buy him a farm out there where he could breed horses. Her father was giving Holly eight hundred a year, so they could be quite comfortable, because his grandfather would give Val five, he had said; but as to the farm, he didn’t know — couldn’t tell: he didn’t want Val to go throwing away his money.
“But you know,” said Winifred, “he must do something.”
Aunt Hester thought that perhaps his dear grandfather was wise, because if he didn’t buy a farm it couldn’t turn out badly.
“But Val loves horses,” said Winifred. “It’d be such an occupation for him.”
Aunt Juley thought that horses were very uncertain, had not Montague found them so?
“Val’s different,” said Winifred; “he takes after me.”
Aunt Juley was sure that dear Val was very clever. “I always remember,” she added, “how he gave his bad penny to a beggar. His dear grandfather was so pleased. He thought it showed such presence of mind. I remember his saying that he ought to go into the Navy.”
Aunt Hester chimed in: Did not Winifred think that it was much better for the young people to be secure and not run any risk at their age?
“Well,” said Winifred, “if they were in London, perhaps; in London it’s amusing to do nothing. But out there, of course, he’ll simply get bored to death.”
Aunt Hester thought that it would be nice for him to work, if he were quite sure not to lose by it. It was not as if they had no money. Timothy, of course, had done so well by retiring. Aunt Juley wanted to know what Montague had said.
Winifred did not tell her, for Montague had merely remarked: “Wait till the old man dies.”
At this moment Francie was announced. Her eyes were brimming with a smile.
“Well,” she said, “what do you think of it?”
“Of what, dear?”
“In The Times this morning.”
“We haven’t seen it, we always read it after dinner; Timothy has it till then.”
Francie rolled her eyes.
“Do you think you ought to tell us?” said Aunt Juley. “What was it?”
“Irene’s had a son at Robin Hill.”
Aunt Juley drew in her breath. “But,” she said, “they were only married in March!”
“Yes, Auntie; isn’t it interesting?”
“Well,” said Winifred, “I’m glad. I was sorry for Jolyon losing his boy. It might have been Val.”
Aunt Juley seemed to go into a sort of dream. “I wonder,” she murmured, “what dear Soames will think? He has so wanted to have a son himself. A little bird has always told me that.”
“Well,” said Winifred, “he’s going to — bar accidents.”
Gladness trickled out of Aunt Juley’s eyes.
“How delightful!” she said. “When?”
Such a lucky month! But she did wish it could be sooner. It was a long time for James to wait, at his age!
To wait! They dreaded it for James, but they were used to it themselves. Indeed, it was their great distraction. To wait! For The Times to read; for one or other of their nieces or nephews to come in and cheer them up; for news of Nicholas’ health; for that decision of Christopher’s about going on the stage; for information concerning the mine of Mrs. MacAnder’s nephew; for the doctor to come about Hester’s inclination to wake up early in the morning; for books from the library which were always out; for Timothy to have a cold; for a nice quiet warm day, not too hot, when they could take a turn in Kensington Gardens. To wait, one on each side of the hearth in the drawing-room, for the clock between them to strike; their thin, veined, knuckled hands plying knitting-needles and crochet-hooks, their hair ordered to stop — like Canute’s waves — from any further advance in colour. To wait in their black silks or satins for the Court to say that Hester might wear her dark green, and Juley her darker maroon. To wait, slowly turning over and over, in their old minds the little joys and sorrows, events and expectancies, of their little family world, as cows chew patient cuds in a familiar field. And this new event was so well worth waiting for. Soames had always been their pet, with his tendency to give them pictures, and his almost weekly visits which they missed so much, and his need for their sympathy evoked by the wreck of his first marriage. This new event — the birth of an heir to Soames — was so important for him, and for his dear father, too, that James might not have to die without some certainty about things. James did so dislike uncertainty; and with Montague, of course, he could not feel really satisfied to leave no grand-children but the young Darties. After all, one’s own name did count! And as James’ ninetieth birthday neared they wondered what precautions he was taking. He would be the first of the Forsytes to reach that age, and set, as it were, a new standard in holding on to life. That was so important, they felt, at their ages eighty-seven and eighty-five; though they did not want to think of themselves when they had Timothy, who was not yet eighty-two, to think of. There was, of course, a better world. ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions’ was one of Aunt Juley’s favourite sayings — it always comforted her, with its suggestion of house property, which had made the fortune of dear Roger. The Bible was, indeed, a great resource, and on very fine Sundays there was church in the morning; and sometimes Juley would steal into Timothy’s study when she was sure he was out, and just put an open New Testament casually among the books on his little table — he was a great reader, of course, having been a publisher. But she had noticed that Timothy was always cross at dinner afterwards. And Smither had told her more than once that she had picked books off the floor in doing the room. Still, with all that, they did feel that heaven could not be quite so cosy as the rooms in which they and Timothy had been waiting so long. Aunt Hester, especially, could not bear the thought of the exertion. Any change, or rather the thought of a change — for there never was any — always upset her very much. Aunt Juley, who had more spirit, sometimes thought it would be quite exciting; she had so enjoyed that visit to Brighton the year dear Susan died. But then Brighton one knew was nice, and it was so difficult to tell what heaven would be like, so on the whole she was more than content to wait.
On the morning of James’ birthday, August the 5th, they felt extraordinary animation, and little notes passed between them by the hand of Smither while they were having breakfast in their beds. Smither must go round and take their love and little presents and find out how Mr. James was, and whether he had passed a good night with all the excitement. And on the way back would Smither call in at Green Street — it was a little out of her way, but she could take the bus up Bond Street afterwards; it would be a nice little change for her — and ask dear Mrs. Dartie to be sure and look in before she went out of town.
All this Smither did — an undeniable servant trained many years ago under Aunt Ann to a perfection not now procurable. Mr. James, so Mrs. James said, had passed an excellent night, he sent his love; Mrs. James had said he was very funny and had complained that he didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Oh! and Mrs. Dartie sent her love, and she would come to tea.
Aunts Juley and Hester, rather hurt that their presents had not received special mention — they forgot every year that James could not bear to receive presents, ‘throwing away their money on him,’ as he always called it — were ‘delighted’; it showed that James was in good spirits, and that was so important for him. And they began to wait for Winifred. She came at four, bringing Imogen, and Maud, just back from school, and ‘getting such a pretty girl, too,’ so that it was extremely difficult to ask for news about Annette. Aunt Juley, however, summoned courage to enquire whether Winifred had heard anything, and if Soames was anxious.
“Uncle Soames is always anxious, Auntie,” interrupted Imogen; “he can’t be happy now he’s got it.”
The words struck familiarly on Aunt Juley’s ears. Ah! yes; that funny drawing of George’s, which had not been shown them! But what did Imogen mean? That her uncle always wanted more than he could have? It was not at all nice to think like that.
Imogen’s voice rose clear and clipped:
“Imagine! Annette’s only two years older than me; it must be awful for her, married to Uncle Soames.”
Aunt Juley lifted her hands in horror.
“My dear,” she said, “you don’t know what you’re talking about. Your Uncle Soames is a match for anybody. He’s a very clever man, and good-looking and wealthy, and most considerate and careful, and not at all old, considering everything.”
Imogen, turning her luscious glance from one to the other of the ‘old dears,’ only smiled.
“I hope,” said Aunt Juley quite severely, “that you will marry as good a man.”
“I shan’t marry a good man, Auntie,” murmured Imogen; “they’re dull.”
“If you go on like this,” replied Aunt Juley, still very much upset, “you won’t marry anybody. We’d better not pursue the subject;” and turning to Winifred, she said: “How is Montague?”
That evening, while they were waiting for dinner, she murmured:
“I’ve told Smither to get up half a bottle of the sweet champagne, Hester. I think we ought to drink dear James’ health, and — and the health of Soames’ wife; only, let’s keep that quite secret. I’ll Just say like this, ‘And you know, Hester!’ and then we’ll drink. It might upset Timothy.”
“It’s more likely to upset us,” said Aunt Nester. “But we must, I suppose; for such an occasion.”
“Yes,” said Aunt Juley rapturously, “it is an occasion! Only fancy if he has a dear little boy, to carry the family on! I do feel it so important, now that Irene has had a son. Winifred says George is calling Jolyon ‘The Three-Decker,’ because of his three families, you know! George is droll. And fancy! Irene is living after all in the house Soames had built for them both. It does seem hard on dear Soames; and he’s always been so regular.”
That night in bed, excited and a little flushed still by her glass of wine and the secrecy of the second toast, she lay with her prayer-book opened flat, and her eyes fixed on a ceiling yellowed by the light from her reading-lamp. Young things! It was so nice for them all! And she would be so happy if she could see dear Soames happy. But, of course, he must be now, in spite of what Imogen had said. He would have all that he wanted: property, and wife, and children! And he would live to a green old age, like his dear father, and forget all about Irene and that dreadful case. If only she herself could be here to buy his children their first rocking-horse! Smither should choose it for her at the stores, nice and dappled. Ah! how Roger used to rock her until she fell off! Oh dear! that was a long time ago! It was! ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions —‘A little scrattling noise caught her ear —‘but no mice!’ she thought mechanically. The noise increased. There! it was a mouse! How naughty of Smither to say there wasn’t! It would be eating through the wainscot before they knew where they were, and they would have to have the builders in. They were such destructive things! And she lay, with her eyes just moving, following in her mind that little scrattling sound, and waiting for sleep to release her from it.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08