The White Monkey, by John Galsworthy

Chapter III


According to a great and guiding principle, Fleur and Michael Mont attended the Hugo Solstis concert, not because they anticipated pleasure, but because they knew Hugo. They felt, besides, that Solstis, an Englishman of Russo-Dutch extraction, was one of those who were restoring English music, giving to it a wide and spacious freedom from melody and rhythm, while investing it with literary and mathematical charms. And one never could go to a concert given by any of this school without using the word ‘interesting’ as one was coming away. To sleep to this restored English music, too, was impossible. Fleur, a sound sleeper, had never even tried. Michael had, and complained afterwards that it had been like a nap in Liege railway station. On this occasion they occupied those gangway seats in the front row of the dress circle of which Fleur had a sort of natural monopoly. There Hugo and the rest could see her taking her place in the English restoration movement. It was easy, too, to escape into the corridor and exchange the word ‘interesting’ with side-whiskered cognoscenti; or, slipping out a cigarette from the little gold case, wedding present of Cousin Imogen Cardigan, get a whiff or two’s repose. To speak quite honestly, Fleur had a natural sense of rhythm which caused her discomfort during those long and ‘interesting’ passages which evidenced, as it were, the composer’s rise and fall from his bed of thorns. She secretly loved a tune, and the impossibility of ever confessing this without losing hold of Solstis, Baff, Birdigal, MacLewis, Clorane, and other English restoration composers, sometimes taxed to its limit a nature which had its Spartan side. Even to Michael she would not ‘confess’; and it was additionally trying when, with his native disrespect of persons, accentuated by life in the trenches and a publisher’s office, he would mutter: “Gad! Get on with it!” or: “Cripes! Ain’t he took bad!” especially as she knew that Michael was really putting up with it better than herself, having a more literary disposition, and a less dancing itch in his toes.

The first movement of the new Solstis composition —‘Phantasmagoria Piemontesque’— to which they had especially come to listen, began with some drawn-out chords. “What oh!” said Michael’s voice in her ear: “Three pieces of furniture moved simultaneously on a parquet floor!”

In Fleur’s involuntary smile was the whole secret of why her marriage had not been intolerable. After all, Michael was a dear! Devotion and mercury — jesting and loyalty — combined, they piqued and touched even a heart given away before it was bestowed on him. ‘Touch’ without ‘pique’ would have bored; ‘pique’ without ‘touch’ would have irritated. At this moment he was at peculiar advantage! Holding on to his knees, with his ears standing up, eyes glassy from loyalty to Hugo, and tongue in cheek, he was listening to that opening in a way which evoked Fleur’s admiration. The piece would be ‘interesting’— she fell into the state of outer observation and inner calculation very usual with her nowadays. Over there was L.S.D., the greater dramatist; she didn’t know him — yet. He looked rather frightening, his hair stood up so straight. And her eye began picturing him on her copper floor against a Chinese picture. And there — yes! Gurdon Minho! Imagine HIS coming to anything so modern! His profile WAS rather Roman — of the Aurelian period! Passing on from that antique, with the pleased thought that by this time tomorrow she might have collected it, she quartered the assembly face by face — she did not want to miss any one important.

“The furniture” had come to a sudden standstill.

“Interesting!” said a voice over her shoulder. Aubrey Greene! Illusive, rather moonlit, with his silky fair hair brushed straight back, and his greenish eyes — his smile always made her feel that he was ‘getting’ at her. But, after all, he was a cartoonist!

“Yes, isn’t it?”

He curled away. He might have stayed a little longer — there wouldn’t be time for any one else before those songs of Birdigal’s! Here came the singer Charles Powls! How stout and efficient he looked, dragging little Birdigal to the piano.

Charming accompaniment — rippling, melodious!

The stout, efficient man began to sing. How different from the accompaniment! The song hit every note just off the solar plexus. It mathematically prevented her from feeling pleasure. Birdigal must have written it in horror of some one calling it ‘vocal.’ Vocal! Fleur knew how catching the word was; it would run like a measle round the ring, and Birdigal would be no more! Poor Birdigal! But this was ‘interesting.’ Only, as Michael was saying: “O, my Gawd!”

Three songs! Powls was wonderful — so loyal! Never one note hit so that it rang out like music! Her mind fluttered off to Wilfrid. To him, of all the younger poets, people accorded the right to say something; it gave him such a position — made him seem to come out of life, instead of literature. Besides, he had done things in the war, was a son of Lord Mullyon, would get the Mercer Prize probably, for ‘Copper Coin.’ If Wilfrid abandoned her, a star would fall from the firmament above her copper floor. He had no right to leave her in the lurch. He must learn not to be violent — not to think physically. No! she couldn’t let Wilfrid slip away; nor could she have any more sob-stuff in her life, searing passions, cul de sacs, aftermaths. She had tasted of that; a dulled ache still warned her.

Birdigal was bowing, Michael saying: “Come out for a whiff! The next thing’s a dud!” Oh! ah! Beethoven. Poor old Beethoven! So out of date — one did RATHER enjoy him!

The corridor, and refectory beyond, were swarming with the restoration movement. Young men and women with faces and heads of lively and distorted character, were exchanging the word ‘interesting.’ Men of more massive type, resembling sedentary matadors, blocked all circulation. Fleur and Michael passed a little way along, stood against the wall, and lighted cigarettes. Fleur smoked hers delicately — a very little one in a tiny amber holder. She had the air of admiring blue smoke rather than of making it; there were spheres to consider beyond this sort of crowd — one never knew who might be about! — the sphere, for instance, in which Alison Charwell moved, politico-literary, catholic in taste, but, as Michael always put it, “Convinced, like a sanitary system, that it’s the only sphere in the world; look at the way they all write books of reminiscence about each other!” They might, she always felt, disapprove of women smoking in public halls. Consorting delicately with iconoclasm, Fleur never forgot that her feet were in two worlds at least. Standing there, observant of all to left and right, she noted against the wall one whose face was screened by his programme. ‘Wilfrid,’ she thought, ‘and doesn’t mean to see me!’ Mortified, as a child from whom a sixpence is filched, she said:

“There’s Wilfrid! Fetch him, Michael!”

Michael crossed, and touched his best man’s sleeve; Desert’s face emerged, frowning. She saw him shrug his shoulders, turn and walk into the throng. Michael came back.

“Wilfrid’s got the hump to-night; says he’s not fit for human society — queer old son!”

How obtuse men were! Because Wilfrid was his pal, Michael did not see; and that was lucky! So Wilfrid really meant to avoid her! Well, she would see! And she said:

“I’m tired, Michael; let’s go home.”

His hand slid round her arm.

“Sorry, old thing; come along!”

They stood a moment in a neglected doorway, watching Woomans, the conductor, launched towards his orchestra.

“Look at him,” said Michael; “guy hung out of an Italian window, legs and arms all stuffed and flying! And look at the Frapka and her piano — that’s a turbulent union!”

There was a strange sound.

“Melody, by George!” said Michael.

An attendant muttered in their ears: “Now, sir, I’m going to shut the door.” Fleur had a fleeting view of L.S.D. sitting upright as his hair, with closed eyes. The door was shut — they were outside in the hall.

“Wait here, darling; I’ll nick a rickshaw.”

Fleur huddled her chin in her fur. It was easterly and cold.

A voice behind her said:

“Well, Fleur, am I going East?”

Wilfrid! His collar up to his ears, a cigarette between his lips, hands in pockets, eyes devouring.

“You’re very silly, Wilfrid!”

“Anything you like; am I going East?”

“No; Sunday morning — eleven o’clock at the Tate. We’ll talk it out.”

“Convenu!” And he was gone.

Alone suddenly, like that, Fleur felt the first shock of reality. Was Wilfrid truly going to be unmanageable? A taxicab ground up; Michael beckoned; Fleur stepped in.

Passing a passionately lighted oasis of young ladies displaying to the interested Londoner the acme of Parisian undress, she felt Michael incline towards her. If she were going to keep Wilfrid, she must be nice to Michael. Only:

“You needn’t kiss me in Piccadilly Circus, Michael!”

“Sorry, duckie! It’s a little previous — I meant to get you opposite the Partheneum.”

Fleur remembered how he had slept on a Spanish sofa for the first fortnight of their honeymoon; how he always insisted that she must not spend anything on him, but must always let him give her what he liked, though she had three thousand a year and he twelve hundred; how jumpy he was when she had a cold — and how he always came home to tea. Yes, he was a dear! But would she break her heart if he went East or West tomorrow?

Snuggled against him, she was surprised at her own cynicism.

A telephone message written out, in the hall, ran: “Please tell Mrs. Mont I’ve got Mr. Gurding Minner. Lady Alisson.”

It was restful. A real antique! She turned on the lights in her room, and stood for a moment admiring it. Truly pretty! A slight snuffle from the corner — Ting-a-ling, tan on a black cushion, lay like a Chinese lion in miniature; pure, remote, fresh from evening communion with the Square railings.

“I see you,” said Fleur.

Ting-a-ling did not stir; his round black eyes watched his mistress undress. When she returned from the bathroom he was curled into a ball. Fleur thought: ‘Queer! How does he know Michael won’t be coming?’ And slipping into her well warmed bed, she too curled herself up and slept.

But in the night, contrary to her custom, she awoke. A cry — long, weird, trailing, from somewhere — the river — the slums at the back — rousing memory — poignant, aching — of her honeymoon — Granada, its roofs below, jet, ivory, gold; the watchman’s cry, the lines in Jon’s letter:

“Voice in the night crying, down in the old sleeping
Spanish City darkened under her white stars.
What says the voice — its clear, lingering anguish?
Just the watchman, telling his dateless tale of safety?
Just a road-man, flinging to the moon his song?
No! ’Tis one deprived, whose lover’s heart is weeping,
Just his cry: ‘How long?’”

A cry, or had she dreamed it? Jon, Wilfrid, Michael! No use to have a heart!

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54