He had much to see to, that night and all next day. A telegram at breakfast reassured him about Annette, and he only caught the last train back to Reading, with Emily’s kiss on his forehead and in his ears her words:
“I don’t know what I should have done without you, my dear boy.”
He reached his house at midnight. The weather had changed, was mild again, as though, having finished its work and sent a Forsyte to his last account, it could relax. A second telegram, received at dinner-time, had confirmed the good news of Annette, and, instead of going in, Soames passed down through the garden in the moonlight to his houseboat. He could sleep there quite well. Bitterly tired, he lay down on the sofa in his fur coat and fell asleep. He woke soon after dawn and went on deck. He stood against the rail, looking west where the river swept round in a wide curve under the woods. In Soames, appreciation of natural beauty was curiously like that of his farmer ancestors, a sense of grievance if it wasn’t there, sharpened, no doubt, and civilised, by his researches among landscape painting. But dawn has power to fertilise the most matter-of-fact vision, and he was stirred. It was another world from the river he knew, under that remote cool light; a world into which man had not entered, an unreal world, like some strange shore sighted by discovery. Its colour was not the colour of convention, was hardly colour at all; its shapes were brooding yet distinct; its silence stunning; it had no scent. Why it should move him he could not tell, unless it were that he felt so alone in it, bare of all relationship and all possessions. Into such a world his father might be voyaging, for all resemblance it had to the world he had left. And Soames took refuge from it in wondering what painter could have done it justice. The white-grey water was like — like the belly of a fish! Was it possible that this world on which he looked was all private property, except the water — and even that was tapped! No tree, no shrub, not a blade of grass, not a bird or beast, not even a fish that was not owned. And once on a time all this was jungle and marsh and water, and weird creatures roamed and sported without human cognizance to give them names; rotting luxuriance had rioted where those tall, carefully planted woods came down to the water, and marsh-misted reeds on that far side had covered all the pasture. Well! they had got it under, kennelled it all up, labelled it, and stowed it in lawyers’ offices. And a good thing too! But once in a way, as now, the ghost of the past came out to haunt and brood and whisper to any human who chanced to be awake: ‘Out of my unowned loneliness you all came, into it some day you will all return.’
And Soames, who felt the chill and the eeriness of that world-new to him and so very old: the world, unowned, visiting the scene of its past — went down and made himself tea on a spirit-lamp. When he had drunk it, he took out writing materials and wrote two paragraphs:
“On the 20th instant at his residence in Park Lane, James Forsyte, in his ninety-first year. Funeral at noon on the 24th at Highgate. No flowers by request.”
“On the 20th instant at The Shelter; Mapledurham, Annette, wife of Soames Forsyte, of a daughter.” And underneath on the blottingpaper he traced the word “son.”
It was eight o’clock in an ordinary autumn world when he went across to the house. Bushes across the river stood round and bright-coloured out of a milky haze; the wood-smoke went up blue and straight; and his doves cooed, preening their feathers in the sunlight.
He stole up to his dressing-room, bathed, shaved, put on fresh linen and dark clothes.
Madame Lamotte was beginning her breakfast when he went down.
She looked at his clothes, said, “Don’t tell me!” and pressed his hand. “Annette is prettee well. But the doctor say she can never have no more children. You knew that?” Soames nodded. “It’s a pity. Mais la petite est adorable. Du cafe?”
Soames got away from her as soon as he could. She offended him — solid, matter-of-fact, quick, clear — French. He could not bear her vowels, her ‘r’s’; he resented the way she had looked at him, as if it were his fault that Annette could never bear him a son! His fault! He even resented her cheap adoration of the daughter he had not yet seen.
Curious how he jibbed away from sight of his wife and child!
One would have thought he must have rushed up at the first moment. On the contrary, he had a sort of physical shrinking from it — fastidious possessor that he was. He was afraid of what Annette was thinking of him, author of her agonies, afraid of the look of the baby, afraid of showing his disappointment with the present and — the future.
He spent an hour walking up and down the drawing-room before he could screw his courage up to mount the stairs and knock on the door of their room.
Madame Lamotte opened it.
“Ah! At last you come! Elle vous attend!” She passed him, and Soames went in with his noiseless step, his jaw firmly set, his eyes furtive.
Annette was very pale and very pretty lying there. The baby was hidden away somewhere; he could not see it. He went up to the bed, and with sudden emotion bent and kissed her forehead.
“Here you are then, Soames,” she said. “I am not so bad now. But I suffered terribly, terribly. I am glad I cannot have any more. Oh! how I suffered!”
Soames stood silent, stroking her hand; words of endearment, of sympathy, absolutely would not come; the thought passed through him: ‘An English girl wouldn’t have said that!’ At this moment he knew with certainty that he would never be near to her in spirit and in truth, nor she to him. He had collected her — that was all! And Jolyon’s words came rushing into his mind: “I should imagine you will be glad to have your neck out of chancery.” Well, he had got it out! Had he got it in again?
“We must feed you up,” he said, “you’ll soon be strong.”
“Don’t you want to see baby, Soames? She is asleep.”
“Of course,” said Soames, “very much.”
He passed round the foot of the bed to the other side and stood staring. For the first moment what he saw was much what he had expected to see — a baby. But as he stared and the baby breathed and made little sleeping movements with its tiny features, it seemed to assume an individual shape, grew to be like a picture, a thing he would know again; not repulsive, strangely bud-like and touching. It had dark hair. He touched it with his finger, he wanted to see its eyes. They opened, they were dark — whether blue or brown he could not tell. The eyes winked, stared, they had a sort of sleepy depth in them. And suddenly his heart felt queer, warm, as if elated.
“Ma petite fleur!” Annette said softly.
“Fleur,” repeated Soames: “Fleur! we’ll call her that.”
The sense of triumph and renewed possession swelled within him.
By God! this — this thing was his! By God! this — this thing was his!
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54