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The Altar of the Dead Henry James

Chapter VII

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"So that we might have gone on in our ignorance to the last?"

"What do you call the last?" she asked, smiling still.

At this he could smile back at her. "You'll see - when it comes."

She thought of that. "This is better perhaps; but as we were - it was good."

He put her the question. "Did it never happen that he spoke of me?"

Considering more intently she made no answer, and he then knew he should have been adequately answered by her asking how often he himself had spoken of their terrible friend. Suddenly a brighter light broke in her face and an excited idea sprang to her lips in the appeal: "You HAVE forgiven him?"

"How, if I hadn't, could I linger here?"

She visibly winced at the deep but unintended irony of this; but even while she did so she panted quickly: "Then in the lights on your altar - ?"

"There's never a light for Acton Hague!"

She stared with a dreadful fall, "But if he's one of your Dead?"

"He's one of the world's, if you like - he's one of yours. But he's not one of mine. Mine are only the Dead who died possessed of me. They're mine in death because they were mine in life."

"HE was yours in life then, even if for a while he ceased to be. If you forgave him you went back to him. Those whom we've once loved - "

"Are those who can hurt us most," Stransom broke in.

"Ah it's not true - you've NOT forgiven him!" she wailed with a passion that startled him.

He looked at her as never yet. "What was it he did to you?"

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"Everything!" Then abruptly she put out her hand in farewell. "Good-bye."

He turned as cold as he had turned that night he read the man's death. "You mean that we meet no more?"

"Not as we've met - not THERE!"

He stood aghast at this snap of their great bond, at the renouncement that rang out in the word she so expressively sounded. "But what's changed - for you?"

She waited in all the sharpness of a trouble that for the first time since he had known her made her splendidly stern. "How can you understand now when you didn't understand before?"

"I didn't understand before only because I didn't know. Now that I know, I see what I've been living with for years," Stransom went on very gently.

She looked at him with a larger allowance, doing this gentleness justice. "How can I then, on this new knowledge of my own, ask you to continue to live with it?"

"I set up my altar, with its multiplied meanings," Stransom began; but she quietly interrupted him.

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The Altar of the Dead
Henry James

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