The Coxon Fund, by Henry James

Chapter 7

One of the consequences, for the Mulvilles, of the sacrifices they made for Frank Saltram was that they had to give up their carriage. Adelaide drove gently into London in a one-horse greenish thing, an early Victorian landau, hired, near at hand, imaginatively, from a broken-down jobmaster whose wife was in consumption — a vehicle that made people turn round all the more when her pensioner sat beside her in a soft white hat and a shawl, one of the dear woman’s own. This was his position and I dare say his costume when on an afternoon in July she went to return Miss Anvoy’s visit. The wheel of fate had now revolved, and amid silences deep and exhaustive, compunctions and condonations alike unutterable, Saltram was reinstated. Was it in pride or in penance that Mrs. Mulville had begun immediately to drive him about? If he was ashamed of his ingratitude she might have been ashamed of her forgiveness; but she was incorrigibly capable of liking him to be conspicuous in the landau while she was in shops or with her acquaintance. However, if he was in the pillory for twenty minutes in the Regent’s Park — I mean at Lady Coxon’s door while his companion paid her call — it wasn’t to the further humiliation of any one concerned that she presently came out for him in person, not even to show either of them what a fool she was that she drew him in to be introduced to the bright young American. Her account of the introduction I had in its order, but before that, very late in the season, under Gravener’s auspices, I met Miss Anvoy at tea at the House of Commons. The member for Clockborough had gathered a group of pretty ladies, and the Mulvilles were not of the party. On the great terrace, as I strolled off with her a little, the guest of honour immediately exclaimed to me: “I’ve seen him, you know — I’ve seen him!” She told me about Saltram’s call.

“And how did you find him?”

“Oh so strange!”

“You didn’t like him?”

“I can’t tell till I see him again.”

“You want to do that?”

She had a pause. “Immensely.”

We went no further; I fancied she had become aware Gravener was looking at us. She turned back toward the knot of the others, and I said: “Dislike him as much as you will — I see you’re bitten.”

“Bitten?” I thought she coloured a little.

“Oh it doesn’t matter!” I laughed; “one doesn’t die of it.”

“I hope I shan’t die of anything before I’ve seen more of Mrs. Mulville.” I rejoiced with her over plain Adelaide, whom she pronounced the loveliest woman she had met in England; but before we separated I remarked to her that it was an act of mere humanity to warn her that if she should see more of Frank Saltram — which would be likely to follow on any increase of acquaintance with Mrs. Mulville — she might find herself flattening her nose against the clear hard pane of an eternal question — that of the relative, that of the opposed, importances of virtue and brains. She replied that this was surely a subject on which one took everything for granted; whereupon I admitted that I had perhaps expressed myself ill. What I referred to was what I had referred to the night we met in Upper Baker Street — the relative importance (relative to virtue) of other gifts. She asked me if I called virtue a gift — a thing handed to us in a parcel on our first birthday; and I declared that this very enquiry proved to me the problem had already caught her by the skirt. She would have help however, the same help I myself had once had, in resisting its tendency to make one cross.

“What help do you mean?”

“That of the member for Clockborough.”

She stared, smiled, then returned: “Why my idea has been to help HIM!”

She HAD helped him — I had his own word for it that at Clockborough her bedevilment of the voters had really put him in. She would do so doubtless again and again, though I heard the very next month that this fine faculty had undergone a temporary eclipse. News of the catastrophe first came to me from Mrs. Saltram, and it was afterwards confirmed at Wimbledon: poor Miss Anvoy was in trouble — great disasters in America had suddenly summoned her home. Her father, in New York, had suffered reverses, lost so much money that it was really vexatious as showing how much he had had. It was Adelaide who told me she had gone off alone at less than a week’s notice.

“Alone? Gravener has permitted that?”

“What will you have? The House of Commons!”

I’m afraid I cursed the House of Commons: I was so much interested. Of course he’d follow her as soon as he was free to make her his wife; only she mightn’t now be able to bring him anything like the marriage-portion of which he had begun by having the virtual promise. Mrs. Mulville let me know what was already said: she was charming, this American girl, but really these American fathers —! What was a man to do? Mr. Saltram, according to Mrs. Mulville, was of opinion that a man was never to suffer his relation to money to become a spiritual relation — he was to keep it exclusively material. “Moi pas comprendre!” I commented on this; in rejoinder to which Adelaide, with her beautiful sympathy, explained that she supposed he simply meant that the thing was to use it, don’t you know? but not to think too much about it. “To take it, but not to thank you for it?” I still more profanely enquired. For a quarter of an hour afterwards she wouldn’t look at me, but this didn’t prevent my asking her what had been the result, that afternoon — in the Regent’s Park, of her taking our friend to see Miss Anvoy.

“Oh so charming!” she answered, brightening. “He said he recognised in her a nature he could absolutely trust.”

“Yes, but I’m speaking of the effect on herself.”

Mrs. Mulville had to remount the stream. “It was everything one could wish.”

Something in her tone made me laugh. “Do you mean she gave him — a dole?”

“Well, since you ask me!”

“Right there on the spot?”

Again poor Adelaide faltered. “It was to me of course she gave it.”

I stared; somehow I couldn’t see the scene. “Do you mean a sum of money?”

“It was very handsome.” Now at last she met my eyes, though I could see it was with an effort. “Thirty pounds.”

“Straight out of her pocket?”

“Out of the drawer of a table at which she had been writing. She just slipped the folded notes into my hand. He wasn’t looking; it was while he was going back to the carriage.” “Oh,” said Adelaide reassuringly, “I take care of it for him!” The dear practical soul thought my agitation, for I confess I was agitated, referred to the employment of the money. Her disclosure made me for a moment muse violently, and I dare say that during that moment I wondered if anything else in the world makes people so gross as unselfishness. I uttered, I suppose, some vague synthetic cry, for she went on as if she had had a glimpse of my inward amaze at such passages. “I assure you, my dear friend, he was in one of his happy hours.”

But I wasn’t thinking of that. “Truly indeed these Americans!” I said. “With her father in the very act, as it were, of swindling her betrothed!”

Mrs. Mulville stared. “Oh I suppose Mr. Anvoy has scarcely gone bankrupt — or whatever he has done — on purpose. Very likely they won’t be able to keep it up, but there it was, and it was a very beautiful impulse.”

“You say Saltram was very fine?”

“Beyond everything. He surprised even me.”

“And I know what YOU’VE enjoyed.” After a moment I added: “Had he peradventure caught a glimpse of the money in the table-drawer?”

At this my companion honestly flushed. “How can you be so cruel when you know how little he calculates?”

“Forgive me, I do know it. But you tell me things that act on my nerves. I’m sure he hadn’t caught a glimpse of anything but some splendid idea.”

Mrs. Mulville brightly concurred. “And perhaps even of her beautiful listening face.”

“Perhaps even! And what was it all about?”

“His talk? It was apropos of her engagement, which I had told him about: the idea of marriage, the philosophy, the poetry, the sublimity of it.” It was impossible wholly to restrain one’s mirth at this, and some rude ripple that I emitted again caused my companion to admonish me. “It sounds a little stale, but you know his freshness.”

“Of illustration? Indeed I do!”

“And how he has always been right on that great question.”

“On what great question, dear lady, hasn’t he been right?”

“Of what other great men can you equally say it? — and that he has never, but NEVER, had a deflexion?” Mrs. Mulville exultantly demanded.

I tried to think of some other great man, but I had to give it up. “Didn’t Miss Anvoy express her satisfaction in any less diffident way than by her charming present?” I was reduced to asking instead.

“Oh yes, she overflowed to me on the steps while he was getting into the carriage.” These words somehow brushed up a picture of Saltram’s big shawled back as he hoisted himself into the green landau. “She said she wasn’t disappointed,” Adelaide pursued.

I turned it over. “Did he wear his shawl?”

“His shawl?” She hadn’t even noticed.

“I mean yours.”

“He looked very nice, and you know he’s really clean. Miss Anvoy used such a remarkable expression — she said his mind’s like a crystal!”

I pricked up my ears. “A crystal?”

“Suspended in the moral world — swinging and shining and flashing there. She’s monstrously clever, you know.”

I thought again. “Monstrously!”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56