Henry James.

The Europeans. A sketch online

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" Nor write to the Reigning Prince ? "


" I shall write to him that they evidently know
nothing about him over here."

" He will not believe you," said the young man.
"I advise you to let him alone."

Felix himself continued to be in high good hu-
mor. Brought up among ancient customs and in
picturesque cities, he yet found plenty of local
color in the little Puritan metropolis. That even-
ing, after dinner, he told his sister that he should
go forth early on the morrow to look up their cous-

" You are very impatient," said Eugenia.

" What can be more natural," he asked, "after
seeing all those pretty girls to-day ? If one's cous-
ins are of that pattern, the sooner one knows them
the better."

"Perhaps they are not," said Eugenia. "We
ought to have brought some letters to some
other people."

" The other people would not be our kinsfolk."

"Possibly they would be none the worse for
that," the Baroness replied.

Her brother looked at her with his eyebrows
lifted. " That was not what you said when you
first proposed to me that we should come out here
and fraternize with our relatives. You said that
it was the prompting of natural affection; and
when I suggested some reasons against it you


declared that the voix du sang should go before

" You remember all that ? " asked the Baroness.

"Vividly ! I was greatly moved by it."

She was walking up and down the room, as she
had done in the morning ; she stopped in her walk
and looked at her brother. She apparently was
going to say something, but she checked herself
and resumed her walk. Then, in a few moments,
she said something different, which had the effect
of an explanation of the suppression of her earlier
thought. " You will never be anything but a
child, dear brother."

" One would suppose that you, madam," an-
swered Felix, laughing, " were a thousand years

" I am sometimes," said the Baroness.

" I will go, then, and announce to our cousins
the arrival of a personage so extraordinary. They
will immediately come and pay you their respects."

Eugenia paced the length of the room again,
and then she stopped before her brother, laying
her hand upon his arm. " They are not to come
and see me," she said. " You are not to allow
that. That is not the way I shall meet them first."
And in answer to his interrogative glance she went
on. "You will go and examine, and report. You
will come back and tell me who they are and what


they are ; their number, gender, their respective
ages all about them. Be sure you observe
everything ; be ready to describe to me the local-
ity, the accessories how shall I say it ? the
mise en sc&ne. Then, at my own time, at my own
hour, under circumstances of my own choosing, I
will go to them. I will present myself I will
appear before them ! " said the Baroness, this time
phrasing her idea with a certain frankness.

" And what message am I to take to them ? "
asked Felix, who had a lively faith in the justness
of his sister's arrangements.

She looked at him a moment at his expression
of agreeable veracity ; and, with that justness that
he admired, she replied, " Say what you please.
Tell my story in the way that -seems to you most
natural." And she bent her forehead for him
to kiss.


THE next day was splendid, as Felix had proph-
esied ; if the winter had suddenly leaped into
spring, the spring had for the moment as quickly
leaped into summer. This was an observation
made by a young girl who came out of a large
square house in the country, and strolled about
in the spacious garden which separated it from a
muddy road. The flowering shrubs and the neatly-
disposed plants were basking in the abundant light
and warmth ; the transparent shade of the great
elms they were magnificent trees seemed to
thicken by the hour ; and the intensely habitual
stillness offered a submissive medium to the sound
of a distant church-bell. The young girl listened
to the church-bell ; but she was not dressed for
church. She was bare-headed ; she wore a white
muslin waist, with an embroidered border, and the
skirt of her dress was of colored muslin. She was
a young lady of some two or three and twenty
years of age, and though a young person of her
sex walking bare-headed in a garden, of a Sun-
day morning in spring-time, can, in the nature


of things, never be a displeasing object, you
would not have pronounced this innocent Sab-
bath-breaker especially pretty. She was tall and
pale, thin and a little awkward ; her hair was fair
and perfectly straight ; her eyes were dark, and
they had the singularity of seeming at once dull
and restless differing herein, as you see, fatally
from the ideal " fine eyes," which we always im-
agine to be both brilliant and tranquil. The doors
and windows of the large square house were all
wide open, to admit the purifying sunshine, which
lay in generous patches upon the floor of a wide,
high, covered piazza adjusted to two sides of the
mansion a piazza on which several straw-bot-
tomed rocking-chairs and half a dozen of those
small cylindrical stools in green and blue porce-
lain, which suggest an affiliation between the resi-
dents and the Eastern trade, were symmetrically
disposed. It was an ancient house ancient in
the sense of being eighty years old ; it was built
of wood, painted a clean, clear, faded gray, and
adorned along the front, at intervals, with flat
wooden pilasters, painted white. These pilasters
appeared to support a kind of classic pediment,
which was decorated in the middle by a large
triple window in a boldly carved frame, and in
each of its smaller angles" by a glazed circular aper-
ture. A large white door, furnished with a highly-


polished brass knocker, presented itself to the ru-
ral-looking road, with which it was connected by
a spacious pathway, paved with worn and cracked,
but very clean, bricks. Behind it there were
meadows and orchards, a barn and a pond ; and
facing it, a short distance along the road, on the
opposite side, stood a smaller house, painted white,
with external shutters painted green, a little gar-
den on one hand and an orchard on the other.
All this was shining in the morning air, through
which the simple details of the picture addressed
themselves to the eye as distinctly as the items of
a " sum " in addition.

A second young lady presently came out of the
house, across the piazza, descended into the garden
and approached the young girl of whom I have
spoken. This second young lady was also thin and
pale ; but she was older than the other ; she was
shorter ; she had dark, smooth hair. Her eyes,
unlike the other's, were quick and bright ; but
they were not at all restless. She wore a straw
bonnet with white ribbons, and a long, red, India
scarf, which, on the front of her dress, reached to
her feet. In her hand she carried a little key.

" Gertrude," she said, " are you very sure you
had better not go to church ? "

Gertrude looked at her a moment, plucked a
small sprig from a lilac-bush, smelled it and threw


it away. " I am not very sure of anything ! " she

The other young lady looked straight past her,
at the distant pond, which lay shining between the
long banks of fir-trees. Then she said in a very
soft voice, "This is the key of the dining-room
closet. I think you had better have it, if any one
should want anything."

" Who is there to want anything ? " Gertrude
demanded: " I shall be all alone in the house."

" Some one may come," said her companion.

" Do you mean Mr. Brand ? "

" Yes, Gertrude. He may like a piece of cake."

"I don't like men that are always eating cake ! "
Gertrude declared, giving a pull at the lilac-bush.

Her companion glanced at her, and then looked
down on the ground. " I think father expected
you would come to church," she said. " What
shall I say to him ? "

" Say I have a bad headache."

" Would that be true ? " asked the elder lady,
looking straight at the pond again.

" No, Charlotte," said the younger one simply.

Charlotte transferred her quiet eyes to her com-
panion's face. " I am afraid you are feeling rest-

"I am feeling as I always feel," Gertrude re-
plied, in the same tone.


Charlotte turned away ; but she stood there a
moment. Presently she looked down at the front
of her dress. " Does n't it seem to you, somehow,
as if my scarf were too long ? " she asked.

Gertrude walked half round her, looking at the
scarf. " I don't think you wear it right," she said.

" How should I wear it, dear ? "

" I don't know ; differently from that. You
should draw it differently over your shoulders,
round your elbows ; you should look differently

" How should I look ? " Charlotte inquired.

" I don't think I can tell you," said Gertrude,
plucking out the scarf a little behind. " I could
do it myself, but I don't think I can explain it."

Charlotte, by a movement of her elbows, cor-
rected the laxity that had come from her compan-
ion's touch. " Well, some day you must do it for
me. It does n't matter now. Indeed, I don't think
it matters," she added, " how one looks behind."

u I should say it mattered more," said Gertrude.
" Then you don't know who may be observing you.
You are not on your guard. You can't try to look

Charlotte received this declaration with extreme
gravity. " I don't think one should ever try to
look pretty," she rejoined, earnestly.

Her companion was silent. Then she said,
'" Well, perhaps it 's not of much use."


Charlotte looked at her a little, and then kissed
her. " I hope you will be better when we come

" My dear sister,- 1 am very well ! " said Ger-

Charlotte went down the large brick walk to
the garden gate ; her companion strolled slowly
toward the house. At the gate Charlotte met a
young man, who was coming in a tall, fair young
man, wearing a high hat and a pair of thread
gloves. He was handsome, but rather too stout.
He had a pleasant smile. " Oh, Mr. Brand ! "
exclaimed the young lady.

44 1 came to see whether your sister was not go-
ing to church," said the young man.

" She says she is not going ; but I am very glad
you have come. I think if you were to talk to her
a little " . . . . And Charlotte lowered her voice.
" It seems as if she were restless."

Mr. Brand smiled down on the young lady from
his great height. " I shall be very glad to talk
to her. For that I should be willing to absent
myself from almost any occasion of worship, how-
ever attractive."

" Well, I suppose you know," said Charlotte,
softly, as if positive acceptance of this proposition
might be dangerous. " But I am afraid I shall be


" I hope you will have a pleasant sermon," said
the young man.

" Oh, Mr. Gilman is always pleasant," Char-
lotte answered. And she went on her way.

Mr. Brand went into the garden, where Ger-
trude, hearing the gate close behind him, turned
and looked at him. For a moment she watched
him coming ; then she turned away. But almost
immediately she corrected this movement, and
stood still, facing him. He took off his hat and
wiped his forehead as he approached. Then he
put on his hat again and held out his hand. His
hat being removed, you would have perceived that
his forehead was very large and smooth, and his
hair abundant but rather colorless. His nose was
too large, and his mouth and eyes were too small ;
but for all this he was, as I have said, a young
man of striking appearance. The expression of his
little clean-colored blue eyes was irresistibly gen-
tle and serious ; he looked, as the phrase is, as good
as gold. The young girl, standing in the garden
path, glanced, as he came up, at his thread gloves.

" I hoped you were going to church," he said.
" I wanted to walk with you."

" I am very much obliged to you," Gertrude
answered. " I am not going to church."

She had shaken hands with him ; he held her
hand a moment. " Have you any special reason
for not going? "


" Yes, Mr. Brand," said the young girl.

" May I ask what it is ? "

She looked at him smiling ; and in her smile, as
I have intimated, there was a certain dullness.
But mingled with this dullness was something
sweet and suggestive. " Because the sky is so
blue ! " she said.

He looked at the sky, which was magnificent,
and then said, smiling too, " I have heard of young
ladies staying at home for bad weather, but never
for good. Your sister, whom I met at the gate,
tells me you are depressed," he added.

" Depressed ? I am never depressed."

" Oh, surely, sometimes," replied Mr. Brand, as
if he thought this a regrettable account of one's

"I am never depressed," Gertrude repeated.
" But I am sometimes wicked. When I am
wicked I am in high spirits. I was wicked just
now to my sister."

" What did you do to her ? "

" I said things that puzzled her on purpose."

" Why did you do that, Miss Gertrude ? " asked
the young man.

She began to smile again. " Because the sky is
so blue ! "

" You say things that puzzle me" Mr. Brand


" I always know when I do it," proceeded Ger-
trude. " But people puzzle me more, I think.
And they don't seem to know ! "

" This is very interesting," Mr. Brand observed,

" You told me to tell you about my my strug-
gles," the young girl went on.

"Let us talk about them. I have so many
things to say."

Gertrude turned away a moment ; and then,
turning back x " You had better go to church," she

" You know," the young man urged, " that I
have always one thing to say."

Gertrude looked at him a moment. " Please
don't say it now ! "

" We are all alone," he continued, taking off
his hat ; " all alone in this beautiful Sunday still-

Gertrude looked around her, at the breaking
buds, the shining distance, the blue sky to which
she had referred as a pretext for her irregularities.
" That 's the reason," she said, " why I don't want
you to speak. Do me a favor ; go to church."

" May I speak when I come back ? " asked Mr.

" If you are still disposed," she answered.
" I don't know whether you are wicked," he
said, " but you are certainly puzzling."


She had turned away ; she raised her hands to
her ears. He looked at her a moment, and then
he slowly walked to church.

She wandered for a while about the garden,
vaguely and without purpose. The church-bell
had stopped ringing ; the stillness was complete.
This young lady relished highly, on occasions, the
sense of being alone the absence of the whole
family and the emptiness of the house. To-day,
apparently, the servants had also gone to church ;
there was never a figure at the open windows ; be-
hind the house there was no stout negress in a red
turban, lowering the bucket into the great shingle-
hooded well. And the front door of the big, un-
guarded home stood open, with the trustfulness of
the golden age ; or what is more to the purpose,
with that of New England's silvery prime. Ger-
trude slowly passed through it, and went from one
of the empty rooms to the other large, clear-
colored rooms, with white wainscots, ornamented
with thin-legged mahogany furniture, and, on the
walls, with old-fashioned engravings, chiefly of
scriptural subjects, hung very high. This agree-
able sense of solitude, of having the house to her-
self, of which I have spoken, always excited Ger-
trude's imagination ; she could not have told you
why, and neither can her humble historian. It
always seemed to her that she must do something


particular that she must honor the occasion ; and
while she roamed about, wondering what she could
do, the occasion usually came to an end. To-day
she wondered more than ever. At last she took
down a book ; there was no library in the house,
but there were books in all the rooms. None of
them were forbidden books, and Gertrude had not
stopped at home for the sake of a chance to climb
to the inaccessible shelves. She possessed herself
of a very obvious volume one of the series of
the Arabian Nights and she brought it out into
the portico and sat down with it in her lap. There,
for a quarter of an hour, she read the history of
the loves of the Prince Camaralzaman and the
Princess Badoura. At last, looking up, she be-
held, as it seemed to her, the Prince Camaralza-
man standing before her. A beautiful young man
was making her a very low bow a magnificent
bow, such as she had never seen before. He ap-
peared to have dropped from the clouds ; he was
wonderfully handsome ; he smiled smiled as if
he were smiling on purpose. Extreme surprise,
for a moment, kept Gertrude sitting still ; then she
rose, without even keeping her finger in her book.
The young man, with his hat in his hand, still
looked at her, smiling and smiling. It was very

" Will you kindly tell me," said the mysterious


visitor, at last, " whether I have the honor of
speaking to Miss Went worth ? "

" My name is Gertrude Wentworth," murmured
the young woman.

" Then then I have the honor the pleas-
ure of being your cousin."

The young man had so much the character of an
apparition that this announcement seemed to com-
plete his unreality. " What cousin ? Who are
you ? " said Gertrude.

He stepped back a few paces and looked up at
the house ; then glanced round him at the garden
and the distant view. After this he burst out
laughing. " I see it must seem to you very
strange," he said. There was, after all, something
substantial in his laughter. Gertrude looked at
him from head to foot. Yes, he was remarkably
handsome ; but his smile was almost a grimace.
" It is very still," he went on, coming nearer
again. And as she only looked at him, for reply,
he added, " Are you all alone ? "

"Every one has gone to church," said Ger-

" I was afraid of that ! " the young man ex-
claimed. " But I hope you are not afraid of me."

" You ought to tell me who you are," Gertrude

"Tarn afraid of you!" said the young man.


" 1 had a different plan. I expected the servant
would take in my card, and that you would put
your heads together, before admitting me, and
make out my identity."

Gertrude had been wondering with a quick in-
tensity which brought its result; and the result
seemed an answer a wondrous, delightful an-
swer to her vague wish that something would
befall her. " I know I know," she said. " You
come from Europe."

" We came two days ago. You have heard of
us, then you believe in us ? "

" We have known, vaguely," said Gertrude,
" that we had relations in France."

" And have you ever wanted to see us? " asked
the young man.

Gertrude was silent a moment. " I have wanted
to see you."

" I am glad, then, it is you I have found. We
wanted to see you, so we came."

" On purpose ? " asked Gertrude.

The young man looked round him, smiling still.
" Well, yes ; on purpose. Does that sound as if
we should bore you ? " he added. " I don't think
we shall I really don't think we shall. We
are rather fond of wandering, too ; and we were
glad of a pretext."

" And you have just arrived ? "


" In Boston, two days ago. At the inn I asked
for Mr. Wentworth. He must be your father.
They found out for me where he lived ; they
seemed often to have heard of him. I determined
to come, without ceremony. So, this lovely morn-
ing, they set my face in the right direction, and
told me to walk straight before me, out of town.
I came on foot because I wanted to see the coun-
try. I walked and walked, and here I am ! It 's
a good many miles."

" It is seven miles and a half," said Gertrude,
softly. Now that this handsome young man was
proving himself a reality she found herself vaguely
trembling ; she was deeply excited. She had never
in her life spoken to a foreigner, and she had often
thought it would be delightful to do so. Here
was one who had suddenly been engendered by
the Sabbath stillness for her private use ; and
such a brilliant, polite, smiling one ! She found
time and means to compose herself, however : to
remind herself that she must exercise a sort of
official hospitality. " We are very very glad
to see you," she said. " Won't you come into the
house ? " And she moved toward the open door.

" You are not afraid of me ; then ? " asked the
young man again, with his light laugh.

She wondered a moment, and then, " We are
not afraid here," she said.


" Ah, comme vous devez avoir raison ! " cried
the young man, looking all round him, apprecia-
tively. It was the first time that Gertrude had
heard so many words of French spoken. They
gave her something of a sensation. Her compan-
ion followed her, watching, with a certain excite-
ment of his own, this tall, interesting-looking girl,
dressed in her clear, crisp muslin. He paused in
the hall, where there was a broad white staircase
with a white balustrade. " What a pleasant
house ! " he said. " It 's lighter inside than it is

"It's pleasanter here," said Gertrude, and she
led the way into the parlor, a high, clean, rather
empty-looking room. Here they stood looking at
each other, the young man smiling more than
ever ; Gertrude, very serious , trying to smile.

"I don't believe you know my name," he said.
" I am called Felix Young. Your father is my
uncle. My mother was his half sister, and older
than he."

" Yes," said Gertrude, " and she turned Roman
Catholic and married in Europe."

" I see you know," said the young man. " She
married and she died. Your father's family did n't
like her husband. They called him a foreigner ;
but he was not. My poor father was born in
Sicily, but his parents were American."


" In Sicily ? " Gertrude murmured.

" It is true," said Felix Young, " that they had
spent their lives in Europe. But they were very
patriotic. And so are we."

" And you are Sicilian," said Gertrude.

" Sicilian, no ! Let 's see. I was born at a
little place a dear little place in France.
My sister was born at Vienna."

" So you are French," said Gertrude.

" Heaven forbid ! " cried the young man. Ger-
trude's eyes were fixed upon him almost insist-
ently. He began to laugh again. " I can easily
be French, if that will please you."

" You are a foreigner of some sort," said Ger-

" Of some sort yes ; I suppose so. But who
can say of what sort? I don't think we have
ever had occasion to settle the question. You
know there are people like that. About their
country, their religion, their profession, they can't

Gertrude stood there gazing ; she had not asked
him to sit down. She had never heard of people
like that ; she wanted to hear. " Where do you
live?" she asked.

" They can't tell that, either ! " said Felix. I
am afraid you will think they are little better
than vagabonds. I have lived anywhere every-


where. I really think I have lived in every city
in Europe." Gertrude gave a little long soft ex-
halation. It made the young man smile at her
again ; and his smile made her blush a little. To
take refuge from blushing she asked him if, after
his long walk, he was not hungry or thirsty. Her
hand was in her pocket ; she was fumbling with
the little key that her sister had given her. " Ah,
my dear young lady," he said, clasping his hands
a little, " if you could give me, in charity, a glass
of wine ! "

Gertrude gave a smile and a little nod, and
went quickly out of the room. Presently she
came back with a very large decanter in one hand
and a plate in the other, on which was placed a
big, round cake with a frosted top. Gertrude,
in taking the cake from the closet, had had a
moment of acute consciousness that it composed
the refection of which her sister had thought that
Mr. Brand would like to partake. Her kinsman
from across the seas was looking at the pale, high-
hung engravings. When she came in he turned
and smiled at her, as if they had been old friends
meeting after a separation. "You wait upon me
yourself ? " he asked. " I am served like the
gods ! " She had waited upon a great many peo-
ple, but none of them had ever told her that. The
observation added a certain lightness to the step


with which she went to a little table where there
were some curious red glasses glasses covered
with little gold sprigs, which Charlotte used to
dust every morning with her own hands. Ger-

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Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 2 of 15)