Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 20

From the easy conquest of the men who looked at her Lottie proceeded to the subjection of the women. It would have been more difficult to put these down, if the process had not been so largely, so almost entirely subjective. As it was, Lottie exchanged snubs with many ladies of the continental nationalities who were never aware of having offered or received offence. In some cases, when they fearlessly ventured to speak with her, they behaved very amiable, and seemed to find her conduct sufficiently gracious in return. In fact, she was approachable enough, and had no shame, before Boyne, in dismounting from the high horse which she rode when alone with him, and meeting these ladies on foot, at least half-way. She made several of them acquainted with her mother, who, after a timorous reticence, found them very conversable, with a range of topics, however, that shocked her American sense of decorum. One Dutch lady talked with such manly freedom, and with such untrammelled intimacy, that she was obliged to send Boyne and Lottie about their business, upon an excuse that was not apparent to the Dutch lady. She only complimented Mrs. Kenton upon her children and their devotion to each other, and when she learned that Ellen was also her daughter, ventured the surmise she was not long married.

"It isn't her husband," Mrs. Kenton explained, with inward trouble. "It's just a gentleman that came over with us," and she went with her trouble to her own husband as soon as she could.

"I'm afraid it isn't the custom to go around alone with young men as much as Ellen thinks," she suggested.

"He ought to know," said the judge. "I don't suppose he would if it wasn't."

"That is true," Mrs. Kenton owned, and for the time she put her misgivings away.

"So long as we do nothing wrong," the judge decided, "I don't see why we should not keep to our own customs."

"Lottie says they're not ours, in New York."

"Well, we are not in New York now."

They had neither of them the heart to interfere with Ellen's happiness, for, after all, Breckon was careful enough of the appearances, and it was only his being constantly with Ellen that suggested the Dutch lady's surmise. In fact, the range of their wanderings was not beyond the dunes, though once they went a little way on one of the neatly bricked country roads that led towards The Hague. As yet there had been no movement in any of the party to see the places that lie within such easy tram-reach of The Hague, and the hoarded interest of the past in their keeping. Ellen chose to dwell in the actualities which were an enlargement of her own present, and Lottie's active spirit found employment enough in the amusements at the Kurhaus. She shopped in the little bazars which make a Saratoga under the colonnades fronting two sides of the great space before the hotel, and she formed a critical and exacting taste in music from a constant attendance at the afternoon concerts; it is true that during the winter in New York she had cast forever behind her the unsophisticated ideals of Tuskingum in the art, so that from the first she was able to hold the famous orchestra that played in the Kurhaus concert-room up to the highest standard. She had no use for anybody who had any use for rag-time, and she was terribly severe with a young American, primarily of Boyne's acquaintance, who tried to make favor with her by asking about the latest coon-songs. She took the highest ethical ground with him about tickets in a charitable lottery which he had bought from the portier, but could not move him on the lower level which he occupied. He offered to give her the picture which was the chief prize, in case he won it, and she assured him beforehand that she should not take it. She warned Boyne against him, under threats of exposure to their mother, as not a good influence, but one afternoon, when the young Queen of Holland came to the concert with the queen-mother, Lottie cast her prejudices to the winds in accepting the places which the wicked fellow-countryman offered Boyne and herself, when they had failed to get any where they could see the queens, as the Dutch called them.

The hotel was draped with flags, and banked with flowers about the main entrance where the queens were to arrive, and the guests massed themselves in a dense lane for them to pass through. Lottie could not fail to be one of the foremost in this array, and she was able to decide, when the queens had passed, that the younger would not be considered a more than average pretty girl in America, and that she was not very well dressed. They had all stood within five feet of her, and Boyne had appropriated one of the prettiest of the pretty bends which the gracious young creature made to right and left, and had responded to it with an 'empressement' which he hoped had not been a sacrifice of his republican principles.

During the concert he sat with his eyes fixed upon the Queen where she sat in the royal box, with her mother and her ladies behind her, and wondered and blushed to wonder if she had noticed him when he bowed, or if his chivalric devotion in applauding her when the audience rose to receive her had been more apparent than that of others; whether it had seemed the heroic act of setting forth at the head of her armies, to beat back a German invasion, which it had essentially been, with his instantaneous return as victor, and the Queen's abdication and adoption of republican principles under conviction of his reasoning, and her idolized consecration as the first chief of the Dutch republic. His cheeks glowed, and he quaked at heart lest Lottie should surprise his thoughts and expose them to that sarcastic acquaintance, who proved to be a medical student resting at Scheveningen from the winter's courses and clinics in, Vienna. He had already got on to many of Boyne's curves, and had sacrilegiously suggested the Queen of Holland when he found him feeding his fancy on the modern heroical romances; he advised him as an American adventurer to compete with the European princes paying court to her. So thin a barrier divided that malign intelligence from Boyne's most secret dreams that he could never feel quite safe from him, and yet he was always finding himself with him, now that he was separated from Miss Rasmith, and Mr. Breckon was taken up so much with Ellen. On the ship he could put many things before Mr. Breckon which must here perish in his breast, or suffer the blight of this Mr. Trannel's raillery. The student sat near the Kentons at table, and he was no more reverent of the judge's modest convictions than of Boyne's fantastic preoccupations. The worst of him was that you could not help liking him: he had a fascination which the boy felt while he dreaded him, and now and then he did something so pleasant that when he said something unpleasant you could hardly believe it.

At the end of the concert, when he rose and stood with all the rest, while the royal party left their box, and the orchestra played the Dutch national hymn, he said, in a loud whisper, to Boyne: "Now's your time, my boy! Hurry out and hand her into her carriage!"

Boyne fairly reeled at the words which translated a passage of the wild drama playing itself in his brain, and found little support in bidding his tormentor, "Shut up!" The retort, rude as it was, seemed insufficient, but Boyne tried in vain to think of something else. He tried to punish him by separating Lottie from him, but failed as signally in that. She went off with him, and sat in a windstuhl facing his the rest of the afternoon, with every effect of carrying on.

Boyne was helpless, with his mother against it, when he appealed to her to let him go and tell Lottie that she wanted her. Mrs. Kenton said that she saw no harm in it, that Ellen was sitting in like manner with Mr. Breckon.

"Mr. Breckon is very different, and Ellen knows how to behave," he urged, but his mother remained unmoved, or was too absent about something to take any interest in the matter. In fact, she was again unhappy about Ellen, though she put on such an air of being easy about her. Clearly, so far as her maternal surmise could fathom the case, Mr. Breckon was more and more interested in Ellen, and it was evident that the child was interested in him. The situation was everything that was acceptable to Mrs. Kenton, but she shuddered at the cloud which hung over it, and which might any moment involve it. Again and again she had made sure that Lottie had given Ellen no hint of Richard's ill-advised vengeance upon Bittridge; but it was not a thing that could be kept always, and the question was whether it could be kept till Ellen had accepted Mr. Breckon and married him. This was beyond the question of his asking her to do so, but it was so much more important that Mrs. Kenton was giving it her attention first, quite out of the order of time. Besides, she had every reason, as she felt, to count upon the event. Unless he was trifling with Ellen, far more wickedly than Bittridge, he was in love with her, and in Mrs. Kenton's simple experience and philosophy of life, being in love was briefly preliminary to marrying. If she went with her anxieties to her husband, she had first to reduce him from a buoyant optimism concerning the affair before she could get him to listen seriously. When this was accomplished he fell into such despair that she ended in lifting him up and supporting him with hopes that she did not feel herself. What they were both united in was the conviction that nothing so good could happen in the world, but they were equally united in the old American tradition that they must not lift a finger to secure this supreme good for their child.

It did not seem to them that leaving the young people constantly to themselves was doing this. They interfered with Ellen now neither more nor less than they had interfered with her as to Bittridge, or than they would have interfered with her in the case of any one else. She was still to be left entirely to herself in such matters, and Mrs. Kenton would have kept even her thoughts off her if she could. She would have been very glad to give her mind wholly to the study of the great events which had long interested her here in their scene, but she felt that until the conquest of Mr. Breckon was secured beyond the hazard of Ellen's morbid defection at the supreme moment, she could not give her mind to the history of the Dutch republic.

"Don't bother me about Lottie, Boyne," she said. "I have enough to think of without your nonsense. If this Mr. Trannel is an American, that is all that is necessary. We are all Americans together, and I don't believe it will make remark, Lottie's sitting on the beach with him."

"I don't see how he's different from that Bittridge," said Boyne. "He doesn't care for anything; and he plays the banjo just like him."

Mrs. Kenton was too troubled to laugh. She said, with finality, "Lottie can take care of herself," and then she asked, "Boyne, do you know whom Ellen's letters were from?"

"One was from Bessie Pearl—"

"Yes, she showed me that. But you don't know who the other was from?"

"No; she didn't tell me. You know how close Ellen is."

"Yes," the mother sighed, "she is very odd."

Then she added, "Don't you let her know that I asked you about her letters."

"No," said Boyne. His audience was apparently at an end, but he seemed still to have something on his mind. "Momma," he began afresh.

"Well?" she answered, a little impatiently.

"Nothing. Only I got to thinking, Is a person able to control their—their fancies?"

"Fancies about what?"

"Oh, I don't know. About falling in love." Boyne blushed.

"Why do you want to know? You musn't think about such things, a boy like you! It's a great pity that you ever knew anything about that Bittridge business. It's made you too bold. But it seems to have been meant to drag us down and humiliate us in every way."

"Well, I didn't try to know anything about it," Boyne retorted.

"No, that's true," his mother did him the justice to recognize. "Well, what is it you want to know?" Boyne was too hurt to answer at once, and his mother had to coax him a little. She did it sweetly, and apologized to him for saying what she had said. After all, he was the youngest, and her baby still. Her words and caresses took effect at last, and he stammered out, "Is everybody so, or is it only the Kentons that seem to be always putting—well, their affections—where it's perfectly useless?"

His mother pushed him from her. "Boyne, are you silly about that ridiculous old Miss Rasmith?"

"No!" Boyne shouted, savagely, "I'm NOT!"

"Who is it, then?"

"I sha'n't tell you!" Boyne said, and tears of rage and shame came into his eyes.

William Dean Howells

Sorry, no summary available yet.