The Great Good Place by Henry James

Story type: Literature


George Dane had opened his eyes to a bright new day, the face of nature well washed by last night’s downpour and shining as with high spirits, good resolutions, lively intentions–the great glare of recommencement in short fixed in his patch of sky. He had sat up late to finish work–arrears overwhelming, then at last had gone to bed with the pile but little reduced. He was now to return to it after the pause of the night; but he could only look at it, for the time, over the bristling hedge of letters planted by the early postman an hour before and already, on the customary table by the chimney-piece, formally rounded and squared by his systematic servant. It was something too merciless, the domestic perfection of Brown. There were newspapers on another table, ranged with the same rigour of custom, newspapers too many–what could any creature want of so much news?–and each with its hand on the neck of the other, so that the row of their bodiless heads was like a series of decapitations. Other journals, other periodicals of every sort, folded and in wrappers, made a huddled mound that had been growing for several days and of which he had been wearily, helplessly aware. There were new books, also in wrappers as well as disenveloped and dropped again–books from publishers, books from authors, books from friends, books from enemies, books from his own bookseller, who took, it sometimes struck him, inconceivable things for granted. He touched nothing, approached nothing, only turned a heavy eye over the work, as it were, of the night–the fact, in his high wide-windowed room, where duty shed its hard light into every corner, of the still unashamed admonitions. It was the old rising tide, and it rose and rose even under a minute’s watching. It had been up to his shoulders last night–it was up to his chin now.

Nothing had gone, had passed on while he slept–everything had stayed; nothing, that he could yet feel, had died–so naturally, one would have thought; many things on the contrary had been born. To let them alone, these things, the new things, let them utterly alone and see if that, by chance, wouldn’t somehow prove the best way to deal with them: this fancy brushed his face for a moment as a possible solution, just giving it, as so often before, a cool wave of air. Then he knew again as well as ever that leaving was difficult, leaving impossible–that the only remedy, the true soft effacing sponge, would be to be left, to be forgotten. There was no footing on which a man who had ever liked life–liked it at any rate as he had–could now escape it. He must reap as he had sown. It was a thing of meshes; he had simply gone to sleep under the net and had simply waked up there. The net was too fine; the cords crossed each other at spots too near together, making at each a little tight hard knot that tired fingers were this morning too limp and too tender to touch. Our poor friend’s touched nothing–only stole significantly into his pockets as he wandered over to the window and faintly gasped at the energy of nature. What was most overwhelming was that she herself was so ready. She had soothed him rather, the night before, in the small hours by the lamp. From behind the drawn curtain of his study the rain had been audible and in a manner merciful; washing the window in a steady flood, it had seemed the right thing, the retarding interrupting thing, the thing that, if it would only last, might clear the ground by floating out to a boundless sea the innumerable objects among which his feet stumbled and strayed. He had positively laid down his pen as on a sense of friendly pressure from it. The kind full swish had been on the glass when he turned out his lamp; he had left his phrase unfinished and his papers lying quite as for the flood to bear them away in its rush. But there still on the table were the bare bones of the sentence–and not all of those; the single thing borne away and that he could never recover was the missing half that might have paired with it and begotten a figure.

Yet he could at last only turn back from the window; the world was everywhere, without and within, and the great staring egotism of its health and strength wasn’t to be trusted for tact or delicacy. He faced about precisely to meet his servant and the absurd solemnity of two telegrams on a tray. Brown ought to have kicked them into the room–then he himself might have kicked them out.

“And you told me to remind you, sir–“

George Dane was at last angry.”Remind me of nothing!”

“But you insisted, sir, that I was to insist!”

He turned away in despair, using a pathetic quaver at absurd variance with his words: “If you insist, Brown, I’ll kill you!” He found himself anew at the window, whence, looking down from his fourth floor, he could see the vast neighbourhood, under the trumpet-blare of the sky, beginning to rush about. There was a silence, but he knew Brown hadn’t left him–knew exactly how straight and serious and stupid and faithful he stood there. After a minute he heard him again.

“It’s only because, sir, you know, sir, you can’t remember–“

At this Dane did flash round; it was more than at such a moment he could bear.”Can’t remember, Brown? I can’t forget. That’s what’s the matter with me.”

Brown looked at him with the advantage of eighteen years of consistency.”I’m afraid you’re not well, sir.”

Brown’s master thought.”It’s a shocking thing to say, but I wish to heaven I weren’t! It would be perhaps an excuse.”

Brown’s blankness spread like the desert.”To put them off?”

“Ah!” The sound was a groan; the plural pronoun, any pronoun, so mistimed.”Who is it?”

“Those ladies you spoke of–to luncheon.”

“Oh!” The poor man dropped into the nearest chair and stared a while at the carpet. It was very complicated.

“How many will there be, sir?” Brown asked.


“Fifty, sir?”

Our friend, from his chair, looked vaguely about; under his hand were the telegrams, still unopened, one of which he now tore asunder.” ‘Do hope you sweetly won’t mind, to-day, 1. 30, my bringing poor dear Lady Mullet, who’s so awfully bent,’ ” he read to his companion.

His companion weighed it.”How many does she make, sir?”

“Poor dear Lady Mullet? I haven’t the least idea.”

“Is she–a–deformed, sir?” Brown enquired, as if in this case she might make more.

His master wondered, then saw he figured some personal curvature.”No; she’s only bent on coming!” Dane opened the other telegram and again read out: ” ‘So sorry it’s at eleventh hour impossible, and count on you here, as very greatest favour, at two sharp instead.’ “

“How many does that make?” Brown imperturbably continued.

Dane crumpled up the two missives and walked with them to the waste-paper basket, into which he thoughtfully dropped them.”I can’t say. You must do it all yourself. I shan’t be there.”

It was only on this that Brown showed an expression.”You’ll go instead–“

“I’ll go instead!” Dane raved.

Brown, however, had had occasion to show before that he would never desert their post.”Isn’t that rather sacrificing the three?” Between respect and reproach he paused.

are there three?”

“I lay for four in all.”

His master had at any rate caught his thought.”Sacrificing the three to the one, you mean? Oh I’m not going to her!

Brown’s famous “thoroughness”–his great virtue–had never been so dreadful.”Then where are you going?”

Dane sat down to his table and stared at his ragged phrase.” ‘There is a happy land–far far away!’ ” He chanted it like a sick child and knew that for a minute Brown never moved. During this minute he felt between his shoulders the gimlet of criticism.

“Are you quite sure you’re all right?”

“It’s my certainty that overwhelms me, Brown. Look about you and judge. Could anything be more ‘right,’ in the view of the envious world, than everything that surrounds us here: that immense array of letters, notes, circulars; that pile of printers’ proofs, magazines and books; these perpetual telegrams, these impending guests, this retarded, unfinished and interminable work? What could a man want more?”

“Do you mean there’s too much, sir?”–Brown had sometimes these flashes.

“There’s too much. There’s too much. But you can’t help it, Brown.”

“No, sir,” Brown assented.”Can’t you?”

“I’m thinking–I must see. There are hours–!” Yes, there were hours, and this was one of them: he jerked himself up for another turn in his labyrinth, but still not touching, not even again meeting, his admonisher’s eye. If he was a genius for any one he was a genius for Brown; but it was terrible what that meant, being a genius for Brown. There had been times when he had done full justice to the way it kept him up; now, however, it was almost the worst of the avalanche.”Don’t trouble about me,” he went on insincerely and looking askance through his window again at the bright and beautiful world.”Perhaps it will rain–that may not be over. I do love the rain,” he weakly pursued.”Perhaps, better still, it will snow.”

Brown now had indeed a perceptible expression, and the expression was of fear.”Snow, sir–the end of May?” Without pressing this point he looked at his watch.”You’ll feel better when you’ve had breakfast.”

See also  Dhola-Maroo - A Rajasthani Love Story

“I dare say,” said Dane, whom breakfast struck in fact as a pleasant alternative to opening letters.”I’ll come in immediately.”

“But without waiting–?”

“Waiting for what?”

Brown at last, under his apprehension, had his first lapse from logic, which he betrayed by hesitating in the evident hope his companion might by a flash of remembrance relieve him of an invidious duty. But the only flashes now were the good man’s own.”You say you can’t forget, sir; but you do forget–“

“Is it anything very horrible?” Dane broke in.

Brown hung fire.”Only the gentleman you told me you had asked–“

Dane again took him up; horrible or not it came back–indeed its mere coming back classed it.”To breakfast to-day? It was to-day; I see.” It came back, yes, came back; the appointment with the young man–he supposed him young–whose letter, the letter about–what was it?–had struck him.”Yes, yes; wait, wait.”

“Perhaps he’ll do you good, sir,” Brown suggested.

“Sure to–sure to. All right!” Whatever he might do he would at least prevent some other doing: that was present to our friend as, on the vibration of the electric bell at the door of the flat, Brown moved away. Two things in the short interval that followed were present to Dane: his having utterly forgotten the connexion, the whence, whither and why of his guest; and his continued disposition not to touch–no, not with the finger. Ah if he might never again touch! All the unbroken seals and neglected appeals lay there while, for a pause he couldn’t measure, he stood before the chimney-piece with his hands still in his pockets. He heard a brief exchange of words in the hall, but never afterwards recovered the time taken by Brown to reappear, to precede and announce another person–a person whose name somehow failed to reach Dane’s ear. Brown went off again to serve breakfast, leaving host and guest confronted. The duration of this first stage also, later on, defied measurement; but that little mattered, for in the train of what happened came promptly the second, the third. the fourth. the rich succession of the others. Yet what happened was but that Dane took his hand from his pocket, held it straight out and felt it taken. Thus indeed, if he had wanted never again to touch, it was already done.


He might have been a week in the place–the scene of his new consciousness–before he spoke at all. The occasion of it then was that one of the quiet figures he had been idly watching drew at last nearer and showed him a face that was the highest expression–to his pleased but as yet slightly confused perception–of the general charm. What was the general charm? He couldn’t, for that matter, easily have phrased it; it was such an abyss of negatives, such an absence of positives and of everything. The oddity was that after a minute he was struck as by the reflexion of his own very image in this first converser seated with him, on the easy bench, under the high clear portico and above the wide far-reaching garden, where the things that most showed in the greenness were the surface of still water and the white note of old statues. The absence of everything was, in the aspect of the Brother who had thus informally joined him–a man of his own age, tired distinguished modest kind–really, as he could soon see, but the absence of what he didn’t want. He didn’t want, for the time, anything but just to be there, to steep in the bath. He was in the bath yet, the broad deep bath of stillness. They sat in it together now with the water up to their chins. He hadn’t had to talk, he hadn’t had to think, he had scarce even had to feel. He had been sunk that way before, sunk–when and where?–in another flood; only a flood of rushing waters in which bumping and gasping were all. This was a current so slow and so tepid that one floated practically without motion and without chill. The break of silence was not immediate, though Dane seemed indeed to feel it begin before a sound passed. It could pass quite sufficiently without words that he and his mate were Brothers, and what that meant.

He wondered, but with no want of ease–for want of ease was impossible–if his friend found in him the same likeness, the proof of peace, the gage of what the place could do. The long afternoon crept to its end; the shadows fell further and the sky glowed deeper; but nothing changed–nothing could change–in the element itself. It was a conscious security. It was wonderful! Dane had lived into it, but he was still immensely aware. He would have been sorry to lose that, for just this fact as yet, the blest fact of consciousness, seemed the greatest thing of all. Its only fault was that, being in itself such an occupation, so fine an unrest in the heart of gratitude, the life of the day all went to it. But what even then was the harm? He had come only to come, to take what he found. This was the part where the great cloister, enclosed externally on three sides and probably the largest lightest fairest effect, to his charmed sense, that human hands could ever have expressed in dimensions of length and breadth, opened to the south its splendid fourth quarter, turned to the great view an outer gallery that combined with the rest of the portico to form a high dry loggia, such as he a little pretended to himself he had, in the Italy of old days, seen in old cities, old convents, old villas. This recalled disposition of some great abode of an Order, some mild Monte Cassino, some Grande Chartreuse more accessible, was his main term of comparison; but he knew he had really never anywhere beheld anything at once so calculated and so generous.

Three impressions in particular had been with him all the week, and he could but recognise in silence their happy effect on his nerves. How it was all managed he couldn’t have told–he had been content moreover till now with his ignorance of cause and pretext; but whenever he chose to listen with a certain intentness he made out as from a distance the sound of slow sweet bells. How could they be so far and yet so audible? How could they be so near and yet so faint? How above all could they, in such an arrest of life, be, to time things, so frequent? The very essence of the bliss of Dane’s whole change had been precisely that there was nothing now to time. It was the same with the slow footsteps that, always within earshot to the vague attention, marked the space and the leisure, seemed, in long cool arcades, lightly to fall and perpetually to recede. This was the second impression, and it melted into the third, as, for that matter, every form of softness, in the great good place, was but a further turn, without jerk or gap, of the endless roll of serenity. The quiet footsteps were quiet figures; the quiet figures that, to the eye, kept the picture human and brought its perfection within reach. This perfection, he felt on the bench by his friend, was now more within reach than ever. His friend at last turned to him a look different from the looks of friends in London clubs.

“The thing was to find it out!”

It was extraordinary how this remark fitted into his thought.”Ah wasn’t it? And when I think,” said Dane, “of all the people who haven’t and who never will!” He sighed over these unfortunates with a tenderness that, in its degree, was practically new to him, feeling too how well his companion would know the people he meant. He only meant some, but they were all who’d want it; though of these, no doubt–well, for reasons, for things that, in the world, he had observed–there would never be too many. Not all perhaps who wanted would really find; but none at least would find who didn’t really want. And then what the need would have to have been first! What it at first had had to be for himself! He felt afresh, in the light of his companion’s face, what it might still be even when deeply satisfied, as well as what communication was established by the mere common knowledge of it.

“Every man must arrive by himself and on his own feet–isn’t that so? We’re Brothers here for the time, as in a great monastery, and we immediately think of each other and recognise each other as such; but we must have first got here as we can, and we meet after long journeys by complicated ways. Moreover we meet–don’t we?–with closed eyes.”

“Ah don’t speak as if we were dead!” Dane laughed.

“I shan’t mind death if it’s like this,” his friend replied.

It was too obvious, as Dane gazed before him, that one wouldn’t; but after a moment he asked with the first articulation as yet of his most elementary wonder: “Where is it?”

“I shouldn’t be surprised if it were much nearer than one ever suspected.”

“Nearer ‘town,’ do you mean?”

“Nearer everything–nearer every one.”

George Dane thought.”Would it be somewhere for instance down in Surrey?”

His Brother met him on this with a shade of reluctance.”Why should we call it names? It must have a climate, you see.”

See also  No. 108: Mr. Will Wimble [from The Spectator] by Joseph Addison

“Yes,” Dane happily mused; “without that–!” All it so securely did have overwhelmed him again, and he couldn’t help breaking out: “What is it?”

“Oh it’s positively a part of our ease and our rest and our change, I think, that we don’t at all know and that we may really call it, for that matter, anything in the world we like–the thing for instance we love it most for being.”

“I know what I call it,” said Dane after a moment. Then as his friend listened with interest: “Just simply ‘The Great Good Place.’ “

“I see–what can you say more? I’ve put it to myself perhaps a little differently.” They sat there as innocently as small boys confiding to each other the names of toy animals.” ‘The Great Want Met.’ “

“Ah yes–that’s it!”

“Isn’t it enough for us that it’s a place carried on for our benefit so admirably that we strain our ears in vain for a creak of the machinery? Isn’t it enough for us that it’s simply a thorough hit?”

“Ah a hit!” Dane benignantly murmured.

“It does for us what it pretends to do,” his companion went on; “the mystery isn’t deeper than that. The thing’s probably simple enough in fact, and on a thoroughly practical basis; only it has had its origin in a splendid thought, in a real stroke of genius.”

“Yes,” Dane returned, “in a sense–on somebody or other’s part–so exquisitely personal!”

“Precisely–it rests, like all good things, on experience. The ‘great want’ comes home–that’s the great thing it does! On the day it came home to the right mind this dear place was constituted. It always moreover in the long run has been met–it always must be. How can it not require to be, more and more, as pressure of every sort grows?”

Dane, with his hands folded in his lap, took in these words of wisdom.”Pressure of every sort IS growing!” he placidly observed.

“I see well enough what that fact has done to you,” his Brother declared.

Dane smiled.”I couldn’t have borne it longer. I don’t know what would have become of me.”

“I know what would have become of me .”

“Well, it’s the same thing.”

“Yes,” said Dane’s companion, “it’s doubtless the same thing.” On which they sat in silence a little, seeming pleasantly to follow, in the view of the green garden, the vague movements of the monster–madness, surrender, collapse–they had escaped. Their bench was like a box at the opera.”And I may perfectly, you know,” the Brother pursued, “have seen you before. I may even have known you well. We don’t know.”

They looked at each other again serenely enough, and at last Dane said: “No, we don’t know.”

“That’s what I meant by our coming with our eyes closed. Yes–there’s something out. There’s a gap, a link missing, the great hiatus!” the Brother laughed.”It’s as simple a story as the old, old rupture–the break that lucky Catholics have always been able to make, that they’re still, with their innumerable religious houses, able to make, by going into ‘retreat.’ I don’t speak of the pious exercises–I speak only of the material simplification. I don’t speak of the putting off of one’s self; I speak only–if one has a self worth sixpence–of the getting it back. The place, the time, the way were, for those of the old persuasion, always there–are indeed practically there for them as much as ever. They can always get off–the blessed houses receive. So it was high time that we–we of the great Protestant peoples, still more, if possible, in the sensitive individual case, overscored and overwhelmed, still more congested with mere quantity and prostituted, through our ‘enterprise,’ to mere profanity–should learn how to get off, should find somewhere our retreat and remedy. There was such a huge chance for it!”

Dane laid his hand on his companion’s arm.”It’s charming how when we speak for ourselves we speak for each other. That was exactly what I said!” He had fallen to recalling from over the gulf the last occasion.

The Brother, as if it would do them both good, only desired to draw him out.”What you ‘said’–?”

“To him –that morning.” Dane caught a far bell again and heard a slow footstep. A quiet presence passed somewhere–neither of them turned to look. What was little by little more present to him was the perfect taste. It was supreme–it was everywhere.”I just dropped my burden–and he received it.”

“And was it very great?”

“Oh such a load!” Dane said with gaiety.

“Trouble, sorrow, doubt?”

“Oh no–worse than that!”


” ‘ Success’–the vulgarest kind!” He mentioned it now as with amusement.

“Ah I know that too! No one in future, as things are going, will be able to face success.”

“Without something of this sort–never. The better it is the worse–the greater the deadlier. But my one pain here,” Dane continued, “is in thinking of my poor friend.”

“The person to whom you’ve already alluded?”

He tenderly assented.”My substitute in the world. Such an unutterable benefactor. He turned up that morning when everything had somehow got on my nerves, when the whole great globe indeed, nerves or no nerves, seemed to have appallingly squeezed itself into my study and to be bent on simply swelling there. It wasn’t a question of nerves, it was a mere question of the dislodgement and derangement of everything–of a general submersion by our eternal too much. I didn’t know ou donner de la tete –I couldn’t have gone a step further.”

The intelligence with which the Brother listened kept them as children feeding from the same bowl.”And then you got the tip?”

“I got the tip!” Dane happily sighed.

“Well, we all get it. But I dare say differently.”

“Then how did you –?”

The Brother hesitated, smiling.”You tell me first.”


“Well,” said George Dane, “it was a young man I had never seen–a man at any rate much younger than myself–who had written to me and sent me some article, some book. I read the stuff, was much struck with it, told him so and thanked him–on which of course I heard from him again. Ah that –!” Dane comically sighed.”He asked me things–his questions were interesting; but to save time and writing I said to him: ‘Come to see me–we can talk a little; but all I can give you is half an hour at breakfast.’ He arrived to the minute on a day when more than ever in my life before I seemed, as it happened, in the endless press and stress, to have lost possession of my soul and to be surrounded only with the affairs of other people, smothered in mere irrelevant importunity. It made me literally ill–made me feel as I had never felt that should I once really for an hour lose hold of the thing itself, the thing that did matter and that I was trying for, I should never recover it again. The wild waters would close over me and I should drop straight to the dark depths where the vanquished dead lie.”

“I follow you every step of your way,” said the friendly Brother.”The wild waters, you mean, of our horrible time.”

“Of our horrible time precisely. Not of course–as we sometimes dream–of any other.”

“Yes, any other’s only a dream. We really know none but our own.”

“No, thank God–that’s enough,” Dane contentedly smiled.”Well, my young man turned up, and I hadn’t been a minute in his presence before making out that practically it would be in him somehow or other to help me. He came to me with envy, envy extravagant–really passionate. I was, heaven save us, the great ‘success’ for him; he himself was starved and broken and beaten. How can I say what passed between us?–it was so strange, so swift, so much a matter, from one to the other, of instant perception and agreement. He was so clever and haggard and hungry!”

“Hungry?” the Brother asked.

“I don’t mean for bread, though he had none too much, I think, even of that. I mean for–well, what i had and what I was a monument of to him as I stood there up to my neck in preposterous evidence. He, poor chap, had been for ten years serenading closed windows and had never yet caused a shutter to show that it stirred. My dim blind was the first raised to him an inch; my reading of his book, my impression of it, my note and my invitation, formed literally the only response ever dropped into his dark alley. He saw in my littered room, my shattered day, my bored face and spoiled temper–it’s embarrassing, but I must tell you–the very proof of my pudding, the very blaze of my glory. And he saw in my repletion and my ‘renown’–deluded innocent!–what he had yearned for in vain.”

“What he had yearned for was to be you,” said the Brother. Then he added: “I see where you’re coming out.”

“At my saying to him by the end of five minutes: ‘My dear fellow, I wish you’d just try it–wish you’d for a while just be me!’ You go straight to the mark, good Brother, and that was exactly what occurred–extraordinary though it was that we should both have understood. I saw what he could give, and he did too. He saw moreover what I could take; in fact what he saw was wonderful.”

“He must be very remarkable!” Dane’s converser laughed.

“There’s no doubt of it whatever–far more remarkable than I. That’s just the reason why what I put to him in joke–with a fantastic desperate irony–became, in his hands, with his vision of his chance, the blessed means and measure of my sitting on this spot in your company.’Oh if I could just shift it all–make it straight over for an hour to other shoulders! If there only WERE a pair!’–that’s the way I put it to him. And then at something in his face, ‘Would YOU, by a miracle, undertake it?’ I asked. I let him know all it meant–how it meant that he should at that very moment step in. It meant that he should finish my work and open my letters and keep my engagements and be subject, for better or worse, to my contacts and complications. It meant that he should live with my life and think with my brain and write with my hand and speak with my voice. It meant above all that I should get off. He accepted with greatness–rose to it like a hero. Only he said: ‘What will become of you?’

See also  Yvette Samoris By Guy de Maupassant

“There was the rub!” the Brother admitted.

“Ah but only for a minute. He came to my help again,” Dane pursued, “when he saw I couldn’t quite meet that, could at least only say that I wanted to think, wanted to cease, wanted to do the thing itself–the thing that mattered and that I was trying for, miserable me, and that thing only–and therefore wanted first of all really to see it again, planted out, crowded out, frozen out as it now so long had been.’I know what you want,’ he after a moment quietly remarked to me.’Ah what I want doesn’t exist!’ ‘I know what you want,’ he repeated. At that I began to believe him.”

“Had you any idea yourself?” the Brother’s attention breathed.

“Oh yes,” said Dane, “and it was just my idea that made me despair. There it was as sharp as possible in my imagination and my longing–there it was so utterly not in the fact. We were sitting together on my sofa as we waited for breakfast. He presently laid his hand on my knee–showed me a face that the sudden great light in it had made, for me, indescribably beautiful.’It exists–it exists,’ he at last said. And so I remember we sat a while and looked at each other, with the final effect of my finding that I absolutely believed him. I remember we weren’t at all solemn–we smiled with the joy of discoverers. He was as glad as I–he was tremendously glad. That came out in the whole manner of his reply to the appeal that broke from me: ‘Where is it then in God’s name? Tell me without delay where it is!’ “

The Brother had bent such a sympathy! “He gave you the address?”

“He was thinking it out–feeling for it, catching it. He has a wonderful head of his own and must be making of the whole thing, while we sit here patching and gossiping, something much better than ever I did. The mere sight of his face, the sense of his hand on my knee, made me, after a little, feel that he not only knew what I wanted but was getting nearer to it than I could have got in ten years. He suddenly sprang up and went over to my study-table–sat straight down there as if to write me my prescription or my passport. Then it was–at the mere sight of his back, which was turned to me–that I felt the spell work. I simply sat and watched him with the queerest deepest sweetest sense in the world–the sense of an ache that had stopped. All life was lifted; I myself at least was somehow off the ground. He was already where I had been.”

“And where were you?” the Brother amusedly asked.

“Just on the sofa always, leaning back on the cushion and feeling a delicious ease. He was already me.”

“And who were you?” the Brother continued.

“Nobody. That was the fun.”

“That is the fun,” said the Brother with a sigh like soft music.

Dane echoed the sigh, and, as nobody talking with nobody, they sat there together still and watched the sweet wide picture darken into tepid night.


AT the end of three weeks–so far as time was distinct–Dane began to feel there was something he had recovered. It was the thing they never named–partly for want of the need and partly for lack of the word; for what indeed was the description that would cover it all? The only real need was to know it, to see it in silence. Dane had a private practical sign for it, which, however, he had appropriated by theft–“the vision and the faculty divine.” That doubtless was a flattering phrase for his idea of his genius; the genius was at all events what he had been in danger of losing and had at last held by a thread that might at any moment have broken. The change was that little by little his hold had grown firmer, so that he drew in the line–more and more each day–with a pull he was delighted to find it would bear. The mere dream-sweetness of the place was superseded; it was more and more a world of reason and order, of sensible visible arrangement. It ceased to be strange–it was high triumphant clearness. He cultivated, however, but vaguely the question of where he was, finding it near enough the mark to be almost sure that if he wasn’t in Kent he was then probably in Hampshire. He paid for everything but that–that wasn’t one of the items. Payment, he had soon learned, was definite; it consisted of sovereigns and shillings–just like those of the world he had left, only parted with more ecstatically–that he committed, in his room, to a fixed receptacle and that were removed in his absence by one of the unobtrusive effaced agents (shadows projected on the hours like the noiseless march of the sundial) that were always at work. The scene had whole sides that reminded and resembled, and a pleased resigned perception of these things was at once the effect and the cause of its grace.

Dane picked out of his dim past a dozen halting similes. The sacred silent convent was one; another was the bright country-house. He did the place no outrage to liken it to an hotel; he permitted himself on occasion to feel it suggest a club. Such images, however, but flickered and went out–they lasted only long enough to light up the difference. An hotel without noise, a club without newspapers–when he turned his face to what it was “without” the view opened wide. The only approach to a real analogy was in himself and his companions. They were brothers, guests, members; they were even, if one liked–and they didn’t in the least mind what they were called–“regular boarders.” It wasn’t they who made the conditions, it was the conditions that made them. These conditions found themselves accepted, clearly, with an appreciation, with a rapture, it was rather to be called, that proceeded, as the very air that pervaded them and the force that sustained, from their quiet and noble assurance. They combined to form the large simple idea of a general refuge–an image of embracing arms, of liberal accommodation. What was the effect really but the poetisation by perfect taste of a type common enough? There was no daily miracle; the perfect taste, with the aid of space, did the trick. What underlay and overhung it all, better yet, Dane mused, was some original inspiration, but confirmed, unquenched, some happy thought of an individual breast. It had been born somehow and somewhere–it had had to insist on being–the blest conception. The author might remain in the obscure, for that was part of the perfection: personal service so hushed and regulated that you scarce caught it in the act and only knew it by its results. Yet the wise mind was everywhere–the whole thing infallibly centred at the core in a consciousness. And what a consciousness it had been, Dane thought, a consciousness how like his own! The wise mind had felt, the wise mind had suffered; then, for all the worried company of minds, the wise mind had seen a chance. Of the creation thus arrived at you could none the less never have said if it were the last echo of the old or the sharpest note of the modern.

Dane again and again, among the far bells and the soft footfalls, in cool cloister and warm garden, found himself wanting not to know more and yet liking not to know less. It was part of the high style and the grand manner that there was no personal publicity, much less any personal reference. Those things were in the world–in what he had left; there was no vulgarity here of credit or claim or fame. The real exquisite was to be without the complication of an identity, and the greatest boon of all, doubtless, the solid security, the clear confidence one could feel in the keeping of the contract. That was what had been most in the wise mind–the importance of the absolute sense, on the part of its beneficiaries, that what was offered was guaranteed. They had no concern but to pay–the wise mind knew what they paid for. It was present to Dane each hour that he could never be overcharged. Oh the deep deep bath, the soft cool plash in the stillness!–this, time after time, as if under regular treatment, a sublimated German “cure,” was the vivid name for his luxury. The inner life woke up again, and it was the inner life, for people of his generation, victims of the modern madness, mere maniacal extension and motion, that was returning health. He had talked of independence and written of it, but what a cold flat word it had been! This was the wordless fact itself–the uncontested possession of the long sweet stupid day. The fragrance of flowers just wandered through the void, and the quiet recurrence of delicate plain fare in a high, clean refectory where the soundless simple service was a triumph of art. That, as he analysed, remained the constant explanation: all the sweetness and serenity were created calculated things. He analysed, however, but in a desultory way and with a positive delight in the residuum of mystery that made for the great agent in the background the innermost shrine of the idol of a temple; there were odd moments for it, mild meditations when, in the broad cloister of peace or some garden-nook where the air was light, a special glimpse of beauty or reminder of felicity seemed, in passing, to hover and linger. In the mere ecstasy of change that had at first possessed him he hadn’t discriminated–had only let himself sink, as I have mentioned, down to hushed depths. Then had come the slow soft stages of intelligence and notation, more marked and more fruitful perhaps after that long talk with his mild mate in the twilight, and seeming to wind up the process by putting the key into his hand. This key, pure gold, was simply the cancelled list. Slowly and blissfully he read into the general wealth of his comfort all the particular absences of which it was composed. One by one he touched, as it were, all the things it was such rapture to be without.

See also  Dibbs, R.N. by Gilbert Parker

It was the paradise of his own room that was most indebted to them–a great square fair chamber, all beautified with omissions, from which, high up, he looked over a long valley to a far horizon, and in which he was vaguely and pleasantly reminded of some old Italian picture, some Carpaccio or some early Tuscan, the representation of a world without newspapers and letters, without telegrams and photographs, without the dreadful fatal too much. There, for a blessing, he could read and write; there above all he could do nothing–he could live. And there were all sorts of freedoms–always, for the occasion, the particular right one. He could bring a book from the library–he could bring two, he could bring three. An effect produced by the charming place was that for some reason he never wanted to bring more. The library was a benediction–high and clear and plain like everything else, but with something, in all its arched amplitude, unconfused and brave and gay. He should never forget, he knew, the throb of immediate perception with which he first stood there, a single glance round sufficing so to show him that it would give him what for years he had desired. He had not had detachment, but there was detachment here–the sense of a great silver bowl from which he could ladle up the melted hours. He strolled about from wall to wall, too pleasantly in tune on that occasion to sit down punctually or to choose; only recognising from shelf to shelf every dear old book that he had had to put off or never returned to; every deep distinct voice of another time that in the hubbub of the world, he had had to take for lost and unheard. He came back of course soon, came back every day; enjoyed there, of all the rare strange moments, those that were at once most quickened and most caught–moments in which every apprehension counted double and every act of the mind was a lover’s embrace. It was the quarter he perhaps, as the days went on, liked best; though indeed it only shared with the rest of the place, with every aspect to which his face happened to be turned, the power to remind him of the masterly general care.

There were times when he looked up from his book to lose himself in the mere tone of the picture that never failed at any moment or at any angle. The picture was always there, yet was made up of things common enough. It was in the way an open window in a broad recess let in the pleasant morning; in the way the dry air pricked into faint freshness the gilt of old bindings; in the way an empty chair beside a table unlittered showed a volume just laid down; in the way a happy Brother–as detached as one’s self and with his innocent back presented–lingered before a shelf with the slow sound of turned pages. It was a part of the whole impression that, by some extraordinary law, one’s vision seemed less from the facts than the facts from one’s vision; that the elements were determined at the moment by the moment’s need or the moment’s sympathy. What most prompted this reflexion was the degree in which Dane had after a while a consciousness of company. After that talk with the good Brother on the bench there were other good Brothers in other places–always in cloister or garden some figure that stopped if he himself stopped and with which a greeting became, in the easiest way in the world, a sign of the diffused amenity and the consecrating ignorance. For always, always, in all contacts, was the balm of a happy blank. What he had felt the first time recurred: the friend was always new and yet at the same time–it was amusing, not disturbing–suggested the possibility that he might be but an old one altered. That was only delightful–as positively delightful in the particular, the actual conditions as it might have been the reverse in the conditions abolished. These others, the abolished, came back to Dane at last so easily that he could exactly measure each difference, but with what he had finally been hustled on to hate in them robbed of its terror in consequence of something that had happened. What had happened was that in tranquil walks and talks the deep spell had worked and he had got his soul again. He had drawn in by this time, with his lightened hand, the whole of the long line, and that fact just dangled at the end. He could put his other hand on it, he could unhook it, he was once more in possession. This, as it befell, was exactly what he supposed he must have said to a comrade beside whom, one afternoon in the cloister, he found himself measuring steps.

“Oh it comes–comes of itself, doesn’t it, thank goodness?–just by the simple fact of finding room and time!”

The comrade was possibly a novice or in a different stage from his own; there was at any rate a vague envy in the recognition that shone out of the fatigued yet freshened face.”It has come to you then?–you’ve got what you wanted?” That was the gossip and interchange that could pass to and fro. Dane, years before, had gone in for three months of hydropathy, and there was a droll echo, in this scene, of the old questions of the water-cure, the questions asked in the periodical pursuit of the “reaction”–the ailment, the progress of each, the action of the skin and the state of the appetite. Such memories worked in now–all familiar reference, all easy play of mind; and among them our friends, round and round, fraternised ever so softly till, suddenly stopping short, Dane, with a hand on his companion’s arm, broke into the happiest laugh he had yet sounded.


“Why it’s raining!” And he stood and looked at the splash of the shower and the shine of the wet leaves. It was one of the summer sprinkles that bring out sweet smells.

“Yes–but why not?” his mate demanded.

“Well–because it’s so charming. It’s so exactly right.”

“But everything is . Isn’t that just why we’re here?”

“Just exactly,” Dane said; “only I’ve been living in the beguiled supposition that we’ve somehow or other a climate.”

“So have I, so I dare say has every one. Isn’t that the blest moral?–that we live in beguiled suppositions. They come so easily here, where nothing contradicts them.” The good Brother looked placidly forth–Dane could identify his phase.”A climate doesn’t consist in its never raining, does it?”

“No, I dare say not. But somehow the good I’ve got has been half the great easy absence of all that friction of which the question of weather mostly forms a part–has been indeed largely the great easy perpetual air-bath.”

“Ah yes–that’s not a delusion; but perhaps the sense comes a little from our breathing an emptier medium. There are fewer things IN it! Leave people alone, at all events, and the air’s what they take to. Into the closed and the stuffy they have to be driven. I’ve had too–I think we must all have–a fond sense of the south.”

“But imagine it,” said Dane, laughing, “in the beloved British islands and so near as we are to Bradford!”

His friend was ready enough to imagine.”To Bradford?” he asked, quite unperturbed.”How near?”

Dane’s gaiety grew.”Oh it doesn’t matter!”

His friend, quite unmystified, accepted it.”There are things to puzzle out–otherwise it would be dull. It seems to me one can puzzle them.”

“It’s because we’re so well disposed,” Dane said.

“Precisely–we find good in everything.”

“In everything,” Dane went on.”The conditions settle that–they determine us.”

They resumed their stroll, which evidently represented on the good Brother’s part infinite agreement.”Aren’t they probably in fact very simple?” he presently enquired.”Isn’t simplification the secret?”

See also  The Boy in the Land of Shadows

“Yes, but applied with a tact!”

“There it is. The thing’s so perfect that it’s open to as many interpretations as any other great work–a poem of Goethe, a dialogue of Plato, a symphony of Beethoven.”

“It simply stands quiet, you mean,” said Dane, “and lets us call it names?”

“Yes, but all such loving ones. We’re ‘staying’ with some one–some delicious host or hostess who never shows.”

“It’s liberty-hall–absolutely,” Dane assented.

“Yes–or a convalescent home.”

To this, however, Dane demurred.”Ah that, it seems to me, scarcely puts it. You weren’t ill –were you? I’m very sure I really wasn’t. I was only, as the world goes, too ‘beastly well’!”

The good Brother wondered.”But if we couldn’t keep it up–?”

“We couldn’t keep it down –that was all the matter!”

“I see–I see.” The good Brother sighed contentedly; after which he brought out again with kindly humour: “It’s a sort of kindergarten!”

“The next thing you’ll be saying that we’re babes at the breast!”

“Of some great mild invisible mother who stretches away into space and whose lap’s the whole valley–?”

“And her bosom”–Dane completed the figure–“the noble eminence of our hill? That will do; anything will do that covers the essential fact.”

“And what do you call the essential fact?”

“Why that–as in old days on Swiss lakesides–we’re en pension .”

The good Brother took this gently up.”I remember–I remember: seven francs a day without wine! But alas it’s more than seven francs here.”

“Yes, it’s considerably more,” Dane had to confess.”Perhaps it isn’t particularly cheap.”

“Yet should you call it particularly dear?” his friend after a moment enquired.

George Dane had to think.”How do I know, after all? What practice has one ever had in estimating the inestimable? Particular cheapness certainly isn’t the note we feel struck all round; but don’t we fall naturally into the view that there must be a price to anything so awfully sane?”

The good Brother in his turn reflected.”We fall into the view that it must pay–that it does pay.”

“Oh yes; it does pay!” Dane eagerly echoed.”If it didn’t it wouldn’t last. It has got to last of course!” he declared.

“So that we can come b

“Yes–think of knowing that we shall be able to!”

They pulled up again at this and, facing each other, thought of it, or at any rate pretended to; for what was really in their eyes was the dread of a loss of the clue.”Oh when we want it again we shall find it,” said the good Brother.”If the place really pays it will keep on.”

“Yes, that’s the beauty; that it isn’t, thank goodness, carried on only for love.”

“No doubt, no doubt; and yet, thank goodness, there’s love in it too.” They had lingered as if, in the mild moist air, they were charmed with the patter of the rain and the way the garden drank it. After a little, however, it did look rather as if they were trying to talk each other out of a faint small fear. They saw the increasing rage of life and the recurrent need, and they wondered proportionately whether to return to the front when their hour should sharply strike would be the end of the dream. Was this a threshold perhaps, after all, that could only be crossed one way? They must return to the front sooner or later–that was certain: for each his hour would strike. The flower would have been gathered and the trick played–the sands would in short have run.

There, in its place, was life–with all its rage; the vague unrest of the need for action knew it again, the stir of the faculty that had been refreshed and reconsecrated. They seemed each, thus confronted, to close their eyes a moment for dizziness; then they were again at peace and the Brother’s confidence rang out.”Oh we shall meet!”

“Here, do you mean?”

“Yes–and I dare say in the world too.”

“But we shan’t recognise or know,” said Dane.

“In the world, do you mean?”

“Neither in the world nor here.”

“Not a bit–not the least little bit, you think?”

Dane turned it over.”Well, so is it that it seems to me all best to hang together. But we shall see.”

His friend happily concurred.”We shall see.” And at this, for farewell, the Brother held out his hand.

“You’re going?” Dane asked.

“No, but I thought you were.”

It was odd, but at this Dane’s hour seemed to strike–his consciousness to crystallise.”Well, I am. I’ve got it. You stay?” he went on.

“A little longer.”

Dane hesitated.”You haven’t yet got it?”

“Not altogether–but I think it’s coming.”

“Good!” Dane kept his hand, giving it a final shake, and at that moment the sun glimmered again through the shower, but with the rain still falling on the hither side of it and seeming to patter even more in the brightness.”Hallo–how charming!”

The Brother looked a moment from under the high arch–then again turned his face to our friend. He gave this time his longest happiest sigh.”Oh it’s all right!”

But why was it, Dane after a moment found himself wondering, that in the act of separation his own hand was so long retained? Why but through a queer phenomenon of change, on the spot, in his companion’s face–change that gave it another, but an increasing and above all a much more familiar identity, an identity not beautiful, but more and more distinct, an identity with that of his servant, with the most conspicuous, the physiognomic seat of the public propriety of Brown? To this anomaly his eyes slowly opened; it was not his good Brother, it was verily Brown who possessed his hand. If his eyes had to open it was because they had been closed and because Brown appeared to think he had better wake up. So much as this Dane took in, but the effect of his taking it was a relapse into darkness, a recontraction of the lids just prolonged enough to give Brown time, on a second thought, to withdraw his touch and move softly away. Dane’s next consciousness was that of the desire to make sure he was away, and this desire had somehow the result of dissipating the obscurity. The obscurity was completely gone by the time he had made out that the back of a person writing at his study-table was presented to him. He recognised a portion of a figure that he had somewhere described to somebody–the intent shoulders of the unsuccessful young man who had come that bad morning to breakfast. It was strange, he at last mused, but the young man was still there. How long had he stayed–days, weeks, months? He was exactly in the position in which Dane had last seen him. Everything–stranger still–was exactly in that position; everything at least but the light of the window, which came in from another quarter and showed a different hour. It wasn’t after breakfast now; it was after–well, what? He suppressed a gasp–it was after everything. And yet–quite literally–there were but two other differences. One of these was that if he was still on the sofa he was now lying down; the other was the patter on the glass that showed him how the rain–the great rain of the night–had come back. It was the rain of the night, yet when had he last heard it? But two minutes before? Then how many were there before the young man at the table, who seemed intensely occupied, found a moment to look round at him and, on meeting his open eyes, get up and draw near?

“You’ve slept all day,” said the young man.

“All day?”

The young man looked at his watch.”From ten to six. You were extraordinarily tired. I just after a bit let you alone, and you were soon off.” Yes, that was it; he had been “off”–off, off, off. He began to fit it together: while he had been off the young man had been on. But there were still some few confusions; Dane lay looking up.”Everything’s done,” the young man continued.



Dane tried to take it all in, but was embarrassed and could only say weakly and quite apart from the matter: “I’ve been so happy!”

“So have I,” said the young man. He positively looked so; seeing which George Dane wondered afresh, and then in his wonder read it indeed quite as another face, quite, in a puzzling way, as another person’s. Every one was a little some one else. While he asked himself who else then the young man was, this benefactor, struck by his appealing stare, broke again into perfect cheer.”It’s all right!” That answered Dane’s question; the face was the face turned to him by the good Brother there in the portico while they listened together to the rustle of the shower. It was all queer, but all pleasant and all distinct, so distinct that the last words in his ear–the same from both quarters–appeared the effect of a single voice. Dane rose and looked about his room, which seemed disencumbered, different, twice as large. It was all right.

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *