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"What's the social position of Mrs. Steuben?" it occurred to him to ask while he meditated. He had an earnest artless literal way of putting such a question as that; you could see from it that he was very thorough.
Mrs. Bonnycastle met it, however, but, with mocking laughter. "I'm sure I don't know! What's your own?"--and she left him to turn to her other guests, to several of whom she repeated his question.
Could they tell her what was the social position of Mrs. Steuben?
There was Count Vogelstein who wanted to know. He instantly became aware of course that he oughtn't so to have expressed himself.
Wasn't the lady's place in the scale sufficiently indicated by Mrs.
Bonnycastle's acquaintance with her? Still there were fine degrees, and he felt a little unduly snubbed. It was perfectly true, as he told his hostess, that with the quick wave of new impressions that had rolled over him after his arrival in America the image of Pandora was almost completely effaced; he had seen innumerable things that were quite as remarkable in their way as the heroine of the Donau, but at the touch of the idea that he might see her and hear her again at any moment she became as vivid in his mind as if they had parted the day before: he remembered the exact shade of the eyes he had described to Mrs. Bonnycastle as yellow, the tone of her voice when at the last she expressed the hope he might judge America correctly. HAD he judged America correctly? If he were to meet her again she doubtless would try to ascertain. It would be going much too far to say that the idea of such an ordeal was terrible to Count Otto; but it may at least be said that the thought of meeting Pandora Day made him nervous. The fact is certainly singular, but I shall not take on myself to explain it; there are some things that even the most philosophic historian isn't bound to account for.
He wandered into another room, and there, at the end of five minutes, he was introduced by Mrs. Bonnycastle to one of the young ladies of whom she had spoken. This was a very intelligent girl who came from Boston and showed much acquaintance with Spielhagen's novels. "Do you like them?" Vogelstein asked rather vaguely, not taking much interest in the matter, as he read works of fiction only in case of a sea-voyage. The young lady from Boston looked pensive and concentrated; then she answered that she liked SOME of them VERY much, but that there were others she didn't like--and she enumerated the works that came under each of these heads. Spielhagen is a voluminous writer, and such a catalogue took some time; at the end of it moreover Vogelstein's question was not answered, for he couldn't have told us whether she liked Spielhagen or not.
On the next topic, however, there was no doubt about her feelings.
They talked about Washington as people talk only in the place itself, revolving about the subject in widening and narrowing circles, perching successively on its many branches, considering it from every point of view. Our young man had been long enough in America to discover that after half a century of social neglect Washington had become the fashion and enjoyed the great advantage of being a new resource in conversation. This was especially the case in the months of spring, when the inhabitants of the commercial cities came so far southward to escape, after the long winter, that final affront. They were all agreed that Washington was fascinating, and none of them were better prepared to talk it over than the Bostonians. Vogelstein originally had been rather out of step with them; he hadn't seized their point of view, hadn't known with what they compared this object of their infatuation. But now he knew everything; he had settled down to the pace; there wasn't a possible phase of the discussion that could find him at a loss.
There was a kind of Hegelian element in it; in the light of these considerations the American capital took on the semblance of a monstrous mystical infinite Werden. But they fatigued Vogelstein a little, and it was his preference, as a general thing, not to engage the same evening with more than one newcomer, one visitor in the freshness of initiation. This was why Mrs. Bonnycastle's expression of a wish to introduce him to three young ladies had startled him a little; he saw a certain process, in which he flattered himself that he had become proficient, but which was after all tolerably exhausting, repeated for each of the damsels. After separating from his judicious Bostonian he rather evaded Mrs. Bonnycastle, contenting himself with the conversation of old friends, pitched for the most part in a lower and easier key.
At last he heard it mentioned that the President had arrived, had been some half-hour in the house, and he went in search of the ill.u.s.trious guest, whose whereabouts at Washington parties was never indicated by a cl.u.s.ter of courtiers. He made it a point, whenever he found himself in company with the President, to pay him his respects, and he had not been discouraged by the fact that there was no a.s.sociation of ideas in the eye of the great man as he put out his hand presidentially and said, "Happy to meet you, sir." Count Otto felt himself taken for a mere loyal subject, possibly for an office-seeker; and he used to reflect at such moments that the monarchical form had its merits it provided a line of heredity for the faculty of quick recognition. He had now some difficulty in finding the chief magistrate, and ended by learning that he was in the tea-room, a small apartment devoted to light refection near the entrance of the house. Here our young man presently perceived him seated on a sofa and in conversation with a lady. There were a number of people about the table, eating, drinking, talking; and the couple on the sofa, which was not near it but against the wall, in a shallow recess, looked a little withdrawn, as if they had sought seclusion and were disposed to profit by the diverted attention of the others. The President leaned back; his gloved hands, resting on either knee, made large white spots. He looked eminent, but he looked relaxed, and the lady beside him ministered freely and without scruple, it was clear, to this effect of his comfortably unbending. Vogelstein caught her voice as he approached. He heard her say "Well now, remember; I consider it a promise." She was beautifully dressed, in rose-colour; her hands were clasped in her lap and her eyes attached to the presidential profile.
"Well, madam, in that case it's about the fiftieth promise I've given to-day."
It was just as he heard these words, uttered by her companion in reply, that Count Otto checked himself, turned away and pretended to be looking for a cup of tea. It wasn't usual to disturb the President, even simply to shake hands, when he was sitting on a sofa with a lady, and the young secretary felt it in this case less possible than ever to break the rule, for the lady on the sofa was none other than Pandora Day. He had recognised her without her appearing to see him, and even with half an eye, as they said, had taken in that she was now a person to be reckoned with. She had an air of elation, of success; she shone, to intensity, in her rose- coloured dress; she was extracting promises from the ruler of fifty millions of people. What an odd place to meet her, her old shipmate thought, and how little one could tell, after all, in America, who people were! He didn't want to speak to her yet; he wanted to wait a little and learn more; but meanwhile there was something attractive in the fact that she was just behind him, a few yards off, that if he should turn he might see her again. It was she Mrs.
Bonnycastle had meant, it was she who was so much admired in New York. Her face was the same, yet he had made out in a moment that she was vaguely prettier; he had recognised the arch of her nose, which suggested a fine ambition. He took some tea, which he hadn't desired, in order not to go away. He remembered her entourage on the steamer; her father and mother, the silent senseless burghers, so little "of the world," her infant sister, so much of it, her humorous brother with his tall hat and his influence in the smoking- room. He remembered Mrs. Dangerfield's warnings--yet her perplexities too--and the letter from Mr. Bellamy, and the introduction to Mr. Lansing, and the way Pandora had stooped down on the dirty dock, laughing and talking, mistress of the situation, to open her trunk for the Customs. He was pretty sure she had paid no duties that day; this would naturally have been the purpose of Mr.
Bellamy's letter. Was she still in correspondence with that gentleman, and had he got over the sickness interfering with their reunion? These images and these questions coursed through Count Otto's mind, and he saw it must be quite in Pandora's line to be mistress of the situation, for there was evidently nothing on the present occasion that could call itself her master. He drank his tea and as; he put down his cup heard the President, behind him, say: "Well, I guess my wife will wonder why I don't come home."
"Why didn't you bring her with you?" Pandora benevolently asked.
"Well, she doesn't go out much. Then she has got her sister staying with her--Mrs. Runkle, from Natchez. She's a good deal of an invalid, and my wife doesn't like to leave her."
"She must be a very kind woman"--and there was a high mature competence in the way the girl sounded the note of approval.
"Well, I guess she isn't spoiled--yet."
"I should like very much to come and see her," said Pandora.
"Do come round. Couldn't you come some night?" the great man responded.
"Well, I'll come some time. And I shall remind you of your promise."
"All right. There's nothing like keeping it up. Well," said the President, "I must bid good-bye to these bright folks."
Vogelstein heard him rise from the sofa with his companion; after which he gave the pair time to pa.s.s out of the room before him.
They did it with a certain impressive deliberation, people making way for the ruler of fifty millions and looking with a certain curiosity at the striking pink person at his side. When a little later he followed them across the hall, into one of the other rooms, he saw the host and hostess accompany the President to the door and two foreign ministers and a judge of the Supreme Court address themselves to Pandora Day. He resisted the impulse to join this circle: if he should speak to her at all he would somehow wish it to be in more privacy. She continued nevertheless to occupy him, and when Mrs. Bonnycastle came back from the hall he immediately approached her with an appeal. "I wish you'd tell me something more about that girl--that one opposite and in pink."
"The lovely Day--that's what they call her, I believe? I wanted you to talk with her."
"I find she is the one I've met. But she seems to be so different here. I can't make it out," said Count Otto.
There was something in his expression that again moved Mrs.
Bonnycastle to mirth. "How we do puzzle you Europeans! You look quite bewildered."
"I'm sorry I look so--I try to hide it. But of course we're very simple. Let me ask then a simple earnest childlike question. Are her parents also in society?"
"Parents in society? D'ou tombez-vous? Did you ever hear of the parents of a triumphant girl in rose-colour, with a nose all her own, in society?"
"Is she then all alone?" he went on with a strain of melancholy in his voice.
Mrs. Bonnycastle launched at him all her laughter.
"You're too pathetic. Don't you know what she is? I supposed of course you knew."
"It's exactly what I'm asking you."
"Why she's the new type. It has only come up lately. They have had articles about it in the papers. That's the reason I told Mrs.
Steuben to bring her."
"The new type? WHAT new type, Mrs. Bonnycastle?" he returned pleadingly--so conscious was he that all types in America were new.
Her laughter checked her reply a moment, and by the time she had recovered herself the young lady from Boston, with whom Vogelstein had been talking, stood there to take leave. This, for an American type, was an old one, he was sure; and the process of parting between the guest and her hostess had an ancient elaboration. Count Otto waited a little; then he turned away and walked up to Pandora Day, whose group of interlocutors had now been re-enforced by a gentleman who had held an important place in the cabinet of the late occupant of the presidential chair. He had asked Mrs. Bonnycastle if she were "all alone"; but there was nothing in her present situation to show her for solitary. She wasn't sufficiently alone for our friend's taste; but he was impatient and he hoped she'd give him a few words to himself. She recognised him without a moment's hesitation and with the sweetest smile, a smile matching to a shade the tone in which she said: "I was watching you. I wondered if you weren't going to speak to me."
"Miss Day was watching him!" one of the foreign ministers exclaimed; "and we flattered ourselves that her attention was all with us."
"I mean before," said the girl, "while I was talking with the President."
At which the gentlemen began to laugh, one of them remarking that this was the way the absent were sacrificed, even the great; while another put on record that he hoped Vogelstein was duly flattered.
"Oh I was watching the President too," said Pandora. "I've got to watch HIM. He has promised me something."
"It must be the mission to England," the judge of the Supreme Court suggested. "A good position for a lady; they've got a lady at the head over there."
"I wish they would send you to my country," one of the foreign ministers suggested. "I'd immediately get recalled."
"Why perhaps in your country I wouldn't speak to you! It's only because you're here," the ex-heroine of the Donau returned with a gay familiarity which evidently ranked with her but as one of the arts of defence. "You'll see what mission it is when it comes out.
But I'll speak to Count Vogelstein anywhere," she went on. "He's an older friend than any right here. I've known him in difficult days."
"Oh yes, on the great ocean," the young man smiled. "On the watery waste, in the tempest!"
"Oh I don't mean that so much; we had a beautiful voyage and there wasn't any tempest. I mean when I was living in Utica. That's a watery waste if you like, and a tempest there would have been a pleasant variety."
"Your parents seemed to me so peaceful!" her a.s.sociate in the other memories sighed with a vague wish to say something sympathetic.
"Oh you haven't seen them ash.o.r.e! At Utica they were very lively.
But that's no longer our natural home. Don't you remember I told you I was working for New York? Well, I worked--l had to work hard.
But we've moved."
Count Otto clung to his interest. "And I hope they're happy."
"My father and mother? Oh they will be, in time. I must give them time. They're very young yet, they've years before them. And you've been always in Washington?" Pandora continued. "I suppose you've found out everything about everything."
"Oh no--there are some things I CAN'T find out."
"Come and see me and perhaps I can help you. I'm very different from what I was in that phase. I've advanced a great deal since then."