PERFECTION OF THE HOUSE
'One mockturtle, clear; one oxtail; two glasses of port.'
In the upper room at French's, where a Forsyte could still get
heavy English food, James and his son were sitting down to lunch.
Of all eating-places James liked best to come here; there was
something unpretentious, well-flavoured, and filling about it,
and though he had been to a certain extent corrupted by the
necessity for being fashionable, and the trend of habits keeping
pace with an income that would increase, he still hankered in
quiet City moments after the tasty fleshpots of his earlier days.
Here you were served by hairy English waiters in aprons; there
was sawdust on the floor, and three round gilt looking-glasses
hung just above the line of sight. They had only recently done
away with the cubicles, too, in which you could have your chop,
prime chump, with a floury-potato, without seeing your
neighbours, like a gentleman.
He tucked the top corner of his napkin behind the third button of
his waistcoat, a practice he had been obliged to abandon years
ago in the West End. He felt that he should relish his soup--the
entire morning had been given to winding up the estate of an old
After filling his mouth with household bread, stale, he at once
began: "How are you going down to Robin Hill? You going to take
Irene? You'd better take her. I should think there'll be a lot
that'll want seeing to."
Without looking up, Soames answered: "She won't go."
"Won't go? What's the meaning of that? She's going to live in
the house, isn't she?"
Soames made no reply.
"I don't know what's coming to women nowadays," mumbled James; "I
never used to have any trouble with them. She's had too much
liberty. She's spoiled...."
Soames lifted his eyes: "I won't have anything said against her,"
he said unexpectedly.
The silence was only broken now by the supping of James's soup.
The waiter brought the two glasses of port, but Soames stopped
"That's not the way to serve port," he said; "take them away, and
bring the bottle."
Rousing himself from his reverie over the soup, James took one of
his rapid shifting surveys of surrounding facts.
"Your mother's in bed," he said; "you can have the carriage to
take you down. I should think Irene'd like the drive. This
young Bosinney'll be there, I suppose, to show you over"
"I should like to go and see for myself what sort of a job he's
made finishing off," pursued James. "I'll just drive round and
pick you both up."
"I am going down by train," replied Soames. "If you like to
drive round and see, Irene might go with you, I can't tell."
He signed to the waiter to bring the bill, which James paid.
They parted at St. Paul's, Soames branching off to the station,
James taking his omnibus westwards.
He had secured the corner seat next the conductor, where his long
legs made it difficult for anyone to get in, and at all who
passed him he looked resentfully, as if they had no business to
be using up his air.
He intended to take an opportunity this afternoon of speaking to
Irene. A word in time saved nine; and now that she was going to
live in the country there was a chance for her to turn over a new
leaf! He could see that Soames wouldn't stand very much more of
her goings on!
It did not occur to him to define what he meant by her 'goings
on'; the expression was wide, vague, and suited to a Forsyte.
And James had more than his common share of courage after lunch.
On reaching home, he ordered out the barouche, with special
instructions that the groom was to go too. He wished to be kind
to her, and to give her every chance.
When the door of No.62 was opened he could distinctly hear her
singing, and said so at once, to prevent any chance of being
Yes, Mrs. Soames was in, but the maid did not know if she was
James, moving with the rapidity that ever astonished the
observers of his long figure and absorbed expression, went
forthwith into the drawing-room without permitting this to be
ascertained. He found Irene seated at the piano with her hands
arrested on the keys, evidently listening to the voices in the
hall. She greeted him without smiling.
"Your mother-in-law's in bed," he began, hoping at once to enlist
her sympathy. "I've got the carriage here. Now, be a good girl,
and put on your hat and come with me for a drive. It'll do you
Irene looked at him as though about to refuse, but, seeming to
change her mind, went upstairs, and came down again with her hat
"Where are you going to take me?" she asked.
"We'll just go down to Robin Hill," said James, spluttering out
his words very quick; "the horses want exercise, and I should
like to see what they've been doing down there."
Irene hung back, but again changed her mind, and went out to the
carriage, James brooding over her closely, to make quite sure.
It was not before he had got her more than half way that he
began: "Soames is very fond of you--he won't have anything said
against you; why don't you show him more affection?"
Irene flushed, and said in a low voice: "I can't show what I
James looked at her sharply; he felt that now he had her in his
own carriage, with his own horses and servants, he was really in
command of the situation. She could not put him off; nor would
she make a scene in public.
"I can't think what you're about," he said. "He's a very good
Irene's answer was so low as to be almost inaudible among the
sounds of traffic. He caught the words: "You are not married to
"What's that got to do with it? He's given you everything you
want. He's always ready to take you anywhere, and now he's built
you this house in the country. It's not as if you had anything
of your own."
Again James looked at her; he could not make out the expression
on her face. She looked almost as if she were going to cry, and
"I'm sure," he muttered hastily, "we've all tried to be kind to
Irene's lips quivered; to his dismay James saw a tear steal down
her cheek. He felt a choke rise in his own throat.
"We're all fond of you," he said, "if you'd only"--he was going
to say, "behave yourself," but changed it to--"if you'd only be
more of a wife to him."
Irene did not answer, and James, too, ceased speaking. There was
something in her silence which disconcerted him; it was not the
silence of obstinacy, rather that of acquiescence in all that he
could find to say. And yet he felt as if he had not had the last
word. He could not understand this.
He was unable, however, to long keep silence.
"I suppose that young Bosinney," he said, "will be getting
married to June now?"
Irene's face changed. "I don't know," she said; "you should ask
"Does she write to you?" No.
"How's that?" said James. "I thought you and she were such great
Irene turned on him. "Again," she said, "you should ask her!"
"Well," flustered James, frightened by her look, "it's very odd
that I can't get a plain answer to a plain question, but there it
He sat ruminating over his rebuff, and burst out at last:
"Well, I've warned you. You won't look ahead. Soames he doesn't
say much, but I can see he won't stand a great deal more of this
sort of thing. You'll have nobody but yourself to blame, and,
what's more, you'll get no sympathy from anybody."
Irene bent her head with a little smiling bow. "I am very much
obliged to you."
James did not know what on earth to answer.
The bright hot morning had changed slowly to a grey, oppressive
afternoon; a heavy bank of clouds, with the yellow tinge of
coming thunder, had risen in the south, and was creeping up.
The branches of the trees dropped motionless across the road
without the smallest stir of foliage. A faint odour of glue from
the heated horses clung in the thick air; the coachman and groom,
rigid and unbending, exchanged stealthy murmurs on the box,
without ever turning their heads.
To James' great relief they reached the house at last; the
silence and impenetrability of this woman by his side, whom he
had always thought so soft and mild, alarmed him.
The carriage put them down at the door, and they entered.
The hall was cool, and so still that it was like passing into a
tomb; a shudder ran down James's spine. He quickly lifted the
heavy leather curtains between the columns into the inner court.
He could not restrain an exclamation of approval.
The decoration was really in excellent taste. The dull ruby
tiles that extended from the foot of the walls to the verge of a
circular clump of tall iris plants, surrounding in turn a sunken
basin of white marble filled with water, were obviously of the
best quality. He admired extremely the purple leather curtains
drawn along one entire side, framing a huge white-tiled stove.
The central partitions of the skylight had been slid back, and
the warm air from outside penetrated into the very heart of the
He stood, his hands behind him, his head bent back on his high,
narrow shoulders, spying the tracery on the columns and the
pattern of the frieze which ran round the, ivory-coloured walls
under the gallery. Evidently, no pains had been spared. It was
quite the house of a gentleman. He went up to the curtains, and,
having discovered how they were worked, drew them asunder and
disclosed the picture-gallery, ending in a great window taking up
the whole end of the room. It had a black oak floor, and its
walls, again, were of ivory white. He went on throwing open
doors, and peeping in. Everything was in apple-pie order, ready
for immediate occupation.
He turned round at last to speak to Irene, and saw her standing
over in the garden entrance, with her husband and Bosinney.
Though not remarkable for sensibility, James felt at once that
something was wrong. He went up to them, and, vaguely alarmed,
ignorant of the nature of the trouble, made an attempt to smooth
"How are you, Mr. Bosinney?" he said, holding out his hand.
"You've been spending money pretty freely down here, I should
Soames turned his back, and walked away.
James looked from Bosinney's frowning face to Irene, and, in his
agitation, spoke his thoughts aloud: "Well, I can't tell what's
the matter. Nobody tells me anything!" And, making off after his
son, he heard Bosinney's short laugh, and his "Well, thank God!
You look so...." Most unfortunately he lost the rest.
What had happened? He glanced back. Irene was very close to the
architect, and her face not like the face he knew of her. He
hastened up to his son.
Soames was pacing the picture-gallery.
"What's the matter?" said James. "What's all this?"
Soames looked at him with his supercilious calm unbroken, but
James knew well enough that he was violently angry.
"Our friend," he said, "has exceeded his instructions again,
that's all. So much the worse for him this time."
He turned round and walked back towards the door. James followed
hurriedly, edging himself in front. He saw Irene take her finger
from before her lips, heard her say something in her ordinary
voice, and began to speak before he reached them.
"There's a storm coming on. We'd better get home. We can't take
you, I suppose, Mr. Bosinney? No, I suppose not. Then,
good-bye!" He held out his hand. Bosinney did not take it, but,
turning with a laugh, said:
"Good-bye, Mr. Forsyte. Don't get caught in the storm!" and
"Well," began James, "I don't know...."
But the 'sight of Irene's face stopped him. Taking hold of his
daughter-in-law by the elbow, he escorted her towards the
carriage. He felt certain, quite certain, they had been making
some appointment or other....
Nothing in this world is more sure to upset a Forsyte than the
discovery that something on which he has stipulated to spend a
certain sum has cost more. And this is reasonable, for upon the
accuracy of his estimates the whole policy of his life is
ordered. If he cannot rely on definite values of property, his
compass is amiss; he is adrift upon bitter waters without a helm.
After writing to Bosinney in the terms that have already been
chronicled, Soames had dismissed the cost of the house from his
mind. He believed that he had made the matter of the final cost
so very plain that the possibility of its being again exceeded
had really never entered his head. On hearing from Bosinney that
his limit of twelve thousand pounds would be exceeded by some-
thing like four hundred, he had grown white with anger. His
original estimate of the cost of the house completed had been ten
thousand pounds, and he had often blamed himself severely for
allowing himself to be led into repeated excesses. Over this
last expenditure, however, Bosinney had put himself completely in
the wrong. How on earth a fellow could make such an ass of
himself Soames could not conceive; but he had done so, and all
the rancour and hidden jealousy that had been burning against him
for so long was now focussed in rage at this crowning piece of
extravagance. The attitude of the confident and friendly husband
was gone. To preserve property--his wife--he had assumed it, to
preserve property of another kind he lost it now.
"Ah!" he had said to Bosinney when he could speak, "and I suppose
you're perfectly contented with yourself. But I may as well tell
you that you've altogether mistaken your man!"
What he meant by those words he did not quite know at the time,
but after dinner he looked up the correspondence between himself
and Bosinney to make quite sure. There could be no two opinions
about it--the fellow had made himself liable for that extra four
hundred, or, at all events, for three hundred and fifty of it,
and he would have to make it good.
He was looking at his wife's face when he came to this conclusion.
Seated in her usual seat on the sofa, she was altering the lace
on a collar. She had not once spoken to him all the evening.
He went up to the mantelpiece, and contemplating his face in the
mirror said: "Your friend the Buccaneer has made a fool of
himself; he will have to pay for it!"
She looked at him scornfully, and answered: "I don't know what
you are talking about!"
"You soon will. A mere trifle, quite beneath your contempt--four
"Do you mean that you are going to make him pay that towards this
"And you know he's got nothing?"
"Then you are meaner than I thought you."
Soames turned from the mirror, and unconsciously taking a china
cup from the mantelpiece, clasped his hands around it as though
praying. He saw her bosom rise and fall, her eyes darkening with
anger, and taking no notice of the taunt, he asked quietly:
"Are you carrying on a flirtation with Bosinney?"
"No, I am not!"
Her eyes met his, and he looked away. He neither believed nor
disbelieved her, but he knew that he had made a mistake in
asking; he never had known, never would know, what she was
thinking. The sight of her inscrutable face, the thought of all
the hundreds of evenings he had seen her sitting there like that
soft and passive, but unreadable, unknown, enraged him beyond
"I believe you are made of stone," he said, clenching his fingers
so hard that he broke the fragile cup. The pieces fell into the
grate. And Irene smiled.
"You seem to forget," she said, "that cup is not!"
Soames gripped her arm. "A good beating," he said, "is the only
thing that would bring you to your senses," but turning on his
heel, he left the room.