The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 31

Bosinney’s Departure

Old Jolyon was not given to hasty decisions; it is probable that he would have continued to think over the purchase of the house at Robin Hill, had not June’s face told him that he would have no peace until he acted.

At breakfast next morning she asked him what time she should order the carriage.

“Carriage!” he said, with some appearance of innocence; “what for? I’m not going out!”

She answered: “If you don’t go early, you won’t catch Uncle James before he goes into the City.”

“James! what about your Uncle James?”

“The house,” she replied, in such a voice that he no longer pretended ignorance.

“I’ve not made up my mind,” he said.

“You must! You must! Oh! Gran — think of me!”

Old Jolyon grumbled out: “Think of you — I’m always thinking of you, but you don’t think of yourself; you don’t think what you’re letting yourself in for. Well, order the carriage at ten!”

At a quarter past he was placing his umbrella in the stand at Park Lane — he did not choose to relinquish his hat and coat; telling Warmson that he wanted to see his master, he went, without being announced, into the study, and sat down.

James was still in the dining-room talking to Soames, who had come round again before breakfast. On hearing who his visitor was, he muttered nervously: “Now, what’s he want, I wonder?”

He then got up.

“Well,” he said to Soames, “don’t you go doing anything in a hurry. The first thing is to find out where she is — I should go to Stainer’s about it; they’re the best men, if they can’t find her, nobody can.” And suddenly moved to strange softness, he muttered to himself, “Poor little thing, I can’t tell what she was thinking about!” and went out blowing his nose.

Old Jolyon did not rise on seeing his brother, but held out his hand, and exchanged with him the clasp of a Forsyte.

James took another chair by the table, and leaned his head on his hand.

“Well,” he said, “how are you? We don’t see much of you nowadays!”

Old Jolyon paid no attention to the remark.

“How’s Emily?” he asked; and waiting for no reply, went on “I’ve come to see you about this affair of young Bosinney’s. I’m told that new house of his is a white elephant.”

“I don’t know anything about a white elephant,” said James, “I know he’s lost his case, and I should say he’ll go bankrupt.”

Old Jolyon was not slow to seize the opportunity this gave him.

“I shouldn’t wonder a bit!” he agreed; “and if he goes bankrupt, the ‘man of property’— that is, Soames’ll be out of pocket. Now, what I was thinking was this: If he’s not going to live there. . . . ”

Seeing both surprise and suspicion in James’ eye, he quickly went on: “I don’t want to know anything; I suppose Irene’s put her foot down — it’s not material to me. But I’m thinking of a house in the country myself, not too far from London, and if it suited me I don’t say that I mightn’t look at it, at a price.”

James listened to this statement with a strange mixture of doubt, suspicion, and relief, merging into a dread of something behind, and tinged with the remains of his old undoubted reliance upon his elder brother’s good faith and judgment. There was anxiety, too, as to what old Jolyon could have heard and how he had heard it; and a sort of hopefulness arising from the thought that if June’s connection with Bosinney were completely at an end, her grandfather would hardly seem anxious to help the young fellow. Altogether he was puzzled; as he did not like either to show this, or to commit himself in any way, he said:

“They tell me you’re altering your Will in favour of your son.”

He had not been told this; he had merely added the fact of having seen old Jolyon with his son and grandchildren to the fact that he had taken his Will away from Forsyte, Bustard and Forsyte. The shot went home.

“Who told you that?” asked old Jolyon.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” said James; “I can’t remember names — I know somebody told me Soames spent a lot of money on this house; he’s not likely to part with it except at a good price.”

“Well,” said old Jolyon, “if, he thinks I’m going to pay a fancy price, he’s mistaken. I’ve not got the money to throw away that he seems to have. Let him try and sell it at a forced sale, and see what he’ll get. It’s not every man’s house, I hear!”

James, who was secretly also of this opinion, answered: “It’s a gentleman’s house. Soames is here now if you’d like to see him.”

“No,” said old Jolyon, “I haven’t got as far as that; and I’m not likely to, I can see that very well if I’m met in this manner!”

James was a little cowed; when it came to the actual figures of a commercial transaction he was sure of himself, for then he was dealing with facts, not with men; but preliminary negotiations such as these made him nervous — he never knew quite how far he could go.

“Well,” he said, “I know nothing about it. Soames, he tells me nothing; I should think he’d entertain it — it’s a question of price.”

“Oh!” said old Jolyon, “don’t let him make a favour of it!” He placed his hat on his head in dudgeon.

The door was opened and Soames came in.

“There’s a policeman out here,” he said with his half smile, “for Uncle Jolyon.”

Old Jolyon looked at him angrily, and James said: “A policeman? I don’t know anything about a policeman. But I suppose you know something about him,” he added to old Jolyon with a look of suspicion: “I suppose you’d better see him!”

In the hall an Inspector of Police stood stolidly regarding with heavy-lidded pale-blue eyes the fine old English furniture picked up by James at the famous Mavrojano sale in Portman Square. “You’ll find my brother in there,” said James.

The Inspector raised his fingers respectfully to his peaked cap, and entered the study.

James saw him go in with a strange sensation.

“Well,” he said to Soames, “I suppose we must wait and see what he wants. Your uncle’s been here about the house!”

He returned with Soames into the dining-room, but could not rest.

“Now what does he want?” he murmured again.

“Who?” replied Soames: “the Inspector? They sent him round from Stanhope Gate, that’s all I know. That ‘nonconformist’ of Uncle Jolyon’s has been pilfering, I shouldn’t wonder!”

But in spite of his calmness, he too was ill at ease.

At the end of ten minutes old Jolyon came in. He walked up to the table, and stood there perfectly silent pulling at his long white moustaches. James gazed up at him with opening mouth; he had never seen his brother look like this.

Old Jolyon raised his hand, and said slowly:

“Young Bosinney has been run over in the fog and killed.”

Then standing above his brother and his nephew, and looking down at him with his deep eyes:

“There’s — some — talk — of — suicide,” he said.

James’ jaw dropped. “Suicide! What should he do that for?”

Old Jolyon answered sternly: “God knows, if you and your son don’t!”

But James did not reply.

For all men of great age, even for all Forsytes, life has had bitter experiences. The passer-by, who sees them wrapped in cloaks of custom, wealth, and comfort, would never suspect that such black shadows had fallen on their roads. To every man of great age — to Sir Walter Bentham himself — the idea of suicide has once at least been present in the ante-room of his soul; on the threshold, waiting to enter, held out from the inmost chamber by some chance reality, some vague fear, some painful hope. To Forsytes that final renunciation of property is hard. Oh! it is hard! Seldom — perhaps never — can they achieve, it; and yet, how near have they not sometimes been!

So even with James! Then in the medley of his thoughts, he broke out: “Why I saw it in the paper yesterday: ‘Run over in the fog!’ They didn’t know his name!” He turned from one face to the other in his confusion of soul; but instinctively all the time he was rejecting that rumour of suicide. He dared not entertain this thought, so against his interest, against the interest of his son, of every Forsyte. He strove against it; and as his nature ever unconsciously rejected that which it could not with safety accept, so gradually he overcame this fear. It was an accident! It must have been!

Old Jolyon broke in on his reverie.

“Death was instantaneous. He lay all day yesterday at the hospital. There was nothing to tell them who he was. I am going there now; you and your son had better come too.”

No one opposing this command he led the way from the room.

The day was still and clear and bright, and driving over to Park Lane from Stanhope Gate, old Jolyon had had the carriage open. Sitting back on the padded cushions, finishing his cigar, he had noticed with pleasure the keen crispness of the air, the bustle of the cabs and people; the strange, almost Parisian, alacrity that the first fine day will bring into London streets after a spell of fog or rain. And he had felt so happy; he had not felt like it for months. His confession to June was off his mind; he had the prospect of his son’s, above all, of his grandchildren’s company in the future —(he had appointed to meet young Jolyon at the Hotch Potch that very manning to — discuss it again); and there was the pleasurable excitement of a coming encounter, a coming victory, over James and the ‘man of property’ in the matter of the house.

He had the carriage closed now; he had no heart to look on gaiety; nor was it right that Forsytes should be seen driving with an Inspector of Police.

In that carriage the Inspector spoke again of the death:

“It was not so very thick — Just there. The driver says the gentleman must have had time to see what he was about, he seemed to walk right into it. It appears that he was very hard up, we found several pawn tickets at his rooms, his account at the bank is overdrawn, and there’s this case in to-day’s papers;” his cold blue eyes travelled from one to another of the three Forsytes in the carriage.

Old Jolyon watching from his corner saw his brother’s face change, and the brooding, worried, look deepen on it. At the Inspector’s words, indeed, all James’ doubts and fears revived. Hard-up — pawn-tickets — an overdrawn account! These words that had all his life been a far-off nightmare to him, seemed to make uncannily real that suspicion of suicide which must on no account be entertained. He sought his son’s eye; but lynx-eyed, taciturn, immovable, Soames gave no answering look. And to old Jolyon watching, divining the league of mutual defence between them, there came an overmastering desire to have his own son at his side, as though this visit to the dead man’s body was a battle in which otherwise he must single-handed meet those two. And the thought of how to keep June’s name out of the business kept whirring in his brain. James had his son to support him! Why should he not send for Jo?

Taking out his card-case, he pencilled the following message:

‘Come round at once. I’ve sent the carriage for you.’

On getting out he gave this card to his coachman, telling him to drive — as fast as possible to the Hotch Potch Club, and if Mr. Jolyon Forsyte were there to give him the card and bring him at once. If not there yet, he was to wait till he came.

He followed the others slowly up the steps, leaning on his umbrella, and stood a moment to get his breath. The Inspector said: “This is the mortuary, sir. But take your time.”

In the bare, white-walled room, empty of all but a streak of sunshine smeared along the dustless floor, lay a form covered by a sheet. With a huge steady hand the Inspector took the hem and turned it back. A sightless face gazed up at them, and on either side of that sightless defiant face the three Forsytes gazed down; in each one of them the secret emotions, fears, and pity of his own nature rose and fell like the rising, falling waves of life, whose wish those white walls barred out now for ever from Bosinney. And in each one of them the trend of his nature, the odd essential spring, which moved him in fashions minutely, unalterably different from those of every other human being, forced him to a different attitude of thought. Far from the others, yet inscrutably close, each stood thus, alone with death, silent, his eyes lowered.

The Inspector asked softly:

“You identify the gentleman, sir?”

Old Jolyon raised his head and nodded. He looked at his brother opposite, at that long lean figure brooding over the dead man, with face dusky red, and strained grey eyes; and at the figure of Soames white and still by his father’s side. And all that he had felt against those two was gone like smoke in the long white presence of Death. Whence comes it, how comes it — Death? Sudden reverse of all that goes before; blind setting forth on a path that leads to where? Dark quenching of the fire! The heavy, brutal crushing — out that all men must go through, keeping their eyes clear and brave unto the end! Small and of no import, insects though they are! And across old Jolyon’s face there flitted a gleam, for Soames, murmuring to the Inspector, crept noiselessly away.

Then suddenly James raised his eyes. There was a queer appeal in that suspicious troubled look: “I know I’m no match for you,” it seemed to say. And, hunting for handkerchief he wiped his brow; then, bending sorrowful and lank over the dead man, he too turned and hurried out.

Old Jolyon stood, still as death, his eyes fixed on the body. Who shall tell of what he was thinking? Of himself, when his hair was brown like the hair of that young fellow dead before him? Of himself, with his battle just beginning, the long, long battle he had loved; the battle that was over for this young man almost before it had begun? Of his grand-daughter, with her broken hopes? Of that other woman? Of the strangeness, and the pity of it? And the irony, inscrutable, and bitter of that end? Justice! There was no justice for men, for they were ever in the dark!

Or perhaps in his philosophy he thought: Better to be out of, it all! Better to have done with it, like this poor youth. . . .

Some one touched him on the arm.

A tear started up and wetted his eyelash. “Well,” he said, “I’m no good here. I’d better be going. You’ll come to me as soon as you can, Jo,” and with his head bowed he went away.

It was young Jolyon’s turn to take his stand beside the dead man, round whose fallen body he seemed to see all the Forsytes breathless, and prostrated. The stroke had fallen too swiftly.

The forces underlying every tragedy — forces that take no denial, working through cross currents to their ironical end, had met and fused with a thunder-clap, flung out the victim, and flattened to the ground all those that stood around.

Or so at all events young Jolyon seemed to see them, lying around Bosinney’s body.

He asked the Inspector to tell him what had happened, and the latter, like a man who does not every day get such a chance, again detailed such facts as were known.

“There’s more here, sir, however,” he said, “than meets the eye. I don’t believe in suicide, nor in pure accident, myself. It’s more likely I think that he was suffering under great stress of mind, and took no notice of things about him. Perhaps you can throw some light on these.”

He took from his pocket a little packet and laid it on the table. Carefully undoing it, he revealed a lady’s handkerchief, pinned through the folds with a pin of discoloured Venetian gold, the stone of which had fallen from the socket. A scent of dried violets rose to young Jolyon’s nostrils.

“Found in his breast pocket,” said the Inspector; “the name has been cut away!”

Young Jolyon with difficulty answered: “I’m afraid I cannot help you!” But vividly there rose before him the face he had seen light up, so tremulous and glad, at Bosinney’s coming! Of her he thought more than of his own daughter, more than of them all — of her with the dark, soft glance, the delicate passive face, waiting for the dead man, waiting even at that moment, perhaps, still and patient in the sunlight.

He walked sorrowfully away from the hospital towards his father’s house, reflecting that this death would break up the Forsyte family. The stroke had indeed slipped past their defences into the very wood of their tree. They might flourish to all appearance as before, preserving a brave show before the eyes of London, but the trunk was dead, withered by the same flash that had stricken down Bosinney. And now the saplings would take its place, each one a new custodian of the sense of property.

Good forest of Forsytes! thought young Jolyon — soundest timber of our land!

Concerning the cause of this death — his family would doubtless reject with vigour the suspicion of suicide, which was so compromising! They would take it as an accident, a stroke of fate. In their hearts they would even feel it an intervention of Providence, a retribution — had not Bosinney endangered their two most priceless possessions, the pocket and the hearth? And they would talk of ‘that unfortunate accident of young Bosinney’s,’ but perhaps they would not talk — silence might be better!

As for himself, he regarded the bus-driver’s account of the accident as of very little value. For no one so madly in love committed suicide for want of money; nor was Bosinney the sort of fellow to set much store by a financial crisis. And so he too rejected this theory of suicide, the dead man’s face rose too clearly before him. Gone in the heyday of his summer — and to believe thus that an accident had cut Bosinney off in the full sweep of his passion was more than ever pitiful to young Jolyon.

Then came a vision of Soames’ home as it now was, and must be hereafter. The streak of lightning had flashed its clear uncanny gleam on bare bones with grinning spaces between, the disguising flesh was gone. . . .

In the dining-room at Stanhope Gate old Jolyon was sitting alone when his son came in. He looked very wan in his great armchair. And his eyes travelling round the walls with their pictures of still life, and the masterpiece ‘Dutch fishing-boats at Sunset’ seemed as though passing their gaze over his life with its hopes, its gains, its achievements.

“Ah! Jo!” he said, “is that you? I’ve told poor little June. But that’s not all of it. Are you going to Soames’? She’s brought it on herself, I suppose; but somehow I can’t bear to think of her, shut up there — and all alone.” And holding up his thin, veined hand, he clenched it.

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