"They've got him for life!" I said to myself that
evening on my way back to the station; but later on, alone in the compartment
(from Wimbledon to
They had sent for me from Wimbledon to come out and dine,
and there had been an implication in
Though the great man was an inmate and didn't dress, he kept
dinner on this occasion waiting, and the first words he uttered on coming into
the room were an elated announcement to Mulville that
he had found out something. Not catching
the allusion and gaping doubtless a little at his face, I privately asked
It is furthermore remarkable that though the two stories are
distinct--my own, as it were, and this other--they equally began, in a manner,
the first night of my acquaintance with Frank Saltram,
the night I came back from Wimbledon so agitated with a new sense of life that,
in London, for the very thrill of it, I could only walk home. Walking and swinging my stick, I overtook, at
Buckingham Gate, George Gravener, and George Gravener's story may be said to have begun with my making
him, as our paths lay together, come home with me for a talk. I duly remember, let me parenthesise, that it was
still more that of another person, and also that several years were to elapse
before it was to extend to a second chapter.
I had much to say to him, none the less, about my visit to the Mulvilles, whom he more indifferently knew, and I was at
any rate so amusing that for long afterwards he never encountered me without
asking for news of the old man of the sea. I hadn't said Mr. Saltram was old, and it was to be seen that he was of an
age to outweather George Gravener. I had at that time a
"Of course I've never seen the fellow, but it's clear enough he's a humbug."
"Clear 'enough' is just what it isn't," I replied; "if it only were!" That ejaculation on my part must have been the beginning of what was to be later a long ache for final frivolous rest. Gravener was profound enough to remark after a moment that in the first place he couldn't be anything but a Dissenter, and when I answered that the very note of his fascination was his extraordinary speculative breadth my friend retorted that there was no cad like your cultivated cad, and that I might depend upon discovering--since I had had the levity not already to have enquired--that my shining light proceeded, a generation back, from a Methodist cheesemonger. I confess I was struck with his insistence, and I said, after reflexion: "It may be--I admit it may be; but why on earth are you so sure?"--asking the question mainly to lay him the trap of saying that it was because the poor man didn't dress for dinner. He took an instant to circumvent my trap and come blandly out the other side.
"Because the Kent Mulvilles have invented him. They've an infallible hand for frauds. All their geese are swans. They were born to be duped, they like it, they cry for it, they don't know anything from anything, and they disgust one--luckily perhaps!--with Christian charity." His vehemence was doubtless an accident, but it might have been a strange foreknowledge. I forget what protest I dropped; it was at any rate something that led him to go on after a moment: "I only ask one thing--it's perfectly simple. Is a man, in a given case, a real gentleman?"
"A real gentleman, my dear fellow--that's so soon said!"
"Not so soon when he isn't! If they've got hold of one this time he must be a great rascal!"
"I might feel injured," I answered, "if I didn't reflect that they don't rave about ME."
"Don't be too sure! I'll grant that he's a gentleman," Gravener presently added, "if you'll admit that he's a scamp."
"I don't know which to admire most, your logic or your benevolence."
My friend coloured at this, but he didn't change the subject. "Where did they pick him up?"
"I think they were struck with something he had published."
"I can fancy the dreary thing!"
"I believe they found out he had all sorts of worries and difficulties."
"That of course wasn't to be endured, so they jumped at the privilege of paying his debts!" I professed that I knew nothing about his debts, and I reminded my visitor that though the dear Mulvilles were angels they were neither idiots nor millionaires. What they mainly aimed at was reuniting Mr. Saltram to his wife. "I was expecting to hear he has basely abandoned her," Gravener went on, at this, "and I'm too glad you don't disappoint me."
I tried to recall exactly what Mrs. Mulville had told me. "He didn't leave her--no. It's she who has left him."
"Left him to US?" Gravener asked. "The monster--many thanks! I decline to take him."
"You'll hear more about him in spite of yourself. I can't, no, I really can't resist the impression that he's a big man." I was already mastering--to my shame perhaps be it said--just the tone my old friend least liked.
"It's doubtless only a trifle," he returned, "but you haven't happened to mention what his reputation's to rest on."
"Why on what I began by boring you with--his extraordinary mind."
"As exhibited in his writings?"
"Possibly in his writings, but certainly in his talk, which is far and away the richest I ever listened to."
"And what's it all about?"
"My dear fellow, don't ask me! About everything!"
I pursued, reminding myself of poor
"There's one little fact to be borne in mind in the presence equally of the best talk and of the worst." He looked, in saying this, as if he meant great things, and I was sure he could only mean once more that neither of them mattered if a man wasn't a real gentleman. Perhaps it was what he did mean; he deprived me however of the exultation of being right by putting the truth in a slightly different way. "The only thing that really counts for one's estimate of a person is his conduct." He had his watch still in his palm, and I reproached him with unfair play in having ascertained beforehand that it was now the hour at which I always gave in. My pleasantry so far failed to mollify him that he promptly added that to the rule he had just enunciated there was absolutely no exception.
"Trust me then to try to be good at any price!" I laughed as I went with him to the door. "I declare I will be, if I have to be horrible!"
If that first night was one of the liveliest, or at any rate
was the freshest, of my exaltations, there was another, four years later, that was one of my great discomposures. Repetition, I well knew by this time, was the
secret of Saltram's power to alienate, and of course
one would never have seen him at his finest if one hadn't seen him in his remorses. They set
in mainly at this season and were magnificent, elemental, orchestral. I was quite aware that one of these
atmospheric disturbances was now due; but none the less, in our arduous attempt
to set him on his feet as a lecturer, it was impossible not to feel that two
failures were a large order, as we said, for a short course of five. This was the second time, and it was past
nine o'clock; the audience, a muster unprecedented and really encouraging, had
fortunately the attitude of blandness that might have been looked for in
persons whom the promise of (if I'm not mistaken) An Analysis of Primary Ideas
had drawn to the neighbourhood of
It was I, the other time, who had
been forced into the breach, standing up there for an odious lamplit moment to explain to half a dozen thin benches,
where earnest brows were virtuously void of anything so cynical as a suspicion,
that we couldn't so much as put a finger on Mr. Saltram. There was nothing to plead but that our
scouts had been out from the early hours and that we were afraid that on one of
his walks abroad--he took one, for meditation, whenever he was to address such
a company--some accident had disabled or delayed him. The meditative walks were a fiction, for he
never, that any one could discover, prepared anything but a magnificent
prospectus; hence his circulars and programmes, of which I possess an almost
complete collection, are the solemn ghosts of generations never born. I put the case, as it seemed to me, at the
best; but I admit I had been angry, and Kent Mulville
was shocked at my want of public optimism.
This time therefore I left the excuses to his more practised
patience, only relieving myself in response to a direct appeal from a young
lady next whom, in the hall, I found myself sitting. My position was an accident, but if it had
been calculated the reason would scarce have eluded an observer of the fact
that no one else in the room had an approach to an appearance. Our philosopher's "tail" was deplorably
limp. This visitor was the only person
who looked at her ease, who had come a little in the spirit of adventure. She seemed to carry amusement in her handsome
young head, and her presence spoke, a little mystifyingly, of a sudden
extension of Saltram's sphere of influence. He was doing better than we hoped, and he had
chosen such an occasion, of all occasions, to succumb to heaven knew which of
his fond infirmities. The young lady
produced an impression of auburn hair and black velvet, and had on her other
hand a companion of obscurer type, presumably a waiting-maid. She herself might perhaps have been a foreign
countess, and before she addressed me I had beguiled our sorry interval by
finding in her a vague recall of the opening of some novel of Madame Sand. It didn't make her more fathomable to pass in
a few minutes from this to the certitude that she was American; it simply
engendered depressing reflexions as to the possible
check to contributions from
I thought my young lady looked rich--I scarcely knew why;
and I hoped she had put her hand in her pocket.
I soon made her out, however, not at all a fine fanatic--she was but a
generous, irresponsible enquirer. She
had come to
"So you came to see where the fascination resides? Well, you've seen!"
My young lady raised fine eyebrows. "Do you mean in his bad faith?"
"In the extraordinary effects of it; his possession, that is, of some quality or other that condemns us in advance to forgive him the humiliation, as I may call it, to which he has subjected us."
"Why mine, for instance, as one of his guarantors, before you as the purchaser of a ticket."
She let her charming gay eyes rest on me. "You don't look humiliated a bit, and if you did I should let you off, disappointed as I am; for the mysterious quality you speak of is just the quality I came to see."
"Oh, you can't 'see' it!" I cried.
"How then do you get at it?"
"You don't! You mustn't suppose he's good-looking," I added.
"Why his wife says he's lovely!"
My hilarity may have struck her as excessive, but I confess it broke out afresh. Had she acted only in obedience to this singular plea, so characteristic, on Mrs. Saltram's part, of what was irritating in the narrowness of that lady's point of view? "Mrs. Saltram," I explained, "undervalues him where he's strongest, so that, to make up for it perhaps, she overpraises him where he's weak. He's not, assuredly, superficially attractive; he's middle-aged, fat, featureless save for his great eyes."
"Yes, his great eyes," said my young lady attentively. She had evidently heard all about his great eyes--the beaux yeux for which alone we had really done it all.
"They're tragic and splendid--lights on a dangerous coast. But he moves badly and dresses worse, and altogether he's anything but smart."
My companion, who appeared to reflect on this, after a moment appealed. "Do you call him a real gentleman?"
I started slightly at the question, for I had a sense of recognising it: George Gravener, years before, that first flushed night, had put me face to face with it. It had embarrassed me then, but it didn't embarrass me now, for I had lived with it and overcome it and disposed of it. "A real gentleman? Emphatically not!"
My promptitude surprised her a little, but I quickly felt
how little it was to Gravener I was now talking. "Do you say that because he's--what do
you call it in
"Not a bit. His father was a country school-master and his mother the widow of a sexton, but that has nothing to do with it. I say it simply because I know him well."
"But isn't it an awful drawback?"
"I mean isn't it positively fatal?"
"Fatal to what? Not to his magnificent vitality."
Again she had a meditative moment. "And is his magnificent vitality the cause of his vices?"
"Your questions are formidable, but I'm glad you put them. I was thinking of his noble intellect. His vices, as you say, have been much exaggerated: they consist mainly after all in one comprehensive defect."
"A want of will?"
"A want of dignity."
"He doesn't recognise his obligations?"
"On the contrary, he recognises them with effusion, especially in public: he smiles and bows and beckons across the street to them. But when they pass over he turns away, and he speedily loses them in the crowd. The recognition's purely spiritual--it isn't in the least social. So he leaves all his belongings to other people to take care of. He accepts favours, loans, sacrifices--all with nothing more deterrent than an agony of shame. Fortunately we're a little faithful band, and we do what we can." I held my tongue about the natural children, engendered, to the number of three, in the wantonness of his youth. I only remarked that he did make efforts--often tremendous ones. "But the efforts," I said, "never come to much: the only things that come to much are the abandonments, the surrenders."
"And how much do they come to?"
"You're right to put it as if we had a big bill to pay, but, as I've told you before, your questions are rather terrible. They come, these mere exercises of genius, to a great sum total of poetry, of philosophy, a mighty mass of speculation, notation, quotation. The genius is there, you see, to meet the surrender; but there's no genius to support the defence."
"But what is there, after all, at his age, to show?"
"In the way of achievement recognised and reputation established?" I asked. "To 'show' if you will, there isn't much, since his writing, mostly, isn't as fine, isn't certainly as showy, as his talk. Moreover two-thirds of his work are merely colossal projects and announcements. 'Showing' Frank Saltram is often a poor business," I went on: "we endeavoured, you'll have observed, to show him to-night! However, if he HAD lectured he'd have lectured divinely. It would just have been his talk."
"And what would his talk just have been?"
I was conscious of some ineffectiveness, as well perhaps as of a little impatience, as I replied: "The exhibition of a splendid intellect." My young lady looked not quite satisfied at this, but as I wasn't prepared for another question I hastily pursued: "The sight of a great suspended swinging crystal--huge lucid lustrous, a block of light--flashing back every impression of life and every possibility of thought!"
This gave her something to turn over till we had passed out to the dusky porch of the hall, in front of which the lamps of a quiet brougham were almost the only thing Saltram's treachery hadn't extinguished. I went with her to the door of her carriage, out of which she leaned a moment after she had thanked me and taken her seat. Her smile even in the darkness was pretty. "I do want to see that crystal!"
"You've only to come to the next lecture."
"I go abroad in a day or two with my aunt."
"Wait over till next week," I suggested. "It's quite worth it."
She became grave. "Not unless he really comes!" At which the brougham started off, carrying her away too fast, fortunately for my manners, to allow me to exclaim "Ingratitude!"
Mrs. Saltram made a great affair of her right to be informed where her husband had been the second evening he failed to meet his audience. She came to me to ascertain, but I couldn't satisfy her, for in spite of my ingenuity I remained in ignorance. It wasn't till much later that I found this had not been the case with Kent Mulville, whose hope for the best never twirled the thumbs of him more placidly than when he happened to know the worst. He had known it on the occasion I speak of--that is immediately after. He was impenetrable then, but ultimately confessed. What he confessed was more than I shall now venture to make public. It was of course familiar to me that Saltram was incapable of keeping the engagements which, after their separation, he had entered into with regard to his wife, a deeply wronged, justly resentful, quite irreproachable and insufferable person. She often appeared at my chambers to talk over his lapses; for if, as she declared, she had washed her hands of him, she had carefully preserved the water of this ablution, which she handed about for analysis. She had arts of her own of exciting one's impatience, the most infallible of which was perhaps her assumption that we were kind to her because we liked her. In reality her personal fall had been a sort of social rise--since I had seen the moment when, in our little conscientious circle, her desolation almost made her the fashion. Her voice was grating and her children ugly; moreover she hated the good Mulvilles, whom I more and more loved. They were the people who by doing most for her husband had in the long run done most for herself; and the warm confidence with which he had laid his length upon them was a pressure gentle compared with her stiffer persuadability. I'm bound to say he didn't criticise his benefactors, though practically he got tired of them; she, however, had the highest standards about eleemosynary forms. She offered the odd spectacle of a spirit puffed up by dependence, and indeed it had introduced her to some excellent society. She pitied me for not knowing certain people who aided her and whom she doubtless patronised in turn for their luck in not knowing me. I dare say I should have got on with her better if she had had a ray of imagination--if it had occasionally seemed to occur to her to regard Saltram's expressions of his nature in any other manner than as separate subjects of woe. They were all flowers of his character, pearls strung on an endless thread; but she had a stubborn little way of challenging them one after the other, as if she never suspected that he HAD a character, such as it was, or that deficiencies might be organic; the irritating effect of a mind incapable of a generalisation. One might doubtless have overdone the idea that there was a general licence for such a man; but if this had happened it would have been through one's feeling that there could be none for such a woman.
I recognised her superiority when I
asked her about the aunt of the disappointed young lady: it sounded like a sentence from an
English-French or other phrase-book. She
triumphed in what she told me and she may have triumphed still more in what she
withheld. My friend of the other evening, Miss Anvoy,
had but lately come to
We clung to the idea of the brilliant course, delivered
without an accident, that, as a lecturer, would still make the paying public
aware of our great man, but the fact remained that in the case of an
inspiration so unequal there was treachery, there was fallacy at least, in the
very conception of a series. In our scrutiny
of ways and means we were inevitably subject to the old convention of the
synopsis, the syllabus, partly of course not to lose the advantage of his grand
free hand in drawing up such things; but for myself I laughed at our playbills
even while I stickled for them. It was
indeed amusing work to be scrupulous for Frank Saltram,
who also at moments laughed about it, so far as the comfort of a sigh so
unstudied as to be cheerful might pass for such a sound. He admitted with a candour all his own that he was in truth only to be
depended on in the Mulvilles' drawing-room. "Yes," he suggestively allowed,
"it's there, I think, that I'm at my best; quite late, when it gets toward
eleven--and if I've not been too much worried." We all knew what too much
worry meant; it meant too enslaved for the hour to the superstition of
sobriety. On the Saturdays I used to
bring my portmanteau, so as not to have to think of eleven o'clock trains. I had a bold theory that as regards this
temple of talk and its altars of cushioned chintz, its pictures and its flowers,
its large fireside and clear lamplight, we might really arrive at something if
the Mulvilles would but charge for admission. Here it was, however, that they shamelessly
broke down; as there's a flaw in every perfection this
was the inexpugnable refuge of their egotism.
They declined to make their saloon a market, so that Saltram's
golden words continued the sole coin that rang there. It can have happened to no man, however, to
be paid a greater price than such an enchanted hush as surrounded him on his
greatest nights. The most profane, on
these occasions, felt a presence; all minor eloquence grew dumb. Adelaide Mulville,
for the pride of her hospitality, anxiously watched the door or stealthily
poked the fire. I used to call it the
music-room, for we had anticipated
In the consideration of ways and means, the sittings of our little board, we were always conscious of the creak of Mrs. Saltram's shoes. She hovered, she interrupted, she almost presided, the state of affairs being mostly such as to supply her with every incentive for enquiring what was to be done next. It was the pressing pursuit of this knowledge that, in concatenations of omnibuses and usually in very wet weather, led her so often to my door. She thought us spiritless creatures with editors and publishers; but she carried matters to no great effect when she personally pushed into back-shops. She wanted all moneys to be paid to herself: they were otherwise liable to such strange adventures. They trickled away into the desert--they were mainly at best, alas, a slender stream. The editors and the publishers were the last people to take this remarkable thinker at the valuation that has now pretty well come to be established. The former were half-distraught between the desire to "cut" him and the difficulty of finding a crevice for their shears; and when a volume on this or that portentous subject was proposed to the latter they suggested alternative titles which, as reported to our friend, brought into his face the noble blank melancholy that sometimes made it handsome. The title of an unwritten book didn't after all much matter, but some masterpiece of Saltram's may have died in his bosom of the shudder with which it was then convulsed. The ideal solution, failing the fee at Kent Mulville's door, would have been some system of subscription to projected treatises with their non-appearance provided for--provided for, I mean, by the indulgence of subscribers. The author's real misfortune was that subscribers were so wretchedly literal. When they tastelessly enquired why publication hadn't ensued I was tempted to ask who in the world had ever been so published. Nature herself had brought him out in voluminous form, and the money was simply a deposit on borrowing the work.
I was doubtless often a nuisance to my friends in those
years; but there were sacrifices I declined to make, and I never passed the hat
to George Gravener.
I never forgot our little discussion in
Later on I could see that the oracle of
Lady Coxon had a fine old house, a house with "grounds," at Clockborough, which she had let; but after she returned from abroad I learned from Mrs. Saltram that the lease had fallen in and that she had gone down to resume possession. I could see the faded red livery, the big square shoulders, the high-walled garden of this decent abode. As the rumble of dissolution grew louder the suitor would have pressed his suit, and I found myself hoping the politics of the late Mayor's widow wouldn't be such as to admonish her to ask him to dinner; perhaps indeed I went so far as to pray, they would naturally form a bar to any contact. I tried to focus the many-buttoned page, in the daily airing, as he perhaps even pushed the Bath-chair over somebody's toes. I was destined to hear, none the less, through Mrs. Saltram--who, I afterwards learned, was in correspondence with Lady Coxon's housekeeper--that Gravener was known to have spoken of the habitation I had in my eye as the pleasantest thing at Clockborough. On his part, I was sure, this was the voice not of envy but of experience. The vivid scene was now peopled, and I could see him in the old-time garden with Miss Anvoy, who would be certain, and very justly, to think him good-looking. It would be too much to describe myself as troubled by this play of surmise; but I occur to remember the relief, singular enough, of feeling it suddenly brushed away by an annoyance really much greater; an annoyance the result of its happening to come over me about that time with a rush that I was simply ashamed of Frank Saltram. There were limits after all, and my mark at last had been reached.
I had had my disgusts, if I may allow myself to-day such an
expression; but this was a supreme revolt.
Certain things cleared up in my mind, certain values stood out. It was all very well to have an unfortunate
temperament; there was nothing so unfortunate as to have, for practical
purposes, nothing else. I avoided George
Gravener at this moment and reflected that at such a
time I should do so most effectually by leaving
I went abroad for the general election, and if I don't know how much, on the Continent, I forgot, I at least know how much I missed, him. At a distance, in a foreign land, ignoring, abjuring, unlearning him, I discovered what he had done for me. I owed him, oh unmistakeably, certain noble conceptions; I had lighted my little taper at his smoky lamp, and lo it continued to twinkle. But the light it gave me just showed me how much more I wanted. I was pursued of course by letters from Mrs. Saltram which I didn't scruple not to read, though quite aware her embarrassments couldn't but be now of the gravest. I sacrificed to propriety by simply putting them away, and this is how, one day as my absence drew to an end, my eye, while I rummaged in my desk for another paper, was caught by a name on a leaf that had detached itself from the packet. The allusion was to Miss Anvoy, who, it appeared, was engaged to be married to Mr. George Gravener; and the news was two months old. A direct question of Mrs. Saltram's had thus remained unanswered--she had enquired of me in a postscript what sort of man this aspirant to such a hand might be. The great other fact about him just then was that he had been triumphantly returned for Clockborough in the interest of the party that had swept the country--so that I might easily have referred Mrs. Saltram to the journals of the day. Yet when I at last wrote her that I was coming home and would discharge my accumulated burden by seeing her, I but remarked in regard to her question that she must really put it to Miss Anvoy.
I had almost avoided the general election, but some of its
consequences, on my return, had smartly to be faced. The season, in
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?"
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
One of the consequences, for the Mulvilles,
of the sacrifices they made for Frank Saltram was
that they had to give up their carriage.
"And how did you find him?"
"Oh so strange!"
"You didn't like him?"
"I can't tell till I see him again."
"You want to do that?"
She had a pause. "Immensely."
We went no further; I fancied she had become aware Gravener was looking at us. She turned back toward the knot of the others, and I said: "Dislike him as much as you will--I see you're bitten."
"Bitten?" I thought she coloured a little.
"Oh it doesn't matter!" I laughed; "one doesn't die of it."
"I hope I shan't die of anything before I've seen more
of Mrs. Mulville." I rejoiced with her over plain Adelaide, whom
she pronounced the loveliest woman she had met in England; but before we
separated I remarked to her that it was an act of mere humanity to warn her
that if she should see more of Frank Saltram--which
would be likely to follow on any increase of acquaintance with Mrs. Mulville--she might find herself flattening her nose
against the clear hard pane of an eternal question--that of the relative, that
of the opposed, importances of virtue and
brains. She replied that this was surely
a subject on which one took everything for granted; whereupon I admitted that I
had perhaps expressed myself ill. What I
referred to was what I had referred to the night we met in
"What help do you mean?"
"That of the member for Clockborough."
She stared, smiled, then returned: "Why my idea has been to help HIM!"
She HAD helped him--I had his own word for it that at Clockborough her bedevilment of the voters had really put
him in. She would do so doubtless again
and again, though I heard the very next month that this fine faculty had
undergone a temporary eclipse. News of
the catastrophe first came to me from Mrs. Saltram,
and it was afterwards confirmed at Wimbledon:
poor Miss Anvoy was in trouble--great
"Alone? Gravener has permitted that?"
"What will you have? The House of Commons!"
I'm afraid I cursed the House of Commons: I was so much interested. Of course he'd follow her as soon as he was
free to make her his wife; only she mightn't now be able to bring him anything
like the marriage-portion of which he had begun by having the virtual
promise. Mrs. Mulville
let me know what was already said: she
was charming, this American girl, but really these American fathers--! What was a man to do? Mr. Saltram,
according to Mrs. Mulville, was of opinion that a man
was never to suffer his relation to money to become a spiritual relation--he
was to keep it exclusively material. "Moi pas comprendre!"
I commented on this; in rejoinder to which
"Oh so charming!" she answered, brightening. "He said he recognised in her a nature he could absolutely trust."
"Yes, but I'm speaking of the effect on herself."
Mrs. Mulville had to remount the stream. "It was everything one could wish."
Something in her tone made me laugh. "Do you mean she gave him--a dole?"
"Well, since you ask me!"
"Right there on the spot?"
I stared; somehow I couldn't see the scene. "Do you mean a sum of money?"
"It was very handsome." Now at last she met my eyes, though I could see it was with an effort. "Thirty pounds."
"Straight out of her pocket?"
"Out of the drawer of a table at
which she had been writing. She
just slipped the folded notes into my hand.
He wasn't looking; it was while he was going back to the
carriage." "Oh," said
But I wasn't thinking of that. "Truly indeed these Americans!" I said. "With her father in the very act, as it were, of swindling her betrothed!"
Mrs. Mulville stared. "Oh I suppose Mr. Anvoy has scarcely gone bankrupt--or whatever he has done--on purpose. Very likely they won't be able to keep it up, but there it was, and it was a very beautiful impulse."
"You say Saltram was very fine?"
"Beyond everything. He surprised even me."
"And I know what YOU'VE enjoyed." After a moment I added: "Had he peradventure caught a glimpse of the money in the table-drawer?"
At this my companion honestly flushed. "How can you be so cruel when you know how little he calculates?"
"Forgive me, I do know it. But you tell me things that act on my nerves. I'm sure he hadn't caught a glimpse of anything but some splendid idea."
Mrs. Mulville brightly concurred. "And perhaps even of her beautiful listening face."
"Perhaps even! And what was it all about?"
"His talk? It was apropos of her engagement, which I had told him about: the idea of marriage, the philosophy, the poetry, the sublimity of it." It was impossible wholly to restrain one's mirth at this, and some rude ripple that I emitted again caused my companion to admonish me. "It sounds a little stale, but you know his freshness."
"Of illustration? Indeed I do!"
"And how he has always been right on that great question."
"On what great question, dear lady, hasn't he been right?"
"Of what other great men can you equally say it?--and that he has never, but NEVER, had a deflexion?" Mrs. Mulville exultantly demanded.
I tried to think of some other great man, but I had to give it up. "Didn't Miss Anvoy express her satisfaction in any less diffident way than by her charming present?" I was reduced to asking instead.
"Oh yes, she overflowed to me on the steps while he was
getting into the carriage." These
words somehow brushed up a picture of Saltram's big shawled back as he hoisted himself into the green
landau. "She said she wasn't
I turned it over. "Did he wear his shawl?"
"His shawl?" She hadn't even noticed.
"I mean yours."
"He looked very nice, and you know he's really clean. Miss Anvoy used such a remarkable expression--she said his mind's like a crystal!"
I pricked up my ears. "A crystal?"
"Suspended in the moral world--swinging and shining and flashing there. She's monstrously clever, you know."
I thought again. "Monstrously!"
George Gravener didn't follow her,
for late in September, after the House had risen, I met him in a
railway-carriage. He was coming up from
"Ah Miss Anvoy's in
"Her father has got into horrid straits--has lost no end of money."
I waited, after expressing due concern, but I eventually said: "I hope that raises no objection to your marriage."
"None whatever; moreover it's my trade to meet
objections. But it may create tiresome
delays, of which there have been too many, from various causes, already. Lady Coxon got very
bad, then she got much better. Then Mr. Anvoy
suddenly began to totter, and now he seems quite on his back. I'm afraid he's really in for some big
reverse. Lady Coxon's
worse again, awfully upset by the news from
"Surely you haven't lost her?" I returned.
"She's everything to her wretched father. She writes me every post--telling me to smooth her aunt's pillow. I've other things to smooth; but the old lady, save for her servants, is really alone. She won't receive her Coxon relations--she's angry at so much of her money going to them. Besides, she's hopelessly mad," said Gravener very frankly.
I don't remember whether it was this, or what it was, that made me ask if she hadn't such an appreciation of Mrs. Saltram as might render that active person of some use.
He gave me a cold glance, wanting to know what had put Mrs. Saltram into my head, and I replied that she was
unfortunately never out of it. I
happened to remember the wonderful accounts she had given me of the kindness
Lady Coxon had shown her. Gravener declared
this to be false; Lady Coxon, who didn't care for
her, hadn't seen her three times. The
only foundation for it was that Miss Anvoy, who used,
poor girl, to chuck money about in a manner she must now regret, had for an
hour seen in the miserable woman--you could never know what she'd see in
people--an interesting pretext for the liberality with which her nature
overflowed. But even Miss Anvoy was now quite tired of her. Gravener told me
more about the crash in
"And you want me to decide between you? I decide in advance for Miss Anvoy."
"In advance--that's quite right. That's how I decided when I proposed to her. But my story will interest you only so far as your mind isn't made up." Gravener puffed his cigarette a minute and then continued: "Are you familiar with the idea of the Endowment of Research?"
"Of Research?" I was at sea a moment.
"I give you Lady Coxon's phrase. She has it on the brain."
"She wishes to endow--?"
"Some earnest and 'loyal' seeker," Gravener said. "It was a sketchy design of her late husband's, and he handed it on to her; setting apart in his will a sum of money of which she was to enjoy the interest for life, but of which, should she eventually see her opportunity--the matter was left largely to her discretion--she would best honour his memory by determining the exemplary public use. This sum of money, no less than thirteen thousand pounds, was to be called The Coxon Fund; and poor Sir Gregory evidently proposed to himself that The Coxon Fund should cover his name with glory--be universally desired and admired. He left his wife a full declaration of his views, so far at least as that term may be applied to views vitiated by a vagueness really infantine. A little learning's a dangerous thing, and a good citizen who happens to have been an ass is worse for a community than bad sewerage. He's worst of all when he's dead, because then he can't be stopped. However, such as they were, the poor man's aspirations are now in his wife's bosom, or fermenting rather in her foolish brain: it lies with her to carry them out. But of course she must first catch her hare."
"Her earnest loyal seeker?"
"The flower that blushes unseen for want of such a pecuniary independence as may aid the light that's in it to shine upon the human race. The individual, in a word, who, having the rest of the machinery, the spiritual, the intellectual, is most hampered in his search."
"His search for what?"
"For Moral Truth. That's what Sir Gregory calls it."
I burst out laughing. "Delightful munificent Sir Gregory! It's a charming idea."
"So Miss Anvoy thinks."
"Has she a candidate for the Fund?"
"Not that I know of--and she's perfectly reasonable about it. But Lady Coxon has put the matter before her, and we've naturally had a lot of talk."
"Talk that, as you've so interestingly intimated, has landed you in a disagreement."
"She considers there's something in it," Gravener said.
"And you consider there's nothing?"
"It seems to me a piece of solemn twaddle--which can't fail to be attended with consequences certainly grotesque and possibly immoral. To begin with, fancy constituting an endowment without establishing a tribunal--a bench of competent people, of judges."
"The sole tribunal is Lady Coxon?"
"And any one she chooses to invite."
"But she has invited you," I noted.
"I'm not competent--I hate the thing. Besides, she hasn't," my friend went
on. "The real history of the
matter, I take it, is that the inspiration was originally Lady Coxon's own, that she infected him with it, and that the
flattering option left her is simply his tribute to her beautiful, her
aboriginal enthusiasm. She came to
"How can she cling if she's dying?"
"Do you mean how can she act in the matter?" Gravener asked. "That's precisely the question. She can't! As she has never yet caught her hare, never spied out her lucky impostor--how should she, with the life she has led?--her husband's intention has come very near lapsing. His idea, to do him justice, was that it SHOULD lapse if exactly the right person, the perfect mixture of genius and chill penury, should fail to turn up. Ah the poor dear woman's very particular--she says there must be no mistake."
I found all this quite thrilling--I took it in with avidity. "And if she dies without doing anything, what becomes of the money?" I demanded.
"It goes back to his family, if she hasn't made some other disposition of it."
"She may do that then--she may divert it?"
"Her hands are not tied. She has a grand discretion. The proof is that three months ago she offered to make the proceeds over to her niece."
"For Miss Anvoy's own use?"
"For Miss Anvoy's own use--on
the occasion of her prospective marriage.
She was discouraged--the earnest seeker required so earnest a
search. She was afraid of making a
mistake; every one she could think of seemed either not earnest enough or not
poor enough. On the receipt of the first
bad news about Mr. Anvoy's affairs she proposed to
Ruth to make the sacrifice for her. As
the situation in
"Which Miss Anvoy declined?"
"Except as a formal trust."
"You mean except as committing herself legally to place the money?"
"On the head of the deserving object, the great man frustrated," said Gravener. "She only consents to act in the spirit of Sir Gregory's scheme."
"And you blame her for that?" I asked with some intensity.
My tone couldn't have been harsh, but he coloured a little and there was a queer light in his eye. "My dear fellow, if I 'blamed' the young lady I'm engaged to I shouldn't immediately say it even to so old a friend as you." I saw that some deep discomfort, some restless desire to be sided with, reassuringly, approvingly mirrored, had been at the bottom of his drifting so far, and I was genuinely touched by his confidence. It was inconsistent with his habits; but being troubled about a woman was not, for him, a habit: that itself was an inconsistency. George Gravener could stand straight enough before any other combination of forces. It amused me to think that the combination he had succumbed to had an American accent, a transcendental aunt and an insolvent father; but all my old loyalty to him mustered to meet this unexpected hint that I could help him. I saw that I could from the insincere tone in which he pursued: "I've criticised her of course, I've contended with her, and it has been great fun." Yet it clearly couldn't have been such great fun as to make it improper for me presently to ask if Miss Anvoy had nothing at all settled on herself. To this he replied that she had only a trifle from her mother--a mere four hundred a year, which was exactly why it would be convenient to him that she shouldn't decline, in the face of this total change in her prospects, an accession of income which would distinctly help them to marry. When I enquired if there were no other way in which so rich and so affectionate an aunt could cause the weight of her benevolence to be felt, he answered that Lady Coxon was affectionate indeed, but was scarcely to be called rich. She could let her project of the Fund lapse for her niece's benefit, but she couldn't do anything else. She had been accustomed to regard her as tremendously provided for, and she was up to her eyes in promises to anxious Coxons. She was a woman of an inordinate conscience, and her conscience was now a distress to her, hovering round her bed in irreconcilable forms of resentful husbands, portionless nieces and undiscoverable philosophers.
We were by this time getting into the whirr of fleeting platforms, the multiplication of lights. "I think you'll find," I said with a laugh, "that your predicament will disappear in the very fact that the philosopher is undiscoverable."
He began to gather up his papers. "Who can set a limit to the ingenuity of an extravagant woman?"
"Yes, after all, who indeed?"
I echoed as I recalled the extravagance commemorated in
The thing I had been most sensible of in that talk with
George Gravener was the way Saltram's
name kept out of it. It seemed to me at
the time that we were quite pointedly silent about him; but afterwards it
appeared more probable there had been on my companion's part no conscious
avoidance. Later on I was sure of this, and for the best of reasons--the simple reason of my
perceiving more completely that, for evil as well as for good, he said nothing
to Gravener's imagination. That honest man didn't fear him--he was too
much disgusted with him. No more did I, doubtless, and for very much the same reason. I treated my friend's story as an absolute
confidence; but when before Christmas, by Mrs. Saltram,
I was informed of Lady Coxon's death without having
had news of Miss Anvoy's return, I found myself
taking for granted we should hear no more of these nuptials, in which, as
obscurely unnatural, I now saw I had never TOO disconcertedly believed. I began to ask myself how people who suited
each other so little could please each other so much. The charm was some material charm, some afffinity, exquisite doubtless, yet superficial some
surrender to youth and beauty and passion, to force and grace and fortune,
happy accidents and easy contacts. They might dote on each other's persons, but
how could they know each other's souls?
How could they have the same prejudices, how could they have the same
horizon? Such questions, I confess,
seemed quenched but not answered when, one day in February, going out to
"So she has come out to marry George Gravener?" I commented. "Wouldn't it have been prettier of him to have saved her the trouble?"
"Hasn't the House just met?"
I noted that they were already Ruth and
"No, I mean that she must have come out for some reason
independent of it."
"Do you mean you're disappointed because you judge Miss Anvoy to be?"
"Yes; I hoped for a greater effect last evening. We had two or three people, but he scarcely opened his mouth."
"He'll be all the better to-night," I opined after a moment. Then I pursued: "What particular importance do you attach to the idea of her being impressed?"
I'm afraid that at this my levity grew. "Oh that's a happiness
almost too great to wish a person!"
I saw she hadn't yet in her mind what I had in mine, and at any rate the
visitor's actual bliss was limited to a walk in the garden with Kent Mulville. Later in
the afternoon I also took one, and I saw nothing of Miss Anvoy
till dinner, at which we failed of the company of Saltram,
who had caused it to be reported that he was indisposed and lying down. This
made us, most of us--for there were other friends present--convey to each other
in silence some of the unutterable things that in those years our eyes had
inevitably acquired the art of expressing.
If a fine little American enquirer hadn't been there we would have
expressed them otherwise, and
Even when I was told afterwards that he had, as we might
have said to-day, broken the record, the manner in which that attention had
been rewarded relieved me of a sense of loss.
I had of course a perfect general consciousness that something great was
going on: it was a little like having been etherised
to hear Herr Joachim play. The old music
was in the air; I felt the strong pulse of thought, the sink and swell, the
flight, the poise, the plunge; but I knew something about one of the listeners
that nobody else knew, and Saltram's monologue could
reach me only through that medium. To this hour I'm of no use when, as a
witness, I'm appealed to--for they still absurdly contend about it--as to
whether or no on that historic night he was drunk; and my position is slightly
ridiculous, for I've never cared to tell them what it really was I was taken up
with. What I got out of it is the only
morsel of the total experience that is quite my own. The others were shared, but this is
incommunicable. I feel that now, I'm
bound to say, even in thus roughly evoking the occasion, and it takes something
from my pride of clearness. However, I
shall perhaps be as clear as is absolutely needful if I remark that our young
lady was too much given up to her own intensity of observation to be sensible
of mine. It was plainly not the question
of her marriage that had brought her back.
I greatly enjoyed this discovery and was sure that had that question alone
been involved she would have stirred no step.
In this case doubtless Gravener would, in
spite of the House of Commons, have found means to rejoin her. It afterwards made me uncomfortable for her
that, alone in the lodging Mrs. Mulville had put
before me as dreary, she should have in any degree the air of waiting for her
fate; so that I was presently relieved at hearing of her having gone to stay at
she was in
There would be much to say, if I had space, about the way
her behaviour, as I caught gleams of it, ministered
to the image that had taken birth in my mind, to my private amusement, while
that other night I listened to George Gravener in the
railway-carriage. I watched her in the light of this queer possibility--a
formidable thing certainly to meet--and I was aware that it coloured,
extravagantly perhaps, my interpretation of her very looks and tones. At
"Because she loves me so!" cried
"And why in the world doesn't she do do?" I asked.
Then on my also hesitating she added: "A condition he makes."
"The Coxon Fund?" I panted.
"He has mentioned to her his having told you about it."
"Ah but so little! Do you mean she has accepted the trust?"
"In the most splendid spirit--as a duty about which there can be no two opinions." To which my friend added: "Of course she's thinking of Mr. Saltram."
I gave a quick cry at this, which, in its violence, made my visitor turn pale. "How very awful!"
"Why, to have anything to do with such an idea one's self."
"I'm sure YOU needn't!" and Mrs. Mulville tossed her head.
"He isn't good enough!" I went on; to which she
opposed a sound almost as contentious as my own had been. This made me, with genuine immediate horror,
exclaim: "You haven't influenced
her, I hope!" and my emphasis brought back the blood with a rush to poor
"She's many things enough, but is she, among them, rich enough?" I demanded. "Rich enough, I mean, to sacrifice such a lot of good money?"
"That's for herself to judge. Besides, it's not her own money; she doesn't in the least consider it so."
"And Gravener does, if not HIS own; and that's the whole difficulty?"
"The difficulty that brought her back, yes: she had absolutely to see her poor aunt's solicitor. It's clear that by Lady Coxon's will she may have the money, but it's still clearer to her conscience that the original condition, definite, intensely implied on her uncle's part, is attached to the use of it. She can only take one view of it. It's for the Endowment or it's for nothing."
"The Endowment," I permitted myself to observe, "is a conception superficially sublime, but fundamentally ridiculous."
"Are you repeating Mr. Gravener's
"Possibly, though I've not seen him for months. It's simply the way it strikes me too. It's an old wife's tale. Gravener made some reference to the legal aspect, but such an absurdly loose arrangement has NO legal aspect."
"Ruth doesn't insist on that," said Mrs. Mulville; "and it's, for her, exactly this technical weakness that constitutes the force of the moral obligation."
"Are you repeating her words?" I enquired. I forget what else
"For several weeks, but I was pledged to secrecy."
"And that's why you didn't write?"
"I couldn't very well tell you she was with me without telling you that no time had even yet been fixed for her marriage. And I couldn't very well tell you as much as that without telling you what I knew of the reason of it. It was not till a day or two ago," Mrs. Mulville went on, "that she asked me to ask you if you wouldn't come and see her. Then at last she spoke of your knowing about the idea of the Endowment."
I turned this over. "Why on earth does she want to see me?"
"To talk with you, naturally, about Mr. Saltram."
"As a subject for the prize?" This was hugely obvious, and I presently
returned: "I think I'll sail
"Well then--sail!" said Mrs. Mulville, getting up.
But I frivolously, continued. "On Thursday at five, we said?" The appointment was made definite and I enquired how, all this time, the unconscious candidate had carried himself.
"In perfection, really, by the happiest of
chances: he has positively been a
dear. And then, as to what we revere him
for, in the most wonderful form. His very highest--pure celestial light. You won't do him an
"What danger can equal for him the danger to which he's exposed from himself?" I asked. "Look out sharp, if he has lately been too prim. He'll presently take a day off, treat us to some exhibition that will make an Endowment a scandal."
"A scandal?" Mrs. Mulville dolorously echoed.
"Is Miss Anvoy prepared for that?"
My visitor, for a moment, screwed her parasol into my carpet. "He grows bigger every day."
"So do you!" I laughed as she went off.
That girl at
Moreover she professed that she couldn't discuss with me the primary question--the moral obligation: that was in her own breast. There were things she couldn't go into--injunctions, impressions she had received. They were a part of the closest intimacy of her intercourse with her aunt, they were absolutely clear to her; and on questions of delicacy, the interpretation of a fidelity, of a promise, one had always in the last resort to make up one's mind for one's self. It was the idea of the application to the particular case, such a splendid one at last, that troubled her, and she admitted that it stirred very deep things. She didn't pretend that such a responsibility was a simple matter; if it HAD been she wouldn't have attempted to saddle me with any portion of it. The Mulvilles were sympathy itself, but were they absolutely candid? Could they indeed be, in their position--would it even have been to be desired? Yes, she had sent for me to ask no less than that of me--whether there was anything dreadful kept back. She made no allusion whatever to George Gravener--I thought her silence the only good taste and her gaiety perhaps a part of the very anxiety of that discretion, the effect of a determination that people shouldn't know from herself that her relations with the man she was to marry were strained. All the weight, however, that she left me to throw was a sufficient implication of the weight HE had thrown in vain. Oh she knew the question of character was immense, and that one couldn't entertain any plan for making merit comfortable without running the gauntlet of that terrible procession of interrogation-points which, like a young ladies' school out for a walk, hooked their uniform noses at the tail of governess Conduct. But were we absolutely to hold that there was never, never, never an exception, never, never, never an occasion for liberal acceptance, for clever charity, for suspended pedantry--for letting one side, in short, outbalance another? When Miss Anvoy threw off this appeal I could have embraced her for so delightfully emphasising her unlikeness to Mrs. Saltram. "Why not have the courage of one's forgiveness," she asked, "as well as the enthusiasm of one's adhesion?"
"Seeing how wonderfully you've threshed the whole thing out," I evasively replied, "gives me an extraordinary notion of the point your enthusiasm has reached."
She considered this remark an instant with her eyes on mine, and I divined that it struck her I might possibly intend it as a reference to some personal subjection to our fat philosopher, to some aberration of sensibility, some perversion of taste. At least I couldn't interpret otherwise the sudden flash that came into her face. Such a manifestation, as the result of any word of mine, embarrassed me; but while I was thinking how to reassure her the flush passed away in a smile of exquisite good nature. "Oh you see one forgets so wonderfully how one dislikes him!" she said; and if her tone simply extinguished his strange figure with the brush of its compassion, it also rings in my ear to-day as the purest of all our praises. But with what quick response of fine pity such a relegation of the man himself made me privately sigh "Ah poor Saltram!" She instantly, with this, took the measure of all I didn't believe, and it enabled her to go on: "What can one do when a person has given such a lift to one's interest in life?"
"Yes, what can one do?" If I struck her as a little vague it was because I was thinking of another person. I indulged in another inarticulate murmur--"Poor George Gravener!" What had become of the lift HE had given that interest? Later on I made up my mind that she was sore and stricken at the appearance he presented of wanting the miserable money. This was the hidden reason of her alienation. The probable sincerity, in spite of the illiberality, of his scruples about the particular use of it under discussion didn't efface the ugliness of his demand that they should buy a good house with it. Then, as for his alienation, he didn't, pardonably enough, grasp the lift Frank Saltram had given her interest in life. If a mere spectator could ask that last question, with what rage in his heart the man himself might! He wasn't, like her, I was to see, too proud to show me why he was disappointed.
I was unable this time to stay to dinner: such at any rate was the plea on which I took leave. I desired in truth to get away from my young lady, for that obviously helped me not to pretend to satisfy her. How COULD I satisfy her? I asked myself--how could I tell her how much had been kept back? I didn't even know and I certainly didn't desire to know. My own policy had ever been to learn the least about poor Saltram's weaknesses--not to learn the most. A great deal that I had in fact learned had been forced upon me by his wife. There was something even irritating in Miss Anvoy's crude conscientiousness, and I wondered why, after all, she couldn't have let him alone and been content to entrust George Gravener with the purchase of the good house. I was sure he would have driven a bargain, got something excellent and cheap. I laughed louder even than she, I temporised, I failed her; I told her I must think over her case. I professed a horror of responsibilities and twitted her with her own extravagant passion for them. It wasn't really that I was afraid of the scandal, the moral discredit for the Fund; what troubled me most was a feeling of a different order. Of course, as the beneficiary of the Fund was to enjoy a simple life-interest, as it was hoped that new beneficiaries would arise and come up to new standards, it wouldn't be a trifle that the first of these worthies shouldn't have been a striking example of the domestic virtues. The Fund would start badly, as it were, and the laurel would, in some respects at least, scarcely be greener from the brows of the original wearer. That idea, however, was at that hour, as I have hinted, not the source of solicitude it ought perhaps to have been, for I felt less the irregularity of Saltram's getting the money than that of this exalted young woman's giving it up. I wanted her to have it for herself, and I told her so before I went away. She looked graver at this than she had looked at all, saying she hoped such a preference wouldn't make me dishonest.
It made me, to begin with, very restless--made me, instead
of going straight to the station, fidget a little about that many-coloured Common which gives
After I had sat by him a few minutes I passed my arm over
his big soft shoulder--wherever you touched him you found equally little
firmness--and said in a tone of which the suppliance
fell oddly on my own ear: "Come
back to town with me, old friend--come back and spend the evening." I wanted to hold him, I wanted to keep him,
He never, in whatever situation, rose till all other risings
were over, and his breakfasts, at
"They enclosed it to me, to be delivered. They doubtless explain to you that they hadn't your address."
I turned the thing over without opening it. "Why in the world should they write to me?"
"Because they've something to tell you. The worst," Mrs. Saltram dryly added.
It was another chapter, I felt, of the history of their
lamentable quarrel with her husband, the episode in which, vindictively,
disingenuously as they themselves had behaved, one had to admit that he had put
himself more grossly in the wrong than at any moment of his life. He had begun by insulting the matchless Mulvilles for these more specious protectors, and then,
according to his wont at the end of a few months, had dug a still deeper ditch
for his aberration than the chasm left yawning behind. The chasm at
"You'll have to open the letter. It also contains an enclosure."
I felt it--it was fat and uncanny. "Wheels within wheels!" I exclaimed. "There's something for me too to deliver."
"So they tell me--to Miss Anvoy."
I stared; I felt a certain thrill. "Why don't they send it to her directly?"
Mrs. Saltram hung fire. "Because she's staying with Mr. and Mrs. Mulville."
"And why should that prevent?"
Again my visitor faltered, and I began to reflect on the grotesque, the unconscious perversity of her action. I was the only person save George Gravener and the Mulvilles who was aware of Sir Gregory Coxon's and of Miss Anvoy's strange bounty. Where could there have been a more signal illustration of the clumsiness of human affairs than her having complacently selected this moment to fly in the face of it? "There's the chance of their seeing her letters. They know Mr. Pudney's hand."
Still I didn't understand; then it flashed upon me. "You mean they might intercept it? How can you imply anything so base?" I indignantly demanded
"It's not I--it's Mr. Pudney!" cried Mrs. Saltram with a flush. "It's his own idea."
"Then why couldn't he send the letter to you to be delivered?"
Mrs. Saltram's embarrassment increased; she gave me another hard look. "You must make that out for yourself."
I made it out quickly enough. "It's a denunciation?"
"A real lady doesn't betray her husband!" this virtuous woman exclaimed.
I burst out laughing, and I fear my laugh may have had an effect of impertinence. "Especially to Miss Anvoy, who's so easily shocked? Why do such things concern HER?" I asked, much at a loss.
"Because she's there, exposed to all his craft. Mr. and Mrs. Pudney have been watching this: they feel she may be taken in."
"Thank you for all the rest of us! What difference can it make when she has lost her power to contribute?"
Again Mrs. Saltram considered; then very nobly: "There are other things in the world than money." This hadn't occurred to her so long as the young lady had any; but she now added, with a glance at my letter, that Mr. and Mrs. Pudney doubtless explained their motives. "It's all in kindness," she continued as she got up.
"Kindness to Miss Anvoy? You took, on the whole, another view of kindness before her reverses."
My companion smiled with some acidity "Perhaps you're no safer than the Mulvilles!"
I didn't want her to think that, nor that she should report to the Pudneys that they had not been happy in their agent; and I well remember that this was the moment at which I began, with considerable emotion, to promise myself to enjoin upon Miss Anvoy never to open any letter that should come to her in one of those penny envelopes. My emotion, and I fear I must add my confusion, quickly deepened; I presently should have been as glad to frighten Mrs. Saltram as to think I might by some diplomacy restore the Pudneys to a quieter vigilance.
"It's best you should take my view of my safety," I at any rate soon responded. When I saw she didn't know what I meant by this I added: "You may turn out to have done, in bringing me this letter, a thing you'll profoundly regret." My tone had a significance which, I could see, did make her uneasy, and there was a moment, after I had made two or three more remarks of studiously bewildering effect, at which her eyes followed so hungrily the little flourish of the letter with which I emphasised them that I instinctively slipped Mr. Pudney's communication into my pocket. She looked, in her embarrassed annoyance, capable of grabbing it to send it back to him. I felt, after she had gone, as if I had almost given her my word I wouldn't deliver the enclosure. The passionate movement, at any rate, with which, in solitude, I transferred the whole thing, unopened, from my pocket to a drawer which I double-locked would have amounted, for an initiated observer, to some such pledge.
Mrs. Saltram left me drawing my breath more quickly and indeed almost in pain--as if I had just perilously grazed the loss of something precious. I didn't quite know what it was--it had a shocking resemblance to my honour. The emotion was the livelier surely in that my pulses even yet vibrated to the pleasure with which, the night before, I had rallied to the rare analyst, the great intellectual adventurer and pathfinder. What had dropped from me like a cumbersome garment as Saltram appeared before me in the afternoon on the heath was the disposition to haggle over his value. Hang it, one had to choose, one had to put that value somewhere; so I would put it really high and have done with it. Mrs. Mulville drove in for him at a discreet hour--the earliest she could suppose him to have got up; and I learned that Miss Anvoy would also have come had she not been expecting a visit from Mr. Gravener. I was perfectly mindful that I was under bonds to see this young lady, and also that I had a letter to hand to her; but I took my time, I waited from day to day. I left Mrs. Saltram to deal as her apprehensions should prompt with the Pudneys. I knew at last what I meant--I had ceased to wince at my responsibility. I gave this supreme impression of Saltram time to fade if it would; but it didn't fade, and, individually, it hasn't faded even now. During the month that I thus invited myself to stiffen again, Adelaide Mulville, perplexed by my absence, wrote to me to ask why I WAS so stiff. At that season of the year I was usually oftener "with" them. She also wrote that she feared a real estrangement had set in between Mr. Gravener and her sweet young friend--a state of things but half satisfactory to her so long as the advantage resulting to Mr. Saltram failed to disengage itself from the merely nebulous state. She intimated that her sweet young friend was, if anything, a trifle too reserved; she also intimated that there might now be an opening for another clever young man. There never was the slightest opening, I may here parenthesise, and of course the question can't come up to-day. These are old frustrations now. Ruth Anvoy hasn't married, I hear, and neither have I. During the month, toward the end, I wrote to George Gravener to ask if, on a special errand, I might come to see him, and his answer was to knock the very next day at my door. I saw he had immediately connected my enquiry with the talk we had had in the railway-carriage, and his promptitude showed that the ashes of his eagerness weren't yet cold. I told him there was something I felt I ought in candour to let him know--I recognised the obligation his friendly confidence had laid on me.
"You mean Miss Anvoy has talked to you? She has told me so herself," he said.
"It wasn't to tell you so that I wanted to see you," I replied; "for it seemed to me that such a communication would rest wholly with herself. If however she did speak to you of our conversation she probably told you I was discouraging."
"On the subject of a present application of The Coxon Fund."
"To the case of Mr. Saltram? My dear fellow, I don't know what you call discouraging!" Gravener cried.
"Well I thought I was, and I thought she thought I was."
"I believe she did, but such a thing's measured by the effect. She's not 'discouraged,'" he said.
"That's her own affair. The reason I asked you to see me was that it appeared to me I ought to tell you frankly that--decidedly!--I can't undertake to produce that effect. In fact I don't want to!"
"It's very good of you, damn you!" my visitor laughed, red and really grave. Then he said: "You'd like to see that scoundrel publicly glorified--perched on the pedestal of a great complimentary pension?"
I braced myself. "Taking one form of public recognition with another it seems to me on the whole I should be able to bear it. When I see the compliments that are paid right and left I ask myself why this one shouldn't take its course. This therefore is what you're entitled to have looked to me to mention to you. I've some evidence that perhaps would be really dissuasive, but I propose to invite Mss Anvoy to remain in ignorance of it."
"And to invite me to do the same?"
"Oh you don't require it--you've evidence enough. I speak of a sealed letter that I've been requested to deliver to her."
"And you don't mean to?"
"There's only one consideration that would make me," I said.
Gravener's clear handsome eyes plunged into mine a minute, but evidently without fishing up a clue to this motive--a failure by which I was almost wounded. "What does the letter contain?"
"It's sealed, as I tell you, and I don't know what it contains."
"Why is it sent through you?"
"Rather than you?" I wondered how to put the thing. "The only explanation I can think of is that the person sending it may have imagined your relations with Miss Anvoy to be at an end--may have been told this is the case by Mrs. Saltram."
"My relations with Miss Anvoy are not at an end," poor Gravener stammered.
Again for an instant I thought. "The offer I propose to make you gives me the right to address you a question remarkably direct. Are you still engaged to Miss Anvoy?"
"No, I'm not," he slowly brought out. "But we're perfectly good friends."
"Such good friends that you'll again become prospective husband and wife if the obstacle in your path be removed?"
"Removed?" he anxiously repeated.
"If I send Miss Anvoy the letter I speak of she may give up her idea."
"Then for God's sake send it!"
"I'll do so if you're ready to assure me that her sacrifice would now presumably bring about your marriage."
"I'd marry her the next day!" my visitor cried.
"Yes, but would she marry YOU? What I ask of you of course is nothing less than your word of honour as to your conviction of this. If you give it me," I said, "I'll engage to hand her the letter before night."
Gravener took up his hat; turning it mechanically round he stood looking a moment hard at its unruffled perfection. Then very angrily honestly and gallantly, "Hand it to the devil!" he broke out; with which he clapped the hat on his head and left me.
"Will you read it or not?" I said to Ruth Anvoy, at
She debated for a time probably of the briefest, but long enough to make me nervous. "Have you brought it with you?"
"No indeed. It's at home, locked up."
There was another great silence, and then she said "Go back and destroy it."
I went back, but I didn't destroy it till after Saltram's death, when I burnt it unread. The Pudneys
approached her again pressingly, but, prompt as they were,
The Coxon Fund had already become an operative
benefit and a general amaze: Mr. Saltram, while we gathered about, as it were, to watch the
manna descend, had begun to draw the magnificent income. He drew it as he had always drawn everything,
with a grand abstracted gesture. Its
magnificence, alas, as all the world now knows, quite
quenched him; it was the beginning of his decline. It was also naturally a new grievance for his
wife, who began to believe in him as soon as he was blighted, and who at this
hour accuses us of having bribed him, on the whim of a meddlesome American, to
renounce his glorious office, to become, as she says, like everybody else. The very day he found himself able to publish
he wholly ceased to produce. This
deprived us, as may easily be imagined, of much of our occupation, and
especially deprived the Mulvilles, whose want of
self-support I never measured till they lost their great inmate. They've no one to live on now.