Bernard prepared for Gordon's arrival in Paris, which, according to hi_etter, would take place in a few days. He was not intending to stop i_ngland; Blanche desired to proceed immediately to the French capital, t_onfer with her man-milliner, after which it was probable that they would g_o Italy or to the East for the winter. "I have given her a choice of Rome o_he Nile," said Gordon, "but she tells me she does n't care a fig where w_o."
I say that Bernard prepared to receive his friends, and I mean that h_repared morally—or even intellectually. Materially speaking, he could simpl_old himself in readiness to engage an apartment at a hotel and to go to mee_hem at the station. He expected to hear from Gordon as soon as thi_nteresting trio should reach England, but the first notification he receive_ame from a Parisian hotel. It came to him in the shape of a very short note, in the morning, shortly before lunch, and was to the effect that his friend_ad alighted in the Rue de la Paix the night before.
"We were tired, and I have slept late," said Gordon; "otherwise you shoul_ave heard from me earlier. Come to lunch, if possible. I want extremely t_ee you."
Bernard, of course, made a point of going to lunch. In as short a time a_ossible he found himself in Gordon's sitting-room at the Hotel Middlesex. Th_able was laid for the midday repast, and a gentleman stood with his back t_he door, looking out of the window. As Bernard came in, this gentleman turne_nd exhibited the ambrosial beard, the symmetrical shape, the monocula_ppendage, of Captain Lovelock.
The Captain screwed his glass into his eye, and greeted Bernard in his usua_ashion—that is, as if he had parted with him overnight.
"Oh, good morning! Beastly morning, is n't it? I suppose you are come t_uncheon—I have come to luncheon. It ought to be on table, you know—it '_early two o'clock. But I dare say you have noticed foreigners are neve_unctual—it 's only English servants that are punctual. And they don'_nderstand luncheon, you know—they can't make out our eating at this sort o_our. You know they always dine so beastly early. Do you remember the sort o_ime they used to dine at Baden?—half-past five, half-past six; some unearthl_our of that kind. That 's the sort of time you dine in America. I found they
'd invite a man at half-past six. That 's what I call being in a hurry fo_our food. You know they always accuse the Americans of making a rush fo_heir victuals. I am bound to say that in New York, and that sort of place, the victuals were very good when you got them. I hope you don't mind my sayin_nything about America? You know the Americans are so deucedly thin- skinned—they always bristle up if you say anything against their institutions.
The English don't care a rap what you say—they 've got a different sort o_emper, you know. With the Americans I 'm deuced careful—I never breathe _ord about anything. While I was over there I went in for being complimentary.
I laid it on thick, and I found they would take all I could give them. I di_'t see much of their institutions, after all; I went in for seeing th_eople. Some of the people were charming—upon my soul, I was surprised at som_f the people. I dare say you know some of the people I saw; they were as nic_eople as you would see anywhere. There were always a lot of people about Mrs.
Wright, you know; they told me they were all the best people. You know she i_lways late for everything. She always comes in after every one i_here—looking so devilish pretty, pulling on her gloves. She wears the longes_loves I ever saw in my life. Upon my word, if they don't come, I think I wil_ing the bell and ask the waiter what 's the matter. Would n't you ring th_ell? It 's a great mistake, their trying to carry out their ideas o_unching. That 's Wright's character, you know; he 's always trying to carr_ut some idea. When I am abroad, I go in for the foreign breakfast myself. Yo_ay depend upon it they had better give up trying to do this sort of thing a_his hour."
Captain Lovelock was more disposed to conversation than Bernard had known hi_efore. His discourse of old had been languid and fragmentary, and our her_ad never heard him pursue a train of ideas through so many involutions. T_ernard's observant eye, indeed, the Captain was an altered man. His manne_etrayed a certain restless desire to be agreeable, to anticipate judgment—_isposition to smile, and be civil, and entertain his auditor, a tendency t_ove about and look out of the window and at the clock. He struck Bernard as _rifle nervous—as less solidly planted on his feet than when he lounged alon_he Baden gravel-walks by the side of his usual companion—a lady for whom, apparently, his admiration was still considerable. Bernard was curious to se_hether he would ring the bell to inquire into the delay attending the servic_f lunch; but before this sentiment, rather idle under the circumstances, wa_ratified, Blanche passed into the room from a neighboring apartment. T_ernard's perception Blanche, at least, was always Blanche; she was a perso_n whom it would not have occurred to him to expect any puzzling variation, and the tone of her little, soft, thin voice instantly rang in his ear like a_cho of yesterday's talk. He had already remarked to himself that afte_owever long an interval one might see Blanche, she re-appeared with an air o_amiliarity. This was in some sense, indeed, a proof of the agreeabl_mpression she made, and she looked exceedingly pretty as she now suddenl_topped on seeing our two gentlemen, and gave a little cry of surprise.
"Ah! I did n't know you were here. They never told me. Have you been waiting _ong time? How d' ye do? You must think we are polite." She held out her han_o Bernard, smiling very graciously. At Captain Lovelock she barely glanced.
"I hope you are very well," she went on to Longueville; "but I need n't as_hat. You 're as blooming as a rose. What in the world has happened to you?
You look so brilliant—so fresh. Can you say that to a man—that he looks fresh?
Or can you only say that about butter and eggs?"
"It depends upon the man," said Captain Lovelock. "You can't say that a man '_resh who spends his time in running about after you!"
"Ah, are you here?" cried Blanche with another little cry of surprise. "I di_'t notice you—I thought you were the waiter. This is what he calls runnin_bout after me," she added, to Bernard; "coming to breakfast without bein_sked. How queerly they have arranged the table!" she went on, gazing with he_ittle elevated eyebrows at this piece of furniture. "I always thought that i_aris, if they could n't do anything else, they could arrange a table. I don'_ike that at all—those horrid little dishes on each side! Don't you thin_hose things ought to be off the table, Mr. Longueville? I don't like to see _ot of things I 'm not eating. And I told them to have some flowers—pray, where are the flowers? Do they call those things flowers? They look as if the_ad come out of the landlady's bonnet! Mr. Longueville, do look at thos_bjects."
"They are not like me—they are not very fresh," laughed Bernard.
"It 's no great matter—we have not got to eat them," growled Captain Lovelock.
"I should think you would expect to—with the luncheon you usually make!"
rejoined Blanche. "Since you are here, though I did n't ask you, you might a_ell make yourself useful. Will you be so good as to ring the bell? If Gordo_xpects that we are going to wait another quarter of an hour for him h_xaggerates the patience of a long-suffering wife. If you are very curious t_now what he is about, he is writing letters, by way of a change. He write_bout eighty a day; his correspondents must be strong people! It 's a luck_hing for me that I am married to Gordon; if I were not he might write t_e—to me, to whom it 's a misery to have to answer even an invitation t_inner! To begin with, I don't know how to spell. If Captain Lovelock eve_oasts that he has had letters from me, you may know it 's an invention. H_as never had anything but telegrams—three telegrams—that I sent him i_merica about a pair of slippers that he had left at our house and that I di_'t know what to do with. Captain Lovelock's slippers are no trifle to have o_ne's hands—on one's feet, I suppose I ought to say. For telegrams th_pelling does n't matter; the people at the office correct it—or if they don'_ou can put it off on them. I never see anything nowadays but Gordon's back,"
she went on, as they took their places at table—"his noble broad back, as h_its writing his letters. That 's my principal view of my husband. I thin_hat now we are in Paris I ought to have a portrait of it by one of the grea_rtists. It would be such a characteristic pose. I have quite forgotten hi_ace and I don't think I should know it."
Gordon's face, however, presented itself just at this moment; he came i_uickly, with his countenance flushed with the pleasure of meeting his ol_riend again. He had the sun-scorched look of a traveller who has just crosse_he Atlantic, and he smiled at Bernard with his honest eyes.
"Don't think me a great brute for not being here to receive you," he said, a_e clasped his hand. "I was writing an important letter and I put it to mysel_n this way: 'If I interrupt my letter I shall have to come back and finis_t; whereas if I finish it now, I can have all the rest of the day to spen_ith him.' So I stuck to it to the end, and now we can be inseparable."
"You may be sure Gordon reasoned it out," said Blanche, while her husban_ffered his hand in silence to Captain Lovelock.
"Gordon's reasoning is as fine as other people's feeling!" declared Bernard, who was conscious of a desire to say something very pleasant to Gordon, an_ho did not at all approve of Blanche's little ironical tone about he_usband.
"And Bernard's compliments are better than either," said Gordon, laughing an_aking his seat at table.
"I have been paying him compliments," Blanche went on. "I have been tellin_im he looks so brilliant, so blooming—as if something had happened to him, a_f he had inherited a fortune. He must have been doing something very wicked, and he ought to tell us all about it, to amuse us. I am sure you are _readful Parisian, Mr. Longueville. Remember that we are three dull, virtuou_eople, exceedingly bored with each other's society, and wanting to hea_omething strange and exciting. If it 's a little improper, that won't spoi_t."
"You certainly are looking uncommonly well," said Gordon, still smiling, across the table, at his friend. "I see what Blanche means—"
"My dear Gordon, that 's a great event," his wife interposed.
"It 's a good deal to pretend, certainly," he went on, smiling always, wit_is red face and his blue eyes. "But this is no great credit to me, becaus_ernard's superb condition would strike any one. You look as if you were goin_o marry the Lord Mayor's daughter!"
If Bernard was blooming, his bloom at this juncture must have deepened, and i_o doing indeed have contributed an even brighter tint to his expression o_alubrious happiness. It was one of the rare occasions of his life when he wa_t a loss for a verbal expedient.
"It 's a great match," he nevertheless murmured, jestingly. "You must excus_y inflated appearance."
"It has absorbed you so much that you have had no time to write to me," sai_ordon. "I expected to hear from you after you arrived."
"I wrote to you a fortnight ago—just before receiving your own letter. Yo_eft New York before my letter reached it."
"Ah, it will have crossed us," said Gordon. "But now that we have your societ_ don't care. Your letters, of course, are delightful, but that is stil_etter."
In spite of this sympathetic statement Bernard cannot be said to have enjoye_is lunch; he was thinking of something else that lay before him and that wa_ot agreeable. He was like a man who has an acrobatic feat to perform—a wid_itch to leap, a high pole to climb—and who has a presentiment of fracture_nd bruises. Fortunately he was not obliged to talk much, as Mrs. Gordo_isplayed even more than her usual vivacity, rendering her companions th_raceful service of lifting the burden of conversation from their shoulders.
"I suppose you were surprised to see us rushing out here so suddenly," sh_bserved in the course of the repast. "We had said nothing about it when yo_ast saw us, and I believe we are supposed to tell you everything, ain't we? _ertainly have told you a great many things, and there are some of them I hop_ou have n't repeated. I have no doubt you have told them all over Paris, bu_ don't care what you tell in Paris—Paris is n't so easily shocked. Captai_ovelock does n't repeat what I tell him; I set him up as a model o_iscretion. I have told him some pretty bad things, and he has liked them s_uch he has kept them all to himself. I say my bad things to Captain Lovelock, and my good things to other people; he does n't know the difference and he i_erfectly content."
"Other people as well often don't know the difference," said Gordon, gravely.
"You ought always to tell us which are which."
Blanche gave her husband a little impertinent stare.
"When I am not appreciated," she said, with an attempt at superior dryness, "_m too proud to point it out. I don't know whether you know that I 'm proud,"
she went on, turning to Gordon and glancing at Captain Lovelock; "it 's a goo_hing to know. I suppose Gordon will say that I ought to be too proud to poin_hat out; but what are you to do when no one has any imagination? You have _rain or two, Mr. Longueville; but Captain Lovelock has n't a speck. As fo_ordon, je n'en parle pas! But even you, Mr. Longueville, would never imagin_hat I am an interesting invalid—that we are travelling for my delicat_ealth. The doctors have n't given me up, but I have given them up. I know _on't look as if I were out of health; but that 's because I always try t_ook my best. My appearance proves nothing—absolutely nothing. Do you think m_ppearance proves anything, Captain Lovelock?"
Captain Lovelock scrutinized Blanche's appearance with a fixed and solemn eye; and then he replied—
"It proves you are very lovely."
Blanche kissed her finger-tips to him in return for this compliment.
"You only need to give Captain Lovelock a chance," she rattled on, "and he i_s clever as any one. That 's what I like to do to my friends—I like to mak_hances for them. Captain Lovelock is like my dear little blue terrier that _eft at home. If I hold out a stick he will jump over it. He won't jum_ithout the stick; but as soon as I produce it he knows what he has to do. H_ooks at it a moment and then he gives his little hop. He knows he will have _ump of sugar, and Captain Lovelock expects one as well. Dear Captai_ovelock, shall I ring for a lump? Would n't it be touching? Garcon, u_orceau de sucre pour Monsieur le Capitaine! But what I give Monsieur l_apitaine is moral sugar! I usually administer it in private, and he shal_ave a good big morsel when you go away."
Gordon got up, turning to Bernard and looking at his watch.
"Let us go away, in that case," he said, smiling, "and leave Captain Loveloc_o receive his reward. We will go and take a walk; we will go up the Champ_lysees. Good morning, Monsieur le Capitaine."
Neither Blanche nor the Captain offered any opposition to this proposal, an_ernard took leave of his hostess and joined Gordon, who had already passe_nto the antechamber.