The Reverberator, by Henry James

Chapter 6

The next morning he found himself seated on one of the red-satin sofas beside Mr. Dosson in this gentleman’s private room at the Hotel de l’Univers et de Cheltenham. Delia and Francie had established their father in the old quarters; they expected to finish the winter in Paris, but had not taken independent apartments, for they had an idea that when you lived that way it was grand but lonely — you didn’t meet people on the staircase. The temperature was now such as to deprive the good gentleman of his usual resource of sitting in the court, and he had not yet discovered an effective substitute for this recreation. Without Mr. Flack, at the cafes, he felt too much a non-consumer. But he was patient and ruminant; young Probert grew to like him and tried to invent amusements for him; took him to see the great markets, the sewers and the Bank of France, and put him, with the lushest disinterestedness, in the way of acquiring a beautiful pair of horses, which Mr. Dosson, little as he resembles a sporting character, found it a great resource, on fine afternoons, to drive with a highly scientific hand and from a smart Americaine, in the Bois de Boulogne. There was a reading-room at the bankers’ where he spent hours engaged in a manner best known to himself, and he shared the great interest, the constant topic of his daughters — the portrait that was going forward in the Avenue de Villiers.

This was the subject round which the thoughts of these young ladies clustered and their activity revolved; it gave free play to their faculty for endless repetition, for monotonous insistence, for vague and aimless discussion. On leaving Mme. de Brecourt Francie’s lover had written to Delia that he desired half an hour’s private conversation with her father on the morrow at half-past eleven; his impatience forbade him to wait for a more canonical hour. He asked her to be so good as to arrange that Mr. Dosson should be there to receive him and to keep Francie out of the way. Delia acquitted herself to the letter.

“Well, sir, what have you got to show?” asked Francie’s father, leaning far back on the sofa and moving nothing but his head, and that very little, toward his interlocutor. Gaston was placed sidewise, a hand on each knee, almost facing him, on the edge of the seat.

“To show, sir — what do you mean?”

“What do you do for a living? How do you subsist?”

“Oh comfortably enough. Of course it would be remiss in you not to satisfy yourself on that point. My income’s derived from three sources. First some property left me by my dear mother. Second a legacy from my poor brother — he had inherited a small fortune from an old relation of ours who took a great fancy to him (he went to America to see her) which he divided among the four of us in the will he made at the time of the War.”’

“The war — what war?” asked Mr. Dosson.

“Why the Franco–German —”

“Oh THAT old war!” And Mr. Dosson almost laughed. “Well?” he mildly continued.

“Then my father’s so good as to make me a decent allowance; and some day I shall have more — from him.”

Mr. Dosson appeared to think these things over. “Why, you seem to have fixed it so you live mostly on other folks.”

“I shall never attempt to live on you, sir!” This was spoken with some vivacity by our young man; he felt the next moment that he had said something that might provoke a retort. But his companion showed no sharpness.

“Well, I guess there won’t be any trouble about that. And what does my daughter say?”

“I haven’t spoken to her yet.”

“Haven’t spoken to the person most interested?”

“I thought it more orthodox to break ground with you first.”

“Well, when I was after Mrs. Dosson I guess I spoke to her quick enough,” Francie’s father just a little dryly stated. There was an element of reproach in this and Gaston was mystified, for the question about his means a moment before had been in the nature of a challenge.

“How will you feel if she won’t have you after you’ve exposed yourself this way to me?” Mr. Dosson went on.

“Well, I’ve a sort of confidence. It may be vain, but God grant not! I think she likes me personally, but what I’m afraid of is that she may consider she knows too little about me. She has never seen my people — she doesn’t know what may be before her.”

“Do you mean your family — the folks at home?” said Mr. Dosson. “Don’t you believe that. Delia has moused around — SHE has found out. Delia’s thorough!”

“Well, we’re very simple kindly respectable people, as you’ll see in a day or two for yourself. My father and sisters will do themselves the honour to wait upon you,” the young man announced with a temerity the sense of which made his voice tremble.

“We shall be very happy to see them, sir,” his host cheerfully returned. “Well now, let’s see,” the good gentleman socially mused. “Don’t you expect to embrace any regular occupation?”

Gaston smiled at him as from depths. “Have YOU anything of that sort, sir?”

“Well, you have me there!” Mr. Dosson resignedly sighed. “It doesn’t seem as if I required anything, I’m looked after so well. The fact is the girls support me.”

“I shall not expect Miss Francie to support me,” said Gaston Probert.

“You’re prepared to enable her to live in the style to which she’s accustomed?” And his friend turned on him an eye as of quite patient speculation.

“Well, I don’t think she’ll miss anything. That is if she does she’ll find other things instead.”

“I presume she’ll miss Delia, and even me a little,” it occurred to Mr. Dosson to mention.

“Oh it’s easy to prevent that,” the young man threw off.

“Well, of course we shall be on hand.” After which Mr. Dosson continued to follow the subject as at the same respectful distance. “You’ll continue to reside in Paris?”

“I’ll live anywhere in the world she likes. Of course my people are here — that’s a great tie. I’m not without hope that it may — with time — become a reason for your daughter,” Gaston handsomely wound up.

“Oh any reason’ll do where Paris is concerned. Take some lunch?” Mr. Dosson added, looking at his watch.

They rose to their feet, but before they had gone many steps — the meals of this amiable family were now served in an adjoining room — the young man stopped his companion. “I can’t tell you how kind I think it — the way you treat me, and how I’m touched by your confidence. You take me just as I am, with no recommendation beyond my own word.”

“Well, Mr. Probert,” said his host, “if we didn’t like you we wouldn’t smile on you. Recommendations in that case wouldn’t be any good. And since we do like you there ain’t any call for them either. I trust my daughters; if I didn’t I’d have stayed at home. And if I trust them, and they trust you, it’s the same as if I trusted you, ain’t it?”

“I guess it is!” Gaston delightedly smiled.

His companion laid a hand on the door, but paused a moment. “Now are you very sure?”

“I thought I was, but you make me nervous.”

“Because there was a gentleman here last year — I’d have put my money on HIM.”

Gaston wondered. “A gentleman — last year?”

“Mr. Flack. You met him surely. A very fine man. I thought he rather hit it off with her.”

“Seigneur Dieu!” Gaston Probert murmured under his breath.

Mr. Dosson had opened the door; he made his companion pass into the small dining-room where the table was spread for the noonday breakfast. “Where are the chickens?” he disappointedly asked. His visitor at first supposed him to have missed a customary dish from the board, but recognised the next moment his usual designation of his daughters. These young ladies presently came in, but Francie looked away from the suitor for her hand. The suggestion just dropped by her father had given him a shock — the idea of the newspaper-man’s personal success with so rare a creature was inconceivable — but her charming way of avoiding his eye convinced him he had nothing to really fear from Mr. Flack.

That night — it had been an exciting day — Delia remarked to her sister that of course she could draw back; upon which as Francie repeated the expression with her so markedly looser grasp, “You can send him a note saying you won’t,” Delia explained.

“Won’t marry him?”

“Gracious, no! Won’t go to see his sister. You can tell him it’s her place to come to see you first.”

“Oh I don’t care,” said Francie wearily.

Delia judged this with all her weight. “Is that the way you answered him when he asked you?”

“I’m sure I don’t know. He could tell you best.”

“If you were to speak to ME that way I guess I’d have said ‘Oh well, if you don’t want it any more than that —!’”

“Well, I wish it WAS you,” said Francie.

“That Mr. Probert was me?”

“No — that you were the one he’s after.”

“Francie Dosson, are you thinking of Mr. Flack?” her sister suddenly broke out.

“No, not much.”

“Well then what’s the matter?”

“You’ve ideas and opinions; you know whose place it is and what’s due and what ain’t. You could meet them all,” Francie opined.

But Delia was indifferent to this tribute. “Why how can you say, when that’s just what I’m trying to find out!”

“It doesn’t matter anyway; it will never come off,” Francie went on.

“What do you mean by that?”

“He’ll give me up in a few weeks. I’ll be sure to do something.”

“Do something —?”

“Well, that will break the charm,” Francie sighed with the sweetest feeblest fatalism.

“If you say that again I shall think you do it on purpose!” Delia declared. “ARE you thinking of George Flack?” she repeated in a moment.

“Oh do leave him alone!” Francie answered in one of her rare irritations.

“Then why are you so queer?”

“Oh I’m tired!”— and the girl turned impatiently away. And this was the simple truth; she was tired of the consideration her sister saw fit to devote to the question of Gaston’s not having, since their return to Paris, brought the old folks, as they used to say at home, to see them. She was overdone with Delia’s theories on this subject, which varied, from the view that he was keeping his intercourse with his American friends unguessed by them because they were uncompromising in their grandeur, to the presumption that that grandeur would descend some day upon the Hotel de l’Univers et de Cheltenham and carry Francie away in a blaze of glory. Sometimes Delia played in her earnest way with the idea that they ought to make certain of Gaston’s omissions the ground of a challenge; at other times she gave her reasons for judging that they ought to take no notice of them. Francie, in this connexion, had neither doctrine nor instinct of her own; and now she was all at once happy and uneasy, all at once in love and in doubt and in fear and in a state of native indifference. Her lover had dwelt to her but little on his domestic circle, and she had noticed this circumstance the more because of a remark dropped by Charles Waterlow to the effect that he and his father were great friends: the word seemed to her odd in that application. She knew he saw that gentleman and the types of high fashion, as she supposed, Mr. Probert’s daughters, very often, and she therefore took for granted that they knew he saw her. But the most he had done was to say they would come and see her like a shot if once they should believe they could trust her. She had wanted to know what he meant by their trusting her, and he had explained that it would seem to them too good to be true — that she should be kind to HIM: something exactly of that sort was what they dreamed of for him. But they had dreamed before and been disappointed and were now on their guard. From the moment they should feel they were on solid ground they would join hands and dance round her. Francie’s answer to this ingenuity was that she didn’t know what he was talking about, and he indulged in no attempt on that occasion to render his meaning more clear; the consequence of which was that he felt he bore as yet with an insufficient mass, he cut, to be plain, a poor figure. His uneasiness had not passed away, for many things in truth were dark to him. He couldn’t see his father fraternising with Mr. Dosson, he couldn’t see Margaret and Jane recognising an alliance in which Delia was one of the allies. He had answered for them because that was the only thing to do, and this only just failed to be criminally reckless. What saved it was the hope he founded upon Mme. de Brecourt and the sense of how well he could answer to the others for Francie. He considered that Susan had in her first judgement of his young lady committed herself; she had really taken her in, and her subsequent protest when she found what was in his heart had been a denial which he would make her in turn deny. The girl’s slow sweetness once acting, she would come round. A simple interview with Francie would suffice for this result — by the end of half an hour she should be an enthusiastic convert. By the end of an hour she would believe she herself had invented the match — had discovered the pearl. He would pack her off to the others as the author of the plan; she would take it all upon herself, would represent him even as hanging a little back. SHE would do nothing of that sort, but would boast of her superior flair, and would so enjoy the comedy as to forget she had resisted him even a moment. The young man had a high sense of honour but was ready in this forecast for fifty fibs.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56