The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 15

Old Jolyon at the Zoo

Old Jolyon disposed of his second Meeting — an ordinary Board — summarily. He was so dictatorial that his fellow directors were left in cabal over the increasing domineeringness of old Forsyte, which they were far from intending to stand much longer, they said.

He went out by Underground to Portland Road Station, whence he took a cab and drove to the Zoo.

He had an assignation there, one of those assignations that had lately been growing more frequent, to which his increasing uneasiness about June and the ‘change in her,’ as he expressed it, was driving him.

She buried herself away, and was growing thin; if he spoke to her he got no answer, or had his head snapped off, or she looked as if she would burst into tears. She was as changed as she could be, all through this Bosinney. As for telling him about anything, not a bit of it!

And he would sit for long spells brooding, his paper unread before him, a cigar extinct between his lips. She had been such a companion to him ever since she was three years old! And he loved her so!

Forces regardless of family or class or custom were beating down his guard; impending events over which he had no control threw their shadows on his head. The irritation of one accustomed to have his way was roused against he knew not what.

Chafing at the slowness of his cab, he reached the Zoo door; but, with his sunny instinct for seizing the good of each moment, he forgot his vexation as he walked towards the tryst.

From the stone terrace above the bear-pit his son and his two grandchildren came hastening down when they saw old Jolyon coming, and led him away towards the lion-house. They supported him on either side, holding one to each of his hands — whilst Jolly, perverse like his father, carried his grandfather’s umbrella in such a way as to catch people’s legs with the crutch of the handle.

Young Jolyon followed.

It was as good as a play to see his father with the children, but such a play as brings smiles with tears behind. An old man and two small children walking together can be seen at any hour of the day; but the sight of old Jolyon, with Jolly and Holly seemed to young Jolyon a special peep-show of the things that lie at the bottom of our hearts. The complete surrender of that erect old figure to those little figures on either hand was too poignantly tender, and, being a man of an habitual reflex action, young Jolyon swore softly under his breath. The show affected him in a way unbecoming to a Forsyte, who is nothing if not undemonstrative.

Thus they reached the lion-house.

There had been a morning fete at the Botanical Gardens, and a large number of Forsy . . . ’— that is, of well-dressed people who kept carriages had brought them on to the Zoo, so as to have more, if possible, for their money, before going back to Rutland Gate or Bryanston Square.

“Let’s go on to the Zoo,” they had said to each other; “it’ll be great fun!” It was a shilling day; and there would not be all those horrid common people.

In front of the long line of cages they were collected in rows, watching the tawny, ravenous beasts behind the bars await their only pleasure of the four-and-twenty hours. The hungrier the beast, the greater the fascination. But whether because the spectators envied his appetite, or, more humanely, because it was so soon to be satisfied, young Jolyon could not tell. Remarks kept falling on his ears: “That’s a nasty-looking brute, that tiger!” “Oh, what a love! Look at his little mouth!” “Yes, he’s rather nice! Don’t go too near, mother.”

And frequently, with little pats, one or another would clap their hands to their pockets behind and look round, as though expecting young Jolyon or some disinterested-looking person to relieve them of the contents.

A well-fed man in a white waistcoat said slowly through his teeth: “It’s all greed; they can’t be hungry. Why, they take no exercise.” At these words a tiger snatched a piece of bleeding liver, and the fat man laughed. His wife, in a Paris model frock and gold nose-nippers, reproved him: “How can you laugh, Harry? Such a horrid sight!”

Young Jolyon frowned.

The circumstances of his life, though he had ceased to take a too personal view of them, had left him subject to an intermittent contempt; and the class to which he had belonged — the carriage class — especially excited his sarcasm.

To shut up a lion or tiger in confinement was surely a horrible barbarity. But no cultivated person would admit this.

The idea of its being barbarous to confine wild animals had probably never even occurred to his father for instance; he belonged to the old school, who considered it at once humanizing and educational to confine baboons and panthers, holding the view, no doubt, that in course of time they might induce these creatures not so unreasonably to die of misery and heart-sickness against the bars of their cages, and put the society to the expense of getting others! In his eyes, as in the eyes of all Forsytes, the pleasure of seeing these beautiful creatures in a state of captivity far outweighed the inconvenience of imprisonment to beasts whom God had so improvidently placed in a state of freedom! It was for the animals good, removing them at once from the countless dangers of open air and exercise, and enabling them to exercise their functions in the guaranteed seclusion of a private compartment! Indeed, it was doubtful what wild animals were made for but to be shut up in cages!

But as young Jolyon had in his constitution the elements of impartiality, he reflected that to stigmatize as barbarity that which was merely lack of imagination must be wrong; for none who held these views had been placed in a similar position to the animals they caged, and could not, therefore, be expected to enter into their sensations. It was not until they were leaving the gardens — Jolly and Holly in a state of blissful delirium — that old Jolyon found an opportunity of speaking to his son on the matter next his heart. “I don’t know what to make of it,” he said; “if she’s to go on as she’s going on now, I can’t tell what’s to come. I wanted her to see the doctor, but she won’t. She’s not a bit like me. She’s your mother all over. Obstinate as a mule! If she doesn’t want to do a thing, she won’t, and there’s an end of it!”

Young Jolyon smiled; his eyes had wandered to his father’s chin. ‘A pair of you,’ he thought, but he said nothing.

“And then,” went on old Jolyon, “there’s this Bosinney. I should like to punch the fellow’s head, but I can’t, I suppose, though — I don’t see why you shouldn’t,” he added doubtfully.

“What has he done? Far better that it should come to an end, if they don’t hit it off!”

Old Jolyon looked at his son. Now they had actually come to discuss a subject connected with the relations between the sexes he felt distrustful. Jo would be sure to hold some loose view or other.

“Well, I don’t know what you think,” he said; “I dare say your sympathy’s with him — shouldn’t be surprised; but I think he’s behaving precious badly, and if he comes my way I shall tell him so.” He dropped the subject.

It was impossible to discuss with his son the true nature and meaning of Bosinney’s defection. Had not his son done the very same thing (worse, if possible) fifteen years ago? There seemed no end to the consequences of that piece of folly.

Young Jolyon also was silent; he had quickly penetrated his father’s thought, for, dethroned from the high seat of an obvious and uncomplicated view of things, he had become both perceptive and subtle.

The attitude he had adopted towards sexual matters fifteen years before, however, was too different from his father’s. There was no bridging the gulf.

He said coolly: “I suppose he’s fallen in love with some other woman?”

Old Jolyon gave him a dubious look: “I can’t tell,” he said; “they say so!”

“Then, it’s probably true,” remarked young Jolyon unexpectedly; “and I suppose they’ve told you who she is?”

“Yes,” said old Jolyon, “Soames’s wife!”

Young Jolyon did not whistle: The circumstances of his own life had rendered him incapable of whistling on such a subject, but he looked at his father, while the ghost of a smile hovered over his face.

If old Jolyon saw, he took no notice.

“She and June were bosom friends!” he muttered.

“Poor little June!” said young Jolyon softly. He thought of his daughter still as a babe of three.

Old Jolyon came to a sudden halt.

“I don’t believe a word of it,” he said, “it’s some old woman’s tale. Get me a cab, Jo, I’m tired to death!”

They stood at a corner to see if an empty cab would come along, while carriage after carriage drove past, bearing Forsytes of all descriptions from the Zoo. The harness, the liveries, the gloss on the horses’ coats, shone and glittered in the May sunlight, and each equipage, landau, sociable, barouche, Victoria, or brougham, seemed to roll out proudly from its wheels:

‘I and my horses and my men you know,’ Indeed the whole turn-out have cost a pot. But we were worth it every penny. Look At Master and at Missis now, the dawgs! Ease with security — ah! that’s the ticket!

And such, as everyone knows, is fit accompaniment for a perambulating Forsyte.

Amongst these carriages was a barouche coming at a greater pace than the others, drawn by a pair of bright bay horses. It swung on its high springs, and the four people who filled it seemed rocked as in a cradle.

This chariot attracted young Jolyon’s attention; and suddenly, on the back seat, he recognised his Uncle James, unmistakable in spite of the increased whiteness of his whiskers; opposite, their backs defended by sunshades, Rachel Forsyte and her elder but married sister, Winifred Dartie, in irreproachable toilettes, had posed their heads haughtily, like two of the birds they had been seeing at the Zoo; while by James’ side reclined Dartie, in a brand-new frock-coat buttoned tight and square, with a large expanse of carefully shot linen protruding below each wristband.

An extra, if subdued, sparkle, an added touch of the best gloss or varnish characterized this vehicle, and seemed to distinguish it from all the others, as though by some happy extravagance — like that which marks out the real ‘work of art’ from the ordinary ‘picture’— it were designated as the typical car, the very throne of Forsytedom.

Old Jolyon did not see them pass; he was petting poor Holly who was tired, but those in the carriage had taken in the little group; the ladies’ heads tilted suddenly, there was a spasmodic screening movement of parasols; James’ face protruded naively, like the head of a long bird, his mouth slowly opening. The shield-like rounds of the parasols grew smaller and smaller, and vanished.

Young Jolyon saw that he had been recognised, even by Winifred, who could not have been more than fifteen when he had forfeited the right to be considered a Forsyte.

There was not much change in them! He remembered the exact look of their turn-out all that time ago: Horses, men, carriage — all different now, no doubt — but of the precise stamp of fifteen years before; the same neat display, the same nicely calculated arrogance ease with security! The swing exact, the pose of the sunshades exact, exact the spirit of the whole thing.

And in the sunlight, defended by the haughty shields of parasols, carriage after carriage went by.

“Uncle James has just passed, with his female folk,” said young Jolyon.

His father looked black. “Did your uncle see us? Yes? Hmph! What’s he want, coming down into these parts?”

An empty cab drove up at this moment, and old Jolyon stopped it.

“I shall see you again before long, my boy!” he said. “Don’t you go paying any attention to what I’ve been saying about young Bosinney — I don’t believe a word of it!”

Kissing the children, who tried to detain him, he stepped in and was borne away.

Young Jolyon, who had taken Holly up in his arms, stood motionless at the corner, looking after the cab.

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