The widow met him with a welcome neatly marked by resentment; she meant him to feel that his not coming sooner had been noticed. Miss Woodburn bubbled and gurgled on, and did what she could to mitigate his punishment, but she did not feel authorized to stay it, till Mrs. Leighton, by studied avoidance of her daughter’s name, obliged Beaton to ask for her. Then Miss Woodburn caught up her work, and said, “Ah’ll go and tell her, Mrs. Leighton.” At the top of the stairs she found Alma, and Alma tried to make it seem as if she had not been standing there. “Mah goodness, chald! there’s the handsomest young man asking for you down there you evah saw. Alh told you’ mothah Ah would come up fo’ you.”
“What—who is it?”
“Don’t you know? But bo’ could you? He’s got the most beautiful eyes, and he wea’s his hai’ in a bang, and he talks English like it was something else, and his name’s Mr. Beaton.”
“Did he-ask for me?” said Alma, with a dreamy tone. She put her hand on the stairs rail, and a little shiver ran over her.
“Didn’t I tell you? Of coase he did! And you ought to go raght down if you want to save the poo’ fellah’s lahfe; you’ mothah’s just freezin’ him to death.”
“She is?” cried Alma. “Tchk!” She flew downstairs, and flitted swiftly into the room, and fluttered up to Beaton, and gave him a crushing hand-shake.
“How very kind, of you to come and see us, Mr. Beaton! When did you come to New York? Don’t you find it warm here? We’ve only just lighted the furnace, but with this mild weather it seems too early. Mamma does keep it so hot!” She rushed about opening doors and shutting registers, and then came back and sat facing him from the sofa with a mask of radiant cordiality. “How have you been since we saw you?”
“Very well,” said Beaton. “I hope you’re well, Miss Leighton?”
“Oh, perfectly! I think New York agrees with us both wonderfully. I never knew such air. And to think of our not having snow yet! I should think everybody would want to come here! Why don’t you come, Mr. Beaton?”
Beaton lifted his eyes and looked at her. “I—I live in New York,” he faltered.
“In New York City!” she exclaimed.
“Surely, Alma,” said her mother, “you remember Mr. Beaton’s telling us he lived in New York.”
“But I thought you came from Rochester; or was it Syracuse? I always get those places mixed up.”
“Probably I told you my father lived at Syracuse. I’ve been in New York ever since I came home from Paris,” said Beaton, with the confusion of a man who feels himself played upon by a woman.
“From Paris!” Alma echoed, leaning forward, with her smiling mask tight on. “Wasn’t it Munich where you studied?”
“I was at Munich, too. I met Wetmore there.”
“Oh, do you know Mr. Wetmore?”
“Why, Alma,” her mother interposed again, “it was Mr. Beaton who told you of Mr. Wetmore.”