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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Cage - Chapter XV
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In The Cage - Chapter XV Post by :candyman340 Category :Long Stories Author :Henry James Date :January 2011 Read :3060

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In The Cage - Chapter XV

She never knew afterwards quite what she had done to settle it, and

at the time she only knew that they presently moved, with

vagueness, yet with continuity, away from the picture of the

lighted vestibule and the quiet stairs and well up the street

together. This also must have been in the absence of a definite

permission, of anything vulgarly articulate, for that matter, on

the part of either; and it was to be, later on, a thing of

remembrance and reflexion for her that the limit of what just here

for a longish minute passed between them was his taking in her

thoroughly successful deprecation, though conveyed without pride or

sound or touch, of the idea that she might be, out of the cage, the

very shop-girl at large that she hugged the theory she wasn't.

Yes, it was strange, she afterwards thought, that so much could

have come and gone and yet not disfigured the dear little intense

crisis either with impertinence or with resentment, with any of the

horrid notes of that kind of acquaintance. He had taken no

liberty, as she would have so called it; and, through not having to

betray the sense of one, she herself had, still more charmingly,

taken none. On the spot, nevertheless, she could speculate as to

what it meant that, if his relation with Lady Bradeen continued to

be what her mind had built it up to, he should feel free to proceed

with marked independence. This was one of the questions he was to

leave her to deal with--the question whether people of his sort

still asked girls up to their rooms when they were so awfully in

love with other women. Could people of his sort do that without

what people of her sort would call being "false to their love"?

She had already a vision of how the true answer was that people of

her sort didn't, in such cases, matter--didn't count as infidelity,

counted only as something else: she might have been curious, since

it came to that, to see exactly what.

 

Strolling together slowly in their summer twilight and their empty

corner of Mayfair, they found themselves emerge at last opposite to

one of the smaller gates of the Park; upon which, without any

particular word about it--they were talking so of other things--

they crossed the street and went in and sat down on a bench. She

had gathered by this time one magnificent hope about him--the hope

he would say nothing vulgar. She knew thoroughly what she meant by

that; she meant something quite apart from any matter of his being

"false." Their bench was not far within; it was near the Park Lane

paling and the patchy lamplight and the rumbling cabs and 'buses.

A strange emotion had come to her, and she felt indeed excitement

within excitement; above all a conscious joy in testing him with

chances he didn't take. She had an intense desire he should know

the type she really conformed to without her doing anything so low

as tell him, and he had surely begun to know it from the moment he

didn't seize the opportunities into which a common man would

promptly have blundered. These were on the mere awkward surface,

and THEIR relation was beautiful behind and below them. She had

questioned so little on the way what they might be doing that as

soon as they were seated she took straight hold of it. Her hours,

her confinement, the many conditions of service in the post-office,

had--with a glance at his own postal resources and alternatives--

formed, up to this stage, the subject of their talk. "Well, here

we are, and it may be right enough; but this isn't the least, you

know, where I was going."

 

"You were going home?"

 

"Yes, and I was already rather late. I was going to my supper."

 

"You haven't had it?"

 

"No indeed!"

 

"Then you haven't eaten--?"

 

He looked of a sudden so extravagantly concerned that she laughed

out. "All day? Yes, we do feed once. But that was long ago. So

I must presently say good-bye."

 

"Oh deary ME!" he exclaimed with an intonation so droll and yet a

touch so light and a distress so marked--a confession of

helplessness for such a case, in short, so unrelieved--that she at

once felt sure she had made the great difference plain. He looked

at her with the kindest eyes and still without saying what she had

known he wouldn't. She had known he wouldn't say "Then sup with

ME!" but the proof of it made her feel as if she had feasted.

 

"I'm not a bit hungry," she went on.

 

"Ah you MUST be, awfully!" he made answer, but settling himself on

the bench as if, after all, that needn't interfere with his

spending his evening. "I've always quite wanted the chance to

thank you for the trouble you so often take for me."

 

"Yes, I know," she replied; uttering the words with a sense of the

situation far deeper than any pretence of not fitting his allusion.

She immediately felt him surprised and even a little puzzled at her

frank assent; but for herself the trouble she had taken could only,

in these fleeting minutes--they would probably never come back--be

all there like a little hoard of gold in her lap. Certainly he

might look at it, handle it, take up the pieces. Yet if he

understood anything he must understand all. "I consider you've

already immensely thanked me." The horror was back upon her of

having seemed to hang about for some reward. "It's awfully odd you

should have been there just the one time--!"

 

"The one time you've passed my place?"

 

"Yes; you can fancy I haven't many minutes to waste. There was a

place to-night I had to stop at."

 

"I see, I see--" he knew already so much about her work. "It must

be an awful grind--for a lady."

 

"It is, but I don't think I groan over it any more than my

companions--and you've seen THEY'RE not ladies!" She mildly

jested, but with an intention. "One gets used to things, and there

are employments I should have hated much more." She had the finest

conception of the beauty of not at least boring him. To whine, to

count up her wrongs, was what a barmaid or a shop-girl would do,

and it was quite enough to sit there like one of these.

 

"If you had had another employment," he remarked after a moment,

"we might never have become acquainted."

 

"It's highly probable--and certainly not in the same way." Then,

still with her heap of gold in her lap and something of the pride

of it in her manner of holding her head, she continued not to move-

-she only smiled at him. The evening had thickened now; the

scattered lamps were red; the Park, all before them, was full of

obscure and ambiguous life; there were other couples on other

benches whom it was impossible not to see, yet at whom it was

impossible to look. "But I've walked so much out of my way with

you only just to show you that--that"--with this she paused; it was

not after all so easy to express--"that anything you may have

thought is perfectly true."

 

"Oh I've thought a tremendous lot!" her companion laughed. "Do you

mind my smoking?"

 

"Why should I? You always smoke THERE."

 

"At your place? Oh yes, but here it's different."

 

"No," she said as he lighted a cigarette, "that's just what it

isn't. It's quite the same."

 

"Well, then, that's because 'there' it's so wonderful!"

 

"Then you're conscious of how wonderful it is?" she returned.

 

He jerked his handsome head in literal protest at a doubt. "Why

that's exactly what I mean by my gratitude for all your trouble.

It has been just as if you took a particular interest." She only

looked at him by way of answer in such sudden headlong

embarrassment, as she was quite aware, that while she remained

silent he showed himself checked by her expression. "You HAVE--

haven't you?--taken a particular interest?"

 

"Oh a particular interest!" she quavered out, feeling the whole

thing--her headlong embarrassment--get terribly the better of her,

and wishing, with a sudden scare, all the more to keep her emotion

down. She maintained her fixed smile a moment and turned her eyes

over the peopled darkness, unconfused now, because there was

something much more confusing. This, with a fatal great rush, was

simply the fact that they were thus together. They were near,

near, and all she had imagined of that had only become more true,

more dreadful and overwhelming. She stared straight away in

silence till she felt she looked an idiot; then, to say something,

to say nothing, she attempted a sound which ended in a flood of

tears.

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