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The Europeans. A sketch online

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with her beautiful smile.

" I did n't think you would want me," said the
young man, slowly sidling about.

"One always wants a beau cousin, if one has
one ! But if you are very nice to me in future I
won't remember it against you." And Madame
Miinster transferred her smile to the other persons


present. It rested first upon the candid counte-
nance and long-skirted figure of Mr. Brand, whose
eyes were intently fixed upon Mr. Wentworth, as
if to beg him not to prolong an anomalous sit-
uation. Mr. Wentworth pronounced his name.
Eugenia gave him a very charming glance, and
then looked at the other gentleman.

This latter personage was a man of rather less
than the usual stature and the usual weight, with
a quick, observant, agreeable dark eye, a small
quantity of thin dark hair, and a small mustache.
He had been standing with his hands in his
pockets ; and when Eugenia looked at him he
took them out. But he did not, like Mr. Brand,
look evasively and urgently at their host. He
met Eugenia's eyes ; he appeared to appreciate
the privilege of meeting them. Madame Minister
instantly felt that he was, intrinsically, the most
important person present. She was not uncon-
scious that this impression was in some degree
manifested in the little sympathetic nod with
which she acknowledged Mr. Wentworth's an-
nouncement, " My cousin, Mr. Acton ! "

"Your cousin not mine ? " said the Baroness.

" It only depends upon you," Mr. Acton de-
clared, laughing.

The Baroness looked at him a moment, and
noticed that he had very white teeth. " Let it


depend upon your behavior," she said. " I think
I had better wait. I have cousins enough. Un-
less I can also claim relationship," she added,
" with that charming young lady," and she pointed
to the young girl at the window.

"That's my sister," said Mr. Acton. And
Gertrude Wentworth put her arm round the
young girl and led her forward. It was not, ap-
parently, that she needed much leading. She came
toward the Baroness with a light, quick step, and
with perfect self-possession, rolling her stocking
round its needles. She had dark blue eyes and
dark brown hair; she was wonderfully pretty.

Eugenia kissed her, as she had kissed the other
young women, and then held her off a little, look-
ing at her. "Now this is quite another type" she
said ; she pronounced the word in the French man-
ner. " This is a different outline, my uncle, a dif-
ferent character, from that of your own daughters.
This, Felix," she went on, " is very much more
what we have always thought of as the Amer-
ican type."

The young girl, during this exposition, was
smiling askance at every one in turn, and at Felix
out of turn. "I find only one type here ! " cried
Felix, laughing. " The type adorable ! "

This sally was received in perfect silence, but
Felix, who learned all things quickly, had al-


ready learned that the silences frequently ob-
served among his new acquaintances were not
necessarily restrictive or resentful. It was, as
one might say, the silence of expectation, of
modesty. They were all standing round his sister,
as if they were expecting her to acquit herself of
the exhibition of some peculiar faculty, some brill-
iant talent. Their attitude seemed to imply that
she was a kind of conversational mountebank, at-
tired, intellectually, in gauze and spangles. This
attitude gave a certain ironical force to Madame
Minister's next words. " Now this is your circle,"
she said to her uncle. " This is your salon. These
are your regular habitue's, eh ? I am so glad to
see you all together."

"Oh," said Mr. Wentworth, " they are always
dropping in and out. You must do the same."

" Father," interposed Charlotte Wentworth,
" they must do something more." And she turned
her sweet, serious face, that seemed at once timid
and placid, upon their interesting visitor. " What
is your name ? " she asked.

" Eugenia-Camilla-Dolores," said the Baroness,
smiling. " But you need n't say all that."

" I will say Eugenia, if you will let me. You
must come and stay with us."

The Baroness laid her hand upon Charlotte's
arm very tenderly ; but she reserved herself. She


was wondering whether it would be possible to
" stay " with these people. " It would be very
charming very charming," she said ; and her eyes
wandered over the company, over the room. She
wished to gain time before committing herself.
Her glance fell upon young Mr. Brand, who stood
there, with his arms folded and his hand on his
chin, looking at her. " The gentleman, I suppose,
is a sort of ecclesiastic," she said to Mr. Went-
worth, lowering her voice a little.

" He is a minister," answered Mr. Wentworth.

" A Protestant ? " asked Eugenia.

" I am a Unitarian, madam," replied Mr. Brand,

" Ah, I see," said Eugenia. " Something new."
She had never heard of this form of worship.

Mr. Acton began to laugh, and Gertrude looked
anxiously at Mr. Brand.

" You have come very far," said Mr. Went-

" Very far very far," the Baroness replied,
with a graceful shake of her head a shake that
might have meant many different things.

" That 's a reason why you ought to settle down
with us," said Mr. Wentworth, with that dryness
of utterance which, as Eugenia was too intelligent
not to feel, took nothing from the delicacy of his


She looked at him, and for an instant, in his
cold, still face, she seemed to see a far-away like-
ness to the vaguely remembered image of her
mother. Eugenia was a woman of sudden emo-
tions, and now, unexpectedly, she felt one rising
in her heart. She kept looking round the circle ;
she knew that there was admiration in all the eyes
that were fixed upon her. She smiled at them

"I came to look to try to ask," she said.
"It seems to me I have done well. I am very
tired ; I want to rest." There were tears in her
eyes. The luminous interior, the gentle, tranquil
people, the simple, serious life the sense of these
things pressed upon her with an overmastering
force, and she felt herself yielding to one of the
most genuine emotions she had ever known. " I
should like to stay here," she said. " Pray take
me in."

Though she was smiling, there were tears in her
voice as well as in her eyes. " My dear niece,"
said Mr. Wentworth, softly. And Charlotte put
out her arms and drew the Baroness toward her ;
while Robert Acton turned away, with his hands
stealing into his pockets.


A FEW days after the Baroness Miinster had
presented herself to her American kinsfolk she
came, with her brother, and took up her abode in
that small white house adjacent to Mr. Went-
worth's own dwelling of which mention has al-
ready been made. It was on going with his
daughters to return her visit that Mr. Wentworth
placed this comfortable cottage at her service ; the
offer being the result of a domestic colloquy, dif-
fused througli the ensuing twenty-four hours, in the
course of which the two foreign visitors were dis-
cussed and analyzed with a great deal of earnest-
ness and subtlety. The discussion went forward,
as I say, in the family circle ; but that circle on
the evening following Madame Miinster's return
to town, as on many other occasions, included
Robert Acton and his pretty sister. If you had
been present, it would probably not have seemed
to you that the advent of these brilliant strangers
was treated as an exhilarating occurrence, a pleas-
ure the more in this tranquil household, a prospect-
ive source of entertainment. This was not Mr.


Wentworth'a way of treating any human occur-
rence. The sudden irruption into the well-ordered
consciousness of the Wentworths of an element
not allowed for in its scheme of usual obligations
required a readjustment of that sense of respon-
sibility which constituted its principal furniture.
To consider an event, crudely and baldly, in the
light of the pleasure it might bring them was
an intellectual exercise with which Felix Young's
American cousins were almost wholly unacquainted,
and which they scarcely supposed to be largely
pursued in any section of human society. The
arrival of Felix and his sister was a satisfaction,
but it was a singularly joyless and inelastic satis-
faction. It was an extension of duty, of the ex-
ercise of the more recondite virtues ; but neither
Mr. Wentworth, nor Charlotte, nor Mr. Brand,
who, among these excellent people, was a great
promoter of reflection and aspiration, frankly ad-
verted to it as an extension of enjoyment. This
function was ultimately assumed by Gertrude
Wentworth, who was a peculiar girl, but the full
compass of whose peculiarities had not been ex-
hibited before they very ingeniously found their
pretext in the presence of these possibly too agree-
able foreigners. Gertrude, however, had to strug-
gle with a great accumulation of obstructions, both
of the subjective, as the metaphysicians say, and


of the objective, order ; and indeed it is no small
part of the purpose of this little history to set
forth her struggle. What seemed paramount in
this abrupt enlargement of Mr. Wentworth's sym-
pathies and those of his daughters was an exten-
sion of the field of possible mistakes ; and the
doctrine, as it may almost be called, of the op-
pressive gravity of mistakes was one of the most
cherished traditions of the Wentworth family.

" I don't believe she wants to come and stay in
this house," said Gertrude; Madame Minister,
from this time forward, receiving no other desig-
nation than the personal pronoun. Charlotte and
Gertrude acquired considerable facility in address-
ing her, directly, as " Eugenia ; " but in speaking
of her to each other they rarely called her any-
thing but " she."

" Does n't she think it good enough for her? "
cried little Lizzie Acton, who was always asking
unpractical questions that required, in strictness,
no answer, and to which indeed she expected no
other answer than such as she herself invariably
furnished in a small, innocently-satirical laugh.

" She certainly expressed a willingness to come,"
said Mr. Wentworth.

" That was only politeness," Gertrude rejoined.

" Yes, she is very polite very polite," said
Mr. Wentworth.


" She is too polite," his son declared, in a softly
growling tone which was habitual to him, but
which was an indication of nothing worse than a
vaguely humorous intention. " It is very embar-

" That is more than can be said of you, sir,"
said Lizzie Acton, with her Uttle laugh.

" Well, I don't mean to encourage her," Clifford
went on.

" I 'm sure I don't care if you do ! " cried Liz-

" She will not think of you, Clifford," said Ger-
trude, gravely.

" I hope not ! " Clifford exclaimed.

"She will think of Robert," Gertrude contin-
ued, in the same tone.

Robert Acton began to blush ; but there was
no occasion for it, for every one was looking at
Gertrude every one, at least, save Lizzie, who,
with her pretty head on one side, contemplated
her brother.

" Why do you attribute motives, Gertrude ? "
asked Mr. Wentworth.

" I don't attribute motives, father," said Ger-
trude. " I only say she will think of Robert ; and
she will ! "

" Gertrude judges by herself ! " Acton ex-
claimed, laughing. " Don't you, Gertrude ? Of


course the Baroness will think of me. She will
think of me from morning till night."

" She will be very comfortable here," said Char-
lotte, with something of a housewife's pride. " She
can have the large northeast room. And the
French bedstead," Charlotte added, with a con-
stant sense of the lady's foreignness.

" She will not like it," said Gertrude ; " not
even if you pin little tidies all over the chairs."

" Why not, dear ? " asked Charlotte, perceiving
a touch of irony here, but not resenting it.

Gertrude had left her chair ; she was walking
about the room ; her stiff silk dress, which she had
put on in honor of the Baroness, made a sound
upon the carpet. "I don't know," she replied.
" She will want something more more private."

" If she wants to be private she can stay in her
room," Lizzie Acton remarked.

Gertrude paused in her walk, looking at her.
" That would not be pleasant," she answered.
" She wants privacy and pleasure together."

Robert Acton began to laugh again. " My dear
cousin, what a picture ! "

Charlotte had fixed her serious eyes upon her
sister ; she wondered whence she had suddenly
derived these strange notions. Mr. Wentworth
also observed his younger daughter.

" I don't know what her manner of life may


have been," he said ; " but she certainly never
can have enjoyed a more refined and salubrious

Gertrude stood there looking at them all. " She
is the wife of a Prince," she said.

" We are all princes here," said Mr. Went-
worth ; " and I don't know of any palace in this
neighborhood that is to let."

" Cousin William," Robert Acton interposed,
" do you want to do something handsome ? Make
them a present, for three months, of the little
house over the way."

" You are very generous with other people's
things ! " cried his sister.

" Robert is very generous with his own things,"
Mr. Wentworth observed dispassionately, and
looking, in cold meditation, at his kinsman.

" Gertrude," Lizzie went on, " I had an idea
you were so fond of your new cousin."

" Which new cousin ? " asked Gertrude.

" I don't mean the Baroness ! " the young girl
rejoined, with her laugh. " I thought you ex-
pected to see so much of him."

" Of Felix? I hope to see a great deal of him,"
said Gertrude, simply.

" Then why do you want to keep him out of
the house ? "

Gertrude looked at Lizzie Acton, and then
looked away.


" Should you want me to live in the house with
you, Lizzie?" asked Clifford.

" I hope you never will. I hate you! " Such
was this young lady's reply.

" Father," said Gertrude, stopping before Mr.
Wentworth and smiling, with a smile the sweeter,
as her smile always was, for its rarity ; " do let
them live in the little house over the way. It will
be lovely ! "

Robert Acton had been watching her. " Ger-
trude is right," he said. " Gertrude is the clever-
est girl in the world. If I might take the liberty,
I should strongly recommend their living there."

" There is nothing there so pretty as the north-
east room," Charlotte urged.

" She will make it pretty. Leave her alone ! "
Acton exclaimed.

Gertrude, at his compliment, had blushed and
looked at him : it was as if some one less familiar
had complimented her. " I am sure she will make
it pretty. ,It will be very interesting. It will be
a place to go to. It will be a foreign house."

" Are we very sure that we need a foreign
house ? " Mr. Wentworth inquired. " Do you
think it desirable to establish a foreign house in
this quiet place ? "

" You speak," said Acton, laughing, " as if it
were a question of the poor Baroness opening a
wine-shop or a gaming-table."


" It would be too lovely ! " Gertrude declared
again, laying her hand on the back of her father's

" That she should open a gaming-table ? "
Charlotte asked, with great gravity.

Gertrude looked at her a moment, and then,
" Yes, Charlotte," she said, simply.

" Gertrude is growing pert," Clifford Wentworth
observed, with his humorous young growl. " That
comes of associating with foreigners."

Mr. Wentworth looked up at his daughter, who
was standing beside him ; he drew her gently
forward. " You must be careful," he said. " You
must keep watch. Indeed, we must all be careful.
This is a great change ; we are to be exposed to
peculiar influences I don't say they are bad. I
don't judge them in advance. But they may per-
haps make it necessary that we should exercise a
great deal of wisdom and self-control. It will be
a different tone."

Gertrude was silent a moment, in deference to
her father's speech ; then, she spoke in a manner
that was not in the least an answer to it. " I
want to see how they will live. I am sure they
will have different hours. She will do all kinds
of little things differently. When we go over
there it will be like going to Europe. She will
have a boudoir. She will invite us to dinner
very late. She will breakfast in her room."


Charlotte gazed at her sister again. Gertrude's
imagination seemed to her to be fairly running
riot. She had always known that Gertrude had
a great deal of imagination she had been very
proud of it. But at the same time she had always
felt that it was a dangerous and irresponsible fac-
ulty; and now, to her sense, for the moment, it
seemed to threaten to make her sister a strange
person who should come in suddenly, as from a
journey, talking of the peculiar and possibly un-
pleasant things she had observed. Charlotte's
imagination took no journeys whatever ; she kept
it, as it were, in her pocket, with the other furni-
ture of this receptacle a thimble, a little box
of peppermint, and a morsel of court-plaster. " I
don't believe she would have any dinner or any
breakfast," said Miss Wentworth. " I don't be-
lieve she knows how to do anything herself. I
should have to get her ever so many servants, and
she would n't like them."

" She has a maid," said Gertrude ; " a French
maid. She mentioned her."

" I wonder if the maid has a little fluted cap
and red slippers," said Lizzie Acton. " There
was a French maid in that play that Robert took
me to see. She had pink stockings ; she was very

44 She was a soubrette" Gertrude announced,


who had never seen a play in her life. " They
call that a soubrette. It will be a great chance
to learn French." Charlotte gave a little soft,
helpless groan. She had a vision of a wicked,
theatrical person, clad in pink stockings and red
shoes, and speaking, with confounding volubility,
an incomprehensible tongue, flitting through the
sacred penetralia of that large, clean house. " That
is one reason in favor of their coming here," Ger-
trude went on. " But we can make Eugenia speak
French to us, and Felix. I mean to begin the
next time."

Mr. Wentworth had kept her standing near
him, and he gave her his earnest, thin, unrespon-
sive glance again. " I want you to make me a
promise, Gertrude," he said.

" What is it? " she asked, smiling.

" Not to get excited. Not to allow these
these occurrences to be an occasion for excite-

She looked down at him a moment, and then
she shook her head. " I don't think I can promise
that, father. I am excited already."

Mr. Wentworth was silent a while ; they all
were silent, as if in recognition of something auda-
cious and portentous.

"I think they had better go to the other house,"
said Charlotte, quietly.


" I shall keep them in the other house," Mr.
Wentworth subjoined, more pregnantly.

Gertrude turned away; then she looked across
at Robert Acton. Her cousin Robert was a great
friend of hers ; she often looked at him this way
instead of saying things. Pier glance on this occa-
sion, however, struck him as a substitute for a
larger volume of diffident utterance than usual in-
viting him to observe, among other things, the
inefficiency of her father's design if design it
was for diminishing, in the interest of quiet
nerves, their occasions of contact with their for-
eign relatives. But Acton immediately com-
plimented Mr. Wentworth upon his liberality.
" That 's a very nice thing to do," he said, " giv-
ing them the little house. You will have treated
them handsomely, and, whatever happens, you
will be glad of it." Mr. Wentworth was liberal,
and he knew he was liberal. It gave him pleas-
ure to know it, to feel it, to see it recorded ; and
this pleasure is the only palpable form of self-
indulgence with which the narrator of these inci-
dents will be able to charge him.

" A three days' visit at most, over there, is all
I should have found possible," Madame Munster
remarked to her brother, after they had taken
possession of the little white house. " It would
have been too intime decidedly too intime.


Breakfast, dinner, and tea en famille it would
have been the end of the world if I could have
reached the third day." And she made the same
observation to her maid Augustine, an intelligent
person, who enjoyed a liberal share of her confi-
dence. Felix declared that he would willingly
spend his life in the bosom of the Went worth
family ; that they were the kindest, simplest, most
amiable people in the world, and that he had
taken a prodigious fancy to them all. The Bar-
oness quite agreed with him that they were simple
and kind ; they were thoroughly nice people, and
she liked them extremely. The girls were per-
fect ladies ; it was impossible to be more of a lady
than Charlotte Wentworth, in spite of her little
village air. " But as for thinking them the best
company in the world," said the Baroness, " that
is another thing ; and as for wishing to live porte
a porte with them, I should as soon think of wish-
ing myself back in the convent again, to wear a
bombazine apron and sleep in a dormitory." And
yet the Baroness was. in high good humor; she
had been very much pleased. With her lively
perception and her refined imagination, she was
capable of enjoying anything that was character-
istic, anything that was good of its kind. The
Wentworth household seemed to her very perfect
in its kind wonderfully peaceful and unspotted ;


pervaded by a sort of dove-colored freshness that
had all the quietude and benevolence of what she
deemed to be Quakerism, and yet seemed to be
founded upon a degree of material abundance for
which, in certain matters of detail, one might have
looked in vain at the frugal little court of Silber-
stadt-Schrecken stein. She perceived immediately
that her American relatives thought and talked
very little about money ; and this of itself made an
impression upon Eugenia's imagination. She per-
ceived at the same time that if Charlotte or Ger-
trude should ask their father for a very considerable
sum he would at once place it in their hands ; and
this made a still greater impression. The greatest
impression of all, perhaps, was made by another
rapid induction. The Baroness had an immediate
conviction that Robert Acton would put his hand
into his pocket every day in the week if that
rattle-pated little sister of his should bid him.
The men in this country, said the Baroness, are
evidently very obliging. Her declaration that she
was looking for rest and retirement had been by
no means wholly untrue ; nothing that the Bar-
oness said was wholly untrue. It is but fair to
add, perhaps, that nothing that she said was
wholly true. She wrote to a friend in Germany
that it was a return to nature ; it was like drink-
ing new milk, and she was very fond of new


milk. She said to herself, of course, that it would
be a little dull ; but there can be no better proof
of her good spirits than the fact that she thought
she should not mind its being a little dull. It
seemed to her, when from the piazza of her elee-
mosynary cottage she looked out over the sound-
less fields, the stony pastures, the clear-faced
ponds, the rugged little orchards, that she had
never been in the midst of so peculiarly intense a
stillness ; it was almost a delicate sensual pleasure.
It was all very good, very innocent and safe, and
out of it something good must come. Augustine,
indeed, who had an unbounded faith in her mis-
tress's wisdom and far-sightedness, was a great
deal perplexed and depressed. She was always
ready to take her cue when she understood it ;
but she liked to understand it, and on this occa-
sion comprehension failed. What, indeed, was
the Baroness doing dans cette galere ? what fish
did she expect to land out of these very stagnant
waters ? The game was evidently a deep one.
Augustine could trust her ; but the sense of walk-
ing in the dark betrayed itself in the physiognomy
of this spare, sober, sallow, middle-aged person,
who had nothing in common with Gertrude Went-
worth's conception of a soubrette, by the most
ironical scowl that had ever rested upon the un-
pretending tokens of the peace and plenty of


the Wentworths. Fortunately, Augustine could
quench skepticism in action. She quite agreed
with her mistress or rather she quite outstripped
her mistress in thinking that the little white

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Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 4 of 15)