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CHAPTER XIV

SOAMES SITS ON THE STAIRS


Soames went upstairs that night that he had gone too far. He was
prepared to offer excuses for his words.

He turned out the gas still burning in the passage outside their
room. Pausing, with his hand on the knob of the door, he tried
to shape his apology, for he had no intention of letting her see
that he was nervous.

But the door did not open, nor when he pulled it and turned the
handle firmly. She must have locked it for some reason, and
forgotten.

Entering his dressing-room, where the gas was also light and
burning low, he went quickly to the other door. That too was
locked. Then he noticed that the camp bed which he occasionally
used was prepared, and his sleeping-suit laid out upon it. He
put his hand up to his forehead, and brought it away wet. It
dawned on him that he was barred out.

He went back to the door, and rattling the handle stealthily,
called: "Unlock the door, do you hear? Unlock the door!"

There was a faint rustling, but no answer.

"Do you hear? Let me in at once--I insist on being let in!"

He could catch the sound of her breathing close to the door, like
the breathing of a creature threatened by danger.

There was something terrifying in this inexorable silence, in the
impossibility of getting at her. He went back to the other door,
and putting his whole weight against it, tried to burst it open.
The door was a new one--he had had them renewed himself, in
readiness for their coming in after the honeymoon. In a rage he
lifted his foot to kick in the panel; the thought of the servants
restrained him, and he felt suddenly that he was beaten.

Flinging himself down in the dressing-room, he took up a book.

But instead of the print he seemed to see his wife--with her
yellow hair flowing over her bare shoulders, and her great dark
eyes--standing like an animal at bay. And the whole meaning of
her act of revolt came to him. She meant it to be for good.

He could not sit still, and went to the door again. He could
still hear her, and he called: "Irene! Irene!"

He did not mean to make his voice pathetic.

In ominous answer, the faint sounds ceased. He stood with
clenched hands, thinking.

Presently he stole round on tiptoe, and running suddenly at the
other door, made a supreme effort to break it open. It creaked,
but did not yield. He sat down on the stairs and buried his face
in his hands.

For a long time he sat there in the dark, the moon through the
skylight above laying a pale smear which lengthened slowly
towards him down the stairway. He tried to be philosophical.

Since she had locked her doors she had no further claim as a
wife, and he would console himself with other women.

It was but a spectral journey he made among such delights--he had
no appetite for these exploits. He had never had much, and he
had lost the habit. He felt that he could never recover it. His
hunger could only be appeased by his wife, inexorable and
frightened, behind these shut doors. No other woman could help
him.

This conviction came to him with terrible force out there in the
dark.

His philosophy left him; and surly anger took its place. Her
conduct was immoral, inexcusable, worthy of any punishment within
his power. He desired no one but her, and she refused him!

She must really hate him, then! He had never believed it yet.
He did not believe it now. It seemed to him incredible. He felt
as though he had lost for ever his power of judgment. If she, so
soft and yielding as he had always judged her, could take this
decided step--what could not happen?

Then he asked himself again if she were carrying on an intrigue
with Bosinney. He did not believe that she was; he could not
afford to believe such a reason for her conduct--the thought was
not to be faced.

It would be unbearable to contemplate the necessity of making his
marital relations public property. Short of the most convincing
proofs he must still refuse to believe, for he did not wish to
punish himself. And all the time at heart--he did believe.

The moonlight cast a greyish tinge over his figure, hunched
against the staircase wall.

Bosinney was in love with her! He hated the fellow, and would
not spare him now. He could and would refuse to pay a penny
piece over twelve thousand and fifty pounds--the extreme limit
fixed in the correspondence; or rather he would pay, he would pay
and sue him for damages. He would go to Jobling and Boulter and
put the matter in their hands. He would ruin the impecunious
beggar! And suddenly--though what connection between the
thoughts?--he reflected that Irene had no money either. They
were both beggars. This gave him a strange satisfaction.

The silence was broken by a faint creaking through the wall. She
was going to bed at last. Ah! Joy and pleasant dreams! If she
threw the door open wide he would not go in now!

But his lips, that were twisted in a bitter smile, twitched; he
covered his eyes with his hands....

It was late the following afternoon when Soames stood in the
dining-room window gazing gloomily into the Square.

The sunlight still showered on the plane-trees, and in the breeze
their gay broad leaves shone and swung in rhyme to a barrel organ
at the corner. It was playing a waltz, an old waltz that was out
of fashion, with a fateful rhythm in the notes; and it went on
and on, though nothing indeed but leaves danced to the tune.

The woman did not look too gay, for she was tired; and from the
tall houses no one threw her down coppers. She moved the organ
on, and three doors off began again.

It was the waltz they had played at Roger's when Irene had danced
with Bosinney; and the perfume of the gardenias she had worn came
back to Soames, drifted by the malicious music, as it had been
drifted to him then, when she passed, her hair glistening, her
eyes so soft, drawing Bosinney on and on down an endless
ballroom.

The organ woman plied her handle slowly; she had been grinding
her tune all day-grinding it in Sloane Street hard by, grinding
it perhaps to Bosinney himself.

Soames turned, took a cigarette from the carven box, and walked
back to the window. The tune had mesmerized him, and there came
into his view Irene, her sunshade furled, hastening homewards
down the Square, in a soft, rose-coloured blouse with drooping
sleeves, that he did not know. She stopped before the organ,
took out her purse, and gave the woman money.

Soames shrank back and stood where he could see into the hall.

She came in with her latch-key, put down her sunshade, and stood
looking at herself in the glass. Her cheeks were flushed as if
the sun had burned them; her lips were parted in a smile. She
stretched her arms out as though to embrace herself, with a laugh
that for all the world was like a sob.

Soames stepped forward.

"Very-pretty!" he said.

But as though shot she spun round, and would have passed him up
the stairs. He barred the way.

"Why such a hurry?" he said, and his eyes fastened on a curl of
hair fallen loose across her ear....

He hardly recognised her. She seemed on fire, so deep and rich

the colour of her cheeks, her eyes, her lips, and of the unusual
blouse she wore.

She put up her hand and smoothed back the curl. She was
breathing fast and deep, as though she had been running, and with
every breath perfume seemed to come from her hair, and from her
body, like perfume from an opening flower.

"I don't like that blouse," he said slowly, "it's a soft,
shapeless thing!"

He lifted his finger towards her breast, but she dashed his hand
aside.

"Don't touch me!" she cried.

He caught her wrist; she wrenched it away.

"And where may you have been?" he asked.

"In heaven--out of this house!" With those words she fled
upstairs.

Outside--in thanksgiving--at the very door, the organ-grinder was
playing the waltz.

And Soames stood motionless. What prevented him from following
her?

Was it that, with the eyes of faith, he saw Bosinney looking down
from that high window in Sloane Street, straining his eyes for
yet another glimpse of Irene's vanished figure, cooling his
flushed face, dreaming of the moment when she flung herself on
his breast--the scent of her still in the air around, and the
sound of her laugh that was like a sob?





Man of Property by John Galsworthy
Category:
English Novel

General Fiction
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