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CHAPTER IV

VOYAGE INTO THE INFERNO


The morning after a certain night on which Soames at last
asserted his rights and acted like a man, he breakfasted alone.

He breakfasted by gaslight, the fog of late November wrapping the
town as in some monstrous blanket till the trees of the Square
even were barely visible from the diningroom window.

He ate steadily, but at times a sensation as though he could not
swallow attacked him. Had he been right to yield to his
overmastering hunger of the night before, and break down the
resistance which he had suffered now too long from this woman who
was his lawful and solemnly constituted helpmate?

He was strangely haunted by the recollection of her face, from
before which, to soothe her, he had tried to pull her hands--of
her terrible smothered sobbing, the like of which he had never
heard, and still seemed to hear; and he was still haunted by the
odd, intolerable feeling of remorse and shame he had felt, as he
stood looking at her by the flame of the single candle, before
silently slinking away.

And somehow, now that he had acted like this, he was surprised at
himself.

Two nights before, at Winifred Dartie's, he had taken Mrs.
MacAnder into dinner. She had said to him, looking in his face
with her sharp, greenish eyes: "And so your wife is a great
friend of that Mr. Bosinney's?"

Not deigning to ask what she meant, he had brooded over her
words.

They had roused in him a fierce jealousy, which, with the
peculiar perversion of this instinct, had turned to fiercer
desire.

Without the incentive of Mrs. MacAnder's words he might never
have done what he had done. Without their incentive and the
accident of finding his wife's door for once unlocked, which had
enabled him to steal upon her asleep.

Slumber had removed his doubts, but the morning brought them
again. One thought comforted him: No one would know--it was not
the sort of thing that she would speak about.

And, indeed, when the vehicle of his daily business life, which
needed so imperatively the grease of clear and practical thought,
started rolling once more with the reading of his letters, those
nightmare-like doubts began to assume less extravagant importance
at the back of his mind. The incident was really not of great
moment; women made a fuss about it in books; but in the cool
judgment of right-thinking men, of men of the world, of such as
he recollected often received praise in the Divorce Court, he had
but done his best to sustain the sanctity of marriage, to prevent
her from abandoning her duty, possibly, if she were still seeing
Bosinney, from....

No, he did not regret it.

Now that the first step towards reconciliation had been taken,
the rest would be comparatively--comparatively....

He, rose and walked to the window. His nerve had been shaken.
The sound of smothered sobbing was in his ears again. He could
not get rid of it.

He put on his fur coat, and went out into the fog; having to go
into the City, he took the underground railway from Sloane Square
station.

In his corner of the first-class compartment filled with City men
the smothered sobbing still haunted him, so he opened the Times
with the rich crackle that drowns all lesser sounds, and,
barricaded behind it, set himself steadily to con the news.

He read that a Recorder had charged a grand jury on the previous
day with a more than usually long list of offences. He read of
three murders, five manslaughters, seven arsons, and as many as
eleven rapes--a surprisingly high number--in addition to many
less conspicuous crimes, to be tried during a coming Sessions;
and from one piece of news he went on to another, keeping the
paper well before his face.

And still, inseparable from his reading, was the memory of
Irene's tear-stained face, and the sounds from her broken heart.

The day was a busy one, including, in addition to the ordinary
affairs of his practice, a visit to his brokers, Messrs. Grin
and Grinning, to give them instructions to sell his shares in the
New Colliery Co., Ltd., whose business he suspected, rather than
knew, was stagnating (this enterprise afterwards slowly declined,
and was ultimately sold for a song to an American syndicate); and
a long conference at Waterbuck, Q.C.'s chambers, attended by
Boulter, by Fiske, the junior counsel, and Waterbuck, Q.C.,
himself.

The case of Forsyte v. Bosinney was expected to be reached on
the morrow, before Mr. Justice Bentham.

Mr. Justice Bentham, a man of common-sense rather than too great
legal knowledge, was considered to be about the best man they
could have to try the action. He was a 'strong' Judge.

Waterbuck, Q.C., in pleasing conjunction with an almost rude
neglect of Boulter and Fiske paid to Soames a good deal of
attention, by instinct or the sounder evidence of rumour, feeling
him to be a man of property.

He held with remarkable consistency to the opinion he had already
expressed in writing, that the issue would depend to a great
extent on the evidence given at the trial, and in a few well
directed remarks he advised Soames not to be too careful in
giving that evidence. "A little bluffness, Mr. Forsyte," he said,
"a little bluffness," and after he had spoken he laughed firmly,
closed his lips tight, and scratched his head just below where he
had pushed his wig back, for all the world like the gentleman-
farmer for whom he loved to be taken. He was considered perhaps
the leading man in breach of promise cases.

Soames used the underground again in going home.

The fog was worse than ever at Sloane Square station. Through
the still, thick blur, men groped in and out; women, very few,
grasped their reticules to their bosoms and handkerchiefs to
their mouths; crowned with the weird excrescence of the driver,
haloed by a vague glow of lamp-light that seemed to drown in
vapour before it reached the pavement, cabs loomed dimshaped ever
and again, and discharged citizens, bolting like rabbits to their
burrows.

And these shadowy figures, wrapped each in his own little shroud
of fog, took no notice of each other. In the great warren, each
rabbit for himself, especially those clothed in the more
expensive fur, who, afraid of carriages on foggy days, are driven
underground.

One figure, however, not far from Soames, waited at the station
door.

Some buccaneer or lover, of whom each Forsyte thought: 'Poor
devil! looks as if he were having a bad time!' Their kind hearts
beat a stroke faster for that poor, waiting, anxious lover in the
fog; but they hurried by, well knowing that they had neither time
nor money to spare for any suffering but their own.

Only a policeman, patrolling slowly and at intervals, took an
interest in that waiting figure, the brim of whose slouch hat
half hid a face reddened by the cold, all thin, and haggard, over
which a hand stole now and again to smooth away anxiety, or renew
the resolution that kept him waiting there. But the waiting
lover (if lover he were) was used to policemen's scrutiny, or too
absorbed in his anxiety, for he never flinched. A hardened case,
accustomed to long trysts, to anxiety, and fog, and cold, if only
his mistress came at last. Foolish lover! Fogs last until the
spring; there is also snow and rain, no comfort anywhere; gnawing
fear if you bring her out, gnawing fear if you bid her stay at
home!

"Serve him right; he should arrange his affairs better!"

So any respectable Forsyte. Yet, if that sounder citizen could
have listened at the waiting lover's heart, out there in the fog
and the cold, he would have said again: "Yes, poor devil he's
having a bad time!"

Soames got into his cab, and, with the glass down, crept along
Sloane Street, and so along the Brompton Road, and home. He
reached his house at five.

His wife was not in. She had gone out a quarter of an hour
before. Out at such a time of night, into this terrible fog!
What was the meaning of that?

He sat by the dining-room fire, with the door open, disturbed to
the soul, trying to read the evening paper. A book was no good--
in daily papers alone was any narcotic to such worry as his.
>From the customary events recorded in the journal he drew some
comfort. 'Suicide of an actress'--'Grave indisposition of a
Statesman' (that chronic sufferer)--'Divorce of an army officer'
--'Fire in a colliery'--he read them all. They helped him a
little--prescribed by the greatest of all doctors, our natural
taste.

It was nearly seven when he heard her come in.

The incident of the night before had long lost its importance
under stress of anxiety at her strange sortie into the fog. But
now that Irene was home, the memory of her broken-hearted sobbing
came back to him, and he felt nervous at the thought of facing
her.

She was already on the stairs; her grey fur coat hung to her
knees, its high collar almost hid her face, she wore a thick
veil.

She neither turned to look at him nor spoke. No ghost or
stranger could have passed more silently.

Bilson came to lay dinner, and told him that Mrs. Forsyte was not
coming down; she was having the soup in her room.

For once Soames did not 'change'; it was, perhaps, the first time
in his life that he had sat down to dinner with soiled cuffs,
and, not even noticing them, he brooded long over his wine. He
sent Bilson to light a fire in his picture-room, and presently
went up there himself.

Turning on the gas, he heaved a deep sigh, as though amongst
these treasures, the backs of which confronted him in stacks,
around the little room, he had found at length his peace of mind.
He went straight up to the greatest treasure of them all, an
undoubted Turner, and, carrying it to the easel, turned its face
to the light. There had been a movement in Turners, but he had
not been able to make up his mind to part with it. He stood for
a long time, his pale, clean-shaven face poked forward above his
stand-up collar, looking at the picture as though he were adding
it up; a wistful expression came into his eyes; he found,
perhaps, that it came to too little. He took it down from the
easel to put it back against the wall; but, in crossing the room,
stopped, for he seemed to hear sobbing.

It was nothing--only the sort of thing that had been bothering
him in the morning. And soon after, putting the high guard
before the blazing fire, he stole downstairs.

Fresh for the morrow! was his thought. It was long before he
went to sleep....

It is now to George Forsyte that the mind must turn for light on
the events of that fog-engulfed afternoon.

The wittiest and most sportsmanlike of the Forsytes had passed
the day reading a novel in the paternal mansion at Princes'
Gardens. Since a recent crisis in his financial affairs he had
been kept on parole by Roger, and compelled to reside 'at home.'

Towards five o'clock he went out, and took train at South
Kensington Station (for everyone to-day went Underground). His
intention was to dine, and pass the evening playing billiards at
the Red Pottle--that unique hostel, neither club, hotel, nor good
gilt restaurant.

He got out at Charing Cross, choosing it in preference to his
more usual St. James's Park, that he might reach Jermyn Street
by better lighted ways.

On the platform his eyes--for in combination with a composed and
fashionable appearance, George had sharp eyes, and was always on
the look-out for fillips to his sardonic humour--his eyes were
attracted by a man, who, leaping from a first-class compartment,
staggered rather than walked towards the exit.

'So ho, my bird!' said George to himself; 'why, it's "the
Buccaneer!"' and he put his big figure on the trail. Nothing
afforded him greater amusement than a drunken man.

Bosinney, who wore a slouch hat, stopped in front of him, spun
around, and rushed back towards the carriage he had just left.
He was too late. A porter caught him by the coat; the train was
already moving on.

George's practised glance caught sight of the face of a lady clad
in a grey fur coat at the carriage window. It was Mrs. Soames--
and George felt that this was interesting!

And now he followed Bosinney more closely than ever--up the
stairs, past the ticket collector into the street. In that
progress, however, his feelings underwent a change; no longer
merely curious and amused, he felt sorry for the poor fellow he
was shadowing. 'The Buccaneer' was not drunk, but seemed to be
acting under the stress of violent emotion; he was talking to
himself, and all that George could catch were the words "Oh,
God!" Nor did he appear to know what he was doing, or where
going; but stared, hesitated, moved like a man out of his mind;
and from being merely a joker in search of amusement, George felt
that he must see the poor chap through.

He had 'taken the knock'--'taken the knock!' And he wondered what
on earth Mrs. Soames had been saying, what on earth she had been
telling him in the railway carriage. She had looked bad enough
herself! It made George sorry to think of her travelling on with
her trouble all alone.

He followed close behind Bosinney's elbow--tall, burly figure,
saying nothing, dodging warily--and shadowed him out into the
fog.

There was something here beyond a jest! He kept his head
admirably, in spite of some excitement, for in addition to
compassion, the instincts of the chase were roused within him.

Bosinney walked right out into the thoroughfare--a vast muffled
blackness, where a man could not see six paces before him; where,
all around, voices or whistles mocked the sense of direction; and
sudden shapes came rolling slow upon them; and now and then a
light showed like a dim island in an infinite dark sea.

And fast into this perilous gulf of night walked Bosinney, and
fast after him walked George. If the fellow meant to put his
'twopenny' under a 'bus, he would stop it if he could! Across
the street and back the hunted creature strode, not groping as
other men were groping in that gloom, but driven forward as
though the faithful George behind wielded a knout; and this chase
after a haunted man began to have for George the strangest
fascination.

But it was now that the affair developed in a way which ever
afterwards caused it to remain green in his mind. Brought to a
stand-still in the fog, he heard words which threw a sudden light
on these proceedings. What Mrs. Soames had said to Bosinney in
the train was now no longer dark. George understood from those
mutterings that Soames had exercised his rights over an estranged
and unwilling wife in the greatest--the supreme act of property.

His fancy wandered in the fields of this situation; it impressed
him; he guessed something of the anguish, the sexual confusion
and horror in Bosinney's heart. And he thought: 'Yes, it's a bit
thick! I don't wonder the poor fellow is halfcracked!'

He had run his quarry to earth on a bench under one of the lions
in Trafalgar Square, a monster sphynx astray like themselves in
that gulf of darkness. Here, rigid and silent, sat Bosinney, and
George, in whose patience was a touch of strange brotherliness,
took his stand behind. He was not lacking in a certain delicacy-
-a sense of form--that did not permit him to intrude upon this
tragedy, and he waited, quiet as the lion above, his fur collar
hitched above his ears concealing the fleshy redness of his
cheeks, concealing all but his eyes with their sardonic,
compassionate stare. And men kept passing back from business on
the way to their clubs--men whose figures shrouded in cocoons of
fog came into view like spectres, and like spectres vanished.
Then even in his compassion George's Quilpish humour broke forth
in a sudden longing to pluck these spectres by the sleeve, and
say:

"Hi, you Johnnies! You don't often see a show like this! Here's
a poor devil whose mistress has just been telling him a pretty
little story of her husband; walk up, walk up! He's taken the
knock, you see."

In fancy he saw them gaping round the tortured lover; and grinned
as he thought of some respectable, newly-married spectre enabled
by the state of his own affections to catch an inkling of what
was going on within Bosinney; he fancied he could see his mouth
getting wider and wider, and the fog going down and down. For in
George was all that contempt of the of the married middle-class--
peculiar to the wild and sportsmanlike spirits in its ranks.

But he began to be bored. Waiting was not what he had bargained
for.

'After all,' he thought, 'the poor chap will get over it; not the
first time such a thing has happened in this little city!' But
now his quarry again began muttering words of violent hate and
anger. And following a sudden impulse George touched him on the
shoulder.

Bosinney spun round.

"Who are you? What do you want?"

George could have stood it well enough in the light of the gas
lamps, in the light of that everyday world of which he was so
hardy a connoisseur; but in this fog, where all was gloomy and

unreal, where nothing had that matter-of-fact value associated by
Forsytes with earth, he was a victim to strange qualms, and as he
tried to stare back into the eyes of this maniac, he thought:

'If I see a bobby, I'll hand him over; he's not fit to be at
large.'

But waiting for no answer, Bosinney strode off into the fog, and
George followed, keeping perhaps a little further off, yet more
than ever set on tracking him down.

'He can't go on long like this,' he thought. 'It's God's own
miracle he's not been run over already.' He brooded no more on
policemen, a sportsman's sacred fire alive again within him.

Into a denser gloom than ever Bosinney held on at a furious pace;
but his pursuer perceived more method in his madness--he was
clearly making his way westwards.

'He's really going for Soames!' thought George. The idea was
attractive. It would be a sporting end to such a chase. He had
always disliked his cousin.

The shaft of a passing cab brushed against his shoulder and made
him leap aside. He did not intend to be killed for the Buccaneer,
or anyone. Yet, with hereditary tenacity, he stuck to the trail
through vapour that blotted out everything but the shadow of the
hunted man and the dim moon of the nearest lamp.

Then suddenly, with the instinct of a town-stroller, George knew
himself to be in Piccadilly. Here he could find his way blindfold;
and freed from the strain of geographical uncertainty, his mind
returned to Bosinney's trouble.

Down the long avenue of his man-about-town experience, bursting,
as it were, through a smirch of doubtful amours, there stalked to
him a memory of his youth. A memory, poignant still, that brought
the scent of hay, the gleam of moonlight, a summer magic, into
the reek and blackness of this London fog--the memory of a night
when in the darkest shadow of a lawn he had overheard from a
woman's lips that he was not her sole possessor. And for a moment
George walked no longer in black Piccadilly, but lay again, with
hell in his heart, and his face to the sweet-smelling, dewy grass,
in the long shadow of poplars that hid the moon.

A longing seized him to throw his arm round the Buccaneer, and
say, "Come, old boy. Time cures all. Let's go and drink it off!"

But a voice yelled at him, and he started back. A cab rolled out
of blackness, and into blackness disappeared. And suddenly
George perceived that he had lost Bosinney. He ran forward and
back, felt his heart clutched by a sickening fear, the dark fear
which lives in the wings of the fog. Perspiration started out on
his brow. He stood quite still, listening with all his might.

"And then," as he confided to Dartie the same evening in the
course of a game of billiards at the Red Pottle, "I lost him."

Dartie twirled complacently at his dark moustache. He had just
put together a neat break of twenty-three,--failing at a 'Jenny.'
"And who was she?" he asked.

George looked slowly at the 'man of the world's' fattish, sallow
face, and a little grim smile lurked about the curves of his
cheeks and his heavy-lidded eyes.

'No, no, my fine fellow,' he thought, 'I'm not going to tell
you.' For though he mixed with Dartie a good deal, he thought him
a bit of a cad.

"Oh, some little love-lady or other," he said, and chalked his
cue.

"A love-lady!" exclaimed Dartie--he used a more figurative
expression. "I made sure it was our friend Soa...."

"Did you?" said George curtly. "Then damme you've made an
error."

He missed his shot. He was careful not to allude to the subject
again till, towards eleven o'clock, having, in his poetic
phraseology, 'looked upon the drink when it was yellow,' he drew
aside the blind, and gazed out into the street. The murky
blackness of the fog was but faintly broken by the lamps of the
'Red Pottle,' and no shape of mortal man or thing was in sight.

"I can't help thinking of that poor Buccaneer," he said. "He may
be wandering out there now in that fog. If he's not a corpse,"
he added with strange dejection.

"Corpse!" said Dartie, in whom the recollection of his defeat at
Richmond flared up. "He's all right. Ten to one if he wasn't
tight!"

George turned on him, looking really formidable, with a sort of
savage gloom on his big face.

"Dry up!" he said. "Don't I tell you he's 'taken the knock!"'





Man of Property by John Galsworthy
Category:
English Novel

General Fiction
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