It's too late!
A day before the ball the two young men came back. Eline thought she could see a frown pass over St Clare’s features when he heard that they were going to the ball. He said nothing, however; but the following evening, about half past eight, he came in with Vincent. They had also been invited. Vincent had accepted the invitation. St Clare had not. He asked to see Eline for a moment, but she had just commenced her toilette; however, St Clare was importunate, and Eline sent her maid down to ask him to wait.
There was no one in the big salon. Vincent, in evening dress, was lying on the couch, and had picked up L'Indépendance. St Clare stood on the balcony thinking, and staring at the snow, which glistened in the evening light. A servant came and asked whether they would have tea.
‘I must say I admire your pluck, Lawrence,’ said Vincent in English, as he slowly stirred his cup of tea. ‘But are you certain that she will understand and take your advice?’
‘Well, I can’t help myself. I will have to try,’ answered St Clare determinedly.
The servant left and both were silent, until Eline entered. A pink glow of veloutine hid the sallow tint of her complexion. Her hair was already arranged, and rows and rows of glittering sequins hung over her brow. But she had not yet proceeded further than that with her costume, and was simply wrapped in a white flannel dressing gown. Vincent rose, and she apologized for her toilette. But she looked very charming none the less.
‘You wanted so urgently to speak to me,’ she said softly to St Clare, as she held out her hand to him. ‘I hope you won’t mind that I’ve come to you like this; and please don’t get up.’
They sat down, while Vincent withdrew with his newspaper into the conservatory. St Clare looked at Eline searchingly.
‘What is it you want to ask me?’ she said.
‘In the first place, I must ask your pardon for my boldness in having called you away from your toilette.’
‘Oh, that is nothing. I have plenty of time.’
‘I feel very much flattered that you have come at once. You can well imagine that I should not have intruded if it had not been for a very good reason. I had a request to make of you.’
‘Which is so important that it could not wait?’
‘Yes, I have to ask you now and I run the risk that you will be very angry when I make that request, that you will feel hurt, and that you will tell me that I am interfering in matters that do not concern me.’
She had a vague suspicion of the question that he was about to ask.
‘Never mind. Speak up frankly,’ she answered simply.
‘You’ve asked me to show as much interest in you as a brother would show for a sister. Is that right, or am I mistaken?’
‘No, that is quite right.’
‘Well, if you were my sister, I would ask you to do me a great favour, and beg of you not to go to that ball this evening.’ She did not answer, but looked him straight in the face. ‘If you were my sister I should tell you that Vincent and I have made enquiries about the people who are going to the ball this evening; I should tell you that I know for certain that a great number of the invited guests are even less suited to your circle than some of your uncle and aunt’s acquaintances. If you were my sister, I could scarcely express myself in plainer terms than I have done, and I have not a word to add to what I have said; but I hope that you will not misunderstand me, and that you will now have some idea what kind of guests you would see there this evening.’
She cast down her eyes and remained silent.
‘Therefore, at the risk of interfering in a matter that does not concern me, at the risk that your uncle and aunt will take offence at my interference in your affairs, at the risk that you yourself, after having forgiven me one indiscretion already, will be very angry with me, I ask you once more, do not go to this ball. You will be out of place there.’
Still she remained silent, and her fingers clutched nervously at the girdle of her dressing gown.
‘Are you very angry?’ he asked.
‘No,’ she answered after a pause, very softly. ‘No, I am not angry, and I shall do as you ask me. I shall not go.’
‘Do you really mean it?’ he cried, delighted.
‘I really mean it. I shall not go. I am very thankful to you for enquiring about the people who are going. I was already afraid that you would not approve of my going, but I could not bear the thought of staying alone at home a whole evening; that always makes me so melancholy.’
‘You feared my disapproval?’ he asked smilingly.
‘Yes,’ she answered. ‘You are such a good friend to me that I should not like to do anything of which you disapprove. And for this evening… I shall do exactly as you ask.’
‘Thank you,’ he said with emotion, and pressed her hand.
‘Yes, you may well appreciate it,’ she cried with forced airiness, feeling somewhat depressed by her humility. ‘Do you know that, for the last three-quarters of an hour, I have been busy arranging the sequins in my hair, and all for nothing?’
‘Certainly, I appreciate what you have done. I assure you I do appreciate it,’ he declared with much earnestness.
Uncle Daniël entered the room.
‘Bonsoir, St Clare. You are not coming, are you? But, Eline! Are you not going to dress?’
Eline stammered something and could not find the right words, when she heard the voice of Elize, who was grumbling to the maid. Elize entered, glittering with sequins and Moorish draperies, her feet encased in little slippers.
‘Bonsoir, St Clare. What a pity you are not going. It will be very nice… Ciel! Eline!’
Vincent came in from the conservatory.
‘It is nearly half past nine, and you have only done your hair,’ continued Elize in blank astonishment. ‘What have you been thinking about?’
‘I don’t think that your niece is going, Madame,’ said St Clare, as Eline was too confused to speak. ‘We heard, Vincent and I, that the company would be rather mixed at the ball… and I advised Miss Vere not to go rather than risk unpleasant encounters. I hope you will pardon me for giving that advice. Of course, I know she would have been under your protection and that of her uncle, but I thought that such circles were even more to be avoided by a young girl than by a married lady, even if she is as charming as yourself. Was I very wrong?’
Elize was unsure whether she should be angry or not, but in his voice there was so much determination and at the same time so much that was winning, that she felt herself completely disarmed. Daniël Vere just shrugged his shoulders.
‘Were you wrong?’ Elize repeated, still hesitating. ‘Well, perhaps not. Of course Eline can do as she likes. If she would rather not go, eh bien, soit! Then we shall pretend that she has a headache. That is easy enough. But you will have a terrible ennui, Eline.’
‘No, really, I would much rather stay at home,’ said Eline; ‘at least, that is if you are not offended.’
‘Not at all. Liberté chérie, my child.’
The servant came in to say that the carriage was at the door, and brought Uncle’s and Vincent’s furs. The maid assisted Elize with her fur cape.
‘If your uncle and aunt have no objection, I should like to keep you company for a little while?’ asked St Clare.
Uncle and Aunt thought it an excellent idea. Eline was still rather confused.
‘Adieu! Enjoy yourselves,’ she said with a little furtive smile to Elize, her uncle, and Vincent.
‘Ridiculous,’ muttered Uncle Daniël, when they were in the carriage. ‘Ridiculous! He won’t allow her to go to the ball, but he does not mind keeping her company. That is the American fashion, I suppose. I, at least, would like to know which is more improper – to go with us to the ball, or to spend an evening alone with a young man? Ridiculous!’
Vincent said nothing. He thought it beneath him to defend his friend, but Elize quickly urged her husband to be silent. She would not permit him to speak ill of a niece who was under his roof, and of a friend whom they saw so frequently.
‘Speak ill of him… oh dear, no!’ resumed Uncle Daniël, still feeling hurt. ‘It’s only the American way, I suppose.’
Eline still felt confused.
‘I don’t think Uncle thought it right that I followed your advice,’ she said, when they were alone. ‘Perhaps, too, he thought that… you should have gone with them.’
St Clare looked at her in quiet surprise.
‘Then why did he not say so? I asked him, didn’t I? But would you sooner have me go?’
‘No, I should think it very kind of you if you stayed a little longer.’
‘With pleasure, for there is something else that I would like to ask you, but it is not so important this time.’
‘What is it, then?’
‘I should like one of those sequins which you have arranged in your hair.’
Eline smiled, and carefully she took the row of sequins from her hair and removed one of the coins, which she offered to him.
‘Thank you,’ he said, and attached the coin to his watch chain.
A strange feeling came over Eline. She felt very contented, very happy, and yet somewhat abashed, and she asked herself which Betsy would have considered less proper: to go with her uncle and aunt to the ball, or to spend the evening alone, en négligé, even with St Clare? The latter certainly, she thought. But he seemed to think it so simple and natural that she did not even venture to ask him whether she might go and change her dress.
‘And now let us have a quiet little chat,’ he said, as he sat down in an armchair. She remained sitting on the sofa, still a little shy, playing with her row of sequins. ‘Tell me something, do… of your childhood, or of your travels.’
Number of pages: 375
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What was said about Eline Vere
It’s a delightful and - thanks to the clarity of its language- easy read. What a wonderful book.’ – Words Across Time
‘A vivacious and skilful performance, giving an evidently faithful picture of society, and evincing the art of a true story-teller.’ – Philadelphia Telegraph