The Coxon Fund
The Coxon Fund
by Henry James
"They've got him for life!" I said to myself that evening on my way
back to the station; but later on, alone in the compartment (from
Wimbledon to Waterloo, before the glory of the District Railway) I
amended this declaration in the light of the sense that my friends
would probably after all not enjoy a monopoly of Mr. Saltram. I
won't pretend to have taken his vast measure on that first
occasion, but I think I had achieved a glimpse of what the
privilege of his acquaintance might mean for many persons in the
way of charges accepted. He had been a great experience, and it
was this perhaps that had put me into the frame of foreseeing how
we should all, sooner or later, have the honour of dealing with him
as a whole. Whatever impression I then received of the, amount of
this total, I had a full enough vision of the patience of the
Mulvilles. He was to stay all the winter: Adelaide dropped it in
a tone that drew the sting from the inevitable emphasis. These
excellent people might indeed have been content to give the circle
of hospitality a diameter of six months; but if they didn't say he
was to stay all summer as well it was only because this was more
than they ventured to hope. I remember that at dinner that evening
he wore slippers, new and predominantly purple, of some queer
carpet-stuff; but the Mulvilles were still in the stage of
supposing that he might be snatched from them by higher bidders.
At a later time they grew, poor dears, to fear no snatching; but
theirs was a fidelity which needed no help from competition to make
them proud. Wonderful indeed as, when all was said, you inevitably
pronounced Frank Saltram, it was not to be overlooked that the Kent
Mulvilles were in their way still more extraordinary: as striking
an instance as could easily be encountered of the familiar truth
that remarkable men find remarkable conveniences.
They had sent for me from Wimbledon to come out and dine, and there
had been an implication in Adelaide's note--judged by her notes
alone she might have been thought silly--that it was a case in
which something momentous was to be determined or done. I had
never known them not be in a "state" about somebody, and I dare say
I tried to be droll on this point in accepting their invitation.
On finding myself in the presence of their latest discovery I had
not at first felt irreverence droop--and, thank heaven, I have
never been absolutely deprived of that alternative in Mr. Saltram's
company. I saw, however--I hasten to declare it--that compared to
this specimen their other phoenixes had been birds of
inconsiderable feather, and I afterwards took credit to myself for
not having even in primal bewilderments made a mistake about the
essence of the man. He had an incomparable gift; I never was blind
to it--it dazzles me still. It dazzles me perhaps even more in
remembrance than in fact, for I'm not unaware that for so rare a
subject the imagination goes to some expense, inserting a jewel
here and there or giving a twist to a plume. How the art of
portraiture would rejoice in this figure if the art of portraiture
had only the canvas! Nature, in truth, had largely rounded it, and
if memory, hovering about it, sometimes holds her breath, this is
because the voice that comes back was really golden.
Though the great man was an inmate and didn't dress, he kept dinner
on this occasion waiting, and the first words he uttered on coming
into the room were an elated announcement to Mulville that he had
found out something. Not catching the allusion and gaping
doubtless a little at his face, I privately asked Adelaide what he
had found out. I shall never forget the look she gave me as she
replied: "Everything!" She really believed it. At that moment,
at any rate, he had found out that the mercy of the Mulvilles was
infinite. He had previously of course discovered, as I had myself
for that matter, that their dinners were soignes. Let me not
indeed, in saying this, neglect to declare that I shall falsify my
counterfeit if I seem to hint that there was in his nature any
ounce of calculation. He took whatever came, but he never plotted
for it, and no man who was so much of an absorbent can ever have
been so little of a parasite. He had a system of the universe, but
he had no system of sponging--that was quite hand-to-mouth. He had
fine gross easy senses, but it was not his good-natured appetite
that wrought confusion. If he had loved us for our dinners we
could have paid with our dinners, and it would have been a great
economy of finer matter. I make free in these connexions with the
plural possessive because if I was never able to do what the
Mulvilles did, and people with still bigger houses and simpler
charities, I met, first and last, every demand of reflexion, of
emotion--particularly perhaps those of gratitude and of resentment.
No one, I think, paid the tribute of giving him up so often, and if
it's rendering honour to borrow wisdom I've a right to talk of my
sacrifices. He yielded lessons as the sea yields fish--I lived for
a while on this diet. Sometimes it almost appeared to me that his
massive monstrous failure--if failure after all it was--had been
designed for my private recreation. He fairly pampered my
curiosity; but the history of that experience would take me too
far. This is not the large canvas I just now spoke of, and I
wouldn't have approached him with my present hand had it been a
question of all the features. Frank Saltram's features, for
artistic purposes, are verily the anecdotes that are to be
gathered. Their name is legion, and this is only one, of which the
interest is that it concerns even more closely several other
persons. Such episodes, as one looks back, are the little dramas
that made up the innumerable facets of the big drama--which is yet
to be reported.
It is furthermore remarkable that though the two stories are
distinct--my own, as it were, and this other--they equally began,
in a manner, the first night of my acquaintance with Frank Saltram,
the night I came back from Wimbledon so agitated with a new sense
of life that, in London, for the very thrill of it, I could only
walk home. Walking and swinging my stick, I overtook, at
Buckingham Gate, George Gravener, and George Gravener's story may
be said to have begun with my making him, as our paths lay
together, come home with me for a talk. I duly remember, let me
parenthesise, that it was still more that of another person, and
also that several years were to elapse before it was to extend to a
second chapter. I had much to say to him, none the less, about my
visit to the Mulvilles, whom he more indifferently knew, and I was
at any rate so amusing that for long afterwards he never
encountered me without asking for news of the old man of the sea.
I hadn't said Mr. Saltram was old, and it was to be seen that he
was of an age to outweather George Gravener. I had at that time a
lodging in Ebury Street, and Gravener was staying at his brother's
empty house in Eaton Square. At Cambridge, five years before, even
in our devastating set, his intellectual power had seemed to me
almost awful. Some one had once asked me privately, with blanched
cheeks, what it was then that after all such a mind as that left
standing. "It leaves itself!" I could recollect devoutly replying.
I could smile at present for this remembrance, since before we got
to Ebury Street I was struck with the fact that, save in the sense
of being well set up on his legs, George Gravener had actually
ceased to tower. The universe he laid low had somehow bloomed
again--the usual eminences were visible. I wondered whether he had
lost his humour, or only, dreadful thought, had never had any--not
even when I had fancied him most Aristophanesque. What was the
need of appealing to laughter, however, I could enviously enquire,
where you might appeal so confidently to measurement? Mr.
Saltram's queer figure, his thick nose and hanging lip, were fresh
to me: in the light of my old friend's fine cold symmetry they
presented mere success in amusing as the refuge of conscious
ugliness. Already, at hungry twenty-six, Gravener looked as blank
and parliamentary as if he were fifty and popular. In my scrap of
a residence--he had a worldling's eye for its futile conveniences,
but never a comrade's joke--I sounded Frank Saltram in his ears; a
circumstance I mention in order to note that even then I was
surprised at his impatience of my enlivenment. As he had never
before heard of the personage it took indeed the form of impatience
of the preposterous Mulvilles, his relation to whom, like mine, had
had its origin in an early, a childish intimacy with the young
Adelaide, the fruit of multiplied ties in the previous generation.
When she married Kent Mulville, who was older than Gravener and I
and much more amiable, I gained a friend, but Gravener practically
lost one. We reacted in different ways from the form taken by what
he called their deplorable social action--the form (the term was
also his) of nasty second-rate gush. I may have held in my 'for
interieur' that the good people at Wimbledon were beautiful fools,
but when he sniffed at them I couldn't help taking the opposite
line, for I already felt that even should we happen to agree it
would always be for reasons that differed. It came home to me that
he was admirably British as, without so much as a sociable sneer at
my bookbinder, he turned away from the serried rows of my little
"Of course I've never seen the fellow, but it's clear enough he's a
"Clear 'enough' is just what it isn't," I replied; "if it only
were!" That ejaculation on my part must have been the beginning of
what was to be later a long ache for final frivolous rest.
Gravener was profound enough to remark after a moment that in the
first place he couldn't be anything but a Dissenter, and when I
answered that the very note of his fascination was his
extraordinary speculative breadth my friend retorted that there was
no cad like your cultivated cad, and that I might depend upon
discovering--since I had had the levity not already to have
enquired--that my shining light proceeded, a generation back, from
a Methodist cheesemonger. I confess I was struck with his
insistence, and I said, after reflexion: "It may be--I admit it
may be; but why on earth are you so sure?"--asking the question
mainly to lay him the trap of saying that it was because the poor
man didn't dress for dinner. He took an instant to circumvent my
trap and come blandly out the other side.
"Because the Kent Mulvilles have invented him. They've an
infallible hand for frauds. All their geese are swans. They were
born to be duped, they like it, they cry for it, they don't know
anything from anything, and they disgust one--luckily perhaps!--
with Christian charity." His vehemence was doubtless an accident,
but it might have been a strange foreknowledge. I forget what
protest I dropped; it was at any rate something that led him to go
on after a moment: "I only ask one thing--it's perfectly simple.
Is a man, in a given case, a real gentleman?"
"A real gentleman, my dear fellow--that's so soon said!"
"Not so soon when he isn't! If they've got hold of one this time
he must be a great rascal!"
"I might feel injured," I answered, "if I didn't reflect that they
don't rave about ME."
"Don't be too sure! I'll grant that he's a gentleman," Gravener
presently added, "if you'll admit that he's a scamp."
"I don't know which to admire most, your logic or your
My friend coloured at this, but he didn't change the subject.
"Where did they pick him up?"
"I think they were struck with something he had published."
"I can fancy the dreary thing!"
"I believe they found out he had all sorts of worries and
"That of course wasn't to be endured, so they jumped at the
privilege of paying his debts!" I professed that I knew nothing
about his debts, and I reminded my visitor that though the dear
Mulvilles were angels they were neither idiots nor millionaires.
What they mainly aimed at was reuniting Mr. Saltram to his wife.
"I was expecting to hear he has basely abandoned her," Gravener
went on, at this, "and I'm too glad you don't disappoint me."
I tried to recall exactly what Mrs. Mulville had told me. "He
didn't leave her--no. It's she who has left him."
"Left him to US?" Gravener asked. "The monster--many thanks! I
decline to take him."
"You'll hear more about him in spite of yourself. I can't, no, I
really can't resist the impression that he's a big man." I was
already mastering--to my shame perhaps be it said--just the tone my
old friend least liked.
"It's doubtless only a trifle," he returned, "but you haven't
happened to mention what his reputation's to rest on."
"Why on what I began by boring you with--his extraordinary mind."
"As exhibited in his writings?"
"Possibly in his writings, but certainly in his talk, which is far
and away the richest I ever listened to."
"And what's it all about?"
"My dear fellow, don't ask me! About everything!" I pursued,
reminding myself of poor Adelaide. "About his ideas of things," I
then more charitably added. "You must have heard him to know what
I mean--it's unlike anything that ever WAS heard." I coloured, I
admit, I overcharged a little, for such a picture was an
anticipation of Saltram's later development and still more of my
fuller acquaintance with him. However, I really expressed, a
little lyrically perhaps, my actual imagination of him when I
proceeded to declare that, in a cloud of tradition, of legend, he
might very well go down to posterity as the greatest of all great
talkers. Before we parted George Gravener had wondered why such a
row should be made about a chatterbox the more and why he should be
pampered and pensioned. The greater the wind-bag the greater the
calamity. Out of proportion to everything else on earth had come
to be this wagging of the tongue. We were drenched with talk--our
wretched age was dying of it. I differed from him here sincerely,
only going so far as to concede, and gladly, that we were drenched
with sound. It was not however the mere speakers who were killing
us--it was the mere stammerers. Fine talk was as rare as it was
refreshing--the gift of the gods themselves, the one starry spangle
on the ragged cloak of humanity. How many men were there who rose
to this privilege, of how many masters of conversation could he
boast the acquaintance? Dying of talk?--why we were dying of the
lack of it! Bad writing wasn't talk, as many people seemed to
think, and even good wasn't always to be compared to it. From the
best talk indeed the best writing had something to learn. I
fancifully added that we too should peradventure be gilded by the
legend, should be pointed at for having listened, for having
actually heard. Gravener, who had glanced at his watch and
discovered it was midnight, found to all this a retort beautifully
characteristic of him.
"There's one little fact to be borne in mind in the presence
equally of the best talk and of the worst." He looked, in saying
this, as if he meant great things, and I was sure he could only
mean once more that neither of them mattered if a man wasn't a real
gentleman. Perhaps it was what he did mean; he deprived me however
of the exultation of being right by putting the truth in a slightly
different way. "The only thing that really counts for one's
estimate of a person is his conduct." He had his watch still in
his palm, and I reproached him with unfair play in having
ascertained beforehand that it was now the hour at which I always
gave in. My pleasantry so far failed to mollify him that he
promptly added that to the rule he had just enunciated there was
absolutely no exception.
"Trust me then to try to be good at any price!" I laughed as I went
with him to the door. "I declare I will be, if I have to be
If that first night was one of the liveliest, or at any rate was
the freshest, of my exaltations, there was another, four years
later, that was one of my great discomposures. Repetition, I well
knew by this time, was the secret of Saltram's power to alienate,
and of course one would never have seen him at his finest if one
hadn't seen him in his remorses. They set in mainly at this season
and were magnificent, elemental, orchestral. I was quite aware
that one of these atmospheric disturbances was now due; but none
the less, in our arduous attempt to set him on his feet as a
lecturer, it was impossible not to feel that two failures were a
large order, as we said, for a short course of five. This was the
second time, and it was past nine o'clock; the audience, a muster
unprecedented and really encouraging, had fortunately the attitude
of blandness that might have been looked for in persons whom the
promise of (if I'm not mistaken) An Analysis of Primary Ideas had
drawn to the neighbourhood of Upper Baker Street. There was in
those days in that region a petty lecture-hall to be secured on
terms as moderate as the funds left at our disposal by the
irrepressible question of the maintenance of five small Saltrams--I
include the mother--and one large one. By the time the Saltrams,
of different sizes, were all maintained we had pretty well poured
out the oil that might have lubricated the machinery for enabling
the most original of men to appear to maintain them.
It was I, the other time, who had been forced into the breach,
standing up there for an odious lamplit moment to explain to half a
dozen thin benches, where earnest brows were virtuously void of
anything so cynical as a suspicion, that we couldn't so much as put
a finger on Mr. Saltram. There was nothing to plead but that our
scouts had been out from the early hours and that we were afraid
that on one of his walks abroad--he took one, for meditation,
whenever he was to address such a company--some accident had
disabled or delayed him. The meditative walks were a fiction, for
he never, that any one could discover, prepared anything but a
magnificent prospectus; hence his circulars and programmes, of
which I possess an almost complete collection, are the solemn
ghosts of generations never born. I put the case, as it seemed to
me, at the best; but I admit I had been angry, and Kent Mulville
was shocked at my want of public optimism. This time therefore I
left the excuses to his more practised patience, only relieving
myself in response to a direct appeal from a young lady next whom,
in the hall, I found myself sitting. My position was an accident,
but if it had been calculated the reason would scarce have eluded
an observer of the fact that no one else in the room had an
approach to an appearance. Our philosopher's "tail" was deplorably
limp. This visitor was the only person who looked at her ease, who
had come a little in the spirit of adventure. She seemed to carry
amusement in her handsome young head, and her presence spoke, a
little mystifyingly, of a sudden extension of Saltram's sphere of
influence. He was doing better than we hoped, and he had chosen
such an occasion, of all occasions, to succumb to heaven knew which
of his fond infirmities. The young lady produced an impression of
auburn hair and black velvet, and had on her other hand a companion
of obscurer type, presumably a waiting-maid. She herself might
perhaps have been a foreign countess, and before she addressed me I
had beguiled our sorry interval by finding in her a vague recall of
the opening of some novel of Madame Sand. It didn't make her more
fathomable to pass in a few minutes from this to the certitude that
she was American; it simply engendered depressing reflexions as to
the possible check to contributions from Boston. She asked me if,
as a person apparently more initiated, I would recommend further
waiting, and I answered that if she considered I was on my honour I
would privately deprecate it. Perhaps she didn't; at any rate our
talk took a turn that prolonged it till she became aware we were
left almost alone. I presently ascertained she knew Mrs. Saltram,
and this explained in a manner the miracle. The brotherhood of the
friends of the husband was as nothing to the brotherhood, or
perhaps I should say the sisterhood, of the friends of the wife.
Like the Kent Mulvilles I belonged to both fraternities, and even
better than they I think I had sounded the abyss of Mrs. Saltram's
wrongs. She bored me to extinction, and I knew but too well how
she had bored her husband; but there were those who stood by her,
the most efficient of whom were indeed the handful of poor
Saltram's backers. They did her liberal justice, whereas her mere
patrons and partisans had nothing but hatred for our philosopher.
I'm bound to say it was we, however--we of both camps, as it were--
who had always done most for her.
I thought my young lady looked rich--I scarcely knew why; and I
hoped she had put her hand in her pocket. I soon made her out,
however, not at all a fine fanatic--she was but a generous,
irresponsible enquirer. She had come to England to see her aunt,
and it was at her aunt's she had met the dreary lady we had all so
much on our mind. I saw she'd help to pass the time when she
observed that it was a pity this lady wasn't intrinsically more
interesting. That was refreshing, for it was an article of faith
in Mrs. Saltram's circle--at least among those who scorned to know
her horrid husband--that she was attractive on her merits. She was
in truth a most ordinary person, as Saltram himself would have been
if he hadn't been a prodigy. The question of vulgarity had no
application to him, but it was a measure his wife kept challenging
you to apply. I hasten to add that the consequences of your doing
so were no sufficient reason for his having left her to starve.
"He doesn't seem to have much force of character," said my young
lady; at which I laughed out so loud that my departing friends
looked back at me over their shoulders as if I were making a joke
of their discomfiture. My joke probably cost Saltram a
subscription or two, but it helped me on with my interlocutress.
"She says he drinks like a fish," she sociably continued, "and yet
she allows that his mind's wonderfully clear." It was amusing to
converse with a pretty girl who could talk of the clearness of
Saltram's mind. I expected next to hear she had been assured he
was awfully clever. I tried to tell her--I had it almost on my
conscience--what was the proper way to regard him; an effort
attended perhaps more than ever on this occasion with the usual
effect of my feeling that I wasn't after all very sure of it. She
had come to-night out of high curiosity--she had wanted to learn
this proper way for herself. She had read some of his papers and
hadn't understood them; but it was at home, at her aunt's, that her
curiosity had been kindled--kindled mainly by his wife's remarkable
stories of his want of virtue. "I suppose they ought to have kept
me away," my companion dropped, "and I suppose they'd have done so
if I hadn't somehow got an idea that he's fascinating. In fact
Mrs. Saltram herself says he is."
"So you came to see where the fascination resides? Well, you've
My young lady raised fine eyebrows. "Do you mean in his bad
"In the extraordinary effects of it; his possession, that is, of
some quality or other that condemns us in advance to forgive him
the humiliation, as I may call it, to which he has subjected us."
"Why mine, for instance, as one of his guarantors, before you as
the purchaser of a ticket."
She let her charming gay eyes rest on me. "You don't look
humiliated a bit, and if you did I should let you off, disappointed
as I am; for the mysterious quality you speak of is just the
quality I came to see."
"Oh, you can't 'see' it!" I cried.
"How then do you get at it?"
"You don't! You mustn't suppose he's good-looking," I added.
"Why his wife says he's lovely!"
My hilarity may have struck her as excessive, but I confess it
broke out afresh. Had she acted only in obedience to this singular
plea, so characteristic, on Mrs. Saltram's part, of what was
irritating in the narrowness of that lady's point of view? "Mrs.
Saltram," I explained, "undervalues him where he's strongest, so
that, to make up for it perhaps, she overpraises him where he's
weak. He's not, assuredly, superficially attractive; he's middle-
aged, fat, featureless save for his great eyes."
"Yes, his great eyes," said my young lady attentively. She had
evidently heard all about his great eyes--the beaux yeux for which
alone we had really done it all.
"They're tragic and splendid--lights on a dangerous coast. But he
moves badly and dresses worse, and altogether he's anything but
My companion, who appeared to reflect on this, after a moment
appealed. "Do you call him a real gentleman?"
I started slightly at the question, for I had a sense of
recognising it: George Gravener, years before, that first flushed
night, had put me face to face with it. It had embarrassed me
then, but it didn't embarrass me now, for I had lived with it and
overcome it and disposed of it. "A real gentleman? Emphatically
My promptitude surprised her a little, but I quickly felt how
little it was to Gravener I was now talking. "Do you say that
because he's--what do you call it in England?--of humble
"Not a bit. His father was a country school-master and his mother
the widow of a sexton, but that has nothing to do with it. I say
it simply because I know him well."
"But isn't it an awful drawback?"
"I mean isn't it positively fatal?"
"Fatal to what? Not to his magnificent vitality."
Again she had a meditative moment. "And is his magnificent
vitality the cause of his vices?"
"Your questions are formidable, but I'm glad you put them. I was
thinking of his noble intellect. His vices, as you say, have been
much exaggerated: they consist mainly after all in one
"A want of will?"
"A want of dignity."
"He doesn't recognise his obligations?"
"On the contrary, he recognises them with effusion, especially in
public: he smiles and bows and beckons across the street to them.
But when they pass over he turns away, and he speedily loses them
in the crowd. The recognition's purely spiritual--it isn't in the
least social. So he leaves all his belongings to other people to
take care of. He accepts favours, loans, sacrifices--all with
nothing more deterrent than an agony of shame. Fortunately we're a
little faithful band, and we do what we can." I held my tongue
about the natural children, engendered, to the number of three, in
the wantonness of his youth. I only remarked that he did make
efforts--often tremendous ones. "But the efforts," I said, "never
come to much: the only things that come to much are the
abandonments, the surrenders."
"And how much do they come to?"
"You're right to put it as if we had a big bill to pay, but, as
I've told you before, your questions are rather terrible. They
come, these mere exercises of genius, to a great sum total of
poetry, of philosophy, a mighty mass of speculation, notation,
quotation. The genius is there, you see, to meet the surrender;
but there's no genius to support the defence."
"But what is there, after all, at his age, to show?"
"In the way of achievement recognised and reputation established?"
I asked. "To 'show' if you will, there isn't much, since his
writing, mostly, isn't as fine, isn't certainly as showy, as his
talk. Moreover two-thirds of his work are merely colossal projects
and announcements. 'Showing' Frank Saltram is often a poor
business," I went on: "we endeavoured, you'll have observed, to
show him to-night! However, if he HAD lectured he'd have lectured
divinely. It would just have been his talk."
"And what would his talk just have been?"
I was conscious of some ineffectiveness, as well perhaps as of a
little impatience, as I replied: "The exhibition of a splendid
intellect." My young lady looked not quite satisfied at this, but
as I wasn't prepared for another question I hastily pursued: "The
sight of a great suspended swinging crystal--huge lucid lustrous, a
block of light--flashing back every impression of life and every
possibility of thought!"
This gave her something to turn over till we had passed out to the
dusky porch of the hall, in front of which the lamps of a quiet
brougham were almost the only thing Saltram's treachery hadn't
extinguished. I went with her to the door of her carriage, out of
which she leaned a moment after she had thanked me and taken her
seat. Her smile even in the darkness was pretty. "I do want to
see that crystal!"
"You've only to come to the next lecture."
"I go abroad in a day or two with my aunt."
"Wait over till next week," I suggested. "It's quite worth it."
She became grave. "Not unless he really comes!" At which the
brougham started off, carrying her away too fast, fortunately for
my manners, to allow me to exclaim "Ingratitude!"
Mrs. Saltram made a great affair of her right to be informed where
her husband had been the second evening he failed to meet his
audience. She came to me to ascertain, but I couldn't satisfy her,
for in spite of my ingenuity I remained in ignorance. It wasn't
till much later that I found this had not been the case with Kent
Mulville, whose hope for the best never twirled the thumbs of him
more placidly than when he happened to know the worst. He had
known it on the occasion I speak of--that is immediately after. He
was impenetrable then, but ultimately confessed. What he confessed
was more than I shall now venture to make public. It was of course
familiar to me that Saltram was incapable of keeping the
engagements which, after their separation, he had entered into with
regard to his wife, a deeply wronged, justly resentful, quite
irreproachable and insufferable person. She often appeared at my
chambers to talk over his lapses; for if, as she declared, she had
washed her hands of him, she had carefully preserved the water of
this ablution, which she handed about for analysis. She had arts
of her own of exciting one's impatience, the most infallible of
which was perhaps her assumption that we were kind to her because
we liked her. In reality her personal fall had been a sort of
social rise--since I had seen the moment when, in our little
conscientious circle, her desolation almost made her the fashion.
Her voice was grating and her children ugly; moreover she hated the
good Mulvilles, whom I more and more loved. They were the people
who by doing most for her husband had in the long run done most for
herself; and the warm confidence with which he had laid his length
upon them was a pressure gentle compared with her stiffer
persuadability. I'm bound to say he didn't criticise his
benefactors, though practically he got tired of them; she, however,
had the highest standards about eleemosynary forms. She offered
the odd spectacle of a spirit puffed up by dependence, and indeed
it had introduced her to some excellent society. She pitied me for
not knowing certain people who aided her and whom she doubtless
patronised in turn for their luck in not knowing me. I dare say I
should have got on with her better if she had had a ray of
imagination--if it had occasionally seemed to occur to her to
regard Saltram's expressions of his nature in any other manner than
as separate subjects of woe. They were all flowers of his
character, pearls strung on an endless thread; but she had a
stubborn little way of challenging them one after the other, as if
she never suspected that he HAD a character, such as it was, or
that deficiencies might be organic; the irritating effect of a mind
incapable of a generalisation. One might doubtless have overdone
the idea that there was a general licence for such a man; but if
this had happened it would have been through one's feeling that
there could be none for such a woman.
I recognised her superiority when I asked her about the aunt of the
disappointed young lady: it sounded like a sentence from an
English-French or other phrase-book. She triumphed in what she
told me and she may have triumphed still more in what she withheld.
My friend of the other evening, Miss Anvoy, had but lately come to
England; Lady Coxon, the aunt, had been established here for years
in consequence of her marriage with the late Sir Gregory of that
name. She had a house in the Regent's Park, a Bath-chair and a
fernery; and above all she had sympathy. Mrs. Saltram had made her
acquaintance through mutual friends. This vagueness caused me to
feel how much I was out of it and how large an independent circle
Mrs. Saltram had at her command. I should have been glad to know
more about the disappointed young lady, but I felt I should know
most by not depriving her of her advantage, as she might have
mysterious means of depriving me of my knowledge. For the present,
moreover, this experience was stayed, Lady Coxon having in fact
gone abroad accompanied by her niece. The niece, besides being
immensely clever, was an heiress, Mrs. Saltram said; the only
daughter and the light of the eyes of some great American merchant,
a man, over there, of endless indulgences and dollars. She had
pretty clothes and pretty manners, and she had, what was prettier
still, the great thing of all. The great thing of all for Mrs.
Saltram was always sympathy, and she spoke as if during the absence
of these ladies she mightn't know where to turn for it. A few
months later indeed, when they had come back, her tone perceptibly
changed: she alluded to them, on my leading her up to it, rather
as to persons in her debt for favours received. What had happened
I didn't know, but I saw it would take only a little more or a
little less to make her speak of them as thankless subjects of
social countenance--people for whom she had vainly tried to do
something. I confess I saw how it wouldn't be in a mere week or
two that I should rid myself of the image of Ruth Anvoy, in whose
very name, when I learnt it, I found something secretly to like. I
should probably neither see her nor hear of her again: the
knight's widow (he had been mayor of Clockborough) would pass away
and the heiress would return to her inheritance. I gathered with
surprise that she had not communicated to his wife the story of her
attempt to hear Mr..Saltram, and I founded this reticence on the
easy supposition that Mrs. Saltram had fatigued by overpressure the
spring of the sympathy of which she boasted. The girl at any rate
would forget the small adventure, be distracted, take a husband;
besides which she would lack occasion to repeat her experiment.
We clung to the idea of the brilliant course, delivered without an
accident, that, as a lecturer, would still make the paying public
aware of our great man, but the fact remained that in the case of
an inspiration so unequal there was treachery, there was fallacy at
least, in the very conception of a series. In our scrutiny of ways
and means we were inevitably subject to the old convention of the
synopsis, the syllabus, partly of course not to lose the advantage
of his grand free hand in drawing up such things; but for myself I
laughed at our playbills even while I stickled for them. It was
indeed amusing work to be scrupulous for Frank Saltram, who also at
moments laughed about it, so far as the comfort of a sigh so
unstudied as to be cheerful might pass for such a sound. He
admitted with a candour all his own that he was in truth only to be
depended on in the Mulvilles' drawing-room. "Yes," he suggestively
allowed, "it's there, I think, that I'm at my best; quite late,
when it gets toward eleven--and if I've not been too much worried."
We all knew what too much worry meant; it meant too enslaved for
the hour to the superstition of sobriety. On the Saturdays I used
to bring my portmanteau, so as not to have to think of eleven
o'clock trains. I had a bold theory that as regards this temple of
talk and its altars of cushioned chintz, its pictures and its
flowers, its large fireside and clear lamplight, we might really
arrive at something if the Mulvilles would but charge for
admission. Here it was, however, that they shamelessly broke down;
as there's a flaw in every perfection this was the inexpugnable
refuge of their egotism. They declined to make their saloon a
market, so that Saltram's golden words continued the sole coin that
rang there. It can have happened to no man, however, to be paid a
greater price than such an enchanted hush as surrounded him on his
greatest nights. The most profane, on these occasions, felt a
presence; all minor eloquence grew dumb. Adelaide Mulville, for
the pride of her hospitality, anxiously watched the door or
stealthily poked the fire. I used to call it the music-room, for
we had anticipated Bayreuth. The very gates of the kingdom of
light seemed to open and the horizon of thought to flash with the
beauty of a sunrise at sea.
In the consideration of ways and means, the sittings of our little
board, we were always conscious of the creak of Mrs. Saltram's
shoes. She hovered, she interrupted, she almost presided, the
state of affairs being mostly such as to supply her with every
incentive for enquiring what was to be done next. It was the
pressing pursuit of this knowledge that, in concatenations of
omnibuses and usually in very wet weather, led her so often to my
door. She thought us spiritless creatures with editors and
publishers; but she carried matters to no great effect when she
personally pushed into back-shops. She wanted all moneys to be
paid to herself: they were otherwise liable to such strange
adventures. They trickled away into the desert--they were mainly
at best, alas, a slender stream. The editors and the publishers
were the last people to take this remarkable thinker at the
valuation that has now pretty well come to be established. The
former were half-distraught between the desire to "cut" him and the
difficulty of finding a crevice for their shears; and when a volume
on this or that portentous subject was proposed to the latter they
suggested alternative titles which, as reported to our friend,
brought into his face the noble blank melancholy that sometimes
made it handsome. The title of an unwritten book didn't after all
much matter, but some masterpiece of Saltram's may have died in his
bosom of the shudder with which it was then convulsed. The ideal
solution, failing the fee at Kent Mulville's door, would have been
some system of subscription to projected treatises with their non-
appearance provided for--provided for, I mean, by the indulgence of
subscribers. The author's real misfortune was that subscribers
were so wretchedly literal. When they tastelessly enquired why
publication hadn't ensued I was tempted to ask who in the world had
ever been so published. Nature herself had brought him out in
voluminous form, and the money was simply a deposit on borrowing
I was doubtless often a nuisance to my friends in those years; but
there were sacrifices I declined to make, and I never passed the
hat to George Gravener. I never forgot our little discussion in
Ebury Street, and I think it stuck in my throat to have to treat
him to the avowal I had found so easy to Mss Anvoy. It had cost me
nothing to confide to this charming girl, but it would have cost me
much to confide to the friend of my youth, that the character of
the "real gentleman" wasn't an attribute of the man I took such
pains for. Was this because I had already generalised to the point
of perceiving that women are really the unfastidious sex? I knew
at any rate that Gravener, already quite in view but still hungry
and frugal, had naturally enough more ambition than charity. He
had sharp aims for stray sovereigns, being in view most from the
tall steeple of Clockborough. His immediate ambition was to occupy
e lui seul the field of vision of that smokily-seeing city, and all
his movements and postures were calculated for the favouring angle.
The movement of the hand as to the pocket had thus to alternate
gracefully with the posture of the hand on the heart. He talked to
Clockborough in short only less beguilingly than Frank Saltram
talked to HIS electors; with the difference to our credit, however,
that we had already voted and that our candidate had no antagonist
but himself. He had more than once been at Wimbledon--it was Mrs.
Mulville's work not mine--and by the time the claret was served had
seen the god descend. He took more pains to swing his censer than
I had expected, but on our way back to town he forestalled any
little triumph I might have been so artless as to express by the
observation that such a man was--a hundred times!--a man to use and
never a man to be used by. I remember that this neat remark
humiliated me almost as much as if virtually, in the fever of
broken slumbers, I hadn't often made it myself. The difference was
that on Gravener's part a force attached to it that could never
attach to it on mine. He was ABLE to use people--he had the
machinery; and the irony of Saltram's being made showy at
Clockborough came out to me when he said, as if he had no memory of
our original talk and the idea were quite fresh to him: "I hate
his type, you know, but I'll be hanged if I don't put some of those
things in. I can find a place for them: we might even find a
place for the fellow himself." I myself should have had some fear-
-not, I need scarcely say, for the "things" themselves, but for
some other things very near them; in fine for the rest of my
Later on I could see that the oracle of Wimbledon was not in this
case so appropriate as he would have been had the polities of the
gods only coincided more exactly with those of the party. There
was a distinct moment when, without saying anything more definite
to me, Gravener entertained the idea of annexing Mr. Saltram. Such
a project was delusive, for the discovery of analogies between his
body of doctrine and that pressed from headquarters upon
Clockborough--the bottling, in a word, of the air of those lungs
for convenient public uncorking in corn-exchanges--was an
experiment for which no one had the leisure. The only thing would
have been to carry him massively about, paid, caged, clipped; to
turn him on for a particular occasion in a particular channel.
Frank Saltram's channel, however, was essentially not calculable,
and there was no knowing what disastrous floods might have ensued.
For what there would have been to do THE EMPIRE, the great
newspaper, was there to look to; but it was no new misfortune that
there were delicate situations in which THE EMPIRE broke down. In
fine there was an instinctive apprehension that a clever young
journalist commissioned to report on Mr. Saltram might never come
back from the errand. No one knew better than George Gravener that
that was a time when prompt returns counted double. If he
therefore found our friend an exasperating waste of orthodoxy it
was because of his being, as he said, poor Gravener, up in the
clouds, not because he was down in the dust. The man would have
been, just as he was, a real enough gentleman if he could have
helped to put in a real gentleman. Gravener's great objection to
the actual member was that he was not one.
Lady Coxon had a fine old house, a house with "grounds," at
Clockborough, which she had let; but after she returned from abroad
I learned from Mrs. Saltram that the lease had fallen in and that
she had gone down to resume possession. I could see the faded red
livery, the big square shoulders, the high-walled garden of this
decent abode. As the rumble of dissolution grew louder the suitor
would have pressed his suit, and I found myself hoping the politics
of the late Mayor's widow wouldn't be such as to admonish her to
ask him to dinner; perhaps indeed I went so far as to pray, they
would naturally form a bar to any contact. I tried to focus the
many-buttoned page, in the daily airing, as he perhaps even pushed
the Bath-chair over somebody's toes. I was destined to hear, none
the less, through Mrs. Saltram--who, I afterwards learned, was in
correspondence with Lady Coxon's housekeeper--that Gravener was
known to have spoken of the habitation I had in my eye as the
pleasantest thing at Clockborough. On his part, I was sure, this
was the voice not of envy but of experience. The vivid scene was
now peopled, and I could see him in the old-time garden with Miss
Anvoy, who would be certain, and very justly, to think him good-
looking. It would be too much to describe myself as troubled by
this play of surmise; but I occur to remember the relief, singular
enough, of feeling it suddenly brushed away by an annoyance really
much greater; an annoyance the result of its happening to come over
me about that time with a rush that I was simply ashamed of Frank
Saltram. There were limits after all, and my mark at last had been
I had had my disgusts, if I may allow myself to-day such an
expression; but this was a supreme revolt. Certain things cleared
up in my mind, certain values stood out. It was all very well to
have an unfortunate temperament; there was nothing so unfortunate
as to have, for practical purposes, nothing else. I avoided George
Gravener at this moment and reflected that at such a time I should
do so most effectually by leaving England. I wanted to forget
Frank Saltram--that was all. I didn't want to do anything in the
world to him but that. Indignation had withered on the stalk, and
I felt that one could pity him as much as one ought only by never
thinking of him again. It wasn't for anything he had done to me;
it was for what he had done to the Mulvilles. Adelaide cried about
it for a week, and her husband, profiting by the example so
signally given him of the fatal effect of a want of character, left
the letter, the drop too much, unanswered. The letter, an
incredible one, addressed by Saltram to Wimbledon during a stay
with the Pudneys at Ramsgate, was the central feature of the
incident, which, however, had many features, each more painful than
whichever other we compared it with. The Pudneys had behaved
shockingly, but that was no excuse. Base ingratitude, gross
indecency--one had one's choice only of such formulas as that the
more they fitted the less they gave one rest. These are dead aches
now, and I am under no obligation, thank heaven, to be definite
about the business. There are things which if I had had to tell
them--well, would have stopped me off here altogether.
I went abroad for the general election, and if I don't know how
much, on the Continent, I forgot, I at least know how much I
missed, him. At a distance, in a foreign land, ignoring, abjuring,
unlearning him, I discovered what he had done for me. I owed him,
oh unmistakeably, certain noble conceptions; I had lighted my
little taper at his smoky lamp, and lo it continued to twinkle.
But the light it gave me just showed me how much more I wanted. I
was pursued of course by letters from Mrs. Saltram which I didn't
scruple not to read, though quite aware her embarrassments couldn't
but be now of the gravest. I sacrificed to propriety by simply
putting them away, and this is how, one day as my absence drew to
an end, my eye, while I rummaged in my desk for another paper, was
caught by a name on a leaf that had detached itself from the
packet. The allusion was to Miss Anvoy, who, it appeared, was
engaged to be married to Mr. George Gravener; and the news was two
months old. A direct question of Mrs. Saltram's had thus remained
unanswered--she had enquired of me in a postscript what sort of man
this aspirant to such a hand might be. The great other fact about
him just then was that he had been triumphantly returned for
Clockborough in the interest of the party that had swept the
country--so that I might easily have referred Mrs. Saltram to the
journals of the day. Yet when I at last wrote her that I was
coming home and would discharge my accumulated burden by seeing
her, I but remarked in regard to her question that she must really
put it to Miss Anvoy.
I had almost avoided the general election, but some of its
consequences, on my return, had smartly to be faced. The season,
in London, began to breathe again and to flap its folded wings.
Confidence, under the new Ministry, was understood to be reviving,
and one of the symptoms, in a social body, was a recovery of
appetite. People once more fed together, and it happened that, one
Saturday night, at somebody's house, I fed with George Gravener.
When the ladies left the room I moved up to where he sat and begged
to congratulate him. "On my election?" he asked after a moment; so
that I could feign, jocosely, not to have heard of that triumph and
to be alluding to the rumour of a victory still more personal. I
dare say I coloured however, for his political success had
momentarily passed out of my mind. What was present to it was that
he was to marry that beautiful girl; and yet his question made me
conscious of some discomposure--I hadn't intended to put this
before everything. He himself indeed ought gracefully to have done
so, and I remember thinking the whole man was in this assumption
that in expressing my sense of what he had won I had fixed my
thoughts on his "seat." We straightened the matter out, and he was
so much lighter in hand than I had lately seen him that his spirits
might well have been fed from a twofold source. He was so good as
to say that he hoped I should soon make the acquaintance of Miss
Anvoy, who, with her aunt, was presently coming up to town. Lady
Coxon, in the country, had been seriously unwell, and this had
delayed their arrival. I told him I had heard the marriage would
be a splendid one; on which, brightened and humanised by his luck,
he laughed and said "Do you mean for HER?" When I had again
explained what I meant he went on: "Oh she's an American, but
you'd scarcely know it; unless, perhaps," he added, "by her being
used to more money than most girls in England, even the daughters
of rich men. That wouldn't in the least do for a fellow like me,
you know, if it wasn't for the great liberality of her father. He
really has been most kind, and everything's quite satisfactory."
He added that his eldest brother had taken a tremendous fancy to
her and that during a recent visit at Coldfield she had nearly won
over Lady Maddock. I gathered from something he dropped later on
that the free-handed gentleman beyond the seas had not made a
settlement, but had given a handsome present and was apparently to
be looked to, across the water, for other favours. People are
simplified alike by great contentments and great yearnings, and,
whether or no it was Gravener's directness that begot my own, I
seem to recall that in some turn taken by our talk he almost
imposed it on me as an act of decorum to ask if Miss Anvoy had also
by chance expectations from her aunt. My enquiry drew out that
Lady Coxon, who was the oddest of women, would have in any
contingency to act under her late husband's will, which was odder
still, saddling her with a mass of queer obligations complicated
with queer loopholes. There were several dreary people, Coxon
cousins, old maids, to whom she would have more or less to
minister. Gravener laughed, without saying no, when I suggested
that the young lady might come in through a loophole; then
suddenly, as if he suspected my turning a lantern on him, he
declared quite dryly: "That's all rot--one's moved by other
A fortnight later, at Lady Coxon's own house, I understood well
enough the springs one was moved by. Gravener had spoken of me
there as an old friend, and I received a gracious invitation to
dine. The Knight's widow was again indisposed--she had succumbed
at the eleventh hour; so that I found Miss Anvoy bravely playing
hostess without even Gravener's help, since, to make matters worse,
he had just sent up word that the House, the insatiable House, with
which he supposed he had contracted for easier terms, positively
declined to release him. I was struck with the courage, the grace
and gaiety of the young lady left thus to handle the fauna and
flora of the Regent's Park. I did what I could to help her to
classify them, after I had recovered from the confusion of seeing
her slightly disconcerted at perceiving in the guest introduced by
her intended the gentleman with whom she had had that talk about
Frank Saltram. I had at this moment my first glimpse of the fact
that she was a person who could carry a responsibility; but I leave
the reader to judge of my sense of the aggravation, for either of
us, of such a burden, when I heard the servant announce Mrs.
Saltram. From what immediately passed between the two ladies I
gathered that the latter had been sent for post-haste to fill the
gap created by the absence of the mistress of the house. "Good!" I
remember crying, "she'll be put by ME;" and my apprehension was
promptly justified. Mrs. Saltram taken in to dinner, and taken in
as a consequence of an appeal to her amiability, was Mrs. Saltram
with a vengeance. I asked myself what Miss Anvoy meant by doing
such things, but the only answer I arrived at was that Gravener was
verily fortunate. She hadn't happened to tell him of her visit to
Upper Baker Street, but she'd certainly tell him to-morrow; not
indeed that this would make him like any better her having had the
innocence to invite such a person as Mrs. Saltram on such an
occasion. It could only strike me that I had never seen a young
woman put such ignorance into her cleverness, such freedom into her
modesty; this, I think, was when, after dinner, she said to me
frankly, with almost jubilant mirth: "Oh you don't admire Mrs.
Saltram?" Why should I? This was truly a young person without
guile. I had briefly to consider before I could reply that my
objection to the lady named was the objection often uttered about
people met at the social board--I knew all her stories. Then as
Miss Anvoy remained momentarily vague I added: "Those about her
"Oh yes, but there are some new ones."
"None for me. Ah novelty would be pleasant!"
"Doesn't it appear that of late he has been particularly horrid?"
"His fluctuations don't matter", I returned, "for at night all cats
are grey. You saw the shade of this one the night we waited for
him together. What will you have? He has no dignity."
Miss Anvoy, who had been introducing with her American
distinctness, looked encouragingly round at some of the
combinations she had risked. "It's too bad I can't see him."
"You mean Gravener won't let you?"
"I haven't asked him. He lets me do everything."
"But you know he knows him and wonders what some of us see in him."
"We haven't happened to talk of him," the girl said.
"Get him to take you some day out to see the Mulvilles."
"I thought Mr. Saltram had thrown the Mulvilles over."
"Utterly. But that won't prevent his being planted there again, to
bloom like a rose, within a month or two."
Miss Anvoy thought a moment. Then, "I should like to see them,"
she said with her fostering smile.
"They're tremendously worth it. You mustn't miss them."
"I'll make George take me," she went on as Mrs. Saltram came up to
interrupt us. She sniffed at this unfortunate as kindly as she had
smiled at me and, addressing the question to her, continued: "But
the chance of a lecture--one of the wonderful lectures? Isn't
there another course announced?"
"Another? There are about thirty!" I exclaimed, turning away and
feeling Mrs. Saltram's little eyes in my back. A few days after
this I heard that Gravener's marriage was near at hand--was settled
for Whitsuntide; but as no invitation had reached me I had my
doubts, and there presently came to me in fact the report of a
postponement. Something was the matter; what was the matter was
supposed to be that Lady Coxon was now critically ill. I had
called on her after my dinner in the Regent's Park, but I had
neither seen her nor seen Miss Anvoy. I forget to-day the exact
order in which, at this period, sundry incidents occurred and the
particular stage at which it suddenly struck me, making me catch my
breath a little, that the progression, the acceleration, was for
all the world that of fine drama. This was probably rather late in
the day, and the exact order doesn't signify. What had already
occurred was some accident determining a more patient wait. George
Gravener, whom I met again, in fact told me as much, but without
signs of perturbation. Lady Coxon had to be constantly attended
to, and there were other good reasons as well. Lady Coxon had to
be so constantly attended to that on the occasion of a second
attempt in the Regent's Park I equally failed to obtain a sight of
her niece. I judged it discreet in all the conditions not to make
a third; but this didn't matter, for it was through Adelaide
Mulville that the side-wind of the comedy, though I was at first
unwitting, began to reach me. I went to Wimbledon at times because
Saltram was there, and I went at others because he wasn't. The
Pudneys, who had taken him to Birmingham, had already got rid of
him, and we had a horrible consciousness of his wandering roofless,
in dishonour, about the smoky Midlands, almost as the injured Lear
wandered on the storm-lashed heath. His room, upstairs, had been
lately done up (I could hear the crackle of the new chintz) and the
difference only made his smirches and bruises, his splendid tainted
genius, the more tragic. If he wasn't barefoot in the mire he was
sure to be unconventionally shod. These were the things Adelaide
and I, who were old enough friends to stare at each other in
silence, talked about when we didn't speak. When we spoke it was
only about the brilliant girl George Gravener was to marry and whom
he had brought out the other Sunday. I could see that this
presentation had been happy, for Mrs. Mulville commemorated it
after her sole fashion of showing confidence in a new relation.
"She likes me--she likes me": her native humility exulted in that
measure of success. We all knew for ourselves how she liked those
who liked her, and as regards Ruth Anvoy she was more easily won
over than Lady Maddock.
One of the consequences, for the Mulvilles, of the sacrifices they
made for Frank Saltram was that they had to give up their carriage.
Adelaide drove gently into London in a one-horse greenish thing, an
early Victorian landau, hired, near at hand, imaginatively, from a
broken-down jobmaster whose wife was in consumption--a vehicle that
made people turn round all the more when her pensioner sat beside
her in a soft white hat and a shawl, one of the dear woman's own.
This was his position and I dare say his costume when on an
afternoon in July she went to return Miss Anvoy's visit. The wheel
of fate had now revolved, and amid silences deep and exhaustive,
compunctions and condonations alike unutterable, Saltram was
reinstated. Was it in pride or in penance that Mrs. Mulville had
begun immediately to drive him about? If he was ashamed of his
ingratitude she might have been ashamed of her forgiveness; but she
was incorrigibly capable of liking him to be conspicuous in the
landau while she was in shops or with her acquaintance. However,
if he was in the pillory for twenty minutes in the Regent's Park--I
mean at Lady Coxon's door while his companion paid her call--it
wasn't to the further humiliation of any one concerned that she
presently came out for him in person, not even to show either of
them what a fool she was that she drew him in to be introduced to
the bright young American. Her account of the introduction I had
in its order, but before that, very late in the season, under
Gravener's auspices, I met Miss Anvoy at tea at the House of
Commons. The member for Clockborough had gathered a group of
pretty ladies, and the Mulvilles were not of the party. On the
great terrace, as I strolled off with her a little, the guest of
honour immediately exclaimed to me: "I've seen him, you know--I've
seen him!" She told me about Saltram's call.
"And how did you find him?"
"Oh so strange!"
"You didn't like him?"
"I can't tell till I see him again."
"You want to do that?"
She had a pause. "Immensely."
We went no further; I fancied she had become aware Gravener was
looking at us. She turned back toward the knot of the others, and
I said: "Dislike him as much as you will--I see you're bitten."
"Bitten?" I thought she coloured a little.
"Oh it doesn't matter!" I laughed; "one doesn't die of it."
"I hope I shan't die of anything before I've seen more of Mrs.
Mulville." I rejoiced with her over plain Adelaide, whom she
pronounced the loveliest woman she had met in England; but before
we separated I remarked to her that it was an act of mere humanity
to warn her that if she should see more of Frank Saltram--which
would be likely to follow on any increase of acquaintance with Mrs.
Mulville--she might find herself flattening her nose against the
clear hard pane of an eternal question--that of the relative, that
of the opposed, importances of virtue and brains. She replied that
this was surely a subject on which one took everything for granted;
whereupon I admitted that I had perhaps expressed myself ill. What
I referred to was what I had referred to the night we met in Upper
Baker Street--the relative importance (relative to virtue) of other
gifts. She asked me if I called virtue a gift--a thing handed to
us in a parcel on our first birthday; and I declared that this very
enquiry proved to me the problem had already caught her by the
skirt. She would have help however, the same help I myself had
once had, in resisting its tendency to make one cross.
"What help do you mean?"
"That of the member for Clockborough."
She stared, smiled, then returned: "Why my idea has been to help
She HAD helped him--I had his own word for it that at Clockborough
her bedevilment of the voters had really put him in. She would do
so doubtless again and again, though I heard the very next month
that this fine faculty had undergone a temporary eclipse. News of
the catastrophe first came to me from Mrs. Saltram, and it was
afterwards confirmed at Wimbledon: poor Miss Anvoy was in trouble-
-great disasters in America had suddenly summoned her home. Her
father, in New York, had suffered reverses, lost so much money that
it was really vexatious as showing how much he had had. It was
Adelaide who told me she had gone off alone at less than a week's
"Alone? Gravener has permitted that?"
"What will you have? The House of Commons!"
I'm afraid I cursed the House of Commons: I was so much
interested. Of course he'd follow her as soon as he was free to
make her his wife; only she mightn't now be able to bring him
anything like the marriage-portion of which he had begun by having
the virtual promise. Mrs. Mulville let me know what was already
said: she was charming, this American girl, but really these
American fathers--! What was a man to do? Mr. Saltram, according
to Mrs. Mulville, was of opinion that a man was never to suffer his
relation to money to become a spiritual relation--he was to keep it
exclusively material. "Moi pas comprendre!" I commented on this;
in rejoinder to which Adelaide, with her beautiful sympathy,
explained that she supposed he simply meant that the thing was to
use it, don't you know? but not to think too much about it. "To
take it, but not to thank you for it?" I still more profanely
enquired. For a quarter of an hour afterwards she wouldn't look at
me, but this didn't prevent my asking her what had been the result,
that afternoon--in the Regent's Park, of her taking our friend to
see Miss Anvoy.
"Oh so charming!" she answered, brightening. "He said he
recognised in her a nature he could absolutely trust."
"Yes, but I'm speaking of the effect on herself."
Mrs. Mulville had to remount the stream. "It was everything one
Something in her tone made me laugh. "Do you mean she gave him--a
"Well, since you ask me!"
"Right there on the spot?"
Again poor Adelaide faltered. "It was to me of course she gave
I stared; somehow I couldn't see the scene. "Do you mean a sum of
"It was very handsome." Now at last she met my eyes, though I
could see it was with an effort. "Thirty pounds."
"Straight out of her pocket?"
"Out of the drawer of a table at which she had been writing. She
just slipped the folded notes into my hand. He wasn't looking; it
was while he was going back to the carriage." "Oh," said Adelaide
reassuringly, "I take care of it for him!" The dear practical soul
thought my agitation, for I confess I was agitated, referred to the
employment of the money. Her disclosure made me for a moment muse
violently, and I dare say that during that moment I wondered if
anything else in the world makes people so gross as unselfishness.
I uttered, I suppose, some vague synthetic cry, for she went on as
if she had had a glimpse of my inward amaze at such passages. "I
assure you, my dear friend, he was in one of his happy hours."
But I wasn't thinking of that. "Truly indeed these Americans!" I
said. "With her father in the very act, as it were, of swindling
Mrs. Mulville stared. "Oh I suppose Mr. Anvoy has scarcely gone
bankrupt--or whatever he has done--on purpose. Very likely they
won't be able to keep it up, but there it was, and it was a very
"You say Saltram was very fine?"
"Beyond everything. He surprised even me."
"And I know what YOU'VE enjoyed." After a moment I added: "Had he
peradventure caught a glimpse of the money in the table-drawer?"
At this my companion honestly flushed. "How can you be so cruel
when you know how little he calculates?"
"Forgive me, I do know it. But you tell me things that act on my
nerves. I'm sure he hadn't caught a glimpse of anything but some
Mrs. Mulville brightly concurred. "And perhaps even of her
beautiful listening face."
"Perhaps even! And what was it all about?"
"His talk? It was apropos of her engagement, which I had told him
about: the idea of marriage, the philosophy, the poetry, the
sublimity of it." It was impossible wholly to restrain one's mirth
at this, and some rude ripple that I emitted again caused my
companion to admonish me. "It sounds a little stale, but you know
"Of illustration? Indeed I do!"
"And how he has always been right on that great question."
"On what great question, dear lady, hasn't he been right?"
"Of what other great men can you equally say it?--and that he has
never, but NEVER, had a deflexion?" Mrs. Mulville exultantly
I tried to think of some other great man, but I had to give it up.
"Didn't Miss Anvoy express her satisfaction in any less diffident
way than by her charming present?" I was reduced to asking instead.
"Oh yes, she overflowed to me on the steps while he was getting
into the carriage." These words somehow brushed up a picture of
Saltram's big shawled back as he hoisted himself into the green
landau. "She said she wasn't disappointed," Adelaide pursued.
I turned it over. "Did he wear his shawl?"
"His shawl?" She hadn't even noticed.
"I mean yours."
"He looked very nice, and you know he's really clean. Miss Anvoy
used such a remarkable expression--she said his mind's like a
I pricked up my ears. "A crystal?"
"Suspended in the moral world--swinging and shining and flashing
there. She's monstrously clever, you know."
I thought again. "Monstrously!"
George Gravener didn't follow her, for late in September, after the
House had risen, I met him in a railway-carriage. He was coming up
from Scotland and I had just quitted some relations who lived near
Durham. The current of travel back to London wasn't yet strong; at
any rate on entering the compartment I found he had had it for some
time to himself. We fared in company, and though he had a blue-
book in his lap and the open jaws of his bag threatened me with the
white teeth of confused papers, we inevitably, we even at last
sociably conversed. I saw things weren't well with him, but I
asked no question till something dropped by himself made, as it had
made on another occasion, an absence of curiosity invidious. He
mentioned that he was worried about his good old friend Lady Coxon,
who, with her niece likely to be detained some time in America, lay
seriously ill at Clockborough, much on his mind and on his hands.
"Ah Miss Anvoy's in America?"
"Her father has got into horrid straits--has lost no end of money."
I waited, after expressing due concern, but I eventually said: "I
hope that raises no objection to your marriage."
"None whatever; moreover it's my trade to meet objections. But it
may create tiresome delays, of which there have been too many, from
various causes, already. Lady Coxon got very bad, then she got
much better. Then Mr. Anvoy suddenly began to totter, and now he
seems quite on his back. I'm afraid he's really in for some big
reverse. Lady Coxon's worse again, awfully upset by the news from
America, and she sends me word that she MUST have Ruth. How can I
supply her with Ruth? I haven't got Ruth myself!"
"Surely you haven't lost her?" I returned.
"She's everything to her wretched father. She writes me every
post--telling me to smooth her aunt's pillow. I've other things to
smooth; but the old lady, save for her servants, is really alone.
She won't receive her Coxon relations--she's angry at so much of
her money going to them. Besides, she's hopelessly mad," said
Gravener very frankly.
I don't remember whether it was this, or what it was, that made me
ask if she hadn't such an appreciation of Mrs. Saltram as might
render that active person of some use.
He gave me a cold glance, wanting to know what had put Mrs. Saltram
into my head, and I replied that she was unfortunately never out of
it. I happened to remember the wonderful accounts she had given me
of the kindness Lady Coxon had shown her. Gravener declared this
to be false; Lady Coxon, who didn't care for her, hadn't seen her
three times. The only foundation for it was that Miss Anvoy, who
used, poor girl, to chuck money about in a manner she must now
regret, had for an hour seen in the miserable woman--you could
never know what she'd see in people--an interesting pretext for the
liberality with which her nature overflowed. But even Miss Anvoy
was now quite tired of her. Gravener told me more about the crash
in New York and the annoyance it had been to him, and we also
glanced here and there in other directions; but by the time we got
to Doncaster the principal thing he had let me see was that he was
keeping something back. We stopped at that station, and, at the
carriage-door, some one made a movement to get in. Gravener
uttered a sound of impatience, and I felt sure that but for this I
should have had the secret. Then the intruder, for some reason,
spared us his company; we started afresh, and my hope of a
disclosure returned. My companion held his tongue, however, and I
pretended to go to sleep; in fact I really dozed for
discouragement. When I reopened my eyes he was looking at me with
an injured air. He tossed away with some vivacity the remnant of a
cigarette and then said: "If you're not too sleepy I want to put
you a case." I answered that I'd make every effort to attend, and
welcomed the note of interest when he went on: "As I told you a
while ago, Lady Coxon, poor dear, is demented." His tone had much
behind it--was full of promise. I asked if her ladyship's
misfortune were a trait of her malady or only of her character, and
he pronounced it a product of both. The case he wanted to put to
me was a matter on which it concerned him to have the impression--
the judgement, he might also say--of another person. "I mean of
the average intelligent man, but you see I take what I can get."
There would be the technical, the strictly legal view; then there
would be the way the question would strike a man of the world. He
had lighted another cigarette while he talked, and I saw he was
glad to have it to handle when he brought out at last, with a laugh
slightly artificial: "In fact it's a subject on which Miss Anvoy
and I are pulling different ways."
"And you want me to decide between you? I decide in advance for
"In advance--that's quite right. That's how I decided when I
proposed to her. But my story will interest you only so far as
your mind isn't made up." Gravener puffed his cigarette a minute
and then continued: "Are you familiar with the idea of the
Endowment of Research?"
"Of Research?" I was at sea a moment.
"I give you Lady Coxon's phrase. She has it on the brain."
"She wishes to endow--?"
"Some earnest and 'loyal' seeker," Gravener said. "It was a
sketchy design of her late husband's, and he handed it on to her;
setting apart in his will a sum of money of which she was to enjoy
the interest for life, but of which, should she eventually see her
opportunity--the matter was left largely to her discretion--she
would best honour his memory by determining the exemplary public
use. This sum of money, no less than thirteen thousand pounds, was
to be called The Coxon Fund; and poor Sir Gregory evidently
proposed to himself that The Coxon Fund should cover his name with
glory--be universally desired and admired. He left his wife a full
declaration of his views, so far at least as that term may be
applied to views vitiated by a vagueness really infantine. A
little learning's a dangerous thing, and a good citizen who happens
to have been an ass is worse for a community than bad sewerage.
He's worst of all when he's dead, because then he can't be stopped.
However, such as they were, the poor man's aspirations are now in
his wife's bosom, or fermenting rather in her foolish brain: it
lies with her to carry them out. But of course she must first
catch her hare."
"Her earnest loyal seeker?"
"The flower that blushes unseen for want of such a pecuniary
independence as may aid the light that's in it to shine upon the
human race. The individual, in a word, who, having the rest of the
machinery, the spiritual, the intellectual, is most hampered in his
"His search for what?"
"For Moral Truth. That's what Sir Gregory calls it."
I burst out laughing. "Delightful munificent Sir Gregory! It's a
"So Miss Anvoy thinks."
"Has she a candidate for the Fund?"
"Not that I know of--and she's perfectly reasonable about it. But
Lady Coxon has put the matter before her, and we've naturally had a
lot of talk."
"Talk that, as you've so interestingly intimated, has landed you in
"She considers there's something in it," Gravener said.
"And you consider there's nothing?"
"It seems to me a piece of solemn twaddle--which can't fail to be
attended with consequences certainly grotesque and possibly
immoral. To begin with, fancy constituting an endowment without
establishing a tribunal--a bench of competent people, of judges."
"The sole tribunal is Lady Coxon?"
"And any one she chooses to invite."
"But she has invited you," I noted.
"I'm not competent--I hate the thing. Besides, she hasn't," my
friend went on. "The real history of the matter, I take it, is
that the inspiration was originally Lady Coxon's own, that she
infected him with it, and that the flattering option left her is
simply his tribute to her beautiful, her aboriginal enthusiasm.
She came to England forty years ago, a thin transcendental
Bostonian, and even her odd happy frumpy Clockborough marriage
never really materialised her. She feels indeed that she has
become very British--as if that, as a process, as a 'Werden,' as
anything but an original sign of grace, were conceivable; but it's
precisely what makes her cling to the notion of the 'Fund'--cling
to it as to a link with the ideal."
"How can she cling if she's dying?"
"Do you mean how can she act in the matter?" Gravener asked.
"That's precisely the question. She can't! As she has never yet
caught her hare, never spied out her lucky impostor--how should
she, with the life she has led?--her husband's intention has come
very near lapsing. His idea, to do him justice, was that it SHOULD
lapse if exactly the right person, the perfect mixture of genius
and chill penury, should fail to turn up. Ah the poor dear woman's
very particular--she says there must be no mistake."
I found all this quite thrilling--I took it in with avidity. "And
if she dies without doing anything, what becomes of the money?" I
"It goes back to his family, if she hasn't made some other
disposition of it."
"She may do that then--she may divert it?"
"Her hands are not tied. She has a grand discretion. The proof is
that three months ago she offered to make the proceeds over to her
"For Miss Anvoy's own use?"
"For Miss Anvoy's own use--on the occasion of her prospective
marriage. She was discouraged--the earnest seeker required so
earnest a search. She was afraid of making a mistake; every one
she could think of seemed either not earnest enough or not poor
enough. On the receipt of the first bad news about Mr. Anvoy's
affairs she proposed to Ruth to make the sacrifice for her. As the
situation in New York got worse she repeated her proposal."
"Which Miss Anvoy declined?"
"Except as a formal trust."
"You mean except as committing herself legally to place the money?"
"On the head of the deserving object, the great man frustrated,"
said Gravener. "She only consents to act in the spirit of Sir
"And you blame her for that?" I asked with some intensity.
My tone couldn't have been harsh, but he coloured a little and
there was a queer light in his eye. "My dear fellow, if I 'blamed'
the young lady I'm engaged to I shouldn't immediately say it even
to so old a friend as you." I saw that some deep discomfort, some
restless desire to be sided with, reassuringly, approvingly
mirrored, had been at the bottom of his drifting so far, and I was
genuinely touched by his confidence. It was inconsistent with his
habits; but being troubled about a woman was not, for him, a habit:
that itself was an inconsistency. George Gravener could stand
straight enough before any other combination of forces. It amused
me to think that the combination he had succumbed to had an
American accent, a transcendental aunt and an insolvent father; but
all my old loyalty to him mustered to meet this unexpected hint
that I could help him. I saw that I could from the insincere tone
in which he pursued: "I've criticised her of course, I've
contended with her, and it has been great fun." Yet it clearly
couldn't have been such great fun as to make it improper for me
presently to ask if Miss Anvoy had nothing at all settled on
herself. To this he replied that she had only a trifle from her
mother--a mere four hundred a year, which was exactly why it would
be convenient to him that she shouldn't decline, in the face of
this total change in her prospects, an accession of income which
would distinctly help them to marry. When I enquired if there were
no other way in which so rich and so affectionate an aunt could
cause the weight of her benevolence to be felt, he answered that
Lady Coxon was affectionate indeed, but was scarcely to be called
rich. She could let her project of the Fund lapse for her niece's
benefit, but she couldn't do anything else. She had been
accustomed to regard her as tremendously provided for, and she was
up to her eyes in promises to anxious Coxons. She was a woman of
an inordinate conscience, and her conscience was now a distress to
her, hovering round her bed in irreconcilable forms of resentful
husbands, portionless nieces and undiscoverable philosophers.
We were by this time getting into the whirr of fleeting platforms,
the multiplication of lights. "I think you'll find," I said with a
laugh, "that your predicament will disappear in the very fact that
the philosopher is undiscoverable."
He began to gather up his papers. "Who can set a limit to the
ingenuity of an extravagant woman?"
"Yes, after all, who indeed?" I echoed as I recalled the
extravagance commemorated in Adelaide's anecdote of Miss Anvoy and
the thirty pounds.
The thing I had been most sensible of in that talk with George
Gravener was the way Saltram's name kept out of it. It seemed to
me at the time that we were quite pointedly silent about him; but
afterwards it appeared more probable there had been on my
companion's part no conscious avoidance. Later on I was sure of
this, and for the best of reasons--the simple reason of my
perceiving more completely that, for evil as well as for good, he
said nothing to Gravener's imagination. That honest man didn't
fear him--he was too much disgusted with him. No more did I,
doubtless, and for very much the same reason. I treated my
friend's story as an absolute confidence; but when before
Christmas, by Mrs. Saltram, I was informed of Lady Coxon's death
without having had news of Miss Anvoy's return, I found myself
taking for granted we should hear no more of these nuptials, in
which, as obscurely unnatural, I now saw I had never TOO
disconcertedly believed. I began to ask myself how people who
suited each other so little could please each other so much. The
charm was some material charm, some afffinity, exquisite doubtless,
yet superficial some surrender to youth and beauty and passion, to
force and grace and fortune, happy accidents and easy contacts.
They might dote on each other's persons, but how could they know
each other's souls? How could they have the same prejudices, how
could they have the same horizon? Such questions, I confess,
seemed quenched but not answered when, one day in February, going
out to Wimbledon, I found our young lady in the house. A passion
that had brought her back across the wintry ocean was as much of a
passion as was needed. No impulse equally strong indeed had drawn
George Gravener to America; a circumstance on which, however, I
reflected only long enough to remind myself that it was none of my
business. Ruth Anvoy was distinctly different, and I felt that the
difference was not simply that of her marks of mourning. Mrs.
Mulville told me soon enough what it was: it was the difference
between a handsome girl with large expectations and a handsome girl
with only four hundred a year. This explanation indeed didn't
wholly content me, not even when I learned that her mourning had a
double cause--learned that poor Mr. Anvoy, giving way altogether,
buried under the ruins of his fortune and leaving next to nothing,
had died a few weeks before.
"So she has come out to marry George Gravener?" I commented.
"Wouldn't it have been prettier of him to have saved her the
"Hasn't the House just met?" Adelaide replied. "And for Mr.
Gravener the House--!" Then she added: "I gather that her having
come is exactly a sign that the marriage is a little shaky. If it
were quite all right a self-respecting girl like Ruth would have
waited for him over there."
I noted that they were already Ruth and Adelaide, but what I said
was: "Do you mean she'll have had to return to MAKE it so?"
"No, I mean that she must have come out for some reason independent
of it." Adelaide could only surmise, however, as yet, and there
was more, as we found, to be revealed. Mrs. Mulville, on hearing
of her arrival, had brought the young lady out in the green landau
for the Sunday. The Coxons were in possession of the house in
Regent's Park, and Miss Anvoy was in dreary lodgings. George
Gravener had been with her when Adelaide called, but had assented
graciously enough to the little visit at Wimbledon. The carriage,
with Mr. Saltram in it but not mentioned, had been sent off on some
errand from which it was to return and pick the ladies up.
Gravener had left them together, and at the end of an hour, on the
Saturday afternoon, the party of three had driven out to Wimbledon.
This was the girl's second glimpse of our great man, and I was
interested in asking Mrs. Mulville if the impression made by the
first appeared to have been confirmed. On her replying after
consideration, that of course with time and opportunity it couldn't
fail to be, but that she was disappointed, I was sufficiently
struck with her use of this last word to question her further.
"Do you mean you're disappointed because you judge Miss Anvoy to
"Yes; I hoped for a greater effect last evening. We had two or
three people, but he scarcely opened his mouth."
"He'll be all the better to-night," I opined after a moment. Then
I pursued: "What particular importance do you attach to the idea
of her being impressed?"
Adelaide turned her mild pale eyes on me as for rebuke of my
levity. "Why the importance of her being as happy as WE are!"
I'm afraid that at this my levity grew. "Oh that's a happiness
almost too great to wish a person!" I saw she hadn't yet in her
mind what I had in mine, and at any rate the visitor's actual bliss
was limited to a walk in the garden with Kent Mulville. Later in
the afternoon I also took one, and I saw nothing of Miss Anvoy till
dinner, at which we failed of the company of Saltram, who had
caused it to be reported that he was indisposed and lying down.
This made us, most of us--for there were other friends present--
convey to each other in silence some of the unutterable things that
in those years our eyes had inevitably acquired the art of
expressing. If a fine little American enquirer hadn't been there
we would have expressed them otherwise, and Adelaide would have
pretended not to hear. I had seen her, before the very fact,
abstract herself nobly; and I knew that more than once, to keep it
from the servants, managing, dissimulating cleverly, she had helped
her husband to carry him bodily to his room. Just recently he had
been so wise and so deep and so high that I had begun to get
nervous--to wonder if by chance there were something behind it, if
he were kept straight for instance by the knowledge that the hated
Pudneys would have more to tell us if they chose. He was lying
low, but unfortunately it was common wisdom with us in this
connexion that the biggest splashes took place in the quietest
pools. We should have had a merry life indeed if all the splashes
had sprinkled us as refreshingly as the waters we were even then to
feel about our ears. Kent Mulville had been up to his room, but
had come back with a face that told as few tales as I had seen it
succeed in telling on the evening I waited in the lecture-room with
Miss Anvoy. I said to myself that our friend had gone out, but it
was a comfort that the presence of a comparative stranger deprived
us of the dreary duty of suggesting to each other, in respect of
his errand, edifying possibilities in which we didn't ourselves
believe. At ten o'clock he came into the drawing-room with his
waistcoat much awry but his eyes sending out great signals. It was
precisely with his entrance that I ceased to be vividly conscious
of him. I saw that the crystal, as I had called it, had begun to
swing, and I had need of my immediate attention for Miss Anvoy.
Even when I was told afterwards that he had, as we might have said
to-day, broken the record, the manner in which that attention had
been rewarded relieved me of a sense of loss. I had of course a
perfect general consciousness that something great was going on:
it was a little like having been etherised to hear Herr Joachim
play. The old music was in the air; I felt the strong pulse of
thought, the sink and swell, the flight, the poise, the plunge; but
I knew something about one of the listeners that nobody else knew,
and Saltram's monologue could reach me only through that medium.
To this hour I'm of no use when, as a witness, I'm appealed to--for
they still absurdly contend about it--as to whether or no on that
historic night he was drunk; and my position is slightly
ridiculous, for I've never cared to tell them what it really was I
was taken up with. What I got out of it is the only morsel of the
total experience that is quite my own. The others were shared, but
this is incommunicable. I feel that now, I'm bound to say, even in
thus roughly evoking the occasion, and it takes something from my
pride of clearness. However, I shall perhaps be as clear as is
absolutely needful if I remark that our young lady was too much
given up to her own intensity of observation to be sensible of
mine. It was plainly not the question of her marriage that had
brought her back. I greatly enjoyed this discovery and was sure
that had that question alone been involved she would have stirred
no step. In this case doubtless Gravener would, in spite of the
House of Commons, have found means to rejoin her. It afterwards
made me uncomfortable for her that, alone in the lodging Mrs.
Mulville had put before me as dreary, she should have in any degree
the air of waiting for her fate; so that I was presently relieved
at hearing of her having gone to stay at Coldfield. If she was in
England at all while the engagement stood the only proper place for
her was under Lady Maddock's wing. Now that she was unfortunate
and relatively poor, perhaps her prospective sister-in-law would be
wholly won over.
There would be much to say, if I had space, about the way her
behaviour, as I caught gleams of it, ministered to the image that
had taken birth in my mind, to my private amusement, while that
other night I listened to George Gravener in the railway-carriage.
I watched her in the light of this queer possibility--a formidable
thing certainly to meet--and I was aware that it coloured,
extravagantly perhaps, my interpretation of her very looks and
tones. At Wimbledon for instance it had appeared to me she was
literally afraid of Saltram, in dread of a coercion that she had
begun already to feel. I had come up to town with her the next day
and had been convinced that, though deeply interested, she was
immensely on her guard. She would show as little as possible
before she should be ready to show everything. What this final
exhibition might be on the part of a girl perceptibly so able to
think things out I found it great sport to forecast. It would have
been exciting to be approached by her, appealed to by her for
advice; but I prayed to heaven I mightn't find myself in such a
predicament. If there was really a present rigour in the situation
of which Gravener had sketched for me the elements, she would have
to get out of her difficulty by herself. It wasn't I who had
launched her and it wasn't I who could help her. I didn't fail to
ask myself why, since I couldn't help her, I should think so much
about her. It was in part my suspense that was responsible for
this; I waited impatiently to see whether she wouldn't have told
Mrs. Mulville a portion at least of what I had learned from
Gravener. But I saw Mrs. Mulville was still reduced to wonder what
she had come out again for if she hadn't come as a conciliatory
bride. That she had come in some other character was the only
thing that fitted all the appearances. Having for family reasons
to spend some time that spring in the west of England, I was in a
manner out of earshot of the great oceanic rumble--I mean of the
continuous hum of Saltram's thought--and my uneasiness tended to
keep me quiet. There was something I wanted so little to have to
say that my prudence surmounted my curiosity. I only wondered if
Ruth Anvoy talked over the idea of The Coxon Fund with Lady
Maddock, and also somewhat why I didn't hear from Wimbledon. I had
a reproachful note about something or other from Mrs. Saltram, but
it contained no mention of Lady Coxon's niece, on whom her eyes had
been much less fixed since the recent untoward events.
Poor Adelaide's silence was fully explained later--practically
explained when in June, returning to London, I was honoured by this
admirable woman with an early visit. As soon as she arrived I
guessed everything, and as soon as she told me that darling Ruth
had been in her house nearly a month I had my question ready.
"What in the name of maidenly modesty is she staying in England
"Because she loves me so!" cried Adelaide gaily. But she hadn't
come to see me only to tell me Miss Anvoy loved her: that was
quite sufficiently established, and what was much more to the point
was that Mr. Gravener had now raised an objection to it. He had
protested at least against her being at Wimbledon, where in the
innocence of his heart he had originally brought her himself; he
called on her to put an end to their engagement in the only proper,
the only happy manner.
"And why in the world doesn't she do do?" I asked.
Adelaide had a pause. "She says you know."
Then on my also hesitating she added: "A condition he makes."
"The Coxon Fund?" I panted.
"He has mentioned to her his having told you about it."
"Ah but so little! Do you mean she has accepted the trust?"
"In the most splendid spirit--as a duty about which there can be no
two opinions." To which my friend added: "Of course she's
thinking of Mr. Saltram."
I gave a quick cry at this, which, in its violence, made my visitor
turn pale. "How very awful!"
"Why, to have anything to do with such an idea one's self."
"I'm sure YOU needn't!" and Mrs. Mulville tossed her head.
"He isn't good enough!" I went on; to which she opposed a sound
almost as contentious as my own had been. This made me, with
genuine immediate horror, exclaim: "You haven't influenced her, I
hope!" and my emphasis brought back the blood with a rush to poor
Adelaide's face. She declared while she blushed--for I had
frightened her again--that she had never influenced anybody and
that the girl had only seen and heard and judged for herself. HE
had influenced her, if I would, as he did every one who had a soul:
that word, as we knew, even expressed feebly the power of the
things he said to haunt the mind. How could she, Adelaide, help it
if Miss Anvoy's mind was haunted? I demanded with a groan what
right a pretty girl engaged to a rising M.P. had to HAVE a mind;
but the only explanation my bewildered friend could give me was
that she was so clever. She regarded Mr. Saltram naturally as a
tremendous force for good. She was intelligent enough to
understand him and generous enough to admire.
"She's many things enough, but is she, among them, rich enough?" I
demanded. "Rich enough, I mean, to sacrifice such a lot of good
"That's for herself to judge. Besides, it's not her own money; she
doesn't in the least consider it so."
"And Gravener does, if not HIS own; and that's the whole
"The difficulty that brought her back, yes: she had absolutely to
see her poor aunt's solicitor. It's clear that by Lady Coxon's
will she may have the money, but it's still clearer to her
conscience that the original condition, definite, intensely implied
on her uncle's part, is attached to the use of it. She can only
take one view of it. It's for the Endowment or it's for nothing."
"The Endowment," I permitted myself to observe, "is a conception
superficially sublime, but fundamentally ridiculous."
"Are you repeating Mr. Gravener's words?" Adelaide asked.
"Possibly, though I've not seen him for months. It's simply the
way it strikes me too. It's an old wife's tale. Gravener made
some reference to the legal aspect, but such an absurdly loose
arrangement has NO legal aspect."
"Ruth doesn't insist on that," said Mrs. Mulville; "and it's, for
her, exactly this technical weakness that constitutes the force of
the moral obligation."
"Are you repeating her words?" I enquired. I forget what else
Adelaide said, but she said she was magnificent. I thought of
George Gravener confronted with such magnificence as that, and I
asked what could have made two such persons ever suppose they
understood each other. Mrs. Mulville assured me the girl loved him
as such a woman could love and that she suffered as such a woman
could suffer. Nevertheless she wanted to see ME. At this I sprang
up with a groan. "Oh I'm so sorry!--when?" Small though her sense
of humour, I think Adelaide laughed at my sequence. We discussed
the day, the nearest it would be convenient I should come out; but
before she went I asked my visitor how long she had been acquainted
with these prodigies.
"For several weeks, but I was pledged to secrecy."
"And that's why you didn't write?"
"I couldn't very well tell you she was with me without telling you
that no time had even yet been fixed for her marriage. And I
couldn't very well tell you as much as that without telling you
what I knew of the reason of it. It was not till a day or two
ago," Mrs. Mulville went on, "that she asked me to ask you if you
wouldn't come and see her. Then at last she spoke of your knowing
about the idea of the Endowment."
I turned this over. "Why on earth does she want to see me?"
"To talk with you, naturally, about Mr. Saltram."
"As a subject for the prize?" This was hugely obvious, and I
presently returned: "I think I'll sail to-morrow for Australia."
"Well then--sail!" said Mrs. Mulville, getting up.
But I frivolously, continued. "On Thursday at five, we said?" The
appointment was made definite and I enquired how, all this time,
the unconscious candidate had carried himself.
"In perfection, really, by the happiest of chances: he has
positively been a dear. And then, as to what we revere him for, in
the most wonderful form. His very highest--pure celestial light.
You won't do him an ill turn?" Adelaide pleaded at the door.
"What danger can equal for him the danger to which he's exposed
from himself?" I asked. "Look out sharp, if he has lately been too
prim. He'll presently take a day off, treat us to some exhibition
that will make an Endowment a scandal."
"A scandal?" Mrs. Mulville dolorously echoed.
"Is Miss Anvoy prepared for that?"
My visitor, for a moment, screwed her parasol into my carpet. "He
grows bigger every day."
"So do you!" I laughed as she went off.
That girl at Wimbledon, on the Thursday afternoon, more than
justified my apprehensions. I recognised fully now the cause of
the agitation she had produced in me from the first--the faint
foreknowledge that there was something very stiff I should have to
do for her. I felt more than ever committed to my fate as,
standing before her in the big drawing-room where they had
tactfully left us to ourselves, I tried with a smile to string
together the pearls of lucidity which, from her chair, she
successively tossed me. Pale and bright, in her monotonous
mourning, she was an image of intelligent purpose, of the passion
of duty; but I asked myself whether any girl had ever had so
charming an instinct as that which permitted her to laugh out, as
for the joy of her difficulty, into the priggish old room. This
remarkable young woman could be earnest without being solemn, and
at moments when I ought doubtless to have cursed her obstinacy I
found myself watching the unstudied play of her eyebrows or the
recurrence of a singularly intense whiteness produced by the
parting of her lips. These aberrations, I hasten to add, didn't
prevent my learning soon enough why she had wished to see me. Her
reason for this was as distinct as her beauty: it was to make me
explain what I had meant, on the occasion of our first meeting, by
Mr. Saltram's want of dignity. It wasn't that she couldn't
imagine, but she desired it there from my lips. What she really
desired of course was to know whether there was worse about him
than what she had found out for herself. She hadn't been a month
so much in the house with him without discovering that he wasn't a
man of monumental bronze. He was like a jelly minus its mould, he
had to be embanked; and that was precisely the source of her
interest in him and the ground of her project. She put her project
boldly before me: there it stood in its preposterous beauty. She
was as willing to take the humorous view of it as I could be: the
only difference was that for her the humorous view of a thing
wasn't necessarily prohibitive, wasn't paralysing.
Moreover she professed that she couldn't discuss with me the
primary question--the moral obligation: that was in her own
breast. There were things she couldn't go into--injunctions,
impressions she had received. They were a part of the closest
intimacy of her intercourse with her aunt, they were absolutely
clear to her; and on questions of delicacy, the interpretation of a
fidelity, of a promise, one had always in the last resort to make
up one's mind for one's self. It was the idea of the application
to the particular case, such a splendid one at last, that troubled
her, and she admitted that it stirred very deep things. She didn't
pretend that such a responsibility was a simple matter; if it HAD
been she wouldn't have attempted to saddle me with any portion of
it. The Mulvilles were sympathy itself, but were they absolutely
candid? Could they indeed be, in their position--would it even
have been to be desired? Yes, she had sent for me to ask no less
than that of me--whether there was anything dreadful kept back.
She made no allusion whatever to George Gravener--I thought her
silence the only good taste and her gaiety perhaps a part of the
very anxiety of that discretion, the effect of a determination that
people shouldn't know from herself that her relations with the man
she was to marry were strained. All the weight, however, that she
left me to throw was a sufficient implication of the weight HE had
thrown in vain. Oh she knew the question of character was immense,
and that one couldn't entertain any plan for making merit
comfortable without running the gauntlet of that terrible
procession of interrogation-points which, like a young ladies'
school out for a walk, hooked their uniform noses at the tail of
governess Conduct. But were we absolutely to hold that there was
never, never, never an exception, never, never, never an occasion
for liberal acceptance, for clever charity, for suspended pedantry-
-for letting one side, in short, outbalance another? When Miss
Anvoy threw off this appeal I could have embraced her for so
delightfully emphasising her unlikeness to Mrs. Saltram. "Why not
have the courage of one's forgiveness," she asked, "as well as the
enthusiasm of one's adhesion?"
"Seeing how wonderfully you've threshed the whole thing out," I
evasively replied, "gives me an extraordinary notion of the point
your enthusiasm has reached."
She considered this remark an instant with her eyes on mine, and I
divined that it struck her I might possibly intend it as a
reference to some personal subjection to our fat philosopher, to
some aberration of sensibility, some perversion of taste. At least
I couldn't interpret otherwise the sudden flash that came into her
face. Such a manifestation, as the result of any word of mine,
embarrassed me; but while I was thinking how to reassure her the
flush passed away in a smile of exquisite good nature. "Oh you see
one forgets so wonderfully how one dislikes him!" she said; and if
her tone simply extinguished his strange figure with the brush of
its compassion, it also rings in my ear to-day as the purest of all
our praises. But with what quick response of fine pity such a
relegation of the man himself made me privately sigh "Ah poor
Saltram!" She instantly, with this, took the measure of all I
didn't believe, and it enabled her to go on: "What can one do when
a person has given such a lift to one's interest in life?"
"Yes, what can one do?" If I struck her as a little vague it was
because I was thinking of another person. I indulged in another
inarticulate murmur--"Poor George Gravener!" What had become of
the lift HE had given that interest? Later on I made up my mind
that she was sore and stricken at the appearance he presented of
wanting the miserable money. This was the hidden reason of her
alienation. The probable sincerity, in spite of the illiberality,
of his scruples about the particular use of it under discussion
didn't efface the ugliness of his demand that they should buy a
good house with it. Then, as for his alienation, he didn't,
pardonably enough, grasp the lift Frank Saltram had given her
interest in life. If a mere spectator could ask that last
question, with what rage in his heart the man himself might! He
wasn't, like her, I was to see, too proud to show me why he was
I was unable this time to stay to dinner: such at any rate was the
plea on which I took leave. I desired in truth to get away from my
young lady, for that obviously helped me not to pretend to satisfy
her. How COULD I satisfy her? I asked myself--how could I tell
her how much had been kept back? I didn't even know and I
certainly didn't desire to know. My own policy had ever been to
learn the least about poor Saltram's weaknesses--not to learn the
most. A great deal that I had in fact learned had been forced upon
me by his wife. There was something even irritating in Miss
Anvoy's crude conscientiousness, and I wondered why, after all, she
couldn't have let him alone and been content to entrust George
Gravener with the purchase of the good house. I was sure he would
have driven a bargain, got something excellent and cheap. I
laughed louder even than she, I temporised, I failed her; I told
her I must think over her case. I professed a horror of
responsibilities and twitted her with her own extravagant passion
for them. It wasn't really that I was afraid of the scandal, the
moral discredit for the Fund; what troubled me most was a feeling
of a different order. Of course, as the beneficiary of the Fund
was to enjoy a simple life-interest, as it was hoped that new
beneficiaries would arise and come up to new standards, it wouldn't
be a trifle that the first of these worthies shouldn't have been a
striking example of the domestic virtues. The Fund would start
badly, as it were, and the laurel would, in some respects at least,
scarcely be greener from the brows of the original wearer. That
idea, however, was at that hour, as I have hinted, not the source
of solicitude it ought perhaps to have been, for I felt less the
irregularity of Saltram's getting the money than that of this
exalted young woman's giving it up. I wanted her to have it for
herself, and I told her so before I went away. She looked graver
at this than she had looked at all, saying she hoped such a
preference wouldn't make me dishonest.
It made me, to begin with, very restless--made me, instead of going
straight to the station, fidget a little about that many-coloured
Common which gives Wimbledon horizons. There was a worry for me to
work off, or rather keep at a distance, for I declined even to
admit to myself that I had, in Miss Anvoy's phrase, been saddled
with it. What could have been clearer indeed than the attitude of
recognising perfectly what a world of trouble The Coxon Fund would
in future save us, and of yet liking better to face a continuance
of that trouble than see, and in fact contribute to, a deviation
from attainable bliss in the life of two other persons in whom I
was deeply interested? Suddenly, at the end of twenty minutes,
there was projected across this clearness the image of a massive
middle-aged man seated on a bench under a tree, with sad far-
wandering eyes and plump white hands folded on the head of a stick-
-a stick I recognised, a stout gold-headed staff that I had given
him in devoted days. I stopped short as he turned his face to me,
and it happened that for some reason or other I took in as I had
perhaps never done before the beauty of his rich blank gaze. It
was charged with experience as the sky is charged with light, and I
felt on the instant as if we had been overspanned and conjoined by
the great arch of a bridge or the great dome of a temple.
Doubtless I was rendered peculiarly sensitive to it by something in
the way I had been giving him up and sinking him. While I met it I
stood there smitten, and I felt myself responding to it with a sort
of guilty grimace. This brought back his attention in a smile
which expressed for me a cheerful weary patience, a bruised noble
gentleness. I had told Miss Anvoy that he had no dignity, but what
did he seem to me, all unbuttoned and fatigued as he waited for me
to come up, if he didn't seem unconcerned with small things, didn't
seem in short majestic? There was majesty in his mere
unconsciousness of our little conferences and puzzlements over his
maintenance and his reward.
After I had sat by him a few minutes I passed my arm over his big
soft shoulder--wherever you touched him you found equally little
firmness--and said in a tone of which the suppliance fell oddly on
my own ear: "Come back to town with me, old friend--come back and
spend the evening." I wanted to hold him, I wanted to keep him,
and at Waterloo, an hour later, I telegraphed possessively to the
Mulvilles. When he objected, as regards staying all night, that he
had no things, I asked him if he hadn't everything of mine. I had
abstained from ordering dinner, and it was too late for
preliminaries at a club; so we were reduced to tea and fried fish
at my rooms--reduced also to the transcendent. Something had come
up which made me want him to feel at peace with me--and which,
precisely, was all the dear man himself wanted on any occasion. I
had too often had to press upon him considerations irrelevant, but
it gives me pleasure now to think that on that particular evening I
didn't even mention Mrs. Saltram and the children. Late into the
night we smoked and talked; old shames and old rigours fell away
from us; I only let him see that I was conscious of what I owed
him. He was as mild as contrition and as copious as faith; he was
never so fine as on a shy return, and even better at forgiving than
at being forgiven. I dare say it was a smaller matter than that
famous night at Wimbledon, the night of the problematical sobriety
and of Miss Anvoy's initiation; but I was as much in it on this
occasion as I had been out of it then. At about 1.30 he was
He never, in whatever situation, rose till all other risings were
over, and his breakfasts, at Wimbledon, had always been the
principal reason mentioned by departing cooks. The coast was
therefore clear for me to receive her when, early the next morning,
to my surprise, it was announced to me his wife had called. I
hesitated, after she had come up, about telling her Saltram was in
the house, but she herself settled the question, kept me reticent
by drawing forth a sealed letter which, looking at me very hard in
the eyes, she placed, with a pregnant absence of comment, in my
hand. For a single moment there glimmered before me the fond hope
that Mrs. Saltram had tendered me, as it were, her resignation and
desired to embody the act in an unsparing form. To bring this
about I would have feigned any humiliation; but after my eyes had
caught the superscription I heard myself say with a flatness that
betrayed a sense of something very different from relief: "Oh the
Pudneys!" I knew their envelopes though they didn't know mine.
They always used the kind sold at post-offices with the stamp
affixed, and as this letter hadn't been posted they had wasted a
penny on me. I had seen their horrid missives to the Mulvilles,
but hadn't been in direct correspondence with them.
"They enclosed it to me, to be delivered. They doubtless explain
to you that they hadn't your address."
I turned the thing over without opening it. "Why in the world
should they write to me?"
"Because they've something to tell you. The worst," Mrs. Saltram
It was another chapter, I felt, of the history of their lamentable
quarrel with her husband, the episode in which, vindictively,
disingenuously as they themselves had behaved, one had to admit
that he had put himself more grossly in the wrong than at any
moment of his life. He had begun by insulting the matchless
Mulvilles for these more specious protectors, and then, according
to his wont at the end of a few months, had dug a still deeper
ditch for his aberration than the chasm left yawning behind. The
chasm at Wimbledon was now blessedly closed; but the Pudneys,
across their persistent gulf, kept up the nastiest fire. I never
doubted they had a strong case, and I had been from the first for
not defending him--reasoning that if they weren't contradicted
they'd perhaps subside. This was above all what I wanted, and I so
far prevailed that I did arrest the correspondence in time to save
our little circle an infliction heavier than it perhaps would have
borne. I knew, that is I divined, that their allegations had gone
as yet only as far as their courage, conscious as they were in
their own virtue of an exposed place in which Saltram could have
planted a blow. It was a question with them whether a man who had
himself so much to cover up would dare his blow; so that these
vessels of rancour were in a manner afraid of each other. I judged
that on the day the Pudneys should cease for some reason or other
to be afraid they would treat us to some revelation more
disconcerting than any of its predecessors. As I held Mrs.
Saltram's letter in my hand it was distinctly communicated to me
that the day had come--they had ceased to be afraid. "I don't want
to know the worst," I presently declared.
"You'll have to open the letter. It also contains an enclosure."
I felt it--it was fat and uncanny. "Wheels within wheels!" I
exclaimed. "There's something for me too to deliver."
"So they tell me--to Miss Anvoy."
I stared; I felt a certain thrill. "Why don't they send it to her
Mrs. Saltram hung fire. "Because she's staying with Mr. and Mrs.
"And why should that prevent?"
Again my visitor faltered, and I began to reflect on the grotesque,
the unconscious perversity of her action. I was the only person
save George Gravener and the Mulvilles who was aware of Sir Gregory
Coxon's and of Miss Anvoy's strange bounty. Where could there have
been a more signal illustration of the clumsiness of human affairs
than her having complacently selected this moment to fly in the
face of it? "There's the chance of their seeing her letters. They
know Mr. Pudney's hand."
Still I didn't understand; then it flashed upon me. "You mean they
might intercept it? How can you imply anything so base?" I
"It's not I--it's Mr. Pudney!" cried Mrs. Saltram with a flush.
"It's his own idea."
"Then why couldn't he send the letter to you to be delivered?"
Mrs. Saltram's embarrassment increased; she gave me another hard
look. "You must make that out for yourself."
I made it out quickly enough. "It's a denunciation?"
"A real lady doesn't betray her husband!" this virtuous woman
I burst out laughing, and I fear my laugh may have had an effect of
impertinence. "Especially to Miss Anvoy, who's so easily shocked?
Why do such things concern HER?" I asked, much at a loss.
"Because she's there, exposed to all his craft. Mr. and Mrs.
Pudney have been watching this: they feel she may be taken in."
"Thank you for all the rest of us! What difference can it make
when she has lost her power to contribute?"
Again Mrs. Saltram considered; then very nobly: "There are other
things in the world than money." This hadn't occurred to her so
long as the young lady had any; but she now added, with a glance at
my letter, that Mr. and Mrs. Pudney doubtless explained their
motives. "It's all in kindness," she continued as she got up.
"Kindness to Miss Anvoy? You took, on the whole, another view of
kindness before her reverses."
My companion smiled with some acidity "Perhaps you're no safer than
I didn't want her to think that, nor that she should report to the
Pudneys that they had not been happy in their agent; and I well
remember that this was the moment at which I began, with
considerable emotion, to promise myself to enjoin upon Miss Anvoy
never to open any letter that should come to her in one of those
penny envelopes. My emotion, and I fear I must add my confusion,
quickly deepened; I presently should have been as glad to frighten
Mrs. Saltram as to think I might by some diplomacy restore the
Pudneys to a quieter vigilance.
"It's best you should take my view of my safety," I at any rate
soon responded. When I saw she didn't know what I meant by this I
added: "You may turn out to have done, in bringing me this letter,
a thing you'll profoundly regret." My tone had a significance
which, I could see, did make her uneasy, and there was a moment,
after I had made two or three more remarks of studiously
bewildering effect, at which her eyes followed so hungrily the
little flourish of the letter with which I emphasised them that I
instinctively slipped Mr. Pudney's communication into my pocket.
She looked, in her embarrassed annoyance, capable of grabbing it to
send it back to him. I felt, after she had gone, as if I had
almost given her my word I wouldn't deliver the enclosure. The
passionate movement, at any rate, with which, in solitude, I
transferred the whole thing, unopened, from my pocket to a drawer
which I double-locked would have amounted, for an initiated
observer, to some such pledge.
Mrs. Saltram left me drawing my breath more quickly and indeed
almost in pain--as if I had just perilously grazed the loss of
something precious. I didn't quite know what it was--it had a
shocking resemblance to my honour. The emotion was the livelier
surely in that my pulses even yet vibrated to the pleasure with
which, the night before, I had rallied to the rare analyst, the
great intellectual adventurer and pathfinder. What had dropped
from me like a cumbersome garment as Saltram appeared before me in
the afternoon on the heath was the disposition to haggle over his
value. Hang it, one had to choose, one had to put that value
somewhere; so I would put it really high and have done with it.
Mrs. Mulville drove in for him at a discreet hour--the earliest she
could suppose him to have got up; and I learned that Miss Anvoy
would also have come had she not been expecting a visit from Mr.
Gravener. I was perfectly mindful that I was under bonds to see
this young lady, and also that I had a letter to hand to her; but I
took my time, I waited from day to day. I left Mrs. Saltram to
deal as her apprehensions should prompt with the Pudneys. I knew
at last what I meant--I had ceased to wince at my responsibility.
I gave this supreme impression of Saltram time to fade if it would;
but it didn't fade, and, individually, it hasn't faded even now.
During the month that I thus invited myself to stiffen again,
Adelaide Mulville, perplexed by my absence, wrote to me to ask why
I WAS so stiff. At that season of the year I was usually oftener
"with" them. She also wrote that she feared a real estrangement
had set in between Mr. Gravener and her sweet young friend--a state
of things but half satisfactory to her so long as the advantage
resulting to Mr. Saltram failed to disengage itself from the merely
nebulous state. She intimated that her sweet young friend was, if
anything, a trifle too reserved; she also intimated that there
might now be an opening for another clever young man. There never
was the slightest opening, I may here parenthesise, and of course
the question can't come up to-day. These are old frustrations now.
Ruth Anvoy hasn't married, I hear, and neither have I. During the
month, toward the end, I wrote to George Gravener to ask if, on a
special errand, I might come to see him, and his answer was to
knock the very next day at my door. I saw he had immediately
connected my enquiry with the talk we had had in the railway-
carriage, and his promptitude showed that the ashes of his
eagerness weren't yet cold. I told him there was something I felt
I ought in candour to let him know--I recognised the obligation his
friendly confidence had laid on me.
"You mean Miss Anvoy has talked to you? She has told me so
herself," he said.
"It wasn't to tell you so that I wanted to see you," I replied;
"for it seemed to me that such a communication would rest wholly
with herself. If however she did speak to you of our conversation
she probably told you I was discouraging."
"On the subject of a present application of The Coxon Fund."
"To the case of Mr. Saltram? My dear fellow, I don't know what you
call discouraging!" Gravener cried.
"Well I thought I was, and I thought she thought I was."
"I believe she did, but such a thing's measured by the effect.
She's not 'discouraged,'" he said.
"That's her own affair. The reason I asked you to see me was that
it appeared to me I ought to tell you frankly that--decidedly!--I
can't undertake to produce that effect. In fact I don't want to!"
"It's very good of you, damn you!" my visitor laughed, red and
really grave. Then he said: "You'd like to see that scoundrel
publicly glorified--perched on the pedestal of a great
I braced myself. "Taking one form of public recognition with
another it seems to me on the whole I should be able to bear it.
When I see the compliments that are paid right and left I ask
myself why this one shouldn't take its course. This therefore is
what you're entitled to have looked to me to mention to you. I've
some evidence that perhaps would be really dissuasive, but I
propose to invite Mss Anvoy to remain in ignorance of it."
"And to invite me to do the same?"
"Oh you don't require it--you've evidence enough. I speak of a
sealed letter that I've been requested to deliver to her."
"And you don't mean to?"
"There's only one consideration that would make me," I said.
Gravener's clear handsome eyes plunged into mine a minute, but
evidently without fishing up a clue to this motive--a failure by
which I was almost wounded. "What does the letter contain?"
"It's sealed, as I tell you, and I don't know what it contains."
"Why is it sent through you?"
"Rather than you?" I wondered how to put the thing. "The only
explanation I can think of is that the person sending it may have
imagined your relations with Miss Anvoy to be at an end--may have
been told this is the case by Mrs. Saltram."
"My relations with Miss Anvoy are not at an end," poor Gravener
Again for an instant I thought. "The offer I propose to make you
gives me the right to address you a question remarkably direct.
Are you still engaged to Miss Anvoy?"
"No, I'm not," he slowly brought out. "But we're perfectly good
"Such good friends that you'll again become prospective husband and
wife if the obstacle in your path be removed?"
"Removed?" he anxiously repeated.
"If I send Miss Anvoy the letter I speak of she may give up her
"Then for God's sake send it!"
"I'll do so if you're ready to assure me that her sacrifice would
now presumably bring about your marriage."
"I'd marry her the next day!" my visitor cried.
"Yes, but would she marry YOU? What I ask of you of course is
nothing less than your word of honour as to your conviction of
this. If you give it me," I said, "I'll engage to hand her the
letter before night."
Gravener took up his hat; turning it mechanically round he stood
looking a moment hard at its unruffled perfection. Then very
angrily honestly and gallantly, "Hand it to the devil!" he broke
out; with which he clapped the hat on his head and left me.
"Will you read it or not?" I said to Ruth Anvoy, at Wimbledon, when
I had told her the story of Mrs. Saltram's visit.
She debated for a time probably of the briefest, but long enough to
make me nervous. "Have you brought it with you?"
"No indeed. It's at home, locked up."
There was another great silence, and then she said "Go back and
I went back, but I didn't destroy it till after Saltram's death,
when I burnt it unread. The Pudneys approached her again
pressingly, but, prompt as they were, The Coxon Fund had already
become an operative benefit and a general amaze: Mr. Saltram,
while we gathered about, as it were, to watch the manna descend,
had begun to draw the magnificent income. He drew it as he had
always drawn everything, with a grand abstracted gesture. Its
magnificence, alas, as all the world now knows, quite quenched him;
it was the beginning of his decline. It was also naturally a new
grievance for his wife, who began to believe in him as soon as he
was blighted, and who at this hour accuses us of having bribed him,
on the whim of a meddlesome American, to renounce his glorious
office, to become, as she says, like everybody else. The very day
he found himself able to publish he wholly ceased to produce. This
deprived us, as may easily be imagined, of much of our occupation,
and especially deprived the Mulvilles, whose want of self-support I
never measured till they lost their great inmate. They've no one
to live on now. Adelaide's most frequent reference to their
destitution is embodied in the remark that dear far-away Ruth's
intentions were doubtless good. She and Kent are even yet looking
for another prop, but no one presents a true sphere of usefulness.
They complain that people are self-sufficing. With Saltram the
fine type of the child of adoption was scattered, the grander, the
elder style. They've got their carriage back, but what's an empty
carriage? In short I think we were all happier as well as poorer
before; even including George Gravener, who by the deaths of his
brother and his nephew has lately become Lord Maddock. His wife,
whose fortune clears the property, is criminally dull; he hates
being in the Upper House, and hasn't yet had high office. But what
are these accidents, which I should perhaps apologise for
mentioning, in the light of the great eventual boon promised the
patient by the rate at which The Coxon Fund must be rolling up?
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