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"Her nose is distinctly impertinent."
“You may call it impertinent, if you like; but that is merely the stupidity of the English language in not having a word to describe the prettiest shape of nose there is.”
“We won't quarrel about her nose; there isn't enough of it to make a fuss about. And indeed if I were granting you everything—that she is fairly good-looking, and has a tall and elegant figure, and a fresh complexion, and so forth—what does it amount to? When you come to her conduct, what are you to say? Why, you know she is a most outrageous and audacious and abominable flirt !"
Queen Tita condescends to smile a little.
“She is a mischievous monkey," she admits. “But it's only her fun.”
“Her fun? A nice kind of fun. I call her simply a White Pestilence
“I'll tell her you said so.”
"-a White Pestilence, stalking through the land, and scattering devastation wherever she goes."
“And it's little cause you have to complain, in any case,” she retorts; for she can shift her ground with dexterity. "No, it isn't for you to complain of Peggy's tricks. Who encourages her? Who is worse than anybody else? Why, the way you two go on is perfectly disgraceful. I declare, if I weren't an angel --"
“But wait a bit. Who said you weren't an angel? I want to know who said you weren't an angel. Just you pass him this way. Hand him along. And then ask his aged mother to come and see if she can recognise the fragments."
“It's all very well for you to make a joke of it; but if you would only think of those two grown-up boys, and the kind of example that is set before them
“I daresay the boys will be able to look out for themselves.” "If they take after their father, they will."
Come, now, about Peggy. You know she has a way of expecting a good deal of attention.”
“Yes; and men are never willing to pay her all the attention she wants! Oh, no, they are quite reluctant-you especially! Well, never mind, I'll take Peggy. I daresay we shall get on ex. cellently by ourselves. But remember, Peggy is to be mine, and mine alone. Of course she will share my cabin at night; but I mean in the daytime as well—when we are walking along the bank, Peggy is to be with me; and if we go for a drive anywhere, she and I are to sit together. And won't you men be wild !”
“And won't you women be dull! But I don't know yet that I can allow a person of that kind to come with us. There is a good deal of moral obliquity about your peerless Peggy. Look at the way she goes on at cards. You may call her 'a daughter of the gods, divinely tall,' but you can't say she's 'most divinely fair’; for she cheats at vingt-et-un like the very mischief.”
“It's only her fun.”
“Why, everything is only her fun! Is she to be allowed to do whatever she pleases so long as it amuses her? Besides, there are other considerations. She's a Yank.”
"She's a dear!”
Obviously it was of no use to argue further with a woman who would make such irrelevant answers; for the sake of peace and quietness it was better to say, “Very well”; and so it came about that it was resolved to ask Miss Peggy Rosslyn to accompany us when we should be ready to steal away from the busy haunts of men and begin our exploration of the devious water-ways in the west of England.
As it chanced, the Person without a Character-she who had been chosen simply because she was pretty and nice—who was supposed to have no mental or moral attributes whatsoever -no ambitions, opinions, affections, angularities, or sinister designs of any kind-this Characterless Person called upon us that afternoon, and found some people chatting and drinking tea. And oh! so innocent she looked; and so demure were her eyes; and so reserved and courteous and complaisant her manner to these strange folk! Not any one of them, as it happened, had met her; not any one of them had been on terms of intimate friendship with her, and been allowed for a second - for the flashing fifteenth part of a second-to see in those 'innocent eyes a sudden and laughing confession of all her villainies and sins. What they saw was a tall, pleasant-looking, young American lady, of about eighteen or nineteen, freshercomplexioned than most of her countrywomen, and thoroughly well dressed. Perhaps one or other of the younger men, regarding her with greater interest, might have observed one of her small peculiarities—the grace of the action of her hands and wrists when she took anything up or put it down. It was a quite unconscious and natural habit she had of keeping her hand turned outward from the wrist, and hovering, as it were, before she touched anything, as a butterfly hovers before it settles. It may be added—without any great breach of confidence—that when Miss Peggy wanted to be very affectionate towards one of her women-friends, or wanted to wheedle her out of something, she had a trick of holding her victim's head in those pretty white hands while she kissed her on both cheeks. A person who has gone through this ceremony several times informs the writer that she cannot think of anything it resembles so much as the soft closing together of a plover's wings when the bird first reaches the ground.
On this occasion it fell to the lot of a distinguished but far from elderly man of science to make himself agreeable to Peggy; and he did his best. He entertained her with an account of the Dodo. The Dodo, he said, was a Conservative bird, that became very much annoyed with the Radical new ways of its contemporaries—the sports of the various species, so to speak, and failing to convince them that they were conducting themselves shamefully, he simply left the world in disgust. That is what we do now with science; we make it entertaining for children. Peggy was a child, and had to be amused. And how could this youthful Professor know, when he was making himself pleasantly facetious, that those calm, inquiring eyes were reading him through and through; that Peggy knew far more about human beings and their arts and wiles and ways than he knew about snails and frogs; and that, while he remained within reach of her glance, he was playing with a fire a hundred times more deadly than any ever invented by the Greeks? However, in these pages there shall be naught set
down in malice against the young lady who was to be our guest and companion during our long water-journey. The truth may have to be told; but it shall be no more than the truth. And it is frankly admitted that on this afternoon Miss Peggy behaved herself very well. She was docile and agreeable to all. She did not sit in a corner with any one person for the whole time. As for the youthful Professor, he went away declaring that she was simply charming, though she did not seem to him to resemble the typical American girl; from which we are to learn that sham metaphysics may by accident penetrate even into the sacred domain of science, and that a biologist may confess to a belief in those anæmic abstractions, those impossible phantoms, those fantastic fabrications of prejudice or prepossession-national types.
But when we discovered that Peggy had no engagement for that evening, and when she discovered that we were to be by ourselves, she was easily persuaded to stay and dine with us; and forthwith—for the people had lingered on till nearly seven o'clock—the domineering mite who controls this household had carried her improvised guest away with her, to prepare for the banquet. And indeed when Miss Peggy took her seat at the table, the candid historian is bound to admit—though rather against his will—that she was pleasant to look at. One forgot the audacity of her nose in the general brightness of her face; and her eyes, whatever else they may have been, were distinctly good-humoured. She had a pretty underlip, too-a perfect rosebud in its way; and she had a habit of pursing her mouth piquantly when about to speak : when listening, on the other hand, in an attitude of pleased attention, her head a little forward, sometimes she would part her lips in a half-laughing way, and then there was a gleam of whitest pearl. Yes; simple honesty demands-or rather, extorts--the confession that there have been plainer young women than our Peggy, as she appeared on this evening; and the prospect of having her for a companion during our contemplated excursion was one to be endured.
And now we had to lay all our plans, inchoate as they still were, before our young friend, in the hope of enticing her to go with us. It was speedily found that very little enticement was necessary. When her hostess described to her our preconcerted and sudden withdrawal from the roar and turmoil and heated rooms of London--the assembling of the small party of friends on board the mysterious barge, as yet unconstructed and unnamed, that was to bear us away toward far western regionsour stealthy gliding through the silent land, in the pleasant Maytime of the year—the ever-changing panorama of hill and wood and daisied meadow slowly going by--our morning walks along the banks-our moonlit evenings on deck, with perhaps a little music, of plantation birth-or, later still, a game of cards in the lamp-lit saloon : when all these things and many more have been put before her, the question comes
“Now, Peggy, what do you say? Will you go with us?”
“Won't I!” And then she seems to think this answer too abrupt; and she goes round the table and kisses that small mite of a woman.
"You are just too good to me,” she says; and then she returns to her place.
“You will bring your banjo, Miss Peggy ?” says one of us. « Oh, no!”
“Why not? Don't you ever perform out of London? Bell took her guitar with her when we drove the Phaeton northward.”
“That is different," she says. A guitar sounds all right. But a banjo would be out of keeping —"
"Oh, we can't get on without · Kitty Wells' and Carry me back to Tennessee !."
“There is a much more important thing," interposes Mrs. Threepenny-bit; and she eyes the young lady with severe and significant scrutiny. "We shall want a fourth for our party; and he may-I say he may-be a man; and even possibly a young man. Now, Peggy, I want to know if you are going to behave yourself?”
Miss Peggy turns to the third member of this trio, with appealing and innocent and injured eyes.
“Now, is that fair? Is that kind ? Do I ever misbehave?"