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Chapter 13

The drive from Harsh to the Place, as it was called thereabouts, could
be achieved by swift horses in less than ten minutes; and if Mrs.
Dallow's ponies were capital trotters the general high pitch of the
occasion made it all congruous they should show their speed. The
occasion was the polling-day an hour after the battle. The ponies had
kept pace with other driven forces for the week before, passing and
repassing the neat windows of the flat little town--Mrs. Dallow had the
complacent belief that there was none in the kingdom in which the
flower-stands looked more respectable between the stiff muslin
curtains--with their mistress behind them on her all but silver wheels.
Very often she was accompanied by the Liberal candidate, but even when
she was not the equipage seemed scarce less to represent his easy,
friendly confidence. It moved in a radiance of ribbons and hand-bills
and hand-shakes and smiles; of quickened commerce and sudden intimacy;
of sympathy which assumed without presuming and gratitude which promised
without soliciting. But under Julia's guidance the ponies pattered now,
with no indication of a loss of freshness, along the firm, wide avenue
which wound and curved, to make up in large effect for not undulating,
from the gates opening straight on the town to the Palladian mansion,
high, square, grey, and clean, which stood among terraces and fountains
in the centre of the park. A generous steed had been sacrificed to bring
the good news from Ghent to Aix, but no such extravagance was after all
necessary for communicating with Lady Agnes.

She had remained at the house, not going to the Wheatsheaf, the Liberal
inn, with the others; preferring to await in privacy and indeed in
solitude the momentous result of the poll. She had come down to Harsh
with the two girls in the course of the proceedings. Julia hadn't
thought they would do much good, but she was expansive and indulgent now
and had generously asked them. Lady Agnes had not a nice canvassing
manner, effective as she might have been in the character of the high,
benignant, affable mother--looking sweet participation but not
interfering--of the young and handsome, the shining, convincing,
wonderfully clever and certainly irresistible aspirant. Grace Dormer had
zeal without art, and Lady Agnes, who during her husband's lifetime had
seen their affairs follow the satisfactory principle of a tendency to
defer to supreme merit, had never really learned the lesson that voting
goes by favour. However, she could pray God if, she couldn't make love
to the cheesemonger, and Nick felt she had stayed at home to pray for
him. I must add that Julia Dallow was too happy now, flicking her whip
in the bright summer air, to say anything so ungracious even to herself
as that her companion had been returned in spite of his nearest female
relatives. Besides, Biddy _had_ been a rosy help: she had looked
persuasively pretty, in white and blue, on platforms and in recurrent
carriages, out of which she had tossed, blushing and making people feel
they would remember her eyes, several words that were telling for their
very simplicity.

Mrs. Dallow was really too glad for any definite reflexion, even for
personal exultation, the vanity of recognising her own large share of
the work. Nick was in and was now beside her, tired, silent, vague,
beflowered and beribboned, and he had been splendid from beginning to
end, beautifully good-humoured and at the same time beautifully
clever--still cleverer than she had supposed he could be. The sense of
her having quickened his cleverness and been repaid by it or by his
gratitude--it came to the same thing--in a way she appreciated was not
assertive and jealous: it was lost for the present in the general happy
break of the long tension. So nothing passed between them in their
progress to the house; there was no sound in the park but the pleasant
rustle of summer--it seemed an applausive murmur--and the swift roll of
the vehicle.

Lady Agnes already knew, for as soon as the result was declared Nick had
despatched a mounted man to her, carrying the figures on a scrawled
card. He himself had been far from getting away at once, having to
respond to the hubbub of acclamation, to speak yet again, to thank his
electors individually and collectively, to chaff the Tories without
cheap elation, to be carried hither and yon, and above all to pretend
that the interest of the business was now greater for him than ever. If
he had said never a word after putting himself in Julia's hands to go
home it was partly perhaps because the consciousness had begun to
glimmer within him, on the contrary, of some sudden shrinkage of that
interest. He wanted to see his mother because he knew she wanted to fold
him close in her arms. They had been open there for this purpose the
last half-hour, and her expectancy, now no longer an ache of suspense,
was the reason of Julia's round pace. Yet this very impatience in her
somehow made Nick wince a little. Meeting his mother was like being
elected over again.

The others had not yet come back, and Lady Agnes was alone in the
large, bright drawing-room. When Nick went in with Julia he saw her at
the further end; she had evidently been walking up and down the whole
length of it, and her tall, upright, black figure seemed in possession
of the fair vastness after the manner of an exclamation-point at the
bottom of a blank page. The room, rich and simple, was a place of
perfection as well as of splendour in delicate tints, with precious
specimens of French furniture of the last century ranged against walls
of pale brocade, and here and there a small, almost priceless picture.
George Dallow had made it, caring for these things and liking to talk
about them--scarce ever about anything else; so that it appeared to
represent him still, what was best in his kindly, limited nature, his
friendly, competent, tiresome insistence on harmony--on identity of
"period." Nick could hear him yet, and could see him, too fat and with a
congenital thickness in his speech, lounging there in loose clothes with
his eternal cigarette. "Now my dear fellow, _that_'s what I call form: I
don't know what you call it"--that was the way he used to begin. All
round were flowers in rare vases, but it looked a place of which the
beauty would have smelt sweet even without them.

Lady Agnes had taken a white rose from one of the clusters and was
holding it to her face, which was turned to the door as Nick crossed the
threshold. The expression of her figure instantly told him--he saw the
creased card he had sent her lying on one of the beautiful bare
tables--how she had been sailing up and down in a majesty of
satisfaction. The inflation of her long plain dress and the brightened
dimness of her proud face were still in the air. In a moment he had
kissed her and was being kissed, not in quick repetition, but in tender
prolongation, with which the perfume of the white rose was mixed. But
there was something else too--her sweet smothered words in his ear: "Oh
my boy, my boy--oh your father, your father!" Neither the sense of
pleasure nor that of pain, with Lady Agnes--as indeed with most of the
persons with whom this history is concerned--was a liberation of
chatter; so that for a minute all she said again was, "I think of Sir
Nicholas and wish he were here"; addressing the words to Julia, who had
wandered forward without looking at the mother and son.

"Poor Sir Nicholas!" said Mrs. Dallow vaguely.

"Did you make another speech?" Lady Agnes asked.

"I don't know. Did I?" Nick appealed.

"I don't know!"--and Julia spoke with her back turned, doing something
to her hat before the glass.

"Oh of course the confusion, the bewilderment!" said Lady Agnes in a
tone rich in political reminiscence.

"It was really immense fun," Mrs. Dallow went so far as to drop.

"Dearest Julia!" Lady Agnes deeply breathed. Then she added: "It was you
who made it sure."

"There are a lot of people coming to dinner," said Julia.

"Perhaps you'll have to speak again," Lady Agnes smiled at her son.

"Thank you; I like the way you talk about it!" cried Nick. "I'm like
Iago: 'from this time forth I never will speak word!'"

"Don't say that, Nick," said his mother gravely.

"Don't be afraid--he'll jabber like a magpie!" And Julia went out of the
room.

Nick had flung himself on a sofa with an air of weariness, though not of
completely extinct cheer; and Lady Agnes stood fingering her rose and
looking down at him. His eyes kept away from her; they seemed fixed on
something she couldn't see. "I hope you've thanked Julia handsomely,"
she presently remarked.

"Why of course, mother."

"She has done as much as if you hadn't been sure."

"I wasn't in the least sure--and she has done everything."

"She has been too good--but _we_'ve done something. I hope you don't
leave out your father," Lady Agnes amplified as Nick's glance appeared
for a moment to question her "we."

"Never, never!" Nick uttered these words perhaps a little mechanically,
but the next minute he added as if suddenly moved to think what he could
say that would give his mother most pleasure: "Of course his name has
worked for me. Gone as he is he's still a living force." He felt a good
deal of a hypocrite, but one didn't win such a seat every day in the
year. Probably indeed he should never win another.

"He hears you, he watches you, he rejoices in you," Lady Agnes opined.

This idea was oppressive to Nick--that of the rejoicing almost as much
as of the watching. He had made his concession, but, with a certain
impulse to divert his mother from following up her advantage, he broke
out: "Julia's a tremendously effective woman."

"Of course she is!" said Lady Agnes knowingly.

"Her charming appearance is half the battle"--Nick explained a little
coldly what he meant. But he felt his coldness an inadequate protection
to him when he heard his companion observe with something of the same
sapience:

"A woman's always effective when she likes a person so much."

It discomposed him to be described as a person liked, and so much, and
by a woman; and he simply said abruptly: "When are you going away?"

"The first moment that's civil--to-morrow morning. _You_'ll stay on I
hope."

"Stay on? What shall I stay on for?"

"Why you might stay to express your appreciation."

Nick considered. "I've everything to do."

"I thought everything was done," said Lady Agnes.

"Well, that's just why," her son replied, not very lucidly. "I want to
do other things--quite other things. I should like to take the next
train," And he looked at his watch.

"When there are people coming to dinner to meet you?"

"They'll meet _you_--that's better."

"I'm sorry any one's coming," Lady Agnes said in a tone unencouraging to
a deviation from the reality of things. "I wish we were alone--just as a
family. It would please Julia to-day to feel that we _are_ one. Do stay
with her to-morrow."

"How will that do--when she's alone?"

"She won't be alone, with Mrs. Gresham."

"Mrs. Gresham doesn't count."

"That's precisely why I want you to stop. And her cousin, almost her
brother: what an idea that it won't do! Haven't you stayed here before
when there has been no one?"

"I've never stayed much, and there have always been people. At any rate
it's now different."

"It's just because it's different. Besides, it isn't different and it
never was," said Lady Agnes, more incoherent in her earnestness than it
often happened to her to be. "She always liked you and she likes you now
more than ever--if you call _that_ different!" Nick got up at this and,
without meeting her eyes, walked to one of the windows, where he stood
with his back turned and looked out on the great greenness. She watched
him a moment and she might well have been wishing, while he appeared to
gaze with intentness, that it would come to him with the same force as
it had come to herself--very often before, but during these last days
more than ever--that the level lands of Harsh, stretching away before
the window, the French garden with its symmetry, its screens and its
statues, and a great many more things of which these were the
superficial token, were Julia's very own to do with exactly as she
liked. No word of appreciation or envy, however, dropped from the young
man's lips, and his mother presently went on: "What could be more
natural than that after your triumphant contest you and she should have
lots to settle and to talk about--no end of practical questions, no end
of urgent business? Aren't you her member, and can't her member pass a
day with her, and she a great proprietor?"

Nick turned round at this with an odd expression. "_Her_ member--am I
hers?"

Lady Agnes had a pause--she had need of all her tact. "Well, if the
place is hers and you represent the place--!" she began. But she went no
further, for Nick had interrupted her with a laugh.

"What a droll thing to 'represent,' when one thinks of it! And what does
_it_ represent, poor stupid little borough with its strong, though I
admit clean, smell of meal and its curiously fat-faced inhabitants? Did
you ever see such a collection of fat faces turned up at the hustings?
They looked like an enormous sofa, with the cheeks for the gathers and
the eyes for the buttons."

"Oh well, the next time you shall have a great town," Lady Agnes
returned, smiling and feeling that she _was_ tactful.

"It will only be a bigger sofa! I'm joking, of course?" Nick pursued,
"and I ought to be ashamed of myself. They've done me the honour to
elect me and I shall never say a word that's not civil about them, poor
dears. But even a new member may blaspheme to his mother."

"I wish you'd be serious to your mother"--and she went nearer him.

"The difficulty is that I'm two men; it's the strangest thing that ever
was," Nick professed with his bright face on her. "I'm two quite
distinct human beings, who have scarcely a point in common; not even the
memory, on the part of one, of the achievements or the adventures of the
other. One man wins the seat but it's the other fellow who sits in it."

"Oh Nick, don't spoil your victory by your perversity!" she cried as she
clasped her hands to him.

"I went through it with great glee--I won't deny that: it excited me,
interested me, amused me. When once I was in it I liked it. But now that
I'm out of it again----!"

"Out of it?" His mother stared. "Isn't the whole point that you're in?"

"Ah _now_ I'm only in the House of Commons."

For an instant she seemed not to understand and to be on the point of
laying her finger quickly to her lips with a "Hush!"--as if the late Sir
Nicholas might have heard the "only." Then while a comprehension of the
young man's words promptly superseded that impulse she replied with
force: "You'll be in the Lords the day you determine to get there."

This futile remark made Nick laugh afresh, and not only laugh, but kiss
her, which was always an intenser form of mystification for poor Lady
Agnes and apparently the one he liked best to inflict; after which he
said: "The odd thing is, you know, that Harsh has no wants. At least
it's not sharply, not articulately conscious of them. We all pretended
to talk them over together, and I promised to carry them in my heart of
hearts. But upon my honour I can't remember one of them. Julia says the
wants of Harsh are simply the national wants--rather a pretty phrase for
Julia. She means _she_ does everything for the place; _she_'s really
their member and this house in which we stand their legislative chamber.
Therefore the _lacunae_ I've undertaken to fill out are the national
wants. It will be rather a job to rectify some of them, won't it? I
don't represent the appetites of Harsh--Harsh is gorged. I represent the
ideas of my party. That's what Julia says."

"Oh never mind what Julia says!" Lady Agnes broke out impatiently. This
impatience made it singular that the very next word she uttered should
be: "My dearest son, I wish to heaven you'd marry her. It would be so
fitting now!" she added.

"Why now?" Nick frowned.

"She has shown you such sympathy, such devotion."

"Is it for that she has shown it?"

"Ah you might _feel_--I can't tell you!" said Lady Agnes reproachfully.

He blushed at this, as if what he did feel was the reproach. "Must I
marry her because you like her?"

"I? Why we're _all_ as fond of her as we can be."

"Dear mother, I hope that any woman I ever may marry will be a person
agreeable not only to you, but also, since you make a point of it, to
Grace and Biddy. But I must tell you this--that I shall marry no woman
I'm not unmistakably in love with."

"And why are you not in love with Julia--charming, clever, generous as
she is?" Lady Agnes laid her hands on him--she held him tight. "Dearest
Nick, if you care anything in the world to make me happy you'll stay
over here to-morrow and be nice to her."

He waited an instant. "Do you mean propose to her?"

"With a single word, with the glance of an eye, the movement of your
little finger"--and she paused, looking intensely, imploringly up into
his face--"in less time than it takes me to say what I say now, you may
have it all." As he made no answer, only meeting her eyes, she added
insistently: "You know she's a fine creature--you know she is!"

"Dearest mother, what I seem to know better than anything else in the
world is that I love my freedom. I set it far above everything."

"Your freedom? What freedom is there in being poor?" Lady Agnes fiercely
demanded. "Talk of that when Julia puts everything she possesses at your
feet!"

"I can't talk of it, mother--it's too terrible an idea. And I can't talk
of _her_, nor of what I think of her. You must leave that to me. I do
her perfect justice."

"You don't or you'd marry her to-morrow," she passionately argued.
"You'd feel the opportunity so beautifully rare, with everything in the
world to make it perfect. Your father would have valued it for you
beyond everything. Think a little what would have given _him_ pleasure.
That's what I meant when I spoke just now of us all. It wasn't of Grace
and Biddy I was thinking--fancy!--it was of him. He's with you always;
he takes with you, at your side, every step you take yourself. He'd
bless devoutly your marriage to Julia; he'd feel what it would be for
you and for us all. I ask for no sacrifice and he'd ask for none. We
only ask that you don't commit the crime----!"

Nick Dormer stopped her with another kiss; he murmured "Mother, mother,
mother!" as he bent over her. He wished her not to go on, to let him
off; but the deep deprecation in his voice didn't prevent her saying:

"You know it--you know it perfectly. All and more than all that I can
tell you you know." He drew her closer, kissed her again, held her as he
would have held a child in a paroxysm, soothing her silently till it
could abate. Her vehemence had brought with it tears; she dried them as
she disengaged herself. The next moment, however, she resumed, attacking
him again: "For a public man she'd be the perfect companion. She's made
for public life--she's made to shine, to be concerned in great things,
to occupy a high position and to help him on. She'd back you up in
everything as she has backed you in this. Together there's nothing you
couldn't do. You can have the first house in England--yes, the very
first! What freedom _is_ there in being poor? How can you do anything
without money, and what money can you make for yourself--what money will
ever come to you? That's the crime--to throw away such an instrument of
power, such a blessed instrument of good."

"It isn't everything to be rich, mother," said Nick, looking at the
floor with a particular patience--that is with a provisional docility
and his hands in his pockets. "And it isn't so fearful to be poor."

"It's vile--it's abject. Don't I know?"

"Are you in such acute want?" he smiled.

"Ah don't make me explain what you've only to look at to see!" his
mother returned as if with a richness of allusion to dark elements in
her fate.

"Besides," he easily went on, "there's other money in the world than
Julia's. I might come by some of that."

"Do you mean Mr. Carteret's?" The question made him laugh as her feeble
reference five minutes before to the House of Lords had done. But she
pursued, too full of her idea to take account of such a poor substitute
for an answer: "Let me tell you one thing, for I've known Charles
Carteret much longer than you and I understand him better. There's
nothing you could do that would do you more good with him than to marry
Julia. I know the way he looks at things and I know exactly how that
would strike him. It would please him, it would charm him; it would be
the thing that would most prove to him that you're in earnest. You need,
you know, to do something of that sort," she said as for plain speaking.

"Haven't I come in for Harsh?" asked Nick.

"Oh he's very canny. He likes to see people rich. _Then_ he believes in
them--then he's likely to believe more. He's kind to you because you're
your father's son; but I'm sure your being poor takes just so much off."

"He can remedy that so easily," said Nick, smiling still. "Is my being
kept by Julia what you call my making an effort for myself?"

Lady Agnes hesitated; then "You needn't insult Julia!" she replied.

"Moreover, if I've _her_ money I shan't want his," Nick unheedingly
remarked.

Again his mother waited before answering; after which she produced: "And
pray wouldn't you wish to be independent?"

"You're delightful, dear mother--you're very delightful! I particularly
like your conception of independence. Doesn't it occur to you that at a
pinch I might improve my fortune by some other means than by making a
mercenary marriage or by currying favour with a rich old gentleman?
Doesn't it occur to you that I might work?"

"Work at politics? How does that make money, honourably?"

"I don't mean at politics."

"What do you mean then?"--and she seemed to challenge him to phrase it
if he dared. This demonstration of her face and voice might have
affected him, for he remained silent and she continued: "Are you elected
or not?"

"It seems a dream," he rather flatly returned.

"If you are, act accordingly and don't mix up things that are as wide
asunder as the poles!" She spoke with sternness and his silence appeared
again to represent an admission that her sternness counted for him.
Possibly she was touched by it; after a few moments, at any rate, during
which nothing more passed between them, she appealed to him in a gentler
and more anxious key, which had this virtue to touch him that he knew it
was absolutely the first time in her life she had really begged for
anything. She had never been obliged to beg; she had got on without it
and most things had come to her. He might judge therefore in what a
light she regarded this boon for which in her bereft old age she humbled
herself to be a suitor. There was such a pride in her that he could feel
what it cost her to go on her knees even to her son. He did judge how it
was in his power to gratify her; and as he was generous and imaginative
he was stirred and shaken as it came over him in a wave of figurative
suggestion that he might make up to her for many things. He scarcely
needed to hear her ask with a pleading wail that was almost tragic:
"Don't you see how things have turned out for us? Don't you know how
unhappy I am, don't you know what a bitterness----?" She stopped with a
sob in her voice and he recognised vividly this last tribulation, the
unhealed wound of her change of life and her lapse from eminence to
flatness. "You know what Percival is and the comfort I have of him. You
know the property and what he's doing with it and what comfort I get
from _that_! Everything's dreary but what you can do for us.
Everything's odious, down to living in a hole with one's girls who don't
marry. Grace is impossible--I don't know what's the matter with her; no
one will look at her, and she's so conceited with it--sometimes I feel
as if I could beat her! And Biddy will never marry, and we're three
dismal women in a filthy house, and what are three dismal women, more or
less, in London?"

So with an unexpected rage of self-exposure she poured out her
disappointments and troubles, tore away the veil from her sadness and
soreness. It almost scared him to see how she hated her life, though at
another time it might have been amusing to note how she despised her
gardenless house. Of course it wasn't a country-house, and she couldn't
get used to that. Better than he could do--for it was the sort of thing
into which in any case a woman enters more than a man--she felt what a
lift into brighter air, what a regilding of his sisters' possibilities,
his marriage to Julia would effect for them. He couldn't trace the
difference, but his mother saw it all as a shining picture. She hung the
bright vision before him now--she stood there like a poor woman crying
for a kindness. What was filial in him, all the piety he owed,
especially to the revived spirit of his father, more than ever present
on a day of such public pledges, became from one moment to the other as
the very handle to the door of the chamber of concessions. He had the
impulse, so embarrassing when it is a question of consistent action, to
see in a touching, an interesting light any forcibly presented side of
the life of another: such things effected a union with something in
_his_ life, and in the recognition of them was no soreness of sacrifice
and no consciousness of merit.

Rapidly, at present, this change of scene took place before his
spiritual eye. He found himself believing, because his mother
communicated the belief, that it depended but on his own conduct richly
to alter the social outlook of the three women who clung to him and who
declared themselves forlorn. This was not the highest kind of motive,
but it contained a spring, it touched into life again old injunctions
and appeals. Julia's wide kingdom opened out round him and seemed
somehow to wear the face of his own possible future. His mother and
sisters floated in the rosy element as if he had breathed it about them.
"The first house in England" she had called it; but it might be the
first house in Europe, the first in the world, by the fine air and the
high humanities that should fill it. Everything beautiful in his actual,
his material view seemed to proclaim its value as never before; the
house rose over his head as a museum of exquisite rewards, and the image
of poor George Dallow hovered there obsequious, expressing that he had
only been the modest, tasteful organiser, or even upholsterer, appointed
to set it all in order and punctually retire. Lady Agnes's tone in fine
penetrated further than it had done yet when she brought out with
intensity: "Don't desert us--don't desert us."

"Don't desert you----?"

"Be great--be great. I'm old, I've lived, I've seen. Go in for a great
material position. That will simplify everything else."

"I'll do what I can for you--anything, everything I can. Trust me--leave
me alone," Nick went on.

"And you'll stay over--you'll spend the day with her?"

"I'll stay till she turns me out!"

His mother had hold of his hand again now: she raised it to her lips
and kissed it. "My dearest son, my only joy!" Then: "I don't see how you
can resist her," she added.

"No more do I!"

She looked about--there was so much to look at--with a deep exhalation.
"If you're so fond of art, what art is equal to all this? The joy of
living in the midst of it--of seeing the finest works every day! You'll
have everything the world can give."

"That's exactly what was just passing in my own mind. It's too much,"
Nick reasoned.

"Don't be selfish!"

"Selfish?" he echoed.

"Unselfish then. You'll share it with us."

"And with Julia a little, I hope," he said.

"God bless you!" cried his mother, looking up at him. Her eyes were
detained by the sudden sense of something in his own that was not clear
to her; but before she could challenge it he asked abruptly:

"Why do you talk so of poor Biddy? Why won't she marry?"

"You had better ask Peter Sherringham," said Lady Agnes.

"What has he to do with it?"

"How odd of you not to know--when it's so plain how she thinks of him
that it's a matter of common gossip."

"Yes, if you will--we've made it so, and she takes it as an angel. But
Peter likes her."

"Does he? Then it's the more shame to him to behave as he does. He had
better leave his wretched actresses alone. That's the love of art too!"
mocked Lady Agnes.

But Nick glossed it all over. "Biddy's so charming she'll easily marry
some one else."

"Never, if she loves him. However, Julia will bring it about--Julia
will help her," his mother pursued more cheerfully. "That's what you'll
do for us--that _she'll_ do everything!"

"Why then more than now?" he asked.

"Because we shall be yours."

"You're mine already."

"Yes, but she isn't. However, she's as good!" Lady Agnes exulted.

"She'll turn me out of the house," said Nick.

"Come and tell me when she does! But there she is--go to her!" And she
gave him a push toward one of the windows that stood open to the
terrace. Their hostess had become visible outside; she passed slowly
along the terrace with her long shadow. "Go to her," his mother
repeated--"she's waiting for you."

Nick went out with the air of a man as ready to pass that way as
another, and at the same moment his two sisters, still flushed with
participation, appeared in a different quarter.

"We go home to-morrow, but Nick will stay a day or two," Lady Agnes said
to them.

"Dear old Nick!" Grace ejaculated looking at her with intensity.

"He's going to speak," she went on. "But don't mention it."

"Don't mention it?" Biddy asked with a milder stare. "Hasn't he spoken
enough, poor fellow?"

"I mean to Julia," Lady Agnes replied.

"Don't you understand, you goose?"--and Grace turned on her sister.

Henry James