Chapter 1




Mr. Longdon's garden took in three acres and, full of charming features,
had for its greatest wonder the extent and colour of its old brick wall,
in which the pink and purple surface was the fruit of the mild ages and
the protective function, for a visitor strolling, sitting, talking,
reading, that of a nurse of reverie. The air of the place, in the August
time, thrilled all the while with the bliss of birds, the hum of little
lives unseen and the flicker of white butterflies. It was on the large
flat enclosed lawn that Nanda spoke to Vanderbank of the three weeks she
would have completed there on the morrow--weeks that had been--she made
no secret of it--the happiest she had yet spent anywhere. The greyish
day was soft and still and the sky faintly marbled, while the more newly
arrived of the visitors from London, who had come late on the Friday
afternoon, lounged away the morning in an attitude every relaxed line of
which referred to the holiday he had, as it were--at first merely
looking about and victualling--sat down in front of as a captain before
a city. There were sitting-places, just there, out of the full light,
cushioned benches in the thick wide spread of old mulberry-boughs. A
large book of facts lay in the young man's lap, and Nanda had come out
to him, half an hour before luncheon, somewhat as Beatrice came out to
Benedick: not to call him immediately indeed to the meal, but mentioning
promptly that she had come at a bidding. Mr. Longdon had rebuked her, it
appeared, for her want of attention to their guest, showing her in this
way, to her pleasure, how far he had gone toward taking her, as he
called it, into the house.

"You've been thinking of yourself," Vanderbank asked, "as a mere clerk
at a salary, and you now find that you're a partner and have a share in
the concern?"

"It seems to be something like that. But doesn't a partner put in
something? What have I put in?"

"Well--ME, for one thing. Isn't it your being here that has brought me
down?"

"Do you mean you wouldn't have come for him alone? Then don't you make
anything of his attraction? You ought to," said Nanda, "when he likes
you so."

Vanderbank, longing for a river, was in white flannels, and he took her
question with a happy laugh, a handsome face of good humour that
completed the effect of his long, cool fairness. "Do you mind my just
sitting still, do you mind letting me smoke and staying with me a while?
Perhaps after a little we'll walk about--shan't we? But face to face
with this dear old house, in this jolly old nook, one's too contented to
move, lest raising a finger even should break the spell. What WILL be
perfect will be your just sitting down--DO sit down--and scolding me a
little. That, my dear Nanda, will deepen the peace." Some minutes later,
while, near him but in another chair, she fingered the impossible book,
as she pronounced it, that she had taken from him, he came back to what
she had last said. "Has he talked to you much about his 'liking' me?"

Nanda waited a minute, turning over the book. "No."

"Then how are you just now so struck with it?"

"I'm not struck only with what I'm talked to about. I don't know," she
went on, "only what people tell me."

"Ah no--you're too much your mother's daughter for that!" Vanderbank
leaned back and smoked, and though all his air seemed to say that when
one was so at ease for gossip almost any subject would do, he kept
jogging his foot with the same small nervous motion as during the half-
hour at Mertle that this record has commemorated. "You're too much one
of us all," he continued. "We've tremendous perceptions," he laughed.
"Of course I SHOULD have come for him. But after all," he added, as if
all sorts of nonsense would equally serve, "he mightn't, except for you,
you know, have asked me."

Nanda so far accepted this view as to reply: "That's awfully weak. He's
so modest that he might have been afraid of your boring yourself."

"That's just what I mean."

"Well, if you do," Nanda returned, "the explanation's a little
conceited."

"Oh I only made it," Vanderbank said, "in reference to his modesty."
Beyond the lawn the house was before him, old, square, red-roofed, well
assured of its right to the place it took up in the world. This was a
considerable space--in the little world at least of Suffolk--and the
look of possession had everywhere mixed with it, in the form of old
windows and doors, the tone of old red surfaces, the style of old white
facings, the age of old high creepers, the long confirmation of time.
Suggestive of panelled rooms, of precious mahogany, of portraits of
women dead, of coloured china glimmering through glass doors and
delicate silver reflected on bared tables, the thing was one of those
impressions of a particular period that it takes two centuries to
produce. "Fancy," the young man incoherently exclaimed, "his caring to
leave anything so loveable as all this to come up and live with US!"

The girl also for a little lost herself. "Oh you don't know what it is--
the charm comes out so as one stays. Little by little it grows and
grows. There are old things everywhere that are too delightful. He lets
me explore so--he lets me rummage and rifle. Every day I make
discoveries."

Vanderbank wondered as he smoked. "You mean he lets you take things--?"

"Oh yes--up to my room, to study or to copy. There are old patterns that
are too dear for anything. It's when you live with them, you see, that
you know. Everything in the place is such good company."

"Your mother ought to be here," Vanderbank presently suggested. "She's
so fond of good company." Then as Nanda answered nothing he went on:
"Was your grandmother ever?"

"Never," the girl promptly said. "Never," she repeated in a tone quite
different. After which she added: "I'm the only one."

"Oh, and I 'me and you,' as they say," her companion amended.

"Yes, and Mr. Mitchy, who's to come down--please don't forget--this
afternoon."

Vanderbank had another of his contemplative pauses. "Thank you for
reminding me. I shall spread myself as much as possible before he comes
--try to produce so much of my effect that I shall be safe. But what did
Mr. Longdon ask him for?"

"Ah," said Nanda gaily, "what did he ask YOU for?"

"Why, for the reason you just now mentioned--that his interest in me is
so uncontrollable."

"Then isn't his interest in Mitchy--"

"Of the same general order?" Vanderbank broke in. "Not in the least." He
seemed to look for a way to express the distinction--which suddenly
occurred to him. "He wasn't in love with Mitchy's mother."

"No"--Nanda turned it over. "Mitchy's mother, it appears, was awful. Mr.
Cashmore knew her."

Vanderbank's smoke-puffs were profuse and his pauses frequent. "Awful to
Mr. Cashmore? I'm glad to hear it--he must have deserved it. But I
believe in her all the same. Mitchy's often awful himself," the young
man rambled on. "Just so I believe in HIM."

"So do I," said Nanda--"and that's why I asked him."

"YOU asked him, my dear child? Have you the inviting?"

"Oh yes."

The eyes he turned on her seemed really to try if she jested or were
serious. "So you arranged for me too?"

She turned over again a few leaves of his book and, closing it with
something of a clap, transferred it to the bench beside him--a movement
in which, as if through a drop into thought, he rendered her no
assistance. "What I mean is that I proposed it to Mr. Longdon, I
suggested he should be asked. I've a reason for seeing him--I want to
talk to him. And do you know," the girl went on, "what Mr. Longdon
said?"

"Something splendid of course."

"He asked if you wouldn't perhaps dislike his being here with you."

Vanderbank, throwing back his head, laughed, smoked, jogged his foot
more than ever. "Awfully nice. Dear old Mitch! How little afraid of him
you are!"

Nanda wondered. "Of Mitch?"

"Yes, of the tremendous pull he really has. It's all very well to talk--
he HAS it. But of course I don't mean I don't know"--and as with the
effect of his nervous sociability he shifted his position. "I perfectly
see that you're NOT afraid. I perfectly know what you have in your head.
I should never in the least dream of accusing you--as far as HE is
concerned--of the least disposition to flirt; any more indeed,"
Vanderbank pleasantly pursued, "than even of any general tendency of
that sort. No, my dear Nanda"--he kindly kept it up--"I WILL say for you
that, though a girl, thank heaven, and awfully MUCH a girl, you're
really not on the whole more of a flirt than a respectable social ideal
prescribes."

"Thank you most tremendously," his companion quietly replied.

Something in the tone of it made him laugh out, and the particular sound
went well with all the rest, with the August day and the charming spot
and the young man's lounging figure and Nanda's own little hovering
hospitality. "Of course I strike you as patronising you with unconscious
sublimity. Well, that's all right, for what's the most natural thing to
do in these conditions but the most luxurious? Won't Mitchy be wonderful
for feeling and enjoying them? I assure you I'm delighted he's coming."
Then in a different tone a moment later, "Do you expect to be here
long?" he asked.

It took Nanda some time to say. "As long as Mr. Longdon will keep me, I
suppose--if that doesn't sound very horrible."

"Oh he'll keep you! Only won't he himself," Vanderbank went on, "be
coming up to town in the course of the autumn?"

"Well, in that case I'd perfectly stay here without him."

"And leave him in London without YOU? Ah that's not what we want: he
wouldn't be at all the same thing without you. Least of all for
himself!" Vanderbank declared.

Nanda again thought. "Yes, that's what makes him funny, I suppose--his
curious infatuation. I set him off--what do you call it?--show him off:
by his going round and round me as the acrobat on the horse in the
circus goes round the clown. He has said a great deal to me of your
mother," she irrelevantly added.

"Ok everything that's kind of course, or you wouldn't mention it."

"That's what I mean," said Nanda.

"I see, I see--most charming of him." Vanderbank kept his high head
thrown back as for the view, with a bright equal general interest, of
everything that was before them, whether talked of or seen. "Who do you
think I yesterday had a letter from? An extraordinary funny one from
Harold. He gave me all the family news."

"And what IS the family news?" the girl after a minute enquired.

"Well, the first great item is that he himself--"

"Wanted," Nanda broke in, "to borrow five pounds of you? I say that,"
she added, "because if he wrote to you--"

"It couldn't have been in such a case for the simple pleasure of the
intercourse?" Vanderbank hesitated, but continued not to look at her.
"What do you know, pray, of poor Harold's borrowings?"

"Oh I know as I know other things. Don't I know everything?"

"DO you? I should rather ask," the young man gaily enough replied.

"Why should I not? How should I not? You know what I know." Then as to
explain herself and attenuate a little the sudden emphasis with which
she had spoken: "I remember your once telling me that I must take in
things at my pores."

Her companion stared, but with his laugh again changed his posture.
"That you' must--?"

"That I do--and you were quite right."

"And when did I make this extraordinary charge?"

"Ah then," said Nanda, "you admit it IS a charge. It was a long time
ago--when I was a little girl. Which made it worse!" she dropped.

It made it at all events now for Vanderbank more amusing. "Ah not worse
--better!"

She thought a moment. "Because in that case I mightn't have understood?
But that I do understand is just what you've always meant."

"'Always,' my dear Nanda? I feel somehow," he rejoined very kindly, "as
if you overwhelmed me!"

"You 'feel' as if I did--but the reality is just that I don't. The day I
overwhelm you, Mr. Van--!" She let that pass, however; there was too
much to say about it and there was something else much simpler. "Girls
understand now. It has got to be faced, as Tishy says."

"Oh well," Vanderbank laughed, "we don't require Tishy to point that out
to us. What are we all doing most of the time but trying to face it?"

"Doing? Aren't you doing rather something very different? You're just
trying to dodge it. You're trying to make believe--not perhaps to
yourselves but to US--that it isn't so."

"But surely you don't want us to be any worse!"

She shook her head with brisk gravity. "We don't care really what you
are."

His amusement now dropped to her straighter. "Your 'we' is awfully
beautiful. It's charming to hear you speak for the whole lovely lot.
Only you speak, you know, as if you were just the class apart that you
yet complain of our--by our scruples--implying you to be."

She considered this objection with her eyes on his face. "Well then we
do care. Only--!"

"Only it's a big subject."

"Oh yes--no doubt; it's a big subject." She appeared to wish to meet him
on everything reasonable. "Even Mr. Longdon admits that."

Vanderbank wondered. "You mean you talk over with him--!"

"The subject of girls? Why we scarcely discuss anything else."

"Oh no wonder then you're not bored. But you mean," he asked, "that he
recognises the inevitable change--?"

"He can't shut his eyes to the facts. He sees we're quite a different
thing."

"I dare say"--her friend was fully appreciative. "Yet the old thing--
what do YOU know of it?"

"I personally? Well, I've seen some change even in MY short life. And
aren't the old books full of us? Then Mr. Longdon himself has told me."

Vanderbank smoked and smoked. "You've gone into it with him?"

"As far as a man and a woman can together."

As he took her in at this with a turn of his eye he might have had in
his ears the echo of all the times it had been dropped in Buckingham
Crescent that Nanda was "wonderful." She WAS indeed. "Oh he's of course
on certain sides shy."

"Awfully--too beautifully. And then there's Aggie," the girl pursued. "I
mean for the real old thing."

"Yes, no doubt--if she BE the real old thing. But what the deuce really
IS Aggie?"

"Well," said Nanda with the frankest interest, "she's a miracle. If one
could be her exactly, absolutely, without the least little mite of
change, one would probably be wise to close with it. Otherwise--except
for anything BUT that--I'd rather brazen it out as myself."

There fell between them on this a silence of some minutes, after which
it would probably not have been possible for either to say if their eyes
had met while it lasted. This was at any rate not the case as Vanderbank
at last remarked: "Your brass, my dear young lady, is pure gold!"

"Then it's of me, I think, that Harold ought to borrow."

"You mean therefore that mine isn't?" Vanderbank went on.

"Well, you really haven't any natural 'cheek'--not like SOME of them.
You're in yourself as uneasy, if anything's said and every one giggles
or makes some face, as Mr. Longdon, and if Lord Petherton hadn't once
told me that a man hates almost as much to be called modest as a woman
does, I'd say that very often in London now you must pass some bad
moments."

The present might precisely have been one of them, we should doubtless
have gathered, had we seen fully recorded in Vanderbank's face the
degree to which this prompt response embarrassed or at least stupefied
him. But he could always provisionally laugh. "I like your 'in London
now'!"

"It's the tone and the current and the effect of all the others that
push you along," she went on as if she hadn't heard him. "If such things
are contagious, as every one says, you prove it perhaps as much as any
one. But you don't begin"--she continued blandly enough to work it out
for him; "or you can't at least originally have begun. Any one would
know that now--from the terrific effect I see I produce on you--by
talking this way. There it is--it's all out before one knows it, isn't
it, and I can't help it any more than you can, can I?" So she appeared
to put it to him, with something in her lucidity that would have been
infinitely touching; a strange grave calm consciousness of their common
doom and of what in especial in it would be worst for herself. He sprang
up indeed after an instant as if he had been infinitely touched; he
turned away, taking just near her a few steps to and fro, gazed about
the place again, but this time without the air of particularly seeing
it, and then came back to her as if from a greater distance. An observer
at all initiated would, at the juncture, fairly have hung on his lips,
and there was in fact on Vanderbank's part quite the look of the man--
though it lasted but just while we seize it--in suspense about himself.
The most initiated observer of all would have been poor Mr. Longdon, in
that case destined, however, to be also the most defeated, with the sign
of his tension a smothered "Ah if he doesn't do it NOW!" Well,
Vanderbank didn't do it "now," and the odd slow irrelevant sigh he gave
out might have sufficed as the record of his recovery from a peril
lasting just long enough to be measured. Had there been any measure of
it meanwhile for Nanda? There was nothing at least to show either the
presence or the relief of anxiety in the way in which, by a prompt
transition, she left her last appeal to him simply to take care of
itself. "You haven't denied that Harold does borrow."

He gave a sound as of cheer for this luckily firmer ground. "My dear
child, I never lent the silly boy five pounds in my life. In fact I like
the way you talk of that. I don't know quite for what you take me, but
the number of persons to whom I HAVE lent five pounds--!"

"Is so awfully small"--she took him up on it--"as not to look so very
well for you?" She held him an instant as with the fine intelligence of
his meaning in this, and then, though not with sharpness, broke out:
"Why are you trying to make out that you're nasty and stingy? Why do you
misrepresent--?"

"My natural generosity? I don't misrepresent anything, but I take, I
think, rather markedly good care of money." She had remained in her
place and he was before her on the grass, his hands in his pockets and
his manner perhaps a little awkward. "The way you young things talk of
it!"

"Harold talks of it--but I don't think _I_ do. I'm not a bit expensive--
ask mother, or even ask father. I do with awfully little--for clothes
and things, and I could easily do with still less. Harold's a born
consumer, as Mitchy says; he says also he's one of those people who will
never really want."

"Ah for that, Mitchy himself will never let him."

"Well then, with every one helping us all round, aren't we a lovely
family? I don't speak of it to tell tales, but when you mention hearing
from Harold all sorts of things immediately come over me. We seem to be
all living more or less on other people, all immensely 'beholden.' You
can easily say of course that I'm worst of all. The children and
their people, at Bognor, are in borrowed quarters--mother got them lent
her--as to which, no doubt, I'm perfectly aware that I ought to be there
sharing them, taking care of my little brother and sister, instead of
sitting here at Mr. Longdon's expense to expose everything and
criticise. Father and mother, in Scotland, are on a grand campaign.
Well"--she pulled herself up--"I'm not in THAT at any rate. Say you've
lent Harold only five shillings," she went on.

Vanderbank stood smiling. "Well, say I have. I never lend any one
whatever more."

"It only adds to my conviction," Nanda explained, "that he writes to Mr.
Longdon."

"But if Mr. Longdon doesn't say so--?" Vanderbank objected.

"Oh that proves nothing." She got up as she spoke. "Harold also works
Granny." He only laughed out at first for this, while she went on:
"You'll think I make myself out fearfully deep--I mean in the way of
knowing everything without having to be told. That IS, as you say,
mamma's great accomplishment, so it must be hereditary. Besides, there
seem to me only too many things one IS told. Only Mr. Longdon has in
fact said nothing."

She had looked about responsibly--not to leave in disorder the garden-
nook they had occupied; picking up a newspaper and changing the place of
a cushion. "I do think that with him you're remarkable," Vanderbank
observed--"putting on one side all you seem to know and on the other all
he holds his tongue about. What then DOES he say?" the young man asked
after a slight pause and perhaps even with a slight irritation.

Nanda glanced round again--she was folding, rather carefully, her paper.
Presently her glance met their friend, who, having come out of one of
the long windows that opened to the lawn, had stopped there to watch
them. "He says just now that luncheon's ready."




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