This piece of strategy left me staring and made me, I must confess, quit_urious. My only consolation was that Archie, when I told him, looked as blan_s myself, and that the trick touched him more nearly, for I was not now i_ove with Louisa. We agreed that we required an explanation and we pretende_o expect one the next day in the shape of a letter satisfactory even to th_oint of being apologetic. When I say "we" pretended I mean that I did, for m_uspicion that he knew what had been on foot—through an arrangement wit_inda—lasted only a moment. If his resentment was less than my own hi_urprise was equally great. I had been willing to bolt, but I felt slighted b_he ease with which Mrs. Pallant had shown she could part with us. Archi_rofessed no sense of a grievance, because in the first place he was shy abou_t and because in the second it was evidently not definite to him that he ha_een encouraged—equipped as he was, I think, with no very particular idea o_hat constituted encouragement. He was fresh from the wonderful country i_hich there may between the ingenuous young be so little question of
"intentions." He was but dimly conscious of his own and could by no means hav_old me whether he had been challenged or been jilted. I didn't want t_xasperate him, but when at the end of three days more we were still withou_ews of our late companions I observed that it was very simple:—they must hav_een just hiding from us; they thought us dangerous; they wished to avoi_ntanglements. They had found us too attentive and wished not to raise fals_opes. He appeared to accept this explanation and even had the air—so at leas_ inferred from his asking me no questions—of judging the matter might b_elicate for myself. The poor youth was altogether much mystified, and _miled at the image in his mind of Mrs. Pallant fleeing from his uncle'_mportunities. We decided to leave Homburg, but if we didn't pursue ou_ugitives it wasn't simply that we were ignorant of where they were. I coul_ave found that out with a little trouble, but I was deterred by the reflexio_hat this would be Louisa's reasoning. She was a dreadful humbug and he_eparture had been a provocation—I fear it was in that stupid conviction tha_ made out a little independent itinerary with Archie. I even believed w_hould learn where they were quite soon enough, and that our patience—even m_oung man's—would be longer than theirs. Therefore I uttered a small privat_ry of triumph when three weeks later—we happened to be at Interlaken—h_eported to me that he had received a note from Miss Pallant. The form of thi_onfidence was his enquiring if there were particular reasons why we shoul_onger delay our projected visit to the Italian lakes. Mightn't the fear o_he hot weather, which was moreover at that season our native temperature,
cease to operate, the middle of September having arrived? I answered that w_ould start on the morrow if he liked, and then, pleased apparently that I wa_o easy to deal with, he revealed his little secret. He showed me his letter,
which was a graceful natural document— it covered with a few flowing stroke_ut a single page of note-paper— not at all compromising to the young lady.
If, however, it was almost the apology I had looked for—save that this shoul_ave come from the mother—it was not ostensibly in the least an invitation. I_entioned casually—the mention was mainly in the words at the head of he_aper— that they were on the Lago Maggiore, at Baveno; but it consisted mainl_f the expression of a regret that they had had so abruptly to leave Homburg.
Linda failed to say under what necessity they had found themselves; she onl_oped we hadn't judged them too harshly and would accept "this hasty line" a_ substitute for the omitted good-bye. She also hoped our days were passin_leasantly and with the same lovely weather that prevailed south of the Alps;
and she remained very sincerely and with the kindest remembrances—!
The note contained no message from her mother, and it was open to me t_uppose, as I should prefer, either that Mrs. Pallant hadn't known she wa_riting or that they wished to make us think she hadn't known. The lette_ight pass as a common civility of the girl's to a person with whom she ha_een on easy terms. It was, however, for something more than this that m_ephew took it; so at least I gathered from the touching candour of hi_etermination to go to Baveno. I judged it idle to drag him another way; h_ad money in his own pocket and was quite capable of giving me the slip.
Yet—such are the sweet incongruities of youth—when I asked him to what tune h_ad been thinking of Linda since they left us in the lurch he replied: "Oh _aven't been thinking at all! Why should I?" This fib was accompanied by a_xorbitant blush. Since he was to obey his young woman's signal I must equall_ake out where it would take him, and one splendid morning we started over th_implon in a post-chaise.
I represented to him successfully that it would be in much better taste for u_o alight at Stresa, which as every one knows is a resort of tourists, also o_he shore of the major lake, at about a mile's distance from Baveno. If w_tayed at the latter place we should have to inhabit the same hotel as ou_riends, and this might be awkward in view of a strained relation with them.
Nothing would be easier than to go and come between the two points, especiall_y the water, which would give Archie a chance for unlimited paddling. Hi_ace lighted up at the vision of a pair of oars; he pretended to take my ple_or discretion very seriously, and I could see that he had at once begun t_alculate opportunities for navigation with Linda. Our post-chaise—I ha_nsisted on easy stages and we were three days on the way—deposited us a_tresa toward the middle of the afternoon, and it was within an amazingl_hort time that I found myself in a small boat with my nephew, who pulled u_ver to Baveno with vigorous strokes. I remember the sweetness of the whol_mpression. I had had it before, but to my companion it was new, and h_hought it as pretty as the opera: the enchanting beauty of the place and,
hour, the stillness of the air and water, with the romantic fantasti_orromean Islands set as great jewels in a crystal globe. We disembarked a_he steps by the garden-foot of the hotel, and somehow it seemed a perfectl_atural part of the lovely situation that I should immediately becom_onscious of Mrs. Pallant and her daughter seated on the terrace and quietl_atching us. They had the air of expectation, which I think we had counted on.
I hadn't even asked Archie if he had answered Linda's note; this was betwee_hemselves and in the way of supervision I had done enough in coming with him.
There is no doubt our present address, all round, lacked a little the easies_race—or at least Louisa's and mine did. I felt too much the appeal of he_xhibition to notice closely the style of encounter of the young people. _ouldn't get it out of my head, as I have sufficiently indicated, that Mrs.
Pallant was playing a game, and I'm afraid she saw in my face that thi_uspicion had been the motive of my journey. I had come there to find her out.
The knowledge of my purpose couldn't help her to make me very welcome, an_hat's why I speak of our meeting constrainedly. We observed none the less al_he forms, and the admirable scene left us plenty to talk about. I made n_eference before Linda to the retreat from Homburg. This young woman looke_ven prettier than she had done on the eve of that manoeuvre and gave no sig_f an awkward consciousness. She again so struck me as a charming clever gir_hat I was freshly puzzled to know why we should get—or should have got—into _angle about her. People had to want to complicate a situation to do it on s_imple a pretext as that Linda was in every way beautiful. This was the clea_act: so why shouldn't the presumptions be in favour of every result of it?
One of the effects of that cause, on the spot, was that at the end of a ver_hort time Archie proposed to her to take a turn with him in his boat, whic_waited us at the foot of the steps. She looked at her mother with a smiling
"May I, mamma?" and Mrs. Pallant answered "Certainly, darling, if you're no_fraid." At this—I scarcely knew why—I sought the relief of laughter: it mus_ave affected me as comic that the girl's general competence should suffer th_mputation of that particular flaw. She gave me a quick slightly sharp look a_he turned away with my nephew; it appeared to challenge me a little—"Pra_hat's the matter with YOU?" It was the first expression of the kind I ha_ver seen in her face. Mrs. Pallant's attention, on the other hand, rathe_trayed from me; after we had been left there together she sat silent, no_eeding me, looking at the lake and mountains—at the snowy crests crowned wit_he flush of evening. She seemed not even to follow our young companions a_hey got into their boat and pushed off. For some minutes I respected he_ood; I walked slowly up and down the terrace and lighted a cigar, as she ha_lways permitted me to do at Homburg. I found in her, it was true, rather _ew air of weariness; her fine cold well-bred face was pale; I noted in it ne_ines of fatigue, almost of age. At last I stopped in front of her and—sinc_he looked so sad—asked if she had been having bad news.
"The only bad news was when I learned—through your nephew's note to Linda—tha_ou were coming to us."
"Ah then he wrote?"
"Certainly he wrote."
"You take it all harder than I do," I returned as I sat down beside her. An_hen I added, smiling: "Have you written to his mother?"
Slowly at last, and more directly, she faced me. "Take care, take care, o_ou'll have been more brutal than you'll afterwards like," she said with a_ir of patience before the inevitable.
"Never, never! Unless you think me brutal if I ask whether you knew when Lind_rote."
She had an hesitation. "Yes, she showed me her letter. She wouldn't have don_nything else. I let it go because I didn't know what course was best. I'_fraid to oppose her to her face."
"Afraid, my dear friend, with that girl?"
"That girl? Much you know about her! It didn't follow you'd come. I didn'_ake that for granted."
"I'm like you," I said—"I too am afraid of my nephew. I don't venture t_ppose him to his face. The only thing I could do—once he wished it—was t_ome with him."
"I see. Well, there are grounds, after all, on which I'm glad," she rathe_nscrutably added.
"Oh I was conscientious about that! But I've no authority; I can neither driv_im nor stay him—I can use no force," I explained. "Look at the way he'_ulling that boat and see if you can fancy me."
"You could tell him she's a bad hard girl—one who'd poison any good man'_ife!" my companion broke out with a passion that startled me.
At first I could only gape. "Dear lady, what do you mean?"
She bent her face into her hands, covering it over with them, and so remaine_ minute; then she continued a little differently, though as if she hadn'_eard my question: "I hoped you were too disgusted with us— after the way w_eft you planted."
"It was disconcerting assuredly, and it might have served if Linda hadn'_ritten. That patched it up," I gaily professed. But my gaiety was thin, for _as still amazed at her violence of a moment before. "Do you really mean tha_he won't do?" I added.
She made no direct answer; she only said after a little that it didn't matte_hether the crisis should come a few weeks sooner or a few weeks later, sinc_t was destined to come at the first chance, the favouring moment. Linda ha_arked my young man—and when Linda had marked a thing!
"Bless my soul—how very grim—" But I didn't understand. "Do you mean she's i_ove with him?"
"It's enough if she makes him think so—though even that isn't essential."
Still I was at sea. "If she makes him think so? Dear old friend, what's you_dea? I've observed her, I've watched her, and when all's said what has sh_one? She has been civil and pleasant to him, but it would have been much mor_arked if she hadn't. She has really shown him, with her youth and her natura_harm, nothing more than common friendliness. Her note was nothing; he let m_ee it."
"I don't think you've heard every word she has said to him," Mrs. Pallan_eturned with an emphasis that still struck me as perverse.
"No more have you, I take it!" I promptly cried. She evidently meant more tha_he said; but if this excited my curiosity it also moved, in a differen_onnexion, my indulgence.
"No, but I know my own daughter. She's a most remarkable young woman."
"You've an extraordinary tone about her," I declared "such a tone as I thin_'ve never before heard on a mother's lips. I've had the same impression fro_ou—that of a disposition to 'give her away,' but never yet so strong."
At this Mrs. Pallant got up; she stood there looking down at me. "You make m_eparation—my expiation—difficult!" And leaving me still more astonished sh_oved along the terrace.
I overtook her presently and repeated her words. "Your reparation—you_xpiation? What on earth are you talking about?"
"You know perfectly what I mean—it's too magnanimous of you to pretend yo_on't."
"Well, at any rate," I said, "I don't see what good it does me, or what i_akes up to me for, that you should abuse your daughter."
"Oh I don't care; I shall save him!" she cried as we went, and with a_xtravagance, as I felt, of sincerity. At the same moment two ladies,
apparently English, came toward us—scattered groups had been sitting there an_he inmates of the hotel were moving to and fro—and I observed the immediat_harming transition, the fruit of such years of social practice, by which, a_hey greeted us, her tension and her impatience dropped to recognition an_leasure. They stopped to speak to her and she enquired with sweet propriet_s to the "continued improvement" of their sister. I strolled on and sh_resently rejoined me; after which she had a peremptory note. "Come away fro_his—come down into the garden." We descended to that blander scene, strolle_hrough it and paused on the border of the lake.