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Chapter 6

I had almost avoided the general election, but some of its
consequences, on my return, had smartly to be faced. The season,
in London, began to breathe again and to flap its folded wings.
Confidence, under the new Ministry, was understood to be reviving,
and one of the symptoms, in a social body, was a recovery of
appetite. People once more fed together, and it happened that, one
Saturday night, at somebody's house, I fed with George Gravener.
When the ladies left the room I moved up to where he sat and begged
to congratulate him. "On my election?" he asked after a moment; so
that I could feign, jocosely, not to have heard of that triumph and
to be alluding to the rumour of a victory still more personal. I
dare say I coloured however, for his political success had
momentarily passed out of my mind. What was present to it was that
he was to marry that beautiful girl; and yet his question made me
conscious of some discomposure--I hadn't intended to put this
before everything. He himself indeed ought gracefully to have done
so, and I remember thinking the whole man was in this assumption
that in expressing my sense of what he had won I had fixed my
thoughts on his "seat." We straightened the matter out, and he was
so much lighter in hand than I had lately seen him that his spirits
might well have been fed from a twofold source. He was so good as
to say that he hoped I should soon make the acquaintance of Miss
Anvoy, who, with her aunt, was presently coming up to town. Lady
Coxon, in the country, had been seriously unwell, and this had
delayed their arrival. I told him I had heard the marriage would
be a splendid one; on which, brightened and humanised by his luck,
he laughed and said "Do you mean for HER?" When I had again
explained what I meant he went on: "Oh she's an American, but
you'd scarcely know it; unless, perhaps," he added, "by her being
used to more money than most girls in England, even the daughters
of rich men. That wouldn't in the least do for a fellow like me,
you know, if it wasn't for the great liberality of her father. He
really has been most kind, and everything's quite satisfactory."
He added that his eldest brother had taken a tremendous fancy to
her and that during a recent visit at Coldfield she had nearly won
over Lady Maddock. I gathered from something he dropped later on
that the free-handed gentleman beyond the seas had not made a
settlement, but had given a handsome present and was apparently to
be looked to, across the water, for other favours. People are
simplified alike by great contentments and great yearnings, and,
whether or no it was Gravener's directness that begot my own, I
seem to recall that in some turn taken by our talk he almost
imposed it on me as an act of decorum to ask if Miss Anvoy had also
by chance expectations from her aunt. My enquiry drew out that
Lady Coxon, who was the oddest of women, would have in any
contingency to act under her late husband's will, which was odder
still, saddling her with a mass of queer obligations complicated
with queer loopholes. There were several dreary people, Coxon
cousins, old maids, to whom she would have more or less to
minister. Gravener laughed, without saying no, when I suggested
that the young lady might come in through a loophole; then
suddenly, as if he suspected my turning a lantern on him, he
declared quite dryly: "That's all rot--one's moved by other
springs!"

A fortnight later, at Lady Coxon's own house, I understood well
enough the springs one was moved by. Gravener had spoken of me
there as an old friend, and I received a gracious invitation to
dine. The Knight's widow was again indisposed--she had succumbed
at the eleventh hour; so that I found Miss Anvoy bravely playing
hostess without even Gravener's help, since, to make matters worse,
he had just sent up word that the House, the insatiable House, with
which he supposed he had contracted for easier terms, positively
declined to release him. I was struck with the courage, the grace
and gaiety of the young lady left thus to handle the fauna and
flora of the Regent's Park. I did what I could to help her to
classify them, after I had recovered from the confusion of seeing
her slightly disconcerted at perceiving in the guest introduced by
her intended the gentleman with whom she had had that talk about
Frank Saltram. I had at this moment my first glimpse of the fact
that she was a person who could carry a responsibility; but I leave
the reader to judge of my sense of the aggravation, for either of
us, of such a burden, when I heard the servant announce Mrs.
Saltram. From what immediately passed between the two ladies I
gathered that the latter had been sent for post-haste to fill the
gap created by the absence of the mistress of the house. "Good!" I
remember crying, "she'll be put by ME;" and my apprehension was
promptly justified. Mrs. Saltram taken in to dinner, and taken in
as a consequence of an appeal to her amiability, was Mrs. Saltram
with a vengeance. I asked myself what Miss Anvoy meant by doing
such things, but the only answer I arrived at was that Gravener was
verily fortunate. She hadn't happened to tell him of her visit to
Upper Baker Street, but she'd certainly tell him to-morrow; not
indeed that this would make him like any better her having had the
innocence to invite such a person as Mrs. Saltram on such an
occasion. It could only strike me that I had never seen a young
woman put such ignorance into her cleverness, such freedom into her
modesty; this, I think, was when, after dinner, she said to me
frankly, with almost jubilant mirth: "Oh you don't admire Mrs.
Saltram?" Why should I? This was truly a young person without
guile. I had briefly to consider before I could reply that my
objection to the lady named was the objection often uttered about
people met at the social board--I knew all her stories. Then as
Miss Anvoy remained momentarily vague I added: "Those about her
husband."

"Oh yes, but there are some new ones."

"None for me. Ah novelty would be pleasant!"

"Doesn't it appear that of late he has been particularly horrid?"

"His fluctuations don't matter", I returned, "for at night all cats
are grey. You saw the shade of this one the night we waited for
him together. What will you have? He has no dignity."

Miss Anvoy, who had been introducing with her American
distinctness, looked encouragingly round at some of the
combinations she had risked. "It's too bad I can't see him."

"You mean Gravener won't let you?"

"I haven't asked him. He lets me do everything."

"But you know he knows him and wonders what some of us see in him."

"We haven't happened to talk of him," the girl said.

"Get him to take you some day out to see the Mulvilles."

"I thought Mr. Saltram had thrown the Mulvilles over."

"Utterly. But that won't prevent his being planted there again, to
bloom like a rose, within a month or two."

Miss Anvoy thought a moment. Then, "I should like to see them,"
she said with her fostering smile.

"They're tremendously worth it. You mustn't miss them."

"I'll make George take me," she went on as Mrs. Saltram came up to
interrupt us. She sniffed at this unfortunate as kindly as she had
smiled at me and, addressing the question to her, continued: "But
the chance of a lecture--one of the wonderful lectures? Isn't
there another course announced?"

"Another? There are about thirty!" I exclaimed, turning away and
feeling Mrs. Saltram's little eyes in my back. A few days after
this I heard that Gravener's marriage was near at hand--was settled
for Whitsuntide; but as no invitation had reached me I had my
doubts, and there presently came to me in fact the report of a
postponement. Something was the matter; what was the matter was
supposed to be that Lady Coxon was now critically ill. I had
called on her after my dinner in the Regent's Park, but I had
neither seen her nor seen Miss Anvoy. I forget to-day the exact
order in which, at this period, sundry incidents occurred and the
particular stage at which it suddenly struck me, making me catch my
breath a little, that the progression, the acceleration, was for
all the world that of fine drama. This was probably rather late in
the day, and the exact order doesn't signify. What had already
occurred was some accident determining a more patient wait. George
Gravener, whom I met again, in fact told me as much, but without
signs of perturbation. Lady Coxon had to be constantly attended
to, and there were other good reasons as well. Lady Coxon had to
be so constantly attended to that on the occasion of a second
attempt in the Regent's Park I equally failed to obtain a sight of
her niece. I judged it discreet in all the conditions not to make
a third; but this didn't matter, for it was through Adelaide
Mulville that the side-wind of the comedy, though I was at first
unwitting, began to reach me. I went to Wimbledon at times because
Saltram was there, and I went at others because he wasn't. The
Pudneys, who had taken him to Birmingham, had already got rid of
him, and we had a horrible consciousness of his wandering roofless,
in dishonour, about the smoky Midlands, almost as the injured Lear
wandered on the storm-lashed heath. His room, upstairs, had been
lately done up (I could hear the crackle of the new chintz) and the
difference only made his smirches and bruises, his splendid tainted
genius, the more tragic. If he wasn't barefoot in the mire he was
sure to be unconventionally shod. These were the things Adelaide
and I, who were old enough friends to stare at each other in
silence, talked about when we didn't speak. When we spoke it was
only about the brilliant girl George Gravener was to marry and whom
he had brought out the other Sunday. I could see that this
presentation had been happy, for Mrs. Mulville commemorated it
after her sole fashion of showing confidence in a new relation.
"She likes me--she likes me": her native humility exulted in that
measure of success. We all knew for ourselves how she liked those
who liked her, and as regards Ruth Anvoy she was more easily won
over than Lady Maddock.


Henry James

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