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Chapter 2

Nanda praised to the satellite so fantastically described the charming
spot she had quitted, with the effect that they presently took fresh
possession of it, finding the beauty of the view deepened as the
afternoon grew old and the shadows long. They were of a comfortable
agreement on these matters, by which moreover they were but little
delayed, one of the pair at least being too conscious, for the hour, of
still other phenomena than the natural and peaceful process that filled
the air. "Well, you must tell me about these things," Mr. Longdon
sociably said: he had joined his young friend with a budget of
impressions rapidly gathered at the house; as to which his appeal to her
for a light or two may be taken as the measure of the confidence now
ruling their relations. He had come to feel at last, he mentioned, that
he could allow for most differences; yet in such a situation as the
present bewilderment could only come back. There were no differences in
the world--so it had all ended for him--but those that marked at every
turn the manners he had for three months been observing in good society.
The general wide deviation of this body occupied his mind to the
exclusion of almost everything else, and he had finally been brought to
believe that even in his slow-paced prime he must have hung behind his
contemporaries. He had not supposed at the moment--in the fifties and
the sixties--that he passed for old-fashioned, but life couldn't have
left him so far in the rear had the start between them originally been
fair. This was the way he had more than once put the matter to the girl;
which gives a sufficient hint, it is hoped, of the range of some of
their talk. It had always wound up indeed, their talk, with some
assumption of the growth of his actual understanding; but it was just
these pauses in the fray that seemed to lead from time to time to a
sharper clash. It was apt to be when he felt as if he had exhausted
surprises that he really received his greatest shocks. There were no
such queer-tasting draughts as some of those yielded by the bucket that
had repeatedly, as he imagined, touched the bottom of the well. "Now
this sudden invasion of somebody's--heaven knows whose--house, and our
dropping down on it like a swarm of locusts: I dare say it isn't civil
to criticise it when one's going too, so almost culpably, with the
stream; but what are people made of that they consent, just for money,
to the violation of their homes?"

Nanda wondered; she cultivated the sense of his making her intensely
reflect, "But haven't people in England always let their places?"

"If we're a nation of shopkeepers, you mean, it can't date, on the scale
on which we show it, only from last week? No doubt, no doubt, and the
more one thinks of it the more one seems to see that society--for we're
IN society, aren't we, and that's our horizon?--can never have been
anything but increasingly vulgar. The point is that in the twilight of
time--and I belong, you see, to the twilight--it had made out much less
how vulgar it COULD be. It did its best very probably, but there were
too many superstitions it had to get rid of. It has been throwing them
overboard one by one, so that now the ship sails uncommonly light.
That's the way"--and with his eyes on the golden distance he ingeniously
followed it out--"I come to feel so the lurching and pitching. If I
weren't a pretty fair sailor--well, as it is, my dear," he interrupted
himself with a laugh, "I show you often enough what grabs I make for
support." He gave a faint gasp, half amusement, half anguish, then
abruptly relieved himself by a question. "To whom in point of fact does
the place belong?"

"I'm awfully ashamed, but I'm afraid I don't know. That just came up
here," the girl went on, "for Mr. Van."

Mr. Longdon seemed to think an instant. "Oh it came up, did it? And Mr.
Van couldn't tell?"

"He has quite forgotten--though he has been here before. Of course it
may have been with other people," she added in extenuation. "I mean it
mayn't have been theirs then any more than it's Mitchy's."

"I see. They too had just bundled in."

Nanda completed the simple history. "To-day it's Mitchy who bundles, and
I believe that really he bundled only yesterday. He turned in his people
and here we are."

"Here we are, here we are!" her friend more gravely echoed. "Well, it's
splendid!"

As if at a note in his voice her eyes, while his own still strayed away,
just fixed him. "Don't you think it's really rather exciting?
Everything's ready, the feast all spread, and with nothing to blunt our
curiosity but the general knowledge that there will be people and
things--with nothing but that we comfortably take our places." He
answered nothing, though her picture apparently reached him. "There ARE
people, there ARE things, and all in a plenty. Had every one, when you
came away, turned up?" she asked as he was still silent.

"I dare say. There were some ladies and gentlemen on the terrace whom I
didn't know. But I looked only for you and came this way on an
indication of your mother's."

"And did she ask that if you should find me with Mr. Van you'd make him
come to her?"

Mr. Longdon replied to this with some delay and without movement. "How
could she have supposed he was here?"

"Since he had not yet been to the house? Oh it has always been a wonder
to me, the things that mamma supposes! I see she asked you," Nanda
insisted.

At this her old friend turned to her. "But it wasn't because of that I
got rid of him."

She had a pause. "No--you don't mind everything mamma says."

"I don't mind 'everything' anybody says: not even, my dear, when the
person's you."

Again she waited an instant. "Not even when it's Mr. Van?"

Mr. Longdon candidly considered. "Oh I take him up on all sorts of
things."

"That shows then the importance they have for you. Is HE like his
grandmother?" the girl pursued. Then as her companion looked vague:
"Wasn't it his grandmother too you knew?"

He had an extraordinary smile. "His mother."

She exclaimed, colouring, on her mistake, and he added: "I'm not so bad
as that. But you're none of you like them."

"Wasn't she pretty?" Nanda asked.

"Very handsome. But it makes no difference. She herself to-day wouldn't
know him."

She gave a small gasp. "His own mother wouldn't--?"

His headshake just failed of sharpness. "No, nor he her. There's a link
missing." Then as if after all she might take him too seriously, "Of
course it's I," he more gently moralised, "who have lost the link in my
sleep. I've slept half the century--I'm Rip Van Winkle." He went back
after a moment to her question. "He's not at any rate like his
mother."

She turned it over. "Perhaps you wouldn't think so much of her now."

"Perhaps not. At all events my snatching you from Mr. Vanderbank was my
own idea."

"I wasn't thinking," Nanda said, "of your snatching me. I was thinking
of your snatching yourself."

"I might have sent YOU to the house? Well," Mr. Longdon replied, "I
find I take more and more the economical view of my pleasures. I run
them less and less together. I get all I can out of each."

"So now you're getting all you can out of ME?"

"All I can, my dear--all I can." He watched a little the flushed
distance, then mildly broke out: "It IS, as you said just now, exciting!
But it makes me"--and he became abrupt again--"want you, as I've already
told you, to come to MY place. Not, however, that we may be still more
mad together."

The girl shared from the bench his contemplation. "Do you call THIS
madness?"

Well, he rather stuck to it. "You spoke of it yourself as excitement.
You'll make of course one of your fine distinctions, but I take it in my
rough way as a whirl. We're going round and round." In a minute he had
folded his arms with the same closeness Vanderbank had used--in a
minute he too was nervously shaking his foot. "Steady, steady; if we
sit close we shall see it through. But come down to Suffolk for sanity."

"You do mean then that I may come alone?"

"I won't receive you, I assure you, on any other terms. I want to show
you," he continued, "what life CAN give. Not of course," he subjoined,
"of this sort of thing."

"No--you've told me. Of peace."

"Of peace," said Mr. Longdon. "Oh you don't know--you haven't the least
idea. That's just why I want to show you."

Nanda looked as if already she saw it in the distance. "But will it be
peace if I'm there? I mean for YOU," she added.

"It isn't a question of 'me.' Everybody's omelet is made of somebody's
eggs. Besides, I think that when we're alone together--!"

He had dropped for so long that she wondered. "Well, when we are--?"

"Why, it will be all right," he simply concluded. "Temples of peace, the
ancients used to call them. We'll set up one, and I shall be at least
doorkeeper. You'll come down whenever you like."

She gave herself to him in her silence more than she could have done in
words. "Have you arranged it with mamma?" she said, however, at last.

"I've arranged everything."

"SHE won't want to come?"

Her friend's laugh turned him to her. "Don't be nervous. There are
things as to which your mother trusts me."

"But others as to which not."

Their eyes met for some time on this, and it ended in his saying: "Well,
you must help me." Nanda, but without shrinking, looked away again, and
Mr. Longdon, as if to consecrate their understanding by the air of ease,
passed to another subject. "Mr. Mitchett's the most princely host."

"Isn't he too kind for anything? Do you know what he pretends?" Nanda
went on. "He says in the most extraordinary way that he does it all for
ME."

"Takes this great place and fills it with servants and company--?"

"Yes, just so that I may come down for a Sunday or two. Of course he has
only taken it for three or four weeks, but even for that time it's a
handsome compliment. He doesn't care what he does. It's his way of
amusing himself. He amuses himself at our expense," the girl continued.

"Well, I hope that makes up, my dear, for the rate at which we're doing
so at his!"

"His amusement," said Nanda, "is to see us believe what he says."

Mr. Longdon thought a moment. "Really, my child, you're most acute."

"Oh I haven't watched life for nothing! Mitchy doesn't care," she
repeated.

Her companion seemed divided between a desire to draw and a certain fear
to encourage her. "Doesn't care for what?"

She considered an instant, all coherently, and it might have added to
Mr. Longdon's impression of her depth. "Well, for himself. I mean for
his money. For anything any one may think. For Lord Petherton, for
instance, really at all. Lord Petherton thinks he has helped him--
thinks, that is, that Mitchy thinks he has. But Mitchy's more amused at
HIM than at anybody else. He takes every one in."

"Every one but you?"

"Oh I like him."

"My poor child, you're of a profundity!" Mr. Longdon murmured.

He spoke almost uneasily, but she was not too much alarmed to continue
lucid. "And he likes me, and I know just how much--and just how little.
He's the most generous man in the world. It pleases him to feel that
he's indifferent and splendid--there are so many things it makes up to
him for." The old man listened with attention, and his young frien
conscious of it, proceeded as on ground of which she knew every inch.
"He's the son, as you know, of a great bootmaker--'to all the Courts of
Europe'--who left him a large fortune, which had been made, I believe,
in the most extraordinary way, by building-speculations as well."

"Oh yes, I know. It's astonishing!" her companion sighed.

"That he should be of such extraction?"

"Well, everything. That you should be talking as you are--that you
should have 'watched life,' as you say, to such purpose. That we should
any of us be here--most of all that Mr. Mitchett himself should. That
your grandmother's daughter should have brought HER daughter--"

"To stay with a person"--Nanda took it up as, apparently out of
delicacy, he fairly failed--"whose father used to take the measure, down
on his knees on a little mat, as mamma says, of my grandfather's
remarkably large foot? Yes, we none of us mind. Do you think we should?"
Nanda asked.

Mr. Longdon turned it over. "I'll answer you by a question. Would you
marry him?"

"Never." Then as if to show there was no weakness in her mildness,
"Never, never, never," she repeated.

"And yet I dare say you know--?" But Mr. Longdon once more faltered; his
scruple came uppermost. "You don't mind my speaking of it?"

"Of his thinking he wants to marry me? Not a bit. I positively enjoy
telling you there's nothing in it."

"Not even for HIM?"

Nanda considered. "Not more than is made up to him by his having found
out through talks and things--which mightn't otherwise have occurred--
that I do like him. I wouldn't have come down here if I hadn't liked
him."

"Not for any other reason?"--Mr. Longdon put it gravely.

"Not for YOUR being here, do you mean?"

He delayed. "Me and other persons."

She showed somehow that she wouldn't flinch. "You weren't asked till
after he had made sure I'd come. We've become, you and I," she smiled,
"one of the couples who are invited together."

These were couples, his speculative eye seemed to show, he didn't even
yet know about, and if he mentally took them up a moment it was all
promptly to drop them. "I don't think you state it quite strongly
enough, you know."

"That Mitchy IS hard hit? He states it so strongly himself that it will
surely do for both of us. I'm a part of what I just spoke of--his
indifference and magnificence. It's as if he could only afford to do
what's not vulgar. He might perfectly marry a duke's daughter, but that
WOULD be vulgar--would be the absolute necessity and ideal of nine out
of ten of the sons of shoemakers made ambitious by riches. Mitchy says
'No; I take my own line; I go in for a beggar-maid.' And it's only
because I'm a beggar-maid that he wants me."

"But there are plenty of other beggar-maids," Mr. Longdon objected.

"Oh I admit I'm the one he least dislikes. But if I had any money,"
Nanda went on, "or if I were really good-looking--for that to-day, the
real thing, will do as well as being a duke's daughter--he wouldn't come
near me. And I think that ought to settle it. Besides, he must marry
Aggie. She's a beggar-maid too--as well as an angel. So there's nothing
against it."

Mr. Longdon stared, but even in his surprise seemed to take from the
swiftness with which she made him move over the ground a certain
agreeable glow. "Does 'Aggie' like him?"

"She likes every one. As I say, she's an angel--but a real, real, real
one. The kindest man in the world's therefore the proper husband for
her. If Mitchy wants to do something thoroughly nice," she declared with
the same high competence, "he'll take her out of her situation, which is
awful."

Mr. Longdon looked graver. "In what way awful?"

"Why, don't you know?" His eye was now cold enough to give her, in her
chill, a flurried sense that she might displease him least by a graceful
lightness. "The Duchess and Lord Petherton are like you and me."

"Is it a conundrum?" He was serious indeed.

"They're one of the couples who are invited together." But his face
reflected so little success for her levity that it was in another tone
she presently added: "Mitchy really oughtn't." Her friend, in silence,
fixed his eyes on the ground; an attitude in which there was something
to make her strike rather wild. "But of course, kind as he is, he can
scarcely be called particular. He has his ideas--he thinks nothing
matters. He says we've all come to a pass that's the end of everything."

Mr. Longdon remained mute a while, and when he at last, raised his eyes
it was without meeting Nanda's and with some dryness of manner. "The end
of everything? One might easily receive that impression."

He again became mute, and there was a pause between them of some length,
accepted by Nanda with an anxious stillness that it might have touched a
spectator to observe. She sat there as if waiting for some further sign,
only wanting not to displease her friend, yet unable to pretend to play
any part and with something in her really that she couldn't take back
now, something involved in her original assumption that there was to be
a kind of intelligence in their relation. "I dare say," she said at
last, "that I make allusions you don't like. But I keep forgetting."

He waited a moment longer, then turned to her with a look rendered a
trifle strange by the way it happened to reach over his glasses. It was
even austerer than before. "Keep forgetting what?"

She gave after an instant a faint feeble smile which seemed to speak of
helplessness and which, when at rare moments it played in her face, was
expressive from her positive lack of personal, superficial diffidence.
"Well--I don't know." It was as if appearances became at times so
complicated that--so far as helping others to understand was concerned--
she could only give up.

"I hope you don't think I want you to be with me as you wouldn't be--so
to speak--with yourself. I hope you don't think I don't want you to be
frank. If you were to try to APPEAR to me anything--!" He ended in
simple sadness: that, for instance, would be so little what he should
like.

"Anything different, you mean, from what I am? That's just what I've
thought from the first. One's just what one IS--isn't one? I don't mean
so much," she went on, "in one's character or temper--for they have,
haven't they? to be what's called 'properly controlled'--as in one's
mind and what one sees and feels and the sort of thing one notices."
Nanda paused an instant; then "There you are!" she simply but rather
desperately brought out.

Mr. Longdon considered this with visible intensity. "What you suggest is
that the things you speak of depend on other people?"

"Well, every one isn't so beautiful as you." She had met him with
promptitude, yet no sooner had she spoken than she appeared again to
encounter a difficulty. "But there it is--my just saying even that. Oh
how I always know--as I've told you before--whenever I'm different! I
can't ask you to tell me the things Granny WOULD have said, because
that's simply arranging to keep myself back from you, and so being nasty
and underhand, which you naturally don't want, nor I either.
Nevertheless when I say the things she wouldn't, then I put before you
too much--too much for your liking it--what I know and see and feel. If
we're both partly the result of other people, HER other people were so
different." The girl's sensitive boldness kept it up, but there was
something in her that pleaded for patience. "And yet if she had YOU, so
I've got you too. It's the flattery of that, or the sound of it, I know,
that must be so unlike her. Of course it's awfully like mother; yet it
isn't as if you hadn't already let me see--is it?--that you don't
really think me the same." Again she stopped a minute, as to find her
scarce possible way with him, and again for the time he gave no sign.
She struck out once more with her strange cool limpidity. "Granny wasn't
the kind of girl she COULDN't be--and so neither am I."

Mr. Longdon had fallen while she talked into something that might have
been taken for a conscious temporary submission to her; he had uncrossed
his fidgety legs and, thrusting them out with the feet together, sat
looking very hard before him, his chin sunk on his breast and his hands,
clasped as they met, rapidly twirling their thumbs. So he remained for a
time that might have given his young friend the sense of having made
herself right for him so far as she had been wrong. He still had all her
attention, just as previously she had had his, but, while he now simply
gazed and thought, she watched him with a discreet solicitude that would
almost have represented him as a near relative whom she supposed unwell.
At the end he looked round, and then, obeying some impulse that had
gathered in her while they sat mute, she put out to him the tender hand
she might have offered to a sick child. They had been talking about
frankness, but she showed a frankness in this instance that made him
perceptibly colour. To that in turn, however, he responded only the more
completely, taking her hand and holding it, keeping it a long minute
during which their eyes met and something seemed to clear up that had
been too obscure to be dispelled by words. Finally he brought out as if,
though it was what he had been thinking of, her gesture had most
determined him: "I wish immensely you'd get married!"

His tone betrayed so special a meaning that the words had a sound of
suddenness; yet there was always in Nanda's face that odd preparedness
of the young person who has unlearned surprise through the habit, in
company, of studiously not compromising her innocence by blinking at
things said. "How CAN I?" she asked, but appearing rather to take up the
proposal than to put it by.

"Can't you, CAN'T you?" He spoke pressingly and kept her hand. She shook
her head slowly, markedly; on which he continued: "You don't do justice
to Mr. Mitchy." She said nothing, but her look was there and it made him
resume: "Impossible?"

"Impossible." At this, letting her go, Mr. Longden got up; he pulled out
his watch. "We must go back." She had risen with him and they stood face
to face in the faded light while he slipped the watch away. "Well, that
doesn't make me wish it any less."

"It's lovely of you to wish it, but I shall be one of the people who
don't. I shall be at the end," said Nanda, "one of those who haven't."

"No, my child," he returned gravely--"you shall never be anything so
sad."

"Why not--if YOU'VE been?" He looked at her a little, quietly, and then,
putting out his hand, passed her own into his arm. "Exactly because I
have."


Henry James

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