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The Europeans. A sketch online

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" If you mean that he had been drinking a lit-
tle, you can say that."

" He does n't drink any more. I have cured
him. And in return he 's in love with me."

It was Acton's turn to stare. He instantly
thought of his sister ; but he said nothing about
her. He began to laugh. " I don't wonder at his
passion ! But I wonder at his forsaking your so-
ciety for that of your brother's paint-brushes."

Eugenia was silent a little. " He had not been
in the studio. I invented that at the moment."

" Invented it ? For what purpose ? "

" He has an idea of being romantic. He has
adopted the habit of coming to see me at midnight


passing only through the orchard and through
Felix's painting-room, which has a door opening
that way. It seems to amuse him," added Eu-
genia, with a little laugh.

Acton felt more surprise than he confessed to,
for this was a new view of Clifford, whose irregu-
larities had hitherto been quite without the ro-
mantic element. He tried to laugh again, but he
felt rather too serious, and after a moment's hes-
itation his seriousness explained itself. " I hope
you don't encourage him," he said. " He must
not be inconstant to poor Lizzie."

" To your sister ? "

"You know they are decidedly intimate," said

"Ah," cried Eugenia, smiling, "has she has
she "

" I don't know," Acton interrupted, " what she
has. But I always supposed that Clifford had a
desire to make himself agreeable to her."

44 Ah, par exemple ! " the Baroness went on.
" The little monster ! The next time he becomes
sentimental I will him tell that he ought to be
ashamed of himself."

Acton was silent a moment. " You had better
say nothing about it."

" I had told him as much already, on general
grounds," said the Baroness. " But in this coun-


try, you know, the relations of young people are
so extraordinary that one is quite at sea. They
are not engaged when you would quite say they
ought to be. Take Charlotte Went worth, for in-
stance, and that young ecclesiastic. If I were her
father I should insist upon his marrying her ; but
it appears to be thought there is no urgency. On
the other hand, you suddenly learn that a boy of
twenty and a little girl who is still with her gov-
erness your sister has no governess? Well, then,
who is never away from her mamma a young
couple, in short, between whom you have noticed
nothing beyond an exchange of the childish pleas-
antries characteristic of their age, are on the point
of setting up as man and wife." The Baroness
spoke with a certain exaggerated volubility which
was in contrast with the languid grace that had
characterized her manner before Clifford made his
appearance. It seemed to Acton that there was
a spark of irritation in her eye a note of irony
(as when she spoke of Lizzie being never away
from her mother) in her voice. If Madame Miin-
ster was irritated, Robert Acton was vaguely mys-
tified ; she began to move about the room again,
and he looked at her without saying anything.
Presently she took out her watch, and, glancing
at it, declared that it was three o'clock in the
morning and that he must go.


" I have not been here an hour," he said, " and
they are still sitting up at the other house. You
can see the lights. Your brother has not come in."

" Oh, at the other house," cried Eugenia, " they
are terrible people ! I don't know what they
may do over there. I am a quiet little humdrum
woman; I have rigid rules and I keep them.
One of them is not to have visitors in the small
hours especially clever men like you. So good
night ! "

Decidedly, the Baroness was incisive ; and
though Acton bade her good night and departed,
he was still a good deal mystified.

The next day Clifford Wentworth came to see
Lizzie, and Acton, who was at home and saw him
pass through the garden, took note of the circum-
stance. He had a natural desire to make it tally
with Madame Minister's account of Clifford's dis-
affection ; but his ingenuity, finding itself unequal
to the task, resolved at last to ask help of the
young man's candor. He waited till he saw him
going away, and then he went out and overtook
him in the grounds.

" I wish very much you would answer me a
question," Acton said. " What were you doing,
last night, at Madame Miinster's ? "

Clifford began to laugh and to blush, by no
means like a young man with a romantic secret.
" What did she tell you ? " he asked.


" That is exactly what I don't want to say."

" Well, I want to tell you the same," said Clif-
ford ; " and unless I know it perhaps I can't."

They had stopped in a garden path ; Acton
looked hard at his rosy young kinsman. " She
said she could n't fancy what had got into you ;
you appeared to have taken a violent dislike to

Clifford stared, looking a little alarmed. " Oh,
come," he growled, " you don't mean that !"

"And that when for common civility's sake
you came occasionally to the house you left her
alone and spent your time in Felix's studio, under
pretext of looking at his sketches."

" Oh, come ! " growled Clifford, again.

" Did you ever know me to tell an untruth ? "

" Yes, lots of them ! " said Clifford, seeing an
opening, out of the discussion, for his sarcastic
powers. " Well," he presently added, " I thought
you were my father."

" You knew some one was there ? "

" We heard you coming in."

Acton meditated. "You had been with the
Baroness, then ? "

" I was in the parlor. We heard your step out-
side. I thought it was my father."

" And on that," asked Acton, " you ran away ? "

" She told me to go to go out by the studio.'*


Acton meditated more intensely ; if there had
been a chair at hand he would have sat down.
" Why should she wish you not to meet your

Well," said Clifford, " father does n't like to
see me there.'*

Acton looked askance at his companion and
forbore to make any comment upon this asser-
tion. " Has he said so," he asked, " to the Baron-
ess? "

" Well, I hope not," said Clifford. " He has n't
said so in so many words to me. But I
know it worries him ; and I want to stop worry-
ing him. The Baroness knows it, and she wants
me to stop, too."

" To stop coming to see her?"

" I don't know about that ; but to stop worry-
ing father. Eugenia knows everything," Clifford
added, with an air of knowingness of his own.

" Ah," said Acton, interrogatively, " Eugenia
knows everything ? "

" She knew it was not father coming in."

" Then why did you go ? "

Clifford blushed and laughed afresh. " Well,
I was afraid it was. And besides, she told me to
go, at any rate."

" Did she think it was I ? " Acton asked.

" She did n't say so."


Again Robert Acton reflected. "But you did n't
go," he presently said ; "you came back."

" I could n't get out of the studio," Clifford re-
joined. " The door was locked, and Felix has
nailed some planks across the lower half of the
confounded windows to make the light come in
from above. So they were no use. I waited
there a good while, and then, suddenly, I felt
ashamed. I did n't want to be hiding away from
my own father. I could n't stand it any longer.
I bolted out, and when I found it was you I was
a little flurried. But Eugenia carried it off, did
n't she?" Clifford 'added, in the tone of a young
humorist whose perception had not been perma-
nently clouded by the sense of his own discom-

" Beautifully ! " said Acton. " Especially," he
continued, " when one remembers that you were
very imprudent and that she must have been a
good deal annoyed."

" Oh," cried Clifford, with the indifference of a
young man who feels that however he may have
failed of felicity in behavior he is extremely just
in his impressions, "Eugenia does n't care for any-

Acton hesitated a moment. " Thank you for
telling me this," he said at last. And then, lay-


ing Ms hand on Clifford's shoulder, he added,
" Tell me one thing more : are you by chance a
little in love with the Baroness ? "

" No, sir ! " said Clifford, almost shaking off his


THE first Sunday that followed Robert Acton's
return from Newport witnessed a change in the
brilliant weather that had long prevailed. The
rain began to fall and the day was cold and
dreary. Mr. Wentworth and his daughters put on
overshoes and went to church, and Felix Young,
without overshoes, went also, holding an umbrella
over Gertrude. It is to be feared that, in the
whole observance, this was the privilege he most
highly valued. The Baroness remained at home ;
she was in neither a cheerful nor a devotional
mood. She had, however, never been, during her
residence in the United States, what is called a"
regular attendant at divine service ; and on this
particular Sunday morning of which I began with
speaking she stood at the window of her little
drawing-room, watching the long arm of a rose-
tree that was attached to her piazza, but a portion
of which had disengaged itself, sway to and fro,
shake and gesticulate, against the dusky drizzle of
the sky. Every now and then, in a gust of wind,
the rose-tree scattered a shower of water-drops


against the window-pane; it appeared to have a
kind of human movement a menacing, warn-
ing intention. The room was very cold ; Mad-
ame Miinster put on a shawl and walked about.
Then she determined to have some fire ; and sum-
moning her ancient negress, the contrast of whose
polished ebony and whose crimson turban had
been at first a source of satisfaction to her, she
made arrangements for the production of a crack-
ling flame. This old woman's name was Azarina.
The Baroness had begun by thinking that there
would be a savory wildness in her talk, and, for
amusement, she had encouraged her to chatter.
But Azarina was dry and prim ; her conversation
was anything but African ; she reminded Eugenia
of the tiresome old ladies she met in society. She
knew, however, how to make a fire ; so that after
she had laid the logs, Eugenia, who was terribly
bored, found a quarter of an hour's entertainment
in sitting and watching them blaze and sputter.
She had thought it very likely Robert Acton would
come and see her ; she had not met him since
that infelicitous evening. But the morning waned
without his coming ; several times she thought she
heard his step on the piazza ; but it was only a
window-shutter shaking in a rain -gust. The Bar-
oness, since the beginning of that episode in her
career of which a slight sketch has been attempted


in these pages, had had many moments of irrita-
tion. But to-day her irritation had a peculiar
keenness ; it appeared to feed upon itself. It
urged her to do something ; but it suggested no
particularly profitable line of action. If she could
have done something at the moment, on the spot,
she would have stepped upon a European steamer
and turned her back, with a kind of rapture, upon
that profoundly mortifying failure, her visit to her
American relations. It is not exactly apparent
why she should have termed this enterprise a fail-
ure, inasmuch as she had been treated with the
highest distinction for which allowance had been
made in American institutions. Her irritation
came, at bottom, from the sense, which, always
present, had suddenly grown acute, that the social
soil on this big, vague continent was somehow not
adapted for growing those plants whose fragrance
she especially inclined to inhale and by which she
liked to see herself surrounded a species of vege-
tation for which she carried a collection of seed-
lings, as we may say, in her pocket. She found
her chief happiness in the sense of exerting a cei
tain power and making a certain impression ; and
now she felt the annoyance of a rather wearied
swimmer who, on nearing shore, to land, finds a
smooth straight wall of rock when he had counted
upon a clean firm beach. Her power, in the Amer-


lean air, seemed to have lost its prehensile attri-
butes ; the smooth wall of rock was insurmount-
able. "Surely je n'en suis pas la," she said to
herself, " that I let it make me uncomfortable that
a Mr. Robert Acton shouldn't honor me with a
visit ! " Yet she was vexed that he had not come ;
and she was vexed at her vexation.

Her brother, at least, came in, stamping in the
hall and shaking the wet from his coat. In a
moment he entered the room, with a glow in his
cheek and half-a-dozen rain-drops glistening on
his mustache. " Ah, you have a fire," he said.

" Les beaux jours sont passes," replied the Bar-

" Never, never ! They have only begun," Felix
declared, planting himself before the hearth. He
turned his back to the fire, placed his hands be-
hind him, extended his legs and looked away
through the window with an expression of face
which seemed to denote the perception of rose-
color even in the tints of a wet Sunday.

His sister, from her chair, looked up at him,
watching him ; and what she saw in his face was
not grateful to her present mood. She was puz-
zled by many things, but her brother's disposition
was a frequent source of wonder to her. I say
frequent and not constant, for there were long
periods during which she gave her attention to


other problems. Sometimes she had said to her-
self that his happy temper, his eternal gayety, was
an affectation, a pose ; but she was vaguely con-
scious that during the present summer he had been
a highly successful comedian. They had never
yet had an explanation ; she had not known the
need of one'. Felix was presumably following the
bent of his disinterested genius, and she felt that
she had no advice to give him that he would un-
derstand. With this, there was always a certain
element of comfort about Felix the assurance
that he would not interfere. He was very deli-
cate, this pure-minded Felix ; in effect, he was her
brother, and Madame Miinster felt that there was
a great propriety, every way, in that. It is true
that Felix was delicate ; he was not fond of ex-
planations with his sister ; this was one of the very
few things in the world about which he was un-
comfortable. But now he was not thinking of
anything uncomfortable.

" Dear brother," said Eugenia at last, " do stop
making Us yeux doux at the rain."

" With pleasure. I will make them at you ! "
answered Felix.

" How much longer," asked Eugenia, in a mo-
ment, " do you propose to remain in this lovely
spot? "



Felix stared. "Do you want to go away al-
ready ? "

" ' Already ' is delicious. I am not so happy as

Felix dropped into a chair, looking at the fire.
" The fact is I am happy," he said in his light,
clear tone.

" And do you propose to spend your life in
making love to Gertrude Wentworth ? "

" Yes ! " said Felix, smiling sidewise at his

The Baroness returned his glance, much more
gravely; and then, " Do you like her? " she asked.

" Don't you ? " Felix demanded.

The Baroness was silent a moment. "I will
answer you in the words of the gentleman who
was asked if he liked music : 4 Je ne la crams

" She admires you immensely," said Felix.

" I don't care for that. Other women should
not admire one."

" They should dislike you ? "

Again Madame Minister hesitated. " They
should hate me ! It 's a measure of the time I
have been losing here that they don't."

" No time is lost in which one has been happy ! "
said Felix, with a bright sententlousness which
may well have been a little irritating.


" And in which," rejoined his sister, with a
harsher laugh, " one has secured the affections of
a young lady with a fortune ! "

Felix explained, very candidly and seriously.
" I have secured Gertrude's affection, but I am by
no means sure that I have secured her fortune.
That may come or it may not."

" Ah, well, it may I That's the great point."

" It depends upon her father. He does n't
smile upon our union. You know he wants her
to marry Mr. Brand."

" I know nothing about it ! " cried the Baroness.
" Please to put on a log." Felix complied with
her request and sat watching the quickening of
the flame. Presently his sister added, " And you
propose to elope with mademoiselle ? "

" By no means. I don't wish to do anything
that 's disagreeable to Mr. Wentworth. He has
been far too kind to us."

44 But you must choose between pleasing your-
self and pleasing him."

" I want to please every one ! " exclaimed
Felix, joyously. " I have a good conscience. I
made up my mind at the outset that it was not
my place to make love to Gertrude."

" So, to simplify matters, she made love to

Felix looked at his sister with sudden gravity.


"You say you are not afraid of her," he said.
"But perhaps you ought to be a little. She's
a very clever person."

" I begin to see it ! " cried the Baroness. Her
brother, making no rejoinder, leaned back in his
chair, and there was a long silence. At last, with
an altered accent, Madame Miinster put another
question. "You expect, at any rate, to marry? "

"I shall be greatly disappointed if we don't."

"A disappointment or two will do you good! "
the Baroness declared. " And, afterwards, do you
mean to turn American ? "

" It seems to me I am a very good American
already. But. we shall go to Europe. Gertrude
wants extremely to see the world."

" Ah, like me, when I came here ! " said the
Baroness, with a little laugh.

"No, not like you," Felix rejoined, looking at
his sister with a certain gentle seriousness. While
he looked at her she rose from her chair, and he
also got up. " Gertrude is not at all like you," he
went on ; " but in her own way she is almost as
clever." He paused a moment ; his soul was full
of an agreeable feeling and of a lively disposition
to express it. His sister, to his spiritual vision,
was always like the lunar disk when only a part of
it is lighted. The shadow on this bright surface
seemed to him to expand and to contract; but


whatever its proportions, he always appreciated
the moonlight. He looked at the Baroness, and
then he kissed her. " I am very much in love
with Gertrude," he said. Eugenia turned away
and walked about the. room, and Felix continued.
" She is very interesting, and very different from
what she seems. She has never had a chance.
She is very brilliant. We will go to Europe and
amuse ourselves."

The Baroness had gone to the window, where
she stood looking out. The day was drearier than
ever ; the rain was doggedly falling. " Yes, to
amuse yourselves," she said at last, u you had de-
cidedly better go to Europe ! " Then she turned
round, looking at her brother. A chair stood near
her; she leaned her hands upon the back of it.
"Don't you think it is very good of me," she
asked, " to come all this way with you simply to
see you properly married if properly it is?"

" Oh, it will be properly ! " cried Felix, with
light eagerness.

The Baroness gave a little laugh. " You are
thinking only of yourself, and you don't answer
my question. While you are amusing yourself
with the brilliant Gertrude what shall I be do-

" Vous serez de la partie ! " cried Felix.

" Thank you : I should spoil it." The Baroness


dropped her eyes for some moments. " Do you
propose, however, to leave me here ? " she in-

Felix smiled at her. " My dearest sister, where
you are concerned I never propose. I execute
your commands."

" I believe," said Eugenia, slowly, " that you
are the most heartless person living. Don't you
see that I am in trouble ? "

" I saw that you were not cheerful, and I gave
you some good news."

" Well, let me give you some news," said the
Baroness. " You probably will not have discov-
ered it for yourself. Robert Acton wants to marry

"No, I had not discovered that. But I quite
understand it. Why does it make you unhappy? "

" Because I can't decide."

" Accept him, accept him ! " cried Felix, joy-
ously. " He is the best fellow in the world."

" He is immensely in love with me," said the

"And he has a large fortune. Permit me in
turn to remind you of that."

" Oh, I am perfectly aware of it," said Eugenia.
" That 's a great item in his favor. I am terribly
candid." And she left her place and came nearer
her brother, looking at him hard. He was turn-


ing over several things ; she was wondering in
what manner he really understood her.

There were several ways of understanding her :
there was what she said, and there was what she
meant, and there was something, between the two,
that was neither. It is probable that, in the last
analysis, what she meant was that Felix should
spare her the necessity of stating the case more
exactly and should hold himself commissioned to
assist her by all honorable means to marry the
best fellow in the world. But in all this it was
never discovered what Felix understood.

" Once you have your liberty, what are your
objections ? " he asked.

" Well, I don't particularly like him."

" Oh, try a little."

" I am trying now," said Eugenia. " I should
succeed better if he didn't live here. I could
never live here."

" Make him go to Europe," Felix suggested.

" Ah, there you speak of happiness based upon
violent effort," the Baroness rejoined. " That is
not what I am looking for. He would never live
in Europe."

" He would live anywhere, with you ! " said
Felix, gallantly.

His sister looked at him still, with a ray of pen-
etration in her charming eyes; then she turned


away again. " You see, at all events," she pres-
ently went on, " that if it had been said of me
that I had come over here to seek my fortune it
would have to be added that I have found it ! "

" Don't leave it lying ! " urged Felix, with
smiling solemnity.

" I am much obliged to you for your interest,"
his sister declared, after a moment. " But promise
me one thing : pas de zele ! If Mr. Acton should
ask you to plead his cause, excuse yourself."

4t I shall certainly have the excuse," said Felix,
" that I have a cause of my own to plead."

" If he should talk of me favorably," Eugenia
continued, " warn him against dangerous illusions.
I detest importunities ; I want to decide at my leis-
ure, with my eyes open."

" I shall be discreet," said Felix, " except to you.
To you I will say, Accept him outright."

She had advanced to the open door-way, and
she stood looking at him. " I will go and dress
and think of it," she said ; and he heard her mov-
ing slowly to her apartments.

Late in the afternoon the rain stopped, and
just afterwards there was a great flaming, flick-
ering, trickling sunset. Felix sat in his painting-
room and did some work ; but at last, as the
light, which had not been brilliant, began to fade,
he laid down his brushes and came out to the


little piazza of the cottage. Here he walked up
and down for some time, looking at the splendid
blaze of the western sky and saying, as he had
often said before, that this was certainly the
country of sunsets. There was something in these
glorious deeps of fire that quickened his imagina-
tion ; he always found images and promises in the
western sky. He thought of a good many things
of roaming about the world with Gertrude
Wentworth ; he seemed to see their possible ad-
ventures, in a glowing frieze, between the cloud-
bars; then of what Eugenia had just been tell-
ing him. He wished very much that Madame
Minister would make a comfortable and honorable
marriage. Presently, as the sunset expanded and
deepened, the fancy took him of making a note of
so magnificent a piece of coloring. He returned
to his studio and fetched out a small panel, with
his palette and brushes, and, placing the panel
against a window-sill, he began to daub with great
gusto. While he was so occupied he saw Mr.
Brand, in the distance, slowly come down from
Mr. Wentworth's house, nursing a large folded
umbrella. He walked with a joyless, meditative
tread, and his eyes were bent upon the ground.
Felix poised his brush for a moment, watching
him ; then, by a sudden impulse, as he drew nearer,
advanced to the garden-gate and signaled to him


the palette and bunch of brushes contributing
to this effect.

Mr. Brand stopped and started ; then he ap-
peared to decide to accept Felix's invitation. He
came out of Mr. Wentworth's gate and passed
along the road ; after which he entered the little

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Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 11 of 15)