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Chapter 12

Her absence had not been long and when she re-entered the familiar salon
at the hotel she found her father and sister sitting there together as
if they had timed her by their watches, a prey, both of them, to
curiosity and suspense. Mr. Dosson however gave no sign of impatience;
he only looked at her in silence through the smoke of his cigar--he
profaned the red satin splendour with perpetual fumes--as she burst into
the room. An irruption she made of her desired reappearance; she rushed
to one of the tables, flinging down her muff and gloves, while Delia,
who had sprung up as she came in, caught her closely and glared into her
face with a "Francie Dosson, what HAVE you been through?" Francie said
nothing at first, only shutting her eyes and letting her sister do what
she would with her. "She has been crying, poppa--she HAS," Delia almost
shouted, pulling her down upon a sofa and fairly shaking her as she
continued. "Will you please tell? I've been perfectly wild! Yes you
have, you dreadful--!" the elder girl insisted, kissing her on the eyes.
They opened at this compassionate pressure and Francie rested their
troubled light on her father, who had now risen to his feet and stood
with his back to the fire.

"Why, chicken," said Mr. Dosson, "you look as if you had had quite a
worry."

"I told you I should--I told you, I told you!" Francie broke out with a
trembling voice. "And now it's come!"

"You don't mean to say you've DONE anything?" cried Delia, very white.

"It's all over, it's all over!" With which Francie's face braved denial.

"Are you crazy, Francie?" Delia demanded. "I'm sure you look as if you
were."

"Ain't you going to be married, childie?" asked Mr. Dosson all
considerately, but coming nearer to her.

Francie sprang up, releasing herself from her sister, and threw her arms
round him. "Will you take me away, poppa? will you take me right
straight away?"

"Of course I will, my precious. I'll take you anywhere. I don't want
anything--it wasn't MY idea!" And Mr. Dosson and Delia looked at each
other while the girl pressed her face upon his shoulder.

"I never heard such trash--you can't behave that way! Has he got engaged
to some one else--in America?" Delia threw out.

"Why if it's over it's over. I guess it's all right," said Mr. Dosson,
kissing his younger daughter. "I'll go back or I'll go on. I'll go
anywhere you like."

"You won't have your daughters insulted, I presume!" Delia cried. "If
you don't tell me this moment what has happened," she pursued to her
sister, "I'll drive straight round there and make THEM."

"HAVE they insulted you, sweetie?" asked the old man, bending over
his child, who simply leaned on him with her hidden face and no sound of
tears. Francie raised her head, turning round to their companion. "Did I
ever tell you anything else--did I ever believe in it for an hour?"

"Oh well, if you've done it on purpose to triumph over me we might as
well go home, certainly. But I guess," Delia added, "you had better just
wait till Gaston comes."

"It will be worse when he comes--if he thinks the same as they do."

"HAVE they insulted you--have they?" Mr. Dosson repeated while the smoke
of his cigar, curling round the question, gave him the air of putting it
with placidity.

"They think I've insulted THEM--they're in an awful state--they're
almost dead. Mr. Flack has put it into the paper--everything, I don't
know what--and they think it's too wicked. They were all there together
--all at me at once, weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth. I
never saw people so affected."

Delia's face grew big with her stare. "So affected?"

"Ah yes, I guess there's a good deal OF THAT," said Mr. Dosson.

"It's too real--too terrible; you don't understand. It's all printed
there--that they're immoral, and everything about them; everything
that's private and dreadful," Francie explained.

"Immoral, is that so?" Mr. Dosson threw off.

"And about me too, and about Gaston and my marriage, and all sorts of
personalities, and all the names, and Mme. de Villepreux, and
everything. It's all printed there and they've read it. It says one of
them steals."

"Will you be so good as to tell me what you're talking about?" Delia
enquired sternly. "Where is it printed and what have we got to do with
it?"

"Some one sent it, and I told Mr. Flack."

"Do you mean HIS paper? Oh the horrid ape!" Delia cried with passion.

"Do they mind so what they see in the papers?" asked Mr. Dosson. "I
guess they haven't seen what I've seen. Why there used to be things
about ME--"

"Well, it IS about us too--about every one. They think it's the same as
if I wrote it," Francie ruefully mentioned.

"Well, you know what you COULD do!" And Mr. Dosson beamed at her for
common cheer.

"Do you mean that piece about your picture--that you told me about when
you went with him again to see it?" Delia demanded.

"Oh I don't know what piece it is; I haven't seen it."

"Haven't seen it? Didn't they show it to you?"

"Yes, but I couldn't read it. Mme. de Brecourt wanted me to take it--but
I left it behind."

"Well, that's LIKE you--like the Tauchnitzes littering up our track.
I'll be bound I'd see it," Delia declared. "Hasn't it come, doesn't it
always come?"

"I guess we haven't had the last--unless it's somewhere round," said Mr.
Dosson.

"Poppa, go out and get it--you can buy it on the boulevard!" Delia
continued. "Francie, what DID you want to tell him?"

"I didn't know. I was just conversing. He seemed to take so much
interest," Francie pleaded.

"Oh he's a deep one!" groaned Delia.

"Well, if folks are immoral you can't keep it out of the papers--and I
don't know as you ought to want to," Mr. Dosson remarked. "If they ARE
I'm glad to know it, lovey." And he gave his younger daughter a glance
apparently intended to show that in this case he should know what to do.

But Francie was looking at her sister as if her attention had been
arrested. "How do you mean--'a deep one'?"

"Why he wanted to break it off, the fiend!"

Francie stared; then a deeper flush leapt to her face, already mottled
as with the fine footprints of the Proberts, dancing for pain. "To break
off my engagement?"

"Yes, just that. But I'll be hanged if he shall. Poppa, will you allow
that?"

"Allow what?"

"Why Mr. Flack's vile interference. You won't let him do as he likes
with us, I suppose, will you?"

"It's all done--it's all done!" said Francie. The tears had suddenly
started into her eyes again.

"Well, he's so smart that it IS likely he's too smart," her father
allowed. "But what did they want you to do about it?--that's what _I_
want to know?"

"They wanted me to say I knew nothing about it--but I couldn't."

"But you didn't and you don't--if you haven't even read it!" Delia
almost yelled.

"Where IS the d---d thing?" their companion asked, looking helplessly
about him.

"On the boulevard, at the very first of those kiosks you come to. That
old woman has it--the one who speaks English--she always has it. Do go
and get it--DO!" And Delia pushed him, looked for his hat for him.

"I knew he wanted to print something and I can't say I didn't!" Francie
said. "I thought he'd crack up my portrait and that Mr. Waterlow would
like that, and Gaston and every one. And he talked to me about the
paper--he's always doing that and always was--and I didn't see the harm.
But even just knowing him--they think that's vile."

"Well, I should hope we can know whom we like!"--and Delia bounced
fairly round as from the force of her high spirit.

Mr. Dosson had put on his hat--he was going out for the paper. "Why he
kept us alive last year," he uttered in tribute.

"Well, he seems to have killed us now," Delia cried.

"Well, don't give up an old friend," her father urged with his hand on
the door. "And don't back down on anything you've done."

"Lord, what a fuss about an old newspaper!" Delia went on in her
exasperation. "It must be about two weeks old anyway. Didn't they ever
see a society-paper before?"

"They can't have seen much," said Mr. Dosson. He paused still with his
hand on the door. "Don't you worry--Gaston will make it all right."

"Gaston?--it will kill Gaston!"

"Is that what they say?" Delia demanded.

"Gaston will never look at me again."

"Well then he'll have to look at ME," said Mr. Dosson.

"Do you mean that he'll give you up--he'll be so CRAWLING?" Delia went
on.

"They say he's just the one who'll feel it most. But I'm the one who
does that," said Francie with a strange smile.

"They're stuffing you with lies--because THEY don't like it. He'll be
tender and true," Delia glared.

"When THEY hate me?--Never!" And Francie shook her head slowly, still
with her smile of softness. "That's what he cared for most--to make
them like me."

"And isn't he a gentleman, I should like to know?" asked Delia.

"Yes, and that's why I won't marry him--if I've injured him."

"Shucks! he has seen the papers over there. You wait till he comes," Mr.
Dosson enjoined, passing out of the room.

The girls remained there together and after a moment Delia resumed.
"Well, he has got to fix it--that's one thing I can tell you."

"Who has got to fix it?"

"Why that villainous man. He has got to publish another piece saying
it's all false or all a mistake."

"Yes, you'd better make him," said Francie with a weak laugh. "You'd
better go after him--down to Nice."

"You don't mean to say he's gone down to Nice?"

"Didn't he say he was going there as soon as he came back from London--
going right through without stopping?"

"I don't know but he did," said Delia. Then she added: "The mean
coward!"

"Why do you say that? He can't hide at Nice--they can find him there."

"Are they going after him?"

"They want to shoot him--to stab him, I don't know what--those men."

"Well, I wish they would," said Delia.

"They'd better shoot me. I shall defend him. I shall protect him,"
Francie went on.

"How can you protect him? You shall never speak to him again!" her
sister engaged.

Francie had a pause. "I can protect him without speaking to him. I can
tell the simple truth--that he didn't print a word but what I told him."

"I'd like to see him not!" Delia fairly hooted. "When did he grow so
particular? He fixed it up," she said with assurance. "They always do in
the papers--they'd be ashamed if they didn't. Well now he has got to
bring out a piece praising them up--praising them to the skies: that's
what he has got to do!" she wound up with decision.

"Praising them up? They'll hate that worse," Francie returned musingly.

Delia stared. "What on earth then do they want?"

Francie had sunk to the sofa; her eyes were fixed on the carpet. She
gave no reply to this question but presently said: "We had better go to-
morrow, the first hour that's possible."

"Go where? Do you mean to Nice?"

"I don't care where. Anywhere to get away."

"Before Gaston comes--without seeing him?"

"I don't want to see him. When they were all ranting and raving at me
just now I wished he was there--I told them so. But now I don't feel
like that--I can never see him again."

"I don't suppose YOU'RE crazy, are you?" Delia returned.

"I can't tell him it wasn't me--I can't, I can't!" her companion went
on.

Delia planted herself in front of her. "Francie Dosson, if you're going
to tell him you've done anything wrong you might as well stop before you
begin. Didn't you hear how poppa put it?"

"I'm sure I don't know," Francie said listlessly.

"'Don't give up an old friend--there's nothing on earth so mean.' Now
isn't Gaston Probert an old friend?"

"It will be very simple--he'll give me up."

"Then he'll be worse than a worm."

"Not in the least--he'll give me up as he took me. He'd never have asked
me to marry him if he hadn't been able to get THEM to accept me: he
thinks everything in life of THEM. If they cast me off now he'll do just
the same. He'll have to choose between us, and when it comes to that
he'll never choose me."

"He'll never choose Mr. Flack, if that's what you mean--if you're going
to identify yourself so with HIM!"

"Oh I wish he'd never been born!" Francie wailed; after which she
suddenly shivered. And then she added that she was sick--she was going
to bed, and her sister took her off to her room.

Mr. Dosson that afternoon, sitting by his younger daughter's bedside,
read the dreadful "piece" out to both his children from the copy of the
Reverberator he had secured on the boulevard. It is a remarkable fact
that as a family they were rather disappointed in this composition, in
which their curiosity found less to repay it than it had expected, their
resentment against Mr. Flack less to stimulate it, their fluttering
effort to take the point of view of the Proberts less to sustain it, and
their acceptance of the promulgation of Francie's innocent remarks as a
natural incident of the life of the day less to make them reconsider it.
The letter from Paris appeared lively, "chatty," highly calculated to
please, and so far as the personalities contained in it were concerned
Mr. Dosson wanted to know if they weren't aware over here of the charges
brought every day against the most prominent men in Boston. "If there
was anything in that style they might talk," he said; and he scanned the
effusion afresh with a certain surprise at not finding in it some
imputation of pecuniary malversation. The effect of an acquaintance with
the text was to depress Delia, who didn't exactly see what there was in
it to take back or explain away. However, she was aware there were some
points they didn't understand, and doubtless these were the scandalous
places--the things that had so worked up the Proberts. But why should
they have minded if other people didn't understand the allusions (these
were peculiar, but peculiarly incomprehensible) any better than she did?
The whole thing struck Francie herself as infinitely less lurid than
Mme. de Brecourt's account of it, and the part about her own situation
and her beautiful picture seemed to make even less of the subject than
it easily might have done. It was scanty, it was "skimpy," and if Mr.
Waterlow was offended it wouldn't be because they had published too much
about him. It was nevertheless clear to her that there were a lot of
things SHE hadn't told Mr. Flack, as well as a great many she had:
perhaps those were the things that lady had put in--Florine or Dorine--
the one she had mentioned at Mme. de Brecourt's.

All the same, if the communication in the Reverberator let them down, at
the hotel, more gently than had seemed likely and bristled so much less
than was to have been feared with explanations of the anguish of the
Proberts, this didn't diminish the girl's sense of responsibility nor
make the case a whit less grave. It only showed how sensitive and
fastidious the Proberts were and therefore with what difficulty they
would come round to condonation. Moreover Francie made another reflexion
as she lay there--for Delia kept her in bed nearly three days, feeling
this to be for the moment at any rate an effectual reply to any absurd
heroics about leaving Paris. Perhaps they had got "case-hardened"
Francie said to herself; perhaps they had read so many such bad things
that they had lost the delicacy of their palate, as people were said to
do who lived on food too violently spiced. Then, very weak and vague and
passive as she was now, in the bedimmed room, in the soft Parisian bed
and with Delia treating her as much as possible like a sick person, she
thought of the lively and chatty letters they had always seen in the
papers and wondered if they ALL meant a violation of sanctities, a
convulsion of homes, a burning of smitten faces, a rupture of girls'
engagements. It was present to her as an agreeable negative, I must add,
that her father and sister took no strenuous view of her responsibility
or of their own: they neither brought the matter home to her as a crime
nor made her worse through her feeling them anxiously understate their
blame. There was a pleasant cheerful helplessness in her father on this
head as on every other. There could be no more discussion among them on
such a question than there had ever been, for none was needed to show
that for these candid minds the newspapers and all they contained were a
part of the general fatality of things, of the recurrent freshness of
the universe, coming out like the sun in the morning or the stars at
night or the wind and the weather at all times.

The thing that worried Francie most while Delia kept her in bed was the
apprehension of what her father might do; but this was not a fear of
what he might do to Mr. Flack. He would go round perhaps to Mr.
Probert's or to Mme. de Brecourt's and reprimand them for having made
things so rough to his "chicken." It was true she had scarcely ever seen
him reprimand any one for anything; but on the other hand nothing like
this had ever happened before to her or to Delia. They had made each
other cry once or twice, but no one else had ever made them, and no one
had ever broken out on them that way and frightened them half to death.
Francie wanted her father not to go round; she had a sense that those
other people had somehow stores of comparison, of propriety, of
superiority, in any discussion, which he couldn't command. She wanted
nothing done and no communication to pass--only a proud unbickering
silence on the part of the Dossons. If the Proberts made a noise and
they made none it would be they who would have the best appearance.
Moreover now, with each elapsing day, she felt she did wish to see
Gaston about it. Her desire was to wait, counting the hours, so that she
might just clearly explain, saying two or three things. Perhaps these
things wouldn't make it better--very likely they wouldn't; but at any
rate nothing would have been done in the interval, at least on her part
and her father's and Delia's, to make it worse. She told her father that
she wouldn't, as Delia put it, "want to have him" go round, and was in
some degree relieved at perceiving that he didn't seem very clear as to
what it was open to him to say to their alienated friends. He wasn't
afraid but was uncertain. His relation to almost everything that had
happened to them as a family from a good while back was a sense of the
absence of precedents, and precedents were particularly absent now, for
he had never before seen a lot of people in a rage about a piece in the
paper.

Delia also reassured her; she said she'd see to it that poppa didn't
sneak round. She communicated to her indeed that he hadn't the smallest
doubt that Gaston, in a few days, would blow them up--all THEM down
there--much higher than they had blown her, and that he was very sorry
he had let her go down herself on that sort of summons. It was for her
and the rest to come to Francie and to him, and if they had anything
practical to say they'd arrive in a body yet. If Mr. Dosson had the
sense of his daughter's having been roughly handled he derived some of
the consolation of amusement from his persistent humorous view of the
Proberts as a "body." If they were consistent with their character or
with their complaint they would move en masse upon the hotel, and he
hung about at home a good deal as if to wait for them. Delia intimated
to her sister that this vision cheered them up as they sat, they two, in
the red salon while Francie was in bed. Of course it didn't exhilarate
this young lady, and she even looked for no brighter side now. She knew
almost nothing but her sharp little ache of suspense, her presentiment
of Gaston's horror, which grew all the while. Delia remarked to her once
that he would have seen lots of society-papers over there, he would have
become familiar; but this only suggested to the girl--she had at present
strange new moments and impulses of quick reasoning--that they would
only prepare him to be disgusted, not to be indifferent. His disgust
would be colder than anything she had ever known and would complete her
knowledge of him--make her understand him properly for the first time.
She would just meet it as briefly as possible; it would wind up the
business, close the incident, and all would be over.

He didn't write; that proved it in advance; there had now been two or
three mails without a letter. He had seen the paper in Boston or in New
York and it had simply struck him dumb. It was very well for Delia to
say that of course he didn't write when he was on the ocean: how could
they get his letters even if he did? There had been time before--before
he sailed; though Delia represented that people never wrote then. They
were ever so much too busy at the last and were going to see their
correspondents in a few days anyway. The only missives that came to
Francie were a copy of the Reverberator, addressed in Mr. Flack's hand
and with a great inkmark on the margin of the fatal letter, and three
intense pages from Mme. de Brecourt, received forty-eight hours after
the scene at her house. This lady expressed herself as follows:

MY DEAR FRANCIE--I felt very badly after you had gone yesterday morning,
and I had twenty minds to go and see you. But we've talked it over
conscientiously and it appears to us that we've no right to take any
such step till Gaston arrives. The situation isn't exclusively ours but
belongs to him as well, and we feel we ought to make it over to him in
as simple and compact a form as possible. Therefore, as we regard it, we
had better not touch it (it's so delicate, isn't it, my poor child?) but
leave it just as it is. They think I even exceed my powers in writing
you these simple lines, and that once your participation has been
constatee (which was the only advantage of that dreadful scene)
EVERYTHING should stop. But I've liked you, Francie, I've believed in
you, and I don't wish you to be able to say that in spite of the
thunderbolt you've drawn down on us I've not treated you with
tenderness. It's a thunderbolt indeed, my poor and innocent but
disastrous little friend! We're hearing more of it already--the horrible
Republican papers here have (AS WE KNOW) already got hold of the
unspeakable sheet and are preparing to reproduce the article: that is
such parts of it as they may put forward (with innuendoes and sous-
entendus to eke out the rest) without exposing themselves to a suit for
defamation. Poor Leonie de Villepreux has been with us constantly and
Jeanne and her husband have telegraphed that we may expect them day
after to-morrow. They are evidently immensely emotionnes, for they
almost never telegraph. They wish so to receive Gaston. We have
determined all the same to be intensely QUIET, and that will be sure to
be his view. Alphonse and Maxime now recognise that it's best to leave
Mr. Flack alone, hard as it is to keep one's hands off him. Have you
anything to lui faire dire--to my precious brother when he arrives? But
it's foolish of me to ask you that, for you had much better not answer
this. You will no doubt have an opportunity to say to him--whatever, my
dear Francie, you CAN say! It will matter comparatively little that you
may never be able to say it to your friend with every allowance SUZANNE
DE BRECOURT.

Francie looked at this letter and tossed it away without reading it.
Delia picked it up, read it to her father, who didn't understand it, and
kept it in her possession, poring over it as Mr. Flack had seen her pore
over the cards that were left while she was out or over the registers of
American travellers. They knew of Gaston's arrival by his telegraphing
from Havre (he came back by the French line) and he mentioned the hour--
"about dinner-time"--at which he should reach Paris. Delia, after
dinner, made her father take her to the circus so that Francie should be
left alone to receive her intended, who would be sure to hurry round in
the course of the evening. The girl herself expressed no preference
whatever on this point, and the idea was one of Delia's masterly ones,
her flashes of inspiration. There was never any difficulty about
imposing such conceptions on poppa. But at half-past ten, when they
returned, the young man had not appeared, and Francie remained only long
enough to say "I told you so!" with a white face and march off to her
room with her candle. She locked herself in and her sister couldn't get
at her that night. It was another of Delia's inspirations not to try,
after she had felt that the door was fast. She forbore, in the exercise
of a great discretion, but she herself for the ensuing hours slept no
wink. Nevertheless the next morning, as early as ten o'clock, she had
the energy to drag her father out to the banker's and to keep him out
two hours. It would be inconceivable now that Gaston shouldn't turn up
before dejeuner. He did turn up; about eleven o'clock he came in and
found Francie alone. She noticed, for strangeness, that he was very pale
at the same time that he was sunburnt; also that he didn't for an
instant smile at her. It was very certain there was no bright flicker in
her own face, and they had the most singular, the most unnatural
meeting. He only said as he arrived: "I couldn't come last evening; they
made it impossible; they were all there and we were up till three
o'clock this morning." He looked as if he had been through terrible
things, and it wasn't simply the strain of his attention to so much
business in America. What passed next she couldn't remember afterwards;
it seemed but a few seconds before he said to her slowly, holding her
hand--before this he had pressed his lips to hers silently--"Is it true,
Francie, what they say (and they swear to it!) that YOU told that
blackguard those horrors; that that infamous letter's only a report of
YOUR talk?"

"I told him everything--it's all me, ME, ME!" the girl replied
exaltedly, without pretending to hesitate an instant as to what he might
mean.

Gaston looked at her with deep eyes, then walked straight away to the
window and remained there in silence. She herself said nothing more. At
last the young man went on: "And I who insisted to them that there was
no natural delicacy like yours!"

"Well, you'll never need to insist about anything any more!" she cried.
And with this she dashed out of the room by the nearest door. When Delia
and Mr. Dosson returned the red salon was empty and Francie was again
locked in her room. But this time her sister forced an entrance.

Henry James

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