eBooks Cube
 
PART I


CHAPTER I

'AT HOME' AT OLD JOLYON'S


Those privileged to be present at a family festival of the
Forsytes have seen that charming and instructive sight--an upper
middle-class family in full plumage. But whosoever of these
favoured persons has possessed the gift of psychological analysis
(a talent without monetary value and properly ignored by the
Forsytes), has witnessed a spectacle, not only delightful in
itself, but illustrative of an obscure human problem. In plainer
words, he has gleaned from a gathering of this family--no branch
of which had a liking for the other, between no three members of
whom existed anything worthy of the name of sympathy--evidence of
that mysterious concrete tenacity which renders a family so
formidable a unit of society, so clear a reproduction of society
in miniature. He has been admitted to a vision of the dim roads
of social progress, has understood something of patriarchal life,
of the swarmings of savage hordes, of the rise and fall of
nations. He is like one who, having watched a tree grow from its
planting--a paragon of tenacity, insulation, and success, amidst
the deaths of a hundred other plants less fibrous, sappy, and
persistent--one day will see it flourishing with bland, full
foliage, in an almost repugnant prosperity, at the summit of its
efflorescence.

On June 15, eighteen eighty-six, about four of the afternoon, the
observer who chanced to be present at the house of old Jolyon
Forsyte in Stanhope Gate, might have seen the highest
efflorescence of the Forsytes.

This was the occasion of an 'at home' to celebrate the engagement
of Miss June Forsyte, old Jolyon's granddaughter, to Mr. Philip
Bosinney. In the bravery of light gloves, buff waistcoats,
feathers and frocks, the family were present, even Aunt Ann, who
now but seldom left the comer of her brother Timothy's green
drawing-room, where, under the aegis of a plume of dyed pampas
grass in a light blue vase, she sat all day reading and knitting,
surrounded by the effigies of three generations of Forsytes.
Even Aunt Ann was there; her inflexible back, and the dignity of
her calm old face personifying the rigid possessiveness of the
family idea.

When a Forsyte was engaged, married, or born, the Forsytes were
present; when a Forsyte died--but no Forsyte had as yet died;
they did not die; death being contrary to their principles, they
took precautions against it, the instinctive precautions of
highly vitalized persons who resent encroachments on their
property.

About the Forsytes mingling that day with the crowd of other
guests, there was a more than ordinarily groomed look, an alert,
inquisitive assurance, a brilliant respectability, as though they
were attired in defiance of something. The habitual sniff on the
face of Soames Forsyte had spread through their ranks; they were
on their guard.

The subconscious offensiveness of their attitude has constituted
old Jolyon's 'home' the psychological moment of the family
history, made it the prelude of their drama.

The Forsytes were resentful of something, not individually, but
as a family; this resentment expressed itself in an added
perfection of raiment, an exuberance of family cordiality, an
exaggeration of family importance, and--the sniff. Danger--so
indispensable in bringing out the fundamental quality of any
society, group, or individual--was what the Forsytes scented; the
premonition of danger put a burnish on their armour. For the
first time, as a family, they appeared to have an instinct of
being in contact, with some strange and unsafe thing.

Over against the piano a man of bulk and stature was wearing two
waistcoats on his wide chest, two waistcoats and a ruby pin,
instead of the single satin waistcoat and diamond pin of, more
usual occasions, and his shaven, square, old -face, the colour of
pale leather, with pale eyes, had its most dignified look, above
his satin stock. This was Swithin Forsyte. Close to the window,
where he could get more than his fair share of fresh air, the
other twin, James--the fat and the lean of it, old Jolyon called
these brothers--like the bulky Swithin, over six feet in height,
but very lean, as though destined from his birth to strike a
balance and maintain an average, brooded over the scene with his
permanent stoop; his grey eyes had an air of fixed absorption in
some secret worry, broken at intervals by a rapid, shifting
scrutiny of surrounding facts; his cheeks, thinned by two
parallel folds, and a long, clean-shaven upper lip, were framed
within Dundreary whiskers. In his hands he turned and turned a
piece of china. Not far off, listening to a lady in brown, his
only son Soames, pale and well-shaved, dark-haired, rather bald,
had poked his chin up sideways, carrying his nose with that
aforesaid appearance of 'sniff,' as though despising an egg which
he knew he could not digest. Behind him his cousin, the tall
George, son of the fifth Forsyte, Roger, had a Quilpish look on
his fleshy face, pondering one of his sardonic jests. Something
inherent to the occasion had affected them all.

Seated in a row close to one another were three ladies--Aunts
Ann, Hester (the two Forsyte maids), and Juley (short for Julia),
who not in first youth had so far forgotten herself as to marry
Septimus Small, a man of poor constitution. She had survived him
for many years. With her elder and younger sister she lived now
in the house of Timothy, her sixth and youngest brother, on the
Bayswater Road. Each of these ladies held fans in their hands,
and each with some touch of Colour, some emphatic feather or
brooch, testified to the solemnity of the opportunity.

In the centre of the room, under the chandelier, as became a
host, stood the head of the family, old Jolyon himself. Eighty
years of age, with his fine, white hair, his dome-like forehead,
his little, dark grey eyes, and an immense white moustache, which
drooped and spread below the level of his strong jaw, he had a
patriarchal look, and in spite of lean cheeks and hollows at his
temples, seemed master of perennial youth. He held him self
extremely upright, and his shrewd, steady eyes had lost none of
their clear shining. Thus he gave an impression of superiority
to the doubts and dislikes of smaller men. Having had his own
way for innumerable years, he had earned a prescriptive right to
it. It would never have occurred to old Jolyon that it was
necessary to wear a look of doubt or of defiance.

Between him and the four other brothers who were present, James,
Swithin, Nicholas, and Roger, there was much difference, much
similarity. In turn, each of these four brothers was very
different from the other, yet they, too, were alike.

Through the varying features and expression of those five faces
could be marked a certain steadfastness of chin, underlying
surface distinctions, marking a racial stamp, too prehistoric to
trace, too remote and permanent to discuss--the very hall-mark
and guarantee of the family for tunes.

Among the younger generation, in the tall, bull-like George, in
pallid strenuous Archibald, in young Nicholas with his sweet and
tentative obstinacy, in the grave and foppishly determined
Eustace, there was this same stamp--less meaningful perhaps, but
unmistakable--a sign of something ineradicable in the family
soul. At one time or another during the afternoon, all these
faces, so dissimilar and so alike, had worn an expression of
distrust, the object of which was undoubtedly the man whose
acquaintance they were thus assembled to make. Philip Bosinney
was known to be a young man without fortune, but Forsyte girls
had become engaged to such before, and had actually married them.
It was not altogether for this reason, therefore, that the minds
of the Forsytes misgave them. They could not have explained the
origin of a misgiving obscured by the mist of family gossip. A
story was undoubtedly told that he had paid his duty call to
Aunts Ann, Juley, and Hester, in a soft grey hat--a soft grey
hat, not even a new one--a dusty thing with a shapeless crown.
"So, extraordinary, my dear--so odd," Aunt Hester, passing
through the little, dark hall (she was rather short-sighted), had
tried to 'shoo' it off a chair, taking it for a strange,
disreputable cat--Tommy had such disgraceful friends! She was
disturbed when it did not move. Like an artist for ever seeking
to discover the significant trifle which embodies the whole
character of a scene, or place, or person, so those unconscious
artists--the Forsytes had fastened by intuition on this hat; it
was their significant trifle, the detail in which was embedded
the meaning of the whole matter; for each had asked himself:
"Come, now, should I have paid that visit in that hat?" and each
had answered "No!" and some, with more imagination than others,
had added: "It would never have come into my head!"

George, on hearing the story, grinned. The hat had obviously
been worn as a practical joke! He himself was a connoisseur of
such. "Very haughty!" he said, "the wild Buccaneer."

And this mot, the 'Buccaneer,' was bandied from mouth to mouth,
till it became the favourite mode of alluding to Bosinney.

Her aunts reproached June afterwards about the hat.

"We don't think you ought to let him, dear!" they had said.

June had answered in her imperious brisk way, like the little
embodiment of will she was: "Oh! what does it matter? Phil
never knows what he's got on!"

No one had credited an answer so outrageous. A man not to know
what he had on? No, no! What indeed was this young man, who, in
becoming engaged to June, old Jolyon's acknowledged heiress, had
done so well for himself? He was an architect, not in itself a
sufficient reason for wearing such a hat. None of the Forsytes
happened to be architects, but one of them knew two architects
who would never have worn such a hat upon a call of ceremony in
the London season.

Dangerous--ah, dangerous! June, of course, had not seen this,
but, though not yet nineteen, she was notorious. Had she not
said to Mrs. Soames--who was always so beautifully dressed--that
feathers were vulgar? Mrs. Soames had actually given up wearing
feathers, so dreadfully downright was dear June!

These misgivings, this disapproval, and perfectly genuine
distrust, did not prevent the Forsytes from gathering to old
Jolyon's invitation. An 'At Home' at Stanhope Gate was a great
rarity; none had been held for twelve years, not indeed, since
old Mrs. Jolyon had died.

Never had there been so full an assembly, for, mysteriously
united in spite of all their differences, they had taken arms
against a common peril. Like cattle when a dog comes into the
field, they stood head to head and shoulder to shoulder, prepared
to run upon and trample the invader to death. They had come,
too, no doubt, to get some notion of what sort of presents they
would ultimately be expected to give; for though the question of
wedding gifts was usually graduated in this way: 'What are you
givin? Nicholas is givin' spoons!"--so very much depended on the
bridegroom. If he were sleek, well-brushed, prosperous-looking,
it was more necessary to give him nice things; he would expect
them. In the end each gave exactly what was right and proper, by
a species of family adjustment arrived at as prices are arrived
at on the Stock Exchange--the exact niceties being regulated at
Timothy's commodious, red-brick residence in Bayswater,
overlooking the Park, where dwelt Aunts Ann, Juley, and Hester.

The uneasiness of the Forsyte family has been justified by the
simple mention of the hat. How impossible and wrong would it
have been for any family, with the regard for appearances which
should ever characterize, the great upper middle-class, to feel
otherwise than uneasy!

The author of the uneasiness stood talking to June by the further
door; his curly hair had a rumpled appearance, as though he found
what was going on around him unusual. He had an air, too, of
having a joke all to himself. George, speaking aside to his
brother, Eustace, said:

"Looks as if he might make a bolt of it--the dashing Buccaneer!"

This 'very singular-looking man,' as Mrs. Small afterwards called
him, was of medium height and strong build, with a pale, brown
face, a dust-coloured moustache, very prominent cheek-bones, and
hollow checks. His forehead sloped back towards the crown of his
head, and bulged out in bumps over the eyes, like foreheads seen
in the Lion-house at the Zoo. He had sherry-coloured eyes,
disconcertingly inattentive at times. Old Jolyon's coachman,
after driving June and Bosinney to the theatre, had remarked to
the butler:

"I dunno what to make of 'im. Looks to me for all the world like
an 'alf-tame leopard." And every now and then a Forsyte would
come up, sidle round, and take a look at him.

June stood in front, fending off this idle curiosity--a little
bit of a thing, as somebody once said, 'all hair and spirit,'
with fearless blue eyes, a firm jaw, and a bright colour, whose
face and body seemed too slender for her crown of red-gold hair.

A tall woman, with a beautiful figure, which some member of the
family had once compared to a heathen goddess, stood looking at
these two with a shadowy smile.

Her hands, gloved in French grey, were crossed one over the
other, her grave, charming face held to one side, and the eyes of
all men near were fastened on it. Her figure swayed, so balanced
that the very air seemed to set it moving. There was warmth, but
little colour, in her cheeks; her large, dark eyes were soft.

But it was at her lips--asking a question, giving an answer, with
that shadowy smile--that men looked; they were sensitive lips,
sensuous and sweet, and through them seemed to come warmth and
perfume like the warmth and perfume of a flower.

The engaged couple thus scrutinized were unconscious of this
passive goddess. It was Bosinney who first noticed her, and
asked her name.

June took her lover up to the woman with the beautiful figure.

"Irene is my greatest chum," she said: "Please be good friends,
you two!"

At the little lady's command they all three smiled; and while
they were smiling, Soames Forsyte, silently appearing from behind
the woman with the beautiful figure, who was his wife, said:

"Ah! introduce me too!"

He was seldom, indeed, far from Irene's side at public functions,
and even when separated by, the exigencies of social intercourse,
could be seen following her about with his eyes, in which were
strange expressions of watchfulness and longing.

At the window his father, James, was still scrutinizing the marks
on the piece of china..

"I wonder at Jolyon's allowing this engagement," he said to Aunt
Ann. "They tell me there's no chance of their getting married
for years. This young Bosinney" (he made the word a dactyl in
opposition to general usage of a short o) "has got nothing. When
Winifred married Dartie, I made him bring every penny into
settlement--lucky thing, too--they'd ha' had nothing by this
time!"

Aunt Ann looked up from her velvet chair. Grey curls banded her
forehead, curls that, unchanged for decades, had extinguished in
the family all sense of time. She made no reply, for she rarely
spoke, husbanding her aged voice; but to James, uneasy of
conscience, her look was as good as an answer.

"Well," he said, "I couldn't help Irene's having no money.
Soames was in such a hurry; he got quite thin dancing attendance
on her."

Putting the bowl pettishly down on the piano, he let his eyes
wander to the group by the door.

"It's my opinion," he said unexpectedly, "that it's just as well

as it is."

Aunt Ann did not ask him to explain this strange utterance. She
knew what he was thinking. If Irene had no money she would not
be so foolish as to do anything wrong; for they said--they said--
she had been asking for a separate room; but, of course, Soames
had not....

James interrupted her reverie:

"But where," he asked, "was Timothy? Hadn't he come with them?"

Through Aunt Ann's compressed lips a tender smile forced its way:

"No, he didn't think it wise, with so much of this diphtheria
about; and he so liable to take things."

James answered:

"Well, be takes good care of himself. I can't afford to take the
care of myself that he does."

Nor was it easy to say which, of admiration, envy, or contempt,
was dominant in that remark.

Timothy, indeed, was seldom seen. The baby of the family, a
publisher by profession, he had some years before, when business
was at full tide, scented out the stagnation which, indeed, had
not yet come, but which ultimately, as all agreed, was bound to
set in, and, selling his share in a firm engaged mainly in the
production of religious books, had invested the quite conspicuous
proceeds in three per cent. consols. By this act he had at once
assumed an isolated position, no other Forsyte being content with
less than four per cent. for his money; and this isolation had
slowly and surely undermined a spirit perhaps better than
commonly endowed with caution. He had become almost a myth--a
kind of incarnation of security haunting the background of the
Forsyte universe. He had never committed the imprudence of
marrying, or encumbering himself in any way with children.

James resumed, tapping the piece of china:

"This isn't real old Worcester. I s'pose Jolyon's told you
something about the young man. From all I can learn, he's got no
business, no income, and no connection worth speaking of; but
then, I know nothing--nobody tells me anything."

Aunt Ann shook her head. Over her square-chinned, aquiline old
face a trembling passed; the spidery fingers of her hands pressed
against each other and interlaced, as though she were subtly
recharging her will.

The eldest by some years of all the Forsytes, she held a peculiar
position amongst them. Opportunists and egotists one and all--
though not, indeed, more so than their neighbours--they quailed
before her incorruptible figure, and, when opportunities were too
strong, what could they do but avoid her!

Twisting his long, thin legs, James went on:

"Jolyon, he will have his own way. He's got no children"--and
stopped, recollecting the continued existence of old Jolyon's
son, young Jolyon, June's father, who had made such a mess of it,
and done for himself by deserting his wife and child and running
away with that foreign governess. "Well," he resumed hastily,
"if he likes to do these things, I s'pose he can afford to. Now,
what's he going to give her? I s'pose he'll give her a thousand
a year; he's got nobody else to leave his money to."

He stretched out his hand to meet that of a dapper, clean-shaven
man, with hardly a hair on his head, a long, broken nose, full
lips, and cold grey eyes under rectangular brows.

"Well, Nick," he muttered, "how are you?"

Nicholas Forsyte, with his bird-like rapidity and the look of a
preternaturally sage schoolboy (he had made a large fortune,
quite legitimately, out of the companies of which he was a
director), placed within that cold palm the tips of his still
colder fingers and hastily withdrew them.

"I'm bad," he said, pouting--"been bad all the week; don't sleep
at night. The doctor can't tell why. He's a clever fellow, or I
shouldn't have him, but I get nothing out of him but bills."

"Doctors!" said James, coming down sharp on his words: "I've had
all the doctors in London for one or another of us. There's no
satisfaction to be got out of them; they'll tell you anything.
There's Swithin, now. What good have they done him? There he
is; he's bigger than ever; he's enormous; they can't get his
weight down. Look at him!"

Swithin Forsyte, tall, square, and broad, with a chest like a
pouter pigeon's in its plumage of bright waistcoats, came
strutting towards them.

"Er--how are you?" he said in his dandified way, aspirating the
'h' strongly (this difficult letter was almost absolutely safe in
his keeping)--"how are you?"

Each brother wore an air of aggravation as he looked at the other
two, knowing by experience that they would try to eclipse his
ailments.

"We were just saying," said James, "that you don't get any
thinner."

Swithin protruded his pale round eyes with the effort of hearing.

"Thinner? I'm in good case," he said, leaning a little forward,
"not one of your thread-papers like you!"

But, afraid of losing the expansion of his chest, he leaned back
again into a state of immobility, for he prized nothing so highly
as a distinguished appearance.

Aunt Ann turned her old eyes from one to the other. Indulgent
and severe was her look. In turn the three brothers looked at
Ann. She was getting shaky. Wonderful woman! Eighty-six if a
day; might live another ten years, and had never been strong.
Swithin and James, the twins, were only seventy-five, Nicholas a
mere baby of seventy or so. All were strong, and the inference
was comforting. Of all forms of property their respective healths
naturally concerned them most.

"I'm very well in myself," proceeded James, "but my nerves are
out of order. The least thing worries me to death. I shall have
to go to Bath."

"Bath!" said Nicholas. "I've tried Harrogate. That's no good.
What I want is sea air. There's nothing like Yarmouth. Now,
when I go there I sleep...."

"My liver's very bad," interrupted Swithin slowly. "Dreadful
pain here;" and he placed his hand on his right side.

"Want of exercise," muttered James, his eyes on the china. He
quickly added: "I get a pain there, too."

Swithin reddened, a resemblance to a turkey-cock coming upon his
old face.

"Exercise!" he said. "I take plenty: I never use the lift at the
Club."

"I didn't know," James hurried out. "I know nothing about
anybody; nobody tells me anything...."

Swithin fixed him with a stare:

"What do you do for a pain there?"

James brightened.

"I take a compound...."

"How are you, uncle?"

June stood before him, her resolute small face raised from her
little height to his great height, and her hand outheld.

The brightness faded from James's visage.

"How are you?" he said, brooding over her. "So you're going to
Wales to-morrow to visit your young man's aunts? You'll have a
lot of rain there. This isn't real old Worcester." He tapped the
bowl. "Now, that set I gave your mother when she married was the
genuine thing."

June shook hands one by one with her three great-uncles, and
turned to Aunt Ann. A very sweet look had come into the old
lady's face, she kissed the girl's check with trembling fervour.

"Well, my dear," she said, "and so you're going for, a whole
month!"

The girl passed on, and Aunt Ann looked after her slim little
figure. The old lady's round, steel grey eyes, over which a film
like a bird's was beginning to come, followed her wistfully
amongst the bustling crowd, for people were beginning to
say good-bye; and her finger-tips, pressing and pressing against
each other, were busy again with the recharging of her will
against that inevitable ultimate departure of her own.

'Yes,' she thought, 'everybody's been most kind; quite a lot of
people come to congratulate her. She ought to be very happy.'
Amongst the throng of people by the door, the well-dressed throng
drawn from the families of lawyers and doctors, from the Stock
Exchange, and all the innumerable avocations of the upper-middle
class--there were only some twenty percent of Forsytes; but to
Aunt Ann they seemed all Forsytes--and certainly there was not
much difference--she saw only her own flesh and blood. It was
her world, this family, and she knew no other, had never perhaps
known any other. All their little secrets, illnesses,
engagements, and marriages, how they were getting on, and whether
they were making money--all this was her property, her delight,
her life; beyond this only a vague, shadowy mist of--facts and
persons of no real significance. This it was that she would have
to lay down when it came to her turn to die; this which gave to

her that importance, that secret self-importance, without which
none of us can bear to live; and to this she clung wistfully,
with a greed that grew each day! If life were slipping away from
her, this she would retain to the end.

She thought of June's father, young Jolyon, who had run away with
that foreign girl. And what a sad blow to his father and to them
all. Such a promising young fellow! A sad blow, though there
had been no public scandal, most fortunately, Jo's wife seeking
for no divorce! A long time ago! And when June's mother died,
six years ago, Jo had married that woman, and they had two
children now, so she had heard. Still, he had forfeited his
right to be there, had cheated her of the complete fulfilment of
her family pride, deprived her of the rightful pleasure of seeing
and kissing him of whom she had been so proud, such a promising
young fellow! The thought rankled with the bitterness of a
long-inflicted injury in her tenacious old heart. A little water
stood in her eyes. With a handkerchief of the finest lawn she
wiped them stealthily.

"Well, Aunt Ann?" said a voice behind.

Soames Forsyte, flat-shouldered, clean-shaven, flat-cheeked,
flat-waisted, yet with something round and secret about his whole
appearance, looked downwards and aslant at Aunt Ann, as though
trying to see through the side of his own nose.

"And what do you think of the engagement?" he asked.

Aunt Ann's eyes rested on him proudly; of all the nephews since
young Jolyon's departure from the family nest, he was now her
favourite, for she recognised in him a sure trustee of the family
soul that must so soon slip beyond her keeping.

"Very nice for the young man," she said; "and he's a good-looking
young fellow; but I doubt if he's quite the right lover for dear
June."

Soames touched the edge of a gold-lacquered lustre.

"She'll tame him," he said, stealthily wetting his finger and
rubbing it on the knobby bulbs. "That's genuine old lacquer; you
can't get it nowadays. It'd do well in a sale at Jobson's." He
spoke with relish, as though he felt that he was cheering up his
old aunt. It was seldom he was so confidential. "I wouldn't
mind having it myself," he added; "you can always get your price
for old lacquer."

"You're so clever with all those things," said Aunt Ann. "And
how is dear Irene?"

Soames's smile died.

"Pretty well," he said. "Complains she can't sleep; she sleeps a
great deal better than I do," and he looked at his wife, who was
talking to Bosinney by the door.

Aunt Ann sighed.

"Perhaps," she said, "it will be just as well for her not to see
so much of June. She's such a decided character, dear June!"

Soames flushed; his flushes passed rapidly over his flat cheeks
and centered between his eyes, where they remained, the stamp of
disturbing thoughts.

"I don't know what she sees in that little flibbertigibbet," he
burst out, but noticing that they were no longer alone, he turned
and again began examining the lustre.

"They tell me Jolyon's bought another house," said his father's
voice close by; "he must have a lot of money--he must have more
money than he knows what to do with! Montpellier Square, they
say; close to Soames! They never told me, Irene never tells me
anything!"

"Capital position, not two minutes from me," said the voice of
Swithin, "and from my rooms I can drive to the Club in eight."

The position of their houses was of vital importance to the
Forsytes, nor was this remarkable, since the whole spirit of
their success was embodied therein.

Their father, of farming stock, had come from Dorsetshire near
the beginning of the century.

'Superior Dosset Forsyte, as he was called by his intimates, had
been a stonemason by trade, and risen to the position of a
master-builder.

Towards the end of his life he moved to London, where, building
on until he died, he was buried at Highgate. He left over thirty
thousand pounds between his ten children. Old Jolyon alluded to
him, if at all, as 'A hard, thick sort of man; not much
refinement about him.' The second generation of Forsytes felt
indeed that, he was not greatly to their credit. The only
aristocratic trait they could find in his character was a habit
of drinking Madeira.

Aunt Hester, an authority on family history, described him thus:
"I don't recollect that he ever did anything; at least, not in my
time. He was er--an owner of houses, my dear. His hair about
your Uncle Swithin's colour; rather a square build. Tall? No--
not very tall" (he had been five feet, five, with a mottled
face); "a fresh-coloured man. I remember he used to drink
Madeira; but ask your Aunt Ann. What was his father? He--er--
had to do with the land down in Dorsetshire, by the sea."

James once went down to see for himself what sort of place this
was that they had come from. He found two old farms, with a cart
track rutted into the pink earth, leading down to a mill by the
beach; a little grey church with a buttressed outer wall, and a
smaller and greyer chapel. The stream which worked the mill came
bubbling down in a dozen rivulets, and pigs were hunting round
that estuary. A haze hovered over the prospect. Down this
hollow, with their feet deep in the mud and their faces towards
the sea, it appeared that the primeval Forsytes had been content
to walk Sunday after Sunday for hundreds of years.

Whether or no James had cherished hopes of an inheritance, or of
something rather distinguished to be found down there, he came
back to town in a poor way, and went about with a pathetic
attempt at making the best of a bad job.

"There's very little to be had out of that," he said; "regular
country little place, old as the hills...."

Its age was felt to be a comfort. Old Jolyon, in whom a
desperate honesty welled up at times, would allude to his
ancestors as: "Yeomen--I suppose very small beer." Yet he would
repeat the word 'yeomen' as if it afforded him consolation.

They had all done so well for themselves, these Forsytes, that
they were all what is called 'of a certain position.' They had
shares in all sorts of things, not as yet--with the exception of
Timothy--in consols, for they had no dread in life like that of
3 per cent. for their money. They collected pictures, too, and
were supporters of such charitable institutions as might be
beneficial to their sick domestics. From their father, the
builder, they inherited a talent for bricks and mortar.
Originally, perhaps, members of some primitive sect, they were
now in the natural course of things members of the Church of
England, and caused their wives and children to attend with some
regularity the more fashionable churches of the Metropolis. To
have doubted their Christianity would have caused them both pain
and surprise. Some of them paid for pews, thus expressing in the
most practical form their sympathy with the teachings of Christ.

Their residences, placed at stated intervals round the park,
watched like sentinels, lest the fair heart of this London, where
their desires were fixed, should slip from their clutches, and
leave them lower in their own estimations.

There was old Jolyon in Stanhope Place; the Jameses in Park Lane;
Swithin in the lonely glory of orange and blue chambers in Hyde
Park Mansions--he had never married, not he--the Soamses in their
nest off Knightsbridge; the Rogers in Prince's Gardens (Roger was
that remarkable Forsyte who had conceived and carried out the
notion of bringing up his four sons to a new profession.

"Collect house property, nothing like it," he would say; "I never
did anything else").

The Haymans again--Mrs. Hayman was the one married Forsyte
sister--in a house high up on Campden Hill, shaped like a
giraffe, and so tall that it gave the observer a crick in the
neck; the Nicholases in Ladbroke Grove, a spacious abode and a
great bargain; and last, but not least, Timothy's on the
Bayswater Road, where Ann, and Juley, and Hester, lived under his
protection.

But all this time James was musing, and now he inquired of his
host and brother what he had given for that house in Montpellier
Square. He himself had had his eye on a house there for the last
two years, but they wanted such a price.

Old Jolyon recounted the details of his purchase.

"Twenty-two years to run?" repeated James; "The very house I was
after--you've given too much for it!"

Old Jolyon frowned.

"It's not that I want it," said James hastily; it wouldn't suit
my purpose at that price. Soames knows the house, well--he'll
tell you it's too dear--his opinion's worth having."

"I don't," said old Jolyon, "care a fig for his opinion."

"Well," murmured James, "you will have your own way--it's a good
opinion. Good-bye! We're going to drive down to Hurlingham.
They tell me June's going to Wales. You'll be lonely tomorrow.
What'll you do with yourself? You'd better come and dine with
us!"

Old Jolyon refused. He went down to the front door and saw them
into their barouche, and twinkled at them, having already
forgotten his spleen--Mrs. James facing the horses, tall and
majestic with auburn hair; on her left, Irene--the two husbands,
father and son, sitting forward, as though they expected
something, opposite their wives. Bobbing and bounding upon the

spring cushions, silent, swaying to each motion of their chariot,
old Jolyon watched them drive away under the sunlight.

During the drive the silence was broken by Mrs. James.

"Did you ever see such a collection of rumty-too people?"

Soames, glancing at her beneath his eyelids, nodded, and he saw
Irene steal at him one of her unfathomable looks. It is likely
enough that each branch of the Forsyte family made that remark as
they drove away from old Jolyon's 'At Home!'

Amongst the last of the departing guests the fourth and fifth
brothers, Nicholas and Roger, walked away together, directing
their steps alongside Hyde Park towards the Praed Street Station
of the Underground. Like all other Forsytes of a certain age
they kept carriages of their own, and never took cabs if by any
means they could avoid it.

The day was bright, the trees of the Park in the full beauty of
mid-June foliage; the brothers did not seem to notice phenomena,
which contributed, nevertheless, to the jauntiness of promenade
and conversation.

"Yes," said Roger, "she's a good-lookin' woman, that wife of
Soames's. I'm told they don't get on."

This brother had a high forehead, and the freshest colour of any
of the Forsytes; his light grey eyes measured the street frontage
of the houses by the way, and now and then he would level his,
umbrella and take a 'lunar,' as he expressed it, of the varying
heights.

"She'd no money," replied Nicholas.

He himself had married a good deal of money, of which, it being
then the golden age before the Married Women's Property Act, he
had mercifully been enabled to make a successful use.

"What was her father?"

"Heron was his name, a Professor, so they tell me."

Roger shook his head.

"There's no money in that," he said.

"They say her mother's father was cement."

Roger's face brightened.

"But he went bankrupt," went on Nicholas.

"Ah!" exclaimed Roger, "Soames will have trouble with her; you
mark my words, he'll have trouble--she's got a foreign look."

Nicholas licked his lips.

"She's a pretty woman," and he waved aside a crossing-sweeper.

"How did he get hold of her?" asked Roger presently. "She must
cost him a pretty penny in dress!"

"Ann tells me," replied Nicholas," he was half-cracked about her.
She refused him five times. James, he's nervous about it, I can
see."

"Ah!" said Roger again; "I'm sorry for James; he had trouble with
Dartie." His pleasant colour was heightened by exercise, he swung
his umbrella to the level of his eye more frequently than ever.
Nicholas's face also wore a pleasant look.

"Too pale for me," he said, "but her figures capital!"

Roger made no reply.

"I call her distinguished-looking," he said at last--it was the
highest praise in the Forsyte vocabulary. "That young Bosinney
will never do any good for himself. They say at Burkitt's he's
one of these artistic chaps--got an idea of improving English
architecture; there's no money in that! I should like to hear
what Timothy would say to it."

They entered the station.

"What class are you going? I go second."

"No second for me," said Nicholas;--"you never know what you may
catch."

He took a first-class ticket to Notting Hill Gate; Roger a second
to South Kensington. The train coming in a minute later, the two
brothers parted and entered their respective compartments. Each
felt aggrieved that the other had not modified his habits to
secure his society a little longer; but as Roger voiced it in his
thoughts:
'Always a stubborn beggar, Nick!'

And as Nicholas expressed it to himself:

'Cantankerous chap Roger--always was!'

There was little sentimentality about the Forsytes. In that
great London, which they had conquered and become merged in, what
time had they to be sentimental?





Man of Property by John Galsworthy
Category:
English Novel

General Fiction
Nabou.com: the big site