From the 25th of June the crowd had been in possession of Longueval. Mrs. Norton arrived with her son, Daniel Norton; and Mrs. Turner with her son, Philip Turner. Both of them, the young Philip and the young Daniel, formed a part of the famous brotherhood of the thirty-four. They were old friends, Bettina had treated them as such, and had declared to them, with perfect frankness, that they were losing their time. However, they were not discouraged, and formed the centre of a little court which was always very eager and assiduous around Bettina.
Paul de Lavardens had made his appearance on this scene, and had very rapidly become everybody’s friend. He had received the brilliant and complicated education of a young man destined for pleasure. As soon as it was a question only of amusement, riding, croquet, lawn-tennis, polo, dancing, charades, and theatricals, he was ready for everything. He excelled in everything. His superiority was evident, unquestionable. Paul became, in a short time, by general consent, the director and organizer of the fetes at Longueval.
Bettina had not a moment of hesitation. Jean introduced Paul de Lavardens, and the latter had scarcely concluded the customary little compliment when Miss Percival, leaning toward her sister, whispered in her ear:
However, she received Paul very kindly, so kindly that for several days he had the weakness to misunderstand her. He believed that it was his personal graces which had obtained for him this very flattering and cordial reception. It was a great mistake. Paul de Lavardens had been introduced by Jean; he was the friend of Jean. In Bettina’s eyes, therein lay all his merit.
Mrs. Scott’s castle was open house; people were not invited for one evening only, but for every evening, and Paul, with enthusiasm, came every evening! His dream was at last realized; he had, found Paris at Longueval.
But Paul was neither blind nor a fool. No doubt he was, on Miss Percival’s part, the object of very particular attention and favor. It pleased her to talk long, very long, alone with him. But what was the eternal, the inexhaustible subject of their conversations? Jean, again Jean, and always Jean!
Paul was thoughtless, dissipated, frivolous, but he became in earnest when Jean was in question; he knew how to appreciate him, he knew how to love him. Nothing to him was sweeter, nothing was easier, than to say of the friend of his childhood all the good that he thought of him, and as he saw that Bettina listened with great pleasure, Paul gave free rein to his eloquence.
Only—and he was quite right—Paul wished one evening to reap the benefit of his chivalrous conduct. He had just been talking for a quarter of an hour with Bettina. The conversation finished, he went to look for Jean at the other end of the drawing-room, and said to him:
“You left the field open to me, and I have made a bold stroke for Miss Percival.”