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- THE PATAGONIA - 5/14 -
and submissively SEE things. I shall see them even here and shall come down very often and tell you about them. You're not interested today, but you will be tomorrow, for a ship's a great school of gossip. You won't believe the number of researches and problems you'll be engaged in by the middle of the voyage."
"I? Never in the world!--lying here with my nose in a book and not caring a straw."
"You'll participate at second hand. You'll see through my eyes, hang upon my lips, take sides, feel passions, all sorts of sympathies and indignations. I've an idea," I further developed, "that your young lady's the person on board who will interest me most."
"'Mine' indeed! She hasn't been near me since we left the dock."
"There you are--you do feel she owes you something. Well," I added, "she's very curious."
"You've such cold-blooded terms!" Mrs. Nettlepoint wailed. "Elle ne sait pas se conduire; she ought to have come to ask about me."
"Yes, since you're under her care," I laughed. "As for her not knowing how to behave--well, that's exactly what we shall see."
"You will, but not I! I wash my hands of her."
"Don't say that--don't say that."
Mrs. Nettlepoint looked at me a moment. "Why do you speak so solemnly?"
In return I considered her. "I'll tell you before we land. And have you seen much of your son?"
"Oh yes, he has come in several times. He seems very much pleased. He has got a cabin to himself."
"That's great luck," I said, "but I've an idea he's always in luck. I was sure I should have to offer him the second berth in my room."
"And you wouldn't have enjoyed that, because you don't like him," she took upon herself to say.
"What put that into your head?"
"It isn't in my head--it's in my heart, my coeur de mere. We guess those things. You think he's selfish. I could see it last night."
"Dear lady," I contrived promptly enough to reply, "I've no general ideas about him at all. He's just one of the phenomena I am going to observe. He seems to me a very fine young man. However," I added, "since you've mentioned last night I'll admit that I thought he rather tantalised you. He played with your suspense."
"Why he came at the last just to please me," said Mrs. Nettlepoint.
I was silent a little. "Are you sure it was for your sake?"
"Ah, perhaps it was for yours!"
I bore up, however, against this thrust, characteristic of perfidious woman when you presume to side with her against a fond tormentor. "When he went out on the balcony with that girl," I found assurance to suggest, "perhaps she asked him to come for HERS."
"Perhaps she did. But why should he do everything she asks him--such as she is?"
"I don't know yet, but perhaps I shall know later. Not that he'll tell me--for he'll never tell me anything: he's not," I consistently opined, "one of those who tell."
"If she didn't ask him, what you say is a great wrong to her," said Mrs. Nettlepoint.
"Yes, if she didn't. But you say that to protect Jasper--not to protect her," I smiled.
"You ARE cold-blooded--it's uncanny!" my friend exclaimed.
"Ah this is nothing yet! Wait a while--you'll see. At sea in general I'm awful--I exceed the limits. If I've outraged her in thought I'll jump overboard. There are ways of asking--a man doesn't need to tell a woman that--without the crude words."
"I don't know what you imagine between them," said Mrs. Nettlepoint.
"Well, nothing," I allowed, "but what was visible on the surface. It transpired, as the newspapers say, that they were old friends."
"He met her at some promiscuous party--I asked him about it afterwards. She's not a person"--my hostess was confident--"whom he could ever think of seriously."
"That's exactly what I believe."
"You don't observe--you know--you imagine," Mrs. Nettlepoint continued to argue. "How do you reconcile her laying a trap for Jasper with her going out to Liverpool on an errand of love?"
Oh I wasn't to be caught that way! "I don't for an instant suppose she laid a trap; I believe she acted on the impulse of the moment. She's going out to Liverpool on an errand of marriage; that's not necessarily the same thing as an errand of love, especially for one who happens to have had a personal impression of the gentleman she's engaged to."
"Well, there are certain decencies which in such a situation the most abandoned of her sex would still observe. You apparently judge her capable--on no evidence--of violating them."
"Ah you don't understand the shades of things," I returned. "Decencies and violations, dear lady--there's no need for such heavy artillery! I can perfectly imagine that without the least immodesty she should have said to Jasper on the balcony, in fact if not in words: 'I'm in dreadful spirits, but if you come I shall feel better, and that will be pleasant for you too.'"
"And why is she in dreadful spirits?"
"She isn't!" I replied, laughing.
My poor friend wondered. "What then is she doing?"
"She's walking with your son."
Mrs. Nettlepoint for a moment said nothing; then she treated me to another inconsequence. "Ah she's horrid!"
"No, she's charming!" I protested.
"You mean she's 'curious'?"
"Well, for me it's the same thing!"
This led my friend of course to declare once more that I was cold- blooded. On the afternoon of the morrow we had another talk, and she told me that in the morning Miss Mavis had paid her a long visit. She knew nothing, poor creature, about anything, but her intentions were good and she was evidently in her own eyes conscientious and decorous. And Mrs. Nettlepoint concluded these remarks with the sigh "Unfortunate person!"
"You think she's a good deal to be pitied then?"
"Well, her story sounds dreary--she told me a good deal of it. She fell to talking little by little and went from one thing to another. She's in that situation when a girl MUST open herself--to some woman."
"Hasn't she got Jasper?" I asked.
"He isn't a woman. You strike me as jealous of him," my companion added.
"I daresay HE thinks so--or will before the end. Ah no--ah no!" And I asked Mrs. Nettlepoint if our young lady struck her as, very grossly, a flirt. She gave me no answer, but went on to remark that she found it odd and interesting to see the way a girl like Grace Mavis resembled the girls of the kind she herself knew better, the girls of "society," at the same time that she differed from them; and the way the differences and resemblances were so mixed up that on certain questions you couldn't tell where you'd find her. You'd think she'd feel as you did because you had found her feeling so, and then suddenly, in regard to some other matter--which was yet quite the same--she'd be utterly wanting. Mrs. Nettlepoint proceeded to observe--to such idle speculations does the vacancy of sea-hours give encouragement--that she wondered whether it were better to be an ordinary girl very well brought up or an extraordinary girl not brought up at all.
"Oh I go in for the extraordinary girl under all circumstances."
It's true that if you're VERY well brought up you're not, you can't be, ordinary," said Mrs. Nettlepoint, smelling her strong salts. "You're a lady, at any rate."
"And Miss Mavis is fifty miles out--is that what you mean?"
"Well--you've seen her mother."
"Yes, but I think your contention would be that among such people the mother doesn't count."
"Precisely, and that's bad."
"I see what you mean. But isn't it rather hard? If your mother doesn't know anything it's better you should be independent of her, and yet if you are that constitutes a bad note." I added that Mrs. Mavis had appeared to count sufficiently two nights before. She had said and done everything she wanted, while the girl sat silent and respectful. Grace's attitude, so far as her parent was concerned, had been eminently decent.
"Yes, but she 'squirmed' for her," said Mrs. Nettlepoint.
"Ah if you know it I may confess she has told me as much."
My friend stared. "Told YOU? There's one of the things they do!"
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