Never say you know the last words about any human heart! I was once treated t_ revelation which startled and touched me in the nature of a person with who_ had been acquainted—well, as I supposed—for years, whose character I had ha_ood reasons, heaven knows, to appreciate and in regard to whom I flattere_yself I had nothing more to learn.
It was on the terrace of the Kursaal at Homburg, nearly ten years ago, on_eautiful night toward the end of July. I had come to the place that day fro_rankfort, with vague intentions, and was mainly occupied in waiting for m_oung nephew, the only son of my sister, who had been entrusted to my care b_ very fond mother for the summer—I was expected to show him Europe, only th_ery best of it—and was on his way from Paris to join me. The excellent ban_iscoursed music not too abstruse, while the air was filled besides with th_urmur of different languages, the smoke of many cigars, the creak on th_ravel of the gardens of strolling shoes and the thick tinkle of beer-glasses.
There were a hundred people walking about, there were some in clusters a_ittle tables and many on benches and rows of chairs, watching the others a_f they had paid for the privilege and were rather disappointed. I was amon_hese last; I sat by myself, smoking my cigar and thinking of nothing ver_articular while families and couples passed and repassed me.
I scarce know how long I had sat when I became aware of a recognition whic_ade my meditations definite. It was on my own part, and the object of it wa_ lady who moved to and fro, unconscious of my observation, with a young gir_t her side. I hadn't seen her for ten years, and what first struck me was th_act not that she was Mrs. Henry Pallant, but that the girl who was with he_as remarkably pretty—or rather first of all that every one who passe_ppeared extremely to admire. This led me also to notice the young lad_yself, and her charming face diverted my attention for some time from that o_er companion. The latter, moreover, though it was night, wore a thin ligh_eil which made her features vague. The couple slowly walked and walked, bu_hough they were very quiet and decorous, and also very well dressed, the_eemed to have no friends. Every one observed but no one addressed them; the_ppeared even themselves to exchange very few words. Moreover they bore wit_arked composure and as if they were thoroughly used to it the attention the_xcited. I am afraid it occurred to me to take for granted that they were o_n artful intention and that if they hadn't been the elder lady would hav_anded the younger over a little less to public valuation and not have sough_o to conceal her own face. Perhaps this question came into my mind too easil_ust then—in view of my prospective mentorship to my nephew. If I was to sho_im only the best of Europe I should have to be very careful about the peopl_e should meet—especially the ladies—and the relations he should form. _uspected him of great innocence and was uneasy about my office. Was _ompletely relieved and reassured when I became aware that I simply had Louis_allant before me and that the girl was her daughter Linda, whom I had know_s a child—Linda grown up to charming beauty?
The question was delicate and the proof that I was not very sure is perhap_hat I forbore to speak to my pair at once. I watched them a while—I wondere_hat they would do. No great harm assuredly; but I was anxious to see if the_ere really isolated. Homburg was then a great resort of the English—th_ondon season took up its tale there toward the first of August—and I had a_dea that in such a company as that Louisa would naturally know people. It wa_y impression that she "cultivated" the English, that she had been much i_ondon and would be likely to have views in regard to a permanent settlemen_here. This supposition was quickened by the sight of Linda's beauty, for _new there is no country in which such attractions are more appreciated. Yo_ill see what time I took, and I confess that as I finished my cigar I though_t all over. There was no good reason in fact why I should have rushed int_rs. Pallant's arms. She had not treated me well and we had never really mad_t up. Somehow even the circumstance that—after the first soreness—I was gla_o have lost her had never put us quite right with each other; nor, fo_erself, had it made her less ashamed of her heartless behaviour that poo_allant proved finally no great catch. I had forgiven her; I hadn't felt i_nything but an escape not to have married a girl who had in her to take bac_er given word and break a fellow's heart for mere flesh-pots—or the shallo_romise, as it pitifully turned out, of flesh-pots. Moreover we had met sinc_hen—on the occasion of my former visit to Europe; had looked each other i_he eyes, had pretended to be easy friends and had talked of the wickedness o_he world as composedly as if we were the only just, the only pure. I knew b_hat time what she had given out—that I had driven her off by my insan_ealousy before she ever thought of Henry Pallant, before she had ever see_im. This hadn't been before and couldn't be to-day a ground of real reunion,
especially if you add to it that she knew perfectly what I thought of her. I_eldom ministers to friendship, I believe, that your friend shall know you_eal opinion, for he knows it mainly when it's unfavourable, and this i_specially the case if—let the solecism pass!—he be a woman. I hadn't followe_rs. Pallant's fortunes; the years went by for me in my own country, wherea_he led her life, which I vaguely believed to be difficult after her husband'_eath—virtually that of a bankrupt—in foreign lands. I heard of her from tim_o time; always as "established" somewhere, but on each occasion in _ifferent place. She drifted from country to country, and if she had been of _ard composition at the beginning it could never occur to me that her struggl_ith society, as it might be called, would have softened the paste. Whenever _eard a woman spoken of as "horribly worldly" I thought immediately of th_bject of my early passion. I imagined she had debts, and when I now at las_ade up my mind to recall myself to her it was present to me that she migh_sk me to lend her money. More than anything else, however, at this time o_ay, I was sorry for her, so that such an idea didn't operate as a deterrent.
She pretended afterwards that she hadn't noticed me—expressing as we stoo_ace to face great surprise and wishing to know where I had dropped from; bu_ think the corner of her eye had taken me in and she had been waiting to se_hat I would do. She had ended by sitting down with her girl on the same ro_f chairs with myself, and after a little, the seat next to her becomin_acant, I had gone and stood before her. She had then looked up at me _oment, staring as if she couldn't imagine who I was or what I wanted; afte_hich, smiling and extending her hands, she had broken out: "Ah my dear ol_riend—what a delight!" If she had waited to see what I would do in order t_hoose her own line she thus at least carried out this line with the utmos_race. She was cordial, friendly, artless, interested, and indeed I'm sure sh_as very glad to see me. I may as well say immediately, none the less, tha_he gave me neither then nor later any sign of a desire to contract a loan.
She had scant means—that I learned—yet seemed for the moment able to pay he_ay. I took the empty chair and we remained in talk for an hour. After a whil_he made me sit at her other side, next her daughter, whom she wished to kno_e—to love me—as one of their oldest friends. "It goes back, back, back,
doesn't it?" said Mrs. Pallant; "and of course she remembers you as a child."
Linda smiled all sweetly and blankly, and I saw she remembered me not a whit.
When her mother threw out that they had often talked about me she failed t_ake it up, though she looked extremely nice. Looking nice was her stron_oint; she was prettier even than her mother had been. She was such a littl_ady that she made me ashamed of having doubted, however vaguely and for _oment, of her position in the scale of propriety. Her appearance seemed t_ay that if she had no acquaintances it was because she didn't wan_hem—because nobody there struck her as attractive: there wasn't the slightes_ifficulty about her choosing her friends. Linda Pallant, young as she was,
and fresh and fair and charming, gentle and sufficiently shy, looked someho_xclusive—as if the dust of the common world had never been meant t_esprinkle her. She was of thinner consistency than her mother and clearly no_ young woman of professions—except in so far as she was committed to a_nterest in you by her bright pure candid smile. No girl who had such a lovel_ay of parting her lips could pass for designing.
As I sat between the pair I felt I had been taken possession of and that fo_etter or worse my stay at Homburg would be intimately associated with theirs.
We gave each other a great deal of news and expressed unlimited interest i_ach other's history since our last meeting. I mightn't judge of what Mrs.
Pallant kept back, but for myself I quite overflowed. She let me see at an_ate that her life had been a good deal what I supposed, though the terms sh_mployed to describe it were less crude than those of my thought. Sh_onfessed they had drifted, she and her daughter, and were drifting still. He_arrative rambled and took a wrong turn, a false flight, or two, as I though_inda noted, while she sat watching the passers, in a manner that betrayed n_onsciousness of their attention, without coming to her mother's aid. Once o_wice Mrs. Pallant made me rather feel a cross-questioner, which I had had n_ntention of being. I took it that if the girl never put in a word it wa_ecause she had perfect confidence in her parent's ability to come ou_traight. It was suggested to me, I scarcely knew how, that this confidenc_etween the two ladies went to a great length; that their union of thought,
their system of reciprocal divination, was remarkable, and that they probabl_eldom needed to resort to the clumsy and in some cases dangerous expedient o_ommunicating by sound. I suppose I made this reflexion not all at once—it wa_ot wholly the result of that first meeting. I was with them constantly fo_he next several days and my impressions had time to clarify.
I do remember, however, that it was on this first evening that Archie's nam_ame up. She attributed her own stay at Homburg to no refined nor exalte_otive—didn't put it that she was there from force of habit or because a hig_edical authority had ordered her to drink the waters; she frankly admitte_he reason of her visit to have been simply that she didn't know where else t_urn. But she appeared to assume that my behaviour rested on higher ground_nd even that it required explanation, the place being frivolous an_odern—devoid of that interest of antiquity which I had ever made so much of.
"Don't you remember—ever so long ago—that you wouldn't look at anything i_urope that wasn't a thousand years old? Well, as we advance in life I suppos_e don't think that quite such a charm." And when I mentioned that I ha_rrived because the place was as good as another for awaiting my nephew sh_xclaimed: "Your nephew—what nephew? He must have come up of late." I answere_hat his name was Archie Parker and that he was modern indeed; he was t_ttain legal manhood in a few months and was in Europe for the first time. M_ast news of him had been from Paris and I was expecting to hear further fro_ne day to the other. His father was dead, and though a selfish bachelor,
little versed in the care of children, I was considerably counted on by hi_other to see that he didn't smoke nor flirt too much, nor yet tumble off a_lp.
Mrs. Pallant immediately guessed that his mother was my sister Charlotte, who_he spoke of familiarly, though I knew she had scarce seen her. Then in _oment it came to her which of the Parkers Charlotte had married; sh_emembered the family perfectly from the old New York days—"that disgustingl_ich set." She said it was very nice having the boy come out that way to m_are; to which I replied that it was very nice for the boy. She pronounced th_dvantage rather mine—I ought to have had children; there was something s_arental about me and I would have brought them up so well. She could make a_llusion like that—to all that might have been and had not been—without _leam of guilt in her eye; and I foresaw that before I left the place I shoul_ave confided to her that though I detested her and was very glad we ha_allen out, yet our old relations had left me no heart for marrying anothe_oman. If I had remained so single and so sterile the fault was nobody's bu_ers. She asked what I meant to do with my nephew—to which I replied that i_as much more a question of what he would do with me. She wished to know if h_ere a nice young man and had brothers and sisters and any particula_rofession. I assured her I had really seen little of him; I believed him t_e six feet high and of tolerable parts. He was an only son, but there was _ittle sister at home, a delicate, rather blighted child, demanding all th_other's care.
"So that makes your responsibility greater, as it were, about the boy, doesn'_t?" said Mrs. Pallant.
"Greater? I'm sure I don't know."
"Why if the girl's life's uncertain he may become, some moment, all the mothe_as. So that being in your hands—"
"Oh I shall keep him alive, I suppose, if you mean that," I returned.
"Well, WE won't kill him, shall we, Linda?" my friend went on with a laugh.