George Streynsham Master.

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and I hold that an excellent reason. I
have been ready any time this year or two
to fall in love with some simple, trusring,
child-like nature. I find this in penfection
in this charming young girl. I find her so
natural and fresh. I remember telling you
once that I didn't wish to be fascinated —
that I wanted to estimate scientifically the
woman I should marry. I have altogether
got over that, and I don't know how I ever
came to talk such nonsense. I am fasci-
nated now, and I assure you I like it I The
best of it is that I find it doesn't in the
least prevent my estimating Blanche. I
judge her very fairly — I see just what she
is. She's simple — that's what I want ; she's
tender — that's what I lon^ for. You will
remember how pretty she is ; I needn't re-
mind you of that. She was much younger
then, and she has greatly developed and
improved in these two or three years. But
she will always be young and innocent — I
don't want her to improve too much. She
came back to America with her mother the
winter after we met her at Baden, but I
never saw her again till three months ago.
Then I saw her with new eyes, and I won-
dered I could have been so blind. But I
wasn't ready for her till then, and what
makes me so happy now is to know that I
have come to my present way of feeling by
experience. That gives me confidence — you
see I am a reasoner still. But I am under
the charm, for all my reason. We are to be
married in a month — try and come back to
the wedding. Blanche sends you a message,
which I will give you verbatim. * Tell him
I am not such a silly little chatterbox as I
used to be at Baden-Baden. I am a great
deal wiser; I am almost as clever as Angela
Vivian.' She has an idea you thought
Miss Vivian very clever — but it is not true
that she is equally so. I am very happy ;
come home and see."

Bernard went home, but he was not able
to reach the United States in time for Gor-
don's wedding, which took place at midsum-
mer. Bernard, arriving late in the autumn,
found his friend a married man of some



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months* standing, and was able to judge,
according to his invitation, whether he ap-
peared happy. The first effect of the letter
I have just quoted had been an immense
surprise; the second had been a series of
reflections which were quite the negative of
surprise, and these operations of Bernard's
mind had finally merged themselves in a
simple sentiment of jollity. He was de-
lighted that Gordon should be married ; he
felt jovial about it ; he was almost indifferent
to the question of whom he had chosen.
Certainly, at first the choice of Blanche
Evers •seemed highly incongruous; it was
difficult to imagine a young woman less
shaped to minister to Gordon's strenuous
needs than the Hght-hearted and empty-
headed little flirt whose inconsequent prattle
had remained for Bernard one of the least
importunate memories of a charming time.
Blanche Evers was a pretty little goose —
the prettiest of little geese, perhaps, and
doubtless the most amiable; but she was
not a companion for a peculiarly serious
man, who would like his wife to share his
view of human responsibilities. What a
singular selection — what a queer infatuation !
Bernard had no sooner committed himself
to this line of criticism than he stopped
short, with the sudden consciousness of error
carried almost to the point of narveU, He
exclaimed that Blanche Evers was exactly
the sort of girl that men of Gordon Wright's
stamp always ended by falling in love with,
and that poor Gordon knew very much bet-
ter what he was about in this case than he
had done in trying to solve the deep problem
of a comfortable life with Angela Vivian.
This was what your strong, solid, sensible
fellows always came to ; they paid, in this
particular, a larger tribute to pure fancy
than the people who were supposed habitu-
ally to cultivate that muse. Blanche Evers
was what the French call an article of fan-
tasy, and Gordon had taken a pleasure in
finding her deliciously useless. He culti-
vated utility in other ways, and it pleased
and flattered him to feel that he could afford,
morally speaking, to have a childish, kitten-
ish wife. He had within himself a fimd of
common sense to draw upon, so that to
espouse a paragon of wisdom would be but
to carry water to the fountain. He could
easily make up for the deficiencies of a wife
who was a little silly, and if she charmed
and amused him, he could treat himself to
the luxury of these sensations for themselves.
He was not in the least afraid of being
ruined by it, and if Blanche's birdlike chat-



ter and turns of the head had made a fool
of him, he knew it perfectly well, and sim-
ply took his stand upon his rights. Every-
man has a right to a little flower-bed, and
life is not all mere kitchen-gardening. Ber-
nard rapidly extempK}rized this rough expla-
nation of the surprise his friend had offered
him, and he found it all-sufficient for his
immediate needs. He wrote Blanche a
charming note, to which she replied with
a great deal of spirit and grace. Her little
letter was very prettily turned, and Bernard,
reading it over two or three times, said to
himself that, to do her justice, she might
very well have polished her intellect a little
during these two or three years. As she
was older, she could hardly help being wiser.
It even occurred to Bernard that she might
have profited by the sort of experience that
is known as the discipline of suffering.
What had become of Captain Lovelock and
that tender passion which was apparently
none the less genuine for having been ex-
pressed in the slang of a humorous period ?
Had they been permanently separated by
judicious guardians, and had she been
obliged to obliterate his image from her
lighSy beating little heart ? Bernard had
felt sure at Baden that, beneath her con-
temptuous airs and that impertinent con-
sciousness of the difficulties of conquest by
which a pretty American girl attests her
allegiance to a civilization in which young
women occupy the highest place — ^he had
felt sure that Blanche had a high apprecia-
tion of her handsome Englishman, and that
if Lovelock should continue to relish her
charms^ he might count upon the advantages
of reciprocity. But it occurred to Bernard
that Captain Lovelock had perhaps been
faithless; that, at least, the discourtesy of
chance and the inhumanity of an elder
brother might have kept him an eternal
prisoner at the H6tel de Hollande (where^
for all Bernard knew to the contrary, he had
been obliged to work out his destiny in the
arduous character of a polyglot waiter) ; so
that the poor young girl, casting backward
glances along the path of Mrs. Vivian's
retreat, and failing to detect the onward
rush of a rescuing cavalier, had perforce
believed herself forsaken, and had been
obliged to summon philosophy to her aid.
It was very possible that her philosophic
studies had taught her the art of reflection ;
and that, as she would have said herself, she
was tremendously toned down. Once, at
Baden, when Gordon Wright happened to
take upon himself to remark that little Miss



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Evers was bored by her English gallant,
Bernard had ventured to observe, in petto,
that .Gordon knew nothing about it But
all this was of no consequence now, and
Bernard steered further and fiuther away
from the liability to detect fallacies in his
friaiid. Gordon had engaged himself to
marry, and our critical hero had not a grain
of fiiult to find with this resolution. It was
a capital thing ; it was just what he wanted;
it would do him a world of good. Bernard
rejoiced with him sincerely, and regretted
extremely that a series of solemn engage-
ments to pay visits in England should pre-
vent his being present at the nuptials.

They were well over, as I have said,
when he reached New York. The honey-
moon had waned, and the business of mar-
ried life had begun. Bernard, at the end,
had sailed from England rather abrupdy.
A friend who had a remarkably good cabm
on one of the steamers was obliged by a
sudden detention to give it up, and on his
offering it to Longueville, the latter availed
himself gratefully of this opportunity of
being a litde less discomposed than usual by
the Atlantic billows. He therefore embarked
at two days* notice, a fortnight earlier than
he had intended and than he had written to
Gordon to expect him. Gordon, of course,
had written that he was to seek no hospital-
ity but that which Blanche was now pre-
pared — they had a charming house — so
graciously to dispense ; but Bernard, never-
theless, leaving the ^p early in the morn-
ing, had betaken himself to an hotel. He
wished not to anticipate his welcome, and
he determined to report himself to Gordon
first and to come back with his luggage
later in the day. After purifying himself of
his sea-stains, he left his hotel and walked
up the Fifth Avenue with all a newly landed
voyager's enjoyment of terrestrial locomo-
tion. It was a charming autumn day;
there was a golden haze in the air; he
supposed it was the Indian summer. The
broad sidewalk of the Fifth Avenue was
scattered over with dry leaves— crimson
and orange and amber. He tossed them
with his stick as he passed; they rustled
and murmured with the motion, and it re-
minded him of the way he used to kick
them in front of him over these same pave-
ments in his riotous infancy. It was a
pleasure, after many wanderings, to find
himself in his native land again, and Ber-
nard Longueville, as he went, paid his com-
pliments to his mother-city. The bright-
ness and gayety of the place seemed a



greeting to a returning son, and he felt a
throb of aflfection for the freshest, the young-
est, the easiest and most good-humored of
great capitals. On presenting himself at
Gordon's door, Bernard was told that the
master of the house was not at home; he
went in, however, to see the mistress. She
was in her drawing-room, alone; she had
on her bonnet, as if she had been going out.
She gave him a joyous, demonstrative little
welcome; she was evidently very glad to
see him. Bernard had thought it possible
she had " improved," and she was certainly
prettier than ever. He instantiy perceived
that she was still a chatterbox ; it remained
to be seen whether the quality of her dis-
course were finer.

" Well, Mr. Longueville," she exclaimed,
" where in the world did you drop firom,
and how long did it take you to cross the
Adantic ? Three days, eh ? It couldn't
have taken you many more, for it was only
the other day that Gordon told me you
were not to sail till the 20th. You changed
your mind, eh ? I didn't know you ever
changed your mind. Gordon never changes
his. That's not a reason, eh, because you
are not a bit like Gordon. Well, I never
thought you were, except that you are a
man. Now what are you laughing at?
What should you like me call you ? You
are a man, I suppose ; you are not a god.
That's what you would like me to call you,
I have no doubt. I must keep that for
Gordon ? I shall certainly keep it a good
while. I know a good deal more about
gentlemen than I did when I last saw you,
and I assure you I don't think they are a
bit god-like. I suppose that's why you
always drop down fiom the sky — you think
it's more divine. I remember that's the
way you arrived at Baden when we were
there together ; the first thing we knew, you
were standing in the midst of us. Do you
remember that evening when you presented
yourself ? You came up and touched Gor-
don on the shoulder, and he gave a little
jump. He will give another littie jump
when he sees you to-day. He gives a great
many Httle jumps; I keep him skipping
about I I remember perfectly the way we
were sitting that evening at Baden, and the
way you looked at me when you came up.
I saw you before Gordon — I see a good
many things before Gordon. What did
you look at me that way for? I always
meant to ask you. I was dying to know."

" For the simplest reason in the world," said
Bernard. " Because you were so pretty."



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"Ah no, it wasn't that! I know all
about that look. It was something else —
as if you knew something about me. I
don't know what you can have known.
There was very little to know about me,
except that I was intensely silly. Really, I
was awfully silly that summer at Baden —
you wouldn't believe how silly I was. But
I don't see how you could have known that
— before you had spoken to me. It came
out in my conversation — it came out aw-
fully. My mother was a good deal disap-
pointed in Mrs. Vivian's influence; she had
expected so much from it. But it was not
poor Mrs. Vivian's fault, it was some one's
else. Have you ever seen the Vivians
again ? They are always in Europe ; they
have gone to live in Paris. That evening
when you came up and spoke to Gordon, I
never thought that three years afterward I
should be married to him, and I don't sup-
pose you did either. Is that what you
meant by looking at me? Perhaps you
can tell the future. I wish you would tell
my future I "

" Oh, I can tell that easily," said Bernard.

" What will happen to me ? "

"Nothing particular; it will be a little
dull — the perfect happiness of a charming
woman manied to the best fellow in the
world."

"Ah, what a horrid future!" cried
Blanche, with a little petulant cry. " I
want to be happy, but I certainly don't
want to be dull. If you say that again you
will make me repent of having married the
best fellow in the world. I mean to be
happy, but I certainly sha'n't be dull if I
can help it."

" I was wrong to say that," said Bernard,
"because, after all, my dear young lady,
there must be an excitement in having so
kind a husband as you have got. Gordon's
devotion is quite capable of taking a new
form— of inventing a new kindness — every
day in the year."

Blanche looked at him an instant, with
less than her usual consciousness of her
momentary pose.

"My husband is very kind," she said
gendy.

She had hardly spoken the words when
Gordon came in. He stopped a moment
on seeing Bernard, glanced at his wife,
blushed, flushed, and with a loud, frank ex-
clamation of pleasure, grasped his friend by
both hands. It was so long since he had
seen Bernard that he seemed a good deal
moved; he stood there smihng, clasping his



hands, looking him in the eyes, unable for
some moments to speak. Bernard, on his
side, was greatly pleased ; it was delightful
to him to look into Gordon's honest face
again and to return his manly grasp. And
he looked well — he looked happy; to see
that was more delightful yet. During these
few instants, while they exchanged a silent
pledge of renewed friendship, Bernard's
elastic perception embraced several things
besides the consciousnessof his own pleasure.
He saw that Gordon looked well and happy,
but that he looked older, too, and more seri-
ous, more marked by life. He looked as if
something had happened to him — as, in
fact, something had. Bernard saw a latent
spark in his friend's eye that seemed to
question his own for an impression of
Blanche — to question it eagerly, and yet to
deprecate judgment. He saw, too — with
the fact made more vivid by Gordon's stand-
ing there beside her in his manly sincerity,
and throwing it into contrast — that Blanche
was the same littie posturing coquette of a
Blanche whom, at Baden, he would have
treated it as a broad joke that Gordon
Wright should dream of marrying. He
saw, in a word, that it was what it had first
struck him as being — an incongruous union.
All this was a good deal for Bernard to see
in the course of half a minute, especially
through the rather opaque medium of a feel-
ing of irreflective joy; and his impressions
at this moment have a value only in so far
as they were destined to be confirmed by
larger opportunity.

" You have come a little sooner than we
expected," said Gordon ; " but you are all
the more welcome."

" It was rather a risk," Blanche observed.
" One should be notified when one wishes
to make a good impression."

" Ah, my dear lady," said Bernard, " you
made your impression — as far as I am con-
cerned — a long time ago, and I doubt
whether it would have gained anything to-
day by your having prepared an effect."

They were standing before the fire-place,
on the great hearth-rug, and Blanche, while
she listened to this speech, was feeling, with
uplifted arm, for a curl that had strayed from
her chignon.

" She prepares her effects very quickly,"
said Gordon, laughing gently. " They fol-
low each other very fast ! "

Blanche kept her hand behind her head,
which was bent shghtly forward ; her bare
arm emerged from her hanging sleeve, and,
with her eyes glancing upward from under



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her lowered brows, she smiled at her two
spectators. Her husband laid his hand on
Bernard's arm.

** Isn't she pretty ? " he cried ; and he spoke
with a sort of tender delight in being sure
at least of this point

" Tremendously pretty ! " said Bernard.
** I told her so half an hour before you
came in."

" Ah, it was time I should arrive ! " Gor-
don exclaimed.

Blanche was manifestly not in the least
discomposed by this frank discussion of her
charms, for the air of distinguished esteem
adopted by both of her companions dimin-
ished the crudity of their remarks. But she
gave a little pout of irritated modesty — ^it
was more becoming than anything she had
done yet — and declared that if they wished
to talk her over, they were very welcome ;
but she should prefer their waiting till she
got out of the room. So she left them, re-
minding Bernard that he was to send for his
luggage and remain, and promising to give
immediate orders for the preparation of his
apartment. Bernard opened the door for
her to pass out ; she gave him a charming
nod as he stood there, and he turned back
to Gordon with the reflection of her smile
in his face. Gordon was watching him;
Gordon was dying to know what he thought
of her. It was a curious mania of Gordon's,
this wanting to know what one thought of
the women he loved ; but Bernard just now
felt abundandy able to humor it. He was
so pleased at seeing him tightly married.

" She's a delightful creature," Bernard
said, with cordial vagueness, shaking hands
with his friend again.

Gordon glanced at him a moment, and
then, coloring a little, looked straight out
of the window ; whereupon Bernard remem-
bered that these were just the terms with
which, at Baden, after his companion's ab-
sence, he had attempted to (qualify Angela
Vivian. Gordon was consaous — he was
conscious of the oddity of his situation.

" Of course it surprised you," he said, in
a moment, still looking out of the window.

" What, my dear fellow ? "

" My marriage."

** Well, you Imow," said Bernard, "every-
thing surprises me. I am of a very conject-
ural habit of mind. All sorts of ideas
come into my head, and yet when the sim-
plest things happen I am always rather
startled. I live m a reverie, and I am per-
petually waked up by people doing things."

Gordon transferred his eyes from the win-



dow to Bernard's face — to his whole per-
son.

" You are waked up ? But you fall
asleep again ! "

" I fall asleep very easily," said Bernard.

Gordon looked at him from head to foot,
smiling and shaking his head.

" You are not changed," he said. " You
have traveled in unknown lands ; you have
had, I suppose, all sorts of adventures; but
you are the same man I used to know."

" I am sorry for that 1 "

" You have the same way of representing
—of misrepresenting, yourself."

" Well, if I am not changed," said Ber-
nard, " I can ill afford to lose so valuable
an art."

" Taking you altogether, I am glad you
are the same," Gordon answered, simply;
" but you must come into my part of the
house."

Yes, he was conscious — ^he was very con-
scious ; so Bernard reflected during the two
or three first days of his visit to his fiiend.
Gordon knew it must seem strange to so
irreverent a critic that a man who had once
aspired to the hand of so intelligent a girl —
putting other things aside — as Angela Vivian
should, as the Ghost in " Hamlet" says, have
" declined upon " a young lady who, in force
of understanding, was so very much Miss
Vivian's inferior; and this knowledge kept
him ill at his ease and gave him a certam
pitiable awkwardness. Bernard's sense of the
anomaly grew rapidly less acute ; he made
various observations which helped it to
seem natural. Blanche was wonderfully
pretty ; she was very graceful, and innocent,
and amusing. Since Gordon had deter-
mined to marry a little goose, he had cho*
sen the animal with extreme discernment.
It had quite the plumage of a swan, and it
sailed along the stream of life with an ex-
traordinary lightness of motion. He asked
himself indeed at times whether Blanche
were really so silly as she seemed; he
doubted whether any woman could be so
silly as Blanche seemed. He had a sus-
picion at times that, for ends of her own,
she was playing a part — the suspicion aris-
ing from the fact that, as usually happens
in such cases, she over-played it. Her
empty chatter, her fiitility, her childish co-
quetry and frivolity — such light wares could
hardly be the whole substance of any
woman's being; there was something be-
neath them which Blanche was keeping out
of sight. She had a scrap of a mind some-
where, and even a little fraction of a heart



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If one looked long enough one might catch
a glimpse of these possessions. But why
should she keep them out of sight, and
what were the ends that she proposed to
serve by this uncomfortable perversity?
Bernard wondered whether she were fond
of her husband, and he heard it intimated
by several good people in New York who
had had some observation of the courtship,
that she had married him for his money.
He was very sorry to find that this was
taken for granted, and he determined, on
the whole, not to believe it. He was dis-
gusted with the idea of such a want of
gratitude ; for, if Gordon Wright had loved
Miss Evers for herself, the young lady might
certainly have discovered the intrinsic value
of so disinterested a suitor. Her mother
had the credit of having made the match ;
Gordon was known to be looking for a wife.
Mrs. Evers had put her little feather-head of
a daughter very much forward, and Gordon
was as easily captivated as a child by the
sound of a rattle. Blanche had an affection for
him now, however; Bernard saw no reason
to doubt that, and certainly she would have
been a very flimsy creature indeed if she had
not been touched by his inexhaustible kind-
ness. She had every conceivable indul-
gence, and if she married him for his money,
at least she had got what she wanted. She
led the most agreeable life conceivable, and
she ought to be in high good-humor. It was
impossiWe to have a prettier house, a prettier
carriage, more jewels and laces for the
adornment of a plump Httle person. It was
impossible to go to more parties, to give
better dinners, to have fewer privations or
annoyances. Bernard was so much struck
with all this that, advancing rapidly in the
intimacy of his gracious hostess, he vent-
lured to call her attention to her blessings.
She answered that she was perfectly aware
of them, and there was no pretty speech
she was not prepared to make about Gor-
don.

"I know what you want to say," she
went on ; " you want to say that he spoils
me, and I don't see why you should hesitate.
You generally say everything you want, and
you needn't be afraid of me. He doesn't
spoil me, simply because I am so bad I
can't be spoiled ; but that's of no conse-
quence. I was spoiled ages ago ; every one
spoiled me— -every one except Mrs. Vivian.
I was always fond of having everything I
want, and I generally managed to get it. I
always had lovely clothes ; mamma thought
that was a kind of a duty If it was a duty,



I don't suppose it counts as a part of the
spoiling. But I was very much indulged,
and I know I have everything now. Gor-
don is a perfect husband; I believe if I
were to ask him for a present of his nose,
he would cut it off and give it to me. I
think I will ask him for a small piece of it
some day; it will rather improve him to
have an inch or two less. I don't say he's
handsome; but he's just as good as he can be.



Online LibraryGeorge Streynsham MasterThe Century, Volume 19 → online text (page 12 of 160)