While Mrs. Gregory and Mrs. Weguelin sat on their chairs, and Hortense sat on her bench, tea was brought and a table laid, behind whose whiteness and silver Hortense began slight offices with cups and sugar tongs. She looked inquiry at her visitors, in answer to which Mrs. Gregory indicated acceptance, and Mrs. Weguelin refusal. The beauty of Hortense’s face had strangely increased since the arrival of these two visitors. It shone resplendent behind the silver and the white cloth, and her movement, as she gave the cup to Mrs. Gregory St. Michael, was one of complete grace and admirable propriety. But once she looked away from them in the direction of the path. Her two visitors rose and left her, Mrs. Gregory setting her tea-cup down with a gesture that said she would take no more, and, after their bows of farewell, Hortense sat alone again pulling about the tea things.
I saw that by the table lay a card-case on the ground, evidently dropped by Mrs. Gregory; but Hortense could not see it where she sat. Her quick look along the path heralded more company and the General with more chairs. Young people now began to appear, the various motions of whom were more animated than the approaches and greetings and farewells of their elders; chairs were moved and exchanged, the General was useful in handling cups, and a number of faces unknown to me came and went, some of them elderly ones whom I had seen in church, or passed while walking; the black dresses of age mingled with the brighter colors of youth; and on her bench behind the cups sat Hortense, or rose up at right moments, radiant, restrained and adequate, receiving with deferential attention the remarks of some dark-clothed elder, or, with sufficiently interested countenance, inquiring something from a brighter one of her own generation; but twice I saw her look up the garden path. None of them stayed long, although when they were all gone the shadow of the garden wall had come as far as the arbor; and once again Hortense sat alone behind the table, leaning back with arms folded, and looking straight in front of her. At last she stirred, and rose slowly, and then, with a movement which was the perfection of timidity, began to advance, as John, with his Aunt Eliza, came along the path. To John, Hortense with familiar yet discreet brightness gave a left hand, as she waited for the old lady; and then the old lady went through with it. What that embrace of acknowledgment cost her cannot be measured, and during its process John stood like a sentinel. Possibly this was the price of his forgiveness to his Aunt Eliza.
The visitors accepted tea, and the beauty in Hortense’s face was now supreme. The old lady sat, forgetting to drink her tea, but very still in outward attitude, as she talked with Hortense; and the sight of one hand in its glove lying motionless upon her best dress, suddenly almost drew unexpected tears to my eyes. John was nearly as quiet as she, but the glove that he held was twisted between his fingers. I expected that he would stay with his Hortense when his aunt took her leave; he, however, was evidently expected by the old lady to accompany her out and back, I suppose, to her house, as was proper.