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Chapter 2

The subject of this eulogy had meanwhile returned to her sofa, where she
received the homage of her new visitor. "It's not I who am magnificent a
bit--it's dear Mr. Longdon. I've just had from Van the most wonderful
piece of news about him--his announcement of his wish to make it worth
somebody's while to marry my child."

"'Make it'?"--Mitchy stared. "But ISN'T it?"

"My dear friend, you must ask Van. Of course you've always thought so.
But I must tell you all the same," Mrs. Brook went on, "that I'm
delighted."

Mitchy had seated himself, but Vanderbank remained erect and became
perhaps even slightly stiff. He was not angry--no member of the inner
circle at Buckingham Crescent was ever angry--but he looked grave and
rather troubled. "Even if it IS decidedly fine"--he addressed his
hostess straight--"I can't make out quite why you're doing THIS--I mean
immediately making it known."

"Ah but what do we keep from Mitchy?" Mrs. Brook asked.

"What CAN you keep? It comes to the same thing," Mitchy said. "Besides,
here we are together, share and share alike--one beautiful intelligence.
Mr. Longdon's 'somebody' is of course Van. Don't try to treat me as an
outsider."

Vanderbank looked a little foolishly, though it was but the shade of a
shade, from one of them to the other. "I think I've been rather an ass!"

"What then by the terms of our friendship--just as Mitchy says--can he
and I have a better right to know and to feel with you about? You'll
want, Mitchy, won't you?" Mrs. Brook went on, "to hear all about THAT?"

"Oh I only mean," Vanderbank explained, "in having just now blurted my
tale out to you. However, I of course do know," he pursued to Mitchy,
"that whatever's really between us will remain between us. Let me then
tell you myself exactly what's the matter." The length of his pause
after these words showed at last that he had stopped short; on which his
companions, as they waited, exchanged a sympathetic look. They waited
another minute, and then he dropped into a chair where, leaning forward,
his elbows on the arms and his gaze attached to the carpet, he drew out
the silence. Finally he looked at Mrs. Brook. "YOU make it clear."

The appeal called up for some reason her most infantine manner. "I don't
think I CAN, dear Van--really CLEAR. You know however yourself," she
continued to Mitchy, "enough by this time about Mr. Longdon and mamma."

"Oh rather!" Mitchy laughed.

"And about mamma and Nanda."

"Oh perfectly: the way Nanda reminds him, and the 'beautiful loyalty'
that has made him take such a fancy to her. But I've already embraced
the facts--you needn't dot any i's." With another glance at his fellow
visitor Mitchy jumped up and stood there florid. "He has offered you
money to marry her." He said this to Vanderbank as if it were the most
natural thing in the world.

"Oh NO" Mrs. Brook interposed with promptitude: "he has simply let him
know before any one else that the money's there FOR Nanda, and that
therefore--!"

"First come first served?" Mitchy had already taken her up. "I see, I
see. Then to make her sure of the money," he put to Vanderbank, "you
MUST marry her?"

"If it depends upon that she'll never get it," Mrs. Brook returned.
"Dear Van will think conscientiously a lot about it, but he won't do
it."

"Won't you, Van, really?" Mitchy asked from the hearth-rug.

"Never, never. We shall be very kind to him, we shall help him, hope and
pray for him, but we shall be at the end," said Mrs. Brook, "just where
we are now. Dear Van will have done his best, and we shall have done
ours. Mr. Longdon will have done his--poor Nanda even will have done
hers. But it will all have been in vain. However," Mrs. Brook continued
to expound, "she'll probably have the money. Mr. Longdon will surely
consider that she'll want it if she doesn't marry still more than if she
does. So we shall be SO much at least," she wound up--"I mean Edward and
I and the child will be--to the good."

Mitchy, for an equal certainty, required but an instant's thought. "Oh
there can be no doubt about THAT. The things about which your mind may
now be at ease--!" he cheerfully exclaimed.

"It does make a great difference!" Mrs. Brook comfortably sighed. Then
in a different tone: "What dear Van will find at the end that he can't
face will be, don't you see? just this fact of appearing to have
accepted a bribe. He won't want, on the one hand--out of kindness for
Nanda--to have the money suppressed; and yet he won't want to have the
pecuniary question mixed up with the matter: to look in short as if he
had had to be paid. He's like you, you know--he's proud; and it will be
there we shall break down."

Mitchy had been watching his friend, who, a few minutes before
perceptibly embarrassed, had quite recovered himself and, at his ease,
though still perhaps with a smile a trifle strained, leaned back and let
his eyes play everywhere but over the faces of the others. Vanderbank
evidently wished now to show a good-humoured detachment.

"See here," Mitchy said to him: "I remember your once submitting to me a
case of some delicacy."

"Oh he'll submit it to you--he'll submit it even to ME" Mrs. Brook broke
in. "He'll be charming, touching, confiding--above all he'll be awfully
INTERESTING about it. But he'll make up his mind in his own way, and his
own way won't be to accommodate Mr. Longdon."

Mitchy continued to study their companion in the light of these remarks,
then turned upon his hostess his sociable glare. "Splendid, isn't it,
the old boy's infatuation with him?"

Mrs. Brook just delayed. "From the point of view of the immense interest
it--just now, for instance--makes for you and me? Oh yes, it's one of
our best things yet. It places him a little with Lady Fanny--'He will,
he won't; he won't, he will!' Only, to be perfect, it lacks, as I say,
the element of real suspense."

Mitchy frankly wondered. "It does, you think? Not for me--not wholly."
He turned again quite pleadingly to their friend. "I hope it doesn't for
yourself totally either?"

Vanderbank, cultivating his detachment, made at first no more reply than
if he had not heard, and the others meanwhile showed faces that
testified perhaps less than their respective speeches had done to the
absence of anxiety. The only token he immediately gave was to get up and
approach Mitchy, before whom he stood a minute laughing kindly enough,
though not altogether gaily. As if then for a better proof of gaiety he
presently seized him by the shoulders and, still without speaking,
pushed him backward into the chair he himself had just quitted. Mrs.
Brook's eyes, from the sofa, while this went on, attached themselves to
her visitors. It took Vanderbank, as he moved about and his companions
waited, a minute longer to produce what he had in mind. "What IS
splendid, as we call it, is this extraordinary freedom and good humour
of our intercourse and the fact that we do care--so independently of our
personal interests, with so little selfishness or other vulgarity--to
get at the idea of things. The beautiful specimen Mrs. Brook had just
given me of that," he continued to Mitchy, "was what made me break out
to you about her when you came in." He spoke to one friend, but he
looked at the other. "What's really 'superior' in her is that, though I
suddenly show her an interference with a favourite plan, her personal
resentment's nothing--all she wants is to see what may really happen, to
take in the truth of the case and make the best of that. She offers me
the truth, as she sees it, about myself, and with no nasty elation if it
does chance to be the truth that suits her best. It was a charming,
charming stroke."

Mitchy's appreciation was no bar to his amusement. "You're wonderfully
right about us. But still it was a stroke."

If Mrs. Brook was less diverted she followed perhaps more closely. "If
you do me so much justice then, why did you put to me such a cold cruel
question?--I mean when you so oddly challenged me on my handing on your
news to Mitchy. If the principal beauty of our effort to live together
is--and quite according to your own eloquence--in our sincerity, I
simply obeyed the impulse to do the sincere thing. If we're not sincere
we're nothing."

"Nothing!"--it was Mitchy who first responded. "But we ARE sincere."

"Yes, we ARE sincere," Vanderbank presently said. "It's a great chance
for us not to fall below ourselves: no doubt therefore we shall continue
to soar and sing. We pay for it, people who don't like us say, in our
self-consciousness--"

"But people who don't like us," Mitchy broke in, "don't matter. Besides,
how can we be properly conscious of each other--?"

"That's it!"--Vanderbank completed his idea: "without my finding myself
for instance in you and Mrs. Brook? We see ourselves reflected--we're
conscious of the charming whole. I thank you," he pursued after an
instant to Mrs. Brook--"I thank you for your sincerity."

It was a business sometimes really to hold her eyes, but they had, it
must be said for her, their steady moments. She exchanged with
Vanderbank a somewhat remarkable look, then, with an art of her own,
broke short off without appearing to drop him. "The thing is, don't you
think?"--she appealed to Mitchy--"for us not to be so awfully clever as
to make it believed that we can never be simple. We mustn't see TOO
tremendous things--even in each other." She quite lost patience with the
danger she glanced at. "We CAN be simple!"

"We CAN, by God!" Mitchy laughed.

"Well, we are now--and it's a great comfort to have it settled," said
Vanderbank.

"Then you see," Mrs. Brook returned, "what a mistake you'd make to see
abysses of subtlety in my having been merely natural."

"We CAN be natural," Mitchy declared.

"We can, by God!" Vanderbank laughed.

Mrs. Brook had turned to Mitchy. "I just wanted you to know. So I spoke.
It's not more complicated than that. As for WHY I wanted you to know--!"

"What better reason could there be," Mitchy interrupted, "than your
being filled to the finger-tips with the sense of how I would want it
myself, and of the misery, the absolute pathos, of my being left out?
Fancy, my dear chap"--he had only to put it to Van--"my NOT knowing!".

Vanderbank evidently couldn't fancy it, but he said quietly enough: "I
should have told you myself."

"Well, what's the difference?"

"Oh there IS a difference," Mrs. Brook loyally said. Then she opened an
inch or two, for Vanderbank, the door of her dim radiance. "Only I
should have thought it a difference for the better. Of course," she
added, "it remains absolutely with us three alone, and don't you already
feel from it the fresh charm--with it here between us--of our being
together?"

It was as if each of the men had waited for the other to assent better
than he himself could and Mitchy then, as Vanderbank failed, had
gracefully, to ^cover him, changed the subject. "But isn't Nanda, the
person most interested, to know?"

Vanderbank gave on this a strange sound of hilarity. "Ah that would
finish it off!"

It produced for a few seconds something like a chill, a chill that had
for consequence a momentary pause which in its turn added weight to the
words next uttered. "It's not I who shall tell her," Mrs. Brook said
gently and gravely. "There!--you may be sure. If you want a promise,
it's a promise. So that if Mr. Longdon's silent," she went on, "and you
are, Mitchy, and I am, how in the world shall she have a suspicion?"

"You mean of course except by Van's deciding to mention it himself."

Van might have been, from the way they looked at him, some beautiful
unconscious object; but Mrs. Brook was quite ready to answer. "Oh poor
man, HE'LL never breathe."

"I see. So there we are."

To this discussion the subject of it had for the time nothing to
contribute, even when Mitchy, rising with the words he had last uttered
from the chair in which he had been placed, took sociably as well, on
the hearth-rug, a position before their hostess. This move ministered
apparently to Vanderbank's mere silence, for it was still without
speaking that, after a little, he turned away from his friend and
dropped once more into the same seat. "I've shown you already, you of
course remember," Vanderbank presently said to him, "that I'm perfectly
aware of how much better Mrs. Brook would like YOU for the position."

"He thinks I want him myself," Mrs. Brook blandly explained.

She was indeed, as they always thought her, "wonderful," but she was
perhaps not even now so much so as Mitchy found himself able to be. "But
how would you lose old Van--even at the worst?" he earnestly asked of
her.

She just hesitated. "What do you mean by the worst?"

"Then even at the best," Mitchy smiled. "In the event of his falsifying
your prediction; which, by the way, has the danger, hasn't it?--I mean
for your intellectual credit--of making him, as we all used to be called
by our nursemaids, 'contrairy.'"

"Oh I've thought of that," Mrs. Brook returned. "But he won't do, on the
whole, even for the sweetness of spiting me, what he won't want to do.
_I_ haven't said I should lose him," she went on; "that's only the view
he himself takes--or, to do him perfeet justice, the idea he candidly
imputes to me; though without, I imagine--for I don't go so far as that
--attributing to me anything so unutterably bete as a feeling of
jealousy."

"You wouldn't dream of my supposing anything inept of you," Vanderbank
said on this, "if you understood to the full how I keep on admiring you.
Only what stupefies me a little," he continued, "is the extraordinary
critical freedom--or we may call it if we like the high intellectual
detachment--with which we discuss a question touching you, dear Mrs.
Brook, so nearly and engaging so your private and most sacred
sentiments. What are we playing with, after all, but the idea of Nanda's
happiness?"

"Oh I'm not playing!" Mrs. Brook declared with a little rattle of
emotion.

"She's not playing"--Mr. Mitchett gravely confirmed it. "Don't you feel
in the very air the vibration of the passion that she's simply too
charming to shake at the window as the housemaid shakes the tablecloth
or the jingo the flag?" Then he took up what Vanderbank had previously
said. "Of course, my dear man, I'm 'aware,' as you just now put it, of
everything, and I'm not indiscreet, am I, Mrs. Brook? in admitting for
you as well as for myself that there WAS an impossibility you and I used
sometimes to turn over together. Only--Lord bless us all!--it isn't as
if I hadn't long ago seen that there's nothing at all FOR me."

"Ah wait, wait!" Mrs. Brook put in. "She has a theory"--Vanderbank,
from his chair, lighted it up for Mitchy, who hovered before them--"that
your chance WILL come, later on, after I've given my measure."

"Oh but that's exactly," Mitchy was quick to respond, "what you'll never
do! You won't give your measure the least little bit. You'll walk in
magnificent mystery 'later on' not a bit less than you do today; you'll
continue to have the benefit of everything that our imagination,
perpetually engaged, often baffled and never fatigued, will continue to
bedeck you with. Nanda, in the same way, to the end of all her time,
will simply remain exquisite, or genuine, or generous--whatever we
choose to call it. It may make a difference to us, who are comparatively
vulgar, but what difference will it make to HER whether you do or you
don't decide for her? You can't belong to her more, for herself, than
you do already--and that's precisely so much that there's no room for
any one else. Where therefore, without that room, do I come in?"

"Nowhere, I see," Vanderbank seemed obligingly to muse.

Mrs. Brook had followed Mitchy with marked admiration, but she gave on
this a glance at Van that was like the toss of a blossom from the same
branch. "Oh then shall I just go on with you BOTH? That WILL be joy!"
She had, however, the next thing, a sudden drop which shaded the
picture. "You're so divine, Mitchy, that how can you not in the long-run
break ANY woman down?"

It was not as if Mitchy was struck--it was only that he was courteous.
"What do you call the long-run? Taking about till I'm eighty?"

"Ah your genius is of a kind to which middle life will be particularly
favourable. You'll reap then somehow, one feels, everything you've
sown."

Mitchy still accepted the prophecy only to control it. "Do you call
eighty middle life? Why, my moral beauty, my dear woman--if that's what
you mean by my genius--is precisely my curse. What on earth--is left for
a man just rotten with goodness? It renders necessary the kind of liking
that renders unnecessary anything else."

"Now that IS cheap paradox!" Vanderbank patiently sighed. "You're down
for a fine."

It was with less of the patience perhaps that Mrs. Brook took this up.
"Yes, on that we ARE stiff. Five pounds, please."

Mitchy drew out his pocket-book even though he explained. "What I mean
is that I don't give out the great thing." With which he produced a
crisp banknote.

"DON'T you?" asked Vanderbank, who, having taken it from him to hand to
Mrs. Brook, held it a moment, delicately, to accentuate the doubt.

"The great thing's the sacred terror. It's you who give THAT out."

"Oh!"--and Vanderbank laid the money on the small stand at Mrs. Brook's
elbow.

"Ain't I right, Mrs. Brook?--doesn't he, tremendously, and isn't that
more than anything else what does it?"

The two again, as if they understood each other, gazed in a unity of
interest at their companion, who sustained it with an air clearly
intended as the happy mean between embarrassment and triumph. Then Mrs.
Brook showed she liked the phrase. "The sacred terror! Yes, one feels
it. It IS that."

"The finest case of it," Mitchy pursued, "that I've ever met. So my
moral's sufficiently pointed."

"Oh I don't think it can be said to be that," Vanderbank returned, "till
you've put the whole thing into a box by doing for Nanda what she does
most want you to do."

Mitchy caught on without a shade of wonder. "Oh by proposing to the
Duchess for little Aggie?" He took but an instant to turn it over.
"Well, I WOULD propose--to please Nanda. Only I've never yet quite made
out the reason of her wish."

"The reason is largely," his friend answered, "that, being very fond of
Aggie and in fact extremely admiring her, she wants to do something good
for her and to keep her from anything bad. Don't you know--it's too
charming--she regularly believes in her?" Mitchy, with all his
recognition, vibrated to the touch. "Isn't it too charming?"

"Well then," Vanderbank went on, "she secures for her friend a phoenix
like you, and secures for you a phoenix like her friend. It's hard to
say for which of you she desires most to do the handsome thing. She
loves you both in short"--he followed it up--"though perhaps when one
thinks of it the price she puts on you, Mitchy, in the arrangement, is a
little the higher. Awfully fine at any rate--and yet awfully odd too--
her feeling for Aggie's type, which is divided by such abysses from her
own."

"Ah," laughed Mitchy, "but think then of her feeling for mine!"

Vanderbank, still more at his ease now and with his head back, had his
eyes aloft and far. "Oh there are things in Nanda--!" The others
exchanged a glance at this, while their companion added: "Little Aggie's
really the sort of creature she would have liked to be able to be."

"Well," Mitchy said, "I should have adored her even if she HAD been
able."

Mrs. Brook had for some minutes played no audible part, but the acute
observer we are constantly taking for granted would perhaps have
detected in her, as one of the effects of the special complexion to-day
of Vanderbank's presence, a certain smothered irritation. "She couldn't
possibly have been able," she now interposed, "with so loose--or rather,
to express it more properly, with so perverse--a mother."

"And yet, my dear lady," Mitchy promptly qualified, "how if in little
Aggie's case the Duchess hasn't prevented--?"

Mrs. Brook was full of wisdom. "Well, it's a different thing. I'm not,
as a mother--am I, Van?--bad ENOUGH. That's what's the matter with me.
Aggie, don't you see? is the Duchess's morality, her virtue; which, by
having it that way outside of you, as one may say, you can make a much
better thing of. The child has been for Jane, I admit, a capital little
subject, but Jane has kept her on hand and finished her like some
wonderful piece of stitching. Oh as work it's of a soigne! There it is--
to show. A woman like me has to be HERSELF, poor thing, her virtue and
her morality. What will you have? It's our lumbering English plan."

"So that her daughter," Mitchy sympathised, "can only, by the
arrangement, hope to become at the best her immorality and her vice?"

But Mrs. Brook, without an answer for the question, appeared suddenly to
have plunged into a sea of thought. "The only way for Nanda to have been
REALLY nice--!"

"Would have been for YOU to be like Jane?"

Mitchy and his hostess seemed for a minute, on this, to gaze together at
the tragic truth. Then she shook her head. "We see our mistakes too
late." She repeated the movement, but as if to let it all go, and
Vanderbank meanwhile, pulling out his watch, had got up with a laugh
that showed some inattention and made to Mitchy a remark about their
walking away together. Mitchy, engaged for the instant with Mrs. Brook,
had assented only with a nod, but the attitude of the two men had become
that of departure. Their friend looked at them as if she would like to
keep one of them, and for a purpose connected somehow with the other,
but was oddly, almost ludicrously, embarrassed to choose. What was in
her face indeed during this short passage might prove to have been,
should we penetrate, the flicker of a sense that in spite of all
intimacy and amiability they could, at bottom and as things commonly
turned out, only be united against her. Yet she made at the end a sort
of choice in going on to Mitchy: "He hasn't at all told you the real
reason of Nanda's idea that you should go in for Aggie."

"Oh I draw the line there," said Vanderbank. "Besides, he understands
that too."

Mitchy, on the spot, did himself and every one justice. "Why it just
disposes of me, doesn't it?"

It made Vanderbank, restless now and turning about the room, stop with a
smile at Mrs. Brook. "We understand too well!"

"Not if he doesn't understand," she replied after a moment while she
turned to Mitchy, "that his real 'combination' can in the nature of the
case only be--!"

"Oh yes"--Mitchy took her straight up--"with the young thing who is, as
you say, positively and helplessly modern and the pious fraud of whose
classic identity with a sheet of white paper has been--ah tacitly of
course, but none the less practically!--dropped. You've so often
reminded me. I do understand. If I were to go in for Aggie it would only
be to oblige. The modern girl, the product of our hard London facts and
of her inevitable consciousness of them just as they are--she, wonderful
being, IS, I fully recognise, my real affair, and I'm not ashamed to say
that when I like the individual I'm not afraid of the type. She knows
too much--I don't say; but she doesn't know after all a millionth part
of what _I_ do."

"I'm not sure!" Mrs. Brook earnestly exclaimed.

He had rung out and he kept it up with a limpidity unusual. "And product
for product, when you come to that, I'm a queerer one myself than any
other. The traditions _I_ smash!" Mitchy laughed.

Mrs. Brook had got up and Vanderbank had gone again to the window.
"That's exactly why," she returned. "You're a pair of monsters and your
monstrosity fits. She does know too much," she added.

"Well," said Mitchy with resolution, "it's all my fault."

"Not ALL--unless," Mrs. Brook returned, "that's only a sweet way of
saying that it's mostly mine."

"Oh yours too--immensely; in fact every one's. Even Edward's, I dare
say; and certainly, unmistakably, Harold's. Ah and Van's own--rather!"
Mitchy continued; "for all he turns his back and will have nothing to
say to it."

It was on the back Vanderbank turned that Mrs. Brook's eyes now rested.
"That's precisely why he shouldn't be afraid of her."

He faced straight about. "Oh I don't deny my part."

He shone at them brightly enough, and Mrs. Brook, thoughtful,
wistful, candid, took in for a moment the radiance. "And yet to think
that after all it has been mere TALK!"

Something in her tone again made her hearers laugh out; so it was still
with the air of good humour that Vanderbank answered: "Mere, mere, mere.
But perhaps it's exactly the 'mere' that has made us range so wide."

Mrs. Brook's intelligence abounded. "You mean that we haven't had the
excuse of passion?"

Her companions once more gave way to mirth, but "There you are!"
Vanderbank said after an instant less sociably. With it too he held out
his hand.

"You ARE afraid," she answered as she gave him her own; on which, as he
made no rejoinder, she held him before her. "Do you mean you REALLY
don't know if she gets it?"

"The money, if he DOESN'T go in?"--Mitchy broke almost with an air of
responsibility into Vanderbank's silence. "Ah but, as we said, surely--!"

It was Mitchy's eyes that Vanderbank met. "Yes, I should suppose she
gets it."

"Perhaps then, as a compensation, she'll even get MORE--!"

"If I don't go in? Oh!" said Vanderbank. And he changed colour.

He was by this time off, but Mrs. Brook kept Mitchy a moment. "Now--by
that suggestion--he has something to show. He won't go in."

Henry James

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