Michael knew nothing of the City; and, in the spirit of the old cartographers: “Where you know nothing, place terrors,” made his way through the purlieus of the Poultry, towards that holy of holies, the offices of Cuthcott, Kingson and Forsyte. His mood was attuned to meditation, for he had been lunching with Sibley Swan at the Cafe C’rillon. He had known all the guests — seven chaps even more modern than old Sib — save only a Russian so modern that he knew no French and nobody could talk to him. Michael had watched them demolish everything, and the Russian closing his eyes, like a sick baby, at mention of any living name. . . . ‘Carry on!’ he thought, several of his favourites having gone down in the melee. ‘Stab and bludge! Importance awaits you at the end of the alley.’ But he had restrained his irreverence till the moment of departure.
“Sib,” he said, rising, “all these chaps here are dead — ought they to be about in this hot weather?”
“What’s that?” ejaculated Sibley Swan, amidst the almost painful silence of the chaps.
“I mean — they’re alive — so they MUST be damned!” And avoiding a thrown chocolate which hit the Russian, he sought the door.
Outside, he mused: ‘Good chaps, really! Not half so darned superior as they think they are. Quite a human touch — getting that Russian on the boko. Phew! It’s hot!’
On that first day of the Eton and Harrow match all the forfeited heat of a chilly summer had gathered and shimmered over Michael, on the top of his Bank ‘bus; shimmered over straw hats, and pale, perspiring faces, over endless other ‘buses, business men, policemen, shopmen at their doors, sellers of newspapers, laces, jumping toys, endless carts and cabs, letterings and wires, all the confusion of the greatest conglomeration in the world — adjusted almost to a hair’s-breadth, by an unseen instinct. Michael stared and doubted. Was it possible that, with everyone pursuing his own business, absorbed in his own job, the thing could work out? An ant-heap was not busier, or more seemingly confused. Live wires crossed and crossed and crossed — inextricable entanglement, you’d say; and yet, life, the order needful to life, somehow surviving! ‘No slouch of a miracle!’ he thought, ‘modern town life!’ And suddenly it seemed to cease, as if demolished by the ruthless dispensation of some super Sibley Swan; for he was staring down a cul-de-sac. On both sides, flat houses, recently re-buffed, extraordinarily alike; at the end, a flat buff house, even more alike, and down to it, grey virgin pavement, unstained by horse or petrol; no cars, cats, carts, policemen, hawkers, flies, or bees. No sign of human life, except the names of legal firms to right and left of each open doorway.
“‘Cuthcott, Kingson and Forsyte, Commissioners for Oaths: First Floor.’”
‘Rule Britannia!’ thought Michael, ascending wide stone steps.
Entering the room to which he had been ushered, he saw an old and pug-faced fellow with a round grizzled beard, a black alpaca coat, and a roomy holland waistcoat round his roomy middle, who rose from a swivel chair.
“Aoh!” he said, “Mr. Michael Mont, I think. I’ve been expecting you. We shan’t be long about it, after Mr. Forsyte comes. He’s just stepped round the corner. Mrs. Michael well, I hope?”
“Thanks; as well as —”
“Ye-es: it makes you anxious. Take a seat. Perhaps you’d like to read the draft?”
Thus prescribed for, Michael took some foolscap from a pudgy hand, and sat down opposite. With one eye on the old fellow, and the other on the foolscap, he read steadily.
“It seems to mean something,” he said at last.
He saw a gape, as of a frog at a fly, settle in the beard; and hastened to repair his error.
“Calculating what’s going to happen if something else doesn’t, must be rather like being a bookmaker.”
He felt at once that he had not succeeded. There was a grumpy mutter:
“We don’t waste our time, ’ere. Excuse me, I’m busy.”
Michael sat, compunctious, watching him tick down a long page of entries. He was like one of those old dogs which lie outside front doors, keeping people off the premises, and notifying their fleas. After less than five minutes of that perfect silence Soames came in.
“You’re here, then?” he said.
“Yes, sir; I thought it best to come at the time you mentioned. What a nice cool room!”
“Have you read this?” asked Soames, pointing to the draft.
“Did you understand it?”
“Up to a point, I think.”
“The interest on THIS fifty thousand,” said Soames, “is Fleur’s until her eldest child, if it’s a boy, attains the age of twenty-one, when the capital becomes his absolutely. If it’s a girl, Fleur retains half the income for life, the rest of the income becomes payable to the girl when she attains the age of twenty-one or marries, and the capital of that half goes to her child or children lawfully begotten, at majority or marriage, in equal shares. The other half of the capital falls into Fleur’s estate, and is disposable by her will, or follows the laws of intestacy.”
“You make it wonderfully clear,” said Michael
“Wait!” said Soames. “If Fleur has no children —”
“Anything is possible,” said Soames gravely, “and my experience is that the contingencies not provided for are those which happen. In such a case the income of the whole is hers for life, and the capital hers at death to do as she likes with. Failing that, it goes to the next of kin. There are provisions against anticipation and so forth.”
“Ought she to make a fresh will?” asked Michael, conscious of sweat on his forehead.
“Not unless she likes. Her present will covers it.”
“Have I to do anything?”
“No. I wanted you to understand the purport before I sign; that’s all. Give me the deed, Gradman, and get Wickson in, will you?”
Michael saw the old chap produce from a drawer a fine piece of parchment covered with copper-plate writing and seals, look at it lovingly, and place it before Soames. When he had left the room, Soames said in a low voice:
“This meeting on Tuesday — I can’t tell! But, whatever happens, so far as I can see, this ought to stand.”
“It’s awfully good of you, sir.”
Soames nodded, testing a pen.
“I’m afraid I’ve got wrong with your old clerk,” said Michael; “I like the look of him frightfully, but I accidentally compared him to a bookmaker.”
Soames smiled. “Gradman,” he said, “is a ‘character.’ There aren’t many, nowadays.”
Michael was wondering: Could one be a ‘character’ under the age of sixty? — when the ‘character’ returned, with a pale man in dark clothes.
Lifting his nose sideways, Soames said at once:
“This is a post-nuptial settlement on my daughter. I deliver this as my act and deed.”
He wrote his name, and got up.
The pale person and Gradman wrote theirs, and the former left the room. There was a silence as of repletion.
“Do you want me any more?” asked Michael.
“Yes. I want you to see me deposit it at the bank with the marriage settlement. Shan’t come back, Gradman!”
“Good-bye, Mr. Gradman.”
Michael heard the old fellow mutter through his beard half buried in a drawer to which he was returning the draft, and followed Soames out.
“Here’s where I used to be,” said Soames as they went along the Poultry; “and my father before me.”
“More genial, perhaps,” said Michael.
“The trustees are meeting us at the bank; you remember them?”
“Cousins of Fleur’s, weren’t they, sir?”
“Second cousins; young Roger’s eldest, and young Nicholas’. I chose them youngish. Very young Roger was wounded in the war — he does nothing. Very young Nicholas is at the Bar.”
Michael’s ears stood up. “What about the next lot, sir? Very very young Roger would be almost insulting, wouldn’t it?”
“There won’t be one,” said Soames, “with taxation where it is. He can’t afford it; he’s a steady chap. What are you going to call your boy, if it IS one?”
“We think Christopher, because of St. Paul’s and Columbus. Fleur wants him solid, and I want him enquiring.”
“H’m! And if it’s a girl?”
“Oh! — if it’s a girl — Anne.”
“Yes,” said Soames: “Very neat. Here they are!”
They had reached the bank, and in the entrance Michael saw two Forsytes between thirty and forty, whose chinny faces he dimly remembered. Escorted by a man with bright buttons down his front, they all went to a room, where a man without buttons produced a japanned box. One of the Forsytes opened it with a key; Soames muttered an incantation, and deposited the deed. When he and the chinnier Forsyte had exchanged a few remarks with the manager on the question of the bank rate, they all went back to the lobby and parted with the words: “Well, good-bye.”
“Now,” said Soames, in the din and hustle of the street, “he’s provided for, so far as I can see. When exactly do you expect it?”
“It should be just a fortnight.”
“Do you believe in this — this twilight sleep?”
“I should like to,” said Michael, conscious again of sweat on his forehead. “Fleur’s wonderfully calm; she does Coue night and morning.”
“That!” said Soames. He did not mention that he himself was doing it, thus giving away the state of his nerves. “If you’re going home, I’ll come, too.”
He found Fleur lying down with Ting-a-ling on the foot of the sofa.
“Your father’s here, darling. He’s been anointing the future with another fifty thou. I expect he’d like to tell you all about it.”
Fleur moved restlessly.
“Presently. If it’s going on as hot as this, it’ll be rather a bore, Michael.”
“Oh! but it won’t, ducky. Three days and a thunderstorm.”
Taking Ting-a-ling by the chin, he turned his face up.
“And how on earth is your nose going to be put out of joint, old man? There’s no joint to put.”
“He knows there’s something up.”
“He’s a wise little brute, aren’t you, old son?”
“I don’t seem to care about anything now — it’s a funny feeling.”
“That’s the heat.”
“No. I think it’s because the whole business is too long. Everything’s ready, and now it all seems rather stupid. One more person in the world or one more out of it — what does it matter?”
“Don’t! It matters frightfully!”
“One more gnat to dance, one more ant to run about!”
Anguished, Michael said again:
“Don’t, Fleur! That’s just a mood.”
“Is Wilfrid’s book out?”
“It comes out tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry I gave you such a bad time, there. I only didn’t want to lose him.”
Michael took her hand.
“Nor did I— goodness knows!” he said.
“He’s never written, I suppose?”
“Well, I expect he’s all right by now. Nothing lasts.”
Michael put her hand to his cheek.
“I do, I’m afraid,” he said.
The hand slipped round over his lips.
“Give Dad my love, and tell him I’ll be down to tea. Oh! I’m so hot!”
Michael hovered a moment, and went out. Damn the heat, upsetting her like this!
He found Soames standing in front of the white monkey.
“I should take this down, if I were you,” he muttered, “until it’s over.”
“Why, sir?” asked Michael, in surprise.
Michael went up to the picture. Yes! He was a haunting kind of brute!
“But it’s such top-hole work, sir.”
“Artistically, yes. But at such times you can’t be too careful what she sees.”
“I believe you’re right. Let’s have him down.”
“I’ll hold him,” said Soames, taking hold of the bottom of the picture.
“Got him tight? Right-o. Now!”
“You can say I wanted an opinion on his period,” said Soames, when the picture had been lowered to the floor.
“There can hardly be a doubt of that, sir — the present!”
Soames stared. “What? Oh! You mean —? Ah! H’m! Don’t let her know he’s in the house.”
“No. I’ll lock him up.” Michael lifted the picture. “D’you mind opening the door, sir?”
“I’ll come back at tea-time,” said Soames. “That’ll look as if I’d taken him off. You can hang him again, later.”
“Yes. Poor brute!” said Michael, bearing the monkey off to limbo.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54