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- Madame de Treymes - 6/13 -
"I understand; but you have been given reason to hope--"
"Every man in my position gives himself his own reasons for hoping," he interposed with a smile.
"I understand that too," Madame de Treymes assented. "But still--you spent a great deal of money the other day at our bazaar."
"Yes: I wanted to have a talk with you, and it was the readiest--if not the most distinguished--means of attracting your attention."
"I understand," she once more reiterated, with a gleam of amusement.
"It is because I suspect you of understanding everything that I have been so anxious for this opportunity."
She bowed her acknowledgement, and said: "Shall we sit a moment?" adding, as he drew their chairs under a tree: "You permit me, then, to say that I believe I understand also a little of our good Fanny's mind?"
"On that point I have no authority to speak. I am here only to listen."
"Listen, then: you have persuaded her that there would be no harm in divorcing my brother--since I believe your religion does not forbid divorce?"
"Madame de Malrive's religion sanctions divorce in such a case as--"
"As my brother has furnished? Yes, I have heard that your race is stricter in judging such _ecarts_. But you must not think," she added, "that I defend my brother. Fanny must have told you that we have always given her our sympathy."
"She has let me infer it from her way of speaking of you."
Madame de Treymes arched her dramatic eyebrows. "How cautious you are! I am so straightforward that I shall have no chance with you."
"You will be quite safe, unless you are so straightforward that you put me on my guard."
She met this with a low note of amusement.
"At this rate we shall never get any farther; and in two minutes I must go back to my mother's visitors. Why should we go on fencing? The situation is really quite simple. Tell me just what you wish to know. I have always been Fanny's friend, and that disposes me to be yours."
Durham, during this appeal, had had time to steady his thoughts; and the result of his deliberation was that he said, with a return to his former directness: "Well, then, what I wish to know is, what position your family would take if Madame de Malrive should sue for a divorce." He added, without giving her time to reply: "I naturally wish to be clear on this point before urging my cause with your sister-in-law."
Madame de Treymes seemed in no haste to answer; but after a pause of reflection she said, not unkindly: "My poor Fanny might have asked me that herself."
"I beg you to believe that I am not acting as her spokesman," Durham hastily interposed. "I merely wish to clear up the situation before speaking to her in my own behalf."
"You are the most delicate of suitors! But I understand your feeling. Fanny also is extremely delicate: it was a great surprise to us at first. Still, in this case--" Madame de Treymes paused--"since she has no religious scruples, and she had no difficulty in obtaining a separation, why should she fear any in demanding a divorce?"
"I don't know that she does: but the mere fact of possible opposition might be enough to alarm the delicacy you have observed in her."
"Ah--yes: on her boy's account."
"Partly, doubtless, on her boy's account."
"So that, if my brother objects to a divorce, all he has to do is to announce his objection? But, my dear sir, you are giving your case into my hands!" She flashed an amused smile on him.
"Since you say you are Madame de Malrive's friend, could there be a better place for it?"
As she turned her eyes on him he seemed to see, under the flitting lightness of her glance, the sudden concentrated expression of the ancestral will. "I am Fanny's friend, certainly. But with us family considerations are paramount. And our religion forbids divorce."
"So that, inevitably, your brother will oppose it?"
She rose from her seat, and stood fretting with her slender boot-tip the minute red pebbles of the path.
"I must really go in: my mother will never forgive me for deserting her."
"But surely you owe me an answer?" Durham protested, rising also.
"In return for your purchases at my stall?"
"No: in return for the trust I have placed in you."
She mused on this, moving slowly a step or two toward the house.
"Certainly I wish to see you again; you interest me," she said smiling. "But it is so difficult to arrange. If I were to ask you to come here again, my mother and uncle would be surprised. And at Fanny's--"
"Oh, not there!" he exclaimed.
"Where then? Is there any other house where we are likely to meet?"
Durham hesitated; but he was goaded by the flight of the precious minutes. "Not unless you'll come and dine with me," he said boldly.
"Dine with you? _Au cabaret?_ Ah, that would be diverting--but impossible!"
"Well, dine with my cousin, then--I have a cousin, an American lady, who lives here," said Durham, with suddenly-soaring audacity.
She paused with puzzled brows. "An American lady whom I know?"
"By name, at any rate. You send her cards for all your charity bazaars."
She received the thrust with a laugh. "We do exploit your compatriots."
"Oh, I don't think she has ever gone to the bazaars."
"But she might if I dined with her?"
"Still less, I imagine."
She reflected on this, and then said with acuteness: "I like that, and I accept--but what is the lady's name?"
On the way home, in the first drop of his exaltation, Durham had said to himself: "But why on earth should Bessy invite her?"
He had, naturally, no very cogent reasons to give Mrs. Boykin in support of his astonishing request, and could only, marvelling at his own growth in duplicity, suffer her to infer that he was really, shamelessly "smitten" with the lady he thus proposed to thrust upon her hospitality. But, to his surprise, Mrs. Boykin hardly gave herself time to pause upon his reasons. They were swallowed up in the fact that Madame de Treymes wished to dine with her, as the lesser luminaries vanish in the blaze of the sun.
"I am not surprised," she declared, with a faint smile intended to check her husband's unruly wonder. "I wonder _you_ are, Elmer. Didn't you tell me that Armillac went out of his way to speak to you the other day at the races? And at Madame d'Alglade's sale--yes, I went there after all, just for a minute, because I found Katy and Nannie were so anxious to be taken--well, that day I noticed that Madame de Treymes was quite _empressee_ when we went up to her stall. Oh, I didn't buy anything: I merely waited while the girls chose some lampshades. They thought it would be interesting to take home something painted by a real Marquise, and of course I didn't tell them that those women _never_ make the things they sell at their stalls. But I repeat I'm not surprised: I suspected that Madame de Treymes had heard of our little dinners. You know they're really horribly bored in that poky old Faubourg. My poor John, I see now why she's been making up to you! But on one point I am quite determined, Elmer; whatever you say, I shall _not_ invite the Prince d'Armillac."
Elmer, as far as Durham could observe, did not say much; but, like his wife, he continued in a state of pleasantly agitated activity till the momentous evening of the dinner.
The festivity in question was restricted in numbers, either owing to the difficulty of securing suitable guests, or from a desire not to have it appear that Madame de Treymes' hosts attached any special importance to her presence; but the smallness of the company was counterbalanced by the multiplicity of the courses.
The national determination not to be "downed" by the despised foreigner, to show a wealth of material resource obscurely felt to compensate for the possible lack of other distinctions--this resolve
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