Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle: Ch. 5

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CHAPTER V

He came back the next day, but she was then unable to see him, and as it was literally the first time this had occurred in the long stretch of their acquaintance he turned away, defeated and sore, almost angry-or feeling at least that such a break in their custom was really the beginning of the end-and wandered alone with his thoughts, especially with the one he was least able to keep down.  She was dying and he would lose her; she was dying and his life would end.  He stopped in the Park, into which he had passed, and stared before him at his recurrent doubt.  Away from her the doubt pressed again; in her presence he had believed her, but as he felt his forlornness he threw himself into the explanation that, nearest at hand, had most of a miserable warmth for him and least of a cold torment.  She had deceived him to save him-to put him off with something in which he should be able to rest.  What could the thing that was to happen to him be, after all, but just this thing that had began to happen?  Her dying, her death, his consequent solitude-that was what he had figured as the Beast in the Jungle, that was what had been in the lap of the gods.  He had had her word for it as he left her-what else on earth could she have meant?  It wasn't a thing of a monstrous order; not a fate rare and distinguished; not a stroke of fortune that overwhelmed and immortalised; it had only the stamp of the common doom.  But poor Marcher at this hour judged the common doom sufficient.  It would serve his turn, and even as the consummation of infinite waiting he would bend his pride to accept it.  He sat down on a bench in the twilight.  He hadn't been a fool.  Something had been, as she had said, to come.  Before he rose indeed it had quite struck him that the final fact really matched with the long avenue through which he had had to reach it.  As sharing his suspense and as giving herself all, giving her life, to bring it to an end, she had come with him every step of the way.  He had lived by her aid, and to leave her behind would be cruelly, damnably to miss her.  What could be more overwhelming than that?

Well, he was to know within the week, for though she kept him a while at bay, left him restless and wretched during a series of days on each of which he asked about her only again to have to turn away, she ended his trial by receiving him where she had always received him.  Yet she had been brought out at some hazard into the presence of so many of the things that were, consciously, vainly, half their past, and there was scant service left in the gentleness of her mere desire, all too visible, to check his obsession and wind up his long trouble.  That was clearly what she wanted; the one thing more for her own peace while she could still put out her hand.  He was so affected by her state that, once seated by her chair, he was moved to let everything go; it was she herself therefore who brought him back, took up again, before she dismissed him, her last word of the other time.  She showed how she wished to leave their business in order.  "I'm not sure you understood.  You've nothing to wait for more.  It has come."

Oh how he looked at her!  "Really?"

"Really."

"The thing that, as you said, was to?"

"The thing that we began in our youth to watch for."

Face to face with her once more he believed her; it was a claim to which he had so abjectly little to oppose.  "You mean that it has come as a positive definite occurrence, with a name and a date?"

"Positive.  Definite.  I don't know about the 'name,' but, oh with a date!"

He found himself again too helplessly at sea.  "But come in the night-come and passed me by?"

May Bartram had her strange faint smile.  "Oh no, it hasn't passed you by!"

"But if I haven't been aware of it and it hasn't touched me-?"

"Ah your not being aware of it"-and she seemed to hesitate an instant to deal with this-"your not being aware of it is the strangeness in the strangeness.  It's the wonder of the wonder."  She spoke as with the softness almost of a sick child, yet now at last, at the end of all, with the perfect straightness of a sibyl.  She visibly knew that she knew, and the effect on him was of something co-ordinate, in its high character, with the law that had ruled him.  It was the true voice of the law; so on her lips would the law itself have sounded.  "It has touched you," she went on.  "It has done its office.  It has made you all its own."