On her return to Nettlefold from her night in town, Fleur had continued to ‘eat her heart out’ by ‘the sad sea wave.’ For still neither Jon nor his wife came to see her. Clearly she was labelled “poison.” Twice she had walked over to Green Hill Farm hoping for another “jolly accident.” She had seen there an attractive old house with aged farm buildings flanked by a hill and a wide prospect towards the sea. Calm, broad, and homelike, the place roused hostility in her. It could never be HER home, and so was inimical, part of the forces working against her. Loose ends in Jon’s life were all in her favour. In exploitation of those calm acres he would be secured to that girl his wife, out of her reach again, this time for good — the twice-burnt child! And yet, with all her heartache, she was still uncertain what, precisely, she wanted. Not having to grapple with actual decision, things seemed possible which, in her bones, she knew might not be possible. Even to fling her ‘cap over the windmill,’ did not seem like rank and staring madness. To retrieve Spain with Jon! Her hands clenched and her lips loosened at the thought of it — an Odyssey together, till in the shifting, tolerant, modern world, all was forgotten, if not forgiven! Every form of companionship with him from decorous and platonic friendship to the world well lost; from guilty and secret liaison to orderly and above-board glimpses of him at not too long-intervals. According to the tides in her blood, all seemed possible, if not exactly probable, so long as she did not lose him again altogether.
To these feverish veerings of her spirit, a letter from her Aunt Winifred supplied a point of anchorage:
“I hear from Val that they are not going to Goodwood after all — their nice two-year-old is not in form. Such a bore. It’s the most comfortable meeting of the year. They seem to be very busy settling about the farm that Jon Forsyte is going to take. It will be pleasant for Val and Holly to have them so close, though I’m afraid that American child will find it dull. Holly writes that they are going to an amusing little fancy dress affair at the hotel in Nettlefold. Anne is to go as a water-nymph — she will make quite a good one with her nice straight legs. Holly is to be Madame Vigee le Brun; and Val says he’ll go as a tipster or not at all. I do hope he won’t redden his nose. Young Jon Forsyte has an Arab dress he brought from Egypt.”
‘And I,’ thought Fleur, ‘have the dress I wore the night I went to his room at Wansdon.’ How she had wished now that she had come out of that room his wife; after that nothing could have divided them. But they had been such innocents then!
For at once she had made up her mind to go to that dance herself. She was there first, and with malicious pleasure watched the faces of those two when she met them at the entrance of the room. Her grape-dress. She could see that Jon remembered it, and quickly she began to praise Anne’s. A water-nymph to the life! As for Jon — another wife or two was all he needed to be perfect! She was discretion itself until that waltz; and even then she had tried to be discreet to all but Jon. For him she kept (or so she hoped) the closeness, the clinging, and the languor of her eyes; but in those few minutes she let him know quite surely that love ran in her veins.
“‘Always,’” was all she said when at last they stopped.
And, after that dance, she stole away; having no heart to see him dance with his water-nymph. She crept up to her small bedroom trembling, and on her bed fell into a passion of silent weeping. And the water-nymph’s browned face and eyes and legs flitted torturingly in the tangled glades of her vision. She quieted down at last. At least, for a few minutes, she had had him to herself, heart against heart. That was something.
She rose late, pale and composed again. At ten o’clock the startling appearance of her father’s car completed the masking of her face. She greeted him with an emphatic gratitude quite unfelt.
“Dad! How lovely! Where have you sprung from?”
“Nettlefold. I spent the night there.”
“At the hotel?”
“Why! I was there myself last night at a dance!”
“Oh!” said Soames, “that fancy dress affair — they told me of it. Pleasant?”
“Not very; I left early. If I’d known you were there! Why didn’t you tell me you were coming down to fetch us home?”
“It just came into my mind that it was better for the boy than the train.”
And Fleur could not tell what he had seen, or if, indeed, he had seen anything.
Fortunately, during the journey up, Kit had much to say, and Soames dozed, very tired after a night of anxiety, indecision, and little sleep. The aspect of the South Square house, choice and sophisticated, and the warmth of Michael’s greeting, quite beautifully returned by Fleur, restored to him at least a measure of equanimity. Here, at all events, was no unhappy home; that counted much in the equation of a future into which he could no longer see.
After lunch he went up to Michael’s study to discuss slum conversion. Confronted, while they were talking, with Fleur’s water-colour, Soames rediscovered the truth that individuals are more interesting than the collection of them called the State. Not national welfare, but the painter of those passion fruits, possessed his mind. How prevent her from eating them?
“Yes, sir. That’s really quite good, isn’t it? I wish Fleur would take seriously to water-colour work.”
“I wish she’d take seriously to anything, and keep her mind occupied.”
Michael looked at him. ‘Rather like a dog,’ Soames thought, ‘trying to understand.’ Suddenly, he saw the young man wet his lips.
“You’ve got something to tell me, sir, I believe. I remember what you said to me some weeks ago. Is it anything to do with that?”
“Yes,” answered Soames, watching his eyes. “Don’t take it too much to heart, but I’ve reason to believe she’s never properly got over the feeling she used to have. I don’t know how much you’ve heard about that boy and girl affair.”
“Pretty well all, I think.” Again he saw Michael moisten his lips.
“Oh! From her?”
“No. Fleur’s never said a word. From Miss June Forsyte.”
“That woman! SHE’S sure to have plumped it all out. But Fleur’s fond of you.”
It seemed to Soames a queer way of putting it; pathetic, somehow!
“Well,” he said, “I’ve not made a sign. Perhaps you’d like to know how I formed my view.”
Soames glanced quickly at him and away again. This was a bitter moment, no doubt, for young Michael! Was one precipitating a crisis which one felt, deeply yet vaguely, had to be reached and passed? He himself knew how to wait, but did this modern young man, so feather-pated and scattery? Still, he was a gentleman. That at least had become a cardinal belief with Soames. And it was a comfort to him, looking at the “White Monkey,” on the wall, who had so slender a claim to such a title.
“The only thing,” he muttered, “is to wait —”
“Not ‘and see,’ sir; anything but that. I can wait and not see, or I can have the whole thing out.”
“No,” said Soames, with emphasis, “don’t have it out! I may be mistaken. There’s everything against it; she knows which side her bread is buttered.”
“Don’t!” said Michael, and got up.
“Now, now,” murmured Soames, “I’ve upset you. Everything depends on keeping your head.”
Michael emitted an unhappy little laugh.
“YOU can’t go round the world again, sir. Perhaps I’D better, this time, and alone.”
Soames looked at him. “This won’t do,” he said. “She’s got a strong affection for you; it’s just feverishness, if it’s anything. Take it like a man, and keep quiet.” He was talking to the young man’s back now, and found it easier. “She was always a spoiled child, you know; spoiled children get things into their heads, but it doesn’t amount to anything. Can’t you get her interested in these slums?”
Michael turned round.
“How far has it gone?”
“There you go!” said Soames. “Not any way so far as I know. I only happened to see her dancing with him last night at that hotel, and noticed her — her expression.”
The word “eyes” had seemed somehow too extravagant.
“There’s always his wife,” he added, quickly, “she’s an attractive little thing; and he’s going to farm down there — they tell me. That’ll take him all his time. How would it be if I took Fleur to Scotland for August and September? With this strike on there’ll be some places in the market still.”
“No, sir. That’s only putting off the evil day. It must go to a finish, one way or the other.”
Soames did not answer for some time.
“It’s never any good to meet trouble half way,” he said at last. “You young people are always in a hurry. One can do things, but one can’t undo them. It’s not,” he went on, shyly, “as if this were anything new — an unfortunate old business revived for the moment; it’ll die away again as it did before, if it’s properly left alone. Plenty of exercise, and keep her mind well occupied.”
The young man’s expression was peculiar.
“And have you found that successful, sir, in your experience?” it seemed to say. That woman June had been blurting out his past, he shouldn’t wonder!
“Promise me, anyway, to keep what I’ve said to yourself, and do nothing rash.”
Michael shook his head. “I can’t promise anything; it must depend, but I’ll remember your advice, sir.”
And with this Soames had to be content.
Acting on that instinct, born of love, which guided him in his dealings with Fleur, he bade her an almost casual farewell, and next day returned to Mapledurham. He detailed to Annette everything that was not of importance, for to tell her what was would never do.
His home on these last days of July was pleasurable; and almost at once he went out fishing in the punt. There, in contemplation of his line and the gliding water, green with reflection, he felt rested. Bullrushes, water lilies, dragon flies, and the cows in his own fields, the incessant cooing of the wood pigeons — with their precious “Take TWO cows, David!”— the distant buzz of his gardener’s lawn mower, the splash of a water rat, shadows lengthening out from the poplars and the willow-trees, the scent of grass and of elder flowers bright along the banks, and the slow drift of the white river clouds — peaceful — very peaceful; and something of Nature’s calm entered his soul, so that the disappearance of his float recalled him to reality with a jerk.
‘It’ll be uneatable,’ he thought, winding at his line.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54