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Chapter 5-9 (a)

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« on: September 22, 2023, 10:10:15 am »



IN CONSEQUENCE of the bad weather every one returned to Paris early that autumn. Anastasia Beauchamp’s first reception---the fourth Thursday in September---proved a crowded and animated function. Each guest expressed rapture at meeting every other guest, and at being back, yes, once again veritably established in our dear, good, brave, inexhaustibly interesting, intelligent and entertaining Paris! How they---the speakers---ever mustered sufficient fortitude to go away, still more to stay away, they could really now form no conception. But it was finished, thank Heaven! the mortally tedious exile; and they were restored to the humanities, the arts, the sciences, in short, to civilization, of which last dear Mademoiselle Beauchamp’s hospitality represented so integral and so wholly charming a part. This and much more to this effect. The French mind and French diction rarely fumble; but arrive, with graceful adroitness, squarely on the spot. Lightness of touch and finish of phrase effectually safeguarded these raptures against any suggestion of insincerity or absurdity. They were diverting, captivating, as were the retailers of them. And Anastasia listened, retorted, sympathized, capped a climax with further witty extravagance, heartily pleased and amused.

Nevertheless, to her, this yearly rentrée was not without an element of pathos. In the matter of reminiscence and retrospect Miss Beauchamp was the least self-indulgent of women; her tendency to depress her juniors by exaltation of the past at expense of the present being of the smallest. To hours of solitary communing in her hidden garden she restricted all that. Still this joyous homing, when the members of her acquaintance taking up their residence once again in Paris blossomed into fullness of intellectual and social activity, left her a little wistful, a little sad. Recognition of the perpetual shifting of the human scene, of the instability of human purpose, oppressed her. How few of those who greeted her to-day with such affectionate empressement were precisely the same in thought, circumstance or character as when they bade her farewell at the end of May! She could not but note changes. Those changes might be slight, infinitesimal, but they existed. Not only do things, as a whole, march on; but the individual marches on also---marches on, too often, out of completeness of sympathy, completeness of comprehension, or, through the ceaselessly centrifugal, scattering action of the social machine, marches on actually out of hearing and out of sight! And this thinning of the ranks, these changes in those who remained, did cause her sorrow. She could not bring herself to acquiesce in and accept them with entire philosophy.

Arrayed in a dress of clove carnation satin veiled with black ninon de soie, Miss Beauchamp stood near the door opening from the first of the suite of reception-rooms---in which tea had been served---on to the entrance hall. She had taken up her position there when bidding her guests adieu. In the second room two persons were talking, Lewis Byewater’s slow, detached, slightly nasal accents making themselves clearly audible.

“Lenty Stacpole feels Madame Vernois is just the loveliest mature French feminine type he has yet encountered. He would be gratified to work up those thumbnail sketches of her he made at Ste. Marie into a finished portrait for exhibition with his other work in New York this winter----”

With an unconscious, but very expressive, little gesture of reprobation Anastasia moved across to the embrasure of the near window, pleasant from the fresh, pungent scent of a bank of white and lemon-colored chrysanthemums. She looked up into the limpid clarity of the twilight sky seen above the house-roofs on the opposite side of the quiet street.

... Yes, the perpetual shifting of the human scene, the instability of human purpose. And, as concrete example of all that, a portrait of gentle, shrinking, timid, pre-eminently old-world Madame Vernois on exhibition in New York! The shouting incongruity of the proposition! Would her daughter, la belle Gabrielle, entertain it? And there, as Anastasia confessed to herself, she ran up against the provoking cause of her quarrel with existing conditions and tendencies. For, of the two living persons whom she had recently come to hold dearest, wasn’t the one changed and the other absent?

Since that pleasant afternoon at Ste. Marie she had neither sight nor word of Adrian Savage. The young man appeared to have incontinently vanished. She rang up his office in the rue Druot. The good Konski replied over the telephone, “Monsieur was, alas! encore en voyage.” She rang up his home address in the rue de l’Université, only to receive the same response; supplemented by the information that Adrian had not notified the date of his return, nor left orders as to the forwarding of his letters. What did this mean? She became anxious.

“Lenty has worried quite a wearing amount,” Byewater was saying, “whether it would be suitable he should ask you to let him work up a portrait. I tell you, Madame St. Leger, Lenty’s silver-point is just a dream. Do not go thinking it is because I am his friend I judge it so. Mr. Dax positively enthused when he saw some samples last fall; and Lenty has broken his own record since then----”

Anastasia, still consulting the calm evening sky, began to play a quite other than calm little fantasia with the fingers of one hand upon the window-pane. For why, in the name of diplomacy, of logic, of Eros himself, had Adrian Savage elected to vanish at this moment of all conceivable moments? The goal of his ambitions was in sight---hadn’t she told him as much at Ste. Marie? Eros awaiting, as she believed, to crown him victor in the long, faithful fight. And then that he, the dear, exasperating young idiot, should gallop off thus, the Lord only knew whither, instead of claiming the enchanting fruit of his victory! Really, it was too wildly irritating. For la belle Gabrielle wasn’t pleased---not a bit of it. She resented his absence at this particular juncture, as any woman of spirit not unreasonably must. Only too probably she would make him pay for his apparent slight of her. And to what extent would she make him pay? Faster and faster grew the time of the fantasia upon the window-pane, for this question greatly disturbed Anastasia.

For if Adrian must be cited as an example of the absent, la belle Gabrielle must be cited as among the changed. Miss Beauchamp, who watched her with affectionate solicitude, perceived something was a little bit wrong with her. She was not quite contented, not quite happy. Her manner had lost its delightful repose, her beauty, though great, its high serenity. Her wit had a sharp edge to it. She avoided occasions of intimacy. To-day she had helped Anastasia receive; and the latter remarked that, during the whole course of the afternoon, men had gathered about her and that she flirted---gracefully---yet undeniably---with each and all in turn. Since her return to Paris she had discarded the last outward signs of mourning. The smoke-grey walking-suit she wore to-day was lavishly embroidered in faint pastel shades of mauve, turquoise, and shell-pink, the pattern outlined here and there in silver thread, which glinted slightly as she moved. The same delicate tones tipped the panache of smoke-grey ostrich plumes set at the side of her large black hat. In this donning of charming colours Anastasia read the signing of some private declaration of independence, some assertion, not only of her youth and youth’s acknowledged privilege of joyous costume, but of intention to make capital out of the admiration her youth and beauty excited after the manner of other fair mondaines.

Clearly Madame St. Leger had arrived at a definite and momentous parting of the ways. Her mourning, all which it implied and which went along with it, was a thing of the past. Her nature was too rich---let it be added, too normal and wholesome---for the senses not to play their part in the shaping of her destiny. She had coquetted with Feminism, it is true; but such appeals and opportunities as Feminism has to offer the senses are not of an order wholesome natures can accept. To Gabrielle those appeals and opportunities were, briefly, loathsome; while, in her existing attitude, an exclusively intellectual fanaticism---such as alone can render advanced Feminism morally innocuous---no longer could control or satisfy her. Against it her ironic and critical humour rebelled, making sport of it. It followed, therefore, as Anastasia saw, that la belle Gabrielle would inevitably seek satisfaction, scope for her young energies, for her unimpaired joy of living, elsewhere. And this signaled possible danger. For, just now, being piqued, as Anastasia believed, and pushed by wounded pride, she might commit a folly. She might marry the wrong man, marry for position merely, or for money. Plenty of aspirants, judging by this afternoon, needed but little encouragement to declare themselves. She had borne the trials of one loveless marriage bravely, without faintest breath of scandal or hint of disaster. Throughout she had been admirable, both in taste and in conduct. But what about a second loveless marriage, made now in the full bloom of her womanhood?

Miss Beauchamp’s fingers positively drummed upon the window. For she had come to love them both so closely, love them foolishly, even weakly, much---perhaps---this very attractive young couple, of whom the one, just now, was absent, the other changed! Beyond measure would it grieve her if the consummation of their romance should be frustrated or should come about other than quite honest and noble lines. Why, oh! why, in Heaven’s name, did Adrian Savage absent himself? Why, at this eminently psychologic moment, was he not here? Anastasia could have wept.

Then, becoming aware of footsteps, and some presence entering from the hall behind her, she turned round hastily to find herself confronted by Adrian himself.

Enfin!” she cried, enthusiastically. “What an inexpressible relief to see you, my dear Savage! You discover me in the very act of exhaling my doubtfully pious soul in prayers for your speedy return. You are late, in some respects perhaps dangerously late; but ‘better late than never’---immeasurably better in this connection. Only, pardon me, where on earth have you been?”

The young man held her hand affectionately.

“In a land which possesses no frontiers, alas!” he said; “a land which bears no relation to geography.”

“Hum! Hum!” Anastasia responded, just a trifle impatiently, shaking her head. “And in addition to its other peculiarities is this famous country devoid of a postal system, may I ask?”

“Practically, yes,” Adrian answered. “Unless one is prepared to make oneself a really unpardonable bore. Some people call it the Land of Regrets, dear friend, others call it Purgatory. The two names are synonymous for most of us, I imagine. I have spent several weeks there, and the atmosphere of the accursed place still so clings to me that, although I needed immensely to see you, I shrank from coming here to-day until, as I supposed, all your other guests would have gone.”

Then Anastasia, looking at him, perceived that this delightful young man---her great fondness for whom she did not attempt to disguise or deny---must also be added to the number of the homing Parisians who had suffered change since she saw them last.

To begin with, he was in mourning of the correct French order, which, in man’s attire only in a degree less than in woman’s, prescribes uncompromising severity of black. But the change in him, as she quickly apprehended, went deeper than such merely outward acknowledgment of mournful occurrence. Some profound note had been struck since she saw him at Ste. Marie of the gleaming sands and alluring horizons, revealing tremendous and vital issues to him; and, in view of those same issues, revealing him to himself. From the effect of this revelation his whole being was still vibrant. Anastasia’s heart went out to him in large and generous sympathy; but she abstained from question or comment. The matter, whatever it might be, was grave, not to be taken lightly or played with. If he intended to give her his confidence, he would find an opportunity for doing so himself. Men, as she reflected, in their dealings with women are made that way. Express no desire to learn what troubles them, and they hasten to tell you. Show, however discreetly, your anxiety to hear, and they roll like hedgehogs, prickles outward, at once! So she merely said, smiling at him: “I am afraid you should have waited even longer, my dear Savage, if your object was to avoid all my guests. Two, in any case, still linger. Listen---we cannot hope for solitude à deux just yet.”

For once more Byewater’s slow, penetrating accents made themselves audible.

“If you feel not to be able to entertain Lenty Stacpole’s proposal, Madame St. Leger, I would not have you hesitate to tell me. I believe I catch on to your objection, though in America our ladies do not have such strong prejudices against publicity. I will explain to Lenty the way you feel. I would not wish to put you to any worry of refusing his proposal yourself.”

Eh! Par exemple! And pray what next?” Adrian said, under his breath, with raised eyebrows, looking his hostess inquiringly in the face.

“Ste. Marie offered only too many fatally magical quarters of an hour. They are both very hopelessly far gone, the two poor innocents!”

“Both? But it is preposterous, incredible! Dearest friend, you do not say to me both---not both?” Adrian cried, in a rising scale of heated protest.

To which Anastasia, hailing these symptoms of militant jealousy as altogether healthy, replied genially, taking his arm: “If you doubt my word, come and judge for yourself.”

Lewis Byewater, his hands clasped behind him, leaned his limp height against one of the few wall-spaces unincrusted with pictures, mirrors, china and other liberal confusion of ornament. Madame St. Leger stood near him, smoothing out the wrinkles in the wrists of her long gloves. To Adrian, as he entered the room, her charming person presented itself in profile. He perceived, and this gave him a curious turn in the blood, half of subtle alarm, half of high promise, that she once more wore colours.

Anastasia Beauchamp felt his arm tremble.

“Yes,” she murmured, “a certain enchanting woman puts on her armor and takes the field again. Believe me, it is time, high time, you came back!”

“You are so very good to try to spare me the pain of making Mr. Stacpole a refusal,” Gabrielle was saying sweetly to the young American. “But you do always show yourself so very amiable, so thoughtful, I think your countrymen are of the most---how do you say?---the most unselfish of any----”

Turning her head---“Ah!” she exclaimed, quite sharply, living red leaping into the round of her cheeks and living light into her eyes---“it is you, Mr. Savage?”

But even while the answering light leaped into Adrian’s eyes, very effectually for the moment dissipating their melancholy, her expression hardened, becoming mocking and ironic.

“You have the pleasure to know my kind friend, M. Byewater?” she asked, with a graceful wave of the hand toward that excellent youth, who had ceased to lounge against the wall and stood rather anxiously upright, the blankness of unexpected discomfiture upon his ingenuous countenance.

“Incontestably I have the pleasure of knowing M. Byewater,” Adrian replied. “I have also had the pleasure of reading, and further, of publishing, two of his a little---yes, I fear, perhaps just a little---lengthy articles.”

“I did condense all I knew,” Byewater put in ruefully, addressing his hostess. “But I presume I was over-weighted by the amount of my material.”

“Quite so; and the whole secret both of style and of holding your reader’s attention lies in selection, in the intuitive knowledge of what to leave out,” Adrian declared, his eyes fixed with positively ferocious jealousy upon la belle Gabrielle’s partially averted face.

That poor, inoffensive Byewater should receive this public roasting was flagrantly unjust, Anastasia felt, still she abstained from intervention. The silence which followed was critical. She refused to break it. The responsibility of doing so appeared to her too great. One or other of the two principal actors in the little scene must undertake that. She really couldn’t. At last, coldly, unwilling, as though forced against her inclination to speak, Madame St. Leger, turning to Adrian Savage, said: “It is long since we have any news of him. How is M. Dax?”

Adrian shrugged his shoulders.

“I have not heard, chère Madame,” he replied.

Whereupon Miss Beauchamp, satisfied that, whether for good or ill, relations were safely established between this altogether dear and not a little perverse young couple, called cheerfully to the American youth.

“Come here, come here, Mr. Byewater. I have hardly had one word with you all this afternoon, and there is something I greatly wish to ask you. What is this that I hear about our good, clever Mr. Stacpole’s leaving for New York?”

“It is so, Miss Beauchamp. Lenty is fairly through with the work for his winter exhibition, and he looks to start the first of the month.”

“But I do not comprehend how it is you do not bring any news of M. Dax. Have you not then been with him all the time since we have last seen you?”

“I have been abroad,” Adrian replied. “My cousin, of whom you may remember to have heard me speak---Joanna Smyrthwaite----”

He hesitated, and his companion, though stoutly resolved against all yielding and pity in his direction, could not but note the melancholy and extreme pallor of his handsome face.

“But certainly I remember,” she returned rather hastily. “Is she ill, then, poor lady, one of those pensive abstractions whom it has been your interesting mission to materialize and rejuvenate?”

“She is no longer ill,” he answered. “She is dead.”

“Ah! quel malheur inattendu! Truly that is most sad,” Gabrielle said in accents of concern. Then for a moment she looked at Adrian with a very singular expression. “I offer you my sympathy, my condolences, Mr. Savage, upon this unhappy event.”

And, turning aside, she began to move toward the doorway of the outer room, upon the threshold of which her hostess stood talking to Byewater.

But Adrian arrested her impetuously.

“Stay, Madame!” he cried, joining his hands as in supplication. “Stay, I implore you, and permit me a few minutes’ conversation. By this you will confer the greatest benefit upon me; for so, and so only, can misunderstandings and misconstructions be avoided.”

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