The Awkward Age, by Henry James

Book Seventh. Mitchy

I

Mr. Longdon’s garden took in three acres and, full of charming features, had for its greatest wonder the extent and colour of its old brick wall, in which the pink and purple surface was the fruit of the mild ages and the protective function, for a visitor strolling, sitting, talking, reading, that of a nurse of reverie. The air of the place, in the August time, thrilled all the while with the bliss of birds, the hum of little lives unseen and the flicker of white butterflies. It was on the large flat enclosed lawn that Nanda spoke to Vanderbank of the three weeks she would have completed there on the morrow — weeks that had been — she made no secret of it — the happiest she had yet spent anywhere. The greyish day was soft and still and the sky faintly marbled, while the more newly arrived of the visitors from London, who had come late on the Friday afternoon, lounged away the morning in an attitude every relaxed line of which referred to the holiday he had, as it were — at first merely looking about and victualling — sat down in front of as a captain before a city. There were sitting-places, just there, out of the full light, cushioned benches in the thick wide spread of old mulberry-boughs. A large book of facts lay in the young man’s lap, and Nanda had come out to him, half an hour before luncheon, somewhat as Beatrice came out to Benedick: not to call him immediately indeed to the meal, but mentioning promptly that she had come at a bidding. Mr. Longdon had rebuked her, it appeared, for her want of attention to their guest, showing her in this way, to her pleasure, how far he had gone toward taking her, as he called it, into the house.

“You’ve been thinking of yourself,” Vanderbank asked, “as a mere clerk at a salary, and you now find that you’re a partner and have a share in the concern?”

“It seems to be something like that. But doesn’t a partner put in something? What have I put in?”

“Well — ME, for one thing. Isn’t it your being here that has brought me down?”

“Do you mean you wouldn’t have come for him alone? Then don’t you make anything of his attraction? You ought to,” said Nanda, “when he likes you so.”

Vanderbank, longing for a river, was in white flannels, and he took her question with a happy laugh, a handsome face of good humour that completed the effect of his long, cool fairness. “Do you mind my just sitting still, do you mind letting me smoke and staying with me a while? Perhaps after a little we’ll walk about — shan’t we? But face to face with this dear old house, in this jolly old nook, one’s too contented to move, lest raising a finger even should break the spell. What WILL be perfect will be your just sitting down — DO sit down — and scolding me a little. That, my dear Nanda, will deepen the peace.” Some minutes later, while, near him but in another chair, she fingered the impossible book, as she pronounced it, that she had taken from him, he came back to what she had last said. “Has he talked to you much about his ‘liking’ me?”

Nanda waited a minute, turning over the book. “No.”

“Then how are you just now so struck with it?”

“I’m not struck only with what I’m talked to about. I don’t know,” she went on, “only what people tell me.”

“Ah no — you’re too much your mother’s daughter for that!” Vanderbank leaned back and smoked, and though all his air seemed to say that when one was so at ease for gossip almost any subject would do, he kept jogging his foot with the same small nervous motion as during the half-hour at Mertle that this record has commemorated. “You’re too much one of us all,” he continued. “We’ve tremendous perceptions,” he laughed. “Of course I SHOULD have come for him. But after all,” he added, as if all sorts of nonsense would equally serve, “he mightn’t, except for you, you know, have asked me.”

Nanda so far accepted this view as to reply: “That’s awfully weak. He’s so modest that he might have been afraid of your boring yourself.”

“That’s just what I mean.”

“Well, if you do,” Nanda returned, “the explanation’s a little conceited.”

“Oh I only made it,” Vanderbank said, “in reference to his modesty.” Beyond the lawn the house was before him, old, square, red-roofed, well assured of its right to the place it took up in the world. This was a considerable space — in the little world at least of Suffolk — and the look of possession had everywhere mixed with it, in the form of old windows and doors, the tone of old red surfaces, the style of old white facings, the age of old high creepers, the long confirmation of time. Suggestive of panelled rooms, of precious mahogany, of portraits of women dead, of coloured china glimmering through glass doors and delicate silver reflected on bared tables, the thing was one of those impressions of a particular period that it takes two centuries to produce. “Fancy,” the young man incoherently exclaimed, “his caring to leave anything so loveable as all this to come up and live with US!”

The girl also for a little lost herself. “Oh you don’t know what it is — the charm comes out so as one stays. Little by little it grows and grows. There are old things everywhere that are too delightful. He lets me explore so — he lets me rummage and rifle. Every day I make discoveries.”

Vanderbank wondered as he smoked. “You mean he lets you take things —?”

“Oh yes — up to my room, to study or to copy. There are old patterns that are too dear for anything. It’s when you live with them, you see, that you know. Everything in the place is such good company.”

“Your mother ought to be here,” Vanderbank presently suggested. “She’s so fond of good company.” Then as Nanda answered nothing he went on: “Was your grandmother ever?”

“Never,” the girl promptly said. “Never,” she repeated in a tone quite different. After which she added: “I’m the only one.”

“Oh, and I ‘me and you,’ as they say,” her companion amended.

“Yes, and Mr. Mitchy, who’s to come down — please don’t forget — this afternoon.”

Vanderbank had another of his contemplative pauses. “Thank you for reminding me. I shall spread myself as much as possible before he comes — try to produce so much of my effect that I shall be safe. But what did Mr. Longdon ask him for?”

“Ah,” said Nanda gaily, “what did he ask YOU for?”

“Why, for the reason you just now mentioned — that his interest in me is so uncontrollable.”

“Then isn’t his interest in Mitchy —”

“Of the same general order?” Vanderbank broke in. “Not in the least.” He seemed to look for a way to express the distinction — which suddenly occurred to him. “He wasn’t in love with Mitchy’s mother.”

“No”— Nanda turned it over. “Mitchy’s mother, it appears, was awful. Mr. Cashmore knew her.”

Vanderbank’s smoke-puffs were profuse and his pauses frequent. “Awful to Mr. Cashmore? I’m glad to hear it — he must have deserved it. But I believe in her all the same. Mitchy’s often awful himself,” the young man rambled on. “Just so I believe in HIM.”

“So do I,” said Nanda —“and that’s why I asked him.”

“YOU asked him, my dear child? Have you the inviting?”

“Oh yes.”

The eyes he turned on her seemed really to try if she jested or were serious. “So you arranged for me too?”

She turned over again a few leaves of his book and, closing it with something of a clap, transferred it to the bench beside him — a movement in which, as if through a drop into thought, he rendered her no assistance. “What I mean is that I proposed it to Mr. Longdon, I suggested he should be asked. I’ve a reason for seeing him — I want to talk to him. And do you know,” the girl went on, “what Mr. Longdon said?”

“Something splendid of course.”

“He asked if you wouldn’t perhaps dislike his being here with you.”

Vanderbank, throwing back his head, laughed, smoked, jogged his foot more than ever. “Awfully nice. Dear old Mitch! How little afraid of him you are!”

Nanda wondered. “Of Mitch?”

“Yes, of the tremendous pull he really has. It’s all very well to talk — he HAS it. But of course I don’t mean I don’t know”— and as with the effect of his nervous sociability he shifted his position. “I perfectly see that you’re NOT afraid. I perfectly know what you have in your head. I should never in the least dream of accusing you — as far as HE is concerned — of the least disposition to flirt; any more indeed,” Vanderbank pleasantly pursued, “than even of any general tendency of that sort. No, my dear Nanda”— he kindly kept it up —“I WILL say for you that, though a girl, thank heaven, and awfully MUCH a girl, you’re really not on the whole more of a flirt than a respectable social ideal prescribes.”

“Thank you most tremendously,” his companion quietly replied.

Something in the tone of it made him laugh out, and the particular sound went well with all the rest, with the August day and the charming spot and the young man’s lounging figure and Nanda’s own little hovering hospitality. “Of course I strike you as patronising you with unconscious sublimity. Well, that’s all right, for what’s the most natural thing to do in these conditions but the most luxurious? Won’t Mitchy be wonderful for feeling and enjoying them? I assure you I’m delighted he’s coming.” Then in a different tone a moment later, “Do you expect to be here long?” he asked.

It took Nanda some time to say. “As long as Mr. Longdon will keep me, I suppose — if that doesn’t sound very horrible.”

“Oh he’ll keep you! Only won’t he himself,” Vanderbank went on, “be coming up to town in the course of the autumn?”

“Well, in that case I’d perfectly stay here without him.”

“And leave him in London without YOU? Ah that’s not what we want: he wouldn’t be at all the same thing without you. Least of all for himself!” Vanderbank declared.

Nanda again thought. “Yes, that’s what makes him funny, I suppose — his curious infatuation. I set him off — what do you call it? — show him off: by his going round and round me as the acrobat on the horse in the circus goes round the clown. He has said a great deal to me of your mother,” she irrelevantly added.

“Ok everything that’s kind of course, or you wouldn’t mention it.”

“That’s what I mean,” said Nanda.

“I see, I see — most charming of him.” Vanderbank kept his high head thrown back as for the view, with a bright equal general interest, of everything that was before them, whether talked of or seen. “Who do you think I yesterday had a letter from? An extraordinary funny one from Harold. He gave me all the family news.”

“And what IS the family news?” the girl after a minute enquired.

“Well, the first great item is that he himself —”

“Wanted,” Nanda broke in, “to borrow five pounds of you? I say that,” she added, “because if he wrote to you —”

“It couldn’t have been in such a case for the simple pleasure of the intercourse?” Vanderbank hesitated, but continued not to look at her. “What do you know, pray, of poor Harold’s borrowings?”

“Oh I know as I know other things. Don’t I know everything?”

“DO you? I should rather ask,” the young man gaily enough replied.

“Why should I not? How should I not? You know what I know.” Then as to explain herself and attenuate a little the sudden emphasis with which she had spoken: “I remember your once telling me that I must take in things at my pores.”

Her companion stared, but with his laugh again changed his posture. “That you’ must —?”

“That I do — and you were quite right.”

“And when did I make this extraordinary charge?”

“Ah then,” said Nanda, “you admit it IS a charge. It was a long time ago — when I was a little girl. Which made it worse!” she dropped.

It made it at all events now for Vanderbank more amusing. “Ah not worse — better!”

She thought a moment. “Because in that case I mightn’t have understood? But that I do understand is just what you’ve always meant.”

“‘Always,’ my dear Nanda? I feel somehow,” he rejoined very kindly, “as if you overwhelmed me!”

“You ‘feel’ as if I did — but the reality is just that I don’t. The day I overwhelm you, Mr. Van —!” She let that pass, however; there was too much to say about it and there was something else much simpler. “Girls understand now. It has got to be faced, as Tishy says.”

“Oh well,” Vanderbank laughed, “we don’t require Tishy to point that out to us. What are we all doing most of the time but trying to face it?”

“Doing? Aren’t you doing rather something very different? You’re just trying to dodge it. You’re trying to make believe — not perhaps to yourselves but to US— that it isn’t so.”

“But surely you don’t want us to be any worse!”

She shook her head with brisk gravity. “We don’t care really what you are.”

His amusement now dropped to her straighter. “Your ‘we’ is awfully beautiful. It’s charming to hear you speak for the whole lovely lot. Only you speak, you know, as if you were just the class apart that you yet complain of our — by our scruples — implying you to be.”

She considered this objection with her eyes on his face. “Well then we do care. Only —!”

“Only it’s a big subject.”

“Oh yes — no doubt; it’s a big subject.” She appeared to wish to meet him on everything reasonable. “Even Mr. Longdon admits that.”

Vanderbank wondered. “You mean you talk over with him —!”

“The subject of girls? Why we scarcely discuss anything else.”

“Oh no wonder then you’re not bored. But you mean,” he asked, “that he recognises the inevitable change —?”

“He can’t shut his eyes to the facts. He sees we’re quite a different thing.”

“I dare say”— her friend was fully appreciative. “Yet the old thing — what do YOU know of it?”

“I personally? Well, I’ve seen some change even in MY short life. And aren’t the old books full of us? Then Mr. Longdon himself has told me.”

Vanderbank smoked and smoked. “You’ve gone into it with him?”

“As far as a man and a woman can together.”

As he took her in at this with a turn of his eye he might have had in his ears the echo of all the times it had been dropped in Buckingham Crescent that Nanda was “wonderful.” She WAS indeed. “Oh he’s of course on certain sides shy.”

“Awfully — too beautifully. And then there’s Aggie,” the girl pursued. “I mean for the real old thing.”

“Yes, no doubt — if she BE the real old thing. But what the deuce really IS Aggie?”

“Well,” said Nanda with the frankest interest, “she’s a miracle. If one could be her exactly, absolutely, without the least little mite of change, one would probably be wise to close with it. Otherwise — except for anything BUT that — I’d rather brazen it out as myself.”

There fell between them on this a silence of some minutes, after which it would probably not have been possible for either to say if their eyes had met while it lasted. This was at any rate not the case as Vanderbank at last remarked: “Your brass, my dear young lady, is pure gold!”

“Then it’s of me, I think, that Harold ought to borrow.”

“You mean therefore that mine isn’t?” Vanderbank went on.

“Well, you really haven’t any natural ‘cheek’— not like SOME of them. You’re in yourself as uneasy, if anything’s said and every one giggles or makes some face, as Mr. Longdon, and if Lord Petherton hadn’t once told me that a man hates almost as much to be called modest as a woman does, I’d say that very often in London now you must pass some bad moments.”

The present might precisely have been one of them, we should doubtless have gathered, had we seen fully recorded in Vanderbank’s face the degree to which this prompt response embarrassed or at least stupefied him. But he could always provisionally laugh. “I like your ‘in London now’!”

“It’s the tone and the current and the effect of all the others that push you along,” she went on as if she hadn’t heard him. “If such things are contagious, as every one says, you prove it perhaps as much as any one. But you don’t begin”— she continued blandly enough to work it out for him; “or you can’t at least originally have begun. Any one would know that now — from the terrific effect I see I produce on you — by talking this way. There it is — it’s all out before one knows it, isn’t it, and I can’t help it any more than you can, can I?” So she appeared to put it to him, with something in her lucidity that would have been infinitely touching; a strange grave calm consciousness of their common doom and of what in especial in it would be worst for herself. He sprang up indeed after an instant as if he had been infinitely touched; he turned away, taking just near her a few steps to and fro, gazed about the place again, but this time without the air of particularly seeing it, and then came back to her as if from a greater distance. An observer at all initiated would, at the juncture, fairly have hung on his lips, and there was in fact on Vanderbank’s part quite the look of the man — though it lasted but just while we seize it — in suspense about himself. The most initiated observer of all would have been poor Mr. Longdon, in that case destined, however, to be also the most defeated, with the sign of his tension a smothered “Ah if he doesn’t do it NOW!” Well, Vanderbank didn’t do it “now,” and the odd slow irrelevant sigh he gave out might have sufficed as the record of his recovery from a peril lasting just long enough to be measured. Had there been any measure of it meanwhile for Nanda? There was nothing at least to show either the presence or the relief of anxiety in the way in which, by a prompt transition, she left her last appeal to him simply to take care of itself. “You haven’t denied that Harold does borrow.”

He gave a sound as of cheer for this luckily firmer ground. “My dear child, I never lent the silly boy five pounds in my life. In fact I like the way you talk of that. I don’t know quite for what you take me, but the number of persons to whom I HAVE lent five pounds —!”

“Is so awfully small”— she took him up on it —“as not to look so very well for you?” She held him an instant as with the fine intelligence of his meaning in this, and then, though not with sharpness, broke out: “Why are you trying to make out that you’re nasty and stingy? Why do you misrepresent —?”

“My natural generosity? I don’t misrepresent anything, but I take, I think, rather markedly good care of money.” She had remained in her place and he was before her on the grass, his hands in his pockets and his manner perhaps a little awkward. “The way you young things talk of it!”

“Harold talks of it — but I don’t think I do. I’m not a bit expensive — ask mother, or even ask father. I do with awfully little — for clothes and things, and I could easily do with still less. Harold’s a born consumer, as Mitchy says; he says also he’s one of those people who will never really want.”

“Ah for that, Mitchy himself will never let him.”

“Well then, with every one helping us all round, aren’t we a lovely family? I don’t speak of it to tell tales, but when you mention hearing from Harold all sorts of things immediately come over me. We seem to be all living more or less on other people, all immensely ‘beholden.’ You can easily say of course that I’m worst of all. The children and their people, at Bognor, are in borrowed quarters — mother got them lent her — as to which, no doubt, I’m perfectly aware that I ought to be there sharing them, taking care of my little brother and sister, instead of sitting here at Mr. Longdon’s expense to expose everything and criticise. Father and mother, in Scotland, are on a grand campaign. Well”— she pulled herself up —“I’m not in THAT at any rate. Say you’ve lent Harold only five shillings,” she went on.

Vanderbank stood smiling. “Well, say I have. I never lend any one whatever more.”

“It only adds to my conviction,” Nanda explained, “that he writes to Mr. Longdon.”

“But if Mr. Longdon doesn’t say so —?” Vanderbank objected.

“Oh that proves nothing.” She got up as she spoke. “Harold also works Granny.” He only laughed out at first for this, while she went on: “You’ll think I make myself out fearfully deep — I mean in the way of knowing everything without having to be told. That IS, as you say, mamma’s great accomplishment, so it must be hereditary. Besides, there seem to me only too many things one IS told. Only Mr. Longdon has in fact said nothing.”

She had looked about responsibly — not to leave in disorder the garden-nook they had occupied; picking up a newspaper and changing the place of a cushion. “I do think that with him you’re remarkable,” Vanderbank observed —“putting on one side all you seem to know and on the other all he holds his tongue about. What then DOES he say?” the young man asked after a slight pause and perhaps even with a slight irritation.

Nanda glanced round again — she was folding, rather carefully, her paper. Presently her glance met their friend, who, having come out of one of the long windows that opened to the lawn, had stopped there to watch them. “He says just now that luncheon’s ready.”

II

“I’ve made him,” she said in the drawing-room to Mitchy, “make Mr. Van go with him.”

Mr. Longdon, in the rain, which had come on since the morning, had betaken himself to church, and his other guest, with sufficiently marked good humour, had borne him company. The windows of the drawing-room looked at the wet garden, all vivid and rich in the summer shower, and Mitchy, after seeing Vanderbank turn up his trousers and fling back a last answer to the not quite sincere chaff his submission had engendered, adopted freely and familiarly the prospect not only of a grateful freshened lawn, but of a good hour in the very pick, as he called it, of his actual happy conditions. The favouring rain, the dear old place, the charming serious house, the large inimitable room, the absence of the others, the present vision of what his young friend had given him to count on — the sense of these delights was expressed in his fixed generous glare. He was at first too pleased even to sit down; he measured the great space from end to end, admiring again everything he had admired before and protesting afresh that no modern ingenuity — not even his own, to which he did justice — could create effects of such purity. The final touch in the picture before them was just the composer’s ignorance. Mr. Longdon had not made his house, he had simply lived it, and the “taste” of the place — Mitchy in certain connexions abominated the word — was just nothing more than the beauty of his life. Everything on every side had dropped straight from heaven, with nowhere a bargaining thumb-mark, a single sign of the shop. All this would have been a wonderful theme for discourse in Buckingham Crescent — so happy an exercise for the votaries of that temple of analysis that he repeatedly spoke of their experience of it as crying aloud for Mrs. Brook. The questions it set in motion for the perceptive mind were exactly those that, as he said, most made them feel themselves. Vanderbank’s plea for his morning had been a pile of letters to work off, and Mitchy — then coming down, as he announced from the first, ready for anything — had gone to church with Mr. Longdon and Nanda in the finest spirit of curiosity. He now — after the girl’s remark — turned away from his view of the rain, which he found different somehow from other rain, as everything else was different, and replied that he knew well enough what she could make Mr. Longdon do, but only wondered at Mr. Longdon’s secret for acting on their friend. He was there before her with his hands in his pockets and appreciation winking from every yellow spot in his red necktie. “Afternoon service of a wet Sunday in a small country town is a large order. Does Van do everything the governor wants?”

“He may perhaps have had a suspicion of what I want,” Nanda explained. “If I want particularly to talk to you —!”

“He has got out of the way to give me a chance? Well then he’s as usual simply magnificent. How can I express the bliss of finding myself enclosed with you in this sweet old security, this really unimagined sanctity? Nothing’s more charming than suddenly to come across something sharp and fresh after we’ve thought there was nothing more that could draw from us a groan. We’ve supposed we’ve had it all, have squeezed the last impression out of the last disappointment, penetrated to the last familiarity in the last surprise; then some fine day we find that we haven’t done justice to life. There are little things that pop up and make us feel again. What MAY happen is after all incalculable. There’s just a little chuck of the dice, and for three minutes we win. These, my dear young lady, are my three minutes. You wouldn’t believe the amusement I get from them, and how can I possibly tell you? There’s a faint divine old fragrance here in the room — or doesn’t it perhaps reach you? I shan’t have lived without it, but I see now I had been afraid I should. You, on your side, won’t have lived without some touch of greatness. This moment’s great and you’ve produced it. You were great when you felt all you COULD produce. Therefore,” Mitchy went on, pausing once more, as he walked, before a picture, “I won’t pull the whole thing down by the vulgarity of wishing I too only had a first-rate Cotman.”

“Have you given up some VERY big thing to come?” Nanda replied to this.

“What in the world is very big, my child, but the beauty of this hour? I haven’t the least idea WHAT, when I got Mr. Longdon’s note, I gave up. Don’t ask me for an account of anything; everything went — became imperceptible. I WILL say that for myself: I shed my badness, I do forget people, with a facility that makes me, for bits, for little patches, so far as they’re concerned, cease to BE; so that my life is spotted all over with momentary states in which I’m as the dead of whom nothing’s said but good.” He had strolled toward her again while she smiled at him. “I’ve died for this, Nanda.”

“The only difficulty I see,” she presently replied, “is that you ought to marry a woman really clever and that I’m not quite sure what there may be of that in Aggie.”

“In Aggie?” her friend echoed very gently. “Is THAT what you’ve sent for me for — to talk about Aggie?”

“Didn’t it occur to you it might be?”

“That it couldn’t possibly, you mean, be anything else?” He looked about for the place in which it would express the deepest surrender to the scene to sit — then sank down with a beautiful prompt submission. “I’ve no idea of what occurred to me — nothing at least but the sense that I had occurred to YOU. The occurrence is clay in the hands of the potter. Do with me what you will.”

“You appreciate everything so wonderfully,” Nanda said, “that it oughtn’t to be hard for you to appreciate HER. I do dream so you may save her. That’s why I haven’t waited.”

“The only thing that remains to me in life,” he answered, “is a certain accessibility to the thought of what I may still do to figure a little in your eye; but that’s precisely a thought you may assist to become clearer. You may for instance give me some pledge or sign that if I do figure — prance and caracole and sufficiently kick up the dust — your eye won’t suffer itself to be distracted from me. I think there’s no adventure I’m not ready to undertake for you; yet my passion — chastened, through all this, purified, austere — is still enough of this world not wholly to have renounced the fancy of some small reward.”

“How small?” the girl asked.

She spoke as if feeling she must take from him in common kindness at least as much as she would make him take, and the serious anxious patience such a consciousness gave her tone was met by Mitchy with a charmed reasonableness that his habit of hyperbole did nothing to misrepresent. He glowed at her with the fullest recognition that there was something he was there to discuss with her, but with the assurance in every soft sound of him that no height to which she might lift the discussion would be too great for him to reach. His every cadence and every motion was an implication, as from one to the other, of the exquisite. Oh he could sustain it! “Well, I mean the establishment of something between us. I mean your arranging somehow that we shall be drawn more together — know together something nobody else knows. I should like so terrifically to have a RELATION that is a secret, with you.”

“Oh if that’s all you want you can be easily gratified. Rien de plus facile, as mamma says. I’m full of secrets — I think I’m really most secretive. I’ll share almost any one of them with you — if it’s only a good one.”

Mitchy debated. “You mean you’ll choose it yourself? You won’t let it be one of mine?”

Nanda wondered. “But what’s the difference?”

Her companion jumped up again and for a moment pervaded the place. “When you say such things as that, you’re of a beauty —! MAY it,” he asked as he stopped before her, “be one of mine — a perfectly awful one?”

She showed her clearest interest. “As I suppose the most awful secrets are the best — yes, certainly.”

“I’m hideously tempted.” But he hung fire; then dropping into his chair again: “It would be too bad. I’m afraid I can’t.”

“Then why won’t THIS do, just as it is?”

“‘This’?” He looked over the big bland room. “Which?”

“Why what you’re here for?”

“My dear child I’m here — most of all — to love you more than ever; and there’s an absence of favouring mystery about THAT—!” She looked at him as if seeing what he meant and only asking to remedy it. “There’s a certain amount of mystery we can now MAKE— that it strikes me in fact we MUST make. Dear Mitchy,” she continued almost with eagerness, “I don’t think we CAN really tell.”

He had fallen back in his chair, not looking at her now, and with his hands, from his supported elbows, clasped to keep himself more quiet. “Are you still talking about Aggie?”

“Why I’ve scarcely begun!”

“Oh!” It was not irritation he appeared to express, but the slight strain of an effort to get into relation with the subject. Better to focus the image he closed his eyes a while.

“You speak of something that may draw us together, and I simply reply that if you don’t feel how near together we are — in this I shouldn’t imagine you ever would. You must have wonderful notions,” she presently went on, “of the ideal state of union. I pack every one off for you — I banish everything that can interfere, and I don’t in the least mind your knowing that I find the consequence delightful. YOU may talk, if you like, of what will have passed between us, but I shall never mention it to a soul; literally not to a living creature. What do you want more than that?” He opened his eyes in deference to the question, but replied only with a gaze as unassisted as if it had come through a hole in a curtain. “You say you’re ready for an adventure, and it’s just an adventure that I propose. If I can make you feel for yourself as I feel for you the beauty of your chance to go in and save her —!”

“Well, if you can —?” Mitchy at last broke in. “I don’t think, you know,” he said after a moment, “you’ll find it easy to make your two ends meet.”

She thought a little longer. “One of the ends is yours, so that you’ll act WITH me. If I wind you up so that you go —!”

“You’ll just happily sit and watch me spin? Thank you! THAT will be my reward?”

Nanda rose on this from her chair as with the impulse of protest. “Shan’t you care for my gratitude, my admiration?”

“Oh yes”— Mitchy seemed to muse. “I shall care for THEM. Yet I don’t quite see, you know, what you OWE to Aggie. It isn’t as if —!” But with this he faltered.

“As if she cared particularly for ME? Ah that has nothing to do with it; that’s a thing without which surely it’s but too possible to be exquisite. There are beautiful, quite beautiful people who don’t care for me. The thing that’s important to one is the thing one sees one’s self, and it’s quite enough if I see what can be made of that child. Marry her, Mitchy, and you’ll see who she’ll care for!”

Mitchy kept his position; he was for the moment — his image of shortly before reversed — the one who appeared to sit happily and watch. “It’s too awfully pleasant your asking of me anything whatever!”

“Well then, as I say, beautifully, grandly save her.”

“As you say, yes”— he sympathetically inclined his head. “But without making me feel exactly what you mean by it.”

“Keep her,” Nanda returned, “from becoming like the Duchess.”

“But she isn’t a bit like the Duchess in any of her elements. She’s a totally different thing.”

It was only for an instant, however, that this objection seemed to tell. “That’s exactly why she’ll be so perfect for you. You’ll get her away — take her out of her aunt’s life.”

Mitchy met it all now in a sort of spellbound stillness. “What do you know about her aunt’s life?”

“Oh I know everything!” She spoke with her first faint shade of impatience.

It produced for a little a hush between them, at the end of which her companion said with extraordinary gentleness and tenderness: “Dear old Nanda!” Her own silence appeared consciously to continue, and the suggestion of it might have been that for intelligent ears there was nothing to add to the declaration she had just made and which Mitchy sat there taking in as with a new light. What he drew from it indeed he presently went on to show. “You’re too awfully interesting. Of course — you know a lot. How shouldn’t you — and why?”

“‘Why’? Oh that’s another affair! But you don’t imagine what I know; I’m sure it’s much more than you’ve a notion of. That’s the kind of thing now one IS— just except the little marvel of Aggie. What on earth,” the girl pursued, “do you take us for?”

“Oh it’s all right!” breathed Mitchy, divinely pacific.

“I’m sure I don’t know whether it is; I shouldn’t wonder if it were in fact all wrong. But what at least is certainly right is for one not to pretend anything else. There I am for you at any rate. Now the beauty of Aggie is that she knows nothing — but absolutely, utterly: not the least little tittle of anything.”

It was barely visible that Mitchy hesitated, and he spoke quite gravely. “Have you tried her?”

“Oh yes. And Tishy has.” His gravity had been less than Nanda’s. “Nothing, nothing.” The memory of some scene or some passage might have come back to her with a charm. “Ah say what you will — it IS the way we ought to be!”

Mitchy, after a minute of much intensity, had stopped watching her; changing his posture and with his elbows on his knees he dropped for a while his face into his hands. Then he jerked himself to his feet. “There’s something I wish awfully I could say to you. But I can’t.”

Nanda, after a slow headshake, covered him with one of the dimmest of her smiles. “You needn’t say it. I know perfectly which it is.” She held him an instant, after which she went on: “It’s simply that you wish me fully to understand that you’re one who, in perfect sincerity, doesn’t mind one straw how awful —!”

“Yes, how awful?” He had kindled, as he paused, with his new eagerness.

“Well, one’s knowledge may be. It doesn’t shock in you a single hereditary prejudice.”

“Oh ‘hereditary’—!” Mitchy ecstatically murmured.

“You even rather like me the better for it; so that one of the reasons why you couldn’t have told me — though not of course, I know, the only one — is that you would have been literally almost ashamed. Because, you know,” she went on, “it IS strange.”

“My lack of hereditary —?”

“Yes, discomfort in presence of the fact I speak of. There’s a kind of sense you don’t possess.”

His appreciation again fairly goggled at her. “Oh you do know everything!”

“You’re so good that nothing shocks you,” she lucidly persisted. “There’s a kind of delicacy you haven’t got.”

He was more and more struck. “I’ve only that — as it were — of the skin and the fingers?” he appealed.

“Oh and that of the mind. And that of the soul. And some other kinds certainly. But not THE kind.”

“Yes”— he wondered —“I suppose that’s the only way one can name it.” It appeared to rise there before him. “THE kind!”

“The kind that would make me painful to you. Or rather not me perhaps,” she added as if to create between them the fullest possible light; “but my situation, my exposure — all the results of them I show. Doesn’t one become a sort of a little drain-pipe with everything flowing through?”

“Why don’t you call it more gracefully,” Mitchy asked, freshly struck, “a little aeolian-harp set in the drawing-room window and vibrating in the breeze of conversation?”

“Oh because the harp gives out a sound, and WE— at least we try to — give out none.”

“What you take, you mean, you keep?”

“Well, it sticks to us. And that’s what you don’t mind!”

Their eyes met long on it. “Yes — I see. I DON’T mind. I’ve the most extraordinary lacunae.”

“Oh I don’t know about others,” Nanda replied; “I haven’t noticed them. But you’ve that one, and it’s enough.”

He continued to face her with his queer mixture of assent and speculation. “Enough for what, my dear? To have made me impossible for you because the only man you could, as they say, have ‘respected’ would be a man who WOULD have minded?” Then as under the cool soft pressure of the question she looked at last away from him: “The man with ‘THE kind,’ as you call it, happens to be just the type you CAN love? But what’s the use,” he persisted as she answered nothing, “in loving a person with the prejudice — hereditary or other — to which you’re precisely obnoxious? Do you positively LIKE to love in vain?”

It was a question, the way she turned back to him seemed to say, that deserved a responsible answer. “Yes.”

But she had moved off after speaking, and Mitchy’s eyes followed her to different parts of the room as, with small pretexts of present attention to it, small bestowed touches for symmetry, she slowly measured it. “What’s extraordinary then is your idea of my finding any charm in Aggie’s ignorance.”

She immediately put down an old snuff-box. “Why — it’s the one sort of thing you don’t know. You can’t imagine,” she said as she returned to him, “the effect it will produce on you. You must get really near it and see it all come out to feel all its beauty. You’ll like it, Mitchy”— and Nanda’s gravity was wonderful —“better than anything you HAVE known.”

The clear sincerity of this, even had there been nothing else, imposed a consideration that Mitchy now flagrantly could give, and the deference of his suggestion of difficulty only grew more deep. “I’m to do then, with this happy condition of hers, what you say YOU’VE done — to ‘try’ it?” And then as her assent, so directly challenged, failed an instant: “But won’t my approach to it, however cautious, be just what will break it up and spoil it?”

Nanda thought. “Why so — if mine wasn’t?”

“Oh you’re not me!”

“But I’m just as bad.”

“Thank you, my dear!” Mitchy rang out.

“Without,” Nanda pursued, “being as good.” She had on this, in a different key, her own sudden explosion. “Don’t you see, Mitchy dear — for the very heart of it all — how good I BELIEVE you?”

She had spoken as with a flare of impatience at some justice he failed to do her, and this brought him after a startled instant close enough to her to take up her hand. She let him have it, and in mute solemn reassurance he raised it to his lips, saying to her thus more things than he could say in any other way; which yet just after, when he had released it and a motionless pause had ensued, didn’t prevent his adding three words. “Oh Nanda, Nanda!”

The tone of them made her again extraordinarily gentle. “Don’t ‘try’ anything then. Take everything for granted.”

He had turned away from her and walked mechanically, with his air of blind emotion, to the window, where for a minute he looked out. “It has stopped raining,” he said at last; “it’s going to brighten.”

The place had three windows, and Nanda went to the next. “Not quite yet — but I think it will.”

Mitchy soon faced back into the room, where after a brief hesitation he moved, as quietly, almost as cautiously, as if on tiptoe, to the seat occupied by his companion at the beginning of their talk. Here he sank down watching the girl, who stood a while longer with her eyes on the garden. “You want me, you say, to take her out of the Duchess’s life; but where am I myself, if we come to that, but even more IN the Duchess’s life than Aggie is? I’m in it by my contacts, my associations, my indifferences — all my acceptances, knowledges, amusements. I’m in it by my cynicisms — those that circumstances somehow from the first, when I began for myself to look at life and the world, committed me to and steeped me in; I’m in it by a kind of desperation that I shouldn’t have felt perhaps if you had got hold of me sooner with just this touch with which you’ve got hold of me today; and I’m in it more than all — you’ll yourself admit — by the very fact that her aunt desires, as you know, much more even than you do, to bring the thing about. Then we SHOULD be-the Duchess and I— shoulder to shoulder!”

Nanda heard him motionless to the end, taking also another minute to turn over what he had said. “What is it you like so in Lord Petherton?” she asked as she came to him.

“My dear child, if you only could tell me! It would be, wouldn’t it? — it must have been — the subject of some fairy-tale, if fairy-tales were made now, or better still of some Christmas pantomime: ‘The Gnome and the Giant.’”

Nanda appeared to try — not with much success — to see it. “Do you find Lord Petherton a Gnome?”

Mitchy at first, for all reward, only glared at her. “Charming, Nanda — charming!”

“A man’s giant enough for Lord Petherton,” she went on, “when his fortune’s gigantic. He preys upon you.”

His hands in his pockets and his legs much apart, Mitchy sat there as in a posture adapted to her simplicity. “You’re adorable. YOU don’t. But it IS rather horrid, isn’t it?” he presently went on.

Her momentary silence would have been by itself enough of an answer. “Nothing — of all you speak of,” she nevertheless returned, “will matter then. She’ll so simplify your life.” He remained just as he was, only with his eyes on her; and meanwhile she had turned again to her window, through which a faint sun-streak began to glimmer and play. At sight of it she opened the casement to let in the warm freshness. “The rain HAS stopped.”

“You say you want me to save her. But what you really mean,” Mitchy resumed from the sofa, “isn’t at all exactly that.”

Nanda, without heeding the remark, took in the sunshine. “It will be charming now in the garden.”

Her friend got up, found his wonderful crossbarred cap, after a glance, on a neighbouring chair, and with it came toward her. “Your hope is that — as I’m good enough to be worth it — she’ll save ME.”

Nanda looked at him now. “She will, Mitchy — she WILL!”

They stood a moment in the recovered brightness; after which he mechanically — as with the pressure of quite another consciousness — put on his cap. “Well then, shall that hope between us be the thing —?”

“The thing?”— she just wondered.

“Why that will have drawn us together — to hold us so, you know — this afternoon. I mean the secret we spoke of.”

She put out to him on this the hand he had taken a few minutes before, and he clasped it now only with the firmness it seemed to give and to ask for. “Oh it will do for that!” she said as they went out together.

III

It had been understood that he was to take his leave on the morrow, though Vanderbank was to stay another day. Mr. Longdon had for the Sunday dinner invited three or four of his neighbours to “meet” the two gentlemen from town, so that it was not till the company had departed, or in other words till near bedtime, that our four friends could again have become aware, as between themselves, of that directness of mutual relation which forms the subject of our picture. It had not, however, prevented Nanda’s slipping upstairs as soon as the doctor and his wife had gone, and the manner indeed in which, on the stroke of eleven, Mr. Longdon conformed to his tradition of appropriating a particular candle was as positive an expression of it as any other. Nothing in him was more amiable than the terms maintained between the rigour of his personal habits and his free imagination of the habits of others. He deprecated as regards the former, it might have been seen, most signs of likeness, and no one had ever dared to learn how he would have handled a show of imitation. “The way to flatter him,” Mitchy threw off five minutes later, “is not to make him think you resemble or agree with him, but to let him see how different you perceive he can bear to think you. I mean of course without hating you.”

“But what interest have YOU,” Vanderbank asked, “in the way to flatter him?”

“My dear fellow, more interest than you. I haven’t been here all day without arriving at conclusions on the credit he has opened to you —!”

“Do you mean the amount he’ll settle?”

“You have it in your power,” said Mitchy, “to make it anything you like.”

“And is he then — so bloated?”

Mitchy was on his feet in the apartment in which their host had left them, and he had at first for this question but an expressive motion of the shoulders in respect to everything in the room. “See, judge, guess, feel!”

But it was as if Vanderbank, before the fire, consciously controlled his own attention. “Oh I don’t care a hang!”

This passage took place in the library and as a consequence of their having confessed, as their friend faced them with his bedroom light, that a brief discreet vigil and a box of cigars would fix better than anything else the fine impression of the day. Mitchy might at that moment, on the evidence of the eyes Mr. Longdon turned to them and of which his innocent candle-flame betrayed the secret, have found matter for a measure of the almost extreme allowances he wanted them to want of him. They had only to see that the greater window was fast and to turn out the library lamp. It might really have amused them to stand a moment at the open door that, apart from this, was to testify to his conception of those who were not, in the smaller hours, as HE was. He had in fact by his retreat — and but too sensibly — left them there with a deal of midnight company. If one of these presences was the mystery he had himself mixed the manner of our young men showed a due expectation of the others. Mitchy, on hearing how little Vanderbank “cared,” only kept up a while longer that observant revolution in which he had spent much of his day, to which any fresh sense of any exhibition always promptly committed him, and which, had it not been controlled by infinite tact, might have affected the nerves of those in whom enjoyment was less rotary. He was silent long enough to suggest his fearing that almost anything he might say would appear too allusive; then at last once more he took his risk. “Awfully jolly old place!”

“It is indeed,” Van only said; but his posture in the large chair he had pushed toward the open window was of itself almost an opinion. The August night was hot and the air that came in charged and sweet. Vanderbank smoked with his face to the dusky garden and the dim stars; at the end of a few moments more of which he glanced round. “Don’t you think it rather stuffy with that big lamp? As those candles on the chimney are going we might put it out.”

“Like this?” The amiable Mitchy had straightway obliged his companion and he as promptly took in the effect of the diminished light on the character of the room, which he commended as if the depth of shadow produced were all this companion had sought. He might freshly have brought home to Vanderbank that a man sensitive to so many different things, and thereby always sure of something or other, could never really be incommoded; though that personage presently indeed showed himself occupied with another thought.

“I think I ought to mention to you that I’ve told him how you and Mrs. Brook now both know. I did so this afternoon on our way back from church — I hadn’t done it before. He took me a walk round to show me more of the place, and that gave me my chance. But he doesn’t mind,” Vanderbank continued. “The only thing is that I’ve thought it may possibly make him speak to you, so that it’s better you should know he knows. But he told me definitely Nanda doesn’t.”

Mitchy took this in with an attention that spoke of his already recognising how the less tempered darkness favoured talk. “And is that all that passed between you?”

“Well, practically; except of course that I made him understand, I think, how it happened that I haven’t kept my own counsel.”

“Oh but you HAVE— didn’t he at least feel? — or perhaps even have done better, when you’ve two such excellent persons to keep it FOR you. Can’t he easily believe how we feel with you?”

Vanderbank appeared for a minute to leave this appeal unheeded; he continued to stare into the garden while he smoked and swung the long leg he had thrown over the arm of the chair. When he at last spoke, however, it was with some emphasis — perhaps even with some vulgarity. “Oh rot!”

Mitchy hovered without an arrest. “You mean he CAN’T feel?”

“I mean it isn’t true. I’ve no illusions about you. I know how you’re both affected, though I of course perfectly trust you.”

Mitchy had a short silence. “Trust us not to speak?”

“Not to speak to Nanda herself — though of course too if you spoke to others,” Vanderbank went on, “they’d immediately rush and tell her.”

“I’ve spoken to no one,” said Mitchy. “I’m sure of it. And neither has Mrs. Brook.”

“I’m glad you’re sure of that also,” Mitchy returned, “for it’s only doing her justice.”

“Oh I’m quite confident of it,” said Vanderbank. “And without asking her?”

“Perfectly.”

“And you’re equally sure, without asking, that I haven’t betrayed you?” After which, while, as if to let the question lie there in its folly, Vanderbank said nothing, his friend pursued: “I came, I must tell you, terribly near it today.”

“Why must you tell me? Your coming ‘near’ doesn’t concern me, and I take it you don’t suppose I’m watching or sounding you. Mrs. Brook will have come terribly near,” Vanderbank continued as if to make the matter free; “but she won’t have done it either. She’ll have been distinctly tempted —!”

“But she won’t have fallen?” Mitchy broke in. “Exactly — there we are. I was distinctly tempted and I didn’t fall. I think your certainty about Mrs. Brook,” he added, “shows you do know her. She’s incapable of anything deliberately nasty.”

“Oh of anything nasty in any way,” Vanderbank said musingly and kindly.

“Yes; one knows on the whole what she WON’T do.” After which, for a period, Mitchy roamed and reflected. “But in spite of the assurance given you by Mr. Longdon — or perhaps indeed just because of your having taken it — I think I ought to mention to you my belief that Nanda does know of his offer to you. I mean by having guessed it.”

“Oh!” said Vanderbank.

“There’s in fact more still,” his companion pursued —“that I feel I should like to mention to you.”

“Oh!” Vanderbank at first only repeated. But after a moment he said: “My dear fellow, I’m much obliged.”

“The thing I speak of is something I should at any rate have said, and I should have looked out for some chance if we had not had this one.” Mitchy spoke as if his friend’s last words were not of consequence, and he continued as Vanderbank got up and, moving rather aimlessly, came and stood with his back to the chimney. “My only hesitation would have been caused by its entailing our going down into things in a way that, face to face — given the private nature of the things — I dare say most men don’t particularly enjoy. But if you don’t mind —!”

“Oh I don’t mind. In fact, as I tell you, I recognise an obligation to you.” Vanderbank, with his shoulders against the high mantel, uttered this without a direct look; he smoked and smoked, then considered the tip of his cigar. “You feel convinced she knows?” he threw out.

“Well, it’s my impression.”

“Ah any impression of yours — of that sort — is sure to be right. If you think I ought to have it from you I’m really grateful. Is that — a — what you wanted to say to me?” Vanderbank after a slight pause demanded.

Mitchy, watching him more than he watched Mitchy, shook a mildly decisive head. “No.”

Vanderbank, his eyes on his smoke-puffs, seemed to wonder. “What you wanted is — something else?”

“Something else.”

“Oh!” said Vanderbank for the third time.

The ejaculation had been vague, but the movement that followed it was definite; the young man, turning away, found himself again near the chair he had quitted, and resumed possession of it as a sign of being at his friend’s service. This friend, however, not only hung fire but finally went back to take a shot from a quarter they might have been supposed to have left. “It strikes me as odd his imagining — awfully acute as he is — that she has NOT guessed. One wouldn’t have thought he could live with her here in such an intimacy — seeing her every day and pretty much all day — and make such a mistake.”

Vanderbank, his great length all of a lounge again, turned it over. “And yet I do thoroughly feel the mistake’s not yours.”

Mitchy had a new serenity of affirmation. “Oh it’s not mine.”

“Perhaps then”— it occurred to his friend —“he doesn’t really believe it.”

“And only says so to make you feel more easy?”

“So that one may — in fairness to one’s self — keep one’s head, as it were, and decide quite on one’s own grounds.”

“Then you HAVE still to decide?”

Vanderbank took time to answer. “I’ve still to decide.” Mitchy became again on this, in the sociable dusk, a slow-circling vaguely-agitated element, and his companion continued: “Is your idea very generously and handsomely to help that by letting me know —?”

“That I do definitely renounce”— Mitchy took him up —“any pretension and any hope? Well, I’m ready with a proof of it. I’ve passed my word that I’ll apply elsewhere.”

Vanderbank turned more round to him. “Apply to the Duchess for her niece?”

“It’s practically settled.”

“But since when?”

Mitchy barely faltered. “Since this afternoon.”

“Ah then not with the Duchess herself.”

“With Nanda — whose plan from the first, you won’t have forgotten, the thing has so charmingly been.”

Vanderbank could show that his not having in the least forgotten was yet not a bar to his being now mystified. “But, my dear man, what can Nanda ‘settle’?”

“My fate,” Mitchy said, pausing well before him.

Vanderbank sat now a minute with raised eyes, catching the indistinctness of the other’s strange expression. “You’re both beyond me!” he exclaimed at last. “I don’t see what you in particular gain.”

“I didn’t either till she made it all out to me. One sees then, in such a matter, for one’s self. And as everything’s gain that isn’t loss, there was nothing I COULD lose. It gets me,” Mitchy further explained, “out of the way.”

“Out of the way of what?”

This, Mitchy frankly showed, was more difficult to say, but he in time brought it out. “Well, of appearing to suggest to you that my existence, in a prolonged state of singleness, may ever represent for her any real alternative.”

“But alternative to what?”

“Why to being YOUR wife, damn you!” Mitchy, on these words turned away again, and his companion, in the presence of his renewed dim gyrations, sat for a minute dumb. Before Van had spoken indeed he was back again. “Excuse my violence, but of course you really see.”

“I’m not pretending anything,” Vanderbank said —“but a man MUST understand. What I catch hold of is that you offer me — in the fact that you’re thus at any rate disposed of — a proof that I, by the same token, shan’t, if I hesitate to ‘go in,’ have a pretext for saying to myself that I MAY deprive her —!”

“Yes, precisely,” Mitchy now urbanely assented: “of something — in the shape of a man with MY amount of money — that she may live to regret and to languish for. My amount of money, don’t you see?” he very simply added, “is nothing to her.”

“And you want me to be sure that — so far as I may ever have had a scruple — she has had her chance and got rid of it.”

“Completely,” Mitchy smiled.

“Because”— Vanderbank with the aid of his cigar thoughtfully pieced it out —“that may possibly bring me to the point.”

“Possibly!” Mitchy laughed.

He had stood a moment longer, almost as if to see the possibility develop before his eyes, and had even started at the next sound of his friend’s voice. What Vanderbank in fact brought out, however, only made him turn his back. “Do you like so very much little Aggie?”

“Well,” said Mitchy, “Nanda does. And I like Nanda.”

“You’re too amazing,” Vanderbank mused. His musing had presently the effect of making him rise; meditation indeed beset him after he was on his feet. “I can’t help its coming over me then that on such an extraordinary system you must also rather like ME.”

“What will you have, my dear Van?” Mitchy frankly asked. “It’s the sort of thing you must be most used to. For at the present moment — look! — aren’t we all at you at once?”

It was as if his dear Van had managed to appear to wonder. “‘All’?”

“Nanda, Mrs. Brook, Mr. Longdon —!”

“And you. I see.”

“Names of distinction. And all the others,” Mitchy pursued, “that I don’t count.”

“Oh you’re the best.”

“I?”

“You’re the best,” Vanderbank simply repeated. “It’s at all events most extraordinary,” he declared. “But I make you out on the whole better than I do Mr. Longdon.”

“Ah aren’t we very much the same — simple lovers of life? That is of that finer essence of it which appeals to the consciousness —”

“The consciousness?”— his companion took up his hesitation.

“Well, enlarged and improved.”

The words had made on Mitchy’s lips an image by which his friend appeared for a moment held. “One doesn’t really know quite what to say or to do.”

“Oh you must take it all quietly. You’re of a special class; one of those who, as we said the other day — don’t you remember? — are a source of the sacred terror. People made in such a way must take the consequences; just as people must take them,” Mitchy went on, “who are made as I am. So cheer up!”

Mitchy, uttering this incitement, had moved to the empty chair by the window, in which he presently was sunk; and it might have been in emulation of his previous strolling and straying that Vanderbank himself now began to revolve. The meditation he next threw out, however, showed a certain resistance to Mitchy’s advice. “I’m glad at any rate I don’t deprive her of a fortune.”

“You don’t deprive her of mine of course,” Mitchy answered from the chair; “but isn’t her enjoyment of Mr. Longdon’s at least a good deal staked after all on your action?”

Vanderbank stopped short. “It’s his idea to settle it ALL?”

Mitchy gave out his glare. “I thought you didn’t ‘care a hang.’ I haven’t been here so long,” he went on as his companion at first retorted nothing, “without making up my mind for myself about his means. He IS distinctly bloated.”

It sent Vanderbank off again. “Oh well, she’ll no more get all in the one event than she’ll get nothing in the other. She’ll only get a sort of provision. But she’ll get that whatever happens.”

“Oh if you’re sure —!” Mitchy simply commented.

“I’m not sure, confound it!” Then — for his voice had been irritated — Van spoke more quietly. “Only I see her here — though on his wish of course — handling things quite as if they were her own and paying him a visit without, apparently, any calculable end. What’s that on HIS part but a pledge?”

Oh Mitchy could show off-hand that he knew what it was. “It’s a pledge, quite as much, to you. He shows you the whole thing. He likes you not a whit less than he likes her.”

“Oh thunder!” Van impatiently sighed.

“It’s as ‘rum’ as you please, but there it is,” said the inexorable Mitchy.

“Then does he think I’ll do it for THIS?”

“For ‘this’?”

“For the place, the whole thing, as you call it, that he shows me.”

Mitchy had a short silence that might have represented a change of colour. “It isn’t good enough?” But he instantly took himself up. “Of course he wants — as I do — to treat you with tact!”

“Oh it’s all right,” Vanderbank immediately said. “Your ‘tact’— yours and his — is marvellous, and Nanda’s greatest of all.”

Mitchy’s momentary renewal of stillness was addressed, he somehow managed not obscurely to convey, to the last clause of his friend’s speech. “If you’re not sure,” he presently resumed, “why can’t you frankly ask him?”

Vanderbank again, as the phrase is, “mooned” about a little. “Because I don’t know that it would do.”

“What do you mean by ‘do’?”

“Well, that it would be exactly — what do you call it? —‘square.’ Or even quite delicate or decent. To take from him, in the way of an assurance so handsomely offered, so much, and then to ask for more: I don’t feel I can do it. Besides, I’ve my little conviction. To the question itself he might easily reply that it’s none of my business.”

“I see,” Mitchy dropped. “Such pressure might suggest to him moreover that you’re hesitating more than you perhaps really are.”

“Oh as to THAT” said Vanderbank, “I think he practically knows how much.”

“And how little?” He met this, however, with no more form than if it had been a poor joke, so that Mitchy also smoked for a moment in silence. “It’s your coming down here, you mean, for these three or four days, that will have fixed it?”

The question this time was one to which the speaker might have expected an answer, but Vanderbank’s only immediate answer was to walk and walk. “I want so awfully to be kind to her,” he at last said.

“I should think so!” Then with irrelevance Mitchy harked back. “Shall I find out?”

But Vanderbank, with another thought, had lost the thread. “Find out what?”

“Why if she does get anything —!”

“If I’m not kind ENOUGH?”— Van had caught up again. “Dear no; I’d rather you shouldn’t speak unless first spoken to.”

“Well, HE may speak — since he knows we know.”

“It isn’t likely, for he can’t make out why I told you.”

“You didn’t tell ME, you know,” said Mitchy. “You told Mrs. Brook.”

“Well, SHE told you, and her talking about it is the unpleasant idea. He can’t get her down anyhow.”

“Poor Mrs. Brook!” Mitchy meditated.

“Poor Mrs. Brook!” his companion echoed.

“But I thought you said,” he went on, “that he doesn’t mind.”

“YOUR knowing? Well, I dare say he doesn’t. But he doesn’t want a lot of gossip and chatter.”

“Oh!” said Mitchy with meekness.

“I may absolutely take it from you then,” Vanderbank presently resumed, “that Nanda has her idea?”

“Oh she didn’t tell me so. But it’s none the less my belief.”

“Well,” Vanderbank at last threw off, “I feel it for myself. If only because she always knows everything,” he pursued without looking at Mitchy. “She always knows everything, everything.”

“Everything, everything.” Mitchy got up.

“She told me so herself yesterday,” said Van.

“And she told ME so today.”

Vanderbank’s hesitation might have shown he was struck with this. “Well, I don’t think it’s information that either of us required. But of course she — can’t help it,” he added. “Everything, literally everything, in London, in the world she lives in, is in the air she breathes — so that the longer SHE’S in it the more she’ll know.”

“The more she’ll know, certainly,” Mitchy acknowledged. “But she isn’t in it, you see, down here.”

“No. Only she appears to have come down with such accumulations. And she won’t be here for ever,” Vanderbank hastened to mention. “Certainly not if you marry her.”

“But isn’t that at the same time,” Vanderbank asked, “just the difficulty?”

Mitchy looked vague. “The difficulty?”

“Why as a married woman she’ll be steeped in it again.”

“Surely”— oh Mitchy could be candid! “But the difference will be that for a married woman it won’t matter. It only matters for girls,” he plausibly continued —“and then only for those on whom no one takes pity.”

“The trouble is,” said Vanderbank — but quite as if uttering only a general truth —“that it’s just a thing that may sometimes operate as a bar to pity. Isn’t it for the non-marrying girls that it doesn’t particularly matter? For the others it’s such an odd preparation.”

“Oh I don’t mind it!” Mitchy declared.

Vanderbank visibly demurred. “Ah but your choice —!”

“Is such a different sort of thing?” Mitchy, for the half-hour, in the ambiguous dusk, had never looked more droll. “The young lady I named isn’t my CHOICE.”

“Well then, that’s only a sign the more that you do these things more easily.”

“Oh ‘easily’!” Mitchy murmured.

“We oughtn’t at any rate to keep it up,” said Vanderbank, who had looked at his watch. “Twelve twenty-five — good-night. Shall I blow out the candles?”

“Do, please. I’ll close the window”— and Mitchy went to it. “I’ll follow you — good-night.” The candles after a minute were out and his friend had gone, but Mitchy, left in darkness face to face with the vague quiet garden, still stood there.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/james/henry/j2aw/book7.html

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