A Round of Visits, by Henry James

VI

He could say nothing that, whether as to the sense of it or as to the way of it, didn’t so enrich Mark’s vision of him that our friend, after a little, as this effect proceeded, caught himself in the act of almost too curiously gaping. Everything, from moment to moment, fed his curiosity; such a question, for instance, as whether the quite ordinary peepers of the Newton Winch of their earlier youth could have looked, under any provocation, either dark or wide; such a question, above all, as how this incalculable apparition came by the whole startling power of play of its extravagantly sensitive labial connections — exposed, so to its advantage (he now jumped at one explanation) by the removal of what had probably been one of the vulgar-est of moustaches. With this, at the same time, the oddity of that particular consequence was vivid to him; the glare of his curiosity fairly lasting while he remembered how he had once noted the very opposite turn of the experiment for Phil Bloodgood. He would have said in advance that poor Winch couldn’t have afforded to risk showing his “real” mouth; just as he would have said that in spite of the fine ornament that so considerably muffled it Phil could only have gained by showing his. But to have seen Phil shorn — as he once had done — was earnestly to pray that he might promptly again bristle; beneath Phil’s moustache lurked nothing to “make up” for it in case of removal. While he thought of which things the line of grimace, as he could only have called it, the mobile, interesting, ironic line the great double curve of which connected, in the face before him, the strong nostril with the lower cheek, became the very key to his first idea of Newton’s capture of refinement. He had shaved and was happily transfigured. Phil Bloodgood had shaved and been wellnigh lost; though why should he just now too precipitately drag the reminiscence in?

That question too, at the queer touch of association, played up for Mark even under so much proof that the state of his own soul was being with the lapse of every instant registered. Phil Bloodgood had brought about the state of his soul — there was accordingly that amount of connection; only it became further remarkable that from the moment his companion had sounded him, and sounded him, he knew, down to the last truth of things, his disposition, his necessity to talk, the desire that had in the morning broken the spell of his confinement, the impulse that had thrown him so defeatedly into Mrs. Folliott’s arms and into Florence Ash’s, these forces seemed to feel their impatience ebb and their discretion suddenly grow. His companion was talking again, but just then, incongruously, made his need to communicate lose itself. It was as if his personal case had already been touched by some tender hand — and that, after all, was the modest limit of its greed. “I know now why you came back — did Lottie mention how I had wondered? But sit down, sit down — only let me, nervous beast as I am, take it standing! — and believe me when I tell you that I’ve now ceased to wonder. My dear chap, I have it! It can’t but have been for poor Phil Blood-good. He sticks out of you, the brute — as how, with what he has done to you, shouldn’t he? There was a man to see me yesterday — Tim Slater, whom I don’t think you know, but who’s ‘on’ everything within about two minutes of its happening (I never saw such a fellow!) and who confirmed my supposition, all my own, however, mind you, at first, that you’re one of the sufferers. So how the devil can you not feel knocked? Why should you look as if you were having the time of your life? What a hog to have played it on you, on you, of all his friends!” So Newton Winch continued, and so the air between the two men might have been, for a momentary watcher — which is indeed what I can but invite the reader to become — that of a nervously displayed, but all considerate, as well as most acute, curiosity on the one side, and that on the other, after a little, of an eventually fascinated acceptance of so much free and in especial of so much right attention. “Do you mind my asking you? Because if you do I won’t press; but as a man whose own responsibilities, some of ’em at least, don’t differ much, I gather, from some of his, one would like to know how he was ever allowed to get to the point —! But I do plough you up?”

Mark sat back in his chair, moved but holding himself, his elbows squared on each arm, his hands a bit convulsively interlocked across him — very much in fact as he had appeared an hour ago in the old tapestry bergère; but as his rigour was all then that of the grinding effort to profess and to give, so it was considerably now for the fear of too hysterically gushing. Somehow too — since his wound was to that extent open — he winced at hearing the author of it branded. He hadn’t so much minded the epithets Mrs. Folliott had applied, for they were to the appropriator of her securities. As the appropriator of his own he didn’t so much want to brand him as — just more “amusingly” even, if one would. — to make out, perhaps, with intelligent help, how such a man, in such a relation, could come to tread such a path: which was exactly the interesting light that Winch’s curiosity and sympathy were there to assist him to. He pleaded at any rate immediately his advertising no grievance. “I feel sore, I admit, and it’s a horrid sort of thing to have had happen; but when you call him a brute and a hog I rather squirm, for brutes and hogs never live, I guess, in the sort of hell in which he now must be.”

Newton Winch, before the fireplace, his hands deep in his pockets, where his guest could see his long fingers beat a tattoo on his thighs, Newton Winch dangled and swung himself, and threw back his head and laughed. “Well, I must say you take it amazingly! — all the more that to see you again this way is to feel that if, all along, there was a man whose delicacy and confidence and general attitude might have marked him for a particular consideration, you’d have been the man.” And they were more directly face to face again; with Newton smiling and smiling so appreciatively; making our friend in fact almost ask himself when before a man had ever grinned from ear to ear to the effect of its so becoming him. What he replied, however, was that Newton described in those flattering terms a client temptingly fatuous; after which, and the exchange of another protest or two in the interest of justice and decency, and another plea or two in that of the still finer contention that even the basest misdeeds had always somewhere or other, could one get at it, their propitiatory side, our hero found himself on his feet again, under the influence of a sudden failure of everything but horror — a horror determined by some turn of their talk and indeed by the very fact of the freedom of it. It was as if a far-borne sound of the hue and cry, a vision of his old friend hunted and at bay, had suddenly broken in — this other friend’s, this irresistibly intelligent other companion’s, practically vivid projection of that making the worst ugliness real. “Oh, it’s just making my wry face to somebody, and your letting me and caring and wanting to know: that,” Mark said, “is what does me good; not any other hideous question. I mean I don’t take any interest in my case — what one wonders about, you see, is what can be done for him. I mean, that is” — for he floundered a little, not knowing at last quite what he did mean, a great rush of mere memories, a great humming sound as of thick, thick echoes, rising now to an assault that he met with his face indeed contorted. If he didn’t take care he should howl; so he more or less successfully took care — yet with his host vividly watching him while he shook the danger temporarily off. “I don’t mind — though it’s rather that; my having felt this morning, after three dismal dumb bad days, that one’s friends perhaps would be thinking of one. All I’m conscious of now — I give you my word — is that I’d like to see him.”

“You’d like to see him?”

“Oh, I don’t say,” Mark ruefully smiled, “that I should like him to see me —!”

Newton Winch, from where he stood — and they were together now, on the great hearth-rug that was a triumph of modern orientalism — put out one of the noted fine hands and, with an expressive headshake, laid it on his shoulder. “Don’t wish him that, Monteith — don’t wish him that!”

“Well, but,” — and Mark raised his eyebrows still higher — “he’d see I bear up; pretty well!”

“God forbid he should see, my dear fellow!” Newton cried as for the pang of it.

Mark had for his idea, at any rate, the oddest sense of an exaltation that grew by this use of frankness. “I’d go to him. Hanged if I wouldn’t — anywhere!”

His companion’s hand still rested on him. “You’d go to him?”

Mark stood up to it — though trying to sink solemnity as pretentious. “I’d go like a shot.” And then he added: “And it’s probably what — when we’ve turned round — I shall do.”

“When ‘we’ have turned round?”

“Well” — he was a trifle disconcerted at the tone — “I say that because you’ll have helped me.”

“Oh, I do nothing but want to help you!” Winch replied — which made it right again; especially as our friend still felt himself reassuringly and sustainingly grasped. But Winch went on: “You would go to him — in kindness?”

“Well — to understand.”

“To understand how he could swindle you?”

“Well,” Mark kept on, “to try and make out with him how, after such things —!” But he stopped; he couldn’t name them.

It was as if his companion knew. “Such things as you’ve done for him of course — such services as you’ve rendered him.”

“Ah, from far back. If I could tell you,” our friend vainly wailed — “if I could tell you!”

Newton Winch patted his shoulder. “Tell me — tell me!”

“The sort of relation, I mean; ever so many things of a kind —!” Again, however, he pulled up; he felt the tremor of his voice.

“Tell me, tell me,” Winch repeated with the same movement.

The tone in it now made their eyes meet again, and with this presentation of the altered face Mark measured as not before, for some reason, the extent of the recent ravage. “You must have been ill indeed.”

“Pretty bad. But I’m better. And you do me good” — with which the light of convalescence came back.

“I don’t awfully bore you?”

Winch shook his head. “You keep me up — and you see how no one else comes near me.”

Mark’s eyes made out that he was better — though it wasn’t yet that nothing was the matter with him. If there was ever a man with whom there was still something the matter —! Yet one couldn’t insist on that, and meanwhile he clearly did want company. “Then there we are. I myself had no one to go to.”

“You save my life,” Newton renewedly grinned.

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