The Awkward Age, by Henry James

Book Fourth. Mr. Cashmore

I

Harold Brookenham, whom Mr. Cashmore, ushered in and announced, had found in the act of helping himself to a cup of tea at the table apparently just prepared — Harold Brookenham arrived at the point with a dash so direct as to leave the visitor an option between but two suppositions: that of a desperate plunge, to have his shame soon over, or that of the acquired habit of such appeals, which had taught him the easiest way. There was no great sharpness in the face of Mr. Cashmore, who was somehow massive without majesty; yet he mightn’t have been proof against the suspicion that his young friend’s embarrassment was an easy precaution, a conscious corrective to the danger of audacity. It wouldn’t have been impossible to divine that if Harold shut his eyes and jumped it was mainly for the appearance of doing so. Experience was to be taken as showing that one might get a five-pound note as one got a light for a cigarette; but one had to check the friendly impulse to ask for it in the same way. Mr. Cashmore had in fact looked surprised, yet not on the whole so surprised as the young man seemed to have expected of him. There was almost a quiet grace in the combination of promptitude and diffidence with which Harold took over the responsibility of all proprietorship of the crisp morsel of paper that he slipped with slow firmness into the pocket of his waistcoat, rubbing it gently in its passage against the delicately buff-coloured duck of which that garment was composed. “So quite too awfully kind of you that I really don’t know what to say”— there was a marked recall, in the manner of this speech, of the sweetness of his mother’s droop and the tenderness of her wail. It was as if he had been moved for the moment to moralise, but the eyes he raised to his benefactor had the oddest effect of marking that personage himself as a theme for the moralist.

Mr. Cashmore, who would have been very red-haired if he had not been very bald, showed a single eye-glass and a long upper lip; he was large and jaunty, with little petulant movements and intense ejaculations that were not in the line of his type. “You may say anything you like if you don’t say you’ll repay it. That’s always nonsense — I hate it.”

Harold remained sad, but showed himself really superior. “Then I won’t say it.” Pensively, a minute, he appeared to figure the words, in their absurdity, on the lips of some young man not, like himself, tactful. “I know just what you mean.”

“But I think, you know, that you ought to tell your father,” Mr. Cashmore said.

“Tell him I’ve borrowed of you?”

Mr. Cashmore good-humouredly demurred. “It would serve me right — it’s so wretched my having listened to you. Tell him, certainly,” he went on after an instant. “But what I mean is that if you’re in such straits you should speak to him like a man.”

Harold smiled at the innocence of a friend who could suppose him not to have exhausted that resource. “I’m ALWAYS speaking to him like a man, and that’s just what puts him so awfully out. He denies to my face that I AM one. One would suppose, to hear him, not only that I’m a small objectionable child, but that I’m scarcely even human. He doesn’t conceive me as with human wants.”

“Oh,” Mr. Cashmore laughed, “you’ve all — you youngsters — as many wants, I know, as an advertisement page of the Times.”

Harold showed an admiration. “That’s awfully good. If you think you ought to speak of it,” he continued, “do it rather to mamma.” He noted the hour. “I’ll go, if you’ll excuse me, to give you the chance.”

The visitor referred to his own watch. “It’s your mother herself who gives the chances — the chances YOU take.”

Harold looked kind and simple. “She HAS come in, I know. She’ll be with you in a moment.”

He was halfway to the door, but Mr. Cashmore, though so easy, had not done with him. “I suppose you mean that if it’s only your mother who’s told, you may depend on her to shield you.”

Harold turned this over as if it were a questionable sovereign, but on second thoughts he wonderfully smiled. “Do you think that after you’ve let me have it you can tell? You could, of course, if you hadn’t.” He appeared to work it out for Mr. Cashmore’s benefit. “But I don’t mind,” he added, “your telling mamma.”

“Don’t mind, you mean really, its annoying her so awfully?”

The invitation to repent thrown off in this could only strike the young man as absurd — it was so previous to any enjoyment. Harold liked things in their proper order; but at the same time his evolutions were quick. “I dare say I AM selfish, but what I was thinking was that the terrific wigging, don’t you know? — well, I’d take it from HER. She knows about one’s life — about our having to go on, by no fault of our own, as our parents start us. She knows all about wants — no one has more than mamma.”

Mr. Cashmore soundlessly glared his amusement. “So she’ll say it’s all right?”

“Oh no; she’ll let me have it hot. But she’ll recognise that at such a pass more must be done for a fellow, and that may lead to something — indirectly, don’t you see? for she won’t TELL my father, she’ll only, in her own way, work on him — that will put me on a better footing and for which therefore at bottom I shall have to thank YOU!”

The eye assisted by Mr. Cashmore’s glass had with a discernible growth of something like alarm fixed during this address the subject of his beneficence. The thread of their relations somehow lost itself in the subtler twist, and he fell back on mere stature, position and property, things always convenient in the presence of crookedness. “I shall say nothing to your mother, but I think I shall be rather glad you’re not a son of mine.”

Harold wondered at this new element in their talk. “Do your sons never —?”

“Borrow money of their mother’s visitors?” Mr. Cashmore had taken him up, eager, evidently, quite to satisfy him; but the question was caught on the wing by Mrs. Brookenham herself, who had opened the door as her friend spoke and who quickly advanced with an echo of it.

“Lady Fanny’s visitors?”— and, though her eyes rather avoided than met his own, she seemed to cover her ladyship’s husband with a vague but practised sympathy. “What on earth are you saying to Harold about them?” Thus it was that at the end of a few minutes Mr. Cashmore, on the sofa face to face with her, found his consciousness quite purged of its actual sense of his weakness and a new turn given to the idea of what, in one’s very drawing-room, might go on behind one’s back. Harold had quickly vanished — had been tacitly disposed of, and Mrs. Brook’s caller had moved even in the short space of time so far in another direction as to have drawn from her the little cold question: “‘Presents’? You don’t mean money?”

He clearly felt the importance of expressing at least by his silence and his eye-glass what he meant. “Her extravagance is beyond everything, and though there are bills enough, God knows, that do come in to me, I don’t see how she pulls through unless there are others that go elsewhere.”

Mrs. Brookenham had given him his tea — her own she had placed on a small table near her; and she could now respond freely to the impulse felt, on this, of settling herself to something of real interest. Except to Harold she was incapable of reproach, though there were of course shades in her resignation, and her daughter’s report of her to Mr. Longdon as conscious of an absence of prejudice would have been justified for a spectator by the particular feeling that Mr. Cashmore’s speech caused her to disclose. What did this feeling wonderfully appear unless strangely irrelevant? “I’ve no patience when I hear you talk as if you weren’t horribly rich.”

He looked at her an instant as if guessing she might have derived that impression from Harold. “What has that to do with it? Does a rich man enjoy any more than a poor his wife’s making a fool of him?”

Her eyes opened wider: it was one of her very few ways of betraying amusement. There was little indeed to be amused at here except his choice of the particular invidious name. “You know I don’t believe a word you say.”

Mr. Cashmore drank his tea, then rose to carry the cup somewhere and put it down, declining with a motion any assistance. When he was on the sofa again he resumed their intimate talk. “I like tremendously to be with you, but you mustn’t think I’ve come here to let you say to me such dreadful things as that.” He was an odd compound, Mr. Cashmore, and the air of personal good health, the untarnished bloom which sometimes lent a monstrous serenity to his mention of the barely mentionable, was on occasion balanced or matched by his playful application of extravagant terms to matters of much less moment. “You know what I come to you for, Mrs. Brook: I won’t come any more if you’re going to be horrid and impossible.”

“You come to me, I suppose, because — for my deep misfortune, I assure you — I’ve a kind of vision of things, of the wretched miseries in which you all knot yourselves up, which you yourselves are as little blessed with as if, tumbling about together in your heap, you were a litter of blind kittens.”

“Awfully good that — you do lift the burden of my trouble!” He had laughed out in the manner of the man who made notes for platform use of things that might serve; but the next moment he was grave again, as if his observation had reminded him of Harold’s praise of his wit. It was in this spirit that he abruptly brought out: “Where, by the way, is your daughter?”

“I haven’t the least idea. I do all I can to enter into her life, but you can’t get into a railway train while it’s on the rush.”

Mr. Cashmore swung back to hilarity. “You give me lots of things. Do you mean she’s so ‘fast’?” He could keep the ball going.

Mrs. Brookenham obliged him with what she meant. “No; she’s a tremendous dear, and we’re great friends. But she has her free young life, which, by that law of our time that I’m sure I only want, like all other laws, once I know what they ARE, to accept — she has her precious freshness of feeling which I say to myself that, so far as control is concerned, I ought to respect. I try to get her to sit with me, and she does so a little, because she’s kind. But before I know it she leaves me again: she feels what a difference her presence makes in one’s liberty of talk.”

Mr. Cashmore was struck by this picture. “That’s awfully charming of her.”

“Isn’t it too dear?” The thought of it, for Mrs. Brook, seemed fairly to open out vistas. “The modern daughter!”

“But not the ancient mother!” Mr. Cashmore smiled.

She shook her head with a world of accepted woe. “‘Give me back, give me back one hour of my youth’! Oh I haven’t a single thrill left to answer a compliment. I sit here now face to face with things as they are. They come in their turn, I assure you — and they find me,” Mrs. Brook sighed, “ready. Nanda has stepped on the stage and I give her up the house. Besides,” she went on musingly, “it’s awfully interesting. It IS the modern daughter — we’re really ‘doing’ her, the child and I; and as the modern has always been my own note — I’ve gone in, I mean, frankly for my very own Time — who is one, after all, that one should pretend to decline to go where it may lead?” Mr. Cashmore was unprepared with an answer to this question, and his hostess continued in a different tone: “It’s sweet her sparing one!”

This, for the visitor, was firmer ground. “Do you mean about talking before her?”

Mrs. Brook’s assent was positively tender. “She won’t have a difference in my freedom. It’s as if the dear thing KNEW, don’t you see? what we must keep back. She wants us not to have to think. It’s quite maternal!” she mused again. Then as if with the pleasure of presenting it to him afresh: “That’s the modern daughter!”

“Well,” said Mr. Cashmore, “I can’t help wishing she were a trifle less considerate. In that case I might find her with you, and I may tell you frankly that I get more from her than I do from you. She has the great merit for me, in the first place, of not being such an admirer of my wife.”

Mrs. Brookenham took this up with interest. “No — you’re right; she doesn’t, as I do, SEE Lady Fanny, and that’s a kind of mercy.”

“There you are then, you inconsistent creature,” he cried with a laugh: “after all you DO believe me! You recognise how benighted it would be for your daughter not to feel that Fanny’s bad.”

“You’re too tiresome, my dear man,” Mrs. Brook returned, “with your ridiculous simplifications. Fanny’s NOT ‘bad’; she’s magnificently good — in the sense of being generous and simple and true, too adorably unaffected and without the least mesquinerie. She’s a great calm silver statue.”

Mr. Cashmore showed, on this, something of the strength that comes from the practice of public debate. “Then why are you glad your daughter doesn’t like her?”

Mrs. Brook smiled as with the sadness of having too much to triumph. “Because I’m not, like Fanny, without mesquinerie. I’m not generous and simple. I’m exaggeratedly anxious about Nanda. I care, in spite of myself, for what people may say. Your wife doesn’t — she towers above them. I can be a shade less brave through the chance of my girl’s not happening to feel her as the rest of us do.”

Mr. Cashmore too heavily followed. “To ‘feel’ her?”

Mrs. Brook floated over. “There would be in that case perhaps something to hint to her not to shriek on the house-tops. When you say,” she continued, “that one admits, as regards Fanny, anything wrong, you pervert dreadfully what one does freely grant — that she’s a great glorious pagan. It’s a real relief to know such a type — it’s like a flash of insight into history. None the less if you ask me why then it isn’t all right for young things to ‘shriek’ as I say, I have my answer perfectly ready.” After which, as her visitor seemed not only too reduced to doubt it, but too baffled to distinguish audibly, for his credit, between resignation and admiration, she produced: “Because she’s purely instinctive. Her instincts are splendid — but it’s terrific.”

“That’s all I ever maintained it to be!” Mr. Cashmore cried. “It IS terrific.”

“Well,” his friend answered, “I’m watching her. We’re all watching her. It’s like some great natural poetic thing — an Alpine sunrise or a big high tide.”

“You’re amazing!” Mr. Cashmore laughed. “I’m watching her too.”

“And I’m also watching YOU!” Mrs. Brook lucidly continued. “What I don’t for a moment believe is that her bills are paid by any one. It’s MUCH more probable,” she sagaciously observed, “that they’re not paid at all.”

“Oh well, if she can get on that way —!”

“There can’t be a place in London,” Mrs. Brook pursued, “where they’re not delighted to dress such a woman. She shows things, don’t you see? as some fine tourist region shows the placards in the fields and the posters on the rocks. And what proof can you adduce?” she asked.

Mr. Cashmore had grown restless; he picked a stray thread off the knee of his trousers. “Ah when you talk about ‘adducing’—!” He appeared to intimate — as with the hint that if she didn’t take care she might bore him — that it was the kind of word he used only in the House of Commons.

“When I talk about it you can’t meet me,” she placidly returned. But she fixed him with her weary penetration. “You try to believe what you CAN’T believe, in order to give yourself excuses. And she does the same — only less, for she recognises less in general the need of them. She’s so grand and simple.”

Poor Mr. Cashmore stared. “Grander and simpler than I, you mean?”

Mrs. Brookenham thought. “Not simpler — no; but very much grander. She wouldn’t, in the case you conceive, recognise really the need of WHAT you conceive.”

Mr. Cashmore wondered — it was almost mystic. “I don’t understand you.”

Mrs. Brook, seeing it all from dim depths, tracked it further and further. “We’ve talked her over so!”

Mr. Cashmore groaned as if too conscious of it. “Indeed we have!”

“I mean WE”— and it was wonderful how her accent discriminated. “We’ve talked you too — but of course we talk to every one.” She had a pause through which there glimmered a ray from luminous hours, the inner intimacy which, privileged as he was, he couldn’t pretend to share; then she broke out almost impatiently: “We’re looking after her — leave her to US!”

His envy of this nearer approach to what so touched him than he could himself achieve was in his face, but he tried to throw it off. “I doubt if after all you’re good for her.”

But Mrs. Brookenham knew. “She’s just the sort of person we ARE good for, and the thing for her is to be with us as much as possible — just live with us naturally and easily, listen to our talk, feel our confidence in her, be kept up, don’t you know? by the sense of what we expect of her splendid type, and so, little by little, let our influence act. What I meant to say just now is that I do perfectly see her taking what you call presents.”

“Well then,” Mr. Cashmore enquired, “what do you want more?”

Mrs. Brook hung fire an instant — she seemed on the point of telling him. “I DON’T see her, as I said, recognising the obligation.”

“The obligation —?”

“To give anything back. Anything at all.” Mrs. Brook was positive. “The comprehension of petty calculations? Never!”

“I don’t say the calculations are petty,” Mr. Cashmore objected.

“Well, she’s a great creature. If she does fall —!” His hostess lost herself in the view, which was at last all before her. “Be sure we shall all know it.”

“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of!”

“Then don’t be afraid till we do. She would fall, as it were, on US, don’t you see? and,” said Mrs. Brook, with decision this time in her headshake, “that couldn’t be. We MUST keep her up — that’s your guarantee. It’s rather too much,” she added with the same increase of briskness, “to have to keep YOU up too. Be very sure that if Carrie really wavers —”

“Carrie?”

His interruption was clearly too vague to be sincere, and it was as such that, going straight on, she treated it. “I shall never again give her three minutes’ attention. To answer to you for Fanny without being able —”

“To answer to Fanny for me, do you mean?” He had flushed quickly as if he awaited her there. “It wouldn’t suit you, you contend? Well then, I hope it will ease you off,” he went on with spirit, “to know that I wholly LOATHE Mrs. Donner.”

Mrs. Brook, staring, met the announcement with an absolute change of colour. “And since when, pray?” It was as if a fabric had crumbled. “She was here but the other day, and as full of you, poor thing, as an egg of meat.”

Mr. Cashmore could only blush for her. “I don’t say she wasn’t. My life’s a burden from her.”

Nothing, for a spectator, could have been so odd as Mrs. Brook’s disappointment unless it had been her determination. “Have you done with her already?”

“One has never done with a buzzing insect —!”

“Until one has literally killed it?” Mrs. Brookenham wailed. “I can’t take that from you, my dear man: it was yourself who originally distilled the poison that courses through her veins.” He jumped up at this as if he couldn’t bear it, presenting as he walked across the room, however, a large foolish fugitive back on which her eyes rested as on a proof of her penetration. “If you spoil everything by trying to deceive me, how can I help you?”

He had looked, in his restlessness, at a picture or two, but he finally turned round. “With whom is it you talk us over? With Petherton and his friend Mitchy? With your adored Vanderbank? With your awful Duchess?”

“You know my little circle, and you’ve not always despised it.” She met him on his return with a figure that had visibly flashed out for her. “Don’t foul your own nest! Remember that after all we’ve more or less produced you.” She had a smile that attenuated a little her image, for there were things that on a second thought he appeared ready to take from her. She patted the sofa as if to invite him again to be seated, and though he still stood before her it was with a face that seemed to show how her touch went home. “You know I’ve never quite thought you do us full honour, but it was because SHE took you for one of us that Carrie first —”

At this, to stop her, he dropped straight into the seat. “I assure you there has really been nothing.” With a continuation of his fidget he pulled out his watch. “Won’t she come in at all?”

“Do you mean Nanda?”

“Talk me over with HER!” he smiled, “if you like. If you don’t believe Mrs. Donner is dust and ashes to me,” he continued, “you do little justice to your daughter.”

“Do you wish to break it to me that you’re in love with Nanda?”

He hesitated, but only as if to give weight to his reply. “Awfully. I can’t tell you how I like her.”

She wondered. “And pray how will THAT help me? Help me, I mean, to help you. Is it what I’m to tell your wife?”

He sat looking away, but he evidently had his idea, which he at last produced. “Why wouldn’t it be just the thing? It would exactly prove my purity.”

There might have been in her momentary silence a hint of acceptance of it as a practical contribution to their problem, and there were indeed several lights in which it could be considered. Mrs. Brook, on a quick survey, selected the ironic. “I see, I see. I might by the same law arrange somehow that Lady Fanny should find herself in love with Edward. That would ‘prove’ HER purity. And you could be quite at ease,” she laughed —“he wouldn’t make any presents!”

Mr. Cashmore regarded her with a candour that was almost a reproach to her mirth. “I like your daughter better than I like you.”

But it only amused her more. “Is that perhaps because I don’t prove your purity?”

What he might have replied remained in the air, for the door opened so exactly at the moment she spoke that he rose again with a start and the butler, coming in, received her enquiry full in the face. This functionary’s answer to it, however, had no more than the usual austerity. “Mr. Vanderbank and Mr. Longdon.”

These visitors took a minute to appear, and Mrs. Brook, not stirring — still only looking from the sofa calmly up at Mr. Cashmore — used the time, it might have seemed, for correcting any impression of undue levity made by her recent question. “Where did you last meet Nanda?”

He glanced at the door to see if he were heard. “At the Grendons’.”

“So you do go there?”

“I went over from Hicks the other day for an hour.”

“And Carrie was there?”

“Yes. It was a dreadful horrid bore. But I talked only to your daughter.”

She got up — the others were at hand — and offered Mr. Cashmore an expression that might have struck him as strange. “It’s serious.”

“Serious?”— he had no eyes for the others.

“She didn’t tell me.”

He gave a sound, controlled by discretion, which sufficed none the less to make Mr. Longdon — beholding him for the first time — receive it with a little of the stiffness of a person greeted with a guffaw. Mr. Cashmore visibly liked this silence of Nanda’s about their meeting.

II

Mrs. Brookenham, who had introduced him to the elder of her visitors, had also found in serving these gentlemen with tea, a chance to edge at him with an intensity not to be resisted: “Talk to Mr. Longdon — take him off THERE.” She had indicated the sofa at the opposite end of the room and had set him an example by possessing herself, in the place she already occupied, of her “adored” Vanderbank. This arrangement, however, constituted for her, in her own corner, as soon as she had made it, the ground of an appeal. “Will he hate me any worse for doing that?”

Vanderbank glanced at the others. “Will Cashmore, do you mean?”

“Dear no — I don’t care whom HE hates. But with Mr. Longdon I want to avoid mistakes.”

“Then don’t try quite so hard!” Vanderbank laughed. “Is that your reason for throwing him into Cashmore’s arms?”

“Yes, precisely — so that I shall have these few moments to ask you for directions: you must know him by this time so well. I only want, heaven help me, to be as nice to him as I possibly can.”

“That’s quite the best thing for you and altogether why, this afternoon, I brought him: he might have better luck in finding you — it was he who suggested it — than he has had by himself. I’m in a general way,” Vanderbank added, “watching over him.”

“I see — and he’s watching over you.” Mrs. Brook’s sweet vacancy had already taken in so much. “He wants to judge of what I may be doing to you — he wants to save you from me. He quite detests me.”

Vanderbank, with the interest as well as the amusement, fairly threw himself back. “There’s nobody like you — you’re too magnificent!”

“I AM; and that I can look the truth in the face and not be angry or silly about it is, as you know, the one thing in the world for which I think a bit well of myself.”

“Oh yes, I know — I know; you’re too wonderful!”

Mrs. Brookenham, in a brief pause, completed her covert consciousness. “They’re doing beautifully — he’s taking Cashmore with a seriousness!”

“And with what is Cashmore taking him?”

“With the hope that from one moment to another Nanda may come in.”

“But how on earth does that concern him?”

“Through an extraordinary fancy he has suddenly taken to her.” Mrs. Brook had been swift to master the facts. “He has been meeting her at Tishy’s, and she has talked to him so effectually about his behaviour that she has quite made him cease to care for Carrie. He prefers HER now — and of course she’s much nicer.”

Vanderbank’s attention, it was clear, had now been fully seized. “She’s much nicer. Rather! What you mean is,” he asked the next moment, “that Nanda, this afternoon, has been the object of his call?”

“Yes — really; though he tried to keep it from me. She makes him feel,” she went on, “so innocent and good.”

Her companion for a moment said nothing; but then at last: “And WILL she come in?”

“I haven’t the least idea.”

“Don’t you know where she is?”

“I suppose she’s with Tishy, who has returned to town.”

Vanderbank turned this over. “Is that your system now — to ask no questions?”

“Why SHOULD I ask any — when I want her life to be as much as possible like my own? It’s simply that the hour has struck, as you know. From the moment she IS down the only thing for us is to live as friends. I think it’s so vulgar,” Mrs. Brook sighed, “not to have the same good manners with one’s children as one has with other people. She asks ME nothing.”

“Nothing?” Vanderbank echoed.

“Nothing.”

He paused again; after which, “It’s very disgusting!” he declared. Then while she took it up as he had taken her word of a moment before, “It’s very preposterous,” he continued.

Mrs. Brook appeared at a loss. “Do you mean her helping him?”

“It’s not of Nanda I’m speaking — it’s of him.” Vanderbank spoke with a certain impatience. “His being with her in any sort of direct relation at all. His mixing her up with his other beastly affairs.”

Mrs. Brook looked intelligent and wan about it, but also perfectly good-humoured. “My dear man, he and his affairs ARE such twaddle!”

Vanderbank laughed in spite of himself. “And does that make it any better?”

Mrs. Brook thought, but presently had a light — she almost smiled with it. “For US!” Then more woefully, “Don’t you want Carrie to be saved?” she asked.

“Why should I? Not a jot. Carrie be hanged!”

“But it’s for Fanny,” Mrs. Brook protested. “If Carrie IS rescued it’s a pretext the less for Fanny.” As the young man looked for an instant rather gloomily vague she softly quavered: “I suppose you don’t positively WANT Fanny to bolt?”

“To bolt?”

“Surely I’ve not to remind you at this time of day how Captain Dent–Douglas is always round the corner with the post-chaise, and how tight, on our side, we’re all clutching her.”

“But why not let her go?”

Mrs. Brook, at this, showed real resentment. “‘Go’? Then what would become of us?” She recalled his wandering fancy. “She’s the delight of our life.”

“Oh!” Vanderbank sceptically murmured.

“She’s the ornament of our circle,” his companion insisted. “She will, she won’t — she won’t, she will! It’s the excitement, every day, of plucking the daisy over.” Vanderbank’s attention, as she spoke, had attached itself across the room to Mr. Longdon; it gave her thus an image of the way his imagination had just seemed to her to stray, and she saw a reason in it moreover for her coming up in another place.

“Isn’t he rather rich?” She allowed the question all its effect of abruptness.

Vanderbank looked round at her. “Mr. Longdon? I haven’t the least idea.”

“Not after becoming so intimate? It’s usually, with people, the very first thing I get my impression of.” There came into her face for another glance at their friend no crudity of curiosity, but an expression more tenderly wistful. “He must have some mysterious box under his bed.”

“Down in Suffolk? — a miser’s hoard? Who knows? I dare say,” Vanderbank went on. “He isn’t a miser, but he strikes me as careful.”

Mrs. Brook meanwhile had thought it out. “Then he has something to be careful of; it would take something really handsome to inspire in a man like him that sort of interest. With his small expenses all these years his savings must be immense. And how could he have proposed to mamma unless he had originally had money?”

If Vanderbank a little helplessly wondered he also laughed. “You must remember your mother refused him.”

“Ah but not because there wasn’t enough.”

“No — I imagine the force of the blow for him was just in the other reason.”

“Well, it would have been in that one just as much if that one had been the other.” Mrs. Brook was sagacious, though a trifle obscure, and she pursued the next moment: “Mamma was so sincere. The fortune was nothing to her. That shows it was immense.”

“It couldn’t have been as great as your logic,” Vanderbank smiled; “but of course if it has been growing ever since —!”

“I can see it grow while he sits there,” Mrs. Brook declared. But her logic had in fact its own law, and her next transition was an equal jump. “It was too lovely, the frankness of your admission a minute ago that I affect him uncannily. Ah don’t spoil it by explanations!” she beautifully pleaded: “he’s not the first and he won’t be the last with whom I shall not have been what they call a combination. The only thing that matters is that I mustn’t, if possible, make the case worse. So you must guide me. What IS one to do?”

Vanderbank, now amused again, looked at her kindly. “Be yourself, my dear woman. Obey your fine instincts.”

“How can you be,” she sweetly asked, “so hideously hypocritical? You know as well as you sit there that my fine instincts are the thing in the world you’re most in terror of. ‘Be myself?’” she echoed. “What you’d LIKE to say is: ‘Be somebody else — that’s your only chance.’ Well, I’ll try — I’ll try.”

He laughed again, shaking his head. “Don’t — don’t.”

“You mean it’s too hopeless? There’s no way of effacing the bad impression or of starting a good one?” On this, with a drop of his mirth, he met her eyes, and for an instant, through the superficial levity of their talk, they might have appeared to sound each other. It lasted till Mrs. Brook went on: “I should really like not to lose him.”

Vanderbank seemed to understand and at last said: “I think you won’t lose him.”

“Do you mean you’ll help me, Van, you WILL?” Her voice had at moments the most touching tones of any in England, and humble, helpless, affectionate, she spoke with a familiarity of friendship. “It’s for the sense of the link with mamma,” she explained. “He’s simply full of her.”

“Oh I know. He’s prodigious.”

“He has told you more — he comes back to it?” Mrs. Brook eagerly asked.

“Well,” the young man replied a trifle evasively, “we’ve had a great deal of talk, and he’s the jolliest old boy possible, and in short I like him.”

“I see,” said Mrs. Brook blandly, “and he likes you in return as much as he despises me. That makes it all right — makes me somehow so happy for you. There’s something in him — what is it? — that suggests the oncle d’Amerique, the eccentric benefactor, the fairy godmother. He’s a little of an old woman — but all the better for it.” She hung fire but an instant before she pursued: “What can we make him do for you?”

Vanderbank at this was very blank. “Do for me?”

“How can any one love you,” she asked, “without wanting to show it in some way? You know all the ways, dear Van,” she breathed, “in which I want to show it.”

He might have known them, something suddenly fixed in his face appeared to say, but they were not what was, on this speech of hers, most immediately present to him. “That for instance is the tone not to take with him.”

“There you are!” she sighed with discouragement. “Well, only TELL me.” Then as he said nothing: “I must be more like mamma?”

His expression confessed to his feeling an awkwardness. “You’re perhaps not quite enough like her.”

“Oh I know that if he deplores me as I am now she would have done so quite as much; in fact probably, as seeing it nearer, a good deal more. She’d have despised me even more than he. But if it’s a question,” Mrs. Brook went on, “of not saying what mamma wouldn’t, how can I know, don’t you see, what she WOULD have said?” Mrs. Brook became as wonderful as if she saw in her friend’s face some admiring reflexion of the fine freedom of mind that — in such a connexion quite as much as in any other — she could always show. “Of course I revere mamma just as much as he does, and there was everything in her to revere. But she was none the less in every way a charming woman too, and I don’t know, after all, do I? what even she — in their peculiar relation — may not have said to him.”

Vanderbank’s laugh came back. “Very good — very good. I return to my first idea. Try with him whatever comes into your head. You’re a woman of genius after all, and genius mostly justifies itself. To make you right,” he went on pleasantly and inexorably, “might perhaps be to make you wrong. Since you HAVE so great a charm trust it not at all or all in all. That, I dare say, is all you can do. Therefore — yes — be yourself.”

These remarks were followed on either side by the repetition of a somewhat intenser mutual gaze, though indeed the speaker’s eyes had more the air of meeting his friend’s than of seeking them. “I can’t be YOU certainly, Van,” Mrs. Brook sadly brought forth.

“I know what you mean by that,” he rejoined in a moment. “You mean I’m hypocritical.”

“Hypocritical?”

“I’m diplomatic and calculating — I don’t show him how bad I am; whereas with you he knows the worst.”

Of this observation Mrs. Brook, whose eyes attached themselves again to Mr. Longdon, took at first no further notice than might have been indicated by the way it set her musing.

“‘Calculating’?”— she at last took him up. “On what is there to calculate?”

“Why,” said Vanderbank, “if, as you just hinted, he’s a blessing in disguise —! I perfectly admit,” he resumed, “that I’m capable of sacrifices to keep on good terms with him.”

“You’re not afraid he’ll bore you?”

“Oh yes — distinctly.”

“But he’ll be worth it? Then,” Mrs. Brook said as he appeared to assent, “he’ll be worth a great deal.” She continued to watch Mr. Longdon, who, without his glasses, stared straight at the floor while Mr. Cashmore talked to him. She pursued, however, dispassionately enough: “He must be of a narrowness —!”

“Oh beautiful!”

She was silent again. “I shall broaden him. YOU won’t.”

“Heaven forbid!” Vanderbank heartily concurred. “But none the less, as I’ve said, I’ll help you.”

Her attention was still fixed. “It will be him you’ll help. If you’re to make sacrifices to keep on good terms with him the first sacrifice will be of me.” Then on his leaving this remark so long unanswered that she had finally looked at him again: “I’m perfectly prepared for it.”

It was as if, jocosely enough, he had had time to make up his mind how to meet her. “What will you have — when he loved my mother?”

Nothing could have been droller than the gloom of her surprise. “Yours too?”

“I didn’t tell you the other day — out of delicacy.”

Mrs. Brookenham darkly thought. “HE didn’t tell me either.”

“The same consideration deterred him. But if I didn’t speak of it,” Vanderbank continued, “when I arranged with you, after meeting him here at dinner, that you should come to tea with him at my rooms — if I didn’t mention it then it wasn’t because I hadn’t learnt it early.”

Mrs. Brook more deeply sounded this affair, but she spoke with the exaggerated mildness that was the form mostly taken by her gaiety. “It was because of course it makes him out such a wretch! What becomes in that case of his loyalty?”

“To YOUR mother’s memory? Oh it’s all right — he has it quite straight. She came later. Mine, after my father’s death, had refused him. But you see he might have been my stepfather.”

Mrs. Brookenham took it in, but she had suddenly a brighter light. “He might have been my OWN father! Besides,” she went on, “if his line is to love the mothers why on earth doesn’t he love ME? I’m in all conscience enough of one.”

“Ah but isn’t there in your case the fact of a daughter?” Vanderbank asked with a slight embarrassment.

Mrs. Brookenham stared. “What good does that do me?”

“Why, didn’t she tell you?”

“Nanda? She told me he doesn’t like her any better than he likes me.”

Vanderbank in his turn showed surprise. “That’s really what she said?”

“She had on her return from your rooms a most unusual fit of frankness, for she generally tells me nothing.”

“Well,” said Vanderbank, “how did she put it?”

Mrs. Brook reflected — recovered it. “‘I like him awfully, but I am not in the least HIS idea.’”

“His idea of what?”

“That’s just what I asked her. Of the proper grandchild for mamma.”

Vanderbank hesitated. “Well, she isn’t.” Then after another pause: “But she’ll do.”

His companion gave him a deep look. “You’ll make her?”

He got up, and on seeing him move Mr. Longdon also rose, so that, facing each other across the room, they exchanged a friendly signal or two. “I’ll make her.”

III

Their hostess’s account of Mr. Cashmore’s motive for his staying on was so far justified as that Vanderbank, while Mr. Longdon came over to Mrs. Brook, appeared without difficulty further to engage him. The lady in question meanwhile had drawn her old friend down, and her present method of approach would have interested an observer aware of the unhappy conviction she had just privately expressed. Some trace indeed of the glimpse of it enjoyed by Mr. Cashmere’s present interlocutor might have been detected in the restlessness that Vanderbank’s desire to keep the other pair uninterrupted was still not able to banish from his attitude. Not, however, that Mrs. Brook took the smallest account of it as she quickly broke out: “How can we thank you enough, my dear man, for your extraordinary kindness?” The reference was vivid, yet Mr. Longdon looked so blank about it that she had immediately to explain. “I mean to dear Van, who has told us of your giving him the great happiness — unless he’s too dreadfully mistaken — of letting him really know you. He’s such a tremendous friend of ours that nothing so delightful can befall him without its affecting us in the same way.” She had proceeded with confidence, but suddenly she pulled up. “Don’t tell me he IS mistaken — I shouldn’t be able to bear it.” She challenged the pale old man with a loveliness that was for the moment absolutely juvenile. “Aren’t you letting him — really?”

Mr. Longdon’s smile was queer. “I can’t prevent him. I’m not a great house — to give orders to go over me. The kindness is Mr. Vanderbank’s own, and I’ve taken up, I’m afraid, a great deal of his precious time.”

“You have indeed.” Mrs. Brook was undiscouraged. “He has been talking with me just now of nothing else. You may say,” she went on, “that it’s I who have kept him at it. So I have, for his pleasure’s a joy to us. If you can’t prevent what he feels, you know, you can’t prevent either what WE feel.”

Mr. Longdon’s face reflected for a minute something he could scarcely have supposed her acute enough to make out, the struggle between his real mistrust of her, founded on the unconscious violence offered by her nature to his every memory of her mother, and his sense on the other hand of the high propriety of his liking her; to which latter force his interest in Vanderbank was a contribution, inasmuch as he was obliged to recognise on the part of the pair an alliance it would have been difficult to explain at Beccles. “Perhaps I don’t quite see the value of what your husband and you and I are in a position to do for him.”

“Do you mean because he’s himself so clever?”

“Well,” said Mr. Longdon, “I dare say that’s at the bottom of my feeling so proud to be taken up by him. I think of the young men of MY time and see that he takes in more. But that’s what you all do,” he rather helplessly sighed. “You’re very, very wonderful!”

She met him with an almost extravagant eagerness that the meeting should be just where he wished. “I don’t take in everything, but I take in all I can. That’s a great affair in London today, and I often feel as if I were a circus-woman, in pink tights and no particular skirts, riding half a dozen horses at once. We’re all in the troupe now, I suppose,” she smiled, “and we must travel with the show. But when you say we’re different,” she added, “think, after all, of mamma.”

Mr. Longdon stared. “It’s from her you ARE different.”

“Ah but she had an awfully fine mind. We’re not cleverer than she.”

His conscious honest eyes looked away an instant. “It’s perhaps enough for the present that you’re cleverer than I! I was very glad the other day,” he continued, “to make the acquaintance of your daughter. I hoped I should find her with you.”

If Mrs. Brook cast about it was but for a few seconds. “If she had known you were coming she would certainly have been here. She wanted so to please you.” Then as her visitor took no further notice of this speech than to ask if Nanda were out of the house she had to admit it as an aggravation of failure; but she pursued in the next breath: “Of course you won’t care, but she raves about you.”

He appeared indeed at first not to care. “Isn’t she eighteen?”— it was oddly abrupt.

“I have to think. Wouldn’t it be nearer twenty?” Mrs. Brook audaciously returned. She tried again. “She told me all about your interview. I stayed away on purpose — I had my idea.”

“And what WAS your idea?”

“I thought she’d remind you more of mamma if I wasn’t there. But she’s a little person who sees. Perhaps you didn’t think it, but she knew.”

“And what did she know?” asked Mr. Longdon, who was unable, however, to keep from his tone a certain coldness which really deprived the question of its proper curiosity.

Mrs. Brook just showed the chill of it, but she had always her courage. “Why that you don’t like her.” She had the courage of carrying off as well as of backing out. “She too has her little place with the circus — it’s the way we earn our living.”

Mr. Longdon said nothing for a moment and when he at last spoke it was almost with an air of contradiction. “She’s your mother to the life.”

His hostess, for three seconds, looked at him hard. “Ah but with such differences! You’ll lose it,” she added with a headshake of pity.

He had his eyes only on Vanderbank. “Well, my losses are my own affair.” Then his face came back. “Did she tell you I didn’t like her?”

The indulgence in Mrs. Brook’s view of his simplicity was marked. “You thought you succeeded so in hiding it? No matter — she bears up. I think she really feels a great deal as I do — that it’s no matter how many of us you hate if you’ll only go on feeling as you do about mamma. Show us THAT— that’s what we want.”

Nothing could have expressed more the balm of reassurance, but the mild drops had fallen short of the spot to which they were directed. “‘Show’ you?”

Oh how he had sounded the word! “I see — you DON’T show. That’s just what Nanda saw you thought! But you can’t keep us from knowing it — can’t keep it in fact, I think, from affecting your own behaviour. You’d be much worse to us if it wasn’t for the still warm ashes of your old passion.” It was an immense pity for Vanderbank’s amusement that he was at this moment too far off to fit to the expression of his old friend’s face so much of the cause of it as had sprung from the deeply informed tone of Mrs. Brook’s allusion. To what degree the speaker herself made the connexion will never be known to history, nor whether as she went on she thought she bettered her case or she simply lost her head. “The great thing for us is that we can never be for you quite like other ordinary people.”

“And what’s the great thing for ME?”

“Oh for you, there’s nothing, I’m afraid, but small things — so small that they can scarcely be worth the trouble of your making them out. Our being so happy that you’ve come back to us — if only just for a glimpse and to leave us again, in no matter what horror, for ever; our positive delight in your being exactly so different; the pleasure we have in talking about you, and shall still have — or indeed all the more — even if we’ve seen you only to lose you: whatever all this represents for ourselves it’s for none of us to pretend to say how much or how little YOU may pick out of it. And yet,” Mrs. Brook wandered on, “however much we may disappoint you some little spark of the past can’t help being in us — for the past is the one thing beyond all spoiling: there it is, don’t you think? — to speak for itself and, if need be, only OF itself.” She pulled up, but she appeared to have destroyed all power of speech in him, so that while she waited she had time for a fresh inspiration. It might perhaps frankly have been mentioned as on the whole her finest. “Don’t you think it possible that if you once get the point of view of realising that I KNOW—?”

She held the note so long that he at last supplied a sound. “That you know what?”

“Why that compared with her I’m a poor creeping thing. I mean”— she hastened to forestall any protest of mere decency that would spoil her idea —“that of course I ache in every limb with the certainty of my dreadful difference. It isn’t as if I DIDN’T know it, don’t you see? There it is as a matter of course: I’ve helplessly but finally and completely accepted it. Won’t THAT help you?” she so ingeniously pleaded. “It isn’t as if I tormented you with any recall of her whatever. I can quite see how awful it would be for you if, with the effect I produce on you, I did have her lovely eyes or her distinguished nose or the shape of her forehead or the colour of her hair. Strange as it is in a daughter I’m disconnected altogether, and don’t you think I MAY be a little saved for you by becoming thus simply out of the question? Of course,” she continued, “your real trial is poor Nanda — she’s likewise so fearfully out of it and yet she’s so fearfully in it. And she,” said Mrs. Brook for a climax —“SHE doesn’t know!”

A strange faint flush, while she talked, had come into Mr. Longdon’s face, and, whatever effect, as she put it, she produced on him, it was clearly not that of causing his attention to wander. She held him at least for weal or woe; his bright eyes grew brighter and opened into a stare that finally seemed to offer him as submerged in mere wonder. At last, however, he rose to the surface, and he appeared to have lighted at the bottom of the sea on the pearl of the particular wisdom he needed. “I dare say there may be something in what you so extraordinarily suggest.”

She jumped at it as if in pleasant pain. “In just letting me go —?”

But at this he dropped. “I shall never let you go.”

It renewed her fear. “Not just for what I AM?”

He rose from his place beside her, but looking away from her and with his colour marked. “I shall never let you go,” he repeated.

“Oh you angel!” She sprang up more quickly and the others were by this time on their feet. “I’ve done it, I’ve done it!” she joyously cried to Vanderbank; “he likes me, or at least he can bear me — I’ve found him the way; and now I don’t care even if he SAYS I haven’t.” Then she turned again to her old friend. “We can manage about Nanda — you needn’t ever see her. She’s ‘down’ now, but she can go up again. We can arrange it at any rate — c’est la moindre des choses.”

“Upon my honour I protest,” Mr. Cashmore exclaimed, “against anything of the sort! I defy you to ‘arrange’ that young lady in any such manner without also arranging ME. I’m one of her greatest admirers,” he gaily announced to Mr. Longdon.

Vanderbank said nothing, and Mr. Longdon seemed to show he would have preferred to do the same: that visitor’s eyes might have represented an appeal to him somehow to intervene, to show the due acquaintance, springing from practice and wanting in himself, with the art of conversation developed to the point at which it could thus sustain a lady in the upper air. Vanderbank’s silence might, without his mere kind pacific look, have seemed almost inhuman. Poor Mr. Longdon had finally to do his own simple best. “Will you bring your daughter to see me?” he asked of Mrs. Brookenham.

“Oh, oh — that’s an idea: will you bring her to see ME?” Mr. Cashmore again broke out.

Mrs. Brook had only fixed Mr. Longdon with the air of unutterable things. “You angel, you angel!”— they found expression but in that.

“I don’t need to ask you to bring her, do I?” Vanderbank now said to his hostess. “I hope you don’t mind my bragging all over the place of the great honour she did me the other day in appearing quite by herself.”

“Quite by herself? I say, Mrs. Brook!” Mr. Cashmore flourished on.

It was only now that she noticed him; which she did indeed but by answering Vanderbank. “She didn’t go for YOU I’m afraid — though of course she might: she went because you had promised her Mr. Longdon. But I should have no more feeling about her going to you — and should expect her to have no more — than about her taking a pound of tea, as she sometimes does, to her old nurse, or her going to read to the old women at the workhouse. May you never have less to brag of!”

“I wish she’d bring ME a pound of tea!” Mr. Cashmore resumed. “Or ain’t I enough of an old woman for her to come and read to me at home?”

“Does she habitually visit the workhouse?” Mr. Longdon enquired of Mrs. Brook.

This lady kept him in a moment’s suspense, which another contemplation might moreover have detected that Vanderbank in some degree shared. “Every Friday at three.”

Vanderbank, with a sudden turn, moved straight to one of the windows, and Mr. Cashmore had a happy remembrance. “Why, this is Friday — she must have gone today. But does she stay so late?”

“She was to go afterwards to little Aggie: I’m trying so, in spite of difficulties,” Mrs. Brook explained, “to keep them on together.” She addressed herself with a new thought to Mr. Longdon. “You must know little Aggie — the niece of the Duchess: I forget if you’ve met the Duchess, but you must know HER too — there are so many things on which I’m sure she’ll feel with you. Little Aggie’s the one,” she continued; “you’ll delight in her; SHE ought to have been mamma’s grandchild.”

“Dearest lady, how can you pretend or for a moment compare her —?” Mr. Cashmore broke in. “She says nothing to me at all.”

“She says nothing to any one,” Mrs. Brook serenely replied; “that’s just her type and her charm — just above all her education.” Then she appealed to Vanderbank. “Won’t Mr. Longdon be struck with little Aggie and won’t he find it interesting to talk about all that sort of thing with the Duchess?”

Vanderbank came back laughing, but Mr. Longdon anticipated his reply. “What sort of thing do you mean?”

“Oh,” said Mrs. Brook, “the whole question, don’t you know? of bringing girls forward or not. The question of — well, what do you call it? — their exposure. It’s THE question, it appears — the question — of the future; it’s awfully interesting and the Duchess at any rate is great on it. Nanda of course is exposed,” Mrs. Brook pursued —“fearfully.”

“And what on earth is she exposed to?” Mr. Cashmore gaily demanded.

“She’s exposed to YOU, it would seem, my dear fellow!” Vanderbank spoke with a certain discernible impatience not so much of the fact he mentioned as of the turn of their talk.

It might have been in almost compassionate deprecation of this weak note that Mrs. Brookenham looked at him. Her own reply to Mr. Cashmere’s question, however, was uttered at Mr. Longdon. “She’s exposed — it’s much worse — to ME. But Aggie isn’t exposed to anything — never has been and never is to be; and we’re watching to see if the Duchess can carry it through.”

“Why not,” asked Mr. Cashmore, “if there’s nothing she CAN be exposed to but the Duchess herself?”

He had appealed to his companions impartially, but Mr. Longdon, whose attention was now all for his hostess, appeared unconscious. “If you’re all watching is it your idea that I should watch WITH you?”

The enquiry, on his lips, was a waft of cold air, the sense of which clearly led Mrs. Brook to put her invitation on the right ground. “Not of course on the chance of anything’s happening to the dear child — to whom nothing obviously CAN happen but that her aunt will marry her off in the shortest possible time and in the best possible conditions. No, the interest is much more in the way the Duchess herself steers.”

“Ah, she’s in a boat,” Mr. Cashmore fully concurred, “that will take a good bit of that.”

It is not for Mr. Longdon’s historian to overlook that if he was, not unnaturally, mystified he was yet also visibly interested. “What boat is she in?”

He had addressed his curiosity, with politeness, to Mr. Cashmore, but they were all arrested by the wonderful way in which Mrs. Brook managed to smile at once very dimly, very darkly, and yet make it take them all in. “I think YOU must tell him, Van.”

“Heaven forbid!”— and Van again retreated.

“I’LL tell him like a shot — if you really give me leave,” said Mr. Cashmore, for whom any scruple referred itself manifestly not to the subject of the information but to the presence of a lady.

“I DON’T give you leave and I beg you’ll hold your tongue,” Mrs. Brookenham returned. “You handle such matters with a minuteness —! In short,” she broke off to Mr. Longdon, “he would tell you a good deal more than you’ll care to know. She IS in a boat — but she’s an experienced mariner. Basta, as she would say. Do you know Mitchy?” Mrs. Brook suddenly asked.

“Oh yes, he knows Mitchy”— Vanderbank had approached again.

“Then make HIM tell him”— she put it before the young man as a charming turn for them all. “Mitchy CAN be refined when he tries.”

“Oh dear — when Mitchy ‘tries’!” Vanderbank laughed. “I think I should rather, for the job, offer him to Mr. Longdon abandoned to his native wild impulse.”

“I LIKE Mr. Mitchett,” the old man said, endeavouring to look his hostess straight in the eye and speaking as if somewhat to defy her to convict him, even from the point of view of Beccles, of a mistake.

Mrs. Brookenham took it with a wonderful bright emotion. “My dear friend, vous me rendez la vie! If you can stand Mitchy you can stand any of us!”

“Upon my honour I should think so!” Mr. Cashmore was eager to remark. “What on earth do you mean,” he demanded of Mrs. Brook, “by saying that I’m more ‘minute’ than he?”

She turned her beauty an instant on this critic. “I don’t say you’re more minute — I say he’s more brilliant. Besides, as I’ve told you before, you’re not one of us.” With which, as a check to further discussion, she went straight on to Mr. Longdon: “The point about Aggie’s conservative education is the wonderful sincerity with which the Duchess feels that one’s girl may so perfectly and consistently be hedged in without one’s really ever (for it comes to that) depriving one’s own self —”

“Well, of what?” Mr. Longdon boldly demanded while his hostess appeared thoughtfully to falter.

She addressed herself mutely to Vanderbank, in whom the movement produced a laugh. “I defy you,” he exclaimed, “to say!”

“Well, you don’t defy ME!” Mr. Cashmore cried as Mrs. Brook failed to take up the challenge. “If you know Mitchy,” he went on to Mr. Longdon, “you must know Petherton.”

The elder man remained vague and not imperceptibly cold. “Petherton?”

“My brother-inlaw — whom, God knows why, Mitchy runs.”

“Runs?” Mr. Longdon again echoed.

Mrs. Brook appealed afresh to Vanderbank. “I think we ought to spare him. I may not remind you of mamma,” she continued to their companion, “but I hope you don’t mind my saying how much you remind me. Explanations, after all, spoil things, and if you CAN make anything of us and will sometimes come back you’ll find everything in its native freshness. You’ll see, you’ll feel for yourself.”

Mr. Longdon stood before her and raised to Vanderbank, when she had ceased, the eyes he had attached to the carpet while she talked. “And must I go now?” Explanations, she had said, spoiled things, but he might have been a stranger at an Eastern court — comically helpless without his interpreter.

“If Mrs. Brook desires to ‘spare’ you,” Vanderbank kindly replied, “the best way to make sure of it would perhaps indeed be to remove you. But hadn’t we a hope of Nanda?”

“It might be of use for us to wait for her?”— it was still to his young friend that Mr. Longdon put it.

“Ah when she’s once on the loose —!” Mrs. Brookenham sighed.

“Unless la voila,” she said as a hand was heard at the door-latch. It was only, however, a footman who entered with a little tray that, on his approaching his mistress, offered to sight the brown envelope of a telegram. She immediately took leave to open this missive, after the quick perusal of which she had another vision of them all. “It IS she — the modern daughter. ‘Tishy keeps me dinner and opera; clothes all right; return uncertain, but if before morning have latch-key.’ She won’t come home till morning!” said Mrs. Brook.

“But think of the comfort of the latch-key!” Vanderbank laughed. “You might go to the opera,” he said to Mr. Longdon.

“Hanged if I don’t!” Mr. Cashmore exclaimed.

Mr. Longdon appeared to have caught from Nanda’s message an obscure agitation; he met his young friend’s suggestion at all events with a visible intensity. “Will you go with me?”

Vanderbank had just debated, recalling engagements; which gave Mrs. Brook time to intervene. “Can’t you live without him?” she asked of her elder friend.

Vanderbank had looked at her an instant. “I think I can get there late,” he then replied to Mr. Longdon.

“I think I can get there early,” Mr. Cashmore declared. “Mrs. Grendon must have a box; in fact I know which, and THEY don’t,” he jocosely continued to his hostess.

Mrs. Brook meanwhile had given Mr. Longdon her hand. “Well, in any case the child SHALL soon come to you. And oh alone,” she insisted: “you needn’t make phrases — I know too well what I’m about.”

“One hopes really you do,” pursued the unquenched Mr. Cashmore.

“If that’s what one gets by having known your mother —!”

“It wouldn’t have helped YOU” Mrs. Brook retorted. “And won’t you have to say it’s ALL you were to get?” she pityingly murmured to her other visitor.

He turned to Vanderbank with a strange gasp, and that comforter said “Come!”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38