The Man of Property by John Galsworthy Volume 1 of The Forsyte Saga
This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide .
Rendered into HTML by Steve Thomas .
Last updated Sat Aug 28 15:09:04 2010.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence
(available at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/au/). You are free: to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work, and to make derivative works under the following conditions: you must attribute the work in the manner specified by the licensor; you may not use this work for commercial purposes; if you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the licensor. Your fair use and other rights are in no way affected by the above.
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Table of Contents Preface Part I
‘At Home’ at Old Jolyon’s
Old Jolyon Goes to the Opera
In Swithin’s orange and light-blue dining-room, facing the Park, the round table was laid for twelve.
Projection of the House
A Forsyte Menage
James at Large
Old Jolyon’s Peccadillo
Plans of the House
Death of Aunt Ann Part II
Progress of the House
Drive with Swithin
James goes to see for himself
Soames and Bosinney Correspond
Old Jolyon at the Zoo
Afternoon at Timothy’s
Dance at Roger’s
Evening at Richmond
Diagnosis of A Forsyte
Bosinney on Parole
June Pays Some Calls
Perfection of the House
Soames Sits on the Stairs Part III
Mrs. Macander’s Evidence
Night in the Park
Meeting at the Botanical
Voyage Into the Inferno
Soames Breaks the News
TO MY WIFE:
I DEDICATE THE FORSYTE SAGA IN ITS ENTIRETY,
BELIEVING IT TO BE OF ALL MY WORKS THE LEAST
UNWORTHY OF ONE WITHOUT WHOSE ENCOURAGEMENT,
SYMPATHY AND CRITICISM I COULD NEVER HAVE
BECOME EVEN SUCH A WRITER AS I AM.
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
“The Forsyte Saga” was the title originally destined for that part of it which is called “The Man of Property”; and to adopt it for the collected chronicles of the Forsyte family has indulged the Forsytean tenacity that is in all of us. The word Saga might be objected to on the ground that it connotes the heroic and that there is little heroism in these pages. But it is used with a suitable irony; and, after all, this long tale, though it may deal with folk in frock coats, furbelows, and a gilt-edged period, is not devoid of the essential heat of conflict. Discounting for the gigantic stature and blood-thirstiness of old days, as they have come down to us in fairy-tale and legend, the folk of the old Sagas were Forsytes, assuredly, in their possessive instincts, and as little proof against the inroads of beauty and passion as Swithin, Soames, or even Young Jolyon. And if heroic figures, in days that never were, seem to startle out from their surroundings in fashion unbecoming to a Forsyte of the Victorian era, we may be sure that tribal instinct was even then the prime force, and that “family” and the sense of home and property counted as they do to this day, for all the recent efforts to “talk them out.”
So many people have written and claimed that their families were the originals of the Forsytes that one has been almost encouraged to believe in the typicality of an imagined species. Manners change and modes evolve, and “Timothy’s on the Bayswater Road” becomes a nest of the unbelievable in all except essentials; we shall not look upon its like again, nor perhaps on such a one as James or Old Jolyon. And yet the figures of Insurance Societies and the utterances of Judges reassure us daily that our earthly paradise is still a rich preserve, where the wild raiders, Beauty and Passion, come stealing in, filching security from beneath our noses. As surely as a dog will bark at a brass band, so will the essential Soames in human nature ever rise up uneasily against the dissolution which hovers round the folds of ownership.
“Let the dead Past bury its dead” would be a better saying if the Past ever died. The persistence of the Past is one of those tragi-comic blessings which each new age denies, coming cocksure on to the stage to mouth its claim to a perfect novelty.
But no Age is so new as that! Human Nature, under its changing pretensions and clothes, is and ever will be very much of a Forsyte, and might, after all, be a much worse animal.
Looking back on the Victorian era, whose ripeness, decline, and ‘fall-of’ is in some sort pictured in “The Forsyte Saga,” we see now that we have but jumped out of a frying-pan into a fire. It would be difficult to substantiate a claim that the case of England was better in 1913 than it was in 1886, when the Forsytes assembled at Old Jolyon’s to celebrate the engagement of June to Philip Bosinney. And in 1920, when again the clan gathered to bless the marriage of Fleur with Michael Mont, the state of England is as surely too molten and bankrupt as in the eighties it was too congealed and low-percented. If these chronicles had been a really scientific study of transition one would have dwelt probably on such factors as the invention of bicycle, motor-car, and flying-machine; the arrival of a cheap Press; the decline of country life and increase of the towns; the birth of the Cinema. Men are, in fact, quite unable to control their own inventions; they at best develop adaptability to the new conditions those inventions create.
But this long tale is no scientific study of a period; it is rather an intimate incarnation of the disturbance that Beauty effects in the lives of men.
The figure of Irene, never, as the reader may possibly have observed, present, except through the senses of other characters, is a concretion of disturbing Beauty impinging on a possessive world.
One has noticed that readers, as they wade on through the salt waters of the Saga, are inclined more and more to pity Soames, and to think that in doing so they are in revolt against the mood of his creator. Far from it! He, too, pities Soames, the tragedy of whose life is the very simple, uncontrollable tragedy of being unlovable, without quite a thick enough skin to be thoroughly unconscious of the fact. Not even Fleur loves Soames as he feels he ought to be loved. But in pitying Soames, readers incline, perhaps, to animus against Irene: After all, they think, he wasn’t a bad fellow, it wasn’t his fault; she ought to have forgiven him, and so on!
And, taking sides, they lose perception of the simple truth, which underlies the whole story, that where sex attraction is utterly and definitely lacking in one partner to a union, no amount of pity, or reason, or duty, or what not, can overcome a repulsion implicit in Nature. Whether it ought to, or no, is beside the point; because in fact it never does. And where Irene seems hard and cruel, as in the Bois de Boulogne, or the Goupenor Gallery, she is but wisely realistic — knowing that the least concession is the inch which precedes the impossible, the repulsive ell.
A criticism one might pass on the last phase of the Saga is the complaint that Irene and Jolyon those rebels against property — claim spiritual property in their son Jon. But it would be hypercriticism, as the tale is told. No father and mother could have let the boy marry Fleur without knowledge of the facts; and the facts determine Jon, not the persuasion of his parents. Moreover, Jolyon’s persuasion is not on his own account, but on Irene’s, and Irene’s persuasion becomes a reiterated: “Don’t think of me, think of yourself!” That Jon, knowing the facts, can realise his mother’s feelings, will hardly with justice be held proof that she is, after all, a Forsyte.
But though the impingement of Beauty and the claims of Freedom on a possessive world are the main prepossessions of the Forsyte Saga, it cannot be absolved from the charge of embalming the upper-middle class. As the old Egyptians placed around their mummies the necessaries of a future existence, so I have endeavoured to lay beside the, figures of Aunts Ann and Juley and Hester, of Timothy and Swithin, of Old Jolyon and James, and of their sons, that which shall guarantee them a little life here-after, a little balm in the hurried Gilead of a dissolving “Progress.”
If the upper-middle class, with other classes, is destined to “move on” into amorphism, here, pickled in these pages, it lies under glass for strollers in the wide and ill-arranged museum of Letters. Here it rests, preserved in its own juice: The Sense of Property.
“........ You will answer The slaves are ours .....”
— Merchant of Venice.
TO EDWARD GARNETT
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
Part I Chapter 1 ‘At Home’ at Old Jolyon’s
Those privileged to be present at a family festival of the Forsytes have seen that charming and instructive sight — an upper middle-class family in full plumage. But whosoever of these favoured persons has possessed the gift of psychological analysis (a talent without monetary value and properly ignored by the Forsytes), has witnessed a spectacle, not only delightful in itself, but illustrative of an obscure human problem. In plainer words, he has gleaned from a gathering of this family — no branch of which had a liking for the other, between no three members of whom existed anything worthy of the name of sympathy — evidence of that mysterious concrete tenacity which renders a family so formidable a unit of society, so clear a reproduction of society in miniature. He has been admitted to a vision of the dim roads of social progress, has understood something of patriarchal life, of the swarmings of savage hordes, of the rise and fall of nations. He is like one who, having watched a tree grow from its planting — a paragon of tenacity, insulation, and success, amidst the deaths of a hundred other plants less fibrous, sappy, and persistent — one day will see it flourishing with bland, full foliage, in an almost repugnant prosperity, at the summit of its efflorescence.
On June 15, eighteen eighty-six, about four of the afternoon, the observer who chanced to be present at the house of old Jolyon Forsyte in Stanhope Gate, might have seen the highest efflorescence of the Forsytes.
This was the occasion of an ‘at home’ to celebrate the engagement of Miss June Forsyte, old Jolyon’s granddaughter, to Mr. Philip Bosinney. In the bravery of light gloves, buff waistcoats, feathers and frocks, the family were present, even Aunt Ann, who now but seldom left the corner of her brother Timothy’s green drawing-room, where, under the aegis of a plume of dyed pampas grass in a light blue vase, she sat all day reading and knitting, surrounded by the effigies of three generations of Forsytes. Even Aunt Ann was there; her inflexible back, and the dignity of her calm old face personifying the rigid possessiveness of the family idea.
When a Forsyte was engaged, married, or born, the Forsytes were present; when a Forsyte died — but no Forsyte had as yet died; they did not die; death being contrary to their principles, they took precautions against it, the instinctive precautions of highly vitalized persons who resent encroachments on their property.
About the Forsytes mingling that day with the crowd of other guests, there was a more than ordinarily groomed look, an alert, inquisitive assurance, a brilliant respectability, as though they were attired in defiance of something. The habitual sniff on the face of Soames Forsyte had spread through their ranks; they were on their guard.
The subconscious offensiveness of their attitude has constituted old Jolyon’s ‘home’ the psychological moment of the family history, made it the prelude of their drama.
The Forsytes were resentful of something, not individually, but as a family; this resentment expressed itself in an added perfection of raiment, an exuberance of family cordiality, an exaggeration of family importance, and — the sniff. Danger — so indispensable in bringing out the fundamental quality of any society, group, or individual — was what the Forsytes scented; the premonition of danger put a burnish on their armour. For the first time, as a family, they appeared to have an instinct of being in contact, with some strange and unsafe thing.
Over against the piano a man of bulk and stature was wearing two waistcoats on his wide chest, two waistcoats and a ruby pin, instead of the single satin waistcoat and diamond pin of more usual occasions, and his shaven, square, old face, the colour of pale leather, with pale eyes, had its most dignified look, above his satin stock. This was Swithin Forsyte. Close to the window, where he could get more than his fair share of fresh air, the other twin, James — the fat and the lean of it, old Jolyon called these brothers — like the bulky Swithin, over six feet in height, but very lean, as though destined from his birth to strike a balance and maintain an average, brooded over the scene with his permanent stoop; his grey eyes had an air of fixed absorption in some secret worry, broken at intervals by a rapid, shifting scrutiny of surrounding facts; his cheeks, thinned by two parallel folds, and a long, clean-shaven upper lip, were framed within Dundreary whiskers. In his hands he turned and turned a piece of china. Not far off, listening to a lady in brown, his only son Soames, pale and well-shaved, dark-haired, rather bald, had poked his chin up sideways, carrying his nose with that aforesaid appearance of ‘sniff,’ as though despising an egg which he knew he could not digest. Behind him his cousin, the tall George, son of the fifth Forsyte, Roger, had a Quilpish look on his fleshy face, pondering one of his sardonic jests. Something inherent to the occasion had affected them all.
Seated in a row close to one another were three ladies — Aunts Ann, Hester (the two Forsyte maids), and Juley (short for Julia), who not in first youth had so far forgotten herself as to marry Septimus Small, a man of poor constitution. She had survived him for many years. With her elder and younger sister she lived now in the house of Timothy, her sixth and youngest brother, on the Bayswater Road. Each of these ladies held fans in their hands, and each with some touch of colour, some emphatic feather or brooch, testified to the solemnity of the opportunity.
In the centre of the room, under the chandelier, as became a host, stood the head of the family, old Jolyon himself. Eighty years of age, with his fine, white hair, his dome-like forehead, his little, dark grey eyes, and an immense white moustache, which drooped and spread below the level of his strong jaw, he had a patriarchal look, and in spite of lean cheeks and hollows at his temples, seemed master of perennial youth. He held himself extremely upright, and his shrewd, steady eyes had lost none of their clear shining. Thus he gave an impression of superiority to the doubts and dislikes of smaller men. Having had his own way for innumerable years, he had earned a prescriptive right to it. It would never have occurred to old Jolyon that it was necessary to wear a look of doubt or of defiance.
Between him and the four other brothers who were present, James, Swithin, Nicholas, and Roger, there was much difference, much similarity. In turn, each of these four brothers was very different from the other, yet they, too, were alike.
Through the varying features and expression of those five faces could be marked a certain steadfastness of chin, underlying surface distinctions, marking a racial stamp, too prehistoric to trace, too remote and permanent to discuss — the very hall-mark and guarantee of the family fortunes.
Among the younger generation, in the tall, bull-like George, in pallid strenuous Archibald, in young Nicholas with his sweet and tentative obstinacy, in the grave and foppishly determined Eustace, there was this same stamp — less meaningful perhaps, but unmistakable — a sign of something ineradicable in the family soul. At one time or another during the afternoon, all these faces, so dissimilar and so alike, had worn an expression of distrust, the object of which was undoubtedly the man whose acquaintance they were thus assembled to make. Philip Bosinney was known to be a young man without fortune, but Forsyte girls had become engaged to such before, and had actually married them. It was not altogether for this reason, therefore, that the minds of the Forsytes misgave them. They could not have explained the origin of a misgiving obscured by the mist of family gossip. A story was undoubtedly told that he had paid his duty call to Aunts Ann, Juley, and Hester, in a soft grey hat — a soft grey hat, not even a new one — a dusty thing with a shapeless crown. “So, extraordinary, my dear — so odd,” Aunt Hester, passing through the little, dark hall (she was rather short-sighted), had tried to ‘shoo’ it off a chair, taking it for a strange, disreputable cat — Tommy had such disgraceful friends! She was disturbed when it did not move.
Like an artist for ever seeking to discover the significant trifle which embodies the whole character of a scene, or place, or person, so those unconscious artists — the Forsytes had fastened by intuition on this hat; it was their significant trifle, the detail in which was embedded the meaning of the whole matter; for each had asked himself: “Come, now, should I have paid that visit in that hat?” and each had answered “No!” and some, with more imagination than others, had added: “It would never have come into my head!”
George, on hearing the story, grinned. The hat had obviously been worn as a practical joke! He himself was a connoisseur of such. “Very haughty!” he said, “the wild Buccaneer.”
And this mot, the ‘Buccaneer,’ was bandied from mouth to mouth, till it became the favourite mode of alluding to Bosinney.
Her aunts reproached June afterwards about the hat.
“We don’t think you ought to let him, dear!” they had said.
June had answered in her imperious brisk way, like the little embodiment of will she was: “Oh! what does it matter? Phil never knows what he’s got on!”
No one had credited an answer so outrageous. A man not to know what he had on? No, no! What indeed was this young man, who, in becoming engaged to June, old Jolyon’s acknowledged heiress, had done so well for himself? He was an architect, not in itself a sufficient reason for wearing such a hat. None of the Forsytes happened to be architects, but one of them knew two architects who would never have worn such a hat upon a call of ceremony in the London season.
Dangerous — ah, dangerous! June, of course, had not seen this, but, though not yet nineteen, she was notorious. Had she not said to Mrs. Soames — who was always so beautifully dressed — that feathers were vulgar? Mrs. Soames had actually given up wearing feathers, so dreadfully downright was dear June!
These misgivings, this disapproval, and perfectly genuine distrust, did not prevent the Forsytes from gathering to old Jolyon’s invitation. An ‘At Home’ at Stanhope Gate was a great rarity; none had been held for twelve years, not indeed, since old Mrs. Jolyon had died.
Never had there been so full an assembly, for, mysteriously united in spite of all their differences, they had taken arms against a common peril. Like cattle when a dog comes into the field, they stood head to head and shoulder to shoulder, prepared to run upon and trample the invader to death. They had come, too, no doubt, to get some notion of what sort of presents they would ultimately be expected to give; for though the question of wedding gifts was usually graduated in this way: ‘What are you givin’? Nicholas is givin’ spoons!’— so very much depended on the bridegroom. If he were sleek, well-brushed, prosperous-looking, it was more necessary to give him nice things; he would expect them. In the end each gave exactly what was right and proper, by a species of family adjustment arrived at as prices are arrived at on the Stock Exchange — the exact niceties being regulated at Timothy’s commodious, red-brick residence in Bayswater, overlooking the Park, where dwelt Aunts Ann, Juley, and Hester.
The uneasiness of the Forsyte family has been justified by the simple mention of the hat. How impossible and wrong would it have been for any family, with the regard for appearances which should ever characterize the great upper middle-class, to feel otherwise than uneasy!
The author of the uneasiness stood talking to June by the further door; his curly hair had a rumpled appearance, as though he found what was going on around him unusual. He had an air, too, of having a joke all to himself. George, speaking aside to his brother, Eustace, said:
“Looks as if he might make a bolt of it — the dashing Buccaneer!”
This ‘very singular-looking man,’ as Mrs. Small afterwards called him, was of medium height and strong build, with a pale, brown face, a dust-coloured moustache, very prominent cheek-bones, and hollow checks. His forehead sloped back towards the crown of his head, and bulged out in bumps over the eyes, like foreheads seen in the Lion-house at the Zoo. He had sherry-coloured eyes, disconcertingly inattentive at times. Old Jolyon’s coachman, after driving June and Bosinney to the theatre, had remarked to the butler:
“I dunno what to make of ’im. Looks to me for all the world like an ‘alf-tame leopard.” And every now and then a Forsyte would come up, sidle round, and take a look at him.
June stood in front, fending off this idle curiosity — a little bit of a thing, as somebody once said, ‘all hair and spirit,’ with fearless blue eyes, a firm jaw, and a bright colour, whose face and body seemed too slender for her crown of red-gold hair.
A tall woman, with a beautiful figure, which some member of the family had once compared to a heathen goddess, stood looking at these two with a shadowy smile.
Her hands, gloved in French grey, were crossed one over the other, her grave, charming face held to one side, and the eyes of all men near were fastened on it. Her figure swayed, so balanced that the very air seemed to set it moving. There was warmth, but little colour, in her cheeks; her large, dark eyes were soft.
But it was at her lips — asking a question, giving an answer, with that shadowy smile — that men looked; they were sensitive lips, sensuous and sweet, and through them seemed to come warmth and perfume like the warmth and perfume of a flower.
The engaged couple thus scrutinized were unconscious of this passive goddess. It was Bosinney who first noticed her, and asked her name.
June took her lover up to the woman with the beautiful figure.
“Irene is my greatest chum,” she said: “Please be good friends, you two!”
At the little lady’s command they all three smiled; and while they were smiling, Soames Forsyte, silently appearing from behind the woman with the beautiful figure, who was his wife, said:
“Ah! introduce me too!”
He was seldom, indeed, far from Irene’s side at public functions, and even when separated by the exigencies of social intercourse, could be seen following her about with his eyes, in which were strange expressions of watchfulness and longing.
At the window his father, James, was still scrutinizing the marks on the piece of china.
“I wonder at Jolyon’s allowing this engagement,” he said to Aunt Ann. “They tell me there’s no chance of their getting married for years. This young Bosinney” (he made the word a dactyl in opposition to general usage of a short o) “has got nothing. When Winifred married Dartie, I made him bring every penny into settlement — lucky thing, too — they’d ha’ had nothing by this time!”
Aunt Ann looked up from her velvet chair. Grey curls banded her forehead, curls that, unchanged for decades, had extinguished in the family all sense of time. She made no reply, for she rarely spoke, husbanding her aged voice; but to James, uneasy of conscience, her look was as good as an answer.
“Well,” he said, “I couldn’t help Irene’s having no money. Soames was in such a hurry; he got quite thin dancing attendance on her.”
Putting the bowl pettishly down on the piano, he let his eyes wander to the group by the door.
“It’s my opinion,” he said unexpectedly, “that it’s just as well as it is.”
Aunt Ann did not ask him to explain this strange utterance. She knew what he was thinking. If Irene had no money she would not be so foolish as to do anything wrong; for they said — they said — she had been asking for a separate room; but, of course, Soames had not....
James interrupted her reverie:
“But where,” he asked, “was Timothy? Hadn’t he come with them?”
Through Aunt Ann’s compressed lips a tender smile forced its way:
“No, he didn’t think it wise, with so much of this diphtheria about; and he so liable to take things.”
“Well, HE takes good care of himself. I can’t afford to take the care of myself that he does.”
Nor was it easy to say which, of admiration, envy, or contempt, was dominant in that remark.
Timothy, indeed, was seldom seen. The baby of the family, a publisher by profession, he had some years before, when business was at full tide, scented out the stagnation which, indeed, had not yet come, but which ultimately, as all agreed, was bound to set in, and, selling his share in a firm engaged mainly in the production of religious books, had invested the quite conspicuous proceeds in three per cent. consols. By this act he had at once assumed an isolated position, no other Forsyte being content with less than four per cent. for his money; and this isolation had slowly and surely undermined a spirit perhaps better than commonly endowed with caution. He had become almost a myth — a kind of incarnation of security haunting the background of the Forsyte universe. He had never committed the imprudence of marrying, or encumbering himself in any way with children.
James resumed, tapping the piece of china:
“This isn’t real old Worcester. I s’pose Jolyon’s told you something about the young man. From all I can learn, he’s got no business, no income, and no connection worth speaking of; but then, I know nothing — nobody tells me anything.”
Aunt Ann shook her head. Over her square-chinned, aquiline old face a trembling passed; the spidery fingers of her hands pressed against each other and interlaced, as though she were subtly recharging her will.
The eldest by some years of all the Forsytes, she held a peculiar position amongst them. Opportunists and egotists one and all — though not, indeed, more so than their neighbours — they quailed before her incorruptible figure, and, when opportunities were too strong, what could they do but avoid her!
Twisting his long, thin legs, James went on:
“Jolyon, he will have his own way. He’s got no children”— and stopped, recollecting the continued existence of old Jolyon’s son, young Jolyon, June’s father, who had made such a mess of it, and done for himself by deserting his wife and child and running away with that foreign governess. “Well,” he resumed hastily, “if he likes to do these things, I s’pose he can afford to. Now, what’s he going to give her? I s’pose he’ll give her a thousand a year; he’s got nobody else to leave his money to.”
He stretched out his hand to meet that of a dapper, clean-shaven man, with hardly a hair on his head, a long, broken nose, full lips, and cold grey eyes under rectangular brows.
“Well, Nick,” he muttered, “how are you?”
Nicholas Forsyte, with his bird-like rapidity and the look of a preternaturally sage schoolboy (he had made a large fortune, quite legitimately, out of the companies of which he was a director), placed within that cold palm the tips of his still colder fingers and hastily withdrew them.
“I’m bad,” he said, pouting —“been bad all the week; don’t sleep at night. The doctor can’t tell why. He’s a clever fellow, or I shouldn’t have him, but I get nothing out of him but bills.”
“Doctors!” said James, coming down sharp on his words: “I’ve had all the doctors in London for one or another of us. There’s no satisfaction to be got out of them; they’ll tell you anything. There’s Swithin, now. What good have they done him? There he is; he’s bigger than ever; he’s enormous; they can’t get his weight down. Look at him!”
Swithin Forsyte, tall, square, and broad, with a chest like a pouter pigeon’s in its plumage of bright waistcoats, came strutting towards them.
“Er — how are you?” he said in his dandified way, aspirating the ‘h’ strongly (this difficult letter was almost absolutely safe in his keeping)—“how are you?”
Each brother wore an air of aggravation as he looked at the other two, knowing by experience that they would try to eclipse his ailments.
“We were just saying,” said James, “that you don’t get any thinner.”
Swithin protruded his pale round eyes with the effort of hearing.
“Thinner? I’m in good case,” he said, leaning a little forward, “not one of your thread-papers like you!”
But, afraid of losing the expansion of his chest, he leaned back again into a state of immobility, for he prized nothing so highly as a distinguished appearance.
Aunt Ann turned her old eyes from one to the other. Indulgent and severe was her look. In turn the three brothers looked at Ann. She was getting shaky. Wonderful woman! Eighty-six if a day; might live another ten years, and had never been strong. Swithin and James, the twins, were only seventy-five, Nicholas a mere baby of seventy or so. All were strong, and the inference was comforting. Of all forms of property their respective healths naturally concerned them most.
“I’m very well in myself,” proceeded James, “but my nerves are out of order. The least thing worries me to death. I shall have to go to Bath.”
“Bath!” said Nicholas. “I’ve tried Harrogate. That’s no good. What I want is sea air. There’s nothing like Yarmouth. Now, when I go there I sleep....”
“My liver’s very bad,” interrupted Swithin slowly. “Dreadful pain here;” and he placed his hand on his right side.
“Want of exercise,” muttered James, his eyes on the china. He quickly added: “I get a pain there, too.”
Swithin reddened, a resemblance to a turkey-cock coming upon his old face.
“Exercise!” he said. “I take plenty: I never use the lift at the Club.”
“I didn’t know,” James hurried out. “I know nothing about anybody; nobody tells me anything....”
Swithin fixed him with a stare:
“What do you do for a pain there?”
“I take a compound....”
“How are you, uncle?”
June stood before him, her resolute small face raised from her little height to his great height, and her hand outheld.
The brightness faded from James’s visage.
“How are you?” he said, brooding over her. “So you’re going to Wales to-morrow to visit your young man’s aunts? You’ll have a lot of rain there. This isn’t real old Worcester.” He tapped the bowl. “Now, that set I gave your mother when she married was the genuine thing.”
June shook hands one by one with her three great-uncles, and turned to Aunt Ann. A very sweet look had come into the old lady’s face, she kissed the girl’s check with trembling fervour.
“Well, my dear,” she said, “and so you’re going for a whole month!”
The girl passed on, and Aunt Ann looked after her slim little figure. The old lady’s round, steel grey eyes, over which a film like a bird’s was beginning to come, followed her wistfully amongst the bustling crowd, for people were beginning to say good-bye; and her finger-tips, pressing and pressing against each other, were busy again with the recharging of her will against that inevitable ultimate departure of her own.
‘Yes,’ she thought, ‘everybody’s been most kind; quite a lot of people come to congratulate her. She ought to be very happy.’ Amongst the throng of people by the door, the well-dressed throng drawn from the families of lawyers and doctors, from the Stock Exchange, and all the innumerable avocations of the upper-middle class — there were only some twenty percent of Forsytes; but to Aunt Ann they seemed all Forsytes — and certainly there was not much difference — she saw only her own flesh and blood. It was her world, this family, and she knew no other, had never perhaps known any other. All their little secrets, illnesses, engagements, and marriages, how they were getting on, and whether they were making money — all this was her property, her delight, her life; beyond this only a vague, shadowy mist of facts and persons of no real significance. This it was that she would have to lay down when it came to her turn to die; this which gave to her that importance, that secret self-importance, without which none of us can bear to live; and to this she clung wistfully, with a greed that grew each day! If life were slipping away from her, this she would retain to the end.
She thought of June’s father, young Jolyon, who had run away with that foreign girl. And what a sad blow to his father and to them all. Such a promising young fellow! A sad blow, though there had been no public scandal, most fortunately, Jo’s wife seeking for no divorce! A long time ago! And when June’s mother died, six years ago, Jo had married that woman, and they had two children now, so she had heard. Still, he had forfeited his right to be there, had cheated her of the complete fulfilment of her family pride, deprived her of the rightful pleasure of seeing and kissing him of whom she had been so proud, such a promising young fellow! The thought rankled with the bitterness of a long-inflicted injury in her tenacious old heart. A little water stood in her eyes. With a handkerchief of the finest lawn she wiped them stealthily.
“Well, Aunt Ann?” said a voice behind.
Soames Forsyte, flat-shouldered, clean-shaven, flat-cheeked, flat-waisted, yet with something round and secret about his whole appearance, looked downwards and aslant at Aunt Ann, as though trying to see through the side of his own nose.
“And what do you think of the engagement?” he asked.
Aunt Ann’s eyes rested on him proudly; of all the nephews since young Jolyon’s departure from the family nest, he was now her favourite, for she recognised in him a sure trustee of the family soul that must so soon slip beyond her keeping.
“Very nice for the young man,” she said; “and he’s a good-looking young fellow; but I doubt if he’s quite the right lover for dear June.”
Soames touched the edge of a gold-lacquered lustre.
“She’ll tame him,” he said, stealthily wetting his finger and rubbing it on the knobby bulbs. “That’s genuine old lacquer; you can’t get it nowadays. It’d do well in a sale at Jobson’s.” He spoke with relish, as though he felt that he was cheering up his old aunt. It was seldom he was so confidential. “I wouldn’t mind having it myself,” he added; “you can always get your price for old lacquer.”
“You’re so clever with all those things,” said Aunt Ann. “And how is dear Irene?”
Soames’s smile died.
“Pretty well,” he said. “Complains she can’t sleep; she sleeps a great deal better than I do,” and he looked at his wife, who was talking to Bosinney by the door.
Aunt Ann sighed.
“Perhaps,” she said, “it will be just as well for her not to see so much of June. She’s such a decided character, dear June!”
Soames flushed; his flushes passed rapidly over his flat cheeks and centered between his eyes, where they remained, the stamp of disturbing thoughts.
“I don’t know what she sees in that little flibbertigibbet,” he burst out, but noticing that they were no longer alone, he turned and again began examining the lustre.
“They tell me Jolyon’s bought another house,” said his father’s voice close by; “he must have a lot of money — he must have more money than he knows what to do with! Montpellier Square, they say; close to Soames! They never told me, Irene never tells me anything!”
“Capital position, not two minutes from me,” said the voice of Swithin, “and from my rooms I can drive to the Club in eight.”
The position of their houses was of vital importance to the Forsytes, nor was this remarkable, since the whole spirit of their success was embodied therein.
Their father, of farming stock, had come from Dorsetshire near the beginning of the century.
‘Superior Dosset Forsyte, as he was called by his intimates, had been a stonemason by trade, and risen to the position of a master-builder.
Towards the end of his life he moved to London, where, building on until he died, he was buried at Highgate. He left over thirty thousand pounds between his ten children. Old Jolyon alluded to him, if at all, as ‘A hard, thick sort of man; not much refinement about him.’ The second generation of Forsytes felt indeed that he was not greatly to their credit. The only aristocratic trait they could find in his character was a habit of drinking Madeira.
Aunt Hester, an authority on family history, described him thus: “I don’t recollect that he ever did anything; at least, not in my time. He was er — an owner of houses, my dear. His hair about your Uncle Swithin’s colour; rather a square build. Tall? No — not very tall” (he had been five feet five, with a mottled face); “a fresh-coloured man. I remember he used to drink Madeira; but ask your Aunt Ann. What was his father? He — er — had to do with the land down in Dorsetshire, by the sea.”
James once went down to see for himself what sort of place this was that they had come from. He found two old farms, with a cart track rutted into the pink earth, leading down to a mill by the beach; a little grey church with a buttressed outer wall, and a smaller and greyer chapel. The stream which worked the mill came bubbling down in a dozen rivulets, and pigs were hunting round that estuary. A haze hovered over the prospect. Down this hollow, with their feet deep in the mud and their faces towards the sea, it appeared that the primeval Forsytes had been content to walk Sunday after Sunday for hundreds of years.
Whether or no James had cherished hopes of an inheritance, or of something rather distinguished to be found down there, he came back to town in a poor way, and went about with a pathetic attempt at making the best of a bad job.
“There’s very little to be had out of that,” he said; “regular country little place, old as the hills....”
Its age was felt to be a comfort. Old Jolyon, in whom a desperate honesty welled up at times, would allude to his ancestors as: “Yeomen — I suppose very small beer.” Yet he would repeat the word ‘yeomen’ as if it afforded him consolation.
They had all done so well for themselves, these Forsytes, that they were all what is called ‘of a certain position.’ They had shares in all sorts of things, not as yet — with the exception of Timothy — in consols, for they had no dread in life like that of 3 per cent. for their money. They collected pictures, too, and were supporters of such charitable institutions as might be beneficial to their sick domestics. From their father, the builder, they inherited a talent for bricks and mortar. Originally, perhaps, members of some primitive sect, they were now in the natural course of things members of the Church of England, and caused their wives and children to attend with some regularity the more fashionable churches of the Metropolis. To have doubted their Christianity would have caused them both pain and surprise. Some of them paid for pews, thus expressing in the most practical form their sympathy with the teachings of Christ.
Their residences, placed at stated intervals round the park, watched like sentinels, lest the fair heart of this London, where their desires were fixed, should slip from their clutches, and leave them lower in their own estimations.
There was old Jolyon in Stanhope Place; the Jameses in Park Lane; Swithin in the lonely glory of orange and blue chambers in Hyde Park Mansions — he had never married, not he — the Soamses in their nest off Knightsbridge; the Rogers in Prince’s Gardens (Roger was that remarkable Forsyte who had conceived and carried out the notion of bringing up his four sons to a new profession. “Collect house property, nothing like it,” he would say; “I never did anything else”).
The Haymans again — Mrs. Hayman was the one married Forsyte sister — in a house high up on Campden Hill, shaped like a giraffe, and so tall that it gave the observer a crick in the neck; the Nicholases in Ladbroke Grove, a spacious abode and a great bargain; and last, but not least, Timothy’s on the Bayswater Road, where Ann, and Juley, and Hester, lived under his protection.
But all this time James was musing, and now he inquired of his host and brother what he had given for that house in Montpellier Square. He himself had had his eye on a house there for the last two years, but they wanted such a price.
Old Jolyon recounted the details of his purchase.
“Twenty-two years to run?” repeated James; “The very house I was after — you’ve given too much for it!”
Old Jolyon frowned.
“It’s not that I want it,” said James hastily; it wouldn’t suit my purpose at that price. Soames knows the house, well — he’ll tell you it’s too dear — his opinion’s worth having.”
“I don’t,” said old Jolyon, “care a fig for his opinion.”
“Well,” murmured James, “you will have your own way — it’s a good opinion. Good-bye! We’re going to drive down to Hurlingham. They tell me June’s going to Wales. You’ll be lonely tomorrow. What’ll you do with yourself? You’d better come and dine with us!”
Old Jolyon refused. He went down to the front door and saw them into their barouche, and twinkled at them, having already forgotten his spleen — Mrs. James facing the horses, tall and majestic with auburn hair; on her left, Irene — the two husbands, father and son, sitting forward, as though they expected something, opposite their wives. Bobbing and bounding upon the spring cushions, silent, swaying to each motion of their chariot, old Jolyon watched them drive away under the sunlight.
During the drive the silence was broken by Mrs. James.
“Did you ever see such a collection of rumty-too people?”
Soames, glancing at her beneath his eyelids, nodded, and he saw Irene steal at him one of her unfathomable looks. It is likely enough that each branch of the Forsyte family made that remark as they drove away from old Jolyon’s ‘At Home!’
Amongst the last of the departing guests the fourth and fifth brothers, Nicholas and Roger, walked away together, directing their steps alongside Hyde Park towards the Praed Street Station of the Underground. Like all other Forsytes of a certain age they kept carriages of their own, and never took cabs if by any means they could avoid it.
The day was bright, the trees of the Park in the full beauty of mid-June foliage; the brothers did not seem to notice phenomena, which contributed, nevertheless, to the jauntiness of promenade and conversation.
“Yes,” said Roger, “she’s a good-lookin’ woman, that wife of Soames’s. I’m told they don’t get on.”
This brother had a high forehead, and the freshest colour of any of the Forsytes; his light grey eyes measured the street frontage of the houses by the way, and now and then he would level his, umbrella and take a ‘lunar,’ as he expressed it, of the varying heights.
“She’d no money,” replied Nicholas.
He himself had married a good deal of money, of which, it being then the golden age before the Married Women’s Property Act, he had mercifully been enabled to make a successful use.
“What was her father?”
“Heron was his name, a Professor, so they tell me.”
Roger shook his head.
“There’s no money in that,” he said.
“They say her mother’s father was cement.”
Roger’s face brightened.
“But he went bankrupt,” went on Nicholas.
“Ah!” exclaimed Roger, “Soames will have trouble with her; you mark my words, he’ll have trouble — she’s got a foreign look.”
Nicholas licked his lips.
“She’s a pretty woman,” and he waved aside a crossing-sweeper.
“How did he get hold of her?” asked Roger presently. “She must cost him a pretty penny in dress!”
“Ann tells me,” replied Nicholas, “he was half-cracked about her. She refused him five times. James, he’s nervous about it, I can see.”
“Ah!” said Roger again; “I’m sorry for James; he had trouble with Dartie.” His pleasant colour was heightened by exercise, he swung his umbrella to the level of his eye more frequently than ever. Nicholas’s face also wore a pleasant look.
“Too pale for me,” he said, “but her figures capital!”
Roger made no reply.
“I call her distinguished-looking,” he said at last — it was the highest praise in the Forsyte vocabulary. “That young Bosinney will never do any good for himself. They say at Burkitt’s he’s one of these artistic chaps — got an idea of improving English architecture; there’s no money in that! I should like to hear what Timothy would say to it.”
They entered the station.
“What class are you going? I go second.”
“No second for me,” said Nicholas;—“you never know what you may catch.”
He took a first-class ticket to Notting Hill Gate; Roger a second to South Kensington. The train coming in a minute later, the two brothers parted and entered their respective compartments. Each felt aggrieved that the other had not modified his habits to secure his society a little longer; but as Roger voiced it in his thoughts:
‘Always a stubborn beggar, Nick!’
And as Nicholas expressed it to himself:
‘Cantankerous chap Roger — always was!’
There was little sentimentality about the Forsytes. In that great London, which they had conquered and become merged in, what time had they to be sentimental?
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
Chapter 2 Old Jolyon Goes to the Opera
At five o’clock the following day old Jolyon sat alone, a cigar between his lips, and on a table by his side a cup of tea. He was tired, and before he had finished his cigar he fell asleep. A fly settled on his hair, his breathing sounded heavy in the drowsy silence, his upper lip under the white moustache puffed in and out. From between the fingers of his veined and wrinkled hand the cigar, dropping on the empty hearth, burned itself out.
The gloomy little study, with windows of stained glass to exclude the view, was full of dark green velvet and heavily-carved mahogany — a suite of which old Jolyon was wont to say: ‘Shouldn’t wonder if it made a big price some day!’
It was pleasant to think that in the after life he could get more for things than he had given.
In the rich brown atmosphere peculiar to back rooms in the mansion of a Forsyte, the Rembrandtesque effect of his great head, with its white hair, against the cushion of his high-backed seat, was spoiled by the moustache, which imparted a somewhat military look to his face. An old clock that had been with him since before his marriage forty years ago kept with its ticking a jealous record of the seconds slipping away forever from its old master.
He had never cared for this room, hardly going into it from one year’s end to another, except to take cigars from the Japanese cabinet in the corner, and the room now had its revenge.
His temples, curving like thatches over the hollows beneath, his cheek-bones and chin, all were sharpened in his sleep, and there had come upon his face the confession that he was an old man.
He woke. June had gone! James had said he would be lonely. James had always been a poor thing. He recollected with satisfaction that he had bought that house over James’s head.
Serve him right for sticking at the price; the only thing the fellow thought of was money. Had he given too much, though? It wanted a lot of doing to — He dared say he would want all his money before he had done with this affair of June’s. He ought never to have allowed the engagement. She had met this Bosinney at the house of Baynes, Baynes and Bildeboy, the architects. He believed that Baynes, whom he knew — a bit of an old woman — was the young man’s uncle by marriage. After that she’d been always running after him; and when she took a thing into her head there was no stopping her. She was continually taking up with ‘lame ducks’ of one sort or another. This fellow had no money, but she must needs become engaged to him — a harumscarum, unpractical chap, who would get himself into no end of difficulties.
She had come to him one day in her slap-dash way and told him; and, as if it were any consolation, she had added:
“He’s so splendid; he’s often lived on cocoa for a week!”
“And he wants you to live on cocoa too?”
“Oh no; he is getting into the swim now.”
Old Jolyon had taken his cigar from under his white moustaches, stained by coffee at the edge, and looked at her, that little slip of a thing who had got such a grip of his heart. He knew more about ‘swims’ than his granddaughter. But she, having clasped her hands on his knees, rubbed her chin against him, making a sound like a purring cat. And, knocking the ash off his cigar, he had exploded in nervous desperation:
“You’re all alike: you won’t be satisfied till you’ve got what you want. If you must come to grief, you must; I wash my hands of it.”
So, he had washed his hands of it, making the condition that they should not marry until Bosinney had at least four hundred a year.
“I shan’t be able to give you very much,” he had said, a formula to which June was not unaccustomed. “Perhaps this What’s-his-name will provide the cocoa.”
He had hardly seen anything of her since it began. A bad business! He had no notion of giving her a lot of money to enable a fellow he knew nothing about to live on in idleness. He had seen that sort of thing before; no good ever came of it. Worst of all, he had no hope of shaking her resolution; she was as obstinate as a mule, always had been from a child. He didn’t see where it was to end. They must cut their coat according to their cloth. He would not give way till he saw young Bosinney with an income of his own. That June would have trouble with the fellow was as plain as a pikestaff; he had no more idea of money than a cow. As to this rushing down to Wales to visit the young man’s aunts, he fully expected they were old cats.
And, motionless, old Jolyon stared at the wall; but for his open eyes, he might have been asleep.... The idea of supposing that young cub Soames could give him advice! He had always been a cub, with his nose in the air! He would be setting up as a man of property next, with a place in the country! A man of property! H’mph! Like his father, he was always nosing out bargains, a cold-blooded young beggar!
He rose, and, going to the cabinet, began methodically stocking his cigar-case from a bundle fresh in. They were not bad at the price, but you couldn’t get a good cigar, nowadays, nothing to hold a candle to those old Superfinos of Hanson and Bridger’s. That was a cigar!
The thought, like some stealing perfume, carried him back to those wonderful nights at Richmond when after dinner he sat smoking on the terrace of the Crown and Sceptre with Nicholas Treffry and Traquair and Jack Herring and Anthony Thornworthy. How good his cigars were then! Poor old Nick!— dead, and Jack Herring — dead, and Traquair — dead of that wife of his, and Thornworthy — awfully shaky (no wonder, with his appetite).
Of all the company of those days he himself alone seemed left, except Swithin, of course, and he so outrageously big there was no doing anything with him.
Difficult to believe it was so long ago; he felt young still! Of all his thoughts, as he stood there counting his cigars, this was the most poignant, the most bitter. With his white head and his loneliness he had remained young and green at heart. And those Sunday afternoons on Hampstead Heath, when young Jolyon and he went for a stretch along the Spaniard’s Road to Highgate, to Child’s Hill, and back over the Heath again to dine at Jack Straw’s Castle — how delicious his cigars were then! And such weather! There was no weather now.
When June was a toddler of five, and every other Sunday he took her to the Zoo, away from the society of those two good women, her mother and her grandmother, and at the top of the bear den baited his umbrella with buns for her favourite bears, how sweet his cigars were then!
Cigars! He had not even succeeded in out-living his palate — the famous palate that in the fifties men swore by, and speaking of him, said: “Forsyte’s the best palate in London!” The palate that in a sense had made his fortune — the fortune of the celebrated tea men, Forsyte and Treffry, whose tea, like no other man’s tea, had a romantic aroma, the charm of a quite singular genuineness. About the house of Forsyte and Treffry in the City had clung an air of enterprise and mystery, of special dealings in special ships, at special ports, with special Orientals.
He had worked at that business! Men did work in those days! these young pups hardly knew the meaning of the word. He had gone into every detail, known everything that went on, sometimes sat up all night over it. And he had always chosen his agents himself, prided himself on it. His eye for men, he used to say, had been the secret of his success, and the exercise of this masterful power of selection had been the only part of it all that he had really liked. Not a career for a man of his ability. Even now, when the business had been turned into a Limited Liability Company, and was declining (he had got out of his shares long ago), he felt a sharp chagrin in thinking of that time. How much better he might have done! He would have succeeded splendidly at the Bar! He had even thought of standing for Parliament. How often had not Nicholas Treffry said to him:
“You could do anything, Jo, if you weren’t so d-damned careful of yourself!” Dear old Nick! Such a good fellow, but a racketty chap! The notorious Treffry! He had never taken any care of himself. So he was dead. Old Jolyon counted his cigars with a steady hand, and it came into his mind to wonder if perhaps he had been too careful of himself.
He put the cigar-case in the breast of his coat, buttoned it in, and walked up the long flights to his bedroom, leaning on one foot and the other, and helping himself by the bannister. The house was too big. After June was married, if she ever did marry this fellow, as he supposed she would, he would let it and go into rooms. What was the use of keeping half a dozen servants eating their heads off?
The butler came to the ring of his bell — a large man with a beard, a soft tread, and a peculiar capacity for silence. Old Jolyon told him to put his dress clothes out; he was going to dine at the Club.
How long had the carriage been back from taking Miss June to the station? Since two? Then let him come round at half-past six!
The Club which old Jolyon entered on the stroke of seven was one of those political institutions of the upper middle class which have seen better days. In spite of being talked about, perhaps in consequence of being talked about, it betrayed a disappointing vitality. People had grown tired of saying that the ‘Disunion’ was on its last legs. Old Jolyon would say it, too, yet disregarded the fact in a manner truly irritating to well-constituted Clubmen.
“Why do you keep your name on?” Swithin often asked him with profound vexation. “Why don’t you join the ‘Polyglot’? You can’t get a wine like our Heidsieck under twenty shillin’ a bottle anywhere in London;” and, dropping his voice, he added: “There’s only five hundred dozen left. I drink it every night of my life.”
“I’ll think of it,” old Jolyon would answer; but when he did think of it there was always the question of fifty guineas entrance fee, and it would take him four or five years to get in. He continued to think of it.
He was too old to be a Liberal, had long ceased to believe in the political doctrines of his Club, had even been known to allude to them as ‘wretched stuff,’ and it afforded him pleasure to continue a member in the teeth of principles so opposed to his own. He had always had a contempt for the place, having joined it many years ago when they refused to have him at the ‘Hotch Potch’ owing to his being ‘in trade.’ As if he were not as good as any of them! He naturally despised the Club that did take him. The members were a poor lot, many of them in the City — stockbrokers, solicitors, auctioneers — what not! Like most men of strong character but not too much originality, old Jolyon set small store by the class to which he belonged. Faithfully he followed their customs, social and otherwise, and secretly he thought them ‘a common lot.’
Years and philosophy, of which he had his share, had dimmed the recollection of his defeat at the ‘Hotch Potch’; and now in his thoughts it was enshrined as the Queen of Clubs. He would have been a member all these years himself, but, owing to the slipshod way his proposer, Jack Herring, had gone to work, they had not known what they were doing in keeping him out. Why! they had taken his son Jo at once, and he believed the boy was still a member; he had received a letter dated from there eight years ago.
He had not been near the ‘Disunion’ for months, and the house had undergone the piebald decoration which people bestow on old houses and old ships when anxious to sell them.
‘Beastly colour, the smoking-room!’ he thought. ‘The dining-room is good!’
Its gloomy chocolate, picked out with light green, took his fancy.
He ordered dinner, and sat down in the very corner, at the very table perhaps! (things did not progress much at the ‘Disunion,’ a Club of almost Radical principles) at which he and young Jolyon used to sit twenty-five years ago, when he was taking the latter to Drury Lane, during his holidays.
The boy had loved the theatre, and old Jolyon recalled how he used to sit opposite, concealing his excitement under a careful but transparent nonchalance.
He ordered himself, too, the very dinner the boy had always chosen-soup, whitebait, cutlets, and a tart. Ah! if he were only opposite now!
The two had not met for fourteen years. And not for the first time during those fourteen years old Jolyon wondered whether he had been a little to blame in the matter of his son. An unfortunate love-affair with that precious flirt Danae Thornworthy (now Danae Pellew), Anthony Thornworthy’s daughter, had thrown him on the rebound into the arms of June’s mother. He ought perhaps to have put a spoke in the wheel of their marriage; they were too young; but after that experience of Jo’s susceptibility he had been only too anxious to see him married. And in four years the crash had come! To have approved his son’s conduct in that crash was, of course, impossible; reason and training — that combination of potent factors which stood for his principles — told him of this impossibility, and his heart cried out. The grim remorselessness of that business had no pity for hearts. There was June, the atom with flaming hair, who had climbed all over him, twined and twisted herself about him — about his heart that was made to be the plaything and beloved resort of tiny, helpless things. With characteristic insight he saw he must part with one or with the other; no half-measures could serve in such a situation. In that lay its tragedy. And the tiny, helpless thing prevailed. He would not run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, and so to his son he said good-bye.
That good-bye had lasted until now.
He had proposed to continue a reduced allowance to young Jolyon, but this had been refused, and perhaps that refusal had hurt him more than anything, for with it had gone the last outlet of his penned-in affection; and there had come such tangible and solid proof of rupture as only a transaction in property, a bestowal or refusal of such, could supply.
His dinner tasted flat. His pint of champagne was dry and bitter stuff, not like the Veuve Clicquots of old days.
Over his cup of coffee, he bethought him that he would go to the opera. In the Times, therefore — he had a distrust of other papers — he read the announcement for the evening. It was ‘Fidelio.’
Mercifully not one of those new-fangled German pantomimes by that fellow Wagner.
Putting on his ancient opera hat, which, with its brim flattened by use, and huge capacity, looked like an emblem of greater days, and, pulling out an old pair of very thin lavender kid gloves smelling strongly of Russia leather, from habitual proximity to the cigar-case in the pocket of his overcoat, he stepped into a hansom.
The cab rattled gaily along the streets, and old Jolyon was struck by their unwonted animation.
‘The hotels must be doing a tremendous business,’ he thought. A few years ago there had been none of these big hotels. He made a satisfactory reflection on some property he had in the neighbourhood. It must be going up in value by leaps and bounds! What traffic!
But from that he began indulging in one of those strange impersonal speculations, so uncharacteristic of a Forsyte, wherein lay, in part, the secret of his supremacy amongst them. What atoms men were, and what a lot of them! And what would become of them all?
He stumbled as he got out of the cab, gave the man his exact fare, walked up to the ticket office to take his stall, and stood there with his purse in his hand — he always carried his money in a purse, never having approved of that habit of carrying it loosely in the pockets, as so many young men did nowadays. The official leaned out, like an old dog from a kennel.
“Why,” he said in a surprised voice, “it’s Mr. Jolyon Forsyte! So it is! Haven’t seen you, sir, for years. Dear me! Times aren’t what they were. Why! you and your brother, and that auctioneer — Mr. Traquair, and Mr. Nicholas Treffry — you used to have six or seven stalls here regular every season. And how are you, sir? We don’t get younger!”
The colour in old Jolyon’s eyes deepened; he paid his guinea. They had not forgotten him. He marched in, to the sounds of the overture, like an old war-horse to battle.
Folding his opera hat, he sat down, drew out his lavender gloves in the old way, and took up his glasses for a long look round the house. Dropping them at last on his folded hat, he fixed his eyes on the curtain. More poignantly than ever he felt that it was all over and done with him. Where were all the women, the pretty women, the house used to be so full of? Where was that old feeling in the heart as he waited for one of those great singers? Where that sensation of the intoxication of life and of his own power to enjoy it all?
The greatest opera-goer of his day! There was no opera now! That fellow Wagner had ruined everything; no melody left, nor any voices to sing it. Ah! the wonderful singers! Gone! He sat watching the old scenes acted, a numb feeling at his heart.
From the curl of silver over his ear to the pose of his foot in its elastic-sided patent boot, there was nothing clumsy or weak about old Jolyon. He was as upright — very nearly — as in those old times when he came every night; his sight was as good — almost as good. But what a feeling of weariness and disillusion!
He had been in the habit all his life of enjoying things, even imperfect things — and there had been many imperfect things — he had enjoyed them all with moderation, so as to keep himself young. But now he was deserted by his power of enjoyment, by his philosophy, and left with this dreadful feeling that it was all done with. Not even the Prisoners’ Chorus, nor Florian’s Song, had the power to dispel the gloom of his loneliness.
If Jo were only with him! The boy must be forty by now. He had wasted fourteen years out of the life of his only son. And Jo was no longer a social pariah. He was married. Old Jolyon had been unable to refrain from marking his appreciation of the action by enclosing his son a cheque for L500. The cheque had been returned in a letter from the ‘Hotch Potch,’ couched in these words.
‘MY DEAREST FATHER,
‘Your generous gift was welcome as a sign that you might think worse of me. I return it, but should you think fit to invest it for the benefit of the little chap (we call him Jolly), who bears our Christian and, by courtesy, our surname, I shall be very glad.
‘I hope with all my heart that your health is as good as ever.
‘Your loving son,
The letter was like the boy. He had always been an amiable chap. Old Jolyon had sent this reply:
‘MY DEAR JO,
‘The sum (L500) stands in my books for the benefit of your boy, under the name of Jolyon Forsyte, and will be duly-credited with interest at 5 per cent. I hope that you are doing well. My health remains good at present.
‘With love, I am, ‘Your affectionate Father, ‘JOLYON FORSYTE.’
And every year on the 1st of January he had added a hundred and the interest. The sum was mounting up — next New Year’s Day it would be fifteen hundred and odd pounds! And it is difficult to say how much satisfaction he had got out of that yearly transaction. But the correspondence had ended.
In spite of his love for his son, in spite of an instinct, partly constitutional, partly the result, as in thousands of his class, of the continual handling and watching of affairs, prompting him to judge conduct by results rather than by principle, there was at the bottom of his heart a sort of uneasiness. His son ought, under the circumstances, to have gone to the dogs; that law was laid down in all the novels, sermons, and plays he had ever read, heard, or witnessed.
After receiving the cheque back there seemed to him to be something wrong somewhere. Why had his son not gone to the dogs? But, then, who could tell?
He had heard, of course — in fact, he had made it his business to find out — that Jo lived in St. John’s Wood, that he had a little house in Wistaria Avenue with a garden, and took his wife about with him into society — a queer sort of society, no doubt — and that they had two children — the little chap they called Jolly (considering the circumstances the name struck him as cynical, and old Jolyon both feared and disliked cynicism), and a girl called Holly, born since the marriage. Who could tell what his son’s circumstances really were? He had capitalized the income he had inherited from his mother’s father and joined Lloyd’s as an underwriter; he painted pictures, too — water-colours. Old Jolyon knew this, for he had surreptitiously bought them from time to time, after chancing to see his son’s name signed at the bottom of a representation of the river Thames in a dealer’s window. He thought them bad, and did not hang them because of the signature; he kept them locked up in a drawer.
In the great opera-house a terrible yearning came on him to see his son. He remembered the days when he had been wont to slide him, in a brown holland suit, to and fro under the arch of his legs; the times when he ran beside the boy’s pony, teaching him to ride; the day he first took him to school. He had been a loving, lovable little chap! After he went to Eton he had acquired, perhaps, a little too much of that desirable manner which old Jolyon knew was only to be obtained at such places and at great expense; but he had always been companionable. Always a companion, even after Cambridge — a little far off, perhaps, owing to the advantages he had received. Old Jolyon’s feeling towards our public schools and ‘Varsities never wavered, and he retained touchingly his attitude of admiration and mistrust towards a system appropriate to the highest in the land, of which he had not himself been privileged to partake.... Now that June had gone and left, or as good as left him, it would have been a comfort to see his son again. Guilty of this treason to his family, his principles, his class, old Jolyon fixed his eyes on the singer. A poor thing — a wretched poor thing! And the Florian a perfect stick!
It was over. They were easily pleased nowadays!
In the crowded street he snapped up a cab under the very nose of a stout and much younger gentleman, who had already assumed it to be his own. His route lay through Pall Mall, and at the corner, instead of going through the Green Park, the cabman turned to drive up St. James’s Street. Old Jolyon put his hand through the trap (he could not bear being taken out of his way); in turning, however, he found himself opposite the ‘Hotch Potch,’ and the yearning that had been secretly with him the whole evening prevailed. He called to the driver to stop. He would go in and ask if Jo still belonged there.
He went in. The hall looked exactly as it did when he used to dine there with Jack Herring, and they had the best cook in London; and he looked round with the shrewd, straight glance that had caused him all his life to be better served than most men.
“Mr. Jolyon Forsyte still a member here?”
“Yes, sir; in the Club now, sir. What name?”
Old Jolyon was taken aback.
“His father,” he said.
And having spoken, he took his stand, back to the fireplace.
Young Jolyon, on the point of leaving the Club, had put on his hat, and was in the act of crossing the hall, as the porter met him. He was no longer young, with hair going grey, and face — a narrower replica of his father’s, with the same large drooping moustache — decidedly worn. He turned pale. This meeting was terrible after all those years, for nothing in the world was so terrible as a scene. They met and crossed hands without a word. Then, with a quaver in his voice, the father said:
“How are you, my boy?”
The son answered:
“How are you, Dad?”
Old Jolyon’s hand trembled in its thin lavender glove.
“If you’re going my way,” he said, “I can give you a lift.”
And as though in the habit of taking each other home every night they went out and stepped into the cab.
To old Jolyon it seemed that his son had grown. ‘More of a man altogether,’ was his comment. Over the natural amiability of that son’s face had come a rather sardonic mask, as though he had found in the circumstances of his life the necessity for armour. The features were certainly those of a Forsyte, but the expression was more the introspective look of a student or philosopher. He had no doubt been obliged to look into himself a good deal in the course of those fifteen years.
To young Jolyon the first sight of his father was undoubtedly a shock — he looked so worn and old. But in the cab he seemed hardly to have changed, still having the calm look so well remembered, still being upright and keen-eyed.
“You look well, Dad.”
“Middling,” old Jolyon answered.
He was the prey of an anxiety that he found he must put into words. Having got his son back like this, he felt he must know what was his financial position.
“Jo,” he said, “I should like to hear what sort of water you’re in. I suppose you’re in debt?”
He put it this way that his son might find it easier to confess.
Young Jolyon answered in his ironical voice:
“No! I’m not in debt!”
Old Jolyon saw that he was angry, and touched his hand. He had run a risk. It was worth it, however, and Jo had never been sulky with him. They drove on, without speaking again, to Stanhope Gate. Old Jolyon invited him in, but young Jolyon shook his head.
“June’s not here,” said his father hastily: “went of to-day on a visit. I suppose you know that she’s engaged to be married?”
“Already?” murmured young Jolyon’.
Old Jolyon stepped out, and, in paying the cab fare, for the first time in his life gave the driver a sovereign in mistake for a shilling.
Placing the coin in his mouth, the cabman whipped his horse secretly on the underneath and hurried away.
Old Jolyon turned the key softly in the lock, pushed open the door, and beckoned. His son saw him gravely hanging up his coat, with an expression on his face like that of a boy who intends to steal cherries.
The door of the dining-room was open, the gas turned low; a spirit-urn hissed on a tea-tray, and close to it a cynical looking cat had fallen asleep on the dining-table. Old Jolyon ‘shoo’d’ her off at once. The incident was a relief to his feelings; he rattled his opera hat behind the animal.
“She’s got fleas,” he said, following her out of the room. Through the door in the hall leading to the basement he called “Hssst!” several times, as though assisting the cat’s departure, till by some strange coincidence the butler appeared below.
“You can go to bed, Parfitt,” said old Jolyon. “I will lock up and put out.”
When he again entered the dining-room the cat unfortunately preceded him, with her tail in the air, proclaiming that she had seen through this manouevre for suppressing the butler from the first....
A fatality had dogged old Jolyon’s domestic stratagems all his life.
Young Jolyon could not help smiling. He was very well versed in irony, and everything that evening seemed to him ironical. The episode of the cat; the announcement of his own daughter’s engagement. So he had no more part or parcel in her than he had in the Puss! And the poetical justice of this appealed to him.
“What is June like now?” he asked.
“She’s a little thing,” returned old Jolyon; they say she’s like me, but that’s their folly. She’s more like your mother — the same eyes and hair.”
“Ah! and she is pretty?”
Old Jolyon was too much of a Forsyte to praise anything freely; especially anything for which he had a genuine admiration.
“Not bad looking — a regular Forsyte chin. It’ll be lonely here when she’s gone, Jo.”
The look on his face again gave young Jolyon the shock he had felt on first seeing his father.
“What will you do with yourself, Dad? I suppose she’s wrapped up in him?”
“Do with myself?” repeated old Jolyon with an angry break in his voice. “It’ll be miserable work living here alone. I don’t know how it’s to end. I wish to goodness....” He checked himself, and added: “The question is, what had I better do with this house?”
Young Jolyon looked round the room. It was peculiarly vast and dreary, decorated with the enormous pictures of still life that he remembered as a boy — sleeping dogs with their noses resting on bunches of carrots, together with onions and grapes lying side by side in mild surprise. The house was a white elephant, but he could not conceive of his father living in a smaller place; and all the more did it all seem ironical.
In his great chair with the book-rest sat old Jolyon, the figurehead of his family and class and creed, with his white head and dome-like forehead, the representative of moderation, and order, and love of property. As lonely an old man as there was in London.
There he sat in the gloomy comfort of the room, a puppet in the power of great forces that cared nothing for family or class or creed, but moved, machine-like, with dread processes to inscrutable ends. This was how it struck young Jolyon, who had the impersonal eye.
The poor old Dad! So this was the end, the purpose to which he had lived with such magnificent moderation! To be lonely, and grow older and older, yearning for a soul to speak to!
In his turn old Jolyon looked back at his son. He wanted to talk about many things that he had been unable to talk about all these years. It had been impossible to seriously confide in June his conviction that property in the Soho quarter would go up in value; his uneasiness about that tremendous silence of Pippin, the superintendent of the New Colliery Company, of which he had so long been chairman; his disgust at the steady fall in American Golgothas, or even to discuss how, by some sort of settlement, he could best avoid the payment of those death duties which would follow his decease. Under the influence, however, of a cup of tea, which he seemed to stir indefinitely, he began to speak at last. A new vista of life was thus opened up, a promised land of talk, where he could find a harbour against the waves of anticipation and regret; where he could soothe his soul with the opium of devising how to round off his property and make eternal the only part of him that was to remain alive.
Young Jolyon was a good listener; it was his great quality. He kept his eyes fixed on his father’s face, putting a question now and then.
The clock struck one before old Jolyon had finished, and at the sound of its striking his principles came back. He took out his watch with a look of surprise:
“I must go to bed, Jo,” he said.
Young Jolyon rose and held out his hand to help his father up. The old face looked worn and hollow again; the eyes were steadily averted.
“Good-bye, my boy; take care of yourself.”
A moment passed, and young Jolyon, turning on his, heel, marched out at the door. He could hardly see; his smile quavered. Never in all the fifteen years since he had first found out that life was no simple business, had he found it so singularly complicated.
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
In Swithin’s orange and light-blue dining-room, facing the Park, the round table was laid for twelve.
A cut-glass chandelier filled with lighted candles hung like a giant stalactite above its centre, radiating over large gilt-framed mirrors, slabs of marble on the tops of side-tables, and heavy gold chairs with crewel worked seats. Everything betokened that love of beauty so deeply implanted in each family which has had its own way to make into Society, out of the more vulgar heart of Nature. Swithin had indeed an impatience of simplicity, a love of ormolu, which had always stamped him amongst his associates as a man of great, if somewhat luxurious taste; and out of the knowledge that no one could possibly enter his rooms without perceiving him to be a man of wealth, he had derived a solid and prolonged happiness such as perhaps no other circumstance in life had afforded him.
Since his retirement from land agency, a profession deplorable in his estimation, especially as to its auctioneering department, he had abandoned himself to naturally aristocratic tastes.
The perfect luxury of his latter days had embedded him like a fly in sugar; and his mind, where very little took place from morning till night, was the junction of two curiously opposite emotions, a lingering and sturdy satisfaction that he had made his own way and his own fortune, and a sense that a man of his distinction should never have been allowed to soil his mind with work.
He stood at the sideboard in a white waistcoat with large gold and onyx buttons, watching his valet screw the necks of three champagne bottles deeper into ice-pails. Between the points of his stand-up collar, which — though it hurt him to move — he would on no account have had altered, the pale flesh of his under chin remained immovable. His eyes roved from bottle to bottle. He was debating, and he argued like this: Jolyon drinks a glass, perhaps two, he’s so careful of himself. James, he can’t take his wine nowadays. Nicholas — Fanny and he would swill water he shouldn’t wonder! Soames didn’t count; these young nephews — Soames was thirty-one — couldn’t drink! But Bosinney?
Encountering in the name of this stranger something outside the range of his philosophy, Swithin paused. A misgiving arose within him! It was impossible to tell! June was only a girl, in love too! Emily (Mrs. James) liked a good glass of champagne. It was too dry for Juley, poor old soul, she had no palate. As to Hatty Chessman! The thought of this old friend caused a cloud of thought to obscure the perfect glassiness of his eyes: He shouldn’t wonder if she drank half a bottle!
But in thinking of his remaining guest, an expression like that of a cat who is just going to purr stole over his old face: Mrs. Soames! She mightn’t take much, but she would appreciate what she drank; it was a pleasure to give her good wine! A pretty woman — and sympathetic to him!
The thought of her was like champagne itself! A pleasure to give a good wine to a young woman who looked so well, who knew how to dress, with charming manners, quite distinguished — a pleasure to entertain her. Between the points of his collar he gave his head the first small, painful oscillation of the evening.
“Adolf!” he said. “Put in another bottle.”
He himself might drink a good deal, for, thanks to that prescription of Blight’s, he found himself extremely well, and he had been careful to take no lunch. He had not felt so well for weeks. Puffing out his lower lip, he gave his last instructions:
“Adolf, the least touch of the West India when you come to the ham.”
Passing into the anteroom, he sat down on the edge of a chair, with his knees apart; and his tall, bulky form was wrapped at once in an expectant, strange, primeval immobility. He was ready to rise at a moment’s notice. He had not given a dinner-party for months. This dinner in honour of June’s engagement had seemed a bore at first (among Forsytes the custom of solemnizing engagements by feasts was religiously observed), but the labours of sending invitations and ordering the repast over, he felt pleasantly stimulated.
And thus sitting, a watch in his hand, fat, and smooth, and golden, like a flattened globe of butter, he thought of nothing.
A long man, with side whiskers, who had once been in Swithin’s service, but was now a greengrocer, entered and proclaimed:
“Mrs. Chessman, Mrs. Septimus Small!”
Two ladies advanced. The one in front, habited entirely in red, had large, settled patches of the same colour in her cheeks, and a hard, dashing eye. She walked at Swithin, holding out a hand cased in a long, primrose-coloured glove:
“Well! Swithin,” she said, “I haven’t seen you for ages. How are you? Why, my dear boy, how stout you’re getting!”
The fixity of Swithin’s eye alone betrayed emotion. A dumb and grumbling anger swelled his bosom. It was vulgar to be stout, to talk of being stout; he had a chest, nothing more. Turning to his sister, he grasped her hand, and said in a tone of command:
Mrs. Septimus Small was the tallest of the four sisters; her good, round old face had gone a little sour; an innumerable pout clung all over it, as if it had been encased in an iron wire mask up to that evening, which, being suddenly removed, left little rolls of mutinous flesh all over her countenance. Even her eyes were pouting. It was thus that she recorded her permanent resentment at the loss of Septimus Small.
She had quite a reputation for saying the wrong thing, and, tenacious like all her breed, she would hold to it when she had said it, and add to it another wrong thing, and so on. With the decease of her husband the family tenacity, the family matter-of-factness, had gone sterile within her. A great talker, when allowed, she would converse without the faintest animation for hours together, relating, with epic monotony, the innumerable occasions on which Fortune had misused her; nor did she ever perceive that her hearers sympathized with Fortune, for her heart was kind.
Having sat, poor soul, long by the bedside of Small (a man of poor constitution), she had acquired, the habit, and there were countless subsequent occasions when she had sat immense periods of time to amuse sick people, children, and other helpless persons, and she could never divest herself of the feeling that the world was the most ungrateful place anybody could live in. Sunday after Sunday she sat at the feet of that extremely witty preacher, the Rev. Thomas Scoles, who exercised a great influence over her; but she succeeded in convincing everybody that even this was a misfortune. She had passed into a proverb in the family, and when anybody was observed to be peculiarly distressing, he was known as a regular ‘Juley.’ The habit of her mind would have killed anybody but a Forsyte at forty; but she was seventy-two, and had never looked better. And one felt that there were capacities for enjoyment about her which might yet come out. She owned three canaries, the cat Tommy, and half a parrot — in common with her sister Hester;— and these poor creatures (kept carefully out of Timothy’s way — he was nervous about animals), unlike human beings, recognising that she could not help being blighted, attached themselves to her passionately.
She was sombrely magnificent this evening in black bombazine, with a mauve front cut in a shy triangle, and crowned with a black velvet ribbon round the base of her thin throat; black and mauve for evening wear was esteemed very chaste by nearly every Forsyte.
Pouting at Swithin, she said:
“Ann has been asking for you. You haven’t been near us for an age!”
Swithin put his thumbs within the armholes of his waistcoat, and replied:
“Ann’s getting very shaky; she ought to have a doctor!”
“Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Forsyte!”
Nicholas Forsyte, cocking his rectangular eyebrows, wore a smile. He had succeeded during the day in bringing to fruition a scheme for the employment of a tribe from Upper India in the gold-mines of Ceylon. A pet plan, carried at last in the teeth of great difficulties — he was justly pleased. It would double the output of his mines, and, as he had often forcibly argued, all experience tended to show that a man must die; and whether he died of a miserable old age in his own country, or prematurely of damp in the bottom of a foreign mine, was surely of little consequence, provided that by a change in his mode of life he benefited the British Empire.
His ability was undoubted. Raising his broken nose towards his listener, he would add:
“For want of a few hundred of these fellows we haven’t paid a dividend for years, and look at the price of the shares. I can’t get ten shillings for them.”
He had been at Yarmouth, too, and had come back feeling that he had added at least ten years to his own life. He grasped Swithin’s hand, exclaiming in a jocular voice:
“Well, so here we are again!”
Mrs. Nicholas, an effete woman, smiled a smile of frightened jollity behind his back.
“Mr. and Mrs. James Forsyte! Mr. and Mrs. Soames Forsyte!”
Swithin drew his heels together, his deportment ever admirable.
“Well, James, well Emily! How are you, Soames? How do you do?”
His hand enclosed Irene’s, and his eyes swelled. She was a pretty woman — a little too pale, but her figure, her eyes, her teeth! Too good for that chap Soames!
The gods had given Irene dark brown eyes and golden hair, that strange combination, provocative of men’s glances, which is said to be the mark of a weak character. And the full, soft pallor of her neck and shoulders, above a gold-coloured frock, gave to her personality an alluring strangeness.
Soames stood behind, his eyes fastened on his wife’s neck. The hands of Swithin’s watch, which he still held open in his hand, had left eight behind; it was half an hour beyond his dinner-time — he had had no lunch — and a strange primeval impatience surged up within him.
“It’s not like Jolyon to be late!” he said to Irene, with uncontrollable vexation. “I suppose it’ll be June keeping him!”
“People in love are always late,” she answered.
Swithin stared at her; a dusky orange dyed his cheeks.
“They’ve no business to be. Some fashionable nonsense!”
And behind this outburst the inarticulate violence of primitive generations seemed to mutter and grumble.
“Tell me what you think of my new star, Uncle Swithin,” said Irene softly.
Among the lace in the bosom of her dress was shining a five-pointed star, made of eleven diamonds. Swithin looked at the star. He had a pretty taste in stones; no question could have been more sympathetically devised to distract his attention.
“Who gave you that?” he asked.
There was no change in her face, but Swithin’s pale eyes bulged as though he might suddenly have been afflicted with insight.
“I dare say you’re dull at home,” he said. “Any day you like to come and dine with me, I’ll give you as good a bottle of wine as you’ll get in London.”
“Miss June Forsyte — Mr. Jolyon Forsyte!... Mr. Boswainey!...”
Swithin moved his arm, and said in a rumbling voice:
“Dinner, now — dinner!”
He took in Irene, on the ground that he had not entertained her since she was a bride. June was the portion of Bosinney, who was placed between Irene and his fiancee. On the other side of June was James with Mrs. Nicholas, then old Jolyon with Mrs. James, Nicholas with Hatty Chessman, Soames with Mrs. Small, completing, the circle to Swithin again.
Family dinners of the Forsytes observe certain traditions. There are, for instance, no hors d’oeuvre. The reason for this is unknown. Theory among the younger members traces it to the disgraceful price of oysters; it is more probably due to a desire to come to the point, to a good practical sense deciding at once that hors d’oeuvre are but poor things. The Jameses alone, unable to withstand a custom almost universal in Park Lane, are now and then unfaithful.
A silent, almost morose, inattention to each other succeeds to the subsidence into their seats, lasting till well into the first entree, but interspersed with remarks such as, “Tom’s bad again; I can’t tell what’s the matter with him!” “I suppose Ann doesn’t come down in the mornings?”—“What’s the name of your doctor, Fanny?” “Stubbs?” “He’s a quack!”—“Winifred? She’s got too many children. Four, isn’t it? She’s as thin as a lath!”—“What d’you give for this sherry, Swithin? Too dry for me!”
With the second glass of champagne, a kind of hum makes itself heard, which, when divested of casual accessories and resolved into its primal element, is found to be James telling a story, and this goes on for a long time, encroaching sometimes even upon what must universally be recognised as the crowning point of a Forsyte feast —‘the saddle of mutton.’
No Forsyte has given a dinner without providing a saddle of mutton. There is something in its succulent solidity which makes it suitable to people ‘of a certain position.’ It is nourishing and tasty; the sort of thing a man remembers eating. It has a past and a future, like a deposit paid into a bank; and it is something that can be argued about.
Each branch of the family tenaciously held to a particular locality — old Jolyon swearing by Dartmoor, James by Welsh, Swithin by Southdown, Nicholas maintaining that people might sneer, but there was nothing like New Zealand! As for Roger, the ‘original’ of the brothers, he had been obliged to invent a locality of his own, and with an ingenuity worthy of a man who had devised a new profession for his sons, he had discovered a shop where they sold German; on being remonstrated with, he had proved his point by producing a butcher’s bill, which showed that he paid more than any of the others. It was on this occasion that old Jolyon, turning to June, had said in one of his bursts of philosophy:
“You may depend upon it, they’re a cranky lot, the Forsytes — and you’ll find it out, as you grow older!”
Timothy alone held apart, for though he ate saddle of mutton heartily, he was, he said, afraid of it.
To anyone interested psychologically in Forsytes, this great saddle-of-mutton trait is of prime importance; not only does it illustrate their tenacity, both collectively and as individuals, but it marks them as belonging in fibre and instincts to that great class which believes in nourishment and flavour, and yields to no sentimental craving for beauty.
Younger members of the family indeed would have done without a joint altogether, preferring guinea-fowl, or lobster salad — something which appealed to the imagination, and had less nourishment — but these were females; or, if not, had been corrupted by their wives, or by mothers, who having been forced to eat saddle of mutton throughout their married lives, had passed a secret hostility towards it into the fibre of their sons.
The great saddle-of-mutton controversy at an end, a Tewkesbury ham commenced, together with the least touch of West Indian — Swithin was so long over this course that he caused a block in the progress of the dinner. To devote himself to it with better heart, he paused in his conversation.
From his seat by Mrs. Septimus Small Soames was watching. He had a reason of his own connected with a pet building scheme, for observing Bosinney. The architect might do for his purpose; he looked clever, as he sat leaning back in his chair, moodily making little ramparts with bread-crumbs. Soames noted his dress clothes to be well cut, but too small, as though made many years ago.
He saw him turn to Irene and say something and her face sparkle as he often saw it sparkle at other people — never at himself. He tried to catch what they were saying, but Aunt Juley was speaking.
Hadn’t that always seemed very extraordinary to Soames? Only last Sunday dear Mr. Scole, had been so witty in his sermon, so sarcastic, “For what,” he had said, “shall it profit a man if he gain his own soul, but lose all his property?” That, he had said, was the motto of the middle-class; now, what had he meant by that? Of course, it might be what middle-class people believed — she didn’t know; what did Soames think?
He answered abstractedly: “How should I know? Scoles is a humbug, though, isn’t he?” For Bosinney was looking round the table, as if pointing out the peculiarities of the guests, and Soames wondered what he was saying. By her smile Irene was evidently agreeing with his remarks. She seemed always to agree with other people.
Her eyes were turned on himself; Soames dropped his glance at once. The smile had died off her lips.
A humbug? But what did Soames mean? If Mr. Scoles was a humbug, a clergyman — then anybody might be — it was frightful!
“Well, and so they are!” said Soames.
During Aunt Juley’s momentary and horrified silence he caught some words of Irene’s that sounded like: ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!’
But Swithin had finished his ham.
“Where do you go for your mushrooms?” he was saying to Irene in a voice like a courtier’s; “you ought to go to Smileybob’s — he’ll give ’em you fresh. These little men, they won’t take the trouble!”
Irene turned to answer him, and Soames saw Bosinney watching her and smiling to himself. A curious smile the fellow had. A half-simple arrangement, like a child who smiles when he is pleased. As for George’s nickname —‘The Buccaneer’— he did not think much of that. And, seeing Bosinney turn to June, Soames smiled too, but sardonically — he did not like June, who was not looking too pleased.
This was not surprising, for she had just held the following conversation with James:
“I stayed on the river on my way home, Uncle James, and saw a beautiful site for a house.”
James, a slow and thorough eater, stopped the process of mastication.
“Eh?” he said. “Now, where was that?”
“Close to Pangbourne.”
James placed a piece of ham in his mouth, and June waited.
“I suppose you wouldn’t know whether the land about there was freehold?” he asked at last. “You wouldn’t know anything about the price of land about there?”
“Yes,” said June; “I made inquiries.” Her little resolute face under its copper crown was suspiciously eager and aglow.
James regarded her with the air of an inquisitor.
“What? You’re not thinking of buying land!” he ejaculated, dropping his fork.
June was greatly encouraged by his interest. It had long been her pet plan that her uncles should benefit themselves and Bosinney by building country-houses.
“Of course not,” she said. “I thought it would be such a splendid place for — you or — someone to build a country-house!”
James looked at her sideways, and placed a second piece of ham in his mouth....
“Land ought to be very dear about there,” he said.
What June had taken for personal interest was only the impersonal excitement of every Forsyte who hears of something eligible in danger of passing into other hands. But she refused to see the disappearance of her chance, and continued to press her point.
“You ought to go into the country, Uncle James. I wish I had a lot of money, I wouldn’t live another day in London.”
James was stirred to the depths of his long thin figure; he had no idea his niece held such downright views.
“Why don’t you go into the country?” repeated June; “it would do you a lot of good.”
“Why?” began James in a fluster. “Buying land — what good d’you suppose I can do buying land, building houses?— I couldn’t get four per cent. for my money!”
“What does that matter? You’d get fresh air.”
“Fresh air!” exclaimed James; “what should I do with fresh air,”
“I should have thought anybody liked to have fresh air,” said June scornfully.
James wiped his napkin all over his mouth.
“You don’t know the value of money,” he said, avoiding her eye.
“No! and I hope I never shall!” and, biting her lip with inexpressible mortification, poor June was silent.
Why were her own relations so rich, and Phil never knew where the money was coming from for to-morrow’s tobacco. Why couldn’t they do something for him? But they were so selfish. Why couldn’t they build country-houses? She had all that naive dogmatism which is so pathetic, and sometimes achieves such great results. Bosinney, to whom she turned in her discomfiture, was talking to Irene, and a chill fell on June’s spirit. Her eyes grew steady with anger, like old Jolyon’s when his will was crossed.
James, too, was much disturbed. He felt as though someone had threatened his right to invest his money at five per cent. Jolyon had spoiled her. None of his girls would have said such a thing. James had always been exceedingly liberal to his children, and the consciousness of this made him feel it all the more deeply. He trifled moodily with his strawberries, then, deluging them with cream, he ate them quickly; they, at all events, should not escape him.
No wonder he was upset. Engaged for fifty-four years (he had been admitted a solicitor on the earliest day sanctioned by the law) in arranging mortgages, preserving investments at a dead level of high and safe interest, conducting negotiations on the principle of securing the utmost possible out of other people compatible with safety to his clients and himself, in calculations as to the exact pecuniary possibilities of all the relations of life, he had come at last to think purely in terms of money. Money was now his light, his medium for seeing, that without which he was really unable to see, really not cognisant of phenomena; and to have this thing, “I hope I shall never know the value of money!” said to his face, saddened and exasperated him. He knew it to be nonsense, or it would have frightened him. What was the world coming to! Suddenly recollecting the story of young Jolyon, however, he felt a little comforted, for what could you expect with a father like that! This turned his thoughts into a channel still less pleasant. What was all this talk about Soames and Irene?
As in all self-respecting families, an emporium had been established where family secrets were bartered, and family stock priced. It was known on Forsyte ‘Change that Irene regretted her marriage. Her regret was disapproved of. She ought to have known her own mind; no dependable woman made these mistakes.
James reflected sourly that they had a nice house (rather small) in an excellent position, no children, and no money troubles. Soames was reserved about his affairs, but he must be getting a very warm man. He had a capital income from the business — for Soames, like his father, was a member of that well-known firm of solicitors, Forsyte, Bustard and Forsyte — and had always been very careful. He had done quite unusually well with some mortgages he had taken up, too — a little timely foreclosure — most lucky hits!
There was no reason why Irene should not be happy, yet they said she’d been asking for a separate room. He knew where that ended. It wasn’t as if Soames drank.
James looked at his daughter-in-law. That unseen glance of his was cold and dubious. Appeal and fear were in it, and a sense of personal grievance. Why should he be worried like this? It was very likely all nonsense; women were funny things! They exaggerated so, you didn’t know what to believe; and then, nobody told him anything, he had to find out everything for himself. Again he looked furtively at Irene, and across from her to Soames. The latter, listening to Aunt Juley, was looking up, under his brows in the direction of Bosinney.
‘He’s fond of her, I know,’ thought James. ‘Look at the way he’s always giving her things.’
And the extraordinary unreasonableness of her disaffection struck him with increased force.
It was a pity, too, she was a taking little thing, and he, James, would be really quite fond of her if she’d only let him. She had taken up lately with June; that was doing her no good, that was certainly doing her no good. She was getting to have opinions of her own. He didn’t know what she wanted with anything of the sort. She’d a good home, and everything she could wish for. He felt that her friends ought to be chosen for her. To go on like this was dangerous.
June, indeed, with her habit of championing the unfortunate, had dragged from Irene a confession, and, in return, had preached the necessity of facing the evil, by separation, if need be. But in the face of these exhortations, Irene had kept a brooding silence, as though she found terrible the thought of this struggle carried through in cold blood. He would never give her up, she had said to June.
“Who cares?” June cried; “let him do what he likes — you’ve only to stick to it!” And she had not scrupled to say something of this sort at Timothy’s; James, when he heard of it, had felt a natural indignation and horror.
What if Irene were to take it into her head to — he could hardly frame the thought — to leave Soames? But he felt this thought so unbearable that he at once put it away; the shady visions it conjured up, the sound of family tongues buzzing in his ears, the horror of the conspicuous happening so close to him, to one of his own children! Luckily, she had no money — a beggarly fifty pound a year! And he thought of the deceased Heron, who had had nothing to leave her, with contempt. Brooding over his glass, his long legs twisted under the table, he quite omitted to rise when the ladies left the room. He would have to speak to Soames — would have to put him on his guard; they could not go on like this, now that such a contingency had occurred to him. And he noticed with sour disfavour that June had left her wine-glasses full of wine.
‘That little, thing’s at the bottom of it all,’ he mused; ‘Irene’d never have thought of it herself.’ James was a man of imagination.
The voice of Swithin roused him from his reverie.
“I gave four hundred pounds for it,” he was saying. “Of course it’s a regular work of art.”
“Four hundred! H’m! that’s a lot of money!” chimed in Nicholas.
The object alluded to was an elaborate group of statuary in Italian marble, which, placed upon a lofty stand (also of marble), diffused an atmosphere of culture throughout the room. The subsidiary figures, of which there were six, female, nude, and of highly ornate workmanship, were all pointing towards the central figure, also nude, and female, who was pointing at herself; and all this gave the observer a very pleasant sense of her extreme value. Aunt Juley, nearly opposite, had had the greatest difficulty in not looking at it all the evening.
Old Jolyon spoke; it was he who had started the discussion.
“Four hundred fiddlesticks! Don’t tell me you gave four hundred for that?”
Between the points of his collar Swithin’s chin made the second painful oscillatory movement of the evening.
“Four-hundred-pounds, of English money; not a farthing less. I don’t regret it. It’s not common English — it’s genuine modern Italian!”
Soames raised the corner of his lip in a smile, and looked across at Bosinney. The architect was grinning behind the fumes of his cigarette. Now, indeed, he looked more like a buccaneer.
“There’s a lot of work about it,” remarked James hastily, who was really moved by the size of the group. “It’d sell well at Jobson’s.”
“The poor foreign dey-vil that made it,” went on Swithin, “asked me five hundred — I gave him four. It’s worth eight. Looked half-starved, poor dey-vil!”
“Ah!” chimed in Nicholas suddenly, “poor, seedy-lookin’ chaps, these artists; it’s a wonder to me how they live. Now, there’s young Flageoletti, that Fanny and the girls are always hav’in’ in, to play the fiddle; if he makes a hundred a year it’s as much as ever he does!”
James shook his head. “Ah!” he said, “I don’t know how they live!”
Old Jolyon had risen, and, cigar in mouth, went to inspect the group at close quarters.
“Wouldn’t have given two for it!” he pronounced at last.
Soames saw his father and Nicholas glance at each other anxiously; and, on the other side of Swithin, Bosinney, still shrouded in smoke.
‘I wonder what he thinks of it?’ thought Soames, who knew well enough that this group was hopelessly vieux jeu; hopelessly of the last generation. There was no longer any sale at Jobson’s for such works of art.
Swithin’s answer came at last. “You never knew anything about a statue. You’ve got your pictures, and that’s all!”
Old Jolyon walked back to his seat, puffing his cigar. It was not likely that he was going to be drawn into an argument with an obstinate beggar like Swithin, pig-headed as a mule, who had never known a statue from a —-straw hat.
“Stucco!” was all he said.
It had long been physically impossible for Swithin to start; his fist came down on the table.
“Stucco! I should like to see anything you’ve got in your house half as good!”
And behind his speech seemed to sound again that rumbling violence of primitive generations.
It was James who saved the situation.
“Now, what do you say, Mr. Bosinney? You’re an architect; you ought to know all about statues and things!”
Every eye was turned upon Bosinney; all waited with a strange, suspicious look for his answer.
And Soames, speaking for the first time, asked:
“Yes, Bosinney, what do you say?”
Bosinney replied coolly:
“The work is a remarkable one.”
His words were addressed to Swithin, his eyes smiled slyly at old Jolyon; only Soames remained unsatisfied.
“Remarkable for what?”
“For its naivete”
The answer was followed by an impressive silence; Swithin alone was not sure whether a compliment was intended.
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
Chapter 4 Projection of the House
Soames Forsyte walked out of his green-painted front door three days after the dinner at Swithin’s, and looking back from across the Square, confirmed his impression that the house wanted painting.
He had left his wife sitting on the sofa in the drawing-room, her hands crossed in her lap, manifestly waiting for him to go out. This was not unusual. It happened, in fact, every day.
He could not understand what she found wrong with him. It was not as if he drank! Did he run into debt, or gamble, or swear; was he violent; were his friends rackety; did he stay out at night? On the contrary.
The profound, subdued aversion which he felt in his wife was a mystery to him, and a source of the most terrible irritation. That she had made a mistake, and did not love him, had tried to love him and could not love him, was obviously no reason.
He that could imagine so outlandish a cause for his wife’s not getting on with him was certainly no Forsyte.
Soames was forced, therefore, to set the blame entirely down to his wife. He had never met a woman so capable of inspiring affection. They could not go anywhere without his seeing how all the men were attracted by her; their looks, manners, voices, betrayed it; her behaviour under this attention had been beyond reproach. That she was one of those women — not too common in the Anglo-Saxon race — born to be loved and to love, who when not loving are not living, had certainly never even occurred to him. Her power of attraction, he regarded as part of her value as his property; but it made him, indeed, suspect that she could give as well as receive; and she gave him nothing! ‘Then why did she marry me?’ was his continual thought. He had, forgotten his courtship; that year and a half when he had besieged and lain in wait for her, devising schemes for her entertainment, giving her presents, proposing to her periodically, and keeping her other admirers away with his perpetual presence. He had forgotten the day when, adroitly taking advantage of an acute phase of her dislike to her home surroundings, he crowned his labours with success. If he remembered anything, it was the dainty capriciousness with which the gold-haired, dark-eyed girl had treated him. He certainly did not remember the look on her face — strange, passive, appealing — when suddenly one day she had yielded, and said that she would marry him.
It had been one of those real devoted wooings which books and people praise, when the lover is at length rewarded for hammering the iron till it is malleable, and all must be happy ever after as the wedding bells.
Soames walked eastwards, mousing doggedly along on the shady side.
The house wanted doing, up, unless he decided to move into the country, and build.
For the hundredth time that month he turned over this problem. There was no use in rushing into things! He was very comfortably off, with an increasing income getting on for three thousand a year; but his invested capital was not perhaps so large as his father believed — James had a tendency to expect that his children should be better off than they were. ‘I can manage eight thousand easily enough,’ he thought, ‘without calling in either Robertson’s or Nicholl’s.’
He had stopped to look in at a picture shop, for Soames was an ‘amateur’ of pictures, and had a little-room in No. 62, Montpellier Square, full of canvases, stacked against the wall, which he had no room to hang. He brought them home with him on his way back from the City, generally after dark, and would enter this room on Sunday afternoons, to spend hours turning the pictures to the light, examining the marks on their backs, and occasionally making notes.
They were nearly all landscapes with figures in the foreground, a sign of some mysterious revolt against London, its tall houses, its interminable streets, where his life and the lives of his breed and class were passed. Every now and then he would take one or two pictures away with him in a cab, and stop at Jobson’s on his way into the City.
He rarely showed them to anyone; Irene, whose opinion he secretly respected and perhaps for that reason never solicited, had only been into the room on rare occasions, in discharge of some wifely duty. She was not asked to look at the pictures, and she never did. To Soames this was another grievance. He hated that pride of hers, and secretly dreaded it.
In the plate-glass window of the picture shop his image stood and looked at him.
His sleek hair under the brim of the tall hat had a sheen like the hat itself; his cheeks, pale and flat, the line of his clean-shaven lips, his firm chin with its greyish shaven tinge, and the buttoned strictness of his black cut-away coat, conveyed an appearance of reserve and secrecy, of imperturbable, enforced composure; but his eyes, cold,— grey, strained — looking, with a line in the brow between them, examined him wistfully, as if they knew of a secret weakness.
He noted the subjects of the pictures, the names of the painters, made a calculation of their values, but without the satisfaction he usually derived from this inward appraisement, and walked on.
No. 62 would do well enough for another year, if he decided to build! The times were good for building, money had not been so dear for years; and the site he had seen at Robin Hill, when he had gone down there in the spring to inspect the Nicholl mortgage — what could be better! Within twelve miles of Hyde Park Corner, the value of the land certain to go up, would always fetch more than he gave for it; so that a house, if built in really good style, was a first-class investment.
The notion of being the one member of his family with a country house weighed but little with him; for to a true Forsyte, sentiment, even the sentiment of social position, was a luxury only to be indulged in after his appetite for more material pleasure had been satisfied.
To get Irene out of London, away from opportunities of going about and seeing people, away from her friends and those who put ideas into her head! That was the thing! She was too thick with June! June disliked him. He returned the sentiment. They were of the same blood.
It would be everything to get Irene out of town. The house would please her she would enjoy messing about with the decoration, she was very artistic!
The house must be in good style, something that would always be certain to command a price, something unique, like that last house of Parkes, which had a tower; but Parkes had himself said that his architect was ruinous. You never knew where you were with those fellows; if they had a name they ran you into no end of expense and were conceited into the bargain.
And a common architect was no good — the memory of Parkes’ tower precluded the employment of a common architect:
This was why he had thought of Bosinney. Since the dinner at Swithin’s he had made enquiries, the result of which had been meagre, but encouraging: “One of the new school.”
“As clever as you like — a bit — a bit up in the air!”
He had not been able to discover what houses Bosinney had built, nor what his charges were. The impression he gathered was that he would be able to make his own terms. The more he reflected on the idea, the more he liked it. It would be keeping the thing in the family, with Forsytes almost an instinct; and he would be able to get ‘favoured-nation,’ if not nominal terms — only fair, considering the chance to Bosinney of displaying his talents, for this house must be no common edifice.
Soames reflected complacently on the work it would be sure to bring the young man; for, like every Forsyte, he could be a thorough optimist when there was anything to be had out of it.
Bosinney’s office was in Sloane Street, close at, hand, so that he would be able to keep his eye continually on the plans.
Again, Irene would not be to likely to object to leave London if her greatest friend’s lover were given the job. June’s marriage might depend on it. Irene could not decently stand in the way of June’s marriage; she would never do that, he knew her too well. And June would be pleased; of this he saw the advantage.
Bosinney looked clever, but he had also — and — it was one of his great attractions — an air as if he did not quite know on which side his bread were buttered; he should be easy to deal with in money matters. Soames made this reflection in no defrauding spirit; it was the natural attitude of his mind — of the mind of any good business man — of all those thousands of good business men through whom he was threading his way up Ludgate Hill.
Thus he fulfilled the inscrutable laws of his great class — of human nature itself — when he reflected, with a sense of comfort, that Bosinney would be easy to deal with in money matters.
While he elbowed his way on, his eyes, which he usually kept fixed on the ground before his feet, were attracted upwards by the dome of St. Paul’s. It had a peculiar fascination for him, that old dome, and not once, but twice or three times a week, would he halt in his daily pilgrimage to enter beneath and stop in the side aisles for five or ten minutes, scrutinizing the names and epitaphs on the monuments. The attraction for him of this great church was inexplicable, unless it enabled him to concentrate his thoughts on the business of the day. If any affair of particular moment, or demanding peculiar acuteness, was weighing on his mind, he invariably went in, to wander with mouse-like attention from epitaph to epitaph. Then retiring in the same noiseless way, he would hold steadily on up Cheapside, a thought more of dogged purpose in his gait, as though he had seen something which he had made up his mind to buy.
He went in this morning, but, instead of stealing from monument to monument, turned his eyes upwards to the columns and spacings of the walls, and remained motionless.
His uplifted face, with the awed and wistful look which faces take on themselves in church, was whitened to a chalky hue in the vast building. His gloved hands were clasped in front over the handle of his umbrella. He lifted them. Some sacred inspiration perhaps had come to him.
‘Yes,’ he thought, ‘I must have room to hang my pictures.
That evening, on his return from the City, he called at Bosinney’s office. He found the architect in his shirt-sleeves, smoking a pipe, and ruling off lines on a plan. Soames refused a drink, and came at once to the point.
“If you’ve nothing better to do on Sunday, come down with me to Robin Hill, and give me your opinion on a building site.”
“Are you going to build?”
“Perhaps,” said Soames; “but don’t speak of it. I just want your opinion.”
“Quite so,” said the architect.
Soames peered about the room.
“You’re rather high up here,” he remarked.
Any information he could gather about the nature and scope of Bosinney’s business would be all to the good.
“It does well enough for me so far,” answered the architect. “You’re accustomed to the swells.”
He knocked out his pipe, but replaced it empty between his teeth; it assisted him perhaps to carry on the conversation. Soames noted a hollow in each cheek, made as it were by suction.
“What do you pay for an office like this?” said he.
“Fifty too much,” replied Bosinney.
This answer impressed Soames favourably.
“I suppose it is dear,” he said. “I’ll call for you — on Sunday about eleven.”
The following Sunday therefore he called for Bosinney in a hansom, and drove him to the station. On arriving at Robin Hill, they found no cab, and started to walk the mile and a half to the site.
It was the 1st of August — a perfect day, with a burning sun and cloudless sky — and in the straight, narrow road leading up the hill their feet kicked up a yellow dust.
“Gravel soil,” remarked Soames, and sideways he glanced at the coat Bosinney wore. Into the side-pockets of this coat were thrust bundles of papers, and under one arm was carried a queer-looking stick. Soames noted these and other peculiarities.
No one but a clever man, or, indeed, a buccaneer, would have taken such liberties with his appearance; and though these eccentricities were revolting to Soames, he derived a certain satisfaction from them, as evidence of qualities by which he must inevitably profit. If the fellow could build houses, what did his clothes matter?
“I told you,” he said, “that I want this house to be a surprise, so don’t say anything about it. I never talk of my affairs until they’re carried through.”
“Let women into your plans,” pursued Soames, “and you never know where it’ll end.”
“Ah!” Said Bosinney, “women are the devil!”
This feeling had long been at the — bottom of Soames’s heart; he had never, however, put it into words.
“Oh!” he Muttered, “so you’re beginning to....” He stopped, but added, with an uncontrollable burst of spite: “June’s got a temper of her own — always had.”
“A temper’s not a bad thing in an angel.”
Soames had never called Irene an angel. He could not so have violated his best instincts, letting other people into the secret of her value, and giving himself away. He made no reply.
They had struck into a half-made road across a warren. A cart-track led at right-angles to a gravel pit, beyond which the chimneys of a cottage rose amongst a clump of trees at the border of a thick wood. Tussocks of feathery grass covered the rough surface of the ground, and out of these the larks soared into the hate of sunshine. On the far horizon, over a countless succession of fields and hedges, rose a line of downs.
Soames led till they had crossed to the far side, and there he stopped. It was the chosen site; but now that he was about to divulge the spot to another he had become uneasy.
“The agent lives in that cottage,” he said; “he’ll give us some lunch — we’d better have lunch before we go into this matter.”
He again took the lead to the cottage, where the agent, a tall man named Oliver, with a heavy face and grizzled beard, welcomed them. During lunch, which Soames hardly touched, he kept looking at Bosinney, and once or twice passed his silk handkerchief stealthily over his forehead. The meal came to an end at last, and Bosinney rose.
“I dare say you’ve got business to talk over,” he said; “I’ll just go and nose about a bit.” Without waiting for a reply he strolled out.
Soames was solicitor to this estate, and he spent nearly an hour in the agent’s company, looking at ground-plans and discussing the Nicholl and other mortgages; it was as it were by an afterthought that he brought up the question of the building site.
“Your people,” he said, “ought to come down in their price to me, considering that I shall be the first to build.”
Oliver shook his head.
The site you’ve fixed on, Sir, he said, “is the cheapest we’ve got. Sites at the top of the slope are dearer by a good bit.”
“Mind,” said Soames, “I’ve not decided; it’s quite possible I shan’t build at all. The ground rent’s very high.”
“Well, Mr. Forsyte, I shall be sorry if you go off, and I think you’ll make a mistake, Sir. There’s not a bit of land near London with such a view as this, nor one that’s cheaper, all things considered; we’ve only to advertise, to get a mob of people after it.”
They looked at each other. Their faces said very plainly: ‘I respect you as a man of business; and you can’t expect me to believe a word you say.’
Well, repeated Soames, “I haven’t made up my mind; the thing will very likely go off!” With these words, taking up his umbrella, he put his chilly hand into the agent’s, withdrew it without the faintest pressure, and went out into the sun.
He walked slowly back towards the site in deep thought. His instinct told him that what the agent had said was true. A cheap site. And the beauty of it was, that he knew the agent did not really think it cheap; so that his own intuitive knowledge was a victory over the agent’s.
‘Cheap or not, I mean to have it,’ he thought.
The larks sprang up in front of his feet, the air was full of butterflies, a sweet fragrance rose from the wild grasses. The sappy scent of the bracken stole forth from the wood, where, hidden in the depths, pigeons were cooing, and from afar on the warm breeze, came the rhythmic chiming of church bells.
Soames walked with his eyes on the ground, his lips opening and closing as though in anticipation of a delicious morsel. But when he arrived at the site, Bosinney was nowhere to be seen. After waiting some little time, he crossed the warren in the direction of the slope. He would have shouted, but dreaded the sound of his voice.
The warren was as lonely as a prairie, its silence only broken by the rustle of rabbits bolting to their holes, and the song of the larks.
Soames, the pioneer-leader of the great Forsyte army advancing to the civilization of this wilderness, felt his spirit daunted by the loneliness, by the invisible singing, and the hot, sweet air. He had begun to retrace his steps when he at last caught sight of Bosinney.
The architect was sprawling under a large oak tree, whose trunk, with a huge spread of bough and foliage, ragged with age, stood on the verge of the rise.
Soames had to touch him on the shoulder before he looked up.
“Hallo! Forsyte,” he said, “I’ve found the very place for your house! Look here!”
Soames stood and looked, then he said, coldly:
“You may be very clever, but this site will cost me half as much again.”
“Hang the cost, man. Look at the view!”
Almost from their feet stretched ripe corn, dipping to a small dark copse beyond. A plain of fields and hedges spread to the distant grey-bluedowns. In a silver streak to the right could be seen the line of the river.
The sky was so blue, and the sun so bright, that an eternal summer seemed to reign over this prospect. Thistledown floated round them, enraptured by the serenity, of the ether. The heat danced over the corn, and, pervading all, was a soft, insensible hum, like the murmur of bright minutes holding revel between earth and heaven.
Soames looked. In spite of himself, something swelled in his breast. To live here in sight of all this, to be able to point it out to his friends, to talk of it, to possess it! His cheeks flushed. The warmth, the radiance, the glow, were sinking into his senses as, four years before, Irene’s beauty had sunk into his senses and made him long for her. He stole a glance at Bosinney, whose eyes, the eyes of the coachman’s ‘half-tame leopard,’ seemed running wild over the landscape. The sunlight had caught the promontories of the fellow’s face, the bumpy cheekbones, the point of his chin, the vertical ridges above his brow; and Soames watched this rugged, enthusiastic, careless face with an unpleasant feeling.
A long, soft ripple of wind flowed over the corn, and brought a puff of warm air into their faces.
“I could build you a teaser here,” said Bosinney, breaking the silence at last.
“I dare say,” replied Soames, drily. “You haven’t got to pay for it.”
“For about eight thousand I could build you a palace.”
Soames had become very pale — a struggle was going on within him. He dropped his eyes, and said stubbornly:
“I can’t afford it.”
And slowly, with his mousing walk, he led the way back to the first site.
They spent some time there going into particulars of the projected house, and then Soames returned to the agent’s cottage.
He came out in about half an hour, and, joining Bosinney, started for the station.
“Well,” he said, hardly opening his lips, “I’ve taken that site of yours, after all.”
And again he was silent, confusedly debating how it was that this fellow, whom by habit he despised, should have overborne his own decision.
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
Chapter 5 A Forsyte Menage
Like the enlightened thousands of his class and generation in this great city of London, who no longer believe in red velvet chairs, and know that groups of modern Italian marble are ‘vieux jeu,’ Soames Forsyte inhabited a house which did what it could. It owned a copper door knocker of individual design, windows which had been altered to open outwards, hanging flower boxes filled with fuchsias, and at the back (a great feature) a little court tiled with jade-green tiles, and surrounded by pink hydrangeas in peacock-blue tubs. Here, under a parchment-coloured Japanese sunshade covering the whole end, inhabitants or visitors could be screened from the eyes of the curious while they drank tea and examined at their leisure the latest of Soames’s little silver boxes.
The inner decoration favoured the First Empire and William Morris. For its size, the house was commodious; there were countless nooks resembling birds’ nests, and little things made of silver were deposited like eggs.
In this general perfection two kinds of fastidiousness were at war. There lived here a mistress who would have dwelt daintily on a desert island; a master whose daintiness was, as it were, an investment, cultivated by the owner for his advancement, in accordance with the laws of competition. This competitive daintiness had caused Soames in his Marlborough days to be the first boy into white waistcoats in summer, and corduroy waistcoats in winter, had prevented him from ever appearing in public with his tie climbing up his collar, and induced him to dust his patent leather boots before a great multitude assembled on Speech Day to hear him recite Moliere.
Skin-like immaculateness had grown over Soames, as over many Londoners; impossible to conceive of him with a hair out of place, a tie deviating one-eighth of an inch from the perpendicular, a collar unglossed! He would not have gone without a bath for worlds — it was the fashion to take baths; and how bitter was his scorn of people who omitted them!
But Irene could be imagined, like some nymph, bathing in wayside streams, for the joy of the freshness and of seeing her own fair body.
In this conflict throughout the house the woman had gone to the wall. As in the struggle between Saxon and Celt still going on within the nation, the more impressionable and receptive temperament had had forced on it a conventional superstructure.
Thus the house had acquired a close resemblance to hundreds of other houses with the same high aspirations, having become: ‘That very charming little house of the Soames Forsytes, quite individual, my dear — really elegant.’
For Soames Forsyte — read James Peabody, Thomas Atkins, or Emmanuel Spagnoletti, the name in fact of any upper-middle class Englishman in London with any pretensions to taste; and though the decoration be different, the phrase is just.
On the evening of August 8, a week after the expedition to Robin Hill, in the dining-room of this house —‘quite individual, my dear — really elegant’— Soames and Irene were seated at dinner. A hot dinner on Sundays was a little distinguishing elegance common to this house and many others. Early in married life Soames had laid down the rule: ‘The servants must give us hot dinner on Sundays — they’ve nothing to do but play the concertina.’
The custom had produced no revolution. For — to Soames a rather deplorable sign — servants were devoted to Irene, who, in defiance of all safe tradition, appeared to recognise their right to a share in the weaknesses of human nature.
The happy pair were seated, not opposite each other, but rectangularly, at the handsome rosewood table; they dined without a cloth — a distinguishing elegance — and so far had not spoken a word.
Soames liked to talk during dinner about business, or what he had been buying, and so long as he talked Irene’s silence did not distress him. This evening he had found it impossible to talk. The decision to build had been weighing on his mind all the week, and he had made up his mind to tell her.
His nervousness about this disclosure irritated him profoundly; she had no business to make him feel like that — a wife and a husband being one person. She had not looked at him once since they sat down; and he wondered what on earth she had been thinking about all the time. It was hard, when a man worked as he did, making money for her — yes, and with an ache in his heart — that she should sit there, looking — looking as if she saw the walls of the room closing in. It was enough to make a man get up and leave the table.
The light from the rose-shaded lamp fell on her neck and arms — Soames liked her to dine in a low dress, it gave him an inexpressible feeling of superiority to the majority of his acquaintance, whose wives were contented with their best high frocks or with tea-gowns, when they dined at home. Under that rosy light her amber-coloured hair and fair skin made strange contrast with her dark brown eyes.
Could a man own anything prettier than this dining-table with its deep tints, the starry, soft-petalled roses, the ruby-coloured glass, and quaint silver furnishing; could a man own anything prettier than the woman who sat at it? Gratitude was no virtue among Forsytes, who, competitive, and full of common-sense, had no occasion for it; and Soames only experienced a sense of exasperation amounting to pain, that he did not own her as it was his right to own her, that he could not, as by stretching out his hand to that rose, pluck her and sniff the very secrets of her heart.
Out of his other property, out of all the things he had collected, his silver, his pictures, his houses, his investments, he got a secret and intimate feeling; out of her he got none.
In this house of his there was writing on every wall. His business-like temperament protested against a mysterious warning that she was not made for him. He had married this woman, conquered her, made her his own, and it seemed to him contrary to the most fundamental of all laws, the law of possession, that he could do no more than own her body — if indeed he could do that, which he was beginning to doubt. If any one had asked him if he wanted to own her soul, the question would have seemed to him both ridiculous and sentimental. But he did so want, and the writing said he never would.
She was ever silent, passive, gracefully averse; as though terrified lest by word, motion, or sign she might lead him to believe that she was fond of him; and he asked himself: Must I always go on like this?
Like most novel readers of his generation (and Soames was a great novel reader), literature coloured his view of life; and he had imbibed the belief that it was only a question of time.
In the end the husband always gained the affection of his wife. Even in those cases — a class of book he was not very fond of — which ended in tragedy, the wife always died with poignant regrets on her lips, or if it were the husband who died — unpleasant thought — threw herself on his body in an agony of remorse.
He often took Irene to the theatre, instinctively choosing the modern Society Plays with the modern Society conjugal problem, so fortunately different from any conjugal problem in real life. He found that they too always ended in the same way, even when there was a lover in the case. While he was watching the play Soames often sympathized with the lover; but before he reached home again, driving with Irene in a hansom, he saw that this would not do, and he was glad the play had ended as it had. There was one class of husband that had just then come into fashion, the strong, rather rough, but extremely sound man, who was peculiarly successful at the end of the play; with this person Soames was really not in sympathy, and had it not been for his own position, would have expressed his disgust with the fellow. But he was so conscious of how vital to himself was the necessity for being a successful, even a ‘strong,’ husband, that he never spoke of a distaste born perhaps by the perverse processes of Nature out of a secret fund of brutality in himself.
But Irene’s silence this evening was exceptional. He had never before seen such an expression on her face. And since it is always the unusual which alarms, Soames was alarmed. He ate his savoury, and hurried the maid as she swept off the crumbs with the silver sweeper. When she had left the room, he filled his glass with wine and said:
“Anybody been here this afternoon?”
“What did she want?” It was an axiom with the Forsytes that people did not go anywhere unless they wanted something. “Came to talk about her lover, I suppose?”
Irene made no reply.
“It looks to me,” continued Soames, “as if she were sweeter on him than he is on her. She’s always following him about.”
Irene’s eyes made him feel uncomfortable.
“You’ve no business to say such a thing!” she exclaimed.
“Why not? Anybody can see it.”
“They cannot. And if they could, it’s disgraceful to say so.”
Soames’s composure gave way.
“You’re a pretty wife!” he said. But secretly he wondered at the heat of her reply; it was unlike her. “You’re cracked about June! I can tell you one thing: now that she has the Buccaneer in tow, she doesn’t care twopence about you, and, you’ll find it out. But you won’t see so much of her in future; we’re going to live in the country.”
He had been glad to get his news out under cover of this burst of irritation. He had expected a cry of dismay; the silence with which his pronouncement was received alarmed him.
“You don’t seem interested,” he was obliged to add.
“I knew it already.”
He looked at her sharply.
“Who told you?”
“How did she know?”
Irene did not answer. Baffled and uncomfortable, he said:
“It’s a fine thing for Bosinney, it’ll be the making of him. I suppose she’s told you all about it?”
There was another pause, and then Soames said:
“I suppose you don’t want to, go?”
Irene made no reply.
“Well, I can’t tell what you want. You never seem contented here.”
“Have my wishes anything to do with it?”
She took the vase of roses and left the room. Soames remained seated. Was it for this that he had signed that contract? Was it for this that he was going to spend some ten thousand pounds? Bosinney’s phrase came back to him: “Women are the devil!”
But presently he grew calmer. It might have, been worse. She might have flared up. He had expected something more than this. It was lucky, after all, that June had broken the ice for him. She must have wormed it out of Bosinney; he might have known she would.
He lighted his cigarette. After all, Irene had not made a scene! She would come round — that was the best of her; she was cold, but not sulky. And, puffing the cigarette smoke at a lady-bird on the shining table, he plunged into a reverie about the house. It was no good worrying; he would go and make it up presently. She would be sitting out there in the dark, under the Japanese sunshade, knitting. A beautiful, warm night....
In truth, June had come in that afternoon with shining eyes, and the words: “Soames is a brick! It’s splendid for Phil — the very thing for him!”
Irene’s face remaining dark and puzzled, she went on:
“Your new house at Robin Hill, of course. What? Don’t you know?”
Irene did not know.
“Oh! then, I suppose I oughtn’t to have told you!” Looking impatiently at her friend, she cried: “You look as if you didn’t care. Don’t you see, it’s what I’ve’ been praying for — the very chance he’s been wanting all this time. Now you’ll see what he can do;” and thereupon she poured out the whole story.
Since her own engagement she had not seemed much interested in her friend’s position; the hours she spent with Irene were given to confidences of her own; and at times, for all her affectionate pity, it was impossible to keep out of her smile a trace of compassionate contempt for the woman who had made such a mistake in her life — such a vast, ridiculous mistake.
“He’s to have all the decorations as well — a free hand. It’s perfect —” June broke into laughter, her little figure quivered gleefully; she raised her hand, and struck a blow at a muslin curtain. “Do you, know I even asked Uncle James....” But, with a sudden dislike to mentioning that incident, she stopped; and presently, finding her friend so unresponsive, went away. She looked back from the pavement, and Irene was still standing in the doorway. In response to her farewell wave, Irene put her hand to her brow, and, turning slowly, shut the door....
Soames went to the drawing-room presently, and peered at her through the window.
Out in the shadow of the Japanese sunshade she was sitting very still, the lace on her white shoulders stirring with the soft rise and fall of her bosom.
But about this silent creature sitting there so motionless, in the dark, there seemed a warmth, a hidden fervour of feeling, as if the whole of her being had been stirred, and some change were taking place in its very depths.
He stole back to the dining-room unnoticed.
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
Chapter 6 James at Large
It was not long before Soames’s determination to build went the round of the family, and created the flutter that any decision connected with property should make among Forsytes.
It was not his fault, for he had been determined that no one should know. June, in the fulness of her heart, had told Mrs. Small, giving her leave only to tell Aunt Ann — she thought it would cheer her, the poor old sweet! for Aunt Ann had kept her room now for many days.
Mrs. Small told Aunt Ann at once, who, smiling as she lay back on her pillows, said in her distinct, trembling old voice:
“It’s very nice for dear June; but I hope they will be careful — it’s rather dangerous!”
When she was left alone again, a frown, like a cloud presaging a rainy morrow, crossed her face.
While she was lying there so many days the process of recharging her will went on all the time; it spread to her face, too, and tightening movements were always in action at the corners of her lips.
The maid Smither, who had been in her service since girlhood, and was spoken of as “Smither — a good girl — but so slow!”— the maid Smither performed every morning with extreme punctiliousness the crowning ceremony of that ancient toilet. Taking from the recesses of their pure white band-box those flat, grey curls, the insignia of personal dignity, she placed them securely in her mistress’s hands, and turned her back.
And every day Aunts Juley and Hester were required to come and report on Timothy; what news there was of Nicholas; whether dear June had succeeded in getting Jolyon to shorten the engagement, now that Mr. Bosinney was building Soames a house; whether young Roger’s wife was really — expecting; how the operation on Archie had succeeded; and what Swithin had done about that empty house in Wigmore Street, where the tenant had lost all his money and treated him so badly; above all, about Soames; was Irene still — still asking for a separate room? And every morning Smither was told: “I shall be coming down this afternoon, Smither, about two o’clock. I shall want your arm, after all these days in bed!”
After telling Aunt Ann, Mrs. Small had spoken of the house in the strictest confidence to Mrs. Nicholas, who in her turn had asked Winifred Dartie for confirmation, supposing, of course, that, being Soames’s sister, she would know all about it. Through her it had in due course come round to the ears of James. He had been a good deal agitated.
“Nobody,” he said, “told him anything.” And, rather than go direct to Soames himself, of whose taciturnity he was afraid, he took his umbrella and went round to Timothy’s.
He found Mrs. Septimus and Hester (who had been told — she was so safe, she found it tiring to talk) ready, and indeed eager, to discuss the news. It was very good of dear Soames, they thought, to employ Mr. Bosinney, but rather risky. What had George named him? ‘The Buccaneer’ How droll! But George was always droll! However, it would be all in the family they supposed they must really look upon Mr. Bosinney as belonging to the family, though it seemed strange.
James here broke in:
“Nobody knows anything about him. I don’t see what Soames wants with a young man like that. I shouldn’t be surprised if Irene had put her oar in. I shall speak to....”
“Soames,” interposed Aunt Juley, “told Mr. Bosinney that he didn’t wish it mentioned. He wouldn’t like it to be talked about, I’m sure, and if Timothy knew he would be very vexed, I....”
James put his hand behind his ear:
“What?” he said. “I’m getting very deaf. I suppose I don’t hear people. Emily’s got a bad toe. We shan’t be able to start for Wales till the end of the month. There’ s always something!” And, having got what he wanted, he took his hat and went away.
It was a fine afternoon, and he walked across the Park towards Soames’s, where he intended to dine, for Emily’s toe kept her in bed, and Rachel and Cicely were on a visit to the country. He took the slanting path from the Bayswater side of the Row to the Knightsbridge Gate, across a pasture of short, burnt grass, dotted with blackened sheep, strewn with seated couples and strange waifs; lying prone on their faces, like corpses on a field over which the wave of battle has rolled.
He walked rapidly, his head bent, looking neither to right nor, left. The appearance of this park, the centre of his own battle-field, where he had all his life been fighting, excited no thought or speculation in his mind. These corpses flung down, there, from out the press and turmoil of the struggle, these pairs of lovers sitting cheek by jowl for an hour of idle Elysium snatched from the monotony of their treadmill, awakened no fancies in his mind; he had outlived that kind of imagination; his nose, like the nose of a sheep, was fastened to the pastures on which he browsed.
One of his tenants had lately shown a disposition to be behind-hand in his rent, and it had become a grave question whether he had not better turn him out at once, and so run the risk of not re-letting before Christmas. Swithin had just been let in very badly, but it had served him right — he had held on too long.
He pondered this as he walked steadily, holding his umbrella carefully by the wood, just below the crook of the handle, so as to keep the ferule off the ground, and not fray the silk in the middle. And, with his thin, high shoulders stooped, his long legs moving with swift mechanical precision, this passage through the Park, where the sun shone with a clear flame on so much idleness — on so many human evidences of the remorseless battle of Property, raging beyond its ring — was like the flight of some land bird across the sea.
He felt a — touch on the arm as he came out at Albert Gate.
It was Soames, who, crossing from the shady side of Piccadilly, where he had been walking home from the office, had suddenly appeared alongside.
“Your mother’s in bed,” said James; “I was, just coming to you, but I suppose I shall be in the way.”
The outward relations between James and his son were marked by a lack of sentiment peculiarly Forsytean, but for all that the two were by no means unattached. Perhaps they regarded one another as an investment; certainly they were solicitous of each other’s welfare, glad of each other’s company. They had never exchanged two words upon the more intimate problems of life, or revealed in each other’s presence the existence of any deep feeling.
Something beyond the power of word-analysis bound them together, something hidden deep in the fibre of nations and families — for blood, they say, is thicker than water — and neither of them was a cold-blooded man. Indeed, in James love of his children was now the prime motive of his existence. To have creatures who were parts of himself, to whom he might transmit the money he saved, was at the root of his saving; and, at seventy-five, what was left that could give him pleasure, but — saving? The kernel of life was in this saving for his children.
Than James Forsyte, notwithstanding all his ‘Jonah-isms,’ there was no saner man (if the leading symptom of sanity, as we are told, is self-preservation, though without doubt Timothy went too far) in all this London, of which he owned so much, and loved with such a dumb love, as the centre of his opportunities. He had the marvellous instinctive sanity of the middle class. In him — more than in Jolyon, with his masterful will and his moments of tenderness and philosophy — more than in Swithin, the martyr to crankiness — Nicholas, the sufferer from ability — and Roger, the victim of enterprise — beat the true pulse of compromise; of all the brothers he was least remarkable in mind and person, and for that reason more likely to live for ever.
To James, more than to any of the others, was “the family” significant and dear. There had always been something primitive and cosy in his attitude towards life; he loved the family hearth, he loved gossip, and he loved grumbling. All his decisions were formed of a cream which he skimmed off the family mind; and, through that family, off the minds of thousands of other families of similar fibre. Year after year, week after week, he went to Timothy’s, and in his brother’s front drawing-room — his legs twisted, his long white whiskers framing his clean-shaven mouth — would sit watching the family pot simmer, the cream rising to the top; and he would go away sheltered, refreshed, comforted, with an indefinable sense of comfort.
Beneath the adamant of his self-preserving instinct there was much real softness in James; a visit to Timothy’s was like an hour spent in the lap of a mother; and the deep craving he himself had for the protection of the family wing reacted in turn on his feelings towards his own children; it was a nightmare to him to think of them exposed to the treatment of the world, in money, health, or reputation. When his old friend John Street’s son volunteered for special service, he shook his head querulously, and wondered what John Street was about to allow it; and when young Street was assagaied, he took it so much to heart that he made a point of calling everywhere with the special object of saying: He knew how it would be — he’d no patience with them!
When his son-in-law Dartie had that financial crisis, due to speculation in Oil Shares, James made himself ill worrying over it; the knell of all prosperity seemed to have sounded. It took him three months and a visit to Baden-Baden to get better; there was something terrible in the idea that but for his, James’s, money, Dartie’s name might have appeared in the Bankruptcy List.
Composed of a physiological mixture so sound that if he had an earache he thought he was dying, he regarded the occasional ailments of his wife and children as in the nature of personal grievances, special interventions of Providence for the purpose of destroying his peace of mind; but he did not believe at all in the ailments of people outside his own immediate family, affirming them in every case to be due to neglected liver.
His universal comment was: “What can they expect? I have it myself, if I’m not careful!”
When he went to Soames’s that evening he felt that life was hard on him: There was Emily with a bad toe, and Rachel gadding about in the country; he got no sympathy from anybody; and Ann, she was ill — he did not believe she would last through the summer; he had called there three times now without her being able to see him! And this idea of Soames’s, building a house, that would have to be looked into. As to the trouble with Irene, he didn’t know what was to come of that — anything might come of it!
He entered 62, Montpellier Square with the fullest intentions of being miserable. It was already half-past seven, and Irene, dressed for dinner, was seated in the drawing-room. She was wearing her gold-coloured frock — for, having been displayed at a dinner-party, a soiree, and a dance, it was now to be worn at home — and she had adorned the bosom with a cascade of lace, on which James’s eyes riveted themselves at once.
“Where do you get your things?” he said in an aggravated voice. “I never see Rachel and Cicely looking half so well. That rose-point, now — that’s not real!”
Irene came close, to prove to him that he was in error.
And, in spite of himself, James felt the influence of her deference, of the faint seductive perfume exhaling from her. No self-respecting Forsyte surrendered at a blow; so he merely said: He didn’t know — he expected she was spending a pretty penny on dress.
The gong sounded, and, putting her white arm within his, Irene took him into the dining-room. She seated him in Soames’s usual place, round the corner on her left. The light fell softly there, so that he would not be worried by the gradual dying of the day; and she began to talk to him about himself.
Presently, over James came a change, like the mellowing that steals upon a fruit in the, sun; a sense of being caressed, and praised, and petted, and all without the bestowal of a single caress or word of praise. He felt that what he was eating was agreeing with him; he could not get that feeling at home; he did not know when he had enjoyed a glass of champagne so much, and, on inquiring the brand and price, was surprised to find that it was one of which he had a large stock himself, but could never drink; he instantly formed the resolution to let his wine merchant know that he had been swindled.
Looking up from his food, he remarked:
“You’ve a lot of nice things about the place. Now, what did you give for that sugar-sifter? Shouldn’t wonder if it was worth money!”
He was particularly pleased with the appearance of a picture, on the wall opposite, which he himself had given them:
“I’d no idea it was so good!” he said.
They rose to go into the drawing-room, and James followed Irene closely.
“That’s what I call a capital little dinner,” he murmured, breathing pleasantly down on her shoulder; “nothing heavy — and not too Frenchified. But I can’t get it at home. I pay my cook sixty pounds a year, but she can’t give me a dinner like that!”
He had as yet made no allusion to the building of the house, nor did he when Soames, pleading the excuse of business, betook himself to the room at the top, where he kept his pictures.
James was left alone with his daughter-in-law. The glow of the wine, and of an excellent liqueur, was still within him. He felt quite warm towards her. She was really a taking little thing; she listened to you, and seemed to understand what you were saying; and, while talking, he kept examining her figure, from her bronze-coloured shoes to the waved gold of her hair. She was leaning back in an Empire chair, her shoulders poised against the top — her body, flexibly straight and unsupported from the hips, swaying when she moved, as though giving to the arms of a lover. Her lips were smiling, her eyes half-closed.
It may have been a recognition of danger in the very charm of her attitude, or a twang of digestion, that caused a sudden dumbness to fall on James. He did not remember ever having been quite alone with Irene before. And, as he looked at her, an odd feeling crept over him, as though he had come across something strange and foreign.
Now what was she thinking about — sitting back like that?
Thus when he spoke it was in a sharper voice, as if he had been awakened from a pleasant dream.
“What d’you do with yourself all day?” he said. “You never come round to Park Lane!”
She seemed to be making very lame excuses, and James did not look at her. He did not want to believe that she was really avoiding them — it would mean too much.
“I expect the fact is, you haven’t time,” he said; “You’re always about with June. I expect you’re useful to her with her young man, chaperoning, and one thing and another. They tell me she’s never at home now; your Uncle Jolyon he doesn’t like it, I fancy, being left so much alone as he is. They tell me she’s always hanging about for this young Bosinney; I suppose he comes here every day. Now, what do you think of him? D’you think he knows his own mind? He seems to me a poor thing. I should say the grey mare was the better horse!”
The colour deepened in Irene’s face; and James watched her suspiciously.
“Perhaps you don’t quite understand Mr. Bosinney,” she said.
“Don’t understand him!” James hummed out: “Why not?— you can see he’s one of these artistic chaps. They say he’s clever — they all think they’re clever. You know more about him than I do,” he added; and again his suspicious glance rested on her.
“He is designing a house for Soames,” she said softly, evidently trying to smooth things over.
“That brings me to what I was going to say,” continued James; “I don’t know what Soames wants with a young man like that; why doesn’t he go to a first-rate man?”
“Perhaps Mr. Bosinney is first-rate!”
James rose, and took a turn with bent head.
“That’s it’,” he said, “you young people, you all stick together; you all think you know best!”
Halting his tall, lank figure before her, he raised a finger, and levelled it at her bosom, as though bringing an indictment against her beauty:
“All I can say is, these artistic people, or whatever they call themselves, they’re as unreliable as they can be; and my advice to you is, don’t you have too much to do with him!”
Irene smiled; and in the curve of her lips was a strange provocation. She seemed to have lost her deference. Her breast rose and fell as though with secret anger; she drew her hands inwards from their rest on the arms of her chair until the tips of her fingers met, and her dark eyes looked unfathomably at James.
The latter gloomily scrutinized the floor.
“I tell you my opinion,” he said, “it’s a pity you haven’t got a child to think about, and occupy you!”
A brooding look came instantly on Irene’s face, and even James became conscious of the rigidity that took possession of her whole figure beneath the softness of its silk and lace clothing.
He was frightened by the effect he had produced, and like most men with but little courage, he sought at once to justify himself by bullying.
“You don’t seem to care about going about. Why don’t you drive down to Hurlingham with us? And go to the theatre now and then. At your time of life you ought to take an interest in things. You’re a young woman!”
The brooding look darkened on her face; he grew nervous.
“Well, I know nothing about it,” he said; “nobody tells me anything. Soames ought to be able to take care of himself. If he can’t take care of himself he mustn’t look to me — that’s all.”
Biting the corner of his forefinger he stole a cold, sharp look at his daughter-in-law.
He encountered her eyes fixed on his own, so dark and deep, that he stopped, and broke into a gentle perspiration.
“Well, I must be going,” he said after a short pause, and a minute later rose, with a slight appearance of surprise, as though he had expected to be asked to stop. Giving his hand to Irene, he allowed himself to be conducted to the door, and let out into the street. He would not have a cab, he would walk, Irene was to say good-night to Soames for him, and if she wanted a little gaiety, well, he would drive her down to Richmond any day.
He walked home, and going upstairs, woke Emily out of the first sleep she had had for four and twenty hours, to tell her that it was his impression things were in a bad way at Soames’s; on this theme he descanted for half an hour, until at last, saying that he would not sleep a wink, he turned on his side and instantly began to snore.
In Montpellier Square Soames, who had come from the picture room, stood invisible at the top of the stairs, watching Irene sort the letters brought by the last post. She turned back into the drawing-room; but in a minute came out, and stood as if listening. Then she came stealing up the stairs, with a kitten in her arms. He could see her face bent over the little beast, which was purring against her neck. Why couldn’t she look at him like that?
Suddenly she saw him, and her face changed.
“Any letters for me?” he said.
He stood aside, and without another word she passed on into the bedroom.
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
Chapter 7 Old Jolyon’s Peccadillo
Old Jolyon came out of Lord’s cricket ground that same afternoon with the intention of going home. He had not reached Hamilton Terrace before he changed his mind, and hailing a cab, gave the driver an address in Wistaria Avenue. He had taken a resolution.
June had hardly been at home at all that week; she had given him nothing of her company for a long time past, not, in fact, since she had become engaged to Bosinney. He never asked her for her company. It was not his habit to ask people for things! She had just that one idea now — Bosinney and his affairs — and she left him stranded in his great house, with a parcel of servants, and not a soul to speak to from morning to night. His Club was closed for cleaning; his Boards in recess; there was nothing, therefore, to take him into the City. June had wanted him to go away; she would not go herself, because Bosinney was in London.
But where was he to go by himself? He could not go abroad alone; the sea upset his liver; he hated hotels. Roger went to a hydropathic — he was not going to begin that at his time of life, those new-fangled places we’re all humbug!
With such formulas he clothed to himself the desolation of his spirit; the lines down his face deepening, his eyes day by day looking forth with the melancholy which sat so strangely on a face wont to be strong and serene.
And so that afternoon he took this journey through St. John’s Wood, in the golden-light that sprinkled the rounded green bushes of the acacia’s before the little houses, in the summer sunshine that seemed holding a revel over the little gardens; and he looked about him with interest; for this was a district which no Forsyte entered without open disapproval and secret curiosity.
His cab stopped in front of a small house of that peculiar buff colour which implies a long immunity from paint. It had an outer gate, and a rustic approach.
He stepped out, his bearing extremely composed; his massive head, with its drooping moustache and wings of white hair, very upright, under an excessively large top hat; his glance firm, a little angry. He had been driven into this!
“Mrs. Jolyon Forsyte at home?”
“Oh, yes sir!— what name shall I say, if you please, sir?”
Old Jolyon could not help twinkling at the little maid as he gave his name. She seemed to him such a funny little toad!
And he followed her through the dark hall, into a small double, drawing-room, where the furniture was covered in chintz, and the little maid placed him in a chair.
“They’re all in the garden, sir; if you’ll kindly take a seat, I’ll tell them.”
Old Jolyon sat down in the chintz-covered chair, and looked around him. The whole place seemed to him, as he would have expressed it, pokey; there was a certain — he could not tell exactly what — air of shabbiness, or rather of making two ends meet, about everything. As far as he could see, not a single piece of furniture was worth a five-pound note. The walls, distempered rather a long time ago, were decorated with water-colour sketches; across the ceiling meandered a long crack.
These little houses were all old, second-rate concerns; he should hope the rent was under a hundred a year; it hurt him more than he could have said, to think of a Forsyte — his own son living in such a place.
The little maid came back. Would he please to go down into the garden?
Old Jolyon marched out through the French windows. In descending the steps he noticed that they wanted painting.
Young Jolyon, his wife, his two children, and his dog Balthasar, were all out there under a pear-tree.
This walk towards them was the most courageous act of old Jolyon’s life; but no muscle of his face moved, no nervous gesture betrayed him. He kept his deep-set eyes steadily on the enemy.
In those two minutes he demonstrated to perfection all that unconscious soundness, balance, and vitality of fibre that made, of him and so many others of his class the core of the nation. In the unostentatious conduct of their own affairs, to the neglect of everything else, they typified the essential individualism, born in the Briton from the natural isolation of his country’s life.
The dog Balthasar sniffed round the edges of his trousers; this friendly and cynical mongrel — offspring of a liaison between a Russian poodle and a fox-terrier — had a nose for the unusual.
The strange greetings over, old Jolyon seated himself in a wicker chair, and his two grandchildren, one on each side of his knees, looked at him silently, never having seen so old a man.
They were unlike, as though recognising the difference set between them by the circumstances of their births. Jolly, the child of sin, pudgy-faced, with his tow-coloured hair brushed off his forehead, and a dimple in his chin, had an air of stubborn amiability, and the eyes of a Forsyte; little Holly, the child of wedlock, was a dark-skinned, solemn soul, with her mother’s, grey and wistful eyes.
The dog Balthasar, having walked round the three small flower-beds, to show his extreme contempt for things at large, had also taken a seat in front of old Jolyon, and, oscillating a tail curled by Nature tightly over his back, was staring up with eyes that did not blink.
Even in the garden, that sense of things being pokey haunted old Jolyon; the wicker chair creaked under his weight; the garden-beds looked ‘daverdy’; on the far side, under the smut-stained wall, cats had made a path.
While he and his grandchildren thus regarded each other with the peculiar scrutiny, curious yet trustful, that passes between the very young and the very old, young Jolyon watched his wife.
The colour had deepened in her thin, oval face, with its straight brows, and large, grey eyes. Her hair, brushed in fine, high curves back from her forehead, was going grey, like his own, and this greyness made the sudden vivid colour in her cheeks painfully pathetic.
The look on her face, such as he had never seen there before, such as she had always hidden from him, was full of secret resentments, and longings, and fears. Her eyes, under their twitching brows, stared painfully. And she was silent.
Jolly alone sustained the conversation; he had many possessions, and was anxious that his unknown friend with extremely large moustaches, and hands all covered with blue veins, who sat with legs crossed like his own father (a habit he was himself trying to acquire), should know it; but being a Forsyte, though not yet quite eight years old, he made no mention of the thing at the moment dearest to his heart — a camp of soldiers in a shop-window, which his father had promised to buy. No doubt it seemed to him too precious; a tempting of Providence to mention it yet.
And the sunlight played through the leaves on that little party of the three generations grouped tranquilly under the pear-tree, which had long borne no fruit.
Old Jolyon’s furrowed face was reddening patchily, as old men’s faces redden in the sun. He took one of Jolly’s hands in his own; the boy climbed on to his knee; and little Holly, mesmerized by this sight, crept up to them; the sound of the dog Balthasar’s scratching arose rhythmically.
Suddenly young Mrs. Jolyon got up and hurried indoors. A minute later her husband muttered an excuse, and followed. Old Jolyon was left alone with his grandchildren.
And Nature with her quaint irony began working in him one of her strange revolutions, following her cyclic laws into the depths of his heart. And that tenderness for little children, that passion for the beginnings of life which had once made him forsake his son and follow June, now worked in him to forsake June and follow these littler things. Youth, like a flame, burned ever in his breast, and to youth he turned, to the round little limbs, so reckless, that wanted care, to the small round faces so unreasonably solemn or bright, to the treble tongues, and the shrill, chuckling laughter, to the insistent tugging hands, and the feel of small bodies against his legs, to all that was young and young, and once more young. And his eyes grew soft, his voice, and thin-veined hands soft, and soft his heart within him. And to those small creatures he became at once a place of pleasure, a place where they were secure, and could talk and laugh and play; till, like sunshine, there radiated from old Jolyon’s wicker chair the perfect gaiety of three hearts.
But with young Jolyon following to his wife’s room it was different.
He found her seated on a chair before her dressing-glass, with her hands before her face.
Her shoulders were shaking with sobs. This passion of hers for suffering was mysterious to him. He had been through a hundred of these moods; how he had survived them he never knew, for he could never believe they were moods, and that the last hour of his partnership had not struck.
In the night she would be sure to throw her arms round his neck and say: “Oh! Jo, how I make you suffer!” as she had done a hundred times before.
He reached out his hand, and, unseen, slipped his razor-case into his pocket. ‘I cannot stay here,’ he thought, ‘I must go down!’ Without a word he left the room, and went back to the lawn.
Old Jolyon had little Holly on his knee; she had taken possession of his watch; Jolly, very red in the face, was trying to show that he could stand on his head. The dog Balthasar, as close as he might be to the tea-table, had fixed his eyes on the cake.
Young Jolyon felt a malicious desire to cut their enjoyment short.
What business had his father to come and upset his wife like this? It was a shock, after all these years! He ought to have known; he ought to have given them warning; but when did a Forsyte ever imagine that his conduct could upset anybody! And in his thoughts he did old Jolyon wrong.
He spoke sharply to the children, and told them to go in to their tea. Greatly surprised, for they had never heard their father speak sharply before, they went off, hand in hand, little Holly looking back over her shoulder.
Young Jolyon poured out the tea.
“My wife’s not the thing today,” he said, but he knew well enough that his father had penetrated the cause of that sudden withdrawal, and almost hated the old man for sitting there so calmly.
“You’ve got a nice little house here,” said old Jolyon with a shrewd look; “I suppose you’ve taken a lease of it!”
Young Jolyon nodded.
“I don’t like the neighbourhood,” said old Jolyon; “a ramshackle lot.”
Young Jolyon replied: “Yes, we’re a ramshackle lot.”’
The silence was now only broken by the sound of the dog Balthasar’s scratching.
Old Jolyon said simply: “I suppose I oughtn’t to have come here, Jo; but I get so lonely!”
At these words young Jolyon got up and put his hand on his father’s shoulder.
In the next house someone was playing over and over again: ‘La Donna mobile’ on an untuned piano; and the little garden had fallen into shade, the sun now only reached the wall at the end, whereon basked a crouching cat, her yellow eyes turned sleepily down on the dog Balthasar. There was a drowsy hum of very distant traffic; the creepered trellis round the garden shut out everything but sky, and house, and pear-tree, with its top branches still gilded by the sun.
For some time they sat there, talking but little. Then old Jolyon rose to go, and not a word was said about his coming again.
He walked away very sadly. What a poor miserable place; and he thought of the great, empty house in Stanhope Gate, fit residence for a Forsyte, with its huge billiard-room and drawing-room that no one entered from one week’s end to another.
That woman, whose face he had rather liked, was too thin-skinned by half; she gave Jo a bad time he knew! And those sweet children! Ah! what a piece of awful folly!
He walked towards the Edgware Road, between rows of little houses, all suggesting to him (erroneously no doubt, but the prejudices of a Forsyte are sacred) shady histories of some sort or kind.
Society, forsooth, the chattering hags and jackanapes — had set themselves up to pass judgment on his flesh and blood! A parcel of old women! He stumped his umbrella on the ground, as though to drive it into the heart of that unfortunate body, which had dared to ostracize his son and his son’s son, in whom he could have lived again!
He stumped his umbrella fiercely; yet he himself had followed Society’s behaviour for fifteen years — had only today been false to it!
He thought of June, and her dead mother, and the whole story, with all his old bitterness. A wretched business!
He was a long time reaching Stanhope Gate, for, with native perversity, being extremely tired, he walked the whole way.
After washing his hands in the lavatory downstairs, he went to the dining-room to wait for dinner, the only room he used when June was out — it was less lonely so. The evening paper had not yet come; he had finished the Times, there was therefore nothing to do.
The room faced the backwater of traffic, and was very silent. He disliked dogs, but a dog even would have been company. His gaze, travelling round the walls, rested on a picture entitled: ‘Group of Dutch fishing boats at sunset’; the chef d’oeuvre of his collection. It gave him no pleasure. He closed his eyes. He was lonely! He oughtn’t to complain, he knew, but he couldn’t help it: He was a poor thing — had always been a poor thing — no pluck! Such was his thought.
The butler came to lay the table for dinner, and seeing his master apparently asleep, exercised extreme caution in his movements. This bearded man also wore a moustache, which had given rise to grave doubts in the minds of many members — of the family —, especially those who, like Soames, had been to public schools, and were accustomed to niceness in such matters. Could he really be considered a butler? Playful spirits alluded to him as: ‘Uncle Jolyon’s Nonconformist’; George, the acknowledged wag, had named him: ‘Sankey.’
He moved to and fro between the great polished sideboard and the great polished table inimitably sleek and soft.
Old Jolyon watched him, feigning sleep. The fellow was a sneak — he had always thought so — who cared about nothing but rattling through his work, and getting out to his betting or his woman or goodness knew what! A slug! Fat too! And didn’t care a pin about his master!
But then against his will, came one of those moments of philosophy which made old Jolyon different from other Forsytes:
After all why should the man care? He wasn’t paid to care, and why expect it? In this world people couldn’t look for affection unless they paid for it. It might be different in the next — he didn’t know — couldn’t tell! And again he shut his eyes.
Relentless and stealthy, the butler pursued his labours, taking things from the various compartments of the sideboard. His back seemed always turned to old Jolyon; thus, he robbed his operations of the unseemliness of being carried on in his master’s presence; now and then he furtively breathed on the silver, and wiped it with a piece of chamois leather. He appeared to pore over the quantities of wine in the decanters, which he carried carefully and rather high, letting his heard droop over them protectingly. When he had finished, he stood for over a minute watching his master, and in his greenish eyes there was a look of contempt:
After all, this master of his was an old buffer, who hadn’t much left in him!
Soft as a tom-cat, he crossed the room to press the bell. His orders were ‘dinner at seven.’ What if his master were asleep; he would soon have him out of that; there was the night to sleep in! He had himself to think of, for he was due at his Club at half-past eight!
In answer to the ring, appeared a page boy with a silver soup tureen. The butler took it from his hands and placed it on the table, then, standing by the open door, as though about to usher company into the room, he said in a solemn voice:
“Dinner is on the table, sir!”
Slowly old Jolyon got up out of his chair, and sat down at the table to eat his dinner.
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
Chapter 8 Plans of the House
Forsytes, as is generally admitted, have shells, like that extremely useful little animal which is made into Turkish delight, in other words, they are never seen, or if seen would not be recognised, without habitats, composed of circumstance, property, acquaintances, and wives, which seem to move along with them in their passage through a world composed of thousands of other Forsytes with their habitats. Without a habitat a Forsyte is inconceivable — he would be like a novel without a plot, which is well-known to be an anomaly.
To Forsyte eyes Bosinney appeared to have no habitat, he seemed one of those rare and unfortunate men who go through life surrounded by circumstance, property, acquaintances, and wives that do not belong to them.
His rooms in Sloane Street, on the top floor, outside which, on a plate, was his name, ‘Philip Baynes Bosinney, Architect,’ were not those of a Forsyte.— He had no sitting-room apart from his office, but a large recess had been screened off to conceal the necessaries of life — a couch, an easy chair, his pipes, spirit case, novels and slippers. The business part of the room had the usual furniture; an open cupboard with pigeon-holes, a round oak table, a folding wash-stand, some hard chairs, a standing desk of large dimensions covered with drawings and designs. June had twice been to tea there under the chaperonage of his aunt.
He was believed to have a bedroom at the back.
As far as the family had been able to ascertain his income, it consisted of two consulting appointments at twenty pounds a year, together with an odd fee once in a way, and — more worthy item — a private annuity under his father’s will of one hundred and fifty pounds a year.
What had transpired concerning that father was not so reassuring. It appeared that he had been a Lincolnshire country doctor of Cornish extraction, striking appearance, and Byronic tendencies — a well-known figure, in fact, in his county. Bosinney’s uncle by marriage, Baynes, of Baynes and Bildeboy, a Forsyte in instincts if not in name, had but little that was worthy to relate of his brother-in-law.
“An odd fellow!’ he would say: ‘always spoke of his three eldest boys as ‘good creatures, but so dull’; they’re all doing capitally in the Indian Civil! Philip was the only one he liked. I’ve heard him talk in the queerest way; he once said to me: ‘My dear fellow, never let your poor wife know what you’re thinking of! But I didn’t follow his advice; not I! An eccentric man! He would say to Phil: ‘Whether you live like a gentleman or not, my boy, be sure you die like one! and he had himself embalmed in a frock coat suit, with a satin cravat and a diamond pin. Oh, quite an original, I can assure you!”
Of Bosinney himself Baynes would speak warmly, with a certain compassion: “He’s got a streak of his father’s Byronism. Why, look at the way he threw up his chances when he left my office; going off like that for six months with a knapsack, and all for what?— to study foreign architecture — foreign! What could he expect? And there he is — a clever young fellow — doesn’t make his hundred a year! Now this engagement is the best thing that could have happened — keep him steady; he’s one of those that go to bed all day and stay up all night, simply because they’ve no method; but no vice about him — not an ounce of vice. Old Forsyte’s a rich man!”
Mr. Baynes made himself extremely pleasant to June, who frequently visited his house in Lowndes Square at this period.
“This house of your cousin’s — what a capital man of business — is the very thing for Philip,” he would say to her; “you mustn’t expect to see too much of him just now, my dear young lady. The good cause — the good cause! The young man must make his way. When I was his age I was at work day and night. My dear wife used to say to me, ‘Bobby, don’t work too hard, think of your health’; but I never spared myself!”
June had complained that her lover found no time to come to Stanhope Gate.
The first time he came again they had not been together a quarter of an hour before, by one of those coincidences of which she was a mistress, Mrs. Septimus Small arrived. Thereon Bosinney rose and hid himself, according to previous arrangement, in the little study, to wait for her departure.
“My dear,” said Aunt Juley, “how thin he is! I’ve often noticed it with engaged people; but you mustn’t let it get worse. There’s Barlow’s extract of veal; it did your Uncle Swithin a lot of good.”
June, her little figure erect before the hearth, her small face quivering grimly, for she regarded her aunt’s untimely visit in the light of a personal injury, replied with scorn:
“It’s because he’s busy; people who can do anything worth doing are never fat!”
Aunt Juley pouted; she herself had always been thin, but the only pleasure she derived from the fact was the opportunity of longing to be stouter.
“I don’t think,” she said mournfully, “that you ought to let them call him ‘The Buccaneer’; people might think it odd, now that he’s going to build a house for Soames. I do hope he will be careful; it’s so important for him. Soames has such good taste!”
“Taste!” cried June, flaring up at once; “wouldn’t give that for his taste, or any of the family’s!”
Mrs. Small was taken aback.
“Your Uncle Swithin,” she said, “always had beautiful taste! And Soames’s little house is lovely; you don’t mean to say you don’t think so!”
“H’mph!” said June, “that’s only because Irene’s there!”
Aunt Juley tried to say something pleasant:
“And how will dear Irene like living in the country?”
June gazed at her intently, with a look in her eyes as if her conscience had suddenly leaped up into them; it passed; and an even more intent look took its place, as if she had stared that conscience out of countenance. She replied imperiously:
“Of course she’ll like it; why shouldn’t she?”
Mrs. Small grew nervous.
“I didn’t know,” she said; “I thought she mightn’t like to leave her friends. Your Uncle James says she doesn’t take enough interest in life. We think — I mean Timothy thinks — she ought to go out more. I expect you’ll miss her very much!”
June clasped her hands behind her neck.
“I do wish,” she cried, “Uncle Timothy wouldn’t talk about what doesn’t concern him!”
Aunt Juley rose to the full height of her tall figure.
“He never talks about what doesn’t concern him,” she said.
June was instantly compunctious; she ran to her aunt and kissed her.
“I’m very sorry, auntie; but I wish they’d let Irene alone.”
Aunt Juley, unable to think of anything further on the subject that would be suitable, was silent; she prepared for departure, hooking her black silk cape across her chest, and, taking up her green reticule:
“And how is your dear grandfather?” she asked in the hall, “I expect he’s very lonely now that all your time is taken up with Mr. Bosinney.”
She bent and kissed her niece hungrily, and with little, mincing steps passed away.
The tears sprang up in June’s eyes; running into the little study, where Bosinney was sitting at the table drawing birds on the back of an envelope, she sank down by his side and cried:
“Oh, Phil! it’s all so horrid!” Her heart was as warm as the colour of her hair.
On the following Sunday morning, while Soames was shaving, a message was brought him to the effect that Mr. Bosinney was below, and would be glad to see him. Opening the door into his wife’s room, he said:
“Bosinney’s downstairs. Just go and entertain him while I finish shaving. I’ll be down in a minute. It’s about the plans, I expect.”
Irene looked at him, without reply, put the finishing touch to her dress and went downstairs. He could not make her out about this house. She had said nothing against it, and, as far as Bosinney was concerned, seemed friendly enough.
From the window of his dressing-room he could see them talking together in the little court below. He hurried on with his shaving, cutting his chin twice. He heard them laugh, and thought to himself: “Well, they get on all right, anyway!”
As he expected, Bosinney had come round to fetch him to look at the plans.
He took his hat and went over.
The plans were spread on the oak table in the architect’s room; and pale, imperturbable, inquiring, Soames bent over them for a long time without speaking.
He said at last in a puzzled voice:
“It’s an odd sort of house!”
A rectangular house of two stories was designed in a quadrangle round a covered-in court. This court, encircled by a gallery on the upper floor, was roofed with a glass roof, supported by eight columns running up from the ground.
It was indeed, to Forsyte eyes, an odd house.
“There’s a lot of room cut to waste,” pursued Soames.
Bosinney began to walk about, and Soames did not like the expression on his face.
“The principle of this house,” said the architect, “was that you should have room to breathe — like a gentleman!”
Soames extended his finger and thumb, as if measuring the extent of the distinction he should acquire; and replied:
“Oh! yes; I see.”
The peculiar look came into Bosinney’s face which marked all his enthusiasms.
“I’ve tried to plan you a house here with some self-respect of its own. If you don’t like it, you’d better say so. It’s certainly the last thing to be considered — who wants self-respect in a house, when you can squeeze in an extra lavatory?” He put his finger suddenly down on the left division of the centre oblong: “You can swing a cat here. This is for your pictures, divided from this court by curtains; draw them back and you’ll have a space of fifty-one by twenty-three six. This double-faced stove in the centre, here, looks one way towards the court, one way towards the picture room; this end wall is all window; You’ve a southeast light from that, a north light from the court. The rest of your pictures you can hang round the gallery upstairs, or in the other rooms.” “In architecture,” he went on — and though looking at Soames he did not seem to see him, which gave Soames an unpleasant feeling —“as in life, you’ll get no self-respect without regularity. Fellows tell you that’s old fashioned. It appears to be peculiar any way; it never occurs to us to embody the main principle of life in our buildings; we load our houses with decoration, gimcracks, corners, anything to distract the eye. On the contrary the eye should rest; get your effects with a few strong lines. The whole thing is regularity there’s no self-respect without it.”
Soames, the unconscious ironist, fixed his gaze on Bosinney’s tie, which was far from being in the perpendicular; he was unshaven too, and his dress not remarkable for order. Architecture appeared to have exhausted his regularity.
“Won’t it look like a barrack?” he inquired.
He did not at once receive a reply.
“I can see what it is,” said Bosinney, “you want one of Littlemaster’s houses — one of the pretty and commodious sort, where the servants will live in garrets, and the front door be sunk so that you may come up again. By all means try Littlemaster, you’ll find him a capital fellow, I’ve known him all my life!”
Soames was alarmed. He had really been struck by the plans, and the concealment of his satisfaction had been merely instinctive. It was difficult for him to pay a compliment. He despised people who were lavish with their praises.
He found himself now in the embarrassing position of one who must pay a compliment or run the risk of losing a good thing. Bosinney was just the fellow who might tear up the plans and refuse to act for him; a kind of grown-up child!
This grown-up childishness, to which he felt so superior, exercised a peculiar and almost mesmeric effect on Soames, for he had never felt anything like it in himself.
“Well,” he stammered at last, “it’s — it’s, certainly original.”
He had such a private distrust and even dislike of the word ‘original’ that he felt he had not really given himself away by this remark.
Bosinney seemed pleased. It was the sort of thing that would please a fellow like that! And his success encouraged Soames.
“It’s — a big place,” he said.
“Space, air, light,” he heard Bosinney murmur, “you can’t live like a gentleman in one of Littlemaster’s — he builds for manufacturers.”
Soames made a deprecating movement; he had been identified with a gentleman; not for a good deal of money now would he be classed with manufacturers. But his innate distrust of general principles revived. What the deuce was the good of talking about regularity and self-respect? It looked to him as if the house would be cold.
“Irene can’t stand the cold!” he said.
“Ah!” said Bosinney sarcastically. “Your wife? She doesn’t like the cold? I’ll see to that; she shan’t be cold. Look here!” he pointed, to four marks at regular intervals on the walls of the court. “I’ve given you hot-water pipes in aluminium casings; you can get them with very good designs.”
Soames looked suspiciously at these marks.
“It’s all very well, all this,” he said, “but what’s it going to cost?”
The architect took a sheet of paper from his pocket:
“The house, of course, should be built entirely of stone, but, as I thought you wouldn’t stand that, I’ve compromised for a facing. It ought to have a copper roof, but I’ve made it green slate. As it is, including metal work, it’ll cost you eight thousand five hundred.”
“Eight thousand five hundred?” said Soames. “Why, I gave you an outside limit of eight!”
“Can’t be done for a penny less,” replied Bosinney coolly.
“You must take it or leave it!”
It was the only way, probably, that such a proposition could have been made to Soames. He was nonplussed. Conscience told him to throw the whole thing up. But the design was good, and he knew it — there was completeness about it, and dignity; the servants’ apartments were excellent too. He would gain credit by living in a house like that — with such individual features, yet perfectly well-arranged.
He continued poring over the plans, while Bosinney went into his bedroom to shave and dress.
The two walked back to Montpellier Square in silence, Soames watching him out of the corner of his eye.
The Buccaneer was rather a good-looking fellow — so he thought — when he was properly got up.
Irene was bending over her flowers when the two men came in.
She spoke of sending across the Park to fetch June.
“No, no,” said Soames, “we’ve still got business to talk over!”
At lunch he was almost cordial, and kept pressing Bosinney to eat. He was pleased to see the architect in such high spirits, and left him to spend the afternoon with Irene, while he stole off to his pictures, after his Sunday habit. At tea-time he came down to the drawing-room, and found them talking, as he expressed it, nineteen to the dozen.
Unobserved in the doorway, he congratulated himself that things were taking the right turn. It was lucky she and Bosinney got on; she seemed to be falling into line with the idea of the new house.
Quiet meditation among his pictures had decided him to spring the five hundred if necessary; but he hoped that the afternoon might have softened Bosinney’s estimates. It was so purely a matter which Bosinney could remedy if he liked; there must be a dozen ways in which he could cheapen the production of a house without spoiling the effect.
He awaited, therefore, his opportunity till Irene was handing the architect his first cup of tea. A chink of sunshine through the lace of the blinds warmed her cheek, shone in the gold of her hair, and in her soft eyes. Possibly the same gleam deepened Bosinney’s colour, gave the rather startled look to his face.
Soames hated sunshine, and he at once got up, to draw the blind. Then he took his own cup of tea from his wife, and said, more coldly than he had intended:
“Can’t you see your way to do it for eight thousand after all? There must be a lot of little things you could alter.”
Bosinney drank off his tea at a gulp, put down his cup, and answered:
Soames saw that his suggestion had touched some unintelligible point of personal vanity.
“Well,” he agreed, with sulky resignation; “you must have it your own way, I suppose.”
A few minutes later Bosinney rose to go, and Soames rose too, to see him off the premises. The architect seemed in absurdly high spirits. After watching him walk away at a swinging pace, Soames returned moodily to the drawing-room, where Irene was putting away the music, and, moved by an uncontrollable spasm of curiosity, he asked:
“Well, what do you think of ‘The Buccaneer’?”
He looked at the carpet while waiting for her answer, and he had to wait some time.
“I don’t know,” she said at last.
“Do you think he’s good-looking?”
Irene smiled. And it seemed to Soames that she was mocking him.
“Yes,” she answered; “very.”
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
Chapter 9 Death of Aunt Ann
There came a morning at the end of September when Aunt Ann was unable to take from Smither’s hands the insignia of personal dignity. After one look at the old face, the doctor, hurriedly sent for, announced that Miss Forsyte had passed away in her sleep.
Aunts Juley and Hester were overwhelmed by the shock. They had never imagined such an ending. Indeed, it is doubtful whether they had ever realized that an ending was bound to come. Secretly they felt it unreasonable of Ann to have left them like this without a word, without even a struggle. It was unlike her.
Perhaps what really affected them so profoundly was the thought that a Forsyte should have let go her grasp on life. If one, then why not all!
It was a full hour before they could make up their minds to tell Timothy. If only it could be kept from him! If only it could be broken to him by degrees!
And long they stood outside his door whispering together. And when it was over they whispered together again.
He would feel it more, they were afraid, as time went on. Still, he had taken it better than could have been expected. He would keep his bed, of course!
They separated, crying quietly.
Aunt Juley stayed in her room, prostrated by the blow. Her face, discoloured by tears, was divided into compartments by the little ridges of pouting flesh which had swollen with emotion. It was impossible to conceive of life without Ann, who had lived with her for seventy-three years, broken only by the short interregnum of her married life, which seemed now so unreal. At fixed intervals she went to her drawer, and took from beneath the lavender bags a fresh pocket-handkerchief. Her warm heart could not bear the thought that Ann was lying there so cold.
Aunt Hester, the silent, the patient, that backwater of the family energy, sat in the drawing-room, where the blinds were drawn; and she, too, had wept at first, but quietly, without visible effect. Her guiding principle, the conservation of energy, did not abandon her in sorrow. She sat, slim, motionless, studying the grate, her hands idle in the lap of her black silk dress. They would want to rouse her into doing something, no doubt. As if there were any good in that! Doing something would not bring back Ann! Why worry her?
Five o’clock brought three of the brothers, Jolyon and James and Swithin; Nicholas was at Yarmouth, and Roger had a bad attack of gout. Mrs. Hayman had been by herself earlier in the day, and, after seeing Ann, had gone away, leaving a message for Timothy — which was kept from him — that she ought to have been told sooner. In fact, there was a feeling amongst them all that they ought to have been told sooner, as though they had missed something; and James said:
“I knew how it’d be; I told you she wouldn’t last through the summer.”
Aunt Hester made no reply; it was nearly October, but what was the good of arguing; some people were never satisfied.
She sent up to tell her sister that the brothers were there. Mrs. Small came down at once. She had bathed her face, which was still swollen, and though she looked severely at Swithin’s trousers, for they were of light blue — he had come straight from the club, where the news had reached him — she wore a more cheerful expression than usual, the instinct for doing the wrong thing being even now too strong for her.
Presently all five went up to look at the body. Under the pure white sheet a quilted counter-pane had been placed, for now, more than ever, Aunt Ann had need of warmth; and, the pillows removed, her spine and head rested flat, with the semblance of their life-long inflexibility; the coif banding the top of her brow was drawn on either side to the level of the ears, and between it and the sheet her face, almost as white, was turned with closed eyes to the faces of her brothers and sisters. In its extraordinary peace the face was stronger than ever, nearly all bone now under the scarce-wrinkled parchment of skin — square jaw and chin, cheekbones, forehead with hollow temples, chiselled nose — the fortress of an unconquerable spirit that had yielded to death, and in its upward sightlessness seemed trying to regain that spirit, to regain the guardianship it had just laid down.
Swithin took but one look at the face, and left the room; the sight, he said afterwards, made him very queer. He went downstairs shaking the whole house, and, seizing his hat, clambered into his brougham, without giving any directions to the coachman. He was driven home, and all the evening sat in his chair without moving.
He could take nothing for dinner but a partridge, with an imperial pint of champagne....
Old Jolyon stood at the bottom of the bed, his hands folded in front of him. He alone of those in the room remembered the death of his mother, and though he looked at Ann, it was of that he was thinking. Ann was an old woman, but death had come to her at last — death came to all! His face did not move, his gaze seemed travelling from very far.
Aunt Hester stood beside him. She did not cry now, tears were exhausted — her nature refused to permit a further escape of force; she twisted her hands, looking not at Ann, but from side to side, seeking some way of escaping the effort of realization.
Of all the brothers and sisters James manifested the most emotion. Tears rolled down the parallel furrows of his thin face; where he should go now to tell his troubles he did not know; Juley was no good, Hester worse than useless! He felt Ann’s death more than he had ever thought he should; this would upset him for weeks!
Presently Aunt Hester stole out, and Aunt Juley began moving about, doing ‘what was necessary,’ so that twice she knocked against something. Old Jolyon, roused from his reverie, that reverie of the long, long past, looked sternly at her, and went away. James alone was left by the bedside; glancing stealthily round, to see that he was not observed, he twisted his long body down, placed a kiss on the dead forehead, then he, too, hastily left the room. Encountering Smither in the hall, he began to ask her about the funeral, and, finding that she knew nothing, complained bitterly that, if they didn’t take care, everything would go wrong. She had better send for Mr. Soames — he knew all about that sort of thing; her master was very much upset, he supposed — he would want looking after; as for her mistresses, they were no good — they had no gumption! They would be ill too, he shouldn’t wonder. She had better send for the doctor; it was best to take things in time. He didn’t think his sister Ann had had the best opinion; if she’d had Blank she would have been alive now. Smither might send to Park Lane any time she wanted advice. Of course, his carriage was at their service for the funeral. He supposed she hadn’t such a thing as a glass of claret and a biscuit — he had had no lunch!
The days before the funeral passed quietly. It had long been known, of course, that Aunt Ann had left her little property to Timothy. There was, therefore, no reason for the slightest agitation. Soames, who was sole executor, took charge of all arrangements, and in due course sent out the following invitation to every male member of the family:
Your presence is requested at the funeral of Miss Ann Forsyte, in Highgate Cemetery, at noon of Oct. 1st. Carriages will meet at “The Bower,” Bayswater Road, at 10.45. No flowers by request. ‘R.S.V.P.’
The morning came, cold, with a high, grey, London sky, and at half-past ten the first carriage, that of James, drove up. It contained James and his son-in-law Dartie, a fine man, with a square chest, buttoned very tightly into a frock coat, and a sallow, fattish face adorned with dark, well-curled moustaches, and that incorrigible commencement of whisker which, eluding the strictest attempts at shaving, seems the mark of something deeply ingrained in the personality of the shaver, being especially noticeable in men who speculate.
Soames, in his capacity of executor, received the guests, for Timothy still kept his bed; he would get up after the funeral; and Aunts Juley and Hester would not be coming down till all was over, when it was understood there would be lunch for anyone who cared to come back. The next to arrive was Roger, still limping from the gout, and encircled by three of his sons — young Roger, Eustace, and Thomas. George, the remaining son, arrived almost immediately afterwards in a hansom, and paused in the hall to ask Soames how he found undertaking pay.
They disliked each other.
Then came two Haymans — Giles and Jesse perfectly silent, and very well dressed, with special creases down their evening trousers. Then old Jolyon alone. Next, Nicholas, with a healthy colour in his face, and a carefully veiled sprightliness in every movement of his head and body. One of his sons followed him, meek and subdued. Swithin Forsyte, and Bosinney arrived at the same moment,— and stood — bowing precedence to each other,— but on the door opening they tried to enter together; they renewed their apologies in the hall, and, Swithin, settling his stock, which had become disarranged in the struggle, very slowly mounted the stairs. The other Hayman; two married sons of Nicholas, together with Tweetyman, Spender, and Warry, the husbands of married Forsyte and Hayman daughters. The company was then complete, twenty-one in all, not a male member of the family being absent but Timothy and young Jolyon.
Entering the scarlet and green drawing-room, whose apparel made so vivid a setting for their unaccustomed costumes, each tried nervously to find a seat, desirous of hiding the emphatic blackness of his trousers. There seemed a sort of indecency in that blackness and in the colour of their gloves — a sort of exaggeration of the feelings; and many cast shocked looks of secret envy at ‘the Buccaneer,’ who had no gloves, and was wearing grey trousers. A subdued hum of conversation rose, no one speaking of the departed, but each asking after the other, as though thereby casting an indirect libation to this event, which they had come to honour.
And presently James said:
“Well, I think we ought to be starting.”
They went downstairs, and, two and two, as they had been told off in strict precedence, mounted the carriages.
The hearse started at a foot’s pace; the carriages moved slowly after. In the first went old Jolyon with Nicholas; in the second, the twins, Swithin and James; in the third, Roger and young Roger; Soames, young Nicholas, George, and Bosinney followed in the fourth. Each of the other carriages, eight in all, held three or four of the family; behind them came the doctor’s brougham; then, at a decent interval, cabs containing family clerks and servants; and at the very end, one containing nobody at all, but bringing the total cortege up to the number of thirteen.
So long as the procession kept to the highway of the Bayswater Road, it retained the foot’s-pace, but, turning into less important thorough-fares, it soon broke into a trot, and so proceeded, with intervals of walking in the more fashionable streets, until it arrived. In the first carriage old Jolyon and Nicholas were talking of their wills. In the second the twins, after a single attempt, had lapsed into complete silence; both were rather deaf, and the exertion of making themselves heard was too great. Only once James broke this silence:
“I shall have to be looking about for some ground somewhere. What arrangements have you made, Swithin?”
And Swithin, fixing him with a dreadful stare, answered:
“Don’t talk to me about such things!”
In the third carriage a disjointed conversation was carried on in the intervals of looking out to see how far they had got, George remarking, “Well, it was really time that the poor old lady went.” He didn’t believe in people living beyond seventy, Young Nicholas replied mildly that the rule didn’t seem to apply to the Forsytes. George said he himself intended to commit suicide at sixty. Young Nicholas, smiling and stroking a long chin, didn’t think his father would like that theory; he had made a lot of money since he was sixty. Well, seventy was the outside limit; it was then time, George said, for them to go and leave their money to their children. Soames, hitherto silent, here joined in; he had not forgotten the remark about the ‘undertaking,’ and, lifting his eyelids almost imperceptibly, said it was all very well for people who never made money to talk. He himself intended to live as long as he could. This was a hit at George, who was notoriously hard up. Bosinney muttered abstractedly “Hear, hear!” and, George yawning, the conversation dropped.
Upon arriving, the coffin was borne into the chapel, and, two by two, the mourners filed in behind it. This guard of men, all attached to the dead by the bond of kinship, was an impressive and singular sight in the great city of London, with its overwhelming diversity of life, its innumerable vocations, pleasures, duties, its terrible hardness, its terrible call to individualism.
The family had gathered to triumph over all this, to give a show of tenacious unity, to illustrate gloriously that law of property underlying the growth of their tree, by which it had thriven and spread, trunk and branches, the sap flowing through all, the full growth reached at the appointed time. The spirit of the old woman lying in her last sleep had called them to this demonstration. It was her final appeal to that unity which had been their strength — it was her final triumph that she had died while the tree was yet whole.
She was spared the watching of the branches jut out beyond the point of balance. She could not look into the hearts of her followers. The same law that had worked in her, bringing her up from a tall, straight-backed slip of a girl to a woman strong and grown, from a woman grown to a woman old, angular, feeble, almost witchlike, with individuality all sharpened and sharpened, as all rounding from the world’s contact fell off from her — that same law would work, was working, in the family she had watched like a mother.
She had seen it young, and growing, she had seen it strong and grown, and before her old eyes had time or strength to see any more, she died. She would have tried, and who knows but she might have kept it young and strong, with her old fingers, her trembling kisses — a little longer; alas! not even Aunt Ann could fight with Nature.
‘Pride comes before a fall!’ In accordance with this, the greatest of Nature’s ironies, the Forsyte family had gathered for a last proud pageant before they fell. Their faces to right and left, in single lines, were turned for the most part impassively toward the ground, guardians of their thoughts; but here and there, one looking upward, with a line between his brows, searched to see some sight on the chapel walls too much for him, to be listening to something that appalled. And the responses, low-muttered, in voices through which rose the same tone, the same unseizable family ring, sounded weird, as though murmured in hurried duplication by a single person.
The service in the chapel over, the mourners filed up again to guard the body to the tomb. The vault stood open, and, round it, men in black were waiting.
From that high and sacred field, where thousands of the upper middle class lay in their last sleep, the eyes of the Forsytes travelled down across the flocks of graves. There — spreading to the distance, lay London, with no sun over it, mourning the loss of its daughter, mourning with this family, so dear, the loss of her who was mother and guardian. A hundred thousand spires and houses, blurred in the great grey web of property, lay there like prostrate worshippers before the grave of this, the oldest Forsyte of them all.
A few words, a sprinkle of earth, the thrusting of the coffin home, and Aunt Ann had passed to her last rest.
Round the vault, trustees of that passing, the five brothers stood, with white heads bowed; they would see that Ann was comfortable where she was going. Her little property must stay behind, but otherwise, all that could be should be done....
Then severally, each stood aside, and putting on his hat, turned back to inspect the new inscription on the marble of the family vault:
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF ANN FORSYTE, THE DAUGHTER OF THE ABOVE JOLYON AND ANN FORSYTE, WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE THE 27TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER, 1886, AGED EIGHTY-SEVEN YEARS AND FOUR DAYS
Soon perhaps, someone else would be wanting an inscription. It was strange and intolerable, for they had not thought somehow, that Forsytes could die. And one and all they had a longing to get away from this painfulness, this ceremony which had reminded them of things they could not bear to think about — to get away quickly and go about their business and forget.
It was cold, too; the wind, like some slow, disintegrating force, blowing up the hill over the graves, struck them with its chilly breath; they began to split into groups, and as quickly as possible to fill the waiting carriages.
Swithin said he should go back to lunch at Timothy’s, and he offered to take anybody with him in his brougham. It was considered a doubtful privilege to drive with Swithin in his brougham, which was not a large one; nobody accepted, and he went off alone. James and Roger followed immediately after; they also would drop in to lunch. The others gradually melted away, Old Jolyon taking three nephews to fill up his carriage; he had a want of those young faces.
Soames, who had to arrange some details in the cemetery office, walked away with Bosinney. He had much to talk over with him, and, having finished his business, they strolled to Hampstead, lunched together at the Spaniard’s Inn, and spent a long time in going into practical details connected with the building of the house; they then proceeded to the tram-line, and came as far as the Marble Arch, where Bosinney went off to Stanhope Gate to see June.
Soames felt in excellent spirits when he arrived home, and confided to Irene at dinner that he had had a good talk with Bosinney, who really seemed a sensible fellow; they had had a capital walk too, which had done his liver good — he had been short of exercise for a long time — and altogether a very satisfactory day. If only it hadn’t been for poor Aunt Ann, he would have taken her to the theatre; as it was, they must make the best of an evening at home.
“The Buccaneer asked after you more than once,” he said suddenly. And moved by some inexplicable desire to assert his proprietorship, he rose from his chair and planted a kiss on his wife’s shoulder.
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
Part II Chapter 10 Progress of the House
The winter had been an open one. Things in the trade were slack; and as Soames had reflected before making up his mind, it had been a good time for building. The shell of the house at Robin Hill was thus completed by the end of April.
Now that there was something to be seen for his money, he had been coming down once, twice, even three times a week, and would mouse about among the debris for hours, careful never to soil his clothes, moving silently through the unfinished brickwork of doorways, or circling round the columns in the central court.
And he would stand before them for minutes’ together, as though peering into the real quality of their substance.
On April 30 he had an appointment with Bosinney to go over the accounts, and five minutes before the proper time he entered the tent which the architect had pitched for himself close to the old oak tree.
The accounts were already prepared on a folding table, and with a nod Soames sat down to study them. It was some time before he raised his head.
“I can’t make them out,” he said at last; “they come to nearly seven hundred more than they ought”
After a glance at Bosinney’s face he went on quickly:
“If you only make a firm stand against these builder chaps you’ll get them down. They stick you with everything if you don’t look sharp.... Take ten per cent. off all round. I shan’t mind it’s coming out a hundred or so over the mark!”
Bosinney shook his head:
“I’ve taken off every farthing I can!”
Soames pushed back the table with a movement of anger, which sent the account sheets fluttering to the ground.
“Then all I can say is,” he flustered out, “you’ve made a pretty mess of it!”
“I’ve told you a dozen times,” Bosinney answered sharply, “that there’d be extras. I’ve pointed them out to you over and over again!”
“I know that,” growled Soames: “I shouldn’t have objected to a ten pound note here and there. How was I to know that by ‘extras’ you meant seven hundred pounds?”
The qualities of both men had contributed to this not-inconsiderable discrepancy. On the one hand, the architect’s devotion to his idea, to the image of a house which he had created and believed in — had made him nervous of being stopped, or forced to the use of makeshifts; on the other, Soames’ not less true and wholehearted devotion to the very best article that could be obtained for the money, had rendered him averse to believing that things worth thirteen shillings could not be bought with twelve.
“I wish I’d never undertaken your house,” said Bosinney suddenly. “You come down here worrying me out of my life. You want double the value for your money anybody else would, and now that you’ve got a house that for its size is not to be beaten in the county, you don’t want to pay for it. If you’re anxious to be off your bargain, I daresay I can find the balance above the estimates myself, but I’m d —— d if I do another stroke of work for you!”
Soames regained his composure. Knowing that Bosinney had no capital, he regarded this as a wild suggestion. He saw, too, that he would be kept indefinitely out of this house on which he had set his heart, and just at the crucial point when the architect’s personal care made all the difference. In the meantime there was Irene to be thought of! She had been very queer lately. He really believed it was only because she had taken to Bosinney that she tolerated the idea of the house at all. It would not do to make an open breach with her.
“You needn’t get into a rage,” he said. “If I’m willing to put up with it, I suppose you needn’t cry out. All I meant was that when you tell me a thing is going to cost so much, I like to — well, in fact, I— like to know where I am.”
“Look here!” said Bosinney, and Soames was both annoyed and surprised by the shrewdness of his glance. “You’ve got my services dirt cheap. For the kind of work I’ve put into this house, and the amount of time I’ve given to it, you’d have had to pay Littlemaster or some other fool four times as much. What you want, in fact, is a first-rate man for a fourth-rate fee, and that’s exactly what you’ve got!”
Soames saw that he really meant what he said, and, angry though he was, the consequences of a row rose before him too vividly. He saw his house unfinished, his wife rebellious, himself a laughingstock.
“Let’s go over it,” he said sulkily, “and see how the money’s gone.”
“Very well,” assented Bosinney. “But we’ll hurry up, if you don’t mind. I have to get back in time to take June to the theatre.”
Soames cast a stealthy look at him, and said: “Coming to our place, I suppose to meet her?” He was always coming to their place!
There had been rain the night before-a spring rain, and the earth smelt of sap and wild grasses. The warm, soft breeze swung the leaves and the golden buds of the old oak tree, and in the sunshine the blackbirds were whistling their hearts out.
It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. The earth gave forth a fainting warmth, stealing up through the chilly garment in which winter had wrapped her. It was her long caress of invitation, to draw men down to lie within her arms, to roll their bodies on her, and put their lips to her breast.
On just such a day as this Soames had got from Irene the promise he had asked her for so often. Seated on the fallen trunk of a tree, he had promised for the twentieth time that if their marriage were not a success, she should be as free as if she had never married him!
“Do you swear it?” she had said. A few days back she had reminded him of that oath. He had answered: “Nonsense! I couldn’t have sworn any such thing!” By some awkward fatality he remembered it now. What queer things men would swear for the sake of women! He would have sworn it at any time to gain her! He would swear it now, if thereby he could touch her — but nobody could touch her, she was cold-hearted!
And memories crowded on him with the fresh, sweet savour of the spring wind-memories of his courtship.
In the spring of the year 1881 he was visiting his old school-fellow and client, George Liversedge, of Branksome, who, with the view of developing his pine-woods in the neighbourhood of Bournemouth, had placed the formation of the company necessary to the scheme in Soames’s hands. Mrs. Liversedge, with a sense of the fitness of things, had given a musical tea in his honour. Later in the course of this function, which Soames, no musician, had regarded as an unmitigated bore, his eye had been caught by the face of a girl dressed in mourning, standing by herself. The lines of her tall, as yet rather thin figure, showed through the wispy, clinging stuff of her black dress, her black-gloved hands were crossed in front of her, her lips slightly parted, and her large, dark eyes wandered from face to face. Her hair, done low on her neck, seemed to gleam above her black collar like coils of shining metal. And as Soames stood looking at her, the sensation that most men have felt at one time or another went stealing through him — a peculiar satisfaction of the senses, a peculiar certainty, which novelists and old ladies call love at first sight. Still stealthily watching her, he at once made his way to his hostess, and stood doggedly waiting for the music to cease.
“Who is that girl with yellow hair and dark eyes?” he asked.
“That — oh! Irene Heron. Her father, Professor Heron, died this year. She lives with her stepmother. She’s a nice girl, a pretty girl, but no money!”
“Introduce me, please,” said Soames.
It was very little that he found to say, nor did he find her responsive to that little. But he went away with the resolution to see her again. He effected his object by chance, meeting her on the pier with her stepmother, who had the habit of walking there from twelve to one of a forenoon. Soames made this lady’s acquaintance with alacrity, nor was it long before he perceived in her the ally he was looking for. His keen scent for the commercial side of family life soon told him that Irene cost her stepmother more than the fifty pounds a year she brought her; it also told him that Mrs. Heron, a woman yet in the prime of life, desired to be married again. The strange ripening beauty of her stepdaughter stood in the way of this desirable consummation. And Soames, in his stealthy tenacity, laid his plans.
He left Bournemouth without having given himself away, but in a month’s time came back, and this time he spoke, not to the girl, but to her stepmother. He had made up his mind, he said; he would wait any time. And he had long to wait, watching Irene bloom, the lines of her young figure softening, the stronger blood deepening the gleam of her eyes, and warming her face to a creamy glow; and at each visit he proposed to her, and when that visit was at an end, took her refusal away with him, back to London, sore at heart, but steadfast and silent as the grave. He tried to come at the secret springs of her resistance; only once had he a gleam of light. It was at one of those assembly dances, which afford the only outlet to the passions of the population of seaside watering-places. He was sitting with her in an embrasure, his senses tingling with the contact of the waltz. She had looked at him over her, slowly waving fan; and he had lost his head. Seizing that moving wrist, he pressed his lips to the flesh of her arm. And she had shuddered — to this day he had not forgotten that shudder — nor the look so passionately averse she had given him.
A year after that she had yielded. What had made her yield he could never make out; and from Mrs. Heron, a woman of some diplomatic talent, he learnt nothing. Once after they were married he asked her, “What made you refuse me so often?” She had answered by a strange silence. An enigma to him from the day that he first saw her, she was an enigma to him still....
Bosinney was waiting for him at the door; and on his rugged, good-looking, face was a queer, yearning, yet happy look, as though he too saw a promise of bliss in the spring sky, sniffed a coming happiness in the spring air. Soames looked at him waiting there. What was the matter with the fellow that he looked so happy? What was he waiting for with that smile on his lips and in his eyes? Soames could not see that for which Bosinney was waiting as he stood there drinking in the flower-scented wind. And once more he felt baffled in the presence of this man whom by habit he despised. He hastened on to the house.
“The only colour for those tiles,” he heard Bosinney say,—“is ruby with a grey tint in the stuff, to give a transparent effect. I should like Irene’s opinion. I’m ordering the purple leather curtains for the doorway of this court; and if you distemper the drawing-room ivory cream over paper, you’ll get an illusive look. You want to aim all through the decorations at what I call charm.”
Soames said: “You mean that my wife has charm!”
Bosinney evaded the question.
“You should have a clump of iris plants in the centre of that court.”
Soames smiled superciliously.
“I’ll look into Beech’s some time,” he said, “and see what’s appropriate!”
They found little else to say to each other, but on the way to the Station Soames asked:
“I suppose you find Irene very artistic.”
“Yes.” The abrupt answer was as distinct a snub as saying: “If you want to discuss her you can do it with someone else!”
And the slow, sulky anger Soames had felt all the afternoon burned the brighter within him.
Neither spoke again till they were close to the Station, then Soames asked:
“When do you expect to have finished?”
“By the end of June, if you really wish me to decorate as well.”
Soames nodded. “But you quite understand,” he said, “that the house is costing me a lot beyond what I contemplated. I may as well tell you that I should have thrown it up, only I’m not in the habit of giving up what I’ve set my mind on.”
Bosinney made no reply. And Soames gave him askance a look of dogged dislike — for in spite of his fastidious air and that supercilious, dandified taciturnity, Soames, with his set lips and squared chin, was not unlike a bulldog....
When, at seven o’clock that evening, June arrived at 62, Montpellier Square, the maid Bilson told her that Mr. Bosinney was in the drawing-room; the mistress — she said — was dressing, and would be down in a minute. She would tell her that Miss June was here.
June stopped her at once.
“All right, Bilson,” she said, “I’ll just go in. You, needn’t hurry Mrs. Soames.”
She took off her cloak, and Bilson, with an understanding look, did not even open the drawing-room door for her, but ran downstairs.
June paused for a moment to look at herself in the little old-fashioned silver mirror above the oaken rug chest — a slim, imperious young figure, with a small resolute face, in a white frock, cut moon-shaped at the base of a neck too slender for her crown of twisted red-gold hair.
She opened the drawing-room door softly, meaning to take him by surprise. The room was filled with a sweet hot scent of flowering azaleas.
She took a long breath of the perfume, and heard Bosinney’s voice, not in the room, but quite close, saying.
“Ah! there were such heaps of things I wanted to talk about, and now we shan’t have time!”
Irene’s voice answered: “Why not at dinner?”
“How can one talk....”
June’s first thought was to go away, but instead she crossed to the long window opening on the little court. It was from there that the scent of the azaleas came, and, standing with their backs to her, their faces buried in the golden-pink blossoms, stood her lover and Irene.
Silent but unashamed, with flaming cheeks and angry eyes, the girl watched.
“Come on Sunday by yourself — We can go over the house together.”
June saw Irene look up at him through her screen of blossoms. It was not the look of a coquette, but — far worse to the watching girl — of a woman fearful lest that look should say too much.
“I’ve promised to go for a drive with Uncle....”
“The big one! Make him bring you; it’s only ten miles — the very thing for his horses.”
“Poor old Uncle Swithin!”
A wave of the azalea scent drifted into June’s face; she felt sick and dizzy.
“Do! ah! do!”
“I must see you there — I thought you’d like to help me....”
The answer seemed to the girl to come softly with a tremble from amongst the blossoms: “So I do!”
And she stepped into the open space of the window.
“How stuffy it is here!” she said; “I can’t bear this scent!”
Her eyes, so angry and direct, swept both their faces.
“Were you talking about the house? I haven’t seen it yet, you know — shall we all go on Sunday?”’
From Irene’s face the colour had flown.
“I am going for a drive that day with Uncle Swithin,” she answered.
“Uncle Swithin! What does he matter? You can throw him over!”
“I am not in the habit of throwing people over!”
There was a sound of footsteps and June saw Soames standing just behind her.
“Well! if you are all ready,” said Irene, looking from one to the other with a strange smile, “dinner is too!”
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
Chapter 11 June’s Treat
Dinner began in silence; the women facing one another, and the men.
In silence the soup was finished — excellent, if a little thick; and fish was brought. In silence it was handed.
Bosinney ventured: “It’s the first spring day.”
Irene echoed softly: “Yes — the first spring day.”
“Spring!” said June: “there isn’t a breath of air!” No one replied.
The fish was taken away, a fine fresh sole from Dover. And Bilson brought champagne, a bottle swathed around the neck with white....
Soames said: “You’ll find it dry.”
Cutlets were handed, each pink-frilled about the legs. They were refused by June, and silence fell.
Soames said: “You’d better take a cutlet, June; there’s nothing coming.”
But June again refused, so they were borne away. And then Irene asked: “Phil, have you heard my blackbird?”
Bosinney answered: “Rather — he’s got a hunting-song. As I came round I heard him in the Square.”
“He’s such a darling!”
“Salad, sir?” Spring chicken was removed.
But Soames was speaking: “The asparagus is very poor. Bosinney, glass of sherry with your sweet? June, you’re drinking nothing!”
June said: “You know I never do. Wine’s such horrid stuff!”
An apple charlotte came upon a silver dish, and smilingly Irene said: “The azaleas are so wonderful this year!”
To this Bosinney murmured: “Wonderful! The scent’s extraordinary!”
June said: “How can you like the scent? Sugar, please, Bilson.”
Sugar was handed her, and Soames remarked: “This charlottes good!”
The charlotte was removed. Long silence followed. Irene, beckoning, said: “Take out the azalea, Bilson. Miss June can’t bear the scent.”
“No; let it stay,” said June.
Olives from France, with Russian caviare, were placed on little plates. And Soames remarked: “Why can’t we have the Spanish?” But no one answered.
The olives were removed. Lifting her tumbler June demanded: “Give me some water, please.” Water was given her. A silver tray was brought, with German plums. There was a lengthy pause. In perfect harmony all were eating them.
Bosinney counted up the stones: “This year — next year — some time.”
Irene finished softly: “Never! There was such a glorious sunset. The sky’s all ruby still — so beautiful!”
He answered: “Underneath the dark.”
Their eyes had met, and June cried scornfully: “A London sunset!”
Egyptian cigarettes were handed in a silver box. Soames, taking one, remarked: “What time’s your play begin?”
No one replied, and Turkish coffee followed in enamelled cups.
Irene, smiling quietly, said: “If only....”
“Only what?” said June.
“If only it could always be the spring!”
Brandy was handed; it was pale and old.
Soames said: “Bosinney, better take some brandy.”
Bosinney took a glass; they all arose.
“You want a cab?” asked Soames.
June answered: “No! My cloaks please, Bilson.” Her cloak was brought.
Irene, from the window, murmured: “Such a lovely night! The stars are coming out!”
Soames added: “Well, I hope you’ll both enjoy yourselves.”
From the door June answered: “Thanks. Come, Phil.”
Bosinney cried: “I’m coming.”
Soames smiled a sneering smile, and said: “I wish you luck!”
And at the door Irene watched them go.
Bosinney called: “Good night!”
“Good night!” she answered softly....
June made her lover take her on the top of a ‘bus, saying she wanted air, and there sat silent, with her face to the breeze.
The driver turned once or twice, with the intention of venturing a remark, but thought better of it. They were a lively couple! The spring had got into his blood, too; he felt the need for letting steam escape, and clucked his tongue, flourishing his whip, wheeling his horses, and even they, poor things, had smelled the spring, and for a brief half-hour spurned the pavement with happy hoofs.
The whole town was alive; the boughs, curled upward with their decking of young leaves, awaited some gift the breeze could bring. New-lighted lamps were gaining mastery, and the faces of the crowd showed pale under that glare, while on high the great white clouds slid swiftly, softly, over the purple sky.
Men in, evening dress had thrown back overcoats, stepping jauntily up the steps of Clubs; working folk loitered; and women — those women who at that time of night are solitary — solitary and moving eastward in a stream — swung slowly along, with expectation in their gait, dreaming of good wine and a good supper, or — for an unwonted minute, of kisses given for love.
Those countless figures, going their ways under the lamps and the moving-sky, had one and all received some restless blessing from the stir of spring. And one and all, like those clubmen with their opened coats, had shed something of caste, and creed, and custom, and by the cock of their hats, the pace of their walk, their laughter, or their silence, revealed their common kinship under the passionate heavens.
Bosinney and June entered the theatre in silence, and mounted to their seats in the upper boxes. The piece had just begun, and the half-darkened house, with its rows of creatures peering all one way, resembled a great garden of flowers turning their faces to the sun.
June had never before been in the upper boxes. From the age of fifteen she had habitually accompanied her grandfather to the stalls, and not common stalls, but the best seats in the house, towards the centre of the third row, booked by old Jolyon, at Grogan and Boyne’s, on his way home from the City, long before the day; carried in his overcoat pocket, together with his cigar-case and his old kid gloves, and handed to June to keep till the appointed night. And in those stalls — an erect old figure with a serene white head, a little figure, strenuous and eager, with a red-gold head — they would sit through every kind of play, and on the way home old Jolyon would say of the principal actor: “Oh, he’s a poor stick! You should have seen little Bobson!”
She had looked forward to this evening with keen delight; it was stolen, chaperone-less, undreamed of at Stanhope Gate, where she was supposed to be at Soames’. She had expected reward for her subterfuge, planned for her lover’s sake; she had expected it to break up the thick, chilly cloud, and make the relations between them which of late had been so puzzling, so tormenting — sunny and simple again as they had been before the winter. She had come with the intention of saying something definite; and she looked at the stage with a furrow between her brows, seeing nothing, her hands squeezed together in her lap. A swarm of jealous suspicions stung and stung her.
If Bosinney was conscious of her trouble he made no sign.
The curtain dropped. The first act had come to an end.
“It’s awfully hot here!” said the girl; “I should like to go out.”
She was very white, and she knew — for with her nerves thus sharpened she saw everything — that he was both uneasy and compunctious.
At the back of the theatre an open balcony hung over the street; she took possession of this, and stood leaning there without a word, waiting for him to begin.
At last she could bear it no longer.
“I want to say something to you, Phil,” she said.
The defensive tone of his voice brought the colour flying to her cheek, the words flying to her lips: “You don’t give me a chance to be nice to you; you haven’t for ages now!”
Bosinney stared down at the street. He made no answer....
June cried passionately: “You know I want to do everything for you — that I want to be everything to you....”
A hum rose from the street, and, piercing it with a sharp ‘ping,’ the bell sounded for the raising of the curtain. June did not stir. A desperate struggle was going on within her. Should she put everything to the proof? Should she challenge directly that influence, that attraction which was driving him away from her? It was her nature to challenge, and she said: “Phil, take me to see the house on Sunday!”
With a smile quivering and breaking on her lips, and trying, how hard, not to show that she was watching, she searched his face, saw it waver and hesitate, saw a troubled line come between his brows, the blood rush into his face. He answered: “Not Sunday, dear; some other day!”
“Why not Sunday? I shouldn’t be in the way on Sunday.”
He made an evident effort, and said: “I have an engagement.”
“You are going to take....”
His eyes grew angry; he shrugged his shoulders, and answered: “An engagement that will prevent my taking you to see the house!”
June bit her lip till the blood came, and walked back to her seat without another word, but she could not help the tears of rage rolling down her face. The house had been mercifully darkened for a crisis, and no one could see her trouble.
Yet in this world of Forsytes let no man think himself immune from observation.
In the third row behind, Euphemia, Nicholas’s youngest daughter, with her married-sister, Mrs. Tweetyman, were watching.
They reported at Timothy’s, how they had seen June and her fiance at the theatre.
“In the stalls?” “No, not in the....” “Oh! in the dress circle, of course. That seemed to be quite fashionable nowadays with young people!”
Well — not exactly. In the.... Anyway, that engagement wouldn’t last long. They had never seen anyone look so thunder and lightningy as that little June! With tears of enjoyment in their eyes, they related how she had kicked a man’s hat as she returned to her seat in the middle of an act, and how the man had looked. Euphemia had a noted, silent laugh, terminating most disappointingly in squeaks; and when Mrs. Small, holding up her hands, said: “My dear! Kicked a ha-at?” she let out such a number of these that she had to be recovered with smelling-salts. As she went away she said to Mrs. Tweetyman:
“Kicked a — ha-at! Oh! I shall die.”
For ‘that little June’ this evening, that was to have been ‘her treat,’ was the most miserable she had ever spent. God knows she tried to stifle her pride, her suspicion, her jealousy!
She parted from Bosinney at old Jolyon’s door without breaking down; the feeling that her lover must be conquered was strong enough to sustain her till his retiring footsteps brought home the true extent of her wretchedness.
The noiseless ‘Sankey’ let her in. She would have slipped up to her own room, but old Jolyon, who had heard her entrance, was in the dining-room doorway.
“Come in and have your milk,” he said. “It’s been kept hot for you. You’re very late. Where have you been?”
June stood at the fireplace, with a foot on the fender and an arm on the mantelpiece, as her grandfather had done when he came in that night of the opera. She was too near a breakdown to care what she told him.
“We dined at Soames’s.”
“H’m! the man of property! His wife there and Bosinney?”
Old Jolyon’s glance was fixed on her with the penetrating gaze from which it was difficult to hide; but she was not looking at him, and when she turned her face, he dropped his scrutiny at once. He had seen enough, and too much. He bent down to lift the cup of milk for her from the hearth, and, turning away, grumbled: “You oughtn’t to stay out so late; it makes you fit for nothing.”
He was invisible now behind his paper, which he turned with a vicious crackle; but when June came up to kiss him, he said: “Good-night, my darling,” in a tone so tremulous and unexpected, that it was all the girl could do to get out of the room without breaking into the fit of sobbing which lasted her well on into the night.
When the door was closed, old Jolyon dropped his paper, and stared long and anxiously in front of him.
‘The beggar!’ he thought. ‘I always knew she’d have trouble with him!’
Uneasy doubts and suspicions, the more poignant that he felt himself powerless to check or control the march of events, came crowding upon him.
Was the fellow going to jilt her? He longed to go and say to him: “Look here, you sir! Are you going to jilt my grand-daughter?” But how could he? Knowing little or nothing, he was yet certain, with his unerring astuteness, that there was something going on. He suspected Bosinney of being too much at Montpellier Square.
‘This fellow,’ he thought, ‘may not be a scamp; his face is not a bad one, but he’s a queer fish. I don’t know what to make of him. I shall never know what to make of him! They tell me he works like a nigger, but I see no good coming of it. He’s unpractical, he has no method. When he comes here, he sits as glum as a monkey. If I ask him what wine he’ll have, he says: “Thanks, any wine.” If I offer him a cigar, he smokes it as if it were a twopenny German thing. I never see him looking at June as he ought to look at her; and yet, he’s not after her money. If she were to make a sign, he’d be off his bargain to-morrow. But she won’t — not she! She’ll stick to him! She’s as obstinate as fate — She’ll never let go!’
Sighing deeply, he turned the paper; in its columns, perchance he might find consolation.
And upstairs in her room June sat at her open window, where the spring wind came, after its revel across the Park, to cool her hot cheeks and burn her heart.
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
Chapter 12 Drive with Swithin
Two lines of a certain song in a certain famous old school’s songbook run as follows:
‘How the buttons on his blue frock shone, tra-la-la! How he carolled and he sang, like a bird!....’
Swithin did not exactly carol and sing like a bird, but he felt almost like endeavouring to hum a tune, as he stepped out of Hyde Park Mansions, and contemplated his horses drawn up before the door.
The afternoon was as balmy as a day in June, and to complete the simile of the old song, he had put on a blue frock-coat, dispensing with an overcoat, after sending Adolf down three times to make sure that there was not the least suspicion of east in the wind; and the frock-coat was buttoned so tightly around his personable form, that, if the buttons did not shine, they might pardonably have done so. Majestic on the pavement he fitted on a pair of dog-skin gloves; with his large bell-shaped top hat, and his great stature and bulk he looked too primeval for a Forsyte. His thick white hair, on which Adolf had bestowed a touch of pomatum, exhaled the fragrance of opoponax and cigars — the celebrated Swithin brand, for which he paid one hundred and forty shillings the hundred, and of which old Jolyon had unkindly said, he wouldn’t smoke them as a gift; they wanted the stomach of a horse!
“The new plaid rug!”
He would never teach that fellow to look smart; and Mrs. Soames he felt sure, had an eye!
“The phaeton hood down; I am going — to — drive — a — lady!”
A pretty woman would want to show off her frock; and well — he was going to drive a lady! It was like a new beginning to the good old days.
Ages since he had driven a woman! The last time, if he remembered, it had been Juley; the poor old soul had been as nervous as a cat the whole time, and so put him out of patience that, as he dropped her in the Bayswater Road, he had said: “Well I’m d —-d if I ever drive you again!” And he never had, not he!
Going up to his horses’ heads, he examined their bits; not that he knew anything about bits — he didn’t pay his coachman sixty pounds a year to do his work for him, that had never been his principle. Indeed, his reputation as a horsey man rested mainly on the fact that once, on Derby Day, he had been welshed by some thimble-riggers. But someone at the Club, after seeing him drive his greys up to the door — he always drove grey horses, you got more style for the money, some thought — had called him ‘Four-in-hand Forsyte.’ The name having reached his ears through that fellow Nicholas Treffry, old Jolyon’s dead partner, the great driving man notorious for more carriage accidents than any man in the kingdom — Swithin had ever after conceived it right to act up to it. The name had taken his fancy, not because he had ever driven four-in-hand, or was ever likely to, but because of something distinguished in the sound. Four-in-hand Forsyte! Not bad! Born too soon, Swithin had missed his vocation. Coming upon London twenty years later, he could not have failed to have become a stockbroker, but at the time when he was obliged to select, this great profession had not as yet became the chief glory of the upper-middle class. He had literally been forced into land agency.
Once in the driving seat, with the reins handed to him, and blinking over his pale old cheeks in the full sunlight, he took a slow look round — Adolf was already up behind; the cockaded groom at the horses’ heads stood ready to let go; everything was prepared for the signal, and Swithin gave it. The equipage dashed forward, and before you could say Jack Robinson, with a rattle and flourish drew up at Soames’ door.
Irene came out at once, and stepped in — he afterward described it at Timothy’s —“as light as — er — Taglioni, no fuss about it, no wanting this or wanting that;” and above all, Swithin dwelt on this, staring at Mrs. Septimus in a way that disconcerted her a good deal, “no silly nervousness!” To Aunt Hester he portrayed Irene’s hat. “Not one of your great flopping things, sprawling about, and catching the dust, that women are so fond of nowadays, but a neat little —” he made a circular motion of his hand, “white veil — capital taste.”
“What was it made of?” inquired Aunt Hester, who manifested a languid but permanent excitement at any mention of dress.
“Made of?” returned Swithin; “now how should I know?”
He sank into silence so profound that Aunt Hester began to be afraid he had fallen into a trance. She did not try to rouse him herself, it not being her custom.
‘I wish somebody would come,’ she thought; ‘I don’t like the look of him!’
But suddenly Swithin returned to life. “Made of” he wheezed out slowly, “what should it be made of?”
They had not gone four miles before Swithin received the impression that Irene liked driving with him. Her face was so soft behind that white veil, and her dark eyes shone so in the spring light, and whenever he spoke she raised them to him and smiled.
On Saturday morning Soames had found her at her writing-table with a note written to Swithin, putting him off. Why did she want to put him off? he asked. She might put her own people off when she liked, he would not have her putting off his people!
She had looked at him intently, had torn up the note, and said: “Very well!”
And then she began writing another. He took a casual glance presently, and saw that it was addressed to Bosinney.
“What are you writing to him about?” he asked.
Irene, looking at him again with that intent look, said quietly: “Something he wanted me to do for him!”
“Humph!” said Soames,—“Commissions!”
“You’ll have your work cut out if you begin that sort of thing!” He said no more.
Swithin opened his eyes at the mention of Robin Hill; it was a long way for his horses, and he always dined at half-past seven, before the rush at the Club began; the new chef took more trouble with an early dinner — a lazy rascal!
He would like to have a look at the house, however. A house appealed to any Forsyte, and especially to one who had been an auctioneer. After all he said the distance was nothing. When he was a younger man he had had rooms at Richmond for many years, kept his carriage and pair there, and drove them up and down to business every day of his life.
Four-in-hand Forsyte they called him! His T-cart, his horses had been known from Hyde Park Corner to the Star and Garter. The Duke of Z.... wanted to get hold of them, would have given him double the money, but he had kept them; know a good thing when you have it, eh? A look of solemn pride came portentously on his shaven square old face, he rolled his head in his stand-up collar, like a turkey-cock preening himself.
She was really — a charming woman! He enlarged upon her frock afterwards to Aunt Juley, who held up her hands at his way of putting it.
Fitted her like a skin — tight as a drum; that was how he liked ’em, all of a piece, none of your daverdy, scarecrow women! He gazed at Mrs. Septimus Small, who took after James — long and thin.
“There’s style about her,” he went on, “fit for a king! And she’s so quiet with it too!”
“She seems to have made quite a conquest of you, any way,” drawled Aunt Hester from her corner.
Swithin heard extremely well when anybody attacked him.
“What’s that?” he said. “I know a — pretty — woman when I see one, and all I can say is, I don’t see the young man about that’s fit for her; but perhaps — you — do, come, perhaps — you-do!”
“Oh?” murmured Aunt Hester, “ask Juley!”
Long before they reached Robin Hill, however, the unaccustomed airing had made him terribly sleepy; he drove with his eyes closed, a life-time of deportment alone keeping his tall and bulky form from falling askew.
Bosinney, who was watching, came out to meet them, and all three entered the house together; Swithin in front making play with a stout gold-mounted Malacca cane, put into his hand by Adolf, for his knees were feeling the effects of their long stay in the same position. He had assumed his fur coat, to guard against the draughts of the unfinished house.
The staircase — he said — was handsome! the baronial style! They would want some statuary about! He came to a standstill between the columns of the doorway into the inner court, and held out his cane inquiringly.
What was this to be — this vestibule, or whatever they called it? But gazing at the skylight, inspiration came to him.
“Ah! the billiard-room!”
When told it was to be a tiled court with plants in the centre, he turned to Irene:
“Waste this on plants? You take my advice and have a billiard table here!”
Irene smiled. She had lifted her veil, banding it like a nun’s coif across her forehead, and the smile of her dark eyes below this seemed to Swithin more charming than ever. He nodded. She would take his advice he saw.
He had little to say of the drawing or dining-rooms, which he described as “spacious”; but fell into such raptures as he permitted to a man of his dignity, in the wine-cellar, to which he descended by stone steps, Bosinney going first with a light.
“You’ll have room here,” he said, “for six or seven hundred dozen — a very pooty little cellar!”
Bosinney having expressed the wish to show them the house from the copse below, Swithin came to a stop.
“There’s a fine view from here,” he remarked; “you haven’t such a thing as a chair?”
A chair was brought him from Bosinney’s tent.
“You go down,” he said blandly; “you two! I’ll sit here and look at the view.”
He sat down by the oak tree, in the sun; square and upright, with one hand stretched out, resting on the nob of his cane, the other planted on his knee; his fur coat thrown open, his hat, roofing with its flat top the pale square of his face; his stare, very blank, fixed on the landscape.
He nodded to them as they went off down through the fields. He was, indeed, not sorry to be left thus for a quiet moment of reflection. The air was balmy, not too much heat in the sun; the prospect a fine one, a remarka.... His head fell a little to one side; he jerked it up and thought: Odd! He — ah! They were waving to him from the bottom! He put up his hand, and moved it more than once. They were active — the prospect was remar.... His head fell to the left, he jerked it up at once; it fell to the right. It remained there; he was asleep.
And asleep, a sentinel on the — top of the rise, he appeared to rule over this prospect — remarkable — like some image blocked out by the special artist, of primeval Forsytes in pagan days, to record the domination of mind over matter!
And all the unnumbered generations of his yeoman ancestors, wont of a Sunday to stand akimbo surveying their little plots of land, their grey unmoving eyes hiding their instinct with its hidden roots of violence, their instinct for possession to the exclusion of all the world — all these unnumbered generations seemed to sit there with him on the top of the rise.
But from him, thus slumbering, his jealous Forsyte spirit travelled far, into God-knows-what jungle of fancies; with those two young people, to see what they were doing down there in the copse — in the copse where the spring was running riot with the scent of sap and bursting buds, the song of birds innumerable, a carpet of bluebells and sweet growing things, and the sun caught like gold in the tops of the trees; to see what they were doing, walking along there so close together on the path that was too narrow; walking along there so close that they were always touching; to watch Irene’s eyes, like dark thieves, stealing the heart out of the spring. And a great unseen chaperon, his spirit was there, stopping with them to look at the little furry corpse of a mole, not dead an hour, with his mushroom-and-silver coat untouched by the rain or dew; watching over Irene’s bent head, and the soft look of her pitying eyes; and over that young man’s head, gazing at her so hard, so strangely. Walking on with them, too, across the open space where a wood-cutter had been at work, where the bluebells were trampled down, and a trunk had swayed and staggered down from its gashed stump. Climbing it with them, over, and on to the very edge of the copse, whence there stretched an undiscovered country, from far away in which came the sounds, ‘Cuckoo-cuckoo!’
Silent, standing with them there, and uneasy at their silence! Very queer, very strange!
Then back again, as though guilty, through the wood — back to the cutting, still silent, amongst the songs of birds that never ceased, and the wild scent — hum! what was it — like that herb they put in — back to the log across the path....
And then unseen, uneasy, flapping above them, trying to make noises, his Forsyte spirit watched her balanced on the log, her pretty figure swaying, smiling down at that young man gazing up with such strange, shining eyes, slipping now — a — ah! falling, o — oh! sliding — down his breast; her soft, warm body clutched, her head bent back from his lips; his kiss; her recoil; his cry: “You must know — I love you!” Must know — indeed, a pretty...? Love! Hah!
Swithin awoke; virtue had gone out of him. He had a taste in his mouth. Where was he?
Damme! He had been asleep!
He had dreamed something about a new soup, with a taste of mint in it.
Those young people — where had they got to? His left leg had pins and needles.
“Adolf!” The rascal was not there; the rascal was asleep somewhere.
He stood up, tall, square, bulky in his fur, looking anxiously down over the fields, and presently he saw them coming.
Irene was in front; that young fellow — what had they nicknamed him —‘The Buccaneer?’ looked precious hangdog there behind her; had got a flea in his ear, he shouldn’t wonder. Serve him right, taking her down all that way to look at the house! The proper place to look at a house from was the lawn.
They saw him. He extended his arm, and moved it spasmodically to encourage them. But they had stopped. What were they standing there for, talking — talking? They came on again. She had been, giving him a rub, he had not the least doubt of it, and no wonder, over a house like that — a great ugly thing, not the sort of house he was accustomed to.
He looked intently at their faces, with his pale, immovable stare. That young man looked very queer!
“You’ll never make anything of this!” he said tartly, pointing at the mansion;—“too newfangled!”
Bosinney gazed at him as though he had not heard; and Swithin afterwards described him to Aunt Hester as “an extravagant sort of fellow very odd way of looking at you — a bumpy beggar!”
What gave rise to this sudden piece of psychology he did not state; possibly Bosinney’s, prominent forehead and cheekbones and chin, or something hungry in his face, which quarrelled with Swithin’s conception of the calm satiety that should characterize the perfect gentleman.
He brightened up at the mention of tea. He had a contempt for tea — his brother Jolyon had been in tea; made a lot of money by it — but he was so thirsty, and had such a taste in his mouth, that he was prepared to drink anything. He longed to inform Irene of the taste in his mouth — she was so sympathetic — but it would not be a distinguished thing to do; he rolled his tongue round, and faintly smacked it against his palate.
In a far corner of the tent Adolf was bending his cat-like moustaches over a kettle. He left it at once to draw the cork of a pint-bottle of champagne. Swithin smiled, and, nodding at Bosinney, said: “Why, you’re quite a Monte Cristo!” This celebrated novel — one of the half-dozen he had read — had produced an extraordinary impression on his mind.
Taking his glass from the table, he held it away from him to scrutinize the colour; thirsty as he was, it was not likely that he was going to drink trash! Then, placing it to his lips, he took a sip.
“A very nice wine,” he said at last, passing it before his nose; “not the equal of my Heidsieck!”
It was at this moment that the idea came to him which he afterwards imparted at Timothy’s in this nutshell: “I shouldn’t wonder a bit if that architect chap were sweet upon Mrs. Soames!”
And from this moment his pale, round eyes never ceased to bulge with the interest of his discovery.
“The fellow,” he said to Mrs. Septimus, “follows her about with his eyes like a dog — the bumpy beggar! I don’t wonder at it — she’s a very charming woman, and, I should say, the pink of discretion!” A vague consciousness of perfume caging about Irene, like that from a flower with half-closed petals and a passionate heart, moved him to the creation of this image. “But I wasn’t sure of it,” he said, “till I saw him pick up her handkerchief.”
Mrs. Small’s eyes boiled with excitement.
“And did he give it her back?” she asked.
“Give it back?” said Swithin: “I saw him slobber on it when he thought I wasn’t looking!”
Mrs. Small gasped — too interested to speak.
“But she gave him no encouragement,” went on Swithin; he stopped, and stared for a minute or two in the way that alarmed Aunt Hester so — he had suddenly recollected that, as they were starting back in the phaeton, she had given Bosinney her hand a second time, and let it stay there too.... He had touched his horses smartly with the whip, anxious to get her all to himself. But she had looked back, and she had not answered his first question; neither had he been able to see her face — she had kept it hanging down.
There is somewhere a picture, which Swithin has not seen, of a man sitting on a rock, and by him, immersed in the still, green water, a sea-nymph lying on her back, with her hand on her naked breast. She has a half-smile on her face — a smile of hopeless surrender and of secret joy.
Seated by Swithin’s side, Irene may have been smiling like that.
When, warmed by champagne, he had her all to himself, he unbosomed himself of his wrongs; of his smothered resentment against the new chef at the club; his worry over the house in Wigmore Street, where the rascally tenant had gone bankrupt through helping his brother-in-law as if charity did not begin at home; of his deafness, too, and that pain he sometimes got in his right side. She listened, her eyes swimming under their lids. He thought she was thinking deeply of his troubles, and pitied himself terribly. Yet in his fur coat, with frogs across the breast, his top hat aslant, driving this beautiful woman, he had never felt more distinguished.
A coster, however, taking his girl for a Sunday airing, seemed to have the same impression about himself. This person had flogged his donkey into a gallop alongside, and sat, upright as a waxwork, in his shallopy chariot, his chin settled pompously on a red handkerchief, like Swithin’s on his full cravat; while his girl, with the ends of a fly-blown boa floating out behind, aped a woman of fashion. Her swain moved a stick with a ragged bit of string dangling from the end, reproducing with strange fidelity the circular flourish of Swithin’s whip, and rolled his head at his lady with a leer that had a weird likeness to Swithin’s primeval stare.
Though for a time unconscious of the lowly ruffian’s presence, Swithin presently took it into his head that he was being guyed. He laid his whip-lash across the mares flank. The two chariots, however, by some unfortunate fatality continued abreast. Swithin’s yellow, puffy face grew red; he raised his whip to lash the costermonger, but was saved from so far forgetting his dignity by a special intervention of Providence. A carriage driving out through a gate forced phaeton and donkey-cart into proximity; the wheels grated, the lighter vehicle skidded, and was overturned.
Swithin did not look round. On no account would he have pulled up to help the ruffian. Serve him right if he had broken his neck!
But he could not if he would. The greys had taken alarm. The phaeton swung from side to side, and people raised frightened faces as they went dashing past. Swithin’s great arms, stretched at full length, tugged at the reins. His cheeks were puffed, his lips compressed, his swollen face was of a dull, angry red.
Irene had her hand on the rail, and at every lurch she gripped it tightly. Swithin heard her ask:
“Are we going to have an accident, Uncle Swithin?”
He gasped out between his pants: “It’s nothing; a — little fresh!”
“I’ve never been in an accident.”
“Don’t you move!” He took a look at her. She was smiling, perfectly calm. “Sit still,” he repeated. “Never fear, I’ll get you home!”
And in the midst of all his terrible efforts, he was surprised to hear her answer in a voice not like her own:
“I don’t care if I never get home!”
The carriage giving a terrific lurch, Swithin’s exclamation was jerked back into his throat. The horses, winded by the rise of a hill, now steadied to a trot, and finally stopped of their own accord.
“When”— Swithin described it at Timothy’s —“I pulled ’em up, there she was as cool as myself. God bless my soul! she behaved as if she didn’t care whether she broke her neck or not! What was it she said: ‘I don’t care if I never get home?” Leaning over the handle of his cane, he wheezed out, to Mrs. Small’s terror: “And I’m not altogether surprised, with a finickin’ feller like young Soames for a husband!”
It did not occur to him to wonder what Bosinney had done after they had left him there alone; whether he had gone wandering about like the dog to which Swithin had compared him; wandering down to that copse where the spring was still in riot, the cuckoo still calling from afar; gone down there with her handkerchief pressed to lips, its fragrance mingling with the scent of mint and thyme. Gone down there with such a wild, exquisite pain in his heart that he could have cried out among the trees. Or what, indeed, the fellow had done. In fact, till he came to Timothy’s, Swithin had forgotten all about him.
Last updated on Wed Jan 12 09:33:25 2011 for eBooks@Adelaide.
The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy
Chapter 13 James Goes to See for Himself
Those ignorant of Forsyte ‘Change would not, perhaps, foresee all the stir made by Irene’s visit to the house.
After Swithin had related at Timothy’s the full story of his memorable drive, the same, with the least suspicion of curiosity, the merest touch of malice, and a real desire to do good, was passed on to June.
“And what a dreadful thing to say, my dear!” ended Aunt Juley; “that about not going home. What did she mean?”
It was a strange recital for the girl. She heard it flushing painfully, and, suddenly, with a curt handshake, took her departure.
“Almost rude!” Mrs. Small said to Aunt Hester, when June was gone.
The proper construction was put on her reception of the news. She was upset. Something was therefore very wrong. Odd! She and Irene had been such friends!
It all tallied too well with whispers and hints that had been going about for some time past. Recollections of Euphemia’s account of the visit to the theatre — Mr. Bosinney always at Soames’s? Oh, indeed! Yes, of course, he would be about the house! Nothing open. Only upon the greatest, the most important provocation was it necessary to say anything open on Forsyte ‘Change. This machine was too nicely adjusted; a hint, the merest trifling expression of regret or doubt, sufficed to set the family soul so sympathetic — vibrating. No one desired that harm should come of these vibrations — far from it; they were set in motion with the best intentions, with the feeling, that each member of the family had a stake in the family soul.
And much kindness lay at the bottom of the gossip; it would frequently result in visits of condolence being made, in accordance with the customs of Society, thereby conferring a real benefit upon the sufferers, and affording consolation to the sound, who felt pleasantly that someone at all events was suffering from that from which they themselves were not suffering. In fact, it was simply a desire to keep things well-aired, the desire which animates the Public Press, that brought James, for instance, into communication with Mrs. Septimus, Mrs. Septimus, with the little Nicholases, the little Nicholases with who-knows-whom, and so on. That great class to which they had risen, and now belonged, demanded a certain candour, a still more certain reticence. This combination guaranteed their membership.
Many of the younger Forsytes felt, very naturally, and would openly declare, that they did not want their affairs pried into; but so powerful was the invisible, magnetic current of family gossip, that for the life of them they could not help knowing all about everything. It was felt to be hopeless.
One of them (young Roger) had made an heroic attempt to free the rising generation, by speaking of Timothy as an ‘old cat.’ The effort had justly recoiled upon himself; the words, coming round in the most delicate way to Aunt Juley’s ears, were repeated by her in a shocked voice to Mrs. Roger, whence they returned again to young Roger.
And, after all, it was only the wrong-doers who suffered; as, for instance, George, when he lost all that money playing billiards; or young Roger himself, when he was so dreadfully near to marrying the girl to whom, it was whispered, he was already married by the laws of Nature; or again Irene, who was thought, rather than said, to be in danger.
All this was not only pleasant but salutary. And it made so many hours go lightly at Timothy’s in the Bayswater Road; so many hours that must otherwise have been sterile and heavy to those three who lived there; and Timothy’s was but one of hundreds of such homes in this City of London — the homes of neutral persons of the secure classes, who are out of the battle themselves, and must find their reason for existing, in the battles of others.
But for the sweetness of family gossip, it must indeed have been lonely there. Rumours and tales, reports, surmises — were they not the children of the house, as dear and precious as the prattling babes the brother and sisters had missed in their own journey? To talk about them was as near as they could get to the possession of all those children and grandchildren, after whom their soft hearts yearned. For though it is doubtful whether Timothy’s heart yearned, it is indubitable that at the arrival of each fresh Forsyte child he was quite upset.
Useless for young Roger to say, “Old cat!” for Euphemia to hold up her hands and cry: “Oh! those three!” and break into her silent laugh with the squeak at the end. Useless, and not too kind.
The situation which at this stage might seem, and especially to Forsyte eyes, strange — not to say ‘impossible’— was, in view of certain facts, not so strange after all. Some things had been lost sight of. And first, in the security bred of many harmless marriages, it had been forgotten that Love is no hot-house flower, but a wild plant, born of a wet night, born of an hour of sunshine; sprung from wild seed, blown along the road by a wild wind. A wild plant that, when it blooms by chance within the hedge of our gardens, we call a flower; and when it blooms outside we call a weed; but, flower or weed, whose scent and colour are always, wild! And further — the facts and figures of their own lives being against the perception of this truth — it was not generally recognised by Forsytes that, where, this wild plant springs, men and women are but moths around the pale, flame-like blossom.
It was long since young Jolyon’s escapade — there was danger of a tradition again arising that people in their position never cross the hedge to pluck that flower; that one could reckon on having love, like measles, once in due season, and getting over it comfortably for all time — as with measles, on a soothing mixture of butter and honey — in the arms of wedlock.
Of all those whom this strange rumour about Bosinney and Mrs. Soames reached, James was the most affected. He had long forgotten how he had hovered, lanky and pale, in side whiskers of chestnut hue, round Emily, in the days of his own courtship. He had long forgotten the small house in the purlieus of Mayfair, where he had spent the early days of his married life, or rather, he had long forgotten the early days, not the small house,— a Forsyte never forgot a house — he had afterwards sold it at a clear profit of four hundred pounds.
He had long forgotten those days, with their hopes and fears and doubts about the prudence of the match (for Emily, though pretty, had nothing, and he himself at that time was making a bare thousand a year), and that strange, irresistible attraction which had drawn him on, till he felt he must die if he could not marry the girl with the fair hair, looped so neatly back, the fair arms emerging from a skin-tight bodice, the fair form decorously shielded by a cage of really stupendous circumference.
James had passed through the fire, but he had passed also through the river of years which washes out the fire; he had experienced the saddest experience of all — forgetfulness of what it was like to be in love.
Forgotten! Forgotten so long, that he had forgotten even that he had forgotten.
And now this rumour had come upon him, this rumour about his son’s wife; very vague, a shadow dodging among the palpable, straightforward appearances of things, unreal, unintelligible as a ghost, but carrying with it, like a ghost, inexplicable terror.
He tried to bring it home to his mind, but it was no more use than trying to apply to himself one of those tragedies he read of daily in his evening paper. He simply could not. There could be nothing in it. It was all their nonsense. She didn’t get on with Soames as well as she might, but she was a good little thing — a good little thing!
Like the not inconsiderable majority of men, James relished a nice little bit of scandal, and would say, in a matter-of-fact tone, licking his lips, “Yes, yes — she and young Dyson; they tell me they’re living at Monte Carlo!”
But the significance of an affair of this sort — of its past, its present, or its future — had never struck him. What it meant, what torture and raptures had gone to its construction, what slow, overmastering fate had lurked within the facts, very naked, sometimes sordid, but generally spicy, presented to his gaze. He was not in the habit of blaming, praising, drawing deductions, or generalizing at all about such things; he simply listened rather greedily, and repeated what he was told, finding considerable benefit from the practice, as from the consumption of a sherry and bitters before a meal.
Now, however, that such a thing — or rather the rumour, the breath of it — had come near him personally, he felt as in a fog, which filled his mouth full of a bad, thick flavour, and made it difficult to draw breath.
A scandal! A possible scandal!
To repeat this word to himself thus was the only way in which he could focus or make it thinkable. He had forgotten the sensations necessary for understanding the progress, fate, or meaning of any such business; he simply could no longer grasp the possibilities of people running any risk for the sake of passion.
Amongst all those persons of his acquaintance, who went into the City day after day and did their business there, whatever it was, and in their leisure moments bought shares, and houses, and ate dinners, and played games, as he was told, it would have seemed to him ridiculous to suppose that there were any who would run risks for the sake of anything so recondite, so figurative, as passion.
Passion! He seemed, indeed, to have heard of it, and rules such as ‘A young man and a young woman ought never to be trusted together’ were fixed in his mind as the parallels of latitude are fixed on a map (for all Forsytes, when it comes to ‘bed-rock’ matters of fact, have quite a fine taste in realism); but as to anything else — well, he could only appreciate it at all through the catch-word ‘scandal.’
Ah! but there was no truth in it — could not be. He was not afraid; she was really a good little thing. But there it was when you got a thing like that into your mind. And James was of a nervous temperament — one of those men whom things will not leave alone, who suffer tortures from anticipation and indecision. For fear of letting something slip that he might otherwise secure, he was physically unable to make up his mind until absolutely certain that, by not making it up, he would suffer loss.
In life, however, there were many occasions when the business of making up his mind did not even rest with himself, and this was one of them.
What could he do? Talk it over with Soames? That would only make matters worse. And, after all, there was nothing in it, he felt sure.
It was all that house. He had mistrusted the idea from the first. What did Soames want to go into the country for? And, if he must go spending a lot of money building himself a house, why not have a first-rate man, instead of this young Bosinney, whom nobody knew anything about? He had told them how it would be. And he had heard that the house was costing Soames a pretty penny beyond what he had reckoned on spending.
This fact, more than any other, brought home to James the real danger of the situation. It was always like this with these ‘artistic’ chaps; a sensible man should have nothing to say to them. He had warned Irene, too. And see what had come of it!
And it suddenly sprang into James’s mind that he ought to go and see for himself. In the midst of that fog of uneasiness in which his mind was enveloped the notion that he could go and look at the house afforded him inexplicable satisfaction. It may have been simply the decision to do something — more possibly the fact that he was going to look at a house — that gave him relief. He felt that in staring at an edifice of bricks and mortar, of wood and stone, built by the suspected man himself, he would be looking into the heart of that rumour about Irene.
Without saying a word, therefore, to anyone, he took a hansom to the station and proceeded by train to Robin Hill; thence — there being no ‘flies,’ in accordance with the custom of the neighbourhood — he found himself obliged to walk.
He started slowly up the hill, his angular knees and high shoulders bent complainingly, his eyes fixed on his feet, yet, neat for all that, in his high hat and his frock-coat, on which was the speckless gloss imparted by perfect superintendence. Emily saw to that; that is, she did not, of course, see to it — people of good position not seeing to each other’s buttons, and Emily was of good position — but she saw that the butler saw to it.
He had to ask his way three times; on each occasion he repeated the directions given him, got the man to repeat them, then repeated them a second time, for he was naturally of a talkative disposition, and one could not be too careful in a new neighbourhood.
He kept assuring them that it was a new house he was looking for; it was only, however, when he was shown the roof through the trees that he could feel really satisfied that he had not been directed entirely wrong.
A heavy sky seemed to cover the world with the grey whiteness of a whitewashed ceiling. There was no freshness or fragrance in the air. On such a day even British workmen scarcely cared to do more then they were obliged, and moved about their business without the drone of talk which whiles away the pangs of labour.
Through spaces of the unfinished house, shirt-sleeved figures worked slowly, and sounds arose — spasmodic knockings, the scraping of metal, the sawing of wood, with the rumble of wheelbarrows along boards; now and again the foreman’s dog, tethered by a string to an oaken beam, whimpered feebly, with a sound like the singing of a kettle.
The fresh-fitted window-panes, daubed each with a white patch in the centre, stared out at James like the eyes of a blind dog.
And the building chorus went on, strident and mirthless under the grey-white sky. But the thrushes, hunting amongst the fresh-turned earth for worms, were silent quite.
James picked his way among the heaps of gravel — the drive was being laid — till he came opposite the porch. Here he stopped and raised his eyes. There was but little to see from this point of view, and that little he took in at once; but he stayed in this position many minutes, and who shall know of what he thought.
His china-blue eyes under white eyebrows that jutted out in little horns, never stirred; the long upper lip of his wide mouth, between the fine white whiskers, twitched once or twice; it was easy to see from that anxious rapt expression, whence Soames derived the handicapped look which sometimes came upon his face. James might have been saying to himself: ‘I don’t know — life’s a tough job.’
In this position Bosinney surprised him.
James brought his eyes down from whatever bird’s-nest they had been looking for in the sky to Bosinney’s face, on which was a kind of humorous scorn.
“How do you do, Mr. Forsyte? Come down to see for yourself?”
It was exactly what James, as we know, had come for, and he was made correspondingly uneasy. He held out his hand, however, saying:
“How are you?” without looking at Bosinney.
The latter made way for him with an ironical smile.
James scented something suspicious in this courtesy. “I should like to walk round the outside first,” he said, “and see what you’ve been doing!”
A flagged terrace of rounded stones with a list of two or three inches to port had been laid round the south-east and south-west sides of the house, and ran with a bevelled edge into mould, which was in preparation for being turfed; along this terrace James led the way.
“Now what did this cost?” he asked, when he saw the terrace extending round the corner.
“What should you think?” inquired Bosinney.
“How should I know?” replied James somewhat nonplussed; “two or three hundred, I dare say!”
“The exact sum!”
James gave him a sharp look, but the architect appeared unconscious, and he put the answer down to mishearing.
On arriving at the garden entrance, he stopped to look at the view.
“That ought to come down,” he said, pointing to the oak-tree.
“You think so? You think that with the tree there you don’t get enough view for your money.”
Again James eyed him suspiciously — this young man had a peculiar way of putting things: “Well!” he said, with a perplexed, nervous, emphasis, “I don’t see what you want with a tree.”
“It shall come down to-morrow,” said Bosinney.
James was alarmed. “Oh,” he said, “don’t go saying I said it was to come down! I know nothing about it!”
James went on in a fluster: “Why, what should I know about it? It’s nothing to do with me! You do it on your own responsibility.”
“You’ll allow me to mention your name?”