Henry James.

The Europeans. A sketch online

. (page 8 of 15)
Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 8 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

almost asked his nephew's advice.


" Have you ever entertained the idea of settling
in the United States?" he asked one morning,
while Felix brilliantly plied his brush.

"My dear uncle," said Felix "excuse me if
your question makes me smile a little. To begin
with, I have never entertained an idea. Ideas
often entertain me ; but I am afraid I have never
seriously made a plan. I know what you are
going to say ; or rather, I know what you think,
for I don't think you will say it that this is
very frivolous and loose-minded on my part. So
it is ; but I am made like that ; I take things as
they come, and somehow there is always some new
thing to follow the last. In the second place, I
should never propose to settle. I can't settle, my
dear uncle ; I 'm not a settler. I know that is
what strangers are supposed to do here ; they al-
ways settle. But I haven't to answer your
question entertained that idea."

" You intend to return to Europe and resume
your irregular manner of life?" Mr. Wentworth

" I can't say I intend. But it 's very likely I
shall go back to Europe. After all, I am a Eu-
ropean. I feel that, you know. It will depend a
good deal upon my sister. She 's even more of a
European than I ; here, you know, she 's a picture
out of her setting. And as for ' resuming,' dear


uncle, I really have never given up my irregular
manner of life. What, for me, could be more ir-
regular than this ? "

"Than what?" asked Mr. Wentworth, with
his pale gravity.

" Well, than everything ! Living in the midst
of you, this way ; this charming, quiet, serious
family life ; fraternizing with Charlotte and Ger-
trude ; calling upon twenty young ladies and go-
ing out to walk with them ; sitting with you in the
evening on the piazza and listening to the crickets,
and going to bed at ten o'clock."

" Your description is very animated, " said Mr.
Wentworth ; " but I see nothing improper in what
you describe."

" Neither do I, dear uncle. It is extremely
delightful ; I should n't like it if it were improper.
I assure you I don't like improper things ; though
I dare say you think I do," Felix went on, paint-
ing away.

" I have never accused you of that."

" Pray don't," said Felix, " because, you see, at
bottom I am a terrible Philistine."

" A Philistine ? " repeated Mr. Wentworth.

" I mean, as one may say, a plain, God-fearing
man." Mr. Wentworth looked at him reservedly,
like a mystified sage, and Felix continued, "I trust
I shall enjoy a venerable and venerated old age.


I mean to live long. I can hardly call that a plan,
perhaps ; but it 's a keen desire a rosy vision. I
shall be a lively, perhaps even a frivolous old

" It is natural," said his uncle, sententiously,
" that one should desire to prolong an agreeable
life. We have perhaps a selfish indisposition to
bring our pleasure to a close. But I presume,"
he added, " that you expect to marry."

" That too, dear uncle, is a hope, a desire, a
vision," said Felix. It occurred to him for an in-
stant that this was possibly a preface to the offer
of the hand of one of Mr. Wentworth's admirable
daughters. But in the name of decent modesty
and a proper sense of the hard realities of this
world, Felix banished the thought. His uncle
was the incarnation of benevolence, certainly ; but
from that to accepting much more postulating
the idea of a union between a young lady with
a dowry presumptively brilliant and a penniless
artist with no prospect, of fame, there was a very
long way. Felix had lately become conscious of a
luxurious preference for the society if possible
unshared with others of Gertrude Wentworth ;
but he had relegated this young lady, for the
moment, to the coldly brilliant category of unat-
tainable possessions. She was not the first woman
for whom he had entertained an unpractical ad-


miration. He had been in love with duchesses
and countesses, and he had made, once or twice,
a perilously near approach to cynicism in declar-
ing that the disinterestedness of women had been
overrated. On the whole, he had tempered audac-
ity with modesty; and it is but fair to him now
to say explicitly that he would have been incapa-
ble of taking advantage of his present large al-
lowance of familiarity to make love to the younger
of his handsome cousins. Felix had grown up
among traditions in the light of which such a pro-
ceeding looked like a grievous breach of hospital-
ity. I have said that he was always happy, and
it may be counted among the present sources of
his happiness that he had as regards this matter
of his relations with Gertrude a deliciously good
conscience. His own deportment seemed to him
suffused with the beauty of virtue a form of
beauty that he admired with the same vivacity
with which he admired all other forms.

" I think that if you marry," said Mr. Wentworth
presently, " it will conduce to your happiness."

" Sicurissimo ! " Felix exclaimed ; and then, ar-
resting his brush, he looked at his uncle with a
smile. " There is something I feel tempted to
say to you. May I risk it ? "

Mr. Wentworth drew himself up a little. " I
am very safe ; I don't repeat things." But he
hoped Felix would not risk too much.


Felix was laughing at his answer.

" It 's odd to hear you telling me how to be
happy. I don't think you know yourself, dear
uncle. Now, does that sound brutal ? "

The old man was silent a moment, and then,
with a dry dignity that suddenly touched his
nephew : " We may sometimes point out a road
we are unable to follow."

" Ah, don't tell me you have had any sorrows,"
Felix rejoined. " I did n't suppose it, and I did n't
mean to allude to them. I simply meant that you
all don't amuse yourselves."

" Amuse ourselves ? We are not children."

" Precisely not ! You have reached the proper
age. I was saying that the other day to Ger-
trude," Felix added. "I hope it was not indis-

" If it was," said Mr. Wentworth, with a keener
irony than Felix would have thought him capable
of, " it was but your way of amusing yourself. I
am afraid you have never had a trouble."

" Oh, yes, I have!" Felix declared, with some
spirit ; " before I kflew better. But you don't
catch me at it again."

Mr. Wentworth maintained for a while a silence
more expressive than a deep-drawn sigh. " You
have no children," he said at last.

" Don't tell me," Felix exclaimed, " that your


charming young people are a source of grief to
you ! "

"I don't speak of Charlotte." And then, af-
ter a pause, Mr. Wentworth continued, " I don't
speak of Gertrude. But I feel considerable anx-
iety about Clifford. I will tell you another time."

The next time he gave Felix a sitting his
nephew reminded him that he had taken him into
his confidence. " How is Clifford to-day ? " Felix
asked. " He has always seemed to me a young
man of remarkable discretion. Indeed, he is only
too discreet ; he seems on his guard against me
as if he thought me rather light company. The
other day he told his sister Gertrude repeated
it to me that I was always laughing at him. If
I laugh it is simply from the impulse to try and
inspire him with confidence. That is the only way
I have."

" Clifford's situation is no laughing matter,"
said Mr. Wentworth. "It is very peculiar, as I
suppose you have guessed."

"Ah, you mean his love affair with his cousin ? "

Mr. Wentworth stared, blushing a little. "I
mean his absence from college. He has been sus-
pended. We have decided not to speak of it un-
less we are asked."

" Suspended ? " Felix repeated.

" He has been requested by the Harvard au-


thorities to absent himself for six months. Mean-
while he is studying with Mr. Brand. We think
Mr. Brand will help him ; at least we hope so."

" What befell him at college ? " Felix asked.
" He was too fond of pleasure ? Mr. Brand cer-
tainly will not teach him any of those secrets ! "

" He was too fond of something of which he
should not haye been fond. I suppose it is con-
sidered a pleasure."

Felix gave his light laugh. " My dear uncle,
is there any doubt about its being a pleasure ?
(Test de son dge, as they say in France."

" I should have said rather it was a vice of later
life of disappointed old age."

Felix glanced at his uncle, with his lifted eye-
brows, and then, " Of what are you speaking?"
he demanded, smiling.

" Of the situation in which Clifford was found."

" Ah, he was found he was caught ? "
" Necessarily, he was caught. He could n't
walk ; he staggered.''

" Oh," said Felix, " he drinks ! I rather sus-
pected that, from something I observed the first
day I came here. I quite agree with you that it
is a low taste. It 's not a vice for a gentleman.
He ought to give it up."

" We hope for a good deal from Mr. Brand's
influence," Mr. Wentworth went on. " He has


talked to him from the first. And he never
touches anything himself."

" I will talk to him I will talk to him ! "
Felix declared, gayly.

"What will you say to him?" asked his uncle,
with some apprehension.

Felix for some moments answered nothing. " Do
you mean to marry him to his cousin ? " he asked
at last.

" Marry him ? " echoed Mr. Wentworth. " I
should n't think his cousin would want to marry

"You have no understanding, then, with Mrs.

Mr. Wentworth stared, almost blankly. " I
have never discussed such subjects with her."

" I should think it might be time," said Felix.
" Lizzie Acton is admirably pretty, and if Clifford
is dangerous . . . . "

" They are not engaged," said Mr. Wentworth.
" I have no reason to suppose they are engaged."

" Par exemple ! " cried Felix. " A clandestine
engagement? Trust me, Clifford, as I say, is a
charming boy. He is incapable of that. Lizzie Ac-
ton, then, would not be jealous of another woman."

" I certainly hope not," said the old man, with
a vague sense of jealousy being an even lower vice
than a love of liquor.


" The best thing for Clifford, then," Felix pro-
pounded, " is to become interested in some clever,
charming woman." And he paused in his paint-
ing, and, with his elbows on his knees, looked
with bright communicativeness at his uncle. " You
see, I believe greatly in the influence of women.
Living with women helps to make a man a gentle-
man. It is very true Clifford has his sisters, who
are so charming. But there should be a different
sentiment in play from the fraternal, you know.
He has Lizzie Acton ; but she, perhaps, is rather

" I suspect Lizzie has talked to him, reasoned
with him," said Mr. Wentworth.

" On the impropriety of getting tipsy on the
beauty of temperance ? That is dreary work for
a pretty young girl. No," Felix continued ; " Clif-
ford ought to frequent some agreeable woman,
who, without ever mentioning such unsavory sub-
jects, would give him a sense of its being very ri-
diculous to be fuddled. If he could fall in love
with her a little, so much the better. The thing
would operate as a cure."

"Well, now, what lady should you suggest?"
asked Mr. Wentworth.

" There is a clever woman under your hand.
My sister."

"Your sister under my hand?" Mr. Went-
worth repeated.


44 Say a word to Clifford. Tell him to be bold.
He is well disposed already; he has invited her
two or three times to drive. But I don't think he
comes to see her. Give him a hint to come to
come often. He will sit there of an afternoon,
and they will talk. It will do him good."

Mr. Wentworth meditated. " You think she
will exercise a helpful influence ? "

" She will exercise a civilizing I may call it a
sobering influence. A charming, clever, witty
woman always does especially if she is a little
of a coquette. My dear uncle, the society of such
women has been half my education. If Clifford
is suspended, as you say, from college, let Euge-
nia be his preceptress."

Mr. Wentworth continued thoughtful. "You
think Eugenia is a coquette ? " he asked.

" What pretty woman is not ? " Felix demanded
in turn. But this, for Mr. Wentworth, could at
the best have been no answer, for he did not think
his niece pretty. " With Clifford," the young
man pursued, " Eugenia will simply be enough of
a coquette to be a little ironical. That 's what he
needs. So you recommend him to be nice with
her, you know. The suggestion will come best
from you."

"Do I understand," asked the old man, "that I
am to suggest to my son to make a a profession
of of affection to Madame Miinster?"


"Yes, yes a profession!" cried Felix sym-

" But, as I understand it, Madame Miinster is
a married woman."

" Ah," said Felix, smiling, " of course she can't
marry him. But she will do what she can."

Mr. Went worth sat for some time with his eyes
on the floor ; at last he got up. " I don't think,"
he said, " that I can undertake to recommend my
son any such course." And without meeting Fe-
lix's surprised glance he broke off his sitting, which
was not resumed for a fortnight.

Felix was very fond of the little lake which oc-
cupied so many of Mr. Wentworth's numerous
acres, and of a remarkable pine grove which lay
upon the further side of it, planted upon a steep
embankment and haunted by the summer breeze.
The murmur of the air in the far off tree-tops
had a strange distinctness ; it was almost articu-
late. One afternoon the young man came out of
his painting-room and passed the open door of
Eugenia's little salon. Within, in the cool dim-
ness, he saw his sister, dressed in white, buried
in her arm-chair, and holding to her face an
immense bouquet. Opposite to her sat Clifford
Wentworth, twirling his hat. He had evidently
just presented the bouquet to the Baroness, whose
fine eyes, as she glanced at him over the big roses


and geraniums, wore a conversational smile. Fe-
lix, standing on the threshold of the cottage, hes-
itated for a moment as to whether he should re-
trace his steps and enter the parlor. Then he
went his way and passed into Mr. Wentworth's
garden. That civilizing process to which he had
suggested that Clifford should be subjected ap-
peared to have come on of itself. Felix was
very sure, at least, that Mr. Wentworth had not
adopted his ingenious device for stimulating the
young man's aesthetic consciousness. u Doubtless
he supposes," he said to himself, after the conver-
sation that has been narrated, u that I desire, out
of fraternal benevolence, to procure for Eugenia
the amusement of a flirtation or, as he probably
calls it, an intrigue with the too susceptible Clif-
ford. It must be admitted and I have noticed it
before that nothing exceeds the license occa-
sionally taken by the imagination of very rigid
people." Felix, on his own side, had of course
said nothing to Clifford ; but he had observed to
Eugenia that Mr. Wentworth was much mortified
at his son's low tastes. " We ought to do some-
thing to help them, after all their kindness to us,"
he had added. " Encourage Clifford to come and
see you, and inspire him with a taste for conversa-
tion. That will supplant the other, which only
comes from his puerility, from his not taking his


position in the world that of a rich young man
of ancient stock seriously enough. Make him
a little more serious. Even if he makes love to
you it is no great matter."

" I am to offer myself as a superior form of in-
toxication a substitute for a brandy bottle, eh ? "
asked the Baroness. " Truly, in this country one
comes to strange uses."

But she had not positively declined to under-
take Clifford's higher education, and Felix, who
had not thought of the matter again, being haunted
with visions of more personal profit, now reflected
that the work of redemption had fairly begun.
The idea in prospect had seemed of the happiest,
but in operation it made him a trifle uneasy.
" What if Eugenia what if Eugenia " he asked
himself softly ; the question dying away in his
sense of Eugenia's undetermined capacity. But
before Felix had time either to accept or to reject
its admonition, even in this vague form, he saw
Robert Acton turn out of Mr. Wentworth's in-
closure, by a distant gate, and come toward the
cottage in the orchard. Acton had evidently
walked from his own house along a shady by-way
and was intending to pay a visit to Madame Mini-
ster. Felix watched him a moment ; then he
turned away. Acton could be left to play the part
of Providence and interrupt if interruption were
needed Clifford's entanglement with Eugenia.


Felix passed through the garden toward the
house and toward a postern gate which opened
upon a path leading across the fields, beside a little
wood, to the lake. He stopped and looked up at
the house ; his eyes rested more particularly upon
a certain open window, on the shady side. Pres-
ently Gertrude appeared there, looking out into
the summer light. He took off his hat to her and
bade her good-day ; he remarked that he was go-
ing to row across the pond, and begged that she
would do him the honor to accompany him. She
looked at him a moment; then, without saying
anything, she turned away. But she soon reap-
peared below in one of those quaint and charming
Leghorn hats, tied with white satin bows, that
were worn at that period ; she also carried a green
parasol. She went with him to the edge of the
lake, where a couple of boats were always moored ;
they got into one of them, and Felix, with gentle
strokes, propelled it to the opposite shore. The
day was the perfection of summer weather; the
little lake was the color of sunshine ; the plash of
the oars was the only sound, and they found them-
selves listening to it. They disembarked, and, by
a winding path, ascended the pine-crested mound
which overlooked the water, whose white expanse
glittered between the trees. The place was de-
lightfully cool, and had the added charm that in


the softly sounding pine boughs you seemed to
hear the coolness as well as feel it. Felix and
Gertrude sat down on the rust-colored carpet of
pine-needles and talked of many things. Felix
spoke at last, in the course of talk, of his going
away; it was the first time he had alluded to it.

" You are going away ? " said Gertrude, looking
at him.

" Some day when the leaves begin to fall.
You know I can't stay forever."

Gertrude transferred her eyes to the outer pros-
pect, and then, after a pause, she said, " I shall
never see you again."

" Why not ? " asked Felix. " We shall proba-
bly both survive my departure."

But Gertrude only repeated, " I shall never see
you again. I shall never hear of you," she went
on. " I shall know nothing about you. I knew
nothing about you before, and it will be the same

" I knew nothing about you then, unfortu-
nately," said Felix. " But now I shall write to

" Don't write to me. I shall not answer you,"
Gertrude declared.

"I should of course burn your letters," said

Gertrude looked at him again. " Burn my let-
ters ? You sometimes say strange things."


" They are not strange in themselves," the young
man answered. " They are only strange as said
to you. You will come to Europe."

" With whom shall I come ? " She asked this
question simply ; she was very much in earnest.
Felix was interested in her earnestness ; for some
moments he hesitated. " You can't tell me that,"
she pursued. "You can't say that I shall go
with my father and my sister; you don't believe

"I shall keep your letters," said Felix, pres-
ently, for all answer.

" I never write. I don't know how to write."
Gertrude, for some time, said nothing more ; and
her companion, as he looked at her, wished it had
not been "disloyal " to make love to the daughter
of an old gentleman who had offered one hospital-
ity. The afternoon waned ; the shadows stretched
themselves ; and the light grew deeper in the
western sky. Two persons appeared on the op-
posite side of the lake, coming from the house and
crossing the meadow. " It is Charlotte and Mr.
Brand," said Gertrude. " They are coming over
here." But Charlotte and Mr. Brand only came
down to the edge of the water, and stood there,
looking across ; they made no motion to enter the
boat that Felix had left at the mooring-place. Fe-
lix waved his hat to them ; it was too far to call.


They made no visible response, and they pres-
ently turned away and walked along the shore.

" Mr. Brand is not demonstrative," said Felix.
" He is never demonstrative to me. He sits silent,
with his chin in his hand, looking at me. Some-
times he looks away. Your father tells me he is
so eloquent ; and I should like to hear him talk.
He looks like such a noble young man. But with
me he will never talk. And yet I am so fond of
listening to brilliant imagery ! "

" He is very eloquent," said Gertrude ; " but he
has no brilliant imagery. I have heard him talk
a great deal. I knew that when they saw us they
would not come over here."

" Ah, he is making la cour, as they say, to your
sister ? They desire to be alone ? "

" No," said Gertrude, gravely, " they have no
such reason as that for being alone."

"But why does n't he make la cour to Char-
lotte ? " Felix inquired. u She is so pretty, so
gentle, so good."

Gertrude glanced at him, and then she looked
at the distantly-seen couple they were discussing.
Mr. Brand and Charlotte were walking side by
side. They might have been a pair of lovers, and
yet they might not. " They think I should not
be here," said Gertrude.

" With me ? J thought you did n't have those


" You don't understand. There are a great
many things you don't understand."

" I understand my stupidity. But why, then,
do not Charlotte and Mr. Brand, who, as an elder
sister and a clergyman, are free to walk about to-
gether, come over and make me wiser by breaking
up the unlawful interview into which I have lured
you ? "

" That is the last thing they would do," said

Felix stared at her a moment, with his lifted
eyebrows. " Je n'y comprends rien ! " he ex-
claimed ; then his eyes followed for a while the
retreating figures of this critical pair. " You may
say what you please," he declared ; " it is evident
to me that your sister is not indifferent to her
clever companion. It is agreeable to her to be
walking there with him. I can see that from
here." And in the excitement of observation
Felix rose to his feet.

Gertrude rose also, but she made no attempt to
emulate her companion's discovery ; she looked
rather in another direction. Felix's words had
struck her; but a certain delicacy checked her.
" She is certainly not indifferent to Mr. Brand ;
she has the highest opinion of him."

" One can see it one can see it," said Felix,
in a tone of amused contemplation, with his head
on one side. Gertrude turned her back to the op-


posite shore; it was disagreeable to her to look,
but she hoped Felix would say something more.
" Ah, they have wandered away into the wood,"
he added.

Gertrude turned round again. " She is not in
love with him," she said ; it seemed her duty to
say that.

" Then he is in love with her ; or if he is not,
he ought to be. She is such a perfect little woman
of her kind. She reminds me of a pair of old-
fashioned silver sugar-tongs ; you know I am very
fond of sugar. And she is very nice with Mr.
Brand ; I have noticed that; very gentle and

Gertrude reflected a moment. Then she took
a great resolution. " She wants him to marry
me," she said. " So of course she is nice."

Felix's eyebrows rose higher than ever. " To
marry you ! Ah, ah, this is interesting. And you
think one must be very nice with a man to induce
him to do that ? "

Gertrude had turned a little pale, but she went
on, " Mr. Brand wants it himself."

Felix folded his arms and stood looking at her.
" I see I see," he said quickly. " Why did you
never tell me this before?"

"It is disagreeable to me to speak of it even
now. I wished simply to explain to you about


" You don't wish to marry Mr. Brand, then ? "

" No," said Gertrude, gravely.

" And does your father wish it ? "

" Very much."

" And you don't like him you have refused

" I don't wish to marry him."

"Your father and sister think you ought to,

44 It is a long story," said Gertrude. " They

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 8 of 15)