A sealed letter in the handwriting of Mr. Polteed remained unopened in Soames’ pocket throughout two hours of sustained attention to the affairs of the ‘New Colliery Company,’ which, declining almost from the moment of old Jolyon’s retirement from the Chairmanship, had lately run down so fast that there was now nothing for it but a ‘winding-up.’ He took the letter out to lunch at his City Club, sacred to him for the meals he had eaten there with his father in the early seventies, when James used to like him to come and see for himself the nature of his future life.
Here in a remote corner before a plate of roast mutton and mashed potato, he read:
“In accordance with your suggestion we have duly taken the matter up at the other end with gratifying results. Observation of 47 has enabled us to locate 17 at the Green Hotel, Richmond. The two have been observed to meet daily during the past week in Richmond Park. Nothing absolutely crucial has so far been notified. But in conjunction with what we had from Paris at the beginning of the year, I am confident we could now satisfy the Court. We shall, of course, continue to watch the matter until we hear from you.
“Very faithfully yours, “CLAUD POLTEED.”
Soames read it through twice and beckoned to the waiter:
“Take this away; it’s cold.”
“Shall I bring you some more, sir?”
“No. Get me some coffee in the other room.”
And, paying for what he had not eaten, he went out, passing two acquaintances without sign of recognition.
‘Satisfy the Court!’ he thought, sitting at a little round marble table with the coffee before him. That fellow Jolyon! He poured out his coffee, sweetened and drank it. He would disgrace him in the eyes of his own children! And rising, with that resolution hot within him, he found for the first time the inconvenience of being his own solicitor. He could not treat this scandalous matter in his own office. He must commit the soul of his private dignity to a stranger, some other professional dealer in family dishonour. Who was there he could go to? Linkman and Laver in Budge Row, perhaps — reliable, not too conspicuous, only nodding acquaintances. But before he saw them he must see Polteed again. But at this thought Soames had a moment of sheer weakness. To part with his secret? How find the words? How subject himself to contempt and secret laughter? Yet, after all, the fellow knew already — oh yes, he knew! And, feeling that he must finish with it now, he took a cab into the West End.
In this hot weather the window of Mr. Polteed’s room was positively open, and the only precaution was a wire gauze, preventing the intrusion of flies. Two or three had tried to come in, and been caught, so that they seemed to be clinging there with the intention of being devoured presently. Mr. Polteed, following the direction of his client’s eye, rose apologetically and closed the window.
‘Posing ass!’ thought Soames. Like all who fundamentally believe in themselves he was rising to the occasion, and, with his little sideway smile, he said: “I’ve had your letter. I’m going to act. I suppose you know who the lady you’ve been watching really is?” Mr. Polteed’s expression at that moment was a masterpiece. It so clearly said: ‘Well, what do you think? But mere professional knowledge, I assure you — pray forgive it!’ He made a little half airy movement with his hand, as who should say: ‘Such things — such things will happen to us all!’
“Very well, then,” said Soames, moistening his lips: “there’s no need to say more. I’m instructing Linkman and Laver of Budge Row to act for me. I don’t want to hear your evidence, but kindly make your report to them at five o’clock, and continue to observe the utmost secrecy.”
Mr. Polteed half closed his eyes, as if to comply at once. “My dear sir,” he said.
“Are you convinced,” asked Soames with sudden energy, “that there is enough?”
The faintest movement occurred to Mr. Polteed’s shoulders.
“You can risk it,” he murmured; “with what we have, and human nature, you can risk it.”
Soames rose. “You will ask for Mr. Linkman. Thanks; don’t get up.” He could not bear Mr. Polteed to slide as usual between him and the door. In the sunlight of Piccadilly he wiped his forehead. This had been the worst of it — he could stand the strangers better. And he went back into the City to do what still lay before him.
That evening in Park Lane, watching his father dine, he was overwhelmed by his old longing for a son — a son, to watch him eat as he went down the years, to be taken on his knee as James on a time had been wont to take him; a son of his own begetting, who could understand him because he was the same flesh and blood — understand, and comfort him, and become more rich and cultured than himself because he would start even better off. To get old — like that thin, grey wiry-frail figure sitting there — and be quite alone with possessions heaping up around him; to take no interest in anything because it had no future and must pass away from him to hands and mouths and eyes for whom he cared no jot! No! He would force it through now, and be free to marry, and have a son to care for him before he grew to be like the old old man his father, wistfully watching now his sweetbread, now his son.
In that mood he went up to bed. But, lying warm between those fine linen sheets of Emily’s providing, he was visited by memories and torture. Visions of Irene, almost the solid feeling of her body, beset him. Why had he ever been fool enough to see her again, and let this flood back on him so that it was pain to think of her with that fellow — that stealing fellow.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54