At a party in one of the stately homes of England, John Marcher meets May Bartram, and they realize that they had met years before in Italy. She recalls a strange confession he made on that occasion—that he had always felt the deepest thing within him was a sense of being reserved for a unique fate, “something rare and strange, possibly prodigious and terrible,” that eventually would happen to him and perhaps overwhelm him. Whatever the fate is, it is not anything he is to do or accomplish; his role is to wait, and he asks if she will wait and watch with him. Like most people in Henry James’s fiction, they do not have to work for a living; Marcher seems to be well-off, and Miss Bartram, though less well-to-do, can get by in a genteel fashion on a modest income. Whatever Marcher’s fate is to be, it has not happened yet, and in response to her query, he says that it has not been to fall in love.
Thus they begin a long, intimate but uncommitted relationship, from which she gets nothing but the dubious pleasure of his company. He can give her nothing more because he must reserve himself wholly for the revelation of his destiny. At first, Marcher is as much hopeful as apprehensive; he believes that when it comes, his special fate will cause him to have “felt and vibrated . . . more than any one else.” As the years go by and nothing happens, however, his feeling changes to dread, and he abandons the dream and waits for “the hidden beast to spring.” He now sees this moment as the deadly leap of something sinister that “lay in wait for him, amid the twists and turns of the months and the years, like a crouching beast in the jungle.” He does not know whether he will slay...
(The entire section is 693 words.)