On waking from deep sleep next morning, Michael’s first thought was: ‘Fleur is back!’ He then remembered.
To his: “O. K.?” whispered at her door, he received an emphatic nod from the nurse.
In the midst of excited expectation he retained enough modernity to think: ‘No more blurb! Go and eat your breakfast quietly!’
In the dining-room Soames was despising the broken egg before him. He looked up as Michael entered, and buried his face in his cup. Michael understood perfectly; they had sat hand in hand! He saw, too, that the journal opened by his plate was of a financial nature.
“Anything about the meeting, sir? Your speech must read like one o’clock!”
With a queer little sound Soames held out the paper. The headlines ran: “Stormy meeting—resignation of two directors—a vote of confidence.” Michael skimmed down till he came to:
“Mr. Forsyte, the director involved, in a speech of some length, said he had no intention of singing small. He deprecated the behaviour of the shareholders; he had not been accustomed to meet with suspicions. He tendered his resignation.”
Michael dropped the sheet.
“By Jove!” he said—“‘Involved—suspicions.’ They’ve given it a turn, as though—!”
“The papers!” said Soames, and resumed his egg.
Michael sat down, and stripped the skin off a banana. ‘“Nothing became him like his death,”’ he thought: ‘Poor old boy!’
“Well, sir,” he said, “I was there, and all I can say is: You and my father were the only two people who excited my respect.”
“That!” said Soames, putting down his spoon.
Michael perceived that he wished to be alone, and swallowing the banana, went to his study. Waiting for his summons, he rang up his father.
“None the worse for yesterday, sir?”
Sir Lawrence’s voice came clear and thin, rather high.
“Poorer and wiser. What’s the bulletin?”
“Our love to both. Your mother wants to know if he has any hair?”
“Haven’t seen him yet. I’m just going.”
Annette, indeed, was beckoning him from the doorway.
“She wants you to bring the little dog, mon cher.”
With Ting-a-ling under his arm, and treading on tiptoe, Michael entered. The eleventh baronet! He did not seem to amount to much, beneath her head bent over him. And surely her hair was darker! He walked up to the bed, and touched it reverently.
Fleur raised her head, and revealed the baby sucking vigorously at her little finger. “Isn’t he a monkey?” said her faint voice.
Michael nodded. A monkey clearly—but whether white—that was the question!
“And you, sweetheart?”
“All right now, but it was—” She drew her breath in, and her eyes darkened: “Ting, look!”
The Chinese dog, with nostrils delicately moving, drew backward under Michael’s arm. His whole demeanour displayed a knowing criticism. “Puppies,” he seemed to say, “we do it in China. Judgment reserved!”
“What eyes!” said Michael: “We needn’t tell HIM that this was brought from Chelsea by the doctor.”
Fleur gave the tiniest laugh.
“Put him down, Michael.”
Michael put him down, and he went to his corner.
“I mustn’t talk,” said Fleur, “but I want to, frightfully; as if I’d been dumb for months.”
‘Just as I felt,’ thought Michael, ‘she’s been away, away somewhere, utterly away.’
“It was like being held down, Michael. Months of not being yourself.”
Michael said softly: “Yes! the process IS behind the times! Has he got any hair? My mother wants to know.”
Fleur revealed the head of the eleventh baronet, covered with dark down.
“Like my grandmother’s; but it’ll get lighter. His eyes are going to be grey. Oh! and, Michael, about godparents? Alison, of course—but men?”
Michael dwelled a little before answering:
“I had a letter from Wilfrid yesterday. Would you like him? He’s still out there, but I could hold the sponge for him in church.”
“Is he all right again?”
“He says so.”
He could not read the expression of her eyes, but her lips were pouted slightly.
“Yes,” she said: “and I think one’s enough, don’t you? Mine never gave me anything.”
“One of mine gave me a bible, and the other gave me a wigging. Wilfrid, then.” And he bent over her.
Her eyes seemed to make him a little ironic apology. He kissed her hair, and moved hurriedly away.
By the door Soames was standing, awaiting his turn.
“Just a minute only, sir,” the nurse was saying.
Soames walked up to the bedside, and stood looking at his daughter.
“Dad, dear!” Michael heard her say.
Soames just touched her hand, nodded, as if implying approval of the baby, and came walking back, but, in a mirror, Michael saw his lips quivering.
On the ground floor once more, he had the most intense desire to sing. It would not do; and, entering the Chinese room, he stood staring out into the sunlit square. Gosh! It was good to be alive! Say what you liked, you couldn’t beat it! They might turn their noses up at life, and look down them at it; they might bolster up the future and the past, but—give him the present!
‘I’ll have that white monkey up again!’ he thought. ‘I’ll see the brute further before he shall depress me!’
He went out to a closet under the stairs, and, from beneath four pairs of curtains done up in moth-preserver and brown paper, took out the picture. He held it away from him in the dim light. The creature’s eyes! It was all in those eyes!
“Never mind, old son!” he said: “Up you go!” And he carried it into the Chinese room.
Soames was there.
“I’m going to put him up again, sir.”
“Would you hold him, while I hook the wire?”
Soames held the picture.
Returning to the copper floor, Michael said:
“All right, sir!” and stood back.
Soames joined him. Side by side they contemplated the white monkey.
“He won’t be happy till he gets it,” said Michael at last: “The only thing is, you see, he doesn’t know what IT is.”