Alexander's Bridge HTML version

Chapter 4
On Sunday afternoon Alexander remembered Miss Burgoyne's invitation and
called at her apartment. He found it a delightful little place and he met charming
people there. Hilda lived alone, attended by a very pretty and competent French
servant who answered the door and brought in the tea. Alexander arrived early,
and some twenty-odd people dropped in during the course of the afternoon.
Hugh MacConnell came with his sister, and stood about, managing his tea-cup
awkwardly and watching every one out of his deep-set, faded eyes. He seemed
to have made a resolute effort at tidiness of attire, and his sister, a robust, florid
woman with a splendid joviality about her, kept eyeing his freshly creased clothes
apprehensively. It was not very long, indeed, before his coat hung with a
discouraged sag from his gaunt shoulders and his hair and beard were rumpled
as if he had been out in a gale. His dry humor went under a cloud of absent-
minded kindliness which, Mainhall explained, always overtook him here. He was
never so witty or so sharp here as elsewhere, and Alexander thought he behaved
as if he were an elderly relative come in to a young girl's party.
The editor of a monthly review came with his wife, and Lady Kildare, the Irish
philanthropist, brought her young nephew, Robert Owen, who had come up from
Oxford, and who was visibly excited and gratified by his first introduction to Miss
Burgoyne. Hilda was very nice to him, and he sat on the edge of his chair,
flushed with his conversational efforts and moving his chin about nervously over
his high collar. Sarah Frost, the novelist, came with her husband, a very genial
and placid old scholar who had become slightly deranged upon the subject of the
fourth dimension. On other matters he was perfectly rational and he was easy
and pleasing in conversation. He looked very much like Agassiz, and his wife, in
her old-fashioned black silk dress, overskirted and tight-sleeved, reminded
Alexander of the early pictures of Mrs. Browning. Hilda seemed particularly fond
of this quaint couple, and Bartley himself was so pleased with their mild and
thoughtful converse that he took his leave when they did, and walked with them
over to Oxford Street, where they waited for their 'bus. They asked him to come
to see them in Chelsea, and they spoke very tenderly of Hilda. "She's a dear,
unworldly little thing," said the philosopher absently; "more like the stage people
of my young days-- folk ofsimple manners. There aren't many such left. American
tours have spoiled them, I'm afraid. They have all grown very smart. Lamb
wouldn't care a great deal about many of them, I fancy."
Alexander went back to Bedford Square a second Sunday afternoon. He had a
long talk with MacConnell, but he got no word with Hilda alone, and he left in a
discontented state of mind. For the rest of the week he was nervous and
unsettled, and kept rushing his work as if he were preparing for immediate
departure. On Thursday afternoon he cut short a committee meeting, jumped into