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Flickerbridge

CHAPTER I

Frank Granger had arrived from Paris to paint a portrait--an order
given him, as a young compatriot with a future, whose early work
would some day have a price, by a lady from New York, a friend of
his own people and also, as it happened, of Addie's, the young
woman to whom it was publicly both affirmed and denied that he was
engaged. Other young women in Paris--fellow-members there of the
little tight transpontine world of art-study--professed to know
that the pair had "several times" over renewed their fond
understanding. This, however, was their own affair; the last phase
of the relation, the last time of the times, had passed into
vagueness; there was perhaps even an impression that if they were
inscrutable to their friends they were not wholly crystalline to
each other and themselves. What had occurred for Granger at all
events in connexion with the portrait was that Mrs. Bracken, his
intending model, whose return to America was at hand, had suddenly
been called to London by her husband, occupied there with pressing
business, but had yet desired that her displacement should not
interrupt her sittings. The young man, at her request, had
followed her to England and profited by all she could give him,
making shift with a small studio lent him by a London painter whom
he had known and liked a few years before in the French atelier
that then cradled, and that continued to cradle, so many of their
kind.

The British capital was a strange grey world to him, where people
walked, in more ways than one, by a dim light; but he was happily
of such a turn that the impression, just as it came, could nowhere
ever fail him, and even the worst of these things was almost as
much an occupation--putting it only at that--as the best. Mrs.
Bracken moreover passed him on, and while the darkness ebbed a
little in the April days he found himself consolingly committed to
a couple of fresh subjects. This cut him out work for more than
another month, but meanwhile, as he said, he saw a lot--a lot that,
with frequency and with much expression, he wrote about to Addie.
She also wrote to her absent friend, but in briefer snatches, a
meagreness to her reasons for which he had long since assented.
She had other play for her pen as well as, fortunately, other
remuneration; a regular correspondence for a "prominent Boston
paper," fitful connexions with public sheets perhaps also in cases
fitful, and a mind above all engrossed at times, to the exclusion
of everything else, with the study of the short story. This last
was what she had mainly come out to go into, two or three years
after he had found himself engulfed in the mystery of Carolus. She
was indeed, on her own deep sea, more engulfed than he had ever
been, and he had grown to accept the sense that, for progress too,
she sailed under more canvas. It hadn't been particularly present
to him till now that he had in the least got on, but the way in
which Addie had--and evidently still more would--was the theme, as
it were, of every tongue. She had thirty short stories out and
nine descriptive articles. His three or four portraits of fat
American ladies--they were all fat, all ladies and all American--
were a poor show compared with these triumphs; especially as Addie
had begun to throw out that it was about time they should go home.
It kept perpetually coming up in Paris, in the transpontine world,
that, as the phrase was, America had grown more interesting since
they left. Addie was attentive to the rumour, and, as full of
conscience as she was of taste, of patriotism as of curiosity, had
often put it to him frankly, with what he, who was of New York,
recognised as her New England emphasis: "I'm not sure, you know,
that we do REAL justice to our country." Granger felt he would do
it on the day--if the day ever came--he should irrevocably marry
her. No other country could possibly have produced her.

CHAPTER II

But meanwhile it befell that, in London, he was stricken with
influenza and with subsequent sorrow. The attack was short but
sharp--had it lasted Addie would certainly have come to his aid;
most of a blight really in its secondary stage. The good ladies
his sitters--the ladies with the frizzled hair, with the diamond
earrings, with the chins tending to the massive--left for him, at
the door of his lodgings, flowers, soup and love, so that with
their assistance he pulled through; but his convalescence was slow
and his weakness out of proportion to the muffled shock. He came
out, but he went about lame; it tired him to paint--he felt as if
he had been ill three months. He strolled in Kensington Gardens
when he should have been at work; he sat long on penny chairs and
helplessly mused and mooned. Addie desired him to return to Paris,
but there were chances under his hand that he felt he had just wit
enough left not to relinquish. He would have gone for a week to
the sea--he would have gone to Brighton; but Mrs. Bracken had to be
finished--Mrs. Bracken was so soon to sail. He just managed to
finish her in time--the day before the date fixed for his breaking
ground on a greater business still, the circumvallation of Mrs.
Dunn. Mrs. Dunn duly waited on him, and he sat down before her,
feeling, however, ere he rose, that he must take a long breath
before the attack. While asking himself that night, therefore,
where he should best replenish his lungs he received from Addie,
who had had from Mrs. Bracken a poor report of him, a communication
which, besides being of sudden and startling interest, applied
directly to his case.

His friend wrote to him under the lively emotion of having from one
day to another become aware of a new relative, an ancient cousin, a
sequestered gentlewoman, the sole survival of "the English branch
of the family," still resident, at Flickerbridge, in the "old
family home," and with whom, that he might immediately betake
himself to so auspicious a quarter for change of air, she had
already done what was proper to place him, as she said, in touch.
What came of it all, to be brief, was that Granger found himself so
placed almost as he read: he was in touch with Miss Wenham of
Flickerbridge, to the extent of being in correspondence with her,
before twenty-four hours had sped. And on the second day he was in
the train, settled for a five-hours' run to the door of this
amiable woman who had so abruptly and kindly taken him on trust and
of whom but yesterday he had never so much as heard. This was an
oddity--the whole incident was--of which, in the corner of his
compartment, as he proceeded, he had time to take the size. But
the surprise, the incongruity, as he felt, could but deepen as he
went. It was a sufficiently queer note, in the light, or the
absence of it, of his late experience, that so complex a product as
Addie should have ANY simple insular tie; but it was a queerer note
still that she should have had one so long only to remain
unprofitably unconscious of it. Not to have done something with
it, used it, worked it, talked about it at least, and perhaps even
written--these things, at the rate she moved, represented a loss of
opportunity under which as he saw her, she was peculiarly formed to
wince. She was at any rate, it was clear, doing something with it
now; using it, working it, certainly, already talking--and, yes,
quite possibly writing--about it. She was in short smartly making
up what she had missed, and he could take such comfort from his own
action as he had been helped to by the rest of the facts,
succinctly reported from Paris on the very morning of his start.

It was the singular story of a sharp split--in a good English
house--that dated now from years back. A worthy Briton, of the
best middling stock, had, during the fourth decade of the century,
as a very young man, in Dresden, whither he had been despatched to
qualify in German for a stool in an uncle's counting-house, met,
admired, wooed and won an American girl, of due attractions,
domiciled at that period with her parents and a sister, who was
also attractive, in the Saxon capital. He had married her, taken
her to England, and there, after some years of harmony and
happiness, lost her. The sister in question had, after her death,
come to him and to his young child on a visit, the effect of which,
between the pair, eventually defined itself as a sentiment that was
not to be resisted. The bereaved husband, yielding to a new
attachment and a new response, and finding a new union thus
prescribed, had yet been forced to reckon with the unaccommodating
law of the land. Encompassed with frowns in his own country,
however, marriages of this particular type were wreathed in smiles
in his sister's-in-law, so that his remedy was not forbidden.
Choosing between two allegiances he had let the one go that seemed
the least close, and had in brief transplanted his possibilities to
an easier air. The knot was tied for the couple in New York,
where, to protect the legitimacy of such other children as might
come to them, they settled and prospered. Children came, and one
of the daughters, growing up and marrying in her turn, was, if
Frank rightly followed, the mother of his own Addie, who had been
deprived of the knowledge of her indeed, in childhood, by death,
and been brought up, though without undue tension, by a stepmother-
-a character breaking out thus anew.

The breach produced in England by the invidious action, as it was
there held, of the girl's grandfather, had not failed to widen--all
the more that nothing had been done on the American side to close
it. Frigidity had settled, and hostility had been arrested only by
indifference. Darkness therefore had fortunately supervened, and a
cousinship completely divided. On either side of the impassable
gulf, of the impenetrable curtain, each branch had put forth its
leaves--a foliage failing, in the American quarter, it was distinct
enough to Granger, of no sign or symptom of climate and
environment. The graft in New York had taken, and Addie was a
vivid, an unmistakable flower. At Flickerbridge, or wherever, on
the other hand, strange to say, the parent stem had had a fortune
comparatively meagre. Fortune, it was true, in the vulgarest
sense, had attended neither party. Addie's immediate belongings
were as poor as they were numerous, and he gathered that Miss
Wenham's pretensions to wealth were not so marked as to expose the
claim of kinship to the imputation of motive. To this lady's
single identity the original stock had at all events dwindled, and
our young man was properly warned that he would find her shy and
solitary. What was singular was that in these conditions she
should desire, she should endure, to receive him. But that was all
another story, lucid enough when mastered. He kept Addie's
letters, exceptionally copious, in his lap; he conned them at
intervals; he held the threads.

He looked out between whiles at the pleasant English land, an April
aquarelle washed in with wondrous breadth. He knew the French
thing, he knew the American, but he had known nothing of this. He
saw it already as the remarkable Miss Wenham's setting. The
doctor's daughter at Flickerbridge, with nippers on her nose, a
palette on her thumb and innocence in her heart, had been the
miraculous link. She had become aware even there, in our world of
wonders, that the current fashion for young women so equipped was
to enter the Parisian lists. Addie had accordingly chanced upon
her, on the slopes of Montparnasse, as one of the English girls in
one of the thorough-going sets. They had met in some easy
collocation and had fallen upon common ground; after which the
young woman, restored to Flickerbridge for an interlude and
retailing there her adventures and impressions, had mentioned to
Miss Wenham who had known and protected her from babyhood, that
that lady's own name of Adelaide was, as well as the surname
conjoined with it, borne, to her knowledge, in Paris, by an
extraordinary American specimen. She had then recrossed the
Channel with a wonderful message, a courteous challenge, to her
friend's duplicate, who had in turn granted through her every
satisfaction. The duplicate had in other words bravely let Miss
Wenham know exactly who she was. Miss Wenham, in whose personal
tradition the flame of resentment appeared to have been reduced by
time to the palest ashes--for whom indeed the story of the great
schism was now but a legend only needing a little less dimness to
make it romantic--Miss Wenham had promptly responded by a letter
fragrant with the hope that old threads might be taken up. It was
a relationship that they must puzzle out together, and she had
earnestly sounded the other party to it on the subject of a
possible visit. Addie had met her with a definite promise; she
would come soon, she would come when free, she would come in July;
but meanwhile she sent her deputy. Frank asked himself by what
name she had described, by what character introduced him to
Flickerbridge. He mainly felt on the whole as if he were going
there to find out if he were engaged to her. He was at sea really
now as to which of the various views Addie herself took of it. To
Miss Wenham she must definitely have taken one, and perhaps Miss
Wenham would reveal it. This expectation was in fact his excuse
for a possible indiscretion.

CHAPTER III

He was indeed to learn on arrival to what he had been committed;
but that was for a while so much a part of his first general
impression that the particular truth took time to detach itself,
the first general impression demanding verily all his faculties of
response. He almost felt for a day or two the victim of a
practical joke, a gross abuse of confidence. He had presented
himself with the moderate amount of flutter involved in a sense of
due preparation; but he had then found that, however primed with
prefaces and prompted with hints, he hadn't been prepared at all.
How COULD he be, he asked himself, for anything so foreign to his
experience, so alien to his proper world, so little to be
preconceived in the sharp north light of the newest impressionism,
and yet so recognised after all in the event, so noted and tasted
and assimilated? It was a case he would scarce have known how to
describe--could doubtless have described best with a full clean
brush, supplemented by a play of gesture; for it was always his
habit to see an occasion, of whatever kind, primarily as a picture,
so that he might get it, as he was wont to say, so that he might
keep it, well together. He had been treated of a sudden, in this
adventure, to one of the sweetest fairest coolest impressions of
his life--one moreover visibly complete and homogeneous from the
start. Oh it was THERE, if that was all one wanted of a thing! It
was so "there" that, as had befallen him in Italy, in Spain,
confronted at last, in dusky side-chapel or rich museum, with great
things dreamed of or with greater ones unexpectedly presented, he
had held his breath for fear of breaking the spell; had almost,
from the quick impulse to respect, to prolong, lowered his voice
and moved on tiptoe. Supreme beauty suddenly revealed is apt to
strike us as a possible illusion playing with our desire--instant
freedom with it to strike us as a possible rashness.

This fortunately, however--and the more so as his freedom for the
time quite left him--didn't prevent his hostess, the evening of his
advent and while the vision was new, from being exactly as queer
and rare and IMPAYABLE, as improbable, as impossible, as delightful
at the eight o'clock dinner--she appeared to keep these immense
hours--as she had overwhelmingly been at the five o'clock tea. She
was in the most natural way in the world one of the oddest
apparitions, but that the particular means to such an end COULD be
natural was an inference difficult to make. He failed in fact to
make it for a couple of days; but then--though then only--he made
it with confidence. By this time indeed he was sure of everything,
luckily including himself. If we compare his impression, with
slight extravagance, to some of the greatest he had ever received,
this is simply because the image before him was so rounded and
stamped. It expressed with pure perfection, it exhausted its
character. It was so absolutely and so unconsciously what it was.
He had been floated by the strangest of chances out of the rushing
stream into a clear still backwater--a deep and quiet pool in which
objects were sharply mirrored. He had hitherto in life known
nothing that was old except a few statues and pictures; but here
everything was old, was immemorial, and nothing so much so as the
very freshness itself. Vaguely to have supposed there were such
nooks in the world had done little enough, he now saw, to temper
the glare of their opposites. It was the fine touches that
counted, and these had to be seen to be believed.

Miss Wenham, fifty-five years of age and unappeasably timid,
unaccountably strange, had, on her reduced scale, an almost Gothic
grotesqueness; but the final effect of one's sense of it was an
amenity that accompanied one's steps like wafted gratitude. More
flurried, more spasmodic, more apologetic, more completely at a
loss at one moment and more precipitately abounding at another, he
had never before in all his days seen any maiden lady; yet for no
maiden lady he had ever seen had he so promptly conceived a private
enthusiasm. Her eyes protruded, her chin receded and her nose
carried on in conversation a queer little independent motion. She
wore on the top of her head an upright circular cap that made her
resemble a caryatid disburdened, and on other parts of her person
strange combinations of colours, stuffs, shapes, of metal, mineral
and plant. The tones of her voice rose and fell, her facial
convulsions, whether tending--one could scarce make out--to
expression or REpression, succeeded each other by a law of their
own; she was embarrassed at nothing and at everything, frightened
at everything and at nothing, and she approached objects, subjects,
the simplest questions and answers and the whole material of
intercourse, either with the indirectness of terror or with the
violence of despair. These things, none the less, her refinements
of oddity and intensities of custom, her betrayal at once of
conventions and simplicities, of ease and of agony, her roundabout
retarded suggestions and perceptions, still permitted her to strike
her guest as irresistibly charming. He didn't know what to call
it; she was a fruit of time. She had a queer distinction. She had
been expensively produced and there would be a good deal more of
her to come.

The result of the whole quality of her welcome, at any rate, was
that the first evening, in his room, before going to bed, he
relieved his mind in a letter to Addie, which, if space allowed us
to embody it in our text, would usefully perform the office of a
"plate." It would enable us to present ourselves as profusely
illustrated. But the process of reproduction, as we say, costs.
He wished his friend to know how grandly their affair turned out.
She had put him in the way of something absolutely special--an old
house untouched, untouchable, indescribable, an old corner such as
one didn't believe existed, and the holy calm of which made the
chatter of studios, the smell of paint, the slang of critics, the
whole sense and sound of Paris, come back as so many signs of a
huge monkey-cage. He moved about, restless, while he wrote; he
lighted cigarettes and, nervous and suddenly scrupulous, put them
out again; the night was mild and one of the windows of his large
high room, which stood over the garden, was up. He lost himself in
the things about him, in the type of the room, the last century
with not a chair moved, not a point stretched. He hung over the
objects and ornaments, blissfully few and adorably good, perfect
pieces all, and never one, for a change, French. The scene was as
rare as some fine old print with the best bits down in the corners.
Old books and old pictures, allusions remembered and aspects
conjectured, reappeared to him; he knew not what anxious islanders
had been trying for in their backward hunt for the homely. But the
homely at Flickerbridge was all style, even as style at the same
time was mere honesty. The larger, the smaller past--he scarce
knew which to call it--was at all events so hushed to sleep round
him as he wrote that he had almost a bad conscience about having
come. How one might love it, but how one might spoil it! To look
at it too hard was positively to make it conscious, and to make it
conscious was positively to wake it up. Its only safety, of a
truth, was to be left still to sleep--to sleep in its large fair
chambers and under its high clean canopies.

He added thus restlessly a line to his letter, maundered round the
room again, noted and fingered something else, and then, dropping
on the old flowered sofa, sustained by the tight cubes of its
cushions, yielded afresh to the cigarette, hesitated, stared, wrote
a few words more. He wanted Addie to know, that was what he most
felt, unless he perhaps felt, more how much she herself would want
to. Yes, what he supremely saw was all that Addie would make of
it. Up to his neck in it there he fairly turned cold at the sense
of suppressed opportunity, of the outrage of privation that his
correspondent would retrospectively and, as he even divined with a
vague shudder, almost vindictively nurse. Well, what had happened
was that the acquaintance had been kept for her, like a packet
enveloped and sealed for delivery, till her attention was free. He
saw her there, heard her and felt her--felt how she would feel and
how she would, as she usually said, "rave." Some of her young
compatriots called it "yell," and in the reference itself, alas!
illustrated their meaning. She would understand the place at any
rate, down to the ground; there wasn't the slightest doubt of that.
Her sense of it would be exactly like his own, and he could see, in
anticipation, just the terms of recognition and rapture in which
she would abound. He knew just what she would call quaint, just
what she would call bland, just what she would call weird, just
what she would call wild. She would take it all in with an
intelligence much more fitted than his own, in fact, to deal with
what he supposed he must regard as its literary relations. She
would have read the long-winded obsolete memoirs and novels that
both the figures and the setting ought clearly to remind one of;
she would know about the past generations--the lumbering country
magnates and their turbaned wives and round-eyed daughters, who, in
other days, had treated the ruddy sturdy tradeless town,--the solid
square houses and wide walled gardens, the streets to-day all grass
and gossip, as the scene of a local "season." She would have
warrant for the assemblies, dinners, deep potations; for the smoked
sconces in the dusky parlours; for the long muddy century of family
coaches, "holsters," highwaymen. She would put a finger in short,
just as he had done, on the vital spot--the rich humility of the
whole thing, the fact that neither Flickerbridge in general nor
Miss Wenham in particular, nor anything nor any one concerned, had
a suspicion of their characters and their merit. Addie and he
would have to come to let in light.

He let it in then, little by little, before going to bed, through
the eight or ten pages he addressed to her; assured her that it was
the happiest case in the world, a little picture--yet full of
"style" too--absolutely composed and transmitted, with tradition,
and tradition only, in every stroke, tradition still noiselessly
breathing and visibly flushing, marking strange hours in the tall
mahogany clocks that were never wound up and that yet audibly
ticked on. All the elements, he was sure he should see, would hang
together with a charm, presenting his hostess--a strange iridescent
fish for the glazed exposure of an aquarium--as afloat in her
native medium. He left his letter open on the table, but, looking
it over next morning, felt of a sudden indisposed to send it. He
would keep it to add more, for there would be more to know; yet
when three days had elapsed he still had not sent it. He sent
instead, after delay, a much briefer report, which he was moved to
make different and, for some reason, less vivid. Meanwhile he
learned from Miss Wenham how Addie had introduced him. It took
time to arrive with her at that point, but after the Rubicon was
crossed they went far afield.

CHAPTER IV

"Oh yes, she said you were engaged to her. That was why--since I
HAD broken out--she thought I might like to see you; as I assure
you I've been so delighted to. But AREN'T you?" the good lady
asked as if she saw in his face some ground for doubt.

"Assuredly--if she says so. It may seem very odd to you, but I
haven't known, and yet I've felt that, being nothing whatever to
you directly, I need some warrant for consenting thus to be thrust
on you. We WERE," the young man explained, "engaged a year ago;
but since then (if you don't mind my telling you such things; I
feel now as if I could tell you anything!) I haven't quite known
how I stand. It hasn't seemed we were in a position to marry.
Things are better now, but I haven't quite known how she'd see
them. They were so bad six months ago that I understood her, I
thought, as breaking off. I haven't broken; I've only accepted,
for the time--because men must be easy with women--being treated as
'the best of friends.' Well, I try to be. I wouldn't have come
here if I hadn't been. I thought it would be charming for her to
know you--when I heard from her the extraordinary way you had
dawned upon her; and charming therefore if I could help her to it.
And if I'm helping you to know HER," he went on, "isn't that
charming too?"

"Oh I so want to!" Miss Wenham murmured in her unpractical
impersonal way. "You're so different!" she wistfully declared.

"It's YOU, if I may respectfully, ecstatically say so, who are
different. That's the point of it all. I'm not sure that anything
so terrible really ought to happen to you as to know us."

"Well," said Miss Wenham, "I do know you a little by this time,
don't I? And I don't find it terrible. It's a delightful change
for me."

"Oh I'm not sure you ought to have a delightful change!"

"Why not--if you do?"

"Ah I can bear it. I'm not sure you can. I'm too bad to spoil--I
AM spoiled. I'm nobody, in short; I'm nothing. I've no type.
You're ALL type. It has taken delicious long years of security and
monotony to produce you. You fit your frame with a perfection only
equalled by the perfection with which your frame fits you. So this
admirable old house, all time-softened white within and time-faded
red without, so everything that surrounds you here and that has, by
some extraordinary mercy, escaped the inevitable fate of
exploitation: so it all, I say, is the sort of thing that, were it
the least bit to fall to pieces, could never, ah never more be put
together again. I have, dear Miss Wenham," Granger went on, happy
himself in his extravagance, which was yet all sincere, and happier
still in her deep but altogether pleased mystification--"I've
found, do you know, just the thing one has ever heard of that you
most resemble. You're the Sleeping Beauty in the Wood."

He still had no compunction when he heard her bewilderedly sigh:
"Oh you're too delightfully droll!"

"No, I only put thing's just as they are, and as I've also learned
a little, thank heaven, to see them--which isn't, I quite agree
with you, at all what any one does. You're in the deep doze of the
spell that has held you for long years, and it would be a shame, a
crime, to wake you up. Indeed I already feel with a thousand
scruples that I'm giving you the fatal shake. I say it even though
it makes me sound a little as if I thought myself the fairy
prince."

She gazed at him with her queerest kindest look, which he was
getting used to in spite of a faint fear, at the back of his head,
of the strange things that sometimes occurred when lonely ladies,
however mature, began to look at interesting young men from over
the seas as if the young men desired to flirt. "It's so
wonderful," she said, "that you should be so very odd and yet so
very good-natured." Well, it all came to the same thing--it was so
wonderful that SHE should be so simple and yet so little of a bore.
He accepted with gratitude the theory of his languor--which
moreover was real enough and partly perhaps why he was so
sensitive; he let himself go as a convalescent, let her insist on
the weakness always left by fever. It helped him to gain time, to
preserve the spell even while he talked of breaking it; saw him
through slow strolls and soft sessions, long gossips, fitful
hopeless questions--there was so much more to tell than, by any
contortion, she COULD--and explanations addressed gallantly and
patiently to her understanding, but not, by good fortune, really
reaching it. They were perfectly at cross-purposes, and it was the
better, and they wandered together in the silver haze with all
communication blurred.

When they sat in the sun in her formal garden he quite knew how
little even the tenderest consideration failed to disguise his
treating her as the most exquisite of curiosities. The term of
comparison most present to him was that of some obsolete musical
instrument. The old-time order of her mind and her air had the
stillness of a painted spinnet that was duly dusted, gently rubbed,
but never tuned nor played on. Her opinions were like dried rose-
leaves; her attitudes like British sculpture; her voice what he
imagined of the possible tone of the old gilded silver-stringed
harp in one of the corners of the drawing-room. The lonely little
decencies and modest dignities of her life, the fine grain of its
conservatism, the innocence of its ignorance, all its monotony of
stupidity and salubrity, its cold dulness and dim brightness, were
there before him. Meanwhile within him strange things took place.
It was literally true that his impression began again, after a
lull, to make him nervous and anxious, and for reasons peculiarly
confused, almost grotesquely mingled, or at least comically sharp.
He was distinctly an agitation and a new taste--that he could see;
and he saw quite as much therefore the excitement she already drew
from the vision of Addie, an image intensified by the sense of
closer kinship and presented to her, clearly, with various erratic
enhancements, by her friend the doctor's daughter. At the end of a
few days he said to her: "Do you know she wants to come without
waiting any longer? She wants to come while I'm here. I received
this morning her letter proposing it, but I've been thinking it
over and have waited to speak to you. The thing is, you see, that
if she writes to YOU proposing it--"

"Oh I shall be so particularly glad!"

CHAPTER V

They were as usual in the garden, and it hadn't yet been so present
to him that if he were only a happy cad there would be a good way
to protect her. As she wouldn't hear of his being yet beyond
precautions she had gone into the house for a particular shawl that
was just the thing for his knees, and, blinking in the watery
sunshine, had come back with it across the fine little lawn. He
was neither fatuous nor asinine, but he had almost to put it to
himself as a small task to resist the sense of his absurd advantage
with her. It filled him with horror and awkwardness, made him
think of he didn't know what, recalled something of Maupassant's--
the smitten "Miss Harriet" and her tragic fate. There was a
preposterous possibility--yes, he held the strings quite in his
hands--of keeping the treasure for himself. That was the art of
life--what the real artist would consistently do. He would close
the door on his impression, treat it as a private museum. He would
see that he could lounge and linger there, live with wonderful
things there, lie up there to rest and refit. For himself he was
sure that after a little he should be able to paint there--do
things in a key he had never thought of before. When she brought
him the rug he took it from her and made her sit down on the bench
and resume her knitting; then, passing behind her with a laugh, he
placed it over her own shoulders; after which he moved to and fro
before her, his hands in his pockets and his cigarette in his
teeth. He was ashamed of the cigarette--a villainous false note;
but she allowed, liked, begged him to smoke, and what he said to
her on it, in one of the pleasantries she benevolently missed, was
that he did so for fear of doing worse. That only showed how the
end was really in sight. "I dare say it will strike you as quite
awful, what I'm going to say to you, but I can't help it. I speak
out of the depths of my respect for you. It will seem to you
horrid disloyalty to poor Addie. Yes--there we are; there _I_ am
at least in my naked monstrosity." He stopped and looked at her
till she might have been almost frightened. "Don't let her come.
Tell her not to. I've tried to prevent it, but she suspects."

The poor woman wondered. "Suspects?"

"Well, I drew it, in writing to her, on reflexion, as mild as I
could--having been visited in the watches of the night by the
instinct of what might happen. Something told me to keep back my
first letter--in which, under the first impression, I myself rashly
'raved'; and I concocted instead of it an insincere and guarded
report. But guarded as I was I clearly didn't keep you 'down,' as
we say, enough. The wonder of your colour--daub you over with grey
as I might--must have come through and told the tale. She scents
battle from afar--by which I mean she scents 'quaintness.' But
keep her off. It's hideous, what I'm saying--but I owe it to you.
I owe it to the world. She'll kill you."

"You mean I shan't get on with her?"

"Oh fatally! See how _I_ have. And see how you have with ME.
She's intelligent, moreover, remarkably pretty, remarkably good.
And she'll adore you."

"Well then?"

"Why that will be just how she'll do for you."

"Oh I can hold my own!" said Miss Wenham with the headshake of a
horse making his sleigh-bells rattle in frosty air.

"Ah but you can't hold hers! She'll rave about you. She'll write
about you. You're Niagara before the first white traveller--and
you know, or rather you can't know, what Niagara became AFTER that
gentleman. Addie will have discovered Niagara. She'll understand
you in perfection; she'll feel you down to the ground; not a
delicate shade of you will she lose or let any one else lose.
You'll be too weird for words, but the words will nevertheless
come. You'll be too exactly the real thing and be left too utterly
just as you are, and all Addie's friends and all Addie's editors
and contributors and readers will cross the Atlantic and flock to
Flickerbridge just in order so--unanimously, universally,
vociferously--to leave you. You'll be in the magazines with
illustrations; you'll be in the papers with headings; you'll be
everywhere with everything. You don't understand--you think you
do, but you don't. Heaven forbid you SHOULD understand! That's
just your beauty--your 'sleeping' beauty. But you needn't. You
can take me on trust. Don't have her. Give as a pretext, as a
reason, anything in the world you like. Lie to her--scare her
away. I'll go away and give you up--I'll sacrifice everything
myself." Granger pursued his exhortation, convincing himself more
and more. "If I saw my way out, my way completely through, I'D
pile up some fabric of fiction for her--I should only want to be
sure of its not tumbling down. One would have, you see, to keep
the thing up. But I'd throw dust in her eyes. I'd tell her you
don't do at all--that you're not in fact a desirable acquaintance.
I'd tell her you're vulgar, improper, scandalous; I'd tell her
you're mercenary, designing, dangerous; I'd tell her the only safe
course is immediately to let you drop. I'd thus surround you with
an impenetrable legend of conscientious misrepresentation, a circle
of pious fraud, and all the while privately keep you for myself."

She had listened to him as if he were a band of music and she
herself a small shy garden-party. "I shouldn't like you to go
away. I shouldn't in the least like you not to come again."

"Ah there it is!" he replied. "How can I come again if Addie ruins
you?"

"But how will she ruin me--even if she does what you say? I know
I'm too old to change and really much too queer to please in any of
the extraordinary ways you speak of. If it's a question of
quizzing me I don't think my cousin, or any one else, will have
quite the hand for it that YOU seem to have. So that if YOU
haven't ruined me--!"

"But I HAVE--that's just the point!" Granger insisted. "I've
undermined you at least. I've left after all terribly little for
Addie to do."

She laughed in clear tones. "Well then, we'll admit that you've
done everything but frighten me."

He looked at her with surpassing gloom. "No--that again is one of
the most dreadful features. You'll positively like it--what's to
come. You'll be caught up in a chariot of fire like the prophet--
wasn't there, was there one?--of old. That's exactly why--if one
could but have done it--you'd have been to be kept ignorant and
helpless. There's something or other in Latin that says it's the
finest things that change the most easily for the worse. You
already enjoy your dishonour and revel in your shame. It's too
late--you're lost!"

CHAPTER VI

All this was as pleasant a manner of passing the time as any other,
for it didn't prevent his old-world corner from closing round him
more entirely, nor stand in the way of his making out from day to
day some new source as well as some new effect of its virtue. He
was really scared at moments at some of the liberties he took in
talk--at finding himself so familiar; for the great note of the
place was just that a certain modern ease had never crossed its
threshold, that quick intimacies and quick oblivions were a
stranger to its air. It had known in all its days no rude, no loud
invasion. Serenely unconscious of most contemporary things, it had
been so of nothing so much as of the diffused social practice of
running in and out. Granger held his breath on occasions to think
how Addie would run. There were moments when, more than at others,
for some reason, he heard her step on the staircase and her cry in
the hall. If he nevertheless played freely with the idea with
which we have shown him as occupied it wasn't that in all palpable
ways he didn't sacrifice so far as mortally possible to stillness.
He only hovered, ever so lightly, to take up again his thread. She
wouldn't hear of his leaving her, of his being in the least fit
again, as she said, to travel. She spoke of the journey to London-
-which was in fact a matter of many hours--as an experiment fraught
with lurking complications. He added then day to day, yet only
hereby, as he reminded her, giving other complications a larger
chance to multiply. He kept it before her, when there was nothing
else to do, that she must consider; after which he had his times of
fear that she perhaps really would make for him this sacrifice.

He knew she had written again to Paris, and knew he must himself
again write--a situation abounding for each in the elements of a
plight. If he stayed so long why then he wasn't better, and if he
wasn't better Addie might take it into her head--! They must make
it clear that he WAS better, so that, suspicious, alarmed at what
was kept from her, she shouldn't suddenly present herself to nurse
him. If he was better, however, why did he stay so long? If he
stayed only for the attraction the sense of the attraction might be
contagious. This was what finally grew clearest for him, so that
he had for his mild disciple hours of still sharper prophecy. It
consorted with his fancy to represent to her that their young
friend had been by this time unsparingly warned; but nothing could
be plainer than that this was ineffectual so long as he himself
resisted the ordeal. To plead that he remained because he was too
weak to move was only to throw themselves back on the other horn of
their dilemma. If he was too weak to move Addie would bring him
her strength--of which, when she got there, she would give them
specimens enough. One morning he broke out at breakfast with an
intimate conviction. They'd see that she was actually starting--
they'd receive a wire by noon. They didn't receive it, but by his
theory the portent was only the stronger. It had moreover its
grave as well as its gay side, since Granger's paradox and
pleasantry were only the method most open to him of conveying what
he felt. He literally heard the knell sound, and in expressing
this to Miss Wenham with the conversational freedom that seemed
best to pay his way he the more vividly faced the contingency. He
could never return, and though he announced it with a despair that
did what might be to make it pass as a joke, he saw how, whether or
no she at last understood, she quite at last believed him. On
this, to his knowledge, she wrote again to Addie, and the contents
of her letter excited his curiosity. But that sentiment, though
not assuaged, quite dropped when, the day after, in the evening,
she let him know she had had a telegram an hour before.

"She comes Thursday."

He showed not the least surprise. It was the deep calm of the
fatalist. It HAD to be. "I must leave you then to-morrow."

She looked, on this, as he had never seen her; it would have been
hard to say whether what showed in her face was the last failure to
follow or the first effort to meet. "And really not to come back?"

"Never, never, dear lady. Why should I come back? You can never
be again what you HAVE been. I shall have seen the last of you."

"Oh!" she touchingly urged.

"Yes, for I should next find you simply brought to self-
consciousness. You'll be exactly what you are, I charitably admit-
-nothing more or less, nothing different. But you'll be it all in
a different way. We live in an age of prodigious machinery, all
organised to a single end. That end is publicity--a publicity as
ferocious as the appetite of a cannibal. The thing therefore is
not to have any illusions--fondly to flatter yourself in a muddled
moment that the cannibal will spare you. He spares nobody. He
spares nothing. It will be all right. You'll have a lovely time.
You'll be only just a public character--blown about the world 'for
all you're worth,' and proclaimed 'for all you're worth' on the
house-tops. It will be for THAT, mind, I quite recognise--because
Addie is superior--as well as for all you aren't. So good-bye."

He remained however till the next day, and noted at intervals the
different stages of their friend's journey; the hour, this time,
she would really have started, the hour she'd reach Dover, the hour
she'd get to town, where she'd alight at Mrs. Dunn's. Perhaps
she'd bring Mrs. Dunn, for Mrs. Dunn would swell the chorus. At
the last, on the morrow, as if in anticipation of this stillness
settled between them: he became as silent as his hostess. But
before he went she brought out shyly and anxiously, as an appeal,
the question that for hours had clearly been giving her thought.
"Do you meet her then to-night in London?"

"Dear no. In what position am I, alas! to do that? When can I
EVER meet her again?" He had turned it all over. "If I could meet
Addie after this, you know, I could meet YOU. And if I do meet
Addie," he lucidly pursued, "what will happen by the same stroke is
that I SHALL meet you. And that's just what I've explained to you
I dread."

"You mean she and I will be inseparable?"

He hesitated. "I mean she'll tell me all about you. I can hear
her and her ravings now."

She gave again--and it was infinitely sad--her little whinnying
laugh. "Oh but if what you say is true you'll know."

"Ah but Addie won't! Won't, I mean, know that _I_ know--or at
least won't believe it. Won't believe that any one knows. Such,"
he added with a strange smothered sigh, "is Addie. Do you know,"
he wound up, "that what, after all, has most definitely happened is
that you've made me see her as I've never done before?"

She blinked and gasped, she wondered and despaired. "Oh no, it
will be YOU. I've had nothing to do with it. Everything's all
you!"

But for all it mattered now! "You'll see," he said, "that she's
charming. I shall go for to-night to Oxford. I shall almost cross
her on the way."

"Then if she's charming what am I to tell her from you in
explanation of such strange behaviour as your flying away just as
she arrives?"

"Ah you needn't mind about that--you needn't tell her anything."

She fixed him as if as never again. "It's none of my business, of
course I feel; but isn't it a little cruel if you're engaged?"

Granger gave a laugh almost as odd as one of her own. "Oh you've
cost me that!"--and he put out his hand to her.

She wondered while she took it. "Cost you--?"

"We're not engaged. Good-bye."

Henry James