In the Cage, by Henry James

Chapter 8

The girl had in course of time every opportunity to inspect these documents, and they a little disappointed her; but in the mean while there had been more talk, and it had led to her saying, as if her friend’s guarantee of a life of elegance were not quite definite: “Well, I see every one at my place.”

“Every one?”

“Lots of swells. They flock. They live, you know, all round, and the place is filled with all the smart people, all the fast people, those whose names are in the papers — mamma has still The Morning Post — and who come up for the season.”

Mrs. Jordan took this in with complete intelligence. “Yes, and I dare say it’s some of your people that I do.”

Her companion assented, but discriminated. “I doubt if you ‘do’ them as much as I! Their affairs, their appointments and arrangements, their little games and secrets and vices — those things all pass before me.”

This was a picture that could make a clergyman’s widow not imperceptibly gasp; it was in intention moreover something of a retort to the thousand tulips. “Their vices? Have they got vices?”

Our young critic even more overtly stared then with a touch of contempt in her amusement: “Haven’t you found that out?” The homes of luxury then hadn’t so much to give. “I find out everything.”

Mrs. Jordan, at bottom a very meek person, was visibly struck. “I see. You do ‘have’ them.”

“Oh I don’t care! Much good it does me!”

Mrs. Jordan after an instant recovered her superiority. “No — it doesn’t lead to much.” Her own initiations so clearly did. Still — after all; and she was not jealous: “There must be a charm.”

“In seeing them?” At this the girl suddenly let herself go. “I hate them. There’s that charm!”

Mrs. Jordan gaped again. “The real ‘smarts’?”

“Is that what you call Mrs. Bubb? Yes — it comes to me; I’ve had Mrs. Bubb. I don’t think she has been in herself, but there are things her maid has brought. Well, my dear!” — and the young person from Cocker’s, recalling these things and summing them up, seemed suddenly to have much to say. She didn’t say it, however; she checked it; she only brought out: “Her maid, who’s horrid — she must have her!” Then she went on with indifference: “They’re too real! They’re selfish brutes.”

Mrs. Jordan, turning it over, adopted at last the plan of treating it with a smile. She wished to be liberal. “Well, of course, they do lay it out.”

“They bore me to death,” her companion pursued with slightly more temperance.

But this was going too far. “Ah that’s because you’ve no sympathy!”

The girl gave an ironic laugh, only retorting that nobody could have any who had to count all day all the words in the dictionary; a contention Mrs. Jordan quite granted, the more that she shuddered at the notion of ever failing of the very gift to which she owed the vogue — the rage she might call it — that had caught her up. Without sympathy — or without imagination, for it came back again to that — how should she get, for big dinners, down the middle and toward the far corners at all? It wasn’t the combinations, which were easily managed: the strain was over the ineffable simplicities, those that the bachelors above all, and Lord Rye perhaps most of any, threw off — just blew off like cigarette-puffs — such sketches of. The betrothed of Mr. Mudge at all events accepted the explanation, which had the effect, as almost any turn of their talk was now apt to have, of bringing her round to the terrific question of that gentleman. She was tormented with the desire to get out of Mrs. Jordan, on this subject, what she was sure was at the back of Mrs. Jordan’s head; and to get it out of her, queerly enough, if only to vent a certain irritation at it. She knew that what her friend would already have risked if she hadn’t been timid and tortuous was: “Give him up — yes, give him up: you’ll see that with your sure chances you’ll be able to do much better.”

Our young woman had a sense that if that view could only be put before her with a particular sniff for poor Mr. Mudge she should hate it as much as she morally ought. She was conscious of not, as yet, hating it quite so much as that. But she saw that Mrs. Jordan was conscious of something too, and that there was a degree of confidence she was waiting little by little to arrive at. The day came when the girl caught a glimpse of what was still wanting to make her friend feel strong; which was nothing less than the prospect of being able to announce the climax of sundry private dreams. The associate of the aristocracy had personal calculations — matter for brooding and dreaming, even for peeping out not quite hopelessly from behind the window-curtains of lonely lodgings. If she did the flowers for the bachelors, in short, didn’t she expect that to have consequences very different from such an outlook at Cocker’s as she had pronounced wholly desperate? There seemed in very truth something auspicious in the mixture of bachelors and flowers, though, when looked hard in the eye, Mrs. Jordan was not quite prepared to say she had expected a positive proposal from Lord Rye to pop out of it. Our young woman arrived at last, none the less, at a definite vision of what was in her mind. This was a vivid foreknowledge that the betrothed of Mr. Mudge would, unless conciliated in advance by a successful rescue, almost hate her on the day she should break a particular piece of news. How could that unfortunate otherwise endure to hear of what, under the protection of Lady Ventnor, was after all so possible.

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