by Henry James
are a pair!" the poor lady's visitor broke out to
her, at the end of her explanation, in a manner disconcerting enough.
The poor lady was Miss Cutter, who lived in South Audley Street,
where she had an 'upper half' so concise that it had to pass, boldly,
for convenient; and her visitor was her half-brother, whom she had not
seen for three years. She was remarkable for a maturity of which every
symptom might have been observed to be admirably controlled, had not a
tendency to stoutness just affirmed its independence. Her present, no
doubt, insisted too much on her past, but with the excuse,
sufficiently valid, that she must certainly once have been prettier.
She was clearly not contented with once — she wished to be prettier
again. She neglected nothing that could produce that illusion, and,
being both fair and fat, dressed almost wholly in black. When she
added a little colour it was not, at any rate, to her drapery. Her
small rooms had the peculiarity that everything they contained appeared
to testify with vividness to her position in society, quite as if they
had been furnished by the bounty of admiring friends. They were
adorned indeed almost exclusively with objects that nobody buys, as
had more than once been remarked by spectators of her own sex, for
herself, and would have been luxurious if luxury consisted mainly in
photographic portraits slashed across with signatures, in baskets of
flowers beribboned with the cards of passing compatriots, and in a
neat collection of red volumes, blue volumes, alphabetical volumes,
aids to London lucidity, of every sort, devoted to addresses and
engagements. To be in Miss Cutter's tiny drawing-room, in short, even
with Miss Cutter alone — should you by any chance have found her so
— was somehow to be in the world and in a crowd. It was like an
agency — it bristled with particulars.
This was what the tall, lean, loose gentleman lounging there
before her might have appeared to read in the suggestive scene over
which, while she talked to him, his eyes moved without haste and
without rest. "Oh, come, Mamie!" he occasionally threw off; and the
words were evidently connected with the impression thus absorbed. His
comparative youth spoke of waste even as her positive — her too
positive — spoke of economy. There was only one thing, that is, to
make up in him for everything he had lost, though it was distinct
enough indeed that this thing might sometimes serve. It consisted in
the perfection of an indifference, an indifference at the present
moment directed to the plea — a plea of inability, of pure
destitution — with which his sister had met him. Yet it had even now
a wider embrace, took in quite sufficiently all consequences of
queerness, confessed in advance to the false note that, in such a
setting, he almost excruciatingly constituted. He cared as little that
he looked at moments all his impudence as that he looked all his
shabbiness, all his cleverness, all his history. These different
things were written in him — in his premature baldness, his seamed,
strained face, the lapse from bravery of his long tawny moustache;
above all, in his easy, friendly, universally acquainted eye, so much
too sociable for mere conversation. What possible relation with him
could be natural enough to meet it? He wore a scant, rough Inverness
cape and a pair of black trousers, wanting in substance and marked
with the sheen of time, that had presumably once served for evening
use. He spoke with the slowness helplessly permitted to Americans —
as something too slow to be stopped — and he repeated that he found
himself associated with Miss Cutter in a harmony worthy of wonder. She
had been telling him not only that she couldn't possibly give him ten
pounds, but that his unexpected arrival, should he insist on being
much in view, might seriously interfere with arrangements necessary to
her own maintenance; on which he had begun by replying that he of
course knew she had long ago spent her money, but that he looked to
her now exactly because she had, without the aid of that convenience,
mastered the art of life.
"I'd really go away with a fiver, my dear, if you'd only tell me
how you do it. It's no use saying only, as you've always said, that
'people are very kind to you.' What the devil are they kind to you for?"
"Well, one reason is precisely that no particular inconvenience
has hitherto been supposed to attach to me. I'm just what I am," said
Mamie Cutter; "nothing less and nothing more. It's awkward to have to
explain to you, which, moreover, I really needn't in the least. I'm
clever and amusing and charming." She was uneasy and even frightened,
but she kept her temper and met him with a grace of her own. "I don't
think you ought to ask me more questions than I ask you."
"Ah, my dear," said the odd young man, "I've no mysteries.
Why in the world, since it was what you came out for and have devoted
so much of your time to, haven't you pulled it off? Why haven't you
you?" she retorted. "Do you think that if I
had it would have been better for you? — that my husband would for a
moment have put up with you? Do you mind my asking you if you'll
kindly go now?" she went on after a glance at the clock. "I'm
expecting a friend, whom I must see alone, on a matter of great
"And my being seen with you may compromise your respectability or
undermine your nerve?" He sprawled imperturbably in his place,
crossing again, in another sense, his long black legs and showing,
above his low shoes, an absurd reach of parti-coloured sock. "I take
your point well enough, but mayn't you be after all quite wrong? If
you can't do anything for me couldn't you at least do something with
me? If it comes to that, I'm clever and amusing and charming too!
I've been such an ass that you don't appreciate me. But people like me
— I assure you they do. They usually don't know what an ass I've
been; they only see the surface, which" — and he stretched himself
afresh as she looked him up and down — "you can imagine them,
can't you, rather taken with? I'm 'what I am' too; nothing
less and nothing more. That's true of us as a family, you see. We are a crew!" He delivered himself serenely. His voice was soft
and flat, his pleasant eyes, his simple tones tending to the solemn,
achieved at moments that effect of quaintness which is, in certain
connections, socially so known and enjoyed. "English people have quite
a weakness for me — more than any others. I get on with them
beautifully. I've always been with them abroad. They think me," the
young man explained, "diabolically American."
"You!" Such stupidity drew from her a sigh of compassion.
Her companion apparently quite understood it. "Are you homesick,
Mamie?" he asked, with wondering irrelevance.
The manner of the question made her for some reason, in spite of
her preoccupations, break into a laugh. A shade of indulgence, a sense
of other things, came back to her. "You are funny, Scott!"
"Well," remarked Scott, "that's just what I claim. But
you so homesick?" he spaciously inquired, not as if to a practical
end, but from an easy play of intelligence.
"I'm just dying of it!" said Mamie Cutter.
"Why, so am I!" Her visitor had a sweetness of concurrence.
"We're the only decent people," Miss Cutter declared. "And I know.
You don't — you can't; and I can't explain. Come in," she
continued with a return of her impatience and an increase of her
decision, "at seven sharp."
She had quitted her seat some time before, and now, to get him
into motion, hovered before him while, still motionless, he looked up
at her. Something intimate, in the silence, appeared to pass between
them — a community of fatigue and failure and, after all, of
intelligence. There was a final, cynical humour in it. It determined
him, at any rate, at last, and he slowly rose, taking in again as he
stood there the testimony of the room. He might have been counting the
photographs, but he looked at the flowers with detachment. "Who's
"Then what are you doing for her?"
"I work for everyone," she promptly returned.
"For everyone who pays? So I suppose. Yet isn't it only we who do
There was a drollery, not lost on her, in the way his queer
presence lent itself to his emphasised plural. "Do you consider that you do?"
At this, with his deliberation, he came back to his charming idea.
"Only try me, and see if I can't be made to. Work me in." On
her sharply presenting her back he stared a little at the clock. "If I
come at seven may I stay to dinner?"
It brought her round again. "Impossible. I'm dining out."
She had to think. "With Lord Considine."
"Oh, my eye!" Scott exclaimed.
She looked at him gloomily. "Is
that sort of tone what
makes you pay? I think you might understand," she went on, "that if
you're to sponge on me successfully you mustn't ruin me. I must have some remote resemblance to a lady."
"Yes? But why must
I?" Her exasperated silence was full of
answers, of which, however, his inimitable manner took no account.
"You don't understand my real strength; I doubt if you even understand
your own. You're clever, Mamie, but you're not so clever as I
supposed. However," he pursued, "it's out of Mrs Medwin that you'll
"Why, the cheque that will enable you to assist me."
On this, for a moment, she met his eyes. "If you'll come back at
seven sharp — not a minute before, and not a minute after, I'll give
you two five-pound notes."
He thought it over. "Whom are you expecting a minute after?"
It sent her to the window with a groan almost of anguish, and she
answered nothing till she had looked at the street. "If you injure me,
you know, Scott, you'll he sorry."
"I wouldn't injure you for the world. What I want to do in fact is
really to help you, and I promise you that I won't leave you — by
which I mean won't leave London — till I've effected something really
pleasant for you. I like you, Mamie, because I like pluck; I like you
much more than you like me. I like you very, very much." He had
at last with this reached the door and opened it, but he remained with
his hand on the latch. "What does Mrs Medwin want of you?" he thus
She had come round to see him disappear, and in the relief of this
prospect she again just indulged him. "The impossible."
He waited another minute. "And you're going to do it?"
"I'm going to do it," said Mamie Cutter.
"Well, then, that ought to be a haul. Call it
fivers!" he laughed. "At seven sharp." And at last he left her alone.
Miss Cutter waited till she heard the house-door close; after
which, in a sightless, mechanical way, she moved about the room,
readjusting various objects that he had not touched. It was as if his
mere voice and accent had spoiled her form. But she was not left too
long to reckon with these things, for Mrs Medwin was promptly
announced. This lady was not, more than her hostess, in the first
flush of her youth; her appearance — the scattered remains of beauty
manipulated by taste — resembled one of the light repasts in which
the fragments of yesterday's dinner figure with a conscious ease that
makes up for the want of presence. She was perhaps of an effect still
too immediate to be called interesting, but she was candid, gentle and
surprised — not fatiguingly surprised, only just in the right degree;
and her white face — it was too white — with the fixed eyes, the
somewhat touzled hair and the Louis Seize hat, might at the end of the
very long neck have suggested the head of a princess carried, in a
revolution, on a pike. She immediately took up the business that had
brought her, with the air, however, of drawing from the omens then
discernible less confidence than she had hoped. The complication lay
in the fact that if it was Mamie's part to present the omens, that
lady yet had so to colour them as to make her own service large. She
perhaps over-coloured, for her friend gave way to momentary despair.
"What you mean is then that it's simply impossible?"
"Oh no," said Mamie, with a qualified emphasis. "It's
"But disgustingly difficult?"
"As difficult as you like."
"Then what can I do that I haven't done?"
"You can only wait a little longer."
"But that's just what I
have done. I've done nothing else.
I'm always waiting a little longer!"
Miss Cutter retained, in spite of this pathos, her grasp of the
subject. "The thing, as I've told you, is for you first to be
"But if people won't look at me?"
"They will?" Mrs Medwin was eager.
"They shall," her hostess went on. "It's their only having heard
— without having seen."
"But if they stare straight the other way?" Mrs Medwin continued
to object. "You can't simply go up to them and twist their heads
"It's just what I can," said Mamie Cutter.
But her charming visitor, heedless for the moment of this
attenuation, had found the way to put it. "It's the old story. You
can't go into the water till you swim, and you can't swim till you go
into the water. I can't be spoken to till I'm seen, but I can't be
seen till I'm spoken to."
She met this lucidity, Miss Cutter, with but an instant's lapse.
"You say I can't twist their heads about. But I have twisted
It had been quietly produced, but it gave her companion a jerk.
"They say 'Yes'?"
She summed it up. "All but one.
She says 'No'."
Mrs Medwin thought; then jumped. "Lady Wantridge?"
Miss Cutter, as more delicate, only bowed admission. "I shall see
her either this afternoon or late to-morrow. But she has written."
Her visitor wondered again. "May I see her letter?"
"No." She spoke with decision. "But I shall square her."
"Well" — and Miss Cutter, as if looking upward for inspiration,
fixed her eyes awhile on the ceiling — "well, it will come to me."
Mrs Medwin watched her — it was impressive. "And will
come to you — the others?" This question drew out the fact that they
would — so far, at least, as they consisted of Lady Edward, Lady
Bellhouse and Mrs Pouncer, who had engaged to muster, at the signal of
tea, on the 14th — prepared, as it were, for the worst. There was of
course always the chance that Lady Wantridge might take the field in
such force as to paralyse them, though that danger, at the same time,
seemed inconsistent with her being squared. It didn't perhaps all
quite ideally hang together; but what it sufficiently came to was that
if she was the one who could do most for a person in
Mrs Medwin's position she was also the one who could do most against.
It would therefore be distinctly what our friend familiarly spoke of
as 'collar-work'. The effect of these mixed considerations was at
any rate that Mamie eventually acquiesced in the idea, handsomely
thrown out by her client, that she should have an 'advance' to go on
with. Miss Cutter confessed that it seemed at times as if one scarce could go on; but the advance was, in spite of this delicacy, still
more delicately made — made in the form of a banknote, several
sovereigns, some loose silver and two coppers, the whole contents of
her purse, neatly disposed by Mrs Medwin on one of the tiny tables. It
seemed to clear the air for deeper intimacies, the fruit of which was
that Mamie, lonely, after all, in her crowd, and always more helpful
than helped, eventually brought out that the way Scott had been going
on was what seemed momentarily to overshadow her own power to do so.
"I've had a descent from him." But she had to explain. "My
half-brother — Scott Homer. A wretch."
"What kind of a wretch?"
"Every kind. I lose sight of him at times — he disappears abroad.
But he always turns up again, worse than ever."
"No. Rather pleasant. Awfully clever — awfully travelled and
"Then what's the matter with him?"
Mamie mused, hesitated — seemed to see a wide past. "I don't
"Something in the background?" Then as her friend was silent,
"Something queer about cards?" Mrs Medwin threw off.
"I don't know — and I don't want to!"
"Ah well, I'm sure
I don't," Mrs Medwin returned with
spirit. The note of sharpness was perhaps also a little in the
observation she made as she gathered herself to go. "Do you mind my
Mamie took her eyes quickly from the money on the little stand.
"You may say what you like."
"I only mean that anything awkward you may have to keep out of the
way does seem to make more wonderful, doesn't it, that you should have
got just where you are? I allude, you know, to your position."
"I see." Miss Cutter somewhat coldly smiled. "To my power."
"So awfully remarkable in an American."
"Ah, you like us so."
Mrs Medwin candidly considered. "But we don't, dearest."
Her companion's smile brightened. "Then why do you come to me?"
"Oh, I like
you!" Mrs Medwin made out.
"Then that's it. There are no 'Americans'. It's always 'you'."
"Me?" Mrs Medwin looked lovely, but a little muddled.
"Me!" Mamie Cutter laughed. "But if you like me, you dear
thing, you can judge if I like you." She gave her a kiss to
dismiss her. "I'll see you again when I've seen her."
"Lady Wantridge? I hope so, indeed. I'll turn up late to-morrow,
if you don't catch me first. Has it come to you yet?" the visitor, now
at the door, went on.
"No; but it will. There's time."
"Oh, a little less every day!"
Miss Cutter had approached the table and glanced again at the gold
and silver and the note, not indeed absolutely overlooked the two
coppers. "The balance," she put it, "the day after?"
"That very night, if you like."
"Then count on me."
"Oh, if I didn't—!" But the door closed on the dark idea.
Yearningly then, and only when it had done so, Miss Cutter took up the
She went out with it ten minutes later, and, the calls on her time
being many, remained out so long that at half-past six she had not
come back. At that hour, on the other hand, Scott Homer knocked at her
door, where her maid, who opened it with a weak pretence of holding
it firm, ventured to announce to him, as a lesson well learnt, that he
had not been expected till seven. No lesson, none the less, could
prevail against his native art. He pleaded fatigue, her, the maid's,
dreadful depressing London, and the need to curl up somewhere. If she
would just leave him quiet half an hour that old sofa upstairs would
do for it, of which he took quickly such effectual possession that
when, five minutes later, she peeped, nervous for her broken vow, into
the drawing-room, the faithless young woman found him extended at his
length and peacefully asleep.
The situation before Miss Cutter's return developed in other
directions still, and when that event took place, at a few minutes past
seven, these circumstances were, by the foot of the stair, between
mistress and maid, the subject of some interrogative gasps and scared
admissions. Lady Wantridge had arrived shortly after the interloper,
and wishing, as she said, to wait, had gone straight up in spite of
being told he was lying down.
"She distinctly understood he was there?"
"Oh yes, ma'am; I thought it right to mention."
"And what did you call him?"
"Well, ma'am, I thought it unfair to
you to call him
anything but a gentleman."
Mamie took it all in, though there might well be more of it than
one could quickly embrace. "But if she has had time," she flashed, "to
find out he isn't one?"
"Oh, ma'am, she had a quarter of an hour."
"Then she isn't with him still?"
"No, ma'am; she came down again at last. She rang, and I saw her
here, and she said she wouldn't wait longer."
Miss Cutter darkly mused. "Yet had already waited—?"
"Quite a quarter."
"Mercy on us!" She began to mount. Before reaching the top,
however, she had reflected that quite a quarter was long if Lady
Wantridge had only been shocked. On the other hand, it was short if she
had only been pleased. But how could she have been pleased? The
very essence of their actual crisis was just that there was no
pleasing her. Mamie had but to open the drawing-room door indeed to
perceive that this was not true at least of Scott Homer, who was
Miss Cutter expressed to her brother without reserve her sense of
the constitutional, the brutal selfishness that had determined his
mistimed return. It had taken place, in violation of their agreement,
exactly at the moment when it was most cruel to her that he should be
there, and if she must now completely wash her hands of him he had
only himself to thank. She had come in flushed with resentment and for
a moment had been voluble; but it would have been striking that,
though the way he received her might have seemed but to aggravate, it
presently justified him by causing their relation really to take a
stride. He had the art of confounding those who would quarrel with him
by reducing them to the humiliation of an irritated curiosity.
"What could she have made of you?" Mamie demanded.
"My dear girl, she's not a woman who's eager to make too much of
anything — anything, I mean, that will prevent her from doing as she
likes, what she takes into her head. Of course," he continued to
explain, "if it's something she doesn't want to do, she'll make as
much as Moses."
Mamie wondered if that was the way he talked to her visitor, but
felt obliged to own to his acuteness. It was an exact description of
Lady Wantridge, and she was conscious of tucking it away for future use
in a corner of her miscellaneous little mind. She withheld, however,
all present acknowledgment, only addressing him another question. "Did
you really get on with her?"
"Have you still to learn, darling — I can't help again putting it
to you — that I get on with everybody? That's just what I don't seem
able to drive into you. Only see how I get on with you."
She almost stood corrected. "What I mean is, of course, whether—"
"Whether she made love to me? Shyly, yet — or because —
shamefully? She would certainly have liked awfully to stay."
"Then why didn't she?"
"Because, on account of some other matter — and I could see it
was true — she hadn't time. Twenty minutes — she was here less —
were all she came to give you. So don't be afraid I've frightened her
away. She'll come back."
Mamie thought it over. "Yet you didn't go with her to the door?"
"She wouldn't let me, and I know when to do what I'm told — quite
as much as what I'm not told. She wanted to find out about me. I mean
from your little creature; a pearl of fidelity, by the way."
"But what on earth did she come up for?" Mamie again found herself
appealing, and, just by that fact, showing her need of help.
"Because she always goes up." Then, as, in the presence of this
rapid generalisation, to say nothing of that of such a relative
altogether, Miss Cutter could only show as comparatively blank: "I
mean she knows when to go up and when to come down. She has instincts;
she didn't know whom you might have up here. It's a kind of
compliment to you anyway. Why, Mamie," Scott pursued, "you don't know
the curiosity we any of us inspire. You wouldn't believe what I've
seen. The bigger bugs they are the more they're on the look-out."
Mamie still followed, but at a distance. "The look-out for what?"
"Why, for anything that will help them to live. You've been here
all this time without making out then, about them, what I've had to
pick out as I can? They're dead, don't you see? And we're
"You? Oh!" — Mamie almost laughed about it.
"Well, they're a worn-out old lot, anyhow; they've used up their
resources. They do look out; and I'll do them the justice to say
they're not afraid — not even of me!" he continued as his sister
again showed something of the same irony. "Lady Wantridge, at any
rate, wasn't; that's what I mean by her having made love to me. She
does what she likes. Mind it, you know." He was by this time fairly
teaching her to know one of her best friends, and when, after it, he
had come back to the great point of his lesson — that of her failure,
through feminine inferiority, practically to grasp the truth that
their being just as they were, he and she, was the real card for them
to play — when he had renewed that reminder he left her absolutely in
a state of dependence. Her impulse to press him on the subject of Lady
Wantridge dropped; it was as if she had felt that, whatever had taken
place, something would somehow come of it. She was to be, in a manner,
disappointed, but the impression helped to keep her over to the next
morning, when, as Scott had foretold, his new acquaintance did
reappear, explaining to Miss Cutter that she had acted the day before
to gain time and that she even now sought to gain it by not waiting
longer. What, she promptly intimated she had asked herself, could that
friend be thinking of? She must show where she stood before things had
gone too far. If she had brought her answer without more delay she
wished to make it sharp. Mrs Medwin? Never! "No, my dear — not I.
There I stop."
Mamie had known it would be 'collar-work', but somehow now, at
the beginning, she felt her heart sink. It was not that she had
expected to carry the position with a rush, but that, as always after
an interval, her visitor's defences really loomed — and quite, as it
were, to the material vision — too large. She was always planted with
them, voluminous, in the very centre of the passage; was like a person
accommodated with a chair in some unlawful place at the theatre. She
wouldn't move and you couldn't get round. Mamie's calculation indeed
had not been on getting round; she was obliged to recognise that, too
foolishly and fondly, she had dreamed of producing a surrender. Her
dream had been the fruit of her need; but, conscious that she was even
yet unequipped for pressure, she felt, almost for the first time in
her life, superficial and crude. She was to be paid — but with what
was she, to that end, to pay? She had engaged to find an answer to
this question, but the answer had not, according to her promise,
'come'. And Lady Wantridge meanwhile massed herself, and there was no
view of her that didn't show her as verily, by some process too
obscure to be traced, the hard depository of the social law. She was
no younger, no fresher, no stronger, really, than any of them; she was
only, with a kind of haggard fineness, a sharpened taste for life,
and, with all sorts of things behind and beneath her, more abysmal and
more immoral, more secure and more impertinent. The points she made
were two in number. One was that she absolutely declined; the other
was that she quite doubted if Mamie herself had measured the job. The
thing couldn't be done. But say it could be; was Mamie quite
the person to do it? To this Miss Cutter, with a sweet smile, replied
that she quite understood how little she might seem so. "I'm only one
of the persons to whom it has appeared that you are."
"Then who are the others?"
"Well, to begin with, Lady Edward, Lady Bellhouse and Mrs Pouncer."
"Do you mean that they'll come to meet her?"
"I've seen them, and they've promised."
"To come, of course," Lady Wantridge said, "if
Her hostess hesitated. "Oh, of course, you could prevent them. But
I should take it as awfully kind of you not to. Won't you do
this for me?" Mamie pleaded.
Her friend looked about the room very much as Scott had done. "Do
they really understand what it's for?"
"Perfectly. So that she may call."
"And what good will that do her?"
Miss Cutter faltered, but she presently brought it out. "Of course
what one hopes is that you'll ask her."
"Ask her to call?"
"Ask her to dine. Ask her, if you'd be so
truly sweet, for a
Sunday, or something of that sort, and even if only in one of your most mixed parties, to Catchmore."
Miss Cutter felt the less hopeful after this effort in that her
companion only showed a strange good nature. And it was not the
amiability of irony; yet it was amusement. "Take Mrs Medwin
into my family?"
"Some day, when you're taking forty others."
"Ah, but what I don't see is what it does for
already so welcome among us that you can scarcely improve your
position even by forming for us the most delightful relation."
"Well, I know how dear you are," Mamie Cutter replied; "but one
has, after all, more than one side, and more than one sympathy. I like
her, you know." And even at this Lady Wantridge was not shocked; she
showed that ease and blandness which were her way, unfortunately, of
being most impossible. She remarked that she might listen to
such things, because she was clever enough for them not to matter;
only Mamie should take care how she went about saying them at large.
When she became definite, however, in a minute, on the subject of the
public facts, Miss Cutter soon found herself ready to make her own
concession. Of course, she didn't dispute them: there they
were; they were unfortunately on record, and nothing was to be done
about them but to — Mamie found it, in truth, at this point, a little
"Well, what? Pretend already to have forgotten them?"
"Why not, when you've done it in so many other cases?"
are no other cases so bad. One meets them, at any
rate, as they come. Some you can manage, others you can't. It's no
use, you must give them up. They're past patching; there's nothing to
be done with them. There's nothing, accordingly, to be done with
Mrs Medwin but to put her off." And Lady Wantridge rose to her height.
"Well, you know, I
do do things," Mamie quavered with a
smile so strained that it partook of exaltation.
"You help people? Oh yes, I've known you to do wonders. But
stick," said Lady Wantridge with strong and cheerful emphasis, "to
Miss Cutter, gazing, got up. "You don't do justice, Lady
Wantridge, to your own compatriots. Some of them are really charming.
Besides," said Mamie, "working for mine often strikes me, so far as
the interest — the inspiration and excitement, don't you know? — go,
as rather too easy. You all, as I constantly have occasion to say,
like us so!"
Her companion frankly weighed it. "Yes; it takes that to account
for your position. I've always thought of you, nevertheless, as
keeping, for their benefit, a regular working agency. They come to
you, and you place them. There remains, I confess," her ladyship went
on in the same free spirit, "the great wonder—"
"Of how I first placed my poor little self? Yes," Mamie bravely
conceded, "when I began there was no agency. I just worked my
passage. I didn't even come to you, did I? You never noticed me
till, as Mrs Short Stokes says, 'I was 'way, 'way up!' Mrs Medwin,"
she threw in, "can't get over it." Then, as her friend looked vague:
"Over my social situation."
"Well, it's no great flattery to you to say," Lady Wantridge
good-humouredly returned, "that she certainly can't hope for one
resembling it." Yet it really seemed to spread there before them. "You
simply made Mrs Short Stokes."
"In spite of her name!" Mamie smiled.
"Oh, your names—! In spite of everything."
"Ah, I'm something of an artist." With which, and a relapse marked
by her wistful eyes into the gravity of the matter, she supremely
fixed her friend. She felt how little she minded betraying at last the
extremity of her need, and it was out of this extremity that her
appeal proceeded. "Have I really had your last word? It means so much
Lady Wantridge came straight to the point. "You mean you depend on
"Is it all you have?"
"But Mrs Short Stokes and the others — 'rolling', aren't they?
Don't they pay up?"
"Ah," sighed Mamie, "if it wasn't for them—!"
Lady Wantridge perceived. "You've had so much?"
"I couldn't have gone on."
"Then what do you do with it all?"
"Oh, most of it goes back to them. There are all sorts, and it's
all help. Some of them have nothing."
"Oh, if you feed the hungry," Lady Wantridge laughed, "you're
indeed in a great way of business. Is Mrs Medwin" — her transition
was immediate — "really rich?"
"Really. He left her everything."
'So that if I do say 'yes'—"
"It will quite set me up."
"I see — and how much more responsible it makes one! But I'd
rather myself give you the money."
"Oh!" Mamie coldly murmured.
"You mean I mayn't suspect your prices? Well, I daresay I don't!
But I'd rather give you ten pounds."
"Oh!" Mamie repeated in a tone that sufficiently covered her
prices. The question was in every way larger. "Do you never
forgive?" she reproachfully inquired. The door opened, however, at
the moment she spoke, and Scott Homer presented himself.
Scott Homer wore exactly, to his sister's eyes, the aspect he had
worn the day before, and it also formed, to her sense, the great
feature of his impartial greeting.
"How d'ye do, Mamie? How d'ye do, Lady Wantridge?
"How d'ye do again?" Lady Wantridge replied with an equanimity
striking to her hostess. It was as if Scott's own had been contagious;
it was almost indeed as if she had seen him before. Had she
ever so seen him — before the previous day? While Miss Cutter put to
herself this question her visitor, at all events, met the one she had
"Ever 'forgive'?" this personage echoed in a tone that made as
little account as possible of the interruption. "Dear, yes! The people
I have forgiven!" She laughed — perhaps a little nervously;
and she was now looking at Scott. The way she looked at him was
precisely what had already had its effect for his sister. "The people
"Can you forgive
me?" asked Scott Homer.
She took it so easily. "But — what?"
Mamie interposed; she turned directly to her brother. "Don't try
her. Leave it so." She had had an inspiration; it was the most
extraordinary thing in the world. "Don't try him" — she had
turned to their companion. She looked grave, sad, strange. "Leave it
so." Yes, it was a distinct inspiration, which she couldn't have
explained, but which had come, prompted by something she had caught —
the extent of the recognition expressed — in Lady Wantridge's face.
It had come absolutely of a sudden, straight out of the opposition of
the two figures before her — quite as if a concussion had struck a
light. The light was helped by her quickened sense that her friend's
silence on the incident of the day before showed some sort of
consciousness. She looked surprised. "Do you know my brother?"
"Do I know you?" Lady Wantridge asked of him.
"No, Lady Wantridge," Scott pleasantly confessed, "not one little
"Well, then, if you
must go—!" and Mamie offered her a
hand. "But I'll go down with you. Not you!" she launched at her
brother, who immediately effaced himself. His way of doing so — and
he had already done so, as for Lady Wantridge, in respect to their
previous encounter — struck her even at the moment as an instinctive,
if slightly blind, tribute to her possession of an idea; and as such,
in its celerity, made her so admire him, and their common wit, that,
on the spot, she more than forgave him his queerness. He was right. He
could be as queer as he liked! The queerer the better! It was at the
foot of the stairs, when she had got her guest down, that what she had
assured Mrs Medwin would come did indeed come. "Did you meet
him here yesterday?"
"Dear, yes. Isn't he too funny?"
"Yes," said Mamie gloomily. "He
is funny. But had you ever
met him before?"
"Oh!" — and Mamie's tone might have meant many things.
Lady Wantridge, however, after all, easily overlooked it. "I only
knew he was one of your odd Americans. That's why, when I heard
yesterday, here, that he was up there awaiting your return, I didn't
let that prevent me. I thought he might be. He certainly," her
ladyship laughed, "is."
"Yes, he's very American," Mamie went on in the same way.
"As you say, we
are fond of you! Good-bye," said Lady
But Mamie had not half done with her. She felt more and more — or
she hoped at least — that she looked strange. She was, no
doubt, if it came to that, strange. "Lady Wantridge," she almost
convulsively broke out, "I don't know whether you'll understand me,
but I seem to feel that I must act with you — I don't know what to
call it! — responsibly. He is my brother."
"Surely — and why not?" Lady Wantridge stared. "He's the image of
"Thank you!" — and Mamie was stranger than ever.
"Oh, he's good-looking. He's handsome, my dear. Oddly — but
distinctly!" Her ladyship was for treating it much as a joke.
But Mamie, all sombre, would have none of this. She boldly gave
him up. "I think he's awful."
"He is indeed — delightfully. And where
do you get your
ways of saying things? It isn't anything — and the things aren't
anything. But it's so droll."
"Don't let yourself, all the same," Mamie consistently pursued,
"be carried away by it. The thing can't be done — simply."
Lady Wantridge wondered. "'Done
"Done at all."
"But what can't be?"
"Why, what you might think — from his pleasantness. What he spoke
of your doing for him."
Lady Wantridge recalled. "Forgiving him?"
"He asked you if you couldn't. But you can't. It's too dreadful
for me, as so near a relation, to have, loyally — loyally to you
— to say it. But he's impossible."
It was so portentously produced that her ladyship had somehow to
meet it. "What's the matter with him?"
"I don't know."
"Then what's the matter with
you?" Lady Wantridge inquired.
"It's because I
won't know," Mamie — not without dignity
"Then I won't either!"
"Precisely. Don't. It's something," Mamie pursued, with some
inconsequence, "that — somewhere or other, at some time or other —
he appears to have done; something that has made a difference in his
Wantridge echoed again. "What kind of thing?"
Mamie looked up at the light above the door, through which the
London sky was doubly dim. "I haven't the least idea."
"Then what kind of difference?"
Mamie's gaze was still at the light. "The difference you see."
Lady Wantridge, rather obligingly, seemed to ask herself what she
saw. "But I don't see any! It seems, at least," she added, "such an
amusing one! And he has such nice eyes."
"Oh, dear eyes!" Mamie conceded; but with too much sadness,
for the moment, about the connections of the subject, to say more.
It almost forced her companion, after an instant, to proceed. "Do
you mean he can't go home?"
She weighed her responsibility. "I only make out — more's the
pity! — that he doesn't."
"Is it then something too terrible—?"
She thought again. "I don't know what — for men —
"Well then, as you don't know what 'is' for women either —
good-bye!" her visitor laughed.
It practically wound up the interview; which, however, terminating
thus on a considerable stir of the air, was to give Miss Cutter, the
next few days, the sense of being much blown about. The degree to
which, to begin with, she had been drawn — or perhaps rather pushed
— closer to Scott was marked in the brief colloquy that, on her
friend's departure, she had with him. He had immediately said it.
"You'll see if she doesn't ask me down!"
"Oh, I've known them at places — at Cannes, at Pau, at Shanghai
— to do it sooner still. I always know when they will. You can't
make out they don't love me!" He spoke almost plaintively, as if he
wished she could.
"Then I don't see why it hasn't done you more good."
"Why, Mamie," he patiently reasoned, "what more good
it? As I tell you," he explained, "it has just been my life."
"Then why do you come to me for money?
"Oh, they don't give me
that!" Scott returned.
"So that it only means then, after all, that I, at the best, must
keep you up?"
He fixed on her the nice eyes that Lady Wantridge admired. "Do you
mean to tell me that already — at this very moment — I am not
distinctly keeping you?"
She gave him back his look. "Wait till she
has asked you,
and then," Mamie added, "decline."
Scott, not too grossly, wondered. "As acting for
Mamie's next injunction was answer enough. "But
yes — call."
He took it in. "Call — but decline. Good."
"The rest," she said, "I leave to you." And she left it, in fact,
with such confidence that for a couple of days she was not only
conscious of no need to give Mrs Medwin another turn of the screw, but
positively evaded, in her fortitude, the reappearance of that lady. It
was not till the third day that she waited upon her, finding her, as
she had expected, tense.
"Yes, though she says she won't."
"She says she won't? O—oh!" Mrs Medwin moaned.
"Sit tight all the same. I
"Through Scott — whom she wants."
"Your bad brother!" Mrs Medwin stared. "What does she want of him?"
"To amuse them at Catchmore. Anything for that. And he
. But he sha'n't!" Mamie declared. "He sha'n't go unless she comes.
She must meet you first — you're my condition."
"O—o—oh!" Mrs Medwin's tone was a wonder of hope and fear. "But
doesn't he want to go?"
"He wants what
I want. She draws the line at
draw the line at him."
"But she — doesn't she mind that he's bad?"
It was so artless that Mamie laughed. "No; it doesn't touch her.
Besides, perhaps he isn't. It isn't as for you — people seem
not to know. He has settled everything, at all events, by going to see
her. It's before her that he's the thing she will have to have."
"For Sundays in the country. A feature —
"So she has asked him?"
"Yes; and he has declined."
"For me?" Mrs Medwin panted.
"For me," said Mamie, on the doorstep. "But I don't leave him for
long." Her hansom had waited. "She'll come."
Lady Wantridge did come. She met in South Audley Street, on the
fourteenth, at tea, the ladies whom Mamie had named to her, together
with three or four others, and it was rather a master-stroke for Miss
Cutter that, if Mrs Medwin was modestly present, Scott Homer was as
markedly not. This occasion, however, is a medal that would take rare
casting, as would also, for that matter, even the minor light and
shade, the lower relief, of the pecuniary transaction that
Mrs Medwin's flushed gratitude scarce awaited the dispersal of the
company munificently to complete. A new understanding indeed on the
spot rebounded from it, the conception of which, in Mamie's mind, had
promptly bloomed. "He sha'n't go now unless he takes you."
Then, as her fancy always moved quicker for her client than her
client's own — "Down with him to Catchmore! When he goes to amuse
them, you," she comfortably declared, "shall amuse them too."
Mrs Medwin's response was again rather oddly divided, but she was
sufficiently intelligible when it came to meeting the intimation that
this latter would be an opportunity involving a separate fee. "Say,"
Mamie had suggested, "the same."
"Very well; the same."
The knowledge that it was to be the same had perhaps something to
do, also, with the obliging spirit in which Scott eventually went. It
was all, at the last, rather hurried — a party rapidly got together
for the Grand Duke, who was in England but for the hour, who had
good-naturedly proposed himself, and who liked his parties small,
intimate and funny. This one was of the smallest, and it was finally
judged to conform neither too little nor too much to the other
conditions — after a brief whirlwind of wires and counterwires, and
an iterated waiting of hansoms at various doors — to include
Mrs Medwin. It was from Catchmore itself that, snatching a moment on
the wondrous Sunday afternoon, this lady had the harmonious thought of
sending the new cheque. She was in bliss enough, but her scribble none
the less intimated that it was Scott who amused them most. He was