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Chapter 4

The interval he had represented as likely to be useful to her was in
fact, however, not a little abbreviated by a punctuality of arrival on
Mr. Longdon's part so extreme as to lead the first thing to a word
almost of apology. "You can't say," her new visitor immediately began,
"that I haven't left you alone, these many days, as much as I promised
on coming up to you that afternoon when after my return to town I found
Mr. Mitchett instead of your mother awaiting me in the drawing-room."

"Yes," said Nanda, "you've really done quite as I asked you."

"Well," he returned, "I felt half an hour ago that, near as I was to
relief, I could keep it up no longer; so that though I knew it would
bring me much too soon I started at six sharp for our trysting-place."

"And I've no tea, after all, to reward you!" It was but now clearly that
she noticed it. "They must have removed the things without my heeding."

Her old friend looked at her with some intensity. "Were you in the
room?"

"Yes--but I didn't see the man come in."

"What then were you doing?"

Nanda thought; her smile was as usual the faintest discernible outward
sign. "Thinking of YOU."

"So tremendously hard?"

"Well, of other things too and of other persons. Of everything really
that in our last talk I told you I felt I must have out with myself
before meeting you for what I suppose you've now in mind."

Mr. Longdon had kept his eyes on her, but at this he turned away; not,
however, for an alternative, embracing her material situation with the
embarrassed optimism of Vanderbank or the mitigated gloom of Mitchy.
"Ah"--he took her up with some dryness--"you've been having things out
with yourself?" But he went on before she answered: "I don't want any
tea, thank you. I found myself, after five, in such a fidget that I
went three times in the course of the hour to my club, where I've the
impression I each time had it. I dare say it wasn't there, though, I did
have it," he after an instant pursued, "for I've somehow a confused
image of a shop in Oxford Street--or was it rather in Regent?--into
which I gloomily wandered to beguile the moments with a mixture that if
I strike you as upset I beg you to set it all down to. Do you know in
fact what I've been doing for the last ten minutes? Roaming hither and
thither in your beautiful Crescent till I could venture to come in."

"Then did you see Mitchy go out? But no, you wouldn't"--Nanda corrected
herself. "He has been gone longer than that."

Her visitor had dropped on a sofa where, propped by the back, he sat
rather upright, his glasses on his nose, his hands in his pockets and
his elbows much turned out. "Mitchy left you more than ten minutes ago,
and yet your state on his departure remains such that there could be a
bustle of servants in the room without your being aware? Kindly give me
a lead then as to what it is he has done to you."

She hovered before him with her obscure smile. "You see it for
yourself."

He shook his head with decision. "I don't see anything for myself, and I
beg you to understand that it's not what I've come here to-day to do.
Anything I may yet see which I don't already see will be only, I warn
you, so far as you shall make it very clear. There--you've work cut out.
And is it with Mr. Mitchett, may I ask, that you've been, as you
mention, cutting it?"

Nanda looked about her as if weighing many things; after which her eyes
came back to him. "Do you mind if I don't sit down?"

"I don't mind if you stand on your head--at the pass we've come to."

"I shall not try your patience," the girl good-humouredly replied, "so
far as that. I only want you not to be worried if I walk about a
little."

Mr. Longdon, without a movement, kept his posture. "Oh I can't oblige
you there. I SHALL be worried. I've come on purpose to be worried, and
the more I surrender myself to the rack the more, I seem to feel, we
shall have threshed our business out. So you may dance, you may stamp,
if you like, on the absolutely passive thing you've made of me."

"Well, what I HAVE had from Mitchy," she cheerfully responded, "is
practically a lesson in dancing: by which I perhaps mean rather a lesson
in sitting, myself, as I want you to do while _I_ talk, as still as a
mouse. They take," she declared, "while THEY talk, an amount of
exercise!"

"They?" Mr. Longdon wondered. "Was his wife with him?"

"Dear no--he and Mr. Van."

"Was Mr. Van with him?"

"Oh no--before, alone. All over the place."

Mr. Longdon had a pause so rich in appeal that when he at last spoke his
question was itself like an answer. "Mr. Van has been to see you?"

"Yes. I wrote and asked him."

"Oh!" said Mr. Longdon.

"But don't get up." She raised her hand. "Don't."

"Why should I?" He had never budged.

"He was most kind; stayed half an hour and, when I told him you were
coming, left a good message for you."

Mr. Longdon appeared to wait for this tribute, which was not immediately
produced. "What do you call a 'good' message?"

"I'm to make it all right with you."

"To make what?"

"Why, that he has not, for so long, been to see you or written to you.
That he has seemed to neglect you."

Nanda's visitor looked so far about as to take the neighbourhood in
general into the confidence of his surprise. "To neglect ME?"

"Well, others too, I believe--with whom we're not concerned. He has been
so taken up. But you above all."

Mr. Longdon showed on this a coldness that somehow spoke for itself as
the greatest with which he had ever in his life met an act of reparation
and that was infinitely confirmed by his sustained immobility. "But of
what have I complained?"

"Oh I don't think he fancies you've complained."

"And how could he have come to see me," he continued, "when for so many
months past I've been so little in town?"

He was not more ready with objections, however, than his companion had
by this time become with answers. "He must have been thinking of the
time of your present stay. He evidently has you much on his mind--he
spoke of not having seen you."

"He has quite sufficiently tried--he has left cards," Mr. Longdon
returned. "What more does he want?"

Nanda looked at him with her long grave straight-ness, which had often a
play of light beyond any smile. "Oh, you know, he does want more."

"Then it was open to him--"

"So he so strongly feels"--she quickly took him up--"that you must have
felt. And therefore it is I speak for him."

"Don't!" said Mr. Longdon.

"But I promised him I would."

"Don't!" her friend repeated as in stifled pain.

She had kept for the time all her fine clearness turned to him; but she
might on this have been taken as giving him up with a movement of
obedience and a strange soft sigh. The smothered sound might even have
represented to a listener at all initiated a consenting retreat before
an effort greater than her reckoning--a retreat that was in so far the
snap of a sharp tension. The next minute, none the less, she evidently
found a fresh provocation in the sight of the pale and positively
excessive rigour she had imposed, so that, though her friend was only
accommodating himself to her wish she had a sudden impulse of criticism.
"You're proud about it--too proud!"

"Well, what if I am?" He looked at her with a complexity of
communication that no words could have meddled with. "Pride's all right
when it helps one to bear things."

"Ah," said Nanda, "but that's only when one wants to take the least from
them. When one wants to take the most--!"

"Well?"--he spoke, as she faltered, with a certain small hardness of
interest.

She faltered, however, indeed. "Oh I don't know how to say it." She
fairly coloured with the attempt. "One must let the sense of all that I
speak of--well, all come. One must rather like it. I don't know--but I
suppose one must rather grovel."

Mr. Longdon, though with visible reluctance, turned it over. "That's
very fine--but you're a woman."

"Yes--that must make a difference. But being a woman, in such a case,
has then," Nanda went on, "its advantages."

On this point perhaps her friend might presently have been taken as
relaxing. "It strikes me that even at that the advantages are mainly for
others. I'm glad, God knows, that you're not also a young man."

"Then we're suited all round."

She had spoken with a promptitude that appeared again to act on him
slightly as an irritant, for he met it--with more delay--by a long and
derisive murmur. "Oh MY pride--!" But this she in no manner took up; so
that he was left for a little to his thoughts. "That's what you were
plotting when you told me the other day that you wanted time?"

"Ah I wasn't plotting--though I was, I confess, trying to work things
out. That particular idea of simply asking Mr. Van by letter to present
himself--that particular flight of fancy hadn't in fact then at all
occurred to me."

"It never occurred, I'm bound to say, to ME," said Mr. Longdon. "I've
never thought of writing to him."

"Very good. But you haven't the reasons. I wanted to attack him."

"Not about me, I hope to God!" Mr. Longdon, distinctly a little paler,
rejoined.

"Don't be afraid. I think I had an instinct of how you would have taken
THAT. It was about mother."

"Oh!" said her visitor.

"He has been worse to her than to you," she continued. "But he'll make
it all right."

Mr. Longdon's attention retained its grimness. "If he has such a remedy
for the more then, what has he for the less?"

Nanda, however, was but for an instant checked.

"Oh it's I who make it up to YOU. To mother, you see, there's no one
otherwise to make it up."

This at first unmistakeably sounded to him too complicated for
acceptance. But his face changed as light dawned. "That puts it then
that you WILL come?"

"I'll come if you'll take me as I am--which is what I must previously
explain to you: I mean more than I've ever done before. But what HE
means by what you call his remedy is my making you feel better about
himself."

The old man gazed at her. "'Your' doing it is too beautiful! And he
could really come to you for the purpose of asking you?"

"Oh no," said the girl briskly, "he came simply for the purpose of doing
what he HAD to do. After my letter how could he not come? Then he met
most kindly what I said to him for mother and what he quite understood
to be all my business with him; so that his appeal to me to plead with
you for--well, for his credit--was only thrown in because he had so
good a chance."

This speech brought Mr. Longdon abruptly to his feet, but before she
could warn him again of the patience she continued to need he had
already, as if what she evoked for him left him too stupefied, dropped
back into submission. "The man stood there for you to render him a
service?--for you to help him and praise him?"

"Ah but it wasn't to go out of my way, don't you see? He knew you were
presently to be here." Her anxiety that he should understand gave her a
rare strained smile. "I mustn't make--as a request from him--too much of
it, and I've not a doubt that, rather than that you should think any ill
of him for wishing me to say a word, he would gladly be left with
whatever bad appearance he may actually happen to have." She pulled up
on these words as with a quick sense of their really, by their mere
sound, putting her in deeper; and could only give her friend one of the
looks that expressed: "If I could trust you not to assent even more than
I want, I should say 'You know what I mean!'" She allowed him at all
events--or tried to allow him--no time for uttered irony before going
on: "He was everything you could have wished; quite as beautiful about
YOU--"

"As about you?"--Mr. Longdon took her up.

She demurred. "As about mother." With which she turned away as if it
handsomely settled the question.

But it only left him, as she went to the window, sitting there sombre.
"I like, you know," he brought out as his eyes followed her, "your
saying you're not proud! Thank God you ARE, my dear. Yes--it's better
for us."

At this, after a moment, in her place, she turned round to him. "I'm
glad I'm anything--whatever you may call it and though I can't call it
the same--that's good for YOU."

He said nothing more for a little, as if by such a speech something in
him were simplified and softened. "It would be good for me--by which I
mean it would be easier for me--if you didn't quite so immensely care
for him."

"Oh!" came from Nanda with an accent of attenuation at once so
precipitate and so vague that it only made her attitude at first rather
awkward. "Oh!" she immediately repeated, but with an increase of the
same effect. After which, conscious, she made, as if to save herself, a
quick addition. "Dear Mr. Longdon, isn't it rather yourself most--?"

"It would be easier for me," he went on, heedless, "if you didn't, my
poor child, so wonderfully love him."

"Ah but I don't--please believe me when I assure you I DON'T!" she broke
out. It burst from her, flaring up, in a queer quaver that ended in
something queerer still--in her abrupt collapse, on the spot, into the
nearest chair, where she choked with a torrent of tears. Her buried face
could only after a moment give way to the flood, and she sobbed in a
passion as sharp and brief as the flurry of a wild thing for an instant
uncaged; her old friend meantime keeping his place in the silence broken
by her sound and distantly--across the room--closing his eyes to his
helplessness and her shame. Thus they sat together while their trouble
both conjoined and divided them. She recovered herself, however, with an
effort worthy of her fall and was on her feet again as she stammeringly
spoke and angrily brushed at her eyes. "What difference in the world
does it make--what difference ever?" Then clearly, even with the words,
her checked tears suffered her to see how it made the difference that he
too had been crying; so that "I don't know why you mind!" she thereupon
wailed with extravagance.

"You don't know what I would have done for him. You don't know, you
don't know!" he repeated--while she looked as if she naturally couldn't
--as with a renewal of his dream of beneficence and of the soreness of
his personal wound.

"Well, but HE does you justice--he knows. So it shows, so it shows--!"

But in this direction too, unable to say what it showed, she had again
broken down and again could only hold herself and let her companion sit
there. "Ah Nanda, Nanda!" he deeply murmured; and the depth of the pity
was, vainly and blindly, as the depth of a reproach.

"It's I--it's I, therefore," she said as if she must then so look at it
with him; "it's I who am the horrible impossible and who have covered
everything else with my own impossibility. For some different person you
COULD have done what you speak of, and for some different person you can
do it still."

He stared at her with his barren sorrow. "A person different from him?"

"A person different from ME!"

"And what interest have I in any such person?"

"But your interest in me--you see well enough where THAT lands us."

Mr. Longdon now got to his feet and somewhat stiffly remained; after
which, for all answer, "You say you WILL come then?" he asked. Then as--
seemingly with her last thought--she kept silent: "You understand
clearly, I take it, that this time it's never again to leave me--or to
BE left."

"I understand," she presently replied. "Never again. That," she
continued, "is why I asked you for these days."

"Well then, since you've taken them--"

"Ah but have YOU?" said Nanda. They were close to each other now, and
with a tenderness of warning that was helped by their almost equal
stature she laid her hand on his shoulder. "What I did more than
anything else write to him for," she had now regained her clearness
enough to explain, "was that--with whatever idea you had--you should see
for yourself how he could come and go."

"And what good was that to do me? HADN'T I seen for myself?"

"Well--you've seen once more. Here he was. I didn't care what he
thought. Here I brought him. And his reasons remain."

She kept her eyes on her companion's face, but his own now and
afterwards seemed to wander far. "What do I care for his reasons so long
as they're not mine?"

She thought an instant, still holding him gently and as if for
successful argument. "But perhaps you don't altogether understand them."

"And why the devil, altogether, SHOULD I?"

"Ah because you distinctly want to," said Nanda ever so kindly. "You've
admitted as much when we've talked--"

"Oh but when HAVE we talked?" he sharply interrupted.

This time he had challenged her so straight that it was her own look
that strayed. "When?"

"When."

She hesitated. "When HAVEN'T we?"

"Well, YOU may have: if that's what you call talking--never saying a
word. But I haven't. I've only to do at any rate, in the way of reasons,
with my own."

"And yours too then remain? Because, you know," the girl pursued, "I AM
like that."

"Like what?"

"Like what he thinks." Then so gravely that it was almost a
supplication, "Don't tell me," she added, "that you don't KNOW what he
thinks. You do know."

Their eyes, on that strange ground, could meet at last, and the effect
of it was presently for Mr. Longdon. "I do know."

"Well?"

"Well!" He raised his hands and took her face, which he drew so close to
his own that, as she gently let him, he could kiss her with solemnity on
the forehead. "Come!" he then very firmly said--quite indeed as if it
were a question of their moving on the spot.

It literally made her smile, which, with a certain compunction, she
immediately corrected by doing for him in the pressure of her lips to
his cheek what he had just done for herself. "To-day?" she more
seriously asked.

He looked at his watch. "To-morrow."

She paused, but clearly for assent. "That's what I mean by your taking
me as I am. It IS, you know, for a girl--extraordinary."

"Oh I know what it is!" he exclaimed with an odd fatigue in his
tenderness.

But she continued, with the shadow of her scruple, to explain. "We're
many of us, we're most of us--as you long ago saw and showed you felt--
extraordinary now. We can't help it. It isn't really our fault. There's
so much else that's extraordinary that if we're in it all so much we
must naturally be." It was all obviously clearer to her than ever yet,
and her sense of it found renewed expression; so that she might have
been, as she wound up, a very much older person than her friend.
"Everything's different from what it used to be."

"Yes, everything," he returned with an air of final indoctrination.
"That's what he ought to have recognised."

"As YOU have?" Nanda was once more--and completely now--enthroned in
high justice. "Oh he's more old-fashioned than you."

"Much more," said Mr. Longdon with a queer face.

"He tried," the girl went on--"he did his best. But he couldn't. And
he's so right--for himself."

Her visitor, before meeting this, gathered in his hat and stick, which
for a minute occupied his attention. "He ought to have married--!"

"Little Aggie? Yes," said Nanda.

They had gained the door, where Mr. Longdon again met her eyes. "And
then Mitchy--!"

But she checked him with a quick gesture. "No--not even then!"

So again before he went they were for a minute confronted. "Are you
anxious about Mitchy?"

She faltered, but at last brought it out. "Yes. Do you see? There I am."

"I see. There we are. Well," said Mr. Longdon--"to-morrow."

Henry James

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