The footman, opening the door, mumbled his name without sincerity, and
Vanderbank, passing in, found in fact--for he had caught the symptom--
the chairs and tables, the lighted lamps and the flowers alone in
possession. He looked at his watch, which exactly marked eight, then
turned to speak again to the servant, who had, however, without another
sound and as if blushing for the house, already closed him in. There was
nothing indeed but Mrs. Grendon's want of promptness that failed of a
welcome: her drawing-room, on the January night, showed its elegance
through a suffusion of pink electricity which melted, at the end of the
vista, into the faintly golden glow of a retreat still more sacred.
Vanderbank walked after a moment into the second room, which also proved
empty and which had its little globes of white fire--discreetly limited
in number--coated with lemon-coloured silk. The walls, covered with
delicate French mouldings, were so fair that they seemed vaguely
silvered; the low French chimney had a French fire. There was a lemon-
coloured stuff on the sofa and chairs, a wonderful polish on the floor
that was largely exposed, and a copy of a French novel in blue paper on
one of the spindle-legged tables. Vanderbank looked about him an instant
as if generally struck, then gave himself to something that had
particularly caught his eye. This was simply his own name written rather
large on the cover of the French book and endowed, after he had taken
the volume up, with the power to hold his attention the more closely the
longer he looked at it. He uttered, for a private satisfaction, before
letting the matter pass, a low confused sound; after which, flinging the
book down with some emphasis in another place, he moved to the chimney-
piece, where his eyes for a little intently fixed the small ashy wood-
fire. When he raised them again it was, on the observation that the
beautiful clock on the mantel was wrong, to consult once more his watch
and then give a glance, in the chimney-glass, at the state of his
moustache, the ends of which he twisted for a moment with due care.
While so engaged he became aware of something else and, quickly facing
about, recognised in the doorway of the room the other figure the glass
had just reflected.
"Oh YOU?" he said with a quick handshake. "Mrs. Grendon's down?" But he
had already passed with Nanda, on their greeting, back into the first
room, which contained only themselves, and she had mentioned that she
believed Tishy to have said 8.15, which meant of course anything people
"Oh then there'll be nobody till nine. I didn't, I suppose, sufficiently
study my note; which didn't mention to me, by the way," Vanderbank
added, "that you were to be here."
"Ah but why SHOULD it?" Nanda spoke again, however, before he could
reply. "I dare say that when she wrote to you she didn't know."
"Know you'd come bang up to meet me?" Vanderbank laughed. "Jolly at any
rate, thanks to my mistake, to have in this way a quiet moment with you.
You came on ahead of your mother?"
"Oh no--I'm staying here."
"Oh!" said Vanderbank.
"Mr. Longdon came up with me--I came here, Friday last, straight."
"You parted at the door?" he asked with marked gaiety.
She thought a moment--she was more serious. "Yes--but only for a day or
two. He's coming tonight."
"Good. How delightful!"
"He'll be glad to see you," Nanda said, looking at the flowers.
"Awfully kind of him when I've been such a brute."
"Well, I mean not writing--nor going back."
"Oh I see," Nanda simply returned.
It was a simplicity that, clearly enough, made her friend a little
awkward. "Has he--a--minded? Hut he can't have complained!" he quickly
"Oh he never complains."
"No, no--it isn't in him. But it's just that," said Vanderbank, "that
makes one feel so base. I've been ferociously busy."
"He knows that--he likes it," Nanda returned. "He delights in your work.
And I've done what I can for him."
"Ah," said her companion, "you've evidently brought him round. I mean to
"To Tishy? Oh of course I can't leave her--with nobody."
"No"--Vanderbank became jocose again--"that's a London necessity. You
can't leave anybody with nobody--exposed to everybody."
Mild as it was, however, Nanda missed the pleasantry. "Mr. Grendon's not
"Where is he then?"
"Yachting--but she doesn't know."
"Then she and you are just doing this together?"
"Well," said Nanda, "she's dreadfully frightened."
"Oh she mustn't allow herself," he returned, "to be too much carried
away by it. But we're to have your mother?"
"Yes, and papa. It's really for Mitchy and Aggie," the girl went on--
"before they go abroad."
"Ah then I see what you've come up for! Tishy and I aren't in it. It's
all for Mitchy."
"If you mean there's nothing I wouldn't do for him you're quite right.
He has always been of a kindness to me--!"
"That culminated in marrying your friend?" Vanderbank asked. "It was
charming certainly, and I don't mean to diminish the merit of it. But
Aggie herself, I gather, is of a charm now--!"
"Isn't she?"--Nanda was eager. "Hasn't she come out?"
"With a bound--into the arena. But when a young person's out with
"Oh you mustn't say anything against that. I've been out with him
"Ah but my dear child--!" Van frankly argued.
It was not, however, a thing to notice. "I knew it would be just so. It
always is when they've been like that."
"Do you mean as she apparently WAS? But doesn't it make one wonder a
little IF she was?"
"Oh she was--I know she was. And we're also to have Harold," Nanda
continued--"another of Mitchy's beneficiaries. It WOULD be a banquet,
wouldn't it? if we were to have them all."
Vanderbank hesitated, and the look he fixed on the door might have
suggested a certain open attention to the arrival of their hostess or
the announcement of other guests. "If you haven't got them all, the
beneficiaries, you've got, in having me, I should suppose, about the
"Ah what has he done for you?" Nanda asked.
Again her friend hung fire. "Do you remember something you said to me
down there in August?"
She looked vague but quite unembarrassed. "I remember but too well that
"You declared to me that you knew everything."
"Oh yes--and I said so to Mitchy too."
"Well, my dear child, you don't."
"Because I don't know--?"
"Yes, what makes ME the victim of his insatiable benevolence."
"Ah well, if you've no doubt of it yourself that's all that's required.
I'm quite GLAD to hear of something I don't know," Nanda pursued. "And
we're to have Harold too," she repeated.
"As a beneficiary? Then we SHALL fill up! Harold will give us a stamp."
"Won't he? I hear of nothing but his success. Mother wrote me that
people are frantic for him; and," said the girl after an instant, "do
you know what Cousin Jane wrote me?"
"What WOULD she now? I'm trying to think."
Nanda relieved him of this effort. "Why that mother has transferred to
him all the scruples she felt--'even to excess'--in MY time, about what
we might pick up among you all that wouldn't be good for us."
"That's a neat one for ME!" Vanderbank declared. "And I like your talk
about your antediluvian 'time.'"
"Oh it's all over."
"What exactly is it," Vanderbank presently demanded, "that you describe
in that manner?"
"Well, my little hour. And the danger of picking up."
"There's none of it here?"
Nanda appeared frankly to judge. "No--because, really, Tishy, don't you
see? is natural. We just talk."
Vanderbank showed his interest. "Whereas at your mother's--?"
"Well, you were all afraid."
Vanderbank laughed straight out. "Do you mind my telling her that?"
"Oh she knows it. I've heard her say herself you were."
"Ah _I_ was," he concurred. "You know we've spoken of that before."
"I'm speaking now of all of you," said Nanda. "But it was she who was
most so, for she tried--I know she did, she told me so--to control you.
And it was when, you were most controlled--!"
Van's amusement took it up. "That we were most detrimental?"
"Yes, because of course what's so awfully unutterable is just what we
most notice. Tishy knows that," Nanda wonderfully observed.
As the reflexion of her tone might have been caught by an observer in
Vanderbank's face it was in all probability caught by his
interlocutress, who superficially, however, need have recognised there--
what was all she showed--but the right manner of waiting for dinner.
"The better way then is to dash right in? That's what our friend here
"Oh you know what she does!" the girl replied as with a sudden drop of
interest in the question. She turned at the moment to the opening of the
It was Tishy who at last appeared, and her guest had his greeting ready.
"We're talking of the delicate matters as to which you think it's better
to dash right in; but I'm bound to say your inviting a hungry man to
dinner doesn't appear to be one of them."
The sign of Tishy Grendon--as it had been often called in a society in
which variety of reference had brought to high perfection, for usual
safety, the sense of signs--was a retarded facial glimmer that, in
respect to any subject, closed up the rear of the procession. It had
been said of her indeed that when processions were at all rapid she was
usually to be found, on a false impression of her whereabouts, mixed up
with the next; so that now, for instance, by the time she had reached
the point of saying to Vanderbank "Are you REALLY hungry?" Nanda had
begun to appeal to him for some praise of their hostess's appearance.
This was of course with soft looks up and down at her clothes. "Isn't
she too nice? Did you ever see anything so lovely?"
"I'm so faint with inanition," Van replied to Mrs. Grendon, "that--like
the traveller in the desert, isn't it?--I only make out, as an oasis or
a mirage, a sweet green rustling blur. I don't trust you."
"I don't trust YOU," Nanda said on her friend's behalf. "She isn't
'green'--men are amazing: they don't know the dearest old blue that ever
"IS it your 'OLD blue'?" Vanderbank, monocular, very earnestly asked. "I
can imagine it was'dear,' but I should have thought--!"
"It was yellow"--Nanda helped him out--"if I hadn't kindly told you."
Tishy's figure showed the confidence of objects consecrated by
publicity; bodily speaking a beautiful human plant, it might have taken
the last November gale to account for the completeness with which, in
some quarters, she had shed her leaves. Her companions could only
emphasise by the direction of their eyes the nature of the
responsibility with which a spectator would have seen them saddled--a
choice, as to consciousness, between the effect of her being and the
effect of her not being dressed. "Oh I'm hideous--of course I know it,"
said Tishy. "I'm only just clean. Here's Nanda now, who's beautiful,"
she vaguely continued, "and Nanda--"
"Oh but, darling, Nanda's clean too!" the young lady in question
interrupted; on which her fellow guest could only laugh with her as in
relief from the antithesis of which her presence of mind had averted the
completion, little indeed as in Mrs. Grendon's talk that element of
style was usually involved.
"There's nothing in such a matter," Vanderbank observed as if it were
the least he could decently say, "like challenging enquiry; and here's
Harold, precisely," he went on in the next breath, "as clear and crisp
and undefiled as a fresh five-pound note."
"A fresh one?"--Harold had passed in a flash from his hostess. "A man
who like me hasn't seen one for six months could perfectly do, I assure
you, with one that has lost its what-do-you-call it." He kissed Nanda
with a friendly peck, then, more completely aware, had a straighter
apprehension for Tishy. "My dear child, YOU seem to have lost something,
though I'll say for you that one doesn't miss it."
Mrs. Grendon looked from him to Nanda. "Does he mean anything very
nasty? I can only understand you when Nanda explains," she returned to
Harold. "In fact there's scarcely anything I understand except when
Nanda explains. It's too dreadful her being away so much now with
strange people, whom I'm sure she can't begin to do for what she does
for me; it makes me miss her all round. And the only thing I've come
across that she CAN'T explain," Tishy bunched straight at her friend,
"is what on earth she's doing there."
"Why she's working Mr. Longdon, like a good fine girl," Harold said;
"like a good true daughter and even, though she doesn't love me nearly
so much as I love HER, I will say, like a good true sister. I'm bound to
tell you, my dear Tishy," he went on, "that I think it awfully happy,
with the trend of manners, for any really nice young thing to be a bit
lost to sight. London, upon my honour, is quite too awful for girls, and
any big house in the country is as much worse--with the promiscuities
and opportunities and all that--as you know for yourselves. _I_ know
some places," Harold declared, "where, if I had any girls, I'd see 'em
shot before I'd take 'em."
"Oh you know too much, my dear boy!" Vanderbank remarked with
"Ah my brave old Van," the youth returned, "don't speak as if YOU had
illusions. I know," he pursued to the ladies, "just where some of Van's
must have perished, and some of the places I've in mind are just where
he has left his tracks. A man must be wedded to sweet superstitions not
nowadays to HAVE to open his eyes. Nanda love," he benevolently
concluded, "stay where you are. So at least I shan't blush for you. That
you've the good fortune to have reached your time of life with so little
injury to your innocence makes you a case by yourself, of which we must
recognise the claims. If Tishy can't make you gasp, that's nothing
against you nor against HER--Tishy comes of one of the few innocent
English families that are left. Yes, you may all cry 'Oho!'--but I defy
you to name me say five, or at most seven, in which some awful thing or
other hasn't happened. Of course ours is one, and Tishy's is one, and
Van's is one, and Mr. Longdon's is one, and that makes you, bang off,
four. So there you are!" Harold gaily wound up.
"I see now why he's the rage!" Vanderbank observed to Nanda.
But Mrs. Grendon expressed to their young friend a lingering wonder. "Do
you mean you go in for the adoption--?"
"Oh Tishy!" Nanda mildly murmured.
Harold, however, had his own tact. "The dear man's taking her quite
over? Not altogether unreservedly. I'm with the governor: I think we
ought to GET something. 'Oh yes, dear man, but what do you GIVE us for
her?'--that's what _I_ should say to him. I mean, don't you know, that I
don't think she's making quite the bargain she might. If he were to want
ME I don't say he mightn't have me, but I should have it on my
conscience to make it in one way or another a good thing for my parents.
You ARE nice, old woman"--he turned to his sister--"and one can still
feel for the flower of your youth something of the wonderful'reverence'
that we were all brought up on. For God's sake therefore--all the more--
don't really close with him till you've had another word or two with me.
I'll be hanged"--he appealed to the company again--"if he shall have her
"See rather," Vanderbank said to Mrs. Grendon, "how little it's like
your really losing her that she should be able this evening fairly to
bring the dear man to you. At this rate we don't lose her--we simply get
him as well."
"Ah but is it quite the dear man's COMPANY we want?"--and Harold looked
anxious and acute. "If that's the best arrangement Nanda can make--!"
"If he hears us talking in this way, which strikes me as very horrible,"
Nanda interposed very simply and gravely, "I don't think we're likely to
"Oh Harold's talk," Vanderbank protested, "offers, I think, an
extraordinary interest; only I'm bound to say it crushes me to the
earth. I've to make at least, as I listen to him, a big effort to bear
up. It doesn't seem long ago," he pursued to his young friend, "that I
used to feel I was in it; but the way you bring home to me, dreadful
youth, that I'm already NOT--!"
Harold looked earnest to understand. "The hungry generations tread you
down--is that it?"
Vanderbank gave a pleasant tragic headshake. "We speak a different
"Ah but I think I perfectly understand yours!"
"That's just my anguish--and your advantage. It's awfully curious,"
Vanderbank went on to Nanda, "but I feel as if I must figure to him, you
know, very much as Mr. Longdon figures to me. Mr. Longdon doesn't
somehow get into me. Yet I do, I think, into him. But we don't matter!"
"'We'?"--Nanda, with her eyes on him, echoed it.
"Mr. Longdon and I. It can't be helped, I suppose," he went on, for
Tishy, with sociable sadness, "but it IS short innings."
Mrs. Grendon, who was clearly credulous, looked positively frightened.
"Ah but, my dear, thank you! I haven't begun to LIVE."
"Well, _I_ have--that's just where it is," said Harold. "Thank you all
the more, old Van, for the tip."
There was an announcement just now at the door, and Tishy turned to meet
the Duchess, with Harold, almost as if he had been master of the house,
figuring but a step behind her. "Don't mind HER," Vanderbank immediately
said to the companion with whom he was left, "but tell me, while I still
have hold of you, who wrote my name on the French novel that I noticed a
few minutes since in the other room?"
Nanda at first only wondered. "If it's there--didn't YOU?"
He just hesitated. "If it were here you'd see if it's my hand."
Nanda faltered, and for somewhat longer. "How should I see? What do I
know of your hand?"
He looked at her hard. "You HAVE seen it."
"Oh--so little!" she replied with a faint smile.
"Do you mean I've not written to you for so long? Surely I did in--when
"Yes, when? But why SHOULD you?" she asked in quite a different tone.
He was not prepared on this with the right statement, and what he did
after a moment bring out had for the occasion a little the sound of the
wrong. "The beauty of YOU is that you're too good; which for me is but
another way of saying you're too clever. You make no demands. You let
things go. You don't allow in particular for the human weakness that
enjoys an occasional glimpse of the weakness of others."
She had deeply attended to him. "You mean perhaps one doesn't show
enough what one wants?"
"I think that must be it. You're so fiendishly proud."
She appeared again to wonder. "Not too much so, at any rate, only to
want from YOU--"
"Why, what's pleasant for yourself," she simply said.
"Oh dear, that's poor bliss!" he returned. "How does it come then," he
next said, "that with this barrenness of our intercourse I know so well
A series of announcements had meanwhile been made, with guests arriving
to match them, and Nanda's eyes at this moment engaged themselves with
Mr. Longdon and her mother, who entered the room together. When she
looked back to her companion she had had time to drop a consciousness of
his question. "If I'm proud, to you, I'm not good," she said, "and if
I'm good--always to you--I'm not proud. I know at all events perfectly
how immensely you're occupied, what a quantity of work you get through
and how every minute counts for you. Don't make it a crime to me that
No, that would show, wouldn't it? that there isn't much else. But how it
all comes back--!"
"Well, to what?" she asked.
"To the old story. You know how I'm occupied. You know how I work. You
know how I manage my time."
"Oh I see," said Nanda. "It IS my knowing, after all, everything."
"Everything. The book I just mentioned is one that, months ago---I
remember now--I lent your mother."
"Oh a thing in a blue cover? I remember then too." Nanda's face cleared
up. "I had forgotten it was lying about here, but I must have brought
it--in fact I remember I did--for Tishy. And I wrote your name on it so
that we might know--"
"That I hadn't lent it to either of you? It didn't occur to you to write
your own?" Vanderbank went on.
"Well, but if it isn't mine? It ISN'T mine, I'm sure."
"Therefore also if it can't be Tishy's--"
"The thing's simple enough--it's mother's."
"'Simple'?" Vanderbank laughed. "I like you! And may I ask if you've
read the remarkable work?"
"Oh yes." Then she wonderfully said: "For Tishy."
"To see if it would do?"
"I've often done that," the girl returned.
"And she takes your word?"
"Generally. I think I remember she did that time."
"And read the confounded thing?"
"Oh no!" said Nanda.
He looked at her a moment longer. "You're too particular!" he rather
oddly sounded, turning away with it to meet Mr. Longdon.
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