Henry James.

The Europeans. A sketch online

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treme concern," said Mr. Wentworth. " We have
always desired her happiness."


" Well, here it is ! " Felix declared. " I will
make her happy. She believes it, too. Now
had n't you noticed that ? "

"I had noticed that she was much changed,"
Mr. Wentworth declared, in a tone whose unex-
pressive, unimpassioned quality appeared to Felix
to reveal a profundity of opposition. " It may be
that she is only becoming what you call a charm-
ing woman."

" Gertrude, at heart, is so earnest, so true," said
Charlotte, very softly, fastening her eyes upon her

" I delight to hear you praise her ! " cried Fe-

" She has a very peculiar temperament," said
Mr. Wentworth.

" Eh, even that is praise ! " Felix rejoined. " I
know I am not the man you might have looked
for. I have no position and no fortune ; I can
give Gertrude no place in the world. A place in
the world that 's what she ought to have ; that
would bring her out."

" A place to do her duty ! " remarked Mr.

" Ah, how charmingly she does it her duty ! "
Felix exclaimed, with a radiant face. " What an
exquisite conception she has of it ! But she comes
honestly by that, dear uncle." Mr. Wentworth


and Charlotte both looked at him as if they were
watching a greyhound doubling. " Of course
with me she will hide her light under a bushel,"
he continued ; " I being the bushel ! Now I know
you like me you have certainly proved it. But
you think I am frivolous and penniless and
shabby I Granted granted a thousand times
granted. I have been a loose fish a fiddler, a
painter, an actor. But there is this to be said :
In the first place, I fancy you exaggerate ; you
lend me qualities I have n't had. I have been a
Bohemian yes ; but in Bohemia I always passed
for a gentleman. I wish you could see some of my
old camarades they would tell you ! It was the
liberty I liked, but not the opportunities ! My
sins were all peccadilloes ; I always respected my
neighbor's property my neighbor's wife. Do
you see, dear uncle ? " Mr. Wentworth ought to
have seen ; his cold blue eyes were intently fixed.
"And then, Jest fini! It's all over. Je me
range. I have settled down to a jog-trot. I find
I can earn my living a very fair one by go-
ing about the world and painting bad portraits.
It 's not a glorious profession, but it is a perfectly
respectable one. You won't deny that, eh ? Go-
ing about the world, I say ? I must not deny that,
for that I am afraid I shall always do in quest
of agreeable sitters. When I say agreeable, I


mean susceptible of delicate flattery and prompt
of payment. Gertrude declares she is willing to
share my wanderings and help to pose my models.
She even thinks it will be charming ; and that
brings me to my third point. Gertrude likes me,
Encourage her a little and she will tell you so."

Felix's tongue obviously moved much faster
than the imagination of his auditors; his elo-
quence, like the rocking of a boat in a deep,
smooth lake, made long eddies of silence. And
he seemed to be pleading and chattering still,
with his brightly eager smile, his uplifted eye-
brows, his expressive mouth, after he had ceased
speaking, and while, with his glance quickly
turning from the father to the daughter, he sat
waiting for the effect of his appeal. "It is not
your want of means," said Mr. Wentworth, after
a period of severe reticence.

" Now it's delightful of you to say that ! Only
don't say it 's my want of character. Because I
have a character I assure you I have ; a small
one, a little slip of a thing, but still something

" Ought you not to tell Felix that it is Mr.
Brand, father ? " Charlotte asked, with infinite

"It is not only Mr. Brand," Mr. Wentworth
solemnly declared. And he looked at his knee


for a long time. " It is difficult to explain," he
said. He wished, evidently, to be very just. "It
rests on moral grounds, as Mr. Brand says. It is
the question whether it is the best thing for Ger-

" What is better what is better, dear uncle ? "
Felix rejoined urgently, rising in his urgency and
standing before Mr. Wentworth. His uncle had
been looking at his knee ; but when Felix moved
he transferred his gaze to the handle of the door
which faced him. " It is usually a fairly good
thing for a girl to marry the man she loves ! "
cried Felix.

While he spoke, Mr. Wentworth saw the handle
of the door begin to turn ; the door opened and
remained slightly ajar, until Felix had delivered
himself of the cheerful axiom just quoted. Then
it opened altogether and Gertrude stood there.
She looked excited ; there was a spark in her
sweet, dull eyes. She came in slowly, but with
an air of resolution, and, closing the door softly,
looked round at the three persons present. Felix
went to her with tender gallantry, holding out his
hand, and Charlotte made a place for her on the
sofa. But Gertrude put her hands behind her and
made no motion to sit down.

" We are talking of you ! " said Felix.

"I know it," she answered. "That's why I


came." And she fastened her eyes on her father,
who returned her gaze very fixedly. In his own
cold blue eyes there was a kind of pleading, rea-
soning light.

"It is better you should be present," said Mr.
Wentworth. " We are discussing your future."

" Why discuss it ? " asked Gertrude. " Leave
it to me."

"That is, to me! " cried Felix.

" I leave it, in the last resort, to a greater wis-
dom than ours," said the old man.

Felix rubbed his forehead gently. " But en at-
tendant the last resort, your father lacks confi-
dence," he said to Gertrude.

" Have n't you confidence in Felix? " Gertrude
was frowning ; there was something about her that
her father and Charlotte had never seen. Char-
lotte got up and came to her, as if to put her arm
round her; but suddenly, she seemed afraid to
touch her.

Mr. Wentworth, however, was not afraid. " I
have had more confidence in Felix than in you,"
he said.

" Yes, you have never had confidence in me
never, never ! I don't know why."

" Oh sister, sister! " murmured Charlotte.

" You have always needed advice," Mr. Went-
worth declared. " You have had a difficult tem-


" Why do you call it difficult ? It might have
been easy, if you had allowed it. You would n't
let me be natural. I don't know what you wanted
to make of me. Mr. Brand was the worst."

Charlotte at last took hold of her sister. She
laid her two hands upon Gertrude's arm. "He
cares so much for you," she almost whispered.

Gertrude looked at her intently an instant ; then
kissed her. " No, he does not," she said.

" I have never seen you so passionate," observed
Mr. Wentworth, with an air of indignation miti-
gated by high principles.

" I am sorry if I offend you," said Gertrude.

"You offend me, but I don't think you are

" Yes, father, she is sorry," said Charlotte.

"I would even go further, dear uncle," Felix
interposed. " I would question whether she really
offends you. How can she offend you ? "

To this Mr. Wentworth made no immediate
answer. Then, in a moment, " She has not
profited as we hoped."

" Profited ? Ah voild ! " Felix exclaimed.

Gertrude was very pale; she stood looking
down. " I have told Felix I would go away with
him," she presently said.

" Ah, you have said some admirable things ! "
cried the young man.


" Go away, sister ? " asked Charlotte.

" Away away ; to some strange country."

" That is to frighten you," said Felix, smiling
at Charlotte.

"To what do you call it?" asked Gertrude,
turning an instant to Felix. " To Bohemia."

" Do you propose to dispense with prelimina-
ries ? " asked Mr. Went worth, getting up.

" Dear uncle, vous plaisantez ! " cried Felix.
" It seems to me that these are preliminaries."

Gertrude turned to her father. "I have prof-
ited," she said. " You wanted to form my char-
acter. Well, my character is formed for my
age. I know what I want; I have chosen. I
am determined to marry this gentleman."

" You had better consent, sir," said Felix very

" Yes, sir, you had better consent," added a
very different voice.

Charlotte gave a little jump, and the others
turned to the direction from which it had come.
It was the voice of Mr. Brand, who had stepped
through the long window which stood open to the
piazza. He stood patting his forehead with his
pocket-handkerchief ; he was very much flushed ;
his face wore a singular expression.

" Yes, sir, you had better consent," Mr. Brand
repeated, coming forward. " I know what Miss
Gertrude means."


" My dear friend ! " murmured Felix, laying his
hand caressingly on the young minister's arm.

Mr. Brand looked at him ; then at Mr. Went-
worth ; lastly at Gertrude. He did not look at
Charlotte. But Charlotte's earnest eyes were fast-
ened to his own countenance ; they were asking
an immense question of it. The answer to this
question could not come all at once ; but some
of the elements of it were there. It was one of
the elements of it that Mr. Brand was very red,
that he held his head very high, that he had a
bright, excited eye and an air of embarrassed
boldness the air of a man who has taken a re-
solve, in the execution of which he apprehends the
failure, not of his moral, but of his personal, re-
sources. Charlotte thought he looked very grand ;
and it is incontestable that Mr. Brand felt very
grand. This, in fact, was the grandest moment
of his life ; and it was natural that such a moment
should contain opportunities of awkwardness for
a large, stout, modest young man.

" Come in, sir," said Mr. Went worth, with an
angular wave of his hand. " It is very proper
that you should be present."

"I know what you are talking about," Mr,
Brand rejoined. " I heard what your nephew

" And he heard what you said I " exclaimed
Felix, patting him again on the arm.


"I am not sure that I understood," said Mr.
Wentworth, who had angularity in his voice as
well as in his gestures.

Gertrude had been looking hard at her former
suitor. She had been puzzled, like her sister ; but
her imagination moved more quickly than Char-
lotte's. " Mr. Brand asked you to let Felix take
me away," she said to her father.

The young minister gave her a strange look.
" It is not because I don't want to see you any
more," he declared, in a tone intended as it were
for publicity.

" I should n't think you would want to see me
any more," Gertrude answered, gently.

Mr. Wentworth stood staring. " Is n't this
rather a change, sir ? " he inquired.

" Yes, sir." And Mr. Brand looked anywhere ;
only still not at Charlotte. " Yes, sir," he re-
peated. And he held his handkerchief a few mo-
ments to his lips.

" Where are our moral grounds ? " demanded
Mr. Wentworth, who had always thought Mr.
Brand would be just the thing for a younger
daughter with a peculiar temperament.

" It is sometimes very moral to change, you
know," suggested Felix.

Charlotte had softly left her sister's side. She
had edged gently toward her father, and now her


hand found its way into his arm. Mr. Wentworth
had folded up the "Advertiser" into a surpris-
ingly small compass, and, holding the roll with one
hand, he earnestly clasped it with the other. Mr.
Brand was looking at him ; and yet, though Char-
lotte was so near, his eyes failed to meet her own.
Gertrude watched her sister.

" It is better not to speak of change," said Mr.
Brand. " In one sense there is no change. There
was something I desired something I asked of
you ; I desire something still I ask it of you."
And he paused a moment ; Mr. Wentworth looked
bewildered. " I should like, in my ministerial
capacity, to unite this young couple."

Gertrude, watching her sister, saw Charlotte
flushing intensely, and Mr. Wentworth felt her
pressing upon his arm. " Heavenly Powers ! "
murmured Mr. Wentworth. And it was the near-
est approach to profanity he had ever made.

" That is very nice ; that is very handsome I "
Felix exclaimed.

" I don't understand," said Mr. Wentworth ;
though it was plain that every one else did.

"That is very beautiful, Mr. Brand," said Ger-
trude, emulating Felix.

" I should like to marry you. It will give me
great pleasure."

" As Gertrude says, it 's a beautiful idea," said


Felix was smiling, but Mr. Brand was not even
trying to. He himself treated his proposition very
seriously. " I have thought of it, and I should
like to do it," he affirmed.

Charlotte, meanwhile, was staring with ex-
panded eyes. Her imagination, as I have said,
was not so rapid as her sister's, but now it had
taken several little jumps. "Father," she mur-
mured, " consent ! "

Mr. Brand heard her; he looked away. Mr.
Wentworth, evidently, had no imagination at all.
" I have always thought," he began, slowly, "that
Gertrude's character required a special line of de-

" Father," repeated Charlotte, " consent."

Then, at last, Mr. Brand looked at her. Her
father felt her leaning more heavily upon his
folded arm than she had ever done before ; and
this, with a certain sweet faintness in her voice,
made him wonder what was the matter. He
looked down at her and saw the encounter of her
gaze with the young theologian's ; but even this
told him nothing, and he continued to be bewil-
dered. Nevertheless, " I consent," he said at last,
" since Mr. Brand recommends it."

"I should like to perform the ceremony very
soon," observed Mr. Brand, with a sort of solemn


" Come, come, that 's charming ! " cried Felix,

Mr. Wentworth sank into his chair. " Doubt-
less, when you. understand it," he said, with a cer-
tain judicial asperity.

Gertrude went to her sister and led her away,
and Felix having passed his arm into Mr. Brand's
and stepped out of the long window with him, the
old man was left sitting there in unillumined per-

Felix did no work that day. In the afternoon,
with Gertrude, he got into one of the boats and
floated about with idly-dipping oars. They talked
a good deal of Mr. Brand though not exclu-

" That was a fine stroke," said Felix. " It was
really heroic."

Gertrude sat musing, with her eyes upon the
ripples. " That was what he wanted to be ; he
wanted to do something fine."

" He won't be comfortable till he has married
us," said Felix. u So much the better."

" He wanted to be magnanimous ; he wanted to
have a fine moral pleasure. I know him so well,"
Gertrude went on. Felix looked af> her ; she spoke
slowly, gazing at the clear water. " He thought
of it a great deal, night and day. He thought it
would be beautiful. At last he made up his mind


that it was his duty, his duty to do just that
nothing less than that. He felt exalted ; he felt
sublime. That 's how he likes to feel. It is bet-
ter for him than if I had listened to him."

" It 's better for me," smiled Felix. " But do
you know, as regards the sacrifice, that I don't be-
lieve he admired you when this decision was taken
quite so much as he had done a fortnight before ? "

" He never admired me. He admires Charlotte ;
he pitied me. I know him so well."

" Well, then, he did n't pity you so much."

Gertrude looked at Felix a little, smiling. " You
should n't permit yourself," she said, " to diminish
the splendor of his action. He admires Charlotte,"
she repeated.

" That 's capital ! " said Felix laughingly, and
dipping his oars. I cannot say exactly to which
member of Gertrude's phrase he alluded ; but he
dipped his oars again, and they kept floating about.

Neither Felix nor his sister, on that day, was
present at Mr. Wentworth's at the evening repast.
The two occupants of the chalet dined together,
and the young man informed his companion that
his marriage was now an assured fact. Eugenia
congratulated him, and replied that if he were as
reasonable a husband as he had been, on the whole,
a brother, his wife would have nothing to com-
plain of.


Felix looked at her a moment, smiling. "I
hope," he said, " not to be thrown back on my

"It is very true," Eugenia rejoined, " that one's
reason is dismally flat. It 's a bed with the mat-
tress removed."

But the brother and sister, later in the even-
ing, crossed over to the larger house, the Baroness
desiring to compliment her prospective sister-in-
law. They found the usual circle upon the piaz-
za, with the exception of Clifford Wentworth and
Lizzie Acton ; and as every one stood up as usual
to welcome the Baroness, Eugenia had an admir-
ing audience for her compliment to Gertrude.

Robert Acton stood on the edge of the piazza,
leaning against one of the white columns, so that
he found himself next to Eugenia while she ac-
quitted herself of a neat little discourse of con-

" I shall be so glad to know you better," she
said ; " I have seen so much less of you than I
should have liked. Naturally; now I see the
reason why ! You will love me a little, won't
you ? I think I may say I gain on being known."
And terminating these observations with the soft-
est cadence of her voice, the Baroness imprinted
a sort of grand official kiss upon Gertrude's fore-


Increased familiarity had not, to Gertrude's
imagination, diminished the mysterious impress-
iveness of Eugenia's personality, and she felt flat-
tered and transported by this little ceremony.
Robert Acton also seemed to admire it, as he
admired so many of the gracious manifestations
of Madame Minister's wit.

They had the privilege of making him restless,
and on this occasion he walked away, suddenly,
with his hands in his pockets, and then came
back and leaned against his column. Eugenia
was now complimenting her uncle upon his daugh-
ter's engagement, and Mr. Wentworth was listen-
ing with his usual plain yet refined politeness.
It is to be supposed that by this time his percep-
tion of the mutual relations of the young people
who surrounded him had become more acute ; but
he still took the matter very seriously, and he
was not at all exhilarated.

" Felix will make her a good husband," said
Eugenia. " He will be a charming companion ;
he has a great quality indestructible gayety."

" You think that's a great quality ? " asked the
old man.

Eugenia meditated, with her eyes upon his.
" You think one gets tired of it, eh ? "

u I don't know that I am prepared to say that,"
said Mr. Wentworth.



" Well, we will say, then, that it is tiresome for
others but delightful for one's self. A woman's
husband, you know, is supposed to be her second
self ; so that, for Felix and Gertrude, gayety will
be a common property."

" Gertrude was always very gay," said Mr.
Wentworth. He was trying to follow this argu-

Robert Acton took his hands out of his pockets
and came a little nearer to the Baroness. " You
say you gain by being known," he said. " One
certainly gains by knowing you."

" What have you gained ? " asked Eugenia.

" An immense amount of wisdom."

"That's a questionable advantage for a man
who was already so wise ! "

Acton shook his head. " No, I was a great fool
before I knew you ! "

" And being a fool you made my acquaintance ?
You are very complimentary."

" Let me keep it up," said Acton, laughing.
" I hope, for our pleasure, that your brother's
marriage will detain you."

" Why should I stop for my brother's marriage
when I would not stop for my own ? " asked the

" Why should n't you stop in either case, now
that, as you say, you have dissolved that mechan-
ical tie that bound you to Kurope ? "


The Baroness looked at him a moment. " As I
say ? You look as if you doubted it."

" Ah," said Acton, returning her glance, " that
is a remnant of my old folly ! We have other at-
tractions," he added. " We are to have another

But she seemed not to hear him ; she was look-
ing at him still. " My word was never doubted
before," she said.

" We are to have another marriage," Acton re-
peated, smiling.

Then she appeared to understand. " Another
marriage ? " And she looked at the others. Fe-
lix was chattering to Gertrude ; Charlotte, at a
distance, was watching them ; and Mr. Brand, in
quite another quarter, was turning his back to
them, and, with his hands under his coat-tails and
his large head on one side, was looking at the
small, tender crescent of a young moon. " It
ought to be Mr. Brand and Charlotte," said Eu-
genia, " but it does n't look like it."

"There," Acton answered, "you must judge
just now by contraries. There is more than there
looks to be. I expect that combination one of
these days ; but that is not what I meant."

" Well," said the Baroness, " I never guess my
own lovers ; so I can't guess other people's."

Acton gave a loud laugh, and he was about to


add a rejoinder when Mr. Wentworth approached
his niece. " You will be interested to hear," the
old man said, with a momentary aspiration to-
ward jocosity, " of another matrimonial venture in
our little circle."

"I was just telling the Baroness," Acton ob-

u Mr. Acton was apparently about to announce
his own engagement," said Eugenia.

Mr. Wentworth's jocosity increased. " It is
not exactly that; but it is in the family. Clif-
ford, hearing this morning that Mr. Brand had
expressed a desire to tie the nuptial knot for his
sister, took it into his head to arrange that, while
his hand was in, our good friend should perform a
like ceremony for himself and Lizzie Acton."

The Baroness threw back her head and smiled
at her uncle; then turning, with an intenser ra-
diance, to Robert Acton, " I am certainly very
stupid not to have thought of that," she said. Ac-
ton looked down at his boots, as if he thought
he had perhaps reached the limits of legitimate
experimentation, and for a moment Eugenia said
nothing more. It had been, in fact, a sharp knock,
and she needed to recover herself. This was done,
however, promptly enough. " Where are the young
people ? " she asked.

" They are spending the evening with my


" Is not the thing very sudden? "

Acton looked up. " Extremely sudden. There
had been a tacit understanding ; but within a day
or two Clifford appears to have received some mys-
terious impulse to precipitate the affair."

" The impulse," said the Baroness, *' was the
charms of your very pretty sister."

" But my sister's charms were an old story ; he
had always known her." Acton had begun to
experiment again.

Here, however, it was evident the Baroness
would not help him. " Ah, one can't say ! Clif-
ford is very young ; but he is a nice boy."

" He's a likeable sort of boy, and he will be a
rich man." This was Acton's last experiment.
Madame Miinster turned away.

She made but a short visit and Felix took her
home. In her little drawing-room she went almost
straight to the mirror over the chimney-piece, and,
with a candle uplifted, stood looking into it. "I
shall not wait for your marriage," she said to her
brother. " To morrow my maid shall pack up."

" My dear sister," Felix exclaimed, " we are to
be married immediately ! Mr. Brand is too un-

But Eugenia, turning and still holding her
candle aloft, only looked about the little sitting-
room at her gimcracks and curtains and cushions.


"My maid shall pack up," she repeated. " Bont6
divine, what rubbish I I feel like a strolling act-
ress ; these are my 4 properties.' "

" Is the play over, Eugenia ? " asked Felix.

She gave him a sharp glance. " I have spoken
my part."

" With great applause ! " said her brother.

"Oh, applause applause!" she murmured.
And she gathered up two or three of her dispersed
draperies. She glanced at the beautiful brocade,
and then, " I don't see how I can have endured
it I " she said.

" Endure it a little longer. Come to my wed-

" Thank you ; that 's your affair. My affairs
are elsewhere."

" Where are you going ? "

" To Germany by the first ship."

" You have decided not to marry Mr. Acton ? "

" I have refused him," said Eugenia.

Her brother looked at her in silence. " I am
sorry," he rejoined at last. " But I was very dis-
creet, as you asked me to be. I said nothing."

" Please continue, then, not to allude to the
matter," said Eugenia.

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Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 14 of 15)