Section AB
(The Temptation of a Respectable Woman)
Mrs.Baroda was a little annoyed to learn that her husband expected his friend, Gouvernail, up to spend a week or two on the plantation.
Gouvernail's quiet personality puzzled Mrs.Baroda. After a few days with him, she could understand him no better than at first. She left her husband and his guest, for the most part, alone together, only to find that Gouvernail hardly noticed her absence. Then she imposed her company upon him, accompanying him in his idle walks to the mill to press her attempt to penetrate the silence in which he had unconsciously covered himself. But it hardly worked.
"When is he going — your friend?" she one day asked her husband. "For my part, I find him a terrible nuisance."
"Not for a week yet, dear. I can't understand; he gives you no trouble."
"No. I should like him better if he did — if he were more like others, and I had to plan somewhat for his comfort and enjoyment."
Gaston pulled the sleeve of his wife's dress, gathered his arms around her waist and looked merrily into her troubled eyes.
"You are full of surprises," he said to her. "Even I can never count upon how you are going to act under given conditions. Here you are," he went on, "taking poor Gouvernail seriously and making a fuss about him, the last thing he would desire or expect."
"Fuss!" she hotly replied. "Nonsense! How can you say such a thing! Fuss, indeed! But, you know, you said he was clever."
"So he is. But the poor fellow is run down by too much work now. That's why I asked him here to take a rest."
"You used to say he was a man of wit," she said, still annoyed. "I expected him to be interesting, at least. I'm going to the city in the morning to have my spring dresses fitted. Let me know when Mr.Gouvernail is gone; until that time I shall be at my aunt's house."
That night she went and sat alone upon a bench that stood beneath an oak tree at the edge of the walk. She had never known her thoughts to be so confused; like the bats now above her, her thoughts quickly flew this way and that. She could gather nothing from them but the feeling of a distinct necessity to leave her home in the next morning.
Mrs.Baroda heard footsteps coming from the direction of the barn; she knew it was Gouvernail. She hoped to remain unnoticed, but her white gown revealed her to him. He seated himself upon the bench beside her, without a suspicion that she might object to his presence.
"Your husband told me to bring this to you, Mrs.Baroda," he said, handing her a length of sheer white fabric with which she sometimes covered her head and shoulders. She accepted it from him and let it lie in her lap.
He made some routine observations upon the unhealthy effect of the night breeze at that season. Then as his gaze reached out into the darkness, he began to talk.
Gouvernail was in no sense a shy man. His periods of silence were not his basic nature, but the result of moods. When he was sitting there beside Mrs.Baroda, his silence melted for the time.
He talked freely and intimately in a low, hesitating voice that was not unpleasant to hear. He talked of the old college days when he and Gaston had been best friends, of the days of keen ambitions and large intentions. Now, all there was left with him was a desire to be permitted to exist, with now and then a little breath of genuine life, such as he was breathing now.
Her mind only vaguely grasped what he was saying. His words became a meaningless succession of verbs, nouns, adverbs, and adjectives; she only drank in the tones of his voice. She wanted to reach out her hand in the darkness and touch him — which she might have done if she had not been a respectable woman.
The stronger the desire grew to bring herself near him, the further, in fact, did she move away from him. As soon as she could do so without an appearance of being rude, she pretended to yawn, rose, and left him there alone.
Mrs.Baroda was greatly tempted that night to tell her husband — who was also her friend — of this foolishness that had seized her. But she did not yield to the temptation. Besides being an upright and respectable woman she was also a very sensible one.
When Gaston arose the next morning, his wife had already departed, without even saying farewell. A porter had carried her trunk to the station and she had taken an early morning train to the city. She did not return until Gouvernail was gone from under her roof.
There was some talk of having him back during the summer that followed. That is, Gaston greatly desired it; but this desire yielded to his honorable wife's vigorous opposition.
However, before the year ended, she proposed, wholly from herself, to have Gouvernail visit them again. Her husband was surprised and delighted with the suggestion coming from her.
"I am glad, my dear, to know that you have finally overcome your dislike for him; truly he did not deserve it."
"Oh," she told him, laughingly, after pressing a long, tender kiss upon his lips, "I have overcome everything! You will see. This time I shall be very nice to him."