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 4

Ten minutes of talk with Mr. Longdon by Mrs. Brookenham's hearth elapsed
for him without his arriving at the right moment to take up the business
so richly put before him in his previous interview. No less time indeed
could have sufficed to bring him into closer relation with this affair,
and nothing at first could have been more marked than the earnestness of
his care not to show impatience of appeals that were, for a person of
his old friend's general style, simple recognitions and decencies. There
was a limit to the mere allusiveness with which, in Mr. Longdon's school
of manners, a foreign tour might be treated, and Mitchy, no doubt,
plentifully showed that none of his frequent returns had encountered a
curiosity at once so explicit and so discreet. To belong to a circle in
which most of the members might be at any moment on the other side of
the globe was inevitably to fall into the habit of few questions, as
well as into that of making up for their fewness by their freedom. This
interlocutor in short, while Mrs. Brook's representative privately
thought over all he had in hand, went at some length and very
charmingly--since it was but a tribute to common courtesy--into the
Virgilian associations of the Bay of Naples. Finally, however, he
started, his eye having turned to the clock. "I'm afraid that, though
our hostess doesn't appear, I mustn't forget myself. I too came back but
yesterday and I've an engagement--for which I'm already late--with Miss
Brookenham, who has been so good as to ask me to tea."

The divided mind, the express civility, the decent "Miss Brookenham,"
the escape from their hostess--these were all things Mitchy could
quickly take in, and they gave him in a moment his light for not missing
his occasion. "I see, I see--I shall make you keep Nanda waiting. But
there's something I shall ask you to take from me quite as a sufficient
basis for that: which is simply that after all, you know--for I think
you do know, don't you?--I'm nearly as much attached to her as you are."

Mr. Longdon had looked suddenly apprehensive and even a trifle
embarrassed, but he spoke with due presence of mind. "Of course I
understand that perfectly. If you hadn't liked her so much--"

"Well?" said Mitchy as he checked himself.

"I would never, last year, have gone to stay with you."

"Thank you!" Mitchy laughed.

"Though I like you also--and extremely," Mr. Longdon gravely pursued,
"for yourself."

Mitchy made a sign of acknowledgement. "You like me better for HER than
you do for anybody else BUT myself."

"You put it, I think, correctly. Of course I've not seen so much of
Nanda--if between my age and hers, that is, any real contact is
possible--without knowing that she now regards you as one of the very
best of her friends, treating you, I find myself suspecting, with a
degree of confidence--"

Mitchy gave a laugh of interruption. "That she doesn't show even to
you?"

Mr. Longdon's poised glasses faced him. "Even! I don't mind, as the
opportunity has come up, telling you frankly--and as from my time of
life to your own--all the comfort I take in the sense that in any case
of need or trouble she might look to you for whatever advice or support
the crisis should demand."

"She has told you she feels I'd be there?" Mitchy after an instant
asked.

"I'm not sure," his friend replied, "that I ought quite to mention
anything she has 'told' me. I speak of what I've made out myself."

"Then I thank you more than I can say for your penetration. Her mother,
I should let you know," Mitchy continued, "is with her just now."

Mr. Longdon took off his glasses with a jerk. "Has anything happened to
her?"

"To account for the fact I refer to?" Mitchy said in amusement at his
start. "She's not ill, that I know of, thank goodness, and she hasn't
broken her leg. But something, none the less, has happened to her--that
I think I may say. To tell you all in a word, it's the reason, such as
it is, of my being here to meet you. Mrs. Brook asked me to wait. She'll
see you herself some other time."

Mr. Longdon wondered. "And Nanda too?"

"Oh that must be between yourselves. Only, while I keep you here--"

"She understands my delay?"

Mitchy thought. "Mrs. Brook must have explained." Then as his companion
took this in silence, "But you don't like it?" he asked.

"It only comes to me that Mrs. Brook's explanations--!"

"Are often so odd? Oh yes; but Nanda, you know, allows for that oddity.
And Mrs. Brook, by the same token," Mitchy developed, "knows herself--no
one better--what may frequently be thought of it. That's precisely the
reason of her desire that you should have on this occasion explanations
from a source that she's so good as to pronounce, for the immediate
purpose, superior. As for Nanda," he wound up, "to be aware that we're
here together won't strike her as so bad a sign."

"No," Mr. Longdon attentively assented; "she'll hardly fear we're
plotting her ruin. But what then has happened to her?"

"Well," said Mitchy, "it's you, I think, who will have to give it a
name. I know you know what I've known."

Mr. Longdon, his nippers again in place, hesitated. "Yes, I know."

"And you've accepted it."

"How could I help it? To reckon with such cleverness--!"

"Was beyond you? Ah it wasn't my cleverness," Mitchy said. "There's a
greater than mine. There's a greater even than Van's. That's the whole
point," he went on while his friend looked at him hard. "You don't even
like it just a little?"

Mr. Longdon wondered. "The existence of such an element--?"

"No; the existence simply of my knowledge of your idea."

"I suppose I'm bound to keep in mind in fairness the existence of my own
knowledge of yours."

But Mitchy gave that the go-by. "Oh I've so many 'ideas'! I'm always
getting hold of some new one and for the most part trying it--generally
to let it go as a failure. Yes, I had one six months ago. I tried that.
I'm trying it still."

"Then I hope," said Mr. Longdon with a gaiety slightly strained, "that,
contrary to your usual rule, it's a success."

It was a gaiety, for that matter, that Mitchy's could match. "It does
promise well! But I've another idea even now, and it's just what I'm
again trying."

"On me?" Mr. Longdon still somewhat extravagantly smiled.

Mitchy thought. "Well, on two or three persons, of whom you ARE the
first for me to tackle. But what I must begin with is having from you
that you recognise she trusts us."

Mitchy's idea after an instant had visibly gone further. "Both of them--
the two women up there at present so strangely together. Mrs. Brook must
too; immensely. But for that you won't care."

Mr. Longdon had relapsed into an anxiety more natural than his
expression of a moment before. "It's about time! But if Nanda didn't
trust us," he went on, "her case would indeed be a sorry one. She has
nobody else to trust."

"Yes." Mitchy's concurrence was grave. "Only you and me."

"Only you and me."

The eyes of the two men met over it in a pause terminated at last by
Mitchy's saying: "We must make it all up to her."

"Is that your idea?"

"Ah," said Mitchy gently, "don't laugh at it."

His friend's grey gloom again covered him. "But what CAN--?" Then as
Mitchy showed a face that seemed to wince with a silent "What COULD?"
the old man completed his objection. "Think of the magnitude of the
loss."

"Oh I don't for a moment suggest," Mitchy hastened to reply, "that it
isn't immense."

"She does care for him, you know," said Mr. Longdon.

Mitchy, at this, gave a wide, prolonged glare. "'Know'--?" he ever so
delicately murmured.

His irony had quite touched. "But of course you know! You know
everything--Nanda and you."

There was a tone in it that moved a spring, and Mitchy laughed out. "I
like your putting me with her! But we're all together. With Nanda," he
next added, "it IS deep."

His companion took it from him. "Deep."

"And yet somehow it isn't abject."

The old man wondered. "'Abject'?"

"I mean it isn't pitiful. In its way," Mitchy developed, "it's happy."

This too, though rather ruefully, Mr. Longdon could take from him.
"Yes--in its way."

"Any passion so great, so complete," Mitchy went on, "is--satisfied or
unsatisfied--a life." Mr. Longdon looked so interested that his fellow
visitor, evidently stirred by what was now an appeal and a dependence,
grew still more bland, or at least more assured, for affirmation. "She's
not TOO sorry for herself."

"Ah she's so proud!"

"Yes, but that's a help."

"Oh--not for US!"

It arrested Mitchy, but his ingenuity could only rebound. "In ONE way:
that of reducing us to feel that the desire to 'make up' to her is--
well, mainly for OUR relief. If she 'trusts' us, as I said just now, it
isn't for THAT she does so." As his friend appeared to wait then to
hear, it was presently with positive joy that he showed he could meet
the last difficulty. "What she trusts us to do"--oh Mitchy had worked it
out!--"is to let HIM off."

"Let him off?" It still left Mr. Longdon dim.

"Easily. That's all."

"But what would letting him off hard be? It seems to me he's--on any
terms--already beyond us. He IS off."

Mr. Longdon had given it a sound that suddenly made Mitchy appear to
collapse under a sharper sense of the matter. "He IS off," he moodily
echoed.

His companion, again a little bewildered, watched him; then with
impatience: "Do, please, tell me what has happened."

He quickly pulled himself round. "Well, he was, after a long absence,
here a while since as if expressly to see her. But after spending half
an hour he went away without it."

Mr. Longdon's watch continued. "He spent the half-hour with her mother
instead?"

"Oh 'instead'--it was hardly that. He at all events dropped his idea."

"And what had it been, his idea?"

"You speak as if he had as many as I!" Mitchy replied. "In a manner
indeed he has," he continued as if for himself. "But they're of a
different kind," he said to Mr. Longdon.

"What had it been, his idea?" the old man, however, simply repeated.

Mitchy's confession at this seemed to explain his previous evasion. "We
shall never know."

Mr. Longdon hesitated. "He won't tell YOU?"

"Me?" Mitchy had a pause. "Less than any one."

Many things they had not spoken had already passed between them, and
something evidently, to the sense of each, passed during the moment that
followed this. "While you were abroad," Mr. Longdon presently asked,
"did you hear from him?"

"Never. And I wrote nothing."

"Like me," said Mr. Longdon. "I've neither written nor heard."

"Ah but with you it will be different." Mr. Longdon, as if with the
outbreak of an agitation hitherto controlled, had turned abruptly away
and, with the usual swing of his glass, begun almost wildly to wander.
"You WILL hear."

"I shall be curious."

"Oh but what Nanda wants, you know, is that you shouldn't be too much
so."

Mr. Longdon thoughtfully rambled. "Too much--?"

"To let him off, as we were saying, easily."

The elder man for a while said nothing more, but he at last came back.
"She'd like me actually to give him something?"

"I dare say!"

"Money?"

Mitchy smiled. "A handsome present." They were face to face again with
more mute interchange. "She doesn't want HIM to have lost--!" Mr.
Longdon, however, on this, once more broke off while Mitchy's eyes
followed him. "Doesn't it give a sort of measure of what she may feel--?"

He had paused, working it out again with the effect of his friend's
returning afresh to be fed with his light. "Doesn't what give it?"

"Why the fact that we still like him."

Mr. Longdon stared. "Do YOU still like him?"

"If I didn't how should I mind--?" But on the utterance of it Mitchy
fairly pulled up.

His companion, after another look, laid a mild hand on his shoulder.
"What is it you mind?"

"From HIM? Oh nothing!" He could trust himself again. "There are people
like that--great cases of privilege."

"He IS one!" Mr. Longdon mused.

"There it is. They go through life somehow guaranteed. They can't help
pleasing."

"Ah," Mr. Longdon murmured, "if it hadn't been for that--!"

"They hold, they keep every one," Mitchy went on. "It's the sacred
terror."

The companions for a little seemed to stand together in this element;
after which the elder turned once more away and appeared to continue to
walk in it. "Poor Nanda!" then, in a far-off sigh, came across from him
to Mitchy. Mitchy on this turned vaguely round to the fire, into which
he remained gazing till he heard again Mr. Longdon's voice. "I knew it
of course after all. It was what I came up to town for. That night,
before you went abroad, at Mrs. Grendon's--"

"Yes?"--Mitchy was with him again.

"Well, made me see the future. It was then already too late."

Mitchy assented with emphasis. "Too late. She was spoiled for him."

If Mr. Longdon had to take it he took it at least quietly, only saying
after a time: "And her mother ISN'T?"

"Oh yes. Quite."

"And does Mrs. Brook know it?"

"Yes, but doesn't mind. She resembles you and me. She 'still likes'
him."

"But what good will that do her?"

Mitchy sketched a shrug. "What good does it do US?"

Mr. Longdon thought. "We can at least respect ourselves."

"CAN we?" Mitchy smiled.

"And HE can respect us," his friend, as if not hearing him, went on.

Mitchy seemed almost to demur. "He must think we're 'rum.'"

"Well, Mrs. Brook's worse than rum. He can't respect HER."

"Oh that will be perhaps," Mitchy laughed, "what she'll get just most
out of!" It was the first time of Mr. Longdon's showing that even after
a minute he had not understood him; so that as quickly as possible he
passed to another point. "If you do anything may I be in it?"

"But what can I do? If it's over it's over."

"For HIM, yes. But not for her or for you or for me."

"Oh I'm not for long!" the old man wearily said, turning the next moment
to the door, at which one of the footmen had appeared.

"Mrs. Brookenham's compliments, please sir," this messenger articulated,
"and Miss Brookenham is now alone."

"Thanks--I'll come up."

The servant withdrew, and the eyes of the two visitors again met for a
minute, after which Mitchy looked about for his hat. "Good-bye. I'll
go."

Mr. Longdon watched him while, having found his hat, he looked about for
his stick. "You want to be in EVERYTHING?"

Mitchy, without answering, smoothed his hat down; then he replied: "You
say you're not for long, but you won't abandon her."

"Oh I mean I shan't last for ever."

"Well, since you so expressed it yourself, that's what I mean too. I
assure you _I_ shan't desert her. And if I can help you--!"

"Help me?" Mr. Longdon interrupted, looking at him hard.

It made him a little awkward. "Help you to help her, you know--!"

"You're very wonderful," Mr. Longdon presently returned. "A year and a
half ago you wanted to help me to help Mr. Vanderbank."

"Well," said Mitchy, "you can't quite say I haven't."

"But your ideas of help are of a splendour--!"

"Oh I've told you about my ideas." Mitchy was almost apologetic. Mr.
Longdon had a pause. "I suppose I'm not indiscreet then in recognising
your marriage as one of them. And that, with a responsibility so great
already assumed, you appear fairly eager for another--!"

"Makes me out a kind of monster of benevolence?" Mitchy looked at it
with a flushed face. "The two responsibilities are very much one and the
same. My marriage has brought me, as it were, only nearer to Nanda. My
wife and she, don't you see? are particular friends."

Mr. Longdon, on his side, turned a trifle pale; he looked rather hard at
the floor. "I see--I see." Then he raised his eyes. "But--to an old
fellow like me--it's all so strange."

"It IS strange." Mitchy spoke very kindly. "But it's all right."

Mr. Longdon gave a headshake that was both sad and sharp. "It's all
wrong. But YOU'RE all right!" he added in a different tone as he walked
hastily away.

Henry James

Sorry, no summary available yet.