Part III Chapter 24 Mrs. Macander’s Evidence

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Many people, no doubt, including the editor of the ‘Ultra Vivisectionist,’ then in the bloom of its first youth, would say that Soames was less than a man not to have removed the locks from his wife’s doors, and, after beating her soundly, resumed wedded happiness.
Brutality is not so deplorably diluted by humaneness as it used to be, yet a sentimental segment of the population may still be relieved to learn that he did none of these things. For active brutality is not popular with Forsytes; they are too circumspect, and, on the whole, too softhearted. And in Soames there was some common pride, not sufficient to make him do a really generous action, but enough to prevent his indulging in an extremely mean one, except, perhaps, in very hot blood. Above all this a true Forsyte refused to feel himself ridiculous. Short of actually beating his wife, he perceived nothing to be done; he therefore accepted the situation without another word.
Throughout the summer and autumn he continued to go to the office, to sort his pictures, and ask his friends to dinner.
He did not leave town; Irene refused to go away. The house at Robin Hill, finished though it was, remained empty and ownerless. Soames had brought a suit against the Buccaneer, in which he claimed from him the sum of three hundred and fifty pounds.
A firm of solicitors, Messrs. Freak and Able, had put in a defence on Bosinney’s behalf. Admitting the facts, they raised a point on the correspondence which, divested of legal phraseology, amounted to this: To speak of ‘a free hand in the terms of this correspondence’ is an Irish bull.
By a chance, fortuitous but not improbable in the close borough of legal circles, a good deal of information came to Soames’ ear anent this line of policy, the working partner in his firm, Bustard, happening to sit next at dinner at Walmisley’s, the Taxing Master, to young Chankery, of the Common Law Bar.
The necessity for talking what is known as ‘shop,’ which comes on all lawyers with the removal of the ladies, caused Chankery, a young and promising advocate, to propound an impersonal conundrum to his neighbour, whose name he did not know, for, seated as he permanently was in the background, Bustard had practically no name.
He had, said Chankery, a case coming on with a ‘very nice point.’ He then explained, preserving every professional discretion, the riddle in Soames’ case. Everyone, he said, to whom he had spoken, thought it a nice point. The issue was small unfortunately, ‘though d —— d serious for his client he believed’— Walmisley’s champagne was bad but plentiful. A Judge would make short work of it, he was afraid. He intended to make a big effort — the point was a nice one. What did his neighbour say?
Bustard, a model of secrecy, said nothing. He related the incident to Soames however with some malice, for this quiet man was capable of human feeling, ending with his own opinion that the point was ‘a very nice one.’
In accordance with his resolve, our Forsyte had put his interests into the hands of Jobling and Boulter. From the moment of doing so he regretted that he had not acted for himself. On receiving a copy of Bosinney’s defence he went over to their offices.
Boulter, who had the matter in hand, Jobling having died some years before, told him that in his opinion it was rather a nice point; he would like counsel’s opinion on it.
Soames told him to go to a good man, and they went to Waterbuck, Q.C., marking him ten and one, who kept the papers six weeks and then wrote as follows:
‘In my opinion the true interpretation of this correspondence depends very much on the intention of the parties, and will turn upon the evidence given at the trial. I am of opinion that an attempt should be made to secure from the architect an admission that he understood he was not to spend at the outside more than twelve thousand and fifty pounds. With regard to the expression, “a free hand in the terms of this correspondence,” to which my attention is directed, the point is a nice one; but I am of opinion that upon the whole the ruling in “Boileau v. The Blasted Cement Co., Ltd.,” will apply.’
Upon this opinion they acted, administering interrogatories, but to their annoyance Messrs. Freak and Able answered these in so masterly a fashion that nothing whatever was admitted and that without prejudice.
It was on October 1 that Soames read Waterbuck’s opinion, in the dining-room before dinner.
It made him nervous; not so much because of the case of ‘Boileau v. The Blasted Cement Co., Ltd.,’ as that the point had lately begun to seem to him, too, a nice one; there was about it just that pleasant flavour of subtlety so attractive to the best legal appetites. To have his own impression confirmed by Waterbuck, Q.C., would have disturbed any man.
He sat thinking it over, and staring at the empty grate, for though autumn had come, the weather kept as gloriously fine that jubilee year as if it were still high August. It was not pleasant to be disturbed; he desired too passionately to set his foot on Bosinney’s neck.
Though he had not seen the architect since the last afternoon at Robin Hill, he was never free from the sense of his presence — never free from the memory of his worn face with its high cheek bones and enthusiastic eyes. It would not be too much to say that he had never got rid of the feeling of that night when he heard the peacock’s cry at dawn — the feeling that Bosinney haunted the house. And every man’s shape that he saw in the dark evenings walking past, seemed that of him whom George had so appropriately named the Buccaneer.
Irene still met him, he was certain; where, or how, he neither knew, nor asked; deterred by a vague and secret dread of too much knowledge. It all seemed subterranean nowadays.
Sometimes when he questioned his wife as to where she had been, which he still made a point of doing, as every Forsyte should, she looked very strange. Her self-possession was wonderful, but there were moments when, behind the mask of her face, inscrutable as it had always been to him, lurked an expression he had never been used to see there.
She had taken to lunching out too; when he asked Bilson if her mistress had been in to lunch, as often as not she would answer: “No, sir.”
He strongly disapproved of her gadding about by herself, and told her so. But she took no notice. There was something that angered, amazed, yet almost amused him about the calm way in which she disregarded his wishes. It was really as if she were hugging to herself the thought of a triumph over him.
He rose from the perusal of Waterbuck, Q.C.‘s opinion, and, going upstairs, entered her room, for she did not lock her doors till bed-time — she had the decency, he found, to save the feelings of the servants. She was brushing her hair, and turned to him with strange fierceness.
“What do you want?” she said. “Please leave my room!”
He answered: “I want to know how long this state of things between us is to last? I have put up with it long enough.”
“Will you please leave my room?”
“Will you treat me as your husband?”
“Then, I shall take steps to make you.”
He stared, amazed at the calmness of her answer. Her lips were compressed in a thin line; her hair lay in fluffy masses on her bare shoulders, in all its strange golden contrast to her dark eyes — those eyes alive with the emotions of fear, hate, contempt, and odd, haunting triumph.
“Now, please, will you leave my room?” He turned round, and went sulkily out.
He knew very well that he had no intention of taking steps, and he saw that she knew too — knew that he was afraid to.
It was a habit with him to tell her the doings of his day: how such and such clients had called; how he had arranged a mortgage for Parkes; how that long-standing suit of Fryer v. Forsyte was getting on, which, arising in the preternaturally careful disposition of his property by his great uncle Nicholas, who had tied it up so that no one could get at it at all, seemed likely to remain a source of income for several solicitors till the Day of Judgment.
And how he had called in at Jobson’s, and seen a Boucher sold, which he had just missed buying of Talleyrand and Sons in Pall Mall.
He had an admiration for Boucher, Watteau, and all that school. It was a habit with him to tell her all these matters, and he continued to do it even now, talking for long spells at dinner, as though by the volubility of words he could conceal from himself the ache in his heart.
Often, if they were alone, he made an attempt to kiss her when she said good-night. He may have had some vague notion that some night she would let him; or perhaps only the feeling that a husband ought to kiss his wife. Even if she hated him, he at all events ought not to put himself in the wrong by neglecting this ancient rite.
And why did she hate him? Even now he could not altogether believe it. It was strange to be hated! — the emotion was too extreme; yet he hated Bosinney, that Buccaneer, that prowling vagabond, that night-wanderer. For in his thoughts Soames always saw him lying in wait — wandering. Ah, but he must be in very low water! Young Burkitt, the architect, had seen him coming out of a third-rate restaurant, looking terribly down in the mouth!
During all the hours he lay awake, thinking over the situation, which seemed to have no end — unless she should suddenly come to her senses — never once did the thought of separating from his wife seriously enter his head. . . .
And the Forsytes! What part did they play in this stage of Soames’ subterranean tragedy?
Truth to say, little or none, for they were at the sea.
From hotels, hydropathics, or lodging-houses, they were bathing daily; laying in a stock of ozone to last them through the winter.
Each section, in the vineyard of its own choosing, grew and culled and pressed and bottled the grapes of a pet sea-air.
The end of September began to witness their several returns.
In rude health and small omnibuses, with considerable colour in their cheeks, they arrived daily from the various termini. The following morning saw them back at their vocations.
On the next Sunday Timothy’s was thronged from lunch till dinner.
Amongst other gossip, too numerous and interesting to relate, Mrs. Septimus Small mentioned that Soames and Irene had not been away.
It remained for a comparative outsider to supply the next evidence of interest.
It chanced that one afternoon late in September, Mrs. MacAnder, Winifred Dartie’s greatest friend, taking a constitutional, with young Augustus Flippard, on her bicycle in Richmond Park, passed Irene and Bosinney walking from the bracken towards the Sheen Gate.
Perhaps the poor little woman was thirsty, for she had ridden long on a hard, dry road, and, as all London knows, to ride a bicycle and talk to young Flippard will try the toughest constitution; or perhaps the sight of the cool bracken grove, whence ‘those two’ were coming down, excited her envy. The cool bracken grove on the top of the hill, with the oak boughs for roof, where the pigeons were raising an endless wedding hymn, and the autumn, humming, whispered to the ears of lovers in the fern, while the deer stole by. The bracken grove of irretrievable delights, of golden minutes in the long marriage of heaven and earth! The bracken grove, sacred to stags, to strange tree-stump fauns leaping around the silver whiteness of a birch-tree nymph at summer dusk.
This lady knew all the Forsytes, and having been at June’s ‘at home,’ was not at a loss to see with whom she had to deal. Her own marriage, poor thing, had not been successful, but having had the good sense and ability to force her husband into pronounced error, she herself had passed through the necessary divorce proceedings without incurring censure.
She was therefore a judge of all that sort of thing, and lived in one of those large buildings, where in small sets of apartments, are gathered incredible quantities of Forsytes, whose chief recreation out of business hours is the discussion of each other’s affairs.
Poor little woman, perhaps she was thirsty, certainly she was bored, for Flippard was a wit. To see ‘those two’ in so unlikely a spot was quite a merciful ‘pick-me-up.’
At the MacAnder, like all London, Time pauses.
This small but remarkable woman merits attention; her all-seeing eye and shrewd tongue were inscrutably the means of furthering the ends of Providence.
With an air of being in at the death, she had an almost distressing power of taking care of herself. She had done more, perhaps, in her way than any woman about town to destroy the sense of chivalry which still clogs the wheel of civilization. So smart she was, and spoken of endearingly as ‘the little MacAnder!’
Dressing tightly and well, she belonged to a Woman’s Club, but was by no means the neurotic and dismal type of member who was always thinking of her rights. She took her rights unconsciously, they came natural to her, and she knew exactly how to make the most of them without exciting anything but admiration amongst that great class to whom she was affiliated, not precisely perhaps by manner, but by birth, breeding, and the true, the secret gauge, a sense of property.
The daughter of a Bedfordshire solicitor, by the daughter of a clergyman, she had never, through all the painful experience of being married to a very mild painter with a cranky love of Nature, who had deserted her for an actress, lost touch with the requirements, beliefs, and inner feeling of Society; and, on attaining her liberty, she placed herself without effort in the very van of Forsyteism.
Always in good spirits, and ‘full of information,’ she was universally welcomed. She excited neither surprise nor disapprobation when encountered on the Rhine or at Zermatt, either alone, or travelling with a lady and two gentlemen; it was felt that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself; and the hearts of all Forsytes warmed to that wonderful instinct, which enabled her to enjoy everything without giving anything away. It was generally felt that to such women as Mrs. MacAnder should we look for the perpetuation and increase of our best type of woman. She had never had any children.
If there was one thing more than another that she could not stand it was one of those soft women with what men called ‘charm’ about them, and for Mrs. Soames she always had an especial dislike.
Obscurely, no doubt, she felt that if charm were once admitted as the criterion, smartness and capability must go to the wall; and she hated — with a hatred the deeper that at times this so-called charm seemed to disturb all calculations — the subtle seductiveness which she could not altogether overlook in Irene.
She said, however, that she could see nothing in the woman — there was no ‘go’ about her — she would never be able to stand up for herself — anyone could take advantage of her, that was plain — she could not see in fact what men found to admire!
She was not really ill-natured, but, in maintaining her position after the trying circumstances of her married life, she had found it so necessary to be ‘full of information,’ that the idea of holding her tongue about ‘those two’ in the Park never occurred to her.
And it so happened that she was dining that very evening at Timothy’s, where she went sometimes to ‘cheer the old things up,’ as she was wont to put it. The same people were always asked to meet her: Winifred Dartie and her husband; Francie, because she belonged to the artistic circles, for Mrs. MacAnder was known to contribute articles on dress to ‘The Ladies Kingdom Come’; and for her to flirt with, provided they could be obtained, two of the Hayman boys, who, though they never said anything, were believed to be fast and thoroughly intimate with all that was latest in smart Society.
At twenty-five minutes past seven she turned out the electric light in her little hall, and wrapped in her opera cloak with the chinchilla collar, came out into the corridor, pausing a moment to make sure she had her latch-key. These little self-contained flats were convenient; to be sure, she had no light and no air, but she could shut it up whenever she liked and go away. There was no bother with servants, and she never felt tied as she used to when poor, dear Fred was always about, in his mooney way. She retained no rancour against poor, dear Fred, he was such a fool; but the thought of that actress drew from her, even now, a little, bitter, derisive smile.
Firmly snapping the door to, she crossed the corridor, with its gloomy, yellow-ochre walls, and its infinite vista of brown, numbered doors. The lift was going down; and wrapped to the ears in the high cloak, with every one of her auburn hairs in its place, she waited motionless for it to stop at her floor. The iron gates clanked open; she entered. There were already three occupants, a man in a great white waistcoat, with a large, smooth face like a baby’s, and two old ladies in black, with mittened hands.
Mrs. MacAnder smiled at them; she knew everybody; and all these three, who had been admirably silent before, began to talk at once. This was Mrs. MacAnder’s successful secret. She provoked conversation.
Throughout a descent of five stories the conversation continued, the lift boy standing with his back turned, his cynical face protruding through the bars.
At the bottom they separated, the man in the white waistcoat sentimentally to the billiard room, the old ladies to dine and say to each other: “A dear little woman!” “Such a rattle!” and Mrs. MacAnder to her cab.
When Mrs. MacAnder dined at Timothy’s, the conversation (although Timothy himself could never be induced to be present) took that wider, man-of-the-world tone current among Forsytes at large, and this, no doubt, was what put her at a premium there.
Mrs. Small and Aunt Hester found it an exhilarating change. “If only,” they said, “Timothy would meet her!” It was felt that she would do him good. She could tell you, for instance, the latest story of Sir Charles Fiste’s son at Monte Carlo; who was the real heroine of Tynemouth Eddy’s fashionable novel that everyone was holding up their hands over, and what they were doing in Paris about wearing bloomers. She was so sensible, too, knowing all about that vexed question, whether to send young Nicholas’ eldest into the navy as his mother wished, or make him an accountant as his father thought would be safer. She strongly deprecated the navy. If you were not exceptionally brilliant or exceptionally well connected, they passed you over so disgracefully, and what was it after all to look forward to, even if you became an admiral — a pittance! An accountant had many more chances, but let him be put with a good firm, where there was no risk at starting!
Sometimes she would give them a tip on the Stock Exchange; not that Mrs. Small or Aunt Hester ever took it. They had indeed no money to invest; but it seemed to bring them into such exciting touch with the realities of life. It was an event. They would ask Timothy, they said. But they never did, knowing in advance that it would upset him. Surreptitiously, however, for weeks after they would look in that paper, which they took with respect on account of its really fashionable proclivities, to see whether ‘Bright’s Rubies’ or ‘The Woollen Mackintosh Company’ were up or down. Sometimes they could not find the name of the company at all; and they would wait until James or Roger or even Swithin came in, and ask them in voices trembling with curiosity how that ‘Bolivia Lime and Speltrate’ was doing — they could not find it in the paper.
And Roger would answer: “What do you want to know for? Some trash! You’ll go burning your fingers — investing your money in lime, and things you know nothing about! Who told you?” and ascertaining what they had been told, he would go away, and, making inquiries in the City, would perhaps invest some of his own money in the concern.
It was about the middle of dinner, just in fact as the saddle of mutton had been brought in by Smither, that Mrs. MacAnder, looking airily round, said: “Oh! and whom do you think I passed to-day in Richmond Park? You’ll never guess — Mrs. Soames and — Mr. Bosinney. They must have been down to look at the house!”
Winifred Dartie coughed, and no one said a word. It was the piece of evidence they had all unconsciously been waiting for.
To do Mrs. MacAnder justice, she had been to Switzerland and the Italian lakes with a party of three, and had not heard of Soames’ rupture with his architect. She could not tell, therefore, the profound impression her words would make.
Upright and a little flushed, she moved her small, shrewd eyes from face to face, trying to gauge the effect of her words. On either side of her a Hayman boy, his lean, taciturn, hungry face turned towards his plate, ate his mutton steadily.
These two, Giles and Jesse, were so alike and so inseparable that they were known as the Dromios. They never talked, and seemed always completely occupied in doing nothing. It was popularly supposed that they were cramming for an important examination. They walked without hats for long hours in the Gardens attached to their house, books in their hands, a fox-terrier at their heels, never saying a word, and smoking all the time. Every morning, about fifty yards apart, they trotted down Campden Hill on two lean hacks, with legs as long as their own, and every morning about an hour later, still fifty yards apart, they cantered up again. Every evening, wherever they had dined, they might be observed about half-past ten, leaning over the balustrade of the Alhambra promenade.
They were never seen otherwise than together; in this way passing their lives, apparently perfectly content.
Inspired by some dumb stirring within them of the feelings of gentlemen, they turned at this painful moment to Mrs. MacAnder, and said in precisely the same voice: “Have you seen the . . .?”
Such was her surprise at being thus addressed that she put down her fork; and Smither, who was passing, promptly removed her plate. Mrs. MacAnder, however, with presence of mind, said instantly: “I must have a little more of that nice mutton.”
But afterwards in the drawing — room she sat down by Mrs. Small, determined to get to the bottom of the matter. And she began:
“What a charming woman, Mrs. Soames; such a sympathetic temperament! Soames is a really lucky man!”
Her anxiety for information had not made sufficient allowance for that inner Forsyte skin which refuses to share its troubles with outsiders.
Mrs. Septimus Small, drawing herself up with a creak and rustle of her whole person, said, shivering in her dignity:
“My dear, it is a subject we do not talk about!”