Chafing at the slowness of his cab, he reached the Zoo door; but, with his sunny instinct for seizing the good of each moment, he forgot his vexation as he walked towards the tryst.
From the stone terrace above the bear-pit his son and his two grandchildren came hastening down when they saw old Jolyon coming, and led him away towards the lion-house. They supported him on either side, holding one to each of his hands,—whilst Jolly, perverse like his father, carried his grandfather’s umbrella in such a way as to catch people’s legs with the crutch of the handle.
Young Jolyon followed.
It was as good as a play to see his father with the children, but such a play as brings smiles with tears behind. An old man and two small children walking together can be seen at any hour of the day; but the sight of old Jolyon, with Jolly and Holly seemed to young Jolyon a special peep-show of the things that lie at the bottom of our hearts. The complete surrender of that erect old figure to those little figures on either hand was too poignantly tender, and, being a man of an habitual reflex action, young Jolyon swore softly under his breath. The show affected him in a way unbecoming to a Forsyte, who is nothing if not undemonstrative.
Thus they reached the lion-house.
There had been a morning fete at the Botanical Gardens, and a large number of Forsy...’—that is, of well-dressed people who kept carriages had brought them on to the Zoo, so as to have more, if possible, for their money, before going back to Rutland Gate or Bryanston Square.
“Let’s go on to the Zoo,” they had said to each other; “it’ll be great fun!” It was a shilling day; and there would not be all those horrid common people.
In front of the long line of cages they were collected in rows, watching the tawny, ravenous beasts behind the bars await their only pleasure of the four-and-twenty hours. The hungrier the beast, the greater the fascination. But whether because the spectators envied his appetite, or, more humanely, because it was so soon to be satisfied, young Jolyon could not tell. Remarks kept falling on his ears: “That’s a nasty-looking brute, that tiger!” “Oh, what a love! Look at his little mouth!” “Yes, he’s rather nice! Don’t go too near, mother.”
And frequently, with little pats, one or another would clap their hands to their pockets behind and look round, as though expecting young Jolyon or some disinterested-looking person to relieve them of the contents.
A well-fed man in a white waistcoat said slowly through his teeth: “It’s all greed; they can’t be hungry. Why, they take no exercise.” At these words a tiger snatched a piece of bleeding liver, and the fat man laughed. His wife, in a Paris model frock and gold nose-nippers, reproved him: “How can you laugh, Harry? Such a horrid sight!”
Young Jolyon frowned.
The circumstances of his life, though he had ceased to take a too personal view of them, had left him subject to an intermittent contempt; and the class to which he had belonged—the carriage class—especially excited his sarcasm.