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Title:      The White Monkey
            (First Book in the Trilogy "A Modern Comedy")
            (Second part of the Forsyte Chronicles)
Author:     John Galsworthy
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Language:  English
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Title:      The White Monkey
            (First Book in the Trilogy "A Modern Comedy")
            (Second part of the Forsyte Chronicles)
Author:     John Galsworthy



A MODERN COMEDY

BOOK I

THE WHITE MONKEY



TO MY WIFE WITHOUT WHOM I KNOW NOT WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN WRITTEN,
THIS SECOND TRILOGY OF THE FORSYTE CHRONICLES IS DEDICATED




PREFACE


In naming this second part of The Forsyte Chronicles 'A Modern
Comedy' the word comedy is stretched, perhaps, as far as the word
Saga was stretched to cover the first part.  And yet, what but a
comedic view can be taken, what but comedic significance gleaned,
of so restive a period as that in which we have lived since the
war?  An Age which knows not what it wants, yet is intensely
preoccupied with getting it, must evoke a smile, if rather a sad
one.

To render the forms and colours of an epoch is beyond the powers of
any novelist, and very far beyond the powers of this novelist; but
to try and express a little of its spirit was undoubtedly at the
back of his mind in penning this trilogy.  Like the Irishman's
chicken, our Present runs about so fast that it cannot be summed
up; it can at most be snapshotted while it hurries looking for its
Future without notion where, what, or when that Future will be.

The England of 1886, when the Forsyte Saga began, also had no
Future, for England then expected its Present to endure, and rode
its bicycle in a sort of dream, disturbed only by two bogles--Mr.
Gladstone and the Irish Members.

The England of 1926--when the Modern Comedy closes--with one foot
in the air and the other in a Morris Oxford, is going round and
round like a kitten after its tail, muttering:  "If one could only
see where one wants to stop!"

Everything being now relative, there is no longer absolute
dependence to be placed on God, Free Trade, Marriage, Consols,
Coal, or Caste.

Everywhere being now overcrowded, there is no place where anyone
can stay for long, except the mere depopulated countryside,
admittedly too dull, and certainly too unprofitable to dwell in.

Everyone, having been in an earthquake which lasted four years, has
lost the habit of standing still.

And yet, the English character has changed very little, if at all.
The General Strike of 1926, with which the last part of this
trilogy begins, supplied proof of that.  We are still a people that
cannot be rushed, distrustful of extremes, saved by the grace of
our defensive humour, well-tempered, resentful of interference,
improvident and wasteful, but endowed with a certain genius for
recovery.  If we believe in nothing much else, we still believe in
ourselves.  That salient characteristic of the English will bear
thinking about.  Why, for instance, do we continually run ourselves
down?  Simply because we have not got the inferiority complex and
are indifferent to what other people think of us.  No people in the
world seems openly less sure of itself; no people is secretly more
sure.  Incidentally, it might be worth the while of those who own
certain public mouths inclined to blow the British trumpet to
remember, that the blowing of one's own trumpet is the insidious
beginning of the inferiority complex.  Only those strong enough to
keep silent about self are strong enough to be sure of self.  The
epoch we are passing through is one which favours misjudgment of
the English character, and of the position of England.  There never
was a country where real deterioration of human fibre had less
chance than in this island, because there is no other country whose
climate is so changeable, so tempering to character, so formative
of grit, and so basically healthy.  What follows in this preface
should be read in the light of that remark.

In the present epoch, no Early Victorianism survives.  By Early
Victorianism is meant that of the old Forsytes, already on the wane
in 1886; what has survived, and potently, is the Victorianism of
Soames and his generation, more self-conscious, but not
sufficiently self-conscious to be either self-destructive or self-
forgetful.  It is against the background of this more or less fixed
quantity that we can best see the shape and colour of the present
intensely self-conscious and all-questioning generation.  The old
Forsytes--Old Jolyon, Swithin and James, Roger, Nicholas and
Timothy--lived their lives without ever asking whether life was
worth living.  They found it interesting, very absorbing from day
to day, and even if they had no very intimate belief in a future
life, they had very great faith in the progress of their own
positions, and in laying up treasure for their children.  Then came
Young Jolyon and Soames and their contemporaries, who, although
they had imbibed with Darwinism and the 'Varsities, definite doubts
about a future life, and sufficient introspection to wonder whether
they themselves were progressing, retained their sense of property
and their desire to provide for, and to live on in their progeny.
The generation which came in when Queen Victoria went out, through
new ideas about the treatment of children, because of new modes of
locomotion, and owing to the Great War, has decided that everything
requires re-valuation.  And, since there is, seemingly, very little
future before property, and less before life, is determined to live
now or never, without bothering about the fate of such offspring as
it may chance to have.  Not that the present generation is less
fond of its children than were past generations--human nature does
not change on points so elementary--but when everything is keyed to
such pitch of uncertainty, to secure the future at the expense of
the present no longer seems worth while.

This is really the fundamental difference between the present and
the past generations.  People will not provide against that which
they cannot see ahead.

All this, of course, refers only to that tenth or so of the
population whose eyes are above the property line; below that line
there are no Forsytes, and therefore no need for this preface to
dip.  What average Englishman, moreover, with less than three
hundred a year ever took thought for the future, even in Early
Victorian days?

This Modern Comedy, then, is staged against a background of that
more or less fixed quantity, Soames, and his co-father-in-law,
light weight and ninth baronet, Sir Lawrence Mont, with such
subsidiary neo-Victorians as the self-righteous Mr. Danby,
Elderson, Mr. Blythe, Sir James Foskisson, Wilfred Bentworth, and
Hilary Charwell.  Pooling their idiosyncrasies, qualities, and
mental attitudes, one gets a fairly comprehensive and steady past
against which to limn the features of the present--Fleur and
Michael, Wilfrid Desert, Aubrey Greene, Marjorie Ferrar, Norah
Curfew, Jon, the Rafaelite, and other minor characters.  The
multiple types and activities of to-day--even above the Plimsoll
line of property--would escape the confines of twenty novels, so
that this Modern Comedy is bound to be a gross under-statement of
the present generation, but not perhaps a libel on it.  Symbolism
is boring, so let us hope that a certain resemblance between the
case of Fleur and that of her generation chasing the serenity of
which it has been defrauded may escape notice.  The fact remains
that for the moment, at least, youth is balancing, twirling on the
tiptoes of uncertainty.  What is to come?  Will contentment yet be
caught?  How will it all settle down?  Will things ever again
settle down--who knows?  Are there to come fresh wars, and fresh
inventions hot-foot on those not yet mastered and digested?  Or
will Fate decree another pause, like that of Victorian times,
during which re-valuated life will crystallise, and give property
and its brood of definite beliefs a further innings?

But, however much or little "A Modern Comedy" may be deemed to
reflect the spirit of an Age, it continues in the main to relate
the tale of life which sprang from the meeting of Soames and Irene
in a Bournemouth drawing-room in 1881, a tale which could but end
when its spine snapped, and Soames 'took the ferry' forty-five
years later.

The chronicler, catechised (as he often is) concerning Soames,
knows not precisely what he stands for.  Taking him for all in all
he was honest, anyway.  He lived and moved and had his peculiar
being, and, now he sleeps.  His creator may be pardoned for
thinking there was something fitting about his end; for, however
far we have travelled from Greek culture and philosophy, there is
still truth in the old Greek proverb:  "That which a man most loves
shall in the end destroy him."

JOHN GALSWORTHY.




CONTENTS


BOOK I

THE WHITE MONKEY


PART I

I.  PROMENADE

II.  HOME

III.  MUSICAL

IV.  DINING

V.  EVE

VI.  'OLD FORSYTE' AND 'OLD MONT'

VII.  'OLD MONT' AND 'OLD FORSYTE'

VIII.  BICKET

IX.  CONFUSION

X.  PASSING OF A SPORTSMAN

XI.  VENTURE

XII.  FIGURES AND FACTS

XIII.  TENTERHOOKS


PART II

I.  THE MARK FALLS

II.  VICTORINE

III.  MICHAEL WALKS AND TALKS

IV.  FLEUR'S BODY

V.  FLEUR'S SOUL

VI.  MICHAEL GETS 'WHAT-FOR'

VII.  'THE ALTOGETHER'

VIII.  SOAMES TAKES THE MATTER UP

IX.  SLEUTH

X.  FACE

XI.  COCKED HAT

XII.  GOING EAST


PART III

I.  BANK HOLIDAY

II.  OFFICE WORK

III.  'AFTERNOON OF A DRYAD'

IV.  AFTERNOON OF A BICKET

V.  MICHAEL GIVES ADVICE

VI.  QUITTANCE

VII.  LOOKING INTO ELDERSON

VIII.  LEVANTED

IX.  SOAMES DOESN'T GIVE A DAMN

X.  BUT TAKES NO CHANCES

XI.  WITH A SMALL 'N'

XII.  ORDEAL BY SHAREHOLDER

XIII.  SOAMES AT BAY

XIV.  ON THE RACK

XV.  CALM





BOOK I

THE WHITE MONKEY


"No retreat, no retreat
They must conquer or die
Who have no retreat!"

Mr. Gay.




TO MAX BEERBOHM




PART I


CHAPTER I

PROMENADE


Coming down the steps of 'Snooks' Club, so nicknamed by George
Forsyte in the late eighties, on that momentous mid-October
afternoon of 1922, Sir Lawrence Mont, ninth baronet, set his fine
nose towards the east wind, and moved his thin legs with speed.
Political by birth rather than by nature, he reviewed the
revolution which had restored his Party to power with a detachment
not devoid of humour.  Passing the Remove Club, he thought:  'Some
sweating into shoes, there!  No more confectioned dishes.  A
woodcock--without trimmings, for a change!'

The captains and the kings had departed from 'Snooks' before he
entered it, for he was not of 'that catch-penny crew, now paid off,
no sir; fellows who turned their tails on the land the moment the
war was over.  Pah!'  But for an hour he had listened to echoes,
and his lively twisting mind, embedded in deposits of the past,
sceptical of the present and of all political protestations and
pronouncements, had recorded with amusement the confusion of
patriotism and personalities left behind by the fateful gathering.
Like most landowners, he distrusted doctrine.  If he had a
political belief, it was a tax on wheat; and so far as he could
see, he was now alone in it--but then he was not seeking election;
in other words, his principle was not in danger of extinction from
the votes of those who had to pay for bread.  Principles--he mused--
au fond were pocket; and he wished the deuce people wouldn't
pretend they weren't!  Pocket, in the deep sense of that word, of
course, self-interest as member of a definite community.  And how
the devil was this definite community, the English nation, to
exist, when all its land was going out of cultivation, and all its
ships and docks in danger of destruction by aeroplanes?  He had
listened that hour past for a single mention of the land.  Not one!
It was not practical politics!  Confound the fellows!  They had to
wear their breeches out--keeping seats or getting them.  No
connection between posteriors and posterity!  No, by George!  Thus
reminded of posterity, it occurred to him rather suddenly that his
son's wife showed no signs as yet.  Two years!  Time they were
thinking about children.  It was dangerous to get into the habit of
not having them, when a title and estate depended.  A smile twisted
his lips and eyebrows which resembled spinneys of dark pothooks.  A
pretty young creature, most taking; and knew it, too!  Whom was she
not getting to know?  Lions and tigers, monkeys and cats--her house
was becoming quite a menagerie of more or less celebrities.  There
was a certain unreality about that sort of thing!  And opposite a
British lion in Trafalgar Square Sir Lawrence thought:  'She'll be
getting these to her house next!  She's got the collecting habit.
Michael must look out--in a collector's house there's always a
lumber room for old junk, and husbands are liable to get into it.
That reminds me:  I promised her a Chinese Minister.  Well, she
must wait now till after the General Election.'

Down Whitehall, under the grey easterly sky, the towers of
Westminster came for a second into view.  'A certain unreality in
that, too,' he thought.  'Michael and his fads!  Well, it's the
fashion--Socialistic principles and a rich wife.  Sacrifice with
safety!  Peace with plenty!  Nostrums--ten a penny!'

Passing the newspaper hubbub of Charing Cross, frenzied by the
political crisis, he turned up to the left towards Danby and
Winter, publishers, where his son was junior partner.  A new theme
for a book had just begun to bend a mind which had already produced
a 'Life of Montrose,' 'Far Cathay,' that work of Eastern travel,
and a fanciful conversation between the shades of Gladstone and
Disraeli--entitled 'A Duet.'  With every step taken, from 'Snooks'
eastward, his erect thin figure in Astrakhan-collared coat, his
thin grey-moustached face, and tortoise-shell rimmed monocle under
the lively dark eyebrow, had seemed more rare.  It became almost a
phenomenon in this dingy back street, where carts stuck like winter
flies, and persons went by with books under their arms, as if
educated.

He had nearly reached the door of Danby's when he encountered two
young men.  One of them was clearly his son, better dressed since
his marriage, and smoking a cigar--thank goodness--instead of those
eternal cigarettes; the other--ah! yes--Michael's sucking poet and
best man, head in air, rather a sleek head under a velour hat!  He
said:

"Ha, Michael!"

"HALLO, Bart!  You know my governor, Wilfrid?  Wilfrid Desert.
'Copper Coin'--some poet, Bart, I tell you.  You must read him.
We're going home.  Come along!"

Sir Lawrence went along.

"What happened at 'Snooks'?"

"Le roi est mort.  Labour can start lying, Michael--election next
month."

"Bart was brought up, Wilfrid, in days that knew not Demos."

"Well, Mr. Desert, do you find reality in politics now?"

"Do you find reality in anything, sir?"

"In income tax, perhaps."

Michael grinned.

"Above knighthood," he said, "there's no such thing as simple
faith."

"Suppose your friends came into power, Michael--in some ways not a
bad thing, help 'em to grow up--what could they do, eh?  Could they
raise national taste?  Abolish the cinema?  Teach English people to
cook?  Prevent other countries from threatening war?  Make us grow
our own food?  Stop the increase of town life?  Would they hang
dabblers in poison gas?  Could they prevent flying in war-time?
Could they weaken the possessive instinct--anywhere?  Or do
anything, in fact, but alter the incidence of possession a little?
All party politics are top dressing.  We're ruled by the inventors,
and human nature; and we live in Queer Street, Mr. Desert."

"Much my sentiments, sir."

Michael flourished his cigar.

"Bad old men, you two!"

And removing their hats, they passed the Cenotaph.

"Curiously symptomatic--that thing," said Sir Lawrence; "monument
to the dread of swank--most characteristic.  And the dread of
swank--"

"Go on, Bart," said Michael.

"The fine, the large, the florid--all off!  No far-sighted views,
no big schemes, no great principles, no great religion, or great
art--aestheticism in cliques and backwaters, small men in small
hats."

"As panteth the heart after Byron, Wilberforce, and the Nelson
Monument.  My poor old Bart!  What about it, Wilfrid?"

"Yes, Mr. Desert--what about it?"

Desert's dark face contracted.

"It's an age of paradox," he said.  "We all kick up for freedom,
and the only institutions gaining strength are Socialism and the
Roman Catholic Church.  We're frightfully self-conscious about art--
and the only art development is the cinema.  We're nuts on peace--
and all we're doing about it is to perfect poison gas."

Sir Lawrence glanced sideways at a young man so bitter.

"And how's publishing, Michael?"

"Well, 'Copper Coin' is selling like hot cakes; and there's quite a
movement in 'A Duet.'  What about this for a new ad.:  'A Duet, by
Sir Lawrence Mont, Bart.  The most distinguished Conversation ever
held between the Dead.'  That ought to get the psychic.  Wilfrid
suggested 'G.O.M. and Dizzy--broadcasted from Hell.'  Which do you
like best?"

They had come, however, to a policeman holding up his hand against
the nose of a van horse, so that everything marked time.  The
engines of the cars whirred idly, their drivers' faces set towards
the space withheld from them; a girl on a bicycle looked vacantly
about her, grasping the back of the van, where a youth sat sideways
with his legs stretched out towards her.  Sir Lawrence glanced
again at young Desert.  A thin, pale-dark face, good-looking, but a
hitch in it, as if not properly timed; nothing outre in dress or
manner, and yet socially at large; less vivacious than that lively
rascal, his own son, but as anchorless, and more sceptical--might
feel things pretty deeply, though!  The policeman lowered his arm.

"You were in the war, Mr. Desert?"

"Oh, yes."

"Air service?"

"And line.  Bit of both."

"Hard on a poet."

"Not at all.  Poetry's only possible when you may be blown up at
any moment, or when you live in Putney."

Sir Lawrence's eyebrow rose.  "Yes?"

"Tennyson, Browning, Wordsworth, Swinburne--they could turn it out;
ils vivaient, mais si peu."

"Is there not a third condition favourable?"

"And that, sir?"

"How shall I express it--a certain cerebral agitation in connection
with women?"

Desert's face twitched, and seemed to darken.

Michael put his latchkey into the lock of his front door.



CHAPTER II

HOME


The house in South Square, Westminster, to which the young Monts
had come after their Spanish honeymoon two years before, might have
been called 'emancipated.'  It was the work of an architect whose
dream was a new house perfectly old, and an old house perfectly
new.  It followed, therefore, no recognised style or tradition, and
was devoid of structural prejudice; but it soaked up the smuts of
the metropolis with such special rapidity that its stone already
respectably resembled that of Wren.  Its windows and doors had
gently rounded tops.  The high-sloping roof, of a fine sooty pink,
was almost Danish, and two 'ducky little windows' looked out of it,
giving an impression that very tall servants lived up there.  There
were rooms on each side of the front door, which was wide and set
off by bay trees in black and gold bindings.  The house was thick
through, and the staircase, of a broad chastity, began at the far
end of a hall which had room for quite a number of hats and coats
and cards.  There were four bathrooms; and not even a cellar
underneath.  The Forsyte instinct for a house had co-operated in
its acquisition.  Soames had picked it up for his daughter,
undecorated, at that psychological moment when the bubble of
inflation was pricked, and the air escaping from the balloon of the
world's trade.  Fleur, however, had established immediate contact
with the architect--an element which Soames himself had never quite
got over--and decided not to have more than three styles in her
house:  Chinese, Spanish, and her own.  The room to the left of the
front door, running the breadth of the house, was Chinese, with
ivory panels, a copper floor, central heating, and cut glass
lustres.  It contained four pictures--all Chinese--the only school
in which her father had not yet dabbled.  The fireplace, wide and
open, had Chinese dogs with Chinese tiles for them to stand on.
The silk was chiefly of jade green.  There were two wonderful old
black-tea chests, picked up with Soames' money at Jobson's--not a
bargain.  There was no piano, partly because pianos were too
uncompromisingly occidental, and partly because it would have taken
up much room.  Fleur aimed at space-collecting people rather than
furniture or bibelots.  The light, admitted by windows at both
ends, was unfortunately not Chinese.  She would stand sometimes in
the centre of this room, thinking--how to 'bunch' her guests, how
to make her room more Chinese without making it uncomfortable; how
to seem to know all about literature and politics; how to accept
everything her father gave her, without making him aware that his
taste had no sense of the future; how to keep hold of Sibley Swan,
the new literary star, and to get hold of Gurdon Minho, the old; of
how Wilfrid Desert was getting too fond of her; of what was really
her style in dress; of why Michael had such funny ears; and
sometimes she stood not thinking at all--just aching a little.

When those three came in she was sitting before a red lacquer tea-
table, finishing a very good tea.  She always had tea brought in
rather early, so that she could have a good quiet preliminary
'tuck-in' all by herself, because she was not quite twenty-one, and
this was her hour for remembering her youth.  By her side Ting-a-
ling was standing on his hind feet, his tawny forepaws on a Chinese
footstool, his snubbed black and tawny muzzle turned up towards the
fruits of his philosophy.

"That'll do, Ting.  No more, ducky!  NO MORE!"

The expression of Ting-a-ling answered:

'Well, then, stop, too!  Don't subject me to torture!'

A year and three months old, he had been bought by Michael out of a
Bond Street shop window on Fleur's twentieth birthday, eleven
months ago.

Two years of married life had not lengthened her short dark
chestnut hair; had added a little more decision to her quick lips,
a little more allurement to her white-lidded, dark-lashed hazel
eyes, a little more poise and swing to her carriage, a little more
chest and hip measurement; had taken a little from waist and calf
measurement, a little colour from cheeks a little less round, and a
little sweetness from a voice a little more caressing.

She stood up behind the tray, holding out her white round arm
without a word.  She avoided unnecessary greetings or farewells.
She would have had to say them so often, and their purpose was
better served by look, pressure, and slight inclination of head to
one side.

With circular movement of her squeezed hand, she said:

"Draw up.  Cream, sir?  Sugar, Wilfrid?  Ting has had too much--
don't feed him!  Hand things, Michael.  I've heard all about the
meeting at 'Snooks.'  You're not going to canvass for Labour,
Michael--canvassing's so silly.  If any one canvassed me, I should
vote the other way at once."

"Yes, darling; but you're not the average elector."

Fleur looked at him.  Very sweetly put!  Conscious of Wilfrid
biting his lips, of Sir Lawrence taking that in, of the amount of
silk leg she was showing, of her black and cream teacups, she
adjusted these matters.  A flutter of her white lids--Desert ceased
to bite his lips; a movement of her silk legs--Sir Lawrence ceased
to look at him.  Holding out her cups, she said:

"I suppose I'm not modern enough?"

Desert, moving a bright little spoon round in his magpie cup, said
without looking up:

"As much more modern than the moderns, as you are more ancient."

"'Ware poetry!" said Michael.

But when he had taken his father to see the new cartoons by Aubrey
Greene, she said:

"Kindly tell me what you meant, Wilfrid."

Desert's voice seemed to leap from restraint.

"What does it matter?  I don't want to waste time with that."

"But I want to know.  It sounded like a sneer."

"A sneer?  From me?  Fleur!"

"Then tell me."

"I meant that you have all their restlessness and practical get-
thereness; but you have what they haven't, Fleur--power to turn
one's head.  And mine is turned.  You know it."

"How would Michael like that--from YOU, his best man?"

Desert moved quickly to the windows.

Fleur took Ting-a-ling on her lap.  Such things had been said to
her before; but from Wilfrid it was serious.  Nice to think she had
his heart, of course!  Only, where on earth could she put it, where
it wouldn't be seen except by her?  He was incalculable--did
strange things!  She was a little afraid--not of him, but of that
quality in him.  He came back to the hearth, and said:

"Ugly, isn't it?  Put that dam' dog down, Fleur; I can't see your
face.  If you were really fond of Michael--I swear I wouldn't; but
you're not, you know."

Fleur said coldly:

"You know very little; I AM fond of Michael."

Desert gave his little jerky laugh.

"Oh yes; not the sort that counts."

Fleur looked up.

"It counts quite enough to make one safe."

"A flower that I can't pick."

Fleur nodded.

"Quite sure, Fleur?  Quite, quite sure?"

Fleur stared; her eyes softened a little, her eyelids, so
excessively white, drooped over them; she nodded.  Desert said
slowly:

"The moment I believe that, I shall go East."

"East?"

"Not so stale as going West, but much the same--you don't come
back."

Fleur thought:  'The East?  I should love to know the East!  Pity
one can't manage that, too.  Pity!'

"You won't keep me in your Zoo, my dear.  I shan't hang around and
feed on crumbs.  You know what I feel--it means a smash of some
sort."

"It hasn't been my fault, has it?"

"Yes; you've collected me, as you collect everybody that comes near
you."

"I don't know what you mean."

Desert bent down, and dragged her hand to his lips.

"Don't be riled with me; I'm too unhappy."

Fleur let her hand stay against his hot lips.

"Sorry, Wilfrid."

"All right, dear.  I'll go."

"But you're coming to dinner to-morrow?"

Desert said violently:

"TO-MORROW?  Good God--no!  What d'you think I'm made of?"

He flung her hand away.

"I don't like violence, Wilfrid."

"Well, good-bye; I'd better go."

The words "And you'd better not come again" trembled up to her
lips, but were not spoken.  Part from Wilfrid--life would lose a
little warmth!  She waved her hand.  He was gone.  She heard the
door closing.  Poor Wilfrid!--nice to think of a flame at which to
warm her hands!  Nice but rather dreadful!  And suddenly, dropping
Ting-a-ling, she got up and began to walk about the room.  To-
morrow!  Second anniversary of her wedding-day!  Still an ache when
she thought of what it had not been.  But there was little time to
think--and she made less.  What good in thinking?  Only one life,
full of people, of things to do and have, of things wanted--a life
only void of--one thing, and that--well, if people had it, they
never had it long!  On her lids two tears, which had gathered,
dried without falling.  Sentimentalism!  No!  The last thing in the
world--the unforgivable offence!  Whom should she put next whom to-
morrow?  And whom should she get in place of Wilfrid, if Wilfrid
wouldn't come--silly boy!  One day--one night--what difference?
Who should sit on her right, and who on her left?  Was Aubrey
Greene more distinguished, or Sibley Swan?  Were they either as
distinguished as Walter Nazing or Charles Upshire?  Dinner of
twelve, exclusively literary and artistic, except for Michael and
Alison Charwell.  Ah!  Could Alison get her Gurdon Minho--just one
writer of the old school, one glass of old wine to mellow
effervescence?  He didn't publish with Danby and Winter; but he fed
out of Alison's hand.  She went quickly to one of the old tea
chests, and opened it.  Inside was a telephone.

"Can I speak to Lady Alison--Mrs. Michael Mont . . .  Yes . . .
That you, Alison? . . .  Fleur speaking.  Wilfrid has fallen
through to-morrow night . . .  Is there any chance of your bringing
Gurdon Minho?  I don't know him, of course; but he might be
interested.  You'll try? . . .  That'll be ever so delightful.
Isn't the 'Snooks' Club meeting rather exciting?  Bart says they'll
eat each other now they've split . . .  About Mr. Minho.  Could you
let me know to-night? Thanks--thanks awfully! . . .  Goodbye!"

Failing Minho, whom?  Her mind hovered over the names in her
address book.  At so late a minute it must be some one who didn't
stand on ceremony; but except Alison, none of Michael's relations
would be safe from Sibley Swan or Nesta Gorse, and their subversive
shafts; as to the Forsytes--out of the question; they had their own
sub-acid humour (some of them), but they were not modern, not
really modern.  Besides, she saw as little of them as she could--
they dated, belonged to the dramatic period, had no sense of life
without beginning or end.  No!  If Gurdon Minho was a frost, it
would have to be a musician, whose works were hieroglyphical with a
dash of surgery; or, better, perhaps, a psycho-analyst.  Her
fingers turned the pages till she came to those two categories.
Hugo Solstis?  A possibility; but suppose he wanted to play them
something recent?  There was only Michael's upright Grand, and that
would mean going to his study.  Better Gerald Hanks--he and Nesta
Gorse would get off together on dreams; still, if they did, there
would be no actual loss of life.  Yes, failing Gurdon Minho, Gerald
Hanks; he would be free--and put him between Alison and Nesta.  She
closed the book, and, going back to her jade-green settee, sat
gazing at Ting-a-ling.  The little dog's prominent round eyes gazed
back; bright, black, very old.  Fleur thought:  'I DON'T want
Wilfrid to drop off.'  Among all the crowd who came and went, here,
there and everywhere, she cared for nobody.  Keep up with them,
keep up with everything, of course!  It was all frightfully
amusing, frightfully necessary!  Only--only--what?

Voices!  Michael and Bart coming back.  Bart had noticed Wilfrid.
He WAS a noticing old Bart.  She was never very comfortable when he
was about--lively and twisting, but with something settled and
ancestral in him; a little like Ting-a-ling--something judgmatic,
ever telling her that she was fluttering and new.  He was anchored,
could only move to the length of his old-fashioned cord, but he
could drop on to things disconcertingly.  Still, he admired her,
she felt--oh! yes.

Well!  What had he thought of the cartoons?  Ought Michael to
publish them, and with letterpress or without?  Didn't he think
that the cubic called 'Still Life'--of the Government, too
frightfully funny--especially the 'old bean' representing the
Prime?  For answer she was conscious of a twisting, rapid noise;
Sir Lawrence was telling her of his father's collection of
electioneering cartoons.  She did wish Bart would not tell her
about his father; he had been so distinguished, and he must have
been so dull, paying all his calls on horseback, with trousers
strapped under his boots.  He and Lord Charles Cariboo and the
Marquis of Forfar had been the last three 'callers' of that sort.
If only they hadn't, they'd have been clean forgot.  She had that
dress to try, and fourteen things to see to, and Hugo's concert
began at eight-fifteen!  Why did people of the last generation
always have so much time?  And, suddenly, she looked down.  Ting-a-
ling was licking the copper floor.  She took him up:  "Not that,
darling; nasty!"  Ah! the spell was broken!  Bart was going,
reminiscent to the last.  She waited at the foot of the stairs till
Michael shut the door on him, then flew.  Reaching her room, she
turned on all the lights.  Here was her own style--a bed which did
not look like one, and many mirrors.  The couch of Ting-a-ling
occupied a corner, whence he could see himself in three.  She put
him down, and said:  "Keep quiet, now!"  His attitude to the other
dogs in the room had long become indifferent; though of his own
breed and precisely his colouring, they had no smell and no licking
power in their tongues--nothing to be done with them, imitative
creatures, incredibly unresponsive.

Stripping off her dress, Fleur held the new frock under her chin.

"May I kiss you?" said a voice, and there was Michael's image
behind her own reflection in the glass.

"My dear boy, there isn't time!  Help me with this."  She slipped
the frock over her head.  "Do those three top hooks.  How do you
like it?  Oh! and--Michael!  Gurdon Minho may be coming to dinner
to-morrow--Wilfrid can't.  Have you read his things?  Sit down and
tell me something about them.  All novels, aren't they?  What
sort?"

"Well, he's always had something to say.  And his cats are good.
He's a bit romantic, of course."

"Oh!  Have I made a gaff?"

"Not a bit; jolly good shot.  The vice of our lot is, they say it
pretty well, but they've nothing to say.  They won't last."

"But that's just why they will last.  They won't date."

"Won't they?  My gum!"

"Wilfrid will last."

"Ah!  Wilfrid has emotions, hates, pities, wants; at least,
sometimes; when he has, his stuff is jolly good.  Otherwise, he
just makes a song about nothing--like the rest."

Fleur tucked in the top of her undergarment.

"But, Michael, if that's so, we--I've got the wrong lot."

Michael grinned.

"My dear child!  The lot of the hour is always right; only you've
got to watch it, and change it quick enough."

"But d'you mean to say that Sibley isn't going to live?"

"Sib?  Lord, no!"

"But he's so perfectly sure that almost everybody else is dead or
dying.  Surely he has critical genius!"

"If I hadn't more judgment than Sib, I'd go out of publishing to-
morrow."

"You--more than Sibley Swan?"

"Of course, I've more judgment than Sib.  Why!  Sib's judgment is
just his opinion of Sib--common or garden impatience of any one
else.  He doesn't even read them.  He'll read one specimen of every
author and say:  'Oh! that fellow!  He's dull, or he's moral, or
he's sentimental, or he dates, or he drivels'--I've heard him
dozens of times.  That's if they're alive.  Of course, if they're
dead, it's different.  He's always digging up and canonising the
dead; that's how he's got his name.  There's always a Sib in
literature.  He's a standing example of how people can get taken at
their own valuation.  But as to lasting--of course he won't; he's
never creative, even by mistake."

Fleur had lost the thread.  Yes!  It suited her--quite a nice line!
Off with it!  Must write those three notes before she dressed.

Michael had begun again.

"Take my tip, Fleur.  The really big people don't talk--and don't
bunch--they paddle their own canoes in what seem backwaters.  But
it's the backwaters that make the main stream.  By Jove, that's a
mot, or is it a bull; and are bulls mots or mots bulls?"

"Michael, if you were me, would you tell Frederic Wilmer that he'll
be meeting Hubert Marsland at lunch next week?  Would it bring him
or would it put him off?"

"Marsland's rather an old duck, Wilmer's rather an old goose--I
don't know."

"Oh! do be serious, Michael--you never give me any help in
arranging--No!  Don't maul my shoulders please."

"Well, darling, I DON'T know.  I've no genius for such things, like
you.  Marsland paints windmills, cliffs and things--I doubt if he's
heard of the future.  He's almost a Mathew Mans for keeping out of
the swim.  If you think he'd like to meet a Vertiginist--"

"I didn't ask you if he'd like to meet Wilmer; I asked you if
Wilmer would like to meet him."

"Wilmer will just say:  'I like little Mrs. Mont, she gives deuced
good grub'--and so you do, ducky.  A Vertiginist wants nourishing,
you know, or it wouldn't go to his head."

Fleur's pen resumed its swift strokes, already becoming slightly
illegible.  She murmured:

"I think Wilfrid would help--you won't be there; one--two--three.
What women?"

"For painters--pretty and plump; no intellect."

Fleur said crossly:

"I can't get them plump; they don't go about now." And her pen
flowed on:


"DEAR WILFRID,--Wednesday--lunch; Wilmer, Hubert Marsland, two
other women.  Do help me live it down.

"Yours ever,

"FLEUR."


"Michael, your chin is like a bootbrush."

"Sorry, old thing; your shoulders shouldn't be so smooth.  Bart
gave Wilfrid a tip as we were coming along."

Fleur stopped writing.  "Oh!"

"Reminded him that the state of love was a good stunt for poets."

"A propos of what?"

"Wilfrid was complaining that he couldn't turn it out now."

"Nonsense!  His last things are his best."

"Well, that's what I think.  Perhaps he's forestalled the tip.  Has
he, d'you know?"

Fleur turned her eyes towards the face behind her shoulder.  No, it
had its native look--frank, irresponsible, slightly faun-like, with
its pointed ears, quick lips, and nostrils.

She said slowly:

"If YOU don't know, nobody does."

A snuffle interrupted Michael's answer.  Ting-a-ling, long, low,
slightly higher at both ends, was standing between them, with black
muzzle upturned.  'My pedigree is long,' he seemed to say; 'but my
legs are short--what about it?'



CHAPTER III

MUSICAL


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

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

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

"The furniture" had come to a sudden standstill.

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

"Yes, isn't it?"

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

Charming accompaniment--rippling, melodious!

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

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

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

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

"There's Wilfrid!  Fetch him, Michael!"

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

"Wilfrid's got the hump to-night; says he's not fit for human
society--queer old son!"

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

"I'm tired, Michael; let's go home."

His hand slid round her arm.

"Sorry, old thing; come along!"

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

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

There was a strange sound.

"Melody, by George!" said Michael.

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

"Wait here, darling; I'll nick a rickshaw."

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

A voice behind her said:

"Well, Fleur, am I going East?"

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

"You're very silly, Wilfrid!"

"Anything you like; am I going East?"

"No; Sunday morning--eleven o'clock at the Tate.  We'll talk it
out."

"Convenu!"  And he was gone.

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

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

"You needn't kiss me in Piccadilly Circus, Michael!"

"Sorry, duckie!  It's a little previous--I meant to get you
opposite the Partheneum."

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

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

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

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

"I see you," said Fleur.

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

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


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


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



CHAPTER IV

DINING


Lady Alison Charwell, born Heathfield, daughter of the first Earl
of Campden, and wife to Lionel Charwell, K.C., Michael's somewhat
young uncle, was a delightful Englishwoman brought up in a set
accepted as the soul of society.  Full of brains, energy, taste,
money, and tinctured in its politico-legal ancestry by blue blood,
this set was linked to, but apart from 'Snooks' and the duller
haunts of birth and privilege.  It was gay, charming, free-and-
easy, and, according to Michael, "Snobbish, old thing, aesthetically
and intellectually, but they'll never see it.  They think they're
the top notch--quick, healthy, up-to-date, well-bred, intelligent;
they simply can't imagine their equals.  But you see their
imagination is deficient.  Their really creative energy would go
into a pint pot.  Look at their books--they're always ON something--
philosophy, spiritualism, poetry, fishing, themselves; why, even
their sonnets dry up before they're twenty-five.  They know
everything--except mankind outside their own set.  Oh! they work--
they run the show--they have to; there's no one else with their
brains, and energy, and taste.  But they run it round and round in
their own blooming circle.  It's the world to them--and it might be
worse.  They've patented their own golden age; but it's a trifle
flyblown since the war."

Alison Charwell--in and of this world, so spryly soulful,
debonnaire, free, and cosy--lived within a stone's throw of Fleur,
in a house pleasant, architecturally, as any in London.  Forty
years old, she had three children and considerable beauty, wearing
a little fine from mental and bodily activity.  Something of an
enthusiast, she was fond of Michael, in spite of his strange
criticisms, so that his matrimonial venture had piqued her from the
start.  Fleur was dainty, had quick natural intelligence--this new
niece was worth cultivation.  But, though adaptable and
assimilative, Fleur had remained curiously unassimilated; she
continued to whet the curiosity of Lady Alison, accustomed to the
close borough of choice spirits, and finding a certain poignancy in
contact with the New Age on Fleur's copper floor.  She met with an
irreverence there, which, not taken too seriously, flipped her
mind.  On that floor she almost felt a back number.  It was
stimulating.

Receiving Fleur's telephonic enquiry about Gurdon Minho, she had
rung up the novelist.  She knew him, if not well.  Nobody seemed to
know him well; amiable, polite, silent, rather dull and austere;
but with a disconcerting smile, sometimes ironical, sometimes
friendly.  His books were now caustic, now sentimental.  On both
counts it was rather the fashion to run him down, though he still
seemed to exist.

She rang him up.  Would he come to a dinner to-morrow at her young
nephew, Michael Mont's, and meet the younger generation?  His
answer came, rather high-pitched:

"Rather!  Full fig, or dinner jacket?"

"How awfully nice of you! they'll be ever so pleased.  Full fig, I
believe.  It's the second anniversary of their wedding."  She hung
up the receiver with the thought:  'He must be writing a book about
them!'

Conscious of responsibility, she arrived early.

It was a grand night at her husband's Inn, so that she brought
nothing with her but the feeling of adventure, pleasant after a day
spent in fluttering over the decision at 'Snooks'.  She was
received only by Ting-a-ling, who had his back to the fire, and
took no notice beyond a stare.  Sitting down on the jade green
settee, she said:

"Well, you funny little creature, don't you know me after all this
time?"

Ting-a-ling's black shiny gaze seemed saying:  "You recur here, I
know; most things recur.  There is nothing new about the future."

Lady Alison fell into a train of thought:  The new generation!  Did
she want her own girls to be of it!  She would like to talk to Mr.
Minho about that--they had had a very nice talk down at Beechgroves
before the war.  Nine years ago--Sybil only six, Joan only four
then!  Time went, things changed!  A new generation!  And what was
the difference?  "I think we had more tradition!" she said to
herself softly.

A slight sound drew her eyes up from contemplation of her feet.
Ting-a-ling was moving his tail from side to side on the hearthrug,
as if applauding.  Fleur's voice, behind her, said:

"Well, darling, I'm awfully late.  It WAS good of you to get me Mr.
Minho.  I do hope they'll all behave.  He'll be between you and me,
anyway; I'm sticking him at the top, and Michael at the bottom,
between Pauline Upshire and Amabel Nazing.  You'll have Sibley on
your left, and I'll have Aubrey on my right, then Nesta Gorse and
Walter Nazing; opposite them Linda Frewe and Charles Upshire.
Twelve.  You know them all.  Oh! and you mustn't mind if the
Nazings and Nesta smoke between the courses.  Amabel will do it.
She comes from Virginia--it's the reaction.  I do hope she'll have
some clothes on; Michael always says it's a mistake when she has;
but having Mr. Minho makes one a little nervous.  Did you see
Nesta's skit in 'The Bouquet'?  Oh, too frightfully amusing--
clearly meant for L.S.D.!  Ting, my Ting, are you going to stay and
see all these people?  Well, then, get up here or you'll be trodden
on.  Isn't he Chinese?  He does so round off the room."

Ting-a-ling laid his nose on his paws, in the centre of a jade
green cushion.

"Mr. Gurding Minner!"

The well-known novelist looked pale and composed.  Shaking the two
extended hands, he gazed at Ting-a-ling, and said:

"How nice!  How are YOU, my little man?"

Ting-a-ling did not stir.  "You take me for a common English dog,
sir!" his silence seemed to say.

"Mr. and Mrs. Walter Nazon, Miss Lenda Frow."

Amabel Nazing came first, clear alabaster from her fair hair down
to the six inches of gleaming back above her waist-line, shrouded
alabaster from four inches below the knee to the gleaming toes of
her shoes; the eminent novelist mechanically ceased to commune with
Ting-a-ling.  Walter Nazing, who followed a long way up above his
wife, had a tiny line of collar emergent from swathes of black, and
a face, cut a hundred years ago, that slightly resembled Shelley's.
His literary productions were sometimes felt to be like the poetry
of that bard, and sometimes like the prose of Marcel Proust.  "What
oh!" as Michael said.

Linda Frewe, whom Fleur at once introduced to Gurdon Minho, was one
about whose work no two people in her drawing-room ever agreed.
Her works 'Trifles' and 'The Furious Don' had quite divided all
opinion.  Genius according to some, drivel according to others,
those books always roused an interesting debate whether a slight
madness enhanced or diminished the value of art.  She herself paid
little attention to criticism--she produced.

"THE Mr. Minho?  How interesting!  I've never read anything of
yours."

Fleur gave a little gasp.

"What--don't you know Mr. Minho's cats?  But they're wonderful.
Mr. Minho, I do want Mrs. Walter Nazing to know you.  Amabel--Mr.
Gurdon Minho."

"Oh!  Mr. Minho--how perfectly lovely!  I've wanted to know you
ever since my cradle."

Fleur heard the novelist say quietly:

"I could wish it had been longer;" and passed on in doubt to greet
Nesta Gorse and Sibley Swan, who came in, as if they lived
together, quarrelling over L.S.D., Nesta upholding him because of
his 'panache', Sibley maintaining that wit had died with the
Restoration; this fellow was alive!

Michael followed with the Upshires and Aubrey Greene, whom he had
encountered in the hall.  The party was complete.

Fleur loved perfection, and that evening was something of a
nightmare.  Was it a success?  Minho was so clearly the least
brilliant person there; even Alison talked better.  And yet he had
such a fine skull.  She did hope he would not go away early.  Some
one would be almost sure to say 'Dug up!' or 'Thick and bald!'
before the door closed behind him.  He was pathetically agreeable,
as if trying to be liked, or, at least, not despised too much.  And
there must, of course, be more in him than met the sense of
hearing.  After the crab souffle he did seem to be talking to
Alison, and all about youth.  Fleur listened with one ear.

"Youth feels . . . main stream of life . . . not giving it what it
wants.  Past and future getting haloes . . .  Quite!  Contemporary
life no earthly just now . . .  No . . .  Only comfort for us--
we'll be antiquated, some day, like Congreve, Sterne, Defoe . . .
have our chance again . . . WHY?  What IS driving them out of the
main current?  Oh!  Probably surfeit . . . newspapers . . .
photographs.  Don't see life itself, only reports . . .
reproductions of it; all seems shoddy, lurid, commercial . . .
Youth says 'Away with it, let's have the past or the future!'"

He took some salted almonds, and Fleur saw his eyes stray to the
upper part of Amabel Nazing.  Down there the conversation was like
Association football--no one kept the ball for more than one kick.
It shot from head to head.  And after every set of passes some one
would reach out and take a cigarette, and blow a blue cloud across
the unclothed refectory table.  Fleur enjoyed the glow of her
Spanish room--its tiled floor, richly coloured fruits in porcelain,
its tooled leather, copper articles, and Soames' Goya above a
Moorish divan.  She headed the ball promptly when it came her way,
but initiated nothing.  Her gift was to be aware of everything at
once.  "Mrs. Michael Mont presented" the brilliant irrelevancies of
Linda Frewe, the pricks and stimulations of Nesta Gorse, the
moonlit sliding innuendoes of Aubrey Greene, the upturning strokes
of Sibley Swan, Amabel Nazing's little cool American audacities,
Charles Upshire's curious bits of lore, Walter Nazing's subversive
contradictions, the critical intricacies of Pauline Upshire;
Michael's happy-go-lucky slings and arrows, even Alison's
knowledgeable quickness, and Gurdon Minho's silences--she presented
them all, showed them off, keeping her eyes and ears on the ball of
talk lest it should touch earth and rest.  Brilliant evening; but--
a success?

On the jade green settee, when the last of them had gone and
Michael was seeing Alison home, she thought of Minho's 'Youth--not
getting what it wants.'  No!  Things didn't fit.  "They don't fit,
do they, Ting!"  But Ting-a-ling was tired, only the tip of one ear
quivered.  Fleur leaned back and sighed.  Ting-a-ling uncurled
himself, and putting his forepaws on her thigh, looked up in her
face.  "Look at me," he seemed to say, "I'm all right.  I get what
I want, and I want what I get.  At present I want to go to bed."

"But I don't," said Fleur, without moving.

"Just take me up!" said Ting-a-ling.

"Well," said Fleur, "I suppose--It's a nice person, but not the
right person, Ting."

Ting-a-ling settled himself on her bare arms.

"It's all right," he seemed to say.  "There's a great deal too much
sentiment and all that, out of China.  Come on!"



CHAPTER V

EVE


The Honourable Wilfrid Desert's rooms were opposite a picture
gallery off Cork Street.  The only male member of the aristocracy
writing verse that any one would print, he had chosen them for
seclusion rather than for comfort.  His 'junk,' however, was not
devoid of the taste and luxury which overflows from the greater
houses of England.  Furniture from the Hampshire seat of the
Cornish nobleman, Lord Mullyon, had oozed into two vans, when
Wilfrid settled in.  He was seldom to be found, however, in his
nest, and was felt to be a rare bird, owing his rather unique
position among the younger writers partly to his migratory
reputation.  He himself hardly, perhaps, knew where he spent his
time, or did his work, having a sort of mental claustrophobia, a
dread of being hemmed in by people.  When the war broke out he had
just left Eton; when the war was over he was twenty-three, as old a
young man as ever turned a stave.  His friendship with Michael,
begun in hospital, had languished and renewed itself suddenly, when
in 1920 Michael joined Danby and Winter, publishers, of Blake
Street, Covent Garden.  The scattery enthusiasm of the sucking
publisher had been roused by Wilfrid's verse.  Hob-nobbing lunches
over the poems of one in need of literary anchorage, had been
capped by the firm's surrender to Michael's insistence.  The mutual
intoxication of the first book Wilfrid had written and the first
book Michael had sponsored was crowned at Michael's wedding.  Best
man!  Since then, so far as Desert could be tied to anything, he
had been tied to those two; nor, to do him justice, had he realised
till a month ago that the attraction was not Michael, but Fleur.
Desert never spoke of the war, it was not possible to learn from
his own mouth an effect which he might have summed up thus:  "I
lived so long with horror and death; I saw men so in the raw; I put
hope of anything out of my mind so utterly, that I can never more
have the faintest respect for theories, promises, conventions,
moralities, and principles.  I have hated too much the men who
wallowed in them while I was wallowing in mud and blood.  Illusion
is off.  No religion and no philosophy will satisfy me--words, all
words.  I have still my senses--no thanks to them; am still
capable--I find--of passion; can still grit my teeth and grin; have
still some feeling of trench loyalty, but whether real or just a
complex, I don't yet know.  I am dangerous, but not so dangerous as
those who trade in words, principles, theories, and all manner of
fanatical idiocy to be worked out in the blood and sweat of other
men.  The war's done one thing for me--converted life to comedy.
Laugh at it--there's nothing else to do!"

Leaving the concert hall on the Friday night, he had walked
straight home to his rooms.  And lying down full length on a monk's
seat of the fifteenth century, restored with down cushions and silk
of the twentieth, he crossed his hands behind his head and
delivered himself to these thoughts:  'I am not going on like this.
She has bewitched me.  It doesn't mean anything to her.  But it
means hell to me.  I'll finish with it on Sunday--Persia's a good
place.  Arabia's a good place--plenty of blood and sand!  She's
incapable of giving anything up.  How has she hooked herself into
me!  By trick of eyes, and hair, by her walk, by the sound of her
voice--by trick of warmth, scent, colour.  Fling her cap over the
windmill--not she!  What then?  Am I to hang about her Chinese
fireside and her little Chinese dog; and have this ache and this
fever because I can't be kissing her?  I'd rather be flying again
in the middle of Boche whiz-bangs!  Sunday!  How women like to drag
out agonies!  It'll be just this afternoon all over again.  "How
unkind of you to go, when your friendship is so precious to me!
Stay, and be my tame cat, Wilfrid!"  No, my dear, for once you're
up against it!  And--so am I, by the Lord! . . .'

When in that gallery which extends asylum to British art, those two
young people met so accidentally on Sunday morning in front of Eve
smelling at the flowers of the Garden of Eden, there were present
also six mechanics in various stages of decomposition, a custodian
and a couple from the provinces, none of whom seemed capable of
observing anything whatever.  And, indeed, that meeting was
inexpressive.  Two young people, of the disillusioned class,
exchanging condemnations of the past.  Desert with his off-hand
speech, his smile, his well-tailored informality, suggested no
aching heart.  Of the two Fleur was the paler and more interesting.
Desert kept saying to himself:  "No melodrama--that's all it would
be!"  And Fleur was thinking:  'If I can keep him ordinary like
this, I shan't lose him, because he'll never go away without a
proper outburst.'

It was not until they found themselves a second time before the
Eve, that he said:

"I don't know why you asked me to come, Fleur.  It's playing the
goat for no earthly reason.  I quite understand your feeling.  I'm
a bit of 'Ming' that you don't want to lose.  But it's not good
enough, my dear; and that's all about it."

"How horrible of you, Wilfrid!"

"Well!  Here we part!  Give us your flipper."

His eyes--rather beautiful--looked dark and tragic above the smile
on his lips, and she said stammering:

"Wilfrid--I--I don't know.  I want time.  I can't bear you to be
unhappy.  Don't go away!  Perhaps I--I shall be unhappy, too; I--I
don't know."

Through Desert passed the bitter thought:  'She CAN'T let go--she
doesn't know how.'  But he said quite softly:  "Cheer up, my child;
you'll be over all that in a fortnight.  I'll send you something to
make up.  Why shouldn't I make it China--one place is as good as
another?  I'll send you a bit of real 'Ming,' of a better period
than this."

Fleur said passionately:

"You're insulting!  Don't!"

"I beg your pardon.  I don't want to leave you angry."

"What is it you want of me?"

"Oh! no--come!  This is going over it twice.  Besides, since Friday
I've been thinking.  I want nothing, Fleur, except a blessing and
your hand.  Give it me!  Come on!"

Fleur put her hand behind her back.  It was too mortifying!  He
took her for a cold-blooded, collecting little cat--clutching and
playing with mice that she didn't want to eat!

"You think I'm made of ice," she said, and her teeth caught her
upper lip:  "Well, I'm not!"

Desert looked at her; his eyes were very wretched.  "I didn't mean
to play up your pride," he said.  "Let's drop it, Fleur.  It isn't
any good."

Fleur turned and fixed her eyes on the Eve--rumbustious-looking
female, care-free, avid, taking her fill of flower perfume!  Why
not be care-free, take anything that came along?  Not so much love
in the world that one could afford to pass, leaving it unsmelled,
unplucked.  Run away!  Go to the East!  Of course, she couldn't do
anything extravagant like that!  But, perhaps--What did it matter?
one man or another, when neither did you really love!

From under her drooped, white, dark-lashed eyelids she saw the
expression on his face, and that he was standing stiller than the
statues.  And suddenly she said:  "You will be a fool to go.
Wait!"  And without another word or look, she walked away, leaving
Desert breathless before the avid Eve.



CHAPTER VI

'OLD FORSYTE' AND 'OLD MONT'


Moving away, in the confusion of her mood, Fleur almost trod on the
toes of a too-familiar figure standing before an Alma Tadema with a
sort of grey anxiety, as if lost in the mutability of market
values.

"Father!  YOU up in town?  Come along to lunch, I have to get home
quick."

Hooking his arm and keeping between him and Eve, she guided him
away, thinking:  'Did he see us?  Could he have seen us?'

"Have you got enough on?" muttered Soames.

"Heaps!"

"That's what you women always say.  East wind, and your neck like
that!  Well, I don't know."

"No, dear, but I do."

The grey eyes appraised her from head to foot.

"What are you doing here?" he said.  And Flour thought:  'Thank
God he didn't see.  He'd never have asked if he had.'  And she
answered:

"I take an interest in art, darling, as well as you."

"Well, I'm staying with your aunt in Green Street.  This east wind
has touched my liver.  How's your--how's Michael?"

"Oh, he's all right--a little cheap.  We had a dinner last night."

Anniversary!  The realism of a Forsyte stirred in him, and he
looked under her eyes.  Thrusting his hand into his overcoat
pocket, he said:

"I was bringing you this."

Fleur saw a flat substance wrapped in pink tissue paper.

"Darling, what is it?"

Soames put it back into his pocket.

"We'll see later.  Anybody to lunch?"

"Only Bart."

"Old Mont!  Oh, Lord!"

"Don't you like Bart, dear?"

"Like him?  He and I have nothing in common."

"I thought you fraternised rather over the state of things."

"He's a reactionary," said Soames.

"And what are you, ducky?"

"I?  What should _I_ be?"  With these words he affirmed that policy
of non-commitment which, the older he grew, the more he perceived
to be the only attitude for a sensible man.

"How is Mother?"

"Looks well.  I see nothing of her--she's got her own mother down--
they go gadding about."

He never alluded to Madame Lamotte as Fleur's grandmother--the less
his daughter had to do with her French side, the better.

"Oh!" said Fleur.  "There's Ting and a cat!"  Ting-a-ling, out for
a breath of air, and tethered by a lead in the hands of a maid, was
snuffling horribly and trying to climb a railing whereon was
perched a black cat, all hunch and eyes.

"Give him to me, Ellen.  Come with Mother, darling!"

Ting-a-ling came, indeed, but only because he couldn't go,
bristling and snuffling and turning his head back.

"I like to see him natural," said Fleur.

"Waste of money, a dog like that," Soames commented.  "You should
have had a bull-dog and let him sleep in the hall.  No end of
burglaries.  Your aunt had her knocker stolen."

"I wouldn't part with Ting for a hundred knockers."

"One of these days you'll be having HIM stolen--fashionable breed."

Fleur opened her front door.  "Oh!" she said, "Bart's here,
already!"

A shiny hat was reposing on a marble coffer, present from Soames,
intended to hold coats and discourage moth.  Placing his hat
alongside the other, Soames looked at them.  They were too similar
for words, tall, high, shiny, and with the same name inside.  He
had resumed the 'tall hat' habit after the failure of the general
and coal strikes in 1921, his instinct having told him that
revolution would be at a discount for some considerable period.

"About this thing," he said, taking out the pink parcel, "I don't
know what you'll do with it, but here it is."

It was a curiously carved and coloured bit of opal in a ring of
tiny brilliants.

"Oh!" Fleur cried:  "What a delicious thing!"

"Venus floating on the waves, or something," murmured Soames.
"Uncommon.  You want a strong light on it."

"But it's lovely.  I shall put it on at once."

Venus!  If Dad had known!  She put her arms round his neck to
disguise her sense of a propos.  Soames received the rub of her
cheek against his own well-shaved face with his usual stillness.
Why demonstrate when they were both aware that his affection was
double hers?

"Put it on then," he said, "and let's see."

Fleur pinned it at her neck before an old lacquered mirror.

"It's a jewel.  Thank you, darling!  Yes, your tie is straight.  I
like that white piping.  You ought always to wear it with black.
Now, come along!"  And she drew him into her Chinese room.  It was
empty.

"Bart must be up with Michael, talking about his new book."

"Writing at his age?" said Soames.

"Well, ducky, he's a year younger than you."

"I don't write.  Not such a fool.  Got any more newfangled
friends?"

"Just one--Gurdon Minho, the novelist."

"Another of the new school?"

"Oh, no, dear!  Surely you've heard of Gurdon Minho; he's older
than the hills."

"They're all alike to me," muttered Soames.  "Is he well thought
of?"

"I should think his income is larger than yours.  He's almost a
classic--only waiting to die."

"I'll get one of his books and read it.  What name did you say?"

"Get 'Big and Little Fishes,' by Gurdon Minho.  You can remember
that, can't you?  Oh! here they are!  Michael, look at what
Father's given me."

Taking his hand, she put it up to the opal at her neck.  'Let them
both see,' she thought, 'what good terms we're on.'  Though her
father had not seen her with Wilfrid in the gallery, her conscience
still said:  "Strengthen your respectability, you don't quite know
how much support you'll need for it in future."

And out of the corner of her eye she watched those two.  The
meetings between 'Old Mont' and 'Old Forsyte'--as she knew Bart
called her father when speaking of him to Michael--always made her
want to laugh, but she never quite knew why.  Bart knew everything,
but his knowledge was beautifully bound, strictly edited by a mind
tethered to the 'eighteenth century.'  Her father only knew what
was of advantage to him, but the knowledge was unbound, and subject
to no editorship.  If he WAS late Victorian, he was not above
profiting if necessary by even later periods.  'Old Mont' had faith
in tradition; 'Old Forsyte' none.  Fleur's acuteness had long
perceived a difference which favoured her father.  Yet 'Old Mont's'
talk was so much more up-to-date, rapid, glancing, garrulous,
redolent of precise information; and 'Old Forsyte's' was
constricted, matter-of-fact.  Really impossible to tell which of
the two was the better museum specimen; and both so well-preserved!

They did not precisely shake hands; but Soames mentioned the
weather.  And almost at once they all four sought that Sunday food
which by a sustained effort of will Fleur had at last deprived of
reference to the British character.  They partook, in fact, of
lobster cocktails, and a mere risotto of chickens' livers, an
omelette au rhum, and dessert trying to look as Spanish as it
could.

"I've been in the Tate," Fleur said; "I do think it's touching."

"Touching?" queried Soames with a sniff.

"Fleur means, sir, that to see so much old English art together is
like looking at a baby show."

"I don't follow," said Soames stiffly.  "There's some very good
work there."

"But not grown-up, sir."

"Ah!  You young people mistake all this crazy cleverness for
maturity."

"That's not what Michael means, Father.  It's quite true that
English painting has no wisdom teeth.  You can see the difference
in a moment, between it and any Continental painting."

"And thank God for it!" broke in Sir Lawrence.  "The beauty of this
country's art is its innocence.  We're the oldest country in the
world politically, and the youngest aesthetically.  What do you
say, Forsyte?"

"Turner is old and wise enough for me," said Soames curtly.  "Are
you coming to the P.P.R.S. Board on Tuesday?"

"Tuesday?  We were going to shoot the spinneys, weren't we,
Michael?"

Soames grunted.  "I should let them wait," he said.  "We settle the
report."

It was through 'Old Mont's' influence that he had received a seat
on the Board of that flourishing concern, the Providential Premium
Reassurance Society, and, truth to tell, he was not sitting very
easily in it.  Though the law of averages was, perhaps, the most
reliable thing in the world, there were circumstances which had
begun to cause him disquietude.  He looked round his nose.  Light
weight, this narrow-headed, twisting-eyebrowed baronet of a chap--
like his son before him!  And he added suddenly:  "I'm not easy.
If I'd realised how that chap Elderson ruled the roost, I doubt if
I should have come on to that Board."

One side of 'Old Mont's' face seemed to try to leave the other.

"Elderson!" he said.  "His grandfather was my grandfather's
parliamentary agent at the time of the Reform Bill; he put him
through the most corrupt election ever fought--bought every vote--
used to kiss all the farmer's wives.  Great days, Forsyte, great
days!"

"And over," said Soames.  "I don't believe in trusting a man's
judgment as far as we trust Elderson's; I don't like this foreign
insurance."

"My dear Forsyte--first-rate head, Elderson; I've known him all my
life, we were at Winchester together."

Soames uttered a deep sound.  In that answer of 'Old Mont's' lay
much of the reason for his disquietude.  On the Board they had all,
as it were, been at Winchester together!  It was the very deuce!
They were all so honourable that they dared not scrutinise each
other, or even their own collective policy.  Worse than their dread
of mistake or fraud was their dread of seeming to distrust each
other.  And this was natural, for to distrust each other was an
immediate evil.  And, as Soames knew, immediate evils are those
which one avoids.  Indeed, only that tendency, inherited from his
father, James, to lie awake between the hours of two and four, when
the chrysalis of faint misgiving becomes so readily the butterfly
of panic, had developed his uneasiness.  The P.P.R.S. was so
imposing a concern, and he had been connected with it so short a
time, that it seemed presumptuous to smell a rat; especially as he
would have to leave the Board and the thousand a year he earned on
it if he raised smell of rat without rat or reason.  But what if
there were a rat?  That was the trouble!  And here sat 'Old Mont'
talking of his spinneys and his grandfather.  The fellow's head was
too small!  And visited by the cheerless thought:  'There's nobody
here, not even my own daughter, capable of taking a thing
seriously,' he kept silence.  A sound at his elbow roused him.
That marmoset of a dog, on a chair between him and his daughter,
was sitting up!  Did it expect him to give it something?  Its eyes
would drop out one of these days.  And he said:  "Well, what do YOU
want?"  The way the little beast stared with those boot-buttons!
"Here," he said, offering it a salted almond.  "You don't eat
these."

Ting-a-ling did.

"He has a passion for them, Dad.  Haven't you, darling?"

Ting-a-ling turned his eyes up at Soames, through whom a queer
sensation passed.  'Believe the little brute likes me,' he thought,
'he's always looking at me.'  He touched the dog's nose with the
tip of his finger.  Ting-a-ling gave it a slight lick with his
curly blackish tongue.

"Poor fellow!" muttered Soames involuntarily, and turned to 'Old
Mont.'

"Don't mention what I said."

"My dear Forsyte, what was that?"

Good Heavens!  And he was on a Board with a man like this!  What
had made him come on, when he didn't want the money, or any more
worries--goodness knew.  As soon as he had become a director,
Winifred and others of his family had begun to acquire shares to
neutralise their income tax--seven per cent, preference--nine per
cent, ordinary--instead of the steady five they ought to be content
with.  There it was, he couldn't move without people following him.
He had always been so safe, so perfect a guide in the money maze!
To be worried at his time of life!  His eyes sought comfort from
the opal at his daughter's neck--pretty thing, pretty neck!  Well!
She seemed happy enough--had forgotten her infatuation of two years
ago!  That was something to be thankful for.  What she wanted now
was a child to steady her in all this modern scrimmage of twopenny-
ha'penny writers and painters and musicians.  A loose lot, but she
had a good little head on her.  If she had a child, he would put
another twenty thousand into her settlement.  That was one thing
about her mother--steady in money matters, good French method.  And
Fleur--so far as he knew--cut her coat according to her cloth.
What was that?  The word 'Goya' had caught his ear.  New life of
him coming out?  H'm!  That confirmed his slowly growing conviction
that Goya had reached top point again.

"Think I shall part with that," he said, pointing to the picture.
"There's an Argentine over here."

"Sell your Goya, sir?"  It was Michael speaking.  "Think of the
envy with which you're now regarded!"

"One can't have everything," said Soames.

"That reproduction we've got for 'The New Life' has turned out
first-rate.  'Property of Soames Forsyte, Esquire.'  Let's get the
book out first, sir, anyway."

"Shadow or substance, eh, Forsyte?"

Narrow-headed baronet chap--was he mocking?

"I'VE no family place," he said.

"No, but we have, sir," murmured Michael; "you could leave it to
Fleur, you know."

"Well," said Soames, "we shall see if that's worth while."  And he
looked at his daughter.

Fleur seldom blushed, but she picked up Ting-a-ling and rose from
the Spanish table.  Michael followed suit.  "Coffee in the other
room," he said.  'Old Forsyte' and 'Old Mont' stood up, wiping
their moustaches.



CHAPTER VII

'OLD MONT' AND 'OLD FORSYTE'


The offices of the P.P.R.S. were not far from the College of Arms.
Soames, who knew that 'three dexter buckles on a sable ground
gules' and a 'pheasant proper' had been obtained there at some
expense by his Uncle Swithin in the 'sixties of the last century,
had always pooh-poohed the building, until, about a year ago, he
had been struck by the name Golding in a book which he had absently
taken up at the Connoisseurs' Club.  The affair purported to prove
that William Shakespeare was really Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.
The mother of the earl was a Golding--so was the mother of Soames!
The coincidence struck him; and he went on reading.  The tome left
him with judgment suspended over the main issue, but a distinct
curiosity as to whether he was not of the same blood as
Shakespeare.  Even if the earl were not the bard, he felt that the
connection could only be creditable, though, so far as he could
make out, Oxford was a shady fellow.  Recently appointed on the
Board of the P.P.R.S., so that he passed the college every other
Tuesday, he had thought:  'Shan't go spending a lot of money on it,
but might look in one day.'  Having looked in, it was astonishing
how taken he had been by the whole thing.  Tracing his mother had
been quite like a criminal investigation, nearly as ramified and
fully as expensive.  Having begun, the tenacity of a Forsyte could
hardly bear to leave him short of the mother of Shakespeare de
Vere, even though she would be collateral; unfortunately, he could
not get past a certain William Gouldyng, Ingerer--whatever that
might be, and he was almost afraid to enquire--of the time of
Oliver Cromwell.  There were still four generations to be
unravelled, and he was losing money and the hope of getting
anything for it.  This it was which caused him to gaze askance at
the retired building while passing it on his way to the Board on
the Tuesday after the lunch at Fleur's.  Two more wakeful early
mornings had screwed him to the pitch of bringing his doubts to a
head and knowing where he stood in the matter of the P.P.R.S.; and
this sudden reminder that he was spending money here, there and
everywhere, when there was a possibility, however remote, of
financial liability somewhere else, sharpened the edge of a nerve
already stropped by misgivings.  Neglecting the lift and walking
slowly up the two flights of stairs, he 'went over' his fellow-
directors for the fifteenth time.  Old Lord Fontenoy was there for
his name, of course; seldom attended, and was what they called 'a
dud'--h'm!--nowadays; the chairman, Sir Luke Sharman, seemed always
to be occupied in not being taken for a Jew.  His nose was
straight, but his eyelids gave cause for doubt.  His surname was
impeccable, but his Christian dubious; his voice was reassuringly
roughened, but his clothes had a suspicious tendency towards gloss.
Altogether a man who, though shrewd, could not be trusted--Soames
felt--to be giving his whole mind to other business.  As for 'Old
Mont'--what was the good of a ninth baronet on a Board?  Guy
Meyricke, King's Counsel, last of the three who had been
'together,' was a good man in court, no doubt, but with no time for
business and no real sense of it!  Remained that converted Quaker,
old Cuthbert Mothergill--whose family name had been a by-word for
successful integrity throughout the last century, so that people
still put Mothergills on to boards almost mechanically--rather
deaf, nice clean old chap, and quite bland, but nothing more.  A
perfectly honest lot, no doubt, but perfunctory.  None of them
really giving their minds to the thing!  In Elderson's pocket, too,
except perhaps Sharman, and he on the wobble.  And Elderson
himself--clever chap, bit of an artist, perhaps; managing director
from the start, with everything at his finger-tips!  Yes!  That was
the mischief!  Prestige of superior knowledge, and years of
success--they all kowtowed to him, and no wonder!  Trouble with a
man like that was that if he once admitted to having made a mistake
he destroyed the legend of his infallibility.  Soames had enough
infallibility of his own to realise how powerful was its impetus
towards admitting nothing.  Ten months ago, when he had come on to
the Board, everything had seemed in full sail; exchanges had
reached bottom, so they all thought--the 'reassurance of foreign
contracts' policy, which Elderson had initiated about a year
before, had seemed, with rising exchanges, perhaps the brightest
feather in the cap of possibility.  And now, a twelvemonth later,
Soames suspected darkly that they did not know where they were--and
the general meeting only six weeks off!  Probably not even Elderson
knew; or, if he did, he was keeping knowledge which ought to belong
to the whole directorate severely to himself.

He entered the board room without a smile.  All there--even Lord
Fontenoy and 'Old Mont'--given up his spinneys, had he!  Soames
took his seat at the end on the fireside.  Staring at Elderson, he
saw, with sudden clearness, the strength of the fellow's position;
and, with equal clearness, the weakness of the P.P.R.S.  With this
rising and falling currency, they could never know exactly their
liability--they were just gambling.  Listening to the minutes and
other routine business, with his chin clasped in his hand, he let
his eyes move from face to face--old Mothergill, Elderson, Mont
opposite; Sharman at the head; Fontenoy, Meyricke, back to himself--
decisive board of the year.  He could not, must not, be placed in
any dubious position!  At his first general meeting on this
concern, he must not face the shareholders without knowing exactly
where he stood.  He looked again at Elderson--sweetish face, bald
head rather like Julius Caesar's, nothing to suggest irregularity
or excessive optimism--in fact, somewhat resembling that of old
Uncle Nicholas Forsyte, whose affairs had been such an example to
the last generation but one.  The managing director having
completed his exposition, Soames directed his gaze at the pink face
of dosey old Mothergill, and said:

"I'm not satisfied that these accounts disclose our true position.
I want the Board adjourned to this day week, Mr. Chairman, and
during the week I want every member of the Board furnished with
exact details of the foreign contract commitments which do NOT
mature during the present financial year.  I notice that those are
lumped under a general estimate of liability.  I am not satisfied
with that.  They ought to be separately treated."  Shifting his
gaze past Elderson to the face of 'Old Mont,' he went on:  "Unless
there's a material change for the better on the Continent, which I
don't anticipate (quite the contrary), I fully expect those
commitments will put us in Queer Street next year."

The scraping of feet, shifting of legs, clearing of throats which
accompany a slight sense of outrage greeted the words 'Queer
Street'; and a sort of satisfaction swelled in Soames; he had
rattled their complacency, made them feel a touch of the misgiving
from which he himself was suffering.

"We have always treated our commitments under one general estimate,
Mr. Forsyte."

Plausible chap!

"And to my mind wrongly.  This foreign contract business is a new
policy.  For all I can tell, instead of paying a dividend, we ought
to be setting this year's profits against a certain loss next
year."

Again that scrape and rustle.

"My dear sir, absurd!"

The bulldog in Soames snuffled.

"So you say!" he said.  "Am I to have those details?"

"The Board can have what details it likes, of course.  But permit
me to remark on the general question that it CAN only be a matter
of estimate.  A conservative basis has always been adopted."

"That is a matter of opinion," said Soames; "and in my view it
should be the Board's opinion after very careful discussion of the
actual figures."

'Old Mont' was speaking.

"My dear Forsyte, to go into every contract would take us a week,
and then get us no further; we can but average it out."

"What we have not got in these accounts," said Soames, "is the
relative proportion of foreign risk to home risk--in the present
state of things a vital matter."

The Chairman spoke.

"There will be no difficulty about that, I imagine, Elderson!  But
in any case, Mr. Forsyte, we should hardly be justified in
penalising the present year for the sake of eventualities which we
hope will not arise."

"I don't know," said Soames.  "We are here to decide policy
according to our common sense, and we must have the fullest
opportunity of exercising it.  That is my point.  We have not
enough information."

That 'plausible chap' was speaking again:

"Mr. Forsyte seems to be indicating a lack of confidence in the
management."  Taking the bull by the horns--was he?

"Am I to have that information?"

The voice of old Mothergill rose cosy in the silence.

"The Board could be adjourned, perhaps, Mr. Chairman; I could come
up myself at a pinch.  Possibly we could all attend.  The times are
very peculiar--we mustn't take any unnecessary risks.  The policy
of foreign contracts is undoubtedly somewhat new to us.  We have no
reason so far to complain of the results.  And I am sure we have
the utmost confidence in the judgment of our managing director.
Still, as Mr. Forsyte has asked for this information, I think
perhaps we ought to have it.  What do you say, my lord?"

"I can't come up next week.  I agree with the chairman that on
these accounts we couldn't burke this year's dividend.  No good
getting the wind up before we must.  When do the accounts go out,
Elderson?"

"Normally at the end of this week."

"These are not normal times," said Soames.  "To be quite plain,
unless I have that information I must tender my resignation."  He
saw very well what was passing in their minds.  A newcomer making
himself a nuisance--they would take his resignation readily--only
it would look awkward just before a general meeting unless they
could announce "wife's ill-health" or something satisfactory, which
he would take very good care they didn't.

The chairman said coldly:

"Well, we will adjourn the Board to this day week; you will be able
to get us those figures, Elderson?"

"Certainly."

Into Soames' mind flashed the thought:  'Ought to ask for an
independent scrutiny.'  But he looked round.  Going too far--
perhaps--if he intended to remain on the Board--and he had no wish
to resign--after all, it was a big thing, and a thousand a year!
No!  Mustn't overdo it!

Walking away, he savoured his triumph doubtfully, by no means sure
that he had done any good.  His attitude had only closed the 'all
together' attitude round Elderson.  The weakness of his position
was that he had nothing to go on, save an uneasiness, which when
examined was found to be simply a feeling that he hadn't enough
control himself.  And yet, there couldn't be two managers--you must
trust your manager!

A voice behind him tittupped:  "Well, Forsyte, you gave us quite a
shock with your alternative.  First time I remember anything of the
sort on that Board."

"Sleepy hollow," said Soames.

"Yes, I generally have a nap.  It gets very hot in there.  Wish I'd
stuck to my spinneys.  They come high, even as early as this."

Incurably frivolous, this tittupping baronet!

"By the way, Forsyte, I wanted to say:  With all this modern birth
control and the rest of it, one gets uneasy.  We're not the royal
family; but don't you feel with me it's time there was a movement
in heirs?"

Soames did, but he was not going to confess to anything so
indelicate about his own daughter.

"Plenty of time," he muttered.

"I don't like that dog, Forsyte."

Soames stared.

"Dog!" he said.  "What's that to do with it?"

"I like a baby to come before a dog.  Dogs and poets distract young
women.  My grandmother had five babies before she was twenty-seven.
She was a Montjoy; wonderful breeders, you remember them--the seven
Montjoy sisters--all pretty.  Old Montjoy had forty-seven
grandchildren.  You don't get it nowadays, Forsyte."

"Country's over-populated," said Soames grimly.

"By the wrong sort--less of them, more of ourselves.  It's almost a
matter for legislation."

"Talk to your son," said Soames.

"Ah! but they think us fogeys, you know.  If we could only point to
a reason for existence.  But it's difficult, Forsyte, it's
difficult."

"They've got everything they want," said Soames.

"Not enough, my dear Forsyte, not enough; the condition of the
world is on the nerves of the young.  England's dished, they say,
Europe's dished.  Heaven's dished, and so is Hell!  No future in
anything but the air.  You can't breed in the air; at least, I
doubt it--the difficulties are considerable."

Soames sniffed.

"If only the journalists would hold their confounded pens," he
said; for, more and more of late, with the decrescendo of scare in
the daily Press, he was regaining the old sound Forsyte feeling of
security.  "We've only to keep clear of Europe," he added.

"Keep clear and keep the ring!  Forsyte, I believe you've hit it.
Good friendly terms with Scandinavia, Holland, Spain, Italy,
Turkey--all the outlying countries that we can get at by sea.  And
let the others dree their weirds.  It's an idea!"  How the chap
rattled on!

"I'm no politician," said Soames.

"Keep the ring!  The new formula.  It's what we've been coming to
unconsciously!  And as to trade--to say we can't do without trading
with this country or with that--bunkum, my dear Forsyte.  The
world's large--we can."

"I don't know anything about that," said Soames.  "I only know we
must drop this foreign contract assurance."

"Why not confine it to the ring countries?  Instead of 'balance of
power,' 'keep the ring'!  Really, it's an inspiration!"

Thus charged with inspiration, Soames said hastily:

"I leave you here, I'm going to my daughter's."

"Ah!  I'm going to my son's.  Look at these poor devils!"

Down by the Embankment at Blackfriars a band of unemployed were
trailing dismally with money-boxes.

"Revolution in the bud!  There's one thing that's always forgotten,
Forsyte, it's a great pity."

"What's that?" said Soames, with gloom.  The fellow would tittup
all the way to Fleur's!

"Wash the working-class, put them in clean, pleasant-coloured
jeans, teach 'em to speak like you and me, and there'd be an end of
class feeling.  It's all a matter of the senses.  Wouldn't you
rather share a bedroom with a clean, neat-clothed plumber's
assistant who spoke and smelled like you than with a profiteer who
dropped his aitches and reeked of opoponax?  Of course you would."

"Never tried," said Soames, "so don't know."

"Pragmatist!  But believe me, Forsyte--if the working class would
concentrate on baths and accent instead of on their political and
economic tosh, equality would be here in no time."

"I don't want equality," said Soames, taking his ticket to
Westminster.

The 'tittupping' voice pursued him entering the tube lift.

"Aesthetic equality, Forsyte, if we had it, would remove the wish
for any other.  Did you ever catch an impecunious professor wishing
he was the King?"

"No," said Soames, opening his paper.



CHAPTER VIII

BICKET


Beneath its veneer of cheerful irresponsibility, the character of
Michael Mont had deepened during two years of anchorage and
continuity.  He had been obliged to think of others; and his time
was occupied.  Conscious, from the fall of the flag, that he was on
sufferance with Fleur, admitting as whole the half-truth:  'Il y a
toujours un qui baise, et l'autre qui tend la joue,' he had
developed real powers of domestic consideration; and yet he did not
seem to redress the balance in his public or publishing existence.
He found the human side of his business too strong for the
monetary.  Danby and Winter, however, were bearing up against him,
and showed, so far, no signs of the bankruptcy prophesied for them
by Soames on being told of the principles which his son-in-law
intended to introduce.  No more in publishing than in any other
walk of life was Michael finding it possible to work too much on
principle.  The field of action was so strewn with facts--human,
vegetable and mineral.

On this same Tuesday afternoon, having long tussled with the price
of those vegetable facts, paper and linen, he was listening with
his pointed ears to the plaint of a packer discovered with five
copies of 'Copper Coin' in his overcoat pocket, and the too obvious
intention of converting them to his own use.

Mr. Danby had 'given him the sack'--he didn't deny that he was
going to sell them, but what would Mr. Mont have done?  He owed
rent--and his wife wanted nourishing after pneumonia--wanted it
bad.  'Dash it!' thought Michael, 'I'd snoop an edition to nourish
Fleur after pneumonia!'

"And I can't live on my wages with prices what they are.  I can't,
Mr. Mont, so help me!"

Michael swivelled.  "But look here, Bicket, if we let you snoop
copies, all the packers will snoop copies; and if they do, where
are Danby and Winter?  In the cart.  And, if they're in the cart,
where are all of you?  In the street.  It's better that one of you
should be in the street than that all of you should, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir, I quite see your point--it's reason; but I can't live on
reason, the least thing knocks you out, when you're on the bread
line.  Ask Mr. Danby to give me another chance."

"Mr. Danby always says that a packer's work is particularly
confidential, because it's almost impossible to keep a check on
it."

"Yes, sir, I should feel that in future; but with all this
unemployment and no reference, I'll never get another job.  What
about my wife?"

To Michael it was as if he had said "What about Fleur?"  He began
to pace the room; and the young man Bicket looked at him with large
dolorous eyes.  Presently he came to a standstill, with his hands
deep plunged into his pockets and his shoulders hunched.

"I'll ask him," he said; "but I don't believe he will; he'll say it
isn't fair on the others.  You had five copies; it's pretty stiff,
you know--means you've had 'em before, doesn't it?  What?"

"Well, Mr. Mont, anything that'll give me a chance, I don't mind
confessin'.  I have 'ad a few previous, and it's just about kept my
wife alive.  You've no idea what that pneumonia's like for poor
people."

Michael pushed his fingers through his hair.

"How old's your wife?"

"Only a girl--twenty."

Twenty!  Just Fleur's age!

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Bicket; I'll put it up to Mr. Desert;
if he speaks for you, perhaps it may move Mr. Danby."

"Well, Mr. Mont, thank you--you're a gentleman, we all sy that."

"Oh! hang it!  But look here, Bicket, you were reckoning on those
five copies.  Take this to make up, and get your wife what's
necessary.  Only for goodness' sake don't tell Mr. Danby."

"Mr. Mont, I wouldn't deceive you for the world--I won't sy a word,
sir.  And my wife--well!"

A sniff, a shuffle--Michael was alone, with his hands plunged
deeper, his shoulders hunched higher.  And suddenly he laughed.
Pity!  Pity was pop!  It was all dam' funny.  Here he was rewarding
Bicket for snooping 'Copper Coin!'  A sudden longing possessed him
to follow the little packer and see what he did with the two
pounds--see whether 'the pneumonia' was real or a figment of the
brain behind those dolorous eyes.  Impossible, though!  Instead he
must ring up Wilfrid and ask him to put in a word with old Danby.
His own word was no earthly.  He had put it in too often!  Bicket!
Little one knew of anybody, life was deep and dark, and upside
down!  What was honesty?  Pressure of life versus power of
resistance--the result of that fight, when the latter won, was
honesty!  But why resist?  Love thy neighbour as thyself--but not
more!  And wasn't it a darned sight harder for Bicket on two pounds
a week to love him, than for him on twenty-four pounds a week to
love Bicket? . . .

"Hallo! . . .  That you, Wilfrid? . . .  Michael speaking. . . .
One of our packers has been sneaking copies of 'Copper Coin.'  He's
'got the sack'--poor devil!  I wondered if you'd mind putting in a
word for him--old Dan won't listen to me . . . yes, got a wife--
Fleur's age; pneumonia, so he says.  Won't do it again with yours
anyway, insurance by common gratitude--what! . . .  Thanks, old
man, awfully good of you--will you bob in, then?  We can go round
home together . . .  Oh!  Well!  You'll bob in anyway.  Aurev!"

Good chap, old Wilfrid!  Real good chap--underneath!  Underneath--
what?

Replacing the receiver, Michael saw a sudden great cloud of sights
and scents and sounds, so foreign to the principles of his firm
that he was in the habit of rejecting instantaneously every
manuscript which dealt with them.  The war might be 'off '; but it
was still 'on' within Wilfrid, and himself.  Taking up a tube, he
spoke:

"Mr. Danby in his room?  Right!  If he shows any signs of flitting,
let me know at once." . . .

Between Michael and his senior partner a gulf was fixed, not less
deep than that between two epochs, though partially filled in by
Winter's middle-age and accommodating temperament.  Michael had
almost nothing against Mr. Danby except that he was always right--
Philip Norman Danby, of Sky House, Campden Hill, a man of sixty and
some family, with a tall forehead, a preponderance of body to leg,
and an expression both steady and reflective.  His eyes were
perhaps rather close together, and his nose rather thin, but he
looked a handsome piece in his well-proportioned room.  He glanced
up from the formation of a correct judgment on a matter of
advertisement when Wilfrid Desert came in.

"Well, Mr. Desert, what can I do for you?  Sit down!"

Desert did not sit down, but looked at the engravings, at his
fingers, at Mr. Danby, and said:

"Fact is, I want you to let that packer chap off, Mr. Danby."

"Packer chap.  Oh!  Ah!  Bicket.  Mont told you, I suppose?"

"Yes; he's got a young wife down with pneumonia."

"They all go to our friend Mont with some tale or other, Mr.
Desert--he has a very soft heart.  But I'm afraid I can't keep this
man.  It's a most insidious thing.  We've been trying to trace a
leak for some time."

Desert leaned against the mantelpiece and stared into the fire.

"Well, Mr. Danby," he said, "your generation may like the soft in
literature, but you're precious hard in life.  Ours won't look at
softness in literature, but we're a deuced sight less hard in
life."

"I don't think it's hard," said Mr. Danby, "only just."

"Are you a judge of justice?"

"I hope so."

"Try four years' hell, and have another go."

"I really don't see the connection.  The experience you've been
through, Mr. Desert, was bound to be warping."

Wilfrid turned and stared at him.

"Forgive my saying so, but sitting here and being just is much more
warping.  Life is pretty good purgatory, to all except about thirty
per cent. of grown-up people."

Mr. Danby smiled.

"We simply couldn't conduct our business, my dear young man,
without scrupulous honesty in everybody.  To make no distinction
between honesty and dishonesty would be quite unfair.  You know
that perfectly well."

"I don't know anything perfectly well, Mr. Danby; and I mistrust
those who say they do."

"Well, let us put it that there are rules of the game which must be
observed, if society is to function at all."

Desert smiled, too:  "Oh! hang rules!  Do it as a favour to me.  I
wrote the rotten book."

No trace of struggle showed in Mr. Danby's face; but his deep-set,
close-together eyes shone a little.

"I should be only too glad, but it's a matter--well, of conscience,
if you like.  I'm not prosecuting the man.  He must leave--that's
all."

Desert shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, good-bye!" and he went out.

On the mat was Michael in two minds.

"Well?"

"No go.  The old blighter's too just."

Michael stivered his hair.

"Wait in my room five minutes while I let the poor beggar know,
then I'll come along."

"No," said Desert, "I'm going the other way."

Not the fact that Wilfrid was going the other way--he almost always
was--but something in the tone of his voice and the look on his
face obsessed Michael's imagination while he went downstairs to
seek Bicket.  Wilfrid was a rum chap--he went "dark" so suddenly!

In the nether regions he asked:

"Bicket gone?"

"No, sir, there he is."

There he was, in his shabby overcoat, with his pale narrow face,
and his disproportionately large eyes, and his sloping shoulders.

"Sorry, Bicket, Mr. Desert has been in, but it's no go."

"No, sir?"

"Keep your pecker up, you'll get something."

"I'm afryde not, sir.  Well, I thank you very 'eartily; and I thank
Mr. Desert.  Good-night, sir; and good-bye!"

Michael watched him down the corridor, saw him waver into the dusky
street.

"Jolly!" he said, and laughed. . . .

The natural suspicions of Michael and his senior partner that a
tale was being pitched were not in fact justified.  Neither the
wife nor the pneumonia had been exaggerated; and wavering away in
the direction of Blackfriars Bridge, Bicket thought not of his
turpitude nor of how just Mr. Danby had been, but of what he should
say to her.  He should not, of course, tell her that he had been
detected in stealing; he must say he had 'got the sack for cheeking
the foreman'; but what would she think of him for doing that, when
everything as it were depended on his not cheeking the foreman?
This was one of those melancholy cases of such affection that he
had been coming to his work day after day feeling as if he had
'left half his guts' behind him in the room where she lay, and when
at last the doctor said to him:

"She'll get on now, but it's left her very run down--you must feed
her up," his anxiety had hardened into a resolution to have no
more.  In the next three weeks he had 'pinched' eighteen 'Copper
Coins,' including the five found in his overcoat.  He had only
'pitched on' Mr. Desert's book because it was 'easy sold,' and he
was sorry now that he hadn't pitched on some one else's.  Mr.
Desert had been very decent.  He stopped at the corner of the
Strand, and went over his money.  With the two pounds given him by
Michael and his wages he had seventy-five shillings in the world,
and going into the Stores he bought a meat jelly and a tin of
Benger's food that could be made with water.  With pockets bulging
he took a 'bus, which dropped him at the corner of his little
street on the Surrey side.  His wife and he occupied the two ground
floor rooms, at eight shillings a week, and he owed for three
weeks.  'Py that!' he thought, 'and have a roof until she's well.'
It would help him over the news, too, to show her a receipt for the
rent and some good food.  How lucky they had been careful to have
no baby!  He sought the basement.  His landlady was doing the
week's washing.  She paused, in sheer surprise at such full and
voluntary payment, and inquired after his wife.

"Doing nicely, thank you."

"Well, I'm glad of that, it must be a relief to your mind."

"It is," said Bicket.

The landlady thought:  'He's a thread-paper--reminds me of a shrimp
before you bile it, with those eyes.'

"Here's your receipt, and thank you.  Sorry to 'ave seemed nervous
about it, but times are 'ard."

"They are," said Bicket.  "So long!"

With the receipt and the meat jelly in his left hand, he opened the
door of his front room.

His wife was sitting before a very little fire.  Her bobbed black
hair, crinkly towards the ends, had grown during her illness; it
shook when she turned her head and smiled.  To Bicket--not for the
first time--that smile seemed queer, 'pathetic-like,' mysterious--
as if she saw things that one didn't see oneself.  Her name was
Victorine, and he said:  "Well, Vic.?  This jelly's a bit of all
right, and I've pyde the rent."  He sat on the arm of the chair and
she put her hand on his knee--her thin arm emerging blue-white from
the dark dressing-gown.

"Well, Tony?"

Her face--thin and pale with those large dark eyes and beautifully
formed eyebrows--was one that "looked at you from somewhere; and
when it looked at you--well! it got you right inside!"

It got him now and he said:  "How've you been breathin'?"

"All right--much better.  I'll soon be out now."

Bicket twisted himself round and joined his lips to hers.  The kiss
lasted some time, because all the feelings which he had not been
able to express during the past three weeks to her or to anybody,
got into it.  He sat up again, "sort of exhausted," staring at the
fire, and said:  "News isn't bright--lost my job, Vic."

"Oh!  Tony!  Why?"

Bicket swallowed.

"Fact is, things are slack, and they're reducin'."

There had surged into his mind the certainty that sooner than tell
her the truth he would put his head under the gas!

"Oh! dear!  What shall we do, then?"

Bicket's voice hardened.

"Don't you worry--I'll get something"; and he whistled.

"But you liked that job."

"Did I?  I liked some o' the fellers; but as for the job--why, what
was it?  Wrappin' books up in a bysement all dy long.  Let's have
something to eat and get to bed early--I feel as if I could sleep
for a week, now I'm shut of it."

Getting their supper ready with her help, he carefully did not look
at her face for fear it might "get him agyne inside!"  They had
only been married a year, having made acquaintance on a tram, and
Bicket often wondered what had made her take to him, eight years
her senior and C3 during the war!  And yet she must be fond of him,
or she'd never look at him as she did.

"Sit down and try this jelly."

He himself ate bread and margarine and drank cocoa, he seldom had
any particular appetite.

"Shall I tell you what I'd like?" he said; "I'd like Central
Austrylia.  We had a book in there about it; they sy there's quite
a movement.  I'd like some sun.  I believe if we 'ad sun we'd both
be twice the size we are.  I'd like to see colour in your cheeks,
Vic."

"How much does it cost to get out there?"

"A lot more than we can ly hands on, that's the trouble.  But I've
been thinkin'.  England's about done.  There's too many like me."

"No," said Victorine; "there aren't enough."

Bicket looked at her face, then quickly at his plate.

"What myde you take a fancy to me?"

"Because you don't think first of yourself, that's why."

"Used to before I knew you.  But I'd do anything for you, Vic."

"Have some of this jelly, then, it's awful good."

Bicket shook his head.

"If we could wyke up in Central Austrylia," he said.  "But there's
only one thing certain, we'll wyke up in this blighted little room.
Never mind, I'll get a job and earn the money yet."

"Could we win it on a race?"

"Well, I've only got forty-seven bob all told, and if we lose it,
where'll you be?  You've got to feed up, you know.  No, I must get
a job."

"They'll give you a good recommend, won't they?"

Bicket rose and stacked his plate and cup.

"They would, but that job's off--overstocked."

Tell her the truth?  Never!  So help him!

In their bed, one of those just too wide for one and just not wide
enough for two, he lay, with her hair almost in his mouth, thinking
what to say to his Union, and how to go to work to get a job.  And
in his thoughts as the hours drew on he burned his boats.  To draw
his unemployment money he would have to tell his Union what the
trouble was.  Blow the Union!  He wasn't going to be accountable to
them!  HE knew why he'd pinched the books; but it was nobody else's
business, nobody else could understand his feelings, watching her
so breathless, pale and thin.  Strike out for himself!  And a
million and a half out o' work!  Well, he had a fortnight's keep,
and something would turn up--and he might risk a bob or two and win
some money, you never knew.  She turned in her sleep.  'Yes,' he
thought, 'I'd do it agyne . . .'

Next day, after some hours on foot, he stood under the grey
easterly sky in the grey street, before a plate-glass window
protecting an assortment of fruits and sheaves of corn, lumps of
metal, and brilliant blue butterflies, in the carefully golden
light of advertised Australia.  To Bicket, who had never been out
of England, not often out of London, it was like standing outside
Paradise.  The atmosphere within the office itself was not so
golden, and the money required considerable; but it brought
Paradise nearer to take away pamphlets which almost burned his
hands, they were so warm.

Later, he and she, sitting in the one armchair--advantage of being
thin--pored over these alchemised pages and inhaled their glamour.

"D'you think it's true, Tony?"

"If it's thirty per cent. true it's good enough for me.  We just
must get there somehow.  Kiss me."

From around the corner in the main road the rumbling of the trams
and carts, and the rattling of their window-pane in the draughty
dry easterly wind increased their feeling of escape into a gas-lit
Paradise.



CHAPTER IX

CONFUSION


Two hours behind Bicket, Michael wavered towards home.  Old Danby
was right as usual--if you couldn't trust your packers, you might
shut up shop!  Away from Bicket's eyes, he doubted.  Perhaps the
chap hadn't a wife at all!  Then Wilfrid's manner usurped the place
of Bicket's morals.  Old Wilfrid had been abrupt and queer the last
three times of meeting.  Was he boiling-up for verse?

He found Ting-a-ling at the foot of the stairs in a conservative
attitude.  "I am not going up," he seemed saying, "until some one
carries me--at the same time it is later than usual!"

"Where's your mistress, you heraldic little beast?"

Ting-a-ling snuffled.  "I could put up with it," he implied, "if
YOU carried me--these stairs are laborious!"

Michael took him up.  "Let's go and find her."

Squeezed under an arm harder than his mistress', Ting-a-ling stared
as if with black-glass eyes; and the plume of his emergent tail
quivered.

In the bedroom Michael dropped him so absent-mindedly that he went
to his corner plume pendent, and couched there in dudgeon.

Nearly dinner time and Fleur not in!  Michael went over his sketchy
recollection of her plans.  To-day she had been having Hubert
Marsland and that Vertiginist--what was his name?--to lunch.  There
would have been fumes to clear off.  Vertiginists--like milk--made
carbonic acid gas in the lungs!  Still!  Half-past seven!  What was
happening to-night?  Weren't they going to that play of L.S.D.'s?
No--that was to-morrow!  Was there conceivably nothing?  If so, of
course she would shorten her unoccupied time as much as possible.
He made that reflection humbly.  Michael had no illusions, he knew
himself to be commonplace, with only a certain redeeming
liveliness, and, of course, his affection for her.  He even
recognised that his affection was a weakness, tempting him to fussy
anxieties, which on principle he restrained.  To enquire, for
instance, of Coaker or Philps--their man and their maid--when she
had gone out, would be thoroughly against that principle.  The
condition of the world was such that Michael constantly wondered if
his own affairs were worth paying attention to; but then the
condition of the world was also such that sometimes one's own
affairs seemed all that were worth paying attention to.  And yet
his affairs were, practically speaking, Fleur; and if he paid too
much attention to them, he was afraid of annoying her.

He went into his dressing-room and undid his waistcoat.

'But no!' he thought; 'if she finds me "dressed" already, it'll put
too much point on it.'  So he did up his waistcoat and went
downstairs again.  Coaker was in the hall.

"Mr. Forsyte and Sir Lawrence looked in about six, sir.  Mrs. Mont
was out.  What time shall I serve dinner?"

"Oh! about a quarter past eight.  I don't think we're going out."

He went into the drawing-room and passing down its Chinese
emptiness, drew aside the curtain.  The square looked cold and dark
and draughty; and he thought:  'Bicket--pneumonia--I hope she's got
her fur coat.'  He took out a cigarette and put it back.  If she
saw him at the window she would think him fussy; and he went up
again to see if she had put on her fur!

Ting-a-ling, still couchant, greeted him plume dansetti arrested as
at disappointment.  Michael opened a wardrobe.  She had!  Good!  He
was taking a sniff round, when Ting-a-ling passed him trottant, and
her voice said:  "Well, my darling!"  Wishing that he was, Michael
emerged from behind the wardrobe door.  Heaven!  She looked pretty,
coloured by the wind!  He stood rather wistfully silent.

"Hallo, Michael!  I'm rather late.  Been to the Club and walked
home."

Michael had a quite unaccountable feeling that there was
suppression in that statement.  He also suppressed, and said:  "I
was just looking to see that you'd got your fur, it's beastly cold.
Your dad and Bart have been and went away fasting."

Fleur shed her coat and dropped into a chair.  "I'm tired.  Your
ears are sticking up so nicely to-night, Michael."

Michael went on his knees and joined his hands behind her waist.
Her eyes had a strange look, a scrutiny which held him in suspense,
a little startled.

"If YOU got pneumonia," he said, "I should go clean out of curl."

"Why on earth should I?"

"You don't know the connection--never mind, it wouldn't interest
you.  We're not going out, are we?"

"Of course we are.  It's Alison's monthly."

"Oh!  Lord!  If you're tired we could cut that."

"My dear!  Impos.!  She's got all sorts of people coming."

Stifling a disparagement, he sighed out:  "Right-o!  War-paint?"

"Yes, white waistcoat.  I like you in white waistcoats."

Cunning little wretch?  He squeezed her waist and rose.  Fleur laid
a light stroke on his hand, and he went into his dressing-room
comforted. . . .

But Fleur sat still for at least five minutes--not precisely 'a
prey to conflicting emotions,' but the victim of very considerable
confusion.  TWO men within the last hour had done this thing--knelt
at her knees and joined their fingers behind her waist.  Undoubtedly
she had been rash to go to Wilfrid's rooms.  The moment she got
there she had perceived how entirely unprepared she really was to
commit herself to what was physical.  True he had done no more than
Michael.  But--Goodness!--she had seen the fire she was playing
with, realised what torment he was in.  She had strictly forbidden
him to say a word to Michael, but intuitively she knew that in his
struggle between loyalties she could rely on nothing. Confused,
startled, touched, she could not help a pleasant warmth in being so
much loved by two men at once, nor an itch of curiosity about the
upshot.  And she sighed.  She had added to her collection of
experiences--but how to add further without breaking up the
collection, and even perhaps the collector, she could not see.

After her words to Wilfrid before the Eve:  "You will be a fool to
go--wait!" she had known he would expect something before long.
Often he had asked her to come and pass judgment on his 'junk.'  A
month, even a week, ago she would have gone without thinking more
than twice about it, and discussed his 'junk' with Michael
afterwards!  But now she thought it over many times, and but for
the fumes of lunch, and the feeling, engendered by the society of
the 'Vertiginist,' of Amabel Nazing, of Linda Frewe, that scruples
of any kind were 'stuffy,' sensations of all sorts 'the thing,' she
would probably still have been thinking it over now.  When they
departed, she had taken a deep breath and her telephone receiver
from the Chinese tea chest.

If Wilfrid were going to be in at half-past five, she would come
and see his 'junk.'

His answer:  "My God!  Will you?" almost gave her pause.  But
dismissing hesitation with the thought:  'I WILL be Parisian--
Proust!' she had started for her Club.  Three-quarters of an hour,
with no more stimulant than three cups of China tea, three back
numbers of the 'Glass of Fashion,' three back views of country
members 'dead in chairs,' had sent her forth a careful quarter of
an hour behind her time.

On the top floor Wilfrid was standing in his open doorway, pale as
a soul in purgatory.  He took her hand gently, and drew her in.
Fleur thought with a little thrill:  'Is this what it's like?  Du
cote de chez Swann!'  Freeing her hand, she began at once to
flutter round the 'junk,' clinging to it piece by piece.

Old English 'junk' rather manorial, with here and there an eastern
or First Empire bit, collected by some bygone Desert, nomadic, or
attached to the French court.  She was afraid to sit down, for fear
that he might begin to follow the authorities; nor did she want to
resume the intense talk of the Tate Gallery.  'Junk' was safe, and
she only looked at him in those brief intervals when he was not
looking at her.  She knew she was not playing the game according to
'La Garconne' and Amabel Nazing; that, indeed, she was in danger of
going away without having added to her sensations.  And she
couldn't help being sorry for Wilfrid; his eyes yearned after her,
his lips were bitter to look at.  When at last from sheer
exhaustion of 'junk' she sat down, he had flung himself at her
feet.  Half hypnotised, with her knees against his chest, as safe
as she could hope for, she really felt the tragedy of it--his
horror of himself, his passion for herself.  It was painful, deep;
it did not fit in with what she had been led to expect; it was not
in the period, and how--how was she to get away without more pain
to him and to herself?  When she HAD got away, with one kiss
received but not answered, she realised that she had passed through
a quarter of an hour of real life, and was not at all sure that she
liked it. . . .  But now, safe in her own room, undressing for
Alison's monthly, she felt curious as to what she would have been
feeling if things had gone as far as was proper according to the
authorities.  Surely she had not experienced one-tenth of the
thoughts or sensations that would have been assigned to her in any
advanced piece of literature!  It had been disillusioning, or else
she was deficient, and Fleur, could not bear to feel deficient.
And, lightly powdering her shoulders, she bent her thoughts towards
Alison's monthly.

               *     *     *     *     *     *

Though Lady Alison enjoyed an occasional encounter with the younger
generation, the Aubrey Greenes and Linda Frewes of this life were
not conspicuous by their presence at her gatherings.  Nesta Gorse,
indeed, had once attended, but one legal and two literary politicos
who had been in contact with her, had complained of it afterwards.
She had, it seemed, rent little spiked holes in the garments of
their self-esteem.  Sibley Swan would have been welcome, for his
championship of the past, but he seemed, so far, to have turned up
his nose and looked down it.  So it was not the intelligentsia, but
just intellectual society, which was gathered there when Fleur and
Michael entered, and the conversation had all the sparkle and all
the 'savoir faire' incidental to talk about art and letters by
those who--as Michael put it--"fortunately had not to faire"

"All the same, these are the guys," he muttered in Fleur's ear,
"who make the names of artists and writers.  What's the stunt, to-
night?"

It appeared to be the London debut of a lady who sang Balkan folk
songs.  But in a refuge to the right were four tables set out for
bridge.  They were already filled.  Among those who still stood
listening, were, here and there, a Gurdon Minho, a society painter
and his wife, a sculptor looking for a job.  Fleur, wedged between
Lady Feynte, the painter's wife, and Gurdon Minho himself, began
planning an evasion.  There--yes, there was Mr. Chalfont!  At Lady
Alison's, Fleur, an excellent judge of 'milieu' never wasted her
time on artists and writers--she could meet THEM anywhere.  Here
she intuitively picked out the biggest 'bug,' politico-literary,
and waited to pin him.  Absorbed in the idea of pinning Mr.
Chalfont, she overlooked a piece of drama passing without.

Michael had clung to the top of the stairway, in no mood for talk
and skirmish; and, leaning against the balustrade, wasp-thin in his
long white waistcoat, with hands deep thrust into his trousers'
pockets, he watched the turns and twists of Fleur's white neck, and
listened to the Balkan songs, with a sort of blankness in his
brain.  The word:  "Mont!" startled him.  Wilfrid was standing just
below.  Mont?  He had not been that to Wilfrid for two years!

"Come down here."

On that half-landing was a bust of Lionel Charwell, K.C., by Boris
Strumolowski, in the genre he had cynically adopted when June
Forsyte gave up supporting his authentic but unrewarded genius.  It
had been almost indistinguishable from any of the other busts in
that year's Academy, and was used by the young Charwells to chalk
moustaches on.

Beside this object Desert leaned against the wall with his eyes
closed.  His face was a study to Michael.

"What's wrong, Wilfrid?"

Desert did not move.  "You've got to know--I'm in love with Fleur."

"What!"

"I'm not going to play the snake.  You're up against me.  Sorry,
but there it is!  You can let fly!"  His face was death-pale, and
its muscles twitched.  In Michael, it was the mind, the heart that
twitched.  What a very horrible, strange, "too beastly" moment!
His best friend--his best man!  Instinctively he dived for his
cigarette case--instinctively handed it to Desert.  Instinctively
they both took cigarettes, and lighted each other's.  Then Michael
said:

"Fleur--knows?"

Desert nodded:  "She doesn't know I'm telling you--wouldn't have
let me.  You've nothing against her--yet."  And, still with closed
eyes, he added:  "I couldn't help it."

It was Michael's own subconscious thought!  Natural!  Natural!
Fool not to see how natural!  Then something shut-to within him,
and he said:  "Decent of you to tell me; but--aren't you going to
clear out?"

Desert's shoulders writhed against the wall.

"I thought so; but it seems not."

"Seems?  I don't understand."

"If I knew for certain I'd no chance--but I don't," and he suddenly
looked at Michael:  "Look here, it's no good keeping gloves on.
I'm desperate, and I'll take her from you if I can."

"Good God!" said Michael.  "It's the limit!"

"Yes!  Rub it in!  But, I tell you, when I think of you going home
with her, and of myself," he gave a dreadful little laugh, "I
advise you NOT to rub it in."

"Well," said Michael, "as this isn't a Dostoievsky novel, I suppose
there's no more to be said."

Desert moved from the wall and laid his hand on the bust of Lionel
Charwell.

"You realise, at least, that I've gone out of my way--perhaps
dished myself--by telling you.  I've not bombed without declaring
war."

"No," said Michael dully.

"You can chuck my books over to some other publisher." Michael
shrugged.

"Good-night, then," said Desert.  "Sorry for being so primitive."

Michael looked straight into his 'best man's' face.  There was no
mistaking its expression of bitter despair.  He made a half-
movement with his hand, uttered half the word "Wilfrid," and, as
Desert went down, he went upstairs.

Back in his place against the balustrade, he tried to realise that
life was a laughing matter, and couldn't.  His position required a
serpent's cunning, a lion's courage, a dove's gentleness: he was
not conscious of possessing such proverbial qualities.  If Fleur
had loved him as he loved her, he would have had for Wilfrid a real
compassion.  It was so natural to fall in love with Fleur!  But she
didn't--oh! no, she didn't!  Michael had one virtue--if virtue it
be--a moderate opinion of himself, a disposition to think highly of
his friends.  He had thought highly of Desert; and--odd!--he still
did not think lowly of him.  Here was his friend trying to do him
mortal injury, to alienate the affection--more honestly, the
toleration--of his wife; and yet he did not think him a cad.  Such
leniency, he knew, was hopeless; but the doctrines of free-will,
and free contract, were not to him mere literary conceptions, they
were part of his nature.  To apply duress, however desirable, would
not be on his cards.  And something like despair ravaged the heart
of him, watching Fleur's ingratiating little tricks with the great
Gerald Chalfont.  If she left him for Wilfrid!  But surely--no--her
father, her house, her dog, her friends, her--her collection of--
of--she would not--could not give THEM up?  But suppose she kept
everything, Wilfrid included!  No, no!  She wouldn't!  Only for a
second did that possibility blur the natural loyalty of his mind.

Well, what to do?  Tell her--talk the thing out?  Or wait and
watch?  For what?  Without deliberate spying, he could not watch.
Desert would come to their house no more.  No!  Either complete
frankness; or complete ignoring--and that meant living with the
sword of Damocles above his head!  No!  Complete frankness!  And
not do anything that seemed like laying a trap!  He passed his hand
across a forehead that was wet.  If only they were at home, away
from that squalling and these cultivated jackanapes!  Could he go
in and hook her out?  Impossible without some reason!  Only his
brain-storm for a reason!  He must just bite on it.  The singing
ceased.  Fleur was looking round.  Now she would beckon!  On the
contrary, she came towards him.  He could not help the cynical
thought:  'She's hooked old Chalfont!'  He loved her, but he knew
her little weaknesses.  She came up and took hold of his sleeve.

"I've had enough, Michael, let's slip off; d'you mind?"

"Quick!" he said, "before they spot us!"

In the cold air outside he thought:  'Now?  Or in her room?'

"I think," said Fleur, "that Mr. Chalfont is overrated--he's
nothing but a mental yawn.  He's coming to lunch to-morrow week."

Not now--in her room!

"Whom do you think to meet him, besides Alison?"

"Nothing jazzy."

"Of course not; but it must be somebody intriguing, Michael.
Bother! sometimes I think it isn't worth it."

Michael's heart stood still.  Was that a portent--sign of 'the
primitive' rising within his adored practitioner of social arts?
An hour ago he would have said:

"You're right, my child; it jolly well isn't!"  But now--any sign
of change was ominous!  He slipped his arm in hers.

"Don't worry, we'll snare the just-right cuckoos, somehow."

"A Chinese Minister would be perfect," mused Fleur, "with Minho and
Bart--four men--two women--cosy.  I'll talk to Bart."

Michael had opened their front door.  She passed him; he lingered
to see the stars, the plane trees, a man's figure motionless,
collared to the eyes, hatted down to them.  'Wilfrid!' he thought:
'Spain!  Why Spain?  And all poor devils who are in distress--the
heart--oh! darn the heart!'  He closed the door.

But soon he had another to open, and never with less enthusiasm.
Fleur was sitting on the arm of a chair, in the dim lavender
pyjamas she sometimes wore just to keep in with things, staring at
the fire.  Michael stood, looking at her and at his own reflection
beyond in one of the five mirrors--white and black, the pierrot
pyjamas she had bought him.  'Figures in a play,' he thought,
'figures in a play!  Is it real?'  He moved forward and sat on the
chair's other arm.

"Hang it!" he muttered.  "Wish I were Antinous!"  And he slipped
from the arm into the chair, to be behind her face, if she wanted
to hide it from him.

"Wilfrid's been telling me," he said, quietly.

Off his chest!  What now?  He saw the blood come flushing into her
neck and cheek.

"Oh!  What business--how do you mean 'telling you'?"

"Just that he's in love with you--nothing more--there's nothing
more to tell, is there?"  And drawing his feet up on to the chair,
he clasped his hands hard round his knees.  Already--already he had
asked a question!  Bite on it!  Bite on it!  And he shut his eyes.

"Of course," said Fleur, very slowly, "there's nothing more.  If
Wilfrid chooses to be so silly."

Chooses!  The word seemed unjust to one whose own 'silliness' was
so recent--so enduring!  And--curious! his heart wouldn't bound.
Surely it ought to have bounded at her words!

"Is that the end of Wilfrid, then?"

"The end?  I don't know."

Ah!  Who knew anything--when passion was about?

"Well," he said, holding himself hard together, "don't forget I
love you awfully!"

He saw her eyelids flicker, her shoulders shrugging.

"Am I likely to?"

Bitter, cordial, simple--which?  Suddenly her hands came round and
took him by the ears.  Holding them fast she looked down at him,
and laughed.  And again his heart WOULD not bound.  If she did not
lead him by the nose, she--!  But he clutched her to him in the
chair.  Lavender and white and black confused--she returned his
kiss.  But from the heart? Who knew?  Not Michael.



CHAPTER X

PASSING OF A SPORTSMAN


Soames, disappointed of his daughter, said:  "I'll wait," and took
his seat in the centre of the jade green settee, oblivious of Ting-
a-ling before the fire, sleeping off the attentions of Amabel
Nazing, who had found him 'just too cunning.'  Grey and composed,
with one knee over the other, and a line between his eyes, he
thought of Elderson and the condition of the world, and of how
there was always something.  And the more he thought, the more he
wondered why he had ever been such a flat as to go on to a Board
which had anything to do with foreign contracts.  All the old
wisdom that in the nineteenth century had consolidated British
wealth, all the Forsyte philosophy of attending to one's own
business, and taking no risks, the close-fibred national
individualism which refused to commit the country to chasing this
wild goose or that, held within him silent demonstration.  Britain
was on the wrong tack politically to try and influence the
Continent, and the P.P.R.S. on the wrong tack monetarily to insure
business outside Britain.  The special instinct of his breed
yearned for resumption of the straight and private path.  Never
meddle with what you couldn't control!  'Old Mont' had said:  "Keep
the ring!"  Nothing of the sort:  Mind one's own business!  That
was the real 'formula.'  He became conscious of his calf--Ting-a-
ling was sniffing at his trousers.

"Oh!" said Soames.  "It's you!"

Placing his forepaws against the settee, Ting-a-ling licked the
air.

"Pick you up?" said Soames.  "You're too long."  And again he felt
that faint warmth of being liked.

'There's something about me that appeals to him,' he thought,
taking him by the scruff and lifting him on to a cushion.  "You and
I," the little dog seemed saying with his stare--Chinese little
object!  The Chinese knew what they were about, they had minded
their own business for five thousand years!

'I shall resign,' thought Soames.  But what about Winifred, and
Imogen, and some of the Rogers and Nicholases who had been putting
money into this thing because he was a director?  He wished they
wouldn't follow him like a lot of sheep!  He rose from the settee.
It was no good waiting, he would walk on to Green Street and talk
to Winifred at once.  She would have to sell again, though the
shares had dropped a bit.  And without taking leave of Ting-a-ling,
he went out.

All this last year he had almost enjoyed life.  Having somewhere to
come and sit and receive a certain sympathy once at least a week,
as in old days at Timothy's, was of incalculable advantage to his
spirit.  In going from home Fleur had taken most of his heart with
her; but Soames had found it almost an advantage to visit his heart
once a week rather than to have it always about.  There were other
reasons conducing to light-heartedness.  That diabolical foreign
chap, Prosper Profond, had long been gone he didn't know where, and
his wife had been decidedly less restive and sarcastic ever since.
She had taken up a thing they called Coue, and grown stouter.  She
used the car a great deal.  Altogether she was more domestic.
Then, too, he had become reconciled to Gauguin--a little slump in
that painter had convinced him that he was still worth attention,
and he had bought three more.  Gauguin would rise again!  Soames
almost regretted his intuition of that second coming, for he had
quite taken to the chap.  His colour, once you got used to it, was
very attractive.  One picture, especially, which meant nothing so
far as he could see, had a way of making you keep your eyes on it.
He even felt uneasy when he thought of having to part with the
thing at an enhanced price.  But, most of all, he had been feeling
so well, enjoying a recrudescence of youth in regard to Annette,
taking more pleasure in what he ate, while his mind dwelt almost
complacently on the state of money.  The pound going up in value;
Labour quiet!  And now they had got rid of that Jack-o'-lantern,
they might look for some years of solid Conservative administration.
And to think, as he did, stepping across St. James' Park towards
Green Street, that he had gone and put his foot into a concern which
he could not control, made him feel--well, as if the devil had been
in it!

In Piccadilly he moused along on the Park side, taking his
customary look up at the 'Iseeum' Club.  The curtains were drawn,
and chinks of light glowed, long and cosy.  And that reminded him--
some one had said George Forsyte was ill.  Certainly he had not
seen him in the bay window for months past.  Well, George had
always eaten and drunk too much.  He crossed over and passed
beneath the Club; and a sudden feeling--he didn't know what--a
longing for his own past, a sort of nostalgia--made him stop and
mount the steps.

"Mr. George Forsyte in the Club?"

The janitor stared, a grey-haired, long-faced chap, whom he had
known from away back in the 'eighties.

"Mr. Forsyte, sir," he said, "is very ill indeed.  They say he
won't recover, sir."

"What?" said Soames.  "Nobody told me that."

"He's very bad--VERY bad indeed.  It's the heart."

"The heart!  Where is he?"

"At his rooms, sir; just round the corner.  They say the doctors
have given him up.  He WILL be missed here.  Forty years I've known
him.  One of the old school, and a wonderful judge of wine and
horses.  We none of us last for ever, they say, but I never thought
to see HIM out.  Bit too full-blooded, sir, and that's a fact."

With a slight shock Soames realised that he had never known where
George lived, so utterly anchored had he seemed to that bay window
above.

"Just give me the number of his rooms," he said.

"Belville Row--No. 11, sir; I'm sure I hope you'll find him better.
I shall miss his jokes--I shall, indeed."

Turning the corner into Belville Row, Soames made a rapid
calculation.  George was sixty-six, only one year younger than
himself!  If George was really in extremis it would be quite
unnatural!  'Comes of not leading a careful life,' he thought;
'always rackety--George!  When was it I made his will?'  So far as
he remembered, George had left his money to his brothers and
sisters--no one else to leave it to.  The feeling of kinship
stirred in Soames, the instinct of family adjustment.  George and
he had never got on--opposite poles of temperament--still he would
have to be buried, and who would see to it if not Soames, who had
seen to so many Forsyte burials in his time?  He recalled the
nickname George had once given him, 'the undertaker!'  H'm!  Here
was poetical justice!  Belville Row!  Ah!  No. 11--regular
bachelor-looking place!  And putting his hand up to the bell, he
thought:  'Women!'  What had George done about women all his life?

His ring was answered by a man in a black cut-away coat with a
certain speechless reticence.

"My cousin, Mr. George Forsyte?  How is he?"

The man compressed his lips.

"Not expected to last the night, sir."

Soames felt a little clutch beneath his Jaeger vest.

"Conscious?"

"Yes, sir."

"Could you show him my card?  He might possibly like to see me."

"Will you wait in here, sir?"  Soames passed into a low room
panelled up to the level of a man's chest, and above that line
decorated with prints.  George--a collector!  Soames had never
supposed he had it in him!  On those walls, wherever the eye roved,
were prints coloured and uncoloured, old and new, depicting the
sports of racing and prize-fighting!  Hardly an inch of the red
wall space visible!  About to examine them for marks of value,
Soames saw that he was not alone.  A woman--age uncertain in the
shaded light--was sitting in a very high-backed chair before the
fire with her elbow on the arm of it, and a handkerchief held to
her face.  Soames looked at her, and his nostrils moved in a
stealthy sniff.  'Not a lady,' he thought.  'Ten to one but
there'll be complications.'  The muffled voice of the cut-away man
said:

"I'm to take you in, sir."  Soames passed his hand over his face
and followed.

The bedroom he now entered was in curious contrast.  The whole of
one wall was occupied by an immense piece of furniture, all
cupboards and drawers.  Otherwise there was nothing in the room but
a dressing-table with silver accoutrements, an electric radiator
alight in the fireplace, and a bed opposite.  Over the fireplace
was a single picture, at which Soames glanced mechanically.  What!
Chinese!  A large whitish sidelong monkey, holding the rind of a
squeezed fruit in its outstretched paw.  Its whiskered face looked
back at him with brown, almost human eyes.  What on earth had made
his inartistic cousin buy a thing like that and put it up to face
his bed?  He turned and looked at the bed's occupant.  "The only
sportsman of the lot," as Montague Dartie in his prime had called
him, lay with his swollen form outlined beneath a thin quilt.  It
gave Soames quite a turn to see that familiar beef-coloured face
pale and puffy as a moon, with dark corrugated circles round eyes
which still had their japing stare.  A voice, hoarse and subdued,
but with the old Forsyte timbre, said:

"Hallo, Soames!  Come to measure me for my coffin?"

Soames put the suggestion away with a movement of his hand; he felt
queer looking at that travesty of George.  They had never got on,
but--!

And in his flat, unemotional voice he said:

"Well, George!  You'll pick up yet.  You're no age.  Is there
anything I can do for you?"

A grin twitched George's pallid lips.

"Make me a codicil.  You'll find paper in the dressing table
drawer."

Soames took out a sheet of 'Iseeum' Club notepaper.  Standing at
the table, he inscribed the opening words of a codicil with his
stylographic pen, and looked round at George.  The words came with
a hoarse relish.

"My three screws to young Val Dartie, because he's the only Forsyte
that knows a horse from a donkey."  A throaty chuckle sounded
ghastly in the ears of Soames.  "What have you said?"

Soames read:  "I hereby leave my three racehorses to my kinsman,
Valerius Dartie, of Wansdon, Sussex, because he has special
knowledge of horses."

Again the throaty chuckle.  "You're a dry file, Soames.  Go on.  To
Milly Moyle, of 12, Claremont Grove, twelve thousand pounds, free
of legacy duty."

Soames paused on the verge of a whistle.

The woman in the next room!

The japing in George's eyes had turned to brooding gloom.

"It's a lot of money," Soames could not help saying.

George made a faint choleric sound.

"Write it down, or I'll leave her the lot."

Soames wrote.  "Is that all?"

"Yes.  Read it!"

Soames read.  Again he heard that throaty chuckle.  "That's a pill.
You won't let THAT into the papers.  Get that chap in, and you and
he can witness."

Before Soames reached the door, it was opened and the man himself
came in.

"The--er--vicar, sir," he said in a deprecating voice, "has called.
He wants to know if you would like to see him."

George turned his face, his fleshy grey eyes rolled.

"Give him my compliments," he said, "and say I'll see him at the
funeral."

With a bow the man went out, and there was silence.

"Now," said George, "get him in again.  I don't know when the
flag'll fall."

Soames beckoned the man in.  When the codicil was signed and the
man gone, George spoke:

"Take it, and see she gets it.  I can trust you, that's one thing
about you, Soames."

Soames pocketed the codicil with a very queer sensation.

"Would you like to see her again?" he said.

George stared up at him a long time before he answered.

"No.  What's the good?  Give me a cigar from that drawer."

Soames opened the drawer.

"Ought you?" he said.

George grinned.  "Never in my life done what I ought; not going to
begin now.  Cut it for me."

Soames nipped the end of the cigar.  'Shan't give him a match,' he
thought.  'Can't take the responsibility.'  But George did not ask
for a match.  He lay quite still, the unlighted cigar between his
pale lips, the curved lids down over his eyes.

"Good-bye," he said, "I'm going to have a snooze."

"Good-bye," said Soames.  "I--I hope--you--you'll soon--"

George reopened his eyes--fixed, sad, jesting, they seemed to
quench the shams of hope and consolation.  Soames turned hastily
and went out.  He felt bad, and almost unconsciously turned again
into the sitting-room.  The woman was still in the same attitude;
the same florid scent was in the air.  Soames took up the umbrella
he had left there, and went out.

"This is my telephone number," he said to the servant waiting in
the corridor; "let me know."

The man bowed.

Soames turned out of Belville Row.  Never had he left George's
presence without the sense of being laughed at.  Had he been
laughed at now?  Was that codicil George's last joke?  If he had
not gone in this afternoon, would George ever have made it, leaving
a third of his property away from his family to that florid woman
in the high-backed chair?  Soames was beset by a sense of mystery.
How could a man joke at death's door?  It was, in a way, heroic.
Where would he be buried?  Somebody would know--Francie or Eustace.
And what would they think when they came to know about that woman
in the chair--twelve thousand pounds!  'If I can get hold of that
white monkey, I will,' he thought suddenly.  'It's a good thing.'
The monkey's eyes, the squeezed-out fruit--was life all a bitter
jest and George deeper than himself?  He rang the Green Street
bell.

Mrs. Dartie was very sorry, but Mrs. Cardigan had called for her to
dine and make a fourth at the play.

Soames went in to dinner alone.  At the polished board below which
Montague Dartie had now and again slipped, if not quite slept, he
dined and brooded.  "I can trust you, that's one thing about you,
Soames."  The words flattered and yet stung him.  The depths of
that sardonic joke!  To give him a family shock and trust him to
carry the shock out!  George had never cared twelve thousand pounds
for a woman who smelled of patchouli.  No!  It was a final gibe at
his family, the Forsytes, at Soames himself!  Well! one by one
those who had injured or gibed at him--Irene, Bosinney, old and
young Jolyon, and now George, had met their fates.  Dead, dying, or
in British Columbia!  He saw again his cousin's eyes above that
unlighted cigar, fixed, sad, jesting--poor devil!  He got up from
the table, and nervously drew aside the curtains.  The night was
fine and cold.  What happened to one--after?  George used to say
that he had been Charles the Second's cook in a former existence!
But reincarnation was all nonsense, weak-minded theorising!  Still,
one would be glad to hold on if one could, after one was gone.
Hold on, and be near Fleur!  What noise was that?  Gramophone going
in the kitchen!  When the cat was away, the mice--!  People were
all alike--take what they could get, and give as little as they
could for it.  Well! he would smoke a cigarette.  Lighting it at a
candle--Winifred dined by candle-light, it was the 'mode' again--he
thought:  'Has he still got that cigar between his teeth?'  A funny
fellow, George--all his days a funny fellow!  He watched a ring of
smoke he had made without intending to--very blue, he never
inhaled!  Yes!  George had lived too fast, or he would not have
been dying twenty years before his lime--too fast!  Well, there it
was, and he wished he had a cat to talk to!  He took a little
monster off the mantelboard.  Picked up by his nephew Benedict in
an Eastern bazaar the year after the War, it had green eyes--'Not
emeralds,' thought Soames, 'some cheap stone!'

"The telephone for you, sir."

He went into the hall and took up the receiver.

"Yes?"

"Mr. Forsyte has passed away, sir--in his sleep, the doctor says."

"Oh!" said Soames:  "Had he a cig--?  Many thanks."  He hung up the
receiver.

Passed away!  And, with a nervous movement, he felt for the codicil
in his breast pocket.



CHAPTER XI

VENTURE


For a week Bicket had seen 'the job,' slippery as an eel, evasive
as a swallow, for ever passing out of reach.  A pound for keep, and
three shillings invested on a horse, and he was down to twenty-four
bob.  The weather had turned sou'-westerly and Victorine had gone
out for the first time.  That was something off his mind, but the
cramp of the unemployed sensation, that fearful craving for the
means of mere existence, a protesting, agonising anxiety, was
biting into the very flesh of his spirit.  If he didn't get a job
within a week or two, there would be nothing for it but the
workhouse, or the gas.  'The gas,' thought Bicket, 'if she will, I
will.  I'm fed up.  After all, what is it?  In her arms I wouldn't
mind.'  Instinct, however, that it was not so easy as all that to
put one's head under the gas, gave him a brainwave that Monday
night.  Balloons--that chap in Oxford Street to-day!  Why not?  He
still had the capital for a flutter in them, and no hawker's
licence needed.  His brain, working like a squirrel in the small
hours, grasped the great, the incalculable advantage of coloured
balloons over all other forms of commerce.  You couldn't miss the
man who sold them--there he was for every eye to see, with his many
radiant circumferences dangling in front of him!  Not much profit
in them, he had gathered--a penny on a sixpenny globe of coloured
air, a penny on every three small twopenny globes; still their
salesman was alive, and probably had pitched him a poor tale for
fear of making his profession seem too attractive.  Over the
Bridge, just where the traffic--no, up by St. Paul's!  He knew a
passage where he could stand back a yard or two, like that chap in
Oxford Street!  But to the girl sleeping beside him he said
nothing.  No word to her till he had thrown the die.  It meant
gambling with his last penny.  For a bare living he would have to
sell--why, three dozen big and four dozen small balloons a day
would only be twenty-six shillings a week profit, unless that chap
was kidding.  Not much towards 'Austrylia' out of that!  And not a
career--Victorine would have a shock!  But it was neck or nothing
now--he must try it, and in off hours go on looking for a job.

Our thin capitalist, then, with four dozen big and seven dozen
small on a tray, two shillings in his pocket, and little in his
stomach, took his stand off St. Paul's at two o'clock next day.
Slowly he blew up and tied the necks of two large and three small,
magenta, green and blue, till they dangled before him.  Then with
the smell of rubber in his nostrils, and protruding eyes, he stood
back on the kerb and watched the stream go by.  It gratified him to
see that most people turned to look at him.  But the first person
to address him was a policeman, with:

"I'm not sure you can stand there."

Bicket did not answer, his throat felt too dry.  He had heard of
the police.  Had he gone the wrong way to work?  Suddenly he
gulped, and said:  "Give us a chance, constable; I'm right on my
bones.  If I'm in the way, I'll stand anywhere you like.  This is
new to me, and two bob's all I've got left in the world besides a
wife."

The constable, a big man, looked him up and down.  "Well, we'll
see.  I shan't make trouble for you if no one objects."

Bicket's gaze deepened thankfully.

"I'm much obliged," he said; "tyke one for your little girl--to
please me."

"I'll buy one," said the policeman, "and give you a start.  I go
off duty in an hour, you 'ave it ready--a big one, magenta."

He moved away.  Bicket could see him watching.  Edging into the
gutter, he stood quite still; his large eyes clung to every face
that passed; and, now and then, his thin fingers nervously touched
his wares.  If Victorine could see him!  All the spirit within him
mounted.  By Golly! he would get out of this somehow into the sun,
into a life that was a life!

He had been standing there nearly two hours, shifting from foot to
unaccustomed foot, and had sold four big and five small--sixpenny
worth of profit--when Soames, who had changed his route to spite
those fellows who couldn't get past William Gouldyng Ingerer, came
by on his way to the P.P.R.S. board.  Startled by a timid murmur:
"Balloon, sir, best quality," he looked round from that
contemplation of St. Paul's which had been his lifelong habit, and
stopped in sheer surprise.

"Balloon!" he said.  "What should I want with a balloon?"

Bicket smiled.  Between those green and blue and orange globes and
Soames' grey self-containment there was incongruity which even he
could appreciate.

"Children like 'em--no weight, sir, waistcoat pocket."

"I daresay," said Soames, "but I've no children."

"Grandchildren, sir."

"Nor any grandchildren."

"Thank you, sir."

Soames gave him one of those rapid glances with which he was
accustomed to gauge the character of the impecunious.  'A poor,
harmless little rat!' he thought "Here, give me two--how much?"

"A shilling, sir, and much obliged."

"You can keep the change," said Soames hurriedly, and passed on,
astonished.  Why on earth he had bought the things, and for more
than double their price, he could not conceive.  He did not
recollect such a thing having happened to him before.  Extremely
peculiar!  And suddenly he realised why.  The fellow had been
humble, mild--to be encouraged, in these days of Communistic
bravura.  After all, the little chap was--was on the side of
Capital, had invested in those balloons!  Trade!  And, raising his
eyes towards St. Paul's again, he stuffed the nasty-feeling things
down into his overcoat pocket.  Somebody would be taking them out,
and wondering what was the matter with him!  Well, he had other
things to think of! . . .

Bicket, however, stared after him, elated.  Two hundred and fifty
odd per cent. profit on those two--that was something like.  The
feeling, that not enough women were passing him here, became less
poignant--after all, women knew the value of money, no extra
shillings out of them!  If only some more of these shiny-hatted old
millionaires would come along!

At six o'clock, with a profit of three and eightpence, to which
Soames had contributed just half, he began to add the sighs of
deflating balloons to his own; untying them with passionate care he
watched his coloured hopes one by one collapse, and stored them in
the drawer of his tray.  Taking it under his arm, he moved his
tired legs in the direction of the Bridge.  In a full day he might
make four to five shillings--Well, it would just keep them alive,
and something might turn up!  He was his own master, anyway,
accountable neither to employer nor to union.  That knowledge gave
him a curious lightness inside, together with the fact that he had
eaten nothing since breakfast.

'Wonder if he was an alderman,' he thought; 'they say those
aldermen live on turtle soup.'  Nearing home, he considered
nervously what to do with the tray?  How prevent Victorine from
knowing that he had joined the ranks of Capital, and spent his day
in the gutter?  Ill luck!  She was at the window!  He must put a
good face on it.  And he went in whistling.

"What's that, Tony?" she said, pointing to the tray.

"Ah! ha!  Great stunt--this!  Look 'ere!"

Taking a balloon out from the tray, he blew.  He blew with a
desperation he had not yet put into the process.  They said the
things would swell to five feet in circumference.  He felt somehow
that if he could get it to attain those proportions, it would
soften everything.  Under his breath the thing blotted out
Victorine, and the room, till there was just the globe of coloured
air.  Nipping its neck between thumb and finger, he held it up, and
said:

"There you are; not bad value for sixpence, old girl!" and he
peered round it.  Lord, she was crying!  He let the 'blymed' thing
go; it floated down, the air slowly evaporating till a little
crinkled wreck rested on the dingy carpet.  Clasping her heaving
shoulders, he said desperately:

"Cheerio, my dear, don't quarrel with bread and butter.  I shall
get a job, this is just to tide us over.  I'd do a lot worse than
that for you.  Come on, and get my tea, I'm hungry, blowin' up
those things."

She stopped crying, looked up, said nothing--mysterious with those
big eyes!  You'd say she had thoughts!  But what they were Bicket
could not tell.  Under the stimulus of tea, he achieved a certain
bravado about his new profession.  To be your own master!  Go out
when you liked, come home when you liked--lie in bed with Vic if he
jolly well pleased.  A lot in that!  And there rose in Bicket
something truly national, something free and happy-go-lucky,
resenting regular work, enjoying a spurt, and a laze-off, craving
independence--something that accounted for the national life, the
crowds of little shops, of middlemen, casual workers, tramps,
owning their own souls in their own good time, and damning the
consequences--something inherent in the land, the race, before the
Saxons and their conscience and their industry came in--something
that believed in swelling and collapsing coloured air, demanded
pickles and high flavours without nourishment--yes, all that
something exulted above Bicket's kipper and his tea, good and
strong.  He would rather sell balloons than be a packer any day,
and don't let Vic forget it!  And when she was able to take a job,
they would get on fine, and not be long before they'd saved enough
to get out of it to where those blue butterflies came from.  And he
spoke of Soames.  A few more aldermen without children--say two a
day, fifteen bob a week outside legitimate trade.  Why, in under a
year they'd have the money!  And once away, Vic would blow out like
one of those balloons; she'd be twice the size, and a colour in her
cheeks to lay over that orange and magenta.  Bicket became full of
air.  And the girl, his wife, watched with her large eyes and spoke
little; but she did not cry again, or, indeed, throw any water,
warm or cold, on him who sold balloons.



CHAPTER XII

FIGURES AND FACTS


With the exception of old Fontenoy--in absence as in presence
ornamental--the Board was again full; Soames, conscious of special
ingratiation in the manner of 'that chap' Elderson, prepared
himself for the worst.  The figures were before them; a somewhat
colourless show, appearing to disclose a state of things which
would pass muster, if within the next six months there were no
further violent disturbances of currency exchange.  The proportion
of foreign business to home business was duly expressed in terms of
two to seven; German business, which constituted the bulk of the
foreign, had been lumped--Soames noted--in the middle section, of
countries only half bankrupt, and taken at what might be called a
conservative estimate.

During the silence which reigned while each member of the Board
digested the figures, Soames perceived more clearly than ever the
quandary he was in.  Certainly, these figures would hardly justify
the foregoing of the dividend earned on the past year's business.
But suppose there were another Continental crash and they became
liable on the great bulk of their foreign business, it might swamp
all profits on home business next year, and more besides.  And then
his uneasiness about Elderson himself--founded he could not tell on
what, intuitive, perhaps silly.

"Well, Mr. Forsyte," the chairman was speaking; "there are the
figures.  Are you satisfied?"

Soames looked up; he had taken a resolution.

"I will agree to this year's dividend on condition that we drop
this foreign business in future, lock, stock and barrel."  The
manager's eyes hard and bright, met his, then turned towards the
chairman.

"That appears to savour of the panicky," he said; "the foreign
business is responsible for a good third of our profit this year."

The chairman seemed to garner the expressions of his fellow-
directors, before he said:

"There is nothing in the foreign situation at the moment, Mr.
Forsyte, which gives particular cause for alarm.  I admit that we
should watch it closely--"

"You can't," interjected Soames.  "Here we are four years from the
Armistice, and we know no more where we stand than we did then.  If
I'd realised our commitment to this policy, I should never have
come on the Board.  We must drop it."

"Rather an extreme view.  And hardly a matter we can decide in a
moment."

The murmur of assent, the expression, faintly ironical, of 'that
chap's' lips, jolted the tenacity in Soames.

"Very well!  Unless you're prepared to tell the shareholders in the
report that we are dropping foreign business, you drop me.  I must
be free to raise the question myself at the general meeting."  He
did not miss the shift and blink in the manager's eyes.  That shot
had gone home!

The Chairman said:

"You put a pistol to our heads."

"I am responsible to the shareholders," said Soames, "and I shall
do my duty by them."

"So we all are, Mr. Forsyte; and I hope we shall all do our duty."

"Why not confine the foreign business to the small countries--their
currency is safe enough?"

'Old Mont,' and his precious 'ring!'

"No," said Soames, "we must go back to safety."

"Splendid isolation, Forsyte?"

"Meddling was all very well in the war, but in peace--politics or
business--this half-and-half interference is no good.  We can't
control the foreign situation."

He looked around him, and was instantly conscious that with those
words he had struck a chord.  'I'm going through with this!' he
thought.

"I should be glad, Mr. Chairman"--the manager was speaking--"if I
might say a word.  The policy was of my initiation, and I think I
may claim that it has been of substantial benefit to the Society so
far.  When, however, a member of the Board takes so strong a view
against its continuance, I certainly don't press the Board to
continue it.  The times ARE uncertain, and a risk, of course, is
involved, however conservative our estimates."

'Now why?' thought Soames:  'What's he ratting for?'

"That's very handsome of you, Elderson; Mr. Chairman, I think we
may say that is very handsome of our manager."

Old Dosey Cosey!  Handsome!  The old woman!

The Chairman's rather harsh voice broke a silence.

"This is a very serious point of policy.  I should have been glad
to have Lord Fontenoy present."

"If I am to endorse the report," said Soames shortly, "it must be
decided to-day.  I have made up my mind.  But please yourselves."

He threw in those last three words from a sort of fellow feeling--
it was unpleasant to be dragooned!  A moment's silence, and then
discussion assumed that random volubility which softens a decision
already forced on one.  A quarter of an hour thus passed before the
Chairman said:

"We are agreed then, gentlemen, that the report shall contain the
announcement that, in view of Continental uncertainty, we are
abandoning foreign risks for the present."

Soames had won.  Relieved and puzzled, he walked away alone.

He had shown character; their respect for him had gone up, he could
see; their liking for him down, if they'd ever had any--he didn't
know!  But why had Elderson veered round?  He recalled the shift
and blink of the fellow's steely eyes at the idea of the question
being raised at the general meeting.

That had done it!  But why?  Were the figures faked?  Surely not!
That would be too difficult, in the face of the accountants.  If
Soames had faith, it was in chartered accountants.  Sandis and
Jevon were tip-top people.  It couldn't be that!  He glanced up
from the pavement.  The dome of St. Paul's was dim already in
evening sky--nothing to be had out of it!  He felt badly in need of
some one to talk to; but there was nobody; and he quickened his
pace among the hurrying crowd.  His hand, driven deep into his
overcoat pocket, came into sudden contact with some foreign sticky
substance.  'Gracious!' he thought: 'those things!'  Should he
drop them in the gutter?  If only there were a child he could take
them home to!  He must get Annette to speak to Fleur.  He knew what
came of bad habits from his own experience of long ago.  Why
shouldn't he speak to her himself?  He was staying the night there!
But there came on him a helpless sense of ignorance.  These young
people!  What did they really think and feel?  Was old Mont right?
Had they given up interest in everything except the moment,
abandoned all belief in continuity, and progress?  True enough that
Europe was in Queer Street.  But look at the state of things after
the Napoleonic Wars.  He couldn't remember his grandfather
'Superior Dosset,' the old chap had died five years before he was
born, but he perfectly remembered how Aunt Ann, born in 1799, used
to talk about "that dreadful Bonaparte--we used to call him Boney,
my dear;" of how her father could get eight or ten per cent. for
his money; and of what an impression 'those Chartists' had made on
Aunts Juley and Hester, and that was long afterwards.  Yet, in
spite of all that, look at the Victorian era--a golden age, things
worth collecting, children worth having!  Why not again!  Consols
had risen almost continuously since Timothy died.  Even if Heaven
and Hell had gone, they couldn't be the reason; none of his uncles
had believed in either, and yet had all made fortunes, and all had
families, except Timothy and Swithin.  No!  It couldn't be the want
of Heaven and Hell!  What, then, was the reason of the change--if
change there really were?  And suddenly it was revealed to Soames.
They talked too much--too much and too fast!  They got to the end
of interest in this and that and the other.  They ate life and
threw away the rind, and--and--.  By the way, he must buy that
picture of George's! . . .  Had these young folk more mind than his
own generation? And if so--why?  Was it diet?  That lobster
cocktail Fleur had given him the Sunday before last.  He had eaten
the thing--very nasty!  But it hadn't made him want to talk.  No!
He didn't think it could be diet.  Besides--Mind!  Where were the
minds now that equalled the Victorians--Darwin, Huxley, Dickens,
Disraeli, even old Gladstone?  Why, he remembered judges and
advocates who seemed giants compared with those of the present day,
just as he remembered that the judges of James his father's youth
had seemed giants to James compared with those of Soames' prime.
According to that, mind was steadily declining.  It must be
something else.  There was a thing they called psycho-analysis,
which so far as he could understand attributed people's action not
to what they ate at breakfast, or the leg they got out of bed with,
as in the good old days, but to some shock they had received in the
remote past and entirely forgotten.  The subconscious mind!  Fads!
Fads and microbes!  The fact was this generation had no digestion.
His father and his uncles had all complained of liver, but they had
never had anything the matter with them--no need of any of these
vitamins, false teeth, mental healing, newspapers, psycho-analysis,
spiritualism, birth control, osteopathy, broadcasting, and what
not.  'Machines!' thought Soames.  'That's it--I shouldn't wonder!'
How could you believe in anything when everything was going round
so fast?  When you couldn't count your chickens--they ran about so?
But Fleur had got a good little head on her!  'Yes,' he mused, 'and
French teeth, she can digest anything.  Two years!  I'll speak to
her before she gets the habit confirmed.  Her mother was quick
enough about it!'  And perceiving the Connoisseurs' Club in front
of him, he went in.

The hall porter came out of his box.  A gentleman was waiting.

"What gentleman?" said Soames, sidelong.

"I think he's your nephew, sir, Mr. Dartie."

"Val Dartie!  H'm!  Where?"

"In the little room, sir."

The little room--all the accommodation considered worthy of such as
were not Connoisseurs--was at the end of a passage, and in no taste
at all, as if the Club were saying:  "See what it is not to be one
of us!"  Soames entered it, and saw Val Dartie smoking a cigarette
and gazing with absorption at the only object of interest, his own
reflection in the glass above the fire.

He never saw his nephew without wondering when he would say:  "Look
here, Uncle Soames, I'm up a stump."  Breeding race horses!  There
could only be one end to that!

"Well?" he said, "how are YOU?"

The face in the glass turned round, and became the back of a
clipped sandyish head.

"Oh! bobbish, thanks!  YOU look all right, Uncle Soames.  I just
wanted to ask you:  Must I take these screws of old George
Forsyte's?  They're dashed bad."

"Gift horse in the mouth?" said Soames.

"Well," said Val, "but they're SO dashed bad; by the time I've paid
legacy duty, boxed them to a sale, and sold them, there won't be a
sixpence.  One of them falls down when you look at it.  And the
other two are broken-winded.  The poor old boy kept them, because
he couldn't get rid of them.  They're about five hundred years
old."

"Thought you were fond of horses," said Soames.  "Can't you turn
them out?"

"Yes," said Val, drily; "but I've got my living to make.  I haven't
told my wife, for fear she should suggest that.  I'm afraid I might
see them in my dreams if I sold them.  They're only fit for the
kennels.  Can I write to the executors and say I'm not rich enough
to take them?"

"You can," said Soames, and the words:  "How's your wife?" died
unspoken on his lips.  She was the daughter of his enemy, young
Jolyon.  That fellow was dead, but the fact remained.

"I will, then," said Val.  "How did his funeral go off?"

"Very simple affair--I had nothing to do with it."  The days of
funerals were over.  No flowers, no horses, no plumes--a motor
hearse, a couple of cars or so, was all the attention paid nowadays
to the dead.  Another sign of the times!

"I'm staying the night at Green Street," said Val.  "I suppose
you're not there, are you?"

"No," said Soames, and did not miss the relief in his nephew's
countenance.

"Oh! by the way, Uncle Soames--do you advise me to buy P.P.R.S.
shares?"

"On the contrary.  I'm going to advise your mother to sell.  Tell
her I'm coming in to-morrow."

"Why?  I thought--"

"Never mind my reasons!" said Soames shortly.

"So long, then!"

Exchanging a chilly hand-shake, he watched his nephew withdraw.

So long!  An expression, old as the Boer war, that he had never got
used to--meant nothing so far as he could see!  He entered the
reading-room.  A number of Connoisseurs were sitting and standing
about, and Soames, least clubbable of men, sought the solitude of
an embrasured window.  He sat there polishing the nail of one
forefinger against the back of the other, and chewing the cud of
life.  After all, what was the point of anything.  There was
George!  He had had an easy life--never done any work!  And here
was himself, who had done a lot of work!  And sooner or later they
would bury him too, with a motor hearse probably!  And there was
his son-in-law, young Mont, full of talk about goodness knew what--
and that thin-cheeked chap who had sold him the balloons this
afternoon.  And old Fontenoy, and that waiter over there; and the
out-of-works and the in-works; and those chaps in Parliament, and
the parsons in their pulpits--what were they all for?  There was
the old gardener down at Mapledurham pushing his roller over and
over the lawn, week after week, and if he didn't, what would the
lawn be like?  That was life--gardener rolling lawn!  Put it that
there was another life--he didn't believe it, but for the sake of
argument--that life must be just the same.  Rolling lawn--to keep
it lawn!  What point in lawn?  Conscious of pessimism, he rose.  He
had better be getting back to Fleur's--they dressed for dinner!  He
supposed there was something in dressing for dinner, but it was
like lawn--you came unrolled--undressed again, and so it went on!
Over and over and over to keep up to a pitch, that was--ah! what
WAS the pitch for?

Turning into South Square, he cannoned into a young man, whose head
was craned back as if looking after some one he had parted from.
Uncertain whether to apologise or to wait for an apology, Soames
stood still.

The young man said abruptly:  "Sorry, sir," and moved on; dark,
neat-looking chap with a hungry look obviously unconnected with his
stomach.  Murmuring:  "Not at all!" Soames moved forward and rang
his daughter's bell.  She opened to him herself.  She was in hat
and furs--just in.  The young man recurred to Soames.  Had he left
her there?  What a pretty face it was!  He should certainly speak
to her.  If she once took to gadding about!

He put it off, however, till he was about to say "Goodnight"--
Michael having gone to the political meeting of a Labour candidate,
as if he couldn't find something better to do!

"Now you've been married two years, my child, I suppose you'll be
looking towards the future.  There's a great deal of nonsense
talked about children.  The whole thing's much simpler.  I hope you
feel that."

Flour was leaning back among the cushions of the settee, swinging
her foot.  Her eyes became a little restless, but her colour did
not change.

"Of course!" she said; "only there's no hurry, Dad."

"Well, I don't know," Soames murmured.  "The French and the royal
family have a very sound habit of getting it over early.  There's
many a slip and it keeps them out of mischief.  You're very
attractive, my child--I don't want to see you take too much to gad-
about ways.  You've got all sorts of friends."

"Yes," said Fleur.

"You get on well with Michael, don't you?"

"Oh! yes."

"Well, then, why not?  You must remember that your son will be a
what-you-call-it."

In those words he compromised with his instinctive dislike of
titles and flummery of that nature.

"It mightn't be a son," said Fleur.

"At your age that's easily remedied."

"Oh, I don't want a lot, Dad.  One, perhaps, or two."

"Well," said Soames, "I should almost prefer a daughter, something
like--well, something like you."

Her softened eyes flew, restive, from his face to her foot, to the
dog, all over the room.

"I don't know, it's a tie--like digging your own grave in a way."

"I shouldn't put it as high as that," murmured Soames,
persuasively.

"No man would, Dad."

"Your mother wouldn't have got on at all without you," and
recollection of how near her mother had been to not getting on at
all with her--of how, but for him, she would have made a mess of
it, reduced him to silent contemplation of the restive foot.

"Well," he said, at last, "I thought I'd mention it.  I--I've got
your happiness at heart."

Fleur rose and kissed his forehead.

"I know, Dad," she said:  "I'm a selfish pig.  I'll think about it.
In fact, I--I have thought about it."

"That's right," said Soames; "that's right!  You've a good head on
you--it's a great consolation to me.  Goodnight, my dear!"

And he went up to his bed.  If there was point in anything, it was
in perpetuation of oneself, though, of course, that begged the
question.  'Wonder,' he thought, 'if I ought to have asked her
whether that young man--!'  But young people were best left alone.
The fact was, he didn't understand them.  His eye lighted on the
paper bag containing those--those things he had bought.  He had
brought them up from his overcoat to get rid of them--but how?  Put
into the fire, they would make a smell.  He stood at his dressing-
table, took one up and looked at it.  Good Lord!  And, suddenly,
rubbing the mouthpiece with his handkerchief, he began to blow the
thing up.  He blew until his cheeks were tired, and then, nipping
the aperture, took a bit of the dental cotton he used on his teeth
every night and tied it up.  There the thing was!  With a pettish
gesture he batted the balloon.  Off it flew--purple and
extravagant, alighting on his bed.  H'm!  He took up the other, and
did the same to it.  Purple and green!  The deuce!  If any one came
in and saw!  He threw up the window, batted them, balloon after
balloon, into the night, and shut the window down.  There they'd be
in the dark, floating about.  His lips contracted in a nervous
grin.  People would see them in the morning.  Well!  What else
could you do with things like that?



CHAPTER XIII

TENTERHOOKS


Michael had gone to the Labour candidate's meeting partly because
he wanted to, and partly out of fellow feeling for 'old Forsyte,'
whom he was always conscious of having robbed.  His father-in-law
had been very decent about Fleur, and he liked the 'old man' to
have her to himself when he could.

In a constituency which had much casual and no trades-union labour
to speak of, the meeting would be one of those which enabled the
intellectuals of the Party to get it 'off their chests.'  Sentiment
being 'slop,' and championship mere condescension, one might look
for sound economic speeches which left out discredited factors,
such as human nature.  Michael was accustomed to hearing people
disparaged for deprecating change because human nature was
constant; he was accustomed to hearing people despised for feeling
compassion; he knew that one ought to be purely economic.  And
anyway that kind of speech was preferable to the tub-thumpings of
the North or of the Park, which provoked a nasty underlying class
spirit in himself.

The meeting was in full swing when he arrived, the candidate
pitilessly exposing the fallacies of a capitalism which, in his
view, had brought on the war.  For fear that it should bring on
another, it must be changed for a system which would ensure that
nations should not want anything too much.  The individual--said
the candidate--was in every respect superior to the nation of which
he formed a part; and the problem before them was to secure an
economic condition which would enable the individual to function
freely in his native superiority.  In that way alone, he said,
would they lose those mass movements and emotions which imperilled
the sanity of the world.  He spoke well.  Michael listened, purring
almost audibly, till he found that he was thinking of himself,
Wilfrid and Fleur.  Would he ever function so freely in a native
superiority that he did not want Fleur too much?  And did he wish
to?  He did not.  That seemed to introduce human nature into the
speaker's argument.  Didn't everybody want something too much?
Wasn't it natural?  And if so, wouldn't there always be a
collective wanting too much--poolings of primary desire, such as
the desire of keeping your own head above water?  The candidate's
argument seemed to him suddenly to leave out heat, to omit
friction, to be that of a man in an armchair after a poor lunch.
He looked attentively at the speaker's shrewd, dry, doubting face.
'No juice!' he thought.  And when 'the chap' sat down, he got up
and left the hall.

This Wilfrid business had upset him horribly.  Try as he had to put
it out of his mind, try as he would to laugh it off, it continued
to eat into his sense of security and happiness.  Wife and best
friend!  A hundred times a day he assured himself that he trusted
Fleur.  Only, Wilfrid was so much more attractive than himself, and
Fleur deserved the best of everything.  Besides, Wilfrid was going
through torture, and it was not a pleasant thought!  How end the
thing, restore peace of mind to himself, to him, to her?  She had
told him nothing; and it simply was impossible to ask.  No way even
of showing his anxiety!  The whole thing was just 'dark,' and, so
far as he could see, would have to stay so; nothing to be done but
screw the lid on tighter, be as nice as he could to her, try not to
feel bitter about him.  Hades!

He turned down Chelsea Embankment.  Here the sky was dark and wide
and streaming with stars.  The river wide, dark and gleaming with
oily rays from the Embankment lamps.  The width of it all gave him
relief.  Dash the dumps!  A jolly, queer, muddled, sweet and bitter
world; an immensely intriguing game of chance, no matter how the
cards were falling at the moment!  In the trenches he had thought:
'Get out of this, and I'll never mind anything again!'  How seldom
now he remembered thinking that!  The human body renewed itself--
they said--in seven years.  In three years' time his body would not
be the body of the trenches, but a whole-time peace body with a
fading complex.  If only Fleur would tell him quite openly what she
felt, what she was doing about Wilfrid, for she must be doing
something!  And Wilfrid's verse?  Would his confounded passion--as
Bart suggested--flow in poetry?  And if so, who would publish it?
A miserable business!  Well the night was beautiful, and the great
thing not to be a pig.  Beauty and not being a pig!  Nothing much
else to it--except laughter--the comic side!  Keep one's sense of
humour, anyway!  And Michael searched, while he strode beneath
plane trees half-stripped of leaves and plume-like in the dark, for
the fun in his position.  He failed to find it.  There seemed
absolutely nothing funny about love.  Possibly he might fall out of
love again some day, but not so long as she kept him on her
tenterhooks.  Did she do it on purpose?  Never!  Fleur simply could
not be like those women who kept their husbands hungry and fed them
when they wanted dresses, furs, jewels.  Revolting!

He came in sight of Westminster.  Only half-past ten!  Suppose he
took a cab to Wilfrid's rooms, and tried to have it out with him.
It would be like trying to make the hands of a clock move backwards
to its ticking.  What use in saying:  "You love Fleur--well,
don't!" or in Wilfrid saying it to him.  'After all, I was first
with Fleur,' he thought.  Pure chance, perhaps, but fact!  Ah!  And
wasn't that just the danger?  He was no longer a novelty to her--
nothing unexpected about him now!  And he and she had agreed times
without number that novelty was the salt of life, the essence of
interest and drama.  Novelty now lay with Wilfrid!  Lord!  Lord!
Possession appeared far from being nine points of the law!  He
rounded-in from the Embankment towards home--jolly part of London,
jolly Square; everything jolly except just this infernal
complication.  Something, soft as a large leaf, tapped twice
against his ear.  He turned, astonished; he was in empty space, no
tree near.  Floating in the darkness, a round thing--he grabbed, it
bobbed.  What?  A child's balloon!  He secured it between his
hands, took it beneath a lamp-post--green, he judged.  Queer!  He
looked up.  Two windows lighted, one of them Fleur's!  Was this the
bubble of his own happiness expelled?  Morbid!  Silly ass!  Some
gust of wind--a child's plaything lodged and loosened!  He held the
balloon gingerly.  He would take it in and show it to her.  He put
his latch-key in the door.  Dark in the hall--gone up!  He mounted,
swinging the balloon on his finger.  Fleur was standing before a
mirror.

"What on earth's that?" she said.

The blood returned to Michael's heart.  Curious how he had dreaded
its having anything to do with her!

"Don't know, darling; fell on my hat--must belong to heaven."  And
he batted it.

The balloon floated, dropped, bounded twice, wobbled and came to
rest.

"You ARE a baby, Michael.  I believe you bought it."

Michael came closer, and stood quite still.

"My hat!  What a misfortune to be in love!"

"You think so!"

"Il y a toujours un qui baise, et l'autre qui ne tend pas la joue."

"But I do."

"Fleur!"

Fleur smiled.

"Baise away."

Embracing her, Michael thought:  'She holds me--does with me what
she likes; I know nothing of her!'

And there arose a small sound--from Ting-a-ling smelling the
balloon.




PART II



CHAPTER I

THE MARK FALLS


The state of the world had been getting more and more on Soames'
nerves ever since the general meeting of the P. P. R. S.  It had
gone off with that fatuity long associated by him with such
gatherings--a watertight rigmarole from the chairman; butter from
two reliable shareholders; vinegar from shareholders not so
reliable; and the usual 'gup' over the dividend.  He had gone there
glum, come away glummer.  From a notion once taken into his head
Soames parted more slowly than a cheese parts from its mites.  Two-
sevenths of foreign business, nearly all German!  And the mark
falling!  It had begun to fall from the moment that he decided to
support the dividend.  And why?  What was in the wind?  Contrary to
his custom, he had taken to sniffing closely the political columns
of his paper.  The French--he had always mistrusted them,
especially since his second marriage--the French were going to play
old Harry, if he was not greatly mistaken!  Their papers, he
noticed, never lost a chance of having a dab at English policy;
seemed to think they could always call the tune for England to pipe
to!  And the mark and the franc, and every other sort of money,
falling.  And, though in Soames was that which rejoiced in the
thought that one of his country's bits of paper could buy a great
quantity of other countries' bits of paper, there was also that
which felt the whole thing silly and unreal, with an ever-growing
consciousness that the P. P. R. S. would pay no dividend next year.
The P. P. R. S. was a big concern; no dividend would be a sign, no
small one, of bad management.  Assurance was one of the few things
on God's earth which could and should be conducted without real
risk.  But for that he would never have gone on the Board.  And to
find assurance had not been so conducted and that by himself, was--
well!  He had caused Winifred to sell, anyway, though the shares
had already fallen slightly.  "I thought it was such a good thing,
Soames," she had said plaintively: "it's rather a bore, losin'
money on the shares."  He had answered without mercy:  "If you
don't sell, you'll lose more."  And she had done it.  If the Rogers
and Nicholases who had followed him into it hadn't sold too--well,
it was their look out!  He had made Winifred warn them.  As for
himself, he had nothing but his qualifying shares, and the missing
of a dividend or two would not hurt one whose director's fees more
than compensated.  It was not, therefore, private uneasiness so
much as resentment at a state of things connected with foreigners
and the slur on his infallibility.

Christmas had gone off quietly at Mapledurham.  He abominated
Christmas, and only observed it because his wife was French, and
her national festival New Year's Day.  One could not go so far as
to observe that, encouraging a foreign notion.  But Christmas with
no child about--he still remembered the holly and snapdragons of
Park Lane in his own childhood--the family parties; and how
disgusted he had been if he got anything symbolic--the thimble, or
the ring--instead of the shilling.  They had never gone in for
Santa Claus at Park Lane, partly because they could see through the
old gentleman, and partly because he was not at all a late thing.
Emily, his mother, had seen to that.  Yes; and, by the way, that
William Gouldyng, Ingerer, had so stumped those fellows at the
Heralds' College, that Soames had dropped the enquiry--it was just
encouraging them to spend his money for a sentimental satisfaction
which did not materialise.  That narrow-headed chap, 'Old Mont,'
peacocked about his ancestry; all the more reason for having no
ancestry to peacock about.  The Forsytes and the Goldings were good
English country stock--that was what mattered.  And if Fleur and
her child, if one came, had French blood in them--well, he couldn't
help it now.

In regard to the coming of a grandchild, Soames knew no more than
in October.  Fleur had spent Christmas with the Monts; she was
promised to him, however, before long, and her mother must ask her
a question or two!

The weather was extremely mild; Soames had even been out in a punt
fishing.  In a heavy coat he trailed a line for perch and dace, and
caught now and then a roach--precious little good, the servants
wouldn't eat them, nowadays!  His grey eyes would brood over the
grey water under the grey sky; and in his mind the mark would fall.
It fell with a bump on that eleventh of January when the French
went and occupied the Ruhr.  He said to Annette at breakfast:
"Your country's cracked!  Look at the mark now!"

"What do I care about the mark?" she had answered over her coffee.
"I care that they shall not come again into my country.  I hope
they will suffer a little what we have suffered."

"You," said Soames; "you never suffered anything."

Annette put her hand where Soames sometimes doubted the existence
of a heart.

"I suffered here," she said.

"I didn't notice it.  You never went without butter.  What do you
suppose Europe's going to be like now for the next thirty years!
How about British trade?"

"We French see before our noses," said Annette with warmth.  "We
see that the beaten must be kept the beaten, or he will take
revenge.  You English are so sloppy."

"Sloppy, are we?" said Soames.  "You're talking like a child.
Could a sloppy people ever have reached our position in the world?"

"That is your selfishness.  You are cold and selfish."

"Cold, selfish and sloppy--they don't go together.  Try again."

"Your slop is in your thought and your talk; it is your instinct
that gives you your success, and your English instinct is cold and
selfish, Soames.  You are a mixture, all of you, of hypocrisy,
stupidity and egoism."

Soames took some marmalade.

"Well," he said, "and what are the French?--cynical, avaricious and
revengeful.  And the Germans are sentimental, heady and brutal.  We
can all abuse each other.  There's nothing for it but to keep
clear.  And that's what you French won't do."

Annette's handsome person stiffened.

"When you are tied to a person, as I am tied to you, Soames, or as
we French are tied to the Germans, it is necessary to be top dog,
or to be bottom dog."

Soames stayed his toast.

"Do you suppose yourself top dog in this house?"

"Yes, Soames."

"Oh!  Then you can go back to France to-morrow."

Annette's eyebrows rose quizzically.

"I would wait a little longer, my friend; you are still too young."

But Soames had already regretted his remark; he did not wish any
such disturbance at his time of life, and he said more calmly:

"Compromise is the essence of any reasonable existence between
individuals or nations.  We can't have the fat thrown into the fire
every few years."

"That is so English," murmured Annette.  "We others never know what
you English will do.  You always wait to see which way the cat
jumps."

However deeply sympathetic with such a reasonable characteristic,
Soames would have denied it at any ordinary moment--to confess to
temporising was not, as it were, done.  But, with the mark falling
like a cartload of bricks, he was heated to the point of standing
by his nature.

"And why shouldn't we?  Rushing into things that you'll have to
rush out of!  I don't want to argue.  French and English never did
get on, and never will."

Annette rose.  "You speak the truth, my friend.  Entente, mais pas
cordiale.  What are you doing to-day?"

"Going up to town," said Soames glumly.  "Your precious Government
has put business into Queer Street with a vengeance."

"Do you stay the night?"

"I don't know."

"Adieu, then, jusqu' au revoir!"  And she got up.

Soames remained brooding above his marmalade--with the mark
falling in his mind--glad to see the last of her handsome figure,
having no patience at the moment for French tantrums.  An irritable
longing to say to somebody "I told you so" possessed him.  He
would have to wait, however, till he found somebody to say it to.

A beautiful day, quite warm; and, taking his umbrella as an
assurance against change, he set out for the station.

In the carriage going up they were talking about the Ruhr.  Averse
from discussion in public, Soames listened from behind his paper.
The general sentiment was surprisingly like his own.  In so far as
it was unpleasant for the Huns--all right; in so far as it was
unpleasant for British trade--all wrong; in so far as love of
British trade was active and hate of Huns now passive--more wrong
than right.  A Francophil remark that the French were justified in
making themselves safe at all costs, was coldly received.  At
Maidenhead a man got in whom Soames connected automatically with
disturbance.  He had much grey hair, a sanguine face, lively eyes,
twisting eyebrows, and within five minutes had asked in a breezy
voice whether anyone had heard of the League of Nations.  Confirmed
in his estimate, Soames looked round the corner of his paper.  Yes,
that chap would get off on some hobby-horse or other!  And there he
went!  The question--said the newcomer--was not whether the Germans
should get one in the eye, the British one in the pocket, or the
French one in the heart, but whether the world should get peace and
goodwill.  Soames lowered his paper.  If--this fellow said--they
wanted peace, they must sink their individual interests, and think
in terms of collective interest.  The good of all was the good of
one!  Soames saw the flaw at once.  That might be, but the good of
one was not the good of all.  He felt that if he did not take care
he would be pointing this out.  The man was a perfect stranger to
him, and no good ever came of argument.  Unfortunately his silence
amid the general opinion that the League of Nations was 'no
earthly,' seemed to cause the newcomer to regard him as a
sympathiser; the fellow kept on throwing his eyebrows at him!  To
put up his paper again seemed too pointed, and his position was
getting more and more false when the train ran in at Paddington.
He hastened to a cab.  A voice behind him said:

"Hopeless lot, sir, eh!  Glad to see YOU saw my point."

"Quite!" said Soames.  "Taxi!"

"Unless the League of Nations functions, we're all for Gehenna."

Soames turned the handle of the cab door.

"Quite!" he said again.  "Poultry!" and got in.  He was not going
to be drawn.  The fellow was clearly a firebrand!

In the cab the measure of his disturbance was revealed.  He had
said 'Poultry,' an address that 'Forsyte, Bustard and Forsyte' had
abandoned two-and-twenty years ago when, merged with 'Cuthcott,
Holliday and Kingson,' they became 'Cuthcott, Kingson and Forsyte.'
Rectifying the error, he sat forward, brooding.  Fall of the mark!
The country was sound about it, yes--but when they failed to pay
the next dividend, could they rely on resentment against the French
instead of against the directors?  Doubtful!  The directors ought
to have seen it coming!  That might be said of the other directors,
but not of himself--here was a policy that he personally never
would have touched.  If only he could discuss the whole thing with
some one--but old Gradman would be out of his depth in a matter of
this sort.  And, on arrival at his office, he gazed with a certain
impatience at that changeless old fellow, sitting in his swivel
chair.

"Ah!  Mr. Soames, I was hopin' you might come in this morning.
There's a young man been round to see you from the P. P. R. S.
Wouldn't give his business, said he wanted to see you privately.
Left his number on the 'phone."

"Oh!" said Soames.

"Quite a young feller--in the office."

"What did he look like?"

"Nice, clean young man.  I was quite favourably impressed--name of
Butterfield."

"Well, ring him up, and let him know I'm here."  And going over to
the window, he stood looking out on to a perfectly blank wall.

Suited to a sleeping partner, his room was at the back, free from
disturbance.  Young man!  The call was somewhat singular!  And he
said over his shoulder:  "Don't go when he comes, Gradman, I know
nothing of him."

The world changed, people died off, the mark fell, but Gradman was
there--embodiment, faithful and grey, of service and integrity--an
anchor.

Gradman's voice, grating, ingratiating, rose.

"This French news--it's not nice, Mr. Soames.  They're a hasty lot.
I remember your father, Mr. James, coming into the office the
morning the Franco-Prussian war was declared--quite in his prime
then, hardly more than sixty, I should say.  Why, I recall his very
words:  'There,' he said, 'I told them so.'  And here they are--at
it still.  The fact is, they're cat and dog."

Soames, who had half turned, resumed his contemplation of a void.
Poor old Gradman dated!  What would he say when he heard that they
had been insuring foreign business?  Stimulated by the old-time
quality of Gradman's presence, his mind ranged with sudden freedom.
He himself had another twenty years, perhaps.  What would he see in
that time?  Where would old England be at the end of it?  'In spite
of the papers, we're not such fools as we look,' he thought.  'If
only we can steer clear of flibberty-gibberting, and pay our way!'

"Mr. Butterfield, sir."  H'm!  The young man had been very spry.
Covered by Gradman's bluff and greasy greeting, he "took a lunar,"
as his Uncle Roger used to call it.  The young fellow, in a neat
suit, a turndown collar, with his hat in his hand, was a medium
modest-looking chap.  Soames nodded.

"You want to see me?"

"Alone, if I might, sir."

"Mr. Gradman here is my right-hand man."

Gradman's voice purred gratingly:  "You can state your business.
Nothing goes outside these walls, young man."

"I'm in the office of the P.P.R.S., sir.  The fact is, accident has
just put some information in my hands, and I'm not easy in my mind.
Knowing you to be a solicitor, sir, I preferred to come to you,
rather than go to the chairman.  As a lawyer, would you tell me:
Is my first duty to the Society, being in their employ?"

"Certainly," said Soames.

"I don't like this job, sir, and I hope you'll understand that I'm
not here for any personal motive--it's just because I feel I ought
to."

Soames regarded him steadily.  Though large and rather swimming,
the young man's eyes impressed him by their resemblance to a dog's.
"What's it all about?" he said.

The young man moistened his lips.

"The insurance of our German business, sir."

Soames pricked his ears, already slightly pointed by Nature.

"It's a very serious matter," the young man went on, "and I don't
know how it'll affect me, but the fact is, this morning I overheard
a private conversation."

"Oh!" said Soames.

"Yes, sir.  I quite understand your tone, but the very first words
did it.  I simply couldn't make myself known after hearing them.  I
think you'll agree, sir."

"Who were the speakers?"

"The manager, and a man called Smith--I fancy by his accent his
name's a bit more foreign--who's done most of the agenting for the
German business."

"What were the words?" said Soames.

"Well, sir, the manager was speaking, and then this Smith said:
'Quite so, Mr. Elderson, but we haven't paid you a commission on
all this business for nothing; if the mark goes absolutely phut,
you will have to see that your Society makes it good for us!'"

The intense longing, which at that moment came on Soames to emit a
whistle, was checked by sight of Gradman's face.  The old fellow's
mouth had opened in the nest of his grizzly short beard; his eyes
stared puglike, he uttered a prolonged:  "A-ow!"

"Yes," said the young man, "it was a knock-out!"

"Where were you?" asked Soames, sharply.

"In the lobby between the manager's room and the board room.  I'd
just come from sorting some papers in the boardroom, and the
manager's door was open an inch or so.  Of course I know the voices
well."

"What after?"

"I heard Mr. Elderson say, 'H'ssh!  Don't talk like that!' and I
slipped back into the board room.  I'd had more than enough, sir, I
assure you."

Suspicion and surmise clogged Soames' thinking apparatus.  Was this
young fellow speaking the truth?  A man like Elderson--the risk was
monstrous!  And, if true, what was the directors' responsibility?
But proof--proof?  He stared at the young man, who looked upset and
pale enough, but whose eyes did not waver.  Shake him if he could!
And he said sharply:

"Now mind what you're saying!  This is most serious!"

"I know that, sir.  If I'd consulted my own interest, I'd never
have come here.  I'm not a sneak."

The words rang true, but Soames did not drop his caution.

"Ever had any trouble in the office?"

"No, sir, you can make enquiry.  I've nothing against Mr. Elderson,
and he's nothing against me."

Soames thought suddenly:  'Good heavens!  He's shifted it on to me,
and in the presence of a witness!  And I supplied the witness!'

"Have you any reason to suppose," he said, "that they became aware
of your being there?"

"They couldn't have, I think."

The implications of this news seemed every second more alarming.
It was as if Fate, kept at bay all his life by clever wrist-work,
had suddenly slipped a thrust under his guard.  No good to get
rattled, however--must think it out at leisure!

"Are you prepared, if necessary, to repeat this to the Board?"

The young man pressed his hands together.

"Well, sir, I'd much rather have held my tongue; but if you decide
it's got to be taken up, I suppose I must go through with it now.
I'm sure I hope you'll decide to leave it alone; perhaps it isn't
true--only why didn't Mr. Elderson say:  'You ruddy liar!'?"

Exactly!  Why didn't he?  Soames gave a grunt of intense
discomfort.

"Anything more?" he said.

"No, sir."

"Very well.  You've not told anyone?"

"No, sir."

"Then don't, and leave it to me."

"I'll be only too happy to, sir.  Good-morning!"

"Good-morning!"

No--very bad morning!  No satisfaction whatever in this sudden
fulfilment of his prophetic feeling about Elderson.  None!

"What d'you think of that young fellow, Gradman?  Is he lying?"

Thus summoned, as it were, from stupor, Gradman thoughtfully rubbed
a nose both thick and shining.

"It's one word against another, Mr. Soames, unless you get more
evidence.  But I can't see what the young man has to gain by it."

"Nor I; but you never know.  The trouble will be to get more
evidence.  Can I act without it?"

"It's delicate," said Gradman.  And Soames knew that he was thrown
back on himself.  When Gradman said a thing was delicate, it meant
that it was the sort of matter on which he was accustomed to wait
for orders--presumptuous even to hold opinion!  But had he got one?
Well, one would never know!  The old chap would sit and rub his
nose over it till Kingdom Come.

"I shan't act in a hurry," he said, almost angrily:  "I can't see
to the end of this."

Every hour confirmed that statement.  At lunch the tape of his city
club showed the mark still falling--to unheard-of depths!  How they
could talk of golf, with this business on his mind, he could not
imagine!

"I must go and see that fellow," he said to himself.  "I shall be
guarded.  He may throw some light."  He waited until three o'clock
and repaired to the P. P. R. S.

Reaching the office, he sought the Board room.  The chairman was
there in conference with the manager.  Soames sat down quietly to
listen; and while he listened he watched that fellow's face.  It
told him nothing.  What nonsense people talked when they said you
could tell character from faces!  Only a perfect idiot's face could
be read like that.  And here was a man of experience and culture,
one who knew every rope of business life and polite society.  The
hairless, neat features exhibited no more concern than the natural
mortification of one whose policy had met with such a nasty knock.
The drop of the mark had already wiped out any possible profit on
the next half-year.  Unless the wretched thing recovered, they
would be carrying a practically dead load of German insurance.
Really it was criminal that no limit of liability had been fixed!
How on earth could he ever have overlooked that when he came on the
Board?  But he had only known of it afterwards.  And who could have
foreseen anything so mad as this Ruhr business, or realised the
slack confidence of his colleagues in this confounded fellow?  The
words "gross negligence" appeared 'close up' before his eyes.  What
if an action lay against the Board!  Gross negligence!  At his age
and with his reputation!  Why!  The thing was plain as a pikestaff;
for omitting a limit of liability this chap had got his commission!
Ten per cent, probably, on all that business--he must have netted
thousands!  A man must be in Queer Street indeed to take a risk
like that!  But conscious that his fancy was running on, Soames
rose, and turned his back.  The action suggested another.  Simulate
anger, draw some sign from that fellow's self-control!  He turned
again, and said pettishly:  "What on earth were you about, Mr.
Manager, when you allowed these contracts to go through without
limit of liability?  A man of your experience!  What was your
motive?"

A slight narrowing of the eyes, a slight compression of the lips.
He had relied on the word 'motive,' but the fellow passed it by.

"For such high premiums as we have been getting, Mr. Forsyte, a
limited liability was not possible.  This is a most outrageous
development, and I'm afraid it must be considered just bad luck."

"Unfortunately," said Soames, "there's no such thing as luck in
properly regulated assurance, as we shall find, or I'm much
mistaken.  I shouldn't be surprised if an action lay against the
Board for gross negligence!"

That had got the chairman's goat!--Got his goat?  What expressions
they used nowadays!  Or did it mean the opposite?  One never knew!
But as for Elderson--he seemed to Soames to be merely counterfeiting
a certain flusteration.  Futile to attempt to spring anything out of
a chap like that.  If the thing were true, the fellow must be
entirely desperate, prepared for anything and everything.  And since
from Soames the desperate side of life--the real holes, the
impossible positions which demand a gambler's throw--had always been
carefully barred by the habits of a prudent nature, he found it now
impossible to imagine Elderson's state of mind, or his line of
conduct if he were guilty.  For all he could tell, the chap might be
carrying poison about with him; might be sitting on a revolver like
a fellow on the film.  The whole thing was too unpleasant, too
worrying for words.  And without saying any more he went away,
taking nothing with him but the knowledge that their total liability
on this German business, with the mark valueless, was over two
hundred thousand pounds.  He hastily reviewed the fortunes of his
co-directors.  Old Fontenoy was always in low water; the chairman a
dark horse; Mont was in land, land right down in value, and
mortgaged at that; old Cosey Mothergill had nothing but his name and
his director's fees; Meyricke must have a large income, but light
come, light go, like most of those big counsel with irons in many
fires and the certainty of a judgeship.  Not a really substantial
man among the lot, except himself!  He ploughed his way along, head
down.  Public companies! Preposterous system!  You had to trust
somebody, and there you were!  It was appalling!

"Balloons, sir--beautiful colours, five feet circumference.  Take
one, gentleman!"

"Good gad!" said Soames.  As if the pricked bubble of German
business were not enough!



CHAPTER II

VICTORINE


All through December balloons had been slack--hardly any movement
about them, even in Christmas week, and from the Bickets Central
Australia was as far as ever.  The girl Victorine, restored to
comparative health, had not regained her position in the blouse
department of Messrs. Boney Blayds & Co.  They had given her some
odd sewing, but not of late, and she had spent much time trying to
get work less uncertain.  Her trouble was--had always been--her
face.  It was unusual.  People did not know what to make of a girl
who looked like that.  Why employ one who without qualification of
wealth, rank, fashion, or ability (so far as they knew) made them
feel ordinary?  For--however essential to such as Fleur and
Michael--dramatic interest was not primary in the manufacture or
sale of blouses, in the fitting-on of shoes, the addressing of
envelopes, making-up of funeral wreaths, or the other ambitions of
Victorine.  Behind those large dark eyes and silent lips, what went
on?  It worried Boney Blayds & Co., and the more wholesale firms of
commerce.  The lurid professions--film-super, or mannequin--did not
occur to one, of self-deprecating nature, born in Putney.

When Bicket had gone out of a morning with his tray and his
balloons not yet blown up, she would stand biting her finger, as
though to gnaw her way to some escape from this hand-to-mouth
existence which kept her husband thin as a rail, tired as a rook,
shabby as a tailless sparrow, and, at the expense of all caste
feeling, brought them in no more than just enough to keep them
living under a roof.  It had long been clear to them both that
there was no future in balloons, just a cadging present.  And there
smouldered in the silent, passive Victorine a fierce resentment.
She wanted better things for herself, for him, chiefly for him.

On the morning when the mark was bumping down, she was putting on
her velveteen jacket and toque (best remaining items of her
wardrobe), having taken a resolve.  Bicket never mentioned his old
job, and his wife had subtly divined some cause beyond the ordinary
for his loss of it.  Why not see if she could get him taken back?
He had often said:  "Mr. Mont's a gent and a sort o' socialist;
been through the war, too; no high-and-mighty about HIM."  If she
could 'get at' this phenomenon!  With the flush of hope and daring
in her sallow cheeks, she took stock of her appearance from the
window-glasses of the Strand.  Her velveteen of jade-green always
pleased one who had an eye for colour, but her black skirt--well,
perhaps the wear and tear of it wouldn't show if she kept behind
the counter.  Had she brass enough to say that she came about a
manuscript?  And she rehearsed with silent lips, pinching her
accent:  "Would you ask Mr. Mont, please, if I could see him; it's
about a manuscript."  Yes! and then would come the question:  "What
name, please?"  "Mrs. Bicket?"  Never!  "Miss Victorine Collins?"
All authoresses had maiden names.  Victorine--yes!  But Collins!
It didn't sound like.  And no one would know what her maiden name
had been.  Why not choose one?  They often chose.  And she
searched.  Something Italian, like--like--Hadn't their landlady
said to them when they came in:  "Is your wife Eyetalian?"  Ah!
Manuelli!  That was certainly Italian--the ice-cream man in Little
Ditch Street had it!  She walked on practising beneath her breath.
If only she could get to see this Mr. Mont!

She entered, trembling.  All went exactly as foreseen, even to the
pinching of her accent, till she stood waiting for them to bring an
answer from the speaking tube, concealing her hands in their very
old gloves.  Had Miss Manuelli an appointment?  There was no
manuscript.

"No," said Victorine, "I haven't sent it yet.  I wanted to see him
first."  The young man at the counter was looking at her hard.  He
went again to the tube, then spoke.

"Will you wait a minute, please--Mr. Mont's lady secretary is
coming down."

Victorine inclined her head towards her sinking heart.  A lady
secretary!  She would never get there now!  And there came on her
the sudden dread of false pretences.  But the thought of Tony
standing at his corner, ballooned up to the eyes, as she had spied
out more than once, fortified her desperation.

A girl's voice said:  "Miss Manuelli?  Mr. Mont's secretary,
perhaps you could give me a message."

A fresh-faced young woman's eyes were travelling up and down her.
Pinching her accent hard, she said:  "Oh!  I'm afraid I couldn't do
that."

The travelling gaze stopped at her face.  "If you'll come with me,
I'll see if he can see you."

Alone in a small waiting-room, Victorine sat without movement, till
she saw a young man's face poked through the doorway, and heard the
words:

"Will you come in?"

She took a deep breath, and went.  Once in the presence, she looked
from Michael to his secretary and back again, subtly daring his
youth, his chivalry, his sportsmanship, to refuse her a private
interview.  Through Michael passed at once the thought:  'Money, I
suppose.  But what an interesting face!'  The secretary drew down
the corners of her mouth and left the room,

"Well, Miss--er--Manuelli?"

"Not Manuelli, please--Mrs. Bicket; my husband used to be here."

"What!"  The chap that had snooped 'Copper Coin!'  Phew!  Bicket's
yarn--his wife--pneumonia!  She looked as if she might have had it.

"He often spoke of you, sir.  And, please, he hasn't any work.
Couldn't you find room for him again, sir?"

Michael stood silent.  Did this terribly interesting-looking girl
know about the snooping?

"He just sells balloons in the street now; I can't bear to see him.
Over by St. Paul's he stands, and there's no money in it; and we do
so want to get out to Australia.  I know he's very nervy, and gets
wrong with people.  But if you COULD take him back here. . . ."

No! she did not know!

"Very sorry, Mrs. Bicket.  I remember your husband well, but we
haven't a place for him.  Are YOU all right again?"

"Oh! yes.  Except that I can't get work again either."

What a face for wrappers!  Sort of Mona Lisa-ish!  Storbert's
novel!  Ha!

"Well, I'll have a talk with your husband.  I suppose you wouldn't
like to sit to an artist for a book-wrapper?  It might lead to work
in that line if you want it.  You're just the type for a friend of
mine.  Do you know Aubrey Greene's work?"

"No, sir."

"It's pretty good--in fact, very good in a decadent way.  You
wouldn't mind sitting?"

"I wouldn't mind anything to save some money.  But I'd rather you
didn't tell my husband I'd been to see you.  He might take it
amiss."

"All right!  I'll see him by accident.  Near St. Paul's, you said?
But there's no chance here, Mrs. Bicket.  Besides, he couldn't make
two ends meet on this job, he told me."

"When I was ill, sir."

"Of course, that makes a difference."

"Yes, sir."

"Well, let me write you a note to Mr. Greene.  Will you sit down a
minute?"

He stole a look at her while she sat waiting.  Really, her sallow,
large-eyed face, with its dead-black, bobbed, frizzy-ended hair,
was extraordinarily interesting--a little too refined and anaemic
for the public; but, dash it all! the public couldn't always have
its Reckitt's blue eyes, corn-coloured hair, and poppy cheeks.
"She's not a peach," he wrote, "on the main tree of taste; but so
striking in her way that she really might become a type, like
Beardsley's or Dana's."

When she had taken the note and gone, he rang for his secretary.

"No, Miss Perren, she didn't take anything off me.  But some type,
eh?"

"I thought you'd like to see her.  She wasn't an authoress, was
she?"

"Far from it."

"Well, I hope she got what she wanted."

Michael grinned.  "Partly, Miss Perren--partly.  You think I'm an
awful fool, don't you?"

"I'm sure I don't; but I think you're too soft-hearted."

Michael ran his fingers through his hair.

"Would it surprise you to hear that I've done a stroke of
business?"

"Yes, Mr. Mont."

"Then I won't tell you what it is.  When you've done pouting, go on
with that letter to my father about 'Duet':  'We are sorry to say
that in the present state of the trade we should not be justified
in reprinting the dialogue between those two old blighters; we have
already lost money by it!'  You must translate, of course.  Now can
we say something to cheer the old boy up?  How about this?  'When
the French have recovered their wits, and the birds begin to sing--
in short, when spring comes--we hope to reconsider the matter in
the light of--of'--er--what, Miss Perren?"

"'The experience we shall have gained.'  Shall I leave out about
the French and the birds?"

"Excellent!  'Yours faithfully, Danby and Winter.'  Don't you think
it was a scandalous piece of nepotism bringing the book here at
all, Miss Perren?"

"What is 'nepotism'?"

"Taking advantage of your son.  He's never made a sixpence by any
of his books."

"He's a very distinguished writer, Mr. Mont."

"And we pay for the distinction.  Well, he's a good old Bart.
That's all before lunch, and mind you have a good one.  That girl's
figure wasn't usual either, was it?  She's thin, but she stands up
straight.  There's a question I always want to ask, Miss Perren:
Why do modern girls walk in a curve with their heads poked forward?
They can't all be built like that."

The secretary's cheeks brightened.

"There IS a reason, Mr. Mont."

"Good!  What is it?"

The secretary's cheeks continued to brighten.  "I don't really know
whether I can--"

"Oh! sorry.  I'll ask my wife.  Only she's quite straight herself."

"Well, Mr. Mont, it's this, you see:  They aren't supposed to have
anything be--behind, and, of course, they have, and they can't get
the proper effect unless they curve their chests in and poke their
heads forward.  It's the fashion-plates and mannequins that do it."

"I see," said Michael; "thank you, Miss Perren; awfully good of
you.  It's the limit, isn't it?"

"Yes, I don't hold with it, myself."

"No, quite!"

The secretary lowered her eyelids and withdrew.

Michael sat down and drew a face on his blotting-paper.  It was not
Victorine's. . . .



Armed with the note to Aubrey Greene, Victorine had her usual
lunch, a cup of coffee and a bit of heavy cake, and took the tube
towards Chelsea.  She had not succeeded, but the gentleman had been
friendly and she felt cheered.

At the studio door was a young man inserting a key--very elegant in
smoke-grey Harris tweeds, a sliding young man with no hat,
beautifully brushed-back bright hair, and a soft voice.

"Model?" he said.

"Yes, sir, please.  I have a note for you from Mr. Mont."

"Michael?  Come in."

Victorine followed him in.  It was 'not half' sea-green in there; a
high room with rafters and a top light, and lots of pictures and
drawings on the walls, and as if they had slipped off on to the
floor.  A picture on an easel of two ladies with their clothes
sliding down troubled Victorine.  She became conscious of the
gentleman's eyes, sea-green like the walls, sliding up and down
her.

"Will you sit for anything?" he asked.

Victorine answered mechanically:  "Yes, sir."

"Do you mind taking your hat off?"

Victorine took off the toque, and shook out her hair.

"Ah!" said the gentleman.  "I wonder."

Victorine wondered what.

"Just sit down on the dais, will you?"

Victorine looked about her, uncertain.  A smile seemed to fly up
his forehead and over his slippery bright hair.

"This is your first shot, then?"

"Yes, sir."

"All the better."  And he pointed to a small platform.

Victorine sat down on it in a black oak chair.

"You look cold."

"Yes, sir."

He went to a cupboard and returned with two small glasses of a
brown fluid.

"Have a Grand Marnier?"

She noticed that he tossed his off in one gulp, and did the same.
It was sweet, strong, very nice, and made her gasp.

"Take a cigarette."

Victorine took one from a case he handed, and put it between her
lips.  He lit it.  And again a smile slid up away over the top of
his head.

"You draw it in," he said.  "Where were you born?"

"In Putney, sir."

"That's very interesting.  Just sit still a minute.  It's not as
bad as having a tooth out, but it takes longer.  The great thing is
to keep awake."

"Yes, sir."

He took a large piece of paper and a bit of dark stuff, and began
to draw.

"Tell me," he said, "Miss--"

"Collins, sir--Victorine Collins."  Some instinct made her give her
maiden name.  It seemed somehow more professional.

"Are you at large?"  He paused, and again the smile slid up over
his bright hair:  "Or have you any other occupation?"

"Not at present, sir.  I'm married, but nothing else."

For some time after that the gentleman was silent.  It was
interesting to see him, taking a look, making a stroke on the
paper, taking another look.  Hundreds of looks, hundreds of
strokes.  At last he said:  "All right!  Now we'll have a rest.
Heaven sent you here, Miss Collins.  Come and get warm."

Victorine approached the fire.

"Do you know anything about expressionism?"

"No, sir."

"Well, it means not troubling about the outside except in so far as
it expresses the inside.  Does that convey anything to you?"

"No, sir."

"Quite!  I think you said you'd sit for the--er--altogether?"

Victorine regarded the bright and sliding gentleman.  She did not
know what he meant, but she felt that he meant something out of the
ordinary.

"Altogether what, sir?"

"Nude."

"Oh!"  She cast her eyes down, then raised them to the sliding
clothes of the two ladies.  "Like that?"

"No, I shouldn't be treating you cubistically."

A slow flush was burning out the sallow in her cheeks.  She said
slowly:

"Does it mean more money?"

"Yes, half as much again--more perhaps.  I don't want you to if
you'd rather not.  You can think it over and let me know next
time."

She raised her eyes again, and said:  "Thank you, sir."

"Righto!  Only please don't 'sir' me."

Victorine smiled.  It was the first time she had achieved this
functional disturbance, and it seemed to have a strange effect.  He
said hurriedly:  "By George!  When you smile, Miss Collins, I see
you impressionistically.  If you've rested, sit up there again."

Victorine went back.

The gentleman took a fresh piece of paper.

"Can you think of anything that will keep you smiling?"

She shook her head.  That was a fact.

"Nothing comic at all?  I suppose you're not in love with your
husband, for instance?"

"Oh! yes."

"Well, try that."

Victorine tried that, but she could only see Tony selling his
balloons.

"That won't do," said the gentleman.  "Don't think of him!  Did you
ever see 'L'apres midi d'un Faune'?"

"No, sir."

"Well, I've got an idea.  'L'apres midi d'une Dryade.'  About the
nude you really needn't mind.  It's quite impersonal.  Think of
art, and fifteen bob a day.  Shades of Nijinsky, I see the whole
thing!"

All the time that he was talking his eyes were sliding off and on
to her, and his pencil off and on to the paper.  A sort of
infection began to ferment within Victorine.  Fifteen shillings a
day!  Blue butterflies!

There was a profound silence.  His eyes and hand slid off and on.
A faint smile had come on Victorine's face--she was adding up the
money she might earn.

At last his eyes and hand ceased moving, and he stood looking at
the paper.

"That's all for to-day, Miss Collins.  I've got to think it out.
Will you give me your address?"

Victorine thought rapidly.

"Please, sir, will you write to me at the post office.  I don't
want my husband to know that I'm--I'm--"

"Affiliated to art?  Well!  Name of post office?"

Victorine gave it and resumed her hat.

"An hour and a half, five shillings, thank you.  And to-morrow, at
half-past two, Miss Collins--not 'sir.'"

"Yes, s--, thank you."

Waiting for her 'bus in the cold January air, the altogether
appeared to Victorine improbable.  To sit in front of a strange
gentleman in her skin!  If Tony knew!  The slow flush again burned
up the sallow in her cheeks.  She climbed into the 'bus.  But
fifteen shillings!  Six days a week--why, it would be four pound
ten!  In four months she could earn their passage out.  Judging by
the pictures in there, lots must be doing it.  Tony must know
nothing, not even that she was sitting for her face.  He was all
nerves, and that fond of her!  He would imagine things; she had
heard him say those artists were just like cats.  But that
gentleman had been very nice, though he did seem as if he were
laughing at everything.  She wished he had shown her the drawing.
Perhaps she would see herself in an exhibition some day.  But
without--oh!  And suddenly she thought:  'If I ate a bit more, I'd
look nice like that, too!'  And as if to escape from the daring of
that thought, she stared up into the face opposite.  It had two
chins, was calm and smooth and pink, with light eyes staring back
at her.  People had thoughts, but you couldn't tell what they were!
And the smile which Aubrey Greene desired crept out on his model's
face.



CHAPTER III

MICHAEL WALKS AND TALKS


The face Michael drew began by being Victorine's, and ended by
being Fleur's.  If physically Fleur stood up straight, was she
morally as erect?  This was the speculation for which he
continually called himself a cad.  He saw no change in her
movements, and loyally refrained from enquiring into the movements
he could not see.  But his aroused attention made him more and more
aware of a certain cynicism, as if she were continually registering
the belief that all values were equal and none of much value.

Wilfrid, though still in London, was neither visible nor spoken of.
"Out of sight and hearing, out of mind," seemed to be the motto.
It did not work with Michael--Wilfrid was constantly in his mind.
If Wilfrid were not seeing Fleur, how could he bear to stay within
such tantalising reach of her?  If Fleur did not want Wilfrid to
stay, why had she not sent him away?  He was finding it difficult,
too, to conceal from others the fact that Desert and he were no
longer pals.  Often the impetus to go and have it out with him
surged up and was beaten back.  Either there was nothing beyond
what he already knew, or there was something--and Wilfrid would say
there wasn't.  Michael accepted that without cavil; one did not
give a woman away!  But he wanted to hear no lies from a War
comrade.  Between Fleur and himself no word had passed; for words,
he felt, would add no knowledge, merely imperil a hold weak enough
already.  Christmas at the ancestral manor of the Monts had been
passed in covert-shooting.  Fleur had come and stood with him at
the last drive on the second day, holding Ting-a-ling on a lead.
The Chinese dog had been extraordinarily excited, climbing the air
every time a bird fell, and quite unaffected by the noise of guns.
Michael, waiting to miss his birds--he was a poor shot--had watched
her eager face emerging from grey fur, her form braced back against
Ting-a-ling.  Shooting was new to her; and under the stimulus of
novelty she was always at her best.  He had loved even her "Oh,
Michaels!" when he missed.  She had been the success of the
gathering, which meant seeing almost nothing of her except a sleepy
head on a pillow; but, at least, down there he had not suffered
from lurking uneasiness.

Putting a last touch to the bobbed hair on the blotting paper, he
got up.  St. Paul's, that girl had said.  He might stroll up and
have a squint at Bicket.  Something might occur to him.  Tightening
the belt of his blue overcoat round his waist, he sallied forth,
thin and sprightly, with a little ache in his heart.

Walking east, on that bright, cheerful day, nothing struck him so
much as the fact that he was alive, well, and in work.  So very
many were dead, ill, or out of a job.  He entered Covent Garden.
Amazing place!  A human nature which, decade after decade, could
put up with Covent Garden was not in danger of extinction from its
many ills.  A comforting place--one needn't take anything too
seriously after walking through it.  On this square island were the
vegetables of the earth and the fruits of the world, bounded on the
west by publishing, on the cast by opera, on the north and south by
rivers of mankind.  Among discharging carts and litter of paper,
straw and men out of drawing, Michael walked and sniffed.  Smell of
its own, Covent Garden, earthy and just not rotten!  He had never
seen--even in the War--any place that so utterly lacked form.
Extraordinarily English!  Nobody looked as if they had anything to
do with the soil--drivers, hangers-on, packers, and the salesmen
inside the covered markets, seemed equally devoid of acquaintanceship
with sun, wind, water, earth or air--town types all!  And--Golly!--
how their faces jutted, sloped, sagged and swelled, in every kind of
featural disharmony.  What was the English type amongst all this
infinite variety of disproportion? There just wasn't one!  He came
on the fruits, glowing piles, still and bright--foreigners from the
land of the sun--globes all the same size and colour.  They made
Michael's mouth water.  'Something in the sun,' he thought; 'there
really is.'  Look at Italy, at the Arabs, at Australia--the
Australians came from England, and see the type now!  Nevertheless--
a Cockney for good temper!  The more regular a person's form and
features, the more selfish they were! Those grape-fruit looked
horribly self-satisfied, compared with the potatoes!

He emerged still thinking about the English.  Well!  They were now
one of the plainest and most distorted races of the world; and yet
was there any race to compare with them for good temper and for
'guts'?  And they needed those in their smoky towns, and their
climate--remarkable instance of adaptation to environment, the
modern English character!  'I could pick out an Englishman
anywhere,' he thought, 'and yet, physically, there's no general
type now!'  Astounding people!  So ugly in the mass, yet growing
such flowers of beauty, and such strange sprigs--like that little
Mrs. Bicket; so unimaginative in bulk, yet with such a blooming lot
of poets!  How would old Danby like it, by the way, when Wilfrid
took his next volume to some other firm; or rather what should he--
Wilfrid's particular friend!--say to old Danby?  Aha!  He knew what
he should say:

"Yes, sir, but you should have let that poor blighter off who
snooped the 'Copper Coins.'  Desert hasn't forgotten your refusal."
One for old Danby and his eternal in-the-rightness!  'Copper Coin'
had done uncommonly well.  Its successor would probably do
uncommonly better.  The book was a proof of what he--Michael--was
always saying:  The 'cockyolly-bird period' was passing.  People
wanted life again.  Sibley, Walter Nazing, Linda--all those who had
nothing to say except that they were superior to such as had--were
already measured for their coffins.  Not that they would know when
they were in them; not blooming likely!  They would continue to
wave their noses and look down them!

'I'M fed-up with them,' thought Michael.  'If only Fleur would see
that looking down your nose is a sure sign of inferiority!'  And,
suddenly, it came to him that she probably did.  Wilfrid was the
only one of the whole lot she had ever been thick with; the others
were there because--well, because she was Fleur, and had the latest
things about her.  When, very soon, they were no longer the latest
things, she would drop them.  But Wilfrid she would not drop.  No,
he felt sure that she had not dropped, and would not drop Wilfrid.

He looked up.  Ludgate Hill!  "Near St. Paul's--sells balloons?"
And there--sure enough--the poor beggar was!

Bicket was deflating with a view to going off his stand for a cup
of cocoa.  Remembering that he had come on him by accident, Michael
stood for a moment preparing the tones of surprise.  Pity the poor
chap couldn't blow himself into one of those coloured shapes and
float over St. Paul's to Peter.  Mournful little cuss he looked,
squeezing out the air!  Memory tapped sharply on his mind.
Balloon--in the square--November the first--joyful night!  Special!
Fleur!  Perhaps they brought luck.  He moved and said in an
astounded voice:  "YOU, Bicket?  Is this your stunt now?"

The large eyes of Bicket regarded him over a puce-coloured
sixpennyworth.

"Mr. Mont!  Often thought I'd like to see you again, sir."

"Same here, Bicket.  If you're not doing anything, come and have
some lunch."

Bicket completed the globe's collapse, and, closing his tray-lid,
said:  "Reelly, sir?"

"Rather!  I was just going into a fish place."

Bicket detached his tray.

"I'll leave this with the crossing-sweeper."  He did so, and
followed at Michael's side.

"Any money in it, Bicket?"

"Bare livin', sir."

"How about this place?  We'll have oysters."

A little saliva at the corner of Bicket's mouth was removed by a
pale tongue.

At a small table decorated with white oilcloth and a cruet stand,
Michael sat down.

"Two dozen oysters, and all that; then two good soles, and a bottle
of Chablis.  Hurry up, please."

When the white-aproned fellow had gone about it, Bicket said
simply:

"My Gawd!"

"Yes, it's a funny world, Bicket."

"It is, and that's a fact.  This lunch'll cost you a pound, I
shouldn't wonder.  If I take twenty-five bob a week, it's all I
do."

"You touch it there, Bicket.  I eat my conscience every day."

Bicket shook his head.

"No, sir, if you've got money, spend it.  I would.  Be 'appy if you
can--there yn't too many that are."

The white-aproned fellow began blessing them with oysters.  He
brought them fresh-opened, three at a time.  Michael bearded them;
Bicket swallowed them whole.  Presently above twelve empty shells,
he said:

"That's where the Socialists myke their mistyke, sir.  Nothing
keeps me going but the sight of other people spendin' money.  It's
what we might all come to with a bit of luck.  Reduce the world to
a level of a pound a dy--and it won't even run to that, they sy!
It's not good enough, sir.  I'd rather 'ave less with the 'ope of
more.  Take awy the gamble, and life's a frost.  Here's luck!"

"Almost thou persuadest me to be a capitalist, Bicket."

A glow had come up in the thin and large-eyed face behind the
greenish Chablis glass.

"I wish to Gawd I had my wife here, sir.  I told you about her and
the pneumonia.  She's all right agyne now, only thin.  She's the
prize I drew.  I don't want a world where you can't draw prizes.
If it were all bloomin' conscientious an' accordin' to merit, I'd
never have got her.  See?"

'Me, too,' thought Michael, mentally drawing that face again.

"We've all got our dreams; mine's blue butterflies--Central
Austrylia.  The Socialists won't 'elp me to get there.  Their ideas
of 'eaven don't run beyond Europe."

"Cripes!" said Michael.  "Melted butter, Bicket?"

"Thank you, sir."

Silence was not broken for some time, but the soles were.

"What made you think of balloons, Bicket?"

"You don't 'ave to advertise, they do it for you."

"Saw too much of advertising with us, eh?"

"Well, sir, I did use to read the wrappers.  Astonished me, I will
sy--the number of gryte books."

Michael ran his hands through his hair.

"Wrappers!  The same young woman being kissed by the same young man
with the same clean-cut jaw.  But what can you do, Bicket?  They
WILL HAVE IT.  I tried to make a break only this morning--I shall
see what comes of it.  "'And I hope YOU won't!' he thought:  'Fancy
coming on Fleur outside a novel!'

"I did notice a tendency just before I left," said Bicket, "to 'ave
cliffs or landskips and two sort of dolls sittin' on the sand or in
the grass lookin' as if they didn't know what to do with each
other."

"Yes," murmured Michael, "we tried that.  It was supposed not to be
vulgar.  But we soon exhausted the public's capacity.  What'll you
have now--cheese?"

"Thank you, sir; I've had too much already, but I won't say 'No.'"

"Two Stiltons," said Michael.

"How's Mr. Desert, sir?"

Michael reddened.

"Oh!  He's all right."

Bicket had reddened also.

"I wish--I wish you'd let him know that it was quite a--an accident
my pitchin' on his book.  I've always regretted it."

"It's usually an accident, I think," said Michael slowly, "when we
snoop other people's goods.  We never WANT to."

Bicket looked up.

"No, sir, I don't agree.  'Alf mankind's predytory--only, I'm not
that sort, meself."

In Michael loyalty tried to stammer "Nor is he."  He handed his
cigarette case to Bicket.

"Thank you, sir, I'm sure."

His eyes were swimming, and Michael thought:  'Dash it!  This is
sentimental.  Kiss me good-bye and go!'  He beckoned up the white-
aproned fellow.

"Give us your address, Bicket.  If integuments are any good to you,
I might have some spare slops."

Bicket backed the bill with his address and said, hesitating:  "I
suppose, sir, Mrs. Mont wouldn't 'ave anything to spare.  My wife's
about my height."

"I expect she would.  We'll send them along."  He saw the 'little
snipe's' lips quivering, and reached for his overcoat.  "If
anything blows in, I'll remember you.  Goodbye, Bicket, and good
luck."

Going east, because Bicket was going west, he repeated to himself
the maxim:  "Pity is tripe--pity is tripe!"  Then getting on a
'bus, he was borne back past St. Paul's.  Cautiously 'taking a
lunar'--as old Forsyte put it--he SAW Bicket inflating a balloon;
little was visible of his face or figure behind that rosy
circumference.  Nearing Blake Street, he developed an invincible
repugnance to work, and was carried on to Trafalgar Square.  Bicket
had stirred him up.  The world was sometimes almost unbearably
jolly.  Bicket, Wilfrid, and the Ruhr!"  Feeling is tosh!  Pity is
tripe!"  He descended from his 'bus, and passed the lions towards
Pall Mall.  Should he go into 'Snooks' and ask for Bart?  No use--
he would not find Fleur there.  That was what he really wanted--to
see Fleur in the daytime.  But--where?  She was everywhere to be
found, and that was nowhere.

She was restless.  Was that his fault?  If he had been Wilfrid--
would she be restless?  'Yes,' he thought stoutly, 'Wilfrid's
restless, too.'  They were all restless--all the people he knew.
At least all the young ones--in life and in letters.  Look at their
novels!  Hardly one in twenty had any repose, any of that quality
which made one turn back to a book as a corner of refuge.  They
dashed and sputtered and skidded and rushed by like motor cycles--
violent, oh! and clever.  How tired he was of cleverness!
Sometimes he would take a manuscript home to Fleur for her opinion.
He remembered her saying once:  "This is exactly like life,
Michael, it just rushes--it doesn't dwell on anything long enough
to mean anything anywhere.  Of course the author didn't mean it for
satire, but if you publish it, I advise you to put:  'This awful
satire on modern life' outside the cover."  And they had.  At
least, they had put:  "This wonderful satire on modern life."
Fleur WAS like that!  She could see the hurry, but, like the author
of the wonderful satire, she didn't know that she herself veered
and hurried, or--did she know?  Was she conscious of kicking at
life, like a flame at air?

He had reached Piccadilly, and suddenly he remembered that he had
not called on her aunt for ages.  That was a possible draw.  He
bent his steps towards Green Street.

"Mrs. Dartie at home?"

"Yes, sir."

Michael moved his nostrils.  Fleur used--but he could catch no
scent, except incense.  Winifred burnt joss-sticks when she
remembered what a distinguished atmosphere they produced.

"What name?"

"Mr. Mont.  My wife's not here, I suppose?"

"No, sir.  Only Mrs. Val Dartie."

Mrs. Val Dartie!  Yes, he remembered, nice woman--but not a
substitute for Fleur!  Committed, however, he followed the maid.

In the drawing-room Michael found three people, one of them his
father-in-law, who had a grey and brooding aspect, and, from an
Empire chair, was staring at blue Australian butterflies' wings
under glass on a round scarlet table.  Winifred had jazzed the
Empire foundations of her room with a superstructure more suitable
to the age.  She greeted Michael with fashionable warmth.  It was
good of him to come when he was so busy with all these young poets.
"I thought 'Copper Coin,'" she said--"what a NICE title!--such an
intriguing little book.  I do think Mr. Desert is clever!  What is
he doing now?"

Michael said:  "I don't know," and dropped on to a settee beside
Mrs. Val.  Ignorant of the Forsyte family feud, he was unable to
appreciate the relief he had brought in with him.  Soames said
something about the French, got up, and went to the window;
Winifred joined him--their voices sounded confidential.

"How is Fleur?" said Michael's neighbour.

"Thanks, awfully well."

"Do you like your house?"

"Oh, fearfully.  Won't you come and see it?"

"I don't know whether Fleur would--?"

"Why not?"

"Oh!  Well!"

"She's frightfully accessible."

She seemed to be looking at him with more interest than he
deserved, to be trying to make something out from his face, and he
added:

"You're a relation--by blood as well as marriage, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"Then what's the skeleton?"

"Oh! nothing.  I'll certainly come.  Only--she has so many
friends."

Michael thought:  'I like this woman!'  "As a matter of fact," he
said, "I came here this afternoon thinking I might find Fleur.  I
should like her to know you.  With all the jazz there is about,
she'd appreciate somebody restful."

"Thank you."

"You've never lived in London?"

"Not since I was six."

"I wish she could get a rest--pity there isn't a d-desert handy."
He had stuttered; the word was not pronounced the same--still!  He
glanced, disconcerted, at the butterflies.  "I've just been talking
to a little Cockney whose S. O. S. is 'Central Austrylia.'  But
what do you say--Have we got souls to save?"

"I used to think so, but now I'm not so sure--something's struck me
lately."

"What was that?"

"Well, I notice that any one at all out of proportion, or whose
nose is on one side, or whose eyes jut out, or even have a special
shining look, always believes in the soul; people who are in
proportion, and have no prominent physical features, don't seem to
be really interested."

Michael's ears moved.

"By Jove!" he said; "some thought!  Fleur's beautifully
proportioned--SHE doesn't seem to worry.  I'm not--and I certainly
do.  The people in Covent Garden must have lots of soul.  You think
'the soul's' the result of loose-gearing in the organism--sort of
special consciousness from not working in one piece."

"Yes, rather like that--what's called psychic power is, I'm almost
sure."

"I say, is your life safe?  According to your theory, though, we're
in a mighty soulful era.  I must think over my family.  How about
yours?"

"The Forsytes!  Oh, they're quite too well-proportioned."

"I agree, they haven't any special juts so far as I've seen.  The
French, too, are awfully close-knit.  It really is an idea, only,
of course, most people see it the other way.  They'd say the soul
produces the disproportion, makes the eyes shine, bends the nose,
and all that; where the soul is small, it's not trying to get out
of the body, whence the barber's block.  I'll think about it.
Thanks for the tip.  Well, do come and see us.  Good-bye!  I don't
think I'll disturb them in the window.  Would you mind saying I had
to scoot?"  Squeezing a slim, gloved hand, receiving and returning
a smiling look, he slid out, thinking:  'Dash the soul, where's her
body?'



CHAPTER IV

FLEUR'S BODY


Fleur's body, indeed, was at the moment in one of those difficult
positions which continually threaten the spirit of compromise.  It
was in fact in Wilfrid's arms; sufficiently, at least, to make her
say:

"No, Wilfrid--you promised to be good."

It was a really remarkable tribute to her powers of skating on thin
ice that the word 'good' should still have significance.  For
eleven weeks exactly this young man had danced on the edge of
fulfilment, and was even now divided from her by two clenched hands
pressed firmly against his chest, and the word 'good'; and this
after not having seen her for a fortnight.

When she said it, he let her go, with a sort of violence, and sat
down on a piece of junk.  Only the sense of damnable iteration
prevented him from saying:  "It can't go on, Fleur."  She knew
that!  And yet it did!  This was what perpetually amazed him.  How
a poor brute could hang on week after week saying to her and to
himself:  "Now or never!" when it wasn't either.  Subconsciousness,
that, until the word 'now' had been reached, Fleur would not know
her own mind, alone had kept him dancing.  His own feelings were so
intense that he almost hated her for indecision.  And he was
unjust.  It was not exactly indecision.  Fleur wanted the added
richness and excitement which Wilfrid's affection gave to life, but
without danger and without loss.  How natural!  His frightful
passionateness was making all the trouble.  Neither by her wish,
nor through her fault, was he passionate!  And yet--it was both
nice and proper to inspire passion; and, of course, she had the
lurking sense that she was not 'in the mode' to cavil at a lover,
especially since life owed her one.

Released, she smoothed herself and said:  "Talk of something
sensible; what have you been writing?"

"This."

Fleur read.  Flushing and biting her lips, she said:

"It's frightfully bitter."

"It's frightfully true.  Does HE ever ask you now whether you see
me?"

"Never."

"Why?"

"I don't know."

"What would you answer if he did?"

Fleur shrugged her shoulders.

Desert said quietly:  "Yes, that's your attitude.  It can't last,
Fleur."  He was standing by the window.  She put the sheets down on
his desk and moved towards him.  Poor Wilfrid!  Now that he was
quiet she was sorry.

He said suddenly:  "Stop!  Don't move!  HE'S down there in the
street."

Recoiling, she gasped:  "Michael!  Oh!  But how--how could he have
known?"

Desert said grimly:  "Do you only know him as little as that?  Do
you suppose he'd be there if he knew you were here?"

Fleur winced.

"Why IS he there, then?"

"He probably wants to see me.  He looks as if he couldn't make up
his mind.  Don't get the wind up, he won't be let in."

Fleur sat down; she felt weak in the legs.  The ice seemed suddenly
of an appalling thinness--the water appallingly cold.

"Has he seen you?" she said.

"No."

The thought flashed through him:  'If I were a blackguard, I could
force her hand, by moving one step and crooking my finger.'  Pity
one wasn't a blackguard--at all events, not to that point--things
would be so much simpler!

"Where is he now?" asked Fleur.

"Going away."

In profound relief, she sighed out:

"But it's queer, isn't it, Wilfrid?"

"You don't suppose he's easy in his mind, do you?"

Fleur bit her lips.  He was jeering, because she didn't or couldn't
really love either of them.  It was unjust.  She COULD have loved--
she HAD loved!  Wilfrid and Michael--they might go to the deuce!

"I wish I had never come here," she said suddenly: "and I'll never
come again!"

He went to the door, and held it open.

"You are right."

Fleur stood quite still, her chin on the collar of her fur, her
clear-glancing eyes fixed on his face, her lips set and mutinous.

"You think I'm a heartless beast," she said slowly.  "So I am--now.
Good-bye!"

He neither took her hand nor spoke, he only bowed.  His eyes were
very tragic.  Trembling with mortification, Fleur went out.  She
heard the door closed, while she was going down the stairs.  At the
bottom she stood uncertain.  Suppose Michael had come back!  Almost
opposite was that gallery where she had first met him and--Jon.
Slip across in there!  If he were still hovering round the entrance
of the little street, she could tell him with a good conscience
where she had been.  She peeped.  Not in sight!  Swiftly she slid
across into the doorway opposite.  They would be closing in a
minute--just on four o'clock!  She put down a shilling and slipped
in.  She must see--in case!  She stood revolving--one-man show, the
man--Claud Brains!  She put down another shilling for a catalogue,
and read as she went out.  "No. 7.  Woman getting the wind up."  It
told her everything; and with a lighter heart she skimmed along,
and took a taxi.  Get home before Michael!  She felt relieved,
almost exhilarated.  So much for skating on thin ice!  It wasn't
good enough.  Wilfrid must go.  Poor Wilfrid!  Well, he shouldn't
have sneered--what did he know of her?  Nobody knew anything of
her!  She was alone in the world.  She slipped her latch-key into
the hall door.  No Michael.  She sat down in the drawing-room
before the fire, and took up Walter Nazing's last.  She read a page
three times.  It meant no more with every reading--it meant less;
he was the kind of author who must be read at a gallop, and given
away lest a first impression of wind in the hair be lost in a
sensation of wind lower down; but Wilfrid's eyes came between her
and the words.  Pity!  Nobody pitied her; why, then, should she
pity them?  Besides, pity was 'pop,' as Amabel would say.  The
situation demanded cast-iron sense.  But Wilfrid's eyes!  Well--she
wouldn't be seeing them again!  Beautiful eyes when they smiled or
when--so much more often--they looked at her with longing, as now
between her and the sentence:  "Solemnly and with a delicious
egoism he more than awfully desired her who snug and rosy in the
pink shell of her involuted and so petulant social periphrasis--"
Poor Wilfrid!  Pity was 'pop,' but there was pride!  Did she choose
that he should go away thinking that she had 'played him up' just
out of vanity, as Walter Nazing said American women did?  Did she?
Would it not be more in the mode, really dramatic--if one 'went
over the deep end,' as they said, just once?  Would that not be
something they could both look back on--he in the East he was
always talking of, she in this West?  The proposition had a
momentary popularity in that organism called Fleur too finely
proportioned for a soul according to the theory which Michael was
thinking over.  Like all popularities, it did not last.  First:
Would she like it?  She did not think she would; one man, without
love, was quite enough.  Then there was the danger of passing into
Wilfrid's power.  He was a gentleman, but he was passionate; the
cup once sipped, would he consent to put it down?  But more than
all was a physical doubt of the last two or three weeks which
awaited verification, and which made her feel solemn.  She stood up
and passed her hands all over her, with a definite recoil from the
thought of Wilfrid's hands doing the same.  No!  To have his
friendship, his admiration, but not at that price.  She viewed him,
suddenly, as a bomb set on her copper floor; and in fancy ran and
seized and flung him out into the Square--poor Wilfrid!  Pity was
'pop!'  But one might be sorry for ONESELF, losing him; losing too
that ideal of modern womanhood expounded to her one evening by
Marjorie Ferrar, pet of the 'panjoys,' whose red-gold hair excited
so much admiration:  "My ambition--old thing--is to be the perfect
wife of one man, the perfect mistress of another, and the perfect
mother of a third, all at once.  It's perfectly possible--they do
it in France."

But was it really so perfectly possible--even if pity WAS posh?
How be perfect to Michael, when the slightest slip might reveal to
him that she was being perfect to Wilfrid; how be perfect to
Wilfrid, when every time she was perfect to Michael would be a
dagger in Wilfrid's heart?  And if--if her physical doubt should
mature into certainty, how be perfect mother to the certainty, when
she was either torturing two men, or lying to them like a
trooperess?  Not so perfectly possible as all that!  'If only I
were all French!' thought Fleur. . . .

The clicking door startled her--the reason that she was not all
French was coming in.  He looked very grey, as if he had been
thinking too much.  He kissed her, and sat down moodily before the
fire.

"Have you come for the night, Dad?"

"If I may," murmured Soames.  "Business."

"Anything unpleasant, ducky?"

Soames looked up as if startled.

"Unpleasant?  Why should it be unpleasant?"

"I only thought from your face."

Soames grunted.  "This Ruhr!" he said.  "I've brought you a
picture.  Chinese!"

"Oh, Dad!  How jolly!"

"It isn't," said Soames; "it's a monkey eating fruit."

"But that's perfect!  Where is it--in the hall?"

Soames nodded.

Stripping the coverings off the picture, Fleur brought it in, and
setting it up on the jade-green settee, stood away and looked at
it.  The large white monkey with its brown haunting eyes, as if she
had suddenly wrested its interest from the orange-like fruit in its
crisped paw, the grey background, the empty rinds all round--bright
splashes in a general ghostliness of colour, impressed her at once.

"But, Dad, it's a masterpiece--I'm sure it's of a frightfully good
period."

"I don't know," said Soames.  "I must look up the Chinese."

"But you oughtn't to give it to me, it must be worth any amount.
You ought to have it in your collection."

"They didn't know its value," said Soames, and a faint smile
illumined his features.  "I gave three hundred for it.  It'll be
safer here."

"Of course it'll be safe.  Only why safer?"

Soames turned towards the picture.

"I can't tell.  Anything may come of this."

"Of what, dear?"

"Is 'old Mont' coming in to-night?"

"No, he's at Lippinghall still."

"Well, it doesn't matter--he's no good."

Fleur took his hand and gave it a squeeze.

"Tell me!"

Soames' tickled heart quivered.  Fancy her wanting to know what was
troubling him!  But his sense of the becoming, and his fear of
giving away his own alarm, forbade response.

"Nothing you'd understand," he said.  "Where are you going to hang
it?"

"There, I think; but we must wait for Michael."

Soames grumbled out:

"I saw him just now at your aunt's.  Is that the way he attends to
business?"

'Perhaps,' thought Fleur, 'he was only on his way back to the
office.  Cork Street IS more or less between!  If he passed the end
of it, he would think of Wilfrid, he might have been wanting to see
him about books.'

"Oh, here's Ting!  Well, darling!"

The Chinese dog, let in, as it were, by Providence, seeing Soames,
sat down suddenly with snub upturned and eyes brilliant.  "The
expression of your face," he seemed to say, "pleases me.  We belong
to the past and could sing hymns together, old man."

"Funny little chap," said Soames; "he always knows me."

Fleur lifted him.  "Come and see the new monkey, ducky."

"Don't let him lick it."

Held rather firmly by his jade-green collar and confronted by an
inexplicable piece of silk smelling of the past, Ting-a-ling raised
his head higher and higher to correspond with the action of his
nostrils, and his little tongue appeared, tentatively savouring the
emanation of his country.

"It's a nice monkey, isn't it, darling?"

"No," said Ting-a-ling, rather clearly.  "Put me down!"

Restored to the floor, he sought a patch where the copper came
through between two rugs, and licked it quietly.

"Mr. Aubrey Greene, ma'am!"

"H'm!" said Soames.

The painter came gliding and glowing in; his bright hair slipping
back, his green eyes sliding off.

"Ah!" he said, pointing to the floor.  "That's what I've come
about."

Fleur followed his finger in amazement.

"Ting!" she said severely, "stop it!  He will lick the copper,
Aubrey."

"But how perfectly Chinese!  They do every thing we don't."

"Dad--Aubrey Greene.  My father's just brought me this picture,
Aubrey--isn't it a gem?"

The painter stood quite still, his eyes ceased sliding off, his
hair ceased slipping back.

"Phew!" he said.

Soames rose.  He had waited for the flippant; but he recognised in
the tone something reverential, if not aghast.

"By George," said Aubrey Greene, "those eyes!  Where did you pick
it up, sir?"

"It belonged to a cousin of mine--a racing man.  It was his only
picture."

"Good for him!  He must have had taste."

Soames stared.  The idea that George should have had taste almost
appalled him.

"No," he said, with a flash of inspiration:  "What he liked about
it was that it makes you feel uncomfortable."

"Same thing!  I don't know where I've seen a more pungent satire on
human life."

"I don't follow," said Soames dryly.

"Why, it's a perfect allegory, sir!  Eat the fruits of life,
scatter the rinds, and get copped doing it.  When they're still, a
monkey's eyes are the human tragedy incarnate.  Look at them!  He
thinks there's something beyond, and he's sad or angry because he
can't get at it.  That picture ought to be in the British Museum,
sir, with the label:  'Civilisation, caught out.'"

"Well, it won't be," said Fleur.  "It'll be here, labelled 'The
White Monkey.'"

"Same thing."

"Cynicism," said Soames abruptly, "gets you nowhere.  If you'd said
'MODERNITY caught out'--"

"I do, sir; but why be narrow?  You don't seriously suppose this
age is worse than any other?"

"Don't I?" said Soames.  "In my belief the world reached its
highest point in the 'eighties, and will never reach it again."

The painter stared.

"That's frightfully interesting.  I wasn't born, and I suppose you
were about my age then, sir.  You believed in God and drove in
DILIGENCES."

DILIGENCES!  The word awakened in Soames a memory which somehow
seemed appropriate.

"Yes," he said, "and I can tell you a story of those days that you
can't match in these.  When I was a youngster in Switzerland with
my people, two of my sisters had some black cherries.  When they'd
eaten about half a dozen they discovered that they all had little
maggots in them.  An English climber there saw how upset they were,
and ate the whole of the rest of the cherries--about two pounds--
maggots, stones and all, just to show them.  That was the sort of
men they were then."

"Oh! Father!"

"Gee!  He must have been gone on them."

"No," said Soames, "not particularly.  His name was Powley; he wore
side whiskers."

"Talking of God and diligences; I saw a hansom yesterday."

'More to the point if you'd seen God,' thought Soames, but he did
not say so; indeed, the thought surprised him, it was not the sort
of thing he had ever seen himself.

"You mayn't know it, sir, but there's more belief now than there
was before the war--they've discovered that we're not all body."

"Oh!" said Fleur.  "That reminds me, Aubrey.  Do you know any
mediums?  Could I get one to come here?  On our floor, with Michael
outside the door, one would know there couldn't be any hanky.  Do
the dark seance people ever go out?--they're much more thrilling
they say."

"Spiritualism!" said Soames.  "H'mph!"  He could not in half an
hour have expressed himself more clearly.

Aubrey Greene's eyes slid off to Ting-a-ling.  "I'll see what I can
do, if you'll lend me your Peke for an hour or so to-morrow
afternoon.  I'd bring him back on a lead, and give him every
luxury."

"What do you want him for?"

"Michael sent me a most topping little model to-day.  But, you see,
she can't smile."

"Michael?"

"Yes.  Something quite new; and I've got a scheme.  Her smile's
like sunlight going off an Italian valley; but when you tell her
to, she can't.  I thought your Peke could make her, perhaps."

"May I come and see?" said Fleur.

"Yes, bring him to-morrow; but, if I can persuade her, it'll be in
the 'altogether.'"

"Oh!  Will you get me a seance, if I lend you Ting?"

"I will."

"H'mph!" said Soames again.  Seances, Italian sunlight, the
'altogether!'  It was time he got back to Elderson, and what was to
be done now, and left this fiddling while Rome burned.

"Good-bye, Mr. Greene," he said; "I've got no time."

"Quite, sir," said Aubrey Greene.

"Quite!" mimicked Soames to himself, going out.

Aubrey Greene took his departure a few minutes later, crossing a
lady in the hall who was delivering her name to the manservant.

Alone with her body, Fleur again passed her hands all over it.  The
'altogether'--was a reminder of the dangers of dramatic conduct.



CHAPTER V

FLEUR'S SOUL


"Mrs. Val Dartie, ma'am."

A name which could not be distorted even by Coaker affected her
like a finger applied suddenly to the head of the sciatic nerve.
Holly!  Not seen since the day when she did not marry Jon.  Holly!
A flood of remembrance--Wansdon, the Downs, the gravel pit, the
apple orchard, the river, the copse at Robin Hill!  No!  It was not
a pleasant sensation--to see Holly, and she said:  "How awfully
nice of you to come!"

"I met your husband this afternoon at Green Street; he asked me.
What a lovely room!"

"Ting!  Come and be introduced!  This is Ting-a-ling; isn't he
perfect?  He's a little upset because of the new monkey.  How's
Val, and dear Wansdon?  It was too wonderfully peaceful."

"It's a nice backwater.  I don't get tired of it."

"And--" said Fleur, with a little laugh, "Jon?"

"He's growing peaches in North Carolina.  British Columbia didn't
do."

"Oh!  Is he married?"

"No."

"I suppose he'll marry an American."

"He isn't twenty-two, you know."

"Good Lord!" said Fleur:  "Am I only twenty-one?  I feel forty-
eight."

"That's living in the middle of things and seeing so many people--"

"And getting to know none."

"But don't you?"

"No, it isn't done.  I mean we all call each other by our Christian
names; but apres--"

"I like your husband very much."

"Oh! yes, Michael's a dear.  How's June?"

"I saw her yesterday--she's got a new painter, of course--Claud
Brains.  I believe he's what they call a Vertiginist."

Fleur bit her lip.

"Yes, they're quite common.  I suppose June thinks he's the only
one."

"Well, she think's he's a genius."

"She's wonderful."

"Yes," said Holly, "the most loyal creature in the world while it
lasts.  It's like poultry farming--once they're hatched.  You never
saw Boris Strumolowski?"

"No."

"Well, don't."

"I know his bust of Michael's uncle.  It's rather sane."

"Yes.  June thought it a pot-boiler, and he never forgave her.  Of
course it was.  As soon as her swan makes money, she looks round
for another.  She's a darling."

"Yes," murmured Fleur; "I liked June."

Another flood of remembrance--from a tea-shop, from the river, from
June's little dining-room, from where in Green Street she had
changed her wedding dress under the upward gaze of June's blue
eyes.  She seized the monkey and held it up.

"Isn't it a picture of 'life'?"  Would she have said that if Aubrey
Greene hadn't?  Still it seemed very true at the moment.

"Poor monkey!" said Holly.  "I'm always frightfully sorry for
monkeys.  But it's marvellous, I think."

"Yes.  I'm going to hang it here.  If I can get one more, I shall
have done in this room; only people have so got on to Chinese
things.  This was luck--somebody died--George Forsyte, you know,
the racing one."

"Oh!" said Holly softly.  She saw again her old kinsman's japing
eyes in the church when Fleur was being married, heard his throaty
whisper, "Will she stay the course?"  And was she staying it, this
pretty filly?  "Wish she could get a rest.  If only there were a
desert handy!"  Well, one couldn't ask a question so personal, and
Holly took refuge in a general remark.

"What do all you smart young people feel about life, nowadays,
Fleur! when one's not of it and has lived twenty years in South
Africa, one still feels out of it."

"Life!  Oh! well, we know it's supposed to be a riddle, but we've
given it up.  We just want to have a good time because we don't
believe anything can last.  But I don't think we know how to have
it.  We just fly on, and hope for it.  Of course, there's art, but
most of us aren't artists; besides, expressionism--Michael says
it's got no inside.  We gas about it, but I suppose it hasn't.  I
see a frightful lot of writers and painters, you know; they're
supposed to be amusing."

Holly listened, amazed.  Who would have thought that this girl SAW?
She might be seeing wrong, but anyway she saw!

"Surely," she said, "you enjoy yourselves?"

"Well, I like getting hold of nice things, and interesting people;
I like seeing everything that's new and worth while, or seems so at
the moment.  But that's just how it is--nothing lasts.  You see,
I'm not of the 'Pan-joys,' nor of the 'new-faithfuls.'"

"The new-faithfuls?"

"Oh! don't you know--it's a sort of faith-healing done on oneself,
not exactly the old 'God-good, good-God!' sort; but a kind of
mixture of will-power, psycho-analysis, and belief that everything
will be all right on the night if you say it will.  You must have
come across them.  They're frightfully in earnest."

"I know," said Holly; "their eyes shine."

"I daresay.  I don't believe in them--I don't believe in anyone; or
anything--much.  How can one?"

"How about simple people, and hard work?"

Fleur sighed.  "I daresay.  I will say for Michael--HE'S not
spoiled.  Let's have tea?  Tea, Ting?" and, turning up the lights,
she rang the bell.

When her unexpected visitor had gone, she sat very still before the
fire.  To-day, when she had been so very nearly Wilfrid's!  So Jon
was not married!  Not that it made any odds!  Things did not come
round as they were expected to in books.  And anyway sentiment was
swosh!  Cut it out!  She tossed back her hair; and, getting hammer
and nail, proceeded to hang the white monkey.  Between the two tea-
chests with their coloured pearl-shell figures, he would look his
best.  Since she couldn't have Jon, what did it matter--Wilfrid or
Michael, or both, or neither?  Eat the orange in her hand, and
throw away the rind!  And suddenly she became aware that Michael
was in the room.  He had come in very quietly and was standing
before the fire behind her.  She gave him a quick look and said:

"I've had Aubrey Greene here about a model you sent him, and Holly--
Mrs. Val Dartie--she said she'd seen you.  Oh! and father's
brought us this.  Isn't it perfect?"

Michael did not speak.

"Anything the matter, Michael?"

"No, nothing."  He went up to the monkey.  From behind him now
Fleur searched his profile.  Instinct told her of a change.  Had
he, after all, seen her going to Wilfrid's--coming away?

"Some monkey!" he said.  "By the way, have you any spare clothes
you could give the wife of a poor snipe--nothing too swell?"

She answered mechanically:  "Yes, of course!" while her brain
worked furiously.

"Would you put them out, then?  I'm going to make up a bunch for
him myself--they could go together."

Yes!  He was quite unlike himself, as if the spring in him had run
down.  A sort of malaise overcame her.  Michael not cheerful!  It
was like the fire going out on a cold day.  And, perhaps for the
first time, she was conscious that his cheerfulness was of real
importance to her.  She watched him pick up Ting-a-ling and sit
down.  And going up behind him, she bent over till her hair was
against his cheek.  Instead of rubbing his cheek on hers, he sat
quite still, and her heart misgave her.

"What is it?" she said, coaxing.

"Nothing!"

She took hold of his ears.

"But there is.  I suppose you know somehow that I went to see
Wilfrid."

He said stonily:  "Why not?"

She let go, and stood up straight.

"It was only to tell him that I couldn't see him again."

That half-truth seemed to her the whole.

He suddenly looked up, a quiver went over his face; he look her
hand.

"It's all right, Fleur.  You must do what you like, you know.
That's only fair.  I had too much lunch."

Fleur withdrew to the middle of the room.

"You're rather an angel," she said slowly, and went out.

Upstairs she looked out garments, confused in her soul.



CHAPTER VI

MICHAEL GETS 'WHAT-FOR'


After his Green Street quest Michael had wavered back down
Piccadilly, and, obeying one of those impulses which make people
hang around the centres of disturbance, on to Cork Street.  He
stood for a minute at the mouth of Wilfrid's backwater.

'No,' he thought, at last, 'ten to one he isn't in; and if he is,
twenty to one that I get any change except bad change!'

He was moving slowly on to Bond Street, when a little light lady,
coming from the backwater, and reading as she went, ran into him
from behind.

"Why don't you look where you're going!  Oh!  You?  Aren't you the
young man who married Fleur Forsyte?  I'm her cousin, June.  I
thought I saw her just now."  She waved a hand which held a
catalogue with a gesture like the flirt of a bird's wing.
"Opposite my gallery.  She went into a house, or I should have
spoken to her--I'd like to have seen her again."

Into a house!  Michael dived for his cigarette-case.  Hard-grasping
it, he looked up.  The little lady's blue eyes were sweeping from
side to side of his face with a searching candour.

"Are you happy together?" she said.

A cold sweat broke out on his forehead.  A sense of general
derangement afflicted him--hers, and his own.

"I beg your pardon?" he gasped.

"I hope you are.  She ought to have married my little brother--but
I hope you are.  She's a pretty child."

In the midst of a dull sense of stunning blows, it staggered him
that she seemed quite unconscious of inflicting them.  He heard his
teeth gritting, and said dully:  "Your little brother, who was he?"

"What!  Jon--didn't you know Jon?  He was too young, of course, and
so was she.  But they were head over--the family feud stopped that.
Well! it's all past.  I was at your wedding.  I hope you're happy.
Have you seen the Claud Brains show at my gallery?  He's a genius.
I was going to have a bun in here; will you join me?  You ought to
know his work."

She had paused at the door of a confectioner's.  Michael put his
hand on his chest.

"Thank you," he said, "I have just had a bun--two, in fact.  Excuse
me!"

The little lady grasped his other hand.

"Well, good-bye, young man!  Glad to have met you.  You're not a
beauty, but I like your face.  Remember me to that child.  You
should go and see Claud Brains.  He's a real genius."

Stock-still before the door, he watched her turn and enter, with a
scattered motion, as of flying, and a disturbance among those
seated in the pastry-cook's.  Then he moved on, the cigarette
unlighted in his mouth, dazed, as a boxer from a blow which knocks
him sideways, and another which knocks him straight again.

Fleur visiting Wilfrid--at this moment in his rooms up there--in
his arms, perhaps!  He groaned.  A well-fed young man in a new hat
skipped at the sound.  Never!  He could never stick that!  He would
have to clear out!  He had believed Fleur honest!  A double life!
The night before last she had smiled on him.  Oh! God!  He dashed
across into Green Park.  Why hadn't he stood still and let
something go over him?  And that lunatic's little brother--John--
family feud?  Himself--a pis aller, then--taken without love at
all--a makeshift!  He remembered now her saying one night at
Mapledurham:  "Come again when I know I can't get my wish."  So
that was the wish she couldn't get!  A makeshift!  'Jolly,' he
thought:  'Oh!  jolly!'  No wonder, then!  What could she care?
One man or another!  Poor little devil!  She had never let him
know--never breathed a word!  Was that decent of her--or was it
treachery?  'No,' he thought, 'if she HAD told me, it wouldn't have
made any difference--I'd have taken her at any price.  It was
decent of her not to tell me.'  But how was it he hadn't heard from
some one?  Family feud?  The Forsytes!  Except 'Old Forsyte,' he
never saw them; and 'Old Forsyte' was closer than a fish.  Well! he
had got what-for!  And again he groaned, in the twilight spaces of
the Park.  Buckingham Palace loomed up unlighted, huge and dreary.
Conscious of his cigarette at last, he stopped to strike a match,
and drew the smoke deep into his lungs with the first faint sense
of comfort.

"You couldn't spare us a cigarette, Mister?"

A shadowy figure with a decent sad face stood beside the statue of
Australia, so depressingly abundant!

"Of course!" said Michael; "take the lot."  He emptied the case
into the man's hand.  "Take the case too--'present from
Westminster'--you'll get thirty bob for it.  Good luck!"  He
hurried on.  A faint:  "Hi, Mister!" pursued him unavailingly.
Pity was pulp!  Sentiment was bilge!  Was he going home to wait
till Fleur had--finished and come back?  Not he!  He turned towards
Chelsea, batting along as hard as he could stride.  Lighted shops,
gloomy great Eaton Square, Chester Square, Sloane Square, the
King's Road--along, along!  Worse than the trenches--far worse--
this whipped and scorpioned sexual jealousy!  Yes, and he would
have felt even worse, but for that second blow.  It made it less
painful to know that Fleur had been in love with that cousin, and
Wilfrid, too, perhaps, nothing to her.  Poor little wretch!  'Well,
what's the game now?' he thought.  The game of life--in bad
weather, in stress?  What was it?  In the war--what had a fellow
done?  Somehow managed to feel himself not so dashed important;
reached a condition of acquiescence, fatalism, "Who dies if England
live" sort of sob-stuff state.  The game of life?  Was it
different?  "Bloody but unbowed" might be tripe; still--get up
when you were knocked down!  The whole was big, oneself was little!
Passion, jealousy, ought they properly to destroy one's
sportsmanship, as Nazing and Sibley and Linda Frewe would have it?
Was the word 'gentleman' a dud?  Was it?  Did one keep one's form,
or get down to squealing and kicking in the stomach?

'I don't know,' he thought, 'I don't know what I shall do when I
see her--I simply don't know.'  Steel-blue of the fallen evening,
bare plane-trees, wide river, frosty air!  He turned towards home.
He opened his front door, trembling, and trembling, went into the
drawing-room. . . .

When Fleur had gone upstairs and left him with Ting-a-ling he
didn't know whether he believed her or not.  If she had kept that
other thing from him all this time, she could keep anything!  Had
she understood his words:  "You must do as you like, that's only
fair?"  He had said them almost mechanically, but they were
reasonable.  If she had never loved him, even a little, he had
never had any right to expect anything; he had been all the time in
the position of one to whom she was giving alms.  Nothing compelled
a person to go on giving alms.  And nothing compelled one to go on
taking them--except--the ache of want, the ache, the ache!

"You little Djinn!  You lucky little toad!  Give me some of your
complacency--you Chinese atom!"  Ting-a-ling turned up his boot-
buttons.  "When you have been civilised as long as I," they seemed
to say:  "In the meantime, scratch my chest."

And scrattling in that yellow fur Michael thought:  'Pull yourself
together!  Man at the South Pole with the first blizzard doesn't
sing:  "Want to go home!  Want to go home!"--he sticks it.  Come,
get going!'  He placed Ting-a-ling on the floor, and made for his
study.  Here were manuscripts, of which the readers to Danby and
Winter had already said:  "No money in this, but a genuine piece of
work meriting consideration."  It was Michael's business to give
the consideration; Danby's to turn the affair down with the words:
"Write him (or her) a civil letter, say we were greatly interested,
regret we do not see our way--hope to have the privilege of
considering next effort, and so forth.  What!"

He turned up his reading-lamp and pulled out a manuscript he had
already begun.


  "No retreat, no retreat; they must conquer or die who have no
     retreat;
   No retreat, no retreat; they must conquer or die who have no
     retreat!"


The black footmen's refrain from 'Polly' was all that happened in
his mind.  Dash it!  He must read the thing!  Somehow he finished
the chapter.  He remembered now.  The manuscript was all about a
man who, when he was a boy, had been so greatly impressed by the
sight of a maidservant changing her clothes in a room over the way,
that his married life was a continual struggle not to be unfaithful
with his wife's maids.  They had just discovered his complex, and
he was going to have it out.  The rest of the manuscript no doubt
would show how that was done.  It went most conscientiously into
all those precise bodily details which it was now so timorous and
Victorian to leave out.  Genuine piece of work, and waste of time
to go on with it!  Old Danby--Freud bored him stiff; and for once
Michael did not mind old Danby being in the right.  He put the
thing back into the drawer.  Seven o'clock!  Tell Fleur what he had
been told about that cousin?  Why?  Nothing could mend THAT!  If
only she were speaking the truth about Wilfrid!  He went to the
window--stars above, and stripes below, stripes of courtyard and
back garden.  "No retreat, no retreat; they must conquer or die who
have no retreat!"

A voice said:

"When will your father be up?"

Old Forsyte!  Lord!  Lord!

"To-morrow, I believe, sir.  Come in!  You don't know my den, I
think."

"No," said Soames.  "Snug!  Caricatures.  You go in for them--poor
stuff!"

"But not modern, sir--a revived art."

"Queering your neighbours--I never cared for them.  They only
flourish when the world's in a mess and people have given up
looking straight before them."

"By Jove!" said Michael; "that's good.  Won't you sit down, sir?"

Soames sat down, crossing his knees in his accustomed manner.
Slim, grey, close--a sealed book, neatly bound!  What was HIS
complex?  Whatever it was, he had never had it out.  One could not
even imagine the operation.

"I shan't take away my Goya," he said very unexpectedly; "consider
it Fleur's.  In fact, if I only knew you were interested in the
future, I should make more provision.  In my opinion death duties
will be prohibitive in a few years' time."

Michael frowned.  "I'd like you to know sir, once for all, that
what you do for Fleur, you do for Fleur.  I can be Epicurus
whenever I like--bread, and on feast days a little bit of cheese."

Soames looked up with shrewdness in his glance.  "I know that," he
said, "I always knew it."

Michael bowed.

"With this land depression your father's hard hit, I should think."

"Well, he talks of being on the look out for soap or cars; but I
shouldn't be surprised if he mortgages again and lingers on."

"A title without a place," said Soames, "is not natural.  He'd
better wait for me to go, if I leave anything, that is.  But listen
to me:  I've been thinking.  Aren't you happy together, you two,
that you don't have children?"

Michael hesitated.

"I don't think," he said slowly, "that we have ever had a scrap, or
anything like it.  I have been--I am--terribly fond of her, but you
have known better than I that I only picked up the pieces."

"Who told you that?"

"To-day--Miss June Forsyte."

"THAT woman!" said Soames.  "She can't keep her foot out of
anything.  A boy and girl affair--over months before you married."

"But deep, sir," said Michael gently.

"Deep--who knows at that age?  Deep?"  Soames paused:  "You're a
good fellow--I always knew.  Be patient--take a long view."

"Yes, sir," said Michael, very still in his chair, "If I can."

"She's everything to me," muttered Soames abruptly.

"And to me--which doesn't make it easier."

The line between Soames' brows deepened.

"Perhaps not.  But hold on!  As gently as you like, but hold on!
She's young.  She'll flutter about; there's nothing in it."

'Does he know about the other thing?' thought Michael.

"I have my own worries," went on Soames, "but they're nothing to
what I should feel if anything went wrong with her."

Michael felt a twinge of sympathy, unusual towards that self-
contained grey figure.

"I shall try my best," he said quietly; "but I'm not naturally
Solomon at six stone seven."

"I'm not so sure," said Soames, "I'm not so sure.  Anyway, a child--
well, a child would be--a--sort of insur--"  He baulked, the word
was not precisely--!

Michael froze.

"As to that, I can't say anything."

Soames got up.

"No," he said wistfully, "I suppose not.  It's time to dress."

To dress--to dine, and if to dine, to sleep--to sleep, to dream!
And then what dreams might come!

On the way to his dressing-room Michael encountered Coaker; the
man's face was long.

"What's up, Coaker?"

"The little dog, sir, has been sick in the drawing-room."

"The deuce he has!"

"Yes, sir; it appears that some one left him there alone.  He
makes himself felt, sir.  I always say:  He's an important little
dog. . . ."

During dinner, as if visited by remorse for having given them
advice and two pictures worth some thousands of pounds, Soames
pitched a tale like those of James in his palmy days.  He spoke of
the French--the fall of the mark--the rise in Consols--the
obstinacy of Dumetrius, the picture-dealer, over a Constable
skyscape which Soames wanted and Dumetrius did not, but to which
the fellow held on just for the sake of a price which Soames did
not mean to pay.  He spoke of the trouble which he foresaw with the
United States over their precious Prohibition.  They were a
headstrong lot.  They took up a thing and ran their heads against a
stone wall.  He himself had never drunk anything to speak of, but
he liked to feel that he could.  The Americans liked to feel that
he couldn't, that was tyranny.  They were overbearing.  He
shouldn't be surprised if everybody took to drinking over there.
As to the League of Nations, a man that morning had palavered it
up.  That cock wouldn't fight--spend money, and arrange things
which would have arranged themselves, but as for anything
important, such as abolishing Bolshevism, or poison gas, they never
would, and to pretend it was all-me-eye-and-Betty-Martin.  It was
almost a record for one habitually taciturn, and deeply useful to
two young people only anxious that he should continue to talk, so
that they might think of other things.  The conduct of Ting-a-ling
was the sole other subject of consideration.  Fleur thought it due
to the copper floor.  Soames that he must have picked up something
in the Square--dogs were always picking things up.  Michael
suggested that it was just Chinese--a protest against there being
nobody to watch his self-sufficiency.  In China there were four
hundred million people to watch each other being self-sufficient.
What would one expect of a Chinaman suddenly placed in the Gobi
Desert?  He would certainly be sick.

"No retreat, no retreat; they must conquer or die who have no
retreat!"

When Fleur left them, both felt that they could not so soon again
bear each other's company, and Soames said:  "I've got some figures
to attend to--I'll go to my room."

Michael stood up.  "Wouldn't you like my den, sir?"

"No," said Soames, "I must concentrate.  Say goodnight to Fleur for
me."

Michael remained smoking above the porcelain effigies of Spanish
fruits.  That white monkey couldn't eat those and throw away the
rinds!  Would the fruits of his life be porcelain in future?  Live
in the same house with Fleur, estranged?  Live with Fleur as now,
feeling a stranger, even an unwelcome stranger?  Clear out, and
join the Air Force, or the 'Save the Children' corps?  Which of the
three courses was least to be deplored?  The ash of his cigar grew
long, dropped incontinent, and grew again; the porcelain fruits
mocked him with their sheen and glow; Coaker put his head in and
took it away again.  (The Governor had got the hump--good sort, the
Governor!)  Decision waited for him, somewhere, somewhen--Fleur's,
not his own.  His mind was too miserable and disconcerted to be
known; but she would know hers.  She had the information which
alone made decision possible about Wilfrid, that cousin, her own
actions and feelings.  Yes, decision would come, and would it
matter in a world where pity was punk and only a Chinese philosophy
of any use?

But not be sick in the drawing-room, try and keep one's end up,
even if there were no one to see one being important! . . .



He had been asleep and it was dark, or all but, in his bed-
dressing-room.  Something white by his bed.  A fragrant faint
warmth close to him; a voice saying low:  "It's only me.  Let me
come in your bed, Michael.  "Like a child--like a child!  Michael
reached out his arms.  The whiteness and the warmth came into them.
Curls smothered his mouth, the voice said in his ear:  "I wouldn't
have come, would I, if there'd--if there'd been anything?"
Michael's heart, wild, confused, beat against hers.



CHAPTER VII

THE ALTOGETHER


Tony Bicket, replete, was in vein that fine afternoon; his balloons
left him freely, and he started for home in the mood of a
conqueror.

Victorine, too, had colour in her cheeks.  She requited the story
of his afternoon with the story of hers.  A false tale for a true--
no word of Danby and Winter, the gentleman with the sliding smile,
of the Grand Marnier, or 'the altogether.'  She had no compunction.
It was her secret, her surprise; if, by sitting in or out of 'the
altogether,' not yet decided, she could make their passage money--
well, she should tell him she had won it on a horse.  That night
she asked:

"Am I so very thin, Tony?" more than once.  "I do so want to get
fat."

Bicket, still troubled that she had not shared that lunch, patted
her tenderly, and said he would soon have her as fat as butter--he
did not explain how.

They dreamed together of blue butterflies, and awoke to chilly
gaslight and a breakfast of cocoa and bread-and-butter.  Fog!
Bicket was swallowed up before the eyes of Victorine ten yards from
the door.  She returned to the bedroom with anger in her heart.
Who would buy balloons in a fog?  She would do anything rather than
let Tony go on standing out there all the choking days!  Undressing
again, she washed herself intensively, in case--!  She had not long
finished when her landlady announced the presence of a messenger
boy.  He bore an enormous parcel entitled "Mr. Bicket."

There was a note inside.  She read:


"DEAR BICKET,--Here are the togs.  Hope they'll be useful.--Yours,
MICHAEL MONT."


In a voice that trembled she said to the boy:

"Thank you, it's O. K.  Here's twopence."

When his rich whistle was heard writhing into the fog, she flung
herself down before the 'togs' in ecstasy.  The sexes were divided
by tissue paper.  A blue suit, a velour hat, some brown shoes,
three pairs of socks with two holes in them, four shirts only a
little frayed at the cuffs, two black-and-white ties, six collars,
not too new, some handkerchiefs, two vests beautifully thick, two
pairs of pants, and a brown overcoat with a belt and just two or
three nice little stains.  She held the blue suit up against her
arms and legs, the trousers and sleeves would only need taking-in
about two inches.  She piled them in a pyramid, and turned with awe
to the spoil beneath the tissue paper.  A brown knitted frock with
little clear yellow buttons--unsoiled, uncreased.  How could
anybody spare a thing like that!  A brown velvet toque with a
little tuft of goldeny-brown feathers.  She put it on.  A pair of
pink stays ever so little faded, with only three inches of bone
above the waist, and five inches of bone below, pink silk ribbons,
and suspenders--a perfect dream.  She could not resist putting them
on also.  Two pairs of brown stockings; brown shoes; two
combinations, a knitted camisole.  A white silk jumper with a hole
in one sleeve, a skirt of lilac linen that had gone a little in the
wash; a pair of pallid pink silk pants; and underneath them all an
almost black-brown coat, long and warm and cosy, with great jet
buttons, and in the pocket six small handkerchiefs.  She took a
deep breath of sweetness--geranium!

Her mind leaped forward.  Clothed, trousseaued, fitted out--blue
butterflies--the sun!  Only the money for the tickets wanting.  And
suddenly she saw herself with nothing on standing before the
gentleman with sliding eyes.  Who cared!  The money!

For the rest of the morning she worked feverishly, shortening Tony,
mending the holes in his socks, turning the fray of his cuffs.  She
ate a biscuit, drank another cup of cocoa--it was fattening, and
went for the hole in the white silk jumper.  One o'clock.  In panic
she stripped once more, put on a new combination, pair of
stockings, and the stays, then paused in superstition.  No!  Her
own dress and hat--like yesterday!  Keep the rest until--!  She
hastened to her 'bus, overcome alternately by heat and cold.
Perhaps he would give her another glass of that lovely stuff.  If
only she could go swimmy and not care for anything!

She reached the studio as two o'clock was striking, and knocked.
It was lovely and warm in there, much warmer than yesterday, and
the significance of this struck her suddenly.  In front of the fire
was a lady with a little dog.

"Miss Collins--Mrs. Michael Mont; she's lending us her Peke, Miss
Collins."

The lady--only her own age, and ever so pretty--held out her hand.
Geranium!  This, then, was she whose clothes--!

She took the hand, but could not speak.  If this lady were going to
stay, it would be utterly impossible.  Before her--so pretty, so
beautifully covered--oh! no!

"Now, Ting, be good, and as amusing as you can.  Goodbye, Aubrey!
Good luck to the picture!  Good-bye, Miss Collins; it ought to be
wonderful."

Gone!  The scent of geranium fading; the little dog snuffling at
the door.  The sliding gentleman had two glasses in his hands.

'Ah!' thought Victorine, and drank hers at a gulp.

"Now, Miss Collins, you don't mind, do you!  You'll find everything
in there.  It's really nothing.  I shall want you lying on your
face just here with your elbows on the ground and your head up and
a little turned this way; your hair as loose as it can be, and your
eyes looking at this bone.  You must imagine that it's a faun or
some other bit of all right.  The dog'll help you when he settles
down to it.  F-a-u-n, you know, not f-a-w-n."

"Yes," said Victorine faintly.

"Have another little tot?"

"Oh! please."

He brought it.

"I quite understand; but you know, really, it's absurd.  You
wouldn't mind with a doctor.  That's right.  Look here, I'll put
this little cow-bell on the ground.  When you're in position, give
it a tinkle, and I'll come out.  That'll help you."

Victorine murmured:

"You ARE kind."

"Not at all--it's natural.  Now will you start in?  The light won't
last for ever.  Fifteen bob a day, we said."

Victorine saw him slide away behind a screen, and looked at the
little cow-bell.  Fifteen bob!  And fifteen bob!  And fifteen bob!
Many, many fifteen bobs before--!  But not more times of sitting
than of Tony's standing from foot to foot, offering balloons.  And
as if wound up by that thought, she moved like clockwork off the
dais, into the model's room.  Cosy in there, too; warm, a green
silk garment thrown on a chair.  She took off her dress.  The
beauty of the pink stays struck her afresh.  Perhaps the gentleman
would like--no, that would be even worse--!  A noise reached her--
from Ting-a-ling complaining of solitude.  If she delayed, she
never would--!  Stripping hastily, she stood looking at herself in
a glass.  If only that slim, ivory-white image could move out on to
the dais and she could stay here!  Oh!  It was awful--awful!  She
couldn't--no! she couldn't.  She caught up her final garment again.
Fifteen bob!  But fifteen bob!  Before her eyes, wild and mournful,
came a vision:  Of a huge dome, and a tiny Tony, with little,
little balloons in a hand held out!  Something cold and steely
formed over her heart as icicles form on a window.  If that was all
they would do for him, she would do better!  She dropped the
garment; and, confused, numb, stepped forth in the 'altogether.'
Ting-a-ling growled at her above his bone.  She reached the cow-
bell and lay down on her face as she had been told, with feet in
the air, crossed.  Resting her chin on one hand, she wagged the
bell.  It made a sound like no bell she had ever heard; and the
little dog barked--he did look funny!

"Perfect, Miss Collins!  Hold that!"

Fifteen bob! and fifteen bob!

"Just point those left toes a bit more.  That's right!  The flesh
tone's perfect!  My God, why must one walk before one runs!
Drawing's a bore, Miss Collins; one ought to draw with a brush
only; a sculptor draws with a chisel, at least when he's a
Michelangelo.  How old are you?"

"Twenty-one," came from lips that seemed to Victorine quite far
away.

"I'm thirty-two.  They say our generation was born so old that it
can never get any older.  Without illusions.  Well!  I never had
any beliefs that I can remember.  Had you?"

Victorine's wits and senses were astray, but it did not matter, for
he was rattling on:

"We don't even believe in our ancestors.  All the same, we're
beginning to copy them again.  D'you know a book called 'The
Sobbing Turtle' that's made such a fuss?--sheer Sterne, very well
done; but sheer Sterne, and the author's tongue in his cheek.
That's it in a nutshell, Miss Collins--our tongues are in our
cheeks--bad sign.  Never mind; I'm going to out-Piero Cosimo with
this.  Your head an inch higher, and that curl out of your eye,
please.  Thanks!  Hold that!  By the way, have you Italian blood?
What was your mother's name, for instance?"

"Brown."

"Ah!  You can never tell with Browns.  It may have been Brune--or
Bruno--but very likely she was Iberian.  Probably all the
inhabitants of Britain left alive by the Saxons were called Brown.
As a fact, that's all tosh, though.  Going back to Edward the
Confessor, Miss Collins--a mere thirty generations--we each of us
have one thousand and seventy-four million, five hundred and
seventy-three thousand, nine hundred and eighty-four ancestors, and
the population of this island was then well under a million.  We're
as inbred as racehorses, but not so nice to look at, are we?  I
assure you, Miss Collins, you're something to be grateful for.  So
is Mrs. Mont.  Isn't she pretty?  Look at that dog?"

Ting-a-ling, indeed, with forelegs braced, and wrinkled nose, was
glaring, as if under the impression that Victorine was another
bone.

"He's funny," she said, and again her voice sounded far away.
Would Mrs. Mont lie here if he'd asked her?  SHE would look pretty!
But SHE didn't need the fifteen bob!

"Comfortable in that position?"

In alarm, she murmured:

"Oh! yes, thank you!"

"Warm enough?"

"Oh! yes, thank you!"

"That's good.  Just a little higher with the head."

Slowly in Victorine the sense of the dreadfully unusual faded.
Tony should never know.  If he never knew, he couldn't care.  She
could lie like this all day--fifteen bob, and fifteen bob!  It was
easy.  She watched the quick, slim fingers moving, the blue smoke
from the cigarette.  She watched the little dog.

"Like a rest?  You left your gown; I'll get it for you."

In that green silk gown, beautifully padded, she sat up, with her
feet on the floor over the dais edge.

"Cigarette?  I'm going to make some Turkish coffee.  You'd better
walk about."

Victorine obeyed.

"You're out of a dream, Miss Collins.  I shall have to do a Mathew
Maris of you in that gown."

The coffee, like none she had ever tasted, gave her a sense of
well-being.  She said:

"It's not like coffee."

Aubrey Greene threw up his hands.

"You have said it.  The British are a great race--nothing will ever
do them in.  If they could be destroyed, they must long ago have
perished of their coffee.  Have some more?"

"Please," said Victorine.  There was such a little in the cup.

"Ready, again?"

She lay down, and let the gown drop off.

"That's right!  Leave it there--you're lying in long grass, and the
green helps me.  Pity it's winter; I'd have hired a glade."

Lying in long grass--flowers, too, perhaps.  She did love flowers.
As a little girl she used to lie in the grass, and make daisy-
chains, in the field at the back of her grandmother's lodge at
Norbiton.  Her grandmother kept the lodge.  Every year, for a
fortnight, she had gone down there--she had liked the country ever
so.  Only she had always had something on.  It would be nicer with
nothing.  Were there flowers in Central Australia?  With
butterflies there must be!  In the sun--she and Tony--like the
Garden of Eden! . . .

"Thank you, that's all for to-day.  Half a day--ten bob.  To-morrow
morning at eleven.  You're a first-rate sitter, Miss Collins."

Putting on the pink stays, Victorine had a feeling of elation.  She
had done it!  Tony should never know!  The thought that he never
would gave her pleasure.  And once more divested of the
'altogether,' she came forth.

Aubrey Greene was standing before his handiwork.

"Not yet, Miss Collins," he said; "I don't want to depress you.
That hip-bone's too high.  We'll put it right to-morrow.  Forgive
my hand, it's all chalk.  Au revoir!  Eleven o'clock.  And we
shan't need this chap.  No, you don't!"

For Ting-a-ling was showing signs of accompanying the larger bone.
Victorine passed out smiling.



CHAPTER VIII

SOAMES TAKES THE MATTER UP


Soames had concentrated, sitting before the fire in his bedroom
till Big Ben struck twelve.  His reflections sum-totalled in a
decision to talk it over with 'old Mont' after all.  Though light-
brained, the fellow was a gentleman, and the matter delicate.  He
got into bed and slept, but awoke at half-past two.  There it was!
'I WON'T think of it,' he thought; and instantly began to.  In a
long life of dealings with money, he had never had such an
experience.  Perfectly straightforward conformity with the law--
itself so often far from perfectly straightforward--had been the
sine qua non of his career.  Honesty, they said, was the best
policy.  But was it anything else?  A normally honest man couldn't
keep out of a perfect penitentiary for a week.  But then a perfect
penitentiary had no relation to prison, or the Bankruptcy Court.
The business of working honesty was to keep out of those two
institutions.  And so far he had never had any difficulty.  What,
besides the drawing of fees and the drinking of tea, were the
duties of a director?  That was the point.  And how far, if he
failed in them, was he liable?  It was a director's duty to be
perfectly straightforward.  But if a director were perfectly
straightforward, he couldn't be a director.  That was clear.  In
the first place, he would have to tell his shareholders that he
didn't anything like earn his fees.  For what did he do on his
Boards?  Well, he sat and signed his name and talked a little, and
passed that which the general trend of business decided must be
passed.  Did he initiate?  Once in a blue moon.  Did he calculate?
No, he read calculations.  Did he check payments out and in?  No,
the auditors did that.  There was policy!  A comforting word, but--
to be perfectly straightforward--a director's chief business was to
let the existing policy alone.  Take his own case!  If he had done
his duty, he would have stopped this foreign insurance business
which he had instinctively distrusted the moment he heard of it--
within a month of sitting on the Board, or, having failed in doing
so, resigned his seat.  But he had not.  Things had been looking
better!  It was not the moment, and so forth!  If he had done his
duty as a perfectly straightforward director, indeed, he would
never have become a director of the P. P. R. S., because he would
have looked into the policy of the Society much more closely than
he had before accepting a position on the Board.  But what with the
names, and the prestige, and not looking a gift horse too closely
in the mouth--there it had been!  To be perfectly straightforward,
he ought now to be circularising the shareholders, saying:  "My
laissez-faire has cost you two hundred odd thousand pounds.  I have
lodged this amount in the hands of trustees for your benefit, and
am suing the rest of the directors for their quotas of the amount."
But he was not proposing to do so, because--well--because it wasn't
done, and the other directors wouldn't like it.  In sum:  You
waited till the shareholders found out the mess, and you hoped they
wouldn't.  In fact, just like a Government, you confused the
issues, and made the best case you could for yourselves.  With a
sense of comfort Soames thought of Ireland:  The late Government
had let the country in for all that mess in Ireland, and at the end
taken credit for putting an end to what need never have been!  The
Peace, too, and the Air Force, and Agriculture, and Egypt--the five
most important issues they'd had to deal with--they had put the
chestnuts into the fire in every case!  But had they confessed to
it?  Not they.  One didn't confess.  One said:  "The question of
policy made it imperative at the time."  Or, better still, one said
nothing; and trusted to the British character.  With his chin
resting on the sheet, Soames felt a momentary relief.  The late
Government weren't sweating into THEIR sheets--not they--he was
convinced of it!  Fixing his eyes on the dying embers in the grate,
he reflected on the inequalities and injustices of existence.  Look
at the chaps in politics and business, whose whole lives were
passed in skating on thin ice, and getting knighted for it.  They
never turned a hair.  And look at himself, for the first time in
forty years on thin ice, and suffering confoundedly.  There was a
perfect cult of hoodwinking the public, a perfect cult of avoiding
the consequences of administrative acts; and here was he, a man of
the world, a man of the law, ignorant of those cults, and--and glad
of it.  From engrained caution and a certain pride, which had in it
a touch of the fine, Soames shrank from that coarse-grained
standard of honesty which conducted the affairs of the British
public.  In anything that touched money he was, he always had been,
stiff-necked, stiff-kneed.  Money was money, a pound a pound, and
there was no way of pretending it wasn't and keeping your self-
respect.  He got up, drank some water, took a number of deep
breaths, and stamped his feet.  Who was it said the other day that
nothing had ever lost him five minutes' sleep.  The fellow must
have the circulation of an ox, or the gift of Baron Munchausen.  He
took up a book.  But his mind would only turn over and over the
realisable value of his resources.  Apart from his pictures, he
decided that he could not be worth less than two hundred and fifty
thousand pounds, and there was only Fleur--and she already provided
for more or less.  His wife had her settlement, and could live on
it perfectly well in France.  As for himself--what did he care?  A
room at his club near Fleur--he would be just as happy, perhaps
happier!  And suddenly he found that he had reached a way out of
his disturbance and anxiety.  By imagining the far-fetched, by
facing the loss of his wealth, he had exorcised the demon.  The
book, 'The Sobbing Turtle,' of which he had not read one word,
dropped from his hand; he slept. . . .

His meeting with 'Old Mont' took place at 'Snooks' directly after
lunch.  The tape in the hall, at which he glanced on going in,
recorded a further heavy drop in the mark.  Just as he thought:
The thing was getting valueless!

Sitting there, sipping coffee, the baronet looked to Soames almost
offensively spry.  Two to one he had realised nothing!  'Well!'
thought Soames,' as old Uncle Jolyon used to say, I shall astonish
his weak nerves!'

And without preamble he began.

"How are you, Mont?  This mark's valueless.  You realise we've lost
the P. P. R. S. about a quarter of a million by that precious
foreign policy of Elderson's.  I'm not sure an action won't lie
against us for taking unjustifiable risk.  But what I've come to
see you about is this."  He retailed the interview with the clerk,
Butterfield, watching the eyebrows of his listener, and finished
with the words:  "What do you say?"

Sir Lawrence, whose foot was jerking his whole body, fixed his
monocle.

"Hallucination, my dear Forsyte!  I've known Elderson all my life.
We were at Winchester together."

Again!  Again!  Oh! Lord!  Soames said slowly:

"You can't tell from that.  A man who was at Marlborough with me
ran away with his mess fund and his colonel's wife, and made a
fortune in Chili out of canned tomatoes.  The point is this:  If
the young man's story's true, we're in the hands of a bad hat.  It
won't do, Mont.  Will you tackle him, and see what he says to it?
You wouldn't like a story of that sort about yourself.  Shall we
both go?"

"Yes," said Sir Lawrence, suddenly.  "You're right.  We'll both go,
Forsyte.  I don't like it, but we'll both go.  He ought to hear
it."

"Now?"

"Now."

With solemnity they assumed top hats, and issued.

"I think, Forsyte, we'll take a taxi."

"Yes," said Soames.

The cab ground its way slowly past the lions, then dashed on down
to the Embankment.  Side by side its occupants held their noses
steadily before them.

"He was shooting with me a month ago," said Sir Lawrence.  "Do you
know the hymn 'O God, our help in ages past'?  It's very fine,
Forsyte."

Soames did not answer.  The fellow was beginning to tittup!

"We had it that Sunday," went on Sir Lawrence.  "Elderson used to
have a fine voice--sang solos.  It's a foghorn now, but a good
delivery still."  He gave his little whinnying laugh.

'Is it possible,' thought Soames, 'for this chap to be serious?'
and he said:

"If we find this is true of Elderson, and conceal it, we could all
be put in the dock."

Sir Lawrence refixed his monocle.  "The deuce!" he said.

"Will you do the talking," said Soames, "or shall I?"

"I think you had better, Forsyte; ought we to have the young man
in?"

"Wait and see," said Soames.

They ascended to the offices of the P. P. R. S. and entered the
Board Room.  There was no fire, the long table was ungarnished; an
old clerk, creeping about like a fly on a pane, was filling
inkstands out of a magnum.

Soames addressed him:

"Ask the manager to be so kind as to come and see Sir Lawrence Mont
and Mr. Forsyte."

The old clerk blinked, put down the magnum, and went out.

"Now," said Soames in a low voice, "we must keep our heads.  He'll
deny it, of course."

"I should hope so, Forsyte; I should hope so.  Elderson's a
gentleman."

"No liar like a gentleman," muttered Soames, below his breath.

After that they stood in their overcoats before the empty grate,
staring at their top hats placed side by side on the table.

"One minute!" said Soames, suddenly, and crossing the room, he
opened a door opposite.  There, as the young clerk had said, was a
sort of lobby between Board Room and Manager's Room, with a door at
the end into the main corridor.  He stepped back, closed the door,
and, rejoining Sir Lawrence, resumed his contemplation of the hats.

"Geography correct," he said with gloom.

The entrance of the manager was marked by Sir Lawrence's monocle
dropping on to his coat-button with a tinkle.  In cutaway black
coat, clean-shaven, with grey eyes rather baggy underneath, a pink
colour, every hair in place on a rather bald egg-shaped head, and
lips alternately pouting, compressed, or smiling, the manager
reminded Soames ridiculously of old Uncle Nicholas in his middle
period.  Uncle Nick was a clever fellow--"cleverest man in London,"
some one had called him--but none had ever impugned his honesty.  A
pang of doubt and disinclination went through Soames.  This seemed
a monstrous thing to have to put to a man of his own age and
breeding.  But young Butterfield's eyes--so honest and doglike!
Invent a thing like that--was it possible?  He said abruptly:

"Is that door shut?"

"Yes; do you feel a draught?" said the manager.  "Would you like a
fire?"

"No, thank you," said Soames.  "The fact is, Mr. Elderson, a young
man in this office came to me yesterday with a very queer story.
Mont and I think you should hear it."

Accustomed to watching people's eyes, Soames had the impression of
a film (such as passes over the eyes of parrots) passing over the
eyes of the manager.  It was gone at once, if, indeed, it had ever
been.

"By all means."

Steadily, with that power he had over his nerves when it came to a
point, and almost word for word, Soames repeated a story which he
had committed to heart in the watches of the night.  He concluded
with:

"You'd like him in, no doubt.  His name is Butterfield."

During the recital Sir Lawrence had done nothing but scrutinise his
finger nails; he now said:

"You had to be told, Elderson."

"Naturally."

The manager was crossing to the bell.  The pink in his cheeks
looked harder; his teeth showed, they had a pointed look.

"Ask Mr. Butterfield to come here."

There followed a minute of elaborate inattention to each other.
Then the young man came in, neat, commonplace, with his eyes on
the manager's face.  Soames had a moment of compunction.  This young
fellow held his life in his hands, as it were--one of the great army
who made their living out of self-suppression and respectability,
with a hundred ready to step into his shoes at his first slip.  What
was that old tag of the provincial actor's declamation--at which old
Uncle Jolyon used to cackle so?  "Like a pale martyr with his shirt
on fire."

"So, Mr. Butterfield, you have been good enough to exercise your
imagination in my regard."

"No, sir."

"You stick to this fantastic story of eavesdropping?"

"Yes, sir."

"We have no further use for your services then.  Good morning!"

The young man's eyes, doglike, sought the face of Soames; a string
twitched in his throat, his lips moved without a sound.  He turned
and went out.

"So much for that," said the manager's voice; "HE'LL never get
another job."

The venom in those words affected Soames like the smell of Russian
fat.  At the same moment he had the feeling:  This wants thinking
out.  Only if innocent, or guilty and utterly resolved, would
Elderson have been so drastic.  Which was he?

The manager went on:

"I thank you for drawing my attention to the matter, gentlemen.
I have had my eye on that young man for some time.  A bad hat all
round."

Soames said glumly:

"What do you make out he had to gain?"

"Foresaw dismissal, and thought he would get in first."

"I see," said Soames.  But he did not.  His mind was back in his
own office with Gradman rubbing his nose, shaking his grey head,
and Butterfield's:  "No, sir, I've nothing against Mr. Elderson,
and he's nothing against me."

'I shall require to know more about that young man,' he thought.

The manager's voice again cut through.

"I've been thinking over what you said yesterday, Mr. Forsyte,
about an action lying against the Board for negligence.  There's
nothing in that; our policy has been fully disclosed to the
shareholders at two general meetings, and has passed without
comment.  The shareholders are just as responsible as the Board."

"H'm!" said Soames, and took up his hat.  "Are you coming, Mont?"

As if summoned from a long distance, Sir Lawrence galvanitically
refixed his monocle.

"It's been very distasteful," he said; "you must forgive us,
Elderson.  You had to be told.  I don't think that young man can be
quite all there--he had a peculiar look; but we can't have this
sort of thing, of course.  Good-bye, Elderson."

Placing their hats on their heads simultaneously the two walked
out.  They walked some way without speaking.  Then Sir Lawrence
said:

"Butterfield?  My brother-in-law has a head gardener called
Butterfield--quite a good fellow.  Ought we to look into that young
man, Forsyte?"

"Yes," said Soames, "leave him to me."

"I shall be very glad to.  The fact is, when one has been at school
with a man, one has a feeling, don't you know."

Soames gave vent to a sudden outburst.

"You can't trust anyone nowadays, it seems to me," he said.  "It
comes of--well, I don't know what it comes of.  But I've not done
with this matter yet."



CHAPTER IX

SLEUTH


The Hotch-potch Club went back to the eighteen-sixties.  Founded by
a posse of young sparks, social and political, as a convenient
place in which to smoulder, while qualifying for the hearths of
'Snooks', The Remove, The Wayfarers, Burton's, Ostrich Feather, and
other more permanent resorts, the Club had, chiefly owing to a
remarkable chef in its early days, acquired a stability and
distinction of its own.  It still, however, retained a certain
resemblance to its name, and this was its attraction to Michael--
all sorts of people belonged.  From Walter Nazing, and young semi-
writers and patrons of the stage, who went to Venice, and talked of
being amorous in gondolas, or of how so-and-so ought to be made
love to; from such to bottle-brushed demi-generals, who had sat on
courts-martial and shot men out of hand for the momentary
weaknesses of human nature; from Wilfrid Desert (who never came
there now) to Maurice Elderson, in the card-room, he could meet
them all, and take the temperature of modernity.  He was doing this
in the Hotch-potch smoking-room, the late afternoon but one after
Fleur had come into his bed, when he was informed:

"A Mr. Forsyte, sir, in the hall for you.  Not the member we had
here many years before he died; his cousin, I think."

Conscious that his associates at the moment would not be his
father-in-law's 'dream,' nor he theirs, Michael went out, and found
Soames on the weighing machine.

"I don't vary," he said, looking up.  "How's Fleur?"

"Very well, thank you, sir."

"I'm at Green Street.  I stayed up about a young man.  Have you any
vacancy in your office for a clerk--used to figures.  I want a job
for him."

"Come in here, sir," said Michael, entering a small room.

Soames followed and looked round him.

"What do you call this?" he said.

"Well, we call it 'the grave'; it's nice and quiet.  Will you have
a sherry?"

"Sherry!" repeated Soames.  "You young people think you've invented
sherry; when I was a boy no one dreamed of dining without a glass
of dry sherry with his soup, and a glass of fine old sherry with
his sweet.  Sherry!"

"I quite believe you, sir.  There really is nothing new.  Venice,
for instance--wasn't that the fashion, too; and knitting, and
royalties?  It's all cyclic.  Has your young man got the sack?"

Soames stared.  "Yes," he said, "he has.  His name is Butterfield;
he wants a job."

"That's frightfully rife; we get applications every day.  I don't
want to be swanky, but ours is a rather specialised business.  It
has to do with books."

"He strikes me as capable, orderly, and civil; I don't see what
more you want in a clerk.  He writes a good hand, and, so far as I
can see, he tells the truth."

"That's important, of course," said Michael; "but is he a good liar
as well?  I mean, there's more likely to be something in the
travelling line; selling special editions, and that kind of thing.
Could you open up about him a bit?  Anything human is to the good--
I don't say old Danby would appreciate that, but he needn't know."

"H'm!  Well--he--er--did his duty--quite against his interest--in
fact, it's ruination for him.  He seems to be married and to have
two children."

"Ho, ho!  Jolly!  If I got him a place, would he--would he be doing
his duty again, do you think?"

"I am serious," said Soames; "the young man is on my mind."

"Yes," said Michael, ruminative, "the first thing in such a case is
to get him on to some one else's, sharp.  Could I see him?"

"I told him to step round and see you to-night after dinner.  I
thought you'd prefer to look him over in private before considering
him for your office."

"Very thoughtful of you, sir!  There's just one thing.  Don't you
think I ought to know the duty he did--in confidence?  I don't see
how I can avoid putting my foot into my mouth without, do you?"

Soames stared at his son-in-law's face, where the mouth was wide;
for the nth time it inspired in him a certain liking and
confidence; it looked so honest.

"Well," he said, going to the door and ascertaining that it was
opaque, "this is matter for a criminal slander action, so for your
own sake as well as mine you will keep it strictly to yourself";
and in a low voice he retailed the facts.

"As I expected," he ended, "the young man came to me again this
morning.  He is naturally upset.  I want to keep my hand on him.
Without knowing more, I can't make up my mind whether to go further
or not.  Besides"--Soames hesitated; to claim a good motive was
repulsive to him:  "I--it seems hard on him.  He's been getting
three hundred and fifty."

"Dashed hard!" said Michael.  "I say, Elderson's a member here."

Soames looked with renewed suspicion at the door--it still seemed
opaque, and he said:  "The deuce he is!  Do you know him?"

"I've played bridge with him," said Michael; "he's taken some of
the best off me--snorting good player."

"Ah!" said Soames--he never played cards himself.  "I can't take
this young man into my own firm for obvious reasons; but I can
trust you."

Michael touched his forelock.

"Frightfully bucked, sir.  Protection of the poor--some sleuth,
too.  I'll see him to-night, and let you know what I can wangle."

Soames nodded.  'Good Gad!' he thought; 'what jargon! . . .'

The interview served Michael the good turn of taking his thoughts
off himself.  Temperamentally he sided already with the young man
Butterfield; and, lighting a cigarette, he went into the card-room.
Sitting on the high fender, he was impressed--the room was square,
and within it were three square card tables, set askew to the
walls, with three triangles of card players.

'If only,' thought Michael, 'the fourth player sat under the table,
the pattern would be complete.  It's having the odd player loose
that spoils the cubes.'  And with something of a thrill he saw that
Elderson was a fourth player!  Sharp and impassive, he was engaged
in applying a knife to the end of a cigar.  Gosh! what sealed books
faces were!  Each with pages and pages of private thoughts,
interests, schemes, fancies, passions, hopes and fears; and down
came death--splosh!--and a creature wiped out, like a fly on a
wall, and nobody any more could see its little close mechanism
working away for its own ends, in its own privacy and its own
importance; nobody any more could speculate on whether it was a
clean or a dirty little bit of work.  Hard to tell!  They ran in
all shapes!  Elderson, for instance--was he a nasty mess, or just a
lamb of God who didn't look it?  'Somehow,' thought Michael, 'I
feel he's a womaniser.  Now why?'  He spread his hands out behind
him to the fire, rubbing them together like a fly that has been in
treacle.  If one couldn't tell what was passing in the mind of
one's own wife in one's own house, how on earth could one tell
anything from the face of a stranger, and he one of the closest
bits of mechanism in the world--an English gentleman of business!
If only life were like 'The Idiot' or 'The Brothers Karamazov,' and
everybody went about turning out their inmost hearts at the tops of
their voices!  If only club card rooms had a dash of epilepsy in
their composition!  But--nothing!  Nothing!  The world was full of
wonderful secrets which everybody kept to themselves without
captions or close-ups to give them away!

A footman came in, looked at the fire, stood a moment expressionless
as a stork, waiting for an order to ping out, staccato, through the
hum, turned and went away.

Mechanism!  Everywhere--mechanism!  Devices for getting away from
life so complete that there seemed no life to get away from.

'It's all,' he thought, 'awfully like a man sending a registered
letter to himself.  And perhaps it's just as well.  Is 'life' a
good thing--is it?  Do I want to see 'life' raw again?'

Elderson was seated now, and Michael had a perfect view of the back
of his head.  It disclosed nothing.

'I'm no sleuth,' he thought; 'there ought to be something in the
way he doesn't part his hair behind.'  And, getting off the fender,
he went home.

At dinner he caught one of his own looks at Fleur and didn't like
it.  Sleuth!  And yet how not try to know what were the real
thoughts and feelings of one who held his heart, like an accordion,
and made it squeak and groan at pleasure!

"I saw the model you sent Aubrey yesterday," she said.  "She didn't
say anything about the clothes, but she looked ever so!  What a
face, Michael!  Where did you come across her?"

Through Michael sped the thought:  'Could I make her jealous?'  And
he was shocked at it.  A low-down thought--mean and ornery!  "She
blew in," he said.  "Wife of a little packer we had who took to
snooping--er--books.  He sells balloons now; they want money
badly."

"I see.  Did you know that Aubrey's going to paint her in the
nude?"

"Phew!  No!  I thought she'd look good on a wrapper.  I say!  Ought
I to stop that?"

Fleur smiled.  "It's more money and her look-out.  It doesn't
matter to you, does it?"

Again that thought; again the recoil from it!

"Only," he said, "that her husband is a decent little snipe for a
snooper, and I don't want to be more sorry for him."

"She won't tell him, of course."

She said it so naturally, so simply, that the words disclosed a
whole attitude of mind.  One didn't tell one's mate what would
tease the poor brute!  He saw by the flutter of her white eyelids
that she also realised the give-away.  Should he follow it up, tell
her what June Forsyte had told him--have it all out--all out?  But
with what purpose--to what end?  Would it change things, make her
love him?  Would it do anything but harass her a little more; and
give him the sense that he had lost his wicket trying to drive her
to the pavilion?  No!  Better adopt the principle of secrecy she
had unwittingly declared her own, bite on it, and grin.  He
muttered:

"I'm afraid he'll find her rather thin."

Her eyes were bright and steady; and again he was worried by that
low-down thought:  'Could he make her--?'

"I've only seen her once," he added, "and then she was dressed."

"I'm not jealous, Michael."

'No,' he thought, 'I wish to heaven you were!'

The words:  "A young man called Butterfill to see you, sir," were
like the turning of a key in a cell door.

In the hall the young man "called Butterfill" was engaged in
staring at Ting-a-ling.

'Judging by his eyes,' thought Michael, 'he's more of a dog than
that little Djinn!'

"Come up to my study," he said, "it's cold down here.  My father-
in-law tells me you want a job."

"Yes, sir," said the young man, following up the stairs.

"Take a pew," said Michael; "and a cigarette.  Now then!  I know
all about the turmoil.  From your moustache, you were in the war,
I suppose, like me?  As between fellow-sufferers:  Is your story
O. K.?"

"God's truth, sir; I only wish it wasn't.  I'd nothing to gain and
everything to lose.  I'd have done better to hold my tongue.  It's
his word against mine, and here I am in the street.  That was my
first job since the war, so I can whistle for a reference."

"Wife and two children, I think?"

"Yes, and I've put them in the cart for the sake of my conscience!
It's the last time I'll do that, I know.  What did it matter to me,
whether the Society was cheated?  My wife's quite right, I was a
fool, sir."

"Probably," said Michael.  "Do you know anything about books?"

"Yes, sir; I'm a good book-keeper."

"Holy Moses!  OUR job is getting rid of them.  My firm are
publishers.  We were thinking of putting on an extra traveller.
Is your tongue persuasive?"

The young man smiled wanly.

"I don't know, sir."

"Well, look here," said Michael, carried away by the look in his
eyes, "it's all a question of a certain patter.  But, of course,
that's got to be learned.  I gather that you're not a reader."

"Well, sir, not a great reader."

"That, perhaps, is fortunate.  What you would have to do is to
impress on the poor brutes who sell books that every one of the
books on your list--say about thirty-five--is necessary in large
numbers to his business.  It's lucky you've just chucked your
conscience, because, as a matter of fact most of them won't be.
I'm afraid there's nowhere you could go to to get lessons in
persuasion, but you can imagine the sort of thing, and if you like
to come here for an hour or two this week, I'll put you wise about
our authors, and ready you up to go before Peter."

"Before Peter, sir?"

"The Johnny with the keys; luckily it's Mr. Winter, not Mr. Danby;
I believe I could get him to let you in for a month's trial."

"Sir, I'll try my very best.  My wife knows about books, she could
help me a lot.  I can't tell you what I think of your kindness.
The fact is, being out of a job has put the wind up me properly.
I've not been able to save with two children; it's like the end of
the world."

"Right-o, then!  Come here to-morrow evening at nine, and I'll
stuff you.  I believe you've got the face for the job, if you can
get the patter.  Only one book in twenty is a necessity really, the
rest are luxuries.  Your stunt will be to make them believe the
nineteen are necessaries, and the twentieth a luxury that they
need.  It's like food or clothes, or anything else in civilisation."

"Yes, sir, I quite understand."

"All right, then.  Good-night, and good luck!"

Michael stood up and held out his hand.  The young man took it with
a queer reverential little bow.  A minute later he was out in the
street; and Michael in the hall was thinking:  'Pity is tripe!
Clean forgot I was a sleuth!'



CHAPTER X

FACE


When Michael rose from the refectory table, Fleur had risen, too.
Two days and more since she left Wilfrid's rooms, and she had not
recovered zest.  The rifling of the oyster Life, the garlanding of
London's rarer flowers which kept colour in her cheeks, seemed
stale, unprofitable.  Those three hours, when from shock off Cork
Street she came straight to shocks in her own drawing-room, had
dislocated her so that she had settled to nothing since.  The wound
re-opened by Holly had nearly healed again.  Dead lion beside live
donkey cuts but dim figure.  But she could not get hold again of--
what?  That was the trouble:  What?  For two whole days she had
been trying.  Michael was still strange, Wilfrid still lost, Jon
still buried alive, and nothing seemed novel under the sun.  The
only object that gave her satisfaction during those two dreary,
disillusioned days was the new white monkey.  The more she looked
at it, the more Chinese it seemed.  It summed up the satirical
truth of which she was perhaps subconscious, that all her little
modern veerings and flutterings and rushings after the future
showed that she believed in nothing but the past.  The age had
overdone it and must go back to ancestry for faith.  Like a little
bright fish out of a warm bay, making a splash in chill, strange
waters, Fleur felt a subtle nostalgia.

In her Spanish room, alone with her own feelings, she stared at the
porcelain fruits.  They glowed, cold, uneatable!  She took one up.
Meant for a passion fruit?  Alas!  Poor passion!  She dropped it
with a dull clink on to the pyramid, and shuddered a little.  Had
she blinded Michael with her kisses?  Blinded him to--what?  To her
incapacity for passion?

'But I'm not incapable,' she thought; 'I'm not.  Some day I'll show
him; I'll show them all.'  She looked up at 'the Goya' hanging
opposite.  What gripping determination in the painting--what
intensity of life in the black eyes of a rather raddled dame!  SHE
would know what she wanted, and get it, too!  No compromise and
uncertainty there--no capering round life, wondering what it meant,
and whether it was worth while, nothing but hard living for the
sake of living!

Fleur put her hands where her flesh ended, and her dress began.
Wasn't she as warm and firm--yes, and ten times as pretty, as that
fine and evil-looking Spanish dame, with the black eyes and the
wonderful lace?  And, turning her back on the picture, she went
into the hall.  Michael's voice and another's!  They were coming
down!  She slipped across into the drawing-room and took up the
manuscript of a book of poems, on which she was to give Michael her
opinion.  She sat, not reading, wondering if he were coming in.
She heard the front door close.  No!  He had gone out!  A relief,
yet chilling!  Michael not warm and cheerful in the house--if it
were to go on, it would be wearing.  She curled herself up and
tried to read.  Dreary poems--free verse, blank, introspective, all
about the author's inside!  No lift, no lilt!  Duds!  She seemed to
have read them a dozen times before.  She lay quite still--
listening to the click and flutter of the burning logs!  If the
light were out she might go to sleep.  She turned it off, and came
back to the settee.  She could see herself sitting there, a picture
in the firelight; see how lonely she looked, pretty, pathetic, with
everything she wished for, and--nothing!  Her lip curled.  She
could even see her own spoiled-child ingratitude.  And what was
worse, she could see herself seeing it--a triple-distilled modern,
so subtly arranged in life-tight compartments that she could not be
submerged.  If only something would blow in out of the unkempt
cold, out of the waste and wilderness of a London whose flowers she
plucked.  The firelight--soft, uncertain--searched out spots and
corners of her Chinese room, as on a stage in one of those scenes,
seductive and mysterious, where one waited, to the sound of
tambourines, for the next moment of the plot.  She reached out and
took a cigarette.  She could see herself lighting it, blowing out
the smoke--her own half-curled fingers, her parted lips, her white
rounded arm.  She was decorative!  Well, and wasn't that all that
mattered?  To be decorative, and make little decorations; to be
pretty in a world that wasn't pretty!  In 'Copper Coin' there was a
poem of a flicker-lit room, and a spoiled Columbine before the
fire, and a Harlequin hovering without, like 'the spectre of the
rose.'  And suddenly, without warning, Fleur's heart ached.  It
ached definitely, rather horribly, and, slipping down on to the
floor before the fire, she snuggled her face against Ting-a-ling.
The Chinese dog raised his head--his black eyes lurid in the glow.

He licked her cheek, and turned his nose away.  Huf!  Powder!  But
Fleur lay like the dead.  And she saw herself lying--the curve of
her hip, the chestnut glow in her short hair; she heard the steady
beat of her heart.  Get up!  Go out!  Do something!  But what--what
was worth doing? What had any meaning in it?  She saw herself
doing--extravagant things; nursing sick women; tending pale babies;
making a speech in Parliament; riding a steeplechase; hoeing
turnips in knickerbockers--decorative.  And she lay perfectly
still, bound by the filaments of her self-vision.  So long as she
saw herself she would do nothing--she knew it--for nothing would be
worth doing!  And it seemed to her, lying there so still, that not
to see herself would be worse than anything.  And she felt that to
feel this was to acknowledge herself caged for ever.

Ting-a-ling growled, turning his nose towards the windows.  "In
here," he seemed to say, "we are cosy; we think of the past.  We
have no use for anything outside.  Kindly go away--whoever it is
out there!"  And again he growled--a low, continuous sound.

"What is it, Ting?"

Ting-a-ling rose on his fore-legs, with muzzle pointed at the
window.

"Do you want your walk?"

"No," said the growl.

Fleur picked him up.  "Don't be so silly!"  And she went to the
window.  The curtains were closely drawn; rich, Chinese, lined,
they excluded the night.  Fleur made a chink with one hand, and
started back.  Against the pane was a face, the forehead pressed
against the glass, the eyes closed, as if it had been there a long
time.  In the dark it seemed featureless, vaguely pale.  She felt
the dog's body stiffen under her arm--she felt his silence.  Her
heart pumped.  It was ghastly--face without body.

Suddenly the forehead was withdrawn, the eyes opened.  She saw--the
face of Wilfrid.  Could he see in--see her peering out from the
darkened room?  Quivering all over, she let the curtains fall to.
Beckon?  Let him in?  Go out to him?  Wave him away?  Her heart
beat furiously.  How long had he been out there--like a ghost?
What did he want of her?  She dropped Ting-a-ling with a flump, and
pressed her hands to her forehead, trying to clear confusion from
her brain.  And suddenly she stepped forward and flung the curtains
apart.  No face!  Nothing!  He was gone!  The dark, draughty
square--not a soul in it!  Had he ever been--or was the face her
fancy?  But Ting-a-ling!  Dogs had no fancies.  He had gone back to
the fire and settled down again.

'It's not my fault,' she thought passionately.  'It's not!  I
didn't want him to love me.  I only wanted his--his--!'  Again she
sank down before the fire.  "Oh! Ting, have a feeling heart!"  But
the Chinese dog, mindful of the flump, made no response. . . .



CHAPTER XI

COCKED HAT


After missing his vocation with the young man Butterfield, Michael
had hesitated in the hall.  At last he had not gone upstairs again,
but quietly out.  He walked past the Houses of Parliament and up
Whitehall.  In Trafalgar Square, it occurred to him that he had a
father.  Bart might be at 'Snooks', The Coffee House, The
Aeroplane; and, with the thought, 'He'd be restful,' he sought the
most modern of the three.

"Yes, Sir Lawrence Mont is in the lounge, sir."

He was sitting with knees crossed, and a cigar between his finger-
tips, waiting for some one to talk to.

"Ah!  Michael!  Can you tell me why I come here?"

"To wait for the end of the world, sir?"

Sir Lawrence sniggered.  "An idea," he said.  "When the skies are
wrecking civilisation, this will be the best-informed tape in
London.  The wish to be in at the death is perhaps the strongest of
our passions, Michael.  I should very much dislike being blown up,
especially after dinner; but I should still more dislike missing
the next show if it's to be a really good one.  The air raids were
great fun, after all."

Michael sighed.

"Yes," he said, "the war got us used to thinking of the millennium,
and then it went and stopped, and left the millennium hanging over
us.  Now we shall never be happy till we get it.  Can I take one of
your cigars, sir?"

"My dear fellow!  I've been reading Frazer again.  Extraordinary
how remote all superstition seems, now that we've reached the
ultimate truth:  That enlightenment never can prevail."

Michael stopped the lighting of his cigar.

"Do you really think that, sir?"

"What else can one think?  Who can have any reasonable doubt now
that with the aid of mechanics the headstrong part of man must do
him in?  It's an unavoidable conclusion from all recent facts.
'Per ardua ad astra,' 'Through hard knocks we shall see stars.'"

"But it's always been like that, sir, and here we are alive?"

"They say so, but I doubt it.  I fancy we're really dead, Michael.
I fancy we're only living in the past.  I don't think--no, I don't
think we can be said to expect a future.  We talk of it, but I
hardly think we hope for one.  Underneath our protestations we
subconsciously deduce.  From the mess we've made of it these last
ten years, we can feel the far greater mess we shall make of it in
the next thirty.  Human nature can argue the hind leg off a donkey,
but the donkey will be four-legged at the end of the discussion."

Michael sat down suddenly and said:

"You're a bad, bold Bart!"

Sir Lawrence smiled.

"I should be glad to think that men really believed in humanity,
and all that, but you know they don't--they believe in novelty and
getting their own way.  With rare exceptions they're still monkeys,
especially the scientific variety; and when you put gunpowder and a
lighted match into the paws of monkeys, they blow themselves up to
see the fun.  Monkeys are only safe when deprived of means to be
otherwise."

"Lively, that!" said Michael.

"Not livelier than the occasion warrants, my dear boy.  I've been
thinking.  We've got a member here who knows a trick worth twenty
of any played in the war--an extraordinarily valuable fellow.  The
Government have got their eye on him.  He'll help the other
valuable fellows in France and Germany and America and Russia to
make history.  Between them, they'll do something really proud--
something that'll knock all the other achievements of man into a
cocked hat.  By the way, Michael, new device of 'homo sapiens'--the
cocked hat."

"Well," said Michael, "what are you going to do about it?"

Sir Lawrence's eyebrow sought his hair.

"Do, my dear fellow?  What should I do?  Can I go out and grab him
and the Government by the slack of their breeches; yes, and all the
valuable fellows and Governments of the other countries?  No!  All
I can do is to smoke my cigar and say:  'God rest you, merry
gentlemen, let nothing you dismay!'  By hook or crook, they will
come into their own, Michael; but in the normal course of things I
shall be dead before they do."

"I shan't," said Michael

"No, my dear; but think of the explosions, the sights, the smells.
By Jove, you've got something to live for, yet.  Sometimes I wish I
were your age.  And sometimes," Sir Lawrence relighted his cigar,
"I don't.  Sometimes I think I've had enough of our pretences, and
that there's nothing left but to die like gentlemen."

"Some Jeremiad, Dad!"

"Well," said Sir Lawrence, with a twirl of his little grizzled
moustache, "I hope I'm wrong.  But we're driving fast to a
condition of things when millions can be killed by the pressing of
a few buttons.  What reason is there to suppose that our bumps of
benevolence will increase in time to stop our using these great new
toys of destruction, Michael!"

"'Where you know little, place terrors.'"

"Very nice; where did you get that?"

"Out of a life of Christopher Columbus."

"Old C. C.!   I could bring myself to wish sometimes that he hadn't
been so deucedly inquisitive.  We were snugger in the dark ages.
There was something to be said for not discovering the Yanks."

"Well," said Michael, "_I_ think we shall pedal through, yet.  By
the way, about this Elderson stunt:  I've just seen the clerk--he
doesn't look to me the sort that would have made that up."

"Ah!  That!  But if Elderson could do such a thing, well--really,
anything might happen.  It's a complete stumper.  He was such a
pretty bat, always went in first wicket down.  He and I put on
fifty-four against Eton.  I suppose old Forsyte told you?"

"Yes, he wanted me to find the chap a job."

"Butterfield.  Ask him if he's related to old Butterfield the
gardener?  It would be something to go on.  D'you find old Forsyte
rather trying?"

Loyal to Fleur, Michael concealed his lips.  "No, I get on very
well with him."

"He's straight, I admit that."

"Yes," said Michael, "very straight."

"But somewhat reticent."

"Yes," said Michael.

On this conclusion they were silent, as though terrors had been
placed beyond it.  And soon Michael rose.  "Past ten, I'd better go
home."

Returning the way he came, he could think of nothing but Wilfrid.
What wouldn't he give to hear him say:  "It's all right, old man;
I've got over it!"--to wring him by the hand again.  Why should one
catch this fatal disease called love?  Why should one be driven
half crazy by it?  They said love was Nature's provision against
Bart's terrors, against the valuable fellows.  An insistent urge--
lest the race die out.  Prosaic, if true!  Not that he cared
whether Fleur had children.  Queer how Nature camouflaged her
schemes--leery old bird!  But overreaching herself a bit, wasn't
she?  Children might yet go clean out of fashion if Bart was right.
A very little more would do it; who would have children for the
mere pleasure of seeing them blown up, poisoned, starved to death?
A few fanatics would hold on, the rest of the world go barren.  The
cocked hat!  Instinctively Michael straightened his own, ready for
crossing under Big Ben.  He had reached the centre of Parliament
Square, when a figure coming towards him swerved suddenly to its
left and made in the direction of Victoria.  Tall, with a swing in
its walk.  Wilfrid!  Michael stood still.  Coming from--South
Square!  And suddenly he gave chase.  He did not run, but he walked
his hardest.  The blood beat in his temples, and he felt confused
to a pitch past bearing.  Wilfrid must have seen him, or he
wouldn't have swerved, wouldn't be legging it away like a demon.
Black!--black!  He was not gaining, Wilfrid had the legs of him--to
overtake him, he must run!  But there rose in Michael a sort of
exaltation.  His best friend--his wife!  There was a limit.  One
might be too proud to fight that.  Let him go his ways!  He stood
still, watched the swift figure disappear, and slowly, head down
under the now cocked hat, turned towards home.  He walked quite
quietly, and with a sense of finality.  No use making a song about
it!  No fuss, but no retreat!  In the few hundred yards before he
reached his Square he was chiefly conscious of the tallness of
houses, the shortness of men.  Such midgets to have made this
monstrous pile, lighted it so that it shone in an enormous
glittering heap whose glow blurred the colour of the sky!  What a
vast business this midget activity!  Absurd to think that his love
for another midget mattered!  He turned his key in the lock, took
off his cocked hat and went into the drawing-room.  Unlighted--
empty?  No.  She and Ting-a-ling were on the floor before the fire!
He sat down on the settee, and was abruptly conscious that he was
trembling and sweating as if he had smoked a too strong cigar.
Fleur had raised herself, cross-legged, and was staring up at him.
He waited to get the better of his trembling.  Why didn't she
speak?  Why was she sitting there, in the dark?  'She knows'; he
thought: 'we both know this is the end.  O God, let me at least be
a sport!'  He took a cushion, put it behind him, crossed his legs,
and leaned back.  His voice surprised him suddenly:

"May I ask you something, Fleur?  And will you please answer me
quite truly?"

"Yes."

"It's this:  I know you didn't love me when you married me.  I
don't think you love me now.  Do you want me to clear out?"

A long time seemed to pass.

"No."

"Do you mean that?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because I don't."

Michael got up.

"Will you answer one thing more?"

"Yes."

"Was Wilfrid here to-night?"

"Yes--no.  That is--"

His hands clutched each other; he saw her eyes fix on them, and
kept them still.

"Fleur, don't!"

"I'm not.  He came to the window there.  I saw his face--that's
all.  His face--it--Oh!  Michael, don't be unkind to-night!"

Unkind!  Unkind!  Michael's heart swelled at that strange word.

"It's all right," he stammered:  "So long as you tell me what it is
you want."

Fleur said, without moving:

"I want to be comforted."

Ah!  She knew exactly what to say, how to say it!  And going on his
knees, he began to comfort her.



CHAPTER XII

GOING EAST


He had not been on his knees many minutes before they suffered from
reaction.  To kneel there comforting Fleur brought him a growing
discomfort.  He believed her tonight, as he had not believed her
for months past.  But what was Wilfrid doing?  Where wandering?
The face at the window--face without voice, without attempt to
reach her!  Michael ached in that illegitimate organ the heart.
Withdrawing his arms, he stood up.

"Would you like me to have a look for him?  If it's all over--he
might--I might--"

Fleur, too, stood up.  She was calm enough now.

"Yes, I'll go to bed."  With Ting-a-ling in her arms, she went to
the door; her face, between the dog's chestnut fur and her own, was
very pale, very still.

"By the way," she said, "this is my second no go, Michael; I
suppose it means--"

Michael gasped.  Currents of emotion, welling, ebbing, swirling,
rendered him incapable of speech.

"The night of the balloon," she said:  "Do you mind?"

"Mind?  Good God!  Mind!"

"That's all right, then.  _I_ don't.  Good-night!"

She was gone.  Without reason, Michael thought:  'In the beginning
was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.'
And he stood, as if congealed, overcome by an uncontrollable sense
of solidity.  A child coming!  It was as though the barque of his
being, tossed and drifted, suddenly rode tethered--anchor down.  He
turned and tore at the curtains.  Night of stars!  Wonderful world!
Jolly--jolly!  And--Wilfrid!  He flattened his face against the
glass.  Outside there Wilfrid's had been flattened.  He could see
it if he shut his eyes.  Not fair!  Dog lost--man lost!  S. O. S.
He went into the hall, and from the mothless marble coffer rived
his thickest coat.  He took the first taxi that came by.

"Cork Street!  Get along!"  Needle in bundle of hay!  Quarter past
eleven by Big Ben!  The intense relief of his whole being in that
jolting cab seemed to him brutal.  Salvation!  It WAS--he had a
strange certainty of that as though he saw Fleur suddenly 'close-
up' in a very strong light, concrete beneath her graceful veerings.
Family!  Continuation!  He had been unable to anchor her, for he
was not of her!  But her child could and would!  And, perhaps, he
would yet come in with the milk.  Why did he love her so--it was
not done!  Wilfrid and he were donkeys--out of touch, out of tune
with the times!

"Here you are, sir--what number?"

"All right!  Cool your heels and wait for me!  Have a cigarette!"

With one between his own lips which felt so dry, he went down the
backwater.

A light in Wilfrid's rooms!  He rang the bell.  The door was
opened, the face of Wilfrid's man looked forth.

"Yes, sir?"

"Mr. Desert in?"

"No, sir.  Mr. Desert has just started for the East.  His ship
sails to-morrow."

"Oh!" said Michael, blankly:  "Where from?"

"Plymouth, sir.  His train leaves Paddington at midnight.  You
might catch him yet."

"It's very sudden," said Michael, "he never--"

"No, sir.  Mr. Desert is a sudden gentleman."

"Well, thanks; I'll try and catch him."

Back in the cab with the words:  "Paddington--flick her along!" he
thought:  'A sudden gentleman!'  Perfect!  He remembered the utter
suddenness of that little interview beside the bust of Lionel
Charwell.  Sudden their friendship, sudden its end--sudden even
Wilfrid's poems--offspring of a sudden soul!  Staring from window
to window in that jolting, rattling cab, Michael suffered from St.
Vitus's dance.  Was he a fool?  Could he not let well alone?  Pity
was posh!  And yet!  With Wilfrid would go a bit of his heart, and
in spite of all he would like him to know that.  Upper Brook
Street, Park Lane!  Emptying streets, cold night, stark plane trees
painted-up by the lamps against a bluish dark.  And Michael
thought:  'We wander!  What's the end--the goal?  To do one's bit,
and not worry!  But what is my bit?  What's Wilfrid's?  Where will
he end up, now?'

The cab rattled down the station slope and drew up under cover.
Ten minutes to twelve, and a long heavy train on platform one!

'What shall I do?' thought Michael:  'It's so darned crude!  Must I
go down--carriage by carriage?"  Couldn't let you go, old man,
without"--blurb!'

Bluejackets!  If not drunk--as near as made no matter.  Eight
minutes still!  He began slowly walking along the train.  He had
not passed four windows before he saw his quarry.  Desert was
sitting back to the engine in the near corner of an empty first.
An unlighted cigarette was in his mouth, his fur collar turned up
to his eyes, and his eves fixed on an unopened paper on his hip.
He sat without movement; Michael stood looking at him.  His heart
beat fast.  He struck a match, took two steps, and said:

"Light, old boy?"

Desert stared up at him.

"Thanks," he said, and took the match.  By its flare his face was
dark, thin, drawn; his eyes dark, deep, tired.  Michael leaned in
the window.  Neither spoke.

"Take your seat, if you're going, sir."

"I'm not," said Michael.  His whole inside seemed turning over.

"Where are you going, old man?" he said suddenly.

"Jericho."

"God, Wilfrid, I'm sorry!"

Desert smiled.

"Cut it out!"

"Yes, I know!  Shake hands?"

Desert held out his hand.

Michael squeezed it hard.

A whistle sounded.

Desert rose suddenly and turned to the rack above him.  He took a
parcel from a bag.  "Here," he said, "these wretched things!
Publish them if you like."

Something clicked in Michael's throat.

"Thanks, old man!  That's great!  Good-bye!"

A sort of beauty came into Desert's face.

"So long!" he said.

The train moved.  Michael withdrew his elbows; quite still, he
stared at the motionless figure slowly borne along, away.  Carriage
after carriage went by him, full of bluejackets leaning out,
clamouring, singing, waving handkerchiefs and bottles.  Guard's van
now--the tail light--all spread--a crimson blur--setting East--
going--going--gone!

And that was all--was it?  He thrust the parcel into his coat
pocket.  Back to Fleur, now!  Way of the world--one man's meat,
another's poison!  He passed his hand over his eyes.  The dashed
things were full of--blurb!




PART III



CHAPTER I

BANK HOLIDAY


Whitsuntide Bank Holiday was producing its seasonal invasion of
Hampstead Heath, and among the ascending swarm were two who meant
to make money in the morning and spend it in the afternoon.

Tony Bicket, with balloons and wife, embarked early on the
Hampstead Tube.

"You'll see," he said, "I'll sell the bloomin' lot by twelve
o'clock, and we'll go on the bust."

Squeezing his arm, Victorine fingered, through her dress, a slight
swelling just above her right knee.  It was caused by fifty-four
pounds fastened in the top of her stocking.  She had little
feeling, now, against balloons.  They afforded temporary
nourishment, till she had the few more pounds needful for their
passage-money.  Tony still believed he was going to screw salvation
out of his blessed balloons: he was 'that hopeful--Tony,' though
their heads were only just above water on his takings.  And she
smiled.  With her secret she could afford to be indifferent now to
the stigma of gutter hawking.  She had her story pat.  From the
evening paper, and from communion on 'buses with those interested
in the national pastime, she had acquired the necessary information
about racing.  She even talked of it with Tony, who had street-
corner knowledge.  Already she had prepared chapter and verse of
two imaginary coups; a sovereign made out of stitching imaginary
blouses, invested on the winner of the Two Thousand Guineas, and
the result on the dead-heater for the Jubilee at nice odds; this
with a third winner, still to be selected, would bring her
imaginary winnings up to the needed sixty pounds odd she would so
soon have saved now out of 'the altogether.'  This tale she would
pitch to Tony in a week or two, reeling off by heart the wonderful
luck she had kept from him until she had the whole of the money.
She would slip her forehead against his eyes if he looked at her
too hard, and kiss his lips till his head was no longer clear.  And
in the morning they would wake up and take their passages.  Such
was the plan of Victorine, with five ten-pound and four one-pound
notes in her stocking, attached to the pink silk stays.

'Afternoon of a Dryad' had long been finished, and was on
exhibition at the Dumetrius Gallery, with other works of Aubrey
Greene.  Victorine had paid a shilling to see it; had stood some
furtive minutes gazing at that white body glimmering from among
grass and spikey flowers, at the face, turned as if saying:  "I
know a secret!"

"Bit of a genius, Aubrey Greene--that face is jolly good!"  Scared,
and hiding the face, Victorine had slipped away.

From the very day when she had stood shivering outside the studio
of Aubrey Greene she had been in full work.  He had painted her
three times--always nice, always polite, quite the gentleman!  And
he had given her introductions.  Some had painted her in clothes,
some half-draped, some in that 'altogether,' which no longer
troubled her, with the money swelling her stocking and Tony without
suspicion.  Not every one had been 'nice'; advances had been made
to her, but she had nipped them in the bud.  It would have meant
the money quicker, but--Tony!  In a fortnight now she could snap
her fingers at it all.  And often on the way home she stood by that
plate-glass window, before the fruits, and the corn, and the blue
butterflies . . .

In the packed railway carriage they sat side by side, Bicket, with
tray on knee, debating where he had best stand.

"I fyvour the mokes," he said at last, "up by the pond.  People'll
have more money than when they get down among the swings and
cocoanuts; and you can go and sit in a chair by the pond, like the
seaside--I don't want you with me not till I've sold out."

Victorine pressed his arm.

Along the top and over on to the heath to north and south the
holiday swarms surged, in perfect humour, carrying paper bags.
Round the pond children, with thin, grey-white, spindly legs, were
paddling and shrilly chattering, too content to smile.  Elderly
couples crawled slowly by, with jutting stomachs, and faces
discoloured by the unaccustomed climb.  Girls and young men were
few, for they were dispersed already on the heath, in search of a
madder merriment.  On benches, in chairs of green canvas or painted
wood, hundreds were sitting, contemplating their feet, as if
imagining the waves of the sea.  Now and again three donkeys would
start, urged from behind, and slowly tittup their burdens along the
pond's margin.  Hawkers cried goods.  Fat dark women told fortunes.
Policemen stood cynically near them.  A man talked and talked and
took his hat round.

Tony Bicket unslung his tray.  His cockney voice, wheedling and a
little husky, offered his coloured airs without intermission.  This
was something like!  It was brisk!  And now and again he gazed
through the throng away across the pond, to where Victorine would
be seated in a canvas chair, looking different from every one--he
knew.

"Fine balloons--fine balloons!  Six for a bob!  Big one, Madam?
Only sixpence.  See the size!  Buy, buy!  Tyke one for the little
boy!"

No 'aldermen' up here, but plenty in the mood to spend their money
on a bit of brightness!

At five minutes before noon he snapped his tray to--not a bally
balloon left!  With six Bank Holidays a week he would make his
fortune!  Tray under arm, he began to tour the pond.  The kiddies
were all right, but--good Lord--how thin and pale!  If he and Vic
had a kid--but not they--not till they got out there!  A fat brown
kid, chysin' blue butterflies, and the sun oozin' out of him!
Rounding the end of the pond, he walked slowly along the chairs.
Lying back, elegant, with legs crossed, in brown stockings showing
to the knees, and neat brown shoes with the flaps over--My! she
looked a treat--in a world of her own, like that!  Something caught
Bicket by the throat.  Gosh!  He wanted things for her!

"Well, Vic!  Penny!"

"I was thinkin' of Australia."

"Ah!  It's a gaudy long wait.  Never mind--I've sold the bally lot.
Which shall we do, go down among the trees, or get to the swings,
at once?"

"The swings," said Victorine.

The Vale of Health was in rhapsodic mood.  The crowd flowed here in
a slow, speechless stream, to the cries of the booth-keepers, and
the owners of swings and cocoanuts.  "Roll--bowl--or pitch!  Now
for the milky ones!  Penny a shy! . . .  Who's for the swings? . . .
Ices . . .  Ices . . .  Fine bananas!"

On the giant merry-go-round under its vast umbrella the thirty
chain-hung seats were filled with girls and men.  Round to the
music--slowly--faster--whirling out to the full extent of the
chain, bodies bent back, legs stuck forward, laughter and speech
dying, faces solemn, a little lost, hands gripping the chains hard.
Faster, faster; slowing, slowing to a standstill, and the music
silent.

"My word!" murmured Victorine.  "Come on, Tony!"

They entered the enclosure and took their seats.  Victorine, on the
outside, locked her feet, instinctively, one over the other, and
tightening her clasp on the chains, curved her body to the motion.
Her lips parted:

"Lor, Tony!"

Faster, faster--every nerve and sense given to that motion!  O-o-h!
It WAS a feeling--flying round like that above the world!  Faster--
faster!  Slower--slow, and the descent to earth.

"Tony--it's 'eaven!"

"Queer feelin' in yer inside, when you're swung right out!"

"I'd like it level with the top.  Let's go once more!"

"Right-o!"

Twice more they went--half his profit on balloons!  But who cared?
He liked to see her face.  After that, six shies at the milky ones
without a hit, an ice apiece: then arm-in-arm to find a place to
eat their lunch.  That was the time Bicket enjoyed most, after the
ginger-beer and sandwiches; smoking his fag, with his head on her
lap, and the sky blue.  A long time like that; till at last she
stirred.

"Let's go and see the dancin'!"

In the grass enclosure ringed by the running path, some two dozen
couples were jigging to a band.

Victorine pulled at his arm.  "I WOULD love a turn!"

"Well, let's 'ave a go," said Bicket.  "This one-legged bloke'll
'old my tray."

They entered the ring.

"Hold me tighter, Tony!"

Bicket obeyed.  Nothing he liked better; and slowly their feet
moved--to this side and that.  They made little way, revolving,
keeping time, oblivious of appearances.

"You dance all right, Tony."

"YOU dance a treat!" gasped Bicket.

In the intervals, panting, they watched over the one-legged man;
then to it again, till the band ceased for good.

"My word!" said Victorine.  "They dance on board ship, Tony!"

Bicket squeezed her waist.

"I'll do the trick yet, if I 'ave to rob the Bank.  There's nothin'
I wouldn't do for you, Vic."

But Victorine smiled.  She had done the trick already.

The crowd with parti-coloured faces, tired, good-humoured, frowsily
scented, strolled over a battlefield thick-strewn with paper bags,
banana peel, and newspapers.

"Let's 'ave our tea, and one more swing," said Bicket; "then we'll
get over on the other side among the trees."

Away over on the far side were many couples.  The sun went very
slowly down.  Those two sat under a bush and watched it go.  A
faint breeze swung and rustled the birch leaves.  There was little
human sound out here.  All seemed to have come for silence, to be
waiting for darkness in the hush.  Now and then some stealthy spy
would pass and scrutinise.

"Foxes!" said Bicket.  "Gawd!  I'd like to rub their noses in it!"

Victorine sighed, pressing closer to him.

Some one was playing on a banjo now; a voice singing.  It grew
dusk, but a moon was somewhere rising, for little shadows stole out
along the ground.

They spoke in whispers.  It seemed wrong to raise the voice, as
though the grove were under a spell.  Even their whisperings were
scarce.  Dew fell, but they paid no heed to it.  With hands locked,
and cheeks together, they sat very still.  Bicket had a thought.
This was poetry--this was!  Darkness now, with a sort of faint and
silvery glow, a sound of drunken singing on the Spaniard's Road,
the whirr of belated cars returning from the north--and suddenly an
owl hooted.

"My!" murmured Victorine, shivering:  "An owl!  Fancy!  I used to
hear one at Norbiton.  I 'ope it's not bad luck!"

Bicket rose and stretched himself,

"Come on!" he said:  "we've 'ad a dy.  Don't you go catchin' cold!"

Arm-in-arm, slowly, through the darkness of the birch-grove, they
made their way upwards--glad of the lamps, and the street, and the
crowded station, as though they had taken an overdose of solitude.

Huddled in their carriage on the Tube, Bicket idly turned the pages
of a derelict paper.  But Victorine sat thinking of so much, that
it was as if she thought of nothing.  The swings and the grove in
the darkness, and the money in her stocking.  She wondered Tony
hadn't noticed when it crackled--there wasn't a safe place to keep
it in!  What was he looking at, with his eyes so fixed?  She
peered, and read:  "'Afternoon of a Dryad.'  The striking picture
by Aubrey Greene, on exhibition at the Dumetrius Gallery."

Her heart stopped beating.

"Cripes!" said Bicket.  "Ain't that like you?"

"Like me?  No!"

Bicket held the paper closer.  "It IS.  It's like you all over.
I'll cut that out.  I'd like to see that picture."

The colour came up in her cheeks, released from a heart beating too
fast now.

"'Tisn't decent," she said.

"Dunno about that; but it's awful like you.  It's even got your
smile."

Folding the paper, he began to tear the sheet.  Victorine's little
finger pressed the notes beneath her stocking.

"Funny," she said, slowly, "to think there's people in the world so
like each other."

"I never thought there could be one like you.  Charin' Cross; we
gotta change."

Hurrying along the rat-runs of the Tube, she slipped her hand into
his pocket, and soon some scraps of torn paper fluttered down
behind her following him in the crush.  If only he didn't remember
where the picture was!

Awake in the night, she thought:

'I don't care; I'm going to get the rest of the money--that's all
about it.'

But her heart moved queerly within her, like that of one whose feet
have trodden suddenly the quaking edge of a bog.



CHAPTER II

OFFICE WORK


Michael sat correcting the proofs of 'Counterfeits'--the book left
by Wilfrid behind him.

"Can you see Butterfield, sir?"

"I can."

In Michael the word Butterfield excited an uneasy pride.  The young
man fulfilled with increasing success the function for which he had
been engaged, on trial, four months ago.  The head traveller had
even called him "a find."  Next to 'Copper Coin' he was the finest
feather in Michael's cap.  The Trade were not buying, yet
Butterfield was selling books, or so it was reported; he appeared
to have a natural gift of inspiring confidence where it was not
justified.  Danby and Winter had even entrusted to him the private
marketing of that vellum-bound 'Limited' of 'A Duet,' by which they
were hoping to recoup their losses on the ordinary edition.  He was
now engaged in working through a list of names considered likely to
patronise the little masterpiece.  This method of private approach
had been suggested by himself.

"You see, sir," he had said to Michael:  "I know a bit about Coue.
Well, you can't work that on the Trade--they've got no capacity for
faith.  What can you expect?  Every day they buy all sorts of
stuff, always basing themselves on past sales.  You can't find one
in twenty that'll back the future.  But with private gentlemen, and
especially private ladies, you can leave a thought with them like
Coue does--put it into them again and again that day by day in
every way the author's gettin' better and better; and ten to one
when you go round next, it's got into their subconscious,
especially if you take 'em just after lunch or dinner, when they're
a bit drowsy.  Let me take my own time, sir, and I'll put that
edition over for you."

"Well, Michael had answered, "if you can inspire confidence in the
future of my governor, Butterfield, you'll deserve more than your
ten per cent."

"I can do it, sir; it's just a question of faith."

"But you haven't any, have you?"

"Well, not, so to speak, in the author--but I've got faith that I
can give THEM faith in him; that's the real point."

"I see--the three-card stunt; inspire the faith you haven't got,
that the card is there, and they'll take it.  Well, the disillusion
is not immediate--you'll probably always get out of the room in
time.  Go ahead, then!"

The young man Butterfield had smiled. . . .

The uneasy part of the pride inspired in Michael now by the name
was due to old Forsyte's continually saying to him that he didn't
know--he couldn't tell--there was that young man and his story
about Elderson, and they got no further. . . .

"Good morning, sir.  Can you spare me five minutes?"

"Come in, Butterfield.  Bunkered with 'Duet'?"

"No, sir.  I've placed forty already.  It's another matter."
Glancing at the shut door, the young man came closer.

"I'm working my list alphabetically.  Yesterday I was in the E's."
His voice dropped.  "Mr. Elderson."

"Phew!" said Michael.  "You can give HIM the go-by."

"As a fact, sir, I haven't."

"What!  Been over the top?"

"Yes, sir.  Last night."

"Good for you, Butterfield!  What happened?"

"I didn't send my name in, sir--just the firm's card."

Michael was conscious of a very human malice in the young man's
voice and face.

"Well?"

"Mr. Elderson, sir, was at his wine.  I'd thought it out, and I
began as if I'd never seen him before.  What struck me was--he took
my cue!"

"Didn't kick you out?"

"Far from it, sir.  He said at once:  'Put my name down for two
copies.'"

Michael grinned.  "You both had a nerve."

"No, sir; that's just it.  Mr. Elderson got it between wind and
water.  He didn't like it a little bit."

"I don't twig," said Michael.

"My being in this firm's employ, sir.  He knows you're a partner
here, and Mr. Forsyte's son-in-law, doesn't he?"

"He does."

"Well, sir, you see the connection--two directors believing me--not
HIM.  That's why I didn't miss him out.  I fancied it'd shake him
up.  I happened to see his face in the sideboard glass as I went
out.  HE'S got the wind up all right."

Michael bit his forefinger, conscious of a twinge of sympathy with
Elderson, as for a fly with the first strand of cob-web round his
hind leg.

"Thank you, Butterfield," he said.

When the young man was gone, he sat stabbing his blotting-paper
with a paper-knife.  What curious 'class' sensation was this?  Or
was it merely fellow-feeling with the hunted, a tremor at the way
things found one out?  For, surely, this was real evidence, and he
would have to pass it on to his father, and 'Old Forsyte.'
Elderson's nerve must have gone phut, or he'd have said:  "You
impudent young scoundrel--get out of here!"  That, clearly, was the
only right greeting from an innocent, and the only advisable
greeting from a guilty man.  Well!  Nerve did fail sometimes--even
the best.  Witness the very proof-sheet he had just corrected:


                      THE COURT MARTIAL

          "See 'ere!  I'm myde o' nerves and blood
             The syme as you, not meant to be
           Froze stiff up to me ribs in mud.
             You try it, like I 'ave, an' see!

          "'Aye, you snug beauty brass hats, when
             You stick what I stuck out that d'y,
           An' keep yer ruddy 'earts up--then
             You'll learn, maybe, the right to s'y:

          "'Take aht an' shoot 'im in the snow,
             Shoot 'im for cowardice!  'E who serves
           His King and Country's got to know
             There's no such bloody thing as nerves.'"


Good old Wilfrid!

"Yes, Miss Perren?"

"The letter to Sir James Foggart, Mr. Mont; you told me to remind
you.  And will you see Miss Manuelli?"

"Miss Manu--Oh!  Ah!  Yes."

Bicket's girl wife, whose face they had used on Storbert's novel,
the model for Aubrey Greene's--!  Michael rose, for the girl was in
the room already.

'I remember that dress!' he thought:  'Fleur never liked it.'

"What can I do for you, Mrs. Bicket?  How's Bicket, by the way?"

"Fairly, sir, thank you."

"Still in balloons?"

"Yes."

"Well, we all are, Mrs. Bicket."

"Beg pardon?"

"In the air--don't you think?  But you didn't come to tell me
that?"

"No, sir."

A slight flush in those sallow cheeks, fingers concerned with the
tips of the worn gloves, lips uncertain; but the eyes steady--
really an uncommon girl!

"You remember givin' me a note to Mr. Greene, sir?"

"I do; and I've seen the result; it's topping, Mrs. Bicket."

"Yes.  But it's got into the papers--my husband saw it there last
night; and of course, he doesn't know about me."

Phew!  For what had he let this girl in?

"I've made a lot of money at it, sir--almost enough for our passage
to Australia; but now I'm frightened.  'Isn't it like you?' he said
to me.  I tore the paper up, but suppose he remembers the name of
the Gallery and goes to see the picture!  That's even much more
like me!  He might go on to Mr. Greene.  So would you mind, sir,
speaking to Mr. Greene, and beggin' him to say it was some one
else, in case Tony did go?"

"Not a bit," said Michael.  "But do you think Bicket would mind so
very much, considering what it's done for you?  It can be quite a
respectable profession."

Victorine's hands moved up to her breast.

"Yes," she said, simply.  "I have been quite respectable.  And I
only did it because we do so want to get away, and I couldn't bear
seein' him standin' in the gutter there sellin' those balloons in
the fogs.  But I'm ever so scared, sir, now."

Michael stared.

"My God!" he said; "money's an evil thing!"

Victorine smiled faintly.  "The want of it is, I know."

"How much more do you need, Mrs. Bicket?"

"Only another ten pound, about, sir."

"I can let you have that."

"Oh! thank you; but it's not that--I can easy earn it--I've got
used to it; a few more days don't matter."

"But how are you going to account for having the money?"

"Say I won it bettin'."

"THIN!" said Michael.  "Look here!  Say you came to me and I
advanced it.  If Bicket repays it from Australia, I can always put
it to your credit again at a bank out there.  I've got you into a
hole, in a way, and I'd like to get you out of it."

"Oh! no, sir; you did me a service.  I don't want to put you about,
telling falsehoods for me."

"It won't worry me a bit, Mrs. Bicket.  I can lie to the umteenth
when there's no harm in it.  The great thing for you is to get away
sharp.  Are there many other pictures of you?"

"Oh! yes, a lot--not that you'd recognise them, I think, they're so
square and funny."

"Ah! well--Aubrey Greene has got you to the life!"

"Yes; it's like me all over, Tony says."

"Quite.  Well, I'll speak to Aubrey, I shall be seeing him at
lunch.  Here's the ten pounds!  That's agreed, then?  You came to
me to-day--see?  Say you had a brain wave.  I quite understand the
whole thing.  You'd do a lot for him; and he'd do a lot for you.
It's all right--don't cry!"

Victorine swallowed violently.  Her hand in the worn glove returned
his squeeze.

"I'd tell him to-night, if I were you," said Michael, "and I'll get
ready."

When she had gone he thought:  'Hope Bicket won't think I received
value for that sixty pounds!'  And, pressing his bell, he resumed
the stabbing of his blotting-paper.

"Yes, Mr. Mont?"

"Now let's get on with it, Miss Perren."

"'DEAR SIR JAMES FOGGART,--We have given the utmost consideration
to your very interesting--er--production.  While we are of opinion
that the views so well expressed on the present condition of
Britain in relation to the rest of the world are of great value to
all--er--thinking persons, we do not feel that there are enough--
er--thinking persons to make it possible to publish the book,
except at a loss.  The--er--thesis that Britain should now look for
salvation through adjustment of markets, population, supply and
demand, within the Empire, put with such exceedingly plain speech,
will, we are afraid, get the goat of all the political parties; nor
do we feel that your plan of emigrating boys and girls in large
quantities before they are spoiled by British town life, can do
otherwise than irritate a working-class which knows nothing of
conditions outside its own country, and is notably averse to giving
its children a chance in any other.'"

"Am I to put that, Mr. Mont?"

"Yes; but tone it in a bit.  Er--"

"'Finally, your view that the land should be used to grow food is
so very unusual in these days, that we feel your book would have a
hostile Press except from the Old Guard and the Die-hard, and a few
folk with vision.'"

"Yes, Mr. Mont?"

"'In a period of veering--er--transitions'--keep that, Miss Perren--
'and the airy unreality of hopes that have long gone up the
spout'--almost keep that--'any scheme that looks forward and defers
harvest for twenty years, must be extraordinarily unpopular.  For
all these reasons you will see how necessary it is for you to--er--
seek another publisher.  In short, we are not taking any.

"'With--er--' what you like--'dear Sir James Foggart,

"'We are your obedient servants,

'"DANBY AND WINTER.'"

"When you've translated that, Miss Perren, bring it in, and I'll
sign it."

"Yes.  Only, Mr. Mont--I thought you were a Socialist.  This almost
seems--forgive my asking?"

"Miss Perren, it's struck me lately that labels are 'off.'  How can
a man be anything at a time when everything's in the air?  Look at
the Liberals.  They can't see the situation whole because of Free
Trade; nor can the Labour Party because of their Capital levy; nor
can the Tories because of Protection; they're all hag-ridden by
catchwords!  Old Sir James Foggart's jolly well right, but nobody's
going to listen to him.  His book will be waste paper if anybody
ever publishes it.  The world's unreal just now, Miss Perren; and
of all countries we're the most unreal."

"Why, Mr. Mont?"

"Why?  Because with the most stickfast of all the national
temperaments, we're holding on to what's gone more bust for us than
for any other country.  Anyway, Mr. Danby shouldn't have left the
letter to me, if he didn't mean me to enjoy myself.  Oh! and while
we're about it--I've got to refuse Harold Master's new book.  It's
a mistake, but they won't have it."

"Why not, Mr. Mont?  'The Sobbing Turtle' was such a success!"

"Well, in this new thing Master's got hold of an idea which
absolutely forces him to say something.  Winter says those who
hailed 'The Sobbing Turtle' as such a work of art, are certain to
be down on this for that; and Mr. Danby calls the book an outrage
on human nature.  So there's nothing for it.  Let's have a shot:

"'MY DEAR MASTER,--In the exhilaration of your subject it has
obviously not occurred to you that you've bust up the show.  In
'The Sobbing Turtle' you were absolutely in tune with half the
orchestra, and that--er--the noisiest half.  You were charmingly
archaic, and securely cold-blooded.  But now, what have you gone
and done?  Taken the last Marquesan islander for your hero and put
him down in London town!  The thing's a searching satire, a real
criticism of life.  I'm sure you didn't mean to be contemporary, or
want to burrow into reality; but your subject has run off with you.
Cold acid and cold blood are very different things, you know, to
say nothing of your having had to drop the archaic.  Personally, of
course, I think this new thing miles better than 'The Sobbing
Turtle,' which was a nice little affair, but nothing to make a song
about.  But I'm not the public, and I'm not the critics.  The young
and thin will be aggrieved by your lack of modernity, they'll say
you're moralising; the old and fat will call you bitter and
destructive; and the ordinary public will take your Marquesan
seriously, and resent your making him superior to themselves.  The
prospects, you see, are not gaudy.  How d'you think we're going to
'get away' with such a book?  Well, we're not!  Such is the fiat of
the firm.  I don't agree with it.  I'd publish it tomorrow; but
needs must when Danby and Winter drive.  So, with every personal
regret, I return what is really a masterpiece.

"'Always yours,

"'MICHAEL MONT.'"

"D'you know, Miss Perren, I don't think you need translate that?"

"I'm afraid it would be difficult."

"Right-o, then; but do the other, please.  I'm going to take my
wife out to see a picture; back by four.  Oh! and if a little chap
called Bicket, that we used to have here, calls any time and asks
to see me, he's to come up; but I want warning first.  Will you let
them know downstairs?"

"Yes, Mr. Mont.  Oh! didn't--wasn't that Miss Manuelli the model
for the wrapper on Mr. Storbert's novel?"

"She was, Miss Perren; alone I found her."

"She's very interesting-looking, isn't she?"

"She's unique, I'm afraid."

"She needn't mind that, I should think."

"That depends," said Michael; and stabbed his blotting-paper.



CHAPTER III

'AFTERNOON OF A DRYAD'


Fleur was still gracefully concealing most of what Michael called
'the eleventh baronet,' now due in about two months' time.  She
seemed to be adapting herself, in mind and body, to the quiet and
persistent collection of the heir.  Michael knew that, from the
first, following the instructions of her mother, she had been
influencing his sex, repeating to herself, every evening before
falling asleep, and every morning on waking the words:  "Day by
day, in every way, he is getting more and more male," to infect the
subconscious which, everybody now said, controlled the course of
events; and that she was abstaining from the words:  "I WILL have a
boy," for this, setting up a reaction, everybody said, was liable
to produce a girl.  Michael noted that she turned more and more to
her mother, as if the French, or more naturalistic, side of her,
had taken charge of a process which had to do with the body.  She
was frequently at Mapledurham, going down in Soames' car, and her
mother was frequently in South Square.  Annette's handsome
presence, with its tendency to black lace was always pleasing to
Michael, who had never forgotten her espousal of his suit in days
when it was a forlorn hope.  Though he still felt only on the
threshold of Fleur's heart, and was preparing to play second fiddle
to 'the eleventh baronet,' he was infinitely easier in mind since
Wilfrid had been gone.  And he watched, with a sort of amused
adoration, the way in which she focussed her collecting powers on
an object that had no epoch, a process that did not date.

Personally conducted by Aubrey Greene, the expedition to view his
show at the Dumetrius Gallery left South Square after an early
lunch.

"Your Dryad came to me this morning, Aubrey," said Michael in the
cab.  "She wanted me to ask you to put up a barrage if by any
chance her husband blows round to accuse you of painting his wife.
It seems he's seen a reproduction of the picture."

"Umm!" murmured the painter:  "Shall I, Fleur?"

"Of course you must, Aubrey!"

Aubrey Greene's smile slid from her to Michael.

"Well, what's his name?"

"Bicket."

Aubrey Greene fixed his eyes on space, and murmured slowly:


     "An angry young husband called Bicket
      Said:  'Turn yourself round and I'll kick it;
         You have painted my wife
         In the nude to the life,
      Do you think, Mr. Greene, it was cricket?'"


"Oh!  Aubrey!"

"Chuck it!" said Michael, "I'm serious.  She's a most plucky little
creature.  She's made the money they wanted, and remained
respectable."

"So far as I'm concerned, certainly."

"Well, I should think so."

"Why, Fleur?"

"You're not a vamp, Aubrey!"

"As a matter of fact, she excited my aesthetic sense."

"Much that'd save her from some aesthetes!" muttered Michael.

"Also, she comes from Putney."

"There you have a real reason.  Then, you WILL put up a barrage if
Bicket blows in?"

Aubrey Greene laid his hand on his heart.  "And here we are!"

For the convenience of the eleventh baronet Michael had chosen the
hour when the proper patrons of Aubrey Greene would still be
lunching.  A shock-headed young man and three pale-green girls
alone wandered among the pictures.  The painter led the way at once
to his masterpiece; and for some minutes they stood before it in a
suitable paralysis.  To speak too soon in praise would never do; to
speak too late would be equally tactless; to speak too fulsomely
would jar; to mutter coldly:  "Very nice--very nice indeed!" would
blight.  To say bluntly:  "Well, old man, to tell you the truth, I
don't like it a little bit!" would get his goat.

At last Michael pinched Fleur gently, and she said:

"It really is charming, Aubrey; and awfully like--at least--"

"So far as one can tell.  But really, old man, you've done it in
once.  I'm afraid Bicket will think so, anyway."

"Dash that!" muttered the painter.  "How do you find the colour
values?"

"Jolly fine; especially the flesh; don't you think so, Fleur?"

"Yes; only I should have liked that shadow down the side a little
deeper."

"Yes?" murmured the painter:  "Perhaps!"

"You've caught the spirit," said Michael.  "But I tell you what,
old man, you're for it--the thing's got meaning.  I don't know what
the critics will do to you."

Aubrey Greene smiled.  "That was the worst of her.  She led me on.
To get an idea's fatal."

"Personally, I don't agree to that; do you, Fleur?"

"Of course not; only one doesn't say so."

"Time we did, instead of kow-towing to the Cafe C'rillon.  I say,
the hair's all right, and so are the toes--they curl as you look at
'em."

"And it IS a relief not to get legs painted in streaky cubes.  The
asphodels rather remind one of the flowers in Leonardo's 'Virgin of
the Rocks,' Aubrey."

"The whole thing's just a bit Leonardoish, old man.  You'll have to
live that down."

"Oh!  Aubrey, my father's seen it.  I believe he's biting.
Something you said impressed him--about our white monkey, d'you
remember?"

Aubrey Greene threw up his hands.  "Ah!  That white monkey--to have
painted that!  Eat the fruit and chuck the rinds around, and ask
with your eyes what it's all about."

"A moral!" said Michael:  "Take care, old man!  Well!  Our taxi's
running up.  Come along, Fleur; we'll leave Aubrey to his
conscience."

Once more in the cab, he took her arm.  "That poor little snipe,
Bicket!  Suppose I'd come on YOU as he'll come on his wife!"

"I shouldn't have looked so nice."

"Oh! yes; much nicer; though she looks nice enough, I must say."

"Then why should Bicket mind, in these days of emancipation?"

"Why?  Good Lord, ducky!  You don't suppose Bicket--!  I mean, we
emancipated people have got into the habit of thinking we're the
world--well! we aren't; we're an excrescence, small, and noisy.  We
talk as if all the old values and prejudices had gone; but they've
no more gone, really, you know, than the rows of villas and little
grey houses."

"Why this outburst, Michael?"

"Well, darling, I'm a bit fed-up with the attitude of our crowd.
If emancipation were true, one could stick it; but it's not.  There
isn't ten per cent. difference between now and thirty years ago."

"How do you know?  You weren't alive."

"No; but I read the papers, and talk to the man in the street, and
look at people's faces.  Our lot think they're the tablecloth, but
they're only the fringe.  D'you know, only one hundred and fifty
thousand people in this country have ever heard a Beethoven
Symphony?  How many, do you suppose, think old B. a back number?
Five thousand, perhaps, out of forty-two millions.  How's that for
emancipation?"

He stopped, observing that her eyelids had drooped.

"I was thinking, Michael, that I should like to change my bedroom
curtains to blue.  I saw the exact colour yesterday at Harton's.
They say blue has an effect on the mind--the present curtains
really are too jazzy."

The eleventh baronet!

"Anything you like, darling.  Have a blue ceiling if it helps."

"Oh, no!  But I think I'll change the carpet, too; there's a lovely
powder blue at Harton's."

"Then get it.  Would you like to go there now?  I can take the Tube
back to the office."

"Yes, I think I'd better.  I might miss it."

Michael put his head out of the window.  "Harton's, please!"  And,
replacing his hat, he looked at her.  Emancipated!  Phew!



CHAPTER IV

AFTERNOON OF A BICKET


Just about that moment Bicket re-entered his sitting-room and
deposited his tray.  All the morning under the shadow of St. Paul's
he had re-lived Bank Holiday.  Exceptionally tired in feet and
legs, he was also itching mentally.  He had promised himself a
refreshing look from time to time at what was almost like a photo
of Vic herself.  And he had lost the picture!  Yet he had taken
nothing out of his pockets--just hung his coat up.  Had it joggled
out in the crush at the station, or had he missed his pocket
opening and dropped it in the carriage?  And he had wanted to see
the original, too.  He remembered that the Gallery began with a
'D,' and at lunch-time squandered a penny-halfpenny to look up the
names.  Foreign, he was sure--the picture being naked.
'Dumetrius?'  Ah!

Back at his post, he had a bit of luck.  'That alderman,' whom he
had not seen for months, came by.  Intuition made him say at once:
"Hope I see you well sir.  Never forgotten your kindness."

The 'alderman,' who had been staring up as if he saw a magpie on
the dome of St. Paul's, stopped as though attacked by cramp.

"Kindness?" he said; "what kindness?  Oh! balloons!  They were no
good to me!"

"No, sir, I'm sure," said Bicket humbly.

"Well, here you are!" muttered the 'alderman'; "don't expect it
again."

Half-a-crown!  A whole half-crown!  Bicket's eyes pursued the
hastening form.  "Good-luck!" he said softly to himself, and began
putting up his tray.  "I'll go home and rest my feet, and tyke Vic
to see that picture.  It'll be funny lookin' at it together."

But she was not in.  He sat down and smoked a fag.  He felt
aggrieved that she was out, this the first afternoon he had taken
off.  Of course she couldn't stay in all day!

Still--!  He waited twenty minutes, then put on Michael's suit and
shoes.

'I'll go and see it alone,' he thought.  'It'll cost half as much.
They charge you sixpence, I expect.'

They charged him a shilling--a shilling!  One fourth of his day's
earnings, to see a picture!  He entered bashfully.  There were
ladies who smelled of scent and had drawling voices but not a patch
on Vic for looks.  One of them, behind him, said:

"See!  There's Aubrey Greene himself!  And that's the picture
they're talking of--'Afternoon of a Dryad.'"

They passed him and moved on.  Bicket followed.  At the end of the
room, between their draperies and catalogues, he glimpsed the
picture.  A slight sweat broke out on his forehead.  Almost life-
size, among the flowers and spiky grasses, the face smiled round at
him--very image of Vic!  Could some one in the world be as like her
as all that?  The thought offended him, as a collector is offended
finding the duplicate of an unique possession.

"It's a wonderful picture, Mr. Greene.  What a type!"

A young man without hat, and fair hair sliding back, answered:

"A find, wasn't she?"

"Oh! perfect! the very spirit of a wood nymph; so mysterious!"

The word that belonged to Vic!  It was unholy.  There she lay for
all to look at, just because some beastly woman was made like her!
A kind of rage invaded Bicket's throat, caused his checks to burn;
and with it came a queer physical jealousy.  That painter!  What
business had he to paint a woman so like Vic as that--a woman that
didn't mind lyin' like that!  They and their talk about cahryscuro
and paganism, and a bloke called Leneardo!  Blast their drawling
and their tricks!  He tried to move away, and could not, fascinated
by that effigy, so uncannily resembling what he had thought
belonged to himself alone.  Silly to feel so bad over a
'coincidence,' but he felt like smashing the glass and cutting the
body up into little bits.  The ladies and the painter passed on,
leaving him alone before the picture.  Alone, he did not mind so
much.  The face was mournful-like, and lonely, and--and teasing,
with its smile.  It sort of haunted you--it did!  'Well!' thought
Bicket, 'I'll get home to Vic.  Glad I didn't bring her, after all,
to see herself-like.  If I was an alderman, I'd buy the blinkin'
thing, and burn it!'

And there, in the entrance-lobby, talking to a 'dago,' stood--his
very own 'alderman!'  Bicket paused in sheer amazement.

"It's a rithing name, Mr. Forthyte," he heard the Dago say: "hith
prithes are going up."

"That's all very well, Dumetrius, but it's not everybody's money in
these days--too highly-finished, altogether!"

"Well, Mr. Forthyte, to YOU I take off ten per thent."

"Take off twenty and I'll buy it."

That Dago's shoulders mounted above his hairy ears--they did; and
what a smile!

"Mithter Forthyte!  Fifteen, thir!"

"Well, you're doing me; but send it round to my daughter's in South
Square--you know the number.  When do you close?"

"Day after to-morrow, thir."

So!  The counterfeit of Vic had gone to that 'alderman,' had it?
Bicket uttered a savage little sound, and slunk out.

He walked with a queer feeling.  Had he got unnecessary wind up?
After all, it wasn't her.  But to know that another woman could
smile that way, have frizzy-ended short black hair, and be all
curved the same!  And at every woman's passing face he looked--so
different, so utterly unlike Vic's!

When he reached home she was standing in the middle of the room,
with her lips to a balloon.  All around her, on the floor, chairs,
table, mantelpiece, were the blown-out shapes of his stock; one by
one they had floated from her lips and selected their own resting-
places: puce, green, orange, purple, blue, enlivening with their
colour the dingy little space.  All his balloons blown up!  And
there, in her best clothes, she stood, smiling, queer, excited.

"What in thunder!" said Bicket.

Raising her dress, she took some crackling notes from the top of
her stocking, and held them out to him.

"See!  Sixty-four pounds, Tony!  I've got it all.  We can go."

"WHAT!"

"I had a brain wave--went to that Mr. Mont who gave us the clothes,
and he's advanced it.  We can pay it back, some day.  Isn't it a
marvel?"

Bicket's eyes, startled like a rabbit's, took in her smile, her
excited flush, and a strange feeling shot through all his body, as
if THEY were taking HIM in!  She wasn't like Vic!  No!  Suddenly he
felt her arms round him, felt her moist lips on his.  She clung so
tight, he could not move.  His head went round.

"At last!  At last!  Isn't it fine?  Kiss me, Tony!"

Bicket kissed; his vertigo was real, but behind it, for the moment
stifled, what sense of unreality! . . .

Was it before night, or in the night, that the doubt first came--
ghostly, tapping, fluttering, haunting--then, in the dawn, jabbing
through his soul, turning him rigid.  The money--the picture--the
lost paper--that sense of unreality!  This story she had told him!
Were such things possible?  Why should Mr. Mont advance that money?
She had seen him--that was certain; the room, the secretary--you
couldn't mistake her description of that Miss Perren.  Why, then,
feel this jabbing doubt?  The money--such a lot of money!  Not with
Mr. Mont--never--he was a gent!  Oh!  Swine that he was, to have a
thought like that--of Vic!  He turned his back to her and tried to
sleep.  But once you got a thought like that--sleep?  No!  Her face
among the balloons, the way she had smothered his eyes and turned
his head--so that he couldn't think, couldn't go into it and ask
her questions!  A prey to dim doubts, achings, uncertainty, thrills
of hope, and visions of 'Austrylia,' Bicket arose haggard.

"Well," he said, over their cocoa and margarined bread:  "I must
see Mr. Mont, that's certain."  And suddenly he added:  "Vic?"
looking straight into her face.

She answered his look--straight, yes, straight.  Oh! he was a
proper swine! . . .

When he had left the house Victorine stood quite still, with hands
pressed against her chest.  She had slept less than he.  Still as a
mouse, she had turned and turned the thought:  'Did I take him in?
Did I?'  And if not--what?  She took out the notes which had
bought--or sold?--their happiness, and counted them once more.  And
the sense of injustice burned within her.  Had she wanted to stand
like that before men?  Hadn't she been properly through it about
that?  Why, she could have had the sixty pounds three months ago
from that sculptor, who was wild about her; or--so he said!  But
she had stuck it; yes, she had.  Tony had nothing against her
really--even if he knew it all.  She had done it for him--Well!
mostly--for him selling those balloons day after day in all
weathers!  But for her, they would still be stuck, and another
winter coming, and unemployment--so they said in the paper--to be
worse and worse!  Stuck in the fogs and the cold, again!  Ugh!  Her
chest was still funny sometimes; and he always hoarse.  And this
poky little room, and the bed so small that she couldn't stir
without waking him.  Why should Tony doubt her?  For he did--she
had felt it, heard it in his "Vic?"  Would Mr. Mont convince him?
Tony was sharp!  Her head drooped.  The unfairness of it all!  Some
had everything to their hand, like that pretty wife of Mr. Mont's!
And if one tried to find a way and get out to a new chance--then--
then--this!  She flung her hair back.  Tony MUST believe--he
should!  If he wouldn't, let him look out.  She had done nothing to
be ashamed of!  No, indeed!  And with the longing to go in front
and lead her happiness along, she got out her old tin trunk, and
began with careful method to put things into it.



CHAPTER V

MICHAEL GIVES ADVICE


Michael still sat, correcting the proofs of 'Counterfeits.'  Save
'Jericho,' there had been no address to send them to.  The East was
wide, and Wilfrid had made no sign.  Did Fleur ever think of
Wilfrid now?  He had the impression that she did not.  And Wilfrid--
well, probably he was forgetting her already.  Even passion
required a little sustenance.

"A Mr. Forsyte to see you, sir."

Apparition in bookland!

"Ah  Show him in."

Soames entered with an air of suspicion.

"This your place?" he said.  "I've looked in to tell you that I've
bought that picture of young Greene's.  Have you anywhere to hang
it?"

"I should think we had," said Michael.  "Jolly good, sir, isn't
it?"

"Well," muttered Soames, "for these days, yes.  He'll make a name."

"He's an intense admirer of that White Monkey you gave us."

"Ah!  I've been looking into the Chinese.  If I go on buying--"
Soames paused.

"They ARE a bit of an antidote, aren't they, sir?  That 'Earthly
Paradise!'  And those geese--they don't seem to mind your counting
their feathers, do they?"

Soames made no reply; he was evidently thinking:  'How on earth I
missed those things when they first came on the market!'  Then,
raising his umbrella, and pointing it as if at the book trade, he
asked:

"Young Butterfield--how's he doing?"

"Ah!  I was going to let you know, sir.  He came in yesterday and
told me that he saw Elderson two days ago.  He went to sell him a
copy of my father's 'Limited'; Elderson said nothing and bought
two."

"The deuce he did!"

"Butterfield got the impression that his visit put the wind up him.
Elderson knows, of course, that I'm in this firm, and your son-in-
law."

Soames frowned.  "I'm not sure," he said, "that sleeping dogs--!
Well, I'm on my way there now."

"Mention the book, sir, and see how Elderson takes it.  Would you
like one yourself?  You're on the list.  E, F--Butterfield should
be reaching you to-day.  It'll save you a refusal.  Here it is--
nice get-up.  One guinea."

"'A Duet,'" read Soames.  "What's it about?  Musical?"

"Not precisely.  A sort of cat-calling between the ghosts of the
G. O. M. and Dizzy!"

"I'm not a reader," said Soames.  He pulled out a note.  "Why
didn't you make it a pound?  Here's the shilling."

"Thanks awfully, sir; I'm sure my father'll be frightfully bucked
to think you've got one."

"Will he?" said Soames, with a faint smile.  "D'you ever do any
WORK here?"

"Well, we try to turn a doubtful penny."

"What d'you make at it?"

"Personally, about five hundred a year."

"That all?"

"Yes, but I doubt if I'm worth more than three."

"H'm!  I thought you'd got over your Socialism."

"I fancy I have, sir.  It didn't seem to go with my position."

"No," said Soames.  "Fleur seems well."

"Yes, she's splendid.  She does the Coue stunt, you know."

Soames stared.  "That's her mother," he said; "I can't tell.  Good-
bye!  Oh!  I want to know; what's the meaning of that expression
'got his goat?'"

"'Got his goat?'  Oh, raised his dander, if you know what that
means, it was before my time."

"I see," said Soames; "I had it right, then.  Well!"  He turned.
His back was very neat and real.  It vanished through the doorway,
and with it seemed to go the sense of definition.

Michael took up the proofs, and read two poems.  Bitter as quinine!
The unrest in them--the yearning behind the words!  Nothing Chinese
there!  After all, the ancients--like Old Forsyte, and his father
in a very different way--had an anchor down.  'What is it?' thought
Michael.  'What's wrong with us?  We're quick, and clever,
cocksure, and dissatisfied.  If only something would enthuse us, or
get OUR goats!  We've chucked religion, tradition, property, pity;
and in their place we put--what?  Beauty?  Gosh!  See Walter
Nazing, and the Cafe C'rillon!  And yet--we must be after
something!  Better world?  Doesn't look like it.  Future life?
Suppose I ought to "look into" spiritualism, as Old Forsyte would
say.  But--half in this world, half in that--deuced odd if spirits
are less restive than we are!'

To what--to what, then, was it all moving?  'Dash it!' thought
Michael, getting up, 'I'll try dictating an advertisement!'

"Will you come in, please, Miss Perren?  For the new Desert volume--
Trade Journals:  'Danby and Winter will shortly issue 'Counterfeits,'
by the author of 'Copper Coin,' the outstanding success of the last
publishing season.  I wonder how many publishers have claimed that,
Miss Perren, for how many books this year?  'These poems show all
the brilliancy of mood, and more than the technical accomplishment
of the young author's first volume.'  How's that?"

"Brilliancy of mood, Mr. Mont?  Do you think?"

"No.  But what am I to say?  'All the pangs and pessimism?'"

"Oh, no!  But possibly:  'All the brilliancy of diction, the
strangeness and variety of mood.'"

"Good.  But it'll cost more.  Say:  'All the brilliant
strangeness'; that'll ring their bells in once.  We're nuts on 'the
strange,' but we're not getting it--the outre, yes, but not the
strange."

"Surely Mr. Desert gets--"

"Yes, sometimes; but hardly any one else.  To be strange, you've
got to have guts, if you'll excuse the phrase, Miss Perren."

"Certainly, Mr. Mont.  That young man Bicket is waiting to see
you."

"He is, is he?" said Michael, taking out a cigarette.  "Give me
time to tighten my belt, Miss Perren, and ask him up."

'The lie benevolent,' he thought; 'now for it!'

The entrance of Bicket into a room where his last appearance had
been so painful, was accomplished with a certain stolidity.
Michael stood, back to the hearth, smoking; Bicket, back to a pile
of modern novels, with the words "This great new novel" on it.
Michael nodded.

"Hallo, Bicket!"

Bicket nodded.

"Hope you're keeping well, sir?"

"Frightfully well, thank you."  And there was silence.

"Well," said Michael, at last, "I suppose you've come about that
little advance to your wife.  It's quite all right; no hurry
whatever."

While saying this he had become conscious that the 'little snipe'
was dreadfully disturbed.  His eyes had a most peculiar look, those
large, shrimp-like eyes which seemed, as it were, in advance of the
rest of him.  He hastened on:

"I believe in Australia myself.  I think you're perfectly right,
Bicket, and the sooner you go, the better.  She doesn't look too
strong."

Bicket swallowed.

"Sir," he said, "you've been a gent to me, and it's hard to say
things."

"Then don't."

Bicket's cheeks became suffused with blood: queer effect in that
pale, haggard face.

"It isn't what you think," he said:  "I've come to ask you to tell
me the truth."  Suddenly he whipped from his pocket what Michael
perceived to be a crumpled novel-wrapper.

"I took this from a book on the counter as I came by, downstairs.
There!  Is that my wife?"  He stretched it out.

Michael beheld with consternation the wrapper of Storbert's novel.
One thing to tell the lie benevolent already determined on--quite
another to deny this!

Bicket gave him little time.

"I see it is, from your fyce," he said.  "What's it all mean?  I
want the truth--I must 'ave it!  I'm gettin' wild over all this.
If that's 'er fyce there, then that's 'er body in the Gallery--
Aubrey Greene; it's the syme nyme.  What's it all mean?"  His face
had become almost formidable; his cockney accent very broad.  "What
gyme 'as she been plyin'?  You gotta tell me before I go aht of
'ere."

Michael's heels came together.  He said quietly.

"Steady, Bicket."

"Steady!  You'd be steady if YOUR wife-!  All that money!  YOU
never advanced it--you never give it 'er--never!  Don't tell me you
did!"

Michael had taken his line.  No lies!

"I lent her ten pounds to make a round sum of it--that's all; the
rest she earned--honourably; and you ought to be proud of her."

Bicket's mouth fell open.

"Proud?  And how's she earned it?  Proud!  My Gawd!"

Michael said coldly:

"As a model.  I myself gave her the introduction to my friend, Mr.
Greene, the day you had lunch with me.  You've heard of models, I
suppose?"

Bicket's hands tore the wrapper, and the pieces fell to the floor.
"Models!" he said:  "Pynters--yes, I've 'eard of 'em--Swines!"

"No more swine than you are, Bicket.  Be kind enough not to insult
my friend.  Pull yourself together, man, and take a cigarette."

Bicket dashed the proffered case aside.

"I--I--was stuck on her," he said passionately, "and she's put this
up on me!"  A sort of sob came out of his lungs.

"You were stuck on her," said Michael; his voice had sting in it.
"And when she does her best for you, you turn her down--is that it?
Do you suppose she liked it?"

Bicket covered his face suddenly.

"What should I know?" he muttered from behind his hands.

A wave of pity flooded up in Michael.  Pity!  Blurb!

He said drily:  "When you've quite done, Bicket.  D'you happen to
remember what YOU did for HER?"

Bicket uncovered his face and stared wildly.

"You've never told her that?"

"No; but I jolly well will if you don't pull yourself together."

"What do I care if you do, now--lyin' like that, for all the men in
the world!  Sixty pound!  Honourably!  D'you think I believe that?"
His voice had desolation in it.

"Ah!" said Michael.  "You don't believe simply because you're
ignorant, as ignorant as the swine you talk of.  A girl can do what
she did and be perfectly honest, as I haven't the faintest doubt
she is.  You've only to look at her, and hear the way she speaks of
it.  She did it because she couldn't bear to see you selling those
balloons.  She did it to get you out of the gutter, and give you
both a chance.  And now you've got the chance, you kick up like
this.  Dash it all, Bicket, be a sport!  Suppose I tell her what
you did for her--d'you think she's going to squirm and squeal?  Not
she!  It was damned human of you, and it was damned human of her;
and don't you forget it!"

Bicket swallowed violently again.

"It's all very well," he said, sullenly; "it 'asn't 'appened to
you."

Michael was afflicted at once.  No!  It hadn't happened to him!
And all his doubts of Fleur in the days of Wilfrid came hitting
him.

"Look here, Bicket," he said, "do you doubt your wife's affection?
The whole thing is there.  I've only seen her twice, but I don't
see how you can.  If she weren't fond of you, why should she want
to go to Australia, when she knows she can make good money here,
and enjoy herself if she wants?  I can vouch for my friend Greene.
He's dashed decent, and I KNOW he's played cricket."

But, searching Bicket's face, he wondered:  Were all the others she
had sat to as dashed decent?

"Look here, Bicket!  We all get up against it sometimes; and that's
the test of us.  You've just GOT to believe in her; there's nothing
else to it."

"To myke a show of herself for all the world to see!"  The words
seemed to struggle from the skinny throat.  "I saw that picture
bought yesterday by a ruddy alderman."

Michael could not conceal a grin at this description of 'Old
Forsyte.'

"As a matter of fact," he said, "it was bought by my own father-in-
law as a present to us, to hang in our house.  And, mind you,
Bicket, it's a fine thing."

"Ah!" cried Bicket, "it IS a fine thing!  Money!  It's money bought
her.  Money'll buy anything.  It'll buy the 'eart out of your
chest."

And Michael thought:  'I can't get away with it a bit!  What price
emancipation?  He's never heard of the Greeks!  And if he had,
they'd seem to him a lot of loose-living foreigners.  I must quit.'
And, suddenly, he saw tears come out of those shrimp's eyes, and
trickle down the hollowed cheeks.

Very disturbed, he said hastily:

"When you get out there, you'll never think of it again.  Hang it
all, Bicket, be a man!  She did it for the best.  If I were you,
I'd never let on to her that I knew.  That's what she'd do if I
told her how you snooped those 'Copper Coins.'"

Bicket clenched his fists--the action went curiously with the
tears; then, without a word, he turned and shuffled out.

'Well,' thought Michael, 'giving advice is clearly not my stunt!
Poor little snipe!'



CHAPTER VI

QUITTANCE


Bicket stumbled, half-blind, along the Strand.  Naturally good-
tempered, such a nerve-storm made him feel ill, and bruised in the
brain.  Sunlight and motion slowly restored some power of thought.
He had got the truth.  But was it the whole and nothing but the
truth?  Could she have made all that money without--?  If he could
believe that, then, perhaps--out of this country where people could
see her naked for a shilling--he might forget.  But--all that
money!  And even if all earned 'honourable,' as Mr. Mont had put
it, in how many days, exposed to the eyes of how many men?  He
groaned aloud in the street.  The thought of going home to her--of
a scene, of what he might learn if there WERE a scene, was just
about unbearable.  And yet--must do it, he supposed.  He could have
borne it better under St. Paul's, standing in the gutter, offering
his balloons.  A man of leisure for the first time in his life, a
blooming 'alderman' with nothing to do but step in and take a
ticket to the ruddy butterflies!  And he owed that leisure to what
a man with nothing to take his thoughts off simply could not bear!
He would rather have snaffled the money out of a shop till.  Better
that on his soul, than the jab of this dark fiendish sexual
jealousy.  'Be a man!'  Easy said!  'Pull yourself together!  She
did it for you!'  He would a hundred times rather she had not.
Blackfriars Bridge!  A dive, and an end in the mud down there?  But
you had to rise three times; they would fish you out alive, and run
you in for it--and nothing gained--not even the pleasure of
thinking that Vic would see what she had done, when she came to
identify the body.  Dead was dead, anyway, and he would never know
what she felt post-mortem!  He trudged across the bridge, keeping
his eyes before him.  Little Ditch Street--how he used to scuttle
down it, back to her, when she had pneumonia!  Would he never feel
like that again?  He strode past the window, and went in.

Victorine was still bending over the brown tin trunk.  She
straightened herself, and on her face came a cold, tired look.

"Well," she said, "I see you know."

Bicket had but two steps to take in that small room.  He took them,
and put his hands on her shoulders.  His face was close, his eyes,
so large and strained, searched hers.

"I know you've myde a show of yerself for all London to see; what I
want to know is--the rest!"

Victorine stared back at him.

"The rest!" she said--it was not a question, just a repetition, in
a voice that seemed to mean nothing.

"Ah!" said Bicket hoarsely; "The rest--Well?"

"If you think there's a 'rest,' that's enough."

Bicket jerked his hands away.

"Aoh! for the land's sake, daon't be mysterious.  I'm 'alf orf me
nut!"

"I see that," said Victorine; "and I see this:  You aren't what I
thought you.  D'you think I liked doing it?"  She raised her dress
and took out the notes.  "There you are!  You can go to Australia
without me."

Bicket cried hoarsely:  "And leave you to the blasted pynters?"

"And leave me to meself.  Take them!"

But Bicket recoiled against the door, staring at the notes with
horror.  "Not me!"

"Well, _I_ can't keep 'em.  I earned them to get you out of this."

There was a long silence, while the notes lay between them on the
table, still crisp if a little greasy--the long-desired, the
dreamed-of means of release, of happiness together in the sunshine.
There they lay; neither would take them!  What then?

"Vic," said Bicket at last, in a hoarse whisper, "swear you never
let 'em touch you!"

"Yes, I can swear that."

And she could smile, too, saying it--that smile of hers!  How
believe her--living all these months, keeping it from him, telling
him a lie about it in the end!  He sank into a chair by the table
and laid his head on his arms.

Victorine turned and began pulling an old cord round the trunk.  He
raised his head at the tiny sound.  Then she really meant to go
away!  He saw his life devastated, empty as a cocoanut on Hampstead
Heath; and all defence ran melted out of his cockney spirit.  Tears
rolled from his eyes.

"When you were ill," he said, "I stole for you.  I got the sack for
it."

She spun round.  "Tony--you never told me!  What did you steal?"

"Books.  All your extra feedin' was books."

For a long minute she stood looking at him, then stretched out her
hands without a word.  Bicket seized them.

"I don't care about anything," he gasped, "so 'elp me, so long as
you're fond of me, Vic!"

"And I don't neither.  Oh! let's get out of this, Tony! this awful
little room, this awful country.  Let's get out of it all!"

"Yes," said Bicket; and put her hands to his eyes.



CHAPTER VII

LOOKING INTO ELDERSON


Soames had left Danby and Winter divided in thought between
Elderson and the White Monkey.  As Fleur surmised, he had never
forgotten Aubrey Greene's words concerning that bit of salvage from
the wreck of George Forsyte.  "Eat the fruits of life, scatter the
rinds, and get copped doing it."  His application of them tended
towards the field of business.

The country was still living on its capital.  With the collapse of
the carrying trade and European markets, they were importing food
they couldn't afford to pay for.  In his opinion they would get
copped doing it, and that before long.  British credit was all very
well, the wonder of the world and that, but you couldn't live
indefinitely on wonder.  With shipping idle, concerns making a loss
all over the place, and the unemployed in swarms, it was a pretty
pair of shoes!  Even insurance must suffer before long.  Perhaps
that chap Elderson had foreseen this already, and was simply
feathering his nest in time.  If one was to be copped in any case,
why bother to be honest?  This was cynicism so patent, that all the
Forsyte in Soames rejected it; and yet it would keep coming back.
In a general bankruptcy, why trouble with thrift, far-sightedness,
integrity?  Even the Conservatives were refusing to call themselves
Conservatives again, as if there were something ridiculous about
the word, and they knew there was really nothing left to conserve.
"Eat the fruit, scatter the rinds, and get copped doing it."  That
young painter had said a clever thing--yes, and his picture was
clever, though Dumetrius had done one over the price--as usual!
Where would Fleur hang it?  In the hall, he shouldn't be surprised--
good light there; and the sort of people they knew wouldn't jib at
the nude.  Curious--where all the nudes went to!  You never saw a
nude--no more than you saw the proverbial dead donkey!  Soames had
a momentary vision of dying donkeys laden with pictures of the
nude, stepping off the edge of the world.  Refusing its
extravagance, he raised his eyes, just in time to see St. Paul's,
as large as life.  That little beggar with his balloons wasn't
there to-day!  Well--he'd nothing for him!  At a tangent his
thoughts turned towards the object of his pilgrimage--the P. P. R.
S. and its half-year's accounts.  At his suggestion, they were
writing off that German business wholesale--a dead loss of two
hundred and thirty thousand pounds.  There would be no interim
dividend, and even then they would be carrying forward a debit
towards the next half-year.  Well! better have a rotten tooth out
at once and done with; the shareholders would have six months to
get used to the gap before the general meeting.  He himself had got
used to it already, and so would they in time.  Shareholders were
seldom nasty unless startled--a long-suffering lot!

In the board room the old clerk was still filling his inkpots from
the magnum.

"Manager in?"

"Yes, sir."

"Say I'm here, will you?"

The old clerk withdrew.  Soames looked at the clock.  Twelve!  A
little shaft of sunlight slanted down the wainscotting and floor.
There was nothing else alive in the room save a bluebottle and the
tick of the clock; not even a daily paper.  Soames watched the
bluebottle.  He remembered how, as a boy, he had preferred
bluebottles and green-bottles to the ordinary fly, because of their
bright colour.  It was a lesson.  The showy things, the brilliant
people, were the dangerous.  Witness the Kaiser, and that precious
Italian poet--what was his name!  And this Jack-o'-lantern of their
own!  He shouldn't be surprised if Elderson were brilliant in
private life.  Why didn't the chap come?  Was that encounter with
young Butterfield giving him pause?  The bluebottle crawled up the
pane, buzzed down, crawled up again; the sunlight stole inward
along the floor.  All was vacuous in the board room, as though
embodying the principle of insurance:  "Keep things as they are."

'Can't kick my heels here for ever,' thought Soames, and moved to
the window.  In that wide street leading to the river, sunshine
illumined a few pedestrians and a brewer's dray, but along the main
artery at the end the traffic streamed and rattled.  London!  A
monstrous place!  And all insured!  'What'll it be like thirty
years hence?' he thought.  To think that there would be London,
without himself to see it!  He felt sorry for the place, sorry for
himself.  Even old Gradman would be gone.  He supposed the
insurance societies would look after it, but he didn't know.  And
suddenly he became aware of Elderson.  The fellow looked quite
jaunty, in a suit of dittoes and a carnation.

"Contemplating the future, Mr. Forsyte?"

"No," said Soames.  How had the fellow guessed his thoughts?

"I'm glad you've come in.  It gives me a chance to say how grateful
I am for the interest you take in the concern.  It's rare.  A
manager has a lonely job."

Was he mocking?  He seemed altogether very spry and uppish.  Light-
heartedness always made Soames suspicious--there was generally some
reason for it.

"If every director were as conscientious as you, one would sleep in
one's bed.  I don't mind telling you that the amount of help I got
from the Board before you came on it was--well--negligible."

Flattery!  The fellow must be leading up to something!

Elderson went on:

"I can say to you what I couldn't say to any of the others:  I'm
not at all happy about business, Mr. Forsyte.  England is just
about to discover the state she's really in."

Faced with this startling confirmation of his own thoughts, Soames
reacted.

"No good crying out before we're hurt," he said; "the pound's still
high.  We're good stayers."

"In the soup, I'm afraid.  If something drastic isn't done--we
SHALL stay there.  And anything drastic, as you know, means
disorganisation and lean years before you reap reward."

How could the fellow talk like this, and look as bright and pink as
a new penny?  It confirmed the theory that he didn't care what
happened.  And, suddenly, Soames resolved to try a shot.

"Talking of lean years--I came in to say that I think we must call
a meeting of the shareholders over this dead loss of the German
business."  He said it to the floor, and looked quickly up.  The
result was disappointing.  The manager's light-grey eyes met his
without a blink.

"I've been expecting that from you," he said.

'The deuce you have!' thought Soames, for it had but that moment
come into his mind.

"By all means call one," went on the manager; "but I'm afraid the
Board won't like it."

Soames refrained from saying:  'Nor do I.'

"Nor the shareholders, Mr. Forsyte.  In a long experience I've
found that the less you rub their noses in anything unpleasant, the
better for every one."

"That may be," said Soames, stiffening in contrariety; "but it's
all a part of the vice of not facing things."

"I don't think, Mr. Forsyte, that you will accuse ME of not facing
things, in the time to come."

Time to come!  Now, what on earth did the fellow mean by that?

"Well, I shall moot it at the next Board," he said.

"Quite!" said the manager.  "Nothing like bringing things to a
head, is there?"

Again that indefinable mockery, as if he had something up his
sleeve.  Soames looked mechanically at the fellow's cuffs--
beautifully laundered, with a blue stripe; at his holland
waistcoat, and his bird's-eye tie--a regular dandy.  He would give
him a second barrel!

"By the way," he said, "Mont's written a book.  I've taken a copy."

Not a blink!  A little more show of teeth, perhaps--false, no
doubt!

"I've taken two--poor, dear Mont!"

Soames had a sense of defeat.  This chap was armoured like a crab,
varnished like a Spanish table.

"Well," he said, "I must go."

The manager held out his hand.

"Good-bye, Mr. Forsyte.  I'm so grateful to you."

The fellow was actually squeezing his hand.  Soames went out
confused.  To have his hand squeezed was so rare!  It undermined
him.  And yet, it might be the crown of a consummate bit of acting.
He couldn't tell.  He had, however, less intention even than before
of moving for a meeting of the shareholders.  No, no!  That had
just been a shot to get a rise; and it had failed.  But the
Butterfield shot had gone home, surely!  If innocent, Elderson must
certainly have alluded to the impudence of the young man's call.
And yet such a cool card was capable of failing to rise, just to
tease you!  No!  Nothing doing--as they said nowadays.  He was as
far as ever from a proof of guilt; and to speak truth, glad of it.
Such a scandal could serve no purpose save that of blackening the
whole concern, directors and all.  People were so careless, they
never stopped to think, or apportion blame where it was due.  Keep
a sharp eye open, and go on as they were!  No good stirring
hornets' nests!  He had got so far in thought and progress, when a
voice said:

"Well met, Forsyte!  Are you going my way?"

"Old Mont," coming down the steps of 'Snooks'!

"I don't know," said Soames.

"I'm off to the Aeroplane for lunch."

"That new-fangled place?"

"Rising, you know, Forsyte--rising."

"I've just been seeing Elderson.  He's bought two copies of your
book."

"Dear me!  Poor fellow!"

Soames smiled faintly.  "That's what he said of you!  And who d'you
think sold them to him?  Young Butterfield."

"Is he still alive?"

"He was, this morning."

Sir Lawrence's face took on a twist:

"I've been thinking, Forsyte.  They tell me Elderson keeps two
women."

Soames stared.  The idea was attractive; would account for
everything.

"My wife says it's one too many, Forsyte.  What do you say?"

"I?" said Soames.  "I only know the chap's as cool as a cucumber.
I'm going in here.  Good-bye!"

One could get no help from that baronet fellow; he couldn't take
anything seriously.  Two women!  At Elderson's age!  What a life!
There were always men like that, not content with one thing at a
time--living dangerously.  It was mysterious to him.  You might
look and look into chaps like that, and see nothing.  And yet,
there they were!  He crossed the hall, and went into the room where
connoisseurs were lunching.  Taking down the menu at the service
table, he ordered himself a dozen oysters; but, suddenly
remembering that the month contained no "r," changed them to a
fried sole.



CHAPTER VIII

LEVANTED


"No, dear heart, Nature's 'off'!"

"How d'you mean, Michael?"

"Well, look at the Nature novels we get.  Sedulous stuff pitched on
Cornish cliffs or Yorkshire moors--ever been on a Yorkshire moor?--
it comes off on you; and the Dartmoor brand.  Gosh!  Dartmoor,
where the passions come from--ever been on Dartmoor?  Well, they
don't, you know.  And the South Sea bunch!  Oh, la, la!  And the
poets, the splash-and-splutter school don't get within miles of
Nature.  The village idiot school is a bit better, certainly.
After all, old Wordsworth made Nature, and she's a bromide.  Of
course, there's raw nature with the small 'n'; but if you come up
against that, it takes you all your time to keep alive--the Nature
we gas about is licensed, nicely blended and bottled.  She's not
modern enough for contemporary style."

"Oh! well, let's go on the river, anyway, Michael.  We can have tea
at 'The Shelter.'"

They were just reaching what Michael always called 'this desirable
residence,' when Fleur leaned forward, and, touching his knee,
said:

"I'm not half as nice to you as you deserve, Michael."

"Good Lord, darling!  I thought you were."

"I know I'm selfish; especially just now."

"It's only the eleventh baronet."

"Yes; it's a great responsibility.  I only hope he'll be like you."

Michael slid in to the landing-stage, shipped his sculls, and sat
down beside her.

"If he's like me, I shall disown him.  But sons take after their
mothers."

"I meant in character.  I want him frightfully to be cheerful and
not restless, and have the feeling that life's worth while."

Michael stared at her lips--they were quivering; at her cheek,
slightly browned by the afternoon's sunning; and, bending sideways,
he put his own against it.

"He'll be a sunny little cuss, I'm certain."

Fleur shook her head.

"I don't want him greedy and self-centred; it's in my blood, you
know.  I can see it's ugly, but I can't help it.  How do you manage
not to be?"

Michael ruffled his hair with his free hand.

"The sun isn't too hot for you, is it, ducky?"

"No.  Seriously, Michael--how?"

"But I AM.  Look at the way I want you.  Nothing will cure me of
that."

A slight pressure of her cheek on his own was heartening, and he
said:

"Do you remember coming down the garden one night, and finding me
in a boat just here?  When you'd gone, I stood on my head, to cool
it.  I was on my uppers; I didn't think I'd got an earthly--"  He
stopped.  No!  He would not remind her, but that was the night when
she said:  "Come again when I know I can't get my wish!"  The
unknown cousin!

Fleur said quietly:

"I was a pig to you, Michael, but I was awfully unhappy.  That's
gone.  It's gone at last; there's nothing wrong now, except my own
nature."

Conscious that his feelings betrayed the period, Michael said:

"Oh! if that's all!  What price tea?"

They went up the lawn arm-in-arm.  Nobody was at home--Soames in
London, Annette at a garden party.  "We'll have tea on the
verandah, please," said Fleur.  Sitting there, happier than he ever
remembered being, Michael conceded a certain value to Nature, to
the sunshine stealing down, the scent of pinks and roses, the
sighing in the aspens.  Annette's pet doves were cooing; and,
beyond the quietly-flowing river, the spires of poplar trees rose
along the further bank.  But, after all, he was only enjoying them
because of the girl beside him, whom he loved to touch and look at,
and because, for the first time, he felt as if she did not want to
get up and flutter off to some one or something else.  Curious that
there could be, outside oneself, a being who completely robbed the
world of its importance, 'snooped,' as it were, the whole 'bag of
tricks'--and she one's own wife!  Very curious, considering what
one was!  He heard her say:

"Of course, mother's a Catholic; only, living with father down
here, she left off practising.  She didn't even bother me much.
I've been thinking, Michael--what shall we do about HIM?"

"Let him rip."

"I don't know.  He must be taught something, because of going to
school.  The Catholics, you know, really do get things out of their
religion."

"Yes; they go it blind; it's the only logical way now."

"I think having no religion makes one feel that nothing matters."

Michael suppressed the words:  'We could bring him up as a sun-
worshipper,' and said, instead:

"It seems to me that whatever he's taught will only last till he
can think for himself; then he'll settle down to what suits him."

"But what do YOU think about things, Michael?  You're as good as
any one I know."

"Gosh!" murmured Michael, strangely flattered:  "Is that so?"

"What DO you think?  Be serious!"

"Well, darling, doctrinally nothing--which means, of course, that I
haven't got religion.  I believe one has to play the game--but
that's ethics."

"But surely it's a handicap not to be able to rely on anything but
oneself?  If there's something to be had out of any form of belief,
one might as well have it."

Michael smiled, but not on the surface.

"You're going to do just as you like about the eleventh baronet,
and I'm going to abet you.  But considering his breeding--I fancy
he'll be a bit of a sceptic."

"But I don't WANT him to be.  I'd rather he were snug, and
convinced and all that.  Scepticism only makes one restless."

"No white monkey in him?  Ah!  I wonder!  It's in the air, I guess.
The only thing will be to teach him a sense of other people, as
young as possible, with a slipper, if necessary."

Fleur gave him a clear look, and laughed.

"Yes," she said:  "Mother used to try, but father wouldn't let
her."

They did not reach home till past eight o'clock.

"Either your father's here, or mine," said Michael, in the hall;
"there's a prehistoric hat."

"It's Dad's.  His is grey inside.  Bart's is buff."

In the Chinese room Soames indeed was discovered, with an opened
letter, and Ting-a-ling at his feet.  He held the letter out to
Michael, without a word.

There was no date, and no address; Michael read:


"DEAR MR. FORSYTE.--Perhaps you will be good enough to tell the
Board at the meeting on Tuesday that I am on my way to immunity
from the consequences of any peccadillo I may have been guilty of.
By the time you receive this, I shall be there.  I have always held
that the secret of life, no less than that of business, is to know
when not to stop.  It will be no use to proceed against me, for my
person will not be attachable, as I believe you call it in the law,
and I have left no property behind.  If your object was to corner
me, I cannot congratulate you on your tactics.  If, on the other
hand, you inspired that young man's visit as a warning that you
were still pursuing the matter, I should like to add new thanks to
those which I expressed when I saw you a few days ago.

"Believe me, dear Mr. Forsyte,

"Faithfully yours,

"ROBERT ELDERSON."


Michael said cheerfully:

"Happy release!  Now you'll feel safer, sir."

Soames passed his hand over his face, evidently wiping off its
expression.  "We'll discuss it later," he said.  "This dog's been
keeping me company."

Michael admired him at that moment.  He was obviously swallowing
his 'grief,' to save Fleur.

"Fleur's a bit tired," he said.  "We've been on the river, and had
tea at 'The Shelter'; Madame wasn't in.  Let's have dinner at once,
Fleur."

Fleur had picked up Ting-a-ling, and was holding her face out of
reach of his avid tongue.

"Sorry you've had to wait, Dad," she murmured, behind the yellow
fur; "I'm just going to wash; shan't change."

When she had gone, Soames reached for the letter.

"A pretty kettle of fish!" he muttered.  "Where it'll end, I can't
tell!"

"But isn't this the end, sir?"

Soames stared.  These young people!  Here he was, faced with a
public scandal, which might lead to he didn't know what--the loss
of his name in the city, the loss of his fortune, perhaps; and they
took it as if--!  They had no sense of responsibility--none!  All
his father's power of seeing the worst, all James' nervous
pessimism, had come to the fore in him during the hour since, at
the Connoisseur's Club, he had been handed that letter.  Only the
extra 'form' of the generation that succeeded James saved him, now
that Fleur was out of the room, from making an exhibition of his
fears.

"Your father in town?"

"I believe so, sir."

"Good!"  Not that he felt relief.  That baronet chap was just as
irresponsible--getting him to go on that Board!  It all came of
mixing with people brought up in a sort of incurable levity, with
no real feeling for money.

"Now that Elderson's levanted," he said, "the whole thing must come
out.  Here's his confession in my hand--"

"Why not tear it up, sir, and say Elderson has developed
consumption?"

The impossibility of getting anything serious from this young man
afflicted Soames like the eating of heavy pudding.

"You think that would be honourable?" he said grimly.

"Sorry, sir!" said Michael, sobered.  "Can I help at all?"

"Yes; by dropping your levity, and taking care to keep wind of this
matter away from Fleur."

"I will," said Michael, earnestly:  "I promise you.  I'll Dutch-
oyster the whole thing.  What's your line going to be?"

"We shall have to call the shareholders together and explain this
dicky-dealing.  They'll very likely take it in bad part."

"I can't see why they should.  How could you have helped it?"

Soames sniffed.

"There's no connection in life between reward and your deserts.  If
the war hasn't taught you that, nothing will."

"Well," said Michael, "Fleur will be down directly.  If you'll
excuse me a minute; we'll continue it in our next."

Their next did not occur till Fleur had gone to bed.

"Now, sir," said Michael, "I expect my governor's at the Aeroplane.
He goes there and meditates on the end of the world.  Would you
like me to ring him up, if your Board meeting's to-morrow?"

Soames nodded.  He himself would not sleep a wink--why should 'Old
Mont'?

Michael went to the Chinese tea chest.

"Bart?  This is Michael.  Old For--my father-in-law is here; he's
had a pill. . . .  No; Elderson.  Could you blow in by any chance
and hear? . . .  He's coming, sir.  Shall we stay down, or go up to
my study?"

"Down," muttered Soames, whose eyes were fixed on the white monkey.
"I don't know what we're all coming to," he added, suddenly.

"If we did, sir, we should die of boredom."

"Speak for yourself.  All this unreliability!  I can't tell where
it's leading."

"Perhaps there's somewhere, sir, that's neither heaven nor hell."

"A man of HIS age!"

"Same age as my dad; it was a bad vintage, I expect.  If you'd been
in the war, sir, it would have cheered you up no end."

"Indeed!" said Soames.

"It took the linch-pins out of the cart--admitted; but, my Lord! it
did give you an idea of the grit there is about, when it comes to
being up against it."

Soames stared.  Was this young fellow reading him a lesson against
pessimism?

"Look at young Butterfield, the other day," Michael went on, "going
over the top, to Elderson!  Look at the girl who sat for 'the
altogether' in that picture you bought us!  She's the wife of a
packer we had, who got hoofed for snooping books.  She made quite a
lot of money by standing for the nude, and never lost her wicket.
They're going to Australia on it.  Yes, and look at that little
snooper himself; he snooped to keep her alive after pneumonia, and
came down to selling balloons."

"I don't know what you're talking about," said Soames.

"Only grit, sir.  You said you didn't know what we were coming to.
Well, look at the unemployed!  Is there a country in the world
where they stick it as they do here?  I get awfully bucked at being
English every now and then.  Don't you?"

The words stirred something deep in Soames; but, far from giving it
away, he continued to gaze at the white monkey.  The restless,
inhuman, and yet so human, angry sadness of the creature's eyes!
'No whites to them!' thought Soames: 'that's what does it, I
expect!'  And George had liked that picture to hang opposite his
bed!  Well, George had grit--joked with his last breath: very
English, George!  Very English, all the Forsytes!  Old Uncle
Jolyon, and his way with shareholders; Swithin, upright, puffy,
huge in a too little arm-chair at Timothy's:  'All these small
fry!' he seemed to hear the words again; and Uncle Nicholas, whom
that chap Elderson reproduced as it were unworthily, spry and all-
there, and pretty sensual, but quite above suspicion of dishonesty.
And old Roger, with his crankiness, and German mutton!  And his own
father, James--how he had hung on, long and frail as a reed, hung
on and on!  And Timothy, preserved in Consols, dying at a hundred!
Grit and body in those old English boys, in spite of their funny
ways.  And there stirred in Soames a sort of atavistic will-power.
He would see, and they would see--and that was all about it!

The grinding of a taxi's wheels brought him back from reverie.
Here came 'Old Mont,' tittuppy, and light in the head as ever, no
doubt.  And, instead of his hand, Soames held out Elderson's
letter.

"Your precious schoolfellow's levanted," he said.

Sir Lawrence read it through, and whistled.

"What do you think, Forsyte--Constantinople?"

"More likely Monte Carlo," said Soames gloomily.  "Secret
commission--it's not an extraditable offence."

The odd contortions of that baronet's face were giving him some
pleasure--the fellow seemed to be feeling it, after all.

"I should think he's really gone to escape his women, Forsyte."

The chap was incorrigible!  Soames shrugged his shoulders almost
violently.

"You'd better realise," he said, "that the fat is in the fire."

"But surely, my dear Forsyte, it's been there ever since the French
occupied the Ruhr.  Elderson has cut his lucky; we appoint some one
else.  What more is there to it?"

Soames had the peculiar feeling of having overdone his own honesty.
If an honourable man, a ninth baronet, couldn't see the
implications of Elderson's confession, were they really there?  Was
any fuss and scandal necessary?  Goodness knew, HE didn't want it!
He said heavily:

"We now have conclusive evidence of a fraud; we KNOW Elderson was
illegally paid for putting through business by which the
shareholders have suffered a dead loss.  How can we keep this
knowledge from them?"

"But the mischief's done, Forsyte.  How will the knowledge help
them?"

Soames frowned.

"We're in a fiduciary position.  I'm not prepared to run the risks
of concealment.  If we conceal, we're accessory after the fact.
The thing might come out at any time."  If that was caution, not
honesty, he couldn't help it.

"I should be glad to spare Elderson's name.  We were at--"

"I'm aware of that," said Soames, drily.

"But what risk is there of its coming out, Forsyte?  Elderson won't
mention it; nor young Butterfield, if you tell him not to.  Those
who paid the commission certainly won't.  And beyond us three here,
no one else knows.  It's not as if we profited in any way."

Soames was silent.  The argument was specious.  Entirely unjust, of
course, that he should be penalised for what Elderson had done!

"No," he said, suddenly, "it won't do.  Depart from the law, and
you can't tell where it'll end.  The shareholders have suffered
this loss, and they have the right to all the facts within the
directors' knowledge.  There might be some means of restitution
they could avail themselves of.  We can't judge.  It may be they've
a remedy against ourselves."

"If that's so, Forsyte, I'm with you."

Soames felt disgust.  Mont had no business to put it with a sort of
gallantry that didn't count the cost; when the cost, if cost there
were, would fall, not on Mont, whose land was heavily mortgaged,
but on himself, whose property was singularly realisable.

"Well," he said, coldly, "remember that to-morrow.  I'm going to
bed."

At his open window upstairs he felt no sense of virtue, but he
enjoyed a sort of peace.  He had taken his line, and there it was!



CHAPTER IX

SOAMES DOESN'T GIVE A DAMN


During the month following the receipt of Elderson's letter, Soames
aged more than thirty days.  He had forced his policy of disclosure
on a doubting Board, the special meeting had been called, and, just
as, twenty-three years ago, pursuing divorce from Irene, he had to
face the public eye, so now he suffered day and night in dread of
that undiscriminating optic.  The French had a proverb:  "Les
absents ont toujours tort!" but Soames had grave doubts about it.
Elderson would be absent from that meeting of the shareholders,
but--unless he was much mistaken--he himself, who would be present,
would come in for the blame.  The French were not to be relied on.
What with his anxiety about Fleur, and his misgiving about the
public eye, he was sleeping badly, eating little, and feeling below
par.  Annette had recommended him to see a doctor.  That was
probably why he did not.  Soames had faith in doctors for other
people; but they had never--he would say--done anything for HIM,
possibly because, so far, there had not been anything to do.

Failing in her suggestion, and finding him every day less sociable,
Annette had given him a book on Coue.  After running it through, he
had meant to leave it in the train, but the theory, however
extravagant, had somehow clung to him.  After all, Fleur was doing
it; and the thing cost you nothing: there might be something in it!
There was.  After telling himself that night twenty-five times that
he was getting better and better, he slept so soundly that Annette,
in the next room, hardly slept at all.

"Do you know, my friend," she said at breakfast, "you were snoring
last night so that I could not hear the cock crow."

"Why should you want to?" said Soames.

"Well, never mind--if you had a good night.  Was it my little Coue
who gave you that nice dream?"

Partly from fear of encouraging Coue, and partly from fear of
encouraging her, Soames avoided a reply; but he had a curious sense
of power, as if he did not care what people said of him.

'I'll do it again to-night,' he thought.

"You know," Annette went on, "you are just the temperament for
Coue, Soames.  When you cure yourself of worrying, you will get
quite fat."

"Fat!" said Soames, looking at her curves.  "I'd as soon grow a
beard."

Fatness and beards were associated with the French.  He would have
to keep an eye on himself if he went on with this--er--what was one
to call it?  Tomfoolery was hardly the word to conciliate the
process, even if it did require you to tie twenty-five knots in a
bit of string: very French, that, like telling your beads!  He
himself had merely counted on his fingers.  The sense of power
lasted all the way up to London; he had the conviction that he
could sit in a draught if he wanted to, that Fleur would have her
boy all right; and as to the P. P. R. S.--ten to one he wouldn't be
mentioned by name in any report of the proceedings.

After an early lunch and twenty-five more assurances over his
coffee, he set out for the city.

This Board, held just a week before the special meeting of the
shareholders, was in the nature of a dress rehearsal.  The details
of confrontation had to be arranged, and Soames was chiefly
concerned with seeing that a certain impersonality should be
preserved.  He was entirely against disclosure of the fact that
young Butterfield's story and Elderson's letter had been confided
to himself.  The phrase to be used should be a "member of the
Board."  He saw no need for anything further.  As for explanations,
they would fall, of course, to the chairman and the senior
director, Lord Fontenoy.  He found, however, that the Board thought
he himself was the right person to bring the matter forward.  No
one else--they said--could supply the personal touch, the necessary
conviction; the chairman should introduce the matter briefly, then
call on Soames to give the evidence within his knowledge.  Lord
Fontenoy was emphatic.

"It's up to you, Mr. Forsyte.  If it hadn't been for you, Elderson
would be sitting there to-day.  From beginning to end you put the
wind up him; and I wish the deuce you hadn't.  The whole thing's a
confounded nuisance.  He was a very clever fellow, and we shall
miss him.  Our new man isn't a patch on him.  If he did take a few
thou. under the rose, he took 'em off the Huns."

Old guinea-pig!  Soames replied, acidly:

"And the quarter of a million he's lost the shareholders, for the
sake of those few thou.?  Bagatelle, I suppose?"

"Well, it might have turned out a winner; for the first year it
did.  We all back losers sometimes."

Soames looked from face to face.  They did not support this blatant
attitude, but in them all, except perhaps 'Old Mont's,' he felt a
grudge against himself.  Their expressions seemed to say:  'Nothing
of this sort ever happened till you came on the Board.'  He had
disturbed their comfort, and they disliked him for it.  They were
an unjust lot!  He said doggedly:

"You leave it to me, do you?  Very well!"

What he meant to convey--or whether he meant to convey anything, he
did not know; but even that 'old guinea-pig' was more civil
afterwards.  He came away from the Board, however, without any
sense of power at all.  There he would be on Tuesday next, bang in
the public eye.

After calling to enquire after Fleur, who was lying down rather
poorly, he returned home with a feeling of having been betrayed.
It seemed that he could not rely, after all, on this fellow with
his twenty-five knots.  However much better he might become, his
daughter, his reputation, and possibly his fortune, were not
apparently at the disposition of his subconscious self.  He was
silent at dinner, and went up afterwards to his picture gallery, to
think things over.  For half an hour he stood at the open window,
alone with the summer evening; and the longer he stood there, the
more clearly he perceived that the three were really one.  Except
for his daughter's sake, what did he care for his reputation or his
fortune?  His reputation!  Lot of fools--if they couldn't see that
he was careful and honest so far as had lain within his reach--so
much the worse for them!  His fortune--well, he had better make
another settlement on Fleur and her child at once, in case of
accidents; another fifty thousand.  Ah! if she were only through
her trouble!  It was time Annette went up to her for good; and
there was a thing they called twilight sleep.  To have her
suffering was not to be thought of!

The evening lingered out; the sun went down behind familiar trees;
Soames' hands, grasping the window-ledge, felt damp with dew;
sweetness of grass and river stole up into his nostrils.  The sky
had paled, and now began to darken; a scatter of stars came out.
He had lived here a long time, through all Fleur's childhood--best
years of his life; still, it wouldn't break his heart to sell.  His
heart was up in London.  Sell?  That was to run before the hounds
with a vengeance.  No--no!--it wouldn't come to THAT!  He left the
window and, turning up the lights, began the thousand and first
tour of his pictures.  He had made some good purchases since
Fleur's marriage, and without wasting his money on fashionable
favourites.  He had made some good sales, too.  The pictures in
this gallery, if he didn't mistake, were worth from seventy to a
hundred thousand pounds; and, with the profits on his sales from
time to time, they stood him in at no more than five-and-twenty
thousand--not a bad result from a life's hobby, to say nothing of
the pleasure!  Of course, he might have taken up something else--
butterflies, photography, archaeology, or first editions; some
other sport in which you backed your judgment against the field,
and collected the results; but he had never regretted choosing
pictures.  Not he!  More to show for your money, more kudos, more
profit, and more risk!  The thought startled him a little; had he
really taken to pictures because of the risk?  A risk had never
appealed to him; at least, he hadn't realised it, so far.  Had his
'subconscious' some part in the matter?  He suddenly sat down and
closed his eyes.  Try the thing once more; very pleasant feeling,
that morning, of not "giving a damn"; he never remembered having it
before!  He had always felt it necessary to worry--kind of
insurance against the worst; but worry was wearing, no doubt about
it, wearing.  Turn out the light!  They said in that book, you had
to relax.  In the now dim and shadowy room, with the starlight,
through many windows, dusted over its reality, Soames, in his easy
chair, sat very still.  A faint drone rose on the words: "fatter
and fatter" through his moving lips.  'No, no,' he thought: 'that's
wrong!'  And he began the drone again.  The tips of his fingers
ticked it off; on and on--he would give it a good chance.  If only
one needn't worry!  On and on--"better and better!"  If only--!
His lips stopped moving; his grey head fell forward into the
subconscious.  And the stealing starlight dusted over him, too, a
little unreality.



CHAPTER X

BUT TAKES NO CHANCES


Michael knew nothing of the City; and, in the spirit of the old
cartographers:  "Where you know nothing, place terrors," made his
way through the purlieus of the Poultry, towards that holy of
holies, the offices of Cuthcott, Kingson and Forsyte.  His mood was
attuned to meditation, for he had been lunching with Sibley Swan at
the Cafe C'rillon.  He had known all the guests--seven chaps even
more modern than old Sib--save only a Russian so modern that he
knew no French and nobody could talk to him.  Michael had watched
them demolish everything, and the Russian closing his eyes, like a
sick baby, at mention of any living name. . . .  'Carry on!' he
thought, several of his favourites having gone down in the melee.
'Stab and bludge!  Importance awaits you at the end of the alley.'
But he had restrained his irreverence till the moment of departure.

"Sib," he said, rising, "all these chaps here are dead--ought they
to be about in this hot weather?"

"What's that?" ejaculated Sibley Swan, amidst the almost painful
silence of the chaps.

"I mean--they're alive--so they MUST be damned!"  And avoiding a
thrown chocolate which hit the Russian, he sought the door.

Outside, he mused:  'Good chaps, really!  Not half so darned
superior as they think they are.  Quite a human touch--getting that
Russian on the boko.  Phew!  It's hot!'

On that first day of the Eton and Harrow match all the forfeited
heat of a chilly summer had gathered and shimmered over Michael, on
the top of his Bank 'bus; shimmered over straw hats, and pale,
perspiring faces, over endless other 'buses, business men,
policemen, shopmen at their doors, sellers of newspapers, laces,
jumping toys, endless carts and cabs, letterings and wires, all the
confusion of the greatest conglomeration in the world--adjusted
almost to a hair's-breadth, by an unseen instinct.  Michael stared
and doubted.  Was it possible that, with everyone pursuing his own
business, absorbed in his own job, the thing could work out?  An
ant-heap was not busier, or more seemingly confused.  Live wires
crossed and crossed and crossed--inextricable entanglement, you'd
say; and yet, life, the order needful to life, somehow surviving!
'No slouch of a miracle!' he thought, 'modern town life!'  And
suddenly it seemed to cease, as if demolished by the ruthless
dispensation of some super Sibley Swan; for he was staring down a
cul-de-sac.  On both sides, flat houses, recently re-buffed,
extraordinarily alike; at the end, a flat buff house, even more
alike, and down to it, grey virgin pavement, unstained by horse or
petrol; no cars, cats, carts, policemen, hawkers, flies, or bees.
No sign of human life, except the names of legal firms to right and
left of each open doorway.

"'Cuthcott, Kingson and Forsyte, Commissioners for Oaths:  First
Floor.'"

'Rule Britannia!' thought Michael, ascending wide stone steps.

Entering the room to which he had been ushered, he saw an old and
pug-faced fellow with a round grizzled beard, a black alpaca coat,
and a roomy holland waistcoat round his roomy middle, who rose from
a swivel chair.

"Aoh!" he said, "Mr. Michael Mont, I think.  I've been expecting
you.  We shan't be long about it, after Mr. Forsyte comes.  He's
just stepped round the corner.  Mrs. Michael well, I hope?"

"Thanks; as well as--"

"Ye-es: it makes you anxious.  Take a seat.  Perhaps you'd like to
read the draft?"

Thus prescribed for, Michael took some foolscap from a pudgy hand,
and sat down opposite.  With one eye on the old fellow, and the
other on the foolscap, he read steadily.

"It seems to mean something," he said at last.

He saw a gape, as of a frog at a fly, settle in the beard; and
hastened to repair his error.

"Calculating what's going to happen if something else doesn't, must
be rather like being a bookmaker."

He felt at once that he had not succeeded.  There was a grumpy
mutter:

"We don't waste our time, 'ere.  Excuse me, I'm busy."

Michael sat, compunctious, watching him tick down a long page of
entries.  He was like one of those old dogs which lie outside front
doors, keeping people off the premises, and notifying their fleas.
After less than five minutes of that perfect silence Soames came
in.

"You're here, then?" he said.

"Yes, sir; I thought it best to come at the time you mentioned.
What a nice cool room!"

"Have you read this?" asked Soames, pointing to the draft.

Michael nodded.

"Did you understand it?"

"Up to a point, I think."

"The interest on THIS fifty thousand," said Soames, "is Fleur's
until her eldest child, if it's a boy, attains the age of twenty-
one, when the capital becomes his absolutely.  If it's a girl,
Fleur retains half the income for life, the rest of the income
becomes payable to the girl when she attains the age of twenty-one
or marries, and the capital of that half goes to her child or
children lawfully begotten, at majority or marriage, in equal
shares.  The other half of the capital falls into Fleur's estate,
and is disposable by her will, or follows the laws of intestacy."

"You make it wonderfully clear," said Michael

"Wait!" said Soames.  "If Fleur has no children--"

Michael started.

"Anything is possible," said Soames gravely, "and my experience is
that the contingencies not provided for are those which happen.  In
such a case the income of the whole is hers for life, and the
capital hers at death to do as she likes with.  Failing that, it
goes to the next of kin.  There are provisions against anticipation
and so forth."

"Ought she to make a fresh will?" asked Michael, conscious of sweat
on his forehead.

"Not unless she likes.  Her present will covers it."

"Have I to do anything?"

"No.  I wanted you to understand the purport before I sign; that's
all.  Give me the deed, Gradman, and get Wickson in, will you?"

Michael saw the old chap produce from a drawer a fine piece of
parchment covered with copper-plate writing and seals, look at it
lovingly, and place it before Soames.  When he had left the room,
Soames said in a low voice:

"This meeting on Tuesday--I can't tell!  But, whatever happens, so
far as I can see, this ought to stand."

"It's awfully good of you, sir."

Soames nodded, testing a pen.

"I'm afraid I've got wrong with your old clerk," said Michael; "I
like the look of him frightfully, but I accidentally compared him
to a bookmaker."

Soames smiled.  "Gradman," he said, "is a 'character.'  There
aren't many, nowadays."

Michael was wondering:  Could one be a 'character' under the age of
sixty?--when the 'character' returned, with a pale man in dark
clothes.

Lifting his nose sideways, Soames said at once:

"This is a post-nuptial settlement on my daughter.  I deliver this
as my act and deed."

He wrote his name, and got up.

The pale person and Gradman wrote theirs, and the former left the
room.  There was a silence as of repletion.

"Do you want me any more?" asked Michael.

"Yes.  I want you to see me deposit it at the bank with the
marriage settlement.  Shan't come back, Gradman!"

"Good-bye, Mr. Gradman."

Michael heard the old fellow mutter through his beard half buried
in a drawer to which he was returning the draft, and followed
Soames out.

"Here's where I used to be," said Soames as they went along the
Poultry; "and my father before me."

"More genial, perhaps," said Michael.

"The trustees are meeting us at the bank; you remember them?"

"Cousins of Fleur's, weren't they, sir?"

"Second cousins; young Roger's eldest, and young Nicholas'.  I
chose them youngish.  Very young Roger was wounded in the war--he
does nothing.  Very young Nicholas is at the Bar."

Michael's ears stood up.  "What about the next lot, sir?  Very very
young Roger would be almost insulting, wouldn't it?"

"There won't be one," said Soames, "with taxation where it is.  He
can't afford it; he's a steady chap.  What are you going to call
your boy, if it IS one?"

"We think Christopher, because of St. Paul's and Columbus.  Fleur
wants him solid, and I want him enquiring."

"H'm!  And if it's a girl?"

"Oh!--if it's a girl--Anne."

"Yes," said Soames:  "Very neat.  Here they are!"

They had reached the bank, and in the entrance Michael saw two
Forsytes between thirty and forty, whose chinny faces he dimly
remembered.  Escorted by a man with bright buttons down his front,
they all went to a room, where a man without buttons produced a
japanned box.  One of the Forsytes opened it with a key; Soames
muttered an incantation, and deposited the deed.  When he and the
chinnier Forsyte had exchanged a few remarks with the manager on
the question of the bank rate, they all went back to the lobby and
parted with the words:  "Well, good-bye."

"Now," said Soames, in the din and hustle of the street, "he's
provided for, so far as I can see.  When exactly do you expect it?"

"It should be just a fortnight."

"Do you believe in this--this twilight sleep?"

"I should like to," said Michael, conscious again of sweat on his
forehead.  "Fleur's wonderfully calm; she does Coue night and
morning."

"That!" said Soames.  He did not mention that he himself was doing
it, thus giving away the state of his nerves.  "If you're going
home, I'll come, too."

"Good!"

He found Fleur lying down with Ting-a-ling on the foot of the sofa.

"Your father's here, darling.  He's been anointing the future with
another fifty thou.  I expect he'd like to tell you all about it."

Fleur moved restlessly.

"Presently.  If it's going on as hot as this, it'll be rather a
bore, Michael."

"Oh! but it won't, ducky.  Three days and a thunderstorm."

Taking Ting-a-ling by the chin, he turned his face up.

"And how on earth is your nose going to be put out of joint, old
man?  There's no joint to put."

"He knows there's something up."

"He's a wise little brute, aren't you, old son?"

Ting-a-ling sniffed.

"Michael!"

"Yes, darling?"

"I don't seem to care about anything now--it's a funny feeling."

"That's the heat."

"No.  I think it's because the whole business is too long.
Everything's ready, and now it all seems rather stupid.  One more
person in the world or one more out of it--what does it matter?"

"Don't!  It matters frightfully!"

"One more gnat to dance, one more ant to run about!"

Anguished, Michael said again:

"Don't, Fleur!  That's just a mood."

"Is Wilfrid's book out?"

"It comes out to-morrow."

"I'm sorry I gave you such a bad time, there.  I only didn't want
to lose him."

Michael took her hand.

"Nor did I--goodness knows!" he said.

"He's never written, I suppose?"

"No."

"Well, I expect he's all right by now.  Nothing lasts."

Michael put her hand to his cheek.

"_I_ do, I'm afraid," he said.

The hand slipped round over his lips.

"Give Dad my love, and tell him I'll be down to tea.  Oh!  I'm so
hot!"

Michael hovered a moment, and went out.  Damn the heat, upsetting
her like this!

He found Soames standing in front of the white monkey.

"I should take this down, if I were you," he muttered, "until it's
over."

"Why, sir?" asked Michael, in surprise.

Soames frowned.

"Those eyes!"

Michael went up to the picture.  Yes!  He was a haunting kind of
brute!

"But it's such top-hole work, sir."

Soames nodded.

"Artistically, yes.  But at such times you can't be too careful
what she sees."

"I believe you're right.  Let's have him down."

"I'll hold him," said Soames, taking hold of the bottom of the
picture.

"Got him tight?  Right-o.  Now!"

"You can say I wanted an opinion on his period," said Soames, when
the picture had been lowered to the floor.

"There can hardly be a doubt of that, sir--the present!"

Soames stared.  "What?  Oh!  You mean--?  Ah!  H'm!  Don't let her
know he's in the house."

"No.  I'll lock him up."  Michael lifted the picture.  "D'you mind
opening the door, sir?"

"I'll come back at tea-time," said Soames.  "That'll look as if I'd
taken him off.  You can hang him again, later."

"Yes.  Poor brute!" said Michael, bearing the monkey off to limbo.



CHAPTER XI

WITH A SMALL 'n'


On the night of the Monday following, after Fleur had gone to bed,
Michael and Soames sat listening to the mutter of London coming
through the windows of the Chinese room opened to the brooding
heat.

"They say the war killed sentiment," said Soames suddenly:  "Is
that true?"

"In a way, yes, sir.  We had so much reality that we don't want any
more."

"I don't follow you."

"I meant that only reality really makes you feel.  So if you
pretend there IS no reality, you don't have to feel.  It answers
awfully well, up to a point."

"Ah!" said Soames.  "Her mother comes up tomorrow morning, to stay.
This P. P. R. S. meeting of mine is at half-past two.  Good-night!"

Michael, at the window, watched the heat gathered black over the
Square.  A few tepid drops fell on his outstretched hand.  A cat
stole by under a lamp-post, and vanished into shadow so thick that
it seemed uncivilised.

Queer question of 'Old Forsyte's' about sentiment; odd that he
should ask it!  'Up to a point!  But don't we all get past that
point?' he thought.  Look at Wilfrid, and himself--after the war
they had deemed it blasphemous to admit that anything mattered
except eating and drinking, for to-morrow they died; even fellows
like Nazing, and Master, who were never in the war, had felt like
that ever since.  Well, Wilfrid had got it in the neck; and he
himself had got it in the wind; and he would bet that--barring one
here and there whose blood was made of ink--they would all get it
in the neck or wind soon or late.  Why, he would cheerfully bear
Fleur's pain and risk, instead of her!  But if nothing mattered,
why should he feel like that?

Turning from the window, he leaned against the lacquered back of
the jade-green settee, and stared at the wall space between the
Chinese tea-chests.  Jolly thoughtful of the 'old man' to have that
white monkey down!  The brute was potent--symbolic of the world's
mood: beliefs cancelled, faiths withdrawn!  And, dash it! not only
the young--but the old--were in that temper!  'Old Forsyte,' or he
would never have been scared by that monkey's eyes; yes, and his
own governor, and Elderson, and all the rest.  Young and old--no
real belief in anything!  And yet--revolt sprang up in Michael,
with a whirr, like a covey of partridges.  It DID matter that some
person or some principle outside oneself should be more precious
than oneself--it dashed well did!  Sentiment, then, wasn't dead--
nor faith, nor belief, which were the same things.  They were only
shedding shell, working through chrysalis, into--butterflies,
perhaps.  Faith, sentiment, belief, had gone underground, possibly,
but they were there, even in 'Old Forsyte' and himself.  He had a
good mind to put the monkey up again.  No use exaggerating his
importance! . . .  By George!  Some flare!  A jagged streak of
vivid light had stripped darkness off the night.  Michael crossed,
to close the windows.  A shattering peal of thunder blundered
overhead; and down came the rain, slashing and sluicing.  He saw a
man running, black, like a shadow across a dark blue screen; saw
him by the light of another flash, suddenly made lurid and full of
small meaning, with face of cheerful anxiety, as if he were saying:
"Hang it, I'm getting wet!"  Another frantic crash!

'Fleur!' thought Michael; and clanging the last window down, he ran
upstairs.

She was sitting up in bed, with a face all round, and young, and
startled.

'Brutes!' he thought--guns and the heavens confounded in his mind:
'They've waked her up!'

"It's all right, darling!  Just another little summer kick-up!
Were you asleep?"

"I was dreaming!"  He felt her hand clutching within his own, saw a
sudden pinched look on her face, with a sort of rage.  What
infernal luck!

"Where's Ting?"

No dog was in the corner.

"Under the bed--you bet!  Would you like him up?"

"No.  Let him stay; he hates it."

She put her head against his arm, and Michael curled his hand round
her other ear.

"I never liked thunder much!" said Fleur," and now it--it hurts!"

High above her hair Michael's face underwent the contortions of an
overwhelming tenderness.  One of those crashes which seem just
overhead sent her face burrowing against his chest, and, sitting on
the bed, he gathered her in, close.

"I wish it were over," came, smothered, from her lips.

"It will be directly, darling; it came on so suddenly!"  But he
knew she didn't mean the storm.

"If I come through, I'm going to be quite different to you,
Michael."

Anxiety was the natural accompaniment of such events, but the
words, "If I come through" turned Michael's heart right over.
Incredible that one so young and pretty should be in even the
remotest danger of extinction; incredibly painful that she should
be in fear of it!  He hadn't realised.  She had been so calm, so
matter-of-fact about it all.

"Don't!" he mumbled; "of course you'll come through."

"I'm afraid."

The sound was small and smothered, but the words hurt horribly.
Nature, with the small 'n,' forcing fear into this girl he loved so
awfully!  Nature kicking up this godless din above her poor little
head!

"Ducky, you'll have twilight sleep and know nothing about it; and
be as right as rain in no time."

Fleur freed her hand.

"Not if it's not good for him.  Is it?"

"I expect so, sweetheart; I'll find out.  What makes you think--?"

"Only that it's not natural.  I want to do it properly.  Hold my
hand hard, Michael.  I--I'm not going to be a fool.  Oh!  Some
one's knocking--go and see."

Michael opened the door a crack.  Soames was there--unnatural--in a
blue dressing gown and scarlet slippers!

"Is she all right?" he whispered.

"Yes, yes."

"In this bobbery she oughtn't to be left."

"No, sir, of course not.  I shall sleep on the sofa."

"Call me, if anything's wanted."

"I will."

Soames' eyes slid past, peering into the room.  A string worked in
his throat, as if he had things to say which did not emerge.  He
shook his head, and turned.  His slim figure, longer than usual, in
its gown, receded down the corridor, past the Japanese prints which
he had given them.  Closing the door again, Michael stood looking
at the bed.  Fleur had settled down; her eyes were closed, her lips
moving.  He stole back on tiptoe.  The thunder, travelling away
south, blundered and growled as if regretfully.  Michael saw her
eyelids quiver, her lips stop, then move again.  'Coue!' he
thought.

He lay down on the sofa at the foot of the bed, whence, without
sound, he could raise himself and see her.  Many times he raised
himself.  She had dropped off, was breathing quietly.  The thunder
was faint now, the flashes imperceptible.  Michael closed his eyes.

A faint last mutter roused him to look at her once more, high on
her pillows by the carefully shaded light.  Young--young!
Colourless, like a flower in wax!  No scheme in her brain, no
dread--peaceful!  If only she could stay like that and wake up with
it all over!  He looked away.  And there she was at the far end,
dim, reflected in a glass; and there to the right, again.  She lay,
as it were, all round him in the pretty room, the inhabiting
spirit--of his heart.

It was quite still now.  Through a chink in those powder-blue
curtains he could see some stars.  Big Ben chimed one.

He had slept, perhaps, dozed at least, dreamed a little.  A small
sound woke him.  A very little dog, tail down, yellow, low and
unimportant, was passing down the room, trailing across it to the
far corner.  'Ah!' thought Michael, closing his eyes again:  'You!'



CHAPTER XII

ORDEAL BY SHAREHOLDER


Repairing, next day, to the Aeroplane Club, where, notably spruce,
Sir Lawrence was waiting in the lounge, Michael thought:  'Good old
Bart! he's got himself up for the guillotine all right!'

"That white piping will show the blood!" he said.  "Old Forsyte's
neat this morning, but not so gaudy."

"Ah!  How is 'Old Forsyte'?  In good heart?"

"One doesn't ask him, sir.  How do you feel yourself?"

"Exactly as I used to before the Eton and Winchester match.  I
think I shall have shandy-gaff at lunch."

When they had taken their seats, Sir Lawrence went on:

"I remember seeing a man tried for murder in Colombo; the poor
fellow was positively blue.  I think my favourite moment in the
past, Michael, is Walter Raleigh asking for a second shirt.  By the
way, it's never been properly settled yet whether the courtiers of
that day were lousy.  What are you going to have, my dear fellow?"

"Cold beef, pickled walnuts, and gooseberry tart."

"Excellent for the character.  I shall have curry; they give you a
very good Bombay duck here.  I rather fancy we shall be fired,
Michael.  'Nous sommes trahis!' used to be the prerogative of the
French, but I'm afraid we're getting the attitude, too.  The Yellow
Press has made a difference."

Michael shook his head.

"We say it, but we don't act on it; the climate's too uncertain."

"That sounds deep.  This looks very good curry--will you change
your mind?  Old Fontenoy sometimes comes in here; he has no inside.
It'll be serious for him if we're shown the door."

"Deuced rum," said Michael suddenly, "how titles still go down.
There can't be any belief in their business capacity."

"Character, my dear fellow--the good old English gentleman.  After
all, there's something in it."

"I fancy, sir, it's more a case of complex in the shareholders.
Their parents show them a lord when they're young."

"Shareholders," said Sir Lawrence; "the word is comprehensive.  Who
are they, what are they, when are they?"

"This afternoon," said Michael, "and I shall have a good look at
them."

"They won't let you in, my dear."

"No?"

"Certainly not."

Michael frowned.

"What paper," he said, "is sure not to be represented?"

Sir Lawrence gave his whinnying laugh.

"The Field," he said; "The Horse and Hound; The Gardener's Weekly."

"I'll slide in on them."

"You'll see us die game, I hope," said Sir Lawrence, with sudden
gravity.

They took a cab together to the meeting, but separated before
reaching the door of the hotel.

Michael had thought better of the Press, and took up a position in
the passage, whence he could watch for a chance.  Stout men, in
dark suits, with a palpable look of having lunched off turbot,
joints, and cheese, kept passing him.  He noticed that each handed
the janitor a paper.  'I'll hand him a paper, too,' he thought,
'and scoot in.'  Watching for some even stouter men, he took cover
between two of them, and approached the door, with an announcement
of 'Counterfeits' in his left hand.  Handing it across a
neighbouring importance, he was quickly into a seat.  He saw the
janitor's face poked round the door.  'No, my friend,' thought
Michael, 'if you could tell duds from shareholders, you wouldn't be
in that job!'

He found a report before him, and holding it up, looked at other
things.  The room seemed to him to have been got by a concert-hall
out of a station waiting-room.  It had a platform with a long
table, behind which were seven empty chairs, and seven inkpots,
with seven quill pens upright in them.  'Quills!' thought Michael;
'symbolic, I suppose--they'll all use fountain-pens!'

Back-centre of the platform was a door, and in front, below it, a
table, where four men were sitting, fiddling with notebooks.
'Orchestra,' thought Michael.  He turned his attention to the eight
or ten rows of shareholders.  They looked what they were, but he
could not tell why.  Their faces were cast in an infinity of
moulds, but all had the air of waiting for something they knew they
would not get.  What sort of lives did they lead, or did their
lives lead them?  Nearly all wore moustaches.  His neighbours to
right and left were the same stout shareholders between whom he had
slipped in; they both had thick lobes to their ears, and necks even
broader than the straight broad backs of their heads.  He was a
good deal impressed.  Dotted here and there he noticed a woman, or
a parson.  There was practically no conversation, from which he
surmised that no one knew his neighbour.  He had a feeling that a
dog somewhere would have humanised the occasion.  He was musing on
the colour scheme of green picked out with chocolate and chased
with gold, when the door behind the platform was thrown open, and
seven men in black coats filed in, and with little bows took their
seats behind the quills.  They reminded him of people getting up on
horses, or about to play the piano--full of small adjustments.
That--on the Chairman's right--would be old Fontenoy, with a face
entirely composed of features.  Michael had an odd conceit: a
little thing in a white top-hat sat inside the brain, driving the
features eight-in-hand.  Then came a face straight from a picture
of Her Majesty's Government in 1850, round and pink, with a high
nose, a small mouth, and little white whiskers; while at the end on
the right was a countenance whose jaw and eyes seemed boring into a
conundrum beyond the wall at Michael's back.  'Legal!' he thought.
His scrutiny passed back to the Chairman.  Chosen?  Was he--or was
he not?  A bearded man, a little behind on the Chairman's left, was
already reading from a book, in a rapid monotonous voice.  That
must be the secretary letting off his minute guns.  And in front of
him was clearly the new manager, on whose left Michael observed his
own father.  The dark pothooks over Sir Lawrence's right eye were
slightly raised, and his mouth was puckered under the cut line of
his small moustache.  He looked almost Oriental, quick but still.
His left hand held his tortoiseshell-rimmed monocle between thumb
and finger.  'Not quite in the scene!' thought Michael; 'poor old
Bart!'  He had come now to the last of the row.  'Old Forsyte' was
sitting precisely as if alone in the world; with one corner of his
mouth just drawn down, and one nostril just drawn up, he seemed to
Michael quite fascinatingly detached; and yet not out of the
picture.  Within that still neat figure, whereof only one patent-
leather boot seemed with a slight movement to be living, was
intense concentration, entire respect for the proceedings, and yet,
a queer contempt for them; he was like a statue of reality, by one
who had seen that there was precious little reality in it.  'He
chills my soup,' thought Michael, 'but--dash it!--I can't help half
admiring him!'

The Chairman had now risen.  'He IS'--thought Michael; 'no, he
isn't--yes--no--I can't tell!'  He could hardly attend to what the
Chairman said, for wondering whether he was chosen or not, though
well aware that it did not matter at all.  The Chairman kept
steadily on.  Distracted, Michael caught words and words:
"European situation--misguided policy--French--totally unexpected--
position disclosed--manager--unfortunate circumstances shortly to
be explained to you--future of this great concern--no reason to
doubt--"

'Oil,' thought Michael, 'he is--and yet--!'

"I will now ask one of your directors, Mr. Forsyte, to give you at
first hand an account of this painful matter."

Michael saw Soames, pale and deliberate, take a piece of paper from
his breast-pocket, and rise.  Was it to the occasion?

"I will give you the facts shortly," he said in a voice which
reminded Michael of a dry, made-up wine.  "On the eleventh of
January last I was visited by a clerk in the employ of the Society--"

Familiar with these details, Michael paid them little attention,
watching the shareholders for signs of reaction.  He saw none, and
it was suddenly borne in on him why they wore moustaches:  They
could not trust their mouths!  Character was in the mouth.
Moustaches had come in when people no longer went about, like the
old Duke, saying:  "Think what you damned well like of my
character!"  Mouths had tried to come in again, of course, before
the war; but what with majors, shareholders, and the working
classes, they now had little or no chance!  He heard Soames say:
"In these circumstances we came to the conclusion that there was
nothing for it but to wait and see."  Michael saw a sudden quiver
pass over the moustaches, as might wind over grass.

'Wrong phrase,' he thought; 'we all do it, but we can't bear being
reminded of it.'

"Six weeks ago, however," he heard Soames intone, "an accidental
incident seems to have warned your late manager that Sir Lawrence
and I still entertained suspicions, for I received a letter from
him practically admitting that he had taken this secret commission
on the German business, and asking me to inform the Board that he
had gone abroad and left no property behind him.  This statement we
have been at pains to verify.  In these circumstances we had no
alternative but to call you together, and lay the facts before
you."

The voice, which had not varied an iota, ceased its recital; and
Michael saw his father-in-law return to his detachment--stork on
one leg, about to apply beak to parasite, could have inspired no
greater sense of loneliness.   'Too like the first account of the
battle of Jutland!' he thought:  'He mentioned all the losses, and
never once struck the human note.'

A pause ensued, such as occurs before an awkward fence, till
somebody has found a gate.  Michael rapidly reviewed the faces of
the Board.  Only one showed any animation.  It was concealed in a
handkerchief.  The sound of the blown nose broke the spell.  Two
shareholders rose to their feet at once--one of them Michael's
neighbour on the right.

"Mr. Sawdry," said the Chairman, and the other shareholder sat
down.

With a sonorous clearing of the throat, Michael's neighbour turned
his blunt red face towards Soames.

"I wish to ask you, sir, why you didn't inform the Board when you
first 'eard of this?"

Soames rose slightly.

"You are aware, I presume, that such an accusation, unless it can
be fully substantiated, is a matter for criminal proceedings?"

"No; it would ha' been privileged."

"As between members of the Board, perhaps; but any leakage would
have rendered us liable.  It was a mere case of word against word."

"Perhaps Sir Lawrence Mont will give us 'is view of that?"

Michael's heart began to beat.  There was an air of sprightliness
about his father's standing figure.

"You must remember, sir," he said, "that Mr. Elderson had enjoyed
our complete confidence for many years; he was a gentleman, and,
speaking for myself, an old schoolfellow of his, I preferred, in
common loyalty, to give his word preference, while--er--keeping the
matter in mind."

"Oh!" said Michael's neighbour:  "What's the Chairman got to say
about bein' kept in the dark?"

"We are all perfectly satisfied, sir, with the attitude of our co-
directors, in a very delicate situation.  You will kindly note that
the mischief was already done over this unfortunate assurance, so
that there was no need for undue haste."

Michael saw his neighbour's neck grow redder.

"I don't agree," he said.  "'Wait and see'--We might have 'ad that
commission out of him, if he'd been tackled promptly."  And he sat
down.

He had not reached mahogany before the thwarted shareholder had
started up.

"Mr. Botterill," said the Chairman.

Michael saw a lean and narrow head, with two hollows in a hairy
neck, above a back slightly bent forward, as of a doctor listening
to a chest.

"I take it from you, then, sir," he said, "that these two directors
represent the general attitude of the Board, and that the Board
were content to allow a suspected person to remain manager.  The
gentleman on your extreme left--Mr. Forsyte, I think--spoke of an
accidental incident.  But for that, apparently, we should still be
in the hands of an unscrupulous individual.  The symptoms in this
case are very disquieting.  There appears to have been gross over-
confidence; a recent instance of the sort must be in all our minds.
The policy of assuring foreign business was evidently initiated by
the manager for his own ends.  We have made a severe loss by it.
And the question for us shareholders would seem to be whether a
Board who placed confidence in such a person, and continued it
after their suspicions were aroused, are the right people to direct
this important concern."

Throughout this speech Michael had grown very hot.  '"Old Forsyte"
was right,' he thought; 'they're on their uppers after all.'

There was a sudden creak from his neighbour on the left.

"Mr. Tolby," said the Chairman.

"It's a seerious matter, this, gentlemen.  I propose that the Board
withdraw, an' leave us to discuss it."

"I second that," said Michael's neighbour on the right.

Searching the vista of the Board, Michael saw recognition gleam for
a second in the lonely face at the end, and grinned a greeting.

The Chairman was speaking.

"If that is your wish, gentlemen, we shall be happy to comply with
it.  Will those who favour the motion hold up their hands?"

All hands were held up, with the exception of Michael's, of two
women whose eager colloquy had not permitted them to hear the
request, and of one shareholder, just in front of Michael, so
motionless that he seemed to be dead.

"Carried," said the Chairman, and rose from his seat.

Michael saw his father smiling, and speaking to 'Old Forsyte' as
they both stood up.  They all filed out, and the door was closed.

'Whatever happens,' Michael thought, 'I've got to keep my head
shut, or I shall be dropping a brick.'

"Perhaps the Press will kindly withdraw, too," he heard some one
say.

With a general chinny movement, as if enquiring their rights of no
one in particular, the four Pressmen could be seen to clasp their
notebooks.  When their pale reluctance had vanished, there was a
stir among the shareholders, like that of ducks when a dog comes up
behind.  Michael saw why, at once.  They had their backs to each
other.  A shareholder said:

"Perhaps Mr. Tolby, who proposed the withdrawal, will act as
Chairman."

Michael's left-hand neighbour began breathing heavily.

"Right-o!" he said.  "Any one who wants to speak, kindly ketch my
eye."

Everyone now began talking to his neighbour, as though to get at
once a quiet sense of proportion, before speaking.  Mr. Tolby was
breathing so heavily that Michael felt a positive draught.

"'Ere, gentlemen," he said suddenly, "this won't do!  We don't want
to be too formal, but we must preserve some order.  I'll open the
discussion myself.  Now, I didn't want to 'urt the feelin's of the
Board by plain speakin' in their presence.  But, as Mr. What's-'is-
name there, said:  The public 'as got to protect itself against
sharpers, and against slackness.  We all know what 'appened the
other day, and what'll 'appen again in other concerns, unless we
shareholders look after ourselves.  In the first place, then, what
I say is:  They ought never to 'ave touched anything to do with the
'Uns.  In the second place, I say they showed bad judgment.  And in
the third place I say they were too thick together.  In my opinion,
we should propose a vote of no confidence."

Cries of:  "Hear, hear!" mixed with indeterminate sounds, were
broken sharply by a loud:  "No!" from the shareholder who had
seemed dead.  Michael's heart went out to him, the more so as he
still seemed dead.  The negative was followed by the rising of a
thin, polished-looking shareholder, with a small grey moustache.

"If you'll forgive my saying so, sir," he began, "your proposal
seems to me very rough-and-ready justice.  I should be interested
to know how you would have handled such a situation if you had been
on the Board.  It is extremely easy to condemn other people!"

"Hear, hear!" said Michael, astonished at his own voice.

"It is all very well," the polished shareholder went on, "when any
thing of this sort happens, to blame a directorate, but, speaking
as a director myself, I should be glad to know whom one is to
trust, if not one's manager.  As to the policy of foreign
insurance, it has been before us at two general meetings; and we
have pocketed the profit from it for nearly two years.  Have we
raised a voice against it?"

The dead shareholder uttered a "No!" so loud that Michael almost
patted his head.

The shareholder, whose neck and back were like a doctor's, rose to
answer.

"I differ from the last speaker in his diagnosis of the case.  Let
us admit all he says, and look at the thing more widely.  The proof
of pudding is in the eating.  When a Government makes a bad mistake
of judgment, the electorate turns against it as soon as it feels
the effects.  This is a very sound check on administration; it may
be rough and ready, but it is the less of two evils.  A Board backs
its judgment; when it loses, it should pay.  I think, perhaps, Mr.
Tolby, being our informal Chairman, was out of order in proposing a
vote of no confidence; if that be so, I should be happy to do so,
myself."

The dead shareholder's "No!" was so resounding this time that there
was a pause for him to speak; he remained, however, without motion.
Both of Michael's neighbours were on their feet.  They bobbed at
each other over Michael's head, and Mr. Tolby sat down.

"Mr. Sawdry," he said.

"Look 'ere, gentlemen," said Mr. Sawdry, "and ladies, this seems to
me a case for compromise.  The Directors that knew about the
manager ought to go; but we might stop at that.  The gentleman in
front of me keeps on saying 'No.'  Let 'im give us 'is views."

"No," said the dead shareholder, but less loudly.

"If a man can't give 'is views," went on Mr. Sawdry, nearly sitting
down on Michael, "'c shouldn't interrupt, in my opinion."

A shareholder in the front row now turned completely round so that
he faced the meeting.

"I think," he said, "that to prolong this discussion is to waste
time; we are evidently in two, if not three, minds.  The whole of
the business of this country is now conducted on a system of
delegated trust; it may be good, it may be bad--but there it is.
You've got to trust somebody.  Now, as to this particular case,
we've had no reason to distrust the Board, so far; and, as I take
it, the Board had no previous reason to distrust the late manager.
I think it's going too far, at present, to propose anything
definite like a vote of no confidence; it seems to me that we
should call the Board in and hear what assurances they have to give
us against a repetition of anything of the sort in the future."

The sounds which greeted this moderate speech were so inextricable
that Michael could not get the sense of them.  Not so with the
speech which followed.  It came from a shareholder on the right,
with reddish hair, light eyelashes, a clipped moustache, and a
scraped colour.

"I have no objection whatever to having the Board in," he said in a
rather jeering voice, "and passing a vote of no confidence in their
presence.  There is a question, which no one has touched on, of how
far, if we turn them out, we could make them liable for this loss.
The matter is not clear, but there is a good sporting chance, if we
like to take it.  Whereas, if we don't turn them out, it's obvious
we can't take it, even if we wish."

The impression made by this speech was of quite a different order
from any of the others.  It was followed by a hush, as though
something important had been said at last.  Michael stared at Mr.
Tolby.  The stout man's round, light, rather prominent eye was
extraordinarily reflective.  'Trout must look like that,' thought
Michael, 'when they see a mayfly.'  Mr. Tolby suddenly stood up.

"All right," he said, "'ave 'em in!"

"Yes," said the dead shareholder.  There was no dissent.  Michael
saw some one rise and ascend the platform.

"Let the Press know!" said Mr. Tolby.



CHAPTER XIII

SOAMES AT BAY


When the door had closed behind the departing directors, Soames
sought a window as far as possible from the lunch eaten before the
meeting.

"Funeral baked meats, eh, Forsyte?" said a voice in his ear.  "Our
number's up, I think.  Poor old Mothergill's looking very blue.  I
think he ought to ask for a second shirt!"

Soames' tenacity began wriggling within him.

"The thing wants tackling," he grumbled; "the Chairman's not the
man for the job!"  Shades of old Uncle Jolyon!  He would have made
short work of this!  It wanted a masterful hand.

"Warning to us all, Forsyte, against loyalty!  It's not in the
period.  Ah!  Fontenoy!"

Soames became conscious of features rather above the level of his
own.

"Well, Mr. Forsyte, hope you're satisfied?  A pretty damned mess!
If I'd been the Chairman, I'd never have withdrawn.  Always keep
hounds under your eye, Mont.  Take it off, and they'll go for you!
Wish I could get among 'em with a whip; I'd give it those two heavy
pug-faced chaps--they mean business!  Unless you've got something
up your sleeve, Mr. Forsyte, we're dished."

"What should I have up my sleeve?" said Soames coldly.

"Damn it, sir, you put the chestnuts in the fire; it's up to you to
pull 'em out.  I can't afford to lose these fees!"

Soames heard Sir Lawrence murmur:  "Crude, my dear Fontenoy!" and
said with malice:

"You may lose more than your fees!"

"Can't!  They may have Eaglescourt to-morrow, and take a loss off
my hands."  A gleam of feeling burned up suddenly in the old eyes:
"The country drives you to the wall, skins you to the bone, and
expects you to give 'em public service gratis.  Can't be done,
Mont--can't be done!"

Soames turned away; he had an utter disinclination for talk, like
one standing before an open grave, watching a coffin slowly
lowered.  Here was his infallibility going--going!  He had no
illusions.  It would all be in the papers, and his reputation for
sound judgment gone for ever!  Bitter!  No more would the Forsytes
say:  "Soames says--"  No more would old Gradman follow him with
eyes like an old dog's, grudging sometimes, but ever submitting to
infallibility.  It would be a nasty jar for the old fellow.  His
business acquaintances--after all, they were not many, now!--would
no longer stare with envious respect.  He wondered if the
reverberations would reach Dumetrius, and the picture market!  The
sole comfort was:  Fleur needn't know.  Fleur!  Ah!  If only her
business were safely over!  For a moment his mind became empty of
all else.  Then with a rush the present filled it up again.  Why
were they all talking as if there were a corpse in the room?  Well!
There was--the corpse of his infallibility!  As for monetary loss--
that seemed secondary, remote, incredible--like a future life.
Mont had said something about loyalty.  He didn't know what loyalty
had to do with it!  But if they thought he was going to show any
white feather, they were extremely mistaken.  Acid courage welled
up into his brain.  Shareholders, directors--they might howl and
shake their fists; he was not going to be dictated to.  He heard a
voice say:

"Will you come in, please, gentlemen?"

Taking his seat again before his unused quill, he noticed the
silence--shareholders waiting for directors, directors for
shareholders.  "Wish I could get among 'em with a whip!"
Extravagant words of that 'old guinea-pig's,' but expressive,
somehow!

At last the Chairman, whose voice always reminded Soames of a raw
salad with oil poured over it, said ironically:

"Well, gentlemen, we await your pleasure."

That stout, red-faced fellow, next to Michael, stood up, opening
his pug's mouth.

"To put it shortly, Mr. Chairman, we're not at all satisfied; but
before we take any resolution, we want to 'ear what you've got to
say."

Just below Soames, some one jumped up and added:  "We'd like to
know, sir, what assurances you can offer us against anything of
this sort in the future."

Soames saw the Chairman smile--no real backbone in that fellow!

"In the nature of things, sir," he said, "none whatever!  You can
hardly suppose that if we had known our manager was not worthy of
our confidence, we should have continued him in the post for a
moment!"

Soames thought:  'That won't do--he's gone back on himself!'  Yes,
and that other pug-faced chap had seen it!

"That's just the point, sir," he was saying:  "Two of you DID know,
and yet, there the fellow was for months afterwards, playin' 'is
own 'and, cheatin' the Society for all he was worth, I shouldn't
wonder."

One after another, they were yelping now:

"What about your own words?"

"You admitted collective responsibility."

"You said you were perfectly satisfied with the attitude of your
co-directors in the matter."  Regular pack!

Soames saw the Chairman incline his head as if he wanted to shake
it; old Fontenoy muttering, old Mothergill blowing his nose,
Meyricke shrugging his sharp shoulders.  Suddenly he was cut off
from view of them--Sir Lawrence was standing up between.

"Allow me a word!  Speaking for myself, I find it impossible to
accept the generous attempt of the Chairman to shoulder a
responsibility which clearly rests on me.  If I made a mistake of
judgment in not disclosing our suspicions, I must pay the penalty;
and I think it will clear the--er--situation if I tender my
resignation to the meeting."

Soames saw him give a little bow, place his monocle in his eye, and
sit down.

A murmur greeted the words--approval, surprise, deprecation,
admiration?  It had been gallantly done.  Soames distrusted
gallantry--there was always a dash of the peacock about it.  He
felt curiously savage.

"I, apparently," he said, rising, "am the other incriminated
director.  Very good!  I am not conscious of having done anything
but my duty from beginning to end of this affair.  I am confident
that I made no mistake of judgment.  And I consider it entirely
unjust that I should be penalised.  I have had worry and anxiety
enough, without being made a scapegoat by shareholders who accepted
this policy without a murmur, before ever I came on the Board, and
are now angry because they have lost by it.  You owe it to me that
the policy has been dropped:  You owe it to me that you have no
longer a fraudulent person for a manager.  And you owe it to me
that you were called together to-day to pass judgment on the
matter.  I have no intention whatever of singing small.  But there
is another aspect to this affair.  I am not prepared to go on
giving my services to people who don't value them.  I have no
patience with the attitude displayed this afternoon.  If any one
here thinks he has a grievance against me, let him bring an action.
I shall be happy to carry it to the House of Lords, if necessary.
I have been familiar with the City all my life, and I have not been
in the habit of meeting with suspicions and ingratitude.  If this
is an instance of present manners, I have been familiar with the
City long enough.  I do not tender my resignation to the meeting; I
resign."

Bowing to the Chairman, and pushing back his chair, he walked
doggedly to the door, opened it and passed through.

He sought his hat.  He had not the slightest doubt but that he had
astonished their weak nerves!  Those pug-faced fellows had their
mouths open!  He would have liked to see what he had left behind,
but it was hardly consistent with dignity to open the door again.
He took a sandwich instead, and began to eat it with his back to
the door and his hat on.  He felt better than he had for months.
A voice said:

"'And the subsequent proceedings interested him no more!'  I'd no
idea, Forsyte, you were such an orator!  You gave it 'em between
the eyes!  Never saw a meeting so knocked out!  Well, you've saved
the Board by focussing their resentment entirely on yourself.  It
was very gallant, Forsyte!"

Soames growled through his sandwich:

"Nothing of the sort!  Are you out, too?"

"Yes.  I pressed my resignation.  That red-faced fellow was
proposing a vote of confidence in the Board when I left--and
they'll pass it, Forsyte--they'll pass it!  Something was said
about financial liability, by the way!"

"Was there?" said Soames, with a grim smile:  "That cock won't
fight.  Their only chance was to claim against the Board for
initiating foreign assurance ultra vires; if they're re-affirming
the Board, after the question's been raised in open meeting,
they're dished.  Nothing'll lie against you and me, for not
disclosing our suspicions--that's certain."

"A relief, I confess," said Sir Lawrence, with a sigh.  "It was the
speech of your life, Forsyte!"

Perfectly well aware of that, Soames shook his head.  Apart from
the horror of seeing himself in print, he was beginning to feel
that he had been extravagant.  It was always a mistake to lose your
temper!  A bitter little smile came on his lips.  Nobody, not even
Mont, would see how unjustly he had been treated.

"Well," he said, "I shall go."

"I think I shall wait, Forsyte, and hear the upshot."

"Upshot?  They'll appoint two other fools, and slaver over each
other.  Shareholders!  Good-bye!"  He moved to the door.

Passing the Bank of England, he had a feeling of walking away from
his own life.  His acumen, his judgment, his manner of dealing with
affairs--aspersed!  They didn't like it; well--he would leave it!
Catch him meddling, in future!  It was all of a piece with the
modern state of things.  Hand to mouth, and the steady men pushed
to the wall!  The men to whom a pound was a pound, and not a mess
of chance and paper.  The men who knew that the good of the country
was the strict, straight conduct of their own affairs.  They were
not wanted.  One by one, they would get the go-by--as he had got
it--in favour of Jack-o'-lanterns, revolutionaries, restless chaps,
or clever, unscrupulous fellows, like Elderson.  It was in the air.
No amount of eating your cake and wanting to have it could take the
place of common honesty.

He turned into the Poultry before he knew why he had come there.
Well, he might as well tell Gradman at once that he must exercise
his own judgment in the future.  At the mouth of the backwater he
paused for a second, as if to print its buffness on his brain.  He
would resign his trusts, private and all!  He had no notion of
being sneered at in the family.  But a sudden wave of remembrance
almost washed his heart into his boots.  What a tale of trust deeds
executed, leases renewed, houses sold, investments decided on--in
that back room up there; what a mint of quiet satisfaction in
estates well managed!  Ah! well!  He would continue to manage his
own.  As for the others, they must look out for themselves, now.
And a precious time they'd have of it, in face of the spirit there
was about!

He mounted the stone steps slowly.

In the repository of Forsyte affairs, he was faced by the unusual--
not Gradman, but, on the large ripe table, a large ripe melon
alongside a straw bag.  Soames sniffed.  The thing smelled
delicious.  He held it to the light.  Its greeny yellow tinge, its
network of threads--quite Chinese!  Was old Gradman going to throw
its rind about, like that white monkey?

He was still holding it when a voice said:

"Aoh!  I wasn't expecting you to-day, Mr. Soames.  I was going
early; my wife's got a little party."

"So I see!" said Soames, restoring the melon to the table.
"There's nothing for you to do at the moment, but I came in to tell
you to draw my resignations from the Forsyte trusts."

The old chap's face was such a study that he could not help a
smile.

"You can keep me in Timothy's; but the rest must go.  Young Roger
can attend to them.  He's got nothing to do."

A gruff and deprecating:  "Dear me!  They won't like it!" irritated
Soames.

"Then they must lump it!  I want a rest."

He did not mean to enter into the reason--Gradman could read it for
himself in the Financial News, or whatever he took in.

"Then I shan't be seeing you so often, Mr. Soames; there's never
anything in Mr. Timothy's.  Dear me!  I'm quite upset.  Won't you
keep your sister's?"

Soames looked at the old fellow, and compunction stirred within
him--as ever, at any sign that he was appreciated.

"Well," he said, "keep me in hers; I shall be in about my own
affairs, of course.  Good afternoon, Gradman.  That's a fine
melon."

He waited for no more words.  The old chap!  HE couldn't last much
longer, anyway, sturdy as he looked!  Well, they would find it hard
to match him!

On reaching the Poultry, he decided to go to Green Street and see
Winifred--queerly and suddenly homesick for the proximity of Park
Lane, for the old secure days, the efflorescent privacy of his
youth under the wings of James and Emily.  Winifred alone
represented for him now, the past; her solid nature never varied,
however much she kept up with the fashions.

He found her, a little youthful in costume, drinking China tea,
which she did not like--but what could one do, other teas were
'common!'  She had taken to a parrot.  Parrots were coming in
again.  The bird made a dreadful noise.  Whether under its
influence or that of the China tea--which, made in the English way,
of a brand the Chinese grew for foreign stomachs, always upset him--
he was soon telling her the whole story.

When he had finished, Winifred said comfortably:

"Well, Soames, I think you did splendidly; it serves them right!"

Conscious that his narrative must have presented the truth as it
would not appear to the public, Soames muttered:

"That's all very well; you'll find a very different version in the
financial papers."

"Oh! but nobody reads them.  I shouldn't worry.  Do you do Coue?
Such a comfortable little man, Soames; I went to hear him.  It's
rather a bore sometimes, but it's quite the latest thing."

Soames became inaudible--he never confessed a weakness.

"And how," asked Winifred, "is Fleur's little affair?"

"'Little affair!'" echoed a voice above his head.  That bird!  It
was clinging to the brocade curtains, moving its neck up and down.

"Polly!" said Winifred: "don't be naughty!"

"Soames!" said the bird.

"I've taught him that.  Isn't he rather sweet?"

"No," said Soames.  "I should shut him up; he'll spoil your
curtains."

The vexation of the afternoon had revived within him suddenly.
What was life, but parrotry?  What did people see of the real
truth?  They just repeated each other, like a lot of shareholders,
or got their precious sentiments out of The Daily Liar.  For one
person who took a line, a hundred followed on, like sheep!

"You'll stay and dine, dear boy!" said Winifred.

Yes! he would dine.  Had she a melon, by any chance?  He'd no
inclination to go and sit opposite his wife at South Square.  Ten
to one Fleur would not be down.  And as to young Michael--the
fellow had been there that afternoon and witnessed the whole thing;
he'd no wish to go over it again.

He was washing his hands for dinner, when a maid, outside, said:

"You're wanted on the 'phone, sir."

Michael's voice came over the wire, strained and husky:

"That you, sir?"

"Yes.  What is it?"

"Fleur.  It began this afternoon at three.  I've been trying to
reach you."

"What?" cried Soames.  "How?  Quick!"

"They say it's all normal.  But it's so awful.  They say quite
soon, now."  The voice broke off.

"My God!" said Soames.  "My hat!"

By the front door the maid was asking:  "Shall you be back to
dinner, sir?"

"Dinner!" muttered Soames, and was gone.

He hurried along, almost running, his eyes searching for a cab.
None to be had, of course!  None to be had!  Opposite the 'Iseeum'
Club he got one, open in the fine weather after last night's storm.
That storm!  He might have known.  Ten days before her time.  Why
on earth hadn't he gone straight back, or at least telephoned where
he would be?  All that he had been through that afternoon was gone
like smoke.  Poor child!  Poor little thing!  And what about
twilight sleep?  Why hadn't he been there?  He might have--nature!
Damn it!  Nature--as if it couldn't leave even her alone!

"Get on!" he said, leaning out:  "Double fare!"

Past the Connoisseurs, and the Palace, and Whitehall; past all
preserves whence nature was excluded, deep in the waters of
primitive emotion Soames sat, grey, breathless.  Past Big Ben--
eight o'clock!  Five hours!  Five hours of it!

"Let it be over!" he muttered aloud:  "Let it be over, God!"



CHAPTER XIV

ON THE RACK


When his father-in-law bowed to the Chairman and withdrew, Michael
had restrained a strong desire to shout:  "Bravo!"  Who'd have
thought the 'old man' could let fly like that?  He had 'got their
goats' with a vengeance.  Quite an interval of fine mixed
vociferation followed, before his neighbour, Mr. Sawdry, made
himself heard at last.

"Now that the director implicated has resigned, I shall 'ave
pleasure in proposing a vote of confidence in the rest of the
Board."

Michael saw his father rise, a little finicky and smiling, and bow
to the Chairman.  "I take my resignation as accepted also; if you
permit me, I will join Mr. Forsyte in retirement."

Some one was saying:

"I shall be glad to second that vote of confidence."

And brushing past the knees of Mr. Sawdry, Michael sought the door.
From there he could see that nearly every hand was raised in favour
of the vote of confidence; and with the thought:  'Thrown to the
shareholders!' he made his way out of the hotel.  Delicacy
prevented him from seeking out those two.  They had saved their
dignity; but the dogs had had the rest.

Hurrying west, he reflected on the rough ways of justice.  The
shareholders had a grievance, of course; and some one had to get it
in the neck to satisfy their sense of equity.  They had pitched on
Old Forsyte, who, of all, was least to blame; for if Bart had only
held his tongue, they would certainly have lumped him into the vote
of confidence.  All very natural and illogical; and four o'clock
already!

'Counterfeits!'  The old feeling for Wilfrid was strong in him this
day of publication.  One must do everything one could for his book--
poor old son!  There simply must not be a frost.

After calling in at two big booksellers, he made for his club, and
closeted himself in the telephone booth.  In old days they 'took
cabs and went about.'  Ringing-up was quicker--was it?  With
endless vexations, he tracked down Sibley, Nazing, Upshire, Master,
and half-a-dozen others of the elect.  He struck a considered note
likely to move them.  The book--he said--was bound to 'get the goat
of the old guard and the duds generally'; it would want a bit of
drum-beating from the cognoscenti.  To each of them he appealed as
the only one whose praise really mattered.  "If you haven't
reviewed the book, old chap, will you?  It's you who count, of
course."  And to each he added:  "I don't care two straws whether
it sells, but I do want old Wilfrid to get his due."  And he meant
it.  The publisher in Michael was dead during that hour in the
telephone booth, the friend alive and kicking hard.  He came out
with sweat running down his forehead, quite exhausted; and it was
half-past five.

'Cup of tea--and home!' he thought.  He reached his door at six.
Ting-a-ling, absolutely unimportant, was cowering in the far corner
of the hall.

"What's the matter, old man?"

A sound from above, which made his blood run cold, answered--a
long, low moaning.

"Oh, God!" he gasped, and ran upstairs.

Annette met him at the door.  He was conscious of her speaking in
French, of being called "mon cher," of the words "vers trois
heures. . . .  The doctor says one must not worry--all goes for the
best."  Again that moan, and the door shut in his face; she was
gone.  Michael remained standing on the rug with perfectly cold
sweat oozing from him, and his nails dug deep into his palms.

'This is how one becomes a father!' he thought:  'This is how I
became a son!'  That moaning!  He could not bear to stay there, and
he could not bear to go away.  It might be hours, yet!  He kept
repeating to himself:  "One must not worry--must not worry!"  How
easily said!  How meaningless!  His brain, his heart, ranging for
relief, lighted on the strangest relief which could possibly have
come to him.  Suppose this child being born, had not been his--had
been--been Wilfrid's; how would he have been feeling, here, outside
this door?  It might--it might so easily have been--since nothing
was sacred, now!  Nothing except--yes, just that which was dearer
than oneself--just that which was in there, moaning.  He could not
bear it on the rug, and went downstairs.  Across and across the
copper floor, a cigar in his mouth, he strode in vague, rebellious
agony.  Why should birth be like this?  And the answer was:  It
isn't--not in China!  To have the creed that nothing mattered--and
then run into it like this!  Something born at such a cost, must
matter, should matter.  One must see to that!  Speculation ceased
in Michael's brain; he stood, listening terribly.  Nothing!  He
could not bear it down there, and went up again.  No sound at
first, and then another moan!  This time he fled into his study,
and ranged round the room, looking at the cartoons of Aubrey
Greene.  He did not see a single one, and suddenly bethought him of
'Old Forsyte.'  He ought to be told!

He rang up the 'Connoisseurs,' the 'Remove,' and his own father's
clubs, in case they might have gone there together after the
meeting.  He drew blank everywhere.  It was half-past seven.  How
much longer was this going on?  He went back to the bedroom door;
could hear nothing.  Then down again to the hall.  Ting-a-ling was
lying by the front door, now.  'Fed-up!' thought Michael, stroking
his back, and mechanically clearing the letter-box.  Just one
letter--Wilfrid's writing!  He took it to the foot of the stairs
and read it with half his brain, the other half wondering--
wandering up there.


"DEAR MONT,--I start to-morrow to try and cross Arabia.  I thought
you might like a line in case Arabia crosses me.  I have recovered
my senses.  The air here is too clear for sentiment of any kind;
and passion in exile soon becomes sickly.  I am sorry I made you so
much disturbance.  It was a mistake for me to go back to England
after the war, and hang about writing drivel for smart young women
and inky folk to read.  Poor old England--she's in for a bad time.
Give her my love; the same to yourselves.

"Yours ever,

"WILFRID DESERT.

"P. S.--If you've published the things I left behind, send any
royalties to me care of my governor.--W. D."


Half Michael's brain thought:  'Well, that's that!  And the book
coming out to-day!'  Queer!  Was Wilfrid right--was it all a
blooming gaff--the inky stream?  Was one just helping on England's
sickness?  Ought they all to get on camels and ride the sun down?
And yet, in books were comfort and diversion; and they were wanted!
England had to go on--go on!  'No retreat, no retreat, they must
conquer or die who have no retreat!' . . .  God!  There it was
again!  Back he flew upstairs, with his ears covered and his eyes
wild.  The sounds ceased; Annette came out to him.

"Her father, mon cher; try to find her father!"

"I have--I can't!" gasped Michael.

"Try Green Street--Mrs. Dartie.  Courage!  All is normal--it will
be quite sewn, now."

When he had rung up Green Street and been answered at last, he sat
with the door of his study open, waiting for 'Old Forsyte' to come.
Half his sight remarked a round hole burnt in his trouser leg--he
hadn't even noticed the smell; hadn't even realised that he had
been smoking.  He must pull himself together for the 'old man.'  He
heard the bell ring, and ran down to open.

"Well?" said Soames.

"Not yet, sir.  Come up to my study.  It's nearer."

They went up side by side.  That trim grey head, with the deep
furrow between the eyes, and those eyes staring as if at pain
behind them, steadied Michael.  Poor old chap!  He was 'for it,'
too!  They were both on 'their uppers!'

"Have a peg, sir?  I've got brandy here."

"Yes," said Soames.  "Anything."

With the brandies in their hands, half-raised, they listened--
jerked their hands up, drank.  They were automatic, like two doll
figures worked by the same string.

"Cigarette, sir?" said Michael.

Soames nodded.

With the lighted cigarettes just not in their mouths, they
listened, put them in, took them out, puffed smoke.  Michael had
his right arm tight across his chest.  Soames his left.  They
formed a pattern, thus, side by side.

"Bad to stick, sir.  Sorry!"

Soames nodded.  His teeth were clenched.  Suddenly his hand
relaxed.

"Listen!" he said.  Sounds--different--confused!

Michael's hand seized something, gripped it hard; it was cold,
thin--the hand of Soames.  They sat thus, hand in hand, staring at
the doorway, for how long neither knew.

Suddenly that doorway darkened; a figure in grey stood there--
Annette!

"It is all r-right!  A son!"



CHAPTER XV

CALM


On waking from deep sleep next morning, Michael's first thought
was:  'Fleur is back!'  He then remembered.

To his:  "O. K.?" whispered at her door, he received an emphatic
nod from the nurse.

In the midst of excited expectation he retained enough modernity to
think:  'No more blurb!  Go and eat your breakfast quietly!'

In the dining-room Soames was despising the broken egg before him.
He looked up as Michael entered, and buried his face in his cup.
Michael understood perfectly; they had sat hand in hand!  He saw,
too, that the journal opened by his plate was of a financial
nature.

"Anything about the meeting, sir?  Your speech must read like one
o'clock!"

With a queer little sound Soames held out the paper.  The headlines
ran:  "Stormy meeting--resignation of two directors--a vote of
confidence."  Michael skimmed down till he came to:

"Mr. Forsyte, the director involved, in a speech of some length,
said he had no intention of singing small.  He deprecated the
behaviour of the shareholders; he had not been accustomed to meet
with suspicions.  He tendered his resignation."

Michael dropped the sheet.

"By Jove!" he said--"'Involved--suspicions.'  They've given it a
turn, as though--!"

"The papers!" said Soames, and resumed his egg.

Michael sat down, and stripped the skin off a banana.  '"Nothing
became him like his death,"' he thought:  'Poor old boy!'

"Well, sir," he said, "I was there, and all I can say is:  You and
my father were the only two people who excited my respect."

"That!" said Soames, putting down his spoon.

Michael perceived that he wished to be alone, and swallowing the
banana, went to his study.  Waiting for his summons, he rang up his
father.

"None the worse for yesterday, sir?"

Sir Lawrence's voice came clear and thin, rather high.

"Poorer and wiser.  What's the bulletin?"

"Top-hole."

"Our love to both.  Your mother wants to know if he has any hair?"

"Haven't seen him yet.  I'm just going."

Annette, indeed, was beckoning him from the doorway.

"She wants you to bring the little dog, mon cher."

With Ting-a-ling under his arm, and treading on tiptoe, Michael
entered.  The eleventh baronet!  He did not seem to amount to much,
beneath her head bent over him.  And surely her hair was darker!
He walked up to the bed, and touched it reverently.

Fleur raised her head, and revealed the baby sucking vigorously at
her little finger.  "Isn't he a monkey?" said her faint voice.

Michael nodded.  A monkey clearly--but whether white--that was the
question!

"And you, sweetheart?"

"All right now, but it was--"  She drew her breath in, and her eyes
darkened:  "Ting, look!"

The Chinese dog, with nostrils delicately moving, drew backward
under Michael's arm.  His whole demeanour displayed a knowing
criticism.  "Puppies," he seemed to say, "we do it in China.
Judgment reserved!"

"What eyes!" said Michael:  "We needn't tell HIM that this was
brought from Chelsea by the doctor."

Fleur gave the tiniest laugh.

"Put him down, Michael."

Michael put him down, and he went to his corner.

"I mustn't talk," said Fleur, "but I want to, frightfully; as if
I'd been dumb for months."

'Just as I felt,' thought Michael, 'she's been away, away
somewhere, utterly away.'

"It was like being held down, Michael.  Months of not being
yourself."

Michael said softly:  "Yes! the process IS behind the times!  Has
he got any hair?  My mother wants to know."

Fleur revealed the head of the eleventh baronet, covered with dark
down.

"Like my grandmother's; but it'll get lighter.  His eyes are going
to be grey.  Oh! and, Michael, about godparents?  Alison, of
course--but men?"

Michael dwelled a little before answering:

"I had a letter from Wilfrid yesterday.  Would you like him?  He's
still out there, but I could hold the sponge for him in church."

"Is he all right again?"

"He says so."

He could not read the expression of her eyes, but her lips were
pouted slightly.

"Yes," she said: "and I think one's enough, don't you?  Mine never
gave me anything."

"One of mine gave me a bible, and the other gave me a wigging.
Wilfrid, then."  And he bent over her.

Her eyes seemed to make him a little ironic apology.  He kissed her
hair, and moved hurriedly away.

By the door Soames was standing, awaiting his turn.

"Just a minute only, sir," the nurse was saying.

Soames walked up to the bedside, and stood looking at his daughter.

"Dad, dear!" Michael heard her say.

Soames just touched her hand, nodded, as if implying approval of
the baby, and came walking back, but, in a mirror, Michael saw his
lips quivering.

On the ground floor once more, he had the most intense desire to
sing.  It would not do; and, entering the Chinese room, he stood
staring out into the sunlit square.  Gosh!  It was good to be
alive!  Say what you liked, you couldn't beat it!  They might turn
their noses up at life, and look down them at it; they might
bolster up the future and the past, but--give him the present!

'I'll have that white monkey up again!' he thought.  'I'll see the
brute further before he shall depress me!'

He went out to a closet under the stairs, and, from beneath four
pairs of curtains done up in moth-preserver and brown paper, took
out the picture.  He held it away from him in the dim light.  The
creature's eyes!  It was all in those eyes!

"Never mind, old son!" he said:  "Up you go!"  And he carried it
into the Chinese room.

Soames was there.

"I'm going to put him up again, sir."

Soames nodded.

"Would you hold him, while I hook the wire?"

Soames held the picture.

Returning to the copper floor, Michael said:

"All right, sir!" and stood back.

Soames joined him.  Side by side they contemplated the white
monkey.

"He won't be happy till he gets it," said Michael at last:  "The
only thing is, you see, he doesn't know what IT is."



END OF BOOK ONE.



THE END





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