In the morning of his case, which was second in the list, Soames
was again obliged to start without seeing Irene, and it was just
as well, for he had not as yet made up his mind what attitude to
adopt towards her.
He had been requested to be in court by half-past ten, to provide
against the event of the first action (a breach of promise)
collapsing, which however it did not, both sides showing a
courage that afforded Waterbuck, Q.C., an opportunity for
improving his already great reputation in this class of case. He
was opposed by Ram, the other celebrated breach of promise man.
It was a battle of giants.
The court delivered judgment just before the luncheon interval.
The jury left the box for good, and Soames went out to get
something to eat. He met James standing at the little luncheon-
bar, like a pelican in the wilderness of the galleries, bent over
a sandwich with a glass of sherry before him. The spacious
emptiness of the great central hall, over which father and son
brooded as they stood together, was marred now and then for a
fleeting moment by barristers in wig and gown hurriedly bolting
across, by an occasional old lady or rusty-coated man, looking up
in a frightened way, and by two persons, bolder than their
generation, seated in an embrasure arguing. The sound of their
voices arose, together with a scent as of neglected wells, which,
mingling with the odour of the galleries, combined to form the
savour, like nothing but the emanation of a refined cheese, so
indissolubly connected with the administration of British
It was not long before James addressed his son.
"When's your case coming on? I suppose it'll be on directly. I
shouldn't wonder if this Bosinney'd say anything; I should think
he'd have to. He'll go bankrupt if it goes against him." He took
a large bite at his sandwich and a mouthful of sherry. "Your
mother," he said, "wants you and Irene to come and dine
A chill smile played round Soames' lips; he looked back at his
father. Anyone who had seen the look, cold and furtive, thus
interchanged, might have been pardoned for not appreciating the
real understanding between them. James finished his sherry at a
"How much?" he asked.
On returning to the court Soames took at once his rightful seat
on the front bench beside his solicitor. He ascertained where
his father was seated with a glance so sidelong as to commit
James, sitting back with his hands clasped over the handle of his
umbrella, was brooding on the end of the bench immediately behind
counsel, whence he could get away at once when the case was over.
He considered Bosinney's conduct in every way outrageous, but he
did not wish to run up against him, feeling that the meeting
would be awkward.
Next to the Divorce Court, this court was, perhaps, the favourite
emporium of justice, libel, breach of promise, and other
commercial actions being frequently decided there. Quite a
sprinkling of persons unconnected with the law occupied the back
benches, and the hat of a woman or two could be seen in the
The two rows of seats immediately in front of James were
gradually filled by barristers in wigs, who sat down to make
pencil notes, chat, and attend to their teeth; but his interest
was soon diverted from these lesser lights of justice by the
entrance of Waterbuck, Q.C., with the wings of his silk gown
rustling, and his red, capable face supported by two short, brown
whiskers. The famous Q.C. looked, as James freely admitted, the
very picture of a man who could heckle a witness.
For all his experience, it so happened that he had never seen
Waterbuck, Q.C., before, and, like many Forsytes in the lower
branch of the profession, he had an extreme admiration for a good
cross-examiner. The long, lugubrious folds in his cheeks relaxed
somewhat after seeing him, especially as he now perceived that
Soames alone was represented by silk.
Waterbuck, Q.C., had barely screwed round on his elbow to chat
with his Junior before Mr. Justice Bentham himself appeared--a
thin, rather hen-like man, with a little stoop, clean-shaven
under his snowy wig. Like all the rest of the court, Waterbuck
rose, and remained on his feet until the judge was seated. James
rose but slightly; he was already comfortable, and had no opinion
of Bentham, having sat next but one to him at dinner twice at the
Bumley Tomms'. Bumley Tomm was rather a poor thing, though he
had been so successful. James himself had given him his first
brief. He was excited, too, for he had just found out that
Bosinney was not in court.
'Now, what's he mean by that?' he kept on thinking.
The case having been called on, Waterbuck, Q.C., pushing back his
papers, hitched his gown on his shoulder, and, with a
semi-circular look around him, like a man who is going to bat,
arose and addressed the Court.
The facts, he said, were not in dispute, and all that his
Lordship would be asked was to interpret the correspondence which
had taken place between his client and the defendant, an
architect, with reference to the decoration of a house. He
would, however, submit that this correspondence could only mean
one very plain thing. After briefly reciting the history of the
house at Robin Hill, which he described as a mansion, and the
actual facts of expenditure, he went on as follows:
"My client, Mr. Soames Forsyte, is a gentleman, a man of
property, who would be the last to dispute any legitimate claim
that might be made against him, but he has met with such
treatment from his architect in the matter of this house, over
which he has, as your lordship has heard, already spent some
twelve--some twelve thousand pounds, a sum considerably in
advance of the amount he had originally contemplated, that as a
matter of principle--and this I cannot too strongly emphasize--as
a matter of principle, and in the interests of others, he has
felt himself compelled to bring this action. The point put
forward in defence by the architect I will suggest to your
lordship is not worthy of a moment's serious consideration." He
then read the correspondence.
His client, "a man of recognised position," was prepared to go
into the box, and to swear that he never did authorize, that it
was never in his mind to authorize, the expenditure of any money
beyond the extreme limit of twelve thousand and fifty pounds,
which he had clearly fixed; and not further to waste the time of
the court, he would at once call Mr. Forsyte.
Soames then went into the box. His whole appearance was striking
in its composure. His face, just supercilious enough, pale and
clean-shaven, with a little line between the eyes, and compressed
lips; his dress in unostentatious order, one hand neatly gloved,
the other bare. He answered the questions put to him in a
somewhat low, but distinct voice. His evidence under cross-
examination savoured of taciturnity.
Had he not used the expression, "a free hand"? No.
The expression he had used was 'a free hand in the terms of this
"Would you tell the Court that that was English?"
"What do you say it means?"
"What it says!"
"Are you prepared to deny that it is a contradiction in terms?"
"You are not an Irishman?"
"Are you a well-educated man?"
"And yet you persist in that statement?"
Throughout this and much more cross-examination, which turned
again and again around the 'nice point,' James sat with his hand
behind his ear, his eyes fixed upon his son.
He was proud of him! He could not but feel that in similar
circumstances he himself would have been tempted to enlarge his
replies, but his instinct told him that this taciturnity was the
very thing. He sighed with relief, however, when Soames, slowly
turning, and without any change of expression, descended from the
When it came to the turn of Bosinney's Counsel to address the
Judge, James redoubled his attention, and he searched the Court
again and again to see if Bosinney were not somewhere concealed.
Young Chankery began nervously; he was placed by Bosinney's
absence in an awkward position. He therefore did his best to
turn that absence to account.
He could not but fear--he said--that his client had met with an
accident. He had fully expected him there to give evidence; they
had sent round that morning both to Mr. Bosinney's office and to
his rooms (though he knew they were one and the same, he thought
it was as well not to say so), but it was not known where he was,
and this he considered to be ominous, knowing how anxious Mr.
Bosinney had been to give his evidence. He had not, however,
been instructed to apply for an adjournment, and in default of
such instruction he conceived it his duty to go on. The plea on
which he somewhat confidently relied, and which his client, had
he not unfortunately been prevented in some way from attending,
would have supported by his evidence, was that such an expression
as a 'free hand' could not be limited, fettered, and rendered
unmeaning, by any verbiage which might follow it. He would go
further and say that the correspondence showed that whatever he
might have said in his evidence, Mr. Forsyte had in fact never
contemplated repudiating liability on any of the work ordered or
executed by his architect. The defendant had certainly never
contemplated such a contingency, or, as was demonstrated by his
letters, he would never have proceeded with the work--a work of
extreme delicacy, carried out with great care and efficiency, to
meet and satisfy the fastidious taste of a connoisseur, a rich
man, a man of property. He felt strongly on this point, and
feeling strongly he used, perhaps, rather strong words when he
said that this action was of a most unjustifiable, unexpected,
indeed--unprecedented character. If his Lordship had had the
opportunity that he himself had made it his duty to take, to go
over this very fine house and see the great delicacy and beauty
of the decorations executed by his client--an artist in his most
honourable profession--he felt convinced that not for one moment
would his Lordship tolerate this, he would use no stronger word
than, daring attempt to evade legitimate responsibility.
Taking the text of Soames' letters, he lightly touched on
'Boileau v. The Blasted Cement Company, Limited.' "It is
doubtful," he said, "what that authority has decided; in any case
I would submit that it is just as much in my favour as in my
friend's." He then argued the 'nice point' closely. With all
due deference he submitted that Mr. Forsyte's expression
nullified itself. His client not being a rich man, the matter
was a serious one for him; he was a very talented architect,
whose professional reputation was undoubtedly somewhat at stake.
He concluded with a perhaps too personal appeal to the Judge, as
a lover of the arts, to show himself the protector of artists,
from what was occasionally--he said occasionally--the too iron
hand of capital. "What," he said, "will be the position of the
artistic professions, if men of property like this Mr. Forsyte
refuse, and are allowed to refuse, to carry out the obligations
of the commissions which they have given." He would now call
his client, in case he should at the last moment have found
himself able to be present.
The name Philip Baynes Bosinney was called three times by the
Ushers, and the sound of the calling echoed with strange
melancholy throughout the Court and Galleries.
The crying of this name, to which no answer was returned, had
upon James a curious effect: it was like calling for your lost
dog about the streets. And the creepy feeling that it gave him,
of a man missing, grated on his sense of comfort and security-on
his cosiness. Though he could not have said why, it made him
He looked now at the clock--a quarter to three! It would be all
over in a quarter of an hour. Where could the young fellow be?
It was only when Mr. Justice Bentham delivered judgment that he
got over the turn he had received.
Behind the wooden erection, by which he was fenced from more
ordinary mortals, the learned Judge leaned forward. The electric
light, just turned on above his head, fell on his face, and
mellowed it to an orange hue beneath the snowy crown of his wig;
the amplitude of his robes grew before the eye; his whole figure,
facing the comparative dusk of the Court, radiated like some
majestic and sacred body. He cleared his throat, took a sip of
water, broke the nib of a quill against the desk, and, folding
his bony hands before him, began.
To James he suddenly loomed much larger than he had ever thought
Bentham would loom. It was the majesty of the law; and a person
endowed with a nature far less matter-of-fact than that of James
might have been excused for failing to pierce this halo, and
disinter therefrom the somewhat ordinary Forsyte, who walked and
talked in every-day life under the name of Sir Walter Bentham.
He delivered judgment in the following words:
"The facts in this case are not in dispute. On May 15 last the
defendant wrote to the plaintiff, requesting to be allowed to
withdraw from his professional position in regard to the
decoration of the plaintiff's house, unless he were given 'a free
hand.' The plaintiff, on May 17, wrote back as follows: '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.'
To this letter the defendant replied on May 18: '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.' On May 19 the
plaintiff wrote as follows: '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.
You have a free hand in the terms of this correspondence, and I
hope you will see your way to completing the decorations.' On
May 20 the defendant replied thus shortly: 'Very well.'
"In completing these decorations, the defendant incurred
liabilities and expenses which brought the total cost of this
house up to the sum of twelve thousand four hundred pounds, all
of which expenditure has been defrayed by the plaintiff. This
action has been brought by the plaintiff to recover from the
defendant the sum of three hundred and fifty pounds expended by
him in excess of a sum of twelve thousand and fifty pounds,
alleged by the plaintiff to have been fixed by this
correspondence as the maximum sum that the defendant had
authority to expend.
"The question for me to decide is whether or no the defendant is
liable to refund to the plaintiff this sum. In my judgment he is
"What in effect the plaintiff has said is this 'I give you a free
hand to complete these decorations, provided that you keep within
a total cost to me of twelve thousand pounds. If you exceed that
sum by as much as fifty pounds, I will not hold you responsible;
beyond that point you are no agent of mine, and I shall repudiate
liability.' It is not quite clear to me whether, had the
plaintiff in fact repudiated liability under his agent's
contracts, he would, under all the circumstances, have been
successful in so doing; but he has not adopted this course. He
has accepted liability, and fallen back upon his rights against
the defendant under the terms of the latter's engagement.
"In my judgment the plaintiff is entitled to recover this sum
from the defendant.
"It has been sought, on behalf of the defendant, to show that no
limit of expenditure was fixed or intended to be fixed by this
correspondence. If this were so, I can find no reason for the
plaintiff's importation into the correspondence of the figures of
twelve thousand pounds and subsequently of fifty pounds. The
defendant's contention would render these figures meaningless.
It is manifest to me that by his letter of May 20 he assented to
a very clear proposition, by the terms of which he must be held
to be bound.
"For these reasons there will be judgment for the plaintiff for
the amount claimed with costs."
James sighed, and stooping, picked up his umbrella which had
fallen with a rattle at the words 'importation into this
Untangling his legs, he rapidly left the Court; without waiting
for his son, he snapped up a hansom cab (it was a clear, grey
afternoon) and drove straight to Timothy's where he found
Swithin; and to him, Mrs. Septimus Small, and Aunt Hester, he
recounted the whole proceedings, eating two muffins not
altogether in the intervals of speech.
"Soames did very well," he ended; "he's got his head screwed on
the right way. This won't please Jolyon. It's a bad business
for that young Bosinney; he'll go bankrupt, I shouldn't wonder,"
and then after a long pause, during which he had stared
disquietly into the fire, he added
"He wasn't there--now why?"
There was a sound of footsteps. The figure of a thick-set man,
with the ruddy brown face of robust health, was seen in the back
drawing-room. The forefinger of his upraised hand was outlined
against the black of his frock coat. He spoke in a grudging
"Well, James," he said, "I can't--I can't stop," and turning
round, he walked out.
It was Timothy.
James rose from his chair. "There!" he said, "there! I knew
there was something wro...." He checked himself, and was silent,
staring before him, as though he had seen a portent.