Henry James.

The Europeans. A sketch online

. (page 3 of 15)
Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 3 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


trude thought the glasses very handsome, and it
was a pleasure to her to know that the wine was
good ; it was her father's famous madeira. Felix
Young thought it excellent ; he wondered why
he had been told that there was no wine in Amer-
ica. She cut him an immense triangle out of the
cake, and again she thought of Mr. Brand. Felix
sat there, with his glass in one hand and his huge
morsel of cake in the other eating, drinking,
smiling, talking. " I am very hungry," he said.
" I am not at all tired ; I am never tired. But I
am very hungry."

" You must stay to dinner," said Gertrude.
" At two o'clock. They will all have come back
from church ; you will see the others."

" Who are the others ? " asked the young man.
" Describe them all."

" You will see for yourself. It is you that must
tell me ; now, about your sister."

" My sister is the Baroness Miinster," said
Felix.

On hearing that his sister was a Baroness, Ger-
trude got up and walked about slowly, in front
of him. She was silent a moment. She was think-



THE EUROPEANS. 41

ing of it. " Why did n't she come, too ? " she
asked.

" She did come ; slie is in Boston, at the hotel."

" We will go and see her," said Gertrude, look-
ing at him.

" She begs you will not ! " the young man re-
plied. " She sends you her love ; she sent me to
announce her. She will come and pay her respects
to your father."

Gertrude felt herself trembling again. A Bar-
oness Minister, who sent a brilliant young man to
" announce " her ; who was coming, as the Queen
of Sheba came to Solomon, to pay her " respects "
to quiet Mr. Wentworth such a personage pre-
sented herself to Gertrude's vision with a most
effective unexpectedness. For a moment she
hardly knew what to say. "When will she
come ? " she asked at last.

"As soon as you will allow her to-morrow.
She is very impatient," answered Felix, who
wished to be agreeable.

" To-morrow, yes," said Gertrude. She wished
to ask more about her ; but she hardly knew what
could be predicated of a Baroness Minister. " Is
she is she married ? "

Felix had finished his cake and wine ; he got
up, fixing upon the young girl his bright, express-
ive eyes. " She is married to a German prince



42 THE EUROPEANS..

Prince Adolf, of Silberstadt-Schreckenstein.
He is not the reigning prince ; he is a younger
brother."

Gertrude gazed at her informant ; her lips were
slightly parted. " Is she a a Princess ? " she
asked at last.

" Oh, no," said the young man ; " her position
is rather a singular one. It 's a morganatic mar-
riage."

" Morganatic ? " These were new names and
new words to poor Gertrude.

" That 's what they call a marriage, you know,
contracted between a scion of a ruling house and

and a common mortal. They made Eugenia a
Baroness, poor woman ; but that was all they
could do. Now they want to dissolve the mar-
riage. Prince Adolf, between ourselves, is a
ninny; but his brother, who is a clever man, has
plans for him. Eugenia, naturally enough, makes
difficulties ; not, however, that I think she cares
much she 's a very clever woman ; I 'm sure
you '11 like her but she wants to bother them.
Just now everything is en Vair."

The cheerful, off-hand tone in which her visitor
related this darkly romantic tale seemed to Ger-
trude very strange; but it seemed also to convey
a certain flattery to herself, a recognition of her
wisdom and dignity. She felt a dozen impressions



THE EUROPEANS. 43

stirring within her, and presently the one that
was uppermost found words. " They want to
dissolve her marriage ? " she asked.

" So it appears."

" And against her will ? "

" Against her right."

" She must be very unhappy ! " said Gertrude.

Her visitor looked at her, smiling ; he raised
his hand to the back of his head and held it there
a moment. " So she says," he answered. " That 's
her story. She told me to tell it you."

" Tell me more," said Gertrude.

" No, I will leave that to her ; she does it bet-
ter."

Gertrude gave her little excited sigh again.
" Well, if she is unhappy," she said, " I am glad
she has come to us."

She had been so interested that she failed to
notice the sound of a footstep in the portico ; and
yet it was a footstep that she always recognized.
She heard it in the hall, and then she looked out
of the window. They were all coming back from
church her father, her sister and brother, and
their cousins, who always came to dinner on Sun-
day. Mr. Brand had come in first ; he was in
advance of the others, because, apparently, he was
still disposed to say what she had not wished him
to say an hour before. He came into the parlor,



44 THE EUROPEANS.

looking for Gertrude. He had two little books in
his hand. On seeing Gertrude's companion he
slowly stopped, looking at him.

" Is this a cousin ? " asked Felix.

Then Gertrude saw that she must introduce him ;
but her ears, and, by sympathy, her lips, were
full of all that he had been telling her. " This is
the Prince," she said, " the Prince of Silberstadt-
Schreckenstein ! "

Felix burst out laughing, and Mr. Brand stood
staring, while the others, who had passed into the
house, appeared behind him in the open door-way.



III.

THAT evening at dinner Felix Young gave his
sister, the Baroness Miinster, an account of his
impressions. She saw that he had come back in
the highest possible spirits ; but this fact, to her
own mind, was not a reason for rejoicing. She
had but a limited confidence in her brother's judg-
ment ; his capacity for taking rose-colored views
was such as to vulgarize one of the prettiest of
tints. Still, she supposed he could be trusted to
give her the mere facts ; and she invited him with
some eagerness to communicate them. " I sup-
pose, at least, they did n't turn you out from the
door ; " she said. " You have been away some ten
hours."

" Turn me from the door ! " Felix exclaimed.
" They took me to their hearts ; they killed the
fatted calf."

" I know what you want to say : they are a
collection of angels."

" Exactly," said Felix. " They are a collec-
tion of angels simply."

" C'est bien vague," remarked the Baroness.
" What are they like ? "



46 ' THE EUROPEANS.

" Like nothing you ever saw."

" I am sure I am much obliged ; but that is
hardly more definite. Seriously, they were glad
to see you ? "

" Enchanted. It has been the proudest day of
my life. Never, never have I been so lionized !
I assure you, I was cock of the walk. My dear
sister," said the young man, "nous n'avons qu'a
nous tenir ; we shall be great swells ! "

Madame Minister looked at him, and her eye
exhibited a slight responsive spark. She touched
her lips to a glass of wine, and then she said, "De-
scribe them. Give me a picture."

Felix drained his own glass. " Well, it 's in
the country, among the meadows and woods; a
wild sort of place, and yet not far from here.
Only, such a road, rny dear ! Imagine one of the
Alpine glaciers reproduced in mud. But you will
not spend much time on it, for they want you to
come and stay, once for all."

" Ah," said the Barohess, " they want me to
come and stay, once for all ? Bon."

" It 's intensely rural, tremendously natural ;
and all overhung with this strange white light, this
far-away blue sky. There 's a big wooden house
a kind of three-story bungalow ; it looks like
a magnified Nuremberg toy. There was a gentle-
man there that made a speech to me about it and



THE EUROPEANS. 47

called it a ' venerable mansion ; ' but it looks as if
it had been built last night."

"Is it handsome is it elegant?" asked the
Baroness.

Felix looked at her a moment, smiling. " It 's
very clean ! No splendors, no gilding, no troops
of servants ; rather straight-backed chairs. But
you might eat off the floors, and you can sit down
on the stairs."

" That must be a privilege. And the inhabit-
ants are straight-backed too, of course."

" My dear sister," said Felix, " the inhabitants
are charming."

" In what style ? "

" In a style of their own. How shall I de-
scribe it? It's primitive; it's patriarchal; it's
the ton of the golden age."

"And have they nothing golden but their ton?
Are there no symptoms of wealth ? "

" I should say there was wealth without symp-
toms. A plain, homely way of life : nothing for
show, and very little for what shall I call it ?
for the senses : but a great aisance, and a lot of
money, out of sight, that comes forward very
quietly for subscriptions to institutions, for re-
pairing tenements, for paying doctor's bills ; per-
haps even for portioning daughters."

" And the daughters ? " Madame Miinster de-
manded. " How many are there ? "



48 THE EUROPEANS.

" There are two, Charlotte and Gertrude."

" Are they pretty ? "

" One of them," said Felix.

"Which is that?"

The young man was silent, looking at his sister.
" Charlotte," he said at last.

She looked at him in return. " I see. You are
in love with Gertrude. They must be Puritans to
their finger-tips ; anything but gay! "

" No, they are not gay," Felix admitted. " They
are sober; they are even severe. They are of a
pensive cast ; they take things hard. I think there
is something the matter with them ; they have
some melancholy memory or some depressing ex-
pectation. It 's not the epicurean temperament.
My uncle, Mr. Wentworth, is a tremendously high-
toned old fellow ; he looks as if he were undergo-
ing martyrdom, not by fire, but by freezing. But
we shall cheer them up ; we shall do them good.
They will take a good deal of stirring up ; but
they are wonderfully kind and gentle. And they
are appreciative. They think one clever ; they
think one remarkable ! "

" That is very fine, so far as it goes," said the
Baroness. " But are we to be shut up to these
three people, Mr. Wentworth and the two young
women what did you say their names were
Deborah and Hephzibah ? "



THE EUROPEANS. 49

" Oh, no ; there is another little girl, a cousin
of theirs, a very pretty creature ; a thorough lit-
tle American. And then there is the son of the
house."

"Good! " said the Baroness. "We are coming
to the gentlemen. What of the son of the house? "

" I am afraid he gets tipsy."

" He, then, has the epicurean temperament !
How old is he?"

" He is a boy of twenty ; a pretty young fellow,
but I am afraid he has vulgar tastes. And then
there is Mr. Brand a very tall young man, a sort
of lay-priest. They seem to think a good deal of
him, but I don't exactly make him out."

" And is there nothing," asked the Baroness,
" between these extremes this mysterious eccle-
siastic and that intemperate youth ? "

" Oh, yes, there is Mr. Acton. I think," said
the young man, with a nod at his sister, " that you
will like Mr. Acton."

" Remember that I am very fastidious," said the
Baroness. " Has he very good manners ? "

" He will have them with you. He is a man of
the world ; he has been to China."

Madame Minister gave a little laugh. " A man
of the Chinese world ! He must be very interest-
ing."

4



50 THE EUROPEANS.

" I have an idea that he brought home a fort-
une," said Felix.

" That is always interesting. Is he young, good-
looking, clever ? "

" He is less than forty ; he has a baldish head ;
he says witty things. I rather think/' added the
young man, "that he will admire the Baroness
Munster."

44 It is very possible,'* said this lady. Her
brother never knew how she would take things ;
but shortly afterwards she declared that he had
made a very pretty description and that on the
morrow she would go and see for herself.

They mounted, accordingly, into a great ba-
rouche a vehicle as to which the Baroness found
nothing to criticise but the price that was asked
for it and the fact that the coachman wore a straw
hat. (At Silberstadt Madame Munster had had
liveries of yellow and crimson.) They drove into
the country, and the Baroness, leaning far back
and swaying her lace-fringed parasol, looked to
right and to left and surveyed the way-side ob-
jects. After a while she pronounced them " af-
freux." Her brother remarked that it was ap-
parently a country in which the foreground was
inferior to the plans recul^s : and the Baroness
rejoined that the landscape seemed to be all fore-
ground. Felix had fixed with his new friends the



THE EUROPEANS. 51

hour at which he should bring his sister ; it was
four o'clock in the afternoon. The large, clean-
faced house wore, to his eyes, as the barouche
drove up to it, a very friendly aspect ; the high,
slender elms made lengthening shadows in front
of it. The Baroness descended ; her American
kinsfolk were stationed in the portico. Felix
waved his hat to them, and a tall, lean gentleman,
with a high forehead and a clean shaven face, came
forward toward the garden gate. Charlotte Went-
worth walked at his side. Gertrude came behind,
more slowly. Both of these young ladies wore
rustling silk dresses. Felix ushered his sister into
the gate. " Be very gracious," he said to her.
But he saw the admonition was superfluous. Eu-
genia was prepared to be gracious as only Eugenia
could be. Felix knew no keener pleasure than to
be able to admire his sister unrestrictedly ; for if
the opportunity was frequent, it was not inveter-
ate. When she desired to please she was to him,
as to every one else, the most charming woman in
the world. Then he forgot that she was ever
anything else ; that she was sometimes hard and
perverse ; that he was occasionally afraid of her.
Now, as she took his arm to pass into the garden,
he felt that she desired, that she proposed, to
please, and this situation made him very happy.
Eugenia would please.



52 THE EUROPEANS.

The tall gentleman came to meet her, looking
very rigid and grave. But it was a rigidity that
had no illiberal meaning. Mr. Wentworth's man-
ner was pregnant, on the contrary, with a sense of
grand responsibility, of the solemnity of the oc-
casion, of its being difficult to show sufficient def-
erence to a lady at once so distinguished and so
unhappy. Felix had observed on the day before
his characteristic pallor ; and now he perceived
that there was something almost cadaverous in his
uncle's high-featured white face. But so clever
were this young man's quick sympathies and
perceptions that he already learned that in these
semi-mortuary manifestations there was no cause
for alarm. His light imagination had gained a
glimpse of Mr. Wentworth's spiritual mechanism,
and taught him that, the old man being infinitely
conscientious, the special operation of conscience
within him announced itself by several of the in-
dications of physical faintness.

The Baroness took her uncle's hand, and stood
looking at him with her ugly face and her beauti-
ful smile. " Have I done right to come ? " she
asked.

" Very right, very right," said Mr. Wentworth,
solemnly. He had arranged in his mind a little
speech; but now it quite faded away. He felt
almost frightened. He had never been looked at



THE EUROPEANS. 53

in just that way with just that fixed, intense
smile by any woman ; and it perplexed and
weighed upon him, now, that the woman who was
smiling so and who had instantly given him a
vivid sense of her possessing other unprecedented
attributes, was his own niece, the child of his own
father's daughter. The idea that his niece should
be a German Baroness, married " morganatically "
to a Prince, had already given him much to think
about. Was it right, was it just, was it accepta-
ble ? He always slept badly, and the night be-
fore he had lain awake much more even than
usual, asking himself these questions. The strange
word " morganatic " was constantly in his ears ;
it reminded him of a certain Mrs. Morgan whom
he had once known and who had been a bold, un-
pleasant woman. He had a feeling that it was
his duty, so long as the Baroness looked at him,
smiling in that way, to meet her glance with his
own scrupulously adjusted, consciously frigid or-
gans of vision; but on this occasion he failed to
perform his duty to the last. He looked away
toward his daughters. " We are very glad to see
you," he had said. " Allow me to introduce my
daughters Miss Charlotte Went worth, Miss Ger-
trude Wentworth."

The Baroness thought she had never seen peo-
ple less demonstrative. But Charlotte kissed her



64 THE EUROPEANS.

and took her hand, looking at her sweetly and
solemnly. Gertrude seemed to her almost fune-
real, though Gertrude might have found a source
of gayety in the fact that Felix, with his mag-
nificent smile, had been talking to her ; he had
greeted her as a very old friend. When she
kissed the Baroness she had tears in her eyes.
Madame Minister took each of these young women
by the hand, and looked at them all over. Char-
lotte thought her very strange-looking and singu-
larly dressed ; she could not have said whether it
was well or ill. She was glad, at any rate, that
they had put on their silk gowns especially
Gertrude. " My cousins are very pretty," said
the Baroness, turning her eyes from one to the
other. " Your daughters are very handsome, sir."
Charlotte blushed quickly ; she had never yet
heard her personal -appearance alluded to in a
loud, expressive voice. Gertrude looked away
not at Felix ; she was extremely pleased. It was
not the compliment that pleased her ; she did not
believe it; she thought herself very plain. She
could hardly have told you the source of her sat-
isfaction ; it came from something in the way the
Baroness spoke, and it was not diminished it
was rather deepened, oddly enough by the young
girl's disbelief. Mr. Wentworth was silent ; and
then he asked, formally, " Won't you come into
the house ? "



THE EUROPEANS. 55

" These are not all ; you have some other chil-
dren," said the Baroness.

" I have a son," Mr. Went worth answered.

"And why doesn't he come to meet me?"
Eugenia cried. " I am afraid he is not so charm-
ing as his sisters."

" I don't know ; I will see about it," the old
man declared.

" He is rather afraid of ladies," Charlotte said,
softly.

" He is very handsome," said Gertrude, as loud
as she could.

" We will go in and find him. We will draw
him out of his cachette." And the Baroness took
Mr. Wentworth's arm, who was not aware that
he had offered it to her, and who, as they walked
toward the house, wondered whether he ought to
have offered it and whether it was proper for her
to take it if it had not been offered. " I want to
know you well," said the Baroness, interrupting
these meditations, " and I want you to know me."

" It seems natural that we should know each
other," Mr. Went worth rejoined. " We are near
relatives."

" Ah, there comes a moment in life when one
reverts, irresistibly, to one's natural ties to one's
natural affections. You must have found that ! "
said Eugenia.



56 THE EUROPEANS.

Mr. Wentworth had been told the day before
by Felix that Eugenia was very clever, very brill-
iant, and the information had held him in some
suspense. This was the cleverness, he supposed ;
the brilliancy was beginning. " Yes, the natural
affections are very strong," he murmured.

" In some people," the Baroness declared. " Not
in all." Charlotte was walking beside her ; she
took hold of her hand again, smiling always.
" And you, cousine, where did you get that en-
chanting complexion ? " she went on ; " such lilies
and roses ? " The roses in poor Charlotte's coun-
tenance began speedily to predominate over the
lilies, and she quickened her step and reached the
portico. " This is the country of complexions,"
the Baroness continued, addressing herself to Mr.
Wentworth. " I am convinced they are more
delicate. There are very good ones in England
in Holland ; but they are very apt to be coarse.
There is too much red."

" I think you will find," said Mr. Wentworth,
" that this country is superior in many respects to
those you mention. I have been to England and
Holland."

" Ah, you have been to Europe ? " cried the
Baroness. " Why did n't you come and see me ?
But it 's better, after all, this way," she said.
They were entering the house ; she paused and



THE EUROPEANS. 57

looked round her. " I see you have arranged your
house your beautiful house in the in the
Dutch taste ! "

" The house is very old," remarked Mr. Went-
worth. " General Washington once spent a week
here."

" Oh, I have heard of Washington," cried the
Baroness. " My father used to tell me of him."

Mr. Wentworth was silent a moment, and then,
" I found he was very well known in Europe," he
said.

Felix had lingered in the garden with Ger-
trude ; he was standing before her and smiling, as
he had done the day before. What had happened
the day before seemed to her a kind of dream.
He had been there and he had changed every-
thing ; the others had seen him, they had talked
with him ; but that he should come again, that he
should be part of the future, part of her small, fa-
miliar, much-meditating life this needed, afresh,
the evidence of her senses. The evidence had
come to her senses now; and her senses seemed
to rejoice in it. " What do you think of Eu-
genia ? " Felix asked. " Is n't she charming ? "

" She is very brilliant," said Gertrude. " But
I can't tell yet. She seems to me like a singer
singing an air. You can't tell till the song is
done."



58 THE EUROPEANS.

" Ah, the song will never be done ! " exclaimed
the young man. laughing. " Don't you think her
handsome ? "

Gertrude had been disappointed in the beauty
of the Baroness Miinster ; she had expected her,
for mysterious reasons, to resemble a very pretty
portrait of the Empress Josephine, of which there
hung an engraving in one of the parlors, and which
the younger Miss Wentworth had always greatly
admired. But the Baroness was not at all like
that not at all. Though different, however,
she was very wonderful, and Gertrude felt her-
self most suggestively corrected. It was strange,
nevertheless, that Felix should speak in that pos-
itive way about his sister's beauty. " I think I
shall think her handsome," Gertrude said. " It
must be very interesting to know her. I don't
feel as if I ever could."

" Ah, you will know her well ; you will become
great friends," Felix declared, as if this were the
easiest thing in the world.

" She is very graceful," said Gertrude, looking
after the Baroness, suspended to her father's arm.
It was a pleasure to her to say that any one was
graceful.

Felix had been looking about him. " And your
little cousin, of yesterday," he said, " who was so
wonderfully pretty what has become of her ? "



THE EUROPEANS. 59

" She is in the parlor," Gertrude answered.
" Yes, she is very pretty." She felt as if it were
her duty to take him straight into the house, to
where he might be near her cousin. But after
hesitating a moment she lingered still. " I did n't
believe you would come back," she said.

" Not come back ! " cried Felix, laughing. " You
did n't know, then, the impression made upon this
susceptible heart of mine."

She wondered whether he meant the impres-
sion her cousin Lizzie had made. " Well," she
said, "I didn't think we should ever see you
again."

" And pray what did you think would become
of me ? "

" I don't know. I thought you would melt
away."

" That 's a compliment to my solidity ! I melt
very often," said Felix, " but there is always some-
thing left of me."

" I came and waited for you by the door, be-
cause the others did," Gertrude went on. " But
if you had never appeared I should not have been
surprised."

" I hope," declared Felix, looking at her, " that
you would have been disappointed."

She looked at him a little, and shook her head.
No no!"



60 THE EUROPEANS.

"Ah, par exemple!" cried the young man.
" You deserve that I should never leave you."

Going into the parlor they found Mr. Went-
worth performing introductions. A young man
was standing before the Baroness, blushing a good
deal, laughing a little, and shifting his weight
from one foot to the other a slim, mild-faced
young man, with neatly-arranged features, like
those of Mr. Wentworth. Two other gentlemen,
behind him, had risen from their seats, and a little
apart, near one of the windows, stood a remarka-
bly pretty young girl. The young girl was knit-
ting a stocking; but, while her fingers quickly
moved, she looked with wide, brilliant eyes at the
Baroness.

" And what is your son's name ? " said Eugenia,
smiling at the young man.

"My name is Clifford Wentworth, ma'am," he
said in a tremulous voice.

"Why didn't you come out to meet me, Mr.
Clifford Wentworth ? " the Baroness demanded,


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 3 of 15)