Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 2

"I've made him," she said in the drawing-room to Mitchy, "make Mr. Van
go with him."

Mr. Longdon, in the rain, which had come on since the morning, had
betaken himself to church, and his other guest, with sufficiently marked
good humour, had borne him company. The windows of the drawing-room
looked at the wet garden, all vivid and rich in the summer shower, and
Mitchy, after seeing Vanderbank turn up his trousers and fling back a
last answer to the not quite sincere chaff his submission had
engendered, adopted freely and familiarly the prospect not only of a
grateful freshened lawn, but of a good hour in the very pick, as he
called it, of his actual happy conditions. The favouring rain, the dear
old place, the charming serious house, the large inimitable room, the
absence of the others, the present vision of what his young friend had
given him to count on--the sense of these delights was expressed in his
fixed generous glare. He was at first too pleased even to sit down; he
measured the great space from end to end, admiring again everything he
had admired before and protesting afresh that no modern ingenuity--not
even his own, to which he did justice--could create effects of such
purity. The final touch in the picture before them was just the
composer's ignorance. Mr. Longdon had not made his house, he had simply
lived it, and the "taste" of the place--Mitchy in certain connexions
abominated the word--was just nothing more than the beauty of his life.
Everything on every side had dropped straight from heaven, with nowhere
a bargaining thumb-mark, a single sign of the shop. All this would have
been a wonderful theme for discourse in Buckingham Crescent--so happy an
exercise for the votaries of that temple of analysis that he repeatedly
spoke of their experience of it as crying aloud for Mrs. Brook. The
questions it set in motion for the perceptive mind were exactly those
that, as he said, most made them feel themselves. Vanderbank's plea for
his morning had been a pile of letters to work off, and Mitchy--then
coming down, as he announced from the first, ready for anything--had
gone to church with Mr. Longdon and Nanda in the finest spirit of
curiosity. He now--after the girl's remark--turned away from his view of
the rain, which he found different somehow from other rain, as
everything else was different, and replied that he knew well enough what
she could make Mr. Longdon do, but only wondered at Mr. Longdon's secret
for acting on their friend. He was there before her with his hands in
his pockets and appreciation winking from every yellow spot in his red
necktie. "Afternoon service of a wet Sunday in a small country town is a
large order. Does Van do everything the governor wants?"

"He may perhaps have had a suspicion of what I want," Nanda explained.
"If I want particularly to talk to you--!"

"He has got out of the way to give me a chance? Well then he's as usual
simply magnificent. How can I express the bliss of finding myself
enclosed with you in this sweet old security, this really unimagined
sanctity? Nothing's more charming than suddenly to come across something
sharp and fresh after we've thought there was nothing more that could
draw from us a groan. We've supposed we've had it all, have squeezed the
last impression out of the last disappointment, penetrated to the last
familiarity in the last surprise; then some fine day we find that we
haven't done justice to life. There are little things that pop up and
make us feel again. What MAY happen is after all incalculable. There's
just a little chuck of the dice, and for three minutes we win. These, my
dear young lady, are my three minutes. You wouldn't believe the
amusement I get from them, and how can I possibly tell you? There's a
faint divine old fragrance here in the room--or doesn't it perhaps
reach you? I shan't have lived without it, but I see now I had been
afraid I should. You, on your side, won't have lived without some touch
of greatness. This moment's great and you've produced it. You were great
when you felt all you COULD produce. Therefore," Mitchy went on, pausing
once more, as he walked, before a picture, "I won't pull the whole thing
down by the vulgarity of wishing I too only had a first-rate Cotman."

"Have you given up some VERY big thing to come?" Nanda replied to this.

"What in the world is very big, my child, but the beauty of this hour? I
haven't the least idea WHAT, when I got Mr. Longdon's note, I gave up.
Don't ask me for an account of anything; everything went--became
imperceptible. I WILL say that for myself: I shed my badness, I do
forget people, with a facility that makes me, for bits, for little
patches, so far as they're concerned, cease to BE; so that my life is
spotted all over with momentary states in which I'm as the dead of whom
nothing's said but good." He had strolled toward her again while she
smiled at him. "I've died for this, Nanda."

"The only difficulty I see," she presently replied, "is that you ought
to marry a woman really clever and that I'm not quite sure what there
may be of that in Aggie."

"In Aggie?" her friend echoed very gently. "Is THAT what you've sent for
me for--to talk about Aggie?"

"Didn't it occur to you it might be?"

"That it couldn't possibly, you mean, be anything else?" He looked about
for the place in which it would express the deepest surrender to the
scene to sit--then sank down with a beautiful prompt submission. "I've
no idea of what occurred to me--nothing at least but the sense that I
had occurred to YOU. The occurrence is clay in the hands of the potter.
Do with me what you will."

"You appreciate everything so wonderfully," Nanda said, "that it
oughtn't to be hard for you to appreciate HER. I do dream so you may
save her. That's why I haven't waited."

"The only thing that remains to me in life," he answered, "is a certain
accessibility to the thought of what I may still do to figure a little
in your eye; but that's precisely a thought you may assist to become
clearer. You may for instance give me some pledge or sign that if I do
figure--prance and caracole and sufficiently kick up the dust--your eye
won't suffer itself to be distracted from me. I think there's no
adventure I'm not ready to undertake for you; yet my passion--chastened,
through all this, purified, austere--is still enough of this world not
wholly to have renounced the fancy of some small reward."

"How small?" the girl asked.

She spoke as if feeling she must take from him in common kindness at
least as much as she would make him take, and the serious anxious
patience such a consciousness gave her tone was met by Mitchy with a
charmed reasonableness that his habit of hyperbole did nothing to
misrepresent. He glowed at her with the fullest recognition that there
was something he was there to discuss with her, but with the assurance
in every soft sound of him that no height to which she might lift the
discussion would be too great for him to reach. His every cadence and
every motion was an implication, as from one to the other, of the
exquisite. Oh he could sustain it! "Well, I mean the establishment of
something between us. I mean your arranging somehow that we shall be
drawn more together--know together something nobody else knows. I should
like so terrifically to have a RELATION that is a secret, with you."

"Oh if that's all you want you can be easily gratified. Rien de plus
facile, as mamma says. I'm full of secrets--I think I'm really most
secretive. I'll share almost any one of them with you--if it's only a
good one."

Mitchy debated. "You mean you'll choose it yourself? You won't let it be
one of mine?"

Nanda wondered. "But what's the difference?"

Her companion jumped up again and for a moment pervaded the place. "When
you say such things as that, you're of a beauty--! MAY it," he asked as
he stopped before her, "be one of mine--a perfectly awful one?"

She showed her clearest interest. "As I suppose the most awful secrets
are the best--yes, certainly."

"I'm hideously tempted." But he hung fire; then dropping into his chair
again: "It would be too bad. I'm afraid I can't."

"Then why won't THIS do, just as it is?"

"'This'?" He looked over the big bland room. "Which?"

"Why what you're here for?"

"My dear child I'm here--most of all--to love you more than ever; and
there's an absence of favouring mystery about THAT--!" She looked at him
as if seeing what he meant and only asking to remedy it. "There's a
certain amount of mystery we can now MAKE--that it strikes me in fact we
MUST make. Dear Mitchy," she continued almost with eagerness, "I don't
think we CAN really tell."

He had fallen back in his chair, not looking at her now, and with his
hands, from his supported elbows, clasped to keep himself more quiet.
"Are you still talking about Aggie?"

"Why I've scarcely begun!"

"Oh!" It was not irritation he appeared to express, but the slight
strain of an effort to get into relation with the subject. Better to
focus the image he closed his eyes a while.

"You speak of something that may draw us together, and I simply reply
that if you don't feel how near together we are--in this I shouldn't
imagine you ever would. You must have wonderful notions," she presently
went on, "of the ideal state of union. I pack every one off for you--I
banish everything that can interfere, and I don't in the least mind your
knowing that I find the consequence delightful. YOU may talk, if you
like, of what will have passed between us, but I shall never mention it
to a soul; literally not to a living creature. What do you want more
than that?" He opened his eyes in deference to the question, but replied
only with a gaze as unassisted as if it had come through a hole in a
curtain. "You say you're ready for an adventure, and it's just an
adventure that I propose. If I can make you feel for yourself as I feel
for you the beauty of your chance to go in and save her--!"

"Well, if you can--?" Mitchy at last broke in. "I don't think, you
know," he said after a moment, "you'll find it easy to make your two
ends meet."

She thought a little longer. "One of the ends is yours, so that you'll
act WITH me. If I wind you up so that you go--!"

"You'll just happily sit and watch me spin? Thank you! THAT will be my
reward?"

Nanda rose on this from her chair as with the impulse of protest.
"Shan't you care for my gratitude, my admiration?"

"Oh yes"--Mitchy seemed to muse. "I shall care for THEM. Yet I don't
quite see, you know, what you OWE to Aggie. It isn't as if--!" But with
this he faltered.

"As if she cared particularly for ME? Ah that has nothing to do with it;
that's a thing without which surely it's but too possible to be
exquisite. There are beautiful, quite beautiful people who don't care
for me. The thing that's important to one is the thing one sees one's
self, and it's quite enough if _I_ see what can be made of that child.
Marry her, Mitchy, and you'll see who she'll care for!"

Mitchy kept his position; he was for the moment--his image of shortly
before reversed--the one who appeared to sit happily and watch. "It's
too awfully pleasant your asking of me anything whatever!"

"Well then, as I say, beautifully, grandly save her."

"As you say, yes"--he sympathetically inclined his head. "But without
making me feel exactly what you mean by it."

"Keep her," Nanda returned, "from becoming like the Duchess."

"But she isn't a bit like the Duchess in any of her elements. She's a
totally different thing."

It was only for an instant, however, that this objection seemed to tell.
"That's exactly why she'll be so perfect for you. You'll get her away--
take her out of her aunt's life."

Mitchy met it all now in a sort of spellbound stillness. "What do you
know about her aunt's life?"

"Oh I know everything!" She spoke with her first faint shade of
impatience.

It produced for a little a hush between them, at the end of which her
companion said with extraordinary gentleness and tenderness: "Dear old
Nanda!" Her own silence appeared consciously to continue, and the
suggestion of it might have been that for intelligent ears there was
nothing to add to the declaration she had just made and which Mitchy sat
there taking in as with a new light. What he drew from it indeed he
presently went on to show. "You're too awfully interesting. Of course--
you know a lot. How shouldn't you--and why?"

"'Why'? Oh that's another affair! But you don't imagine what I know; I'm
sure it's much more than you've a notion of. That's the kind of thing
now one IS--just except the little marvel of Aggie. What on earth," the
girl pursued, "do you take us for?"

"Oh it's all right!" breathed Mitchy, divinely pacific.

"I'm sure I don't know whether it is; I shouldn't wonder if it were in
fact all wrong. But what at least is certainly right is for one not to
pretend anything else. There I am for you at any rate. Now the beauty of
Aggie is that she knows nothing--but absolutely, utterly: not the least
little tittle of anything."

It was barely visible that Mitchy hesitated, and he spoke quite gravely.
"Have you tried her?"

"Oh yes. And Tishy has." His gravity had been less than Nanda's.
"Nothing, nothing." The memory of some scene or some passage might have
come back to her with a charm. "Ah say what you will--it IS the way we
ought to be!"

Mitchy, after a minute of much intensity, had stopped watching her;
changing his posture and with his elbows on his knees he dropped for a
while his face into his hands. Then he jerked himself to his feet.
"There's something I wish awfully I could say to you. But I can't."

Nanda, after a slow headshake, covered him with one of the dimmest of
her smiles. "You needn't say it. I know perfectly which it is." She held
him an instant, after which she went on: "It's simply that you wish me
fully to understand that you're one who, in perfect sincerity, doesn't
mind one straw how awful--!"

"Yes, how awful?" He had kindled, as he paused, with his new eagerness.

"Well, one's knowledge may be. It doesn't shock in you a single
hereditary prejudice."

"Oh 'hereditary'--!" Mitchy ecstatically murmured.

"You even rather like me the better for it; so that one of the reasons
why you couldn't have told me--though not of course, I know, the only
one--is that you would have been literally almost ashamed. Because, you
know," she went on, "it IS strange."

"My lack of hereditary--?"

"Yes, discomfort in presence of the fact I speak of. There's a kind of
sense you don't possess."

His appreciation again fairly goggled at her. "Oh you do know
everything!"

"You're so good that nothing shocks you," she lucidly persisted.
"There's a kind of delicacy you haven't got."

He was more and more struck. "I've only that--as it were--of the skin
and the fingers?" he appealed.

"Oh and that of the mind. And that of the soul. And some other kinds
certainly. But not THE kind."

"Yes"--he wondered--"I suppose that's the only way one can name it." It
appeared to rise there before him. "THE kind!"

"The kind that would make me painful to you. Or rather not me perhaps,"
she added as if to create between them the fullest possible light; "but
my situation, my exposure--all the results of them I show. Doesn't one
become a sort of a little drain-pipe with everything flowing through?"

"Why don't you call it more gracefully," Mitchy asked, freshly struck,
"a little aeolian-harp set in the drawing-room window and vibrating in
the breeze of conversation?"

"Oh because the harp gives out a sound, and WE--at least we try to--give
out none."

"What you take, you mean, you keep?"

"Well, it sticks to us. And that's what you don't mind!"

Their eyes met long on it. "Yes--I see. I DON'T mind. I've the most
extraordinary lacunae."

"Oh I don't know about others," Nanda replied; "I haven't noticed them.
But you've that one, and it's enough."

He continued to face her with his queer mixture of assent and
speculation. "Enough for what, my dear? To have made me impossible for
you because the only man you could, as they say, have 'respected' would
be a man who WOULD have minded?" Then as under the cool soft pressure of
the question she looked at last away from him: "The man with 'THE kind,'
as you call it, happens to be just the type you CAN love? But what's the
use," he persisted as she answered nothing, "in loving a person with the
prejudice--hereditary or other--to which you're precisely obnoxious? Do
you positively LIKE to love in vain?"

It was a question, the way she turned back to him seemed to say, that
deserved a responsible answer. "Yes."

But she had moved off after speaking, and Mitchy's eyes followed her to
different parts of the room as, with small pretexts of present attention
to it, small bestowed touches for symmetry, she slowly measured it.
"What's extraordinary then is your idea of my finding any charm in
Aggie's ignorance."

She immediately put down an old snuff-box. "Why--it's the one sort of
thing you don't know. You can't imagine," she said as she returned to
him, "the effect it will produce on you. You must get really near it and
see it all come out to feel all its beauty. You'll like it, Mitchy"--and
Nanda's gravity was wonderful--"better than anything you HAVE known."

The clear sincerity of this, even had there been nothing else, imposed a
consideration that Mitchy now flagrantly could give, and the deference
of his suggestion of difficulty only grew more deep. "I'm to do then,
with this happy condition of hers, what you say YOU'VE done--to 'try'
it?" And then as her assent, so directly challenged, failed an instant:
"But won't my approach to it, however cautious, be just what will break
it up and spoil it?"

Nanda thought. "Why so--if mine wasn't?"

"Oh you're not me!"

"But I'm just as bad."

"Thank you, my dear!" Mitchy rang out.

"Without," Nanda pursued, "being as good." She had on this, in a
different key, her own sudden explosion. "Don't you see, Mitchy dear--
for the very heart of it all--how good I BELIEVE you?"

She had spoken as with a flare of impatience at some justice he failed
to do her, and this brought him after a startled instant close enough to
her to take up her hand. She let him have it, and in mute solemn
reassurance he raised it to his lips, saying to her thus more things
than he could say in any other way; which yet just after, when he had
released it and a motionless pause had ensued, didn't prevent his adding
three words. "Oh Nanda, Nanda!"

The tone of them made her again extraordinarily gentle. "Don't 'try'
anything then. Take everything for granted."

He had turned away from her and walked mechanically, with his air of
blind emotion, to the window, where for a minute he looked out. "It has
stopped raining," he said at last; "it's going to brighten."

The place had three windows, and Nanda went to the next. "Not quite yet
--but I think it will."

Mitchy soon faced back into the room, where after a brief hesitation he
moved, as quietly, almost as cautiously, as if on tiptoe, to the seat
occupied by his companion at the beginning of their talk. Here he sank
down watching the girl, who stood a while longer with her eyes on the
garden. "You want me, you say, to take her out of the Duchess's life;
but where am I myself, if we come to that, but even more IN the
Duchess's life than Aggie is? I'm in it by my contacts, my associations,
my indifferences--all my acceptances, knowledges, amusements. I'm in it
by my cynicisms--those that circumstances somehow from the first, when I
began for myself to look at life and the world, committed me to and
steeped me in; I'm in it by a kind of desperation that I shouldn't have
felt perhaps if you had got hold of me sooner with just this touch with
which you've got hold of me to-day; and I'm in it more than all--you'll
yourself admit--by the very fact that her aunt desires, as you know,
much more even than you do, to bring the thing about. Then we SHOULD be
--the Duchess and I--shoulder to shoulder!"

Nanda heard him motionless to the end, taking also another minute to
turn over what he had said. "What is it you like so in Lord Petherton?"
she asked as she came to him.

"My dear child, if you only could tell me! It would be, wouldn't it?--it
must have been--the subject of some fairy-tale, if fairy-tales were made
now, or better still of some Christmas pantomime: 'The Gnome and the
Giant.'"

Nanda appeared to try--not with much success--to see it. "Do you find
Lord Petherton a Gnome?"

Mitchy at first, for all reward, only glared at her. "Charming, Nanda--
charming!"

"A man's giant enough for Lord Petherton," she went on, "when his
fortune's gigantic. He preys upon you."

His hands in his pockets and his legs much apart, Mitchy sat there as in
a posture adapted to her simplicity. "You're adorable. YOU don't. But it
IS rather horrid, isn't it?" he presently went on.

Her momentary silence would have been by itself enough of an answer.
"Nothing--of all you speak of," she nevertheless returned, "will matter
then. She'll so simplify your life." He remained just as he was, only
with his eyes on her; and meanwhile she had turned again to her window,
through which a faint sun-streak began to glimmer and play. At sight of
it she opened the casement to let in the warm freshness. "The rain HAS
stopped."

"You say you want me to save her. But what you really mean," Mitchy
resumed from the sofa, "isn't at all exactly that."

Nanda, without heeding the remark, took in the sunshine. "It will be
charming now in the garden."

Her friend got up, found his wonderful crossbarred cap, after a glance,
on a neighbouring chair, and with it came toward her. "Your hope is
that--as I'm good enough to be worth it--she'll save ME."

Nanda looked at him now. "She will, Mitchy--she WILL!"

They stood a moment in the recovered brightness; after which he
mechanically--as with the pressure of quite another consciousness--put
on his cap. "Well then, shall that hope between us be the thing--?"

"The thing?"--she just wondered.

"Why that will have drawn us together--to hold us so, you know--this
afternoon. I mean the secret we spoke of."

She put out to him on this the hand he had taken a few minutes before,
and he clasped it now only with the firmness it seemed to give and to
ask for. "Oh it will do for that!" she said as they went out together.

Henry James

Sorry, no summary available yet.