Part 4 out of 6
"You've got a Frenchman along," I said.
"Little Gazza," Beverly returned. "Italian; though from his morals you'd
never guess he wasn't Parisian. Great people in Rome. Hereditary right to
do something in the presence of the Pope--or not to do it, I forget
which. Not a bit of a bad little sort, Gazza. He has just sold a lot of
old furniture--Renaissance--Lorenzo du Borgia--that sort of jolly old
truck--to Bohm, you know."
I didn't know.
"Oh, yes, you do, old boy. Harry Bohm, of Bohm & Cohn. Everybody knows
Bohm, and we'll all be knowing Cohn by next year. Gazza has sold him a
lot of furniture, too. Bohm's from Pittsfield, or South Lee, or East
Canaan, or West Stockbridge, or some of those other back-country cider
presses that squirt some of the hardest propositions into Wall Street.
He's just back from buying a railroad, and four or five mines in Mexico.
Bohm represents Christianity in the firm. At Newport they call him the
military attache to Jerusalem. He's the big chap that sat behind me in
the car. He'll marry Kitty as soon as she can get her divorce. Bohm's a
jolly old sort--and I tell you, you old sourbelly, you're letting this
Southern moss grow over you a bit. Hey? What? Yellow rich isn't half
bad, and I'll say it myself, and pretend it's mine; but hang it, old man,
their children won't be worse than lemon-colored, and the grandchildren
will be white!"
"Just in time," I exclaimed, "to take a back seat with their evaporated
Beverly chuckled. "Well, if they do evaporate, there will be new ones.
Now don't walk along making Mayflower eyes at me. I'm no Puritan, and my
people have had a front seat since pretty early in the game, which I'm
holding on to, you know. And by Jove, old man, I tell you, if you wish to
hold on nowadays, you can't be drawing lines! If you don't want to see
yourself jolly well replaced, you must fall in with the replacers. Our
blooming old republic is merely the quickest process of endless replacing
yet discovered, and you take my tip, and back the replacers! That's where
Miss Rieppe, for all her Kings Port traditions, shows sense."
I turned square on him. "Then she has broken it?"
"Her engagement to John Mayrant. You mean to say that you didn't--?"
"See here, old man. Seriously. The fire-eater?"
I was so very much bewildered that I merely stared at Beverly Rodgers. Of
course, I might have known that Miss Rieppe would not feel the need of
announcing to her rich Northern friends an engagement which she had
fallen into the habit of postponing.
But Beverly had a better right to be taken aback. "I suppose you must
have some reason for your remark," he said.
"You don't mean that you're engaged to her?" I shot out.
"Me? With my poor little fifteen thousand a year? Consider, dear boy! Oh,
no, we're merely playing at it, she and I. She's a good player. But
"He is?" I shouted.
"I don't know, old man, and I don't think he knows--yet."
"Beverly," said I, "let me tell you." And I told him.
After he had got himself adjusted to the novelty of it he began to take
it with a series of thoughtful chuckles.
Into these I dropped with: "Where's her father, anyhow?" I began to feel,
fantastically, that she mightn't have a father.
"He stopped in Savannah," Beverly answered. "He's coming over by the
train. Kitty--Charley's sister, Mrs. Bleecker--did the chaperoning for
"Very expertly, I should guess," I said.
"Perfectly; invisibly," said Beverly. And he returned to his thoughts and
"After all, it's simple," he presently remarked.
"Doesn't that depend on what she's here for?"
"Oh, to break it."
"Why come for that?"
He took another turn among his cogitations. I took a number of turns
among my own, but it was merely walking round and round in a circle.
"When will she announce it, then?" he demanded.
"Ah!" I murmured. "You said she was a good player."
"But a fire-eater!" he resumed. "For her. Oh, hang it! She'll let him
"Then why hasn't she?"
He hesitated. "Well, of course her game could be spoiled by--"
His speech died away into more cogitation, and I had to ask him what he
"By love getting into it somewhere."
We walked on through Worship Street, which we had reached some while
since, and the chief features of which I mechanically pointed out to him.
"Jolly old church, that," said Beverly, as we reached my favorite corner
and brick wall. "Well, I'll not announce it!" he murmured gallantly.
"My dear man," I said, "Kings Port will do all the announcing for you
XV: What She Came to See
But in this matter my prognostication was thoroughly at fault; yet
surely, knowing Kings Port's sovereign habit, as I had had good cause to
know it, I was scarce beyond reasonable bounds in supposing that the
arrival of Miss Rieppe would heat up some very general and very audible
talk about this approaching marriage, against which the prejudices of the
town were set in such compact array. I have several times mentioned that
Kings Port, to my sense, was buzzing over John Mayrant's affairs; buzzing
in the open, where one could hear it, and buzzing behind closed doors,
where one could somehow feel it; I can only say that henceforth this
buzzing ceased, dropped wholly away, as if Gossip were watching so hard
that she forgot to talk, giving place to a great stillness in her
kingdom. Such occasional words as were uttered sounded oddly and
egregiously clear in the new-established void.
The first of these words sounded, indeed, quite enormous, issuing as it
did from Juno's lips at our breakfast-table, when yesterday's meeting on
the New Bridge was investing my mind with many thoughts. She addressed me
in one of her favorite tones (I have met it, thank God! but in two or
three other cases during my whole experience), which always somehow
conveyed to you that you were personally to blame for what she was going
to tell you.
"I suppose you know that your friend, Mr. Mayrant, has resigned from the
I was, of course, careful not to give Juno the pleasure of seeing that
she had surprised me. I bowed, and continued in silence to sip a little
coffee; then, setting my coffee down, I observed that it would be some
few days yet before the resignation could take effect; and, noticing that
Juno was getting ready some new remark, I branched off and spoke to her
of my excursion up the river this morning to see the azaleas in the
gardens at Live Oaks.
"How lucky the weather is so magnificent!" I exclaimed.
"I shall be interested to hear," said Juno, "what explanation he finds to
give Miss Josephine for his disrespectful holding out against her, and
his immediate yielding to Miss Rieppe."
Here I deemed it safe to ask her, was she quite sure it had been at the
instance of Miss Rieppe that John had resigned?
"It follows suspiciously close upon her arrival," stated Juno. She might
have been speaking of a murder. "And how he expects to support a wife
now--well, that is no affair of mine," Juno concluded, with a
washing-her-hands-of-it air, as if up to this point she had always done
her best for the wilful boy. She had blamed him savagely for not
resigning, and now she was blaming him because he had resigned; and I ate
my breakfast in much entertainment over this female acrobat in censure.
No more was said; I think that my manner of taking Juno's news had been
perfectly successful in disappointing her. John's resignation, if it had
really occurred, did certainly follow very close upon the arrival of
Hortense; but I had spoken one true thought in intimating that I doubted
if it was due to the influence of Miss Rieppe. It seemed to me to the
highest degree unlikely that the boy in his present state of feeling
would do anything he did not wish to do because his ladylove happened to
wish it--except marry her! There was apparently no doubt that he would do
that. Did she want him, poverty and all? Was she, even now, with eyes
open, deliberately taking her last farewell days of automobiles and of
steam yachts? That voice of hers, that rich summons, with its quiet
certainty of power, sounded in my memory. "John," she had called to him
from the automobile; and thus John had gone away in it, wedged in among
Charley and the fat cushions and all the money and glass eyes. And now he
had resigned from the Custom House! Yes, that was, whatever it signified,
truly amazing--if true.
So I continued to ponder quite uselessly, until the up-country bride
aroused me. She, it appeared, had been greatly carried away by the beauty
of Live Oaks, and was making her David take her there again this morning;
and she was asking me didn't I hope we shouldn't get stuck? The people
had got stuck yesterday, three whole hours, right on a bank in the river;
and wasn't it a sin and a shame to run a boat with ever so many
passengers aground? By the doctrine of chances, I informed her, we had
every right to hope for better luck to-day; and, with the assurance of
how much my felicity was increased by the prospect of having her and
David as company during the expedition, I betook myself meanwhile to my
own affairs, which meant chiefly a call at the Exchange to inquire for
Eliza La Heu, and a visit to the post-office before starting upon a
several hours' absence.
A few steps from our front door I came upon John Mayrant, and saw at once
too plainly that no ease had come to his spirit during the hours since
the bridge. He was just emerging from an adjacent house.
"And have you resigned?" I asked him.
"Yes. That's done. You haven't seen Miss Rieppe this morning?"
"Why, she's surely not boarding with Mrs. Trevise?"
"No; stopping here with her old friend, Mrs. Cornerly." He indicated the
door he had come from. "Of course, you wouldn't be likely to see her
pass!" And with that he was gone.
That he was greatly stirred up by something there could be no doubt;
never before had I seen him so abrupt; it seemed clear that anger had
taken the place of despondency, or whatever had been his previous mood;
and by the time I reached the post-office I had already imagined and
dismissed the absurd theory that John was jealous of Charley, had
resigned from the Custom House as a first step toward breaking his
engagement, and had rung Mrs. Cornerly's bell at this early hour with the
purpose of informing his lady-love that all was over between them.
Jealousy would not be likely to produce this set of manifestations in
young, foolish John; and I may say here at once, what I somewhat later
learned, that the boy had come with precisely the opposite purpose,
namely, to repeat and reenforce his steadfast constancy, and that it was
something far removed from jealousy which had spurred him to this.
I found the girl behind the counter at her post, grateful to me for
coming to ask how she was after the shock of yesterday, but unwilling to
speak of it at all; all which she expressed by her charming manner, and
by the other subjects she chose for conversation, and especially by the
way in which she held out her hand when I took my leave.
Near the post-office I was hailed by Beverly Rodgers, who proclaimed to
me at once a comic but genuine distress. He had already walked, he said
(and it was but half-past nine o'clock, as he bitterly bade me observe on
the church dial), more miles in search of a drink than his unarithmetical
brain had the skill to compute. And he confounded such a town heartily;
he should return as soon as possible to Charley's yacht, where there was
civilization, and where he had spent the night. During his search he had
at length come to a door of promising appearance, and gone in there, and
they had explained to him that it was a dispensary. A beastly
arrangement. What was the name of the razor-back hog they said had
invented it? And what did you do for a drink in this confounded
He would find it no water-hole, I told him; but there were methods which
a stranger upon his first morning could scarce be expected to grasp. "I
could direct you to a Dutchman," I said, "but you're too well dressed to
win his confidence at once."
"Well, old man," began Beverly, "I don't speak Dutch, but give me a crack
at the confidence."
However, he renounced the project upon learning what a Dutchman was.
Since my hours were no longer dedicated to establishing the presence of
royal blood in my veins I had spent them upon various local
investigations of a character far more entertaining and akin to my taste.
It was in truth quite likely that Beverly could in a very few moments,
with his smile and his manner, find his way to any Dutchman's heart; he
had that divine gift of winning over to him quickly all sorts and
conditions of men; and my account of the ingenious and law-baffling
contrivances, which you found at these little grocery shops, at once
roused his curiosity to make a trial; but he decided that the club was
better, if less picturesque. And he told me that all the men of the
automobile party had received from John Mayrant cards of invitation to
"Your fire-eater is a civil chap," said Beverly. "And by the way, do you
happen to know," here he pulled from his pocket a letter and consulted
its address, "Mrs. Weguelin St. Michael?"
I was delighted that he brought an introduction to this lady; Hortense
Rieppe could not open for him any of those haughty doors; and I wished
not only that Beverly (since he was just the man to appreciate it and
understand it) should see the fine flower of Kings Port, but also that
the fine flower of Kings Port should see him; the best blood of the South
could not possibly turn out anything better than Beverly Rodgers, and it
was horrible and humiliating to think of the other Northern specimens of
men whom Hortense had imported with her. I was here suddenly reminded
that the young woman was a guest of the Cornerlys, the people who swept
their garden, the people whom Eliza La Heu at the Exchange did not
"know"; and at this the remark of Mrs. Gregory St. Michael, when I had
walked with her and Mrs. Weguelin, took on an added lustre of
"We shall have to call."
Call on the Cornerlys! Would they do that? Were they ready to stand by
their John to that tune? A hotel would be nothing; you could call on
anybody at a hotel, if you had to; but here would be a demarche indeed!
Yet, nevertheless, I felt quite certain that, if Hortense, though the
Cornerlys' guest, was also the guaranteed fiancee of John Mayrant, the
old ladies would come up to the scratch, hate and loathe it as they
might, and undoubtedly would: they could be trusted to do the right
I told Beverly how glad I was that he would meet Mrs. Weguelin St.
Michael. "The rest of your party, my friend," I said, "are not very
likely to." And I generalized to him briefly upon the town of Kings Port.
"Supposing I take you to call upon Mrs. St. Michael when I come back this
afternoon?" I suggested.
Beverly thought it over, and then shook his head. "Wouldn't do, old man.
If these people are particular and know, as you say they do, hadn't I
better leave the letter with my card, and then wait till she sends some
He was right, as he always was, unerringly. Consorting with all the
Charleys, and the Bohms, and the Cohns, and the Kitties hadn't taken the
fine edge from Beverly's good inheritance and good bringing up; his
instinct had survived his scruples, making of him an agile and charming
cynic, whom you could trust to see the right thing always, and never do
it unless it was absolutely necessary; he would marry any amount of
Kitties for their money, and always know that beside his mother and
sisters they were as dirt; and he would see to it that his children took
after their father, went to school in England for a good accent and
enunciation, as he had done, went to college in America for the sake of
belonging in their own country, as he had done, and married as many
fortunes, and had as few divorces, as possible.
"Who was that girl on the bridge?" he now inquired as we reached the
steps of the post-office; and when I had told him again, because he had
asked me about Eliza La Heu at the time, "She's the real thing," he
commented. "Quite extraordinary, you know, her dignity, when poor old
awful Charley was messing everything--he's so used to mere money, you
know, that half the time he forgets people are not dollars, and you have
to kick him to remind him--yes, quite perfect dignity. Gad, it took a
lady to climb up and sit by that ragged old darky and take her dead dog
away in the cart! The cart and the darky only made her look what she was
all the more. Poor Kitty couldn't do that--she'd look like a chambermaid!
Well, old man, see you again."
I stood on the post-office steps looking after Beverly Rodgers as he
crossed Court Street. His admirably good clothes, the easy finish of his
whole appearance, even his walk, and his back, and the slope of his
shoulders, were unmistakable. The Southern men, going to their business
in Court Street, looked at him. Alas, in his outward man he was as a rose
among weeds! And certainly, no well-born American could unite with an art
more hedonistic than Beverly's the old school and the nouveau jeu!
Over at the other corner he turned and stood admiring the church and
gazing at the other buildings, and so perceived me still on the steps.
With a gesture of remembering something he crossed back again.
"You've not seen Miss Rieppe?"
"Why, of course I haven't!" I exclaimed. Was everybody going to ask me
"Well, something's up, old boy. Charley has got the launch away with
him--and I'll bet he's got her away with him, too. Charley lied this
"Is lying, then, so rare with him?"
"Why, it rather is, you know. But I've come to be able to spot him when
he does it. Those little bulgy eyes of his look at you particularly
straight and childlike. He said he had to hunt up a man on business--V-C
Chemical Company, he called it--"
"There is such a thing here," I said.
"Oh, Charley'd never make up a thing, and get found out in that way! But
he was lying all the same, old man."
"Do you mean they've run off and got married?"
"What do you take them for? Much more like them to run off and not get
married. But they haven't done that either. And, speaking of that, I
believe I've gone a bit adrift. Your fire-eater, you know--she is an
extraordinary woman!" And Beverly gave his mellow, little humorous
chuckle. "Hanged if I don't begin to think she does fancy him."
"Well!" I cried, "that would explain--no, it wouldn't. Whence comes your
"Saw her look at him at dinner once last night. We dined with some
people--Cornerly. She looked at him just once. Well, if she intends--by
gad, it upsets one's whole notion of her!"
"Isn't just one look rather slight basis for--"
"Now, old man, you know better than that!" Beverly paused to chuckle. "My
grandmother Livingston," he resumed, "knew Aaron Burr, and she used to
say that he had an eye which no honest woman could meet without a blush.
I don't know whether your fire-eater is a Launcelot, or a Galahad, but
that girl's eye at dinner--"
"Did he blush?" I laughed.
"Not that I saw. But really, old man, confound it, you know! He's no sort
of husband for her. How can he make her happy and how can she make him
happy, and how can either of them hit it off with the other the least
little bit? She's expensive, he's not; she's up-to-date, he's not; she's
of the great world, he's provincial. She's all derision, he's all faith.
Why, hang it, old boy, what does she want him for?"
Beverly's handsome brow was actually furrowed with his problem; and, as I
certainly could furnish him no solution for it, we stood in silence on
the post-office steps. "What can she want him for?" he repeated. Then he
threw it off lightly with one of his chuckles. "So glad I've no daughters
to marry! Well--I must go draw some money."
He took himself off with a certain alacrity, giving an impatient cut with
his stick at a sparrow in the middle of Worship Street, nor did I see him
again this day, although, after hurriedly getting my letters (for the
starting hour of the boat had now drawn near), I followed where he had
gone down Court Street, and his cosmopolitan figure would have been easy
to descry at any distance along that scantily peopled pavement. He had
evidently found the bank and was getting his money.
David of the yellow heir and his limpid-looking bride were on the
horrible little excursion boat, watching for me and keeping with some
difficulty a chair next themselves that I might not have to stand up all
the way; and, as I came aboard, the bride called out to me her relief,
she had made sure that I would be late.
"David said you wouldn't," she announced in her clear up-country accent
across the parasols and heads of huddled tourists, "but I told him a
gentleman that's late to three meals aivry day like as not would forget
boats can't be kept hot in the kitchen for you."
I took my place in the chair beside her as hastily as possible, for there
is nothing that I so much dislike as being made conspicuous for any
reason whatever; and my thanks to her were, I fear, less gracious in
their manner than should have been the case. Nor did she find me, I must
suppose, as companionable during this excursion--during the first part of
it, at any rate--as a limpid-looking bride, who has kept at some pains a
seat beside her for a single gentleman, has the right to expect; the
brief hours of this morning had fed my preoccupation too richly, and I
must often have fallen silent.
The horrible little tug, or ferry, or wherry, or whatever its
contemptible inconvenience makes it fitting that this unclean and
snail-like craft should be styled, cast off and began to lumber along the
edges of the town with its dense cargo of hats and parasols and lunch
parcels. We were a most extraordinary litter of man and womankind. There
was the severe New England type, improving each shining hour, and doing
it in bleak costume and with a thoroughly northeast expression; there
were pink sunbonnets from (I should imagine) Spartanburg, or Charlotte,
or Greenville; there were masculine boots which yet bore incrusted upon
their heels the red mud of Aiken or of Camden; there was one fat,
jewelled exhalation who spoke of Palm Beach with the true stockyard
twang, and looked as if she swallowed a million every morning for
breakfast, and God knows how many more for the ensuing repasts; she was
the only detestable specimen among us; sunbonnets, boots, and even
ungenial New England proved on acquaintance kindly, simple, enterprising
Americans; yet who knows if sunbonnets and boots and all of us wouldn't
have become just as detestable had we but been as she was, swollen and
puffy with the acute indigestion of sudden wealth?
This reflection made me charitable, which I always like to be, and I
imparted it to the bride.
"My!" she said. And I really don't know what that meant.
But presently I understood well why people endured the discomfort of this
journey. I forgot the cinders which now and then showered upon us, and
the heat of the sun, and the crowded chairs; I forgot the boat and
myself, in looking at the passing shores. Our course took us round Kings
Port on three sides. The calm, white town spread out its width and length
beneath a blue sky softer than the tenderest dream; the white steeples
shone through the enveloping brightness, taking to each other, and to the
distant roofs beneath them, successive and changing relations, while the
dwindling mass of streets and edifices followed more slowly the veering
of the steeples, folded upon itself, and refolded, opened into new shapes
and closed again, dwindling always, and always white and beautiful; and
as the far-off vision of it held the eye, the few masts along the wharves
grew thin and went out into invisibility, the spires became as masts, the
distant drawbridge through which we had passed sank down into a mere
stretching line, and shining Kings Port was dissolved in the blue of
water and of air.
The curving and the narrowing of the river took it at last from view; and
after it disappeared the spindling chimneys and their smoke, which were
along the bank above the town and bridge, leaving us to progress through
the solitude of marsh and wood and shore. The green levels of stiff salt
grass closed in upon the breadth of water, and we wound among them,
looking across their silence to the deeper silence of the woods that
bordered them, the brooding woods, the pines and the liveoaks, misty with
the motionless hanging moss, and misty also in that Southern air that
deepened when it came among their trunks to a caressing, mysterious,
purple veil. Every line of this landscape, the straight forest top, the
feathery breaks in it of taller trees, the curving marsh, every line and
every hue and every sound inscrutably spoke sadness. I heard a
mocking-bird once in some blossoming wild fruit tree that we gradually
reached and left gradually behind; and more than once I saw other
blossoms, and the yellow of the trailing jessamine; but the bird could
not sing the silence away, and spring with all her abundance could not
hide this spiritual autumn.
Dreams, a land of dreams, where even the high noon itself was dreamy; a
melting together of earth and air and water in one eternal gentleness of
revery! Whence came the melancholy of this? I had seen woods as solitary
and streams as silent, I had felt nature breathing upon me a greater awe;
but never before such penetrating and quiet sadness. I only know that
this is the perpetual mood of those Southern shores, those rivers that
wind in from the ocean among their narrowing marshes and their hushed
forests, and that it does not come from any memory of human hopes and
disasters, but from the elements themselves.
So did we move onward, passing in due time another bridge and a few
dwellings and some excavations, until the river grew quite narrow, and
there ahead was the landing at Live Oaks, with negroes idly watching for
us, and a launch beside the bank, and Charley and Hortense Rieppe about
to step into it. Another man stood up in the launch and talked to them
where they were on the landing platform, and pointed down the river as we
approached; but evidently he did not point at us. I looked hastily to see
what he was indicating to them, but I could see nothing save the solitary
river winding away between the empty woods and marshes.
So this was Hortense Rieppe! It was not wonderful that she had caused
young John to lose his heart, or, at any rate, his head and his senses;
nor was it wonderful that Charley, with his little bulging eyes, should
take her in his launch whenever she would go; the wonderful thing was
that John, at his age and with his nature, should have got over it--if he
had got over it! I felt it tingling in me; any man would. Steel wasp
She was slender, and oh, how well dressed! She watched the passengers get
off the boat, and I could not tell you from that first sight of her what
her face was like, but only her hair, the sunburnt amber of its masses
making one think of Tokay or Chateau-Yquem. She was watching me, I felt,
and then saw; and as soon as I was near she spoke to me without moving,
keeping one gloved hand lightly posed upon the railing of the platform,
so that her long arm was bent with perfect ease and grace. I swear that
none but a female eye could have detected any toboggan fire-escape.
Her words dropped with the same calculated deliberation, the same
composed and rich indifference. "These gardens are so beautiful."
Such was her first remark, chosen with some purpose, I knew quite well;
and I observed that I hoped I was not too late for their full perfection,
if too late to visit them in her company.
She turned her head slightly toward Charley. "We have been enjoying them
It was of absorbing interest to feel simultaneously in these brief
speeches he vouchsafed--speeches consummate in their inexpressive
flatness--the intentional coldness and the latent heat of the creature.
Since Natchez and Mobile (or whichever of them it had been that had
witnessed her beginnings) she had encountered many men and women, those
who could be of use to her and those who could not; and in dealing with
them she had tempered and chiselled her insolence to a perfect
instrument, to strike or to shield. And of her greatest gift, also, she
was entirely aware--how could she help being, with her evident experience?
She knew that round her whole form swam a delicious, invisible
sphere, a distillation that her veriest self sent forth, as gardenias do
their perfume, moving where she moved and staying where she stayed, and
compared with which wine was a feeble vapor for a man to get drunk on.
"Flowers are always so delightful."
That was her third speech, pronounced just like the others, in a low,
clear voice--simplicity arrived at by much well-practiced complexity. And
she still looked at Charley.
Charley now responded in his little banker accent. "It is a magnificent
collection." This he said looking at me, and moving a highly polished
finger-nail along a very slender mustache.
The eyes of Hortense now for a moment glanced at the mixed company of
boat-passengers, who were beginning to be led off in pilgrim groups by
the appointed guides.
"We were warned it would be too crowded," she remarked.
Charley was looking at her foot. I can't say whether or not the two light
taps that the foot now gave upon the floor of the landing brought out for
me a certain impatience which I might otherwise have missed in those last
words of hers. From Charley it brought out, I feel quite sure, the speech
which (in some form) she had been expecting from him as her confederate
in this unwelcome and inopportune interview with me, and which his less
highly schooled perceptions had not suggested to him until prompted by
"I should have been very glad to include you in our launch party if I had
known you were coming here to-day," lied little Charley.
"Thank you so much!" I murmured; and I fancy that after this Hortense
hated me worse than ever. Well, why should I play her game? If anybody
had any claim upon me, was it she? I would get as much diversion as I
could from this encounter.
Hortense had looked at Charley when she spoke for my benefit, and it now
pleased me very much to look at him when I spoke for hers.
"I could almost give up the gardens for the sake of returning with you,"
I said to him.
This was most successful in producing a perceptible silence before
Hortense said, "Do come."
I wanted to say to her, "You are quite splendid--as splendid as you look,
through and through! You wouldn't have run away from any battle of
Chattanooga!" But what I did say was, "These flowers here will fade, but
may I not hope to see you again in Kings Port?"
She was looking at me with eyes half closed; half closed for the sake of
insolence--and better observation; when eyes like that take on
drowsiness, you will be wise to leave all your secrets behind you, locked
up in the bank, or else toss them right down on the open table. Well, I
tossed mine down, thereto precipitated by a warning from the stranger in
"We shall need all the tide we can get."
"I'm sure you'd be glad to know," I then said immediately (to Charley, of
course), "that Miss La Heu, whose dog you killed, is back at her work as
usual this morning."
"Thank you," returned Charley. "If there could be any chance for me to
"Miss La Heu is her name?" inquired Hortense. "I did not catch it
yesterday. She works, you say?"
"At the Woman's Exchange. She bakes cakes for weddings--among her other
"So interesting!" said Hortense; and bowing to me, she allowed the
spellbound Charley to help her down into the launch.
Each step of the few that she had to take was upon unsteady footing, and
each was taken with slow security and grace, and with a mastery of her
skirts so complete that they seemed to do it of themselves, falling and
folding in the soft, delicate curves of discretion.
For the sake of not seeming too curious about this party, I turned from
watching it before the launch had begun to move, and it was immediately
hidden from me by the bank, so that I did not see it get away. As I
crossed an open space toward the gardens I found myself far behind the
other pilgrims, whose wandering bands I could half discern among winding
walks and bordering bushes. I was soon taken into somewhat reprimanding
charge by an admirable, if important, negro, who sighted me from a door
beneath the porch of the house, and advanced upon me speedily. From him I
learned at once the rule of the place, that strangers were not allowed to
"go loose," as he expressed it; and recognizing the perfect propriety of
this restriction, I was humble, and even went so far as to put myself
right with him by quite ample purchases of the beautiful flowers that he
had for sale; some of these would be excellent for the up-country bride,
who certainly ought to have repentance from me in some form for my
silence as we had come up the river: the scenery had caused me most
ungallantly to forget her.
My rule-breaking turned out all to my advantage. The admirable and
important negro was so pacified by my liberal amends that he not only
placed the flowers which I had bought in a bucket of water to wait in
freshness until my tour of the gardens should be finished and the moment
for me to return upon the boat should arrive, but he also honored me with
his own special company; and instead of depositing me in one of the
groups of other travellers, he took me to see the sights alone, as if I
were somebody too distinguished to receive my impressions with the common
herd. Thus I was able to linger here and there, and even to return to
certain points for another look.
I shall not attempt to describe the azaleas at Live Oaks. You will
understand me quite well, I am sure, when I say that I had heard the
people at Mrs. Trevise's house talk so much about them, and praise them
so superlatively, that I was not prepared for much: my experience of life
had already included quite a number of azaleas. Moreover, my meeting with
Hortense and Charley had taken me far away from flowers. But when that
marvelous place burst upon me, I forgot Hortense. I have seen gardens,
many gardens, in England, in France; in Italy; I have seen what can be
done in great hothouses, and on great terraces; what can be done under a
roof, and what can be done in the open air with the aid of architecture
and sculpture and ornamental land and water; but no horticulture that I
have seen devised by mortal man approaches the unearthly enchantment of
the azaleas at Live Oaks. It was not like seeing flowers at all; it was
as if there, in the heart of the wild and mystic wood, in the gray gloom
of those trees veiled and muffled in their long webs and skeins of
hanging moss, a great, magic flame of rose and red and white burned
steadily. You looked to see it vanish; you could not imagine such a thing
would stay. All idea of individual petals or species was swept away in
this glowing maze of splendor, this transparent labyrinth of rose and red
and white, through which you looked beyond, into the gray gloom of the
hanging moss and the depths of the wild forest trees.
I turned back as often as I could, and to the last I caught glimpses
of it, burning, glowing, and shining like some miracle, some rainbow
exorcism, with its flooding fumes of orange-rose and red and white,
merging magically. It was not until I reached the landing, and made my
way on board again, that Hortense returned to my thoughts. She hadn't
come to see the miracle; not she! I knew that better than ever. And who
was the other man in the launch?
"Wasn't it perfectly elegant!" exclaimed the up-country bride. And upon
my assenting, she made a further declaration to David: "It's just aivry
bit as good as the Isle of Champagne."
This I discovered to be a comic opera, mounted with spendthrift
brilliance, which David had taken her to see at the town of Gonzales,
just before they were married.
As we made our way down the bending river she continued to make many
observations to me in that up-country accent of hers, which is a fashion
of speech that may be said to differ as widely from the speech of the
low-country as cotton differs from rice. I began to fear that, in spite
of my truly good intentions, I was again failing to be as "attentive" as
the occasion demanded; and so I presented her with my floral tribute.
She was immediately arch. "I'd surely be depriving somebody!" and on this
I got to the full her limpid look.
I assured her that this would not be so, and pointed to the other flowers
Accordingly, after a little more archness, she took them, as she had, of
course, fully meant to do from the first; she also took a woman's
revenge. "I'll not be any more lonesome going down than I was coming up,"
she said. "David's enough." And this led me definitely to conclude that
David had secured a helpmate who could take care of herself, in spite of
the limpidity of her eyes.
A steel wasp? Again that misleading description of Mrs. Weguelin St.
Michael's, to which, since my early days in Kings Port, my imagination
may be said to have been harnessed, came back into my mind. I turned its
injustice over and over beneath the light which the total Hortense now
shed upon it--or rather, not the total Hortense, but my whole impression
of her, as far as I had got; I got a good deal further before we had
finished. To the slow, soft accompaniment of these gliding river shores,
where all the shadows had changed since morning, so that new loveliness
stood revealed at every turn, my thoughts dwelt upon this perfected
specimen of the latest American moment--so late that she contained
nothing of the past, and a great deal of to-morrow. I basked myself in
the memory of her achieved beauty, her achieved dress, her achieved
insolence, her luxurious complexity. She was even later than those quite
late athletic girls, the Amazons of the links, whose big, hard football
faces stare at one from public windows and from public punts, whose
giant, manly strides take them over leagues of country and square miles
of dance-floor, and whose bursting, blatant, immodest health glares upon
sea-beaches and round supper tables. Hortense knew that even now the hour
of such is striking, and that the American boy will presently turn with
relief to a creature who will more clearly remind him that he is a man
and that she is a woman.
But why was the insolence of Hortense offensive, when the insolence of
Eliza La Heu was not? Both these extremely feminine beings could exercise
that quality in profusion, whenever they so wished; wherein did the
difference lie? Perhaps I thought, in the spirit of its exercise; Eliza
was merely insolent when she happened to feel like it; and man has always
been able to forgive woman for that--whether the angels do or not, but
Hortense, the world-wise, was insolent to all people who could not be of
use to her; and all I have to say is, that if the angels can forgive
them, they're welcome; I can't!
Had I made sure of anything at the landing? Yes; Hortense didn't care for
Charley in the least, and never would. A woman can stamp her foot at a
man and love him simultaneously; but those two light taps, and the
measure that her eyes took of Charley, meant that she must love his
possessions very much to be able to bear him at all.
Then, what was her feeling about John Mayrant? As Beverly had said, what
could she want him for? He hadn't a thing that she valued or needed. His
old-time notions of decency, the clean simplicity of his make, his good
Southern position, and his collection of nice old relatives--what did
these assets look like from an automobile, or on board the launch of a
modern steam yacht? And wouldn't it be amusing if John should grow
needlessly jealous, and have a "difficulty" with Charley? not a mere
flinging of torn paper money in the banker's face, but some more decided
punishment for the banker's presuming to rest his predatory eyes upon
John's affianced lady.
I stared at the now broadening river, where the reappearance of the
bridge, and of Kings Port, and the nearer chimneys pouring out their
smoke a few miles above the town, betokened that our excursion was
drawing to its end. And then from the chimney's neighborhood, from the
waterside where their factories stood, there shot out into the smoothness
of the stream a launch. It crossed into our course ahead of us, preceded
us quickly, growing soon into a dot, went through the bridge, and so was
seen no longer; and its occupants must have reached town a good half hour
before we did. And now, suddenly, I was stunned with a great discovery.
The bride's voice sounded in my ear. "Well, I'll always say you're a
I looked at her, dull and dazed by the internal commotion the discovery
had raised in me.
"You said we wouldn't get stuck in the mud, and we didn't," said the
I pointed to the chimneys. "Are those the phosphate works?"
"Yais. Didn't you know?"
"The V-C phosphate works?"
"Why, yais. Haven't you been to see them yet? He ought to, oughtn't he,
David? 'Specially now they've found those deposits up the river were just
as rich as they hoped, after all."
"Whose? Mr. Mayrant's?" I asked with such sharpness that the bride was
David hadn't attended to the name. It was some trust estate, he thought;
Regent Tom, or some such thing.
"And they thought it was no good," said the bride. "And it's aivry bit as
good as the Coosaw used to be. Better than Florida or Tennessee."
My eyes instinctively turned to where they had last seen the launch; of
course it wasn't there any more. Then I spoke to David.
"Do you know what a phosphate bed looks like? Can one see it?"
"This kind you can," he answered. "But it's not worth your trouble. Just
a kind of a square hole you dig along the river till you strike the
stuff. What you want to see is the works."
No, I didn't want to see even the works; they smelt atrociously, and I do
not care for vats, and acids, and processes: and besides, had I not seen
enough? My eyes went down the river again where that launch had gone; and
I wondered if the wedding-cake would be postponed any more.
Regent Tom? Oh, yes, to be sure! John Mayrant had pointed out to me the
house where he had lived; he had been John's uncle. So the old gentleman
had left his estate in trust! And now--! But certainly Hortense would
have won the battle of Chattanooga!
"Don't be too sure about all this," I told myself cautiously. But there
are times when cautioning one's self is quite as useless as if somebody
else had cautioned one; my reason leaped with the rapidity of intuition;
I merely sat and looked on at what it was doing. All sorts of odds and
ends, words I hadn't understood, looks and silences I hadn't interpreted,
little signs that I had thought nothing of at first, but which I had
gradually, through their multiplicity, come to know meant something, all
these broken pieces fitted into each other now, fell together and made a
clear pattern of the truth, without a crack in it--Hortense had never
believed in that story about the phosphates having failed--"pinched out,"
as they say of ore deposits. There she had stood between her two suitors,
between her affianced John and the besieging Charley, and before she
would be off with the old love and on with the new, she must personally
look into those phosphates. Therefore she had been obliged to have a sick
father and postpone the wedding two or three times, because her affairs--
very likely the necessity of making certain of Charley--had prevented her
from coming sooner to Kings Port. And having now come hither, and having
beheld her Northern and her Southern lovers side by side--had the
comparison done something to her highly controlled heart? Was love taking
some hitherto unknown liberties with that well-balanced organ? But what
an outrage had been perpetrated upon John! At that my deductions
staggered in their rapid course. How could his aunts--but then it had
only been one of them; Miss Josephine had never approved of Miss Eliza's
course; it was of that that Mrs. Weguelin St. Michael had so emphatically
reminded Mrs. Gregory in my presence when we had strolled together upon
High Walk, and those two ladies had talked oracles in my presence. Well,
they were oracles no longer!
When the boat brought us back to the wharf, there were the rest of my
flowers unbestowed, and upon whom should I bestow them? I thought first
of Eliza La Heu, but she wouldn't be at the Exchange so late as this.
Then it seemed well to carry them to Mrs. Weguelin. Something, however,
prompted me to pass her door, and continue vaguely walking on until I
came to the house where Miss Josephine and Miss Eliza lived; and here I
rang the bell and was admitted.
They were sitting as I had seen them first, the one with her embroidery,
and the other on the further side of a table, whereon lay an open letter,
which in a few moments I knew must have been the subject of the
discussion which they finished even as I came forward.
"It was only prolonging an honest mistake." That was Miss Eliza.
"And it has merely resulted in clinching what you meant it to finish."
That was Miss Josephine.
I laid my flowers upon the table, and saw that the letter was in John
Mayrant's hand. Of course.
I avoided looking at it again; but what had he written, and why had he
written? His daily steps turned to this house--unless Miss Josephine had
banished him again.
The ladies accepted my offering with gracious expressions, and while I
told them of my visit to Live Oaks, and poured out my enthusiasm, the
servant was sent for and brought water and two beautiful old china bowls,
in which Miss Eliza proceeded to arrange the flowers with her delicate
white hands. She made them look exquisite with an old lady's art, and
this little occupation went on as we talked of indifferent subjects.
But the atmosphere of that room was charged with the subject of which we
did not speak. The letter lay on the table; and even as I struggled to
sustain polite conversation, I began to know what was in it, though I
never looked at it again; it spoke out as clearly to me as the launch had
done. I had thought, when I first entered, to tell the ladies something
of my meeting with Hortense Rieppe; I can only say that I found this
impossible. Neither of them referred to her, or to John, or to anything
that approached what we were all thinking of; for me to do so would have
assumed the dimensions of a liberty; and in consequence of this state of
things, constraint sat upon us all, growing worse, and so pervading our
small-talk with discomfort that I made my visit a very short one. Of
course they were civil about this when I rose, and begged me not to go so
soon; but I knew better. And even as I was getting my hat and gloves in
the hall I could tell by their tones that they had returned to the
subject of that letter. But in truth they had never left it; as the front
door shut behind me I felt as if they had read it aloud to me.
XVI: The Steel Wasp
Certainly Hortense Rieppe would have won the battle of Chattanooga! I
know not from which parent that young woman inherited her gift of
strategy, but she was a master. To use the resources of one lover in
order to ascertain if another lover had any; to lay tribute on everything
that Charley possessed; on his influence in the business world, which
enabled him to walk into the V-C Chemical Company's office and borrow an
expert in the phosphate line; on his launch in which to pop the expert
and take him up the river, and see in his company and learn from his lips
just what resources of worldly wealth were likely to be in-store for
John Mayrant; and finally (which was the key to all the rest) on his
inveterate passion for her, on his banker-like determination through all
the thick and thin of discouragement, and worse than discouragement, of
contemptuous coquetry, to possess her at any cost he could afford;--to
use all this that Charley had, in order that she might judiciously arrive
at the decision whether she would take him or his rival, left one lost in
admiration. And then, not to waste a moment! To reach town one evening,
and next morning by ten o'clock to have that expert safe in the launch on
his way up the river to the phosphate diggings! The very audacity of such
unscrupulousness commanded my respect: successful dishonor generally wins
louder applause than successful virtue. But to be married to her! Oh! not
for worlds! Charley might meet such emergency, but poor John, never!
I nearly walked into Mrs. Weguelin and Mrs. Gregory taking their customary
air slowly in South Place.
"But why a steel wasp?" I said at once to Mrs. Weguelin. It was a more
familiar way of beginning with the little, dignified lady than would have
been at all possible, or suitable, if we had not had that little joke
about the piano snobile between us. As it was, she was not wholly
displeased. These Kings Port old ladies grew, I suspect, very slowly and
guardedly accustomed to any outsider; they allowed themselves very seldom
to suffer any form of abruptness from him, or from any one, for that
matter. But, once they were reassured as to him, then they might
sometimes allow the privileged person certain departures from their own
rule of deportment, because his conventions were recognized to be different
from theirs. Moreover, in reminding Mrs. Weguelin of the steel wasp, I
had put my abruptness in "quotations," so to speak, by the tone I gave
it, just as people who are particular in speech can often interpolate a
word of current slang elegantly by means of the shade of emphasis which
they lay upon it.
So Mrs. Weguelin smiled and her dark eyes danced a little. "You remember
I said that, then?"
"I remember everything that you said."
"How much have you seen of the creature?" demanded Mrs. Gregory, with her
head pretty high.
"Well, I'm seeing more, and more, and more every minute. She's rather
Mrs. Weguelin looked reproachful. "You surely cannot admire her, too?"
Mrs. Gregory hadn't understood me. "Oh, if you really can keep her away,
"I only meant," I explained to the ladies, "that you don't really begin
to see her till you have seen her: it's afterward, when you're out of
reach of the spell." And I told them of the interview which I had not
been able to tell to Miss Josephine and Miss Eliza. "I doubt if it lasted
more than four minutes," I assured them.
"Up the river?" repeated Mrs. Gregory
"At the landing," I repeated. And the ladies consulted each other's
expressions. But that didn't bother me any more.
"And you can admire her?" Mrs. Weguelin persisted.
"May I tell you exactly, precisely?"
"Oh, do!" they both exclaimed.
"Well, I think many wise men would find her immensely desirable--as
somebody else's wife!"
At this remark Mrs. Weguelin dropped her eyes, but I knew they were
dancing beneath their lids. "I should not have permitted myself to say
that, but I am glad that it has been said."
Mrs. Gregory turned to her companion. "Shall we call to-morrow?"
"Don't you feel it must be done?" returned Mrs. Weguelin, and then she
addressed me. "Do you know a Mr. Beverly Rodgers?"
I gave him a golden recommendation and took my leave of the ladies.
So they were going to do the handsome thing; they would ring the
Cornerlys' bell; they would cross the interloping threshold, they would
recognize the interloping girl; and this meant that they had given it up.
It meant that Miss Eliza had given it up, too, had at last abandoned her
position that the marriage would never take place. And her own act had
probably drawn this down upon her. When the trustee of that estate had
told her of the apparent failure of the phosphates, she had hailed it as
an escape for her beloved John, and for all of them, because she made
sure that Hortense would never marry a virtually penniless man. And when
the work went on, and the rich fortune was unearthed after all, her
influence had caused that revelation to be delayed because she was so
confident that the engagement would be broken. But she had reckoned
without Hortense; worse than that, she had reckoned without John Mayrant;
in her meddling attempt to guide his affairs in the way that she believed
would be best for him, she forgot that the boy whom she had brought up
was no longer a child, and thus she unpardonably ignored his rights as a
man. And now Miss Josephine's disapproval was vindicated, and her own
casuistry was doubly punished. Miss Rieppe's astute journey of
investigation--for her purpose had evidently become suspected by some of
them beforehand--had forced Miss Eliza to disclose the truth about the
phosphates to her nephew before it should be told him by the girl
herself; and the intolerable position of apparent duplicity precipitated
two wholly inevitable actions on his part; he had bound himself more than
ever to marry Hortense, and he had made a furious breach with his Aunt
Eliza. That was what his letter had contained; this time he had banished
himself from that house. What was his Aunt Eliza going to do about it? I
wondered. She was a stiff, if indiscreet, old lady, and it certainly did
not fall within her view of the proprieties that young people should take
their elders to task in furious letters. But she had been totally in the
wrong, and her fault was irreparable, because important things had
happened in consequence of it; she might repent the fault in sackcloth
and ashes, but she couldn't stop the things. Would she, then, honorably
wear the sackcloth, or would she dishonestly shirk it under the false
issue of her nephew's improper tone to her? Women can justify themselves
with more appalling skill than men.
One drop there was in all this bitter bucket, which must have tasted
sweet to John. He had resigned from the Custom House: Juno had got it
right this time, though she hadn't a notion of the real reason for John's
act. This act had been, since morning, lost for me, so to speak, in the
shuffle of more absorbing events; and it now rose to view again in my
mind as a telling stroke in the full-length portrait that all his acts
had been painting of the boy during the last twenty-four hours.
Notwithstanding a meddlesome aunt, and an arriving sweetheart, and
imminent wedlock, he hadn't forgotten to stop "taking orders from a
negro" at the very first opportunity which came to him; his phosphates
had done this for him, at least, and I should have the pleasure of
correcting Juno at tea.
But I did not have this pleasure. They were all in an excitement over
something else, and my own different excitement hadn't a chance against
this greater one; for people seldom wish to hear what you have to say,
even under the most favorable circumstances, and never when they have
anything to say themselves. With an audience so hotly preoccupied I
couldn't have sat on Juno effectively at all, and therefore I kept it to
myself, and attended very slightly to what they were telling me about the
Daughters of Dixie.
I bowed absently to the poetess. "And your poem?" I said. "A great
success, I am sure?"
"Why, didn't you hear me say so?" said the upcountry bride; and then,
after a smile at the others, "I'm sure your flowers were graciously
"Ask Miss Josephine St. Michael," I replied.
"Oh, oh, oh!" went the bride. "How would she know?"
I gave myself no pains to improve or arrest this tiresome joke, and they
went back to their Daughters of Dixie; but it is rather singular how
sometimes an utterly absurd notion will be the cause of our taking a step
which we had not contemplated. I did carry some flowers to Miss La Heu
the next day. I was at some trouble to find any; for in Kings Port shops
of this kind are by no means plentiful, and it was not until I had paid a
visit to a quite distant garden at the extreme northwestern edge of the
town that I lighted upon anything worthy of the girl behind the counter.
The Exchange itself was apt to have flowers for sale, but I hardly saw my
way to buying them there, and then immediately offering them to the fair
person who had sold them to me. As it was, I did much better; for what I
brought her were decidedly superior to any that were at the Exchange when
I entered it at lunch time.
They were, as the up-country bride would have put it, "graciously
accepted." Miss La Heu stood them in water on the counter beside her
ledger. She was looking lovely.
"I expected you yesterday," she said. "The new Lady Baltimore was ready."
"Well, if it is not all eaten yet--"
"Oh, no! Not a slice gone."
"Ah, nobody does your art justice here!"
"Go and sit down at your table, please."
It was really quite difficult to say to her from that distance the sort
of things that I wished to say; but there seemed to be no help for it,
and I did my best.
"I shall miss my lunches here very much when I'm gone."
"Did you say coffee to-day?"
"Chocolate. I shall miss--"
"And the lettuce sandwiches?"
"Yes. You don't realize how much these lunches--"
"Have cost you?" She seemed determined to keep laughing.
"You have said it. They have cost me my--"
"I can give you the receipt, you know."
"For Lady Baltimore, to take with you."
"You'll have to give me a receipt for a lost heart."
"Oh, his heart! General, listen to--" From habit she had turned to where
her dog used to lie; and sudden pain swept over her face and was
mastered. "Never mind!" she quickly resumed. "Please don't speak about
it. And you have a heart somewhere; for it was very nice in you to come
in yesterday morning after--after the bridge."
"I hope I have a heart," I began, rising; for, really, I could not go on
in this way, sitting down away back at the lunch table.
But the door opened, and Hortense Rieppe came into the Woman's Exchange.
It was at me that she first looked, and she gave me the slightest bow
possible, the least sign of conventional recognition that a movement of
the head could make and be visible at all; she didn't bend her head down,
she tilted it ever so little up. It wasn't new to me, this form of
greeting, and I knew that she had acquired it at Newport, and that it
denoted, all too accurately, the size of my importance in her eyes; she
did it, as she did everything, with perfection. Then she turned to Eliza
La Heu, whose face had become miraculously sweet.
"Good morning," said Hortense.
It sounded from a quiet well of reserve music; just a cupful of melodious
tone dipped lightly out of the surface. Her face hadn't become anything;
but it was equally miraculous in its total void of all expression
relating to this moment, or to any moment; just her beauty, her permanent
stationary beauty, was there glowing in it and through it, not skin deep,
but going back and back into her lazy eyes, and shining from within the
modulated bloom of her color and the depths of her amber hair. She was
choosing, for this occasion, to be as impersonal as some radiant hour in
nature, some mellow, motionless day when the leaves have turned, but have
not fallen, and it is drowsily warm; but it wasn't so much of nature that
she, in her harmonious lustre, reminded me, as of some beautiful
silken-shaded lamp, from which color rather than light came with subdued
I saw her eyes settle upon the flowers that I had brought Eliza La Heu.
"How beautiful those are!" she remarked.
"Is there something that you wish?" inquired Miss La Heu, always
"Some of your good things for lunch; a very little, if you will be so
I had gone back to my table while the "very little" was being selected,
and I felt, in spite of how slightly she counted me, that it would be
inadequate in me to remain completely dumb.
"Mr. Mayrant is still at the Custom House?" I observed.
"For a few days, yes. Happily we shall soon break that connection." And
she smelt my flowers.
"'We,'" I thought to myself, "is rather tremendous."
It grew more tremendous in the silence as Eliza La Heu brought me my
orders. Miss Rieppe did not seat herself to take the light refreshment
which she found enough for lunch. Her plate and cup were set for her, but
she walked about, now with one, and now with the other, taking her time
over it, and pausing here and there at some article of the Exchange
Of course, she hadn't come there for any lunch; the Cornerlys had midday
lunch and dined late; these innovated hours were a part of Kings Port's
deep suspicion of the Cornerlys; but what now became interesting was her
evident indifference to our perceiving that lunch was merely a pretext
with her; in fact, I think she wished it to be perceived, and I also
think that those turns which she took about the Exchange--her apparent
inspection of an old mahogany table, her examination of a pewter set--
were a symbol (and meant to be a symbol) of how she had all the time
there was, and the possession of everything she wished including the
situation, and that she enjoyed having this sink in while she was
rearranging whatever she had arranged to say, in consequence of finding
that I should also hear it. And how well she was worth looking at, no
matter whether she stood, or moved, or what she did! Her age lay beyond
the reach of the human eye; if she was twenty-five, she was marvelous in
her mastery of her appearance; if she was thirty-four, she was marvelous
in her mastery of perpetuating it, and by no other means than perfect
dress personal to herself (for she had taken the fashion and welded it
into her own plasticity) and perfect health; for without a trace of the
athletic, her graceful shape teemed with elasticity. There was a touch of
"sport" in the parasol she had laid down; and with all her blended
serenity there was a touch of "sport" in her. Experience could teach her
beauty nothing more; it wore the look of having been made love to by many
Quite suddenly the true light flashed upon me. I had been slow-sighted
indeed! So that was what she had come here for to-day! Miss Hortense was
going to pay her compliments to Miss La Heu. I believe that my sight
might still have been slow but for that miraculous sweetness upon the
face of Eliza. She was ready for the compliments! Well, I sat expectant--
and disappointment was by no means my lot.
Hortense finished her lunch. "And so this interesting place is where you
Eliza, thus addressed, assented.
"And you furnish wedding cakes also?"
Eliza was continuously and miraculously sweet. "The Exchange includes
"I shall hope you will be present to taste some of yours on the day it is
"I shall accept the invitation if my friends send me one."
No blood flowed from Hortense at this, and she continued with the same
"The list is of necessity very small; but I shall see that it includes
"You are not going to postpone it any more, then?"
No blood flowed at this, either. "I doubt if John--if Mr. Mayrant--would
brook further delay, and my father seems stronger, at last. How much do I
owe you for your very good food?"
It is a pity that a larger audience could not have been there to enjoy
this skilful duet, for it held me hanging on every musical word of it.
There, at the far back end of the long room, I sat alone at my table,
pretending to be engaged over a sandwich that was no more in existence--
external, I mean--and a totally empty cup of chocolate. I lifted the cup,
and bowed over the plate, and used the paper Japanese napkin, and
generally went through the various discreet paces of eating, quite
breathless, all the while, to know which of them was coming out ahead.
There was no fairness in their positions; Hortense had Eliza in a cage,
penned in by every fact; but it doesn't do to go too near some birds,
even when they're caged, and, while these two birds had been giving their
sweet manifestations of song, Eliza had driven a peck or two home through
the bars, which, though they did not draw visible blood, as I have said,
probably taught Hortense that a Newport education is not the only
instruction which fits you for drawing-room war to the knife.
Her small reckoning was paid, and she had drawn on one long, tawny glove.
Even this act was a luxury to watch, so full it was of the feminine, of
the stretching, indolent ease that the flesh and the spirit of this
creature invariably seemed to move with. But why didn't she go? This
became my wonder now, while she slowly drew on the second glove. She was
taking more time than it needed.
"Your flowers are for sale, too?"
This, after her silence, struck me as being something planned out after
her original plan. The original plan had finished with that second
assertion of her ownership of John (or, I had better say, of his ownership
in her), that doubt she had expressed as to his being willing to consent
to any further postponement of their marriage. Of course she had expected,
and got herself ready for, some thrust on the postponement subject.
Eliza crossed from behind her counter to where the Exchange flowers stood
on the opposite side of the room and took some of them up.
"But those are inferior," said Hortense. "These." And she touched rightly
the bowl in which my roses stood close beside Eliza's ledger.
Eliza paused for one second. "Those are not for sale."
Hortense paused, too. Then she hung to it. "They are so much the best."
She was holding her purse.
"I think so, too," said Eliza. "But I cannot let any one have them."
Hortense put her purse away. "You know best. Shall you furnish us flowers
as well as cake?"
Eliza's sweetness rose an octave, softer and softer. "Why, they have
flowers there! Didn't you know?"
And to this last and frightful peck through the bars Hortense found no
retaliation. With a bow to Eliza, and a total oblivion of me, she went
out of the Exchange. She had flaunted "her" John in Eliza's face, she
had, as they say, rubbed it in that he was "her" John;--but was it such a
neat, tidy victory, after all? She had given away the last word to Eliza,
presented her with that poisonous speech which when translated meant:--
"Yes, he's 'your' John; and you're climbing up him into houses where
you'd otherwise be arrested for trespass." For it was in one of the
various St. Michael houses that the marriage would be held, owing to the
nomadic state of the Rieppes.
Yes, Hortense had gone altogether too close to the cage at the end, and,
in that repetition of her taunt about "furnishing" supplies for the
wedding, she had at length betrayed something which her skill and the
intricate enamel of her experience had hitherto, and with entire success,
concealed--namely, the latent vulgarity of the woman. She was wearing,
for the sake of Kings Port, her best behavior, her most knowing form,
and, indeed it was a well-done imitation of the real thing; it would last
through most occasions, and it would deceive most people. But here was
the trouble: she was wearing it; while, through the whole encounter,
Eliza La Heu had worn nothing but her natural and perfect dignity; yet
with that disadvantage (for good breeding, alas!, is at times a sort of
disadvantage, and can be battered down and covered with mud so that its
own fine grain is invisible) Eliza had, after a somewhat undecisive
battle, got in that last frightful peck! But what had led Hortense, after
she had come through pretty well, to lose her temper and thus, at the
finish, expose to Eliza her weakest position? That her clothes were paid
for by a Newport lady who had taken her to Worth, that her wedding feast
was to be paid for by the bridegroom, these were not facts which Eliza
would deign to use as weapons; but she was marrying inside the doors of
Eliza's Kings Port, that had never opened to admit her before, and she
had slipped into putting this chance into Eliza's hand--and how had she
come to do this?
To be sure, my vision had been slow! Hortense had seen, through her thick
veil, Eliza's interest in John in the first minute of her arrival on the
bridge, that minute when John had run up to Eliza after the automobile
had passed over poor General. And Hortense had not revealed herself at
once, because she wanted a longer look at them. Well, she had got it, and
she had got also a look at her affianced John when he was in the
fire-eating mood, and had displayed the conduct appropriate to 1840,
while Charley's display had been so much more modern. And so first she
had prudently settled that awkward phosphate difficulty, and next she had
paid this little visit to Eliza in order to have the pleasure of telling
her in four or five different ways, and driving it in deep, and turning
it round: "Don't you wish you may get him?"
"That's all clear as day," I said to myself. "But what does her loss of
Eliza was writing at her ledger. The sweetness hadn't entirely gone; it
was too soon for that, and besides, she knew I must be looking at her.
"Couldn't you have told her they were my flowers?" I asked her at the
counter, as I prepared to depart. Eliza did not look up from her ledger.
"Do you think she would have believed me?"
"And why shouldn't--"
"Go out!" she interrupted imperiously and with a stamp of her foot.
"You've been here long enough!"
You may imagine my amazement at this. It was not until I had reached Mrs.
Trevise's, and was sitting down to answer a note which had been left for
me, that light again came. Hortense Rieppe had thought those flowers were
from John Mayrant, and Eliza had let her think so.
Yes, that was light, a good bright light shed on the matter; but a still
more brilliant beam was cast by the up-country bride when I came into the
dining-room. I told her myself, at once, that I had taken flowers to Miss
La Heu; I preferred she should hear this from me before she learned it
from the smiling lips of gossip. It surprised me that she should
immediately inquire what kind of flowers?
"Why, roses," I answered; and she went into peals of laughter.
"Pray share the jest," I begged her with some dignity.
"Didn't you know," she replied, "the language that roses from a single
gentleman to a young lady speak in Kings Port?"
I stood staring and stiff, taking it in, taking myself, and Eliza, and
Hortense, and the implicated John, all in.
"Why, aivrybody in Kings Port knows that!" said the bride; and now my
mirth rose even above hers.
XVII: Doing the Handsome Thing
It by no means lessened my pleasure to discern that Hortense must feel
herself to be in a predicament; and as I sat writing my answer to the
note, which was from Mrs. Weguelin St. Michael and contained an
invitation to me for the next afternoon, I thought of those pilots whose
dangers have come down to us from distant times through the songs of
ancient poets. The narrow and tempestuous channel between Scylla and
Charybdis bristled unquestionably with violent problems, but with none, I
should suppose, that called for a nicer hand upon the wheel, or an eye
more alert, than this steering of your little trireme to a successful
marriage, between one man who believed himself to be your destined
bridegroom and another who expected to be so, meanwhile keeping each in
ignorance of how close you were sailing to the other. In Hortense's place
I should have wished to hasten the wedding now, have it safely performed
this afternoon, say, or to-morrow morning; thus precipitated by some
invaluable turn in the health of her poor dear father. But she had worn
it out, his health, by playing it for decidedly as much as it could bear;
it couldn't be used again without risk; the date must stand fixed; and,
uneasy as she might have begun to be about John, Hortense must, with no
shortening of the course, get her boat in safe without smashing it
against either John or Charley. I wondered a little that she should feel
any uncertainty about her affianced lover. She must know how much his
word was to him, and she had had his word twice, given her the second
time to put his own honor right with her on the score of the phosphates.
But perhaps Hortense's rich experiences of life had taught her that a
man's word to a woman should not be subjected to the test of another
woman's advent. On the whole, I suppose it was quite natural those
flowers should annoy her, and equally natural that Eliza, the minx,
should allow them to do so! There's a joy to the marrow in watching your
enemy harried and discomfited by his own gratuitous contrivances; you
look on serenely at a show which hasn't cost you a groat. However, poor
Eliza had not been so serene at the very end, when she stormed out at me.
For this I did not have to forgive her, of course, little as I had
merited such treatment. Had she not accepted my flowers? But it was a
gratification to reflect that in my sentimental passages with her I had
not gone to any great length; nothing, do I ever find, is so irksome as
the sense of having unwittingly been in a false position. Was John, on
his side, in love with her? Was it possible he would fail in his word? So
with these thoughts, while answering and accepting Mrs. Weguelin St.
Michael's invitation to make one of a party of strangers to whom she was
going to show another old Kings Port church, "where many of my ancestors
lie," as her note informed me, I added one sentence which had nothing to
do with the subject "She is a steel wasp," I ventured to say. And when on
the next afternoon I met the party at the church, I received from the
little lady a look of highly spiced comprehension as she gently remarked,
"I was glad to get your acceptance."
When I went down to the dinner-table, Juno sat in her best clothes, still
discussing the Daughters of Dixie.
I can't say that I took much more heed of this at dinner than I had done
at tea; but I was interested to hear Juno mention that she, too, intended
to call upon Hortense Rieppe. Kings Port, she said, must take a
consistent position; and for her part, so far as behavior went, she
didn't see much to choose between the couple. "As to whether Mr. Mayrant
had really concealed the discovery of his fortune," she continued, "I
asked Miss Josephine--in a perfectly nice way, of course. But old Mr. St.
Michael Beaugarcon, who has always had the estate in charge, did that. It
is only a life estate, unless Mr. Mayrant has lawful issue. Well, he will
have that now, and all that money will be his to squander."
Aunt Carola had written me again this morning, but I had been in no haste
to open her letter; my neglect of the Bombos did not weigh too heavily
upon me, I fear, but I certainly did put off reading what I expected to
be a reprimand. And concerning this I was right; her first words
betokened reprimand at once. "My dear nephew Augustus," she began, in her
fine, elegant handwriting. That was always her mode of address to me when
something was coming, while at other times it would be, less
portentously, "My dear Augustus," or "My dear nephew "; but whenever my
name and my relationship to her occurred conjointly, I took the
communication away with me to some corner, and opened it in solitude.
It wasn't about the Bombos, though; and for what she took me to task I
was able to defend myself, I think, quite adequately. She found fault
with me for liking the South too much, and this she based upon the
enthusiastic accounts of Kings Port and its people that I had written to
her; nor had she at all approved of my remarks on the subject of the
negro, called forth by Daddy Ben and his grandson Charles Cotesworth.
"When I sent you (wrote Aunt Carola) to admire Kings Port good-breeding,
I did not send you to forget your country. Remember that those people
were its mortal enemies; that besides their treatment of our prisoners in
Libby and Andersonville (which killed my brother Alexander) they
displayed in their dealings, both social and political, an arrogance in
success and a childish petulance at opposition, which we who saw and
suffered can never forget, any more than we can forget our loved ones who
laid down their lives for this cause."
These were not the only words with which Aunt Carola reproved what she
termed my "disloyalty," but they will serve to indicate her feeling about
the Civil War. It was--on her side--precisely the feeling of all the
Kings Port old ladies on Heir side. But why should it be mine? And so,
after much thinking how I might best reply respectfully yet say to Aunt
Carola what my feeling was, I sat down upstairs at my window, and, after
some preliminary sentences, wrote:--
"There are dead brothers here also, who, like your brother, laid down
their lives for what they believed was their country, and whom their
sisters never can forget as you can never forget him. I read their names
upon sad church tablets, and their boy faces look out at me from
cherished miniatures and dim daguerreotypes. Upon their graves the women
who mourn them leave flowers as you leave flowers upon the grave of your
young soldier. You will tell me, perhaps, that since the bereavement is
equal, I have not justified my sympathy for these people. But the
bereavement was not equal. More homes here were robbed by death of their
light and promise than with us; and to this you must add the material
desolation of the homes themselves. Our roofs were not laid in ashes, and
to-day we sit in affluence while they sit in privation. You will say to
this, perhaps, that they brought it upon themselves. But even granting
that they did so, surely to suffer and to lose is more bitter than to
suffer and to win. My dear aunt, you could not see what I have seen here,
and write to me as you do; and if those years have left upon your heart a
scar which will not vanish, do not ask me, who came afterward, to wear
the scar also. I should then resemble certain of the younger ones here,
with less excuse than is theirs. As for the negro, forgive me if I assure
you that you retain an Abolitionist exaltation for a creature who does
not exist, or whose existence is an ineffectual drop in the bucket, a
creature on grateful knees raising faithful eyes to one who has struck
off his chains of slavery, whereas the creature who does exist is--"
I paused here in my letter to Aunt Carola, and sought for some fitting
expression that should characterize for her with sufficient severity the
new type of deliberately worthless negro; and as I sought, my eyes
wandered to the garden next door, the garden of the Cornerlys. On a bench
near a shady arrangement of vines over bars sat Hortense Rieppe. She was
alone, and, from her attitude, seemed to be thinking deeply. The high
walls of the garden shut her into a privacy that her position near the
shady vines still more increased. It was evident that she had come here
for the sake of being alone, and I regretted that she was so turned from
me that I could not see her face. But her solitude did not long continue;
there came into view a gentleman of would-be venerable appearance, who
approached her with a walk carefully constructed for public admiration,
and who, upon reaching her, bent over with the same sort of footlight
elaboration and gave her a paternal kiss. I did not need to hear her call
him father; he was so obviously General Rieppe, the prudent hero of
Chattanooga, that words would have been perfectly superfluous in his
I was destined upon another day to hear the tones of his voice, and
thereupon may as well state now that they belonged altogether with the
rest of him. There is a familiar type of Northern fraud, and a Southern
type, equally familiar, but totally different in appearance. The Northern
type has the straight, flat, earnest hair, the shaven upper lip, the
chin-beard, and the benevolent religious expression. He will be the
president of several charities, and the head of one great business. He
plays no cards, drinks no wine, and warns young men to beware of
temptation. He is as genial as a hair-sofa; and he is seldom found out by
the public unless some financial crash in general affairs uncovers his
cheating, which lies most often beyond the law's reach; and because he
cannot be put in jail, he quite honestly believes heaven is his
destination. We see less of him since we have ceased to be a religious
country, religion no longer being an essential disguise for him. The
Southern type, with his unction and his juleps, is better company, unless
he is the hero of too many of his own anecdotes. He is commonly the
possessor of a poetic gaze, a mane of silvery hair, and a noble neck. As
war days and cotton-factor days recede into a past more and more filmed
over with romance, he too grows rare among us, and I regret it, for he
was in truth a picturesque figure. General Rieppe was perfect.
At first I was sorry that the distance they were from me rendered hearing
what they were saying impossible; very soon, however, the frame of my
open window provided me with a living picture which would have been
actually spoiled had the human voice disturbed its eloquent pantomime.
General Rieppe's daughter responded to her father's caress but languidly,
turning to him her face, with its luminous, stationary beauty. He pointed
to the house, and then waved his hand toward the bench where she sat; and
she, in response to this, nodded slightly. Upon which the General, after
another kiss of histrionic paternity administered to her forehead, left
her sitting and proceeded along the garden walk at a stately pace, until
I could no longer see him. Hortense, left alone upon the bench, looked
down at the folds of her dress, extended a hand and slowly rearranged one
of them, and then, with the same hand, felt her hair from front to back.
This had scarce been accomplished when the General reappeared, ushering
Juno along the walk, and bearing a chair with him. When they turned the
corner at the arbor, Hortense rose, and greetings ensued. Few objects
could be straighter than was Juno's back; her card-case was in her hand,
but her pocket was not quite large enough for the whole of her pride,
which stuck out so that it could have been seen from a greater distance
than my window. The General would have departed, placing his chair for
the visitor, when Hortense waved for him an inviting hand toward the
bench beside her; he waved a similarly inviting hand, looking at Juno,
who thereupon sat firmly down upon the chair. At this the General hovered
heavily, looking at his daughter, who gave him no look in return, as she
engaged in conversation with Juno; and presently the General left them.
Juno's back and Hortense's front, both entirely motionless as they
interviewed each other' presented a stiff appearance, with Juno half
turned in her seat and Hortense's glance following her slight movement;
the two then rose, as the General came down the walk with two chairs and
Mrs. Gregory and Mrs. Weguelin St. Michael. Juno, with a bow to them,
approached Hortense by a step or two, a brief touch of their fingers was
to be seen, and Juno's departure took place, attended by the heavy
hovering of General Rieppe.
"That's why!" I said to myself aloud, suddenly, at my open window.
Immediately, however, I added, "but can it be?" And in my mind a whole
little edifice of reasons for Hortense's apparent determination to marry
John instantly fabricated itself--and then fell down.
Through John she was triumphantly bringing stiff Kings Port to her, was
forcing them to accept her. But this was scarce enough temptation for
Hortense to marry; she could do very well without Kings Port--indeed, she
was not very likely to show herself in it, save to remind them, now and
then, that she was there, and that they could not keep her out any more;
this might amuse her a little, but the society itself would not amuse her
in the least. What place had it for her to smoke her cigarettes in?
Eliza La Heu, then? Spite? The pleasure of taking something that somebody
else wanted? The pleasure of spoiling somebody else's pleasure? Or, more
accurately, the pleasure of power? Well, yes; that might be it, if
Hortense Rieppe were younger in years, and younger, especially, in soul;
but her museum was too richly furnished with specimens of the chase, she
had collected too many bits and bibelots from life's Hotel Druot and the
great bazaar of female competition, to pay so great a price as marriage
for merely John; particularly when a lady, even in Newport, can have but
one husband at a time in her collection. If she did actually love John,
as Beverly Rodgers had reluctantly come to believe, it was most
inappropriate in her! Had I followed out the train of reasoning which lay
coiled up inside the word inappropriate, I might have reached the
solution which eventually Hortense herself gave me, and the jewelled
recesses of her nature would have blazed still more brilliantly to my
eyes to-day; but in truth, my soul wasn't old enough yet to work Hortense
out by itself, unaided!
While Mrs. Gregory and Mrs. Weguelin sat on their chairs, and Hortense
sat on her bench, tea was brought and a table laid, behind whose
whiteness and silver Hortense began slight offices with cups and sugar
tongs. She looked inquiry at her visitors, in answer to which Mrs.
Gregory indicated acceptance, and Mrs. Weguelin refusal. The beauty of
Hortense's face had strangely increased since the arrival of these two
visitors. It shone resplendent behind the silver and the white cloth, and
her movement, as she gave the cup to Mrs. Gregory St. Michael, was one of
complete grace and admirable propriety. But once she looked away from
them in the direction of the path. Her two visitors rose and left her,
Mrs. Gregory setting her tea-cup down with a gesture that said she would
take no more, and, after their bows of farewell, Hortense sat alone again
pulling about the tea things.
I saw that by the table lay a card-case on the ground, evidently dropped
by Mrs. Gregory; but Hortense could not see it where she sat. Her quick
look along the path heralded more company and the General with more
chairs. Young people now began to appear, the various motions of whom
were more animated than the approaches and greetings and farewells of
their elders; chairs were moved and exchanged, the General was useful in
handling cups, and a number of faces unknown to me came and went, some of
them elderly ones whom I had seen in church, or passed while walking; the
black dresses of age mingled with the brighter colors of youth; and on
her bench behind the cups sat Hortense, or rose up at right moments,
radiant, restrained and adequate, receiving with deferential attention
the remarks of some dark-clothed elder, or, with sufficiently interested
countenance, inquiring something from a brighter one of her own
generation; but twice I saw her look up the garden path. None of them
stayed long, although when they were all gone the shadow of the garden
wall had come as far as the arbor; and once again Hortense sat alone
behind the table, leaning back with arms folded, and looking straight in
front of her. At last she stirred, and rose slowly, and then, with a
movement which was the perfection of timidity, began to advance, as John,
with his Aunt Eliza, came along the path. To John, Hortense with familiar
yet discreet brightness gave a left hand, as she waited for the old lady;
and then the old lady went through with it. What that embrace of
acknowledgment cost her cannot be measured, and during its process John
stood like a sentinel. Possibly this was the price of his forgiveness to
his Aunt Eliza.
The visitors accepted tea, and the beauty in Hortense's face was now
supreme. The old lady sat, forgetting to drink her tea, but very still in
outward attitude, as she talked with Hortense; and the sight of one hand
in its glove lying motionless upon her best dress, suddenly almost drew
unexpected tears to my eyes. John was nearly as quiet as she, but the
glove that he held was twisted between his fingers. I expected that he
would stay with his Hortense when his aunt took her leave; he, however,
was evidently expected by the old lady to accompany her out and back, I
suppose, to her house, as was proper.
But John's departure from Hortense differed from his meeting her. She
gave no left hand to him now; she gazed at him, and then, as the old lady
began to go toward the house, she moved a step toward him, and then she
cast herself into his arms! It was no acting, this, no skilful simulation;
her head sank upon his shoulder, and true passion spoke in every line
of that beautiful surrendered form, as it leaned against her lover's.
"So that's why!" I exclaimed, once more aloud.
It was but a moment; and John, released, followed Miss Eliza. The old
lady walked slowly, with that half-failing step that betokens the body's
weariness after great mental or moral strain. Indeed, as John regained
her side, she put her arm in his as if her feebleness needed his support.
Thus they went away together, the aunt and her beloved boy, who had so
sorely grieved and disappointed her.
But if this sight touched me, this glimpse of the vanquished leaving the
field after supreme acknowledgment of defeat, upon Hortense it wrought
another effect altogether. She stood looking after them, and as she
looked, the whole woman from head to foot, motionless as she was, seemed
to harden. Yet still she looked, until at length, slowly turning, her
eyes chanced to fall upon Mrs. Gregory St. Michael's card-case. There it
lay, the symbol of Kings Port's capitulation. She swooped down and up
with a flying curve of grace, holding her prey caught; and then, catching
also her handsome skirts on either side, she danced like a whirling fan
among the empty chairs.
XVIII: Again the Replacers
But a little while, and all that I had just witnessed in such vivid
dumb-show might have seemed to me in truth some masque; so smooth had it
been, and voiceless, coming and going like a devised fancy. And after the
last of the players was gone from the stage, leaving the white cloth, and
the silver, and the cups, and the groups of chairs near the pleasant
arbor, I watched the deserted garden whence the sunlight was slowly
departing, and it seemed to me more than ever like some empty and
charming scene in a playhouse, to which the comedians would in due time
return to repeat their delicate pantomime. But these were mental
indulgences, with which I sat playing until the sight of my interrupted
letter to Aunt Carola on the table before me brought the reality of
everything back into my thoughts; and I shook my head over Miss Eliza. I
remembered that hand of hers, lying in despondent acquiescence upon her
lap, as the old lady sat in her best dress, formally and faithfully
accepting the woman whom her nephew John had brought upon them as his
bride-elect--formally and faithfully accepting this distasteful person,
and thus atoning as best she could to her beloved nephew for the wrong
that her affection had led her to do him in that ill-starred and
inexcusable tampering with his affairs.
But there was my letter waiting. I took my pen, and finished what I had
to say about the negro and the injustice we had done to him, as well as
to our own race, by the Fifteenth Amendment. I wrote:--
"I think Northerners must often seem to these people strangely obtuse in
their attitude. And they deserve such opinion, since all they need to do
is come here and see for themselves what the War did to the South.
"You may have a perfectly just fight with a man and beat him rightly; but
if you are able to go on with your work next day, while his health is so
damaged that for a long while he limps about as a cripple, you must not
look up from your busy thriving and reproach him with his helplessness,
and remind him of its cause; nor must you be surprised that he remembers
the fight longer than you have time for. I know that the North meant to
be magnanimous, that the North was magnanimous, that the spirit of Grant
at Appomattox filled many breasts; and I know that the magnanimity was
not met by those who led the South after Lee's retirement, and before
reconstruction set in, and that the Fifteenth Amendment was brought on by
their own doings: when have two wrongs made a right? And to place the
negro above these people was an atrocity. You cannot expect them to
inquire very industriously how magnanimous this North meant to be, when
they have suffered at her hands worse, far worse, than France suffered
from Germany's after 1870.
"I do think there should be a different spirit among some of the
later-born, but I have come to understand even the slights and suspicions
from which I here and there suffer, since to their minds, shut in by
circumstance, I'm always a 'Yankee.'
"We are prosperous; and prosperity does not bind, it merely assembles
people--at dinners and dances. It is adversity that binds--beside the
gravestone, beneath the desolated roof. Could you come here and see what
I have seen, the retrospect of suffering, the long, lingering
convalescence, the small outlook of vigor to come, and the steadfast
sodality of affliction and affection and fortitude, your kind but
unenlightened heart would be wrung, as mine has been, and is being, at
After I had posted this reply to Aunt Carola, I had some fears that my
pen had run away with me, and that she might now descend upon me with
that reproof which she knew so well how to exercise in cases of
disrespect. But there was actually a certain pathos in her mildness when
it came. She felt it her duty to go over a good deal of history first,
"I do not understand the present generation," she finished, "and I
suppose that I was not meant to."
The little sigh in these words did great credit to Aunt Carola.
This vindication off my mind, and relieved by it of the more general
thoughts about Kings Port and the South, which the pantomime of Kings
Port's forced capitulation to Hortense had raised in me, I returned to
the personal matters between that young woman and John, and Charley. How
much did Charley know? How much would Charley stand? How much would John
stand, if he came to know?
Well, the scene in the garden now helped me to answer these questions
much better than I could have answered them before its occurrence. With
one fact--the great fact of love--established, it was not difficult to
account for at least one or two of the several things that puzzled me.
There could be no doubt that Hortense loved John Mayrant, loved him
beyond her own control. When this love had begun, made no matter. Perhaps
it began on the bridge, when the money was torn, and Eliza La Heu had
appeared. The Kings Port version of Hortense's indifference to John
before the event of the phosphates might well enough be true. It might
even well enough be true that she had taken him and his phosphates at
Newport for lack of anything better at hand, and because she was sick of
disappointed hopes. In this case, Charley's subsequent appearance as
something very much better (if the phosphates were to fail) would
perfectly explain the various postponements of the wedding.
So I was able to answer my questions to myself thus: How much did Charley
know?--Just what he could see for himself, and what he had most likely
heard from Newport gossip. He could have heard of an old engagement, made
purely for money's sake, and of recent delays created by the lady; and he
could see the gentleman--an impossible husband from a Wall Street
standpoint!--to whom Hortense was evidently tempering her final refusal
by indulgently taking an interest in helping along his phosphate fortune.
Charley would not refuse to lend her his aid in this estimable
benevolence; nor would it occur to Charley's sensibilities how such
benevolence would be taken by John if John were not "taken" himself. Yes,
Charley was plainly fooled, and fooled the more readily because he had
the old version of the truth. How should he suspect there was a revised
version? How should he discover that passion had now changed sides, that
it was now John who allowed himself to be loved? The signs of this did
not occur before his eyes. Of course, Charley would not stay fooled
forever; the hours of that were numbered,--but their number was quite
beyond my guessing!
How much would Charley stand? He would stand a good deal, because the
measure of his toleration was the measure of his desire for Hortense; and
it was plain that he wanted her very much indeed. But how much would John
stand? How soon would his "fire-eating" traditions produce a "difficulty"?
Why had they not done this already? Well, the garden had in some way
helped me to frame a fairly reasonable answer for this also. Poor
Hortense had become as powerless to woo John to warmth as poor Venus had
been with Adonis; and passion, in changing sides, had advanced the boy's
knowledge. He knew now the difference between the embraces of his lady
when she had merely wanted his phosphates, and these other caresses now
that, she wanted him. In his ceaseless search for some possible loophole
of escape, his eye could not have overlooked the chance that lay in
Charley, and he was far too canny to blast his forlorn hope. He had
probably wondered what had changed the nature of Hortense's caresses, and
the adventure of the torn money could scarce have failed to suggest
itself to the mind of a youth who, little as he had trodden the ways of
the world, evidently possessed some lively instincts regarding the nature
of women. To batter Charley as he had battered Juno's nephew, might
result in winding the arms of Hortense around his own neck more tightly
Why Hortense should keep Charley "on" any longer, was what I could least
fathom, but I trusted her to have excellent reasons for anything that she
did. "It's sure to be quite simple, once you know it," I told myself; and
the near future proved me to be right.
Thus I laid most of my enigmas to rest; there was but one which now and
then awakened still. Were Hortense a raw girl of eighteen, I could easily
grant that the "fire-eater" in John would be sure to move her. But
Hortense had travelled many miles away from the green forests of romance;
her present fields were carpeted, not with grass and flowers, but with
Oriental mats and rugs, and it was electric lights, not the moon and
stars, that shone upon her highly seasoned nights. No, torn money and
all, it was not appropriate in a woman of her experience; and so I still
found myself inquiring in the words of Beverly Rodgers, "But what can she
want him for?"
The next time that I met Mrs. Gregory St. Michael it was on my way to
join the party at the old church, which Mrs. Weguelin was going to show
them. The card-case was in her hand, and the sight of it prompted me to
allude to Hortense Rieppe.
"I find her beauty growing upon me?" I declared.
Mrs. Gregory did not deny the beauty, although she spoke with reserve at
first. "It is to be said that she knows how to write a suitable note,"
the lady also admitted.
She didn't tell me what the note was about, naturally; but I could
imagine with what joy in the exercise of her art Hortense had constructed
that communication which must have accompanied the prompt return of the
Then Mrs. Gregory's tongue became downright. "Since you're able to see so
much of her, why don't you tell her to marry that little steam-yacht
gambler? I'm sure he's dying to, and he's just the thing for her?"
"Ah," I returned, "Love so seldom knows what's just the thing for
"Then your precocity theory falls," declared Mrs. St. Michael. And as she
went away from me along the street, I watched her beautiful stately walk;
for who could help watching a sight so good?
Charley, then, was no secret to John's people. Was John still a secret to
Charley? Could Hortense possibly have managed this? I hoped for a chance
to observe the two men with her during the visit of Mrs. Weguelin St.
Michael and her party to the church.
This party was already assembled when I arrived upon the spot appointed.
In the street, a few paces from the church, stood Bohm and Charley and
Kitty and Gazza, with Beverly Rodgers, who, as I came near, left them and
"Oh, she's somewhere off with her fire-eater," responded Beverly to my
immediate inquiry for Hortense. "Do you think she was asked, old man?"
Probably not, I thought. "But she goes so well with the rest," I
Beverly gave his chuckle. "She goes where she likes. She'll meet us here
when we're finished, I'm pretty sure."
"Why such certainty?"
"Well, she has to attend to Charley, you know!"
Mrs. Weguelin, it appeared, had met the party here by the church, but had
now gone somewhere in the immediate neighborhood to find out why the gate
was not opened to admit us, and to hasten the unpunctual custodian of the
keys. I had not looked for precisely such a party as Mrs. Weguelin's
invitation had gathered, nor could I imagine that she had fully
understood herself what she was gathering; and this I intimated to
Beverly Rodgers, saying:--
"Do you suppose, my friend, that she suspected the feather of the birds
you flock with?"
Beverly took it lightly. "Hang it, old boy, of course everybody can't be
as nice as I am!" But he took it less lightly before it was over.
We stood chatting apart, he and I, while Bohm and Charley and Kitty and
Gazza walked across the street to the window of a shop, where old
furniture was for sale at a high price; and it grew clearer to me what
Beverly had innocently brought upon Mrs. Weguelin, and how he had brought
it. The little quiet, particular lady had been pleased with his visit,
and pleased with him. His good manners, his good appearance, his good
English-trained voice, all these things must have been extremely to her
taste; and then--more important than they--did she not know about his
people? She had inquired, he told me, with interest about two of his
uncles, whom she had last seen in 1858. "She's awfully the right sort,"
said Beverly. Yes, I saw well how that visit must have gone: the gentle
old lady reviving in Beverly's presence, and for the sake of being civil
to him, some memories of her girlhood, some meetings with those uncles,
some dances with them; and generally shedding from her talk and manner
the charm of some sweet old melody--and Beverly, the facile, the
appreciative, sitting there with her at a correct, deferential angle on
his chair, admirably sympathetic and in good form, and playing the old
school. (He had no thought to deceive her; the old school was his by
right, and genuinely in his blood, he took to it like a duck to the
water.) How should Mrs. Weguelin divine that he also took to the nouveau
jeu to the tune of Bohm and Charley and Kitty and Gazza? And so, to show
him some attention, and because she couldn't ask him to a meal, why, she
would take him over the old church, her colonial forefathers'; she would
tell him the little legends about them; he was precisely the young man to
appreciate such things--and she would be pleased if he would also bring
the friends with whom he was travelling.
I looked across the street at Bohm and Charley and Kitty and Gazza. They
were now staring about them in all their perfection of stare: small
Charley in a sleek slate-colored suit, as neat as any little barber;
Bohm, massive, portentous, his strong shoes and gloves the chief note in
his dress, and about his whole firm frame a heavy mechanical strength, a
look as of something that did something rapidly and accurately when set
going--cut or cracked or ground or smashed something better and faster
than it had ever been cut or cracked or ground or smashed before, and
would take your arms and legs off if you didn't stand well back from it;
it was only in Bohm's eye and lips that you saw he wasn't made entirely
of brass and iron, that champagne and shoulders decolletes received a
punctual share of his valuable time. And there was Kitty, too, just the
wife for Bohm, so soon as she could divorce her husband, to whom she had
united herself before discovering that all she married him for, his old
Knickerbocker name, was no longer in the slightest degree necessary for
social acceptance; while she could feed people, her trough would be well
thronged. Kitty was neat, Kitty was trig, Kitty was what Beverly would
call "swagger "; her skilful tailor-made clothes sheathed her closely and
gave her the excellent appearance of a well-folded English umbrella; it
was in her hat that she had gone wrong--a beautiful hat in itself, one
which would have wholly become Hortense; but for poor Kitty it didn't do
at all. Yes, she was a well folded English umbrella, only the umbrella
had for its handle the head of a bulldog or the leg of a ballet-dancer.
And these were the Replacers whom Beverly's clear-sighted eyes saw
swarming round the temple of his civilization, pushing down the aisles,
climbing over the backs of the benches, walking over each other's bodies,
and seizing those front seats which his family had sat in since New York
had been New York; and so the wise fellow very prudently took every step
that would insure the Replacers' inviting him to occupy one of his own
chairs. I had almost forgotten little Gazza, the Italian nobleman, who
sold old furniture to new Americans. Gazza was not looking at the old
furniture of Kings Port, which must have filled his Vatican soul with
contempt; he was strolling back and forth in the street, with his head in
the air, humming, now loudly, now softly "La-la, la-la, E quando a la
predica in chiesa siederia, la-la-la-la;" and I thought to myself that,
were I the Pope, I should kick him into the Tiber.
When Mrs. Weguelin St. Michael came back with the keys and their
custodian, Bohm was listening to the slow, clear words of Charley, in
which he evidently found something that at length interested him--a
little. Bohm, it seemed, did not often speak himself: possibly once a
week. His way was to let other people speak to him when there were signs
in his face that he was hearing anything which they said, it was a high
compliment to them, and of course Charley could command Bohm's ear; for
Charley, although he was as neat as any barber, and let Hortense walk on
him because he looked beyond that, and purposed to get her, was just as
potent in the financial world as Bohm, could bring a borrowing empire to
his own terms just as skillfully as could Bohm; was, in short, a man
after Bohm's own--I had almost said heart: the expression is so
obstinately embedded in our language! Bohm, listening, and Charley,
talking, had neither of them noticed Mrs. Weguelin's arrival; they stood
ignoring her, while she waited, casting a timid eye upon them. But
Beverly, suddenly perceiving this, and begging her pardon for them,
brought the party together, and we moved in among the old graves.
"Ah!" said Gazza, bending to read the quaint words cut upon one of them,
as we stopped while the door at the rear of the church was being opened,
"It was the mother-tongue of these colonists," Mrs. Weguelin explained to
"Ah! like Canada!" cried Gazza. "But what a pretty bit is that!" And he
stood back to admire a little glimpse, across a street, between tiled
roofs and rusty balconies, of another church steeple. "Almost, one would
say, the Old World," Gazza declared.
"Our world is not new," said Mrs. Weguelin; and she passed into the
Kings Port holds many sacred nooks, many corners, many vistas, that
should deeply stir the spirit and the heart of all Americans who know and
love their country. The passing traveller may gaze up at certain windows
there, and see History herself looking out at him, even as she looks out
of the windows of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. There are also other
ancient buildings in Kings Port, where History is shut up, as in a