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The Forsyte Saga, Complete by John Galsworthy

Part 21 out of 21

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Just as he passed the seat of custom on his return to the outer air
he met with a contingency which had not been entirely absent from his
mind when he went into the Gallery--Irene, herself, coming in. So
she had not gone yet, and was still paying farewell visits to that
fellow's remains! He subdued the little involuntary leap of his
subconsciousness, the mechanical reaction of his senses to the charm
of this once-owned woman, and passed her with averted eyes. But when
he had gone by he could not for the life of him help looking back.
This, then, was finality--the heat and stress of his life, the
madness and the longing thereof, the only defeat he had known, would
be over when she faded from his view this time; even such memories
had their own queer aching value.

She, too, was looking back. Suddenly she lifted her gloved hand, her
lips smiled faintly, her dark eyes seemed to speak. It was the turn
of Soames to make no answer to that smile and that little farewell
wave; he went out into the fashionable street quivering from head to
foot. He knew what she had meant to say: "Now that I am going for
ever out of the reach of you and yours--forgive me; I wish you well."
That was the meaning; last sign of that terrible reality--passing
morality, duty, common sense--her aversion from him who had owned her
body, but had never touched her spirit or her heart. It hurt; yes--
more than if she had kept her mask unmoved, her hand unlifted.

Three days later, in that fast-yellowing October, Soames took a taxi-
cab to Highgate Cemetery and mounted through its white forest to the
Forsyte vault. Close to the cedar, above catacombs and columbaria,
tall, ugly, and individual, it looked like an apex of the competitive
system. He could remember a discussion wherein Swithin had advocated
the addition to its face of the pheasant proper. The proposal had
been rejected in favour of a wreath in stone, above the stark words:
"The family vault of Jolyon Forsyte: 1850." It was in good order.
All trace of the recent interment had been removed, and its sober
grey gloomed reposefully in the sunshine. The whole family lay there
now, except old Jolyon's wife, who had gone back under a contract to
her own family vault in Suffolk; old Jolyon himself lying at Robin
Hill; and Susan Hayman, cremated so that none knew where she might
be. Soames gazed at it with satisfaction--massive, needing little
attention; and this was important, for he was well aware that no one
would attend to it when he himself was gone, and he would have to be
looking out for lodgings soon. He might have twenty years before
him, but one never knew. Twenty years without an aunt or uncle, with
a wife of whom one had better not know anything, with a daughter gone
from home. His mood inclined to melancholy and retrospection.

This cemetery was full, they said--of people with extraordinary
names, buried in extraordinary taste. Still, they had a fine view up
here, right over London. Annette had once given him a story to read
by that Frenchman, Maupassant, most lugubrious concern, where all the
skeletons emerged from their graves one night, and all the pious
inscriptions on the stones were altered to descriptions of their
sins. Not a true story at all. He didn't know about the French, but
there was not much real harm in English people except their teeth and
their taste, which was certainly deplorable. "The family vault of
Jolyon Forsyte: 1850." A lot of people had been buried here since
then--a lot of English life crumbled to mould and dust! The boom of
an airplane passing under the gold-tinted clouds caused him to lift
his eyes. The deuce of a lot of expansion had gone on. But it all
came back to a cemetery--to a name and a date on a tomb. And he
thought with a curious pride that he and his family had done little
or nothing to help this feverish expansion. Good solid middlemen,
they had gone to work with dignity to manage and possess. "Superior
Dosset," indeed, had built in a dreadful, and Jolyon painted in a
doubtful, period, but so far as he remembered not another of them all
had soiled his hands by creating anything--unless you counted Val
Dartie and his horse-breeding. Collectors, solicitors, barristers,
merchants, publishers, accountants, directors, land agents, even
soldiers--there they had been! The country had expanded, as it were,
in spite of them. They had checked, controlled, defended, and taken
advantage of the process and when you considered how "Superior
Dosset" had begun life with next to nothing, and his lineal
descendants already owned what old Gradman estimated at between a
million and a million and a half, it was not so bad! And yet he
sometimes felt as if the family bolt was shot, their possessive
instinct dying out. They seemed unable to make money--this fourth
generation; they were going into art, literature, farming, or the
army; or just living on what was left them--they had no push and no
tenacity. They would die out if they didn't take care.

Soames turned from the vault and faced toward the breeze. The air up
here would be delicious if only he could rid his nerves of the
feeling that mortality was in it. He gazed restlessly at the crosses
and the urns, the angels, the "immortelles," the flowers, gaudy or
withering; and suddenly he noticed a spot which seemed so different
from anything else up there that he was obliged to walk the few
necessary yards and look at it. A sober corner, with a massive
queer-shaped cross of grey rough-hewn granite, guarded by four dark
yew-trees. The spot was free from the pressure of the other graves,
having a little box-hedged garden on the far side, and in front a
goldening birch-tree. This oasis in the desert of conventional
graves appealed to the aesthetic sense of Soames, and he sat down
there in the sunshine. Through those trembling gold birch leaves he
gazed out at London, and yielded to the waves of memory. He thought
of Irene in Montpellier Square, when her hair was rusty-golden and
her white shoulders his--Irene, the prize of his love-passion,
resistant to his ownership. He saw Bosinney's body lying in that
white mortuary, and Irene sitting on the sofa looking at space with
the eyes of a dying bird. Again he thought of her by the little
green Niobe in the Bois de Boulogne, once more rejecting him. His
fancy took him on beside his drifting river on the November day when
Fleur was to be born, took him to the dead leaves floating on the
green-tinged water and the snake-headed weed for ever swaying and
nosing, sinuous, blind, tethered. And on again to the window opened
to the cold starry night above Hyde Park, with his father lying dead.
His fancy darted to that picture of "the future town," to that boy's
and Fleur's first meeting; to the bluish trail of Prosper Profond's
cigar, and Fleur in the window pointing down to where the fellow
prowled. To the sight of Irene and that dead fellow sitting side by
side in the stand at Lord's. To her and that boy at Robin Hill. To
the sofa, where Fleur lay crushed up in the corner; to her lips
pressed into his cheek, and her farewell "Daddy." And suddenly he
saw again Irene's grey-gloved hand waving its last gesture of

He sat there a long time dreaming his career, faithful to the scut of
his possessive instinct, warming himself even with its failures.

"To Let"--the Forsyte age and way of life, when a man owned his soul,
his investments, and his woman, without check or question. And now
the State had, or would have, his investments, his woman had herself,
and God knew who had his soul. "To Let"--that sane and simple creed!

The waters of change were foaming in, carrying the promise of new
forms only when their destructive flood should have passed its full.
He sat there, subconscious of them, but with his thoughts resolutely
set on the past--as a man might ride into a wild night with his face
to the tail of his galloping horse. Athwart the Victorian dykes the
waters were rolling on property, manners, and morals, on melody and
the old forms of art--waters bringing to his mouth a salt taste as of
blood, lapping to the foot of this Highgate Hill where Victorianism
lay buried. And sitting there, high up on its most individual spot,
Soames--like a figure of Investment--refused their restless sounds.
Instinctively he would not fight them--there was in him too much
primeval wisdom, of Man the possessive animal. They would quiet down
when they had fulfilled their tidal fever of dispossessing and
destroying; when the creations and the properties of others were
sufficiently broken and defected--they would lapse and ebb, and fresh
forms would rise based on an instinct older than the fever of change
--the instinct of Home.

"Je m'en fiche," said Prosper Profond. Soames did not say "Je m'en
fiche"--it was French, and the fellow was a thorn in his side--but
deep down he knew that change was only the interval of death between
two forms of life, destruction necessary to make room for fresher
property. What though the board was up, and cosiness to let?--some
one would come along and take it again some day.

And only one thing really troubled him, sitting there--the melancholy
craving in his heart--because the sun was like enchantment on his
face and on the clouds and on the golden birch leaves, and the wind's
rustle was so gentle, and the yewtree green so dark, and the sickle
of a moon pale in the sky.

He might wish and wish and never get it--the beauty and the loving in
the world!

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