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Chapter 3

He mechanically obeyed her although it happened to lend him the air of
taking Mrs. Brook's approach for a signal to resume his seat. She came
over to them, Vanderbank followed, and it was without again moving, with
a vague upward gape in fact from his place, that Mr. Longdon received as
she stood before him a challenge of a sort to flash a point into what
the Duchess had just said. "Why do you hate me so?"

Vanderbank, who, beside Mrs. Brook, looked at him with attention, might
have suspected him of turning a trifle pale; though even Vanderbank,
with reasons of his own for an observation of the sharpest, could scarce
have read into the matter the particular dim vision that would have
accounted for it--the flicker of fear of what Mrs. Brook, whether as
daughter or as mother, was at last so strangely and differently to show
herself.

"I should warn you, sir," the young man threw off, "how little we
consider that--in Buckingham Crescent certainly--a fair question. It
isn't playing the game--it's hitting below the belt. We hate and we
love--the latter especially; but to tell each other why is to break that
little tacit rule of finding out for ourselves which is the delight of
our lives and the source of our triumphs. You can say, you know, if you
like, but you're not obliged."

Mr. Longdon transferred to him something of the same colder
apprehension, looking at him manifestly harder than ever before and
finding in his eyes also no doubt a consciousness more charged. He
presently got up, but, without answering Vanderbank, fixed again Mrs.
Brook, to whom he echoed without expression: "Hate you?"

The next moment, while he remained in presence with Vanderbank, Mrs.
Brook was pointing out her meaning to him from the cushioned corner he
had quitted. "Why, when you come back to town you come straight, as it
were, here."

"Ah what's that," the Duchess asked in his interest, "but to follow
Nanda as closely as possible, or at any rate to keep well with her?"

Mrs. Brook, however, had no ear for this plea. "And when I, coming here
too and thinking only of my chance to 'meet' you, do my very sweetest to
catch your eye, you're entirely given up--!"

"To trying of course," the Duchess broke in afresh, "to keep well with
ME!"

Mrs. Brook now had a smile for her. "Ah that takes precautions then that
I shall perhaps fail of if I too much interrupt your conversation."

"Isn't she nice to me," the Duchess asked of Mr. Longdon, "when I was in
the very act of praising her to the skies?"

Their interlocutor's reply was not too rapid to anticipate Mrs. Brook
herself. "My dear Jane, that only proves his having reached some
extravagance in the other sense that you had in mere decency to match.
The truth is probably in the 'mean'--isn't that what they call it?--
between you. Don't YOU now take him away," she went on to Vanderbank,
who had glanced about for some better accommodation.

He immediately pushed forward the nearest chair, which happened to be by
the Duchess's side of the sofa. "Will you sit here, sir?"

"If you'll stay to protect me."

"That was really what I brought him over to you for," Mrs. Brook said
while Mr. Longdon took his place and Vanderbank looked out for another
seat. "But I didn't know," she observed with her sweet free curiosity,
"that he called you 'sir.'" She often made discoveries that were fairly
childlike. "He has done it twice."

"Isn't that only your inevitable English surprise," the Duchess
demanded, "at the civility quite the commonest in other societies?--so
that one has to come here to find it regarded, in the way of ceremony,
as the very end of the world!"

"Oh," Mr. Longdon remarked, "it's a word I rather like myself even to
employ to others."

"I always ask here," the Duchess continued to him, "what word they've
got instead. And do you know what they tell me?"

Mrs. Brook wondered, then again, before he was ready, charmingly
suggested: "Our pretty manner?" Quickly too she appealed to Mr. Longdon.
"Is THAT what you miss from me?"

He wondered, however, more than Mrs. Brook. "Your 'pretty manner'?"

"Well, these grand old forms that the Duchess is such a mistress of."
Mrs. Brook had with this one of her eagerest visions. "Did mamma say
'sir' to you? Ought _I_? Do you really get it, in private, out of
Nanda? SHE has such depths of discretion," she explained to the Duchess
and to Vanderbank, who had come back with his chair, "that it's just the
kind of racy anecdote she never in the world gives me."

Mr. Longdon looked across at Van, placed now, after a moment's talk with
Tishy in sight of them all, by Mrs. Brook's arm of the sofa. "You
haven't protected--you've only exposed me."

"Oh there's no joy without danger"--Mrs. Brook took it up with spirit.
"Perhaps one should even say there's no danger without joy."

Vanderbank's eyes had followed Mrs. Grendon after his brief passage with
her, terminated by some need of her listless presence on the other side
of the room. "What do you say then, on that theory, to the extraordinary
gloom of our hostess? Her safety, by such a rule, must be deep."

The Duchess was this time the first to know what they said. "The
expression of Tishy's face comes precisely from our comparing it so
unfavourably with that of her poor sister Carrie, who, though she isn't
here to-night with the Cashmores--amazing enough even as coming WITHOUT
that!--has so often shown us that an ame en peine, constantly tottering,
but, as Nanda guarantees us, usually recovering, may look after all as
beatific as a Dutch doll."

Mrs. Brook's eyes had, on Tishy's passing away, taken the same course as
Vanderbank's, whom she had visibly not neglected moreover while the pair
stood there. "I give you Carrie, as you know, and I throw Mr. Cashmore
in; but I'm lost in admiration to-night, as I always have been, of the
way Tishy makes her ugliness serve. I should call it, if the word
weren't so for ladies'-maids, the most 'elegant' thing I know."

"My dear child," the Duchess objected, "what you describe as making her
ugliness serve is what I should describe as concealing none of her
beauty. There's nothing the matter surely with 'elegant' as applied to
Tishy save that as commonly used it refers rather to a charm that's
artificial than to a state of pure nature. There should be for elegance
a basis of clothing. Nanda rather stints her."

Mrs. Brook, perhaps more than usually thoughtful, just discriminated.
"There IS, I think, one little place. I'll speak to her."

"To Tishy?" Vanderbank asked.

"Oh THAT would do no good. To Nanda. All the same," she continued, "it's
an awfully superficial thing of you not to see that her dreariness--on
which moreover I've set you right before--is a mere facial accident and
doesn't correspond or, as they say, 'rhyme' to anything within her that
might make it a little interesting. What I like it for is just that it's
so funny in itself. Her low spirits are nothing more than her features.
Her gloom, as you call it, is merely her broken nose."

"HAS she a broken nose?" Mr. Longdon demanded with an accent that for
some reason touched in the others the spring of laughter.

"Has Nanda never mentioned it?" Mrs. Brook profited by this gaiety to
ask.

"That's the discretion you just spoke of," said the Duchess. "Only I
should have expected from the cause you refer to rather the comic
effect."

"Mrs. Grendon's broken nose, sir," Vanderbank explained to Mr. Longdon,
"is only the kinder way taken by these ladies to speak of Mrs. Grendon's
broken heart. You must know all about that."

"Oh yes--ALL." Mr. Longdon spoke very simply, with the consequence this
time, on the part of his companions, of a silence of some minutes, which
he himself had at last to break. "Mr. Grendon doesn't like her." The
addition of these words apparently made the difference--as if they
constituted a fresh link with the irresistible comedy of things. That he
was unexpectedly diverting was, however, no check to Mr. Longdon's
delivering his full thought. "Very horrid of two sisters to be both, in
their marriages, so wretched."

"Ah but Tishy, I maintain," Mrs. Brook returned, "ISN'T wretched at all.
If I were satisfied that she's really so I'd never let Nanda come to
her."

"That's the most extraordinary doctrine, love," the Duchess interposed.
"When you're satisfied a woman's 'really' poor you never give her a
crust?"

"Do you call Nanda a crust, Duchess?" Vanderbank amusedly asked.

"She's all at any rate, apparently, just now, that poor Tishy has to
live on."

"You're severe then," the young man said, "on our dinner of to-night."

"Oh Jane," Mrs. Brook declared, "is never severe: she's only
uncontrollably witty. It's only Tishy moreover who gives out that her
husband doesn't like her. HE, poor man, doesn't say anything of the
sort."

"Yes, but, after all, you know"--Vanderbank just put it to her--"where
the deuce, all the while, IS he?"

"Heaven forbid," the Duchess remarked, "that we should too rashly
ascertain."

"There it is--exactly," Mr. Longdon subjoined.

He had once more his success of hilarity, though not indeed to the
injury of the Duchess's next word. "It's Nanda, you know, who speaks,
and loud enough, for Harry Grendon's dislikes."

"That's easy for her," Mrs. Brook declared, "when she herself isn't one
of them."

"She isn't surely one of anybody's," Mr. Longdon gravely observed.

Mrs. Brook gazed across at him. "You ARE too dear! But I've none the
less a crow to pick with you."

Mr. Longdon returned her look, but returned it somehow to Van. "You
frighten me, you know, out of my wits."

"_I_ do?" said Vanderbank.

Mr. Longdon just hesitated. "Yes."

"It must be the sacred terror," Mrs. Brook suggested to Van, "that
Mitchy so often speaks of. I'M not trying with you," she went on to Mr.
Longdon, "for anything of that kind, but only for the short half-hour in
private that I think you won't for the world grant me. Nothing will
induce you to find yourself alone with me."

"Why what on earth," Vanderbank asked, "do you suspect him of supposing
you want to do?"

"Oh it isn't THAT," Mrs. Brook sadly said.

"It isn't what?" laughed the Duchess.

"That he fears I may want in any way to--what do you call it?--make up
to him." She spoke as if she only wished it had been. "He has a deeper
thought."

"Well then what in goodness is it?" the Duchess pressed.

Mr. Longdon had said nothing more, but Mrs. Brook preferred none the
less to treat the question as between themselves. She WAS, as the others
said, wonderful. "You can't help thinking me"--she spoke to him
straight--"rather tortuous." The pause she thus momentarily produced was
so intense as to give a sharpness that was almost vulgar to the little
"Oh!" by which it was presently broken and the source of which neither
of her three companions could afterwards in the least have named.
Neither would have endeavoured to fix an infelicity of which each
doubtless had been but too capable. "It's only as a mother," she added,
"that I want my chance."

But the Duchess was at this again in the breach. "Take it, for mercy's
sake then, my dear, over Harold, who's an example to Nanda herself in
the way that, behind the piano there, he's keeping it up with Lady
Fanny."

If this had been a herring that, in the interest of peace, the Duchess
had wished to draw across the scent, it could scarce have been more
effective. Mrs. Brook, whose position had made just the difference that
she lost the view of the other side of the piano, took a slight but
immediate stretch. "IS Harold with Lady Fanny?"

"You ask it, my dear child," said the Duchess, "as if it were too grand
to be believed. It's the note of eagerness," she went on for Mr.
Longdon's benefit--"it's almost the note of hope: one of those that ces
messieurs, that we all in fact delight in and find so matchless. She
desires for Harold the highest advantages."

"Well then," declared Vanderbank, who had achieved a glimpse, "he's
clearly having them. It brings home to one his success."

"His success is true," Mrs. Brook insisted. "How he does it I don't
know."

"Oh DON'T you?" trumpeted the Duchess.

"He's amazing," Mrs. Brook pursued. "I watch--I hold my breath. But I'm
bound to say also I rather admire. He somehow amuses them."

"She's as pleased as Punch," said the Duchess.

"Those great calm women--they like slighter creatures."

"The great calm whales," the Duchess laughed, "swallow the little
fishes."

"Oh my dear," Mrs. Brook returned, "Harold can be tasted, if you like--"

"If _I_ like?" the Duchess parenthetically jeered. "Thank you, love!"

"But he can't, I think, be eaten. It all works out," Mrs. Brook
expounded, "to the highest end. If Lady Fanny's amused she'll be quiet."

"Bless me," cried the Duchess, "of all the immoral speeches--! I put it
to you, Longdon. Does she mean"--she appealed to their friend--"that if
she commits murder she won't commit anything else?"

"Oh it won't be murder," said Mrs. Brook. "I mean that if Harold, in one
way and another, keeps her along, she won't get off."

"Off where?" Mr. Longdon risked.

Vanderbank immediately informed him. "To one of the smaller Italian
towns. Don't you know?"

"Oh yes. Like--who is it? I forget."

"Anna Karenine? You know about Anna?"

"Nanda," said the Duchess, "has told him. But I thought," she went on to
Mrs. Brook, "that Lady Fanny, by this time, MUST have gone."

"Petherton then," Mrs. Brook returned, "doesn't keep you au courant?"

The Duchess blandly wondered. "I seem to remember he had positively said
so. And that she had come back."

"Because this looks so like a fresh start? No. WE know. You assume
besides," Mrs. Brook asked, "that Mr. Cashmore would have received her
again?"

The Duchess fixed a little that gentleman and his actual companion.
"What will you have? He mightn't have noticed."

"Oh you're out of step, Duchess," Vanderbank said. "We used all to march
abreast, but we're falling to pieces. It's all, saving your presence,
Mitchy's marriage."

"Ah," Mrs. Brook concurred, "how thoroughly I feel that! Oh I knew. The
spell's broken; the harp has lost a string. We're not the same thing.
HE'S not the same thing."

"Frankly, my dear," the Duchess answered, "I don't think that you
personally are either."

"Oh as for that--which is what matters least--we shall perhaps see."
With which Mrs. Brook turned again to Mr. Longdon. "I haven't explained
to you what I meant just now. We want Nanda."

Mr. Longdon stared. "At home again?"

"In her little old nook. You must give her back."

"Do you mean altogether?"

"Ah that will be for you in a manner to arrange. But you've had her
practically these five months, and with no desire to be unreasonable we
yet have our natural feelings."

This interchange, to which circumstances somehow gave a high effect of
suddenness and strangeness, was listened to by the others in a quick
silence that was like the sense of a blast of cold air, though with the
difference between the spectators that Vanderbank attached his eyes hard
to Mrs. Brook and that the Duchess looked as straight at Mr. Longdon, to
whom clearly she wished to convey that if he had wondered a short time
before how Mrs. Brook would do it he must now be quite at his ease. He
indulged in fact, after this lady's last words, in a pause that might
have signified some of the fulness of a new light. He only said very
quietly: "I thought you liked it."

At this his neighbour broke in. "The care you take of the child? They
DO!" The Duchess, as she spoke, became aware of the nearer presence of
Edward Brookenham, who within a minute had come in from the other room;
and her decision of character leaped forth in her quick signal to him.
"Edward will tell you." He was already before their semicircle. "DO you,
dear," she appealed, "want Nanda back from Mr. Longdon?"

Edward plainly could be trusted to feel in his quiet way that the oracle
must be a match for the priestess. "'Want' her, Jane? We wouldn't TAKE
her." And as if knowing quite what he was about he looked at his wife
only after he had spoken.


Henry James

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