“Why, roses,” I answered; and she went into peals of laughter.
“Pray share the jest,” I begged her with some dignity.
“Didn’t you know,” she replied, “the language that roses from a single gentleman to a young lady speak in Kings Port?”
I stood staring and stiff, taking it in, taking myself, and Eliza, and Hortense, and the implicated John, all in.
“Why, aivrybody in Kings Port knows that!” said the bride; and now my mirth rose even above hers.
XVII: Doing the Handsome Thing
It by no means lessened my pleasure to discern that Hortense must feel herself to be in a predicament; and as I sat writing my answer to the note, which was from Mrs. Weguelin St. Michael and contained an invitation to me for the next afternoon, I thought of those pilots whose dangers have come down to us from distant times through the songs of ancient poets. The narrow and tempestuous channel between Scylla and Charybdis bristled unquestionably with violent problems, but with none, I should suppose, that called for a nicer hand upon the wheel, or an eye more alert, than this steering of your little trireme to a successful marriage, between one man who believed himself to be your destined bridegroom and another who expected to be so, meanwhile keeping each in ignorance of how close you were sailing to the other. In Hortense’s place I should have wished to hasten the wedding now, have it safely performed this afternoon, say, or to-morrow morning; thus precipitated by some invaluable turn in the health of her poor dear father. But she had worn it out, his health, by playing it for decidedly as much as it could bear; it couldn’t be used again without risk; the date must stand fixed; and, uneasy as she might have begun to be about John, Hortense must, with no shortening of the course, get her boat in safe without smashing it against either John or Charley. I wondered a little that she should feel any uncertainty about her affianced lover. She must know how much his word was to him, and she had had his word twice, given her the second time to put his own honor right with her on the score of the phosphates. But perhaps Hortense’s rich experiences of life had taught her that a man’s word to a woman should not be subjected to the test of another woman’s advent. On the whole, I suppose it was quite natural those flowers should annoy her, and equally natural that Eliza, the minx, should allow them to do so! There’s a joy to the marrow in watching your enemy harried and discomfited by his own gratuitous contrivances; you look on serenely at a show which hasn’t cost you a groat. However, poor Eliza had not been so serene at the very end, when she stormed out at me. For this I did not have to forgive her, of course, little as I had merited such treatment. Had she not accepted my flowers? But it was a gratification to reflect that in my sentimental passages with her I had not gone to any great length;