Henri Vauquelin was a widower with one daughter, to whom he had denied nothing from the time she used to whimper for his watch and drop it on the floor. So, after she left the convent where she had been educated, and told him how much she was missing her friend Georgette, he said gaily, " Mais, ma petite, invite mademoiselle— whatever her name may be, to come to Paris and stay with us for a month".
His gaiety was a trifle forced, however. Though he was happy to give his daughter a companion, he was pained to learn that his own companionship hadn't been enough. " For I have done all I could," he mused. " The fact is, that though I feel fairly young, I am elderly. That's the trouble. To a girl of twenty-one, a father of forty-five is an ancient for the chimney corner. I must see about finding her a husband—I shall have to talk to madame Daudenarde about her son the first time I am in the neighbourhood." And after Blanche had flung her arms round his neck, and darted forth to send the invitation to her friend, he surveyed his reflection in a glass pensively, and noted that his moustache was much greyer than he had thought.
When the indispensable Georgette arrived, in a costume that became her admirably, and sat at dinner, in a dress that became her more admirably still, replying to him with composure and point, he was surprised at the girls' attraction for each other—and his surprise did not diminish as the days passed. Though not actually more than two or three years older than Blanche, mademoiselle Paumelle was in tone much older. Blanche was an ingenue; Georgette was a woman. Excepting in moments, when she romped like a schoolgirl, all spontaneity and high spirits.
" She is a queer compound, your chum," he remarked when she had been with them for a fortnight. " Alternately thirty, and thirteen ! "
" You don't like her, papa? "
" Oh, yes, she is well enough, and not bad-looking. I am relieved she did not turn out to be ugly—that would have depressed me. But it is a trifle confusing to be uncertain whether I am about to be addressed by a woman of the world or a madcap from a nursery".
" She used always to be a madcap till she lost her mother—you see, there are only her stepfather and his two sisters now. It is that that has changed her so dreadfully".
" I find nothing ' dreadful' about her," said Vauquelin a shade sharply. " On the contrary, it—I suppose some people might find it rather fascinating. I merely observe that she is different from any other girl that I have met. What's the matter with her stepfather? "
" She tells me he never stops talking".
" His topics must be pretty catholic. This jeune fille from the country appears to know more of politics, finance, society, and sport than I, who have lived in Paris forty-five years".
" How you do exaggerate, papa ! " rippled Blanche reprovingly.
" At any rate, I do not exaggerate the years," sighed Vauquelin. " Well, if she is not happy at home, why not ask her to stay with us for two months ? She is not in my way, you know".
But mademoiselle Paumelle declared that it would be impossible for her to prolong her visit. Blanche reported this to him with wistful lips, and he said, " I'll see if 7 can persuade her—I will speak to her about it in the morning when you go to take your music-lesson".
On the morrow, " Blanche tells me that she is greatly disappointed," he began. " She will miss you terribly when you leave us, mademoiselle. I wish you would think over your objection".
" It is infinitely kind of you, monsieur Vauquelin. I fear that a month is the very most I can manage".
" Even to do us a service? "
" Ah, a ' service ' ! " She smiled. " You will find plenty of people ready to do you such services".
" Not plenty of mesdemoiselles Paumelle. I am in earnest. It is dull here for Blanche, alone with me. I have done my best for her, I am not consciously selfish—I have sat at home when I wanted to go out, and gone out when I wanted to stop at home. I have taken her to the Français and pretended to enjoy myself, though I could have yawned my head off, and the question of her clothes has absorbed me more than the affairs of France. But I am old. All my tenderness for her cannot alter that".
" You do not seem to me old," said mademoiselle Paumelle.
"Don't I?" said Vauquelin, regarding her gratefully. " Look how grey my moustache is getting. And yet, do you know, when we're all laughing together I feel as young as ever I was".
" Your manner is young. The face alters ever so long before the manner".
" I am forty-f—er—over forty, and Blanche is twenty-one. What will you? I must get her married soon. It is my paramount desire. I rather fancy that Daudenarde and she may not dislike each other—the gentleman you saw the other evening".
" She was doing her hair from seven o'clock till eight, and he sighed when he handed her the lemonade".
" Your observation is invaluable. I must have a chat with his mother soon. It would be an excellent match. In the meantime she stands in need of the companionship and counsel of a young lady like you; she needs it most urgently. If your stepfather can spare you-"
" Ah, my stepfather could spare me for ever," she put in; " there are others to listen to him".
" And if you are not bored here-"
" Bored ? I am having the time of my life".
" Eh bien ? Remain for two months, I beg. Be merciful to us. I need your advice, myself. There is a matter that is harassing me : I cannot determine whether her new jumper should be beaded, silk-broidered, or fringed".
" If it is telling on your health-" Her eyes laughed into his.
" You yield ? "
" I weakly wobble".
" There is, further, the consuming question of a simple evening dress—what it should be made of".
" I succumb. Tulle would be all right, or georgette".
" It shall be georgette—we shall not lose you so utterly when you go".