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Fleur and Michael Mont entertain the glittering society characters of the day in their new, elegant, and fashionable house. As always, Fleur’s father—Soames Forsyte—is constantly by the side of his daughter, spoiling and watching over her. But London after the war is a place of carefree attitudes that are alarming and baffling to old Soames. Just when he thinks he is protecting his daughter, he finds himself triggering a major social scandal.
355 pages, with a reading time of ~5.5 hours (88,917 words), and first published in 1926. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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The young man, who, at the end of September, 1924, dismounted from a taxicab in South Square, Westminster, was so unobtrusively American that his driver had some hesitation in asking for double his fare. The young man had no hesitation in refusing it.
“Are you unable to read?” he said, softly. “Here’s four shillings.”
With that he turned his back and looked at the house before which he had descended. This, the first private English house he had ever proposed to enter, inspired him with a certain uneasiness, as of a man who expects to part with a family ghost. Comparing a letter with the number chased in pale brass on the door, he murmured: “It surely is,” and rang the bell.
While waiting for the door to be opened, he was conscious of extreme quietude, broken by a clock chiming four as if with the voice of Time itself. When the last boom died, the door yawned inward, and a man, almost hairless, said:
The young man removed a soft hat from a dark head.
“This is Mrs. Michael Mont’s house?”
“Will you give her my card, and this letter?”
“‘Mr. Francis Wilmot, Naseby, S. C.’ Will you wait in here, sir?”
Ushered through the doorway of a room on the right, Francis Wilmot was conscious of a commotion close to the ground, and some teeth grazing the calf of his leg.
“Dandie!” said the voice of the hairless man, “you little devil! That dog is a proper little brute with strangers, sir. Stand still! I’ve known him bite clean through a lady’s stockings.”
Francis Wilmot saw with interest a silver-grey dog nine inches high and nearly as broad, looking up at him with lustrous eyes above teeth of extreme beauty.
“It’s the baby, sir,” said the hairless man, pointing to a sort of nest on the floor before the fireless hearth; “he WILL go for people when he’s with the baby. But once he gets to smelling your trousers, he’s all right. Better not touch the baby, though. Mrs. Mont was here a minute ago; I’ll take your card up to her.”
Francis Wilmot sat down on a settee in the middle of the room; and the dog lay between him and the baby.
And while the young man sat he gazed around him. The room was painted in panels of a sub-golden hue, with a silver-coloured ceiling. A clavichord, little golden ghost of a piano, stood at one end. Glass lustres, pictures of flowers and of a silvery- necked lady swinging a skirt and her golden slippers, adorned the walls. The curtains were of gold and silver. The silver-coloured carpet felt wonderfully soft beneath his feet, the furniture was of a golden wood.
The young man felt suddenly quite homesick. He was back in the living-room of an old “Colonial” house, in the bend of a lonely South Carolina river, reddish in hue. He was staring at the effigy of his high-collared, red-coated great-grandfather, Francis Wilmot, Royalist major in the War of Independence. They always said it was like the effigy he saw when shaving every morning; the smooth dark hair drooping across his right temple, the narrow nose and lips, the narrow dark hand on the sword-hilt or the razor, the slits of dark eyes gazing steadily out. Young Francis was seeing the darkies working in the cotton-fields under a sun that he did not seem to have seen since he came over here; he was walking with his setter along the swamp edge, where Florida moss festooned the tall dolorous trees; he was thinking of the Wilmot inheritance, ruined in the Civil War, still decayed yet precious, and whether to struggle on with it, or to sell it to the Yank who wanted a week- end run-to from his Charleston dock job, and would improve it out of recognition. It would be lonely there, now that Anne had married that young Britisher, Jon Forsyte, and gone away north, to Southern Pines. And he thought of his sister, thus lost to him, dark, pale, vivid, ‘full of sand.’ Yes! this room made him homesick, with its perfection, such as he had never beheld, where the only object out of keeping was that dog, lying on its side now, and so thick through that all its little legs were in the air. Softly he said:
“It’s the prettiest room I ever was in.”
“What a perfectly charming thing to overhear!”
A young woman, with crinkly chestnut hair above a creamy face, with smiling lips, a short straight nose, and very white dark-lashed eyelids active over dark hazel eyes, stood near the door. She came towards him, and held out her hand.
Francis Wilmot bowed over it, and said, gravely:
“Mrs. Michael Mont?”
“So Jon’s married your sister. Is she pretty?”
“I hope baby has been entertaining you.”
“He’s just great.”
“He is, rather. I hear Dandie bit you?”
“I reckon he didn’t break the cuticle.”
“Haven’t you looked? But he’s quite healthy. Sit down, and tell me all about your sister and Jon. Is it a marriage of true minds?”
Francis Wilmot sat down.
“It certainly is. Young Jon is a pretty white man, and Anne–”