Fleur met them in the hall. After dropping Jon at Dorking she had exceeded the limit homewards, that she might appear to have nothing in her thoughts but the welfare of the slums. “The Squire” being among his partridges, the Bishop was in the chair. Fleur went to the sideboard, and, while Michael was reading the minutes, began pouring out the tea. The Bishop, Sir Godfrey Bedwin, Mr. Montross, her father-inlaw, and herself drank China tea; Sir Timothy — whisky and soda; Michael nothing; the Marquess, Hilary, and her father Indian tea; and each maintained that the others were destroying their digestions. Her father, indeed, was always telling her that she only drank China tea because it was the fashion — she couldn’t possibly like it. While she apportioned their beverages she wondered what they would think if they knew what, besides tea, was going on within her. To-morrow was Jon’s last sitting and she was going ‘over the top!’ All the careful possessing of her soul these two months since she had danced with him at Nettlefold would by this time tomorrow be ended. To-morrow at this hour she would claim her own. The knowledge that there must be two parties to any contact did not trouble her. She had the faith of a pretty woman in love. What she willed would be accomplished, but none should know of it! And, handing her cups, she smiled, pitying the ignorance of these wise old men. They should not know, nor anyone else, least of all the young man who last night had held her in his arms. And, thinking of one not yet so holding her, she sat down by the hearth, with her tea and her tables, while her pulses throbbed and her half-closed eyes saw Jon’s face turned round to her from the station door. Fulfilment! She, like Jacob, had served seven years — for the fulfilment of her love — seven long, long years! And — while she sat there listening to the edgeless booming of the Bishop and Sir Godfrey, to the random ejaculations of Sir Timothy, to her father’s close and cautious comments — that something clear, precise, unflinching woven into her nature with French blood, silently perfected the machinery of the stolen life, that should begin tomorrow after they had eaten of forbidden fruit. A stolen life was a safe life if there were no chicken-hearted hesitation, no squeamishness, and no remorse! She might have experienced a dozen stolen lives already, from the certainty she felt about that. She alone would arrange — Jon should be spared all. And no one should know!
“Fleur, would you take a note of that?”
And she wrote down on her tablets: “Ask Michael what I was to take a note of.”
“Yes, Sir Timothy?”
“Could you get up one of those what d’you call ‘ems for us?”
“No, no — jumble sales, don’t they call ’em?”
The more she got up for them the more impeccable her reputation, the greater her freedom, and the more she would deserve, and ironically enjoy, her stolen life.
Hilary speaking now. What would HE think if he knew?
“But I think we OUGHT to have a matinee, Fleur. The public are so good, they’ll always pay a guinea to go to what most of them would give a guinea any day not to go to. What so you say, Bishop?”
“A matinee — by all means!”
“Matinees — dreadful things!”
“Not if we got a pleasant play, Mr. Forsyte — something a little old-fashioned — one of L.S.D.‘s. It would advertise us, you know. What do you think, Marquess?”
“My granddaughter Marjorie would get one up for you. It would do her good.”
“H’m. If SHE gets it up, it won’t be old-fashioned.” And Fleur saw her father’s face turning towards her, as he spoke. If only he knew how utterly she was beyond all that; how trivial to her seemed that heart-burning of the past.
“Mr. Montross, have you a theatre in your pocket?”
“I can get you one, Mr. Charwell.”
“First rate! Then, will you and the Marquess and my nephew here take that under your wings? Fleur, tell us how your Rest-House is doing?”
“Perfectly, Uncle Hilary. It’s quite full. The girls are delightful.”
“Wild lot, I should think — aren’t they?”
“Oh! no, Sir Timothy; they’re quite model.”
If only the old gentleman could see over his moustache into the model lady who controlled them!
“Well then, that’s that. If there’s nothing more, Mr. Chairman, will you excuse me? I’ve got to meet an American about ants. We aren’t properly shaking up these landlords in my opinion. Good-night to you all!”
Motioning to Michael to stay behind, Fleur rose to see Sir Timothy out.
“Which umbrella is yours, Sir Timothy?”
“I don’t know; that looks the best. If you get up a jumble sale, Mrs. Mont, I wish you’d sell the Bishop at it. I can’t stand a fellow with a plum in his mouth, especially in the Chair.”
Fleur smiled, and the “old boy” cocked his hat at her. They all cocked their hats at her, and that was pleasant! But would they if they knew! Dusk among the trees of the Square Garden, the lights just turned up — what luck to have such weather — dry and warm! She stood in the doorway, taking long breaths. By this time tomorrow she meant to be a dishonest wife! Well, not more than she had always been in secret aspiration.
‘I’m glad Kit’s down at “The Shelter”,’ she thought. HE should never know, no one should! There would be no change — no change in anything except in her and Jon. The Life Force would break bounds in a little secret river, which would flow — ah, where? Who cared?
“My dear Mont, honesty was never the best policy from a material point of view. The sentiment is purely Victorian. The Victorians were wonderful fellows for squaring circles.”
“I agree, Marquess, I agree; they could think what they wanted better than anybody. When times are fat, you can.”
Those two in the hall behind her — dried-up and withered! Fleur turned to them with her smile.
“My dear young lady — the evening air! You won’t take cold?”
“No thank you, sir; I’m warm all through.”
“How nice that is!”
“May I give you a lift, Marquess?”
“Thank you, Mr. Montross. Wish I could afford a car myself. Are you coming our way, Mont? Do you know that song, Mr. Montross: ‘We’ll all go round to Alice’s house’? It seems to have a fascination for my milk boy. I often wonder who Alice is? I have a suspicion she may not be altogether proper. Good-night to you, Mrs. Mont. How charming your house is!”
His hand; “the walrus’s”; her father-inlaw’s.
“Kit all right, Fleur?”
“Good-night, my dear!”
His dear — the mother of his grandson! ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow!’
The rug wrapped round the cargo of age, the door shut — what, a smooth and silent car! Voices again:
“Will you have a taxi, Uncle Hilary?”
“No, thank you, Michael, the Bishop and I will walk.”
“Then I’ll come with you as far as the corner. Coming, Sir Godfrey? By-bye, darling. Your Dad’s staying to dinner. I’ll be back from old Blythe’s about ten.”
The animals went out four by four!
“Don’t stand there; you’ll get cold!” Her father’s voice! The one person whose eyes she feared. She must keep her mask on now.
“Well, Dad, what have you been doing today? Come into the ‘parlour’— we’ll have dinner quite soon.”
“How’s your picture? Is this fellow taking care not to exaggerate? I think I’d better have a look at it.”
“Not just yet, dear. He’s a very touchy gentleman.”
“They’re all that. I thought of going down West tomorrow to see where the Forsytes sprang from. I suppose you couldn’t take a rest and come?”
Fleur heard, without giving a sign of her relief.
“How long will you be away, Dad?”
“Back on the third day. ‘Tisn’t two hundred miles.”
“I’m afraid it would put my painter out.”
“Well, I didn’t think you’d care to. There’s no kudos there. But I’ve meant to for a long time; and the weather’s fine.”
“I’m sure it will be frightfully interesting, dear; you must tell me all about it. But what with the portrait and my Rest-House, I’m very tied, just now.”
“Well, then, I’ll look for you at the week-end. Your mother’s gone to some friends — they do nothing but play bridge; she’ll be away till Monday. I always want you, you know,” he added, simply. And to avoid his eyes she got up.
“I’ll just run up now, Dad, and change. Those Slum Committee Meetings always make me feel grubby. I don’t know why.”
“They’re a waste of time,” said Soames. “There’ll always be slums. Still, it’s something for you both to do.”
“Yes, Michael’s quite happy about it.”
“That old fool, Sir Timothy!” And Soames went up to the Fragonard. “I’ve hung that Morland. The Marquess is an amiable old chap. I suppose you know I’m leaving my pictures to the Nation? You’ve no use for them. You’ll have to live at that place Lippinghall some day. Pictures’d be no good there. Ancestors and stags’ horns and horses — that sort of thing. M’ff!”
A secret life and Lippinghall! Long, long might that conjunction be deferred!
“Oh, Bart will live for ever, Dad!’
“M’yes! He’s spry enough. Well, you run up!”
While she washed off powder and put it on again Fleur thought: ‘Dear Dad! Thank God! He’ll be far away!’
Now that her mind was thoroughly made up, it was comparatively easy to bluff, and keep her freshly-powdered face, smiling and serene, above the Chelsea dinner service.
“Where are you going to hang your portrait, when it’s done?” resumed Soames.
“Why! It’ll be yours, dear.”
“Mine? Well, of course; but you’ll hang it here; Michael’ll want it.”
Michael — unknowing! THAT gave her a twinge.
Well, she would be as good to him after, as ever. No old-fashioned squeamishness!
“Thank you, dear. I expect he’ll like it in the ‘parlour.’ The scheme IS silver and gold — my ‘Folly’ dress.”
“I remember it,” said Soames; “a thing with bells.”
“I think all that part of the picture’s very good.”
“What? Hasn’t he got your face?”
“Perhaps — but I don’t know that I approve of it frightfully.” After this morning’s sitting, indeed, she had wondered. Something avid had come into the face as if the Rafaelite had sensed the hardening of resolve within her.
“If he doesn’t do you justice I shan’t take it,” said Soames.
Fleur smiled. The Rafaelite would have something to say to that.
“Oh! I expect it’ll be all right. One never thinks one’s own effigies are marvellous, I suppose.”
“Don’t know,” said Soames, “never was painted.”
“You ought to be, dear.”
“Waste of time! Has he sent away the picture of that young woman?”
Fleur’s eyes did not flinch.
“Jon Forsyte’s wife? Oh! yes — long ago.”
She expected him to say: “Seen anything of them?” But it did not come. And that disturbed her more than if it had come.
“I had your cousin Val to see me today.”
Fleur’s heart stood still. Had they been talking?
“His name’s been forged.”
“Some people have no moral sense at all,” continued Soames. Involuntarily her white shoulder rose; but he wasn’t looking. “Common honesty, I don’t know where it is.”
“I heard the Marquess say to-night that ‘Honesty’s the best policy’ was a mere Victorianism, Dad.”
“Well, he’s ten years my senior, but I don’t know where he got that from. Everything’s twisted inside out, now-a-days.”
“But if it’s the best POLICY, there never was any particular virtue in it, was there?”
Soames took a sharp look at her smiling face.
“Oh, I don’t know. These are Lippinghall partridges, Dad.”
Soames sniffed. “Not hung quite long enough. You ought to be able to swear by the leg of a partridge.”
“Yes, I’ve told cook, but she has her own views.”
“And the bread sauce should have a touch more onion in it. Victorianism, indeed! I suppose he’d call ME a Victorian?”
“Well, aren’t you, Dad? You had forty-six years of her.”
“I’ve had twenty-five without her, and hope to have a few more.”
“Many, many,” said Fleur, softly.
“Can’t expect that.”
“Oh, yes! But I’m glad you don’t consider yourself a Victorian; I don’t like them. They wore too many clothes.”
“Don’t you be too sure of that.”
“Well, tomorrow you’ll be among Georgians, anyway.”
“Yes,” said Soames. “There’s a graveyard there, they say. And that reminds me — I’ve bought that corner bit in the churchyard down at home. It’ll do for me as well as any other. Your mother will want to go to France to be buried, I expect.”
“Give Mr. Forsyte some sherry, Coaker.”
Soames took a long sniff.
“This is some of your grandfather’s. He lived to be ninety.”
If she and Jon lived to be ninety — would nobody still know? . . . She left him at ten o’clock, brushing his nose with her lips.
“I’m tired, Dad; and you’ll have a long day tomorrow. Good-night, dear!”
Thank God he would be among the Georgians tomorrow!
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50