The Awkward Age, by Henry James

Book Ninth. Vanderbank

I

“I think you had better wait,” Mrs. Brook said, “till I see if he has gone;” and on the arrival the next moment of the servants with the tea she was able to put her question. “Is Mr. Cashmore still with Miss Brookenham?”

“No, ma’am,” the footman replied. “I let Mr. Cashmore out five minutes ago.”

Vanderbank showed for the next short time by his behaviour what he felt at not yet being free to act on this; moving pointlessly about the room while the servants arranged the tea-table and taking no trouble to make, for appearance, any other talk. Mrs. Brook, on her side, took so little that the silence — which their temporary companions had all the effect of keeping up by conscious dawdling — became precisely one of those precious lights for the circle belowstairs which people fondly fancy they have not kindled when they have not spoken. But Vanderbank spoke again as soon as the door was closed. “Does he run in and out that way without even speaking to YOU?”

Mrs. Brook turned away from the fire that, late in May, was the only charm of the crude cold afternoon. “One would like to draw the curtains, wouldn’t one? and gossip in the glow of the hearth.”

“Oh ‘gossip’!” Vanderbank wearily said as he came to her pretty table.

In the act of serving him she checked herself. “You wouldn’t rather have it with HER?”

He balanced a moment. “Does she have a tea of her own?”

“Do you mean to say you don’t know?”— Mrs. Brook asked it with surprise. “Such ignorance of what I do for her does tell, I think, the tale of how you’ve lately treated us.”

“In not coming for so long?”

“For more weeks, for more months than I can count. Scarcely since — when was it? — the end of January, that night of Tishy’s dinner.”

“Yes, that awful night.”

“Awful, you call it?”

“Awful.”

“Well, the time without you,” Mrs. Brook returned, “has been so bad that I’m afraid I’ve lost the impression of anything before.” Then she offered the tea to his choice. “WILL you have it upstairs?”

He received the cup. “Yes, and here too.” After which he said nothing again till, first pouring in milk to cool it, he had drunk his tea down. “That’s not literally true, you know. I HAVE been in.”

“Yes, but always with other people — you managed it somehow; the wrong ones. It hasn’t counted.”

“Ah in one way and another I think everything counts. And you forget I’ve dined.”

“Oh — for once!”

“The once you asked me. So don’t spoil the beauty of your own behaviour by mistimed reflexions. You’ve been, as usual, superior.”

“Ah but there has been no beauty in it. There has been nothing,” Mrs. Brook went on, “but bare bleak recognition, the curse of my hideous intelligence. We’ve fallen to pieces, and at least I’m not such a fool as not to have felt it in time. From the moment one did feel it why should one insist on vain forms? If YOU felt it, and were so ready to drop them, my part was what it has always been — to accept the inevitable. We shall never grow together again. The smash was too great.”

Vanderbank for a little said nothing; then at last: “You ought to know how great!”

Whatever had happened her lovely look here survived it. “I?”

“The smash,” he replied, “was indeed as complete, I think, as your intention. Each of the ‘pieces’ testifies to your success. Five minutes did it.”

She appeared to wonder where he was going. “But surely not MY minutes. Where have you discovered that I made Mitchy’s marriage?”

“Mitchy’s marriage has nothing to do with it.”

“I see.” She had the old interest at least still at their service. “You think we might have survived that.” A new thought of it seemed to glimmer. “I’m bound to say Mitchy’s marriage promises elements.”

“You did it that night at Mrs. Grendon’s.” He spoke as if he had not heard her. “It was a wonderful performance. You pulled us down — just closing with each of the great columns in its turn — as Samson pulled down the temple. I was at the time more or less bruised and buried and didn’t in the agitation and confusion fully understand what had happened. But I understand now.”

“Are you very sure?” Mrs. Brook earnestly asked.

“Well, I’m stupid compared with you, but you see I’ve taken my time. I’ve puzzled it out. I’ve lain awake on it: all the more that I’ve had to do it all myself — with the Mitchys in Italy and Greece. I’ve missed his aid.”

“You’ll have it now,” Mrs. Brook kindly said. “They’re coming back.”

“And when do they arrive?”

“Any day, I believe.”

“Has he written you?”

“No,” said Mrs. Brook —“there it is. That’s just the way we’ve fallen to pieces. But you’ll of course have heard something.”

“Never a word.”

“Ah then it’s complete.”

Vanderbank thought a moment. “Not quite, is it? — I mean it won’t be altogether unless he hasn’t written to Nanda.”

“Then HAS he?”— she was keen again.

“Oh I’m assuming. Don’t YOU know?”

“How should I?”

This too he turned over. “Just as a consequence of your having, at Tishy’s, so abruptly and wonderfully tackled the question that a few days later, as I afterwards gathered, was to be crowned with a measure of success not yet exhausted. Why, in other words — if it was to know so little about her and to get no nearer to her — did you bring about Nanda’s return?”

There was a clear reason, her face said, if she could only remember it. “Why did I—?” Then as catching a light: “Fancy your asking me — at this time of day!”

“Ah you HAVE noticed that I haven’t asked before? However,” Van promptly added, “I know well enough what you notice. Nanda hasn’t mentioned to you whether or no she has heard?”

“Absolutely not. But you don’t suppose, I take it, that it was to pry into her affairs I called her in.”

Vanderbank, on this, lighted for the first time with a laugh. “‘Called her in’? How I like your expressions!”

“I do then, in spite of all,” she eagerly asked, “remind you a little of the bon temps? Ah,” she sighed, “I don’t say anything good now. But of course I see Jane — though not so often either. It’s from Jane I’ve heard of what she calls her ‘young things.’ It seems so odd to think of Mitchy as a young thing. He’s as old as all time, and his wife, who the other day was about six, is now practically about forty. And I also saw Petherton,” Mrs. Brook added, “on his return.”

“His return from where?”

“Why he was with them at Corfu, Malta, Cyprus — I don’t know where; yachting, spending Mitchy’s money, ‘larking,’ he called it — I don’t know what. He was with them for weeks.”

“Till Jane, you mean, called him in?”

“I think it must have been that.”

“Well, that’s better,” said Van, “than if Mitchy had had to call him out.”

“Oh Mitchy —!” Mrs. Brook comprehensively sounded.

Her visitor quite assented. “Isn’t he amazing?”

“Unique.”

He had a short pause. “But what’s she up to?”

It was apparently for Mrs. Brook a question of such variety of application that she brought out experimentally: “Jane?”

“Dear no. I think we’ve fathomed ‘Jane,’ haven’t we?”

“Well,” mused Mrs. Brook, “I’m by no means sure I have. Just of late I’ve had a new sense!”

“Yes, of what now?” Van amusedly put it as she held the note.

“Oh of depths below depths. But poor Jane — of course after all she’s human. She’s beside herself with one thing and another, but she can’t in any consistency show it. She took her stand so on having with Petherton’s aid formed Aggie for a femme charmante —”

“That it’s too late to cry out that Petherton’s aid can now be dispensed with? Do you mean then that he IS such a brute that after all Mitchy has done for him —?” Vanderbank, at the rising image, pulled up in easy disgust.

“I think him quite capable of considering with a magnificent insolence of selfishness that what Mitchy has MOST done will have been to make Aggie accessible in a way that — for decency and delicacy of course, things on which Petherton highly prides himself — she could naturally not be as a girl. Her marriage has simplified it.”

Vanderbank took it all in. “‘Accessible’ is good!”

“Then — which was what I intended just now — Aggie has already become so —?”

Mrs. Brook, however, could as yet in fairness only wonder. “That’s just what I’m dying to see.”

Her companion smiled at it. “‘Even in our ashes live their wonted fires’! But what do you make, in such a box, of poor Mitchy himself? His marriage can scarcely to such an extent have simplified HIM.”

It was something, none the less, that Mrs. Brook had to weigh. “I don’t know. I give it up. The thing was of a strangeness!”

Her friend also paused, and it was as if for a little, on either side of a gate on which they might have had their elbows, they remained looking at each other over it and over what was unsaid between them. “It WAS ‘rum’!” he at last merely dropped.

It was scarce for Mrs. Brook, all the same — she seemed to feel after a moment — to surround the matter with an excess of silence.

“He did what a man does — especially in that business — when he doesn’t do what he wants.”

“Do you mean what somebody else wanted?”

“Well, what he himself DIDN’T. And if he’s unhappy,” she went on, “he’ll know whom to pitch into.”

“Ah,” said Vanderbank, “even if he is he won’t be the man to what you might call ‘vent’ it on her. He’ll seek compensations elsewhere and won’t mind any ridicule —!”

“Whom are you speaking of as ‘her’?” Mrs. Brook asked as on feeling that something in her face had made him stop. “I wasn’t referring,” she explained, “to his wife.”

“Oh!” said Vanderbank.

“Aggie doesn’t matter,” she went on.

“Oh!” he repeated. “You meant the Duchess?” he then threw off.

“Don’t be silly!” she rejoined. “He MAY not become unhappy — God grant NOT!” she developed. “But if he does he’ll take it out of Nanda.”

Van appeared to challenge this. “‘Take it out’ of her?”

“Well, want to know, as some American asked me the other day of somebody, what she’s ‘going to do’ about it.”

Vanderbank, who had remained on his feet, stood still at this for a longer time than at anything yet. “But what CAN she ‘do’—?”

“That’s again just what I’m curious to see.” Mrs. Brook then spoke with a glance at the clock. “But if you don’t go up to her —!”

“My notion of seeing her alone may be defeated by her coming down on learning that I’m here?” He had taken out his watch. “I’ll go in a moment. But, as a light on that danger, would YOU, in the circumstances, come down?”

Mrs. Brook, however, could for light only look darkness. “Oh you don’t love ME!”

Vanderbank, still with his watch, stared then as an alternative at the fire. “You haven’t yet told me you know, if Mr. Cashmore now comes EVERY day.”

“My dear man, how can I say? You’ve just your occasion to find out.”

“From HER, you mean?”

Mrs. Brook hesitated. “Unless you prefer the footman. Must I again remind you that, with her own sitting-room and one of the men, in addition to her maid, wholly at her orders, her independence is ideal?”

Vanderbank, who appeared to have been timing himself, put up his watch. “I’m bound to say then that with separations so established I understand less than ever your unforgettable explosion.”

“Ah you come back to that?” she wearily asked. “And you find it, with all you’ve to think about, unforgettable?”

“Oh but there was a wild light in your eye —!”

“Well,” Mrs. Brook said, “you see it now quite gone out.” She had spoken more sadly than sharply, but her impatience had the next moment a flicker. “I called Nanda in because I wanted to.”

“Precisely; but what I don’t make out, you see, is what you’ve since gained by it.”

“You mean she only hates me the more?”

Van’s impatience, in the movement with which he turned from her, had a flare still sharper. “You know I’m incapable of meaning anything of the sort.”

She waited a minute while his back was presented. “I sometimes think in effect that you’re incapable of anything straightforward.”

Vanderbank’s movement had not been to the door, but he almost reached it after giving her, on this, a hard look. He then stopped short, however, to stare an instant still more fixedly into the hat he held in his hand; the consequence of which in turn was that he the next minute stood again before her chair. “Don’t you call it straightforward of me just not to have come for so long?”

She had again to take time to say. “Is that an allusion to what — by the loss of your beautiful presence — I’ve failed to ‘gain’? I dare say at any rate”— she gave him no time to reply —“that you feel you’re quite as straightforward as I and that we’re neither of us creatures of mere rash impulse. There was a time in fact, wasn’t there? when we rather enjoyed each other’s dim depths. If I wanted to fawn on you,” she went on, “I might say that, with such a comrade in obliquity to wind and double about with, I’d risk losing myself in the mine. But why retort or recriminate? Let us not, for God’s sake, be vulgar — we haven’t yet, bad as it is, come to THAT. I CAN be, no doubt — I some day MUST be: I feel it looming at me out of the awful future as an inevitable fate. But let it be for when I’m old and horrible; not an hour before. I do want to live a little even yet. So you ought to let me off easily — even as I let you.”

“Oh I know,” said Vanderbank handsomely, “that there are things you don’t put to me! You show a tact!”

“There it is. And I like much better,” Mrs. Brook went on, “our speaking of it as delicacy than as duplicity. If you understand, it’s so much saved.”

“What I always understand more than anything else,” he returned, “is the general truth that you’re prodigious.”

It was perhaps a little as relapse from tension that she had nothing against that. “As for instance when it WOULD be so easy —!”

“Yes, to take up what lies there, you yet so splendidly abstain.”

“You literally press upon me my opportunity? It’s YOU who are splendid!” she rather strangely laughed.

“Don’t you at least want to say,” he went on with a slight flush, “what you MOST obviously and naturally might?”

Appealed to on the question of underlying desire, Mrs. Brook went through the decent form of appearing to try to give it the benefit of any doubt. “Don’t I want, you mean, to find out before you go up what YOU want? Shall you be too disappointed,” she asked, “if I say that, since I shall probably learn, as we used to be told as children, ‘all in good time,’ I can wait till the light comes out of itself?”

Vanderbank still lingered. “You ARE deep!”

“You’ve only to be deeper.”

“That’s easy to say. I’m afraid at any rate you won’t think I am,” he pursued after a pause, “if I ask you what in the world — since Harold does keep Lady Fanny so quiet — Cashmore still requires Nanda’s direction for.”

“Ah find out!” said Mrs. Brook.

“Isn’t Mrs. Donner quite shelved?”

“Find out,” she repeated.

Vanderbank had reached the door and had his hand on the latch, but there was still something else. “You scarce suppose, I imagine, that she has come to like him ‘for himself?”

“Find out!” And Mrs. Brook, who was now on her feet, turned away. He watched her a moment more, then checked himself and left her.

II

She remained alone ten minutes, at the end of which her reflexions would have been seen to be deep — were interrupted by the entrance of her husband. The interruption was indeed not so great as if the couple had not met, as they almost invariably met, in silence: she took at all events, to begin with, no more account of his presence than to hand him a cup of tea accompanied with nothing but cream and sugar. Her having no word for him, however, committed her no more to implying that he had come in only for his refreshment than it would have committed her to say: “Here it is, Edward dear — just as you like it; so take it and sit down and be quiet.” No spectator worth his salt could have seen them more than a little together without feeling how everything that, under his eyes or not, she either did or omitted, rested on a profound acquaintance with his ways. They formed, Edward’s ways, a chapter by themselves, of which Mrs. Brook was completely mistress and in respect to which the only drawback was that a part of her credit was by the nature of the case predestined to remain obscure. So many of them were so queer that no one but she COULD know them, and know thereby into what crannies her reckoning had to penetrate. It was one of them for instance that if he was often most silent when most primed with matter, so when he had nothing to say he was always silent too — a peculiarity misleading, until mastered, for a lady who could have allowed in the latter case for almost any variety of remark. “What do you think,” he said at last, “of his turning up today?”

“Of old Van’s?”

“Oh has HE turned up?”

“Half an hour ago, and asking almost in his first breath for Nanda. I sent him up to her and he’s with her now.” If Edward had his ways she had also some of her own; one of which, in talk with him, if talk it could be called, was never to produce anything till the need was marked. She had thus a card or two always in reserve, for it was her theory that she never knew what might happen. It nevertheless did occur that he sometimes went, as she would have called it, one better.

“He’s not with her now. I’ve just been with her.”

“Then he didn’t go up?” Mrs. Brook was immensely interested. “He left me, you know, to do so.”

“Know — how should I know? I left her five minutes ago.”

“Then he went out without seeing her.” Mrs. Brook took it in. “He changed his mind out there on the stairs.”

“Well,” said Edward, “it won’t be the first mind that has been changed there. It’s about the only thing a man can change.”

“Do you refer particularly to MY stairs?” she asked with her whimsical woe. But meanwhile she had taken it in. “Then whom were you speaking of?”

“Mr. Longdon’s coming to tea with her. She has had a note.”

“But when did he come to town?”

“Last night, I believe. The note, an hour or two ago, announced him — brought by hand and hoping she’d be at home.”

Mrs. Brook thought again. “I’m glad she is. He’s too sweet. By hand! — it must have been so he sent them to mamma. He wouldn’t for the world wire.”

“Oh Nanda has often wired to HIM,” her father returned.

“Then she ought to be ashamed of herself. But how,” said Mrs. Brook, “do you know?”

“Oh I know when we’re in a thing like this.”

“Yet you complain of her want of intimacy with you! It turns out that you’re as thick as thieves.”

Edward looked at this charge as he looked at all old friends, without a sign — to call a sign — of recognition. “I don’t know of whose want of intimacy with me I’ve ever complained. There isn’t much more of it, that I can see, that any of them could put on. What do you suppose I’d have them do? If I on my side don’t get very far I may have alluded to THAT.”

“Oh but you do,” Mrs. Brook declared. “You think you don’t, but you get very far indeed. You’re always, as I said just now, bringing out something that you’ve got somewhere.”

“Yes, and seeing you flare up at it. What I bring out is only what they tell me.”

This limitation offered, however, for Mrs. Brook no difficulty. “Ah but it seems to me that with the things people nowadays tell one —! What more do you want?”

“Well”— and Edward from his chair regarded the fire a while —“the difference must be in what they tell YOU.”

“Things that are better?”

“Yes — worse. I dare say,” he went on, “what I give them —”

“Isn’t as bad as what I do? Oh we must each do our best. But when I hear from you,” Mrs. Brook pursued, “that Nanda had ever permitted herself anything so dreadful as to wire to him, it comes over me afresh that I would have been the perfect one to deal with him if his detestation of me hadn’t prevented.” She was by this time also — but on her feet — before the fire, into which, like her husband, she gazed. “I would never have wired. I’d have gone in for little delicacies and odd things she has never thought of.”

“Oh she doesn’t go in for what you do,” Edward assented.

“She’s as bleak as a chimney-top when the fire’s out, and if it hadn’t been after all for mamma —!” And she lost herself again in the reasons of things.

Her husband’s silence seemed to mark for an instant a deference to her allusion, but there was a limit even to this combination. “You make your mother, I think, keep it up pretty well. But if she HADN’T as you say, done so —?”

“Why we shouldn’t have been anywhere.”

“Well, where are we now? That’s what I want to know.”

Following her own train she had at first no heed for his question. “Without his hatred he would have liked me.” But she came back with a sigh to the actual. “No matter. We must deal with what we’ve got.”

“What HAVE we got?” Edward continued.

Again with no ear for his question his wife turned away, only however, after taking a few vague steps, to approach him with new decision. “If Mr. Longdon’s due will you do me a favour? Will you go back to Nanda — before he arrives — and let her know, though not of course as from ME, that Van has been here half an hour, has had it put well before him that she’s up there and at liberty, and has left the house without seeing her?”

Edward Brookenham made no motion. “You don’t like better to do it yourself?”

“If I liked better,” said Mrs. Brook, “I’d have already done it. The way to make it not come from me is surely not for me to give it to her. Besides, I want to be here to receive him first.”

“Then can’t she know it afterwards?”

“After Mr. Longdon has gone? The whole point is that she should know it in time to let HIM know it.”

Edward still communed with the fire. “And what’s the point of THAT?” Her impatience, which visibly increased, carried her away again, and by the time she reached the window he had launched another question. “Are you in such a hurry she should know that Van doesn’t want her?”

“What do you call a hurry when I’ve waited nearly a year? Nanda may know or not as she likes — may know whenever: if she doesn’t know pretty well by this time she’s too stupid for it to matter. My only pressure’s for Mr. Longdon. She’ll have it there for him when he arrives.”

“You mean she’ll make haste to tell him?”

Mrs. Brook raised her eyes a moment to some upper immensity. “She’ll mention it.”

Her husband on the other hand, his legs outstretched, looked straight at the toes of his boots. “Are you very sure?” Then as he remained without an answer: “Why should she if he hasn’t told HER?”

“Of the way I so long ago let you know that he had put the matter to Van? It’s not out between them in words, no doubt; but I fancy that for things to pass they’ve not to dot their i’s quite so much, my dear, as we two. Without a syllable said to her she’s yet aware in every fibre of her little being of what has taken place.”

Edward gave a still longer space to taking this in. “Poor little thing!”

“Does she strike you as so poor,” Mrs. Brook asked, “with so awfully much done for her?”

“Done by whom?”

It was as if she had not heard the question that she spoke again. “She has got what every woman, young or old, wants.”

“Really?”

Edward’s tone was of wonder, but she simply went on: “She has got a man of her own.”

“Well, but if he’s the wrong one?”

“Do you call Mr. Longdon so very wrong? I wish,” she declared with a strange sigh, “that I had had a Mr. Longdon!”

“I wish very much you had. I wouldn’t have taken it like Van.”

“Oh it took Van,” Mrs. Brook replied, “to put THEM where they are.”

“But where ARE they? That’s exactly it. In these three months, for instance,” Edward demanded, “how has their connexion profited?”

Mrs. Brook turned it over. “Profited which?”

“Well, one cares most for one’s child.”

“Then she has become for him what we’ve most hoped her to be-an object of compassion still more marked.”

“Is that what you’ve hoped her to be?” Mrs. Brook was obviously so lucid for herself that her renewed expression of impatience had plenty of point. “How can you ask after seeing what I did —”

“That night at Mrs. Grendon’s? Well, it’s the first time I HAVE asked it.”

Mrs. Brook had a silence more pregnant. “It’s for being with US that he pities her.”

Edward thought. “With me too?”

“Not so much — but still you help.”

“I thought you thought I didn’t — that night.”

“At Tishy’s? Oh you didn’t matter,” said Mrs. Brook. “Everything, every one helps. Harold distinctly”— she seemed to figure it all out —“and even the poor children, I dare say, a little. Oh but every one”— she warmed to the vision —“it’s perfect. Jane immensely, par example. Almost all the others who come to the house. Cashmore, Carrie, Tishy, Fanny — bless their hearts all! — each in their degree.”

Edward Brookenham had under the influence of this demonstration gradually risen from his seat, and as his wife approached that part of her process which might be expected to furnish the proof he placed himself before her with his back to the fire. “And Mitchy, I suppose?”

But he was out. “No. Mitchy’s different.”

He wondered. “Different?”

“Not a help. Quite a drawback.” Then as his face told how these WERE involutions, “You needn’t understand, but you can believe me,” she added. “The one who does most is of course Van himself.” It was a statement by which his failure to apprehend was not diminished, and she completed her operation. “By not liking her.”

Edward’s gloom, on this, was not quite blankness, yet it was dense. “Do you like his not liking her?”

“Dear no. No better than HE does.”

“And he doesn’t —?”

“Oh he hates it.”

“Of course I haven’t asked him,” Edward appeared to say more to himself than to his wife.

“And of course I haven’t,” she returned — not at all in this case, plainly, for herself. “But I know it. He’d like her if he could, but he can’t. That,” Mrs. Brook wound up, “is what makes it sure.”

There was at last in Edward’s gravity a positive pathos. “Sure he won’t propose?”

“Sure Mr. Longdon won’t now throw her over.”

“Of course if it IS sure —”

“Well?”

“Why, it is. But of course if it isn’t —”

“Well?”

“Why, she won’t have anything. Anything but US,” he continued to reflect. “Unless, you know, you’re working it on a certainty —!”

“That’s just what I AM working it on. I did nothing till I knew I was safe.”

“‘Safe’?” he ambiguously echoed while on this their eyes met longer.

“Safe. I knew he’d stick.”

“But how did you know Van wouldn’t?”

“No matter ‘how’— but better still. He hasn’t stuck.” She said it very simply, but she turned away from him.

His eyes for a little followed her. “We don’t KNOW, after all, the old boy’s means.”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘we’ don’t. Nanda does.”

“But where’s the support if she doesn’t tell us?”

Mrs. Brook, who had faced about, again turned from him. “I hope you don’t forget,” she remarked with superiority, “that we don’t ask her.”

“YOU don’t?” Edward gloomed.

“Never. But I trust her.”

“Yes,” he mused afresh, “one must trust one’s child. Does Van?” he then enquired.

“Does he trust her?”

“Does he know anything of the general figure?”

She hesitated. “Everything. It’s high.”

“He has told you so?”

Mrs. Brook, supremely impatient now, seemed to demur even to the question. “We ask HIM even less.”

“Then how do we know?”

She was weary of explaining. “Because that’s just why he hates it.”

There was no end however, apparently, to what Edward could take. “But hates what?”

“Why, not liking her.”

Edward kept his back to the fire and his dead eyes on the cornice and the ceiling. “I shouldn’t think it would be so difficult.”

“Well, you see it isn’t. Mr. Longdon can manage it.”

“I don’t see what the devil’s the matter with her,” he coldly continued.

“Ah that may not prevent —! It’s fortunately the source at any rate of half Mr. Longdon’s interest.”

“But what the hell IS it?” he drearily demanded.

She faltered a little, but she brought it out. “It’s ME.”

“And what’s the matter with ‘you’?”

She made, at this, a movement that drew his eyes to her own, and for a moment she dimly smiled at him. “That’s the nicest thing you ever said to me. But ever, EVER, you know.”

“Is it?” She had her hand on his sleeve, and he looked almost awkward.

“Quite the very nicest. Consider that fact well and even if you only said it by accident don’t be funny — as you know you sometimes CAN be-and take it back. It’s all right. It’s charming, isn’t it? when our troubles bring us more together. Now go up to her.”

Edward kept a queer face, into which this succession of remarks introduced no light, but he finally moved, and it was only when he had almost reached the door that he stopped again. “Of course you know he has sent her no end of books.”

“Mr. Longdon — of late? Oh yes, a deluge, so that her room looks like a bookseller’s back shop; and all, in the loveliest bindings, the most standard English works. I not only know it, naturally, but I know — what you don’t — why.”

“‘Why’?” Edward echoed. “Why but that — unless he should send her money — it’s about the only kindness he can show her at a distance?”

Mrs. Brook hesitated; then with a little suppressed sigh: “That’s it!”

But it still held him. “And perhaps he does send her money.”

“No. Not now.”

Edward lingered. “Then is he taking it out —?”

“In books only?” It was wonderful — with its effect on him now visible — how she possessed her subject. “Yes, that’s his delicacy — for the present.”

“And you’re not afraid for the future —?”

“Of his considering that the books will have worked it off? No. They’re thrown in.”

Just perceptibly cheered he reached the door, where, however, he had another pause. “You don’t think I had better see Van?”

She stared. “What for?”

“Why, to ask what the devil he means.”

“If you should do anything so hideously vulgar,” she instantly replied, “I’d leave your house the next hour. Do you expect,” she asked, “to be able to force your child down his throat?”

He was clearly not prepared with an account of his expectations, but he had a general memory that imposed itself. “Then why in the world did he make up to us?”

“He didn’t. We made up to HIM.”

“But why in the world —?”

“Well,” said Mrs. Brook, really to finish, “we were in love with him.”

“Oh!” Edward jerked. He had by this time opened the door, and the sound was partly the effect of the disclosure of a servant preceding a visitor. His greeting of the visitor before edging past and away was, however, of the briefest; it might have implied that they had met but yesterday. “How d’ye do, Mitchy? — At home? Oh rather!”

III

Very different was Mrs. Brook’s welcome of the restored wanderer to whom, in a brief space, she addressed every expression of surprise and delight, though marking indeed at last, as a qualification of these things, her regret that he declined to partake of her tea or to allow her to make him what she called “snug for a talk” in his customary corner of her sofa. He pleaded frankly agitation and embarrassment, reminded her even that he was awfully shy and that after separations, complications, whatever might at any time happen, he was conscious of the dust that had settled on intercourse and that he couldn’t blow away in a single breath. She was only, according to her nature, to indulge him if, while he walked about and changed his place, he came to the surface but in patches and pieces. There was so much he wanted to know that — well, as they had arrived only the night before, she could judge. There was knowledge, it became clear, that Mrs. Brook almost equally craved, so that it even looked at first as if, on either side, confidence might be choked by curiosity. This disaster was finally barred by the fact that the spirit of enquiry found for Mitchy material that was comparatively plastic. That was after all apparent enough when at the end of a few vain passes he brought out sociably: “Well, has he done it?”

Still indeed there was something in Mrs. Brook’s face that seemed to reply “Oh come — don’t rush it, you know!” and something in the movement with which she turned away that described the state of their question as by no means so simple as that. On his refusal of tea she had rung for the removal of the table, and the bell was at this moment answered by the two men. Little ensued then, for some minutes, while the servants were present; she spoke only as the butler was about to close the door. “If Mr. Longdon presently comes show him into Mr. Brookenham’s room if Mr. Brookenham isn’t there. If he is show him into the dining-room and in either case let me immediately know.”

The man waited expressionless. “And in case of his asking for Miss Brookenham —?”

“He won’t!” she replied with a sharpness before which her interlocutor retired. “He will!” she then added in quite another tone to Mitchy. “That is, you know, he perfectly MAY. But oh the subtlety of servants!” she sighed.

Mitchy was now all there. “Mr. Longdon’s in town then?”

“For the first time since you went away. He’s to call this afternoon.”

“And you want to see him alone?”

Mrs. Brook thought. “I don’t think I want to see him at all.”

“Then your keeping him below —?”

“Is so that he shan’t burst in till I know. It’s YOU, my dear, I want to see.”

Mitchy glared about. “Well, don’t take it ill if, in return for that, I say I myself want to see every one. I could have done even just now with a little more of Edward.”

Mrs. Brook, in her own manner and with a slow headshake, looked lovely. “I couldn’t.” Then she puzzled it out with a pause. “It even does come over me that if you don’t mind —!”

“What, my dear woman,” said Mitchy encouragingly, “did I EVER mind? I assure you,” he laughed, “I haven’t come back to begin!”

At this, suddenly dropping everything else, she laid her hand on him. “Mitchy love, ARE you happy?”

So for a moment they stood confronted. “Not perhaps as YOU would have tried to make me.”

“Well, you’ve still GOT me, you know.”

“Oh,” said Mitchy, “I’ve got a great deal. How, if I really look at it, can a man of my peculiar nature — it IS, you know, awfully peculiar — NOT be happy? Think, if one is driven to it for instance, of the breadth of my sympathies.”

Mrs. Brook, as a result of thinking, appeared for a little to demur. “Yes — but one mustn’t be too much driven to it. It’s by one’s sympathies that one suffers. If you should do that I couldn’t bear it.”

She clearly evoked for Mitchy a definite image. “It WOULD be funny, wouldn’t it? But you wouldn’t have to. I’d go off and do it alone somewhere — in a dark room, I think, or on a desert island; at any rate where nobody should see. Where’s the harm moreover,” he went on, “of any suffering that doesn’t bore one, as I’m sure, however much its outer aspect might amuse some others, mine wouldn’t bore me? What I should do in my desert island or my dark room, I feel, would be just to dance about with the thrill of it — which is exactly the exhibition of ludicrous gambols that I would fain have arranged to spare you. I assure you, dear Mrs. Brook,” he wound up, “that I’m not in the least bored now. Everything’s so interesting.”

“You’re beautiful!” she vaguely interposed.

But he pursued without heeding: “Was perhaps what you had in your head that I should see him —?”

She came back but slowly, however, to the moment. “Mr. Longdon? Well, yes. You know he can’t bear ME—”

“Yes, yes”— Mitchy was almost eager.

It had already sent her off again. “You’re too lovely. You HAVE come back the same. It seemed to me,” she after an instant explained, “that I wanted him to be seen —”

“Without inconvenience, as it were, either to himself or to you? Then,” said Mitchy, who visibly felt that he had taken her up successfully, “it strikes me that I’m absolutely your man. It’s delicious to come back to a use.”

But she was much more dim about it. “Oh what you’ve come back to —!”

“It’s just what I’m trying to get at. Van is still then where I left him?”

She was just silent. “Did you really believe he would move?”

Mitchy took a few turns, speaking almost with his back presented. “Well, with all the reasons —!” After which, while she watched him, he was before her again with a question. “It’s utterly off?”

“When was it ever really on?”

“Oh I know your view, and that, I think,” said Mitchy, “is the most extraordinary part of it. I can tell you it would have put ME on.”

“My view?” Mrs. Brook thought. “Have you forgotten that I had for you too a view that didn’t?”

“Ah but we didn’t differ, you and I. It wasn’t a defiance and a prophecy. You wanted ME.”

“I did indeed!” Mrs. Brook said simply.

“And you didn’t want him. For HER, I mean. So you risked showing it.”

She looked surprised. “DID I?”

Again they were face to face. “Your candour’s divine!”

She wondered. “Do you mean it was even then?”

Mitchy smiled at her till he was red. “It’s exquisite now.”

“Well,” she presently returned, “I knew my Van!”

I thought I knew ‘yours’ too,” Mitchy said. Their eyes met a minute and he added: “But I didn’t.” Then he exclaimed: “How you’ve worked it!”

She looked barely conscious. “‘Worked it’?” After which, with a slightly sharper note: “How do you know — while you’ve been amusing yourself in places that I’d give my head to see again but never shall — what I’ve been doing?”

“Well, I saw, you know, that night at Tishy’s, just before we left England, your wonderful start. I got a look at your attitude, as it were, and your system.”

Her eyes were now far away, and she spoke after an instant without moving them. “And didn’t I by the same token get a look at yours?”

“Mine?” Mitchy thought, but seemed to doubt. “My dear child, I hadn’t any then.”

“You mean that it has formed itself — your system — since?”

He shook his head with decision. “I assure you I’m quite at sea. I’ve never had, and I have as little as ever now, anything but my general philosophy, which I won’t attempt at present to go into and of which moreover I think you’ve had first and last your glimpses. What I made out in you that night was a perfect policy.”

Mrs. Brook had another of her infantine stares. “Every one that night seems to have made out something! All I can say is at any rate,” she went on, “that in that case you were all far deeper than I was.”

“It was just a blind instinct, without a programme or a scheme? Perhaps then, since it has so perfectly succeeded, the name doesn’t matter. I’m lost, as I tell you,” Mitchy declared, “in admiration of its success.”

She looked, as before, so young, yet so grave. “What do you call its success?”

“Let me ask you rather — mayn’t I? — what YOU call its failure.”

Mrs. Brook, who had been standing for some minutes, seated herself at this as if to respond to his idea. But the next moment she had fallen back into thought. “Have you often heard from him?”

“Never once.”

“And have you written?”

“Not a word either. I left it, you see,” Mitchy smiled, “all, to YOU.” After which he continued: “Has he been with you much?”

She just hesitated. “As little as possible. But as it happens he was here just now.”

Her visitor fairly flushed. “And I’ve only missed him?”

Her pause again was of the briefest. “You wouldn’t if he HAD gone up.”

“‘Gone up’?”

“To Nanda, who has now her own sitting-room, as you know; for whom he immediately asked and for whose benefit, whatever you may think, I was at the end of a quarter of an hour, I assure you, perfectly ready to release him. He changed his mind, however, and went away without seeing her.”

Mitchy showed the deepest interest. “And what made him change his mind?”

“Well, I’m thinking it out.”

He appeared to watch this labour. “But with no light yet?”

“When it comes I’ll tell you.”

He hung fire once more but an instant. “You didn’t yourself work the thing again?”

She rose at this in strange sincerity. “I think, you know, you go very far.”

“Why, didn’t we just now settle,” he promptly replied, “that it’s all instinctive and unconscious? If it was so that night at Tishy’s —!”

“Ah, voyons, voyons,” she broke in, “what did I do even then?” He laughed out at something in her tone. “You’d like it again all pictured —?”

“I’m not afraid.”

“Why, you just simply — publicly — took her back.”

“And where was the monstrosity of that?”

“In the one little right place. In your removal of every doubt —”

“Well, of what?” He had appeared not quite to know how to put it. But he saw at last. “Why, of what we may still hope to do for her. Thanks to your care there were specimens.” Then as she had the look of trying vainly to focus a few, “I can’t recover them one by one,” he pursued, “but the whole thing was quite lurid enough to do us all credit.”

She met him after a little, but at such an odd point. “Pardon me if I scarcely see how much of the credit was yours. For the first time since I’ve known you, you went in for decency.”

Mitchy’s surprise showed as real. “It struck you as decency —?”

Since he wished she thought it over. “Oh your behaviour —!”

“My behaviour was — my condition. Do you call THAT decent? No, you’re quite out.” He spoke, in his good nature, with an approach to reproof. “How can I ever —?”

But it had already brought her quite round, and to a firmer earth that she clearly preferred to tread. “Are things really bad with you, Mitch?”

“Well, I’ll tell you how they are. But not now.”

“Some other time? — on your honour?”

“You shall have it all. Don’t be afraid.”

She dimly smiled. “It will be like old times.”

He rather demurred. “For you perhaps. But not for me.”

In spite of what he said it did hold her, and her hand again almost caressed him. “But — till you do tell me — is it very very dreadful?”

“That’s just perhaps what I may have to get you to decide.”

“Then shall I help you?” she eagerly asked.

“I think it will be quite in your line.”

At the thought of her line — it sounded somehow so general — she released him a little with a sigh, yet still looking round, as it were, for possibilities. “Jane, you know, is in a state.”

“Yes, Jane’s in a state. That’s a comfort!”

She continued in a manner to cling to him. “But is it your only one?”

He was very kind and patient. “Not perhaps quite.”

“I’M a little of one?”

“My dear child, as you see.”

Yes, she saw, but was still on the wing. “And shall you have recourse —?”

“To what?” he asked as she appeared to falter.

“I don’t mean to anything violent. But shall you tell Nanda?”

Mitchy wondered. “Tell her —?”

“Well, everything. I think, you know,” Mrs. Brook musingly observed, “that it would really serve her right.”

Mitchy’s silence, which lasted a minute, seemed to take the idea, but not perhaps quite to know what to do with it. “Ah I’m afraid I shall never really serve her right!”

Just as he spoke the butler reappeared; at sight of whom Mrs. Brook immediately guessed. “Mr. Longdon?”

“In Mr. Brookenham’s room, ma’am. Mr. Brookenham has gone out.”

“And where has he gone?”

“I think, ma’am, only for some evening papers.”

She had an intense look for Mitchy; then she said to the man: “Ask him to wait three minutes — I’ll ring;” turning again to her visitor as soon as they were alone. “You don’t know how I’m trusting you!”

“Trusting me?”

“Why, if he comes up to you.”

Mitchy thought. “Hadn’t I better go down?”

“No — you may have Edward back. If you see him you must see him here. If I don’t myself it’s for a reason.”

Mitchy again just sounded her. “His not, as you a while ago hinted —?”

“Yes, caring for what I say.” She had a pause, but she brought it out. “He doesn’t believe a word —!”

“Of what you tell him?” Mitchy was splendid. “I see. And you want something said to him.”

“Yes, that he’ll take from YOU. Only it’s for you,” Mrs. Brook went on, “really and honestly, and as I trust you, to give it. But the comfort of you is that you’ll do so if you promise.”

Mitchy was infinitely struck. “But I haven’t promised, eh? Of course I can’t till I know what it is.”

“It’s to put before him —!”

“Oh I see: the situation.”

“What has happened here today. Van’s marked retreat and how, with the time that has passed, it makes us at last know where we are. You of course for yourself,” Mrs. Brook wound up, “see that.”

“Where we are?” Mitchy took a turn and came back. “But what then did Van come for? If you speak of a retreat there must have been an advance.”

“Oh,” said Mrs. Brook, “he simply wanted not to look too brutal. After so much absence he COULD come.”

“Well, if he established that he isn’t brutal, where was the retreat?”

“In his not going up to Nanda. He came — frankly — to do that, but made up his mind on second thoughts that he couldn’t risk even being civil to her.”

Mitchy had visibly warmed to his work. “Well, and what made the difference?”

She wondered. “What difference?”

“Why, of the effect, as you say, of his second thoughts. Thoughts of what?”

“Oh,” said Mrs. Brook suddenly and as if it were quite simple —“I know THAT! Suspicions.”

“And of whom?”

“Why, of YOU, you goose. Of your not having done —”

“Well, what?” he persisted as she paused.

“How shall I say it? The best thing for yourself. And of Nanda’s feeling that. Don’t you see?”

In the effort of seeing, or perhaps indeed in the full act of it, poor Mitchy glared as never before. “Do you mean Van’s JEALOUS of me?”

Pressed as she was, there was something in his face that momentarily hushed her. “There it is!” she achieved however at last.

“Of ME?” Mitchy went on.

What was in his face so suddenly and strangely — was the look of rising tears — at sight of which, as from a compunction as prompt, she showed a lovely flush. “There it is, there it is,” she repeated. “You ask me for a reason, and it’s the only one I see. Of course if you don’t care,” she added, “he needn’t come up. He can go straight to Nanda.”

Mitchy had turned away again as with the impulse of hiding the tears that had risen and that had not wholly disappeared even by the time he faced about. “Did Nanda know he was to come?”

“Mr. Longdon?”

“No, no. Was she expecting Van —?”

“My dear man,” Mrs. Brook mildly wailed, “when can she have NOT been?”

Mitchy looked hard for an instant at the floor. “I mean does she know he has been and gone?”

Mrs. Brook, from where she stood and through the window, looked rather at the sky. “Her father will have told her.”

“Her father?” Mitchy frankly wondered. “Is HE in it?”

Mrs. Brook had at this a longer pause. “You assume, I suppose, Mitchy dear,” she then quavered “that I put him up —!”

“Put Edward up?” he broke in.

“No — that of course. Put Van up to ideas —!”

He caught it again. “About ME— what you call his suspicions?” He seemed to weigh the charge, but it ended, while he passed his hand hard over his eyes, in weariness and in the nearest approach to coldness he had ever shown Mrs. Brook. “It doesn’t matter. It’s every one’s fate to be in one way or another the subject of ideas. Do then,” he continued, “let Mr. Longdon come up.”

She instantly rang the bell. “Then I’ll go to Nanda. But don’t look frightened,” she added as she came back, “as to what we may — Edward or I— do next. It’s only to tell her that he’ll be with her.”

“Good. I’ll tell Tatton,” Mitchy replied.

Still, however, she lingered. “Shall you ever care for me more?”

He had almost the air, as he waited for her to go, of the master of the house, for she had made herself before him, as he stood with his back to the fire, as humble as a tolerated visitor. “Oh just as much. Where’s the difference? Aren’t our ties in fact rather multiplied?”

“That’s the way I want to feel it. And from the moment you recognise with me —”

“Yes?”

“Well, that he never, you know, really WOULD—”

He took her mercifully up. “There’s no harm done?” Mitchy thought of it.

It made her still hover. “Nanda will be rich. Toward that you CAN help, and it’s really, I may now tell you, what it came into my head you should see our friend here FOR.”

He maintained his waiting attitude. “Thanks, thanks.”

“You’re our guardian angel!” she exclaimed.

At this he laughed out. “Wait till you see what Mr. Longdon does!”

But she took no notice. “I want you to see before I go that I’ve done nothing for myself. Van, after all —!” she mused.

“Well?”

“Only hates me. It isn’t as with you,” she said. “I’ve really lost him.”

Mitchy for an instant, with the eyes that had shown his tears, glared away into space. “He can’t very positively, you know, now like ANY of us. He misses a fortune.”

“There it is!” Mrs. Brook once more observed. Then she had a comparative brightness. “I’m so glad YOU don’t!” He gave another laugh, but she was already facing Mr. Tatton, who had again answered the bell. “Show Mr. Longdon up.”

“I’m to tell him then it’s at your request?” Mitchy asked when the butler had gone.

“That you receive him? Oh yes. He’ll be the last to quarrel with that. But there’s one more thing.”

It was something over which of a sudden she had one of her returns of anxiety. “I’ve been trying for months and months to remember to find out from you —”

“Well, what?” he enquired, as she looked odd.

“Why if Harold ever gave back to you, as he swore to me on his honour he would, that five-pound note —!”

“But which, dear lady?” The sense of other incongruities than those they had been dealing with seemed to arrive now for Mitchy’s aid.

“The one that, ages ago, one day when you and Van were here, we had the joke about. You produced it, in sport, as a ‘fine’ for something, and put it on that table; after which, before I knew what you were about, before I could run after you, you had gone off and ridiculously left it. Of course the next minute — and again before I could turn round — Harold had pounced on it, and I tried in vain to recover it from him. But all I could get him to do —”

“Was to promise to restore it straight to its owner?” Mitchy had listened so much less in surprise than in amusement that he had apparently after a moment re-established the scene. “Oh I recollect — he did settle with me. THAT’S all right.”

She fixed him from the door of the next room. “You got every penny?”

“Every penny. But fancy your bringing it up!”

“Ah I always do, you know — SOME day.”

“Yes, you’re of a rigour —! But be at peace. Harold’s quite square,” he went on, “and I quite meant to have asked you about him.”

Mrs. Brook, promptly, was all for this. “Oh it’s all right.”

Mitchy came nearer. “Lady Fanny —?”

“Yes — HAS stayed for him.”

“Ah,” said Mitchy, “I knew you’d do it! But hush — they’re coming!” On which, while she whisked away, he went back to the fire.

IV

Ten minutes of talk with Mr. Longdon by Mrs. Brookenham’s hearth elapsed for him without his arriving at the right moment to take up the business so richly put before him in his previous interview. No less time indeed could have sufficed to bring him into closer relation with this affair, and nothing at first could have been more marked than the earnestness of his care not to show impatience of appeals that were, for a person of his old friend’s general style, simple recognitions and decencies. There was a limit to the mere allusiveness with which, in Mr. Longdon’s school of manners, a foreign tour might be treated, and Mitchy, no doubt, plentifully showed that none of his frequent returns had encountered a curiosity at once so explicit and so discreet. To belong to a circle in which most of the members might be at any moment on the other side of the globe was inevitably to fall into the habit of few questions, as well as into that of making up for their fewness by their freedom. This interlocutor in short, while Mrs. Brook’s representative privately thought over all he had in hand, went at some length and very charmingly — since it was but a tribute to common courtesy — into the Virgilian associations of the Bay of Naples. Finally, however, he started, his eye having turned to the clock. “I’m afraid that, though our hostess doesn’t appear, I mustn’t forget myself. I too came back but yesterday and I’ve an engagement — for which I’m already late — with Miss Brookenham, who has been so good as to ask me to tea.”

The divided mind, the express civility, the decent “Miss Brookenham,” the escape from their hostess — these were all things Mitchy could quickly take in, and they gave him in a moment his light for not missing his occasion. “I see, I see — I shall make you keep Nanda waiting. But there’s something I shall ask you to take from me quite as a sufficient basis for that: which is simply that after all, you know — for I think you do know, don’t you? — I’m nearly as much attached to her as you are.”

Mr. Longdon had looked suddenly apprehensive and even a trifle embarrassed, but he spoke with due presence of mind. “Of course I understand that perfectly. If you hadn’t liked her so much —”

“Well?” said Mitchy as he checked himself.

“I would never, last year, have gone to stay with you.”

“Thank you!” Mitchy laughed.

“Though I like you also — and extremely,” Mr. Longdon gravely pursued, “for yourself.”

Mitchy made a sign of acknowledgement. “You like me better for HER than you do for anybody else BUT myself.”

“You put it, I think, correctly. Of course I’ve not seen so much of Nanda — if between my age and hers, that is, any real contact is possible — without knowing that she now regards you as one of the very best of her friends, treating you, I find myself suspecting, with a degree of confidence —”

Mitchy gave a laugh of interruption. “That she doesn’t show even to you?”

Mr. Longdon’s poised glasses faced him. “Even! I don’t mind, as the opportunity has come up, telling you frankly — and as from my time of life to your own — all the comfort I take in the sense that in any case of need or trouble she might look to you for whatever advice or support the crisis should demand.”

“She has told you she feels I’d be there?” Mitchy after an instant asked.

“I’m not sure,” his friend replied, “that I ought quite to mention anything she has ‘told’ me. I speak of what I’ve made out myself.”

“Then I thank you more than I can say for your penetration. Her mother, I should let you know,” Mitchy continued, “is with her just now.”

Mr. Longdon took off his glasses with a jerk. “Has anything happened to her?”

“To account for the fact I refer to?” Mitchy said in amusement at his start. “She’s not ill, that I know of, thank goodness, and she hasn’t broken her leg. But something, none the less, has happened to her — that I think I may say. To tell you all in a word, it’s the reason, such as it is, of my being here to meet you. Mrs. Brook asked me to wait. She’ll see you herself some other time.”

Mr. Longdon wondered. “And Nanda too?”

“Oh that must be between yourselves. Only, while I keep you here —”

“She understands my delay?”

Mitchy thought. “Mrs. Brook must have explained.” Then as his companion took this in silence, “But you don’t like it?” he asked.

“It only comes to me that Mrs. Brook’s explanations —!”

“Are often so odd? Oh yes; but Nanda, you know, allows for that oddity. And Mrs. Brook, by the same token,” Mitchy developed, “knows herself — no one better — what may frequently be thought of it. That’s precisely the reason of her desire that you should have on this occasion explanations from a source that she’s so good as to pronounce, for the immediate purpose, superior. As for Nanda,” he wound up, “to be aware that we’re here together won’t strike her as so bad a sign.”

“No,” Mr. Longdon attentively assented; “she’ll hardly fear we’re plotting her ruin. But what then has happened to her?”

“Well,” said Mitchy, “it’s you, I think, who will have to give it a name. I know you know what I’ve known.”

Mr. Longdon, his nippers again in place, hesitated. “Yes, I know.”

“And you’ve accepted it.”

“How could I help it? To reckon with such cleverness —!”

“Was beyond you? Ah it wasn’t my cleverness,” Mitchy said. “There’s a greater than mine. There’s a greater even than Van’s. That’s the whole point,” he went on while his friend looked at him hard. “You don’t even like it just a little?”

Mr. Longdon wondered. “The existence of such an element —?”

“No; the existence simply of my knowledge of your idea.”

“I suppose I’m bound to keep in mind in fairness the existence of my own knowledge of yours.”

But Mitchy gave that the go-by. “Oh I’ve so many ‘ideas’! I’m always getting hold of some new one and for the most part trying it — generally to let it go as a failure. Yes, I had one six months ago. I tried that. I’m trying it still.”

“Then I hope,” said Mr. Longdon with a gaiety slightly strained, “that, contrary to your usual rule, it’s a success.”

It was a gaiety, for that matter, that Mitchy’s could match. “It does promise well! But I’ve another idea even now, and it’s just what I’m again trying.”

“On me?” Mr. Longdon still somewhat extravagantly smiled.

Mitchy thought. “Well, on two or three persons, of whom you ARE the first for me to tackle. But what I must begin with is having from you that you recognise she trusts us.”

Mitchy’s idea after an instant had visibly gone further. “Both of them — the two women up there at present so strangely together. Mrs. Brook must too; immensely. But for that you won’t care.”

Mr. Longdon had relapsed into an anxiety more natural than his expression of a moment before. “It’s about time! But if Nanda didn’t trust us,” he went on, “her case would indeed be a sorry one. She has nobody else to trust.”

“Yes.” Mitchy’s concurrence was grave. “Only you and me.”

“Only you and me.”

The eyes of the two men met over it in a pause terminated at last by Mitchy’s saying: “We must make it all up to her.”

“Is that your idea?”

“Ah,” said Mitchy gently, “don’t laugh at it.”

His friend’s grey gloom again covered him. “But what CAN—?” Then as Mitchy showed a face that seemed to wince with a silent “What COULD?” the old man completed his objection. “Think of the magnitude of the loss.”

“Oh I don’t for a moment suggest,” Mitchy hastened to reply, “that it isn’t immense.”

“She does care for him, you know,” said Mr. Longdon.

Mitchy, at this, gave a wide, prolonged glare. “‘Know’—?” he ever so delicately murmured.

His irony had quite touched. “But of course you know! You know everything — Nanda and you.”

There was a tone in it that moved a spring, and Mitchy laughed out. “I like your putting me with her! But we’re all together. With Nanda,” he next added, “it IS deep.”

His companion took it from him. “Deep.”

“And yet somehow it isn’t abject.”

The old man wondered. “‘Abject’?”

“I mean it isn’t pitiful. In its way,” Mitchy developed, “it’s happy.”

This too, though rather ruefully, Mr. Longdon could take from him. “Yes — in its way.”

“Any passion so great, so complete,” Mitchy went on, “is — satisfied or unsatisfied — a life.” Mr. Longdon looked so interested that his fellow visitor, evidently stirred by what was now an appeal and a dependence, grew still more bland, or at least more assured, for affirmation. “She’s not TOO sorry for herself.”

“Ah she’s so proud!”

“Yes, but that’s a help.”

“Oh — not for US!”

It arrested Mitchy, but his ingenuity could only rebound. “In ONE way: that of reducing us to feel that the desire to ‘make up’ to her is — well, mainly for OUR relief. If she ‘trusts’ us, as I said just now, it isn’t for THAT she does so.” As his friend appeared to wait then to hear, it was presently with positive joy that he showed he could meet the last difficulty. “What she trusts us to do”— oh Mitchy had worked it out! —“is to let HIM off.”

“Let him off?” It still left Mr. Longdon dim.

“Easily. That’s all.”

“But what would letting him off hard be? It seems to me he’s — on any terms — already beyond us. He IS off.”

Mr. Longdon had given it a sound that suddenly made Mitchy appear to collapse under a sharper sense of the matter. “He IS off,” he moodily echoed.

His companion, again a little bewildered, watched him; then with impatience: “Do, please, tell me what has happened.”

He quickly pulled himself round. “Well, he was, after a long absence, here a while since as if expressly to see her. But after spending half an hour he went away without it.”

Mr. Longdon’s watch continued. “He spent the half-hour with her mother instead?”

“Oh ‘instead’— it was hardly that. He at all events dropped his idea.”

“And what had it been, his idea?”

“You speak as if he had as many as I!” Mitchy replied. “In a manner indeed he has,” he continued as if for himself. “But they’re of a different kind,” he said to Mr. Longdon.

“What had it been, his idea?” the old man, however, simply repeated.

Mitchy’s confession at this seemed to explain his previous evasion. “We shall never know.”

Mr. Longdon hesitated. “He won’t tell YOU?”

“Me?” Mitchy had a pause. “Less than any one.”

Many things they had not spoken had already passed between them, and something evidently, to the sense of each, passed during the moment that followed this. “While you were abroad,” Mr. Longdon presently asked, “did you hear from him?”

“Never. And I wrote nothing.”

“Like me,” said Mr. Longdon. “I’ve neither written nor heard.”

“Ah but with you it will be different.” Mr. Longdon, as if with the outbreak of an agitation hitherto controlled, had turned abruptly away and, with the usual swing of his glass, begun almost wildly to wander. “You WILL hear.”

“I shall be curious.”

“Oh but what Nanda wants, you know, is that you shouldn’t be too much so.”

Mr. Longdon thoughtfully rambled. “Too much —?”

“To let him off, as we were saying, easily.”

The elder man for a while said nothing more, but he at last came back. “She’d like me actually to give him something?”

“I dare say!”

“Money?”

Mitchy smiled. “A handsome present.” They were face to face again with more mute interchange. “She doesn’t want HIM to have lost —!” Mr. Longdon, however, on this, once more broke off while Mitchy’s eyes followed him. “Doesn’t it give a sort of measure of what she may feel —?”

He had paused, working it out again with the effect of his friend’s returning afresh to be fed with his light. “Doesn’t what give it?”

“Why the fact that we still like him.”

Mr. Longdon stared. “Do YOU still like him?”

“If I didn’t how should I mind —?” But on the utterance of it Mitchy fairly pulled up.

His companion, after another look, laid a mild hand on his shoulder. “What is it you mind?”

“From HIM? Oh nothing!” He could trust himself again. “There are people like that — great cases of privilege.”

“He IS one!” Mr. Longdon mused.

“There it is. They go through life somehow guaranteed. They can’t help pleasing.”

“Ah,” Mr. Longdon murmured, “if it hadn’t been for that —!”

“They hold, they keep every one,” Mitchy went on. “It’s the sacred terror.”

The companions for a little seemed to stand together in this element; after which the elder turned once more away and appeared to continue to walk in it. “Poor Nanda!” then, in a far-off sigh, came across from him to Mitchy. Mitchy on this turned vaguely round to the fire, into which he remained gazing till he heard again Mr. Longdon’s voice. “I knew it of course after all. It was what I came up to town for. That night, before you went abroad, at Mrs. Grendon’s —”

“Yes?”— Mitchy was with him again.

“Well, made me see the future. It was then already too late.”

Mitchy assented with emphasis. “Too late. She was spoiled for him.”

If Mr. Longdon had to take it he took it at least quietly, only saying after a time: “And her mother ISN’T?”

“Oh yes. Quite.”

“And does Mrs. Brook know it?”

“Yes, but doesn’t mind. She resembles you and me. She ‘still likes’ him.”

“But what good will that do her?”

Mitchy sketched a shrug. “What good does it do US?”

Mr. Longdon thought. “We can at least respect ourselves.”

“CAN we?” Mitchy smiled.

“And HE can respect us,” his friend, as if not hearing him, went on.

Mitchy seemed almost to demur. “He must think we’re ‘rum.’”

“Well, Mrs. Brook’s worse than rum. He can’t respect HER.”

“Oh that will be perhaps,” Mitchy laughed, “what she’ll get just most out of!” It was the first time of Mr. Longdon’s showing that even after a minute he had not understood him; so that as quickly as possible he passed to another point. “If you do anything may I be in it?”

“But what can I do? If it’s over it’s over.”

“For HIM, yes. But not for her or for you or for me.”

“Oh I’m not for long!” the old man wearily said, turning the next moment to the door, at which one of the footmen had appeared.

“Mrs. Brookenham’s compliments, please sir,” this messenger articulated, “and Miss Brookenham is now alone.”

“Thanks — I’ll come up.”

The servant withdrew, and the eyes of the two visitors again met for a minute, after which Mitchy looked about for his hat. “Good-bye. I’ll go.”

Mr. Longdon watched him while, having found his hat, he looked about for his stick. “You want to be in EVERYTHING?”

Mitchy, without answering, smoothed his hat down; then he replied: “You say you’re not for long, but you won’t abandon her.”

“Oh I mean I shan’t last for ever.”

“Well, since you so expressed it yourself, that’s what I mean too. I assure you I shan’t desert her. And if I can help you —!”

“Help me?” Mr. Longdon interrupted, looking at him hard.

It made him a little awkward. “Help you to help her, you know —!”

“You’re very wonderful,” Mr. Longdon presently returned. “A year and a half ago you wanted to help me to help Mr. Vanderbank.”

“Well,” said Mitchy, “you can’t quite say I haven’t.”

“But your ideas of help are of a splendour —!”

“Oh I’ve told you about my ideas.” Mitchy was almost apologetic. Mr. Longdon had a pause. “I suppose I’m not indiscreet then in recognising your marriage as one of them. And that, with a responsibility so great already assumed, you appear fairly eager for another —!”

“Makes me out a kind of monster of benevolence?” Mitchy looked at it with a flushed face. “The two responsibilities are very much one and the same. My marriage has brought me, as it were, only nearer to Nanda. My wife and she, don’t you see? are particular friends.”

Mr. Longdon, on his side, turned a trifle pale; he looked rather hard at the floor. “I see — I see.” Then he raised his eyes. “But — to an old fellow like me — it’s all so strange.”

“It IS strange.” Mitchy spoke very kindly. “But it’s all right.”

Mr. Longdon gave a headshake that was both sad and sharp. “It’s all wrong. But YOU’RE all right!” he added in a different tone as he walked hastily away.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/james/henry/j2aw/book9.html

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