ON some allusion to a lady who, though unknown to myself, was known to two or three of the company, it was asked by one of these if we had heard the odd circumstance of what she had just “ come in for ” — the piece of luck suddenly overtaking, in the gray afternoon of her career, so obscure and lonely a personage. We were at first, in our ignorance, mainly reduced to crude envy ; but old Lady Emma, who for a while had said nothing, scarcely even appearing to listen, and letting the chatter, which was indeed plainly beside the mark, subside of itself, came back from a mental absence to observe that if what had happened to Lavinia was wonderful, certainly, what had, for years, gone before it, led up to it, had likewise not been without some singular features. From this we perceived that Lady Emma had a story — a story, moreover, out of the ken even of those of her listeners acquainted with the quiet person who was the subject of it. Almost the oddest thing—as came out afterwards — was that such a situation should, for the world, have remained so in the background of this person’s life. By “ afterwards ” I mean simply before we separated ; for what came out came on the spot, under encouragement and pressure, our common, eager solicitation. Lady Emma, who always reminded me of a fine old instrument that has first to be tuned, agreed, after a few of our scrapings and fingerings, that, having said so much, she could n’t, without wantonly tormenting us, forbear to say all. She had known Lavinia, whom she mentioned throughout only by that name, from far away, and she had also known— But what she had known I must give as nearly as possible as she herself gave it. She talked to us from her corner of the sofa, and the flicker of the firelight in her face was like the glow of memory, the play of fancy, from within.
“ Then why on earth don’t you take him ? ” I asked. I think that was the way that, one day when she was about twenty — before some of you perhaps were born — the affair, for me, must have begun. I put the question because I knew she had had a chance, though I did n’t know how great a mistake her failure to embrace it was to prove. I took an interest because I liked them both — you see how I like young people still — and because, as they had originally met at my house, I had, in a manner, to answer to each for the other. I ’m afraid I’m thrown baldly back on the fact that if the girl was the daughter of my earliest, almost my only governess, to whom I had remained much attached and who, after leaving me, had married— for a governess — “ well,” Marmaduke (it is n’t his real name!) was the son of one of the clever men who had — I was charming then, I assure you I was — wanted, years before, and this one as a widower, to marry me. I had n’t cared, somehow, for widowers, but even after I had taken somebody else I was conscious of a pleasant link with the boy whose stepmother it had been open to me to become and to whom it was perhaps a little a matter of vanity with me to show that I should have been for him one of the kindest. This was what the woman his father eventually did marry was not, and that threw him upon me the more.
Lavinia was one of nine, and her brothers and sisters, who have never done anything for her, help, actually, in different countries and on something, I believe, of that same scale, to people the globe. There were mixed in her then, in a puzzling way, two qualities that mostly exclude each other — an extreme timidity, and, as the smallest fault that could qualify a harmless creature for a world of wickedness, a self-complacency hard in tiny, unexpected spots, for which I used sometimes to take her up, but which, I subsequently saw, would have done something for the flatness of her life had they not evaporated with everything else. She was at any rate one of those persons as to whom you don’t know whether they might have been attractive if they had been happy, or might have been happy if they had been attractive. If I was a trifle vexed at her not jumping at Marmaduke, it was probably rather less because I expected wonders of him than because I thought she took her own prospect too much for granted. She had made a mistake, and, before long, admitted it; yet I remember that when she expressed to me a conviction that he would ask her again, I also thought this highly probable, for in the meantime I had spoken to him. “ She does care for you,” I declared; and I can see at this moment, long ago though it be, his handsome empty young face look, at the words, as if, in spite of itself, for a little, it really thought. I did n’t press the matter, for he had, after all, no great things to offer; yet my conscience was easier, later on, for having not said less. He had three hundred and fifty a year from his mother, and one of his uncles had promised him something — I don’t mean an allowance, but a place, if I recollect, in a business. He assured me that he loved as a man loves — a man of twenty-two ! — but once. He said it, at all events, as a man says it but once.
“ Well, then,” I replied, “your course is clear.”
“ To speak to her again, you mean ? ”
“ Yes — try it.”
He seemed to try it a moment in imagination ; then, a little to my surprise, he asked, “Would it be very awful if she should speak to me ? ”
I stared. “ Do you mean pursue you — overtake you ? Ah, if you ’re running away ” —
“ I’m not running away ! ” — he was positive as to that. “ But when a fellow has gone so far ” —
“ He can’t go any further ? Perhaps,” I replied dryly. “ But in that case he should n’t talk of ‘ caring.’ ”
“ Oh, but I do, I do.”
I shook my head. “ Not if you ’re too proud ! ” On which I turned away, looking round at him again, however, after he had surprised me by a silence that seemed to accept my judgment. Then I saw he had not accepted it; I perceived it indeed to be essentially absurd. He expressed more, on this, than I had yet seen him do — had the queerest, frankest, and, for a young man of his conditions, saddest smile.
“ I’m not proud. It is n’t in me. If you ’re not, you ’re not, you know. I don’t think I’m proud enough.”
It came over me that this was, after all, probable ; yet somehow I did n’t at the moment like him the less for it, though I spoke with some sharpness. “ Then what’s the matter with you ? ”
He took a turn or two about the room, as if what he had just said had made him a little happier. “ Well, how can a man say more ? ” Then, just as I was on the point of assuring him that I did n’t know what he had said, he went on : “I swore to her that I would never marry. Ought n’t that to be enough ? ”
“ To make her come after you ? ”
“No — I suppose scarcely that; but to make her feel sure of me — to make her wait.”
“ Wait for what ? ”
“ Well, till I come back.”
“ Back from where ? ”
“ From Switzerland — have n’t I told you? I go there next month with my aunt and my cousin.”
He was quite right about not being proud — this was an alternative distinctly humble.
And yet see what it brought forth — the beginning of which was something that, early in the autumn, I learned from poor Lavinia. He had written to her, they were still such friends ; and thus it was that she knew his aunt and his cousin to have come back without him. He had stayed on — stayed much longer and traveled much farther: he had been to the Italian lakes and to Venice; he was now in Paris. At this I vaguely wondered, knowing that he was always short of funds, and that he must, by his uncle’s beneficence, have started on the journey on a basis of expenses paid. “Then whom has he picked up?” I asked ; but feeling sorry, as soon as I had spoken, to have made Lavinia blush. It was almost as if he had picked up some improper lady, though in this case he would n’t have told her and it would n’t have saved him money.
“ Oh, he makes acquaintance so quickly, knows people in two minutes,” the girl said. “ And every one always wants to be nice to him.”
This was perfectly true, and I saw what she saw in it. “Ah, my dear, he will have an immense circle ready for you ! ”
“ Well,” she replied, “if they do run after us, I’m not likely to suppose it will ever be for me. It will be for him, and they may do to me what they like. My pleasure will be — but you ’ll see.” I already saw, — saw at least what she supposed she herself saw : her drawingroom crowded with female fashion and her attitude angelic. “ Do you know what he said to me again before he went?” she continued.
I wondered ; he had then spoken to her. “That he will never, never marry ” —
“ Any one but me ! ” She ingenuously took me up. “ Then you knew ? ”
I hesitated. “ I guessed.”
“ And don’t you believe it ? ”
Again I hesitated. “Yes.” Yet all this did n’t tell me why she had changed color. “ Is it a secret — whom he’s with ? ” I asked.
“ Oh no, they seem so nice. I was only struck with the way you know him — your seeing immediately that it must be a new friendship that has kept him over. It’s the devotion of the Dedricks,” Lavinia said. “ He’s traveling with them.”
Once more I wondered. “ Do you mean they ’re taking him about? ”
“ Yes — they’ve invited him.”
No, indeed, I reflected — he wasn’t proud. But what I said was, “ “ Who in the world are the Dedricks?”
“ Kind, good people whom, last month, he accidentally met. He was walking some Swiss pass— a long, rather stupid one, I believe, without his aunt and his cousin, who had gone round some other way and were to meet him somewhere. It came on to rain in torrents, and while he was huddling under a shelter he was overtaken by some people in a carriage, who kindly made him get in. They drove him, I gather, for several hours; it began an intimacy, and they’ve continued to be charming to him.”
I thought a moment. “ Are they ladies ? ”
Her own imagination, meanwhile, had also strayed a little. “ I think about forty.”
“ Forty ladies ? ”
She quickly came back. “ Oh no ; I mean Mrs. Dedrick is.”
“ About forty ? Then Miss Dedrick ” —
“There is n’t any Miss Dedrick.”
“ No daughter ? ”
“Not with them, at any rate. No one but the husband.”
I thought again. “ And how old is he?”
Lavinia followed my example. “ Well, about forty, too.”
“About forty-two?” We laughed, but “ That’s all right! ” I said ; and so, for the time, it seemed.
He continued absent, none the less, and I saw Lavinia repeatedly, and we always talked of him, though this represented a greater concern with his affairs than I had really supposed myself committed to. I had never sought the acquaintance of his father’s people, nor seen either his aunt or his cousin, so that the account given by these relatives of the circumstances of their separation reached me at last only through the girl, to whom, also — for she knew them as little — it had circuitously come. They considered, it appeared, the poor ladies he had started with, that he had treated them ill and thrown them over, sacrificing them selfishly to company picked up on the road — a reproach deeply resented by Lavinia, though about the company, too, I could see she was not much more at her ease. “ How can he help it if he’s so taking? ” she asked; and to be properly indignant in one quarter, she had to pretend to be delighted in the other. Marmaduke was “ taking ; ” yet it also came out between us, at last, that the Dedricks must certainly be extraordinary. We had scant added evidence, for his letters stopped, and that naturally was one of our signs. I had meanwhile leisure to reflect — it was a sort of study of the human scene I always liked — on what to be taking consisted of. The upshot of my meditations, which experience has only confirmed, was that it consisted simply of itself. It was a quality implying no others. Marmaduke had no others. What indeed was his need of any?
He at last, however, turned up ; but then it happened that if, on his coming to see me, his immediate picture of his charming new friends quickened even more than I had expected my sense of the variety of the human species, my curiosity about them failed to make me respond when he suggested I should go to see them. It’s a difficult thing to explain, and I don’t pretend to put it successfully, but does n’t it often happen that one may think well enough of a person without being inflamed with the desire to meet — on the ground of any such sentiment—other persons who think still better ? Somehow — little harm as there was in Marmaduke—it was but half a recommendation of the Dedricks that they were crazy about him. I did n’t say this — I was careful to say little ; which did n’t prevent his presently asking if he might n’t then bring them to me. “ If not, why not? ” he laughed. He laughed about everything.
“ Why not ? Because it strikes me that your surrender does n’t require any backing. Since you’ve done it, you must take care of yourself.”
“ Oh, but they ’re as safe,” he returned, “ as the Bank of England. They ’re wonderful — for respectability and goodness.”
“Those are precisely qualities to which my poor intercourse can contribute nothing.” He had n’t, I observed, gone so far as to tell me they would be “ fun,” and he had, on the other hand, promptly mentioned that they lived in Westbourne Terrace. They were not forty — they were forty-five ; but Mr. Dedrick had already, on considerable gains, retired from some primitive profession. They were the simplest, kindest, yet most original and unusual people, and nothing could exceed, frankly, the fancy they had taken to him. Marmaduke spoke of it with a placidity of resignation that was almost irritating. I suppose I should have despised him if, after benefits accepted, he had said they bored him ; yet their not boring him vexed me even more than it puzzled. “ Whom do they know ? ”
“ No one but me. There are people in London like that.”
“ Who know no one but you ? ”
“ No — I mean no one at all. There are extraordinary people in London, and awfully nice. You have n’t an idea. You people don’t know every one. They lead their lives — they go their way. One finds — what do you call it? — refinement, books, cleverness, don’t you know, and music, and pictures, and religion, and an excellent table — all sorts of pleasant things. You only come across them by chance ; but it’s all perpetually going on.”
I assented to this : the world was very wonderful, and one must certainly see what one could. In my own quarter, too, I found wonders enough. “ But are you,” I asked, “ as fond of them ” —
“ As they are of me ? ” He took me up promptly, and his eyes were quite unclouded. “ I ’m quite sure I shall become so.”
“ Then are you taking Lavinia” —
“ Not to see them — no.” I saw, myself, the next minute, of course, that I had made a mistake. “ On what footing can I ? ”
I bethought myself. “ I keep forgetting you ’re not engaged.”
“Well,” he said after a moment, “ I shall never marry another.”
It somehow, repeated again, gave on my nerves. “ Ah, but what good will that do her, or me either, if you don’t marry her ? ”
He made no answer to this — only turned away to look at something in the room ; after which, when he next faced me, he had a heightened color. “ She ought to have taken me that day,” he said gravely and gently ; fixing me also as if he wished to say more.
I remember that his very mildness irritated me; some show of resentment would have been a promise that the case might still be righted. But I dropped it, the silly case, without letting him say more, and, coming back to Mr. and Mrs. Dedrick, asked him how in the world, without either occupation or society, they passed so much of their time. My question appeared for a moment to leave him at a loss, but he presently found light; which, at the same time, I saw on my side, really suited him better than further talk about Lavinia. “ Oh, they live for Maud-Evelyn.”
“ And who’s Maud-Evelyn? ”
“ Why, their daughter.”
“ Their daughter ? ” I had supposed them childless.
He partly explained. “ Unfortunately, they’ve lost her.”
“ Lost her ? ” I required more.
He hesitated again. “ I mean that a great many people would take it that way. But they don’t — they won’t.”
I speculated. “ Do you mean other people would have given her up ? ”
“Yes — perhaps even tried to forget her. But the Dedricks can’t.”
I wondered what she had done : had it been anything very bad ? However, it was none of my business, and I only said, “ They communicate with her ? ”
“ Oh, all the while.”
“ Then why is n’t she with them ? ”
Marmaduke thought. “ She is — now.”
“ ‘ Now ’ ? Since when ? ”
“Well, this last year.”
“ Then why do you say they’ve lost her ? ”
“ Ah,” he said, smiling sadly, “ I should call it that. I, at any rate,” he went on, “ don’t see her.”
Still more I wondered, “ They keep her apart ? ”
He thought again. “ No, it’s not that. As I say, they live for her.”
“ But they don’t want you to — is that it ? ”
At this he looked at me for the first time, as I thought, a little strangely. “ How can I ? ”
He put it to me as if it were bad of him, somehow, that he should n’t ; but I made, to the best of my ability, a quick end of that. “ You can’t. Why in the world should you ? Live for my girl. Live for Lavinia.”
I had run, unfortunately, the risk of boring him again with that idea, and, though he had not repudiated it at the time, I saw in my having returned to it the reason why, for weeks, he never reappeared. I saw “ my girl,” as I had called her, in the interval, but we avoided with much intensity the subject of Marmaduke. It was just this that gave me my perspective for seeing her still to be full of him. It determined me, in all the circumstances, not to rectify her mistake about the childlessness of the Dedricks. But whatever I left unsaid, her naming the young man was only a question of time, for at the end of a month she told me he had been twice to her mother’s and that she had seen him on each of these occasions.
“ Well, then ? ”
“ Well, then, he’s very happy.”
“ And still taken up ” —
“ As much as ever with those people. He did n’t tell me so, but I could see it.”
I could too, and her own view of it. “ What, in that case, did he tell you ? ”
“Nothing— but I think there’s something he wants to. Only not what you think,” she added.
I wondered then if it were what I had had from him the last time. “ Well, what prevents him ? ” I asked.
“From bringing it out? I don’t know.”
It was in the tone of this that she struck, to my ear, the first note of an acceptance so deep and a patience so strange that they gave me, at the end, even more food for wonderment than the rest of the business. “ If he can’t speak, why does he come ? ”
She almost smiled. “ Well, I think I shall know.”
I looked at her; I remember that I kissed her. “You’re admirable; but it’s very ugly,”
“Ah,” she replied, “ he only wants to be kind! ”
“ To them ? Then he should let others alone. But what I call ugly is his being content to he so ‘ beholden ’ ” —
“To Mr. and Mrs. Dedrick?” She considered, as if there might be many sides to it. “ But may n’t he do them some good ? ”
The idea failed to appeal to me. “ What good can Marmaduke do ? There’s one thing,” I went on, “ in case he should want you to know them. Will you promise me to refuse ? ”
She only looked helpless and blank. “ Making their acquaintance ? ”
“ Seeing them, going near them, — ever, ever.”
Again she brooded. “ Do you mean you won’t ? ”
“ Never, never.”
“ Well, then, I don’t think I want to.”
“ Ah, but that’s not a promise.” I kept her up to it. “I want your word.”
She demurred a little, “ But why ? ”
“ So that at least he shan’t make use of you,” I said with energy.
My energy overbore her, though I saw how she would really have given herself. “ I promise, but it’s only because it’s something I know he will never ask.”
I differed from her at the time, believing the proposal in question to have been exactly the subject she had supposed him to be wishing to broach ; but on our very next meeting I heard from her of quite an other matter, upon which, as soon as she came in, I saw her to be much excited.
“ You know, then, about the daughter without having told me ? He called again yesterday,” she explained, as she met my stare at her unconnected plunge, “and now I know that he has wanted to speak to me. He at last brought it out.”
I continued to stare. “ Brought what ? ”
“ Why, everything.” She looked surprised at my face. “ Did n’t he tell you about Maud-Evelyn ? ”
I perfectly recollected, but I momentarily wondered. “ He spoke of there being a daughter, but only to say that there ’s something the matter with her. What is it ? ”
The girl echoed my words. “ What ‘ is ’ it ? — you dear, strange thing ! The matter with her is simply that she’s dead.”
“ Dead ? ” I was naturally mystified. “ When, then, did she die ? ”
“ Why, years and years ago — fifteen, I believe. As a little girl. Did n’t you understand it so ? ”
“ How should I ? — when he spoke of her as ‘ with ’ them and said that they lived for her ! ”
“ Well,” my young friend explained, “ that’s just what he meant — they live for her memory. She is with them, in the sense that they think of nothing else.”
I found matter for surprise in this correction, but also, at first, matter for relief. At the same time it left, as I turned it over, a fresh ambiguity. “ If they think of nothing else, how can they think so much of Marmaduke ? ”
The difficulty struck her, though she gave me even then a dim impression of being already, as it were, rather on Marmaduke’s side, or, at any rate — almost as against herself — in sympathy with the Dedrieks. But her answer was prompt: “ Why, that’s just their reason, — that they can talk to him so much about her.”
“ I see.” Yet still I wondered. “ But what’s his interest ” —
“In being drawn into it?” Again Lavinia met her difficulty. “ Well, that she was so interesting ! It appears she was lovely.”
I doubtless fairly gaped. “A little girl in a pinafore ? ”
“ She was out of pinafores ; she was, I believe, when she died, about fourteen. Unless it was sixteen ! She was, at all events, wonderful for beauty.”
“ That’s the rule. But what good does it do him if he has never seen her ? ”
She thought a moment, but this time she had no answer. “ Well, you must ask him! ”
I determined without delay to do so; but I had before me, meanwhile, other contradictions. “ Had n’t I better ask him, on the same occasion, what he means by their ‘ communicating ’ ? ”
Oh, this was simple. “They go in for ‘ mediums,’ don’t you know, and raps, and sittings. They began a year or two ago.”
“ Ah, the idiots! ” I remember, at this, narrow-mindedly exclaiming. “Do they want to drag him in — ? ”
Not in the least; they don’t desire it, and he has nothing to do with it.”
“ Then where does his fun come in ? ”
Lavinia turned away; again she seemed at a loss. At last she brought out, “ Make him show you her little photograph.”
But I remained unenlightened. “ Is her little photograph his fun ? ”
Once more she colored for him. “ Well, it represents a young loveliness ! ”
“ That he goes about showing?”
She hesitated. “ I think he has only shown it to me.”
“ Ah, you’re just the last one!” I permitted myself to observe.
“ Why so, if I’m also struck ? ”
There was something about her that began to escape me, and I must have looked at her hard. “ It’s very good of you to be struck ! ”
“ I don’t only mean by the beauty of the face,” she went on ; “I mean by the whole thing — by that, also, of the attitude of the parents, their extraordinary fidelity, and the way that, as he says, they have made of her memory a real religion. That was what, above all, he came to tell me about.”
I turned away from her now, and she soon afterwards left me ; but I could n’t help its dropping from me, before we parted, that I had never supposed him to be that sort of fool.
If I were really the perfect cynic you probably think me, I should frankly say that the main interest of the rest of this matter lay, for me, in fixing the sort of fool I did, suppose him. But I’m afraid, after all, that my anecdote amounts mainly to a presentation of my own folly. I should n’t be so in possession of the whole spectacle had I not ended by accepting it, and I should n’t have accepted it had it not, for my imagination, been saved, somehow, from grotesqueness. Let me say at once, however, that grotesqueness, and even indeed something worse, did at first appear to me strongly to pervade it. After that talk with Lavinia, I immediately addressed to our friend a request that he would come to see me; when I took the liberty of challenging him outright on everything she had told me. There was one point in particular that I desired to clear up, and that seemed to me much more important even than the color of Maud-Evelyn’s hair or the length of her pinafores : the question, I mean, of course, of my young man’s good faith. Was he altogether silly, or was he only altogether mercenary? I felt my choice restricted, for the moment, to these alternatives.
After he had said to me, “ It’s as ridiculous as you please, but they’ve simply adopted me,” I had it out with him, on the spot, on the issue of common honesty, the question of what he was conscious, so that his self-respect should be saved, of being able to give such benefactors in return for such bounty. I’m obliged to say that to a person so inclined at the start to quarrel with him, his amiability could yet prove persuasive. His contention was that the equivalent he represented was something for his friends alone to measure. He did n’t for a moment pretend to sound deeper than the fancy they had taken to him. He had not, from the first, made up to them in any way : it was all their own doing, their own insistence, their own eccentricity, no doubt, and even, if I liked, their own insanity. Was n’t it enough that he was ready to declare to me, looking me straight in the eye, that he was “ really and truly ” fond of them and that they did n’t bore him a mite ? I had evidently — did n’t I see ? — an ideal for him that he was n’t at all, if I did n’t mind, the fellow to live up to. It was he himself who put it so, and it drew from me the pronouncement that there was something irresistible in the refinement of his impudence. “I don’t go near Mrs. Jex,” he said—Mrs. Jex was their favorite medium: “I do find her ugly and vulgar and tiresome, and I hate that part of the business. Besides,” he added in words that I afterwards remembered, “ I don’t require it: I do beautifully without it. But my friends themselves,” he pursued, “ though they ’re of a type you’ve never come within miles of, are not ugly, are not vulgar, are not, in any degree whatever, any sort of a ‘ dose.’ They are, on the contrary, in their own unconventional way, the very best company. They ’re endlessly amusing. They ’re delightfully queer and quaint and kind — they ’re like people in some old story or of some old time. It’s at any rate our own affair— mine and theirs— and I beg you to believe that I should make short work of a remonstrance on the subject from any one but you.”
I remember saying to him three months later, “ You’ve never yet told me what they really want of you ; ” but I’m afraid this was a form of criticism that occurred to me precisely because I had already begun to guess. By that time, indeed, I had had great initiations, and poor Lavinia had had them as well, — hers, in fact, throughout, went further than mine — and we had shared them together, and I had settled down to a tolerably exact sense of what I was to see. It was what Lavinia added to it that really made the picture. The portrait of the little dead girl had suggested something charming, though one had not lived so long in the world without hearing of plenty of little dead girls ; and the day came when I felt as if I had actually sat with Marmaduke in each of the rooms converted by her parents — with the aid not only of the few small, cherished relics, but that of the fondest figments and fictions, ingenious imaginary mementos and tokens, the unexposed make-believes of the sorrow that broods and the passion that clings — into a temple of grief and worship. The child, incontestably beautiful, had evidently been passionately loved, and in the absence from their lives — I suppose originally a mere accident — of such other elements, either new pleasures or new pains, as abound for most people, their feeling had drawn to itself their whole consciousness : it had become mildly maniacal. The idea was fixed, and it kept others out. The world, for the most part, allows no leisure for such a ritual, but the world had consistently neglected this plain, shy couple, who were sensitive to the wrong things, and whose sincerity and fidelity, as well as their Philistinism, were of a rigid, antique pattern.
I must not represent that either of these young persons, or my attention to their affairs, took up the whole of my life ; for I had many claims to meet and many belongings to deal with, a hundred preoccupations and much deeper anxieties. My young woman, on her side, had other contacts and complications — other troubles too, poor girl ; and there were stretches of time in which I neither saw Marmaduke nor heard a word of the Dedricks. Once, only once, abroad, in Germany, at a railway station, I met him in their company. They were colorless, commonplace elderly Britons, of the kind you identify by the livery of their footman or the labels of their luggage, and the mere sight of them justified me, to my conscience, in having avoided, from the first, the stiff problem of conversation with them. Marmaduke saw me, on the spot, and came over to me. There was no doubt whatever of his vivid bloom. He had grown fat — or almost, but not with grossness — and might perfectly have passed for the handsome, happy, fullblown son of doting parents who could n’t let him out of view, and to whom he was a model of respect and solicitude. They followed him with placid, pleased eyes when he joined me, but asking nothing at all for themselves, and quite fitting into his own manner of saying nothing about them. It had its charm, I confess, the way he could be natural and easy, and yet intensely conscious, too, on such a basis. What he was conscious of was that there were things I by this time knew ; just as, while we stood there and good-humoredly sounded each other’s faces — for, having accepted everything at last, I was only a little curious — I knew that he measured my insight. When he returned again to his doting parents I had to admit that, doting as they were, I felt him not to have been spoiled. It was unexpected, in such a career, but he was rather more of a man. There came back to me with a shade of regret, after I had got, on this occasion, into my train, which was not theirs, a memory of some words that, a couple of years before, I had uttered to poor Lavinia. She had said to me, speaking in reference to what was then our frequent topic, and on some fresh evidence that I have forgotten, “ He feels now, you know, about Maud-Evelyn, quite as the old people themselves do.”
“ Well,” I had replied, “it’s only a pity he’s paid for it! ”
“ Paid ? ” She had looked very blank.
“ By all the luxuries and conveniences,” I had explained, “ that he comes in for through living with them. For that’s what he practically does.”
At present I saw how wrong I had been. He was paid, but paid differently, and the mastered wonder of that was really what had been between ns in the waiting-room of the station. Step by step, after this, I followed.
I can see Lavinia as she came to me in her new mourning the first time after her mother’s death. There had been long anxieties connected with this event: and she was already faded — already almost old. But Marmaduke, on her bereavement, had been to her.
“ Do you know what he thinks now ? ” she asked me. “ He thinks he knew her.”
“ Knew the child ? ” It came to me as if I had half expected it.
“ He speaks of her now as if she had n’t been a child.” My visitor gave me the strangest fixed smile. “It appears that she wasn’t so young — it appears she had grown up.”
I stared. “ How can it ‘ appear ’ ? They know, at least! There were the facts.”
“ Yes,” said Lavinia, “but they seem to have come to take a different view of them. He talked to me a long time, and all about her. He told me things.”
“ What kind of things ? Not trumpery stuff, I hope, about ‘ communicating,’ — about his seeing or hearing her? ”
“ Oh no, he does n’t go in for that; he leaves it to the old couple, who, I believe, cling to their mediums, keep up their sittings and their rappings, and find in it all a comfort, an amusement, that he does n’t grudge them and that he regards as harmless. I mean anecdotes — memories of his own. I mean things she said to him and that they did together — places they went to. His mind is full of them,”
I turned it over. “ Do you think he’s decidedly mad ? ”
She shook her head with her bleached confidence. “ Oh no, it’s too beautiful.”
“ Then are you taking it up ? I mean the preposterous theory ” —
“ It is a theory,” she broke in, “ but it is n’t necessarily preposterous. Any theory has to suppose something,” she sagely pursued, “ and it depends, at any rate, on what it’s a theory of. It’s wonderful to see this one work.”
“ Wonderful, always, to see the growth of a legend ! ” I laughed. “ This is a rare chance to watch one in formation. They ’re all three, in good faith, building it up. Is n’t that what you made out from him ? ”
Her tired face fairly lighted. “Yes — you understand it; and you put it better than I. It’s the gradual effect of spreading out the past; it grows and grows. They make it and make it. They’ve persuaded each other — the parents — of so many things that they’ve at last also persuaded him. It has been contagious.”
“ It’s you who put it well,” I returned. “ It’s the oddest thing I ever heard of, but it is, in its way, a reality. Only we must n’t speak of it to others.”
She quite accepted that precaution. “No—to nobody. He doesn’t. He keeps it only for me.”
“ Conferring on you thus,” I again laughed, “ such a precious privilege ! ”
She was silent a moment, looking away from me. “ Well, he has kept his vow.”
“You mean of not marrying ? Are you very sure ? ” I asked. “ Did n’t he perhaps ” — But I faltered at the boldness of my joke.
The next moment I saw I need n’t. “ He was in love with her,” Lavinia brought out.
I broke now into a peal which, however provoked, struck even my own ear at the moment as rude almost to profanity.
“ He literally tells you outright that he’s making believe? ”
She met me effectively enough. “ I don’t think he knows he is. He ’s just completely in the current.”
“ The current of the old people’s twaddle ? ”
Again my companion hesitated; but she knew what she thought. “Well, whatever we call it, I like it. It is n’t so common, as the world goes, for any one — let alone for two or three—to feel and to care for the dead as much as that. It’s self-deception, no doubt, but it comes from something that — well,” she faltered again, “ is beautiful when one does hear of it. They make her out older, so as to imagine they had her longer ; and they make out that certain things really happened to her, so that she shall have had more life. They ’ve invented a whole experience for her, and Marmaduke has become a part of it. There’s one tiling, above all, they want her to have had.” My young friend’s face, as she analyzed the mystery, fairly grew bright with her vision. It came to me with a faint dawn of awe that the attitude of the Dedricks was contagious. “And she did have it!” Lavinia declared.
I positively admired her, and if I could yet perfectly be rational without being ridiculous, it was really, more than anything else, to draw from her the whole image. “ She had the bliss of knowing Marmaduke? Let us agree to it, then, since she’s not here to contradict us. But what I don’t get over is the scant material for him!” It may easily be conceived how little, for the moment, I could get over it. It was the last time my impatience was to be too much for me, but I remember how it broke out. “ A man who might have had you ! ”
For an instant I feared I had upset her, — thought I saw in her face the tremor of a wild wail. But poor Lavinia was magnificent. “ It was n’t that he might have had ‘ me,’ — that’s nothing : it was, at the most, that I might have had him. Well, is n’t that just what has happened ? He’s mine from the moment no one else has him. I give up the past, but don’t you see what it does for the rest of life? I ’m surer than ever that he won’t marry.”
“ Of course, he won’t — to quarrel, with those people ! ”
For a minute she answered nothing; then, “ Well, for whatever reason ! ” she simply said. Now, however, I had drawn from her a couple of still tears, and I pushed away the whole obscure comedy.
I might push it away, but I could n’t really get rid of it; nor, on the whole, doubtless, did I want to, for to have in one’s life, year after year, a particular question or two that one could n’t comfortably and impressively make up one’s mind about was just the sort of thing to keep one from turning stupid. There had been little need of my imposing reserve upon Lavinia: she obeyed, in respect to impenetrable silence save with myself, an instinct, an interest of her own. We never, therefore, gave poor Marmaduke, as you call it, “ away ; ” we were much too tender, let alone that she was also too proud ; and, for himself, evidently, there was not, to the end, in London, another person in his confidence. No echo of the queer part he played ever came back to us ; and I can’t tell you how this fact, just by itself, brought home to me little by little a sense of the charm he was under. I met him “ out ” at long intervals — met him usually at dinner. He had grown like a person with a position and a history. Rosy and rich-looking — fat, moreover, distinctly fat at last; there was almost in him something of the bland — yet not too bland — young head of an hereditary business. If the Dedricks had been bankers, he might have been their hope. There was, none the less, a long middle stretch during which, though we were all so much in London, he dropped out of my talks with Lavinia. We were conscious, she and I, of his absence from them; but we clearly felt, in each quarter, that there are things, after all, unspeakable, and the fact, at all events, had nothing to do with her seeing or not seeing our friend. I was sure, as it happened, that she did see him. But there were moments that, for myself, still stand out.
One of these was a certain Sunday afternoon, when it was so dismally wet that, taking for granted I should have no visitors, I had drawn up to the fire with a book — a successful novel of the day — that I promised myself comfortably to finish. Suddenly, in my absorption, I heard a firm rat-tat-tat; on which I remember giving a groan of inhospitality. But my visitor proved, in due course, Marmaduke, and Marmaduke proved — in a manner even less, at the point we had reached, to have been counted on—still more attaching than my novel. I think it was only an accident that he became so ; it would have been the turn of a hair either way. He had n’t come to speak — he had only come to talk, to show once more that we could continue good old friends without his speaking. But, somehow, there were the circumstances: the insidious fireside, the things in the room, with their reminders of his younger time ; perhaps even too the open face of my book, looking at him from where I had laid it down for him, and giving him a chance to feel that he could supersede Wilkie Collins. There was at all events a promise of intimacy, of opportunity for him, in the cold lash of the windows by the storm. We should be alone ; it was cosy ; it was safe.
The action of these impressions was the more marked that what was touched by them, I afterwards saw, was not at all a desire for an effect — was just simply a spirit of happiness that needed to overflow. It had finally become too much for him. His past, rolling up year after year, had grown too interesting. But he was, all the same, directly stupefying. I forget what turn of our preliminary gossip brought it out, but it came, in explanation of something or other, as it had not yet come: “ When a man has had for a few months what I had, you know ! ” The moral appeared to be that nothing in the way of human experience of the exquisite could again particularly matter. He saw, however, that I failed immediately to fit his reflection to a definite case, and he went on with the frankest smile : “ You look as bewildered as if you suspected me of alluding to some sort of thing that is n’t usually spoken of; but I assure you I mean nothing more reprehensible than our blessed engagement itself.”
“ Your blessed engagement ? ” I could n’t help the tone in which I took him up ; but the way he disposed of that was something of which I feel to this hour the influence. It was only a look, but it put an end to my tone forever. It made me, on my side, after an instant, look at the fire — look hard, and even turn a little red. During this moment I saw my alternatives, and I chose ; so that when I met his eyes again I was fairly ready. “ You still feel,” I asked with sympathy, “ how much it did for you ? ”
I had no sooner spoken than I saw that that would be, from that moment, the right way. It instantly made all the difference. The only question would be whether I could keep it up. I remember that only a few minutes later, for instance, this question gave a flare. His reply had been abundant and imperturbable— had included some glance at the way death brings into relief even the faintest things that have preceded it; on which I felt myself suddenly as restless as if I had grown afraid of him. I got up to ring for tea; he went on talking — talking about Maud-Evelyn and what she had been for him ; and when the servant had come up I prolonged, nervously, on purpose, the order I had wished to give. It made time, and I could speak to the footman sufficiently without thinking: what I thought of really was the risk of turning right round with a little outbreak. The temptation was strong; the same influences that had worked for iny companion just worked, in their way, during that minute or two, for me. Should I, taking him unaware, flash at him a frank “ I say, just settle it for me once for all. Are you the boldest and basest of fortune-hunters, or have you only, more innocently and perhaps more pleasantly, suffered your brain slightly to soften ” ? But I missed the chance — which I did n’t, in fact, afterwards, regret. My servant went out, and I faced again to my visitor, who continued to converse. I met his eyes once more, and their effect was repeated. If anything had happened to his brain, this effect was perhaps the domination of the madman’s stare. Well, he was the easiest and gentlest of madmen. By the time the footman came back with tea I was in for it; I was in for everything. By “everything” I mean my whole subsequent treatment of the case. It was — the case was — really beautiful. So, like all the rest, the hour comes back to me: the sound of the wind and the rain ; the look of the empty, ugly, cabless square and of the stormy spring light; the way that, uninterrupted and absorbed, we had tea together by my fire. So it was that he found me receptive, and that I found myself able to look merely grave and kind when he said, for example, “ Her father and mother, you know, really, that first day — the day they picked me up on the Splügen — recognized me as the proper one.”
“ The proper one ? ”
“ To make their son-in-law. They wanted her so,” he went on, “to have had, don’t you know, just everything.”
“ Well, if she did have it,” — I tried to be cheerful — “ is n’t the whole thing, then, all right ? ”
“ Oh, it’s all right now,” he replied — “ now that we’ve got it all there before us. You see, they could n’t like me so much” — he wished me thoroughly to understand — “ without wanting me to have been the man.”
“ I see — that was natural.”
“Well,” said Marmaduke, “it prevented the possibility of any one else.”
“Ah, that would never have done ! ” I laughed.
His own pleasure at it was impenetrable, splendid. “ You see, they could n’t do much, the old people — and they can do still less now — with the future ; so they had to do what they could with the past.”
“ And they seem to have done,” I concurred, “ remarkably much.”
“ Everything, simply. Everything,” he repeated. Then he had an idea, though without insistence or importunity — I saw it just flicker in his face. “ If you were to come to Westbourne Terrace ” —
“ Oh, don’t speak of that! ” I broke in. “ It would n’t be decent now. I should have come, if at all, ten years ago.”
But he saw, with his good humor, further than this. “ I see what you mean. But there’s much more in the place now than then.”
“ I dare say. People get new things. All the same ” — I was at bottom but resisting my curiosity.
Marmaduke did n’t press me, but he wanted me to know. “ There are our rooms — the whole set; and I don’t believe you ever saw anything more charming, for her taste was extraordinary. I’m afraid, too, that I myself have had much to say to them.” Then as he saw that I was again a little at sea, “ I’m talking,” he went on, “ of the suite prepared for her marriage.” He “ talked ” like a crown-prince. “ They were ready, to the last touch — there was nothing more to be done. And they ’re just as they were — not an object moved, not an arrangement altered, not a person but ourselves coming in : they ’re only exquisitely kept. All our presents are there — I should have liked you to see them.”
It had become a torment by this time — I saw that I had made a mistake. But I carried it off. “ Oh, I could n’t have borne it! ”
“ They ’re not sad,” he smiled — “ they ’re too lovely for that. They ’re happy. And the things ” — He seemed, in the excitement of our talk, to have them before him.
“ They ’re so very wonderful ? ”
“ Oh, selected with a patience that makes them almost priceless. It’s really a museum. There was nothing they thought too good for her.”
I had lost the museum, but I reflected that it could contain no object so rare as my visitor. “Well, you’ve helped them —you could do that.”
He quite eagerly assented. “ I could do that, thank God, — I could do that! I felt it from the first, and it’s what I have done.” Then as if the connection were direct, “ All my things are there.”
I thought a moment. “Your presents ? ”
“ Those I made her. She loved each one, and I remember, about each, the particular thing she said. Though I do say it,” he continued, “ none of the others, as a matter of fact, come near mine. I look at them every day, and I assure you I’m not ashamed.” Evidently, in short, he had spared nothing, and he talked on and on. He really quite swaggered.
In relation to times and intervals I can only recall that if this visit of his to me had been in the early spring, it was one day in the late autumn — a day, which could n’t have been in the same year, with the difference of hazy, drowsy sunshine and brown and yellow leaves — that, taking a short cut across Kensington Gardens, I came, among the untrodden ways, upon a couple occupying chairs under a tree, who immediately rose at the sight of me. I had been behind them at recognition, the fact that Marmaduke was in deep mourning having perhaps, so far as I had observed it, misled me. In my desire both not to look flustered at meeting them and to spare their own confusion, I bade them again be seated, and asked leave, as a third chair was at hand, to share a little their rest. Thus it befell that after a minute Lavinia and I had sat down, while our friend, who had looked at his watch, stood before us among the fallen foliage and remarked that he was sorry to have to leave us. Lavinia said nothing, but I expressed regret; I could n’t, however, as it struck me, without a false or a vulgar note, speak as if I had interrupted a tender passage or separated a pair of lovers. But I could look him up and down and note his deep mourning. He had not made, for going off, any other pretext than that his time was up and that he was due at home. “ Home,” with him now had but one meaning: I knew him to be completely quartered in Westbourne Terrace. “ I hope nothing has happened,” I said — “ that you’ve lost no one whom I know.”
Marmaduke looked at my companion, and she looked at Marmaduke. “He has lost his wife,” she then observed.
Oh, this time, I fear, I had a small quaver of brutality ; but it was at him I directed it. “Your wife? I didn’t know you had had a wife ! ”
“ Well,” he replied, positively gay in his black suit, his black gloves, his high hatband, “ the more we live in the past, the more things we find in it. That’s a literal fact. You would see the truth of it if your life had taken such a turn.”
“ I live in the past,” Lavinia put in gently and as if to help us both.
“ But with the result, my dear,” I returned, “ of not making, I hope, discoveries ! ” It seemed absurd to be afraid to be light.
“ May none of her discoveries be more fatal than mine ! ” Marmaduke was n’t uproarious, but his treatment of the matter had the good taste of brightness. “ They’ve wanted it so for her,” he continued to me wonderfully, “that we’ve at last seen our way to it—I mean to what Lavinia has mentioned.” He hesitated but three seconds — he brought it brightly out. “ Maud-Evelyn had all her young happiness.”
I stared, but Lavinia was, in her peculiar manner, as brilliant. “ The marriage did take place,” she quietly, stupendously explained to me.
Well, I was determined not to be left. “ So you ’re a widower,” I gravely asked, “ and these are the signs ? ”
“ Yes ; I shall wear them always now.”
“ But is n’t it late to have begun ? ”
My question had been stupid, I felt the next instant; but it did n’t matter — he was quite equal to the occasion. “ Oh, I had to wait, you know, till all the facts about my marriage had given me the right.” And he looked at his watch again. “Excuse me — I am due. Good-by, good-by.” He shook hands with each of us, and as we sat there together watching him walk away I was struck with his admirable manner of looking the character. I felt, indeed, as our eyes followed him, that we were at one on this, and I said nothing till he was out of sight. Then, by the same impulse, we turned to each other.
“ I thought he was never to marry ! ” I exclaimed to my friend.
Her fine wasted face met me gravely. “ He is n’t — ever. He ’ll be still more faithful.”
“ Faithful, this time, to whom ? ”
“ Why, to Maud-Evelyn.” I said nothing— I only checked an ejaculation; but I put out a hand and took one of hers, and for a minute we kept silence. “ Of course it’s only an idea,” she began again at last, “ but it seems to me a beautiful one.” Then she continued resignedly and remarkably; “And now they can die.”
“ Mr. and Mrs. Dedrick ? ” I pricked up my ears. “ Are they dying ? ”
“Not quite, but the old lady, it appears, is failing, steadily weakening; less, as I understand it, from any definite ailment than because she just feels her work done and her little sum of passion, as Marmaduke calls it, spent. Fancy, with her convictions, all her reasons for wanting to die ! And if she goes, he says, Mr. Dedrick won’t long linger. It will be quite ‘ John Anderson my jo.’ ”
“ Keeping her company down the hill, to lie beside her at the foot ? ”
“ Yes, having settled all things.”
I turned these things over as we walked away, and how they had settled them — for Maud-Evelyn’s dignity and Marmaduke’s high advantage ; and before we parted that afternoon — we had taken a cab in the Bayswater Road and she had come home with me — I remember saying to her, “ Well, then, when they die won’t he be free ? ”
She seemed scarce to understand. “ Free ? ”
“ To do what he likes.”
She wondered. “ But he does what he likes now.”
“ Well, then, what you like ! ”
“ Oh, you know what I like ” —
Ah, I closed her mouth ! “ You like to tell horrid fibs — yes, I know it! ”
What she had then put before me, however, came in time to pass : I heard in the course of the next year of Mrs. Dedrick’s extinction, and some months later, without, during the interval, having seen a sign of Marmaduke, wholly taken up with his bereaved patron, learned that her husband had touchingly followed her. I was out of England at the time ; we had had to put into practice great economies and let our little place ; so that, spending three winters successively in Italy, I devoted the periods between, at home, altogether to visits among people, mainly relatives, to whom these friends of mine were not known. Lavinia of course wrote to me — wrote, among many things, that Marmaduke was ill, and had not seemed at all himself since the loss of his “ family,” and this in spite of the circumstance, which she had already promptly communicated, that they had left him, by will, “ almost everything.” I knew before I came back to remain that she now saw him often, and, to the extent of the change that had overtaken his strength and his spirits, greatly ministered to him. As soon as we at last met I asked for news of him; to which she replied, “ He’s gradually going.” Then, on my surprise, “ He has had his life.”
“You mean that, as he said of Mrs. Dedrick, his sum of passion is spent? ”
At this she turned away. “ You ’ve never understood.”
I had, I conceived ; and when I went subsequently to see him, I was moreover sure. But I only said to Lavinia, on this first occasion, that I would immediately go ; which was precisely what brought out the climax, as I feel it to be, of my story. “ He’s not now, you know,” she turned round to admonish me, “ in Westbourne Terrace. He has taken a little old house in Kensington.”
“ Then he has n’t kept the things ? ”
“ He has kept everything.” She looked at me still more as if I had never understood.
“ You mean he has moved them ? ”
She was patient with me. “ He has moved nothing. Everything is as it was, and kept with the same perfection.”
I wondered. “ But if he does n’t live there ?”
“ It’s just what he does.”
“ Then how can he be in Kensington ? ”
She hesitated, but she had still more than her old grasp of it. “ He ’s in Kensington — without living.”
“You mean that at the other place ” —
“ He spends most of his time. He ’s driven over there every day, — he remains there for hours. He keeps it for that.”
“ I see — it’s still the museum.”
“ It’s still the temple ! ” Lavinia replied with positive austerity.
“Then why did he move ? ”
“ Because, you see, there ” — she faltered again — “I could come to him. And he wants me,” she said with admirable simplicity.
Little by little I took it in. “ After the death of the parents even, vou never went ? ”
“ So you have n’t seen anything ? ”
“ Anything of hers? Nothing.”
I understood, I understood, but I won’t deny that I was disappointed : I had hoped for an account of his wonders, and I immediately felt that it would n’t be for me to take a step that she had declined. When, a short time later, I saw them together in Kensington Square — there were certain hours of the day that she regularly spent with him — I observed that everything about him was new, handsome and simple. They were, in their strange, final union — if union it could be called, — very natural and very touching ; but he was visibly stricken — he had his malady in his eyes. She moved about him like a sister of charity — at all events like a sister. He was neither robust nor rosy now, nor was his attention visibly veiy present, and I wondered, privately and fancifully, where it wandered and waited. But poor Marmaduke was a gentleman to the end — he wasted away with an excellent manner. He died twelve days ago ; the will was opened ; and last week, having meanwhile heard from her of its contents, I saw Lavinia. He leaves her everything that he himself had inherited. But she spoke of it all in a way that made me say in surprise, “ You have n’t yet been to the house ? ”
“ Not yet. I’ve only seen the solicitors, who tell me there will be no complications.”
There was something in her manner that made me go on. “ Then you ’re not curious to see what ’s there ? ”
She looked at me with a troubled — almost a pleading — sense, which I understood ; and presently she said, “ Will you go with me ? ”
“ Some day, with pleasure — but not the first time. You must go alone then. The ‘ relics ’ that you ’ll find there,” I added — for I had read her look — “ you must think of now not as hers ” —
“ But as his? ”
“ Is n’t that what his death — with his so close relation to them — has made them for you ? ”
Her face lighted — I saw it was a view she could thank me for putting into words. “ I see— I see. They are his. I ’ll go.”
She went, and three days ago she came to me. They ’re really marvels, it appears, treasures extraordinary, and she has them all. Next week I go with her — I shall see them at last. Tell you about them, you say ? My dear man, everything.