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.”
Soames stroked his shoulder, and, taking up a silver button-hook, examined the mark on it.
“Well,” he said, “you’re looking better.”
James shook his head.
“I want to say something. Your mother hasn’t heard.” He announced Emily’s ignorance of what he hadn’t told her, as if it were a grievance.
“Your father’s been in a great state all the evening. I’m sure I don’t know what about.”
The faint ‘whisk-whisk’ of the brushes continued the soothing of her voice.
“No! you know nothing,” said James. “Soames can tell me.” And, fixing his grey eyes, in which there was a look of strain, uncomfortable to watch, on his son, he muttered:
“I’m getting on, Soames. At my age I can’t tell. I might die any time. There’ll be a lot of money. There’s Rachel and Cicely got no children; and Val’s out there — that chap his father will get hold of all he can. And somebody’ll pick up Imogen, I shouldn’t wonder.”
Soames listened vaguely — he had heard all this before. Whish-whish! went the brushes.
“If that’s all!” said Emily.
“All!” cried James; “it’s nothing. I’m coming to that.” And again his eyes strained pitifully at Soames.
“It’s you, my boy,” he said suddenly; “you ought to get a divorce.”
That word, from those of all lips, was almost too much for Soames’ composure. His eyes reconcentrated themselves quickly on the buttonhook, and as if in apology James hurried on:
“I don’t know what’s become of her — they say she’s abroad. Your Uncle Swithin used to admire her — he was a funny fellow.” (So he always alluded to his dead twin-‘The Stout and the Lean of it,’ they had been called.) “She wouldn’t be alone, I should say.” And with that summing-up of the effect of beauty on human nature, he was silent, watching his son with eyes doubting as a bird’s. Soames, too, was silent. Whish-whish went the brushes.
“Come, James! Soames knows best. It’s his ‘business.”
“Ah!” said James, and the word came from deep down; “but there’s all my money, and there’s his — who’s it to go to? And when he dies the name goes out.”
Soames replaced the button-hook on the lace and pink silk of the dressing-table coverlet.
“The name?” said Emily, “there are all the other Forsytes.”
“As if that helped me,” muttered James. “I shall be in my grave, and there’ll be nobody, unless he marries again.”
“You’re quite right,” said Soames quietly; “I’m getting a divorce.”
James’ eyes almost started from his head.
“What?” he cried. “There! nobody tells me anything.”
“Well,” said Emily, “who would have imagined you wanted it? My dear boy, that is a surprise, after all these years.”
“It’ll be a scandal,” muttered James, as if to himself; “but I can’t help that. Don’t brush so hard. When’ll it come on?”
“Before the Long Vacation; it’s not defended.”
James’ lips moved in secret calculation. “I shan’t live to see my grandson,” he muttered.
Emily ceased brushing. “Of course you will, James. Soames will be as quick as he can.”
There was a long silence, till James reached out his arm.
“Here! let’s have the eau-de-Cologne,” and, putting it to his nose, he moved his forehead in the direction of his son. Soames bent over and kissed that brow just where the hair began. A relaxing quiver passed over James’ face, as though the wheels of anxiety within were running down.
“I’ll get to bed,” he said; “I shan’t want to see the papers when that comes. They’re a morbid lot; I can’t pay attention to them, I’m too old.”
Queerly affected, Soames went to the door; he heard his father say:
“Here, I’m tired. I’ll say a prayer in bed.”
And his mother answering
“That’s right, James; it’ll be ever so much more comfy.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08