If Mitchy arrived exactly at the hour it was quite by design and on a calculation — over and above the prized little pleasure it might give him — of ten minutes clear with his host, whom it rarely befell him to see alone. He had a theory of something special to go into, of a plummet to sink or a feeler to put forth; his state of mind in short was diplomatic and anxious. But his hopes had a drop as he crossed the threshold. His precaution had only assured him the company of a stranger, for the person in the room to whom the servant announced him was not old Van. On the other hand this gentleman would clearly be old — what was it? the fellow Vanderbank had made it a matter of such importance he should “really know.” But were they then simply to have tea there together? No; the candidate for Mr. Mitchett’s acquaintance, as if quickly guessing his apprehension, mentioned on the spot that their entertainer would be with them: he had just come home in a hurry, fearing he was late, and then had rushed off to make a change. “Fortunately,” said the speaker, who offered his explanation as if he had had it on his mind —“fortunately the ladies haven’t yet come.”
“Oh there ARE to be ladies?”— Mr. Mitchett was all response. His fellow guest, who was shy and apparently nervous, sidled about a little, swinging an eye-glass, yet glancing in a manner a trifle birdlike from object to object. “Mrs. Edward Brookenham I think.”
“Oh!” Mitchy himself felt, as soon as this comment had quitted his lips, that it might sound even to a stranger like a sign, such as the votaries of Mrs. Edward Brookenham had fallen into the way of constantly throwing off, that he recognised her hand in the matter. There was, however, something in his entertainer’s face that somehow encouraged frankness; it had the sociability of surprise — it hadn’t the chill. Mitchy saw at the same time that this friend of old Van’s would never really understand him; though that was a thing he at times liked people as much for as he liked them little for it at others. It was in fact when he most liked that he was on the whole most tempted to mystify. “Only Mrs. Brook? — no others?”
“‘Mrs. Brook’?” his elder echoed; staring an instant as if literally missing the connexion; but quickly after, to show he was not stupid — and indeed it seemed to show he was delightful — smiling with extravagant intelligence. “Is that the right thing to say?”
Mitchy gave the kindest of laughs. “Well, I dare say I oughtn’t to.”
“Oh I didn’t mean to correct you,” his interlocutor hastened to profess; “I meant on the contrary, will it be right for me too?”
Mitchy’s great goggle attentively fixed him. “Try it.”
“To every one.”
“To her husband?”
“Oh to Edward,” Mitchy laughed again, “perfectly!”
“And must I call him ‘Edward’?”
“Whatever you do will be right,” Mitchy returned —“even though it should happen to be sometimes what I do.”
His companion, as if to look at him with a due appreciation of this, stopped swinging the nippers and put them on. “You people here have a pleasant way —!”
“Oh we HAVE!”— Mitchy, taking him up, was gaily emphatic. He began, however, already to perceive the mystification which in this case was to be his happy effect.
“Mr. Vanderbank,” his victim remarked with perhaps a shade more of reserve, “has told me a good deal about you.” Then as if, in a finer manner, to keep the talk off themselves: “He knows a great many ladies.”
“Oh yes, poor chap, he can’t help it. He finds a lady wherever he turns.”
The stranger took this in, but seemed a little to challenge it. “Well, that’s reassuring, if one sometimes fancies there are fewer.”
“Fewer than there used to be? — I see what you mean,” said Mitchy. “But if it has struck you so, that’s awfully interesting.” He glared and grinned and mused. “I wonder.”
“Well, we shall see.” His friend seemed to wish not to dogmatise.
“SHALL we?” Mitchy considered it again in its high suggestive light. “You will — but how shall I?” Then he caught himself up with a blush. “What a beastly thing to say — as if it were mere years that make you see it!”
His companion this time gave way to the joke. “What else can it be-if I’ve thought so?”
“Why, it’s the facts themselves, and the fine taste, and above all something qui ne court pas les rues, an approach to some experience of what a lady IS.” The young man’s acute reflexion appeared suddenly to flower into a vision of opportunity that swept everything else away. “Excuse my insisting on your time of life — but you HAVE seen some?” The question was of such interest that he had already begun to follow it. “Oh the charm of talk with some one who can fill out one’s idea of the really distinguished women of the past! If I could get you,” he continued, “to be so awfully valuable as to fill out mine!”
His fellow visitor, on this, made, in a pause, a nearer approach to taking visibly his measure. “Are you sure you’ve got an idea?” Mr. Mitchett brightly thought. “No. That must be just why I appeal to you. And it can’t therefore be for confirmation, can it?” he went on. “It must be for the beautiful primary hint altogether.”
His interlocutor began, with a shake of the eyeglass, to shift and sidle again, as if distinctly excited by the subject. But it was as if his very excitement made the poor gentleman a trifle coy. “Are there no nice ones now?”
“Oh yes, there must be lots. In fact I know quantities.”
This had the effect of pulling the stranger up. “Ah ‘quantities’! There it is.”
“Yes,” said Mitchy, “fancy the ‘lady’ in her millions. Have you come up to London, wondering, as you must, about what’s happening — for Vanderbank mentioned, I think, that you HAVE come up — in pursuit of her?”
“Ah,” laughed the subject of Vanderbank’s information, “I’m afraid ‘pursuit,’ with me, is over.”
“Why, you’re at the age,” Mitchy returned, “of — the most exquisite form of it. Observation.”
“Yet it’s a form, I seem to see, that you’ve not waited for my age to cultivate.” This was followed by a decisive headshake. “I’m not an observer. I’m a hater.”
“That only means,” Mitchy explained, “that you keep your observation for your likes — which is more admirable than prudent. But between my fear in the one direction and my desire in the other,” he lightly added, “I scarcely know how to present myself. I must study the ground. Meanwhile HAS old Van told you much about me?”
Old Van’s possible confidant, instead of immediately answering, again assumed the pince-nez. “Is that what you call him?”
“In general, I think — for shortness.”
“And also”— the speaker hesitated —“for esteem?”
Mitchy laughed out. “For veneration! Our disrespects, I think, are all tender, and we wouldn’t for the world do to a person we don’t like anything so nice as to call him, or even to call her, don’t you know —?”
His questioner had quickly looked as if he knew. “Something pleasant and vulgar?”
Mitchy’s gaiety deepened. “That discrimination’s our only austerity. You must fall in.”
“Then what will you call ME?”
“What can we?” After which, sustainingly, “I’m ‘Mitchy,’” our friend stated.
His interlocutor looked slightly queer. “I don’t think I can quite begin. I’m Mr. Longdon,” he almost blushed to articulate.
“Absolutely and essentially — that’s exactly what I recognise. I defy any one to see you,” Mitchy declared, “as anything else, and on that footing you’ll be, among us, unique.”
Mr. Longdon appeared to accept his prospect of isolation with a certain gravity. “I gather from you — I’ve gathered indeed from Mr. Vanderbank — that you’re a little sort of a set that hang very much together.”
“Oh yes; not a formal association nor a secret society — still less a ‘dangerous gang’ or an organisation for any definite end. We’re simply a collection of natural affinities,” Mitchy explained; “meeting perhaps principally in Mrs. Brook’s drawing-room — though sometimes also in old Van’s, as you see, sometimes even in mine — and governed at any rate everywhere by Mrs. Brook, in our mysterious ebbs and flows, very much as the tides are governed by the moon. As I say,” Mitchy pursued, “you must join. But if Van has got hold of you,” he added, “or you’ve got hold of him, you HAVE joined. We’re not quite so numerous as I could wish, and we want variety; we want just what I’m sure you’ll bring us — a fresh eye, an outside mind.”
Mr. Longdon wore for a minute the air of a man knowing but too well what it was to be asked to put down his name. “My friend Vanderbank swaggers so little that it’s rather from you than from himself that I seem to catch the idea —!”
“Of his being a great figure among us? I don’t know what he may have said to you or have suppressed; but you can take it from me — as between ourselves, you know — that he’s very much the best of us. Old Van in fact — if you really want a candid opinion,” and Mitchy shone still brighter as he talked, “is formed for a distinctly higher sphere. I should go so far as to say that on our level he’s positively wasted.”
“And are you very sure you’re not?” Mr. Longdon asked with a smile.
“Dear no — I’m in my element. My element’s to grovel before Van. You’ve only to look at me, as you must already have made out, to see I’m everything dreadful that he isn’t. But you’ve seen him for yourself — I needn’t tell you!” Mitchy sighed.
Mr. Longdon, as under the coercion of so much confidence, had stood in place longer than for any previous moment, and the spell continued for a minute after Mitchy had paused. Then nervously and abruptly he turned away, his friend watching him rather aimlessly wander. “Our host has spoken of you to me in high terms,” he said as he came back. “You’d have no fault to find with them.”
Mitchy took it with his highest light. “I know from your taking the trouble to remember that, how much what I’ve said of him pleases and touches you. We’re a little sort of religion then, you and I; we’re an organisation of two, at any rate, and we can’t help ourselves. There — that’s settled.” He glanced at the clock on the chimney. “But what’s the matter with him?”
“You gentlemen dress so much,” said Mr. Longdon.
Mitchy met the explanation quite halfway. “I try to look funny — but why should Apollo in person?”
Mr. Longdon weighed it. “Do you think him like Apollo?”
“The very image. Ask any of the women!”
“But do I know —?”
“How Apollo must look?” Mitchy considered. “Why the way it works is that it’s just from Van’s appearance they get the tip, and that then, don’t you see? they’ve their term of comparison. Isn’t it what you call a vicious circle? I borrow a little their vice.”
Mr. Longdon, who had once more been arrested, once more sidled away. Then he spoke from the other side of the expanse of a table covered with books for which the shelves had no space — covered with portfolios, with well-worn leather-cased boxes, with documents in neat piles. The place was a miscellany, yet not a litter, the picture of an admirable order. “If we’re a fond association of two, you and I, let me, accepting your idea, do what, this way, under a gentleman’s roof and while enjoying his hospitality, I should in ordinary circumstances think perhaps something of a breach.”
“Oh strike out!” Mitchy laughed. It possibly chilled his interlocutor, who again hung fire so long that he himself at last adopted his image. “Why doesn’t he marry, you mean?”
Mr. Longdon fairly flushed with recognition. “You’re very deep, but with what we perceive — why doesn’t he?”
Mitchy continued visibly to have his amusement, which might have been, this time and in spite of the amalgamation he had pictured, for what “they” perceived. But he threw off after an instant an answer clearly intended to meet the case. “He thinks he hasn’t the means. He has great ideas of what a fellow must offer a woman.”
Mr. Longdon’s eyes travelled a while over the amenities about him. “He hasn’t such a view of himself alone —?”
“As to make him think he’s enough as he stands? No,” said Mitchy, “I don’t fancy he has a very awful view of himself alone. And since we ARE burning this incense under his nose,” he added, “it’s also my impression that he has no private means. Women in London cost so much.”
Mr. Longdon had a pause. “They come very high, I dare say.”
“Oh tremendously. They want so much — they want everything. I mean the sort of women he lives with. A modest man — who’s also poor — isn’t in it. I give you that at any rate as his view. There are lots of them that would —— and only too glad —‘love him for himself’; but things are much mixed, and these not necessarily the right ones, and at all events he doesn’t see it. The result of which is that he’s waiting.”
“Waiting to feel himself in love?”
Mitchy just hesitated. “Well, we’re talking of marriage. Of course you’ll say there are women with money. There ARE”— he seemed for a moment to meditate —“dreadful ones!”
The two men, on this, exchanged a long regard. “He mustn’t do that.”
Mitchy again hesitated. “He won’t.”
Mr. Longdon had also a silence, which he presently terminated by one of his jerks into motion. “He shan’t!”
Once more Mitchy watched him revolve a little, but now, familiarly yet with a sharp emphasis, he himself resumed their colloquy. “See here, Mr. Longdon. Are you seriously taking him up?”
Yet again, at the tone of this appeal, the old man perceptibly coloured. It was as if his friend had brought to the surface an inward excitement, and he laughed for embarrassment. “You see things with a freedom —”
“Yes, and it’s so I express them. I see them, I know, with a raccourci; but time after all rather presses, and at any rate we understand each other. What I want now is just to say”— and Mitchy spoke with a simplicity and a gravity he had not yet used —“that if your interest in him should at any time reach the point of your wishing to do something or other (no matter what, don’t you see?) FOR him —!”
Mr. Longdon, as he faltered, appeared to wonder, but emitted a sound of gentleness. “Yes?”
“Why,” said the stimulated Mitchy, “do, for God’s sake, just let me have a finger in it.”
Mr. Longdon’s momentary mystification was perhaps partly but the natural effect of constitutional prudence. “A finger?”
“I mean — let me help.”
“Oh!” breathed the old man thoughtfully and without meeting his eyes.
Mitchy, as if with more to say, watched him an instant, then before speaking caught himself up. “Look out — here he comes.”
Hearing the stir of the door by which he had entered he looked round; but it opened at first only to admit Vanderbank’s servant. “Miss Brookenham!” the man announced; on which the two gentlemen in the room were — audibly, almost violently — precipitated into a union of surprise.
However she might have been discussed Nanda was not one to shrink, for, though she drew up an instant on failing to find in the room the person whose invitation she had obeyed, she advanced the next moment as if either of the gentlemen before her would answer as well. “How do you do, Mr. Mitchy? How do you do, Mr. Longdon?” She made no difference for them, speaking to the elder, whom she had not yet seen, as if they were already acquainted. There was moreover in the air of that personage at this juncture little to invite such a confidence: he appeared to have been startled, in the oddest manner, into stillness and, holding out no hand to meet her, only stared rather stiffly and without a smile. An observer disposed to interpret the scene might have fancied him a trifle put off by the girl’s familiarity, or even, as by a singular effect of her self-possession, stricken into deeper diffidence. This self-possession, however, took on her own part no account of any awkwardness: it seemed the greater from the fact that she was almost unnaturally grave, and it overflowed in the immediate challenge: “Do you mean to say Van isn’t here? I’ve come without mother — she said I could, to see HIM,” she went on, addressing herself more particularly to Mitchy. “But she didn’t say I might do anything of that sort to see YOU.”
If there was something serious in Nanda and something blank in their companion, there was, superficially at least, nothing in Mr. Mitchett but his usual flush of gaiety. “Did she really send you off this way alone?” Then while the girl’s face met his own with the clear confession of it: “Isn’t she too splendid for anything?” he asked with immense enjoyment. “What do you suppose is her idea?” Nanda’s eyes had now turned to Mr. Longdon, whom she fixed with her mild straightness; which led to Mitchy’s carrying on and repeating the appeal. “Isn’t Mrs. Brook charming? What do you suppose is her idea?”
It was a bound into the mystery, a bound of which his fellow visitor stood quite unconscious, only looking at Nanda still with the same coldness of wonder. All expression had for the minute been arrested in Mr. Longdon, but he at last began to show that it had merely been retarded. Yet it was almost with solemnity that he put forth his hand. “How do you do? How do you do? I’m so glad!”
Nanda shook hands with him as if she had done so already, though it might have been just her look of curiosity that detracted from her air of amusing herself. “Mother has wanted me awfully to see you. She told me to give you her love,” she said. Then she added with odd irrelevance: “I didn’t come in the carriage, nor in a cab nor an omnibus.”
“You came on a bicycle?” Mitchy enquired.
“No, I walked.” She still spoke without a gleam. “Mother wants me to do everything.”
“Even to walk!” Mitchy laughed. “Oh yes, we must in these times keep up our walking!” The ingenious observer just now suggested might even have detected in the still higher rise of this visitor’s spirits a want of mere inward ease.
She had taken no notice of the effect upon him of her mention of her mother, and she took none, visibly, of Mr. Longdon’s manner or of his words. What she did while the two men, without offering her, either, a seat, practically lost themselves in their deepening vision, was to give her attention all to the place, looking at the books, pictures and other significant objects, and especially at the small table set out for tea, to which the servant who had admitted her now returned with a steaming kettle. “Isn’t it charming here? Will there be any one else? Where IS Mr. Van? Shall I make tea?” There was just a faint quaver, showing a command of the situation more desired perhaps than achieved, in the very rapid sequence of these ejaculations. The servant meanwhile had placed the hot water above the little silver lamp and left the room.
“Do you suppose there’s anything the matter? Oughtn’t the man — or do you know our host’s room?” Mr. Longdon, addressing Mitchy with solicitude, yet began to show in a countenance less blank a return of his sense of relations. It was as if something had happened to him and he were in haste to convert the signs of it into an appearance of care for the proprieties.
“Oh,” said Mitchy, “Van’s only making himself beautiful”— which account of their absent entertainer gained a point from his appearance at the moment in the doorway furthest removed from the place where the three were gathered.
Vanderbank came in with friendly haste and with something of the look indeed — refreshed, almost rosy, brightly brushed and quickly buttoned — of emerging, out of breath, from pleasant ablutions and renewals. “What a brute to have kept you waiting! I came back from work quite begrimed. How d’ye do, how d’ye do, how d’ye do? What’s the matter with you, huddled there as if you were on a street-crossing? I want you to think this a refuge — but not of that kind!” he laughed. “Sit down, for heaven’s sake; lie down — be happy! Of course you’ve made acquaintance all — except that Mitchy’s so modest! Tea, tea!”— and he bustled to the table, where the next minute he appeared rather helpless. “Nanda, you blessed child, do YOU mind making it? How jolly of you! — are you all right?” He seemed, with this, for the first time, to be aware of somebody’s absence. “Your mother isn’t coming? She let you come alone? How jolly of her!” Pulling off her gloves Nanda had come immediately to his assistance; on which, quitting the table and laying hands on Mr. Longdon’s shoulder to push him toward a sofa, he continued to talk, to sound a note of which the humour was the exaggeration of his flurry. “How jolly of you to be willing to come — most awfully kind! I hope she isn’t ill? Do, Mitchy, lie down. Down, Mitchy, down! — that’s the only way to keep you.” He had waited for no account of Mrs. Brookenham’s health, and it might have been apparent — still to our sharp spectator — that he found nothing wonderful in her daughter’s unsupported arrival.
“I can make tea beautifully,” she said from behind her table. “Mother showed me how this morning.”
“This morning?”— and Mitchy, who, before the fire and still erect, had declined to be laid low, greeted the simple remark with uproarious mirth. “Dear young lady, you’re the most delicious family!”
“She showed me at breakfast about the little things to do. She thought I might have to make it here and told me to offer,” the girl went on. “I haven’t yet done it this way at home — I usually have my tea upstairs. They bring it up in a cup, all made and very weak, with a piece of bread-and-butter in the saucer. That’s because I’m so young. Tishy never lets me touch hers either; so we had to make up for lost time. That’s what mother said”— she followed up her story, and her young distinctness had clearly something to do with a certain pale concentration in Mr. Longdon’s face. “Mother isn’t ill, but she told me already yesterday she wouldn’t come. She said it’s really all for ME. I’m sure I hope it is!”— with which there flickered in her eyes, dimly but perhaps all the more prettily, the first intimation they had given of the light of laughter. “She told me you’d understand, Mr. Van — from something you’ve said to her. It’s for my seeing Mr. Longdon without — she thinks — her spoiling it.”
“Oh my dear child, ‘spoiling it’!” Vanderbank protested as he took a cup of tea from her to carry to their friend. “When did your mother ever spoil anything? I told her Mr. Longdon wanted to see you, but I didn’t say anything of his not yearning also for the rest of the family.”
A sound of protest rather formless escaped from the gentleman named, but Nanda continued to carry out her duty. “She told me to ask why he hadn’t been again to see her. Mr. Mitchy, sugar? — isn’t that the way to say it? Three lumps? You’re like me, only that I more often take five.” Mitchy had dashed forward for his tea; she gave it to him; then she added with her eyes on Mr. Longdon’s, which she had had no difficulty in catching: “She told me to ask you all sorts of things.”
This acquaintance had got up to take his cup from Vanderbank, whose hand, however, dealt with him on the question of his sitting down again. Mr. Longdon, resisting, kept erect with a low gasp that his host only was near enough to catch. This suddenly appeared to confirm an impression gathered by Vanderbank in their contact, a strange sense that his visitor was so agitated as to be trembling in every limb. It brought to his own lips a kind of ejaculation —“I SAY!” But even as he spoke Mr. Longdon’s face, still white, but with a smile that was not all pain, seemed to supplicate him not to notice; and he was not a man to require more than this to achieve a divination as deep as it was rapid. “Why we’ve all been scattered for Easter, haven’t we?” he asked of Nanda. “Mr. Longdon has been at home, your mother and father have been paying visits, I myself have been out of London, Mitchy has been to Paris, and you — oh yes, I know where you’ve been.”
“Ah we all know that — there has been such a row made about it!” Mitchy said.
“Yes, I’ve heard of the feeling there is,” Nanda replied.
“It’s supposed to be awful, my knowing Tishy — quite too awful.”
Mr. Longdon, with Vanderbank’s covert aid, had begun to appear to have pulled himself together, dropping back on his sofa and attending in a manner to his tea. It might have been with the notion of showing himself at ease that he turned, on this, a benevolent smile to the girl. “But what, my dear, is the objection —?”
She looked gravely from him to Vanderbank and to Mitchy, and then back again from one of these to the other. “Do you think I ought to say?”
They both laughed and they both just appeared uncertain, but Vanderbank spoke first. “I don’t imagine, Nanda, that you really know.”
“No — as a family, you’re perfection!” Mitchy broke out. Before the fire again, with his cup, he addressed his hilarity to Mr. Longdon. “I told you a tremendous lot, didn’t I? But I didn’t tell you about that.”
His elder maintained, yet with a certain vagueness, the attitude of amiable enquiry. “About the — a — family?”
“Well,” Mitchy smiled, “about its ramifications. This young lady has a tremendous friendship — and in short it’s all very complicated.”
“My dear Nanda,” said Vanderbank, “it’s all very simple. Don’t believe a word of anything of the sort.”
He had spoken as with the intention of a large vague optimism; but there was plainly something in the girl that would always make for lucidity. “Do you mean about Carrie Donner? I DON’T believe it, and at any rate I don’t think it’s any one’s business. I shouldn’t have a very high opinion of a person who would give up a friend.” She stopped short with the sense apparent that she was saying more than she meant, though, strangely, as if it had been an effect of her type and of her voice, there was neither pertness nor passion in the profession she had just made. Curiously wanting as she seemed both in timidity and in levity, she was to a certainty not self-conscious — she was extraordinarily simple. Mr. Longdon looked at her now with an evident surrender to his extreme interest, and it might well have perplexed him to see her at once so downright as from experience and yet of so fresh and sweet a tenderness of youth.
“That’s right, that’s right, my dear young lady: never, never give up a friend for anything any one says!” It was Mitchy who rang out with this lively wisdom, the action of which on Mr. Longdon — unless indeed it was the action of something else — was to make that personage, in a manner that held the others watching him in slight suspense, suddenly spring to his feet again, put down his teacup carefully on a table near and then without a word, as if no one had been present, quietly wander away and disappear through the door left open on Vanderbank’s entrance. It opened into a second, a smaller sitting-room, into which the eyes of his companions followed him.
“What’s the matter?” Nanda asked. “Has he been taken ill?”
“He IS ‘rum,’ my dear Van,” Mitchy said; “but you’re right — of a charm, a distinction! In short just the sort of thing we want.”
“The sort of thing we ‘want’— I dare say!” Vanderbank laughed. “But it’s not the sort of thing that’s to be had for the asking — it’s a sort we shall be mighty lucky if we can get!”
Mitchy turned with amusement to Nanda. “Van has invented him and, with the natural greed of the inventor, won’t let us have him cheap. Well,” he went on, “I’ll ‘stand’ my share.”
“The difficulty is that he’s so much too good for us,” Vanderbank explained.
“Ungrateful wretch,” his friend cried, “that’s just what I’ve been telling him that YOU are! Let the return you make not be to deprive me —!”
“Mr. Van’s not at all too good for ME, if you mean that,” Nanda broke in. She had finished her tea-making and leaned back in her chair with her hands folded on the edge of the tray.
Vanderbank only smiled at her in silence, but Mitchy took it up. “There’s nobody too good for you, of course; only you’re not quite, don’t you know? IN our set. You’re in Mrs. Grendon’s. I know what you’re going to say — that she hasn’t got any set, that she’s just a loose little white flower dropped on the indifferent bosom of the world. But you’re the small sprig of tender green that, added to her, makes her immediately ‘compose.’”
Nanda looked at him with her cold kindness. “What nonsense you do talk!”
“Your tone’s sweet to me,” he returned, “as showing that you don’t think ME, either, too good for you. No one, remember, will take that for your excuse when the world some day sees me annihilated by your having put an end to our so harmless relations.”
The girl appeared to lose herself a moment in the — abysmal humanity over which his fairly fascinating ugliness played like the whirl of an eddy. “Martyr!” she gently exclaimed. But there was no smile with it. She turned to Vanderbank, who, during the previous minute, had moved toward the neighbouring room, then faltering, taking counsel of discretion, had come back on a scruple. “What IS the matter?”
“What do you want to get out of him, you wretch?” Mitchy went on as their host for an instant said nothing.
Vanderbank, whose handsome face had a fine thought in it, looked a trifle absently from one of them to the other; but it was to Nanda he spoke. “Do you like him, Nanda?”
She showed surprise at the question. “How can I know so soon?”
“HE knows already.”
Mitchy, with his eyes on her, became radiant to interpret. “He knows that he’s pierced to the heart!”
“The matter with him, as you call it,” Vanderbank brought out, “is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.” He looked at her as with a hope she’d understand. “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!”
“Precisely,” Mitchy continued; “the victim done for by one glance of the goddess!”
Nanda, motionless in her chair, fixed her other friend with clear curiosity. “‘Beautiful’? Why beautiful?”
Vanderbank, about to speak, checked himself.
“I won’t spoil it. Have it from HIM!”— and, returning to their friend, he this time went out.
Mitchy and Nanda looked at each other. “But isn’t it rather awful?” Mitchy demanded.
She got up without answering; she slowly came away from the table. “I think I do know if I like him.”
“Well you may,” Mitchy exclaimed, “after his putting before you probably, on the whole, the greatest of your triumphs.”
“And I also know, I think, Mr. Mitchy, that I like YOU.” She spoke without attention to this hyperbole.
“In spite of my ineffectual attempts to be brilliant? That’s a joy,” he went on, “if it’s not drawn out by the mere clumsiness of my flattery.” She had turned away from him, kindly enough, as if time for his talk in the air were always to be allowed him: she took in vaguely Vanderbank’s books and prints. “Why didn’t your mother come?” Mitchy then enquired.
At this she again looked at him. “Do you mention her as a way of alluding to something you guess she must have told me?”
“That I’ve always supposed I make your flesh creep? Yes,” Mitchy admitted; “I see she must have said to you: ‘Be nice to him, to show him it isn’t quite so bad as that!’ So you ARE nice — so you always WILL be nice. But I adore you, all the same, without illusions.”
She had opened at one of the tables, unperceivingly, a big volume of which she turned the leaves. “Don’t ‘adore’ a girl, Mr. Mitchy — just help her. That’s more to the purpose.”
“Help you?” he cried. “You bring tears to my eyes!”
“Can’t a girl have friends?” she went on. “I never heard of anything so idiotic.” Giving him, however, no chance to take her up on this, she made a quick transition. “Mother didn’t come because she wants me now, as she says, more to share her own life.”
Mitchy looked at it. “But is this the way for her to share yours?”
“Ah that’s another matter — about which you must talk to HER. She wants me no longer to keep seeing only with her eyes. She’s throwing me into the world.”
Mitchy had listened with the liveliest interest, but he presently broke into a laugh. “What a good thing then that I’m there to catch you!”
Without — it might have been seen — having gathered the smallest impression of what they enclosed, she carefully drew together again the covers of her folio. There was deliberation in her movements. “I shall always be glad when you’re there. But where do you suppose they’ve gone?” Her eyes were on what was visible of the other room, from which there arrived no sound of voices.
“They’re off there,” said Mitchy, “but just looking unutterable things about you. The impression’s too deep. Let them look, and tell me meanwhile if Mrs. Donner gave you my message.”
“Oh yes, she told me some humbug.”
“The humbug then was in the tone my perfectly sincere speech took from herself. She gives things, I recognise, rather that sound. It’s her weakness,” he continued, “and perhaps even one may say her danger. All the more reason you should help her, as I believe you’re supposed to be doing, aren’t you? I hope you feel you are,” he earnestly added.
He had spoken this time gravely enough, and with magnificent gravity Nanda replied. “I HAVE helped her. Tishy’s sure I have. That’s what Tishy wants me for. She says that to be with some nice girl’s really the best thing for her.”
Poor Mitchy’s face hereupon would have been interesting, would have been distinctly touching to other eyes; but Nanda’s were not heedful of it. “Oh,” he returned after an instant and without profane mirth, “that seems to me the best thing for any one.”
Vanderbank, however, might have caught his expression, for Vanderbank now reappeared, smiling on the pair as if struck by their intimacy. “How you ARE keeping it up!” Then to Nanda persuasively: “Do you mind going to him in there? I want him so really to see you. It’s quite, you know, what he came for.”
Nanda seemed to wonder. “What will he do to me? Anything dreadful?”
“He’ll tell you what I meant just now.”
“Oh,” said Nanda, “if he’s a person who can tell me sometimes what you mean —!” With which she went quickly off.
“And can’t I hear?” Mitchy asked of his host while they looked after her.
“Yes, but only from me.” Vanderbank had pushed him to a seat again and was casting about for cigarettes. “Be quiet and smoke, and I’ll tell you.”
Mitchy, on the sofa, received with meditation a light. “Will she understand? She has everything in the world but one,” he added. “But that’s half.”
Vanderbank, before him, lighted for himself. “What is it?”
“A sense of humour.”
“Oh yes, she’s serious.”
Mitchy smoked a little. “She’s tragic.”
His friend, at the fire, watched a moment the empty portion of the other room, then walked across to give the door a light push that all but closed it. “It’s rather odd,” he remarked as he came back —“that’s quite what I just said to him. But he won’t treat her to comedy.”
“Is it the shock of the resemblance to her grandmother?” Vanderbank had asked of Mr. Longdon on rejoining him in his retreat. This victim of memory, with his back turned, was gazing out of the window, and when in answer he showed his face there were tears in his eyes. His answer in fact was just these tears, the significance of which Vanderbank immediately recognised. “It’s still greater then than you gathered from her photograph?”
“It’s the most extraordinary thing in the world. I’m too absurd to be so upset”— Mr. Longdon smiled through his tears —“but if you had known Lady Julia you’d understand. It’s SHE again, as I first knew her, to the life; and not only in feature, in stature, in colour, in movement, but in every bodily mark and sign, in every look of the eyes above all — oh to a degree! — in the sound, in the charm of the voice.” He spoke low and confidentially, but with an intensity that now relieved him — he was as restless as with a discovery. He moved about as with a sacred awe — he might a few steps away have been in the very presence. “She’s ALL Lady Julia. There isn’t a touch of her mother. It’s unique — an absolute revival. I see nothing of her father, I see nothing of any one else. Isn’t it thought wonderful by every one?” he went on. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“To have prepared you a little?”— Vanderbank felt almost guilty. “I see — I should have liked to make more of it; though,” he added all lucidly, “I might so, by putting you on your guard, have caused myself to lose what, if you’ll allow me to say it, strikes me as one of the most touching tributes I’ve ever seen rendered to a woman. In fact, however, how could I know? I never saw Lady Julia, and you had in advance all the evidence I could have: the portrait — pretty bad, in the taste of the time, I admit — and the three or four photographs you must have noticed with it at Mrs. Brook’s. These things must have compared themselves for you with my photograph in there of the granddaughter. The similarity of course we had all observed, but it has taken your wonderful memory and your happy vision to put into it all the detail.”
Mr. Longdon thought a moment, giving a dab with his pocket-handkerchief. “Very true — you’re quite right. It’s far beyond any identity in the pictures. But why did you tell me,” he added more sharply, “that she isn’t beautiful?”
“You’ve deprived me,” Vanderbank laughed, “of the power of expressing civilly any surprise at your finding her so. But I said to you, please remember, nothing that qualified a jot my sense of the special stamp of her face. I’ve always positively found in it a recall of the type of the period you must be thinking of. It isn’t a bit modern. It’s a face of Sir Thomas Lawrence —”
“It’s a face of Gainsborough!” Mr. Longdon returned with spirit. “Lady Julia herself harked back.”
Vanderbank, clearly, was equally touched and amused. “Let us say at once that it’s a face of Raphael.”
His old friend’s hand was instantly on his arm. “That’s exactly what I often said to myself of Lady Julia’s.”
“The forehead’s a little too high,” said Vanderbank.
“But it’s just that excess that, with the exquisite eyes and the particular disposition round it of the fair hair, makes the individual grace, makes the beauty of the resemblance.”
Released by Lady Julia’s lover, the young man in turn grasped him as an encouragement to confidence. “It’s a face that should have the long side-ringlets of 1830. It should have the rest of the personal arrangement, the pelisse, the shape of bonnet, the sprigged muslin dress and the cross-laced sandals. It should have arrived in a pea-green ‘tilbury’ and be a reader of Mrs. Radcliffe. And all this to complete the Raphael!”
Mr. Longdon, who, his discovery proclaimed, had begun, as might have been said, to live with it, looked hard a moment at his companion. “How you’ve observed her!”
Vanderbank met it without confusion. “Whom haven’t I observed? Do you like her?” he then rather oddly and abruptly asked.
The old man broke away again. “How can I tell — with such disparities?”
“The manner must be different,” Vanderbank suggested. “And the things she says.”
His visitor was before him again. “I don’t know what to make of them. They don’t go with the rest of her. Lady Julia,” said Mr. Longdon, “was rather shy.”
On this too his host could meet him. “She must have been. And Nanda — yes, certainly — doesn’t give that impression.”
“On the contrary. But Lady Julia was gay!” he added with an eagerness that made Vanderbank smile.
“I can also see that. Nanda doesn’t joke. And yet,” Vanderbank continued with his exemplary candour, “we mustn’t speak of her, must we? as if she were bold and grim.”
Mr. Longdon fixed him. “Do you think she’s sad?”
They had preserved their lowered tone and might, with their heads together, have been conferring as the party “out” in some game with the couple in the other room. “Yes. Sad.” But Vanderbank broke off. “I’ll send her to you.” Thus it was he had come back to her.
Nanda, on joining the elder man, went straight to the point. “He says it’s so beautiful — what you feel on seeing me: if that IS what he meant.” Mr. Longdon kept silent again at first, only smiling at her, but less strangely now, and then appeared to look about him for some place where she could sit near him. There was a sofa in this room too, on which, observing it, she quickly sank down, so that they were presently together, placed a little sideways and face to face. She had shown perhaps that she supposed him to have wished to take her hand, but he forbore to touch her, though letting her feel all the kindness of his eyes and their long backward vision. These things she evidently felt soon enough; she went on before he had spoken. “I know how well you knew my grandmother. Mother has told me — and I’m so glad. She told me to say to you that she wants YOU to tell me.” Just a shade, at this, might have appeared to drop over his face, but who was there to know if the girl observed it? It didn’t prevent at any rate her completing her statement. “That’s why she wished me today to come alone. She said she wished you to have me all to yourself.”
No, decidedly, she wasn’t shy: that mute reflexion was in the air an instant. “That, no doubt, is the best way. I thank her very much. I called, after having had the honour of dining — I called, I think, three times,” he went on with a sudden displacement of the question; “but I had the misfortune each time to miss her.”
She kept looking at him with her crude young clearness. “I didn’t know about that. Mother thinks she’s more at home than almost any one. She does it on purpose: she knows what it is,” Nanda pursued with her perfect gravity, “for people to be disappointed of finding her.”
“Oh I shall find her yet,” said Mr. Longdon. “And then I hope I shall also find YOU.”
She appeared simply to consider the possibility and after an instant to think well of it. “I dare say you will now, for now I shall be down.”
Her companion just blinked. “In the drawing-room, you mean — always?”
It was quite what she meant. “Always. I shall see all the people who come. It will be a great thing for me. I want to hear all the talk. Mr. Mitchett says I ought to — that it helps to form the young mind. I hoped, for that reason,” she went on with the directness that made her honesty almost violent —“I hoped there would be more people here today.”
“I’m very glad there are not!”— the old man rang equally clear. “Mr. Vanderbank kindly arranged the matter for me just this way. I met him at dinner, at your mother’s, three weeks ago, and he brought me home here that night, when, as knowing you so differently, we took the liberty of talking you all over. It naturally had the effect of making me want to begin with you afresh — only that seemed difficult too without further help. This he good-naturedly offered me; he said”— and Mr. Longdon recovered his spirits to repeat it —”‘Hang it, I’ll have ’em here for you!’”
“I see — he knew we’d come.” Then she caught herself up. “But we haven’t come, have we?”
“Oh it’s all right — it’s all right. To me the occasion’s brilliant and the affluence great. I’ve had such talk with those young men —”
“I see”— she was again prompt, but beyond any young person he had ever met she might have struck him as literal. “You’re not used to such talk. Neither am I. It’s rather wonderful, isn’t it? They’re thought awfully clever, Mr. Van and Mr. Mitchy. Do you like them?” she pushed on.
Mr. Longdon, who, as compared with her, might have struck a spectator as infernally subtle, took an instant to think. “I’ve never met Mr. Mitchett before.”
“Well, he always thinks one doesn’t like him,” Nanda explained. “But one does. One ought to,” she added.
Her companion had another pause. “He likes YOU.”
Oh Mr. Longdon needn’t have hesitated! “I know he does. He has told mother. He has told lots of people.”
“He has told even you,” Mr. Longdon smiled.
“Yes — but that isn’t the same. I don’t think he’s a bit dreadful,” she pursued. Still, there was a greater interest. “Do you like Mr. Van?”
This time her interlocutor indeed hung fire. “How can I tell? He dazzles me.”
“But don’t you like that?” Then before he could really say: “You’re afraid he may be false?”
At this he fairly laughed. “You go to the point!” She just coloured to have amused him so, but he quickly went on: “I think one has a little natural nervousness at being carried off one’s feet. I’m afraid I’ve always liked too much to see where I’m going.”
“And you don’t with him?” She spoke with her curious hard interest. “I understand. But I think I like to be dazzled.”
“Oh you’ve got time — you can come round again; you’ve a margin for accidents, for disappointments and recoveries: you can take one thing with another. But I’ve only my last little scrap.”
“And you want to make no mistakes — I see.”
“Well, I’m too easily upset.”
“Ah so am I,” said Nanda. “I assure you that in spite of what you say I want to make no mistakes either. I’ve seen a great many — though you mightn’t think it,” she persisted; “I really know what they may be. Do you like ME?” she brought forth. But even on this she spared him too; a look appeared to have been enough for her. “How can you say, of course, already? — if you can’t say for Mr. Van. I mean as you’ve seen him so much. When he asked me just now if I liked YOU I told him it was too soon. But it isn’t now; you see it goes fast. I DO like you.” She gave him no time to acknowledge this tribute, but — as if it were a matter of course — tried him quickly with something else. “Can you say if you like mother?”
He could meet it pretty well now. “There are immense reasons why I should.”
“Yes — I know about them, as I mentioned: mother has told me.” But what she had to put to him kept up his surprise. “Have reasons anything to do with it? I don’t believe you like her!” she exclaimed. “SHE doesn’t think so,” she added.
The old man’s face at last, partly bewildered, partly reassured, showed something finer still in the effect she produced. “Into what mysteries you plunge!”
“Oh we do; that’s what every one says of us. We discuss everything and every one — we’re always discussing each other. I think we must be rather celebrated for it, and it’s a kind of trick — isn’t it? — that’s catching. But don’t you think it’s the most interesting sort of talk? Mother says we haven’t any prejudices. YOU have, probably, quantities — and beautiful ones: so perhaps I oughtn’t to tell you. But you’ll find out for yourself.”
“Yes — I’m rather slow; but I generally end by finding out. And I’ve got, thank heaven,” said Mr. Longdon, “quite prejudices enough.”
“Then I hope you’ll tell me some of them,” Nanda replied in a tone evidently marking how much he pleased her.
“Ah you must do as I do — you must find out for yourself. Your resemblance to your grandmother is quite prodigious,” he immediately added.
“That’s what I wish you’d tell me about — your recollection of her and your wonderful feeling about her. Mother has told me things, but that I should have something straight from you is exactly what she also wants. My grandmother must have been awfully nice,” the girl rambled on, “and I somehow don’t see myself at all as the same sort of person.”
“Oh I don’t say you’re in the least the same sort: all I allude to,” Mr. Longdon returned, “is the miracle of the physical heredity. Nothing could be less like her than your manner and your talk.”
Nanda looked at him with all her honesty. “They’re not so good, you must think.”
He hung fire an instant, but was as honest as she. “You’re separated from her by a gulf — and not only of time. Personally, you see, you breathe a different air.”
She thought — she quite took it in. “Of course. And you breathe the same — the same old one, I mean, as my grandmother.”
“The same old one,” Mr. Longdon smiled, “as much as possible. Some day I’ll tell you more of what you’re curious of. I can’t go into it now.”
“Because I’ve upset you so?” Nanda frankly asked.
“That’s one of the reasons.”
“I think I can see another too,” she observed after a moment. “You’re not sure how much I shall understand. But I shall understand,” she went on, “more, perhaps, than you think. In fact,” she said earnestly, “I PROMISE to understand. I’ve some imagination. Had my grandmother?” she asked. Her actual sequences were not rapid, but she had already anticipated him. “I’ve thought of that before, because I put the same question to mother.”
“And what did your mother say?”
“‘Imagination — dear mamma? Not a grain!’”
The old man showed a faint flush. “Your mother then has a supply that makes up for it.”
The girl fixed him on this with a deeper attention. “You don’t like her having said that.”
His colour came stronger, though a slightly strained smile did what it could to diffuse coolness. “I don’t care a single scrap, my dear, in respect to the friend I’m speaking of, for any judgement but my own.”
“Not even for her daughter’s?”
“Not even for her daughter’s.” Mr. Longdon had not spoken loud, but he rang as clear as a bell.
Nanda, for admiration of it, broke almost for the first time into the semblance of a smile. “You feel as if my grandmother were quite YOUR property!”
“I say — that’s splendid!”
“I’m glad you like it,” he answered kindly.
The very kindness pulled her up. “Pardon my speaking so, but I’m sure you know what I mean. You mustn’t think,” she eagerly continued, “that mother won’t also want to hear you.”
“On the subject of Lady Julia?” He gently, but very effectively, shook his head. “Your mother shall never hear me.”
Nanda appeared to wonder at it an instant, and it made her completely grave again. “It will be all for ME?”
“Whatever there may be of it, my dear.”
“Oh I shall get it all out of you,” she returned without hesitation. Her mixture of free familiarity and of the vividness of evocation of something, whatever it was, sharply opposed — the little worry of this contradiction, not altogether unpleasant, continued to fill his consciousness more discernibly than anything else. It was really reflected in his quick brown eyes that she alternately drew him on and warned him off, but also that what they were beginning more and more to make out was an emotion of her own trembling there beneath her tension. His glimpse of it widened — his glimpse of it fairly triumphed when suddenly, after this last declaration, she threw off with quite the same accent but quite another effect: “I’m glad to be like any one the thought of whom makes you so good! You ARE good,” she continued; “I see already how I shall feel it.” She stared at him with tears, the sight of which brought his own straight back; so that thus for a moment they sat there together.
“My dear child!” he at last simply murmured. But he laid his hand on her now, and her own immediately met it.
“You’ll get used to me,” she said with the same gentleness that the response of her touch had tried to express; “and I shall be so careful with you that — well, you’ll see!” She broke short off with a quaver and the next instant she turned — there was some one at the door. Vanderbank, still not quite at his ease, had come back to smile upon them. Detaching herself from Mr. Longdon she got straight up to meet him. “You were right, Mr. Van. It’s beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10