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Chapter 6

When, half an hour later, he approached Jersey Villas, he noticed
that the house-door was open; then, as he reached the gate, saw it
make a frame for an unexpected presence. Mrs. Ryves, in her bonnet
and jacket, looked out from it as if she were expecting something--as
if she had been passing to and fro to watch. Yet when he had
expressed to her that it was a delightful welcome she replied that
she had only thought there might possibly be a cab in sight. He
offered to go and look for one, upon which it appeared that after all
she was not, as yet at least, in need. He went back with her into
her sitting-room, where she let him know that within a couple of days
she had seen clearer what was best; she had determined to quit Jersey
Villas and had come up to take away her things, which she had just
been packing and getting together.

"I wrote you last night a charming letter in answer to yours," Baron
said. "You didn't mention in yours that you were coming up."

"It wasn't your answer that brought me. It hadn't arrived when I
came away."

"You'll see when you get back that my letter is charming."

"I daresay." Baron had observed that the room was not, as she had
intimated, in confusion--Mrs. Ryves's preparations for departure were
not striking. She saw him look round and, standing in front of the
fireless grate with her hands behind her, she suddenly asked: "Where
have you come from now?"

"From an interview with a literary friend."

"What are you concocting between you?"

"Nothing at all. We've fallen out--we don't agree."

"Is he a publisher?"

"He's an editor."

"Well, I'm glad you don't agree. I don't know what he wants, but,
whatever it is, don't do it."

"He must do what _I_ want!" said Baron.

"And what's that?"

"Oh, I'll tell you when he has done it!" Baron begged her to let him
hear the "musical idea" she had mentioned in her letter; on which she
took off her hat and jacket and, seating herself at her piano, gave
him, with a sentiment of which the very first notes thrilled him, the
accompaniment of his song. She phrased the words with her sketchy
sweetness, and he sat there as if he had been held in a velvet vise,
throbbing with the emotion, irrecoverable ever after in its
freshness, of the young artist in the presence for the first time of
"production"--the proofs of his book, the hanging of his picture, the
rehearsal of his play. When she had finished he asked again for the
same delight, and then for more music and for more; it did him such a
world of good, kept him quiet and safe, smoothed out the creases of
his spirit. She dropped her own experiments and gave him immortal
things, and he lounged there, pacified and charmed, feeling the mean
little room grow large and vague and happy possibilities come back.
Abruptly, at the piano, she called out to him: "Those papers of
yours--the letters you found--are not in the house?"

"No, they're not in the house."

"I was sure of it! No matter--it's all right!" she added. She
herself was pacified--trouble was a false note. Later he was on the
point of asking her how she knew the objects she had mentioned were
not in the house; but he let it pass. The subject was a profitless
riddle--a puzzle that grew grotesquely bigger, like some monstrosity
seen in the darkness, as one opened one's eyes to it. He closed his
eyes--he wanted another vision. Besides, she had shown him that she
had extraordinary senses--her explanation would have been stranger
than the fact. Moreover they had other things to talk about, in
particular the question of her putting off her return to Dover till
the morrow and dispensing meanwhile with the valuable protection of
Sidney. This was indeed but another face of the question of her
dining with him somewhere that evening (where else should she dine?)-
-accompanying him, for instance, just for an hour of Bohemia, in
their deadly respectable lives, to a jolly little place in Soho.
Mrs. Ryves declined to have her life abused, but in fact, at the
proper moment, at the jolly little place, to which she did accompany
him--it dealt in macaroni and Chianti--the pair put their elbows on
the crumpled cloth and, face to face, with their little emptied
coffee-cups pushed away and the young man's cigarette lighted by her
command, became increasingly confidential. They went afterwards to
the theatre, in cheap places, and came home in "busses" and under
umbrellas.

On the way back Peter Baron turned something over in his mind as he
had never turned anything before; it was the question of whether, at
the end, she would let him come into her sitting-room for five
minutes. He felt on this point a passion of suspense and impatience,
and yet for what would it be but to tell her how poor he was? This
was literally the moment to say it, so supremely depleted had the
hour of Bohemia left him. Even Bohemia was too expensive, and yet in
the course of the day his whole temper on the subject of certain
fitnesses had changed. At Jersey Villas (it was near midnight, and
Mrs. Ryves, scratching a light for her glimmering taper, had said:
"Oh, yes, come in for a minute if you like!"), in her precarious
parlour, which was indeed, after the brilliances of the evening, a
return to ugliness and truth, she let him stand while he explained
that he had certainly everything in the way of fame and fortune still
to gain, but that youth and love and faith and energy--to say nothing
of her supreme dearness--were all on his side. Why, if one's
beginnings were rough, should one add to the hardness of the
conditions by giving up the dream which, if she would only hear him
out, would make just the blessed difference? Whether Mrs. Ryves
heard him out or not is a circumstance as to which this chronicle
happens to be silent; but after he had got possession of both her
hands and breathed into her face for a moment all the intensity of
his tenderness--in the relief and joy of utterance he felt it carry
him like a rising flood--she checked him with better reasons, with a
cold, sweet afterthought in which he felt there was something deep.
Her procrastinating head-shake was prettier than ever, yet it had
never meant so many fears and pains--impossibilities and memories,
independences and pieties, and a sort of uncomplaining ache for the
ruin of a friendship that had been happy. She had liked him--if she
hadn't she wouldn't have let him think so!--but she protested that
she had not, in the odious vulgar sense, "encouraged" him. Moreover
she couldn't talk of such things in that place, at that hour, and she
begged him not to make her regret her good-nature in staying over.
There were peculiarities in her position, considerations
insurmountable. She got rid of him with kind and confused words, and
afterwards, in the dull, humiliated night, he felt that he had been
put in his place. Women in her situation, women who after having
really loved and lost, usually lived on into the new dawns in which
old ghosts steal away. But there was something in his whimsical
neighbour that struck him as terribly invulnerable.

Henry James

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