Certainly Hortense Rieppe would have won the battle of Chattanooga! I know not from which parent that young woman inherited her gift of strategy, but she was a master. To use the resources of one lover in order to ascertain if another lover had any; to lay tribute on everything that Charley possessed; on his influence in the business world, which enabled him to walk into the V-C Chemical Company’s office and borrow an expert in the phosphate line; on his launch in which to pop the expert and take him up the river, and see in his company and learn from his lips just what resources of worldly wealth were likely to be in-store for John Mayrant; and finally (which was the key to all the rest) on his inveterate passion for her, on his banker-like determination through all the thick and thin of discouragement, and worse than discouragement, of contemptuous coquetry, to possess her at any cost he could afford;—to use all this that Charley had, in order that she might judiciously arrive at the decision whether she would take him or his rival, left one lost in admiration. And then, not to waste a moment! To reach town one evening, and next morning by ten o’clock to have that expert safe in the launch on his way up the river to the phosphate diggings! The very audacity of such unscrupulousness commanded my respect: successful dishonor generally wins louder applause than successful virtue. But to be married to her! Oh! not for worlds! Charley might meet such emergency, but poor John, never!
I nearly walked into Mrs. Weguelin and Mrs. Gregory taking their customary air slowly in South Place.
“But why a steel wasp?” I said at once to Mrs. Weguelin. It was a more familiar way of beginning with the little, dignified lady than would have been at all possible, or suitable, if we had not had that little joke about the piano snobile between us. As it was, she was not wholly displeased. These Kings Port old ladies grew, I suspect, very slowly and guardedly accustomed to any outsider; they allowed themselves very seldom to suffer any form of abruptness from him, or from any one, for that matter. But, once they were reassured as to him, then they might sometimes allow the privileged person certain departures from their own rule of deportment, because his conventions were recognized to be different from theirs. Moreover, in reminding Mrs. Weguelin of the steel wasp, I had put my abruptness in “quotations,” so to speak, by the tone I gave it, just as people who are particular in speech can often interpolate a word of current slang elegantly by means of the shade of emphasis which they lay upon it.
So Mrs. Weguelin smiled and her dark eyes danced a little. “You remember I said that, then?”
“I remember everything that you said.”
“How much have you seen of the creature?” demanded Mrs. Gregory, with her head pretty high.
“Well, I’m seeing more, and more, and more every minute. She’s rather endless.”