"But surely in England," said Mrs. Westgate, "the young ladies don't call upon the young men?""Some of them do--almost!" Lady Pimlico declared.
"What the young men are a great parti."
"Bessie, you must make a note of that," said Mrs. Westgate.
"My sister," she added, "is a model traveler. She writes down all the curious facts she hears in a little book she keeps for the purpose."The duchess was a little flushed; she looked all about the room, while her daughter turned to Bessie. "My brother told us you were wonderfully clever,"said Lady Pimlico.
"He should have said my sister," Bessie answered--"when she says such things as that.""Shall you be long at Branches?" the duchess asked, abruptly, of the young girl.
"Lord Lambeth has asked us for three days," said Bessie.
"I shall go," the duchess declared, "and my daughter, too.""That will be charming!" Bessie rejoined.
"Delightful!" murmured Mrs. Westgate.
"I shall expect to see a great deal of you," the duchess continued.
"When I go to Branches I monopolize my son's guests.""They must be most happy," said Mrs. Westgate very graciously.
"I want immensely to see it--to see the castle," said Bessie to the duchess. "I have never seen one--in England, at least;and you know we have none in America."
"Ah, you are fond of castles?" inquired her Grace.
"Immensely!" replied the young girl. "It has been the dream of my life to live in one."The duchess looked at her a moment, as if she hardly knew how to take this assurance, which, from her Grace's point of view, was either very artless or very audacious.
"Well," she said, rising, "I will show you Branches myself."And upon this the two great ladies took their departure.
"What did they mean by it?" asked Mrs. Westgate, when they were gone.
"They meant to be polite," said Bessie, "because we are going to meet them.""It is too late to be polite," Mrs. Westgate replied almost grimly.
"They meant to overawe us by their fine manners and their grandeur, and to make you lacher prise.""Lacher prise? What strange things you say!" murmured Bessie Alden.
"They meant to snub us, so that we shouldn't dare to go to Branches,"Mrs. Westgate continued.
"On the contrary," said Bessie, "the duchess offered to show me the place herself.""Yes, you may depend upon it she won't let you out of her sight.
She will show you the place from morning till night.""You have a theory for everything," said Bessie.
"And you apparently have none for anything.""I saw no attempt to 'overawe' us," said the young girl.
"Their manners were not fine."
"They were not even good!" Mrs. Westgate declared.
Bessie was silent a while, but in a few moments she observed that she had a very good theory. "They came to look at me,"she said, as if this had been a very ingenious hypothesis.
Mrs. Westgate did it justice; she greeted it with a smile and pronounced it most brilliant, while, in reality, she felt that the young girl's skepticism, or her charity, or, as she had sometimes called it appropriately, her idealism, was proof against irony. Bessie, however, remained meditative all the rest of that day and well on into the morrow.
On the morrow, before lunch, Mrs. Westgate had occasion to go out for an hour, and left her sister writing a letter.
When she came back she met Lord Lambeth at the door of the hotel, coming away. She thought he looked slightly embarrassed;he was certainly very grave. "I am sorry to have missed you.
Won't you come back?" she asked.
"No," said the young man, "I can't. I have seen your sister.
I can never come back." Then he looked at her a moment and took her hand.
"Goodbye, Mrs. Westgate," he said. "You have been very kind to me."And with what she thought a strange, sad look in his handsome young face, he turned away.
She went in, and she found Bessie still writing her letter;that is, Mrs. Westgate perceived she was sitting at the table with the pen in her hand and not writing. "Lord Lambeth has been here,"said the elder lady at last.
Then Bessie got up and showed her a pale, serious face. She bent this face upon her sister for some time, confessing silently and a little pleading.
"I told him," she said at last, "that we could not go to Branches."Mrs. Westgate displayed just a spark of irritation.
"He might have waited," she said with a smile, "till one had seen the castle." Later, an hour afterward, she said, "Dear Bessie, I wish you might have accepted him.""I couldn't," said Bessie gently.
"He is an excellent fellow," said Mrs. Westgate.
"I couldn't," Bessie repeated.
"If it is only," her sister added, "because those women will think that they succeeded--that they paralyzed us!"Bessie Alden turned away; but presently she added, "They were interesting;I should have liked to see them again."
"So should I!" cried Mrs. Westgate significantly.
"And I should have liked to see the castle," said Bessie.
"But now we must leave England," she added.
Her sister looked at her. "You will not wait to go to the National Gallery?""Not now."
"Nor to Canterbury Cathedral?"
Bessie reflected a moment. "We can stop there on our way to Paris," she said.
Lord Lambeth did not tell Percy Beaumont that the contingency he was not prepared at all to like had occurred; but Percy Beaumont, on hearing that the two ladies had left London, wondered with some intensity what had happened; wondered, that is, until the Duchess of Bayswater came a little to his assistance.
The two ladies went to Paris, and Mrs. Westgate beguiled the journey to that city by repeating several times--"That's what I regret; they will think they petrified us."1