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´╗┐Title: The Beast in the Jungle
Author: James, Henry, 1843-1916
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Beast in the Jungle" ***

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Transcribed from the 1915 Martin Secker edition by David Price, email


THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE


CHAPTER I


What determined the speech that startled him in the course of their
encounter scarcely matters, being probably but some words spoken by
himself quite without intention--spoken as they lingered and slowly moved
together after their renewal of acquaintance.  He had been conveyed by
friends an hour or two before to the house at which she was staying; the
party of visitors at the other house, of whom he was one, and thanks to
whom it was his theory, as always, that he was lost in the crowd, had
been invited over to luncheon.  There had been after luncheon much
dispersal, all in the interest of the original motive, a view of
Weatherend itself and the fine things, intrinsic features, pictures,
heirlooms, treasures of all the arts, that made the place almost famous;
and the great rooms were so numerous that guests could wander at their
will, hang back from the principal group and in cases where they took
such matters with the last seriousness give themselves up to mysterious
appreciations and measurements.  There were persons to be observed,
singly or in couples, bending toward objects in out-of-the-way corners
with their hands on their knees and their heads nodding quite as with the
emphasis of an excited sense of smell.  When they were two they either
mingled their sounds of ecstasy or melted into silences of even deeper
import, so that there were aspects of the occasion that gave it for
Marcher much the air of the "look round," previous to a sale highly
advertised, that excites or quenches, as may be, the dream of
acquisition.  The dream of acquisition at Weatherend would have had to be
wild indeed, and John Marcher found himself, among such suggestions,
disconcerted almost equally by the presence of those who knew too much
and by that of those who knew nothing.  The great rooms caused so much
poetry and history to press upon him that he needed some straying apart
to feel in a proper relation with them, though this impulse was not, as
happened, like the gloating of some of his companions, to be compared to
the movements of a dog sniffing a cupboard.  It had an issue promptly
enough in a direction that was not to have been calculated.

It led, briefly, in the course of the October afternoon, to his closer
meeting with May Bartram, whose face, a reminder, yet not quite a
remembrance, as they sat much separated at a very long table, had begun
merely by troubling him rather pleasantly.  It affected him as the sequel
of something of which he had lost the beginning.  He knew it, and for the
time quite welcomed it, as a continuation, but didn't know what it
continued, which was an interest or an amusement the greater as he was
also somehow aware--yet without a direct sign from her--that the young
woman herself hadn't lost the thread.  She hadn't lost it, but she
wouldn't give it back to him, he saw, without some putting forth of his
hand for it; and he not only saw that, but saw several things more,
things odd enough in the light of the fact that at the moment some
accident of grouping brought them face to face he was still merely
fumbling with the idea that any contact between them in the past would
have had no importance.  If it had had no importance he scarcely knew why
his actual impression of her should so seem to have so much; the answer
to which, however, was that in such a life as they all appeared to be
leading for the moment one could but take things as they came.  He was
satisfied, without in the least being able to say why, that this young
lady might roughly have ranked in the house as a poor relation; satisfied
also that she was not there on a brief visit, but was more or less a part
of the establishment--almost a working, a remunerated part.  Didn't she
enjoy at periods a protection that she paid for by helping, among other
services, to show the place and explain it, deal with the tiresome
people, answer questions about the dates of the building, the styles of
the furniture, the authorship of the pictures, the favourite haunts of
the ghost?  It wasn't that she looked as if you could have given her
shillings--it was impossible to look less so.  Yet when she finally
drifted toward him, distinctly handsome, though ever so much older--older
than when he had seen her before--it might have been as an effect of her
guessing that he had, within the couple of hours, devoted more
imagination to her than to all the others put together, and had thereby
penetrated to a kind of truth that the others were too stupid for.  She
_was_ there on harder terms than any one; she was there as a consequence
of things suffered, one way and another, in the interval of years; and
she remembered him very much as she was remembered--only a good deal
better.

By the time they at last thus came to speech they were alone in one of
the rooms--remarkable for a fine portrait over the chimney-place--out of
which their friends had passed, and the charm of it was that even before
they had spoken they had practically arranged with each other to stay
behind for talk.  The charm, happily, was in other things too--partly in
there being scarce a spot at Weatherend without something to stay behind
for.  It was in the way the autumn day looked into the high windows as it
waned; the way the red light, breaking at the close from under a low
sombre sky, reached out in a long shaft and played over old wainscots,
old tapestry, old gold, old colour.  It was most of all perhaps in the
way she came to him as if, since she had been turned on to deal with the
simpler sort, he might, should he choose to keep the whole thing down,
just take her mild attention for a part of her general business.  As soon
as he heard her voice, however, the gap was filled up and the missing
link supplied; the slight irony he divined in her attitude lost its
advantage.  He almost jumped at it to get there before her.  "I met you
years and years ago in Rome.  I remember all about it."  She confessed to
disappointment--she had been so sure he didn't; and to prove how well he
did he began to pour forth the particular recollections that popped up as
he called for them.  Her face and her voice, all at his service now,
worked the miracle--the impression operating like the torch of a
lamplighter who touches into flame, one by one, a long row of gas-jets.
Marcher flattered himself the illumination was brilliant, yet he was
really still more pleased on her showing him, with amusement, that in his
haste to make everything right he had got most things rather wrong.  It
hadn't been at Rome--it had been at Naples; and it hadn't been eight
years before--it had been more nearly ten.  She hadn't been, either, with
her uncle and aunt, but with her mother and brother; in addition to which
it was not with the Pembles _he_ had been, but with the Boyers, coming
down in their company from Rome--a point on which she insisted, a little
to his confusion, and as to which she had her evidence in hand.  The
Boyers she had known, but didn't know the Pembles, though she had heard
of them, and it was the people he was with who had made them acquainted.
The incident of the thunderstorm that had raged round them with such
violence as to drive them for refuge into an excavation--this incident
had not occurred at the Palace of the Caesars, but at Pompeii, on an
occasion when they had been present there at an important find.

He accepted her amendments, he enjoyed her corrections, though the moral
of them was, she pointed out, that he _really_ didn't remember the least
thing about her; and he only felt it as a drawback that when all was made
strictly historic there didn't appear much of anything left.  They
lingered together still, she neglecting her office--for from the moment
he was so clever she had no proper right to him--and both neglecting the
house, just waiting as to see if a memory or two more wouldn't again
breathe on them.  It hadn't taken them many minutes, after all, to put
down on the table, like the cards of a pack, those that constituted their
respective hands; only what came out was that the pack was unfortunately
not perfect--that the past, invoked, invited, encouraged, could give
them, naturally, no more than it had.  It had made them anciently
meet--her at twenty, him at twenty-five; but nothing was so strange, they
seemed to say to each other, as that, while so occupied, it hadn't done a
little more for them.  They looked at each other as with the feeling of
an occasion missed; the present would have been so much better if the
other, in the far distance, in the foreign land, hadn't been so stupidly
meagre.  There weren't, apparently, all counted, more than a dozen little
old things that had succeeded in coming to pass between them;
trivialities of youth, simplicities of freshness, stupidities of
ignorance, small possible germs, but too deeply buried--too deeply
(didn't it seem?) to sprout after so many years.  Marcher could only feel
he ought to have rendered her some service--saved her from a capsized
boat in the bay or at least recovered her dressing-bag, filched from her
cab in the streets of Naples by a lazzarone with a stiletto.  Or it would
have been nice if he could have been taken with fever all alone at his
hotel, and she could have come to look after him, to write to his people,
to drive him out in convalescence.  _Then_ they would be in possession of
the something or other that their actual show seemed to lack.  It yet
somehow presented itself, this show, as too good to be spoiled; so that
they were reduced for a few minutes more to wondering a little helplessly
why--since they seemed to know a certain number of the same people--their
reunion had been so long averted.  They didn't use that name for it, but
their delay from minute to minute to join the others was a kind of
confession that they didn't quite want it to be a failure.  Their
attempted supposition of reasons for their not having met but showed how
little they knew of each other.  There came in fact a moment when Marcher
felt a positive pang.  It was vain to pretend she was an old friend, for
all the communities were wanting, in spite of which it was as an old
friend that he saw she would have suited him.  He had new ones enough--was
surrounded with them for instance on the stage of the other house; as a
new one he probably wouldn't have so much as noticed her.  He would have
liked to invent something, get her to make-believe with him that some
passage of a romantic or critical kind _had_ originally occurred.  He was
really almost reaching out in imagination--as against time--for something
that would do, and saying to himself that if it didn't come this sketch
of a fresh start would show for quite awkwardly bungled.  They would
separate, and now for no second or no third chance.  They would have
tried and not succeeded.  Then it was, just at the turn, as he afterwards
made it out to himself, that, everything else failing, she herself
decided to take up the case and, as it were, save the situation.  He felt
as soon as she spoke that she had been consciously keeping back what she
said and hoping to get on without it; a scruple in her that immensely
touched him when, by the end of three or four minutes more, he was able
to measure it.  What she brought out, at any rate, quite cleared the air
and supplied the link--the link it was so odd he should frivolously have
managed to lose.

"You know you told me something I've never forgotten and that again and
again has made me think of you since; it was that tremendously hot day
when we went to Sorrento, across the bay, for the breeze.  What I allude
to was what you said to me, on the way back, as we sat under the awning
of the boat enjoying the cool.  Have you forgotten?"

He had forgotten, and was even more surprised than ashamed.  But the
great thing was that he saw in this no vulgar reminder of any "sweet"
speech.  The vanity of women had long memories, but she was making no
claim on him of a compliment or a mistake.  With another woman, a totally
different one, he might have feared the recall possibly even some
imbecile "offer."  So, in having to say that he had indeed forgotten, he
was conscious rather of a loss than of a gain; he already saw an interest
in the matter of her mention.  "I try to think--but I give it up.  Yet I
remember the Sorrento day."

"I'm not very sure you do," May Bartram after a moment said; "and I'm not
very sure I ought to want you to.  It's dreadful to bring a person back
at any time to what he was ten years before.  If you've lived away from
it," she smiled, "so much the better."

"Ah if _you_ haven't why should I?" he asked.

"Lived away, you mean, from what I myself was?"

"From what _I_ was.  I was of course an ass," Marcher went on; "but I
would rather know from you just the sort of ass I was than--from the
moment you have something in your mind--not know anything."

Still, however, she hesitated.  "But if you've completely ceased to be
that sort--?"

"Why I can then all the more bear to know.  Besides, perhaps I haven't."

"Perhaps.  Yet if you haven't," she added, "I should suppose you'd
remember.  Not indeed that _I_ in the least connect with my impression
the invidious name you use.  If I had only thought you foolish," she
explained, "the thing I speak of wouldn't so have remained with me.  It
was about yourself."  She waited as if it might come to him; but as, only
meeting her eyes in wonder, he gave no sign, she burnt her ships.  "Has
it ever happened?"

Then it was that, while he continued to stare, a light broke for him and
the blood slowly came to his face, which began to burn with recognition.

"Do you mean I told you--?"  But he faltered, lest what came to him
shouldn't be right, lest he should only give himself away.

"It was something about yourself that it was natural one shouldn't
forget--that is if one remembered you at all.  That's why I ask you," she
smiled, "if the thing you then spoke of has ever come to pass?"

Oh then he saw, but he was lost in wonder and found himself embarrassed.
This, he also saw, made her sorry for him, as if her allusion had been a
mistake.  It took him but a moment, however, to feel it hadn't been, much
as it had been a surprise.  After the first little shock of it her
knowledge on the contrary began, even if rather strangely, to taste sweet
to him.  She was the only other person in the world then who would have
it, and she had had it all these years, while the fact of his having so
breathed his secret had unaccountably faded from him.  No wonder they
couldn't have met as if nothing had happened.  "I judge," he finally
said, "that I know what you mean.  Only I had strangely enough lost any
sense of having taken you so far into my confidence."

"Is it because you've taken so many others as well?"

"I've taken nobody.  Not a creature since then."

"So that I'm the only person who knows?"

"The only person in the world."

"Well," she quickly replied, "I myself have never spoken.  I've never,
never repeated of you what you told me."  She looked at him so that he
perfectly believed her.  Their eyes met over it in such a way that he was
without a doubt.  "And I never will."

She spoke with an earnestness that, as if almost excessive, put him at
ease about her possible derision.  Somehow the whole question was a new
luxury to him--that is from the moment she was in possession.  If she
didn't take the sarcastic view she clearly took the sympathetic, and that
was what he had had, in all the long time, from no one whomsoever.  What
he felt was that he couldn't at present have begun to tell her, and yet
could profit perhaps exquisitely by the accident of having done so of
old.  "Please don't then.  We're just right as it is."

"Oh I am," she laughed, "if you are!"  To which she added: "Then you do
still feel in the same way?"

It was impossible he shouldn't take to himself that she was really
interested, though it all kept coming as a perfect surprise.  He had
thought of himself so long as abominably alone, and lo he wasn't alone a
bit.  He hadn't been, it appeared, for an hour--since those moments on
the Sorrento boat.  It was she who had been, he seemed to see as he
looked at her--she who had been made so by the graceless fact of his
lapse of fidelity.  To tell her what he had told her--what had it been
but to ask something of her? something that she had given, in her
charity, without his having, by a remembrance, by a return of the spirit,
failing another encounter, so much as thanked her.  What he had asked of
her had been simply at first not to laugh at him.  She had beautifully
not done so for ten years, and she was not doing so now.  So he had
endless gratitude to make up.  Only for that he must see just how he had
figured to her.  "What, exactly, was the account I gave--?"

"Of the way you did feel?  Well, it was very simple.  You said you had
had from your earliest time, as the deepest thing within you, the sense
of being kept for something rare and strange, possibly prodigious and
terrible, that was sooner or later to happen to you, that you had in your
bones the foreboding and the conviction of, and that would perhaps
overwhelm you."

"Do you call that very simple?" John Marcher asked.

She thought a moment.  "It was perhaps because I seemed, as you spoke, to
understand it."

"You do understand it?" he eagerly asked.

Again she kept her kind eyes on him.  "You still have the belief?"

"Oh!" he exclaimed helplessly.  There was too much to say.

"Whatever it's to be," she clearly made out, "it hasn't yet come."

He shook his head in complete surrender now.  "It hasn't yet come.  Only,
you know, it isn't anything I'm to do, to achieve in the world, to be
distinguished or admired for.  I'm not such an ass as _that_.  It would
be much better, no doubt, if I were."

"It's to be something you're merely to suffer?"

"Well, say to wait for--to have to meet, to face, to see suddenly break
out in my life; possibly destroying all further consciousness, possibly
annihilating me; possibly, on the other hand, only altering everything,
striking at the root of all my world and leaving me to the consequences,
however they shape themselves."

She took this in, but the light in her eyes continued for him not to be
that of mockery.  "Isn't what you describe perhaps but the expectation--or
at any rate the sense of danger, familiar to so many people--of falling
in love?"

John Marcher thought.  "Did you ask me that before?"

"No--I wasn't so free-and-easy then.  But it's what strikes me now."

"Of course," he said after a moment, "it strikes you.  Of course it
strikes _me_.  Of course what's in store for me may be no more than that.
The only thing is," he went on, "that I think if it had been that I
should by this time know."

"Do you mean because you've _been_ in love?"  And then as he but looked
at her in silence: "You've been in love, and it hasn't meant such a
cataclysm, hasn't proved the great affair?"

"Here I am, you see.  It hasn't been overwhelming."

"Then it hasn't been love," said May Bartram.

"Well, I at least thought it was.  I took it for that--I've taken it till
now.  It was agreeable, it was delightful, it was miserable," he
explained.  "But it wasn't strange.  It wasn't what my affair's to be."

"You want something all to yourself--something that nobody else knows or
_has_ known?"

"It isn't a question of what I 'want'--God knows I don't want anything.
It's only a question of the apprehension that haunts me--that I live with
day by day."

He said this so lucidly and consistently that he could see it further
impose itself.  If she hadn't been interested before she'd have been
interested now.

"Is it a sense of coming violence?"

Evidently now too again he liked to talk of it.  "I don't think of it
as--when it does come--necessarily violent.  I only think of it as
natural and as of course above all unmistakeable.  I think of it simply
as _the_ thing.  _The_ thing will of itself appear natural."

"Then how will it appear strange?"

Marcher bethought himself.  "It won't--to _me_."

"To whom then?"

"Well," he replied, smiling at last, "say to you."

"Oh then I'm to be present?"

"Why you are present--since you know."

"I see."  She turned it over.  "But I mean at the catastrophe."

At this, for a minute, their lightness gave way to their gravity; it was
as if the long look they exchanged held them together.  "It will only
depend on yourself--if you'll watch with me."

"Are you afraid?" she asked.

"Don't leave me now," he went on.

"Are you afraid?" she repeated.

"Do you think me simply out of my mind?" he pursued instead of answering.
"Do I merely strike you as a harmless lunatic?"

"No," said May Bartram.  "I understand you.  I believe you."

"You mean you feel how my obsession--poor old thing--may correspond to
some possible reality?"

"To some possible reality."

"Then you _will_ watch with me?"

She hesitated, then for the third time put her question.  "Are you
afraid?"

"Did I tell you I was--at Naples?"

"No, you said nothing about it."

"Then I don't know.  And I should like to know," said John Marcher.
"You'll tell me yourself whether you think so.  If you'll watch with me
you'll see."

"Very good then."  They had been moving by this time across the room, and
at the door, before passing out, they paused as for the full wind-up of
their understanding.  "I'll watch with you," said May Bartram.



CHAPTER II


The fact that she "knew"--knew and yet neither chaffed him nor betrayed
him--had in a short time begun to constitute between them a goodly bond,
which became more marked when, within the year that followed their
afternoon at Weatherend, the opportunities for meeting multiplied.  The
event that thus promoted these occasions was the death of the ancient
lady her great-aunt, under whose wing, since losing her mother, she had
to such an extent found shelter, and who, though but the widowed mother
of the new successor to the property, had succeeded--thanks to a high
tone and a high temper--in not forfeiting the supreme position at the
great house.  The deposition of this personage arrived but with her
death, which, followed by many changes, made in particular a difference
for the young woman in whom Marcher's expert attention had recognised
from the first a dependent with a pride that might ache though it didn't
bristle.  Nothing for a long time had made him easier than the thought
that the aching must have been much soothed by Miss Bartram's now finding
herself able to set up a small home in London.  She had acquired
property, to an amount that made that luxury just possible, under her
aunt's extremely complicated will, and when the whole matter began to be
straightened out, which indeed took time, she let him know that the happy
issue was at last in view.  He had seen her again before that day, both
because she had more than once accompanied the ancient lady to town and
because he had paid another visit to the friends who so conveniently made
of Weatherend one of the charms of their own hospitality.  These friends
had taken him back there; he had achieved there again with Miss Bartram
some quiet detachment; and he had in London succeeded in persuading her
to more than one brief absence from her aunt.  They went together, on
these latter occasions, to the National Gallery and the South Kensington
Museum, where, among vivid reminders, they talked of Italy at large--not
now attempting to recover, as at first, the taste of their youth and
their ignorance.  That recovery, the first day at Weatherend, had served
its purpose well, had given them quite enough; so that they were, to
Marcher's sense, no longer hovering about the head-waters of their
stream, but had felt their boat pushed sharply off and down the current.

They were literally afloat together; for our gentleman this was marked,
quite as marked as that the fortunate cause of it was just the buried
treasure of her knowledge.  He had with his own hands dug up this little
hoard, brought to light--that is to within reach of the dim day
constituted by their discretions and privacies--the object of value the
hiding-place of which he had, after putting it into the ground himself,
so strangely, so long forgotten.  The rare luck of his having again just
stumbled on the spot made him indifferent to any other question; he would
doubtless have devoted more time to the odd accident of his lapse of
memory if he hadn't been moved to devote so much to the sweetness, the
comfort, as he felt, for the future, that this accident itself had helped
to keep fresh.  It had never entered into his plan that any one should
"know", and mainly for the reason that it wasn't in him to tell any one.
That would have been impossible, for nothing but the amusement of a cold
world would have waited on it.  Since, however, a mysterious fate had
opened his mouth betimes, in spite of him, he would count that a
compensation and profit by it to the utmost.  That the right person
_should_ know tempered the asperity of his secret more even than his
shyness had permitted him to imagine; and May Bartram was clearly right,
because--well, because there she was.  Her knowledge simply settled it;
he would have been sure enough by this time had she been wrong.  There
was that in his situation, no doubt, that disposed him too much to see
her as a mere confidant, taking all her light for him from the fact--the
fact only--of her interest in his predicament; from her mercy, sympathy,
seriousness, her consent not to regard him as the funniest of the funny.
Aware, in fine, that her price for him was just in her giving him this
constant sense of his being admirably spared, he was careful to remember
that she had also a life of her own, with things that might happen to
_her_, things that in friendship one should likewise take account of.
Something fairly remarkable came to pass with him, for that matter, in
this connexion--something represented by a certain passage of his
consciousness, in the suddenest way, from one extreme to the other.

He had thought himself, so long as nobody knew, the most disinterested
person in the world, carrying his concentrated burden, his perpetual
suspense, ever so quietly, holding his tongue about it, giving others no
glimpse of it nor of its effect upon his life, asking of them no
allowance and only making on his side all those that were asked.  He
hadn't disturbed people with the queerness of their having to know a
haunted man, though he had had moments of rather special temptation on
hearing them say they were forsooth "unsettled."  If they were as
unsettled as he was--he who had never been settled for an hour in his
life--they would know what it meant.  Yet it wasn't, all the same, for
him to make them, and he listened to them civilly enough.  This was why
he had such good--though possibly such rather colourless--manners; this
was why, above all, he could regard himself, in a greedy world, as
decently--as in fact perhaps even a little sublimely--unselfish.  Our
point is accordingly that he valued this character quite sufficiently to
measure his present danger of letting it lapse, against which he promised
himself to be much on his guard.  He was quite ready, none the less, to
be selfish just a little, since surely no more charming occasion for it
had come to him.  "Just a little," in a word, was just as much as Miss
Bartram, taking one day with another, would let him.  He never would be
in the least coercive, and would keep well before him the lines on which
consideration for her--the very highest--ought to proceed.  He would
thoroughly establish the heads under which her affairs, her requirements,
her peculiarities--he went so far as to give them the latitude of that
name--would come into their intercourse.  All this naturally was a sign
of how much he took the intercourse itself for granted.  There was
nothing more to be done about that.  It simply existed; had sprung into
being with her first penetrating question to him in the autumn light
there at Weatherend.  The real form it should have taken on the basis
that stood out large was the form of their marrying.  But the devil in
this was that the very basis itself put marrying out of the question.  His
conviction, his apprehension, his obsession, in short, wasn't a privilege
he could invite a woman to share; and that consequence of it was
precisely what was the matter with him.  Something or other lay in wait
for him, amid the twists and the turns of the months and the years, like
a crouching Beast in the Jungle.  It signified little whether the
crouching Beast were destined to slay him or to be slain.  The definite
point was the inevitable spring of the creature; and the definite lesson
from that was that a man of feeling didn't cause himself to be
accompanied by a lady on a tiger-hunt.  Such was the image under which he
had ended by figuring his life.

They had at first, none the less, in the scattered hours spent together,
made no allusion to that view of it; which was a sign he was handsomely
alert to give that he didn't expect, that he in fact didn't care, always
to be talking about it.  Such a feature in one's outlook was really like
a hump on one's back.  The difference it made every minute of the day
existed quite independently of discussion.  One discussed of course
_like_ a hunchback, for there was always, if nothing else, the hunchback
face.  That remained, and she was watching him; but people watched best,
as a general thing, in silence, so that such would be predominantly the
manner of their vigil.  Yet he didn't want, at the same time, to be tense
and solemn; tense and solemn was what he imagined he too much showed for
with other people.  The thing to be, with the one person who knew, was
easy and natural--to make the reference rather than be seeming to avoid
it, to avoid it rather than be seeming to make it, and to keep it, in any
case, familiar, facetious even, rather than pedantic and portentous.  Some
such consideration as the latter was doubtless in his mind for instance
when he wrote pleasantly to Miss Bartram that perhaps the great thing he
had so long felt as in the lap of the gods was no more than this
circumstance, which touched him so nearly, of her acquiring a house in
London.  It was the first allusion they had yet again made, needing any
other hitherto so little; but when she replied, after having given him
the news, that she was by no means satisfied with such a trifle as the
climax to so special a suspense, she almost set him wondering if she
hadn't even a larger conception of singularity for him than he had for
himself.  He was at all events destined to become aware little by little,
as time went by, that she was all the while looking at his life, judging
it, measuring it, in the light of the thing she knew, which grew to be at
last, with the consecration of the years, never mentioned between them
save as "the real truth" about him.  That had always been his own form of
reference to it, but she adopted the form so quietly that, looking back
at the end of a period, he knew there was no moment at which it was
traceable that she had, as he might say, got inside his idea, or
exchanged the attitude of beautifully indulging for that of still more
beautifully believing him.

It was always open to him to accuse her of seeing him but as the most
harmless of maniacs, and this, in the long run--since it covered so much
ground--was his easiest description of their friendship.  He had a screw
loose for her but she liked him in spite of it and was practically,
against the rest of the world, his kind wise keeper, unremunerated but
fairly amused and, in the absence of other near ties, not disreputably
occupied.  The rest of the world of course thought him queer, but she,
she only, knew how, and above all why, queer; which was precisely what
enabled her to dispose the concealing veil in the right folds.  She took
his gaiety from him--since it had to pass with them for gaiety--as she
took everything else; but she certainly so far justified by her unerring
touch his finer sense of the degree to which he had ended by convincing
her.  _She_ at least never spoke of the secret of his life except as "the
real truth about you," and she had in fact a wonderful way of making it
seem, as such, the secret of her own life too.  That was in fine how he
so constantly felt her as allowing for him; he couldn't on the whole call
it anything else.  He allowed for himself, but she, exactly, allowed
still more; partly because, better placed for a sight of the matter, she
traced his unhappy perversion through reaches of its course into which he
could scarce follow it.  He knew how he felt, but, besides knowing that,
she knew how he looked as well; he knew each of the things of importance
he was insidiously kept from doing, but she could add up the amount they
made, understand how much, with a lighter weight on his spirit, he might
have done, and thereby establish how, clever as he was, he fell short.
Above all she was in the secret of the difference between the forms he
went through--those of his little office under Government, those of
caring for his modest patrimony, for his library, for his garden in the
country, for the people in London whose invitations he accepted and
repaid--and the detachment that reigned beneath them and that made of all
behaviour, all that could in the least be called behaviour, a long act of
dissimulation.  What it had come to was that he wore a mask painted with
the social simper, out of the eye-holes of which there looked eyes of an
expression not in the least matching the other features.  This the stupid
world, even after years, had never more than half discovered.  It was
only May Bartram who had, and she achieved, by an art indescribable, the
feat of at once--or perhaps it was only alternately--meeting the eyes
from in front and mingling her own vision, as from over his shoulder,
with their peep through the apertures.

So while they grew older together she did watch with him, and so she let
this association give shape and colour to her own existence.  Beneath
_her_ forms as well detachment had learned to sit, and behaviour had
become for her, in the social sense, a false account of herself.  There
was but one account of her that would have been true all the while and
that she could give straight to nobody, least of all to John Marcher.  Her
whole attitude was a virtual statement, but the perception of that only
seemed called to take its place for him as one of the many things
necessarily crowded out of his consciousness.  If she had moreover, like
himself, to make sacrifices to their real truth, it was to be granted
that her compensation might have affected her as more prompt and more
natural.  They had long periods, in this London time, during which, when
they were together, a stranger might have listened to them without in the
least pricking up his ears; on the other hand the real truth was equally
liable at any moment to rise to the surface, and the auditor would then
have wondered indeed what they were talking about.  They had from an
early hour made up their mind that society was, luckily, unintelligent,
and the margin allowed them by this had fairly become one of their
commonplaces.  Yet there were still moments when the situation turned
almost fresh--usually under the effect of some expression drawn from
herself.  Her expressions doubtless repeated themselves, but her
intervals were generous.  "What saves us, you know, is that we answer so
completely to so usual an appearance: that of the man and woman whose
friendship has become such a daily habit--or almost--as to be at last
indispensable."  That for instance was a remark she had frequently enough
had occasion to make, though she had given it at different times
different developments.  What we are especially concerned with is the
turn it happened to take from her one afternoon when he had come to see
her in honour of her birthday.  This anniversary had fallen on a Sunday,
at a season of thick fog and general outward gloom; but he had brought
her his customary offering, having known her now long enough to have
established a hundred small traditions.  It was one of his proofs to
himself, the present he made her on her birthday, that he hadn't sunk
into real selfishness.  It was mostly nothing more than a small trinket,
but it was always fine of its kind, and he was regularly careful to pay
for it more than he thought he could afford.  "Our habit saves you, at
least, don't you see? because it makes you, after all, for the vulgar,
indistinguishable from other men.  What's the most inveterate mark of men
in general?  Why the capacity to spend endless time with dull women--to
spend it I won't say without being bored, but without minding that they
are, without being driven off at a tangent by it; which comes to the same
thing.  I'm your dull woman, a part of the daily bread for which you pray
at church.  That covers your tracks more than anything."

"And what covers yours?" asked Marcher, whom his dull woman could mostly
to this extent amuse.  "I see of course what you mean by your saving me,
in this way and that, so far as other people are concerned--I've seen it
all along.  Only what is it that saves _you_?  I often think, you know,
of that."

She looked as if she sometimes thought of that too, but rather in a
different way.  "Where other people, you mean, are concerned?"

"Well, you're really so in with me, you know--as a sort of result of my
being so in with yourself.  I mean of my having such an immense regard
for you, being so tremendously mindful of all you've done for me.  I
sometimes ask myself if it's quite fair.  Fair I mean to have so involved
and--since one may say it--interested you.  I almost feel as if you
hadn't really had time to do anything else."

"Anything else but be interested?" she asked.  "Ah what else does one
ever want to be?  If I've been 'watching' with you, as we long ago agreed
I was to do, watching's always in itself an absorption."

"Oh certainly," John Marcher said, "if you hadn't had your curiosity--!
Only doesn't it sometimes come to you as time goes on that your curiosity
isn't being particularly repaid?"

May Bartram had a pause.  "Do you ask that, by any chance, because you
feel at all that yours isn't?  I mean because you have to wait so long."

Oh he understood what she meant!  "For the thing to happen that never
does happen?  For the Beast to jump out?  No, I'm just where I was about
it.  It isn't a matter as to which I can _choose_, I can decide for a
change.  It isn't one as to which there _can_ be a change.  It's in the
lap of the gods.  One's in the hands of one's law--there one is.  As to
the form the law will take, the way it will operate, that's its own
affair."

"Yes," Miss Bartram replied; "of course one's fate's coming, of course it
_has_ come in its own form and its own way, all the while.  Only, you
know, the form and the way in your case were to have been--well,
something so exceptional and, as one may say, so particularly _your_
own."

Something in this made him look at her with suspicion.  "You say 'were to
_have_ been,' as if in your heart you had begun to doubt."

"Oh!" she vaguely protested.

"As if you believed," he went on, "that nothing will now take place."

She shook her head slowly but rather inscrutably.  "You're far from my
thought."

He continued to look at her.  "What then is the matter with you?"

"Well," she said after another wait, "the matter with me is simply that
I'm more sure than ever my curiosity, as you call it, will be but too
well repaid."

They were frankly grave now; he had got up from his seat, had turned once
more about the little drawing-room to which, year after year, he brought
his inevitable topic; in which he had, as he might have said, tasted
their intimate community with every sauce, where every object was as
familiar to him as the things of his own house and the very carpets were
worn with his fitful walk very much as the desks in old counting-houses
are worn by the elbows of generations of clerks.  The generations of his
nervous moods had been at work there, and the place was the written
history of his whole middle life.  Under the impression of what his
friend had just said he knew himself, for some reason, more aware of
these things; which made him, after a moment, stop again before her.  "Is
it possibly that you've grown afraid?"

"Afraid?"  He thought, as she repeated the word, that his question had
made her, a little, change colour; so that, lest he should have touched
on a truth, he explained very kindly: "You remember that that was what
you asked _me_ long ago--that first day at Weatherend."

"Oh yes, and you told me you didn't know--that I was to see for myself.
We've said little about it since, even in so long a time."

"Precisely," Marcher interposed--"quite as if it were too delicate a
matter for us to make free with.  Quite as if we might find, on pressure,
that I _am_ afraid.  For then," he said, "we shouldn't, should we? quite
know what to do."

She had for the time no answer to this question.  "There have been days
when I thought you were.  Only, of course," she added, "there have been
days when we have thought almost anything."

"Everything.  Oh!" Marcher softly groaned, as with a gasp, half spent, at
the face, more uncovered just then than it had been for a long while, of
the imagination always with them.  It had always had it's incalculable
moments of glaring out, quite as with the very eyes of the very Beast,
and, used as he was to them, they could still draw from him the tribute
of a sigh that rose from the depths of his being.  All they had thought,
first and last, rolled over him; the past seemed to have been reduced to
mere barren speculation.  This in fact was what the place had just struck
him as so full of--the simplification of everything but the state of
suspense.  That remained only by seeming to hang in the void surrounding
it.  Even his original fear, if fear it as had been, had lost itself in
the desert.  "I judge, however," he continued, "that you see I'm not
afraid now."

"What I see, as I make it out, is that you've achieved something almost
unprecedented in the way of getting used to danger.  Living with it so
long and so closely you've lost your sense of it; you know it's there,
but you're indifferent, and you cease even, as of old, to have to whistle
in the dark.  Considering what the danger is," May Bartram wound up, "I'm
bound to say I don't think your attitude could well be surpassed."

John Marcher faintly smiled.  "It's heroic?"

"Certainly--call it that."

It was what he would have liked indeed to call it.  "I _am_ then a man of
courage?"

"That's what you were to show me."

He still, however, wondered.  "But doesn't the man of courage know what
he's afraid of--or not afraid of?  I don't know _that_, you see.  I don't
focus it.  I can't name it.  I only know I'm exposed."

"Yes, but exposed--how shall I say?--so directly.  So intimately.  That's
surely enough."

"Enough to make you feel then--as what we may call the end and the upshot
of our watch--that I'm not afraid?"

"You're not afraid.  But it isn't," she said, "the end of our watch.  That
is it isn't the end of yours.  You've everything still to see."

"Then why haven't you?" he asked.  He had had, all along, to-day, the
sense of her keeping something back, and he still had it.  As this was
his first impression of that it quite made a date.  The case was the more
marked as she didn't at first answer; which in turn made him go on.  "You
know something I don't."  Then his voice, for that of a man of courage,
trembled a little.  "You know what's to happen."  Her silence, with the
face she showed, was almost a confession--it made him sure.  "You know,
and you're afraid to tell me.  It's so bad that you're afraid I'll find
out."

All this might be true, for she did look as if, unexpectedly to her, he
had crossed some mystic line that she had secretly drawn round her.  Yet
she might, after all, not have worried; and the real climax was that he
himself, at all events, needn't.  "You'll never find out."



CHAPTER III


It was all to have made, none the less, as I have said, a date; which
came out in the fact that again and again, even after long intervals,
other things that passed between them were in relation to this hour but
the character of recalls and results.  Its immediate effect had been
indeed rather to lighten insistence--almost to provoke a reaction; as if
their topic had dropped by its own weight and as if moreover, for that
matter, Marcher had been visited by one of his occasional warnings
against egotism.  He had kept up, he felt, and very decently on the
whole, his consciousness of the importance of not being selfish, and it
was true that he had never sinned in that direction without promptly
enough trying to press the scales the other way.  He often repaired his
fault, the season permitting, by inviting his friend to accompany him to
the opera; and it not infrequently thus happened that, to show he didn't
wish her to have but one sort of food for her mind, he was the cause of
her appearing there with him a dozen nights in the month.  It even
happened that, seeing her home at such times, he occasionally went in
with her to finish, as he called it, the evening, and, the better to make
his point, sat down to the frugal but always careful little supper that
awaited his pleasure.  His point was made, he thought, by his not
eternally insisting with her on himself; made for instance, at such
hours, when it befell that, her piano at hand and each of them familiar
with it, they went over passages of the opera together.  It chanced to be
on one of these occasions, however, that he reminded her of her not
having answered a certain question he had put to her during the talk that
had taken place between them on her last birthday.  "What is it that
saves _you_?"--saved her, he meant, from that appearance of variation
from the usual human type.  If he had practically escaped remark, as she
pretended, by doing, in the most important particular, what most men
do--find the answer to life in patching up an alliance of a sort with a
woman no better than himself--how had she escaped it, and how could the
alliance, such as it was, since they must suppose it had been more or
less noticed, have failed to make her rather positively talked about?

"I never said," May Bartram replied, "that it hadn't made me a good deal
talked about."

"Ah well then you're not 'saved.'"

"It hasn't been a question for me.  If you've had your woman I've had,"
she said, "my man."

"And you mean that makes you all right?"

Oh it was always as if there were so much to say!

"I don't know why it shouldn't make me--humanly, which is what we're
speaking of--as right as it makes you."

"I see," Marcher returned.  "'Humanly,' no doubt, as showing that you're
living for something.  Not, that is, just for me and my secret."

May Bartram smiled.  "I don't pretend it exactly shows that I'm not
living for you.  It's my intimacy with you that's in question."

He laughed as he saw what she meant.  "Yes, but since, as you say, I'm
only, so far as people make out, ordinary, you're--aren't you? no more
than ordinary either.  You help me to pass for a man like another.  So if
I _am_, as I understand you, you're not compromised.  Is that it?"

She had another of her waits, but she spoke clearly enough.  "That's it.
It's all that concerns me--to help you to pass for a man like another."

He was careful to acknowledge the remark handsomely.  "How kind, how
beautiful, you are to me!  How shall I ever repay you?"

She had her last grave pause, as if there might be a choice of ways.  But
she chose.  "By going on as you are."

It was into this going on as he was that they relapsed, and really for so
long a time that the day inevitably came for a further sounding of their
depths.  These depths, constantly bridged over by a structure firm enough
in spite of its lightness and of its occasional oscillation in the
somewhat vertiginous air, invited on occasion, in the interest of their
nerves, a dropping of the plummet and a measurement of the abyss.  A
difference had been made moreover, once for all, by the fact that she had
all the while not appeared to feel the need of rebutting his charge of an
idea within her that she didn't dare to express--a charge uttered just
before one of the fullest of their later discussions ended.  It had come
up for him then that she "knew" something and that what she knew was
bad--too bad to tell him.  When he had spoken of it as visibly so bad
that she was afraid he might find it out, her reply had left the matter
too equivocal to be let alone and yet, for Marcher's special sensibility,
almost too formidable again to touch.  He circled about it at a distance
that alternately narrowed and widened and that still wasn't much affected
by the consciousness in him that there was nothing she could "know,"
after all, any better than he did.  She had no source of knowledge he
hadn't equally--except of course that she might have finer nerves.  That
was what women had where they were interested; they made out things,
where people were concerned, that the people often couldn't have made out
for themselves.  Their nerves, their sensibility, their imagination, were
conductors and revealers, and the beauty of May Bartram was in particular
that she had given herself so to his case.  He felt in these days what,
oddly enough, he had never felt before, the growth of a dread of losing
her by some catastrophe--some catastrophe that yet wouldn't at all be the
catastrophe: partly because she had almost of a sudden begun to strike
him as more useful to him than ever yet, and partly by reason of an
appearance of uncertainty in her health, co-incident and equally new.  It
was characteristic of the inner detachment he had hitherto so
successfully cultivated and to which our whole account of him is a
reference, it was characteristic that his complications, such as they
were, had never yet seemed so as at this crisis to thicken about him,
even to the point of making him ask himself if he were, by any chance, of
a truth, within sight or sound, within touch or reach, within the
immediate jurisdiction, of the thing that waited.

When the day came, as come it had to, that his friend confessed to him
her fear of a deep disorder in her blood, he felt somehow the shadow of a
change and the chill of a shock.  He immediately began to imagine
aggravations and disasters, and above all to think of her peril as the
direct menace for himself of personal privation.  This indeed gave him
one of those partial recoveries of equanimity that were agreeable to
him--it showed him that what was still first in his mind was the loss she
herself might suffer.  "What if she should have to die before knowing,
before seeing--?"  It would have been brutal, in the early stages of her
trouble, to put that question to her; but it had immediately sounded for
him to his own concern, and the possibility was what most made him sorry
for her.  If she did "know," moreover, in the sense of her having had
some--what should he think?--mystical irresistible light, this would make
the matter not better, but worse, inasmuch as her original adoption of
his own curiosity had quite become the basis of her life.  She had been
living to see what would _be_ to be seen, and it would quite lacerate her
to have to give up before the accomplishment of the vision.  These
reflexions, as I say, quickened his generosity; yet, make them as he
might, he saw himself, with the lapse of the period, more and more
disconcerted.  It lapsed for him with a strange steady sweep, and the
oddest oddity was that it gave him, independently of the threat of much
inconvenience, almost the only positive surprise his career, if career it
could be called, had yet offered him.  She kept the house as she had
never done; he had to go to her to see her--she could meet him nowhere
now, though there was scarce a corner of their loved old London in which
she hadn't in the past, at one time or another, done so; and he found her
always seated by her fire in the deep old-fashioned chair she was less
and less able to leave.  He had been struck one day, after an absence
exceeding his usual measure, with her suddenly looking much older to him
than he had ever thought of her being; then he recognised that the
suddenness was all on his side--he had just simply and suddenly noticed.
She looked older because inevitably, after so many years, she _was_ old,
or almost; which was of course true in still greater measure of her
companion.  If she was old, or almost, John Marcher assuredly was, and
yet it was her showing of the lesson, not his own, that brought the truth
home to him.  His surprises began here; when once they had begun they
multiplied; they came rather with a rush: it was as if, in the oddest way
in the world, they had all been kept back, sown in a thick cluster, for
the late afternoon of life, the time at which for people in general the
unexpected has died out.

One of them was that he should have caught himself--for he _had_ so
done--_really_ wondering if the great accident would take form now as
nothing more than his being condemned to see this charming woman, this
admirable friend, pass away from him.  He had never so unreservedly
qualified her as while confronted in thought with such a possibility; in
spite of which there was small doubt for him that as an answer to his
long riddle the mere effacement of even so fine a feature of his
situation would be an abject anticlimax.  It would represent, as
connected with his past attitude, a drop of dignity under the shadow of
which his existence could only become the most grotesques of failures.  He
had been far from holding it a failure--long as he had waited for the
appearance that was to make it a success.  He had waited for quite
another thing, not for such a thing as that.  The breath of his good
faith came short, however, as he recognised how long he had waited, or
how long at least his companion had.  That she, at all events, might be
recorded as having waited in vain--this affected him sharply, and all the
more because of his it first having done little more than amuse himself
with the idea.  It grew more grave as the gravity of her condition grew,
and the state of mind it produced in him, which he himself ended by
watching as if it had been some definite disfigurement of his outer
person, may pass for another of his surprises.  This conjoined itself
still with another, the really stupefying consciousness of a question
that he would have allowed to shape itself had he dared.  What did
everything mean--what, that is, did _she_ mean, she and her vain waiting
and her probable death and the soundless admonition of it all--unless
that, at this time of day, it was simply, it was overwhelmingly too late?
He had never at any stage of his queer consciousness admitted the whisper
of such a correction; he had never till within these last few months been
so false to his conviction as not to hold that what was to come to him
had time, whether _he_ struck himself as having it or not.  That at last,
at last, he certainly hadn't it, to speak of, or had it but in the
scantiest measure--such, soon enough, as things went with him, became the
inference with which his old obsession had to reckon: and this it was not
helped to do by the more and more confirmed appearance that the great
vagueness casting the long shadow in which he had lived had, to attest
itself, almost no margin left.  Since it was in Time that he was to have
met his fate, so it was in Time that his fate was to have acted; and as
he waked up to the sense of no longer being young, which was exactly the
sense of being stale, just as that, in turn, was the sense of being weak,
he waked up to another matter beside.  It all hung together; they were
subject, he and the great vagueness, to an equal and indivisible law.
When the possibilities themselves had accordingly turned stale, when the
secret of the gods had grown faint, had perhaps even quite evaporated,
that, and that only, was failure.  It wouldn't have been failure to be
bankrupt, dishonoured, pilloried, hanged; it was failure not to be
anything.  And so, in the dark valley into which his path had taken its
unlooked-for twist, he wondered not a little as he groped.  He didn't
care what awful crash might overtake him, with what ignominy or what
monstrosity he might yet he associated--since he wasn't after all too
utterly old to suffer--if it would only be decently proportionate to the
posture he had kept, all his life, in the threatened presence of it.  He
had but one desire left--that he shouldn't have been "sold."



CHAPTER IV


Then it was that, one afternoon, while the spring of the year was young
and new she met all in her own way his frankest betrayal of these alarms.
He had gone in late to see her, but evening hadn't settled and she was
presented to him in that long fresh light of waning April days which
affects us often with a sadness sharper than the greyest hours of autumn.
The week had been warm, the spring was supposed to have begun early, and
May Bartram sat, for the first time in the year, without a fire; a fact
that, to Marcher's sense, gave the scene of which she formed part a
smooth and ultimate look, an air of knowing, in its immaculate order and
cold meaningless cheer, that it would never see a fire again.  Her own
aspect--he could scarce have said why--intensified this note.  Almost as
white as wax, with the marks and signs in her face as numerous and as
fine as if they had been etched by a needle, with soft white draperies
relieved by a faded green scarf on the delicate tone of which the years
had further refined, she was the picture of a serene and exquisite but
impenetrable sphinx, whose head, or indeed all whose person, might have
been powdered with silver.  She was a sphinx, yet with her white petals
and green fronds she might have been a lily too--only an artificial lily,
wonderfully imitated and constantly kept, without dust or stain, though
not exempt from a slight droop and a complexity of faint creases, under
some clear glass bell.  The perfection of household care, of high polish
and finish, always reigned in her rooms, but they now looked most as if
everything had been wound up, tucked in, put away, so that she might sit
with folded hands and with nothing more to do.  She was "out of it," to
Marcher's vision; her work was over; she communicated with him as across
some gulf or from some island of rest that she had already reached, and
it made him feel strangely abandoned.  Was it--or rather wasn't it--that
if for so long she had been watching with him the answer to their
question must have swum into her ken and taken on its name, so that her
occupation was verily gone?  He had as much as charged her with this in
saying to her, many months before, that she even then knew something she
was keeping from him.  It was a point he had never since ventured to
press, vaguely fearing as he did that it might become a difference,
perhaps a disagreement, between them.  He had in this later time turned
nervous, which was what he in all the other years had never been; and the
oddity was that his nervousness should have waited till he had begun to
doubt, should have held off so long as he was sure.  There was something,
it seemed to him, that the wrong word would bring down on his head,
something that would so at least ease off his tension.  But he wanted not
to speak the wrong word; that would make everything ugly.  He wanted the
knowledge he lacked to drop on him, if drop it could, by its own august
weight.  If she was to forsake him it was surely for her to take leave.
This was why he didn't directly ask her again what she knew; but it was
also why, approaching the matter from another side, he said to her in the
course of his visit: "What do you regard as the very worst that at this
time of day _can_ happen to me?"

He had asked her that in the past often enough; they had, with the odd
irregular rhythm of their intensities and avoidances, exchanged ideas
about it and then had seen the ideas washed away by cool intervals,
washed like figures traced in sea-sand.  It had ever been the mark of
their talk that the oldest allusions in it required but a little
dismissal and reaction to come out again, sounding for the hour as new.
She could thus at present meet his enquiry quite freshly and patiently.
"Oh yes, I've repeatedly thought, only it always seemed to me of old that
I couldn't quite make up my mind.  I thought of dreadful things, between
which it was difficult to choose; and so must you have done."

"Rather!  I feel now as if I had scarce done anything else.  I appear to
myself to have spent my life in thinking of nothing but dreadful things.
A great many of them I've at different times named to you, but there were
others I couldn't name."

"They were too, too dreadful?"

"Too, too dreadful--some of them."

She looked at him a minute, and there came to him as he met it, an
inconsequent sense that her eyes, when one got their full clearness, were
still as beautiful as they had been in youth, only beautiful with a
strange cold light--a light that somehow was a part of the effect, if it
wasn't rather a part of the cause, of the pale hard sweetness of the
season and the hour.  "And yet," she said at last, "there are horrors
we've mentioned."

It deepened the strangeness to see her, as such a figure in such a
picture, talk of "horrors," but she was to do in a few minutes something
stranger yet--though even of this he was to take the full measure but
afterwards--and the note of it already trembled.  It was, for the matter
of that, one of the signs that her eyes were having again the high
flicker of their prime.  He had to admit, however, what she said.  "Oh
yes, there were times when we did go far."  He caught himself in the act
of speaking as if it all were over.  Well, he wished it were; and the
consummation depended for him clearly more and more on his friend.

But she had now a soft smile.  "Oh far--!"

It was oddly ironic.  "Do you mean you're prepared to go further?"

She was frail and ancient and charming as she continued to look at him,
yet it was rather as if she had lost the thread.  "Do you consider that
we went far?"

"Why I thought it the point you were just making--that we _had_ looked
most things in the face."

"Including each other?"  She still smiled.  "But you're quite right.
We've had together great imaginations, often great fears; but some of
them have been unspoken."

"Then the worst--we haven't faced that.  I _could_ face it, I believe, if
I knew what you think it.  I feel," he explained, "as if I had lost my
power to conceive such things."  And he wondered if he looked as blank as
he sounded.  "It's spent."

"Then why do you assume," she asked, "that mine isn't?"

"Because you've given me signs to the contrary.  It isn't a question for
you of conceiving, imagining, comparing.  It isn't a question now of
choosing."  At last he came out with it.  "You know something I don't.
You've shown me that before."

These last words had affected her, he made out in a moment, exceedingly,
and she spoke with firmness.  "I've shown you, my dear, nothing."

He shook his head.  "You can't hide it."

"Oh, oh!" May Bartram sounded over what she couldn't hide.  It was almost
a smothered groan.

"You admitted it months ago, when I spoke of it to you as of something
you were afraid I should find out.  Your answer was that I couldn't, that
I wouldn't, and I don't pretend I have.  But you had something therefore
in mind, and I see now how it must have been, how it still is, the
possibility that, of all possibilities, has settled itself for you as the
worst.  This," he went on, "is why I appeal to you.  I'm only afraid of
ignorance to-day--I'm not afraid of knowledge."  And then as for a while
she said nothing: "What makes me sure is that I see in your face and feel
here, in this air and amid these appearances, that you're out of it.
You've done.  You've had your experience.  You leave me to my fate."

Well, she listened, motionless and white in her chair, as on a decision
to be made, so that her manner was fairly an avowal, though still, with a
small fine inner stiffness, an imperfect surrender.  "It _would_ be the
worst," she finally let herself say.  "I mean the thing I've never said."

It hushed him a moment.  "More monstrous than all the monstrosities we've
named?"

"More monstrous.  Isn't that what you sufficiently express," she asked,
"in calling it the worst?"

Marcher thought.  "Assuredly--if you mean, as I do, something that
includes all the loss and all the shame that are thinkable."

"It would if it _should_ happen," said May Bartram.  "What we're speaking
of, remember, is only my idea."

"It's your belief," Marcher returned.  "That's enough for me.  I feel
your beliefs are right.  Therefore if, having this one, you give me no
more light on it, you abandon me."

"No, no!" she repeated.  "I'm with you--don't you see?--still."  And as
to make it more vivid to him she rose from her chair--a movement she
seldom risked in these days--and showed herself, all draped and all soft,
in her fairness and slimness.  "I haven't forsaken you."

It was really, in its effort against weakness, a generous assurance, and
had the success of the impulse not, happily, been great, it would have
touched him to pain more than to pleasure.  But the cold charm in her
eyes had spread, as she hovered before him, to all the rest of her
person, so that it was for the minute almost a recovery of youth.  He
couldn't pity her for that; he could only take her as she showed--as
capable even yet of helping him.  It was as if, at the same time, her
light might at any instant go out; wherefore he must make the most of it.
There passed before him with intensity the three or four things he wanted
most to know; but the question that came of itself to his lips really
covered the others.  "Then tell me if I shall consciously suffer."

She promptly shook her head.  "Never!"

It confirmed the authority he imputed to her, and it produced on him an
extraordinary effect.  "Well, what's better than that?  Do you call that
the worst?"

"You think nothing is better?" she asked.

She seemed to mean something so special that he again sharply wondered,
though still with the dawn of a prospect of relief.  "Why not, if one
doesn't _know_?"  After which, as their eyes, over his question, met in a
silence, the dawn deepened, and something to his purpose came
prodigiously out of her very face.  His own, as he took it in, suddenly
flushed to the forehead, and he gasped with the force of a perception to
which, on the instant, everything fitted.  The sound of his gasp filled
the air; then he became articulate.  "I see--if I don't suffer!"

In her own look, however, was doubt.  "You see what?"

"Why what you mean--what you've always meant."

She again shook her head.  "What I mean isn't what I've always meant.
It's different."

"It's something new?"

She hung back from it a little.  "Something new.  It's not what you
think.  I see what you think."

His divination drew breath then; only her correction might be wrong.  "It
isn't that I _am_ a blockhead?" he asked between faintness and grimness.
"It isn't that it's all a mistake?"

"A mistake?" she pityingly echoed.  _That_ possibility, for her, he saw,
would be monstrous; and if she guaranteed him the immunity from pain it
would accordingly not be what she had in mind.  "Oh no," she declared;
"it's nothing of that sort.  You've been right."

Yet he couldn't help asking himself if she weren't, thus pressed,
speaking but to save him.  It seemed to him he should be most in a hole
if his history should prove all a platitude.  "Are you telling me the
truth, so that I shan't have been a bigger idiot than I can bear to know?
I _haven't_ lived with a vain imagination, in the most besotted illusion?
I haven't waited but to see the door shut in my face?"

She shook her head again.  "However the case stands _that_ isn't the
truth.  Whatever the reality, it _is_ a reality.  The door isn't shut.
The door's open," said May Bartram.

"Then something's to come?"

She waited once again, always with her cold sweet eyes on him.  "It's
never too late."  She had, with her gliding step, diminished the distance
between them, and she stood nearer to him, close to him, a minute, as if
still charged with the unspoken.  Her movement might have been for some
finer emphasis of what she was at once hesitating and deciding to say.  He
had been standing by the chimney-piece, fireless and sparely adorned, a
small perfect old French clock and two morsels of rosy Dresden
constituting all its furniture; and her hand grasped the shelf while she
kept him waiting, grasped it a little as for support and encouragement.
She only kept him waiting, however; that is he only waited.  It had
become suddenly, from her movement and attitude, beautiful and vivid to
him that she had something more to give him; her wasted face delicately
shone with it--it glittered almost as with the white lustre of silver in
her expression.  She was right, incontestably, for what he saw in her
face was the truth, and strangely, without consequence, while their talk
of it as dreadful was still in the air, she appeared to present it as
inordinately soft.  This, prompting bewilderment, made him but gape the
more gratefully for her revelation, so that they continued for some
minutes silent, her face shining at him, her contact imponderably
pressing, and his stare all kind but all expectant.  The end, none the
less, was that what he had expected failed to come to him.  Something
else took place instead, which seemed to consist at first in the mere
closing of her eyes.  She gave way at the same instant to a slow fine
shudder, and though he remained staring--though he stared in fact but the
harder--turned off and regained her chair.  It was the end of what she
had been intending, but it left him thinking only of that.

"Well, you don't say--?"

She had touched in her passage a bell near the chimney and had sunk back
strangely pale.  "I'm afraid I'm too ill."

"Too ill to tell me?" it sprang up sharp to him, and almost to his lips,
the fear she might die without giving him light.  He checked himself in
time from so expressing his question, but she answered as if she had
heard the words.

"Don't you know--now?"

"'Now'--?"   She had spoken as if some difference had been made within
the moment.  But her maid, quickly obedient to her bell, was already with
them.  "I know nothing."  And he was afterwards to say to himself that he
must have spoken with odious impatience, such an impatience as to show
that, supremely disconcerted, he washed his hands of the whole question.

"Oh!" said May Bartram.

"Are you in pain?" he asked as the woman went to her.

"No," said May Bartram.

Her maid, who had put an arm round her as if to take her to her room,
fixed on him eyes that appealingly contradicted her; in spite of which,
however, he showed once more his mystification.

"What then has happened?"

She was once more, with her companion's help, on her feet, and, feeling
withdrawal imposed on him, he had blankly found his hat and gloves and
had reached the door.  Yet he waited for her answer.  "What _was_ to,"
she said.



CHAPTER V


He came back the next day, but she was then unable to see him, and as it
was literally the first time this had occurred in the long stretch of
their acquaintance he turned away, defeated and sore, almost angry--or
feeling at least that such a break in their custom was really the
beginning of the end--and wandered alone with his thoughts, especially
with the one he was least able to keep down.  She was dying and he would
lose her; she was dying and his life would end.  He stopped in the Park,
into which he had passed, and stared before him at his recurrent doubt.
Away from her the doubt pressed again; in her presence he had believed
her, but as he felt his forlornness he threw himself into the explanation
that, nearest at hand, had most of a miserable warmth for him and least
of a cold torment.  She had deceived him to save him--to put him off with
something in which he should be able to rest.  What could the thing that
was to happen to him be, after all, but just this thing that had began to
happen?  Her dying, her death, his consequent solitude--that was what he
had figured as the Beast in the Jungle, that was what had been in the lap
of the gods.  He had had her word for it as he left her--what else on
earth could she have meant?  It wasn't a thing of a monstrous order; not
a fate rare and distinguished; not a stroke of fortune that overwhelmed
and immortalised; it had only the stamp of the common doom.  But poor
Marcher at this hour judged the common doom sufficient.  It would serve
his turn, and even as the consummation of infinite waiting he would bend
his pride to accept it.  He sat down on a bench in the twilight.  He
hadn't been a fool.  Something had _been_, as she had said, to come.
Before he rose indeed it had quite struck him that the final fact really
matched with the long avenue through which he had had to reach it.  As
sharing his suspense and as giving herself all, giving her life, to bring
it to an end, she had come with him every step of the way.  He had lived
by her aid, and to leave her behind would be cruelly, damnably to miss
her.  What could be more overwhelming than that?

Well, he was to know within the week, for though she kept him a while at
bay, left him restless and wretched during a series of days on each of
which he asked about her only again to have to turn away, she ended his
trial by receiving him where she had always received him.  Yet she had
been brought out at some hazard into the presence of so many of the
things that were, consciously, vainly, half their past, and there was
scant service left in the gentleness of her mere desire, all too visible,
to check his obsession and wind up his long trouble.  That was clearly
what she wanted; the one thing more for her own peace while she could
still put out her hand.  He was so affected by her state that, once
seated by her chair, he was moved to let everything go; it was she
herself therefore who brought him back, took up again, before she
dismissed him, her last word of the other time.  She showed how she
wished to leave their business in order.  "I'm not sure you understood.
You've nothing to wait for more.  It _has_ come."

Oh how he looked at her!  "Really?"

"Really."

"The thing that, as you said, _was_ to?"

"The thing that we began in our youth to watch for."

Face to face with her once more he believed her; it was a claim to which
he had so abjectly little to oppose.  "You mean that it has come as a
positive definite occurrence, with a name and a date?"

"Positive.  Definite.  I don't know about the 'name,' but, oh with a
date!"

He found himself again too helplessly at sea.  "But come in the
night--come and passed me by?"

May Bartram had her strange faint smile.  "Oh no, it hasn't passed you
by!"

"But if I haven't been aware of it and it hasn't touched me--?"

"Ah your not being aware of it"--and she seemed to hesitate an instant to
deal with this--"your not being aware of it is the strangeness in the
strangeness.  It's the wonder _of_ the wonder."  She spoke as with the
softness almost of a sick child, yet now at last, at the end of all, with
the perfect straightness of a sibyl.  She visibly knew that she knew, and
the effect on him was of something co-ordinate, in its high character,
with the law that had ruled him.  It was the true voice of the law; so on
her lips would the law itself have sounded.  "It _has_ touched you," she
went on.  "It has done its office.  It has made you all its own."

"So utterly without my knowing it?"

"So utterly without your knowing it."  His hand, as he leaned to her, was
on the arm of her chair, and, dimly smiling always now, she placed her
own on it.  "It's enough if _I_ know it."

"Oh!" he confusedly breathed, as she herself of late so often had done.

"What I long ago said is true.  You'll never know now, and I think you
ought to be content.  You've _had_ it," said May Bartram.

"But had what?"

"Why what was to have marked you out.  The proof of your law.  It has
acted.  I'm too glad," she then bravely added, "to have been able to see
what it's _not_."

He continued to attach his eyes to her, and with the sense that it was
all beyond him, and that _she_ was too, he would still have sharply
challenged her hadn't he so felt it an abuse of her weakness to do more
than take devoutly what she gave him, take it hushed as to a revelation.
If he did speak, it was out of the foreknowledge of his loneliness to
come.  "If you're glad of what it's 'not' it might then have been worse?"

She turned her eyes away, she looked straight before her; with which
after a moment: "Well, you know our fears."

He wondered.  "It's something then we never feared?"

On this slowly she turned to him.  "Did we ever dream, with all our
dreams, that we should sit and talk of it thus?"

He tried for a little to make out that they had; but it was as if their
dreams, numberless enough, were in solution in some thick cold mist
through which thought lost itself.  "It might have been that we couldn't
talk."

"Well"--she did her best for him--"not from this side.  This, you see,"
she said, "is the _other_ side."

"I think," poor Marcher returned, "that all sides are the same to me."
Then, however, as she gently shook her head in correction: "We mightn't,
as it were, have got across--?"

"To where we are--no.  We're _here_"--she made her weak emphasis.

"And much good does it do us!" was her friend's frank comment.

"It does us the good it can.  It does us the good that _it_ isn't here.
It's past.  It's behind," said May Bartram.  "Before--" but her voice
dropped.

He had got up, not to tire her, but it was hard to combat his yearning.
She after all told him nothing but that his light had failed--which he
knew well enough without her.  "Before--?" he blankly echoed.

"Before you see, it was always to _come_.  That kept it present."

"Oh I don't care what comes now!  Besides," Marcher added, "it seems to
me I liked it better present, as you say, than I can like it absent with
_your_ absence."

"Oh mine!"--and her pale hands made light of it.

"With the absence of everything."  He had a dreadful sense of standing
there before her for--so far as anything but this proved, this bottomless
drop was concerned--the last time of their life.  It rested on him with a
weight he felt he could scarce bear, and this weight it apparently was
that still pressed out what remained in him of speakable protest.  "I
believe you; but I can't begin to pretend I understand.  _Nothing_, for
me, is past; nothing _will_ pass till I pass myself, which I pray my
stars may be as soon as possible.  Say, however," he added, "that I've
eaten my cake, as you contend, to the last crumb--how can the thing I've
never felt at all be the thing I was marked out to feel?"

She met him perhaps less directly, but she met him unperturbed.  "You
take your 'feelings' for granted.  You were to suffer your fate.  That
was not necessarily to know it."

"How in the world--when what is such knowledge but suffering?"

She looked up at him a while in silence.  "No--you don't understand."

"I suffer," said John Marcher.

"Don't, don't!"

"How can I help at least _that_?"

"_Don't_!" May Bartram repeated.

She spoke it in a tone so special, in spite of her weakness, that he
stared an instant--stared as if some light, hitherto hidden, had
shimmered across his vision.  Darkness again closed over it, but the
gleam had already become for him an idea.  "Because I haven't the
right--?"

"Don't _know_--when you needn't," she mercifully urged.  "You needn't--for
we shouldn't."

"Shouldn't?"  If he could but know what she meant!

"No-- it's too much."

"Too much?" he still asked but with a mystification that was the next
moment of a sudden to give way.  Her words, if they meant something,
affected him in this light--the light also of her wasted face--as meaning
_all_, and the sense of what knowledge had been for herself came over him
with a rush which broke through into a question.  "Is it of that then
you're dying?"

She but watched him, gravely at first, as to see, with this, where he
was, and she might have seen something or feared something that moved her
sympathy.  "I would live for you still--if I could."  Her eyes closed for
a little, as if, withdrawn into herself, she were for a last time trying.
"But I can't!" she said as she raised them again to take leave of him.

She couldn't indeed, as but too promptly and sharply appeared, and he had
no vision of her after this that was anything but darkness and doom.  They
had parted for ever in that strange talk; access to her chamber of pain,
rigidly guarded, was almost wholly forbidden him; he was feeling now
moreover, in the face of doctors, nurses, the two or three relatives
attracted doubtless by the presumption of what she had to "leave," how
few were the rights, as they were called in such cases, that he had to
put forward, and how odd it might even seem that their intimacy shouldn't
have given him more of them.  The stupidest fourth cousin had more, even
though she had been nothing in such a person's life.  She had been a
feature of features in _his_, for what else was it to have been so
indispensable?  Strange beyond saying were the ways of existence,
baffling for him the anomaly of his lack, as he felt it to be, of
producible claim.  A woman might have been, as it were, everything to
him, and it might yet present him, in no connexion that any one seemed
held to recognise.  If this was the case in these closing weeks it was
the case more sharply on the occasion of the last offices rendered, in
the great grey London cemetery, to what had been mortal, to what had been
precious, in his friend.  The concourse at her grave was not numerous,
but he saw himself treated as scarce more nearly concerned with it than
if there had been a thousand others.  He was in short from this moment
face to face with the fact that he was to profit extraordinarily little
by the interest May Bartram had taken in him.  He couldn't quite have
said what he expected, but he hadn't surely expected this approach to a
double privation.  Not only had her interest failed him, but he seemed to
feel himself unattended--and for a reason he couldn't seize--by the
distinction, the dignity, the propriety, if nothing else, of the man
markedly bereaved.  It was as if, in the view of society he had not
_been_ markedly bereaved, as if there still failed some sign or proof of
it, and as if none the less his character could never be affirmed nor the
deficiency ever made up.  There were moments as the weeks went by when he
would have liked, by some almost aggressive act, to take his stand on the
intimacy of his loss, in order that it _might_ be questioned and his
retort, to the relief of his spirit, so recorded; but the moments of an
irritation more helpless followed fast on these, the moments during
which, turning things over with a good conscience but with a bare
horizon, he found himself wondering if he oughtn't to have begun, so to
speak, further back.

He found himself wondering indeed at many things, and this last
speculation had others to keep it company.  What could he have done,
after all, in her lifetime, without giving them both, as it were, away?
He couldn't have made known she was watching him, for that would have
published the superstition of the Beast.  This was what closed his mouth
now--now that the Jungle had been thrashed to vacancy and that the Beast
had stolen away.  It sounded too foolish and too flat; the difference for
him in this particular, the extinction in his life of the element of
suspense, was such as in fact to surprise him.  He could scarce have said
what the effect resembled; the abrupt cessation, the positive
prohibition, of music perhaps, more than anything else, in some place all
adjusted and all accustomed to sonority and to attention.  If he could at
any rate have conceived lifting the veil from his image at some moment of
the past (what had he done, after all, if not lift it to _her_?) so to do
this to-day, to talk to people at large of the Jungle cleared and confide
to them that he now felt it as safe, would have been not only to see them
listen as to a goodwife's tale, but really to hear himself tell one.  What
it presently came to in truth was that poor Marcher waded through his
beaten grass, where no life stirred, where no breath sounded, where no
evil eye seemed to gleam from a possible lair, very much as if vaguely
looking for the Beast, and still more as if acutely missing it.  He
walked about in an existence that had grown strangely more spacious, and,
stopping fitfully in places where the undergrowth of life struck him as
closer, asked himself yearningly, wondered secretly and sorely, if it
would have lurked here or there.  It would have at all events sprung;
what was at least complete was his belief in the truth itself of the
assurance given him.  The change from his old sense to his new was
absolute and final: what was to happen had so absolutely and finally
happened that he was as little able to know a fear for his future as to
know a hope; so absent in short was any question of anything still to
come.  He was to live entirely with the other question, that of his
unidentified past, that of his having to see his fortune impenetrably
muffled and masked.

The torment of this vision became then his occupation; he couldn't
perhaps have consented to live but for the possibility of guessing.  She
had told him, his friend, not to guess; she had forbidden him, so far as
he might, to know, and she had even in a sort denied the power in him to
learn: which were so many things, precisely, to deprive him of rest.  It
wasn't that he wanted, he argued for fairness, that anything past and
done should repeat itself; it was only that he shouldn't, as an
anticlimax, have been taken sleeping so sound as not to be able to win
back by an effort of thought the lost stuff of consciousness.  He
declared to himself at moments that he would either win it back or have
done with consciousness for ever; he made this idea his one motive in
fine, made it so much his passion that none other, to compare with it,
seemed ever to have touched him.  The lost stuff of consciousness became
thus for him as a strayed or stolen child to an unappeasable father; he
hunted it up and down very much as if he were knocking at doors and
enquiring of the police.  This was the spirit in which, inevitably, he
set himself to travel; he started on a journey that was to be as long as
he could make it; it danced before him that, as the other side of the
globe couldn't possibly have less to say to him, it might, by a
possibility of suggestion, have more.  Before he quitted London, however,
he made a pilgrimage to May Bartram's grave, took his way to it through
the endless avenues of the grim suburban necropolis, sought it out in the
wilderness of tombs, and, though he had come but for the renewal of the
act of farewell, found himself, when he had at last stood by it, beguiled
into long intensities.  He stood for an hour, powerless to turn away and
yet powerless to penetrate the darkness of death; fixing with his eyes
her inscribed name and date, beating his forehead against the fact of the
secret they kept, drawing his breath, while he waited, as if some sense
would in pity of him rise from the stones.  He kneeled on the stones,
however, in vain; they kept what they concealed; and if the face of the
tomb did become a face for him it was because her two names became a pair
of eyes that didn't know him.  He gave them a last long look, but no
palest light broke.



CHAPTER VI


He stayed away, after this, for a year; he visited the depths of Asia,
spending himself on scenes of romantic interest, of superlative sanctity;
but what was present to him everywhere was that for a man who had known
what _he_ had known the world was vulgar and vain.  The state of mind in
which he had lived for so many years shone out to him, in reflexion, as a
light that coloured and refined, a light beside which the glow of the
East was garish cheap and thin.  The terrible truth was that he had
lost--with everything else--a distinction as well the things he saw
couldn't help being common when he had become common to look at them.  He
was simply now one of them himself--he was in the dust, without a peg for
the sense of difference; and there were hours when, before the temples of
gods and the sepulchres of kings, his spirit turned for nobleness of
association to the barely discriminated slab in the London suburb.  That
had become for him, and more intensely with time and distance, his one
witness of a past glory.  It was all that was left to him for proof or
pride, yet the past glories of Pharaohs were nothing to him as he thought
of it.  Small wonder then that he came back to it on the morrow of his
return.  He was drawn there this time as irresistibly as the other, yet
with a confidence, almost, that was doubtless the effect of the many
months that had elapsed.  He had lived, in spite of himself, into his
change of feeling, and in wandering over the earth had wandered, as might
be said, from the circumference to the centre of his desert.  He had
settled to his safety and accepted perforce his extinction; figuring to
himself, with some colour, in the likeness of certain little old men he
remembered to have seen, of whom, all meagre and wizened as they might
look, it was related that they had in their time fought twenty duels or
been loved by ten princesses.  They indeed had been wondrous for others
while he was but wondrous for himself; which, however, was exactly the
cause of his haste to renew the wonder by getting back, as he might put
it, into his own presence.  That had quickened his steps and checked his
delay.  If his visit was prompt it was because he had been separated so
long from the part of himself that alone he now valued.

It's accordingly not false to say that he reached his goal with a certain
elation and stood there again with a certain assurance.  The creature
beneath the sod knew of his rare experience, so that, strangely now, the
place had lost for him its mere blankness of expression.  It met him in
mildness--not, as before, in mockery; it wore for him the air of
conscious greeting that we find, after absence, in things that have
closely belonged to us and which seem to confess of themselves to the
connexion.  The plot of ground, the graven tablet, the tended flowers
affected him so as belonging to him that he resembled for the hour a
contented landlord reviewing a piece of property.  Whatever had
happened--well, had happened.  He had not come back this time with the
vanity of that question, his former worrying "What, _what_?" now
practically so spent.  Yet he would none the less never again so cut
himself off from the spot; he would come back to it every month, for if
he did nothing else by its aid he at least held up his head.  It thus
grew for him, in the oddest way, a positive resource; he carried out his
idea of periodical returns, which took their place at last among the most
inveterate of his habits.  What it all amounted to, oddly enough, was
that in his finally so simplified world this garden of death gave him the
few square feet of earth on which he could still most live.  It was as
if, being nothing anywhere else for any one, nothing even for himself, he
were just everything here, and if not for a crowd of witnesses or indeed
for any witness but John Marcher, then by clear right of the register
that he could scan like an open page.  The open page was the tomb of his
friend, and there were the facts of the past, there the truth of his
life, there the backward reaches in which he could lose himself.  He did
this from time to time with such effect that he seemed to wander through
the old years with his hand in the arm of a companion who was, in the
most extraordinary manner, his other, his younger self; and to wander,
which was more extraordinary yet, round and round a third presence--not
wandering she, but stationary, still, whose eyes, turning with his
revolution, never ceased to follow him, and whose seat was his point, so
to speak, of orientation.  Thus in short he settled to live--feeding all
on the sense that he once _had_ lived, and dependent on it not alone for
a support but for an identity.

It sufficed him in its way for months and the year elapsed; it would
doubtless even have carried him further but for an accident,
superficially slight, which moved him, quite in another direction, with a
force beyond any of his impressions of Egypt or of India.  It was a thing
of the merest chance--the turn, as he afterwards felt, of a hair, though
he was indeed to live to believe that if light hadn't come to him in this
particular fashion it would still have come in another.  He was to live
to believe this, I say, though he was not to live, I may not less
definitely mention, to do much else.  We allow him at any rate the
benefit of the conviction, struggling up for him at the end, that,
whatever might have happened or not happened, he would have come round of
himself to the light.  The incident of an autumn day had put the match to
the train laid from of old by his misery.  With the light before him he
knew that even of late his ache had only been smothered.  It was
strangely drugged, but it throbbed; at the touch it began to bleed.  And
the touch, in the event, was the face of a fellow-mortal.  This face, one
grey afternoon when the leaves were thick in the alleys, looked into
Marcher's own, at the cemetery, with an expression like the cut of a
blade.  He felt it, that is, so deep down that he winced at the steady
thrust.  The person who so mutely assaulted him was a figure he had
noticed, on reaching his own goal, absorbed by a grave a short distance
away, a grave apparently fresh, so that the emotion of the visitor would
probably match it for frankness.  This fact alone forbade further
attention, though during the time he stayed he remained vaguely conscious
of his neighbour, a middle-aged man apparently, in mourning, whose bowed
back, among the clustered monuments and mortuary yews, was constantly
presented.  Marcher's theory that these were elements in contact with
which he himself revived, had suffered, on this occasion, it may be
granted, a marked, an excessive check.  The autumn day was dire for him
as none had recently been, and he rested with a heaviness he had not yet
known on the low stone table that bore May Bartram's name.  He rested
without power to move, as if some spring in him, some spell vouchsafed,
had suddenly been broken for ever.  If he could have done that moment as
he wanted he would simply have stretched himself on the slab that was
ready to take him, treating it as a place prepared to receive his last
sleep.  What in all the wide world had he now to keep awake for?  He
stared before him with the question, and it was then that, as one of the
cemetery walks passed near him, he caught the shock of the face.

His neighbour at the other grave had withdrawn, as he himself, with force
enough in him, would have done by now, and was advancing along the path
on his way to one of the gates.  This brought him close, and his pace,
was slow, so that--and all the more as there was a kind of hunger in his
look--the two men were for a minute directly confronted.  Marcher knew
him at once for one of the deeply stricken--a perception so sharp that
nothing else in the picture comparatively lived, neither his dress, his
age, nor his presumable character and class; nothing lived but the deep
ravage of the features that he showed.  He _showed_ them--that was the
point; he was moved, as he passed, by some impulse that was either a
signal for sympathy or, more possibly, a challenge to an opposed sorrow.
He might already have been aware of our friend, might at some previous
hour have noticed in him the smooth habit of the scene, with which the
state of his own senses so scantly consorted, and might thereby have been
stirred as by an overt discord.  What Marcher was at all events conscious
of was in the first place that the image of scarred passion presented to
him was conscious too--of something that profaned the air; and in the
second that, roused, startled, shocked, he was yet the next moment
looking after it, as it went, with envy.  The most extraordinary thing
that had happened to him--though he had given that name to other matters
as well--took place, after his immediate vague stare, as a consequence of
this impression.  The stranger passed, but the raw glare of his grief
remained, making our friend wonder in pity what wrong, what wound it
expressed, what injury not to be healed.  What had the man _had_, to make
him by the loss of it so bleed and yet live?

Something--and this reached him with a pang--that _he_, John Marcher,
hadn't; the proof of which was precisely John Marcher's arid end.  No
passion had ever touched him, for this was what passion meant; he had
survived and maundered and pined, but where had been _his_ deep ravage?
The extraordinary thing we speak of was the sudden rush of the result of
this question.  The sight that had just met his eyes named to him, as in
letters of quick flame, something he had utterly, insanely missed, and
what he had missed made these things a train of fire, made them mark
themselves in an anguish of inward throbs.  He had seen _outside_ of his
life, not learned it within, the way a woman was mourned when she had
been loved for herself: such was the force of his conviction of the
meaning of the stranger's face, which still flared for him as a smoky
torch.  It hadn't come to him, the knowledge, on the wings of experience;
it had brushed him, jostled him, upset him, with the disrespect of
chance, the insolence of accident.  Now that the illumination had begun,
however, it blazed to the zenith, and what he presently stood there
gazing at was the sounded void of his life.  He gazed, he drew breath, in
pain; he turned in his dismay, and, turning, he had before him in sharper
incision than ever the open page of his story.  The name on the table
smote him as the passage of his neighbour had done, and what it said to
him, full in the face, was that she was what he had missed.  This was the
awful thought, the answer to all the past, the vision at the dread
clearness of which he turned as cold as the stone beneath him.  Everything
fell together, confessed, explained, overwhelmed; leaving him most of all
stupefied at the blindness he had cherished.  The fate he had been marked
for he had met with a vengeance--he had emptied the cup to the lees; he
had been the man of his time, _the_ man, to whom nothing on earth was to
have happened.  That was the rare stroke--that was his visitation.  So he
saw it, as we say, in pale horror, while the pieces fitted and fitted.  So
_she_ had seen it while he didn't, and so she served at this hour to
drive the truth home.  It was the truth, vivid and monstrous, that all
the while he had waited the wait was itself his portion.  This the
companion of his vigil had at a given moment made out, and she had then
offered him the chance to baffle his doom.  One's doom, however, was
never baffled, and on the day she told him his own had come down she had
seen him but stupidly stare at the escape she offered him.

The escape would have been to love her; then, _then_ he would have lived.
_She_ had lived--who could say now with what passion?--since she had
loved him for himself; whereas he had never thought of her (ah how it
hugely glared at him!) but in the chill of his egotism and the light of
her use.  Her spoken words came back to him--the chain stretched and
stretched.  The Beast had lurked indeed, and the Beast, at its hour, had
sprung; it had sprung in that twilight of the cold April when, pale, ill,
wasted, but all beautiful, and perhaps even then recoverable, she had
risen from her chair to stand before him and let him imaginably guess.  It
had sprung as he didn't guess; it had sprung as she hopelessly turned
from him, and the mark, by the time he left her, had fallen where it
_was_ to fall.  He had justified his fear and achieved his fate; he had
failed, with the last exactitude, of all he was to fail of; and a moan
now rose to his lips as he remembered she had prayed he mightn't know.
This horror of waking--_this_ was knowledge, knowledge under the breath
of which the very tears in his eyes seemed to freeze.  Through them, none
the less, he tried to fix it and hold it; he kept it there before him so
that he might feel the pain.  That at least, belated and bitter, had
something of the taste of life.  But the bitterness suddenly sickened
him, and it was as if, horribly, he saw, in the truth, in the cruelty of
his image, what had been appointed and done.  He saw the Jungle of his
life and saw the lurking Beast; then, while he looked, perceived it, as
by a stir of the air, rise, huge and hideous, for the leap that was to
settle him.  His eyes darkened--it was close; and, instinctively turning,
in his hallucination, to avoid it, he flung himself, face down, on the
tomb.





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