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
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
"I knew how it'd be; I told you she wouldn't last through the
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.
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
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
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
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
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.