A Daughter of To-day - Cover

A Daughter of To-day

Copyright© 2011 by Sara Jeannette Duncan

Chapter 10

Kendal mounted to Elfrida's appartement in the Rue Porte Royale to verify the intimation of her departure, or happily to forestall its execution the morning after her note reached him. He found it bare and dusty. A workman was mending the stove; the concierge stood looking on, with her arms folded above the most striking feature of her personality. Every vestige of Elfrida was gone, and the tall windows were open, letting the raw February air blow through. Outside the sunlight lay in squares and triangles on the roofs, and gave the place its finishing touch of characterlessness. Yes, truly, mademoiselle had gone, the evening before. Was monsieur then not aware? The concierge was of opinion that mademoiselle had had bad news, but her tone implied that no news could be quite bad enough to justify the throwing up of such desirable apartments upon such short notice. Mademoiselle had left in such haste that she had forgotten both to say where she was going and to leave an address for letters; and it would not be easy to surpass the consciousness of injury with which the concierge demanded what she was to say to the facteur on the day of the post from America, when there were always four or five letters for mademoiselle. Monsieur would be bien amiable, if he would allow that they should be directed to him. Upon reflection monsieur declined this responsibility. With the faintest ripple of resentment at being left out of Elfrida's confidence, he stated to himself that it would be intrusive. He advised the concierge to keep them for a week or two, during which Miss Bell would be sure to remember to send for them, and turned to go.

"Mademoiselle est allee a la Gare du Nord," added the concierge, entirely aware that she was contributing a fact to Kendal's mental speculation, and wishing it had a greater intrinsic value. But Kendal merely raised his eyebrows in polite acknowledgment of unimportant information. "En effet!" he said, and went away. Nevertheless he could not help reflecting that Gare du Nord probably meant Calais, and Calais doubtless meant England, probably London. As he thought of it he assured himself that it was London, and his irritation vanished at the thought of the futility of Elfrida in London. It gave him a half curious, half solicitous amusement instead. He pictured her with her Hungarian peasant's cloak and any one of her fantastic hats in the conventional highways he knew so well, and smiled. "She will have to take herself differently there," he reflected, without pausing to consider exactly what he meant by it, "and she'll find that a bore." As yet he himself had never taken her differently so far as he was aware, and in spite of the obvious provocation of her behavior it did not occur to him to do it now. He reflected with a shade of satisfaction that she knew his London address. When she saw quite fit she would doubtless inform him as to what she was doing and where she might be found. He smiled again at the thought of the considerations which Elfrida would put into the balance against the pleasure of seeing him. They were not humiliating; he was content to swing high on the other side indefinitely; but he admitted to himself that she had taken a pleasure out of Paris for him, and went back to his studio missing it. He went on missing it for quite two days, at the end of which he received an impetuous visit—excessively impetuous considering the delay—from Nadie Palicsky. In its course Mademoiselle Palicsky declared herself robbed and wronged by "cette incomprise d'Americaine," whom she loved—but loved, did he understand? No, it was not probable that he understood—what did a man know of love? As much perhaps as that flame—Kendal permitted himself the luxury of an open fire. Nadie stared into it for a moment with cynical eyes. Under the indirect influence of Kendal's regard they softened.

"She always understood. It was a joy to show her anything. She interpreted Bastien Lepage better than I—indeed that is true—but only with her soul, she had no hands. Yes, I loved her, and she was good for me. I drew three breaths in her presence for one in her absence. And she has taken herself away; even in her letter—I had a line too—she was as remote as a star! I hope," continued Nadie, with innocent candor, as she swung her little feet on the corner of Kendal's table, "that you do not love her too. I say prayers to le bon Dieu, about it. I burn candles."

"And why?" Kendal asked, with a vigorous twist of his palette knife.

"Because you are such a beast," she responded calmly, watching his work with her round cleft chin in the shell of her hand. "That's not bad, you know. That nearest girl sitting on the grass is almost felt. But if you show it to the English they will be so shocked that they will use lorgnettes to hide their confusion. Ah!" she said, jumping down, "here am I wasting myself upon you, with a carriage a l'heure! You are not worth it," and she went. After that it seemed to Kendal that he did not miss Elfrida so much. Certainly it never occurred to him to hasten his departure by a day on her account, and there came a morning when he drove through Bloomsbury and realized that he had not thought about her for a fortnight. The British Museum suggested her to him there—the British Museum, and the certainty that within its massive walls a number of unimaginative young women in collarless sage-green gowns were copying casts of antique sculptures at that moment. But he did not allow himself to suppose that she could possibly be among them.

He sniffed London all day with a home-returning satisfaction in her solidity and her ugliness and her low-toned fogs and her great throbbing unostentatious importance, which the more flippant capital seemed to have intensified in him. He ordered the most British luncheon he could think of, and reflected upon the superiority of the beer. He read the leaders in the Standard through to the bitter end, and congratulated himself and the newspaper that there was no rag of an absurd feuilleton to distract his attention from the importance of the news of the day. He remembered all sorts of acquaintances that Paris had foamed over for months; his heart warmed to a certain whimsical old couple who lived in Park Street and went out to walk every morning after breakfast with their poodle. He felt disposed to make a formal call upon them and inquire after the poodle. It was—perhaps with an unconscious desire to make rather more of the idyl of his homecoming that he went to see the Cardiffs instead, who were his very old friends, and lived in Kensington Square.

As he turned out of Kensington High Street into a shoppy little thoroughfare, and through it to this quiet, neglected high-nosed old locality, he realized with an added satisfaction that he had come back to Thackeray's London. One was apt, he reflected, with a charity which he would not have allowed himself always, to undervalue Thackeray in these days. After all, he once expressed London so well that now London expressed him, and that was something.

Kendal found the Cardiffs—there were only two, Janet and her father—at tea, and the Halifaxes there, four people he could always count on to be glad to see him. It was written candidly in Janet's face—she was a natural creature—as she asked him how he dared to be so unexpected. Lady Halifax cried out robustly from the sofa to know how many pictures he had brought back; and Miss Halifax, full of the timid enthusiasm of the well-brought-up elderly English girl, gave him a sallow but agreeable regard from under her ineffective black lace hat, and said what a surprise it was. When they had all finished, Lawrence Cardiff took his elbow off the mantelpiece, changed his cup into his other hand to shake hands, and said, with his quiet, clean-shaven smile, "So you're back!"

"Daddy has been hoping you would be here soon," said Miss Cardiff. "He wants the support of your presence. He's been daring to enumerate 'Our Minor Artists' in the Brown Quarterly, and his position is perfectly terrible. Already he's had forty-one letters from friends, relatives, and picture-dealers suggesting names he has 'doubtless forgotten.' Poor daddy says he never knew them."

The source of this story is Finestories

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