“I never saw anything like the way these Frenchmen stare! Doesn’t it make you nervous, Lizzie?” Mrs. Mears broke out suddenly, ruffling her feather boa about an outraged bosom. Mrs. Mears was still in that stage of development when her countrywomen taste to the full the peril of being exposed to the gaze of the licentious Gaul.
Lizzie roused herself from the contemplation of Mr. Benn’s round baby cheeks and the square blue jaw resting on his perpendicular collar. “Is some one staring at me?” she asked with a smile.
“Don’t turn round, whatever you do! There—just over there, between the rhododendrons—the tall fair man alone at that table. Really, Harvey, I think you ought to speak to the head-waiter, orsomething; though I suppose in one of these places they’d only laugh at you,” Mrs. Mears shudderingly concluded.
Her husband, as if inclining to this probability, continued the undisturbed dissection of his chicken wing; but Mr. Benn, perhaps aware that his situation demanded a more punctilious attitude, sternly revolved upon the parapet of his high collar inthe direction of Mrs. Mears’s glance.
“What, that fellow all alone over there? Why, he’s not French; he’s an American,” he then proclaimed with a perceptible relaxing of the facial muscles.
“Oh!” murmured Mrs. Mears, as perceptibly disappointed, and Mr. Benn continued carelessly: “He came over on the steamer with me. He’s some kind of an artist—a fellow named Deering. He wasstaring at me, I guess: wondering whether I was going to remember him. Why, how d’ ’e do? How are you? Why, yes, of course; with pleasure—my friends, Mrs. Harvey Mears—Mr. Mears; my friends Miss Macy and Miss West.”
“I have the pleasure of knowing Miss West,” said Vincent Deering with a smile.
EVEN through his smile Lizzie had seen, in the first moment, how changed he was; and the impression of the change deepened to the point of pain when, a few days later, in reply to his brief note, she accorded him a private hour.
That the first sight of his writing—the first answer to hisletters—should have come, after three long years, in the shape of this impersonal line, too curt to be called humble, yet confessing to a consciousness of the past by the studied avoidance of its language! As she read, her mind flashed back over what she had dreamed his letters would be, over the exquisite answers she had composed above his name. There was nothing exquisite in the conventional lines before her; but dormant nerves began to throb again at the mere touch of the paper he had touched, and she threw the little note into the fire before she dared to reply to it.