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Chapter 7

"I've had time to look a little further into what we're prepared to
do, and I find the case is one in which I should consider the
advisability of going to an extreme length," said Mr. Locket. Jersey
Villas the next morning had had the privilege of again receiving the
editor of the Promiscuous, and he sat once more at the davenport,
where the bone of contention, in the shape of a large, loose heap of
papers that showed how much they had been handled, was placed well in
view. "We shall see our way to offering you three hundred, but we
shouldn't, I must positively assure you, see it a single step
further."

Peter Baron, in his dressing-gown and slippers, with his hands in his
pockets, crept softly about the room, repeating, below his breath and
with inflections that for his own sake he endeavoured to make
humorous: "Three hundred--three hundred." His state of mind was far
from hilarious, for he felt poor and sore and disappointed; but he
wanted to prove to himself that he was gallant--was made, in general
and in particular, of undiscourageable stuff. The first thing he had
been aware of on stepping into his front room was that a four-wheeled
cab, with Mrs. Ryves's luggage upon it, stood at the door of No. 3.
Permitting himself, behind his curtain, a pardonable peep, he saw the
mistress of his thoughts come out of the house, attended by Mrs.
Bundy, and take her place in the modest vehicle. After this his eyes
rested for a long time on the sprigged cotton back of the landlady,
who kept bobbing at the window of the cab an endlessly moralising old
head. Mrs. Ryves had really taken flight--he had made Jersey Villas
impossible for her--but Mrs. Bundy, with a magnanimity unprecedented
in the profession, seemed to express a belief in the purity of her
motives. Baron felt that his own separation had been, for the
present at least, effected; every instinct of delicacy prompted him
to stand back.

Mr. Locket talked a long time, and Peter Baron listened and waited.
He reflected that his willingness to listen would probably excite
hopes in his visitor--hopes which he himself was ready to contemplate
without a scruple. He felt no pity for Mr. Locket and had no
consideration for his suspense or for his possible illusions; he only
felt sick and forsaken and in want of comfort and of money. Yet it
was a kind of outrage to his dignity to have the knife held to his
throat, and he was irritated above all by the ground on which Mr.
Locket put the question--the ground of a service rendered to
historical truth. It might be--he wasn't clear; it might be--the
question was deep, too deep, probably, for his wisdom; at any rate he
had to control himself not to interrupt angrily such dry, interested
palaver, the false voice of commerce and of cant. He stared
tragically out of the window and saw the stupid rain begin to fall;

the day was duller even than his own soul, and Jersey Villas looked
so sordidly hideous that it was no wonder Mrs. Ryves couldn't endure
them. Hideous as they were he should have to tell Mrs. Bundy in the
course of the day that he was obliged to seek humbler quarters.
Suddenly he interrupted Mr. Locket; he observed to him: "I take it
that if I should make you this concession the hospitality of the
Promiscuous would be by that very fact unrestrictedly secured to me."

Mr. Locket stared. "Hospitality--secured?" He thumbed the
proposition as if it were a hard peach.

"I mean that of course you wouldn't--in courtsey, in gratitude--keep
on declining my things."

"I should give them my best attention--as I've always done in the
past."

Peter Baron hesitated. It was a case in which there would have
seemed to be some chance for the ideally shrewd aspirant in such an
advantage as he possessed; but after a moment the blood rushed into
his face with the shame of the idea of pleading for his productions
in the name of anything but their merit. It was as if he had
stupidly uttered evil of them. Nevertheless be added the
interrogation:

"Would you for instance publish my little story?"

"The one I read (and objected to some features of) the other day? Do
you mean--a--with the alteration?" Mr. Locket continued.

"Oh, no, I mean utterly without it. The pages you want altered
contain, as I explained to you very lucidly, I think, the very raison
d'etre of the work, and it would therefore, it seems to me, be an
imbecility of the first magnitude to cancel them." Peter had really
renounced all hope that his critic would understand what he meant,
but, under favour of circumstances, he couldn't forbear to taste the
luxury, which probably never again would come within his reach, of
being really plain, for one wild moment, with an editor.

Mr. Locket gave a constrained smile. "Think of the scandal, Mr.
Baron."

"But isn't this other scandal just what you're going in for?"

"It will be a great public service."

"You mean it will be a big scandal, whereas my poor story would be a
very small one, and that it's only out of a big one that money's to
be made."

Mr. Locket got up--he too had his dignity to vindicate. "Such a sum
as I offer you ought really to be an offset against all claims."

"Very good--I don't mean to make any, since you don't really care for
what I write. I take note of your offer," Peter pursued, "and I
engage to give you to-night (in a few words left by my own hand at
your house) my absolutely definite and final reply."

Mr. Locket's movements, as he hovered near the relics of the eminent
statesman, were those of some feathered parent fluttering over a
threatened nest. If he had brought his huddled brood back with him
this morning it was because he had felt sure enough of closing the
bargain to be able to be graceful. He kept a glittering eye on the
papers and remarked that he was afraid that before leaving them he
must elicit some assurance that in the meanwhile Peter would not
place them in any other hands. Peter, at this, gave a laugh of
harsher cadence than he intended, asking, justly enough, on what
privilege his visitor rested such a demand and why he himself was
disqualified from offering his wares to the highest bidder. "Surely
you wouldn't hawk such things about?" cried Mr. Locket; but before
Baron had time to retort cynically he added: "I'll publish your
little story."

"Oh, thank you!"

"I'll publish anything you'll send me," Mr. Locket continued, as he
went out. Peter had before this virtually given his word that for
the letters he would treat only with the Promiscuous.

The young man passed, during a portion of the rest of the day, the
strangest hours of his life. Yet he thought of them afterwards not
as a phase of temptation, though they had been full of the emotion
that accompanies an intense vision of alternatives. The struggle was
already over; it seemed to him that, poor as he was, he was not poor
enough to take Mr. Locket's money. He looked at the opposed courses
with the self-possession of a man who has chosen, but this self-
possession was in itself the most exquisite of excitements. It was
really a high revulsion and a sort of noble pity. He seemed indeed
to have his finger upon the pulse of history and to be in the secret
of the gods. He had them all in his hand, the tablets and the scales
and the torch. He couldn't keep a character together, but he might
easily pull one to pieces. That would be "creative work" of a kind--
he could reconstruct the character less pleasingly, could show an
unknown side of it. Mr. Locket had had a good deal to say about
responsibility; and responsibility in truth sat there with him all
the morning, while he revolved in his narrow cage and, watching the
crude spring rain on the windows, thought of the dismalness to which,
at Dover, Mrs. Ryves was going back. This influence took in fact the
form, put on the physiognomy of poor Sir Dominick Ferrand; he was at
present as perceptible in it, as coldly and strangely personal, as if
he had been a haunting ghost and had risen beside his own old
hearthstone. Our friend was accustomed to his company and indeed had
spent so many hours in it of late, following him up at the museum and
comparing his different portraits, engravings and lithographs, in
which there seemed to be conscious, pleading eyes for the betrayer,
that their queer intimacy had grown as close as an embrace. Sir
Dominick was very dumb, but he was terrible in his dependence, and
Peter would not have encouraged him by so much curiosity nor
reassured him by so much deference had it not been for the young
man's complete acceptance of the impossibility of getting out of a
tight place by exposing an individual. It didn't matter that the
individual was dead; it didn't matter that he was dishonest. Peter
felt him sufficiently alive to suffer; he perceived the rectification
of history so conscientiously desired by Mr. Locket to be somehow for
himself not an imperative task. It had come over him too definitely
that in a case where one's success was to hinge upon an act of
extradition it would minister most to an easy conscience to let the
success go. No, no--even should he be starving he couldn't make
money out of Sir Dominick's disgrace. He was almost surprised at the
violence of the horror with which, as he shuffled mournfully about,
the idea of any such profit inspired him. What was Sir Dominick to
him after all? He wished he had never come across him.

In one of his brooding pauses at the window--the window out of which
never again apparently should he see Mrs. Ryves glide across the
little garden with the step for which he had liked her from the
first--he became aware that the rain was about to intermit and the
sun to make some grudging amends. This was a sign that he might go
out; he had a vague perception that there were things to be done. He
had work to look for, and a cheaper lodging, and a new idea (every
idea he had ever cherished had left him), in addition to which the
promised little word was to be dropped at Mr. Locket's door. He
looked at his watch and was surprised at the hour, for he had nothing
but a heartache to show for so much time. He would have to dress
quickly, but as he passed to his bedroom his eye was caught by the
little pyramid of letters which Mr. Locket had constructed on his
davenport. They startled him and, staring at them, he stopped for an
instant, half-amused, half-annoyed at their being still in existence.
He had so completely destroyed them in spirit that he had taken the
act for granted, and he was now reminded of the orderly stages of
which an intention must consist to be sincere. Baron went at the
papers with all his sincerity, and at his empty grate (where there
lately had been no fire and he had only to remove a horrible ornament
of tissue-paper dear to Mrs. Bundy) he burned the collection with
infinite method. It made him feel happier to watch the worst pages
turn to illegible ashes--if happiness be the right word to apply to
his sense, in the process, of something so crisp and crackling that
it suggested the death-rustle of bank-notes.

When ten minutes later he came back into his sitting-room, he seemed
to himself oddly, unexpectedly in the presence of a bigger view. It
was as if some interfering mass had been so displaced that he could
see more sky and more country. Yet the opposite houses were
naturally still there, and if the grimy little place looked lighter
it was doubtless only because the rain had indeed stopped and the sun
was pouring in. Peter went to the window to open it to the altered
air, and in doing so beheld at the garden gate the humble "growler"
in which a few hours before he had seen Mrs. Ryves take her
departure. It was unmistakable--he remembered the knock-kneed white
horse; but this made the fact that his friend's luggage no longer
surmounted it only the more mystifying. Perhaps the cabman had
already removed the luggage--he was now on his box smoking the short
pipe that derived relish from inaction paid for. As Peter turned
into the room again his ears caught a knock at his own door, a knock
explained, as soon as he had responded, by the hard breathing of Mrs.
Bundy.

"Please, sir, it's to say she've come back."

"What has she come back for?" Baron's question sounded ungracious,
but his heartache had given another throb, and he felt a dread of
another wound. It was like a practical joke.

"I think it's for you, sir," said Mrs. Bundy. "She'll see you for a
moment, if you'll be so good, in the old place."

Peter followed his hostess downstairs, and Mrs. Bundy ushered him,
with her company flourish, into the apartment she had fondly
designated.

"I went away this morning, and I've only returned for an instant,"
said Mrs. Ryves, as soon as Mrs. Bundy had closed the door. He saw
that she was different now; something had happened that had made her
indulgent.

"Have you been all the way to Dover and back?"

"No, but I've been to Victoria. I've left my luggage there--I've
been driving about."

"I hope you've enjoyed it."

"Very much. I've been to see Mr. Morrish."

"Mr. Morrish?"

"The musical publisher. I showed him our song. I played it for him,
and he's delighted with it. He declares it's just the thing. He has
given me fifty pounds. I think he believes in us," Mrs. Ryves went
on, while Baron stared at the wonder--too sweet to be safe, it seemed
to him as yet--of her standing there again before him and speaking of
what they had in common. "Fifty pounds! fifty pounds!" she
exclaimed, fluttering at him her happy cheque. She had come back,
the first thing, to tell him, and of course his share of the money
would be the half. She was rosy, jubilant, natural, she chattered
like a happy woman. She said they must do more, ever so much more.
Mr. Morrish had practically promised he would take anything that was
as good as that. She had kept her cab because she was going to
Dover; she couldn't leave the others alone. It was a vehicle infirm
and inert, but Baron, after a little, appreciated its pace, for she
had consented to his getting in with her and driving, this time in
earnest, to Victoria. She had only come to tell him the good news--
she repeated this assurance more than once. They talked of it so
profoundly that it drove everything else for the time out of his
head--his duty to Mr. Locket, the remarkable sacrifice he had just
achieved, and even the odd coincidence, matching with the oddity of
all the others, of her having reverted to the house again, as if with
one of her famous divinations, at the very moment the trumpery
papers, the origin really of their intimacy, had ceased to exist.
But she, on her side, also had evidently forgotten the trumpery
papers: she never mentioned them again, and Peter Baron never
boasted of what he had done with them. He was silent for a while,
from curiosity to see if her fine nerves had really given her a hint;
and then later, when it came to be a question of his permanent
attitude, he was silent, prodigiously, religiously, tremulously
silent, in consequence of an extraordinary conversation that he had
with her.

This conversation took place at Dover, when he went down to give her
the money for which, at Mr. Morrish's bank, he had exchanged the
cheque she had left with him. That cheque, or rather certain things
it represented, had made somehow all the difference in their
relations. The difference was huge, and Baron could think of nothing
but this confirmed vision of their being able to work fruitfully
together that would account for so rapid a change. She didn't talk
of impossibilities now--she didn't seem to want to stop him off; only
when, the day following his arrival at Dover with the fifty pounds
(he had after all to agree to share them with her--he couldn't expect
her to take a present of money from him), he returned to the question
over which they had had their little scene the night they dined
together--on this occasion (he had brought a portmanteau and he was
staying) she mentioned that there was something very particular she
had it on her conscience to tell him before letting him commit
himself. There dawned in her face as she approached the subject a
light of warning that frightened him; it was charged with something
so strange that for an instant he held his breath. This flash of
ugly possibilities passed however, and it was with the gesture of
taking still tenderer possession of her, checked indeed by the grave,
important way she held up a finger, that he answered: "Tell me
everything--tell me!"

"You must know what I am--who I am; you must know especially what I'm
not! There's a name for it, a hideous, cruel name. It's not my
fault! Others have known, I've had to speak of it--it has made a
great difference in my life. Surely you must have guessed!" she went
on, with the thinnest quaver of irony, letting him now take her hand,
which felt as cold as her hard duty. "Don't you see I've no
belongings, no relations, no friends, nothing at all, in all the
world, of my own? I was only a poor girl."

"A poor girl?" Baron was mystified, touched, distressed, piecing
dimly together what she meant, but feeling, in a great surge of pity,
that it was only something more to love her for.

"My mother--my poor mother," said Mrs. Ryves.

She paused with this, and through gathering tears her eyes met his as
if to plead with him to understand. He understood, and drew her
closer, but she kept herself free still, to continue: "She was a
poor girl--she was only a governess; she was alone, she thought he
loved her. He did--I think it was the only happiness she ever knew.
But she died of it."

"Oh, I'm so glad you tell me--it's so grand of you!" Baron murmured.
"Then--your father?" He hesitated, as if with his hands on old
wounds.

"He had his own troubles, but he was kind to her. It was all misery
and folly--he was married. He wasn't happy--there were good reasons,
I believe, for that. I know it from letters, I know it from a person
who's dead. Everyone is dead now--it's too far off. That's the only
good thing. He was very kind to me; I remember him, though I didn't
know then, as a little girl, who he was. He put me with some very
good people--he did what he could for me. I think, later, his wife
knew--a lady who came to see me once after his death. I was a very
little girl, but I remember many things. What he could he did--
something that helped me afterwards, something that helps me now. I
think of him with a strange pity--I SEE him!" said Mrs. Ryves, with
the faint past in her eyes. "You mustn't say anything against him,"
she added, gently and gravely.

"Never--never; for he has only made it more of a rapture to care for
you."

"You must wait, you must think; we must wait together," she went on.
"You can't tell, and you must give me time. Now that you know, it's
all right; but you had to know. Doesn't it make us better friends?"
asked Mrs. Ryves, with a tired smile which had the effect of putting
the whole story further and further away. The next moment, however,
she added quickly, as if with the sense that it couldn't be far
enough: "You don't know, you can't judge, you must let it settle.
Think of it, think of it; oh you will, and leave it so. I must have
time myself, oh I must! Yes, you must believe me."

She turned away from him, and he remained looking at her a moment.
"Ah, how I shall work for you!" he exclaimed.

"You must work for yourself; I'll help you." Her eyes had met his
eyes again, and she added, hesitating, thinking: "You had better
know, perhaps, who he was."

Baron shook his head, smiling confidently. "I don't care a straw."

"I do--a little. He was a great man."

"There must indeed have been some good in him."

"He was a high celebrity. You've often heard of him."

Baron wondered an instant. "I've no doubt you're a princess!" he
said with a laugh. She made him nervous.

"I'm not ashamed of him. He was Sir Dominick Ferrand."

Baron saw in her face, in a few seconds, that she had seen something
in his. He knew that he stared, then turned pale; it had the effect
of a powerful shock. He was cold for an instant, as he had just
found her, with the sense of danger, the confused horror of having
dealt a blow. But the blood rushed back to its courses with his
still quicker consciousness of safety, and he could make out, as he
recovered his balance, that his emotion struck her simply as a
violent surprise. He gave a muffled murmur: "Ah, it's you, my
beloved!" which lost itself as he drew her close and held her long,
in the intensity of his embrace and the wonder of his escape. It
took more than a minute for him to say over to himself often enough,
with his hidden face: "Ah, she must never, never know!"

She never knew; she only learned, when she asked him casually, that
he had in fact destroyed the old documents she had had such a comic
caprice about. The sensibility, the curiosity they had had the queer
privilege of exciting in her had lapsed with the event as
irresponsibly as they had arisen, and she appeared to have forgotten,
or rather to attribute now to other causes, the agitation and several
of the odd incidents that accompanied them. They naturally gave
Peter Baron rather more to think about, much food, indeed, for
clandestine meditation, some of which, in spite of the pains he took
not to be caught, was noted by his friend and interpreted, to his
knowledge, as depression produced by the long probation she succeeded
in imposing on him. He was more patient than she could guess, with
all her guessing, for if he was put to the proof she herself was not
left undissected. It came back to him again and again that if the
documents he had burned proved anything they proved that Sir Dominick
Ferrand's human errors were not all of one order. The woman he loved
was the daughter of her father, he couldn't get over that. What was
more to the point was that as he came to know her better and better--
for they did work together under Mr. Morrish's protection--his
affection was a quantity still less to be neglected. He sometimes
wondered, in the light of her general straightness (their marriage
had brought out even more than he believed there was of it) whether
the relics in the davenport were genuine. That piece of furniture is
still almost as useful to him as Mr. Morrish's patronage. There is a
tremendous run, as this gentlemen calls it, on several of their
songs. Baron nevertheless still tries his hand also at prose, and
his offerings are now not always declined by the magazines. But he
has never approached the Promiscuous again. This periodical
published in due course a highly eulogistic study of the remarkable
career of Sir Dominick Ferrand.

Henry James

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