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Chapter 3

It had been understood that he was to take his leave on the morrow,
though Vanderbank was to stay another day. Mr. Longdon had for the
Sunday dinner invited three or four of his neighbours to "meet" the two
gentlemen from town, so that it was not till the company had departed,
or in other words till near bedtime, that our four friends could again
have become aware, as between themselves, of that directness of mutual
relation which forms the subject of our picture. It had not, however,
prevented Nanda's slipping upstairs as soon as the doctor and his wife
had gone, and the manner indeed in which, on the stroke of eleven, Mr.
Longdon conformed to his tradition of appropriating a particular candle
was as positive an expression of it as any other. Nothing in him was
more amiable than the terms maintained between the rigour of his
personal habits and his free imagination of the habits of others. He
deprecated as regards the former, it might have been seen, most signs of
likeness, and no one had ever dared to learn how he would have handled a
show of imitation. "The way to flatter him," Mitchy threw off five
minutes later, "is not to make him think you resemble or agree with him,
but to let him see how different you perceive he can bear to think you.
I mean of course without hating you."

"But what interest have YOU," Vanderbank asked, "in the way to flatter
him?"

"My dear fellow, more interest than you. I haven't been here all day
without arriving at conclusions on the credit he has opened to you--!"

"Do you mean the amount he'll settle?"

"You have it in your power," said Mitchy, "to make it anything you
like."

"And is he then--so bloated?"

Mitchy was on his feet in the apartment in which their host had left
them, and he had at first for this question but an expressive motion of
the shoulders in respect to everything in the room. "See, judge, guess,
feel!"

But it was as if Vanderbank, before the fire, consciously controlled his
own attention. "Oh I don't care a hang!"

This passage took place in the library and as a consequence of their
having confessed, as their friend faced them with his bedroom light,
that a brief discreet vigil and a box of cigars would fix better than
anything else the fine impression of the day. Mitchy might at that
moment, on the evidence of the eyes Mr. Longdon turned to them and of
which his innocent candle-flame betrayed the secret, have found matter
for a measure of the almost extreme allowances he wanted them to want of
him. They had only to see that the greater window was fast and to turn
out the library lamp. It might really have amused them to stand a moment
at the open door that, apart from this, was to testify to his conception
of those who were not, in the smaller hours, as HE was. He had in fact
by his retreat--and but too sensibly--left them there with a deal of
midnight company. If one of these presences was the mystery he had
himself mixed the manner of our young men showed a due expectation of
the others. Mitchy, on hearing how little Vanderbank "cared," only kept
up a while longer that observant revolution in which he had spent much
of his day, to which any fresh sense of any exhibition always promptly
committed him, and which, had it not been controlled by infinite tact,
might have affected the nerves of those in whom enjoyment was less
rotary. He was silent long enough to suggest his fearing that almost
anything he might say would appear too allusive; then at last once more
he took his risk. "Awfully jolly old place!"

"It is indeed," Van only said; but his posture in the large chair he had
pushed toward the open window was of itself almost an opinion. The
August night was hot and the air that came in charged and sweet.
Vanderbank smoked with his face to the dusky garden and the dim stars;
at the end of a few moments more of which he glanced round. "Don't you
think it rather stuffy with that big lamp? As those candles on the
chimney are going we might put it out."

"Like this?" The amiable Mitchy had straightway obliged his companion
and he as promptly took in the effect of the diminished light on the
character of the room, which he commended as if the depth of shadow
produced were all this companion had sought. He might freshly have
brought home to Vanderbank that a man sensitive to so many different
things, and thereby always sure of something or other, could never
really be incommoded; though that personage presently indeed showed
himself occupied with another thought.

"I think I ought to mention to you that I've told him how you and Mrs.
Brook now both know. I did so this afternoon on our way back from
church--I hadn't done it before. He took me a walk round to show me more
of the place, and that gave me my chance. But he doesn't mind,"
Vanderbank continued. "The only thing is that I've thought it may
possibly make him speak to you, so that it's better you should know he
knows. But he told me definitely Nanda doesn't."

Mitchy took this in with an attention that spoke of his already
recognising how the less tempered darkness favoured talk. "And is that
all that passed between you?"

"Well, practically; except of course that I made him understand, I
think, how it happened that I haven't kept my own counsel."

"Oh but you HAVE--didn't he at least feel?--or perhaps even have done
better, when you've two such excellent persons to keep it FOR you. Can't
he easily believe how we feel with you?"

Vanderbank appeared for a minute to leave this appeal unheeded; he
continued to stare into the garden while he smoked and swung the long
leg he had thrown over the arm of the chair. When he at last spoke,
however, it was with some emphasis--perhaps even with some vulgarity.
"Oh rot!"

Mitchy hovered without an arrest. "You mean he CAN'T feel?"

"I mean it isn't true. I've no illusions about you. I know how you're
both affected, though I of course perfectly trust you."

Mitchy had a short silence. "Trust us not to speak?"

"Not to speak to Nanda herself--though of course too if you spoke to
others," Vanderbank went on, "they'd immediately rush and tell her."

"I've spoken to no one," said Mitchy. "I'm sure of it. And neither has
Mrs. Brook."

"I'm glad you're sure of that also," Mitchy returned, "for it's only
doing her justice."

"Oh I'm quite confident of it," said Vanderbank. "And without asking
her?"

"Perfectly."

"And you're equally sure, without asking, that _I_ haven't betrayed
you?" After which, while, as if to let the question lie there in its
folly, Vanderbank said nothing, his friend pursued: "I came, I must tell
you, terribly near it to-day."

"Why must you tell me? Your coming 'near' doesn't concern me, and I take
it you don't suppose I'm watching or sounding you. Mrs. Brook will have
come terribly near," Vanderbank continued as if to make the matter free;
"but she won't have done it either. She'll have been distinctly
tempted--!"

"But she won't have fallen?" Mitchy broke in. "Exactly--there we are.
_I_ was distinctly tempted and I didn't fall. I think your certainty
about Mrs. Brook," he added, "shows you do know her. She's incapable of
anything deliberately nasty."

"Oh of anything nasty in any way," Vanderbank said musingly and kindly.

"Yes; one knows on the whole what she WON'T do." After which, for a
period, Mitchy roamed and reflected. "But in spite of the assurance
given you by Mr. Longdon--or perhaps indeed just because of your having
taken it--I think I ought to mention to you my belief that Nanda does
know of his offer to you. I mean by having guessed it."

"Oh!" said Vanderbank.

"There's in fact more still," his companion pursued--"that I feel I
should like to mention to you."

"Oh!" Vanderbank at first only repeated. But after a moment he said: "My
dear fellow, I'm much obliged."

"The thing I speak of is something I should at any rate have said, and I
should have looked out for some chance if we had not had this one."
Mitchy spoke as if his friend's last words were not of consequence, and
he continued as Vanderbank got up and, moving rather aimlessly, came and
stood with his back to the chimney. "My only hesitation would have been
caused by its entailing our going down into things in a way that, face
to face--given the private nature of the things--I dare say most men
don't particularly enjoy. But if you don't mind--!"

"Oh I don't mind. In fact, as I tell you, I recognise an obligation to
you." Vanderbank, with his shoulders against the high mantel, uttered
this without a direct look; he smoked and smoked, then considered the
tip of his cigar. "You feel convinced she knows?" he threw out.

"Well, it's my impression."

"Ah any impression of yours--of that sort--is sure to be right. If you
think I ought to have it from you I'm really grateful. Is that--a--what
you wanted to say to me?" Vanderbank after a slight pause demanded.

Mitchy, watching him more than he watched Mitchy, shook a mildly
decisive head. "No."

Vanderbank, his eyes on his smoke-puffs, seemed to wonder. "What you
wanted is--something else?"

"Something else."

"Oh!" said Vanderbank for the third time.

The ejaculation had been vague, but the movement that followed it was
definite; the young man, turning away, found himself again near the
chair he had quitted, and resumed possession of it as a sign of being at
his friend's service. This friend, however, not only hung fire but
finally went back to take a shot from a quarter they might have been
supposed to have left. "It strikes me as odd his imagining--awfully
acute as he is--that she has NOT guessed. One wouldn't have thought he
could live with her here in such an intimacy--seeing her every day and
pretty much all day--and make such a mistake."

Vanderbank, his great length all of a lounge again, turned it over. "And
yet I do thoroughly feel the mistake's not yours."

Mitchy had a new serenity of affirmation. "Oh it's not mine."

"Perhaps then"--it occurred to his friend--"he doesn't really believe
it."

"And only says so to make you feel more easy?"

"So that one may--in fairness to one's self--keep one's head, as it
were, and decide quite on one's own grounds."

"Then you HAVE still to decide?"

Vanderbank took time to answer. "I've still to decide." Mitchy became
again on this, in the sociable dusk, a slow-circling vaguely-agitated
element, and his companion continued: "Is your idea very generously and
handsomely to help that by letting me know--?"

"That I do definitely renounce"--Mitchy took him up--"any pretension and
any hope? Well, I'm ready with a proof of it. I've passed my word that
I'll apply elsewhere."

Vanderbank turned more round to him. "Apply to the Duchess for her
niece?"

"It's practically settled."

"But since when?"

Mitchy barely faltered. "Since this afternoon."

"Ah then not with the Duchess herself."

"With Nanda--whose plan from the first, you won't have forgotten, the
thing has so charmingly been."

Vanderbank could show that his not having in the least forgotten was yet
not a bar to his being now mystified. "But, my dear man, what can Nanda
'settle'?"

"My fate," Mitchy said, pausing well before him.

Vanderbank sat now a minute with raised eyes, catching the
indistinctness of the other's strange expression. "You're both beyond
me!" he exclaimed at last. "I don't see what you in particular gain."

"I didn't either till she made it all out to me. One sees then, in such
a matter, for one's self. And as everything's gain that isn't loss,
there was nothing I COULD lose. It gets me," Mitchy further explained,
"out of the way."

"Out of the way of what?"

This, Mitchy frankly showed, was more difficult to say, but he in time
brought it out. "Well, of appearing to suggest to you that my existence,
in a prolonged state of singleness, may ever represent for her any real
alternative."

"But alternative to what?"

"Why to being YOUR wife, damn you!" Mitchy, on these words turned away
again, and his companion, in the presence of his renewed dim gyrations,
sat for a minute dumb. Before Van had spoken indeed he was back again.
"Excuse my violence, but of course you really see."

"I'm not pretending anything," Vanderbank said--"but a man MUST
understand. What I catch hold of is that you offer me--in the fact that
you're thus at any rate disposed of--a proof that I, by the same token,
shan't, if I hesitate to 'go in,' have a pretext for saying to myself
that I MAY deprive her--!"

"Yes, precisely," Mitchy now urbanely assented: "of something--in the
shape of a man with MY amount of money--that she may live to regret and
to languish for. My amount of money, don't you see?" he very simply
added, "is nothing to her."

"And you want me to be sure that--so far as I may ever have had a
scruple--she has had her chance and got rid of it."

"Completely," Mitchy smiled.

"Because"--Vanderbank with the aid of his cigar thoughtfully pieced it
out--"that may possibly bring me to the point."

"Possibly!" Mitchy laughed.

He had stood a moment longer, almost as if to see the possibility
develop before his eyes, and had even started at the next sound of his
friend's voice. What Vanderbank in fact brought out, however, only made
him turn his back. "Do you like so very much little Aggie?"

"Well," said Mitchy, "Nanda does. And I like Nanda."

"You're too amazing," Vanderbank mused. His musing had presently the
effect of making him rise; meditation indeed beset him after he was on
his feet. "I can't help its coming over me then that on such an
extraordinary system you must also rather like ME."

"What will you have, my dear Van?" Mitchy frankly asked. "It's the sort
of thing you must be most used to. For at the present moment--look!--
aren't we all at you at once?"

It was as if his dear Van had managed to appear to wonder. "'All'?"

"Nanda, Mrs. Brook, Mr. Longdon--!"

"And you. I see."

"Names of distinction. And all the others," Mitchy pursued, "that I
don't count."

"Oh you're the best."

"I?"

"You're the best," Vanderbank simply repeated. "It's at all events most
extraordinary," he declared. "But I make you out on the whole better
than I do Mr. Longdon."

"Ah aren't we very much the same--simple lovers of life? That is of that
finer essence of it which appeals to the consciousness--"

"The consciousness?"--his companion took up his hesitation.

"Well, enlarged and improved."

The words had made on Mitchy's lips an image by which his friend
appeared for a moment held. "One doesn't really know quite what to say
or to do."

"Oh you must take it all quietly. You're of a special class; one of
those who, as we said the other day--don't you remember?--are a source
of the sacred terror. People made in such a way must take the
consequences; just as people must take them," Mitchy went on, "who are
made as _I_ am. So cheer up!"

Mitchy, uttering this incitement, had moved to the empty chair by the
window, in which he presently was sunk; and it might have been in
emulation of his previous strolling and straying that Vanderbank himself
now began to revolve. The meditation he next threw out, however, showed
a certain resistance to Mitchy's advice. "I'm glad at any rate I don't
deprive her of a fortune."

"You don't deprive her of mine of course," Mitchy answered from the
chair; "but isn't her enjoyment of Mr. Longdon's at least a good deal
staked after all on your action?"

Vanderbank stopped short. "It's his idea to settle it ALL?"

Mitchy gave out his glare. "I thought you didn't 'care a hang.' I
haven't been here so long," he went on as his companion at first
retorted nothing, "without making up my mind for myself about his means.
He IS distinctly bloated."

It sent Vanderbank off again. "Oh well, she'll no more get all in the
one event than she'll get nothing in the other. She'll only get a sort
of provision. But she'll get that whatever happens."

"Oh if you're sure--!" Mitchy simply commented.

"I'm not sure, confound it!" Then--for his voice had been irritated--Van
spoke more quietly. "Only I see her here--though on his wish of course--
handling things quite as if they were her own and paying him a visit
without, apparently, any calculable end. What's that on HIS part but a
pledge?"

Oh Mitchy could show off-hand that he knew what it was. "It's a pledge,
quite as much, to you. He shows you the whole thing. He likes you not a
whit less than he likes her."

"Oh thunder!" Van impatiently sighed.

"It's as 'rum' as you please, but there it is," said the inexorable
Mitchy.

"Then does he think I'll do it for THIS?"

"For 'this'?"

"For the place, the whole thing, as you call it, that he shows me."

Mitchy had a short silence that might have represented a change of
colour. "It isn't good enough?" But he instantly took himself up. "Of
course he wants--as I do--to treat you with tact!"

"Oh it's all right," Vanderbank immediately said. "Your 'tact'--yours
and his--is marvellous, and Nanda's greatest of all."

Mitchy's momentary renewal of stillness was addressed, he somehow
managed not obscurely to convey, to the last clause of his friend's
speech. "If you're not sure," he presently resumed, "why can't you
frankly ask him?"

Vanderbank again, as the phrase is, "mooned" about a little. "Because I
don't know that it would do."

"What do you mean by 'do'?"

"Well, that it would be exactly--what do you call it?--'square.' Or even
quite delicate or decent. To take from him, in the way of an assurance
so handsomely offered, so much, and then to ask for more: I don't feel I
can do it. Besides, I've my little conviction. To the question itself he
might easily reply that it's none of my business."

"I see," Mitchy dropped. "Such pressure might suggest to him moreover
that you're hesitating more than you perhaps really are."

"Oh as to THAT" said Vanderbank, "I think he practically knows how
much."

"And how little?" He met this, however, with no more form than if it had
been a poor joke, so that Mitchy also smoked for a moment in silence.
"It's your coming down here, you mean, for these three or four days,
that will have fixed it?"

The question this time was one to which the speaker might have expected
an answer, but Vanderbank's only immediate answer was to walk and walk.
"I want so awfully to be kind to her," he at last said.

"I should think so!" Then with irrelevance Mitchy harked back. "Shall
_I_ find out?"

But Vanderbank, with another thought, had lost the thread. "Find out
what?"

"Why if she does get anything--!"

"If I'm not kind ENOUGH?"--Van had caught up again. "Dear no; I'd rather
you shouldn't speak unless first spoken to."

"Well, HE may speak--since he knows we know."

"It isn't likely, for he can't make out why I told you."

"You didn't tell ME, you know," said Mitchy. "You told Mrs. Brook."

"Well, SHE told you, and her talking about it is the unpleasant idea. He
can't get her down anyhow."

"Poor Mrs. Brook!" Mitchy meditated.

"Poor Mrs. Brook!" his companion echoed.

"But I thought you said," he went on, "that he doesn't mind."

"YOUR knowing? Well, I dare say he doesn't. But he doesn't want a lot of
gossip and chatter."

"Oh!" said Mitchy with meekness.

"I may absolutely take it from you then," Vanderbank presently resumed,
"that Nanda has her idea?"

"Oh she didn't tell me so. But it's none the less my belief."

"Well," Vanderbank at last threw off, "I feel it for myself. If only
because she always knows everything," he pursued without looking at
Mitchy. "She always knows everything, everything."

"Everything, everything." Mitchy got up.

"She told me so herself yesterday," said Van.

"And she told ME so to-day."

Vanderbank's hesitation might have shown he was struck with this. "Well,
I don't think it's information that either of us required. But of course
she--can't help it," he added. "Everything, literally everything, in
London, in the world she lives in, is in the air she breathes--so that
the longer SHE'S in it the more she'll know."

"The more she'll know, certainly," Mitchy acknowledged. "But she isn't
in it, you see, down here."

"No. Only she appears to have come down with such accumulations. And she
won't be here for ever," Vanderbank hastened to mention. "Certainly not
if you marry her."

"But isn't that at the same time," Vanderbank asked, "just the
difficulty?"

Mitchy looked vague. "The difficulty?"

"Why as a married woman she'll be steeped in it again."

"Surely"--oh Mitchy could be candid! "But the difference will be that
for a married woman it won't matter. It only matters for girls," he
plausibly continued--"and then only for those on whom no one takes
pity."

"The trouble is," said Vanderbank--but quite as if uttering only a
general truth--"that it's just a thing that may sometimes operate as a
bar to pity. Isn't it for the non-marrying girls that it doesn't
particularly matter? For the others it's such an odd preparation."

"Oh I don't mind it!" Mitchy declared.

Vanderbank visibly demurred. "Ah but your choice--!"

"Is such a different sort of thing?" Mitchy, for the half-hour, in the
ambiguous dusk, had never looked more droll. "The young lady I named
isn't my CHOICE."

"Well then, that's only a sign the more that you do these things more
easily."

"Oh 'easily'!" Mitchy murmured.

"We oughtn't at any rate to keep it up," said Vanderbank, who had looked
at his watch. "Twelve twenty-five--good-night. Shall I blow out the
candles?"

"Do, please. I'll close the window"--and Mitchy went to it. "I'll follow
you--good-night." The candles after a minute were out and his friend had
gone, but Mitchy, left in darkness face to face with the vague quiet
garden, still stood there.


Henry James

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