JAMES IN WAITING
Sweated to serenity, Soames dined at the Remove and turned his face toward Park Lane. His father had been unwell lately. This would have to be kept from him! Never till that moment had he realised how much the dread of bringing James’ grey hairs down with sorrow to the grave had counted with him; how intimately it was bound up with his own shrinking from scandal. His affection for his father, always deep, had increased of late years with the knowledge that James looked on him as the real prop of his decline. It seemed pitiful that one who had been so careful all his life and done so much for the family name—so that it was almost a byword for solid, wealthy respectability—should at his last gasp have to see it in all the newspapers. This was like lending a hand to Death, that final enemy of Forsytes. ‘I must tell mother,’ he thought, ’and when it comes on, we must keep the papers from him somehow. He sees hardly anyone.’ Letting himself in with his latchkey, he was beginning to ascend he stairs when he became conscious of commotion on the second-floor landing. His mother’s voice was saying:
“Now, James, you’ll catch cold. Why can’t you wait quietly?”
His father’s answering
“Wait? I’m always waiting. Why doesn’t he come in?”
“You can speak to him to-morrow morning, instead of making a guy of yourself on the landing.”
“He’ll go up to bed, I shouldn’t wonder. I shan’t sleep.”
“Now come back to bed, James.”
“Um! I might die before to-morrow morning for all you can tell.”
“You shan’t have to wait till to-morrow morning; I’ll go down and bring him up. Don’t fuss!”
“There you go—always so cock-a-hoop. He mayn’t come in at all.”
“Well, if he doesn’t come in you won’t catch him by standing out here in your dressing-gown.”
Soames rounded the last bend and came in sight of his father’s tall figure wrapped in a brown silk quilted gown, stooping over the balustrade above. Light fell on his silvery hair and whiskers, investing his head with, a sort of halo.
“Here he is!” he heard him say in a voice which sounded injured, and his mother’s comfortable answer from the bedroom door:
“That’s all right. Come in, and I’ll brush your hair.” James extended a thin, crooked finger, oddly like the beckoning of a skeleton, and passed through the doorway of his bedroom.
‘What is it?’ thought Soames. ‘What has he got hold of now?’
His father was sitting before the dressing-table sideways to the mirror, while Emily slowly passed two silver-backed brushes through and through his hair. She would do this several times a day, for it had on him something of the effect produced on a cat by scratching between its ears.
“There you are!” he said. “I’ve been waiting.”