On Forsyte 'Change, by John Galsworthy

The Sorrows of Tweetyman, 1895

When Marian, daughter of Nicholas Forsyte, married Edward Tweetyman in 1882, Nicholas was heard to say: “That chap’ll never make money, she’d better have married his brother.” The remark, repeated on Forsyte ‘Change, invited the family’s dispassionate consideration of two individuals as far apart in character and appearance as is permitted by the laws of consanguinity and partnership. The two Tweetymans were engineers by profession, and regrettably, it was felt, pump manufacturers in practice, having their business premises in King William Street. Albert, the elder, was square and stocky in build, red and fleshy in face, with an early smile, and Georgian eyes that reminded one of a bull concerned with Europa. He it was who took the orders, directed the operations, and made the money. Edward, the younger, was a little taller and a great deal thinner, with a refined white face and hollowed temple bones; his weak hair waved faintly on his white forehead, his weak and fair moustache drooped like twin wisps of hay above a selfless smile, and his pale blue eyes looked wistfully forth with the saintlike fervour of an inventor. He invented the pumps, or at least understood how they worked, had a passion for truth, and lived as it were at the bottom of the wells for which they were both designed. Incidentally he received what his brother didn’t. It was not much. But being of a loyal and unassuming nature he was not conscious of the discrepancy. Albert had the force of one born to rake in, Edward the charm of one born to give out. The family soon perceived how just had been the remark of Nicholas. But it is not improbable that in this conclusion Marian had been before them. She had, for a daughter of Nicholas, a somewhat sweetened disposition, redeemed by a distinctly having tendency; a good-looking, well-built young woman with an instinctive knowledge of how to dress any shop window. In marrying Edward Tweetyman she had perhaps overlooked the fact that before you can dress a shop window there must be one to dress. The fellow had none. His frontage, as it were, was of stained glass, and she could set nothing in it. With the real shrewdness which she inherited from her father, she had accepted the fact before her honeymoon was over, and had decided to exhibit him unvarnished and ungarnished for what he was worth. This was extraordinarily little in a monetary sense — say four hundred a year and possibilities. She herself had the three hundred and fifty which Nicholas, with a perfect equity, gave to all his children when he threw them out of the nest in Ladbroke Grove. But even in the ‘eighties, seven hundred and fifty a year was not the income of a Forsyte with a collecting propensity and fashionable proclivities, so that it was not surprising that Marian banked on the ‘possibilities.’ Difficult indeed to live with Edward Tweetyman without noticing how illumined by ideas he was: as from one of those wells to which he was always fitting his pumps, they bubbled from him by day and even by night. But with her more practical nature Marian soon grasped the fact that Edward’s mind never pursued those ideas to the pitch of profit; his mind stopped at the discovery — the invented machine; what would come of it he left to “my brother.” So left, they were not possibilities; Albert, in the words of the prophet, or rather of her cousin George Forsyte, would always ‘nobble the lot.’ It was not long before she was saying on Forsyte ‘Change that Edward was ‘a genius and a saint’; which in the terms of family common-sense equalled ‘unpractical and rarefied in his conjugal attentions.’ And every sympathy was felt with Marian’s obvious intention to fill the silk purse she had acquired. It was thought, however, that she might have trouble, bounded on the West by Nicholas, and on the East by Edward’s brother. She herself recognised these limitations, for her first attempt was to break towards the South and ally her Tweetyman with one Charles Podmore of North Street, Westminster. He it was who, not long before, had eaten the cherries of Rachel and Cicely, on the Lake of Lucerne, to show them that maggots were harmless when taken in any quantity, and had been a friend of the family ever since. Meeting him at a dance given by her Aunt, Mrs. Roger Forsyte, at Prince’s Gate, Marian soon discovered in him a fanatical devotee of ice cream. He had, in advance of science, expressed the opinion that there was nothing more nourishing and wholesome, a very daring view at a period when what gave sensual pleasure was still almost universally regarded as harmful. “Everybody,” he said, “ought to eat it; it only wants a really good machine.” She had introduced him and his idea to Edward in a corridor, certain that something would come of it. The acquaintanceship ripened at Hurlingham on tickets furnished by Podmore, a man of independent means, who desired them to see him shooting pigeons; for this was in the full blush of that desirable practice, when a robuster community still connected the expression pigeon-shooting with the expression sport. The afternoon, however, furnished Marian with a fresh instance of her Edward’s impracticability and plunged her into a certain gloom. For as Podmore was about to destroy his seventh pigeon running, Tweetyman, who had hitherto been occupied by an idea for helping the seat of his chair to turn itself up on a spring, said loudly: “Look out, bird!” and Podmore missed. Marian took him away almost immediately. “How on earth, Edward,” she said, in the hansom cab, “you expect ever to get on if you are so absentminded, I can’t think.” Edward smiled, and looking forth with his pale fervour, said: “Pigeon’s wings are hinged like this,” moving a bluish white forefinger in front of Marian’s eyes. “Quite!” she answered drily — perhaps the first use of this expression —“but are you going to do anything about that ice cream machine? Charles Podmore is set on it, and he has lots of money.” He had pressed her hand. “The Romans,” he said, “knew how to make ice cream better than we do”; and then began nodding his head, from which she understood that an idea had come to him. She had lived on hopefully and abstained from bothering him with questions, for she had a horror of fussing, till one day, going almost mechanically through his pockets, she came on a beautiful little drawing of an ice cream machine in a catalogue connected with the pumps of A. & E. Tweetyman, and realised that it had been finished and had passed into the keeping of his brother. She was really angry. The incident raised so acutely the whole question of his brother in relation to his possibilities. Something must be done! And she did it! She invited his brother to dinner, and on the principle of Greek cut Armenian, exerted all her wiles to get her father to meet him. It was seldom indeed that Nicholas would budge from his fireside, his papers, and his evening journal, except for those public functions at which he invariably made the best speech of the evening. But, though he had no declared preferences among his children, Marian was secretly his favourite; and he came. The evening was one long battle for the soul, or rather the possibilities, of Tweetyman, and he remained completely unconscious of the fact. The whole difficulty with the man, indeed, arose from the impossibility of making him realise his own sorrows. Here he was, with his real gifts, wholly at the beck and call of that despoiler his brother, and incapable of resenting it. Here, if the battle went against his brother, he would be — as Marian realised before the night was out — wholly at the beck and call of Nicholas’s Companies, and incapable of profiting by it. For a side of her father’s character which she had never yet realised, was revealed to Marian that evening: If he secured and employed Edward, it would be as a servant to his Companies and not as a son-inlaw — no nepotism for HIM! In other words Edward the inventor would jump out of one sorrow into another just as deep, and do it without a sigh. Marian had seldom been more disillusioned. The net result of the affair was that Nicholas left the house with an added respect for Albert, and less respect for Edward. When Marian got her husband to bed, she did not blow out the candle, but lay on her side and looked at him. He was lying on his back, with his temple bones extremely hollowed, and a slight smile under the wisps of his moustache. Something Nicholas had said in connection with the watering of engines on his railway had started his inventivity, and he was already halfway towards an improvement. In that dim light he looked almost too saint-like, above his flannel nightgown. Marian was moved; there was charm in the man in spite of the sorrows of which he was so unconscious, and after all she had married him for love. A long time she looked at him with a faint greed in her eyes, and a faint flush on her cheeks.

“Edward,” she said at last, “you seem very far away. After all, I AM your wife.”

The lever which at the moment was engaging his attention, dropped.

“Certainly, my dear!” he said, and turned towards her. She took full advantage of the movement. After all, he had other possibilities, and the evening need not be entirely wasted.

The result, Patricia, was in 1895 already twelve years old, and to her father one of his best inventions. The years had contracted his girth and increased that of his brother, now an Alderman. The aspirations of Marian had remained unfulfilled. True, Nicholas now allowed his children £500 a year apiece, and Edward was drawing £700 a year from his brother, but what was this to a comely and fashionable young matron? The sorrows of her Tweetyman seemed to her more, and to him, if anything, less noticeable than ever. For he was engaged on what he regarded as, so far, his prime invention, a species of pump for the evacuation of goods from Cross Channel and other steamers. He was almost blue-white now and perfectly happy. His cheeks were even more hollow than his temple bones, and Marian had almost despaired of his possibilities. So much so, that her old feeling against his brother had changed to a sort of regard for his possessive genius. That she had remained entirely faithful to her man of sorrows says much for his charm, and the sterling qualities of a Forsyte.

The year of 1895 will long be remembered for its weather. After opening with a frost of some two months’ duration, it broke into a passion of warmth and life which lingered on into the late autumn. A bone-shaking automobile rattled people around at the South Kensington Exhibition, bicycles were all the rage, the river Thames was covered with punts; young matrons went astray. That Marian felt the temper of the year cannot be denied, but to say that she had anything but the most domestic intentions in what has now to be related, would not be true. As Edward approached the finish of his momentous invention, she approached her Waterloo. It was surely now or never, if his possibilities were ever to be capitalised, and his sorrows abated! And she conceived a plan which for daring and realism was indeed worthy of a daughter of Nicholas. To snatch her Edward out of the jaws of sorrow she proceeded to lay deliberate siege to Albert. Though an Alderman, he was still a bachelor, a man of full habit and much red blood, in every respect the reverse of her poor Edward. She besieged him with little dinners, after which she would place him with his cigar in a very easy chair; and send Edward up to his invention. Sitting well within Albert’s view in an evening dress admirably cut to display her charms, she would soothe and incite him with conversation bordering on sex: the scandal of the year (that year fortunately very considerable), the latest dancer, this novel, that play. From this it was easy to pass to the playing of piquet, a game during which the knees of opponents can with a little care be made to touch. Nor was it many days before she perceived with a well-simulated surprise that the virile Albert was smouldering. Her duty was then plain. She threw with circumspection just enough cold water on him; performed just sufficiently the function of the wet blanket; watched him fume and then begin to go out; and lit him again with her eyes and knees. After many evenings of this careful preparation she felt that to whatever lead she gave, he would respond adequately; and her only fear was that he would respond before she gave it. This, though it might not be altogether unpleasant, would defeat the truly domestic object she had in view, namely, that Edward should discover her in his arms. She wished to synchronise this discovery by Edward so far as possible with the actual completion of his invention. For she reasoned thus: Unless he had finished it he might be so upset that he would never finish it; whereas if he had finished it she would beg him to take her right away from this man, his brother, to have nothing more to do with him, and to go straight into Featherstone’s firm on his own terms with his new invention. It was essential to get Edward to realise that Albert was violently in love with her, and that he would never believe unless he saw it for himself. She had already prepared Featherstone’s firm, which was indeed monetarily composed of Charles Podmore; and she had prepared Albert. It now remained to prepare Edward. This caused her much reflection. The room where Edward wrestled with his inventive fancy was at the top of the house, and the problem was how to get him down to the drawing-room so that he could surprise her in the arms of Albert, without going up to fetch him. It was some time before she hit on the solution — simple when thought of, like all great solutions: She would hide the model. She calculated that it would take him two minutes to get upstairs and moon around, finding that it was gone. Another three minutes to search and return to the drawing-room to ask her what could have happened to it. If then she lighted Albert up four minutes after Edward went upstairs she would be fairly safe.

It was not till the morning of the longest day that Edward, singing like a wren in his bath, announced to her that he had completed the model of his invention. Looking at his emaciated form, she said drily: “And high time too.” After breakfast she wired to Albert (telephones were not yet installed) to come and dine that evening. Having carefully ordered a heating meal she awaited the crisis with a fluttering heart. All went well during dinner, even to the touching of her foot by Albert, to which she did not respond, so that his eyes became more than ever like the bull’s in connection with Europa. She brought up the subject of the new invention, and suggested to Edward that after dinner he should go up and bring the model down. Sitting there, opposite her, his face, though hollow and almost blue, had the shining happiness of one about to enter heaven; and a certain compunction seized on her for the shock she was going to give him. ‘It’s for his good,’ she thought, and passed the tip of her toe across Albert’s instep. Dear Edward, how blind he was! When, in the drawing-room, they had partaken of coffee, she said: “Now, Edward!” and looked at the clock. As Edward left the room, she left the sofa, and moved towards the clock. It was of ormolu, a wedding present from her Uncle Roger, and stood on the mantelpiece.

“Albert!” she said, “come here! I want your opinion on this clock.”

The Alderman rose. Through her lashes she could see the added flush on his fleshy face, and his quivering lips that almost seemed to slobber. He stood beside her, and with her eyes on the clock Marian pointed out its period. When exactly four minutes had elapsed her straining ears caught a sound on the stairs, and she moved awkwardly, so that her white shoulder came in contact with his chest. The rest was automatic; she found herself face to face with him, his arms round her waist and his lips inclining for her lips. She reined back and his mouth came forward, reaching for her neck. All was as it should be. Then the door opened, and there stood Patricia in her dressing-gown.

“Mummy!” came her treble cry, “Daddy’s lost his — Oh!” She vanished: and with a sensation as of vertigo Marian heard her shriller:

“Daddy, Daddy! Quick! Uncle Albert’s biting Mummy’s neck!”

Then it was that Marian showed her breeding. With inimitable presence of mind she lost it and fell on the sofa in one of those dead faints which are so difficult to see through. Edward, attended by the scared Patricia, found her with Albert standing by and running his fingers through his somewhat scant but well-pomatumed hair.

“Here, I say!” he said, “she’s fainted”; and with a certain aplomb, added: “It’s the heat.”

They revived her with some difficulty, and on Edward’s arm she went up to bed. Albert departed.

“If Albert hadn’t caught me,” she said on the stairs, “I should have fallen badly; it’s lucky he’s so strong. Patricia, Daddy’s model is in the top cupboard. I put it there for safety, and forgot to tell him.”

Three days later the model was patented by A. & E. Tweetyman. Edward had seen nothing. Patricia, who had seen everything, was young and easily gulled; but for some days Marian’s manner to her offspring, who had spoiled it all, was somewhat sharp. Her defeat had been so signal that, like the sensible woman she was, she accepted it completely. Edward was hopeless! She gave him up. A man of sorrows, who, until he died of it, would never know what manner of man he was. As for Albert, she gave him up too. With difficulty Edward noticed that his brother was never asked to dinner again.

It was in a mood of Forsytean humour, one day, that Marian told the story of her defeat to her sister Euphemia, whose squeaks on the occasion were notable; and through this source it became current on Forsyte ‘Change.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37