At the same moment the door was thrown open, and Mrs. Gordon appeared on the threshold with a gentleman behind her. Blanche stood an instant looking into the lighted room and hesitating-- flushed a little, smiling, extremely pretty.
"May I come in?" she said, "and may I bring in Captain Lovelock?"
The two ladies, of course, fluttering toward her with every demonstration of hospitality, drew her into the room, while Bernard proceeded to greet the Captain, who advanced with a certain awkward and bashful majesty, almost sweeping with his great stature Mrs. Vivian's humble ceiling. There was a tender exchange of embraces between Blanche and her friends, and the charming visitor, losing no time, began to chatter with her usual volubility. Mrs. Vivian and Angela made her companion graciously welcome; but Blanche begged they would n't mind him--she had only brought him as a watch-dog.
"His place is on the rug," she said. "Captain Lovelock, go and lie down on the rug."
"Upon my soul, there is nothing else but rugs in these French places!" the Captain rejoined, looking round Mrs. Vivian's salon. "Which rug do you mean?"
Mrs. Vivian had remarked to Blanche that it was very kind of her to come first, and Blanche declared that she could not have laid her head on her pillow before she had seen her dear Mrs. Vivian.
"Do you suppose I would wait because I am married?" she inquired, with a keen little smile in her charming eyes. "I am not so much married as that, I can tell you! Do you think I look much as if I were married, with no one to bring me here to-night but Captain Lovelock?"
"I am sure Captain Lovelock is a very gallant escort," said Mrs. Vivian.
"Oh, he was not afraid--that is, he was not afraid of the journey, though it lay all through those dreadful wild Champs Elysees. But when we arrived, he was afraid to come in--to come up here. Captain Lovelock is so modest, you know--in spite of all the success he had in America. He will tell you about the success he had in America; it quite makes up for the defeat of the British army in the Revolution. They were defeated in the Revolution, the British, were n't they? I always told him so, but he insists they were not. 'How do we come to be free, then?' I always ask him; 'I suppose you admit that we are free.' Then he becomes personal and says that I am free enough, certainly. But it 's the general fact I mean; I wish you would tell him about the general fact. I think he would believe you, because he knows you know a great deal about history and all that. I don't mean this evening, but some time when it is convenient. He did n't want to come in--he wanted to stay in the carriage and smoke a cigar; he thought you would n't like it, his coming with me the first time. But I told him he need n't mind that, for I would certainly explain. I would be very careful to let you know that I brought him only as a substitute. A substitute for whom? A substitute for my husband, of course. My dear Mrs. Vivian, of course I ought to bring you some pretty message from Gordon-- that he is dying to come and see you, only that he had nineteen letters to write and that he could n't possibly stir from his fireside. I suppose a good wife ought to invent excuses for her husband-- ought to throw herself into the breach; is n't that what they call it? But I am afraid I am not a good wife. Do you think I am a good wife, Mr. Longueville? You once stayed three months with us, and you had a chance to see. I don't ask you that seriously, because you never tell the truth. I always do; so I will say I am not a good wife. And then the breach is too big, and I am too little. Oh, I am too little, Mrs. Vivian; I know I am too little. I am the smallest woman living; Gordon can scarcely see me with a microscope, and I believe he has the most powerful one in America. He is going to get another here; that is one of the things he came abroad for; perhaps it will do better. I do tell the truth, don't I, Mrs. Vivian? I have that merit, if I have n't any other. You once told me so at Baden; you said you could say one thing for me, at any rate-- that I did n't tell fibs. You were very nice to me at Baden," Blanche went on, with her little intent smile, laying her hand in that of her hostess. "You see, I have never forgotten it. So, to keep up my reputation, I must tell the truth about Gordon. He simply said he would n't come--voila! He gave no reason and he did n't send you any pretty message. He simply declined, and he went out somewhere else. So you see he is n't writing letters. I don't know where he can have gone; perhaps he has gone to the theatre. I know it is n't proper to go to the theatre on Sunday evening; but they say charity begins at home, and as Gordon's does n't begin at home, perhaps it does n't begin anywhere. I told him that if he would n't come with me I would come alone, and he said I might do as I chose--that he was not in a humor for making visits. I wanted to come to you very much; I had been thinking about it all day; and I am so fond of a visit like this in the evening, without being invited. Then I thought perhaps you had a salon-- does n't every one in Paris have a salon? I tried to have a salon in New York, only Gordon said it would n't do. He said it was n't in our manners. Is this a salon to-night, Mrs. Vivian? Oh, do say it is; I should like so much to see Captain Lovelock in a salon! By good fortune he happened to have been dining with us; so I told him he must bring me here. I told you I would explain, Captain Lovelock," she added, "and I hope you think I have made it clear."
The Captain had turned very red during this wandering discourse. He sat pulling his beard and shifting the position which, with his stalwart person, he had taken up on a little gilded chair--a piece of furniture which every now and then gave a delicate creak.
"I always understand you well enough till you begin to explain," he rejoined, with a candid, even if embarrassed, laugh. "Then, by Jove, I 'm quite in the woods. You see such a lot more in things than most people. Does n't she, Miss Vivian?"
"Blanche has a fine imagination," said Angela, smiling frankly at the charming visitor.
When Blanche was fairly adrift upon the current of her articulate reflections, it was the habit of her companions--indeed, it was a sort of tacit agreement among them--simply to make a circle and admire. They sat about and looked at her--yawning, perhaps, a little at times, but on the whole very well entertained, and often exchanging a smiling commentary with each other. She looked at them, smiled at them each, in succession. Every one had his turn, and this always helped to give Blanche an audience. Incoherent and aimless as much of her talk was, she never looked prettier than in the attitude of improvisation-- or rather, I should say, than in the hundred attitudes which she assumed at such a time. Perpetually moving, she was yet constantly graceful, and while she twisted her body and turned her head, with charming hands that never ceased to gesticulate, and little, conscious, brilliant eyes that looked everywhere at once--eyes that seemed to chatter even faster than her lips-- she made you forget the nonsense she poured forth, or think of it only as a part of her personal picturesqueness. The thing was a regular performance; the practice of unlimited chatter had made her perfect. She rested upon her audience and held it together, and the sight of half a dozen pairs of amused and fascinated faces led her from one piece of folly to another. On this occasion, her audience was far from failing her, for they were all greatly interested. Captain Lovelock's interest, as we know, was chronic, and our three other friends were much occupied with a matter with which Blanche was intimately connected. Bernard, as he listened to her, smiling mechanically, was not encouraged. He remembered what Mrs. Vivian had said shortly before she came in, and it was not pleasant to him to think that Gordon had been occupied half the day in contrasting the finest girl in the world with this magnified butterfly. The contrast was sufficiently striking as Angela sat there near her, very still, bending her handsome head a little, with her hands crossed in her lap, and on her lips a kind but inscrutable smile. Mrs. Vivian was on the sofa next to Blanche, one of whose hands, when it was not otherwise occupied, she occasionally took into her own.
"Dear little Blanche!" she softly murmured, at intervals.
These few remarks represent a longer pause than Mrs. Gordon often suffered to occur. She continued to deliver herself upon a hundred topics, and it hardly matters where we take her up.
"I have n't the least idea what we are going to do. I have nothing to say about it whatever. Gordon tells me every day I must decide, and then I ask Captain Lovelock what he thinks; because, you see, he always thinks a great deal. Captain Lovelock says he does n't care a fig--that he will go wherever I go. So you see that does n't carry us very far. I want to settle on some place where Captain Lovelock won't go, but he won't help me at all. I think it will look better for him not to follow us; don't you think it will look better, Mrs. Vivian? Not that I care in the least where we go-- or whether Captain Lovelock follows us, either. I don't take any interest in anything, Mrs. Vivian; don't you think that is very sad? Gordon may go anywhere he likes--to St. Petersburg, or to Bombay."
"You might go to a worse place than Bombay," said Captain Lovelock, speaking with the authority of an Anglo-Indian rich in reminiscences.
Blanche gave him a little stare.
"Ah well, that 's knocked on the head! From the way you speak of it, I think you would come after us; and the more I think of that, the more I see it would n't do. But we have got to go to some southern place, because I am very unwell. I have n't the least idea what 's the matter with me, and neither has any one else; but that does n't make any difference. It 's settled that I am out of health. One might as well be out of it as in it, for all the advantage it is. If you are out of health, at any rate you can come abroad. It was Gordon's discovery--he 's always making discoveries. You see it 's because I 'm so silly; he can always put it down to my being an invalid. What I should like to do, Mrs. Vivian, would be to spend the winter with you-- just sitting on the sofa beside you and holding your hand. It would be rather tiresome for you; but I really think it would be better for me than anything else. I have never forgotten how kind you were to me before my marriage--that summer at Baden. You were everything to me--you and Captain Lovelock. I am sure I should be happy if I never went out of this lovely room. You have got it so beautifully arranged--I mean to do my own room just like it when I go home. And you have got such lovely clothes. You never used to say anything about it, but you and Angela always had better clothes than I. Are you always so quiet and serious--never talking about chiffons-- always reading some wonderful book? I wish you would let me come and stay with you. If you only ask me, Gordon would be too delighted. He would n't have to trouble about me any more. He could go and live over in the Latin Quarter--that 's the desire of his heart--and think of nothing but old bottles. I know it is n't very good manners to beg for an invitation," Blanche went on, smiling with a gentler radiance; "but when it 's a question of one's health. One wants to keep one's self alive-- does n't one? One wants to keep one's self going. It would be so good for me, Mrs. Vivian; it would really be very good for me!"
She had turned round more and more to her hostess as she talked; and at last she had given both her hands to Mrs. Vivian, and sat looking at her with a singular mixture of earnestness and jocosity. It was hard to know whether Blanche were expressing a real desire or a momentary caprice, and whether this abrupt little petition were to be taken seriously, or treated merely as a dramatic pose in a series of more or less effective attitudes. Her smile had become almost a grimace, she was flushed, she showed her pretty teeth; but there was a little passionate quiver in her voice.
"My dear child," said Mrs. Vivian, "we should be delighted to have you pay us a visit, and we should be so happy if we could do you any good. But I am afraid you would very soon get tired of us, and I ought to tell you, frankly, that our little home is to be--a broken up. You know there is to be a--a change," the good lady continued, with a hesitation which apparently came from a sense of walking on uncertain ground, while she glanced with a smile at Bernard and Angela.
Blanche sat there with her little excited, yet innocent-- too innocent--stare; her eyes followed Mrs. Vivian's. They met Bernard's for an instant, and for some reason, at this moment, Bernard flushed.
He rose quickly and walked away to the window where he stood looking out into the darkness. "The devil--the devil!" he murmured to himself; "she does n't even know we are to be married-- Gordon has n't been able to trust himself to tell her!" And this fact seemed pregnant with evidence as to Gordon's state of mind; it did not appear to simplify the situation. After a moment, while Bernard stood there with his back turned-- he felt rather awkward and foolish--he heard Blanche begin with her little surprised voice.
"Ah, you are going away? You are going to travel? But that 's charming; we can travel together. You are not going to travel? What then are you going to do? You are going back to America? Ah, but you must n't do that, as soon as I come abroad; that 's not nice or friendly, Mrs. Vivian, to your poor little old Blanche. You are not going back to America? Ah, then, I give it up! What 's the great mystery? Is it something about Angela? There was always a mystery about Angela. I hope you won't mind my saying it, my dear; but I was always afraid of you. My husband--he admires you so much, you know--has often tried to explain you to me; but I have never understood. What are you going to do now? Are you going into a convent? Are you going to be--A-a-h!"
And, suddenly, quickly, interrupting herself, Mrs. Gordon gave a long, wondering cry. Bernard heard her spring to her feet, and the two other ladies rise from their seats. Captain Lovelock got up as well; Bernard heard him knock over his little gilded chair. There was a pause, during which Blanche went through a little mute exhibition of amazement and pleasure. Bernard turned round, to receive half a dozen quick questions.
"What are you hiding away for? What are you blushing for? I never saw you do anything like that before! Why do you look so strange, and what are you making me say? Angela, is it true-- is there something like that?" Without waiting for the answer to this last question, Blanche threw herself upon Mrs. Vivian. "My own Mrs. Vivian," she cried, "is she married?"
"My dear Blanche," said Bernard, coming forward, "has not Gordon told you? Angela and I are not married, but we hope to be before long. Gordon only knew it this morning; we ourselves have only known it a short time. There is no mystery about it, and we only want your congratulations."
"Well, I must say you have been very quiet about it!" cried Blanche. "When I was engaged, I wrote you all a letter."
"By Jove, she wrote to me!" observed Captain Lovelock.
Angela went to her and kissed her.
"Your husband does n't seem to have explained me very successfully!"
Mrs. Gordon held Bernard's intended for a moment at arm's length, with both her hands, looking at her with eyes of real excitement and wonder. Then she folded her in a prolonged, an exaggerated, embrace.
"Why did n't he tell me--why did n't he tell me?" she presently began. "He has had all day to tell me, and it was very cruel of him to let me come here without knowing it. Could anything be more absurd--more awkward? You don't think it 's awkward--you don't mind it? Ah well, you are very good! But I like it, Angela--I like it extremely, immensely. I think it 's delightful, and I wonder it never occurred to me. Has it been going on long? Ah, of course, it has been going on! Did n't it begin at Baden, and did n't I see it there? Do you mind my alluding to that? At Baden we were all so mixed up that one could n't tell who was attentive to whom! But Bernard has been very faithful, my dear; I can assure you of that. When he was in America he would n't look at another woman. I know something about that! He stayed three months in my house and he never spoke to me. Now I know why, Mr. Bernard; but you might have told me at the time. The reason was certainly good enough. I always want to know why, you know. Why Gordon never told me, for instance; that 's what I want to know!"
Blanche refused to sit down again; she declared that she was so agitated by this charming news that she could not be quiet, and that she must presently take her departure. Meanwhile she congratulated each of her friends half a dozen times; she kissed Mrs. Vivian again, she almost kissed Bernard; she inquired about details; she longed to hear all about Angela's "things." Of course they would stop for the wedding; but meantime she must be very discreet; she must not intrude too much. Captain Lovelock addressed to Angela a few fragmentary, but well-intentioned sentences, pulling his beard and fixing his eyes on the door-knob--an implement which presently turned in his manly fist, as he opened the door for his companion to withdraw. Blanche went away in a flutter of ejaculations and protestations which left our three friends in Mrs. Vivian's little drawing-room standing looking at each other as the door closed behind her.
"It certainly would have been better taste in him to tell her," said Bernard, frowning, "and not let other people see how little communication there is between them. It has mortified her."
"Poor Mr. Wright had his reasons," Mrs. Vivian suggested, and then she ventured to explain: "He still cares for Angela, and it was painful to him to talk about her marrying some one else."
This had been Bernard's own reflection, and it was no more agreeable as Mrs. Vivian presented it; though Angela herself seemed indifferent to it--seemed, indeed, not to hear it, as if she were thinking of something else.
"We must simply marry as soon as possible; to-morrow, if necessary," said Bernard, with some causticity. "That 's the best thing we can do for every one. When once Angela is married, Gordon will stop thinking of her. He will never permit his imagination to hover about a married woman; I am very sure of that. He does n't approve of that sort of thing, and he has the same law for himself as for other people."
"It does n't matter," said Angela, simply.
"How do you mean, my daughter, it does n't matter?"
"I don't feel obliged to feel so sorry for him now."
"Now? Pray, what has happened? I am more sorry than ever, since I have heard poor Blanche's dreadful tone about him."
The girl was silent a moment; then she shook her head, lightly.
"Her tone--her tone? Dearest mother, don't you see? She is intensely in love with him!"
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