The younger of the other men, it afterwards appeared, was most in his element at the piano; so that they had coffee and comic songs upstairs--the gentlemen, temporarily relinquished, submitting easily in this interest to Mrs. Lowder's parting injunction not to sit too tight. Our especial young man sat tighter when restored to the drawing-room; he made it out perfectly with Kate that they might, off and on, foregather without offence. He had perhaps stronger needs in this general respect than she; but she had better names for the scant risks to which she consented. It was the blessing of a big house that intervals were large and, of an August night, that windows were open; whereby, at a given moment, on the wide balcony, with the songs sufficiently sung, Aunt Maud could hold her little court more freshly. Densher and Kate, during these moments, occupied side by side a small sofa--a luxury formulated by the latter as the proof, under criticism, of their remarkably good conscience. "To seem not to know each other--once you're here--would be," the girl said, "to overdo it"; and she arranged it charmingly that they MUST have some passage to put Aunt Maud off the scent. She would be wondering otherwise what in the world they found their account in. For Densher, none the less, the profit of snatched moments, snatched contacts, was partial and poor; there were in particular at present more things in his mind than he could bring out while watching the windows. It was true, on the other hand, that she suddenly met most of them--and more than he could see on the spot--by coming out for him with a reference to Milly that was not in the key of those made at dinner. "She's not a bit right, you know. I mean in health. Just see her to-night. I mean it looks grave. For you she would have come, you know, if it had been at all possible."
He took this in such patience as he could muster. "What in the world's the matter with her?"
But Kate continued without saying. "Unless indeed your being here has been just a reason for her funking it."
"What in the world's the matter with her?" Densher asked again.
"Why just what I've told you--that she likes you so much."
"Then why should she deny herself the joy of meeting me?"
Kate cast about--it would take so long to explain. "And perhaps it's true that she IS bad. She easily may be."
"Quite easily, I should say, judging by Mrs. Stringham, who's visibly preoccupied and worried."
"Visibly enough. Yet it mayn't," said Kate, "be only for that."
"For what then?"
But this question too, on thinking, she neglected. "Why, if it's anything real, doesn't that poor lady go home? She'd be anxious, and she has done all she need to be civil."
"I think," Densher remarked, "she has been quite beautifully civil."
It made Kate, he fancied, look at him the least bit harder; but she was already, in a manner, explaining. "Her preoccupation is probably on two different heads. One of them would make her hurry back, but the other makes her stay. She's commissioned to tell Milly all about you."
"Well then," said the young man between a laugh and a sigh, "I'm glad I felt, downstairs, a kind of 'drawing' to her. Wasn't I rather decent to her?"
"Awfully nice. You've instincts, you fiend. It's all," Kate declared, "as it should be."
"Except perhaps," he after a moment cynically suggested, "that she isn't getting much good of me now. Will she report to Milly on THIS?" And then as Kate seemed to wonder what "this" might be: "On our present disregard for appearances."
"Ah leave appearances to me!" She spoke in her high way. "I'll make them all right. Aunt Maud, moreover," she added, "has her so engaged that she won't notice." Densher felt, with this, that his companion had indeed perceptive flights he couldn't hope to match--had for instance another when she still subjoined: "And Mrs. Stringham's appearing to respond just in order to make that impression."
"Well," Densher dropped with some humour, "life's very interesting! I hope it's really as much so for you as you make it for others; I mean judging by what you make it for me. You seem to me to represent it as thrilling for ces dames, in a different way for each: Aunt Maud, Susan Shepherd, Milly. But what IS," he wound up, "the matter? Do you mean she's as ill as she looks?"
Kate's face struck him as replying at first that his derisive speech deserved no satisfaction; then she appeared to yield to a need of her own--the need to make the point that "as ill as she looked" was what Milly scarce could be. If she had been as ill as she looked she could scarce be a question with them, for her end would in that case be near. She believed herself nevertheless--and Kate couldn't help believing her too--seriously menaced. There was always the fact that they had been on the point of leaving town, the two ladies, and had suddenly been pulled up. "We bade them good-bye--or all but--Aunt Maud and I, the night before Milly, popping so very oddly into the National Gallery for a farewell look, found you and me together. They were then to get off a day or two later. But they've not got off--they're not getting off. When I see them and I saw them this morning--they have showy reasons. They do mean to go, but they've postponed it." With which the girl brought out: "They've postponed it for YOU." He protested so far as a man might without fatuity, since a protest was itself credulous; but Kate, as ever, understood herself. "You've made Milly change her mind. She wants not to miss you--though she wants also not to show she wants you; which is why, as I hinted a moment ago, she may consciously have hung back to-night. She doesn't know when she may see you again--she doesn't know she ever may. She doesn't see the future. It has opened out before her in these last weeks as a dark confused thing."
Densher wondered. "After the tremendous time you've all been telling me she has had?"
"That's it. There's a shadow across it."
"The shadow, you consider, of some physical break-up?"
"Some physical break-down. Nothing less. She's scared. She has so much to lose. And she wants more."
"Ah well," said Densher with a sudden strange sense of discomfort, "couldn't one say to her that she can't have everything?"
"No--for one wouldn't want to. She really," Kate went on, "has been somebody here. Ask Aunt Maud--you may think me prejudiced," the girl oddly smiled. "Aunt Maud will tell you--the world's before her. It has all come since you saw her, and it's a pity you've missed it, for it certainly would have amused you. She has really been a perfect success--I mean of course so far as possible in the scrap of time--and she has taken it like a perfect angel. If you can imagine an angel with a thumping bank-account you'll have the simplest expression of the kind of thing. Her fortune's absolutely huge; Aunt Maud has had all the facts, or enough of them, in the last confidence, from 'Susie,' and Susie speaks by book. Take them then, in the last confidence, from ME. There she is." Kate expressed above all what it most came to. "It's open to her to make, you see, the very greatest marriage. I assure you we're not vulgar about her. Her possibilities are quite plain."
Densher showed he neither disbelieved nor grudged them. "But what good then on earth can I do her?"
Well, she had it ready. "You can console her."
"And for what?"
"For all that, if she's stricken, she must see swept away. I shouldn't care for her if she hadn't so much," Kate very simply said. And then as it made him laugh not quite happily: "I shouldn't trouble about her if there were one thing she did have." The girl spoke indeed with a noble compassion. "She has nothing."
"Not all the young dukes?"
"Well we must see--see if anything can come of them. She at any rate does love life. To have met a person like you," Kate further explained, "is to have felt you become, with all the other fine things, a part of life. Oh she has you arranged!"
"YOU have, it strikes me, my dear"--and he looked both detached and rueful. "Pray what am I to do with the dukes?"
"Oh the dukes will be disappointed!"
"Then why shan't I be?"
"You'll have expected less," Kate wonderfully smiled. "Besides, you WILL be. You'll have expected enough for that."
"Yet it's what you want to let me in for?"
"I want," said the girl, "to make things pleasant for her. I use, for the purpose, what I have. You're what I have of most precious, and you're therefore what I use most."
He looked at her long. "I wish I could use YOU a little more." After which, as she continued to smile at him, "Is it a bad case of lungs?" he asked.
Kate showed for a little as if she wished it might be. "Not lungs, I think. Isn't consumption, taken in time, now curable?"
"People are, no doubt, patched up." But he wondered. "Do you mean she has something that's past patching?" And before she could answer: "It's really as if her appearance put her outside of such things--being, in spite of her youth, that of a person who has been through all it's conceivable she should be exposed to. She affects one, I should say, as a creature saved from a shipwreck. Such a creature may surely, in these days, on the doctrine of chances, go to sea again with confidence. She has HAD her wreck--she has met her adventure."
"Oh I grant you her wreck!"--Kate was all response so far. "But do let her have still her adventure. There are wrecks that are not adventures."
"Well--if there be also adventures that are not wrecks!" Densher in short was willing, but he came back to his point. "What I mean is that she has none of the effect--on one's nerves or whatever--of an invalid."
Kate on her side did this justice. "No--that's the beauty of her."
"Yes, she's so wonderful. She won't show for that, any more than your watch, when it's about to stop for want of being wound up, gives you convenient notice or shows as different from usual. She won't die, she won't live, by inches. She won't smell, as it were, of drugs. She won't taste, as it were, of medicine. No one will know."
"Then what," he demanded, frankly mystified now, "are we talking about? In what extraordinary state IS she?"
Kate went on as if, at this, making it out in a fashion for herself. "I believe that if she's ill at all she's very ill. I believe that if she's bad she's not a LITTLE bad. I can't tell you why, but that's how I see her. She'll really live or she'll really not. She'll have it all or she'll miss it all. Now I don't think she'll have it all."
Densher had followed this with his eyes upon her, her own having thoughtfully wandered, and as if it were more impressive than lucid. "You 'think' and you 'don't think,' and yet you remain all the while without an inkling of her complaint?"
"No, not without an inkling; but it's a matter in which I don't want knowledge. She moreover herself doesn't want one to want it: she has, as to what may be preying upon her, a kind of ferocity of modesty, a kind of--I don't know what to call it--intensity of pride. And then and then--" But with this she faltered.
"And then what?"
"I'm a brute about illness. I hate it. It's well for you, my dear," Kate continued, "that you're as sound as a bell."
"Thank you!" Densher laughed. "It's rather good then for yourself too that you're as strong as the sea."
She looked at him now a moment as for the selfish gladness of their young immunities. It was all they had together, but they had it at least without a flaw--each had the beauty, the physical felicity, the personal virtue, love and desire of the other. Yet it was as if that very consciousness threw them back the next moment into pity for the poor girl who had everything else in the world, the great genial good they, alas, didn't have, but failed on the other hand of this. "How we're talking about her!" Kate compunctiously sighed. But there were the facts. "From illness I keep away."
"But you don't--since here you are, in spite of all you say, in the midst of it."
"Ah I'm only watching--!"
"And putting me forward in your place? Thank you!"
"Oh," said Kate, "I'm breaking you in. Let it give you the measure of what I shall expect of you. One can't begin too soon."
She drew away, as from the impression of a stir on the balcony, the hand of which he had a minute before possessed himself; and the warning brought him back to attention. "You haven't even an idea if it's a case for surgery?"
"I dare say it may be; that is that if it comes to anything it may come to that. Of course she's in the highest hands."
"The doctors are after her then?"
"She's after THEM--it's the same thing. I think I'm free to say it now--she sees Sir Luke Strett."
It made him quickly wince. "Ah fifty thousand knives!" Then after an instant: "One seems to guess."
Yes, but she waved it away. "Don't guess. Only do as I tell you."
For a moment now, in silence, he took it all in, might have had it before him. "What you want of me then is to make up to a sick girl."
"Ah but you admit yourself that she doesn't affect you as sick. You understand moreover just how much--and just how little."
"It's amazing," he presently answered, "what you think I understand."
"Well, if you've brought me to it, my dear," she returned, "that has been your way of breaking ME in. Besides which, so far as making up to her goes, plenty of others will."
Densher for a little, under this suggestion, might have been seeing their young friend on a pile of cushions and in a perpetual tea-gown, amid flowers and with drawn blinds, surrounded by the higher nobility. "Others can follow their tastes. Besides, others are free."
"But so are you, my dear!"
She had spoken with impatience, and her suddenly quitting him had sharpened it; in spite of which he kept his place, only looking up at her. "You're prodigious!"
"Of course I'm prodigious!"--and, as immediately happened, she gave a further sign of it that he fairly sat watching. The door from the lobby had, as she spoke, been thrown open for a gentleman who, immediately finding her within his view, advanced to greet her before the announcement of his name could reach her companion. Densher none the less felt himself brought quickly into relation; Kate's welcome to the visitor became almost precipitately an appeal to her friend, who slowly rose to meet it. "I don't know whether you know Lord Mark." And then for the other party: "Mr. Merton Densher--who has just come back from America."
"Oh!" said the other party while Densher said nothing--occupied as he mainly was on the spot with weighing the sound in question. He recognised it in a moment as less imponderable than it might have appeared, as having indeed positive claims. It wasn't, that is, he knew, the "Oh!" of the idiot, however great the superficial resemblance: it was that of the clever, the accomplished man; it was the very specialty of the speaker, and a deal of expensive training and experience had gone to producing it. Densher felt somehow that, as a thing of value accidentally picked up, it would retain an interest of curiosity. The three stood for a little together in an awkwardness to which he was conscious of contributing his share; Kate failing to ask Lord Mark to be seated, but letting him know that he would find Mrs. Lowder, with some others, on the balcony.
"Oh and Miss Theale I suppose?--as I seemed to hear outside, from below, Mrs. Stringham's unmistakeable voice."
"Yes, but Mrs. Stringham's alone. Milly's unwell," the girl explained, "and was compelled to disappoint us."
"Ah 'disappoint'--rather!" And, lingering a little, he kept his eyes on Densher. "She isn't really bad, I trust?"
Densher, after all he had heard, easily supposed him interested in Milly; but he could imagine him also interested in the young man with whom he had found Kate engaged and whom he yet considered without visible intelligence. That young man concluded in a moment that he was doing what he wanted, satisfying himself as to each. To this he was aided by Kate, who produced a prompt: "Oh dear no; I think not. I've just been reassuring Mr. Densher," she added--"who's as concerned as the rest of us. I've been calming his fears."
"Oh!" said Lord Mark again--and again it was just as good. That was for Densher, the latter could see, or think he saw. And then for the others: "MY fears would want calming. We must take great care of her. This way?"
She went with him a few steps, and while Densher, hanging about, gave them frank attention, presently paused again for some further colloquy. What passed between them their observer lost, but she was presently with him again, Lord Mark joining the rest.
Densher was by this time quite ready for her. "It's HE who's your aunt's man?"
"I mean for YOU."
"That's what I mean too," Kate smiled. "There he is. Now you can judge."
"Judge of what?"
"Judge of him."
"Why should I judge of him?" Densher asked. "I've nothing to do with him."
"Then why do you ask about him?"
"To judge of you--which is different."
Kate seemed for a little to look at the difference. "To take the measure, do you mean, of my danger?"
He hesitated; then he said: "I'm thinking, I dare say, of Miss Theale's. How does your aunt reconcile his interest in her--?"
"With his interest in me?"
"With her own interest in you," Densher said while she reflected. "If that interest--Mrs. Lowder's--takes the form of Lord Mark, hasn't he rather to look out for the forms HE takes?"
Kate seemed interested in the question, but "Oh he takes them easily," she answered. "The beauty is that she doesn't trust him."
"That Milly doesn't?"
"Yes--Milly either. But I mean Aunt Maud. Not really."
Densher gave it his wonder. "Takes him to her heart and yet thinks he cheats?"
"Yes," said Kate--"that's the way people are. What they think of their enemies, goodness knows, is bad enough; but I'm still more struck with what they think of their friends. Milly's own state of mind, however," she went on, "is lucky. That's Aunt Maud's security, though she doesn't yet fully recognise it--besides being Milly's own."
"You conceive it a real escape then not to care for him?"
She shook her head in beautiful grave deprecation. "You oughtn't to make me say too much. But I'm glad I don't."
"Don't say too much?"
"Don't care for Lord Mark."
"Oh!" Densher answered with a sound like his lordship's own. To which he added: "You absolutely hold that that poor girl doesn't?"
"Ah you know what I hold about that poor girl!" It had made her again impatient.
Yet he stuck a minute to the subject. "You scarcely call him, I suppose, one of the dukes."
"Mercy, no--far from it. He's not, compared with other possibilities, 'in' it. Milly, it's true," she said, to be exact, "has no natural sense of social values, doesn't in the least understand our differences or know who's who or what's what."
"I see. That," Densher laughed, "is her reason for liking ME."
"Precisely. She doesn't resemble me," said Kate, "who at least know what I lose."
Well, it had all risen for Densher to a considerable interest. "And Aunt Maud--why shouldn't SHE know? I mean that your friend there isn't really anything. Does she suppose him of ducal value?"
"Scarcely; save in the sense of being uncle to a duke. That's undeniably something. He's the best moreover we can get."
"Oh, oh!" said Densher; and his doubt was not all derisive.
"It isn't Lord Mark's grandeur," she went on without heeding this; "because perhaps in the line of that alone--as he has no money--more could be done. But she's not a bit sordid; she only counts with the sordidness of others. Besides, he's grand enough, with a duke in his family and at the other end of the string. THE thing's his genius."
"And do you believe in that?"
"In Lord Mark's genius?" Kate, as if for a more final opinion than had yet been asked of her, took a moment to think. She balanced indeed so that one would scarce have known what to expect; but she came out in time with a very sufficient "Yes!"
"Universal. I don't know at least," she said, "what else to call it when a man's able to make himself without effort, without violence, without machinery of any sort, so intensely felt. He has somehow an effect without his being in any traceable way a cause."
"Ah but if the effect," said Densher with conscious superficiality, "isn't agreeable--?"
"Oh but it is!"
"Not surely for every one."
"If you mean not for you," Kate returned, "you may have reasons--and men don't count. Women don't know if it's agreeable or not."
"Then there you are!"
"Yes, precisely--that takes, on his part, genius."
Densher stood before her as if he wondered what everything she thus promptly, easily and above all amusingly met him with, would have been found, should it have come to an analysis, to "take." Something suddenly, as if under a last determinant touch, welled up in him and overflowed--the sense of his good fortune and her variety, of the future she promised, the interest she supplied. "All women but you are stupid. How can I look at another? You're different and different--and then you're different again. No marvel Aunt Maud builds on you--except that you're so much too good for what she builds FOR. Even 'society' won't know how good for it you are; it's too stupid, and you're beyond it. You'd have to pull it uphill--it's you yourself who are at the top. The women one meets--what are they but books one has already read? You're a whole library of the unknown, the uncut." He almost moaned, he ached, from the depth of his content. "Upon my word I've a subscription!"
She took it from him with her face again giving out all it had in answer, and they remained once more confronted and united in their essential wealth of life. "It's you who draw me out. I exist in you. Not in others."
It had been, however, as if the thrill of their association itself pressed in him, as great felicities do, the sharp spring of fear. "See here, you know: don't, DON'T--!"
"Don't fail me. It would kill me."
She looked at him a minute with no response but her eyes. "So you think you'll kill ME in time to prevent it?" She smiled, but he saw her the next instant as smiling through tears; and the instant after this she had got, in respect to the particular point, quite off. She had come back to another, which was one of her own; her own were so closely connected that Densher's were at best but parenthetic. Still she had a distance to go. "You do then see your way?" She put it to him before they joined--as was high time--the others. And she made him understand she meant his way with Milly.
He had dropped a little in presence of the explanation; then she had brought him up to a sort of recognition. He could make out by this light something of what he saw, but a dimness also there was, undispelled since his return. "There's something you must definitely tell me. If our friend knows that all the while--?"
She came straight to his aid, formulating for him his anxiety, though quite to smooth it down. "All the while she and I here were growing intimate, you and I were in unmentioned relation? If she knows that, yes, she knows our relation must have involved your writing to me."
"Then how could she suppose you weren't answering?"
"She doesn't suppose it."
"How then can she imagine you never named her?"
"She doesn't. She knows now I did name her. I've told her everything. She's in possession of reasons that will perfectly do."
Still he just brooded. "She takes things from you exactly as I take them?"
"Exactly as you take them."
"She's just such another victim?"
"Just such another. You're a pair."
"Then if anything happens," said Densher, "we can console each other?"
"Ah something MAY indeed happen," she returned, "if you'll only go straight!"
He watched the others an instant through the window. "What do you mean by going straight?"
"Not worrying. Doing as you like. Try, as I've told you before, and you'll see. You'll have me perfectly, always, to refer to."
"Oh rather, I hope! But if she's going away?"
It pulled Kate up but a moment. "I'll bring her back. There you are. You won't be able to say I haven't made it smooth for you."
He faced it all, and certainly it was queer. But it wasn't the queerness that after another minute was uppermost. He was in a wondrous silken web, and it WAS amusing. "You spoil me!"
He wasn't sure if Mrs. Lowder, who at this juncture reappeared, had caught his word as it dropped from him; probably not, he thought, her attention being given to Mrs. Stringham, with whom she came through and who was now, none too soon, taking leave of her. They were followed by Lord Mark and by the other men, but two or three things happened before any dispersal of the company began. One of these was that Kate found time to say to him with furtive emphasis: "You must go now!" Another was that she next addressed herself in all frankness to Lord Mark, drew near to him with an almost reproachful "Come and talk to ME!"--a challenge resulting after a minute for Densher in a consciousness of their installation together in an out-of-the-way corner, though not the same he himself had just occupied with her. Still another was that Mrs. Stringham, in the random intensity of her farewells, affected him as looking at him with a small grave intimation, something into which he afterwards read the meaning that if he had happened to desire a few words with her after dinner he would have found her ready. This impression was naturally light, but it just left him with the sense of something by his own act overlooked, unappreciated. It gathered perhaps a slightly sharper shade from the mild formality of her "Good-night, sir!" as she passed him; a matter as to which there was now nothing more to be done, thanks to the alertness of the young man he by this time had appraised as even more harmless than himself. This personage had forestalled him in opening the door for her and was evidently--with a view, Densher might have judged, to ulterior designs on Milly--proposing to attend her to her carriage. What further occurred was that Aunt Maud, having released her, immediately had a word for himself. It was an imperative "Wait a minute," by which she both detained and dismissed him; she was particular about her minute, but he hadn't yet given her, as happened, a sign of withdrawal.
"Return to our little friend. You'll find her really interesting."
"If you mean Miss Theale," he said, "I shall certainly not forget her. But you must remember that, so far as her 'interest' is concerned, I myself discovered, I--as was said at dinner--invented her."
"Well, one seemed rather to gather that you hadn't taken out the patent. Don't, I only mean, in the press of other things, too much neglect her."
Affected, surprised by the coincidence of her appeal with Kate's, he asked himself quickly if it mightn't help him with her. He at any rate could but try. "You're all looking after my manners. That's exactly, you know, what Miss Croy has been saying to me. SHE keeps me up--she has had so much to say about them."
He found pleasure in being able to give his hostess an account of his passage with Kate that, while quite veracious, might be reassuring to herself. But Aunt Maud, wonderfully and facing him straight, took it as if her confidence were supplied with other props. If she saw his intention in it she yet blinked neither with doubt nor with acceptance; she only said imperturbably: "Yes, she'll herself do anything for her friend; so that she but preaches what she practises."
Densher really quite wondered if Aunt Maud knew how far Kate's devotion went. He was moreover a little puzzled by this special harmony; in face of which he quickly asked himself if Mrs. Lowder had bethought herself of the American girl as a distraction for him, and if Kate's mastery of the subject were therefore but an appearance addressed to her aunt. What might really BECOME in all this of the American girl was therefore a question that, on the latter contingency, would lose none of its sharpness. However, questions could wait, and it was easy, so far as he understood, to meet Mrs. Lowder. "It isn't a bit, all the same, you know, that I resist. I find Miss Theale charming."
Well, it was all she wanted. "Then don't miss a chance."
"The only thing is," he went on, "that she's--naturally now--leaving town and, as I take it, going abroad."
Aunt Maud looked indeed an instant as if she herself had been dealing with this difficulty. "She won't go," she smiled in spite of it, "till she has seen you. Moreover, when she does go--" She paused, leaving him uncertain. But the next minute he was still more at sea. "We shall go too."
He gave a smile that he himself took for slightly strange. "And what good will that do ME?"
"We shall be near them somewhere, and you'll come out to us."
"Oh!" he said a little awkwardly.
"I'll see that you do. I mean I'll write to you."
"Ah thank you, thank you!" Merton Densher laughed. She was indeed putting him on his honour, and his honour winced a little at the use he rather helplessly saw himself suffering her to believe she could make of it. "There are all sorts of things," he vaguely remarked, "to consider."
"No doubt. But there's above all the great thing."
"And pray what's that?"
"Why the importance of your not losing the occasion of your life. I'm treating you handsomely, I'm looking after it for you. I CAN--I can smooth your path. She's charming, she's clever and she's good. And her fortune's a real fortune."
Ah there she was, Aunt Maud! The pieces fell together for him as he felt her thus buying him off, and buying him--it would have been funny if it hadn't been so grave--with Miss Theale's money. He ventured, derisive, fairly to treat it as extravagant. "I'm much obliged to you for the handsome offer--"
"Of what doesn't belong to me?" She wasn't abashed. "I don't say it does--but there's no reason it shouldn't to YOU. Mind you moreover"-- she kept it up--"I'm not one who talks in the air. And you owe me something--if you want to know why."
Distinct he felt her pressure; he felt, given her basis, her consistency; he even felt, to a degree that was immediately to receive an odd confirmation, her truth. Her truth, for that matter, was that she believed him bribeable: a belief that for his own mind as well, while they stood there, lighted up the impossible. What then in this light did Kate believe him? But that wasn't what he asked aloud. "Of course I know I owe you thanks for a deal of kind treatment. Your inviting me for instance to-night--!"
"Yes, my inviting you to-night's a part of it. But you don't know," she added, "how far I've gone for you."
He felt himself red and as if his honour were colouring up; but he laughed again as he could. "I see how far you're going."
"I'm the most honest woman in the world, but I've nevertheless done for you what was necessary." And then as her now quite sombre gravity only made him stare: "To start you it WAS necessary. From ME it has the weight." He but continued to stare, and she met his blankness with surprise. "Don't you understand me? I've told the proper lie for you." Still he only showed her his flushed strained smile; in spite of which, speaking with force and as if he must with a minute's reflexion see what she meant, she turned away from him. "I depend upon you now to make me right!"
The minute's reflexion he was of course more free to take after he had left the house. He walked up the Bayswater Road, but he stopped short, under the murky stars, before the modern church, in the middle of the square that, going eastward, opened out on his left. He had had his brief stupidity, but now he understood. She had guaranteed to Milly Theale through Mrs. Stringham that Kate didn't care for him. She had affirmed through the same source that the attachment was only his. He made it out, he made it out, and he could see what she meant by its starting him. She had described Kate as merely compassionate, so that Milly might be compassionate too. "Proper" indeed it was, her lie--the very properest possible and the most deeply, richly diplomatic. So Milly was successfully deceived.
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