Flickerbridge, by Henry James

Chapter VI

All this was as pleasant a manner of passing the time as any other, for it didn’t prevent his old-world corner from closing round him more entirely, nor stand in the way of his making out from day to day some new source as well as some new effect of its virtue. He was really scared at moments at some of the liberties he took in talk — at finding himself so familiar; for the great note of the place was just that a certain modern ease had never crossed its threshold, that quick intimacies and quick oblivions were a stranger to its air. It had known in all its days no rude, no loud invasion. Serenely unconscious of most contemporary things, it had been so of nothing so much as of the diffused social practice of running in and out. Granger held his breath on occasions to think how Addie would run. There were moments when, more than at others, for some reason, he heard her step on the staircase and her cry in the hall. If he nevertheless played freely with the idea with which we have shown him as occupied it wasn’t that in all palpable ways he didn’t sacrifice so far as mortally possible to stillness. He only hovered, ever so lightly, to take up again his thread. She wouldn’t hear of his leaving her, of his being in the least fit again, as she said, to travel. She spoke of the journey to London~-which was in fact a matter of many hours — as an experiment fraught with lurking complications. He added then day to day, yet only hereby, as he reminded her, giving other complications a larger chance to multiply. He kept it before her, when there was nothing else to do, that she must consider; after which he had his times of fear that she perhaps really would make for him this sacrifice.

He knew she had written again to Paris, and knew he must himself again write — a situation abounding for each in the elements of a plight. If he stayed so long why then he wasn’t better, and if he wasn’t better Addie might take it into her head —! They must make it clear that he WAS better, so that, suspicious, alarmed at what was kept from her, she shouldn’t suddenly present herself to nurse him. If he was better, however, why did he stay so long? If he stayed only for the attraction the sense of the attraction might be contagious. This was what finally grew clearest for him, so that he had for his mild disciple hours of still sharper prophecy. It consorted with his fancy to represent to her that their young friend had been by this time unsparingly warned; but nothing could be plainer than that this was ineffectual so long as he himself resisted the ordeal. To plead that he remained because he was too weak to move was only to throw themselves back on the other horn of their dilemma. If he was too weak to move Addie would bring him her strength — of which, when she got there, she would give them specimens enough. One morning he broke out at breakfast with an intimate conviction. They’d see that she was actually starting — they’d receive a wire by noon. They didn’t receive it, but by his theory the portent was only the stronger. It had moreover its grave as well as its gay side, since Granger’s paradox and pleasantry were only the method most open to him of conveying what he felt. He literally heard the knell sound, and in expressing this to Miss Wenham with the conversational freedom that seemed best to pay his way he the more vividly faced the contingency. He could never return, and though he announced it with a despair that did what might be to make it pass as a joke, he saw how, whether or no she at last understood, she quite at last believed him. On this, to his knowledge, she wrote again to Addie, and the contents of her letter excited his curiosity. But that sentiment, though not assuaged, quite dropped when, the day after, in the evening, she let him know she had had a telegram an hour before.

“She comes Thursday.”

He showed not the least surprise. It was the deep calm of the fatalist. It HAD to be. “I must leave you then to-morrow.”

She looked, on this, as he had never seen her; it would have been hard to say whether what showed in her face was the last failure to follow or the first effort to meet. “And really not to come back?”

“Never, never, dear lady. Why should I come back? You can never be again what you HAVE been. I shall have seen the last of you.”

“Oh!” she touchingly urged.

“Yes, for I should next find you simply brought to self~consciousness. You’ll be exactly what you are, I charitably admit~-nothing more or less, nothing different. But you’ll be it all in a different way. We live in an age of prodigious machinery, all organised to a single end. That end is publicity — a publicity as ferocious as the appetite of a cannibal. The thing therefore is not to have any illusions — fondly to flatter yourself in a muddled moment that the cannibal will spare you. He spares nobody. He spares nothing. It will be all right. You’ll have a lovely time. You’ll be only just a public character — blown about the world ‘for all you’re worth,’ and proclaimed ‘for all you’re worth’ on the house-tops. It will be for THAT, mind, I quite recognise — because Addie is superior — as well as for all you aren’t. So good-bye.”

He remained however till the next day, and noted at intervals the different stages of their friend’s journey; the hour, this time, she would really have started, the hour she’d reach Dover, the hour she’d get to town, where she’d alight at Mrs. Dunn’s. Perhaps she’d bring Mrs. Dunn, for Mrs. Dunn would swell the chorus. At the last, on the morrow, as if in anticipation of this stillness settled between them: he became as silent as his hostess. But before he went she brought out shyly and anxiously, as an appeal, the question that for hours had clearly been giving her thought. “Do you meet her then to-night in London?”

“Dear no. In what position am I, alas! to do that? When can I EVER meet her again?” He had turned it all over. “If I could meet Addie after this, you know, I could meet YOU. And if I do meet Addie,” he lucidly pursued, “what will happen by the same stroke is that I SHALL meet you. And that’s just what I’ve explained to you I dread.”

“You mean she and I will be inseparable?”

He hesitated. “I mean she’ll tell me all about you. I can hear her and her ravings now.”

She gave again — and it was infinitely sad — her little whinnying laugh. “Oh but if what you say is true you’ll know.”

“Ah but Addie won’t! Won’t, I mean, know that I know — or at least won’t believe it. Won’t believe that any one knows. Such,” he added with a strange smothered sigh, “is Addie. Do you know,” he wound up, “that what, after all, has most definitely happened is that you’ve made me see her as I’ve never done before?”

She blinked and gasped, she wondered and despaired. “Oh no, it will be YOU. I’ve had nothing to do with it. Everything’s all you!”

But for all it mattered now! “You’ll see,” he said, “that she’s charming. I shall go for to-night to Oxford. I shall almost cross her on the way.”

“Then if she’s charming what am I to tell her from you in explanation of such strange behaviour as your flying away just as she arrives?”

“Ah you needn’t mind about that — you needn’t tell her anything.”

She fixed him as if as never again. “It’s none of my business, of course I feel; but isn’t it a little cruel if you’re engaged?”

Granger gave a laugh almost as odd as one of her own. “Oh you’ve cost me that!” — and he put out his hand to her.

She wondered while she took it. “Cost you —?”

“We’re not engaged. Good-bye.”

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