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Chapter 5

THEY fell at last into the way of walking together almost every
time they met, though for a long time still they never met but at
church. He couldn't ask her to come and see him, and as if she
hadn't a proper place to receive him she never invited her friend.
As much as himself she knew the world of London, but from an
undiscussed instinct of privacy they haunted the region not mapped
on the social chart. On the return she always made him leave her
at the same corner. She looked with him, as a pretext for a pause,
at the depressed things in suburban shop-fronts; and there was
never a word he had said to her that she hadn't beautifully
understood. For long ages he never knew her name, any more than
she had ever pronounced his own; but it was not their names that
mattered, it was only their perfect practice and their common need.

These things made their whole relation so impersonal that they
hadn't the rules or reasons people found in ordinary friendships.
They didn't care for the things it was supposed necessary to care
for in the intercourse of the world. They ended one day - they
never knew which of them expressed it first - by throwing out the
idea that they didn't care for each other. Over this idea they
grew quite intimate; they rallied to it in a way that marked a
fresh start in their confidence. If to feel deeply together about
certain things wholly distinct from themselves didn't constitute a
safety, where was safety to be looked for? Not lightly nor often,
not without occasion nor without emotion, any more than in any
other reference by serious people to a mystery of their faith; but
when something had happened to warm, as it were, the air for it,
they came as near as they could come to calling their Dead by name.
They felt it was coming very near to utter their thought at all.
The word "they" expressed enough; it limited the mention, it had a
dignity of its own, and if, in their talk, you had heard our
friends use it, you might have taken them for a pair of pagans of
old alluding decently to the domesticated gods. They never knew -
at least Stransom never knew - how they had learned to be sure
about each other. If it had been with each a question of what the
other was there for, the certitude had come in some fine way of its
own. Any faith, after all, has the instinct of propagation, and it
was as natural as it was beautiful that they should have taken
pleasure on the spot in the imagination of a following. If the
following was for each but a following of one it had proved in the
event sufficient. Her debt, however, of course was much greater
than his, because while she had only given him a worshipper he had
given her a splendid temple. Once she said she pitied him for the
length of his list - she had counted his candles almost as often as
himself - and this made him wonder what could have been the length
of hers. He had wondered before at the coincidence of their
losses, especially as from time to time a new candle was set up.
On some occasion some accident led him to express this curiosity,
and she answered as if in surprise that he hadn't already
understood. "Oh for me, you know, the more there are the better -
there could never be too many. I should like hundreds and hundreds
- I should like thousands; I should like a great mountain of
light."

Then of course in a flash he understood. "Your Dead are only One?"

She hung back at this as never yet. "Only One," she answered,
colouring as if now he knew her guarded secret. It really made him
feel he knew less than before, so difficult was it for him to
reconstitute a life in which a single experience had so belittled
all others. His own life, round its central hollow, had been
packed close enough. After this she appeared to have regretted her
confession, though at the moment she spoke there had been pride in
her very embarrassment. She declared to him that his own was the
larger, the dearer possession - the portion one would have chosen
if one had been able to choose; she assured him she could perfectly
imagine some of the echoes with which his silences were peopled.
He knew she couldn't: one's relation to what one had loved and
hated had been a relation too distinct from the relations of
others. But this didn't affect the fact that they were growing old
together in their piety. She was a feature of that piety, but even
at the ripe stage of acquaintance in which they occasionally
arranged to meet at a concert or to go together to an exhibition
she was not a feature of anything else. The most that happened was
that his worship became paramount. Friend by friend dropped away
till at last there were more emblems on his altar than houses left
him to enter. She was more than any other the friend who remained,
but she was unknown to all the rest. Once when she had discovered,
as they called it, a new star, she used the expression that the
chapel at last was full.

"Oh no," Stransom replied, "there is a great thing wanting for
that! The chapel will never be full till a candle is set up before
which all the others will pale. It will be the tallest candle of
all."

Her mild wonder rested on him. "What candle do you mean?"

"I mean, dear lady, my own."

He had learned after a long time that she earned money by her pen,
writing under a pseudonym she never disclosed in magazines he never
saw. She knew too well what he couldn't read and what she couldn't
write, and she taught him to cultivate indifference with a success
that did much for their good relations. Her invisible industry was
a convenience to him; it helped his contented thought of her, the
thought that rested in the dignity of her proud obscure life, her
little remunerated art and her little impenetrable home. Lost,
with her decayed relative, in her dim suburban world, she came to
the surface for him in distant places. She was really the
priestess of his altar, and whenever he quitted England he
committed it to her keeping. She proved to him afresh that women
have more of the spirit of religion than men; he felt his fidelity
pale and faint in comparison with hers. He often said to her that
since he had so little time to live he rejoiced in her having so
much; so glad was he to think she would guard the temple when he
should have been called. He had a great plan for that, which of
course he told her too, a bequest of money to keep it up in
undiminished state. Of the administration of this fund he would
appoint her superintendent, and if the spirit should move her she
might kindle a taper even for him.

"And who will kindle one even for me?" she then seriously asked.

Henry James

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