On Tuesday evening Chester, a country boy yet now and then, was first at the De l’Isles’.
Madame lauded him. “Punctualitie! tha’z the soul of pleasure!” She had begun to explain why her other guests included but one young lady, when here they came. First, the Prieurs, a still handsome Creole couple whom he never met again. Then that youthful-aged up-town pair, the Thorndyke-Smiths. And last—while Smith held Chester captive to tell him he knew his part of Dixie, having soldiered there in the Civil War—the one young lady, Mlle. Chapdelaine. As Chester turned toward her she turned away, but her back view was enough to startle him.
“Aline,” the hostess began as she brought them face to face, but whatever she said more might as well have been a thunderbolt through the roof. For Aline Chapdelaine was SHE.
They went out together. What a stately dining-room! What carvings! What old china and lace on the board, under what soft, rich illumination! The Prieurs held the seats of honor. Chester was on the hostess’s left. Mademoiselle sat between him and Mr. Smith. It would be pleasant to tell with what poise the youth and she dropped into conversation, each intensely mindful—intensely aware that the other was mindful—of that Conti Street corner, of Ovide’s shop, and of “The Clock in the Sky,” and both alike hungry to know how much each had been told about the other. Calmly they ignored all earlier encounter and entered into acquaintance on the common ground of the poetry of the narrow region of decay in which this lovely home lay hid “like a lost jewel.”
“Ah, not quite lost yet,” the girl protested.
“No,” he conceded, “not while the poetry remains,” and Smith, on her other hand, said:
“Not while this cluster of shops beneath us is kept by those who now keep them.”
“My faith!” the hostess broke in, “to real souls ’tis they are the wonder—and the poesie—and the jewels! Ask Aline!”
“Ask me,” Chester said, as if for mademoiselle’s rescue; “I discovered them only last week.”
“And then also,” quietly said Aline, “ask me, for I did not discover them only last week.”
M. Prieur joining in enabled Chester to murmur: “May I ask you something?”
“You need not. You would ask if I knew you had discovered them—M. Castanado and the rest.”
“And you would answer?”
“That I knew they had discovered you.”
“Discovered, you mean, my spiritual substance?”
“Yes, your spiritual substance. That’s a capital expression, Mr. Chester, your ‘spiritual substance.’ I must add that to my English.”
“Your English is wonderfully correct. May I ask something else?”
“I can answer without. Yes, I know where you’re going to-morrow and for what; to read that old manuscript. Mr. Chester, that other story—of my grand’mere, ‘Maud’; how did you like that?”