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Title: The Europeans
Author: James, Henry
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Europeans" ***

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THE EUROPEANS

by Henry James



CONTENTS



CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII



CHAPTER I

A narrow grave-yard in the heart of a bustling, indifferent city, seen
from the windows of a gloomy-looking inn, is at no time an object of
enlivening suggestion; and the spectacle is not at its best when the
mouldy tombstones and funereal umbrage have received the ineffectual
refreshment of a dull, moist snow-fall. If, while the air is thickened
by this frosty drizzle, the calendar should happen to indicate that the
blessed vernal season is already six weeks old, it will be admitted that
no depressing influence is absent from the scene. This fact was keenly
felt on a certain 12th of May, upwards of thirty years since, by a lady
who stood looking out of one of the windows of the best hotel in the
ancient city of Boston. She had stood there for half an hour--stood
there, that is, at intervals; for from time to time she turned back
into the room and measured its length with a restless step. In the
chimney-place was a red-hot fire which emitted a small blue flame; and
in front of the fire, at a table, sat a young man who was busily plying
a pencil. He had a number of sheets of paper cut into small
equal squares, and he was apparently covering them with pictorial
designs--strange-looking figures. He worked rapidly and attentively,
sometimes threw back his head and held out his drawing at arm’s-length,
and kept up a soft, gay-sounding humming and whistling. The lady brushed
past him in her walk; her much-trimmed skirts were voluminous. She never
dropped her eyes upon his work; she only turned them, occasionally, as
she passed, to a mirror suspended above the toilet-table on the other
side of the room. Here she paused a moment, gave a pinch to her waist
with her two hands, or raised these members--they were very plump
and pretty--to the multifold braids of her hair, with a movement half
caressing, half corrective. An attentive observer might have fancied
that during these periods of desultory self-inspection her face forgot
its melancholy; but as soon as she neared the window again it began to
proclaim that she was a very ill-pleased woman. And indeed, in what
met her eyes there was little to be pleased with. The window-panes were
battered by the sleet; the head-stones in the grave-yard beneath seemed
to be holding themselves askance to keep it out of their faces. A tall
iron railing protected them from the street, and on the other side of
the railing an assemblage of Bostonians were trampling about in the
liquid snow. Many of them were looking up and down; they appeared to be
waiting for something. From time to time a strange vehicle drew near to
the place where they stood,--such a vehicle as the lady at the window,
in spite of a considerable acquaintance with human inventions, had
never seen before: a huge, low omnibus, painted in brilliant colors,
and decorated apparently with jangling bells, attached to a species of
groove in the pavement, through which it was dragged, with a great deal
of rumbling, bouncing and scratching, by a couple of remarkably small
horses. When it reached a certain point the people in front of the
grave-yard, of whom much the greater number were women, carrying
satchels and parcels, projected themselves upon it in a compact body--a
movement suggesting the scramble for places in a life-boat at sea--and
were engulfed in its large interior. Then the life-boat--or the
life-car, as the lady at the window of the hotel vaguely designated
it--went bumping and jingling away upon its invisible wheels, with the
helmsman (the man at the wheel) guiding its course incongruously from
the prow. This phenomenon was repeated every three minutes, and the
supply of eagerly-moving women in cloaks, bearing reticules and bundles,
renewed itself in the most liberal manner. On the other side of the
grave-yard was a row of small red brick houses, showing a series of
homely, domestic-looking backs; at the end opposite the hotel a tall
wooden church-spire, painted white, rose high into the vagueness of
the snow-flakes. The lady at the window looked at it for some time; for
reasons of her own she thought it the ugliest thing she had ever seen.
She hated it, she despised it; it threw her into a state of irritation
that was quite out of proportion to any sensible motive. She had never
known herself to care so much about church-spires.

She was not pretty; but even when it expressed perplexed irritation her
face was most interesting and agreeable. Neither was she in her
first youth; yet, though slender, with a great deal of extremely
well-fashioned roundness of contour--a suggestion both of maturity and
flexibility--she carried her three and thirty years as a light-wristed
Hebe might have carried a brimming wine-cup. Her complexion was
fatigued, as the French say; her mouth was large, her lips too full, her
teeth uneven, her chin rather commonly modeled; she had a thick nose,
and when she smiled--she was constantly smiling--the lines beside it
rose too high, toward her eyes. But these eyes were charming: gray
in color, brilliant, quickly glancing, gently resting, full of
intelligence. Her forehead was very low--it was her only handsome
feature; and she had a great abundance of crisp dark hair, finely
frizzled, which was always braided in a manner that suggested some
Southern or Eastern, some remotely foreign, woman. She had a large
collection of ear-rings, and wore them in alternation; and they seemed
to give a point to her Oriental or exotic aspect. A compliment had once
been paid her, which, being repeated to her, gave her greater pleasure
than anything she had ever heard. “A pretty woman?” someone had said.
“Why, her features are very bad.” “I don’t know about her features,” a
very discerning observer had answered; “but she carries her head like a
pretty woman.” You may imagine whether, after this, she carried her head
less becomingly.

She turned away from the window at last, pressing her hands to her eyes.
“It’s too horrible!” she exclaimed. “I shall go back--I shall go back!”
 And she flung herself into a chair before the fire.

“Wait a little, dear child,” said the young man softly, sketching away
at his little scraps of paper.

The lady put out her foot; it was very small, and there was an immense
rosette on her slipper. She fixed her eyes for a while on this ornament,
and then she looked at the glowing bed of anthracite coal in the grate.
“Did you ever see anything so hideous as that fire?” she demanded. “Did
you ever see anything so--so _affreux_ as--as everything?” She spoke
English with perfect purity; but she brought out this French epithet
in a manner that indicated that she was accustomed to using French
epithets.

“I think the fire is very pretty,” said the young man, glancing at it
a moment. “Those little blue tongues, dancing on top of the crimson
embers, are extremely picturesque. They are like a fire in an
alchemist’s laboratory.”

“You are too good-natured, my dear,” his companion declared.

The young man held out one of his drawings, with his head on one side.
His tongue was gently moving along his under-lip. “Good-natured--yes.
Too good-natured--no.”

“You are irritating,” said the lady, looking at her slipper.

He began to retouch his sketch. “I think you mean simply that you are
irritated.”

“Ah, for that, yes!” said his companion, with a little bitter laugh.
“It’s the darkest day of my life--and you know what that means.”

“Wait till tomorrow,” rejoined the young man.

“Yes, we have made a great mistake. If there is any doubt about it
today, there certainly will be none tomorrow. _Ce sera clair, au
moins!_”

The young man was silent a few moments, driving his pencil. Then at
last, “There are no such things as mistakes,” he affirmed.

“Very true--for those who are not clever enough to perceive them. Not
to recognize one’s mistakes--that would be happiness in life,” the lady
went on, still looking at her pretty foot.

“My dearest sister,” said the young man, always intent upon his drawing,
“it’s the first time you have told me I am not clever.”

“Well, by your own theory I can’t call it a mistake,” answered his
sister, pertinently enough.

The young man gave a clear, fresh laugh. “You, at least, are clever
enough, dearest sister,” he said.

“I was not so when I proposed this.”

“Was it you who proposed it?” asked her brother.

She turned her head and gave him a little stare. “Do you desire the
credit of it?”

“If you like, I will take the blame,” he said, looking up with a smile.

“Yes,” she rejoined in a moment, “you make no difference in these
things. You have no sense of property.”

The young man gave his joyous laugh again. “If that means I have no
property, you are right!”

“Don’t joke about your poverty,” said his sister. “That is quite as
vulgar as to boast about it.”

“My poverty! I have just finished a drawing that will bring me fifty
francs!”

_“Voyons,”_ said the lady, putting out her hand.

He added a touch or two, and then gave her his sketch. She looked at it,
but she went on with her idea of a moment before. “If a woman were to
ask you to marry her you would say, ‘Certainly, my dear, with pleasure!’
And you would marry her and be ridiculously happy. Then at the end of
three months you would say to her, ‘You know that blissful day when I
begged you to be mine!’”

The young man had risen from the table, stretching his arms a little; he
walked to the window. “That is a description of a charming nature,” he
said.

“Oh, yes, you have a charming nature; I regard that as our capital. If
I had not been convinced of that I should never have taken the risk of
bringing you to this dreadful country.”

“This comical country, this delightful country!” exclaimed the young
man, and he broke into the most animated laughter.

“Is it those women scrambling into the omnibus?” asked his companion.
“What do you suppose is the attraction?”

“I suppose there is a very good-looking man inside,” said the young man.

“In each of them? They come along in hundreds, and the men in this
country don’t seem at all handsome. As for the women--I have never seen
so many at once since I left the convent.”

“The women are very pretty,” her brother declared, “and the whole affair
is very amusing. I must make a sketch of it.” And he came back to the
table quickly, and picked up his utensils--a small sketching-board,
a sheet of paper, and three or four crayons. He took his place at the
window with these things, and stood there glancing out, plying his
pencil with an air of easy skill. While he worked he wore a
brilliant smile. Brilliant is indeed the word at this moment for his
strongly-lighted face. He was eight and twenty years old; he had a
short, slight, well-made figure. Though he bore a noticeable resemblance
to his sister, he was a better favored person: fair-haired, clear-faced,
witty-looking, with a delicate finish of feature and an expression at
once urbane and not at all serious, a warm blue eye, an eyebrow finely
drawn and excessively arched--an eyebrow which, if ladies wrote sonnets
to those of their lovers, might have been made the subject of such a
piece of verse--and a light moustache that flourished upwards as if
blown that way by the breath of a constant smile. There was something
in his physiognomy at once benevolent and picturesque. But, as I have
hinted, it was not at all serious. The young man’s face was, in this
respect, singular; it was not at all serious, and yet it inspired the
liveliest confidence.

“Be sure you put in plenty of snow,” said his sister. “_Bonté divine_,
what a climate!”

“I shall leave the sketch all white, and I shall put in the little
figures in black,” the young man answered, laughing. “And I shall call
it--what is that line in Keats?--Mid-May’s Eldest Child!”

“I don’t remember,” said the lady, “that mamma ever told me it was like
this.”

“Mamma never told you anything disagreeable. And it’s not like
this--every day. You will see that tomorrow we shall have a splendid
day.”

“_Qu’en savez-vous?_ Tomorrow I shall go away.”

“Where shall you go?”

“Anywhere away from here. Back to Silberstadt. I shall write to the
Reigning Prince.”

The young man turned a little and looked at her, with his crayon poised.
“My dear Eugenia,” he murmured, “were you so happy at sea?”

Eugenia got up; she still held in her hand the drawing her brother had
given her. It was a bold, expressive sketch of a group of miserable
people on the deck of a steamer, clinging together and clutching at each
other, while the vessel lurched downward, at a terrific angle, into
the hollow of a wave. It was extremely clever, and full of a sort of
tragi-comical power. Eugenia dropped her eyes upon it and made a sad
grimace. “How can you draw such odious scenes?” she asked. “I should
like to throw it into the fire!” And she tossed the paper away. Her
brother watched, quietly, to see where it went. It fluttered down to the
floor, where he let it lie. She came toward the window, pinching in
her waist. “Why don’t you reproach me--abuse me?” she asked. “I think
I should feel better then. Why don’t you tell me that you hate me for
bringing you here?”

“Because you would not believe it. I adore you, dear sister! I am
delighted to be here, and I am charmed with the prospect.”

“I don’t know what had taken possession of me. I had lost my head,”
 Eugenia went on.

The young man, on his side, went on plying his pencil. “It is evidently
a most curious and interesting country. Here we are, and I mean to enjoy
it.”

His companion turned away with an impatient step, but presently came
back. “High spirits are doubtless an excellent thing,” she said; “but
you give one too much of them, and I can’t see that they have done you
any good.”

The young man stared, with lifted eyebrows, smiling; he tapped his
handsome nose with his pencil. “They have made me happy!”

“That was the least they could do; they have made you nothing else. You
have gone through life thanking fortune for such very small favors that
she has never put herself to any trouble for you.”

“She must have put herself to a little, I think, to present me with so
admirable a sister.”

“Be serious, Felix. You forget that I am your elder.”

“With a sister, then, so elderly!” rejoined Felix, laughing. “I hoped we
had left seriousness in Europe.”

“I fancy you will find it here. Remember that you are nearly thirty
years old, and that you are nothing but an obscure Bohemian--a penniless
correspondent of an illustrated newspaper.”

“Obscure as much as you please, but not so much of a Bohemian as you
think. And not at all penniless! I have a hundred pounds in my pocket.
I have an engagement to make fifty sketches, and I mean to paint the
portraits of all our cousins, and of all _their_ cousins, at a hundred
dollars a head.”

“You are not ambitious,” said Eugenia.

“You are, dear Baroness,” the young man replied.

The Baroness was silent a moment, looking out at the sleet-darkened
grave-yard and the bumping horse-cars. “Yes, I am ambitious,” she said
at last. “And my ambition has brought me to this dreadful place!” She
glanced about her--the room had a certain vulgar nudity; the bed and the
window were curtainless--and she gave a little passionate sigh. “Poor
old ambition!” she exclaimed. Then she flung herself down upon a sofa
which stood near against the wall, and covered her face with her hands.

Her brother went on with his drawing, rapidly and skillfully; after some
moments he sat down beside her and showed her his sketch. “Now, don’t
you think that’s pretty good for an obscure Bohemian?” he asked. “I have
knocked off another fifty francs.”

Eugenia glanced at the little picture as he laid it on her lap. “Yes,
it is very clever,” she said. And in a moment she added, “Do you suppose
our cousins do that?”

“Do what?”

“Get into those things, and look like that.”

Felix meditated awhile. “I really can’t say. It will be interesting to
discover.”

“Oh, the rich people can’t!” said the Baroness.

“Are you very sure they are rich?” asked Felix, lightly.

His sister slowly turned in her place, looking at him. “Heavenly
powers!” she murmured. “You have a way of bringing out things!”

“It will certainly be much pleasanter if they are rich,” Felix declared.

“Do you suppose if I had not known they were rich I would ever have
come?”

The young man met his sister’s somewhat peremptory eye with his bright,
contented glance. “Yes, it certainly will be pleasanter,” he repeated.

“That is all I expect of them,” said the Baroness. “I don’t count upon
their being clever or friendly--at first--or elegant or interesting. But
I assure you I insist upon their being rich.”

Felix leaned his head upon the back of the sofa and looked awhile at the
oblong patch of sky to which the window served as frame. The snow was
ceasing; it seemed to him that the sky had begun to brighten. “I count
upon their being rich,” he said at last, “and powerful, and clever, and
friendly, and elegant, and interesting, and generally delightful! _Tu
vas voir_.” And he bent forward and kissed his sister. “Look there!” he
went on. “As a portent, even while I speak, the sky is turning the color
of gold; the day is going to be splendid.”

And indeed, within five minutes the weather had changed. The sun broke
out through the snow-clouds and jumped into the Baroness’s room. “_Bonté
divine_,” exclaimed this lady, “what a climate!”

“We will go out and see the world,” said Felix.

And after a while they went out. The air had grown warm as well as
brilliant; the sunshine had dried the pavements. They walked about the
streets at hazard, looking at the people and the houses, the shops and
the vehicles, the blazing blue sky and the muddy crossings, the hurrying
men and the slow-strolling maidens, the fresh red bricks and the bright
green trees, the extraordinary mixture of smartness and shabbiness.
From one hour to another the day had grown vernal; even in the bustling
streets there was an odor of earth and blossom. Felix was immensely
entertained. He had called it a comical country, and he went about
laughing at everything he saw. You would have said that American
civilization expressed itself to his sense in a tissue of capital jokes.
The jokes were certainly excellent, and the young man’s merriment was
joyous and genial. He possessed what is called the pictorial sense;
and this first glimpse of democratic manners stirred the same sort of
attention that he would have given to the movements of a lively
young person with a bright complexion. Such attention would have been
demonstrative and complimentary; and in the present case Felix might
have passed for an undispirited young exile revisiting the haunts of
his childhood. He kept looking at the violent blue of the sky, at the
scintillating air, at the scattered and multiplied patches of color.

“_Comme c’est bariolé_, eh?” he said to his sister in that foreign
tongue which they both appeared to feel a mysterious prompting
occasionally to use.

“Yes, it is _bariolé_ indeed,” the Baroness answered. “I don’t like the
coloring; it hurts my eyes.”

“It shows how extremes meet,” the young man rejoined. “Instead of coming
to the West we seem to have gone to the East. The way the sky touches
the house-tops is just like Cairo; and the red and blue sign-boards
patched over the face of everything remind one of Mahometan
decorations.”

“The young women are not Mahometan,” said his companion. “They can’t be
said to hide their faces. I never saw anything so bold.”

“Thank Heaven they don’t hide their faces!” cried Felix. “Their faces
are uncommonly pretty.”

“Yes, their faces are often very pretty,” said the Baroness, who was
a very clever woman. She was too clever a woman not to be capable of
a great deal of just and fine observation. She clung more closely than
usual to her brother’s arm; she was not exhilarated, as he was; she said
very little, but she noted a great many things and made her reflections.
She was a little excited; she felt that she had indeed come to a strange
country, to make her fortune. Superficially, she was conscious of a good
deal of irritation and displeasure; the Baroness was a very delicate
and fastidious person. Of old, more than once, she had gone, for
entertainment’s sake and in brilliant company, to a fair in a provincial
town. It seemed to her now that she was at an enormous fair--that the
entertainment and the _désagréments_ were very much the same. She found
herself alternately smiling and shrinking; the show was very curious,
but it was probable, from moment to moment, that one would be jostled.
The Baroness had never seen so many people walking about before; she
had never been so mixed up with people she did not know. But little by
little she felt that this fair was a more serious undertaking. She went
with her brother into a large public garden, which seemed very pretty,
but where she was surprised at seeing no carriages. The afternoon was
drawing to a close; the coarse, vivid grass and the slender tree-boles
were gilded by the level sunbeams--gilded as with gold that was fresh
from the mine. It was the hour at which ladies should come out for an
airing and roll past a hedge of pedestrians, holding their parasols
askance. Here, however, Eugenia observed no indications of this custom,
the absence of which was more anomalous as there was a charming avenue
of remarkably graceful, arching elms in the most convenient contiguity
to a large, cheerful street, in which, evidently, among the more
prosperous members of the _bourgeoisie_, a great deal of pedestrianism
went forward. Our friends passed out into this well lighted promenade,
and Felix noticed a great many more pretty girls and called his sister’s
attention to them. This latter measure, however, was superfluous; for
the Baroness had inspected, narrowly, these charming young ladies.

“I feel an intimate conviction that our cousins are like that,” said
Felix.

The Baroness hoped so, but this is not what she said. “They are very
pretty,” she said, “but they are mere little girls. Where are the
women--the women of thirty?”

“Of thirty-three, do you mean?” her brother was going to ask; for he
understood often both what she said and what she did not say. But he
only exclaimed upon the beauty of the sunset, while the Baroness, who
had come to seek her fortune, reflected that it would certainly be well
for her if the persons against whom she might need to measure herself
should all be mere little girls. The sunset was superb; they stopped
to look at it; Felix declared that he had never seen such a gorgeous
mixture of colors. The Baroness also thought it splendid; and she was
perhaps the more easily pleased from the fact that while she stood there
she was conscious of much admiring observation on the part of various
nice-looking people who passed that way, and to whom a distinguished,
strikingly-dressed woman with a foreign air, exclaiming upon the
beauties of nature on a Boston street corner in the French tongue,
could not be an object of indifference. Eugenia’s spirits rose. She
surrendered herself to a certain tranquil gaiety. If she had come to
seek her fortune, it seemed to her that her fortune would be easy to
find. There was a promise of it in the gorgeous purity of the western
sky; there was an intimation in the mild, unimpertinent gaze of the
passers of a certain natural facility in things.

“You will not go back to Silberstadt, eh?” asked Felix.

“Not tomorrow,” said the Baroness.

“Nor write to the Reigning Prince?”

“I shall write to him that they evidently know nothing about him over
here.”

“He will not believe you,” said the young man. “I advise you to let him
alone.”

Felix himself continued to be in high good humor. Brought up among
ancient customs and in picturesque cities, he yet found plenty of local
color in the little Puritan metropolis. That evening, after dinner, he
told his sister that he should go forth early on the morrow to look up
their cousins.

“You are very impatient,” said Eugenia.

“What can be more natural,” he asked, “after seeing all those pretty
girls today? If one’s cousins are of that pattern, the sooner one knows
them the better.”

“Perhaps they are not,” said Eugenia. “We ought to have brought some
letters--to some other people.”

“The other people would not be our kinsfolk.”

“Possibly they would be none the worse for that,” the Baroness replied.

Her brother looked at her with his eyebrows lifted. “That was not what
you said when you first proposed to me that we should come out here and
fraternize with our relatives. You said that it was the prompting of
natural affection; and when I suggested some reasons against it you
declared that the _voix du sang_ should go before everything.”

“You remember all that?” asked the Baroness.

“Vividly! I was greatly moved by it.”

She was walking up and down the room, as she had done in the morning;
she stopped in her walk and looked at her brother. She apparently was
going to say something, but she checked herself and resumed her walk.
Then, in a few moments, she said something different, which had the
effect of an explanation of the suppression of her earlier thought. “You
will never be anything but a child, dear brother.”

“One would suppose that you, madam,” answered Felix, laughing, “were a
thousand years old.”

“I am--sometimes,” said the Baroness.

“I will go, then, and announce to our cousins the arrival of a
personage so extraordinary. They will immediately come and pay you their
respects.”

Eugenia paced the length of the room again, and then she stopped before
her brother, laying her hand upon his arm. “They are not to come and see
me,” she said. “You are not to allow that. That is not the way I shall
meet them first.” And in answer to his interrogative glance she went on.
“You will go and examine, and report. You will come back and tell me
who they are and what they are; their number, gender, their respective
ages--all about them. Be sure you observe everything; be ready to
describe to me the locality, the accessories--how shall I say
it?--the _mise en scène_. Then, at my own time, at my own hour, under
circumstances of my own choosing, I will go to them. I will present
myself--I will appear before them!” said the Baroness, this time
phrasing her idea with a certain frankness.

“And what message am I to take to them?” asked Felix, who had a lively
faith in the justness of his sister’s arrangements.

She looked at him a moment--at his expression of agreeable veracity;
and, with that justness that he admired, she replied, “Say what you
please. Tell my story in the way that seems to you most--natural.” And
she bent her forehead for him to kiss.



CHAPTER II

The next day was splendid, as Felix had prophesied; if the winter had
suddenly leaped into spring, the spring had for the moment as quickly
leaped into summer. This was an observation made by a young girl who
came out of a large square house in the country, and strolled about in
the spacious garden which separated it from a muddy road. The flowering
shrubs and the neatly-disposed plants were basking in the abundant
light and warmth; the transparent shade of the great elms--they were
magnificent trees--seemed to thicken by the hour; and the intensely
habitual stillness offered a submissive medium to the sound of a distant
church-bell. The young girl listened to the church-bell; but she was not
dressed for church. She was bare-headed; she wore a white muslin waist,
with an embroidered border, and the skirt of her dress was of colored
muslin. She was a young lady of some two or three and twenty years
of age, and though a young person of her sex walking bare-headed in
a garden, of a Sunday morning in spring-time, can, in the nature of
things, never be a displeasing object, you would not have pronounced
this innocent Sabbath-breaker especially pretty. She was tall and pale,
thin and a little awkward; her hair was fair and perfectly straight; her
eyes were dark, and they had the singularity of seeming at once dull
and restless--differing herein, as you see, fatally from the ideal “fine
eyes,” which we always imagine to be both brilliant and tranquil. The
doors and windows of the large square house were all wide open, to admit
the purifying sunshine, which lay in generous patches upon the floor
of a wide, high, covered piazza adjusted to two sides of the mansion--a
piazza on which several straw-bottomed rocking-chairs and half a dozen
of those small cylindrical stools in green and blue porcelain, which
suggest an affiliation between the residents and the Eastern trade, were
symmetrically disposed. It was an ancient house--ancient in the sense
of being eighty years old; it was built of wood, painted a clean, clear,
faded gray, and adorned along the front, at intervals, with flat wooden
pilasters, painted white. These pilasters appeared to support a kind of
classic pediment, which was decorated in the middle by a large triple
window in a boldly carved frame, and in each of its smaller angles by
a glazed circular aperture. A large white door, furnished with a
highly-polished brass knocker, presented itself to the rural-looking
road, with which it was connected by a spacious pathway, paved with worn
and cracked, but very clean, bricks. Behind it there were meadows and
orchards, a barn and a pond; and facing it, a short distance along the
road, on the opposite side, stood a smaller house, painted white, with
external shutters painted green, a little garden on one hand and an
orchard on the other. All this was shining in the morning air, through
which the simple details of the picture addressed themselves to the eye
as distinctly as the items of a “sum” in addition.

A second young lady presently came out of the house, across the piazza,
descended into the garden and approached the young girl of whom I have
spoken. This second young lady was also thin and pale; but she was older
than the other; she was shorter; she had dark, smooth hair. Her eyes,
unlike the other’s, were quick and bright; but they were not at all
restless. She wore a straw bonnet with white ribbons, and a long, red,
India scarf, which, on the front of her dress, reached to her feet. In
her hand she carried a little key.

“Gertrude,” she said, “are you very sure you had better not go to
church?”

Gertrude looked at her a moment, plucked a small sprig from a
lilac-bush, smelled it and threw it away. “I am not very sure of
anything!” she answered.

The other young lady looked straight past her, at the distant pond,
which lay shining between the long banks of fir trees. Then she said in
a very soft voice, “This is the key of the dining-room closet. I think
you had better have it, if anyone should want anything.”

“Who is there to want anything?” Gertrude demanded. “I shall be all
alone in the house.”

“Someone may come,” said her companion.

“Do you mean Mr. Brand?”

“Yes, Gertrude. He may like a piece of cake.”

“I don’t like men that are always eating cake!” Gertrude declared,
giving a pull at the lilac-bush.

Her companion glanced at her, and then looked down on the ground. “I
think father expected you would come to church,” she said. “What shall I
say to him?”

“Say I have a bad headache.”

“Would that be true?” asked the elder lady, looking straight at the pond
again.

“No, Charlotte,” said the younger one simply.

Charlotte transferred her quiet eyes to her companion’s face. “I am
afraid you are feeling restless.”

“I am feeling as I always feel,” Gertrude replied, in the same tone.

Charlotte turned away; but she stood there a moment. Presently she
looked down at the front of her dress. “Doesn’t it seem to you, somehow,
as if my scarf were too long?” she asked.

Gertrude walked half round her, looking at the scarf. “I don’t think you
wear it right,” she said.

“How should I wear it, dear?”

“I don’t know; differently from that. You should draw it differently
over your shoulders, round your elbows; you should look differently
behind.”

“How should I look?” Charlotte inquired.

“I don’t think I can tell you,” said Gertrude, plucking out the scarf
a little behind. “I could do it myself, but I don’t think I can explain
it.”

Charlotte, by a movement of her elbows, corrected the laxity that had
come from her companion’s touch. “Well, some day you must do it for me.
It doesn’t matter now. Indeed, I don’t think it matters,” she added,
“how one looks behind.”

“I should say it mattered more,” said Gertrude. “Then you don’t know who
may be observing you. You are not on your guard. You can’t try to look
pretty.”

Charlotte received this declaration with extreme gravity. “I don’t think
one should ever try to look pretty,” she rejoined, earnestly.

Her companion was silent. Then she said, “Well, perhaps it’s not of much
use.”

Charlotte looked at her a little, and then kissed her. “I hope you will
be better when we come back.”

“My dear sister, I am very well!” said Gertrude.

Charlotte went down the large brick walk to the garden gate; her
companion strolled slowly toward the house. At the gate Charlotte met a
young man, who was coming in--a tall, fair young man, wearing a high hat
and a pair of thread gloves. He was handsome, but rather too stout. He
had a pleasant smile. “Oh, Mr. Brand!” exclaimed the young lady.

“I came to see whether your sister was not going to church,” said the
young man.

“She says she is not going; but I am very glad you have come. I think if
you were to talk to her a little”.... And Charlotte lowered her voice.
“It seems as if she were restless.”

Mr. Brand smiled down on the young lady from his great height. “I shall
be very glad to talk to her. For that I should be willing to absent
myself from almost any occasion of worship, however attractive.”

“Well, I suppose you know,” said Charlotte, softly, as if positive
acceptance of this proposition might be dangerous. “But I am afraid I
shall be late.”

“I hope you will have a pleasant sermon,” said the young man.

“Oh, Mr. Gilman is always pleasant,” Charlotte answered. And she went on
her way.

Mr. Brand went into the garden, where Gertrude, hearing the gate close
behind him, turned and looked at him. For a moment she watched him
coming; then she turned away. But almost immediately she corrected this
movement, and stood still, facing him. He took off his hat and wiped his
forehead as he approached. Then he put on his hat again and held out his
hand. His hat being removed, you would have perceived that his forehead
was very large and smooth, and his hair abundant but rather colorless.
His nose was too large, and his mouth and eyes were too small; but for
all this he was, as I have said, a young man of striking appearance. The
expression of his little clean-colored blue eyes was irresistibly gentle
and serious; he looked, as the phrase is, as good as gold. The young
girl, standing in the garden path, glanced, as he came up, at his thread
gloves.

“I hoped you were going to church,” he said. “I wanted to walk with
you.”

“I am very much obliged to you,” Gertrude answered. “I am not going to
church.”

She had shaken hands with him; he held her hand a moment. “Have you any
special reason for not going?”

“Yes, Mr. Brand,” said the young girl.

“May I ask what it is?”

She looked at him smiling; and in her smile, as I have intimated, there
was a certain dullness. But mingled with this dullness was something
sweet and suggestive. “Because the sky is so blue!” she said.

He looked at the sky, which was magnificent, and then said, smiling too,
“I have heard of young ladies staying at home for bad weather, but
never for good. Your sister, whom I met at the gate, tells me you are
depressed,” he added.

“Depressed? I am never depressed.”

“Oh, surely, sometimes,” replied Mr. Brand, as if he thought this a
regrettable account of one’s self.

“I am never depressed,” Gertrude repeated. “But I am sometimes wicked.
When I am wicked I am in high spirits. I was wicked just now to my
sister.”

“What did you do to her?”

“I said things that puzzled her--on purpose.”

“Why did you do that, Miss Gertrude?” asked the young man.

She began to smile again. “Because the sky is so blue!”

“You say things that puzzle _me_,” Mr. Brand declared.

“I always know when I do it,” proceeded Gertrude. “But people puzzle me
more, I think. And they don’t seem to know!”

“This is very interesting,” Mr. Brand observed, smiling.

“You told me to tell you about my--my struggles,” the young girl went
on.

“Let us talk about them. I have so many things to say.”

Gertrude turned away a moment; and then, turning back, “You had better
go to church,” she said.

“You know,” the young man urged, “that I have always one thing to say.”

Gertrude looked at him a moment. “Please don’t say it now!”

“We are all alone,” he continued, taking off his hat; “all alone in this
beautiful Sunday stillness.”

Gertrude looked around her, at the breaking buds, the shining
distance, the blue sky to which she had referred as a pretext for her
irregularities. “That’s the reason,” she said, “why I don’t want you to
speak. Do me a favor; go to church.”

“May I speak when I come back?” asked Mr. Brand.

“If you are still disposed,” she answered.

“I don’t know whether you are wicked,” he said, “but you are certainly
puzzling.”

She had turned away; she raised her hands to her ears. He looked at her
a moment, and then he slowly walked to church.

She wandered for a while about the garden, vaguely and without purpose.
The church-bell had stopped ringing; the stillness was complete. This
young lady relished highly, on occasions, the sense of being alone--the
absence of the whole family and the emptiness of the house. Today,
apparently, the servants had also gone to church; there was never a
figure at the open windows; behind the house there was no stout negress
in a red turban, lowering the bucket into the great shingle-hooded
well. And the front door of the big, unguarded home stood open, with
the trustfulness of the golden age; or what is more to the purpose, with
that of New England’s silvery prime. Gertrude slowly passed through it,
and went from one of the empty rooms to the other--large, clear-colored
rooms, with white wainscots, ornamented with thin-legged mahogany
furniture, and, on the walls, with old-fashioned engravings, chiefly of
scriptural subjects, hung very high. This agreeable sense of solitude,
of having the house to herself, of which I have spoken, always excited
Gertrude’s imagination; she could not have told you why, and neither can
her humble historian. It always seemed to her that she must do something
particular--that she must honor the occasion; and while she roamed
about, wondering what she could do, the occasion usually came to an end.
Today she wondered more than ever. At last she took down a book; there
was no library in the house, but there were books in all the rooms. None
of them were forbidden books, and Gertrude had not stopped at home for
the sake of a chance to climb to the inaccessible shelves. She possessed
herself of a very obvious volume--one of the series of the _Arabian
Nights_--and she brought it out into the portico and sat down with it
in her lap. There, for a quarter of an hour, she read the history of
the loves of the Prince Camaralzaman and the Princess Badoura. At last,
looking up, she beheld, as it seemed to her, the Prince Camaralzaman
standing before her. A beautiful young man was making her a very low
bow--a magnificent bow, such as she had never seen before. He appeared
to have dropped from the clouds; he was wonderfully handsome; he
smiled--smiled as if he were smiling on purpose. Extreme surprise, for a
moment, kept Gertrude sitting still; then she rose, without even keeping
her finger in her book. The young man, with his hat in his hand, still
looked at her, smiling and smiling. It was very strange.

“Will you kindly tell me,” said the mysterious visitor, at last,
“whether I have the honor of speaking to Miss Wentworth?”

“My name is Gertrude Wentworth,” murmured the young woman.

“Then--then--I have the honor--the pleasure--of being your cousin.”

The young man had so much the character of an apparition that this
announcement seemed to complete his unreality. “What cousin? Who are
you?” said Gertrude.

He stepped back a few paces and looked up at the house; then glanced
round him at the garden and the distant view. After this he burst out
laughing. “I see it must seem to you very strange,” he said. There was,
after all, something substantial in his laughter. Gertrude looked at him
from head to foot. Yes, he was remarkably handsome; but his smile was
almost a grimace. “It is very still,” he went on, coming nearer again.
And as she only looked at him, for reply, he added, “Are you all alone?”

“Everyone has gone to church,” said Gertrude.

“I was afraid of that!” the young man exclaimed. “But I hope you are not
afraid of me.”

“You ought to tell me who you are,” Gertrude answered.

“I am afraid of you!” said the young man. “I had a different plan. I
expected the servant would take in my card, and that you would put your
heads together, before admitting me, and make out my identity.”

Gertrude had been wondering with a quick intensity which brought
its result; and the result seemed an answer--a wondrous, delightful
answer--to her vague wish that something would befall her. “I know--I
know,” she said. “You come from Europe.”

“We came two days ago. You have heard of us, then--you believe in us?”

“We have known, vaguely,” said Gertrude, “that we had relations in
France.”

“And have you ever wanted to see us?” asked the young man.

Gertrude was silent a moment. “I have wanted to see you.”

“I am glad, then, it is you I have found. We wanted to see you, so we
came.”

“On purpose?” asked Gertrude.

The young man looked round him, smiling still. “Well, yes; on purpose.
Does that sound as if we should bore you?” he added. “I don’t think we
shall--I really don’t think we shall. We are rather fond of wandering,
too; and we were glad of a pretext.”

“And you have just arrived?”

“In Boston, two days ago. At the inn I asked for Mr. Wentworth. He must
be your father. They found out for me where he lived; they seemed often
to have heard of him. I determined to come, without ceremony. So, this
lovely morning, they set my face in the right direction, and told me to
walk straight before me, out of town. I came on foot because I wanted
to see the country. I walked and walked, and here I am! It’s a good many
miles.”

“It is seven miles and a half,” said Gertrude, softly. Now that this
handsome young man was proving himself a reality she found herself
vaguely trembling; she was deeply excited. She had never in her life
spoken to a foreigner, and she had often thought it would be delightful
to do so. Here was one who had suddenly been engendered by the Sabbath
stillness for her private use; and such a brilliant, polite, smiling
one! She found time and means to compose herself, however: to remind
herself that she must exercise a sort of official hospitality. “We are
very--very glad to see you,” she said. “Won’t you come into the house?”
 And she moved toward the open door.

“You are not afraid of me, then?” asked the young man again, with his
light laugh.

She wondered a moment, and then, “We are not afraid--here,” she said.

_“Ah, comme vous devez avoir raison!”_ cried the young man, looking all
round him, appreciatively. It was the first time that Gertrude had heard
so many words of French spoken. They gave her something of a sensation.
Her companion followed her, watching, with a certain excitement of his
own, this tall, interesting-looking girl, dressed in her clear, crisp
muslin. He paused in the hall, where there was a broad white staircase
with a white balustrade. “What a pleasant house!” he said. “It’s lighter
inside than it is out.”

“It’s pleasanter here,” said Gertrude, and she led the way into the
parlor,--a high, clean, rather empty-looking room. Here they stood
looking at each other,--the young man smiling more than ever; Gertrude,
very serious, trying to smile.

“I don’t believe you know my name,” he said. “I am called Felix Young.
Your father is my uncle. My mother was his half sister, and older than
he.”

“Yes,” said Gertrude, “and she turned Roman Catholic and married in
Europe.”

“I see you know,” said the young man. “She married and she died. Your
father’s family didn’t like her husband. They called him a foreigner;
but he was not. My poor father was born in Sicily, but his parents were
American.”

“In Sicily?” Gertrude murmured.

“It is true,” said Felix Young, “that they had spent their lives in
Europe. But they were very patriotic. And so are we.”

“And you are Sicilian,” said Gertrude.

“Sicilian, no! Let’s see. I was born at a little place--a dear little
place--in France. My sister was born at Vienna.”

“So you are French,” said Gertrude.

“Heaven forbid!” cried the young man. Gertrude’s eyes were fixed upon
him almost insistently. He began to laugh again. “I can easily be
French, if that will please you.”

“You are a foreigner of some sort,” said Gertrude.

“Of some sort--yes; I suppose so. But who can say of what sort? I don’t
think we have ever had occasion to settle the question. You know
there are people like that. About their country, their religion, their
profession, they can’t tell.”

Gertrude stood there gazing; she had not asked him to sit down. She
had never heard of people like that; she wanted to hear. “Where do you
live?” she asked.

“They can’t tell that, either!” said Felix. “I am afraid you will
think they are little better than vagabonds. I have lived
anywhere--everywhere. I really think I have lived in every city in
Europe.” Gertrude gave a little long soft exhalation. It made the young
man smile at her again; and his smile made her blush a little. To take
refuge from blushing she asked him if, after his long walk, he was not
hungry or thirsty. Her hand was in her pocket; she was fumbling with the
little key that her sister had given her. “Ah, my dear young lady,” he
said, clasping his hands a little, “if you could give me, in charity, a
glass of wine!”

Gertrude gave a smile and a little nod, and went quickly out of the
room. Presently she came back with a very large decanter in one hand
and a plate in the other, on which was placed a big, round cake with
a frosted top. Gertrude, in taking the cake from the closet, had had a
moment of acute consciousness that it composed the refection of which
her sister had thought that Mr. Brand would like to partake. Her kinsman
from across the seas was looking at the pale, high-hung engravings. When
she came in he turned and smiled at her, as if they had been old friends
meeting after a separation. “You wait upon me yourself?” he asked. “I am
served like the gods!” She had waited upon a great many people, but
none of them had ever told her that. The observation added a certain
lightness to the step with which she went to a little table where there
were some curious red glasses--glasses covered with little gold sprigs,
which Charlotte used to dust every morning with her own hands. Gertrude
thought the glasses very handsome, and it was a pleasure to her to know
that the wine was good; it was her father’s famous madeira. Felix Young
thought it excellent; he wondered why he had been told that there was
no wine in America. She cut him an immense triangle out of the cake, and
again she thought of Mr. Brand. Felix sat there, with his glass in
one hand and his huge morsel of cake in the other--eating, drinking,
smiling, talking. “I am very hungry,” he said. “I am not at all tired; I
am never tired. But I am very hungry.”

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

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

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

“My sister is the Baroness Münster,” said Felix.

On hearing that his sister was a Baroness, Gertrude got up and walked
about slowly, in front of him. She was silent a moment. She was thinking
of it. “Why didn’t she come, too?” she asked.

“She did come; she is in Boston, at the hotel.”

“We will go and see her,” said Gertrude, looking at him.

“She begs you will not!” the young man replied. “She sends you her love;
she sent me to announce her. She will come and pay her respects to your
father.”

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

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

“Tomorrow, yes,” said Gertrude. She wished to ask more about her; but
she hardly knew what could be predicated of a Baroness Münster. “Is
she--is she--married?”

Felix had finished his cake and wine; he got up, fixing upon the
young girl his bright, expressive eyes. “She is married to a German
prince--Prince Adolf, of Silberstadt-Schreckenstein. He is not the
reigning prince; he is a younger brother.”

Gertrude gazed at her informant; her lips were slightly parted. “Is she
a--a _Princess_?” she asked at last.

“Oh, no,” said the young man; “her position is rather a singular one.
It’s a morganatic marriage.”

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

“That’s what they call a marriage, you know, contracted between a
scion of a ruling house and--and a common mortal. They made Eugenia a
Baroness, poor woman; but that was all they could do. Now they want to
dissolve the marriage. Prince Adolf, between ourselves, is a ninny; but
his brother, who is a clever man, has plans for him. Eugenia, naturally
enough, makes difficulties; not, however, that I think she cares
much--she’s a very clever woman; I’m sure you’ll like her--but she wants
to bother them. Just now everything is _en l’air_.”

The cheerful, off-hand tone in which her visitor related this darkly
romantic tale seemed to Gertrude very strange; but it seemed also to
convey a certain flattery to herself, a recognition of her wisdom and
dignity. She felt a dozen impressions stirring within her, and presently
the one that was uppermost found words. “They want to dissolve her
marriage?” she asked.

“So it appears.”

“And against her will?”

“Against her right.”

“She must be very unhappy!” said Gertrude.

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

“Tell me more,” said Gertrude.

“No, I will leave that to her; she does it better.”

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

She had been so interested that she failed to notice the sound of a
footstep in the portico; and yet it was a footstep that she always
recognized. She heard it in the hall, and then she looked out of the
window. They were all coming back from church--her father, her sister
and brother, and their cousins, who always came to dinner on Sunday.
Mr. Brand had come in first; he was in advance of the others, because,
apparently, he was still disposed to say what she had not wished him to
say an hour before. He came into the parlor, looking for Gertrude. He
had two little books in his hand. On seeing Gertrude’s companion he
slowly stopped, looking at him.

“Is this a cousin?” asked Felix.

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

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



CHAPTER III

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

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

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

“Exactly,” said Felix. “They are a collection of angels--simply.”

“_C’est bien vague_,” remarked the Baroness. “What are they like?”

“Like nothing you ever saw.”

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

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

Madame Münster looked at him, and her eye exhibited a slight responsive
spark. She touched her lips to a glass of wine, and then she said,
“Describe them. Give me a picture.”

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

“Ah,” said the Baroness, “they want me to come and stay, once for all?
_Bon_.”

“It’s intensely rural, tremendously natural; and all overhung with
this strange white light, this far-away blue sky. There’s a big wooden
house--a kind of three-story bungalow; it looks like a magnified
Nuremberg toy. There was a gentleman there that made a speech to me
about it and called it a ‘venerable mansion;’ but it looks as if it had
been built last night.”

“Is it handsome--is it elegant?” asked the Baroness.

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

“That must be a privilege. And the inhabitants are straight-backed too,
of course.”

“My dear sister,” said Felix, “the inhabitants are charming.”

“In what style?”

“In a style of their own. How shall I describe it? It’s primitive; it’s
patriarchal; it’s the _ton_ of the golden age.”

“And have they nothing golden but their _ton_? Are there no symptoms of
wealth?”

“I should say there was wealth without symptoms. A plain, homely way of
life: nothing for show, and very little for--what shall I call it?--for
the senses; but a great _aisance_, and a lot of money, out of sight,
that comes forward very quietly for subscriptions to institutions,
for repairing tenements, for paying doctor’s bills; perhaps even for
portioning daughters.”

“And the daughters?” Madame Münster demanded. “How many are there?”

“There are two, Charlotte and Gertrude.”

“Are they pretty?”

“One of them,” said Felix.

“Which is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am afraid he gets tipsy.”

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

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

“And is there nothing,” asked the Baroness, “between these
extremes--this mysterious ecclesiastic and that intemperate youth?”

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

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

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

Madame Münster gave a little laugh. “A man of the Chinese world! He must
be very interesting.”

“I have an idea that he brought home a fortune,” said Felix.

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

“He is less than forty; he has a baldish head; he says witty things. I
rather think,” added the young man, “that he will admire the Baroness
Münster.”

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

They mounted, accordingly, into a great barouche--a vehicle as to which
the Baroness found nothing to criticise but the price that was asked
for it and the fact that the coachman wore a straw hat. (At Silberstadt
Madame Münster had had liveries of yellow and crimson.) They drove
into the country, and the Baroness, leaning far back and swaying her
lace-fringed parasol, looked to right and to left and surveyed the
way-side objects. After a while she pronounced them _affreux_.
Her brother remarked that it was apparently a country in which the
foreground was inferior to the _plans reculés_; and the Baroness
rejoined that the landscape seemed to be all foreground. Felix had fixed
with his new friends the hour at which he should bring his sister; it
was four o’clock in the afternoon. The large, clean-faced house wore,
to his eyes, as the barouche drove up to it, a very friendly aspect; the
high, slender elms made lengthening shadows in front of it. The Baroness
descended; her American kinsfolk were stationed in the portico. Felix
waved his hat to them, and a tall, lean gentleman, with a high forehead
and a clean shaven face, came forward toward the garden gate. Charlotte
Wentworth walked at his side. Gertrude came behind, more slowly. Both of
these young ladies wore rustling silk dresses. Felix ushered his sister
into the gate. “Be very gracious,” he said to her. But he saw the
admonition was superfluous. Eugenia was prepared to be gracious as
only Eugenia could be. Felix knew no keener pleasure than to be able to
admire his sister unrestrictedly; for if the opportunity was frequent,
it was not inveterate. When she desired to please she was to him, as to
everyone else, the most charming woman in the world. Then he forgot that
she was ever anything else; that she was sometimes hard and perverse;
that he was occasionally afraid of her. Now, as she took his arm to pass
into the garden, he felt that she desired, that she proposed, to please,
and this situation made him very happy. Eugenia would please.

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

The Baroness took her uncle’s hand, and stood looking at him with her
ugly face and her beautiful smile. “Have I done right to come?” she
asked.

“Very right, very right,” said Mr. Wentworth, solemnly. He had arranged
in his mind a little speech; but now it quite faded away. He felt almost
frightened. He had never been looked at in just that way--with just that
fixed, intense smile--by any woman; and it perplexed and weighed upon
him, now, that the woman who was smiling so and who had instantly given
him a vivid sense of her possessing other unprecedented attributes, was
his own niece, the child of his own father’s daughter. The idea that his
niece should be a German Baroness, married “morganatically” to a Prince,
had already given him much to think about. Was it right, was it just,
was it acceptable? He always slept badly, and the night before he had
lain awake much more even than usual, asking himself these questions.
The strange word “morganatic” was constantly in his ears; it reminded
him of a certain Mrs. Morgan whom he had once known and who had been a
bold, unpleasant woman. He had a feeling that it was his duty, so long
as the Baroness looked at him, smiling in that way, to meet her glance
with his own scrupulously adjusted, consciously frigid organs of vision;
but on this occasion he failed to perform his duty to the last. He
looked away toward his daughters. “We are very glad to see you,” he had
said. “Allow me to introduce my daughters--Miss Charlotte Wentworth,
Miss Gertrude Wentworth.”

The Baroness thought she had never seen people less demonstrative.
But Charlotte kissed her and took her hand, looking at her sweetly and
solemnly. Gertrude seemed to her almost funereal, though Gertrude
might have found a source of gaiety in the fact that Felix, with his
magnificent smile, had been talking to her; he had greeted her as a
very old friend. When she kissed the Baroness she had tears in her eyes.
Madame Münster took each of these young women by the hand, and looked at
them all over. Charlotte thought her very strange-looking and singularly
dressed; she could not have said whether it was well or ill. She was
glad, at any rate, that they had put on their silk gowns--especially
Gertrude. “My cousins are very pretty,” said the Baroness, turning her
eyes from one to the other. “Your daughters are very handsome, sir.”

Charlotte blushed quickly; she had never yet heard her personal
appearance alluded to in a loud, expressive voice. Gertrude looked
away--not at Felix; she was extremely pleased. It was not the compliment
that pleased her; she did not believe it; she thought herself very
plain. She could hardly have told you the source of her satisfaction;
it came from something in the way the Baroness spoke, and it was not
diminished--it was rather deepened, oddly enough--by the young girl’s
disbelief. Mr. Wentworth was silent; and then he asked, formally, “Won’t
you come into the house?”

“These are not all; you have some other children,” said the Baroness.

“I have a son,” Mr. Wentworth answered.

“And why doesn’t he come to meet me?” Eugenia cried. “I am afraid he is
not so charming as his sisters.”

“I don’t know; I will see about it,” the old man declared.

“He is rather afraid of ladies,” Charlotte said, softly.

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

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

“It seems natural that we should know each other,” Mr. Wentworth
rejoined. “We are near relatives.”

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

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

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

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

“Ah, you have been to Europe?” cried the Baroness. “Why didn’t you come
and see me? But it’s better, after all, this way,” she said. They were
entering the house; she paused and looked round her. “I see you have
arranged your house--your beautiful house--in the--in the Dutch taste!”

“The house is very old,” remarked Mr. Wentworth. “General Washington
once spent a week here.”

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

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

Felix had lingered in the garden with Gertrude; he was standing before
her and smiling, as he had done the day before. What had happened the
day before seemed to her a kind of dream. He had been there and he had
changed everything; the others had seen him, they had talked with him;
but that he should come again, that he should be part of the future,
part of her small, familiar, much-meditating life--this needed, afresh,
the evidence of her senses. The evidence had come to her senses now;
and her senses seemed to rejoice in it. “What do you think of Eugenia?”
 Felix asked. “Isn’t she charming?”

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

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

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

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

“She is very graceful,” said Gertrude, looking after the Baroness,
suspended to her father’s arm. It was a pleasure to her to say that
anyone was graceful.

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

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

“Not come back!” cried Felix, laughing. “You didn’t know, then, the
impression made upon this susceptible heart of mine.”

She wondered whether he meant the impression her cousin Lizzie had made.
“Well,” she said, “I didn’t think we should ever see you again.”

“And pray what did you think would become of me?”

“I don’t know. I thought you would melt away.”

“That’s a compliment to my solidity! I melt very often,” said Felix,
“but there is always something left of me.”

“I came and waited for you by the door, because the others did,”
 Gertrude went on. “But if you had never appeared I should not have been
surprised.”

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

She looked at him a little, and shook her head. “No--no!”

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

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

“And what is your son’s name?” said Eugenia, smiling at the young man.

“My name is Clifford Wentworth, ma’am,” he said in a tremulous voice.

“Why didn’t you come out to meet me, Mr. Clifford Wentworth?” the
Baroness demanded, with her beautiful smile.

“I didn’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
Münster transferred her smile to the other persons present. It rested
first upon the candid countenance 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 situation. 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 moustache. 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 Münster instantly felt that he
was, intrinsically, the most important person present. She was not
unconscious that this impression was in some degree manifested in the
little sympathetic nod with which she acknowledged Mr. Wentworth’s
announcement, “My cousin, Mr. Acton!”

“Your cousin--not mine?” said the Baroness.

“It only depends upon you,” Mr. Acton declared, 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. Unless 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, apparently, 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, looking at her. “Now this is quite another
_type_,” she said; she pronounced the word in the French manner. “This
is a different outline, my uncle, a different character, from that of
your own daughters. This, Felix,” she went on, “is very much more what
we have always thought of as the American type.”

The young girl, during this exposition, was smiling askance at everyone
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 already learned that the silences frequently
observed 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 brilliant talent. Their attitude seemed to imply that she
was a kind of conversational mountebank, attired, intellectually, in
gauze and spangles. This attitude gave a certain ironical force to
Madame Münster’s next words. “Now this is your circle,” she said to her
uncle. “This is your _salon_. These are your regular _habitués_, 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 needn’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. Wentworth, lowering her voice a little.

“He is a minister,” answered Mr. Wentworth.

“A Protestant?” asked Eugenia.

“I am a Unitarian, madam,” replied Mr. Brand, impressively.

“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. Wentworth.

“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 meaning.

She looked at him, and for an instant, in his cold, still face, she
seemed to see a far-away likeness to the vaguely remembered image of her
mother. Eugenia was a woman of sudden emotions, 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 all.

“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.



CHAPTER IV

A few days after the Baroness Münster 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. Wentworth’s own dwelling of which
mention has already 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, diffused
through the ensuing twenty-four hours, in the course of which the
two foreign visitors were discussed and analyzed with a great deal of
earnestness and subtlety. The discussion went forward, as I say, in the
family circle; but that circle on the evening following Madame Münster’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 pleasure the more in this tranquil
household, a prospective source of entertainment. This was not Mr.
Wentworth’s way of treating any human occurrence. 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 responsibility 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 satisfaction. It was an
extension of duty, of the exercise 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 adverted 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 exhibited before
they very ingeniously found their pretext in the presence of these
possibly too agreeable foreigners. Gertrude, however, had to struggle
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 sympathies and those of his daughters was an extension of
the field of possible mistakes; and the doctrine, as it may almost
be called, of the oppressive 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 Münster, from this time forward, receiving no other
designation than the personal pronoun. Charlotte and Gertrude acquired
considerable facility in addressing her, directly, as “Eugenia;” but in
speaking of her to each other they rarely called her anything but “she.”

“Doesn’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 embarrassing.”

“That is more than can be said of you, sir,” said Lizzie Acton, with her
little laugh.

“Well, I don’t mean to encourage her,” Clifford went on.

“I’m sure I don’t care if you do!” cried Lizzie.

“She will not think of you, Clifford,” said Gertrude, gravely.

“I hope not!” Clifford exclaimed.

“She will think of Robert,” Gertrude continued, in the same tone.

Robert Acton began to blush; but there was no occasion for it, for
everyone was looking at Gertrude--everyone, 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 Gertrude. “I only say she will
think of Robert; and she will!”

“Gertrude judges by herself!” Acton exclaimed, 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 Charlotte, with something of
a housewife’s pride. “She can have the large northeast room. And the
French bedstead,” Charlotte added, with a constant 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 home.”

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

“We are all princes here,” said Mr. Wentworth; “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 expected 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. “Gertrude is right,” he said.
“Gertrude is the cleverest 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 northeast 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
someone 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 chair.

“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 perhaps 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
faculty; 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 unpleasant things she had
observed. Charlotte’s imagination took no journeys whatever; she
kept it, as it were, in her pocket, with the other furniture 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 believe she knows how to do
anything herself. I should have to get her ever so many servants, and
she wouldn’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 wicked.”

“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,” Gertrude 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, unresponsive 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 excitement.”

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 audacious 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. Her glance on this occasion, however, struck
him as a substitute for a larger volume of diffident utterance than
usual, inviting 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 foreign
relatives. But Acton immediately complimented Mr. Wentworth upon his
liberality. “That’s a very nice thing to do,” he said, “giving 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 pleasure 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 incidents will be able to charge him.

“A three days’ visit at most, over there, is all I should have found
possible,” Madame Münster 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
confidence. Felix declared that he would willingly spend his life in
the bosom of the Wentworth 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 Baroness quite agreed with him that they were
simple and kind; they were thoroughly nice people, and she liked them
extremely. The girls were perfect 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 à
porte_ with them, I should as soon think of wishing 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 characteristic, 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
Silberstadt-Schreckenstein. 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 perceived at the same
time that if Charlotte or Gertrude 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 Baroness 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 drinking 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 eleemosynary cottage she looked out
over the soundless 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 mistress’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 occasion comprehension
failed. What, indeed, was the Baroness doing _dans cette galère_? 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
walking in the dark betrayed itself in the physiognomy of this spare,
sober, sallow, middle-aged person, who had nothing in common with
Gertrude Wentworth’s conception of a soubrette, by the most ironical
scowl that had ever rested upon the unpretending 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
out-stripped her mistress--in thinking that the little white house was
pitifully bare. _“Il faudra,”_ said Augustine, _“lui faire un peu de
toilette.”_ And she began to hang up _portières_ in the doorways;
to place wax candles, procured after some research, in unexpected
situations; to dispose anomalous draperies over the arms of sofas and
the backs of chairs. The Baroness had brought with her to the New
World a copious provision of the element of costume; and the two Miss
Wentworths, when they came over to see her, were somewhat bewildered
by the obtrusive distribution of her wardrobe. There were India shawls
suspended, curtain-wise, in the parlor door, and curious fabrics,
corresponding to Gertrude’s metaphysical vision of an opera-cloak,
tumbled about in the sitting-places. There were pink silk blinds in
the windows, by which the room was strangely bedimmed; and along the
chimney-piece was disposed a remarkable band of velvet, covered
with coarse, dirty-looking lace. “I have been making myself a little
comfortable,” said the Baroness, much to the confusion of Charlotte,
who had been on the point of proposing to come and help her put her
superfluous draperies away. But what Charlotte mistook for an almost
culpably delayed subsidence Gertrude very presently perceived to be the
most ingenious, the most interesting, the most romantic intention. “What
is life, indeed, without curtains?” she secretly asked herself; and
she appeared to herself to have been leading hitherto an existence
singularly garish and totally devoid of festoons.

Felix was not a young man who troubled himself greatly about
anything--least of all about the conditions of enjoyment. His faculty of
enjoyment was so large, so unconsciously eager, that it may be said of
it that it had a permanent advance upon embarrassment and sorrow. His
sentient faculty was intrinsically joyous, and novelty and change were
in themselves a delight to him. As they had come to him with a great
deal of frequency, his life had been more agreeable than appeared.
Never was a nature more perfectly fortunate. It was not a restless,
apprehensive, ambitious spirit, running a race with the tyranny of fate,
but a temper so unsuspicious as to put Adversity off her guard, dodging
and evading her with the easy, natural motion of a wind-shifted
flower. Felix extracted entertainment from all things, and all his
faculties--his imagination, his intelligence, his affections, his
senses--had a hand in the game. It seemed to him that Eugenia and he had
been very well treated; there was something absolutely touching in that
combination of paternal liberality and social considerateness which
marked Mr. Wentworth’s deportment. It was most uncommonly kind of him,
for instance, to have given them a house. Felix was positively amused at
having a house of his own; for the little white cottage among the apple
trees--the chalet, as Madame Münster always called it--was much more
sensibly his own than any domiciliary _quatrième_, looking upon a
court, with the rent overdue. Felix had spent a good deal of his life
in looking into courts, with a perhaps slightly tattered pair of elbows
resting upon the ledge of a high-perched window, and the thin smoke of a
cigarette rising into an atmosphere in which street-cries died away and
the vibration of chimes from ancient belfries became sensible. He had
never known anything so infinitely rural as these New England fields;
and he took a great fancy to all their pastoral roughnesses. He had
never had a greater sense of luxurious security; and at the risk of
making him seem a rather sordid adventurer I must declare that he found
an irresistible charm in the fact that he might dine every day at his
uncle’s. The charm was irresistible, however, because his fancy flung
a rosy light over this homely privilege. He appreciated highly the fare
that was set before him. There was a kind of fresh-looking abundance
about it which made him think that people must have lived so in
the mythological era, when they spread their tables upon the grass,
replenished them from cornucopias, and had no particular need of kitchen
stoves. But the great thing that Felix enjoyed was having found a
family--sitting in the midst of gentle, generous people whom he might
call by their first names. He had never known anything more charming
than the attention they paid to what he said. It was like a large sheet
of clean, fine-grained drawing-paper, all ready to be washed over with
effective splashes of water-color. He had never had any cousins, and
he had never before found himself in contact so unrestricted with young
unmarried ladies. He was extremely fond of the society of ladies, and it
was new to him that it might be enjoyed in just this manner. At first he
hardly knew what to make of his state of mind. It seemed to him that
he was in love, indiscriminately, with three girls at once. He saw that
Lizzie Acton was more brilliantly pretty than Charlotte and Gertrude;
but this was scarcely a superiority. His pleasure came from something
they had in common--a part of which was, indeed, that physical delicacy
which seemed to make it proper that they should always dress in thin
materials and clear colors. But they were delicate in other ways, and
it was most agreeable to him to feel that these latter delicacies were
appreciable by contact, as it were. He had known, fortunately, many
virtuous gentlewomen, but it now appeared to him that in his relations
with them (especially when they were unmarried) he had been looking at
pictures under glass. He perceived at present what a nuisance the glass
had been--how it perverted and interfered, how it caught the reflection
of other objects and kept you walking from side to side. He had no need
to ask himself whether Charlotte and Gertrude, and Lizzie Acton, were
in the right light; they were always in the right light. He liked
everything about them: he was, for instance, not at all above liking the
fact that they had very slender feet and high insteps. He liked their
pretty noses; he liked their surprised eyes and their hesitating, not
at all positive way of speaking; he liked so much knowing that he was
perfectly at liberty to be alone for hours, anywhere, with either of
them; that preference for one to the other, as a companion of solitude,
remained a minor affair. Charlotte Wentworth’s sweetly severe features
were as agreeable as Lizzie Acton’s wonderfully expressive blue eyes;
and Gertrude’s air of being always ready to walk about and listen was
as charming as anything else, especially as she walked very gracefully.
After a while Felix began to distinguish; but even then he would often
wish, suddenly, that they were not all so sad. Even Lizzie Acton,
in spite of her fine little chatter and laughter, appeared sad. Even
Clifford Wentworth, who had extreme youth in his favor, and kept a buggy
with enormous wheels and a little sorrel mare with the prettiest legs
in the world--even this fortunate lad was apt to have an averted,
uncomfortable glance, and to edge away from you at times, in the manner
of a person with a bad conscience. The only person in the circle with
no sense of oppression of any kind was, to Felix’s perception, Robert
Acton.

It might perhaps have been feared that after the completion of those
graceful domiciliary embellishments which have been mentioned Madame
Münster would have found herself confronted with alarming possibilities
of _ennui_. But as yet she had not taken the alarm. The Baroness was a
restless soul, and she projected her restlessness, as it may be said,
into any situation that lay before her. Up to a certain point her
restlessness might be counted upon to entertain her. She was always
expecting something to happen, and, until it was disappointed,
expectancy itself was a delicate pleasure. What the Baroness expected
just now it would take some ingenuity to set forth; it is enough
that while she looked about her she found something to occupy her
imagination. She assured herself that she was enchanted with her new
relatives; she professed to herself that, like her brother, she felt
it a sacred satisfaction to have found a family. It is certain that she
enjoyed to the utmost the gentleness of her kinsfolk’s deference.
She had, first and last, received a great deal of admiration, and her
experience of well-turned compliments was very considerable; but she
knew that she had never been so real a power, never counted for so
much, as now when, for the first time, the standard of comparison of her
little circle was a prey to vagueness. The sense, indeed, that the good
people about her had, as regards her remarkable self, no standard of
comparison at all gave her a feeling of almost illimitable power. It was
true, as she said to herself, that if for this reason they would be
able to discover nothing against her, so they would perhaps neglect
to perceive some of her superior points; but she always wound up her
reflections by declaring that she would take care of that.

Charlotte and Gertrude were in some perplexity between their desire
to show all proper attention to Madame Münster and their fear of being
importunate. The little house in the orchard had hitherto been occupied
during the summer months by intimate friends of the family, or by poor
relations who found in Mr. Wentworth a landlord attentive to repairs and
oblivious of quarter-day. Under these circumstances the open door of the
small house and that of the large one, facing each other across their
homely gardens, levied no tax upon hourly visits. But the Misses
Wentworth received an impression that Eugenia was no friend to the
primitive custom of “dropping in;” she evidently had no idea of living
without a door-keeper. “One goes into your house as into an inn--except
that there are no servants rushing forward,” she said to Charlotte. And
she added that that was very charming. Gertrude explained to her sister
that she meant just the reverse; she didn’t like it at all. Charlotte
inquired why she should tell an untruth, and Gertrude answered that
there was probably some very good reason for it which they should
discover when they knew her better. “There can surely be no good reason
for telling an untruth,” said Charlotte. “I hope she does not think so.”

They had of course desired, from the first, to do everything in the way
of helping her to arrange herself. It had seemed to Charlotte that
there would be a great many things to talk about; but the Baroness was
apparently inclined to talk about nothing.

“Write her a note, asking her leave to come and see her. I think that is
what she will like,” said Gertrude.

“Why should I give her the trouble of answering me?” Charlotte asked.
“She will have to write a note and send it over.”

“I don’t think she will take any trouble,” said Gertrude, profoundly.

“What then will she do?”

“That is what I am curious to see,” said Gertrude, leaving her sister
with an impression that her curiosity was morbid.

They went to see the Baroness without preliminary correspondence; and in
the little salon which she had already created, with its becoming light
and its festoons, they found Robert Acton.

Eugenia was intensely gracious, but she accused them of neglecting her
cruelly. “You see Mr. Acton has had to take pity upon me,” she said. “My
brother goes off sketching, for hours; I can never depend upon him. So I
was to send Mr. Acton to beg you to come and give me the benefit of your
wisdom.”

Gertrude looked at her sister. She wanted to say, “_That_ is what she
would have done.” Charlotte said that they hoped the Baroness would
always come and dine with them; it would give them so much pleasure;
and, in that case, she would spare herself the trouble of having a cook.

“Ah, but I must have a cook!” cried the Baroness. “An old negress in a
yellow turban. I have set my heart upon that. I want to look out of my
window and see her sitting there on the grass, against the background of
those crooked, dusky little apple trees, pulling the husks off a lapful
of Indian corn. That will be local color, you know. There isn’t much of
it here--you don’t mind my saying that, do you?--so one must make
the most of what one can get. I shall be most happy to dine with you
whenever you will let me; but I want to be able to ask you sometimes.
And I want to be able to ask Mr. Acton,” added the Baroness.

“You must come and ask me at home,” said Acton. “You must come and see
me; you must dine with me first. I want to show you my place; I want to
introduce you to my mother.” He called again upon Madame Münster, two
days later. He was constantly at the other house; he used to walk across
the fields from his own place, and he appeared to have fewer scruples
than his cousins with regard to dropping in. On this occasion he found
that Mr. Brand had come to pay his respects to the charming stranger;
but after Acton’s arrival the young theologian said nothing. He sat in
his chair with his two hands clasped, fixing upon his hostess a grave,
fascinated stare. The Baroness talked to Robert Acton, but, as she
talked, she turned and smiled at Mr. Brand, who never took his eyes
off her. The two men walked away together; they were going to Mr.
Wentworth’s. Mr. Brand still said nothing; but after they had passed
into Mr. Wentworth’s garden he stopped and looked back for some time at
the little white house. Then, looking at his companion, with his head
bent a little to one side and his eyes somewhat contracted, “Now
I suppose that’s what is called conversation,” he said; “real
conversation.”

“It’s what I call a very clever woman,” said Acton, laughing.

“It is most interesting,” Mr. Brand continued. “I only wish she would
speak French; it would seem more in keeping. It must be quite the
style that we have heard about, that we have read about--the style of
conversation of Madame de Staël, of Madame Récamier.”

Acton also looked at Madame Münster’s residence among its hollyhocks and
apple trees. “What I should like to know,” he said, smiling, “is just
what has brought Madame Récamier to live in that place!”



CHAPTER V

Mr. Wentworth, with his cane and his gloves in his hand, went every
afternoon to call upon his niece. A couple of hours later she came over
to the great house to tea. She had let the proposal that she should
regularly dine there fall to the ground; she was in the enjoyment of
whatever satisfaction was to be derived from the spectacle of an
old negress in a crimson turban shelling peas under the apple trees.
Charlotte, who had provided the ancient negress, thought it must be
a strange household, Eugenia having told her that Augustine managed
everything, the ancient negress included--Augustine who was naturally
devoid of all acquaintance with the expurgatory English tongue. By far
the most immoral sentiment which I shall have occasion to attribute to
Charlotte Wentworth was a certain emotion of disappointment at finding
that, in spite of these irregular conditions, the domestic arrangements
at the small house were apparently not--from Eugenia’s peculiar point of
view--strikingly offensive. The Baroness found it amusing to go to tea;
she dressed as if for dinner. The tea-table offered an anomalous and
picturesque repast; and on leaving it they all sat and talked in the
large piazza, or wandered about the garden in the starlight, with their
ears full of those sounds of strange insects which, though they are
supposed to be, all over the world, a part of the magic of summer
nights, seemed to the Baroness to have beneath these western skies an
incomparable resonance.

Mr. Wentworth, though, as I say, he went punctiliously to call upon her,
was not able to feel that he was getting used to his niece. It taxed his
imagination to believe that she was really his half-sister’s child. His
sister was a figure of his early years; she had been only twenty when
she went abroad, never to return, making in foreign parts a willful and
undesirable marriage. His aunt, Mrs. Whiteside, who had taken her to
Europe for the benefit of the tour, gave, on her return, so lamentable
an account of Mr. Adolphus Young, to whom the headstrong girl had united
her destiny, that it operated as a chill upon family feeling--especially
in the case of the half-brothers. Catherine had done nothing
subsequently to propitiate her family; she had not even written to
them in a way that indicated a lucid appreciation of their suspended
sympathy; so that it had become a tradition in Boston circles that the
highest charity, as regards this young lady, was to think it well to
forget her, and to abstain from conjecture as to the extent to which
her aberrations were reproduced in her descendants. Over these young
people--a vague report of their existence had come to his ears--Mr.
Wentworth had not, in the course of years, allowed his imagination to
hover. It had plenty of occupation nearer home, and though he had many
cares upon his conscience the idea that he had been an unnatural uncle
was, very properly, never among the number. Now that his nephew and
niece had come before him, he perceived that they were the fruit of
influences and circumstances very different from those under which his
own familiar progeny had reached a vaguely-qualified maturity. He felt
no provocation to say that these influences had been exerted for evil;
but he was sometimes afraid that he should not be able to like
his distinguished, delicate, lady-like niece. He was paralyzed and
bewildered by her foreignness. She spoke, somehow, a different language.
There was something strange in her words. He had a feeling that another
man, in his place, would accommodate himself to her tone; would ask
her questions and joke with her, reply to those pleasantries of her
own which sometimes seemed startling as addressed to an uncle. But Mr.
Wentworth could not do these things. He could not even bring himself
to attempt to measure her position in the world. She was the wife of
a foreign nobleman who desired to repudiate her. This had a singular
sound, but the old man felt himself destitute of the materials for
a judgment. It seemed to him that he ought to find them in his own
experience, as a man of the world and an almost public character; but
they were not there, and he was ashamed to confess to himself--much
more to reveal to Eugenia by interrogations possibly too innocent--the
unfurnished condition of this repository.

It appeared to him that he could get much nearer, as he would have said,
to his nephew; though he was not sure that Felix was altogether safe. He
was so bright and handsome and talkative that it was impossible not to
think well of him; and yet it seemed as if there were something almost
impudent, almost vicious--or as if there ought to be--in a young man
being at once so joyous and so positive. It was to be observed that
while Felix was not at all a serious young man there was somehow more of
him--he had more weight and volume and resonance--than a number of young
men who were distinctly serious. While Mr. Wentworth meditated upon this
anomaly his nephew was admiring him unrestrictedly. He thought him a
most delicate, generous, high-toned old gentleman, with a very handsome
head, of the ascetic type, which he promised himself the profit of
sketching. Felix was far from having made a secret of the fact that he
wielded the paint-brush, and it was not his own fault if it failed to be
generally understood that he was prepared to execute the most striking
likenesses on the most reasonable terms. “He is an artist--my cousin is
an artist,” said Gertrude; and she offered this information to everyone
who would receive it. She offered it to herself, as it were, by way
of admonition and reminder; she repeated to herself at odd moments,
in lonely places, that Felix was invested with this sacred character.
Gertrude had never seen an artist before; she had only read about such
people. They seemed to her a romantic and mysterious class, whose life
was made up of those agreeable accidents that never happened to other
persons. And it merely quickened her meditations on this point that
Felix should declare, as he repeatedly did, that he was really not an
artist. “I have never gone into the thing seriously,” he said. “I have
never studied; I have had no training. I do a little of everything, and
nothing well. I am only an amateur.”

It pleased Gertrude even more to think that he was an amateur than to
think that he was an artist; the former word, to her fancy, had an even
subtler connotation. She knew, however, that it was a word to use
more soberly. Mr. Wentworth used it freely; for though he had not
been exactly familiar with it, he found it convenient as a help toward
classifying Felix, who, as a young man extremely clever and active and
apparently respectable and yet not engaged in any recognized business,
was an importunate anomaly. Of course the Baroness and her brother--she
was always spoken of first--were a welcome topic of conversation between
Mr. Wentworth and his daughters and their occasional visitors.

“And the young man, your nephew, what is his profession?” asked an
old gentleman--Mr. Broderip, of Salem--who had been Mr. Wentworth’s
classmate at Harvard College in the year 1809, and who came into his
office in Devonshire Street. (Mr. Wentworth, in his later years, used to
go but three times a week to his office, where he had a large amount of
highly confidential trust-business to transact.)

“Well, he’s an amateur,” said Felix’s uncle, with folded hands, and with
a certain satisfaction in being able to say it. And Mr. Broderip had
gone back to Salem with a feeling that this was probably a “European”
 expression for a broker or a grain exporter.

“I should like to do your head, sir,” said Felix to his uncle one
evening, before them all--Mr. Brand and Robert Acton being also present.
“I think I should make a very fine thing of it. It’s an interesting
head; it’s very mediaeval.”

Mr. Wentworth looked grave; he felt awkwardly, as if all the company had
come in and found him standing before the looking-glass. “The Lord made
it,” he said. “I don’t think it is for man to make it over again.”

“Certainly the Lord made it,” replied Felix, laughing, “and he made
it very well. But life has been touching up the work. It is a very
interesting type of head. It’s delightfully wasted and emaciated. The
complexion is wonderfully bleached.” And Felix looked round at the
circle, as if to call their attention to these interesting points.
Mr. Wentworth grew visibly paler. “I should like to do you as an old
prelate, an old cardinal, or the prior of an order.”

“A prelate, a cardinal?” murmured Mr. Wentworth. “Do you refer to the
Roman Catholic priesthood?”

“I mean an old ecclesiastic who should have led a very pure, abstinent
life. Now I take it that has been the case with you, sir; one sees it in
your face,” Felix proceeded. “You have been very--a very moderate. Don’t
you think one always sees that in a man’s face?”

“You see more in a man’s face than I should think of looking for,” said
Mr. Wentworth coldly.

The Baroness rattled her fan, and gave her brilliant laugh. “It is a
risk to look so close!” she exclaimed. “My uncle has some peccadilloes
on his conscience.” Mr. Wentworth looked at her, painfully at a loss;
and in so far as the signs of a pure and abstinent life were visible in
his face they were then probably peculiarly manifest. “You are a _beau
vieillard_, dear uncle,” said Madame Münster, smiling with her foreign
eyes.

“I think you are paying me a compliment,” said the old man.

“Surely, I am not the first woman that ever did so!” cried the Baroness.

“I think you are,” said Mr. Wentworth gravely. And turning to Felix he
added, in the same tone, “Please don’t take my likeness. My children
have my daguerreotype. That is quite satisfactory.”

“I won’t promise,” said Felix, “not to work your head into something!”

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

“Felix,” said Gertrude, in the silence that followed, “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. Whatever
Gertrude did or said, Charlotte always looked at Mr. Brand. It was a
standing pretext for looking 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 being right; for Charlotte, in her small,
still way, was an heroic sister.

“We should be glad to have your portrait, Miss Gertrude,” said Mr.
Brand.

“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 pertness, 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,” Felix 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 didn’t think you were beautiful at
first. But you have come to seem so little by little.”

“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. Wentworth. “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 discussion.

“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 matter of
almost exciting anxiety to Charlotte what Gertrude would say or would do
next.

She began to sit for her portrait on the following 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
anything 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 company.”

“Do you think us good company?” asked Gertrude.

“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. “It
is uncommonly handsome.”

“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 Gertrude, very gravely; “I have
nothing to repent of.”

“My dear cousin, that was only a figure of speech. I am very sure that
no one in your excellent family has anything to repent of.”

“And yet we are always repenting!” Gertrude exclaimed. “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. “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, “you can say anything.”

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

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

“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 tendency--among you generally--is to be made unhappy too
easily.”

“I wish you would tell that to my father,” said Gertrude.

“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 ‘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 rejoined. “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
‘enjoy,’” she began at last, “to take life--not painfully, must one do
something wrong?”

Felix gave his long, light laugh again. “Seriously, I think not. And for
this reason, among others: you strike me as very capable of enjoying,
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 Felix, 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. “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 companion answered. “It is the general way of looking at
life.”

“They look at it as a discipline--that’s what they do here. I have often
been told that.”

“Well, that’s very good. But there is another way,” added Felix,
smiling: “to look at it as an opportunity.”

“An opportunity--yes,” said Gertrude. “One would get more pleasure that
way.”

“I 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. “And you know,” he said, “I am a very petty
personage.”

“You have a great deal of talent,” said Gertrude.

“No--no,” the young man rejoined, in a tone of cheerful impartiality,
“I have not a great deal of talent. It is nothing at all remarkable.
I assure 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 brilliant talents it must be, since it could
afford to make light of his abilities. “You needn’t in general 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 denomination; and she quite failed to understand the
figurative 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 adventurer?” she repeated. “I should
like to hear your adventures.”

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 shouldn’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 shouldn’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 moment, 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 objective 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, paying his way often by knocking
off a flattering portrait 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 arduous task of interpreting
Shakespeare to French and German, Polish and Hungarian audiences.

While this periodical recital was going on, Gertrude 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 delightful 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 gentlemen 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 afternoon was waning; in the western
sky the great picture of a New England sunset, painted in crimson
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 Gertrude.

“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 almost 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
beginning to avoid me. But perhaps,” he went on, “one needn’t have had
very good eyes to see that.”

“I have not avoided you,” said Gertrude, without 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 well.”

He made no rejoinder. He simply walked beside 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 said.

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 impressive, almost
painful. “Absorbed in what?” she asked. Then she looked away at the
illuminated 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,
Gertrude,” 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
allowed her to pass; then he closed it behind himself. Before she had
time to turn away he put out his hand and held her an instant by the
wrist.

“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 anyone 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 listen to me.”

She gave a little laugh. “It doesn’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. “I 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 suddenly 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 something a little hard about Gertrude; and she
never wept again.



CHAPTER VI

Going of an afternoon to call upon his niece, Mr. Wentworth more than
once found Robert Acton sitting in her little drawing-room. This was in
no degree, to Mr. Wentworth, a perturbing fact, for he had no sense
of competing with his young kinsman for Eugenia’s good graces. Madame
Münster’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 ornament 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 subdued 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 duties 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 demanded.
Mr. Wentworth would never have risked the intimation that Acton was
made, in the smallest 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 shrewdness had a reach
of which he had never quite given local circles the measure. He was
addicted to taking the humorous view of things, and he had discovered
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 before--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 library; that is, his books were much more
numerous 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 driving to Boston. He was extremely interested in
the Baroness Münster.

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 motives. They are very pure.” The Baroness by this time was an old
inhabitant; the best society in Boston had called upon her, and Clifford
Wentworth had taken her several times to drive in his buggy.

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.”

“If you wish to make me contradict you,” said the Baroness, “_vous vous
y prenez mal_. In certain 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 certain extent, he sought refuge from shyness in
this appearance of relaxation; and like many persons in the same
circumstances he somewhat exaggerated the appearance. Beyond this, the
air of being much at his ease was a cover for vigilant observation. 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--not
even in China. He was ashamed, for inscrutable reasons, of the vivacity
of his emotion, and he carried it off, superficially, by taking, still
superficially, the humorous view of Madame Münster. It was not at all
true that he thought it very natural of her to have made this pious
pilgrimage. It might have been said of him in advance that he was too
good a Bostonian to regard in the light of an eccentricity the desire of
even the remotest alien to visit the New England metropolis. This was an
impulse for which, surely, no apology was needed; and Madame Münster
was the fortunate possessor of several New England cousins. In fact,
however, Madame Münster struck him as out of keeping with her little
circle; she was at the best a very agreeable, a gracefully mystifying
anomaly. He knew very well that it would not do to address these
reflections too crudely to Mr. Wentworth; he would never have remarked
to the old gentleman that he wondered what the Baroness was up to. And
indeed he had no great desire to share his vague mistrust with anyone.
There was a personal pleasure in it; the greatest pleasure he had known
at least since he had come from China. He would keep the Baroness, for
better or worse, to himself; he had a feeling that he deserved to
enjoy a monopoly of her, for he was certainly the person who had most
adequately gauged her capacity for social intercourse. Before long it
became apparent to him that the Baroness was disposed to lay no tax upon
such a monopoly.

One day (he was sitting there again and playing with a fan) she asked
him to apologize, should the occasion present itself, to certain people
in Boston for her not having returned their calls. “There are half a
dozen places,” she said; “a formidable list. Charlotte Wentworth has
written it out for me, in a terrifically distinct hand. There is
no ambiguity on the subject; I know perfectly where I must go. Mr.
Wentworth informs me that the carriage is always at my disposal, and
Charlotte offers to go with me, in a pair of tight gloves and a very
stiff petticoat. And yet for three days I have been putting it off. They
must think me horribly vicious.”

“You ask me to apologize,” said Acton, “but you don’t tell me what
excuse I can offer.”

“That is more,” the Baroness declared, “than I am held to. It would be
like my asking you to buy me a bouquet and giving you the money. I have
no reason except that--somehow--it’s too violent an effort. It is not
inspiring. Wouldn’t that serve as an excuse, in Boston? I am told they
are very sincere; they don’t tell fibs. And then Felix ought to go with
me, and he is never in readiness. I don’t see him. He is always roaming
about the fields and sketching old barns, or taking ten-mile walks, or
painting someone’s portrait, or rowing on the pond, or flirting with
Gertrude Wentworth.”

“I should think it would amuse you to go and see a few people,” said
Acton. “You are having a very quiet time of it here. It’s a dull life
for you.”

“Ah, the quiet,--the quiet!” the Baroness exclaimed. “That’s what I
like. It’s rest. That’s what I came here for. Amusement? I have had
amusement. And as for seeing people--I have already seen a great many
in my life. If it didn’t sound ungracious I should say that I wish very
humbly your people here would leave me alone!”

Acton looked at her a moment, and she looked at him. She was a woman who
took being looked at remarkably well. “So you have come here for rest?”
 he asked.

“So I may say. I came for many of those reasons that are no
reasons--don’t you know?--and yet that are really the best: to come
away, to change, to break with everything. When once one comes away one
must arrive somewhere, and I asked myself why I shouldn’t arrive here.”

“You certainly had time on the way!” said Acton, laughing.

Madame Münster looked at him again; and then, smiling: “And I have
certainly had time, since I got here, to ask myself why I came. However,
I never ask myself idle questions. Here I am, and it seems to me you
ought only to thank me.”

“When you go away you will see the difficulties I shall put in your
path.”

“You mean to put difficulties in my path?” she asked, rearranging the
rosebud in her corsage.

“The greatest of all--that of having been so agreeable----”

“That I shall be unable to depart? Don’t be too sure. I have left some
very agreeable people over there.”

“Ah,” said Acton, “but it was to come here, where I am!”

“I didn’t know of your existence. Excuse me for saying anything so rude;
but, honestly speaking, I did not. No,” the Baroness pursued, “it was
precisely not to see you--such people as you--that I came.”

“Such people as me?” cried Acton.

“I had a sort of longing to come into those natural relations which I
knew I should find here. Over there I had only, as I may say, artificial
relations. Don’t you see the difference?”

“The difference tells against me,” said Acton. “I suppose I am an
artificial relation.”

“Conventional,” declared the Baroness; “very conventional.”

“Well, there is one way in which the relation of a lady and a gentleman
may always become natural,” said Acton.

“You mean by their becoming lovers? That may be natural or not. And at
any rate,” rejoined Eugenia, _“nous n’en sommes pas là!”_

They were not, as yet; but a little later, when she began to go with him
to drive, it might almost have seemed that they were. He came for her
several times, alone, in his high “wagon,” drawn by a pair of charming
light-limbed horses. It was different, her having gone with Clifford
Wentworth, who was her cousin, and so much younger. It was not to be
imagined that she should have a flirtation with Clifford, who was a mere
shame-faced boy, and whom a large section of Boston society supposed to
be “engaged” to Lizzie Acton. Not, indeed, that it was to be conceived
that the Baroness was a possible party to any flirtation whatever; for
she was undoubtedly a married lady. It was generally known that her
matrimonial condition was of the “morganatic” order; but in its natural
aversion to suppose that this meant anything less than absolute wedlock,
the conscience of the community took refuge in the belief that it
implied something even more.

Acton wished her to think highly of American scenery, and he drove her
to great distances, picking out the prettiest roads and the largest
points of view. If we are good when we are contented, Eugenia’s virtues
should now certainly have been uppermost; for she found a charm in the
rapid movement through a wild country, and in a companion who from time
to time made the vehicle dip, with a motion like a swallow’s flight,
over roads of primitive construction, and who, as she felt, would do
a great many things that she might ask him. Sometimes, for a couple
of hours together, there were almost no houses; there were nothing but
woods and rivers and lakes and horizons adorned with bright-looking
mountains. It seemed to the Baroness very wild, as I have said,
and lovely; but the impression added something to that sense of the
enlargement of opportunity which had been born of her arrival in the New
World.

One day--it was late in the afternoon--Acton pulled up his horses on the
crest of a hill which commanded a beautiful prospect. He let them stand
a long time to rest, while he sat there and talked with Madame Münster.
The prospect was beautiful in spite of there being nothing human within
sight. There was a wilderness of woods, and the gleam of a distant
river, and a glimpse of half the hill-tops in Massachusetts. The road
had a wide, grassy margin, on the further side of which there flowed a
deep, clear brook; there were wild flowers in the grass, and beside the
brook lay the trunk of a fallen tree. Acton waited a while; at last a
rustic wayfarer came trudging along the road. Acton asked him to hold
the horses--a service he consented to render, as a friendly turn to a
fellow-citizen. Then he invited the Baroness to descend, and the two
wandered away, across the grass, and sat down on the log beside the
brook.

“I imagine it doesn’t remind you of Silberstadt,” said Acton. It was
the first time that he had mentioned Silberstadt to her, for particular
reasons. He knew she had a husband there, and this was disagreeable to
him; and, furthermore, it had been repeated to him that this husband
wished to put her away--a state of affairs to which even indirect
reference was to be deprecated. It was true, nevertheless, that the
Baroness herself had often alluded to Silberstadt; and Acton had often
wondered why her husband wished to get rid of her. It was a curious
position for a lady--this being known as a repudiated wife; and it is
worthy of observation that the Baroness carried it off with exceeding
grace and dignity. She had made it felt, from the first, that there were
two sides to the question, and that her own side, when she should choose
to present it, would be replete with touching interest.

“It does not remind me of the town, of course,” she said, “of the
sculptured gables and the Gothic churches, of the wonderful Schloss,
with its moat and its clustering towers. But it has a little look of
some other parts of the principality. One might fancy one’s self among
those grand old German forests, those legendary mountains; the sort of
country one sees from the windows at Schreckenstein.”

“What is Schreckenstein?” asked Acton.

“It is a great castle,--the summer residence of the Reigning Prince.”

“Have you ever lived there?”

“I have stayed there,” said the Baroness. Acton was silent; he looked a
while at the uncastled landscape before him. “It is the first time you
have ever asked me about Silberstadt,” she said. “I should think you
would want to know about my marriage; it must seem to you very strange.”

Acton looked at her a moment. “Now you wouldn’t like me to say that!”

“You Americans have such odd ways!” the Baroness declared. “You never
ask anything outright; there seem to be so many things you can’t talk
about.”

“We Americans are very polite,” said Acton, whose national consciousness
had been complicated by a residence in foreign lands, and who yet
disliked to hear Americans abused. “We don’t like to tread upon
people’s toes,” he said. “But I should like very much to hear about your
marriage. Now tell me how it came about.”

“The Prince fell in love with me,” replied the Baroness simply. “He
pressed his suit very hard. At first he didn’t wish me to marry him;
on the contrary. But on that basis I refused to listen to him. So he
offered me marriage--in so far as he might. I was young, and I confess
I was rather flattered. But if it were to be done again now, I certainly
should not accept him.”

“How long ago was this?” asked Acton.

“Oh--several years,” said Eugenia. “You should never ask a woman for
dates.”

“Why, I should think that when a woman was relating history “ Acton
answered. “And now he wants to break it off?”

“They want him to make a political marriage. It is his brother’s idea.
His brother is very clever.”

“They must be a precious pair!” cried Robert Acton.

The Baroness gave a little philosophic shrug. “_Que voulez-vous?_ They
are princes. They think they are treating me very well. Silberstadt is
a perfectly despotic little state, and the Reigning Prince may annul the
marriage by a stroke of his pen. But he has promised me, nevertheless,
not to do so without my formal consent.”

“And this you have refused?”

“Hitherto. It is an indignity, and I have wished at least to make it
difficult for them. But I have a little document in my writing-desk
which I have only to sign and send back to the Prince.”

“Then it will be all over?”

The Baroness lifted her hand, and dropped it again. “Of course I shall
keep my title; at least, I shall be at liberty to keep it if I choose.
And I suppose I shall keep it. One must have a name. And I shall keep my
pension. It is very small--it is wretchedly small; but it is what I live
on.”

“And you have only to sign that paper?” Acton asked.

The Baroness looked at him a moment. “Do you urge it?”

He got up slowly, and stood with his hands in his pockets. “What do you
gain by not doing it?”

“I am supposed to gain this advantage--that if I delay, or temporize,
the Prince may come back to me, may make a stand against his brother.
He is very fond of me, and his brother has pushed him only little by
little.”

“If he were to come back to you,” said Acton, “would you--would you take
him back?”

The Baroness met his eyes; she colored just a little. Then she rose. “I
should have the satisfaction of saying, ‘Now it is my turn. I break with
your Serene Highness!’”

They began to walk toward the carriage. “Well,” said Robert Acton, “it’s
a curious story! How did you make his acquaintance?”

“I was staying with an old lady--an old Countess--in Dresden. She had
been a friend of my father’s. My father was dead; I was very much alone.
My brother was wandering about the world in a theatrical troupe.”

“Your brother ought to have stayed with you,” Acton observed, “and kept
you from putting your trust in princes.”

The Baroness was silent a moment, and then, “He did what he could,” she
said. “He sent me money. The old Countess encouraged the Prince; she
was even pressing. It seems to me,” Madame Münster added, gently,
“that--under the circumstances--I behaved very well.”

Acton glanced at her, and made the observation--he had made it
before--that a woman looks the prettier for having unfolded her wrongs
or her sufferings. “Well,” he reflected, audibly, “I should like to see
you send his Serene Highness--somewhere!”

Madame Münster stooped and plucked a daisy from the grass. “And not sign
my renunciation?”

“Well, I don’t know--I don’t know,” said Acton.

“In one case I should have my revenge; in another case I should have my
liberty.”

Acton gave a little laugh as he helped her into the carriage. “At any
rate,” he said, “take good care of that paper.”

A couple of days afterward he asked her to come and see his house. The
visit had already been proposed, but it had been put off in consequence
of his mother’s illness. She was a constant invalid, and she had passed
these recent years, very patiently, in a great flowered arm-chair at
her bedroom window. Lately, for some days, she had been unable to see
anyone; but now she was better, and she sent the Baroness a very civil
message. Acton had wished their visitor to come to dinner; but Madame
Münster preferred to begin with a simple call. She had reflected that
if she should go to dinner Mr. Wentworth and his daughters would also
be asked, and it had seemed to her that the peculiar character of the
occasion would be best preserved in a _tête-à-tête_ with her host. Why
the occasion should have a peculiar character she explained to no one.
As far as anyone could see, it was simply very pleasant. Acton came for
her and drove her to his door, an operation which was rapidly performed.
His house the Baroness mentally pronounced a very good one; more
articulately, she declared that it was enchanting. It was large and
square and painted brown; it stood in a well-kept shrubbery, and was
approached, from the gate, by a short drive. It was, moreover, a much
more modern dwelling than Mr. Wentworth’s, and was more redundantly
upholstered and expensively ornamented. The Baroness perceived that her
entertainer had analyzed material comfort to a sufficiently fine point.
And then he possessed the most delightful _chinoiseries_--trophies of
his sojourn in the Celestial Empire: pagodas of ebony and cabinets of
ivory; sculptured monsters, grinning and leering on chimney-pieces,
in front of beautifully figured hand-screens; porcelain dinner-sets,
gleaming behind the glass doors of mahogany buffets; large screens,
in corners, covered with tense silk and embroidered with mandarins and
dragons. These things were scattered all over the house, and they gave
Eugenia a pretext for a complete domiciliary visit. She liked it, she
enjoyed it; she thought it a very nice place. It had a mixture of the
homely and the liberal, and though it was almost a museum, the large,
little-used rooms were as fresh and clean as a well-kept dairy. Lizzie
Acton told her that she dusted all the pagodas and other curiosities
every day with her own hands; and the Baroness answered that she was
evidently a household fairy. Lizzie had not at all the look of a young
lady who dusted things; she wore such pretty dresses and had such
delicate fingers that it was difficult to imagine her immersed in sordid
cares. She came to meet Madame Münster on her arrival, but she said
nothing, or almost nothing, and the Baroness again reflected--she had
had occasion to do so before--that American girls had no manners. She
disliked this little American girl, and she was quite prepared to learn
that she had failed to commend herself to Miss Acton. Lizzie struck
her as positive and explicit almost to pertness; and the idea of her
combining the apparent incongruities of a taste for housework and the
wearing of fresh, Parisian-looking dresses suggested the possession of a
dangerous energy. It was a source of irritation to the Baroness that
in this country it should seem to matter whether a little girl were a
trifle less or a trifle more of a nonentity; for Eugenia had hitherto
been conscious of no moral pressure as regards the appreciation of
diminutive virgins. It was perhaps an indication of Lizzie’s pertness
that she very soon retired and left the Baroness on her brother’s hands.
Acton talked a great deal about his _chinoiseries_; he knew a good deal
about porcelain and bric-à-brac. The Baroness, in her progress through
the house, made, as it were, a great many stations. She sat down
everywhere, confessed to being a little tired, and asked about the
various objects with a curious mixture of alertness and inattention. If
there had been anyone to say it to she would have declared that she
was positively in love with her host; but she could hardly make this
declaration--even in the strictest confidence--to Acton himself. It gave
her, nevertheless, a pleasure that had some of the charm of unwontedness
to feel, with that admirable keenness with which she was capable of
feeling things, that he had a disposition without any edges; that even
his humorous irony always expanded toward the point. One’s impression of
his honesty was almost like carrying a bunch of flowers; the perfume was
most agreeable, but they were occasionally an inconvenience. One could
trust him, at any rate, round all the corners of the world; and, withal,
he was not absolutely simple, which would have been excess; he was only
relatively simple, which was quite enough for the Baroness.

Lizzie reappeared to say that her mother would now be happy to receive
Madame Münster; and the Baroness followed her to Mrs. Acton’s apartment.
Eugenia reflected, as she went, that it was not the affectation of
impertinence that made her dislike this young lady, for on that ground
she could easily have beaten her. It was not an aspiration on the girl’s
part to rivalry, but a kind of laughing, childishly-mocking indifference
to the results of comparison. Mrs. Acton was an emaciated, sweet-faced
woman of five and fifty, sitting with pillows behind her, and looking
out on a clump of hemlocks. She was very modest, very timid, and very
ill; she made Eugenia feel grateful that she herself was not like
that--neither so ill, nor, possibly, so modest. On a chair, beside her,
lay a volume of Emerson’s Essays. It was a great occasion for poor Mrs.
Acton, in her helpless condition, to be confronted with a clever foreign
lady, who had more manner than any lady--any dozen ladies--that she had
ever seen.

“I have heard a great deal about you,” she said, softly, to the
Baroness.

“From your son, eh?” Eugenia asked. “He has talked to me immensely of
you. Oh, he talks of you as you would like,” the Baroness declared; “as
such a son _must_ talk of such a mother!”

Mrs. Acton sat gazing; this was part of Madame Münster’s “manner.” But
Robert Acton was gazing too, in vivid consciousness that he had barely
mentioned his mother to their brilliant guest. He never talked of this
still maternal presence,--a presence refined to such delicacy that it
had almost resolved itself, with him, simply into the subjective emotion
of gratitude. And Acton rarely talked of his emotions. The Baroness
turned her smile toward him, and she instantly felt that she had been
observed to be fibbing. She had struck a false note. But who were these
people to whom such fibbing was not pleasing? If they were annoyed, the
Baroness was equally so; and after the exchange of a few civil inquiries
and low-voiced responses she took leave of Mrs. Acton. She begged Robert
not to come home with her; she would get into the carriage alone;
she preferred that. This was imperious, and she thought he looked
disappointed. While she stood before the door with him--the carriage was
turning in the gravel-walk--this thought restored her serenity.

When she had given him her hand in farewell she looked at him a moment.
“I have almost decided to dispatch that paper,” she said.

He knew that she alluded to the document that she had called her
renunciation; and he assisted her into the carriage without saying
anything. But just before the vehicle began to move he said, “Well, when
you have in fact dispatched it, I hope you will let me know!”



CHAPTER VII

Felix Young finished Gertrude’s portrait, and he afterwards transferred
to canvas the features of many members of that circle of which it may
be said that he had become for the time the pivot and the centre. I am
afraid it must be confessed that he was a decidedly flattering painter,
and that he imparted to his models a romantic grace which seemed easily
and cheaply acquired by the payment of a hundred dollars to a young man
who made “sitting” so entertaining. For Felix was paid for his pictures,
making, as he did, no secret of the fact that in guiding his steps to
the Western world affectionate curiosity had gone hand in hand with a
desire to better his condition. He took his uncle’s portrait quite as if
Mr. Wentworth had never averted himself from the experiment; and as he
compassed his end only by the exercise of gentle violence, it is but
fair to add that he allowed the old man to give him nothing but his
time. He passed his arm into Mr. Wentworth’s one summer morning--very
few arms indeed had ever passed into Mr. Wentworth’s--and led him across
the garden and along the road into the studio which he had extemporized
in the little house among the apple trees. The grave gentleman felt
himself more and more fascinated by his clever nephew, whose fresh,
demonstrative youth seemed a compendium of experiences so strangely
numerous. It appeared to him that Felix must know a great deal; he would
like to learn what he thought about some of those things as regards
which his own conversation had always been formal, but his knowledge
vague. Felix had a confident, gayly trenchant way of judging human
actions which Mr. Wentworth grew little by little to envy; it seemed
like criticism made easy. Forming an opinion--say on a person’s
conduct--was, with Mr. Wentworth, a good deal like fumbling in a lock
with a key chosen at hazard. He seemed to himself to go about the world
with a big bunch of these ineffectual instruments at his girdle. His
nephew, on the other hand, with a single turn of the wrist, opened
any door as adroitly as a horse-thief. He felt obliged to keep up the
convention that an uncle is always wiser than a nephew, even if he could
keep it up no otherwise than by listening in serious silence to Felix’s
quick, light, constant discourse. But there came a day when he lapsed
from consistency and 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 always 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 inquired.

“I can’t say I intend. But it’s very likely I shall go back to Europe.
After all, I am a European. 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 irregular 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
Gertrude; calling upon twenty young ladies and going 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 shouldn’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, painting 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 man!”

“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 instant 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 unattainable
possessions. She was not the first woman for whom he had entertained
an unpractical admiration. He had been in love with duchesses and
countesses, and he had made, once or twice, a perilously near approach
to cynicism in declaring that the disinterestedness of women had been
overrated. On the whole, he had tempered audacity with modesty; and
it is but fair to him now to say explicitly that he would have been
incapable of taking advantage of his present large allowance 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 proceeding
looked like a grievous breach of hospitality. 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, arresting 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 didn’t
suppose it, and I didn’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 Gertrude,” Felix added. “I hope it was not indiscreet.”

“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 knew
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, after a pause, Mr. Wentworth
continued, “I don’t speak of Gertrude. But I feel considerable anxiety
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 today?” 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 suspended. We have decided not to speak of it
unless we are asked.”

“Suspended?” Felix repeated.

“He has been requested by the Harvard authorities to absent himself for
six months. Meanwhile 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 certainly will not teach him any of those secrets!”

“He was too fond of something of which he should not have been fond. I
suppose it is considered a pleasure.”

Felix gave his light laugh. “My dear uncle, is there any doubt about its
being a pleasure? _C’est de son âge_, 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 eyebrows, 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 couldn’t walk; he staggered.”

“Oh,” said Felix, “he drinks! I rather suspected 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 shouldn’t think his cousin would
want to marry him.”

“You have no understanding, then, with Mrs. Acton?”

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
Acton, 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 propounded, “is to become
interested in some clever, charming woman.” And he paused in his
painting, 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 gentleman.
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 immature.”

“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; “Clifford
ought to frequent some agreeable woman, who, without ever mentioning
such unsavory subjects, would give him a sense of its being very
ridiculous 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. Wentworth repeated.

“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
Eugenia 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 Münster?”

“Yes, yes--a profession!” cried Felix sympathetically.

“But, as I understand it, Madame Münster is a married woman.”

“Ah,” said Felix, smiling, “of course she can’t marry him. But she will
do what she can.”

Mr. Wentworth 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 Felix’s surprised glance he
broke off his sitting, which was not resumed for a fortnight.

Felix was very fond of the little lake which occupied 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 articulate. 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 dimness, 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. Felix, standing on the threshold of the cottage,
hesitated for a moment as to whether he should retrace 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 appeared 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. “Doubtless
he supposes,” he said to himself, after the conversation that has been
narrated, “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 Clifford. It must be admitted--and
I have noticed it before--that nothing exceeds the license occasionally
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 something 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 conversation. 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 intoxication--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 undertake 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 enclosure,
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 Münster. 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.
Presently 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
going 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 reappeared 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 themselves 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 delightfully 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 prospect, and then, after a
pause, she said, “I shall never see you again.”

“Why not?” asked Felix. “We shall probably 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 again.”

“I knew nothing about you then, unfortunately,” said Felix. “But now I
shall write to you.”

“Don’t write to me. I shall not answer you,” Gertrude declared.

“I should of course burn your letters,” said Felix.

Gertrude looked at him again. “Burn my letters? 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
that.”

“I shall keep your letters,” said Felix, presently, 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 hospitality. The afternoon waned; the shadows stretched
themselves; and the light grew deeper in the western sky. Two persons
appeared on the opposite 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. Felix
waved his hat to them; it was too far to call. They made no visible
response, and they presently 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.
Sometimes 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 doesn’t he make _la cour_ to Charlotte?” Felix inquired. “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? I thought you didn’t have those ideas.”

“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
together, 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 Gertrude.

Felix stared at her a moment, with his lifted eyebrows. _“Je n’y
comprends rien!”_ he exclaimed; 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 opposite 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
gracious.”

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 Charlotte.”

“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 him?”

“I don’t wish to marry him.”

“Your father and sister think you ought to, eh?”

“It is a long story,” said Gertrude. “They think there are good reasons.
I can’t explain it. They think I have obligations, and that I have
encouraged him.”

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

“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 you?”

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 descended 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 certain
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 haven’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. “I 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 seriously.”

“I take everyone seriously,” said Gertrude. And without his help she
stepped lightly into the boat.

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 obligations.”

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

“I can understand that! Because a handsome girl has had a spark of
coquetry, that is no reason.”

“If you mean me, it’s not that. I have not done that.”

“It is something that troubles you, at any rate,” said Felix.

“Not so much as it used to,” Gertrude rejoined.

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 dissipate
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,
however, to hear Felix say that he was sure of something; 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 shouldn’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 interesting 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 everyone happy. We shall have a wedding and I will
write an epithalamium.”

“It seems as if it would make _me_ happy,” said Gertrude.

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

Gertrude walked on. “To see my sister married to so good a man.”

Felix gave his light laugh. “You always put things on those grounds; you
will never say anything 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!”



CHAPTER VIII

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, remarked upon it.

“You are always coming to tea nowadays, Robert,” he said. “I should
think you had drunk enough tea in China.”

“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 Baroness. “Give me time and I
will make you a salon.”

“It would fall to pieces after you go!” exclaimed Acton.

“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 these words,
wondered if Felix had been teaching him, according to the programme he
had sketched out, to make love to the wife of a German 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 presently
asked him why they had not crossed the pond to join Felix and herself.

“It is cruel of you to ask me that,” he answered, very softly. He had a
large morsel of cake before him; but he fingered it without eating 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, describing to
Mr. Wentworth the students’ duels at Heidelberg. After tea they all
dispersed themselves, as usual, upon the piazza and in the garden; and
Mr. Brand drew near to Gertrude again.

“I didn’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 moments. “I thought I was
prepared to hear you speak in that way,” he resumed. “But I find it very
painful.”

“I don’t see what else I can say,” said Gertrude.

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

“To advise me?”

“I think I know your nature.”

“I think you don’t,” said Gertrude, with a soft laugh.

“You make yourself out worse than you are--to please him,” Mr. Brand
said, gently.

“Worse--to please him? What do you mean?” asked Gertrude, stopping.

Mr. Brand stopped also, and with the same soft straight-forwardness, “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.”

“There was a time when you didn’t say that,” said Mr. Brand.

“Oh,” rejoined Gertrude, “I think you made me talk a great deal of
nonsense. And it depends,” she added, “upon what you call the great
questions of life. There are some things I care for.”

“Are they the things you talk about with your cousin?”

“You should not say things to me against my cousin, Mr. Brand,” said
Gertrude. “That is dishonorable.”

He listened to this respectfully; then he answered, with a little
vibration of the voice, “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.”

“Go and say it to himself!”

“I think he would admit it,” said Mr. Brand. “That is the tone he would
take. He would not be ashamed of it.”

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

“You are trying, as I said just now, to lower yourself.”

“I am trying for once to be natural!” cried Gertrude passionately. “I
have been pretending, all my life; I have been dishonest; it is you that
have made me so!” Mr. Brand stood gazing at her, and she went on, “Why
shouldn’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 exclaimed.

“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.

“I 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 irritates 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 garden 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 something better than say so. It would not have alleviated
her companion’s distress to perceive, just then, whence she had
sympathetically borrowed this ingenuity. “I am not sorry for you,”
 Gertrude said; “for in paying so much attention to me you are following
a shadow--you are wasting something precious. There is something else
you might have that you don’t look at--something 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 wondering 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?”

“I know what you are going to say,” said Gertrude. “Mr. Brand feels very
badly.”

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

“What has he done for me?”

“I 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 temper.”

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

“I am not accusing you, Gertrude,” said Charlotte.

“What are you doing, then?” her sister demanded, with a short laugh.

“I am pleading for Mr. Brand--reminding you of all you owe him.”

“I have given it all back,” said Gertrude, still with her little laugh.
“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 believe 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.”

“He is very good,” said Gertrude, looking at her sister. “I know he is
very good. But he shouldn’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!”

“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 breath.

“You like him more than you say, and he likes you more than he knows.”

“This is very cruel of you!” Charlotte Wentworth 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 moaned.

“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 sister.

“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; measuring 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 unscrupulous compliments to his brilliant cousin; for
the young man had really more scruples than he received 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 nefarious
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 engaged; he himself was not engaged, but everyone
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 preventive of superfluous fears.
If Mr. Wentworth and Charlotte and Mr. Brand would only apply it in
Clifford’s case, they would be happier; and Acton 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, however, never
occurred to Acton to dedicate the Baroness Münster to the redemption of
a refractory collegian. 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 uses.

Eugenia herself, as we know, had plenty of leisure 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 supposed that after this
great effort she could neglect any apparent aid to advancement. It is
my misfortune 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 advancement 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 aesthetic ideal for Clifford which seemed to her a
disinterested reason for taking him in hand. It was very well for a
fresh-colored young gentleman 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 himself.

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 almost
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 acquired 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 society; 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 sick.”

“I don’t mean for your health, my poor child. I mean for your manners.”

“I haven’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 terribly
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 contradicted. 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. I see very few women; but
those are women of rank. So, my dear young Puritan, you needn’t be
afraid. I am not in the least one of those who think that the society of
women who have lost their place in the _vrai monde_ is necessary to form
a young man. I have never taken that tone. I have kept my place myself,
and I think we are a much better school than the others. Trust me,
Clifford, and I will prove that to you,” the Baroness continued, while
she made the agreeable reflection that she could not, at least, be
accused of perverting her young kinsman. “So if you ever fall among
thieves don’t go about saying I sent you to them.”

Clifford thought it so comical that he should know--in spite of her
figurative language--what she meant, and that she should mean what he
knew, that he could hardly help laughing a little, although he tried
hard. “Oh, no! oh, no!” he murmured.

“Laugh out, laugh out, if I amuse you!” cried the Baroness. “I am here
for that!” And Clifford thought her a very amusing person indeed.
“But remember,” she said on this occasion, “that you are coming--next
year--to pay me a visit over there.”

About a week afterwards she said to him, point-blank, “Are you seriously
making love to your little cousin?”

“Seriously making love”--these words, on Madame Münster’s lips, had to
Clifford’s sense a portentous and embarrassing sound; he hesitated about
assenting, lest he should commit himself to more than he understood.
“Well, I shouldn’t say it if I was!” he exclaimed.

“Why wouldn’t you say it?” the Baroness demanded. “Those things ought to
be known.”

“I don’t care whether it is known or not,” Clifford rejoined. “But I
don’t want people looking at me.”

“A young man of your importance ought to learn to bear observation--to
carry himself as if he were quite indifferent to it. I won’t say,
exactly, unconscious,” the Baroness explained. “No, he must seem to know
he is observed, and to think it natural he should be; but he must appear
perfectly used to it. Now you haven’t that, Clifford; you haven’t that
at all. You must have that, you know. Don’t tell me you are not a young
man of importance,” Eugenia added. “Don’t say anything so flat as that.”

“Oh, no, you don’t catch me saying that!” cried Clifford.

“Yes, you must come to Germany,” Madame Münster continued. “I will show
you how people can be talked about, and yet not seem to know it. You
will be talked about, of course, with me; it will be said you are my
lover. I will show you how little one may mind that--how little I shall
mind it.”

Clifford sat staring, blushing and laughing. “I shall mind it a good
deal!” he declared.

“Ah, not too much, you know; that would be uncivil. But I give you leave
to mind it a little; especially if you have a passion for Miss Acton.
_Voyons_; as regards that, you either have or you have not. It is very
simple to say it.”

“I don’t see why you want to know,” said Clifford.

“You ought to want me to know. If one is arranging a marriage, one tells
one’s friends.”

“Oh, I’m not arranging anything,” said Clifford.

“You don’t intend to marry your cousin?”

“Well, I expect I shall do as I choose!”

The Baroness leaned her head upon the back of her chair and closed her
eyes, as if she were tired. Then opening them again, “Your cousin is
very charming!” she said.

“She is the prettiest girl in this place,” Clifford rejoined.

“‘In this place’ is saying little; she would be charming anywhere. I am
afraid you are entangled.”

“Oh, no, I’m not entangled.”

“Are you engaged? At your age that is the same thing.”

Clifford looked at the Baroness with some audacity. “Will you tell no
one?”

“If it’s as sacred as that--no.”

“Well, then--we are not!” said Clifford.

“That’s the great secret--that you are not, eh?” asked the Baroness,
with a quick laugh. “I am very glad to hear it. You are altogether too
young. A young man in your position must choose and compare; he must see
the world first. Depend upon it,” she added, “you should not settle that
matter before you have come abroad and paid me that visit. There are
several things I should like to call your attention to first.”

“Well, I am rather afraid of that visit,” said Clifford. “It seems to me
it will be rather like going to school again.”

The Baroness looked at him a moment.

“My dear child,” she said, “there is no agreeable man who has not, at
some moment, been to school to a clever woman--probably a little older
than himself. And you must be thankful when you get your instructions
gratis. With me you would get it gratis.”

The next day Clifford told Lizzie Acton that the Baroness thought her
the most charming girl she had ever seen.

Lizzie shook her head. “No, she doesn’t!” she said.

“Do you think everything she says,” asked Clifford, “is to be taken the
opposite way?”

“I think that is!” said Lizzie.

Clifford was going to remark that in this case the Baroness must desire
greatly to bring about a marriage between Mr. Clifford Wentworth and
Miss Elizabeth Acton; but he resolved, on the whole, to suppress this
observation.



CHAPTER IX

It seemed to Robert Acton, after Eugenia had come to his house, that
something had passed between them which made them a good deal more
intimate. It was hard to say exactly what, except her telling him that
she had taken her resolution with regard to the Prince Adolf; for Madame
Münster’s visit had made no difference in their relations. He came to
see her very often; but he had come to see her very often before. It was
agreeable to him to find himself in her little drawing-room; but this
was not a new discovery. There was a change, however, in this sense:
that if the Baroness had been a great deal in Acton’s thoughts before,
she was now never out of them. From the first she had been personally
fascinating; but the fascination now had become intellectual as well. He
was constantly pondering her words and motions; they were as interesting
as the factors in an algebraic problem. This is saying a good deal; for
Acton was extremely fond of mathematics. He asked himself whether it
could be that he was in love with her, and then hoped he was not; hoped
it not so much for his own sake as for that of the amatory passion
itself. If this was love, love had been overrated. Love was a poetic
impulse, and his own state of feeling with regard to the Baroness was
largely characterized by that eminently prosaic sentiment--curiosity.
It was true, as Acton with his quietly cogitative habit observed
to himself, that curiosity, pushed to a given point, might become a
romantic passion; and he certainly thought enough about this charming
woman to make him restless and even a little melancholy. It puzzled and
vexed him at times to feel that he was not more ardent. He was not in
the least bent upon remaining a bachelor. In his younger years he had
been--or he had tried to be--of the opinion that it would be a good deal
“jollier” not to marry, and he had flattered himself that his single
condition was something of a citadel. It was a citadel, at all events,
of which he had long since leveled the outworks. He had removed the guns
from the ramparts; he had lowered the draw-bridge across the moat. The
draw-bridge had swayed lightly under Madame Münster’s step; why should
he not cause it to be raised again, so that she might be kept prisoner?
He had an idea that she would become--in time at least, and on learning
the conveniences of the place for making a lady comfortable--a tolerably
patient captive. But the draw-bridge was never raised, and Acton’s
brilliant visitor was as free to depart as she had been to come. It was
part of his curiosity to know why the deuce so susceptible a man was
_not_ in love with so charming a woman. If her various graces were, as
I have said, the factors in an algebraic problem, the answer to this
question was the indispensable unknown quantity. The pursuit of the
unknown quantity was extremely absorbing; for the present it taxed all
Acton’s faculties.

Toward the middle of August he was obliged to leave home for some days;
an old friend, with whom he had been associated in China, had begged him
to come to Newport, where he lay extremely ill. His friend got better,
and at the end of a week Acton was released. I use the word “released”
 advisedly; for in spite of his attachment to his Chinese comrade he had
been but a half-hearted visitor. He felt as if he had been called away
from the theatre during the progress of a remarkably interesting drama.
The curtain was up all this time, and he was losing the fourth act; that
fourth act which would have been so essential to a just appreciation of
the fifth. In other words, he was thinking about the Baroness, who, seen
at this distance, seemed a truly brilliant figure. He saw at Newport
a great many pretty women, who certainly were figures as brilliant as
beautiful light dresses could make them; but though they talked a
great deal--and the Baroness’s strong point was perhaps also her
conversation--Madame Münster appeared to lose nothing by the comparison.
He wished she had come to Newport too. Would it not be possible to make
up, as they said, a party for visiting the famous watering-place and
invite Eugenia to join it? It was true that the complete satisfaction
would be to spend a fortnight at Newport with Eugenia alone. It would be
a great pleasure to see her, in society, carry everything before her,
as he was sure she would do. When Acton caught himself thinking these
thoughts he began to walk up and down, with his hands in his pockets,
frowning a little and looking at the floor. What did it prove--for
it certainly proved something--this lively disposition to be “off”
 somewhere with Madame Münster, away from all the rest of them? Such a
vision, certainly, seemed a refined implication of matrimony, after the
Baroness should have formally got rid of her informal husband. At
any rate, Acton, with his characteristic discretion, forbore to give
expression to whatever else it might imply, and the narrator of these
incidents is not obliged to be more definite.

He returned home rapidly, and, arriving in the afternoon, lost as little
time as possible in joining the familiar circle at Mr. Wentworth’s. On
reaching the house, however, he found the piazzas empty. The doors and
windows were open, and their emptiness was made clear by the shafts of
lamp-light from the parlors. Entering the house, he found Mr. Wentworth
sitting alone in one of these apartments, engaged in the perusal of
the _North American Review_. After they had exchanged greetings and his
cousin had made discreet inquiry about his journey, Acton asked what had
become of Mr. Wentworth’s companions.

“They are scattered about, amusing themselves as usual,” said the old
man. “I saw Charlotte, a short time since, seated, with Mr. Brand,
upon the piazza. They were conversing with their customary animation.
I suppose they have joined her sister, who, for the hundredth time, was
doing the honors of the garden to her foreign cousin.”

“I suppose you mean Felix,” said Acton. And on Mr. Wentworth’s
assenting, he said, “And the others?”

“Your sister has not come this evening. You must have seen her at home,”
 said Mr. Wentworth.

“Yes. I proposed to her to come. She declined.”

“Lizzie, I suppose, was expecting a visitor,” said the old man, with a
kind of solemn slyness.

“If she was expecting Clifford, he had not turned up.”

Mr. Wentworth, at this intelligence, closed the _North American Review_
and remarked that he had understood Clifford to say that he was going to
see his cousin. Privately, he reflected that if Lizzie Acton had had no
news of his son, Clifford must have gone to Boston for the evening: an
unnatural course of a summer night, especially when accompanied with
disingenuous representations.

“You must remember that he has two cousins,” said Acton, laughing. And
then, coming to the point, “If Lizzie is not here,” he added, “neither
apparently is the Baroness.”

Mr. Wentworth stared a moment, and remembered that queer proposition of
Felix’s. For a moment he did not know whether it was not to be wished
that Clifford, after all, might have gone to Boston. “The Baroness
has not honored us tonight,” he said. “She has not come over for three
days.”

“Is she ill?” Acton asked.

“No; I have been to see her.”

“What is the matter with her?”

“Well,” said Mr. Wentworth, “I infer she has tired of us.”

Acton pretended to sit down, but he was restless; he found it impossible
to talk with Mr. Wentworth. At the end of ten minutes he took up his hat
and said that he thought he would “go off.” It was very late; it was ten
o’clock.

His quiet-faced kinsman looked at him a moment. “Are you going home?” he
asked.

Acton hesitated, and then answered that he had proposed to go over and
take a look at the Baroness.

“Well, you are honest, at least,” said Mr. Wentworth, sadly.

“So are you, if you come to that!” cried Acton, laughing. “Why shouldn’t
I be honest?”

The old man opened the _North American_ again, and read a few lines.
“If we have ever had any virtue among us, we had better keep hold of it
now,” he said. He was not quoting.

“We have a Baroness among us,” said Acton. “That’s what we must keep
hold of!” He was too impatient to see Madame Münster again to wonder
what Mr. Wentworth was talking about. Nevertheless, after he had passed
out of the house and traversed the garden and the little piece of road
that separated him from Eugenia’s provisional residence, he stopped a
moment outside. He stood in her little garden; the long window of
her parlor was open, and he could see the white curtains, with the
lamp-light shining through them, swaying softly to and fro in the warm
night wind. There was a sort of excitement in the idea of seeing Madame
Münster again; he became aware that his heart was beating rather faster
than usual. It was this that made him stop, with a half-amused surprise.
But in a moment he went along the piazza, and, approaching the open
window, tapped upon its lintel with his stick. He could see the Baroness
within; she was standing in the middle of the room. She came to the
window and pulled aside the curtain; then she stood looking at him a
moment. She was not smiling; she seemed serious.

_“Mais entrez donc!”_ she said at last. Acton passed in across the
window-sill; he wondered, for an instant, what was the matter with her.
But the next moment she had begun to smile and had put out her hand.
“Better late than never,” she said. “It is very kind of you to come at
this hour.”

“I have just returned from my journey,” said Acton.

“Ah, very kind, very kind,” she repeated, looking about her where to
sit.

“I went first to the other house,” Acton continued. “I expected to find
you there.”

She had sunk into her usual chair; but she got up again, and began
to move about the room. Acton had laid down his hat and stick; he was
looking at her, conscious that there was in fact a great charm in seeing
her again. “I don’t know whether I ought to tell you to sit down,” she
said. “It is too late to begin a visit.”

“It’s too early to end one,” Acton declared; “and we needn’t mind the
beginning.”

She looked at him again, and, after a moment, dropped once more into her
low chair, while he took a place near her. “We are in the middle, then?”
 she asked. “Was that where we were when you went away? No, I haven’t
been to the other house.”

“Not yesterday, nor the day before, eh?”

“I don’t know how many days it is.”

“You are tired of it,” said Acton.

She leaned back in her chair; her arms were folded. “That is a terrible
accusation, but I have not the courage to defend myself.”

“I am not attacking you,” said Acton. “I expected something of this
kind.”

“It’s a proof of extreme intelligence. I hope you enjoyed your journey.”

“Not at all,” Acton declared. “I would much rather have been here with
you.”

“Now you _are_ attacking me,” said the Baroness. “You are contrasting my
inconstancy with your own fidelity.”

“I confess I never get tired of people I like.”

“Ah, you are not a poor wicked foreign woman, with irritable nerves and
a sophisticated mind!”

“Something has happened to you since I went away,” said Acton, changing
his place.

“Your going away--that is what has happened to me.”

“Do you mean to say that you have missed me?” he asked.

“If I had meant to say it, it would not be worth your making a note of.
I am very dishonest and my compliments are worthless.”

Acton was silent for some moments. “You have broken down,” he said at
last.

Madame Münster left her chair, and began to move about.

“Only for a moment. I shall pull myself together again.”

“You had better not take it too hard. If you are bored, you needn’t be
afraid to say so--to me at least.”

“You shouldn’t say such things as that,” the Baroness answered. “You
should encourage me.”

“I admire your patience; that is encouraging.”

“You shouldn’t even say that. When you talk of my patience you are
disloyal to your own people. Patience implies suffering; and what have I
had to suffer?”

“Oh, not hunger, not unkindness, certainly,” said Acton, laughing.
“Nevertheless, we all admire your patience.”

“You all detest me!” cried the Baroness, with a sudden vehemence,
turning her back toward him.

“You make it hard,” said Acton, getting up, “for a man to say something
tender to you.” This evening there was something particularly striking
and touching about her; an unwonted softness and a look of suppressed
emotion. He felt himself suddenly appreciating the fact that she had
behaved very well. She had come to this quiet corner of the world
under the weight of a cruel indignity, and she had been so gracefully,
modestly thankful for the rest she found there. She had joined that
simple circle over the way; she had mingled in its plain, provincial
talk; she had shared its meagre and savorless pleasures. She had set
herself a task, and she had rigidly performed it. She had conformed to
the angular conditions of New England life, and she had had the tact and
pluck to carry it off as if she liked them. Acton felt a more downright
need than he had ever felt before to tell her that he admired her and
that she struck him as a very superior woman. All along, hitherto,
he had been on his guard with her; he had been cautious, observant,
suspicious. But now a certain light tumult in his blood seemed to tell
him that a finer degree of confidence in this charming woman would be
its own reward. “We don’t detest you,” he went on. “I don’t know what
you mean. At any rate, I speak for myself; I don’t know anything about
the others. Very likely, you detest them for the dull life they make you
lead. Really, it would give me a sort of pleasure to hear you say so.”

Eugenia had been looking at the door on the other side of the room;
now she slowly turned her eyes toward Robert Acton. “What can be
the motive,” she asked, “of a man like you--an honest man, a _galant
homme_--in saying so base a thing as that?”

“Does it sound very base?” asked Acton, candidly. “I suppose it
does, and I thank you for telling me so. Of course, I don’t mean it
literally.”

The Baroness stood looking at him. “How do you mean it?” she asked.

This question was difficult to answer, and Acton, feeling the least
bit foolish, walked to the open window and looked out. He stood there,
thinking a moment, and then he turned back. “You know that document
that you were to send to Germany,” he said. “You called it your
‘renunciation.’ Did you ever send it?”

Madame Münster’s eyes expanded; she looked very grave. “What a singular
answer to my question!”

“Oh, it isn’t an answer,” said Acton. “I have wished to ask you, many
times. I thought it probable you would tell me yourself. The question,
on my part, seems abrupt now; but it would be abrupt at any time.”

The Baroness was silent a moment; and then, “I think I have told you too
much!” she said.

This declaration appeared to Acton to have a certain force; he had
indeed a sense of asking more of her than he offered her. He returned
to the window, and watched, for a moment, a little star that twinkled
through the lattice of the piazza. There were at any rate offers enough
he could make; perhaps he had hitherto not been sufficiently explicit in
doing so. “I wish you would ask something of me,” he presently said. “Is
there nothing I can do for you? If you can’t stand this dull life any
more, let me amuse you!”

The Baroness had sunk once more into a chair, and she had taken up a fan
which she held, with both hands, to her mouth. Over the top of the fan
her eyes were fixed on him. “You are very strange tonight,” she said,
with a little laugh.

“I will do anything in the world,” he rejoined, standing in front
of her. “Shouldn’t you like to travel about and see something of the
country? Won’t you go to Niagara? You ought to see Niagara, you know.”

“With you, do you mean?”

“I should be delighted to take you.”

“You alone?”

Acton looked at her, smiling, and yet with a serious air. “Well, yes; we
might go alone,” he said.

“If you were not what you are,” she answered, “I should feel insulted.”

“How do you mean--what I am?”

“If you were one of the gentlemen I have been used to all my life. If
you were not a queer Bostonian.”

“If the gentlemen you have been used to have taught you to expect
insults,” said Acton, “I am glad I am what I am. You had much better
come to Niagara.”

“If you wish to ‘amuse’ me,” the Baroness declared, “you need go to no
further expense. You amuse me very effectually.”

He sat down opposite to her; she still held her fan up to her face, with
her eyes only showing above it. There was a moment’s silence, and then
he said, returning to his former question, “Have you sent that document
to Germany?”

Again there was a moment’s silence. The expressive eyes of Madame
Münster seemed, however, half to break it.

“I will tell you--at Niagara!” she said.

She had hardly spoken when the door at the further end of the room
opened--the door upon which, some minutes previous, Eugenia had fixed
her gaze. Clifford Wentworth stood there, blushing and looking rather
awkward. The Baroness rose, quickly, and Acton, more slowly, did the
same. Clifford gave him no greeting; he was looking at Eugenia.

“Ah, you were here?” exclaimed Acton.

“He was in Felix’s studio,” said Madame Münster. “He wanted to see his
sketches.”

Clifford looked at Robert Acton, but said nothing; he only fanned
himself with his hat. “You chose a bad moment,” said Acton; “you hadn’t
much light.”

“I hadn’t any!” said Clifford, laughing.

“Your candle went out?” Eugenia asked. “You should have come back here
and lighted it again.”

Clifford looked at her a moment. “So I have--come back. But I have left
the candle!”

Eugenia turned away. “You are very stupid, my poor boy. You had better
go home.”

“Well,” said Clifford, “good-night!”

“Haven’t you a word to throw to a man when he has safely returned from a
dangerous journey?” Acton asked.

“How do you do?” said Clifford. “I thought--I thought you were----” and
he paused, looking at the Baroness again.

“You thought I was at Newport, eh? So I was--this morning.”

“Good-night, clever child!” said Madame Münster, over her shoulder.

Clifford stared at her--not at all like a clever child; and then, with
one of his little facetious growls, took his departure.

“What is the matter with him?” asked Acton, when he was gone. “He seemed
rather in a muddle.”

Eugenia, who was near the window, glanced out, listening a moment. “The
matter--the matter”--she answered. “But you don’t say such things here.”

“If you mean that he had been drinking a little, you can say that.”

“He doesn’t drink any more. I have cured him. And in return--he’s in
love with me.”

It was Acton’s turn to stare. He instantly thought of his sister; but
he said nothing about her. He began to laugh. “I don’t wonder at his
passion! But I wonder at his forsaking your society for that of your
brother’s paint-brushes.”

Eugenia was silent a little. “He had not been in the studio. I invented
that at the moment.”

“Invented it? For what purpose?”

“He has an idea of being romantic. He has adopted the habit of coming to
see me at midnight--passing only through the orchard and through Felix’s
painting-room, which has a door opening that way. It seems to amuse
him,” added Eugenia, with a little laugh.

Acton felt more surprise than he confessed to, for this was a new view
of Clifford, whose irregularities had hitherto been quite without
the romantic element. He tried to laugh again, but he felt rather too
serious, and after a moment’s hesitation his seriousness explained
itself. “I hope you don’t encourage him,” he said. “He must not be
inconstant to poor Lizzie.”

“To your sister?”

“You know they are decidedly intimate,” said Acton.

“Ah,” cried Eugenia, smiling, “has she--has she----”

“I don’t know,” Acton interrupted, “what she has. But I always supposed
that Clifford had a desire to make himself agreeable to her.”

“Ah, _par exemple!_” the Baroness went on. “The little monster! The next
time he becomes sentimental I will him tell that he ought to be ashamed
of himself.”

Acton was silent a moment. “You had better say nothing about it.”

“I had told him as much already, on general grounds,” said the Baroness.
“But in this country, you know, the relations of young people are so
extraordinary that one is quite at sea. They are not engaged when
you would quite say they ought to be. Take Charlotte Wentworth, for
instance, and that young ecclesiastic. If I were her father I should
insist upon his marrying her; but it appears to be thought there is no
urgency. On the other hand, you suddenly learn that a boy of twenty
and a little girl who is still with her governess--your sister has no
governess? Well, then, who is never away from her mamma--a young couple,
in short, between whom you have noticed nothing beyond an exchange of
the childish pleasantries characteristic of their age, are on the
point of setting up as man and wife.” The Baroness spoke with a certain
exaggerated volubility which was in contrast with the languid grace that
had characterized her manner before Clifford made his appearance. It
seemed to Acton that there was a spark of irritation in her eye--a note
of irony (as when she spoke of Lizzie being never away from her mother)
in her voice. If Madame Münster was irritated, Robert Acton was vaguely
mystified; she began to move about the room again, and he looked at her
without saying anything. Presently she took out her watch, and, glancing
at it, declared that it was three o’clock in the morning and that he
must go.

“I have not been here an hour,” he said, “and they are still sitting up
at the other house. You can see the lights. Your brother has not come
in.”

“Oh, at the other house,” cried Eugenia, “they are terrible people!
I don’t know what they may do over there. I am a quiet little humdrum
woman; I have rigid rules and I keep them. One of them is not to
have visitors in the small hours--especially clever men like you. So
good-night!”

Decidedly, the Baroness was incisive; and though Acton bade her
good-night and departed, he was still a good deal mystified.

The next day Clifford Wentworth came to see Lizzie, and Acton, who
was at home and saw him pass through the garden, took note of the
circumstance. He had a natural desire to make it tally with Madame
Münster’s account of Clifford’s disaffection; but his ingenuity, finding
itself unequal to the task, resolved at last to ask help of the young
man’s candor. He waited till he saw him going away, and then he went out
and overtook him in the grounds.

“I wish very much you would answer me a question,” Acton said. “What
were you doing, last night, at Madame Münster’s?”

Clifford began to laugh and to blush, by no means like a young man with
a romantic secret. “What did she tell you?” he asked.

“That is exactly what I don’t want to say.”

“Well, I want to tell you the same,” said Clifford; “and unless I know
it perhaps I can’t.”

They had stopped in a garden path; Acton looked hard at his rosy
young kinsman. “She said she couldn’t fancy what had got into you; you
appeared to have taken a violent dislike to her.”

Clifford stared, looking a little alarmed. “Oh, come,” he growled, “you
don’t mean that!”

“And that when--for common civility’s sake--you came occasionally to the
house you left her alone and spent your time in Felix’s studio, under
pretext of looking at his sketches.”

“Oh, come!” growled Clifford, again.

“Did you ever know me to tell an untruth?”

“Yes, lots of them!” said Clifford, seeing an opening, out of the
discussion, for his sarcastic powers. “Well,” he presently added, “I
thought you were my father.”

“You knew someone was there?”

“We heard you coming in.”

Acton meditated. “You had been with the Baroness, then?”

“I was in the parlor. We heard your step outside. I thought it was my
father.”

“And on that,” asked Acton, “you ran away?”

“She told me to go--to go out by the studio.”

Acton meditated more intensely; if there had been a chair at hand he
would have sat down. “Why should she wish you not to meet your father?”

“Well,” said Clifford, “father doesn’t like to see me there.”

Acton looked askance at his companion and forbore to make any comment
upon this assertion. “Has he said so,” he asked, “to the Baroness?”

“Well, I hope not,” said Clifford. “He hasn’t said so--in so many
words--to me. But I know it worries him; and I want to stop worrying
him. The Baroness knows it, and she wants me to stop, too.”

“To stop coming to see her?”

“I don’t know about that; but to stop worrying father. Eugenia knows
everything,” Clifford added, with an air of knowingness of his own.

“Ah,” said Acton, interrogatively, “Eugenia knows everything?”

“She knew it was not father coming in.”

“Then why did you go?”

Clifford blushed and laughed afresh. “Well, I was afraid it was. And
besides, she told me to go, at any rate.”

“Did she think it was I?” Acton asked.

“She didn’t say so.”

Again Robert Acton reflected. “But you didn’t go,” he presently said;
“you came back.”

“I couldn’t get out of the studio,” Clifford rejoined. “The door was
locked, and Felix has nailed some planks across the lower half of the
confounded windows to make the light come in from above. So they were no
use. I waited there a good while, and then, suddenly, I felt ashamed.
I didn’t want to be hiding away from my own father. I couldn’t stand
it any longer. I bolted out, and when I found it was you I was a little
flurried. But Eugenia carried it off, didn’t she?” Clifford added, in
the tone of a young humorist whose perception had not been permanently
clouded by the sense of his own discomfort.

“Beautifully!” said Acton. “Especially,” he continued, “when one
remembers that you were very imprudent and that she must have been a
good deal annoyed.”

“Oh,” cried Clifford, with the indifference of a young man who feels
that however he may have failed of felicity in behavior he is extremely
just in his impressions, “Eugenia doesn’t care for anything!”

Acton hesitated a moment. “Thank you for telling me this,” he said at
last. And then, laying his hand on Clifford’s shoulder, he added,
“Tell me one thing more: are you by chance a little in love with the
Baroness?”

“No, sir!” said Clifford, almost shaking off his hand.



CHAPTER X

The first sunday that followed Robert Acton’s return from Newport
witnessed a change in the brilliant weather that had long prevailed. The
rain began to fall and the day was cold and dreary. Mr. Wentworth and
his daughters put on overshoes and went to church, and Felix Young,
without overshoes, went also, holding an umbrella over Gertrude. It is
to be feared that, in the whole observance, this was the privilege he
most highly valued. The Baroness remained at home; she was in neither a
cheerful nor a devotional mood. She had, however, never been, during her
residence in the United States, what is called a regular attendant at
divine service; and on this particular Sunday morning of which I began
with speaking she stood at the window of her little drawing-room,
watching the long arm of a rose tree that was attached to her piazza,
but a portion of which had disengaged itself, sway to and fro, shake and
gesticulate, against the dusky drizzle of the sky. Every now and then,
in a gust of wind, the rose tree scattered a shower of water-drops
against the window-pane; it appeared to have a kind of human movement--a
menacing, warning intention. The room was very cold; Madame Münster put
on a shawl and walked about. Then she determined to have some fire; and
summoning her ancient negress, the contrast of whose polished ebony and
whose crimson turban had been at first a source of satisfaction to her,
she made arrangements for the production of a crackling flame. This old
woman’s name was Azarina. The Baroness had begun by thinking that there
would be a savory wildness in her talk, and, for amusement, she
had encouraged her to chatter. But Azarina was dry and prim; her
conversation was anything but African; she reminded Eugenia of the
tiresome old ladies she met in society. She knew, however, how to make
a fire; so that after she had laid the logs, Eugenia, who was terribly
bored, found a quarter of an hour’s entertainment in sitting and
watching them blaze and sputter. She had thought it very likely
Robert Acton would come and see her; she had not met him since that
infelicitous evening. But the morning waned without his coming; several
times she thought she heard his step on the piazza; but it was only a
window-shutter shaking in a rain-gust. The Baroness, since the beginning
of that episode in her career of which a slight sketch has been
attempted in these pages, had had many moments of irritation. But today
her irritation had a peculiar keenness; it appeared to feed upon
itself. It urged her to do something; but it suggested no particularly
profitable line of action. If she could have done something at the
moment, on the spot, she would have stepped upon a European steamer and
turned her back, with a kind of rapture, upon that profoundly mortifying
failure, her visit to her American relations. It is not exactly apparent
why she should have termed this enterprise a failure, inasmuch as she
had been treated with the highest distinction for which allowance had
been made in American institutions. Her irritation came, at bottom, from
the sense, which, always present, had suddenly grown acute, that the
social soil on this big, vague continent was somehow not adapted for
growing those plants whose fragrance she especially inclined to
inhale and by which she liked to see herself surrounded--a species of
vegetation for which she carried a collection of seedlings, as we
may say, in her pocket. She found her chief happiness in the sense of
exerting a certain power and making a certain impression; and now she
felt the annoyance of a rather wearied swimmer who, on nearing shore,
to land, finds a smooth straight wall of rock when he had counted upon
a clean firm beach. Her power, in the American air, seemed to have lost
its prehensile attributes; the smooth wall of rock was insurmountable.
_“Surely je n’en suis pas là,”_ she said to herself, “that I let it
make me uncomfortable that a Mr. Robert Acton shouldn’t honor me with a
visit!” Yet she was vexed that he had not come; and she was vexed at her
vexation.

Her brother, at least, came in, stamping in the hall and shaking the wet
from his coat. In a moment he entered the room, with a glow in his cheek
and half-a-dozen rain-drops glistening on his moustache. “Ah, you have a
fire,” he said.

_“Les beaux jours sont passés,”_ replied the Baroness.

“Never, never! They have only begun,” Felix declared, planting himself
before the hearth. He turned his back to the fire, placed his hands
behind him, extended his legs and looked away through the window with an
expression of face which seemed to denote the perception of rose-color
even in the tints of a wet Sunday.

His sister, from her chair, looked up at him, watching him; and what she
saw in his face was not grateful to her present mood. She was puzzled
by many things, but her brother’s disposition was a frequent source
of wonder to her. I say frequent and not constant, for there were long
periods during which she gave her attention to other problems. Sometimes
she had said to herself that his happy temper, his eternal gaiety, was
an affectation, a _pose_; but she was vaguely conscious that during the
present summer he had been a highly successful comedian. They had never
yet had an explanation; she had not known the need of one. Felix was
presumably following the bent of his disinterested genius, and she felt
that she had no advice to give him that he would understand. With this,
there was always a certain element of comfort about Felix--the assurance
that he would not interfere. He was very delicate, this pure-minded
Felix; in effect, he was her brother, and Madame Münster felt that there
was a great propriety, every way, in that. It is true that Felix was
delicate; he was not fond of explanations with his sister; this was one
of the very few things in the world about which he was uncomfortable.
But now he was not thinking of anything uncomfortable.

“Dear brother,” said Eugenia at last, “do stop making _les yeux doux_ at
the rain.”

“With pleasure. I will make them at you!” answered Felix.

“How much longer,” asked Eugenia, in a moment, “do you propose to remain
in this lovely spot?”

Felix stared. “Do you want to go away--already?”

“‘Already’ is delicious. I am not so happy as you.”

Felix dropped into a chair, looking at the fire. “The fact is I _am_
happy,” he said in his light, clear tone.

“And do you propose to spend your life in making love to Gertrude
Wentworth?”

“Yes!” said Felix, smiling sidewise at his sister.

The Baroness returned his glance, much more gravely; and then, “Do you
like her?” she asked.

“Don’t you?” Felix demanded.

The Baroness was silent a moment. “I will answer you in the words of the
gentleman who was asked if he liked music: _‘Je ne la crains pas!’_”

“She admires you immensely,” said Felix.

“I don’t care for that. Other women should not admire one.”

“They should dislike you?”

Again Madame Münster hesitated. “They should hate me! It’s a measure of
the time I have been losing here that they don’t.”

“No time is lost in which one has been happy!” said Felix, with a bright
sententiousness which may well have been a little irritating.

“And in which,” rejoined his sister, with a harsher laugh, “one has
secured the affections of a young lady with a fortune!”

Felix explained, very candidly and seriously. “I have secured Gertrude’s
affection, but I am by no means sure that I have secured her fortune.
That may come--or it may not.”

“Ah, well, it _may!_ That’s the great point.”

“It depends upon her father. He doesn’t smile upon our union. You know
he wants her to marry Mr. Brand.”

“I know nothing about it!” cried the Baroness. “Please to put on a log.”
 Felix complied with her request and sat watching the quickening of
the flame. Presently his sister added, “And you propose to elope with
mademoiselle?”

“By no means. I don’t wish to do anything that’s disagreeable to Mr.
Wentworth. He has been far too kind to us.”

“But you must choose between pleasing yourself and pleasing him.”

“I want to please everyone!” exclaimed Felix, joyously. “I have a good
conscience. I made up my mind at the outset that it was not my place to
make love to Gertrude.”

“So, to simplify matters, she made love to you!”

Felix looked at his sister with sudden gravity. “You say you are not
afraid of her,” he said. “But perhaps you ought to be--a little. She’s a
very clever person.”

“I begin to see it!” cried the Baroness. Her brother, making no
rejoinder, leaned back in his chair, and there was a long silence. At
last, with an altered accent, Madame Münster put another question. “You
expect, at any rate, to marry?”

“I shall be greatly disappointed if we don’t.”

“A disappointment or two will do you good!” the Baroness declared. “And,
afterwards, do you mean to turn American?”

“It seems to me I am a very good American already. But we shall go to
Europe. Gertrude wants extremely to see the world.”

“Ah, like me, when I came here!” said the Baroness, with a little laugh.

“No, not like you,” Felix rejoined, looking at his sister with a certain
gentle seriousness. While he looked at her she rose from her chair, and
he also got up. “Gertrude is not at all like you,” he went on; “but in
her own way she is almost as clever.” He paused a moment; his soul was
full of an agreeable feeling and of a lively disposition to express it.
His sister, to his spiritual vision, was always like the lunar disk when
only a part of it is lighted. The shadow on this bright surface seemed
to him to expand and to contract; but whatever its proportions, he
always appreciated the moonlight. He looked at the Baroness, and then
he kissed her. “I am very much in love with Gertrude,” he said. Eugenia
turned away and walked about the room, and Felix continued. “She is very
interesting, and very different from what she seems. She has never had
a chance. She is very brilliant. We will go to Europe and amuse
ourselves.”

The Baroness had gone to the window, where she stood looking out. The
day was drearier than ever; the rain was doggedly falling. “Yes, to
amuse yourselves,” she said at last, “you had decidedly better go to
Europe!” Then she turned round, looking at her brother. A chair stood
near her; she leaned her hands upon the back of it. “Don’t you think it
is very good of me,” she asked, “to come all this way with you simply to
see you properly married--if properly it is?”

“Oh, it will be properly!” cried Felix, with light eagerness.

The Baroness gave a little laugh. “You are thinking only of yourself,
and you don’t answer my question. While you are amusing yourself--with
the brilliant Gertrude--what shall I be doing?”

_“Vous serez de la partie!”_ cried Felix.

“Thank you: I should spoil it.” The Baroness dropped her eyes for some
moments. “Do you propose, however, to leave me here?” she inquired.

Felix smiled at her. “My dearest sister, where you are concerned I never
propose. I execute your commands.”

“I believe,” said Eugenia, slowly, “that you are the most heartless
person living. Don’t you see that I am in trouble?”

“I saw that you were not cheerful, and I gave you some good news.”

“Well, let me give you some news,” said the Baroness. “You probably will
not have discovered it for yourself. Robert Acton wants to marry me.”

“No, I had not discovered that. But I quite understand it. Why does it
make you unhappy?”

“Because I can’t decide.”

“Accept him, accept him!” cried Felix, joyously. “He is the best fellow
in the world.”

“He is immensely in love with me,” said the Baroness.

“And he has a large fortune. Permit me in turn to remind you of that.”

“Oh, I am perfectly aware of it,” said Eugenia. “That’s a great item in
his favor. I am terribly candid.” And she left her place and came nearer
her brother, looking at him hard. He was turning over several things;
she was wondering in what manner he really understood her.

There were several ways of understanding her: there was what she said,
and there was what she meant, and there was something, between the two,
that was neither. It is probable that, in the last analysis, what she
meant was that Felix should spare her the necessity of stating the case
more exactly and should hold himself commissioned to assist her by all
honorable means to marry the best fellow in the world. But in all this
it was never discovered what Felix understood.

“Once you have your liberty, what are your objections?” he asked.

“Well, I don’t particularly like him.”

“Oh, try a little.”

“I am trying now,” said Eugenia. “I should succeed better if he didn’t
live here. I could never live here.”

“Make him go to Europe,” Felix suggested.

“Ah, there you speak of happiness based upon violent effort,” the
Baroness rejoined. “That is not what I am looking for. He would never
live in Europe.”

“He would live anywhere, with you!” said Felix, gallantly.

His sister looked at him still, with a ray of penetration in her
charming eyes; then she turned away again. “You see, at all events,” she
presently went on, “that if it had been said of me that I had come over
here to seek my fortune it would have to be added that I have found it!”

“Don’t leave it lying!” urged Felix, with smiling solemnity.

“I am much obliged to you for your interest,” his sister declared, after
a moment. “But promise me one thing: _pas de zèle!_ If Mr. Acton should
ask you to plead his cause, excuse yourself.”

“I shall certainly have the excuse,” said Felix, “that I have a cause of
my own to plead.”

“If he should talk of me--favorably,” Eugenia continued, “warn him
against dangerous illusions. I detest importunities; I want to decide at
my leisure, with my eyes open.”

“I shall be discreet,” said Felix, “except to you. To you I will say,
Accept him outright.”

She had advanced to the open doorway, and she stood looking at him. “I
will go and dress and think of it,” she said; and he heard her moving
slowly to her apartments.

Late in the afternoon the rain stopped, and just afterwards there was
a great flaming, flickering, trickling sunset. Felix sat in his
painting-room and did some work; but at last, as the light, which had
not been brilliant, began to fade, he laid down his brushes and came out
to the little piazza of the cottage. Here he walked up and down for some
time, looking at the splendid blaze of the western sky and saying, as he
had often said before, that this was certainly the country of sunsets.
There was something in these glorious deeps of fire that quickened his
imagination; he always found images and promises in the western sky. He
thought of a good many things--of roaming about the world with Gertrude
Wentworth; he seemed to see their possible adventures, in a glowing
frieze, between the cloud-bars; then of what Eugenia had just been
telling him. He wished very much that Madame Münster would make a
comfortable and honorable marriage. Presently, as the sunset expanded
and deepened, the fancy took him of making a note of so magnificent a
piece of coloring. He returned to his studio and fetched out a small
panel, with his palette and brushes, and, placing the panel against a
window-sill, he began to daub with great gusto. While he was so occupied
he saw Mr. Brand, in the distance, slowly come down from Mr. Wentworth’s
house, nursing a large folded umbrella. He walked with a joyless,
meditative tread, and his eyes were bent upon the ground. Felix poised
his brush for a moment, watching him; then, by a sudden impulse, as
he drew nearer, advanced to the garden-gate and signaled to him--the
palette and bunch of brushes contributing to this effect.

Mr. Brand stopped and started; then he appeared to decide to accept
Felix’s invitation. He came out of Mr. Wentworth’s gate and passed along
the road; after which he entered the little garden of the cottage. Felix
had gone back to his sunset; but he made his visitor welcome while he
rapidly brushed it in.

“I wanted so much to speak to you that I thought I would call you,” he
said, in the friendliest tone. “All the more that you have been to
see me so little. You have come to see my sister; I know that. But
you haven’t come to see me--the celebrated artist. Artists are very
sensitive, you know; they notice those things.” And Felix turned round,
smiling, with a brush in his mouth.

Mr. Brand stood there with a certain blank, candid majesty, pulling
together the large flaps of his umbrella. “Why should I come to see
you?” he asked. “I know nothing of Art.”

“It would sound very conceited, I suppose,” said Felix, “if I were to
say that it would be a good little chance for you to learn something.
You would ask me why you should learn; and I should have no answer to
that. I suppose a minister has no need for Art, eh?”

“He has need for good temper, sir,” said Mr. Brand, with decision.

Felix jumped up, with his palette on his thumb and a movement of the
liveliest deprecation. “That’s because I keep you standing there while I
splash my red paint! I beg a thousand pardons! You see what bad manners
Art gives a man; and how right you are to let it alone. I didn’t mean
you should stand, either. The piazza, as you see, is ornamented with
rustic chairs; though indeed I ought to warn you that they have nails in
the wrong places. I was just making a note of that sunset. I never saw
such a blaze of different reds. It looks as if the Celestial City were
in flames, eh? If that were really the case I suppose it would be the
business of you theologians to put out the fire. Fancy me--an ungodly
artist--quietly sitting down to paint it!”

Mr. Brand had always credited Felix Young with a certain impudence, but
it appeared to him that on this occasion his impudence was so great as
to make a special explanation--or even an apology--necessary. And the
impression, it must be added, was sufficiently natural. Felix had at all
times a brilliant assurance of manner which was simply the vehicle of
his good spirits and his good will; but at present he had a special
design, and as he would have admitted that the design was audacious, so
he was conscious of having summoned all the arts of conversation to his
aid. But he was so far from desiring to offend his visitor that he was
rapidly asking himself what personal compliment he could pay the young
clergyman that would gratify him most. If he could think of it, he was
prepared to pay it down. “Have you been preaching one of your beautiful
sermons today?” he suddenly asked, laying down his palette. This was not
what Felix had been trying to think of, but it was a tolerable stop-gap.

Mr. Brand frowned--as much as a man can frown who has very fair, soft
eyebrows, and, beneath them, very gentle, tranquil eyes. “No, I have not
preached any sermon today. Did you bring me over here for the purpose of
making that inquiry?”

Felix saw that he was irritated, and he regretted it immensely; but he
had no fear of not being, in the end, agreeable to Mr. Brand. He
looked at him, smiling and laying his hand on his arm. “No, no, not for
that--not for that. I wanted to ask you something; I wanted to tell
you something. I am sure it will interest you very much. Only--as it is
something rather private--we had better come into my little studio. I
have a western window; we can still see the sunset. _Andiamo!_” And he
gave a little pat to his companion’s arm.

He led the way in; Mr. Brand stiffly and softly followed. The twilight
had thickened in the little studio; but the wall opposite the western
window was covered with a deep pink flush. There were a great many
sketches and half-finished canvasses suspended in this rosy glow, and
the corners of the room were vague and dusky. Felix begged Mr. Brand to
sit down; then glancing round him, “By Jove, how pretty it looks!” he
cried. But Mr. Brand would not sit down; he went and leaned against
the window; he wondered what Felix wanted of him. In the shadow, on the
darker parts of the wall, he saw the gleam of three or four pictures
that looked fantastic and surprising. They seemed to represent naked
figures. Felix stood there, with his head a little bent and his eyes
fixed upon his visitor, smiling intensely, pulling his moustache. Mr.
Brand felt vaguely uneasy. “It is very delicate--what I want to say,”
 Felix began. “But I have been thinking of it for some time.”

“Please to say it as quickly as possible,” said Mr. Brand.

“It’s because you are a clergyman, you know,” Felix went on. “I don’t
think I should venture to say it to a common man.”

Mr. Brand was silent a moment. “If it is a question of yielding to a
weakness, of resenting an injury, I am afraid I am a very common man.”

“My dearest friend,” cried Felix, “this is not an injury; it’s a
benefit--a great service! You will like it extremely. Only it’s so
delicate!” And, in the dim light, he continued to smile intensely. “You
know I take a great interest in my cousins--in Charlotte and Gertrude
Wentworth. That’s very evident from my having traveled some five
thousand miles to see them.” Mr. Brand said nothing and Felix proceeded.
“Coming into their society as a perfect stranger I received of course a
great many new impressions, and my impressions had a great freshness, a
great keenness. Do you know what I mean?”

“I am not sure that I do; but I should like you to continue.”

“I think my impressions have always a good deal of freshness,” said Mr.
Brand’s entertainer; “but on this occasion it was perhaps particularly
natural that--coming in, as I say, from outside--I should be struck with
things that passed unnoticed among yourselves. And then I had my sister
to help me; and she is simply the most observant woman in the world.”

“I am not surprised,” said Mr. Brand, “that in our little circle two
intelligent persons should have found food for observation. I am sure
that, of late, I have found it myself!”

“Ah, but I shall surprise you yet!” cried Felix, laughing. “Both my
sister and I took a great fancy to my cousin Charlotte.”

“Your cousin Charlotte?” repeated Mr. Brand.

“We fell in love with her from the first!”

“You fell in love with Charlotte?” Mr. Brand murmured.

“_Dame!_” exclaimed Felix, “she’s a very charming person; and Eugenia
was especially smitten.” Mr. Brand stood staring, and he pursued,
“Affection, you know, opens one’s eyes, and we noticed something.
Charlotte is not happy! Charlotte is in love.” And Felix, drawing
nearer, laid his hand again upon his companion’s arm.

There was something akin to an acknowledgment of fascination in the way
Mr. Brand looked at him; but the young clergyman retained as yet quite
enough self-possession to be able to say, with a good deal of solemnity,
“She is not in love with you.”

Felix gave a light laugh, and rejoined with the alacrity of a maritime
adventurer who feels a puff of wind in his sail. “Ah, no; if she were in
love with me I should know it! I am not so blind as you.”

“As I?”

“My dear sir, you are stone blind. Poor Charlotte is dead in love with
_you!_”

Mr. Brand said nothing for a moment; he breathed a little heavily. “Is
that what you wanted to say to me?” he asked.

“I have wanted to say it these three weeks. Because of late she has been
worse. I told you,” added Felix, “it was very delicate.”

“Well, sir”--Mr. Brand began; “well, sir----”

“I was sure you didn’t know it,” Felix continued. “But don’t you see--as
soon as I mention it--how everything is explained?” Mr. Brand answered
nothing; he looked for a chair and softly sat down. Felix could see that
he was blushing; he had looked straight at his host hitherto, but now he
looked away. The foremost effect of what he had heard had been a sort of
irritation of his modesty. “Of course,” said Felix, “I suggest nothing;
it would be very presumptuous in me to advise you. But I think there is
no doubt about the fact.”

Mr. Brand looked hard at the floor for some moments; he was oppressed
with a mixture of sensations. Felix, standing there, was very sure
that one of them was profound surprise. The innocent young man had been
completely unsuspicious of poor Charlotte’s hidden flame. This gave
Felix great hope; he was sure that Mr. Brand would be flattered. Felix
thought him very transparent, and indeed he was so; he could neither
simulate nor dissimulate. “I scarcely know what to make of this,” he
said at last, without looking up; and Felix was struck with the fact
that he offered no protest or contradiction. Evidently Felix had kindled
a train of memories--a retrospective illumination. It was making, to
Mr. Brand’s astonished eyes, a very pretty blaze; his second emotion had
been a gratification of vanity.

“Thank me for telling you,” Felix rejoined. “It’s a good thing to know.”

“I am not sure of that,” said Mr. Brand.

“Ah, don’t let her languish!” Felix murmured, lightly and softly.

“You _do_ advise me, then?” And Mr. Brand looked up.

“I congratulate you!” said Felix, smiling. He had thought at first his
visitor was simply appealing; but he saw he was a little ironical.

“It is in your interest; you have interfered with me,” the young
clergyman went on.

Felix still stood and smiled. The little room had grown darker, and the
crimson glow had faded; but Mr. Brand could see the brilliant expression
of his face. “I won’t pretend not to know what you mean,” said Felix
at last. “But I have not really interfered with you. Of what you had
to lose--with another person--you have lost nothing. And think what you
have gained!”

“It seems to me I am the proper judge, on each side,” Mr. Brand
declared. He got up, holding the brim of his hat against his mouth and
staring at Felix through the dusk.

“You have lost an illusion!” said Felix.

“What do you call an illusion?”

“The belief that you really know--that you have ever really
known--Gertrude Wentworth. Depend upon that,” pursued Felix. “I don’t
know her yet; but I have no illusions; I don’t pretend to.”

Mr. Brand kept gazing, over his hat. “She has always been a lucid,
limpid nature,” he said, solemnly.

“She has always been a dormant nature. She was waiting for a touchstone.
But now she is beginning to awaken.”

“Don’t praise her to me!” said Mr. Brand, with a little quaver in his
voice. “If you have the advantage of me that is not generous.”

“My dear sir, I am melting with generosity!” exclaimed Felix. “And I am
not praising my cousin. I am simply attempting a scientific definition
of her. She doesn’t care for abstractions. Now I think the contrary
is what you have always fancied--is the basis on which you have been
building. She is extremely preoccupied with the concrete. I care for the
concrete, too. But Gertrude is stronger than I; she whirls me along!”

Mr. Brand looked for a moment into the crown of his hat. “It’s a most
interesting nature.”

“So it is,” said Felix. “But it pulls--it pulls--like a runaway horse.
Now I like the feeling of a runaway horse; and if I am thrown out of
the vehicle it is no great matter. But if _you_ should be thrown, Mr.
Brand”--and Felix paused a moment--“another person also would suffer
from the accident.”

“What other person?”

“Charlotte Wentworth!”

Mr. Brand looked at Felix for a moment sidewise, mistrustfully; then his
eyes slowly wandered over the ceiling. Felix was sure he was secretly
struck with the romance of the situation. “I think this is none of our
business,” the young minister murmured.

“None of mine, perhaps; but surely yours!”

Mr. Brand lingered still, looking at the ceiling; there was evidently
something he wanted to say. “What do you mean by Miss Gertrude being
strong?” he asked abruptly.

“Well,” said Felix meditatively, “I mean that she has had a great deal
of self-possession. She was waiting--for years; even when she seemed,
perhaps, to be living in the present. She knew how to wait; she had a
purpose. That’s what I mean by her being strong.”

“But what do you mean by her purpose?”

“Well--the purpose to see the world!”

Mr. Brand eyed his strange informant askance again; but he said nothing.
At last he turned away, as if to take leave. He seemed bewildered,
however; for instead of going to the door he moved toward the opposite
corner of the room. Felix stood and watched him for a moment--almost
groping about in the dusk; then he led him to the door, with a tender,
almost fraternal movement. “Is that all you have to say?” asked Mr.
Brand.

“Yes, it’s all--but it will bear a good deal of thinking of.”

Felix went with him to the garden-gate, and watched him slowly walk
away into the thickening twilight with a relaxed rigidity that tried
to rectify itself. “He is offended, excited, bewildered, perplexed--and
enchanted!” Felix said to himself. “That’s a capital mixture.”



CHAPTER XI

Since that visit paid by the Baroness Münster to Mrs. Acton, of which
some account was given at an earlier stage of this narrative, the
intercourse between these two ladies had been neither frequent nor
intimate. It was not that Mrs. Acton had failed to appreciate Madame
Münster’s charms; on the contrary, her perception of the graces of
manner and conversation of her brilliant visitor had been only too
acute. Mrs. Acton was, as they said in Boston, very “intense,” and her
impressions were apt to be too many for her. The state of her health
required the restriction of emotion; and this is why, receiving, as she
sat in her eternal arm-chair, very few visitors, even of the soberest
local type, she had been obliged to limit the number of her interviews
with a lady whose costume and manner recalled to her imagination--Mrs.
Acton’s imagination was a marvel--all that she had ever read of the most
stirring historical periods. But she had sent the Baroness a great many
quaintly-worded messages and a great many nosegays from her garden and
baskets of beautiful fruit. Felix had eaten the fruit, and the Baroness
had arranged the flowers and returned the baskets and the messages. On
the day that followed that rainy Sunday of which mention has been made,
Eugenia determined to go and pay the beneficent invalid a _“visite
d’adieux”_; so it was that, to herself, she qualified her enterprise.
It may be noted that neither on the Sunday evening nor on the Monday
morning had she received that expected visit from Robert Acton. To his
own consciousness, evidently he was “keeping away;” and as the Baroness,
on her side, was keeping away from her uncle’s, whither, for several
days, Felix had been the unembarrassed bearer of apologies and regrets
for absence, chance had not taken the cards from the hands of design.
Mr. Wentworth and his daughters had respected Eugenia’s seclusion;
certain intervals of mysterious retirement appeared to them, vaguely, a
natural part of the graceful, rhythmic movement of so remarkable a
life. Gertrude especially held these periods in honor; she wondered
what Madame Münster did at such times, but she would not have permitted
herself to inquire too curiously.

The long rain had freshened the air, and twelve hours’ brilliant
sunshine had dried the roads; so that the Baroness, in the late
afternoon, proposing to walk to Mrs. Acton’s, exposed herself to no
great discomfort. As with her charming undulating step she moved along
the clean, grassy margin of the road, beneath the thickly-hanging boughs
of the orchards, through the quiet of the hour and place and the rich
maturity of the summer, she was even conscious of a sort of luxurious
melancholy. The Baroness had the amiable weakness of attaching herself
to places--even when she had begun with a little aversion; and now, with
the prospect of departure, she felt tenderly toward this well-wooded
corner of the Western world, where the sunsets were so beautiful and
one’s ambitions were so pure. Mrs. Acton was able to receive her; but on
entering this lady’s large, freshly-scented room the Baroness saw that
she was looking very ill. She was wonderfully white and transparent,
and, in her flowered arm-chair, she made no attempt to move. But she
flushed a little--like a young girl, the Baroness thought--and she
rested her clear, smiling eyes upon those of her visitor. Her voice
was low and monotonous, like a voice that had never expressed any human
passions.

“I have come to bid you good-bye,” said Eugenia. “I shall soon be going
away.”

“When are you going away?”

“Very soon--any day.”

“I am very sorry,” said Mrs. Acton. “I hoped you would stay--always.”

“Always?” Eugenia demanded.

“Well, I mean a long time,” said Mrs. Acton, in her sweet, feeble tone.
“They tell me you are so comfortable--that you have got such a beautiful
little house.”

Eugenia stared--that is, she smiled; she thought of her poor little
chalet and she wondered whether her hostess were jesting. “Yes, my house
is exquisite,” she said; “though not to be compared to yours.”

“And my son is so fond of going to see you,” Mrs. Acton added. “I am
afraid my son will miss you.”

“Ah, dear madam,” said Eugenia, with a little laugh, “I can’t stay in
America for your son!”

“Don’t you like America?”

The Baroness looked at the front of her dress. “If I liked it--that
would not be staying for your son!”

Mrs. Acton gazed at her with her grave, tender eyes, as if she had not
quite understood. The Baroness at last found something irritating in
the sweet, soft stare of her hostess; and if one were not bound to be
merciful to great invalids she would almost have taken the liberty of
pronouncing her, mentally, a fool. “I am afraid, then, I shall never see
you again,” said Mrs. Acton. “You know I am dying.”

“Ah, dear madam,” murmured Eugenia.

“I want to leave my children cheerful and happy. My daughter will
probably marry her cousin.”

“Two such interesting young people,” said the Baroness, vaguely. She was
not thinking of Clifford Wentworth.

“I feel so tranquil about my end,” Mrs. Acton went on. “It is coming
so easily, so surely.” And she paused, with her mild gaze always on
Eugenia’s.

The Baroness hated to be reminded of death; but even in its imminence,
so far as Mrs. Acton was concerned, she preserved her good manners. “Ah,
madam, you are too charming an invalid,” she rejoined.

But the delicacy of this rejoinder was apparently lost upon her hostess,
who went on in her low, reasonable voice. “I want to leave my children
bright and comfortable. You seem to me all so happy here--just as you
are. So I wish you could stay. It would be so pleasant for Robert.”

Eugenia wondered what she meant by its being pleasant for Robert; but
she felt that she would never know what such a woman as that meant.
She got up; she was afraid Mrs. Acton would tell her again that she
was dying. “Good-bye, dear madam,” she said. “I must remember that your
strength is precious.”

Mrs. Acton took her hand and held it a moment. “Well, you _have_ been
happy here, haven’t you? And you like us all, don’t you? I wish you
would stay,” she added, “in your beautiful little house.”

She had told Eugenia that her waiting-woman would be in the hall, to
show her downstairs; but the large landing outside her door was empty,
and Eugenia stood there looking about. She felt irritated; the dying
lady had not _“la main heureuse.”_ She passed slowly downstairs, still
looking about. The broad staircase made a great bend, and in the angle
was a high window, looking westward, with a deep bench, covered with
a row of flowering plants in curious old pots of blue china-ware. The
yellow afternoon light came in through the flowers and flickered a
little on the white wainscots. Eugenia paused a moment; the house was
perfectly still, save for the ticking, somewhere, of a great clock. The
lower hall stretched away at the foot of the stairs, half covered over
with a large Oriental rug. Eugenia lingered a little, noticing a great
many things. _“Comme c’est bien!”_ she said to herself; such a large,
solid, irreproachable basis of existence the place seemed to her to
indicate. And then she reflected that Mrs. Acton was soon to withdraw
from it. The reflection accompanied her the rest of the way downstairs,
where she paused again, making more observations. The hall was extremely
broad, and on either side of the front door was a wide, deeply-set
window, which threw the shadows of everything back into the house.
There were high-backed chairs along the wall and big Eastern vases upon
tables, and, on either side, a large cabinet with a glass front and
little curiosities within, dimly gleaming. The doors were open--into the
darkened parlor, the library, the dining-room. All these rooms seemed
empty. Eugenia passed along, and stopped a moment on the threshold of
each. _“Comme c’est bien!”_ she murmured again; she had thought of just
such a house as this when she decided to come to America. She opened
the front door for herself--her light tread had summoned none of the
servants--and on the threshold she gave a last look. Outside, she
was still in the humor for curious contemplation; so instead of going
directly down the little drive, to the gate, she wandered away towards
the garden, which lay to the right of the house. She had not gone
many yards over the grass before she paused quickly; she perceived a
gentleman stretched upon the level verdure, beneath a tree. He had not
heard her coming, and he lay motionless, flat on his back, with his
hands clasped under his head, staring up at the sky; so that the
Baroness was able to reflect, at her leisure, upon the question of
his identity. It was that of a person who had lately been much in her
thoughts; but her first impulse, nevertheless, was to turn away; the
last thing she desired was to have the air of coming in quest of Robert
Acton. The gentleman on the grass, however, gave her no time to decide;
he could not long remain unconscious of so agreeable a presence. He
rolled back his eyes, stared, gave an exclamation, and then jumped up.
He stood an instant, looking at her.

“Excuse my ridiculous position,” he said.

“I have just now no sense of the ridiculous. But, in case you have,
don’t imagine I came to see you.”

“Take care,” rejoined Acton, “how you put it into my head! I was
thinking of you.”

“The occupation of extreme leisure!” said the Baroness. “To think of a
woman when you are in that position is no compliment.”

“I didn’t say I was thinking well!” Acton affirmed, smiling.

She looked at him, and then she turned away.

“Though I didn’t come to see you,” she said, “remember at least that I
am within your gates.”

“I am delighted--I am honored! Won’t you come into the house?”

“I have just come out of it. I have been calling upon your mother. I
have been bidding her farewell.”

“Farewell?” Acton demanded.

“I am going away,” said the Baroness. And she turned away again, as if
to illustrate her meaning.

“When are you going?” asked Acton, standing a moment in his place. But
the Baroness made no answer, and he followed her.

“I came this way to look at your garden,” she said, walking back to the
gate, over the grass. “But I must go.”

“Let me at least go with you.” He went with her, and they said nothing
till they reached the gate. It was open, and they looked down the road
which was darkened over with long bosky shadows. “Must you go straight
home?” Acton asked.

But she made no answer. She said, after a moment, “Why have you not been
to see me?” He said nothing, and then she went on, “Why don’t you answer
me?”

“I am trying to invent an answer,” Acton confessed.

“Have you none ready?”

“None that I can tell you,” he said. “But let me walk with you now.”

“You may do as you like.”

She moved slowly along the road, and Acton went with her. Presently he
said, “If I had done as I liked I would have come to see you several
times.”

“Is that invented?” asked Eugenia.

“No, that is natural. I stayed away because----”

“Ah, here comes the reason, then!”

“Because I wanted to think about you.”

“Because you wanted to lie down!” said the Baroness. “I have seen you
lie down--almost--in my drawing-room.”

Acton stopped in the road, with a movement which seemed to beg her to
linger a little. She paused, and he looked at her awhile; he thought her
very charming. “You are jesting,” he said; “but if you are really going
away it is very serious.”

“If I stay,” and she gave a little laugh, “it is more serious still!”

“When shall you go?”

“As soon as possible.”

“And why?”

“Why should I stay?”

“Because we all admire you so.”

“That is not a reason. I am admired also in Europe.” And she began to
walk homeward again.

“What could I say to keep you?” asked Acton. He wanted to keep her, and
it was a fact that he had been thinking of her for a week. He was in
love with her now; he was conscious of that, or he thought he was; and
the only question with him was whether he could trust her.

“What you can say to keep me?” she repeated. “As I want very much to go
it is not in my interest to tell you. Besides, I can’t imagine.”

He went on with her in silence; he was much more affected by what she
had told him than appeared. Ever since that evening of his return from
Newport her image had had a terrible power to trouble him. What Clifford
Wentworth had told him--that had affected him, too, in an adverse sense;
but it had not liberated him from the discomfort of a charm of which his
intelligence was impatient. “She is not honest, she is not honest,” he
kept murmuring to himself. That is what he had been saying to the summer
sky, ten minutes before. Unfortunately, he was unable to say it
finally, definitively; and now that he was near her it seemed to matter
wonderfully little. “She is a woman who will lie,” he had said to
himself. Now, as he went along, he reminded himself of this observation;
but it failed to frighten him as it had done before. He almost wished he
could make her lie and then convict her of it, so that he might see how
he should like that. He kept thinking of this as he walked by her side,
while she moved forward with her light, graceful dignity. He had sat
with her before; he had driven with her; but he had never walked with
her.

“By Jove, how _comme il faut_ she is!” he said, as he observed her
sidewise. When they reached the cottage in the orchard she passed into
the gate without asking him to follow; but she turned round, as he stood
there, to bid him good-night.

“I asked you a question the other night which you never answered,” he
said. “Have you sent off that document--liberating yourself?”

She hesitated for a single moment--very naturally. Then, “Yes,” she
said, simply.

He turned away; he wondered whether that would do for his lie. But he
saw her again that evening, for the Baroness reappeared at her uncle’s.
He had little talk with her, however; two gentlemen had driven out from
Boston, in a buggy, to call upon Mr. Wentworth and his daughters,
and Madame Münster was an object of absorbing interest to both of the
visitors. One of them, indeed, said nothing to her; he only sat and
watched with intense gravity, and leaned forward solemnly, presenting
his ear (a very large one), as if he were deaf, whenever she dropped
an observation. He had evidently been impressed with the idea of her
misfortunes and reverses: he never smiled. His companion adopted a
lighter, easier style; sat as near as possible to Madame Münster;
attempted to draw her out, and proposed every few moments a new topic
of conversation. Eugenia was less vividly responsive than usual and
had less to say than, from her brilliant reputation, her interlocutor
expected, upon the relative merits of European and American
institutions; but she was inaccessible to Robert Acton, who roamed about
the piazza with his hands in his pockets, listening for the grating
sound of the buggy from Boston, as it should be brought round to the
side-door. But he listened in vain, and at last he lost patience. His
sister came to him and begged him to take her home, and he presently
went off with her. Eugenia observed him leaving the house with Lizzie;
in her present mood the fact seemed a contribution to her irritated
conviction that he had several precious qualities. “Even that
_mal-élevée_ little girl,” she reflected, “makes him do what she
wishes.”

She had been sitting just within one of the long windows that opened
upon the piazza; but very soon after Acton had gone away she got up
abruptly, just when the talkative gentleman from Boston was asking her
what she thought of the “moral tone” of that city. On the piazza she
encountered Clifford Wentworth, coming round from the other side of the
house. She stopped him; she told him she wished to speak to him.

“Why didn’t you go home with your cousin?” she asked.

Clifford stared. “Why, Robert has taken her,” he said.

“Exactly so. But you don’t usually leave that to him.”

“Oh,” said Clifford, “I want to see those fellows start off. They don’t
know how to drive.”

“It is not, then, that you have quarreled with your cousin?”

Clifford reflected a moment, and then with a simplicity which had, for
the Baroness, a singularly baffling quality, “Oh, no; we have made up!”
 he said.

She looked at him for some moments; but Clifford had begun to be afraid
of the Baroness’s looks, and he endeavored, now, to shift himself out
of their range. “Why do you never come to see me any more?” she asked.
“Have I displeased you?”

“Displeased me? Well, I guess not!” said Clifford, with a laugh.

“Why haven’t you come, then?”

“Well, because I am afraid of getting shut up in that back room.”

Eugenia kept looking at him. “I should think you would like that.”

“Like it!” cried Clifford.

“I should, if I were a young man calling upon a charming woman.”

“A charming woman isn’t much use to me when I am shut up in that back
room!”

“I am afraid I am not of much use to you anywhere!” said Madame Münster.
“And yet you know how I have offered to be.”

“Well,” observed Clifford, by way of response, “there comes the buggy.”

“Never mind the buggy. Do you know I am going away?”

“Do you mean now?”

“I mean in a few days. I leave this place.”

“You are going back to Europe?”

“To Europe, where you are to come and see me.”

“Oh, yes, I’ll come out there,” said Clifford.

“But before that,” Eugenia declared, “you must come and see me here.”

“Well, I shall keep clear of that back room!” rejoined her simple young
kinsman.

The Baroness was silent a moment. “Yes, you must come frankly--boldly.
That will be very much better. I see that now.”

“I see it!” said Clifford. And then, in an instant, “What’s the matter
with that buggy?” His practiced ear had apparently detected an unnatural
creak in the wheels of the light vehicle which had been brought to the
portico, and he hurried away to investigate so grave an anomaly.

The Baroness walked homeward, alone, in the starlight, asking herself
a question. Was she to have gained nothing--was she to have gained
nothing?

Gertrude Wentworth had held a silent place in the little circle gathered
about the two gentlemen from Boston. She was not interested in the
visitors; she was watching Madame Münster, as she constantly watched
her. She knew that Eugenia also was not interested--that she was bored;
and Gertrude was absorbed in study of the problem how, in spite of
her indifference and her absent attention, she managed to have such a
charming manner. That was the manner Gertrude would have liked to have;
she determined to cultivate it, and she wished that--to give her the
charm--she might in future very often be bored. While she was engaged in
these researches, Felix Young was looking for Charlotte, to whom he had
something to say. For some time, now, he had had something to say to
Charlotte, and this evening his sense of the propriety of holding some
special conversation with her had reached the motive-point--resolved
itself into acute and delightful desire. He wandered through the empty
rooms on the large ground-floor of the house, and found her at last in
a small apartment denominated, for reasons not immediately apparent, Mr.
Wentworth’s “office:” an extremely neat and well-dusted room, with an
array of law-books, in time-darkened sheep-skin, on one of the walls; a
large map of the United States on the other, flanked on either side by
an old steel engraving of one of Raphael’s Madonnas; and on the third
several glass cases containing specimens of butterflies and beetles.
Charlotte was sitting by a lamp, embroidering a slipper. Felix did not
ask for whom the slipper was destined; he saw it was very large.

He moved a chair toward her and sat down, smiling as usual, but, at
first, not speaking. She watched him, with her needle poised, and with
a certain shy, fluttered look which she always wore when he approached
her. There was something in Felix’s manner that quickened her modesty,
her self-consciousness; if absolute choice had been given her she would
have preferred never to find herself alone with him; and in fact,
though she thought him a most brilliant, distinguished, and well-meaning
person, she had exercised a much larger amount of tremulous tact than
he had ever suspected, to circumvent the accident of _tête-à-tête_. Poor
Charlotte could have given no account of the matter that would not have
seemed unjust both to herself and to her foreign kinsman; she could only
have said--or rather, she would never have said it--that she did
not like so much gentleman’s society at once. She was not reassured,
accordingly, when he began, emphasizing his words with a kind of
admiring radiance, “My dear cousin, I am enchanted at finding you
alone.”

“I am very often alone,” Charlotte observed. Then she quickly added, “I
don’t mean I am lonely!”

“So clever a woman as you is never lonely,” said Felix. “You have
company in your beautiful work.” And he glanced at the big slipper.

“I like to work,” declared Charlotte, simply.

“So do I!” said her companion. “And I like to idle too. But it is not
to idle that I have come in search of you. I want to tell you something
very particular.”

“Well,” murmured Charlotte; “of course, if you must----”

“My dear cousin,” said Felix, “it’s nothing that a young lady may not
listen to. At least I suppose it isn’t. But _voyons_; you shall judge. I
am terribly in love.”

“Well, Felix,” began Miss Wentworth, gravely. But her very gravity
appeared to check the development of her phrase.

“I am in love with your sister; but in love, Charlotte--in love!” the
young man pursued. Charlotte had laid her work in her lap; her hands
were tightly folded on top of it; she was staring at the carpet. “In
short, I’m in love, dear lady,” said Felix. “Now I want you to help me.”

“To help you?” asked Charlotte, with a tremor.

“I don’t mean with Gertrude; she and I have a perfect understanding; and
oh, how well she understands one! I mean with your father and with the
world in general, including Mr. Brand.”

“Poor Mr. Brand!” said Charlotte, slowly, but with a simplicity which
made it evident to Felix that the young minister had not repeated to
Miss Wentworth the talk that had lately occurred between them.

“Ah, now, don’t say ‘poor’ Mr. Brand! I don’t pity Mr. Brand at all.
But I pity your father a little, and I don’t want to displease him.
Therefore, you see, I want you to plead for me. You don’t think me very
shabby, eh?”

“Shabby?” exclaimed Charlotte softly, for whom Felix represented the
most polished and iridescent qualities of mankind.

“I don’t mean in my appearance,” rejoined Felix, laughing; for Charlotte
was looking at his boots. “I mean in my conduct. You don’t think it’s an
abuse of hospitality?”

“To--to care for Gertrude?” asked Charlotte.

“To have really expressed one’s self. Because I _have_ expressed myself,
Charlotte; I must tell you the whole truth--I have! Of course I want to
marry her--and here is the difficulty. I held off as long as I could;
but she is such a terribly fascinating person! She’s a strange creature,
Charlotte; I don’t believe you really know her.” Charlotte took up her
tapestry again, and again she laid it down. “I know your father has had
higher views,” Felix continued; “and I think you have shared them. You
have wanted to marry her to Mr. Brand.”

“Oh, no,” said Charlotte, very earnestly. “Mr. Brand has always admired
her. But we did not want anything of that kind.”

Felix stared. “Surely, marriage was what you proposed.”

“Yes; but we didn’t wish to force her.”

“_A la bonne heure!_ That’s very unsafe you know. With these arranged
marriages there is often the deuce to pay.”

“Oh, Felix,” said Charlotte, “we didn’t want to ‘arrange.’”

“I am delighted to hear that. Because in such cases--even when the
woman is a thoroughly good creature--she can’t help looking for a
compensation. A charming fellow comes along--and _voilà!_” Charlotte sat
mutely staring at the floor, and Felix presently added, “Do go on with
your slipper, I like to see you work.”

Charlotte took up her variegated canvas, and began to draw vague blue
stitches in a big round rose. “If Gertrude is so--so strange,” she said,
“why do you want to marry her?”

“Ah, that’s it, dear Charlotte! I like strange women; I always have
liked them. Ask Eugenia! And Gertrude is wonderful; she says the most
beautiful things!”

Charlotte looked at him, almost for the first time, as if her meaning
required to be severely pointed. “You have a great influence over her.”

“Yes--and no!” said Felix. “I had at first, I think; but now it is six
of one and half-a-dozen of the other; it is reciprocal. She affects me
strongly--for she _is_ so strong. I don’t believe you know her; it’s a
beautiful nature.”

“Oh, yes, Felix; I have always thought Gertrude’s nature beautiful.”

“Well, if you think so now,” cried the young man, “wait and see! She’s
a folded flower. Let me pluck her from the parent tree and you will see
her expand. I’m sure you will enjoy it.”

“I don’t understand you,” murmured Charlotte. “I _can’t_, Felix.”

“Well, you can understand this--that I beg you to say a good word for
me to your father. He regards me, I naturally believe, as a very light
fellow, a Bohemian, an irregular character. Tell him I am not all this;
if I ever was, I have forgotten it. I am fond of pleasure--yes; but of
innocent pleasure. Pain is all one; but in pleasure, you know, there are
tremendous distinctions. Say to him that Gertrude is a folded flower and
that I am a serious man!”

Charlotte got up from her chair slowly rolling up her work. “We know you
are very kind to everyone, Felix,” she said. “But we are extremely sorry
for Mr. Brand.”

“Of course you are--you especially! Because,” added Felix hastily, “you
are a woman. But I don’t pity him. It ought to be enough for any man
that you take an interest in him.”

“It is not enough for Mr. Brand,” said Charlotte, simply. And she stood
there a moment, as if waiting conscientiously for anything more that
Felix might have to say.

“Mr. Brand is not so keen about his marriage as he was,” he presently
said. “He is afraid of your sister. He begins to think she is wicked.”

Charlotte looked at him now with beautiful, appealing eyes--eyes into
which he saw the tears rising. “Oh, Felix, Felix,” she cried, “what have
you done to her?”

“I think she was asleep; I have waked her up!”

But Charlotte, apparently, was really crying, she walked straight out
of the room. And Felix, standing there and meditating, had the apparent
brutality to take satisfaction in her tears.

Late that night Gertrude, silent and serious, came to him in the garden;
it was a kind of appointment. Gertrude seemed to like appointments.
She plucked a handful of heliotrope and stuck it into the front of
her dress, but she said nothing. They walked together along one of the
paths, and Felix looked at the great, square, hospitable house, massing
itself vaguely in the starlight, with all its windows darkened.

“I have a little of a bad conscience,” he said. “I oughtn’t to meet you
this way till I have got your father’s consent.”

Gertrude looked at him for some time. “I don’t understand you.”

“You very often say that,” he said. “Considering how little we
understand each other, it is a wonder how well we get on!”

“We have done nothing but meet since you came here--but meet alone. The
first time I ever saw you we were alone,” Gertrude went on. “What is the
difference now? Is it because it is at night?”

“The difference, Gertrude,” said Felix, stopping in the path, “the
difference is that I love you more--more than before!” And then they
stood there, talking, in the warm stillness and in front of the closed
dark house. “I have been talking to Charlotte--been trying to bespeak
her interest with your father. She has a kind of sublime perversity; was
ever a woman so bent upon cutting off her own head?”

“You are too careful,” said Gertrude; “you are too diplomatic.”

“Well,” cried the young man, “I didn’t come here to make anyone
unhappy!”

Gertrude looked round her awhile in the odorous darkness. “I will do
anything you please,” she said.

“For instance?” asked Felix, smiling.

“I will go away. I will do anything you please.”

Felix looked at her in solemn admiration. “Yes, we will go away,” he
said. “But we will make peace first.”

Gertrude looked about her again, and then she broke out, passionately,
“Why do they try to make one feel guilty? Why do they make it so
difficult? Why can’t they understand?”

“I will make them understand!” said Felix. He drew her hand into his
arm, and they wandered about in the garden, talking, for an hour.



CHAPTER XII

Felix allowed Charlotte time to plead his cause; and then, on the third
day, he sought an interview with his uncle. It was in the morning;
Mr. Wentworth was in his office; and, on going in, Felix found that
Charlotte was at that moment in conference with her father. She had, in
fact, been constantly near him since her interview with Felix; she
had made up her mind that it was her duty to repeat very literally her
cousin’s passionate plea. She had accordingly followed Mr. Wentworth
about like a shadow, in order to find him at hand when she should have
mustered sufficient composure to speak. For poor Charlotte, in this
matter, naturally lacked composure; especially when she meditated upon
some of Felix’s intimations. It was not cheerful work, at the best, to
keep giving small hammer-taps to the coffin in which one had laid
away, for burial, the poor little unacknowledged offspring of one’s own
misbehaving heart; and the occupation was not rendered more agreeable
by the fact that the ghost of one’s stifled dream had been summoned from
the shades by the strange, bold words of a talkative young foreigner.
What had Felix meant by saying that Mr. Brand was not so keen? To
herself her sister’s justly depressed suitor had shown no sign of
faltering. Charlotte trembled all over when she allowed herself to
believe for an instant now and then that, privately, Mr. Brand might
have faltered; and as it seemed to give more force to Felix’s words to
repeat them to her father, she was waiting until she should have taught
herself to be very calm. But she had now begun to tell Mr. Wentworth
that she was extremely anxious. She was proceeding to develop this idea,
to enumerate the objects of her anxiety, when Felix came in.

Mr. Wentworth sat there, with his legs crossed, lifting his dry, pure
countenance from the Boston _Advertiser_. Felix entered smiling, as if
he had something particular to say, and his uncle looked at him as if
he both expected and deprecated this event. Felix vividly expressing
himself had come to be a formidable figure to his uncle, who had not yet
arrived at definite views as to a proper tone. For the first time in
his life, as I have said, Mr. Wentworth shirked a responsibility; he
earnestly desired that it might not be laid upon him to determine how
his nephew’s lighter propositions should be treated. He lived under an
apprehension that Felix might yet beguile him into assent to doubtful
inductions, and his conscience instructed him that the best form of
vigilance was the avoidance of discussion. He hoped that the pleasant
episode of his nephew’s visit would pass away without a further lapse of
consistency.

Felix looked at Charlotte with an air of understanding, and then at Mr.
Wentworth, and then at Charlotte again. Mr. Wentworth bent his refined
eyebrows upon his nephew and stroked down the first page of the
_Advertiser_. “I ought to have brought a bouquet,” said Felix, laughing.
“In France they always do.”

“We are not in France,” observed Mr. Wentworth, gravely, while Charlotte
earnestly gazed at him.

“No, luckily, we are not in France, where I am afraid I should have
a harder time of it. My dear Charlotte, have you rendered me that
delightful service?” And Felix bent toward her as if someone had been
presenting him.

Charlotte looked at him with almost frightened eyes; and Mr. Wentworth
thought this might be the beginning of a discussion. “What is the
bouquet for?” he inquired, by way of turning it off.

Felix gazed at him, smiling. _“Pour la demande!”_ And then, drawing up
a chair, he seated himself, hat in hand, with a kind of conscious
solemnity.

Presently he turned to Charlotte again. “My good Charlotte, my admirable
Charlotte,” he murmured, “you have not played me false--you have not
sided against me?”

Charlotte got up, trembling extremely, though imperceptibly. “You must
speak to my father yourself,” she said. “I think you are clever enough.”

But Felix, rising too, begged her to remain. “I can speak better to an
audience!” he declared.

“I hope it is nothing disagreeable,” said Mr. Wentworth.

“It’s something delightful, for me!” And Felix, laying down his hat,
clasped his hands a little between his knees. “My dear uncle,” he said,
“I desire, very earnestly, to marry your daughter Gertrude.” Charlotte
sank slowly into her chair again, and Mr. Wentworth sat staring, with a
light in his face that might have been flashed back from an iceberg.
He stared and stared; he said nothing. Felix fell back, with his hands
still clasped. “Ah--you don’t like it. I was afraid!” He blushed deeply,
and Charlotte noticed it--remarking to herself that it was the first
time she had ever seen him blush. She began to blush herself and to
reflect that he might be much in love.

“This is very abrupt,” said Mr. Wentworth, at last.

“Have you never suspected it, dear uncle?” Felix inquired. “Well, that
proves how discreet I have been. Yes, I thought you wouldn’t like it.”

“It is very serious, Felix,” said Mr. Wentworth.

“You think it’s an abuse of hospitality!” exclaimed Felix, smiling
again.

“Of hospitality?--an abuse?” his uncle repeated very slowly.

“That is what Felix said to me,” said Charlotte, conscientiously.

“Of course you think so; don’t defend yourself!” Felix pursued. “It
_is_ an abuse, obviously; the most I can claim is that it is perhaps a
pardonable one. I simply fell head over heels in love; one can hardly
help that. Though you are Gertrude’s progenitor I don’t believe you
know how attractive she is. Dear uncle, she contains the elements of a
singularly--I may say a strangely--charming woman!”

“She has always been to me an object of extreme concern,” said Mr.
Wentworth. “We have always desired her happiness.”

“Well, here it is!” Felix declared. “I will make her happy. She believes
it, too. Now hadn’t you noticed that?”

“I had noticed that she was much changed,” Mr. Wentworth declared, in
a tone whose unexpressive, unimpassioned quality appeared to Felix to
reveal a profundity of opposition. “It may be that she is only becoming
what you call a charming woman.”

“Gertrude, at heart, is so earnest, so true,” said Charlotte, very
softly, fastening her eyes upon her father.

“I delight to hear you praise her!” cried Felix.

“She has a very peculiar temperament,” said Mr. Wentworth.

“Eh, even that is praise!” Felix rejoined. “I know I am not the man you
might have looked for. I have no position and no fortune; I can give
Gertrude no place in the world. A place in the world--that’s what she
ought to have; that would bring her out.”

“A place to do her duty!” remarked Mr. Wentworth.

“Ah, how charmingly she does it--her duty!” Felix exclaimed, with a
radiant face. “What an exquisite conception she has of it! But she comes
honestly by that, dear uncle.” Mr. Wentworth and Charlotte both looked
at him as if they were watching a greyhound doubling. “Of course with
me she will hide her light under a bushel,” he continued; “I being the
bushel! Now I know you like me--you have certainly proved it. But you
think I am frivolous and penniless and shabby! Granted--granted--a
thousand times granted. I have been a loose fish--a fiddler, a painter,
an actor. But there is this to be said: In the first place, I fancy
you exaggerate; you lend me qualities I haven’t had. I have been a
Bohemian--yes; but in Bohemia I always passed for a gentleman. I wish
you could see some of my old _camarades_--they would tell you! It
was the liberty I liked, but not the opportunities! My sins were all
peccadilloes; I always respected my neighbor’s property--my neighbor’s
wife. Do you see, dear uncle?” Mr. Wentworth ought to have seen; his
cold blue eyes were intently fixed. “And then, _c’est fini!_ It’s all
over. _Je me range_. I have settled down to a jog-trot. I find I can
earn my living--a very fair one--by going about the world and painting
bad portraits. It’s not a glorious profession, but it is a perfectly
respectable one. You won’t deny that, eh? Going about the world, I say?
I must not deny that, for that I am afraid I shall always do--in quest
of agreeable sitters. When I say agreeable, I mean susceptible of
delicate flattery and prompt of payment. Gertrude declares she is
willing to share my wanderings and help to pose my models. She even
thinks it will be charming; and that brings me to my third point.
Gertrude likes me. Encourage her a little and she will tell you so.”

Felix’s tongue obviously moved much faster than the imagination of his
auditors; his eloquence, like the rocking of a boat in a deep, smooth
lake, made long eddies of silence. And he seemed to be pleading and
chattering still, with his brightly eager smile, his uplifted eyebrows,
his expressive mouth, after he had ceased speaking, and while, with his
glance quickly turning from the father to the daughter, he sat waiting
for the effect of his appeal. “It is not your want of means,” said Mr.
Wentworth, after a period of severe reticence.

“Now it’s delightful of you to say that! Only don’t say it’s my want of
character. Because I have a character--I assure you I have; a small one,
a little slip of a thing, but still something tangible.”

“Ought you not to tell Felix that it is Mr. Brand, father?” Charlotte
asked, with infinite mildness.

“It is not only Mr. Brand,” Mr. Wentworth solemnly declared. And he
looked at his knee for a long time. “It is difficult to explain,” he
said. He wished, evidently, to be very just. “It rests on moral grounds,
as Mr. Brand says. It is the question whether it is the best thing for
Gertrude.”

“What is better--what is better, dear uncle?” Felix rejoined urgently,
rising in his urgency and standing before Mr. Wentworth. His uncle had
been looking at his knee; but when Felix moved he transferred his gaze
to the handle of the door which faced him. “It is usually a fairly good
thing for a girl to marry the man she loves!” cried Felix.

While he spoke, Mr. Wentworth saw the handle of the door begin to turn;
the door opened and remained slightly ajar, until Felix had delivered
himself of the cheerful axiom just quoted. Then it opened altogether
and Gertrude stood there. She looked excited; there was a spark in her
sweet, dull eyes. She came in slowly, but with an air of resolution,
and, closing the door softly, looked round at the three persons present.
Felix went to her with tender gallantry, holding out his hand, and
Charlotte made a place for her on the sofa. But Gertrude put her hands
behind her and made no motion to sit down.

“We are talking of you!” said Felix.

“I know it,” she answered. “That’s why I came.” And she fastened her
eyes on her father, who returned her gaze very fixedly. In his own cold
blue eyes there was a kind of pleading, reasoning light.

“It is better you should be present,” said Mr. Wentworth. “We are
discussing your future.”

“Why discuss it?” asked Gertrude. “Leave it to me.”

“That is, to me!” cried Felix.

“I leave it, in the last resort, to a greater wisdom than ours,” said
the old man.

Felix rubbed his forehead gently. “But _en attendant_ the last resort,
your father lacks confidence,” he said to Gertrude.

“Haven’t you confidence in Felix?” Gertrude was frowning; there was
something about her that her father and Charlotte had never seen.
Charlotte got up and came to her, as if to put her arm round her; but
suddenly, she seemed afraid to touch her.

Mr. Wentworth, however, was not afraid. “I have had more confidence in
Felix than in you,” he said.

“Yes, you have never had confidence in me--never, never! I don’t know
why.”

“Oh sister, sister!” murmured Charlotte.

“You have always needed advice,” Mr. Wentworth declared. “You have had a
difficult temperament.”

“Why do you call it difficult? It might have been easy, if you had
allowed it. You wouldn’t let me be natural. I don’t know what you wanted
to make of me. Mr. Brand was the worst.”

Charlotte at last took hold of her sister. She laid her two hands upon
Gertrude’s arm. “He cares so much for you,” she almost whispered.

Gertrude looked at her intently an instant; then kissed her. “No, he
does not,” she said.

“I have never seen you so passionate,” observed Mr. Wentworth, with an
air of indignation mitigated by high principles.

“I am sorry if I offend you,” said Gertrude.

“You offend me, but I don’t think you are sorry.”

“Yes, father, she is sorry,” said Charlotte.

“I would even go further, dear uncle,” Felix interposed. “I would
question whether she really offends you. How can she offend you?”

To this Mr. Wentworth made no immediate answer. Then, in a moment, “She
has not profited as we hoped.”

“Profited? _Ah voilà!_” Felix exclaimed.

Gertrude was very pale; she stood looking down. “I have told Felix I
would go away with him,” she presently said.

“Ah, you have said some admirable things!” cried the young man.

“Go away, sister?” asked Charlotte.

“Away--away; to some strange country.”

“That is to frighten you,” said Felix, smiling at Charlotte.

“To--what do you call it?” asked Gertrude, turning an instant to Felix.
“To Bohemia.”

“Do you propose to dispense with preliminaries?” asked Mr. Wentworth,
getting up.

“Dear uncle, _vous plaisantez!_” cried Felix. “It seems to me that these
are preliminaries.”

Gertrude turned to her father. “I _have_ profited,” she said. “You
wanted to form my character. Well, my character is formed--for my age.
I know what I want; I have chosen. I am determined to marry this
gentleman.”

“You had better consent, sir,” said Felix very gently.

“Yes, sir, you had better consent,” added a very different voice.

Charlotte gave a little jump, and the others turned to the direction
from which it had come. It was the voice of Mr. Brand, who had stepped
through the long window which stood open to the piazza. He stood patting
his forehead with his pocket-handkerchief; he was very much flushed; his
face wore a singular expression.

“Yes, sir, you had better consent,” Mr. Brand repeated, coming forward.
“I know what Miss Gertrude means.”

“My dear friend!” murmured Felix, laying his hand caressingly on the
young minister’s arm.

Mr. Brand looked at him; then at Mr. Wentworth; lastly at Gertrude. He
did not look at Charlotte. But Charlotte’s earnest eyes were fastened
to his own countenance; they were asking an immense question of it.
The answer to this question could not come all at once; but some of the
elements of it were there. It was one of the elements of it that Mr.
Brand was very red, that he held his head very high, that he had a
bright, excited eye and an air of embarrassed boldness--the air of a
man who has taken a resolve, in the execution of which he apprehends
the failure, not of his moral, but of his personal, resources. Charlotte
thought he looked very grand; and it is incontestable that Mr. Brand
felt very grand. This, in fact, was the grandest moment of his life;
and it was natural that such a moment should contain opportunities of
awkwardness for a large, stout, modest young man.

“Come in, sir,” said Mr. Wentworth, with an angular wave of his hand.
“It is very proper that you should be present.”

“I know what you are talking about,” Mr. Brand rejoined. “I heard what
your nephew said.”

“And he heard what you said!” exclaimed Felix, patting him again on the
arm.

“I am not sure that I understood,” said Mr. Wentworth, who had
angularity in his voice as well as in his gestures.

Gertrude had been looking hard at her former suitor. She had been
puzzled, like her sister; but her imagination moved more quickly than
Charlotte’s. “Mr. Brand asked you to let Felix take me away,” she said
to her father.

The young minister gave her a strange look. “It is not because I don’t
want to see you any more,” he declared, in a tone intended as it were
for publicity.

“I shouldn’t think you would want to see me any more,” Gertrude
answered, gently.

Mr. Wentworth stood staring. “Isn’t this rather a change, sir?” he
inquired.

“Yes, sir.” And Mr. Brand looked anywhere; only still not at Charlotte.
“Yes, sir,” he repeated. And he held his handkerchief a few moments to
his lips.

“Where are our moral grounds?” demanded Mr. Wentworth, who had always
thought Mr. Brand would be just the thing for a younger daughter with a
peculiar temperament.

“It is sometimes very moral to change, you know,” suggested Felix.

Charlotte had softly left her sister’s side. She had edged gently toward
her father, and now her hand found its way into his arm. Mr. Wentworth
had folded up the _Advertiser_ into a surprisingly small compass, and,
holding the roll with one hand, he earnestly clasped it with the other.
Mr. Brand was looking at him; and yet, though Charlotte was so near, his
eyes failed to meet her own. Gertrude watched her sister.

“It is better not to speak of change,” said Mr. Brand. “In one sense
there is no change. There was something I desired--something I asked of
you; I desire something still--I ask it of you.” And he paused a moment;
Mr. Wentworth looked bewildered. “I should like, in my ministerial
capacity, to unite this young couple.”

Gertrude, watching her sister, saw Charlotte flushing intensely, and Mr.
Wentworth felt her pressing upon his arm. “Heavenly Powers!” murmured
Mr. Wentworth. And it was the nearest approach to profanity he had ever
made.

“That is very nice; that is very handsome!” Felix exclaimed.

“I don’t understand,” said Mr. Wentworth; though it was plain that
everyone else did.

“That is very beautiful, Mr. Brand,” said Gertrude, emulating Felix.

“I should like to marry you. It will give me great pleasure.”

“As Gertrude says, it’s a beautiful idea,” said Felix.

Felix was smiling, but Mr. Brand was not even trying to. He himself
treated his proposition very seriously. “I have thought of it, and I
should like to do it,” he affirmed.

Charlotte, meanwhile, was staring with expanded eyes. Her imagination,
as I have said, was not so rapid as her sister’s, but now it had taken
several little jumps. “Father,” she murmured, “consent!”

Mr. Brand heard her; he looked away. Mr. Wentworth, evidently, had no
imagination at all. “I have always thought,” he began, slowly, “that
Gertrude’s character required a special line of development.”

“Father,” repeated Charlotte, _“consent.”_

Then, at last, Mr. Brand looked at her. Her father felt her leaning more
heavily upon his folded arm than she had ever done before; and this,
with a certain sweet faintness in her voice, made him wonder what was
the matter. He looked down at her and saw the encounter of her gaze with
the young theologian’s; but even this told him nothing, and he continued
to be bewildered. Nevertheless, “I consent,” he said at last, “since Mr.
Brand recommends it.”

“I should like to perform the ceremony very soon,” observed Mr. Brand,
with a sort of solemn simplicity.

“Come, come, that’s charming!” cried Felix, profanely.

Mr. Wentworth sank into his chair. “Doubtless, when you understand it,”
 he said, with a certain judicial asperity.

Gertrude went to her sister and led her away, and Felix having passed
his arm into Mr. Brand’s and stepped out of the long window with him,
the old man was left sitting there in unillumined perplexity.

Felix did no work that day. In the afternoon, with Gertrude, he got into
one of the boats and floated about with idly-dipping oars. They talked a
good deal of Mr. Brand--though not exclusively.

“That was a fine stroke,” said Felix. “It was really heroic.”

Gertrude sat musing, with her eyes upon the ripples. “That was what he
wanted to be; he wanted to do something fine.”

“He won’t be comfortable till he has married us,” said Felix. “So much
the better.”

“He wanted to be magnanimous; he wanted to have a fine moral pleasure.
I know him so well,” Gertrude went on. Felix looked at her; she spoke
slowly, gazing at the clear water. “He thought of it a great deal, night
and day. He thought it would be beautiful. At last he made up his mind
that it was his duty, his duty to do just that--nothing less than that.
He felt exalted; he felt sublime. That’s how he likes to feel. It is
better for him than if I had listened to him.”

“It’s better for me,” smiled Felix. “But do you know, as regards the
sacrifice, that I don’t believe he admired you when this decision was
taken quite so much as he had done a fortnight before?”

“He never admired me. He admires Charlotte; he pitied me. I know him so
well.”

“Well, then, he didn’t pity you so much.”

Gertrude looked at Felix a little, smiling. “You shouldn’t permit
yourself,” she said, “to diminish the splendor of his action. He admires
Charlotte,” she repeated.

“That’s capital!” said Felix laughingly, and dipping his oars. I cannot
say exactly to which member of Gertrude’s phrase he alluded; but he
dipped his oars again, and they kept floating about.

Neither Felix nor his sister, on that day, was present at Mr.
Wentworth’s at the evening repast. The two occupants of the chalet dined
together, and the young man informed his companion that his marriage was
now an assured fact. Eugenia congratulated him, and replied that if he
were as reasonable a husband as he had been, on the whole, a brother,
his wife would have nothing to complain of.

Felix looked at her a moment, smiling. “I hope,” he said, “not to be
thrown back on my reason.”

“It is very true,” Eugenia rejoined, “that one’s reason is dismally
flat. It’s a bed with the mattress removed.”

But the brother and sister, later in the evening, crossed over to
the larger house, the Baroness desiring to compliment her prospective
sister-in-law. They found the usual circle upon the piazza, with the
exception of Clifford Wentworth and Lizzie Acton; and as everyone stood
up as usual to welcome the Baroness, Eugenia had an admiring audience
for her compliment to Gertrude.

Robert Acton stood on the edge of the piazza, leaning against one of
the white columns, so that he found himself next to Eugenia while she
acquitted herself of a neat little discourse of congratulation.

“I shall be so glad to know you better,” she said; “I have seen so much
less of you than I should have liked. Naturally; now I see the reason
why! You will love me a little, won’t you? I think I may say I gain
on being known.” And terminating these observations with the softest
cadence of her voice, the Baroness imprinted a sort of grand official
kiss upon Gertrude’s forehead.

Increased familiarity had not, to Gertrude’s imagination, diminished
the mysterious impressiveness of Eugenia’s personality, and she felt
flattered and transported by this little ceremony. Robert Acton
also seemed to admire it, as he admired so many of the gracious
manifestations of Madame Münster’s wit.

They had the privilege of making him restless, and on this occasion he
walked away, suddenly, with his hands in his pockets, and then came back
and leaned against his column. Eugenia was now complimenting her uncle
upon his daughter’s engagement, and Mr. Wentworth was listening with his
usual plain yet refined politeness. It is to be supposed that by this
time his perception of the mutual relations of the young people who
surrounded him had become more acute; but he still took the matter very
seriously, and he was not at all exhilarated.

“Felix will make her a good husband,” said Eugenia. “He will be a
charming companion; he has a great quality--indestructible gaiety.”

“You think that’s a great quality?” asked the old man.

Eugenia meditated, with her eyes upon his. “You think one gets tired of
it, eh?”

“I don’t know that I am prepared to say that,” said Mr. Wentworth.

“Well, we will say, then, that it is tiresome for others but delightful
for one’s self. A woman’s husband, you know, is supposed to be her
second self; so that, for Felix and Gertrude, gaiety will be a common
property.”

“Gertrude was always very gay,” said Mr. Wentworth. He was trying to
follow this argument.

Robert Acton took his hands out of his pockets and came a little nearer
to the Baroness. “You say you gain by being known,” he said. “One
certainly gains by knowing you.”

“What have _you_ gained?” asked Eugenia.

“An immense amount of wisdom.”

“That’s a questionable advantage for a man who was already so wise!”

Acton shook his head. “No, I was a great fool before I knew you!”

“And being a fool you made my acquaintance? You are very complimentary.”

“Let me keep it up,” said Acton, laughing. “I hope, for our pleasure,
that your brother’s marriage will detain you.”

“Why should I stop for my brother’s marriage when I would not stop for
my own?” asked the Baroness.

“Why shouldn’t you stop in either case, now that, as you say, you have
dissolved that mechanical tie that bound you to Europe?”

The Baroness looked at him a moment. “As I say? You look as if you
doubted it.”

“Ah,” said Acton, returning her glance, “that is a remnant of my old
folly! We have other attractions,” he added. “We are to have another
marriage.”

But she seemed not to hear him; she was looking at him still. “My word
was never doubted before,” she said.

“We are to have another marriage,” Acton repeated, smiling.

Then she appeared to understand. “Another marriage?” And she looked at
the others. Felix was chattering to Gertrude; Charlotte, at a distance,
was watching them; and Mr. Brand, in quite another quarter, was turning
his back to them, and, with his hands under his coat-tails and his large
head on one side, was looking at the small, tender crescent of a young
moon. “It ought to be Mr. Brand and Charlotte,” said Eugenia, “but it
doesn’t look like it.”

“There,” Acton answered, “you must judge just now by contraries. There
is more than there looks to be. I expect that combination one of these
days; but that is not what I meant.”

“Well,” said the Baroness, “I never guess my own lovers; so I can’t
guess other people’s.”

Acton gave a loud laugh, and he was about to add a rejoinder when Mr.
Wentworth approached his niece. “You will be interested to hear,” the
old man said, with a momentary aspiration toward jocosity, “of another
matrimonial venture in our little circle.”

“I was just telling the Baroness,” Acton observed.

“Mr. Acton was apparently about to announce his own engagement,” said
Eugenia.

Mr. Wentworth’s jocosity increased. “It is not exactly that; but it
is in the family. Clifford, hearing this morning that Mr. Brand had
expressed a desire to tie the nuptial knot for his sister, took it into
his head to arrange that, while his hand was in, our good friend should
perform a like ceremony for himself and Lizzie Acton.”

The Baroness threw back her head and smiled at her uncle; then turning,
with an intenser radiance, to Robert Acton, “I am certainly very stupid
not to have thought of that,” she said. Acton looked down at his
boots, as if he thought he had perhaps reached the limits of legitimate
experimentation, and for a moment Eugenia said nothing more. It had
been, in fact, a sharp knock, and she needed to recover herself. This
was done, however, promptly enough. “Where are the young people?” she
asked.

“They are spending the evening with my mother.”

“Is not the thing very sudden?”

Acton looked up. “Extremely sudden. There had been a tacit
understanding; but within a day or two Clifford appears to have received
some mysterious impulse to precipitate the affair.”

“The impulse,” said the Baroness, “was the charms of your very pretty
sister.”

“But my sister’s charms were an old story; he had always known her.”
 Acton had begun to experiment again.

Here, however, it was evident the Baroness would not help him. “Ah, one
can’t say! Clifford is very young; but he is a nice boy.”

“He’s a likeable sort of boy, and he will be a rich man.” This was
Acton’s last experiment. Madame Münster turned away.

She made but a short visit and Felix took her home. In her little
drawing-room she went almost straight to the mirror over the
chimney-piece, and, with a candle uplifted, stood looking into it. “I
shall not wait for your marriage,” she said to her brother. “Tomorrow my
maid shall pack up.”

“My dear sister,” Felix exclaimed, “we are to be married immediately!
Mr. Brand is too uncomfortable.”

But Eugenia, turning and still holding her candle aloft, only looked
about the little sitting-room at her gimcracks and curtains and
cushions. “My maid shall pack up,” she repeated. “_Bonté divine_, what
rubbish! I feel like a strolling actress; these are my ‘properties.’”

“Is the play over, Eugenia?” asked Felix.

She gave him a sharp glance. “I have spoken my part.”

“With great applause!” said her brother.

“Oh, applause--applause!” she murmured. And she gathered up two or three
of her dispersed draperies. She glanced at the beautiful brocade, and
then, “I don’t see how I can have endured it!” she said.

“Endure it a little longer. Come to my wedding.”

“Thank you; that’s your affair. My affairs are elsewhere.”

“Where are you going?”

“To Germany--by the first ship.”

“You have decided not to marry Mr. Acton?”

“I have refused him,” said Eugenia.

Her brother looked at her in silence. “I am sorry,” he rejoined at last.
“But I was very discreet, as you asked me to be. I said nothing.”

“Please continue, then, not to allude to the matter,” said Eugenia.

Felix inclined himself gravely. “You shall be obeyed. But your position
in Germany?” he pursued.

“Please to make no observations upon it.”

“I was only going to say that I supposed it was altered.”

“You are mistaken.”

“But I thought you had signed----”

“I have not signed!” said the Baroness.

Felix urged her no further, and it was arranged that he should
immediately assist her to embark.

Mr. Brand was indeed, it appeared, very impatient to consummate his
sacrifice and deliver the nuptial benediction which would set it off so
handsomely; but Eugenia’s impatience to withdraw from a country in which
she had not found the fortune she had come to seek was even less to be
mistaken. It is true she had not made any very various exertion; but
she appeared to feel justified in generalizing--in deciding that the
conditions of action on this provincial continent were not favorable
to really superior women. The elder world was, after all, their natural
field. The unembarrassed directness with which she proceeded to
apply these intelligent conclusions appeared to the little circle of
spectators who have figured in our narrative but the supreme exhibition
of a character to which the experience of life had imparted an
inimitable pliancy. It had a distinct effect upon Robert Acton, who, for
the two days preceding her departure, was a very restless and irritated
mortal. She passed her last evening at her uncle’s, where she had never
been more charming; and in parting with Clifford Wentworth’s affianced
bride she drew from her own finger a curious old ring and presented it
to her with the prettiest speech and kiss. Gertrude, who as an affianced
bride was also indebted to her gracious bounty, admired this little
incident extremely, and Robert Acton almost wondered whether it did not
give him the right, as Lizzie’s brother and guardian, to offer in return
a handsome present to the Baroness. It would have made him extremely
happy to be able to offer a handsome present to the Baroness; but he
abstained from this expression of his sentiments, and they were in
consequence, at the very last, by so much the less comfortable. It was
almost at the very last that he saw her--late the night before she went
to Boston to embark.

“For myself, I wish you might have stayed,” he said. “But not for your
own sake.”

“I don’t make so many differences,” said the Baroness. “I am simply
sorry to be going.”

“That’s a much deeper difference than mine,” Acton declared; “for you
mean you are simply glad!”

Felix parted with her on the deck of the ship. “We shall often meet over
there,” he said.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “Europe seems to me much larger than
America.”

Mr. Brand, of course, in the days that immediately followed, was not the
only impatient spirit; but it may be said that of all the young spirits
interested in the event none rose more eagerly to the level of the
occasion. Gertrude left her father’s house with Felix Young; they were
imperturbably happy and they went far away. Clifford and his young wife
sought their felicity in a narrower circle, and the latter’s influence
upon her husband was such as to justify, strikingly, that theory of the
elevating effect of easy intercourse with clever women which Felix had
propounded to Mr. Wentworth. Gertrude was for a good while a distant
figure, but she came back when Charlotte married Mr. Brand. She was
present at the wedding feast, where Felix’s gaiety confessed to no
change. Then she disappeared, and the echo of a gaiety of her own,
mingled with that of her husband, often came back to the home of her
earlier years. Mr. Wentworth at last found himself listening for it;
and Robert Acton, after his mother’s death, married a particularly nice
young girl.

The End





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