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PART II


CHAPTER I

PROGRESS OF THE HOUSE


The winter had been an open one. Things in the trade were slack;
and as Soames had reflected before making up his mind, it had
been a good time for building. The shell of the house at Robin
Hill was thus completed by the end of April.

Now that there was something to be seen for his money, he had
been coming down once, twice, even three times a week, and would
mouse about among the debris for hours, careful never to soil his
clothes, moving silently through the unfinished brickwork of
doorways, or circling round the columns in the central court.

And he would stand before them for minutes' together, as though
peering into the real quality of their substance

On April 30 he had an appointment with Bosinney to go over the
accounts, and five minutes before the proper time he entered the
tent which the architect had pitched for himself close to the old
oak tree.

The Accounts were already prepared on a folding table, and with
a nod Soames sat down to study them. It was some time before he
raised his head.

"I can't make them out," he said at last; "they come to nearly
seven hundred more than they ought"

After a glance at Bosinney"s faces he went on quickly:

"If you only make a firm stand against these builder chaps you'll
get them down. They stick you with everything if you don't look
sharp.... Take ten per cent. off all round. I shan't mind it's
coming out a hundred or so over the mark!

Bosinney shook his head:

I've taken off every farthing I can!

Soames pushed back the table with a movement of anger, which sent
the account sheets fluttering to the ground.

"Then all I can say is," he flustered out, "you've made a pretty
mess of it!"

"I've told you a dozen times," Bosinney answered sharply, that
there'd be extras. I've pointed them out to you over and over
again!"

I know that," growled Soames: "I shouldn't have objected to a ten
pound note here and there. How was I to know that by 'extras'
you meant seven hundred pounds?"

The qualities of both men had contributed to this notinconsider-
able discrepancy. On the one hand, the architect's devotion
to his idea, to the image of a house which he had created and
believed in--had made him nervous of being stopped, or forced
to the use of makeshifts; on the other, Soames' not less true
and wholehearted devotion to the very best article that could be
obtained for the money, had rendered him averse to believing that
things worth thirteen shillings could not be bought with twelve.

I wish I'd never undertaken your house," said Bosinney suddenly.
"You come down here worrying me out of my life. You want double
the value for your money anybody else would, and now that you've
got a house that for its size is not to be beaten in the county,
you don't want to pay for it. If you're anxious to be off your
bargain, I daresay I can find the balance above the estimates
myself, but I'm d----d if I do another stroke of work for you!

Soames regained his composure. Knowing that Bosinney had no
capital, he regarded this as a wild suggestion. He saw, too,
that he would be kept indefinitely out of this house on which he
had set his heart, and just at the crucial point when the
architect's personal care made all the difference. In the
meantime there was Irene to be thought of! She had been very
queer lately. He really believed it was only because she had
taken to Bosinney that she tolerated the idea of the house at
all. It would not do to make an open breach with her.

"You needn't get into a rage," he said. "If I'm willing to put
up with it, I suppose you needn't cry out. All I meant was that
when you tell me a thing is going to cost so much, I like to--
well, in fact, I--like to know where I am."

"Look here!" said Bosinney, and Soames was both annoyed and
surprised by the shrewdness of his glance. "You've got my
services dirt cheap. For the kind of work I've put into this
house, and the amount of time I've given to it, you'd have had to
pay Littlemaster or some other fool four times as much. What you
want, in fact, is a first-rate man for a fourth-rate fee, and
that's exactly what you've got!"

Soames saw that he really meant what he said, and, angry though
he was, the consequences of a row rose before him too vividly.
He saw his house unfinished, his wife rebellious, himself a
laughingstock.

"Let's go over it," he said sulkily, "and see how the money's
gone."

"Very well," assented Bosinney. "But we'll hurry up, if you
don't mind. I have to get back in time to take June to the
theatre."

Soames cast a stealthy look at him, and said: "Coming to our
place, I suppose to meet her?" He was always coming to their
place!

There had been rain the night before-a spring rain, and the earth
smelt of sap and wild grasses. The warm, soft breeze swung the
leaves and the golden buds of the old oak tree, and in the
sunshine the blackbirds were whistling their hearts out.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable
yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand
motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his
arms to embrace he knows not what. The earth gave forth a
fainting warmth, stealing up through the chilly garment in which
winter had wrapped her. It was her long caress of invitation, to
draw men down to lie within her arms, to roll their bodies on
her, and put their lips to her breast.

On just such a day as this Soames had got from Irene the promise
he had asked her for so often. Seated on the fallen trunk of a
tree, he had promised for the twentieth time that if their
marriage were not a success, she should be as free as if she had
never married him!

"Do you swear it?" she had said. A few days back she had
reminded him of that oath. He had answered: "Nonsense! I
couldn't have sworn any such thing!" By some awkward fatality he
remembered it now. What queer things men would swear for the
sake of women! He would have sworn it at any time to gain her!
He would swear it now, if thereby he could touch her--but nobody
could touch her, she was cold-hearted!

And memories crowded on him with the fresh, sweet savour of the
spring wind-memories of his courtship.

In the spring of the year 1881 he was visiting his old school-
fellow and client, George Liversedge, of Branksome, who, with
the view of developing his pine-woods in the neighbourhood of
Bournemouth, had placed the formation of the company necessary
to the scheme in Soames's hands. Mrs. Liversedge, with a sense
of the fitness of things, had given a musical tea in his honour.
Later in the course of this function, which Soames, no musician,
had regarded as an unmitigated bore, his eye had been caught by
the face of a girl dressed in mourning, standing by herself. The
lines of her tall, as yet rather thin figure, showed through the
wispy, clinging stuff of her black dress, her black-gloved hands
were crossed in front of her, her lips slightly parted, and her
large, dark eyes wandered from face to face. Her hair, done low
on her neck, seemed to gleam above her black collar like coils of
shining metal. And as Soames stood looking at her, the sensation
that most men have felt at one time or another went stealing
through him--a peculiar satisfaction of the senses, a peculiar
certainty, which novelists and old ladies call love at first
sight. Still stealthily watching her, he at once made his way to
his hostess, and stood doggedly waiting for the music to cease.

"Who is that girl with yellow hair and dark eyes?" he asked.

"That--oh! Irene Heron. Her father, Professor Heron, died this
year. She lives with her stepmother. She's a nice girl, a
pretty girl, but no money!"

"Introduce me, please," said Soames.

It was very little that he found to say, nor did he find her
responsive to that little. But he went away with the resolution
to see her again. He effected his object by chance, meeting her
on the pier with her stepmother, who had the habit of walking
there from twelve to one of a forenoon. Soames made this lady's
acquaintance with alacrity, nor was it long before he perceived
in her the ally he was looking for. His keen scent for the
commercial side of family life soon told him that Irene cost her
stepmother more than the fifty pounds a year she brought her; it
also told him that Mrs. Heron, a woman yet in the prime of life,
desired to be married again. The strange ripening beauty of her
stepdaughter stood in the way of this desirable consummation.
And Soames, in his stealthy tenacity, laid his plans.

He left Bournemouth without having given, himself away, but in a
month's time came back, and this time he spoke, not to the girl,
but to her stepmother. He had made up his mind, he said; he
would wait any time. And he had long to wait, watching Irene
bloom, the lines of her young figure softening, the stronger
blood deepening the gleam of her eyes, and warming her face to a
creamy glow; and at each visit he proposed to her, and when that
visit was at an end, took her refusal away with him, back to
London, sore at heart, but steadfast and silent as the grave. He
tried to come at the secret springs of her resistance; only once
had he a gleam of light. It was at one of those assembly dances,
which afford the only outlet to the passions of the population of
seaside watering-places. He was sitting with her in an
embrasure, his senses tingling with the contact of the waltz.
She had looked at him over her, slowly waving fan; and he had
lost his head. Seizing that moving wrist, he pressed his lips to
the flesh of her arm. And she had shuddered--to this day he had
not forgotten that shudder--nor the look so passionately averse
she had given him.

A year after that she had yielded. What had made her yield he
could never make out; and from Mrs. Heron, a woman of some
diplomatic talent, he learnt nothing. Once after they were
married he asked her, "What made you refuse me so often?" She had
answered by a strange silence. An enigma to him from the day
that he first saw her, she was an enigma to him still....

Bosinney was waiting for him at the door; and on his rugged,
good-looking, face was a queer, yearning, yet happy look, as
though he too saw a promise of bliss in the spring sky, sniffed a
coming happiness in the spring air. Soames looked at him waiting
there. What was the matter with the fellow that he looked so
happy? What was he waiting for with that smile on his lips and
in his eyes? Soames could not see that for which Bosinney was
waiting as he stood there drinking in the flower-scented wind.
And once more he felt baffled in the presence of this man whom by
habit he despised. He hastened on to the house.

"The only colour for those tiles," he heard Bosinney say,--"is
ruby with a grey tint in the stuff, to give a transparent effect.
I should like Irene's opinion. I'm ordering the purple leather
curtains for the doorway of this court; and if you distemper the
drawing-room ivory cream over paper, you'll get an illusive look.
You want to aim all through the decorations at what I call
charm."

Soames said: "You mean that my wife has charm!"

Bosinney evaded the question.

"You should have a clump of iris plants in the centre of that
court."

Soames smiled superciliously.

"I'll look into Beech's some time," he said, "and see what's
appropriate!"

They, found little else to say to each other, but on the way to
the Station Soames asked:

"I suppose you find Irene very artistic."

"Yes." The abrupt answer was as distinct a snub as saying: "If
you want to discuss her you can do it with someone else!"

And the slow, sulky anger Soames had felt all the afternoon
burned the brighter within him.

Neither spoke again till they were close to the Station, then
Soames asked:

"When do you expect to have finished?"

"By the end of June, if you really wish me to decorate as well."

Soames nodded. "But you quite understand,' he said, "that the
house is costing me a lot beyond what I contemplated. I may as
well tell you that I should have thrown it up, only I'm not in
the habit of giving up what I've set my mind on."

Bosinney made no reply. And Soames gave him askance a look of
dogged dislike--for in spite of his fastidious air and that
supercilious, dandified taciturnity, Soames, with his set lips
and squared chin, was not unlike a bulldog....

When, at seven o'clock that evening, June arrived at 62,
Montpellier Square, the maid Bilson told her that Mr. Bosinney
was in the drawing-room; the mistress--she said--was dressing,
and would be down in a minute. She would tell her that Miss June
was here.

June stopped her at once.

"All right, Bilson," she said, "I'll just go in. You, needn't
hurry Mrs. Soames."

She took off her cloak, and Bilson, with an understanding look,
did not even open the drawing-room door for her, but ran
downstairs.

June paused for a moment to look at herself in the, little
old-fashioned silver mirror above the oaken rug chest--a slim,
imperious young figure, with a small resolute face, in a white
frock, cut moon-shaped at the base of a neck too slender for her
crown of twisted red-gold hair.

She opened the drawing-room door softly, meaning to take him by
surprise. The room was filled with a sweet hot scent of
flowering azaleas.

She took a long breath of the perfume, and heard Bosinney's
voice, not in the room, but quite close, saying.

"Ah! there were such heaps of things I wanted to talk about, and
now we shan't have time!"

Irene's voice answered: "Why not at dinner?"

"How can one talk...."

June's first thought was to go away, but instead she crossed to
the long window opening on the little court. It was from there
that the scent of the azaleas came, and, standing with their
backs to her, their faces buried in the goldenpink blossoms,
stood her lover and Irene.

Silent but unashamed, with flaming cheeks and angry eyes, the
girl watched.

"Come on Sunday by yourself--We can go over the house together."

June saw Irene look up at him through her screen of blossoms. It
was not the look of a coquette, but--far worse to the watching
girl--of a woman fearful lest that look should say too much.

"I've promised to go for a drive with Uncle...."

"The big one! Make him bring you; it's only ten miles--the very
thing for his horses."

"Poor old Uncle Swithin!"

A wave of the azalea scent drifted into June's face; she felt
sick and dizzy.

"Do! ah! do!"

"But why?"

"I must see you there--I thought you'd like to help me...."

The answer seemed to the girl to come softly with a tremble from
amongst the blossoms: "So I do!"

And she stepped into the open space of the window.

"How stuffy it is here!" she said; "I can't bear this scent!"

Her eyes, so angry and direct, swept both their faces.

"Were you talking about the house? I haven't seen it yet, you
know--shall we all go on Sunday?"'

>From Irene's face the colour had flown.

"I am going for a drive that day with Uncle Swithin," she
answered.

"Uncle Swithin! What does he matter? You can throw him over!"

"I am not in the habit of throwing people over!"

There was a sound of footsteps and June saw Soames standing just
behind her.

"Well! if you are all ready," said Irene, looking from one to
the other with a strange smile, "dinner is too!"





Man of Property by John Galsworthy
Category:
English Novel

General Fiction
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