In the Cage, by Henry James

Chapter 16

Her tears helped her really to dissimulate, for she had instantly, in so public a situation, to recover herself. They had come and gone in half a minute, and she immediately explained them. “It’s only because I’m tired. It’s that — it’s that!” Then she added a trifle incoherently: “I shall never see you again.”

“Ah but why not?” The mere tone in which her companion asked this satisfied her once for all as to the amount of imagination for which she could count on him. It was naturally not large: it had exhausted itself in having arrived at what he had already touched upon — the sense of an intention in her poor zeal at Cocker’s. But any deficiency of this kind was no fault in him: he wasn’t obliged to have an inferior cleverness — to have second-rate resources and virtues. It had been as if he almost really believed she had simply cried for fatigue, and he accordingly put in some kind confused plea — “You ought really to take something: won’t you have something or other somewhere?” to which she had made no response but a headshake of a sharpness that settled it. “Why shan’t we all the more keep meeting?”

“I mean meeting this way — only this way. At my place there — that I’ve nothing to do with, and I hope of course you’ll turn up, with your correspondence, when it suits you. Whether I stay or not, I mean; for I shall probably not stay.”

“You’re going somewhere else?” he put it with positive anxiety.

“Yes, ever so far away — to the other end of London. There are all sorts of reasons I can’t tell you; and it’s practically settled. It’s better for me, much; and I’ve only kept on at Cocker’s for you.”

“For me?”

Making out in the dusk that he fairly blushed, she now measured how far he had been from knowing too much. Too much, she called it at present; and that was easy, since it proved so abundantly enough for her that he should simply be where he was. “As we shall never talk this way but to~night — never, never again! — here it all is. I’ll say it; I don’t care what you think; it doesn’t matter; I only want to help you. Besides, you’re kind — you’re kind. I’ve been thinking then of leaving for ever so long. But you’ve come so often — at times — and you’ve had so much to do, and it has been so pleasant and interesting, that I’ve remained, I’ve kept putting off any change. More than once, when I had nearly decided, you’ve turned up again and I’ve thought ‘Oh no!’ That’s the simple fact!” She had by this time got her confusion down so completely that she could laugh. “This is what I meant when I said to you just now that I ‘knew.’ I’ve known perfectly that you knew I took trouble for you; and that knowledge has been for me, and I seemed to see it was for you, as if there were something — I don’t know what to call it! — between us. I mean something unusual and good and awfully nice — something not a bit horrid or vulgar.”

She had by this time, she could see, produced a great effect on him; but she would have spoken the truth to herself had she at the same moment declared that she didn’t in the least care: all the more that the effect must be one of extreme perplexity. What, in it all, was visibly clear for him, none the less, was that he was tremendously glad he had met her. She held him, and he was astonished at the force of it; he was intent, immensely considerate. His elbow was on the back of the seat, and his head, with the pot-hat pushed quite back, in a boyish way, so that she really saw almost for the first time his forehead and hair, rested on the hand into which he had crumpled his gloves. “Yes,” he assented, “it’s not a bit horrid or vulgar.”

She just hung fire a moment, then she brought out the whole truth. “I’d do anything for you. I’d do anything for you.” Never in her life had she known anything so high and fine as this, just letting him have it and bravely and magnificently leaving it. Didn’t the place, the associations and circumstances, perfectly make it sound what it wasn’t? and wasn’t that exactly the beauty?

So she bravely and magnificently left it, and little by little she felt him take it up, take it down, as if they had been on a satin sofa in a boudoir. She had never seen a boudoir, but there had been lots of boudoirs in the telegrams. What she had said at all events sank into him, so that after a minute he simply made a movement that had the result of placing his hand on her own — presently indeed that of her feeling herself firmly enough grasped. There was no pressure she need return, there was none she need decline; she just sat admirably still, satisfied for the time with the surprise and bewilderment of the impression she made on him. His agitation was even greater on the whole than she had at first allowed for. “I say, you know, you mustn’t think of leaving!” he at last broke out.

“Of leaving Cocker’s, you mean?”

“Yes, you must stay on there, whatever happens, and help a fellow.”

She was silent a little, partly because it was so strange and exquisite to feel him watch her as if it really mattered to him and he were almost in suspense. “Then you have quite recognised what I’ve tried to do?” she asked.

“Why, wasn’t that exactly what I dashed over from my door just now to thank you for?”

“Yes; so you said.”

“And don’t you believe it?”

She looked down a moment at his hand, which continued to cover her own; whereupon he presently drew it back, rather restlessly folding his arms. Without answering his question she went on: “Have you ever spoken of me?”

“Spoken of you?”

“Of my being there — of my knowing, and that sort of thing.”

“Oh never to a human creature!” he eagerly declared.

She had a small drop at this, which was expressed in another pause, and she then returned to what he had just asked her. “Oh yes, I quite believe you like it — my always being there and our taking things up so familiarly and successfully: if not exactly where we left them,” she laughed, “almost always at least at an interesting point!” He was about to say something in reply to this, but her friendly gaiety was quicker. “You want a great many things in life, a great many comforts and helps and luxuries — you want everything as pleasant as possible. Therefore, so far as it’s in the power of any particular person to contribute to all that — ” She had turned her face to him smiling, just thinking.

“Oh see here!” But he was highly amused. “Well, what then?” he enquired as if to humour her.

“Why the particular person must never fail. We must manage it for you somehow.”

He threw back his head, laughing out; he was really exhilarated. “Oh yes, somehow!”

“Well, I think we each do — don’t we? — in one little way and another and according to our limited lights. I’m pleased at any rate, for myself, that you are; for I assure you I’ve done my best.”

“You do better than any one!” He had struck a match for another cigarette, and the flame lighted an instant his responsive finished face, magnifying into a pleasant grimace the kindness with which he paid her this tribute. “You’re awfully clever, you know; cleverer, cleverer, cleverer —!” He had appeared on the point of making some tremendous statement; then suddenly, puffing his cigarette and shifting almost with violence on his seat, he let it altogether fall.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38