下午三点，在英国散步 场能看到尼斯市所有的时髦人物--那是个迷人的地方。散步场四周用棕榈、鲜花和热带作物围住，一面临海，另一面连接一条很宽的车道，车道两边林立着旅馆和 别墅。远处是柑橘果园和群山。这里代表着许多国家，人们说着许多不同的语言，穿着各式服装。天气晴朗时，这里的欢快情景就像狂欢节一样惹人注意。傲慢的英 国人，活泼的法国人，严肃的德国人，英俊的西班牙人，丑陋的俄国人，谦卑的犹太人，无拘无束的美国人，他们在这里或驾车，或闲坐，或漫游。他们闲聊着新 闻，评论着来到这里的时新的知名人物--里斯托里或狄更斯，维克托·伊曼纽尔或桑威奇群岛的女王。来这里的马车及其装备和人群一样五花八门，非常引人注 目。特别是女士们自己驾驶的低档双马四轮车。两匹劲头十足的小种马拉着车，车上安装着色彩鲜艳的网子，防止女士们宽大的裙边漫过小小的车子，车后架站着小 马车夫。
圣诞节这一天，一个高个子年轻人手背在身后，慢慢在散步场走着，神情有些心不在焉。他看上去像是意大利人，打扮又像英国人，却带着美国人独立的神气 --这种混合使得各种各样的女士用赞许的目光追随着他。花花公子们身着黑天鹅绒西服，打着玫瑰色的领带，戴着软皮手套，钮扣眼里插着山梅花。他们对那年轻 人耸耸肩、继而又嫉妒其他的身材来。周围有许多娱目的倩女，可这年轻人几乎不屑一顾，只是不时打量一下某位身穿蓝衣的金发姑娘。不一会儿，他踱出散步场， 在十字路口上站了一会，好像拿不定主意是到公园去听乐队演奏，还是沿着海滩漫步走向山上的城堡。一阵急促的马蹄得得，使他抬头观望。只见一辆小车载着一位 女士，很快地顺着街道驶过来。那女士豆蔻年华，金发垂肩，蓝装飘逸。他凝视片刻，脸上的神情为之一振，像一个小男孩似地挥舞着帽子，赶忙跑过去迎接她。
“我路上耽搁了，但是我答应过和你一起过圣诞节。我这就来了。““你爷爷好吗？你们什么时候到的？你们呆在哪里？““很好--昨天夜里--呆在沙万 旅馆。我去了你住的旅馆，可是你们都出去了。““我有那么多话要说，都不知道从哪说起了！坐进来，我们可以安安心心地谈话。我打算驾车兜兜风，很想有个伴 儿。
“我先要去取信，然后去拜访城堡之山；那里的风景非常可爱，我喜欢喂孔雀。你去过那里吗？““前几年常去，可是我现在连一眼也不想看它。““现在把 你的事告诉我吧。最后一次听到你的消息，是你爷爷写信说，他等着你从柏林来。““是的，我在那儿过了一个月，然后去巴黎和他会合，他在那里安定下来度过冬 天。他那儿有朋友，有许多使他开心的事。所以我就离开他来这里了，我们过得非常好。““这样的安排真是妙极，“艾美说。她发现劳里的态度少了些什么，可是 又说不上那是什么。
“是的，你看，他讨厌旅行，而我不喜欢保持安静。因此，我们各取所需，这样也就没有麻烦。我和他总在一起。他喜欢听我的冒险活动，而我从漫游中回 来，有人会很高兴见到我，我喜欢这种感觉。那是个肮脏的破坑，是不是？“他带着厌恶的神情补充道。他们正沿着大道驶向这个古老城市的拿破仑广常"但它富于 画趣，所以我不在乎。这河流、群山非常美妙。
劳里无精打采地看着队伍，艾美观察着他，感到一种新的羞涩袭上心头。他有了变化，艾美从身旁这个郁闷的人身上找不到她离开时那个满脸欢乐的男孩的影 子。她想，他比以前更英俊了，有了很大长进。可是，见到她时的兴奋劲一过去，他重又疲倦、垂头丧气起来--不是病态，确切地说也不是不快，而是显得有些老 成、严肃，可一两年幸福的生活是不会把他变成这样的。艾美并不懂，也不好冒昧询问，所以她摇了摇头，用鞭轻轻打了下小马们。这时行进队伍蜿蜒着穿过帕格里 奥尼桥的拱门，进入教堂，从视野中消失了。
“我看你这样做是对的。在家里你什么也不能做，而他们知道你在这儿健康、幸福、非常快乐，这对他们是一个很大的安慰，亲爱的。“他靠近了些，说这些 话时他又像从前的老样子。那种时而压在艾美心头的忧虑减轻了，因为，劳里的神情、行为以及兄长般的称呼"亲爱的"似乎使她确信，假如真的发生了什么麻烦 事，在异乡的她也不会孤独的。过了一会儿，她笑着给他看一幅乔的速写，乔身穿涂抹工作服，那蝴蝶结昂然直立在帽子上，她的嘴巴吐出这样的字眼：“天才冒火 花了。“劳里笑着接过来，放进背心口袋，“免得被风吹跑了"。他津津有味地听艾美愉快地读着来信。
“这对我将是个非常快乐的圣诞节。上午收到礼物，下午接到家信，又有你相伴，晚上还有舞会，“艾美说。他们在老城堡的废墟中下了车，一群漂亮的孔雀 聚拢到他的身边，驯顺地等着他们喂食。艾美站在他上面的山坡上，笑着将面包屑洒向这些漂亮鸟儿们。这时，劳里带着自然的好奇看着她，就像刚才她看他那样。 他看到时间和分离在她身上产生了多么大的变化。他没发现使他困惑或者失望的东西，却发现了许多值得欣赏和赞许的东西。忽略她言谈举止中一点小小的矫揉造作 成份，她还像从前那样活泼得体，而且她的服装与仪态中又增添了一种描述不出的东西，我们将那称作优雅。艾美看上去总是比她的实际年龄更成熟些，在驾车和谈 话方面她都有了某种自信，这使她看上去更像一个精通世故的妇人，虽然实际并非如此。不过，有时她的坏脾气还是有所表现，她仍然保有坚强的意志，她在国外得 到的修养也无损于她的天真与直率。
他们登上了山顶上的高地，艾美挥着手，像是欢迎他来这个她喜爱的常来之地。她指指点点，问他：“还记得那教堂吗？还有科尔索，在海湾拖着网的渔夫？ 喏，就在下面。那条可爱的道路通向弗朗加别墅和舒伯特塔楼。不过，最美的还是那远处海面上的小点，他们说那是科西嘉岛。记得吗？““记得。变化不大，“他 没有热情地回答。
艾美的表现得记录下来。那天晚上，她故意打扮得非常漂亮。时间与分离在两个年轻人身上都发生了变化。艾美以一种新的眼光看她的老朋友，不是作为"我 们的男孩"，而是作为一个英俊悦人的男人。她意识到自己有一种非常自然的愿望，想在他眼里得宠。艾美知道自己的长处，她用风情与技巧充分显示了她的长处。 对一个贫穷但美丽的女人来说，风情与技巧便是一种财富。
在尼斯市，薄纱和绢网很便宜，因此，在这样的场合里，艾美便用它们包装自己。她的装扮采用明智的英国式样：年轻姑娘们穿戴朴素。她用鲜花、一些廉价 首饰，以及各种玲珑的饰物打扮自己，这些小小的装饰品令人着迷，花钱不多，效果却不错。必须承认，有时候艺术家的品味支配了妇人，她沉迷于梳古代发式，做 雕像般的姿势，穿古典式的服装。可是，哎呀，我们大家都有小小的弱点，很容易原谅年轻人身上的这种小毛玻他们的美丽愉悦了我们的双眼，他们天真的虚荣心使 我们保持心情怡悦。
虽然这让她有点苦恼，但她碎步走动时看上去还是异常活泼优雅。她很少跑步--那样不适合她的风格，她想，因为她个子高，比起嬉戏或顽皮的小跑来，那 种稳重的、像天后朱诺般雍容华贵的步子更适宜她。她在长长的大厅里来回走着，一边等着劳里。有一次她站到枝形吊灯下，因为灯光映照着她的头发，产生了很好 的效果。后来她改变了主意，走到了屋子的另一头，好像为她女孩家的愿望--想给人第一眼留下美好印象--感到不好意思。碰巧，她这样做恰到好处，因为，劳 里悄没声地走了进来。她没听到他的声音。她站在远处的窗边，半偏着头，一手提着裙边，红色的窗帘映衬着她那白色的苗条身段，产生的效果如同一座巧妙安置的 雕像。
一个俄国王子屈尊坐着和一位魁伟的女士谈了一个小时。那位女士打扮得像哈姆雷特的母亲，她身穿黑天鹅绒礼服，下巴底下缀着珍珠。一个十八岁的波兰伯 爵，很投入地和女士们周旋着，女士们称他为"一个迷人的宝贝"。一个德国殿下之类的人，来这专为吃饭，他漫无目的地在大厅里漫游着，寻找他可以吞咽的食 物。男爵罗思柴尔德的私人秘书，一个穿着结实的靴子、有着一个大鼻子的犹大人，对众人和蔼地微笑着，好像他主人的名字使他罩上了一层金色的光环。
一个认识国王的矮胖法国人来这里为了过把舞瘾。琼斯女士，一个英国妇女，用她那小小的八口之家点缀了舞会。当然，还有许多步伐轻快、嗓音尖锐的美国 姑娘，端庄、呆板的英国女孩，和一些不好看、但是淘气的法国小姐，同时还有常见的那一类爱旅行的年轻绅士们。他们愉快地玩着，而来自各个国家的母亲们沿着 墙壁坐着，当先生们和她们的女儿们共舞时，母亲们宽厚地朝他们笑着。
那天晚上，当艾美靠着劳里的胳膊"出场"时，任何年轻姑娘都能想象出她的心境。她知道她看上去漂亮，她喜欢跳舞，她感到她的脚像是踏在家乡的舞池 里，她欣赏那种令人陶醉的力量感。当年轻姑娘们首次发现她们生来就可以用美貌、青春以及女性气质这些美德来统治一个可爱的新王国时，她们就会产生这种感 觉。她真的同情戴维斯家的姑娘们，她们笨拙而又长相平平，除了一个严厉的爸爸和三个更严厉的独身姑姑，她们没有护卫者。艾美经过她们时，以最友好的态度向 她们鞠躬。她做得对，因为这使她们看到了她的衣服。她们好奇心如焚，想知道她那高雅的朋友是何许人。乐队奏起了第一首曲子，艾美的脸红了，眼睛发亮，她的 脚焦躁地踏着地。她舞跳得不错，她想让劳里知道这一点。所以，当他以十分平静的语调问道：“你想跳舞吗？“她受到的震动不用描述就可以想象出来。
他们发现身处一帮英国人之中，在这种不断变换舞伴的舞会中，艾美不得礼节性地穿行期间，她始终感觉到似乎后面可以尽兴地跳塔兰台拉舞。劳里把她交给 了"可爱的小男孩"，去向弗洛尽义务，没有再找艾美享受后面舞曲的乐趣，这种缺乏远见的行为应该受到指责，也得到了恰如其分的惩罚。因为，艾美立刻就舞了 起来，直到晚饭时分。她打算只要劳里显出后悔的样子，就宽容他。当他踱过来，而不是跑过来，请她跳下一个美妙的波尔卡雷多瓦舞时，她带着满意的神态，假装 正经地给他看她的舞会曲目册。但是他那彬彬有礼的悔过并没有对她产生影响，她和伯爵急速舞着离开了他。这时艾美看到他和她婶婶坐在一起，脸上带着十分宽容 的神情。
真是不可饶耍好长时间，艾美不再去注意他，只是偶尔在舞曲的间隙里，到她的陪伴人那里，把衣服上的别针弄一弄，休息一会儿，这都是必需的。她用笑脸 遮盖住怒气，看上去格外赏心悦目，这产生了很好的效果。劳里高兴地用目光追随着她，她既不嬉闹，也不闲逛，只是兴高彩烈、优雅地舞着，充分表现了这种娱乐 应有的欢乐。很自然，他开始以这种新的观点研究起她来。舞会进行还不到一半时间，他就认定"小艾美就要成为一个非常迷人的妇人了"。
这是一个欢乐的场面。不久，社交的情绪感染了每一个人，圣诞节的欢乐气氛使所有的人都脸上放光，心头喜悦，脚步轻快。乐师们拉着提琴，吹着喇叭，敲 着鼓，好像他们也陶醉于其中。能跳的都在跳，不能跳的便带着非同寻常的热情赞赏着邻近的人们。戴维斯家的姑娘们脸上却愁云密布。琼斯家的许多孩子像一群小 长颈鹿似地嬉闹着。那个有名声的秘书带着一个打扮漂亮的法国女人舞着，像流星一般划过舞厅，女人的粉红色缎裙在地下扫着。那个日耳曼殿下高兴地发现了晚餐 桌子，不停地吃着，吃遍了菜单上所有的美味，他的扫荡使ｇａｒｃｏｎｓ惊愕不已。而国王的朋友出尽风头，他跳了所有的舞，也不管他会不会。有的舞步他搞不 清，便即席来个竖趾旋转。看着那矮胖的人像孩子般地放纵真是解颐，因为，尽管他"有影响"，跳舞却像一个橡皮球似地滚动。他奔跑着，飞舞着，欢跃着，脸红 脖子粗，秃脑袋闪闪发光，燕尾服尾巴狂乱地摆动，舞鞋真的在空中轻快而有节奏地一闪一闪。音乐停止了，他擦去额上的大滴汗珠，对他的同伴们笑着，像是一个 法国的匹克威克，只是手中没有端酒杯。
艾美和那个波兰人舞伴以同样的热情表现出色，只是他们跳得要轻快优雅些。劳里发现自己不自觉地合上了那双白拖鞋上下起伏的节拍，那双拖鞋就像安上了 翅膀似地不知疲倦地飞来飞去。那个小弗拉基米尔最后放开了她，宣称"这么早就离开很难过"。这时，艾美准备休息了，她要看看她那怯懦的骑士是怎样接受惩罚 的。
事情进行得不错，因为，在二十三岁这个年龄，受挫的心情能在友好的社交圈里得到安慰。置身于美、光和音乐的迷人氛围，年轻人会神经绷紧，血液沸腾， 情绪高涨。劳里起身给艾美让座时，脸上露出了振奋的神情。当他匆匆走开去给她拿晚饭时，她自言自语地说：“噢，我想那样对他有好处的！““你看上去就像巴 尔扎克笔下的'?Eｅｍｍｅｐｅｉｎｔｅｐａｒｅｌｌｅ－ｍ?êｍｅ，“他说，一只手为她扇风，另一只手为她端着咖啡杯。
“名字不错。它非常漂亮--新东西，是不是？““它和群山一样老，在许多女孩身上你都见过，可是你到现在才发现它漂亮--ｓｔｕｐｉｄｅ！““我以 前从来没看你披过，你看，这就是错误所在。““别那样说话，打住！现在我宁愿喝咖啡，也不要听恭维话。别，别晃来晃去的，那让我心烦。“劳里坐得笔直，他 温顺地接过艾美吃光了的空盘子。让"小艾美"东派西使，他感到一种奇异的快乐。现在，艾美已经没有了羞涩感，她有一种抵挡不住的欲望，想凌驾于他之上。当 男人们表示臣服时，姑娘们都有一种让人乐意领受的方法治他们。
艾美心满意足了，但是她不露声色，假装正经地回答：“旅外生活不知不觉地使人变得优雅起来。除了游玩，我还学习。至于这个--"她朝衣服做了个小手 势--"哎呀，薄纱便宜，花束不用花钱。我习惯于充分利用那些可怜的小东西。“最后一句话让艾美很是后悔，她担心那样说趣味不好。可是劳里更喜欢她了。他 感到自己既赞赏又尊重那种充分利用机会的无畏的坚忍，以及那种以鲜花遮盖贫困的乐观精神。艾美不知道劳里为什么那样亲切地看着她，也不知道他为什么在她的 舞会曲目册上填满他自己的名字，而且在晚会剩下的时间里，他以最愉快的态度全副身心倾注于她。然而，产生这种悦人变化的冲动便是一种新的印象，他们俩都不 知不觉地给予并接受对方这种新印象。
At three o'clock in the afternoon, all the fashionable worldat Nice may be seen on the Promenade des Anglais--a charming place,for the wide walk, bordered with palms, flowers, and tropical shrubs,is bounded on one side by the sea, on the other by the grand drive,lined with hotels and villas, while beyond lie orange orchards andthe hills. Many nations are represented, many languages spoken, manycostumes worn, and on a sunny day the spectacle is as gay and brilliantas a carnival. Haughty English, lively French, sober Germans,handsome Spaniards, ugly Russians, meek Jews, free-and-easy Americans,all drive, sit, or saunter here, chatting over the news, and criticzingthe latest celebrity who has arrived--Ristori or Dickens, VictorEmmanuel or the Queen of the Sandwich Islands. The equipages are asvaried as the company and attract as much attention, especially thelow basket barouches in which ladies drive themselves, with a pairof dashing ponies, gay nets to keep their voluminous flounces fromoverflowing the diminutive vehicles, and little grooms on the perchbehind.
Along this walk, on Christmas Day, a tall young man walkedslowly, with his hands behind him, and a somewhat absent expressionof countenance. He looked like an Italian, was dressed like anEnglishman, and had the independent air of an American--a combinationwhich caused sundry pairs of feminine eyes to look approvinglyafter him, and sundry dandies in black velvet suits, withrose-colored neckties, buff gloves, and orange flowers in theirbuttonholes, to shrug their shoulders, and then envy him his inches.There were plenty of pretty faces to admire, but the young man tooklittle notice of them, except to glance now and then at some blondegirl in blue. Presently he strolled out of the promenade andstood a moment at the crossing, as if undecided whether to go andlisten to the band in the Jardin Publique, or to wander along thebeach toward Castle Hill. The quick trot of ponies feet made himlook up, as one of the little carriages, containing a singleyoung lady, came rapidly down the street. The lady was young,blonde, and dressed in blue. He stared a minute, then his wholeface woke up, and, waving his hat like a boy, he hurried forwardto meet her.
"Oh, Laurie, is it really you? I thought you'd never come!"cried Amy, dropping the reins and holding out both hands, to thegreat scandalization of a French mamma, who hastened her daughter'ssteps, lest she should be demoralized by beholding the free mannersof these `mad English'.
"I was detained by the way, but I promised to spend Christmaswith you, and here I am."
"How is your grandfather? When did you come? Where are youstaying?"
"Very well--last night--at the Chauvain. I called at yourhotel, but you were out."
"I have so much to say, I don't know where to begin! Getin and we can talk at our ease. I was going for a drive andlonging for company. Flo's saving up for tonight."
"What happens then, a ball?"
"A Christmas party at out hotel. There are many Americansthere, and they give it in honor of the day. You'll go with us,of course? Aunt will be charmed."
"Thank you. Where now?" asked Laurie, leaning back andfolding his arms, a proceeding which suited Amy, who preferredto drive, for her parasol whip and blue reins over the whiteponies backs afforded her infinite satisfaction.
"I'm going to the bankers first for letters, and then toCastle Hill. The view is so lovely, and I like to feed the peacocks.Have you ever been there?"
"Often, years ago, but I don't mind having a look at it."
"Now tell me all about yourself. The last I heard of you,your grandfather wrote that he expected you from Berlin.""Yes, I spent a month there and then joined him in Paris,where he has settled for the winter. He has friends there andfinds plenty to amuse him, so I go and come, and we got on capitally."
"That's a sociable arrangement," said Amy, missing somethingin Laurie's manner, though she couldn't tell what.
"Why, you see, he hates to travel, and I hate to keep still,so we each suit ourselves, and there is no trouble. I am oftenwith him, and he enjoys my adventures, while I like to feel thatsomeone is glad to see me when I get back from my wanderings. Dirtyold hole, isn't it?" he added, with a look of disgust as they drovealong the boulevard to the Place Napoleon in the old city.
"The dirt is picturesque, so I don't mind. The river and thehills are delicious, and these glimpses of the narrow cross streetsare my delight. Now we shall have to wait for that procession topass. It's going to the Church of St. John."
While Laurie listlessly watched the procession of priestsunder their canopies, white-veiled nuns bearing lighted tapers,and some brotherhood in blue chanting as they walked, Amy watchedhim, and felt a new sort of shyness steal over her, for he waschanged, and she could not find the merry-faced boy she left inthe moody-looking man beside her. He was handsomer than ever andgreatly improved, she thought, but now that the flush of pleasureat meeting her was over, he looked tired and spiritless--not sick,nor exactly unhappy, but older and graver than a year or two ofprosperous life should have made him. She couldn't understand itand did not venture to ask questions, so she shook her head andtouched up her ponies, as the procession wound away across thearches of the Paglioni bridge and vanished in the church.
"Que pensez-vous?" she said, airing her French, which hadimproved in quantity, if not in quality, since she came abroad.
"That mademoiselle has made good use of her time, and theresult is charming," replied Laurie, bowing with his hand onhis heart and an admiring look.
She blushed with pleasure, but somehow the compliment didnot satisfy her like the blunt praises he used to give her athome, when he promenaded round her on festival occasions, andtole her she was `altogether jolly', with a hearty smile and anapproving pat on the head. She didn't like the new tone, forthough not blase, it sounded indifferent in spite of the look.
"If that's the way he's going to grow up, I wish he's staya boy," she thought, with a curious sense of disappointment anddiscomfort, trying meantime to seem quite easy and gay.
At Avigdor's she found the precious home letters and, givingthe reins to Laurie, read them luxuriously as they wound up theshady road between green hedges, where tea roses bloomed as freshlyas in June.
"Beth is very poorly, Mother says. I often think I ought togo home, but they all say `stay'. So I do, for I shall never haveanother chance like this," said Amy, looking sober over one page.
"I think you are right, there. You could do nothing at home,and it is a great comfort to them to know that you are well andhappy, and enjoying so much, my dear."
He drew a little nearer, and looked more like his old self ashe said that, and the fear that sometimes weighed on Amy's heartwas lightened, for the look, the act, the brotherly `my dear',seemed to assure her that if any trouble did come, she would notbe alone in a strange land. Presently she laughed and showed hima small sketch of Jo in her scribbling suit, with the bow rampantlyerect upon her cap, and issuing from her mouth the words, `Geniusburns!'.
Laurie smiled, took it, put it in his vest pocket `to keep itfrom blowing away', and listened with interest to the lively letterAmy read him.
"This will be a regularly merry Christmas to me, with presentsin the morning, you and letters in the afternoon, and a party atnight," said Amy, as they alighted among the ruins of the old fort,and a flock of splendid peacocks came trooping about them, tamelywaiting to be fed. While Amy stood laughing on the bank above himas she scattered crumbs to the brilliant birds, Laurie looked at heras she had looked at him, with a natural curiosity to see whatchanges time and absence had wrought. He found nothing to perplexor disappoint, much to admire and approve, for overlooking a fewlittle affectations of speech and manner, she was as sprightly andgraceful as ever, with the addition of that indescribable somethingin dress and bearing which we call elegance. Always mature for herage, she had gained a certain aplomb in both carriage and conversation,which made her seem more of a woman of the world than she was, buther old petulance now and then showed itself, her strong will stillheld its own, and her native frankness was unspoiled by foreignpolish.
Laurie did not read all this while he watched her feed the peacocks,but he saw enough to satisfy and interest him, and carriedaway a pretty little picture of a bright-faced girl standing in thesunshine, which brought out the soft hue of her dress, the freshcolor of her cheeks, the golden gloss of her hair, and made her aprominent figure in the pleasant scene.
As they came up onto the stone plateau that crowns the hill,Amy waved her hand as if welcoming him to her favorite haunt, andsaid, pointing here and there, "Do you remember the Cathedral andthe Corso, the fishermen dragging their nets in the bay, and thelovely road to Villa Franca, Schubert's Tower, just below, and bestof all, that speck far out to sea which they say ils Corsica?"
"I remember. It's not much changed," he answered withoutenthusiasm.
"What Jo would give for a sight of that famous speck!" saidAmy, feeling in good spirits and anxious to see him so also.
"Yes," was all he said, but he turned and strained his eyes tosee the island which a greater usurper than even Napoleon now madeinteresting in his sight.
"Take a good look at it for her sake, and then come and tellme what you have been doing with yourself all this while," saidAmy, seating herself, ready for a good talk.
But she did not get it, for though he joined her and answeredall her questions freely, she could only learn that he had rovedabout the Continent and been to Greece. So after idling away anhour, they drove home again, and having paid his respects to Mrs.Carrol, Laurie left them, promising to return in the evening.
It must be recorded of Amy that she deliberately prinked thatnight. Time and absence had done its work on both the young people.She had seen her old friend in a new light, not as `our boy', but asa handsome and agreeable man, and she was conscious of a very naturaldesire to find favor in his sight. Amy knew her good points, andmade the most of them with the taste and skill which is a fortune toa poor and pretty woman.
Tarlatan and tulle were cheap at Nice, so she enveloped herselfin them on such occasions, and following the sensible English fashionof simple dress for young girls, got up charming little toiletteswith fresh flowers, a few trinkets, and all manner of dainty devices,which were both inexpensive and effective. It must be confessedthat the artist sometimes got possession of the woman, and indulgedin antique coiffures, statuesque attitudes, and classic draperies.But, dear heart, we all have out little weaknesses, and find iteasy to pardon such in the young, who satisfy our eyes with theircomeliness, and keep our hearts merry with their artless vanities.
"I do want him to think I look well, and tell them so at home,"said Amy to herself, as she put on Flo's old white silk ball dress,and covered it with a cloud of fresh illusion, out of which herwhite shoulders and golden head emerged with a most artistic effect.Her hair she had the sense to let alone, after gathering up thethick waves and curls into a Hebe-like knot at the back of her head.
"It's not the fashion, but it's becoming, and I can't afford tomake a fright of myself," she used to say, when advised to frizzle,puff, or braid, as the latest style commanded.
Having no ornaments fine enough for this important occasion,Amy looped her fleecy skirts with rosy clusters of azalea, andframed the white shoulders in delicate green vines. Rememberingthe painted boots, she surveyed her white satin slippers withgirlish satisfaction, and chassed down the room, admiring heraristocratic feet all by herself.
"My new fan just matches my flowers, my gloves fit to a charm,and the real lace on Aunt's mouchoir gives an air to my whole dress.If I only had a classical nose and mouth I should be perfectly happy,"she said, surveying herself with a critical eye and a candle ineach hand.
In spite of this affliction, she looked unusually gay andgraceful as she glided away. She seldom ran--it did not suit herstyle, she thought, for being tall, the stately and Junoesque wasmore appropriate than the sportive or piquante. She walked up anddown the long saloon while waiting for Laurie, and once arrangedherself under the chandelier, which had a good effect upon herhair, then she thought better of it, and went away to the otherend of the room, as if ashamed of the girlish desire to have thefirst view a propitious one. It so happened that she could nothave done a better thing, for Laurie came in so quietly shedid not hear him, and as she stood at the distant window, withher head half turned and one hand gathering up her dress, theslender, white figure against the red curtains was as effectiveas a well-placed statue.
"Good evening, Diana!" said Laurie, with the look of satisfactionshe liked to see in his eyes when they rested on her.
"Good evening, Apollo!" she answered, smiling back at him,for he too looked unusually debonair, and the thought ofentering the ballroom on the arm of such a personable mancaused Amy to pity the four plain Misses Davis from the bottomof her heart.
"Here are your flowers. I arranged them myself, rememberingthat you didn't like what Hannah calls a `sot-bookay', saidLaurie, handing her a delicate nosegay, in a holder that shehad long coveted as she daily passed it in Cardiglia's window.
"How kind you are!" she exclaimed gratefully. "If I'dknown you were coming I'd have had something ready for you today,though not as pretty as this, I'm afraid."
"Thank you. It isn't what it should be, but you have improved it,"he added, as she snapped the silver bracelet on her wrist.
"I thought you liked that sort of thing."
"Not from you, it doesn't sound natural, and I like yourold bluntness better."
"I'm glad of it," he answered, with a look of relief, thenbuttoned her gloves for her, and asked if his tie was straight,just as he used to do when they went to parties together at home.
The company assembled in the long salle a manger thatevening was such as one sees nowhere but on the Continent. Thehospitable Americans had invited every acquaintance they hadin Nice, and having no prejudice against titles, secured a fewto add luster to their Christmas ball.
A Russian prince condescended to sit in a corner for anhour and talk with a massive lady, dressed like Hamlet's motherin black velvet with a pearl bridle under her chin. A Polishcount, aged eighteen, devoted himself to the ladies, who pronouncedhim, `a fascinating dear', and a German Serene Something,having come to supper alone, roamed vaguely about, seeking whathe might devour. Baron Rothschild's private secretary, a largenosedJew in tight boots, affably beamed upon the world, as ifhis master's name crowned him with a golden halo. A stoutFrenchman, who knew the Emperor, came to indulge his mania fordancing, and Lady de Jones, a British matron, adorned the scenewith her little family of eight. Of course, there were manylight-footed, shrill-voiced American girls, handsome, lifeless-lookingEnglish ditto, and a few plain but piquante French demoiselles,likewise the usual set of traveling young gentlemenwho disported themselves gaily, while mammas of all nationslined the walls and smiled upon them benignly when they dancedwith their daughters.
Any young girl can imagine Amy's state of mind when she`took the stage' that night, leaning on Laurie's arm. Sheknew she looked well, she loved to dance, she felt that herfoot was on her native heath in a ballroom, and enjoyed thedelightful sense of power which comes when young girls firstdiscover the new and lovely kingdom they are born to rule byvirtue of beauty, youth, and womanhood. She did pity theDavis girls, who were awkward, plain, and destitute of escort,except a grim papa and three grimmer maiden aunts, and shebowed to them in her friendliest manner as she passed, whichwas good of her, as it permitted them to see her dress, andburn with curiosity to know who her distinguished-lookingfriend might be. With the first burst of the band, Amy'scolor rose, her eyes began to sparkle, and her feet to tap thefloor impatiently, for she danced well and wanted Laurie toknow it. Therefore the shock she received can better beimagined than described, when he said in a perfectly tranquiltone, "Do you care to dance?"
"One usually does at a ball."
Her amazed look and quick answer caused Laurie to repairhis error as fast as possible.
"I meant the first dance. May I have the honor?"
"I can give you one if I put off the Count. He dancesdevinely, but he will excuse me, as you are an old friend," saidAmy, hoping that the name would have a good effect, and showLaurie that she was not to be trifled with.
"Nice little boy, but rather a short Pole to support . ..A daughter of the gods,
Devinely tall, and most devinely fair,"
was all the satisfaction she got, however.
The set in which they found themselves was composed ofEnglish, and Amy was compelled to walk decorously through acotillion, feeling all the while as if she could dance thetarantella with relish. Laurie resigned her to the `nice littleboy', and went to do his duty to Flo, without securing Amy forthe joys to come, which reprehensible want of forethought wasproperly punished, for she immediately engaged herself tillsupper, meaning to relent if he then gave any signs penitence.She showed him her ball book with demure satisfaction when hestrolled instead of rushed up to claim her for the next, aglorious polka redowa. But his polite regrets didn't imposeupon her, and when she galloped away with the Count, she sawLaurie sit down by her aunt with an actual expression of relief.
That was unpardonable, and Amy took no more notice of himfor a long while, except a word now and then when she came toher chaperon between the dances for a necessary pin or amoment's rest. Her anger had a good effect, however, for shehid it under a smiling face, and seemed unusually blithe andbrilliant. Laurie's eyes followed her with pleasure, for sheneither romped nor sauntered, but danced with spirit andgrace, making the delightsome pastime what it should be. Hevery naturally fell to studying her from this new point ofview, and before the evening was half over, had decided that`little Amy was going to make a very charming woman'.
It was a lively scene, for soon the spirit of the socialseason took possession of everyone, and Christmas merriment madeall faces shine, hearts happy, and heels light. The musiciansfiddled, tooted, and banged as if they enjoyed it, everybodydanced who could, and those who couldn't admired theirneighbors with uncommon warmth. The air was dark with Davises,and many Jones gamboled like a flock of young giraffes. Thegolden secretary darted through the room like a meteor witha dashing frenchwoman who carped the floor with her pink satintrain. The serene Teuton found the supper table and was happy,eating steadily through the bill of fare, and dismayed thegarcons by the ravages he committed. But the Emperor's friendcovered himself with glory, for he danced everything, whetherhe knew it or not, and introduced impromptu pirouettes when thefigures bewildered him. The boyish abandon of that stout manwas charming to behold, for though he `carried weight', hedanced like an India-rubber ball. He ran, he flew, he pranced,his face glowed, his bald head shown, his coattails waved wildly,his pumps actually twinkled in the air, and when the musicstopped, he wiped the drops from his brow, and beamed upon hisfellow men like a French Pickwick without glasses.
Amy and her Pole distinguished themselves by equal enthusiasmbut more graceful agility, and Laurie found himselfinvoluntarily keeping time to the rhythmic rise and fall of thewhite slippers as they flew by as indefatigably as if winged.When little Vladimir finally relinquished her, with assurancesthat he was `desolated to leave so early', she was ready torest, and see how her recreant knight had borne his punishment.
It had been successful, for at three-and-twenty, blightedaffections find a balm in friendly society, and young nerveswill thrill, young blood dance, and healthy young spirits rise,when subjected to the enchantment of beauty, light, music, andmotion. Laurie had a waked-up look as he rose to give her hisseat, and when he hurried away to bring her some supper, shesaid to herself, with a satisfied smile, "Ah, I thought thatwould do him good!"
"You look like Balzac's `FEMME PEINTE PAR ELLE-NENE',"he said, as he fanned her with one hand and held her coffeecup in the other.
"My rouge won't come off." And Amy rubbed her brilliantcheek, and showed him her white glove with a sober simplicitythat made him laugh outright.
"What do you call this stuff?" he asked, touching a foldof her dress that had blown over his knee.
"Good name for it. It's very pretty--new thing, isn't it?"
"It's as old as the hills. You have seen it on dozens ofgirls, and you never found out that it was pretty till now?Stupide!"
"I never saw it on you before, which accounts for the mistake,you see."
"None of that, it is forbidden. I'd rather take coffeethan compliments just now. No, don't lounge, it makes me nervous."
Laurie sat bold upright, and meekly took her empty platefeeling an odd sort of pleasure in having `little Amy' orderhim about, for she had lost her shyness now, and felt anirrestible desire to trample on him, as girls have a delightfulway of doing when lords of creation show any signs of subjection.
"Where did you learn all this sort of thing?" he asked witha quizzical look.
"As `this sort of thing' is rather a vague expression, wouldyou kindly explain?" returned Amy, knowing perfectly well what hemeant, but wickedly leaving him to describe what is indescribable.
"Well--the general air, the style, the self-possession, the--the--illusion--you know", laughed Laurie, breaking down and helpinghimself out of his quandary with the new word.
Amy was gratified, but of course didn't show it, and demurelyanswered, "Foreign life polishes one in spite of one's self. Istudy as well as play, and as for this"--with a little gesturetoward her dress--"why, tulle is cheap, posies to be had fornothing, and I am used to making the most of my poor little things."
Amy rather regretted that last sentence, fearing it wasn't ingood taste, but Laurie liked her better for it, and found himselfboth admiring and respecting the brave patience that made the mostof opportunity, and the cheerful spirit that covered poverty withflowers. Amy did not know why he looked at her so kindly, nowwhy he filled up her book with his own name, and devoted himselfto her for the rest of the evening in the most delightful manner,but the impulse that wrought this agreeable change was the resultof one of the new impressions which both of them were unconsciouslygiving and receiving.