Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle: Ch. 2

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He had thought himself, so long as nobody knew, the most disinterested person in the world, carrying his concentrated burden, his perpetual suspense, ever so quietly, holding his tongue about it, giving others no glimpse of it nor of its effect upon his life, asking of them no allowance and only making on his side all those that were asked.  He hadn't disturbed people with the queerness of their having to know a haunted man, though he had had moments of rather special temptation on hearing them say they were forsooth "unsettled."  If they were as unsettled as he was-he who had never been settled for an hour in his life-they would know what it meant.  Yet it wasn't, all the same, for him to make them, and he listened to them civilly enough.  This was why he had such good-though possibly such rather colourless-manners; this was why, above all, he could regard himself, in a greedy world, as decently-as in fact perhaps even a little sublimely-unselfish.  Our point is accordingly that he valued this character quite sufficiently to measure his present danger of letting it lapse, against which he promised himself to be much on his guard.  He was quite ready, none the less, to be selfish just a little, since surely no more charming occasion for it had come to him.  "Just a little," in a word, was just as much as Miss Bartram, taking one day with another, would let him.  He never would be in the least coercive, and would keep well before him the lines on which consideration for her-the very highest-ought to proceed.  He would thoroughly establish the heads under which her affairs, her requirements, her peculiarities-he went so far as to give them the latitude of that name-would come into their intercourse.  All this naturally was a sign of how much he took the intercourse itself for granted.  There was nothing more to be done about that.  It simply existed; had sprung into being with her first penetrating question to him in the autumn light there at Weatherend.  The real form it should have taken on the basis that stood out large was the form of their marrying.  But the devil in this was that the very basis itself put marrying out of the question.  His conviction, his apprehension, his obsession, in short, wasn't a privilege he could invite a woman to share; and that consequence of it was precisely what was the matter with him.  Something or other lay in wait for him, amid the twists and the turns of the months and the years, like a crouching Beast in the Jungle.  It signified little whether the crouching Beast were destined to slay him or to be slain.  The definite point was the inevitable spring of the creature; and the definite lesson from that was that a man of feeling didn't cause himself to be accompanied by a lady on a tiger-hunt.  Such was the image under which he had ended by figuring his life.

They had at first, none the less, in the scattered hours spent together, made no allusion to that view of it; which was a sign he was handsomely alert to give that he didn't expect, that he in fact didn't care, always to be talking about it.  Such a feature in one's outlook was really like a hump on one's back.  The difference it made every minute of the day existed quite independently of discussion.  One discussed of course like a hunchback, for there was always, if nothing else, the hunchback face.  That remained, and she was watching him; but people watched best, as a general thing, in silence, so that such would be predominantly the manner of their vigil.  Yet he didn't want, at the same time, to be tense and solemn; tense and solemn was what he imagined he too much showed for with other people.  The thing to be, with the one person who knew, was easy and natural-to make the reference rather than be seeming to avoid it, to avoid it rather than be seeming to make it, and to keep it, in any case, familiar, facetious even, rather than pedantic and portentous.  Some such consideration as the latter was doubtless in his mind for instance when he wrote pleasantly to Miss Bartram that perhaps the great thing he had so long felt as in the lap of the gods was no more than this circumstance, which touched him so nearly, of her acquiring a house in London.  It was the first allusion they had yet again made, needing any other hitherto so little; but when she replied, after having given him the news, that she was by no means satisfied with such a trifle as the climax to so special a suspense, she almost set him wondering if she hadn't even a larger conception of singularity for him than he had for himself.  He was at all events destined to become aware little by little, as time went by, that she was all the while looking at his life, judging it, measuring it, in the light of the thing she knew, which grew to be at last, with the consecration of the years, never mentioned between them save as "the real truth" about him.  That had always been his own form of reference to it, but she adopted the form so quietly that, looking back at the end of a period, he knew there was no moment at which it was traceable that she had, as he might say, got inside his idea, or exchanged the attitude of beautifully indulging for that of still more beautifully believing him.