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Chapter 3

It was half-past five when Mitchy turned up; and her relapse had in the
mean time known no arrest but the arrival of tea, which, however, she
had left unnoticed. He expressed on entering the fear that he failed of
exactitude, to which she replied by the assurance that he was on the
contrary remarkably near it and by the mention of all the aid to
patience she had drawn from the pleasure of half an hour with Mr. Van--
an allusion that of course immediately provoked on Mitchy's part the
liveliest interest.

"He HAS risked it at last then? How tremendously exciting! And your
mother?" he went on; after which, as she said nothing: "Did SHE see him,
I mean, and is he perhaps with her now?"

"No; she won't have come in--unless you asked."

"I didn't ask. I asked only for you."

Nanda thought an instant. "But you'll still sometimes come to see her,
won't you? I mean you won't ever give her up?"

Mitchy at this laughed out. "My dear child, you're an adorable family!"

She took it placidly enough. "That's what Mr. Van said. He said I'm
trying to make a career for her."

"Did he?" Her visitor, though without prejudice to his amusement,
appeared struck. "You must have got in with him rather deep."

She again considered. "Well, I think I did rather. He was awfully
beautiful and kind."

"Oh," Mitchy concurred, "trust him always for that!"

"He wrote me, on my note," Nanda pursued, "a tremendously good answer."

Mitchy was struck afresh. "Your note? What note?"

"To ask him to come. I wrote at the beginning of the week."

"Oh--I see" Mitchy observed as if this were rather different. "He
couldn't then of course have done less than come."

Yet his companion again thought. "I don't know."

"Oh come--I say: You do know," Mitchy laughed. "I should like to see
him--or you either!" There would have been for a continuous spectator of
these episodes an odd resemblance between the manner and all the
movements that had followed his entrance and those that had accompanied
the installation of his predecessor. He laid his hat, as Vanderbank had
done, in three places in succession and appeared to question scarcely
less the safety, somewhere, of his umbrella and the grace of retaining
in his hand his gloves. He postponed the final selection of a seat and
he looked at the objects about him while he spoke of other matters.
Quite in the same fashion indeed at last these objects impressed him.
"How charming you've made your room and what a lot of nice things you've
got!"

"That's just what Mr. Van said too. He seemed immensely struck."

But Mitchy hereupon once more had a drop to extravagance. "Can I do
nothing then but repeat him? I came, you know, to be original."

"It would be original for you," Nanda promptly returned, "to be at all
like him. But you won't," she went back, "not sometimes come for mother
only? You'll have plenty of chances."

This he took up with more gravity. "What do you mean by chances? That
you're going away? That WILL add to the attraction!" he exclaimed as she
kept silence.

"I shall have to wait," she answered at last, "to tell you definitely
what I'm to do. It's all in the air--yet I think I shall know to-day.
I'm to see Mr. Longdon."

Mitchy wondered. "To-day?"

"He's coming at half-past six."

"And then you'll know?"

"Well--HE will."

"Mr. Longdon?"

"I meant Mr. Longdon," she said after a moment.

Mitchy had his watch out. "Then shall I interfere?"

"There are quantities of time. You must have your tea. You see at any
rate," the girl continued, "what I mean by your chances."

She had made him his tea, which he had taken. "You do squeeze us in!"

"Well, it's an accident your coming together--except of course that
you're NOT together. I simply took the time that you each independently
proposed. But it would have been all right even if you HAD met.

"That is, I mean," she explained, "even if you and Mr. Longdon do. Mr.
Van, I confess, I did want alone."

Mitchy had been glaring at her over his tea. "You're more and more
remarkable!"

"Well then if I improve so give me your promise."

Mitchy, as he partook of refreshment, kept up his thoughtful gaze. "I
shall presently want some more, please. But do you mind my asking if Van
knew--"

"That Mr. Longdon's to come? Oh yes, I told him, and he left with me a
message for him."

"A message? How awfully interesting!"

Nanda thought. "It WILL be awfully--to Mr. Longdon."

"Some more NOW, please," said Mitchy while she took his cup. "And to Mr.
Longdon only, eh? Is that a way of saying that it's none of MY
business?"

The fact of her attending--and with a happy show of particular care--to
his immediate material want added somehow, as she replied, to her effect
of sincerity. "Ah, Mr. Mitchy, the business of mine that has not by this
time ever so naturally become a business of yours--well, I can't think
of any just now, and I wouldn't, you know, if I could!"

"I can promise you then that there's none of mine," Mitchy declared,
"that hasn't made by the same token quite the same shift. Keep it well
before you, please, that if ever a young woman had a grave lookout--!"

"What do you mean," she interrupted, "by a grave lookout?"

"Well, the certainty of finding herself saddled for all time to come
with the affairs of a gentleman whom she can never get rid of on the
specious plea that he's only her husband or her lover or her father or
her son or her brother or her uncle or her cousin. There, as none of
these characters, he just stands."

"Yes," Nanda kindly mused, "he's simply her Mitchy."

"Precisely. And a Mitchy, you see, is--what do you call it?--simply
indissoluble. He's moreover inordinately inquisitive. He goes to the
length of wondering whether Van also learned that you were expecting
ME."

"Oh yes--I told him everything."

Mitchy smiled. "Everything?"

"I told him--I told him," she replied with impatience.

Mitchy hesitated. "And did he then leave me also a message?"

"No, nothing. What I'm to do for him with Mr. Longdon," she immediately
explained, "is to make practically a kind of apology."

"Ah and for me"--Mitchy quickly took it up--"there can be no question of
anything of that kind. I see. He has done me no wrong."

Nanda, with her eyes now on the window, turned it over. "I don't much
think he would know even if he had."

"I see, I see. And we wouldn't tell him."

She turned with some abruptness from the outer view. "We wouldn't tell
him. But he was beautiful all round," she went on. "No one could have
been nicer about having for so long, for instance, come so little to the
house. As if he hadn't only too many other things to do! He didn't even
make them out nearly the good reasons he might. But fancy, with his
important duties--all the great affairs on his hands--our making vulgar
little rows about being 'neglected'! He actually made so little of what
he might easily plead--speaking so, I mean, as if he were all in the
wrong--that one had almost positively to SHOW him his excuses. As if"
--she really kept it up--"he hasn't plenty!"

"It's only people like me," Mitchy threw out, "who have none?"

"Yes--people like you. People of no use, of no occupation and no
importance. Like you, you know," she pursued, "there are so many." Then
it was with no transition of tone that she added: "If you're bad,
Mitchy, I won't tell you anything."

"And if I'm good what will you tell me? What I want really most to KNOW
is why he should be, as you said just now, 'apologetic' to Mr. Longdon.
What's the wrong he allows he has done HIM?"

"Oh he has 'neglected' him--if that's any comfort to us--quite as much."

"Hasn't looked him up and that sort of thing?"

"Yes--and he mentioned some other matter."

Mitchy wondered. "'Mentioned' it?"

"In which," said Nanda, "he hasn't pleased him."

Mitchy after an instant risked it. "But what other matter?"

"Oh he says that when I speak to him Mr. Longdon will know."

Mitchy gravely took this in. "And shall you speak to him?"

"For Mr. Van?" How, she seemed to ask, could he doubt it? "Why the very
first thing."

"And then will Mr. Longdon tell you?"

"What Mr. Van means?" Nanda thought. "Well--I hope not."

Mitchy followed it up. "You 'hope'--?"

"Why if it's anything that could possibly make any one like him any
less. I mean I shan't in that case in the least want to hear it."

Mitchy looked as if he could understand that and yet could also imagine
something of a conflict. "But if Mr. Longdon insists--?"

"On making me know? I shan't let him insist. Would YOU?" she put to him.

"Oh I'm not in question!"

"Yes, you are!" she quite rang out.

"Ah--!" Mitchy laughed. After which he added: "Well then, I might
overbear you."

"No, you mightn't," she as positively declared again, "and you wouldn't
at any rate desire to."

This he finally showed he could take from her--showed it in the silence
in which for a minute their eyes met; then showed it perhaps even more
in his deep exclamation: "You're complete!"

For such a proposition as well she had the same detached sense. "I don't
think I am in anything but the wish to keep YOU so."

"Well--keep me, keep me! It strikes me that I'm not at all now on a
footing, you know, of keeping myself. I quite give you notice in fact,"
Mitchy went on, "that I'm going to come to you henceforth for
everything. But you're too wonderful," he wound up as she at first said
nothing to this. "I don't even frighten you."

"Yes--fortunately for you."

"Ah but I distinctly warn you that I mean to do my very best for it!"

Nanda viewed it all with as near an approach to gaiety as she often
achieved. "Well, if you should ever succeed it would be a dark day for
you."

"You bristle with your own guns," he pursued, "but the ingenuity of a
lifetime shall be devoted to my taking you on some quarter on which
you're not prepared."

"And what quarter, pray, will that be?"

"Ah I'm not such a fool as to begin by giving you a tip!" Mitchy on this
turned off with an ambiguous but unmistakeably natural sigh; he looked
at photographs, he took up a book or two as Vanderbank had done, and for
a couple of minutes there was silence between them. "What does stretch
before me," he resumed after an interval during which clearly, in spite
of his movements, he had looked at nothing--"what does stretch before me
is the happy prospect of my feeling that I've found in you a friend with
whom, so utterly and unreservedly, I can always go to the bottom of
things. This luxury, you see now, of our freedom to look facts in the
face is one of which, I promise you, I mean fully to avail myself." He
stopped before her again, and again she was silent. "It's so awfully
jolly, isn't it? that there's not at last a single thing that we can't
take our ease about. I mean that we can't intelligibly name and
comfortably tackle. We've worked through the long tunnel of artificial
reserves and superstitious mysteries, and I at least shall have only to
feel that in showing every confidence and dotting every 'i' I follow the
example you so admirably set. You go down to the roots? Good. It's all I
ask!"

He had dropped into a chair as he talked, and so long as she remained in
her own they were confronted; but she presently got up and, the next
moment, while he kept his place, was busy restoring order to the objects
both her visitors had disarranged. "If you weren't delightful you'd be
dreadful!"

"There we are! I could easily, in other words, frighten you if I would."

She took no notice of the remark, only, after a few more scattered
touches, producing an observation of her own. "He's going, all the same,
Mr. Van, to be charming to mother. We've settled that."

"Ah then he CAN make time--?"

She judged it. "For as much as THAT, yes. For as much, I mean, as may
sufficiently show her that he hasn't given her up. So don't you
recognise how much more time YOU can make?"

"Ah--see precisely--there we are again!" Mitchy promptly ejaculated.

Yet he had gone, it seemed, further than she followed. "But where?"

"Why, as I say, at the roots and in the depths of things."

"Oh!" She dropped to an indifference that was but part of her general
patience for all his irony.

"It's needless to go into the question of not giving your mother up. One
simply DOESN'T give her up. One can't. There she is."

"That's exactly what HE says. There she is."

"Ah but I don't want to say nothing but what 'he' says!" Mitchy laughed.
"He can't at all events have mentioned to you any such link as the one
that in my case is now almost the most palpable. I'VE got a wife, you
know."

"Oh Mitchy!" the girl protestingly though vaguely murmured.

"And my wife--did you know it?" Mitchy went on, "is positively getting
thick with your mother. Of course it isn't new to you that she's
wonderful for wives. Now that our marriage is an accomplished fact she
takes the greatest interest in it--or bids fair to if her attention can
only be thoroughly secured--and more particularly in what I believe is
generally called our peculiar situation: for it appears, you know, that
we're to the most conspicuous degree possible IN a peculiar situation.
Aggie's therefore already, and is likely to be still more, in what's
universally recognised as your mother's regular line. Your mother will
attract her, study her, finally 'understand' her. In fact she'll 'help'
her as she has 'helped' so many before and will 'help' so many still to
come. With Aggie thus as a satellite and a frequenter--in a degree in
which she never yet HAS been," he continued, "what will the whole thing
be but a practical multiplication of our points of contact? You may
remind me of Mrs. Brook's contention that if she did in her time keep
something of a saloon the saloon is now, in consequence of events, but a

collection of fortuitous atoms; but that, my dear Nanda, will become
none the less, to your clearer sense, but a pious echo of her momentary
modesty or--call it at the worst--her momentary despair. The
generations will come and go, and the PERSONNEL, as the newspapers say,
of the saloon will shift and change, but the institution itself, as
resting on a deep human need, has a long course yet to run and a good
work yet to do. WE shan't last, but your mother will, and as Aggie is
happily very young she's therefore provided for, in the time to come, on
a scale sufficiently considerable to leave us just now at peace.
Meanwhile, as you're almost as good for husbands as Mrs. Brook is for
wives, why aren't we, as a couple, we Mitchys, quite ideally arranged
for, and why mayn't I speak to you of my future as sufficiently
guaranteed? The only appreciable shadow I make out comes, for me, from
the question of what may to-day be between you and Mr. Longdon. Do I
understand," Mitchy asked, "that he's presently to arrive for an
answer to something he has put to you?" Nanda looked at him a while
with a sort of solemnity of tenderness, and her voice, when she at last
spoke, trembled with a feeling that clearly had grown in her as she
listened to the string of whimsicalities, bitter and sweet, that he had
just unrolled. "You're wild," she said simply--"you're wild."

He wonderfully glared. "Am I then already frightening you?" He shook his
head rather sadly. "I'm not in the least trying yet. There's something,"
he added after an instant, "that I do want too awfully to ask you."

"Well then--!" If she had not eagerness she had at least charity.

"Oh but you see I reflect that though you show all the courage to go to
the roots and depths with ME, I'm not--I never have been--fully
conscious of the nerve for doing as much with you. It's a question,"
Mitchy explained, "of how much--of a particular matter--you know."

She continued ever so kindly to face him. "Hasn't it come out all round
now that I know everything?"

Her reply, in this form, took a minute or two to operate, but when it
began to do so it fairly diffused a light. Mitchy's face turned of a
colour that might have been produced by her holding close to it some
lantern wonderfully glazed. "You know, you know!" he then rang out.

"Of course I know."

"You know, you know!" Mitchy repeated.

"Everything," she imperturbably went on, "but what you're talking
about."

He was silent a little, his eyes on her. "May I kiss your hand?"

"No," she answered: "that's what I call wild."

He had risen with his question and after her reply he remained a moment
on the spot. "See--I've frightened you. It proves as easy as that. But I
only wanted to show you and to be sure for myself. Now that I've the
mental certitude I shall never wish otherwise to use it." He turned away
to begin again one of his absorbed revolutions. "Mr. Longdon has asked
you this time for a grand public adhesion, and what he turns up for now
is to receive your ultimatum? A final irrevocable flight with him is the
line he advises, so that he'll be ready for it on the spot with the
post-chaise and the pistols?"

The image appeared really to have for Nanda a certain vividness, and she
looked at it a space without a hint of a smile. "We shan't need any
pistols, whatever may be decided about the post-chaise; and any flight
we may undertake together will need no cover of secrecy or night.
Mother, as I've told you--"

"Won't fling herself across your reckless path? I remember," said
Mitchy--"you alluded to her magnificent resignation. But father?" he
oddly demanded.

Nanda thought for this a moment longer. "Well, Mr. Longdon has--off in
the country--a good deal of shooting."

"So that Edward can sometimes come down with his old gun? Good then too
--if it isn't, as he takes you by the way, to shoot YOU. You've got it
all shipshape and arranged, in other words, and have only, if the fancy
does move you, to clear out. You clear out--you make all sorts of room.
It IS interesting," Mitchy exclaimed, "arriving thus with you at the
depths! I look all round and see every one squared and every one but one
or two suited. Why then reflexion and delay?"

"You don't, dear Mr. Mitchy," Nanda took her time to return, "know
nearly as much as you think."

"But isn't my question absolutely a confession of ignorance and a
renunciation of thought? I put myself from this moment forth with you,"
Mitchy declared, "on the footing of knowing nothing whatever and of
receiving literally from your hands all information and all life. Let my
continued attitude of dependence, my dear Nanda, show it. Any hesitation
you may yet feel, you imply, proceeds from a sense of duties in London
not to be lightly renounced? Oh," he thoughtfully said, "I do at least
know you HAVE them."

She watched him with the same mildness while he vaguely circled about.
"You're wild, you're wild," she insisted. "But it doesn't in the least
matter. I shan't abandon you."

He stopped short. "Ah that's what I wanted from you in so many clear-cut
golden words--though I won't in the least of course pretend that I've
felt I literally need it. I don't literally need the big turquoise in my
neck-tie; which incidentally means, by the way, that if you should
admire it you're quite welcome to it. Such words--that's my point--are
like such jewels: the pride, you see, of one's heart. They're mere
vanity, but they help along. You've got of course always poor Tishy," he
continued.

"Will you leave it all to ME?" Nanda said as if she had not heard him.

"And then you've got poor Carrie," he went on, "though HER of course you
rather divide with your mother."

"Will you leave it all to ME?" the girl repeated.

"To say nothing of poor Cashmore," he pursued, "whom you take ALL, I
believe, yourself?"

"Will you leave it all to ME?" she once more repeated.

This time he pulled up, suddenly and expressively wondering. "Are you
going to do anything about it at present?--I mean with our friend?"

She appeared to have a scruple of saying, but at last she produced it.
"Yes--he doesn't mind now."

Mitchy again laughed out. "You ARE, as a family--!" But he had already
checked himself. "Mr. Longdon will at any rate, you imply, be somehow
interested--"

"In MY interests? Of course--since he has gone so far. You expressed
surprise at my wanting to wait and think; but how can I not wait and not
think when so much depends on the question--now so definite--of how much
further he WILL go?"

"I see," said Mitchy, profoundly impressed. "And how much does that
depend on?"

She had to reflect. "On how much further I, for my part, MUST!"

Mitchy's grasp was already complete. "And he's coming then to learn from
you how far this is?"

"Yes--very much."

Mitchy looked about for his hat. "So that of course I see my time's
about up, as you'll want to be quite alone together."

Nanda glanced at the clock. "Oh you've a margin yet."

"But you don't want an interval for your thinking--?"

"Now that I've seen you?" Nanda was already very obviously thoughtful.

"I mean if you've an important decision to take."

"Well," she returned, "seeing you HAS helped me."

"Ah but at the same time worried you. Therefore--" And he picked up his
umbrella.

Her eyes rested on its curious handle. "If you cling to your idea that
I'm frightened you'll be disappointed. It will never be given you to
reassure me."

"You mean by that that I'm primarily so solid--!"

"Yes, that till I see you yourself afraid--!"

"Well?"

"Well, I won't admit that anything isn't exactly what I was prepared
for."

Mitchy looked with interest into his hat. "Then what is it I'm to
'leave' to you?" After which, as she turned away from him with a
suppressed sound and said, while he watched her, nothing else, "It's no
doubt natural for you to talk," he went on, "but I do make you nervous.
Good-bye--good-bye."

She had stayed him, by a fresh movement, however, as he reached the
door. "Aggie's only trying to find out--!"

"Yes--what?" he asked, waiting.

"Why what sort of a person she is. How can she ever have known? It was
carefully, elaborately hidden from her--kept so obscure that she could
make out nothing. She isn't now like ME."

He wonderingly attended. "Like you?"

"Why I get the benefit of the fact that there was never a time when I
didn't know SOMETHING or other, and that I became more and more aware,
as I grew older, of a hundred little chinks of daylight."

Mitchy stared. "You're stupendous, my dear!" he murmured.

Ah but she kept it up. "_I_ had my idea about Aggie."

"Oh don't I know you had? And how you were positive about the sort of
person--!"

"That she didn't even suspect herself," Nanda broke in, "to be? I'm
equally positive now. It's quite what I believed, only there's ever so
much more of it. More HAS come--and more will yet. You see, when there
has been nothing before, it all has to come with a rush. So that if even
I'm surprised of course she is."

"And of course _I_ am!" Mitchy's interest, though even now not wholly
unqualified with amusement, had visibly deepened. "You admit then," he
continued, "that you're surprised?"

Nanda just hesitated. "At the mere scale of it. I think it's splendid.
The only person whose astonishment I don't quite understand," she added,
"is Cousin Jane."

"Oh Cousin Jane's astonishment serves her right!"

"If she held so," Nanda pursued, "that marriage should do everything--!"

"She shouldn't be in such a funk at finding what it IS doing? Oh no,
she's the last one!" Mitchy declared. "I vow I enjoy her scare."

"But it's very bad, you know," said Nanda.

"Oh too awful!"

"Well, of course," the girl appeared assentingly to muse, "she couldn't
after all have dreamed--!" But she took herself up. "The great thing is
to be helpful."

"And in what way--?" Mitchy asked with his wonderful air of inviting
competitive suggestions.

"Toward Aggie's finding herself. Do you think," she immediately
continued, "that Lord Petherton really is?"

Mitchy frankly considered. "Helpful? Oh he does his best, I gather.
Yes," he presently added--"Petherton's all right."

"It's you yourself, naturally," his companion threw off, "who can help
most."

"Certainly, and I'm doing my best too. So that with such good
assistance"--he seemed at last to have taken it all from her--"what is
it, I again ask, that, as you request, I'm to 'leave' to you?"

Nanda required, while he still waited, some time to reply. "To keep my
promise."

"Your promise?"

"Not to abandon you."

"Ah," cried Mitchy, "that's better!"

"Then good-bye," she said.

"Good-bye." But he came a few steps forward. "I MAYN'T kiss your hand?"

"Never."

"Never?"

"Never."

"Oh!" he oddly sounded as he quickly went out.


Henry James

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