The Coxon Fund, by Henry James

Chapter 12

Mrs. Saltram left me drawing my breath more quickly and indeed almost in pain — as if I had just perilously grazed the loss of something precious. I didn’t quite know what it was — it had a shocking resemblance to my honour. The emotion was the livelier surely in that my pulses even yet vibrated to the pleasure with which, the night before, I had rallied to the rare analyst, the great intellectual adventurer and pathfinder. What had dropped from me like a cumbersome garment as Saltram appeared before me in the afternoon on the heath was the disposition to haggle over his value. Hang it, one had to choose, one had to put that value somewhere; so I would put it really high and have done with it. Mrs. Mulville drove in for him at a discreet hour — the earliest she could suppose him to have got up; and I learned that Miss Anvoy would also have come had she not been expecting a visit from Mr. Gravener. I was perfectly mindful that I was under bonds to see this young lady, and also that I had a letter to hand to her; but I took my time, I waited from day to day. I left Mrs. Saltram to deal as her apprehensions should prompt with the Pudneys. I knew at last what I meant — I had ceased to wince at my responsibility. I gave this supreme impression of Saltram time to fade if it would; but it didn’t fade, and, individually, it hasn’t faded even now. During the month that I thus invited myself to stiffen again, Adelaide Mulville, perplexed by my absence, wrote to me to ask why I WAS so stiff. At that season of the year I was usually oftener “with” them. She also wrote that she feared a real estrangement had set in between Mr. Gravener and her sweet young friend — a state of things but half satisfactory to her so long as the advantage resulting to Mr. Saltram failed to disengage itself from the merely nebulous state. She intimated that her sweet young friend was, if anything, a trifle too reserved; she also intimated that there might now be an opening for another clever young man. There never was the slightest opening, I may here parenthesise, and of course the question can’t come up to-day. These are old frustrations now. Ruth Anvoy hasn’t married, I hear, and neither have I. During the month, toward the end, I wrote to George Gravener to ask if, on a special errand, I might come to see him, and his answer was to knock the very next day at my door. I saw he had immediately connected my enquiry with the talk we had had in the railway-carriage, and his promptitude showed that the ashes of his eagerness weren’t yet cold. I told him there was something I felt I ought in candour to let him know — I recognised the obligation his friendly confidence had laid on me.

“You mean Miss Anvoy has talked to you? She has told me so herself,” he said.

“It wasn’t to tell you so that I wanted to see you,” I replied; “for it seemed to me that such a communication would rest wholly with herself. If however she did speak to you of our conversation she probably told you I was discouraging.”

“Discouraging?”

“On the subject of a present application of The Coxon Fund.”

“To the case of Mr. Saltram? My dear fellow, I don’t know what you call discouraging!” Gravener cried.

“Well I thought I was, and I thought she thought I was.”

“I believe she did, but such a thing’s measured by the effect. She’s not ‘discouraged,’” he said.

“That’s her own affair. The reason I asked you to see me was that it appeared to me I ought to tell you frankly that — decidedly! — I can’t undertake to produce that effect. In fact I don’t want to!”

“It’s very good of you, damn you!” my visitor laughed, red and really grave. Then he said: “You’d like to see that scoundrel publicly glorified — perched on the pedestal of a great complimentary pension?”

I braced myself. “Taking one form of public recognition with another it seems to me on the whole I should be able to bear it. When I see the compliments that are paid right and left I ask myself why this one shouldn’t take its course. This therefore is what you’re entitled to have looked to me to mention to you. I’ve some evidence that perhaps would be really dissuasive, but I propose to invite Mss Anvoy to remain in ignorance of it.”

“And to invite me to do the same?”

“Oh you don’t require it — you’ve evidence enough. I speak of a sealed letter that I’ve been requested to deliver to her.”

“And you don’t mean to?”

“There’s only one consideration that would make me,” I said.

Gravener’s clear handsome eyes plunged into mine a minute, but evidently without fishing up a clue to this motive — a failure by which I was almost wounded. “What does the letter contain?”

“It’s sealed, as I tell you, and I don’t know what it contains.”

“Why is it sent through you?”

“Rather than you?” I wondered how to put the thing. “The only explanation I can think of is that the person sending it may have imagined your relations with Miss Anvoy to be at an end — may have been told this is the case by Mrs. Saltram.”

“My relations with Miss Anvoy are not at an end,” poor Gravener stammered.

Again for an instant I thought. “The offer I propose to make you gives me the right to address you a question remarkably direct. Are you still engaged to Miss Anvoy?”

“No, I’m not,” he slowly brought out. “But we’re perfectly good friends.”

“Such good friends that you’ll again become prospective husband and wife if the obstacle in your path be removed?”

“Removed?” he anxiously repeated.

“If I send Miss Anvoy the letter I speak of she may give up her idea.”

“Then for God’s sake send it!”

“I’ll do so if you’re ready to assure me that her sacrifice would now presumably bring about your marriage.”

“I’d marry her the next day!” my visitor cried.

“Yes, but would she marry YOU? What I ask of you of course is nothing less than your word of honour as to your conviction of this. If you give it me,” I said, “I’ll engage to hand her the letter before night.”

Gravener took up his hat; turning it mechanically round he stood looking a moment hard at its unruffled perfection. Then very angrily honestly and gallantly, “Hand it to the devil!” he broke out; with which he clapped the hat on his head and left me.

“Will you read it or not?” I said to Ruth Anvoy, at Wimbledon, when I had told her the story of Mrs. Saltram’s visit.

She debated for a time probably of the briefest, but long enough to make me nervous. “Have you brought it with you?”

“No indeed. It’s at home, locked up.”

There was another great silence, and then she said “Go back and destroy it.”

I went back, but I didn’t destroy it till after Saltram’s death, when I burnt it unread. The Pudneys approached her again pressingly, but, prompt as they were, The Coxon Fund had already become an operative benefit and a general amaze: Mr. Saltram, while we gathered about, as it were, to watch the manna descend, had begun to draw the magnificent income. He drew it as he had always drawn everything, with a grand abstracted gesture. Its magnificence, alas, as all the world now knows, quite quenched him; it was the beginning of his decline. It was also naturally a new grievance for his wife, who began to believe in him as soon as he was blighted, and who at this hour accuses us of having bribed him, on the whim of a meddlesome American, to renounce his glorious office, to become, as she says, like everybody else. The very day he found himself able to publish he wholly ceased to produce. This deprived us, as may easily be imagined, of much of our occupation, and especially deprived the Mulvilles, whose want of self-support I never measured till they lost their great inmate. They’ve no one to live on now. Adelaide’s most frequent reference to their destitution is embodied in the remark that dear far-away Ruth’s intentions were doubtless good. She and Kent are even yet looking for another prop, but no one presents a true sphere of usefulness. They complain that people are self-sufficing. With Saltram the fine type of the child of adoption was scattered, the grander, the elder style. They’ve got their carriage back, but what’s an empty carriage? In short I think we were all happier as well as poorer before; even including George Gravener, who by the deaths of his brother and his nephew has lately become Lord Maddock. His wife, whose fortune clears the property, is criminally dull; he hates being in the Upper House, and hasn’t yet had high office. But what are these accidents, which I should perhaps apologise for mentioning, in the light of the great eventual boon promised the patient by the rate at which The Coxon Fund must be rolling up?

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:47