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Chapter IV.

MERE CONVERSATION

When they came in, Fleur was returning down-stairs from showing the young man to his room. Already fully dressed for the evening, she had but little on, and her hair was shingled

My dear girl, Michael had said, when shingling came in, to please me, dont! Your nuque will be too bristly for kisses.

My dear boy, she had answered, as if one could help it! Youre always the same with any new fashion!

She had been one of the first twelve to shingle, and was just feeling that without care she would miss being one of the first twelve to grow some hair again. Marjorie Ferrar, the Pet of the Panjoys, as Michael called her, already had more than an inch. Somehow, one hated being distanced by Marjorie Ferrar

Advancing to her father, she said:

Ive asked a young American to stay, Dad; Jon Forsyte has married his sister, out there. Youre quite brown, darling. Hows mother?

Soames only gazed at her.

And Fleur passed through one of those shamed moments, when the dumb quality of his love for her seemed accusing the glib quality of her love for him. It was not fairshe feltthat he should look at her like that; as if she had not suffered in that old business with Jon more than he; if she could take it lightly now, surely he could! As for Michaelnot a word!not even a joke! She bit her lips, shook her shingled head, and passed into the bimetallic parlour.

Dinner began with soup and Soames deprecating his own cows for not being Herefords. He supposed that in America they had plenty of Herefords?

Francis Wilmot believed that they were going in for Holsteins now.

Holsteins! repeated Soames. Theyre new since my young days. Whats their colour?

Parti-coloured, said Francis Wilmot. The English grass is just wonderful.

Too damp, with us, said Soames. Were on the river.

The river Thames? What size will that be, where it hasnt a tide?

Just therenot more than a hundred yards.

Will it have fish?

Plenty.

And itll run clearnot red; our Southern rivers have a red colour. And your trees will be willows, and poplars, and elms.

Soames was a good deal puzzled. He had never been in America. The inhabitants were human, of course, but peculiar and all alike, with more face than feature, heads fastened upright on their backs, and shoulders too square to be real. Their voices clanged in their mouths; they pronounced the words very and America in a way that he had tried to imitate without success; their dollar was too high, and they all had motor-cars; they despised Europe, came over in great quantities, and took back all they could; they talked all the time, and were not allowed to drink. This young man cut across all these preconceptions. He drank sherry and only spoke when he was spoken to. His shoulders looked natural; he had more feature than face; and his voice was soft. Perhaps, at least, he despised Europe.

I suppose, he said, you find England very small.

No, sir. I find London very large; and you certainly have the loveliest kind of a countryside.

Soames looked down one side of his nose. Pretty enough! he said.

Then came turbot and a silence, broken, low down, behind his chair.

That dog! said Soames, impaling a morsel of fish he had set aside as uneatable.

No, no, Dad! He just wants to know youve seen him!

Soames stretched down a finger, and the Dandie fell on his side.

He never eats, said Fleur; but he has to be noticed.

A small covey of partridges came in, cooked.

Is there any particular thing you want to see over here, Mr. Wilmot? said Michael. Theres nothing very unAmerican left. Youre just too late for Regent Street.

I want to see the Beefeaters; and Crufts Dog Show; and your blood horses; and the Derby.

Darby! Soames corrected. You cant stay for thatits not till next June.

My cousin Val will show you race-horses, said Fleur. He married Jons sister, you know.

A bombe appeared. You have more of this in America, I believe, said Soames.

We dont have much ice-cream in the South, sir; but we have special cookingvery tasty.

Ive heard of terrapin.

Well, I dont get frills like that. I live away back, and have to work pretty hard. My place is kind of homey; but Ive got some mighty nice darkies that can cook fineold folk that knew my grannies. The old-time darky is getting scarce, but hes the real thing.

A Southerner!

Soames had been told that the Southerner was a gentleman. He remembered the Alabama, too; and his father, James, saying: I told you so when the Government ate humble pie over that business.

In the savoury silence that accompanied soft roes on toast, the patter of the Dandies feet on the parquet floor could be plainly heard.

This is the only thing he likes, said Fleur, Dan! go to your master. Give him a little bit, Michael. And she stole a look at Michael, but he did not answer it.

On their Italian holiday, with Fleur in the throes of novelty, sun and wine warmed, disposed to junketing, amenable to his caresses, he had been having his real honeymoon, enjoying, for the first time since his marriage, a sense of being the chosen companion of his adored. And now had come this stranger, bringing reminder that one played but second fiddle to that young second cousin and first lover; and he couldnt help feeling the cup withdrawn again from his lips. She had invited this young man because he came from that past of hers whose tune one could not play. And, without looking up, he fed the Dandie with tid-bits of his favourite edible.

Soames broke the silence.

Take some nutmeg, Mr. Wilmot. Melon without nutmegbeats ginger hollow.

When Fleur rose, Soames followed her to the drawing-room; while Michael led the young American to his study.

You knew Jon? said Francis Wilmot.

No; I never met him.

Hes a great little fellow; and some poet. Hes growing dandy peaches.

Is he going on with that, now hes married?

Surely.

Not coming to England?

Not this year. They have a nice homehorses and dogs. They have some hunting there, too. Perhaps hell bring my sister over for a trip, next fall.

Oh! said Michael. And are you staying long, yourself?

Why! Ill go back for Christmas. Id like to see Rome and Seville; and I want to visit the old home of my people, down in Worcestershire.

When did they go over?

William and Mary. Catholicsthey were. Is it a nice part, Worcestershire?

Very; especially in the Spring. It grows a lot of fruit.

Oh! You still grow things in this country?

Not many.

I thought that was so, coming on the cars, from Liverpool. I saw a lot of grass and one or two sheep, but I didnt see anybody working. The people all live in the towns, then?

Except a few unconsidered trifles. You must come down to my fathers; they still grow a turnip or two thereabouts.

Its sad, said Francis Wilmot.

It is. We began to grow wheat again in the war; but theyve let it all slip backand worse.

Why was that?

Michael shrugged his shoulders: No accounting for statesmanship. It lets the Land go to blazes when in office; and beats the drum of it when in opposition. At the end of the war we had the best air force in the world, and agriculture was well on its way to recovery. And what did they do? Dropped them both like hot potatoes. It was tragic. What do you grow in Carolina?

Just cotton, on my place. But its mighty hard to make cotton pay nowadays. Labours high.

High with you, too?

Yes, sir. Do they let strangers into your Parliament?

Rather. Would you like to hear the Irish debate? I can get you a seat in the Distinguished Strangers gallery.

I thought the English were stiff; but its wonderful the way you make me feel at home. Is that your father-inlawthe old gentleman?

Yes.

He seems kind of rarefied. Is he a banker?

No. But now you mention ithe ought to be.

Francis Wilmots eyes roved round the room and came to rest on The White Monkey.

Well, now, he said, softly, that, surely, is a wonderful picture. Could I get a picture painted by that man, for Jon and my sister?

Im afraid not, said Michael. You see, he was a Chinknot quite of the best period; but he must have gone West five hundred years ago at least.

Ah! Well, he had a great sense of animals.

We think he had a great sense of human beings.

Francis Wilmot stared.

There was something, Michael decided, in this young man unresponsive to satire.

So you want to see Crufts Dog Show? he said. Youre keen on dogs, then?

Ill be taking a bloodhound back for Jon, and two for myself. I want to raise bloodhounds.

Michael leaned back, and blew out smoke. To Francis Wilmot, he felt, the world was young, and life running on good tires to some desirable destination. In England!

What is it you Americans want out of life? he said abruptly.

Well, I suppose you might say we want successin the North at all events.

WE wanted that in 1824, said Michael.

Oh! And nowadays?

Weve had success, and now were wondering whether it hasnt cooked our goose.

Well, said Francis Wilmot, were sort of thinly populated, compared with you.

Thats it, said Michael. Every seat here is booked in advance; and a good many sit on their own knees. Will you have another cigar, or shall we join the lady?


Chapter III. MICHAEL TAKES A LUNAR | The Silver Spoon | Chapter V. SIDE-SLIPS