Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 1

Save when it happened to rain Vanderbank always walked home, but he
usually took a hansom when the rain was moderate and adopted the
preference of the philosopher when it was heavy. On this occasion he
therefore recognised as the servant opened the door a congruity between
the weather and the "four-wheeler" that, in the empty street, under the
glazed radiance, waited and trickled and blackly glittered. The butler
mentioned it as on such a wild night the only thing they could get, and
Vanderbank, having replied that it was exactly what would do best,
prepared in the doorway to put up his umbrella and dash down to it. At
this moment he heard his name pronounced from behind and on turning
found himself joined by the elderly fellow guest with whom he had talked
after dinner and about whom later on upstairs he had sounded his
hostess. It was at present a clear question of how this amiable, this
apparently unassertive person should get home--of the possibility of
the other cab for which even now one of the footmen, with a whistle to
his lips, craned out his head and listened through the storm. Mr.
Longdon wondered to Vanderbank if their course might by any chance be
the same; which led our young friend immediately to express a readiness
to see him safely in any direction that should accommodate him. As the
footman's whistle spent itself in vain they got together into the four-
wheeler, where at the end of a few moments more Vanderbank became
conscious of having proposed his own rooms as a wind-up to their drive.
Wouldn't that be a better finish of the evening than just separating in
the wet? He liked his new acquaintance, who struck him as in a manner
clinging to him, who was staying at an hotel presumably at that hour
dismal, and who, confessing with easy humility to a connexion positively
timid with a club at which one couldn't have a visitor, accepted his
invitation under pressure. Vanderbank, when they arrived, was amused at
the air of added extravagance with which he said he would keep the cab:
he so clearly enjoyed to that extent the sense of making a night of it.
"You young men, I believe, keep them for hours, eh? At least they did in
my time," he laughed--"the wild ones! But I think of them as all wild
then. I dare say that when one settles in town one learns how to manage;
only I'm afraid, you know, that I've got completely out of it. I do feel
really quite mouldy. It's a matter of thirty years--!"

"Since you've been in London?"

"For more than a few days at a time, upon my honour. You won't
understand that--any more, I dare say, than I myself quite understand
how at the end of all I've accepted this queer view of the doom of
coming back. But I don't doubt I shall ask you, if you'll be so good as
to let me, for the help of a hint or two: as to how to do, don't you
know? and not to--what do you fellows call it?--BE done. Now about one
of THESE things--!"

One of these things was the lift in which, at no great pace and with
much rumbling and creaking, the porter conveyed the two gentlemen to the
alarming eminence, as Mr. Longdon measured their flight, at which
Vanderbank perched. The impression made on him by this contrivance
showed him as unsophisticated, yet when his companion, at the top,
ushering him in, gave a touch to the quick light and, in the pleasant
ruddy room, all convenience and character, had before the fire another
look at him, it was not to catch in him any protrusive angle. Mr.
Longdon was slight and neat, delicate of body and both keen and kind of
face, with black brows finely marked and thick smooth hair in which the
silver had deep shadows. He wore neither whisker nor moustache and
seemed to carry in the flicker of his quick brown eyes and the positive
sun-play of his smile even more than the equivalent of what might,
superficially or stupidly, elsewhere be missed in him; which was mass,
substance, presence--what is vulgarly called importance. He had indeed
no presence but had somehow an effect. He might almost have been a
priest if priests, as it occurred to Vanderbank, were ever such dandies.
He had at all events conclusively doubled the Cape of the years--he
would never again see fifty-five: to the warning light of that bleak
headland he presented a back sufficiently conscious. Yet though to
Vanderbank he couldn't look young he came near--strikingly and
amusingly--looking new: this after a minute appeared mainly perhaps
indeed in the perfection of his evening dress and the special smartness
of the sleeveless overcoat he had evidently had made to wear with it and
might even actually be wearing for the first time. He had talked to
Vanderbank at Mrs. Brookenham's about Beccles and Suffolk; but it was
not at Beccles nor anywhere in the county that these ornaments had been
designed. His action had already been, with however little purpose, to
present the region to his interlocutor in a favourable light.
Vanderbank, for that matter, had the kind of imagination that likes to
PLACE an object, even to the point of losing sight of it in the
conditions; he already saw the nice old nook it must have taken to keep
a man of intelligence so fresh while suffering him to remain so fine.
The product of Beccles accepted at all events a cigarette--still much as
a joke and an adventure--and looked about him as if even more pleased
than he expected. Then he broke, through his double eye-glass, into an
exclamation that was like a passing pang of envy and regret. "You young
men, you young men--!"

"Well, what about us?" Vanderbank's tone encouraged the courtesy of the
reference. "I'm not so young moreover as that comes to."

"How old are you then, pray?"

"Why I'm thirty-four."

"What do you call that? I'm a hundred and three!" Mr. Longdon at all
events took out his watch. "It's only a quarter past eleven." Then with
a quick change of interest, "What did you say is your public office?" he
enquired.

"The General Audit. I'm Deputy Chairman."

"Dear!" Mr. Longdon looked at him as if he had had fifty windows. "What
a head you must have!"

"Oh yes--our head's Sir Digby Dence."

"And what do we do for you?"

"Well, you gild the pill--though not perhaps very thick. But it's a
decent berth."

"A thing a good many fellows would give a pound of their flesh for?"

Vanderbank's visitor appeared so to deprecate too faint a picture that
he dropped all scruples. "I'm the most envied man I know--so that if I
were a shade less amiable I should be one of the most hated."

Mr. Longdon laughed, yet not quite as if they were joking. "I see. Your
pleasant way carries it off."

Vanderbank was, however, not serious. "Wouldn't it carry off anything?"

Again his friend, through the pince-nez, appeared to crown him with a
Whitehall cornice. "I think I ought to let you know I'm studying you.
It's really fair to tell you," he continued with an earnestness not
discomposed by the indulgence in Vanderbank's face. "It's all right--all
right!" he reassuringly added, having meanwhile stopped before a
photograph suspended on the wall. "That's your mother!" he brought
out with something of the elation of a child making a discovery or
guessing a riddle. "I don't make you out in her yet--in my recollection
of her, which, as I told you, is perfect; but I dare say I soon shall."

Vanderbank was more and more aware that the kind of amusement he excited
would never in the least be a bar to affection. "Please take all your
time."

Mr. Longdon looked at his watch again. "Do you think I HAD better keep
it?"

"The cab?" Vanderbank liked him so, found in him such a promise of
pleasant things, that he was almost tempted to say: "Dear and delightful
sir, don't weigh that question; I'll pay, myself, for the man's whole
night!" His approval at all events was complete.

"Most certainly. That's the only way not to think of it."

"Oh you young men, you young men!" his guest again murmured. He had
passed on to the photograph--Vanderbank had many, too many photographs--
of some other relation, and stood wiping the gold-mounted glasses
through which he had been darting admirations and catching side-lights
for shocks. "Don't talk nonsense," he continued as his friend attempted
once more to throw in a protest; "I belong to a different period of
history. There have been things this evening that have made me feel as
if I had been disinterred--literally dug up from a long sleep. I assure
you there have!"--he really pressed the point.

Vanderbank wondered a moment what things in particular these might be;
he found himself wanting to get at everything his visitor represented,
to enter into his consciousness and feel, as it were, on his side. He
glanced with an intention freely sarcastic at an easy possibility. "The
extraordinary vitality of Brookenham?"

Mr. Longdon, with nippers in place again, fixed on him a gravity that
failed to prevent his discovering in the eyes behind them a shy
reflexion of his irony. "Oh Brookenham! You must tell me all about
Brookenham."

"I see that's not what you mean."

Mr. Longdon forbore to deny it. "I wonder if you'll understand what I
mean." Vanderbank bristled with the wish to be put to the test, but was
checked before he could say so. "And what's HIS place--Brookenham's?"

"Oh Rivers and Lakes--an awfully good thing. He got it last year."

Mr. Longdon--but not too grossly--wondered. "How did he get it?"

Vanderbank laughed. "Well, SHE got it."

His friend remained grave. "And about how much now--?"

"Oh twelve hundred--and lots of allowances and boats and things. To do
the work!" Vanderbank, still with a certain levity, added.

"And what IS the work?"

The young man had a pause. "Ask HIM. He'll like to tell you."

"Yet he seemed to have but little to say." Mr. Longdon exactly measured
it again.

"Ah not about that. Try him."

He looked more sharply at his host, as if vaguely suspicious of a trap;
then not less vaguely he sighed. "Well, it's what I came up for--to try
you all. But do they live on that?" he continued.

Vanderbank once more debated. "One doesn't quite know what they live on.
But they've means--for it was just that fact, I remember, that showed
Brookenham's getting the place wasn't a job. It was given, I mean, not
to his mere domestic need, but to his notorious efficiency. He has a
property--an ugly little place in Gloucestershire--which they sometimes
let. His elder brother has the better one, but they make up an income."

Mr. Longdon for an instant lost himself. "Yes, I remember--one heard of
those things at the time. And SHE must have had something."

"Yes indeed, she had something--and she always has her intense
cleverness. She knows thoroughly how. They do it tremendously well."

"Tremendously well," Mr. Longdon intelligently echoed. "But a house in
Buckingham Crescent, with the way they seem to have built through to all
sorts of other places--?"

"Oh they're all right," Vanderbank soothingly dropped.

"One likes to feel that of people with whom one has dined. There are
four children?" his friend went on.

"The older boy, whom you saw and who in his way is a wonder, the older
girl, whom you must see, and two youngsters, male and female, whom you
mustn't."

There might by this time, in the growing interest of their talk, have
been almost nothing too uncanny for Mr. Longdon to fear it. "You mean
the youngsters are--unfortunate?"

"No--they're only, like all the modern young, I think, mysteries,
terrible little baffling mysteries." Vanderbank had found amusement
again--it flickered so from his friend's face that, really at moments to
the point of alarm, his explanations deepened darkness. Then with more
interest he harked back. "I know the thing you just mentioned--the thing
that strikes you as odd." He produced his knowledge quite with elation.
"The talk." Mr. Longdon on this only looked at him in silence and
harder, but he went on with assurance: "Yes, the talk--for we do talk, I
think." Still his guest left him without relief, only fixing him and his
suggestion with a suspended judgement. Whatever the old man was on the
point of saying, however, he disposed of in a curtailed murmur; he had
already turned afresh to the series of portraits, and as he glanced at
another Vanderbank spoke afresh.

"It was very interesting to me to hear from you there, when the ladies
had left us, how many old threads you were prepared to pick up."

Mr. Longdon had paused. "I'm an old boy who remembers the mothers," he
at last replied.

"Yes, you told me how well you remember Mrs. Brookenham's."

"Oh, oh!"--and he arrived at a new subject. "This must be your sister
Mary."

"Yes; it's very bad, but as she's dead--"

"Dead? Dear, dear!"

"Oh long ago"--Vanderbank eased him off. "It's delightful of you," this
informant went on, "to have known also such a lot of MY people."

Mr. Longdon turned from his contemplation with a visible effort. "I feel
obliged to you for taking it so; it mightn't--one never knows--have
amused you. As I told you there, the first thing I did was to ask
Fernanda about the company; and when she mentioned your name I
immediately said: 'Would he like me to speak to him?'"

"And what did Fernanda say?"

Mr. Longdon stared. "Do YOU call her Fernanda?"

Vanderbank felt ever so much more guilty than he would have expected.
"You think it too much in the manner we just mentioned?"

His friend hesitated; then with a smile a trifle strange: "Pardon me;
_I_ didn't mention--"

"No, you didn't; and your scruple was magnificent. In point of fact,"
Vanderbank pursued, "I DON'T call Mrs. Brookenham by her Christian
name."

Mr. Longdon's clear eyes were searching. "Unless in speaking of her to
others?" He seemed really to wish to know.

Vanderbank was but too ready to satisfy him. "I dare say we seem to you
a vulgar lot of people. That's not the way, I can see, you speak of
ladies at Beccles."

"Oh if you laugh at me--!" And his visitor turned off.

"Don't threaten me," said Vanderbank, "or I WILL send away the cab. Of
course I know what you mean. It will be tremendously interesting to hear
how the sort of thing we've fallen into--oh we HAVE fallen in!--strikes
your fresh, your uncorrupted ear. Do have another cigarette. Sunk as I
must appear to you it sometimes strikes even mine. But I'm not sure as
regards Mrs. Brookenham, whom I've known a long time."

Mr. Longdon again took him up. "What do you people call a long time?"

Vanderbank considered. "Ah there you are! And now we're 'we people'!
That's right--give it to us. I'm sure that in one way or another it's
all earned. Well, I've known her ten years. But awfully well."

"What do you call awfully well?"

"We people?" Vanderbank's enquirer, with his continued restless
observation, moving nearer, the young man had laid on his shoulder the
lightest of friendly hands. "Don't you perhaps ask too much? But no," he
added quickly and gaily, "of course you don't: if I don't look out I
shall have exactly the effect on you I don't want. I dare say I don't
know HOW well I know Mrs. Brookenham. Mustn't that sort of thing be put
in a manner to the proof? What I meant to say just now was that I
wouldn't--at least I hope I shouldn't--have named her as I did save to
an old friend."

Mr. Longdon looked promptly satisfied and reassured. "You probably heard
me address her myself."

"I did, but you've your rights, and that wouldn't excuse me. The only
thing is that I go to see her every Sunday."

Mr. Longdon pondered and then, a little to Vanderbank's surprise, at any
rate to his deeper amusement, candidly asked: "Only Fernanda? No other
lady?"

"Oh yes, several other ladies."

Mr. Longdon appeared to hear this with pleasure. "You're quite right. We
don't make enough of Sunday at Beccles."

"Oh we make plenty of it in London!" Vanderbank said. "And I think it's
rather in my interest I should mention that Mrs. Brookenham calls ME--"

His visitor covered him now with an attention that just operated as a
check. "By your Christian name?"

Before Vanderbank could in any degree attenuate "What IS your Christian
name?" Mr. Longdon asked.

Vanderbank felt of a sudden almost guilty--as if his answer could only
impute extravagance to the lady. "My Christian name"--he blushed it out
--"is Gustavus."

His friend took a droll conscious leap. "And she calls you Gussy?"

"No, not even Gussy. But I scarcely think I ought to tell you," he
pursued, "if she herself gave you no glimpse of the fact. Any
implication that she consciously avoided it might make you see deeper
depths."

He spoke with pointed levity, but his companion showed him after an
instant a face just covered--and a little painfully--with the vision of
the possibility brushed away by the joke. "Oh I'm not so bad as that!"
Mr. Longdon modestly ejaculated.

"Well, she doesn't do it always," Vanderbank laughed, "and it's nothing
moreover to what some people are called. Why, there was a fellow there--
" He pulled up, however, and, thinking better of it, selected another
instance. "The Duchess--weren't you introduced to the Duchess?--never
calls me anything but 'Vanderbank' unless she calls me 'caro mio.' It
wouldn't have taken much to make her appeal to YOU with an 'I say,
Longdon!' I can quite hear her."

Mr. Longdon, focussing the effect of the sketch, pointed its moral with
an indulgent: "Oh well, a FOREIGN duchess!" He could make his
distinctions.

"Yes, she's invidiously, cruelly foreign," Vanderbank agreed: "I've
never indeed seen a woman avail herself so cleverly, to make up for the
obloquy of that state, of the benefits and immunities it brings with it.
She has bloomed in the hot-house of her widowhood--she's a Neapolitan
hatched by an incubator."

"A Neapolitan?"--Mr. Longdon seemed all civilly to wish he had only
known it.

"Her husband was one; but I believe that dukes at Naples are as thick as
princes at Petersburg. He's dead, at any rate, poor man, and she has
come back here to live."

"Gloomily, I should think--after Naples?" Mr. Longdon threw out.

"Oh it would take more than even a Neapolitan past--! However"--and the
young man caught himself up--"she lives not in what's behind her, but in
what's before--she lives in her precious little Aggie."

"Little Aggie?" Mr. Longdon risked a cautious interest.

"I don't take a liberty there," Vanderbank smiled: "I speak only of the
young Agnesina, a little girl, the Duchess's niece, or rather I believe
her husband's, whom she has adopted--in the place of a daughter early
lost--and has brought to England to marry."

"Ah to some great man of course!"

Vanderbank thought. "I don't know." He gave a vague but expressive sigh.
"She's rather lovely, little Aggie."

Mr. Longdon looked conspicuously subtle. "Then perhaps YOU'RE the man!"

"Do I look like a 'great' one?" Vanderbank broke in.

His visitor, turning away from him, again embraced the room. "Oh dear,
yes!"

"Well then, to show how right you are, there's the young lady." He
pointed to an object on one of the tables, a small photograph with a
very wide border of something that looked like crimson fur.

Mr. Longdon took up the picture; he was serious now. "She's very
beautiful--but she's not a little girl."

"At Naples they develop early. She's only seventeen or eighteen, I
suppose; but I never know how old--or at least how young--girls are, and
I'm not sure. An aunt, at any rate, has of course nothing to conceal.
She IS extremely pretty--with extraordinary red hair and a complexion to
match; great rarities I believe, in that race and latitude. She gave me
the portrait--frame and all. The frame is Neapolitan enough and little
Aggie's charming." Then Vanderbank subjoined: "But not so charming as
little Nanda."

"Little Nanda?--have you got HER?" The old man was all eagerness.

"She's over there beside the lamp--also a present from the original."


Henry James

Sorry, no summary available yet.