If old Jolyon, as he got into his cab, had said: ‘I won’t believe a word of it!’ he would more truthfully have expressed his sentiments.
The notion that James and his womankind had seen him in the company of his son had awakened in him not only the impatience he always felt when crossed, but that secret hostility natural between brothers, the roots of which—little nursery rivalries—sometimes toughen and deepen as life goes on, and, all hidden, support a plant capable of producing in season the bitterest fruits.
Hitherto there had been between these six brothers no more unfriendly feeling than that caused by the secret and natural doubt that the others might be richer than themselves; a feeling increased to the pitch of curiosity by the approach of death—that end of all handicaps—and the great ‘closeness’ of their man of business, who, with some sagacity, would profess to Nicholas ignorance of James’ income, to James ignorance of old Jolyon’s, to Jolyon ignorance of Roger’s, to Roger ignorance of Swithin’s, while to Swithin he would say most irritatingly that Nicholas must be a rich man. Timothy alone was exempt, being in gilt-edged securities.
But now, between two of them at least, had arisen a very different sense of injury. From the moment when James had the impertinence to pry into his affairs—as he put it—old Jolyon no longer chose to credit this story about Bosinney. His grand-daughter slighted through a member of ‘that fellow’s’ family! He made up his mind that Bosinney was maligned. There must be some other reason for his defection.
June had flown out at him, or something; she was as touchy as she could be!
He would, however, let Timothy have a bit of his mind, and see if he would go on dropping hints! And he would not let the grass grow under his feet either, he would go there at once, and take very good care that he didn’t have to go again on the same errand.
He saw James’ carriage blocking the pavement in front of ‘The Bower.’ So they had got there before him—cackling about having seen him, he dared say! And further on, Swithin’s greys were turning their noses towards the noses of James’ bays, as though in conclave over the family, while their coachmen were in conclave above.
Old Jolyon, depositing his hat on the chair in the narrow hall, where that hat of Bosinney’s had so long ago been mistaken for a cat, passed his thin hand grimly over his face with its great drooping white moustaches, as though to remove all traces of expression, and made his way upstairs.
He found the front drawing-room full. It was full enough at the best of times—without visitors—without any one in it—for Timothy and his sisters, following the tradition of their generation, considered that a room was not quite ‘nice’ unless it was ‘properly’ furnished. It held, therefore, eleven chairs, a sofa, three tables, two cabinets, innumerable knicknacks, and part of a large grand piano. And now, occupied by Mrs. Small, Aunt Hester, by Swithin, James, Rachel, Winifred, Euphemia, who had come in again to return ‘Passion and Paregoric’ which she had read at lunch, and her chum Frances, Roger’s daughter (the musical Forsyte, the one who composed songs), there was only one chair left unoccupied, except, of course, the two that nobody ever sat on—and the only standing room was occupied by the cat, on whom old Jolyon promptly stepped.
In these days it was by no means unusual for Timothy to have so many visitors. The family had always, one and all, had a real respect for Aunt Ann, and now that she was gone, they were coming far more frequently to The Bower, and staying longer.
Swithin had been the first to arrive, and seated torpid in a red satin chair with a gilt back, he gave every appearance of lasting the others out. And symbolizing Bosinney’s name ‘the big one,’ with his great stature and bulk, his thick white hair, his puffy immovable shaven face, he looked more primeval than ever in the highly upholstered room.
His conversation, as usual of late, had turned at once upon Irene, and he had lost no time in giving Aunts Juley and Hester his opinion with regard to this rumour he heard was going about. No—as he said—she might want a bit of flirtation—a pretty woman must have her fling; but more than that he did not believe. Nothing open; she had too much good sense, too much proper appreciation of what was due to her position, and to the family! No sc—, he was going to say ‘scandal’ but the very idea was so preposterous that he waved his hand as though to say—’but let that pass!’
Granted that Swithin took a bachelor’s view of the situation—still what indeed was not due to that family in which so many had done so well for themselves, had attained a certain position? If he had heard in dark, pessimistic moments the words ‘yeomen’ and ‘very small beer’ used in connection with his origin, did he believe them?
No! he cherished, hugging it pathetically to his bosom the secret theory that there was something distinguished somewhere in his ancestry.
“Must be,” he once said to young Jolyon, before the latter went to the bad. “Look at us, we’ve got on! There must be good blood in us somewhere.”
He had been fond of young Jolyon: the boy had been in a good set at College, had known that old ruffian Sir Charles Fiste’s sons—a pretty rascal one of them had turned out, too; and there was style about him—it was a thousand pities he had run off with that half-foreign governess! If he must go off like that why couldn’t he have chosen someone who would have done them credit! And what was he now?—an underwriter at Lloyd’s; they said he even painted pictures—pictures! Damme! he might have ended as Sir Jolyon Forsyte, Bart., with a seat in Parliament, and a place in the country!
It was Swithin who, following the impulse which sooner or later urges thereto some member of every great family, went to the Heralds’ Office, where they assured him that he was undoubtedly of the same family as the well-known Forsites with an ‘i,’ whose arms were ‘three dexter buckles on a sable ground gules,’ hoping no doubt to get him to take them up.
Swithin, however, did not do this, but having ascertained that the crest was a ‘pheasant proper,’ and the motto ‘For Forsite,’ he had the pheasant proper placed upon his carriage and the buttons of his coachman, and both crest and motto on his writing-paper. The arms he hugged to himself, partly because, not having paid for them, he thought it would look ostentatious to put them on his carriage, and he hated ostentation, and partly because he, like any practical man all over the country, had a secret dislike and contempt for things he could not understand he found it hard, as anyone might, to swallow ‘three dexter buckles on a sable ground gules.’
He never forgot, however, their having told him that if he paid for them he would be entitled to use them, and it strengthened his conviction that he was a gentleman. Imperceptibly the rest of the family absorbed the ‘pheasant proper,’ and some, more serious than others, adopted the motto; old Jolyon, however, refused to use the latter, saying that it was humbug meaning nothing, so far as he could see.
Among the older generation it was perhaps known at bottom from what great historical event they derived their crest; and if pressed on the subject, sooner than tell a lie—they did not like telling lies, having an impression that only Frenchmen and Russians told them—they would confess hurriedly that Swithin had got hold of it somehow.
Among the younger generation the matter was wrapped in a discretion proper. They did not want to hurt the feelings of their elders, nor to feel ridiculous themselves; they simply used the crest….
“No,” said Swithin, “he had had an opportunity of seeing for himself, and what he should say was, that there was nothing in her manner to that young Buccaneer or Bosinney or whatever his name was, different from her manner to himself; in fact, he should rather say….” But here the entrance of Frances and Euphemia put an unfortunate stop to the conversation, for this was not a subject which could be discussed before young people.
And though Swithin was somewhat upset at being stopped like this on the point of saying something important, he soon recovered his affability. He was rather fond of Frances—Francie, as she was called in the family. She was so smart, and they told him she made a pretty little pot of pin-money by her songs; he called it very clever of her.
He rather prided himself indeed on a liberal attitude towards women, not seeing any reason why they shouldn’t paint pictures, or write tunes, or books even, for the matter of that, especially if they could turn a useful penny by it; not at all—kept them out of mischief. It was not as if they were men!
‘Little Francie,’ as she was usually called with good-natured contempt, was an important personage, if only as a standing illustration of the attitude of Forsytes towards the Arts. She was not really ‘little,’ but rather tall, with dark hair for a Forsyte, which, together with a grey eye, gave her what was called ‘a Celtic appearance.’ She wrote songs with titles like ‘Breathing Sighs,’ or ‘Kiss me, Mother, ere I die,’ with a refrain like an anthem:
‘Kiss me, Mother, ere I die; Kiss me-kiss me, Mother, ah! Kiss, ah! kiss me e-ere I— Kiss me, Mother, ere I d-d-die!’ She wrote the words to them herself, and other poems. In lighter moments she wrote waltzes, one of which, the ‘Kensington Coil,’ was almost national to Kensington, having a sweet dip in it.
It was very original. Then there were her ‘Songs for Little People,’ at once educational and witty, especially ‘Gran’ma’s Porgie,’ and that ditty, almost prophetically imbued with the coming Imperial spirit, entitled ‘Black Him In His Little Eye.’
Any publisher would take these, and reviews like ‘High Living,’ and the ‘Ladies’ Genteel Guide’ went into raptures over: ‘Another of Miss Francie Forsyte’s spirited ditties, sparkling and pathetic. We ourselves were moved to tears and laughter. Miss Forsyte should go far.’
With the true instinct of her breed, Francie had made a point of knowing the right people—people who would write about her, and talk about her, and people in Society, too—keeping a mental register of just where to exert her fascinations, and an eye on that steady scale of rising prices, which in her mind’s eye represented the future. In this way she caused herself to be universally respected.
Once, at a time when her emotions were whipped by an attachment—for the tenor of Roger’s life, with its whole-hearted collection of house property, had induced in his only daughter a tendency towards passion—she turned to great and sincere work, choosing the sonata form, for the violin. This was the only one of her productions that troubled the Forsytes. They felt at once that it would not sell.
Roger, who liked having a clever daughter well enough, and often alluded to the amount of pocket-money she made for herself, was upset by this violin sonata.
“Rubbish like that!” he called it. Francie had borrowed young Flageoletti from Euphemia, to play it in the drawing-room at Prince’s Gardens.
As a matter of fact Roger was right. It was rubbish, but—annoying! the sort of rubbish that wouldn’t sell. As every Forsyte knows, rubbish that sells is not rubbish at all—far from it.
And yet, in spite of the sound common sense which fixed the worth of art at what it would fetch, some of the Forsytes—Aunt Hester, for instance, who had always been musical—could not help regretting that Francie’s music was not ‘classical’. the same with her poems. But then, as Aunt Hester said, they didn’t see any poetry nowadays, all the poems were ‘little light things.’
There was nobody who could write a poem like ‘Paradise Lost,’ or ‘Childe Harold’. either of which made you feel that you really had read something. Still, it was nice for Francie to have something to occupy her; while other girls were spending money shopping she was making it!
And both Aunt Hester and Aunt Juley were always ready to listen to the latest story of how Francie had got her price increased.
They listened now, together with Swithin, who sat pretending not to, for these young people talked so fast and mumbled so, he never could catch what they said.
“And I can’t think,” said Mrs. Septimus, “how you do it. I should never have the audacity!”
Francie smiled lightly. “I’d much rather deal with a man than a woman. Women are so sharp!”
“My dear,” cried Mrs. Small, “I’m sure we’re not.”
Euphemia went off into her silent laugh, and, ending with the squeak, said, as though being strangled: “Oh, you’ll kill me some day, auntie.”
Swithin saw no necessity to laugh; he detested people laughing when he himself perceived no joke. Indeed, he detested Euphemia altogether, to whom he always alluded as ‘Nick’s daughter, what’s she called—the pale one?’ He had just missed being her god-father—indeed, would have been, had he not taken a firm stand against her outlandish name. He hated becoming a godfather. Swithin then said to Francie with dignity: “It’s a fine day—er—for the time of year.” But Euphemia, who knew perfectly well that he had refused to be her godfather, turned to Aunt Hester, and began telling her how she had seen Irene—Mrs. Soames—at the Church and Commercial Stores.
“And Soames was with her?” said Aunt Hester, to whom Mrs. Small had as yet had no opportunity of relating the incident.
“Soames with her? Of course not!”
“But was she all alone in London?”
“Oh, no; there was Mr. Bosinney with her. She was perfectly dressed.”
But Swithin, hearing the name Irene, looked severely at Euphemia, who, it is true, never did look well in a dress, whatever she may have done on other occasions, and said:
“Dressed like a lady, I’ve no doubt. It’s a pleasure to see her.”
At this moment James and his daughters were announced. Dartie, feeling badly in want of a drink, had pleaded an appointment with his dentist, and, being put down at the Marble Arch, had got into a hansom, and was already seated in the window of his club in Piccadilly.
His wife, he told his cronies, had wanted to take him to pay some calls. It was not in his line—not exactly. Haw!
Hailing the waiter, he sent him out to the hall to see what had won the 4.30 race. He was dog-tired, he said, and that was a fact; had been drivin’ about with his wife to ‘shows’ all the afternoon. Had put his foot down at last. A fellow must live his own life.
At this moment, glancing out of the bay window—for he loved this seat whence he could see everybody pass—his eye unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, chanced to light on the figure of Soames, who was mousing across the road from the Green Park-side, with the evident intention of coming in, for he, too, belonged to ‘The Iseeum.’
Dartie sprang to his feet; grasping his glass, he muttered something about ‘that 4.30 race,’ and swiftly withdrew to the card-room, where Soames never came. Here, in complete isolation and a dim light, he lived his own life till half past seven, by which hour he knew Soames must certainly have left the club.
It would not do, as he kept repeating to himself whenever he felt the impulse to join the gossips in the bay-window getting too strong for him—it absolutely would not do, with finances as low as his, and the ‘old man’ (James) rusty ever since that business over the oil shares, which was no fault of his, to risk a row with Winifred.
If Soames were to see him in the club it would be sure to come round to her that he wasn’t at the dentist’s at all. He never knew a family where things ‘came round’ so. Uneasily, amongst the green baize card-tables, a frown on his olive coloured face, his check trousers crossed, and patent-leather boots shining through the gloom, he sat biting his forefinger, and wondering where the deuce he was to get the money if Erotic failed to win the Lancashire Cup.
His thoughts turned gloomily to the Forsytes. What a set they were! There was no getting anything out of them—at least, it was a matter of extreme difficulty. They were so d—-d particular about money matters; not a sportsman amongst the lot, unless it were George. That fellow Soames, for instance, would have a fit if you tried to borrow a tenner from him, or, if he didn’t have a fit, he looked at you with his cursed supercilious smile, as if you were a lost soul because you were in want of money.
And that wife of his (Dartie’s mouth watered involuntarily), he had tried to be on good terms with her, as one naturally would with any pretty sister-in-law, but he would be cursed if the (he mentally used a coarse word)—would have anything to say to him—she looked at him, indeed, as if he were dirt—and yet she could go far enough, he wouldn’t mind betting. He knew women; they weren’t made with soft eyes and figures like that for nothing, as that fellow Soames would jolly soon find out, if there were anything in what he had heard about this Buccaneer Johnny.
Rising from his chair, Dartie took a turn across the room, ending in front of the looking-glass over the marble chimney-piece; and there he stood for a long time contemplating in the glass the reflection of his face. It had that look, peculiar to some men, of having been steeped in linseed oil, with its waxed dark moustaches and the little distinguished commencements of side whiskers; and concernedly he felt the promise of a pimple on the side of his slightly curved and fattish nose.
In the meantime old Jolyon had found the remaining chair in Timothy’s commodious drawing-room. His advent had obviously put a stop to the conversation, decided awkwardness having set in. Aunt Juley, with her well-known kindheartedness, hastened to set people at their ease again.
“Yes, Jolyon,” she said, “we were just saying that you haven’t been here for a long time; but we mustn’t be surprised. You’re busy, of course? James was just saying what a busy time of year….”
“Was he?” said old Jolyon, looking hard at James. “It wouldn’t be half so busy if everybody minded their own business.”
James, brooding in a small chair from which his knees ran uphill, shifted his feet uneasily, and put one of them down on the cat, which had unwisely taken refuge from old Jolyon beside him.
“Here, you’ve got a cat here,” he said in an injured voice, withdrawing his foot nervously as he felt it squeezing into the soft, furry body.
“Several,” said old Jolyon, looking at one face and another; “I trod on one just now.”
A silence followed.
Then Mrs. Small, twisting her fingers and gazing round with ‘pathetic calm’, asked: “And how is dear June?”
A twinkle of humour shot through the sternness of old Jolyon’s eyes. Extraordinary old woman, Juley! No one quite like her for saying the wrong thing!
“Bad!” he said; “London don’t agree with her—too many people about, too much clatter and chatter by half.” He laid emphasis on the words, and again looked James in the face.
A feeling of its being too dangerous to take a step in any direction, or hazard any remark, had fallen on them all. Something of the sense of the impending, that comes over the spectator of a Greek tragedy, had entered that upholstered room, filled with those white-haired, frock-coated old men, and fashionably attired women, who were all of the same blood, between all of whom existed an unseizable resemblance.
Not that they were conscious of it—the visits of such fateful, bitter spirits are only felt.
Then Swithin rose. He would not sit there, feeling like that—he was not to be put down by anyone! And, manoeuvring round the room with added pomp, he shook hands with each separately.
“You tell Timothy from me,” he said, “that he coddles himself too much!” Then, turning to Francie, whom he considered ‘smart,’ he added: “You come with me for a drive one of these days.” But this conjured up the vision of that other eventful drive which had been so much talked about, and he stood quite still for a second, with glassy eyes, as though waiting to catch up with the significance of what he himself had said; then, suddenly recollecting that he didn’t care a damn, he turned to old Jolyon: “Well, good-bye, Jolyon! You shouldn’t go about without an overcoat; you’ll be getting sciatica or something!” And, kicking the cat slightly with the pointed tip of his patent leather boot, he took his huge form away.
When he had gone everyone looked secretly at the others, to see how they had taken the mention of the word ‘drive’—the word which had become famous, and acquired an overwhelming importance, as the only official—so to speak—news in connection with the vague and sinister rumour clinging to the family tongue.
Euphemia, yielding to an impulse, said with a short laugh: “I’m glad Uncle Swithin doesn’t ask me to go for drives.”
Mrs. Small, to reassure her and smooth over any little awkwardness the subject might have, replied: “My dear, he likes to take somebody well dressed, who will do him a little credit. I shall never forget the drive he took me. It was an experience!” And her chubby round old face was spread for a moment with a strange contentment; then broke into pouts, and tears came into her eyes. She was thinking of that long ago driving tour she had once taken with Septimus Small.
James, who had relapsed into his nervous brooding in the little chair, suddenly roused himself: “He’s a funny fellow, Swithin,” he said, but in a half-hearted way.
Old Jolyon’s silence, his stern eyes, held them all in a kind of paralysis. He was disconcerted himself by the effect of his own words—an effect which seemed to deepen the importance of the very rumour he had come to scotch; but he was still angry.
He had not done with them yet—No, no—he would give them another rub or two.
He did not wish to rub his nieces, he had no quarrel with them—a young and presentable female always appealed to old Jolyon’s clemency—but that fellow James, and, in a less degree perhaps, those others, deserved all they would get. And he, too, asked for Timothy.
As though feeling that some danger threatened her younger brother, Aunt Juley suddenly offered him tea: “There it is,” she said, “all cold and nasty, waiting for you in the back drawing room, but Smither shall make you some fresh.”
Old Jolyon rose: “Thank you,” he said, looking straight at James, “but I’ve no time for tea, and—scandal, and the rest of it! It’s time I was at home. Good-bye, Julia; good-bye, Hester; good-bye, Winifred.”
Without more ceremonious adieux, he marched out.
Once again in his cab, his anger evaporated, for so it ever was with his wrath—when he had rapped out, it was gone. Sadness came over his spirit. He had stopped their mouths, maybe, but at what a cost! At the cost of certain knowledge that the rumour he had been resolved not to believe was true. June was abandoned, and for the wife of that fellow’s son! He felt it was true, and hardened himself to treat it as if it were not; but the pain he hid beneath this resolution began slowly, surely, to vent itself in a blind resentment against James and his son.
The six women and one man left behind in the little drawing-room began talking as easily as might be after such an occurrence, for though each one of them knew for a fact that he or she never talked scandal, each one of them also knew that the other six did; all were therefore angry and at a loss. James only was silent, disturbed, to the bottom of his soul.
Presently Francie said: “Do you know, I think Uncle Jolyon is terribly changed this last year. What do you think, Aunt Hester?”
Aunt Hester made a little movement of recoil: “Oh, ask your Aunt Julia!” she said; “I know nothing about it.”
No one else was afraid of assenting, and James muttered gloomily at the floor: “He’s not half the man he was.”
“I’ve noticed it a long time,” went on Francie; “he’s aged tremendously.”
Aunt Juley shook her head; her face seemed suddenly to have become one immense pout.
“Poor dear Jolyon,” she said, “somebody ought to see to it for him!”
There was again silence; then, as though in terror of being left solitarily behind, all five visitors rose simultaneously, and took their departure.
Mrs. Small, Aunt Hester, and their cat were left once more alone, the sound of a door closing in the distance announced the approach of Timothy.
That evening, when Aunt Hester had just got off to sleep in the back bedroom that used to be Aunt Juley’s before Aunt Juley took Aunt Ann’s, her door was opened, and Mrs. Small, in a pink night-cap, a candle in her hand, entered: “Hester!” she said. “Hester!”
Aunt Hester faintly rustled the sheet.
“Hester,” repeated Aunt Juley, to make quite sure that she had awakened her, “I am quite troubled about poor dear Jolyon. What,” Aunt Juley dwelt on the word, “do you think ought to be done?”
Aunt Hester again rustled the sheet, her voice was heard faintly pleading: “Done? How should I know?”
Aunt Juley turned away satisfied, and closing the door with extra gentleness so as not to disturb dear Hester, let it slip through her fingers and fall to with a ‘crack.’
Back in her own room, she stood at the window gazing at the moon over the trees in the Park, through a chink in the muslin curtains, close drawn lest anyone should see. And there, with her face all round and pouting in its pink cap, and her eyes wet, she thought of ‘dear Jolyon,’ so old and so lonely, and how she could be of some use to him; and how he would come to love her, as she had never been loved since—since poor Septimus went away.