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Chapter 2

Mrs. Brookenham, who had introduced him to the elder of her visitors,
had also found in serving these gentlemen with tea, a chance to edge at
him with an intensity not to be resisted: "Talk to Mr. Longdon--take him
off THERE." She had indicated the sofa at the opposite end of the room
and had set him an example by possessing herself, in the place she
already occupied, of her "adored" Vanderbank. This arrangement, however,
constituted for her, in her own corner, as soon as she had made it, the
ground of an appeal. "Will he hate me any worse for doing that?"

Vanderbank glanced at the others. "Will Cashmore, do you mean?"

"Dear no--I don't care whom HE hates. But with Mr. Longdon I want to
avoid mistakes."

"Then don't try quite so hard!" Vanderbank laughed. "Is that your reason
for throwing him into Cashmore's arms?"

"Yes, precisely--so that I shall have these few moments to ask you for
directions: you must know him by this time so well. I only want, heaven
help me, to be as nice to him as I possibly can."

"That's quite the best thing for you and altogether why, this afternoon,
I brought him: he might have better luck in finding you--it was he who
suggested it--than he has had by himself. I'm in a general way,"
Vanderbank added, "watching over him."

"I see--and he's watching over you." Mrs. Brook's sweet vacancy had
already taken in so much. "He wants to judge of what I may be doing to
you--he wants to save you from me. He quite detests me."

Vanderbank, with the interest as well as the amusement, fairly threw
himself back. "There's nobody like you--you're too magnificent!"

"I AM; and that I can look the truth in the face and not be angry or
silly about it is, as you know, the one thing in the world for which I
think a bit well of myself."

"Oh yes, I know--I know; you're too wonderful!"

Mrs. Brookenham, in a brief pause, completed her covert consciousness.
"They're doing beautifully--he's taking Cashmore with a seriousness!"

"And with what is Cashmore taking him?"

"With the hope that from one moment to another Nanda may come in."

"But how on earth does that concern him?"

"Through an extraordinary fancy he has suddenly taken to her." Mrs.
Brook had been swift to master the facts. "He has been meeting her at
Tishy's, and she has talked to him so effectually about his behaviour
that she has quite made him cease to care for Carrie. He prefers HER
now--and of course she's much nicer."

Vanderbank's attention, it was clear, had now been fully seized. "She's
much nicer. Rather! What you mean is," he asked the next moment, "that
Nanda, this afternoon, has been the object of his call?"

"Yes--really; though he tried to keep it from me. She makes him feel,"
she went on, "so innocent and good."

Her companion for a moment said nothing; but then at last: "And WILL she
come in?"

"I haven't the least idea."

"Don't you know where she is?"

"I suppose she's with Tishy, who has returned to town."

Vanderbank turned this over. "Is that your system now--to ask no
questions?"

"Why SHOULD I ask any--when I want her life to be as much as possible
like my own? It's simply that the hour has struck, as you know. From the
moment she IS down the only thing for us is to live as friends. I think
it's so vulgar," Mrs. Brook sighed, "not to have the same good manners
with one's children as one has with other people. She asks ME nothing."

"Nothing?" Vanderbank echoed.

"Nothing."

He paused again; after which, "It's very disgusting!" he declared. Then
while she took it up as he had taken her word of a moment before, "It's
very preposterous," he continued.

Mrs. Brook appeared at a loss. "Do you mean her helping him?"

"It's not of Nanda I'm speaking--it's of him." Vanderbank spoke with a
certain impatience. "His being with her in any sort of direct relation
at all. His mixing her up with his other beastly affairs."

Mrs. Brook looked intelligent and wan about it, but also perfectly good-
humoured. "My dear man, he and his affairs ARE such twaddle!"

Vanderbank laughed in spite of himself. "And does that make it any
better?"

Mrs. Brook thought, but presently had a light--she almost smiled with
it. "For US!" Then more woefully, "Don't you want Carrie to be saved?"
she asked.

"Why should I? Not a jot. Carrie be hanged!"

"But it's for Fanny," Mrs. Brook protested. "If Carrie IS rescued it's a
pretext the less for Fanny." As the young man looked for an instant
rather gloomily vague she softly quavered: "I suppose you don't
positively WANT Fanny to bolt?"

"To bolt?"

"Surely I've not to remind you at this time of day how Captain Dent-
Douglas is always round the corner with the post-chaise, and how tight,
on our side, we're all clutching her."

"But why not let her go?"

Mrs. Brook, at this, showed real resentment. "'Go'? Then what would
become of us?" She recalled his wandering fancy. "She's the delight of
our life."

"Oh!" Vanderbank sceptically murmured.

"She's the ornament of our circle," his companion insisted. "She will,
she won't--she won't, she will! It's the excitement, every day, of
plucking the daisy over." Vanderbank's attention, as she spoke, had
attached itself across the room to Mr. Longdon; it gave her thus an
image of the way his imagination had just seemed to her to stray, and
she saw a reason in it moreover for her coming up in another place.

"Isn't he rather rich?" She allowed the question all its effect of
abruptness.

Vanderbank looked round at her. "Mr. Longdon? I haven't the least idea."

"Not after becoming so intimate? It's usually, with people, the very
first thing I get my impression of." There came into her face for
another glance at their friend no crudity of curiosity, but an
expression more tenderly wistful. "He must have some mysterious box
under his bed."

"Down in Suffolk?--a miser's hoard? Who knows? I dare say," Vanderbank
went on. "He isn't a miser, but he strikes me as careful."

Mrs. Brook meanwhile had thought it out. "Then he has something to be
careful of; it would take something really handsome to inspire in a man
like him that sort of interest. With his small expenses all these years
his savings must be immense. And how could he have proposed to mamma
unless he had originally had money?"

If Vanderbank a little helplessly wondered he also laughed. "You must
remember your mother refused him."

"Ah but not because there wasn't enough."

"No--I imagine the force of the blow for him was just in the other
reason."

"Well, it would have been in that one just as much if that one had been
the other." Mrs. Brook was sagacious, though a trifle obscure, and she
pursued the next moment: "Mamma was so sincere. The fortune was nothing
to her. That shows it was immense."

"It couldn't have been as great as your logic," Vanderbank smiled; "but
of course if it has been growing ever since--!"

"I can see it grow while he sits there," Mrs. Brook declared. But her
logic had in fact its own law, and her next transition was an equal
jump. "It was too lovely, the frankness of your admission a minute ago
that I affect him uncannily. Ah don't spoil it by explanations!" she
beautifully pleaded: "he's not the first and he won't be the last with
whom I shall not have been what they call a combination. The only thing
that matters is that I mustn't, if possible, make the case worse. So you
must guide me. What IS one to do?"

Vanderbank, now amused again, looked at her kindly. "Be yourself, my
dear woman. Obey your fine instincts."

"How can you be," she sweetly asked, "so hideously hypocritical? You
know as well as you sit there that my fine instincts are the thing in
the world you're most in terror of. 'Be myself?'" she echoed. "What
you'd LIKE to say is: 'Be somebody else--that's your only chance.' Well,
I'll try--I'll try."

He laughed again, shaking his head. "Don't--don't."

"You mean it's too hopeless? There's no way of effacing the bad
impression or of starting a good one?" On this, with a drop of his
mirth, he met her eyes, and for an instant, through the superficial
levity of their talk, they might have appeared to sound each other. It
lasted till Mrs. Brook went on: "I should really like not to lose him."

Vanderbank seemed to understand and at last said: "I think you won't
lose him."

"Do you mean you'll help me, Van, you WILL?" Her voice had at moments
the most touching tones of any in England, and humble, helpless,
affectionate, she spoke with a familiarity of friendship. "It's for the
sense of the link with mamma," she explained. "He's simply full of her."

"Oh I know. He's prodigious."

"He has told you more--he comes back to it?" Mrs. Brook eagerly asked.

"Well," the young man replied a trifle evasively, "we've had a great
deal of talk, and he's the jolliest old boy possible, and in short I
like him."

"I see," said Mrs. Brook blandly, "and he likes you in return as much as
he despises me. That makes it all right--makes me somehow so happy for
you. There's something in him--what is it?--that suggests the oncle
d'Amerique, the eccentric benefactor, the fairy godmother. He's a little
of an old woman--but all the better for it." She hung fire but an
instant before she pursued: "What can we make him do for you?"

Vanderbank at this was very blank. "Do for me?"

"How can any one love you," she asked, "without wanting to show it in
some way? You know all the ways, dear Van," she breathed, "in which I
want to show it."

He might have known them, something suddenly fixed in his face appeared
to say, but they were not what was, on this speech of hers, most
immediately present to him. "That for instance is the tone not to take
with him."

"There you are!" she sighed with discouragement. "Well, only TELL me."
Then as he said nothing: "I must be more like mamma?"

His expression confessed to his feeling an awkwardness. "You're perhaps
not quite enough like her."

"Oh I know that if he deplores me as I am now she would have done so
quite as much; in fact probably, as seeing it nearer, a good deal more.
She'd have despised me even more than he. But if it's a question," Mrs.
Brook went on, "of not saying what mamma wouldn't, how can I know, don't
you see, what she WOULD have said?" Mrs. Brook became as wonderful as if
she saw in her friend's face some admiring reflexion of the fine freedom
of mind that--in such a connexion quite as much as in any other--she
could always show. "Of course I revere mamma just as much as he does,
and there was everything in her to revere. But she was none the less in
every way a charming woman too, and I don't know, after all, do I? what
even she--in their peculiar relation--may not have said to him."

Vanderbank's laugh came back. "Very good--very good. I return to my
first idea. Try with him whatever comes into your head. You're a woman
of genius after all, and genius mostly justifies itself. To make you
right," he went on pleasantly and inexorably, "might perhaps be to make
you wrong. Since you HAVE so great a charm trust it not at all or all in
all. That, I dare say, is all you can do. Therefore--yes--be yourself."

These remarks were followed on either side by the repetition of a
somewhat intenser mutual gaze, though indeed the speaker's eyes had more
the air of meeting his friend's than of seeking them. "I can't be YOU
certainly, Van," Mrs. Brook sadly brought forth.

"I know what you mean by that," he rejoined in a moment. "You mean I'm
hypocritical."

"Hypocritical?"

"I'm diplomatic and calculating--I don't show him how bad I am; whereas
with you he knows the worst."

Of this observation Mrs. Brook, whose eyes attached themselves again to
Mr. Longdon, took at first no further notice than might have been
indicated by the way it set her musing.

"'Calculating'?"--she at last took him up. "On what is there to
calculate?"

"Why," said Vanderbank, "if, as you just hinted, he's a blessing in
disguise--! I perfectly admit," he resumed, "that I'm capable of
sacrifices to keep on good terms with him."

"You're not afraid he'll bore you?"

"Oh yes--distinctly."

"But he'll be worth it? Then," Mrs. Brook said as he appeared to assent,
"he'll be worth a great deal." She continued to watch Mr. Longdon, who,
without his glasses, stared straight at the floor while Mr. Cashmore
talked to him. She pursued, however, dispassionately enough: "He must be
of a narrowness--!"

"Oh beautiful!"

She was silent again. "I shall broaden him. YOU won't."

"Heaven forbid!" Vanderbank heartily concurred. "But none the less, as
I've said, I'll help you."

Her attention was still fixed. "It will be him you'll help. If you're to
make sacrifices to keep on good terms with him the first sacrifice will
be of me." Then on his leaving this remark so long unanswered that she
had finally looked at him again: "I'm perfectly prepared for it."

It was as if, jocosely enough, he had had time to make up his mind how
to meet her. "What will you have--when he loved my mother?"

Nothing could have been droller than the gloom of her surprise. "Yours
too?"

"I didn't tell you the other day--out of delicacy."

Mrs. Brookenham darkly thought. "HE didn't tell me either."

"The same consideration deterred him. But if I didn't speak of it,"
Vanderbank continued, "when I arranged with you, after meeting him here
at dinner, that you should come to tea with him at my rooms--if I didn't
mention it then it wasn't because I hadn't learnt it early."

Mrs. Brook more deeply sounded this affair, but she spoke with the
exaggerated mildness that was the form mostly taken by her gaiety. "It
was because of course it makes him out such a wretch! What becomes in
that case of his loyalty?"

"To YOUR mother's memory? Oh it's all right--he has it quite straight.
She came later. Mine, after my father's death, had refused him. But you
see he might have been my stepfather."

Mrs. Brookenham took it in, but she had suddenly a brighter light. "He
might have been my OWN father! Besides," she went on, "if his line is to
love the mothers why on earth doesn't he love ME? I'm in all conscience
enough of one."

"Ah but isn't there in your case the fact of a daughter?" Vanderbank
asked with a slight embarrassment.

Mrs. Brookenham stared. "What good does that do me?"

"Why, didn't she tell you?"

"Nanda? She told me he doesn't like her any better than he likes me."

Vanderbank in his turn showed surprise. "That's really what she said?"

"She had on her return from your rooms a most unusual fit of frankness,
for she generally tells me nothing."

"Well," said Vanderbank, "how did she put it?"

Mrs. Brook reflected--recovered it. "'I like him awfully, but I am not
in the least HIS idea.'"

"His idea of what?"

"That's just what I asked her. Of the proper grandchild for mamma."

Vanderbank hesitated. "Well, she isn't." Then after another pause: "But
she'll do."

His companion gave him a deep look. "You'll make her?"

He got up, and on seeing him move Mr. Longdon also rose, so that, facing
each other across the room, they exchanged a friendly signal or two.
"I'll make her."

Henry James

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