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“Oh, more or less.” I fancy my smile was pale. “Not absolutely. We shouldn’t like
that!” I went on.
“No-I suppose we shouldn’t. Of course we have the others.” “We have the others-we
have indeed the others,” I concurred.
“Yet even though we have them,” he returned, still with his hands in his pockets and
planted there in front of me, “they don’t much count, do they?” I made, the best of it,
but I felt wan. “It depends on what you call ‘much’!” “Yes”- with all accommodation-
“everything depends!” On this, however, he faced to the window again and presently
reached it with his vague, restless, cogitating step. He remained there awhile, with his
forehead against the glass, in contemplation of the stupid shrubs I knew and the dull
things of November. I had always my hypocrisy of “work,” behind which, now, I
gained the sofa. Steadying myself with it there as I had repeatedly done at those
moments of torment that I have described as the moments of my knowing the children
to be given to something from which I was barred, I sufficiently obeyed my habit of
being prepared for the worst. But an extraordinary impression dropped on me as I
extracted a meaning from the boy’s embarrassed back-none other than the impression
that I was not barred now. This inference grew in a few minutes to sharp intensity and
seemed bound up with the direct perception that it was positively he who was.
The frames and squares of the great window were a kind of image, for him, of a kind of
failure. I felt that I saw him, at any rate, shut in or shut out. He was admirable, but not
comfortable: I took it in with a throb of hope. Wasn’t he looking, through the haunted
pane, for something he couldn’t see?- and wasn’t it the first time in the whole business
that he had known such a lapse? The first, the very first: I found it a splendid portent. It
made him anxious, though he watched himself; he had been anxious all day and, even
while in his usual sweet little manner he sat at table, had needed all his small strange
genius to give it a gloss. When he at last turned round to meet me, it was almost as if
this genius had succumbed.
“Well, I think I’m glad Bly agrees with me!” “You would certainly seem to have seen,
these twenty-four hours, a good deal more of it than for some time before. I hope,” I
went on bravely, “that you’ve been enjoying yourself.” “Oh, yes, I’ve been ever so far;
all round about-miles and miles away. I’ve never been so free.” He had really a
manner of his own, and I could only try to keep up with him.
“Well, do you like it?” He stood there smiling; then at last he put into two words-“Do
you?”- more discrimination than I had ever heard two words contain. Before I had time
to deal with that, however, he continued as if with the sense that this was an
impertinence to be softened. “Nothing could be more charming than the way you take
it, for of course if we’re alone together now it’s you that are alone most. But I hope,” he
threw in, “you don’t particularly mind!”