Henry James.

The Europeans. A sketch online

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I see very few women ; but those are women of
rank. So, my dear young Puritan, you needn't
be afraid. I am not in the least one of those who
think that the society of women who have lost
their place in the vrai monde is necessary to form
a young man. I have never taken that tone. I
have kept my place myself, and I think we are a
much better school than the others. Trust me,
Clifford, and I will prove that to you," the Bar-
oness continued, while she made the agreeable re-
flection that she could not, at least, be accused of
perverting her young kinsman. " So if you ever
fall among thieves don't go about saying I sent
you to them."

Clifford thought it so comical that he should
know in spite of her figurative language
what she meant, and that she should mean what



he knew, that he could hardly help laughing a
little, although he tried hard. *' Oh, no ! oh, no ! "
he murmured.

" Laugh out, laugh out, if I amuse you ! " cried
the Baroness. " I am here for that ! " And
Clifford thought her a very amusing person in-
deed. " But remember," she said on this occasion,
" that you are coming next year to pay me
a visit over there."

About a week afterwards she said to him, point-
blank, " Are you seriously making love to your
little cousin ? "

" Seriously making love " these words, on
Madame Miinster's lips, had to Clifford's sense a
portentous and embarrassing sound; he hesitated
about assenting, lest he should commit himself to
more than he understood. " Well, I should n't
say it if I was ! " he exclaimed.

" Why would n't you say it ? " the Baroness de-
manded. " Those things ought to be known."

" I don't care whether it is known or not,"
Clifford rejoined. " But I don't want people look-
ing at me."

" A young man of your importance ought to
learn to bear observation to carry himself as if
he were quite indifferent to it. I won't say, ex-
actly, unconscious," the Baroness explained. " No,
he must seem to know he is observed, and to


think it natural he should be ; but he must ap-
pear perfectly used to it. Now you have n't that,
Clifford ; you have n't that at all. You must have
that, you know. Don't tell me you are not a
young man of importance," Eugenia added.
Don't say anything so flat as that."

" Oh, no, you don't catch me saying that ! "
cried Clifford.

" Yes, you must come to Germany," Madame
Minister continued. " I will show you how people
can be talked about, and yet not seem to know it.
You will be talked about, of course, with me ; it
will be said you are my lover. I will show you
how little one may mind that how little I shall
mind it."

Clifford sat staring, blushing and laughing. " I
shall mind it a good deal ! " he declared.

" Ah, not too much, you know ; that would be
uncivil. But I give you leave to mind it a little ;
especially if you have a passion for Miss Acton.
Voyons ; as regards that, you either have or you
have not. It is very simple to say it."

" I don't see why you want to know," said

" You ought to want me to know. If one is
arranging a marriage, one tells one's friends."

" Oh, I'm not arranging anything," said Clifford.

" You don't intend to marry your cousin ? "


" Well, I expect I shall do as I choose ! "

The Baroness leaned her head upon the back of
her chair and closed her eyes, as if she were tired.
Then opening them again, " Your cousin is very
charming ! " she said.

" She is the prettiest girl in this place," Clifford

" ' In this place ' is saying little ; she would be
charming anywhere. I am afraid you are entan-

" Oh, no, I 'm not entangled."

"Are you engaged? At your age that is the
same thing."

Clifford looked at the Baroness with some au-
dacity. " Will you tell no one? "

" If it 's as sacred as that no."

" Well, then we are not ! " said Clifford.

" That 's the great secret that you are not,
eh ? " asked the Baroness, with a quick laugh.
" I am very glad to hear it. You are altogether
too young. A young man in your position must
choose and compare ; he must see the world first.
Depend upon it," she added, "you should not
settle that matter before you have come abroad
and paid me that visit. There are several things
I should like to call your attention to first."

" Well, I am rather afraid of that visit," said
Clifford. " It seems to me it will be rather like
going to school again."


The Baroness looked at him a moment.

" My dear child," she said, " there is no agreea-
ble man who has not, at some moment, been to
school to a clever woman probably a little older
than himself. And you must be thankful when
you get your instructions gratis. With me you
would get it gratis."

The next day Clifford told Lizzie Acton that
the Baroness thought her the most charming girl
she had ever seen.

Lizzie shook her head. " No, she does n't ! "
she said.

" Do you think everything she says," asked
Clifford, " is to be taken the opposite way ? "

" I think that is ! " said Lizzie.

Clifford was going to remark that in this case
the Baroness must desire greatly to bring about a
marriage 'between Mr. Clifford Went worth and
Miss Elizabeth Acton ; but he resolved, on the
whole, to suppress this observation.


IT seemed to Robert Acton, after Eugenia had
come to his house, that something had passed be-
tween them which made them a good deal more
intimate. It was hard to say exactly what, except
her telling him that she had taken her resolution
with regard to the Prince Adolf; for Madame
Minister's visit had made no difference in their re-
lations. He came to see her very often ; but he
had come to see her very often before. It was
agreeable to him to find himself in her little draw-
ing-room ; but this was not a new discovery.
There was a change, however, in this se*nse : that
if the Baroness had been a great deal in Acton's
thoughts before, she was now never out of them.
From the first she had been personally fascinat-
ing; but the fascination now had become intel-
lectual as well. He was constantly pondering her
words and motions ; they were as interesting as
the factors in an algebraic problem. This is say-
ing a good deal ; for Acton was extremely fond of
mathematics. He asked himself whether it could
be that he was in love with her, and then hoped


he was not ; hoped it not so much for his own sake
as for that of the amatory passion itself. If this
was love, love had been overrated. Love was a
poetic impulse, and his own state of feeling with
regard to the Baroness was largely characterized
by that eminently prosaic sentiment curiosity.
It was true, as Acton with his quietly cogitative
habit observed to himself, that curiosity, pushed to
a given point, might become a romantic passion ;
and he certainly thought enough about this charm-
ing woman to make him restless and even a little
melancholy. It puzzled and vexed him at times
to feel that he was not more ardent. He was not
in the least bent upon remaining a bachelor. In
his younger years he had been or he had tried
to be of the opinion that it would be a good deal
" jollier " not to marry, and he had flattered him-
self that his single condition was something of a
citadel. It was a citadel, at all events, of which
he had long since leveled the outworks. He had
removed the guns from the ramparts ; he had
lowered the draw-bridge across the moat. The
draw-bridge had swayed lightly under Madame
Miinster's step ; why should he not cause it to be
raised again, so that she might be kept prisoner ?
He had an idea that she would become in time
at least, arid on learning the conveniences of the
place for making a lady comfortable a tolerably


patient captive. But the draw-bridge was never
raised, and Acton's brilliant visitor was as free to
depart as she had been to come. It was part of
his curiosity to know why the deuce so susceptible
a man was not in love with so charming a woman.
If her various graces were, as I have said, the fac-
tors in an algebraic problem, the answer to this
question was the indispensable unknown quantity,
The pursuit of the unknown quantity was ex-
tremely absorbing ; for the present it taxed all
Acton's faculties.

Toward the middle of August he was obliged to
leave home for some days ; an old friend, with
whom he had been associated in China, had begged
him to come to Newport, where he lay extremely
ill. His friend got better, and at the end of a week
Acton was released. I use the word " released "
advisedly; for in spite of his attachment to his
Chinese comrade he had been but a half-hearted
visitor. He felt as if he had been called away
from the theatre during the progress of a remarka-
bly interesting drama. The curtain was up all this
time, and he was losing the fourth act ; that fourth
act which would have been so essential to a just
appreciation of the fifth. In other words, he was
thinking about the Baroness, who, seen at this
distance, seemed a truly brilliant figure. He saw
at Newport a great many pretty women, who cer-


tainly were figures as brilliant as beautiful light
dresses could make them ; but though they talked
a great deal and the Baroness's strong point was
perhaps also her conversation Madame Minister
appeared to lose nothing by the comparison. He
wished she had come to Newport too. Would it
not be possible to make up, as they said, a party
for visiting the famous watering-place and invite
Eugenia to join it ? It was true that the complete
satisfaction would be to spend a fortnight at New-
port with Eugenia alone. It would be a great
pleasure to see her, in society, carry everything
before her, as he was sure she would do. When
Acton caught himself thinking these thoughts he
began to walk up and down, with his hands in his
pockets, frowning a little and looking at the floor.
What did it prove for it certainly proved some-
thing this lively disposition to be "off" some-
where with Madame Miinster, away from all the
rest of them ? Such a vision, certainly, seemed a
refined implication of matrimony, after the Baron-
ess should have formally got rid of her informal
husband. At any rate, Acton, with his character-
istic discretion, forbore to give expression to what-
ever else it might imply, and the narrator of these
incidents is not obliged to be more definite.

He returned home rapidly, and, arriving in the
afternoon, lost as little time as possible in joining


the familiar circle at Mr. Wentworth's. On reach-
ing the house, however, he found the piazzas
empty. The doors and windows were open, and
their emptiness was made clear by the shafts of
lamp-light from the parlors. Entering the house,
he found Mr. Wentworth sitting alone in one of
these apartments, engaged in the perusal of the
" North American Review." After they had ex-
changed greetings and his cousin had made dis-
creet inquiry about his journey, Acton asked what
had become of Mr. Wentworth's companions.

" They are scattered about, amusing themselves
as usual," said the old man. " I saw Charlotte, a
short time since, seated, with Mr. Brand, upon the
piazza. They were conversing with their custom-
ary animation. I suppose they have joined her
sister, who, for the hundredth time, was doing the
honors of the garden to her foreign cousin."

" I suppose you mean Felix," said Acton. And
on Mr. Wentworth's assenting, he said, " And the
others ? "

" Your sister has not come this evening. You
must have seen her at home," said Mr. Went-

" Y^es. I proposed to her to come. She de-

" Lizzie, I suppose, was expecting a visitor," said
the old man, with a kind of solemn slyness.


" If she was expecting Clifford, he had not
turned up."

Mr. Wentworth, at this intelligence, closed the
" North American Review " and remarked that he
had understood Clifford to say that he was going
to see his cousin. Privately, he reflected that if
Lizzie Acton had had no news of his son, Clifford
must have gone to Boston for the evening : an un-
natural course of a summer night, especially when
accompanied with disingenuous representations.

" You must remember that he has two cousins,"
said Acton, laughing. And then, coming to the
point, "If Lizzie is not here," he added, "neither
apparently is the Baroness."

" Mr. Wentworth stared a moment, and remem-
bered that queer proposition of Felix's. For a
moment he did not know whether it was not to be
wished that Clifford, after all, might have gone to
Boston. "The Baroness has not honored us to-
night," he said. " She has not come over for three

"Is she ill?" Acton asked.

" No ; I have been to see her."

" What is the matter with her ? "

" Well," said Mr. Wentworth, " I infer she has
tired of us."

Acton pretended to sit down, but he was rest-
less ; he found it impossible to talk with Mr.


Wentworth. At the end of ten minutes he took
up his hat and said that he thought he would " go
off." It was very late ; it was ten o'clock.

His quiet-faced kinsman looked at him a mo-
ment. " Are you going home ? " he asked.

Acton hesitated, and then answered that he had
proposed to go over and take a look at the Bar-

"Well, you are honest, at least," said Mr.
Wentworth, sadly.

" So are you, if you come to that ? " cried Ac-
ton, laughing. " Why should n't I be honest ? "

The old man opened the " North American "
again, and read a few lines. "If we have ever
had any virtue among us, we had better keep hold
of it now," he said. He was not quoting.

" We have a Baroness among us," said Acton.
" That 's what we must keep hold of ! " He was
too impatient to see Madame Miinster again to
wonder what Mr. Wentworth was talking about.
Nevertheless, after he had passed out of the house
and traversed the garden and the little piece of
road that separated him from Eugenia's provisional
residence, he stopped a moment outside. He stood
in her little garden ; the long window of her parlor
was open, and he could see the white curtains,
with the lamp-light shining through them, sway-
ing softly to and fro in the warm night wind.


There was a sort of excitement in the idea of see-
ing Madame Miinster again ; he became aware
that his heart was beating rather faster than usual.
It was this that made him stop, with a half-amused
surprise. But in a moment he went along the pi-
azza, and, approaching the open window, tapped
upon its lintel with his stick. He could see the
Baroness within ; she was standing in the middle
of the room. She came to the window and pulled
aside the curtain ; then she stood looking at him a
moment. She was not smiling ; she seemed serious.

"Mais entrez done!" she said at last. Acton
passed in across the window-sill ; he wondered, for
an instant, what was the matter with her. But
the next moment she had begun to smile and had
put out her hand. "Better late than never," she
said. " It is very kind of you to come at this hour."

" I have just returned from my journey," said

" Ah, very kind, very kind," she repeated, look-
ing about her where to sit.

" I went first to the other house," Acton con-
tinued. " I expected to find you there."

She had sunk into her usual chair ; but she got
up again, and began to move about the room.
Acton had laid down his hat and stick ; he was
looking at her, conscious that there was in fact a
great charm in seeing her again. " I don't know


whether I ought to tell you to sit down," she said.
"It is too late to begin a visit."

" It 's too early to end one," Acton declared ;
"and we needn't mind the beginning."

She looked at him again, and, after a moment,
dropped once more into her low chair, while he
took a place near her. " We are in the middle,
then ? " she asked. " Was that where we were
when you went away ? No, I have n't been to the
other house."

" Not yesterday, nor the day before, eh ? "

" I don't know how many days it is."

" You are tired of it," said Acton.

She leaned back in her chair; her arms were
folded. " That is a terrible accusation, but I have
not the courage to defend myself."

" I am not attacking you," said Acton. " I ex-
pected something of this kind."

" It 's a proof of extreme intelligence. I hope
you enjoyed your journey."

" Not at all," Acton declared. " I would much
rather have been here with you."

"Now you are attacking me," said the Bar-
oness. " You are contrasting my inconstancy with
your own fidelity."

" I confess I never get tired of people I like."

"Ah, you are not a poor wicked foreign woman,
with irritable nerves and a sophisticated mind ! "


" Something has happened to you since I went
away," said Acton, changing his place.

" Your going away that is what has happened
to me."

"Do you mean to say that you have missed
me ? " he asked.

" If I had meant to say it, it would not be worth
your making a note of. I am very dishonest and
my compliments are worthless."

Acton was silent for some moments. " You
have broken down," he said at last.

Madame Miinster left her chair, and began to
move about.

" Only for a moment. I shall pull myself to-
gether again."

" You had better not take it too hard. If you
are bored, you need n't be afraid to say so to me
at least."

"You shouldn't say such things as that," the
Baroness answered. " You should encourage me."

" I admire your patience ; that is encouraging."

" You should n't even say that. When you talk
of my patience you are disloyal to your own peo-
ple. Patience implies suffering ; and what have I
had to suffer?"

" Oh, not hunger, not unkindness, certainly,"
said Acton, laughing. " Nevertheless, we all ad-
mire your patience."


" You all detest me I " cried the Baroness, with a
sudden vehemence, turning her back toward him.

" You make it hard, said Acton, getting up,
" for a man to say something tender to you."
This evening there was something particularly
striking and touching about her ; an unwonted
softness and a look of suppressed emotion. He
felt himself suddenly appreciating the fact that
she had behaved very well. She had come to this
quiet corner of the world under the weight of a
cruel indignity, and she had been so gracefully,
modestly thankful for the rest she found there.
She had joined that simple circle over the way;
she had mingled in its plain, provincial talk ; she
had shared its meagre and savorless pleasures.
She had set herself a task, and she had rigidly
performed it. She had conformed to the angular
conditions of New England life, and she had had
the tact and pluck to carry it off as if she liked
them. Acton felt a more downright need than he
had ever felt before to tell her that he admired
her and that she struck him as a very superior
woman. All along, hitherto, he had been on his
guard with her ; he had been cautious, observant,
suspicious. But now a certain light tumult in his
blood seemed to tell him that a finer degree of con-
fidence in this charming woman would be its own
reward. " We don't detest you," he went on.


"I don't know what you mean. At any rate, I
speak for myself; I don't know anything about
the others. Very likely, you detest them for the
dull life they make you lead. Really, it would
give me a sort of pleasure to hear you say so."

Eugenia had been looking at the door on the
other side of the room ; now she slowly turned her
eyes toward Robert Acton. "What can be the
motive," she asked, " of a man like you an hon-
est man, a galant homme in saying so base a
thing as that ? "

" Does it sound very base ? " asked Acton, can-
didly. "I suppose it does, and I thank you for
telling me so. Of course, I don't mean it liter-

The Baroness stood looking at him. " How do
you mean it? " she asked.

This question was difficult to answer, and Ac-
ton, feeling the least bit foolish, walked to the
open window and looked out. He stood there,
thinking a moment, and then he turned back.
" You know that document that you were to send
to Germany," he said. " You called it your ' re-
nunciation.' Did you ever send it ? "

Madame Miinster's eyes expanded ; she looked
very grave. "What a singular answer to my
question ! "

" Oh, it is n't an answer," said Acton. " I have



wished to ask you, many times. I thought it prob-
able you would tell me yourself. The question,
on my part, seems abrupt now ; but it would be
abrupt at any time."

The Baroness was silent a moment ; and then,
" I think I have told you too much ! " she said.

This declaration appeared to Acton to have a cer-
tain force ; he had indeed a sense of asking more
of her than he offered her. He returned to the
window, and watched, for a moment, a little star
that twinkled through the lattice of the piazza.
There were at any rate offers enough he could
make; perhaps he had hitherto not been suffi-
ciently explicit in doing so. "I wish you would
ask something of me," he presently said. "Is
there nothing I can do for you ? If you can't stand
this dull life any more, let me amuse you ! "

The Baroness had sunk once more into a chair,
and she had taken up a fan which she held, with
both hands, to her mouth. Over the top of the
fan her eyes were fixed on him. " You are very
strange to-night," she said, with a little laugh.

" I will do anything in the world," he rejoined,
standing in front of her. " Should n't you like to
travel about and see something of the country?
Won't you go to Niagara? You ought to see
Niagara, you know."

" With you, do you mean ? "


" I should be delighted to take you."

" You alone ? "

Acton looked at her, smiling, and yet with a
serious air. " Well, yes ; we might go alone," he

" If you were not what you are," she answered,
"I should feel insulted."

" How do you mean what I am ? "

" If you were one of the gentlemen I have been
used to all my life. If you were not a queer Bos-

" If the gentlemen you have been used to have
taught you to expect insults," said Acton7 " I am
glad I am what I am. You had much better come
to Niagara."

" If you wish to ' amuse ' me," the Baroness de-
clared, " you need go to no further expense. You
amuse me very effectually."

He sat down opposite to her ; she still held her
fan up to her face, with her eyes only showing
above it. There was a moment's silence, and then
he said, returning to his former question, " Have
you sent that document to Germany ? "

Again there was a moment's silence. The ex-
pressive eyes of Madame Miinster seemed, how-
ever, half to break it.

" I will tell you at Niagara ! " she said.

She had hardly spoken when the door at the fur-


ther end of the room opened the door upon
which, some minutes previous, Eugenia had fixed
her gaze. Clifford Wentworth stood there, blush-
ing and looking rather awkward. The Baroness
rose, quickly, and Acton, more slowly, did the
same. Clifford gave him no greeting ; he was
looking at Eugenia.

" Ah, you were here ? " exclaimed Acton.

" He was in Felix's studio," said Madame Mini-
ster. " He wanted to see his sketches."

Clifford looked at Robert Acton, but said noth-
ing ; he only fanned himself with his hat. " You
chose a bad moment," said Acton ; " you had n't
much light."

" I had n't any ! " said Clifford, laughing.

" Your candle went out ? " Eugenia asked.
" You should have come back here and lighted it

Clifford looked at her a moment. " So I have
come back. But I have left the candle ! "

Eugenia turned away. " You are very stupid,
my poor boy. You had better go home."

" Well," said Clifford, " good night ! "

" Have n't you a word to throw to a man when
he has safely returned from a dangerous journey ? "
Acton asked.

" How do you do ? " said Clifford. " I thought
I thought you were " and he paused, looking
at the Baroness again.


" You thought I was at Newport, eh ? So I was

this morning."

" Good night, clever child ! " said Madame Miin-
ster, over her shoulder.

Clifford stared at her not at all like a clever
child ; and then, with one of his little facetious
growls, took his departure.

" What is the matter with him ? " asked Acton,
when he was gone. " He seemed rather in a mud-

Eugenia, who was near the window, glanced out,
listening a moment. " The matter the matter "

she answered. " But you don't say such, things

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Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 10 of 15)