MoboReader> Literature > The Two Vanrevels

   Chapter 10 Echoes of a Serenade

The Two Vanrevels By Booth Tarkington Characters: 19993

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


More than three gentlemen of Rouen wore their hearts in their eyes for any fool to gaze upon; but three was the number of those who told their love before the end of the first week of Mr. Carewe's absence, and told it in spite of Mrs. Tanberry's utmost effort to preserve, at all times, a conjunction between herself and Miss Betty. For the good lady, foreseeing these declarations much more surely than did the subject of them, wished to spare her lovely charge the pain of listening to them.

Miss Carewe honored each of the lorn three with few minutes of gravity; but the gentle refusal prevented never a swain from being as truly her follower as before; not that she resorted to the poor device of half-dismissal, the every-day method of the school-girl flirt, who thus keeps the lads in dalliance, but because, even for the rejected, it was a delight to be near her. For that matter, it is said that no one ever had enough of the mere looking at her. Also, her talk was enlivening even to the lively, being spiced with surprising turns and amiably seasoned with the art of badinage. To use the phrase of the time, she possessed the accomplishments, an antiquated charm now on the point of disappearing, so carefully has it been snubbed under whenever exhibited. The pursuing wraith of the young, it comes to sit, a ghost at every banquet, driving the flower of our youth to unheard-of exertions in search of escape, to dubious diplomacy, to dismal inaction, or to wine; yet time was when they set their hearts on "the accomplishments."

Miss Betty Carewe at her harp, ah! it was a dainty picture: the clear profile, with the dark hair low across the temple, silhouetted duskily, in the cool, shadowy room, against the open window; the slender figure, one arm curving between you and the strings, the other gleaming behind them; the delicate little sandal stealing from the white froth of silk and lace to caress the pedal; the nimble hands fluttering across the long strands, "Like white blossoms borne on slanting lines of rain;" and the great gold harp rising to catch a javelin of sunshine that pierced the vines at the window where the honeysuckles swung their skirts to the refrain-it was a picture to return many a long year afterward, and thrill the reveries of old men who were then young. And, following the light cascading ripples of the harp, when her low contralto lifted in one of the "old songs," she often turned inquiringly to see if the listener liked the music, and her brilliant, dark eyes would rest on his with an appeal that blinded his entranced soul. She meant it for the mere indication of a friendly wish to suit his tastes, but it looked like the divine humility of love. Nobody wondered that General Trumble should fall to verse-making in his old age.

She sketched magnificently. This is the very strongest support for the assertion: Frank Chenoweth and Tappingham Marsh agreed, with tears of enthusiasm, that "magnificently" was the only word. They came to this conclusion as they sat together at the end of a long dinner (at which very little had been eaten) after a day's picnic by the river. Miss Carewe had been of their company, and Tappingham and Chenoweth found each his opportunity in the afternoon. The party was small, and no one had been able to effect a total unconsciousness of the maneuvers of the two gentle-men. Even Fanchon Bareaud comprehended languidly, though she was more blurred than ever, and her far-away eyes belied the mechanical vivacity of her manner, for Crailey was thirty miles down the river, with a fishing-rod neatly packed in a leather case.

Mr. Vanrevel, of course, was not invited; no one would have thought of asking him to join a small party of which Robert Carewe's daughter was to be a member. But it was happiness enough for Tom, that night, to lie hidden in the shrubbery, looking up at the stars between the leaves, while he listened to her harp, and borne through the open window on enchanted airs, the voice of Elizabeth Carewe singing "Robin Adair."

It was now that the town indulged its liveliest spirit; never an evening lacked its junketing, while the happy folk of Rouen set the early summer to music. Serenade, dance, and song for them, the light-hearts, young and old making gay together! It was all laughter, either in sunshine or by candlelight, undisturbed by the far thunder below the southern horizon, where Zachary Taylor had pitched his tent, upon the Rio Grande.

One fair evening, soon after that excursion which had proved fatal to the hopes of the handsome Tappingham and of the youthful Chenoweth, it was the privilege of Mr. Thomas Vanrevel to assist Miss Carewe and her chaperon from their carriage, as they drove up to a dance at the Bareauds'. This good fortune fell only to great deserving, for he had spent an hour lurking outside the house in the hope of performing such offices for them.

Heaven was in his soul and the breath departed out of his body, when, after a moment of hesitation, Miss Betty's little lace-gauntleted glove was placed in his hand, and her white slipper shimmered out from the lilac flounces of her dress to fall like a benediction, he thought, on each of the carriage-steps.

It was the age of garlands; they wreathed the Muses, the Seasons, and their speech, so the women wore wreaths in their hair, and Miss Betty's that night was of marguerites. "Read your fortune in them all," whispered Tom's heart, "and of whomsoever you wish to learn, every petal will say 'He loves you; none declare, He loves you not!'"

She bowed slightly, but did not speak to him, which was perhaps a better reception than that accorded the young man by her companion. "Oh, it's you, is it!" was Mrs. Tanberry's courteous observation as she canted the vehicle in her descent. She looked sharply at Miss Betty, and even the small glow of the carriage-lamps showed that the girl's cheeks had flushed very red. Mr. Vanrevel, on the contrary, was pale.

They stood for a moment in awkward silence, while, from the lighted house where the flying figures circled, came the waltz: "I dreamt that I dwe-helt in ma-har-ble halls." Tom's own dreams were much wilder than the gypsy girl's; he knew that; yet he spoke out bravely:

"Will you dance the two first with me?"

Miss Betty bit her lip, frowned, turned away, and, vouchsafing no reply, walked toward the house with her eyes fixed on the ground; but just as they reached the door she flashed over him a look that scorched him from head to foot, and sent his spirits down through the soles of his boots to excavate a grotto in the depths of the earth, so charged it was with wrathful pity and contempt.

"Yes!" she said abruptly, and followed Mrs. Tanberry to the dressing-room.

The elder lady shook her head solemnly as she emerged from the enormous folds of a yellow silk cloak. "Ah, Princess," she said, touching the girl's shoulder with her jeweled hand, "I told you I was a very foolish woman, and I am, but not so foolish as to offer advice often. Yet, believe me, it won't do. I think that is one of the greatest young men I ever knew, and it's a pity-but it won't do."

Miss Betty kept her face away from her guardian for a moment. No inconsiderable amount of information had drifted to her, from here and there, regarding the career of Crailey Gray, and she thought how intensely she would have hated any person in the world except Mrs. Tanberry for presuming to think she needed to be warned against the charms of this serenading lady-killer, who was the property of another girl.

"You must keep him away, I think," ventured Mrs. Tanberry, gently.

At that Betty turned to her and said, sharply:

"I will. After this, please let us never speak of him again."

A slow nod of the other's turbaned head indicated the gravest acquiescence. She saw that her companion's cheeks were still crimson. "I understand," said she.

A buzz of whispering, like a July beetle, followed Miss Carewe and her partner about the room during the next dance. How had Tom managed it? Had her father never told her? Who had dared to introduce them? Fanchon was the only one who knew, and as she whirled by with Will Cummings, she raised her absent glance long enough to give Tom an affectionate and warning shake of the head.

Tom did not see this; Miss Carewe did. Alas! She smiled upon him instantly and looked deep into his eyes. It was the third time.

She was not afraid of this man-flirt; he was to be settled with once and forever. She intended to avenge both Fanchon and herself; yet it is a hazardous game, this piercing of eye with eye, because the point which seeks to penetrate may soften and melt, leaving one defenseless. For perhaps ten seconds that straight look lasted, while it seemed to her that she read clear into the soul of him, and to behold it, through some befooling magic, as strong, tender, wise, and true, as his outward appearance would have made an innocent stranger believe him; for he looked all these things; she admitted that much; and he had an air of distinction and resource beyond any she had ever known, even in the wild scramble for her kitten he had not lost it. So, for ten seconds, which may be a long time, she saw a man such as she had dreamed, and she did not believe her sight, because she had no desire to be as credulous as the others, to be as easily cheated as that poor Fanchon!

The luckless Tom found his own feet beautiful on the mountains, and, treading the heights with airy steps, appeared to himself wonderful and glorified-he was waltzing with Miss Betty He breathed the entrancing words to himself, over and over: it was true, he was waltzing with Miss Betty Carewe! Her glove lay warm and light within his own; his fingers clasped that ineffable lilac and white brocade waist. Sometimes her hair came within an inch of his cheek, and then he rose outright from the hilltops and floated in a golden mist. The glamour of which the Incroyable h

ad planned to tell her some day, surrounded Tom, and it seemed to him that the whole world was covered with a beautiful light like a carpet, which was but the radiance of this adorable girl whom his gloves and coat-sleeve were permitted to touch. When the music stopped, they followed in the train of other couples seeking the coolness of out-of-doors for the interval, and Tom, in his soul, laughed at all other men with illimitable condescension.

"Stop here," she said, as they reached the open gate. He was walking out of it, his head in the air, and Miss Betty on his arm. Apparently, he would have walked straight across the State. It was the happiest moment he had ever known.

He wanted to say something wonderful to her; his speech should be like the music and glory and lire that was in him; therefore he was shocked to hear himself remarking, with an inanity of utterance that sickened him:

"Oh, here's the gate, isn't it?"

Her answer was a short laugh. "You mean you wish to persuade me that you had forgotten it was there?"

"I did not see it," he protested, lamentably.

"No?"

"I wasn't thinking of it."

"Indeed! You were 'lost in thoughts of '-"

"Of you!" he said, before he could check himself.

"Yes?" Her tone was as quietly contemptuous as she could make it. "How very frank of you! May I ask: Are you convinced that speeches of that sort are always to a lady's liking?"

"No," he answered humbly, and hung his head. Then she threw the question at him abruptly:

"Was it you who came to sing in our garden?"

There was a long pause before a profound sigh came tremulously from the darkness, like a sad and tender confession. "Yes."

"I thought so!" she exclaimed. "Mrs. Tanberry thought it was someone else; but I knew that it was you."

"Yes, you are right," he said, quietly. "It was I. It was my only way to tell you what you know now."

"Of course!" She set it all aside with those two words and the slightest gesture of her hand. "It was a song made for another girl, I believe?" she asked lightly, and with an icy smile, inquired farther: "For the one-the one before the last, I understand?"

He lifted his head, surprised. "What has that to do with it? The music was made for you-but then, I think all music was made for you."

"Leave the music out of it, if you please," she said, impatiently. "Your talents make you modest! No doubt you consider it unmaidenly in me to have referred to the serenade before you spoke of it; but I am not one to cast down my eyes and let it pass. No, nor one too sweet to face the truth, either!" she cried with sudden passion. "To sing that song in the way you did, meant-oh, you thought I would flirt with you! What right had you to come with such a song to me?"

Tom intended only to disclaim the presumption, so far from his thoughts, that his song had moved her, for he could see that her attack was prompted by her inexplicable impression that he had assumed the attitude of a conqueror, but his explanation began unfortunately.

"Forgive me. I think you have completely misunderstood; you thought it meant something I did not intend, at all, and-"

"What!" she said, and her eyes blazed, for now she beheld him as the arrant sneak of the world. He, the lady-killer, with his hypocritical air of strength and melancholy sweetness, the leader of drunken revels, and, by reputation, the town Lothario and Light-o'-Love, under promise of marriage to Fanchon Bareaud, had tried to make love to another girl, and now his cowardice in trying to disclaim what he had done lent him the insolence to say to this other: "My child, you are betrayed by your youth and conceit; you exaggerate my meaning. I had no intention to distinguish you by coquetting with you!" This was her interpretation of him; and her indignation was not lessened by the inevitable conclusion that he, who had been through so many scenes with women, secretly found her simplicity diverting. Miss Betty had a little of her father in her; while it was part of her youth, too, that, of all things she could least endure the shadow of a smile at her own expense.

"Oh, oh!" she cried, her voice shaking with anger. "I suppose your bad heart is half-choked with your laughter at me."

She turned from him swiftly, and left him.

Almost running, she entered the house, and hurried to a seat by Mrs. Tanberry, nestling to her like a young sapling on a hillside. Instantaneously, several gentlemen, who had hastily acquitted themselves of various obligations in order to seek her, sprang forward with eager greetings, so that when the stricken Tom, dazed and confounded by his evil luck, followed her at about five paces, he found himself confronted by an impenetrable abbatis formed by the spiked tails of the coats of General Trumble, Madrillon, Tappingham Marsh, Cummings and Jefferson Bareaud. Within this fortification rang out laughter and sally from Miss Carewe; her color was high and her eyes sparkled never more brightly.

Flourish and alarums sounded for a quadrille. Each of the semi-circle, firmly elbowing his neighbor, begged the dance of Miss Betty; but Tom was himself again, and laid a long, strong hand on Madrillon's shoulder, pressed him gently aside, and said:

"Forgive me; Miss Carewe has honored me by the promise of this quadrille."

He bowed, offering his arm, and none of them was too vain to envy that bow and gesture.

For a moment he remained waiting. Miss Carewe rose slowly, and, directly facing him, said in composed and even voice: "You force me to beg you never to address me again."

She placed her hand on the General's arm, turning her back squarely upon Tom.

In addition to those who heard, many persons in that part of the room saw the affront and paused in arrested attitudes; others, observing these, turned inquiringly, so that sudden silence fell, broken only by the voice of Miss Betty as she moved away, talking cheerily to the General. Tom was left standing alone in the broken semicircle.

All the eyes swept from her to him and back; then everyone began to talk hastily about nothing. The young man's humiliation was public.

He went to the door under cover of the movement of the various couples to find places in the quadrille, yet every sidelong glance in the room still rested upon him, and he knew it. He remained in the ball, alone, through that dance, and at its conclusion, walked slowly through the rooms, speaking to people, here and there, as though nothing had happened, but when the music sounded again, he went to the dressing-room, found his hat and cloak, and left the house. For a while he stood on the opposite side of the street, watching the lighted windows, and twice he caught sight of the lilac and white brocade, the dark hair, and the wreath of marguerites. Then, with a hot pain in his breast, and the step of a Grenadier, he marched down the street.

In the carriage Mrs. Tanberry took Betty's hand in hers. "I'll do as you wish, child," she said, "and never speak to you of him again as long as I live, except this once. I think it was best for his own sake as well as yours, but-"

"He needed a lesson," interrupted Miss Betty, wearily. She had danced long and hard, and she was very tired.

Mrs. Tanberry's staccato laugh came out irrepressibly. "All the vagabonds do, Princess!" she cried. "And I think they are getting it."

"No, no, I don't mean-"

"We've turned their heads, my dear, between us, you and I; and we'll have to turn 'em again, or they'll break their necks looking over their shoulders at us, the owls!" She pressed the girl's hand affectionately. "But you'll let me say something just once, and forgive me because we're the same foolish age, you know. It's only this: The next young man you suppress, take him off in a corner! Lead him away from the crowd where he won't have to stand and let them look at him afterward. That's all, my dear, and you mustn't mind."

"I'm not sorry!" said Miss Betty hotly. "I'm not sorry!"

"No, no," said Mrs. Tanberry, soothingly. "It was better this time to do just what you did. I'd have done it myself, to make quite sure he would keep away-because I like him."

"I'm not sorry!" said Miss Betty again.

"I'm not sorry!" she repeated and reiterated to herself after Mrs. Tanberry had gone to bed. She had sunk into a chair in the library with a book, and "I'm not sorry!" she whispered as the open unread page blurred before her, "I'm not sorry!" He had needed his lesson; but she had to bear the recollection of how white his face went when he received it. Her affront had put about him a strange loneliness: the one figure with the stilled crowd staring; it had made a picture from which her mind's eye had been unable to escape, danced she never so hard and late. Unconsciously, Robert Carewe's daughter had avenged the other figure which had stood in lonely humiliation before the staring eyes.

"I'm not sorry!" Ah, did they think it was in her to hurt any living thing in the world? The book dropped from her lap, and she bowed her head upon her hands. "I'm not sorry! "-and tears upon the small lace gauntlets!

She saw them, and with an incoherent exclamation, half self-pitying, half impatient, ran out to the stars above her garden.

She was there for perhaps half an hour, and just before she returned to the house she did a singular thing.

Standing where all was clear to the sky, where she had stood after her talk with the Incroyable, when he had bid her look to the stars, she raised her arms to them again, her face, pale with a great tenderness, uplifted.

"You, you, you!" she whispered. "I love you!"

And yet it was to nothing definite, to no man, nor outline of a man, to no phantom nor dream-lover, that she spoke; neither to him she had affronted, nor to him who had bidden her look to the stars. Nor was it to the stars themselves.

She returned slowly and thoughtfully to the house, wondering what she had meant.

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