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- The Maid of Maiden Lane - 3/44 -
"Then, as I am to live in New York, why was I sent to Bethlehem?"
"You were sent to Bethlehem to learn how to live in New York,--or in any other place. Where have you seen Mr. Jefferson?"
"I saw him this afternoon, in Cedar Street. He wore his red coat and breeches; and it was then I formed the audacious intention of dancing with him. I told Mrs. Willets of it; and she said, 'Mr. Jefferson carried the Declaration on his shoulders, and would not dare to bow;' and then with such a queer little laugh she asked me 'if his red breeches did not make me think of the guillotine?' I do not think Mrs. Willets likes Mr. Jefferson very much; but, all the same, I wish to dance once with him. I think it will be something to talk about when I am an old woman."
"My dear one, that is so far off. Go now, and write to Arenta. Young Mr. Hyde and Figaro will doubtless bring her here."
"I hope so; for Arenta has an agreeableness that fits every occasion." She had been folding up, with deliberate neatness, the strings of her bonnet, as she talked, and she rose with these words and went out of the parlour; but she went slowly, with a kind of hesitation, as if something had been left unsaid.
About six o'clock Arenta Van Ariens made a personal response to her friend's message. She was all excitement and expectation. "What a delightful surprise!" she cried. "To-day has been a day to be praised. It has ticked itself away to wonders and astonishments. Who do you think called on me this afternoon?"
"Tell me plainly, Arenta. I never could guess for an answer."
"No less a person than Madame Kippon. Gertrude Kippon is going to be married! She is going to marry a French count! And madame is beside herself with the great alliance."
"I heard my father say that Madame Kippon had 'the French disease' in a dangerous form."
"Indeed, that is certain. She has put the Sabbath day out of her calendar; and her daughter's marriage is to be a legal one only. I wonder what good Dr. Kunz will say to that! As for me, I lost all patience with madame's rigmarole of philosophies--for I am not inclined to philosophy--and indeed I had some difficulty to keep my temper; you know that it is occasionally quite unmanageable."
Cornelia smiled understandingly, and answered with a smile, "I hope, however, that you did not put her to death, Arenta."
"I have, at least, buried her, as far as I am concerned. And my father says I am not to go to the marriage; that I am not even to drink a cup of tea with her again. If my father had been at home--or even Rem--she would not have left our house with all her colours flying; but I am good-natured, I have no tongue worth speaking of."
"Come, come, Arenta! I shall be indeed astonished if you did not say one or two provoking words."
"I said only three, Cornelia. When madame finally declared--'she really must go home,' I did answer, as sweetly as possible, 'Thank you, madame!' That was something I could say with becoming politeness."
Cornelia was tying the scarlet ribbon which held back her flowing hair, but she turned and looked at Arenta, and asked, "Did madame boast any afterwards?"
"No; she went away very modestly, and I was not sorry to see the angry surprise on her face. Gertrude Kippon a countess! Only imagine it! Well, then, I have no doubt the Frenchman will make of Gertrude--whatever can be made of her."
"Our drawing-rooms, and even our streets, are full of titles," said Cornelia; "I think it is a distinction to be plain master and mistress."
"That is the truth; even this handsome dandy, Joris Hyde, is a lieutenant."
"He was in the field two years. He told me so this afternoon. I dare say, he has earned his title, even if he is a lieutenant."
"Don't be so highty-tighty, Cornelia. I have no objections to military titles. They mean something; for they at least imply, that a man is willing to fight if his country will find him a quarrel to fight in. In fact, I rather lean to official titles of every kind."
"I have not thought of them at all."
"But I have. They affect me like the feathers in a cock's tail; of course the bird would be as good without them, but fancy him!" and Arenta laughed mirthfully at her supposition. "As for women," she continued, "lady, or countess, or Marquise, what an air it gives! It finishes a woman like a lace ruff round her neck. Every woman ought to have a title--I mean every woman of respectability. I have a fancy to be a marquise, and Aunt Jacobus says I look Frenchy enough. I have heard that there is a title in the Hyde family. I must ask Aunt Jacobus. She knows everything about everybody. Lieutenant Hyde! I do wonder what he is coming for!"
The words dropped slowly, one by one, from her lips; and with a kind of fateful import; but neither of the girls divined the significance of the inquiry. Both were too intent on those last little touches to the toilet, which make its effectiveness, to take into consideration reflections without form; and probably, at that time, without personal intention.
Then Arenta, having arranged her ringlets, tied her sash, and her sandals, began to talk of her own affairs; for she was a young lady who found it impossible to be sufficient for herself. There had been trouble with the slaves in the Van Ariens' household, and she told Cornelia every particular. Also, she had VERY NEAR had an offer of marriage from George Van Berckel; and she went into explanations about her diplomacies in avoiding it.
"Poor George!" she sighed, and then, looking up, was a trifle dismayed at the expression upon Cornelia's face. For Cornelia was as reticent, as Arenta was garrulous; and the girls were incomprehensible to each other in their deepest natures, though, superficially, they were much on the same plane, and really thought themselves to be distinctly sympathetic friends.
"Why do you look so strangely at me, Cornelia?" asked Arenta. "Am I not properly dressed?"
"You are perfectly dressed, Arenta. Women as fair as you are, know instinctively how to dress." And then Arenta stood up before the mirror and put her hand upon Cornelia's shoulder, and they both looked at the reflection in it.
A very pretty reflection it was!--a slender girl with a round, fair face, and a long, white throat, and sloping shoulders. Her pale brown hair fell in ripples and curls around her until they touched a robe of heavenly blue, and half hid a singular necklace of large pearls:--pearls taken from some Spanish ship and strung in old Zierikzee, and worn for centuries by the maids and dames of the house of Van Ariens.
"It is the necklace!" said Cornelia after a pause, "It is the pearl necklace, which gives you such an air of mystery and romance, and changes you from an everyday maiden into an old-time princess."
"No doubt, it is the necklace," answered Arenta. "It is my Aunt Angelica's, but she permits me to wear it. When she was young, she called every pearl after one of her lovers; and she had a lover for every pearl. She was near to forty years old when she married; and she had many lovers, even then."
"It would have been better if she had married before she was near to forty years old--that is, if she had taken a good husband."
"Perhaps that; but good husbands come not on every day in the week. I have three beads named already--one for George Van Berckel--one for Fred De Lancey--and one for Willie Nichols. What do you think of that?"
"I think, if you copy your Aunt Angelica, you will not marry any of your lovers till you are forty years old. Come, let us go downstairs."
She spoke a little peremptorily--indeed, she was in the habit, quite unconsciously of using this tone with her companion, consequently it was not noticed by her. And it was further remarkable, that the girls did not walk down the broad stairs together, but Cornelia went first, and Arenta followed her. There was no intention or consideration in this procedure; it was the natural expression of underlying qualities, as yet not realized.
Cornelia's self-contained, independent nature was further revealed by the erect dignity of her carriage down the centre of the stairway, one hand slightly lifting her silk robe, the other laid against the daffodils at her breast. Her face was happy and serene, her steps light, and without hesitation or hurry. Arenta was a little behind her friend. She stepped idly and irresolutely, with one hand slipping along the baluster, and the other restlessly busy with her curls, her ribbons, the lace that partially hid her bosom, and the pearls that made a moonlight radiance on her snowy throat. At the foot of the staircase Cornelia had to wait for her, and they went into the parlour together.
Doctor Moran, Rem Van Ariens, and Lieutenant Hyde were present. The girls had a momentary glance at the latter ere he assumed the manner he thought suitable for youth and beauty. He was talking seriously to the Doctor and playing with an ivory paper knife as he did so, but whatever remark he was making he cut it in two, and stood up, pleased and expectant, to receive Beauty so fresh and so conspicuous.
He was handsomely dressed in a dark-blue velvet coat, silver-laced, a long white satin vest and black satin breeches. His hair was thrown backwards and tied with the customary black ribbon, and his linen and laces were of the finest quality. He met Cornelia as he might have met a princess; and he flashed into Arenta's eyes a glance of admiration which turned her senses upside down, and made her feel, for a moment or two, as if she could hardly breathe.
Upon Arenta's brother he had not produced a pleasant impression. Without intention, he had treated young Van Ariens with that negative politeness which dashes a sensitive man and makes him resentfully conscious that he has been rendered incapable of doing himself justice. And Rem could neither define the sense of humiliation he felt, nor yet ruffle the courteous urbanity of Hyde; though he tried in various ways to introduce some conversation which would afford him the pleasure of contradiction. Equally he failed to consider that his barely veiled antagonism compelled from the Doctor, and even from Cornelia and Arenta, attentions he might not otherwise have received. The Doctor was indeed much annoyed
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