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Chapter 3

When Mr. Brookenham appeared his wife was prompt. "She's coming back for
Lord Petherton."

"Oh!" he simply said.

"There's something between them."

"Oh!" he merely repeated. And it would have taken many such sounds on
his part to represent a spirit of response discernible to any one but
his mate.

"There have been things before," she went on, "but I haven't felt sure.
Don't you know how one has sometimes a flash?"

It couldn't be said of Edward Brookenham, who seemed to bend for sitting
down more hinges than most men, that he looked as if he knew either this
or anything else. He had a pale cold face, marked and made regular, made
even in a manner handsome, by a hardness of line in which, oddly, there
was no significance, no accent. Clean-shaven, slightly bald, with
unlighted grey eyes and a mouth that gave the impression of not working
easily, he suggested a stippled drawing by an inferior master. Lean
moreover and stiff, and with the air of having here and there in his
person a bone or two more than his share, he had once or twice, at
fancy-balls, been thought striking in a dress copied from one of
Holbein's English portraits. But when once some such meaning as that had
been put into him it took a long time to put another, a longer time than
even his extreme exposure or anybody's study of the problem had yet made
possible. If anything particular had finally been expected from him it
might have been a summary or an explanation of the things he had always
not said; but there was something in him that had long since pacified
all impatience, drugged all curiosity. He had never in his life answered
such a question as his wife had just put him and which she would not
have put had she feared a reply. So dry and decent and even
distinguished did he look, as if he had positively been created to meet
a propriety and match some other piece, that lady, with her famous
perceptions, would no more have appealed to him seriously on a general
proposition than she would, for such a response, have rung the drawing-
room bell. He was none the less held to have a great promiscuous wisdom.
"What is it that's between them?" he demanded.

"What's between any woman and the man she's making up to?"

"Why there may often be nothing. I didn't know she even particularly
knew him," Brookenham added.

"It's exactly what she would like to prevent any one's knowing, and her
coming here to be with him when she knows I know SHE knows--don't you
see?--that he's to be here, is just one of those calculations that ARE
subtle enough to put off the scent a woman who has but half a nose."
Mrs. Brookenham as she spoke appeared to attest by the pretty star-
gazing way she thrust it into the air her own possession of the totality
of such a feature. "I don't know yet quite what I think, but one wakes
up to such things soon enough."

"Do you suppose it's her idea that he'll marry her?" Brookenham asked in
his colourless way.

"My dear Edward!" his wife murmured for all answer.

"But if she can see him in other places why should she want to see him
here?" Edward persisted in a voice destitute of expression.

Mrs. Brookenham now had plenty of that. "Do you mean if she can see him
in his own house?"

"No cream, please," her husband said. "Hasn't she a house too?"

"Yes, but so pervaded all over by Aggie and Miss Merriman."

"Oh!" Brookenham commented.

"There has always been some man--I've always known there has. And now
it's Petherton," said his companion.

"But where's the attraction?"

"In HIM? Why lots of women could tell you. Petherton has had a career."

"But I mean in old Jane."

"Well, I dare say lots of men could tell you. She's no older than any
one else. She has also such great elements."

"Oh I dare say she's all right," Brookenham returned as if his interest
in the case had dropped. You might have felt you got a little nearer to
him on guessing that in so peopled a circle satiety was never far from
him.

"I mean for instance she has such a grand idea of duty. She thinks we're
nowhere!"

"Nowhere?"

"With our children--with our home life. She's awfully down on Tishy."

"Tishy?"--Edward appeared for a moment at a loss.

"Tishy Grendon--and her craze for Nanda."

"Has she a craze for Nanda?"

"Surely I told you Nanda's to be with her for Easter."

"I believe you did," he bethought himself, "but you didn't say anything
about a craze. And where's Harold?" he went on.

"He's at Brander. That is he will be by dinner. He has just gone."

"And how does he get there?"

"Why by the South-Western. They'll send to meet him."

Brookenham appeared for a moment to view this statement in the dry light
of experience. "They'll only send if there are others too."

"Of course then there'll be others--lots. The more the better for
Harold."

This young man's father was silent a little. "Perhaps--if they don't
play high."

"Ah," said his mother, "however Harold plays he has a way of winning."

"He has a way too of being a hopeless ass. What I meant was how he comes
there at all," Edward explained.

"Why as any one comes--by being invited. She wrote to him--weeks ago."

Brookenham just traceably took this in, but to what profit was not
calculable. "To Harold? Very good-natured." He had another short
reflexion, after which he continued: "If they don't send he'll be in for
five miles in a fly--and the man will see that he gets his money."

"They WILL send--after her note."

"Did it say so?"

Her melancholy eyes seemed, from afar, to run over the page. "I don't
remember--but it was so cordial."

Again he meditated. "That often doesn't prevent one's being let in for
ten shillings."

There was more gloom in this forecast than his wife had desired to
produce. "Well, my dear Edward, what do you want me to do? Whatever a
young man does, it seems to me, he's let in for ten shillings."

"Ah but he needn't be--that's my point. _I_ wasn't at his age."

Harold's mother took up her book again. "Perhaps you weren't the same
success! I mean at such places."

"Well, I didn't borrow money to make me one--as I've a sharp idea our
young scamp does."

Mrs. Brookenham hesitated. "From whom do you mean--the Jews?"

He looked at her as if her vagueness might be assumed. "No. They, I take
it, are not quite so cordial to him, since you call it so, as the old
ladies. He gets it from Mitchy."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Brookenham. "Are you very sure?" she then demanded.

He had got up and put his empty cup back on the tea-table, wandering
afterwards a little about the room and looking out, as his wife had done
half an hour before, at the dreary rain and the now duskier ugliness. He
reverted in this attitude, with a complete unconsciousness of making for
irritation, to an issue they might be supposed to have dropped. "He'll
have a lovely drive for his money!" His companion, however, said nothing
and he presently came round again. "No, I'm not absolutely sure--of his
having had it from Mitchy. If I were I should do something."

"What would you do?" She put it as if she couldn't possibly imagine.

"I'd speak to him."

"To Harold?"

"No--that might just put it into his head." Brookenham walked up and
down a little with his hands in his pockets, after which, with a
complete concealment of the steps of the transition, "Where are we
dining to-night?" he brought out.

"Nowhere, thank heaven. We grace our own board."

"Oh--with those fellows, as you said, and Jane?"

"That's not for dinner. The Baggers and Mary Pinthorpe and--upon my word
I forget."

"You'll see when she comes," suggested Brookenham, who was again at the
window.

"It isn't a she--it's two or three he's, I think," his wife replied with
her indifferent anxiety. "But I don't know what dinner it is," she
bethought herself; "it may be the one that's after Easter. Then that
one's this one," she added with her eyes once more on her book.

"Well, it's a relief to dine at home"--and Brookenham faced about.
"Would you mind finding out?" he asked with some abruptness.

"Do you mean who's to dine?"

"No, that doesn't matter. But whether Mitchy HAS come down."

"I can only find out by asking him."

"Oh _I_ could ask him." He seemed disappointed at his wife's want of
resource.

"And you don't want to?"

He looked coldly, from before the fire, over the prettiness of her brown
bent head. "It will be such a beastly bore if he admits it."

"And you think poor I can make him not admit it?" She put the question
as if it were really her own thought too, but they were a couple who
could, even face to face and unlike the augurs behind the altar, think
these things without laughing. "If he SHOULD admit it," Mrs. Brookenham
threw in, "will you give me the money?"

"The money?"

"To pay Mitchy back."

She had now raised her eyes to her husband, but, turning away, he failed
to meet them. "He'll deny it."

"Well, if they all deny it," she presently remarked, "it's a simple
enough matter. I'm sure _I_ don't want them to come down on us! But
that's the advantage," she almost prattled on, "of having so many such
charming friends. They DON'T come down."

This again was a remark of a sweep that there appeared to be nothing in
Brookenham's mind to match; so that, scarcely pausing in the walk he had
resumed, he only said: "Who do you mean by 'all'?"

"Why if he has had anything from Mitchy I dare say he has had something
from Van."

"Oh!" Brookenham returned as if with a still deeper drop of interest.

"They oughtn't to do it," she declared; "they ought to tell us, and when
they don't it serves them right." Even this observation, however, failed
to rouse in her husband a response, and, as she had quite formed the
habit of doing, she philosophically answered herself. "But I don't
suppose they do it on spec."

It was less apparent than ever what Edward supposed. "Oh Van hasn't
money to chuck about."

"Ah I only mean a sovereign here and there."

"Well," Brookenham threw out after another turn, "I think Van, you know,
is your affair."

"It ALL seems to be my affair!" she lamented too woefully to have other
than a comic effect. "And of course then it will be still more so if he
should begin to apply to Mr. Longdon."

"We must stop that in time."

"Do you mean by warning Mr. Longdon and requesting him immediately to
tell us? That won't be very pleasant," Mrs. Brookenham noted.

"Well then wait and see."

She waited only a minute--it might have appeared she already saw. "I
want him to be kind to Harold and can't help thinking he will."

"Yes, but I fancy that that will be his notion of it--keeping him from
making debts. I dare say one needn't trouble about him," Brookenham
added. "He can take care of himself."

"He appears to have done so pretty well all these years," she mused. "As
I saw him in my childhood I see him now, and I see now that I saw then
even how awfully in love he was with mamma. He's too lovely about
mamma," Mrs. Brookenham pursued.

"Oh!" her husband replied.

The vivid past held her a moment. "I see now I must have known a lot as
a child."

"Oh!" her companion repeated.

"I want him to take an interest in us. Above all in the children. He
ought to like us"--she followed it up. "It will be a sort of 'poetic
justice.' He sees the reasons for himself and we mustn't prevent it."
She turned the possibilities over, but they produced a reserve. "The
thing is I don't see how he CAN like Harold."

"Then he won't lend him money," said Brookenham with all his grimness.

This contingency too she considered. "You make me feel as if I wished he
would--which is too dreadful. And I don't think he really likes ME!" she
went on."

"Oh!" her husband again ejaculated. "I mean not utterly REALLY. He has
to try to. But it won't make any difference," she next remarked. "Do you
mean his trying?"

"No, I mean his not succeeding. He'll be just the same." She saw it
steadily and saw it whole. "On account of mamma."

Brookenham also, with his perfect propriety, put it before himself. "And
will he--on account of your mother--also like ME?"

She weighed it. "No, Edward." She covered him with her loveliest
expression. "No, not really either. But it won't make any difference."
This time she had pulled him up.

"Not if he doesn't like Harold or like you or like me?" Edward clearly
found himself able to accept only the premise.

"He'll be perfectly loyal. It will be the advantage of mamma!" Mrs.
Brookenham cried. "Mamma, Edward," she brought out with a flash of
solemnity--"mamma WAS wonderful. There have been times when I've always
felt her still with us, but Mr. Longdon makes it somehow so real.
Whether she's with me or not, at any rate, she's with HIM; so that when
HE'S with me, don't you see--?"

"It comes to the same thing?" her husband intelligently asked. "I see.
And when was he with you last?"

"Not since the day he dined--but that was only last week. He'll come
soon--I know from Van."

"And what does Van know?"

"Oh all sorts of things. He has taken the greatest fancy to him."

"The old boy--to Van?"

"Van to Mr. Longdon. And the other way too. Mr. Longdon has been most
kind to him."

Brookenham still moved about. "Well, if he likes Van and doesn't like
US, what good will that do us?"

"You'd understand soon enough if you felt Van's loyalty."

"Oh the things you expect me to feel, my dear!" Edward Brookenham
lightly moaned.

"Well, it doesn't matter. But he IS as loyal to me as Mr. Longdon to
mamma."

The statement produced on his part an unusual vision of the comedy of
things. "Every Jenny has her Jockey!" Yet perhaps--remarkably enough--
there was even more imagination in his next words. "And what sort of
means?"

"Mr. Longdon? Oh very good. Mamma wouldn't have been the loser. Not that
she cared. He MUST like Nanda," Mrs. Brookenham wound up.

Her companion appeared to look at the idea and then meet it. "He'll have
to see her first."

"Oh he shall see her!" she rang out. "It's time for her at any rate to
sit downstairs."

"It was time, you know, _I_ thought, a year ago."

"Yes, I know what you thought. But it wasn't."

She had spoken with decision, but he seemed unwilling to concede the
point. "You allowed yourself she was all ready."

"SHE was all ready--yes. But I wasn't. I am now," Mrs. Brookenham, with
a fine emphasis on her adverb, proclaimed as she turned to meet the
opening of the door and the appearance of the butler, whose
announcement--"Lord Petherton and Mr. Mitchett"--might for an observer
have seemed immediately to offer support to her changed state.


Henry James

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