Hello everyone! Damianista welcomes you to the Fan Fiction of the month!
I believe many of you have already read Mel’s lovely fan story and so you know she is proud to be a card-carrying member of our “dark horse” club…
…and we are extremely thrilled to publish her brilliant fan fiction today! As you see from the title, Urchin in The Attic is only Chapter 1 in the series of new adventures our beloved Soames will have thanks to Mel’s wonderful imagination! ENJOY and come back for more!
Hello, everyone! I thought it would be fun to place the characters of the 2002 Forsyte Saga into new situations. I’m clarifying because I have not yet finished the book, but long ago watched That Forsyte Woman (1949) and recently the 1967 series which lent a few interesting clarifications. However, this is largely flavored by the newest adaptation because…well, Damian Lewis, need I say more? I’ll use some of the 2002 plot points as framing devices, without belaboring scenes already flawlessly rendered by the screenwriter. I’ll touch on them as needed, but locations and time frames may change to fit this new narrative. For example in this chapter Swithin’s ball is instead hosted by James and Emily Forsyte, for reasons that become clear. Some characters may be eliminated or “killed off” earlier than in the series. Soames’ period of limbo between divorcing Irene and marrying Annette will be compressed mainly to keep him a bit younger, because everyone loves a brooding young Soames, right? There are also, as you will soon see, three new Forsytes! I hope I do these further adventures justice and that you enjoy reading them. Here is the first offering of my Forsyte Saga fan fiction. Thank you so much for reading!
Those that do teach young babes do it with gentle means and easy tasks. He might have chid me so, for, in good faith, I am a child to chiding. – Desdemona
Chapter One: The Urchin in the Attic
Friday, Montpelier Square
“Ridiculous.” The notion was dismissed with a flicker of copper eyelashes. “Patently ridiculous.” Soames sipped, holding the cup aloft long enough to smile behind it. “I might have known when you two invited yourselves to tea it would be on some ludicrous pretense.”
Winifred gave a simpering harrumph, smoothing the skirt of her mauve ensemble. A profusion of brown ringlets quivered at her brow. “You’re in an office all day scribbling away, yet I’m the one that knows nothing. Hey ho, very well. Languish in ignorance. You’ll be schooled soon enough.”
“Oh, let the ol’ girl tell it.” Dartie was draped languidly in the chair Soames’s mother claimed once belonged to Edward VII. “She’ll bust her gussets if you don’t.”
That was all the permission Winifred required. “It’s true. The lot of them went to see father today.”
“Where?” Soames wanted to know.
“At the office, silly. If you hadn’t been trailing after Irene at Robin Hill you’d know all about it.”
Soames’ cup rattled in its saucer. He leaned forward. “Someone has to make sure that spendthrift of an architect doesn’t-”
“There are three of them.” Winifred peeped, eyes sparkling, savoring the gossip like sweets. “And they’ve birth certificates, correspondence, news clippings, and letters of testimony to prove it.”
“Oh, don’t be difficult, Soames! It’s been an acknowledged fact for decades that Uncle Swithin sired a son.”
“Bastard.” The word tripped off Dartie’s tongue with relish.
“He had a dalliance, that is all.”
“More than one, I’d wager!” Dartie snickered. “Everyone knows the old fellow was a bounder.”
“I’ll thank you not to speak ill of an uncle we laid to rest only a fortnight ago.” Soames chided his brother-in-law. “The rumors of a son were false. Father and I squelched them years ago.”
“Squelched?” Winifred’s brows arched. “Bought him off, more like. His name was Lucian. Lucian Forsyte. Say it, Soames. Our first cousin, Lucian!”
Soames’ mouth twitched as if he’d tasted something unpleasant. “Damned silly continental name.”
“And Lucian married Aurelie Farin-”
“-An actress!” Dartie added with glee.
“-and they had three children.” Winifred sat back, smug in her new role as historian of the ignominious Forsyte factions. “You and Daddy were so intent on holding Lucian at bay you forgot about dear doddering Swithin. He went to a different solicitor less than six months ago, changing his will to acknowledge Lucian and his heirs. Poor old darling didn’t know Lucian had been dead two years. The actress…of course…died in childbirth.”
“Third child did her in, they say.” Dartie seemed intent upon revealing all the grim details.
“Yes, a little girl.” Winifred nodded. “She would be nearly six now.”
“I’m sure that is of no concern to us.” Soames set his cup and saucer on the mahogany table. “The leeches will be summarily dealt with. Just like their parasite of a father.”
Winifred sighed. “I think not.”
“Winifred, dear, leave the Forsyte business to father and I. And for God’s sake, stop bandying it about. Do you want to bring disrepute upon the family name? I rather think you do.”
“I don’t! What a thing to say!”
“Then let it lie!” Soames was irked when Winifred answered his dictate with a gleeful grin.
“We cannot let it lie, Soames. They are coming to the ball this evening!”
The revelation was a lightning bolt to his spine. “You jest.” Stunned, that was all Soames could manage.
“Apparently the daughter…eldest daughter,” Dartie explained, “is one fine filly. “Not only gained old James’ favor, but they have moved lock, stock and barrel into the home place.”
“What? With our parents?”
Winifred leaned forward, touching Soames’s knee to anchor him. “At least for the weekend; all three of them: daughter, son and the little girl.” She waggled her brows. “Now, who’s ridiculous? Now who knows nothing?”
“Why would he do that?” Soames was beginning to think his father demented.
“Probably biding time, ol’ chap,” Dartie speculated, bitterly aware. “Put the eldest on display, get her married off. Maybe then won’t have to go whole hog, as they say. That James is a sly one.”
“My father is not a sly one. He is a discerning man of business.” The blood was rushing to Soames’ face.
“Steady on, no harm meant.” Dartie directed a surreptitious wince to his wife, who rose quickly.
“Lovely tea, brother.” She kissed Soames’ flushed cheek. “See you at the ball, darling. Give our best to Irene. I hope the afternoon nap will rejuvenate her for the festivities.”
“Yes, picking out chintz and tiles does weigh upon a person.” Dartie grinned and offered an arm to his wife. “Come on, old girl. One more call and we can get you home and tarted up.”
“Oh, Monty!” Winifred swatted his shoulder and followed him out.
Soames played the conversation over in his mind as he took the stairs. The family was still reeling from Young Jolyon running off with the governess, and that had been years ago. Why must someone or something always tamper with the sanctity of the Forsyte name? God knows they had worked hard enough for respectability. The thought of another scandal made his belly roil. Soames paused at the door to the Burlington Room, where Irene had slept of late. The old guard, the “Forsyte Chain,” had been clucking their tongues about that, as well. Why did Irene want a separate room, they pondered, when after two years of marriage a wife should be pining for a child? But no, Irene preferred sleep to the prospect of motherhood. What unnatural force at work when a woman recoiled from her husband’s touch? Soames was baffled and disheartened, and in the interim his longing had intensified to a cloying melancholy. He would often rest his cheek against the door hoping to at least hear her breathing. His fingers curled around the doorknob, imagining it were the porcelain curve of her chin. As a gentleman, he dared not try the lock, must not disturb her afternoon slumber. No, he was relegated to a guest in his own home; one unworthy of conjugal privileges. Her arbitrary cruelty made him tremble with rage, and if it were not for Bilson stirring in the foyer he might have pushed his way inside. But servants had big eyes and ears and even bigger mouths. The housekeeper had been with the family for years but in Soames’ mind, not even she could be trusted. No, best let rumors lie with the slumbering mistress of the house.
Mistress. A repugnant word. Images of Phillip Bossiney’s smug countenance flickered behind his eyes and Soames felt a helpless fury rising. No. No. A gentleman keeps control. A gentleman knows when to wait and when to play his hand.
That evening Irene chose a deep red velvet gown with neckline that might be deemed scandalous on anyone lacking her serene, fragile beauty. His parents laid out a sumptuous supper yet Soames kept his eyes greedily upon her alabaster throat as she inclined to listen to some stupid anecdote of cousin George’s. That was a mercy, at least. Irene had been seated beside the biggest bore in London. Bossiney, who had the gall to show up without June, was at the far end of table with the other “barely tolerables.” The two interlopers were there as well, surveying their surroundings with smug amusement.
“Damn cheek.” For once Dartie’s sentiments mirrored his own. He sat across from Soames, leaning to be heard. “You’d think the ball was in their honor.”
Soames popped a bit of roast pork between cynical lips. “What are their names again?” He glanced to his mother at head of table, knowing she would forgive the gossip. She’d been none too happy over James’s attentiveness to the new relatives, the feminine Forsyte in particular.
Dartie dabbed the corners of his mouth. “The lady is called Lilith. Around twenty, they say, or perhaps a bit older.”
“Lilith?” Soames scoffed at unusual names, conveniently forgetting his family was riddled with them. “And where is the serpent?”
Dartie appreciated the reference. “Sequestered in the garden, perhaps? Unless he sits beside her. That’s her brother, Larkin. The baby is christened Luna.” He paused to enjoy Soames’ reaction and repeated for alliteration. “That’s right: Lilith, Larkin and Luna.”
“What are they, a trapeze act?” Soames growled and his mother chuckled, pleased with her son’s wit. Dartie joined in the merriment and Irene was momentarily distracted from her longing looks at Bossiney. She darted her eyes sheepishly, then took great interest in her mutton. Soames chewed his bottom lip.
Though Irene flouted the dictates of society, she did slavishly hold to one rule of etiquette frowning upon a husband and wife dancing together, particularly when so many ladies were in want of a partner. She even deigned to dance with Monty, leaving Soames on the sidelines to watch him press in with far too great a familiarity. Monty danced like a gigolo. What right that mountebank, manhandling his wife? He was about to protest when Larkin Forsyte sidled up, angling ginger head and speaking in confidence.
“Uncle James said your wife’s beauty was the stuff of legends. Until now I would have thought my sister the handsomest in the room. I regret not even brotherly love can blind me to the obvious.”
Soames turned cool blue eyes upon the rude scamp. “I do not believe you have produced credentials enough to claim my family as your own.”
“Haven’t I?” Larkin arched a brow. He faced Soames with not one iota of trepidation. “Your father may beg to differ. In the meantime, there stands my sister surrounded by unworthy swains. Save her, won’t you? Or is there another stuffy rule about cousins dancing together?”
“That woman is not my…” Soames’ words trailed off as he scanned the dance floor frantically. Irene had disappeared. There was only Monty adjusting his frock coat, digging one finger under his cravat as if he’d been near throttled. Without word of apology Soames stalked away, searching the periphery of the grand hall. Orchestra gained volume, but he could still discern the graceful footfalls and rustling of skirts. The room was packed with lilies, competing with the aroma of every feminine bosom and wrist. Soames panted, light-headed. Where was she? He completed his arc and was trudging up the steps to the foyer when Monty headed him off, beet red, a skittish look in his beady browns.
“You should give an eye to your wife, old boy. You might see more than you bargained for.”
“What?” Then Irene and Bosinney appeared from the gardens, side by side, bold as brass. They’d been there alone and before Soames could conjure the worst in his mind they moved past, eyes forward, Irene deliberately snubbing the husband that had delivered her from a mere pittance of £50 a year. He, that had lavished her with clothes and jewels and a commodious house near Hyde Park. The grand piano, too, clearly that was no trifle! Soames had no time to take inventory, for Irene threaded her fingers into Bosinney’s as they approached the dance floor. Couples claimed their places. The architect took Irene in his arms and they shared a secret smile.
It was a knife to Soames’ heart. The music swelled and for a moment he could only gape in disbelief. Theirs was not a dance of convention. It was defiant, openly taunting. The other partners craned to see. On the settee Winifred looked on, aghast, and then there was his mother, turning her head slowly, regarding him with such pity.
Soames realized he had not taken a breath and inhaled the florid air, gasping like a sob. All eyes were intent upon him. Mustn’t break. Must not… A saltiness on his tongue and he realized he’d bitten his lip. Cannot let them see! Soames mustered the control to exit the ballroom, pretending he had witnessed nothing.
There was no place to go but the upper floors, though he did not feel safe from scrutiny even in the servants’ wing. Soames gripped the banister, pulling himself ever heavenward, all the way to attic, where he darted inside and slammed the door. There Soames collapsed on a dusty horsehair settee, shoulders hunched. Moonlight streamed from the window, illuminating the red sheen of his hair as he tried to gain composure. “Whore…” he whispered, immediately regretting the censure. Saying might make it so, and Soames still held hope his marble goddess might be reformed and he’d once again cherish her like any work of art. But the idea of Bosinney’s fingerprints tainting his masterpiece, his precious acquisition, brought a wave of nausea and he rocked, folding both arms across satin waistcoat. “No… no…no…God damn it all!”
If not for Soames’ heightened awareness he might not have heard the shuffling, followed by a creaking of floorboards. He sat up, alert, cautious. The sound was coming from a few feet away. Too close for comfort.
“Who’s there?” Soames ordered. “Come out from there, damn you!”
He rather expected a robber, or perhaps one of the maids had spirited away a lover. It might even be vermin. He certainly did not anticipate a ragamuffin peeping behind the gaudy Chinese screen Aunt Juley had given his parents as a wedding present. The child was capped by a profusion of copper tendrils. She twisted nervous little hands, yet blue eyes regarded Soames with a bold directness.
“What are you about?” Soames raked beneath his nose and tucked lower lip to hide the cut. “You shouldn’t be in here.”
“I was playing.” The little girl spread the hem of a vintage nightdress. “It’s so pretty!”
“You’ve no right!” The tyke flinched at his words and he struggled to regain calm. She was just a little slip of a thing. “That was my grandmother’s. Spanish lace. Very fine. You shouldn’t take things that don’t belong to you. Suppose you ripped it.”
The child lovingly fingered the material. “I was pretending to be a princess.”
“I don’t care. Change back at once. Where is your own?”
The tiny interloper reached behind the screen and presented a dingy nightgown, draping it across Soames’ knees. The cotton was yellowed and stained and fit for the ragbag. No wonder she preferred a dusty relic to such an abomination. At a loss, Soames could only bark, “Who are you? One of the servant’s children?”
“No sir. My name is Luna. Luna Forsyte.”
The revelation repelled him, but his assessment was gentler than he’d reserved for her preening siblings. A Forsyte in such tatters, when only an hour before he’d witnessed brother and sister resplendent at table, cynical and confident, as if perfectly entitled to their share of grandeur. His eyes trailed down spindly legs to dirty feet. “Where are your bed slippers?”
“I have none.”
It was a perfectly natural explanation, for at such a tender age Luna Forsyte placed no importance on possessions. Her childlike resilience found joy in every new distraction. She focused not on what she lacked, but the magical contents of a cluttered attic where anything might be possible. Soames let the old gown fall to the floor. “Keep the nightdress, but tomorrow ask my mother to have it cleaned.”
“Who is your mother?”
“Emily Forsyte!” Soames countered sharply. “Your hostess!”
Luna’s features brightened. “Then we are cousins!”
“I am Mr. Soames Forsyte.” He motioned for the door. “Now, off with you. Children should be abed at this hour.”
“The music keeps me awake.” The child’s pink bottom lip protruded. “I wish I could go to the ball, but I’m too little.”
Soames clenched hands between his knees. In an odd way, the girl had distracted him, steadied his thoughts. “Have you ever seen cows led to market? Or horses with their ridiculous straw hats? That’s all a ball is. Women exhibited for the highest bidder. But mark my words, girl, money is not the only thing tendered. Ladies, it seems, are going cheap in the sales.”
Luna regarded the man curiously. He was in his fancy suit, like the one her brother wore when he went “a’hunting the pretty ladies.” This fellow was older and even more handsome in her young mind. Children are often drawn to reticence. The more Soames deflected the more the girl was inexplicably drawn. “I can dance!” She announced proudly. “And sing!”
“It’s very late.” Soames’ gaze wandered to the door, but no, the mite was taking centerstage, posing like a diminutive coquette. She executed several energetic pirouettes and segued into a Sailor’s Hornpipe dance, bare feet slapping the cold boards. She hummed along so her audience of one could follow the tune. Finally Luna bowed and her features perked with mischief as she fell into character.
“Pardonney,” Luna minced with a pronounced French accent. “I am one leetle orphan child, widout no fader and no moder. Good sir, tell me if dis be le place where one grand lady and gentlehomme pay much large money to hear de moosic and de dance, and to hear de pretty song?”
Soames tensed. He knew the play. It was an old chestnut called The Manager’s Daughter. Why had the moppet chosen such canny dialogue? Perhaps little Luna was just as designing as her siblings. “Are you mocking me?”
Luna did not seem to understand. “Larkin says I am an Infant Phenomenon.”
“Not in this house, you aren’t” Soames once more indicated the door.
“May I take a toy?” She stalled for time.
“This isn’t a bazaar, girl. You can’t just-”
“Only to have a little while. Else I know I won’t sleep.” She took a tentative step, wedging between Soames’ knees, round eyes entreating.
He faltered. “Haven’t you any of your own?”
“I had a spinning top once, but I forgot it at a boarding house on Holywell. My brother wouldn’t go back for it.” Her expression was suitably crestfallen.
The pitiful story eroded his defenses. He sighed. “Look in those trunks there. Bound to be something to amuse you.” She hurried over, unlatching the first trunk. “You would prefer the other, I imagine. That one has my sister Winifred’s things. Frippery, dolls, the like.”
But no, the child was already rummaging in Soames’ childhood treasures. He craned his neck to see what might strike her fancy. There were tin soldiers and little boats with sails mildewed from one too many capsizes in Hyde Park, marbles and hoops, yo-yos and ninepins. There were even costumes and puppets from Christmas pantos past. The girl’s attention went right to a chubby tabby on wheels, hugging it to her chest before rolling the toy towards Soames. Luna gave a squeal of delight. “She’s wonderful!”
“It’s a fellow!” Soames corrected. “His name is…was…Winslow.”
“Winslow!” The child sat on the floor, rolling the plaything back and forth.
“Have you ever had a kitten?” Soames asked. “A real one, I mean?”
“We are always on trains. They don’t allow kittens on trains.”
“No. I’d imagine not.” There was a gale of laughter from downstairs, reminding him of his earlier degradation. Soames stood, fastidiously brushing his trousers. “Come, I’ll take you back. Which room has mother got you in?”
“A blue one with velvet curtains.” The girl tucked the toy under one arm, skipping after. A little bit of kindness had gone a long way.
“That was my room as a child.” Soames directed her down the hall. It was slow progress with her little legs unaccustomed to the grand stairs. Tiny fingers reached for his, gripping as she toddled, and finally Soames relented, hoisting the waif upon his hip and striding hurriedly to his childhood bedroom. He tucked her into the sumptuous bedding as downstairs the first strains of an old-fashioned Viennese waltz could be heard. Was Bosinney taking Irene into his arms again? How many dances had they shared in the interim? Territorial impulses made him want to rush downstairs, take her pale wrist and wrench her from the blackguard. But there was decorum to be observed. Only the child had been privy to his emotional outburst, yet she maintained a strangely gentle discretion. Luna peered with such eagerness for company he was compelled to sit upon the mattress, folding his hands in contemplation. “Tomorrow you should find a length of string and tie it to the collar. Then Winslow will follow wherever you go.”
Luna smiled. She took one of his hands and poked it with her fingers.
“What are you doing?”
“Counting your freckles. I have them, too, see?” She proudly exhibited a dotted mitt then squeezed his tightly. “Will you be here tomorrow?”
“No, child. I have my own house.”
“I’ll take very good care of Winslow,” she vowed, “and when we go, I’ll put him back where I found him.”
In the situation at hand, having very likely lost Irene, a toy kitten seemed of little consequence. Soames stared at the floor. “Oh, keep the damn thing. I have no use for it.”
The child gave a delighted gasp and sat up, raining kisses along his hairline. Soames flinched. He’d known so little affection it was jarring to have this strange tyke hanging on. A wave of regret washed over him. In better circumstances this might have been his own child at bedtime showering him with tenderness. But, no.
He gently extricated the little arms. “It’s only an outmoded trinket. Back in bed with you! See? You’ve mussed the covers.”
Luna nestled against the pillows, beaming as he tucked the toy beside her. “I’ll keep him near me, always!”
Doubtless the child would leave poor Winslow in some other ratty hotel. Soames rubbed the shabby tabby’s head; one last farewell to childish things. After the weekend Luna Forsyte and her kin would be banished far from Park Lane as possible. All it would take was a moderate settlement and stern warning.
“Goodbye.” Soames uttered, moving quickly to the door. It was time to face reality, even if he had to drag his wife kicking and screaming into it. As they departed in the carriage, Irene’s profile coolly impassive, he felt the familiar rage rising.
“Will you let me go?” She formed the words precisely, as if in a play. Soames’ heart plummeted into his gut.
“No,” he said. “No.”
As the horses clip-clopped up the drive to retrieve passengers, Luna Forsyte rushed to the window, wedging between the heavy velvet draperies to seek the coppery head of her hero. He wore a cape, extending a white-gloved hand to help a woman into his carriage. The door clamped shut and the conveyance rattled away. Luna rested her brow against the cold glass, watching until it was out of sight. She embraced the toy, rocking it, instinctively knowing that comfort was needed.