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Chapter 1

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 HER?"

"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.


Henry James

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