“Mrs. Val Dartie, ma’am.”
A name which could not be distorted even by Coaker affected her like a finger applied suddenly to the head of the sciatic nerve. Holly! Not seen since the day when she did not marry Jon. Holly! A flood of remembrance — Wansdon, the Downs, the gravel pit, the apple orchard, the river, the copse at Robin Hill! No! It was not a pleasant sensation — to see Holly, and she said: “How awfully nice of you to come!”
“I met your husband this afternoon at Green Street; he asked me. What a lovely room!”
“Ting! Come and be introduced! This is Ting-a-ling; isn’t he perfect? He’s a little upset because of the new monkey. How’s Val, and dear Wansdon? It was too wonderfully peaceful.”
“It’s a nice backwater. I don’t get tired of it.”
“And —” said Fleur, with a little laugh, “Jon?”
“He’s growing peaches in North Carolina. British Columbia didn’t do.”
“Oh! Is he married?”
“I suppose he’ll marry an American.”
“He isn’t twenty-two, you know.”
“Good Lord!” said Fleur: “Am I only twenty-one? I feel forty-eight.”
“That’s living in the middle of things and seeing so many people —”
“And getting to know none.”
“But don’t you?”
“No, it isn’t done. I mean we all call each other by our Christian names; but apres —”
“I like your husband very much.”
“Oh! yes, Michael’s a dear. How’s June?”
“I saw her yesterday — she’s got a new painter, of course — Claud Brains. I believe he’s what they call a Vertiginist.”
Fleur bit her lip.
“Yes, they’re quite common. I suppose June thinks he’s the only one.”
“Well, she think’s he’s a genius.”
“Yes,” said Holly, “the most loyal creature in the world while it lasts. It’s like poultry farming — once they’re hatched. You never saw Boris Strumolowski?”
“I know his bust of Michael’s uncle. It’s rather sane.”
“Yes. June thought it a pot-boiler, and he never forgave her. Of course it was. As soon as her swan makes money, she looks round for another. She’s a darling.”
“Yes,” murmured Fleur; “I liked June.”
Another flood of remembrance — from a tea-shop, from the river, from June’s little dining-room, from where in Green Street she had changed her wedding dress under the upward gaze of June’s blue eyes. She seized the monkey and held it up.
“Isn’t it a picture of ‘life’?” Would she have said that if Aubrey Greene hadn’t? Still it seemed very true at the moment.
“Poor monkey!” said Holly. “I’m always frightfully sorry for monkeys. But it’s marvellous, I think.”
“Yes. I’m going to hang it here. If I can get one more, I shall have done in this room; only people have so got on to Chinese things. This was luck — somebody died — George Forsyte, you know, the racing one.”
“Oh!” said Holly softly. She saw again her old kinsman’s japing eyes in the church when Fleur was being married, heard his throaty whisper, “Will she stay the course?” And was she staying it, this pretty filly? “Wish she could get a rest. If only there were a desert handy!” Well, one couldn’t ask a question so personal, and Holly took refuge in a general remark.
“What do all you smart young people feel about life, nowadays, Fleur! when one’s not of it and has lived twenty years in South Africa, one still feels out of it.”
“Life! Oh! well, we know it’s supposed to be a riddle, but we’ve given it up. We just want to have a good time because we don’t believe anything can last. But I don’t think we know how to have it. We just fly on, and hope for it. Of course, there’s art, but most of us aren’t artists; besides, expressionism — Michael says it’s got no inside. We gas about it, but I suppose it hasn’t. I see a frightful lot of writers and painters, you know; they’re supposed to be amusing.”
Holly listened, amazed. Who would have thought that this girl SAW? She might be seeing wrong, but anyway she saw!
“Surely,” she said, “you enjoy yourselves?”
“Well, I like getting hold of nice things, and interesting people; I like seeing everything that’s new and worth while, or seems so at the moment. But that’s just how it is — nothing lasts. You see, I’m not of the ‘Pan-joys,’ nor of the ‘new-faithfuls.’”
“Oh! don’t you know — it’s a sort of faith-healing done on oneself, not exactly the old ‘God-good, good-God!’ sort; but a kind of mixture of will-power, psycho-analysis, and belief that everything will be all right on the night if you say it will. You must have come across them. They’re frightfully in earnest.”
“I know,” said Holly; “their eyes shine.”
“I daresay. I don’t believe in them — I don’t believe in anyone; or anything — much. How can one?”
“How about simple people, and hard work?”
Fleur sighed. “I daresay. I will say for Michael — HE’S not spoiled. Let’s have tea? Tea, Ting?” and, turning up the lights, she rang the bell.
When her unexpected visitor had gone, she sat very still before the fire. To-day, when she had been so very nearly Wilfrid’s! So Jon was not married! Not that it made any odds! Things did not come round as they were expected to in books. And anyway sentiment was swosh! Cut it out! She tossed back her hair; and, getting hammer and nail, proceeded to hang the white monkey. Between the two tea-chests with their coloured pearl-shell figures, he would look his best. Since she couldn’t have Jon, what did it matter — Wilfrid or Michael, or both, or neither? Eat the orange in her hand, and throw away the rind! And suddenly she became aware that Michael was in the room. He had come in very quietly and was standing before the fire behind her. She gave him a quick look and said:
“I’ve had Aubrey Greene here about a model you sent him, and Holly — Mrs. Val Dartie — she said she’d seen you. Oh! and father’s brought us this. Isn’t it perfect?”
Michael did not speak.
“Anything the matter, Michael?”
“No, nothing.” He went up to the monkey. From behind him now Fleur searched his profile. Instinct told her of a change. Had he, after all, seen her going to Wilfrid’s — coming away?
“Some monkey!” he said. “By the way, have you any spare clothes you could give the wife of a poor snipe — nothing too swell?”
She answered mechanically: “Yes, of course!” while her brain worked furiously.
“Would you put them out, then? I’m going to make up a bunch for him myself — they could go together.”
Yes! He was quite unlike himself, as if the spring in him had run down. A sort of malaise overcame her. Michael not cheerful! It was like the fire going out on a cold day. And, perhaps for the first time, she was conscious that his cheerfulness was of real importance to her. She watched him pick up Ting-a-ling and sit down. And going up behind him, she bent over till her hair was against his cheek. Instead of rubbing his cheek on hers, he sat quite still, and her heart misgave her.
“What is it?” she said, coaxing.
She took hold of his ears.
“But there is. I suppose you know somehow that I went to see Wilfrid.”
He said stonily: “Why not?”
She let go, and stood up straight.
“It was only to tell him that I couldn’t see him again.”
That half-truth seemed to her the whole.
He suddenly looked up, a quiver went over his face; he look her hand.
“It’s all right, Fleur. You must do what you like, you know. That’s only fair. I had too much lunch.”
Fleur withdrew to the middle of the room.
“You’re rather an angel,” she said slowly, and went out.
Upstairs she looked out garments, confused in her soul.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54