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Chapter 10

Poor Adelaide's silence was fully explained later--practically
explained when in June, returning to London, I was honoured by this
admirable woman with an early visit. As soon as she arrived I
guessed everything, and as soon as she told me that darling Ruth
had been in her house nearly a month I had my question ready.
"What in the name of maidenly modesty is she staying in England
for?"

"Because she loves me so!" cried Adelaide gaily. But she hadn't
come to see me only to tell me Miss Anvoy loved her: that was
quite sufficiently established, and what was much more to the point
was that Mr. Gravener had now raised an objection to it. He had
protested at least against her being at Wimbledon, where in the
innocence of his heart he had originally brought her himself; he
called on her to put an end to their engagement in the only proper,
the only happy manner.

"And why in the world doesn't she do do?" I asked.

Adelaide had a pause. "She says you know."

Then on my also hesitating she added: "A condition he makes."

"The Coxon Fund?" I panted.

"He has mentioned to her his having told you about it."

"Ah but so little! Do you mean she has accepted the trust?"

"In the most splendid spirit--as a duty about which there can be no
two opinions." To which my friend added: "Of course she's
thinking of Mr. Saltram."

I gave a quick cry at this, which, in its violence, made my visitor
turn pale. "How very awful!"

"Awful?"

"Why, to have anything to do with such an idea one's self."

"I'm sure YOU needn't!" and Mrs. Mulville tossed her head.

"He isn't good enough!" I went on; to which she opposed a sound
almost as contentious as my own had been. This made me, with
genuine immediate horror, exclaim: "You haven't influenced her, I
hope!" and my emphasis brought back the blood with a rush to poor
Adelaide's face. She declared while she blushed--for I had
frightened her again--that she had never influenced anybody and
that the girl had only seen and heard and judged for herself. HE
had influenced her, if I would, as he did every one who had a soul:
that word, as we knew, even expressed feebly the power of the
things he said to haunt the mind. How could she, Adelaide, help it
if Miss Anvoy's mind was haunted? I demanded with a groan what
right a pretty girl engaged to a rising M.P. had to HAVE a mind;
but the only explanation my bewildered friend could give me was
that she was so clever. She regarded Mr. Saltram naturally as a
tremendous force for good. She was intelligent enough to
understand him and generous enough to admire.

"She's many things enough, but is she, among them, rich enough?" I
demanded. "Rich enough, I mean, to sacrifice such a lot of good
money?"

"That's for herself to judge. Besides, it's not her own money; she
doesn't in the least consider it so."

"And Gravener does, if not HIS own; and that's the whole
difficulty?"

"The difficulty that brought her back, yes: she had absolutely to
see her poor aunt's solicitor. It's clear that by Lady Coxon's
will she may have the money, but it's still clearer to her
conscience that the original condition, definite, intensely implied
on her uncle's part, is attached to the use of it. She can only
take one view of it. It's for the Endowment or it's for nothing."

"The Endowment," I permitted myself to observe, "is a conception
superficially sublime, but fundamentally ridiculous."

"Are you repeating Mr. Gravener's words?" Adelaide asked.

"Possibly, though I've not seen him for months. It's simply the
way it strikes me too. It's an old wife's tale. Gravener made
some reference to the legal aspect, but such an absurdly loose
arrangement has NO legal aspect."

"Ruth doesn't insist on that," said Mrs. Mulville; "and it's, for
her, exactly this technical weakness that constitutes the force of
the moral obligation."

"Are you repeating her words?" I enquired. I forget what else
Adelaide said, but she said she was magnificent. I thought of
George Gravener confronted with such magnificence as that, and I
asked what could have made two such persons ever suppose they
understood each other. Mrs. Mulville assured me the girl loved him
as such a woman could love and that she suffered as such a woman
could suffer. Nevertheless she wanted to see ME. At this I sprang
up with a groan. "Oh I'm so sorry!--when?" Small though her sense
of humour, I think Adelaide laughed at my sequence. We discussed
the day, the nearest it would be convenient I should come out; but
before she went I asked my visitor how long she had been acquainted
with these prodigies.

"For several weeks, but I was pledged to secrecy."

"And that's why you didn't write?"

"I couldn't very well tell you she was with me without telling you
that no time had even yet been fixed for her marriage. And I
couldn't very well tell you as much as that without telling you
what I knew of the reason of it. It was not till a day or two
ago," Mrs. Mulville went on, "that she asked me to ask you if you
wouldn't come and see her. Then at last she spoke of your knowing
about the idea of the Endowment."

I turned this over. "Why on earth does she want to see me?"

"To talk with you, naturally, about Mr. Saltram."

"As a subject for the prize?" This was hugely obvious, and I
presently returned: "I think I'll sail to-morrow for Australia."

"Well then--sail!" said Mrs. Mulville, getting up.

But I frivolously, continued. "On Thursday at five, we said?" The
appointment was made definite and I enquired how, all this time,
the unconscious candidate had carried himself.

"In perfection, really, by the happiest of chances: he has
positively been a dear. And then, as to what we revere him for, in
the most wonderful form. His very highest--pure celestial light.
You won't do him an ill turn?" Adelaide pleaded at the door.

"What danger can equal for him the danger to which he's exposed
from himself?" I asked. "Look out sharp, if he has lately been too
prim. He'll presently take a day off, treat us to some exhibition
that will make an Endowment a scandal."

"A scandal?" Mrs. Mulville dolorously echoed.

"Is Miss Anvoy prepared for that?"

My visitor, for a moment, screwed her parasol into my carpet. "He
grows bigger every day."

"So do you!" I laughed as she went off.

That girl at Wimbledon, on the Thursday afternoon, more than
justified my apprehensions. I recognised fully now the cause of
the agitation she had produced in me from the first--the faint
foreknowledge that there was something very stiff I should have to
do for her. I felt more than ever committed to my fate as,
standing before her in the big drawing-room where they had
tactfully left us to ourselves, I tried with a smile to string
together the pearls of lucidity which, from her chair, she
successively tossed me. Pale and bright, in her monotonous
mourning, she was an image of intelligent purpose, of the passion
of duty; but I asked myself whether any girl had ever had so
charming an instinct as that which permitted her to laugh out, as
for the joy of her difficulty, into the priggish old room. This
remarkable young woman could be earnest without being solemn, and
at moments when I ought doubtless to have cursed her obstinacy I
found myself watching the unstudied play of her eyebrows or the
recurrence of a singularly intense whiteness produced by the
parting of her lips. These aberrations, I hasten to add, didn't
prevent my learning soon enough why she had wished to see me. Her
reason for this was as distinct as her beauty: it was to make me
explain what I had meant, on the occasion of our first meeting, by
Mr. Saltram's want of dignity. It wasn't that she couldn't
imagine, but she desired it there from my lips. What she really
desired of course was to know whether there was worse about him
than what she had found out for herself. She hadn't been a month
so much in the house with him without discovering that he wasn't a
man of monumental bronze. He was like a jelly minus its mould, he
had to be embanked; and that was precisely the source of her
interest in him and the ground of her project. She put her project
boldly before me: there it stood in its preposterous beauty. She
was as willing to take the humorous view of it as I could be: the
only difference was that for her the humorous view of a thing
wasn't necessarily prohibitive, wasn't paralysing.

Moreover she professed that she couldn't discuss with me the
primary question--the moral obligation: that was in her own
breast. There were things she couldn't go into--injunctions,
impressions she had received. They were a part of the closest
intimacy of her intercourse with her aunt, they were absolutely
clear to her; and on questions of delicacy, the interpretation of a
fidelity, of a promise, one had always in the last resort to make
up one's mind for one's self. It was the idea of the application
to the particular case, such a splendid one at last, that troubled
her, and she admitted that it stirred very deep things. She didn't
pretend that such a responsibility was a simple matter; if it HAD
been she wouldn't have attempted to saddle me with any portion of
it. The Mulvilles were sympathy itself, but were they absolutely
candid? Could they indeed be, in their position--would it even
have been to be desired? Yes, she had sent for me to ask no less
than that of me--whether there was anything dreadful kept back.
She made no allusion whatever to George Gravener--I thought her
silence the only good taste and her gaiety perhaps a part of the
very anxiety of that discretion, the effect of a determination that
people shouldn't know from herself that her relations with the man
she was to marry were strained. All the weight, however, that she
left me to throw was a sufficient implication of the weight HE had
thrown in vain. Oh she knew the question of character was immense,
and that one couldn't entertain any plan for making merit
comfortable without running the gauntlet of that terrible
procession of interrogation-points which, like a young ladies'
school out for a walk, hooked their uniform noses at the tail of
governess Conduct. But were we absolutely to hold that there was
never, never, never an exception, never, never, never an occasion
for liberal acceptance, for clever charity, for suspended pedantry-
-for letting one side, in short, outbalance another? When Miss
Anvoy threw off this appeal I could have embraced her for so
delightfully emphasising her unlikeness to Mrs. Saltram. "Why not
have the courage of one's forgiveness," she asked, "as well as the
enthusiasm of one's adhesion?"

"Seeing how wonderfully you've threshed the whole thing out," I
evasively replied, "gives me an extraordinary notion of the point
your enthusiasm has reached."

She considered this remark an instant with her eyes on mine, and I
divined that it struck her I might possibly intend it as a
reference to some personal subjection to our fat philosopher, to
some aberration of sensibility, some perversion of taste. At least
I couldn't interpret otherwise the sudden flash that came into her
face. Such a manifestation, as the result of any word of mine,
embarrassed me; but while I was thinking how to reassure her the
flush passed away in a smile of exquisite good nature. "Oh you see
one forgets so wonderfully how one dislikes him!" she said; and if
her tone simply extinguished his strange figure with the brush of
its compassion, it also rings in my ear to-day as the purest of all
our praises. But with what quick response of fine pity such a
relegation of the man himself made me privately sigh "Ah poor
Saltram!" She instantly, with this, took the measure of all I
didn't believe, and it enabled her to go on: "What can one do when
a person has given such a lift to one's interest in life?"

"Yes, what can one do?" If I struck her as a little vague it was
because I was thinking of another person. I indulged in another
inarticulate murmur--"Poor George Gravener!" What had become of
the lift HE had given that interest? Later on I made up my mind
that she was sore and stricken at the appearance he presented of
wanting the miserable money. This was the hidden reason of her
alienation. The probable sincerity, in spite of the illiberality,
of his scruples about the particular use of it under discussion
didn't efface the ugliness of his demand that they should buy a
good house with it. Then, as for his alienation, he didn't,
pardonably enough, grasp the lift Frank Saltram had given her
interest in life. If a mere spectator could ask that last
question, with what rage in his heart the man himself might! He
wasn't, like her, I was to see, too proud to show me why he was
disappointed.

Henry James

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