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CHAPTER VIII

DANCE AT ROGER'S


Roger's house in Prince's Gardens was brilliantly alight. Large
numbers of wax candles had been collected and placed in cut-glass
chandeliers, and the parquet floor of the long, double
drawing-room reflected these constellations. An appearance of
real spaciousness had been secured by moving out all the
furniture on to the upper landings, and enclosing the room with
those strange appendages of civilization known as 'rout' seats.
In a remote corner, embowered in palms, was a cottage piano, with
a copy of the 'Kensington Coil' open on the music-stand.

Roger had objected to a band. He didn't see in the least what
they wanted with a band; he wouldn't go to the expense, and there
was an end of it. Francie (her mother, whom Roger had long since
reduced to chronic dyspepsia, went to bed on such occasions), had
been obliged to content herself with supplementing the piano by a
young man who played the cornet, and she so arranged with palms
that anyone who did not look into the heart of things might
imagine there were several musicians secreted there. She made up
her mind to tell them to play loud--there was a lot of music in a
cornet, if the man would only put his soul into it.

In the more cultivated American tongue, she was 'through' at
last--through that tortuous labyrinth of make-shifts, which must
be traversed before fashionable display can be combined with the
sound economy of a Forsyte. Thin but brilliant, in her
maize-coloured frock with much tulle about the shoulders, she
went from place to place, fitting on her gloves, and casting her
eye over it all.

To the hired butler (for Roger only kept maids) she spoke about
the wine. Did he quite understand that Mr. Forsyte wished a
dozen bottles of the champagne from Whiteley's to be put out?
But if that were finished (she did not suppose it would be, most
of the ladies would drink water, no doubt), but if it were, there
was the champagne cup, and he must do the best he could with
that.

She hated having to say this sort of thing to a butler, it was so
infra dig.; but what could you do with father? Roger, indeed,
after making himself consistently disagreeable about the dance,
would come down presently, with his fresh colour and bumpy

forehead, as though he had been its promoter; and he would smile,
and probably take the prettiest woman in to supper; and at two
o'clock, just as they were getting into the swing, he would go up
secretly to the musicians and tell them to play 'God Save the
Queen,' and go away.

Francie devoutly hoped he might soon get tired, and slip off to
bed.

The three or four devoted girl friends who were staying in the
house for this dance, had partaken with her, in a small,
abandoned room upstairs, of tea and cold chicken-legs, hurriedly
served; the men had been sent out to dine at Eustace's Club, it
being felt that they must be fed up.

Punctually on the stroke of nine arrived Mrs. Small alone. She
made elaborate apologies for the absence of Timothy, omitting all
mention of Aunt Hester, who, at the last minute, had said she
could not be bothered. Francie received her effusively, and
placed her on a rout seat, where she left her, pouting and
solitary in lavender-coloured satin--the first time she had worn
colour since Aunt Ann's death.

The devoted maiden friends came now from their rooms, each by
magic arrangement in a differently coloured frock, but all with
the same liberal allowance of tulle on the shoulders and at the
bosom--for they were, by some fatality, lean to a girl. They
were all taken up to Mrs. Small. None stayed with her more than
a few seconds, but clustering together talked and twisted their
programmes, looking secretly at the door for the first appearance
of a man.

Then arrived in a group a number of Nicholases, always punctual--
the fashion up Ladbroke Grove way; and close behind them Eustace
and his men, gloomy and smelling rather of smoke.

Three or four of Francie's lovers now appeared, one after the
other; she had made each promise to come early. They were all
clean-shaven and sprightly, with that peculiar kind of young-man
sprightliness which had recently invaded Kensington; they did not
seem to mind each other's presence in the least, and wore their
ties bunching out at the ends, white waistcoats, and socks with
clocks. All had handkerchiefs concealed in their cuffs. They
moved buoyantly, each armoured in professional gaiety, as though
he had come to do great deeds. Their faces when they danced, far
from wearing the traditional solemn look of the dancing, English-
man, were irresponsible, charming, suave; they bounded, twirling
their partners at great pace, without pedantic attentionto the
rhythm of the music.

At other dancers they looked with a kind of airy scorn--they, the
light brigade, the heroes of a hundred Kensington 'hops'--from
whom alone could the right manner and smile and step be hoped.

After this the stream came fast; chaperones silting up along the
wall facing the entrance, the volatile element swelling the eddy
in the larger room.

Men were scarce, and wallflowers wore their peculiar, pathetic
expression, a patient, sourish smile which seemed to say: "Oh,
no! don't mistake me, I know you are not coming up to me. I can
hardly expect that!" And Francie would plead with one of her
lovers, or with some callow youth: "Now, to please me, do let me
introduce you to Miss Pink; such a nice girl, really!" and she
would bring him up, and say: "Miss Pink--Mr. Gathercole. Can you
spare him a dance?" Then Miss Pink, smiling her forced smile,
colouring a little, answered: "Oh! I think so!" and screening
her empty card, wrote on it the name of Gathercole, spelling it
passionately in the district that he proposed, about the second
extra.

But when the youth had murmured that it was hot, and passed, she
relapsed into her attitude of hopeless expectation, into her
patient, sourish smile.

Mothers, slowly fanning their faces, watched their daughters, and
in their eyes could be read all the story of those daughters'
fortunes. As for themselves, to sit hour after hour, dead tired,
silent, or talking spasmodically--what did it matter, so long as
the girls were having a good time! But to see them neglected and
passed by! Ah! they smiled, but their eyes stabbed like the
eyes of an offended swan; they longed to pluck young, Gathercole
by the slack of his dandified breeches, and drag him to their
daughters--the jackanapes!

And all the cruelties and hardness of life, its pathos and
unequal chances, its conceit, self-forgetfulness, and patience,
were presented on the battle-field of this Kensington ball-room.

Here and there, too, lovers--not lovers like Francie's, a
peculiar breed, but simply lovers--trembling, blushing, silent,
sought each other by flying glances, sought to meet and touch in
the mazes of the dance, and now and again dancing together,
struck some beholder by the light in their eyes.

Not a second before ten o'clock came the Jameses--Emily, Rachel,
Winifred (Dartie had been left behind, having on a former
occasion drunk too much of Roger's champagne), and Cicely, the
youngest, making her debut; behind them, following in a hansom
from the paternal mansion where they had dined, Soames and Irene.

All these ladies had shoulder-straps and no tulle--thus showing
at once, by a bolder exposure of flesh, that they came from the
more fashionable side of the Park.

Soames, sidling back from the contact of the dancers, took up a
position against the wall. Guarding himself with his pale smile,
he stood watching. Waltz after waltz began and ended, couple
after couple brushed by with smiling lips, laughter, and snatches
of talk; or with set lips, and eyes searching the throng; or
again, with silent, parted lips, and eyes on each other. And the
scent of festivity, the odour of flowers, and hair, of essences
that women love, rose suffocatingly in the heat of the summer
night.

Silent, with something of scorn in his smile, Soames seemed to
notice nothing; but now and again his eyes, finding that which
they sought, would fix themselves on a point in the shifting
throng, and the smile die off his lips.

He danced with no one. Some fellows danced with their wives; his
sense of 'form' had never permitted him to dance with Irene since
their marriage, and the God of the Forsytes alone can tell
whether this was a relief to him or not.

She passed, dancing with other men, her dress, iris-coloured,
floating away from her feet. She danced well; he was tired of
hearing women say with an acid smile: "How beautifully your wife
dances, Mr. Forsyte--it's quite a pleasure to watch her!" Tired
of answering them with his sidelong glance: "You think so?"

A young couple close by flirted a fan by turns, making an
unpleasant draught. Francie and one of her lovers stood near.
They were talking of love.

He heard Roger's voice behind, giving an order about supper to a
servant. Everything was very second-class! He wished that he
had not come! He had asked Irene whether she wanted him; she had
answered with that maddening smile of hers "Oh, no!"

Why had he come? For the last quarter of an hour he had not even
seen her. Here was George advancing with his Quilpish face; it
was too late to get out of his way.

"Have you seen 'The Buccaneer'?" said this licensed wag; "he's on
the warpath--hair cut and everything!"

Soames said he had not, and crossing the room, half-empty in an
interval of the dance, he went out on the balcony, and looked
down into the street.

A carriage had driven up with late arrivals, and round the door
hung some of those patient watchers of the London streets who
spring up to the call of light or music; their faces, pale and
upturned above their black and rusty figures, had an air of
stolid watching that annoyed Soames. Why were they allowed to
hang about; why didn't the bobby move them on?

But the policeman took no notice of them; his feet were planted
apart on the strip of crimson carpet stretched across the
pavement; his face, under the helmet, wore the same stolid,
watching look as theirs.

Across the road, through the railings, Soames could see the
branches of trees shining, faintly stirring in the breeze, by the
gleam of the street lamps; beyond, again, the upper lights of the
houses on the other side, so many eyes looking down on the quiet
blackness of the garden; and over all, the sky, that wonderful
London sky, dusted with the innumerable reflection of countless
lamps; a dome woven over between its stars with the refraction of
human needs and human fancies--immense mirror of pomp and misery
that night after night stretches its kindly mocking over miles of
houses and gardens, mansions and squalor, over Forsytes,
policemen, and patient watchers in the streets.

Soames turned away, and, hidden in the recess, gazed into the
lighted room. It was cooler out there. He saw the new arrivals,
June and her grandfather, enter. What had made them so late?
They stood by the doorway. They looked fagged. Fancy Uncle
Jolyon turning out at this time of night! Why hadn't June come
to Irene, as she usually did, and it occurred to him suddenly
that he had seen nothing of June for a long time now.

Watching her face with idle malice, he saw it change, grow so
pale that he thought she would drop, then flame out crimson.
Turning to see at what she was looking, he saw his wife on
Bosinney's arm, coming from the conservatory at the end of the
room. Her eyes were raised to his, as though answering some
question he had asked, and he was gazing at her intently.

Soames looked again at June. Her hand rested on old Jolyon's
arm; she seemed to be making a request. He saw a surprised look
on his uncle's face; they turned and passed through the door out
of his sight.

The music began again--a waltz--and, still as a statue in the
recess of the window, his face unmoved, but no smile on his lips,
Soames waited. Presently, within a yard of the dark balcony, his
wife and Bosinney passed. He caught the perfume of the gardenias
that she wore, saw the rise and fall of her bosom, the languor in
her eyes, her parted lips, and a look on her face that he did not
know. To the slow, swinging measure they danced by, and it
seemed to him that they clung to each other; he saw her raise her
eyes, soft and dark, to Bosinney's, and drop them again.

Very white, he turned back to the balcony, and leaning on it,
gazed down on the Square; the figures were still there looking up
at the light with dull persistency, the policeman's face, too,
upturned, and staring, but he saw nothing of them. Below, a
carriage drew up, two figures got in, and drove away....

That evening June and old Jolyon sat down to dinner at the usual
hour. The girl was in her customary high-necked frock, old
Jolyon had not dressed.

At breakfast she had spoken of the dance at Uncle Roger's, she
wanted to go; she had been stupid enough, she said, not to think
of asking anyone to take her. It was too late now.

Old Jolyon lifted his keen eyes. June was used to go to dances
with Irene as a matter of course! And deliberately fixing his
gaze on her, he asked: "Why don't you get Irene?"

No! June did not want to ask Irene; she would only go if--if her
grandfather wouldn't mind just for once for a little time!

At her look, so eager and so worn, old Jolyon had grumblingly
consented. He did not know what she wanted, he said, with going
to a dance like this, a poor affair, he would wager; and she no
more fit for it than a cat! What she wanted was sea air, and
after his general meeting of the Globular Gold Concessions he was
ready to take her. She didn't want to go away? Ah! she would
knock herself up! Stealing a mournful look at her, he went on
with his breakfast.

June went out early, and wandered restlessly about in the heat.
Her little light figure that lately had moved so languidly about
its business, was all on fire. She bought herself some flowers.
She wanted--she meant to look her best. He would be there! She
knew well enough that he had a card. She would show him that she
did not care. But deep down in her heart she resolved that
evening to win him back. She came in flushed, and talked
brightly all lunch; old Jolyon was there, and he was deceived.

In the afternoon she was overtaken by a desperate fit of sobbing.
She strangled the noise against the pillows of her bed, but when
at last it ceased she saw in the glass a swollen face with
reddened eyes, and violet circles round them. She stayed in the
darkened room till dinner time.

All through that silent meal the struggle went on within her.

She looked so shadowy and exhausted that old Jolyon told 'Sankey'
to countermand the carriage, he would not have her going out....
She was to go to bed! She made no resistance. She went up to
her room, and sat in the dark. At ten o'clock she rang for her
maid.

"Bring some hot water, and go down and tell Mr. Forsyte that I
feel perfectly rested. Say that if he's too tired I can go to
the dance by myself."

The maid looked askance, and June turned on her imperiously.
"Go," she said, "bring the hot water at once!"

Her ball-dress still lay on the sofa, and with a sort of fierce
care she arrayed herself, took the flowers in her hand, and went
down, her small face carried high under its burden of hair. She
could hear old Jolyon in his room as she passed.

Bewildered and vexed, he was dressing. It was past ten, they
would not get there till eleven; the girl was mad. But he dared
not cross her the expression of her face at dinner haunted him.

With great ebony brushes he smoothed his hair till it shone like
silver under the light; then he, too, came out on the gloomy
staircase.

June met him below, and, without a word, they went to the
carriage.

When, after that drive which seemed to last for ever, she entered
Roger's drawing-room, she disguised under a mask of resolution a
very torment of nervousness and emotion. The feeling of shame at
what might be called 'running after him' was smothered by the
dread that he might not be there, that she might not see him
after all, and by that dogged resolve--somehow, she did not know
how--to win him back.

The sight of the ballroom, with its gleaming floor, gave her a
feeling of joy, of triumph, for she loved dancing, and when
dancing she floated, so light was she, like a strenuous, eager
little spirit. He would surely ask her to dance, and if he
danced with her it would all be as it was before. She looked
about her eagerly.

The sight of Bosinney coming with Irene from the conservatory,
with that strange look of utter absorption on his face, struck
her too suddenly. They had not seen--no one should see--her
distress, not even her grandfather.

She put her hand on Jolyon's arm, and said very low:

"I must go home, Gran; I feel ill."

He hurried her away, grumbling to himself that he had known how
it would be.

To her he said nothing; only when they were once more in the
carriage, which by some fortunate chance had lingered near the
door, he asked her: "What is it, my darling?"

Feeling her whole slender body shaken by sobs, he was terribly
alarmed. She must have Blank to-morrow. He would insist upon
it. He could not have her like this.... There, there!

June mastered her sobs, and squeezing his hand feverishly, she
lay back in her corner, her face muffled in a shawl.

He could only see her eyes, fixed and staring in the dark, but he
did not cease to stroke her hand with his thin fingers.





Man of Property by John Galsworthy
Category:
English Novel

General Fiction
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