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Chapter 24

  • 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.