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  • 1906
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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!”

“No?”

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?”

James grew more and more alarmed: “I don’t know what you want mentioning my name for,” he muttered; “you’d better leave the tree alone. It’s not your tree!”

He took out a silk handkerchief and wiped his brow. They entered the house. Like Swithin, James was impressed by the inner court-yard.

You must have spent a douce of a lot of money here,” he said, after staring at the columns and gallery for some time. “Now, what did it cost to put up those columns?”

“I can’t tell you off-hand,” thoughtfully answered Bosinney, “but I know it was a deuce of a lot!”

“I should think so,” said James. “I should….” He caught the architect’s eye, and broke off. And now, whenever he came to anything of which he desired to know the cost, he stifled that curiosity.

Bosinney appeared determined that he should see everything, and had not James been of too ‘noticing’ a nature, he would certainly have found himself going round the house a second time. He seemed so anxious to be asked questions, too, that James felt he must be on his guard. He began to suffer from his exertions, for, though wiry enough for a man of his long build, he was seventy-five years old.

He grew discouraged; he seemed no nearer to anything, had not obtained from his inspection any of the knowledge he had vaguely hoped for. He had merely increased his dislike and mistrust of this young man, who had tired him out with his politeness, and in whose manner he now certainly detected mockery.

The fellow was sharper than he had thought, and better-looking than he had hoped. He had a–a ‘don’t care’ appearance that James, to whom risk was the most intolerable thing in life, did not appreciate; a peculiar smile, too, coming when least expected; and very queer eyes. He reminded James, as he said afterwards, of a hungry cat. This was as near as he could get, in conversation with Emily, to a description of the peculiar exasperation, velvetiness, and mockery, of which Bosinney’s manner had been composed.

At last, having seen all that was to be seen, he came out again at the door where he had gone in; and now, feeling that he was wasting time and strength and money, all for nothing, he took the courage of a Forsyte in both hands, and, looking sharply at Bosinney, said:

“I dare say you see a good deal of my daughter-in-law; now, what does she think of the house? But she hasn’t seen it, I suppose?”

This he said, knowing all about Irene’s visit not, of course, that there was anything in the visit, except that extraordinary remark she had made about ‘not caring to get home’–and the story of how June had taken the news!

He had determined, by this way of putting the question, to give Bosinney a chance, as he said to himself.

The latter was long in answering, but kept his eyes with uncomfortable steadiness on James.

“She has seen the house, but I can’t tell you what she thinks of it.”

Nervous and baffled, James was constitutionally prevented from letting the matter drop.

“Oh!” he said, “she has seen it? Soames brought her down, I suppose?”

Bosinney smilingly replied: “Oh, no!”

“What, did she come down alone?”

“Oh, no!”

“Then–who brought her?”

“I really don’t know whether I ought to tell you who brought her.”

To James, who knew that it was Swithin, this answer appeared incomprehensible.

“Why!” he stammered, “you know that….” but he stopped, suddenly perceiving his danger.

“Well,” he said, “if you don’t want to tell me I suppose you won’t! Nobody tells me anything.”

Somewhat to his surprise Bosinney asked him a question.

“By the by,” he said, “could you tell me if there are likely to be any more of you coming down? I should like to be on the spot!”

“Any more?” said James bewildered, “who should there be more? I don’t know of any more. Good-bye?”

Looking at the ground he held out his hand, crossed the palm of it with Bosinney’s, and taking his umbrella just above the silk, walked away along the terrace.

Before he turned the corner he glanced back, and saw Bosinney following him slowly–‘slinking along the wall’ as he put it to himself, ‘like a great cat.’ He paid no attention when the young fellow raised his hat.

Outside the drive, and out of sight, he slackened his pace still more. Very slowly, more bent than when he came, lean, hungry, and disheartened, he made his way back to the station.

The Buccaneer, watching him go so sadly home, felt sorry perhaps for his behaviour to the old man.

CHAPTER V

SOAMES AND BOSINNEY CORRESPOND

James said nothing to his son of this visit to the house; but, having occasion to go to Timothy’s on morning on a matter connected with a drainage scheme which was being forced by the sanitary authorities on his brother, he mentioned it there.

It was not, he said, a bad house. He could see that a good deal could be made of it. The fellow was clever in his way, though what it was going to cost Soames before it was done with he didn’t know.

Euphemia Forsyte, who happened to be in the room–she had come round to borrow the Rev. Mr. Scoles’ last novel, ‘Passion and Paregoric’, which was having such a vogue–chimed in.

“I saw Irene yesterday at the Stores; she and Mr. Bosinney were having a nice little chat in the Groceries.”

It was thus, simply, that she recorded a scene which had really made a deep and complicated impression on her. She had been hurrying to the silk department of the Church and Commercial Stores–that Institution than which, with its admirable system, admitting only guaranteed persons on a basis of payment before delivery, no emporium can be more highly recommended to Forsytes- -to match a piece of prunella silk for her mother, who was waiting in the carriage outside.

Passing through the Groceries her eye was unpleasantly attracted by the back view of a very beautiful figure. It was so charmingly proportioned, so balanced, and so well clothed, that Euphemia’s instinctive propriety was at once alarmed; such figures, she knew, by intuition rather than experience, were rarely connected with virtue–certainly never in her mind, for her own back was somewhat difficult to fit.

Her suspicions were fortunately confirmed. A young man coming from the Drugs had snatched off his hat, and was accosting the lady with the unknown back.

It was then that she saw with whom she had to deal; the lady was undoubtedly Mrs. Soames, the young man Mr. Bosinney. Concealing herself rapidly over the purchase of a box of Tunisian dates, for she was impatient of awkwardly meeting people with parcels in her hands, and at the busy time of the morning, she was quite unintentionally an interested observer of their little interview.

Mrs. Soames, usually somewhat pale, had a delightful colour in her cheeks; and Mr. Bosinney’s manner was strange, though attractive (she thought him rather a distinguished-looking man, and George’s name for him, ‘The Buccaneer’–about which there was something romantic–quite charming). He seemed to be pleading. Indeed, they talked so earnestly–or, rather, he talked so earnestly, for Mrs. Soames did not say much–that they caused, inconsiderately, an eddy in the traffic. One nice old General, going towards Cigars, was obliged to step quite out of the way, and chancing to look up and see Mrs. Soames’ face, he actually took off his hat, the old fool! So like a man!

But it was Mrs. Soames’ eyes that worried Euphemia. She never once looked at Mr. Bosinney until he moved on, and then she looked after him. And, oh, that look!

On that look Euphemia had spent much anxious thought. It is not too much to say that it had hurt her with its dark, lingering softness, for all the world as though the woman wanted to drag him back, and unsay something she had been saying.

Ah, well, she had had no time to go deeply into the matter just then, with that prunella silk on her hands; but she was ‘very intriguee’–very! She had just nodded to Mrs. Soames, to show her that she had seen; and, as she confided, in talking it over afterwards, to her chum Francie (Roger’s daughter), “Didn’t she look caught out just? ….”

James, most averse at the first blush to accepting any news confirmatory of his own poignant suspicions, took her up at once.

“Oh” he said, “they’d be after wall-papers no doubt.”

Euphemia smiled. “In the Groceries?” she said softly; and, taking ‘Passion and Paregoric’ from the table, added: “And so you’ll lend me this, dear Auntie? Good-bye!” and went away.

James left almost immediately after; he was late as it was.

When he reached the office of Forsyte, Bustard and Forsyte, he found Soames, sitting in his revolving, chair, drawing up a defence. The latter greeted his father with a curt good-morning, and, taking an envelope from his pocket, said:

“It may interest you to look through this.”

James read as follows:

309D, SLOANE STREET,
May 15.

‘DEAR FORSYTE,

‘The construction of your house being now completed, my duties as architect have come to an end. If I am to go on with the business of decoration, which at your request I undertook, I should like you to clearly understand that I must have a free hand.

‘You never come down without suggesting something that goes counter to my scheme. I have here three letters from you, each of which recommends an article I should never dream of putting in. I had your father here yesterday afternoon, who made further valuable suggestions.

‘Please make up your mind, therefore, whether you want me to decorate for you, or to retire which on the whole I should prefer to do.

‘But understand that, if I decorate, I decorate alone, without interference of any sort.

If I do the thing, I will do it thoroughly, but I must have a free hand.

‘Yours truly,

‘PHILIP BOSINNEY.’

The exact and immediate cause of this letter cannot, of course, be told, though it is not improbable that Bosinney may have been moved by some sudden revolt against his position towards Soames– that eternal position of Art towards Property–which is so admirably summed up, on the back of the most indispensable of modern appliances, in a sentence comparable to the very finest in Tacitus:

THOS. T. SORROW, Inventor.
BERT M. PADLAND, Proprietor.

“What are you going to say to him?” James asked.

Soames did not even turn his head. “I haven’t made up my mind,” he said, and went on with his defence.

A client of his, having put some buildings on a piece of ground that did not belong to him, had been suddenly and most irritat- ingly warned to take them off again. After carefully going into the facts, however, Soames had seen his way to advise that his client had what was known as a title by possession, and that, though undoubtedly the ground did not belong to him, he was entitled to keep it, and had better do so; and he was now following up this advice by taking steps to–as the sailors say– ‘make it so.’

He had a distinct reputation for sound advice; people saying of him: “Go to young Forsyte–a long-headed fellow!” and he prized this reputation highly.

His natural taciturnity was in his favour; nothing could be more calculated to give people, especially people with property (Soames had no other clients), the impression that he was a safe man. And he was safe. Tradition, habit, education, inherited aptitude, native caution, all joined to form a solid professional honesty, superior to temptation–from the very fact that it was built on an innate avoidance of risk. How could he fall, when his soul abhorred circumstances which render a fall possible–a man cannot fall off the floor!

And those countless Forsytes, who, in the course of innumerable transactions concerned with property of all sorts (from wives to water rights), had occasion for the services of a safe man, found it both reposeful and profitable to confide in Soames. That slight superciliousness of his, combined with an air of mousing amongst precedents, was in his favour too–a man would not be supercilious unless he knew!

He was really at the head of the business, for though James still came nearly every day to, see for himself, he did little now but sit in his chair, twist his legs, slightly confuse things already decided, and presently go away again, and the other partner, Bustard, was a poor thing, who did a great deal of work, but whose opinion was never taken.

So Soames went steadily on with his defence. Yet it would be idle to say that his mind was at ease. He was suffering from a sense of impending trouble, that had haunted him for some time past. He tried to think it physical–a condition of his liver– but knew that it was not.

He looked at his watch. In a quarter of an hour he was due at the General Meeting of the New Colliery Company–one of Uncle Jolyon’s concerns; he should see Uncle Jolyon there, and say something to him about Bosinney–he had not made up his mind what, but something–in any case he should not answer this letter until he had seen Uncle Jolyon. He got up and methodically put away the draft of his defence. Going into a dark little cupboard, he turned up the light, washed his hands with a piece of brown Windsor soap, and dried them on a roller towel. Then he brushed his hair, paying strict attention to the parting, turned down the light, took his hat, and saying he would be back at half-past two, stepped into the Poultry.

It was not far to the Offices of the New Colliery Company in Ironmonger Lane, where, and not at the Cannon Street Hotel, in accordance with the more ambitious practice of other companies, the General Meeting was always held. Old Jolyon had from the first set his face against the Press. What business–he said– had the Public with his concerns!

Soames arrived on the stroke of time, and took his seat alongside the Board, who, in a row, each Director behind his own ink-pot, faced their Shareholders.

In the centre of this row old Jolyon, conspicuous in his black, tightly-buttoned frock-coat and his white moustaches, was leaning back with finger tips crossed on a copy of the Directors’ report and accounts.

On his right hand, always a little larger than life, sat the Secretary, ‘Down-by-the-starn’ Hemmings; an all-too-sad sadness beaming in his fine eyes; his iron-grey beard, in mourning like the rest of him, giving the feeling of an all-too-black tie behind it.

The occasion indeed was a melancholy one, only six weeks having elapsed since that telegram had come from Scorrier, the mining expert, on a private mission to the Mines, informing them that Pippin, their Superintendent, had committed suicide in endeavouring, after his extraordinary two years’ silence, to write a letter to his Board. That letter was on the table now; it would be read to the Shareholders, who would of course be put into possession of all the facts.

Hemmings had often said to Soames, standing with his coat-tails divided before the fireplace:

“What our Shareholders don’t know about our affairs isn’t worth knowing. You may take that from me, Mr. Soames.”

On one occasion, old Jolyon being present, Soames recollected a little unpleasantness. His uncle had looked up sharply and said: “Don’t talk nonsense, Hemmings! You mean that what they do know isn’t worth knowing!” Old Jolyon detested humbug.

Hemmings, angry-eyed, and wearing a smile like that of a trained poodle, had replied in an outburst of artificial applause: “Come, now, that’s good, sir–that’s very good. Your uncle will have his joke!”

The next time he had seen Soames he had taken the opportunity of saying to him: “The chairman’s getting very old!–I can’t get him to understand things; and he’s so wilful–but what can you expect, with a chin like his?”

Soames had nodded.

Everyone knew that Uncle Jolyon’s chin was a caution. He was looking worried to-day, in spite of his General Meeting look; he (Soames) should certainly speak to him about Bosinney.

Beyond old Jolyon on the left was little Mr. Booker, and he, too, wore his General Meeting look, as though searching for some particularly tender shareholder. And next him was the deaf director, with a frown; and beyond the deaf director, again, was old Mr. Bleedham, very bland, and having an air of conscious virtue–as well he might, knowing that the brown-paper parcel he always brought to the Board-room was concealed behind his hat (one of that old-fashioned class, of flat-brimmed top-hats which go with very large bow ties, clean-shaven lips, fresh cheeks, and neat little, white whiskers).

Soames always attended the General Meeting; it was considered better that he should do so, in case ‘anything should arise!’ He glanced round with his close, supercilious air at the walls of the room, where hung plans of the mine and harbour, together with a large photograph of a shaft leading to a working which had proved quite remarkably unprofitable. This photograph–a witness to the eternal irony underlying commercial enterprise till retained its position on the–wall, an effigy of the directors’ pet, but dead, lamb.

And now old Jolyon rose, to present the report and accounts.

Veiling under a Jove-like serenity that perpetual antagonism deep-seated in the bosom of a director towards his shareholders, he faced them calmly. Soames faced them too. He knew most of them by sight. There was old Scrubsole, a tar man, who always came, as Hemmings would say, ‘to make himself nasty,’ a cantankerous-looking old fellow with a red face, a jowl, and an enormous low-crowned hat reposing on his knee. And the Rev. Mr. Boms, who always proposed a vote of thanks to the chairman, in which he invariably expressed the hope that the Board would not forget to elevate their employees, using the word with a double e, as being more vigorous and Anglo-Saxon (he had the strong Imperialistic tendencies of his cloth). It was his salutary custom to buttonhole a director afterwards, and ask him whether he thought the coming year would be good or bad; and, according to the trend of the answer, to buy or sell three shares within the ensuing fortnight.

And there was that military man, Major O’Bally, who could not help speaking, if only to second the re-election of the auditor, and who sometimes caused serious consternation by taking toasts– proposals rather–out of the hands of persons who had been flattered with little slips of paper, entrusting the said proposals to their care.

These made up the lot, together with four or five strong, silent shareholders, with whom Soames could sympathize–men of business, who liked to keep an eye on their affairs for themselves, without being fussy–good, solid men, who came to the City every day and went back in the evening to good, solid wives.

Good, solid wives! There was something in that thought which roused the nameless uneasiness in Soames again.

What should he say to his uncle? What answer should he make to this letter?

. . . . “If any shareholder has any question to put, I shall be glad to answer it.” A soft thump. Old Jolyon had let the report and accounts fall, and stood twisting his tortoise-shell glasses between thumb and forefinger.

The ghost of a smile appeared on Soames’ face. They had better hurry up with their questions! He well knew his uncle’s method (the ideal one) of at once saying: “I propose, then, that the report and accounts be adopted!” Never let them get their wind– shareholders were notoriously wasteful of time!

A tall, white-bearded man, with a gaunt, dissatisfied face, arose:

“I believe I am in order, Mr. Chairman, in raising a question on this figure of L5000 in the accounts. ‘To the widow and family”‘ (he looked sourly round), “‘of our late superintendent,’ who so–er–ill-advisedly (I say–ill-advisedly) committed suicide, at a time when his services were of the utmost value to this Company. You have stated that the agreement which he has so unfortunately cut short with his own hand was for a period of five years, of which one only had expired–I–“

Old Jolyon made a gesture of impatience.

“I believe I am in order, Mr. Chairman–I ask whether this amount paid, or proposed to be paid, by the Board to the er–deceased– is for services which might have been rendered to the Company– had he not committed suicide?”

“It is in recognition of past services, which we all know–you as well as any of us–to have been of vital value.”

“Then, sir, all I have to say is that the services being past, the amount is too much.”

The shareholder sat down.

Old Jolyon waited a second and said: “I now propose that the report and–“

The shareholder rose again: “May I ask if the Board realizes that it is not their money which–I don’t hesitate to say that if it were their money….”

A second shareholder, with a round, dogged face, whom Soames recognised as the late superintendent’s brother-in-law, got up and said warmly: “In my opinion, sir, the sum is not enough!”

The Rev. Mr. Boms now rose to his feet. “If I may venture to express myself,” he said, “I should say that the fact of the–er- -deceased having committed suicide should weigh very heavily– very heavily with our worthy chairman. I have no doubt it has weighed with him, for–I say this for myself and I think for everyone present (hear, hear)–he enjoys our confidence in a high degree. We all desire, I should hope, to be charitable. But I feel sure” (he-looked severely at the late superintendent’s brother-in-law) “that he will in some way, by some written expression, or better perhaps by reducing the amount, record our grave disapproval that so promising and valuable a life should have been thus impiously removed from a sphere where both its own interests and–if I may say so–our interests so imperatively demanded its continuance. We should not–nay, we may not– countenance so grave a dereliction of all duty, both human and divine.”

The reverend gentleman resumed his seat. The late super- intendent’s brother-in-law again rose: “What I have said I stick to,” he said; “the amount is not enough!”

The first shareholder struck in: “I challenge the legality of the payment. In my opinion this payment is not legal. The Company’s solicitor is present; I believe I am in order in asking him the question.”

All eyes were now turned upon Soames. Something had arisen!

He stood up, close-lipped and cold; his nerves inwardly fluttered, his attention tweaked away at last from contemplation of that cloud looming on the horizon of his mind.

“The point,” he said in a low, thin voice, “is by no means clear. As there is no possibility of future consideration being received, it is doubtful whether the payment is strictly legal. If it is desired, the opinion of the court could be taken.”

The superintendent’s brother-in-law frowned, and said in a meaning tone: “We have no doubt the opinion of the court could be taken. May I ask the name of the gentleman who has given us that striking piece of information? Mr. Soames Forsyte? Indeed!” He looked from Soames to old Jolyon in a pointed manner.

A flush coloured Soames’ pale cheeks, but his superciliousness did not waver. Old Jolyon fixed his eyes on the speaker.

“If,” he said, “the late superintendents brother-in-law has nothing more to say, I propose that the report and accounts….”

At this moment, however, there rose one of those five silent, stolid shareholders, who had excited Soames’ sympathy. He said:

“I deprecate the proposal altogether. We are expected to give charity to this man’s wife and children, who, you tell us, were dependent on him. They may have been; I do not care whether they were or not. I object to the whole thing on principle. It is high time a stand was made against this sentimental human- itarianism. The country is eaten up with it. I object to my money being paid to these people of whom I know nothing, who have done nothing to earn it. I object in toto; it is not business. I now move that the report and accounts be put back, and amended by striking out the grant altogether.”

Old Jolyon had remained standing while the strong, silent man was speaking. The speech awoke an echo in all hearts, voicing, as it did, the worship of strong men, the movement against generosity, which had at that time already commenced among the saner members of the community.

The words ‘it is not business’ had moved even the Board; privately everyone felt that indeed it was not. But they knew also the chairman’s domineering temper and tenacity. He, too, at heart must feel that it was not business; but he was committed to his own proposition. Would he go back upon it? It was thought to be unlikely.

All waited with interest. Old Jolyon held up his hand; dark-rimmed glasses depending between his finger and thumb quivered slightly with a suggestion of menace.

He addressed the strong, silent shareholder.

“Knowing, as you do, the efforts of our late superintendent upon the occasion of the explosion at the mines, do you seriously wish me to put that amendment, sir?”

“I do.”

Old Jolyon put the amendment.

“Does anyone second this?” he asked, looking calmly round.

And it was then that Soames, looking at his uncle, felt the power of will that was in that old man. No one stirred. Looking straight into the eyes of the strong, silent shareholder, old Jolyon said:

“I now move, ‘That the report and accounts for the year 1886 be received and adopted.’ You second that? Those in favour signify the same in the usual way. Contrary–no. Carried. The next business, gentlemen….”

Soames smiled. Certainly Uncle Jolyon had a way with him!

But now his attention relapsed upon Bosinney.

Odd how that fellow haunted his thoughts, even in business hours.

Irene’s visit to the house–but there was nothing in that, except that she might have told him; but then, again, she never did tell him anything. She was more silent, more touchy, every day. He wished to God the house were finished, and they were in it, away from London. Town did not suit her; her nerves were not strong enough. That nonsense of the separate room had cropped up again!

The meeting was breaking up now. Underneath the photograph of the lost shaft Hemmings was buttonholed by the Rev. Mr. Boms. Little Mr. Booker, his bristling eyebrows wreathed in angry smiles, was having a parting turn-up with old Scrubsole. The two hated each other like poison. There was some matter of a tar-contract between them, little Mr. Booker having secured it from the Board for a nephew of his, over old Scrubsole’s head. Soames had heard that from Hemmings, who liked a gossip, more especially about his directors, except, indeed, old Jolyon, of whom he was afraid.

Soames awaited his opportunity. The last shareholder was vanishing through the door, when he approached his uncle, who was putting on his hat.

“Can I speak to you for a minute, Uncle Jolyon?”

It is uncertain what Soames expected to get out of this interview.

Apart from that somewhat mysterious awe in which Forsytes in general held old Jolyon, due to his philosophic twist, or perhaps–as Hemmings would doubtless have said–to his chin, there was, and always had been, a subtle antagonism between the younger man and the old. It had lurked under their dry manner of greeting, under their non-committal allusions to each other, and arose perhaps from old Jolyon’s perception of the quiet tenacity (‘obstinacy,’ he rather naturally called it) of the young man, of a secret doubt whether he could get his own way with him.

Both these Forsytes, wide asunder as the poles in many respects, possessed in their different ways–to a greater degree than the rest of the family–that essential quality of tenacious and prudent insight into ‘affairs,’ which is the highwater mark of their great class. Either of them, with a little luck and opportunity, was equal to a lofty career; either of them would have made a good financier, a great contractor, a statesman, though old Jolyon, in certain of his moods when under the influence of a cigar or of Nature–would have been capable of, not perhaps despising, but certainly of questioning, his own high position, while Soames, who never smoked cigars, would not.

Then, too, in old Jolyon’s mind there was always the secret ache, that the son of James–of James, whom he had always thought such a poor thing, should be pursuing the paths of success, while his own son…!

And last, not least–for he was no more outside the radiation of family gossip than any other Forsyte–he had now heard the sinister, indefinite, but none the less disturbing rumour about Bosinney, and his pride was wounded to the quick.

Characteristically, his irritation turned not against Irene but against Soames. The idea that his nephew’s wife (why couldn’t the fellow take better care of her–Oh! quaint injustice! as though Soames could possibly take more care!)–should be drawing to herself June’s lover, was intolerably humiliating. And seeing the danger, he did not, like James, hide it away in sheer nervousness, but owned with the dispassion of his broader outlook, that it was not unlikely; there was something very attractive about Irene!

He had a presentiment on the subject of Soames’ communication as they left the Board Room together, and went out into the noise and hurry of Cheapside. They walked together a good minute without speaking, Soames with his mousing, mincing step, and old Jolyon upright and using his umbrella languidly as a walking-stick.

They turned presently into comparative quiet, for old Jolyon’s way to a second Board led him in the direction of Moorage Street.

Then Soames, without lifting his eyes, began: “I’ve had this letter from Bosinney. You see what he says; I thought I’d let you know. I’ve spent a lot more than I intended on this house, and I want the position to be clear.”

Old Jolyon ran his eyes unwillingly over the letter: “What he says is clear enough,” he said.

“He talks about ‘a free hand,'” replied Soames.

Old Jolyon looked at him. The long-suppressed irritation and antagonism towards this young fellow, whose affairs were beginning to intrude upon his own, burst from him.

“Well, if you don’t trust him, why do you employ him?”

Soames stole a sideway look: “It’s much too late to go into that,” he said, “I only want it to be quite understood that if I give him a free hand, he doesn’t let me in. I thought if you were to speak to him, it would carry more weight!”

“No,” said old Jolyon abruptly; “I’ll have nothing to do with it!”

The words of both uncle and nephew gave the impression of unspoken meanings, far more important, behind. And the look they interchanged was like a revelation of this consciousness.

“Well,” said Soames; “I thought, for June’s sake, I’d tell you, that’s all; I thought you’d better know I shan’t stand any nonsense!”

“What is that to me?” old Jolyon took him up.

“Oh! I don’t know,” said Soames, and flurried by that sharp look he was unable to say more. “Don’t say I didn’t tell you,” he added sulkily, recovering his composure.

“Tell me!” said old Jolyon; “I don’t know what you mean. You come worrying me about a thing like this. I don’t want to hear about your affairs; you must manage them yourself!”

“Very well,” said Soames immovably, “I will!”

“Good-morning, then,” said old Jolyon, and they parted.

Soames retraced his steps, and going into a celebrated eating- house, asked for a plate of smoked salmon and a glass of Chablis; he seldom ate much in the middle of the day, and generally ate standing, finding the position beneficial to his liver, which was very sound, but to which he desired to put down all his troubles.

When he had finished he went slowly back to his office, with bent head, taking no notice of the swarming thousands on the pavements, who in their turn took no notice of him.

The evening post carried the following reply to Bosinney:

‘FORSYTE, BUSTARD AND FORSYTE,
‘Commissioners for Oaths,
‘92001, BRANCH LANE, POULTRY, E.C.,

‘May 17, 1887.

‘DEAR BOSINNEY,

‘I have, received your letter, the terms of which not a little surprise me. I was under the impression that you had, and have had all along, a “free hand”; for I do not recollect that any suggestions I have been so unfortunate as to make have met with your approval. In giving you, in accordance with your request, this “free hand,” I wish you to clearly understand that the total cost of the house as handed over to me completely decorated, inclusive of your fee (as arranged between us), must not exceed twelve thousand pounds–L12,000. This gives you an ample margin, and, as you know, is far more than I originally contemplated.

‘I am,
‘Yours truly,

‘SOAMES FORSYTE.’

On the following day he received a note from Bosinney:

‘PHILIP BAYNES BOSINNEY,
‘Architect,
‘309D, SLOANE STREET, S.W.,
‘May 18.

‘DEAR FORSYTE,

‘If you think that in such a delicate matter as decoration I can bind myself to the exact pound, I am afraid you are mistaken. I can see that you are tired of the arrangement, and of me, and I had better, therefore, resign.

‘Yours faithfully,

‘PHILIP BAYNES BOSINNEY.’

Soames pondered long and painfully over his answer, and late at night in the dining-room, when Irene had gone to bed, he composed the following:

’62, MONTPELLIER SQUARE, S.W.,
‘May 19, 1887.

‘DEAR BOSINNEY,

‘I think that in both our interests it would be extremely undesirable that matters should be so left at this stage. I did not mean to say that if you should exceed the sum named in my letter to you by ten or twenty or even fifty pounds, there would be any difficulty between us. This being so, I should like you to reconsider your answer. You have a “free hand” in the terms of this correspondence, and I hope you will see your way to completing the decorations, in the matter of which I know it is difficult to be absolutely exact.

‘Yours truly,

‘SOAMES FORSYTE.’

Bosinney’s answer, which came in the course of the next day, was:

‘May 20.

‘DEAR FORSYTE,

‘Very well.

‘PH. BOSINNEY.’

CHAPTER VI

OLD JOLYON AT THE ZOO

Old Jolyon disposed of his second Meeting–an ordinary Board– summarily. He was so dictatorial that his fellow directors were left in cabal over the increasing domineeringness of old Forsyte, which they were far from intending to stand much longer, they said.

He went out by Undergound to Portland Road Station, whence he took a cab and drove to the Zoo.

He had an assignation there, one of those assignations that had lately been growing more frequent, to which his increasing uneasiness about June and the ‘change in her,’ as he expressed it, was driving him.

She buried herself away, and was growing thin; if he spoke to her he got no answer, or had his head snapped off, or she looked as if she would burst into tears. She was as changed as she could be, all through this Bosinney. As for telling him about anything, not a bit of it!

And he would sit for long spells brooding, his paper unread before him, a cigar extinct between his lips. She had been such a companion to him ever since she was three years old! And he loved her so!

Forces regardless of family or class or custom were beating down his guard; impending events over which he had no control threw their shadows on his head. The irritation of one accustomed to have his way was roused against he knew not what.

Chafing at the slowness of his cab, he reached the Zoo door; but, with his sunny instinct for seizing the good of each moment, he forgot his vexation as he walked towards the tryst.

From the stone terrace above the bear-pit his son and his two grandchildren came hastening down when they saw old Jolyon coming, and led him away towards the lion-house. They supported him on either side, holding one to each of his hands,–whilst Jolly, perverse like his father, carried his grandfather’s umbrella in such a way as to catch people’s legs with the crutch of the handle.

Young Jolyon followed.

It was as good as a play to see his father with the children, but such a play as brings smiles with tears behind. An old man and two small children walking together can be seen at any hour of the day; but the sight of old Jolyon, with Jolly and Holly seemed to young Jolyon a special peep-show of the things that lie at the bottom of our hearts. The complete surrender of that erect old figure to those little figures on either hand was too poignantly tender, and, being a man of an habitual reflex action, young Jolyon swore softly under his breath. The show affected him in a way unbecoming to a Forsyte, who is nothing if not undemonstrative.

Thus they reached the lion-house.

There had been a morning fete at the Botanical Gardens, and a large number of Forsy…’–that is, of well-dressed people who kept carriages had brought them on to the Zoo, so as to have more, if possible, for their money, before going back to Rutland Gate or Bryanston Square.

“Let’s go on to the Zoo,” they had said to each other; “it’ll be great fun!” It was a shilling day; and there would not be all those horrid common people.

In front of the long line of cages they were collected in rows, watching the tawny, ravenous beasts behind the bars await their only pleasure of the four-and-twenty hours. The hungrier the beast, the greater the fascination. But whether because the spectators envied his appetite, or, more humanely, because it was so soon to be satisfied, young Jolyon could not tell. Remarks kept falling on his ears: “That’s a nasty-looking brute, that tiger!” “Oh, what a love! Look at his little mouth!” “Yes, he’s rather nice! Don’t go too near, mother.”

And frequently, with little pats, one or another would clap their hands to their pockets behind and look round, as though expecting young Jolyon or some disinterested-looking person to relieve them of the contents.

A well-fed man in a white waistcoat said slowly through his teeth: “It’s all greed; they can’t be hungry. Why, they take no exercise.” At these words a tiger snatched a piece of bleeding liver, and the fat man laughed. His wife, in a Paris model frock and gold nose-nippers, reproved him: “How can you laugh, Harry? Such a horrid sight!”

Young Jolyon frowned.

The circumstances of his life, though he had ceased to take a too personal view of them, had left him subject to an intermittent contempt; and the class to which he had belonged–the carriage class–especially excited his sarcasm.

To shut up a lion or tiger in confinement was surely a horrible barbarity. But no cultivated person would admit this.

The idea of its being barbarous to confine wild animals had probably never even occurred to his father for instance; he belonged to the old school, who considered it at once humanizing and educational to confine baboons and panthers, holding the view, no doubt, that in course of time they might induce these creatures not so unreasonably to die of misery and heart- sickness against the bars of their cages, and put the society to the expense of getting others! In his eyes, as in the eyes of all Forsytes, the pleasure of seeing these beautiful creatures in a state of captivity far outweighed the inconvenience of imprisonment to beasts whom God had so improvidently placed in a state of freedom! It was for the animals good, removing them at once from the countless dangers of open air and exercise, and enabling them to exercise their functions in the guaranteed seclusion of a private compartment! Indeed, it was doubtful what wild animals were made for but to be shut up in cages!

But as young Jolyon had in his constitution the elements of impartiality, he reflected that to stigmatize as barbarity that which was merely lack of imagination must be wrong; for none who held these views had been placed in a similar position to the animals they caged, and could not, therefore, be expected to enter into their sensations. It was not until they were leaving the gardens–Jolly and Holly in a state of blissful delirium– that old Jolyon found an opportunity of speaking to his son on the matter next his heart. “I don’t know what to make of it,” he said; “if she’s to go on as she’s going on now, I can’t tell what’s to come. I wanted her to see the doctor, but she won’t. She’s not a bit like me. She’s your mother all over. Obstinate as a mule! If she doesn’t want to do a thing, she won’t, and there’s an end of it!”

Young Jolyon smiled; his eyes had wandered to his father’s chin. ‘A pair of you,’ he thought, but he said nothing.

“And then,” went on old Jolyon, “there’s this Bosinney. I should like to punch the fellow’s head, but I can’t, I suppose, though–I don’t see why you shouldn’t,” he added doubtfully.

“What has he done? Far better that it should come to an end, if they don’t hit it off!”

Old Jolyon looked at his son. Now they had actually come to discuss a subject connected with the relations between the sexes he felt distrustful. Jo would be sure to hold some loose view or other.

“Well, I don’t know what you think,” he said; “I dare say your sympathy’s with him–shouldn’t be surprised; but I think he’s behaving precious badly, and if he comes my way I shall tell him so.” He dropped the subject.

It was impossible to discuss with his son the true nature and meaning of Bosinney’s defection. Had not his son done the very same thing (worse, if possible) fifteen years ago? There seemed no end to the consequences of that piece of folly.

Young Jolyon also was silent; he had quickly penetrated his father’s thought, for, dethroned from the high seat of an obvious and uncomplicated view of things, he had become both perceptive and subtle.

The attitude he had adopted towards sexual matters fifteen years before, however, was too different from his father’s. There was no bridging the gulf.

He said coolly: “I suppose he’s fallen in love with some other woman?”

Old Jolyon gave him a dubious look: “I can’t tell,” he said; “they say so!”

“Then, it’s probably true,” remarked young Jolyon unexpectedly; “and I suppose they’ve told you who she is?”

“Yes,” said old Jolyon, “Soames’s wife!”

Young Jolyon did not whistle: The circumstances of his own life had rendered him incapable of whistling on such a subject, but he looked at his father, while the ghost of a smile hovered over his face.

If old Jolyon saw, he took no notice.

“She and June were bosom friends!” he muttered.

“Poor little June!” said young Jolyon softly. He thought of his daughter still as a babe of three.

Old Jolyon came to a sudden halt.

“I don’t believe a word of it,” he said, “it’s some old woman’s tale. Get me a cab, Jo, I’m tired to death!”

They stood at a corner to see if an empty cab would come along, while carriage after carriage drove past, bearing Forsytes of all descriptions from the Zoo. The harness, the liveries, the gloss on the horses’ coats, shone and glittered in the May sunlight, and each equipage, landau, sociable, barouche, Victoria, or brougham, seemed to roll out proudly from its wheels:

‘I and my horses and my men you know,’ Indeed the whole turn-out have cost a pot. But we were worth it every penny. Look
At Master and at Missis now, the dawgs! Ease with security–ah! that’s the ticket!

And such, as everyone knows, is fit accompaniment for a perambulating Forsyte.

Amongst these carriages was a barouche coming at a greater pace than the others, drawn by a pair of bright bay horses. It swung on its high springs, and the four people who filled it seemed rocked as in a cradle.

This chariot attracted young Jolyon’s attention; and suddenly, on the back seat, he recognised his Uncle James, unmistakable in spite of the increased whiteness of his whiskers; opposite, their backs defended by sunshades, Rachel Forsyte and her elder but married sister, Winifred Dartie, in irreproachable toilettes, had posed their heads haughtily, like two of the birds they had been seeing at the Zoo; while by James’ side reclined Dartie, in a brand-new frock-coat buttoned tight and square, with a large expanse of carefully shot linen protruding below each wristband.

An extra, if subdued, sparkle, an added touch of the best gloss or varnish characterized this vehicle, and seemed to distinguish it from all the others, as though by some happy extravagance– like that which marks out the real ‘work of art’ from the ordinary ‘picture’–it were designated as the typical car, the very throne of Forsytedom.

Old Jolyon did not see them pass; he was petting poor Holly who was tired, but those in the carriage had taken in the little group; the ladies’ heads tilted suddenly, there was a spasmodic screening movement of parasols; James’ face protruded naively, like the head of a long bird, his mouth slowly opening. The shield-like rounds of the parasols grew smaller and smaller, and vanished.

Young Jolyon saw that he had been recognised, even by Winifred, who could not have been more than fifteen when he had forfeited the right to be considered a Forsyte.

There was not much change in them! He remembered the exact look of their turn-out all that time ago: Horses, men, carriage–all different now, no doubt–but of the precise stamp of fifteen years before; the same neat display, the same nicely calculated arrogance ease with security! The swing exact, the pose of the sunshades exact, exact the spirit of the whole thing.

And in the sunlight, defended by the haughty shields of parasols, carriage after carriage went by.

“Uncle James has just passed, with his female folk,” said young Jolyon.

His father looked black. “Did your uncle see us? Yes? Hmph! What’s he want, coming down into these parts?”

An empty cab drove up at this moment, and old Jolyon stopped it.

“I shall see you again before long, my boy!” he said. “Don’t you go paying any attention to what I’ve been saying about young Bosinney–I don’t believe a word of it!”

Kissing the children, who tried to detain him, he stepped in and was borne away.

Young Jolyon, who had taken Holly up in his arms, stood motionless at the corner, looking after the cab.

CHAPTER VII

AFTERNOON AT TIMOTHY’S

If old Jolyon, as he got into his cab, had said: ‘I won’t believe a word of it!’ he would more truthfully have expressed his sentiments.

The notion that James and his womankind had seen him in the company of his son had awakened in him not only the impatience he always felt when crossed, but that secret hostility natural between brothers, the roots of which–little nursery rivalries– sometimes toughen and deepen as life goes on, and, all hidden, support a plant capable of producing in season the bitterest fruits.

Hitherto there had been between these six brothers no more unfriendly feeling than that caused by the secret and natural doubt that the others might be richer than themselves; a feeling increased to the pitch of curiosity by the approach of death– that end of all handicaps–and the great ‘closeness’ of their man of business, who, with some sagacity, would profess to Nicholas ignorance of James’ income, to James ignorance of old Jolyon’s, to Jolyon ignorance of Roger’s, to Roger ignorance of Swithin’s, while to Swithin he would say most irritatingly that Nicholas must be a rich man. Timothy alone was exempt, being in gilt-edged securities.

But now, between two of them at least, had arisen a very different sense of injury. From the moment when James had the impertinence to pry into his affairs–as he put it–old Jolyon no longer chose to credit this story about Bosinney. His grand- daughter slighted through a member of ‘that fellow’s’ family! He made up his mind that Bosinney was maligned. There must be some other reason for his defection.

June had flown out at him, or something; she was as touchy as she could be!

He would, however, let Timothy have a bit of his mind, and see if he would go on dropping hints! And he would not let the grass grow under his feet either, he would go there at once, and take very good care that he didn’t have to go again on the same errand.

He saw James’ carriage blocking the pavement in front of ‘The Bower.’ So they had got there before him–cackling about having seen him, he dared say! And further on, Swithin’s greys were turning their noses towards the noses of James’ bays, as though in conclave over the family, while their coachmen were in conclave above.

Old Jolyon, depositing his hat on the chair in the narrow hall, where that hat of Bosinney’s had so long ago been mistaken for a cat, passed his thin hand grimly over his face with its great drooping white moustaches, as though to remove all traces of expression, and made his way upstairs.

He found the front drawing-room full. It was full enough at the best of times–without visitors–without any one in it–for Timothy and his sisters, following the tradition of their generation, considered that a room was not quite ‘nice’ unless it was ‘properly’ furnished. It held, therefore, eleven chairs, a sofa, three tables, two cabinets, innumerable knicknacks, and part of a large grand piano. And now, occupied by Mrs. Small, Aunt Hester, by Swithin, James, Rachel, Winifred, Euphemia, who had come in again to return ‘Passion and Paregoric’ which she had read at lunch, and her chum Frances, Roger’s daughter (the musical Forsyte, the one who composed songs), there was only one chair left unoccupied, except, of course, the two that nobody ever sat on–and the only standing room was occupied by the cat, on whom old Jolyon promptly stepped.

In these days it was by no means unusual for Timothy to have so many visitors. The family had always, one and all, had a real respect for Aunt Ann, and now that she was gone, they were coming far more frequently to The Bower, and staying longer.

Swithin had been the first to arrive, and seated torpid in a red satin chair with a gilt back, he gave every appearance of lasting the others out. And symbolizing Bosinney’s name ‘the big one,’ with his great stature and bulk, his thick white hair, his puffy immovable shaven face, he looked more primeval than ever in the highly upholstered room.

His conversation, as usual of late, had turned at once upon Irene, and he had lost no time in giving Aunts Juley and Hester his opinion with regard to this rumour he heard was going about. No–as he said–she might want a bit of flirtation–a pretty woman must have her fling; but more than that he did not believe. Nothing open; she had too much good sense, too much proper appreciation of what was due to her position, and to the family! No sc…, he was going to say ‘scandal’ but the very idea was so preposterous that he waved his hand as though to say–‘but let that pass!’

Granted that Swithin took a bachelor’s view of the situation– still what indeed was not due to that family in which so many had done so well for themselves, had attained a certain position? If he had heard in dark, pessimistic moments the words ‘yeomen’ and ‘very small beer’ used in connection with his origin, did he believe them?

No! he cherished, hugging it pathetically to his bosom the secret theory that there was something distinguished somewhere in his ancestry.

“Must be,” he once said to young Jolyon, before the latter went to the bad. “Look at us, we’ve got on! There must be good blood in us somewhere.”

He had been fond of young Jolyon: the boy had been in a good set at College, had known that old ruffian Sir Charles Fiste’s sons–a pretty rascal one of them had turned out, too; and there was style about him–it was a thousand pities he had run off with that half-foreign governess! If he must go off like that why couldn’t he have chosen someone who would have done them credit! And what was he now?–an underwriter at Lloyd’s; they said he even painted pictures–pictures! Damme! he might have ended as Sir Jolyon Forsyte, Bart., with a seat in Parliament, and a place in the country!

It was Swithin who, following the impulse which sooner or later urges thereto some member of every great family, went to the Heralds’ Office, where they assured him that he was undoubtedly of the same family as the well-known Forsites with an ‘i,’ whose arms were ‘three dexter buckles on a sable ground gules,’ hoping no doubt to get him to take them up.

Swithin, however, did not do this, but having ascertained that the crest was a ‘pheasant proper,’ and the motto ‘For Forsite,’ he had the pheasant proper placed upon his carriage and the buttons of his coachman, and both crest and motto on his writing-paper. The arms he hugged to himself, partly because, not having paid for them, he thought it would look ostentatious to put them on his carriage, and he hated ostentation, and partly because he, like any practical man all over the country, had a secret dislike and contempt for things he could not understand he found it hard, as anyone might, to swallow ‘three dexter buckles on a sable ground gules.’

He never forgot, however, their having told him that if he paid for them he would be entitled to use them, and it strengthened his conviction that he was a gentleman. Imperceptibly the rest of the family absorbed the ‘pheasant proper,’ and some, more serious than others, adopted the motto; old Jolyon, however, refused to use the latter, saying that it was humbug meaning nothing, so far as he could see.

Among the older generation it was perhaps known at bottom from what great historical event they derived their crest; and if pressed on the subject, sooner than tell a lie–they did not like telling lies, having an impression that only Frenchmen and Russians told them–they would confess hurriedly that Swithin had got hold of it somehow.

Among the younger generation the matter was wrapped in a discretion proper. They did not want to hurt the feelings of their elders, nor to feel ridiculous themselves; they simply used the crest….

“No,” said Swithin, “he had had an opportunity of seeing for himself, and what he should say was, that there was nothing in her manner to that young Buccaneer or Bosinney or whatever his name was, different from her manner to himself; in fact, he should rather say….” But here the entrance of Frances and Euphemia put an unfortunate stop to the conversation, for this was not a subject which could be discussed before young people.

And though Swithin was somewhat upset at being stopped like this on the point of saying something important, he soon recovered his affability. He was rather fond of Frances–Francie, as she was called in the family. She was so smart, and they told him she made a pretty little pot of pin-money by her songs; he called it very clever of her.

He rather prided himself indeed on a liberal attitude towards women, not seeing any reason why they shouldn’t paint pictures, or write tunes, or books even, for the matter of that, especially if they could turn a useful penny by it; not at all–kept them out of mischief. It was not as if they were men!

‘Little Francie,’ as she was usually called with good-natured contempt, was an important personage, if only as a standing illustration of the attitude of Forsytes towards the Arts. She was not really ‘little,’ but rather tall, with dark hair for a Forsyte, which, together with a grey eye, gave her what was called ‘a Celtic appearance.’ She wrote songs with titles like ‘Breathing Sighs,’ or ‘Kiss me, Mother, ere I die,’ with a refrain like an anthem:

‘Kiss me, Mother, ere I die;
Kiss me-kiss me, Mother, ah!
Kiss, ah! kiss me e-ere I-
Kiss me, Mother, ere I d-d-die!’

She wrote the words to them herself, and other poems. In lighter moments she wrote waltzes, one of which, the ‘Kensington Coil,’ was almost national to Kensington, having a sweet dip in it.

It was very original. Then there were her ‘Songs for Little People,’ at once educational and witty, especially ‘Gran’ma’s Porgie,’ and that ditty, almost prophetically imbued with the coming Imperial spirit, entitled ‘Black Him In His Little Eye.’

Any publisher would take these, and reviews like ‘High Living,’ and the ‘Ladies’ Genteel Guide’ went into raptures over: ‘Another of Miss Francie Forsyte’s spirited ditties, sparkling and pathetic. We ourselves were moved to tears and laughter. Miss Forsyte should go far.’

With the true instinct of her breed, Francie had made a point of knowing the right people–people who would write about her, and talk about her, and people in Society, too–keeping a mental register of just where to exert her fascinations, and an eye on that steady scale of rising prices, which in her mind’s eye represented the future. In this way she caused herself to be universally respected.

Once, at a time when her emotions were whipped by an attachment– for the tenor of Roger’s life, with its whole-hearted collection of house property, had induced in his only daughter a tendency towards passion–she turned to great and sincere work, choosing the sonata form, for the violin. This was the only one of her productions that troubled the Forsytes. They felt at once that it would not sell.

Roger, who liked having a clever daughter well enough, and often alluded to the amount of pocket-money she made for herself, was upset by this violin sonata.

“Rubbish like that!” he called it. Francie had borrowed young Flageoletti from Euphemia, to play it in the drawing-room at Prince’s Gardens.

As a matter of fact Roger was right. It was rubbish, but– annoying! the sort of rubbish that wouldn’t sell. As every Forsyte knows, rubbish that sells is not rubbish at all–far from it.

And yet, in spite of the sound common sense which fixed the worth of art at what it would fetch, some of the Forsytes–Aunt Hester, for instance, who had always been musical–could not help regretting that Francie’s music was not ‘classical’; the same with her poems. But then, as Aunt Hester said, they didn’t see any poetry nowadays, all the poems were ‘little light things.’

There was nobody who could write a poem like ‘Paradise Lost,’ or ‘Childe Harold’; either of which made you feel that you really had read something. Still, it was nice for Francie to have something to occupy her; while other girls were spending money shopping she was making it!

And both Aunt Hester and Aunt Juley were always ready to listen to the latest story of how Francie had got her price increased.

They listened now, together with Swithin, who sat pretending not to, for these young people talked so fast and mumbled so, he never could catch what they said.

“And I can’t think,” said Mrs. Septimus, “how you do it. I should never have the audacity!”

Francie smiled lightly. “I’d much rather deal with a man than a woman. Women are so sharp!”

“My dear,” cried Mrs. Small, “I’m sure we’re not.”

Euphemia went off into her silent laugh, and, ending with the squeak, said, as though being strangled: “Oh, you’ll kill me some day, auntie.”

Swithin saw no necessity to laugh; he detested people laughing when he himself perceived no joke. Indeed, he detested Euphemia altogether, to whom he always alluded as ‘Nick’s daughter, what’s she called–the pale one?’ He had just missed being her god- father–indeed, would have been, had he not taken a firm stand against her outlandish name. He hated becoming a godfather. Swithin then said to Francie with dignity: “It’s a fine day– er–for the time of year.” But Euphemia, who knew perfectly well that he had refused to be her godfather, turned to Aunt Hester, and began telling her how she had seen Irene–Mrs. Soames–at the Church and Commercial Stores.

“And Soames was with her?” said Aunt Hester, to whom Mrs. Small had as yet had no opportunity of relating the incident.

“Soames with her? Of course not!”

“But was she all alone in London?”

“Oh, no; there was Mr. Bosinney with her. She was perfectly dressed.”

But Swithin, hearing the name Irene, looked severely at Euphemia, who, it is true, never did look well in a dress, whatever she may have done on other occasions, and said:

“Dressed like a lady, I’ve no doubt. It’s a pleasure to see her.”

At this moment James and his daughters were announced. Dartie, feeling badly in want of a drink, had pleaded an appointment with his dentist, and, being put down at the Marble Arch, had got into a hansom, and was already seated in the window of his club in Piccadilly.

His wife, he told his cronies, had wanted to take him to pay some calls. It was not in his line–not exactly. Haw!

Hailing the waiter, he sent him out to the hall to see what had won the 4.30 race. He was dog-tired, he said, and that was a fact; had been drivin’ about with his wife to ‘shows’ all the afternoon. Had put his foot down at last. A fellow must live his own life.

At this moment, glancing out of the bay window–for he loved this seat whence he could see everybody pass–his eye unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, chanced to light on the figure of Soames, who was mousing across the road from the Green Park-side, with the evident intention of coming in, for he, too, belonged to ‘The Iseeum.’

Dartie sprang to his feet; grasping his glass, he muttered something about ‘that 4.30 race,’ and swiftly withdrew to the card-room, where Soames never came. Here, in complete isolation and a dim light, he lived his own life till half past seven, by which hour he knew Soames must certainly have left the club.

It would not do, as he kept repeating to himself whenever he felt the impulse to join the gossips in the bay-window getting too strong for him–it absolutely would not do, with finances as low as his, and the ‘old man’ (James) rusty ever since that business over the oil shares, which was no fault of his, to risk a row with Winifred.

If Soames were to see him in the club it would be sure to come round to her that he wasn’t at the dentist’s at all. He never knew a family where things ‘came round’ so. Uneasily, amongst the green baize card-tables, a frown on his olive coloured face, his check trousers crossed, and patent-leather boots shining through the gloom, he sat biting his forefinger, and wondering where the deuce he was to get the money if Erotic failed to win the Lancashire Cup.

His thoughts turned gloomily to the Forsytes. What a set they were! There was no getting anything out of them–at least, it was a matter of extreme difficulty. They were so d—d particular about money matters; not a sportsman amongst the lot, unless it were George. That fellow Soames, for instance, would have a ft if you tried to borrow a tenner from him, or, if he didn’t have a fit, he looked at you with his cursed supercilious smile, as if you were a lost soul because you were in want of money.

And that wife of his (Dartie’s mouth watered involuntarily), he had tried to be on good terms with her, as one naturally would with any pretty sister-in-law, but he would be cursed if the (he mentally used a coarse word)–would have anything to say to him– she looked at him, indeed, as if he were dirt–and yet she could go far enough, he wouldn’t mind betting. He knew women; they weren’t made with soft eyes and figures like that for nothing, as that fellow Soames would jolly soon find out, if there were anything in what he had heard about this Buccaneer Johnny.

Rising from his chair, Dartie took a turn across the room, ending in front of the looking-glass over the marble chimney-piece; and there he stood for a long time contemplating in the glass the reflection of his face. It had that look, peculiar to some men, of having been steeped in linseed oil, with its waxed dark moustaches and the little distinguished commencements of side whiskers; and concernedly he felt the promise of a pimple on the side of his slightly curved and fattish nose.

In the meantime old Jolyon had found the remaining chair in Timothy’s commodious drawing-room. His advent had obviously put a stop to the conversation, decided awkwardness having set in. Aunt Juley, with her well-known kindheartedness, hastened to set people at their ease again.

“Yes, Jolyon,” she said, “we were just saying that you haven’t been here for a long time; but we mustn’t be surprised. You’re busy, of course? James was just saying what a busy time of year….”

“Was he?” said old Jolyon, looking hard at James. “It wouldn’t be half so busy if everybody minded their own business.”

James, brooding in a small chair from which his knees ran uphill, shifted his feet uneasily, and put one of them down on the cat, which had unwisely taken refuge from old Jolyon beside him.

“Here, you’ve got a cat here,” he said in an injured voice, withdrawing his foot nervously as he felt it squeezing into the soft, furry body.

“Several,” said old Jolyon, looking at one face and another; “I trod on one just now.”

A silence followed.

Then Mrs. Small, twisting her fingers and gazing round with ‘pathetic calm’, asked: “And how is dear June?”

A twinkle of humour shot through the sternness of old Jolyon’s eyes. Extraordinary old woman, Juley! No one quite like her for saying the wrong thing!

“Bad!” he said; “London don’t agree with her–too many people about, too much clatter and chatter by half.” He laid emphasis on the words, and again looked James in the face.

Nobody spoke.

A feeling of its being too dangerous to take a step in any direction, or hazard any remark, had fallen on them all. Something of the sense of the impending, that comes over the spectator of a Greek tragedy, had entered that upholstered room, filled with those white-haired, frockcoated old men, and fashionably attired women, who were all of the same blood, between all of whom existed an unseizable resemblance.

Not that they were conscious of it–the visits of such fateful, bitter spirits are only felt.

Then Swithin rose. He would not sit there, feeling like that–he was not to be put down by anyone! And, manoeuvring round the room with added pomp, he shook hands with each separately.

“You tell Timothy from me,” he said, “that he coddles himself too much!” Then, turning to Francie, whom he considered ‘smart,’ he added: “You come with me for a drive one of these days.” But this conjured up the vision of that other eventful drive which had been so much talked about, and he stood quite still for a second, with glassy eyes, as though waiting to catch up with the significance of what he himself had said; then, suddenly recollecting that he didn’t care a damn, he turned to old Jolyon: “Well, good-bye, Jolyon! You shouldn’t go about without an overcoat; you’ll be getting sciatica or something!” And, kicking the cat slightly with the pointed tip of his patent leather boot, he took his huge form away.

When he had gone everyone looked secretly at the others, to see how they had taken the mention of the word ‘drive’–the word which had become famous, and acquired an overwhelming importance, as the only official–so to speak–news in connection with the vague and sinister rumour clinging to the family tongue.

Euphemia, yielding to an impulse, said with a short laugh: “I’m glad Uncle Swithin doesn’t ask me to go for drives.”

Mrs. Small, to reassure her and smooth over any little awkwardness the subject might have, replied: “My dear, he likes to take somebody well dressed, who will do him a little credit. I shall never forget the drive he took me. It was an experience!” And her chubby round old face was spread for a moment with a strange contentment; then broke into pouts, and tears came into her eyes. She was thinking of that long ago driving tour she had once taken with Septimus Small.

James, who had relapsed into his nervous brooding in the little chair, suddenly roused himself: “He’s a funny fellow, Swithin,” he said, but in a half-hearted way.

Old Jolyon’s silence, his stern eyes, held them all in a kind of paralysis. He was disconcerted himself by the effect of his own words–an effect which seemed to deepen the importance of the very rumour he had come to scotch; but he was still angry.

He had not done with them yet–No, no–he would give them another rub or two.

He did not wish to rub his nieces, he had no quarrel with them–a young and presentable female always appealed to old Jolyon’s clemency–but that fellow James, and, in a less degree perhaps, those others, deserved all they would get. And he, too, asked for Timothy.

As though feeling that some danger threatened her younger brother, Aunt Juley suddenly offered him tea: “There it is,” she said, “all cold and nasty, waiting for you in the back drawing room, but Smither shall make you some fresh.”

Old Jolyon rose: “Thank you,” he said, looking straight at James, “but I’ve no time for tea, and–scandal, and the rest of it! It’s time I was at home. Good-bye, Julia; good-bye, Hester; good-bye, Winifred.”

Without more ceremonious adieux, he marched out.

Once again in his cab, his anger evaporated, for so it ever was with his wrath–when he had rapped out, it was gone. Sadness came over his spirit. He had stopped their mouths, maybe, but at what a cost! At the cost of certain knowledge that the rumour he had been resolved not to believe was true. June was abandoned, and for the wife of that fellow’s son! He felt it was true, and hardened himself to treat it as if it were not; but the pain he hid beneath this resolution began slowly, surely, to vent itself in a blind resentment against James and his son.

The six women and one man left behind in the little drawing-room began talking as easily as might be after such an occurrence, for though each one of them knew for a fact that he or she never talked scandal, each one of them also knew that the other six did; all were therefore angry and at a loss. James only was silent, disturbed, to the bottom of his soul.

Presently Francie said: “Do you know, I think Uncle Jolyon is terribly changed this last year. What do you think, Aunt Hester?”

Aunt Hester made a little movement of recoil: “Oh, ask your Aunt Julia!” she said; “I know nothing about it.”

No one else was afraid of assenting, and James muttered gloomily at the floor: “He’s not half the man he was.”

“I’ve noticed it a long time,” went on Francie; “he’s aged tremendously.”

Aunt Juley shook her head; her face seemed suddenly to have become one immense pout.

“Poor dear Jolyon,” she said, “somebody ought to see to it for him!”

There was again silence; then, as though in terror of being left solitarily behind, all five visitors rose simultaneously, and took their departure.

Mrs. Small, Aunt Hester, and their cat were left once more alone,