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Chapter 2

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."

Henry James

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