Henry James.

The Europeans. A sketch online

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Copyright, 1873,

All rights reserved.





A NARROW grave-yard in the heart of a bus-
tling, indifferent city, seen from the windows of a
gloomy-looking inn, is at no time an object of en-
livening suggestion ; and the spectacle is not at
its best when the mouldy tombstones and fune-
real umbrage have received the ineffectual refresh-
ment of a dull, moist snow-fall. If, while the air
is thickened by this frosty drizzle, the calendar
should happen to indicate that the blessed vernal
season is already six weeks old, it will be admitted
that no depressing influence is absent from the
scene. This fact was keenly felt on a certain 12th
of May, upwards of thirty years since, by a lady
who stood looking out of one of the windows of
the best hotel in the ancient city of Boston. She
had stood there for half an hour stood there, that
is, at intervals ; for from time to time she turned
back into the room and measured its length with
a restless step. In the chimney-place was a red-


hot fire which emitted a small blue flame ; and in
front of the fire, at a table, sat a young man who
was busily plying a pencil. He had a number of
sheets of paper cut into small equal squares, and
he was apparently covering them with pictorial
designs strange-looking figures. He worked
rapidly and attentively, sometimes threw back his
head and held out his drawing at arm's-length, and
kept up a soft, gay-sounding humming and whis-
tling. The lady brushed past him in her walk ; her
much-trimmed skirts were voluminous. .She never
dropped her ejea upon his work ; she only turned
them, occasionally, as she passed, to a mirror sus-
pended above the toilet-table on the other side of
the room. Here she paused a moment, gave a
pinch to her waist with her two hands, or raised
these members they were very plump and pretty
to the multifold braids of her hair, with a move-
ment half caressing, half corrective. An attentive
observer might have fancied that during these pe-
riods of desultory self-inspection her face forgot
its melancholy ; but as soon as she neared the win-
dow again it began to proclaim that she was a very
ill-pleased woman. And indeed, in what met her
eyes there was little to be pleased with. The win-
dow-panes were battered by the sleet ; the head-
stones in the grave-yard beneath seemed to be hold-
ing themselves askance to keep it out of their faces.


A tall iron railing protected them from the street,
and on the other side of the railing an assemblage
of Bostonians were trampling about in the liquid
snow. Many of them were looking up and down ;
they appeared to be waiting for something. From
time to time a strange vehicle drew near to the
place where they stood, such a vehicle as the
lady at the window, in spite of a considerable ac-
quaintance with human inventions, had never seen
before : a huge, low omnibus, painted in brilliant
colors, and decorated apparently with jangling
bells, attached to a species of groove in the pave-
ment, through which it was dragged, with a great
deal of rumbling, bouncing and scratching, by
a couple of remarkably small horses. When it
reached a certain point the people in front of the
grave-yard, of whom much the greater number
were women, carrying satchel and parcels, pro-
jected themselves upon it- in a compact body a
movement suggesting the scramble for places in a
life-boat at sea and were engulfed in its large in-
terior. Then the life-boat or the life-car, as the
lady at the window of the hotel vaguely designated
it went bumping and jingling away upon its in-
visible wheels, with the helmsman (the man at the
wheel) guiding its course incongruously from the
prow. This phenomenon was repeated every three
minutes, and the supply of eagerly-moving women


in cloaks, bearing reticules and bundles, renewed
itself in the most liberal manner. On the other
side of the grave-yard was a row of small red
brick houses, showing a series of homely, domestic-
looking backs ; at the end opposite the hotel a tall
wooden church-spire, painted white, rose high into
the vagueness of the snow-flakes. The lady at the
window looked at it for some time ; for reasons of
her own she thought it the ugliest thing she had
ever seen. She hated it, she despised it ; it threw
her into a state of irritation that was quite out of
proportion to any sensible motive. She had never
known herself to care so much about church-spires.
She was not pretty ; but even when it expressed
perplexed irritation her face was most interesting
and agreeable. Neither was she in her first youth ;
yet, though slender, with a great deal of extremely
well-fashioned roundness of contour a sugges-
tion both of maturity and flexibility she carried
her three and thirty years as a light-wristed Hebe
might have carried a brimming wine-cup. Her
complexion was fatigued, as the French say ; her
mouth was large, her lips too full, her teeth un-
even, her chin rather commonly modeled; she had
a thick nose, and when she smiled she was con-
stantly smiling the lines beside it rose too high,
toward her eyes. But these eyes were charming :
gray in color, brilliant, quickly glancing, gently


resting, full of intelligence. Her forehead was
very low it was her only handsome feature ; and
she had a great abundance of crisp dark hair v finely
frizzled, which was always braided in a manner
that suggested some Southern or Eastern, some re-
motely foreign, woman. She had a large collec-
tion of ear-rings, and wore them in alternation ;
and they seemed to give a point to her Oriental or
exotic aspect. A compliment had once been paid
her, which, being repeated ,to her, gave her greater
pleasure than anything she had ever heard. " A
pretty woman ? " some one had said. " Why, her
features are very bad." " I don't know about
her features," a very discerning observer had an-
swered ; " but she carries her head like a pretty
woman." You may imagine whether, after this,
she carried her head less becomingly.

She turned away from the window at last, press-
ing her hands to her eyes. "It 's too horrible ! "
she exclaimed. "I shall go back I shall go
back ! " And she flung herself into a chair be-
fore the fire.

" Wait a little, dear child," said the young man
softly, sketching away at his little scraps of paper.

The lady put out her foot ; it was very small,
and there was an immense rosette on her slipper.
She fixed her eyes for a while on this ornament,
and then she looked at the glowing bed of anthra-


cite coal in the grate. " Did you ever see anything
so hideous as that fire ? " she demanded. " Did
you ever see anything so so affreux as as
everything ? " She spoke English with perfect
purity ; but she brought out this French epithet
in a manner that indicated that she was accus-
tomed to using French epithets.

" I think the fire is very pretty," said the young
man, glancing at it a moment. " Those little blue
tongues, dancing on top of the crimson embers,
are extremely picturesque. They are like a fire
in an alchemist's laboratory."

" You are too good-natured, my dear," his com-
panion declared.

The young man held out one of his drawings,
with his head on one side. His tongue was gently
moving along his under-lip. "Good-natured
yes. Too good-natured no."

" You are irritating," said the lady, looking at
her slipper.

He began to retouch his sketch. " I think you
mean simply that you are irritated."

" Ah, for that, yes ! " said his companion, with
a little bitter laugh. " It 's the darkest day of my
life and you know what that means."

" Wait till to-morrow," rejoined the young man.

" Yes, we have made a great mistake. If there
is any doubt about it to-day, there certainly will
be none to-morrow. Ce sera clair, au moins ! "


The young man was silent a few moments, driv-
ing his pencil. Then at last, " There are no such
things as mistakes," he affirmed.

" Very true for those who are not clever
enough to perceive them. Not to recognize one's
mistakes that would be happiness in life," the
lady went on, still looking at her pretty foot.

44 My dearest sister," said the young man, al-
ways intent upon his drawing, " it 's the first time
you have told me I am not clever."

" Well, by your own theory I can't call it a mis-
take," answered his sister, pertinently enough.

The young man gave a clear, fresh laugh. " You,
at least, are clever enough, dearest sister," he said.

" I was not so when I proposed this."

" Was it you who proposed it ? " asked her

She turned her head and gave him a little stare.
" Do you desire the credit of it ? "

" If you like, I will take the blame," he said,
looking up with a smile.

" Yes," she rejoined in a moment, " you make
no difference in these things You have no sense
of property."

The young man gave his joyous laugh again.
" If that means I have no property, you are
right ! "

" Don't joke about your poverty," said his sis-


ter. " That is quite as vulgar as to boast about

" My poverty ! I have just finished a drawing
that will bring me fifty francs ! "

" Voyons," said the lady, putting out her hand.

He added a touch or two, and then gave her his
sketch. She looked at it, but she went on with
her idea of a moment before. " If a woman were
to ask you to marry her you would say, ' Cer-
tainly, my dear, with pleasure ! ' And you would
marry her and be ridiculously happy. Then at
the end of three months you would say to her,
4 You know that blissful day when I begged you
to be mine ! '

The young man had risen from the table,
stretching his arms a little; he walked to the
window. "That is a description of a charming
nature," he said.

" Oh, yes, you have a charming nature ; I re-
gard that as our capital. If I had not been con-
vinced of that I should never have taken tjie risk
of bringing you to this dreadful country."

" This comical country, this delightful coun-
try ! " exclaimed the young man, and he broke
into the most animated laughter.

" Is it those women scrambling into the omni-
bus ? " asked his companion. " What do you sup-
pose is the attraction ? "


"I suppose there is a very good-looking man
inside," said the young man.

" In each of them ? They come along in hun-
dreds, and the men in this country don't seem at
all handsome. As for the women I have never
seen so many at once since I left the convent."

" The women are very pretty," her brother de-
clared, " and the whole affair is very amusing. I
must make a sketch of it." And he came back to
the table quickly, and picked up his utensils a
small sketching-board, a sheet of paper, and three
or four crayons. He took his place at the window
with these things, and stood there glancing out,
plying his pencil with an air of easy skill. While
he worked he wore a brilliant smile. Brilliant is
indeed the word at this moment for his strongly-
lighted face. He was eight and twenty years old ;
he had a short, slight, well-made figure. Though he
bore a noticeable resemblance to his sister, he was
a better favored person : fair-haired, clear-faced,
witty-looking, with a delicate finish of feature and
an expression at once urbane and not at all serious,
a warm blue eye, an eyebrow finely drawn and ex-
cessively arched an eyebrow which, if ladies
wrote sonnets to those of their lovers, might have
been made the subject of such a piece of verse
and a light moustache that flourished upwards as
if blown that way by the breath of a constant


smile. There was something in his physiognomy
at once benevolent and picturesque. But, as I
have hinted, it was not at all serious. The young
man's face was, in this respect, singular ; it was
not at all serious, and yet it inspired the liveliest

" Be sure you put in plenty of snow," said his
sister. " Bont divine, what a climate ! "

" I shall leave the sketch all white, and I shall
put in the little figures in black," the young man
answered, laughing. u And I shall call it what
is that line in Keats? Mid-May's Eldest Child! "

" I don't remember," said the lady, " that mam-
ma ever told me it was like this."

" Mamma never told you anything disagreeable.
And it 's not like this every day. You will see
that to-morrow we shall have a splendid day."

" Qu'en savez-vous ? To-morrow I shall go

"Where shall you go?"

" Anywhere away from here. Back to Silber-
stadt. I shall write to the Reigning Prince."

The young man turned a little and looked at
her, with his crayon poised. " My dear Eugenia,"
he murmured, " were you so happy at sea ? "

Eugenia got up ; she still held in her hand the
drawing her brother had given her. It was a
bold, expressive sketch of a group of miserable


people on the deck of a steamer, clinging to-
gether and clutching at each other, while the ves-
sel lurched downward, at a terrific angle, into the
hollow of a wave. It was extremely clever, and
full of a sort of tragi-comical power. Eugenia
dropped her eyes upon it and made a sad grimace.
" How can you draw such odious scenes ? " she
asked. " I should like to throw it into the fire ! "
And she tossed the paper away. Her brother
watched, quietly, to see where it went. It flut-
tered down to the floor, where he let it lie. She
came toward the window, pinching in her waist.
" Why don't you reproach me abuse me ? " she
asked. " I think I should feel better then. Why
don't you tell me that you hate me for bringing
you here ? "

" Because you would not believe it. I adore
you, dear sister ! I am delighted to be here, and
I am charmed with the prospect."

" I don't know what had taken possession of
me. I had lost my head," Eugenia went on,.

The young man, on his side, went on plying his
pencil. " It is evidently a most curious and inter-
esting country. Here we are, and I mean to en-
joy it."

His companion turned away with an impatient
step, but presently came back. " High spirits are
doubtless an excellent thing," she said ; " but you


give one too much of them, and I can't see that
they have done you any good."

The young man stared, with lifted eyebrows,
smiling ; he tapped his handsome nose with his
pencil. " They have made me happy ! "

" That was the least they could do ; they have
made you nothing else. You have gone through
life thanking fortune for such very small favors
that she has never put herself to any trouble for

" She must have put herself to a little, I think,
to present me with so admirable a sister."

" Be serious, Felix. You forget that I am your

" With a sister, then, so elderly ! " rejoined Fe-
lix, laughing. " I hoped we had left seriousness in

" I. fancy you will find it here. Remember
that you are nearly thirty years old, and that you
are nothing but an obscure Bohemian a penni-
less correspondent of an illustrated newspaper."

" Obscure as much as you please, but not so
much of a Bohemian as you think. And not at
all penniless ! I have a hundred pounds in my
pocket. I have an engagement to make fifty
sketches, and I mean to paint the portraits of all
our cousins, and of all their cousins, at a hundred
dollars a head."


" You are not ambitious," said Eugenia.

" You are, dear Baroness," the young man re-

The Baroness was silent a moment, looking out
at the sleet-darkened grave-yard and the bumping
horse-cars. " Yes, I am ambitious," she said at
last. ." And my ambition has brought me to this
dreadful place ! " She glanced about her the
room had a certain vulgur nudity ; the bed and the
window were curtainless and she gave a little
passionate sigh. " Poor old ambition ! " she ex-
claimed. Then she flung herself down upon a sofa
which stood near against the wall, and covered her
face with her hands.

Her brother went on with his drawing, rapidly
and skillfully ; after some moments he sat down
beside her and showed her his sketch. " Now,
don't you think that 's pretty good for an obscure
Bohemian ? " he asked. " I have knocked off an-
other fifty francs."

Eugenia glanced at the little picture as he laid
it on her lap. " Yes, it is very clever," she said.
And in a moment she added, "Do you suppose
our cousins do that ? "

" Do what ? "

" Get into those things, and look like that."

Felix meditated awhile. " I really can't say.
It will be interesting to discover."


" Oh, the rich people can't ! " said the Baron-

," Are you very sure they are rich ? " asked Fe-
lix, lightly.

His sister slowly turned in her place, looking at
him. " Heavenly powers ! " she murmured. " You
have a way of bringing out things ! "

" It will certainly be much pleasanter if they
are rich," Felix declared.

" Do you suppose if I had not known they were
rich I would ever have come ? "

The young man met his sister's somewhat per-
emptory eye with his bright, contented glance.
"Yes, it certainly will be pleasanter," he repeated.

" That is all I expect of them," said the Baron-
ess. " I don't count upon their being clever or
friendly at first or elegant or interesting.
But I assure you I insist upon their being rich."

Felix leaned his head upon the back of the sofa
and looked awhile at the oblong patch of sky to
which the window served as frame. The snow
was ceasing ; it seemed to him that the sky had
begun to brighten. "I count upon their being
rich," he said at last, " and powerful, and clever,
and friendly, and elegant, and interesting, and
generally delightful ! Tu vas voir." And he bent
forward and kissed his sister. " Look there ! " he
went on. " As a portent, even while I speak, the


8ky is turning the color of gold ; the day is going
to be splendid."

And indeed, within five minutes the weather
had changed. The sun broke out through the
snow-clouds and jumped into the Baroness's room.
" Bonte* divine," exclaimed this lady, " what a
climate ! "

" We will go out and see the world," said Felix.

And after a while they went out. The air had
grown warm as well as brilliant ; the sunshine
had dried the pavements. They walked about
the streets at hazard, looking at the people and
the houses, the shops and the vehicles, the blazing
blue sky and the muddy crossings, the hurrying
men and the slow-strolling maidens, the fresh red
bricks and the bright green trees, the extraordi-
nary mixture of smartness and shabbiness. From
one hour to another the day had grown vernal ;
even in the bustling streets there was an odor of
earth and blossom. Felix was immensely enter-
tained. He had called it a comical country, and
he went about laughing at everything he saw.
You would have said that American civilization
expressed itself to his sense in a tissue of capital
jokes. The jokes were certainly excellent, and the
young man's merriment was joyous and genial.
He possessed what is called the pictorial sense ; and
this first glimpse of democratic manners stirred


the same sort of attention that he would have
given to the movements of a lively young person
with a bright complexion. Such attention would
have been demonstrative and complimentary ; and
in the present case Felix might have passed for an
undispirited young exile revisiting the haunts of
his childhood. He kept looking at the violent
blue of the sky, at the scintillating air, at the scat-
tered and multiplied patches of color.

" Comme c'est bariole, eh ? " he said to his sis-
ter in that foreign tongue which they both ap-
peared to feel a mysterious prompting occasionally
to use.

" Yes, it is bariole* indeed," the Baroness an-
swered. " I don't like the coloring ; it hurts my

" It shows how extremes meet," the young man
rejoined. "Instead of coming to the West we
seem to have gone to the East. The way the sky
touches the house-tops is just like Cairo ; and the
red and blue sign-boards patched over the face
of everything remind one of Mahometan decora-

" The young women are not Mahometan," said
his companion. " They can't be said to hide their
faces. I never saw anything so bold."

" Thank Heaven they don't hide their faces ! "
cried Felix. " Their faces are uncommonly pretty."


41 Yes, their faces are often very pretty," said
the Baroness, who was a very clever woman. She
was too clever a woman not to be capable of a
great deal of just and fine observation. She clung
more closely than usual to her brother's arm ; she
was not exhilarated, as he was ; she said very little,
but she noted a great many things and made her
reflections. She was a little excited ; she felt that
she had indeed come to a strange country, to make
her fortune. Superficially, she was conscious of a
good deal of irritation and displeasure ; the Bar-
oness was a very delicate and fastidious person.
Of old, more than once, she had gone, for enter-
tainment's sake and in brilliant company, to a fair
in a provincial town. It seemed to her now that
she was at an enormous fair that the entertain-
ment and the desagrgments were very much the
same. She found herself alternately smiling and
shrinking ; the show was very curious, but it was
probable, from moment to moment, that one would
be jostled. The Baroness had never seen so many
people walking about before ; she had never been
so mixed up with people she did not know. But
little by little she felt that this fair was a more
serious undertaking. She went with her brother
into a large public garden, which seemed very
pretty, but where she was surprised at seeing no
carriages. The afternoon was drawing to a close ;


the coarse, vivid grass and the slender tree-boles
were gilded by the level sunbeams gilded as with
gold that was fresh from the 'mine. It was the
hour at which ladies should come but for an airing
and roll past a hedge of pedestrians, holding their
parasols askance. Here, however, Eugenia ob-
served no indications of this custom, the absence
of which was more anomalous as there was a
charming avenue of remarkably graceful, arching
elms in the most convenient contiguity to a large,
cheerful street, in which, evidently, among the
more prosperous members of the bourgeoisie, a
great deal of pedestrianism went forward. Our
friends passed out into this well lighted prome-
nade, and Felix noticed a great many more pretty
girls and called his sister's attention to them. This
latter measure, however, was superfluous ; for the
Baroness had inspected, narrowly, these charming
young ladies.

" I feel an intimate conviction that our cousins
are like that," said Felix.

The Baroness hoped so, but this is not what she
said. " They are very pretty," she said, " but
they are mere little girls. Where are the women
the women of thirty ? "

" Of thirty-three, do you mean ? " her brother
was going to ask; for he understood often both
what she said and what she did not say. But he


only exclaimed upon the beauty of the sunset,
while the Baroness, who had come to seek her fort-
une, reflected that it would certainly be well for
her if the persons against whom she might need
to measure herself should all be mere little girls.
The sunset was superb ; they stopped to look at
it ; Felix declared that he had never seen such a
gorgeous mixture of colors. The Baroness also
thought it splendid; and she was perhaps the more
easily pleased from the fact that while she stood
there she was conscious of much admiring obser-
vation on the part of various nice-looking people
who passed that way, and to whom a distinguished,
strikingly-dressed woman with a foreign air, ex-
claiming upon the beauties of nature on a Boston
street corner in the French tongue, could not be an
object of indifference. Eugenia's spirits rose. She
surrendered herself to a certain tranquil gayety.
If she had come to seek her fortune, it seemed to
her that her fortune would be easy to find. There
was a promise of it in the gorgeous purity of the
western sky ; there was an intimation in the mild,
unimpertinent gaze of the passers of a certain nat-
ural facility in things.

" You will not go back to Silberstadt, eh ? "
asked Felix.

" Not to-morrow," said the Baroness.

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Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 1 of 15)