Mrs. Temperly, by Henry James


When he came back, after dinner, she was again in one of the public rooms; she explained that a lot of the things for the ship were spread out in her own parlours: there was no space to sit down. Raymond was highly gratified by this fact; it offered an opportunity for strolling away a little with Dora, especially as, after he had been there ten minutes, other people began to come in. They were entertained by the rest, by Effie and Tishy, who was allowed to sit up a little, and by Mademoiselle Bourde, who besought every visitor to indicate her a remedy that was really effective against the sea — some charm, some philter, some potion or spell. ‘Never mind, ma’m’selle, I’ve got a remedy,’ said Cousin Maria, with her cheerful decision, each time; but the French instructress always began afresh.

As the young man was about to be parted for an indefinite period from the girl whom he was ready to swear that he adored, it is clear that he ought to have been equally ready to swear that she was the fairest of her species. In point of fact, however, it was no less vivid to him than it had been before that he loved Dora Temperly for qualities which had nothing to do with straightness of nose or pinkness of complexion. Her figure was straight, and so was her character, but her nose was not, and Philistines and other vulgar people would have committed themselves, without a blush on their own flat faces, to the assertion that she was decidedly plain. In his artistic imagination he had analogies for her, drawn from legend and literature; he was perfectly aware that she struck many persons as silent, shy and angular, while his own version of her peculiarities was that she was like a figure on the predella of an early Italian painting or a mediæval maiden wandering about a lonely castle, with her lover gone to the Crusades. To his sense, Dora had but one defect — her admiration for her mother was too undiscriminating. An ardent young man may well be slightly vexed when he finds that a young lady will probably never care for him so much as she cares for her parent; and Raymond Bestwick had this added ground for chagrin, that Dora had — if she chose to take it — so good a pretext for discriminating. For she had nothing whatever in common with the others; she was not of the same stuff as Mrs. Temperly and Effie and Tishy.

She was original and generous and uncalculating, besides being full of perception and taste in regard to the things he cared about. She knew nothing of conventional signs or estimates, but understood everything that might be said to her from an artistic point of view. She was formed to live in a studio, and not in a stiff drawing-room, amid upholstery horribly new; and moreover her eyes and her voice were both charming. It was only a pity she was so gentle; that is, he liked it for himself, but he deplored it for her mother. He considered that he had virtually given that lady his word that he would not make love to her; but his spirits had risen since his visit of three or four hours before. It seemed to him, after thinking things over more intently, that a way would be opened for him to return to Paris. It was not probable that in the interval Dora would be married off to a prince; for in the first place the foolish race of princes would be sure not to appreciate her, and in the second she would not, in this matter, simply do her mother’s bidding — her gentleness would not go so far as that. She might remain single by the maternal decree, but she would not take a husband who was disagreeable to her. In this reasoning Raymond was obliged to shut his eyes very tight to the danger that some particular prince might not be disagreeable to her, as well as to the attraction proceeding from what her mother might announce that she would ‘do.’ He was perfectly aware that it was in Cousin Maria’s power, and would probably be in her pleasure, to settle a handsome marriage-fee upon each of her daughters. He was equally certain that this had nothing to do with the nature of his own interest in the eldest, both because it was clear that Mrs. Temperly would do very little for him, and because he didn’t care how little she did.

Effie and Tishy sat in the circle, on the edge of rather high chairs, while Mademoiselle Bourde surveyed in them with complacency the results of her own superiority. Tishy was a child, but Effie was fifteen, and they were both very nice little girls, arrayed in fresh travelling dresses and deriving a quaintness from the fact that Tishy was already armed, for foreign adventures, with a smart new reticule, from which she could not be induced to part, and that Effie had her finger in her ‘place’ in a fat red volume of Murray. Raymond knew that in a general way their mother would not have allowed them to appear in the drawing-room with these adjuncts, but something was to be allowed to the fever of anticipation. They were both pretty, with delicate features and blue eyes, and would grow up into worldly, conventional young ladies, just as Dora had not done. They looked at Mademoiselle Bourde for approval whenever they spoke, and, in addressing their mother alternately with that accomplished woman, kept their two languages neatly distinct.

Raymond had but a vague idea of who the people were who had come to bid Cousin Maria farewell, and he had no wish for a sharper one, though she introduced him, very definitely, to the whole group. She might make light of him in her secret soul, but she would never put herself in the wrong by omitting the smallest form. Fortunately, however, he was not obliged to like all her forms, and he foresaw the day when she would abandon this particular one. She was not so well made up in advance about Paris but that it would be in reserve for her to detest the period when she had thought it proper to ‘introduce all round.’ Raymond detested it already, and tried to make Dora understand that he wished her to take a walk with him in the corridors. There was a gentleman with a curl on his forehead who especially displeased him; he made childish jokes, at which the others laughed all at once, as if they had rehearsed for it — jokes à la portée of Effie and Tishy and mainly about them. These two joined in the merriment, as if they followed perfectly, as indeed they might, and gave a small sigh afterward, with a little factitious air. Dora remained grave, almost sad; it was when she was different, in this way, that he felt how much he liked her. He hated, in general, a large ring of people who had drawn up chairs in the public room of an hotel: some one was sure to undertake to be funny.

He succeeded at last in drawing Dora away; he endeavoured to give the movement a casual air. There was nothing peculiar, after all, in their walking a little in the passage; a dozen other persons were doing the same. The girl had the air of not suspecting in the least that he could have anything particular to say to her — of responding to his appeal simply out of her general gentleness. It was not in her companion’s interest that her mind should be such a blank; nevertheless his conviction that in spite of the ministrations of Mademoiselle Bourde she was not falsely ingenuous made him repeat to himself that he would still make her his own. They took several turns in the hall, during which it might still have appeared to Dora Temperly that her cousin Raymond had nothing particular to say to her. He remarked several times that he should certainly turn up in Paris in the spring; but when once she had replied that she was very glad that subject seemed exhausted. The young man cared little, however; it was not a question now of making any declaration: he only wanted to be with her. Suddenly, when they were at the end of the corridor furthest removed from the room they had left, he said to her: ‘Your mother is very strange. Why has she got such an idea about Paris?’

‘How do you mean, such an idea?’ He had stopped, making the girl stand there before him.

‘Well, she thinks so much of it without having ever seen it, or really knowing anything. She appears to have planned out such a great life there.’

‘She thinks it’s the best place,’ Dora rejoined, with the dim smile that always charmed our young man.

‘The best place for what?’

‘Well, to learn French.’ The girl continued to smile.

‘Do you mean for her? She’ll never learn it; she can’t.’

‘No; for us. And other things.’

‘You know it already. And you know other things,’ said Raymond.

‘She wants us to know them better — better than any girls know them.’

‘I don’t know what things you mean,’ exclaimed the young man, rather impatiently.

‘Well, we shall see,’ Dora returned, laughing.

He said nothing for a minute, at the end of which he resumed: ‘I hope you won’t be offended if I say that it seems curious your mother should have such aspirations — such Napoleonic plans. I mean being just a quiet little lady from California, who has never seen any of the kind of thing that she has in her head.’

‘That’s just why she wants to see it, I suppose; and I don’t know why her being from California should prevent. At any rate she wants us to have the best. Isn’t the best taste in Paris?’

‘Yes; and the worst.’ It made him gloomy when she defended the old lady, and to change the subject he asked: ‘Aren’t you sorry, this last night, to leave your own country for such an indefinite time?’

It didn’t cheer him up that the girl should answer: ‘Oh, I would go anywhere with mother!’

‘And with her?’ Raymond demanded, sarcastically, as Mademoiselle Bourde came in sight, emerging from the drawing-room. She approached them; they met her in a moment, and she informed Dora that Mrs. Temperly wished her to come back and play a part of that composition of Saint–Saens — the last one she had been learning — for Mr. and Mrs. Parminter: they wanted to judge whether their daughter could manage it.

‘I don’t believe she can,’ said Dora, smiling; but she was moving away to comply when her companion detained her a moment.

Are you going to bid me good-bye?’

‘Won’t you come back to the drawing-room?’

‘I think not; I don’t like it.’

‘And to mamma — you’ll say nothing?’ the girl went on.

‘Oh, we have made our farewell; we had a special interview this afternoon.’

‘And you won’t come to the ship in the morning?’

Raymond hesitated a moment. ‘Will Mr. and Mrs. Parminter be there?’

‘Oh, surely they will!’ Mademoiselle Bourde declared, surveying the young couple with a certain tactful serenity, but standing very close to them, as if it might be her duty to interpose.

‘Well then, I won’t come.’

‘Well, good-bye then,’ said the girl gently, holding out her hand.

‘Good-bye, Dora.’ He took it, while she smiled at him, but he said nothing more — he was so annoyed at the way Mademoiselle Bourde watched them. He only looked at Dora; she seemed to him beautiful.

‘My dear child — that poor Madame Parminter,’ the governess murmured.

‘I shall come over very soon,’ said Raymond, as his companion turned away.

‘That will be charming.’ And she left him quickly, without looking back.

Mademoiselle Bourde lingered — he didn’t know why, unless it was to make him feel, with her smooth, finished French assurance, which had the manner of extreme benignity, that she was following him up. He sometimes wondered whether she copied Mrs. Temperly or whether Mrs. Temperly tried to copy her. Presently she said, slowly rubbing her hands and smiling at him:

‘You will have plenty of time. We shall be long in Paris.’

‘Perhaps you will be disappointed,’ Raymond suggested.

‘How can we be — unless you disappoint us?’ asked the governess, sweetly.

He left her without ceremony: the imitation was probably on the part of Cousin Maria.

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