She had been strange, perceptibly strange, had Eliza La Heu; that was the most which I could make out of it. I had angered her in some manner wholly beyond my intention or understanding and not all at one fixed point in our talk; her irritation had come out and gone in again in spots all along the colloquy, and it had been a displeasure wholly apart from that indignation which had flashed up in her over the negro question. This, indeed, I understood well enough, and admired her for, and admired still more her gallant control of it; as for the other, I gave it up.
A sense of guilt—a very slight one, to be sure—dispersed my speculations when I was preparing for dinner, and Aunt Carola’s postscript, open upon my writing-table, reminded me that I had never asked Miss La Heu about the Bombos. Well, the Bombos could keep! And I descended to dinner a little late (as too often) to feel instantly in the air that they had been talking about me. I doubt if any company in the world, from the Greeks down through Machiavelli to the present moment, has ever been of a subtlety adequate to conceal from an observant person entering a room the fact that he has been the subject of their conversation. This company, at any rate, did not conceal it from me. Not even when the upcountry bride astutely greeted me with:—
“Why, we were just speaking of you! We were lust saying it would be a perfect shame if you missed those flowers at Live Oaks.” And, at this, various of the guests assured me that another storm would finish them; upon which I assured every one that to-morrow should see me embark upon the Live Oaks excursion boat, knowing quite well in my heart that some decidedly different question concerning me had been hastily dropped upon my appearance at the door. It poked up its little concealed head, did this question, when the bride said later to me, with immense archness:—
“How any gentleman can help falling just daid in love with that lovely young girl at the Exchange, I don’t see!”
“But I haven’t helped it!” I immediately exclaimed.
“Oh!” declared the bride with unerring perception, “that just shows he hasn’t been smitten at all! Well, I’d be ashamed, if I was a single gentleman.” And while I brought forth additional phrases concerning the distracted state of my heart, she looked at me with large, limpid eyes. “Anybody could tell you’re not afraid of a rival,” was her resulting comment; upon which several of the et ceteras laughed more than seemed to me appropriate.
I left them all free again to say what they pleased; for John Mayrant called for me to go upon our walk while we were still seated at table, and at table they remained after I had excused myself.