CHAPTER V-A FORSYTE MENAGE
Like the enlightened
thousands of his class and generation
in this great city of London, who no longer believe in red velvet
chairs, and know that groups of modern
Italian marble are 'vieux jeu,' Soames Forsyte inhabited a house which did what it could. It owned a copper door knocker of individual design
, windows which had been altered
to open outwards, hanging flower boxes filled with fuchsias, and at the back (a great feature
) a little court
tiled with jade-green tiles, and surrounded by pink hydrangeas in peacock-blue tubs. Here, under a parchment-coloured Japanese sunshade covering the whole end, inhabitants or visitors could be screened from the eyes of the curious
while they drank tea and examined at their leisure
the latest of Soames's little silver boxes.
The inner decoration
favoured the First Empire and William Morris. For its size, the house was commodious
; there were countless
nooks resembling birds' nests, and little things made of silver were deposited like eggs.
In this general perfection
two kinds of fastidiousness were at war. There lived here a mistress who would have dwelt daintily on a desert island
; a master
whose daintiness was, as it were, an investment
by the owner for his advancement
, in accordance
with the laws of competition
. This competitive
daintiness had caused Soames in his Marlborough days to be the first boy into white waistcoats in summer, and corduroy
waistcoats in winter, had prevented him from ever appearing in public
with his tie
climbing up his collar, and induced him to dust his patent leather
boots before a great multitude
assembled on Speech Day to hear him recite
Skin-like immaculateness had grown over Soames, as over many Londoners; impossible
of him with a hair out of place, a tie
deviating one-eighth of an inch
from the perpendicular
, a collar unglossed! He would not have gone without a bath for worlds-it was the fashion
to take baths; and how bitter
was his scorn
of people who omitted them!
Thus the house had acquired a close resemblance
to hundreds of other houses with the same high aspirations, having become: 'That very charming
little house of the Soames Forsytes, quite individual
, my dear-really elegant
For Soames Forsyte-read James Peabody, Thomas Atkins, or Emmanuel Spagnoletti, the name in fact
of any upper-middle class Englishman in London with any pretensions to taste; and though the decoration
, the phrase
On the evening of August 8, a week after the expedition
to Robin Hill, in the dining-room of this house-'quite individual
, my dear-really elegant
'-Soames and Irene were seated at dinner. A hot dinner on Sundays was a little distinguishing elegance common
to this house and many others. Early in married life Soames had laid down the rule: 'The servants must give us hot dinner on Sundays-they've nothing to do but play the concertina.'
Soames liked to talk during dinner about business, or what he had been buying, and so long as he talked Irene's silence
did not distress
him. This evening he had found it impossible
to talk. The decision
to build had been weighing on his mind
all the week, and he had made up his mind
to tell her.
His nervousness about this disclosure irritated
; she had no business to make him feel like that-a wife and a husband
being one person. She had not looked at him once since they sat down; and he wondered what on earth
she had been thinking about all the time. It was hard, when a man worked as he did, making money for her-yes, and with an ache in his heart
-that she should sit there, looking-looking as if she saw the walls of the room closing in. It was enough to make a man get up and leave the table
The light from the rose-shaded lamp fell on her neck and arms-Soames liked her to dine in a low dress, it gave him an inexpressible feeling of superiority
to the majority
of his acquaintance
, whose wives were contented
with their best high frocks or with tea-gowns, when they dined at home. Under that rosy
light her amber-coloured hair and fair
skin made strange contrast
with her dark brown eyes.
Could a man own anything prettier than this dining-table
with its deep tints, the starry, soft-petalled roses, the ruby-coloured glass, and quaint
silver furnishing; could a man own anything prettier than the woman who sat at it? Gratitude was no virtue
among Forsytes, who, competitive
, and full of common
-sense, had no occasion
for it; and Soames only experienced a sense of exasperation
amounting to pain, that he did not own her as it was his right
to own her, that he could not, as by stretching out his hand to that rose, pluck
her and sniff
the very secrets of her heart
Out of his other property
, out of all the things he had collected
, his silver, his pictures, his houses, his investments, he got a secret and intimate
feeling; out of her he got none.
In this house of his there was writing on every wall. His business-like temperament
protested against a mysterious warning
that she was not made for him. He had married this woman, conquered her, made her his own, and it seemed to him contrary
to the most fundamental
of all laws, the law of possession
, that he could do no more than own her body-if indeed he could do that, which he was beginning to doubt
. If any one had asked him if he wanted to own her soul
, the question would have seemed to him both ridiculous
. But he did so want, and the writing said he never would.
She was ever silent, passive
, gracefully averse
; as though terrified lest by word, motion
, or sign she might
lead him to believe that she was fond
of him; and he asked himself: Must I always go on like this?
Like most novel
readers of his generation
(and Soames was a great novel
coloured his view of life; and he had imbibed the belief
that it was only a question of time.
In the end the husband
always gained the affection
of his wife. Even in those cases-a class of book he was not very fond
of-which ended in tragedy
, the wife always died with poignant
regrets on her lips, or if it were the husband
who died-unpleasant thought-threw herself on his body in an agony
He often took Irene to the theatre, instinctively choosing the modern
Society Plays with the modern
Society conjugal problem
, so fortunately different
from any conjugal problem
in real life. He found that they too always ended in the same way, even when there was a lover in the case. While he was watching the play Soames often sympathized with the lover; but before he reached home again, driving with Irene in a hansom, he saw that this would not do, and he was glad the play had ended as it had. There was one class of husband
that had just then come into fashion
, the strong, rather rough, but extremely sound
man, who was peculiarly successful
at the end of the play; with this person Soames was really not in sympathy
, and had it not been for his own position, would have expressed his disgust
with the fellow. But he was so conscious
of how vital
to himself was the necessity
for being a successful
, even a 'strong,' husband
, that he never spoke
of a distaste
born perhaps by the perverse
processes of Nature out of a secret fund
But Irene's silence
this evening was exceptional
. He had never before seen such an expression
on her face. And since it is always the unusual which alarms, Soames was alarmed. He ate his savoury, and hurried the maid as she swept off the crumbs with the silver sweeper. When she had left the room, he filled his glass with wine and said:
"Anybody been here this afternoon?"
"What did she want?" It was an axiom
with the Forsytes that people did not go anywhere unless they wanted something. "Came to talk about her lover, I suppose
Irene made no reply.
"It looks to me," continued Soames, "as if she were sweeter on him than he is on her. She's always following him about."
Irene's eyes made him feel uncomfortable
"You've no business to say such a thing!" she exclaimed.
"Why not? Anybody can see it."
"They cannot. And if they could, it's disgraceful to say so."
"You're a pretty wife!" he said. But secretly he wondered at the heat
of her reply; it was unlike her. "You're cracked about June! I can tell you one thing: now that she has the Buccaneer in tow, she doesn't care twopence about you, and, you'll find it out. But you won't see so much of her in future
; we're going to live in the country."
He had been glad to get his news out under cover of this burst
. He had expected
a cry of dismay
; the silence
with which his pronouncement
was received alarmed him.
"You don't seem interested
," he was obliged to add.
"I knew it already."
He looked at her sharply
"Who told you?"
"How did she know?"
Irene did not answer. Baffled and uncomfortable
, he said:
"It's a fine thing for Bosinney, it'll be the making of him. I suppose
she's told you all about it?"
There was another pause
, and then Soames said:
you don't want to, go?"
Irene made no reply.
"Well, I can't tell what you want. You never seem contented
"Have my wishes anything to do with it?"
She took the vase of roses and left the room. Soames remained seated. Was it for this that he had signed that contract
? Was it for this that he was going to spend some ten thousand pounds? Bosinney's phrase
came back to him: "Women are the devil!"
he grew calmer. It might
have, been worse. She might
have flared up. He had expected
something more than this. It was lucky, after all, that June had broken the ice for him. She must have wormed it out of Bosinney; he might
have known she would.
He lighted his cigarette. After all, Irene had not made a scene
! She would come round-that was the best of her; she was cold, but not sulky
. And, puffing the cigarette smoke at a lady-bird on the shining table
, he plunged into a reverie
about the house. It was no good worrying; he would go and make it up presently
. She would be sitting out there in the dark, under the Japanese sunshade, knitting. A beautiful, warm night....
In truth, June had come in that afternoon with shining eyes, and the words: "Soames is a brick! It's splendid
for Phil-the very thing for him!"
Irene's face remaining
dark and puzzled
, she went on:
"Your new house at Robin Hill, of course. What? Don't you know?"
Irene did not know.
"Oh! then, I suppose
I oughtn't to have told you!" Looking impatiently at her friend, she cried: "You look as if you didn't care. Don't you see, it's what I've' been praying for-the very chance he's been wanting all this time. Now you'll see what he can do;" and thereupon she poured out the whole story.
"He's to have all the decorations as well-a free hand. It's perfect
-" June broke into laughter, her little figure
; she raised her hand, and struck a blow at a muslin
curtain. "Do you, know I even asked Uncle James...." But, with a sudden dislike
to mentioning that incident
, she stopped; and presently
, finding her friend so unresponsive
, went away. She looked back from the pavement, and Irene was still standing in the doorway. In response
to her farewell wave
, Irene put her hand to her brow, and, turning slowly, shut the door....
Soames went to the drawing-room presently
, and peered at her through
Out in the shadow
of the Japanese sunshade she was sitting very still, the lace
on her white shoulders stirring with the soft rise and fall of her bosom.
But about this silent creature
sitting there so motionless
, in the dark, there seemed a warmth, a hidden fervour of feeling, as if the whole of her being had been stirred, and some change were taking place in its very depths.
back to the dining-room unnoticed.