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CHAPTER IV

JAMES GOES TO SEE FOR HIMSELF


Those ignorant of Forsyte 'Change would not, perhaps, foresee all
the stir made by Irene's visit to the house.

After Swithin had related at Timothy's the full story of his
memorable drive, the same, with the least suspicion of curiosity,
the merest touch of malice, and a real desire to do good, was
passed on to June.

"And what a dreadful thing to say, my dear!" ended Aunt Juley;
"that about not going home. What did she mean?"

It was a strange recital for the girl. She heard it flushing
painfully, and, suddenly, with a curt handshake, took her
departure.

"Almost rude!" Mrs. Small said to Aunt Hester, when June was
gone.

The proper construction was put on her reception of the news.
She was upset. Something was therefore very wrong. Odd! She
and Irene had been such friends!

It all tallied too well with whispers and hints that had been
going about for some time past. Recollections of Euphemia's
account of the visit to the theatre--Mr. Bosinney always at
Soames's? Oh, indeed! Yes, of course, he would be about the
house! Nothing open. Only upon the greatest, the most important
provocation was it necessary to say anything open on Forsyte
'Change. This machine was too nicely adjusted; a hint, the
merest trifling expression of regret or doubt, sufficed to set
the family soul so sympathetic--vibrating. No one desired that
harm should come of these vibrations--far from it; they were set
in motion with the best intentions, with the feeling, that each
member of the family had a stake in the family soul.

And much kindness lay at the bottom of the gossip; it would
frequently result in visits of condolence being made, in
accordance with the customs of Society, thereby conferring a real
benefit upon the sufferers, and affording consolation to the
sound, who felt pleasantly that someone at all events was
suffering from that from which they themselves were not
suffering. In fact, it was simply a desire to keep things
well-aired, the desire which animates the Public Press, that
brought James, for instance, into communication with Mrs.
Septimus, Mrs. Septimus, with the little Nicholases, the little
Nicholases with who-knows-whom, and so on. That great class to
which they had risen, and now belonged, demanded a certain
candour, a still more certain reticence. This combination
guaranteed their membership.

Many of the younger Forsytes felt, very naturally, and would
openly declare, that they did not want their affairs pried into;
but so powerful was the invisible, magnetic current of family
gossip, that for the life of them they could not help knowing all
about everything. It was felt to be hopeless.

One of them (young Roger) had made an heroic attempt to free the
rising generation, by speaking of Timothy as an 'old cat.' The
effort had justly recoiled upon himself; the words, coming round
in the most delicate way to Aunt Juley's ears, were repeated by
her in a shocked voice to Mrs. Roger, whence they returned again
to young Roger.

And, after all, it was only the wrong-doers who suffered; as, for
instance, George, when he lost all that money playing billiards;
or young Roger himself, when he was so dreadfully near to
marrying the girl to whom, it was whispered, he was already
married by the laws of Nature; or again Irene, who was thought,
rather than said, to be in danger.

All this was not only pleasant but salutary. And it made so many
hours go lightly at Timothy's in the Bayswater Road; so many
hours that must otherwise have been sterile and heavy to those
three who lived there; and Timothy's was but one of hundreds of
such homes in this City of London--the homes of neutral persons
of the secure classes, who are out of the battle themselves, and
must find their reason for existing, in the battles of others.

But for the sweetness of family gossip, it must indeed have been
lonely there. Rumours and tales, reports, surmises--were they
not the children of the house, as dear and precious as the
prattling babes the brother and sisters had missed in their own
journey? To talk about them, was as near as they could get to
the possession of all those children and grandchildren, after
whom their soft hearts yearned. For though it is doubtful
whether Timothy's heart yearned, it is indubitable that at the
arrival of each fresh Forsyte child he was quite upset.

Useless for young Roger to say, "Old cat!" for Euphemia to hold up
her hands and cry: "Oh! those three!" and break into her silent
laugh with the squeak at the end. Useless, and not too kind.

The situation which at this stage might seem, and especially to
Forsyte eyes, strange--not to say 'impossible'--was, in view of
certain facts, not so strange after all. Some things had been
lost sight of. And first, in the security bred of many harmless
marriages, it had been forgotten that Love is no hot-house
flower, but a wild plant, born of a wet night, born of an hour
of sunshine; sprung from wild seed, blown along the road by a
wild wind. A wild plant that, when it blooms by chance within
the hedge of our gardens, we call a flower; and when it blooms
outside we call a weed; but, flower or weed, whose scent and
colour are always, wild! And further--the facts and figures of
their own lives being against the perception of this truth--it
was not generally recognised by Forsytes that, where, this wild
plant springs, men and women are but moths around the pale,
flame-like blossom.

It was long since young Jolyon's escapade--there was danger of a
tradition again arising that people in their position never cross
the hedge to pluck that flower; that one could reckon on having
love, like measles, once in due season, and getting over it
comfortably for all time--as with measles, on a soothing mixture
of butter and honey--in the arms of wedlock.

Of all those whom this strange rumour about Bosinney and Mrs.
Soames reached, James was the most affected. He had long
forgotten how he had hovered, lanky and pale, in side whiskers of
chestnut hue, round Emily, in the days of his own courtship. He
had long forgotten the small house in the purlieus of Mayfair,
where he had spent the early days of his married life, or rather,
he had long forgotten the early days, not the small house,--a
Forsyte never forgot a house--he had afterwards sold it at a
clear profit of four hundred pounds.

He had long, forgotten those days, with their hopes and fears and
doubts about the prudence of the match (for Emily, though pretty,
had nothing, and he himself at that time was making a bare
thousand a year), and that strange, irresistible attraction which
had drawn him on, till he felt he must die if he could not marry
the girl with the fair hair, looped so neatly back, the fair arms
emerging from a skin-tight bodice, the fair form decorously
shielded by a cage of really stupendous circumference.

James had passed through the fire, but he had passed also through
the river of years which washes out the fire; he had experienced
the saddest experience of all--forgetfulness of what it was like
to be in love.

Forgotten! Forgotten so long, that he had forgotten even that he
had forgotten.

And now this rumour had come upon him, this rumour about his
son's wife; very vague, a shadow dodging among the palpable,
straightforward appearances of things, unreal, unintelligible as
a ghost, but carrying with it, like a ghost, inexplicable terror.

He tried to bring it home to his mind, but it was no more use
than trying to apply to himself one of those tragedies he read of
daily in his evening paper. He simply could not. There could be
nothing in it. It was all their nonsense. She didn't get on
with Soames as well as she might, but she was a good little
thing--a good little thing!

Like the not inconsiderable majority of men, James relished a
nice little bit of scandal, and would say, in a matter-of-fact
tone, licking his lips, "Yes, yes--she and young Dyson; they tell
me they're living at Monte Carlo!"

But the significance of an affair of this sort--of its past, its
present, or its future--had never struck him. What it meant,
what torture and raptures had gone to its construction, what
slow, overmastering fate had lurked within the facts, very naked,
sometimes sordid, but generally spicy, presented to his gaze. He
was not in the habit of blaming, praising, drawing deductions, or
generalizing at all about such things; he simply listened rather
greedily, and repeated what he was told, finding considerable
benefit from the practice, as from the consumption of a sherry
and bitters before a meal.

Now, however, that such a thing--or rather the rumour, the breath
of it--had come near him personally, he felt as in a fog, which
filled his mouth full of a bad, thick flavour, and made it
difficult to draw breath.

A scandal! A possible scandal!

To repeat this word to himself thus was the only way in which he
could focus or make it thinkable. He had forgotten the
sensations necessary for understanding the progress, fate, or
meaning of any such business; he simply could no longer grasp the
possibilities of people running any risk for the sake of passion.

Amongst all those persons of his acquaintance, who went into the
City day after day and did their business there, whatever it was,
and in their leisure moments bought shares, and houses, and ate
dinners, and played games, as he was told, it would have seemed
to him ridiculous to suppose that there were any who would run
risks for the sake of anything so recondite, so figurative, as
passion.

Passion! He seemed, indeed, to have heard of it, and rules such
as 'A young man and a young woman ought never to be trusted
together' were fixed in his mind as the parallels of latitude are
fixed on a map (for all Forsytes, when it comes to 'bed-rock'
matters of fact, have quite a fine taste in realism); but as to
anything else--well, he could only appreciate it at all through
the catch-word 'scandal.'

Ah! but there was no truth in it--could not be. He was not
afraid; she was really a good little thing. But there it was
when you got a thing like that into your mind. And James was of
a nervous temperament--one of those men whom things will not
leave alone, who suffer tortures from anticipation and
indecision. For fear of letting something slip that he might
otherwise secure, he was physically unable to make up his mind
until absolutely certain that, by not making it up, he would
suffer loss.

In life, however, there were many occasions when the business of
making up his mind did not even rest with himself, and this was
one of them.

What could he do? Talk it over with Soames? That would only
make matters worse. And, after all, there was nothing in it, he
felt sure.

It was all that house. He had mistrusted the idea from the
first. What did Soames want to go into the country for? And, if
he must go spending a lot of money building himself a house, why
not have a first-rate man, instead of this young Bosinney, whom
nobody knew anything about? He had told them, how it would be.
And he had heard that the house was costing Soames a pretty penny
beyond what he had reckoned on spending.

This fact, more than any other, brought home to James the real
danger of the situation. It was always like this with these
'artistic' chaps; a sensible man should have nothing to say to
them. He had warned Irene, too. And see what had come of it!

And it suddenly sprang into James's mind that he ought to go and
see for himself. In the midst of that fog of uneasiness in which
his mind was enveloped the notion that he could go and look at
the house afforded him inexplicable satisfaction. It may have
been simply the decision to do something--more possibly the fact
that he was going to look at a house--that gave him relief.
He felt that in staring at an edifice of bricks and mortar, of
wood and stone, built by the suspected man himself, he would be
looking into the heart of that rumour about Irene.

Without saying a word, therefore, to anyone, he took a hansom to
the station and proceeded by train to Robin Hill; thence--there
being no 'flies,' in accordance with the custom of the
neighbourhood--he found himself obliged to walk.

He started slowly up the hill, his angular knees and high
shoulders bent complainingly, his eyes fixed on his feet, yet,
neat for all that, in his high hat and his frock-coat, on which
was the speckless gloss imparted by perfect superintendence.
Emily saw to that; that is, she did not, of course, see to it--
people of good position not seeing to each other's buttons, and
Emily was of good position--but she saw that the butler saw to
it.

He had to ask his way three times; on each occasion he repeated
the directions given him, got the man to repeat them, then
repeated them a second time, for he was naturally of a talkative
disposition, and one could not be too careful in a new
neighbourhood.

He kept assuring them that it was a new house he was looking for;
it was only, however, when he was shown the roof through the
trees that he could feel really satisfied that he had not been
directed entirely wrong.

A heavy sky seemed to cover the world with the grey whiteness of
a whitewashed ceiling. There was no freshness or fragrance in
the air. On such a day even British workmen scarcely cared to do
more then they were obliged, and moved about their business
without the drone of talk which whiles away the pangs of labour.

Through spaces of the unfinished house, shirt-sleeved figures
worked slowly, and sounds arose--spasmodic knockings, the
scraping of metal, the sawing of wood, with the rumble of
wheelbarrows along boards; now and again the foreman's dog,
tethered by a string to an oaken beam, whimpered feebly, with a
sound like the singing of a kettle.

The fresh-fitted window-panes, daubed each with a white patch in
the centre, stared out at James like the eyes of a blind dog.

And the building chorus went on, strident and mirthless under the
grey-white sky. But the thrushes, hunting amongst the fresh-
turned earth for worms, were silent quite.

James picked his way among the heaps of gravel--the drive was
being laid--till he came opposite the porch. Here he stopped and
raised his eyes. There was but little to see from this point of
view, and that little he took in at once; but he stayed in this
position many minutes, and who shall know of what he thought.

His china-blue eyes under white eyebrows that jutted out in
little horns, never stirred; the long upper lip of his wide
mouth, between the fine white whiskers, twitched once or twice;
it was easy to see from that anxious rapt expression, whence
Soames derived the handicapped look which sometimes came upon his
face. James might have been saying to himself: 'I don't know--
life's a tough job.'

In this position Bosinney surprised him.

James brought his eyes down from whatever bird's-nest they had
been looking for in the sky to Bosinney's face, on which was a
kind of humorous scorn.

"How do you do, Mr. Forsyte? Come down to see for yourself?"

It was exactly what James, as we know, had come for, and he was
made correspondingly uneasy. He held out his hand, however,
saying:

"How are you?" without looking at Bosinney.

The latter made way for him with an ironical smile.

James scented something suspicious in this courtesy. "I should
like to walk round the outside first," he said, "and see what
you've been doing!"

A flagged terrace of rounded stones with a list of two or three
inches to port had been laid round the south-east and south-west
sides of the house, and ran with a bevelled edge into mould,
which was in preparation for being turfed; along this terrace
James led the way.

"Now what did this cost?" he asked, when he saw the terrace
extending round the corner.

"What should you think?" inquired Bosinney.

"How should I know?" replied James somewhat nonplussed; "two or
three hundred, I dare say!"

"The exact sum!"

James gave him a sharp look, but the architect appeared
unconscious, and he put the answer down to mishearing.

On arriving at the garden entrance, he stopped to look at the
view.

"That ought to come down," he said, pointing to the oak-tree.

"You think so? You think that with the tree there you don't get
enough view for your money.

Again James eyed him suspiciously--this young man had a peculiar
way of putting things: "Well!" he said, with a perplexed,
nervous, emphasis, "I don't see what you want with a tree."

"It shall come down to-morrow," said Bosinney.

James was alarmed. "Oh," he said, "don't go saying I said it was
to come down! I know nothing about it!"

"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.





Man of Property by John Galsworthy
Category:
English Novel

General Fiction
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