A Marriage Below Zero/Chapter IV
Arthur Ravener called to "see mamma" a few days later, at least that was the nominal object of his visit, I believe. There is a great deal of humbug about us Londoners. In America young men when they are slightly smitten call upon a girl openly and without beating about the bush; here they ask to see the papas, and the mammas, and the brothers, and the duennas, and everybody but the person they really want.
The idea of any young man deliberately calling to see mamma was so ludicrous, that when I heard of it I laughed. I knew he had come to see me, and I should have thought all the more of him if he had admitted the fact like a man. I was studying hard when I heard him go into the library. I was not puzzling over mathematics, or physics, but was extremely engrossed in a cook-book. I had made a tart, the crust of which was so hideously and irrepressibly solid, that "when I had tried to insert a knife in it, the contents of the plate had flown ceilingwards, and cook had looked at me sardonically happy. I hated the woman for that look. I went into the library with a little dab of jam on my cheek, and I was too lazy to worry about it. It was a big room, filled with exquisitely bound books. Dear mamma was very anxious that every volume should be beautifully leather-covered. The contents of the covers were a secondary consideration. It was the correct thing to have a library. It was a good place into which to usher people.
"I thought I would just run in to see if you had recovered from your fatigue of the other night," he said, after we had exchanged salutations.
"Is that why you wished to see mamma?" I asked demurely.
"Of course," he answered. "Mrs. Bouverie might prefer to give me the information herself."
"She couldn't," I declared rather boisterously, "for the simple reason that she never knew that I was fatigued. As a matter of fact I was not. I was bored. The only pleasant part of the evening was furnished by you. There is a compliment for you, before you have been in the house five minutes."
I was very lively indeed, but the arrival of mamma dampened my ardor. She sailed into the room, and seemed extremely pleased to see Mr. Ravener. She liked young men, and always treated them graciously. She did not stay long, however, but begged to be excused. Some girls might have considered this a delicate and motherly piece of consideration. I did not. I had nothing to say to Arthur Ravener or any other young man that might not have been published in the daily papers if the editors had seen fit to inflict it upon their readers. He took one arm chair and I sat opposite. I did not feel at all called upon to talk about the weather and other pleasantly conventional topics. Mr. Ravener had certainly made a most favorable impression upon my maidenly heart.
"You are all over jam, Miss Bouverie," he remarked, as I sat down.
"Don't remind me of my troubles," said I, "I have been cooking very unsuccessfully, and I feel miserable. By the bye, pardon my rudeness in forgetting to ask after the health of Captain Dillington."
There had been a smile on his face as I began my speech. It froze at once—as they say in the novels. A pained blush spread itself slowly over his face. "Captain Dillington," he said deliberately, "is well. Why are you so interested in him?"
"Only because you are," I replied flippantly. "It is the mutual attachment of you two young men that interests me. I think I told you so before, Mr. Ravener."
There was silence for a long time. It was not an eloquent silence. I employed a few leisure moments in removing the jam from my face. He bit his small moustache, as young men often do, more I believe to show that they have one to bite, than because they like it.
"Miss Bouverie," said Arthur Ravener, "you say you were interested in me because you found that I did not pay you silly compliments, and talk nonsense. Now don't think me impertinent, if I tell you that I rejoice in the fact that I have met somebody who does not care for such nonsense. Perhaps you will like it better when you are older"—regretfully.
"Never," said I. All the jam was now removed, and though I felt sticky, no one could guess that fact.
"Do you think a young man and woman aught to converse as though they were brother and sister—platonically, I mean?"
"Mr. Ravener," said I, pettishly, "I do not intend to talk metaphysics with you. I have ideas of my own. I like a man, if I have to meet him often, to talk sense."
"Suppose you fell in love?"—tentatively.
"Yes," said I, trying hard to blush a little and failing in a most abject manner. "You are rather impertinent, Mr. Ravener, but no matter. If I ever fell in love, I should see no necessity for discussing it with my 'loved one.' I should not like him any better if he deared and darlinged me. I think I should despise him. I know some people must be demonstrative. Letty Bishop kisses her father about sixteen times in the course of an evening. I suppose she likes it, but it always seems to me very unnecessary. I cannot imagine myself kissing mamma, even if—even if—" I hesitated.
"Even if what?" he asked, unpardonably interested.
"Never mind," sharply. "I was going to reveal family matters to a stranger. You are a stranger, you know. I was going to say—don't think me awful—that I cannot imagine myself kissing mamma even if she did not powder."
He looked rather shocked at my frankness, and I respected him for it. He did not smile, and I went back to my theme. "I could not be demonstrative," I declared. "It seems to me so dreadfully coarse. I flatter myself that I am extremely matter-of-fact."
"I thought so," he said, "and so did—" He stopped in some slight confusion, and reddened in that most provoking manner that people have.
"So did who?" I asked.
"I was merely going to say—"
"Mr. Ravener," I said deliberately. "I want to know who else thought as you did about me."
I suppose he saw I was somewhat determined. "Captain Dillington," he answered in a low tone.
I was thoroughly displeased, and most unreasonably so. Only a few moments previously there was I declaring that the intense friendship of these two young men was something I admired. Now I felt vexed because these boon companions should discuss a girl in whom one of them confessed that he was interested. Men are right when they say one should never expect logic from a woman. I place myself at the head of the unreasonable list.
"You are vexed?" he asked, really troubled.
"Not a bit," promptly. Women cannot reason, but no one can beat them at fibbing. (Fibbing is a polite word for it.)
He seemed relieved. "Do you know, Miss Bouverie," he said as he rose to go, " I can talk to you, as I can to no other girl. That is a positive fact. I don't feel that the instant I leave you, you will run to some feminine bosom and dissect me."
"I shouldn't care enough about you to do that," I said rudely. Could anything have been more impolite? If he could have done anything to increase the good impression he had made upon me, he did it then by simply laughing in a hearty, boyish manner, without an atom of vexation apparent. I had used words of the same purport to partners at some of the hateful parties I had attended, and had been greeted with "Cruel Miss Bouverie"; "Oh, Miss Bouverie, you do not mean it"; "You treat me very badly, Miss Bouverie."
How they annoyed me, those men. I must confess that Arthur Ravener was rapidly becoming more than interesting. Frankness is one of my characteristics.