Henry James.

The Europeans. A sketch online

. (page 13 of 15)
Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 13 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


She moved slowly along the road, and Acton
went with her. Presently he said, " If I had done
as I liked I would have corne to see you several

" Is that invented ? " asked Eugenia.

" No, that is natural. I stayed away because "

" Ah, here comes the reason, then ! "

" Because I wanted to think about you."

" Because you wanted to lie down ! " said the
Baroness. " I have seen you lie down almost
in my drawing-room."

Acton stopped in the road, with a movement
which seemed to beg her to linger a little. She
paused, and he looked at her awhile ; he thought
her very charming. " You are jesting," he said ;
"but if you are really going away it is very

" If I stay," and she gave a little laugh, " it is
more serious still ! "

" When shall you go ? "

" As soon as possible."

" And why ? "

" Why should I stay ? "

" Because we all admire you so."

" That is not a reason. I am admired also in
Europe." And she began to walk homeward

" What could I say to keep you ? " asked Acton.


He wanted to keep her, and it was a fact that he
had been thinking of her for a week. He was in
love with her now ; he was conscious of that, or
lie thought he was; and the only question with
him was whether he could trust her.

" What you can say to keep me? " she repeated.
'As I want very much to go it is not in my in-
terest to tell you. Besides, I can't imagine."

He went on with her in silence ; he was much
more affected by what she had told him than ap-
peared. Ever since that evening of his return
from Newport her image had had a terrible power
to trouble him. What Clifford Wentworth had
told him that had affected him, too, in an ad-
verse sense ; but it had not liberated him from
the discomfort of a charm of which his intelligence
was impatient. " She is not honest, she is not
honest," he kept murmuring to himself. That is
what he had been saying to the summer sky, ten
minutes before. Unfortunately, he was unable to
say it finally, definitively ; and now that he was
near her it seemed to matter wonderfully little.
" She is a woman who will lie," he had said to
himself. Now, as he went along, he reminded
himself of this observation ; but it failed to frighten
him as it had done before. He almost wished he
could make her lie and then convict her of it, so
that he might see how he should like that. He


kept thinking of this as he walked by her side,
while she moved forward with her light, grace-
ful dignity. He had sat with her before ; he had
driven with her; but he had never walked with

" By Jove, how comme il faut she is ! " he said,
as he observed her sidewise. When they reached
the cottage in the orchard she passed into the gate
without asking him to follow ; but she turned
round, as he stood there, to bid him good-night.

" I asked you a question the other night which
you never answered," he said. " Have you sent
off that document liberating yourself ? "

She hesitated for a single moment very nat-
urally. Then, " Yes," she said, simply.

He turned away ; he wondered whether that
would do for his lie. But he saw her again that
evening, for the Baroness reappeared at her un-
cle's. He had little talk with her, however ; two
gentlemen had driven out from Boston, in a buggy,
to call upon Mr. Wentworth and his daughters,
and Madame Minister was an object of absorbing
interest to both of the visitors. One of them, in-
deed, said nothing to her ; he only sat and watched
with intense gravity, and leaned forward solemnly,
presenting his ear (a very large one), as if he
were deaf, whenever she dropped an observation.
He had evidently been impressed with the idea of


her misfortunes and reverses: he never smiled.
His companion adopted a lighter, easier style ; sat
as near as possible to Madame Minister; at-
tempted to draw her out, and proposed every few
moments a new topic of conversation. Eugenia
was less vividly responsive than usual and had less
to say than, from her brilliant reputation, her in-
terlocutor expected, upon the relative merits of
European and American institutions ; but she was
inaccessible to Robert Acton, who roamed about
the piazza with his hands in his pockets, listening
for the grating sound of the buggy from Boston,
as it should be brought round to the side-door.
But he listened in vain, and at last he lost pa-
tience. His sister came to him and begged him to
take her home, and he presently went off with her.
Eugenia observed him leaving the house with Liz-
zie ; in her present mood the fact seemed a contri-
bution to her irritated conviction that he had sev-
eral precious qualities. "Even that mal-elev6e little
girl," she reflected, " makes him do what she wishes."
. She had been sitting just within one of the long
windows that opened upon the piazza; but very
soon after Acton had gone away she got up ab-
ruptly, just when the talkative gentleman from
Boston was asking her what she thought of the
" moral tone " of that city. On the piazza she
encountered Clifford Wentworth, coming round



from the other side of the house. She stopped
him ; she told him she wished to speak to him.

" Why did n't you go home with your cousin ? "
she asked.

Clifford stared. " Why, Robert has taken her,"
he said.

" Exactly so. But you don't usually leave that
to him."

" Oh," said Clifford, " I want to see those fel-
lows start off. They don't know how to drive."

" It is not, then, that you have quarreled with
your cousin ? "

Clifford reflected a moment, and then with a
simplicity which had, for the Baroness, a singu-
larly baffling quality, " Oh, no ; we have made
up ! " he said.

She looked at him for some moments ; but
Clifford had begun to be afraid of the Baroness's
looks, and he endeavored, now, to shift himself
out of their range. " Why do you never come to
see me any more ? " she asked. " Have I dis-
pleased you ? "

" Displeased me ? Well, I guess not ! " said
Clifford, with a laugh.

" Why have n't you come, then ? "

" Well, because I am afraid of getting shut up
in that back room."

Eugenia kept looking at him. " I should think
you would like that."


" Like it ! " cried Clifford.

" I should, if I were a young man calling upon
a charming woman."

"A charming woman isn't much use to me
when I am shut up in that back room ! "

" I am afraid I am not of much use to you any-
where ! " said Madame Miinster. " And yet you
know how I have offered to be."

" Well," observed Clifford, by way of response,
" there comes the buggy."

" Never mind the buggy. Do you know I am
going away ? "

" Do you mean now ? "

"I mean in a few days. I leave this place."

" You are going back to Europe ? "

"To Europe, where you are to come and see

" Oh, yes, I '11 come out there," said Clifford.

" But before that," Eugenia declared, " you
must come and see me here."

" Well, I shall keep clear of that back room ! "
rejoined her simple young kinsman.

The Baroness was silent a moment. " Yes,
you must come frankly boldly. That will be
very much better. I see that now."

" I see it ! " said Clifford. And then, in an
instant, " What 's the matter with that buggy ? "
His practiced ear had apparently detected an un-


natural creak in the wheels of the light vehicle
which had been brought to the portico, and he
hurried away to investigate so grave an anomaly.

The Baroness walked homeward, alone, in the
starlight, asking herself a question. Was she to
have gained nothing was she to have gained
nothing ?

Gertrude Wentworth had held a silent place in
the little circle gathered about the two gentlemen
from Boston. She was not interested in the visit-
ors; she was watching Madame Miinster, as she
constantly watched her. She knew that Eugenia
also was not interested that she was bored ; and
Gertrude was absorbed in study of the problem
how, in spite of her indifference and her absent
attention, she managed to have such a charming
manner. That was the manner Gertrude would
have liked to have ; she determined to cultivate it,
and she wished that to give her the charm
she might in future very often be bored. While
she was engaged in these researches, Felix Young
was looking for Charlotte, to whom he had some-
thing to say. For some time, now, he had had
something to say to Charlotte, and this evening
his sense of the propriety of holding some special
conversation with her had reached the motive-
point resolved itself into acute and delightful
desire. He wandered through the empty rooms on


the large ground-floor of the house, and found her
at last in a small apartment denominated, for rea-
sons not immediately apparent, Mr. Wentworth's
" office : " an extremely neat and well-dusted room,
with an array of law-books, in time-darkened
sheep-skin, on one of the walls ; a large map of
the United States on the other, flanked on either
side by an old steel engraving of one of Raphael's
Madonnas; and on the third several glass cases
containing specimens of butterflies and beetles.
Charlotte was sitting by a lamp, embroidering a
slipper. Felix did not ask for whom the slipper
was destined ; he saw it was very large.

He moved a chair toward her and sat down,
smiling as usual, but, at first, not speaking. She
watched him, with her needle poised, and with a
certain shy, fluttered look which she always wore
when he approached her. There was something
in Felix's manner that quickened her modesty,
her self-consciousness ; if absolute choice had been
given her she would have preferred never to find
herself alone with him ; and in fact, though she
thought him a most brilliant, distinguished, and
well-meaning person, she had exercised a much
larger amount of tremulous tact than he had ever
suspected, to circumvent the accident of t$te-d-tete.
Poor Charlotte could have given no account of the
matter that would not have seemed unjust both to


herself and to her foreign kinsman ; she could only
have said or rather, she would never have said
it that she did not like so much gentleman's so-
ciety at once. She was not reassured, accordingly,
when he began, emphasizing his words with a kind
of admiring radiance, " My dear cousin, I am en-
chanted at finding you alone."

" I am very often alone," Charlotte observed.
Then she quickly added, " I don't mean I am
lonely ! "

" So clever a woman as you is never lonely,"
said Felix. "You have company in your beauti-
ful work." And he glanced at the big slipper.

" I like to work," declared Charlotte, simply.

" So do I ! " said her companion. "And I like
to idle too. But it is not to idle that I have come
in search of you. I want to tell you something
very particular."

" Well," murmured Charlotte ; " of course, if
you must "

" My dear cousin," said Felix, " it 's nothing
that a young lady may not listen to. At least I
suppose it isn't. But voyons ; you shall judge.
I am terribly in love."

" Well, Felix," began Miss Wentworth, gravely.
But her very gravity appeared to check the de-
velopment of her phrase.

"I am in love with your sister; but in love,


Charlotte in love ! " the young man pursued.
Charlotte had laid her work in her lap ; her hands
were tightly folded on top of it ; she was staring
at the carpet. " In short, I'm in love, dear lady,"
said Felix. " Now I want you to help me."

"To help you?" asked Charlotte, with a

"I don't mean with Gertrude; she and I have
a perfect understanding ; and oh, how well she un-
derstands one ! I mean with your father and with
the world in general, including Mr. Brand."

"Poor Mr. Brand!" said Charlotte, slowly, but
with a simplicity which made it evident to Felix
that the young minister had not repeated to Miss
Wentworth the talk that had lately occurred be-
tween them.

" Ah, now, don't say ' poor ' Mr. Brand ! I
don't pity Mr. Brand at all. But I pity your
father a little, and I don't want to displease him.
Therefore, you see, I want you to plead for me.
You don't think me very shabby, eh ? "

"Shabby?" exclaimed Charlotte softly, for
whom Felix represented the most polished and
iridescent qualities of mankind.

" I don't mean in my appearance," rejoined
Felix, laughing; for Charlotte was looking at his
boots. " I mean in my conduct. You don't think
it 's an abuse of hospitality ? "


" To to care for Gertrude ? " asked Char-

" To have really expressed one's self. Because
I have expressed myself, Charlotte; I must tell
you the whole truth I have ! Of course I want
to marry her and here is the difficulty. I held
off as long as I could ; but she is such a terribly
fascinating person ! She 's a strange creature,
Charlotte ; I don't believe you really know her."
Charlotte took up her tapestry again, and again
she laid it down. " I know your father has had
higher views," Felix continued ; " and I think you
have shared them. You have wanted to marry
her to Mr. Brand."

" Oh, no," said Charlotte, very earnestly. " Mr.
Brand has always admired her. But we did not
want anything of that kind."

Felix stared. " Surely, marriage was what you

" Yes ; but we did n't wish to force her."

" A la bonne heure ! That 's very unsafe you
know. With these arranged marriages there is
often the deuce to pay."

" Oh, Felix," said Charlotte, "we didn't want
to c arrange.' "

" I am delighted to hear that. Because in such
cases even when the woman is a thoroughly
good creature she can't help looking for a com-


pensation. A charming fellow comes along
and voild ! " Charlotte sat mutely staring at the
floor, and Felix presently added, " Do go on with
your slipper, I like to see you work."

Charlotte took up her variegated canvas, and
began to draw vague blue stitches in a big round
rose. " If Gertrude is so so strange," she said,
" why do you want to marry her ? "

" Ah, that 's it, dear Charlotte ! I like strange
women ; I always have liked them. Ask Eugenia !
And Gertrude is wonderful ; she says the most
beautiful things ! "

Charlotte looked at him, almost for the first
time, as if her meaning required to be severe-
ly pointed. " You have a great influence over

" Yes and no ! " said Felix. " I had at first,
I think ; but now it is six of one and half-a-dozen
of the other; it is reciprocal. She affects me
strongly for she is so strong. I don't believe
you know her ; it 's a beautiful nature."

" Oh, yes, Felix ; I have always thought Ger-
trude's nature beautiful."

"Well, if you think so now," cried the young
man, " wait and see ! She 's a folded flower.
Let me pluck her from the parent tree and you
will see her expand. I'm sure you will enjoy


" I don't understand you," murmured Charlotte.
" I can't, Felix."

"Well, you can understand this that I beg
you to say a good word for me to your father.
He regards me, I naturally believe, as a very light
fellow, a Bohemian, an irregular character. Tell
him I am not all this ; if I ever was, I have for-
gotten it. I am fond of pleasure yes ; but of
innocent pleasure. Pain is all one ; but in pleas-
ure, you know, there are tremendous distinctions.
Say to him that Gertrude is a folded flower and
that I am a serious man ! "

Charlotte got up from her chair slowly rolling
up her work. " We know you are very kind to
every one, Felix," she said. " But we are ex-
tremely sorry for Mr. Brand."

" Of course you are you especially ! Because,'
added Felix hastily, " you are a woman. But I
don't pity him. It ought to be enough for any
man that you take an interest in him."

" It is not enough for Mr. Brand," said Char-
lotte, simply. And she stood there a moment, as
if waiting conscientiously for anything more that
Felix might have to say.

" Mr. Brand is not so keen about his marriage
as he was," he presently said. " He is afraid of
your sister. He begins to think she is wicked."

Charlotte looked at him now with beautiful, ap-


pealing eyes eyes into which he saw the tears
rising. " Oh, Felix, Felix," she cried, " what
have you done to her ? "

" I think she was asleep ; I have waked her

But Charlotte, apparently, was really crying ,
she walked straight out of the room. And Felix,
standing there and meditating, had the apparent
brutality to take satisfaction in her tears.

Late that night Gertrude, silent and serious,
came to him in the garden ; it was a kind of ap-
pointment. Gertrude seemed to like appointments.
She plucked a handful of heliotrope and stuck it
into the front of her dress, but she said nothing.
They walked together along one of the paths, and
Felix looked at the great, square, hospitable house,
massing itself vaguely in the starlight, with all its
windows darkened.

" I have a little of a bad conscience," he said.
" I oughtn't to meet you this way till I have got
your father's consent."

Gertrude looked at him for some time. " I
don't understand you."

" You very often say that," he said. " Consid-
ering how little we understand each other, it is a
wonder how well we et on ! "

"We have done nothing but meet since you


came here but meet alone. The first time I
ever saw you we were alone," Gertrude went on.
" What is the difference now ? Is it because it is
at night ? "

" The difference, Gertrude," said Felix, stop-
ping in the path, " the difference is that I love you
more more than before ! " And then they stood
there, talking, in the warm stillness and in front
of the closed dark house. " I have been talking
to Charlotte been trying to bespeak her inter-
est with your father. She has a kind of sublime
perversity ; was ever a woman so bent upon cut-
ting off her own head ? "

" You are too careful," said Gertrude ; " you are
too diplomatic."

" Well," cried the young man, " I didn't come
here to make any one unhappy ! "

Gertrude looked round her awhile in the odor-
ous darkness. "I will do anything you please,''
she said.

" For instance ? " asked Felix, smiling.

" I will go away. I will do anything you

Felix looked at her in solemn admiration.
" Yes, we will go away," he said. " But we will
make peace first."

Gertrude looked about her again, and then she


broke out, passionately, "Why do they try to
make one feel guilty ? Why do they make it so
difficult ? Why can't they understand ? "

" I will make them understand ! " said Felix.
He drew her hand into his arm, and they wan-
dered about in the garden, talking, for an hour.


FELIX allowed Charlotte time to plead his
cause; and then, on the third day, he sought an
interview with his uncle. It was in the morning ;
Mr. Wentworth was in his office ; and, on going
in, Felix found that Charlotte was at that mo-
ment in conference with her father. She had, in
fact, been constantly near him since her interview
with Felix; she had made up her mind that it was
her duty to repeat very literally her cousin's pas-
sionate plea. She had accordingly followed Mr.
Wentworth about like a shadow, in order to find
him at hand when she should have mustered suf-
ficient composure to speak. For poor Charlotte,
in this matter, naturally lacked composure ; espe-
cially when she meditated upon some of Felix's in-
timations. It was not cheerful work, at the best,
to keep giving small hammer-taps to the coffin
in which one had laid away, for burial, the poor
little unacknowledged offspring of one's own mis-
behaving heart ; and the occupation was not ren-
dered more agreeable by the fact that the ghost of
one's stifled dream had been summoned from the


shades by the strange, bold words of a talkative
young foreigner. What had Felix meant by say-
ing that Mr. Brand was not so keen ? To herself
her sister's justly depressed suitor had shown no
sign of faltering. Charlotte trembled all over
when she allowed herself to believe for an instant
now and then that, privately, Mr. Brand might
have faltered ; and as it seemed to give more force
to Felix's words to repeat them to her father, she
was waiting until she should have taught herself
to be very calm. But she had now begun to tell
Mr. Wentworth that she was extremely anxious.
She was proceeding to develop this idea, to enu-
merate the objects of her anxiety, when Felix came

Mr. Wentworth sat there, with his legs crossed,
lifting his dry, pure countenance from the Boston
"Advertiser." Felix entered smiling, as if he had
something particular to say, and his uncle looked
at him as if he both expected and deprecated this
event. Felix vividly expressing himself had come
to be a formidable figure to his uncle, who had not
yet arrived at definite views as to a proper tone.
For the first time in his life, as I have said, Mr.
Wentworth shirked a responsibility ; he earnestly
desired that it might not be laid upon him to
determine how his nephew's lighter propositions
should be treated. He lived under an apprehen-


sion that Felix might yet beguile him into assent to
doubtful inductions, and his conscience instructed
him that the best form of vigilance was the avoid-
ance of discussion. He hoped that the pleasant
episode of his nephew's visit would pass away
without a further lapse of consistency.

Felix looked at Charlotte with an air of under-
standing, and then at Mr. Wentworth, and then
at Charlotte again. Mr. Wentworth bent his re-
fined eyebrows upon his nephew and stroked down
the first page of the " Advertiser." " I ought to
have brought a bouquet," said Felix, laughing.
" In France they always do."

" We are not in France," observed Mr. Went-
worth, gravely, while Charlotte earnestly gazed at

"No, luckily, we are not in France, where I am
Afraid I should have a harder time of it. My dear
Charlotte, have you rendered me that delightful
service ? " And Felix bent toward her as if some
one had been presenting him.

Charlotte looked at him with almost frightened
eyes ; and Mr. Wentworth thought this might be
the beginning of a discussion. " What is the
bouquet for ? " he inquired, by way of turning it

Felix gazed at him, smiling. " Pour la de-
mande ! " And then, drawing up a chair, he


seated himself, hat in hand, with a kind of con-
scious solemnity.

Presently he turned to Charlotte again. " My
good Charlotte, my admirable Charlotte," he mur-
mured, " you have not played me false you
have not sided against me ? "

Charlotte got up, trembling extremely, though
imperceptibly. " You must speak to my father
yourself," she said. "I think you are clever

But Felix, rising too, begged her to remain.
" I can speak better to an audience ! " he declared.

"I hope it is nothing disagreeable," said Mr.

" It 's something delightful, for me ! " And Fe-
lix, laying down his hat, clasped his hands a little
between his knees. " My dear uncle," he said,
" I desire, very earnestly, to marry your daughter
Gertrude." Charlotte sank slowly into her chair
again, and Mr. Wentworth sat staring, with a
light in his face that might have been flashed back
from an iceberg. He stared and stared ; he said
nothing. Felix fell back, with his hands still
clasped. " Ah you don't like it. I was afraid ! "
He blushed deeply, and Charlotte noticed it re-
marking to herself that it was the first time she
had ever seen him blush. She began to blush



herself and to reflect that he might be much in

" This is very abrupt," said Mr. Wentworth, at

" Have you never suspected it, dear uncle ? "
Felix inquired. "Well, that proves how discreet
I have been. Yes, I thought you would n't like

" It is very serious, Felix," said Mr. Went-

" You tbink it 's an abuse of hospitality ! " ex-
claimed Felix, smiling again.

" Of hospitality ? an abuse ? " his uncle re-
peated very slowly,

" That is what Felix said to me," said Char-
lotte, conscientiously.

" Of course you think so ; don't defend your-
self ! " Felix pursued. " It is an abuse, obviously ;
the most I can claim is that it is perhaps a par-
donable one. I simply fell head over heels in
love; one can hardly help that. Though you are
Gertrude's progenitor I don't believe you know
how attractive she is. Dear uncle, she contains the
elements of a singularly I may say a strangely
charming woman ! "

" She has always been to me an object of ex-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15

Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 13 of 15)