by Henry James
They were such extraordinary people to have been so odiously
stricken that poor Traffle himself, always, at the best — though it
was indeed just now at the worst — what his wife called horribly
philosophic, fairly grimaced back, in private, at so flagrant a show
of the famous, the provokedly vicious, 'irony', the thing he had so
often read about in clever stories, with which the usually candid
countenance of their fate seemed to have begun of a sudden to bristle.
Ah, that irony of fate often admired by him as a phrase and recognized
as a truth — so that if he himself ever wrote a story it should
certainly and most strikingly be about that — he fairly saw it
leer at them now, could quite positively fancy it guilty of a low wink
at them, in their trouble, out of that vast visage of the world that
was made up for them of the separate stony stares or sympathising
smirks presented by the circle of their friends. When he could get
away from Jane he would pause in his worried walk — about the house
or the garden, always, since he could now seldom leave her to brood
alone for longer than that — and, while he shook his keys or his
loose coin restlessly and helplessly in the pockets into which his
hands had come to be inveterately and foolishly thrust, suffer his own
familiar face, or the chance reflection of it in some gloomy glass, to
respond distortedly to the grim and monstrous joke. He moved from room
to room — as he easily could, at present, since their catastrophe;
for when he thus sounded the depths of slumbering mirrors it was more
than ever as if they were all 'spare' rooms, dreary and unapplied, and
as if Jane and he were quartered in them, even year after year, quite
as on some dull interminable visit.
The joke was at all events in its having befallen
and his admirable, anxious, conscientious wife, who, living on their
sufficient means in their discreet way, liked, respected, and even
perhaps a bit envied, in the Wimbledon world (with so much good old
mahogany and so many Bartolozzis, to say nothing of their collection
of a dozen family miniatures) to have to pick up again as best they
could — which was the way Jane put it — the life that Miss
Montravers, their unspeakable niece, though not, absolutely not and
never, as every one would have it, their adopted daughter, had smashed
into smithereens by leaving their roof, from one day to the other, to
place herself immediately under the protection, or at least under the
inspiration, of a little painter-man commonly called Puddick, who had
no pretensions to being a gentleman and had given her lessons. If she
had acted, unquestionably, according to her remarkable nature, this
added no grace to the turn of the wheel of their fortune — which was,
so deplorably, that any fledgling of their general nest (and Mora was
but gone twenty-one and really clever with her brush) should have
such a nature. It wasn't that, since her coming to them at fifteen,
they had been ever, between themselves, at their ease about her —
glossed over as everything had somehow come to be by the treacherous
fact of her beauty. She had been such a credit to them that way that
if it hadn't put them, as earnest observers, quite off their guard,
the dazzle and charm of it appeared mostly to have misled their
acquaintance. That was the worst cruelty for them, that with such a
personal power to please she shouldn't, even on some light irregular
line, have flown, as might have been conceived, higher. These things
were dreadful, were even grotesque, to say; but what wasn't so now —
after his difficult, his critical, his distinctly conclusive and,
above all, as he secretly appraised it, his unexpectedly and absurdly
interesting interview with Mr Puddick? This passage, deplorably
belated by Mora's own extraordinary artful action, had but just taken
place, and it had sent him back to Jane saddled with the queerest and
most difficult errand of his life.
He hadn't, however, on his return, at once sought her in the
drawing-room — though her plan of campaign had been that they should
fly their flag as high as ever, and, changing none of their refined
habits, sit in that bow-windowed place of propriety, even as in a
great glazed public cage, as much as ever — he had sneaked away again
to tip-toe, with his pensive private humour, over the whole field;
observing in her society, for the most part, the forms of black
despair and grim participation, if even at the same time avoiding
inconsiderate grossness; but at bottom, since his moments with
Puddick, almost ready to take, as a man of the world, the impartial,
the detached, in fact — hang it! — even the amused view. It hadn't
as yet made a shade of difference in his tone that Mora was Jane's
niece, and not even her very own, but only the child of her
half-sister, whose original union with Malcolm Montravers had moreover
made a break between them that had waited for healing till after the
ill-starred husband's death, and the eve of that of the perfectly
disillusioned wife; but in these slightly rueful, though singularly
remedial, dips into thoughtful solitude he had begun at last to treat
himself to luxuries that he could feel he was paying for. Mora was,
accurately speaking, no sharer of his blood, and he absolutely denied
her the right not alone socially to dishonour, but, beyond a mere
ruffle of the surface, morally to discompose him; mixed with which
rather awkwardly, not to say perhaps a bit perversely, was the sense
that as the girl was showing up, unmistakably, for one of the most
curious of 'cases' — the term Puddick himself had used about her —
she wouldn't be unlikely to reward some independent, some intelligent
He had never from the first, to do himself — or to do
— justice, felt he had really known her, small, cool, supposedly
childish, yet not a bit confiding, verily not a bit appealing,
presence as she was; but clearly he should know her now, and to do so
might prove indeed a job. Not that he wanted to he too
cold-blooded about her — that is in the way of enlightened
appreciation, the detachment of the simply scandalised state being
another matter; for this was somehow to leave poor Jane, and poor
Jane's gloom of misery, in the lurch. But once safely back from the
studio, Puddick's own — where he hadn't been sure, upon his honour,
that some coarse danger mightn't crop up — he indulged in a
surreptitious vow that if any 'fun', whether just freely or else more
or less acutely speaking, was to come of the matter, he'd be blamed if
he'd be wholly deprived of it. The possibility of an incalculable sort
of interest — in fact, quite a refined sort, could there be
refinement in such doings — had somehow come out with Puddick's at
once saying: "Certainly, sir, I'll marry her if you and Mrs Traffle
absolutely insist — and if Mora herself (the great point!) can be
brought round to look at it in that way. But I warn you that if I do,
and that if she makes that concession, I shall probably lose my hold of
her — which won't be best, you know, for anyone concerned. You don't
suppose I don't want to make it all right, do you?" the
surprising young man had gone on. "The question's only of what is
right — or what will be if we keep our heads and take time — with
such an extraordinary person as Mora, don't you see? to deal with. You
must grant me," Mr Puddick had wound up, "that she's a rum case."
What he had first felt, of course, was the rare coolness of it, the
almost impudent absence of any tone of responsibility; which had begun
by seeming to make the little painter-man's own case as 'rum',
surely, as one could imagine it. He had gone, poor troubled Traffle,
after the talk, straight to his own studio, or to the rather chill and
vague, if scrupulously neat, pavilion at the garden-end, which he had
put up eight years ago in the modest hope that it would increasingly
inspire him; since it wasn't making preparations and invoking
facilities that constituted swagger, but, much rather, behaving as if
one's powers could boldly dispense with them. He was certain Jane,
would come to him there on hearing of him from the parlour-maid, to
whom he had said a word in the hall. He wasn't afraid — no — of
having to speak a little as he felt; but, though well aware of his
wife's impatience, he wasn't keen, either, for any added intensity of
effort to abound only in Mrs Traffle's sense. He required space and
margin, he required a few minutes' time, to say to himself frankly
that this dear dismal lady had no sense — none at least of
their present wretched question — that was at all worth developing;
since he of course couldn't possibly remark it to poor Jane. He had
perhaps never remarked for his own private benefit so many strange
things as between the moment of his letting himself again into the
perpetually swept and garnished temple of his own perfunctory
aesthetic rites, where everything was ready to his hand and only that
weak tool hung up, and his glimpse of Jane, from the smaller window, as
she came down the garden walk. Puddick's studio had been distinctly
dirty, and Puddick himself, from head to foot, despite his fine pale
little face and bright, direct, much more searching than shifting
look, almost as spotty as the large morsel of rag with which he had so
oddly begun to rub his fingers while standing there to receive Mora's
nearest male relative; but the canvas on his easel, the thing that
even in the thick of his other adventure was making so straight a push
for the Academy, almost embarrassed that relative's eyes, not to say
that relative's conscience, by the cleanness of its appeal. Traffle
hadn't come to admire his picture or to mark how he didn't muddle
where not muddling was vital; he had come to denounce his conduct, and
yet now, perhaps most of all, felt the strain of having pretended so
to ignore what would intensely have interested him. Thanks to this
barren artifice, to the after-effect of it on his nerves, his own
preposterous place, all polish and poverty, pointed such a moral as he
had never before dreamed of. Spotless it might be, unlike any surface
or aspect presented under the high hard Puddick north-light, since it
showed no recording trace, no homely smear — since it had had no hour
of history. That was the way truth showed and history came out — in
spots: by them, and by nothing else, you knew the real, as you knew
the leopard, so that the living creature and the living life equally
had to have them. Stuffed animals and weeping woman were — well,
another question. He had gathered, on the scene of his late effort
that Mora didn't weep, that she was still perfectly pleased with her
shocking course; her complacency indeed remained at such a pitch as to
make any question of her actual approach, on whatever basis, or any
rash direct challenge of her, as yet unadvisable. He was at all
events, after another moment, in presence of Jane's damp severity; she never ceased crying, but her tears froze as they fell —
though not, unfortunately, to firm ice, any surface that would bear
the weight of large argument. The only thing for him, none the less,
was to carry the position with a rush, and he came at once to the worst.
"He'll do it — he's willing; but he makes a most striking point
— I mean given the girl as we know her and as he of course by this
time must. He keeps his advantage, he thinks, by not forcing the note
— don't you see?" Traffle himself — under the quick glow of his rush
— actually saw more and more. "He's feeling his way — he used that
expression to me; and again I haven't to tell you, any more than he
really had to tell me, that with Mora one has to sit tight. He puts on
us, in short, the responsibility."
He had felt how more than ever her 'done' yellow hair — done only
in the sense of an elaborately unbecoming conformity to the spasmodic
prescriptions, undulations and inflations of the day, not in that of
any departure from its pale straw-coloured truth — was helped by her
white invalidical shawl to intensify those reminders of their thin
ideals, their bloodless immunity, their generally compromised and
missed and forfeited frankness, that every other feature of their
domestic scene had just been projecting for him. "Responsibility — we
responsible?" She gaped with the wonder of it.
"I mean that we should be if anything were to happen by our trying
to impose on her our view of her one redemption. I give it you
for his own suggestion — and thereby worth thinking of."
But Jane could take nothing in. "He suggests that he needn't marry
her, and you agree with him? Pray, what is there left to 'happen',"
she went on before he could answer, "after her having happened so
completely to disgrace herself?"
He turned his back a moment — he had shortly before noticed a
framed decoration, a 'refined' Japanese thing that gave accent, as he
would have said, to the neatness of his mouse-grey wall, and that
needed straightening. Those spare apprehensions had somehow, it was
true, suddenly been elbowed out of his path by richer ones; but he
obeyed his old habit. "She can leave him, my dear; that's what she can
do — and not, you may well believe, to come back to us."
will come I'll take her — even now," said Jane
Traffle; "and who can ask of me more than that?"
He slid about a little, sportively, on his polished floor, as if
he would have liked to skate, while he vaguely, inaudibly hummed. "Our
difficulty is that she doesn't ask the first blessed thing of us.
We've been, you see, too stupid about her. Puddick doesn't say it, but
he knows it — that I felt. She feels what she is — and so does he."
"What she is? She's an awful little person" — and Mrs Traffle
stated it with a cold finality she had never yet used.
"Well then, that's what she feels! — even though it's probably
not the name she employs in connection with it. She has tremendously
the sense of life."
"That's bad," cried Jane, "when you haven't — not even feebly —
the sense of decency."
"How do you know, my dear," he returned, "when you've never had
it?" And then as she but stared, since he couldn't mean she hadn't the
sense of decency, he went on, really quite amazed at himself: "People
must have both if possible, but if they can only have one I'm not sure
that that one, as we've had it — not at all 'feebly', as you say! —
is the better of the two. What do we know about the sense of life —
when it breaks out with real freedom? It has never broken out here, my
dear, for long enough to leave — its breath on the window-pane. But
they've got it strong down there in Puddick's studio."
She looked at him as if she didn't even understand his language,
and she flopped thereby into the trap set for her by a single word.
"Is she living in the studio?"
He didn't avoid her eyes. "I don't know where she's living."
"And do I understand that you didn't ask him?"
"It was none of my business — I felt that there in an unexpected
way; I couldn't somehow not feel it — and I suggest, my dear,
accordingly, that it's also none of yours. I wouldn't answer, if you
really want to know," he wound up, hanging fire an instant, but
candidly bringing it out — "I wouldn't answer, if you really want to
know, for their relations."
Jane's eyebrows mounted and mounted. "Whoever in the world would?"
He waited a minute, looking off at his balanced picture — though
not as if now really seeing it. "I'm not talking of what the vulgar
would say — or are saying, of course, to their fill. I'm not
talking of what those relations may be. I'm talking — well," he said,
"of what they mayn't."
"You mean they may be innocent?"
"I think it possible. They're, as he calls it, a 'rum' pair.
They're not like us."
"If we're not like them," she broke in, "I grant you I hope not."
"We've no imagination, you see," he quietly explained — "whereas
they have it on tap, for the sort of life they lead down there, all
the while." He seemed wistfully to figure it out. "For us only one
kind of irregularity is possible — for them, no doubt, twenty kinds."
Poor Jane listened this time — and so intently that after he had
spoken she still rendered his obscure sense the tribute of a wait.
"You think it's possible she's not living with him?"
"I think anything possible."
"Then what in the world did she want?"
"She wanted in the first place to get away from
didn't like her—"
"Ah, we never let her see it!" — Jane could triumphantly make
It but had for him, however, an effect of unconscious comedy. "No,
that was it — and she wanted to get away from everything we did to
prevent her; from our solemn precautions against her seeing it.
We didn't understand her, or we should have understood how much she
must have wanted to. We were afraid of her in short, and she wanted
not to see our contortions over it. Puddick isn't beautiful — though
he has a fine little head and a face with some awfully good marks; but
he's a Greek god, for statuesque calm, compared with us. He isn't
afraid of her."
Jane drew herself elegantly up. "I understood you just now that
it's exactly what he is!"
Traffle reflected. "That's only for his having to deal with her in
our way. Not if he handles her in his own."
"And what, pray, is his own?"
Traffle, his hands in his pockets, resumed his walk, touching with
the points of his shoes certain separations between the
highly-polished planks of his floor. "Well, why should we have to
"Do you mean we're to wash our hands of her?"
He only circulated at first — but quite sounding a low whistle of
exhilaration. He felt happier than for a long time; broken as at a
blow was the formation of ice that had somehow covered all his days,
the whole ground of life, what he would have called the things under.
There they were, the things under. He could see them now; which was
practically what he after a little replied. "It will be so
interesting." He pulled up, none the less, as he turned, before her
poor scared and mottled face, her still suffused eyes, her 'dressed'
head parading above these miseries.
She vaguely panted, as from a dance through bush and briar. "But
what, Sidney, will be?"
"To see what becomes of her. Without our muddling." Which was a
term, however, that she so protested against his use of that he had on
the spot, with more kindness than logic, to attenuate, admitting her,
right to ask him who could do less — less than take the stand she
proposed; though indeed coming back to the matter that evening after
dinner (they never really got away from it; but they had the
consciousness now of false starts in other directions, followed by the
captive returns that were almost as ominous of what might still be
before them as the famous tragic rentrée of Louis XVI and Marie
Antoinette from Varennes); when he brought up, for their common
relief, the essential fact of the young woman's history as they had
suffered it to shape itself: her coming to them bereft and homeless,
addressed, packed and registered after the fashion of a postal packet;
their natural flutter of dismay and apprehension, but their patient
acceptance of the charge; the five flurried governesses she had had in
three years, who had so bored her and whom she had so deeply
disconcerted; the remarkable disposition for drawing and daubing that
she had shown from the first and that had led them to consent to her
haunting of a class, in town, that had made her acquainted with the as
yet wholly undistinguished young artist, Walter Puddick, who, with a
couple of other keen and juvenile adventurers of the brush,
'criticised', all at their ease, according to the queer new licence of
the day, and with nobody to criticise them, eighty supposed
daughters of gentlemen; the uncontrolled spread of her social
connection in London, on the oddest lines, as a proof of this
prosecution of her studies; her consequent prolonged absences, her
strange explanations and deeper duplicities, and presently her bolder
defiances; with her staying altogether, at last, one fine day, under
pretext of a visit at Highgate, and writing them at the end of the
week, during which they had been without news of her, that her visit
was to Mr Puddick and his 'set', and was likely to be of long
duration, as he was 'looking after her', and there were plenty of
people in the set to help, and as she, above all, wanted nothing more:
nothing more, of course, than her two hundred and seventy a year, the
scant remainder of her mother's fortune that she had come into the use
of, under that battered lady's will, on her eighteenth birthday, and
through which her admirers, every member of the, set, no doubt,
wouldn't have found her least admirable. Puddick wouldn't be paying
for her, by the blessing of heaven — that, Traffle
recognized, would have been ground for anything; the case rather must
be the other way round. She was 'treating' the set, probably, root and
branch — magnificently; so no wonder she was having success and
liking it. Didn't Jane recognize, therefore, how in the light of this
fact almost any droll different situation — different from the
common and less edifying turn of such affairs — might here prevail?
He could imagine even a fantastic delicacy; not on the part of the set
at large perhaps, but on that of a member or two.
What Jane most promptly recognized, she showed him in answer to
this, was that, with the tone he had so extraordinarily begun to take
on the subject, his choice of terms left her staring. Their ordeal
would have to be different indeed from anything she had yet felt it
for it to affect her as droll, and Mora's behaviour to repudiate at
every point and in some scarce conceivable way its present appearance
for it to strike her either as delicate or as a possible cause of
delicacy. In fact she could have but her own word — Mora was a
"Well," he laughed — quite brazen about it now — "if she is it's
because she has paid for it! Why the deuce did her stars, unless to
make her worship gods entirely other than Jane Traffle's, rig her out
with a name that puts such a premium on adventures? 'Mora Montravers'
— it paints the whole career for you, She is, one does feel,
her name; but how couldn't she be? She'd dishonour it and its grand
air if she weren't."
"Then by that reasoning you admit," Mrs Traffle returned with more
of an argumentative pounce than she had perhaps ever achieved in her
life, "that she is misconducting herself."
It pulled him up but ten seconds. "It isn't, love, that she's
misconducting herself — it's that she's conducting, positively, and
by her own lights doubtless quite responsibly, Miss Montravers through
the pre-appointed circle of that young lady's experience." Jane turned
on this a desolate back; but he only went on. "It would have been
better for us perhaps if she could have been a Traffle — but, failing
that, I think I should, on the ground that sinning at all one should
sin boldly, have elected for Montravers outright. That does the
thing — it gives the unmistakable note. And if 'Montravers' made it
probable 'Mora' — don't you see, dearest? — made it sure. Would you
wish her to change to Puddick?" This brought her round again, but
as the affirmative hadn't quite leaped to her lips he found time to
continue. "Unless indeed they can make some arrangement by which he
takes her name. Perhaps we can work it that way!"
His suggestion was thrown out as for its positive charm; but Jane
stood now, to do her justice, as a rock. "She's doing something that,
surely, no girl in the world ever did before — in preferring, as I so
strangely understand you, that her lover shouldn't make her the
obvious reparation. But is her reason her dislike of his vulgar name?"
"That has no weight for
you, Jane?" Traffle asked in reply.
Jane dismally shook her head. "Who, indeed, as you say, are
Her reason — if it is her reason — is vulgarer still."
He didn't believe it could he Mora's reason, and though he had
made, under the impression of the morning, a brave fight, he had after
reflection to allow still for much obscurity in their question. But he
had none the less retained his belief in the visibly uncommon young
man, and took occasion to make of his wife an inquiry that hadn't
hitherto come up in so straight a form and that sounded of a sudden
rather odd. "Are you at all attached to her? Can you give me
your word for that?"
She faced him again like a waning wintry moon. "Attached to Mora?
Why, she's my sister's child."
"Ah, that, my dear, is no answer! Can you assure me on your honour
that you're conscious of anything you can call real affection for her?"
Jane blankly brooded. "What has that to do with it?"
"I think it has everything. If we don't feel a tenderness."
"You certainly strike me as feeling one!" Mrs Traffle
He weighed it, but to the effect of his protesting. "No, not
enough for me to demand of her to marry to spare my sensibility."
His wife continued to gloom. "What is there in what she has done
to make us tender?"
"Let us admit then, if there's nothing, that it has made us tough!
Only then we must be tough. If we're having the strain and the
pain of it let us also have the relief and the fun."
"Oh, the 'fun'!" Jane wailed; but adding soon after: "If she'll
marry him I'll forgive her."
"Ah, that's not enough!" he pronounced as they went to bed.
Yet he was to feel too the length that even forgiving her would
have to go — for Jane at least — when, a couple of days later, they
both, from the drawing-room window, saw, to their liveliest
astonishment, the girl alight at the gate. She had taken a fly from
the station, and their attention caught her as she paused apparently
to treat with the cabman of the question of his waiting for her or
coming back. It seemed settled in a moment that he should wait; he
didn't remount his box, and she came in and up the garden-path. Jane
had already flushed, and with violence, at the apparition, and in
reply to her companion's instant question had said: "Yes, I'll see her
if she has come back."
"Well, she has come back."
"She's keeping her cab — she hasn't come to stay." Mrs Traffle
had gained a far door of retreat.
"You won't speak to her?"
"Only if she has come to stay. Then — volumes!"
He had remained near the window, held fast there by the weight of
indefinite obligation that his wife's flight from the field shifted to
his shoulders. "But if she comes back to stay what can Puddick do?"
This kept her an instant. "To stay till he marries her is what I
"Then if she asks for you — as she only must — am I to tell her
Flushed and exalted, her hand on the door, Jane had for this
question a really grand moment. "Tell her that if he will she shall
come in — with your assent — for my four hundred."
"Oh, oh!" he ambiguously sounded while she whisked away, and the
door from the hall was at the same time thrown open by the
parlour-maid. "Miss Montravers!" announced, with a shake of anguish,
that domestic, whose heightened colour and scared eyes conformed to
her mistress's example. Traffle felt his own cheek, for that matter,
unnaturally glow, and the very first of his observations as Mora was
restored to his sight might have been that she alone of them all wore
her complexion with no difference. There was little doubt moreover
that this charming balance of white and pink couldn't have altered but
to its loss; and indeed when they were left alone the whole immediate
effect for him of the girl's standing there in immediate bright
silence was that of her having come simply to reaffirm her
extraordinary prettiness. It might have been just to say: "You've
thought, and you think, all sorts of horrible things about me, but
observe how little my appearance matches them, and in fact keep up
coarse views if you can in the light of my loveliness." Yet it wasn't
as if she had changed, either, even to the extent of that sharper
emphasis: he afterward reflected, as he lived over this passage, that
he must have taken for granted in her, with the life she was leading,
so to call it, some visibility of boldness, some significant surface
— of which absurd supposition her presence, at the end of three
minutes, had disabused him to the point of making all the awkwardness
his and leaving none at all for her. That was a side of things, the
awkward, that she clearly meant never again to recognize in
conversation — though certainly from the first, ever, she had brushed
it by lightly enough. She was in truth exactly the same — except for
her hint that they might have forgotten how pretty she could
be; and he further made sure she would incur neither pains nor costs
for any new attempt on them. The Mora they had always taken her for
would serve her perfectly still; that young woman was bad enough, in
all conscience, to hang together through anything — that might yet
So much he was to feel she had conveyed, and that it was the
little person presenting herself, at her convenience, on these terms
who had been all the while, in their past, their portentous inmate —
since what had the portent been, by the same token, but exactly of
this? By the end of three minutes more our friend's sole thought was
to conceal from her that he had looked for some vulgar sign — such
as, reported to Wimbledon tea-tables, could be confidentially mumbled
about: he was almost as ashamed of that elderly innocence as if she
had caught him in the fact of disappointment at it. Meanwhile she had
expressed her errand very simply and serenely. "I've come to see you
because I don't want to lose sight of you — my being no longer with
you is no reason for that." She was going to ignore, he saw — and she
would put it through: she was going to ignore everything that suited
her, and the quantity might become prodigious. Thus it would rest upon them, poor things, to disallow, if they must, the grace of these
negatives — in which process she would watch them flounder without
help. It opened out before him — a vertiginous view of a gulf; the
abyss of what the ignoring would include for the convenient general
commerce; of what might lie behind, in fine, should the policy
foreshadow the lurking quantity. He knew the vague void for one he
should never bridge, and that to put on emphasis where Mora chose to
neglect it would he work only for those who 'gathered samphire' like
the unfortunates in King Lear, or those who, by profession,
planted lightning-rods at the tips of tremendous towers. He was
committed to pusillanimity, which would yet have to figure for him,
before he had done with it, he knew, as a gallant independence, by
letting ten minutes go without mention of Jane. Mora had put him
somehow into the position of having to explain that her aunt wouldn't
see her — precisely that was the mark of the girl's attitude; but
he'd be hanged if he'd do anything of the sort.
It was therefore like giving poor Jane basely away, his not, to
any tune, speaking for her — and all the more that their visitor sat
just long enough to let his helplessness grow and reach perfection. By
this facility it was he who showed — and for her amusement and profit
— all the change she kept him from imputing to herself. He presented
her — she held him up to himself as presenting her — with a new
uncle, made over, to some loss of dignity, on purpose for her; and
nothing could less have suited their theory of his right relation than
to have a private understanding with her at his wife's expense.
However, gracefully grave and imperturbable, inimitably armed by her
charming correctness; as she sat there, it would be her line in life,
he was certain, to reduce many theories, solemn Wimbledon theories
about the scandalous person, to the futility of so much broken
looking-glass. Not naming her aunt — since he didn't — she
had of course to start, for the air of a morning call, some other hare
or two; she asked for news of their few local friends quite as if these
good people mightn't ruefully have 'cut' her, by what they had heard,
should they have met her out on the road. She spoke of Mr Puddick with
perfect complacency, and in particular held poor Traffle very much as
some master's fiddle-bow might have made him hang on the semi-tone of
a silver string when she referred to the visit he had paid the artist
and to the latter's having wondered whether he liked what he saw. She liked, more and more, Mora intimated, what was offered to her
own view; Puddick was going to do, she was sure, such brilliant work
— so that she hoped immensely he would come again. Traffle found
himself, yes — it was positive — staying his breath for this; there
was, in fact, a moment, that of her first throwing off her free
'Puddick', when it wouldn't have taken much more to make him almost
wish that, for rounded perfection, she'd say 'Walter' at once. He
would scarce have guaranteed even that there hadn't been just then
some seconds of his betraying that imagination in the demoralised eyes
that her straight, clear, quiet beams sounded and sounded, against
every presumption of what might have been. What essentially happened,
at any rate, was that by the time she went she had not only settled
him in the sinister attitude of having lost all interest in her aunt,
but had made him give her for the profane reason of it that he was
gaining so much in herself.
He rushed in again, for that matter, to a frank clearance the
moment he had seen the girl off the premises, attended her, that is,
back to her fly. He hadn't at this climax remarked to her that she
must come again — which might have meant either of two or three
incoherencies and have signified thereby comparatively little; he had
only fixed on her a rolling eye — for it rolled, he strangely felt,
without leaving her; which had the air of signifying heaven knew what.
She took it, clearly, during the moment she sat there before her
start, for the most rather than for the least it might mean; which
again made him gape with the certitude that ever thereafter she would
make him seem to have meant what she liked. She had arrived in a few
minutes at as wondrous a recipe or as quick an aspiration for this as
if she had been a confectioner using some unprecedented turn of the
ladle for some supersubtle cream. He was a proved conspirator from
that instant on, which was practically what he had qualified Jane,
within ten minutes — if Jane had only been refreshingly sharper — to
pronounce him. For what else in the world did it come to, his failure
of ability to attribute any other fine sense to Mora's odd 'step' than
the weird design of just giving them a lead? They were to leave her
alone, by her sharp prescription, and she would show them once for all
how to do it. Cutting her dead wasn't leaving her alone — any idiot
could do that; conversing with her affably was the privilege she
offered, and the one he had so effectually embraced — he made a clean
breast of this — that he had breathed to her no syllable of the
message left with him by her aunt.
"Then you mean," this lady now inquired, "that I'm to go and call
upon her, at that impossible place, just as if she were the pink of
propriety and we had no exception whatever to take to her conduct?
Then you mean," Mrs Traffle had pursued with a gleam in her eye of
more dangerous portent than any he had ever known himself to kindle
there — "then you mean that I'm to grovel before a chit of a
creature on whom I've lavished every benefit, and to whom I've
actually offered every indulgence, and who shows herself, in return
for it all, by what I make out from your rigmarole, a fiend of
insolence as well as of vice?"
The danger described by Sidney Traffle was not that of any further
act of violence from Jane than this freedom of address to him,
unprecedented in their long intercourse — this sustained and, as he
had in a degree to allow, not unfounded note of sarcasm; such a resort
to which, on his wife's part, would, at the best, mark the prospect
for him, in a form flushed with novelty, of much conscious
self-discipline. What looked out of her dear foolish face, very much
with the effect of a new and strange head boldly shown at an old and
familiar pacific window, was just the assurance that he might hope for
no abashed sense in her of differing from him on all this ground as
she had never differed on any. It was as if now, unmistakably, she liked to differ, the ground being her own and he scarce more than
an unwarranted poacher there. Of course it was her own, by the
fact, first, of Mora's being her, not his, sister's child; and,
second, by all the force with which her announced munificence made it
so. He took a moment to think how he could best meet her challenge,
and then reflected that there was, happily, nothing like the truth — his truth, of which it was the insidious nature to prevail. "What
she wanted, I make out, was but to give us the best pleasure she could
think of. The pleasure, I mean, of our not only recognizing how little
we need worry about her, but of our seeing as well how pleasant it may
become for us to keep in touch with her."
These words, he was well aware, left his wife — given her painful
narrowness — a bristling quiver of retorts to draw from; yet it was
not without a silent surprise that he saw her, with her irritated eyes
on him, extract the bolt of finest point. He had rarely known her to
achieve that discrimination before. "The pleasure then, in her view,
you 'make out' — since you make out such wonders! — is to he all
for us only?"
He found it fortunately given him still to smile. "That will
depend, dear, on our appreciating it enough to make things agreeable
to her in order to get it. But as she didn't inquire for you,"
he hastened to add, "I don't — no, I don't — advise your going to
see her even for the interest I speak of!" He bethought
himself. "We must wait a little."
"Wait till she gets worse?"
He felt after a little that he should be able now always to
command a kindly indulgent tone. "I'll go and see her if you like."
"Why in the world should I like it? Is it your idea — for the
pleasure you so highly appreciate, and heaven knows what you mean by
it! — to cultivate with her a free relation of your own?"
"No" — he promptly turned — "I suggest it only as acting
you. Unless," he went on, "you decidedly wish to act altogether for
For some moments she made no answer; though when she at last spoke
it was as if it were an answer. "I shall send for Mr Puddick."
"And whom will you send?"
"I suppose I'm capable of a note," Jane replied.
"Yes, or you might even telegraph. But are you sure he'll come?"
"Am I sure, you mean," she asked, "that his companion will let
him? I can but try, at all events, and shall at any rate have done
what I can."
"I think he's afraid of her—"
Traffle had so begun, but she had already taken him up. "And
you're not, you mean — and that's why you're so eager?"
"Ah, my dear, my dear?" He met it with his strained grimace. "Let
us by all means," he also, however, said, "have him if we can."
On which it was, for a little, that they strangely faced each
other. She let his accommodation lie while she kept her eyes on him,
and in a moment she had come up, as it were, elsewhere. "If I thought
you'd see her—!"
"That I'd see her?" — for she had paused again.
"See her and go on with her — well, without my knowledge,"
quavered poor Jane, "I assure you you'd seem to me even worse than
her. So will you promise me?" she ardently added.
"Promise you what, dear?" He spoke quite mildly.
"Not to see her in secret — which I believe would kill me."
"Oh, oh, oh, love!" Traffle smiled while she positively glared.
Three days having elapsed, however, he had to feel that things had
considerably moved on his being privileged to hear his wife, in the
drawing-room, where they entertained Mr Puddick at tea, put the great
question straighter to that visitor than he himself, Sidney Traffle,
could either have planned or presumed to do. Flushed to a fever after
they had beat about the bush a little, Jane didn't flinch from her
duty. "What I want to know in plain terms, if you please, is whether
or no you're Mora's lover?" 'Plain terms' — she did have
inspirations! so that under the shock he turned away, humming, as
ever, in his impatience, and, the others being seated over the vain
pretence of the afternoon repast, left the young man to say what he
might. It was a fool's question, and there was always a gape for the
wisest (the greater the wisdom and the greater the folly) in any
apprehension of such. As if he were going to say, remarkable Puddick,
not less remarkable in his way than Mora — to say, that is, anything
that would suit Jane; and as if it didn't give her away for a goose
that she should assume he was! Traffle had never more tiptoed off to
the far end of the room, whether for pretence of a sudden interest in
his precious little old Copley Fielding or on any other extemporized
ground, than while their guest momentarily hung fire; but though he
winced it was as if he now liked to wince — the occasions she gave
him for doing so were such a sign of his abdication. He had wholly
stepped aside, and she could flounder as she would: he had found
exactly the formula that saved his dignity, that expressed his
sincerity, and that yet didn't touch his curiosity. "I see it would be
indelicate for me to go further — yes, love, I do see that";
such was the concession he had resorted to for a snap of the
particular tension of which we a moment ago took the measure. This had
entailed Jane's gravely pronouncing him, for the first time in her
life, ridiculous; as if, in common sense—! She used that term also
with much freedom now; at the same time that it hadn't prevented her
almost immediately asking him if he would mind writing her
letter. Nothing could suit him more, from the moment she was
ostensibly to run the show — as for her benefit he promptly phrased
the matter — than that she should involve herself in as many
inconsistencies as possible; since if he did such things in spite of
his scruple this was as nothing to her needing him at every step in
spite of her predominance.
His delicacy was absurd for her because Mora's indecency had made
this, by her logic, the only air they could now breathe; yet he knew
how it nevertheless took his presence to wind her up to her actual
challenge of their guest. Face to face with that personage alone she
would have failed of the assurance required for such crudity; deeply
unprepared as she really was, poor dear, for the crudity to which she
might, as a consequence, have opened the gates. She lived altogether
thus — and nothing, to her husband's ironic view, he flattered
himself, could be droller — in perpetual yearning, deprecating, in
bewildered and muddled communion with the dreadful law of crudity; as
if in very truth, to his amused sense, the situation hadn't of
necessity to be dressed up to the eyes for them in every sort of
precaution and paraphrase. Traffle had privately reached the point of
seeing it, at its high pitch of mystery and bravery, absolutely defy
any common catchword. The one his wife had just employed struck him,
while he hunched his shoulders at the ominous pause she had made
inevitable for sturdy Puddick, as the vulgarest, and he had time
largely to blush before an answer came. He had written, explicitly on
Jane's behalf, to request the favour of an interview, but had been
careful not to intimate that it was to put that artless question. To
have dragged a busy person, a serious person, out from town on the
implication of his being treated for reward to so bête an
appeal — no, one surely couldn't appear to have been concerned in
that. Puddick had been under no obligation to come — one might
honestly have doubted whether he would even reply. However, his power
of reply proved not inconsiderable, as consorted with his having
presented himself not a bit ruefully or sulkily, but all easily and
coolly, and even to a visible degree in a spirit of unprejudiced
curiosity. It was as if he had practically forgotten Traffle's own
invasion of him at his studio — in addition to which who indeed knew
what mightn't have happened between the Chelsea pair in a distracting
or freshly epoch-making way since then? — and was ready to show
himself for perfectly good-natured, but for also naturally vague about
what they could want of him again. "It depends, ma'am, on the sense I
understand you to attach to that word," was in any case the answer to
which he at his convenience treated Jane.
"I attach to it the only sense," she returned, "that could force
me — by my understanding of it — to anything so painful as
this inquiry. I mean are you so much lovers as to make it
indispensable you should immediately marry?"
"Indispensable to who, ma'am?" was what Traffle heard their
companion now promptly enough produce. To which, as it appeared to
take her a little aback, he added: "Indispensable to you, do
you mean, Mrs Traffle? Of course, you see, I haven't any measure of that."
"Should you have any such measure" — and with it she had for her
husband the effect now of quite 'speaking up' — "if I were to give
you my assurance that my niece will come into money when the proper
means are taken of making her connection with you a little less — or
perhaps I should say altogether less — distressing and irregular?"
The auditor of this exchange rocked noiselessly away from his
particular point of dissociation, throwing himself at random upon
another, before Mr Puddick appeared again to have made up his mind, or
at least to have adjusted his intelligence; but the movement had been
on Traffle's part but the instinct to stand off more and more — a
vague effort of retreat that didn't prevent the young man's next
response to pressure from ringing out in time to overtake him. "Is
what you want me to understand then that you'll handsomely pay her if
she marries me? Is it to tell me that that you asked me to come?" It
was queer, Sidney felt as he held his breath, how he kept liking this
inferior person the better — the better for his carrying himself so
little like any sort of sneak — for every minute spent in his
company. They had brought him there at the very best to patronise him,
and now would simply have to reckon with his showing clearly for so
much more a person 'of the world' than they. Traffle, it was true, was
becoming, under the precious initiation opened to him by Mora, whether
directly or indirectly, much more a man of the world than ever yet: as
much as that at least he could turn over in his secret soul while
their visitor pursued. "Perhaps you also mean, ma'am, that you suppose
me to require that knowledge to determine my own behaviour — in the
sense that if she comes in for money I may clutch at the way to come
into it too?" He put this as the straightest of questions; yet he
also, it was marked, followed up that side-issue further, as if to
fight shy of what Jane wanted most to know. "Is it your idea of me
that I haven't married her because she isn't rich enough, and that on
what you now tell me I may think better of it? Is that how you see me,
Mrs Traffle?" he asked, at his quiet pitch, without heat.
It might have floored his hostess a little, to her husband's
vision, but she seemed at once to sit up, on the contrary, so much
straighter, that he, after hearing her, immediately turned round.
"Don't you want, Mr Puddick, to be able to marry a creature so
beautiful and so clever?"
This was somehow, suddenly, on Jane's part, so prodigious, for
art and subtlety, Traffle recognized, that he had come forward again
and a remarkable thing had followed. Their guest had noticed his return
and now looked up at him from over the tea-table, looked in a manner
so direct, so intelligent, so quite amusedly critical, that, afresh,
before he knew it, he had treated the little fact as the flicker of a
private understanding between them, and had just cynically — for it
was scarce covertly — smiled back at him in the independence of it.
So there he was again, Sidney Traffle; after having tacitly admitted
to Mora that her aunt was a goose of geese — compared to himself and her — he was at present putting that young woman's accomplice up
to the same view of his conjugal loyalty, which might be straightway
reported to the girl. Well, what was he, all the same, to do? Jane was, on all the ground that now spread immeasurably about them, a
goose of geese: all that had occurred was that she more showily
displayed it; and that she might indeed have had a momentary sense of
triumph when the best that their friend first found to meet her withal
proved still another evasion of the real point. "I don't think, if
you'll allow me to say so, Mrs Traffle, that you've any right to ask
me, in respect to Miss Montravers, what I 'want' — or that I'm under
any obligation to tell you. I've come to you, quite in the dark,
because of Mr Traffle's letter, and so that you shouldn't have the
shadow of anything to complain of. But please remember that I've
neither appealed to you in any way, nor put myself in a position of
responsibility toward you."
So far, but only so far, however, had he successfully proceeded
before Jane was down upon him in her new trenchant form. "It's not of
your responsibility to us I'm talking, but all of your responsibility
to her. We efface ourselves," she all effectively bridled, "and
we're prepared for every reasonable sacrifice. But we do still a
little care what becomes of the child to whom we gave up years of our
life. If you care enough for her to live with her, don't you care
enough to work out some way of making her your very own by the aid of
such help as we're eager to render? Or are we to take from you, as
against that, that even thus with the way made easy, she's so
amazingly constituted as to prefer, in the face of the world, your
actual terms of intercourse?"
The young man had kept his eyes on her without flinching, and so
he continued after she had spoken. He then drank down what remained of
his tea and, pushing back his chair, got up. He hadn't the least
arrogance, not the least fatuity of type — save so far as it might be
offensive in such a place to show a young head modelled as with such
an intention of some one of the finer economic uses, and a young face
already a little worn as under stress of that economy — but he
couldn't help his looking, while he pulled down his not very fresh
waistcoat, just a trifle like a person who had expected to be rather
better regaled. This came indeed, for his host, to seeing that he
looked bored; which was again, for that gentleman, a source of
humiliation. What style of conversation, comparatively, on showing of
it, wouldn't he and Mora all the while be having together? If they
would only invite him, their uncle — or rather no, when it
came to that, not a bit, worse luck, their uncle — if they would only
invite him, their humble admirer, to tea! During which play of
reflection and envy, at any rate, Mr Puddick had prepared to take his
leave. "I don't think I can talk to you, really, about my 'terms of
intercourse' with any lady." He wasn't superior, exactly — wasn't so
in fact at all, but was nevertheless crushing, and all the more that
his next word seemed spoken, in its persistent charity, for their
help. "If it's important you should get at that sort of thing it
strikes me you should do so by the lady herself."
Our friend, at this, no longer stayed his hand. "Mrs Traffle
doesn't see her," he explained to their companion — "as the situation
seems to present itself."
"You mean Mora doesn't see me, my dear!" Mrs Traffle replied with
He met it, however, with a smile and a gallant inclination.
"Perhaps I mean that she only unsuccessfully tries to."
"She doesn't then take the right way!" Mora's aunt tossed off.
Mr Puddick looked at her blandly. "Then you lose a good deal,
ma'am. For if you wish to learn from me how much I admire your niece,"
he continued straight, "I don't in the least mind answering to that
that you may put my sentiments at the highest. I adore Miss
Montravers," he brought out, after a slight catch of his breath,
roundly and impatiently. "I'd do anything in the world for her."
"Then do you pretend," said Jane, with a rush, as if to break
through this opening before she was checked, "then do you pretend that
you're living with her in innocence?"
Sidney Traffle had a groan for it — a hunched groan in which he
exhaled the anguish, as he would have called it, of his false
position; but Walter Puddick only continued, in his fine unblinking
way, to meet Jane's eyes. "I repudiate absolutely your charge of my
'living' with her or of her living with me. Miss Montravers is
irreproachable and immaculate."
"All appearances to the contrary notwithstanding?" Mrs Traffle
cried. "You'd do anything in the world for her, and she'd by the same
token, I suppose, do anything in the world for you, and yet you ask me
to believe that, all the while, you are, together, in this
extraordinary way, doing nothing in the world—?" With which, to his
further excruciation, her husband, with eyes averted from her, felt
her face turn, as for a strained and unnatural intensity of meaning,
upon himself. "He attempts, dear, to prove too much! But I only
desire," she continued to their guest, "that you should definitely
understand how far I'm willing to go."
"It is rather far you know," Sidney, at this, in spite of
everything, found himself persuasively remarking to Puddick.
It threw his wife straight upon him, and he felt her there, more
massively weighted than he had ever known her, while she said: "I'll
make it four hundred and fifty. Yes, a year," she then exaltedly
pursued to their visitor. "I pass you my word of honour for it. That's
what I'll allow Mora as your wife."
Traffle watched him, under this — and the more that an odd spasm
or shade had come into his face; which in turn made our friend wish
the more to bridge somehow the dark oddity of their difference. What
was all the while at bottom sharpest for him was that they might
somehow pull more together. "That, you see," he fluted for
conciliation, "is her aunt's really, you know, I think, rather
magnificent message for her."
The young man took in clearly, during a short silence, the
material magnificence — while Traffle again noted how almost any sort
of fineness of appreciation could show in his face. "I'm sure I'm
much obliged to you," he presently said.
"You don't refuse to let her have it, I suppose?" Mrs Traffle
Walter Puddick's clear eyes — clear at least as his host had
hitherto judged them — seemed for the minute attached to the square,
spacious sum. "I don't refuse anything. I'll give her your message."
"Well," said Jane, "that's the assurance we've wanted." And she
gathered herself as for relief, on her own side, at his departure.
He lingered but a moment — which was long enough, however, for
her husband to see him, as with an intenser twinge of the special
impatience just noted in him, look, all unhappily, from Mora's aunt to
Mora's uncle. "Of course I can't mention to her such a fact. But I
wish, all the same," he said with a queer sick smile, "that you'd just
simply let us alone."
He turned away with it, but Jane had already gone on. "Well, you
certainly seem in sufficient possession of the right way to make us!"
Walter Puddick, picking up his hat and with his distinctly
artistic and animated young back presented — though how it came to
show so strikingly for such Sidney Traffle couldn't have said —
reached one of the doors of the room which was not right for his
egress; while Sidney stood divided between the motion of correcting
and guiding him and the irresistible need of covering Jane with a last
woeful reproach. For he had seen something, had caught it from the
sharp flicker of trouble finally breaking through Puddick's face,
caught it from the fact that — yes, positively — the upshot of their
attack on him was a pair of hot tears in his eyes. They stood for
queer, deep things, assuredly, these tears; they spoke portentously,
since that was her note, of wonderful Mora; but there was an
indelicacy in the pressure that had thus made the source of them
public. "You have dished us now!" was what, for a Parthian shot,
Jane's husband would have liked to leave with her; and what in fact he
would have articulately phrased if he hadn't rather given himself to
getting their guest with the least discomfort possible out of the
room. Into the hall he ushered him, and there — absurd, incoherent
person as he had again to know himself for — vaguely yet
reassuringly, with an arm about him, patted him on the back. The full
force of this victim's original uttered warning came back to him; the
probable perfect wisdom of his plea that, since he had infinitely to
manage, their line, the aunt's and the uncle's, was just to
let him feel his way; the gage of his sincerity as to this being the
fact of his attachment. Sidney Traffle seemed somehow to feel the
fullest force of both these truths during the moment his young friend
recognized the intention of his gesture; and thus for a little, at any
rate, while the closed door of the drawing-room and the shelter of the
porch kept them unseen and unheard from within, they faced each other
for the embarrassment that, as Traffle would have been quite ready to
put it, they had in common. Their eyes met their eyes, their conscious
grin their grin; hang it, yes, the screw was on Mora's lover.
Puddick's recognition of his sympathy — well, proved that he needed
something, though he didn't need interference from the outside; which
couldn't, any way they might arrange it, seem delicate enough. Jane's
obtrusion of her four hundred and fifty affected Traffle thus as
singularly gross; though part of that association might proceed for
him, doubtless, from the remark in which his exasperated sensibility
was, the next thing, to culminate.
"I'm afraid I can't explain to you," he first said, however, "why
it is that in spite of my indoctrination, my wife fails to see that
there's only one answer a gentleman may make to the so intimate
question she put to you."
"I don't know anything about that; I wasn't at all making her a
conventional reply. But I don't mind assuring you, on my sacred
So Walter Puddick was going on, but his host, with a firm touch of
his arm, and very handsomely, as that host felt, or at least desired
to feel, wouldn't have it. "Ah, it's none of my business; I accept
what you've said, and it wouldn't matter to you if I didn't. Your
situation's evidently remarkable," Traffle all sociably added, "and I
don't mind telling you that I, for one, have confidence in your tact.
I recognized, that day I went to see you, that this was the only
thing to do, and have done my best, ever since, to impress it on
Mrs Traffle. She replies to me that I talk at my ease, and the
appearances are such, I recognize, that it would be odd she
shouldn't mind them. In short she had shown you how much she does mind
them. I tell her," our friend pursued, "that we mustn't weigh
appearances too much against realities — and that of those
realities," he added, balancing again a little on his toes and
clasping his waist with his hands, which at the same time just worked
down the back of his waistcoat, "you must be having your full share."
Traffle liked, as the effect of this, to see his visitor look at him
harder; he felt how the ideal turn of their relation would be that he
should show all the tact he was so incontestably showing, and
yet at the same time not miss anything that would be interesting. "You
see of course for yourself how little, after all, she knows Mora. She
doesn't appreciate the light hand that you must have to have with her
— and that, I take it," Sidney Traffle smiled, "is what you contend
for with us."
"I don't contend for anything with you, sir," said Walter Puddick.
"Ah, but you do want to be let alone," his friend insisted.
The young man turned graver in proportion to this urbanity.
"Mrs Traffle has closed my mouth."
"By laying on you, you mean, the absolute obligation to report her
offer—?" That lady's representative continued to smile, but then it
was that he yet began to see where fine freedom of thought —
translated into act at least — would rather grotesquely lodge him. He
hung fire, none the less, but for an instant; even though not quite
saying what he had been on the point of. "I should like to feel at
liberty to put it to you that if, in your place, I felt that a
statement of Mrs Traffle's overture would probably, or even possibly,
dish me, I'm not sure I should make a scruple of holding my tongue
about it. But of course I see that I can't very well go so far without
looking to you as if my motive might be mixed. You might naturally say
that I can't want my wife's money to go out of the house."
Puddick had an undissimulated pause for the renewed effort to do
justice to so much elegant arrangement of the stiff truth of his case;
but his intelligence apparently operated, and even to the extent of
showing him that his companion really meant, more and more, as well —
as well, that is, to him — as it was humanly conceivable that
Mrs Traffle's husband could mean. "Your difficulty's different
from mine, and from the appearance I incur in carrying Miss Montravers
her aunt's message as a clear necessity and at any risk."
"You mean that your being conscientious about it may look as if
the risk you care least to face is that of not with a little patience
coming in yourself for the money?" After which, with a glitter fairly
sublime in its profession of his detachment from any stupid course:
"You can be sure, you know, that I'd be sure—!"
"Sure I'm not a pig?" the young man asked in a manner that made
Traffle feel quite possessed at last of his confidence.
"Even if you keep quiet I shall know you're not, and shall believe
also you won't have thought me one." To which, in the exaltation
produced by this, he next added: "Isn't she, with it all — with all
she has done for you I mean — splendidly fond of you?"
The question proved, however, but one of those that seemed
condemned to cast, by their, action, a chill; which was expressed, on
the young man's part, with a certain respectful dryness. "How do you
know, sir, what Miss Montravers has done for me?"
Sidney Traffle felt himself enjoy, on this, a choice of replies —
one of which indeed would have sprung easiest from his lips. "Oh now,
come!" seemed for the instant what he would have liked most to hear
himself say; but he renounced the pleasure — even though making up
for it a little by his actual first choice. "Don't I know at least
that she left the honourable shelter of this house for you?"
Walter Puddick had a wait. "I never asked it of her."
"You didn't seduce her, no — and even her aunt doesn't accuse you
of it. But that she should have given up — well, what she has
given up, moderately as you may estimate it," Traffle again smiled —
"surely has something to say about her case?"
"What has more to say than anything else," Puddick promptly
returned to this, "is that she's the very cleverest and most original
and most endowed, and in every way most wonderful, person I've known
in all my life."
His entertainer fairly glowed, for response, with the light of it.
"Thank you, then!" Traffle thus radiated.
"'Thank you for nothing!'" cried the other with a short laugh and set into
motion down the steps and the garden walk by this final attestation of
the essential impenetrability even of an acutest young artist's vie
intime with a character sketchable in such terms.
Traffle accompanied him to the gate, but wondering, as they went,
if it was quite inevitable one should come back to feeling, as the
result of every sort of brush with people who were really living, like
so very small a boy. No, no, one must stretch to one's tallest again.
It restored one's stature a little then that one didn't now mind that
this demonstration would prove to Jane, should she he waiting in the
drawing-room and watching for one's return, that one had retained
their guest for so much privacy in the porch. "Well, take care what
you do!" Traffle bravely brought out for good-bye.
"Oh, I shall tell her," Puddick replied under the effect of his
renewed pat of the back; and even, standing there an instant, had a
"She loathes my unfortunate name of course; but she's such an
incalculable creature that my information possibly may fetch her."
There was a final suddenness of candour in it that made Traffle
gape. "Oh, our names, and hers—! But is her loathing of yours then
all that's the matter?"
Walter Puddick stood some seconds; he might, in pursuance of what
had just passed, have been going to say things. But he had decided
again the next moment for the fewest possible. "No!" he tossed back
as he walked off.
"We seem to have got so beautifully used to it," Traffle remarked
more than a month later to Jane — "we seem to have lived into it and
through it so, and to have suffered and surmounted the worst, that,
upon my word, I scarce see what's the matter now, or what, that's so
very dreadful, it's doing or has done for us. We haven't the interest
of her, no," he had gone on, slowly pacing and revolving things
according to his wont, while the sharer of his life, tea being over
and the service removed, reclined on a sofa, perfectly still and with
her eyes rigidly closed; "we've lost that, and I agree that it was
great — I mean the interest of the number of ideas the situation
presented us with. That has dropped — by our own act, evidently; we
must have simply settled the case, a month ago, in such a way as that
we shall have no more acquaintance with it; by which I mean no more of
the fun of it. I, for one, confess I miss the fun — put it only at
the fun of our having had to wriggle so with shame, or, call it if you
like, to live so under arms, against prying questions and the too easy
exposure of our false explanations; which only proves, however, that,
as I say, the worst that has happened to us appears to be that we're
going to find life tame again — as tame as it was before ever Mora
came into it so immensely to enrich and agitate it. She has gone out
of it, obviously, to leave it flat and forlorn — tasteless after
having had for so many months the highest flavour. If, by her not
thanking you even though she declined, by her not acknowledging in any
way your — as I admit — altogether munificent offer, it seems
indicated that we should hold her to have definitely enrolled herself
in the deplorable 'flaunting' class, we must at least recognize that
she doesn't flaunt at us, at whomever else she may; and that
she has in short cut us as neatly and effectively as, in the event of
her conclusive, her supreme contumacy, we could have aspired to cut her. Never was a scandal, therefore, less scandalous — more
naturally a disappointment, that is, to our good friends, whose
resentment of this holy calm, this absence of any echo of any
convulsion, of any sensation of any kind to be picked up, strikes me as
ushering in the only form of ostracism our dissimulated taint, our
connection with lurid facts that might have gone on making us
rather eminently worth while, will have earned for us. But aren't
custom and use breaking us in to the sense even of that
anti-climax, and preparing for us future years of wistful, rueful,
regretful thought of the time when everything was nice and dreadful?"
Mrs Traffle's posture was now, more and more, certainly, this
recumbent sightless stillness; which she appeared to have resorted to
at first — after the launching, that is, of her ultimatum to
Mr Puddick — as a sign of the intensity with which she awaited
results. There had been no results, alas, there were none from week to
week; never was the strain of suspense less gratefully crowned; with
the drawback, moreover, that they could settle to nothing — not even
to the alternative, that of the cold consciousness of slighted
magnanimity, in which Jane had assumed beforehand that she should find
her last support. Her husband circled about her couch, with his
eternal dim whistle, at a discreet distance — as certain as if he
turned to catch her in the act that when his back was presented in
thoughtful retreat her tightened eyes opened to rest on it with
peculiar sharpness. She waited for the proof that she had intervened
to advantage — the advantage of Mora's social future — and she had
to put up with Sidney's watching her wait. So he, on his side, lived
under her tacit criticism of that attention; and had they asked
themselves, the comfortless pair — as it's in fact scarce conceivable
that they didn't — what it would practically have cost them to
receive their niece without questions, they might well have judged
their present ordeal much the dearer. When Sidney had felt his wife
glare at him undetectedly for a fortnight he knew at least what it
meant, and if she had signified how much he might have to pay for it
should he presume again to see Mora alone, she was now, in their
community of a quietude that had fairly soured on their hands, getting
ready to quarrel with him for his poverty of imagination about that
menace. Absolutely, the conviction grew for him, she would have liked
him better to do something, even something inconsiderate of her to the
point of rudeness, than simply parade there in the deference that left
her to languish. The fault of this conspicuous propriety, which gave
on her nerves, was that it did nothing to refresh their decidedly
rather starved sense of their case; so that Traffle was frankly
merciless — frankly, that is, for himself — in his application of
her warning. There was nothing he would indeed have liked better than
to call on Mora — quite, as who should say, in the friendly way to
which her own last visit at Wimbledon had set so bright an example. At
the same time, though he revelled in his acute reflection as to the
partner of his home — "I've only to go, and then come back with some
'new fact', à la Dreyfus, in order to make her sit up in a
false flare that will break our insufferable spell" — he was yet
determined that the flare, certain to take place sooner or later,
should precede his act; so large a licence might he then obviously
build upon it. His excursions to town were on occasion, even, in
truth, not other than perverse — determined, that is, he was well
aware, by their calculated effect on Jane, who could imagine in his
absence, each time, that he might he 'following something up' (an
expression that had in fact once slipped from her), might be having
the gumption, in other words, to glean a few straws for their nakeder
nest; imagine it, yes, only to feel herself fall back again on the
mere thorns of consistency.
It wasn't, nevertheless, that he took all his exercise to this
supersubtle tune; the state of his own nerves treated him at moments to
larger and looser exactions; which is why, though poor Jane's sofa
still remained his centre of radiation, the span of his unrest
sometimes embraced half London. He had never been on such fidgety
terms with his club, which he could neither not resort to, from his
suburb, with an unnatural frequency, nor make, in the event, any
coherent use of; so that his suspicion of his not remarkably carrying
it off there was confirmed to him, disconcertingly, one morning when
his dash townward had been particularly wild, by the free address of a
fellow-member prone always to overdoing fellowship and who had
doubtless for some time amusedly watched his vague gyrations — "I
say, Traff, old man, what in the world, this time, have you got 'on'?"
It had never been anything but easy to answer the ass, and was easier
than ever now — "'On'? You don't
suppose I dress, do you, to come to meet you?" — yet the
effect of the nasty little mirror of his unsatisfied state so flashed
before him was to make him afresh wander wide, if wide half the
stretch of Trafalgar Square could be called. He turned into the
National Gallery, where the great Masters were tantalising more by
their indifference than by any offer of company, and where he could
take up again his personal tradition of a lawless range. One couldn't
be a raffiné at Wimbledon — no, not with any comfort; but he
quite liked to think how he had never been anything less in the great
museum, distinguished as he thus was from those who gaped impartially
and did the place by schools. His sympathies were special and
far-scattered, just as the places of pilgrimage he most fondly
reverted to were corners unnoted and cold, where the idol in the
numbered shrine sat apart to await him.
So he found himself at the end of five minutes in one of the
smaller, one of the Dutch rooms — in a temple bare in very fact at
that moment save for just one other of the faithful. This was a young
person — visibly young, from the threshold of the place, in spite of
the back presented for an instant while a small picture before which
she had stopped continued to hold her; but who turned at sound of his
entering footfall, and who then again, as by an alertness in this
movement, engaged his eyes. With which it was remarkably given to
Traffle to feel himself recognize even almost to immediate, to artless
extravagance of display, two things; the first that his fellow-votary
in the unprofaned place and at the odd morning hour was none other
than their invincible Mora, surprised, by this extraordinary fluke, in
her invincibility, and the second (oh, his certainty of that!)
that she was expecting to be joined there by no such pale
fellow-adventurer as her whilom uncle. It amazed him, as it also
annoyed him, on the spot, that his heart, for thirty seconds, should
be standing almost still; but he wasn't to be able afterward to blink
it that he had at once quite gone to pieces, any slight subsequent
success in recovering himself to the contrary notwithstanding. Their
happening thus to meet was obviously a wonder — it made him feel
unprepared; but what especially did the business for him, he
subsequently reflected, was again the renewed degree, and for that
matter the developed kind, of importance that the girl's beauty gave
her. Dear Jane, at home, as he knew — and as Mora herself probably,
for that matter, did — was sunk in the conviction that she was
leading a life; but whatever she was doing it was clearly the
particular thing she might best be occupied with. How could anything
be better for a lovely creature than thus to grow from month to month
in loveliness? — so that she was able to stand there before him with
no more felt inconvenience than the sense of the mere tribute of his
eyes could promptly rectify.
That ministered positively to his weakness — the justice he did
on the spot to the rare shade of human felicity, human impunity, human
sublimity, call it what one would, surely dwelling in such a
consciousness. How could a girl have to think long, have to think more
than three-quarters of a second, under any stress whatever, of
anything in the world but that her presence was an absolute
incomparable value? The prodigious thing, too, was that it had had in
the past, and the comparatively recent past that one easily recalled,
to content itself with counting twenty times less: a proof precisely
that any conditions so determined could only as a matter of course
have been odious and, at the last, outrageous to her. Goodness knew
with what glare of graceless inaction this rush of recognitions was
accompanied in poor Traffle; who was later on to ask himself whether
he had showed to less advantage in the freshness of his commotion or
in the promptly enough subsequent rage of his coolness. The commotion,
in any case, had doubtless appeared more to paralyze than to agitate
him, since Mora had had time to come nearer while he showed for
helplessly planted. He hadn't even at the moment been proud of his
presence of mind, but it was as they afterward haunted his ear that
the echoes of what he at first found to say were most odious to him.
"I'm glad to take your being here for a sign you've not lost your
interest in Art" — that might have passed if he hadn't so almost
feverishly floundered on. "I hope you keep up your painting — with
such a position as you must be in for serious work: I always thought,
you know, that you'd do something if you'd stick to it. In fact, we
quite miss your not bringing us something to admire as you sometimes
did; we haven't, you see, much of an art-atmosphere now. I'm glad
you're fond of the Dutch — that little Metsu over there that I think
you were looking at is a pet thing of my own; and, if my living to do
something myself hadn't been the most idiotic of dreams, something in his line — though of course a thousand miles behind him — was
what I should have tried to go in for. You see at any rate where —
missing as I say our art-atmosphere — I have to come to find one. Not
such a bad place certainly" — so he had hysterically gabbled;
"especially at this quiet hour — as I see you yourself quite feel. I
just turned in — though it does discourage! I hope, however, it
hasn't that effect on you," he knew himself to grin with the
last awkwardness; making it worse the next instant by the gay
insinuation: "I'm bound to say it isn't how you look — discouraged!"
It reeked for him with reference even while he said it — for the
truth was but too intensely, too insidiously, somehow, that her
confidence implied, that it in fact bravely betrayed, grounds. He was
to appreciate this wild waver, in retrospect, as positive dizziness in
a narrow pass — the abyss being naturally on either side; that abyss
of the facts of the girl's existence which he must thus have seemed to
rush into, a smirking, a disgusting tribute to them through his
excessive wish to show how clear he kept of them. The terrible, the
fatal truth was that she made everything too difficult — or that
this, at any rate, was how she enjoyed the exquisite privilege of
affecting him. She watched him, she saw him splash to keep from
sinking, with a pitiless cold sweet irony; she gave him rope as a
syren on a headland might have been amused at some bather beyond his
depth and unable to swim. It was all the fault — his want of ease was
— of the real extravagance of his idea of not letting her spy even
the tip of the tail of any 'freedom' with her; thanks to which
fatality she had indeed the game in her own hands. She exhaled a
distinction — it glanced out of every shade of selection, every turn
of expression, in her dress, though she had always, for that matter,
had the genius of felicity there — which was practically the 'new
fact' all Wimbledon had been awaiting; and yet so perverse was their
relation that to mark at all any special consideration for it was to
appear just to make the allusion he was most forbidding himself. It
was hard, his troubled consciousness told him, to be able neither to
overlook her new facts without brutality nor to recognize them without
impertinences; and he was frankly at the end of his resources by the
time he ceased beating the air. Then it was, yes, then it was
perfectly, as if she had patiently let him show her each of his ways
of making a fool of himself; when she still said nothing a moment —
and yet still managed to keep him ridiculous — as if for certainty on
that head. It was true that when she at last spoke she swept
"It's a great chance my meeting you — for what you so kindly
think of me."
She brought that out as if he had been uttering mere vain sounds
— to which she preferred the comparative seriousness of the human, or
at least of the mature, state, and her unexpectedness it was that thus
a little stiffened him up. "What I think of you? How do you know what
She dimly and charmingly smiled at him, for it wasn't really that
she was harsh. She was but infinitely remote — the syren on her
headland dazzlingly in view, yet communicating, precisely, over such an
abyss. "Because it's so much more, you mean, than you know yourself?
If you don't know yourself, if you know as little as, I confess, you
strike me as doing," she, however, at once went on, "I'm more sorry
for you than anything else; even though at the best, I dare say, it
must seem odd to you to hear me so patronizing." It was borne in upon
him thus that she would now make no difference, to his honour — to
that of his so much more emancipated spirit at least — between her
aunt and her uncle; so much should the poor uncle enjoy for his pains.
He should stand or fall with fatal Jane — for at this point he was
already sure Jane had been fatal; it was in fact with fatal Jane tied
as a millstone round his neck that he at present knew himself sinking.
"You try to make grabs at some idea, but the simplest never occurs to
"What do you call the simplest, Mora?" he at this heard himself
"Why, my being simply a good girl. You gape at it" — he was
trying exactly not to — "as if it passed your belief; but it's really
all the while, to my own sense, what has been the matter with me. I
mean, you see, a good creature — wanting to live at peace.
Everything, however, occurs to you but that — and in spite of my
trying to show you. You never understood," she said with her sad,
quiet lucidity, "what I came to see you for two months ago." He was on
the point of breaking in to declare that the reach of his intelligence
at the juncture of which she spoke had been quite beyond expression;
but he checked himself in time, as it would strike her but as a vague
weak effort to make exactly the distinction that she held cheap. No,
he wouldn't give Jane away now — he'd suffer anything instead; the
taste of what he should have to suffer was already there on his lips
— it came over him, to the strangest effect of desolation, of
desolation made certain, that they should have lost Mora for ever, and
that this present scant passage must count for them as her form of
rupture. Jane had treated her the other day — treated her, that is,
through Walter Puddick, who would have been, when all was said, a
faithful agent — to their form, their form save on the
condition attached, much too stiff a one, no doubt; so that he was
actually having the extraordinary girl's answer. What they thought of
her was that she was Walter Puddick's mistress — the only difference
between them being that whereas her aunt fixed the character upon her
as by the act of tying a neatly-inscribed luggage-tag to a bandbox, he
himself flourished about with his tag in his hand and a
portentous grin for what he could do with it if he would. She brushed
aside alike, however, vulgar label and bewildered formula; she but
took Jane's message as involving an insult, and if she treated him, as
a participant, with any shade of humanity, it was indeed that she was
the good creature for whom she had a moment ago claimed credit. Even
under the sense of so supreme a pang poor Traffle could value his
actual, his living, his wonderful impression, rarest treasure of
sense, as what the whole history would most have left with him. It was
all he should have of her in the future — the mere memory of these
dreadful minutes in so noble a place, minutes that were shining easy
grace on her part and helpless humiliation on his; wherefore,
tragically but instinctively, he gathered in, as for preservation,
every grain of the experience. That was it; they had given her,
without intending it, still wider wings of freedom; the clue, the
excuse, the pretext, whatever she might call it, for shaking off any
bond that had still incommoded her. She was spreading her wings —
that was what he saw — as if she hovered, rising and rising, like an
angel in a vision; it was the picture that he might, if he chose, or
mightn't, make Jane, on his return, sit up to. Truths, these, that for
our interest in him, or for our grasp of them, press on us in
succession, but that within his breast were quick and simultaneous; so
that it was virtually without a wait he heard her go on. "Do try —
that's really all I want to say — to keep hold of my husband."
"Your husband—?" He
She had the oddest charming surprise — her nearest approach to
familiarity. "Walter Puddick. Don't you know I'm married?" And then,
as for the life of him he still couldn't but stare: "Hasn't he told
"Told us? Why, we haven't seen him—"
"Since the day you so put the case to him? Oh, I should have
supposed—!" She would have supposed, obviously, that he might in some
way have communicated the fact; but she clearly hadn't so much as
assured herself of it. "Then there exactly he is — he doesn't seem,
poor dear, to know what to do." And she had on his behalf, apparently,
a moment of beautiful, anxious, yet at the same time detached and all
momentary thought. "That's just then what I mean."
"My dear child," Traffle gasped, "what on earth
"Well" — and she dropped for an instant comparatively to within
his reach — "that it's where you can come in. Where in fact,
as I say, I quite wish you would!"
All his wondering attention for a moment hung upon her. "Do you
ask me, Mora, to do something for you?"
"Yes" — and it was as if no 'good creature' had ever been so
beautiful, nor any beautiful creature ever so good — "to make him
your care. To see that he does get it."
"Get it?" Traffle blankly echoed.
"Why, what you promised him. My aunt's money."
He felt his countenance an exhibition. "She promised it, Mora, to
"If I married him, yes — because I wasn't fit for her to speak to
till I should. But if I'm now proudly Mrs Puddick—"
He had already, however, as with an immense revulsion, a long
jump, taken her up: "You are, you are—?" He gaped at the
difference it made, and in which then, immensely, they seemed to
"Before all men — and the Registrar."
"The Registrar?" he again echoed; so that, with another turn of
her humour, it made her lift her eyebrows at him.
"You mean it doesn't hold if
that's the way—?"
"It holds, Mora, I suppose, any way — that makes a real marriage.
It is," he hopefully smiled, "real?"
"Could anything be more real," she asked, "than to have become
such a thing?"
"Walter Puddick's wife?" He kept his eyes on her pleadingly.
"Surely, Mora, it's a good thing — clever and charming as he
is." Now that Jane had succeeded, his instinct, of a sudden, was to
back her up.
Mrs Puddick's face — and the fact was it was strange, in the
light of her actual aspect, to think of her and name her so — showed,
however, as ready a disposition. "If he's as much as that then why
were you so shocked by my relations with him?"
He panted — he cast about. "Why, we didn't doubt of his
distinction — of what it was at any rate likely to become."
"You only doubted of mine?" she asked with her harder look.
He threw up helpless arms, he dropped them while he gazed at her.
"It doesn't seem to me possible any one can ever have questioned your
gift for doing things in your own way. And if you're now married," he
added with his return of tentative presumption and his strained smile,
"your own way opens out for you, doesn't it? as never yet."
Her eyes, on this, held him a moment, and he couldn't have said
now what was in them. "I think it does. I'm seeing," she said — "I
shall see. Only" — she hesitated but for an instant — "for that it's
necessary you shall look after him."
They stood there face to face on it — during a pause that,
lighted by her radiance, gave him time to take from her, somehow,
larger and stranger things than either might at all intelligibly or
happily have named. "Do you ask it of me?"
"I ask it of you," said Mrs Puddick after a wait that affected him
as giving his contribution to her enjoyment of that title as part of
He held out, however — contribution or no contribution — another
moment. "Do you beg me very hard?"
Once more she hung fire — but she let him have it. "I beg you
It made him turn pale. "Thank you," he said; and it was as if now
he didn't care what monstrous bargain he passed with her — which was
fortunate, for that matter, since, when she next spoke, the quantity
struck him as looming large.
"I want to be free."
"How can you not?" said Sidney Traffle, feeling, to the most
extraordinary tune, at one and the same time both sublime and base;
and quite vague, as well as indifferent, as to which character
"But I don't want him, you see, to suffer."
Besides the opportunity that this spread before him, he could have
blessed her, could have embraced her, for 'you see'. "Well, I promise
you he shan't suffer if I can help it."
"Thank you," she said in a manner that gave him, if possible, even
greater pleasure yet, showing him as it did, after all, what an honest
man she thought him. He even at that point had his apprehension of the
queerness of the engagement that, as an honest man, he was taking —
the engagement, since she so 'wanted to be free', to relieve her, so
far as he devotedly might, of any care hampering this ideal; but his
perception took a tremendous bound as he noticed that their interview
had within a moment become exposed to observation. A reflected light
in Mora's face, caught from the quarter behind him, suddenly so
advised him and caused him to turn, with the consequence of his seeing
a gentleman in the doorway by which he had entered — a gentleman in
the act of replacing the hat raised to salute Mrs Puddick and with an
accompanying smile still vivid in a clear, fresh, well-featured face.
Everything took for Sidney Traffle a sharper sense from this
apparition, and he had, even while the fact of the nature of his young
friend's business there, the keeping of an agreeable appointment in
discreet conditions, stood out for him again as in its odd insolence
of serenity and success, the consciousness that whatever his young
friend was doing, whatever she was 'up to', he was now quite as much
in the act of backing her as the gentleman in the doorway, a slightly
mature, but strikingly well-dressed, a pleasantly masterful-looking
gentleman, a haunter of the best society, one could be sure, was
waiting for him to go. Mora herself, promptly, had that apprehension,
and conveyed it to him, the next thing, in words that amounted, with
their sweet conclusive look, to a decent dismissal. "Here's what's of real importance to me," she seemed to say; "so, though I count on
you, I needn't keep you longer." But she took time in fact just to
revert. "I've asked him to go to you; and he will, I'm sure, he will: by which you'll have your chance, don't fear! Good-bye." She
spoke as if this 'chance' were what he would now at once be most
yearning for; and thus it was that, while he stayed but long enough to
let his eyes move again to the new, the impatient and distinctly
'smart', yes, unmistakably, this time, not a bit Bohemian candidate
for her attention, and then let them come back to herself as for some
grasp of the question of a relation already so developed, there might
have hung itself up there the prospect of an infinite future of
responsibility about Walter Puddick — if only as a make-weight
perhaps to the extinction of everything else. When he had turned his
back and begun humbly to shuffle, as it seemed to him, through a
succession of shining rooms where the walls bristled with eyes that
watched him for mockery, his sense was of having seen the last of Mora
as completely as if she had just seated herself in the car of a rising
balloon that would never descend again to earth.
It was before that aspect of the matter, at any rate, that Sidney
Traffle made a retreat which he would have had to regard as the most
abject act of his life hadn't he just savingly been able to regard it
as the most lucid. The aftertaste of that quality of an intelligence
in it sharp even to soreness was to remain with him, intensely, for
hours — to the point in fact (which says all) of rendering necessary
a thoughtful return to his club rather than a direct invocation of the
society of his wife. He ceased, for the rest of the day there, to
thresh about; that phase, sensibly, was over for him; he dropped into
a deep chair, really exhausted, quite spent, and in this posture
yielded to reflections too grave for accessory fidgets. They were so
grave, or were at least so interesting, that it was long since he had
been for so many hours without thinking of Jane — of whom he didn't
even dream after he had at last inevitably, reacting from weeks of
tension that were somehow ended for ever, welcomed a deep foodless
doze which held him till it was time to order tea. He woke to partake,
still meditatively, of that repast — yet, though late the hour and
quite exceptional the length of his absence, with his domestic
wantonness now all gone and no charm in the thought of how Jane would
be worried. He probably shouldn't be wanton, it struck him, ever again
in his life; that tap had run dry — had suffered an immense, a
conclusive diversion from the particular application of its flow to
This truth indeed, I must add, proved of minor relevance on his
standing before that lady, in the Wimbledon drawing-room, considerably
after six o'clock had struck, and feeling himself in presence of
revelations prepared not only to match, but absolutely to ignore and
override, his own. He hadn't put it to himself that if the pleasure of
stretching her on the rack appeared suddenly to have dropped for him
this was because 'it' — by which he would have meant everything else
— was too serious; but had he done so he would at once have
indulged in the amendment that he himself certainly was. His wife had
in any case risen from the rack, the 'bed of steel' that, in the form
of her habitual, her eternal, her plaintive, aggressive sofa, had
positively a pushed-back and relegated air — an air to the meaning of
which a tea-service that fairly seemed to sprawl and that even at such
an hour still almost unprecedentedly lingered, added the very accent
of recent agitations. He hadn't been able not to consult himself a
little as to the strength of the dose, or as to the protraction of the
series of doses, in which he should administer the squeezed fruit, the
expressed and tonic liquor, of his own adventure; but the atmosphere
surrounding Jane herself was one in which he felt questions of that
order immediately drop. The atmosphere surrounding Jane had been, in
fine, on no occasion that he could recall, so perceptibly thick, so
abruptly rich, so charged with strange aromas; he could really almost
have fancied himself snuff up from it a certain strength of transient
tobacco, the trace of a lately permitted cigarette or two at the best
— rarest of accidents and strangest of discords in that harmonious
whole. Had she, gracious goodness, been smoking with somebody? — a
possibility not much less lurid than this conceived extravagance of
the tolerated, the independent pipe.
Yes, absolutely, she eyed him through a ranker medium than had
ever prevailed between them by any perversity of his; eyed him quite as
if prepared, in regular tit-for-tat fashion, to stretch him,
for a change, on his back, to let him cool his heels in that posture
while she sauntered in view pointedly enough for him to tell her how
he liked it. Something had happened to her in his absence that made
her quite indifferent, in other words, to what might have happened to
any one else at all; and so little had he to fear asperity on the
score of his selfish day off that she didn't even see the advantage to
her, for exasperation of his curiosity, of holding him at such
preliminary arm's-length as would he represented by a specious
'scene'. She would have liked him, he easily recognized, to burst with
curiosity, or, better still, to grovel with it, before she should so
much as throw him a sop; but just this artless pride in her it was
that, by the very candour of its extravagance, presently helped him to
a keen induction. He had only to ask himself what could have occurred
that would most of all things conduce to puffing her up with triumph,
and then to reflect that, thoroughly to fill that bill, as who should
say, she must have had a contrite call from Mora. He knew indeed,
consummately, how superior a resource to morbid contrition that young
woman was actually cultivating; in accordance with which the next
broadest base for her exclusive command of the situation — and she
clearly claimed nothing else — would be the fact that Walter Puddick
had been with her and that she had had him (and to the tune of odd
revelry withal to which their disordered and unremoved cups glaringly
testified) all to herself. Such an interview with him as had so
uplifted her that she distractedly had failed to ring for the
parlour-maid, with six o'clock ebbing in strides — this did tell a
story, Traffle ruefully recognized, with which it might well verily
yet be given her to work on him. He was promptly to feel, none the
less, how he carried the war across her border, poor superficial
thing, when he decided on the direct dash that showed her she had
still to count with him.
He didn't offer her, as he looked about, the mere obvious "I see
you've had visitors, or a visitor, and have smoked a pipe with them
and haven't bored yourself the least mite" — he broke straight into:
"He has come out here again then, the wretch, and you've done him more
justice? You've done him a good deal, my dear," he laughed in the
grace of his advantage, "if you've done him even half as much as he
appears to have done your tea-table!" For this the quick flash-light
of his imagination — that's what it was for her to have
married an imaginative man — was just the drop of a flying-machine
into her castle court while she stood on guard at the gate. She gave
him a harder look, and he feared he might kindle by too great an ease
— as he was far from prematurely wishing to do — her challenge of
his own experience. Her flush of presumption turned in fact, for the
instant, to such a pathetically pale glare that, before he knew it,
conscious of his resources and always coming characteristically round
to indulgence as soon as she at all gave way, he again magnanimously
abdicated. "He came to say it's no use?" he went on, and from that
moment knew himself committed to secrecy. It had tided him over the
few seconds of his danger — that of Jane's demanding of him what he
had been up to. He didn't want to be asked, no; and his not being
asked guarded his not — yes — positively lying; since what most of
all now filled his spirit was that he shouldn't himself positively have to speak. His not doing so would be his keeping something all
to himself — as Jane would have liked, for the six-and-a-half minutes
of her strained, her poor fatuous chance, to keep her passage with
Puddick; or to do this, in any case, till he could feel her resist
what would certainly soon preponderantly make for her wish to see him
stare at her producible plum. It wasn't, moreover, that he could on
his own side so fully withstand wonder; the wonder of this new
singular ground of sociability between persons hitherto seeing so
little with the same eyes. There were things that fitted — fitted
somehow the fact of the young man's return, and he could feel in his
breast-pocket, when it came to that, the presence of the very key to
almost any blind or even wild motion, as a sign of trouble, on poor
Puddick's part; but what and where was the key to the mystery of
Jane's sudden pride in his surely at the best very queer
communication? The eagerness of this pride it was, at all events, that
after a little so worked as to enable him to breathe again for his own
momentarily menaced treasure. "They're married — they've been married
a month; not a bit as one would have wished, or by any form decent
people recognize, but with the effect, at least, he tells me, that
she's now legally his wife and he legally her husband, so that neither
can marry any one else, and that — and that—"
"And that she has taken his horrid name, under our pressure, in
exchange for her beautiful one — the one that so fitted her and that
we ourselves when all was said, did like so to keep repeating, in spite
of everything, you won't deny, for the pleasant showy thing, compared
with our own and most of our friends', it was to have familiarly
about?" He took her up with this, as she had faltered a little over
the other sources of comfort provided for them by the union so
celebrated; in addition to which his ironic speech gained him time for
the less candid, and thereby more cynically indulgent, profession of
entire surprise. And he immediately added: "They've gone in for the
mere civil marriage?"
"She appears to have consented to the very least of one that would
do: they looked in somewhere, at some dingy office, jabbered a word or
two to a man without h's and with a pen behind his ear, signed their
names, and then came out as good as you and me; very much as you and I
the other day sent off that little postal-packet to Paris from our
Traffle showed his interest — he took in the news. "Well, you
know, you didn't make Church a condition."
"No — fortunately not. I was clever enough," Jane bridled, "for
She had more for him, her manner showed — she had that to which
the bare fact announced was as nothing; but he saw he must somehow,
yes, pay by knowing nothing more than he could catch at by brilliant
guesses. That had after an instant become a comfort to him: it would
legitimate dissimulation, just as this recognised necessity would make
itself quickly felt as the mere unregarded underside of a luxury. "And
they're at all events, I take it," he went on, "sufficiently tied to
She kept him — but only for a moment. "Quite sufficiently, I
gather; and that," she said, "may come."
She made him, with it, quite naturally start. "Are they thinking
of it already?"
She looked at him another instant hard, as with the rich
expression of greater stores of private knowledge than she could adapt
all at once to his intelligence. "You've no conception — not the
least — of how he feels."
Her husband hadn't hereupon, he admitted to himself, all
artificially to gape. "Of course I haven't, love." Now that he had
decided not to give his own observation away — and this however
Puddick might 'feel' — he should find it doubtless easy to be
affectionate. "But he had been telling you all about it?"
"He has been here nearly two hours — as you of course, so far as
that went, easily guessed. Nominally — at first — he had come out to
see you; but he asked for me on finding you absent, and when I had
come in to him seemed to want nothing better—"
"Nothing better than to stay and stay, Jane?" he smiled as he took
her up. "Why in the world should he? What I ask myself," Traffle went
on, "is simply how in the world you yourself could bear it." She
turned away from him, holding him now, she judged, in a state of
dependence; she reminded him even of himself, at similar moments of
her own asservissement, when he turned his back upon her to
walk about and keep her unsatisfied; an analogy markedly perceptible
on her pausing a moment as under her first impression of the scattered
tea-things and then ringing to have them attended to. Their domestic,
retarded Rebecca, almost fiercely appeared, and her consequent cold
presence in the room and inevitably renewed return to it, by the open
door, for several minutes, drew out an interval during which he felt
nervous again lest it should occur to his wife to wheel round on him
with a question. She did nothing of the sort, fortunately; she was as
stuffed with supersessive answers as if she were the latest number of
a penny periodical: it was only a matter still of his continuing to pay
his penny. She wasn't, moreover, his attention noted, trying to be
portentous; she was much rather secretly and perversely serene — the
basis of which condition did a little tax his fancy. What on earth had
Puddick done to her — since he hadn't been able to bring her out Mora
— that had made her distinguishably happier beneath the mere grimness
of her finally scoring at home than she had been for so many months?
The best she could have learned from him — Sidney might even at this
point have staked his life upon it — wouldn't have been that she
could hope to make Mrs Puddick the centre of a grand rehabilitative
tea-party. "Why then," he went on again, "if they were married a month
ago and he was so ready to stay with you two hours, hadn't he come
"He didn't come to tell me they were married — not on purpose for
that," Jane said after a little and as if the fact itself were scarce
more than a trifle — compared at least with others she was possessed
of, but that she didn't yet mention.
"Well" — Traffle frankly waited now — "what in the world
he come to tell you?"
She made no great haste with it. "His fears."
"What fears — at present?" he disingenuously asked.
"'At present?' Why, it's just
'at present' that he feels he has got to look out." Yes, she was
distinctly, she was strangely placid about it. "It's worse to have
them now that she's his wife, don't you understand?" she pursued as
if he were really almost beginning to try her patience. "His
difficulties aren't over," she nevertheless condescended further to
She was irritating, decidedly; but he could always make the
reflection that if she had been truly appointed to wear him out she
would long since have done so. "What difficulties," he accordingly
continued, "are you talking about?"
"Those my splendid action — for he grants perfectly that it
and will remain splendid — have caused for him." But her calmness,
her positive swagger of complacency over it, was indeed amazing.
"Do you mean by your having so forced his hand?" Traffle had now
no hesitation in risking.
"By my having forced
hers," his wife presently returned.
"By my glittering bribe, as he calls it."
He saw in a moment how she liked what her visitor had called
things; yet it made him, himself, but want more. "She found your bribe
so glittering that she couldn't resist it?"
"She couldn't resist it." And Jane sublimely stalked. "She
consented to perform the condition attached — as I've mentioned to
you — for enjoying it."
Traffle artfully considered. "If she has met you on that
arrangement where do the difficulties come in?"
Jane looked at him a moment with wonderful eyes. "For me? They
don't come in!" And she again turned her back on him.
It really tempted him to permit himself a certain impatience —
which in fact he might have shown hadn't he by this time felt himself
more intimately interested in Jane's own evolution than in
Mrs Puddick's, or even, for the moment, in Mora's. That interest
ministered to his art. "You must tell me at your convenience about
yours, that is about your apparently feeling yourself now so
beautifully able to sink yours. What I'm asking you about is his — if
you've put them so at their ease."
"I haven't put them a bit at their ease!" — and she was at him
with it again almost as in a glow of triumph.
He aimed at all possible blankness. "But surely four hundred and
fifty more a year—!"
"Four hundred and fifty more is nothing to her."
"Then why the deuce did she marry him for it? — since she
apparently couldn't bring herself to without it."
"She didn't marry him that she herself should get my allowance —
she married him that he should."
At which Traffle had a bit genuinely to wonder. "It comes at any
rate to the same if you pay it to her."
Nothing, it would seem, could possibly have had on Jane's state of
mind a happier effect. "I shan't pay it to her."
Her husband could again but stare. "You
won't, dear?" he
"I don't," she nobly replied. And then as at last for one of her
greater cards: "I pay it to him."
"But if he pays it to
"He doesn't. He explains."
Traffle cast about. "Explains — a — to Mora?"
"Explains to me. He
has," she almost defiantly bridled,
Her companion smiled at her. "Ah,
that then is what took
him two hours!" He went on, however, before she could either attenuate
or amplify: "It must have taken him that of course, to arrange with
you — as I understand? — for his monopolising the money?"
She seemed to notify him now that from her high command of the
situation she could quite look down on the spiteful sarcastic touch.
"We have plenty to arrange. We have plenty to discuss. We shall often
— if you want to know — have occasion to meet." After which,
"Mora," she quite gloriously brought forth, "hates me worse than
He opened his eyes to their widest. "For settling on her a
"For having" — and Jane had positively a cold smile for it —
"believed her not respectable."
"Then was she?" Traffle gaped.
It did turn on him the tables! "Mr Puddick continues to swear it."
But even though so gracefully patient of him she remained cold.
"You yourself, however, haven't faith?"
"No," said Mrs Traffle.
"In his word, you mean?"
She had a fine little wait. "In her conduct. In his knowledge of
Again he had to rise to it. "With other persons?"
"With other persons. Even then."
Traffle thought. "But even when?"
"Even from the first," Jane grandly produced.
"Oh, oh, oh!" he found himself crying with a flush. He had had
occasion to colour in the past for her flatness, but never for such an
audacity of point. Wonderful, all round, in the light of reflection,
seemed what Mora was doing for them. "It won't be her husband, at all
events, who has put you up to that!"
She took this in as if it might have been roguishly insinuating in
respect to her own wit — though not, as who should say, to make any
great use of it. "It's what I read—"
"What you 'read'—?" he asked as she a little hung fire.
"Well, into the past that from far back so troubled me. I had
plenty to tell him!" she surprisingly went on.
"Ah, my dear, to the detriment of his own wife?" our friend broke
It earned him, however, but her at once harder and richer look.
Clearly she was at a height of satisfaction about something — it
spread and spread more before him. "For all that really, you know, she is now his wife!"
He threw himself amazedly back. "You mean she practically isn't?"
And then as her eyes but appeared to fill it out: "Is that what you've
been having from him? — and is that what we've done?"
She looked away a little — she turned off again. "Of course I've
wanted the full truth — as to what I've done."
Our friend could imagine that, at strict need; but wondrous to him
with it was this air in her as of the birth of a new detachment. "What
you've 'done', it strikes me, might be a little embarrassing for us;
but you speak as if you really quite enjoyed it!"
This was a remark, he had to note, by which she wasn't in the
least confounded; so that if he had his impression of that odd novelty
in her to which allusion has just been made, it might indeed have been
quite a new Jane who now looked at him out of her conscious eyes. "He
likes to talk to me, poor dear."
She treated his observation as if that quite met it — which
couldn't but slightly irritate him; but he hadn't in the least abjured
self-control, he was happy to feel, on his returning at once: "And you
like to talk with him, obviously — since he appears so
beautifully and quickly to have brought you round from your view of
him as merely low."
She flushed a little at this reminder, but it scarcely pulled her
up. "I never thought him low" — she made no more of it than that;
"but I admit," she quite boldly smiled, "that I did think him wicked."
"And it's now your opinion that people can be wicked without being
Prodigious, really, he found himself make out while she just
hesitated, the opinions over the responsibility of which he should yet
see her — and all as a consequence of this one afternoon of his
ill-inspired absence — ready thus unnaturally to smirk at him. "It
depends," she complacently brought out, "on the kind."
"On the kind of wickedness?"
"Yes, perhaps. And" — it didn't at all baffle her — "on the kind
"I see. It's all, my dear, I want to get at — for a proper
understanding of the extraordinary somersault you appear to have
turned. Puddick has just convinced you that his immoralities are
the right ones?"
"No, love — nothing will ever convince me that any immoralities
deserve that name. But some," she went on, "only seem wrong till
"And those are the ones that, as you say, he has been explaining?"
Traffle asked with a glittering, cheerful patience.
"He has explained a great deal, yes" — Jane bore up under it;
"but I think that, by the opportunity for a good talk with him, I've
at last understood even more. We weren't, you see, before," she
obligingly added, "in his confidence."
"No, indeed," her husband opined, "we could scarcely be said to
be. But now we are, and it makes the difference?"
"It makes the difference to
me," Jane nobly contented
herself with claiming. "If I've been remiss, however," she showed
herself prepared to pursue, "I must make it up. And doubtless I have
"'Remiss'," he stared, "when
you're in full enjoyment of my assent to our making such sacrifices
She gave it, in her superior way, a moment's thought. "I don't
mean remiss in act; no, that, thank goodness, we haven't been. But
remiss in feeling," she quite unbearably discriminated.
par exemple," he protested, "I deny that I've
been for a moment!"
"No" — and she fairly mused at him; "you seemed to have all sorts
of ideas; while I," she conceded, "had only one, which, so far as it
went, was good. But it didn't go far enough."
He watched her a moment. "I doubtless don't know what idea you
mean," he smiled, "but how far does it go now?"
She hadn't, with her preoccupied eyes on him, so much as noticed
the ironic ring of it. "Well, you'll see for yourself. I mustn't
"Abandon Puddick? Who the deuce then ever said you must?"
you a little," she blandly inquired, "all the while
you were so great on our not 'interfering'?"
"I was great — if great you call it — only," he returned, "so
far as I was great for our just a little understanding."
"Well, what I'm telling you is that I think I do at present just a
"And doesn't it make you feel just a little badly?"
"No" — she serenely shook her head; "for my intention was so
good. He does justice now," she explained, "to my intention; or he
will very soon — he quite let me see that, and it's why I'm
what you call 'happy'. With which," she wound up, "there's so much
more I can still do. There are bad days, you see, before him — and
then he'll have only me. For if she was respectable," Jane
proceeded, reverting as imperturbably to their question of a while
back, "she's certainly not nice now."
He'd be hanged, Traffle said to himself, if he wouldn't look at
her hard. "Do you mean by not coming to thank you?" And then as she
but signified by a motion that this she had now made her terms with:
"What else then is the matter with her?"
"The matter with her," said Jane on the note of high deliberation
and competence, and not without a certain pity for his own want of
light, "the matter with her is that she's quite making her
preparations, by what he's convinced, for leaving him."
"Leaving him?" — he met it with treasures of surprise.
These were nothing, however, he could feel, to the wealth of
authority with which she again gave it out. "Leaving him."
"A month after marriage?"
"A month after — their form; and she seems to think it handsome,
he says, that she waited the month. That," she added, "is what
he came above all that we should know."
He took in, our friend, many things in silence; but he presently
had his comment. "We've done our job then to an even livelier tune
than we could have hoped!"
Again this moral of it all didn't appear to shock her. "He doesn't
reproach me," she wonderfully said.
"I'm sure it's very good of him then!" Traffle cried.
But her blandness, her mildness, was proof. "My dear Sidney,
Walter is very good."
She brought it out as if she had made, quite unaided, the
discovery; though even this, perhaps, was not what he most stared at.
"Do you call him Walter?"
"Surely" — and she returned surprise for surprise — "isn't he my
Traffle bethought himself. "You recognize the Registrar then for
She could perfectly smile back. "I don't know that I would if our
friend weren't so interesting."
It was quite for Sidney Traffle, at this, as if he hadn't known up
to that moment, filled for him with her manner of intimating her
reason, what sort of a wife — for coolness and other things — he
rejoiced in. Really he had to take time — and to throw himself, while
he did so, into pretences. "The Registrar?"
"Don't be a goose, dear!" — she showed she could humour him at
last; and it was perhaps the most extraordinary impression he had ever
in his life received. "But you'll see," she continued in this spirit.
"I mean how I shall interest you." And then as he but seemed to brood
at her: "Interest you, I mean, in my interest — for I shan't content
myself," she beautifully professed, "with your simply not minding it."
"Minding your interest?" he frowned.
"In my poor ravaged, lacerated, pathetic nephew. I shall expect
you in some degree to share it."
"Oh, I'll share it if you like, but you must remember how little
She looked at him abysmally. "No — it
was mainly me. He
brings that home to me, poor dear. Oh, he doesn't scare me!"— she
kept it up; "and I don't know that I want him to, for it seems to
clear the whole question, and really to ease me a little, that he
should put everything before me, his grievance with us, I mean, and
that I should know just how he has seen our attitude, or at any rate
mine. I was stupid the other day when he came — he saw but a part of
it then. It's settled," she further mentioned, "that I shall go to
"Go to him—?" Traffle blankly echoed.
"At his studio, dear, you know," Jane promptly supplied. "I want
to see his work — for we had some talk about that too. He has made me
care for it."
Her companion took these things in — even so many of them as
there now seemed to be: they somehow left him, in point of fact, so
stranded. "Why not call on her at once?"
"That will be useless when she won't receive me. Never, never!"
said Jane with a sigh so confessedly superficial that her husband
found it peculiarly irritating.
"He has brought
that 'home' to you?" he consequently almost
She winced no more, however, than if he had tossed her a flower.
"Ah, what he has made me realize is that if he has definitely lost
her, as he feels, so we ourselves assuredly have, for ever and a day.
But he doesn't mean to lose sight of her, and in that way—"
"In that way?" — Traffle waited.
"Well, I shall always hear whatever there may be. And there's no
knowing," she developed as with an open and impartial appetite, "what
that mayn't come to."
He turned away — with his own conception of this possible
expansive quantity and a sore sense of how the combinations of things
were appointed to take place without his aid or presence, how they
kept failing to provide for him at all. It was his old irony of fate,
which seemed to insist on meeting him at every turn. Mora had
testified in the morning to no further use for him than might reside
in his making her shuffled-off lover the benevolent business of his
life; but even in this cold care, clearly, he was forestalled by a
person to whom it would come more naturally. It was by his original
and independent measure that the whole case had become interesting and
been raised above the level of a mere vulgar scandal; in spite of
which he could now stare but at the prospect of exclusion, and of his
walking round it, through the coming years — to walk vaguely round
and round announcing itself thus at the best as the occupation of his
future — in wider and remoter circles. As against this, for warmth,
there would nestle in his breast but a prize of memory, the poor
little secret of the passage at the Gallery that the day had
bequeathed him. He might propose to hug this treasure of
consciousness, to make it, by some ingenuity he couldn't yet forecast,
his very own; only it was a poor thing in view of their positive
privation, and what Jane was getting out of the whole business — her ingenuity it struck him he could quite forecast — would
certainly be a comparative riot of sympathy. He stood with his hands
in his pockets and gazed a little, very sightlessly — that is with an
other than ranging vision, even though not other than baffled one too
— out of the glimmering square of the window. Then, however, he
recalled himself, slightly shook himself, and the next moment had
faced about with a fresh dissimulation. "If you talk of her leaving
him, and he himself comes in for all your bounty, what then is she
going to live upon."
"On her wits, he thinks and fears; on her beauty, on her audacity.
Oh, it's a picture—!" Jane was now quite unshrinkingly able to report
from her visitor. Traffle, morally fingering, as it were, the mystic
medal under his shirt, was at least equally qualified, on his side, to
gloom all yearningly at her; but she had meanwhile testified further
to her consistent command of their position. "He believes her to be
more than ever — not 'respectable'."
"How, 'more than ever', if respectable was what she
"It was what she wasn't!" Jane returned.
He had a prodigious shrug — it almost eased him for the moment of
half his impatience. "I understood that you told me a moment ago the
"Then you understood wrong. All I said was that he says she was —
but that I don't believe him."
He wondered, following. "Then how does he come to describe her as
Jane straightened it out — Jane surpassed herself. "He doesn't
describe her as less so than she 'was' — I only put her at that. He
" — oh, she was candid and clear about it! — "simply puts her at
less so than she might be. In order, don't you see," she luminously
reasoned, "that we shall have it on our conscience that we took the
case out of his hands."
"And you allowed to him then that that's how we do have it?"
To this her face lighted as never yet. "Why, it's just the point
of what I tell you — that I feel I must."
He turned it over. "But why so if you're right?"
She brought up her own shoulders for his density. "I haven't been
right. I've been wrong."
He could only glare about. "In holding her then already to have
"Oh, dear, no, not that! In having let it work me up. Of course I
can but take from him now," she elucidated, "what he insists on."
Her husband measured it. "Of course, in other words, you can but
believe she was as bad as possible and yet pretend to him he has
persuaded you of the contrary?"
"Exactly, love — so that it shall make us worse. As bad as he
wants us," she smiled.
"In order," Traffle said after a moment, "that he may comfortably
take the money?"
She welcomed this gleam. "In order that he may comfortably take
He could but gaze at her again. "You
have arranged it!"
"Certainly I have — and that's why I'm calm. He considers, at any
rate," she continued, "that it will probably be Sir Bruce. I mean that
she'll leave him for."
"And who in the world is Sir Bruce?
She consulted her store of impressions. "Sir Bruce Bagley, Bart.,
I think he said."
Traffle fitted it in silence. "A soldier?" he then asked.
"I'm uncertain — but, as I seem to remember, a patron. He buys
Traffle could privately imagine it. "And that's how she knows him?"
Jane, allowed for his simplicity. "Oh, how she 'knows' people—!"
It still held him, however, an instant. "What sort of a type?"
She seemed to wonder a little at his press of questions, but after
just facing it didn't pretend to more than she knew. She was, on this
basis of proper relations that she had settled, more and more willing,
besides, to oblige. "I'll find out for you."
It came in a tone that made him turn off. "Oh, I don't mind." With
which he was back at the window.
She hovered — she didn't leave him; he felt her there behind him
as if she had noted a break in his voice or a moisture in his eyes —
a tribute to a natural pang even for a not real niece. He wouldn't
renew with her again, and would have been glad now had she quitted
him; but there grew for him during the next moments the strange sense
that, with what had so bravely happened for her — to the point of the
triumph of displaying it to him inclusive — the instinct of
compassion worked in her; though whether in respect of the comparative
solitude to which her duties to 'Walter' would perhaps more or less
relegate him, or on the score of his having brought home to him, as
she said, so much that was painful, she hadn't yet made up her mind.
This, after a little, however, she discreetly did; she decided in the
sense of consideration for his nerves. She lingered — he felt her
more vaguely about; and in the silence that thus lasted between them
he felt also, with its importance, the determination of their life for
perhaps a long time to come. He was wishing she'd go — he was wanting
not then again to meet her eyes; but still more than either of these
things he was asking himself, as from time to time during the previous
months he had all subtly and idly asked, what would have been the use,
after all, of so much imagination as constantly worked in him. Didn't
it let him into more deep holes than it pulled him out of? Didn't it
make for him more tight places than it saw him through? Or didn't it
at the same time, not less, give him all to himself a life, exquisite,
occult, dangerous and sacred, to which everything ministered and which
nothing could take away?
He fairly lost himself in that aspect — which it was clear only
the vision and the faculty themselves could have hung there, of a
sudden, so wantonly before him; and by the moment attention for nearer
things had re-emerged he seemed to know how his wife had interpreted
his air of musing melancholy absence. She had dealt with it after her
own fashion; had given him a moment longer the benefit of a chance to
inquire or a peal afresh; and then, after brushing him
good-humouredly, in point of fact quite gaily, with her skirts, after
patting and patronizing him gently with her finger-tips, very much as
he had patted and patronized Walter Puddick that day in the porch, had
put him in his place, on the whole matter of the issue of their
trouble, or at least had left him in it, by a happy last word. She had
judged him more upset, more unable to conclude or articulate, about
Mora and Sir Bruce, than she, with her easier power of rebound, had
been; and her final wisdom, indeed her final tenderness, would be to
show him cheerful and helpful mercy. "No, then, I see I mustn't rub it
in. You shan't be worried. I'll keep it all to myself, dear." With
which she would have floated away — with which and some other things
he was sensibly, relievingly alone. But he remained staring out at the
approach of evening — and it was of the other things he was more and
more conscious while the vague grey prospect held him. Even while he
had looked askance in the greyness at the importunate fiend of fancy it
was riding him again as the very genius of twilight; it played the
long reach of its prompt lantern over Sir Bruce Bagley, the patron of
promising young lives. He wondered about Sir Bruce, recalling his face
and his type and his effect — his effect, so immediate, on Mora;
wondered how he had proceeded, how he would still proceed, how far
perhaps even they had got by that time. Lord, the fun some people did
have! Even Jane, with her conscientious new care — even Jane,
unmistakably, was in for such a lot.