by Henry James
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 grey 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 couldn'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 didn'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 isn'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 hadn'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, on the words, as if, in spite of itself for a little, it really
thought. I didn'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; after which, a little
to my surprise, he asked: "Would it be very awful if she should speak
I stared. "Do you mean pursue you — overtake you? Ah, if you're
"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 shouldn'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
"I'm not proud. It isn'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
didn'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 didn't know what he
had said, he went on: "I swore to her that I would never marry.
Oughtn'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 — haven'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 travelled much further: 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 wouldn't have told her, and it wouldn't have saved him
"Oh, he makes acquaintance so quickly, knows people in two
minutes," the girl said. "And every one always wants to be nice to
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
drawing-room 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,
"Any one but
me!" She ingenuously took me up. "Then you
It might be. "I guessed."
"And don't you believe it?"
Again I hesitated. "Yes." Yet all this didn't tell me why she had
changed colour. "Is it a secret — whom he's with?"
"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 travelling 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
She quickly came back. "Oh no; I mean Mrs Dedrick is."
"About forty? Then Miss Dedrick—"
"There isn't any Miss Dedrick."
"Not with them, at any rate. No one but the husband."
I thought again. "And how old is
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
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
doesn'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
didn't say this — I was careful to say little; which didn't prevent
his presently asking if he mightn'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 doesn't
require any backing. Since you've done it you must take care of
"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 hadn'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 haven'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
colour. "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 isn'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
shouldn'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 unfortunately run the risk of boring him again with that
idea, and, though he had not repudiated it at the time, I felt in my
having returned to it the reason why he never reappeared for weeks. 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 finding her constantly 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, he's very happy."
"And still taken up—"
"As much as ever, yes, with those people. He didn't tell me so,
but I could see it."
I could too, and her own view of it. "What, in that case, did he
"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
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 be so 'beholden'—"
"To Mr and Mrs Dedrick?" She considered as if there might be many
sides to it. "But mayn'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
"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
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 another 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. "Didn'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.
Didn'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
Dedricks. 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
"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
"That's the rule. But what good does it do him if he has never
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. "Hadn'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
"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 coloured for him. "Well, it represents a young
"That he goes about showing?"
She hesitated. "I think he has only shown it to
"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
couldn'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 shouldn't be so in possession of the whole spectacle had I
not ended by accepting it, and I shouldn'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 season 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 colour of Maud-Evelyn's hair or the length of
her pinafores: the question, I of course mean, 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 didn'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. Wasn'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 didn't bore him a
mite? I had evidently — didn't I see? — an ideal for him that he
wasn't at all, if I didn'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 favourite
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're, 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 evoked something attractive, 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 mementoes 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 tameness and twaddle, were of a rigid,
I must not represent that either of these objects of interest, or
my care for their concerns, took up all my leisure; for I had many
claims to meet and many complications to handle, a hundred
preoccupations and much deeper anxieties. My young woman, on her side,
had other contacts and contingencies — 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 colourless,
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, full-blown
son of doting parents who couldn'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-humouredly 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 incongruous 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
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 us in the waiting-room of the station. Step by step, after
this, I followed.
I can see Lavinia for instance in her ugly new mourning immediately
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, and she came
straightway to me.
"Do you know what he thinks now?" she soon began. "He thinks he
"Knew the child?" It came to me as if I had half expected it.
"He speaks of her now as if she hadn'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 doesn'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
doesn'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 patience. "Oh no, it's too
you taking it up? I mean the preposterous
"It is a theory," she broke in, "but it isn'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. Isn'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 brooding over the
past; the past, that way, 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 mustn't speak
of it to others."
She quite accepted that precaution. "No — to nobody.
doesn't. He keeps it only for me."
"Conferring on you thus," I again laughed, "such a precious
She was silent a moment, looking away from me. "Well, he has kept
"You mean of not marrying? Are you very sure?" I asked. "Didn't he
perhaps—?" But I faltered at the boldness of my joke.
The next moment I saw I needn'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
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 isn'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 thing, above all, they want her to have had." My
young friend's face, as she analysed 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!"
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
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
wasn't that he might have had 'me' — that's nothing: it was, at the
most, that I might have had him. Well, isn'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 gouged out of her a
couple of still tears, and I pushed away the whole obscure comedy.
I might push it away, but I couldn'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 couldn't comfortably
and imposingly 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
enjoining 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
constituted the future of the house. 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, in any case, 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 hadn'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 isn't usually spoken of; but I assure you I mean nothing more
reprehensible than our blessed engagement itself."
"Your blessed engagement?" I couldn'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 for ever. 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 main
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 my companion just
worked, in their way, during that minute or two, for me. Should
I, taking him unaware, flash at him a plain '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 didn'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 — recognised me as the
"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 — "isn'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 couldn't like me so much" — he
wished me thoroughly to understand — "without wanting me to have been
"I see — that was natural."
"Well," said Marmaduke, "it prevented the possibility of any one
"Ah, that would never have done!" I laughed.
His own pleasure at it was impenetrable, splendid. "You see, they
couldn'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 noticed it just
flicker in his face. "If you were to come to Westbourne Terrace
"Oh, don't speak of that!" I broke in. "It wouldn't be decent now.
I should have come, if at all, ten years ago."
But he saw, with his good humour, 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 didn'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 made out 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 couldn't have borne it!"
"They're not sad," he smiled — "they're too lovely to be sad.
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
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
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
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 couldn'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 couldn'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, take in 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
"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, such extraordinary discoveries!" It seemed absurd to be afraid
to be light.
"May none of her discoveries be more fatal than mine!" Marmaduke
wasn't uproarious, but his treatment of the matter had the good taste
of simplicity. "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 isn't it late to have begun?"
My question had been stupid, I felt the next instant; but it
didn'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-bye, good-bye." 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 isn'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
"Oh, you know what
Ah, I closed her mouth! "You like to tell horrid fibs — yes, I
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
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 hasn't kept the things?"
"He has kept everything." She looked at me still more as if I had
"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 doesn'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—?"
"Yes, 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, you never went?"
"So you haven't seen anything?"
"Anything of hers? Nothing."
I understood, oh perfectly; but I won't deny that I was
disappointed: I had hoped for an account of his wonders and I
immediately felt that it wouldn'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 ailment 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 very
present, and I privately and fancifully asked myself 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 caused me to say in
surprise: "You haven't yet been to the house?"
"Not yet. I've only seen the solicitors, who tell me there will be
There was something in her tone that made me ask more. "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?"
"Isn't that what his death — with his so close relation 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.