On Forsyte 'Change, by John Galsworthy

A Sad Affair, 1867

In 1866, at the age of nineteen, young Jolyon Forsyte left Eton and went up to Cambridge, in the semi-whiskered condition of those days. An amiable youth of fair scholastic and athletic attainments, and more susceptible to emotions, aesthetic and otherwise, than most young barbarians, he went up a little intoxicated on the novels of Whyte Melville. From continually reading about whiskered dandies, garbed to perfection and imperturbably stoical in the trying circumstances of debt and discomfiture, he had come to the conviction that to be whiskered and unmoved by Fortune was quite the ultimate hope of existence. There was something not altogether ignoble at the back of his creed. He passed imperceptibly into a fashionable set, and applied himself to the study of whist. All the heroes of Whyte Melville played whist admirably; all rode horses to distraction. Young Jolyon joined the Drag, and began to canter over to Newmarket, conveniently situated for Cambridge undergraduates. Like many youths before and after him, he had gone into residence with little or no idea of the value of money; and in the main this ‘sad affair’ must be traced to the fact that while he had no idea of the value of money, and, in proportion to his standards, not much money, his sire, Old Jolyon, had much idea of the value of money, and still more money. The hundred pounds placed to his credit for his first term seemed to young Jolyon an important sum, and he had very soon none of it left. This surprised him, but was of no great significance, because all Whyte Melville’s dandies were in debt; indeed, half their merit consisted in an imperturbable indifference to mere financial liability. Young Jolyon proceeded, therefore, to get into debt. It was easy, and ‘the thing.’ At the end of his first term he had spent just double his allowance. He was not vicious nor particularly extravagant — but what, after all, was money? Besides, to live on the edge of Fortune was the only way to show that one could rise above it. Not that he deliberately hired horses, bought clothes, boots, wine and tobacco, for that purpose; still, there was in a sense a principle involved. This is made plain, because it was exactly what was not plain to Old Jolyon later on. He, as a young man, with not half his son’s allowance, had never been in debt, had paid his way, and made it. But then he had not had the advantages of Eton, Cambridge, and the novels of Whyte Melville. He had simply gone into Tea.

Young Jolyon going up for his second term, with another hundred pounds from an unconscious sire, at once perceived that if he paid his debts, or any appreciable portion of them, he would have no money for the term’s expenses. He therefore applied his means to the more immediate ends of existence — College fees, ‘wines,’ whist, riding, and so forth — and left his debts to grow.

At the end of his first year he was fully three hundred pounds to the bad, and beginning to be reflective. Unhappily, however, he went up for his second year with longer whiskers and a more perfect capacity for enjoyment than ever. He had the best fellows in the world for friends, life was sweet, Schools still far off. He was liked and he liked being liked; he had, in fact, a habit of existence eminently unsuited to the drawing-in of horns.

Now his set were very pleasant young men from Eton and Harrow and Winchester, some of whom had more worldly knowledge than young Jolyon, and some of whom had more money, but none of whom had more sense of responsibility. It was in the rooms of ‘Cuffs’ Charwell (the name was pronounced Cherrell, who was taking Divinity Schools, and was afterwards the Bishop) that whist was first abandoned for baccarat, under the auspices of ‘Donny’ Covercourt. That young scion of the Shropshire Covercourts had discovered this exhilarating pastime, indissolubly connected with the figure Nine, at a French watering-place during the Long Vacation, and when he returned to Cambridge was brimming over with it, in his admirably impassive manner. Now, young Jolyon was not by rights a gambler; that is to say, he was self-conscious about the thing, never properly carried away. Moreover, in spite of Whyte Melville, he was by this time indubitably nervous about his monetary position — on all accounts, therefore, inclined to lose rather than to win. But when such cronies as ‘Cuffs’ Cherrell, ‘Feathers’ Totteridge, Guy Winlow, and ‘Donny’ himself — best fellows in the world — were bent on baccarat, who could be a ‘worm’ and wriggle away?

On the fourth evening his turn came to take the ‘bank.’ What with paying off his most pestiferous creditors and his College fees, so unfeelingly exacted in advance, he had just fifteen pounds left — the term being a fortnight spent. He was called on to take a ‘bank’ of one hundred. With a sinking heart and a marbled countenance, therefore, he sat down at the head of the green board. This was his best chance, so far, of living up to his whiskers — come what would, he must not fail the shades of ‘Digby Grand,’ ‘Daisy Waters,’ and the ‘Honble. Crasher ‘!

He lost from the first moment; with one or two momentary flickers of fortune in his favour, his descent to Avernus was one of the steadiest ever made. He sat through it with his heart kept in by very straight lips. He rose languidly at the end of half an hour with the ‘bank’ broken, and, wanly smiling, signed his I.O.U’s, including one to ‘Donny’ Covercourt for a cool eighty. Restoring himself with mulled claret, he resumed his seat at the board, but, for the rest of the evening, neither won nor lost. He went across the Quad to his own rooms with a queasy feeling — he was seeing his father’s face. For this was his first unpayable debt of honour, so different from mere debts to tradesmen. And, sitting on his narrow bed in his six-foot by fifteen bedroom, he wrestled for the means of payment. Paid somehow it must be! Would his Bank let him overdraw to the amount? He could see the stolid faces behind that confounded counter. Not they! And if they didn’t! That brute Davids? Or — the Dad? Which was worse? Oh! the Dad was worse! For, suddenly, young Jolyon was perceiving that from the beginning he had lived up here a life that his father would not understand. With a sort of horror he visualised his effort to explain it to that high-domed forehead, and the straight glance that came from so deep behind. No! Davids was the ticket! After all, ‘Daisy Waters,’ ‘Digby Grand,’ the ‘Honble. Crasher,’ and the rest of the elect — had they jibbed at money-lenders? Not so! Did ‘Feathers,’ did ‘Donny’? What else were money-lenders for but lending money? Trying to cheer himself with that thought, he fell asleep from sheer unhappiness.

Next morning, at his Bank, very tight lips assured him that an overdraft without security was not in the day’s work. Young Jolyon arched his eyebrows, ran fingers through a best whisker, drawled the words: “It’s of no consequence!” and went away, stiffening his fallen crest. In front of him he saw again his father’s face, and he couldn’t stand it. He sought the rooms of ‘Feathers’ Totteridge. The engaging youth had just had his ‘tosh’ and was seated over devilled kidneys, in his dressing-gown.

Young Jolyon said:

“Feathers, old cock, give me a note to that brute Davids!”

Feathers stared. “What ho, friend!” he said. “Plucked? He’ll skin you, Jo.”

“Can’t be helped,” said young Jolyon, glumly.

He went away armed with the note, and in the afternoon sought the abode of Mr. Rufus Davids. The Hebraic benefactor read the note, and bent on young Jolyon the glance of criticism.

“How mutth do you want, Mithter Forthyte?” he said.

“One hundred and fifty.”

“That will cotht you two hundred thicth month from now. I give good termth.”

Good terms! Young Jolyon checked the opening of his lips. One didn’t chaffer.

“I like to know my cuthtomerth, you know, Mithter Forthyte. I athk a little bird or two. Come in tomorrow.”

“You can take me or leave me,” said young Jolyon.

“Thatth all right, Mithter Forthyte. To-morrow afternoon.”

Young Jolyon nodded, and went out.

It hadn’t been so bad, after all; and, cantering over to Newmarket, he almost forgot how ‘Post equitem sedet atra cura.’

In the afternoon of the following day he received one hundred and fifty pounds for his autograph, and seeking out ‘Donny’ and the others who held his I.O.U’s, discharged the lot. Not without a sense of virtue did he sit down to an evening collation in his rooms. He was eating cold wild duck, when his door was knocked on.

“Come in!” he shouted. And, there — in overcoat, top hat in hand — his father stood . . . .

Sitting in the City offices of those great tea-men, ‘Forsyte and Treffry,’ old Jolyon had been handed, with the country post, a communication marked: ‘Confidential.’

“Great Cury, “Cambridge.


“In accordance with your desire that we should advise you of anything unusual, expressed to us when you opened your son’s account a year ago, we beg to notify you that Mr. Jolyon Forsyte, Junr., made application to us today for an overdraft of one hundred pounds. We did not feel justified in granting this without your permission, but shall be happy to act in accordance with your decision in this matter.

“We are, dear Sir, with the compliments of the season,

“Your faithful servants,


Old Jolyon had sat some time regarding this missive with grave and troubled eyes. He had then placed it in the breast pocket of his frock coat, and taking out a little comb, had passed it through his grey Dundrearys and moustachios.

“I am going down to Cambridge, Timming. Get me a cab.”

In the cab and in the train, and again in the cab from the station at Cambridge, he had brooded, restless and unhappy. Why had the boy not come to HIM? What had he been doing to require an overdraft like that? He had a good allowance. He had never said anything about being pressed for money. This way and that way he turned it in his mind, and whichever way he turned it, the conclusion was that it showed weakness — weakness to want the money; above all, weakness not to have come to his father first. Of all things, Old Jolyon disliked weakness. And so there he stood, tall and grey-headed, in the doorway.

“I’ve come down, Jo. I’ve had a letter I don’t like.”

Through young Jolyon raced the thought: ‘Davids!’ and his heart sank into his velvet slippers. He said, however, drawling:

“Charmed to see you, Sir. You haven’t had dinner? Can you eat wild duck? This claret’s pretty good.”

Taking his father’s hat and coat, he placed him with his back to the fire, plied the bellows, and bawled down the stairway for forks and another wild duck. And while he bawled he felt as if he could be sick, for he had a great love for his father, and this was why he was afraid of him. And old Jolyon, who had a great love for his son, was not sorry to stand and warm his legs and wait.

They ate the wild duck, drank the claret, talking of the weather, and small matters. They finished, and Young Jolyon said:

“Take that ‘froust,’ Dad;” and his heart tried to creep from him into the floor.

Old Jolyon clipped a cigar, handed another to his son, and sat down in the old leather chair on one side of the fire; young Jolyon sat in another old leather chair on the other side, and they smoked in silence, till old Jolyon took the letter from his pocket and handed it across.

“What’s the meaning of it, Jo? Why didn’t you come to me?”

Young Jolyon read the letter with feelings of relief, dismay, and anger with his Bank. Why on earth had they written? He felt his whiskers, and said:

“Oh! That!”

Old Jolyon sat looking at him with a sharp deep gravity.

“I suppose it means that you’re in debt?” he said, at last.

Young Jolyon shrugged: “Oh! well, naturally. I mean, one must —”

“Must what?”

“Live like other fellows, Dad.”

“Other fellows? Haven’t you at least the average allowance?”

Young Jolyon had. “But that’s just it,” he said eagerly. “I’m not in an average set.”

“Then why did you get into such a set, Jo?”

“I don’t know, Sir. School and one thing and another. It’s an awfully good set.”

“H’m!” said old Jolyon, deeply. “Would this hundred pounds have cleared you?”

“Cleared me! Oh! well — yes, of what matters.”

“What matters?” repeated old Jolyon. “Doesn’t every debt matter?”

“Of course, Dad; but everybody up here owes money to tradesmen. I mean, they expect it.”

Old Jolyon’s eyes narrowed and sharpened.

“Tradesmen? What matters are not tradesmen? What then? A woman?” The word came out hushed and sharp.

Young Jolyon shook his head. “Oh! No.”

Old Jolyon’s attitude relaxed a little, as if with some intimate relief. He flipped the ash off his cigar.

“Have you been gambling, then, Jo?”

Struggling to keep his face calm and his eyes on his father’s, young Jolyon answered:

“A little.”

“Gambling!” Something of distress and consternation in the sound young Jolyon couldn’t bear, and hastened on:

“Well, Dad, I don’t mean to go on with it. But Newmarket, you know, and — and — one doesn’t like to be a prig.”

“Prig? For not gambling? I don’t understand. A gambler!”

And, again, at that note in his voice, young Jolyon cried:

“I really don’t care for it, Dad; I mean I’m just as happy without.”

“Then why do you do it? It’s weak. I don’t like weakness, Jo.”

Young Jolyon’s face hardened. The Dad would never understand. To be a swell — superior to Fate! Hopeless to explain! He said lamely:

“All the best chaps —”

Old Jolyon averted his eyes. For at least two minutes he sat staring at the fire.

“I’ve never gambled, or owed money,” he said at last, with no pride in the tone of his voice, but with deep conviction. “I must know your position, Jo. What is it? Speak the truth. How much do you owe, and to whom?”

Young Jolyon had once been discovered cribbing. This was worse. It was as little possible as it had been then to explain that everybody did it. He said sullenly:

“I suppose — somewhere about three hundred, to tradesmen.”

Old Jolyon’s glance went through and through him.

“And that doesn’t matter? What else?”

“I did owe about a hundred to fellows, but I’ve paid them.”

“That’s what you wanted the overdraft for, then?”

“Debts of honour — yes.”

“Debts of honour,” repeated old Jolyon. “And where did you get the hundred from?”

“I borrowed it.”



“Who from?”

“A man called Davids.”


Young Jolyon bowed his head.

“And you preferred to go to a money-lender than to come to me?”

Young Jolyon’s lips quivered; he pitched his cigar into the fire, not strong enough to bear it.

“I— I— knew you’d — you’d hate it so, Dad.”

“I hate this more, Jo.”

To both of them it seemed the worst moment they had ever been through, and it lasted a long time. Then old Jolyon said:

“What did you sign?”

“I borrowed a hundred and fifty, and promised to pay two hundred in six months.”

“And how were you going to get that?”

“I don’t know.”

Old Jolyon, too, pitched his cigar into the fire, and passed his hand over his forehead.

Impulsively young Jolyon rose, and, oblivious of his whiskers, sat down on the arm of his father’s chair, precisely as if he were not a swell. There were tears in his eyes.

“I’m truly sorry, Dad; only, you don’t understand.” Old Jolyon shook his head.

“No, I don’t understand, Jo. That’s the way to ruin.”

“They were debts of honour, Dad.”

“All debts are debts of honour. But that’s not the point. It seems to me you can’t face things. I know you’re an affectionate chap, but that won’t help you.”

Young Jolyon got up.

“I CAN face things,” he said: “I—! Oh! You can’t realise.”

Scattering the logs with his slippered foot, he stared into the glow. His eyes felt burned, his inside all churned up; and while the ‘swell’ within him drawled: ‘A fuss about money’; all his love for his father was raw and quivering. He heard old Jolyon say:

“I’ll go now, Jo. Have a list of your debts for me tomorrow. I shall pay them myself. We’ll go to that money-lender chap together.”

Young Jolyon heard him getting up, heard him with his coat and hat, heard him open the door; and, twisting round, cried:

“Oh! Dad!”

“Good-night, Jo!” He was gone.

Young Jolyon stood a long time by the dying fire. His father did not, could not know what a fellow had to do, how behave to — to be superior to fortune. He was old-fashioned! But, besides loving him, young Jolyon admired his father, admired him physically and mentally — as much — yes, more than the Honble. Crasher or Digby Grand. And he was miserable.

He sat up late, making a list of his debts as well as anyone could who had the habit of tearing up his bills. Repressed emotion tossed his slumbers, and when he woke the thought of the joint visit to Mr. Davids made him feel unwell.

Old Jolyon came at ten o’clock, looking almost haggard. He took the list from his son.

“Are these all, Jo?”

“So far as I can remember.”

“Send any others in to me. Which of your friends are the gamblers?”

Young Jolyon coloured.

“You must excuse me, Dad.”

Old Jolyon looked at him.

“Very well!” he said. “We’ll go to this money-lender now.”

They walked forth. By God’s mercy no one had bounced in on his way to Newmarket. Young Jolyon caught sight of ‘Donny’ Covercourt on the far side of the quadrangle and returned him no greeting. Quite silent, side by side, father and son passed out into the street. Except for old Jolyon’s remark:

“There’s no end to these Colleges, it seems,” they did not speak until they reached the office of Mr. Davids, above a billiard room.

Old Jolyon ascended, stumping the stairs with his umbrella; young Jolyon followed with his head down. He was bitterly ashamed; it is probable that old Jolyon was even more so.

The money-lender was in his inner office, just visible through the half-open doorway. Old Jolyon pushed the door with his umbrella.

Mr. Davids rose, apparently surprised, and stood looking round his nose in an ingratiating manner.

“This is my father,” said young Jolyon, gazing deeply at his boots.

“Mr. Davids, I think?” began old Jolyon.

“Yeth, Thir. What may I have the pleasure —”

“You were good enough yesterday to advance my son the sum of a hundred and fifty pounds, for which he signed a promissory note for an extortionate amount. Kindly give me that note, and take this cheque in satisfaction.”

Mr. Davids washed his hands.

“For what amount ith your cheque, Thir?”

Old Jolyon took a cheque from his pocket and unfolded it.

“For your money, and one day’s interest at ten per cent.”

Mr. Davids threw up his well-washed hands.

“Oh! No, Mithter Forthyte; no! Thath not bithneth. Give me a cheque for the amount of the promithory note, and you can have it. I’m not ancthious to be paid — not at all.”

Old Jolyon clapped his hat on his head.

“You will accept my cheque!” he said, and thrust it under the money-lender’s eyes.

Mr. Davids examined it, and said:

“You take me for a fool, it theemth.”

“I take you for a knave,” said old Jolyon. “Sixty-six per cent, forsooth!”

Mr. Davids recoiled in sheer surprise.

“I took a great rithk to lend your thon that money.”

“You took no risk whatever. One day’s interest at ten per cent is ninepence three-farthings; I’ve made it tenpence. Be so good as to give me that note.”

Mr. Davids shook his head.

“Very well,” said old Jolyon. “I’ve made some inquiries about you. I go straight from here to the Vice-Chancellor.”

Mr. Davids again began to wash his hands.

“And thuppothe,” he said, “I go to your thon’s College and tell them that I lend him thith money?”

“Do!” said old Jolyon; “do! Come, Jo!” He turned and walked to the door, followed by his agonised but unmoved son.

“Thtop!” said Mr. Davids. “I don’t want to make no trouble.”

Old Jolyon’s eyes twinkled under his drawn brows.

“Oh!” he said, without turning, “you don’t! Make haste, then. I give you two minutes,” and he took out his watch.

Young Jolyon stood looking dazedly at the familiar golden object. Behind him he could hear Mr. Davids making haste.

“Here it ith, Mithter Forthyte, here it ith!”

Old Jolyon turned.

“Is that your signature, Jo?”

“Yes,” said young Jolyon, dully.

“Take it, then, and tear it up.”

Young Jolyon took, and tore it savagely.

“Here’s your cheque,” said old Jolyon.

Mr. Davids grasped the cheque, changing his feet rapidly.

“Ith not bithneth, really ith not bithneth,” he repeated.

“The deuce it isn’t,” said old Jolyon; “you may thank your stars I don’t go to the Vice-Chancellor, into the bargain. Good-bye to you!” He stumped his umbrella and walked out.

Young Jolyon followed, sheepishly.

“Where’s the station, Jo?”

Young Jolyon led the way, and they walked on, more silent than ever.

At last old Jolyon said:

“This has been a sad affair. It’s your not coming to me, Jo, that hurt.”

Young Jolyon’s answer was strangled in his throat.

“And don’t gamble, my boy. It’s weak-minded. Well, here we are!”

They turned into the station. Old Jolyon bought The Times. They stood together, silent on the platform, till the London train came in; then young Jolyon put his hand through his father’s arm, and squeezed it. Old Jolyon nodded:

“I shan’t allude to this again, Jo. But there’s just one thing: If you must be a swell, remember that you’re a gentleman too. Good-bye, my boy!” He laid his hand on his son’s shoulder, turned quickly and got in.

Young Jolyon stood with bared head, watching the train go out. He then walked, as well as he knew how, back to College.

Indeed, yes! A sad affair!


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54