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Chapter 2

Mr. Longdon had gone to the place--little Nanda was in glazed white
wood. He took her up and held her out; for a moment he said nothing, but
presently, over his glasses, rested on his host a look intenser even
than his scrutiny of the faded image. "Do they give their portraits
now?"

"Little girls--innocent lambs? Surely--to old friends. Didn't they in
your time?"

Mr. Longdon studied the portrait again; after which, with an exhalation
of something between superiority and regret, "They never did to me," he
returned.

"Well, you can have all you want now!" Vanderbank laughed.

His friend gave a slow droll headshake. "I don't want them 'now'!"

"You could do with them, my dear sir, still," Vanderbank continued in
the same manner, "every bit _I_ do!"

"I'm sure you do nothing you oughtn't." Mr. Longdon kept the photograph
and continued to look at it. "Her mother told me about her--promised me
I should see her next time."

"You must--she's a great friend of mine."

Mr. Longdon was really deep in it. "Is she clever?"

Vanderbank turned it over. "Well, you'll tell me if you think so."

"Ah with a child of seventeen--!" Mr. Longdon murmured it as if in dread
of having to pronounce. "This one too IS seventeen?"

Vanderbank again considered. "Eighteen." He just hung fire once more,
then brought out: "Well, call it nearly nineteen. I've kept her
birthdays," he laughed.

His companion caught at the idea. "Upon my honour _I_ should like to!
When is the next?"

"You've plenty of time--the fifteenth of June."

"I'm only too sorry to wait." Laying down the object he had been
examining Mr. Longdon took another turn about the room, and his manner
was such an appeal to his host to accept his restlessness that as he
circulated the latter watched him with encouragement. "I said to you
just now that I knew the mothers, but it would have been more to the
point to say the grandmothers." He stopped before his young friend, then
nodded at the image of Nanda. "I knew HERS. She put it at something
less."

Vanderbank rather failed to understand. "The old lady? Put what?"

Mr. Longdon's face showed him as for a moment feeling his way. "I'm
speaking of Mrs. Brookenham. She spoke of her daughter as only sixteen."

Vanderbank's amusement at the tone of this broke out. "She usually does!
She has done so, I think, for the last year or two."

His visitor dropped upon his sofa as with the weight of something sudden
and fresh; then from this place, with a sharp little movement, tossed
into the fire the end of a cigarette. Vanderbank offered him another,
and as he accepted it and took a light he said: "I don't know what
you're doing with me--I never at home smoke so much!" But he puffed away
and, seated near, laid his hand on Vanderbank's arm as to help himself
to utter something too delicate not to be guarded and yet too important
not to be risked. "Now that's the sort of thing I did mean--as one of my
impressions." Vanderbank continued at a loss and he went on: "I refer--
if you don't mind my saying so--to what you said just now."

Vanderbank was conscious of a deep desire to draw from him whatever
might come; so sensible was it somehow that whatever in him was good was
also thoroughly personal. But our young friend had to think a minute. "I
see, I see. Nothing's more probable than that I've said something nasty;
but which of my particular horrors?"

"Well then, your conveying that she makes her daughter out younger--!"

"To make herself out the same?" Vanderbank took him straight up. "It was
nasty my doing that? I see, I see. Yes, yes: I rather gave her away, and
you're struck by it--as is most delightful you SHOULD be--because you're
in every way of a better tradition and, knowing Mrs. Brookenham's my
friend, can't conceive of one's playing on a friend a trick so vulgar
and odious. It strikes you also probably as the kind of thing we must be
constantly doing; it strikes you that right and left, probably, we keep
giving each other away. Well, I dare say we do. Yes, 'come to think of
it,' as they say in America, we do. But what shall I tell you?
Practically we all know it and allow for it and it's as broad as it's
long. What's London life after all? It's tit for tat!"

"Ah but what becomes of friendship?" Mr. Longdon earnestly and
pleadingly asked, while he still held Vanderbank's arm as if under the
spell of the vivid explanation supplied him.

The young man met his eyes only the more sociably. "Friendship?"

"Friendship." Mr. Longdon maintained the full value of the word.

"Well," his companion risked, "I dare say it isn't in London by any
means what it is at Beccles. I quite literally mean that," Vanderbank
reassuringly added; "I never really have believed in the existence of
friendship in big societies--in great towns and great crowds. It's a
plant that takes time and space and air; and London society is a huge
'squash,' as we elegantly call it--an elbowing pushing perspiring
chattering mob."

"Ah I don't say THAT of you!" the visitor murmured with a withdrawal of
his hand and a visible scruple for the sweeping concession he had
evoked.

"Do say it then--for God's sake; let some one say it, so that something
or other, whatever it may be, may come of it! It's impossible to say too
much--it's impossible to say enough. There isn't anything any one can
say that I won't agree to."

"That shows you really don't care," the old man returned with acuteness.

"Oh we're past saving, if that's what you mean!" Vanderbank laughed.

"You don't care, you don't care!" his guest repeated, "and--if I may
be frank with you--I shouldn't wonder if it were rather a pity."

"A pity I don't care?"

"You ought to, you ought to." And Mr. Longdon paused. "May I say all I
think?"

"I assure you _I_ shall! You're awfully interesting."

"So are you, if you come to that. It's just what I've had in my head.
There's something I seem to make out in you--!" He abruptly dropped
this, however, going on in another way. "I remember the rest of you, but
why did I never see YOU?"

"I must have been at school--at college. Perhaps you did know my
brothers, elder and younger."

"There was a boy with your mother at Malvern. I was near her there for
three months in--what WAS the year?"

"Yes, I know," Vanderbank replied while his guest tried to fix the date.
"It was my brother Miles. He was awfully clever, but had no health, poor
chap, and we lost him at seventeen. She used to take houses at such
places with him--it was supposed to be for his benefit."

Mr. Longdon listened with a visible recovery. "He used to talk to me--I
remember he asked me questions I couldn't answer and made me dreadfully
ashamed. But I lent him books--partly, upon my honour, to make him think
that as I had them I did know something. He read everything and had a
lot to say about it. I used to tell your mother he had a great future."

Vanderbank shook his head sadly and kindly. "So he had. And you remember
Nancy, who was handsome and who was usually with them?" he went on.

Mr. Longdon looked so uncertain that he explained he meant his other
sister; on which his companion said: "Oh her? Yes, she was charming--she
evidently had a future too."

"Well, she's in the midst of her future now. She's married."

"And whom did she marry?"

"A fellow called Toovey. A man in the City."

"Oh!" said Mr. Longdon a little blankly. Then as if to retrieve his
blankness: "But why do you call her Nancy? Wasn't her name Blanche?"

"Exactly--Blanche Bertha Vanderbank."

Mr. Longdon looked half-mystified and half-distressed. "And now she's
Nancy Toovey?"

Vanderbank broke into laughter at his dismay. "That's what every one
calls her."

"But why?"

"Nobody knows. You see you were right about her future."

Mr. Longdon gave another of his soft smothered sighs; he had turned back
again to the first photograph, which he looked at for a longer time.
"Well, it wasn't HER way."

"My mother's? No indeed. Oh my mother's way--!" Vanderbank waited, then
added gravely: "She was taken in time."

Mr. Longdon turned half-round as to reply to this, but instead of
replying proceeded afresh to an examination of the expressive oval in
the red plush frame. He took up little Aggie, who appeared to interest
him, and abruptly observed: "Nanda isn't so pretty."

"No, not nearly. There's a great question whether Nanda's pretty at
all."

Mr. Longdon continued to inspect her more favoured friend; which led him
after a moment to bring out: "She ought to be, you know. Her grandmother
was."

"Oh and her mother," Vanderbank threw in. "Don't you think Mrs.
Brookenham lovely?"

Mr. Longdon kept him waiting a little. "Not so lovely as Lady Julia.
Lady Julia had--!" He faltered; then, as if there were too much to say,
disposed of the question. "Lady Julia had everything."

Vanderbank gathered hence an impression that determined him more and
more to diplomacy. "But isn't that just what Mrs. Brookenham has?"

This time the old man was prompt. "Yes, she's very brilliant, but it's a
totally different thing." He laid little Aggie down and moved away as
without a purpose; but his friend presently perceived his purpose to be
another glance at the other young lady. As if all accidentally and
absently he bent again over the portrait of Nanda. "Lady Julia was
exquisite and this child's exactly like her."

Vanderbank, more and more conscious of something working in him, was
more and more interested. "If Nanda's so like her, WAS she so
exquisite?"

"Oh yes; every one was agreed about that." Mr. Longdon kept his eyes on
the face, trying a little, Vanderbank even thought, to conceal his own.
"She was one of the greatest beauties of her day."

"Then IS Nanda so like her?" Vanderbank persisted, amused at his
friend's transparency.

"Extraordinarily. Her mother told me all about her."

"Told you she's as beautiful as her grandmother?"

Mr. Longdon turned it over. "Well, that she has just Lady Julia's
expression. She absolutely HAS it--I see it here." He was delightfully
positive. "She's much more like the dead than like the living."

Vanderbank saw in this too many deep things not to follow them up. One
of these was, to begin with, that his guest had not more than half-
succumbed to Mrs. Brookenham's attraction, if indeed he had by a fine
originality not resisted it altogether. That in itself, for an observer
deeply versed in this lady, was attaching and beguiling. Another
indication was that he found himself, in spite of such a break in the
chain, distinctly predisposed to Nanda. "If she reproduces then so
vividly Lady Julia," the young man threw out, "why does she strike you
as so much less pretty than her foreign friend there, who is after all
by no means a prodigy?"

The subject of this address, with one of the photographs in his hand,
glanced, while he reflected, at the other. Then with a subtlety that
matched itself for the moment with Vanderbank's: "You just told me
yourself that the little foreign person--"

"Is ever so much the lovelier of the two? So I did. But you've promptly
recognised it. It's the first time," Vanderbank went on, to let him down
more gently, "that I've heard Mrs. Brookenham admit the girl's good
looks."

"Her own girl's? 'Admit' them?"

"I mean grant them to be even as good as they are. I myself, I must tell
you, extremely like Nanda's appearance. I think Lady Julia's
granddaughter has in her face, in spite of everything--!"

"What do you mean by everything?" Mr. Longdon broke in with such an
approach to resentment that his host's gaiety overflowed.

"You'll see--when you do see. She has no features. No, not one,"
Vanderbank inexorably pursued; "unless indeed you put it that she has
two or three too many. What I was going to say was that she has in her
expression all that's charming in her nature. But beauty, in London"--
and feeling that he held his visitor's attention he gave himself the
pleasure of freely presenting his idea--"staring glaring obvious
knock-down beauty, as plain as a poster on a wall, an advertisement of
soap or whiskey, something that speaks to the crowd and crosses the
footlights, fetches such a price in the market that the absence of it,
for a woman with a girl to marry, inspires endless terrors and
constitutes for the wretched pair (to speak of mother and daughter
alone) a sort of social bankruptcy. London doesn't love the latent or
the lurking, has neither time nor taste nor sense for anything less
discernible than the red flag in front of the steam-roller. It wants
cash over the counter and letters ten feet high. Therefore you see it's
all as yet rather a dark question for poor Nanda--a question that in a
way quite occupies the foreground of her mother's earnest little life.
How WILL she look, what will be thought of her and what will she be able
to do for herself? She's at the age when the whole thing--speaking of
her 'attractions,' her possible share of good looks--is still to a
degree in a fog. But everything depends on it."

Mr. Longdon had by this time come back to him. "Excuse my asking it
again--for you take such jumps: what, once more, do you mean by
everything?"

"Why naturally her marrying. Above all her marrying early."

Mr. Longdon stood before the sofa. "What do you mean by early?"

"Well, we do doubtless get up later than at Beccles; but that gives us,
you see, shorter days. I mean in a couple of seasons. Soon enough,"
Vanderbank developed, "to limit the strain--!" He was moved to higher
gaiety by his friend's expression.

"What do you mean by the strain?"

"Well, the complication of her being there."

"Being where?"

"You do put one through!" Vanderbank laughed. But he showed himself
perfectly prepared. "Out of the school-room and where she is now. In her
mother's drawing-room. At her mother's fireside."

Mr. Longdon stared. "But where else should she be?"

"At her husband's, don't you see?"

He looked as if he quite saw, yet was nevertheless not to be put off
from his original challenge. "Ah certainly; but not as if she had been
pushed down the chimney. All in good time."

"What do you call good time?"

"Why time to make herself loved."

Vanderbank wondered. "By the men who come to the house?"

Mr. Longdon slightly attenuated this way of putting it. "Yes--and in
the home circle. Where's the 'strain' of her being suffered to be a
member of it?"

Henry James

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