Robert Tronge 33

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robert tronge
Robert Tronge

It was agreed between them, however, that Mr. Lanley, without authority, should go and look the situation over. He had been trying to get the Waynes' telephone since one o'clock. He had been told at intervals of fifteen minutes by a resolutely cheerful central that their number did not answer. Mr. Lanley hated people who did not answer their telephone. Nor was he agreeably impressed by the four flights of stairs, or by the appearance of the servant who answered his ring. "Won't do, won't do," he kept repeating in his own mind. He was shown into the sitting-room. It was in shadow, for only a shaded reading-lamp was lighted, and his first impression was of four windows; they appeared like four square panels of dark blue, patterned with stars. Then a figure rose to meet him--a figure in blue draperies, with heavy braids wound around the head, and a low, resonant voice said, "I am Mrs. Wayne." As soon as he could he walked to the windows and looked out to the river and the long, lighted curves of the bridges, and beyond to Long Island, to just the ground where the Battle of Long Island had been fought--a battle in which an ancestor of his had particularly distinguished himself. He said something polite about the view. "Let us sit here where we can look out," she said, and sank down on a low sofa drawn under the windows. As she did so she came within the circle of light from the lamp. She sat with her head leaned back against the window-frame, and he saw the fine line of her jaw, the hollows in her cheek, the delicate modeling about her brows, not obscured by much eyebrow, and her long, stretched throat. She was not quite maternal enough to look like a Madonna, but she did look like a saint, he thought. He knelt with one knee on the couch and peered out. "Dear me," he said, "I fancy I used to skate as a boy on a pond just about where that factory is now." He found she knew very little about the history of New York. She had been brought up abroad, she said; her father had been a consul in France. It was a subject which he liked to expound. He loved his native city, which he with his own eyes had seen once as hardly more than a village. He and his ancestors--and Mr. Lanley's sense of identification with his ancestors was almost Chinese--had watched and had a little shaped the growth. "I suppose you had Dutch ancestry, then," she said, trying to take an interest. "Dutch." Mr. Lanley shut his eyes, resolving, since he had no idea what her own descent might be, that he would not explain to her the superior attitude of the English settlers of the eighteenth century toward their Dutch predecessors. However, perhaps he did not entirely conceal his feeling, for he said: "No, I have no Dutch blood--not a drop. Very good people in their way, industrious--peasants." He hurried on to the great fire of 1835. "Swept between Wall Street and Coenties Slip," he said, with a splendid gesture, and then discovered that she had, never heard of "Quenches Slip," or worse, she had pronounced it as it was spelled. He gently set her right there. His father had often told him that he had seen with his own eyes a note of hand which had been blown, during the course of the conflagration, as far as Flatbush. And the second fire of 1845. His father had been a man then, married, a prominent citizen, old enough, as Mr. Lanley said, with a faint smile, to have lost heavily. He could himself remember the New York of the Civil War, the bitter family quarrels, the forced resignations from clubs, the duels, the draft riots. But, oddly enough, when it came to contemporary New York, it was Mrs. Wayne who turned out to be most at home. Had he ever walked across the Blackwell's Island Bridge? (This was in the days before it bore the elevated trains.) No, he had driven. Ah, she said, that was wholly different. Above, where one walked, there was nothing to shut out the view of the river. Just to show that he was not a feeble old antiquarian, he suggested their taking a walk there at once. She held out her trailing garments and thin, blue slippers. And then she went on: "There's another beautiful place I don't believe you know, for all you're such an old New-Yorker--a pier at the foot of East Eighty-something Street, where you can almost touch great seagoing vessels as they pass." "Well, there at least we can go," said Mr. Lanley, and he stood up. "I have a car here, but it's open. Is it too cold? Have you a fur coat? I'll send back to the house for an extra one." He paused, brisk as he was; the thought of those four flights a second time dismayed him. The servant had gone out, and Pete was still absent, presumably breaking the news of his engagement to Dr. Parret. Mrs. Wayne had an idea. She went to a window on the south side of the room, opened it, and looked out. If he had good lungs, she told him, he could make his man hear. Mr. Lanley did not visibly recoil. He leaned out and shouted. The chauffeur looked up, made a motion to jump out, fearing that his employer was being murdered in these unfamiliar surroundings; then he caught the order to go home for an extra coat. Lanley drew his shoulder back into the room and shut the window; as he did so he saw a trace of something impish in the smile of his hostess. "Why do you smile?" he asked quickly. She did not make the mistake of trying to arrest her smile; she let it broaden. "I don't suppose you have ever done such a thing before." "Now, that does annoy me." "Calling down five stories?" "No; your thinking I minded." "Well, I did think so." "You were mistaken, utterly mistaken." "I'm glad. If you mind doing such things, you give so much time to arranging not to do them."