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"As many as you like--and as respectful ones; but you won't keep them up for ever!"
"You try to torment me," said Count Otto.
She waited to explain. "I mean that I may have some of my family."
"I shall be delighted to see them again."
Again she just hung fire. "There are some you've never seen."
In the afternoon, returning to Was.h.i.+ngton on the steamer, Vogelstein received a warning. It came from Mrs. Bonnycastle and const.i.tuted, oddly enough, the second juncture at which an officious female friend had, while sociably afloat with him, advised him on the subject of Pandora Day.
"There's one thing we forgot to tell you the other night about the self-made girl," said the lady of infinite mirth. "It's never safe to fix your affections on her, because she has almost always an impediment somewhere in the background."
He looked at her askance, but smiled and said: "I should understand your information--for which I'm so much obliged--a little better if I knew what you mean by an impediment."
"Oh I mean she's always engaged to some young man who belongs to her earlier phase."
"Her earlier phase?"
"The time before she had made herself--when she lived unconscious of her powers. A young man from Utica, say. They usually have to wait; he's probably in a store. It's a long engagement."
Count Otto somehow preferred to understand as little as possible.
"Do you mean a betrothal--to take effect?"
"I don't mean anything German and moonstruck. I mean that piece of peculiarly American enterprise a premature engagement--to take effect, but too complacently, at the end of time."
Vogelstein very properly reflected that it was no use his having entered the diplomatic career if he weren't able to bear himself as if this interesting generalisation had no particular message for him. He did Mrs. Bonnycastle moreover the justice to believe that she wouldn't have approached the question with such levity if she had supposed she should make him wince. The whole thing was, like everything else, but for her to laugh at, and the betrayal moreover of a good intention. "I see, I see--the self-made girl has of course always had a past. Yes, and the young man in the store--from Utica--is part of her past."
"You express it perfectly," said Mrs. Bonnycastle. "I couldn't say it better myself."
"But with her present, with her future, when they change like this young lady's, I suppose everything else changes. How do you say it in America? She lets him slide."
"We don't say it at all!" Mrs. Bonnycastle cried. "She does nothing of the sort; for what do you take her? She sticks to him; that at least is what we EXPECT her to do," she added with less a.s.surance.
"As I tell you, the type's new and the case under consideration. We haven't yet had time for complete study."
"Oh of course I hope she sticks to him," Vogelstein declared simply and with his German accent more audible, as it always was when he was slightly agitated.
For the rest of the trip he was rather restless. He wandered about the boat, talking little with the returning picnickers. Toward the last, as they drew near Was.h.i.+ngton and the white dome of the Capitol hung aloft before them, looking as simple as a suspended s...o...b..ll, he found himself, on the deck, in proximity to Mrs. Steuben. He reproached himself with having rather neglected her during an entertainment for which he was indebted to her bounty, and he sought to repair his omission by a proper deference. But the only act of homage that occurred to him was to ask her as by chance whether Miss Day were, to her knowledge, engaged.
Mrs. Steuben turned her Southern eyes upon him with a look of almost romantic compa.s.sion. "To my knowledge? Why of course I'd know! I should think you'd know too. Didn't you know she was engaged? Why she has been engaged since she was sixteen."
Count Otto gazed at the dome of the Capitol. "To a gentleman from Utica?
"Yes, a native of her place. She's expecting him soon."
"I'm so very glad to hear it," said Vogelstein, who decidedly, for his career, had promise. "And is she going to marry him?"
"Why what do people fall in love with each other FOR? I presume they'll marry when she gets round to it. Ah if she had only been from the Sooth--!"
At this he broke quickly in: "But why have they never brought it off, as you say, in so many years?"
"Well, at first she was too young, and then she thought her family ought to see Europe--of course they could see it better WITH her-- and they spent some time there. And then Mr. Bellamy had some business difficulties that made him feel as if he didn't want to marry just then. But he has given up business and I presume feels more free. Of course it's rather long, but all the while they've been engaged. It's a true, true love," said Mrs. Steuben, whose sound of the adjective was that of a feeble flute.
"Is his name Mr. Bellamy?" the Count asked with his haunting reminiscence. "D. F. Bellamy, so? And has he been in a store?"
"I don't know what kind of business it was: it was some kind of business in Utica. I think he had a branch in New York. He's one of the leading gentlemen of Utica and very highly educated. He's a good deal older than Miss Day. He's a very fine man--I presume a college man. He stands very high in Utica. I don't know why you look as if you doubted it."
Vogelstein a.s.sured Mrs. Steuben that he doubted nothing, and indeed what she told him was probably the more credible for seeming to him eminently strange. Bellamy had been the name of the gentleman who, a year and a half before, was to have met Pandora on the arrival of the German steamer; it was in Bellamy's name that she had addressed herself with such effusion to Bellamy's friend, the man in the straw hat who was about to fumble in her mother's old clothes. This was a fact that seemed to Count Otto to finish the picture of her contradictions; it wanted at present no touch to be complete. Yet even as it hung there before him it continued to fascinate him, and he stared at it, detached from surrounding things and feeling a little as if he had been pitched out of an overturned vehicle, till the boat b.u.mped against one of the outstanding piles of the wharf at which Mrs. Steuben's party was to disembark. There was some delay in getting the steamer adjusted to the dock, during which the pa.s.sengers watched the process over its side and extracted what entertainment they might from the appearance of the various persons collected to receive it. There were darkies and loafers and hackmen, and also vague individuals, the loosest and blankest he had ever seen anywhere, with tufts on their chins, toothpicks in their mouths, hands in their pockets, rumination in their jaws and diamond pins in their s.h.i.+rt-fronts, who looked as if they had sauntered over from Pennsylvania Avenue to while away half an hour, forsaking for that interval their various slanting postures in the porticoes of the hotels and the doorways of the saloons.
"Oh I'm so glad! How sweet of you to come down!" It was a voice close to Count Otto's shoulder that spoke these words, and he had no need to turn to see from whom it proceeded. It had been in his ears the greater part of the day, though, as he now perceived, without the fullest richness of expression of which it was capable. Still less was he obliged to turn to discover to whom it was addressed, for the few simple words I have quoted had been flung across the narrowing interval of water, and a gentleman who had stepped to the edge of the dock without our young man's observing him tossed back an immediate reply.
"I got here by the three o'clock train. They told me in K Street where you were, and I thought I'd come down and meet you."
"Charming attention!" said Pandora Day with the laugh that seemed always to invite the whole of any company to partake in it; though for some moments after this she and her interlocutor appeared to continue the conversation only with their eyes. Meanwhile Vogelstein's also were not idle. He looked at her visitor from head to foot, and he was aware that she was quite unconscious of his own proximity. The gentleman before him was tall, good-looking, well- dressed; evidently he would stand well not only at Utica, but, judging from the way he had planted himself on the dock, in any position that circ.u.mstances might compel him to take up. He was about forty years old; he had a black moustache and he seemed to look at the world over some counter-like expanse on which he invited it all warily and pleasantly to put down first its idea of the terms of a transaction. He waved a gloved hand at Pandora as if, when she exclaimed "Gracious, ain't they long!" to urge her to be patient.
She was patient several seconds and then asked him if he had any news. He looked at her briefly, in silence, smiling, after which he drew from his pocket a large letter with an official-looking seal and shook it jocosely above his head. This was discreetly, covertly done. No one but our young man appeared aware of how much was taking place--and poor Count Otto mainly felt it in the air. The boat was touching the wharf and the s.p.a.ce between the pair inconsiderable.
"Department of State?" Pandora very prettily and soundlessly mouthed across at him.
"That's what they call it."
"Well, what country?"
"What's your opinion of the Dutch?" the gentleman asked for answer.
"Oh gracious!" cried Pandora.
"Well, are you going to wait for the return trip?" said the gentleman.
Our silent sufferer turned away, and presently Mrs. Steuben and her companion disembarked together. When this lady entered a carriage with Miss Day the gentleman who had spoken to the girl followed them; the others scattered, and Vogelstein, declining with thanks a "lift" from Mrs. Bonnycastle, walked home alone and in some intensity of meditation. Two days later he saw in a newspaper an announcement that the President had offered the post of Minister to Holland to Mr. D. F. Bellamy of Utica; and in the course of a month he heard from Mrs. Steuben that Pandora, a thousand other duties performed, had finally "got round" to the altar of her own nuptials.
He communicated this news to Mrs. Bonnycastle, who had not heard it but who, shrieking at the queer face he showed her, met it with the remark that there was now ground for a new induction as to the self- made girl.