“Was it? Why, yes, to be sure. It
was Mrs. Horn who suggested Mr. Ilcomb.
I remember now. I can’t thank you enough for having sent me to Mr.
Wetmore, Mr. Beaton. Isn’t he delightful? Oh yes, I’m a perfect
Wetmorian, I can assure you. The whole class is the same way.”
“I just met him and Mrs. Wetmore at dinner,” said Beaton, attempting the recovery of something that he had lost through the girl’s shining ease and steely sprightliness. She seemed to him so smooth and hard, with a repellent elasticity from which he was flung off. “I hope you’re not working too hard, Miss Leighton?”
“Oh no! I enjoy every minute of it, and grow stronger on it. Do I look very much wasted away?” She looked him full in the face, brilliantly smiling, and intentionally beautiful.
“No,” he said, with a slow sadness; “I never saw you looking better.”
“Poor Mr. Beaton!” she said, in recognition of his doleful tune. “It seems to be quite a blow.”
“I remember all the good advice you used to give me about not working too hard, and probably it’s that that’s saved my life—that and the house-hunting. Has mamma told you of our adventures in getting settled?
“Some time we must. It was such fun! And didn’t you think we were fortunate to get such a pretty house? You must see both our parlors.” She jumped up, and her mother followed her with a bewildered look as she ran into the back parlor and flashed up the gas.
“Come in here, Mr. Beaton. I want to show you the great feature of the house.” She opened the low windows that gave upon a glazed veranda stretching across the end of the room. “Just think of this in New York! You can’t see it very well at night, but when the southern sun pours in here all the afternoon—”
“Yes, I can imagine it,” he said. He glanced up at the bird-cage hanging from the roof. “I suppose Gypsy enjoys it.”
“You remember Gypsy?” she said; and she made a cooing, kissing little noise up at the bird, who responded drowsily. “Poor old Gypsum! Well, he sha’n’t be disturbed. Yes, it’s Gyp’s delight, and Colonel Woodburn likes to write here in the morning. Think of us having a real live author in the house! And Miss Woodburn: I’m so glad you’ve seen her! They’re Southern people.”
“Yes, that was obvious in her case.”
“From her accent? Isn’t it fascinating? I didn’t believe I could ever endure Southerners, but we’re like one family with the Woodburns. I should think you’d want to paint Miss Woodburn. Don’t you think her coloring is delicious? And such a quaint kind of eighteenth-century type of beauty! But she’s perfectly lovely every way, and everything she says is so funny. The Southerners seem to be such great talkers; better than we are, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know,” said Beaton, in pensive discouragement. He was sensible of being manipulated, operated, but he was helpless to escape from the performer or to fathom her motives. His pensiveness passed into gloom, and was degenerating into sulky resentment when he went away, after several failures to get back to the old ground he had held in relation to Alma. He retrieved something of it with Mrs. Leighton; but Alma glittered upon him to the last with a keen impenetrable candor, a child-like singleness of glance, covering unfathomable reserve.