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Chapter 1

The lower windows of the great white house, which stood high and square,
opened to a wide flagged terrace, the parapet of which, an old
balustrade of stone, was broken in the middle of its course by a flight
of stone steps that descended to a wonderful garden. The terrace had the
afternoon shade and fairly hung over the prospect that dropped away and
circled it--the prospect, beyond the series of gardens, of scattered
splendid trees and green glades, an horizon mainly of woods. Nanda
Brookenham, one day at the end of July, coming out to find the place
unoccupied as yet by other visitors, stood there a while with an air of
happy possession. She moved from end to end of the terrace, pausing,
gazing about her, taking in with a face that showed the pleasure of a
brief independence the combination of delightful things--of old rooms
with old decorations that gleamed and gloomed through the high windows,
of old gardens that squared themselves in the wide angles of old walls,
of wood-walks rustling in the afternoon breeze and stretching away to
further reaches of solitude and summer. The scene had an expectant
stillness that she was too charmed to desire to break; she watched it,
listened to it, followed with her eyes the white butterflies among the
flowers below her, then gave a start as the cry of a peacock came to her
from an unseen alley. It set her after a minute into less difficult
motion; she passed slowly down the steps, wandering further, looking
back at the big bright house but pleased again to see no one else
appear. If the sun was still high enough she had a pink parasol. She
went through the gardens one by one, skirting the high walls that were
so like "collections" and thinking how, later on, the nectarines and
plums would flush there. She exchanged a friendly greeting with a man at
work, passed through an open door and, turning this way and that,
finally found herself in the park, at some distance from the house. It
was a point she had had to take another rise to reach, a place marked by
an old green bench for a larger sweep of the view, which, in the
distance where the woods stopped, showed in the most English way in the
world the colour-spot of an old red village and the tower of an old grey
church. She had sunk down upon the bench almost with a sense of
adventure, yet not too fluttered to wonder if it wouldn't have been
happy to bring a book; the charm of which precisely would have been in
feeling everything about her too beautiful to let her read.

The sense of adventure grew in her, presently becoming aware of a stir
in the thicket below, followed by the coming into sight, on a path that,
mounting, passed near her seat, of a wanderer whom, had his particular,
his exceptional identity not quickly appeared, it might have
disappointed her a trifle to have to recognise as a friend. He saw her
immediately, stopped, laughed, waved his hat, then bounded up the slope
and, brushing his forehead with his handkerchief, confessing as to a red
face, was rejoicingly there before her. Her own ejaculation on first
seeing him--"Why, Mr. Van!"--had had an ambiguous sharpness that was
rather for herself than for her visitor. She made room for him on the
bench, where in a moment he was cooling off and they were both
explaining. The great thing was that he had walked from the station to
stretch his legs, coming far round, for the lovely hour and the pleasure
of it, by a way he had learnt on some previous occasion of being at
Mertle.

"You've already stayed here then?" Nanda, who had arrived but half an
hour before, spoke as if she had lost the chance to give him a new
impression.

"I've stayed here--yes, but not with Mitchy; with some people or other--
who the deuce can they have been?--who had the place for a few months a
year or two ago."

"Don't you even remember?"

Vanderbank wondered and laughed. "It will come to me. But it's a
charming sign of London relations, isn't it?--that one CAN come down to
people this way and be awfully well 'done for' and all that, and then go
away and lose the whole thing, quite forget to whom one has been
beholden. It's a queer life."

Nanda seemed for an instant to wish to say that one might deny the
queerness, but she said something else instead. "I suppose a man like
you doesn't quite feel that he IS beholden. It's awfully good of him--
it's doing a great deal for anybody--that he should come down at all; so
that it would add immensely to his burden if anybody had to be
remembered for it."

"I don't know what you mean by a man 'like me,'" Vanderbank returned.
"I'm not any particular kind of a man." She had been looking at him, but
she looked away on this, and he continued good-humoured and explanatory.
"If you mean that I go about such a lot, how do you know it but by the
fact that you're everywhere now yourself?--so that, whatever I am, in
short, you're just as bad."

"You admit then that you ARE everywhere. I may be just as bad," the girl
went on, "but the point is that I'm not nearly so good. Girls are such
natural hacks--they can't be anything else."

"And pray what are fellows who are in the beastly grind of fearfully
busy offices? There isn't an old cabhorse in London that's kept at it, I
assure you, as I am. Besides," the young man added, "if I'm out every
night and off somewhere like this for Sunday, can't you understand, my
dear child, the fundamental reason of it?"

Nanda, with her eyes on him again, studied an instant this mystery. "Am
I to infer with delight that it's the sweet hope of meeting ME? It
isn't," she continued in a moment, "as if there were any necessity for
your saying that. What's the use?" But all impatiently she stopped
short.

He was eminently gay even if his companion was not. "Because we're such
jolly old friends that we really needn't so much as speak at all? Yes,
thank goodness--thank goodness." He had been looking round him, taking
in the scene; he had dropped his hat on the ground and, completely at
his ease, though still more wishing to show it, had crossed his legs and
closely folded his arms. "What a tremendously jolly place! If I can't
for the life of me recall who they were--the other people--I've the
comfort of being sure their minds are an equal blank. Do they even
remember the place they had? 'We had some fellows down at--where was it,
the big white house last November?--and there was one of them, out of
the What-do-you-call-it?--YOU know--who might have been a decent enough
chap if he hadn't presumed so on his gifts.'" Vanderbank paused a
minute, but his companion said nothing, and he pursued. "It does show,
doesn't it?--the fact that we do meet this way--the tremendous change
that has taken place in your life in the last three months. I mean, if
I'm everywhere as you said just now, your being just the same."

"Yes--you see what you've done."

"How, what I'VE done?"

"You plunge into the woods for change, for solitude," the girl said,
"and the first thing you do is to find me waylaying you in the depths of
the forest. But I really couldn't--if you'll reflect upon it--know you
were coming this way."

He sat there with his position unchanged but with a constant little
shake in the foot that hung down, as if everything--and what she now put
before him not least--was much too pleasant to be reflected on. "May I
smoke a cigarette?"

Nanda waited a little; her friend had taken out his silver case, which
was of ample form, and as he extracted a cigarette she put forth her
hand. "May _I_?" She turned the case over with admiration.

Vanderbank demurred. "Do you smoke with Mr. Longdon?"

"Immensely. But what has that to do with it?"

"Everything, everything." He spoke with a faint ring of impatience. "I
want you to do with me exactly as you do with him."

"Ah that's soon said!" the girl replied in a peculiar tone. "How do you
mean, to 'do'?"

"Well then to BE. What shall I say?" Vanderbank pleasantly wondered
while his foot kept up its motion. "To feel."

She continued to handle the cigarette-case, without, however, having
profited by its contents. "I don't think that as regards Mr. Longdon and
me you know quite so much as you suppose."

Vanderbank laughed and smoked. "I take for granted he tells me
everything."

"Ah but you scarcely take for granted _I_ do!" She rubbed her cheek an
instant with the polished silver and again the next moment turned over
the case. "This is the kind of one I should like."

Her companion glanced down at it. "Why it holds twenty."

"Well, I want one that holds twenty."

Vanderbank only threw out his smoke. "I want so to give you something,"
he said at last, "that, in my relief at lighting on an object that will
do, I will, if you don't look out, give you either that or a pipe."

"Do you mean this particular one?"

"I've had it for years--but even that one if you like it."

She kept it--continued to finger it. "And by whom was it given you?"

At this he turned to her smiling. "You think I've forgotten that too?"

"Certainly you must have forgotten, to be willing to give it away
again."

"But how do you know it was a present?"

"Such things always are--people don't buy them for themselves."

She had now relinquished the object, laying it upon the bench, and
Vanderbank took it up. "Its origin's lost in the night of time--it has
no history except that I've used it. But I assure you that I do want to
give you something. I've never given you anything."

She was silent a little. "The exhibition you're making," she seriously
sighed at last, "of your inconstancy and superficiality! All the relics
of you that I've treasured and that I supposed at the time to have meant
something!"

"The 'relics'? Have you a lock of my hair?" Then as her meaning came to
him: "Oh little Christmas things? Have you really kept them?"

"Laid away in a drawer of their own--done up in pink paper."

"I know what you're coming to," Vanderbank said. "You've given ME
things, and you're trying to convict me of having lost the sweet sense
of them. But you can't do it. Where my heart's concerned I'm a walking
reliquary. Pink paper? _I_ use gold paper--and the finest of all, the
gold paper of the mind." He gave a flip with a fingernail to his
cigarette and looked at its quickened fire; after which he pursued very
familiarly, but with a kindness that of itself qualified the mere humour
of the thing: "Don't talk, my dear child, as if you didn't really know
me for the best friend you have in the world." As soon as he had spoken
he pulled out his watch, so that if his words had led to something of a
pause this movement offered a pretext for breaking it. Nanda asked the
hour and, on his replying "Five-fifteen," remarked that there would now
be tea on the terrace with every one gathered at it. "Then shall we go
and join them?" her companion demanded.

He had made, however, no other motion, and when after hesitating she
said "Yes, with pleasure" it was also without a change of position. "I
like this," she inconsequently added.

"So do I awfully. Tea on the terrace," Vanderbank went on, "isn't 'in'
it. But who's here?"

"Oh every one. All your set."

"Mine? Have I still a set--with the universal vagabondism you accuse me
of?"

"Well then Mitchy's--whoever they are."

"And nobody of yours?"

"Oh yes," Nanda said, "all mine. He must at least have arrived by this
time. My set's Mr. Longdon," she explained. "He's all of it now."

"Then where in the world am I?"

"Oh you're an extra. There are always extras."

"A complete set and one over?" Vanderbank laughed. "Where then's Tishy?"

Charming and grave, the girl thought a moment. "She's in Paris with her
mother--on their way to Aix-les-Bains." Then with impatience she
continued: "Do you know that's a great deal to say--what you said just
now? I mean about your being the best friend I have."

"Of course I do, and that's exactly why I said it. You see I'm not in
the least delicate or graceful or shy about it--I just come out with it
and defy you to contradict me. Who, if I'm not the best, is a better
one?"

"Well," Nanda replied, "I feel since I've known Mr. Longdon that I've
almost the sort of friend who makes every one else not count."

"Then at the end of three months he has arrived at a value for you that
I haven't reached in all these years?"

"Yes," she returned--"the value of my not being afraid of him."

Vanderbank, on the bench, shifted his position, turning more to her and
throwing an arm over the back. "And you're afraid of ME?"

"Horribly--hideously."

"Then our long, our happy relations--?"

"They're just what makes my terror," she broke in, "particularly abject.
Happy relations don't matter. I always think of you with fear."

His elbow rested on the back and his hand supported his head. "How
awfully curious--if it be true!"

She had been looking away to the sweet English distance, but at this she
made a movement. "Oh Mr. Van, I'm 'true'!"

As Mr. Van himself couldn't have expressed at any subsequent time to any
interested friend the particular effect upon him of the tone of these
words his chronicler takes advantage of the fact not to pretend to a
greater intelligence--to limit himself on the contrary to the simple
statement that they produced in Mr. Van's cheek a flush just
discernible. "Fear of what?"

"I don't know. Fear is fear."

"Yes, yes--I see." He took out another cigarette and occupied a moment
in lighting it. "Well, kindness is kindness too--that's all one can
say."

He had smoked again a while before she turned to him. "Have I wounded
you by saying that?"

A certain effect of his flush was still in his smile. "It seems to me I
should like you to wound me. I did what I wanted a moment ago," he
continued with some precipitation: "I brought you out handsomely on the
subject of Mr. Longdon. That was my idea--just to draw you."

"Well," said Nanda, looking away again, "he has come into my life."

"He couldn't have come into a place where it gives me more pleasure to
see him."

"But he didn't like, the other day when I used it to him, that
expression," the girl returned. "He called it 'mannered modern slang'
and came back again to the extraordinary difference between my speech
and my grandmother's."

"Of course," the young man understandingly assented. "But I rather like
your speech. Hasn't he by this time, with you," he pursued, "crossed the
gulf? He has with me."

"Ah with you there was no gulf. He liked you from the first."

Vanderbank wondered. "You mean I managed him so well?"

"I don't know how you managed him, but liking me has been for him a
painful gradual process. I think he does now," Nanda declared. "He
accepts me at last as different--he's trying with me on that basis. He
has ended by understanding that when he talks to me of Granny I can't
even imagine her."

Vanderbank puffed away. "I can."

"That's what Mitchy says too. But you've both probably got her wrong."

"I don't know," said Vanderbank--"I've gone into it a good deal. But
it's too late. We can't be Greeks if we would."

Even for this Nanda had no laugh, though she had a quick attention. "Do
you call Granny a Greek?"

Her companion slowly rose. "Yes--to finish her off handsomely and have
done with her." He looked again at his watch. "Shall we go? I want to
see if my man and my things have turned up."

She kept her seat; there was something to revert to. "My fear of you
isn't superficial. I mean it isn't immediate--not of you just as you
stand," she explained. "It's of some dreadfully possible future you."

"Well," said the young man, smiling down at her, "don't forget that if
there's to be such a monster there'll also be a future you,
proportionately developed, to deal with him."

She had closed her parasol in the shade and her eyes attached themselves
to the small hole she had dug in the ground with its point. "We shall
both have moved, you mean?"

"It's charming to feel we shall probably have moved together."

"Ah if moving's changing," she returned, "there won't be much for me in
that. I shall never change--I shall be always just the same. The same
old mannered modern slangy hack," she continued quite gravely. "Mr.
Longdon has made me feel that."

Vanderbank laughed aloud, and it was especially at her seriousness.
"Well, upon my soul!"

"Yes," she pursued, "what I am I must remain. I haven't what's called a
principle of growth." Making marks in the earth with her umbrella she
appeared to cipher it out. "I'm about as good as I can be--and about as
bad. If Mr. Longdon can't make me different nobody can."

Vanderbank could only speak in the tone of high amusement. "And he has
given up the hope?"

"Yes--though not ME altogether. He has given up the hope he originally
had."

"He gives up quickly--in three months!"

"Oh these three months," she answered, "have been a long time: the
fullest, the most important, for what has happened in them, of my life."
She still poked at the ground; then she added: "And all thanks to YOU."

"To me?"--Vanderbank couldn't fancy!

"Why, for what we were speaking of just now--my being to-day so in
everything and squeezing up and down no matter whose staircase. Isn't it
one crowded hour of glorious life?" she asked. "What preceded it was an
age, no doubt--but an age without a name."

Vanderbank watched her a little in silence, then spoke quite beside the
question. "It's astonishing how at moments you remind me of your
mother!"

At this she got up. "Ah there it is! It's what I shall never shake off.
That, I imagine, is what Mr. Longdon feels."

Both on their feet now, as if ready for the others, they yet--and even
a trifle awkwardly--lingered. It might in fact have appeared to a
spectator that some climax had come, on the young man's part, to some
state of irresolution about the utterance of something. What were the
words so repeatedly on his lips, yet so repeatedly not sounded? It would
have struck our observer that they were probably not those his lips even
now actually formed. "Doesn't he perhaps talk to you too much about
yourself?"

Nanda gave him a dim smile, and he might indeed then have exclaimed on a
certain resemblance, a resemblance of expression that had nothing to do
with form. It wouldn't have been diminished for him moreover by her
successful suppression of every sign that she felt his question a little
of a snub. The recall he had previously mentioned could, however, as she
answered him, only have been brushed away by a supervening sense of his
roughness. "It probably isn't so much that as my own way of going on."
She spoke with a mildness that could scarce have been so full without
being an effort. "Between his patience and my egotism anything's
possible. It isn't his talking--it's his listening." She gave up the
point, at any rate, as if from softness to her actual companion. "Wasn't
it you who spoke to mamma about my sitting with her? That's what I mean
by my debt to you. It's through you that I'm always there--through you
and perhaps a little through Mitchy."

"Oh through Mitchy--it MUST have been--more than through me." Vanderbank
spoke with the manner of humouring her about a trifle. "Mitchy,
delightful man, felt on the subject of your eternal exile, I think,
still more strongly."

They quitted their place together and at the end of a few steps became
aware of the approach of one of the others, a figure but a few yards
off, arriving from the quarter from which Nanda had come. "Ah Mr.
Longdon!"--she spoke with eagerness now.

Vanderbank instantly waved his hat. "Dear old boy!"

"Between you all, at any rate," she said more gaily, "you've brought me
down."

Vanderbank made no answer till they met their friend, when, by way of
greeting, he simply echoed her words. "Between us all, you'll be glad to
know, we've brought her down."

Mr. Longdon looked from one of them to the other. "Where have you been
together?"

Nanda was the first to respond. "Only talking--on a bench."

"Well, _I_ want to talk on a bench!" Their friend showed a spirit.

"With me, of course?"--Vanderbank met it with encouragement.

The girl said nothing, but Mr. Longdon sought her eyes. "No--with Nanda.
You must mingle in the crowd."

"Ah," the their companion laughed, "you two are the crowd!"

"Well--have your tea first."

Vanderbank on this, giving it up with the air of amused accommodation
that was never--certainly for these two--at fault in him, offered to Mr.
Longdon before departing the handshake of greeting he had omitted; a
demonstration really the warmer for the tone of the joke that went with
it. "Intrigant!"


Henry James

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