Henry James in Central Park

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If I walk across the Park, with a responsive friend, late on the golden afternoon of a warm week-day and if a consequent desultory stroll . . . a little vague to me now, save as a blur of builded evidence . . . if such an incident ministered . . . to a boundless evocation, it then became history of a splendid order: though I perhaps must add that it became so for the two participants alone, and with an effect after all not easy to communicate. — Henry James, The American Scene, 1907

Debussy’s quiet bells murmur out an hour I would no doubt not have remembered, that twist of blurred and builded evidence which became this little history, ordered in time to tell the long, long-distanced friend I’ve often seen in memory, step off and disappear somewhere, just there, beyond those small stands of oaks and maples which bend softly as if a wind had wandered in, the way he so often did, to take his chosen corner in the rich room arranged quite like no other, to sit and stare for an hour before

he’d suddenly get up and leave without a word save what we must imagine he might have said, just as we’d wonder where he could be off to, what he did, or was about to. Sometimes, such things can content me for an uneventful hour, or even two, wasting away half of a lazy melancholy day drawn into reverie or some eruptive fitful dream of times like these, when we two might have walked across this park, our talk taking only scant account of what we passed or even saw—so much was what we said—but that,

now, seems largely lost, unless I try to make it mean in novel ways not many, nowadays, would want to pay too much attention to. The sodden leaves turn in the wind, this hazy autumn day, hinting of winter and a rougher weather, even the first spits of snow to whiten those not lost by then. Then, there would be far fewer out and about or slumped asleep on iron benches scattered here and there like solitary migratory birds, sensing snow coming on the air, the trees already almost bare, and we in our own hurry to get away or go somewhere.

Old friend, I’ve seen you off so many times I wonder if that wasn’t really you—just turning the far corner there, by that statue to someone I only half remember, can never quite recall— bareheaded, but with your faithful black old umbrella folded under your arm, a brightly- colored scarf turned tight around your throat, thinking, I’m sure, some agitated thought neither of us had ever thought to think before —trying to put the right words to it, the way I have here. I must remember to mention this to William when I next write to him.