The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 8

Plans of the House

Forsytes, as is generally admitted, have shells, like that extremely useful little animal which is made into Turkish delight, in other words, they are never seen, or if seen would not be recognised, without habitats, composed of circumstance, property, acquaintances, and wives, which seem to move along with them in their passage through a world composed of thousands of other Forsytes with their habitats. Without a habitat a Forsyte is inconceivable — he would be like a novel without a plot, which is well-known to be an anomaly.

To Forsyte eyes Bosinney appeared to have no habitat, he seemed one of those rare and unfortunate men who go through life surrounded by circumstance, property, acquaintances, and wives that do not belong to them.

His rooms in Sloane Street, on the top floor, outside which, on a plate, was his name, ‘Philip Baynes Bosinney, Architect,’ were not those of a Forsyte. — He had no sitting-room apart from his office, but a large recess had been screened off to conceal the necessaries of life — a couch, an easy chair, his pipes, spirit case, novels and slippers. The business part of the room had the usual furniture; an open cupboard with pigeon-holes, a round oak table, a folding wash-stand, some hard chairs, a standing desk of large dimensions covered with drawings and designs. June had twice been to tea there under the chaperonage of his aunt.

He was believed to have a bedroom at the back.

As far as the family had been able to ascertain his income, it consisted of two consulting appointments at twenty pounds a year, together with an odd fee once in a way, and — more worthy item — a private annuity under his father’s will of one hundred and fifty pounds a year.

What had transpired concerning that father was not so reassuring. It appeared that he had been a Lincolnshire country doctor of Cornish extraction, striking appearance, and Byronic tendencies — a well-known figure, in fact, in his county. Bosinney’s uncle by marriage, Baynes, of Baynes and Bildeboy, a Forsyte in instincts if not in name, had but little that was worthy to relate of his brother-in-law.

“An odd fellow!’ he would say: ‘always spoke of his three eldest boys as ‘good creatures, but so dull’; they’re all doing capitally in the Indian Civil! Philip was the only one he liked. I’ve heard him talk in the queerest way; he once said to me: ‘My dear fellow, never let your poor wife know what you’re thinking of! But I didn’t follow his advice; not I! An eccentric man! He would say to Phil: ‘Whether you live like a gentleman or not, my boy, be sure you die like one! and he had himself embalmed in a frock coat suit, with a satin cravat and a diamond pin. Oh, quite an original, I can assure you!”

Of Bosinney himself Baynes would speak warmly, with a certain compassion: “He’s got a streak of his father’s Byronism. Why, look at the way he threw up his chances when he left my office; going off like that for six months with a knapsack, and all for what? — to study foreign architecture — foreign! What could he expect? And there he is — a clever young fellow — doesn’t make his hundred a year! Now this engagement is the best thing that could have happened — keep him steady; he’s one of those that go to bed all day and stay up all night, simply because they’ve no method; but no vice about him — not an ounce of vice. Old Forsyte’s a rich man!”

Mr. Baynes made himself extremely pleasant to June, who frequently visited his house in Lowndes Square at this period.

“This house of your cousin’s — what a capital man of business — is the very thing for Philip,” he would say to her; “you mustn’t expect to see too much of him just now, my dear young lady. The good cause — the good cause! The young man must make his way. When I was his age I was at work day and night. My dear wife used to say to me, ‘Bobby, don’t work too hard, think of your health’; but I never spared myself!”

June had complained that her lover found no time to come to Stanhope Gate.

The first time he came again they had not been together a quarter of an hour before, by one of those coincidences of which she was a mistress, Mrs. Septimus Small arrived. Thereon Bosinney rose and hid himself, according to previous arrangement, in the little study, to wait for her departure.

“My dear,” said Aunt Juley, “how thin he is! I’ve often noticed it with engaged people; but you mustn’t let it get worse. There’s Barlow’s extract of veal; it did your Uncle Swithin a lot of good.”

June, her little figure erect before the hearth, her small face quivering grimly, for she regarded her aunt’s untimely visit in the light of a personal injury, replied with scorn:

“It’s because he’s busy; people who can do anything worth doing are never fat!”

Aunt Juley pouted; she herself had always been thin, but the only pleasure she derived from the fact was the opportunity of longing to be stouter.

“I don’t think,” she said mournfully, “that you ought to let them call him ‘The Buccaneer’; people might think it odd, now that he’s going to build a house for Soames. I do hope he will be careful; it’s so important for him. Soames has such good taste!”

“Taste!” cried June, flaring up at once; “wouldn’t give that for his taste, or any of the family’s!”

Mrs. Small was taken aback.

“Your Uncle Swithin,” she said, “always had beautiful taste! And Soames’s little house is lovely; you don’t mean to say you don’t think so!”

“H’mph!” said June, “that’s only because Irene’s there!”

Aunt Juley tried to say something pleasant:

“And how will dear Irene like living in the country?”

June gazed at her intently, with a look in her eyes as if her conscience had suddenly leaped up into them; it passed; and an even more intent look took its place, as if she had stared that conscience out of countenance. She replied imperiously:

“Of course she’ll like it; why shouldn’t she?”

Mrs. Small grew nervous.

“I didn’t know,” she said; “I thought she mightn’t like to leave her friends. Your Uncle James says she doesn’t take enough interest in life. We think — I mean Timothy thinks — she ought to go out more. I expect you’ll miss her very much!”

June clasped her hands behind her neck.

“I do wish,” she cried, “Uncle Timothy wouldn’t talk about what doesn’t concern him!”

Aunt Juley rose to the full height of her tall figure.

“He never talks about what doesn’t concern him,” she said.

June was instantly compunctious; she ran to her aunt and kissed her.

“I’m very sorry, auntie; but I wish they’d let Irene alone.”

Aunt Juley, unable to think of anything further on the subject that would be suitable, was silent; she prepared for departure, hooking her black silk cape across her chest, and, taking up her green reticule:

“And how is your dear grandfather?” she asked in the hall, “I expect he’s very lonely now that all your time is taken up with Mr. Bosinney.”

She bent and kissed her niece hungrily, and with little, mincing steps passed away.

The tears sprang up in June’s eyes; running into the little study, where Bosinney was sitting at the table drawing birds on the back of an envelope, she sank down by his side and cried:

“Oh, Phil! it’s all so horrid!” Her heart was as warm as the colour of her hair.

On the following Sunday morning, while Soames was shaving, a message was brought him to the effect that Mr. Bosinney was below, and would be glad to see him. Opening the door into his wife’s room, he said:

“Bosinney’s downstairs. Just go and entertain him while I finish shaving. I’ll be down in a minute. It’s about the plans, I expect.”

Irene looked at him, without reply, put the finishing touch to her dress and went downstairs. He could not make her out about this house. She had said nothing against it, and, as far as Bosinney was concerned, seemed friendly enough.

From the window of his dressing-room he could see them talking together in the little court below. He hurried on with his shaving, cutting his chin twice. He heard them laugh, and thought to himself: “Well, they get on all right, anyway!”

As he expected, Bosinney had come round to fetch him to look at the plans.

He took his hat and went over.

The plans were spread on the oak table in the architect’s room; and pale, imperturbable, inquiring, Soames bent over them for a long time without speaking.

He said at last in a puzzled voice:

“It’s an odd sort of house!”

A rectangular house of two stories was designed in a quadrangle round a covered-in court. This court, encircled by a gallery on the upper floor, was roofed with a glass roof, supported by eight columns running up from the ground.

It was indeed, to Forsyte eyes, an odd house.

“There’s a lot of room cut to waste,” pursued Soames.

Bosinney began to walk about, and Soames did not like the expression on his face.

“The principle of this house,” said the architect, “was that you should have room to breathe — like a gentleman!”

Soames extended his finger and thumb, as if measuring the extent of the distinction he should acquire; and replied:

“Oh! yes; I see.”

The peculiar look came into Bosinney’s face which marked all his enthusiasms.

“I’ve tried to plan you a house here with some self-respect of its own. If you don’t like it, you’d better say so. It’s certainly the last thing to be considered — who wants self-respect in a house, when you can squeeze in an extra lavatory?” He put his finger suddenly down on the left division of the centre oblong: “You can swing a cat here. This is for your pictures, divided from this court by curtains; draw them back and you’ll have a space of fifty-one by twenty-three six. This double-faced stove in the centre, here, looks one way towards the court, one way towards the picture room; this end wall is all window; You’ve a southeast light from that, a north light from the court. The rest of your pictures you can hang round the gallery upstairs, or in the other rooms.” “In architecture,” he went on — and though looking at Soames he did not seem to see him, which gave Soames an unpleasant feeling —“as in life, you’ll get no self-respect without regularity. Fellows tell you that’s old fashioned. It appears to be peculiar any way; it never occurs to us to embody the main principle of life in our buildings; we load our houses with decoration, gimcracks, corners, anything to distract the eye. On the contrary the eye should rest; get your effects with a few strong lines. The whole thing is regularity there’s no self-respect without it.”

Soames, the unconscious ironist, fixed his gaze on Bosinney’s tie, which was far from being in the perpendicular; he was unshaven too, and his dress not remarkable for order. Architecture appeared to have exhausted his regularity.

“Won’t it look like a barrack?” he inquired.

He did not at once receive a reply.

“I can see what it is,” said Bosinney, “you want one of Littlemaster’s houses — one of the pretty and commodious sort, where the servants will live in garrets, and the front door be sunk so that you may come up again. By all means try Littlemaster, you’ll find him a capital fellow, I’ve known him all my life!”

Soames was alarmed. He had really been struck by the plans, and the concealment of his satisfaction had been merely instinctive. It was difficult for him to pay a compliment. He despised people who were lavish with their praises.

He found himself now in the embarrassing position of one who must pay a compliment or run the risk of losing a good thing. Bosinney was just the fellow who might tear up the plans and refuse to act for him; a kind of grown-up child!

This grown-up childishness, to which he felt so superior, exercised a peculiar and almost mesmeric effect on Soames, for he had never felt anything like it in himself.

“Well,” he stammered at last, “it’s — it’s, certainly original.”

He had such a private distrust and even dislike of the word ‘original’ that he felt he had not really given himself away by this remark.

Bosinney seemed pleased. It was the sort of thing that would please a fellow like that! And his success encouraged Soames.

“It’s — a big place,” he said.

“Space, air, light,” he heard Bosinney murmur, “you can’t live like a gentleman in one of Littlemaster’s — he builds for manufacturers.”

Soames made a deprecating movement; he had been identified with a gentleman; not for a good deal of money now would he be classed with manufacturers. But his innate distrust of general principles revived. What the deuce was the good of talking about regularity and self-respect? It looked to him as if the house would be cold.

“Irene can’t stand the cold!” he said.

“Ah!” said Bosinney sarcastically. “Your wife? She doesn’t like the cold? I’ll see to that; she shan’t be cold. Look here!” he pointed, to four marks at regular intervals on the walls of the court. “I’ve given you hot-water pipes in aluminium casings; you can get them with very good designs.”

Soames looked suspiciously at these marks.

“It’s all very well, all this,” he said, “but what’s it going to cost?”

The architect took a sheet of paper from his pocket:

“The house, of course, should be built entirely of stone, but, as I thought you wouldn’t stand that, I’ve compromised for a facing. It ought to have a copper roof, but I’ve made it green slate. As it is, including metal work, it’ll cost you eight thousand five hundred.”

“Eight thousand five hundred?” said Soames. “Why, I gave you an outside limit of eight!”

“Can’t be done for a penny less,” replied Bosinney coolly.

“You must take it or leave it!”

It was the only way, probably, that such a proposition could have been made to Soames. He was nonplussed. Conscience told him to throw the whole thing up. But the design was good, and he knew it — there was completeness about it, and dignity; the servants’ apartments were excellent too. He would gain credit by living in a house like that — with such individual features, yet perfectly well-arranged.

He continued poring over the plans, while Bosinney went into his bedroom to shave and dress.

The two walked back to Montpellier Square in silence, Soames watching him out of the corner of his eye.

The Buccaneer was rather a good-looking fellow — so he thought — when he was properly got up.

Irene was bending over her flowers when the two men came in.

She spoke of sending across the Park to fetch June.

“No, no,” said Soames, “we’ve still got business to talk over!”

At lunch he was almost cordial, and kept pressing Bosinney to eat. He was pleased to see the architect in such high spirits, and left him to spend the afternoon with Irene, while he stole off to his pictures, after his Sunday habit. At tea-time he came down to the drawing-room, and found them talking, as he expressed it, nineteen to the dozen.

Unobserved in the doorway, he congratulated himself that things were taking the right turn. It was lucky she and Bosinney got on; she seemed to be falling into line with the idea of the new house.

Quiet meditation among his pictures had decided him to spring the five hundred if necessary; but he hoped that the afternoon might have softened Bosinney’s estimates. It was so purely a matter which Bosinney could remedy if he liked; there must be a dozen ways in which he could cheapen the production of a house without spoiling the effect.

He awaited, therefore, his opportunity till Irene was handing the architect his first cup of tea. A chink of sunshine through the lace of the blinds warmed her cheek, shone in the gold of her hair, and in her soft eyes. Possibly the same gleam deepened Bosinney’s colour, gave the rather startled look to his face.

Soames hated sunshine, and he at once got up, to draw the blind. Then he took his own cup of tea from his wife, and said, more coldly than he had intended:

“Can’t you see your way to do it for eight thousand after all? There must be a lot of little things you could alter.”

Bosinney drank off his tea at a gulp, put down his cup, and answered:

“Not one!”

Soames saw that his suggestion had touched some unintelligible point of personal vanity.

“Well,” he agreed, with sulky resignation; “you must have it your own way, I suppose.”

A few minutes later Bosinney rose to go, and Soames rose too, to see him off the premises. The architect seemed in absurdly high spirits. After watching him walk away at a swinging pace, Soames returned moodily to the drawing-room, where Irene was putting away the music, and, moved by an uncontrollable spasm of curiosity, he asked:

“Well, what do you think of ‘The Buccaneer’?”

He looked at the carpet while waiting for her answer, and he had to wait some time.

“I don’t know,” she said at last.

“Do you think he’s good-looking?”

Irene smiled. And it seemed to Soames that she was mocking him.

“Yes,” she answered; “very.”

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