DRIVE WITH SWITHIN
Two lines of a certain song in a certain famous old school's
songbook run as follows:
'How the buttons on his blue frock shone, tra-la-la!
How he carolled and he sang, like a bird!....'
Swithin did not exactly carol and sing like a bird, but he felt
almost like endeavouring to hum a tune, as he stepped out of Hyde
Park Mansions, and contemplated his horses drawn up before the
The afternoon was as balmy as a day in June, and to complete the
simile of the old song, he had put on a blue frock-coat,
dispensing with an overcoat, after sending Adolf down three times
to make sure that there was not the least suspicion of east in
the wind; and the frock-coat was buttoned so tightly around his
personable form, that, if the buttons did not shine, they might
pardonably have done so. Majestic on the pavement he fitted on a
pair of dog-skin gloves; with his large bell-shaped top hat, and
his great stature and bulk he looked too primeval for a Forsyte.
His thick white hair, on which Adolf had bestowed a touch of
pomatum, exhaled the fragrance of opoponax and cigars--the
celebrated Swithin brand, for which he paid one hundred and,
forty shillings the hundred, and of which old Jolyon had unkindly
said, he wouldn't smoke them as a gift; they wanted the stomach
of a horse!
"The new plaid rug!
He would never teach that fellow to look smart; and Mrs. Soames
he felt sure, had an eye!
"The phaeton hood down; I am going--to--drive--a--lady!"
A pretty woman would want to show off her frock; and well--he was
going to drive a lady! It was like a new beginning to the good
Ages since he had driven a woman! The last time, if he
remembered, it had been Juley; the poor old soul had been as
nervous as a cat the whole time, and so put him out of patience
that, as he dropped her in the Bayswater Road, he had said: "Well
I'm d---d if I ever drive you again!" And he never had, not he!
Going up to his horses' heads, he examined their bits; not that
he knew anything about bits--he didn't pay his coachman sixty
pounds a year to do his work for him, that had never been his
principle. Indeed, his reputation as a horsey man rested mainly
on the fact that once, on Derby Day, he had been welshed by some
thimble-riggers. But someone at the Club, after seeing him drive
his greys up to the door--he always drove grey horses, you got
more style for the money, some thought--had called him 'Four-
in-hand Forsyte.' The name having reached his ears through that
fellow Nicholas Treffry, old Jolyon's dead partner, the great
driving man notorious for more carriage accidents than any man in
the kingdom--Swithin had ever after conceived it right to act up
to it. The name had taken his fancy, not because he had ever
driven four-in-hand, or was ever likely to, but because of
something distinguished in the sound. Four-in-hand Forsyte! Not
bad! Born too soon, Swithin had missed his vocation. Coming
upon London twenty years later, he could not have failed to have
become a stockbroker, but at the time when he was obliged to
select, this great profession had not as yet became the chief
glory of the upper-middle class. He had literally been forced
into land agency.
Once in the driving seat, with the reins handed to him, and
blinking over his pale old cheeks in the full sunlight, he took a
slow look round--Adolf was already up behind; the cockaded groom
at the horses' heads stood ready to let go; everything was
prepared for the signal, and Swithin gave it. The equipage
dashed forward, and before you could say Jack Robinson, with a
rattle and flourish drew up at Soames' door.
Irene came out at once, and stepped in--he afterward described it
at Timothy's--"as light as--er--Taglioni, no fuss about it, no
wanting this or wanting that;" and above all, Swithin dwelt on
this, staring at Mrs. Septimus in a way that disconcerted her a
good deal, "no silly nervousness!" To Aunt Hester he portrayed
Irene's hat. "Not one of your great flopping things, sprawling
about, and catching the dust, that women are so fond of nowadays,
but a neat little--"he made a circular motion of his hand, "white
"What was it made of?" inquired Aunt Hester, who manifested a
languid but permanent excitement at any mention of dress.
"Made of?" returned Swithin; "now how should I know?"
He sank into silence so profound that Aunt Hester began to be
afraid he had fallen into a trance. She did not try to rouse him
herself, it not being her custom.
'I wish somebody would come,' she thought; 'I don't like the look
But suddenly Swithin returned to life. "Made of" he wheezed out
slowly, "what should it be made of?"
They had not gone four miles before Swithin received the
impression that Irene liked driving with him. Her face was so
soft behind that white veil, and her dark eyes shone so in the
spring light, and whenever he spoke she raised them to him and
On Saturday morning Soames had found her at her writing-table
with a note written to Swithin, putting him off. Why did she
want to put him off? he asked. She might put her own people off
when she liked, he would not have her putting off his people!
She had looked at him intently, had torn up the note, and said:
And then she began writing another. He took a casual glance
presently, and saw that it was addressed to Bosinney.
"What are you writing to him about?" he asked.
Irene, looking at him again with that intent look, said quietly:
"Something he wanted me to do for him!"
"Humph!" said Soames,--"Commissions!"
"You'll have your work cut out if you begin that sort of thing!"
He said no more.
Swithin opened his eyes at the mention of Robin Hill; it was a
long way for his horses, and he always dined at half-past seven,
before the rush at the Club began; the new chef took more trouble
with an early dinner--a lazy rascal!
He would like to have a look at the house, however. A house
appealed to any Forsyte, and especially to one who had been an
auctioneer. After all he said the distance was nothing. When he
was a younger man he had had rooms at Richmond for many years,
kept his carriage and pair there, and drove them up and down to
business every day of his life.
Four-in-hand Forsyte they called him! His T-cart, his horses had
been known from Hyde Park Corner to the Star and Garter. The
Duke of Z.... wanted to get hold of them, would have given him
double the money, but he had kept them; know a good thing when
you have it, eh? A look of solemn pride came portentously on his
shaven square old face, he rolled his head in his stand-up
collar, like a turkey-cock preening himself.
She was really--a charming woman! He enlarged upon her frock
afterwards to Aunt Juley, who held up her hands at his way of
Fitted her like a skin--tight as a drum; that was how he liked
'em, all of a piece, none of your daverdy, scarecrow women! He
gazed at Mrs. Septimus Small, who took after James--long and
"There's style about her," he went on, "fit for a king! And
she's so quiet with it too!"
"She seems to have made quite a conquest of you, any way,"
drawled Aunt Hester from her corner.
Swithin heard extremely well when anybody attacked him.
"What's that?" he said. "I know a--pretty--woman when I see one,
and all I can say is, I don't see the young man about that's fit
for her; but perhaps--you--do, come, perhaps--you -do!"
"Oh?" murmured Aunt Hester, "ask Juley!"
Long before they reached Robin Hill, however, the unaccustomed
airing had made him terribly sleepy; he drove with his eyes
closed, a life-time of deportment alone keeping his tall and
bulky form from falling askew.
Bosinney, who was watching, came out to meet them, and all three
entered the house together; Swithin in front making play with a
stout gold-mounted Malacca cane, put into his hand by Adolf, for
his knees were feeling the effects of their long stay in the same
position. He had assumed his fur coat, to guard against the
draughts of the unfinished house.
The staircase--he said--was handsome! the baronial style! They
would want some statuary about! He came to a standstill between
the columns of the doorway into the inner court, and held out his
What was this to be--this vestibule, or whatever they called it?
But gazing at the skylight, inspiration came to him.
"Ah! the billiard-room!"
When told it was to be a tiled court with plants in the centre,
he turned to Irene:
"Waste this on plants? You take my advice and have a billiard
Irene smiled. She had lifted her veil, banding it like a nun's
coif across her forehead, and the smile of her dark eyes below
this seemed to Swithin more charming than ever. He nodded. She
would take his advice he saw.
He had little to say of the drawing or dining-rooms, which he
described as 'spacious"; but fell into such raptures as he
permitted to a man of his dignity, in the wine-cellar, to which
he descended by stone steps, Bosinney going first with a light.
"You'll have room here," he said, "for six or seven hundred.
dozen--a very pooty little cellar!"
Bosinney having expressed the wish to show them the house from
the copse below, Swithin came to a stop.
"There's a fine view from here," he remarked; "you haven't such a
thing as a chair?"
A chair was brought him from Bosinney's tent.
"You go down," he said blandly; "you two! I'll sit here and look
at the view."
He sat down by the oak tree, in the sun; square and upright, with
one hand stretched out, resting on the nob of his cane, the other
planted on his knee; his fur coat thrown open, his hat, roofing
with its flat top the pale square of his face; his stare, very
blank, fixed on the landscape.
He nodded to them as they went, off down through the fields. He
was, indeed, not sorry to be left thus for a quiet moment of
reflection. The air was balmy, not too much heat in the sun; the
prospect a fine one, a remarka.... His head fell a little to one
side; he jerked it up and thought: Odd! He--ah! They were
waving to him from the bottom! He put up his hand, and moved it
more than once. They were active--the prospect was remar....
His head fell to the left, he jerked it up at once; it fell to
the right. It remained there; he was asleep.
And asleep, a sentinel on the--top of the rise, he appeared to
rule over this prospect--remarkable--like some image blocked out
by the special artist, of primeval Forsytes in pagan days, to
record the domination of mind over matter!
And all the unnumbered generations of his yeoman ancestors, wont
of a Sunday to stand akimbo surveying their little plots of land,
their grey unmoving eyes hiding their instinct with its hidden
roots of violence, their instinct for possession to the exclusion
of all the world--all these unnumbered generations seemed to sit
there with him on the top of the rise.
But from him, thus slumbering, his jealous Forsyte spirit
travelled far, into God-knows-what jungle of fancies; with those
two young people, to see what they were doing down there in the
copse--in the copse where the spring was running riot with the
scent of sap and bursting buds, the song of birds innumerable, a
carpet of bluebells and sweet growing things, and the sun caught
like gold in the tops of the trees; to see what they were doing,
walking along there so close together on the path that was too
narrow; walking along there so close that they were always
touching; to watch Irene's eyes, like dark thieves, stealing the
heart out of the spring. And a great unseen chaperon, his spirit
was there, stopping with them to look at the little furry corpse
of a mole, not dead an hour, with his mushroom--and silver coat
untouched by the rain or dew; watching over Irene's bent head,
and the soft look of her pitying eyes; and over that young man's
head, gazing at her so hard, so strangely. Walking on with them,
too, across the open space where a wood-cutter had been at work,
where the bluebells were trampled down, and a trunk had swayed
and staggered down from its gashed stump. Climbing it with them,
over, and on to the very edge of the copse, whence there
stretched an undiscovered country, from far away in which came
the sounds, 'Cuckoo-cuckoo!'
Silent, standing with them there, and uneasy at their silence!
Very queer, very strange!
Then back again, as though guilty, through the wood--back to the
cutting, still silent, amongst the songs of birds that never
ceased, and the wild scent--hum! what was it--like that herb
they put in--back to the log across the path....
And then unseen, uneasy, flapping above them, trying to make
noises, his Forsyte spirit watched her balanced on the log, her
pretty figure swaying, smiling down at that young man gazing up
with such strange, shining eyes, slipping now--a--ah! falling,
o--oh! sliding--down his breast; her soft, warm body clutched,
her head bent back from his lips; his kiss; her recoil; his cry:
"You must know--I love you!" Must know--indeed, a pretty...?
Swithin awoke; virtue had gone out of him. He had a taste in his
mouth. Where was he?
Damme! He had been asleep!
He had dreamed something about a new soup, with a taste of mint
Those young people--where had they got to? His left leg had pins
"Adolf!" The rascal was not there; the rascal was asleep
He stood up, tall, square, bulky in his fur, looking anxiously
down over the fields, and presently he saw them coming.
Irene was in front; that young fellow--what had they nicknamed
him--'The Buccaneer?' looked precious hangdog there behind her;
had got a flea in his ear, he shouldn't wonder. Serve him right,
taking her down all that way to look at the house! The proper
place to look at a house from was the lawn.
They saw him. He extended his arm, and moved it spasmodically to
encourage them. But they had stopped. What were they standing
there for, talking--talking? They came on again. She had been,
giving him a rub, he had not the least doubt of it, and no
wonder, over a house like that--a great ugly thing, not the sort
of house be was accustomed to.
He looked intently at their faces, with his pale, immovable
stare. That young man looked very queer!
"You'll never make anything of this!" he said tartly, pointing at
the mansion;--"too newfangled!"
Bosinney gazed at him as though he had not heard; and Swithin
afterwards described him to, Aunt Hester as "an extravagant sort
of fellow very odd way of looking at you--a bumpy beggar!"
What gave rise to this sudden piece of psychology he did not
state; possibly Bosinney's, prominent forehead and cheekbones and
chin, or something hungry in his face, which quarrelled with
Swithin's conception of the calm satiety that should characterize
the perfect gentleman.
He brightened up at the mention of tea. He had a contempt for
tea--his brother Jolyon had been in tea; made a lot of money by
it--but he was so thirsty, and had such a taste in his mouth,
that he was prepared to drink anything. He longed to inform
Irene of the taste in his mouth--she was so sympathetic--but it
would not be a, distinguished thing to do; he rolled his tongue
round, and faintly smacked it against his palate.
In a far corner of the tent Adolf was bending his cat-like
moustaches over a kettle. He left it at once to draw the cork of
a pint-bottle of champagne. Swithin smiled, and, nodding at
Bosinney, said: "Why, you're quite a Monte Cristo!" This
celebrated novel--one of the half-dozen he had read--had produced
an extraordinary impression on his mind.
Taking his glass from the table, he held it away from him to
scrutinize the colour; thirsty as he was, it was not likely that
he was going to drink trash! Then, placing it to his lips, he
took a sip.
"A very nice wine," he said at last, passing it before his nose;
"not the equal of my Heidsieck!"
It was at this moment that the idea came to him which he
afterwards imparted at Timothy's in this nutshell: "I shouldn't
wonder a bit if that architect chap were sweet upon Mrs. Soames!"
And from this moment his pale, round eyes never ceased to bulge
with the interest of his discovery.
"The fellow," he said to Mrs. Septimus, "follows her about with
his eyes like a dog--the bumpy beggar! I don't wonder at it--
she's a very charming woman, and, I should say, the pink of
discretion!" A vague consciousness of, perfume caging about
Irene, like that from a flower with half-closed petals and a
passionate heart, moved him to the creation of this image. "But
I wasn't sure of it," he said, "till I saw him pick up her
Mrs. Small's eyes boiled with excitement.
"And did he give it her back?" she asked.
"Give it back?" said Swithin: "I saw him slobber on it when he
thought I wasn't looking!
Mrs. Small gasped--too interested to speak.
"But she gave him no encouragement," went on Swithin; he stopped,
and stared for a minute or two in the way that alarmed Aunt
Hester so--he had suddenly recollected that, as they were
starting back in the-phaeton, she had given Bosinney her hand a
second time, and let it stay there too.... He had touched his
horses smartly with the whip, anxious to get her all to himself.
But she had looked back, and she had not answered his first
question; neither had he been able to see her face--she had kept
it hanging down.
There is somewhere a picture, which Swithin has not seen, of a
man sitting on a rock, and by him, immersed in the still, green
water, a sea-nymph lying on her back, with her hand on her naked
breast. She has a half-smile on her face--a smile of hopeless
surrender and of secret joy.
Seated by Swithin's side, Irene may have been smiling like that.
When, warmed by champagne, he had her all to himself, he
unbosomed himself of his wrongs; of his smothered resentment
against the new chef at the club; his worry over the house in
Wigmore Street, where the rascally tenant had gone bankrupt
through helping his brother-in-law as if charity did not begin at
home; of his deafness, too, and that pain he sometimes got in his
right side. She listened, her eyes swimming under their lids.
He thought she was thinking deeply of his troubles, and pitied
himself terribly. Yet in his fur coat, with frogs across the
breast, his top hat aslant, driving this beautiful woman, he had
never felt more distinguished.
A coster, however, taking his girl for a Sunday airing, seemed to
have the same impression about himself. This person had flogged
his donkey into a gallop alongside, and sat, upright as a
waxwork, in his shallopy chariot, his chin settled pompously on a
red handkerchief, like Swithin's on his full cravat; while his
girl, with the ends of a fly-blown boa floating out behind, aped
a woman of fashion. Her swain moved a stick with a ragged bit of
string dangling from the end, reproducing with strange fidelity
the circular flourish of Swithin's whip, and rolled his head at
his lady with a leer that had a weird likeness to Swithin's
Though for a time unconscious of the lowly ruffian's presence,
Swithin presently took it into his head that he was being guyed.
He laid his whip-lash across the mares flank. The two chariots,
however, by some unfortunate fatality continued abreast.
Swithin's yellow, puffy face grew red; he raised his whip to lash
the costermonger, but was saved from so far forgetting his
dignity by a special intervention of Providence. A carriage
driving out through a gate forced phaeton and donkey-cart into
proximity; the wheels grated, the lighter vehicle skidded, and
Swithin did not look round. On no account would he have pulled
up to help the ruffian. Serve him right if he had broken his
But he could not if he would. The greys had taken alarm. The
phaeton swung from side to side, and people raised frightened
faces as they went dashing past. Swithin's great arms, stretched
at full length, tugged at the reins. His cheeks were puffed, his
lips compressed, his swollen face was of a dull, angry red.
Irene had her hand on the rail, and at every lurch she gripped it
tightly. Swithin heard her ask:
"Are we going to have an accident, Uncle Swithin?"
He gasped out between his pants: "It's nothing; a--little fresh!"
"I've never been in an accident."
Don't you move!" He took a look at--her. She was smiling,
perfectly calm. "Sit still," he repeated. "Never fear, I'll get
And in the midst of all his terrible efforts, he was surprised to
hear her answer in a voice not like her own:
"I don't care if I never get home!"
The carriage giving a terrific lurch, Swithin's exclamation was
jerked back into his throat. The horses, winded by the rise of a
hill, now steadied to a trot, and finally stopped of their own
"When"--Swithin described it at Timothy's--"I pulled 'em up,
there she was as cool as myself. God bless my soul! she behaved
as if she didn't care whether she broke her neck or not! What
was it she said: 'I don't care if I never get home?" Leaning over
the handle of his cane, he wheezed out, to Mrs. Small's terror:
"And I'm not altogether surprised, with a finickin' feller like
young Soames for a husband!"
It did not occur to him to wonder what Bosinney had done after
they had left him there alone; whether he had gone wandering
about like the dog to which Swithin had compared him; wandering
down to that copse where the spring was still in riot, the cuckoo
still calling from afar; gone down there with her handkerchief
pressed to lips, its fragrance mingling with the scent of mint
and thyme. Gone down there with such a wild, exquisite pain in
his heart that he could have cried out among the trees. Or what,
indeed, the fellow had done. In fact, till he came to Timothy's,
Swithin had forgotten all about him.