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Chapter VIII.

FANTOCHES

Michael, screwed towards Sir James Foskissons averted face, heard the words: Well, I shant answer, he spun round. It was just as if she had said: Yes, I have. The judge was looking at her, every one looking at her. Wasnt Bullfry going to help her? No! He was beckoning her out of the Box. Michael half rose, as she passed him. By George! He was sorry for MacGown! There he sat, poor devil!with every one getting up all round him, still, and red as a turkey-cock.

Fleur! Michael looked at her face, slightly flushed, her gloved hands clasped in her lap, her eyes fixed on the ground. Had his whisper: Stop this! his little abortive bow, offended her? How could one have helped sympathising with the Pet of the Panjoys in so tight a place! Fleur must see that! The Court was emptyingfine birds, manyhe could see her mother and her aunt and cousin, and Old Forsyte, talking with Foskisson. Ah! he had finished; was speaking: We can go now.

They followed him along the corridor, down the stairs, into the air.

Weve time for a snack, Soames was saying. Come in here!

In one of several kennels without roofs in a celebrated room with a boarded floor, they sat down.

Three chump chops, sharp, said Soames, and staring at the cruet-stand, added: Shes cooked her goose. Theyll drop it like a hot potato. Ive told Foskisson he can settle, with both sides paying their own costs. Its more than they deserve.

He ought never to have asked that question, sir.

Fleur looked up sharply.

Really, Michael!

Well, darling, we agreed he shouldnt. Why didnt Bullfry help her out, sir?

Only too glad to get her out of the Box; the judge would have asked her himself in another minute. Its a complete fiasco, thank God!

Then weve won? said Fleur.

Unless Im a Dutchman, answered Soames.

Im not so sure, muttered Michael.

I tell you its all over; Bullfryll never go on with it.

I didnt mean that, sir.

Fleur said acidly: Then what DO you mean, Michael?

I dont think we shall be forgiven, thats all.

What for?

Well, I dare say Im all wrong. Sauce, sir?

Worcesteryes. This is the only place in London where you can rely on a floury potato. Waiterthree glasses of port, quick!

After fifteen minutes of concentrated mastication, they returned to the Court.

Wait here, said Soames, in the hall; Ill go up and find out.

In that echoing space, where a mans height was so inconsiderable, Fleur and Michael stood, not speaking, for some time.

She couldnt know that Foskisson had been told not to follow it up, of course, he said, at last. Still, she must have expected the question. She should have told a good one and have done with it. I couldnt help feeling sorry for her.

Youd feel sorry for a flea that bit you, Michael. What do you mean by our not being forgiven?

Well! The drama was all on her side, and its drama that counts. Besides, theres her engagement!

Thatll be broken off.

Exactly! And if it is, shell have sympathy; while if it isnt, hell have it. Anyway, we shant. Besides, you know, she stood up for what we all really believe nowadays.

Speak for yourself.

Well, dont we talk of every one being free?

Yes, but is there any connection between what we say and what we do?

No, said Michael.

And just then Soames returned.

Well, sir?

As I told you, Bullfry caught at it. Theyve settled. Its a moral victory.

Oh! not moral, I hope, sir.

Its cost a pretty penny, anyway, said Soames, looking at Fleur. Your mothers quite annoyedshes no sense of proportion. Very clever the way Foskisson made that woman lose her temper.

He lost his, at the end. Thats his excuse, I suppose.

Well, said Soames, its all over! Your mothers got the car; well take a taxi.

On the drive back to South Square, taking precisely the same route, there was precisely the same silence.

When a little later Michael went over to the House, he was edified by posters.

Society Libel Action.

Marquesss Granddaughter and K. C.

Dramatic Evidence.

Modern Morality!

All overwas it? With publicityin Michaels opinionit had but just begun! Morality! What was itwho had it, and what did they do with it? How would he have answered those questions himself? Who could answer them, nowadays, by rote or rule? Not he, or Fleur! They had been identified with the Inquisition, and what was their position, now? False, if not odious! He passed into the House. But, try as he would, he could not fix his attention on the Purity of Food, and passed out again. With a curious longing for his father, he walked rapidly down Whitehall. Drawing blank at Snooks and The Aeroplane, he tried the Parthenaeum as a last resort. Sir Lawrence was in a corner of a forbidden room, reading a life of Lord Palmerston. He looked up at his son.

Ah! Michael! They dont do justice to old Pam. A man without frills, who worked like a nigger. But we mustnt talk here! And he pointed to a member who seemed awake. Shall we take a turn before the old gentleman over there has a fit? The books here are camouflage; its really a dormitory.

He led the way, with Michael retailing the events of the morning.

Foskisson? said Sir Lawrence, entering the Green Park. He was a nice little chap when I left Winchester. To be professionally in the right is bad for a mans charactercounsel, parsons, policemen, they all suffer from it. Judges, High Priests, ArchInspectors, arent so badtheyve suffered from it so long that theyve lost consciousness.

It was a full house, said Michael, glumly, and the papers have got hold of it.

They would. And Sir Lawrence pointed to the ornamental water. These birds, he said, remind me of China. By the way, I met your friend Desert yesterday at The Aeroplanehes more interesting now that hes dropped Poetry for the East. Everybody ought to drop something. Im too old now, but if Id dropped baronetcy in time, I could have made quite a good contortionist.

What would you recommend for us in the House? asked Michael, with a grin.

Postmanship, my dearcarrying on, you know; a certain importance, large bags, dogs to bark at you, no initiative, and conversation on every door-step. By the way, do you see Desert?

I have seen him.

Sir Lawrence screwed up his eyes.

The providential, he said, doesnt happen twice.

Michael coloured; he had not suspected his father of such shrewd observation. Sir Lawrence swung his cane.

Your man Boddick, he said, has persuaded some of his hens to lay; hes giving us quite good eggs.

Michael admired his reticence. But somehow that unexpected slanting allusion to a past domestic crisis roused the feeling that for so long now had been curled like a sleepy snake in his chest, that another crisis was brewing and must soon be faced.

Coming along for tea, sir? Kit had tummy-ache this morning. Hows your last book doing? Does old Danby advertise it properly?

No, said Sir Lawrence, no; hes keeping his head wonderfully; the book is almost dead.

Im glad I dropped HIM, anyway, said Michael, with emphasis. I suppose, sir, you havent a tip to give us, now this case is over?

Sir Lawrence gazed at a bird with a long red bill.

When victorious, he said, at last, lie doggo. The triumphs of morality are apt to recoil on those who achieve them.

Thats what I feel, sir. Heaven knows I didnt want to achieve one. My father-inlaw says my hitting MacGown on the boko really brought it into Court.

Sir Lawrence whinnied.

The tax on luxuries. It gets you everywhere. I dont think I will come along, MichaelOld Forsytes probably there. Your mother has an excellent recipe for childs tummyache; you almost lived on it at one time. Ill telephone it from Mount Street. Good-bye!

Michael looked after that thin and sprightly figure moving North. Had he troubles of his own? If so, he disguised them wonderfully. Good old Bart! And he turned towards South Square.

Soames was just leaving.

Shes excited, he said, on the door-step. Its the reaction. Give her a Seidlitz powder tonight. Be careful, too; I shouldnt talk about politics.

Michael went in. Fleur was at the open window of the drawing-room.

Oh! here you are! she said. Kits all right again. Take me to the Cafe Royal to-night, Michael, and if theres anything funny anywhere, for goodness sake, lets see it. Im sick of feeling solemn. Oh! And, by the way, Francis Wilmots coming in to say good-bye. Ive had a note. He says hes all right again.

At the window by her side, Michael sniffed the unaccountable scent of grass. There was a SouthWest wind, and slanting from over the housetops, sunlight was sprinkling the soil, the buds, the branches. A blackbird sang; a piano-organ round a corner was playing Rigoletto. Against his own, her shoulder was soft, and to his lips her cheek was warm and creamy

When Francis Wilmot left them that evening after dinner at the Cafe Royal, Fleur said to Michael:

Poor Francis! Did you ever see any one so changed? He might be thirty. Im glad hes going home to his river and his darkies. What are live oaks? Well! Are we going anywhere?

Michael cloaked her shoulders.

Great Itch, I think; theres no other scream so certain.

After their scream they came out into a mild night. High up in red and green the bright signs fled along the air: Tombers Tires for Speed and Safety, Milkoh Makes Mothers Merry. Through Trafalgar Square they went and down Whitehall, all moonlight and Portland stone.

The nights unreal, said Fleur. Fantoches!

Michael caught her waist.

Dont. Suppose some Member saw you!

Hed only sympathise. How nice and solid you feel!

No! Fantoches have no substance.

Then give me shadow.

The substance is in Bethnal Green.

Michael dropped his arm.

Thats a strange thought.

I have intuitions, Michael.

Because I can admire a good woman, can I not love you?

I shall never be good; it isnt in me.

Whatever you ares enough for me.

Prettily said. The Square looks jolly, tonight! Open the dolls house.

The hall was dark, with just a glimmer coming through the fanlight. Michael took off her cloak and knelt down. He felt her fingers stir his hair; real fingers, and real all this within his arms; only the soul elusive. Soul?

Fantoches! came her voice, soft and mocking. And so to bed!


Chapter VII. FED UP | The Silver Spoon | Chapter IX. ROUT AT MRS. MAGUSSIE S