« AnkstesnisTęsti »
learned they were Mr. Hector Ghillamoor and Mr. Reginald Dux, who, with Mr. Ghillamoor's wife and child, occupied the "royal suite."
"And may one ask," he mildly inquired, "what are these young gentlemen's vocations?"
The card-players looked at him in amazement till one exploded:
"Ha, ha! That 's a good one! A neat little knock, eh, boys?"
Hector Ghillamoor was a herculean, swarthy young man with the low, sloping forehead, short nose, and heavy jaw of a gladiator. His small eyes, sunken behind his high cheek-bones, habitually looked forth with a calm disdain. When he smiled there was something contemptuous about his large mouth. But he had, all the same, a name for the utmost goodnature in his own circle, where he lived a life of strenuous pleasure-seeking and sport. He was said to be very well off -even wealthier than Reginald Dux.
The latter, younger than Hector Ghillamoor, was about twenty-five years old. Not so tall, more nearly slight, he showed a fair skin. In his agreeable face the hauteur due to his aquiline nose and drooping eyelids was counteracted by the easy-going curve of his lips. Now, when he noticed the interest he had excited, those lips of his began to twitch with an irrepressible smile, not so much of amusement as from the stirring of vanity.
The truth is, his father had not become a millionaire till the boy was in his teens, so to-day the latter could hardly help being flattered when he imagined any one saying, "That is the socially prominent, the rich, young Reginald Dux." These sensations, however, were not entirely owing to snobbishness. At heart he was still so sensitive to public opinion that any approbative attention sent through him a warm glow. In fact, since childhood had tried to leave him, also, a legacy of emotionalism, he might, with another father, have been an actor.
Mr. Goodchild wondered if he had not seen those two come aboard at New York with a willowy young woman, a pretty
child, and three or four servants. But where had they kept themselves all this time?
"Ah," drawled one of the poker-players, viciously dealing the cards, “you forget, sir, that if those kinds of folks were to mingle with us, we might give 'em the pip or something."
"I pass," said another. "As for them, I guess there is n't a soul on board that they 've spoken to outside the stewards."
"Kindly try to dole me three queens this time. Nor what's more, that they will speak to while this here galumping caravel sails the sea."
But the following night-the last night out of sight of land-it came about that Reginald Dux spoke to Thallie.
Alone she had climbed to the boat-deck to say good night to the ocean. She found a secluded spot well forward, beside a life-boat. Leaning over the rail, she looked out at the horizon, where sky was distinguished from sea by the clear blue twinkle of stars. On the morrow the mystery of that level union of air and water would be dispelled: the strange shores would loom forth; the long-sought future, with all its promises, would begin to merge into the present. Perhaps, at the same time, all the anticipations of girlhood would change to experience.
She was startled by a creaking sound that issued from the life-boat above her. A young man in a dinner-jacket, legs swinging over the gunwale, face vague in the starlight, stared down at her in surprise.
"I beg your pardon!"
His voice was rather high and throaty; he clipped short his words even while pronouncing them precisely; his utterance was easy, amiable, and somehow unusual.
"I must have fallen asleep," he confessed. "These boat-covers make such jolly hammocks."
Had he dropped from the sky? With a nervous laugh, she risked the pleasantry: "Are you a stowaway?"
"Give you my word, I should n't have been if I'd known about you."
Sliding down to the deck, leaning
gracefully against a davit, he smiled at her, half cavalier, half mischievous boy. "Why did n't you wander up here the first part of the trip?"
"The first part of the trip," Thallie stammered, "I was ill." And at once she felt herself blushing.
"Ouch! So was I. And that's one more overrated pastime, is n't it? But when a fellow tries to murder his constitution the last night ashore, he can't complain if he has to pay toll to Mr. Wave." Lighting a cigarette, he stared at her across the flaming match. "By George, what bully hair! Am I still asleep? Mind pinching me?"
"Good night," gasped Thallie, and turned to flee.
"Oh, I say, if you go down now, you'll break up the whole party! Let's stay awake another hour and ruin our health. Let's pace the quarter-deck with knitted brows. 'Damn the torpedoes!' and all that sort of thing, what? Cigarette?" "No, thanks." "Tango?" "N-no."
"Why so cruel? We might have a quiet cavort up here and take turns at whistling the tune. I do need the exercise."
"I never met any one like you in my life!"
"Affability, that 's wot it is. No 'arm, just affability.' Come on; let 's romp about while we 're still young."
With a reluctance at least half-genuine, with a vague trepidation, a feeling almost like guilt, she began to stroll with him round the boat-deck.
He soon made her laugh again. He patronized the stars, pretended to find constellations with ridiculous names, asked her if she would like him to fit the ship's propellers to a pontoon and take her aëroplaning round Venus. Demanding where she was going to stay in Paris, he threatened to bring the band from Maxime's to play every night under her window. He, for his part, was going to remain in Europe till he got bored.
His jests, his informality, through
which now and then flirtatiousness threatened to show, his good looks, and attire, and debonair carriage that neatly escaped a swagger, all ended by fascinating Thallie. She was even pleased when he began to reveal a certain good-natured condescension of manner. A companion so winning, in such romantic surroundings! Half closing her eyes, she found it quite natural to picture a honeymoon voyage illumined by stars like these, with a lover as fine as this young man by her side, whose name she did not know.
Leaning against the rail, they stared out over the waves.
"Good old Nature!" he said. "She sets the stage rather well to-night, what?" She felt sure this careless speech masked a sentimentalism intensely congenial to her own.
"The sea is so wonderful!" she sighed. "Right!"
"When I think of all the marvelous things that are waiting for us off there!" "Paris, eh? Rue de la Paix, and all that?"
"Think of the Louvre!"
"Oh, so you 're keen on art?"
"I won't." A silence. "And now I must go."
"We'll have the moon in a minute." He put his hand over hers, which lay on the rail, and suddenly his face grew serious, nearly solemn. His teasing, trifling impulses shredded away. The worldly difference between them, which he had long since divined, which even Thallie was beginning to realize, ceased all at once to exist, as the furniture of a splendid room disappears with the modest hat on the table when the light is blown out. For that instant they were simply maiden and youth contemplating each other in the starlit solitude with the delicate, swift, half-shy avidity of spring.
"Good night," she said breathlessly, and ran down the ladder. But on the promenade-deck, repenting of that quick
flight, she wondered if she had offended him.
In the sisters' small cabin Thallie went silently to bed. A long while she lay awake in her narrow upper berth, unsoothed by the gentle lift of the ship or the soft, steady breathing of Aglaia and Frossie. Her wide-open eyes again visualized his face; his careless, warm-toned speech sounded still in her ears. Every trivial remark she recalled and considered; and in his countenance, his voice, his words, she could find not the slightest flaw. Who was he? Why had she met him only to-night? Would she see him. to-morrow, in Paris, elsewhere, too? She believed she would see him again many times. She fell asleep at last with a smile on her lips.
Next morning sea-gulls were thick astern; the sky-line was threaded with tiny sails; above the horizon dark smoke formed diagonal, intersecting lines. The ship's isolation was ended.
At last they drew in to Plymouthwhite cliffs, budding green, a climbing town of quaint aspect; then off again, up the channel, toward France.
Cherbourg! The tender, piled high with trunks, lay alongside the ship. From across the waves breakwaters reached out, as if to embrace and draw in the voyagers toward the low-lying city between them. The Goodchild family, staring and pointing, inhaled with delight the air of this new land, that seemed to them like the air of another world. But amid the bustling passengers Thallie had not discerned the young man of the boat-deck.
Mme. Linkow appeared, more majestic than ever in her shore-going costume, a- rustle with silk, a-jingle with golden trinkets, her maid and a queue of heavilyladen stewards trailing behind. When she saw Aurelius and the three Graces her eyes grew soft, as who should think: "Poor innocents! It is I who must see them safe in some nest at Paris to-night!" She approached them with her dazzling, maternal smile.
"So, you were waiting for me? How nice of you!"
They descended the ladder together. The tender bore them off toward the shore. They gazed back with a vague affection at the great ship that had brought them safe over the sea, that they saw now for the first time in perspective. They drew in to the quay, and just as the hawsers curled through the air, Thalia perceived, at the other end of the tender, her boat-deck friend.
He was with a big, sulky-looking young man, a pretty little girl, and a smart-looking lady. The sunshine seemed less bright as Thallie observed that slender woman of twenty-eight, on whose face petulance was gradually eclipsed by a smile. It was he who was making her laugh! Worse still, he was so intent on keeping her laughing that never once did he turn his head!
In the scramble off the boat, through the custom-house, into the train, she lost him again. And even in the station at Paris he failed to pass by with the crowd. "But he knows where we 're going to stay."
They were going to stay at an old hotel near the Gare St. Lazare. Mme. Linkow, before setting out to visit friends in Versailles, herself arranged their accommodations.
"And so, if we need each other no more for a little, auf wiedersehen!" She gave each of the girls a resounding kiss on the cheek, clasped Mr. Goodchild's hand, sailed out to her taxicab, and was gone.
"How good she is! What would we have done without her!"
"Well, anyway, here we are."
They went down to dinner a-flutter, still feeling at every step the motion of the ship.
That hotel maintained rather mustily the atmosphere of the Third Empire. In its public parlors, still furnished with black walnut and plush, even the chandeliers recalled a period of tasteless flamboyance. And the courtesy of grave,
elderly servants completed the suggestion of an old palace, once given up to crinoline balls, now going to seed.
The table d'hôte room was occupied by commercial travelers from Belgium and Germany, bourgeois families, provincial bridal couples. Nearly all wore napkins under their chins, and chased the rich sauces round their plates with a crust. Rising, at last, with congested, cheerful faces, they marched out, picking their teeth.
Finally, replete themselves, the Goodchilds donned hats and wraps, to brave the strange thoroughfares.
Through the shadows of Rue Auber loomed the opera-house: Aglaia dreamed of success. As the Louvre raised its long rows of window-panes beside the Seine, Thallie thought of the masterpieces hidden there, which she was to emulate. And when, from a bridge, they peered across misty water at the dim bulk of Notre Dame, Euphrosyne saw herself writing romances in which the heroics of Esmeralda were far surpassed.
Aurelius, on the other hand, kept wondering if he was awake. "It's a fact: this is Paris! That shadow is the Isle of the City, where Lutetia was born! Behind me is the very Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine cut off the head of Louis XVI!" And, after a while, inevitably, "But why must all this come too late for her to share it?" And then, “But who knows that she does not share itthat she is not here to-night close by our side?" A breath of air stirred his locks, and the mist, exhaled from the Seine, seemed to curl along the parapet like the flowing robes of an immaterial presence.
Back in their rooms, attired for bed, yet sure that sleep was not to be won for hours, the three Graces looked down from their windows upon the street. Before the café across the way the terrace was alive with people. The taxicabs continued to bear jolly parties here and there to unknown pleasures.
"Where is he to-night?" wondered Thallie.
But gradually the vibrations from a myriad minds, the concerted supreme impulses of that city, the influence of Paris, stole in through the windows with the
May breeze, penetrated the sisters' hearts, and filled all three with an indefinable exuberance.
A week went by, in which they blundered all over Paris. But the young man of the boat-deck failed to appear.
Why had he never called? Perhaps he was off on some excursion, or ill? Before long they might take up their own travels again without having seen him at all!
One morning when they had been in Paris a fortnight their breakfast talk developed that very topic.
Their repast-they were not inured to coffee and rolls alone-had reached the marmalade-stage. The French phrase
book lay open beside the beefsteak platter; Frossie was starting the daily round of
"Good-day, Monsieur. Is it that one can buy here of gloves, of silk, of lingerie, of shoes American?"
"If madame will give herself the pain to step by there."
"Mademoiselle, this madame desires of gloves, of silk, of lingerie, of shoes American-"
"And what good," Aglaia demanded suddenly, "will all this do us in Italy?"
A look of uneasiness crossed Mr. Goodchild's face. New habits to fathom, new tongues to struggle with, new railroads, custom-houses, hotel tariffs, and touts! Thallie faltered:
"But we have n't finished here." "Do you expect," Aglaia asked, "to check off every cobblestone?"
"I don't care; I 've always had a kind of foreboding about the Italians. Folks say they 're so dangerous."
"Plenty of others go to Italy and live through it. Besides, everybody seems to agree the best music-teachers are there."
"Oh, of course, if your music's the only thing in this family!"
"What do you say, Frossie?" Aglaia inquired.
"I'd just as soon. I've got enough atmosphere out of Paris to do my novel about King Henry of Navarre."
Thallie's lower lip quivered.
"It makes no difference to either of you that Paris is the center of painting for the whole world!"
"Then why do so many artists go to Florence, for instance?"
"Florence! I know I shall hate it." "You'll be much better able to judge about that at first-hand," Aglaia replied, her emerald eyes unnaturally serene.
Thallie hid her face against Mr. Goodchild's shiny house-jacket. Quickly his arm went round her shoulder, his heart turned over: for in that instant it seemed to him that another, long since lost, had laid her well-remembered cheek on his breast.
"My dears," said Mr. Goodchild, "I think we may very easily stay here a little while longer."
Thallie gave him a hug of gratitude. There fell a silence pervaded by surprise. It had not occurred to the sisters that the last word might lie with their father.
So they stayed on in Paris.
Thallie made a pretense, at first, of going every day to the Louvre. Drifting. into that cool, white, echoing place, she passed the marbles and bronzes, climbed the grand staircase, at last reached the picture-gallery. She let her eyes rest on Perugino's "Madonna," on Leonardo's "Belle Ferronnière," on Titian's "Entombment." She tried to analyze the elements of those hues while making with her hand little gestures in imitation of brush-strokes. But all the rest of the paintings seemed to crowd nearer, to press their details on her sight with an insupportable weight. She went off, listless, to learn how Velasquez had spread his thin pigments. But, walking close to the windows, she saw young men in spring suits sauntering through the gardens.
In the evening they went to the Théâtre Français. Mounet-Sully played in "Edipus," but not, according to Mr. Goodchild, in the true classic manner. Greek drama, the father maintained, was conceived in a spirit of lofty impersonality. The cothurni and the mask effaced the actor, and what Athenian audience would have stood the spectacle of an Edipus with bleeding eye-sockets! Then Aurelius dived head-foremost into Greek literature. He spoke of metres,-elegiac, lyric, iambic,-the Dorian and the Æolian schools, the religious origins of Hellenic verse. But his daughters, formerly quick to respond to such words, were no longer listening. Their attention was riveted on the boxes, where ladies of title, in full toilet and wearing perukes of ultra-marine and mauve, lowered their eyes at the compliments of dashing young attachés of the embassies.
Still Thallie's gaze, preoccupied, troubled, went roaming for a young man whose name she did not know. Sometimes she felt a swift, hot thrill beneath her heart; her eyes flashed through the crowds with the terrified, blissful conviction, "At last!" Then, seeing more clearly, she realized it was only another who by some trick of gesture or dress had suggested him. All her fancies of how they would meet again, what he would say, what she would say in reply, were scattered like thistle-down before a chill blast. She followed her sisters with a lassitude that presently extended to them.
They recalled Ohio, where lilac was flowering now. They remembered the studio, the theatricals of Saturday night. They stepped into a shop, and sent off some picture post-cards to the Inchkins and Dr. Numble.
And still Mme. Linkow, whom they had been so proud to call their friend, ignored them.
"After all," said Aglaia, with a bitter smile, "why should that surprise us? She has the artistic temperament. We amused her till we ceased to be a novelty. But, anyway, she might have heard me sing and given me some advice."