Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle: Ch. 1

[+] | [-] | reset

By the time they at last thus came to speech they were alone in one of the rooms-remarkable for a fine portrait over the chimney-place-out of which their friends had passed, and the charm of it was that even before they had spoken they had practically arranged with each other to stay behind for talk.  The charm, happily, was in other things too-partly in there being scarce a spot at Weatherend without something to stay behind for.  It was in the way the autumn day looked into the high windows as it waned; the way the red light, breaking at the close from under a low sombre sky, reached out in a long shaft and played over old wainscots, old tapestry, old gold, old colour.  It was most of all perhaps in the way she came to him as if, since she had been turned on to deal with the simpler sort, he might, should he choose to keep the whole thing down, just take her mild attention for a part of her general business.  As soon as he heard her voice, however, the gap was filled up and the missing link supplied; the slight irony he divined in her attitude lost its advantage.  He almost jumped at it to get there before her.  "I met you years and years ago in Rome.  I remember all about it."  She confessed to disappointment-she had been so sure he didn't; and to prove how well he did he began to pour forth the particular recollections that popped up as he called for them.  Her face and her voice, all at his service now, worked the miracle-the impression operating like the torch of a lamplighter who touches into flame, one by one, a long row of gas-jets.  Marcher flattered himself the illumination was brilliant, yet he was really still more pleased on her showing him, with amusement, that in his haste to make everything right he had got most things rather wrong.  It hadn't been at Rome-it had been at Naples; and it hadn't been eight years before-it had been more nearly ten.  She hadn't been, either, with her uncle and aunt, but with her mother and brother; in addition to which it was not with the Pembles he had been, but with the Boyers, coming down in their company from Rome-a point on which she insisted, a little to his confusion, and as to which she had her evidence in hand.  The Boyers she had known, but didn't know the Pembles, though she had heard of them, and it was the people he was with who had made them acquainted.  The incident of the thunderstorm that had raged round them with such violence as to drive them for refuge into an excavation-this incident had not occurred at the Palace of the Caesars, but at Pompeii, on an occasion when they had been present there at an important find.

He accepted her amendments, he enjoyed her corrections, though the moral of them was, she pointed out, that he really didn't remember the least thing about her; and he only felt it as a drawback that when all was made strictly historic there didn't appear much of anything left.  They lingered together still, she neglecting her office-for from the moment he was so clever she had no proper right to him-and both neglecting the house, just waiting as to see if a memory or two more wouldn't again breathe on them.  It hadn't taken them many minutes, after all, to put down on the table, like the cards of a pack, those that constituted their respective hands; only what came out was that the pack was unfortunately not perfect-that the past, invoked, invited, encouraged, could give them, naturally, no more than it had.  It had made them anciently meet-her at twenty, him at twenty-five; but nothing was so strange, they seemed to say to each other, as that, while so occupied, it hadn't done a little more for them.  They looked at each other as with the feeling of an occasion missed; the present would have been so much better if the other, in the far distance, in the foreign land, hadn't been so stupidly meagre.  There weren't, apparently, all counted, more than a dozen little old things that had succeeded in coming to pass between them; trivialities of youth, simplicities of freshness, stupidities of ignorance, small possible germs, but too deeply buried-too deeply (didn't it seem?) to sprout after so many years.  Marcher could only feel he ought to have rendered her some service-saved her from a capsized boat in the bay or at least recovered her dressing-bag, filched from her cab in the streets of Naples by a lazzarone with a stiletto.  Or it would have been nice if he could have been taken with fever all alone at his hotel, and she could have come to look after him, to write to his people, to drive him out in convalescence.  Then they would be in possession of the something or other that their actual show seemed to lack.  It yet somehow presented itself, this show, as too good to be spoiled; so that they were reduced for a few minutes more to wondering a little helplessly why-since they seemed to know a certain number of the same people-their reunion had been so long averted.  They didn't use that name for it, but their delay from minute to minute to join the others was a kind of confession that they didn't quite want it to be a failure.  Their attempted supposition of reasons for their not having met but showed how little they knew of each other.  There came in fact a moment when Marcher felt a positive pang.  It was vain to pretend she was an old friend, for all the communities were wanting, in spite of which it was as an old friend that he saw she would have suited him.  He had new ones enough-was surrounded with them for instance on the stage of the other house; as a new one he probably wouldn't have so much as noticed her.  He would have liked to invent something, get her to make-believe with him that some passage of a romantic or critical kind had originally occurred.  He was really almost reaching out in imagination-as against time-for something that would do, and saying to himself that if it didn't come this sketch of a fresh start would show for quite awkwardly bungled.  They would separate, and now for no second or no third chance.  They would have tried and not succeeded.  Then it was, just at the turn, as he afterwards made it out to himself, that, everything else failing, she herself decided to take up the case and, as it were, save the situation.  He felt as soon as she spoke that she had been consciously keeping back what she said and hoping to get on without it; a scruple in her that immensely touched him when, by the end of three or four minutes more, he was able to measure it.  What she brought out, at any rate, quite cleared the air and supplied the link-the link it was so odd he should frivolously have managed to lose.