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Chapter XII.

DEEPENING

However untypically American according to Soames, Francis Wilmot seemed to have the national passion for short cuts.

In two days from Fleurs first visit he had reached the crisis, hurrying towards it like a man to his bride. Yet, compared with the instinct to live, the human will is limited, so that he failed to die. Fleur, summoned by telephone, went home cheered by the doctors words: Hell do now, if we can coax a little strength into him. That, however, was the trouble. For three afternoons she watched his exhausted indifference seeming to increase. And she was haunted by cruel anxiety. On the fourth day she had been sitting for more than an hour when his eyes opened.

Yes, Francis?

Im going to quit all right, after all.

Dont talk like thatits not American. Of course youre not going to quit.

He smiled, and shut his eyes. She made up her mind then.

Next day he was about the same, more dead than alive. But her mind was at rest; her messenger had brought back word that Miss Ferrar would be in at four oclock. She would have had the note by now; but would she come? How little one knew of other people, even when they were enemies!

He was drowsing, white and strengthless, when she heard the bell-boys knock. Passing into the lobby, she closed the door softly behind her, and opened the outer door. So she HAD come!

If this meeting of two declared enemies had in it something dramatic, neither perceived it at the moment. It was just intensely unpleasant to them both. They stood for a moment looking at each others chins. Then Fleur said:

Hes extremely weak. Will you sit down while I tell him youre here?

Having seen her settled where Francis Wilmot put his clothes out to be valeted in days when he had worn them, Fleur passed back into the bedroom, and again closed the door.

Francis, she said, some one is waiting to see you.

Francis Wilmot did not stir, but his eyes opened and cleared strangely. To Fleur they seemed suddenly the eyes she had known; as if all these days they had been out, and some one had again put a match to them.

You understand what I mean?

The words came clear and feeble: Yes; but if I wasnt good enough for her before, I surely am not now. Tell her Im through with that fool business.

A lump rose in Fleurs throat.

Thank her for coming! said Francis Wilmot, and closed his eyes again.

Fleur went back into the lobby. Marjorie Ferrar was standing against the wall with an unlighted cigarette between her lips.

He thanks you for coming; but he doesnt want to see you. Im sorry I brought you down.

Marjorie Ferrar took out the cigarette. Fleur could see her lips quivering. Will he get well?

I dont know. I think sonow. He says hes through with that fool business.

Marjorie Ferrars lips tightened. She opened the outer door, turned suddenly, and said:

Will you make it up?

No, said Fleur.

There was a moment of complete stillness; then Marjorie Ferrar gave a little laugh, and slipped out.

Fleur went back. He was asleep. Next day he was stronger. Three days later Fleur ceased her visits; he was on the road to recovery. She had become conscious, moreover, that she had a little lamb which, wherever Mary went, was sure to go. She was being shadowed! How amusing! And what a bore that she couldnt tell Michael; because she had not yet begun again to tell him anything.

On the day that she ceased her visits he came in while she was dressing for dinner, with a weekly in his hand.

Listen to this, he said:

When to Gods fondouk the donkeys are taken

Donkeys of Africa, Sicily, Spain

If peradventure the Deity waken,

He shall not easily slumber again.

Where in the sweet of Gods straw they have laid them,

Broken and dead of their burdens and sores,

He, for a change, shall remember He made them

One of the best of His numerous chores

Order from some one a sigh of repentance

Donkeys of Araby, Syria, Greece

Over the fondouk distemper the sentence:

Gods own forsakenthe stable of Peace.

Whos that by?

It sounds like Wilfrid.

It is by Wilfrid, said Michael, and did not look at her. I met him at the HotchPotch.

And how is he?

Very fit.

Have you asked him here?

No. Hes going East again soon.

Was he fishing? Did he know that she had seen him? And she said:

Im going down to fathers, Michael. Hes written twice.

Michael put her hand to his lips.

All right, darling.

Fleur reddened; her strangled confidences seemed knotted in her throat. She went next day with Kit and Dandie. The little lamb would hardly follow to The Shelter.

Annette had gone with her mother to Cannes for a month; and Soames was alone with the English winter. He was paying little attention to it, for the case was in the list, and might be reached in a few weeks time. Deprived of French influence, he was again wavering towards compromise. The announcement of Marjorie Ferrars engagement to McGown had materially changed the complexion of affairs. In the eyes of a British Jury, the character of a fast young lady, and the character of the same young lady publicly engaged to a Member of Parliament, with wealth and a handle to his name, would not be at all the same thing. They were now virtually dealing with Lady MacGown, and nothing, Soames knew, was so fierce as a man about to be married. To libel his betrothed was like approaching a mad dog.

He looked very grave when Fleur told him of her little lamb. It was precisely the retaliation he had feared; nor could he tell her that he had told her so, because he hadnt. He had certainly urged her to come down to him, but delicacy had forbidden him to give her the reason. So far as he could tell through catechism, there had been nothing suspect in her movements since Lippinghall, except those visits to the Cosmopolis Hotel. But they were bad enough. Who was going to believe that she went to this sick man out of pure kindness? Such a motive was not current in a Court of Law. He was staggered when she told him that Michael didnt know of them. Why not?

I didnt feel like telling him.

Feel? Dont you see what a position youve put yourself in? Here you are, running to a young mans bedside, without your husbands knowledge.

Yes, darling; but he was terribly ill.

I dare say, said Soames; so are lots of people.

Besides, he was over head and ears in love with HER.

Dyou think hes going to admit that, even if we could call him?

Fleur was silent, thinking of Francis Wilmots face.

Oh! I dont know, she said at last. How horrid it all is!

Of course its horrid, said Soames. Have you had a quarrel with Michael?

No; not a quarrel. Only he doesnt tell ME things.

What things?

How should I know, dear?

Soames grunted. Would he have minded your going?

Of course not. Hed have minded if I hadnt. He likes that boy.

Well, then, said Soames, either you or he, or both, will have to tell a lie, and say that he did know. I shall go up and talk to him. Thank goodness we can prove the illness. If I catch anybody coming down here after you!

He went up the following afternoon. Parliament being in recess, he sought the HotchPotch Club. He did not like a place always connected in his mind with his dead cousin, that fellow young Jolyon, and said to Michael at once: Can we go somewhere else?

Yes, sir; where would you like?

To your place, if you can put me up for the night. I want to have a talk with you.

Michael looked at him askance.

Now, said Soames, after dinner, whats this about Fleurshe says you dont tell her things?

Michael gazed into his glass of port.

Well, sir, he said slowly, Id be only too glad to, of course, but I dont think they really interest her. She doesnt feel that public things matter.

Public! I meant private.

There arent any private things. Do you mean that she thinks there are?

Soames dropped his scrutiny.

I dont knowshe said things.

Well, you can put that out of your head, and hers.

Hm! Anyway, the results been that shes been visiting that young American with pneumonia at the Cosmopolis Hotel, without letting you know. Its a mercy she hasnt picked it up.

Francis Wilmot?

Yes. Hes out of the wood, now. Thats not the point. Shes been shadowed.

Good God! said Michael.

Exactly! This is what comes of not talking to your wife. Wives are funnythey dont like it.

Michael grinned.

Put yourself in my place, sir. Its my profession, now, to fuss about the state of the Country, and all that; and you know how it isone gets keen. But to Fleur, its all a stunt. I quite understand that; but, you see, the keener I get, the more Im afraid of boring her, and the less I feel I can talk to her about it. In a sort of way shes jealous.

Soames rubbed his chin. The state of the Country was a curious kind of co-respondent. He himself was often worried by the state of the Country, but as a source of division between husband and wife it seemed to him cold-blooded; he had known other sources in his time!

Well, you mustnt let it go on, he said. Its trivial.

Michael got up.

Trivial! Well, sir, I dont know, but it seems to me very much the sort of thing that happened when the war came. Men had to leave their wives then.

Wives put up with that, said Soames, the Country was in danger.

Isnt it in danger now?

With his inveterate distrust of words, it seemed to Soames almost indecent for a young man to talk like that. Michael was a politician, of course; but politicians were there to keep the Country quiet, not to go raising scares and talking through their hats.

When youve lived a little longer, he said, youll know that theres always something to fuss about if you like to fuss. Theres nothing in it really; the pounds going up. Besides, it doesnt matter what you tell Fleur, so long as you tell her something.

Shes intelligent, sir, said Michael.

Soames was taken aback. He could not deny the fact, and answered:

Well, national affairs are too remote; you cant expect a woman to be interested in them.

Quite a lot of women are.

Blue-stockings.

No, sir; they nearly all wear nude.

Hm! Those! As to interest in national affairsput a tax on stockings, and see what happens!

Michael grinned.

Ill suggest it, sir.

If you expect, said Soames, that peoplewomen or notare going to put themselves out of the way for any scheme like thisthis Foggartism of yours, youll be very much disappointed.

So everybody tells me. Its just because I dont like cold water at home as well as abroad, that Ive given up worrying Fleur.

Well, if you take my advice, youll take up something practicalthe state of the traffic, or penny postage. Drop pessimism; people who talk at large like that, never get trusted in this country. In any case youll have to say you knew about her visits to that young man.

Certainly, sir, wife and husband are one. But you dont really mean to let them make a circus of it in Court?

Soames was silent. He did not MEAN them to; but what if they did?

I cant tell, he said, at last. The fellows a Scotchman. What did you go hitting him on the nose for?

He gave me a thick ear first. I know it was an excellent opportunity for turning the other cheek, but I didnt think of it in time.

You must have called him something.

Only a dirty dog. As you know, he suggested a low motive for my speech.

Soames stared. In his opinion this young man was taking himself much too seriously.

Your speech! Youve got to get it out of your mind, he said, that anything you can say or do will make any difference.

Then whats the good of my being in Parliament?

Well, youre in the same boat with everybody else. The Countrys like a tree; you can keep it in order, but you cant go taking it up by the roots to look at them.

Michael looked at him, impressed.

In public matters, said Soames, the thing is to keep a level head, and do no more than youre obliged.

And whats to govern ones view of necessity?

Common-sense. One cant have everything.

And rising, he began scrutinising the Goya.

Are you going to buy another Goya, sir?

No; if I buy any more pictures, I shall go back to the English School.

Patriotism?

Soames gave him a sharp look.

Theres no patriotism, he said, in fussing. And another thing youve got to remember is that foreigners like to hear that weve got troubles. It doesnt do to discuss our affairs out loud.

Michael took these sayings to bed with him. He remembered, when he came out of the war, thinking: If theres another war, nothing will induce me to go. But now, if one were to come, he knew he WOULD be going again. So Old Forsyte thought he was just fussing! Was he? Was Foggartism a phlizz? Ought he to come to heel, and take up the state of the traffic? Was everything unreal? Surely not his love for Fleur? Anyway he felt hungry for her lying there. And Wilfrid back, too! To risk his happiness with her for the sake ofwhat? Punch had taken a snap at him this week, grinning and groping at a surrounding fog. Old England, like Old Forsyte, had no use for theories. Self-conscious national efforts were just pomposity. Pompous! He? The thought was terribly disturbing. He got out of bed and went to the window. Foggy! In fog all were shadows; and he the merest shadow of them all, an unpractical politician, taking things to heart! One! Two! Big Ben! How many hearts had he turned to water! How many dreams spoiled, with his measured resonance! Line up with the top-dressers, and leave the Country to suck its silver spoon!


Chapter XI. SHADOWS | The Silver Spoon | Chapter I. CIRCUSES