‘What an abominable climate,’ Mrs Boncassen had said when they were quite alone at Maidenhead.
‘My dear, you didn’t think you were going to bring New York along with you when you came here,’ replied her husband.
‘I wish I was going back tomorrow.’
‘That’s a foolish thing to say. People here are very kind, and you are seeing a great deal more of the world than you would ever see at home. I am having a very good time. What do you say, Bell?’
‘I wish I could have kept my stockings clean.’
‘But what about the young men?’
‘Young men are pretty much the same everywhere, I guess. They never have their wits about them. They never mean what they say, because they don’t understand the use of words. They are generally half impudent and half timid. When in love they do not at all understand what has befallen them. What they want they try to compass as a cow does when it stands stretching out its head towards a stack of hay which it cannot reach. Indeed there is no such thing as a young man, for a man is not really a man till he is middle-aged. But take them at their worst they are a deal too good for us, for they become men some day, whereas we must only be women to the end.’
‘My word, Bella!’ exclaimed the mother.
‘You have managed to be tolerably heavy upon God’s creatures, taking them in a lump,’ said the father. ‘Boys, girls, and cows! Something has gone wrong with you besides the rain.’
Nothing on earth, sir — except the boredom.’
‘Some young man has been talking to you, Bella.’
‘One or two, mother; and I got to thinking if any one of them should ask me to marry him, and if moved by some evil destiny I were to take him, whether I should murder him, or myself, or run away with one of the others.’
‘Couldn’t you bear with him till, according to your own theory, he would grow out of his folly?’ said the father.
‘Being a woman — no. The present moment is always everything to me. When that horrid old harridan halloed out that somebody was smoking, I thought I should have died. It was very bad just then.’
‘Awful!’ said Mrs Boncassen, shaking her head.
‘I didn’t seem to feel it much,’ said the father. ‘One doesn’t look to have everything just what one wants always. If I did I should go nowhere; — but my total of life would be less enjoyable. If ever you do get married, Bell, you should remember that.’
‘I mean to get married some day, so that I shouldn’t be made love to any longer.’
‘I hope it will have that effect,’ said the father.
‘Mr Boncassen!’ ejaculated the mother.
‘What I say is true. I hope it will have that effect. It had with you, my dear.’
‘I don’t know that people didn’t think of me as much as of anybody else, even though I was married.’
‘Then, my dear, I never knew it.’
Miss Boncassen, though she had behaved serenely and with good temper during the process of Dolly’s proposal, had not liked it. She had a very high opinion of herself, and was certainly entitled to have it by the undisguised admiration of all that came near her. She was not more indifferent to the admiration of young men than are other young ladies. But she was not proud of the admiration of Dolly Longstaff. She was here among strangers whose ways were unknown to her, and wonderful in their dimness. She knew that she was associating with men very different from those at home where young men were supposed to be under the necessity of earning their bread. At New York she would dance, as she had said, with bank clerks. She was not prepared to admit that a young London lord was better than a New York bank clerk. Judging the men on their own individual merits she might find the bank clerk to be the better of the two. But a certain sweetness of the aroma of rank was beginning to permeate her republican senses. The softness of life in which no occupation was compulsory had its charms for her. Though she had complained of the insufficient intelligence of young men she was alive to the delight of having nothings said to her pleasantly. All this had affected her so strongly that she had almost felt that a life among these English luxuries would be a pleasant life. Like most Americans who do not as yet know the country, she had come with an inward feeling that as an American and a republican she might probably be despised.
There is not uncommonly a savageness of assertion about Americans which arises from a too great anxiety to be admitted to fellowship with Britons. She had felt this, and conscious of reputation already made by herself in the social life of New York, she had half trusted that she would be well received in London, and had half convinced herself that she would be rejected. She had not been rejected. She must have become quite aware of that. She had dropped very quickly the idea that she would be scorned. Ignorant as she had been of English life, she perceived that she had at once become popular. And this had been so in spite of her mother’s homeliness and her father’s awkwardness. By herself and by her own gifts she had done it. She had found out concerning herself that she had that which would commend her to other society than that of the Fifth Avenue. Those lords of whom she had heard were as plenty with her as blackberries. Young Lord Silverbridge, of whom she was told that of all the young lords of the day he stood first in rank and wealth, was peculiarly her friend. Her brain was firmer than that of most girls, but even her brain was a little turned. She never told herself that it would be well for her to become the wife of such a one. In her more thoughtful moments she told herself that it would not be well. But still the allurement was strong upon her. Park Lane was sweeter than the Fifth Avenue. Lord Silverbridge was nicer than the bank clerk.
But Dolly Longstaff was not. She would certainly prefer the bank clerk to Dolly Longstaff. And yet Dolly Longstaff was the one among her English admirers who had come forward and spoken out. She did not desire that anyone should come forward and speak out. But it was an annoyance to her that this special man should have done so.
The waiter at the Langham understood American ways perfectly, and when a young man called between three and four o’clock, asking for Mrs Boncassen, said that Miss Boncassen was at home. The young man took off his hat, brushed up his hair, and followed the waiter up to the sitting-room. The door was opened and the young man was announced. ‘Mr Longstaff.’
Miss Boncassen was rather disgusted. She had had enough of this English lover. Why should he have come here after what had occurred yesterday? He ought to have felt that he was absolved from the necessity of making personal inquiries. ‘I am glad to see that you got home safe,’ she said as she gave him her hand.
‘And you too, I hope?’
‘Well; — so, so; with my clothes a good deal damaged and my temper rather worse.
‘I am so sorry.’
‘It should not rain on such days. Mother has gone to church.’
‘Oh; — indeed. I like going to church myself sometimes.’
‘Do you now?’
‘I know what would make me like to go to church.’
‘And father is at the Athenaeum. He goes there to do a little light reading in the library on Sunday afternoon.’
‘I shall never forget yesterday, Miss Boncassen.’
‘You wouldn’t if your clothes had been spoilt as mine were.’
‘Money will repair that.’
‘Well; yes; but when I’ve had a petticoat flounced particularly to order I don’t like to see it ill-used. There are emotions of the heart which money can’t touch.’
‘Just so; — emotions of the heart. That’s the very phrase.’
She was determined if possible to prevent a repetition of the scene which had taken place up at Mrs de Bever’s temple. ‘All my emotions are about my dress.’
‘Well; yes; all. I guess I don’t care much for eating and drinking.’ In saying this she actually contrived to produce something of a nasal twang.
‘Eating and drinking!’ said Dolly. ‘Of course they are necessities; — and so are clothes.’
‘But new things are such ducks!’
‘Trousers may be,’ said Dolly.
Then she took a prolonged gaze at him, wondering whether he was or was not such a fool as he looked. ‘How funny you are,’ she said.
‘A man does not generally feel funny after going through what I suffered yesterday, Miss Boncassen.’
‘Would you mind ringing the bell?’
‘Must it be done, quite at once?’
‘Quite — quite,’ she said. ‘I can do it myself for the matter of that.’ and she rang the bell somewhat violently. Dolly sank back again into his seat, remarking in his usual apathetic way that he had intended to obey her behest but had not understood that she was in so great a hurry. ‘I am always in a hurry,’ she said. ‘I like things to be done — sharp.’ And she hit the table with a crack. ‘Please bring me some iced water,’ this of course was addressed to the waiter. ‘And a glass for Mr Longstaff.’
‘None for me, thank you.’
‘Perhaps you’d like a soda and brandy?’
‘Oh dear no; — nothing of the kind. But I am much obliged to you all the same.’ As the water-bottle was in fact standing in the room, and as the waiter had only to hand the glass all this created by little obstacle. Still it had its effect, and Dolly, when the man retired, felt that there was a difficulty in proceeding. ‘I have called today —’ he began.
‘That has been very kind of you. But mother has gone to church.’
‘I am very glad she has gone to church, because I wish to —’
‘Oh laws! There’s a horse tumbled down in the street. I heard it.’
‘He has got up again,’ said Dolly, looking leisurely out of the window. ‘But as I was saying —’
‘I don’t think the water we Americans drink can be good. It makes the women become ugly so young.’
‘You will never become ugly.’
She got up and curtsied him, and then, still standing, make him a speech. ‘Mr Longstaff, it would be absurd of me to pretend not to understand what you mean. But I won’t have any more of it. Whether you are making fun of me, or whether you are in earnest, it is just the same.’
‘Making fun of you!’
‘It does not signify. I don’t care which it is. But I won’t have it. There!’
‘A gentleman should be allowed to express his feelings and to explain his position.’
‘You have expressed and explained more than enough, and I won’t have any more. If you will sit down and talk about something else, or else go away, there shall be an end of it; — but if you go on, I will ring the bell again. What can a man gain by going on when a girl has spoken as I have done?’ They were both at this time standing up, and he was now as angry as she was.
‘I’ve paid you the greatest compliment a man can pay a woman,’ he began.
‘Very well. If I remember rightly I thanked you for it yesterday. If you wish it, I will thank you again today. But it is a compliment which becomes very much the reverse if it be repeated too often. You are sharp enough to understand that I have done everything in my power to save us both from this trouble.’
‘What makes you so fierce, Miss Boncassen?’
‘What makes you so foolish?’
‘I suppose it must be something peculiar to American ladies.’
‘Just that; — something peculiar to American ladies. They don’t like; — well; I don’t want to say anything more that can be called fierce.’
At this moment the door was again opened and Lord Silverbridge was announced. ‘Halloa, Dolly, are you here?’
‘It seems that I am.’
‘And I am here too,’ said Miss Boncassen, smiling her prettiest.
‘None the worse for yesterday’s troubles, I hope?’
‘A good deal the worse. I have been explaining all that to Mr Longstaff who has been quite sympathetic with me about my things.’
‘A terrible pity that shower,’ said Dolly.
‘For you,’ said Silverbridge, ‘because if I remember right, Miss Boncassen was walking with you; — but I was rather glad of it.’
‘I regarded it as a direct interposition of Providence, because you would not dance with me.’
‘Any news today, Silverbridge?’ asked Dolly.
‘Nothing particular. They say that Coalheaver can’t run for the Leger.’
‘What’s the matter?’ asked Dolly vigorously.
‘Broke down at Ascot. But I daresay it’s a lie.’
‘Sure to be a lie,’ said Dolly. ‘What do you think of Madame Scholzdam, Miss Boncassen?’
‘I am not a good judge.’
‘Never heard anything equal to it yet in this world,’ said Dolly. ‘I wonder whether that’s true about Coalheaver.’
‘Tifto says so.’
‘Which at the present moment,’ asked Miss Boncassen, ‘is the greater favourite with the public, Madame Scholzdam or Coalheaver?’
‘Coalheaver is a horse.’
‘Oh — a horse!’
‘Perhaps I ought to say a colt.’
‘Do you suppose, Dolly, that Miss Boncassen doesn’t know all that?’ asked Silverbridge.
‘He supposes that my American ferocity has never been sufficiently softened for the reception of polite erudition.
‘You two have been quarrelling, I fear.’
‘I never quarrel with a woman,’ said Dolly.
‘Nor with a man in my presence, I hope, said Miss Boncassen.
‘Somebody seems to have got out of bed at the wrong side,’ said Silverbridge.
‘I did,’ said Miss Boncassen. ‘I got out of bed at the wrong side. I am cross. I can’t get over the spoiling of my flounces. I think you had better both go away and leave me. If I could walk about the room for half an hour and stamp my feet, I should get better.’ Silverbridge thought that as he had come last, he certainly ought to be left last. Miss Boncassen felt that, at any rate, Mr Longstaff should go. Dolly felt that his manhood required him to remain. After what had taken place he was not going to leave the field vacant for another. Therefore he made no effort to move.
‘That seems rather hard upon me,’ said Silverbridge. ‘You told me to come.’
‘I told you to come and ask after us all. You have come and asked after us, and have been informed that we are very bad. What more can I say? you accuse me of getting out of bed the wrong side, and I own that I did.’
‘I meant to say that Dolly Longstaff had done so.’
‘And I say it was Silverbridge,’ said Dolly.
‘We are aren’t very agreeable together, are we? Upon my word I think you’d better both go.’ Silverbridge immediately got up from his chair; upon which Dolly also moved.
‘What the mischief is up?’ asked Silverbridge, when they were under the porch together.
‘The truth is, you never can tell what you are to do with those American girls.’
‘I suppose you have been making up to her.’
‘Nothing in earnest. She seemed to me to like admiration, so I told her I admired her.’
‘What did she say then?’
‘Upon my word, you seem to be very great at cross-examining. Perhaps you had better go back and ask her.’
‘I will next time I see her.’ Then he stepped into his cab, and in a loud voice ordered the man to drive him to the Zoo. But when he had gone a little way up Portland Place, he stopped the driver and desired that he might be taken back again to the hotel. As he left the vehicle he looked round for Dolly, but Dolly had certainly gone. Then he told the waiter to take his card to Miss Boncassen, and explain that he had something to say which he had forgotten.
‘So you have come back again?’ said Miss Boncassen, laughing.
‘Of course I have. You didn’t suppose I was going to let that fellow get the better of me. Why should I be turned out because he made an ass of himself?’
‘Who said he made an ass of himself?’
‘But he had; hadn’t he?’
‘No; — by no means,’ said she after a little pause.
‘Tell me what he had been saying.’
‘Indeed I shall do nothing of the kind. If I told you all he said, then I should have to tell the next man all that you may say. Would that be fair?’
‘I should not mind,’ said Silverbridge.
‘I dare say not, because you have nothing particular to say. But the principle is the same. Lawyers and doctors and parsons talk of privileged communications. Why should not a young lady have her privileged communications?’
‘But I have something particular to say.’
‘I hope not.’
‘Why should you hope not?’
‘I hate having things said particularly. Nobody likes conversation so well as I do; but it should never be particular.’
‘I was going to tell you that I came back to London yesterday in the same carriage with old Lady Clanfiddle, and that she swore that no consideration on earth would ever induce her to go to Maidenhead again.’
‘That isn’t particular.’
‘She went on to say; — you won’t tell of me, will you?’
‘It shall be privileged.’
‘She went on to say that Americans couldn’t be expected to understand English manners.’
‘Perhaps they may all be the better for that.’
‘Then I spoke up. I swore that I was awfully in love with you.’
‘I did; — that you were, out and away, the finest girl I ever saw in my life. Of course you understand that her two daughters were there. And that as for manners — unless the rain could be attributed to American manners — I did not think anything had gone wrong.’
‘What about the smoking?’
‘I told her they were all Englishmen, and that if she had been giving the party herself they would have smoked just as much. You must understand that she never does give parties.’
‘How could you be so ill-natured?’
‘There was ever so much more of it. And it ended by her telling me that I was a schoolboy. I found out the cause of it all. A great spout of rain had come upon her daughter’s hat, and that had produced a most melancholy catastrophe.’
‘I would have given her mine willingly.’
‘An American hat; — to be worn by Lady Violet Clanfiddle!’
‘It came from Paris last week, sir.’
‘But must have been contaminated by American contact.’
‘Now, Lord Silverbridge,’ said she, getting up, ‘if I had a stick I’d whip you.’
‘It was such fun.’
‘And you come here and tell it all to me.’
‘Of course I do. It was a deal too good to keep to myself. “American manners”!’ As he said this he almost succeeded in looking like Lady Clanfiddle.
At that moment Mr Boncassen entered the room, and was immediately appealed to his by his daughter. ‘Father, you must turn Lord Silverbridge out of the room.’
‘Dear me! If I must — of course I must. But why?’
‘He is saying everything horrid he can about Americans.’
After this they settled down for a few minutes to general conversation, and then Lord Silverbridge again took his leave. When he was gone Isabel Boncassen almost regretted that the ‘something particular’ which he had threatened to say had not been less comic in its nature.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01