Henry James.

The Europeans. A sketch online

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your head into something ! "

Mr. Wentworth looked at him and then at all
the others ; then he got up and slowly walked

" Felix," said Gertrude, in the silence that fol-
lowed, " I wish you would paint my portrait."

Charlotte wondered whether Gertrude was right


in wishing this ; and she looked at Mr. Brand as
the most legitimate way of ascertaining. What-
ever Gertrude did or said, Charlotte always looked
at Mr. Brand. It was a standing pretext for look-
ing at Mr. Brand always, as Charlotte thought,
in the interest of Gertrude's welfare. It is true
that she felt a tremulous interest in Gertrude be-
ing right ; for Charlotte, in her small, still way,
was an heroic sister.

14 We should be glad to have your portrait,
Miss Gertrude," said Mr. Brand.

u I should be delighted to paint so charming a
model," Felix declared.

" Do you think you are so lovely, my dear ? "
asked Lizzie Acton, with her little inoffensive pert-
ness, biting off a knot in her knitting.

" It is not because I think I am beautiful,"
said Gertrude, looking all round. " I don't think
I am. beautiful, at all." She spoke with a sort
of conscious deliberateness ; and it seemed very
strange to Charlotte to hear her discussing this
question so publicly. "It is because I think it
would be amusing to sit and be painted. I have
always thought that."

" I am sorry you have not had better things to
think about, my daughter," said Mr. Wentworth.

" You are very beautiful, cousin Gertrude," Fe-
lix declared.


" That 's a compliment," said Gertrude. " I
put all the compliments I receive into a little
money-jug that has a slit in the side. I shake
them up and down, and they rattle. There are
not many yet only two or three."

" No, it 's not a compliment," Felix rejoined.
" See ; I am careful not to give it the form of a
compliment. I did n't think you were beautiful
at first. But you have come to seem so little by

"Take care, now, your jug doesn't burst!"
exclaimed Lizzie.

" I think sitting for one's portrait is only one
of the various forms of idleness," said Mr. Went-
worth. " Their name is legion."

" My dear sir," cried Felix, " you can't be said
to be idle when you are making a man work so ! "

" One might be painted while one is asleep,"
suggested Mr. Brand, as a contribution to the dis-

" Ah, do paint me while I am asleep," said
Gertrude to Felix, smiling. And she closed her
eyes a little. It had by this time become a mat-
ter of almost exciting anxiety to Charlotte what
Gertrude would say or would do next.

She began to sit for her portrait on the follow-
ing day in the open air, on the north side of
the piazza. " I wish you would tell me what you


think of us how we seem to you," she said to
Felix, as he sat before his easel.

" You seem to me the best people in the world,"
said Felix.

" You say that," Gertrude resumed, " because
it saves you the trouble of saying anything else."

The young man glanced at her over the top of
his canvas. "What else should I say ? It would
certainly be a great deal of trouble to say any-
thing different."

" Well," said Gertrude, " you have seen people
before that you have liked, have you not? "

" Indeed I have, thank Heaven ! "

"And they have been very different from us,"
Gertrude went on.

" That only proves," said Felix, " that there
are a thousand different ways of being good com-

" Do you think us good company ? " asked Ger-

" Company for a king ! "

Gertrude was silent a moment ; and then,
" There must be a thousand different ways of
being dreary," she said ; " and sometimes I think
we make use of them all."

Felix stood up quickly, holding up his hand.
" If you could only keep that look on your face
for half an hour while I catch it ! " he said,
u It is uncommonly handsome."


44 To look handsome for half an hour that is
a great deal to ask of me," she answered.

" It would be the portrait of a young woman
who has taken some vow, some pledge, that she
repents of," said Felix, "and who is thinking it
over at leisure."

" I have taken no vow, no pledge," said Ger-
trude, very gravely ; " I have nothing to repent of."

44 My dear cousin, that was only a figure of
speech. I am very sure that no one in your ex-
cellent family has anything to repent of."

44 And yet we are always repenting ! " Gertrude
exclaimed. 44 That is what I mean by our being
dreary. You know it perfectly well ; you only
pretend that you don't."

Felix gave a quick laugh. 44 The half hour is
going on, and yet you are handsomer than ever.
One must be careful what one says, you see."

" To me," said Gertrude, 44 you can say any-

Felix looked at her, as an artist might, and
painted for some time in silence.

44 Yes, you seem to me different from your father
and sister from most of the people you have
lived with," he observed.

44 To say that one's self," Gertrude went on, "is
like saying by implication, at least that one
is better. I am not better ; I am much worse.


But they say themselves that I am different. It
makes them unhappy."

"Since you accuse me of concealing my real
impressions, I may admit that I think the tend-
ency among you generally is to be made un-
happy too easily."

" I wish you would tell that to my father," said

" It might make him more unhappy ! " Felix
exclaimed, laughing.

" It* certainly would. I don't believe you have
seen people like that."

" Ah, my dear cousin, how do you know what I
have seen?" Felix demanded. " How can I tell
you ? "

" You might tell me a great many things, if you
only would. You have seen people like yourself
people who are bright and gay and fond of
amusement. We are not fond of amusement."

" Yes," said Felix, " I confess that rather strikes
me. You don't seem to me to get all the pleasure
out of life that you might. You don't seem to me

to enjoy Do you mind my saying this ? "

he asked, pausing.

" Please go on," said the girl, earnestly.

" You seem to me very well placed for enjoying.
You have money and liberty and what is called in
Europe a 4 position.' But you take a painful view
of life, as one may say."


" One ought to think it bright and charming
and delightful, eh ? " asked Gertrude.

"I should say so if one can. It is true it all
depends upon that," Felix added.

" You know there is a great deal of misery in
the world," said his model.

" I have seen a little of it," the young man re-
joined. " But it was all over there beyond the
sea. I don't see any here. This is a paradise."

Gertrude said nothing ; she sat looking at the
dahlias and the currant-bushes in the garden,
while Felix went on with his work. " To ' en-
joy,' " she began at last, " to take life not pain-
fully, must one do something wrong? "

Felix gave his long, light laugh again. " Seri-
ously, I think not. And for this reason, among
others : you strike me as very capable of enjoy-
ing, if the chance were given you, and yet at the
same time as incapable of wrong-doing."

" I am sure, " said Gertrude, " that you are very
wrong in telling a person that she is incapable of
that. We are never nearer to evil than when we
believe that."

" You are handsomer than ever," observed Fe-
lix, irrelevantly.

Gertrude had got used to hearing him say this.
There was not so much excitement in it as at
first. " What ought one to do ? " she continued.


44 To give parties, to go to the theatre, to read
novels, to keep late hours ? "

" I don't think it 's what one does or one
doesn't do that promotes enjoyment," her com-
panion answered. " It is the general way of look-
ing at life."

44 They look at it as a discipline that 's what
they do here. I have often been told that."

44 Well, that r s very good. But there is another
way," added Felix, smiling : 44 to look at it as an

44 An opportunity yes," said Gertrude. 44 One
would get more pleasure that way."

44 1 don't attempt to say anything better for it
than that it has been my own way and that is
not saying much ! " Felix had laid down his
palette and brushes ; he was leaning back, with
his arms folded, to judge the effect of his work.
44 And you know," he said, 44 1 am a very petty

44 You have a great deal of talent," said Ger-

44 No no," the young man rejoined, in a tone
of cheerful impartiality, 44 I have not a great deal
of talent. It is nothing at all remarkable. I as-
sure you I should know if it were. I shall always
be obscure. The world will never hear of me."
Gertrude looked at him with a strange feeling.


She was thinking of the great world which he
knew and which she did not, and how full of brill-
iant talents it must be, since it could afford to
make light of his abilities. " You need n't in gen-
eral attach much importance to anything I tell
you," he pursued ; " but you may believe me when
I say this, that I am little better than a good-
natured feather-head."

" A feather-head? " she repeated.

" I am a species of Bohemian."

" A Bohemian ? " Gertrude had never heard
this term before, save as a geographical denomina-
tion ; and she quite failed to understand the figur-
ative meaning which her companion appeared to
attach to it. But it gave her pleasure.

Felix had pushed back his chair and risen to his
feet ; he slowly came toward her, smiling. " I am
a sort of adventurer," he said, looking down at her.

She got up, meeting his smile. "An advent-
urer?" she repeated. " I should like to hear your

For an instant she believed that he was going
to take her hand ; but he dropped his own hands
suddenly into the pockets of his painting-jacket.
" There is no reason why you should n't," he said.
" I have been an adventurer, but my adventures
have been very innocent. They have all been
happy ones ; I don't think there are any I should


n't tell. They were very pleasant and very pretty ;
I should like to go over them in memory. Sit
down again, and I will begin," he added in a mo-
ment, with his naturally persuasive smile.

Gertrude sat down again on that day, and she
sat down on several other days. Felix, while he
plied his brush, told her a great many stories, and
she listened with charmed avidity. Her eyes rested
upon his lips ; she was very serious ; sometimes,
from her air of wondering gravity, he thought she
was displeased. But Felix never believed for more
than a single moment in any displeasure of his
own producing. This would have been fatuity if
the optimism it expressed had not been much more
a hope than a prejudice. It is beside the matter
to say that he had a good conscience ; for the best
conscience is a sort of self-reproach, and this young
man's brilliantly healthy nature spent itself in ob-
jective good intentions which were ignorant of any
test save exactness in hitting their mark. He told
Gertrude how he had walked over France and
Italy with a painter's knapsack on his back, pay-
ing his way often by knocking off a flattering por-
trait of his host or hostess. He told her how he
had played the violin in a little band of musicians
not of high celebrity who traveled through
foreign lands giving provincial concerts. He told
her also how he had been a momentary ornament


of a troupe of strolling actors, engaged in the ar-
duous task of interpreting Shakespeare to French
and German, Polish and Hungarian audiences.

While this periodical recital was going on, Ger-
trude lived in a fantastic world ; she seemed to
herself to be reading a romance that came out in
daily numbers. She had known nothing so de-
lightful since the perusal of " Nicholas Nickleby."
One afternoon she went to see her cousin, Mrs.
Acton, Robert's mother, who was a great invalid,
never leaving the house. She came back alone, on
foot, across the fields this being a short way
which they often used. Felix had gone to Boston
with her father, who desired to take the young
man to call upon some of his friends, old gentle-
men who remembered his mother remembered
her, but said nothing about her and several of
whom, with the gentle ladies their wives, had
driven out from town to pay their respects at the
little house among the apple-trees, in vehicles
which reminded the Baroness, who received her
visitors with discriminating civility, of the large,
light, rattling barouche in which she herself had
made her journey to this neighborhood. The af-
ternoon was waning ; in the western sky the great
picture of a New England sunset, painted in crim-
son and silver, was suspended from the zenith ;
and the stony pastures, as Gertrude traversed


them, thinking intently to herself, were covered
with a light, clear glow. At the open gate of
one of the fields she saw from the distance a man's
figure; he stood there as if he were waiting for
her, and as she came nearer she recognized Mr.
Brand. She had a feeling as of not having seen
him for some time ; she could not have said for
how long, for it yet seemed to her that he had
been very lately at the house.

" May I walk back with you ? " he asked. And
when she had said that he might if he wanted, he
observed that he had seen her and recognized her
half a mile away.

"You must have very good eyes," said Ger-

" Yes, I have very good eyes, Miss Gertrude,"
said Mr. Brand. She perceived that he meant
something ; but for a long time past Mr. Brand
had constantly meant something, and she had al-
most got used to it. She felt, however, that what
he meant had now a renewed power to disturb her,
to perplex and agitate her. He walked beside her
in silence for a moment, and then he added, " I
have had no trouble in seeing that you are begin-
ning to avoid me. But perhaps," he went on, "one
need n't have had very good eyes to see that."

" I have not avoided you," said Gertrude, with-
out looking at him.


"I think you have been unconscious that you
were avoiding me," Mr. Brand replied. " You
have not even known that I was there."

" Well, you are here now, Mr. Brand ! " said
Gertrude, with a little laugh. " I know that very

He made no rejoinder. He simply walked be-
side her slowly, as they were obliged to walk over
the soft grass. Presently they came to another
gate, which was closed. Mr. Brand laid his hand
upon it, but he made no movement to open it ; he
stood and looked at his companion. "You are
very much interested very much absorbed," he

Gertrude glanced at him ; she saw that he was
pale and that he looked excited. She had never
seen Mr. Brand excited before, and she felt that
the spectacle, if fully carried out, would be im-
pressive, almost painful. "Absorbed in what?"
she asked. Then she looked away at the illumi-
nated sky. She felt guilty and uncomfortable,
and yet she was vexed with herself for feeling so.
But Mr. Brand, as he stood there looking at her
with his small, kind, persistent eyes, represented
an immense body of half -obliterated obligations,
that were rising again into a certain distinctness.

" You have new interests, new occupations," he
went on. " I don't know that I can say that you


have new duties. We have always old ones, Ger-
trude," he added.

" Please open the gate, Mr. Brand," she said ;
and she felt as if, in saying so, she were cowardly
and petulant. But he opened the gate, and al-
lowed her to pass ; then he closed it behind him-
self. Before she had time to turn away he put
out his hand and held her an instant by the

" I want to say something to you," he said.

" I know what you want to say," she answered.
And she was on the point of adding, "And I
know just how you will say it; " but these words
she kept back.

" I love you, Gertrude," he said. " I love you
very much ; I love you more than ever."

He said the words just as she had known he
would ; she had heard them before. They had
no charm for her ; she had said to herself before
that it was very strange. It was supposed to be
delightful for a woman to listen to such words ;
but these seemed to her flat and mechanical. " I
wish you would forget that," she declared.

" How can I why should I ? " he asked.

" I have made you no promise given you no
pledge," she said, looking at him, with her voice
trembling a little.

" You have let me feel that I have an influence
over you. You have opened your mind to me."


" I never opened my mind to you, Mr. Brand ! "
Gertrude cried, with some vehemence.

" Then you were not so frank as I thought
as we all thought."

" I don't see what any one else had to do with
it ! " cried the girl.

"I mean your father and your sister. You
know it makes them happy to think you will lis-
ten to me."

She gave a little laugh. " It does n't make
them happy," she said. "Nothing makes them
happy. No one is happy here."

"I think your cousin is very happy Mr.
Young," rejoined Mr. Brand, in a soft, almost
timid tone.

" So much the better for him ! " And Gertrude
gave her little laugh again.

The young man looked at her a moment. " You
are very much changed," he said.

" I am glad to hear it," Gertrude declared.

" I am not. I have known you a long time,
and I have loved you as you were."

" I am much obliged to you," said Gertrude.
" 1 must be going home."

He on his side, gave a little laugh.

" You certainly do avoid me you see ! "

"Avoid me, then," said the girl.

He looked at her again ; and then, very gently,


" No I will not avoid you," he replied ; " but I
will leave you, for the present, to yourself. I
think you will remember after a while some
of the things you have forgotten. I think you
will come back to me ; I have great faith in that."
This time his voice was very touching ; there was
a strong, reproachful force in what he said, and
Gertrude could answer nothing. He turned away
and stood there, leaning his elbows on the gate
and looking at the beautiful sunset. Gertrude
left him and took her way home again ; but when
she reached the middle of the next field she sud-
denly burst into tears. Her tears seemed to her
to have been a long time gathering, and for some
moments it was a kind of glee to shed them. But
they presently passed away. There was some-
thing a little hard about Gertrude; and she never
wept again.


GOING of an afternoon to call upon his niece,
Mr. Went worth more than once found Robert
Acton sitting in her little drawing-room. This
was in no degree, to Mr. Wentworth, a perturb-
ing fact, for he had no sense of competing with his
young kinsman for Eugenia's good graces. Mad-
ame Minister's uncle had the highest opinion of
Robert Acton, who, indeed, in the family at large,
was the object of a great deal of undemonstrative
appreciation. They were all proud of him, in so
far as the charge of being proud may be brought
against people who were, habitually, distinctly
guiltless of the misdemeanor known as " taking
credit." They never boasted of Robert Acton,
nor indulged in vainglorious reference to him;
they never quoted the clever things he had said,
nor mentioned the generous things he had done.
But a sort of frigidly-tender faith in his unlimited
goodness was a part of their personal sense of
right; and there can, perhaps, be no better proof
of the high esteem in which he was held than the
fact that no explicit judgment was ever passed


upon his actions. He was no more praised than he
was blamed ; but he was tacitly felt to be an orna-
ment to his circle. He was the man of the world
of the family. He had been to China and brought
home a collection of curiosities ; he had made a
fortune or rather he had quintupled a fortune
already considerable ; he was distinguished by
that combination of celibacy, " property," and
good humor which appeals to even the most sub-
dued imaginations ; and it was taken for granted
that he would presently place these advantages at
the disposal of some well-regulated young woman
of his own " set." Mr. Wentworth, was not a
man to admit to himself that his paternal du-
ties apart he liked any individual much better
than all other individuals ; but he thought Robert
Acton extremely judicious ; and this was perhaps
as near an approach as he was capable of to the
eagerness of preference, which his temperament
repudiated as it would have disengaged itself from
something slightly unchaste. Acton was, in fact,
very judicious and something more beside ; and
indeed it must be claimed for Mr. Wentworth that
in the more illicit parts of his preference there
hovered the vague adumbration of a belief that his
cousin's final merit was a certain enviable capacity
for whistling, rather gallantly, at the sanctions of
mere judgment for showing a larger courage, a


finer quality of pluck, than common occasion de-
manded. Mr. Wentworth would never have risked
the intimation that Acton was made, in the small-
est degree, of the stuff of a hero ; but this is small
blame to him, for Robert would certainly never
have risked it himself. Acton certainly exercised
great discretion in all things beginning with his
estimate of himself. He knew that he was by no
means so much of a man of the world as he was
supposed to be in local circles ; but it must be
added that he knew also that his natural shrewd-
ness had a reach of which he had never quite given
local circles the measure. He was addicted to tak-
ing the humorous view of things, and he had dis-
covered that, even in the narrowest circles such a
disposition may find frequent opportunities. Such
opportunities had formed for some time that is,
since his return from China, a year and a half be-
fore the most active element in this gentleman's
life, which had just now a rather indolent air.
He was perfectly willing to get married. He was
very fond of books, and he had a handsome li-
brary ; that is, his books were much more numer-
ous than Mr. Wentworth's. He was also very fond
of pictures ; but it must be confessed, in the fierce
light of contemporary criticism, that his walls were
adorned with several rather abortive masterpieces.
He had got his learning and there was more of


it than commonly appeared at Harvard College ;
and he took a pleasure in old associations, which
made it a part of his daily contentment to live so
near this institution that he often passed it in driv-
ing to Boston. He was extremely interested in
the Baroness Miinster.

She was very frank with him ; or at least she
intended to be. "I am sure you find it very
strange that I should have settled down in this
out-of-the-way part of the world ! " she said to him
three or four weeks after she had installed herself.
" I am certain you are wondering about my mo-
tives. They are very pure." The Baroness by
this time was an old inhabitant; the best society
in Boston had called upon her, and Clifford Went-
worth had taken her several times to drive in his

Robert Acton was seated near her, playing with
a fan ; there were always several fans lying about
her drawing-room, with long ribbons of different
colors attached to them, and Acton was always
playing with one, "No, I don't find it at all
strange," he said slowly, smiling. " That a clever
woman should turn up in Boston, or its suburbs
that does not require so much explanation.
Boston is a very nice place.'*

u If you wish to make me contradict you," said
the Baroness, " vous vous y prenez mal. In cer-



tain moods there is nothing I am not capable of
agreeing to. Boston is a paradise, and we are in
the suburbs of Paradise."

" Just now I am not at all in the suburbs ; I
am in the place itself," rejoined Acton, who was
lounging a little in his chair. He was, however,
not always lounging; and when he was he was
not quite so relaxed as he pretended. To a cer-
tain extent, he sought refuge from shyness in this
appearance of relaxation ; and like many persons
in the same circumstances he somewhat exagger-
ated the appearance. Beyond this, the air of being
much at his ease was a cover for vigilant observa-
tion. He was more than interested in this clever
woman, who, whatever he might say, was clever
not at all after the Boston fashion ; she plunged
him into a kind of excitement, held him in vague
suspense. He was obliged to admit to himself
that he had never yet seen a woman just like this

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Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 6 of 15)