Everything, as he passed through the place, went on — all the offices of life, the whole bustle of the market, and withal, surprisingly, scarce less that of the nursery and the playground; the whole sprawl in especial of the great gregarious fireside: it was a complete social scene in itself, on which types might figure and passions rage and plots thicken and dramas develop, without reference to any other sphere, or perhaps even to anything at all outside. The signs of this met him at every turn as he threaded the labyrinth, passing from one extraordinary masquerade of expensive objects, one portentous “period” of decoration, one violent phase of publicity, to another: the heavy heat, the luxuriance, the extravagance, the quantity, the colour, gave the impression of some wondrous tropical forest, where vociferous, bright-eyed, and feathered creatures, of every variety of size and hue, were half smothered between undergrowths of velvet and tapestry and ramifications of marble and bronze. The fauna and the flora startled him alike, and among them his bruised spirit drew in and folded its wings. But he roamed and rested, exploring and in a manner enjoying the vast rankness — in the depth of which he suddenly encountered Mrs. Folliott, whom he had last seen, six months before, in London, and who had spoken to him then, precisely, of Phil Bloodgood, for several years previous her confidential American agent and factotum too, as she might say, but at that time so little in her good books, for the extraordinary things he seemed to be doing, that she was just hurrying home, she had made no scruple of mentioning, to take everything out of his hands.
Mark remembered how uneasy she had made him — how that very talk with her had wound him up to fear, as so acute and intent a little person she affected him; though he had affirmed with all emphasis and flourish his own confidence and defended, to iteration, his old friend. This passage had remained with him for a certain pleasant heat of intimacy, his partner, of the charming appearance, being what she was; he liked to think how they had fraternised over their difference and called each other idiots, or almost, without offence. It was always a link to have scuffled, failing a real scratch, with such a character; and he had at present the flutter of feeling that something of this would abide. He hadn’t been hurrying home, at the London time, in any case; he was doing nothing then, and had continued to do it; he would want, before showing suspicion — that had been his attitude — to have more, after all, to go upon. Mrs. Folliott also, and with a great actual profession of it, remembered and rejoiced; and, also staying in the house as she was, sat with him, under a spreading palm, in a wondrous rococo salon, surrounded by the pinkest, that is the fleshiest, imitation Boucher panels, and wanted to know if he now stood up for his swindler. She would herself have tumbled on a cloud, very passably, in a fleshy Boucher manner, hadn’t she been over-dressed for such an exercise; but she was quite realistically aware of what had so naturally happened — she was prompt about Bloodgood’s “flight.”
She had acted with energy, on getting back — she had saved what she could; which hadn’t, however, prevented her losing all disgustedly some ten thousand dollars. She was lovely, lively, friendly, interested, she connected Monteith perfectly with their discussion that day during the water-party on the Thames; but, sitting here with him half an hour, she talked only of her peculiar, her cruel sacrifice — since she should never get a penny back. He had felt himself, on their meeting, quite yearningly reach out to her — so decidedly, by the morning’s end, and that of his scattered sombre stations, had he been sated with meaningless contacts, with the sense of people all about him intensely, though harmlessly, animated, yet at the same time raspingly indifferent. They would have, he and she at least, their common pang — through which fact, somehow, he should feel less stranded. It wasn’t that he wanted to be pitied — he fairly didn’t pity himself; he winced, rather, and even to vicarious anguish, as it rose again, for poor shamed Bloodgood’s doom-ridden figure. But he wanted, as with a desperate charity, to give some easier turn to the mere ugliness of the main facts; to work off his obsession from them by mixing with it some other blame, some other pity, it scarce mattered what — if it might be some other experience; as an effect of which larger ventilation it would have, after a fashion and for a man of free sensibility, a diluted and less poisonous taste.
By the end of five minutes of Mrs. Folliott, however, he felt his dry lips seal themselves to a makeshift simper. She could take nothing — no better, no broader perception of anything than fitted her own small faculty; so that though she must have recalled or imagined that he had still, up to lately, had interests at stake, the rapid result of her egotistical little chatter was to make him wish he might rather have conversed with the French waiter dangling in the long vista that showed the oriental cafÃ© as a climax, or with the policeman, outside, the top of whose helmet peeped above the ledge of a window. She bewailed her wretched money to excess — she who, he was sure, had quantities more; she pawed and tossed her bare bone, with her little extraordinarily gemmed and manicured hands, till it acted on his nerves; she rang all the changes on the story, the dire fatality, of her having wavered and muddled, thought of this and but done that, of her stupid failure to have pounced, when she had first meant to, in season. She abused the author of their wrongs — recognising thus too Monteith’s right to loathe him — for the desperado he assuredly had proved, but with a vulgarity of analysis and an incapacity for the higher criticism, as her listener felt it to be, which made him determine resentfully, almost grimly, that she shouldn’t have the benefit of a grain of his vision or his version of what had befallen them, and of how, in particular, it had come; and should never dream thereby (though much would she suffer from that!) of how interesting he might have been. She had, in a finer sense, no manners, and to be concerned with her in any retrospect was — since their discourse was of losses — to feel the dignity of history incur the very gravest. It was true that such fantasies, or that any shade of inward irony, would be Greek to Mrs. Folliott. It was also true, however, and not much more strange, when she had presently the comparatively happy thought of “Lunch with us, you poor dear!” and mentioned three or four of her “crowd” — a new crowd, rather, for her, all great Sunday lunchers there and immense fun, who would in a moment be turning up — that this seemed to him as easy as anything else; so that after a little, deeper in the jungle and while, under the temperature as of high noon, with the crowd complete and “ordering,” he wiped the perspiration from his brow, he felt he was letting himself go. He did that certainly to the extent of leaving far behind any question of Mrs. Folliott’s manners. They didn’t matter there — nobody’s did; and if she ceased to lament her ten thousand it was only because, among higher voices, she couldn’t make herself heard. Poor Blood-good didn’t have a show, as they might have said, didn’t get through at any point; the crowd was so new that — there either having been no hue and cry for him, or having been too many others, for other absconders, in the intervals — they had never so much as heard of him and would have no more of Mrs. Folliott’s true inwardness, on that subject at least, than she had lately cared to have of Monteith’s.
There was nothing like a crowd, this unfortunate knew, for making one feel lonely, and he felt so increasingly during the meal; but he got thus at least in a measure away from the terrible little lady; after which, and before the end of the hour, he wanted still more to get away from every one else. He was in fact about to perform this manoeuvre when he was checked by the jolly young woman he had been having on his left and who had more to say about the Hotels, up and down the town, than he had ever known a young woman to have to say on any subject at all; she expressed herself in hotel terms exclusively, the names of those establishments playing through her speech as the leit-motif might have recurrently flashed and romped through a piece of profane modern music. She wanted to present him to the pretty girl she had brought with her, and who had apparently signified to her that she must do so.
“I think you know my brother-in-law, Mr. Newton Winch,” the pretty girl had immediately said; she moved her head and shoulders together, as by a common spring, the effect of a stiff neck or of something loosened in her back hair; but becoming, queerly enough, all the prettier for doing so. He had seen in the papers, her brother-in-law, Mr. Monteith’s arrival — Mr. Mark P. Monteith, wasn’t it? — and where he was, and she had been with him, three days before, at the time; whereupon he had said “Hullo, what can have brought old Mark back?” He seemed to have believed — Newton had seemed — that that shirker, as he called him, never would come; and she guessed that if she had known she was going to meet such a former friend (“Which he claims you are, sir,” said the pretty girl) he would have asked her to find out what the trouble could be. But the real satisfaction would just be, she went on, if his former friend would himself go and see him and tell him; he had appeared of late so down.
“Oh, I remember him” — Mark didn’t repudiate the friendship, placing him easily; only then he wasn’t married and the pretty girl’s sister must have come in later: which showed, his not knowing such things, how they had lost touch. The pretty girl was sorry to have to say in return to this that her sister wasn’t living — had died two years after marrying; so that Newton was up there in Fiftieth Street alone; where (in explanation of his being “down”) he had been shut up for days with bad grippe; though now on the mend, or she wouldn’t have gone to him, not she, who had had it nineteen times and didn’t want to have it again. But the horrid poison just seemed to have entered into poor Newton’s soul.
“That’s the way it can take you, don’t you know?” And then as, with her single twist, she just charmingly hunched her eyes at our friend, “Don’t you want to go to see him?”
Mark bethought himself: “Well, I’m going to see a lady ——— ”
She took the words from his mouth. “Of course you’re going to see a lady — every man in New York is. But Newton isn’t a lady, unfortunately for him, to-day; and Sunday afternoon in this place, in this weather, alone ———!”
“Yes, isn’t it awful?” — he was quite drawn to her.
“Oh, you’ve got your lady!”
“Yes, I’ve got my lady, thank goodness!” The fervour of which was his sincere tribute to the note he had had on Friday morning from Mrs. Ash, the only thing that had a little tempered his gloom.
“Well then, feel for others. Fit him in. Tell him why!”
“Why I’ve come back? I’m glad I have — since it was to see you!” Monteith made brave enough answer, promising to do what he could. He liked the pretty girl, with her straight attack and her free awkwardness — also with her difference from the others through something of a sense and a distinction given her by so clearly having Newton on her mind. Yet it was odd to him, and it showed the lapse of the years, that Winch — as he had known him of old — could be to that degree on any one’s mind.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10