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  • 1906
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make money on the turf. He tried to interest that man.”

“Well?”

“He put him on to a horse–for the Two Thousand. We didn’t see him again. He was rather smart, if I remember.”

“Did it win?”

“No; it ran last, I think. You know Monty really was quite clever in his way.”

“Was he?” said Soames. “Can you see any connection between a sucking baronet and publishing?”

“People do all sorts of things nowadays,” replied Winifred. “The great stunt seems not to be idle–so different from our time. To do nothing was the thing then. But I suppose it’ll come again.”

“This young Mont that I’m speaking of is very sweet on Fleur. If it would put an end to that other affair I might encourage it.”

“Has he got style?” asked Winifred.

“He’s no beauty; pleasant enough, with some scattered brains. There’s a good deal of land, I believe. He seems genuinely attached. But I don’t know.”

“No,” murmured Winifred; “it’s–very difficult. I always found it best to do nothing. It is such a bore about Jack; now we shan’t get away till after Bank Holiday. Well, the people are always amusing, I shall go into the Park and watch them.”

“If I were you,” said Soames, “I should have a country cottage, and be out of the way of holidays and strikes when you want.”

“The country bores me,” answered Winifred, “and I found the railway strike quite exciting.”

Winifred had always been noted for sang-froid.

Soames took his leave. All the way down to Reading he debated whether he should tell Fleur of that boy’s father’s death. It did not alter the situation except that he would be independent now, and only have his mother’s opposition to encounter. He would come into a lot of money, no doubt, and perhaps the house–the house built for Irene and himself–the house whose architect had wrought his domestic ruin. His daughter–mistress of that house! That would be poetic justice! Soames uttered a little mirthless laugh. He had designed that house to re-establish his failing union, meant it for the seat of his descendants, if he could have induced Irene to give him one! Her son and Fleur! Their children would be, in some sort, offspring of the union between himself and her!

The theatricality in that thought was repulsive to his sober sense. And yet–it would be the easiest and wealthiest way out of the impasse, now that Jolyon was gone. The juncture of two Forsyte fortunes had a kind of conservative charm. And she–Irene-would be linked to him once more. Nonsense! Absurd! He put the notion from his head.

On arriving home he heard the click of billiard-balls, and through the window saw young Mont sprawling over the table. Fleur, with her cue akimbo, was watching with a smile. How pretty she looked! No wonder that young fellow was out of his mind about her. A title– land! There was little enough in land, these days; perhaps less in a title. The old Forsytes had always had a kind of contempt for titles, rather remote and artificial things–not worth the money they cost, and having to do with the Court. They had all had that feeling in differing measure–Soames remembered. Swithin, indeed, in his most expansive days had once attended a Levee. He had come away saying he shouldn’t go again–“all that small fry.” It was suspected that he had looked too big in knee-breeches. Soames remembered how his own mother had wished to be presented because of the fashionable nature of the performance, and how his father had put his foot down with unwonted decision. What did she want with that peacocking– wasting time and money; there was nothing in it!

The instinct which had made and kept the English Commons the chief power in the State, a feeling that their own world was good enough and a little better than any other because it was their world, had kept the old Forsytes singularly free of “flummery,” as Nicholas had been wont to call it when he had the gout. Soames’ generation, more self-conscious and ironical, had been saved by a sense of Swithin in knee-breeches. While the third and the fourth generation, as it seemed to him, laughed at everything.

However, there was no harm in the young fellow’s being heir to a title and estate–a thing one couldn’t help. He entered quietly, as Mont missed his shot. He noted the young man’s eyes, fixed on Fleur bending over in her turn; and the adoration in them almost touched him.

She paused with the cue poised on the bridge of her slim hand, and shook her crop of short dark chestnut hair.

“I shall never do it.”

“‘Nothing venture.'”

“All right.” The cue struck, the ball rolled. “There!”

“Bad luck! Never mind!”

Then they saw him, and Soames said:

“I’ll mark for you.”

He sat down on the raised seat beneath the marker, trim and tired, furtively studying those two young faces. When the game was over Mont came up to him.

“I’ve started in, sir. Rum game, business, isn’t it? I suppose you saw a lot of human nature as a solicitor.”

“I did.”

“Shall I tell you what I’ve noticed: People are quite on the wrong tack in offering less than they can afford to give; they ought to offer more, and work backward.”

Soames raised his eyebrows.

“Suppose the more is accepted?”

“That doesn’t matter a little bit,” said Mont; “it’s much more paying to abate a price than to increase it. For instance, say we offer an author good terms–he naturally takes them. Then we go into it, find we can’t publish at a decent profit and tell him so. He’s got confidence in us because we’ve been generous to him, and he comes down like a lamb, and bears us no malice. But if we offer him poor terms at the start, he doesn’t take them, so we have to advance them to get him, and he thinks us damned screws into the bargain.

“Try buying pictures on that system,” said Soames; “an offer accepted is a contract–haven’t you learned that?”

Young Mont turned his head to where Fleur was standing in the window.

“No,” he said, “I wish I had. Then there’s another thing. Always let a man off a bargain if he wants to be let off.”

“As advertisement?” said Soames dryly.

“Of course it is; but I meant on principle.”

“Does your firm work on those lines?”

“Not yet,” said Mont, “but it’ll come.”

“And they will go.”

“No, really, sir. I’m making any number of observations, and they all confirm my theory. Human nature is consistently underrated in business, people do themselves out of an awful lot of pleasure and profit by that. Of course, you must be perfectly genuine and open, but that’s easy if you feel it. The more human and generous you are the better chance you’ve got in business.”

Soames rose.

“Are you a partner?”

“Not for six months, yet.”

“The rest of the firm had better make haste and retire.”

Mont laughed.

“You’ll see,” he said. “There’s going to be a big change. The possessive principle has got its shutters up.”

“What?” said Soames.

“The house is to let! Good-bye, sir; I’m off now.”

Soames watched his daughter give her hand, saw her wince at the squeeze it received, and distinctly heard the young man’s sigh as he passed out. Then she came from the window, trailing her finger along the mahogany edge of the billiard-table. Watching her, Soames knew that she was going to ask him something. Her finger felt round the last pocket, and she looked up.

“Have you done anything to stop Jon writing to me, Father?”

Soames shook his head.

“You haven’t seen, then?” he said. “His father died just a week ago to-day.”

“Oh!”

In her startled, frowning face he saw the instant struggle to apprehend what this would mean.

“Poor Jon! Why didn’t you tell me, Father?”

“I never know!” said Soames slowly; “you don’t confide in me.”

“I would, if you’d help me, dear.”

“Perhaps I shall.”

Fleur clasped her hands. “Oh! darling–when one wants a thing fearfully, one doesn’t think of other people. Don’t be angry with me.”

Soames put out his hand, as if pushing away an aspersion.

“I’m cogitating,” he said. What on earth had made him use a word like that! “Has young Mont been bothering you again?”

Fleur smiled. “Oh! Michael! He’s always bothering; but he’s such a good sort–I don’t mind him.”

“Well,” said Soames, “I’m tired; I shall go and have a nap before dinner.”

He went up to his picture-gallery, lay down on the couch there, and closed his eyes. A terrible responsibility this girl of his–whose mother was–ah! what was she? A terrible responsibility! Help her– how could he help her? He could not alter the fact that he was her father. Or that Irene–! What was it young Mont had said–some nonsense about the possessive instinct–shutters up–To let? Silly!

The sultry air, charged with a scent of meadow-sweet, of river and roses, closed on his senses, drowsing them.

V

THE FIXED IDEA

“The fixed idea,” which has outrun more constables than any other form of human disorder, has never more speed and stamina than when it takes the avid guise of love. To hedges and ditches, and doors, to humans without ideas fixed or otherwise, to perambulators and the contents sucking their fixed ideas, even to the other sufferers from this fast malady–the fixed idea of love pays no attention. It runs with eyes turned inward to its own light, oblivious of all other stars. Those with the fixed ideas that human happiness depends on their art, on vivisecting dogs, on hating foreigners, on paying supertax, on remaining Ministers, on making wheels go round, on preventing their neighbours from being divorced, on conscientious objection, Greek roots, Church dogma, paradox and superiority to everybody else, with other forms of ego-mania–all are unstable compared with him or her whose fixed idea is the possession of some her or him. And though Fleur, those chilly summer days, pursued the scattered life of a little Forsyte whose frocks are paid for, and whose business is pleasure, she was–as Winifred would have said in the latest fashion of speech–“honest to God” indifferent to it all. She wished and wished for the moon, which sailed in cold skies above the river or the Green Park when she went to Town. She even kept Jon’s letters, covered with pink silk, on her heart, than which in days when corsets were so low, sentiment so despised, and chests so out of fashion, there could, perhaps, have been no greater proof of the fixity of her idea.

After hearing of his father’s death, she wrote to Jon, and received his answer three days later on her return from a river picnic. It was his first letter since their meeting at June’s. She opened it with misgiving, and read it with dismay.

“Since I saw you I’ve heard everything about the past. I won’t tell it you–I think you knew when we met at June’s. She says you did. If you did, Fleur, you ought to have told me. I expect you only heard your father’s side of it. I have heard my mother’s. It’s dreadful. Now that she’s so sad I can’t do anything to hurt her more. Of course, I long for you all day, but I don’t believe now that we shall ever come together–there’s something too strong pulling us apart.”

So! Her deception had found her out. But Jon–she felt–had forgiven that. It was what he said of his mother which caused the guttering in her heart and the weak sensation in her legs.

Her first impulse was to reply–her second, not to reply. These impulses were constantly renewed in the days which followed, while desperation grew within her. She was not her father’s child for nothing. The tenacity which had at once made and undone Soames was her backbone, too, frilled and embroidered by French grace and quickness. Instinctively she conjugated the verb “to have” always with the pronoun “I.” She concealed, however, all signs of her growing desperation, and pursued such river pleasures as the winds and rain of a disagreeable July permitted, as if she had no care in the world; nor did any “sucking baronet” ever neglect the business of a publisher more consistently than her attendant spirit, Michael Mont.

To Soames she was a puzzle. He was almost deceived by this careless gaiety. Almost–because he did not fail to mark her eyes often fixed on nothing, and the film of light shining from her bedroom window late at night. What was she thinking and brooding over into small hours when she ought to have been asleep? But he dared not ask what was in her mind; and, since that one little talk in the billiard- room, she said nothing to him.

In this taciturn condition of affairs it chanced that Winifred invited them to lunch and to go afterward to “a most amusing little play, ‘The Beggar’s Opera'” and would they bring a man to make four? Soames, whose attitude toward theatres was to go to nothing, accepted, because Fleur’s attitude was to go to everything. They motored up, taking Michael Mont, who, being in his seventh heaven, was found by Winifred “very amusing.” “The Beggar’s Opera” puzzled Soames. The people were very unpleasant, the whole thing very cynical. Winifred was “intrigued”–by the dresses. The music, too, did not displease her. At the Opera, the night before, she had arrived too early for the Russian Ballet, and found the stage occupied by singers, for a whole hour pale or apoplectic from terror lest by some dreadful inadvertence they might drop into a tune. Michael Mont was enraptured with the whole thing. And all three wondered what Fleur was thinking of it. But Fleur was not thinking of it. Her fixed idea stood on the stage and sang with Polly Peachum, mimed with Filch, danced with Jenny Diver, postured with Lucy Lockit, kissed, trolled, and cuddled with Macheath. Her lips might smile, her hands applaud, but the comic old masterpiece made no more impression on her than if it had been pathetic, like a modern “Revue.” When they embarked in the car to return, she ached because Jon was not sitting next her instead of Michael Mont. When, at some jolt, the young man’s arm touched hers as if by accident, she only thought: ‘If that were Jon’s arm!’ When his cheerful voice, tempered by her proximity, murmured above the sound of the car’s progress, she smiled and answered, thinking: ‘If that were Jon’s voice!’ and when once he said, “Fleur, you look a perfect angel in that dress!” she answered, “Oh, do you like it? thinking, ‘If only Jon could see it!’

During this drive she took a resolution. She would go to Robin Hill and see him–alone; she would take the car, without word beforehand to him or to her father. It was nine days since his letter, and she could wait no longer. On Monday she would go! The decision made her well disposed toward young Mont. With something to look forward to she could afford to tolerate and respond. He might stay to dinner; propose to her as usual; dance with her, press her hand, sigh–do what he liked. He was only a nuisance when he interfered with her fixed idea. She was even sorry for him so far as it was possible to be sorry for anybody but herself just now. At dinner he seemed to talk more wildly than usual about what he called “the death of the close borough”–she paid little attention, but her father seemed paying a good deal, with the smile on his face which meant opposition, if not anger.

“The younger generation doesn’t think as you do, sir; does it, Fleur?”

Fleur shrugged her shoulders–the younger generation was just Jon, and she did not know what he was thinking.

“Young people will think as I do when they’re my age, Mr. Mont. Human nature doesn’t change.”

“I admit that, sir; but the forms of thought change with the times. The pursuit of self-interest is a form of thought that’s going out.”

“Indeed! To mind one’s own business is not a form of thought, Mr. Mont, it’s an instinct.”

Yes, when Jon was the business!

“But what is one’s business, sir? That’s the point. Everybody’s business is going to be one’s business. Isn’t it, Fleur?”

Fleur only smiled.

“If not,” added young Mont, “there’ll be blood.”

“People have talked like that from time immemorial”

“But you’ll admit, sir, that the sense of property is dying out?”

“I should say increasing among those who have none.”

“Well, look at me! I’m heir to an entailed estate. I don’t want the thing; I’d cut the entail to-morrow.”

“You’re not married, and you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Fleur saw the young man’s eyes turn rather piteously upon her.

“Do you really mean that marriage–?” he began.

“Society is built on marriage,” came from between her father’s close lips; “marriage and its consequences. Do you want to do away with it?”

Young Mont made a distracted gesture. Silence brooded over the dinner table, covered with spoons bearing the Forsyte crest–a pheasant proper–under the electric light in an alabaster globe. And outside, the river evening darkened, charged with heavy moisture and sweet scents.

‘Monday,’ thought Fleur; ‘Monday!’

VI

DESPERATE

The weeks which followed the death of his father were sad and empty to the only Jolyon Forsyte left. The necessary forms and ceremonies- -the reading of the Will, valuation of the estate, distribution of the legacies–were enacted over the head, as it were, of one not yet of age. Jolyon was cremated. By his special wish no one attended that ceremony, or wore black for him. The succession of his property, controlled to some extent by old Jolyon’s Will, left his widow in possession of Robin Hill, with two thousand five hundred pounds a year for life. Apart from this the two Wills worked together in some complicated way to insure that each of Jolyon’s three children should have an equal share in their grandfather’s and father’s property in the future as in the present, save only that Jon, by virtue of his sex, would have control of his capital when he was twenty-one, while June and Holly would only have the spirit of theirs, in order that their children might have the body after them. If they had no children, it would all come to Jon if he outlived them; and since June was fifty, and Holly nearly forty, it was considered in Lincoln’s Inn Fields that but for the cruelty of income tax, young Jon would be as warm a man as his grandfather when he died. All this was nothing to Jon, and little enough to his mother. It was June who did everything needful for one who had left his affairs in perfect order. When she had gone, and those two were alone again in the great house, alone with death drawing them together, and love driving them apart, Jon passed very painful days secretly disgusted and disappointed with himself. His mother would look at him with such a patient sadness which yet had in it an instinctive pride, as if she were reserving her defence. If she smiled he was angry that his answering smile should be so grudging and unnatural. He did not judge or condemn her; that was all too remote–indeed, the idea of doing so had never come to him. No! he was grudging and unnatural because he couldn’t have what he wanted be cause of her. There was one alleviation–much to do in connection with his father’s career, which could not be safely entrusted to June, though she had offered to undertake it. Both Jon and his mother had felt that if she took his portfolios, unexhibited drawings and unfinished matter, away with her, the work would encounter such icy blasts from Paul Post and other frequenters of her studio, that it would soon be frozen out even of her warm heart. On its old- fashioned plane and of its kind the work was good, and they could not bear the thought of its subjection to ridicule. A one-man exhibition of his work was the least testimony they could pay to one they had loved; and on preparation for this they spent many hours together. Jon came to have a curiously increased respect for his father. The quiet tenacity with which he had converted a mediocre talent into something really individual was disclosed by these researches. There was a great mass of work with a rare continuity of growth in depth and reach of vision. Nothing certainly went very deep, or reached very high–but such as the work was, it was thorough, conscientious, and complete. And, remembering his father’s utter absence of “side” or self-assertion, the chaffing humility with which he had always spoken of his own efforts, ever calling himself “an amateur,” Jon could not help feeling that he had never really known his father. To take himself seriously, yet never bore others by letting them know that he did so, seemed to have been his ruling principle. There was something in this which appealed to the boy, and made him heartily endorse his mother’s comment: “He had true refinement; he couldn’t help thinking of others, whatever he did. And when he took a resolution which went counter, he did it with the minimum of defiance–not like the Age, is it? Twice in his life he had to go against everything; and yet it never made him bitter.” Jon saw tears running down her face, which she at once turned away from him. She was so quiet about her loss that sometimes he had thought she didn’t feel it much. Now, as he looked at her, he felt how far he fell short of the reserve power and dignity in both his father and his mother. And, stealing up to her, he put his arm round her waist. She kissed him swiftly, but with a sort of passion, and went out of the room.

The studio, where they had been sorting and labelling, had once been Holly’s schoolroom, devoted to her silkworms, dried lavender, music, and other forms of instruction. Now, at the end of July, despite its northern and eastern aspects, a warm and slumberous air came in between the long-faded lilac linen curtains. To redeem a little the departed glory, as of a field that is golden and gone, clinging to a room which its master has left, Irene had placed on the paint-stained table a bowl of red roses. This, and Jolyon’s favourite cat, who still clung to the deserted habitat, were the pleasant spots in that dishevelled, sad workroom. Jon, at the north window, sniffing air mysteriously scented with warm strawberries, heard a car drive up. The lawyers again about some nonsense! Why did that scent so make one ache? And where did it come from–there were no strawberry beds on this side of the house. Instinctively he took a crumpled sheet of paper from his pocket, and wrote down some broken words. A warmth began spreading in his chest; he rubbed the palms of his hands together. Presently he had jotted this:

“If I could make a little song
A little song to soothe my heart!
I’d make it all of little things
The plash of water, rub of wings,
The puffing-off of dandies crown,
The hiss of raindrop spilling down, The purr of cat, the trill of bird,
And ev’ry whispering I’ve heard
From willy wind in leaves and grass, And all the distant drones that pass.
A song as tender and as light
As flower, or butterfly in flight;
And when I saw it opening,
I’d let it fly and sing!”

He was still muttering it over to himself at the window, when he heard his name called, and, turning round, saw Fleur. At that amazing apparition, he made at first no movement and no sound, while her clear vivid glance ravished his heart. Then he went forward to the table, saying, “How nice of you to come!” and saw her flinch as if he had thrown something at her.

“I asked for you,” she said, “and they showed me up here. But I can go away again.”

Jon clutched the paint-stained table. Her face and figure in its frilly frock photographed itself with such startling vividness upon his eyes, that if she had sunk through the floor he must still have seen her.

“I know I told you a lie, Jon. But I told it out of love.”

“Yes, oh! yes! That’s nothing!”

“I didn’t answer your letter. What was the use–there wasn’t anything to answer. I wanted to see you instead.” She held out both her hands, and Jon grasped them across the table. He tried to say something, but all his attention was given to trying not to hurt her hands. His own felt so hard and hers so soft. She said almost defiantly:

“That old story–was it so very dreadful?”

“Yes.” In his voice, too, there was a note of defiance.

She dragged her hands away. “I didn’t think in these days boys were tied to their mothers’ apron-strings.”

Jon’s chin went up as if he had been struck.

“Oh! I didn’t mean it, Jon. What a horrible thing to say!” Swiftly she came close to him. “Jon, dear; I didn’t mean it.”

“All right.”

She had put her two hands on his shoulder, and her forehead down on them; the brim of her hat touched his neck, and he felt it quivering. But, in a sort of paralysis, he made no response. She let go of his shoulder and drew away.

“Well, I’ll go, if you don’t want me. But I never thought you’d have given me up.”

“I haven’t,” cried Jon, coming suddenly to life. “I can’t. I’ll try again.”

Her eyes gleamed, she swayed toward him. “Jon–I love you! Don’t give me up! If you do, I don’t know what–I feel so desperate. What does it matter–all that past-compared with this?”

She clung to him. He kissed her eyes, her cheeks, her lips. But while he kissed her he saw, the sheets of that letter fallen down on the floor of his bedroom–his father’s white dead face–his mother kneeling before it. Fleur’s whispered, “Make her! Promise! Oh! Jon, try!” seemed childish in his ear. He felt curiously old.

“I promise!” he muttered. “Only, you don’t understand.”

“She wants to spoil our lives, just because–“

“Yes, of what?”

Again that challenge in his voice, and she did not answer. Her arms tightened round him, and he returned her kisses; but even while he yielded, the poison worked in him, the poison of the letter. Fleur did not know, she did not understand–she misjudged his mother; she came from the enemy’s camp! So lovely, and he loved her so–yet, even in her embrace, he could not help the memory of Holly’s words: “I think she has a ‘having’ nature,” and his mother’s “My darling boy, don’t think of me–think of yourself!”

When she was gone like a passionate dream, leaving her image on his eyes, her kisses on his lips, such an ache in his heart, Jon leaned in the window, listening to the car bearing her away. Still the scent as of warm strawberries, still the little summer sounds that should make his song; still all the promise of youth and happiness in sighing, floating, fluttering July–and his heart torn; yearning strong in him; hope high in him yet with its eyes cast down, as if ashamed. The miserable task before him! If Fleur was desperate, so was he–watching the poplars swaying, the white clouds passing, the sunlight on the grass.

He waited till evening, till after their almost silent dinner, till his mother had played to him and still he waited, feeling that she knew what he was waiting to say. She kissed him and went up-stairs, and still he lingered, watching the moonlight and the moths, and that unreality of colouring which steals along and stains a summer night. And he would have given anything to be back again in the past–barely three months back; or away forward, years, in the future. The present with this dark cruelty of a decision, one way or the other, seemed impossible. He realised now so much more keenly what his mother felt than he had at first; as if the story in that letter had been a poisonous germ producing a kind of fever of partisanship, so that he really felt there were two camps, his mother’s and his– Fleur’s and her father’s. It might be a dead thing, that old tragic ownership and enmity, but dead things were poisonous till time had cleaned them away. Even his love felt tainted, less illusioned, more of the earth, and with a treacherous lurking doubt lest Fleur, like her father, might want to own; not articulate, just a stealing haunt, horribly unworthy, which crept in and about the ardour of his memories, touched with its tarnishing breath the vividness and grace of that charmed face and figure–a doubt, not real enough to convince him of its presence, just real enough to deflower a perfect faith. And perfect faith, to Jon, not yet twenty, was essential. He still had Youth’s eagerness to give with both hands, to take with neither– to give lovingly to one who had his own impulsive generosity. Surely she had! He got up from the window-seat and roamed in the big grey ghostly room, whose walls were hung with silvered canvas. This house his father said in that death-bed letter–had been built for his mother to live in–with Fleur’s father! He put out his hand in the half-dark, as if to grasp the shadowy hand of the dead. He clenched, trying to feel the thin vanished fingers of his father; to squeeze them, and reassure him that he-he was on his father’s side. Tears, prisoned within him, made his eyes feel dry and hot. He went back to the window. It was warmer, not so eerie, more comforting outside, where the moon hung golden, three days off full; the freedom of the night was comforting. If only Fleur and he had met on some desert island without a past–and Nature for their house! Jon had still his high regard for desert islands, where breadfruit grew, and the water was blue above the coral. The night was deep, was free–there was enticement in it; a lure, a promise, a refuge from entanglement, and love! Milksop tied to his mother’s…! His cheeks burned. He shut the window, drew curtains over it, switched off the lighted sconce, and went up-stairs.

The door of his room was open, the light turned up; his mother, still in her evening gown, was standing at the window. She turned and said:

“Sit down, Jon; let’s talk.” She sat down on the window-seat, Jon on his bed. She had her profile turned to him, and the beauty and grace of her figure, the delicate line of the brow, the nose, the neck, the strange and as it were remote refinement of her, moved him. His mother never belonged to her surroundings. She came into them from somewhere–as it were! What was she going to say to him, who had in his heart such things to say to her?

“I know Fleur came to-day. I’m not surprised.” It was as though she had added: “She is her father’s daughter!” And Jon’s heart hardened. Irene went on quietly:

“I have Father’s letter. I picked it up that night and kept it. Would you like it back, dear?”

Jon shook his head.

“I had read it, of course, before he gave it to you. It didn’t quite do justice to my criminality.”

‘Mother!” burst from Jon’s lips.

“He put it very sweetly, but I know that in marrying Fleur’s father without love I did a dreadful thing. An unhappy marriage, Jon, can play such havoc with other lives besides one’s own. You are fearfully young, my darling, and fearfully loving. Do you think you can possibly be happy with this girl?”

Staring at her dark eyes, darker now from pain, Jon answered

“Yes; oh! yes–if you could be.”

Irene smiled.

“Admiration of beauty and longing for possession are not love. If yours were another case like mine, Jon–where the deepest things are stifled; the flesh joined, and the spirit at war!”

“Why should it, Mother? You think she must be like her father, but she’s not. I’ve seen him.”

Again the smile came on Irene’s lips, and in Jon something wavered; there was such irony and experience in that smile.

“You are a giver, Jon; she is a taker.”

That unworthy doubt, that haunting uncertainty again! He said with vehemence:

“She isn’t–she isn’t. It’s only because I can’t bear to make you unhappy, Mother, now that Father–” He thrust his fists against his forehead.

Irene got up.

“I told you that night, dear, not to mind me. I meant it. Think of yourself and your own happiness! I can stand what’s left–I’ve brought it on myself.”

Again the word “Mother!” burst from Jon’s lips.

She came over to him and put her hands over his.

“Do you feel your head, darling?”

Jon shook it. What he felt was in his chest–a sort of tearing asunder of the tissue there, by the two loves.

“I shall always love you the same, Jon, whatever you do. You won’t lose anything.” She smoothed his hair gently, and walked away.

He heard the door shut; and, rolling over on the bed, lay, stifling his breath, with an awful held-up feeling within him.

VII

EMBASSY

Enquiring for her at tea time Soames learned that Fleur had been out in the car since two. Three hours! Where had she gone? Up to London without a word to him? He had never become quite reconciled with cars. He had embraced them in principle–like the born empiricist, or Forsyte, that he was–adopting each symptom of progress as it came along with: “Well, we couldn’t do without them now.” But in fact he found them tearing, great, smelly things. Obliged by Annette to have one–a Rollhard with pearl-grey cushions, electric light, little mirrors, trays for the ashes of cigarettes, flower vases–all smelling of petrol and stephanotis–he regarded it much as he used to regard his brother-in-law, Montague Dartie. The thing typified all that was fast, insecure, and subcutaneously oily in modern life. As modern life became faster, looser, younger, Soames was becoming older, slower, tighter, more and more in thought and language like his father James before him. He was almost aware of it himself. Pace and progress pleased him less and less; there was an ostentation, too, about a car which he considered provocative in the prevailing mood of Labour. On one occasion that fellow Sims had driven over the only vested interest of a working man. Soames had not forgotten the behaviour of its master, when not many people would have stopped to put up with it. He had been sorry for the dog, and quite prepared to take its part against the car, if that ruffian hadn’t been so outrageous. With four hours fast becoming five, and still no Fleur, all the old car-wise feelings he had experienced in person and by proxy balled within him, and sinking sensations troubled the pit of his stomach. At seven he telephoned to Winifred by trunk call. No! Fleur had not been to Green Street. Then where was she? Visions of his beloved daughter rolled up in her pretty frills, all blood and dust-stained, in some hideous catastrophe, began to haunt him. He went to her room and spied among her things. She had taken nothing–no dressing-case, no Jewellery. And this, a relief in one sense, increased his fears of an accident. Terrible to be helpless when his loved one was missing, especially when he couldn’t bear fuss or publicity of any kind! What should he do if she were not back by nightfall?

At a quarter to eight he heard the car. A great weight lifted from off his heart; he hurried down. She was getting out–pale and tired- looking, but nothing wrong. He met her in the hall.

“You’ve frightened me. Where have you been?”

“To Robin Hill. I’m sorry, dear. I had to go; I’ll tell you afterward.” And, with a flying kiss, she ran up-stairs.

Soames waited in the drawing-room. To Robin Hill! What did that portend?

It was not a subject they could discuss at dinner–consecrated to the susceptibilities of the butler. The agony of nerves Soames had been through, the relief he felt at her safety, softened his power to condemn what she had done, or resist what she was going to do; he waited in a relaxed stupor for her revelation. Life was a queer business. There he was at sixty-five and no more in command of things than if he had not spent forty years in building up security- always something one couldn’t get on terms with! In the pocket of his dinner-jacket was a letter from Annette. She was coming back in a fortnight. He knew nothing of what she had been doing out there. And he was glad that he did not. Her absence had been a relief. Out of sight was out of mind! And now she was coming back. Another worry! And the Bolderby Old Crome was gone–Dumetrius had got it– all because that anonymous letter had put it out of his thoughts. He furtively remarked the strained look on his daughter’s face, as if she too were gazing at a picture that she couldn’t buy. He almost wished the War back. Worries didn’t seem, then, quite so worrying. From the caress in her voice, the look on her face, he became certain that she wanted something from him, uncertain whether it would be wise of him to give it her. He pushed his savoury away uneaten, and even joined her in a cigarette.

After dinner she set the electric piano-player going. And he augured the worst when she sat down on a cushion footstool at his knee, and put her hand on his.

“Darling, be nice to me. I had to see Jon–he wrote to me. He’s going to try what he can do with his mother. But I’ve been thinking. It’s really in your hands, Father. If you’d persuade her that it doesn’t mean renewing the past in any way! That I shall stay yours, and Jon will stay hers; that you need never see him or her, and she need never see you or me! Only you could persuade her, dear, because only you could promise. One can’t promise for other people. Surely it wouldn’t be too awkward for you to see her just this once now that Jon’s father is dead?”

“Too awkward?” Soames repeated. “The whole thing’s preposterous.”

“You know,” said Fleur, without looking up, “you wouldn’t mind seeing her, really.”

Soames was silent. Her words had expressed a truth too deep for him to admit. She slipped her fingers between his own–hot, slim, eager, they clung there. This child of his would corkscrew her way into a brick wall!

“What am I to do if you won’t, Father?” she said very softly.

“I’ll do anything for your happiness,” said Soanies; “but this isn’t for your happiness.”

“Oh! it is; it is!”

“It’ll only stir things up,” he said grimly.

“But they are stirred up. The thing is to quiet them. To make her feel that this is just our lives, and has nothing to do with yours or hers. You can do it, Father, I know you can.”

“You know a great deal, then,” was Soames’ glum answer.

“If you will, Jon and I will wait a year–two years if you like.”

“It seems to me,” murmured Soames, “that you care nothing about what I feel.”

Fleur pressed his hand against her cheek.

“I do, darling. But you wouldn’t like me to be awfully miserable.”

How she wheedled to get her ends! And trying with all his might to think she really cared for him–he was not sure–not sure. All she cared for was this boy! Why should he help her to get this boy, who was killing her affection for himself? Why should he? By the laws of the Forsytes it was foolish! There was nothing to be had out of it–nothing! To give her to that boy! To pass her into the enemy’s camp, under the influence of the woman who had injured him so deeply! Slowly–inevitably–he would lose this flower of his life! And suddenly he was conscious that his hand was wet. His heart gave a little painful jump. He couldn’t bear her to cry. He put his other hand quickly over hers, and a tear dropped on that, too. He couldn’t go on like this! “Well, well,” he said, “I’ll think it over, and do what I can. Come, come!” If she must have it for her happiness–she must; he couldn’t refuse to help her. And lest she should begin to thank him he got out of his chair and went up to the piano-player– making that noise! It ran down, as he reached it, with a faint buzz. That musical box of his nursery days: “The Harmonious Blacksmith,” “Glorious Port”–the thing had always made him miserable when his mother set it going on Sunday afternoons. Here it was again–the same thing, only larger, more expensive, and now it played “The Wild, Wild Women,” and “The Policeman’s Holiday,” and he was no longer in black velvet with a sky blue collar. ‘Profond’s right,’ he thought, ‘there’s nothing in it! We’re all progressing to the grave!’ And with that surprising mental comment he walked out.

He did not see Fleur again that night. But, at breakfast, her eyes followed him about with an appeal he could not escape–not that he intended to try. No! He had made up his mind to the nerve-racking business. He would go to Robin Hill–to that house of memories. Pleasant memory–the last! Of going down to keep that boy’s father and Irene apart by threatening divorce. He had often thought, since, that it had clinched their union. And, now, he was going to clinch the union of that boy with his girl. ‘I don’t know what I’ve done,’ he thought, ‘to have such things thrust on me!’ He went up by train and down by train, and from the station walked by the long rising lane, still very much as he remembered it over thirty years ago. Funny–so near London! Some one evidently was holding on to the land there. This speculation soothed him, moving between the high hedges slowly, so as not to get overheated, though the day was chill enough. After all was said and done there was something real about land, it didn’t shift. Land, and good pictures! The values might fluctuate a bit, but on the whole they were always going up–worth holding on to, in a world where there was such a lot of unreality, cheap building, changing fashions, such a “Here to-day and gone to-morrow” spirit. The French were right, perhaps, with their peasant proprietorship, though he had no opinion of the French. One’s bit of land! Something solid in it! He had heard peasant proprietors described as a pig-headed lot; had heard young Mont call his father a pigheaded Morning Poster–disrespectful young devil. Well, there were worse things than being pig-headed or reading the Morning Post. There was Profond and his tribe, and all these Labour chaps, and loud-mouthed politicians and ‘wild, wild women’! A lot of worse things! And suddenly Soames became conscious of feeling weak, and hot, and shaky. Sheer nerves at the meeting before him! As Aunt Juley might have said–quoting “Superior Dosset”–his nerves were “in a proper fautigue.” He could see the house now among its trees, the house he had watched being built, intending it for himself and this woman, who, by such strange fate, had lived in it with another after all! He began to think of Dumetrius, Local Loans, and other forms of investment. He could not afford to meet her with his nerves all shaking; he who represented the Day of Judgment for her on earth as it was in heaven; he, legal ownership, personified, meeting lawless beauty, incarnate. His dignity demanded impassivity during this embassy designed to link their offspring, who, if she had behaved herself, would have been brother and sister. That wretched tune, “The Wild, Wild Women,” kept running in his head, perversely, for tunes did not run there as a rule. Passing the poplars in front of the house, he thought: ‘How they’ve grown; I had them planted!’ A maid answered his ring.

“Will you say–Mr. Forsyte, on a very special matter.”

If she realised who he was, quite probably she would not see him. ‘By George!’ he thought, hardening as the tug came. ‘It’s a topsy- turvy affair!’

The maid came back. “Would the gentleman state his business, please?”

“Say it concerns Mr. Jon,” said Soames.

And once more he was alone in that hall with the pool of grey-white marble designed by her first lover. Ah! she had been a bad lot–had loved two men, and not himself! He must remember that when he came face to face with her once more. And suddenly he saw her in the opening chink between the long heavy purple curtains, swaying, as if in hesitation; the old perfect poise and line, the old startled dark- eyed gravity, the old calm defensive voice: “Will you come in, please?”

He passed through that opening. As in the picture-gallery and the confectioner’s shop, she seemed to him still beautiful. And this was the first time–the very first–since he married her seven-and-thirty years ago, that he was speaking to her without the legal right to call her his. She was not wearing black–one of that fellow’s radical notions, he supposed.

“I apologise for coming,” he said glumly; “but this business must be settled one way or the other.”

“Won’t you sit down?”

“No, thank you.”

Anger at his false position, impatience of ceremony between them, mastered him, and words came tumbling out:

“It’s an infernal mischance; I’ve done my best to discourage it. I consider my daughter crazy, but I’ve got into the habit of indulging her; that’s why I’m here. I suppose you’re fond of your son.”

“Devotedly.”

“Well?”

“It rests with him.”

He had a sense of being met and baffled. Always–always she had baffled him, even in those old first married days.

“It’s a mad notion,” he said.

“It is.”

“If you had only–! Well–they might have been–” he did not finish that sentence “brother and sister and all this saved,” but he saw her shudder as if he had, and stung by the sight he crossed over to the window. Out there the trees had not grown–they couldn’t, they were old

“So far as I’m concerned,” he said, “you may make your mind easy. I desire to see neither you nor your son if this marriage comes about. Young people in these days are–are unaccountable. But I can’t bear to see my daughter unhappy. What am I to say to her when I go back?”

“Please say to her as I said to you, that it rests with Jon.”

“You don’t oppose it?”

“With all my heart; not with my lips.”

Soames stood, biting his finger.

“I remember an evening–” he said suddenly; and was silent. What was there–what was there in this woman that would not fit into the four corners of his hate or condemnation? “Where is he–your son?”

“Up in his father’s studio, I think.”

“Perhaps you’d have him down.”

He watched her ring the bell, he watched the maid come in.

“Please tell Mr. Jon that I want him.”

“If it rests with him,” said Soames hurriedly, when the maid was gone, “I suppose I may take it for granted that this unnatural marriage will take place; in that case there’ll be formalities. Whom do I deal with–Herring’s?”

Irene nodded.

“You don’t propose to live with them?”

Irene shook her head.

“What happens to this house?”

“It will be as Jon wishes.”

“This house,” said Soames suddenly: “I had hopes when I began it. If they live in it–their children! They say there’s such a thing as Nemesis. Do you believe in it?”

“Yes.”

“Oh! You do!”

He had come back from the window, and was standing close to her, who, in the curve of her grand piano, was, as it were, embayed.

“I’m not likely to see you again,” he said slowly. “Will you shake hands”–his lip quivered, the words came out jerkily–“and let the past die.” He held out his hand. Her pale face grew paler, her eyes so dark, rested immovably on his, her hands remained clasped in front of her. He heard a sound and turned. That boy was standing in the opening of the curtains. Very queer he looked, hardly recognisable as the young fellow he had seen in the Gallery off Cork Street–very queer; much older, no youth in the face at all–haggard, rigid, his hair ruffled, his eyes deep in his head. Soames made an effort, and said with a lift of his lip, not quite a smile nor quite a sneer:

“Well, young man! I’m here for my daughter; it rests with you, it seems–this matter. Your mother leaves it in your hands.”

The boy continued staring at his mother’s face, and made no answer.

“For my daughter’s sake I’ve brought myself to come,” said Soames. “What am I to say to her when I go back?”

Still looking at his mother, the boy said, quietly:

“Tell Fleur that it’s no good, please; I must do as my father wished before he died.”

“Jon!”

“It’s all right, Mother.”

In a kind of stupefaction Soames looked from one to the other; then, taking up hat and umbrella which he had put down on a chair, he walked toward the curtains. The boy stood aside for him to go by. He passed through and heard the grate of the rings as the curtains were drawn behind him. The sound liberated something in his chest.

‘So that’s that!’ he thought, and passed out of the front door.

VIII

THE DARK TUNE

As Soames walked away from the house at Robin Hill the sun broke through the grey of that chill afternoon, in smoky radiance. So absorbed in landscape painting that he seldom looked seriously for effects of Nature out of doors–he was struck by that moody effulgence–it mourned with a triumph suited to his own feeling. Victory in defeat. His embassy had come to naught. But he was rid of those people, had regained his daughter at the expense of–her happiness. What would Fleur say to him? Would she believe he had done his best? And under that sunlight faring on the elms, hazels, hollies of the lane and those unexploited fields, Soames felt dread. She would be terribly upset! He must appeal to her pride. That boy had given her up, declared part and lot with the woman who so long ago had given her father up! Soames clenched his hands. Given him up, and why? What had been wrong with him? And once more he felt the malaise of one who contemplates himself as seen by another–like a dog who chances on his refection in a mirror and is intrigued and anxious at the unseizable thing.

Not in a hurry to get home, he dined in town at the Connoisseurs. While eating a pear it suddenly occurred to him that, if he had not gone down to Robin Hill, the boy might not have so decided. He remembered the expression on his face while his mother was refusing the hand he had held out. A strange, an awkward thought! Had Fleur cooked her own goose by trying to make too sure?

He reached home at half-past nine. While the car was passing in at one drive gate he heard the grinding sputter of a motor-cycle passing out by the other. Young Mont, no doubt, so Fleur had not been lonely. But he went in with a sinking heart. In the cream-panelled drawing-room she was sitting with her elbows on her knees, and her chin on her clasped hands, in front of a white camellia plant which filled the fireplace. That glance at her before she saw him renewed his dread. What was she seeing among those white camellias?

“Well, Father!”

Soames shook his head. His tongue failed him. This was murderous work! He saw her eyes dilate, her lips quivering.

“What? What? Quick, Father!”

“My dear,” said Soames, “I–I did my best, but–” And again he shook his head.

Fleur ran to him, and put a hand on each of his shoulders.

“She?”

“No,” muttered Soames; “he. I was to tell you that it was no use; he must do what his father wished before he died.” He caught her by the waist. “Come, child, don’t let them hurt you. They’re not worth your little finger.”

Fleur tore herself from his grasp.

“You didn’t you–couldn’t have tried. You–you betrayed me, Father!”

Bitterly wounded, Soames gazed at her passionate figure writhing there in front of him.

“You didn’t try–you didn’t–I was a fool! Iwon’t believe he could– he ever could! Only yesterday he–! Oh! why did I ask you?”

“Yes,” said Soames, quietly, “why did you? I swallowed my feelings; I did my best for you, against my judgment–and this is my reward. Good-night!”

With every nerve in his body twitching he went toward the door.

Fleur darted after him.

“He gives me up? You mean that? Father!”

Soames turned and forced himself to answer:

“Yes.”

“Oh!” cried Fleur. “What did you–what could you have done in those old days?”

The breathless sense of really monstrous injustice cut the power of speech in Soames’ throat. What had he done! What had they done to him!

And with quite unconscious dignity he put his hand on his breast, and looked at her.

“It’s a shame!” cried Fleur passionately.

Soames went out. He mounted, slow and icy, to his picture gallery, and paced among his treasures. Outrageous! Oh! Outrageous! She was spoiled! Ah! and who had spoiled her? He stood still before the Goya copy. Accustomed to her own way in everything. Flower of his life! And now that she couldn’t have it! He turned to the window for some air. Daylight was dying, the moon rising, gold behind the poplars! What sound was that? Why! That piano thing! A dark tune, with a thrum and a throb! She had set it going–what comfort could she get from that? His eyes caught movement down there beyond the lawn, under the trellis of rambler roses and young acacia-trees, where the moonlight fell. There she was, roaming up and down. His heart gave a little sickening jump. What would she do under this blow? How could he tell? What did he know of her–he had only loved her all his life–looked on her as the apple of his eye! He knew nothing–had no notion. There she was–and that dark tune–and the river gleaming in the moonlight!

‘I must go out,’ he thought.

He hastened down to the drawing-room, lighted just as he had left it, with the piano thrumming out that waltz, or fox-trot, or whatever they called it in these days, and passed through on to the verandah.

Where could he watch, without her seeing him? And he stole down through the fruit garden to the boat-house. He was between her and the river now, and his heart felt lighter. She was his daughter, and Annette’s–she wouldn’t do anything foolish; but there it was–he didn’t know! From the boat house window he could see the last acacia and the spin of her skirt when she turned in her restless march. That tune had run down at last–thank goodness! He crossed the floor and looked through the farther window at the water slow-flowing past the lilies. It made little bubbles against them, bright where a moon-streak fell. He remembered suddenly that early morning when he had slept on the house-boat after his father died, and she had just been born–nearly nineteen years ago! Even now he recalled the unaccustomed world when he woke up, the strange feeling it had given him. That day the second passion of his life began–for this girl of his, roaming under the acacias. What a comfort she had been to him! And all the soreness and sense of outrage left him. If he could make her happy again, he didn’t care! An owl flew, queeking, queeking; a bat flitted by; the moonlight brightened and broadened on the water. How long was she going to roam about like this! He went back to the window, and suddenly saw her coming down to the bank. She stood quite close, on the landing-stage. And Soames watched, clenching his hands. Should he speak to her? His excitement was intense. The stillness of her figure, its youth, its absorption in despair, in longing, in–itself. He would always remember it, moonlit like that; and the faint sweet reek of the river and the shivering of the willow leaves. She had everything in the world that he could give her, except the one thing that she could not have because of him! The perversity of things hurt him at that moment, as might a fish-bone in his throat.

Then, with an infinite relief, he saw her turn back toward the house. What could he give her to make amends? Pearls, travel, horses, other young men–anything she wanted–that he might lose the memory of her young figure lonely by the water! There! She had set that tune going again! Why–it was a mania! Dark, thrumming, faint, travelling from the house. It was as though she had said: “If I can’t have something to keep me going, I shall die of this!” Soames dimly understood. Well, if it helped her, let her keep it thrumming on all night! And, mousing back through the fruit garden, he regained the verandah. Though he meant to go in and speak to her now, he still hesitated, not knowing what to say, trying hard to recall how it felt to be thwarted in love. He ought to know, ought to remember–and he could not! Gone–all real recollection; except that it had hurt him horribly. In this blankness he stood passing his handkerchief over hands and lips, which were very dry. By craning his head he could just see Fleur, standing with her back to that piano still grinding out its tune, her arms tight crossed on her breast, a lighted cigarette between her lips, whose smoke half veiled her face. The expression on it was strange to Soames, the eyes shone and stared, and every feature was alive with a sort of wretched scorn and anger. Once or twice he had seen Annette look like that–the face was too vivid, too naked, not his daughter’s at that moment. And he dared not go in, realising the futility of any attempt at consolation. He sat down in the shadow of the ingle-nook.

Monstrous trick, that Fate had played him! Nemesis! That old unhappy marriage! And in God’s name-why? How was he to know, when he wanted Irene so violently, and she consented to be his, that she would never love him? The tune died and was renewed, and died again, and still Soames sat in the shadow, waiting for he knew not what. The fag of Fleur’s cigarette, flung through the window, fell on the grass; he watched it glowing, burning itself out. The moon had freed herself above the poplars, and poured her unreality on the garden. Comfortless light, mysterious, withdrawn–like the beauty of that woman who had never loved him–dappling the nemesias and the stocks with a vesture not of earth. Flowers! And his flower so unhappy! Ah! Why could one not put happiness into Local Loans, gild its edges, insure it against going down?

Light had ceased to flow out now from the drawing-room window. All was silent and dark in there. Had she gone up? He rose, and, tiptoeing, peered in. It seemed so! He entered. The verandah kept the moonlight out; and at first he could see nothing but the outlines of furniture blacker than the darkness. He groped toward the farther window to shut it. His foot struck a chair, and he heard a gasp. There she was, curled and crushed into the corner of the sofa! His hand hovered. Did she want his consolation? He stood, gazing at that ball of crushed frills and hair and graceful youth, trying to burrow its way out of sorrow. How leave her there? At last he touched her hair, and said:

“Come, darling, better go to bed. I’ll make it up to you, somehow.” How fatuous! But what could he have said?

IX

UNDER THE OAK-TREE

When their visitor had disappeared Jon and his mother stood without speaking, till he said suddenly:

“I ought to have seen him out.”

But Soames was already walking down the drive, and Jon went upstairs to his father’s studio, not trusting himself to go back.

The expression on his mother’s face confronting the man she had once been married to, had sealed a resolution growing within him ever since she left him the night before. It had put the finishing touch of reality. To marry Fleur would be to hit his mother in the face; to betray his dead father! It was no good! Jon had the least resentful of natures. He bore his parents no grudge in this hour of his distress. For one so young there was a rather strange power in him of seeing things in some sort of proportion. It was worse for Fleur, worse for his mother even, than it was for him. Harder than to give up was to be given up, or to be the cause of some one you loved giving up for you. He must not, would not behave grudgingly! While he stood watching the tardy sunlight, he had again that sudden vision of the world which had come to him the night before. Sea on sea, country on country, millions on millions of people, all with their own lives, energies, joys, griefs, and suffering–all with things they had to give up, and separate struggles for existence. Even though he might be willing to give up all else for the one thing he couldn’t have, he would be a fool to think his feelings mattered much in so vast a world, and to behave like a cry-baby or a cad. He pictured the people who had nothing–the millions who had given up life in the War, the millions whom the War had left with life and little else; the hungry children he had read of, the shattered men; people in prison, every kind of unfortunate. And–they did not help him much. If one had to miss a meal, what comfort in the knowledge that many others had to miss it too? There was more distraction in the thought of getting away out into this vast world of which he knew nothing yet. He could not go on staying here, walled in and sheltered, with everything so slick and comfortable, and nothing to do but brood and think what might have been. He could not go back to Wansdon, and the memories of Fleur. If he saw her again he could not trust himself; and if he stayed here or went back there, he would surely see her. While they were within reach of each other that must happen. To go far away and quickly was the only thing to do. But, however much he loved his mother, he did not want to go away with her. Then feeling that was brutal, he made up his mind desperately to propose that they should go to Italy. For two hours in that melancholy room he tried to master himself, then dressed solemnly for dinner.

His mother had done the same. They ate little, at some length, and talked of his father’s catalogue. The show was arranged for October, and beyond clerical detail there was nothing more to do.

After dinner she put on a cloak and they went out; walked a little, talked a little, till they were standing silent at last beneath the oak-tree. Ruled by the thought: ‘If I show anything, I show all,’ Jon put his arm through hers and said quite casually:

“Mother, let’s go to Italy.”

Irene pressed his arm, and said as casually:

“It would be very nice; but I’ve been thinking you ought to see and do more than you would if I were with you.”

“But then you’d be alone.”

“I was once alone for more than twelve years. Besides, I should like to be here for the opening of Father’s show.”

Jon’s grip tightened round her arm; he was not deceived.

“You couldn’t stay here all by yourself; it’s too big.”

“Not here, perhaps. In London, and I might go to Paris, after the show opens. You ought to have a year at least, Jon, and see the world.”

“Yes, I’d like to see the world and rough it. But I don’t want to leave you all alone.”

“My dear, I owe you that at least. If it’s for your good, it’ll be for mine. Why not start tomorrow? You’ve got your passport.”

“Yes; if I’m going it had better be at once. Only–Mother–if–if I wanted to stay out somewhere–America or anywhere, would you mind coming presently?”

“Wherever and whenever you send for me. But don’t send until you really want me.”

Jon drew a deep breath.

“I feel England’s choky.”

They stood a few minutes longer under the oak-tree–looking out to where the grand stand at Epsom was veiled in evening. The branches kept the moonlight from them, so that it only fell everywhere else– over the fields and far away, and on the windows of the creepered house behind, which soon would be to let.

X

FLEUR’S WEDDING

The October paragraphs describing the wedding of Fleur Forsyte to Michael Mont hardly conveyed the symbolic significance of this event. In the union of the great-granddaughter of “Superior Dosset” with the heir of a ninth baronet was the outward and visible sign of that merger of class in class which buttresses the political stability of a realm. The time had come when the Forsytes might resign their natural resentment against a “flummery” not theirs by birth, and accept it as the still more natural due of their possessive instincts. Besides, they had to mount to make room for all those so much more newly rich. In that quiet but tasteful ceremony in Hanover Square, and afterward among the furniture in Green Street, it had been impossible for those not in the know to distinguish the Forsyte troop from the Mont contingent–so far away was “Superior Dosset” now. Was there, in the crease of his trousers, the expression of his moustache, his accent, or the shine on his top-hat, a pin to choose between Soames and the ninth baronet himself? Was not Fleur as self- possessed, quick, glancing, pretty, and hard as the likeliest Muskham, Mont, or Charwell filly present? If anything, the Forsytes had it in dress and looks and manners. They had become “upper class” and now their name would be formally recorded in the Stud Book, their money joined to land. Whether this was a little late in the day, and those rewards of the possessive instinct, lands and money, destined for the melting-pot–was still a question so moot that it was not mooted. After all, Timothy had said Consols were goin’ up. Timothy, the last, the missing link; Timothy, in extremis on the Bayswater Road–so Francie had reported. It was whispered, too, that this young Mont was a sort of socialist–strangely wise of him, and in the nature of insurance, considering the days they lived in. There was no uneasiness on that score. The landed classes produced that sort of amiable foolishness at times, turned to safe uses and confined to theory. As George remarked to his sister Francie: “They’ll soon be having puppies–that’ll give him pause.”

The church with white flowers and something blue in the middle of the East window looked extremely chaste, as though endeavouring to counteract the somewhat lurid phraseology of a Service calculated to keep the thoughts of all on puppies. Forsytes, Haymans, Tweetymans, sat in the left aisle; Monts, Charwells; Muskhams in the right; while a sprinkling of Fleur’s fellow-sufferers at school, and of Mont’s fellow-sufferers in, the War, gaped indiscriminately from either side, and three maiden ladies, who had dropped in on their way from Skyward’s brought up the rear, together with two Mont retainers and Fleur’s old nurse. In the unsettled state of the country as full a house as could be expected.

Mrs. Val Dartie, who sat with her husband in the third row, squeezed his hand more than once during the performance. To her, who knew the plot of this tragi-comedy, its most dramatic moment was well-nigh painful. ‘I wonder if Jon knows by instinct,’ she thought–Jon, out in British Columbia. She had received a letter from him only that morning which had made her smile and say:

“Jon’s in British Columbia, Val, because he wants to be in California. He thinks it’s too nice there.”

“Oh!” said Val, “so he’s beginning to see a joke again.”

“He’s bought some land and sent for his mother.”

“What on earth will she do out there?”

“All she cares about is Jon. Do you still think it a happy release?”

Val’s shrewd eyes narrowed to grey pin-points between their dark lashes.

“Fleur wouldn’t have suited him a bit. She’s not bred right.”

“Poor little Fleur!” sighed Holly. Ah! it was strange–this marriage. The young man, Mont, had caught her on the rebound, of course, in the reckless mood of one whose ship has just gone down. Such a plunge could not but be–as Val put it–an outside chance. There was little to be told from the back view of her young cousin’s veil, and Holly’s eyes reviewed the general aspect of this Christian wedding. She, who had made a love-match which had been successful, had a horror of unhappy marriages. This might not be one in the end- -but it was clearly a toss-up; and to consecrate a toss-up in this fashion with manufactured unction before a crowd of fashionable free- thinkers–for who thought otherwise than freely, or not at all, when they were “dolled” up–seemed to her as near a sin as one could find in an age which had abolished them. Her eyes wandered from the prelate in his robes (a Charwell-the Forsytes had not as yet produced a prelate) to Val, beside her, thinking–she was certain–of the Mayfly filly at fifteen to one for the Cambridgeshire. They passed on and caught the profile of the ninth baronet, in counterfeitment of the kneeling process. She could just see the neat ruck above his knees where he had pulled his trousers up, and thought: ‘Val’s forgotten to pull up his!’ Her eyes passed to the pew in front of her, where Winifred’s substantial form was gowned with passion, and on again to Soames and Annette kneeling side by side. A little smile came on her lips–Prosper Profond, back from the South Seas of the Channel, would be kneeling too, about six rows behind. Yes! This was a funny “small” business, however it turned out; still it was in a proper church and would be in the proper papers to-morrow morning.

They had begun a hymn; she could hear the ninth baronet across the aisle, singing of the hosts of Midian. Her little finger touched Val’s thumb–they were holding the same hymn-book–and a tiny thrill passed through her, preserved–from twenty years ago. He stooped and whispered:

“I say, d’you remember the rat?” The rat at their wedding in Cape Colony, which had cleaned its whiskers behind the table at the Registrar’s! And between her little and third forgers she squeezed his thumb hard.

The hymn was over, the prelate had begun to deliver his discourse. He told them of the dangerous times they lived in, and the awful conduct of the House of Lords in connection with divorce. They were all soldiers–he said–in the trenches under the poisonous gas of the Prince of Darkness, and must be manful. The purpose of marriage was children, not mere sinful happiness.

An imp danced in Holly’s eyes–Val’s eyelashes were meeting. Whatever happened; he must not snore. Her finger and thumb closed on his thigh till he stirred uneasily.

The discourse was over, the danger past. They were signing in the vestry; and general relaxation had set in.

A voice behind her said:

“Will she stay the course?”

“Who’s that?” she whispered.

“Old George Forsyte!”

Holly demurely scrutinized one of whom she had often heard. Fresh from South Africa, and ignorant of her kith and kin, she never saw one without an almost childish curiosity. He was very big, and very dapper; his eyes gave her a funny feeling of having no particular clothes.

“They’re off!” she heard him say.

They came, stepping from the chancel. Holly looked first in young Mont’s face. His lips and ears were twitching, his eyes, shifting from his feet to the hand within his arm, stared suddenly before them as if to face a firing party. He gave Holly the feeling that he was spiritually intoxicated. But Fleur! Ah! That was different. The girl was perfectly composed, prettier than ever, in her white robes and veil over her banged dark chestnut hair; her eyelids hovered demure over her dark hazel eyes. Outwardly, she seemed all there. But inwardly, where was she? As those two passed, Fleur raised her eyelids–the restless glint of those clear whites remained on Holly’s vision as might the flutter of caged bird’s wings.

In Green Street Winifred stood to receive, just a little less composed than usual. Soames’ request for the use of her house had come on her at a deeply psychological moment. Under the influence of a remark of Prosper Profond, she had begun to exchange her Empire for Expressionistic furniture. There were the most amusing arrangements, with violet, green, and orange blobs and scriggles, to be had at Mealard’s. Another month and the change would have been complete. Just now, the very “intriguing” recruits she had enlisted, did not march too well with the old guard. It was as if her regiment were half in khaki, half in scarlet and bearskins. But her strong and comfortable character made the best of it in a drawing-room which typified, perhaps, more perfectly than she imagined, the semi- bolshevized imperialism of her country. After all, this was a day of merger, and you couldn’t have too much of it! Her eyes travelled indulgently among her guests. Soames had gripped the back of a buhl chair; young Mont was behind that “awfully amusing” screen, which no one as yet had been able to explain to her. The ninth baronet had shied violently at a round scarlet table, inlaid under glass with blue Australian butteries’ wings, and was clinging to her Louis- Quinze cabinet; Francie Forsyte had seized the new mantel-board, finely carved with little purple grotesques on an ebony ground; George, over by the old spinet, was holding a little sky-blue book as if about to enter bets; Prosper Profond was twiddling the knob of the open door, black with peacock-blue panels; and Annette’s hands, close by, were grasping her own waist; two Muskhams clung to the balcony among the plants, as if feeling ill; Lady Mont, thin and brave- looking, had taken up her long-handled glasses and was gazing at the central light shade, of ivory and orange dashed with deep magenta, as if the heavens had opened. Everybody, in fact, seemed holding on to something. Only Fleur, still in her bridal dress, was detached from all support, flinging her words and glances to left and right.

The room was full of the bubble and the squeak of conversation. Nobody could hear anything that anybody said; which seemed of little consequence, since no one waited for anything so slow as an answer. Modern conversation seemed to Winifred so different from the days of her prime, when a drawl was all the vogue. Still it was “amusing,” which, of course, was all that mattered. Even the Forsytes were talking with extreme rapidity–Fleur and Christopher, and Imogen, and young Nicholas’s youngest, Patrick. Soames, of course, was silent; but George, by the spinet, kept up a running commentary, and Francie, by her mantel-shelf. Winifred drew nearer to the ninth baronet. He seemed to promise a certain repose; his nose was fine and drooped a little, his grey moustaches too; and she said, drawling through her smile:

“It’s rather nice, isn’t it?”

His reply shot out of his smile like a snipped bread pellet

“D’you remember, in Frazer, the tribe that buries the bride up to the waist?”

He spoke as fast as anybody! He had dark lively little eyes, too, all crinkled round like a Catholic priest’s. Winifred felt suddenly he might say things she would regret.

“They’re always so amusing–weddings,” she murmured, and moved on to Soames. He was curiously still, and Winifred saw at once what was dictating his immobility. To his right was George Forsyte, to his left Annette and Prosper Profond. He could not move without either seeing those two together, or the reflection of them in George Forsyte’s japing eyes. He was quite right not to be taking notice.

“They say Timothy’s sinking;” he said glumly.

“Where will you put him, Soames?”

“Highgate.” He counted on his fingers. “It’ll make twelve of them there, including wives. How do you think Fleur looks?”

“Remarkably well.”

Soames nodded. He had never seen her look prettier, yet he could not rid himself of the impression that this business was unnatural– remembering still that crushed figure burrowing into the corner of the sofa. From that night to this day he had received from her no confidences. He knew from his chauffeur that she had made one more attempt on Robin Hill and drawn blank–an empty house, no one at home. He knew that she had received a letter, but not what was in it, except that it had made her hide herself and cry. He had remarked that she looked at him sometimes when she thought he wasn’t noticing, as if she were wondering still what he had done–forsooth– to make those people hate him so. Well, there it was! Annette had come back, and things had worn on through the summer–very miserable, till suddenly Fleur had said she was going to marry young Mont. She had shown him a little more affection when she told him that. And he had yielded–what was the good of opposing it? God knew that he had never wished to thwart her in anything! And the young man seemed quite delirious about her. No doubt she was in a reckless mood, and she was young, absurdly young. But if he opposed her, he didn’t know what she would do; for all he could tell she might want to take up a profession, become a doctor or solicitor, some nonsense. She had no aptitude for painting, writing, music, in his view the legitimate occupations of unmarried women, if they must do something in these days. On the whole, she was safer married, for he could see too well how feverish and restless she was at home. Annette, too, had been in favour of it–Annette, from behind the veil of his refusal to know what she was about, if she was about anything. Annette had said: “Let her marry this young man. He is a nice boy–not so highty- flighty as he seems.” Where she got her expressions, he didn’t know- -but her opinion soothed his doubts. His wife, whatever her conduct, had clear eyes and an almost depressing amount of common sense. He had settled fifty thousand on Fleur, taking care that there was no cross settlement in case it didn’t turn out well. Could it turn out well? She had not got over that other boy–he knew. They were to go to Spain for the honeymoon. He would be even lonelier when she was gone. But later, perhaps, she would forget, and turn to him again! Winifred’s voice broke on his reverie.

“Why! Of all wonders-June!”

There, in a djibbah–what things she wore!–with her hair straying from under a fillet, Soames saw his cousin, and Fleur going forward to greet her. The two passed from their view out on to the stairway.

“Really,” said Winifred, “she does the most impossible things! Fancy her coming!”

“What made you ask her?” muttered Soames.

“Because I thought she wouldn’t accept, of course.”

Winifred had forgotten that behind conduct lies the main trend of character; or, in other words, omitted to remember that Fleur was now a “lame duck.”

On receiving her invitation, June had first thought, ‘I wouldn’t go near them for the world!’ and then, one morning, had awakened from a dream of Fleur waving to her from a boat with a wild unhappy gesture. And she had changed her mind.

When Fleur came forward and said to her, “Do come up while I’m changing my dress,” she had followed up the stairs. The girl led the way into Imogen’s old bedroom, set ready for her toilet.

June sat down on the bed, thin and upright, like a little spirit in the sear and yellow. Fleur locked the door.

The girl stood before her divested of her wedding dress. What a pretty thing she was

“I suppose you think me a fool,” she said, with quivering lips, “when it was to have been Jon. But what does it matter? Michael wants me, and I don’t care. It’ll get me away from home.” Diving her hand into the frills on her breast, she brought out a letter. “Jon wrote me this.”

June read: “Lake Okanagen, British Columbia. I’m not coming back to England. Bless you always. Jon.”

“She’s made safe, you see,” said Fleur.

June handed back the letter.

“That’s not fair to Irene,” she said, “she always told Jon he could do as he wished.”

Fleur smiled bitterly. “Tell me, didn’t she spoil your life too?” June looked up. “Nobody can spoil a life, my dear. That’s nonsense. Things happen, but we bob up.”

With a sort of terror she saw the girl sink on her knees and bury her face in the djibbah. A strangled sob mounted to June’s ears.

“It’s all right–all right,” she murmured, “Don’t! There, there!”

But the point of the girl’s chin was pressed ever closer into her thigh, and the sound was dreadful of her sobbing.

Well, well! It had to come. She would feel better afterward! June stroked the short hair of that shapely head; and all the scattered mother-sense in her focussed itself and passed through the tips of her fingers into the girl’s brain.

“Don’t sit down under it, my dear,” she said at last. “We can’t control life, but we can fight it. Make the best of things. I’ve had to. I held on, like you; and I cried, as you’re crying now. And look at me!”

Fleur raised her head; a sob merged suddenly into a little choked laugh. In truth it was a thin and rather wild and wasted spirit she was looking at, but it had brave eyes.

“All right!” she said. “I’m sorry. I shall forget him, I suppose, if I fly fast and far enough.”

And, scrambling to her feet, she went over to the wash-stand.

June watched her removing with cold water the traces of emotion. Save for a little becoming pinkness there was nothing left when she stood before the mirror. June got off the bed and took a pin-cushion in her hand. To put two pins into the wrong places was all the vent she found for sympathy.

“Give me a kiss,” she said when Fleur was ready, and dug her chin into the girl’s warm cheek.

“I want a whiff,” said Fleur; “don’t wait.”

June left her, sitting on the bed with a cigarette between her lips and her eyes half closed, and went down-stairs. In the doorway of the drawing-room stood Soames as if unquiet at his daughter’s tardiness. June tossed her head and passed down on to the half- landing. Her cousin Francie was standing there.

“Look!” said June, pointing with her chin at Soames. “That man’s fatal!”

“How do you mean,” said Francie, “fatal?”

June did not answer her. “I shan’t wait to see them off,” she said. “Good-bye!”

“Good-bye!” said Francie, and her eyes, of a Celtic grey, goggled. That old feud! Really, it was quite romantic!

Soames, moving to the well of the staircase, saw June go, and drew a breath of satisfaction. Why didn’t Fleur come? They would miss their train. That train would bear her away from him, yet he could not help fidgeting at the thought that they would lose it. And then she did come, running down in her tan-coloured frock and black velvet cap, and passed him into the drawing-room. He saw her kiss her mother, her aunt, Val’s wife, Imogen, and then come forth, quick and pretty as ever. How would she treat him at this last moment of her girlhood? He couldn’t hope for much!

Her lips pressed the middle of his cheek.

“Daddy!” she said, and was past and gone! Daddy! She hadn’t called him that for years. He drew a long breath and followed slowly down. There was all the folly with that confetti stuff and the rest of it to go through with yet. But he would like just to catch her smile, if she leaned out, though they would hit her in the eye with the shoe, if they didn’t take care. Young Mont’s voice said fervently in his ear:

“Good-bye, sir; and thank you! I’m so fearfully bucked.”

“Good-bye,” he said; “don’t miss your train.”

He stood on the bottom step but three, whence he could see above the heads–the silly hats and heads. They were in the car now; and there was that stuff, showering, and there went the shoe. A flood of something welled up in Soames, and–he didn’t know–he couldn’t see!

XI

THE LAST OF THE OLD FORSYTES

When they came to prepare that terrific symbol Timothy Forsyte–the one pure individualist left, the only man who hadn’t heard of the Great War–they found him wonderful–not even death had undermined his soundness.

To Smither and Cook that preparation came like final evidence of what they had never believed possible–the end of the old Forsyte family on earth. Poor Mr. Timothy must now take a harp and sing in the company of Miss Forsyte, Mrs. Julia, Miss Hester; with Mr. Jolyon, Mr. Swithin, Mr. James, Mr. Roger, and Mr. Nicholas of the party. Whether Mrs. Hayman would be there was more doubtful, seeing that she had been cremated. Secretly Cook thought that Mr. Timothy would be upset–he had always been so set against barrel organs. How many times had she not said: “Drat the thing! There it is again! Smither, you’d better run up and see what you can do.” And in her heart she would so have enjoyed the tunes, if she hadn’t known that Mr. Timothy would ring the bell in a minute and say: “Here, take him a halfpenny and tell him to move on.” Often they had been obliged to add threepence of their own before the man would go–Timothy had ever underrated the value of emotion. Luckily he had taken the organs for blue-bottles in his last years, which had been a comfort, and they had been able to enjoy the tunes. But a harp! Cook wondered. It was a change! And Mr. Timothy had never liked change. But she did not speak of this to Smither, who did so take a line of her own in regard to heaven that it quite put one about sometimes.

She cried while Timothy was being prepared, and they all had sherry afterward out of the yearly Christmas bottle, which would not be needed now. Ah! dear! She had been there five-and-forty years and Smither three-and-forty! And now they would be going to a tiny house in Tooting, to live on their savings and what Miss Hester had so kindly left them–for to take fresh service after the glorious past– No! But they would like just to see Mr. Soames again, and Mrs. Dartie, and Miss Francie, and Miss Euphemia. And even if they had to take their own cab, they felt they must go to the funeral. For six years Mr. Timothy had been their baby, getting younger and younger every day, till at last he had been too young to live.

They spent the regulation hours of waiting in polishing and dusting, in catching the one mouse left, and asphyxiating the last beetle so as to leave it nice, discussing with each other what they would buy at the sale. Miss Ann’s workbox; Miss Juley’s (that is Mrs. Julia’s) seaweed album; the fire-screen Miss Hester had crewelled; and Mr. Timothy’s hair–little golden curls, glued into a black frame. Oh! they must have those–only the price of things had gone up so!

It fell to Soames to issue invitations for the funeral. He had them drawn up by Gradman in his office–only blood relations, and no flowers. Six carriages were ordered. The Will would be read afterward at the house.

He arrived at eleven o’clock to see that all was ready. At a quarter past old Gradman came in black gloves and crape on his hat. He and Soames stood in the drawing-room waiting. At half-past eleven the carriages drew up in a long row. But no one else appeared. Gradman said:

“It surprises me, Mr. Soames. I posted them myself.”

“I don’t know,” said Soames; “he’d lost touch with the family.” Soames had often noticed in old days how much more neighbourly his family were to the dead than to the living. But, now, the way they had flocked to Fleur’s wedding and abstained from Timothy’s funeral, seemed to show some vital change. There might, of course, be another reason; for Soames felt that if he had not known the contents of Timothy’s Will, he might have stayed away himself through delicacy. Timothy had left a lot of money, with nobody in particular to leave it to. They mightn’t like to seem to expect something.

At twelve o’clock the procession left the door; Timothy alone in the first carriage under glass. Then Soames alone; then Gradman alone; then Cook and Smither together. They started at a walk, but were soon trotting under a bright sky. At the entrance to Highgate Cemetery they were delayed by service in the Chapel. Soames would have liked to stay outside in the sunshine. He didn’t believe a word of it; on the other hand, it was a form of insurance which could not safely be neglected, in case there might be something in it after all.

They walked up two and two–he and Gradman, Cook and Smither–to the family vault. It was not very distinguished for the funeral of the last old Forsyte.

He took Gradman into his carriage on the way back to the Bayswater Road with a certain glow in his heart. He had a surprise in pickle for the old chap who had served the Forsytes four-and-fifty years-a treat that was entirely his doing. How well he remembered saying to Timothy the day–after Aunt Hester’s funeral: “Well; Uncle Timothy, there’s Gradman. He’s taken a lot of trouble for the family. What do you say to leaving him five thousand?” and his surprise, seeing the difficulty there had been in getting Timothy to leave anything, when Timothy had nodded. And now the old chap would be as pleased as Punch, for Mrs. Gradman, he knew, had a weak heart, and their son had lost a leg in the War. It was extraordinarily gratifying to Soames to have left him five thousand pounds of Timothy’s money. They sat down together in the little drawing-room, whose walls–like a vision of heaven–were sky-blue and gold with every picture-frame unnaturally bright, and every speck of dust removed from every piece of furniture, to read that little masterpiece–the Will of Timothy. With his back to the light in Aunt Hester’s chair, Soames faced Gradman with his face to the light, on Aunt Ann’s sofa; and, crossing his legs, began:

“This is the last Will and Testament of me Timothy Forsyte of The Bower Bayswater Road, London I appoint my nephew Soames Forsyte of The Shelter Mapleduram and Thomas Gradman of 159 Folly Road Highgate (hereinafter called my Trustees) to be the trustees and executors of this my Will To the said Soames Forsyte I leave the sum of one thousand pounds free of legacy duty and to the said Thomas Gradman I leave the sum of five thousand pounds free of legacy duty.”

Soames paused. Old Gradman was leaning forward, convulsively gripping a stout black knee with each of his thick hands; his mouth had fallen open so that the gold fillings of three teeth gleamed; his eyes were blinking, two tears rolled slowly out of them. Soames read hastily on.

“All the rest of my property of whatsoever description I bequeath to my Trustees upon Trust to convert and hold the same upon the following trusts namely To pay thereout all my debts funeral expenses and outgoings of any kind in connection with my Will and to hold the residue thereof in trust for that male lineal descendant of my father Jolyon Forsyte by his marriage with Ann Pierce who after the decease of all lineal descendants whether male or female of my said father by his said marriage in being at the time of my death shall last attain the age of twenty-one years absolutely it being my desire that my property shall be nursed to the extreme limit permitted by the laws of England for the benefit of such male lineal descendant as aforesaid.”

Soames read the investment and attestation clauses, and, ceasing, looked at Gradman. The old fellow was wiping his brow with a large handkerchief, whose brilliant colour supplied a sudden festive tinge to the proceedings.

“My word, Mr. Soames!” he said, and it was clear that the lawyer in him had utterly wiped out the man: “My word! Why, there are two babies now, and some quite young children–if one of them lives to be eighty–it’s not a great age–and add twenty-one–that’s a hundred years; and Mr. Timothy worth a hundred and fifty thousand pound net if he’s worth a penny. Compound interest at five per cent. doubles you in fourteen years. In fourteen years three hundred thousand-six hundred thousand in twenty-eight–twelve hundred thousand in forty- two–twenty-four hundred thousand in fifty-six–four million eight hundred thousand in seventy–nine million six hundred thousand in eighty-four–Why, in a hundred years it’ll be twenty million! And we shan’t live to use it! It is a Will!”

Soames said dryly: “Anything may happen. The State might take the lot; they’re capable of anything in these days.”

“And carry five,” said Gradman to himself. “I forgot–Mr. Timothy’s in Consols; we shan’t get more than two per cent. with this income tax. To be on the safe side, say eight millions. Still, that’s a pretty penny.”

Soames rose and handed him the Will. “You’re going into the City. Take care of that, and do what’s necessary. Advertise; but there are no debts. When’s the sale?”

“Tuesday week,” said Gradman. “Life or lives in bein’ and twenty-one years afterward–it’s a long way off. But I’m glad he’s left it in the family….”

The sale–not at Jobson’s, in view of the Victorian nature of the effects–was far more freely attended than the funeral, though not by Cook and Smither, for Soames had taken it on himself to give them their heart’s desires. Winifred was present, Euphemia, and Francie, and Eustace had come in his car. The miniatures, Barbizons, and J. R. drawings had been bought in by Soames; and relics of no marketable value were set aside in an off-room for members of the family who cared to have mementoes. These were the only restrictions upon bidding characterised by an almost tragic languor. Not one piece of furniture, no picture or porcelain figure appealed to modern taste. The humming birds had fallen like autumn leaves when taken from where they had not hummed for sixty years. It was painful to Soames to see the chairs his aunts had sat on, the little grand piano they had practically never played, the books whose outsides they had gazed at, the china they had dusted, the curtains they had drawn, the hearth- rug which had warmed their feet; above all, the beds they had lain and died in–sold to little dealers, and the housewives of Fulham. And yet–what could one do? Buy them and stick them in a lumber- room? No; they had to go the way of all flesh and furniture, and be worn out. But when they put up Aunt Ann’s sofa and were going to knock it down for thirty shillings, he cried out, suddenly: “Five pounds!” The sensation was considerable, and the sofa his.

When that little sale was over in the fusty saleroom, and those Victorian ashes scattered, he went out into the misty October sunshine feeling as if cosiness had died out of the world, and the board “To Let” was up, indeed. Revolutions on the horizon; Fleur in Spain; no comfort in Annette; no Timothy’s on the Bayswater Road. In the irritable desolation of his soul he went into the Goupenor Gallery. That chap Jolyon’s watercolours were on view there. He went in to look down his nose at them–it might give him some faint satisfaction. The news had trickled through from June to Val’s wife, from her to Val, from Val to his mother, from her to Soames, that the house–the fatal house at Robin Hill–was for sale, and Irene going to join her boy out in British Columbia, or some such place. For one wild moment the thought had come to Soames: ‘Why shouldn’t I buy it back? I meant it for my!’ No sooner come than gone. Too lugubrious a triumph; with too many humiliating memories for himself and Fleur. She would never live there after what had happened. No, the place must go its way to some peer or profiteer. It had been a bone of contention from the first, the shell of the feud; and with the woman gone, it was an empty shell. “For Sale or To Let.” With his mind’s eye he could see that board raised high above the ivied wall which he had built.

He passed through the first of the two rooms in the Gallery. There was certainly a body of work! And now that the fellow was dead it did not seem so trivial. The drawings were pleasing enough, with quite a sense of atmosphere, and something individual in the brush work. ‘His father and my father; he and I; his child and mine!’ thought Soames. So it had gone on! And all about that woman! Softened by the events of the past week, affected by the melancholy beauty of the autumn day, Soames came nearer than he had ever been to realisation of that truth–passing the understanding of a Forsyte pure–that the body of Beauty has a spiritual essence, uncapturable save by a devotion which thinks not of self. After all, he was near that truth in his devotion to his daughter; perhaps that made him understand a little how he had missed the prize. And there, among the drawings of his kinsman, who had attained to that which he had found beyond his reach, he thought of him and her with a tolerance which surprised him. But he did not buy a drawing.