She sank upon her knees beside his pillow, took his thin hand in her own; begged him not to make an effort—not to tire himself.
His face was of necessity serious—it was incapable of the muscular play of a smile; but its owner apparently had not lost a perception of incongruities. "What does it matter that I am tired, when I have all eternity to rest?" he asked. "There is no harm in making an effort when it is the very last. Don't people always feel better just before the end? I have often heard of that; it's what I was waiting for. ever since you have been here; I thought it would come. I tried two or three times; I was afraid you would get tired of sitting there." He spoke slowly, with painful breaks and long pauses; his voice seemed to come from a distance. When he ceased, he lay with his face turned to Isable, and his large unwinking eyes open into her own. "It was very good of you to come," he went on. "I thought you would; but I wasn't sure."
"I was not sure either, till I came," said Isabel.
"You have been like an angel beside my bed. You know they talk about the angel of death. It's the most beautiful of all. You have been like that; as if you were waiting for me."
"I was not waiting for your death. I was waiting for—for this. This is not death, dear Ralph."
"Not for you—no. There is nothing makes us feel so much alive as to see others die. That's the sensation of life—the sense that we remain. I have had it—even I. But now I am of no use but to give it to others. With me it's all over." And then he paused. Isabel bowed her head further, till it rested on the two hands that were clasped upon his own. She could not see him now; but his far-away voice was close to her ear. "Isabel," he went on, suddenly, "I wish it were over for you." She answered nothing; she had burst into sobs; at last he gave her a long groan. "Ah, what is it you have done for me?"
"What is it you did for me?" she cried, her now extreme agitation half-smothered by her attitude. She had lost all her shame, all wish to hide things. Now he might know; she wished him to know, for it brought them supremely together, and he was beyond the reach of pain. "You did something once—you know it. Oh, Ralph, you have been everything! What have I done for you—what can I do to-day? I would die if you could live. But I don't wish you to live; I would die myself, not to lose you." Her voice was as broken as his own, and full of tears and anguish.
"You won't lose me—you will keep me. Keep me in your heart; I shall be nearer to you than I have ever been. Dear Isabel, life is better; for in life there is love. Death is good—but there is not love."
"I never thanked—I never spoke—I never was what I should be!" Isabel went on. She felt a passionate need to cry out and accuse herself, to let her sorrow possess her. All her troubles, for the moment, became single and melted together into this present pain. "What must you have thought of me? Yet how could I know? I never knew, and I only know today because there are people who are less stupid than I."
"Don't mind people," said Ralph. "I think I am glad to leave people."
She raised her head and her clasped hands; she seemed for a moment to pray to him.
"Is it true—is it true?" she asked.
"True that you have been stupid? Oh no," said Ralph, with a sensible intention of wit.
"That you made me rich—that all I have is yours?"
He turned away his head, and for some time said nothing. Then at last—
"Ah, don't speak of that—that was not happy." Slowly he moved his face toward her again, and they once more saw each other. "But for that—but for that—" And he paused. "I believe I ruined you," he added softly.
—Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady (Chapter LIV), 1881, from the 1985 Library of America edition