At that moment, most awkward of his existence, crowded with ghosts and shadows from his past, in presence of the only two women he had ever loved—his divorced wife and his daughter by her successor—Soames was not so much afraid of them as of his cousin June. She might make a scene—she might introduce those two children—she was capable of anything. He bit too hastily at the nougat, and it stuck to his plate. Working at it with his finger, he glanced at Fleur. She was masticating dreamily, but her eyes were on the boy. The Forsyte in him said: “Think, feel, and you’re done for!” And he wiggled his finger desperately. Plate! Did Jolyon wear a plate? Did that woman wear a plate? Time had been when he had seen her wearing nothing! That was something, anyway, which had never been stolen from him. And she knew it, though she might sit there calm and self-possessed, as if she had never been his wife. An acid humour stirred in his Forsyte blood; a subtle pain divided by hair’s breadth from pleasure. If only June did not suddenly bring her hornets about his ears! The boy was talking.
“Of course, Auntie June”—so he called his half-sister “Auntie,” did he?—well, she must be fifty, if she was a day!—“it’s jolly good of you to encourage them. Only—hang it all!” Soames stole a glance. Irene’s startled eyes were bent watchfully on her boy. She—she had these devotions—for Bosinney—for that boy’s father—for this boy! He touched Fleur’s arm, and said:
“Well, have you had enough?”
“One more, Father, please.”
She would be sick! He went to the counter to pay. When he turned round again he saw Fleur standing near the door, holding a handkerchief which the boy had evidently just handed to her.
“F. F.,” he heard her say. “Fleur Forsyte—it’s mine all right. Thank you ever so.”
Good God! She had caught the trick from what he’d told her in the Gallery—monkey!
“Forsyte? Why—that’s my name too. Perhaps we’re cousins.”
“Really! We must be. There aren’t any others. I live at Mapledurham; where do you?”
Question and answer had been so rapid that all was over before he could lift a finger. He saw Irene’s face alive with startled feeling, gave the slightest shake of his head, and slipped his arm through Fleur’s.
“Come along!” he said.
She did not move.
“Didn’t you hear, Father? Isn’t it queer—our name’s the same. Are we cousins?”
“What’s that?” he said. “Forsyte? Distant, perhaps.”
“My name’s Jolyon, sir. Jon, for short.”
“Oh! Ah!” said Soames. “Yes. Distant. How are you? Very good of you. Good-bye!”
He moved on.
“Thanks awfully,” Fleur was saying. “Au revoir!”
“Au revoir!” he heard the boy reply.