Those privileged to be present at a family festival of the Forsytes have seen that charming and instructive sight — an upper middle-class family in full plumage. But whosoever of these favoured persons has possessed the gift of psychological analysis (a talent without monetary value and properly ignored by the Forsytes), has witnessed a spectacle, not only delightful in itself, but illustrative of an obscure human problem. In plainer words, he has gleaned from a gathering of this family — no branch of which had a liking for the other, between no three members of whom existed anything worthy of the name of sympathy — evidence of that mysterious concrete tenacity which renders a family so formidable a unit of society, so clear a reproduction of society in miniature. He has been admitted to a vision of the dim roads of social progress, has understood something of patriarchal life, of the swarmings of savage hordes, of the rise and fall of nations. He is like one who, having watched a tree grow from its planting — a paragon of tenacity, insulation, and success, amidst the deaths of a hundred other plants less fibrous, sappy, and persistent — one day will see it flourishing with bland, full foliage, in an almost repugnant prosperity, at the summit of its efflorescence.
On June 15, eighteen eighty-six, about four of the afternoon, the observer who chanced to be present at the house of old Jolyon Forsyte in Stanhope Gate, might have seen the highest efflorescence of the Forsytes.
This was the occasion of an ‘at home’ to celebrate the engagement of Miss June Forsyte, old Jolyon’s granddaughter, to Mr. Philip Bosinney. In the bravery of light gloves, buff waistcoats, feathers and frocks, the family were present, even Aunt Ann, who now but seldom left the corner of her brother Timothy’s green drawing-room, where, under the aegis of a plume of dyed pampas grass in a light blue vase, she sat all day reading and knitting, surrounded by the effigies of three generations of Forsytes. Even Aunt Ann was there; her inflexible back, and the dignity of her calm old face personifying the rigid possessiveness of the family idea.
When a Forsyte was engaged, married, or born, the Forsytes were present; when a Forsyte died — but no Forsyte had as yet died; they did not die; death being contrary to their principles, they took precautions against it, the instinctive precautions of highly vitalized persons who resent encroachments on their property.
About the Forsytes mingling that day with the crowd of other guests, there was a more than ordinarily groomed look, an alert, inquisitive assurance, a brilliant respectability, as though they were attired in defiance of something. The habitual sniff on the face of Soames Forsyte had spread through their ranks; they were on their guard.
The subconscious offensiveness of their attitude has constituted old Jolyon’s ‘home’ the psychological moment of the family history, made it the prelude of their drama.
The Forsytes were resentful of something, not individually, but as a family; this resentment expressed itself in an added perfection of raiment, an exuberance of family cordiality, an exaggeration of family importance, and — the sniff. Danger — so indispensable in bringing out the fundamental quality of any society, group, or individual — was what the Forsytes scented; the premonition of danger put a burnish on their armour. For the first time, as a family, they appeared to have an instinct of being in contact, with some strange and unsafe thing.
Over against the piano a man of bulk and stature was wearing two waistcoats on his wide chest, two waistcoats and a ruby pin, instead of the single satin waistcoat and diamond pin of more usual occasions, and his shaven, square, old face, the colour of pale leather, with pale eyes, had its most dignified look, above his satin stock. This was Swithin Forsyte. Close to the window, where he could get more than his fair share of fresh air, the other twin, James — the fat and the lean of it, old Jolyon called these brothers — like the bulky Swithin, over six feet in height, but very lean, as though destined from his birth to strike a balance and maintain an average, brooded over the scene with his permanent stoop; his grey eyes had an air of fixed absorption in some secret worry, broken at intervals by a rapid, shifting scrutiny of surrounding facts; his cheeks, thinned by two parallel folds, and a long, clean-shaven upper lip, were framed within Dundreary whiskers. In his hands he turned and turned a piece of china. Not far off, listening to a lady in brown, his only son Soames, pale and well-shaved, dark-haired, rather bald, had poked his chin up sideways, carrying his nose with that aforesaid appearance of ‘sniff,’ as though despising an egg which he knew he could not digest. Behind him his cousin, the tall George, son of the fifth Forsyte, Roger, had a Quilpish look on his fleshy face, pondering one of his sardonic jests. Something inherent to the occasion had affected them all.
Seated in a row close to one another were three ladies — Aunts Ann, Hester (the two Forsyte maids), and Juley (short for Julia), who not in first youth had so far forgotten herself as to marry Septimus Small, a man of poor constitution. She had survived him for many years. With her elder and younger sister she lived now in the house of Timothy, her sixth and youngest brother, on the Bayswater Road. Each of these ladies held fans in their hands, and each with some touch of colour, some emphatic feather or brooch, testified to the solemnity of the opportunity.
In the centre of the room, under the chandelier, as became a host, stood the head of the family, old Jolyon himself. Eighty years of age, with his fine, white hair, his dome-like forehead, his little, dark grey eyes, and an immense white moustache, which drooped and spread below the level of his strong jaw, he had a patriarchal look, and in spite of lean cheeks and hollows at his temples, seemed master of perennial youth. He held himself extremely upright, and his shrewd, steady eyes had lost none of their clear shining. Thus he gave an impression of superiority to the doubts and dislikes of smaller men. Having had his own way for innumerable years, he had earned a prescriptive right to it. It would never have occurred to old Jolyon that it was necessary to wear a look of doubt or of defiance.
Between him and the four other brothers who were present, James, Swithin, Nicholas, and Roger, there was much difference, much similarity. In turn, each of these four brothers was very different from the other, yet they, too, were alike.
Through the varying features and expression of those five faces could be marked a certain steadfastness of chin, underlying surface distinctions, marking a racial stamp, too prehistoric to trace, too remote and permanent to discuss — the very hall-mark and guarantee of the family fortunes.
Among the younger generation, in the tall, bull-like George, in pallid strenuous Archibald, in young Nicholas with his sweet and tentative obstinacy, in the grave and foppishly determined Eustace, there was this same stamp — less meaningful perhaps, but unmistakable — a sign of something ineradicable in the family soul. At one time or another during the afternoon, all these faces, so dissimilar and so alike, had worn an expression of distrust, the object of which was undoubtedly the man whose acquaintance they were thus assembled to make. Philip Bosinney was known to be a young man without fortune, but Forsyte girls had become engaged to such before, and had actually married them. It was not altogether for this reason, therefore, that the minds of the Forsytes misgave them. They could not have explained the origin of a misgiving obscured by the mist of family gossip. A story was undoubtedly told that he had paid his duty call to Aunts Ann, Juley, and Hester, in a soft grey hat — a soft grey hat, not even a new one — a dusty thing with a shapeless crown. “So, extraordinary, my dear — so odd,” Aunt Hester, passing through the little, dark hall (she was rather short-sighted), had tried to ‘shoo’ it off a chair, taking it for a strange, disreputable cat — Tommy had such disgraceful friends! She was disturbed when it did not move.
Like an artist for ever seeking to discover the significant trifle which embodies the whole character of a scene, or place, or person, so those unconscious artists — the Forsytes had fastened by intuition on this hat; it was their significant trifle, the detail in which was embedded the meaning of the whole matter; for each had asked himself: “Come, now, should I have paid that visit in that hat?” and each had answered “No!” and some, with more imagination than others, had added: “It would never have come into my head!”
George, on hearing the story, grinned. The hat had obviously been worn as a practical joke! He himself was a connoisseur of such. “Very haughty!” he said, “the wild Buccaneer.”
And this mot, the ‘Buccaneer,’ was bandied from mouth to mouth, till it became the favourite mode of alluding to Bosinney.
Her aunts reproached June afterwards about the hat.
“We don’t think you ought to let him, dear!” they had said.
June had answered in her imperious brisk way, like the little embodiment of will she was: “Oh! what does it matter? Phil never knows what he’s got on!”
No one had credited an answer so outrageous. A man not to know what he had on? No, no! What indeed was this young man, who, in becoming engaged to June, old Jolyon’s acknowledged heiress, had done so well for himself? He was an architect, not in itself a sufficient reason for wearing such a hat. None of the Forsytes happened to be architects, but one of them knew two architects who would never have worn such a hat upon a call of ceremony in the London season.
Dangerous — ah, dangerous! June, of course, had not seen this, but, though not yet nineteen, she was notorious. Had she not said to Mrs. Soames — who was always so beautifully dressed — that feathers were vulgar? Mrs. Soames had actually given up wearing feathers, so dreadfully downright was dear June!
These misgivings, this disapproval, and perfectly genuine distrust, did not prevent the Forsytes from gathering to old Jolyon’s invitation. An ‘At Home’ at Stanhope Gate was a great rarity; none had been held for twelve years, not indeed, since old Mrs. Jolyon had died.
Never had there been so full an assembly, for, mysteriously united in spite of all their differences, they had taken arms against a common peril. Like cattle when a dog comes into the field, they stood head to head and shoulder to shoulder, prepared to run upon and trample the invader to death. They had come, too, no doubt, to get some notion of what sort of presents they would ultimately be expected to give; for though the question of wedding gifts was usually graduated in this way: ‘What are you givin’? Nicholas is givin’ spoons!’— so very much depended on the bridegroom. If he were sleek, well-brushed, prosperous-looking, it was more necessary to give him nice things; he would expect them. In the end each gave exactly what was right and proper, by a species of family adjustment arrived at as prices are arrived at on the Stock Exchange — the exact niceties being regulated at Timothy’s commodious, red-brick residence in Bayswater, overlooking the Park, where dwelt Aunts Ann, Juley, and Hester.
The uneasiness of the Forsyte family has been justified by the simple mention of the hat. How impossible and wrong would it have been for any family, with the regard for appearances which should ever characterize the great upper middle-class, to feel otherwise than uneasy!
The author of the uneasiness stood talking to June by the further door; his curly hair had a rumpled appearance, as though he found what was going on around him unusual. He had an air, too, of having a joke all to himself. George, speaking aside to his brother, Eustace, said:
“Looks as if he might make a bolt of it — the dashing Buccaneer!”
This ‘very singular-looking man,’ as Mrs. Small afterwards called him, was of medium height and strong build, with a pale, brown face, a dust-coloured moustache, very prominent cheek-bones, and hollow checks. His forehead sloped back towards the crown of his head, and bulged out in bumps over the eyes, like foreheads seen in the Lion-house at the Zoo. He had sherry-coloured eyes, disconcertingly inattentive at times. Old Jolyon’s coachman, after driving June and Bosinney to the theatre, had remarked to the butler:
“I dunno what to make of ’im. Looks to me for all the world like an ‘alf-tame leopard.” And every now and then a Forsyte would come up, sidle round, and take a look at him.
June stood in front, fending off this idle curiosity — a little bit of a thing, as somebody once said, ‘all hair and spirit,’ with fearless blue eyes, a firm jaw, and a bright colour, whose face and body seemed too slender for her crown of red-gold hair.
A tall woman, with a beautiful figure, which some member of the family had once compared to a heathen goddess, stood looking at these two with a shadowy smile.
Her hands, gloved in French grey, were crossed one over the other, her grave, charming face held to one side, and the eyes of all men near were fastened on it. Her figure swayed, so balanced that the very air seemed to set it moving. There was warmth, but little colour, in her cheeks; her large, dark eyes were soft.
But it was at her lips — asking a question, giving an answer, with that shadowy smile — that men looked; they were sensitive lips, sensuous and sweet, and through them seemed to come warmth and perfume like the warmth and perfume of a flower.
The engaged couple thus scrutinized were unconscious of this passive goddess. It was Bosinney who first noticed her, and asked her name.
June took her lover up to the woman with the beautiful figure.
“Irene is my greatest chum,” she said: “Please be good friends, you two!”
At the little lady’s command they all three smiled; and while they were smiling, Soames Forsyte, silently appearing from behind the woman with the beautiful figure, who was his wife, said:
“Ah! introduce me too!”
He was seldom, indeed, far from Irene’s side at public functions, and even when separated by the exigencies of social intercourse, could be seen following her about with his eyes, in which were strange expressions of watchfulness and longing.
At the window his father, James, was still scrutinizing the marks on the piece of china.
“I wonder at Jolyon’s allowing this engagement,” he said to Aunt Ann. “They tell me there’s no chance of their getting married for years. This young Bosinney” (he made the word a dactyl in opposition to general usage of a short o) “has got nothing. When Winifred married Dartie, I made him bring every penny into settlement — lucky thing, too — they’d ha’ had nothing by this time!”
Aunt Ann looked up from her velvet chair. Grey curls banded her forehead, curls that, unchanged for decades, had extinguished in the family all sense of time. She made no reply, for she rarely spoke, husbanding her aged voice; but to James, uneasy of conscience, her look was as good as an answer.
“Well,” he said, “I couldn’t help Irene’s having no money. Soames was in such a hurry; he got quite thin dancing attendance on her.”
Putting the bowl pettishly down on the piano, he let his eyes wander to the group by the door.
“It’s my opinion,” he said unexpectedly, “that it’s just as well as it is.”
Aunt Ann did not ask him to explain this strange utterance. She knew what he was thinking. If Irene had no money she would not be so foolish as to do anything wrong; for they said — they said — she had been asking for a separate room; but, of course, Soames had not. . . .
James interrupted her reverie:
“But where,” he asked, “was Timothy? Hadn’t he come with them?”
Through Aunt Ann’s compressed lips a tender smile forced its way:
“No, he didn’t think it wise, with so much of this diphtheria about; and he so liable to take things.”
“Well, HE takes good care of himself. I can’t afford to take the care of myself that he does.”
Nor was it easy to say which, of admiration, envy, or contempt, was dominant in that remark.
Timothy, indeed, was seldom seen. The baby of the family, a publisher by profession, he had some years before, when business was at full tide, scented out the stagnation which, indeed, had not yet come, but which ultimately, as all agreed, was bound to set in, and, selling his share in a firm engaged mainly in the production of religious books, had invested the quite conspicuous proceeds in three per cent. consols. By this act he had at once assumed an isolated position, no other Forsyte being content with less than four per cent. for his money; and this isolation had slowly and surely undermined a spirit perhaps better than commonly endowed with caution. He had become almost a myth — a kind of incarnation of security haunting the background of the Forsyte universe. He had never committed the imprudence of marrying, or encumbering himself in any way with children.
James resumed, tapping the piece of china:
“This isn’t real old Worcester. I s’pose Jolyon’s told you something about the young man. From all I can learn, he’s got no business, no income, and no connection worth speaking of; but then, I know nothing — nobody tells me anything.”
Aunt Ann shook her head. Over her square-chinned, aquiline old face a trembling passed; the spidery fingers of her hands pressed against each other and interlaced, as though she were subtly recharging her will.
The eldest by some years of all the Forsytes, she held a peculiar position amongst them. Opportunists and egotists one and all — though not, indeed, more so than their neighbours — they quailed before her incorruptible figure, and, when opportunities were too strong, what could they do but avoid her!
Twisting his long, thin legs, James went on:
“Jolyon, he will have his own way. He’s got no children”— and stopped, recollecting the continued existence of old Jolyon’s son, young Jolyon, June’s father, who had made such a mess of it, and done for himself by deserting his wife and child and running away with that foreign governess. “Well,” he resumed hastily, “if he likes to do these things, I s’pose he can afford to. Now, what’s he going to give her? I s’pose he’ll give her a thousand a year; he’s got nobody else to leave his money to.”
He stretched out his hand to meet that of a dapper, clean-shaven man, with hardly a hair on his head, a long, broken nose, full lips, and cold grey eyes under rectangular brows.
“Well, Nick,” he muttered, “how are you?”
Nicholas Forsyte, with his bird-like rapidity and the look of a preternaturally sage schoolboy (he had made a large fortune, quite legitimately, out of the companies of which he was a director), placed within that cold palm the tips of his still colder fingers and hastily withdrew them.
“I’m bad,” he said, pouting —“been bad all the week; don’t sleep at night. The doctor can’t tell why. He’s a clever fellow, or I shouldn’t have him, but I get nothing out of him but bills.”
“Doctors!” said James, coming down sharp on his words: “I’ve had all the doctors in London for one or another of us. There’s no satisfaction to be got out of them; they’ll tell you anything. There’s Swithin, now. What good have they done him? There he is; he’s bigger than ever; he’s enormous; they can’t get his weight down. Look at him!”
Swithin Forsyte, tall, square, and broad, with a chest like a pouter pigeon’s in its plumage of bright waistcoats, came strutting towards them.
“Er — how are you?” he said in his dandified way, aspirating the ‘h’ strongly (this difficult letter was almost absolutely safe in his keeping)—“how are you?”
Each brother wore an air of aggravation as he looked at the other two, knowing by experience that they would try to eclipse his ailments.
“We were just saying,” said James, “that you don’t get any thinner.”
Swithin protruded his pale round eyes with the effort of hearing.
“Thinner? I’m in good case,” he said, leaning a little forward, “not one of your thread-papers like you!”
But, afraid of losing the expansion of his chest, he leaned back again into a state of immobility, for he prized nothing so highly as a distinguished appearance.
Aunt Ann turned her old eyes from one to the other. Indulgent and severe was her look. In turn the three brothers looked at Ann. She was getting shaky. Wonderful woman! Eighty-six if a day; might live another ten years, and had never been strong. Swithin and James, the twins, were only seventy-five, Nicholas a mere baby of seventy or so. All were strong, and the inference was comforting. Of all forms of property their respective healths naturally concerned them most.
“I’m very well in myself,” proceeded James, “but my nerves are out of order. The least thing worries me to death. I shall have to go to Bath.”
“Bath!” said Nicholas. “I’ve tried Harrogate. That’s no good. What I want is sea air. There’s nothing like Yarmouth. Now, when I go there I sleep. . . . ”
“My liver’s very bad,” interrupted Swithin slowly. “Dreadful pain here;” and he placed his hand on his right side.
“Want of exercise,” muttered James, his eyes on the china. He quickly added: “I get a pain there, too.”
Swithin reddened, a resemblance to a turkey-cock coming upon his old face.
“Exercise!” he said. “I take plenty: I never use the lift at the Club.”
“I didn’t know,” James hurried out. “I know nothing about anybody; nobody tells me anything. . . . ”
Swithin fixed him with a stare:
“What do you do for a pain there?”
“I take a compound. . . . ”
“How are you, uncle?”
June stood before him, her resolute small face raised from her little height to his great height, and her hand outheld.
The brightness faded from James’s visage.
“How are you?” he said, brooding over her. “So you’re going to Wales to-morrow to visit your young man’s aunts? You’ll have a lot of rain there. This isn’t real old Worcester.” He tapped the bowl. “Now, that set I gave your mother when she married was the genuine thing.”
June shook hands one by one with her three great-uncles, and turned to Aunt Ann. A very sweet look had come into the old lady’s face, she kissed the girl’s check with trembling fervour.
“Well, my dear,” she said, “and so you’re going for a whole month!”
The girl passed on, and Aunt Ann looked after her slim little figure. The old lady’s round, steel grey eyes, over which a film like a bird’s was beginning to come, followed her wistfully amongst the bustling crowd, for people were beginning to say good-bye; and her finger-tips, pressing and pressing against each other, were busy again with the recharging of her will against that inevitable ultimate departure of her own.
‘Yes,’ she thought, ‘everybody’s been most kind; quite a lot of people come to congratulate her. She ought to be very happy.’ Amongst the throng of people by the door, the well-dressed throng drawn from the families of lawyers and doctors, from the Stock Exchange, and all the innumerable avocations of the upper-middle class — there were only some twenty percent of Forsytes; but to Aunt Ann they seemed all Forsytes — and certainly there was not much difference — she saw only her own flesh and blood. It was her world, this family, and she knew no other, had never perhaps known any other. All their little secrets, illnesses, engagements, and marriages, how they were getting on, and whether they were making money — all this was her property, her delight, her life; beyond this only a vague, shadowy mist of facts and persons of no real significance. This it was that she would have to lay down when it came to her turn to die; this which gave to her that importance, that secret self-importance, without which none of us can bear to live; and to this she clung wistfully, with a greed that grew each day! If life were slipping away from her, this she would retain to the end.
She thought of June’s father, young Jolyon, who had run away with that foreign girl. And what a sad blow to his father and to them all. Such a promising young fellow! A sad blow, though there had been no public scandal, most fortunately, Jo’s wife seeking for no divorce! A long time ago! And when June’s mother died, six years ago, Jo had married that woman, and they had two children now, so she had heard. Still, he had forfeited his right to be there, had cheated her of the complete fulfilment of her family pride, deprived her of the rightful pleasure of seeing and kissing him of whom she had been so proud, such a promising young fellow! The thought rankled with the bitterness of a long-inflicted injury in her tenacious old heart. A little water stood in her eyes. With a handkerchief of the finest lawn she wiped them stealthily.
“Well, Aunt Ann?” said a voice behind.
Soames Forsyte, flat-shouldered, clean-shaven, flat-cheeked, flat-waisted, yet with something round and secret about his whole appearance, looked downwards and aslant at Aunt Ann, as though trying to see through the side of his own nose.
“And what do you think of the engagement?” he asked.
Aunt Ann’s eyes rested on him proudly; of all the nephews since young Jolyon’s departure from the family nest, he was now her favourite, for she recognised in him a sure trustee of the family soul that must so soon slip beyond her keeping.
“Very nice for the young man,” she said; “and he’s a good-looking young fellow; but I doubt if he’s quite the right lover for dear June.”
Soames touched the edge of a gold-lacquered lustre.
“She’ll tame him,” he said, stealthily wetting his finger and rubbing it on the knobby bulbs. “That’s genuine old lacquer; you can’t get it nowadays. It’d do well in a sale at Jobson’s.” He spoke with relish, as though he felt that he was cheering up his old aunt. It was seldom he was so confidential. “I wouldn’t mind having it myself,” he added; “you can always get your price for old lacquer.”
“You’re so clever with all those things,” said Aunt Ann. “And how is dear Irene?”
Soames’s smile died.
“Pretty well,” he said. “Complains she can’t sleep; she sleeps a great deal better than I do,” and he looked at his wife, who was talking to Bosinney by the door.
Aunt Ann sighed.
“Perhaps,” she said, “it will be just as well for her not to see so much of June. She’s such a decided character, dear June!”
Soames flushed; his flushes passed rapidly over his flat cheeks and centered between his eyes, where they remained, the stamp of disturbing thoughts.
“I don’t know what she sees in that little flibbertigibbet,” he burst out, but noticing that they were no longer alone, he turned and again began examining the lustre.
“They tell me Jolyon’s bought another house,” said his father’s voice close by; “he must have a lot of money — he must have more money than he knows what to do with! Montpellier Square, they say; close to Soames! They never told me, Irene never tells me anything!”
“Capital position, not two minutes from me,” said the voice of Swithin, “and from my rooms I can drive to the Club in eight.”
The position of their houses was of vital importance to the Forsytes, nor was this remarkable, since the whole spirit of their success was embodied therein.
Their father, of farming stock, had come from Dorsetshire near the beginning of the century.
‘Superior Dosset Forsyte, as he was called by his intimates, had been a stonemason by trade, and risen to the position of a master-builder.
Towards the end of his life he moved to London, where, building on until he died, he was buried at Highgate. He left over thirty thousand pounds between his ten children. Old Jolyon alluded to him, if at all, as ‘A hard, thick sort of man; not much refinement about him.’ The second generation of Forsytes felt indeed that he was not greatly to their credit. The only aristocratic trait they could find in his character was a habit of drinking Madeira.
Aunt Hester, an authority on family history, described him thus: “I don’t recollect that he ever did anything; at least, not in my time. He was er — an owner of houses, my dear. His hair about your Uncle Swithin’s colour; rather a square build. Tall? No — not very tall” (he had been five feet five, with a mottled face); “a fresh-coloured man. I remember he used to drink Madeira; but ask your Aunt Ann. What was his father? He — er — had to do with the land down in Dorsetshire, by the sea.”
James once went down to see for himself what sort of place this was that they had come from. He found two old farms, with a cart track rutted into the pink earth, leading down to a mill by the beach; a little grey church with a buttressed outer wall, and a smaller and greyer chapel. The stream which worked the mill came bubbling down in a dozen rivulets, and pigs were hunting round that estuary. A haze hovered over the prospect. Down this hollow, with their feet deep in the mud and their faces towards the sea, it appeared that the primeval Forsytes had been content to walk Sunday after Sunday for hundreds of years.
Whether or no James had cherished hopes of an inheritance, or of something rather distinguished to be found down there, he came back to town in a poor way, and went about with a pathetic attempt at making the best of a bad job.
“There’s very little to be had out of that,” he said; “regular country little place, old as the hills. . . . ”
Its age was felt to be a comfort. Old Jolyon, in whom a desperate honesty welled up at times, would allude to his ancestors as: “Yeomen — I suppose very small beer.” Yet he would repeat the word ‘yeomen’ as if it afforded him consolation.
They had all done so well for themselves, these Forsytes, that they were all what is called ‘of a certain position.’ They had shares in all sorts of things, not as yet — with the exception of Timothy — in consols, for they had no dread in life like that of 3 per cent. for their money. They collected pictures, too, and were supporters of such charitable institutions as might be beneficial to their sick domestics. From their father, the builder, they inherited a talent for bricks and mortar. Originally, perhaps, members of some primitive sect, they were now in the natural course of things members of the Church of England, and caused their wives and children to attend with some regularity the more fashionable churches of the Metropolis. To have doubted their Christianity would have caused them both pain and surprise. Some of them paid for pews, thus expressing in the most practical form their sympathy with the teachings of Christ.
Their residences, placed at stated intervals round the park, watched like sentinels, lest the fair heart of this London, where their desires were fixed, should slip from their clutches, and leave them lower in their own estimations.
There was old Jolyon in Stanhope Place; the Jameses in Park Lane; Swithin in the lonely glory of orange and blue chambers in Hyde Park Mansions — he had never married, not he — the Soamses in their nest off Knightsbridge; the Rogers in Prince’s Gardens (Roger was that remarkable Forsyte who had conceived and carried out the notion of bringing up his four sons to a new profession. “Collect house property, nothing like it,” he would say; “I never did anything else”).
The Haymans again — Mrs. Hayman was the one married Forsyte sister — in a house high up on Campden Hill, shaped like a giraffe, and so tall that it gave the observer a crick in the neck; the Nicholases in Ladbroke Grove, a spacious abode and a great bargain; and last, but not least, Timothy’s on the Bayswater Road, where Ann, and Juley, and Hester, lived under his protection.
But all this time James was musing, and now he inquired of his host and brother what he had given for that house in Montpellier Square. He himself had had his eye on a house there for the last two years, but they wanted such a price.
Old Jolyon recounted the details of his purchase.
“Twenty-two years to run?” repeated James; “The very house I was after — you’ve given too much for it!”
Old Jolyon frowned.
“It’s not that I want it,” said James hastily; it wouldn’t suit my purpose at that price. Soames knows the house, well — he’ll tell you it’s too dear — his opinion’s worth having.”
“I don’t,” said old Jolyon, “care a fig for his opinion.”
“Well,” murmured James, “you will have your own way — it’s a good opinion. Good-bye! We’re going to drive down to Hurlingham. They tell me June’s going to Wales. You’ll be lonely tomorrow. What’ll you do with yourself? You’d better come and dine with us!”
Old Jolyon refused. He went down to the front door and saw them into their barouche, and twinkled at them, having already forgotten his spleen — Mrs. James facing the horses, tall and majestic with auburn hair; on her left, Irene — the two husbands, father and son, sitting forward, as though they expected something, opposite their wives. Bobbing and bounding upon the spring cushions, silent, swaying to each motion of their chariot, old Jolyon watched them drive away under the sunlight.
During the drive the silence was broken by Mrs. James.
“Did you ever see such a collection of rumty-too people?”
Soames, glancing at her beneath his eyelids, nodded, and he saw Irene steal at him one of her unfathomable looks. It is likely enough that each branch of the Forsyte family made that remark as they drove away from old Jolyon’s ‘At Home!’
Amongst the last of the departing guests the fourth and fifth brothers, Nicholas and Roger, walked away together, directing their steps alongside Hyde Park towards the Praed Street Station of the Underground. Like all other Forsytes of a certain age they kept carriages of their own, and never took cabs if by any means they could avoid it.
The day was bright, the trees of the Park in the full beauty of mid-June foliage; the brothers did not seem to notice phenomena, which contributed, nevertheless, to the jauntiness of promenade and conversation.
“Yes,” said Roger, “she’s a good-lookin’ woman, that wife of Soames’s. I’m told they don’t get on.”
This brother had a high forehead, and the freshest colour of any of the Forsytes; his light grey eyes measured the street frontage of the houses by the way, and now and then he would level his, umbrella and take a ‘lunar,’ as he expressed it, of the varying heights.
“She’d no money,” replied Nicholas.
He himself had married a good deal of money, of which, it being then the golden age before the Married Women’s Property Act, he had mercifully been enabled to make a successful use.
“What was her father?”
“Heron was his name, a Professor, so they tell me.”
Roger shook his head.
“There’s no money in that,” he said.
“They say her mother’s father was cement.”
Roger’s face brightened.
“But he went bankrupt,” went on Nicholas.
“Ah!” exclaimed Roger, “Soames will have trouble with her; you mark my words, he’ll have trouble — she’s got a foreign look.”
Nicholas licked his lips.
“She’s a pretty woman,” and he waved aside a crossing-sweeper.
“How did he get hold of her?” asked Roger presently. “She must cost him a pretty penny in dress!”
“Ann tells me,” replied Nicholas, “he was half-cracked about her. She refused him five times. James, he’s nervous about it, I can see.”
“Ah!” said Roger again; “I’m sorry for James; he had trouble with Dartie.” His pleasant colour was heightened by exercise, he swung his umbrella to the level of his eye more frequently than ever. Nicholas’s face also wore a pleasant look.
“Too pale for me,” he said, “but her figures capital!”
Roger made no reply.
“I call her distinguished-looking,” he said at last — it was the highest praise in the Forsyte vocabulary. “That young Bosinney will never do any good for himself. They say at Burkitt’s he’s one of these artistic chaps — got an idea of improving English architecture; there’s no money in that! I should like to hear what Timothy would say to it.”
They entered the station.
“What class are you going? I go second.”
“No second for me,” said Nicholas; —“you never know what you may catch.”
He took a first-class ticket to Notting Hill Gate; Roger a second to South Kensington. The train coming in a minute later, the two brothers parted and entered their respective compartments. Each felt aggrieved that the other had not modified his habits to secure his society a little longer; but as Roger voiced it in his thoughts:
‘Always a stubborn beggar, Nick!’
And as Nicholas expressed it to himself:
‘Cantankerous chap Roger — always was!’
There was little sentimentality about the Forsytes. In that great London, which they had conquered and become merged in, what time had they to be sentimental?
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08