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- THE PATAGONIA - 3/14 -
His mother at once challenged him: it was ten o'clock; had he by chance made up his great mind? Apparently he failed to hear her, being in the first place surprised at the strange ladies and then struck with the fact that one of them wasn't strange. The young man, after a slight hesitation, greeted Miss Mavis with a handshake and a "Oh good-evening, how do you do?" He didn't utter her name--which I could see he must have forgotten; but she immediately pronounced his, availing herself of the American girl's discretion to "present" him to her mother.
"Well, you might have told me you knew him all this time!" that lady jovially cried. Then she had an equal confidence for Mrs. Nettlepoint. "It would have saved me a worry--an acquaintance already begun."
"Ah my son's acquaintances!" our hostess murmured.
"Yes, and my daughter's too!" Mrs. Mavis gaily echoed. "Mrs. Allen didn't tell us YOU were going," she continued to the young man.
"She'd have been clever if she had been able to!" Mrs. Nettlepoint sighed.
"Dear mother, I have my telegram," Jasper remarked, looking at Grace Mavis.
"I know you very little," the girl said, returning his observation.
"I've danced with you at some ball--for some sufferers by something or other."
"I think it was an inundation or a big fire," she a little languidly smiled. "But it was a long time ago--and I haven't seen you since."
"I've been in far countries--to my loss. I should have said it was a big fire."
"It was at the Horticultural Hall. I didn't remember your name," said Grace Mavis.
"That's very unkind of you, when I recall vividly that you had a pink dress."
"Oh I remember that dress--your strawberry tarletan: you looked lovely in it!" Mrs. Mavis broke out. "You must get another just like it--on the other side."
"Yes, your daughter looked charming in it," said Jasper Nettlepoint. Then he added to the girl: "Yet you mentioned my name to your mother."
"It came back to me--seeing you here. I had no idea this was your home."
"Well, I confess it isn't, much. Oh there are some drinks!"--he approached the tray and its glasses.
"Indeed there are and quite delicious"--Mrs. Mavis largely wiped her mouth.
"Won't you have another then?--a pink one, like your daughter's gown."
"With pleasure, sir. Oh do see them over," Mrs. Mavis continued, accepting from the young man's hand a third tumbler.
"My mother and that gentleman? Surely they can take care of themselves," he freely pleaded.
"Then my daughter--she has a claim as an old friend."
But his mother had by this time interposed. "Jasper, what does your telegram say?"
He paid her no heed: he stood there with his glass in his hand, looking from Mrs. Mavis to Miss Grace.
"Ah leave her to me, madam; I'm quite competent," I said to Mrs. Mavis.
Then the young man gave me his attention. The next minute he asked of the girl: "Do you mean you're going to Europe?"
"Yes, tomorrow. In the same ship as your mother."
"That's what we've come here for, to see all about it," said Mrs. Mavis.
"My son, take pity on me and tell me what light your telegram throws," Mrs. Nettlepoint went on.
"I will, dearest, when I've quenched my thirst." And he slowly drained his glass.
"Well, I declare you're worse than Gracie," Mrs. Mavis commented. "She was first one thing and then the other--but only about up to three o'clock yesterday."
"Excuse me--won't you take something?" Jasper inquired of Gracie; who however still declined, as if to make up for her mother's copious consommation. I found myself quite aware that the two ladies would do well to take leave, the question of Mrs. Nettlepoint's good will being so satisfactorily settled and the meeting of the morrow at the ship so near at hand and I went so far as to judge that their protracted stay, with their hostess visibly in a fidget, gave the last proof of their want of breeding. Miss Grace after all then was not such an improvement on her mother, for she easily might have taken the initiative of departure, in spite of Mrs. Mavis's evident "game" of making her own absorption of refreshment last as long as possible. I watched the girl with increasing interest; I couldn't help asking myself a question or two about her and even perceiving already (in a dim and general way) that rather marked embarrassment, or at least anxiety attended her. Wasn't it complicating that she should have needed, by remaining long enough, to assuage a certain suspense, to learn whether or no Jasper were going to sail? Hadn't something particular passed between them on the occasion or at the period to which we had caught their allusion, and didn't she really not know her mother was bringing her to HIS mother's, though she apparently had thought it well not to betray knowledge? Such things were symptomatic--though indeed one scarce knew of what--on the part of a young lady betrothed to that curious cross-barred phantom of a Mr. Porterfield. But I am bound to add that she gave me no further warrant for wonder than was conveyed in her all tacitly and covertly encouraging her mother to linger. Somehow I had a sense that SHE was conscious of the indecency of this. I got up myself to go, but Mrs. Nettlepoint detained me after seeing that my movement wouldn't be taken as a hint, and I felt she wished me not to leave my fellow visitors on her hands. Jasper complained of the closeness of the room, said that it was not a night to sit in a room--one ought to be out in the air, under the sky. He denounced the windows that overlooked the water for not opening upon a balcony or a terrace, until his mother, whom he hadn't yet satisfied about his telegram, reminded him that there was a beautiful balcony in front, with room for a dozen people. She assured him we would go and sit there if it would please him.
"It will be nice and cool tomorrow, when we steam into the great ocean," said Miss Mavis, expressing with more vivacity than she had yet thrown into any of her utterances my own thought of half an hour before. Mrs. Nettlepoint replied that it would probably be freezing cold, and her son murmured that he would go and try the drawing-room balcony and report upon it. Just as he was turning away he said, smiling, to Miss Mavis: "Won't you come with me and see if it's pleasant?"
"Oh well, we had better not stay all night!" her mother exclaimed, but still without moving. The girl moved, after a moment's hesitation;--she rose and accompanied Jasper to the other room. I saw how her slim tallness showed to advantage as she walked, and that she looked well as she passed, with her head thrown back, into the darkness of the other part of the house. There was something rather marked, rather surprising--I scarcely knew why, for the act in itself was simple enough--in her acceptance of such a plea, and perhaps it was our sense of this that held the rest of us somewhat stiffly silent as she remained away. I was waiting for Mrs. Mavis to go, so that I myself might go; and Mrs. Nettlepoint was waiting for her to go so that I mightn't. This doubtless made the young lady's absence appear to us longer than it really was--it was probably very brief. Her mother moreover, I think, had now a vague lapse from ease. Jasper Nettlepoint presently returned to the back drawing-room to serve his companion with our lucent syrup, and he took occasion to remark that it was lovely on the balcony: one really got some air, the breeze being from that quarter. I remembered, as he went away with his tinkling tumbler, that from MY hand, a few minutes before, Miss Mavis had not been willing to accept this innocent offering. A little later Mrs. Nettlepoint said: "Well, if it's so pleasant there we had better go ourselves." So we passed to the front and in the other room met the two young people coming in from the balcony. I was to wonder, in the light of later things, exactly how long they had occupied together a couple of the set of cane chairs garnishing the place in summer. If it had been but five minutes that only made subsequent events more curious. "We must go, mother," Miss Mavis immediately said; and a moment after, with a little renewal of chatter as to our general meeting on the ship, the visitors had taken leave. Jasper went down with them to the door and as soon as they had got off Mrs. Nettlepoint quite richly exhaled her impression. "Ah but'll she be a bore--she'll be a bore of bores!"
"Not through talking too much, surely."
"An affectation of silence is as bad. I hate that particular pose; it's coming up very much now; an imitation of the English, like everything else. A girl who tries to be statuesque at sea--that will act on one's nerves!"
"I don't know what she tries to be, but she succeeds in being very handsome."
"So much the better for you. I'll leave her to you, for I shall be shut up. I like her being placed under my 'care'!" my friend cried.
"She'll be under Jasper's," I remarked.
"Ah he won't go," she wailed--"I want it too much!"
"But I didn't see it that way. I have an idea he'll go."
"Why didn't he tell me so then--when he came in?"
"He was diverted by that young woman--a beautiful unexpected girl
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