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A New England Winter by Henry James


I. II. III. IV. V. VI. VII.

 

I.

 

MRS. DAINTRY stood on her steps a moment, to address a parting injunction to her little domestic, whom she had induced a few days before, by earnest and friendly argument,—the only coercion or persuasion this enlightened mistress was ever known to use,—to crown her ruffled tresses with a cap; and then, slowly and with deliberation, she descended to the street. As soon as her back was turned, her maid-servant closed the door, not with violence, but inaudibly, quickly, and firmly; so that when she reached the bottom of the steps and looked up again at the front,—as she always did before leaving it, to assure herself that everything was well,—the folded wings of her portal were presented to her, smooth and shining, as wings should be, and ornamented with the large silver plate on which the name of her late husband was inscribed,—which she had brought with her when, taking the inevitable course of good Bostonians, she had transferred her household goods from the “hill” to the “new land", and the exhibition of which, as an act of conjugal fidelity, she preferred—how much, those who knew her could easily understand—to the more distinguished modern fashion of suppressing the domiciliary label. She stood still for a minute on the pavement, looking at the closed aperture of her dwelling and asking herself a question; not that there was anything extraordinary in that, for she never spared herself in this respect. She would greatly have preferred that her servant should not shut the door till she had reached the sidewalk, and dismissed her, as it were, with that benevolent, that almost maternal, smile with which it was a part of Mrs. Daintry's religion to encourage and reward her domestics. She liked to know that her door was being held open behind her until she should pass out of sight of the young woman standing in the hall. There was a want of respect in shutting her out so precipitately; it was almost like giving her a push down the steps. What Mrs. Daintry asked herself was, whether she should not do right to ascend the steps again, ring the bell, and request Beatrice, the parlour-maid, to be so good as to wait a little longer. She felt that this would have been a proceeding of some importance, and she presently decided against it. There were a good many reasons, and she thought them over as she took her way slowly up Newbury street, turning as soon as possible into Commonwealth avenue; for she was very fond of the south side of this beautiful prospect, and the autumn sunshine to-day was delightful. During the moment that she paused, looking up at her house, she had time to see that everything was as fresh and bright as she could desire. It looked a little too new, perhaps, and Florimond would not like that; for of course his great fondness was for the antique, which was the reason for his remaining year after year in Europe, where, as a young painter of considerable, if not of the highest, promise, he had opportunities to study the most dilapidated buildings. It was a comfort to Mrs. Daintry, however, to be able to say to herself that he would be struck with her living really very nicely,—more nicely, in many ways, than he could possibly be accommodated—that she was sure of—in a small dark appartement de garçon in Paris, on the uncomfortable side of the Seine. Her state of mind at present was such that she set the highest value on anything that could possibly help to give Florimond a pleasant impression. Nothing could be too small to count, she said to herself; for she knew that Florimond was both fastidious and observant. Everything that would strike him agreeably would contribute to detain him, so that if there were only enough agreeable things he would perhaps stay four or five months, instead of three, as he had promised,—the three that were to date from the day of his arrival in Boston, not from that (an important difference) of his departure from Liverpool, which was about to take place.

It was Florimond that Mrs. Daintry had had in mind when, on emerging from the little vestibule, she gave the direction to Beatrice about the position of the doormat,—in which the young woman, so carefully selected, as a Protestant, from the British Provinces, had never yet taken the interest that her mistress expected from such antecedents. It was Florimond also that she had thought of in putting before her parlour-maid the question of donning a badge of servitude in the shape of a neat little muslin coif adorned with pink ribbon and stitched together by Mrs. Daintry's own beneficent fingers. Naturally there was no obvious connection between the parlour-maids coiffure and the length of Florimond's stay; that detail was to be only a part of the general effect of American life. It was still Florimond that was uppermost as his mother, on her way up the hill, turned over in her mind that question of the ceremony of the front-door. He had been living in a country in which servants observed more forms, and he would doubtless be shocked at Beatrice's want of patience. An accumulation of such anomalies would at last undermine his loyalty. He would not care for them for himself, of course, but he would care about them for her; coming from France, where, as she knew by his letters, and indeed by her own reading,—for she made a remarkably free use of the “Athenaeum,”—that the position of a mother was one of the most exalted, he could not fail to be froissé at any want of consideration for his surviving parent. As an artist he could not make up his mind to live in Boston; but he was a good son for all that. He had told her frequently that they might easily live together if she would only come to Paris; but of course she could not do that, with Joanna and her six children round in Clarendon street, and her responsibilities to her daughter multiplied in the highest degree. Besides, during that winter she spent in Paris, when Florimond was definitely making up his mind, and they had in the evening the most charming conversations, interrupted only by the repeated care of winding up the lamp or applying the bellows to the obstinate little fire,—during that winter she had felt that Paris was not her element. She had gone to the lectures at the Sorbonne, and she had visited the Louvre as few people did it, catalogue in hand, taking the catalogue volume by volume; but all the while she was thinking of Joanna and her new baby, and how the other three (that was the number then) were getting on while their mother was so much absorbed with the last. Mrs. Daintry, familiar as she was with these anxieties, had not the step of a grandmother; for a mind that was always intent had the effect of refreshing and brightening her years. Responsibility with her was not a weariness, but a joy,—at least it was the nearest approach to a joy that she knew, and she did not regard her life as especially cheerless; there were many others that were more denuded than hers. She moved with circumspection, but without reluctance, holding up her head and looking at every one she met with a clear, unaccusing gaze. This expression showed that she took an interest, as she ought, in everything that concerned her fellow-creatures; but there was that also in her whole person which indicated that she went no farther than Christian charity required. It was only with regard to Joanna and that vociferous houseful—so fertile in problems, in opportunities for devotion—that she went really very far. And now to-day, of course, in this matter of Florimond's visit, after an absence of six years; which was perhaps more on her mind than anything had ever been. People who met Mrs. Daintry after she had traversed the Public Garden—she always took that way—and begun to ascend the charming slope of Beacon street, would never, in spite of the relaxation of her pace as she measured this eminence, have mistaken her for a little old lady who should have crept out, vaguely and timidly, to inhale one of the last mild days. It was easy to see that she was not without a duty, or at least a reason,—and, indeed, Mrs. Daintry had never in her life been left in this predicament. People who knew her ever so little would have felt that she was going to call on a relation; and if they had been to the manner born they would have added a mental hope that her relation was prepared for her visit. No one would have doubted this, however, who had been aware that her steps were directed to the habitation of Miss Lucretia Daintry. Her sister-in-law, her husband's only sister, lived in that commodious nook which is known as Mount Vernon Place; and Mrs. Daintry therefore turned off at Joy street. By the time she did so, she had quite settled in her mind the question of Beatrice's behaviour in connection with the front door. She had decided that it would never do to make a formal remonstrance, for it was plain that, in spite of the Old World training which she hoped the girl might have imbibed in Nova Scotia (where, until lately, she learned, there had been an English garrison), she would in such a case expose herself to the danger of desertion; Beatrice would not consent to stand there holding the door open for nothing. And after all, in the depths of her conscience Mrs. Daintry was not sure that she ought to; she was not sure that this was an act of homage that one human being had a right to exact of another, simply because this other happened to wear a little muslin cap with pink ribbons. It was a service that ministered to her importance, to her dignity, not to her hunger or thirst; and Mrs. Daintry, who had had other foreign advantages besides her winter in Paris, was quite aware that in the United States the machinery for that former kind of tribute was very undeveloped. It was a luxury that one ought not to pretend to enjoy,—it was a luxury, indeed, that she probably ought not to presume to desire. At the bottom of her heart Mrs. Daintry suspected that such hankerings were criminal. And yet, turning the thing over, as she turned everything, she could not help coming back to the idea that it would be very pleasant, it would be really delightful, if Beatrice herself, as a result of the growing refinement of her taste, her transplantation to a society after all more elaborate than that of Nova Scotia, should perceive the fitness, the felicity, of such an attitude. This perhaps was too much to hope; but it did not much matter, for before she had turned into Mount Vernon Place Mrs. Daintry had invented a compromise. She would continue to talk to her parlour-maid until she should reach the bottom of her steps, making earnestly one remark after the other over her shoulder, so that Beatrice would be obliged to remain on the threshold. It is true that it occurred to her that the girl might not attach much importance to these Parthian observations, and would perhaps not trouble herself to wait for their natural term; but this idea was too fraught with embarrassment to be long entertained. It must be added that this was scarcely a moment for Mrs. Daintry to go much into the ethics of the matter, for she felt that her call upon her sister-in-law was the consequence of a tolerably unscrupulous determination.

II.

 

LUCRETIA DAINTRY was at home, for a wonder; but she kept her visitor waiting a quarter of an hour, during which this lady had plenty of time to consider her errand afresh. She was a little ashamed of it; but she did not so much mind being put to shame by Lucretia, for Lucretia did things that were much more ambiguous than any she should have thought of doing. It was even for this that Mrs. Daintry had picked her out, among so many relations, as the object of an appeal in it's nature somewhat precarious. Nevertheless, her heart beat a little faster than usual as she sat in the quiet parlour, looking about her for the thousandth time at Lucretia's “things", and observing that she was faithful to her old habit of not having her furnace lighted until long after every one else. Miss Daintry had her own habits, and she was the only person her sister-in-law knew who had more reasons than herself. Her taste was of the old fashion, and her drawing-room embraced neither festoons nor Persian rugs, nor plates and plaques upon the wall, nor faded stuffs suspended from unexpected projections. Most of the articles it contained dated from the year 1830; and a sensible, reasonable, rectangular arrangement of them abundantly answered to their owner's conception of the decorative. A rosewood sofa against the wall, surmounted by an engraving from Kaulbach; a neatly drawn carpet, faded, but little worn, and sprigged with a floral figure; a chimneypiece of black marble, veined with yellow, garnished with an empire clock and antiquated lamps; half a dozen large mirrors, with very narrow frames; and an immense glazed screen representing, in the livid tints of early worsted work, a ruined temple overhanging a river,—these were some of the more obvious of Miss Daintry's treasures. Her sister-in-law was a votary of the newer school, and had made sacrifices to have everything in black and gilt; but she could not fail to see that Lucretia had some very good pieces. It was a wonder how she made them last, for Lucretia had never been supposed to know much about the keeping of a house, and no one would have thought of asking her how she treated the marble floor of her vestibule, or what measures she took in the spring with regard to her curtains. Her work in life lay outside. She took an interest in questions and institutions, sat on committees and had views on Female Suffrage,—a movement which she strongly opposed. She even wrote letters sometimes to the “Transcript", not “chatty” and jocular, and signed with a fancy name, but “over” her initials, as the phrase was,—every one recognized them,—and bearing on some important topic. She was not, however, in the faintest degree slipshod or dishevelled, like some of the ladies of the newspaper and the forum; she had no ink on her fingers, and she wore her bonnet as scientifically poised as the dome of the State House. When you rang at her door-bell you were never kept waiting, and when you entered her dwelling you were not greeted with those culinary odours which, pervading halls and parlours, had in certain other cases been described as the right smell in the wrong place. If Mrs. Daintry was made to wait some time before her hostess appeared, there was nothing extraordinary in this, for none of her friends came down directly, and she never did herself. To come down directly would have seemed to her to betray a frivolous eagerness for the social act. The delay, moreover, not only gave her, as I have said, opportunity to turn over her errand afresh, but enabled her to say to herself, as she had often said before, that though Lucretia had no taste, she had some very good things, and to wonder both how she had kept them so well, and how she had originally got them. Mrs. Daintry knew that they proceeded from her mother and her aunts, who had been supposed to distribute among the children of the second generation the accumulations of the old house in Federal street, where many Daintry's had been born in the early part of the century. Of course she knew nothing of the principles on which the distribution had been made, but all she could say was that Lucretia had evidently been first in the field. There was apparently no limit to what had come to her. Mrs. Daintry was not obliged to look, to assure herself that there was another clock in the back parlour,—which would seem to indicate that all the clocks had fallen to Lucretia. She knew of four other time-pieces in other parts of the house, for of course in former years she had often been upstairs; it was only in comparatively recent times that she had renounced that practice. There had been a period when she mounted to the second story as a matter of course, without asking leave. On seeing that her sister-in-law was in neither of the parlours, she ascended and talked with Lucretia at the door of her bedroom, if it happened to be closed. And there had been another season when she stood at the foot of the staircase, and, lifting her voice, inquired of Miss Daintry—who called down with some shrillness in return—whether she might come up, while the maid-servant, wandering away with a vague cachinnation, left her to her own devices. But both of these phases belonged to the past. Lucretia never came into her bedroom to-day, or did she presume to penetrate into Lucretia's; so that she did not know for a long time whether she had renewed her chintz, or whether she had hung in that bower the large photograph of Florimond, presented by Mrs. Daintry herself to his aunt, which had been placed in neither of the parlours. Mrs. Daintry would have given a good deal to know whether this memento had been honoured with a place in her sister-in-law's “chamber",—it was by this name, on each side, that these ladies designated their sleeping-apartment; but she could not bring herself to ask directly, for it would be embarrassing to learn—what was possible—that Lucretia had not paid the highest respect to Florimond's portrait. The point was cleared up by it's being revealed to her accidentally that the photograph—an expensive and very artistic one, taken in Paris—had been relegated to the spare-room, or guest-chamber. Miss Daintry was very hospitable, and constantly had friends of her own sex staying with her. They were very apt to be young women in their twenties; and one of them had remarked to Mrs. Daintry that her son's portrait—he must be wonderfully handsome—was the first thing she saw when she woke up in the morning. Certainly Florimond was handsome; but his mother had a lurking suspicion that, in spite of his beauty, his aunt was not fond of him. She doubtless thought he ought to come back and settle down in Boston; he was the first of the Daintry's who had had so much in common with Paris. Mrs. Daintry knew as a fact that, twenty-eight years before, Lucretia, whose opinions even at that period were already wonderfully formed, had not approved of the romantic name which, in a moment of pardonable weakness, she had conferred upon her rosy babe. The spinster (she had been as much of a spinster at twenty as she was today) had accused her of making a fool of the child. Every one was reading old ballads in Boston then, and Mrs. Daintry had found the name in a ballad. It doubled any anxiety she might feel with regard to her present business to think that, as certain foreign newspapers which her son sent her used to say about ambassadors, Florimond was perhaps not a persona grata to his aunt. She reflected, however, that if his fault were in his absenting himself, there was nothing that would remedy it so effectively as his coming home. She reflected, too, that if she and Lucretia no longer took liberties with each other, there was still something a little indiscreet in her purpose this morning. But it fortified and consoled her for everything to remember, as she sat looking at the empire clock, which was a very handsome one, that her husband at least had been disinterested.

Miss Daintry found her visitor in this attitude, and thought it was an expression of impatience; which led her to explain that she had been on the roof of her house with a man who had come to see about repairing it. She had walked all over it, and peeped over the cornice, and not been in the least dizzy; and had come to the conclusion that one ought to know a great deal more about one's roof than was usual.

“I am sure you have never been over yours,” she said to her sister-in-law.

Mrs. Daintry confessed with some embarrassment that she had not, and felt, as she did so, that she was superficial and slothful. It annoyed her to reflect that while she supposed, in her new house, she had thought of everything, she had not thought of this important feature. There was no one like Lucretia for giving one such reminders.

“I will send Florimond up when he comes,” she said; “he will tell me all about it.”

“Do you suppose he knows about roofs, except tumble-down ones, in his little pictures? I am afraid it will make him giddy.” This had been Miss Daintry's rejoinder, and the tone of it was not altogether reassuring. She was nearly fifty years old; she had a plain, fresh, delightful face, and, in whatever part of the world she might have been met, an attentive observer of American life would not have had the least difficulty in guessing what phase of it she represented. She represented the various and enlightened activities which cast their rapid shuttle—in the comings and goings of eager workers—from one side to the other of Boston Common. She had, in an eminent degree, the physiognomy, the accent, the costume, the conscience, and the little eye-glass of her native place. She had never sacrificed to the graces, but she inspired unlimited confidence. Moreover, if she was thoroughly in sympathy with the New England capital, she reserved her liberty; she had a great charity, but she was independent and witty; and if she was as earnest as other people, she was not quite so serious. Her voice was a little masculine; and it had been said of her that she didn't care in the least how she looked. This was far from true, for she would not for the world have looked better than she thought was right for so plain a woman.

Mrs. Daintry was fond of calculating consequences; but she was not a coward, and she arrived at her business as soon as possible.

“You know that Florimond sails on the twentieth of this month. He will get home by the first of December.”

“Oh, yes, my dear, I know it; everybody is talking about it. I have heard it thirty times. That's where Boston is so small,” Lucretia Daintry remarked.

“Well, it's big enough for me,” said her sister-in-law. “And of course people notice his coming back; it shows that everything that has been said is false, and that he really does like us.”

“He likes his mother, I hope; about the rest I don't know that it matters.”

“Well, it certainly will be pleasant to have him, “ said Mrs. Daintry, who was not content with her companions tone, and wished to extract from her some recognition of the importance of Florimond's advent. “It will prove how unjust so much of the talk has been.”

“My dear woman, I don't know anything about the talk. We make too much fuss about everything. Florimond was an infant when I last saw him.”

This was open to the interpretation that too much fuss had been made about Florimond,—an idea that accorded ill with the project that had kept Mrs. Daintry waiting a quarter of an hour while her hostess walked about on the roof. But Miss Daintry continued, and in a moment gave her sister-in-law the best opportunity she could have hoped for. “I don't suppose he will bring with him either salvation or the other thing; and if he has decided to winter among the bears, it will matter much more to him than to any one else. But I shall be very glad to see him if he behaves himself; and I needn't tell you that if there is anything I can do for him—” and Miss Daintry, tightening her lips together a little, paused, suiting her action to the idea that professions were usually humbug.

“There, is indeed, something you can do for him,” her sister-in-law hastened to respond; “or something you can do for me, at least,” she added, more discreetly.

“Call it for both of you. What is it?” and Miss Daintry put on her eye-glass.

“I know you like to do kindnesses, when they are real ones; and you almost always have some one staying with you for the winter.”

Miss Daintry stared. “Do you want to put him to live with me?”

“No, indeed! Do you think I could part with him? It's another person,—a lady!”

“A lady! Is he going to bring a woman with him?”

“My dear Lucretia, you won't wait. I want to make it as pleasant for him as possible. In that case he may stay longer. He has promised three months; but I should so like to keep him till the summer. It would make me very happy.”

“Well, my dear, keep him, then, if you can.”

“But I can't, unless I am helped.”

“And you want me to help you? Tell me what I must do. Should you wish me to make love to him?”

Mrs. Daintry's hesitation at this point was almost as great as if she had found herself obliged to say yes. She was well aware that what she had come to suggest was very delicate; but it seemed to her at the present moment more delicate than ever. Still, her cause was good, because it was the cause of maternal devotion. “What I should like you to do would be to ask Rachel Torrance to spend the winter with you.”

Miss Daintry had not sat so much on committees without getting used to queer proposals, and she had long since ceased to waste time in expressing a vain surprise. Her method was Socratic; she usually entangled her interlocutor in a net of questions.

“Ah, do you want her to make love to him?”

“No, I don't want any love at all. In such a matter as that I want Florimond to be perfectly free. But Rachel is such an attractive girl ; she is so artistic and so bright.”

“I don't doubt it; but I can't invite all the attractive girls in the country. Why don't you ask her yourself?”

“It would be too marked. And then Florimond might not like her in the same house; he would have too much of her. Besides, she is no relation of mine, you know; the cousinship—such as it is, it is not very close—is on your side. I have reason to believe she would like to come; she knows so little of Boston, and admires it so much. It is astonishing how little idea the New York people have. She would be different from any one here, and that would make a pleasant change for Florimond. She was in Europe so much when she was young. She speaks French perfectly, and Italian, I think, too; and she was brought up in a kind of artistic way. Her father never did anything; but, even when he hadn't bread to give his children, he always arranged to have a studio, and they gave musical parties. That's the way Rachel was brought up. But they tell me that it hasn't in the least spoiled her; it has only made her very familiar with life.”

“Familiar with humbug!” Miss Daintry ejaculated.

“My dear Lucretia, I assure you she is a very good girl, or I never would have proposed such a plan as this. She paints very well herself and tries to sell her pictures. They are dreadfully poor—I don't mean the pictures, but Mrs. Torrance and the rest,—and they live in Brooklyn, in some second-rate boarding-house. With that, Rachel has everything about her that would enable her to appreciate Boston. Of course it would be a real kindness, because there would be one less to pay for at the boarding-house. You haven't a son, so you can't understand how a mother feels. I want to prepare everything, to have everything pleasantly arranged. I want to deprive him of every pretext for going away before the summer; because in August—I don't know whether I have told you—I have a kind of idea of going back with him myself. I am so afraid he will miss the artistic side. I don't mind saying that to you, Lucretia, for I have heard you say yourself that you thought it had been left out here. Florimond might go and see Rachel Torrance every day if he liked; of course, being his cousin, and calling her Rachel, it couldn't attract any particular attention. I shouldn't much care if it did,” Mrs. Daintry went on, borrowing a certain bravado, that in calmer moments was eminently foreign to her nature, from the impunity with which she had hitherto proceeded. Her project, as she heard herself unfold it, seemed to hang together so well that she felt something of the intoxication of success. “I shouldn't care if it did,” she repeated, “so long as Florimond had a little of the conversation that he is accustomed to, and I was not in perpetual fear of his starting off.”

Miss Daintry had listened attentively while her sister-in-law spoke, with eager softness, passing from point to point with a crescendo of lucidity, like a woman who had thought it all out, and had the consciousness of many reasons on her side. There had been momentary pauses, of which Lucretia had not taken advantage, so that Mrs. Daintry rested at last in the enjoyment of a security that was almost complete, and that her companions first question was not of a nature to dispel.

“It's so long since I have seen her. Is she pretty?” Miss Daintry inquired.

“She is decidedly striking; she has magnificent hair!” her visitor answered, almost with enthusiasm.

“Do you want Florimond to marry her?”

This, somehow, was less pertinent. “Ah, no, my dear,” Mrs. Daintry rejoined, very judicially. “That is not the kind of education—the kind of milieu—one would wish for the wife of one's son.” She knew, moreover, that her sister-in-law knew her opinion about the marriage of young people: It was a sacrament more high and holy than any words could express, the propriety and timeliness of which lay deep in the hearts of the contracting parties, below all interference from parents and friends; it was an inspiration from above, and she would no more have thought of laying a train to marry her son, than she would have thought of breaking open his letters. More relevant even than this, however, was the fact that she did not believe he would wish to make a wife of a girl from a slipshod family in Brooklyn, however little he might care to lose sight of the artistic side. It will be observed that she gave Florimond the credit of being a very discriminating young man; and she indeed discriminated for him in cases in which she would not have presumed to discriminate for herself.

“My dear Susan, you are simply the most immoral woman in Boston!” These were the words of which, after a moment, her sister-in-law delivered herself.

Mrs. Daintry turned a little pale. “Don't you think it would be right?” she asked quickly.

“To sacrifice the poor girl to Florimond's amusement? What has she done that you should wish to play her such a trick?” Miss Daintry did not look shocked; she never looked shocked, for even when she was annoyed she was never frightened; but after a moment she broke into a loud, uncompromising laugh,—a laugh which her sister-in-law knew of old, and regarded as a peculiarly dangerous form of criticism.

“I don't see why she should be sacrificed. She would have a lovely time if she were to come on. She would consider it the greatest kindness to be asked.”

“To be asked to come and amuse Florimond?”

Mrs. Daintry hesitated a moment. “I don't see why she should object to that. Florimond is certainly not beneath a person's notice. Why, Lucretia, you speak as if there were something disagreeable about Florimond.”

“My dear Susan,” said Miss Daintry, “I am willing to believe that he is the first young man of his time; but, all the same, it isn't a thing to do.”

“Well, I have thought of it in every possible way, and I haven't seen any harm in it. It isn't as if she were giving up anything to come.”

“You have thought of it too much, perhaps. Stop thinking for a while. I should have imagined you were more scrupulous.”

Mrs. Daintry was silent a moment; she took her sister-in-law's asperity very meekly, for she felt that if she had been wrong in what she proposed, she deserved a severe judgment. But why was she wrong? She clasped her hands in her lap and rested her eyes with extreme seriousness upon Lucretia's little pince-nez, inviting her to judge her, and too much interested in having the question of her culpability settled to care whether or no she were hurt. “It is very hard to know what is right,” she said presently. “Of course it is only a plan; I wondered how it would strike you.”

“You had better leave Florimond alone,” Miss Daintry answered. “I don't see why you should spread so many carpets for him. Let him shift for himself. If he doesn't like Boston, Boston can spare him.”

“You are not nice about him; no, you are not, Lucretia!” Mrs. Daintry cried, with a slight tremor in her voice.

“Of course I am not as nice as you,—he is not my son; but I am trying to be nice about Rachel Torrance.”

“I am sure she would like him,—she would delight in him,” Mrs. Daintry broke out.

“That's just what I'm afraid of; I couldn't stand that.”

“Well, Lucretia, I am not convinced,” Mrs. Daintry said, rising, with perceptible coldness. “It is very hard to be sure one is not unjust. Of course I shall not expect you to send for her; but I shall think of her with a good deal of compassion, all winter, in that dingy place in Brooklyn. And if you have some one else with you—and I am sure you will, because you always do, unless you remain alone on purpose, this year, to put me in the wrong,—if you have some one else I shall keep saying to myself: 'Well, after all, it might have been Rachel!'“

Miss Daintry gave another of her loud laughs at the idea that she might remain alone “on purpose”. “I shall have a visitor, but it will be some one who will not amuse Florimond in the least. If he want's to go away, it won't be for anything in this house that he will stay.”

“I really don't see why you should hate him,” said poor Mrs. Daintry.

“Where do you find that? On the contrary, I appreciate him very highly. That's just why I think it very possible that a girl like Rachel Torrance—an odd, uninstructed girl, who hasn't had great advantages—may fall in love with him and break her heart.”

Mrs. Daintry's clear eyes expanded. “Is that what you are afraid of?”

“Do you suppose my solicitude is for Florimond? An accident of that sort—if she were to show him her heels at the end—might perhaps do him good. But I am thinking of the girl, since you say you don't want him to marry her.”

“It was not for that that I suggested what I did. I don't want him to marry any one—I have no plans for that,” Mrs. Daintry said, as if she were resenting an imputation.

“Rachel Torrance least of all!” and Miss Daintry indulged still again in that hilarity, so personal to herself, which sometimes made the subject look so little jocular to others. “My dear Susan, I don't blame you,” she said; “for I suppose mothers are necessarily unscrupulous. But that is why the rest of us should hold them in check.”

“It's merely an assumption, that she would fall in love with him,” Mrs. Daintry continued, with a certain majesty; “there is nothing to prove it, and I am not bound to take it for granted.”

“In other words, you don't care if she should! Precisely; that, I suppose, is your rôle. I am glad I haven't any children; it's very sophisticating. For so good a woman, you are very bad. Yes, you are good, Susan; and you are bad.”

“I don't know that I pretend to be particularly good,” Susan remarked, with the warmth of one who had known something of the burden of such a reputation, as she moved toward the door.

“You have a conscience, and it will wake up,” her companion returned. “It will come over you in the watches of the night that your idea was—as I have said—immoral.”

Mrs. Daintry paused in the hall, and stood there looking at Lucretia. It was just possible that she was being laughed at, for Lucretia's deepest mirth was sometimes silent,—that is, one heard the laughter several days later. Suddenly she coloured to the roots of her hair, as if the conviction of her error had come over her. Was it possible she had been corrupted by an affection in itself so pure? “I only want to do right,” she said, softly. “I would rather he should never come home, than that I should go too far.”

She was turning away, but her sister-in-law held her a moment and kissed her. “You are a delightful woman, but I won't ask Rachel Torrance!” This was the understanding on which they separated.

III.

 

MISS DAINTRY, after her visitor had left her, recognized that she had been a little brutal; for Susan's proposition did not really strike her as so heinous. Her eagerness to protect the poor girl in Brooklyn was not a very positive quantity, inasmuch as she had an impression that this young lady was on the whole very well able to take care of herself. What her talk with Mrs. Daintry had really expressed was the lukewarmness of her sentiment with regard to Florimond. She had no wish to help his mother lay carpets for him, as she said. Rightly or wrongly, she had a conviction that he was selfish, that he was spoiled, that he was conceited; and she thought Lucretia Daintry meant for better things than the service of sugaring for the young man's lips the pill of a long-deferred visit to Boston. It was quite indifferent to her that he should be conscious, in that city, of. unsatisfied needs. At bottom, she had never forgiven him for having sought another way of salvation. Moreover, she had a strong sense of humour, and it amused her more than a little that her sister-in-law—of all women in Boston—should have come to her on that particular errand. It completed the irony of the situation that one should frighten Mrs. Daintry—just a little about—what she had undertaken; and more than once that day Lucretia had, with a smile, the vision of Susan's countenance as she remarked to her that she was immoral. In reality, and speaking seriously, she did not consider Mrs. Daintry's inspiration unpardonable; what was very positive was simply that she had no wish to invite Rachel Torrance for the benefit of her nephew. She was by no means sure that she should like the girl for her own sake, and it was still less apparent that she should like her for that of Florimond. With all this, however, Miss Daintry had a high love of justice; she revised her social accounts from time to time, to see that she had not cheated any one. She thought over her interview with Mrs. Daintry the next day, and it occurred to her that she had been a little unfair. But she scarcely knew what to do to repair her mistake, by which Rachel Torrance also had suffered, perhaps; for, after all , if it had not been wicked of her sister-in-law to ask such a favour, it had at least been cool; and the penance that presented itself to Lucretia Daintry did not take the form of dispatching a letter to Brooklyn. An accident came to her help, and four days after the conversation I have narrated she wrote her a note, which explains itself, and which I will presently transcribe. Meanwhile, Mrs. Daintry, on her side, had held an examination of her heart; and though she did not think she had been very civilly treated, the result of her reflections was to give her a fit of remorse. Lucretia was right: she had been anything but scrupulous; she had skirted the edge of an abyss. Questions of conduct had long been familiar to her; and the cardinal rule of life in her eyes was that before one did anything which involved in any degree the happiness or the interest of another, one should take one's motives out of the closet in which they are usually laid away and give them a thorough airing. This operation, undertaken before her visit to Lucretia, had been cursory and superficial; for now that she repeated it, she discovered among the recesses of her spirit a number of nut-like scruples which she was astonished to think she should have overlooked. She had really been very wicked, and there was no doubt about her proper penance. It consisted of a letter to her sister-in-law, in which she completely disavowed her little project, attributing it to a momentary intermission of her reason. She saw it would never do, and she was quite ashamed of herself. She did not exactly thank Miss Daintry for the manner in which she had admonished her, but she spoke as one saved from a great danger, and assured her relative of Mount Vernon Place that she should not soon again expose herself. This letter crossed with Miss Daintry's missive, which ran as follows:

 

my dear susan: I have been thinking over our conversation of last Tuesday, and I am afraid I went rather too far in my condemnation of your idea with regard to Rachel Torrance. If I expressed myself in a manner to wound your feelings, I can assure you of my great regret. Nothing could have been farther from my thoughts than the belief that you are wanting in delicacy. I know very well that you were prompted by the highest sense of duty. It is possible, however, I think, that your sense of duty to poor Florimond is a little too high. You think of him too much as that famous dragon of antiquity,—wasn't it in Crete, or somewhere?—to whom young virgins had to be sacrificed. It may relieve your mind, however, to hear that this particular virgin will probably, during the coming winter, be provided for. Yesterday, at Dolls, where I had gone in to look at the new pictures (there is a striking Appleton Brown) I met Pauline Mesh, whom I had not seen for ages, and had half an hours talk with her. She seems to me to have come out very much this winter, and to have altogether a higher tone. In short, she is much enlarged, and seems to want to take an interest in something. Of course you will say: Has she not her children? But, somehow, they don't seem to fill her life. You must remember that they are very small as yet, to fill anything. Anyway, she mentioned to me her great disappointment in having had to give up her sister, who was to have come on from Baltimore to spend the greater part of the winter. Rosalie is very pretty, and Pauline expected to give a lot of Germans, and make things generally pleasant. I shouldn't wonder if she thought something might happen that would make Rosalie a fixture in our city. She would have liked this immensely; for, whatever Pauline's faults may be, she has plenty of family feeling. But her sister has suddenly got engaged in Baltimore (I believe it's much easier than here), so that the visit has fallen through. Pauline seemed to be quite in despair, for she had made all sorts of beautifications in one of her rooms, on purpose for Rosalie; and not only had she wasted her labour (you know how she goes into those things, whatever we may think, sometimes, of her taste), but she spoke as if it would make a great difference in her winter; said she should suffer a great deal from loneliness. She says Boston is no place for a married woman, standing on her own merits; she can't have any sort of time unless she hitches herself to some attractive girl who will help her to pull the social car. You know that isn't what every one says, and how much talk there has been the last two or three winters about the frisky young matrons. Well, however that may be, I don't pretend to know much about it, not being in the married set. Pauline spoke as if she were really quite high and dry, and I felt so sorry for her that it suddenly occurred to me to say something about Rachel Torrance. I remembered that she is related to Donald Mesh in about the same degree as she is to me,—a degree nearer, therefore, than to Florimond. Pauline didn't seem to think much of the relationship—it's so remote; but when I told her that Rachel (strange as it might appear) would probably he thankful for a season in Boston, and might be a good substitute for Rosalie, why she quite jumped at the idea. She has never seen her, but she knows who she is,—fortunately, for I could never begin to explain. She seems to think such a girl will be quite a novelty in this place. I don't suppose Pauline can do her any particular harm, from what you tell me of Miss Torrance, and, on the other hand, I don't know that she could injure Pauline. She is certainly very kind (Pauline, of course), and I have no doubt she will immediately write to Brooklyn, and that Rachel will come on. Florimond won't, of course, see as much of her as if she were staying with me, and I don't know that he will particularly care about Pauline Mesh, who, you know, is intensely American; but they will go out a great deal, and he will meet them (if he takes the trouble), and I have no doubt that Rachel will take the edge off the east wind for him. At any rate, I have perhaps done her a good turn. I must confess to you—and it won't surprise you—that I was thinking of her, and not of him, when I spoke to Pauline. Therefore I don't feel that I have taken a risk, but I don't much care if I have. I have my views, but I never worry. I recommend you not to do so either, for you go, I know, from one extreme to the other. I have told you my little story; it was on my mind. Aren't you glad to see the lovely snow?

Ever affectionately yours,

L. D.

P. S.—The more I think of it, the more convinced I am that you will worry now about the danger for Rachel. Why did I drop the poison into your mind? Of course I didn't say a word about you or Florimond.

 

This epistle reached Mrs. Daintry, as I have intimated, about an hour after her letter to her sister-in-law had been posted; but it is characteristic of her that she did not for a moment regret having made a retractation rather humble in form, and which proved, after all, scarcely to have been needed. The delight of having done that duty carried her over the sense of having given herself away. Her sister-in-law spoke from knowledge when she wrote that phrase about Susan's now beginning to worry from the opposite point of view. Her conscience, like the good Homer, might sometimes nod; but when it woke, it woke with a start; and for many a day afterward it's vigilance was feverish. For the moment, her emotions were mingled. She thought Lucretia very strange, and that she was scarcely in a position to talk about ones going from one extreme to the other. It was good news to her that Rachel Torrance would probably be on the ground after all, and she was delighted that on Lucretia the responsibility of such a fact should rest. This responsibility she now already, after her revulsion, as we know, regarded as grave; she exhaled an almost luxurious sigh when she thought of having herself escaped from it. What she did not quite understand was Lucretia's apology, and her having, even if Florimond's happiness were not her motive, taken almost the very step which, three days before, she had so severely criticised. This was puzzling, for Lucretia was usually so consistent. But, all the same, Mrs. Daintry did not repent of her own penance; on the contrary, she took more and more comfort in it. If, with that, Rachel Torrance should be really useful, it would be delightful.

IV.

 

FLORIMOND DAINTRY had stayed at home for three days after his arrival; he had sat close to the fire in his slippers, every now and then casting a glance over his shoulders at the hard, white world which seemed to glare at him from the other side of the window-panes. He was very much afraid of the cold, and he was not in a hurry to go out and meet it. He had met it, on disembarking in New York, in the shape of a wave of frozen air, which had travelled from some remote point in the West (he was told) on purpose, apparently, to smite him in the face. That portion of his organism tingled yet with it, though the gasping, bewildered look which sat upon his features during the first few hours had quite left it. I am afraid it will be thought he was a young man of small courage; and on a point so delicate I do not hold myself obliged to pronounce. It is only fair to add that it was delightful to him to be with his mother, and that they easily spent three days in talking. Moreover, he had the company of Joanna and her children, who, after a little delay, occasioned apparently by their waiting to see whether he would not first come to them, had arrived in a body and had spent several hours. As regards the majority of them, they had repeated this visit several times in the three days, Joanna being obliged to remain at home with the two younger ones. There were four older ones, and their grandmother's house was open to them as a second nursery. The first day their Uncle Florimond thought them charming; and as he had brought a French toy for each, it is probable that this impression was mutual. The second day their little ruddy bodies and woollen clothes seemed to him to have a positive odour of the cold; it was disagreeable to him, and he spoke to his mother about their “wintry smell”. The third day they had become very familiar; they called him “Florry”; and he had made up his mind that to let them loose in that way on his mother, Joanna must be rather wanting in delicacy,—not mentioning this deficiency, however, as yet, for he saw that his mother was not prepared for it. She evidently thought it proper, or at least it seemed inevitable, either that she should be round at Joanna's, or the children should be round in Newbury street; for “Joanna's” evidently represented primarily the sound of small, loud voices, and the hard breathing that signalized the intervals of romps. Florimond was rather disappointed in his sister, seeing her after a long separation; he remarked to his mother that she seemed completely submerged. As Mrs. Daintry spent most of her time under the waves with her daughter, she had grown to regard this element as sufficiently favourable to life, and was rather surprised when Florimond said to her that he was sorry to see she and his sister appeared to have been converted into a pair of bonnes d'enfants. Afterward, however, she perceived what he meant. She was not aware, until he called her attention to it, that the little Merriman's took up an enormous place in the intellectual economy of two households. “You ought to remember that they exist for you, and not you for them,” Florimond said to her, in a tone of friendly admonition; and he remarked, on another occasion, that the perpetual presence of children was a great injury to conversation,—it kept it down so much; and that in Boston they seemed to be present even when they were absent, inasmuch as most of the talk was about them. Mrs. Daintry did not stop to ask herself what her son knew of Boston, leaving it years before as a boy, and not having so much as looked out of the window since his return; she was taken up mainly with noting certain little habits of speech which he evidently had formed, and in wondering how they would strike his fellow-citizens. He was very definite and trenchant; he evidently knew perfectly what he thought; and though his manner was not defiant—he had, perhaps, even too many of the forms of politeness, as if, sometimes, for mysterious reasons, he were playing upon you,—the tone in which he uttered his opinions did not appear exactly to give you the choice. And then, apparently, he had a great many; there was a moment when Mrs. Daintry vaguely foresaw that the little house in Newbury street would be more crowded with Florimond's views than it had ever been with Joanna's children. She hoped very much people would like him, and she hardly could see why they should fail to find him agreeable. To herself he was sweeter than any grandchild; he was as kind as if he had been a devoted parent. Florimond had but a small acquaintance with his brother-in-law; but after he had been at home forty-eight hours he found that he bore Arthur Merriman a grudge, and was ready to think rather ill of him,—having a theory that he ought to have held up Joanna and interposed to save her mother. Arthur Merriman was a young and brilliant commission-merchant, who had not married Joanna Daintry for the sake of Florimond, and, doing an active business all day in East Boston, had a perfectly good conscience in leaving his children's mother and grandmother to establish their terms of intercourse.

Florimond, however, did not particularly wonder why his brother-in-law had not been round to bid him welcome. It was for Mrs. Daintry that this anxiety was reserved; and what made it worse was her uncertainty as to whether she should be justified in mentioning the subject to Joanna. It might wound Joanna to suggest to her that her husband was derelict,—especially if she did not think so, and she certainly gave her mother no opening; and, on the other hand, Florimond might have ground for complaint if Arthur should continue not to notice him. Mrs. Daintry earnestly desired that nothing of this sort should happen, and took refuge in the hope that Florimond would have adopted the foreign theory of visiting, in accordance with which the new-comer was to present himself first. Meanwhile, the young man, who had looked upon a meeting with his brother-in-law as a necessity rather than a privilege, was simply conscious of a reprieve; and up in Clarendon street, as Mrs. Daintry said, it never occurred to Arthur Merriman to take this social step, nor to his wife to propose it to him. Mrs. Merriman simply took for granted that her brother would be round early some morning to see the children. A day or two later the couple dined at her mothers, and that virtually settled the question. It is true that Mrs. Daintry, in later days, occasionally recalled the fact that, after all, Joanna's husband never had called upon Florimond; and she even wondered why Florimond, who sometimes said bitter things, had not made more of it. The matter came back at moments when, under the pressure of circumstances which, it must be confessed, were rare, she found herself giving assent to an axiom that sometimes reached her ears. This axiom, it must be added, did not justify her in the particular case I have mentioned, for the full purport of it was that the queerness of Bostonians was collective, not individual.

There was no doubt, however, that it was Florimond's place to call first upon his aunt, and this was a duty of which she could not hesitate to remind him. By the time he took his way across the long expanse of the new land and up the charming hill, which constitutes, as it were, the speaking face of Boston, the temperature either had relaxed, or he had got used, even in his mothers hot little house, to his native air. He breathed the bright, cold sunshine with pleasure; he raised his eyes to the arching blueness, and thought he had never seen a dome so magnificently painted. He turned his head this way and that, as he walked (now that he had recovered his legs, he foresaw that he should walk a good deal), and freely indulged his most valued organ, the organ that had won him such reputation as he already enjoyed. In the little artistic circle in which he moved in Paris, Florimond Daintry was thought to have a great deal of eye. His power of rendering was questioned, his execution had been called pretentious and feeble; but a conviction had somehow been diffused that he saw things with extraordinary intensity. No one could tell better than he what to paint, and what not to paint, even though his interpretation was sometimes rather too sketchy. It will have been guessed that he was an impressionist; and it must be admitted that this was the character in which he proceeded on his visit to Miss Daintry. He was constantly shutting one eye, to see the better with the other, making a little telescope by curving, one of his hands together, waving these members in the air with vague pictorial gestures, pointing at things which, when people turned to follow his direction, seemed to mock the vulgar vision by eluding it. I do not mean that he practiced these devices as he walked along Beacon street, into which he had crossed shortly after leaving his mother's house; but now that he had broken the ice, he acted quite in the spirit of the reply he had made to a friend in Paris, shortly before his departure, who asked him why he was going back to America,—“I am going to see how it looks.” He was, of course, very conscious of his eye; and his effort to cultivate it was both intuitive and deliberate. He spoke of it freely, as he might have done of a valuable watch or a horse. He was always trying to get the visual impression; asking himself, with regard to such and such an object or a place, of what it's “character” would consist. There is no doubt he really saw with great intensity; and the reader will probably feel that he was welcome to this ambiguous privilege. It was not important for him that things should be beautiful; what he sought to discover was their identity,—the signs by which he should know them. He began this inquiry as soon as he stepped into Newbury street from his mothers door, and he was destined to continue it for the first few weeks of his stay in Boston. As time went on, his attention relaxed; for one couldn't do more than see, as he said to his mother and another person; and he had seen. Then the novelty wore off,—the novelty which is often so absurdly great in the eyes of the American who returns to his native land after a few years spent in the foreign element,—an effect to be accounted for only on the supposition that in the secret parts of his mind he recognizes the aspect of life in Europe as, through long heredity, the more familiar; so that superficially, having no interest to oppose it, it quickly supplants the domestic type, which, upon his return, becomes supreme, but with it's credit in many cases appreciably and permanently diminished. Florimond painted a few things while he was in America, though he had told his mother he had come home to rest; but when, several months later, in Paris, he showed his “notes", as he called them, to a friend, the young Frenchman asked him if Massachusetts were really so much like Andalusia.

There was certainly nothing Andalusian in the prospect as Florimond traversed the artificial bosom of the Back Bay. He had made his way promptly into Beacon street, and he greatly admired that vista. The long, straight avenue lay airing it's newness in the frosty day, and all it's individual façades, with their neat, sharp ornaments, seemed to have been scoured, with a kind of friction, by the hard, salutary light. Their brilliant browns and drabs, their rosy surfaces of brick, made a variety of fresh, violent tones, such as Florimond liked to memorize, and the large, clear windows of their curved fronts faced each other, across the street, like candid, inevitable eyes. There was something almost terrible in the windows; Florimond had forgotten how vast and clean they were, and how, in their sculptured frames, the New England air seemed, like a zealous housewife, to polish and preserve them. A great many ladies were looking out, and groups of children in the drawing-rooms were flattening their noses against the transparent plate. Here and there, behind it, the back of a statuette or the symmetry of a painted vase, erect on a pedestal, presented itself to the street, and enabled the passer to construct, more or less, the room within,—it's frescoed ceilings, it's new silk sofas, it's untarnished fixtures. This continuity of glass constituted a kind of exposure within and without, and gave the street the appearance of an enormous corridor, in which the public and the private were familiar and intermingled. But it was all very cheerful and commodious, and seemed to speak of diffused wealth, of intimate family life, of comfort constantly renewed. All sorts of things, in the region of the temperature, had happened during the few days that Florimond had been in the country. The cold wave had spent itself, a snow-storm had come and gone, and the air, after this temporary relaxation, had renewed it's keenness. The snow, which had fallen in but moderate abundance, was heaped along the side of the pavement; it formed a radiant cornice on the housetops, and crowned the windows with a plain white cap. It deepened the colour of everything else, made all surfaces look ruddy, and at a distance sent into the air a thin, delicate mist—a tinted exhalation,—which occasionally softened an edge. The upper part of Beacon street seemed to Florimond charming,—the long, wide, sunny slope, the uneven line of the older houses, the contrasted, differing, bulging fronts, the painted bricks, the tidy facings, the immaculate doors, the burnished silver plates, the denuded twigs of the far extent of the Common on the other side; and to crown the eminence and complete the picture, high in the air, poised in the right place, over everything that clustered below, the most felicitous object in Boston,—the gilded dome of the State House. It was in the shadow of this monument, as we know, that Miss Daintry lived; and Florimond, who was always lucky, had the good fortune to find her at home.

V.

 

IT MAY seem that I have assumed on the part of the reader too great a curiosity about the impressions of this young man, who was not very remarkable, and who has not even the recommendation of being the hero of our perhaps too descriptive tale. The reader will already have discovered that a hero fails us here; but if I go on at all risks to say a few words about Florimond, he will perhaps understand the better why this part has not been filled. Miss Daintry's nephew was not very original; it was his own illusion that he had in a considerable degree the value of rareness. Even this youthful conceit was not rare, for it was not of heroic proportions, and was liable to lapses and discouragements. He was a fair, slim, civil young man, and you would never have guessed from his appearance that he was an impressionist. He was neat and sleek and quite anti-Bohemian, and, in spite of his looking about him as he walked, his figure was much more in harmony with the Boston landscape than he supposed. He was a little vain, a little affected, a little pretentious, a little good-looking, a little amusing, a little spoiled, and at times a little tiresome. If he was disagreeable, however, it was also only a little; he did not carry anything to a very high pitch; he was accomplished, industrious, successful,—all in the minor degree. He was fond of his mother and fond of himself; he also liked the people who liked him. Such people could belong only to the class of good listeners, for Florimond, with the least encouragement (he was very susceptible to that), would chatter by the hour. As he was very observant, and knew a great many stories, his talk was often entertaining, especially to women, many of whom thought him wonderfully sympathetic. It may be added that he was still very young and fluid, and neither his defects nor his virtues had a great consistency. He was fond of the society of women, and had an idea that he knew a great deal about that element of humanity. He believed himself to know everything about art, and almost everything about life, and he expressed himself as much as possible in the phrases that are current in studios. He spoke French very well, and it had rubbed off on his English.

His aunt listened to him attentively, with her nippers on her nose. She had been a little restless at first, and, to relieve herself, had vaguely punched the sofa-cushion which lay beside her,—a gesture that her friends always recognized; they knew it to express a particular emotion. Florimond, whose egotism was candid and confiding, talked for an hour about himself;—about what he had done, and what he intended to do, what he had said, and what had been said to him; about his habits, tastes, achievements, peculiarities, which were apparently so numerous; about the decorations of his studio in Paris; about the character of the French, the works of Zola, the theory of art for art, the American type, the “stupidity” of his mother's new house,—though of course it had some things that were knowing,—the pronunciation of Joanna's children, the effect of the commission business on Arthur Merriman's conversation, the effect of everything on his mother, Mrs. Daintry, and the effect of Mrs. Daintry on her son Florimond. The young man had an epithet, which he constantly introduced, to express disapproval; when he spoke of the architecture of his mother's house, over which she had taken great pains (she remembered the gabled fronts of Nuremburg), he said that a certain effect had been dreadfully missed, that the character of the doorway was simply “crass”. He expressed, however, a lively sense of the bright cleanness of American interiors. “Oh, as for that,” he said, “the place is kept,—its kept;” and, to give an image of this idea, he put his gathered fingers to his lips an instant, seemed to kiss them or blow upon them, and then open them into the air. Miss Daintry had never encountered this gesture before; she had heard it described by travelled persons; but to see her own nephew in the very act of it, led her to administer another thump to the sofa-cushion. She finally got this article under control, and sat more quiet, with her hands clasped upon it, while her visitor continued to discourse. In pursuance of his character as an impressionist, he gave her a great many impressions; but it seemed to her that as he talked he simply exposed himself,—exposed his egotism, his little pretensions. Lucretia Daintry, as we know, had a love of justice, and though her opinions were apt to be very positive, her charity was great and her judgments were not harsh; moreover, there was in her composition not a drop of acrimony. Nevertheless, she was, as the phrase is, rather hard on poor little Florimond; and to explain her severity we are bound to assume that in the past he had in some way offended her. To-day, at any rate, it seemed to her that he patronized his maiden aunt. He scarcely asked about her health, but took for granted on her part an unlimited interest in his own sensations. It came over her afresh that his mother had been absurd in thinking that the usual resources of Boston would not have sufficed to maintain him; and she smiled a little grimly at the idea that a special provision should have been made. This idea presently melted into another, over which she was free to regale herself only after her nephew had departed. For the moment she contented herself with saying to him, when a pause in his young eloquence gave her a chance: “You will have a great many people to go and see. You pay the penalty of being a Bostonian; you have several hundred cousins. One pays for everything.”

Florimond lifted his eyebrows. “I pay for that every day of my life. Have I got to go and see them all?”

“All—every one,” said his aunt, who, in reality, did not hold this obligation in the least sacred.

“And to say something agreeable to them all?” the young man went on.

“Oh, no, that is not necessary,” Miss Daintry rejoined, with more exactness. “There are one or two, however, who always appreciate a pretty speech.” She added, in an instant: “Do you remember Mrs. Mesh?”

“Mrs. Mesh?” Florimond apparently did not remember.

“The wife of Donald Mesh; your grandfather's were first cousins. I don't mean her grandfather, but her husband's. If you don't remember her, I suppose he married her after you went away.”

“I remember Donald; but I never knew he was a relation. He was single then, I think.”

“Well, he's double now,” said Miss Daintry; “he's triple, I may say, for there are two ladies in the house.”

“If you mean he's a polygamist—are there Mormons even here?” Florimond, leaning back in his chair, with his elbow on the arm, and twisting with his gloved fingers the point of a small, fair moustache, did not appear to have been arrested by this account of Mr. Mesh's household; for he almost immediately asked, in a large, detached way: “Are there any nice women here?”

“It depends on what you mean by nice women ; there are some very sharp ones.”

“Oh, I don't like sharp ones,” Florimond remarked, in a tone which made his aunt long to throw her sofa-cushion at his head. “Are there any pretty ones?”

She looked at him a moment, hesitating. “Rachel Torrance is pretty, in a strange, unusual way,—black hair and blue eyes, a serpentine figure, old coins in her tresses; that sort of thing.”

“I have seen a good deal of that sort of thing,” said Florimond, a little confusedly.

“That I know nothing about. I mention Pauline Mesh's as one of the houses that you ought to go to, and where I know you are expected.”

“I remember now that my mother has said something about that. But who is the woman with coins in her hair?—what has she to do with Pauline Mesh?”

“Rachel is staying with her; she came from New York a week ago, and I believe she means to spend the winter. She isn't a woman, she's a girl.”

“My mother didn't speak of her,” said Florimond; “but I don't think she would recommend me a girl with a serpentine figure.”

“Very likely not,” Miss Daintry answered, dryly. “Rachel Torrance is a far-away cousin of Donald Mesh, and consequently of mine and of yours. She's an artist, like yourself; she paints flowers on little panels and plaques.”

“Like myself?—I never painted a plaque in my life!” exclaimed Florimond, staring.

“Well, she's a model, also; you can paint her if you like; she has often been painted, I believe.”

Florimond had begun to caress the other tip of his moustache. “I don't care for women who have been painted before. I like to find them out. Besides, I want to rest this winter.”

His aunt was disappointed; she wished to put him into relation with Rachel Torrance, and his indifference was an obstacle. The meeting was sure to take place sooner or later, but she would have been glad to precipitate it, and, above all, to quicken her nephews susceptibilities. “Take care you are not found out yourself!” she exclaimed, tossing away her sofa-cushion and getting up.

Florimond did not see what she meant, and he accordingly bore her no rancour; but when, before he took his leave, he said to her, rather irrelevantly, that if he should find himself in the mood during his stay in Boston, he should like to do her portrait,—she had such a delightful face,—she almost thought the speech a deliberate impertinence. “Do you mean that you have discovered me,—that no one has suspected it before? she inquired with a laugh,” and a little flush in the countenance that he was so good as to appreciate.

Florimond replied, with perfect coolness and good-nature, that he didn't know about this, but that he was sure no one had seen her in just the way he saw her; and he waved his hand in the air with strange circular motions, as if to evoke before him the image of a canvas, with a figure just rubbed in. He repeated this gesture, or something very like it, by way of farewell, when he quitted his aunt, and she thought him insufferably patronizing.

This is why she wished him, without loss of time, to make the acquaintance of Rachel Torrance, whose treatment of his pretensions she thought would be salutary. It may now be communicated to the reader—after a delay proportionate to the momentousness of the fact—that this had been the idea which suddenly flowered in her brain as she sat face to face with her irritating young visitor. It had vaguely shaped itself after her meeting with that strange girl from Brooklyn, whom Mrs. Mesh, all gratitude,—for she liked strangeness, promptly brought to see her; and her present impression of her nephew rapidly completed it. She had not expected to take an interest in Rachel Torrance, and could not see why, through a freak of Susan's, she should have been called upon to think so much about her; but, to her surprise, she perceived that Mrs. Daintry's proposed victim was not the usual forward girl. She perceived at the same time that it had been ridiculous to think of Rachel as a victim,—to suppose that she was in danger of vainly fixing her affections upon Florimond. She was much more likely to triumph than to suffer; and if her visit to Boston were to produce bitter fruits, it would not be she who should taste them. She had a striking, oriental head, a beautiful smile, a manner of dressing which carried out her exotic type, and a great deal of experience and wit. She evidently knew the world, as one knows it when one has to live by it's help. If she had an aim in life, she would draw her bow well above the tender breast of Florimond Daintry. With all this, she certainly was an honest, obliging girl, and had a sense of humour which was a fortunate obstacle to her falling into a pose. Her coins and amulets and seamless garments were, for her, a part of the general joke of ones looking like a Circassian or a Smyrniote,—an accident for which Nature was responsible; and it may be said of her that she took herself much less seriously than other people took her. This was a defect for which Lucretia Daintry had a great kindness; especially as she quickly saw that Rachel was not of an insipid paste, as even triumphant coquettes sometimes are. In spite of her poverty and the opportunities her beauty must have brought her, she had not yet seen fit to marry,—which was a proof that she was clever as well as disinterested. It looks dreadfully cold-blooded as I write it here, but the notion that this capable creature might administer poetic justice to Florimond gave a measurable satisfaction to Miss Daintry. He was in distinct need of a snub, for down in Newbury street his mother was perpetually swinging the censer; and no young nature could stand that sort of thing,—least of all such a nature as Florimond's. She said to herself that such a “putting in his place” as he might receive from Rachel Torrance would probably be a permanent correction. She wished his good, as she wished the good of every one; and that desire was at the bottom of her vision. She knew perfectly what she should like: she should like him to fall in love with Rachel, as he probably would, and to have no doubt of her feeling immensely honoured. She should like Rachel to encourage him just enough—just so far as she might without being false. A little would do, for Florimond would always take his success for granted. To this point did the study of her nephew's moral regeneration bring the excellent woman, who a few days before had accused his mother of a lack of morality. His mother was thinking only of his pleasure; she was thinking of his immortal spirit. She should like Rachel to tell him at the end that he was a presumptuous little boy, and that since it was his business to render “impressions", he might see what he could do with that of having been jilted. This extraordinary flight of fancy on Miss Daintry's part was caused in some degree by the high spirits which sprang from her conviction, after she met the young lady, that Mrs. Mesh's companion was not in danger; for even when she wrote to her sister-in-law in the manner the reader knows, her conscience was not wholly at rest. There was still a risk, and she knew not why she should take risks for Florimond. Now, however, she was prepared to be perfectly happy when she should hear that the young man was constantly in Arlington street; and at the end of a little month she enjoyed this felicity.

VI.

 

MRS. MESH SAT ON one side of the fire, and Florimond on the other; he had by this time acquired the privilege of a customary seat. He had taken a general view of Boston. It was like a first introduction, for before his going to live in Paris he had been too young to judge; and the result of this survey was the conviction that there was nothing better than Mrs. Mesh's drawing-room. She was one of the few persons whom one was certain to find at home after five o'clock; and the place itself was agreeable to Florimond, who was very fastidious about furniture and decorations. He was willing to concede that Mrs. Mesh (the relationship had not yet seemed close enough to justify him in calling her Pauline) knew a great deal about such matters; though it was clear that she was indebted for some of her illumination to Rachel Torrance, who had induced her to make several changes. These two ladies, between them, represented a great fund of taste; with a difference that was the result of Rachel's knowing clearly beforehand what she liked (Florimond called her, at least, by her baptismal name), and Mrs. Mesh's only knowing it after a succession of experiments, of transposing's and draping's, all more or less ingenious and expensive. If Florimond liked Mrs. Mesh's drawing-room better than any other corner of Boston, he also had his preference in regard to it's phases and hours. It was most charming in the winter twilight, by the glow of the fire, before the lamps had been brought in. The ruddy flicker played over many objects, making them look more mysterious than Florimond had supposed anything could look in Boston, and, among others, upon Rachel Torrance, who, when she moved about the room in a desultory way (never so much enfoncée, as Florimond said, in a chair as Mrs. Mesh was) certainly attracted and detained the eye. The young man from his corner (he was almost as much enfoncée as Mrs. Mesh) used to watch her; and he could easily see what his aunt had meant by saying she had a serpentine figure. She was slim and flexible; she took attitudes which would have been awkward in other women, but which her charming pliancy made natural. She reminded him of a celebrated actress in Paris, who was the ideal of tortuous thinness. Miss Torrance used often to seat herself for a short time at the piano, and though she never had been taught this art (she played only by ear), her musical feeling was such that she charmed the twilight hour. Mrs. Mesh sat on one side of the fire, as I have said, and Florimond on the other; the two might have been found in this relation—listening, face to face,—almost any day in the week. Mrs. Mesh raved about her new friend, as they said in Boston,—I mean about Rachel Torrance, not about Florimond Daintry. She had at last got hold of a mind that understood her own (Mrs. Mesh's mind contained depths of mystery), and she sacrificed herself generally, to throw her companion into relief. Her sacrifice was rewarded, for the girl was universally liked and admired; she was a new type altogether; she was the lioness of the winter. Florimond had an opportunity to see his native town in one of it's fits of enthusiasm. He had heard of the infatuations of Boston, literary and social; of it's capacity for giving itself with intensity to a temporary topic; and he was now conscious, on all sides, of the breath of New England discussion. Some one had said to him,—or had said to some one, who repeated it,—that there was no place like Boston for taking up with such seriousness a second-rate spinster from Brooklyn. But Florimond himself made no criticism; for, as we know, he speedily fell under the charm of Rachel Torrance's personality. He was perpetually talking with Mrs. Mesh about it; and when Mrs. Mesh descanted on the subject, he listened with the utmost attention. At first, on his return, he rather feared the want of topics; he foresaw that he should miss the talk of the studios, of the theatre's, of the boulevard, of a little circle of “naturalists” (in literature and art) to which he belonged, without sharing all it's views. But he presently perceived that Boston, too, had it's actualities, and that it even had this in common with Paris,—that it gave it's attention most willingly to a female celebrity. If he had had any hope of being himself the lion of the winter, it had been dissipated by the spectacle of his cousins success. He saw that while she was there, he could only be a subject of secondary reference. He bore her no grudge for this. I must hasten to declare that from the pettiness of this particular jealousy poor Florimond was quite exempt. Moreover, he was swept along by the general chorus; and he perceived that when one changes one's sky one inevitably changes, more or less, one's standard. Rachel Torrance was neither an actress, nor a singer, nor a beauty, nor one of the ladies who were chronicled in the “Figaro", nor the author of a successful book, nor a person of the great world; she had neither a future, nor a past, nor a position, nor even a husband, to make her identity more solid; she was a simple American girl, of the class that lived in pensions (a class of which Florimond had ever entertained a theoretic horror); and yet she had profited to the degree of which our young man was witness, by those treasures of sympathy constantly in reserve in the American public (as has already been intimated) for the youthful-feminine. If Florimond was struck with all this, it may be imagined whether or not his mother thought she had been clever when it occurred to her (before any one else) that Rachel would be a resource for the term of hibernation. She had forgotten all her scruples and hesitation; she only knew she had seen very far. She was proud of her prescience, she was even amused with it; and for the moment she held her head rather high. No one knew of it but Lucretia,—for she had never confided it to Joanna, of whom she would have been more afraid in such a connection even than of her sister-in-law; but Mr. and Mrs. Merriman perceived an unusual lightness in her step, a fitful sparkle in her eye. It was, of course, easy for them to make up their mind that she was exhilarated to this degree by the presence of her son; especially as he seemed to be getting on beautifully in Boston.

“She stays out longer every day; she is scarcely ever home to tea,” Mrs. Mesh remarked, looking up at the clock on the chimney-piece.

Florimond could not fail to know to whom she alluded, for it has been intimated that between these two there was much conversation about Rachel Torrance. “It's funny, the way the girls run about alone here,” he said, in the amused, contemplative tone in which he frequently expressed himself on the subject of American life. “Rachel stays out after dark, and no one thinks any the worse of her.”

“Oh, well, she's old enough,” Mrs. Mesh rejoined, with a little sigh, which seemed to suggest that Rachel's age was really affecting. Her eyes had been opened by Florimond to many of the peculiarities of the society that surrounded her; and though she had spent only as many months in Europe as her visitor had spent years, she now sometimes spoke as if she thought the manners of Boston more odd even than he could pretend to do. She was very quick at picking up an idea, and there was nothing she desired more than to have the last on every subject. This winter, from her two new friends, Florimond and Rachel, she had extracted a great many that were new to her; the only trouble was that, coming from different sources, they sometimes contradicted each other. Many of them, however, were very vivifying; they added a new zest to that prospect of life which had always, in winter, the denuded bushes, the solid pond and the plank-covered walks, the exaggerated bridge, the patriotic statues, the dry, hard texture of the public garden for it's foreground, and for it's middle distance the pale, frozen twigs, stiff in the windy sky, that whistled over the common, the domestic dome of the State House, familiar in the untinted air, and the competitive spires of a liberal faith. Mrs. Mesh had an active imagination, and plenty of time on her hands. Her two children were young, and they slept a good deal; she had explained to Florimond, who observed that she was a great deal less in the nursery than his sister, that she pretended only to give her attention to their waking hours. “I have people for the rest of the time,” she said; and the rest of the time was considerable; so that there were very few obstacles to her cultivation of ideas. There was one in her mind now, and I may as well impart it to the reader without delay. She was not quite so delighted with Rachel Torrance as she had been a month ago; it seemed to her that the young lady took up—socially speaking—too much room in the house; and she wondered how long she intended to remain, and whether it would be possible, without a direct request, to induce her to take her way back to Brooklyn. This last was the conception with which she was at present engaged; she was at moments much pressed by it, and she had thoughts of taking Florimond Daintry into her confidence. This, however, she determined not to do, lest he should regard it as a sign that she was jealous of her companion. I know not whether she was, but this I know,—that Mrs. Mesh was a woman of a high ideal, and would not for the world have appeared so. If she was jealous, this would imply that she thought Florimond was in love with Rachel; and she could only object to that on the ground of being in love with him herself. She was not in love with him, and had no intention of being; of this the reader, possibly alarmed, may definitely rest assured. Moreover, she did not think him in love with Rachel; as to her reason for this reserve, I need not, perhaps, be absolutely outspoken. She was not jealous, she would have said, she was only oppressed—she was a little over-ridden. Rachel pervaded her house, pervaded her life, pervaded Boston; every one thought it necessary to talk to her about Rachel, to rave about her in the Boston manner, which seemed to Mrs. Mesh, in spite of the Puritan tradition, very much more unbridled than that of Baltimore. They thought it would give her pleasure; but by this time she knew everything about Rachel. The girl had proved rather more of a figure than she expected; and though she could not be called pretentious, she had the air, in staying with Pauline Mesh, of conferring rather more of a favour than she received. This was absurd for a person who was, after all, though not in her first youth, only a girl, and who, as Mrs. Mesh was sure, from her biography,—for Rachel had related every item,—had never before had such unrestricted access to the fleshpots. The fleshpots were full, under Donald Mesh's roof, and his wife could easily believe that the poor girl would not be in a hurry to return to her boarding-house in Brooklyn. For that matter there were lots of people in Boston who would be delighted that she should come to them. It was doubtless an inconsistency on Mrs. Mesh's part that if she was overdone with the praises of Rachel Torrance which fell from every lip, she should not herself have forborne to broach the topic. But I have sufficiently intimated that it had a perverse fascination for her; it is true ,she did not speak of Rachel only to praise her. Florimond, in truth, was a little weary of the young lady's name; he had plenty of topics of his own, and he had his own opinion about Rachel Torrance. He did not take up Mrs. Mesh's remark as to her being old enough.

“You must wait till she comes in. Please ring for tea,” said Mrs. Mesh, after a pause. She had noticed that Florimond was comparing his watch with her clock; it occurred to her that he might be going.

“Oh, I always wait, you know; I like to see her when she has been anywhere. She tells one all about it, and describes everything so well.”

Mrs. Mesh looked at him a moment. “She sees a great deal more in things than I am usually able to discover. She sees the most extraordinary things in Boston.”

“Well, so do I,” said Florimond, placidly.

“Well, I don't, I must say!” She asked him to ring again; and then, with a slight irritation, accused him of not ringing hard enough; but before he could repeat the operation, she left her chair and went herself to the bell. After this she stood before the fire a moment, gazing into it; then suggested to Florimond that he should put on a log.

“Is it necessary,—when your servant is coming in a moment?” the young man asked unexpectedly, without moving. In an instant, however, he rose; and then he explained that this was only his little joke.

“Servants are too stupid,” said Mrs. Mesh. “But I spoil you. What would your mother say?” She watched him while he placed the log. She was plump, and she was not tall; but she was a very pretty woman. She had round brown eyes, which looked as if she had been crying a little,—she had nothing in life to cry about; and dark, wavy hair, which, here and there, in short, crisp tendrils, escaped artfully from the form in which it was dressed. When she smiled she showed very pretty teeth; and the combination of her touching eyes and her parted lips was at such moments almost bewitching. She was accustomed to express herself in humorous superlatives, in pictorial circumlocutions; and had acquired in Boston the rudiments of a social dialect which, to be heard in perfection, should be heard on the lips of a native. Mrs. Mesh had picked it up; but it must be confessed that she used it without originality. It was an accident that on this occasion she had not expressed her wish for her tea by saying that she should like a pint or two of that Chinese fluid.

“My mother believes I can't be spoiled,” said Florimond, giving a little push with his toe to the stick that he had placed in the embers; after which he sank back into his chair, while Mrs. Mesh resumed possession of her own. “I am ever fresh,—ever pure.”

“You are ever conceited. I don't see what you find so extraordinary in Boston,” Mrs. Mesh added, reverting to his remark of a moment before.

“Oh, everything! the ways of the people, their ideas, their peculiar cachet. The very expression of their faces amuses me.”

“Most of them have no expression at all.”

“Oh, you are used to it,” Florimond said. “You have become one of themselves; you have ceased to notice.”

“I am more of a stranger than you; I was born beneath other skies. Is it possible that you don't know yet that I am a native of Baltimore? 'Maryland, my Maryland!'“

“Have they got so much expression in Maryland? No, I thank you; no tea. Is it possible!” Florimond went on, with the familiarity of pretended irritation. “Is it possible that you haven't noticed yet that I never take it? Boisson fade, écœurante, as Balzac calls it.”

“Ah, well, if you don't take it on account of Balzac! ” said Mrs. Mesh. “I never saw a man who had such fantastic reasons. Where, by the way, is the volume of that depraved old author which you promised to bring me?”

“When do you think he flourished? You call everything old, in this country, that isn't in the morning paper. I haven't brought you the volume, because I don't want to bring you presents,” Florimond said; “I want you to love me for myself, as they say in Paris.”

“Don't quote what they say in Paris! Don't sully this innocent bower with those fearful words!” Mrs. Mesh rejoined, with a jocose intention. “Dear lady, your son is not everything we could wish!” she added in the same mock dramatic tone, as the curtain of the door was lifted, and Mrs. Daintry rather timidly advanced. Mrs. Daintry had come to satisfy a curiosity, after all quite legitimate; she could no longer resist the impulse to ascertain for herself, so far as she might, how Rachel Torrance and Florimond were getting on. She had had no definite expectation of finding Florimond at Mrs. Mesh's; but she supposed that at this hour of the afternoon—it was already dark, and the ice, in many parts of Beacon street, had a polish which gleamed through the dusk—she should find Rachel. “Your son has lived too long in far-off lands; he has dwelt among outworn things,” Mrs. Mesh went on, as she conducted her visitor to a chair. “Dear lady, you are not as Balzac was; do you start at the mention of his name?—therefore you will have some tea in a little painted cup.”

Mrs. Daintry was not bewildered, though it may occur to the reader that she might have been; she was only a little disappointed. She had hoped she might have occasion to talk about Florimond; but the young mans presence was a denial of this privilege.

“I am afraid Rachel is not at home,” she remarked. “I am afraid she will think I have not been very attentive.”

“She will be in in a moment; we are waiting for her,” Florimond said. “It's impossible she should think any harm of you. I have told her too much good.”

Ah, Mrs. Daintry, don't build too much on what he has told her! He's a false and faithless man! Pauline Mesh interposed; while the good lady from Newbury street, smiling at this adjuration, but looking a little grave, turned from one of her companions to the other. Florimond had relapsed into his chair by the fire-place; he sat contemplating the embers, and fingering the tip of his moustache. Mrs. Daintry imbibed her tea, and told how often she had slipped coming down the hill. These expedients helped her to wear a quiet face; but in reality she was nervous, and she felt rather foolish. It came over her that she was rather dishonest; she had presented herself at Mrs. Mesh's in the capacity of a spy. The reader already knows she was subject to sudden revulsions of feeling. There is an adage about repenting at leisure; but Mrs. Daintry always repented in a hurry. There was something in the air—something impalpable, magnetic—that told her she had better not have come; and even while she conversed with Mrs. Mesh she wondered what this mystic element could be. Of course she had been greatly preoccupied, these last weeks; for it had seemed to her that her plan with regard to Rachel Torrance was succeeding only too well. Florimond had frankly accepted her in the spirit in which she had been offered, and it was very plain that she was helping him to pass his winter. He was constantly at the house,—Mrs. Daintry could not tell exactly how often; but she knew very well that in Boston, if one saw anything of a person, one saw a good deal. At first he used to speak of it; for two or three weeks he had talked a good deal about Rachel Torrance. More lately his allusions had become few; yet to the best of Mrs. Daintry's belief his step was often in Arlington street. This aroused her suspicions, and at times it troubled her conscience; there were moments when she wondered whether, in arranging a genial winter for Florimond, she had also prepared a season of torment for herself. Was he in love with the girl, or had he already discovered that the girl was in love with him? The delicacy of either situation would account for his silence. Mrs. Daintry said to herself that it would be a grim joke if she should prove to have plotted only too well. It was her sister-in-laws warning in especial that haunted her imagination, and she scarcely knew, at times, whether more to hope that Florimond might have been smitten, or to pray that Rachel might remain indifferent. It was impossible for Mrs. Daintry to shake off the sense of responsibility; she could not shut her eyes to the fact that she had been the prime mover. It was all very well to say that the situation, as it stood, was of Lucretia's making; the thing never would have come into Lucretia's head if she had not laid it before her. Unfortunately, with the quiet life she led, she had very little chance to observe; she went out so little, that she was reduced to guessing what the manner of the two young persons might be to each other when they met in society, and she should have thought herself wanting in delicacy if she had sought to be intimate with Rachel Torrance. Now that her plan was in operation, she could make no attempt to foster it, to acknowledge it in the face of Heaven. Fortunately, Rachel had so many attentions, that there was no fear of her missing those of Newbury street, She had dined there once, in the first days of her sojourn, without Pauline and Donald, who had declined, and with Joanna and Joanna's husband for all company. Mrs. Daintry had noticed nothing particular then, save that Arthur Merriman talked rather more than usual,—though he was always a free talker,—and had bantered Rachel rather more familiarly than was perhaps necessary (considering that he, after all, was not her cousin) on her ignorance of Boston, and her thinking that Pauline Mesh could tell her anything about it. On this occasion Florimond talked very little; of course he could not say much when Arthur was in such extraordinary spirits. She knew by this time all that Florimond thought of his brother-in-law, and she herself had to confess that she liked Arthur better in his jaded hours, even though then he was a little cynical. Mrs. Daintry had been perhaps a little disappointed in Rachel, whom .she saw for the first time in several years. The girl was less peculiar than she remembered her being, savoured less of the old studio, the musical parties, the creditors waiting at the door. However, people in Boston found her unusual, and Mrs. Daintry reflected, with a twinge at her depravity, that perhaps she had expected something too dishevelled. At any rate, several weeks had elapsed since then, and there had been plenty of time for Miss Torrance to attach herself to Florimond. It was less than ever Mrs. Daintry's wish that he should (even in this case) ask her to be his wife. It seemed to her less than ever the way her son should marry,—because he had got entangled with the girl in consequence of his mothers rashness. It occurred to her, of course, that she might warn the young man; but when it came to the point she could not bring herself to speak. She had never discussed the question of love with him, and she didn't know what ideas he might have brought with him from Paris. It was too delicate; it might put notions into his head. He might say something strange and French, which she shouldn't like; and then perhaps she should feel bound to warn Rachel herself—a complication from which she absolutely shrank. It was part of her embarrassment now, as she sat in Mrs. Mesh's drawing-room, that she should probably spoil Florimond's entertainment for this afternoon, and that such a crossing of his inclination would make him the more dangerous. He had told her that he was waiting for Rachel to come in; and at the same time, in view of the lateness of the hour and her being on foot, when she herself should take her leave, he would be bound in decency to accompany her. As for remaining after Rachel should come in, that was an indiscretion which scarcely seemed to her possible. Mrs. Daintry was an American mother, and she knew what the elder generation owes to the younger. If Florimond had come there to call on a young lady, he didn't, as they used to say, want any mothers round. She glanced covertly at her son, to try and find some comfort in his countenance; for her perplexity was heavy. But she was struck only with his looking very handsome, as he lounged there in the firelight, and with his being very much at home. This did not lighten her burden, and she expressed all the weight of it—in the midst of Mrs. Mesh's flights of comparison—in an irrelevant little sigh. At such a time her only comfort could be the thought that at all events she had not betrayed herself to Lucretia. She had scarcely exchanged a word with Lucretia about Rachel since that young lady's arrival; and she had observed in silence that Miss Daintry now had a guest in the person of a young woman who had lately opened a kindergarten. This reticence might surely pass for natural.

Rachel came in before long, but even then Mrs. Daintry ventured to stay a little. The visitor from Brooklyn embraced Mrs. Mesh, who told her that, prodigal as she was, there was no fatted calf for her return; she must content herself with cold tea. Nothing could be more charming than her manner, which was full of native archness; and it seemed to Mrs. Daintry that she directed her pleasantries at Florimond with a grace that was intended to be irresistible. The relation between them was a relation of “chaff", and consisted, on one side and the other, in alternations of attack and defence. Mrs. Daintry reflected that she should not wish her son to have a wife who should be perpetually turning him into a joke; for it seemed to her, perhaps, that Rachel Torrance put in her thrusts rather faster than Florimond could parry them. She was evidently rather wanting in the faculty of reverence, and Florimond panted a little. They presently went into an adjoining room where the lamp-light was brighter; Rachel wished to show the young man an old painted fan which she had brought back from the repairer's. They remained there ten minutes. Mrs. Daintry, as she sat with Mrs. Mesh, heard their voices much intermingled. She wished very much to confide herself a little to Pauline,—to ask her whether she thought Rachel was in love with Florimond. But she had a foreboding that this would not be safe; Pauline was capable of repeating her question to the others, of calling out to Rachel to come back and answer it. She contented herself; therefore, with asking her hostess about the little Meshes and regaling her with anecdotes of Joanna's progeny.

“Don't you ever have your little ones with you at this hour?” she inquired. “You know this is what Longfellow calls the children's hour.”

Mrs. Mesh hesitated a moment. “Well, you know, one can't have everything at once. I have my social duties now; I have my guests. I have Miss Torrance, you see she is not a person one can overlook.”

“I suppose not,” said poor Mrs. Daintry, remembering how little she herself had overlooked her.

“Have you done brandishing that superannuated relic?” Mrs. Mesh asked of Rachel and Florimond as they returned to the fireside. “I should as soon think of fanning myself with the fire-shovel!”

“He has broken my heart,” Rachel said. “He tells me it is not a Watteau.”

“Do you believe everything he tells you, my dear? His word is the word of the betrayer.”

“Well, I know Watteau didn't paint fans,” Florimond remarked, “any more than Michael Angelo.”

“I suppose you think he painted ceilings,” said Rachel Torrance. “I have painted a great many myself.”

“A great many ceilings? 1 should like to see that!” Florimond exclaimed.

Rachel Torrance, with her usual promptness, adopted this fantasy. “Yes, I have decorated half the churches in Brooklyn; you know how many there are.”

“If you mean fans, I wish men carried them,” the young man went on; “I should like to have one de votre façon.”

“You are cool enough as you are; I should be sorry to give you anything that would make you cooler!”

This retort, which may not strike the reader by it's originality, was pregnant enough for Mrs. Daintry; it seemed to her to denote that the situation was critical; and she proposed to retire. Florimond walked home with her; but it was only as they reached their door that she ventured to say to him what had been on her tongues end since they left Arlington street.

“Florimond, I want to ask you something. I think it is important, and you mustn't be surprised. Are you in love with Rachel Torrance?”

Florimond stared, in the light of the streetlamp. The collar of his overcoat was turned up; he stamped a little as he stood still; the breath of the February evening pervaded the empty vistas of the “new land”. “In love with Rachel Torrance? Jamais de la vie! What put that into your head?”

“Seeing you with her, that way, this evening. You know you are very attentive.”

“How do you mean, attentive?”

“You go there very often. Isn't it almost every day?”

Florimond hesitated, and, in spite of the frigid dusk, his mother could see that there was irritation in his eye. “Where else can I go, in this precious place? It's the pleasantest house here.”

“Yes, I suppose it's very pleasant,” Mrs. Daintry murmured. “But I would rather have you return to Paris than go there too often,” she added, with sudden energy.

“How do you mean too often? Qu'est-ce-que vous prend, ma mere ?” said Florimond.

“Is Rachel—Rachel in love with you?” she inquired, solemnly. She felt that this question, though her heart beat as she uttered it, could not be mitigated by a circumlocution.

“Good heavens! mother, fancy talking about love in this temperature!” Florimond exclaimed. “Let one at least get into the house.”

Mrs. Daintry followed him reluctantly, for she always had a feeling that if anything disagreeable were to be done, one should not make it less drastic by selecting agreeable conditions. In the drawing-room, before the fire, she returned to her inquiry. “My son, you have not answered me about Rachel.”

“Is she in love with me? Why, very possibly!”

“Are you serious, Florimond?”

“Why shouldn't I be? I have seen the way women go off.”

Mrs. Daintry was silent a moment. “Florimond, is it true?” she said, presently.

“Is what true? I don't see where you want to come out!”

“Is it true that that girl has fixed her affections—” and Mrs. Daintry's voice dropped.

“Upon me, ma mère? I don't say it's true, but I say it's possible. You ask me, and I can only answer you. I am not swaggering, I am simply giving you decent satisfaction. You wouldn't have me think it impossible that a woman should fall in love with me? You know what women are, and how there is nothing, in that way, too queer for them to do.”

Mrs. Daintry, in spite of the knowledge of her sex that she might be supposed to possess, was not prepared to rank herself on the side of this axiom. “I wished to warn you,” she simply said; “do be very careful.”

“Yes, I'll be careful; but I can't give up the house.”

“There are other houses, Florimond.”

“Yes, but there is a special charm there.”

“I would rather you should return to Paris than do any harm.”

“Oh, I shan't do any harm; don't worry, ma mère,” said Florimond.

It was a relief to Mrs. Daintry to have spoken, and she endeavoured not to worry. It was doubtless this effort that, for the rest of the winter, gave her a somewhat rigid, anxious look. People who met her in Beacon street missed something from her face. It was her usual confidence in the clearness of human duty; and some of her friends explained the change by saying that she was disappointed about Florimond, she was afraid he was not particularly liked.

VII.

 

BY THE FIRST OF MARCH this young man had received a good many optical impressions, and had noted in water-colours several characteristic winter effects. He had perambulated Boston in every direction, he had even extended his researches to the suburbs; and if his eye had been curious, his eye was now almost satisfied. He perceived that even amid the simple civilization of New England there was material for the naturalist; and in Washington street, of a winters afternoon, it came home to him that it was a fortunate thing the impressionist was not exclusively preoccupied with the beautiful. He became familiar with the slushy streets, crowded with thronging pedestrians and obstructed horse-cars, bordered with strange promiscuous shops, which seemed at once violent and indifferent, overhung with snow-banks from the housetops; the avalanche that detached itself at intervals fell with an enormous thud amid the dense procession of women, made for a moment a clear space, splashed with whiter snow, on the pavement, and contributed to the gayety of the Puritan capital. Supreme in the thoroughfare was the rigid groove of the railway, where oblong receptacles, of fabulous capacity, governed by familiar citizens, jolted and jingled eternally, close on each other's rear, absorbing and emitting innumerable specimens of a single type. The road on either side, buried in mounds of pulverized, mud-coloured ice, was ploughed across by labouring vehicles, and traversed periodically by the sisterhood of “shoppers", laden with satchels and parcels, and protected by a round-backed policeman. Florimond looked at the shops, saw the women disgorged, surging, ebbing, dodging the avalanches, squeezed in and out of the horse-cars, on their little platforms, where flatness was enforced, and made himself as perpendicular as possible. The horses steamed in the sunny air, the conductor punched the tickets and poked the passengers, some of whom were under and some above, and all alike stabled in trampled straw. They were precipitated, collectively, by stoppages and starts; the tight, silent interior stuffed itself more and more, and the whole machine heaved and reeled in it's interrupted course. Florimond had forgotten the look of many things, the details of American publicity; in some cases, indeed, he only pretended to himself that he had forgotten them, because it helped to entertain him. The houses—a bristling, jagged line of talls and shorts, a parti-coloured surface, expressively commercial—were spotted with staring signs, with labels and pictures, with advertisements familiar, colloquial, vulgar; the air was traversed with the tangle of the telegraph, with festoons of bunting, with banners not of war, with inexplicable loops and ropes; the shops, many of them enormous, had heterogeneous fronts, with queer juxtapositions in the articles that peopled them, an incompleteness of array, the stamp of the latest modern ugliness. They had pendant stuffs in the doorways, and flapping tickets outside. Every fifty yards there was a “candy store”; in the intervals was the painted panel of a chiropodist, representing him in his professional attitude. Beyond the plates of glass, in the hot interiors, behind the counters, were pale, familiar, delicate, tired faces of women with polished hair and glazed complexions. Florimond knew their voices; he knew how women would speak when their hair was “treated", as they said in the studios, like that. But the women that passed through the streets were the main spectacle. Florimond had forgotten their extraordinary numerosity, and the impression that they produced of a deluge of petticoats. He could see that they were perfectly at home on the road; they had an air of possession, of perpetual equipment, a look, in the eyes, of always meeting the gaze of crowds, always seeing people pass, noting things in shop-windows, and being on the watch at crossings; many of them evidently passed most of their time in these conditions, and Florimond wondered what sort of interieurs they could have. He felt at moments that he was in a city of women, in a country of women. The same impression came to him dans le monde, as he used to say, for he made the most incongruous application of his little French phrases to Boston. The talk, the social life, were so completely in the hands of the ladies, the masculine note was so subordinate, that on certain occasions he could have believed himself (putting the brightness aside) in a country stricken by a war, where the men had all gone to the army, or in a seaport half depopulated by the absence of it's vessels. This idea had intermissions; for instance, when he walked out to Cambridge. In this little excursion he often indulged; he used to go and see one of his college-mates, who was now a tutor at Harvard. He stretched away across the long, mean bridge that spans the mouth of the Charles,—a mile of wooden piles, supporting a brick pavement, a roadway deep in mire, and a rough timber fence, over which the pedestrian enjoys a view of the frozen bay, the backs of many new houses, and a big brown marsh. The horse-cars bore him company, relieved here of the press of the streets, though not of their internal congestion, and constituting the principal feature of the wide, blank avenue, where the puddles lay large across the bounding rails. He followed their direction through a middle region, in which the small wooden houses had an air of tent-like impermanence, and the February mornings, splendid and indiscreet, stared into bare windows and seemed to make civilization transparent. Further, the suburb remained wooden, but grew neat, and the painted houses looked out on the car-track with an expression almost of superiority. At Harvard the buildings were simple and fresh; they stood in a yard planted with slender elms, which the winter had reduced to spindles; the town stretched away from the horizontal palings of the collegiate precinct, low, flat and immense, with vague, featureless spaces and the air of a clean encampment. Florimond remembered that when the summer came in the whole place was transformed. It was pervaded by verdure and dust, the slender elms became profuse, arching over the unpaved streets, the green shutters bowed themselves before the windows, the flowers and creeping-plants bloomed in the small gardens, and on the piazzas, in the gaps of dropped awnings, light dresses arrested the eye. At night, in the warm darkness,—for Cambridge is not festooned with lamps,—the bosom of nature would seem to palpitate, there would be a smell of earth and vegetation,—a smell more primitive than the odour of Europe,—and the air would vibrate with the sound of insects. All this was in reserve, if one would have patience, especially from March to June; but for the present the seat of the University struck our poor little critical Florimond as rather hard and bare. As the winter went on, and the days grew longer, he knew that Mrs. Daintry often believed him to be in Arlington street when he was walking out to see his friend the tutor, who had once spent a winter in Paris, and who never tired of talking about it. It is to be feared that he did not undeceive her so punctually as he might, for, in the first place he was at Mrs. Mesh's very often; in the second, he failed to understand how worried his mother was; and in the third, the idea that he should be thought to have the peace of mind of a brilliant girl in his keeping was not disagreeable to him.

One day his Aunt Lucretia found him in Arlington street; it occurred to her about the middle of the winter that, considering she liked Rachel Torrance so much, she had not been to see her very often. She had little time for such indulgences; but she caught a moment in it's flight, and was told at Mrs. Mesh's door that this lady had not yet come in, but that her companion was accessible. Florimond was in his customary chair by the chimney corner (his aunt perhaps did not know quite how customary it was), and Rachel, at the piano, was regaling him with a composition of Schubert. Florimond, up to this time, had not become very intimate with his aunt, who had not, as it were, given him the key of her house, and in whom he detected a certain want of interest in his affairs. He had a limited sympathy with people who were interested only in their own, and perceived that Miss Daintry belonged to this preoccupied and ungraceful class. It seemed to him that it would have been more becoming in her to feign at least a certain attention to the professional and social prospects of the most promising of her nephews. If there was one thing that Florimond disliked more than another, it was an eager self-absorption; and he could not see that it was any better for people to impose their personality upon committees and charities than upon general society. He would have modified this judgment of his kinswoman, with whom he had dined but once, if he could have guessed with what anxiety she watched for the symptoms of that salutary change which she expected to see wrought in him by the fascinating independence of Rachel Torrance. If she had dared, she would have prompted the girl a little; she would have confided to her this secret desire. But the matter was delicate; and Miss Daintry was shrewd enough to see that everything must be spontaneous. When she paused at the threshold of Mrs. Mesh's drawing-room, looking from one of her young companions to the other, she felt a slight pang, for she feared they were getting on too well. Rachel was pouring sweet music into the young man's ears, and turning to look at him over her shoulder while she played; and he with his head tipped back and his eyes on the ceiling hummed an accompaniment which occasionally became an articulate remark. Harmonious intimacy was stamped upon the scene; and poor Miss Daintry was not struck with it's being in any degree salutary. She was not reassured when, after ten minutes, Florimond took his departure; she could see that he was irritated by the presence of a third person; and this was a proof that Rachel had not yet begun to do her duty by him. It is possible that when the two ladies were left together her disappointment would have led her to betray her views, had not Rachel almost immediately said to her: “My dear cousin, I am so glad you have come; I might not have seen you again. I go away in three days.”

“Go away? Where do you go to?”

“Back to Brooklyn,” said Rachel, smiling sweetly.

“Why on earth—I thought you had come here to stay for six months?”

“Oh, you know, six months would be a terrible visit for these good people; and of course no time was fixed. That would have been very absurd. I have been here an immense time already. It was to be as things should go.”

“And haven't they gone well?”

“Oh yes, they have gone beautifully.”

“Then why in the world do you leave?”

“Well, you know, I have duties at home. My mother coughs a good deal, and they write me dismal letters.”

“They are ridiculous, selfish people. You are going home because your mother coughs? I don't believe a word of it!” Miss Daintry cried. “You have some other reason. Something has happened here; it has become disagreeable. Be so good as to tell me the whole story.”

Rachel answered that there was not any story to tell, and that her reason consisted entirely of conscientious scruples as to absenting herself so long from her domestic circle. Miss Daintry esteemed conscientious scruples when they were well placed, but she thought poorly on the present occasion of those of Mrs. Mesh's visitor; they interfered so much with her sense of fitness. “Has Florimond been making love to you?” she suddenly inquired. “You mustn't mind that—beyond boxing his ears.”

Her question appeared to amuse Miss Torrance exceedingly; and the girl, a little inarticulate with her mirth, answered very positively that the young man had done her no such honour.

“I am very sorry to hear it,” said Lucretia; “I was in hopes he would give you a chance to take him down. He needs it very much. He's dreadfully puffed up.”

“He's an amusing little man!”

Miss Daintry put on her nippers. “Don't tell me it's you that are in love!”

“Oh, dear no! I like big, serious men, not small, Frenchified gentlemen, like Florimond. Excuse me if he's your nephew, but you began it. Though I am fond of art,” the girl added, “I don't think I am fond of artists.”

“Do you call Florimond an artist?”

Rachel Torrance hesitated a little, smiling. “Yes, when he poses for Pauline Mesh.”

This rejoinder for a moment left Miss Daintry in visible perplexity; then a sudden light seemed to come to her. She flushed a little; what she found was more than she was looking for. She thought of many things quickly, and among others she thought that she had accomplished rather more than she intended. “Have you quarrelled with Pauline?” she said presently.

“No, but she is tired of me.”

“Everything has not gone well, then, and you have another reason for going home than your mothers cough?”

“Yes, if you must know, Pauline wants me to go. I didn't feel free to tell you that; but since you guess it—“said Rachel, with her rancorless smile.

“Has she asked you to decamp?”

“Oh, dear, no! for what do you take us? But she absents herself from the house; she stays away all day. I have to play to Florimond to console him.”

“So you have been fighting about him?” Miss Daintry remarked, perversely.

“Ah, my dear cousin, what have you got in your head? Fighting about sixpence! If you knew how Florimond bores me! I play to him to keep him silent. I have heard everything he has to say, fifty times over!”

Miss Daintry sank back in her chair; she was completely out of her reckoning. “I think he might have made love to you a little!” she exclaimed, incoherently.

“So do I! but he didn't—not a crumb. He is afraid of me—thank Heaven!”

“It isn't for you he comes, then?” Miss Daintry appeared to cling to her theory.

“No, my dear cousin, it isn't.”

“Just now, as he sat there, one could easily have supposed it. He didn't at all like my interruption.”

“That was because he was waiting for Pauline to come in. He will wait that way an hour. You may imagine whether he likes me for boring her so, that, as I tell you, she can't stay in the house. I am out myself as much as possible. But there are days when I drop with fatigue; then I must rest. I can assure you that it is fortunate that I go so soon.”

“Is Pauline in love with him?” Miss Daintry asked gravely.

“Not a grain. She is the best little woman in the world.”

“Except for being a goose. Why, then, does she object to your company—after being so enchanted with you?”

“Because, even the best little woman in the world must object to something. She has everything in life, and nothing to complain of. Her children sleep all day, and her cook is a jewel. Her husband adores her, and she is perfectly satisfied with Mr. Mesh. I act on her nerves, and I think she believes I regard her as rather silly to care so much for Florimond. Excuse me again.”

“You contradict yourself. She does care for him, then?”

“Oh, as she would care for a new coupe. She likes to have a young man of her own—fresh from Paris—quite to herself. She has everything else—why shouldn't she have that? She thinks your nephew very original, and he thinks her what she is,—the prettiest woman in Boston. They have an idea that they are making a 'celebrated friendship',—like Horace Walpole and Madame du Deffand. They sit there face to face—they are as innocent as the shovel and tongs. But, all the same, I am in the way, and Pauline is provoked that I am not jealous.”

Miss Daintry got up with energy. “She's a vain, hollow, silly little creature, and you are quite right to go away; you are worthy of better company. Only you will not go back to Brooklyn, in spite of your mothers cough; you will come straight to Mount Vernon Place.”

Rachel hesitated to agree to this. She appeared to think it was her duty to quit Boston altogether; and she gave as a reason that she had already refused other invitations. But Miss Daintry had a better reason than this,—a reason that glowed in her indignant breast. It was she who had been the cause of the girls being drawn into this sorry adventure; it was she who should charge herself with the reparation. The conversation I have related took place on a Tuesday; and it was settled that on the Friday Miss Torrance should take up her abode for the rest of the winter under her cousin Lucretia's roof. This lady left the house without having seen Mrs. Mesh.

On Thursday she had a visit from her sister-in-law, the motive of which was not long in appearing. All winter Mrs. Daintry had managed to keep silent on the subject of her doubts and fears. Discretion and dignity recommended this course; and the topic was a painful one to discuss with Lucretia, for the bruises of their primary interview still occasionally throbbed, but at the first sign of alleviation the excellent woman overflowed, and she lost no time in announcing to Lucretia, as a Heaven-sent piece of news, that Rachel had been called away by the illness of poor Mrs. Torrance, and was to leave Boston from one day to the other. Florimond had given her this information the evening before; and it had made her so happy that she couldn't help coming to let Lucretia know that they were safe. Lucretia listened to her announcement in silence, fixing her eyes on her sister-in-law with an expression that the latter thought singular; but when Mrs. Daintry, expanding still further, went on to say that she had spent a winter of misery, that the harm the two together (she and Lucretia) might have done was never out of her mind, for Florimond's assiduity in Arlington street had become notorious, and she had been told that the most cruel things were said,—when Mrs. Daintry, expressing herself to this effect, added that from the present moment she breathed, the danger was over, the sky was clear, and her conscience might take a holiday,—her hostess broke into the most prolonged, the most characteristic, and most bewildering fit of laughter in which she had ever known her to indulge. They were safe, Mrs. Daintry had said! For Lucretia this was true, now, for herself, at least; she was secure from the dangers of her irritation; her sense of the whole affair had turned to hilarious music. The contrast that rose before her between her visitors anxieties and the real position of the parties, her quick vision of poor Susan's dismay in case that reality should meet her eyes, among the fragments of her squandered scruples,—these things smote the chords of mirth in Miss Daintry's spirit, and seemed to her in their high comicality to offer a sufficient reason for everything that had happened. The picture of her sister-in-law sitting all winter with her hands clasped and her eyes fixed on the wrong object was an image that would abide with her always; and it would render her an inestimable service,—it would cure her of the tendency to worry. As may be imagined, it was eminently open to Mrs. Daintry to ask her what on earth she was laughing at, and there was a colour in the cheek of Florimond's mother that brought her back to propriety. She suddenly kissed this lady very tenderly—to the latter's great surprise, there having been no kissing since her visit in November—and told her that she would reveal to her some day, later, the cause of so much merriment. She added that Miss Torrance was leaving Arlington street, yes; but only to go as far as Mount Vernon Place. She was engaged to spend three months in that very house. Mrs. Daintry's countenance, at this, fell several inches, and her joy appeared completely to desert her. She gave her sister-in-law a glance of ineffable reproach, and in a moment she exclaimed: “Then nothing is gained! it will all go on here!”

“Nothing will go on here. If you mean that Florimond will pursue the young lady into this mountain fastness, you may simply be quiet. He is not fond enough of me to wear out my threshold.”

“Are you very sure?” Mrs. Daintry murmured, dubiously.

“I know what I say. Hasn't he told you he hates me?”

Mrs. Daintry coloured again, and hesitated. “I don't know how you think we talk,” she said.

“Well, he does, and he will leave us alone.” Mrs. Daintry sprang up with an elasticity that was comical. “That's all I ask!” she exclaimed.

“I believe you hate me too!” Lucretia said, laughing; but at any risk, she kissed her sister-in-law again before they separated.

Three weeks later Mrs. Daintry paid her another visit; and this time she looked very serious. “It's very strange. I don't know what to think. But perhaps you know it already? This was her entrée en matière, as the French say. Rachel leaving Arlington street has made no difference. He goes there as much as ever. I see no change at all. Lucretia, I have not the peace that I thought had come,” said poor Mrs. Daintry, whose voice had failed, below her breath.

“Do you mean that he goes to see Pauline Mesh?”

“I'm afraid so, every day.”

“Well, my dear, what's the harm? ” Miss Daintry asked. “He can't hurt her by not marrying her.”

Mrs. Daintry stared; she was amazed at her sister-in-law's tone. “But it makes one suppose that all winter, for so many weeks, it has been for her that he has gone!” and the image of the tête-à-tête in which she had found them immured that day, rose again before her; she could interpret it now.

“You wanted some one; why may not Pauline have served?”

Mrs. Daintry was silent, with the same expanded eyes. “Lucretia, it is not right!”

“My dear Susan, you are touching,” Lucretia said.

Mrs. Daintry went on without heeding her. “It appears that people are talking about it; they have noticed it for ever so long. Joanna never hears anything, or she would have told me. The children are too much. I have been the last to know.”

“I knew it a month ago,” said Miss Daintry, smiling.

“And you never told me?”

“I knew that you wanted to detain him. Pauline will detain him a year.”

Mrs. Daintry gathered herself together. “Not a day, not an hour, that I can help! He shall go, if I have to take him.”

“My dear Susan,” murmured her sister-in-law on the threshold. Miss Daintry scarcely knew what to say; she was almost frightened at the rigidity of her face.

“My dear Lucretia, it is not right!” This ejaculation she solemnly repeated, and she took her departure as if she were decided upon action.

She had found so little sympathy in her sister-in-law that she made no answer to a note Miss Daintry wrote her that evening, to remark that she was really unjust to Pauline, who was silly, vain, and flattered by the development of her ability to monopolize an impressionist, but a perfectly innocent little woman and incapable of a serious flirtation. Miss Daintry had been careful to add to these last words no comment that could possibly shock Florimond's mother. Mrs. Daintry announced, about the 10th of April, that she had made up her mind she needed a change, and had determined to go abroad for the summer; and she looked so tired that people could see there was reason in it. Her summer began early; she embarked on the 20th of the month, accompanied by Florimond. Miss Daintry, who had not been obliged to dismiss the young lady of the kindergarten to make room for Rachel Torrance, never knew what had passed between the mother and the son, and she was disappointed at Mrs. Mesh's coolness in the face of this catastrophe. She disapproved of her flirtation with Florimond, and yet she was vexed at Pauline's pert resignation; it proved her to be superficial. She disposed of everything with her absurd little phrases, that were half slang and half quotation. Mrs. Daintry was a native of Salem, and this gave Pauline, as a Baltimorean and a descendant of the Cavaliers, an obvious opportunity. Rachel repeated her words to Miss Daintry, for she had spoken to Rachel of Florimond's departure, the day after he embarked. “Oh, yes, he's in the midst of the foam, the cruel, crawling foam! I 'kind of' miss him afternoons, he was so useful round the fire. It's his mother that charmed him away; she's a most uncanny old party. I don't care for Salem witches, anyway; she has worked on him with philtres and spells!” Lucretia was obliged to recognize a grain of truth in this last assertion; she felt that her sister-in-law must indeed have worked upon Florimond, and she smiled to think that the conscientious Susan should have descended, in her last resort, to an artifice, to a pretext. She had probably persuaded him she was tired of Joanna's children.