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Chapter 1

Presenting himself at Buckingham Crescent three days after the Sunday
spent at Mertle, Vanderbank found Lady Fanny Cashmore in the act of
taking leave of Mrs. Brook and found Mrs. Brook herself in the state of
muffled exaltation that was the mark of all her intercourse--and most of
all perhaps of her farewells--with Lady Fanny. This splendid creature
gave out, as it were, so little that Vanderbank was freshly struck with
all Mrs. Brook could take in, though nothing, for that matter, in
Buckingham Crescent, had been more fully formulated on behalf of the
famous beauty than the imperturbable grandeur of her almost total
absence of articulation. Every aspect of the phenomenon had been freely
discussed there and endless ingenuity lavished on the question of how
exactly it was that so much of what the world would in another case have
called complete stupidity could be kept by a mere wonderful face from
boring one to death. It was Mrs. Brook who, in this relation as in many
others, had arrived at the supreme expression of the law, had thrown
off, happily enough, to whomever it might have concerned: "My dear
thing, it all comes back, as everything always does, simply to personal
pluck. It's only a question, no matter when or where, of having enough.
Lady Fanny has the courage of all her silence--so much therefore that it
sees her completely through and is what really makes her interesting.
Not to be afraid of what may happen to you when you've no more to say
for yourself than a steamer without a light--that truly is the highest
heroism, and Lady Fanny's greatness is that she's never afraid. She
takes the risk every time she goes out--takes, as you may say, her life
in her hand. She just turns that glorious mask upon you and practically
says: 'No, I won't open my lips--to call it really open--for the forty
minutes I shall stay; but I calmly defy you, all the same, to kill me
for it.' And we don't kill her--we delight in her; though when either of
us watches her in a circle of others it's like seeing a very large blind
person in the middle of Oxford Street. One fairly looks about for the
police." Vanderbank, before his fellow visitor withdrew it, had the
benefit of the glorious mask and could scarce have failed to be amused
at the manner in which Mrs. Brook alone showed the stress of thought.
Lady Fanny, in the other scale, sat aloft and Olympian, so that though
visibly much had happened between the two ladies it had all happened
only to the hostess. The sense in the air in short was just of Lady
Fanny herself, who came to an end like a banquet or a procession. Mrs.
Brook left the room with her and, on coming back, was full of it.
"She'll go, she'll go!"

"Go where?" Vanderbank appeared to have for the question less attention
than usual.

"Well, to the place her companion will propose. Probably--like Anna
Karenine--to one of the smaller Italian towns."

"Anna Karenine? She isn't a bit like Anna."

"Of course she isn't so clever," said Mrs. Brook. "But that would spoil
her. So it's all right."

"I'm glad it's all right," Vanderbank laughed. "But I dare say we shall
still have her with us a while."

"We shall do that, I trust, whatever happens. She'll come up again--
she'll remain, I feel, one of those enormous things that fate seems
somehow to have given me as the occupation of my odd moments. I don't
see," Mrs. Brook added, "what still keeps her on the edge, which isn't
an inch wide."

Vanderbank looked this time as if he only tried to wonder. "Isn't it
YOU?"

Mrs. Brook mused more deeply. "Sometimes I think so. But I don't know."

"Yes, how CAN you of course know, since she can't tell you?"

"Oh if I depended on her telling--!" Mrs. Brook shook out with this a
sofa-cushion or two and sank into the corner she had arranged. The
August afternoon was hot and the London air heavy; the room moreover,
though agreeably bedimmed, gave out the staleness of the season's end.
"If you hadn't come to-day," she went on, "you'd have missed me till I
don't know when, for we've let the Hovel again--wretchedly, but still
we've let it--and I go down on Friday to see that it isn't too filthy.
Edward, who's furious at what I've taken for it, had his idea that we
should go there this year ourselves."

"And now"--Vanderbank took her up--"that fond fancy has become simply
the ghost of a dead thought, a ghost that, in company with a thousand
predecessors, haunts the house in the twilight and pops at you out of
odd corners."

"Oh Edward's dead thoughts are indeed a cheerful company and worthy of
the perpetual mental mourning we seem to go about in. They're worse than
the relations we're always losing without seeming to have any fewer, and
I expect every day to hear that the Morning Post regrets to have to
announce in that line too some new bereavement. The apparitions
following the deaths of so many thoughts ARE particularly awful in the
twilight, so that at this season, while the day drags and drags, I'm
glad to have any one with me who may keep them at a distance."

Vanderbank had not sat down; slowly, familiarly he turned about. "And
where's Nanda?"

"Oh SHE doesn't help--she attracts rather the worst of the bogies.
Edward and Nanda and Harold and I seated together are fairly a case for
that--what do you call it?--investigating Society. Deprived of the sweet
resource of the Hovel," Mrs. Brook continued, "we shall each, from about
the tenth on, forage somehow or other for ourselves. Mitchy perhaps,"
she added, "will insist on taking us to Baireuth."

"That will be the form, you mean, of his own forage?"

Mrs. Brook just hesitated. "Unless you should prefer to take it as the
form of yours."

Vanderbank appeared for a moment obligingly enough to turn this over,
but with the effect of noting an objection. "Oh I'm afraid I shall have
to grind straight through the month and that by the time I'm free every
Ring at Baireuth will certainly have been rung. Is it your idea to take
Nanda?" he asked.

She reached out for another cushion. "If it's impossible for you to
manage what I suggest why should that question interest you?"

"My dear woman"--and her visitor dropped into a chair--"do you suppose
my interest depends on such poverties as what I can 'manage'? You know
well enough," he went on in another tone, "why I care for Nanda and
enquire about her."

She was perfectly ready. "I know it, but only as a bad reason. Don't be
too sure!"

For a moment they looked at each other. "Don't be so sure, you mean,
that the elation of it may go to my head? Are you really warning me
against vanity?"

"Your 'reallys,' my dear Van, are a little formidable, but it strikes me
that before I tell you there's something I've a right to ask. Are you
'really' what they call thinking of my daughter?"

"Your asking," Vanderbank returned, "exactly shows the state of your
knowledge of the matter. I don't quite see moreover why you speak as if
I were paying an abrupt and unnatural attention. What have I done the
last three months but talk to you about her? What have you done but talk
to ME about her? From the moment you first spoke to me--'monstrously,' I
remember you called it--of the difference made in your social life by
her finally established, her perpetual, her inexorable participation:
from that moment what have we both done but put our heads together over
the question of keeping the place tidy, as you called it--or as _I_
called it, was it?--for the young female mind?"

Mrs. Brook faced serenely enough the directness of this challenge.
"Well, what are you coming to? I spoke of the change in my life of
course; I happen to be so constituted that my life has something to do
with my mind and my mind something to do with my talk. Good talk: you
know--no one, dear Van, should know better--what part for me that plays.
Therefore when one has deliberately to make one's talk bad--!"

"'Bad'?" Vanderbank, in his amusement, fell back in his chair. "Dear
Mrs. Brook, you're too delightful!"

"You know what I mean--stupid, flat, fourth-rate. When one has to haul
in sail to that degree--and for a perfectly outside reason--there's
nothing strange in one's taking a friend sometimes into the confidence
of one's irritation."

"Ah," Vanderbank protested, "you do yourself injustice. Irritation
hasn't been for you the only consequence of the affair."

Mrs. Brook gloomily thought. "No, no--I've had my calmness: the calmness
of deep despair. I've seemed to see everything go."

"Oh how can you say that," her visitor demanded, "when just what we've
most been agreed upon so often is the practical impossibility of making
any change? Hasn't it seemed as if we really can't overcome
conversational habits so thoroughly formed?"

Again Mrs. Brook reflected. "As if our way of looking at things were too
serious to be trifled with? I don't know--I think it's only you who have
denied our sacrifices, our compromises and concessions. I myself have
constantly felt smothered in them. But there it is," she impatiently
went on. "What I don't admit is that you've given me ground to take for
a proof of your 'intentions'--to use the odious term--your association
with me on behalf of the preposterous fiction, as it after all is, of
Nanda's blankness of mind."

Vanderbank's head, in his chair, was thrown back; his eyes ranged over
the top of the room. "There never has been any mystery about my thinking
her--all in her own way--the nicest girl in London. She IS."

His companion was silent a little. "She is, by all means. Well," she
then added, "so far as I may have been alive to the fact of any one's
thinking her so, it's not out of place I should mention to you the
difference made in my appreciation of it by our delightful little stay
at Mertle. My views for Nanda," said Mrs. Brook, "have somehow gone up."

Vanderbank was prompt to show how he could understand it. "So that you
wouldn't consider even Mitchy now?"

But his friend took no notice of the question. "The way Mr. Longdon
distinguishes her is quite the sort of thing that gives a girl, as
Harold says, a 'leg up.' It's awfully curious and has made me think: he
isn't anything whatever, as London estimates go, in himself--so that
what is it, pray, that makes him, when 'added on' to her, so double
Nanda's value? I somehow or other see, through his being known to back
her and through the pretty story of his loyalty to mamma and all the
rest of it (oh if one chose to WORK that!) ever so much more of a chance
for her."

Vanderbank's eyes were on the ceiling. "It IS curious, isn't it?--
though I think he's rather more 'in himself,' even for the London
estimate, than you quite understand." He appeared to give her time to
take this up, but as she said nothing he pursued: "I dare say that if
even I now WERE to enter myself it would strike you as too late."

Her attention to this was but indirect. "It's awfully vulgar to be
talking about it, but I can't help feeling that something possibly
rather big will come of Mr. Longdon."

"Ah we've touched on that before," said Vanderbank, "and you know you
did think something might come even for me."

She continued however, as if she scarce heard him, to work out her own
vision. "It's very true that up to now--"

"Well, up to now?" he asked as she faltered.

She faltered still a little. "I do say the most hideous things. But we
HAVE said worse, haven't we? Up to now, I mean, he hasn't given her
anything. Unless indeed," she mused, "she may have had something without
telling me."

Vanderbank went much straighter. "What sort of thing have you in mind?
Are you thinking of money?"

"Yes. Isn't it awful?"

"That you should think of it?"

"That I should talk this way." Her friend was apparently not prepared
with an assent, and she quickly enough pursued: "If he HAD given her any
it would come out somehow in her expenditure. She has tremendous liberty
and is very secretive, but still it would come out."

"He wouldn't give her any without letting you know. Nor would she,
without doing so," Vanderbank added, "take it."

"Ah," Mrs. Brook quietly said, "she hates me enough for anything."

"That's only your romantic theory."

Once more she appeared not to hear him; she gave the discussion another
turn. "Has he given YOU anything?"

Her visitor smiled. "Not so much as a cigarette. I've always my pockets
full of them, and HE never: so he only takes mine. Oh Mrs. Brook," he
continued, "with me too--though I've also tremendous liberty!--it would
come out."

"I think you'd let me know," she returned.

"Yes, I'd let you know."

Silence, upon this, fell between them a little; which she was the first
to break. "She has gone with him this afternoon--by solemn appointment--
to the South Kensington Museum."

There was something in Mrs. Brook's dolorous drop that yet presented the
news as a portent so great that he was moved again to mirth. "Ah that's
where she is? Then I confess she has scored. He has never taken ME to
the South Kensington Museum."

"You were asking what we're going to do," she went on. "What I meant
was--about Baireuth--that the question for Nanda's simplified. He has
pressed her so to pay him a visit."

Vanderbank's assent was marked. "I see: so that if you do go abroad
she'll be provided for by that engagement."

"And by lots of other invitations."

These were such things as, for the most part, the young man could turn
over. "Do you mean you'd let her go alone--?"

"To wherever she's asked?" said Mrs. Brook. "Why not? Don't talk like
the Duchess."

Vanderbank seemed for a moment to try not to. "Couldn't Mr. Longdon take
her? Why not?"

His friend looked really struck with it. "That WOULD be working him. But
to a beautiful end!" she meditated. "The only thing would be to get him
also asked."

"Ah but there you are, don't you see? Fancy 'getting' Mr. Longdon
anything or anywhere whatever! Don't you feel," Vanderbank threw out,
"how the impossibility of exerting that sort of patronage for him
immediately places him?"

Mrs. Brook gave her companion one of those fitful glances of almost
grateful appreciation with which their intercourse was even at its
darkest hours frequently illumined. "As if he were the Primate or the
French Ambassador? Yes, you're right--one couldn't do it; though it's
very odd and one doesn't quite see why. It does place him. But he
becomes thereby exactly the very sort of person with whom it would be
most of an advantage for her to go about. What a pity," Mrs. Brook
sighed, "he doesn't know more people!"

"Ah well, we ARE, in our way, bringing that to pass. Only we mustn't
rush it. Leave it to Nanda herself," Vanderbank presently added; on
which his companion so manifestly left it that she touched after a
moment's silence on quite a different matter. "I dare say he'd tell YOU
--wouldn't he?--if he were to give her any considerable sum."

She had only obeyed his injunction, but he stared at the length of her
jump. "He might attempt to do so, but I shouldn't at all like it." He
was moved immediately to dismiss this branch of the subject and,
apparently to help himself, take up another. "Do you mean she
understands he has asked her down for a regular long stay?"

Mrs. Brook barely hesitated. "She understands, I think, that what I
expect of her is to make it as long as possible."

Vanderbank laughed out--as it was even after ten years still possible to
laugh--at the childlike innocence with which her voice could invest the
hardest teachings of life; then with something a trifle nervous in the
whole sound and manner he sprang up from his chair. "What a blessing he
is to us all!"

"Yes, but think what we must be to HIM."

"An immense interest, no doubt." He took a few aimless steps and,
stooping over a basket of flowers, inhaled it with violence, almost
buried his face. "I dare say we ARE interesting." He had spoken rather
vaguely, but Mrs. Brook knew exactly why. "We render him no end of a
service. We keep him in touch with old memories."

Vanderbank had reached one of the windows, shaded from without by a
great striped sun-blind beneath which and between the flower-pots of the
balcony he could see a stretch of hot relaxed street. He looked a minute
at these things. "I do so like your phrases!"

She had a pause that challenged his tone. "Do you call mamma a
'phrase'?"

He went off again, quite with extravagance, but quickly, leaving the
window, pulled himself up. "I dare say we MUST put things for him--he
does it, cares or is able to do it, so little himself."

"Precisely. He just quietly acts. That's his nature, dear thing. We must
LET him act."

Vanderbank seemed to stifle again too vivid a sense of her particular
emphasis. "Yes, yes--we must let him."

"Though it won't prevent Nanda, I imagine," his hostess pursued, "from
finding the fun of a whole month at Beccles--or whatever she puts in--
not exactly fast and furious."

Vanderbank had the look of measuring what the girl might "put in."
"The place will be quiet, of course, but when a person's so fond of a
person--!"

"As she is of him, you mean?"

He hesitated. "Yes. Then it's all right."

"She IS fond of him, thank God!" said Mrs. Brook.

He was before her now with the air of a man who had suddenly determined
on a great blind leap. "Do you know what he has done? He wants me so to
marry her that he has proposed a definite basis."

Mrs. Brook got straight up. "'Proposed'? To HER?"

"No, I don't think he has said a word to Nanda--in fact I'm sure that,
very properly, he doesn't mean to. But he spoke to me on Sunday night at
Mertle--I had a big talk with him there alone, very late, in the
smoking-room." Mrs. Brook's stare was serious, and Vanderbank now went
on as if the sound of his voice helped him to meet it. "We had things
out very much and his kindness was extraordinary--he's the most
beautiful old boy that ever lived. I don't know, now that I come to
think of it, if I'm within my rights in telling you--and of course I
shall immediately let him know that I HAVE told you; but I feel I can't
arrive at any respectable sort of attitude in the matter without taking
you into my confidence. Which is really what I came here to-day to do,
though till this moment I've funked it."

It was either, as her friends chose to think it, an advantage or a
drawback of intercourse with Mrs. Brook that, her face being at any
moment charged with the woe of the world, it was unavoidable to remain
rather in the dark as to the effect there of particular strokes.
Something in Vanderbank's present study of the signs accordingly showed
he had had to learn to feel his way and had more or less mastered the
trick. That she had turned a little pale was really the one fresh mark.
"'Funked' it? Why in the world--?" His own colour deepened at her
accent, which was a sufficient light on his having been stupid. "Do you
mean you've declined the arrangement?"

He only, with a smile somewhat strained, continued for a moment to look
at her; clearly, however, at last feeling, and not much caring, that he
got in still deeper. "You're magnificent. You're magnificent."

Her lovely gaze widened out. "Comment donc? Where--why? You HAVE
declined her?" she went on. After which, as he replied only with a slow
head-shake that seemed to say it was not for the moment all so simple as
that, she had one of the inspirations to which she was constitutionally
subject. "Do you imagine I want you myself?"

"Dear Mrs. Brook, you're so admirable," he returned with gaiety, "that
if by any chance you did, upon my honour, I don't see how I should be
able not to say 'All right.'" But he spoke too more responsibly. "I was
shy of really bringing out to you what has happened to me, for a reason
that I've of course to look in the face. Whatever you want yourself, for
Nanda you want Mitchy."

"I see, I see." She did full justice to his explanation. "And what did
you say about a 'basis'? The blessed man offers to settle--?"

"You're a real prodigy," her visitor answered, "and your imagination
takes its fences in a way that, when I'm out with you, quite puts mine
to shame. When he mentioned it to me I was quite surprised."

"And I," Mrs. Brook asked, "am not surprised a bit? Isn't it only," she
modestly suggested, "because I've taken him in more than you? Didn't you
know he WOULD?" she quavered.

Vanderbank thought or at least pretended to. "Make ME the condition? How
could I be sure of it?"

But the point of his question was lost for her in the growing light. "Oh
then the condition's 'you' only--?"

"That, at any rate, is all I have to do with. He's ready to settle if
I'm ready to do the rest."

"To propose to her straight, you mean?" She waited, but as he said
nothing she went on: "And you're not ready. Is that it?"

"I'm taking my time."

"Of course you know," said Mrs. Brook, "that she'd jump at you."

He turned away from her now, but after some steps came back. "Then you
do admit it."

She hesitated. "To YOU."

He had a strange faint smile. "Well, as I don't speak of it--!"

"No--only to me. What is it he settles?" Mrs. Brook demanded.

"I can't tell you."

"You didn't ask?"

"On the contrary I stopped him off."

"Oh then," Mrs. Brook exclaimed, "that's what I call declining."

The words appeared for an instant to strike her companion. "Is it? Is
it?" he almost musingly repeated. But he shook himself the next moment
free of his wonder, was more what would have been called in Buckingham
Crescent on the spot. "Isn't there rather something in my having thus
thought it my duty to warn you that I'm definitely his candidate?"

Mrs. Brook turned impatiently away. "You've certainly--with your talk
about 'warning'--the happiest expressions!" She put her face into the
flowers as he had done just before; then as she raised it: "What kind of
a monster are you trying to make me out?"

"My dear lady"--Vanderbank was prompt--"I really don't think I say
anything but what's fair. Isn't it just my loyalty to you in fact that
has in this case positively strained my discretion?"

She shook her head in mere mild despair. "'Loyalty' again is exquisite.
The tact of men has a charm quite its own. And you're rather good," she
continued, "as men go."

His laugh was now a little awkward, as if she had already succeeded in
making him uncomfortable. "I always become aware with you sooner or
later that they don't go at all--in your sense: but how am I, after all,
so far out if you HAVE put your money on another man?"

"You keep coming back to that?" she wearily sighed.

He thought a little. "No, then. You've only to tell me not to, and I'll
never speak of it again."

"You'll be in an odd position for speaking of it if you do really go in.
You deny that you've declined," said Mrs. Brook; "which means then that
you've allowed our friend to hope."

Vanderbank met it bravely. "Yes, I think he hopes."

"And communicates his hope to my child?"

This arrested the young man, but only for a moment. "I've the most
perfect faith in his wisdom with her. I trust his particular delicacy.
He cares more for her," he presently added, "even than we do."

Mrs. Brook gazed away at the infinite of space. "'We,' my dear Van," she
at last returned, "is one of your own real, wonderful touches. But
there's something in what you say: I HAVE, as between ourselves--between
me and him--been backing Mitchy. That is I've been saying to him 'Wait,
wait: don't at any rate do anything else.' Only it's just from the depth
of my thought for my daughter's happiness that I've clung to this
resource. He would so absolutely, so unreservedly do anything for her."
She had reached now, with her extraordinary self-control, the pitch of
quiet bland demonstration. "I want the poor thing, que diable, to have
another string to her bow and another loaf, for her desolate old age, on
the shelf. When everything else is gone Mitchy will still be there. Then
it will be at least her own fault--!" Mrs. Brook continued. "What can
relieve me of the primary duty of taking precautions," she wound up,
"when I know as well as that I stand here and look at you--"

"Yes, what?" he asked as she just paused.

"Why that so far as they count on you they count, my dear Van, on a
blank." Holding him a minute as with the soft low voice of his fate, she
sadly but firmly shook her head. "You won't do it."

"Oh!" he almost too loudly protested.

"You won't do it," she went on.

"I SAY!"--he made a joke of it.

"You won't do it," she repeated.

It was as if he couldn't at last but show himself really struck; yet
what he exclaimed on was what might in truth most have impressed him.
"You ARE magnificent, really!"

"Mr. Mitchett!" the butler, appearing at the door, almost familiarly
dropped; after which Vanderbank turned straight to the person announced.

Mr. Mitchett was there, and, anticipating Mrs. Brook in receiving him,
her companion passed it straighten. "She's magnificent!"

Mitchy was already all interest. "Rather! But what's her last?"

It had been, though so great, so subtle, as they said in Buckingham
Crescent, that Vanderbank scarce knew how to put it. "Well, she's so
thoroughly superior."

"Oh to whom do you say it?" Mitchy cried as he greeted her.


Henry James

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