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Chapter 3

Their hostess's account of Mr. Cashmore's motive for his staying on was
so far justified as that Vanderbank, while Mr. Longdon came over to Mrs.
Brook, appeared without difficulty further to engage him. The lady in
question meanwhile had drawn her old friend down, and her present method
of approach would have interested an observer aware of the unhappy
conviction she had just privately expressed. Some trace indeed of the
glimpse of it enjoyed by Mr. Cashmere's present interlocutor might have
been detected in the restlessness that Vanderbank's desire to keep the
other pair uninterrupted was still not able to banish from his attitude.
Not, however, that Mrs. Brook took the smallest account of it as she
quickly broke out: "How can we thank you enough, my dear man, for your
extraordinary kindness?" The reference was vivid, yet Mr. Longdon looked
so blank about it that she had immediately to explain. "I mean to dear
Van, who has told us of your giving him the great happiness--unless he's
too dreadfully mistaken--of letting him really know you. He's such a
tremendous friend of ours that nothing so delightful can befall him
without its affecting us in the same way." She had proceeded with
confidence, but suddenly she pulled up. "Don't tell me he IS mistaken--I
shouldn't be able to bear it." She challenged the pale old man with a
loveliness that was for the moment absolutely juvenile. "Aren't you
letting him--really?"

Mr. Longdon's smile was queer. "I can't prevent him. I'm not a great
house--to give orders to go over me. The kindness is Mr. Vanderbank's
own, and I've taken up, I'm afraid, a great deal of his precious time."

"You have indeed." Mrs. Brook was undiscouraged. "He has been talking
with me just now of nothing else. You may say," she went on, "that it's
I who have kept him at it. So I have, for his pleasure's a joy to us. If
you can't prevent what he feels, you know, you can't prevent either what
WE feel."

Mr. Longdon's face reflected for a minute something he could scarcely
have supposed her acute enough to make out, the struggle between his
real mistrust of her, founded on the unconscious violence offered by her
nature to his every memory of her mother, and his sense on the other
hand of the high propriety of his liking her; to which latter force his
interest in Vanderbank was a contribution, inasmuch as he was obliged to
recognise on the part of the pair an alliance it would have been
difficult to explain at Beccles. "Perhaps I don't quite see the value of
what your husband and you and I are in a position to do for him."

"Do you mean because he's himself so clever?"

"Well," said Mr. Longdon, "I dare say that's at the bottom of my feeling
so proud to be taken up by him. I think of the young men of MY time and
see that he takes in more. But that's what you all do," he rather
helplessly sighed. "You're very, very wonderful!"

She met him with an almost extravagant eagerness that the meeting should
be just where he wished. "I don't take in everything, but I take in all
I can. That's a great affair in London to-day, and I often feel as if I
were a circus-woman, in pink tights and no particular skirts, riding
half a dozen horses at once. We're all in the troupe now, I suppose,"
she smiled, "and we must travel with the show. But when you say we're
different," she added, "think, after all, of mamma."

Mr. Longdon stared. "It's from her you ARE different."

"Ah but she had an awfully fine mind. We're not cleverer than she."

His conscious honest eyes looked away an instant. "It's perhaps enough
for the present that you're cleverer than I! I was very glad the other
day," he continued, "to make the acquaintance of your daughter. I hoped
I should find her with you."

If Mrs. Brook cast about it was but for a few seconds. "If she had known
you were coming she would certainly have been here. She wanted so to
please you." Then as her visitor took no further notice of this speech
than to ask if Nanda were out of the house she had to admit it as an
aggravation of failure; but she pursued in the next breath: "Of course
you won't care, but she raves about you."

He appeared indeed at first not to care. "Isn't she eighteen?"--it was
oddly abrupt.

"I have to think. Wouldn't it be nearer twenty?" Mrs. Brook audaciously
returned. She tried again. "She told me all about your interview. I
stayed away on purpose--I had my idea."

"And what WAS your idea?"

"I thought she'd remind you more of mamma if I wasn't there. But she's a
little person who sees. Perhaps you didn't think it, but she knew."

"And what did she know?" asked Mr. Longdon, who was unable, however, to
keep from his tone a certain coldness which really deprived the question
of its proper curiosity.

Mrs. Brook just showed the chill of it, but she had always her courage.
"Why that you don't like her." She had the courage of carrying off as
well as of backing out. "She too has her little place with the circus--
it's the way we earn our living."

Mr. Longdon said nothing for a moment and when he at last spoke it was
almost with an air of contradiction. "She's your mother to the life."

His hostess, for three seconds, looked at him hard. "Ah but with such
differences! You'll lose it," she added with a headshake of pity.

He had his eyes only on Vanderbank. "Well, my losses are my own affair."
Then his face came back. "Did she tell you I didn't like her?"

The indulgence in Mrs. Brook's view of his simplicity was marked. "You
thought you succeeded so in hiding it? No matter--she bears up. I think
she really feels a great deal as I do--that it's no matter how many of
us you hate if you'll only go on feeling as you do about mamma. Show us
THAT--that's what we want."

Nothing could have expressed more the balm of reassurance, but the mild
drops had fallen short of the spot to which they were directed. "'Show'
you?"

Oh how he had sounded the word! "I see--you DON'T show. That's just what
Nanda saw you thought! But you can't keep us from knowing it--can't keep
it in fact, I think, from affecting your own behaviour. You'd be much
worse to us if it wasn't for the still warm ashes of your old passion."
It was an immense pity for Vanderbank's amusement that he was at this
moment too far off to fit to the expression of his old friend's face so
much of the cause of it as had sprung from the deeply informed tone of
Mrs. Brook's allusion. To what degree the speaker herself made the
connexion will never be known to history, nor whether as she went on she
thought she bettered her case or she simply lost her head. "The great
thing for us is that we can never be for you quite like other ordinary
people."

"And what's the great thing for ME?"

"Oh for you, there's nothing, I'm afraid, but small things--so small
that they can scarcely be worth the trouble of your making them out. Our
being so happy that you've come back to us--if only just for a glimpse
and to leave us again, in no matter what horror, for ever; our positive
delight in your being exactly so different; the pleasure we have in
talking about you, and shall still have--or indeed all the more--even if
we've seen you only to lose you: whatever all this represents for
ourselves it's for none of us to pretend to say how much or how little
YOU may pick out of it. And yet," Mrs. Brook wandered on, "however much
we may disappoint you some little spark of the past can't help being in
us--for the past is the one thing beyond all spoiling: there it is,
don't you think?--to speak for itself and, if need be, only OF itself."
She pulled up, but she appeared to have destroyed all power of speech in
him, so that while she waited she had time for a fresh inspiration. It
might perhaps frankly have been mentioned as on the whole her finest.
"Don't you think it possible that if you once get the point of view of
realising that I KNOW--?"

She held the note so long that he at last supplied a sound. "That you
know what?"

"Why that compared with her I'm a poor creeping thing. I mean"--she
hastened to forestall any protest of mere decency that would spoil her
idea--"that of course I ache in every limb with the certainty of my
dreadful difference. It isn't as if I DIDN'T know it, don't you see?
There it is as a matter of course: I've helplessly but finally and
completely accepted it. Won't THAT help you?" she so ingeniously
pleaded. "It isn't as if I tormented you with any recall of her
whatever. I can quite see how awful it would be for you if, with the
effect I produce on you, I did have her lovely eyes or her distinguished
nose or the shape of her forehead or the colour of her hair. Strange as
it is in a daughter I'm disconnected altogether, and don't you think I
MAY be a little saved for you by becoming thus simply out of the
question? Of course," she continued, "your real trial is poor Nanda--
she's likewise so fearfully out of it and yet she's so fearfully in it.
And she," said Mrs. Brook for a climax--"SHE doesn't know!"

A strange faint flush, while she talked, had come into Mr. Longdon's
face, and, whatever effect, as she put it, she produced on him, it was
clearly not that of causing his attention to wander. She held him at
least for weal or woe; his bright eyes grew brighter and opened into a
stare that finally seemed to offer him as submerged in mere wonder. At
last, however, he rose to the surface, and he appeared to have lighted
at the bottom of the sea on the pearl of the particular wisdom he
needed. "I dare say there may be something in what you so
extraordinarily suggest."

She jumped at it as if in pleasant pain. "In just letting me go--?"

But at this he dropped. "I shall never let you go."

It renewed her fear. "Not just for what I AM?"

He rose from his place beside her, but looking away from her and with
his colour marked. "I shall never let you go," he repeated.

"Oh you angel!" She sprang up more quickly and the others were by this
time on their feet. "I've done it, I've done it!" she joyously cried to
Vanderbank; "he likes me, or at least he can bear me--I've found him the
way; and now I don't care even if he SAYS I haven't." Then she turned
again to her old friend. "We can manage about Nanda--you needn't ever
see her. She's 'down' now, but she can go up again. We can arrange it at
any rate--c'est la moindre des choses."

"Upon my honour I protest," Mr. Cashmore exclaimed, "against anything of
the sort! I defy you to 'arrange' that young lady in any such manner
without also arranging ME. I'm one of her greatest admirers," he gaily
announced to Mr. Longdon.

Vanderbank said nothing, and Mr. Longdon seemed to show he would have
preferred to do the same: that visitor's eyes might have represented an
appeal to him somehow to intervene, to show the due acquaintance,
springing from practice and wanting in himself, with the art of
conversation developed to the point at which it could thus sustain a
lady in the upper air. Vanderbank's silence might, without his mere kind
pacific look, have seemed almost inhuman. Poor Mr. Longdon had finally
to do his own simple best. "Will you bring your daughter to see me?" he
asked of Mrs. Brookenham.

"Oh, oh--that's an idea: will you bring her to see ME?" Mr. Cashmore
again broke out.

Mrs. Brook had only fixed Mr. Longdon with the air of unutterable
things. "You angel, you angel!"--they found expression but in that.

"I don't need to ask you to bring her, do I?" Vanderbank now said to his
hostess. "I hope you don't mind my bragging all over the place of the
great honour she did me the other day in appearing quite by herself."

"Quite by herself? I say, Mrs. Brook!" Mr. Cashmore flourished on.

It was only now that she noticed him; which she did indeed but by
answering Vanderbank. "She didn't go for YOU I'm afraid--though of
course she might: she went because you had promised her Mr. Longdon. But
I should have no more feeling about her going to you--and should expect
her to have no more--than about her taking a pound of tea, as she
sometimes does, to her old nurse, or her going to read to the old women
at the workhouse. May you never have less to brag of!"

"I wish she'd bring ME a pound of tea!" Mr. Cashmore resumed. "Or ain't
I enough of an old woman for her to come and read to me at home?"

"Does she habitually visit the workhouse?" Mr. Longdon enquired of Mrs.
Brook.

This lady kept him in a moment's suspense, which another contemplation
might moreover have detected that Vanderbank in some degree shared.
"Every Friday at three."

Vanderbank, with a sudden turn, moved straight to one of the windows,
and Mr. Cashmore had a happy remembrance. "Why, this is Friday--she must
have gone to-day. But does she stay so late?"

"She was to go afterwards to little Aggie: I'm trying so, in spite of
difficulties," Mrs. Brook explained, "to keep them on together." She
addressed herself with a new thought to Mr. Longdon. "You must know
little Aggie--the niece of the Duchess: I forget if you've met the
Duchess, but you must know HER too--there are so many things on which
I'm sure she'll feel with you. Little Aggie's the one," she continued;
"you'll delight in her; SHE ought to have been mamma's grandchild."

"Dearest lady, how can you pretend or for a moment compare her--?" Mr.
Cashmore broke in. "She says nothing to me at all."

"She says nothing to any one," Mrs. Brook serenely replied; "that's just
her type and her charm--just above all her education." Then she appealed
to Vanderbank. "Won't Mr. Longdon be struck with little Aggie and won't
he find it interesting to talk about all that sort of thing with the
Duchess?"

Vanderbank came back laughing, but Mr. Longdon anticipated his reply.
"What sort of thing do you mean?"

"Oh," said Mrs. Brook, "the whole question, don't you know? of bringing
girls forward or not. The question of--well, what do you call it?--their
exposure. It's THE question, it appears--the question--of the future;
it's awfully interesting and the Duchess at any rate is great on it.
Nanda of course is exposed," Mrs. Brook pursued--"fearfully."

"And what on earth is she exposed to?" Mr. Cashmore gaily demanded.

"She's exposed to YOU, it would seem, my dear fellow!" Vanderbank spoke
with a certain discernible impatience not so much of the fact he
mentioned as of the turn of their talk.

It might have been in almost compassionate deprecation of this weak note
that Mrs. Brookenham looked at him. Her own reply to Mr. Cashmere's
question, however, was uttered at Mr. Longdon. "She's exposed--it's much
worse--to ME. But Aggie isn't exposed to anything--never has been and
never is to be; and we're watching to see if the Duchess can carry it
through."

"Why not," asked Mr. Cashmore, "if there's nothing she CAN be exposed to
but the Duchess herself?"

He had appealed to his companions impartially, but Mr. Longdon, whose
attention was now all for his hostess, appeared unconscious. "If you're
all watching is it your idea that I should watch WITH you?"

The enquiry, on his lips, was a waft of cold air, the sense of which
clearly led Mrs. Brook to put her invitation on the right ground. "Not
of course on the chance of anything's happening to the dear child--to
whom nothing obviously CAN happen but that her aunt will marry her off
in the shortest possible time and in the best possible conditions. No,
the interest is much more in the way the Duchess herself steers."

"Ah, she's in a boat," Mr. Cashmore fully concurred, "that will take a
good bit of that."

It is not for Mr. Longdon's historian to overlook that if he was, not
unnaturally, mystified he was yet also visibly interested. "What boat is
she in?"

He had addressed his curiosity, with politeness, to Mr. Cashmore, but
they were all arrested by the wonderful way in which Mrs. Brook managed
to smile at once very dimly, very darkly, and yet make it take them all
in. "I think YOU must tell him, Van."

"Heaven forbid!"--and Van again retreated.

"I'LL tell him like a shot--if you really give me leave," said Mr.
Cashmore, for whom any scruple referred itself manifestly not to the
subject of the information but to the presence of a lady.

"I DON'T give you leave and I beg you'll hold your tongue," Mrs.
Brookenham returned. "You handle such matters with a minuteness--! In
short," she broke off to Mr. Longdon, "he would tell you a good deal
more than you'll care to know. She IS in a boat--but she's an
experienced mariner. Basta, as she would say. Do you know Mitchy?" Mrs.
Brook suddenly asked.

"Oh yes, he knows Mitchy"--Vanderbank had approached again.

"Then make HIM tell him"--she put it before the young man as a charming
turn for them all. "Mitchy CAN be refined when he tries."

"Oh dear--when Mitchy 'tries'!" Vanderbank laughed. "I think I should
rather, for the job, offer him to Mr. Longdon abandoned to his native
wild impulse."

"I LIKE Mr. Mitchett," the old man said, endeavouring to look his
hostess straight in the eye and speaking as if somewhat to defy her to
convict him, even from the point of view of Beccles, of a mistake.

Mrs. Brookenham took it with a wonderful bright emotion. "My dear
friend, vous me rendez la vie! If you can stand Mitchy you can stand any
of us!"

"Upon my honour I should think so!" Mr. Cashmore was eager to remark.
"What on earth do you mean," he demanded of Mrs. Brook, "by saying that
I'm more 'minute' than he?"

She turned her beauty an instant on this critic. "I don't say you're
more minute--I say he's more brilliant. Besides, as I've told you
before, you're not one of us." With which, as a check to further
discussion, she went straight on to Mr. Longdon: "The point about
Aggie's conservative education is the wonderful sincerity with which the
Duchess feels that one's girl may so perfectly and consistently be
hedged in without one's really ever (for it comes to that) depriving
one's own self--"

"Well, of what?" Mr. Longdon boldly demanded while his hostess appeared
thoughtfully to falter.

She addressed herself mutely to Vanderbank, in whom the movement
produced a laugh. "I defy you," he exclaimed, "to say!"

"Well, you don't defy ME!" Mr. Cashmore cried as Mrs. Brook failed to
take up the challenge. "If you know Mitchy," he went on to Mr. Longdon,
"you must know Petherton."

The elder man remained vague and not imperceptibly cold. "Petherton?"

"My brother-in-law--whom, God knows why, Mitchy runs."

"Runs?" Mr. Longdon again echoed.

Mrs. Brook appealed afresh to Vanderbank. "I think we ought to spare
him. I may not remind you of mamma," she continued to their companion,
"but I hope you don't mind my saying how much you remind me.
Explanations, after all, spoil things, and if you CAN make anything of
us and will sometimes come back you'll find everything in its native
freshness. You'll see, you'll feel for yourself."

Mr. Longdon stood before her and raised to Vanderbank, when she had
ceased, the eyes he had attached to the carpet while she talked. "And
must I go now?" Explanations, she had said, spoiled things, but he might
have been a stranger at an Eastern court--comically helpless without
his interpreter.

"If Mrs. Brook desires to 'spare' you," Vanderbank kindly replied, "the
best way to make sure of it would perhaps indeed be to remove you. But
hadn't we a hope of Nanda?"

"It might be of use for us to wait for her?"--it was still to his young
friend that Mr. Longdon put it.

"Ah when she's once on the loose--!" Mrs. Brookenham sighed.

"Unless la voila," she said as a hand was heard at the door-latch. It
was only, however, a footman who entered with a little tray that, on his
approaching his mistress, offered to sight the brown envelope of a
telegram. She immediately took leave to open this missive, after the
quick perusal of which she had another vision of them all. "It IS she--
the modern daughter. 'Tishy keeps me dinner and opera; clothes all
right; return uncertain, but if before morning have latch-key.' She
won't come home till morning!" said Mrs. Brook.

"But think of the comfort of the latch-key!" Vanderbank laughed. "You
might go to the opera," he said to Mr. Longdon.

"Hanged if _I_ don't!" Mr. Cashmore exclaimed.

Mr. Longdon appeared to have caught from Nanda's message an obscure
agitation; he met his young friend's suggestion at all events with a
visible intensity. "Will you go with me?"

Vanderbank had just debated, recalling engagements; which gave Mrs.
Brook time to intervene. "Can't you live without him?" she asked of her
elder friend.

Vanderbank had looked at her an instant. "I think I can get there late,"
he then replied to Mr. Longdon.

"I think _I_ can get there early," Mr. Cashmore declared. "Mrs. Grendon
must have a box; in fact I know which, and THEY don't," he jocosely
continued to his hostess.

Mrs. Brook meanwhile had given Mr. Longdon her hand. "Well, in any case
the child SHALL soon come to you. And oh alone," she insisted: "you
needn't make phrases--I know too well what I'm about."

"One hopes really you do," pursued the unquenched Mr. Cashmore.

"If that's what one gets by having known your mother--!"

"It wouldn't have helped YOU" Mrs. Brook retorted. "And won't you have
to say it's ALL you were to get?" she pityingly murmured to her other
visitor.

He turned to Vanderbank with a strange gasp, and that comforter said
"Come!"

Henry James

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