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Chapter 11


As soon as I saw Mrs. Meldrum I of course broke out. "Is there
anything in it? IS her general health--?"

Mrs. Meldrum checked me with her great amused blare. "You've
already seen her and she has told you her wondrous tale? What's
'in it' is what has been in everything she has ever done--the most
comical, tragical belief in herself. She thinks she's doing a
'cure.'"

"And what does her husband think?"

"Her husband? What husband?"

"Hasn't she then married Lord Iffield?"

"Vous-en-etes le?" cried my hostess. "Why he behaved like a
regular beast."

"How should I know? You never wrote me." Mrs. Meldrum hesitated,
covering me with what poor Flora called the particular organ. "No,
I didn't write you--I abstained on purpose. If I kept quiet I
thought you mightn't hear over there what had happened. If you
should hear I was afraid you would stir up Mr. Dawling."

"Stir him up?"

"Urge him to fly to the rescue; write out to him that there was
another chance for him."

"I wouldn't have done it," I said.

"Well," Mrs. Meldrum replied, "it was not my business to give you
an opportunity."

"In short you were afraid of it."

Again she hesitated and though it may have been only my fancy I
thought she considerably reddened. At all events she laughed out.
Then "I was afraid of it!" she very honestly answered.

"But doesn't he know? Has he given no sign?"

"Every sign in life--he came straight back to her. He did
everything to get her to listen to him, but she hasn't the smallest
idea of it."

"Has he seen her as she is now?" I presently and just a trifle
awkwardly enquired.

"Indeed he has, and borne it like a hero. He told me all about
it."

"How much you've all been through!" I found occasion to remark.
"Then what has become of him?"

"He's at home in Hampshire. He has got back his old place and I
believe by this time his old sisters. It's not half a bad little
place."

"Yet its attractions say nothing to Flora?"

"Oh Flora's by no means on her back!" my fried declared.

"She's not on her back because she's on yours. Have you got her
for the rest of your life?"

Once more Mrs. Meldrum genially glared. "Did she tell you how much
the Hammond Synges have kindly left her to live on? Not quite
eighty pounds a year."

"That's a good deal, but it won't pay the oculist. What was it
that at last induced her to submit to him?"

"Her general collapse after that brute of an Iffield's rupture.
She cried her eyes out--she passed through a horror of black
darkness. Then came a gleam of light, and the light appears to
have broadened. She went into goggles as repentant Magdalens go
into the Catholic church."

"In spite of which you don't think she'll be saved?"

"SHE thinks she will--that's all I can tell you. There's no doubt
that when once she brought herself to accept her real remedy, as
she calls it, she began to enjoy a relief that she had never known.
That feeling, very new and in spite of what she pays for it most
refreshing, has given her something to hold on by, begotten in her
foolish little mind a belief that, as she says, she's on the mend
and that in the course of time, if she leads a tremendously healthy
life, she'll be able to take off her muzzle and become as dangerous
again as ever. It keeps her going."

"And what keeps you? You're good until the parties begin again."

"Oh she doesn't object to me now!" smiled Mrs. Meldrum. "I'm going
to take her abroad; we shall be a pretty pair." I was struck with
this energy and after a moment I enquired the reason of it. "It's
to divert her mind," my friend replied, reddening again a little, I
thought. "We shall go next week: I've only waited to see how your
mother would be before starting." I expressed to her hereupon my
sense of her extraordinary merit and also that of the
inconceivability of Flora's fancying herself still in a situation
not to jump at the chance of marrying a man like Dawling. "She
says he's too ugly; she says he's too dreary; she says in fact he's
'nobody,'" Mrs. Meldrum pursued. "She says above all that he's not
'her own sort.' She doesn't deny that he's good, but she finds him
impossibly ridiculous. He's quite the last person she would ever
dream of." I was almost disposed on hearing this to protest that
if the girl had so little proper feeling her noble suitor had
perhaps served her right; but after a while my curiosity as to just
how her noble suitor HAD served her got the better of that emotion,
and I asked a question or two which led my companion again to apply
to him the invidious term I have already quoted. What had happened
was simply that Flora had at the eleventh hour broken down in the
attempt to put him off with an uncandid account of her infirmity
and that his lordship's interest in her had not been proof against
the discovery of the way she had practised on him. Her
dissimulation, he was obliged to perceive, had been infernally
deep. The future in short assumed a new complexion for him when
looked at through the grim glasses of a bride who, as he had said
to some one, couldn't really, when you came to find out, see her
hand before her face. He had conducted himself like any other
jockeyed customer--he had returned the animal as unsound. He had
backed out in his own way, giving the business, by some sharp
shuffle, such a turn as to make the rupture ostensibly Flora's, but
he had none the less remorselessly and basely backed out. He had
cared for her lovely face, cared for it in the amused and haunted
way it had been her poor little delusive gift to make men care; and
her lovely face, damn it, with the monstrous gear she had begun to
rig upon it, was just what had let him in. He had in the judgment
of his family done everything that could be expected of him; he had
made--Mrs. Meldrum had herself seen the letter--a "handsome" offer
of pecuniary compensation. Oh if Flora, with her incredible
buoyancy, was in a manner on her feet again now it was not that she
had not for weeks and weeks been prone in the dust. Strange were
the humiliations, the forms of anguish, it was given some natures
to survive. That Flora had survived was perhaps after all a proof
she was reserved for some final mercy. "But she has been in the
abysses at any rate," said Mrs. Meldrum, "and I really don't think
I can tell you what pulled her through."

"I think I can tell YOU," I returned. "What in the world but Mrs.
Meldrum?"

At the end of an hour Flora had not come in, and I was obliged to
announce that I should have but time to reach the station, where I
was to find my luggage in charge of my mother's servant. Mrs.
Meldrum put before me the question of waiting till a later train,
so as not to lose our young lady, but I confess I gave this
alternative a consideration less acute than I pretended. Somehow I
didn't care if I did lose our young lady. Now that I knew the
worst that had befallen her it struck me still less as possible to
meet her on the ground of condolence; and with the sad appearance
she wore to me what other ground was left? I lost her, but I
caught my train. In truth she was so changed that one hated to see
it; and now that she was in charitable hands one didn't feel
compelled to make great efforts. I had studied her face for a
particular beauty; I had lived with that beauty and reproduced it;
but I knew what belonged to my trade well enough to be sure it was
gone for ever.

Henry James

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