Henry James.

The Europeans. A sketch online

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think there are good reasons. I can't explain it.
They think I have obligations, and that I have en-
couraged him."

Felix smiled at her, as if she had been telling
him an amusing story about some one else. " I
can't tell you how this interests me," he said.
" Now you don't recognize these reasons these
obligations ? "

k ' I am not sure ; it is not easy." And she
picked up her parasol and turned away, as if to
descend the slope.

" Tell me this," Felix went on, going with her :
" are you likely to give in to let them persuade

Gertrude looked at him with the serious face
that she had constantly worn, in opposition to his
almost eager smile. " I shall never marry Mr.
Brand," she said.

" I see ! " Felix rejoined. And they slowly de-


scended the hill together, saying nothing till they
reached the margin of the pond. " It is your
own affair," he then resumed ; " but do you know,
I am not altogether glad ? If it were settled that
you were to marry Mr. Brand I should take a cer-
tain comfort in the arrangement. I should feel
more free. I have no right to make love to you
myself, eh ? " And he paused, lightly pressing his
argument upon her.

" None whatever," replied Gertrude quickly
too quickly.

" Your father would never hear of it ; I have n't
a penny. Mr. Brand, of course, has property of
his own, eh ? "

" I believe he has some property ; but that has
nothing to do with it."

" With you, of course not ; but with your father
and sister it must have. So, as I say, if this were
settled, I should feel more at liberty."

*' More at liberty ? " Gertrude repeated. " Please
unfasten the boat."

Felix untwisted the rope and stood holding it.
44 1 should be able to say things to you that I can't
give myself the pleasure of saying now," he went
on. "I could tell you how much I admire you,
without seeming to pretend to that which I have
no right to pretend to. I should make violent
love to you," he added, laughing, " if I thought
you were so placed as not to be offended by it."


" You mean if -I were engaged to another man ?
That is strange reasoning ! " Gertrude exclaimed.

" In that case you would not take me seri-

" I take every one seriously," said Gertrude.
And without his help she stepped lightly into the

Felix took up the oars and sent it forward.
" Ah, this is what you have been thinking about ?
It seemed to me you had something on your mind.
I wish very much," he added, " that you would
tell me some of these so-called reasons these ob-

" They are not real reasons good reasons,"
said Gertrude, looking at the pink and yellow
gleams in the water.

" 1 can understand that ! Because a handsome
girl has had a spark of coquetry, that is no rea-

" If you mean me, it 's not that. I have not
done that."

u It is something that troubles you, at any
rate," said Felix.

" Not so much as it used to," Gertrude re-

He looked at her, smiling always. " That is
not saying much, eh ? " But she only rested her
eyes, very gravely, on the lighted water. She


seemed to him to be trying to hide the signs of
the trouble of which she had just told him. Felix
felt, at all times, much the same impulse to dissi-
pate visible melancholy that a good housewife feels
to brush away dust. There was something he
wished to brush away now ; suddenly he stopped
rowing and poised his oars. " Why should Mr.
Brand have addressed himself to you, and not to
your sister ? " he asked. " I am sure she would
listen to him."

Gertrude, in her family, was thought capable of
a good deal of levity; but her levity had never
gone so far as this. It moved her greatly, how-
ever, to hear Felix say that he was sure of some-
thing ; so that, raising her eyes toward him, she
tried intently, for some moments, to conjure up
this wonderful image of a love-affair between her
own sister and her own suitor. We know that
Gertrude had an imaginative mind ; so that it is
not impossible that this effort should have been
partially successful. But she only murmured, "Ah,
Felix! ah, Felix!"

" Why should n't they marry ? Try and make
them marry ! " cried Felix.

" Try and make them ? "

" Turn the tables on them. Then they will
leave you alone. I will help you as far as I can."

Gertrude's heart began to beat ; she was greatly


excited ; she had never had anything so interest-
ing proposed to her before. Felix had begun to
row again, and he now sent the boat home with
long strokes. " I believe she does care for him ! "
said Gertrude, after they had disembarked.

" Of course she does, and we will marry them
off. It will make them happy ; it will make every
one happy. We shall have a wedding and I will
write an epithalamium."

44 It seems as if it would make me happy," said

" To get rid of Mr. Brand, eh ? To recover
your liberty ? "

Gertrude walked on. " To see my sister mar-
ried to so good a man."

Felix gave his light laugh. " You always put
things on those grounds ; you will never say any-
thing for yourself. You are all so afraid, here, of
being selfish. I don't think you know how," he
went on. " Let me show you ! It will make me
happy for myself, and for just the reverse of what
I told you a while ago. After that, when I make
love to you, you will have to think I mean it."

" I shall never think you mean anything," said
Gertrude. " You are too fantastic."

" Ah," cried Felix, " that 's a license to say
everything ! Gertrude, I adore you ! "


CHARLOTTE and Mr. Brand had not returned
when they reached the house ; but the Baroness
had come to tea, and Robert Acton also, who now
regularly asked for a place at this generous repast
or made his appearance later in the evening.
Clifford Wentworth, with his juvenile growl, re-
marked upon it.

" You are always coming to tea nowadays, Rob-
ert," he said. " I should think you had drunk
enough tea in China."

44 Since when is Mr. Acton more frequent ? "
asked the Baroness.

" Since you came," said Clifford. " It seems
as if you were a kind of attraction."

" I suppose I am a curiosity," said the Bar-
oness. " Give me time and I will make you a

44 It would fall to pieces after you go ! " ex-
claimed Acton.

44 Don't talk about her going, in that familiar
way," Clifford said. " It makes me feel gloomy."

Mr. Wentworth glanced at his son, and taking


note of tliese words, wondered if Felix had been
teaching him, according to the programme he had
sketched out, to make love to the wife of a Ger-
man prince.

Charlotte came in late with Mr. Brand ; but
Gertrude, to whom, at least, Felix had taught
something, looked in vain, in her face, for the
traces of a guilty passion. Mr. Brand sat down
by Gertrude, and she present^ asked him why
they had not crossed the pond to join Felix and

" It is cruel of you to ask me that," he an-
swered, very softly. He had a large morsel of
cake before him ; but he fingered it without eat-
ing it. " I sometimes think you are growing
cruel," he added.

Gertrude said nothing ; she was afraid to speak.
There was a kind of rage in her heart ; she felt as
if she could easily persuade herself that she was
persecuted. She said to herself that it was quite
right that she should not allow him to make her
believe she was wrong. She thought of what
Felix had said to her ; she wished indeed Mr.
Brand would marry Charlotte. She looked away
from him and spoke no more. Mr. Brand ended
by eating his cake, while Felix sat opposite, de-
scribing to Mr. Wentworth the students' duels at
Heidelberg. After tea they all dispersed them-


selves, as usual, upon the piazza and in the gar-
den ; and Mr. Brand drew near to Gertrude again.

" I did n't come to you this afternoon because
you were not alone," he began ; " because you
were with a newer friend."

" Felix ? He is an old friend by this time."

Mr. Brand looked at the ground for some mo-
ments. "I thought I was prepared to hear you
speak in that way," he resumed. " But I find it
very painful."

44 1 don't see what else I can say," said Ger-

Mr. Brand walked beside her for a while in
silence; Gertrude wished he would go away.
44 He is certainly very accomplished. But I think
I ought to advise you."

44 To advise me ? "

44 1 think I know your nature."

44 1 think you don't," said Gertrude, with a soft

44 You make yourself out worse than you are
to please him," Mr. Brand said, gently.

44 Worse to please him ? What do you
mean ? " asked Gertrude, stopping.

Mr. Brand stopped also, and with the same soft
straightforwardness, 44 He doesn't care for the
things you care for the great questions of life."

Gertrude, with her eyes on his, shook her head.


" I don't care for the great questions of life. They
are much beyond me."

44 There was a time when you did n't say that,"
said Mr. Brand.

44 Oh," rejoined Gertrude, " I think you made
me talk a great deal of nonsense. And it de-
pends," she added, " upon what you call the great
questions of life. There are some things I care

" Are they the things you talk about with your
cousin ? "

" You should not say things to me against my
cousin, Mr. Brand," said Gertrude. 4t That is

He listened to this respectfully ; then he an-
swered, with a little vibration of the voice, 4t I
should be very sorry to do anything dishonorable.
But I don't see why it is dishonorable to say that
your cousin is frivolous."

44 Go and say it to himself ! "

44 1 think he would admit it," said Mr. Brand.
44 That is the tone he would take. He would not
be ashamed of it."

44 Then I am not ashamed of it ! " Gertrude
declared. 44 That is probably what I like him for.
I am frivolous myself."

44 You are trying, as I said just now, to lower


" I am trying for once to be natural ! " cried
Gertrude passionately. u I have been pretend-
ing, all my life ; I have been dishonest ; it is you
that have made me so! " Mr. Brand stood gaz-
ing at her, and she went on, " Why should n't I
be frivolous, if I want ? One has a right to be
frivolous, if it 's one's nature. No, I don't care
for the great questions. I care for pleasure for
amusement. Perhaps I am fond of wicked things ;
it is very possible ! "

Mr. Brand remained staring ; he was even a
little pale, as if he had been frightened. " I don't
think you know what you are saying ! " he ex-

" Perhaps not. Perhaps I am talking nonsense.
But it is only with you that I talk nonsense. I
never do so with my cousin."

" I will speak to you again, when you are less
excited," said Mr. Brand.

" 1 am always excited when you speak to me.
I must tell you that even if it prevents you
altogether, in future. Your speaking to me irri-
tates me. With my cousin it is very different.
That seems quiet and natural."

He looked at her, and then he looked away,
with a kind of helpless distress, at the dusky gar-
den and the faint summer stars. After which,
suddenly turning back, " Gertrude, Gertrude ! "
he softly groaned. "Am I really losing you ? "


She was touched she was pained ; but it had
already occurred to her that she might do some-
thing better than say so. It would not have alle-
viated her companion's distress to perceive, just
then, whence she had sympathetically borrowed
this ingenuity. " I am not sorry for you," Ger-
trude said ; " for in paying so much attention to
me you are following a shadow you are wast-
ing something precious. There is something else
you might have that you don't look at some-
thing better than I am. That is a reality ! " And
then, with intention, she looked at him and tried
to smile a little. He thought this smile of hers
very strange ; but she turned away and left him.

She wandered about alone in the garden won-
dering what Mr. Brand would make of her words,
which it had been a singular pleasure for her to
utter. Shortly after, passing in front of the house,
she saw at a distance two persons standing near
the garden gate. It was Mr. Brand going away
and bidding good-night to Charlotte, who had
walked down with him from the house. Gertrude
saw that the parting was prolonged. Then she
turned her back upon it. She had not gone very
far, however, when she heard her sister slowly
following her. She neither turned round nor
waited for her; she knew what Charlotte was
going to say. Charlotte, who at last overtook


her, in fact presently began ; she had passed her
arm into Gertrude's.

" Will you listen to me, dear, if I say something
very particular ? "

44 1 know what you are going to say," said Ger-
trude. 44 Mr. Brand feels very badly."

44 Oh, Gertrude, how can you treat him so ? '"
Charlotte demanded. And as her sister made no
answer she added, 44 After all he has done for
you ! "

44 What has he done for me ? "

44 1 wonder you can ask, Gertrude. He has
helped you so. You told me so yourself, a great
many times. You told me that he helped you to
struggle with your your peculiarities. You told
me that he had taught you how to govern your

For a moment Gertrude said nothing. Then,
44 Was my temper very bad? " she asked.

44 1 am not accusing you, Gertrude," said Char-

44 What are you doing, then ? " her sister de-
manded, with a short laugh.

44 1 am pleading for Mr. Brand reminding you
of all you owe him."

44 1 have given it all back," said Gertrude, still
with her little laugh. 44 He can take back the
virtue he imparted ! I want to be wicked again."


Her sister made her stop in the path, and fixed
upon her, in the darkness, a sweet, reproachful
gaze. " If you talk this way I shall almost be-
lieve it. Think of all we owe Mr. Brand. Think
of how he has always expected something of you.
Think how much he has been to us. Think of
his beautiful influence upon Clifford."

44 He is very good," said Gertrude, looking at
her sister. " I know he is very good. But he
should n't speak against Felix."

" Felix is good," Charlotte answered, softly but
promptly. " Felix is very wonderful. Only he
is so different. Mr. Brand is much nearer to us.
I should never think of going to Felix with a
trouble with a question. Mr. Brand is much
more to us, Gertrude."

" He is very very good," Gertrude repeated.
" He is more to you ; yes, much more. Charlotte,"
she added suddenly, " you are in love with him ! "

44 Oh, Gertrude ! " cried poor Charlotte ; and
her sister saw her blushing in the darkness.

Gertrude put her arm round her. " I wish he
would marry you ! " she went on.

Charlotte shook herself free. " You must not
say such things ! " she exclaimed, beneath her

44 You like him more than you say, and he likes
you more than he knows."


" This is very cruel of you ! " Charlotte Went-
worth murmured.

But if it was cruel Gertrude continued pitiless.
" Not if it 's true," she answered. " I wish he
would marry you."

" Please don't say that."

" I mean to tell him so ! " said Gertrude.

" Oh, Gertrude, Gertrude ! " her sister almost

" Yes, if he speaks to me again about myself.
I will say, ' Why don't you marry Charlotte ?
She 's a thousand times better than I.' '

" You are wicked ; you are changed ! " cried her

" If you don't like it you can prevent it," said
Gertrude. " You can prevent it by keeping him
from speaking to me ? " And with this she walked
away, very conscious of what she had done ; meas-
uring it and finding a certain joy and a quickened
sense of freedom in it.

Mr. Wentworth was rather wide of the mark in
suspecting that Clifford had begun to pay unscru-
pulous compliments to his brilliant cousin ; for the
young man had really more scruples than he re-
ceived credit for in his family. He had a certain
transparent shamefacedness which was in itself a
proof that he was not at his ease in dissipation.
His collegiate peccadilloes had aroused a domestic


murmur as disagreeable to the young man as the
creaking of his boots would have been to a house-
breaker. Only, as the house-breaker would have
simplified matters by removing his chaussures, it
had seemed to Clifford that the shortest cut to
comfortable relations with people relations which
should make him cease to think that when they
spoke to him they meant something improving
was to renounce all ambition toward a nefari-
ous development. And, in fact, Clifford's ambition
took the most commendable form. He thought of
himself in the future as the well-known and much-
liked Mr. Wentworth, of Boston, who should, in
the natural course of prosperity, have married
his pretty cousin, Lizzie Acton ; should live in a
wide-fronted house, in view of the Common ; and
should drive, behind a light wagon, over the damp
autumn roads, a pair of beautifully matched sorrel
horses. Clifford's vision of the coming years was
very simple ; its most definite features were this
element of familiar matrimony and the duplication
of his resources for trotting. He had not yet asked
his cousin to marry him ; but he meant to do so
as soon as he had taken his degree. Lizzie was
serenely conscious of his intention, and she had
made up her mind that he would improve. Her
brother, who was very fond of this light, quick,
competent little Lizzie, saw on his side no reason


to interpose. It seemed to him a graceful social
law that Clifford and his sister should become en-
gaged ; he himself was not engaged, but every one
else, fortunately, was not such a fool as he. He
was fond of Clifford, as well, and had his own
way of which it must be confessed he was a little
ashamed of looking at those aberrations which
had led to the young man's compulsory retirement
from the neighboring seat of learning. Acton had
seen the world, as he said to himself ; he had been
to China and had knocked about among men.
He had learned the essential difference between a
nice young fellow and a mean young fellow, and
was satisfied that there was no harm in Clifford.
He believed although it must be added that he
had not quite the courage to declare it in the
doctrine of wild oats, and thought it a useful pre-
ventive of superfluous fears. If Mr. Wentworth
and Charlotte and Mr. Brand would only apply it
in Clifford's case, they would be happier ; and Ac-
ton thought it a pity they should not be happier.
They took the boy's misdemeanors too much to
heart ; they talked to him too solemnly ; they
frightened and bewildered him. Of course there
was the great standard of morality, which forbade
that a man should get tipsy, play at billiards for
money, or cultivate his sensual consciousness ; but
what fear was there that poor Clifford was going


to run a tilt at any great standard ? It had, how-
ever, never occurred to Acton to dedicate the Baro-
ness Miinster to the redemption of a refractory col-
legian. The instrument, here, would have seemed
to him quite too complex for the operation. Felix,
on the other hand, had spoken in obedience to the
belief that the more charming a woman is the
more numerous, literally, are her definite social

Eugenia herself, as we know, had plenty of lei-
sure to enumerate her uses. As I have had the
honor of intimating, she had come four thousand
miles to seek her fortune ; and it is not to be sup-
posed that after this great effort she could neglect
any apparent aid to advancement. It is my mis-
fortune that in attempting to describe in a short
compass the deportment of this remarkable woman
I am obliged to express things rather brutally. I
feel this to be the case, for instance, when I say
that she had primarily detected such an aid to ad-
vancement in the person of Robert Acton, but that
she had afterwards remembered that a prudent
archer has always a second bowstring. Eugenia
was a woman of finely-mingled motive, and her
intentions were never sensibly gross. She had a
sort of sesthetic ideal for Clifford which seemed to
her a disinterested reason for taking him in hand.
It was very well for a fresh-colored young gentle-


man to be ingenuous ; but Clifford, really, was
crude. With such a pretty face he ought to have
prettier manners. She would teach him that,
with a beautiful name, the expectation of a large
property, and, as they said in Europe, a social
position, an only son should know how to carry

Once Clifford had begun to come and see her by
himself and for himself, he came very often. He
hardly knew why he should come ; he saw her al-
most every evening at his father's house ; he had
nothing particular to say to her. She was not a
young girl, and fellows of his age called only upon
young girls. He exaggerated her age ; she seemed
to him an old woman ; it was happy that the
Baroness, with all her intelligence, was incapable
of guessing this. But gradually it struck Clifford
that visiting old women might be, if not a natural,
at least, as they say of some articles of diet, an ac-
quired taste. The Baroness was certainly a very
amusing old woman ; she talked to him as no lady
and indeed no gentleman had ever talked to
him before.

" You should go to Europe and make the tour,"
she said to him one afternoon. " Of course, on
leaving college you will go."

"I don't want to go," Clifford declared. "I
know some fellows who have been to Europe.
They say you can have better fun here."


" That depends. It depends upon your idea of
fun. Your friends probably were not introduced."

" Introduced ? " Clifford demanded.

" They had no opportunity of going into socie-
ty; they formed no relations" This was one of a
certain number of words that the Baroness often
pronounced in the French manner.

" They went to a ball, in Paris ; I know that,"
said Clifford.

" Ah, there are balls and balls ; especially in
Paris. No, you must go, you know ; it is not a
thing from which you can dispense yourself. You
need it."

" Oh, I 'm very well," said Clifford. " I 'm not

" I don't mean for your health, my poor child.
I mean for your manners."

" I have n't got any manners ! " growled Clifford.

" Precisely. You don't mind my assenting to
that, eh ? " asked the Baroness with a smile. " You
must go to Europe and get a few. You can get
them better there. It is a pity you might not
have come while I was living in in Germany.
I would have introduced you; I had a charming
little circle. You would perhaps have been rather
young ; but the younger one begins, I think, the
better. Now, at any rate, you have no time to
lose, and when I return you must immediately
come to me."


All this, to Clifford's apprehension, was a great
mixture his beginning young, Eugenia's return
to Europe, his being introduced to her charming
little circle. What was he to begin, and what was
her little circle ? His ideas about her marriage had
a good deal of vagueness ; but they were in so far
definite as that he felt it to be a matter not to be
freely mentioned. He sat and looked all round
the room ; he supposed she was alluding in some
way to her marriage.

" Oh, I don't want to go to Germany," he said ;
it seemed to him the most convenient thing to say.

She looked at him a while, smiling with her
lips, but not with her eyes.

" You have scruples ? " she asked.

" Scruples ? " said Clifford.

" You young people, here, are very singular ;
one doesn't know where to expect you. When
you are not extremely improper you are so terri-
bly proper. I dare say you think that, owing to
my irregular marriage, I live with loose people.
You were never more mistaken. I have been all
the more particular."

" Oh, no," said Clifford, honestly distressed.
" I never thought such a thing as that."

" Are you very sure? I am convinced that
your father does, and your sisters. They say to
each other that here I am on my good behavior,


but that over there married by the left hand
I associate with light women."

" Oh, no," cried Clifford, energetically, " they
don't say such things as that to each other ! "

" If they think them they had better say them,"
the Baroness rejoined. " Then they can be con-
tradicted. Please contradict that whenever you
hear it, and don't be afraid of coming to see me
on account of the company I keep. I have the
honor of knowing more distinguished men, my
poor child, than you are likely to see in a life-time.

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Online LibraryHenry JamesThe Europeans. A sketch → online text (page 9 of 15)