Confidence (London: Macmillan & Co., 1921)/Chapter 25
Bernard prepared for Gordon's arrival in Paris, which, according to his letter, would take place in a few days. He was not intending to stop in England; Blanche desired to proceed immediately to the French capital, to confer with her tailor, after which it was probable that they would go to Italy, or to the East, for the winter. "I have given her a choice of Rome or the Nile," said Gordon, "but she tells me she doesn't care a fig where we go." I say that Bernard prepared to receive his friends, and I mean that he prepared morally or even intellectually. Materially speaking, he could simply hold himself in readiness to engage an apartment at an hotel and to go to meet them at the station. He expected to hear from Gordon as soon as this interesting trio should arrive in England, but the first notification he received came from a Parisian hotel. It reached him in the shape of a hasty note, in the morning, shortly before lunch, and was to the effect that his friends had alighted in the Rue de la Paix the night before.
"We were tired, and I have slept late," Gordon wrote; "otherwise you should have heard from me earlier. Come to lunch, if possible. I want extremely to see you."
Bernard, of course, made a point of going to lunch. In as short a time as possible he found himself in Gordon's sitting-room at the Hotel Middlesex. The table was laid for the midday repast, and a gentleman stood with his back to the door, looking out of the window. As Bernard came in this gentle man turned and exhibited the ambrosial beard, the symmetrical shape, the monocular appendage, of Captain Lovelock.
The Captain screwed his glass into his eye, and greeted Bernard in his usual fashion—that is, as if he had parted with him overnight.
"Oh, good morning! Beastly morning, isn't it? I suppose you are come to luncheon—I have come to luncheon. It ought to be on table, you know—it's nearly two o'clock. But I daresay you have noticed that foreigners are never punctual—it's only English servants that are punctual. And they don't understand luncheon, you know—they can't make out our eating at this sort of hour. You know they always dine so beastly early. Do you remember the sort of time they used to dine at Baden?—half-past five, half-past six; some unearthly hour of that kind. That's the sort of time you dine in America. I found they'd invite a man at half-past six. That's what I call being in a hurry for your food. You know they always accuse the Americans of making a rush for their victuals. I am bound to say that in New York, and that sort of place, the victuals were very good when you got them. I hope you don't mind my saying anything about America? You know the Americans are so deucedly thin-skinned—they always bristle up if you say anything against their institutions. The English don't care a rap what you say—they've got a different sort of temper, you know. With the Americans I'm deuced careful—I never breathe a word about anything. While I was over there I went in for being complimentary. I laid it on thick, and I found they would take all I could give them. I didn't see much of their institutions, after all; I went in for seeing the people. Some of the people were charming—upon my soul, I was surprised at some of the people. I daresay you know some of the people I saw; they were as nice people as you would see anywhere. There were always a lot of people about Mrs. Wright, you know; they told me they were all the best people. You know she is always late for everything. She always comes in after every one is there—looking so devilish pretty, pulling on her gloves. She wears the longest gloves I ever saw in my life. Upon my word, if they don't come, I think I will ring the bell and ask the waiter what's the matter. Wouldn't you ring the bell? It's a great mistake, their trying to carry out their ideas of lunching. That's Wright's character, you know; he's always trying to carry out some idea. When I am abroad I go in for the foreign breakfast myself. You may depend upon it, they had better give up trying to do this sort of thing at this hour."
Captain Lovelock was more disposed to conversation than Bernard had known him before. His discourse, of old, had been languid and fragmentary, and our hero had never heard him pursue a train of ideas through so many evolutions. To Bernard's observant eye, indeed, the Captain was an altered man. His manner betrayed a certain restless desire to be agreeable, to anticipate judgement—a disposition to smile and be civil and entertain his auditor, a tendency to move about, and look out of the window and at the clock. He struck Bernard as a trifle nervous—as less solidly planted on his feet than when he lounged along the Baden gravel-walks by the side of his usual companion—a lady for whom, apparently, his admiration was still considerable. Bernard was curious to see whether he would ring the bell to inquire into the delay attending the service of lunch; but before this sentiment, rather idle under the circumstances, was gratified, Blanche passed into the room from a neighbouring apartment. To Bernard's perception, Blanche, at least, was always Blanche; she was a person in whom it would not have occurred to him to expect any puzzling variation, and the tone of her little soft thin voice instantly rang in his ear like an echo of yesterday's talk. He had remarked to himself before, that after however long an interval one might encounter Blanche, she reappeared with an air of familiarity. This was, in some sense, indeed, a proof of the agreeable impression she made, and she looked exceedingly pretty as she now suddenly stopped on seeing our two gentlemen, and gave a little cry of surprise.
"Ah! I didn't know you were here; they never told me. Have you been waiting a long time? How d'ye do? You must think we are polite." She held out her hand to Bernard, smiling very graciously. At Captain Lovelock she barely glanced. "I hope you are very well," she went on; "but I needn't ask that. You're as blooming as a rose. What in the world has happened to you? You look so brilliant—so fresh. Can you say that to a man—that he looks fresh? Or can you only say that about butter and eggs?"
"It depends upon the man," said Captain Lovelock. "You can't say that a man's fresh who spends his time in running about after you."
"Ah, are you here?" cried Blanche, with another little cry of surprise. "I didn't notice you—I thought you were the waiter. This is what he calls running about after me," she added to Bernard; "coming to breakfast without being asked. How queerly they have arranged the table!" she went on, gazing with her little elevated eyebrows at this piece of furniture. "I always thought that in Paris, if they couldn't do anything else, they could arrange a table. I don't like that at all—those horrid little dishes on each side! Don't you think those things ought to be off the table, Mr. Longueville? I don't like to see a lot of things I am not eating. And I told them to have some flowers—pray, where are the flowers? Do they call those things flowers? They look as if they had come out of the landlady's bonnet! Mr. Longueville, do look at those objects."
"They are not like me—they are not very fresh," laughed Bernard.
"It's no great matter—we have not got to eat them," growled Captain Lovelock.
"I should think you would expect to—with the luncheon you usually make!" rejoined Blanche. "Since you are here, though I didn't ask you, you might as well make yourself useful. Will you be so good as to ring the bell? If Gordon expects that we are going to wait another quarter of an hour for him, he exaggerates the patience of a long-suffering wife. If you are very curious to know what he is about, he is writing letters, by way of a change. He writes about eighty a day; his correspondents must be strong people! It's a lucky thing for me that I am married to Gordon; if I were not, he might write to me—to me, to whom it's a misery to have to answer even an invitation to dinner! To begin with, I don't know how to spell. If Captain Lovelock ever boasts that he has had letters from me, you may know it's an invention. He has never had anything but telegrams—three telegrams that I sent him in America about a pair of slippers that he had left at our house and that I didn't know what to do with. Captain Lovelock's slippers are no trifle to have on one's hands—on one's feet, I suppose I ought to say. For telegrams the spelling doesn't matter; the people at the office correct it—or if they don't, you can put it off on them. I never see anything nowadays but Gordon's back," she went on, as they took their places at table—"his fine broad back, as he sits writing his letters. That's my principal view of my husband. I think that now we are in Paris I ought to have a portrait of it by one of the great artists. It would be such a characteristic pose. I have quite forgotten his face, and I don't think I should know it."
Gordon's face, however, presented itself just at this moment; he came in quickly, with his countenance flushed with the pleasure of meeting his old friend again. He had the sun-scorched look of a traveller who has just crossed the Atlantic, and he smiled at Bernard with his honest eyes.
"Don't think me a great brute for not being here to receive you," he said, as he clasped his hand. "I was writing an important letter, and I put it to myself in this way: 'If I interrupt my letter I shall have to come back and finish it; whereas if I finish it now, I can have all the rest of the day to spend with him.' So I saw it through, and now we can be inseparable."
"You may be sure Gordon reasoned it out," said Blanche, while her husband offered his hand in silence to Captain Lovelock.
"Gordon's reasoning is as fine as other people's feeling!" Bernard declared, who was conscious of a desire to say something very pleasant to Gordon, and who did not at all approve of Blanche's little ironical tone about her husband.
"And Bernard's compliments are better than either," said Gordon, laughing, and taking his seat at table.
"I have been paying him compliments," Blanche went on. "I have been telling him he looks so brilliant, so blooming—as if something had happened to him, as if he had inherited a fortune. He must have been doing something very wicked, and he ought to tell us all about it, to amuse us. I am sure you are a dreadful Parisian, Mr. Longueville. Remember that we are three dull, virtuous people, exceedingly bored with each other's society, and wanting to hear something strange and exciting. If it's a little improper, that won't spoil it."
"You certainly are looking uncommonly well," said Gordon, still smiling, across the table, at his friend. "I see what Blanche means—"
"My dear Gordon, that's a great event," his wife interposed.
"It's a good deal to pretend, certainly," he went on, smiling always, with his red face and his blue eyes. "But this is no great credit to me, because Bernard's superb condition would strike any one. You look as if you were going to marry the Lord Mayor's daughter!"
If Bernard was blooming, his bloom at this juncture must have deepened, and in so doing indeed have contributed an even brighter tint to his expression of salubrious happiness. It was one of the rare occasions of his life when he was at a loss for a verbal expedient.
"It's a great match," he nevertheless murmured jestingly. "You must excuse my inflated appearance."
"It has absorbed you so much that you have had no time to write to me," said Gordon. "I expected to hear from you after you arrived."
"I wrote to you a fortnight ago—just before receiving your own letter. You left New York before my letter reached it."
"Ah, it will have crossed us," said Gordon. "But now that we have your society, I don't care. Your letters, of course, are delightful, but that is even better."
In spite of this sympathetic speech, Bernard cannot be said to have enjoyed his lunch; he was thinking of something else that lay before him and that was not agreeable. He was like a man who has an acrobatic feat to perform—a wide ditch to leap, a high pole to climb—and who has a presentiment of fractures and bruises. Fortunately he was not obliged to talk much, as Mrs. Gordon displayed even more than her usual zeal in rendering her companions the graceful service of lifting the burden of conversation from their shoulders.
"I suppose you were surprised to see us rushing out here so suddenly," she observed in the course of the repast. "We had said nothing about it when you last saw us, and I believe we are supposed to tell you everything, ain't we? I certainly have told you a great many things, and there are some of them I hope you haven't repeated. I have no doubt you have told them all over Paris, but I don't care what you tell in Paris—Paris isn't so easily shocked. Captain Lovelock doesn't repeat what I tell him; I set him up as a model of discretion. I have told him some pretty bad things, and he has liked them so much he has kept them all to himself. I say only my bad things to Captain Lovelock, and my good things to other people; he doesn't know the difference, and he is perfectly content."
"Other people as well often don't know the difference," said Gordon gravely. "You ought always to tell us which are which."
Blanche gave her husband a little impertinent stare.
"When I am not appreciated," she said, with an air of superior dryness, "I am too proud to point it out. I don't know whether you know that I'm proud," she went on, turning to Gordon and glancing at Captain Lovelock; "it's a good thing to know. I suppose Gordon will say that I ought to be too proud to point that out; but what are you to do when no one has any imagination? You have a grain or two, Mr. Longueville; but Captain Lovelock hasn't a speck. As for Gordon, je n'en parle pas! But even you, Mr. Longueville, would never imagine that I am an interesting invalid—that we are travel ling for my health. The doctors haven't given me up, but I have given them up. I know I don't look as if I were out of health; but that's because I always try to look my best. My appearance proves nothing—absolutely nothing. Do you think my appearance proves anything, Captain Lovelock?"
Captain Lovelock scrutinised Blanche's appearance with a fixed and solemn eye; and then he replied "It proves you are very lovely."
Blanche kissed her finger-tips to him in return for this compliment.
"You only need to give Captain Lovelock a chance," she rattled on, "and he is as clever as any one. That's what I like to do to my friends—I like to make opportunities for them. Captain Lovelock is like my dear little blue terrier that I left at home. If I hold out a stick he will jump over it. He won't jump without the stick; but as soon as I produce it he knows what he has to do. He looks at it a moment, and then he gives his little hop. He knows he will have a lump of sugar, and Captain Lovelock expects one as well. Dear Captain Lovelock, shall I ring for a lump? Wouldn't it be touching? Garçon, un morceau de sucre pour Monsieur le Capitaine! But what I give Monsieur le Capitaine is moral sugar! I usually administer it in private, and he shall have a good big morsel when you go away."
Gordon got up, turning to Bernard and looking at his watch.
"Let us go away, in that case," he said, smiling, "and leave Captain Lovelock to receive his reward. We will go and take a walk; we will go up the Champs Elysées. Good morning, Monsieur le Capitaine."
Neither Blanche nor the Captain offered any opposition to this proposal, and Bernard took leave of his hostess and joined Gordon, who had already passed into the antechamber.