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Those, cheek by jowl against her, wrong or

Mr. E. W. Henley 151

And, in the desperate interval, behold
The dubious Campbell-wether of the flock
Protagonising in his own despite,
And butted fore and aft
Whither not he nor they precisely know.
This is our Ancient Mother of Parliaments,
Fallen on dotage-days
Varied by episodic savagery,
But, for the rest,

Abysmal, desolate, irreclaimably dull.
What have we done to you,
Mother, O Mother,

That you requite us with so quaint a farce.
Such disillusioning parody of your Prime ?
* * * *

Inveterate airs that blow

As from a dim orchestral Age of Brass ; —

A rout of coryphe'es that toil and spin

With lustre of whirling lace and giddy gyre

Of hose rough-hued to ape

The arduous leg within ; —

Sallies of immemorial patriot wit.

Potent to kill, but impotent to pass ; —

And lo !

London's immeasurable mouth agape

From gallery to tranced pit

With worship ; her Imperial eyes aglow

With the divine ecstatic fire !

152 Borrowed Plumes

There is no male here, this ambrosial night,

But feels the manhood vocal in his veins.

There is no woman, if I read them right,

But in her hidden heart

Envies yon breezy sylph the art

By which she turns these virile brains

To irreducible pulp, and sets the breast

Apant behind its hedge of shining shirt.

What unconjecturable spell

Inspires this exquisite torture of unrest.

Or where the point of what the humorous mime

Says, and the sudden midriff splits —

Not I, who rarely enter here, can tell.

They, rather, who from unremembered time

Follow the same old Grace's flying skirt.

The same old amorous play of pencilled eyes.

And the unwearied acrobacy of wits

Reiterate past fear of rude surprise —

These, lifting voluntaries clear and strong.

May quire aloud what happy quest is theirs

Who tread the nightly stairs

Of London's luminous Halls of Mirth and Song.


[The Sacred Fount.]

It superficially might liave seemed that to
answer Lady Cheveley's invitation to her
daughter's wedding was a matter that would
put no intolerable strain upon the faculties of
discriminative volition. Yet the accident of
foreign travel had brought about that this
formal invitation, found on my return, con-
stituted my first advertisement of even so
much as Vivien Cheveley's engagement to
M. le Comte Richard Sansjambes. The
original question, simplified as it was by
public knowledge of the fact that I regard
all ceremonial functions with a polite abhor-
rence, had, accordingly, taken on a new
complexity, involving considerations of a
high sociologic interest; as, notably,

I 54 Borrowed Plumes

whether, and, if at all, in what form, I should
offer the lady my felicitations.

My obsession by these problems over a
space of four-and-twenty hours was only
partially relieved by contact with the diver-
tissements of Piccadilly as I drove to the
Prytaneum Club. To my hansom's tempo-
rary arrest, however, attributable to the
stream of vehicles converging in a transverse
sense at the corner of St. James's Street, I
owed an interval of recrudescent delibera-
tion. During that so tense period I conscien-
tiously — such is the force of confirmed habit
- — reviewed all the permissible methods —
and scarce fewer than a round dozen of
variants lay at that moment in my right
breast-pocket — of addressing a woman-
friend on the occasion of her betrothal.
Ahvays the equivocal detachment of an
unrejected bachelor had for me the air of
imparting to these crises, poignant enough
in themselves, a touch of invidious dilemma.
The delicate question why the felicitator
himself — to hypothecate his eligibility — had
not been a candidate for the lady's heart, a
question answerable, on the lips of her

Mr. Henry James 155

friends, by a theory of self-depreciation, and,
on those of her enemies, by one of indiffer-
ence, remained — unless he chose, as one says,
to " give himself away " — incapable of
adequate solution.

For myself, it is true, by way of a passable
solace in this cornucopious predicament,
there was my known prejudice, amounting
almost, I am told, to a confessed morbidity,
in favour of the celibate state. It was still,
however, open to the contention of malice
that I, nevertheless, conceivably might have
— whereas, in fact, I had not — submitted to
the lady's charms, had they — as they appar-
ently had not — been of a sufficiently over-
whelming nature. But this, relatively, was,
after all, a trivial embarrassment, mastered,
on more occasions, already, than one, by a
delicate subtlety of diction, in which I permit
myself to take a pardonable pride.

" My dear Miss Vivien," I, recalling the
terms of a parallel correspondence, had
written, " what brings to you, for whom I
entertain a so profound regard, brings, to
me also, an exquisite joy." And, again, alter-
natively, and in a phraseology more instinct

156 Borrowed Plumes

with poetry and pith — " I, in your gladness,
am myself glad." And, once more, with, I
confess, a greater aloofness, yet, at the same
time, positing, by implication, a plurality of
suitors to select from : — " Quite indubitably
enviable is the man on whom your choice
has fallen."

But what complicated the situation and
left me hesitant between these and, roughly,
some nine other openings, was the reflection
that, in point of fact, I had never set eyes on
the Count, nor yet even heard — and with
this my long absence from England must be
charged — the lightest tale of him. ^Mightn't
it be, after all, a marriage, purely, I asked
myself, of convenience? — wealth, possibly, a
title, certainly, exchanged for the asset of
youthful bloom? Mightn't it be — and there
was recorded precedent for this — that the
man, being French, as one gathered, and
calling himself by a foreign title — a preten-
sion, commonly, that invited scepticism —
had exerted over her some ]\Iagic, or even,
taking into account both his foreignness and
his Counthood, as much as Two ]Magics?
Or, again, most deplorable of all, mightn't

Mr. Henry James 157

he have acquired a liolcl upon her by secret
knowledge of some skeleton, as the phrase is,
in her private cupboard; an intrigue, let us
daringly say, with a former butler, banished
for that delinquency and harbouring ven-
geance against her house by the revelation
of her complicity?

But here I subconsciously reminded my-
self that the nicest adepts in abstract psychol-
ogy may, if they do but sufficiently long
address themselves to problems abnormally
occult, become the prey of a diseased ima-
gination. And by great good luck the for-
ward movement of my hansom, now disem-
broiled from the traffic, which had thrown
off something of its congestion, caused a
current of air which allowed me, the glass
being up, a saner purview of the question.
" When I reach the Prytaneum, I'll," I
said, " look the gentleman up in the
Almanack de Gotha." This, in fact, had been
among the motives, had been, I might even
say, the dominating motive, of my visit to
the Club.

That atmosphere of considered serenity
which meets one at the very portals of the

158 Borrowed Plumes

Prytaneum, and is of an efficacy so para-
mount for the allaying of neurotic disorders,
had already relieved the tension of my intro-
spective mood by the time that I had entered
the fumoir and rung for cigarettes and min-
eral water. The greeting, familiarly curt,
that reached me from an armchair near the
fire, was traceable, it appeared, to Guy Mal-
laby. Here, I was glad to think, I had
found a living supplement to the Almanach,
for I remembered him to have been a friend,
some had even said a blighted admirer, of
Vivien Cheveley. He had married, whether
for consolation or from pique, his cook; and
I now noticed, in a glance that embraced him
cursorily, that his girth had, since his mar-
riage, increased by some four to six inches.
It could scarce be more than a rude esti-
mate, viewing the fact that I had no tape-
measure about me, an adjunct that I from
time to time have found serviceable in cases
that, apparently, called for mere psychologic
diagnosis ; nor, had I so had, am I convinced
that I should, in this instance, have allowed
myself the application of it. Simply I moved
towards him, and, at the same time, yielding

Mr. Henry James 159

to the usage which a twelve-months absence
requires, held out my hand. He took it with,
as I thought, a certain surprise, quickly
dissembled, but not, as I repeat, before I'd
mentally remarked it.

At any other juncture I should have been
closely tempted to pursue the train of infe-
rence suggested by this phenomenon; but
just then, for the moment, I was preoccupied.
Besides, anyhow, his initial observation
proved his astonishment to be derived from
a quite transparent, if not altogether venial,
cause. " Been out of town," he asked, " for
Christmas?" I confess that, though I had
the good breeding not to betray it, this
speech, the tone of which, under ordinary
conditions, would not have affected me to the
point of regarding it as a truancy beyond the
prescribed bounds of gentlemanly casualness,
caused me, having regard to the circum-
stance of my long absence, a calculable pain
in my amour propre. Never so vividly had
not merely the complexity, almost cosmic, of
life in the Metropolis, its multiform interests
and issues so exigently absorbing, but also
the inconspicuousness of the vacuum created

1 60 Borrowed Plumes

by the withdrawal of any single — in this case
my own — personalit}-, been forced upon my

Here, again, at any other time, I should
have found abundant matter for analysis;
but the entrance of the waiter with my cig-
arettes and mineral water, one of the former
of which I deliberately lighted, recalled me
from this inviting diversion. By a natural
process of reaction I become cognisant of
the necessity, every moment more pressing,
of composing an answer to Mallaby's ques-

Scarce anything could have been easier
than so to impregnate my reply wuth the
truth, whole and unadulterated, as to compel,
on his side, an embarrassment which I, for
one, should have viewed, in the retrospect,
as regrettable. Yet, for a full three-quarters
of a minute, towards the latter half of which
period it was evident that Mallaby conceived
my memory to have strangely lapsed, the
temptation possessed me to follow the course
I have just indicated. But, in the issue —
whether more from a desire to spare his
feelings, or, at least as much, because the

Mr. Henry James i6i

practice of finesse, even in conjunctions of
•negligible import, has had for me always a
conc[uering fascination, I cannot determine
— I, with a terseness sufficiently antiphonal
to his own replied: — "Yes, Monte Carlo.''

Then, from an apprehension that he might
follow up his enquiries — for my travels had,
in actual fact, been confined to Central Asia
and the transit there and in an opposite sense
— or invite a reciprocal curiosity, on my
part, in regard to his Christmas, " By the
way," I, as if by a natural continuity of
thought, added, " who is this Count Richard
Sansjambes that is to marry Miss Cheve-
ley? " At the same time, not to appear too
intrigued by the matter in question, I with-
drew my cigarette from my mouth, flicked it
lightly in air, and then abstractedly replaced
it, less the ash.

I'd scarce done asking myself whether I'd
formulated my enquiry into the identity of
this Sansjambes with an air of sufficient
detachment, or, in default of this, had so
clearly underlined the suggestion of indiffer-
ence by my manner of manipulating my cig-
arette as to assure myself against the possible

1 62 Borrowed Plumes

suspicion, easily avoidable, I had hoped, of a
too immediately concerned curiosity, when
" Ah ! the fellow without legs ! " replied Mal-
laby, with, as it, perhaps unwarrantably,
seemed to me, a levity so flippant that it
might have appalled a controversialist less
seasoned by practice than I'd the permissible
satisfaction of crediting myself with the re-
putation of being.

" But you have not then lost it ? " I threw
off, on a note of implicit irony.

"Lost what?" he asked.

" Your old facility, of course, in jeu.v
d'esprit," I explained.

" On the contrary," he replied, " my
translation of Sansjambes is not more literal
than the facts themselves ! "

His answer was so quite what I had not
foreseen, that I was surprised, as by a sudden
reflex jerk of the muscles, into an unwonted
lucidity of diction.

" How did he lose them ? " I asked.

"He didn't; he never had any to lose!"
Mallaby, with unnecessary brutality, replied.
" An early ancestor lost his under the walls
of Acre. Pre-natal influences affected his

Mr. Henry James 163

first-born, and ever since then the family has
had no legs in the direct line."

"But the title?" — I was still too alto-
gether the sport of siirexcitation nicely to
weigh my words.

" The gallant ancestor's own choice —
prior, naturally, to the birth of his heir — to
perpetuate the deed of prowess that won it.
And his descendants take it on as a matter
of pride."

By this I'd sufficiently recovered my habi-
tual aplomb to be in a position, while reserv-
ing my perfected conclusions for a less
disturbing occasion, to collate, as I sipped
my drink, a few notes on the comparative
periods of sustained effervescence in the
cases, respectively, of Seltzer and Salutaris.

" And the cause you assign to this pro-
jected marriage? " I then, less with a desire
for enlightenment, asked, than, my own
judgment being made up to the point of
finality, to seem to flatter him by an appeal
to Jiis.

" Oh, there's money, of course," he an-
swered. " But that isn't all. It's the old tale

1 64 Borrowed Plumes

— Eve, apple, curiosity, with a touch of the
brute thrown in ! "

You could have knocked me down, in the
vulgar phrase, with a feather. Here was
Guy Mallaby, immeasurably my unequal in
fineness of spirit, laying his fat finger plumb
on the open offence, while I was still com-
placently nosing it on a false scent of
Womanly Pity. True, he had enjoyed a
three-months start of me in the running
down of a mystery that doubled too distract-
ingly on its traces for that instinctive flair to
which I hitherto had urged a predominant
claim ; or was it the cook-wife that had
piqued, through the stomach's Sacred Fount,
his intellectual appetite? Gratuitously to
admit him my superior on the strength of a
forestalled judgment was the last of a quite
surprising number of alternatives that just
then occurred to me.

" I'm going to look in on Lady Jane," I
made evasion.

" She'll, if she's honest, endorse my con-
jecture; she's a woman! " he, without hesita-
tion, observed.

More interestingly stimulated than I

Mr. Henry James 165

could, at the moment, remember to have been
by any previous visit to the Prytaneum, I
made my way westward down the Mall of
St. James's Park, taking the broad boulevard
on the left. In the particular atmosphere of
exaltation by which I perceived myself to be
environed, it was easy to image these wid-
owed avenues in their midsummer fulness,
to revive their inarticulate romance, to re-
store, in the grand style, the pomp of their
verdurous pageantry. Oh, there was quite
enough of analogy to reclothe a whole Arden
of As you like it ! It was really portentous
on what a vista of alluring speculations I'd
all but originally stumbled; virgin forest, in
fact, before the temerity of just one pioneer,
and that a woman, had stripped it this very
summer so pitilessly bare. With how fine
an abstraction from the moralities I'd, in the
way of pure analysis, have probed its
fungus-roots, have dissected its saffron-
bellied toads, have sampled its ambiguous
spices. And to have utilised a legless abor-
tion for the genius of its undergrowths !

But I soon became aware of an appreciable
recoil from the initial acerbity of my self-

1 66 Borrowed Plumes

reproach at being anticipated by the author
of Sir Richard Calmady, when, upon a more
meticulous reflection — for, by this time, I'd
arrived opposite the footpath leading over
the bridge that commands the lake and its
collection, recognisably unique, of water-
fowl — I'd convinced myself how little of
consonance was to be found between this
theme and the general trend of my predilec-
tions. About the loves of a so ineffable
prodigy — and to differentiate them as lawful
or lawless didn't, for me, modify the fact of
their uniform repulsiveness — I detected a
quality something too preposterously fla-
grant, an element ?(?i pen trop criant of pun-
gent indelicacy. It needed only this flash of
recognition at once to disabuse me of all
regret for having been forestalled in the
treatment of a subject of which the narrow
scope it offered for the play of hypersen-
sitised subtlety remained the incurably fatal

So immediate, indeed, and so absolute was
my mental recovery that I had scarce cleared
the fagade of Buckingham Palace and ad-
dressed myself to what I have, from time to

Mr. Henry James 167

time, regarded as the almost contemptibly
easy ascent of Constitution Hill, before I had
in mind to rush to the opposite extreme,
totally, in fact, to disregard the relation of
legs to the question at issue. I won't, I said,
allow the hereditary absence of this feature
from the Count's ensemble to prejudice, one
way or another, the solution, which I hope
ultimately to achieve, of the original prob-
lem, namely, should I, or shouldn't I, offer
my congratulations to Vivien Cheveley? and
that second problem, subordinately asso-
ciated with the first, namely, what form, if
any, should those congratulations assume?
But I was instantly to perceive the super-
precipitancy of my revulsion. It imposed
itself, and with a clarity past all possible
ignoring, that in this matter of the Count's
legs the introduction of a new element — or,
to be accurate, the withdrawal of an old one
so usual as to have been carelessly assumed
— was bound, whatever dissimulation was
attempted, to command notice. The gentle-
man's lower limbs were, to an undeniably
overwhelming degree, conspicuous, as the
phrase runs, by their absence. A fresh con-

1 68 Borrowed Plumes

dition, as unique as it was unforeseen, had,
with a disturbing vitality, invaded what had
given promise, in the now remote outset, of
being an argument on merely abstract and
impersonal lines. For, even if one postu-
lated in the bride the delicatest of motives, a
passion, let us assume, to repair a defect of
Nature, as much as to say, figuratively,
" You that are blind shall see through my
eyes," or, more literally, " You, having no
legs to speak of, are to find in me a vicarious
locomotion," even so a sensitive creature
might wince at the suspicion that the lan-
guage of congratulation was but a stammer-
ing tribute to the quality, in her, of inscru-
table heroism.

And there w^as still an equal apprehension
to deplore, should it appear that it was to an
artistic faculty, on the lady's part, capable,
imaginatively, of reconstructing, from the
fragmentary outlines of his descendant, the
originalh' unimpaired completeness of the
gallant ancestor — much as the old moon
shows dimly perfect in the hollow of the
young crescent — that the Count owed his
acceptability in her eyes.

Mr. Henry James 169

*' There it is ! " I said, and at the same
moment inadvertently grasped the extended
hand of a constable at the corner of Hamil-
ton Place; " there's no escaping from the
obsession of this inexorable fact. It colours
the whole abstract problem only a little less
irritatingly than, I can well believe, it has
coloured the poor Count's existence." And
I'd scarce so much as begun to exhaust the
possible bearings of the case in their absorb-
ing relation to simply me, as distinct from
the parties more deeply committed and so,
presumably, exposed to the impact of yet
other considerations.

For, what lent a further complexity to the
situation was that, even to suppose me ar-
rived at the conclusion, effectively supported,
that her motive for this so painfully trun-
cated alliance was commendable, it still left
her the liberty, accentuated by the conditions
at which I have glanced, to misinterpret
mine in congratulating her upon it. And if,
on the other hand, her engagement were
attributable to unworthy or frivolous causes,
wouldn't the consciousness of this, on her

I/O Borrowed Plumes

side, give even stronger countenance to a
suspicion of mere impertinence on mine?

That her motive indeed had been no better
than one of curiosity — mother Eve's, in fact,
for exploring the apple-tree — was the con-
tention of Mallaby, and by him expressed
with so resolved an assurance that it had, as
I only now remembered, won me over, at the
time, by its convincing probability. Hadn't
his confidence even gone the length of claim-
ing Lady Jane as of the same camp? And
this recalled for me, what I had temporarily
ignored in the so conflicting rush of ideas,
the primary objective of my present discur-
sion. I'd overlooked the bifurcation of ways
where the traverse to South Audley Street
leads in the direction of Lady Jane's house;
and now was poising irresolutely before
crossing at the convergence of Upper Brook
Street and Park Lane.

But after all, I asked myself, was a
woman's final word really just the thing I
stood in dearest need of in so nice a hesi-
tancy? If / was conscious of a certain strain
in seeking to confine this incident of freakish
abbreviation to its properly obscure place in

Mr. Henry James 171

the picture, would not she, with all her sex's
reluctance to attack any question from an
abstract standpoint, experience an insuper-
able difficulty in assigning to the Count's
deficiency its relative " value " ? And
mightn't I, in a moment of unguarded gal-
lantry, of simulated deference, let me put it,
to her (Lady Jane's) assumption of a larger
knowledge of women, or, say, simply a more
profound intimacy with the particular
woman, be carried away, against what I
foresaw, even at this incipient stage of my
reflections, would, in the event, turn out to
be my better judgment, on a veritable whirl
of grossly material considerations? At
worst, after all, there's still, I said, the last
resort of an answer in the third person, de-
clining the wedding invitation on a plea,
strictly untrue, of an earlier engagement.
Meantime, while so many hitherto unre-
garded aspects of the matter called on my
intelligence for their dues, the fabric of my
problem was, I told myself, of a delicacy too

exquisite for

{^Left reflecting on kerbstone.



[I. — D7'ania.]

Hark ! One would say there is a symbol
coming down the corridor. Oh ! Oh !

sfc ^ 3j: ^

Nineteenth Deaf Man. I cannot hear any-
thing; and my eyesight is defective.

Deafest Deaf Man. I do not know what
he is saying. I do not know what anybody
is saying.

Least Deaf Man. I am glad that I am
not blind. It must be very inconvenient to
be blind.

:){ ^ i(c H^

Where is my pet lamb? I do not see it on
the sofa as usual. Ah! ah! I smell mint-
sauce. No, I will not take any luncheon
to-day. I loved it so. It was not altogether

M. Maurice Maeterlinck 173

like other lambs. It was more ominous.
And now it is cold!

* * * H«

Hush ! Not so loud. Sister Ann may
overhear you. She is a hundred and twenty-
five yards away under a willow; but you
never can tell how far her soul reaches.
Perhaps it covers as much as three acres.

* * * *

Sister Migraine, I have a headache. Have
you a headache, Sister Migraine? I think I
am going to be very unhappy.

* * * *

I ought not to sit on the edge of a well
and keep on throwing my wedding-ring into
the sun. What shall I do if I drop it into
the water? There! I have dropped it into
the water! What shall I do?

* * * *

There is somebody the other side of the
door. There is always somebody the other
side of a door.

^ 5|C ^ 5fC

My hair inundates my entire being. It is
longer than two of me. Oh, see, it has come

174 Borrowed Plumes

right down from the balcony. No, no, you
must not try and climb up by it.

^ ^ ^ ^

Did I wrench your arms too much? No?
Yet I heard your bones sigh together like
little mice in a wainscot. Do not look at
me so aloofly, as if your soul were for ever in
the next room.

^ ^ ^ ^

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