While looking for Violet Effingham, Phineas encountered Madame Goesler, among a crowd of people who were watching the adventurous embarkation of certain daring spirits in a pleasure-boat. There were watermen there in the Duke’s livery, ready to take such spirits down to Richmond or up to Teddington lock, and many daring spirits did take such trips,—to the great peril of muslins, ribbons, and starch, to the peril also of ornamental summer white garments, so that when the thing was over, the boats were voted to have been a bore.
“Are you going to venture?” said Phineas to the lady.
“I should like it of all things if I were not afraid for my clothes. Will you come?”
“I was never good upon the water. I should be sea-sick to a certainty. They are going down beneath the bridge too, and we should be splashed by the steamers. I don’t think my courage is high enough.” Thus Phineas excused himself, being still intent on prosecuting his search for Violet.
“Then neither will I,” said Madame Goesler. “One dash from a peccant oar would destroy the whole symmetry of my dress. Look. That green young lady has already been sprinkled.”
“But the blue young gentleman has been sprinkled also,” said Phineas, “and they will be happy in a joint baptism.” Then they strolled along the river path together, and were soon alone. “You will be leaving town soon, Madame Goesler?”
“And where do you go?”
“Oh,—to Vienna. I am there for a couple of months every year, minding my business. I wonder whether you would know me, if you saw me;—sometimes sitting on a stool in a counting-house, sometimes going about among old houses, settling what must be done to save them from tumbling down. I dress so differently at such times, and talk so differently, and look so much older, that I almost fancy myself to be another person.”
“Is it a great trouble to you?”
“No,—I rather like it. It makes me feel that I do something in the world.”
“Do you go alone?”
“Quite alone. I take a German maid with me, and never speak a word to any one else on the journey.”
“That must be very bad,” said Phineas.
“Yes; it is the worst of it. But then I am so much accustomed to be alone. You see me in society, and in society only, and therefore naturally look upon me as one of a gregarious herd; but I am in truth an animal that feeds alone and lives alone. Take the hours of the year all through, and I am a solitary during four-fifths of them. And what do you intend to do?”
“I go to Ireland.”
“Home to your own people. How nice! I have no people to go to. I have one sister, who lives with her husband at Riga. She is my only relation, and I never see her.”
“But you have thousands of friends in England.”