Henry James.

The Europeans. A sketch online

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garden of the cottage. Felix had gone back to
his sunset ; but he made his visitor welcome while
he rapidly brushed it in.

"I wanted so much to speak to you that I
thought I would call you," he said, in the friend-
liest tone. " All the more that you have been
to see me so little. You have come to see my sis-
ter ; I know that. But you have n't come to see
me the celebrated artist. Artists are very sen-
sitive, you know ; they notice those things." And
Felix turned round, smiling, with a brush in his

Mr. Brand stood there with a certain blank,
candid majesty, pulling together the large flaps of
his umbrella. " Why should I come to see you ? "
he asked. " I know nothing of Art."

" It would sound very conceited, I suppose,"
said Felix, " if I were to say that it would be a
good little ctiance for you to learn something.
You would ask me why you should learn ; and I
should have no answer to that. I suppose a
minister has no need for Art, eh ? "


" He has need for good temper, sir," said Mr.
Brand, with decision.

Felix jumped up, with his palette on his thumb
and a movement of the liveliest deprecation.
" That 's because I keep you standing there while
I splash my red paint ! I beg a thousand pardons !
You see what bad manners Art gives a man ; and
how right you are to let it alone. I did n't mean
you should stand, either. The piazza, as you see,
is ornamented with rustic chairs ; though indeed I
ought to warn you that they have nails in the
wrong places. I was just making a note of that
sunset. I never saw such a blaze of different reds.
It looks as if the Celestial City were in flames,
eh ? If that were really the case I suppose it
would be the business of you theologians to put
out the fire. Fancy me an ungodly artist
quietly sitting down to paint it ! "

Mr. Brand had always credited Felix Young
with a certain impudence, but it appeared to him
that on this occasion his impudence was so great
as to make a special explanation or even an
apology necessary. And the impression, it must
be added, was sufficiently natural. Felix had at
all times a brilliant assurance of manner which
was simply the vehicle of his good spirits and his
good will ; but at present he had a special design,
and as he would have admitted that the design


was audacious, so he was conscious of having sum-
moned all the arts of conversation to his aid. But
he was so far from desiring to offend his visitor
that he was rapidly asking himself what personal
compliment he could pay the young clergyman
that would gratify him most. If he could think
of it, he was prepared to pay it down. " Have
you been preaching one of your beautiful sermons
to-day?" he suddenly asked, laying down his
palette. This was not what Felix had been try-
ing to think of, but it was a tolerable stop-gap.

Mr. Brand frowned as much as a man can
frown who has very fair, soft eyebrows, and, be-
neath them, very gentle, tranquil eyes. " No, I
have not preached any sermon to-day. Did you
bring me over here for the purpose of making that
inquiry ? "

Felix saw that he was irritated, and he re-
gretted it immensely ; but he had no fear of not
being, in the end, agreeable to Mr. Brand. He
looked at him, smiling and laying his hand on his
arm. " No, no, not for that not for that. I
wanted to ask you something ; I wanted to tell
you something. I am sure it will interest you
very much. Only as it is something rather
private we had better come into my little stu-
dio. I have a western window ; we can still see
the sunset. Andiamo ! " And he gave a little
pat to his companion's arm.


He led the way in ; Mr. Brand stiffly and softly
followed. The twilight had thickened in the lit-
tle studio ; but the wall opposite the western win-
dow was covered with a deep pink flush. There
were a great many sketches and half-finished can-
vasses suspended in this rosy glow, and the cor-
ners of the room were vague and dusky. Felix
begged Mr. Brand to sit down ; then glancing
round him, "By Jove, how pretty it looks ! " he
cried. But Mr. Brand would not sit down ; he
went and leaned against the window; he wondered
what Felix wanted of him. In the shadow, on
the darker parts of the wall, he saw the gleam of
three or four pictures that looked fantastic and
surprising. They seemed to represent naked fig-
ures. Felix stood there, with his head a little
bent and his eyes fixed upon his visitor, smiling
intensely, pulling his mustache. Mr. Brand felt
vaguely uneasy. " It is very delicate what I
want to say," Felix began. "But I have been
thinking of it for some time."

" Please to say it as quickly as possible," said
Mr. Brand.

" It 's because you are a clergyman, you know,"
Felix went on. " I don't think I should venture
to say it to a common man."

Mr. Brand was silent a moment. "If it is
a. question of yielding to a weakness, of resent-


ing an injury, I am afraid I am a very common

"My dearest friend, 1 ' cried Felix, "this is not
an injury ; it 's a benefit a great service ! You
will like it extremely. Only it 's so delicate ! "
And, in the dim light, he continued to smile in-
tensely. " You know I take a great interest in
my cousins in Charlotte and Gertrude Went-
worth. That 's very evident from my having trav-
eled some five thousand miles to see them." Mr.
Brand said nothing and Felix proceeded. " Com-
ing into their society as a perfect stranger I re-
ceived of course a great many new impressions,
and my impressions had a great freshness, a great
keenness. Do you know what I mean ? "

" I am not sure that I do; but I should like you
to continue."

"I think my impressions have always a good
deal of freshness," said Mr. Brand's entertainer;
" but on this occasion it was perhaps particularly
natural that coming in, as I say, from outside
I should be struck with things that passed un-
noticed among yourselves. And then I had my
sister to help me ; and she is simply the most ob-
servant woman in the world."

" I am not surprised," said Mr. Brand, "that in
our little circle two intelligent persons should have
found food for observation. I am sure that, of
late, I have found it myself!"


" Ah, but I shall surprise you yet ! " cried Felix,
laughing. " Both my sister and I took a great
fancy to my cousin Charlotte."

" Your cousin Charlotte ? " repeated Mr. Brand.

" We fell in love with her from the first ! "

" You fell in love with Charlotte ? " Mr. Brand

" Dame ! " exclaimed Felix, " she 's a very
charming person ; and Eugenia was especially
smitten." Mr. Brand stood staring, and he pur-
sued, "Affection, you know, opens one's eyes, and
we noticed something. Charlotte is not happy !
Charlotte is in love." And Felix, drawing nearer,
laid his hand again upon his companion's arm.

There was something akin to an acknowledg-
ment of fascination in the way Mr. Brand looked
at him ; but the young clergyman retained as yet
quite enough self-possession to be able to say, with
a good deal of solemnity, " She is not in love with

Felix gave a light laugh, and rejoined with the
alacrity of a maritime adventurer who feels a puff
of wind in his sail. " Ah, no ; if she were in love
with me I should know it ! I am not so blind as

"As I?"

" My dear sir, you are stone blind. Poor Char-
lotte is dead in love with you ! "


Mr. Brand said nothing for a moment; he
breathed a little heavily. "Is that what you
wanted to say to me ? " he asked.

" I have wanted to say it these three weeks.
Because of late she has been worse. I told you,"
added Felix, u it was very delicate."

" Well, sir " Mr. Brand began ; " well, sir "

" I was sure you did n't know it," Felix con-
tinued. " But don't you see as soon as I men-
tion it how everything is explained?" Mr.
Brand answered nothing; he looked for a chair
and softly sat down. Felix could see that he was
blushing ; he had looked straight at his host hith-
erto, but now he looked away. The foremost
effect of what he had heard had been a sort of
irritation of his modesty. " Of course," said Fe-
lix, "I suggest nothing; it would be very pre-
sumptuous in me to advise you. But I think there
is no doubt about the fact."

Mr. Brand looked hard at the floor for some mo-
ments ; he was oppressed with a mixture of sensa-
tions. Felix, standing there, was very sure that
one of them was profound surprise. The innocent
young man had been completely unsuspicious of
poor Charlotte's hidden flame. This gave Felix
great hope ; he was sure that Mr. Brand would be
flattered. Felix thought him very transparent,
and indeed he was so ; he could neither simulate


nor dissimulate. " I scarcely know what to make
of this," he said at last, without looking up ; and
Felix was struck with the fact that he offered
no protest or contradiction. Evidently Felix had
kindled a train of memories a retrospective illu-
mination. It was making, to Mr. Brand's aston-
ished eyes, a very pretty blaze ; his second emotion
had been a gratification of vanity.

"Thank me for telling you," Felix rejoined.
" It 's a good thing to know."

" I am not sure of that," said Mr. Brand.

" Ah, don't let her languish ! " Felix murmured,
lightly and softly.

" You do advise me, then ? " And Mr. Brand
looked up.

" I congratulate you ! " said Felix, smiling. He
had thought at first his visitor was simply appeal-
ing ; but he saw he was a little ironical.

" It is in your interest ; you have interfered
with me," the young clergyman went on.

Felix still stood and smiled. -The little room
had grown darker, and the crimson glow had
faded ; but Mr. Brand could see the brilliant ex-
pression of his face. " I won't pretend not to
know what you mean," said Felix at last. " But
I have not really interfered with you. Of what
you had to lose with another person you have
lost nothing. And think what you have gained ! "



" It seems to me I am the proper judge, on each
side," Mr. Brand declared. He got up, holding
the brim of his hat against his mouth and staring
at Felix through the dusk.

" You have lost an illusion ! " said Felix.

" What do you call an illusion ? "

"The belief that you really know that you
have ever really known Gertrude Wentworth.
Depend upon that," pursued Felix. " I don't know
her yet ; but I have no illusions ; I don't pretend

Mr. Brand kept gazing, over his hat. " She
has always been a lucid, limpid nature," he said,

" She has always been a dormant nature. She
was waiting for a touchstone. But now she is be-
ginning to awaken."

" Don't praise her to me ! " said Mr. Brand,
with a little quaver in his voice. "If you have
the advantage of me that is not generous."

" My dear sir, I am melting with generosity ! "
exclaimed Felix. "And I am not praising my
cousin. I am simply attempting a scientific defi-
nition of her. She does n't care for abstractions.
Now I think the contrary is what you have always
fancied is the basis on which you have been
building. She is extremely preoccupied with the
concrete. I care for the concrete, too. But Ger-
trude is stronger than I ; she whirls me along ! "


Mr. Brand looked for a moment into the crown
of his hat. " It 's a most interesting nature."

" So it is," said Felix. " But it pulls it pulls
like a runaway horse. Now I like the feeling
of a runaway horse; and if I am thrown out of
the vehicle it is no great matter. But if you
should be thrown, Mr. Brand " and Felix paused
a moment " another person also would suffer
from the accident."

" What other person ? "

" Charlotte Wentworth ! "

Mr. Brand looked at Felix for a moment side-
wise, mistrustfully ; then his eyes slowly wandered
over the ceiling. Felix was sure he was secretly
struck with the romance of the situation. "I
think this is none of our business," the young
minister murmured.

" None of mine, perhaps ; but surely yours ! "

Mr. Brand lingered still, looking at the ceiling ;
there was evidently something he wanted to say.
" What do you mean by Miss Gertrude being
strong?" he asked abruptly.

"Well," said Felix meditatively, " I mean that
she has had a great deal of self-possession. She
was waiting for years ; even when she seemed,
perhaps, to be living in the present. She knew
how to wait ; she had a purpose. That 's what I
mean by her being strong."


" But what do you mean by her purpose ? "
" Well the purpose to see the world ! "
Mr. Brand eyed his strange informant askance
again; but he said nothing. At last he turned
away, as if to take leave. He seemed bewildered,
however; for instead of going to the door he moved
toward the opposite corner of the room. Felix
stood and watched him for a moment almost
groping about in the dusk ; then he led him to the
door, with a tender, almost fraternal movement.
"Is that all you have to say? " asked Mr. Brand.
" Yes, it 's all but it will bear a good deal of
thinking of."

Felix went with him to the garden-gate, and
watched him slowly walk away into the thicken-
ing twilight with a relaxed rigidity that tried to
rectify itself. " He is offended, excited, bewil-
dered, perplexed and enchanted ! " Felix said
to himself. " That 's a capital mixture."


SINCE that visit paid by the Baroness Miinster
to Mrs. Acton, of which some account was given
at an earlier stage of this narrative, the intercourse
between these two ladies had been neither fre-
quent nor intimate. It was not that Mrs. Ac-
ton had failed to appreciate Madame Minister's
charms; on the contrary, her perception of the
graces of manner and conversation of her brilliant
visitor had been only too acute. Mrs. Acton was,
as they said in Boston, very "intense," and her
impressions were apt to be too many for her. The
state of her health required the restriction of emo-
tion ; and this is why, receiving, as she sat in
her eternal arm-chair, very few visitors, even of
the soberest local type, she had been obliged to
limit the number of her interviews with a lady
whose costume and manner recalled to her imag-
ination Mrs. Acton's imagination was a mar-
vel all that she had ever read of the most
stirring historical periods. But she had sent the
Baroness a great many quaintly- worded messages
and a great many nosegays from her garden and


baskets of beautiful fruit. Felix had eaten the
fruit, and the Baroness had arranged the flowers
and returned the baskets and the messages. On
the day that followed that rainy Sunday of which
mention has been made, Eugenia determined
to go and pay the beneficent invalid a " visite
d'adieux ; " so it was that, to herself, she qualified
her enterprise. It may be noted that neither on
the Sunday evening nor on the Monday morning
had she received that expected visit from Robert
Acton. To his own consciousness, evidently he was
" keeping away ; " and as the Baroness, on her
side, was keeping away from her uncle's, whither,
for several days, Felix had been the unembarrassed
bearer of apologies and regrets for absence, chance
had not taken the cards from the hands of design.
Mr. Wentworth and his daughters had respected
Eugenia's seclusion ; certain intervals of mysteri-
ous retirement appeared to them, vaguely, a natural
part of the graceful, rhythmic movement of so re-
markable a life. Gertrude especially held these
periods in honor; she wondered what Madame
Miinster did at such times, but she would not
have permitted herself to inquire too curiously.

The long rain had freshened the air, and twelve
hours' brilliant sunshine had dried the roads ; so
that the Baroness, in the late afternoon, propos-
ing to walk to Mrs. Acton's, exposed herself to


no great discomfort. As with her charming un-
dulating step she moved along the clean, grassy
margin of the road, beneath the thickly-hanging
boughs of the orchards, through the quiet of the
hour and place and the rich maturity of the sum-
mer, she was even conscious of a sort of luxurious
melancholy. The Baroness had the amiable weak-
ness of attaching herself to places even when she
had begun with a little aversion; and now, with
the prospect of departure, she felt tenderly toward
this well-wooded corner of the Western world,
where the sunsets were so beautiful and one's
ambitions were so pure. Mrs. Acton was able to
receive her ; but on entering this lady's large,
freshly-scented room the Baroness saw that she
was looking very ill. She was wonderfully white
and transparent, and, in her flowered arm-chair,
she made no attempt to move. But she flushed
a little like a young girl, the Baroness thought
and she rested her clear, smiling eyes upon
those of her visitor. Her voice was low and mo-
notonous, like a voice that had never expressed
any human passions.

" I have come to bid you good-by," said Eu-
genia. " I shall soon be going away."

" When are you going away ? "

" Very soon any day."

" I am very sorry," said Mrs. Acton. " I hoped
you would stay always."


" Always ? " Eugenia demanded.

" Well, I mean a long time," said Mrs. Acton,
in her sweet, feeble tone. " They tell me you
are so comfortable that you have got such a
beautiful little house."

Eugenia stared that is, she smiled ; she
thought of her poor little chalet and she wondered
whether her hostess were jesting. " Yes, my house
is exquisite," she said; "though not to be com-
pared to yours."

" And my son is so fond of going to see you,"
Mrs. Acton added. " I am afraid my son will
miss you."

" Ah, dear madame," said Eugenia, with a little
laugh, " I can't stay in America for your son ! "

" Don't you like America ? "

The Baroness looked at the front of her dress.
" If I liked it that would not be staying for
your son! "

Mrs. Acton gazed at her with her grave, tender
eyes, as if she had not quite understood. The
Baroness at last found something irritating in the
sweet, soft stare of her hostess ; and if one were
not bound to be merciful to great invalids she
would almost have taken the liberty of pronounc-
ing her, mentally, a fool. " I am afraid, then,
I shall never see you again," said Mrs. Acton.
u You know I am dying."


"Ah, dear madame," murmured Eugenia.

"I want to leave my children cheerful and
happy. My daughter will probably marry her

" Two such interesting young people," said the
Baroness, vaguely. She was not thinking of Clif-
ford Wentworth.

" I feel so tranquil about my end," Mrs. Acton
went on. " It is coining so easily, so surely."
And she paused, with her mild gaze always on

The Baroness hated to be reminded of death ;
but even in its imminence, so far as Mrs. Acton
was concerned, she preserved her good manners.
" Ah, madame, you are too charming an invalid,"
she rejoined.

But the delicacy of this rejoinder was appar-
ently lost upon her hostess, who went on in her
low, reasonable voice. " I want to leave my chil-
dren bright and comfortable. You seem to me all
so happy here just as you are. So I wish you
could stay. It would be so pleasant for Robert."

Eugenia wondered what she meant by its being
pleasant for Robert ; but she felt that she would
never know what such a woman as that meant.
She got up ; she was afraid Mrs. Acton would tell
her again that she was dying. " Good-by, dear
madame," she said. " I must remember that your
strength is precious."


Mrs. Acton took her hand and held it a mo-
ment. "Well, you have been happy here, haven't
you ? And you like us all, don't you ? I wish
you would stay," she added, " in your beautiful
little house."

She had told Eugenia that her waiting- woman
would be in the hall, to show her down-stairs ;
but the large landing outside her door was empty,
and Eugenia stood there looking about. She felt
irritated ; the dying lady had not " la main lieu-
reuse" She passed slowly down-stairs, still look-
ing about. The broad staircase made a great
bend, and in the angle was a high window, look-
ing westward, with a deep bench, covered with
a row of flowering plants in curious old pots of
blue china-ware. The yellow afternoon light came
in through the flowers and flickered a little on
the white wainscots. Eugenia paused a moment ;
the house was perfectly still, save for the ticking,
somewhere, of a great clock. The lower hall
stretched away at the foot of the stairs, half cov-
ered over with a large Oriental rug. Eugenia
lingered a little, noticing a great many things.
" Comme c'est bien ! " she said to herself ; such a
large, solid, irreproachable basis of existence the
place seemed to her to indicate. And then she
reflected that Mrs. Acton was soon to withdraw
from it. The reflection accompanied her the rest


of the way down-stairs, where she paused again,
making more observations. The hall was ex-
tremely broad, and on either side of the front door
was a wide, deeply-set window, which threw the
shadows of everything back into the house. There
were high-backed chairs along the wall and big
Eastern vases upon tables, and, on either side, a
large cabinet with a glass front and little curiosi-
ties within, dimly gleaming. The doors were open
into the darkened parlor, the library, the din-
ing-room. All these rooms seemed empty. Eu-
genia passed along, and stopped a moment on the
threshold of each. " Comme c'est bien ! " she
murmured again ; she had thought of just such a
house as this when she decided to come to America.
She opened the front door for herself her light
tread had summoned none of the servants and
on the threshold she gave a last look. Outside,
she was still in the humor for curious contempla-
tion ; so instead of going directly down the little
drive, to the gate, she wandered away towards
the garden, which lay to the right of the house.
She had not gone many yards over the grass be-
fore she paused quickly ; she perceived a gentleman
stretched upon the level verdure, beneath a tree.
He had not heard her coming, and he lay motion-
less, flat on his back, with his hands clasped un-
der his head, staring up at the sky ; so that the


Baroness was able to reflect, at her leisure, upon
the question of his identity. It was that of a per-
son who had lately been much in her thoughts ;
but her first impulse, nevertheless, was to turn
away ; the last thing she desired was to have the
air of coming in quest of Robert Acton. The gen-
tleman on the grass, however, gave her no time to
decide ; he could not long remain unconscious of so
agreeable a presence. He rolled back his eyes,
stared, gave an exclamation, and then jumped up.
He stood an instant, looking at her.

" Excuse my ridiculous position," he said.

" I have just now no sense of the ridiculous.
But, in case you have, don't imagine I came to see

" Take care," rejoined Acton, "how you put it
into my head ! I was thinking of you."

" The occupation of extreme leisure ! " said the
Baroness. " To think of a woman when you are
in that position is no compliment."

" I did n't say I was thinking well ! " Acton af-
firmed, smiling.

She looked at him, and then she turned away.
" Though I didn't come to see you," she said, "re-
member at least that I am within your gates."

" I am delighted I am honored ! Won't you
come into the house ? "

" I have just come out of it. I have been call-


ing upon your mother. I have been bidding her

" Farewell ? " Acton demanded.

" I am going away," said the Baroness. And
she turned away again, as if to illustrate her mean-

"When are you going?" asked Acton, standing
a moment in his place. But the Baroness made
no answer, and he followed her.

" I came this way to look at your garden," she
said, walking back to the gate, over the grass,
u But I must go."

" Let me at least go with you." He went with
her, and they said nothing till they reached the
gate. It was open, and they looked down the
road which was darkened over with long bosky
shadows. " Must you go straight home ? " Acton

But she made no answer. She said, after a mo-
ment, " Why have you not been to see me ? "
He said nothing, and then she went on, " Why
don't you answer me ? "

" I am trying to invent an answer," Acton con-

" Have you none ready ? "

" None that I can tell you," he said. " But let
me walk with you now."

" You may do as you like."

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Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 12 of 15)