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
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 Georges 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,
'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
'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
'Please make up your mind, therefore, whether you want me to
decorate for you, or to retire which on the whole I should prefer
'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
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
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
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
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
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
. . . . "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,
"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
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
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
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?"
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
'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.
On the following day he received a note from Bosinney:
'PHILIP BAYNES BOSINNEY,
'309D, SLOANE STREET, S.W.,
'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.
'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
'62, MONTPELLIER SQUARE, S.W.,
'May 19, 1887.
'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.
Bosinney's answer, which came in the course of the next day, was: