Crapy Cornelia by Henry James
Three times within a quarter of an hour — shifting the while his
posture on his chair of contemplation — had he looked at his watch as
for its final sharp hint that he should decide, that he should get up.
His seat was one of a group fairly sequestered, unoccupied save for
his own presence, and from where he lingered he looked off at a
stretch of lawn freshened by recent April showers and on which sundry
small children were at play. The trees, the shrubs, the plants, every
stem and twig just ruffled as by the first touch of the light finger
of the relenting year, struck him as standing still in the blest hope
of more of the same caress; the quarter about him held its breath
after the fashion of the child who waits with the rigour of an open
mouth and shut eyes for the promised sensible effect of his having been
good. So, in the windless, sun-warmed air of the beautiful afternoon,
the Park of the winter's end had struck White-Mason as waiting; even
New York, under such an impression, was 'good', good enough — for him: its very sounds were faint, were almost sweet, as they
reached him from so seemingly far beyond the wooded horizon that
formed the remoter limit of his large shallow glade. The tones of the
frolic infants ceased to he nondescript and harsh, were in fact almost
as fresh and decent as the frilled and puckered and ribboned garb of
the little girls, which had always a way, in those parts, of so
portentously flaunting the daughters of the strange native — that is
of the overwhelmingly alien — populace at him.
Not that these things in particular were his matter of meditation
now; he had wanted, at the end of his walk, to sit apart a little and
think — and had been doing that for twenty minutes, even though as yet
to no break in the charm of procrastination. But he had looked without
seeing and listened without hearing: all that had been positive for
him was that he hadn't failed vaguely to feel. He had felt in the
first place, and he continued to feel — yes, at forty-eight quite as
much as at any point of the supposed reign of younger intensities —
the great spirit of the air, the fine sense of the season, the supreme
appeal of Nature, he might have said, to his time of life; quite as if
she, easy, indulgent, indifferent, cynical Power, were offering him
the last chance it would rest with his wit or his blood to embrace.
Then with that he had been entertaining, to the point and with the
prolonged consequence of accepted immobilization, the certitude that
if he did call on Mrs Worthingham and find her at home he couldn't in
justice to himself not put to her the question that had lapsed the
other time, the last time, through the irritating and persistent, even
if accidental, presence of others. What friends she had — the people
who so stupidly, so wantonly stuck! If they should, he and she,
come to an understanding, that would presumably have to include
certain members of her singularly ill-composed circle, in whom it was
incredible to him that he should ever take an interest. This defeat,
to do himself justice — he had bent rather predominantly on that
, you see; ideal justice to her, with her possible conception
of what it should consist of being another and quite a different
matter — he had had the fact of the Sunday afternoon to thank for;
she didn't 'keep' that day for him, since they hadn't, up to now,
quite begun to cultivate the appointment or assignation founded on
explicit sacrifices. He might at any rate look to find this pleasant
practical Wednesday — should he indeed, at his actual rate, stay it
before it ebbed — more liberally and intendingly given him.
The sound he at last most wittingly distinguished in his nook was
the single deep note of half-past five borne to him from some
high-perched public clock. He finally got up with the sense that the
time from then on ought at least to be felt as sacred to him.
At this juncture it was — while he stood there shaking his garments,
settling his hat, his necktie, his shirt-cuffs, fixing the high polish
of his fine shoes as if for some reflection in it of his straight and
spare and grizzled, his refined and trimmed and dressed, his
altogether distinguished person, that of a gentleman abundantly
settled, but of a bachelor markedly nervous — at this crisis it was,
doubtless, that he at once most measured and least resented his
predicament. If he should go he would almost to a certainty find her,
and if he should find her he would almost to a certainty come to the
point. He wouldn't put it off again — there was that high
consideration for him of justice at least to himself. He had never yet
denied himself anything so apparently fraught with possibilities as
the idea of proposing to Mrs Worthingham — never yet, in other words,
denied himself anything he had so distinctly wanted to do; and the
results of that wisdom had remained for him precisely the precious
parts of experience. Counting only the offers of his honourable hand,
these had been on three remembered occasions at least the consequence
of an impulse as sharp and a self-respect that hadn't in the least
suffered, moreover, from the failure of each appeal. He had been met in
the three cases — the only ones he at all compared with his present
case — by the frank confession that he didn't somehow, charming as he
was, cause himself to be superstitiously believed in; and the lapse of
life, afterward, had cleared up many doubts.
It wouldn't have done, he eventually, he lucidly saw, each
time he had been refused; and the candour of his nature was such that
he could live to think of these very passages as a proof of how right
he had been — right, that is, to have put himself forward always, by
the happiest instinct, only in impossible conditions. He had the happy
consciousness of having exposed the important question to the crucial
test, and of having escaped, by that persistent logic, a grave
mistake. What better proof of his escape than the fact that he was now
free to renew the all-interesting inquiry, and should be exactly about
to do so in different and better conditions? The conditions were
better by as much more — as much more of his career and character, of
his situation, his reputation he could even have called it, of his
knowledge of life, of his somewhat extended means, of his possibly
augmented charm, of his certainly improved mind and temper — as was
involved in the actual impending settlement. Once he had got into
motion, once he had crossed the Park and passed out of it, entering,
with very little space to traverse, one of the short new streets that
abutted on its east side, his step became that of a man young enough
to find confidence, quite to find felicity, in the sense, in almost
any sense, of action. He could still enjoy almost anything, absolutely
an unpleasant thing, in default of a better, that might still remind
him he wasn't so old. The standing newness of everything about him
would, it was true, have weakened this cheer by too much presuming on
it; Mrs Worthingham's house, before which he stopped, had that gloss
of new money, that glare of a piece fresh from the mint and ringing
for the first time on any counter, which seems to claim for it, in any
transaction, something more than the 'face' value.
This could but be yet more the case for the impression of the
observer introduced and committed. On our friend's part I mean, after
his admission and while still in the hall, the sense of the general
shining immediacy, of the still unhushed clamour of the shock, was
perhaps stronger than he had ever known it. That broke out from every
corner as the high pitch of interest, and with a candour that — no,
certainly — he had never seen equalled; every particular expensive
object shrieking at him in its artless pride that it had just 'come
home'. He met the whole vision with something of the grimace produced
on persons without goggles by the passage from a shelter to a blinding
light; and if he had — by a perfectly possible chance — been
'snap-shotted' on the spot, would have struck you as showing for his
first tribute to the temple of Mrs Worthingham's charming presence a
scowl almost of anguish. He wasn't constitutionally, it may at once be
explained for him, a goggled person; and he was condemned in New York
to this frequent violence of transition — having to reckon with it
whenever he went out, as who should say, from himself. The high pitch
of interest, to his taste, was the pitch of history, the pitch of
acquired and earned suggestion, the pitch of association, in a word;
so that he lived by preference, incontestably, if not in a rich gloom,
which would have been beyond his means and spirits, at least amid
objects and images that confessed to the tone of time.
He had ever felt that an indispensable presence — with a need of
it moreover that interfered at no point with his gentle habit, not to
say his subtle art, of drawing out what was left him of his youth, of
thinly and thriftily spreading the rest of that choicest jam-pot of
the cupboard of consciousness over the remainder of a slice of life
still possibly thick enough to bear it; or in other words of moving
the melancholy limits, the significant signs, constantly a little
further on, very much as property-marks or staked boundaries are
sometimes stealthily shifted at night. He positively cherished in
fact, as against the too inveterate gesture of distressfully guarding
his eyeballs — so many New York aspects seemed to keep him at it —
an ideal of adjusted appreciation, of courageous curiosity, of fairly
letting the world about him, a world of constant breathless renewals
and merciless substitutions, make its flaring assault on its own
inordinate terms. Newness was value in the piece — for the
acquisitor, or at least sometimes might be, even though the act of
'blowing' hard, the act marking a heated freshness of arrival, or
other form of irruption, could never minister to the peace of those
already and long on the field; and this if only because maturer tone
was after all most appreciable and most consoling when one staggered
back to it, wounded, bleeding, blinded, from the riot of the raw —
or, to put the whole experience more prettily, no doubt, from excesses
If he went in, however, with something of his more or less
inevitable scowl, there were really, at the moment, two rather valid
reasons for screened observation; the first of these being that the
whole place seemed to reflect as never before the lustre of
Mrs Worthingham's own polished and prosperous little person — to
smile, it struck him, with her smile, to twinkle not only with the
gleam of her lovely teeth, but with that of all her rings and brooches
and bangles and other gewgaws, to curl and spasmodically cluster as in
emulation of her charming complicated yellow tresses, to surround the
most animated of pink-and-white, of ruffled and ribboned, of frilled
and festooned Dresden china shepherdesses with exactly the right
system of rococo curves and convolutions and other flourishes, a
perfect bower of painted and gilded and moulded conceits. The second
ground of this immediate impression of scenic extravagance, almost as
if the curtain rose for him to the first act of some small and
expensively mounted comic opera, was that she hadn't, after all,
awaited him in fond singleness, but had again just a trifle
inconsiderately exposed him to the drawback of having to reckon, for
whatever design he might amiably entertain, with the presence of a
third and quite superfluous person, a small black insignificant but
none the less oppressive stranger. It was odd how, on the instant, the
little lady engaged with her did affect him as comparatively black —
very much as if that had absolutely, in such a medium, to be the
graceless appearance of any item not positively of some fresh shade of
a light colour or of some pretty pretension to a charming twist. Any
witness of their meeting, his hostess should surely have felt, would
have been a false note in the whole rosy glow; but what note so false
as that of the dingy little presence that she might actually, by a
refinement of her perhaps always too visible study of effect, have
provided as a positive contrast or foil? whose name and intervention,
moreover, she appeared to be no more moved to mention and account for
than she might have been to 'present' — whether as stretched at her
feet or erect upon disciplined haunches — some shaggy old
domesticated terrier or poodle.
Extraordinarily, after he had been in the room five minutes — a
space of time during which his fellow-visitor had neither budged nor
uttered a sound — he had made Mrs Worthingham out as all at once
perfectly pleased to see him, completely aware of what he had most in
mind, and singularly serene in face of his sense of their impediment.
It was as if for all the world she didn't take it for one, the
immobility, to say nothing of the seeming equanimity, of their
tactless companion; at whom meanwhile indeed our friend himself, after
his first ruffled perception, no more adventured a look than if
advised by his constitutional kindness that to notice her in any
degree would perforce be ungraciously to glower. He talked after a
fashion with the woman as to whose power to please and amuse and serve
him, as to whose really quite organized and indicated fitness for
lighting up his autumn afternoon of life his conviction had lately
strained itself so clear; but he was all the while carrying on an
intenser exchange with his own spirit and trying to read into the
charming creature's behaviour, as he could only call it, some
confirmation of his theory that she also had her inward flutter and
anxiously counted on him. He found support, happily for the conviction
just named, in the idea, at no moment as yet really repugnant to him,
the idea bound up in fact with the finer essence of her appeal, that
she had her own vision too of her quality and her price, and that the
last appearance she would have liked to bristle with was that of being
forewarned and eager.
He had, if he came to think of it, scarce definitely warned her,
and he probably wouldn't have taken to her so consciously in the first
instance without an appreciative sense that, as she was a little person
of twenty superficial graces, so she was also a little person with her
secret pride. She might just have planted her mangy lion — not to say
her muzzled house-dog — there in his path as a symbol that she wasn't
cheap and easy; which would be a thing he couldn't possibly wish his
future wife to have shown herself in advance, even if to him alone.
That she could make him put himself such questions was precisely part
of the attaching play of her iridescent surface, the shimmering
interfusion of her various aspects; that of her youth with her
independence — her pecuniary perhaps in particular, that of her
vivacity with her beauty, that of her facility above all with her odd
novelty; the high modernity, as people appeared to have come to call
it, that made her so much more 'knowing' in some directions than even
he, man of the world as he certainly was, could pretend to be, though
all on a basis of the most unconscious and instinctive and luxurious
assumption. She was 'up' to everything, aware of everything — if one
counted from a short enough time back (from week before last, say, and
as if quantities of history had burst upon the world within the
fortnight); she was likewise surprised at nothing, and in that
direction one might reckon as far ahead as the rest of her lifetime,
or at any rate as the rest of his, which was all that would concern
him: it was as if the suitability of the future to her personal and
rather pampered tastes was what she most took for granted, so that he
could see her, for all her Dresden-china shoes and her flutter of
wondrous befrilled contemporary skirts, skip by the side of the coming
age as over the floor of a ball-room, keeping step with its monstrous
stride and prepared for every figure of the dance.
Her outlook took form to him suddenly as a great square sunny
window that hung in assured fashion over the immensity of life. There
rose toward it as from a vast swarming plaza a high tide of
motion and sound; yet it was at the same time as if even while he
looked her light gemmed hand, flashing on him in addition to those
other things the perfect polish of the prettiest pink finger-nails in
the world, had touched a spring, the most ingenious of recent devices
for instant ease, which dropped half across the scene a soft-coloured
mechanical blind, a fluttered fringed awning of charmingly toned silk,
such as would make a bath of cool shade for the favoured friend
leaning with her there — that is for the happy couple itself — on
the balcony. The great view would be the prospect and privilege of the
very state he coveted — since didn't he covet it? — the state of
being so securely at her side; while the wash of privacy, as one might
count it, the broad fine brush dipped into clear umber and passed,
full and wet, straight across the strong scheme of colour, would
represent the security itself, all the uplifted inner elegance, the
condition, so ideal, of being shut out from nothing and yet of having,
so gaily and breezily aloft, none of the burden or worry of anything.
Thus, as I say, for our friend, the place itself, while his vivid
impression lasted, portentously opened and spread, and what was before
him took, to his vision, though indeed at so other a crisis, the form
of the 'glimmering square' of the poet; yet, for a still more
remarkable fact, with an incongruous object usurping at a given
instant the privilege of the frame and seeming, even as he looked, to
block the view.
The incongruous object was a woman's head, crowned with a little
sparsely feathered black hat, an ornament quite unlike those the women
mostly noticed by White-Mason were now 'wearing', and that grew and
grew, that came nearer and nearer, while it met his eyes, after the
manner of images in the cinematograph. It had presently loomed so
large that he saw nothing else — not only among the things at a
considerable distance, the things Mrs Worthingham would eventually,
yet unmistakably, introduce him to, but among those of this lady's
various attributes and appurtenances as to which he had been in the
very act of cultivating his consciousness. It was in the course of
another minute the most extraordinary thing in the world: everything
had altered, dropped, darkened, disappeared; his imagination had
spread its wings only to feel them flop all grotesquely at its sides
as he recognized in his hostess's quiet companion, the oppressive
alien who hadn't indeed interfered with his fanciful flight, though
she had prevented his immediate declaration and brought about the
thud, not to say the felt violent shock, of his fall to earth, the
perfectly plain identity of Cornelia Rasch. It was she who had
remained there at attention; it was she their companion hadn't
introduced; it was she he had forborne to face with his fear of
incivility. He stared at her — everything else went.
"Why, it has been you all this time?"
Miss Rasch fairly turned pale. "I was waiting to see if you'd know
"Ah, my dear Cornelia" — he came straight out with it — "rather!"
"Well, it isn't," she returned with a quick change to red now,
"from having taken much time to look at me!"
She smiled, she even laughed, but he could see how she had felt
his unconsciousness, poor thing; the acquaintance, quite the friend of
his youth, as she had been, the associate of his childhood, of his
early manhood, of his middle age in fact, up to a few years back, not
more than ten at the most; the associate too of so many of his
associates and of almost all of his relations, those of the other
time, those who had mainly gone for ever; the person in short whose
noted disappearance, though it might have seemed final, had been only
of recent seasons. She was present again now, all unexpectedly — he
had heard of her having at last, left alone after successive deaths
and with scant resources, sought economic salvation in Europe, the
promised land of American thrift — she was present as this almost
ancient and this oddly unassertive little rotund figure whom one
seemed no more obliged to address than if she had been a black satin
ottoman 'treated' with buttons and gimp; a class of object as to which
the policy of blindness was imperative. He felt the need of some
explanatory plea, and before he could think had uttered one at
Mrs Worthingham's expense. "Why, you see we weren't introduced!"
"No — but I didn't suppose I should have to be named to you."
"Well, my dear woman, you haven't — do me that justice!" He could
at least make this point. "I felt all the while—!" However it would
have taken him long to say what he had been feeling; and he was aware
now of the pretty projected light of Mrs Worthingham's wonder. She
looked as if, out for a walk with her, he had put her to the
inconvenience of his stopping to speak to a strange woman in the
"I never supposed you knew her!" — it was to him his hostess
This made Miss Rasch spring up, distinctly flushed, distinctly
strange to behold, but not vulgarly nettled — Cornelia was incapable
of that; only rather funnily bridling and laughing, only showing that
this was all she had waited for, only saying just the right thing, the
thing she could make so clearly a jest. "Of course if you had
you'd have presented him."
Mrs Worthingham looked while answering at White-Mason. "I didn't
want you to go — which you see you do as soon as he speaks to you.
But I never dreamed—!"
"That there was anything between us? Ah, there are no end of
things!" He, on his side, though addressing the younger and prettier
woman, looked at his fellow-guest; to whom he even continued: "When
did you get back? May I come and see you the very first thing?"
Cornelia gasped and wriggled — she practically giggled; she had
lost every atom of her little old, her little young, though always
unaccountable, prettiness, which used to peep so, on the bare chance of
a shot, from behind indefensible features, that it almost made
watching her a form of sport. He had heard vaguely of her, it came
back to him (for there had been no letters; their later acquaintance,
thank goodness, hadn't involved that), as experimenting, for economy,
and then as settling, to the same rather dismal end, somewhere in
England, at one of those intensely English places, St Leonards,
Cheltenham, Bognor, Dawlish — which, awfully, was it? — and
she now affected him for all the world as some small, squirming,
exclaiming, genteelly conversing old maid of a type vaguely associated
with the three-volume novels he used to feed on (besides his so often
encountering it in 'real life') during a far-away stay of his own at
Brighton. Odder than any element of his ex-gossip's identity itself,
however, was the fact that she somehow, with it all, rejoiced his
sight. Indeed the supreme oddity was that the manner of her reply to
his request for leave to call should have absolutely charmed his
attention. She didn't look at him; she only, from under her frumpy,
crapy, curiously exotic hat, and with her good little near-sighted
insinuating glare, expressed to Mrs Worthingham, while she answered
him, wonderful arch things, the overdone things of a shy woman. "Yes,
you may call — but only when this dear lovely lady has done with
you!" The moment after which she had gone.
Forty minutes later he was taking his way back from the queer
miscarriage of his adventure; taking it, with no conscious positive
felicity, through the very spaces that had witnessed shortly before
the considerable serenity of his assurance. He had said to himself
then, or had as good as said it, that, since he might do perfectly as
he liked, it couldn't fail for him that he must soon retrace those
steps, humming, to all intents, the first bars of a wedding march; so
beautifully had it cleared up that he was 'going to like' letting
Mrs Worthingham accept him. He was to have hummed no wedding-march, as
it seemed to be turning out — he had none, up to now, to hum; and
yet, extraordinarily, it wasn't in the least because she had refused
him. Why then hadn't he liked as much as he had intended to like it
putting the pleasant act, the act of not refusing him, in her power?
Could it all have come from the awkward minute of his failure to
decide sharply, on Cornelia's departure, whether or no he would attend
her to the door? He hadn't decided at all — what the deuce had been
in him? — but had danced to and fro in the room, thinking better of
each impulse and then thinking worse. He had hesitated like an ass
erect on absurd hind legs between two bundles of hay; the upshot of
which must have been his giving the falsest impression. In what way
that was to be for an instant considered had their common past
committed him to crazy Cornelia? He repudiated with a whack on the
gravel any ghost of an obligation.
What he could get rid of with scanter success, unfortunately, was
the peculiar sharpness of his sense that, though mystified by his
visible flurry — and yet not mystified enough for a sympathetic
question either — his hostess had been, on the whole, even more
frankly diverted: which was precisely an example of that newest,
freshest, finest freedom in her, the air and the candour of assuming,
not 'heartlessly', not viciously, not even very consciously, but with
a bright pampered confidence which would probably end by affecting
one's nerves as the most impertinent stroke in the world, that every
blest thing coming up for her in any connection was somehow matter for
her general recreation. There she was again with the innocent egotism,
the gilded and overflowing anarchism, really, of her doubtless quite
unwitting but none the less rabid modern note. Her grace of ease was
perfect, but it was all grace of ease, not a single shred of it grace
of uncertainty or of difficulty — which meant, when you came to see,
that, for its happy working, not a grain of provision was left by it
to mere manners. This was clearly going to be the music of the future
— that if people were but rich enough and furnished enough and fed
enough, exercised and sanitated and manicured, and generally advised
and advertised and made 'knowing' enough, avertis enough, as the
term appeared to be nowadays in Paris, all they had to do for civility
was to take the amused ironic view of those who might be less
initiated. In his time, when he was young or even when he was
only but a little less middle-aged, the best manners had been the best
kindness, and the best kindness had mostly been some art of not
insisting on one's luxurious differences, of concealing rather, for
common humanity, if not for common decency, a part at least of the
intensity or the ferocity with which one might be 'in the know'.
Oh, the 'know' — Mrs Worthingham was in it, all instinctively,
inevitably and as a matter of course, up to her eyes; which didn't,
however, the least little bit prevent her being as ignorant as a fish
of everything that really and intimately and fundamentally concerned him, poor dear old White-Mason. She didn't, in the first place,
so much as know who he was — by which he meant know who and what it
was to be a White-Mason, even a poor and a dear and old one,
'anyway'. That indeed — he did her perfect justice — was of the
very essence of the newness and freshness and beautiful, brave social
irresponsibility by which she had originally dazzled him: just exactly
that circumstance of her having no instinct for any old quality or
quantity or identity, a single historic or social value, as he might
say, of the New York of his already almost legendary past; and that
additional one of his, on his side, having, so far as this went,
cultivated blankness, cultivated positive prudence, as to her own
personal background — the vagueness, at the best, with which all
honest gentlefolk, the New Yorkers of his approved stock and
conservative generation, were content, as for the most part they were
indubitably wise, to surround the origins and antecedents and queer
unimaginable early influences of persons swimming into their ken from
those parts of the country that quite necessarily and naturally
figured to their view as 'God-forsaken' and generally impossible.
The few scattered surviving representatives of a society once
'good' — rari nantes in gurgite vasto — were liable, at the
pass things had come to, to meet, and even amid old shades once
sacred, or what was left of such, every form of social impossibility,
and, more irresistibly still, to find these apparitions often carry
themselves (often at least in the case of the women) with a wondrous
wild gallantry, equally imperturbable and inimitable, the sort of
thing that reached its maximum in Mrs Worthingham. Beyond that who
ever wanted to look up their annals, to reconstruct their steps and
stages, to dot their i's in fine, or to 'go behind' anything that was
theirs? One wouldn't do that for the world — a rudimentary discretion
forbade it; and yet this check from elementary undiscussable taste
quite consorted with a due respect for them, or at any rate with a due
respect for oneself in connection with them; as was just exemplified
in what would be his own, what would be poor dear old White-Mason's,
insurmountable aversion to having, on any pretext, the doubtless very
queer spectre of the late Mr Worthingham presented to him. No question
had he asked, or would he ever ask, should his life — that is should
the success of his courtship — even intimately depend on it, either
about that obscure agent of his mistress's actual affluence or about
the happy head-spring itself, and the apparently copious tributaries,
of the golden stream.
From all which marked anomalies, at any rate, what was the moral
to draw? He dropped into a Park chair again with that question, he lost
himself in the wonder of why he had come away with his homage so very
much unpaid. Yet it didn't seem at all, actually, as if he could say
or conclude, as if he could do anything but keep on worrying — just
in conformity with his being a person who, whether or no familiar with
the need to make his conduct square with his conscience and his taste
was never wholly exempt from that of making his taste and his
conscience square with his conduct. To this latter occupation he
further abandoned himself, and it didn't release him from his second
brooding session till the sweet spring sunset had begun to gather and
he had more or less cleared up, in the deepening dusk, the effective
relation between the various parts of his ridiculously agitating
experience. There were vital facts he seemed thus to catch, to seize,
with a nervous hand, and the twilight helping, by their
vaguely-whisked tails; unquiet truths that swarmed out after the
fashion of creatures bold only at eventide, creatures that hovered and
circled, that verily brushed his nose, in spite of their shyness. Yes,
he had practically just sat on with his 'mistress' — heaven save the
mark! — as if not to come to the point; as if it had
absolutely come up that there would be something rather vulgar and
awful in doing so. The whole stretch of his stay after Cornelia's
withdrawal had been consumed by his almost ostentatiously treating
himself to the opportunity of which he was to make nothing. It was as
if he had sat and watched himself — that came back to him: Shall I
now or shan't I? Will I now or won't I? Say within the next three
minutes, say by a quarter past six, or by twenty minutes past, at the
furthest — always if nothing more comes up to prevent.
What had already come up to prevent was, in the strangest and
drollest, or at least in the most preposterous, way in the world, that
not Cornelia's presence, but her very absence, with its distraction of
his thoughts, the thoughts that lumbered after her, had made the
difference; and without his being the least able to tell why and how.
He put it to himself after a fashion by the image that, this
distraction once created, his working round to his hostess again, his
reverting to the matter of his errand, began suddenly to represent a
return from so far. That was simply all — or rather a little less
than all; for something else had contributed. "I never dreamed you
knew her," and "I never dreamed you did," was inevitably what
had been exchanged between them — supplemented by Mrs Worthingham's
mere scrap of an explanation: "Oh, yes — to the small extent you see.
Two years ago in Switzerland when I was at a high place for an
'aftercure', during twenty days of incessant rain, she was the only
person in an hotel of roaring, gorging, smoking Germans with whom I
couldn't have a word of talk. She and I were the only speakers of
English, and were thrown together like castaways on a desert island
and in a raging storm. She was ill besides, and she had no maid, and
mine looked after her, and she was very grateful — writing to me later
on and saying she should certainly come to see me if she ever returned
to New York. She has returned, you see — and there she was,
poor little creature!" Such was Mrs Worthingham's tribute — to which
even his asking her if Miss Rasch had ever happened to speak of him
caused her practically to add nothing. Visibly she had never thought
again of anyone Miss Rasch had spoken of or anything Miss Rasch had
said; right as she was, naturally, about her being a little clever
queer creature. This was perfectly true, and yet it was probably — by
being all she could dream of about her — what had paralysed
his proper gallantry. Its effect had been not in what it simply
stated, but in what, under his secretly disintegrating criticism, it
almost luridly symbolized.
He had quitted his seat in the Louis Quinze drawing-room without
having, as he would have described it, done anything but give the lady
of the scene a superior chance not to betray a defeated hope — not,
that is, to fail of the famous 'pride' mostly supposed to prop even
the most infatuated women at such junctures; by which chance, to do
her justice, she had thoroughly seemed to profit. But he finally rose
from his later station with a feeling of better success. He had by a
happy turn of his hand got hold of the most precious, the least
obscure of the flitting, circling things that brushed his ears. What
he wanted — as justifying for him a little further consideration —
was there before him from the moment he could put it that
Mrs Worthingham had no data. He almost hugged that word — it suddenly
came to mean so much to him. No data, he felt, for a conception of the
sort of thing the New York of 'his time' had been in his personal life
— the New York so unexpectedly, so vividly, and, as he might say, so
perversely called back to all his senses by its identity with that of
poor Cornelia's time: since even she had had a time, small show as it
was likely to make now, and his time and hers had been the same.
Cornelia figured to him while he walked away as by contrast and
opposition a massive little bundle of data; his impatience to go to
see her sharpened as he thought of this: so certainly should he find
out that wherever he might touch her, with a gentle though firm
pressure, he would, as the fond visitor of old houses taps and fingers
a disfeatured, overpapered wall with the conviction of a wainscot-edge
beneath, recognize some small extrusion of history.
There would have been a wonder for us meanwhile in his continued
use, as it were, of his happy formula — brought out to Cornelia Rasch
within ten minutes, or perhaps only within twenty, of his having
settled into the quite comfortable chair that, two days later, she
indicated to him by her fireside. He had arrived at her address
through the fortunate chance of his having noticed her card, as he
went out, deposited, in the good old New York fashion, on one of the
rococo tables of Mrs Worthingham's hall. His eye had been caught by
the pencilled indication that was to affect him, the next instant, as
fairly placed there for his sake. This had really been his luck, for
he shouldn't have liked to write to Mrs Worthingham for guidance —
that he felt, though too impatient just now to analyze the
reluctance. There was nobody else he could have approached for a clue,
and with this reflection he was already aware of how it testified to
their rare little position, his and Cornelia's — position as
conscious, ironic, pathetic survivors together of a dead and buried
society — that there would have been, in all the town, under such
stress, not a member of their old circle left to turn to.
Mrs Worthingham had practically, even if accidentally, helped him to
knowledge; the last nail in the coffin of the poor dear extinct past
had been planted for him by his having thus to reach his antique
contemporary through perforation of the newest newness. The note of
this particular recognition was in fact the more prescribed to him
that the ground of Cornelia's return to a scene swept so bare of the
associational charm was certainly inconspicuous. What had she then
come back for? — he had asked himself that; with the effect of
deciding that it probably would have been, a little, to 'look after'
her remnant of property. Perhaps she had come to save what little
might still remain of that shrivelled interest; perhaps she had been,
by those who took care of it for her, further swindled and despoiled,
so that she wished to get at the facts. Perhaps on the other hand —
it was a more cheerful chance — her investments, decently
administered, were making larger returns, so that the rigorous thrift
of Bognor could be finally relaxed.
He had little to learn about the attraction of Europe, and rather
expected that in the event of his union with Mrs Worthingham he should
find himself pleading for it with the competence of one more in the
'know' about Paris and Rome, about Venice and Florence, than even she
could be. He could have lived on in his New York, that is in
the sentimental, the spiritual, the more or less romantic visitation
of it; but had it been positive for him that he could live on in hers?
— unless indeed the possibility of this had been just (like the
famous vertige de l'abîme, like the solicitation of danger, or
otherwise of the dreadful) the very hinge of his whole dream. However
that might be, his curiosity was occupied rather with the conceivable
hinge of poor Cornelia's: it was perhaps thinkable that even
Mrs Worthingham's New York, once it should have become possible again
at all, might have put forth to this lone exile a plea that wouldn't
be in the chords of Bognor. For himself, after all, too, the
attraction had been much more of the Europe over which one might move
at one's ease, and which therefore could but cost, and cost much,
right and left, than of the Europe adapted to scrimping. He saw
himself on the whole scrimping with more zest even in
Mrs Worthingham's New York than under the inspiration of Bognor.
Apart from which it was yet again odd, not to say perceptibly pleasing
to him, to note where the emphasis of his interest fell in this fumble
of fancy over such felt oppositions as the new, the latest, the
luridest power of money and the ancient reserves and moderations and
mediocrities. These last struck him as showing by contrast the old
brown surface and tone as of velvet rubbed and worn, shabby, and even
a bit dingy, but all soft and subtle and still velvety — which meant
still dignified; whereas the angular facts of current finance were as
harsh and metallic and bewildering as some stacked 'exhibit' of ugly
patented inventions, things his mediæval mind forbade his taking in.
He had, for instance, the sense of knowing the pleasant little old
Rasch fortune — pleasant as far as it went; blurred memories and
impressions of what it had been and what it hadn't, of how it had
grown and how languished and how melted; they came back to him and put
on such vividness that he could almost have figured himself testify
for them before a bland and encouraging Board. The idea of taking the
field in any manner on the subject of Mrs Worthingham's resources
would have affected him on the other hand as an odious ordeal, some
glare of embarrassment and exposure in a circle of hard unhelpful
attention, of converging, derisive, unsuggestive eyes.
In Cornelia's small and quite cynically modern flat — the house
had a grotesque name, 'The Gainsborough', but at least wasn't an awful
boarding-house, as he had feared, and she could receive him quite
honourably, which was so much to the good — he would have been ready
to use at once to her the greatest freedom of friendly allusion: "Have
you still your old 'family interest' in those two houses in Seventh
Avenue? — one of which was next to a corner grocery, don't you know?
and was occupied as to its lower part by a candy-shop where the
proportion of the stock of suspectedly stale popcorn to that of rarer
and stickier joys betrayed perhaps a modest capital on the part of
your father's, your grandfather's or whoever's tenant, but out of
which I nevertheless remember once to have come as out of a bath of
sweets, with my very garments, and even the separate hairs of my head,
glued together. The other of the pair, a tobacconist's, further down,
had before it a wonderful huge Indian who thrust out wooden cigars at
an indifferent world — you could buy candy cigars too at the popcorn
shop, and I greatly preferred them to the wooden; I remember well how
I used to gape in fascination at the Indian and wonder if the last of
the Mohicans was like him; besides admiring so the resources of a
family whose 'property' was in such forms. I haven't been round there
lately — we must go round together; but don't tell me the forms have
utterly perished!" It was after that fashion he might easily
have been moved, and with almost no transition, to break out to
Cornelia — quite as if taking up some old talk, some old community of
gossip, just where they had left it; even with the consciousness
perhaps of overdoing a little, of putting at its maximum, for the
present harmony, recovery, recapture (what should he call it?) the
pitch and quantity of what the past had held for them.
He didn't in fact, no doubt, dart straight off to Seventh Avenue,
there being too many other old things and much nearer and long
subsequent; the point was only that for everything they spoke of after
he had fairly begun to lean back and stretch his legs, and after she
had let him, above all, light the first of a succession of cigarettes
— for everything they spoke of he positively cultivated extravagance
and excess, piling up the crackling twigs as on the very altar of
memory; and that by the end of half an hour she had lent herself, all
gallantly, to their game. It was the game of feeding the beautiful
iridescent flame, ruddy and green and gold, blue and pink and amber
and silver, with anything they could pick up, anything that would burn
and flicker. Thick-strown with such gleanings the occasion seemed
indeed, in spite of the truth that they perhaps wouldn't have proved,
under cross-examination, to have rubbed shoulders in the other life so
very hard. Casual contacts, qualified communities enough, there had
doubtless been, but not particular 'passages', nothing that counted,
as he might think of it, for their 'very own' together, for nobody's
else at all. These shades of historic exactitude didn't signify; the
more and the less that there had been made perfect terms — and just
by his being there and by her rejoicing in it — with their present
need to have had all their past could be made to appear to have
given them. It was to this tune they proceeded, the least little bit
as if they knowingly pretended — he giving her the example and
setting her the pace of it, and she, poor dear, after a first
inevitable shyness, an uncertainty of wonder, a breathlessness of
courage, falling into step and going whatever length he would.
She showed herself ready for it, grasping gladly at the perception
of what he must mean; and if she didn't immediately and completely
fall in — not in the first half-hour, not even in the three or four
others that his visit, even whenever he consulted his watch, still made
nothing of — she yet understood enough as soon as she understood
that, if their finer economy hadn't so beautifully served, he might
have been conveying this, that and the other incoherent and easy thing
by the comparatively clumsy method of sound and statement. "No, I
never made love to you; it would in fact have been absurd, and I don't
care — though I almost know, in the sense of almost remembering! —
who did and who didn't; but you were always about, and so was I, and,
little as you may yourself care who I did it to, I daresay you
remember (in the sense of having known of it!) any old appearances
that told. But we can't afford at this time of day not to help each
other to have had — well, everything there was, since there's no more
of it now, nor anyway of coming by it except so; and therefore
let us make together, let us make over and recreate, our lost
world; for which we have after all and at the worst such a lot of
material. You were in particular my poor dear sisters' friend — they
thought you the funniest little brown thing possible; so isn't that
again to the good? You were mine only to the extent that you were so
much in and out of the house — as how much, if we come to that,
wasn't one in and out, south of Thirtieth Street and north of
Washington Square, in those days, those spacious, sociable, Arcadian
days, that we flattered ourselves we filled with the modern fever, but
that were so different from any of these arrangements of
pretended hourly Time that dash themselves forever to pieces as from
the fiftieth floors of sky-scrapers."
This was the kind of thing that was in the air, whether he said it
or not, and that could hang there even with such quite other things as
more crudely came out; came in spite of its being perhaps calculated
to strike us that these last would have been rather and most the
unspoken and the indirect. They were Cornelia's contribution, and as
soon as she had begun to talk of Mrs Worthingham — he didn't
begin it! — they had taken their place bravely in the centre of the
circle. There they made, the while, their considerable little figure,
but all within the ring formed by fifty other allusions, fitful but
really intenser irruptions that hovered and wavered and came and went,
joining hands at moments and whirling round as in chorus, only then
again to dash at the slightly huddled centre with a free twitch or
peck or push or other taken liberty, after the fashion of irregular
frolic motions in a country dance or a Christmas game.
"You're so in love with her and want to marry her!" — she said it
all sympathetically and yearningly, poor crapy Cornelia; as if it were
to be quite taken for granted that she knew all about it. And then
when he had asked how she knew — why she took so informed a tone
about it; all on the wonder of her seeming so much more 'in' it just
at that hour than he himself quite felt he could figure for: "Ah, how
but from the dear lovely thing herself? Don't you suppose she
"Oh, she absolutely 'knows' it, does she?" — he fairly heard
himself ask that; and with the oddest sense at once of sharply wanting
the certitude and yet of seeing the question, of hearing himself say
the words, through several thicknesses of some wrong medium. He came
back to it from a distance; as he would have had to come back (this
was again vivid to him) should he have got round again to his ripe
intention three days before — after his now present but then absent
friend, that is, had left him planted before his now absent but then
present one for the purpose. "Do you mean she — at all confidently!
— expects?" he went on, not much minding if it couldn't but sound
foolish; the time being given it for him meanwhile by the sigh, the
wondering gasp, all charged with the unutterable, that the tone of his
appeal set in motion. He saw his companion look at him, but it might
have been with the eyes of thirty years ago; when — very likely! —
he had put her some such question about some girl long since dead.
Dimly at first, then more distinctly, didn't it surge back on him for
the very strangeness that there had been some such passage as this
between them — yes, about Mary Cardew! — in the autumn of '68?
"Why, don't you realize your situation?" Miss Rasch struck him as
quite beautifully wailing — above all to such an effect of deep
interest, that is, on her own part and in him.
"My situation?" — he echoed, he considered; but reminded afresh,
by the note of the detached, the far-projected in it, of what he had
last remembered of his sentient state on his once taking ether at the
"Yours and hers — the situation of her adoring you. I suppose you
at least know it," Cornelia smiled.
Yes, it was like the other time and yet it wasn't. She was
like — poor Cornelia was — everything that used to be; that somehow
was most definite to him. Still he could quite reply, "Do you call it
— her adoring me — my situation?"
"Well, it's a part of yours, surely — if you're in love with her."
"Am I, ridiculous old person! in love with her?" White-Mason asked.
"I may be a ridiculous old person," Cornelia returned — "and, for
that matter, of course I am! But she's young and lovely and
rich and clever: so what could be more natural?"
"Oh, I was applying that opprobrious epithet—!" He didn't finish,
though he meant he had applied it to himself. He had got up from his
seat; he turned about and, taking in, as his eyes also roamed, several
objects in the room, serene and sturdy, not a bit cheap-looking,
little old New York objects of '68, he made, with an inner art, as if
to recognize them — made so, that is, for himself; had quite the
sense for the moment of asking them, of imploring them, to recognize him, to be for him things of his own past. Which they truly were,
he could have the next instant cried out; for it meant that if three
or four of them, small sallow carte-de-visite photographs, faithfully
framed but spectrally faded, hadn't in every particular, frames and
balloon skirts and false 'property' balustrades of unimaginable
terraces and all, the tone of time, the secret for warding and easing
off the perpetual imminent ache of one's protective scowl, one would
verily but have to let the scowl stiffen or to take up seriously the
question of blue goggles, during what might remain of life.
What he actually took up from a little old Twelfth-Street table
that piously preserved the plain mahogany circle, with never a curl nor
a crook nor a hint of a brazen flourish, what he paused there a moment
for commerce with, his back presented to crapy Cornelia, who sat
taking that view of him, during this opportunity, very protrusively
and frankly and fondly, was one of the wasted mementoes just
mentioned, over which he both uttered and suppressed a small
comprehensive cry. He stood there another minute to look at it, and
when he turned about still kept it in his hand, only holding it now a
little behind him. "You must have come back to stay — with
all your beautiful things. What else does it mean?"
"'Beautiful'?" his old friend
commented with her brow all wrinkled and her lips thrust out in
expressive dispraise. They might at that rate have been scarce more
beautiful than she herself. "Oh, don't talk so — after
Mrs Worthingham's! They're wonderful, if you will: such
things, such things! But one's own poor relics and odds and ends are
one's own at least; and one has — yes — come back to them.
They're all I have in the world to come back to. They were stored, and
what I was paying—!" Miss Rasch woefully added.
He had possession of the small old picture; he hovered there; he
put his eyes again to it intently; then again held it a little behind
him as if it might have been snatched away or the very feel of it,
pressed against him, was good to his palm. "Mrs Worthingham's things?
You think them beautiful?"
Cornelia did now, if ever, show an odd face. "Why, certainly,
prodigious, or whatever. Isn't that conceded?"
"No doubt every horror, at the pass we've come to, is conceded.
That's just what I complain of."
"Do you complain?" — she drew it out as for surprise: she
couldn't have imagined such a thing.
"To me her things are awful. They're the newest of the new."
"Ah, but the old forms!"
"Those are the most blatant. I mean the swaggering reproductions."
"Oh, but," she pleaded, "we can't all be really old."
"No, we can't, Cornelia. But you can—!" said White-Mason
with the frankest appreciation.
She looked up at him from where she sat as he could imagine her
looking up at the curate at Bognor. "Thank you, sir! If that's all you
"It is," he said, "all I want — or almost."
"Then no wonder such a creature as that," she lightly moralized,
"won't suit you!"
He bent upon her, for all the weight of his question, his
smoothest stare. "You hold she certainly won't suit me?"
"Why, what can I tell about it? Haven't you by this time found
"No, but I think I'm finding." With which he began again to
Miss Rasch immensely wondered. "You mean you don't expect to come
to an understanding with her?" And then, as even to this straight
challenge he made at first no answer: "Do you mean you give it up?"
He waited some instants more, but not meeting her eyes — only
looking again about the room. "What do you think of my chance?"
"Oh," his companion cried, "what has what I think to do with it?
How can I think anything but that she must like you?"
"Yes — of course. But how much?"
"Then don't you really know?" Cornelia asked.
He kept up his walk, oddly preoccupied and still not looking at
her. "Do you, my dear?"
She waited a little. "If you haven't really put it to her I don't
suppose she knows."
This at last arrested him again. "My dear Cornelia, she doesn't
He had paused as for the desperate tone, or at least the large
emphasis of it, so that she took him up. "The more reason then to help
her to find it out."
"I mean," he explained, "that she doesn't know anything."
"Anything else, I mean — even if she does know that."
Cornelia considered of it. "But what else need she — in
particular — know? Isn't that the principal thing?"
"Well" — and he resumed his circuit — "she doesn't know anything
that we know. But nothing," he re-emphasized — "nothing
"Well, can't she do without that?"
"Evidently she can — and evidently she does, beautifully. But the
question is whether I can!"
He had paused once more with his point — but she glared, poor
Cornelia, with her wonder. "Surely if you know for yourself—!"
"Ah, it doesn't seem enough for me to know for myself! One wants a
woman," he argued — but still, in his prolonged tour, quite without
his scowl — "to know for one, to know with one. That's
what you do now," he candidly put to her.
It made her again gape. "Do you mean you want to marry me?"
He was so full of what he did mean, however, that he failed even
to notice it. "She doesn't in the least know, for instance, how old I
"That's because you're so young!"
"Ah, there you are!" — and he turned off afresh and as if almost
in disgust. It left her visibly perplexed — though even the perplexed
Cornelia was still the exceedingly pointed; but he had come to her aid
after another turn. "Remember, please, that I'm pretty well as old as
She had all her point at least, while she bridled and blinked, for
this. "You're exactly a year and ten months older."
It checked him there for delight. "You remember my birthday?"
She twinkled indeed like some far-off light of home. "I remember
everyone's. It's a little way I've always had — and that I've never
He looked at her accomplishment, across the room, as at some
striking, some charming phenomenon. "Well, that's the sort of
thing I want!" All the ripe candour of his eyes confirmed it.
What could she do therefore, she seemed to ask him, but repeat her
question of a moment before? — which indeed, presently she made up
her mind to. "Do you want to marry me?"
It had this time better success — if the term may be felt in any
degree to apply. All his candour, or more of it at least, was in his
slow, mild, kind, considering head-shake. "No, Cornelia — not to marry you."
His discrimination was a wonder; but since she was clearly
treating him now as if everything about him was, so she could as
exquisitely meet it. "Not at least," she convulsively smiled, "until
you've honourably tried Mrs Worthingham. Don't you really mean
to?" she gallantly insisted.
He waited again a little; then he brought out: "I'll tell you
presently." He came back, and as by still another mere glance over the
room, to what seemed to him so much nearer. "That table was old
"Everything here was."
"Oh, the pure blessings! With you, ah, with you, I haven't to wear
a green shade." And he had retained meanwhile his small photograph,
which he again showed himself. "Didn't we talk of Mary Cardew?"
"Why, do you remember it?" — she marvelled to extravagance.
"You make me. You connect me with it. You connect it with
." He liked to display to her this excellent use she thus had, the
service she rendered. "There are so many connections — there will be so many. I feel how, with you, they must all come up again for
me: in fact you're bringing them out already, just while I look at
you, as fast as ever you can. The fact that you knew every one—!" he
went on; yet as if there were more in that too than he could quite
trust himself about.
"Yes, I knew every one," said Cornelia Rasch; but this time with
perfect simplicity. "I knew, I imagine, more than you do — or more
than you did."
It kept him there, it made him wonder with his eyes on her.
"Things about them — our people?"
"Our people. Ours only now."
Ah, such an interest as he felt in this — taking from her while,
so far from scowling, he almost gaped, all it might mean! "Ours indeed
— and it's awfully good they are; or that we're still here for them!
Nobody else is — nobody but you: not a cat!"
"Well, I am a cat!" Cornelia grinned.
"Do you mean you can tell me things—?" It was too beautiful to
"About what really was?" She artfully considered, holding
him immensely now. "Well, unless they've come to you with time; unless
you've learned — or found out."
"Oh," he reassuringly cried — reassuringly, it most seemed, for
himself — "nothing has come to me with time, everything has gone from
me. How I find out now! What creature has an idea—?"
She threw up her hands with the shrug of old days — the sharp
little shrug his sisters used to imitate and that she hadn't had to go
to Europe for. The only thing was that he blessed her for bringing it
back. "Ah, the ideas of people now—!"
"Yes, their ideas are certainly not about us." But he
ruefully faced it. "We've none the less, however, to live with them."
"With their ideas—?" Cornelia questioned.
"With them — these modern wonders; such as they are!" Then
he went on: "It must have been to help me you've come back."
She said nothing for an instant about that, only nodding instead
at his photograph. "What has become of yours? I mean of her."
This time it made him turn pale. "You remember I have one?"
She kept her eyes on him. "In a 'pork-pie' hat, with her hair in a
long net. That was so 'smart' then; especially with one's skirt looped
up, over one's hooped magenta petticoat, in little festoons, and a row
of very big onyx beads over one's braided velveteen sack — braided
quite plain and very broad, don't you know?"
He smiled for her extraordinary possession of these things — she
was as prompt as if she had had them before her. "Oh, rather — 'don't
I know?' You wore brown velveteen, and, on those remarkably small
hands, funny gauntlets — like mine."
"Oh, do you remember? But like yours?" she wondered.
"I mean like hers in my photograph." But he came back to the
present picture. "This is better, however, for really showing her
"Mary's head was a perfection!" Cornelia testified.
"Yes — it was better than her heart."
"Ah, don't say that!" she pleaded. "You weren't fair."
"Don't you think I was fair?" It interested him immensely — and
the more that he indeed mightn't have been; which he seemed somehow
almost to hope.
"She didn't think so — to the very end."
"She didn't?" — ah, the right things Cornelia said to him! But
before she could answer he was studying again closely the small faded
face. "No, she doesn't, she doesn't. Oh, her charming sad eyes and the
way they say that, across the years, straight into mine! But I
don't know, I don't know!" White-Mason quite comfortably sighed.
His companion appeared to appreciate this effect. "That's just the
way you used to flirt with her, poor thing. Wouldn't you like to have
it?" she asked.
"This — for my very own?" He looked up delighted. "I really may?"
"Well, if you'll give me yours. We'll exchange."
"That's a charming idea. We'll exchange. But you must come and get
it at my rooms — where you'll see my things."
For a little she made no answer — as if for some feeling. Then
she said: "You asked me just now why I've come back."
He stared as for the connection; after which with a smile: "Not to
She waited briefly again, but with a queer little look. "I can do
those things now; and — yes! — that's in a manner why. I came," she
then said, "because I knew of a sudden one day — knew as never before
— that I was old."
"I see. I see." He quite understood — she had notes that so
struck him. "And how did you like it?"
She hesitated — she decided. "Well, if I liked it, it was on the
principle perhaps on which some people like high game!"
"High game — that's good!" he laughed. "Ah, my dear, we're
She shook her head. "No — not you — yet. I at any rate didn't
want any more adventures," Cornelia said.
He showed their small relic again with assurance. "You wanted
. Then here we are. Oh, how we can talk! — with all those things you
know! You are an invention. And you'll see there are things I
know. I shall turn up here — well, daily."
She took it in, but after a moment only answered. "There was
something you said just now you'd tell me. Don't you mean to try—?"
"Mrs Worthingham?" He drew from within his coat his pocket-book
and carefully found a place in it for Mary Cardew's carte-de-visite,
folding it together with deliberation over which he put it back.
Finally he spoke. "No — I've decided. I can't — I don't want to."
Cornelia marvelled — or looked as if she did. "Not for all she
"Yes — I know all she has. But I also know all she hasn't. And,
as I told you, she herself doesn't — hasn't a glimmer of a suspicion
of it; and never will have."
Cornelia magnanimously thought. "No — but she knows other things."
He shook his head as at the portentous heap of them. "Too many —
too many. And other indeed — so other. Do you know," he went
on, "that it's as if you — by turning up for me — had brought
that home to me?"
"For you," she candidly considered. "But what — since you can't
marry me! — can you do with me?"
Well, he seemed to have it all. "Everything. I can live with you
— just this way." To illustrate which he dropped into the other chair
by her fire; where, leaning back, he gazed at the flame. "I can't give
you up. It's very curious. It has come over me as it did over you when
you renounced Bognor. That's it — I know it at last, and I see one
can like it. I'm 'high'. You needn't deny it. That's my taste. I'm
old." And in spite of the considerable glow there of her little
household altar he said it without the scowl.