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The Beast in the Jungle Henry James

Chapter V

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He tried for a little to make out that they had; but it was as if their dreams, numberless enough, were in solution in some thick cold mist through which thought lost itself. "It might have been that we couldn't talk."

"Well"--she did her best for him--"not from this side. This, you see," she said, "is the OTHER side."

"I think," poor Marcher returned, "that all sides are the same to me." Then, however, as she gently shook her head in correction: "We mightn't, as it were, have got across--?"

"To where we are--no. We're HERE"--she made her weak emphasis.

"And much good does it do us!" was her friend's frank comment.

"It does us the good it can. It does us the good that IT isn't here. It's past. It's behind," said May Bartram. "Before--" but her voice dropped.

He had got up, not to tire her, but it was hard to combat his yearning. She after all told him nothing but that his light had failed--which he knew well enough without her. "Before--?" he blankly echoed.

"Before you see, it was always to COME. That kept it present."

"Oh I don't care what comes now! Besides," Marcher added, "it seems to me I liked it better present, as you say, than I can like it absent with YOUR absence."

"Oh mine!"--and her pale hands made light of it.

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"With the absence of everything." He had a dreadful sense of standing there before her for--so far as anything but this proved, this bottomless drop was concerned--the last time of their life. It rested on him with a weight he felt he could scarce bear, and this weight it apparently was that still pressed out what remained in him of speakable protest. "I believe you; but I can't begin to pretend I understand. NOTHING, for me, is past; nothing WILL pass till I pass myself, which I pray my stars may be as soon as possible. Say, however," he added, "that I've eaten my cake, as you contend, to the last crumb--how can the thing I've never felt at all be the thing I was marked out to feel?"

She met him perhaps less directly, but she met him unperturbed. "You take your 'feelings' for granted. You were to suffer your fate. That was not necessarily to know it."

"How in the world--when what is such knowledge but suffering?"

She looked up at him a while in silence. "No--you don't understand."

"I suffer," said John Marcher.

"Don't, don't!"

"How can I help at least THAT?"

"DON'T!" May Bartram repeated.

She spoke it in a tone so special, in spite of her weakness, that he stared an instant--stared as if some light, hitherto hidden, had shimmered across his vision. Darkness again closed over it, but the gleam had already become for him an idea. "Because I haven't the right--?"

"Don't KNOW--when you needn't," she mercifully urged. "You needn't--for we shouldn't."

"Shouldn't?" If he could but know what she meant!

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The Beast in the Jungle
Henry James

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