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The Jolly Corner by Henry James

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The Jolly Corner

by Henry James


"Every one asks me what I 'think' of everything," said Spencer
Brydon; "and I make answer as I can - begging or dodging the
question, putting them off with any nonsense. It wouldn't matter
to any of them really," he went on, "for, even were it possible to
meet in that stand-and-deliver way so silly a demand on so big a
subject, my 'thoughts' would still be almost altogether about
something that concerns only myself." He was talking to Miss
Staverton, with whom for a couple of months now he had availed
himself of every possible occasion to talk; this disposition and
this resource, this comfort and support, as the situation in fact
presented itself, having promptly enough taken the first place in
the considerable array of rather unattenuated surprises attending
his so strangely belated return to America. Everything was somehow
a surprise; and that might be natural when one had so long and so
consistently neglected everything, taken pains to give surprises so
much margin for play. He had given them more than thirty years -
thirty-three, to be exact; and they now seemed to him to have
organised their performance quite on the scale of that licence. He
had been twenty-three on leaving New York - he was fifty-six to-
day; unless indeed he were to reckon as he had sometimes, since his
repatriation, found himself feeling; in which case he would have
lived longer than is often allotted to man. It would have taken a
century, he repeatedly said to himself, and said also to Alice
Staverton, it would have taken a longer absence and a more averted
mind than those even of which he had been guilty, to pile up the
differences, the newnesses, the queernesses, above all the
bignesses, for the better or the worse, that at present assaulted
his vision wherever he looked.

The great fact all the while, however, had been the
incalculability; since he HAD supposed himself, from decade to
decade, to be allowing, and in the most liberal and intelligent
manner, for brilliancy of change. He actually saw that he had
allowed for nothing; he missed what he would have been sure of
finding, he found what he would never have imagined. Proportions
and values were upside-down; the ugly things he had expected, the
ugly things of his far-away youth, when he had too promptly waked
up to a sense of the ugly - these uncanny phenomena placed him
rather, as it happened, under the charm; whereas the "swagger"
things, the modern, the monstrous, the famous things, those he had
more particularly, like thousands of ingenuous enquirers every
year, come over to see, were exactly his sources of dismay. They
were as so many set traps for displeasure, above all for reaction,
of which his restless tread was constantly pressing the spring. It
was interesting, doubtless, the whole show, but it would have been
too disconcerting hadn't a certain finer truth saved the situation.
He had distinctly not, in this steadier light, come over ALL for
the monstrosities; he had come, not only in the last analysis but
quite on the face of the act, under an impulse with which they had
nothing to do. He had come - putting the thing pompously - to look
at his "property," which he had thus for a third of a century not
been within four thousand miles of; or, expressing it less
sordidly, he had yielded to the humour of seeing again his house on
the jolly corner, as he usually, and quite fondly, described it -
the one in which he had first seen the light, in which various
members of his family had lived and had died, in which the holidays
of his overschooled boyhood had been passed and the few social
flowers of his chilled adolescence gathered, and which, alienated
then for so long a period, had, through the successive deaths of
his two brothers and the termination of old arrangements, come
wholly into his hands. He was the owner of another, not quite so
"good" - the jolly corner having been, from far back, superlatively
extended and consecrated; and the value of the pair represented his
main capital, with an income consisting, in these later years, of
their respective rents which (thanks precisely to their original
excellent type) had never been depressingly low. He could live in
"Europe," as he had been in the habit of living, on the product of
these flourishing New York leases, and all the better since, that
of the second structure, the mere number in its long row, having
within a twelvemonth fallen in, renovation at a high advance had
proved beautifully possible.

These were items of property indeed, but he had found himself since
his arrival distinguishing more than ever between them. The house
within the street, two bristling blocks westward, was already in
course of reconstruction as a tall mass of flats; he had acceded,
some time before, to overtures for this conversion - in which, now
that it was going forward, it had been not the least of his
astonishments to find himself able, on the spot, and though without
a previous ounce of such experience, to participate with a certain
intelligence, almost with a certain authority. He had lived his
life with his back so turned to such concerns and his face
addressed to those of so different an order that he scarce knew
what to make of this lively stir, in a compartment of his mind
never yet penetrated, of a capacity for business and a sense for
construction. These virtues, so common all round him now, had been
dormant in his own organism - where it might be said of them
perhaps that they had slept the sleep of the just. At present, in
the splendid autumn weather - the autumn at least was a pure boon
in the terrible place - he loafed about his "work" undeterred,
secretly agitated; not in the least "minding" that the whole
proposition, as they said, was vulgar and sordid, and ready to
climb ladders, to walk the plank, to handle materials and look wise
about them, to ask questions, in fine, and challenge explanations
and really "go into" figures.

It amused, it verily quite charmed him; and, by the same stroke, it
amused, and even more, Alice Staverton, though perhaps charming her
perceptibly less. She wasn't, however, going to be better-off for
it, as HE was - and so astonishingly much: nothing was now likely,
he knew, ever to make her better-off than she found herself, in the
afternoon of life, as the delicately frugal possessor and tenant of
the small house in Irving Place to which she had subtly managed to
cling through her almost unbroken New York career. If he knew the
way to it now better than to any other address among the dreadful
multiplied numberings which seemed to him to reduce the whole place
to some vast ledger-page, overgrown, fantastic, of ruled and criss-
crossed lines and figures - if he had formed, for his consolation,
that habit, it was really not a little because of the charm of his
having encountered and recognised, in the vast wilderness of the
wholesale, breaking through the mere gross generalisation of wealth
and force and success, a small still scene where items and shades,
all delicate things, kept the sharpness of the notes of a high
voice perfectly trained, and where economy hung about like the
scent of a garden. His old friend lived with one maid and herself
dusted her relics and trimmed her lamps and polished her silver;
she stood oft, in the awful modern crush, when she could, but she
sallied forth and did battle when the challenge was really to
"spirit," the spirit she after all confessed to, proudly and a
little shyly, as to that of the better time, that of THEIR common,
their quite far-away and antediluvian social period and order. She
made use of the street-cars when need be, the terrible things that
people scrambled for as the panic-stricken at sea scramble for the
boats; she affronted, inscrutably, under stress, all the public
concussions and ordeals; and yet, with that slim mystifying grace
of her appearance, which defied you to say if she were a fair young
woman who looked older through trouble, or a fine smooth older one
who looked young through successful indifference with her precious
reference, above all, to memories and histories into which he could
enter, she was as exquisite for him as some pale pressed flower (a
rarity to begin with), and, failing other sweetnesses, she was a
sufficient reward of his effort. They had communities of
knowledge, "their" knowledge (this discriminating possessive was
always on her lips) of presences of the other age, presences all
overlaid, in his case, by the experience of a man and the freedom
of a wanderer, overlaid by pleasure, by infidelity, by passages of
life that were strange and dim to her, just by "Europe" in short,
but still unobscured, still exposed and cherished, under that pious
visitation of the spirit from which she had never been diverted.

She had come with him one day to see how his "apartment-house" was
rising; he had helped her over gaps and explained to her plans, and
while they were there had happened to have, before her, a brief but
lively discussion with the man in charge, the representative of the
building firm that had undertaken his work. He had found himself
quite "standing up" to this personage over a failure on the
latter's part to observe some detail of one of their noted
conditions, and had so lucidly argued his case that, besides ever
so prettily flushing, at the time, for sympathy in his triumph, she
had afterwards said to him (though to a slightly greater effect of
irony) that he had clearly for too many years neglected a real
gift. If he had but stayed at home he would have anticipated the
inventor of the sky-scraper. If he had but stayed at home he would
have discovered his genius in time really to start some new variety
of awful architectural hare and run it till it burrowed in a gold
mine. He was to remember these words, while the weeks elapsed, for
the small silver ring they had sounded over the queerest and
deepest of his own lately most disguised and most muffled

It had begun to be present to him after the first fortnight, it had
broken out with the oddest abruptness, this particular wanton
wonderment: it met him there - and this was the image under which
he himself judged the matter, or at least, not a little, thrilled
and flushed with it - very much as he might have been met by some
strange figure, some unexpected occupant, at a turn of one of the
dim passages of an empty house. The quaint analogy quite
hauntingly remained with him, when he didn't indeed rather improve
it by a still intenser form: that of his opening a door behind
which he would have made sure of finding nothing, a door into a
room shuttered and void, and yet so coming, with a great suppressed
start, on some quite erect confronting presence, something planted
in the middle of the place and facing him through the dusk. After
that visit to the house in construction he walked with his
companion to see the other and always so much the better one, which
in the eastward direction formed one of the corners, - the "jolly"
one precisely, of the street now so generally dishonoured and
disfigured in its westward reaches, and of the comparatively
conservative Avenue. The Avenue still had pretensions, as Miss
Staverton said, to decency; the old people had mostly gone, the old
names were unknown, and here and there an old association seemed to
stray, all vaguely, like some very aged person, out too late, whom
you might meet and feel the impulse to watch or follow, in
kindness, for safe restoration to shelter.

They went in together, our friends; he admitted himself with his
key, as he kept no one there, he explained, preferring, for his
reasons, to leave the place empty, under a simple arrangement with
a good woman living in the neighbourhood and who came for a daily
hour to open windows and dust and sweep. Spencer Brydon had his
reasons and was growingly aware of them; they seemed to him better
each time he was there, though he didn't name them all to his
companion, any more than he told her as yet how often, how quite
absurdly often, he himself came. He only let her see for the
present, while they walked through the great blank rooms, that
absolute vacancy reigned and that, from top to bottom, there was
nothing but Mrs. Muldoon's broomstick, in a corner, to tempt the
burglar. Mrs. Muldoon was then on the premises, and she
loquaciously attended the visitors, preceding them from room to
room and pushing back shutters and throwing up sashes - all to show
them, as she remarked, how little there was to see. There was
little indeed to see in the great gaunt shell where the main
dispositions and the general apportionment of space, the style of
an age of ampler allowances, had nevertheless for its master their
honest pleading message, affecting him as some good old servant's,
some lifelong retainer's appeal for a character, or even for a
retiring-pension; yet it was also a remark of Mrs. Muldoon's that,
glad as she was to oblige him by her noonday round, there was a
request she greatly hoped he would never make of her. If he should
wish her for any reason to come in after dark she would just tell
him, if he "plased," that he must ask it of somebody else.

The fact that there was nothing to see didn't militate for the
worthy woman against what one MIGHT see, and she put it frankly to
Miss Staverton that no lady could be expected to like, could she?
"craping up to thim top storeys in the ayvil hours." The gas and
the electric light were off the house, and she fairly evoked a
gruesome vision of her march through the great grey rooms - so many
of them as there were too! - with her glimmering taper. Miss
Staverton met her honest glare with a smile and the profession that
she herself certainly would recoil from such an adventure. Spencer
Brydon meanwhile held his peace - for the moment; the question of
the "evil" hours in his old home had already become too grave for
him. He had begun some time since to "crape," and he knew just why
a packet of candles addressed to that pursuit had been stowed by
his own hand, three weeks before, at the back of a drawer of the
fine old sideboard that occupied, as a "fixture," the deep recess
in the dining-room. Just now he laughed at his companions -
quickly however changing the subject; for the reason that, in the
first place, his laugh struck him even at that moment as starting
the odd echo, the conscious human resonance (he scarce knew how to
qualify it) that sounds made while he was there alone sent back to
his ear or his fancy; and that, in the second, he imagined Alice
Staverton for the instant on the point of asking him, with a
divination, if he ever so prowled. There were divinations he was
unprepared for, and he had at all events averted enquiry by the
time Mrs. Muldoon had left them, passing on to other parts.

There was happily enough to say, on so consecrated a spot, that
could be said freely and fairly; so that a whole train of
declarations was precipitated by his friend's having herself broken
out, after a yearning look round: "But I hope you don't mean they
want you to pull THIS to pieces!" His answer came, promptly, with
his re-awakened wrath: it was of course exactly what they wanted,
and what they were "at" him for, daily, with the iteration of
people who couldn't for their life understand a man's liability to
decent feelings. He had found the place, just as it stood and
beyond what he could express, an interest and a joy. There were
values other than the beastly rent-values, and in short, in short -
! But it was thus Miss Staverton took him up. "In short you're to
make so good a thing of your sky-scraper that, living in luxury on
THOSE ill-gotten gains, you can afford for a while to be
sentimental here!" Her smile had for him, with the words, the
particular mild irony with which he found half her talk suffused;
an irony without bitterness and that came, exactly, from her having
so much imagination - not, like the cheap sarcasms with which one
heard most people, about the world of "society," bid for the
reputation of cleverness, from nobody's really having any. It was
agreeable to him at this very moment to be sure that when he had
answered, after a brief demur, "Well, yes; so, precisely, you may
put it!" her imagination would still do him justice. He explained
that even if never a dollar were to come to him from the other
house he would nevertheless cherish this one; and he dwelt,
further, while they lingered and wandered, on the fact of the
stupefaction he was already exciting, the positive mystification he
felt himself create.

He spoke of the value of all he read into it, into the mere sight
of the walls, mere shapes of the rooms, mere sound of the floors,
mere feel, in his hand, of the old silver-plated knobs of the
several mahogany doors, which suggested the pressure of the palms
of the dead the seventy years of the past in fine that these things
represented, the annals of nearly three generations, counting his
grandfather's, the one that had ended there, and the impalpable
ashes of his long-extinct youth, afloat in the very air like
microscopic motes. She listened to everything; she was a woman who
answered intimately but who utterly didn't chatter. She scattered
abroad therefore no cloud of words; she could assent, she could
agree, above all she could encourage, without doing that. Only at
the last she went a little further than he had done himself. "And
then how do you know? You may still, after all, want to live
here." It rather indeed pulled him up, for it wasn't what he had
been thinking, at least in her sense of the words, "You mean I may
decide to stay on for the sake of it?"

"Well, WITH such a home - !" But, quite beautifully, she had too
much tact to dot so monstrous an I, and it was precisely an
illustration of the way she didn't rattle. How could any one - of
any wit - insist on any one else's "wanting" to live in New York?

"Oh," he said, "I MIGHT have lived here (since I had my opportunity
early in life); I might have put in here all these years. Then
everything would have been different enough - and, I dare say,
'funny' enough. But that's another matter. And then the beauty of
it - I mean of my perversity, of my refusal to agree to a 'deal' -
is just in the total absence of a reason. Don't you see that if I
had a reason about the matter at all it would HAVE to be the other
way, and would then be inevitably a reason of dollars? There are
no reasons here BUT of dollars. Let us therefore have none
whatever - not the ghost of one."

They were back in the hall then for departure, but from where they
stood the vista was large, through an open door, into the great
square main saloon, with its almost antique felicity of brave
spaces between windows. Her eyes came back from that reach and met
his own a moment. "Are you very sure the 'ghost' of one doesn't,
much rather, serve - ?"

He had a positive sense of turning pale. But it was as near as
they were then to come. For he made answer, he believed, between a
glare and a grin: "Oh ghosts - of course the place must swarm with
them! I should be ashamed of it if it didn't. Poor Mrs. Muldoon's
right, and it's why I haven't asked her to do more than look in."

Miss Staverton's gaze again lost itself, and things she didn't
utter, it was clear, came and went in her mind. She might even for
the minute, off there in the fine room, have imagined some element
dimly gathering. Simplified like the death-mask of a handsome
face, it perhaps produced for her just then an effect akin to the
stir of an expression in the "set" commemorative plaster. Yet
whatever her impression may have been she produced instead a vague
platitude. "Well, if it were only furnished and lived in - !"

She appeared to imply that in case of its being still furnished he
might have been a little less opposed to the idea of a return. But
she passed straight into the vestibule, as if to leave her words
behind her, and the next moment he had opened the house-door and
was standing with her on the steps. He closed the door and, while
he re-pocketed his key, looking up and down, they took in the
comparatively harsh actuality of the Avenue, which reminded him of
the assault of the outer light of the Desert on the traveller
emerging from an Egyptian tomb. But he risked before they stepped
into the street his gathered answer to her speech. "For me it IS
lived in. For me it is furnished." At which it was easy for her
to sigh "Ah yes!" all vaguely and discreetly; since his parents and
his favourite sister, to say nothing of other kin, in numbers, had
run their course and met their end there. That represented, within
the walls, ineffaceable life.

It was a few days after this that, during an hour passed with her
again, he had expressed his impatience of the too flattering
curiosity - among the people he met - about his appreciation of New
York. He had arrived at none at all that was socially producible,
and as for that matter of his "thinking" (thinking the better or
the worse of anything there) he was wholly taken up with one
subject of thought. It was mere vain egoism, and it was moreover,
if she liked, a morbid obsession. He found all things come back to
the question of what he personally might have been, how he might
have led his life and "turned out," if he had not so, at the
outset, given it up. And confessing for the first time to the
intensity within him of this absurd speculation - which but proved
also, no doubt, the habit of too selfishly thinking - he affirmed
the impotence there of any other source of interest, any other
native appeal. "What would it have made of me, what would it have
made of me? I keep for ever wondering, all idiotically; as if I
could possibly know! I see what it has made of dozens of others,
those I meet, and it positively aches within me, to the point of
exasperation, that it would have made something of me as well.
Only I can't make out what, and the worry of it, the small rage of
curiosity never to be satisfied, brings back what I remember to
have felt, once or twice, after judging best, for reasons, to burn
some important letter unopened. I've been sorry, I've hated it -
I've never known what was in the letter. You may, of course, say
it's a trifle - !"

"I don't say it's a trifle," Miss Staverton gravely interrupted.

She was seated by her fire, and before her, on his feet and
restless, he turned to and fro between this intensity of his idea
and a fitful and unseeing inspection, through his single eye-glass,
of the dear little old objects on her chimney-piece. Her
interruption made him for an instant look at her harder. "I
shouldn't care if you did!" he laughed, however; "and it's only a
figure, at any rate, for the way I now feel. NOT to have followed
my perverse young course - and almost in the teeth of my father's
curse, as I may say; not to have kept it up, so, 'over there,' from
that day to this, without a doubt or a pang; not, above all, to
have liked it, to have loved it, so much, loved it, no doubt, with
such an abysmal conceit of my own preference; some variation from
THAT, I say, must have produced some different effect for my life
and for my 'form.' I should have stuck here - if it had been
possible; and I was too young, at twenty-three, to judge, POUR DEUX
SOUS, whether it WERE possible. If I had waited I might have seen
it was, and then I might have been, by staying here, something
nearer to one of these types who have been hammered so hard and
made so keen by their conditions. It isn't that I admire them so
much - the question of any charm in them, or of any charm, beyond
that of the rank money-passion, exerted by their conditions FOR
them, has nothing to do with the matter: it's only a question of
what fantastic, yet perfectly possible, development of my own
nature I mayn't have missed. It comes over me that I had then a
strange ALTER EGO deep down somewhere within me, as the full-blown
flower is in the small tight bud, and that I just took the course,
I just transferred him to the climate, that blighted him for once
and for ever."

"And you wonder about the flower," Miss Staverton said. "So do I,
if you want to know; and so I've been wondering these several
weeks. I believe in the flower," she continued, "I feel it would
have been quite splendid, quite huge and monstrous."

"Monstrous above all!" her visitor echoed; "and I imagine, by the
same stroke, quite hideous and offensive."

"You don't believe that," she returned; "if you did you wouldn't
wonder. You'd know, and that would be enough for you. What you
feel - and what I feel FOR you - is that you'd have had power."

"You'd have liked me that way?" he asked.

She barely hung fire. "How should I not have liked you?"

"I see. You'd have liked me, have preferred me, a billionaire!"

"How should I not have liked you?" she simply again asked.

He stood before her still - her question kept him motionless. He
took it in, so much there was of it; and indeed his not otherwise
meeting it testified to that. "I know at least what I am," he
simply went on; "the other side of the medal's clear enough. I've
not been edifying - I believe I'm thought in a hundred quarters to
have been barely decent. I've followed strange paths and
worshipped strange gods; it must have come to you again and again -
in fact you've admitted to me as much - that I was leading, at any
time these thirty years, a selfish frivolous scandalous life. And
you see what it has made of me."

She just waited, smiling at him. "You see what it has made of ME."

"Oh you're a person whom nothing can have altered. You were born
to be what you are, anywhere, anyway: you've the perfection
nothing else could have blighted. And don't you see how, without
my exile, I shouldn't have been waiting till now - ?" But he
pulled up for the strange pang.

"The great thing to see," she presently said, "seems to me to be
that it has spoiled nothing. It hasn't spoiled your being here at
last. It hasn't spoiled this. It hasn't spoiled your speaking - "
She also however faltered.

He wondered at everything her controlled emotion might mean. "Do
you believe then - too dreadfully! - that I AM as good as I might
ever have been?"

"Oh no! Far from it!" With which she got up from her chair and
was nearer to him. "But I don't care," she smiled.

"You mean I'm good enough?"

She considered a little. "Will you believe it if I say so? I mean
will you let that settle your question for you?" And then as if
making out in his face that he drew back from this, that he had
some idea which, however absurd, he couldn't yet bargain away: "Oh
you don't care either - but very differently: you don't care for
anything but yourself."

Spencer Brydon recognised it - it was in fact what he had
absolutely professed. Yet he importantly qualified. "HE isn't
myself. He's the just so totally other person. But I do want to
see him," he added. "And I can. And I shall."

Their eyes met for a minute while he guessed from something in hers
that she divined his strange sense. But neither of them otherwise
expressed it, and her apparent understanding, with no protesting
shock, no easy derision, touched him more deeply than anything yet,
constituting for his stifled perversity, on the spot, an element
that was like breatheable air. What she said however was
unexpected. "Well, I'VE seen him."

"You -?"

"I've seen him in a dream."

"Oh a 'dream' - !" It let him down.

"But twice over," she continued. "I saw him as I see you now."

"You've dreamed the same dream - ?"

"Twice over," she repeated. "The very same."

This did somehow a little speak to him, as it also gratified him.
"You dream about me at that rate?"

"Ah about HIM!" she smiled.

His eyes again sounded her. "Then you know all about him." And as
she said nothing more: "What's the wretch like?"

She hesitated, and it was as if he were pressing her so hard that,
resisting for reasons of her own, she had to turn away. "I'll tell
you some other time!"


It was after this that there was most of a virtue for him, most of
a cultivated charm, most of a preposterous secret thrill, in the
particular form of surrender to his obsession and of address to
what he more and more believed to be his privilege. It was what in
these weeks he was living for - since he really felt life to begin
but after Mrs. Muldoon had retired from the scene and, visiting the
ample house from attic to cellar, making sure he was alone, he knew
himself in safe possession and, as he tacitly expressed it, let
himself go. He sometimes came twice in the twenty-four hours; the
moments he liked best were those of gathering dusk, of the short
autumn twilight; this was the time of which, again and again, he
found himself hoping most. Then he could, as seemed to him, most
intimately wander and wait, linger and listen, feel his fine
attention, never in his life before so fine, on the pulse of the
great vague place: he preferred the lampless hour and only wished
he might have prolonged each day the deep crepuscular spell. Later
- rarely much before midnight, but then for a considerable vigil -
he watched with his glimmering light; moving slowly, holding it
high, playing it far, rejoicing above all, as much as he might, in
open vistas, reaches of communication between rooms and by
passages; the long straight chance or show, as he would have called
it, for the revelation he pretended to invite. It was a practice
he found he could perfectly "work" without exciting remark; no one
was in the least the wiser for it; even Alice Staverton, who was
moreover a well of discretion, didn't quite fully imagine.

He let himself in and let himself out with the assurance of calm
proprietorship; and accident so far favoured him that, if a fat
Avenue "officer" had happened on occasion to see him entering at
eleven-thirty, he had never yet, to the best of his belief, been
noticed as emerging at two. He walked there on the crisp November
nights, arrived regularly at the evening's end; it was as easy to
do this after dining out as to take his way to a club or to his
hotel. When he left his club, if he hadn't been dining out, it was
ostensibly to go to his hotel; and when he left his hotel, if he
had spent a part of the evening there, it was ostensibly to go to
his club. Everything was easy in fine; everything conspired and
promoted: there was truly even in the strain of his experience
something that glossed over, something that salved and simplified,
all the rest of consciousness. He circulated, talked, renewed,
loosely and pleasantly, old relations - met indeed, so far as he
could, new expectations and seemed to make out on the whole that in
spite of the career, of such different contacts, which he had
spoken of to Miss Staverton as ministering so little, for those who
might have watched it, to edification, he was positively rather
liked than not. He was a dim secondary social success - and all
with people who had truly not an idea of him. It was all mere
surface sound, this murmur of their welcome, this popping of their
corks - just as his gestures of response were the extravagant
shadows, emphatic in proportion as they meant little, of some game
of OMBRES CHINOISES. He projected himself all day, in thought,
straight over the bristling line of hard unconscious heads and into
the other, the real, the waiting life; the life that, as soon as he
had heard behind him the click of his great house-door, began for
him, on the jolly corner, as beguilingly as the slow opening bars
of some rich music follows the tap of the conductor's wand.

He always caught the first effect of the steel point of his stick
on the old marble of the hall pavement, large black-and-white
squares that he remembered as the admiration of his childhood and
that had then made in him, as he now saw, for the growth of an
early conception of style. This effect was the dim reverberating
tinkle as of some far-off bell hung who should say where? - in the
depths of the house, of the past, of that mystical other world that
might have flourished for him had he not, for weal or woe,
abandoned it. On this impression he did ever the same thing; he
put his stick noiselessly away in a corner - feeling the place once
more in the likeness of some great glass bowl, all precious concave
crystal, set delicately humming by the play of a moist finger round
its edge. The concave crystal held, as it were, this mystical
other world, and the indescribably fine murmur of its rim was the
sigh there, the scarce audible pathetic wail to his strained ear,
of all the old baffled forsworn possibilities. What he did
therefore by this appeal of his hushed presence was to wake them
into such measure of ghostly life as they might still enjoy. They
were shy, all but unappeasably shy, but they weren't really
sinister; at least they weren't as he had hitherto felt them -
before they had taken the Form he so yearned to make them take, the
Form he at moments saw himself in the light of fairly hunting on
tiptoe, the points of his evening shoes, from room to room and from
storey to storey.

That was the essence of his vision - which was all rank folly, if
one would, while he was out of the house and otherwise occupied,
but which took on the last verisimilitude as soon as he was placed
and posted. He knew what he meant and what he wanted; it was as
clear as the figure on a cheque presented in demand for cash. His
ALTER EGO "walked" - that was the note of his image of him, while
his image of his motive for his own odd pastime was the desire to
waylay him and meet him. He roamed, slowly, warily, but all
restlessly, he himself did - Mrs. Muldoon had been right,
absolutely, with her figure of their "craping"; and the presence he
watched for would roam restlessly too. But it would be as cautious
and as shifty; the conviction of its probable, in fact its already
quite sensible, quite audible evasion of pursuit grew for him from
night to night, laying on him finally a rigour to which nothing in
his life had been comparable. It had been the theory of many
superficially-judging persons, he knew, that he was wasting that
life in a surrender to sensations, but he had tasted of no pleasure
so fine as his actual tension, had been introduced to no sport that
demanded at once the patience and the nerve of this stalking of a
creature more subtle, yet at bay perhaps more formidable, than any
beast of the forest. The terms, the comparisons, the very
practices of the chase positively came again into play; there were
even moments when passages of his occasional experience as a
sportsman, stirred memories, from his younger time, of moor and
mountain and desert, revived for him - and to the increase of his
keenness - by the tremendous force of analogy. He found himself at
moments - once he had placed his single light on some mantel-shelf
or in some recess - stepping back into shelter or shade, effacing
himself behind a door or in an embrasure, as he had sought of old
the vantage of rock and tree; he found himself holding his breath
and living in the joy of the instant, the supreme suspense created
by big game alone.

He wasn't afraid (though putting himself the question as he
believed gentlemen on Bengal tiger-shoots or in close quarters with
the great bear of the Rockies had been known to confess to having
put it); and this indeed - since here at least he might be frank! -
because of the impression, so intimate and so strange, that he
himself produced as yet a dread, produced certainly a strain,
beyond the liveliest he was likely to feel. They fell for him into
categories, they fairly became familiar, the signs, for his own
perception, of the alarm his presence and his vigilance created;
though leaving him always to remark, portentously, on his probably
having formed a relation, his probably enjoying a consciousness,
unique in the experience of man. People enough, first and last,
had been in terror of apparitions, but who had ever before so
turned the tables and become himself, in the apparitional world, an
incalculable terror? He might have found this sublime had he quite
dared to think of it; but he didn't too much insist, truly, on that
side of his privilege. With habit and repetition he gained to an
extraordinary degree the power to penetrate the dusk of distances
and the darkness of corners, to resolve back into their innocence
the treacheries of uncertain light, the evil-looking forms taken in
the gloom by mere shadows, by accidents of the air, by shifting
effects of perspective; putting down his dim luminary he could
still wander on without it, pass into other rooms and, only knowing
it was there behind him in case of need, see his way about,
visually project for his purpose a comparative clearness. It made
him feel, this acquired faculty, like some monstrous stealthy cat;
he wondered if he would have glared at these moments with large
shining yellow eyes, and what it mightn't verily be, for the poor
hard-pressed ALTER EGO, to be confronted with such a type.

He liked however the open shutters; he opened everywhere those Mrs.
Muldoon had closed, closing them as carefully afterwards, so that
she shouldn't notice: he liked - oh this he did like, and above
all in the upper rooms! - the sense of the hard silver of the
autumn stars through the window-panes, and scarcely less the flare
of the street-lamps below, the white electric lustre which it would
have taken curtains to keep out. This was human actual social;
this was of the world he had lived in, and he was more at his ease
certainly for the countenance, coldly general and impersonal, that
all the while and in spite of his detachment it seemed to give him.
He had support of course mostly in the rooms at the wide front and
the prolonged side; it failed him considerably in the central
shades and the parts at the back. But if he sometimes, on his
rounds, was glad of his optical reach, so none the less often the
rear of the house affected him as the very jungle of his prey. The
place was there more subdivided; a large "extension" in particular,
where small rooms for servants had been multiplied, abounded in
nooks and corners, in closets and passages, in the ramifications
especially of an ample back staircase over which he leaned, many a
time, to look far down - not deterred from his gravity even while
aware that he might, for a spectator, have figured some solemn
simpleton playing at hide-and-seek. Outside in fact he might
himself make that ironic RAPPROCHEMENT; but within the walls, and
in spite of the clear windows, his consistency was proof against
the cynical light of New York.

It had belonged to that idea of the exasperated consciousness of
his victim to become a real test for him; since he had quite put it
to himself from the first that, oh distinctly! he could "cultivate"
his whole perception. He had felt it as above all open to
cultivation - which indeed was but another name for his manner of
spending his time. He was bringing it on, bringing it to
perfection, by practice; in consequence of which it had grown so
fine that he was now aware of impressions, attestations of his
general postulate, that couldn't have broken upon him at once.
This was the case more specifically with a phenomenon at last quite
frequent for him in the upper rooms, the recognition - absolutely
unmistakeable, and by a turn dating from a particular hour, his
resumption of his campaign after a diplomatic drop, a calculated
absence of three nights - of his being definitely followed, tracked
at a distance carefully taken and to the express end that he should
the less confidently, less arrogantly, appear to himself merely to
pursue. It worried, it finally quite broke him up, for it proved,
of all the conceivable impressions, the one least suited to his
book. He was kept in sight while remaining himself - as regards
the essence of his position - sightless, and his only recourse then
was in abrupt turns, rapid recoveries of ground. He wheeled about,
retracing his steps, as if he might so catch in his face at least
the stirred air of some other quick revolution. It was indeed true
that his fully dislocalised thought of these manoeuvres recalled to
him Pantaloon, at the Christmas farce, buffeted and tricked from
behind by ubiquitous Harlequin; but it left intact the influence of
the conditions themselves each time he was re-exposed to them, so
that in fact this association, had he suffered it to become
constant, would on a certain side have but ministered to his
intenser gravity. He had made, as I have said, to create on the
premises the baseless sense of a reprieve, his three absences; and
the result of the third was to confirm the after-effect of the

On his return that night - the night succeeding his last
intermission - he stood in the hall and looked up the staircase
with a certainty more intimate than any he had yet known. "He's
THERE, at the top, and waiting - not, as in general, falling back
for disappearance. He's holding his ground, and it's the first
time - which is a proof, isn't it? that something has happened for
him." So Brydon argued with his hand on the banister and his foot
on the lowest stair; in which position he felt as never before the
air chilled by his logic. He himself turned cold in it, for he
seemed of a sudden to know what now was involved. "Harder pressed?
- yes, he takes it in, with its thus making clear to him that I've
come, as they say, 'to stay.' He finally doesn't like and can't
bear it, in the sense, I mean, that his wrath, his menaced
interest, now balances with his dread. I've hunted him till he has
'turned'; that, up there, is what has happened - he's the fanged or
the antlered animal brought at last to bay." There came to him, as
I say - but determined by an influence beyond my notation! - the
acuteness of this certainty; under which however the next moment he
had broken into a sweat that he would as little have consented to
attribute to fear as he would have dared immediately to act upon it
for enterprise. It marked none the less a prodigious thrill, a
thrill that represented sudden dismay, no doubt, but also
represented, and with the selfsame throb, the strangest, the most
joyous, possibly the next minute almost the proudest, duplication
of consciousness.

"He has been dodging, retreating, hiding, but now, worked up to
anger, he'll fight!" - this intense impression made a single
mouthful, as it were, of terror and applause. But what was
wondrous was that the applause, for the felt fact, was so eager,
since, if it was his other self he was running to earth, this
ineffable identity was thus in the last resort not unworthy of him.
It bristled there - somewhere near at hand, however unseen still -
as the hunted thing, even as the trodden worm of the adage must at
last bristle; and Brydon at this instant tasted probably of a
sensation more complex than had ever before found itself consistent
with sanity. It was as if it would have shamed him that a
character so associated with his own should triumphantly succeed in
just skulking, should to the end not risk the open; so that the
drop of this danger was, on the spot, a great lift of the whole
situation. Yet with another rare shift of the same subtlety he was
already trying to measure by how much more he himself might now be
in peril of fear; so rejoicing that he could, in another form,
actively inspire that fear, and simultaneously quaking for the form
in which he might passively know it.

The apprehension of knowing it must after a little have grown in
him, and the strangest moment of his adventure perhaps, the most
memorable or really most interesting, afterwards, of his crisis,
was the lapse of certain instants of concentrated conscious COMBAT,
the sense of a need to hold on to something, even after the manner
of a man slipping and slipping on some awful incline; the vivid
impulse, above all, to move, to act, to charge, somehow and upon
something - to show himself, in a word, that he wasn't afraid. The
state of "holding on" was thus the state to which he was
momentarily reduced; if there had been anything, in the great
vacancy, to seize, he would presently have been aware of having
clutched it as he might under a shock at home have clutched the
nearest chair-back. He had been surprised at any rate - of this he
WAS aware - into something unprecedented since his original
appropriation of the place; he had closed his eyes, held them
tight, for a long minute, as with that instinct of dismay and that
terror of vision. When he opened them the room, the other
contiguous rooms, extraordinarily, seemed lighter - so light,
almost, that at first he took the change for day. He stood firm,
however that might be, just where he had paused; his resistance had
helped him - it was as if there were something he had tided over.
He knew after a little what this was - it had been in the imminent
danger of flight. He had stiffened his will against going; without
this he would have made for the stairs, and it seemed to him that,
still with his eyes closed, he would have descended them, would
have known how, straight and swiftly, to the bottom.

Well, as he had held out, here he was - still at the top, among the
more intricate upper rooms and with the gauntlet of the others, of
all the rest of the house, still to run when it should be his time
to go. He would go at his time - only at his time: didn't he go
every night very much at the same hour? He took out his watch -
there was light for that: it was scarcely a quarter past one, and
he had never withdrawn so soon. He reached his lodgings for the
most part at two - with his walk of a quarter of an hour. He would
wait for the last quarter - he wouldn't stir till then; and he kept
his watch there with his eyes on it, reflecting while he held it
that this deliberate wait, a wait with an effort, which he
recognised, would serve perfectly for the attestation he desired to
make. It would prove his courage - unless indeed the latter might
most be proved by his budging at last from his place. What he
mainly felt now was that, since he hadn't originally scuttled, he
had his dignities - which had never in his life seemed so many -
all to preserve and to carry aloft. This was before him in truth
as a physical image, an image almost worthy of an age of greater
romance. That remark indeed glimmered for him only to glow the
next instant with a finer light; since what age of romance, after
all, could have matched either the state of his mind or,
"objectively," as they said, the wonder of his situation? The only
difference would have been that, brandishing his dignities over his
head as in a parchment scroll, he might then - that is in the
heroic time - have proceeded downstairs with a drawn sword in his
other grasp.

At present, really, the light he had set down on the mantel of the
next room would have to figure his sword; which utensil, in the
course of a minute, he had taken the requisite number of steps to
possess himself of. The door between the rooms was open, and from
the second another door opened to a third. These rooms, as he
remembered, gave all three upon a common corridor as well, but
there was a fourth, beyond them, without issue save through the
preceding. To have moved, to have heard his step again, was
appreciably a help; though even in recognising this he lingered
once more a little by the chimney-piece on which his light had
rested. When he next moved, just hesitating where to turn, he
found himself considering a circumstance that, after his first and
comparatively vague apprehension of it, produced in him the start
that often attends some pang of recollection, the violent shock of
having ceased happily to forget. He had come into sight of the
door in which the brief chain of communication ended and which he
now surveyed from the nearer threshold, the one not directly facing
it. Placed at some distance to the left of this point, it would
have admitted him to the last room of the four, the room without
other approach or egress, had it not, to his intimate conviction,
been closed SINCE his former visitation, the matter probably of a
quarter of an hour before. He stared with all his eyes at the
wonder of the fact, arrested again where he stood and again holding
his breath while he sounded his sense. Surely it had been
SUBSEQUENTLY closed - that is it had been on his previous passage
indubitably open!

He took it full in the face that something had happened between -
that he couldn't have noticed before (by which he meant on his
original tour of all the rooms that evening) that such a barrier
had exceptionally presented itself. He had indeed since that
moment undergone an agitation so extraordinary that it might have
muddled for him any earlier view; and he tried to convince himself
that he might perhaps then have gone into the room and,
inadvertently, automatically, on coming out, have drawn the door
after him. The difficulty was that this exactly was what he never
did; it was against his whole policy, as he might have said, the
essence of which was to keep vistas clear. He had them from the
first, as he was well aware, quite on the brain: the strange
apparition, at the far end of one of them, of his baffled "prey"
(which had become by so sharp an irony so little the term now to
apply!) was the form of success his imagination had most cherished,
projecting into it always a refinement of beauty. He had known
fifty times the start of perception that had afterwards dropped;
had fifty times gasped to himself. "There!" under some fond brief
hallucination. The house, as the case stood, admirably lent
itself; he might wonder at the taste, the native architecture of
the particular time, which could rejoice so in the multiplication
of doors - the opposite extreme to the modern, the actual almost
complete proscription of them; but it had fairly contributed to
provoke this obsession of the presence encountered telescopically,
as he might say, focused and studied in diminishing perspective and
as by a rest for the elbow.

It was with these considerations that his present attention was
charged - they perfectly availed to make what he saw portentous.
He COULDN'T, by any lapse, have blocked that aperture; and if he
hadn't, if it was unthinkable, why what else was clear but that
there had been another agent? Another agent? - he had been
catching, as he felt, a moment back, the very breath of him; but
when had he been so close as in this simple, this logical, this
completely personal act? It was so logical, that is, that one
might have TAKEN it for personal; yet for what did Brydon take it,
he asked himself, while, softly panting, he felt his eyes almost
leave their sockets. Ah this time at last they WERE, the two, the
opposed projections of him, in presence; and this time, as much as
one would, the question of danger loomed. With it rose, as not
before, the question of courage - for what he knew the blank face
of the door to say to him was "Show us how much you have!" It
stared, it glared back at him with that challenge; it put to him
the two alternatives: should he just push it open or not? Oh to
have this consciousness was to THINK - and to think, Brydon knew,
as he stood there, was, with the lapsing moments, not to have
acted! Not to have acted - that was the misery and the pang - was
even still not to act; was in fact ALL to feel the thing in
another, in a new and terrible way. How long did he pause and how
long did he debate? There was presently nothing to measure it; for
his vibration had already changed - as just by the effect of its
intensity. Shut up there, at bay, defiant, and with the prodigy of
the thing palpably proveably DONE, thus giving notice like some
stark signboard - under that accession of accent the situation
itself had turned; and Brydon at last remarkably made up his mind
on what it had turned to.

It had turned altogether to a different admonition; to a supreme
hint, for him, of the value of Discretion! This slowly dawned, no
doubt - for it could take its time; so perfectly, on his threshold,
had he been stayed, so little as yet had he either advanced or
retreated. It was the strangest of all things that now when, by
his taking ten steps and applying his hand to a latch, or even his
shoulder and his knee, if necessary, to a panel, all the hunger of
his prime need might have been met, his high curiosity crowned, his
unrest assuaged - it was amazing, but it was also exquisite and
rare, that insistence should have, at a touch, quite dropped from
him. Discretion - he jumped at that; and yet not, verily, at such
a pitch, because it saved his nerves or his skin, but because, much
more valuably, it saved the situation. When I say he "jumped" at
it I feel the consonance of this term with the fact that - at the
end indeed of I know not how long - he did move again, he crossed
straight to the door. He wouldn't touch it - it seemed now that he
might if he would: he would only just wait there a little, to
show, to prove, that he wouldn't. He had thus another station,
close to the thin partition by which revelation was denied him; but
with his eyes bent and his hands held off in a mere intensity of
stillness. He listened as if there had been something to hear, but
this attitude, while it lasted, was his own communication. "If you
won't then - good: I spare you and I give up. You affect me as by
the appeal positively for pity: you convince me that for reasons
rigid and sublime - what do I know? - we both of us should have
suffered. I respect them then, and, though moved and privileged
as, I believe, it has never been given to man, I retire, I renounce
- never, on my honour, to try again. So rest for ever - and let

That, for Brydon, was the deep sense of this last demonstration -
solemn, measured, directed, as he felt it to be. He brought it to
a close, he turned away; and now verily he knew how deeply he had
been stirred. He retraced his steps, taking up his candle, burnt,
he observed, well-nigh to the socket, and marking again, lighten it
as he would, the distinctness of his footfall; after which, in a
moment, he knew himself at the other side of the house. He did
here what he had not yet done at these hours - he opened half a
casement, one of those in the front, and let in the air of the
night; a thing he would have taken at any time previous for a sharp
rupture of his spell. His spell was broken now, and it didn't
matter - broken by his concession and his surrender, which made it
idle henceforth that he should ever come back. The empty street -
its other life so marked even by great lamp-lit vacancy - was
within call, within touch; he stayed there as to be in it again,
high above it though he was still perched; he watched as for some
comforting common fact, some vulgar human note, the passage of a
scavenger or a thief, some night-bird however base. He would have
blessed that sign of life; he would have welcomed positively the
slow approach of his friend the policeman, whom he had hitherto
only sought to avoid, and was not sure that if the patrol had come
into sight he mightn't have felt the impulse to get into relation
with it, to hail it, on some pretext, from his fourth floor.

The pretext that wouldn't have been too silly or too compromising,
the explanation that would have saved his dignity and kept his
name, in such a case, out of the papers, was not definite to him:
he was so occupied with the thought of recording his Discretion -
as an effect of the vow he had just uttered to his intimate
adversary - that the importance of this loomed large and something
had overtaken all ironically his sense of proportion. If there had
been a ladder applied to the front of the house, even one of the
vertiginous perpendiculars employed by painters and roofers and
sometimes left standing overnight, he would have managed somehow,
astride of the window-sill, to compass by outstretched leg and arm
that mode of descent. If there had been some such uncanny thing as
he had found in his room at hotels, a workable fire-escape in the
form of notched cable or a canvas shoot, he would have availed
himself of it as a proof - well, of his present delicacy. He
nursed that sentiment, as the question stood, a little in vain, and
even - at the end of he scarce knew, once more, how long - found
it, as by the action on his mind of the failure of response of the
outer world, sinking back to vague anguish. It seemed to him he
had waited an age for some stir of the great grim hush; the life of
the town was itself under a spell - so unnaturally, up and down the
whole prospect of known and rather ugly objects, the blankness and
the silence lasted. Had they ever, he asked himself, the hard-
faced houses, which had begun to look livid in the dim dawn, had
they ever spoken so little to any need of his spirit? Great
builded voids, great crowded stillnesses put on, often, in the
heart of cities, for the small hours, a sort of sinister mask, and
it was of this large collective negation that Brydon presently
became conscious - all the more that the break of day was, almost
incredibly, now at hand, proving to him what a night he had made of

He looked again at his watch, saw what had become of his time-
values (he had taken hours for minutes - not, as in other tense
situations, minutes for hours) and the strange air of the streets
was but the weak, the sullen flush of a dawn in which everything
was still locked up. His choked appeal from his own open window
had been the sole note of life, and he could but break off at last
as for a worse despair. Yet while so deeply demoralised he was
capable again of an impulse denoting - at least by his present
measure - extraordinary resolution; of retracing his steps to the
spot where he had turned cold with the extinction of his last pulse
of doubt as to there being in the place another presence than his
own. This required an effort strong enough to sicken him; but he
had his reason, which over-mastered for the moment everything else.
There was the whole of the rest of the house to traverse, and how
should he screw himself to that if the door he had seen closed were
at present open? He could hold to the idea that the closing had
practically been for him an act of mercy, a chance offered him to
descend, depart, get off the ground and never again profane it.
This conception held together, it worked; but what it meant for him
depended now clearly on the amount of forbearance his recent
action, or rather his recent inaction, had engendered. The image
of the "presence" whatever it was, waiting there for him to go -
this image had not yet been so concrete for his nerves as when he
stopped short of the point at which certainty would have come to
him. For, with all his resolution, or more exactly with all his
dread, he did stop short - he hung back from really seeing. The
risk was too great and his fear too definite: it took at this
moment an awful specific form.

He knew - yes, as he had never known anything - that, SHOULD he see
the door open, it would all too abjectly be the end of him. It
would mean that the agent of his shame - for his shame was the deep
abjection - was once more at large and in general possession; and
what glared him thus in the face was the act that this would
determine for him. It would send him straight about to the window
he had left open, and by that window, be long ladder and dangling
rope as absent as they would, he saw himself uncontrollably
insanely fatally take his way to the street. The hideous chance of
this he at least could avert; but he could only avert it by
recoiling in time from assurance. He had the whole house to deal
with, this fact was still there; only he now knew that uncertainty
alone could start him. He stole back from where he had checked
himself - merely to do so was suddenly like safety - and, making
blindly for the greater staircase, left gaping rooms and sounding
passages behind. Here was the top of the stairs, with a fine large
dim descent and three spacious landings to mark off. His instinct
was all for mildness, but his feet were harsh on the floors, and,
strangely, when he had in a couple of minutes become aware of this,
it counted somehow for help. He couldn't have spoken, the tone of
his voice would have scared him, and the common conceit or resource
of "whistling in the dark" (whether literally or figuratively) have
appeared basely vulgar; yet he liked none the less to hear himself
go, and when he had reached his first landing - taking it all with
no rush, but quite steadily - that stage of success drew from him a
gasp of relief.

The house, withal, seemed immense, the scale of space again
inordinate; the open rooms, to no one of which his eyes deflected,
gloomed in their shuttered state like mouths of caverns; only the
high skylight that formed the crown of the deep well created for
him a medium in which he could advance, but which might have been,
for queerness of colour, some watery under-world. He tried to
think of something noble, as that his property was really grand, a
splendid possession; but this nobleness took the form too of the
clear delight with which he was finally to sacrifice it. They
might come in now, the builders, the destroyers - they might come
as soon as they would. At the end of two flights he had dropped to
another zone, and from the middle of the third, with only one more
left, he recognised the influence of the lower windows, of half-
drawn blinds, of the occasional gleam of street-lamps, of the
glazed spaces of the vestibule. This was the bottom of the sea,
which showed an illumination of its own and which he even saw paved
- when at a given moment he drew up to sink a long look over the
banisters - with the marble squares of his childhood. By that time
indubitably he felt, as he might have said in a commoner cause,
better; it had allowed him to stop and draw breath, and the case
increased with the sight of the old black-and-white slabs. But
what he most felt was that now surely, with the element of impunity
pulling him as by hard firm hands, the case was settled for what he
might have seen above had he dared that last look. The closed
door, blessedly remote now, was still closed - and he had only in
short to reach that of the house.

He came down further, he crossed the passage forming the access to
the last flight and if here again he stopped an instant it was
almost for the sharpness of the thrill of assured escape. It made
him shut his eyes - which opened again to the straight slope of the
remainder of the stairs. Here was impunity still, but impunity
almost excessive; inasmuch as the side-lights and the high
fantracery of the entrance were glimmering straight into the hall;
an appearance produced, he the next instant saw, by the fact that
the vestibule gaped wide, that the hinged halves of the inner door
had been thrown far back. Out of that again the QUESTION sprang at
him, making his eyes, as he felt, half-start from his head, as they
had done, at the top of the house, before the sign of the other
door. If he had left that one open, hadn't he left this one
closed, and wasn't he now in MOST immediate presence of some
inconceivable occult activity? It was as sharp, the question, as a
knife in his side, but the answer hung fire still and seemed to
lose itself in the vague darkness to which the thin admitted dawn,
glimmering archwise over the whole outer door, made a semicircular
margin, a cold silvery nimbus that seemed to play a little as he
looked - to shift and expand and contract.

It was as if there had been something within it, protected by
indistinctness and corresponding in extent with the opaque surface
behind, the painted panels of the last barrier to his escape, of
which the key was in his pocket. The indistinctness mocked him
even while he stared, affected him as somehow shrouding or
challenging certitude, so that after faltering an instant on his
step he let himself go with the sense that here WAS at last
something to meet, to touch, to take, to know - something all
unnatural and dreadful, but to advance upon which was the condition
for him either of liberation or of supreme defeat. The penumbra,
dense and dark, was the virtual screen of a figure which stood in
it as still as some image erect in a niche or as some black-vizored
sentinel guarding a treasure. Brydon was to know afterwards, was
to recall and make out, the particular thing he had believed during
the rest of his descent. He saw, in its great grey glimmering
margin, the central vagueness diminish, and he felt it to be taking
the very form toward which, for so many days, the passion of his
curiosity had yearned. It gloomed, it loomed, it was something, it
was somebody, the prodigy of a personal presence.

Rigid and conscious, spectral yet human, a man of his own substance
and stature waited there to measure himself with his power to
dismay. This only could it be - this only till he recognised, with
his advance, that what made the face dim was the pair of raised
hands that covered it and in which, so far from being offered in
defiance, it was buried, as for dark deprecation. So Brydon,
before him, took him in; with every fact of him now, in the higher
light, hard and acute - his planted stillness, his vivid truth, his
grizzled bent head and white masking hands, his queer actuality of
evening-dress, of dangling double eye-glass, of gleaming silk
lappet and white linen, of pearl button and gold watch-guard and
polished shoe. No portrait by a great modern master could have
presented him with more intensity, thrust him out of his frame with
more art, as if there had been "treatment," of the consummate sort,
in his every shade and salience. The revulsion, for our friend,
had become, before he knew it, immense - this drop, in the act of
apprehension, to the sense of his adversary's inscrutable
manoeuvre. That meaning at least, while he gaped, it offered him;
for he could but gape at his other self in this other anguish, gape
as a proof that HE, standing there for the achieved, the enjoyed,
the triumphant life, couldn't be faced in his triumph. Wasn't the
proof in the splendid covering hands, strong and completely spread?
- so spread and so intentional that, in spite of a special verity
that surpassed every other, the fact that one of these hands had
lost two fingers, which were reduced to stumps, as if accidentally
shot away, the face was effectually guarded and saved.

"Saved," though, WOULD it be? - Brydon breathed his wonder till the
very impunity of his attitude and the very insistence of his eyes
produced, as he felt, a sudden stir which showed the next instant
as a deeper portent, while the head raised itself, the betrayal of
a braver purpose. The hands, as he looked, began to move, to open;
then, as if deciding in a flash, dropped from the face and left it
uncovered and presented. Horror, with the sight, had leaped into
Brydon's throat, gasping there in a sound he couldn't utter; for
the bared identity was too hideous as HIS, and his glare was the
passion of his protest. The face, THAT face, Spencer Brydon's? -
he searched it still, but looking away from it in dismay and
denial, falling straight from his height of sublimity. It was
unknown, inconceivable, awful, disconnected from any possibility! -
He had been "sold," he inwardly moaned, stalking such game as this:
the presence before him was a presence, the horror within him a
horror, but the waste of his nights had been only grotesque and the
success of his adventure an irony. Such an identity fitted his at
NO point, made its alternative monstrous. A thousand times yes, as
it came upon him nearer now, the face was the face of a stranger.
It came upon him nearer now, quite as one of those expanding
fantastic images projected by the magic lantern of childhood; for
the stranger, whoever he might be, evil, odious, blatant, vulgar,
had advanced as for aggression, and he knew himself give ground.
Then harder pressed still, sick with the force of his shock, and
falling back as under the hot breath and the roused passion of a
life larger than his own, a rage of personality before which his
own collapsed, he felt the whole vision turn to darkness and his
very feet give way. His head went round; he was going; he had


What had next brought him back, clearly - though after how long? -
was Mrs. Muldoon's voice, coming to him from quite near, from so
near that he seemed presently to see her as kneeling on the ground
before him while he lay looking up at her; himself not wholly on
the ground, but half-raised and upheld - conscious, yes, of
tenderness of support and, more particularly, of a head pillowed in
extraordinary softness and faintly refreshing fragrance. He
considered, he wondered, his wit but half at his service; then
another face intervened, bending more directly over him, and he
finally knew that Alice Staverton had made her lap an ample and
perfect cushion to him, and that she had to this end seated herself
on the lowest degree of the staircase, the rest of his long person
remaining stretched on his old black-and-white slabs. They were
cold, these marble squares of his youth; but HE somehow was not, in
this rich return of consciousness - the most wonderful hour, little
by little, that he had ever known, leaving him, as it did, so
gratefully, so abysmally passive, and yet as with a treasure of
intelligence waiting all round him for quiet appropriation;
dissolved, he might call it, in the air of the place and producing
the golden glow of a late autumn afternoon. He had come back, yes
- come back from further away than any man but himself had ever
travelled; but it was strange how with this sense what he had come
back TO seemed really the great thing, and as if his prodigious
journey had been all for the sake of it. Slowly but surely his
consciousness grew, his vision of his state thus completing itself;
he had been miraculously CARRIED back - lifted and carefully borne
as from where he had been picked up, the uttermost end of an
interminable grey passage. Even with this he was suffered to rest,
and what had now brought him to knowledge was the break in the long
mild motion.

It had brought him to knowledge, to knowledge - yes, this was the
beauty of his state; which came to resemble more and more that of a
man who has gone to sleep on some news of a great inheritance, and
then, after dreaming it away, after profaning it with matters
strange to it, has waked up again to serenity of certitude and has
only to lie and watch it grow. This was the drift of his patience
- that he had only to let it shine on him. He must moreover, with
intermissions, still have been lifted and borne; since why and how
else should he have known himself, later on, with the afternoon
glow intenser, no longer at the foot of his stairs - situated as
these now seemed at that dark other end of his tunnel - but on a
deep window-bench of his high saloon, over which had been spread,
couch-fashion, a mantle of soft stuff lined with grey fur that was
familiar to his eyes and that one of his hands kept fondly feeling
as for its pledge of truth. Mrs. Muldoon's face had gone, but the
other, the second he had recognised, hung over him in a way that
showed how he was still propped and pillowed. He took it all in,
and the more he took it the more it seemed to suffice: he was as
much at peace as if he had had food and drink. It was the two
women who had found him, on Mrs. Muldoon's having plied, at her
usual hour, her latch-key - and on her having above all arrived
while Miss Staverton still lingered near the house. She had been
turning away, all anxiety, from worrying the vain bell-handle - her
calculation having been of the hour of the good woman's visit; but
the latter, blessedly, had come up while she was still there, and
they had entered together. He had then lain, beyond the vestibule,
very much as he was lying now - quite, that is, as he appeared to
have fallen, but all so wondrously without bruise or gash; only in
a depth of stupor. What he most took in, however, at present, with
the steadier clearance, was that Alice Staverton had for a long
unspeakable moment not doubted he was dead.

"It must have been that I WAS." He made it out as she held him.
"Yes - I can only have died. You brought me literally to life.
Only," he wondered, his eyes rising to her, "only, in the name of
all the benedictions, how?"

It took her but an instant to bend her face and kiss him, and
something in the manner of it, and in the way her hands clasped and
locked his head while he felt the cool charity and virtue of her
lips, something in all this beatitude somehow answered everything.

"And now I keep you," she said.

"Oh keep me, keep me!" he pleaded while her face still hung over
him: in response to which it dropped again and stayed close,
clingingly close. It was the seal of their situation - of which he
tasted the impress for a long blissful moment in silence. But he
came back. "Yet how did you know - ?"

"I was uneasy. You were to have come, you remember - and you had
sent no word."

"Yes, I remember - I was to have gone to you at one to-day." It
caught on to their "old" life and relation - which were so near and
so far. "I was still out there in my strange darkness - where was
it, what was it? I must have stayed there so long." He could but
wonder at the depth and the duration of his swoon.

"Since last night?" she asked with a shade of fear for her possible

"Since this morning - it must have been: the cold dim dawn of to-
day. Where have I been," he vaguely wailed, "where have I been?"
He felt her hold him close, and it was as if this helped him now to
make in all security his mild moan. "What a long dark day!"

All in her tenderness she had waited a moment. "In the cold dim
dawn?" she quavered.

But he had already gone on piecing together the parts of the whole
prodigy. "As I didn't turn up you came straight - ?"

She barely cast about. "I went first to your hotel - where they
told me of your absence. You had dined out last evening and hadn't
been back since. But they appeared to know you had been at your

"So you had the idea of THIS - ?"

"Of what?" she asked in a moment.

"Well - of what has happened."

"I believed at least you'd have been here. I've known, all along,"
she said, "that you've been coming."

"'Known' it -?"

"Well, I've believed it. I said nothing to you after that talk we
had a month ago - but I felt sure. I knew you WOULD," she

"That I'd persist, you mean?"

"That you'd see him."

"Ah but I didn't!" cried Brydon with his long wail. "There's
somebody - an awful beast; whom I brought, too horribly, to bay.
But it's not me."

At this she bent over him again, and her eyes were in his eyes.
"No - it's not you." And it was as if, while her face hovered, he
might have made out in it, hadn't it been so near, some particular
meaning blurred by a smile. "No, thank heaven," she repeated,
"it's not you! Of course it wasn't to have been."

"Ah but it WAS," he gently insisted. And he stared before him now
as he had been staring for so many weeks. "I was to have known

"You couldn't!" she returned consolingly. And then reverting, and
as if to account further for what she had herself done, "But it
wasn't only THAT, that you hadn't been at home," she went on. "I
waited till the hour at which we had found Mrs. Muldoon that day of
my going with you; and she arrived, as I've told you, while,
failing to bring any one to the door, I lingered in my despair on
the steps. After a little, if she hadn't come, by such a mercy, I
should have found means to hunt her up. But it wasn't," said Alice
Staverton, as if once more with her fine intentions - "it wasn't
only that."

His eyes, as he lay, turned back to her. "What more then?"

She met it, the wonder she had stirred. "In the cold dim dawn, you
say? Well, in the cold dim dawn of this morning I too saw you."

"Saw ME - ?"

"Saw HIM," said Alice Staverton. "It must have been at the same

He lay an instant taking it in - as if he wished to be quite
reasonable. "At the same moment?"

"Yes - in my dream again, the same one I've named to you. He came
back to me. Then I knew it for a sign. He had come to you."

At this Brydon raised himself; he had to see her better. She
helped him when she understood his movement, and he sat up,
steadying himself beside her there on the window-bench and with his
right hand grasping her left. "HE didn't come to me."

"You came to yourself," she beautifully smiled.

"Ah I've come to myself now - thanks to you, dearest. But this
brute, with his awful face - this brute's a black stranger. He's
none of ME, even as I MIGHT have been," Brydon sturdily declared.

But she kept the clearness that was like the breath of
infallibility. "Isn't the whole point that you'd have been

He almost scowled for it. "As different as THAT - ?"

Her look again was more beautiful to him than the things of this
world. "Haven't you exactly wanted to know HOW different? So this
morning," she said, "you appeared to me."

"Like HIM?"

"A black stranger!"

"Then how did you know it was I?"

"Because, as I told you weeks ago, my mind, my imagination, has
worked so over what you might, what you mightn't have been - to
show you, you see, how I've thought of you. In the midst of that
you came to me - that my wonder might be answered. So I knew," she
went on; "and believed that, since the question held you too so
fast, as you told me that day, you too would see for yourself. And
when this morning I again saw I knew it would be because you had -
and also then, from the first moment, because you somehow wanted
me. HE seemed to tell me of that. So why," she strangely smiled,
"shouldn't I like him?"

It brought Spencer Brydon to his feet. "You 'like' that horror -

"I COULD have liked him. And to me," she said, "he was no horror.
I had accepted him."

"'Accepted' - ?" Brydon oddly sounded.

"Before, for the interest of his difference - yes. And as I didn't
disown him, as I knew him - which you at last, confronted with him
in his difference, so cruelly didn't, my dear, - well, he must have
been, you see, less dreadful to me. And it may have pleased him
that I pitied him."

She was beside him on her feet, but still holding his hand - still
with her arm supporting him. But though it all brought for him
thus a dim light, "You 'pitied' him?" he grudgingly, resentfully

"He has been unhappy, he has been ravaged," she said.

"And haven't I been unhappy? Am not I - you've only to look at me!
- ravaged?"

"Ah I don't say I like him BETTER," she granted after a thought.
"But he's grim, he's worn - and things have happened to him. He
doesn't make shift, for sight, with your charming monocle."

"No" - it struck Brydon; "I couldn't have sported mine 'down-town.'
They'd have guyed me there."

"His great convex pince-nez - I saw it, I recognised the kind - is
for his poor ruined sight. And his poor right hand - !"

"Ah!" Brydon winced - whether for his proved identity or for his
lost fingers. Then, "He has a million a year," he lucidly added.
"But he hasn't you."

"And he isn't - no, he isn't - YOU!" she murmured, as he drew her
to his breast.

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