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Chapter 3

Vanderbank at this left his corner of the sofa and, with his hands in
his pockets and a manner so amused that it might have passed for
excited, took several paces about the room while his interlocutor,
watching him, waited for his response. That gentleman, as this response
for a minute hung fire, took his turn at sitting down, and then
Vanderbank stopped before him with a face in which something had been
still more brightly kindled. "You ask me more things than I can tell
you. You ask me more than I think you suspect. You must come and see me
again--you must let me come and see you. You raise the most interesting
questions and we must sooner or later have them all out."

Mr. Longdon looked happy in such a prospect, but once more took out his
watch. "It wants five minutes to midnight. Which means that I must go
now."

"Not in the least. There are satisfactions you too must give." His host,
with an irresistible hand, confirmed him in his position and pressed
upon him another cigarette. His resistance rang hollow--it was clearly,
he judged, such an occasion for sacrifices. Vanderbank's view of it
meanwhile was quite as marked. "You see there's ever so much more you
must in common kindness tell me."

Mr. Longdon sat there like a shy singer invited to strike up. "I told
you everything at Mrs. Brookenham's. It comes over me now how I dropped
on you."

"What you told me," Vanderbank returned, "was excellent so far as it
went; but it was only after all that, having caught my name, you had
asked of our friend if I belonged to people you had known years before,
and then, from what she had said, had--with what you were so good as to
call great pleasure--made out that I did. You came round to me on this,
after dinner, and gave me a pleasure still greater. But that only takes
us part of the way." Mr. Longdon said nothing, but there was something
appreciative in his conscious lapses; they were a tribute to his young
friend's frequent felicity. This personage indeed appeared more and more
to take them for that--which was not without its effect on his spirits.
At last, with a flight of some freedom, he brought their pause to a
close. "You loved Lady Julia." Then as the attitude of his guest, who
serenely met his eyes, was practically a contribution to the subject, he
went on with a feeling that he had positively pleased. "You lost her--
and you're unmarried."

Mr. Longdon's smile was beautiful--it supplied so many meanings that
when presently he spoke he seemed already to have told half his story.
"Well, my life took a form. It had to, or I don't know what would have
become of me, and several things that all happened at once helped me
out. My father died--I came into the little place in Suffolk. My sister,
my only one, who had married and was older than I, lost within a year or
two both her husband and her little boy. I offered her, in the country,
a home, for her trouble was greater than any trouble of mine. She came,
she stayed; it went on and on and we lived there together. We were sorry
for each other and it somehow suited us. But she died two years ago."

Vanderbank took all this in, only wishing to show--wishing by this time
quite tenderly--that he even read into it deeply enough all the unsaid.
He filled out another of his friend's gaps. "And here you are." Then he
invited Mr. Longdon himself to make the stride. "Well, you'll be a great
success."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Why, that we shall be so infatuated with you that we shall make your
life a burden to you. You'll see soon enough what I mean by it."

"Possibly," the old man said; "to understand you I shall have to. You
speak of something that as yet--with my race practically run--I know
nothing about. I was no success as a young man. I mean of the sort that
would have made most difference. People wouldn't look at me--"

"Well, WE shall look at you," Vanderbank declared. Then he added: "What
people do you mean?" And before his friend could reply: "Lady Julia?"

Mr. Longdon's assent was mute. "Ah she was not the worst! I mean that
what made it so bad," he continued, "was that they all really liked me.
Your mother, I think--as to THAT, the dreadful consolatory 'liking'--
even more than the others."

"My mother?"--Vanderbank was surprised. "You mean there was a question--?"

"Oh for but half a minute! It didn't take her long. It was five years
after your father's death."

This explanation was very delicately made. "She COULD marry again."

"And I suppose you know she did," Vanderbank returned.

"I knew it soon enough!" With this, abruptly, Mr. Longdon pulled himself
forward. "Good-night, good-night."

"Good-night," said Vanderbank. "But wasn't that AFTER Lady Julia?"

On the edge of the sofa, his hands supporting him, Mr. Longdon looked
straight. "There was nothing after Lady Julia."

"I see." His companion smiled. "My mother was earlier."

"She was extremely good to me. I'm not speaking of that time at Malvern
--that came later."

"Precisely--I understand. You're speaking of the first years of her
widowhood."

Mr. Longdon just faltered. "I should call them rather the last. Six
months later came her second marriage."

Vanderbank's interest visibly improved. "Ah it was THEN? That was about
my seventh year." He called things back and pieced them together. "But
she must have been older than you."

"Yes--a little. She was kindness itself to me at all events, then and
afterwards. That was the charm of the weeks at Malvern."

"I see," the young man laughed. "The charm was that you had recovered."

"Oh dear, no!" Mr. Longdon, rather to his mystification, exclaimed. "I'm
afraid I hadn't recovered at all--hadn't, if that's what you mean, got
over my misery and my melancholy. She knew I hadn't--and that was what
was nice of her. She was a person with whom I could talk about her."

Vanderbank took a moment to clear up the ambiguity. "Oh you mean you
could talk about the OTHER. You hadn't got over Lady Julia."

Mr. Longdon sadly smiled at him. "I haven't got over her yet!" Then,
however, as if not to look morbid, he took pains to be clear. "The first
wound was bad--but from that one always comes round. Your mother, dear
woman, had known how to help me. Lady Julia was at that time her
intimate friend--it was she who introduced me there. She couldn't help
what happened--she did her best. What I meant just now was that in the
aftertime, when opportunity occurred, she was the one person with whom I
could always talk and who always understood." He lost himself an instant
in the deep memories to attest which he had survived alone; then he
sighed out as if the taste of it all came back to him with a faint
sweetness: "I think they must both have been good to me. At the Malvern
time, the particular time I just mentioned to you, Lady Julia was
already married, and during those first years she had been whirled out
of my ken. Then her own life took a quieter turn; we met again; I went
for a good while often to her house. I think she rather liked the state
to which she had reduced me, though she didn't, you know, in the least
presume on it. The better a woman is--it has often struck me--the more
she enjoys in a quiet way some fellow's having been rather bad, rather
dark and desperate, about her--for her. I dare say, I mean, that though
Lady Julia insisted I ought to marry she wouldn't really have liked it
much if I had. At any rate it was in those years I saw her daughter just
cease to be a child--the little girl who was to be transformed by time
into the so different person with whom we dined to-night. That comes
back to me when I hear you speak of the growing up, in turn, of that
person's own daughter."

"I follow you with a sympathy--!" Vanderbank replied. "The situation's
reproduced."

"Ah partly--not altogether. The things that are unlike--well, are so
VERY unlike." Mr. Longdon for a moment, on this, fixed his companion
with eyes that betrayed one of the restless little jumps of his mind. "I
told you just now that there's something I seem to make out in you."

"Yes, that was meant for better things?"--Vanderbank frankly took him
up. "There IS something, I really believe--meant for ever so much better
ones. Those are just the sort I like to be supposed to have a real
affinity with. Help me to them, Mr. Longdon; help me to them, and I
don't know what I won't do for you!"

"Then after all"--and his friend made the point with innocent sharpness
--"you're NOT past saving!"

"Well, I individually--how shall I put it to you? If I tell you,"
Vanderbank went on, "that I've that sort of fulcrum for salvation which
consists at least in a deep consciousness and the absence of a rag of
illusion, I shall appear to say I'm wholly different from the world I
live in and to that extent present myself as superior and fatuous. Try
me at any rate. Let me try myself. Don't abandon me. See what can be
done with me. Perhaps I'm after all a case. I shall certainly cling to
you."

"You're too clever--you're too clever: that's what's the matter with you
all!" Mr. Longdon sighed.

"With us ALL?" Vanderbank echoed. "Dear Mr. Longdon, it's the first time
I've heard it. If you should say the matter with ME in particular, why
there might be something in it. What you mean at any rate--I see where
you come out--is that we're cold and sarcastic and cynical, without the
soft human spot. I think you flatter us even while you attempt to warn;
but what's extremely interesting at all events is that, as I gather, we
made on you this evening, in a particular way, a collective impression--
something in which our trifling varieties are merged." His visitor's
face, at this, appeared to acknowledge his putting the case in
perfection, so that he was encouraged to go on. "There was something
particular with which you weren't altogether pleasantly struck."

Mr. Longdon, who decidedly changed colour easily, showed in his clear
cheek the effect at once of feeling a finger on his fault and of
admiring his companion's insight. But he accepted the situation. "I
couldn't help noticing your tone."

"Do you mean its being so low?"

He had smiled at first but looked grave now. "Do you really want to
know?"

"Just how you were affected? I assure you there's at this moment nothing
I desire nearly so much."

"I'm no judge then," Mr. Longdon began; "I'm no critic; I'm no talker
myself. I'm old-fashioned and narrow and ignorant. I've lived for years
in a hole. I'm not a man of the world."

Vanderbank considered him with a benevolence, a geniality of approval,
that he literally had to hold in check for fear of seeming to patronise.
"There's not one of us who can touch you. You're delightful, you're
wonderful, and I'm intensely curious to hear you," the young man
pursued. "Were we absolutely odious?" Before his guest's puzzled,
finally almost pained face, such an air of appreciating so much candour,
yet of looking askance at so much freedom, he could only try to smooth
the way and light the subject. "You see we don't in the least know where
we are. We're lost--and you find us." Mr. Longdon, as he spoke, had
prepared at last really to go, reaching the door with a manner that
denoted, however, by no means so much satiety as an attention that felt
itself positively too agitated. Vanderbank had helped him on with the
Inverness cape and for an instant detained him by it. "Just tell me as a
kindness. DO we talk--"

"Too freely?" Mr. Longdon, with his clear eyes so untouched by time,
speculatively murmured.

"Too outrageously. I want the truth."

The truth evidently for Mr. Longdon was difficult to tell. "Well--it
was certainly different."

"From you and Lady Julia? I see. Well, of course with time SOME change
is natural, isn't it? But so different," Vanderbank pressed, "that you
were really shocked?"

His visitor smiled at this, but the smile somehow made the face graver.
"I think I was rather frightened. Good-night."

Henry James

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