NOTES: (1) Italics for emphasis indicated by upper case, by lower case for the word _I_. Italicized foreign words and phrases are indicated thus: _contes_. Accent marks in foreign words have been removed. (2) Numbers in parentheses indicate the beginning of each page in the 1909 New York Edition. (3) The New York Edition's spaces in contractions pronounced as two syllables have been removed in this etext. (4) To avoid the insertion of hard returns at the end of every line (which makes searching across line-breaks in downloaded files difficult), download with the HTML option, not the TXT option. Then paragraphs will be ended with hard returns and HTML tags, (capital P enclosed in angle-brackets).
Etext prepared by Richard Hathaway, SUNY New Paltz
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Excerpt from the Preface to Volume 16:
(x) The origin of "Paste" is rather more expressible, since it was to consist but of the ingenious thought of transposing the terms of one of Guy de Maupassant's admirable _contes_. In "La Parure" a poor young woman, under "social" stress, the need of making an appearance on an important occasion, borrows from an old school friend, now much richer than herself, a pearl necklace which she has the appalling misfortune to lose by some mischance never afterwards cleared up. Her life and her pride, as well as her husband's with them, become subject, from the hour of the awful accident, to the redemption of their debt; which, effort by effort, sacrifice by sacrifice, franc by franc, with specious pretexts, excuses, a rage of desperate explanation of their failure to restore the missing object, they finally obliterate--all to find that their whole consciousness and life have been convulsed and deformed in vain, that the pearls were but highly artful "imitation" and that their passionate penance has ruined them for nothing. It seemed harmless sport simply to turn that situation round--to shift, in other words, the ground of the horrid mistake, making this a matter not of a false treasure supposed to be true and precious, but of a real treasure supposed to be false and hollow: though a new little "drama," a new setting for MY pearls--and as different as possible from the other--had of course withal to be found.
"I've found a lot more things," her cousin said to her the day after the second funeral; "they're up in her room--but they're things I wish YOU'D look at."
The pair of mourners, sufficiently stricken, were in the garden of the vicarage together, before luncheon, waiting to be summoned to that meal, and Arthur Prime had still in his face the intention, she was moved to call it rather than the expression, of feeling something or other. Some such appearance was in itself of course natural within a week of his stepmother's death, within three of his father's; but what was most present to the girl, herself sensitive and shrewd, was that he seemed somehow to brood without sorrow, to suffer without what she in her own case would have called pain. He turned away from her after this last speech--it was a good deal his habit to drop an observation and leave her to pick it up without assistance. If the vicar's widow, now in her turn finally translated, had not really belonged to him it was not for want of her giving herself, so far as he ever would take her; and she had lain for three days all alone at the end of the passage, in the great cold chamber of hospitality, the dampish greenish room where visitors slept and where several of the ladies of the parish had, without effect, offered, in pairs and successions, piously to watch with her. His personal connexion with the parish was now slighter (316) than ever, and he had really not waited for this opportunity to show the ladies what he thought of them. She felt that she herself had, during her doleful month's leave from Bleet, where she was governess, rather taken her place in the same snubbed order; but it was presently, none the less, with a better little hope of coming in for some remembrance, some relic, that she went up to look at the things he had spoken of, the identity of which, as a confused cluster of bright objects on a table in the darkened room, shimmered at her as soon as she had opened the door.
They met her eyes for the first time, but in a moment, before touching them, she knew them as things of the theatre, as very much too fine to have been with any verisimilitude things of the vicarage. They were too dreadfully good to be true, for her aunt had had no jewels to speak of, and these were coronets and girdles, diamonds, rubies and sapphires. Flagrant tinsel and glass, they looked strangely vulgar, but if after the first queer shock of them she found herself taking them up it was for the very proof, never yet so distinct to her, of a far-off faded story. An honest widowed cleric with a small son and a large sense of Shakespeare had, on a brave latitude of habit as well as of taste--since it implied his having in very fact dropped deep into the "pit"--conceived for an obscure actress several years older than himself an admiration of which the prompt offer of his reverend name and hortatory hand was the sufficiently candid sign. The response had perhaps in those dim years, so far as eccentricity was concerned, even bettered the proposal, and Charlotte, turning the tale over, had (317) long since drawn from it a measure of the career renounced by the undistinguished comedienne--doubtless also tragic, or perhaps pantomimic, at a pinch--of her late uncle's dreams. This career couldn't have been eminent and must much more probably have been comfortless.
"You see what it is--old stuff of the time she never liked to mention."
Our young woman gave a start; her companion had after all rejoined her and had apparently watched a moment her slightly scared recognition. "So I said to myself," she replied. Then to show intelligence, yet keep clear of twaddle: "How peculiar they look!"
"They look awful," said Arthur Prime. "Cheap gilt, diamonds as big as potatoes. These are trappings of a ruder age than ours. Actors do themselves better now."
"Oh now," said Charlotte, not to be less knowing, "actresses have real diamonds."
"Some of them." Arthur spoke dryly.
"I mean the bad ones--the nobodies too."
"Oh some of the nobodies have the biggest. But mamma wasn't of that sort."
"A nobody?" Charlotte risked.
"Not a nobody to whom somebody--well, not a nobody with diamonds. It isn't all worth, this trash, five pounds."
There was something in the old gewgaws that spoke to her, and she continued to turn them over. "They're relics. I think they have their melancholy and even their dignity."
Arthur observed another pause. "Do you care (318) for them?" he then asked. "I mean," he promptly added, "as a souvenir."
"Of you?" Charlotte threw off.
"Of me? What have I to do with it? Of your poor dead aunt who was so kind to you," he said with virtuous sternness.
"Well, I'd rather have them than nothing."
"Then please take them," he returned in a tone of relief which expressed somehow more of the eager than of the gracious.
"Thank you." Charlotte lifted two or three objects up and set them down again. Though they were lighter than the materials they imitated they were so much more extravagant that they struck her in truth as rather an awkward heritage, to which she might have preferred even a matchbox or a penwiper. They were indeed shameless pinchbeck. "Had you any idea she had kept them?"
"I don't at all believe she HAD kept them or knew they were there, and I'm very sure my father didn't. They had quite equally worked off any tenderness for the connexion. These odds and ends, which she thought had been given away or destroyed, had simply got thrust into a dark corner and been forgotten."
Charlotte wondered. "Where then did you find them?"
"In that old tin box"--and the young man pointed to the receptacle from which he had dislodged them and which stood on a neighbouring chair. "It's rather a good box still, but I'm afraid I can't give you THAT."
The girl took no heed of the box; she continued (319) only to look at the trinkets. "What corner had she found?"
"She hadn't 'found' it," her companion sharply insisted; "she had simply lost it. The whole thing had passed from her mind. The box was on the top shelf of the old school-room closet, which, until one put one's head into it from a step-ladder, looked, from below, quite cleared out. The door's narrow and the part of the closet to the left goes well into the wall. The box had stuck there for years."
Charlotte was conscious of a mind divided and a vision vaguely troubled, and once more she took up two or three of the subjects of this revelation; a big bracelet in the form of a gilt serpent with many twists and beady eyes, a brazen belt studded with emeralds and rubies, a chain, of flamboyant architecture, to which, at the Theatre Royal Little Peddlington, Hamlet's mother must have been concerned to attach the portrait of the successor to Hamlet's father. "Are you very sure they're not really worth something? Their mere weight alone--!" she vaguely observed, balancing a moment a royal diadem that might have crowned one of the creations of the famous Mrs. Jarley.
But Arthur Prime, it was clear, had already thought the question over and found the answer easy. "If they had been worth anything to speak of she would long ago have sold them. My father and she had unfortunately never been in a position to keep any considerable value locked up." And while his companion took in the obvious force of this he went on with a flourish just marked enough not to escape her: (320) "If they're worth anything at all--why you're only the more welcome to them."
Charlotte had now in her hand a small bag of faded figured silk--one of those antique conveniences that speak to us, in terms of evaporated camphor and lavender, of the part they have played in some personal history; but though she had for the first time drawn the string she looked much more at the young man than at the questionable treasure it appeared to contain. "I shall like them. They're all I have."
"All you have--?"
"That belonged to her."
He swelled a little, then looked about him as if to appeal--as against her avidity--to the whole poor place. "Well, what else do you want?"
"Nothing. Thank you very much." With which she bent her eyes on the article wrapped, and now only exposed, in her superannuated satchel--a string of large pearls, such a shining circle as might once have graced the neck of a provincial Ophelia and borne company to a flaxen wig. "This perhaps IS worth something. Feel it." And she passed him the necklace, the weight of which she had gathered for a moment into her hand.
He measured it in the same way with his own, but remained quite detached. "Worth at most thirty shillings."
"Surely not if it's paste?"
"But IS it paste?"
He gave a small sniff of impatience. "Pearls nearly as big as filberts?"
(321) "But they're heavy," Charlotte declared.
"No heavier than anything else." And he gave them back with an allowance for her simplicity. "Do you imagine for a moment they're real?"
She studied them a little, feeling them, turning them round. "Mightn't they possibly be?"
"Of that size--stuck away with that trash?"
"I admit it isn't likely," Charlotte presently said. "And pearls are so easily imitated."
"That's just what--to a person who knows--they're not. These have no lustre, no play."
"No--they ARE dull. They're opaque."
"Besides," he lucidly enquired, "how could she ever have come by them?"
"Mightn't they have been a present?"
Arthur stared at the question as if it were almost improper. "Because actresses are exposed--?" He pulled up, however, not saying to what, and before she could supply the deficiency had, with the sharp ejaculation of "No, they mightn't!" turned his back on her and walked away. His manner made her feel she had probably been wanting in tact, and before he returned to the subject, the last thing that evening, she had satisfied herself of the ground of his resentment. They had been talking of her departure the next morning, the hour of her train and the fly that would come for her, and it was precisely these things that gave him his effective chance. "I really can't allow you to leave the house under the impression that my stepmother was at ANY time of her life the sort of person to allow herself to be approached--"
"With pearl necklaces and that sort of thing?" (322) Arthur had made for her somehow the difficulty that she couldn't show him she understood him without seeming pert.
It at any rate only added to his own gravity. "That sort of thing, exactly."
"I didn't think when I spoke this morning--but I see what you mean."
"I mean that she was beyond reproach," said Arthur Prime.
"A hundred times yes."
"Therefore if she couldn't, out of her slender gains, ever have paid for a row of pearls--"
"She couldn't, in that atmosphere, ever properly have had one? Of course she couldn't. I've seen perfectly since our talk," Charlotte went on, "that that string of beads isn't even as an imitation very good. The little clasp itself doesn't seem even gold. With false pearls, I suppose," the girl mused, "it naturally wouldn't be."
"The whole thing's rotten paste," her companion returned as if to have done with it. "If it were NOT, and she had kept it all these years hidden--"
"Yes?" Charlotte sounded as he paused.
"Why I shouldn't know what to think!"
"Oh I see." She had met him with a certain blankness, but adequately enough, it seemed, for him to regard the subject as dismissed; and there was no reversion to it between them before, on the morrow, when she had with difficulty made a place for them in her trunk, she carried off these florid survivals.
At Bleet she found small occasion to revert to them (323) and, in an air charged with such quite other references, even felt, after she had laid them away, much enshrouded, beneath various piles of clothing, that they formed a collection not wholly without its note of the ridiculous. Yet she was never, for the joke, tempted to show them to her pupils, though Gwendolen and Blanche in particular always wanted, on her return, to know what she had brought back; so that without an accident by which the case was quite changed they might have appeared to enter on a new phase of interment. The essence of the accident was the sudden illness, at the last moment, of Lady Bobby, whose advent had been so much counted on to spice the five days' feast laid out for the coming of age of the eldest son of the house; and its equally marked effect was the dispatch of a pressing message, in quite another direction, to Mrs. Guy, who, could she by a miracle be secured--she was always engaged ten parties deep--might be trusted to supply, it was believed, an element of exuberance scarcely less potent. Mrs. Guy was already known to several of the visitors already on the scene, but she wasn't yet known to our young lady, who found her, after many wires and counter-wires had at last determined the triumph of her arrival, a strange charming little red-haired black-dressed woman, a person with the face of a baby and the authority of a commodore. She took on the spot the discreet, the exceptional young governess into the confidence of her designs and, still more, of her doubts; intimating that it was a policy she almost always promptly pursued.
"To-morrow and Thursday are all right," she said (324) frankly to Charlotte on the second day, "but I'm not half-satisfied with Friday."
"What improvement then do you suggest?"
"Well, my strong point, you know, is _tableaux vivants_."
"Charming. And what is your favourite character?"
"Boss!" said Mrs. Guy with decision; and it was very markedly under that ensign that she had, within a few hours, completely planned her campaign and recruited her troop. Every word she uttered was to the point, but none more so than, after a general survey of their equipment, her final enquiry of Charlotte. She had been looking about, but half-appeased, at the muster of decoration and drapery. "We shall be dull. We shall want more colour. You've nothing else?"
Charlotte had a thought. "No--I've SOME things."
"Then why don't you bring them?"
The girl weighed it. "Would you come to my room?"
"No," said Mrs. Guy--"bring them to-night to mine."
So Charlotte, at the evening's end, after candlesticks had flickered through brown old passages bedward, arrived at her friend's door with the burden of her aunt's relics. But she promptly expressed a fear. "Are they too garish?"
When she had poured them out on the sofa Mrs. Guy was but a minute, before the glass, in clapping on the diadem. "Awfully jolly--we can do Ivanhoe!"
"But they're only glass and tin."
"Larger than life they are, RATHER!--which is (325) exactly what's wanted for tableaux. OUR jewels, for historic scenes, don't tell--the real thing falls short. Rowena must have rubies as big as eggs. Leave them with me," Mrs. Guy continued--"they'll inspire me. Good-night."
The next morning she was in fact--yet very strangely--inspired. "Yes, I'LL do Rowena. But I don't, my dear, understand."
Mrs. Guy gave a very lighted stare. "How you come to have such things."
Poor Charlotte smiled. "By inheritance."
"They belonged to my aunt, who died some months ago. She was on the stage a few years in early life, and these are a part of her trappings."
"She left them to you?"
"No; my cousin, her stepson, who naturally has no use for them, gave them to me for remembrance of her. She was a dear kind thing, always so nice to me, and I was fond of her."
Mrs. Guy had listened with frank interest. "But it's HE who must be a dear kind thing!"
Charlotte wondered. "You think so?"
"Is HE," her friend went on, "also 'always so nice' to you?"
The girl, at this, face to face there with the brilliant visitor in the deserted breakfast-room, took a deeper sounding. "What is it?"
"Don't you know?"
Something came over her. "The pearls--?" But the question fainted on her lips.
(326) "Doesn't HE know?"
Charlotte found herself flushing. "They're NOT paste?"
"Haven't you looked at them?"
She was conscious of two kinds of embarrassment. "YOU have?"
"And they're real?"
Mrs. Guy became slightly mystifying and returned for all answer: "Come again, when you've done with the children, to my room."
Our young woman found she had done with the children that morning so promptly as to reveal to them a new joy, and when she reappeared before Mrs. Guy this lady had already encircled a plump white throat with the only ornament, surely, in all the late Mrs. Prime's--the effaced Miss Bradshaw's--collection, in the least qualified to raise a question. If Charlotte had never yet once, before the glass, tied the string of pearls about her own neck, this was because she had been capable of no such stoop to approved "imitation"; but she had now only to look at Mrs. Guy to see that, so disposed, the ambiguous objects might have passed for frank originals. "What in the world have you done to them?"
"Only handled them, understood them, admired them and put them on. That's what pearls want; they want to be worn--it wakes them up. They're alive, don't you see? How HAVE these been treated? They must have been buried, ignored, despised. They were half-dead. Don't you KNOW about pearls?" Mrs. Guy threw off as she fondly fingered the necklace.
(327) "How SHOULD I? Do YOU?"
"Everything. These were simply asleep, and from the moment I really touched them--well," said their wearer lovingly, "it only took one's eye!"
"It took more than mine--though I did just wonder; and than Arthur's," Charlotte brooded. She found herself almost panting. "Then their value--?"
"Oh their value's excellent."
The girl, for a deep contemplative moment, took another plunge into the wonder, the beauty and the mystery. "Are you SURE?"
Her companion wheeled round for impatience. "Sure? For what kind of an idiot, my dear, do you take me?"
It was beyond Charlotte Prime to say. "For the same kind as Arthur--and as myself," she could only suggest. "But my cousin didn't know. He thinks they're worthless."
"Because of the rest of the lot? Then your cousin's an ass. But what--if, as I understood you, he gave them to you--has he to do with it?"
"Why if he gave them to me as worthless and they turn out precious--!"
"You must give them back? I don't see that--if he was such a noodle. He took the risk."
Charlotte fed, in fancy, on the pearls, which decidedly were exquisite, but which at the present moment somehow presented themselves much more as Mrs. Guy's than either as Arthur's or as her own. "Yes--he did take it; even after I had distinctly hinted to him that they looked to me different from the other pieces."
(328) "Well then!" said Mrs. Guy with something more than triumph--with a positive odd relief.
But it had the effect of making our young woman think with more intensity. "Ah you see he thought they couldn't be different, because--so peculiarly--they shouldn't be."
"Shouldn't? I don't understand."
"Why how would she have got them?"--so Charlotte candidly put it.
"She? Who?" There was a capacity in Mrs. Guy's tone for a sinking of persons--!
"Why the person I told you of: his stepmother, my uncle's wife--among whose poor old things, extraordinarily thrust away and out of sight, he happened to find them."
Mrs. Guy came a step nearer to the effaced Miss Bradshaw. "Do you mean she may have stolen them?"
"No. But she had been an actress."
"Oh well then," cried Mrs. Guy, "wouldn't that be just how?"
"Yes, except that she wasn't at all a brilliant one, nor in receipt of large pay." The girl even threw off a nervous joke. "I'm afraid she couldn't have been our Rowena."
Mrs. Guy took it up. "Was she very ugly?"
"No. She may very well, when young, have looked rather nice."
"Well then!" was Mrs. Guy's sharp comment and fresh triumph.
"You mean it was a present? That's just what he so dislikes the idea of her having received--a (329) present from an admirer capable of going such lengths."
"Because she wouldn't have taken it for nothing? _Speriamo_--that she wasn't a brute. The 'length' her admirer went was the length of a whole row. Let us hope she was just a little kind!"
"Well," Charlotte went on, "that she was 'kind' might seem to be shown by the fact that neither her husband, nor his son, nor I, his niece, knew or dreamed of her possessing anything so precious; by her having kept the gift all the rest of her life beyond discovery--out of sight and protected from suspicion."
"As if, you mean"--Mrs. Guy was quick--"she had been wedded to it and yet was ashamed of it? Fancy," she laughed while she manipulated the rare beads, "being ashamed of THESE!"
"But you see she had married a clergyman."
"Yes, she must have been 'rum.' But at any rate he had married HER. What did he suppose?"
"Why that she had never been of the sort by whom such offerings are encouraged."
"Ah my dear, the sort by whom they're NOT--!" But Mrs. Guy caught herself up. "And her stepson thought the same?"
"Was he then, if only her stepson--"
"So fond of her as that comes to? Yes; he had never known, consciously, his real mother, and, without children of her own, she was very patient and nice with him. And i liked her so," the girl pursued, "that at the end of ten years, in so strange a manner, to 'give her away'--"
(330) "Is impossible to you? Then don't!" said Mrs. Guy with decision.
"Ah but if they're real I can't keep them!" Charlotte, with her eyes on them, moaned in her impatience. "It's too difficult."
"Where's the difficulty, if he has such sentiments that he'd rather sacrifice the necklace than admit it, with the presumption it carries with it, to be genuine? You've only to be silent."
"And keep it? How can i ever wear it?"
"You'd have to hide it, like your aunt?" Mrs. Guy was amused. "You can easily sell it."
Her companion walked round her for a look at the affair from behind. The clasp was certainly, doubtless intentionally, misleading, but everything else was indeed lovely. "Well, I must think. Why didn't SHE sell them?" Charlotte broke out in her trouble.
Mrs. Guy had an instant answer. "Doesn't that prove what they secretly recalled to her? You've only to be silent!" she ardently repeated.
"I must think--I must think!"
Mrs. Guy stood with her hands attached but motionless. "Then you want them back?"
As if with the dread of touching them Charlotte retreated to the door. "I'll tell you to-night."
"But may I wear them?"
"This evening--at dinner."
It was the sharp selfish pressure of this that really, on the spot, determined the girl; but for the moment, before closing the door on the question, she only said: "As you like!"
(331) They were busy much of the day with preparation and rehearsal, and at dinner that evening the concourse of guests was such that a place among them for Miss Prime failed to find itself marked. At the time the company rose she was therefore alone in the school-room, where, towards eleven o'clock, she received a visit from Mrs. Guy. This lady's white shoulders heaved, under the pearls, with an emotion that the very red lips which formed, as if for the full effect, the happiest opposition of colour, were not slow to translate. "My dear, you should have seen the sensation--they've had a success!"
Charlotte, dumb a moment, took it all in. "It IS as if they knew it--they're more and more alive. But so much the worse for both of us! I can't," she brought out with an effort, "be silent."
"You mean to return them?"
"If I don't I'm a thief."
Mrs. Guy gave her a long hard look: what was decidedly not of the baby in Mrs. Guy's face was a certain air of established habit in the eyes. Then, with a sharp little jerk of her head and a backward reach of her bare beautiful arms, she undid the clasp and, taking off the necklace, laid it on the table. "If you do you're a goose."
"Well, of the two--!" said our young lady, gathering it up with a sigh. And as if to get it, for the pang it gave, out of sight as soon as possible, she shut it up, clicking the lock, in the drawer of her own little table; after which, when she turned again, her companion looked naked and plain without it. "But what will you say?" it then occurred to her to demand.
(332) "Downstairs--to explain?" Mrs. Guy was after all trying at least to keep her temper. "Oh I'll put on something else and say the clasp's broken. And you won't of course name ME to him," she added.
"As having undeceived me? No--I'll say that, looking at the thing more carefully, it's my own private idea."
"And does he know how little you really know?"
"As an expert--surely. And he has always much the conceit of his own opinion."
"Then he won't believe you--as he so hates to. He'll stick to his judgement and maintain his gift, and we shall have the darlings back!" With which reviving assurance Mrs. Guy kissed her young friend for good-night.
She was not, however, to be gratified or justified by any prompt event, for, whether or no paste entered into the composition of the ornament in question, Charlotte shrank from the temerity of dispatching it to town by post. Mrs. Guy was thus disappointed of the hope of seeing the business settled--"by return," she had seemed to expect--before the end of the revels. The revels, moreover, rising to a frantic pitch, pressed for all her attention, and it was at last only in the general confusion of leave-taking that she made, parenthetically, a dash at the person in the whole company with whom her contact had been most interesting.
"Come, what will you take for them?"
"The pearls? Ah, you'll have to treat with my cousin."
(333) Mrs. Guy, with quick intensity, lent herself. "Where then does he live?"
"In chambers in the Temple. You can find him."
"But what's the use, if YOU do neither one thing nor the other?"
"Oh I SHALL do the 'other,' " Charlotte said: "I'm only waiting till I go up. You want them so awfully?" She curiously, solemnly again, sounded her.
"I'm dying for them. There's a special charm in them--I don't know what it is: they tell so their history."
"But what do you know of that?"
"Just what they themselves say. It's all IN them--and it comes out. They breathe a tenderness--they have the white glow of it. My dear," hissed Mrs. Guy in supreme confidence and as she buttoned her glove--"they're things of love!"
"Oh!" our young woman vaguely exclaimed.
"They're things of passion!"
"Mercy!" she gasped, turning short off. But these words remained, though indeed their help was scarce needed, Charlotte being in private face to face with a new light, as she by this time felt she must call it, on the dear dead kind colourless lady whose career had turned so sharp a corner in the middle. The pearls had quite taken their place as a revelation. She might have received them for nothing--admit that; but she couldn't have kept them so long and so unprofitably hidden, couldn't have enjoyed them only in secret, for nothing; and she had mixed them in her reliquary with false things in order to put curiosity and detection off the scent. Over this strange (334) fact poor Charlotte interminably mused: it became more touching, more attaching for her than she could now confide to any ear. How bad or how happy--in the sophisticated sense of Mrs. Guy and the young man at the Temple--the effaced Miss Bradshaw must have been to have had to be so mute! The little governess at Bleet put on the necklace now in secret sessions; she wore it sometimes under her dress; she came to feel verily a haunting passion for it. Yet in her penniless state she would have parted with it for money; she gave herself also to dreams of what in this direction it would do for her. The sophistry of her so often saying to herself that Arthur had after all definitely pronounced her welcome to any gain from his gift that might accrue--this trick remained innocent, as she perfectly knew it for what it was. Then there was always the possibility of his--as she could only picture it--rising to the occasion. Mightn't he have a grand magnanimous moment?--mightn't he just say "Oh I couldn't of course have afforded to let you have it if I had known; but since you HAVE got it, and have made out the truth by your own wit, I really can't screw myself down to the shabbiness of taking it back"?
She had, as it proved, to wait a long time--to wait till, at the end of several months, the great house of Bleet had, with due deliberation, for the season, transferred itself to town; after which, however, she fairly snatched at her first freedom to knock, dressed in her best and armed with her disclosure, at the door of her doubting kinsman. It was still with doubt and not quite with the face she had hoped that (335) he listened to her story. He had turned pale, she thought, as she produced the necklace, and he appeared above all disagreeably affected. Well, perhaps there was reason, she more than ever remembered; but what on earth was one, in close touch with the fact, to do? She had laid the pearls on his table, where, without his having at first put so much as a finger to them, they met his hard cold stare.
"I don't believe in them," he simply said at last.
"That's exactly then," she returned with some spirit, "what I wanted to hear!"
She fancied that at this his colour changed; it was indeed vivid to her afterwards--for she was to have a long recall of the scene--that she had made him quite angrily flush. "It's a beastly unpleasant imputation, you know!"--and he walked away from her as he had always walked at the vicarage.
"It's none of MY making, I'm sure," said Charlotte Prime. "If you're afraid to believe they're real--"
"Well?"--and he turned, across the room, sharp round at her.
"Why it's not my fault."
He said nothing more, for a moment, on this; he only came back to the table. "They're what I originally said they were. They're rotten paste."
"Then I may keep them?"
"No. I want a better opinion."
"Than your own?"
"Than YOUR own." He dropped on the pearls another queer stare; then, after a moment, bringing himself to touch them, did exactly what she had herself done in the presence of Mrs. Guy at Bleet--(336) gathered them together, marched off with them to a drawer, put them in and clicked the key. "You say I'm afraid," he went on as he again met her; "but I shan't be afraid to take them to Bond Street."
"And if the people say they're real--?"
He had a pause and then his strangest manner. "They won't say it! They shan't!"
There was something in the way he brought it out that deprived poor Charlotte, as she was perfectly aware, of any manner at all. "Oh!" she simply sounded, as she had sounded for her last word to Mrs. Guy; and within a minute, without more conversation, she had taken her departure.
A fortnight later she received a communication from him, and toward the end of the season one of the entertainments in Eaton Square was graced by the presence of Mrs. Guy. Charlotte was not at dinner, but she came down afterwards, and this guest, on seeing her, abandoned a very beautiful young man on purpose to cross and speak to her. The guest displayed a lovely necklace and had apparently not lost her habit of overflowing with the pride of such ornaments.
"Do you see?" She was in high joy.
They were indeed splendid pearls--so far as poor Charlotte could feel that she knew, after what had come and gone, about such mysteries. The poor girl had a sickly smile. "They're almost as fine as Arthur's."
"Almost? Where, my dear, are your eyes? They ARE 'Arthur's'!" After which, to meet the flood of crimson that accompanied her young friend's start: (337) "I tracked them--after your folly, and, by miraculous luck, recognised them in the Bond Street window to which he had disposed of them."
"DISPOSED of them?" Charlotte gasped. "He wrote me that I had insulted his mother and that the people had shown him he was right--had pronounced them utter paste."
Mrs. Guy gave a stare. "Ah I told you he wouldn't bear it! No. But I had, I assure you," she wound up, "to drive my bargain!"
Charlotte scarce heard or saw; she was full of her private wrong. "He wrote me," she panted, "that he had smashed them."
Mrs. Guy could only wonder and pity. "He's really morbid!" But it wasn't quite clear which of the pair she pitied; though the young person employed in Eaton Square felt really morbid too after they had separated and she found herself full of thought. She even went the length of asking herself what sort of a bargain Mrs. Guy had driven and whether the marvel of the recognition in Bond Street had been a veracious account of the matter. Hadn't she perhaps in truth dealt with Arthur directly? It came back to Charlotte almost luridly that she had had his address.