"Well, did you get the rooms?" asked my wife as soon as she saw me.
She did not quite call it across the street to me as I came up from where she sat on the piazza.
"No, I didn't," I said boldly, if somewhat breathlessly.
"Why didn't you? You ought to have gone to the States if they were full at the Grand Union."
"They were not full, unless Kendricks got their last room."
"Do you mean that HE was there? Mr. Kendricks? If you are hoaxing me, Basil!"
"I am not, my dear; indeed I'm not," said I, beginning to laugh, and this made her doubt me the more.
"Because if you are I shall simply never forgive you. And I'm in earnest this time," she replied.
"Why should I want to hoax you about such a vital thing as that. Couldn't Kendricks come to Saratoga as well as we? He's here looking up the ground of a story I should think from what he said."
"No matter what he's here for; he's here, and that's enough. I never knew of anything so perfectly providential. Did you TELL him, Basil? Did you dare?"
"Tell him what?"
"You know; about Miss Gage."
"Well, I came very near it. I dangled the fact before his eyes once, but I caught it away again in time. He never saw it. I thought I'd better let you tell him."
"Is he coming here to see us?"
"He asked if he might."
"He's always nice. I don't know that I shall ask him to do anything for them, after all; I'm not sure that she's worth it. I wish some commoner person had happened along. Kendricks is too precious. I shall have to think about it; and don't you tease me, Basil, will you?"
"I don't know. If I'm not allowed to have any voice in the matter, I'm afraid I shall take it out in teasing. I don't see why Miss Gage isn't quite as good as Kendricks. I believe she's taller, and though he's pretty good-looking, I prefer her style of beauty. I dare say his family is better, but I fancy she's richer; and his family isn't good beyond New York city, and her money will go anywhere. It's a pretty even thing."
"Good gracious, Basil! you talk as if it were a question of marriage."
"And you THINK it is."
"Now I see that you're bent upon teasing, and we won't talk any more, please. What time did he say he would call?"
"If I mayn't talk, I can't tell."
"You may talk that much."
"Well, then, he didn't say."
"Basil," said my wife, after a moment, "if you could be serious, I should like very much to talk with you. I know that you're excited by meeting Mr. Kendricks, and I know what you thought the instant you saw him. But, indeed, it won't do, my dear. It's more than we've any right to ask, and I shall not ask it, and I shall not let you. She is a stiff, awkward village person, and I don't believe she's amiable or intelligent; and to let a graceful, refined, superior man like Mr. Kendricks throw away his time upon her would be wicked, simply wicked. Let those people manage for themselves from this out. Of course you mustn't get them rooms at the Grand Union now, for he'd be seeing us there with them, and feel bound to pay her attention. You must try for them at the States, since the matter's been spoken of, or at Congress Hall. But there's no hurry. We must have time to think whether we shall use Mr. Kendricks with them. I suppose it will do no harm to introduce him. If he stays we can't very well avoid it; and I confess I should like to see how she impresses him! Of course we shall introduce him! But I insist I shall just do it merely as one human being to another; and don't you come in with any of your romantic nonsense, Basil, about her social disappointment. Just how much did you give the situation away?"
I told as well as I could remember. "Well, that's nothing. He'll never think of it, and you mustn't hint anything of the kind again."
I promised devoutly, and she went on -
"It wouldn't be nice—it wouldn't be delicate to let him into the conspiracy. That must be entirely our affair, don't you see? And I don't want you to take a single step without me. I don't want you even to discuss her with him. Will you? Because that will tempt you further."
That afternoon Kendricks came promptly to call, like the little gentleman he was, and he was more satisfactory about Saratoga than he had been in the morning even. Mrs. March catechised him, and she didn't leave an emotion of his unsearched by her vivid sympathy. She ended by saying -
"You must write a story about Saratoga. And I have got just the heroine for you."
I started, but she ignored my start.
Kendricks laughed, delighted, and asked, "Is she pretty?"
"Must a heroine be pretty?"
"She had better be. Otherwise she will have to be tremendously clever and say all sorts of brilliant things, and that puts a great burden on the author. If you proclaim boldly at the start that she's a beauty, the illustrator has got to look after her, and the author has a comparative sinecure."
Mrs. March thought a moment, and then she said: "Well, she is a beauty. I don't want to make it too hard for you."
"When shall I see her?" Kendricks demanded, and he feigned an amusing anxiety.
"Well, that depends upon how you behave, Mr. Kendricks. If you are very, very good, perhaps I may let you see her this evening. We will take you to call upon her."
"Is it possible? Do you mean business? Then she is—in society?"
"MR. Kendricks!" cried Mrs. March, with burlesque severity. "Do you think that I would offer you a heroine who was NOT in society? You forget that I am from Boston!"
"Of course, of course! I understand that any heroine of your acquaintance must be in society. But I thought—I didn't know—but for the moment—Saratoga seems to be so tremendously mixed; and Mr. March says there is no society here: But if she is from Boston—"
"I didn't say she was from Boston, Mr. Kendricks."
"Oh, I beg your pardon!"
"She is from De Witt Point," said Mrs. March, and she apparently enjoyed his confusion, no less than my bewilderment at the course she was taking.
I was not going to be left behind, though, and I said: "I discovered this heroine myself, Kendricks, and if there is to be any giving away—"
"I am going to do it. Mrs. March would never have cared anything about her if it hadn't been for me. I can't let her impose on you. This heroine is no more in society than she is from Boston. That is the trouble with her. She has come here for society, and she can't find any."
"Oh, that was what you were hinting at this morning," said
Kendricks. "I thought it a pure figment of the imagination."
"One doesn't imagine such things as that, my dear fellow. One imagines a heroine coming here, and having the most magnificent kind of social career—lawn-parties, lunches, teas, dinners, picnics, hops—and going back to De Witt Point with a dozen offers of marriage. That's the kind of work the imagination does. But this simple and appealing situation—this beautiful young girl, with her poor little illusions, her secret hopes half hidden from herself, her ignorant past, her visionary future—"
"Now, I am going to tell you all about her, Mr. Kendricks," Mrs. March broke in upon me, with defiance in her eye; and she flung out the whole fact with a rapidity of utterance that would have left far behind any attempt of mine. But I made no attempt to compete with her; I contented myself with a sarcastic silence which I could see daunted her a little at last.
"And all that we've done, my dear fellow"—I took in irony the word she left to me—"is to load ourselves up with these two impossible people, to go their security to destiny, and answer for their having a good time. We're in luck."
"Why, I don't know," said Kendricks, and I could see that his fancy was beginning to play with the situation; "I don't see why it isn't a charming scheme."
"Of course it is," cried Mrs. March, taking a little heart from his courage.
"We can't make out yet whether the girl is interesting," I put in maliciously.
"That is what YOU say," said my wife. "She is very shy, and of course she wouldn't show out her real nature to you. I found her VERY interesting."
"Now, Isabel!" I protested.
"She is fascinating," the perverse woman persisted. "She has a fascinating dulness."
Kendricks laughed and I jeered at this complex characterisation.
"You make me impatient to judge for myself," he said.
"Will you go with me to call upon them this evening?" asked Mrs.
"I shall be delighted. And you can count upon me to aid and abet you in your generous conspiracy, Mrs. March, to the best of my ability. There's nothing I should like better than to help you—"
"Throw 'dust in her beautiful eyes,'" I quoted.
"Not at all," said my wife. "But to spread a beatific haze over everything, so that as long as she stays in Saratoga she shall see life rose-colour. Of course you may say that it's a kind of deception—"
"Not at all!" cried the young fellow in his turn. "We will make it reality. Then there will be no harm in it."
"What a jesuitical casuist! You had better read what Cardinal
Newman says in his Apologia about lying, young man."
Neither of them minded me, for just then there was a stir of drapery round the corner of the piazza from where we were sitting, and the next moment Mrs. Deering and Miss Gage showed themselves.
"We were just talking of you," said Mrs. March. "May I present our friend Mr. Kendricks, Mrs. Deering? And Miss Gage?"
At sight of the young man, so well dressed and good-looking, who bowed so prettily to her, and then bustled to place chairs for them, a certain cloud seemed to lift from Miss Gage's beautiful face, and to be at least partly broken on Mrs. Deering's visage. I began to talk to the girl, and she answered in good spirits, and with more apparent interest in my conversation than she had yet shown, while Kendricks very properly devoted himself to the other ladies. Both his eyes were on them, but I felt that he had a third somehow upon her, and that the smallest fact of her beauty and grace was not lost upon him. I knew that her rich, tender voice was doing its work, too, through the commonplaces she vouchsafed to me. There was a moment when I saw him lift a questioning eyebrow upon Mrs. March, and saw her answer with a fleeting frown of affirmation. I cannot tell just how it was that, before he left us, his chair was on the other side of Miss Gage's, and I was eliminated from the dialogue.
He did not stay too long. There was another tableau of him on foot, taking leave of Mrs. March, with a high hand-shake, which had then lately come in, and which I saw the girl note, and then bowing to her and to Mrs. Deering.
"Don't forget," my wife called after him, with a ready invention not lost on his quick intelligence, "that you're going to the concert with us after tea. Eight o'clock, remember."
"You may be sure I shall remember THAT," he returned gaily.