Mrs. Medwin, by Henry James

Chapter 4

Scott Homer wore exactly, to his sister’s eyes, the aspect he had worn the day before, and it also formed to her sense the great feature of his impartial greeting.

“How d’ye do, Mamie? How d’ye do, Lady Wantridge?”

“How d’ye do again?” Lady Wantridge replied with an equanimity striking to her hostess. It was as if Scott’s own had been contagious; it was almost indeed as if she had seen him before. Had she ever so seen him — before the previous day? While Miss Cutter put to herself this question her visitor at all events met the one she had previously uttered. “Ever ‘forgive’?” this personage echoed in a tone that made as little account as possible of the interruption. “Dear yes! The people I HAVE forgiven!” She laughed — perhaps a little nervously; and she was now looking at Scott. The way she looked at him was precisely what had already had its effect for his sister. “The people I can!”

“Can you forgive me?” asked Scott Homer.

She took it so easily. “But — what?”

Mamie interposed; she turned directly to her brother. “Don’t try her. Leave it so.” She had had an inspiration, it was the most extraordinary thing in the world. “Don’t try HIM” — she had turned to their companion. She looked grave, sad, strange. “Leave it so.” Yes, it was a distinct inspiration, which she couldn’t have explained, but which had come, prompted by something she had caught — the extent of the recognition expressed — in Lady Wantridge’s face. It had come absolutely of a sudden, straight out of the opposition of the two figures before her — quite as if a concussion had struck a light. The light was helped by her quickened sense that her friend’s silence on the incident of the day before showed some sort of consciousness. She looked surprised. “Do you know my brother?”

“DO I know you?” Lady Wantridge asked of him.

“No, Lady Wantridge,” Scott pleasantly confessed, “not one little mite!”

“Well then if you MUST go — ” and Mamie offered her a hand. “But I’ll go down with you. NOT YOU!” she launched at her brother, who immediately effaced himself. His way of doing so — and he had already done so, as for Lady Wantridge, in respect to their previous encounter — struck her even at the moment as an instinctive if slightly blind tribute to her possession of an idea; and as such, in its celerity, made her so admire him, and their common wit, that she on the spot more than forgave him his queerness. He was right. He could be as queer as he liked! The queerer the better! It was at the foot of the stairs, when she had got her guest down, that what she had assured Mrs. Medwin would come did indeed come. “DID you meet him here yesterday?”

“Dear yes. Isn’t he too funny?”

“Yes,” said Mamie gloomily. “He IS funny. But had you ever met him before?”

“Dear no!”

“Oh!” — and Mamie’s tone might have meant many things.

Lady Wantridge however, after all, easily overlooked it. “I only knew he was one of your odd Americans. That’s why, when I heard yesterday here that he was up there awaiting your return, I didn’t let that prevent me. I thought he might be. He certainly,” her ladyship laughed, “IS.”

“Yes, he’s very American,” Mamie went on in the same way.

“As you say, we ARE fond of you! Good-bye,” said Lady Wantridge.

But Mamie had not half done with her. She felt more and more — or she hoped at least — that she looked strange. She WAS, no doubt, if it came to that, strange. “Lady Wantridge,” she almost convulsively broke out, “I don’t know whether you’ll understand me, but I seem to feel that I must act with you — I don’t know what to call it! — responsibly. He IS my brother.”

“Surely — and why not?” Lady Wantridge stared. “He’s the image of you!”

“Thank you!” — and Mamie was stranger than ever.

“Oh he’s good-looking. He’s handsome, my dear. Oddly — but distinctly!” Her ladyship was for treating it much as a joke.

But Mamie, all sombre, would have none of this. She boldly gave him up. “I think he’s awful.”

“He is indeed — delightfully. And where DO you get your ways of saying things? It isn’t anything — and the things aren’t anything. But it’s so droll.”

“Don’t let yourself, all the same,” Mamie consistently pursued, “be carried away by it. The thing can’t be done — simply.”

Lady Wantridge wondered. “‘Done simply’?”

“Done at all.”

“But what can’t be?”

“Why, what you might think — from his pleasantness. What he spoke of your doing for him.”

Lady Wantridge recalled. “Forgiving him?”

“He asked you if you couldn’t. But you can’t. It’s too dreadful for me, as so near a relation, to have, loyally — loyally to YOU— to say it. But he’s impossible.”

It was so portentously produced that her ladyship had somehow to meet it. “What’s the matter with him?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then what’s the matter with YOU?” Lady Wantridge inquired.

“It’s because I WON’T know,” Mamie — not without dignity — explained.

“Then I won’t either.”

“Precisely. Don’t. It’s something,” Mamie pursued, with some inconsequence, “that — somewhere or other, at some time or other — he appears to have done. Something that has made a difference in his life.”

“‘Something’?” Lady Wantridge echoed again. “What kind of thing?”

Mamie looked up at the light above the door, through which the London sky was doubly dim. “I haven’t the least idea.”

“Then what kind of difference?”

Mamie’s gaze was still at the light. “The difference you see.”

Lady Wantridge, rather obligingly, seemed to ask herself what she saw. “But I don’t see any! It seems, at least,” she added, “such an amusing one! And he has such nice eyes.”

“Oh DEAR eyes!” Mamie conceded; but with too much sadness, for the moment, about the connexions of the subject, to say more.

It almost forced her companion after an instant to proceed. “Do you mean he can’t go home?”

She weighed her responsibility. “I only make out — more’s the pity! — that he doesn’t.”

“Is it then something too terrible —?”

She thought again. “I don’t know what — for men — IS too terrible.”

“Well then as you don’t know what ‘is’ for women either — good-bye!” her visitor laughed.

It practically wound up the interview; which, however, terminating thus on a considerable stir of the air, was to give Miss Cutter for several days the sense of being much blown about. The degree to which, to begin with, she had been drawn — or perhaps rather pushed — closer to Scott was marked in the brief colloquy that she on her friend’s departure had with him. He had immediately said it. “You’ll see if she doesn’t ask me down!”

“So soon?”

“Oh I’ve known them at places — at Cannes, at Pau, at Shanghai — do it sooner still. I always know when they will. You CAN’T make out they don’t love me!” He spoke almost plaintively, as if he wished she could.

“Then I don’t see why it hasn’t done you more good.”

“Why Mamie,” he patiently reasoned, “what more good COULD it? As I tell you,” he explained, “it has just been my life.”

“Then why do you come to me for money?”

“Oh they don’t give me THAT!” Scott returned.

“So that it only means then, after all, that I, at the best, must keep you up?”

He fixed on her the nice eyes Lady Wantridge admired. “Do you mean to tell me that already — at this very moment — I’m not distinctly keeping you?”

She gave him back his look. “Wait till she HAS asked you, and then,” Mamie added, “decline.”

Scott, not too grossly, wondered. “As acting for YOU?”

Mamie’s next injunction was answer enough. “But BEFORE— yes — call.”

He took it in. “Call — but decline. Good!”

“The rest,” she said, “I leave to you.” And she left it in fact with such confidence that for a couple of days she was not only conscious of no need to give Mrs. Medwin another turn of the screw, but positively evaded, in her fortitude, the reappearance of that lady. It was not till the fourth day that she waited upon her, finding her, as she had expected, tense.

“Lady Wantridge WILL—?”

“Yes, though she says she won’t.”

“She says she won’t? O-oh!” Mrs. Medwin moaned.

“Sit tight all the same. I HAVE her!”

“But how?”

“Through Scott — whom she wants.”

“Your bad brother!” Mrs. Medwin stared. “What does she want of him?”

“To amuse them at Catchmore. Anything for that. And he WOULD. But he shan’t!” Mamie declared. “He shan’t go unless she comes. She must meet you first — you’re my condition.”

“O-o-oh!” Mrs. Medwin’s tone was a wonder of hope and fear. “But doesn’t he want to go?”

“He wants what I want. She draws the line at YOU. I draw the line at HIM.”

“But SHE— doesn’t she mind that he’s bad?”

It was so artless that Mamie laughed. “No — it doesn’t touch her. Besides, perhaps he isn’t. It isn’t as for you — people seem not to know. He has settled everything, at all events, by going to see her. It’s before her that he’s the thing she’ll have to have.”

“Have to?”

“For Sundays in the country. A feature — THE feature.”

“So she has asked him?”

“Yes — and he has declined.”

“For ME?” Mrs. Medwin panted.

“For me,” said Mamie on the door-step. “But I don’t leave him for long.” Her hansom had waited. “She’ll come.”

Lady Wantridge did come. She met in South Audley Street, on the fourteenth, at tea, the ladies whom Mamie had named to her, together with three or four others, and it was rather a master-stroke for Miss Cutter that if Mrs. Medwin was modestly present Scott Homer was as markedly not. This occasion, however, is a medal that would take rare casting, as would also, for that matter, even the minor light and shade, the lower relief, of the pecuniary transaction that Mrs. Medwin’s flushed gratitude scarce awaited the dispersal of the company munificently to complete. A new understanding indeed on the spot rebounded from it, the conception of which, in Mamie’s mind, had promptly bloomed. “He shan’t go now unless he takes you.” Then, as her fancy always moved quicker for her client than her client’s own — “Down with him to Catchmore! When he goes to amuse them YOU,” she serenely developed, “shall amuse them too.” Mrs. Medwin’s response was again rather oddly divided, but she was sufficiently intelligible when it came to meeting the hint that this latter provision would represent success to the tune of a separate fee. “Say,” Mamie had suggested, “the same.”

“Very well; the same.”

The knowledge that it was to be the same had perhaps something to do also with the obliging spirit in which Scott eventually went. It was all at the last rather hurried — a party rapidly got together for the Grand Duke, who was in England but for the hour, who had good-naturedly proposed himself, and who liked his parties small, intimate and funny. This one was of the smallest and was finally judged to conform neither too little nor too much to the other conditions — after a brief whirlwind of wires and counterwires, and an iterated waiting of hansoms at various doors — to include Mrs. Medwin. It was from Catchmore itself that, snatching, a moment — on the wondrous Sunday afternoon, this lady had the harmonious thought of sending the new cheque. She was in bliss enough, but her scribble none the less intimated that it was Scott who amused them most. He WAS the feature.

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