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Chapter 1

Mrs. Brookenham stopped on the threshold with the sharp surprise of the
sight of her son, and there was disappointment, though rather of the
afflicted than of the irritated sort, in the question that, slowly
advancing, she launched at him. "If you're still lolling about why did
you tell me two hours ago that you were leaving immediately?"

Deep in a large brocaded chair with his little legs stuck out to the
fire, he was so much at his ease that he was almost flat on his back.
She had evidently roused him from sleep, and it took him a couple of
minutes--during which, without again looking at him, she directly
approached a beautiful old French secretary, a fine piece of the period
of Louis Seize--to justify his presence. "I changed my mind. I couldn't
get off."

"Do you mean to say you're not going?"

"Well, I'm thinking it over. What's a fellow to do?" He sat up a little,
staring with conscious solemnity at the fire, and if it had been--as it
was not--one of the annoyances she in general expected from him, she
might have received the impression that his flush was the heat of
liquor.

"He's to keep out of the way," she returned--"when he has led one so
deeply to hope it." There had been a bunch of keys dangling from the
secretary, of which as she said these words Mrs. Brookenham took
possession. Her air on observing them had promptly become that of having
been in search of them, and a moment after she had passed across the
room they were in her pocket. "If you don't go what excuse will you
give?"

"Do you mean to YOU, mummy?"

She stood before him and now dismally looked at him. "What's the matter
with you? What an extraordinary time to take a nap!"

He had fallen back in the chair, from the depths of which he met her
eyes. "Why it's just THE time, mummy. I did it on purpose. I can always
go to sleep when I like. I assure you it sees one through things!"

She turned away with impatience and, glancing about the room, perceived
on a small table of the same type as the secretary a somewhat massive
book with the label of a circulating library, which she proceeded to
pick up as for refuge from the impression made on her by her boy. He
watched her do this and watched her then slightly pause at the wide
window that, in Buckingham Crescent, commanded the prospect they had
ramified rearward to enjoy; a medley of smoky brick and spotty stucco,
of other undressed backs, of glass invidiously opaque, of roofs and
chimney-pots and stables unnaturally near--one of the private pictures
that in London, in select situations, run up, as the phrase is, the
rent. There was no indication of value now, however, in the character
conferred on the scene by a cold spring rain. The place had moreover a
confessed out-of-season vacancy. She appeared to have determined on
silence for the present mark of her relation with Harold, yet she soon
failed to resist a sufficiently poor reason for breaking it. "Be so good
as to get out of my chair."

"What will you do for me," he asked, "if I oblige you?"

He never moved--but as if only the more directly and intimately to meet
her--and she stood again before the fire and sounded his strange little
face. "I don't know what it is, but you give me sometimes a kind of
terror."

"A terror, mamma?"

She found another place, sinking sadly down and opening her book, and
the next moment he got up and came over to kiss her, on which she drew
her cheek wearily aside. "You bore me quite to death," she coldly said,
"and I give you up to your fate."

"What do you call my fate?"

"Oh something dreadful--if only by its being publicly ridiculous." She
turned vaguely the pages of her book. "You're too selfish--too
sickening."

"Oh dear, dear!" he wonderingly whistled while he wandered back to the
hearth-rug, on which, with his hands behind him, he lingered a while. He
was small and had a slight stoop which somehow gave him character--
character of the insidious sort carried out in the acuteness, difficult
to trace to a source, of his smooth fair face, where the lines were all
curves and the expression all needles. He had the voice of a man of
forty and was dressed--as if markedly not for London--with an air of
experience that seemed to match it. He pulled down his waistcoat,
smoothing himself, feeling his neat hair and looking at his shoes.

"I took your five pounds. Also two of the sovereigns," he went on. "I
left you two pound ten." His mother jerked up her head at this, facing
him in dismay, and, immediately on her feet, passed back to the
secretary. "It's quite as I say," he insisted; "you should have locked
it BEFORE, don't you know? It grinned at me there with all its charming
brasses, and what was I to do? Darling mummy, I COULDN'T start--that was
the truth. I thought I should find something--I had noticed; and I do
hope you'll let me keep it, because if you don't it's all up with me. I
stopped over on purpose--on purpose, I mean, to tell you what I've done.
Don't you call that a sense of honour? And now you only stand and glower
at me."

Mrs. Brookenham was, in her forty-first year, still charmingly pretty,
and the nearest approach she made at this moment to meeting her son's
description of her was by looking beautifully desperate. She had about
her the pure light of youth--would always have it; her head, her figure,
her flexibility, her flickering colour, her lovely silly eyes, her
natural quavering tone, all played together toward this effect by some
trick that had never yet been exposed. It was at the same time
remarkable that--at least in the bosom of her family--she rarely wore an
appearance of gaiety less qualified than at the present juncture; she
suggested for the most part the luxury, the novelty of woe, the
excitement of strange sorrows and the cultivation of fine indifferences.
This was her special sign--an innocence dimly tragic. It gave immense
effect to her other resources. She opened the secretary with the key she
had quickly found, then with the aid of another rattled out a small
drawer; after which she pushed the drawer back, closing the whole thing.
"You terrify me--you terrify me," she again said.

"How can you say that when you showed me just now how well you know me?
Wasn't it just on account of what you thought I might do that you took
out the keys as soon as you came in?" Harold's manner had a way of
clearing up whenever he could talk of himself.

"You're too utterly disgusting--I shall speak to your father," with
which, going to the chair he had given up, his mother sank down again
with her heavy book. There was no anger, however, in her voice, and not
even a harsh plaint; only a detached accepted disenchantment. Mrs.
Brookenham's supreme rebellion against fate was just to show with the
last frankness how much she was bored.

"No, darling mummy, you won't speak to my father--you'll do anything in
the world rather than that," Harold replied, quite as if he were kindly
explaining her to herself. "I thank you immensely for the charming way
you take what I've done; it was because I had a conviction of that that
I waited for you to know it. It was all very well to tell you I'd start
on my visit--but how the deuce was I to start without a penny in the
world? Don't you see that if you want me to go about you must really
enter into my needs?"

"I wish to heaven you'd leave me--I wish to heaven you'd get out of the
house," Mrs. Brookenham went on without looking up.

Harold took out his watch. "Well, mamma, now I AM ready: I wasn't in the
least before. But it will be going forth, you know, quite to seek my
fortune. For do you really think--I must have from you what you do
think--that it will be all right for me?"

She fixed him at last with her pretty pathos. "You mean for you to go to
Brander?"

"You know," he answered with his manner as of letting her see her own
attitude, "you know you try to make me do things you wouldn't at all do
yourself. At least I hope you wouldn't. And don't you see that if I so
far oblige you I must at least be paid for it?"

His mother leaned back in her chair, gazed for a moment at the ceiling
and then closed her eyes. "You ARE frightful," she said. "You're
appalling."

"You're always wanting to get me out of the house," he continued; "I
think you want to get us ALL out, for you manage to keep Nanda from
showing even more than you do me. Don't you think your children good
ENOUGH, mummy dear? At any rate it's as plain as possible that if you
don't keep us at home you must keep us in other places. One can't live
anywhere for nothing--it's all bosh that a fellow saves by staying with
people. I don't know how it is for a lady, but a man's practically let
in--"

"Do you know you kill me, Harold?" Mrs. Brookenham woefully interposed.
But it was with the same remote melancholy that she asked in the next
breath: "It wasn't an INVITATION--to Brander?"

"It's as I told you. She said she'd write, fixing a time; but she never
did write."

"But if YOU wrote--"

"It comes to the same thing? DOES it?--that's the question. If on my
note she didn't write--that's what I mean. Should one simply take it
that one's wanted? I like to have these things FROM you, mother. I do, I
believe, everything you say; but to feel safe and right I must just HAVE
them. Any one WOULD want me, eh?"

Mrs. Brookenham had opened her eyes, but she still attached them to the
cornice. "If she hadn't wanted you she'd have written to keep you off.
In a great house like that there's always room."

The young man watched her a moment. "How you DO like to tuck us in and
then sit up yourself! What do you want to do, anyway? What ARE you up
to, mummy?"

She rose at this, turning her eyes about the room as if from the
extremity of martyrdom or the wistfulness of some deep thought. Yet when
she spoke it was with a different expression, an expression that would
have served for an observer as a marked illustration of that
disconnectedness of her parts which frequently was laughable even to the
degree of contributing to her social success. "You've spent then more
than four pounds in five days. It was on Friday I gave them to you. What
in the world do you suppose is going to become of me?"

Harold continued to look at her as if the question demanded some answer
really helpful. "Do we live beyond our means?"

She now moved her gaze to the floor. "Will you PLEASE get away?"

"Anything to assist you. Only, if I SHOULD find I'm not wanted--?"

She met his look after an instant, and the wan loveliness and vagueness
of her own had never been greater. "BE wanted, and you won't find it.
You're odious, but you're not a fool."

He put his arms about her now for farewell, and she submitted as if it
was absolutely indifferent to her to whose bosom she was pressed. "You
do, dearest," he laughed, "say such sweet things!" And with that he
reached the door, on opening which he pulled up at a sound from below.
"The Duchess! She's coming up."

Mrs. Brookenham looked quickly round the room, but she spoke with utter
detachment. "Well, let her come."

"As I'd let her go. I take it as a happy sign SHE won't be at Brander."
He stood with his hand on the knob; he had another quick appeal. "But
after Tuesday?"

Mrs. Brookenham had passed half round the room with the glide that
looked languid but that was really a remarkable form of activity, and
had given a transforming touch, on sofa and chairs, to three or four
crushed cushions. It was all with the hanging head of a broken lily.
"You're to stay till the twelfth."

"But if I AM kicked out?"

It was as a broken lily that she considered it. "Then go to the
Mangers."

"Happy thought! And shall I write?"

His mother raised a little more a window-blind. "No--I will."

"Delicious mummy!" And Harold blew her a kiss.

"Yes, rather"--she corrected herself. "Do write--from Brander. It's the
sort of thing for the Mangers. Or even wire."

"Both?" the young man laughed. "Oh you duck!" he cried. "And from where
will YOU let them have it?"

"From Pewbury," she replied without wincing. "I'll write on Sunday."

"Good. How d'ye do, Duchess?"--and Harold, before he disappeared,
greeted with a rapid concentration of all the shades of familiarity a
large high lady, the visitor he had announced, who rose in the doorway
with the manner of a person used to arriving on thresholds very much as
people arrive at stations--with the expectation of being "met."


Henry James

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