Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle: Ch. 3

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CHAPTER III

It was all to have made, none the less, as I have said, a date; which came out in the fact that again and again, even after long intervals, other things that passed between them were in relation to this hour but the character of recalls and results.  Its immediate effect had been indeed rather to lighten insistence-almost to provoke a reaction; as if their topic had dropped by its own weight and as if moreover, for that matter, Marcher had been visited by one of his occasional warnings against egotism.  He had kept up, he felt, and very decently on the whole, his consciousness of the importance of not being selfish, and it was true that he had never sinned in that direction without promptly enough trying to press the scales the other way.  He often repaired his fault, the season permitting, by inviting his friend to accompany him to the opera; and it not infrequently thus happened that, to show he didn't wish her to have but one sort of food for her mind, he was the cause of her appearing there with him a dozen nights in the month.  It even happened that, seeing her home at such times, he occasionally went in with her to finish, as he called it, the evening, and, the better to make his point, sat down to the frugal but always careful little supper that awaited his pleasure.  His point was made, he thought, by his not eternally insisting with her on himself; made for instance, at such hours, when it befell that, her piano at hand and each of them familiar with it, they went over passages of the opera together.  It chanced to be on one of these occasions, however, that he reminded her of her not having answered a certain question he had put to her during the talk that had taken place between them on her last birthday.  "What is it that saves you?"-saved her, he meant, from that appearance of variation from the usual human type.  If he had practically escaped remark, as she pretended, by doing, in the most important particular, what most men do-find the answer to life in patching up an alliance of a sort with a woman no better than himself-how had she escaped it, and how could the alliance, such as it was, since they must suppose it had been more or less noticed, have failed to make her rather positively talked about?

"I never said," May Bartram replied, "that it hadn't made me a good deal talked about."

"Ah well then you're not 'saved.'"

"It hasn't been a question for me.  If you've had your woman I've had," she said, "my man."

"And you mean that makes you all right?"

Oh it was always as if there were so much to say!

"I don't know why it shouldn't make me-humanly, which is what we're speaking of-as right as it makes you."

"I see," Marcher returned.  "'Humanly,' no doubt, as showing that you're living for something.  Not, that is, just for me and my secret."

May Bartram smiled.  "I don't pretend it exactly shows that I'm not living for you.  It's my intimacy with you that's in question."

He laughed as he saw what she meant.  "Yes, but since, as you say, I'm only, so far as people make out, ordinary, you're-aren't you? no more than ordinary either.  You help me to pass for a man like another.  So if I am, as I understand you, you're not compromised.  Is that it?"

She had another of her waits, but she spoke clearly enough.  "That's it.  It's all that concerns me-to help you to pass for a man like another."

He was careful to acknowledge the remark handsomely.  "How kind, how beautiful, you are to me!  How shall I ever repay you?"

She had her last grave pause, as if there might be a choice of ways.  But she chose.  "By going on as you are."