The Pension Beaurepas
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The Pension Beaurepas
by Henry James
I was not rich--on the contrary; and I had been told the Pension
Beaurepas was cheap. I had, moreover, been told that a boarding-
house is a capital place for the study of human nature. I had a
fancy for a literary career, and a friend of mine had said to me, "If
you mean to write you ought to go and live in a boarding-house; there
is no other such place to pick up material." I had read something of
this kind in a letter addressed by Stendhal to his sister: "I have a
passionate desire to know human nature, and have a great mind to live
in a boarding-house, where people cannot conceal their real
characters." I was an admirer of La Chartreuse de Parme, and it
appeared to me that one could not do better than follow in the
footsteps of its author. I remembered, too, the magnificent
boarding-house in Balzac's Pere Goriot,--the "pension bourgeoise des
deux sexes et autres," kept by Madame Vauquer, nee De Conflans.
Magnificent, I mean, as a piece of portraiture; the establishment, as
an establishment, was certainly sordid enough, and I hoped for better
things from the Pension Beaurepas. This institution was one of the
most esteemed in Geneva, and, standing in a little garden of its own,
not far from the lake, had a very homely, comfortable, sociable
aspect. The regular entrance was, as one might say, at the back,
which looked upon the street, or rather upon a little place, adorned
like every place in Geneva, great or small, with a fountain. This
fact was not prepossessing, for on crossing the threshold you found
yourself more or less in the kitchen, encompassed with culinary
odours. This, however, was no great matter, for at the Pension
Beaurepas there was no attempt at gentility or at concealment of the
domestic machinery. The latter was of a very simple sort. Madame
Beaurepas was an excellent little old woman--she was very far
advanced in life, and had been keeping a pension for forty years--
whose only faults were that she was slightly deaf, that she was fond
of a surreptitious pinch of snuff, and that, at the age of seventy-
three, she wore flowers in her cap. There was a tradition in the
house that she was not so deaf as she pretended; that she feigned
this infirmity in order to possess herself of the secrets of her
lodgers. But I never subscribed to this theory; I am convinced that
Madame Beaurepas had outlived the period of indiscreet curiosity.
She was a philosopher, on a matter-of-fact basis; she had been having
lodgers for forty years, and all that she asked of them was that they
should pay their bills, make use of the door-mat, and fold their
napkins. She cared very little for their secrets. "J'en ai vus de
toutes les couleurs," she said to me. She had quite ceased to care
for individuals; she cared only for types, for categories. Her large
observation had made her acquainted with a great number, and her mind
was a complete collection of "heads." She flattered herself that she
knew at a glance where to pigeon-hole a new-comer, and if she made
any mistakes her deportment never betrayed them. I think that, as
regards individuals, she had neither likes nor dislikes; but she was
capable of expressing esteem or contempt for a species. She had her
own ways, I suppose, of manifesting her approval, but her manner of
indicating the reverse was simple and unvarying. "Je trouve que
c'est deplace"--this exhausted her view of the matter. If one of her
inmates had put arsenic into the pot-au-feu, I believe Madame
Beaurepas would have contented herself with remarking that the
proceeding was out of place. The line of misconduct to which she
most objected was an undue assumption of gentility; she had no
patience with boarders who gave themselves airs. "When people come
chez moi, it is not to cut a figure in the world; I have never had
that illusion," I remember hearing her say; "and when you pay seven
francs a day, tout compris, it comprises everything but the right to
look down upon the others. But there are people who, the less they
pay, the more they take themselves au serieux. My most difficult
boarders have always been those who have had the little rooms."
Madame Beaurepas had a niece, a young woman of some forty odd years;
and the two ladies, with the assistance of a couple of thick-waisted,
red-armed peasant women, kept the house going. If on your exits and
entrances you peeped into the kitchen, it made very little
difference; for Celestine, the cook, had no pretension to be an
invisible functionary or to deal in occult methods. She was always
at your service, with a grateful grin she blacked your boots; she
trudged off to fetch a cab; she would have carried your baggage, if
you had allowed her, on her broad little back. She was always
tramping in and out, between her kitchen and the fountain in the
place, where it often seemed to me that a large part of the
preparation for our dinner went forward--the wringing out of towels
and table-cloths, the washing of potatoes and cabbages, the scouring
of saucepans and cleansing of water--bottles. You enjoyed, from the
doorstep, a perpetual back-view of Celestine and of her large, loose,
woollen ankles, as she craned, from the waist, over into the fountain
and dabbled in her various utensils. This sounds as if life went on
in a very make-shift fashion at the Pension Beaurepas--as if the tone
of the establishment were sordid. But such was not at all the case.
We were simply very bourgeois; we practised the good old Genevese
principle of not sacrificing to appearances. This is an excellent
principle--when you have the reality. We had the reality at the
Pension Beaurepas: we had it in the shape of soft short beds,
equipped with fluffy duvets; of admirable coffee, served to us in the
morning by Celestine in person, as we lay recumbent on these downy
couches; of copious, wholesome, succulent dinners, conformable to the
best provincial traditions. For myself, I thought the Pension
Beaurepas picturesque, and this, with me, at that time was a great
word. I was young and ingenuous: I had just come from America. I
wished to perfect myself in the French tongue, and I innocently
believed that it flourished by Lake Leman. I used to go to lectures
at the Academy, and come home with a violent appetite. I always
enjoyed my morning walk across the long bridge (there was only one,
just there, in those days) which spans the deep blue out-gush of the
lake, and up the dark steep streets of the old Calvinistic city. The
garden faced this way, toward the lake and the old town; and this was
the pleasantest approach to the house. There was a high wall, with a
double gate in the middle, flanked by a couple of ancient massive
posts; the big rusty grille contained some old-fashioned iron-work.
The garden was rather mouldy and weedy, tangled and untended; but it
contained a little thin--flowing fountain, several green benches, a
rickety little table of the same complexion, and three orange-trees,
in tubs, which were deposited as effectively as possible in front of
the windows of the salon.
As commonly happens in boarding-houses, the rustle of petticoats was,
at the Pension Beaurepas, the most familiar form of the human tread.
There was the usual allotment of economical widows and old maids, and
to maintain the balance of the sexes there were only an old Frenchman
and a young American. It hardly made the matter easier that the old
Frenchman came from Lausanne. He was a native of that estimable
town, but he had once spent six months in Paris, he had tasted of the
tree of knowledge; he had got beyond Lausanne, whose resources he
pronounced inadequate. Lausanne, as he said, "manquait d'agrements."
When obliged, for reasons which he never specified, to bring his
residence in Paris to a close, he had fallen back on Geneva; he had
broken his fall at the Pension Beaurepas. Geneva was, after all,
more like Paris, and at a Genevese boarding-house there was sure to
be plenty of Americans with whom one could talk about the French
metropolis. M. Pigeonneau was a little lean man, with a large narrow
nose, who sat a great deal in the garden, reading with the aid of a
large magnifying glass a volume from the cabinet de lecture.
One day, a fortnight after my arrival at the Pension Beaurepas, I
came back, rather earlier than usual from my academic session; it
wanted half an hour of the midday breakfast. I went into the salon
with the design of possessing myself of the day's Galignani before
one of the little English old maids should have removed it to her
virginal bower--a privilege to which Madame Beaurepas frequently
alluded as one of the attractions of the establishment. In the salon
I found a new-comer, a tall gentleman in a high black hat, whom I
immediately recognised as a compatriot. I had often seen him, or his
equivalent, in the hotel parlours of my native land. He apparently
supposed himself to be at the present moment in a hotel parlour; his
hat was on his head, or, rather, half off it--pushed back from his
forehead, and rather suspended than poised. He stood before a table
on which old newspapers were scattered, one of which he had taken up
and, with his eye-glass on his nose, was holding out at arm's-length.
It was that honourable but extremely diminutive sheet, the Journal de
Geneve, a newspaper of about the size of a pocket-handkerchief. As I
drew near, looking for my Galignani, the tall gentleman gave me, over
the top of his eye-glass, a somewhat solemn stare. Presently,
however, before I had time to lay my hand on the object of my search,
he silently offered me the Journal de Geneve.
"It appears," he said, "to be the paper of the country."
"Yes," I answered, "I believe it's the best."
He gazed at it again, still holding it at arm's-length, as if it had
been a looking-glass. "Well," he said, "I suppose it's natural a
small country should have small papers. You could wrap it up,
mountains and all, in one of our dailies!"
I found my Galignani, and went off with it into the garden, where I
seated myself on a bench in the shade. Presently I saw the tall
gentleman in the hat appear in one of the open windows of the salon,
and stand there with his hands in his pockets and his legs a little
apart. He looked very much bored, and--I don't know why--I
immediately began to feel sorry for him. He was not at all a
picturesque personage; he looked like a jaded, faded man of business.
But after a little he came into the garden and began to stroll about;
and then his restless, unoccupied carriage, and the vague,
unacquainted manner in which his eyes wandered over the place, seemed
to make it proper that, as an older resident, I should exercise a
certain hospitality. I said something to him, and he came and sat
down beside me on my bench, clasping one of his long knees in his
"When is it this big breakfast of theirs comes off?" he inquired.
"That's what I call it--the little breakfast and the big breakfast.
I never thought I should live to see the time when I should care to
eat two breakfasts. But a man's glad to do anything over here."
"For myself," I observed, "I find plenty to do."
He turned his head and glanced at me with a dry, deliberate, kind-
looking eye. "You're getting used to the life, are you?"
"I like the life very much," I answered, laughing.
"How long have you tried it?"
"Do you mean in this place?"
"Well, I mean anywhere. It seems to me pretty much the same all
"I have been in this house only a fortnight," I said.
"Well, what should you say, from what you have seen?" my companion
"Oh," said I, "you can see all there is immediately. It's very
"Sweet simplicity, eh? I'm afraid my two ladies will find it too
"Everything is very good," I went on. "And Madame Beaurepas is a
charming old woman. And then it's very cheap."
"Cheap, is it?" my friend repeated meditatively.
"Doesn't it strike you so?" I asked. I thought it very possible he
had not inquired the terms. But he appeared not to have heard me; he
sat there, clasping his knee and blinking, in a contemplative manner,
at the sunshine.
"Are you from the United States, sir?" he presently demanded, turning
his head again.
"Yes, sir," I replied; and I mentioned the place of my nativity.
"I presumed," he said, "that you were American or English. I'm from
the United States myself; from New York city. Many of our people
"Not so many as, I believe, there have sometimes been. There are two
or three ladies."
"Well," my interlocutor declared, "I am very fond of ladies' society.
I think when it's superior there's nothing comes up to it. I've got
two ladies here myself; I must make you acquainted with them."
I rejoined that I should be delighted, and I inquired of my friend
whether he had been long in Europe.
"Well, it seems precious long," he said, "but my time's not up yet.
We have been here fourteen weeks and a half."
"Are you travelling for pleasure?" I asked.
My companion turned his head again and looked at me--looked at me so
long in silence that I at last also turned and met his eyes.
"No, sir," he said presently. "No, sir," he repeated, after a
"Excuse me," said I, for there was something so solemn in his tone
that I feared I had been indiscreet.
He took no notice of my ejaculation; he simply continued to look at
me. "I'm travelling," he said, at last, "to please the doctors.
They seemed to think they would like it."
"Ah, they sent you abroad for your health?"
"They sent me abroad because they were so confoundedly muddled they
didn't know what else to do."
"That's often the best thing," I ventured to remark.
"It was a confession of weakness; they wanted me to stop plaguing
them. They didn't know enough to cure me, and that's the way they
thought they would get round it. I wanted to be cured--I didn't want
to be transported. I hadn't done any harm."
I assented to the general proposition of the inefficiency of doctors,
and asked my companion if he had been seriously ill.
"I didn't sleep," he said, after some delay.
"Ah, that's very annoying. I suppose you were overworked."
"I didn't eat; I took no interest in my food."
"Well, I hope you both eat and sleep now," I said.
"I couldn't hold a pen," my neighbour went on. "I couldn't sit
still. I couldn't walk from my house to the cars--and it's only a
little way. I lost my interest in business."
"You needed a holiday," I observed.
"That's what the doctors said. It wasn't so very smart of them. I
had been paying strict attention to business for twenty-three years."
"In all that time you have never had a holiday?" I exclaimed with
My companion waited a little. "Sundays," he said at last.
"No wonder, then, you were out of sorts."
"Well, sir," said my friend, "I shouldn't have been where I was three
years ago if I had spent my time travelling round Europe. I was in a
very advantageous position. I did a very large business. I was
considerably interested in lumber." He paused, turned his head, and
looked at me a moment. "Have you any business interests yourself?"
I answered that I had none, and he went on again, slowly, softly,
deliberately. "Well, sir, perhaps you are not aware that business in
the United States is not what it was a short time since. Business
interests are very insecure. There seems to be a general falling-
off. Different parties offer different explanations of the fact, but
so far as I am aware none of their observations have set things going
again." I ingeniously intimated that if business was dull, the time
was good for coming away; whereupon my neighbour threw back his head
and stretched his legs a while. "Well, sir, that's one view of the
matter certainly. There's something to be said for that. These
things should be looked at all round. That's the ground my wife
took. That's the ground," he added in a moment, "that a lady would
naturally take;" and he gave a little dry laugh.
"You think it's slightly illogical," I remarked.
"Well, sir, the ground I took was, that the worse a man's business
is, the more it requires looking after. I shouldn't want to go out
to take a walk--not even to go to church--if my house was on fire.
My firm is not doing the business it was; it's like a sick child, it
requires nursing. What I wanted the doctors to do was to fix me up,
so that I could go on at home. I'd have taken anything they'd have
given me, and as many times a day. I wanted to be right there; I had
my reasons; I have them still. But I came off all the same," said my
friend, with a melancholy smile.
I was a great deal younger than he, but there was something so simple
and communicative in his tone, so expressive of a desire to
fraternise, and so exempt from any theory of human differences, that
I quite forgot his seniority, and found myself offering him paternal
I advice. "Don't think about all that," said I. "Simply enjoy
yourself, amuse yourself, get well. Travel about and see Europe. At
the end of a year, by the time you are ready to go home, things will
have improved over there, and you will be quite well and happy."
My friend laid his hand on my knee; he looked at me for some moments,
and I thought he was going to say, "You are very young!" But he said
presently, "YOU have got used to Europe any way!"
At breakfast I encountered his ladies--his wife and daughter. They
were placed, however, at a distance from me, and it was not until the
pensionnaires had dispersed, and some of them, according to custom,
had come out into the garden, that he had an opportunity of making me
acquainted with them.
"Will you allow me to introduce you to my daughter?" he said, moved
apparently by a paternal inclination to provide this young lady with
social diversion. She was standing with her mother, in one of the
paths, looking about with no great complacency, as I imagined, at the
homely characteristics of the place, and old M. Pigeonneau was
hovering near, hesitating apparently between the desire to be urbane
and the absence of a pretext. "Mrs. Ruck--Miss Sophy Ruck," said my
friend, leading me up.
Mrs. Ruck was a large, plump, light-coloured person, with a smooth
fair face, a somnolent eye, and an elaborate coiffure. Miss Sophy
was a girl of one-and-twenty, very small and very pretty--what I
suppose would have been called a lively brunette. Both of these
ladies were attired in black silk dresses, very much trimmed; they
had an air of the highest elegance.
"Do you think highly of this pension?" inquired Mrs. Ruck, after a
"It's a little rough, but it seems to me comfortable," I answered.
"Does it take a high rank in Geneva?" Mrs. Ruck pursued.
"I imagine it enjoys a very fair fame," I said, smiling.
"I should never dream of comparing it to a New York boarding-house,"
said Mrs. Ruck.
"It's quite a different style," her daughter observed.
Miss Ruck had folded her arms; she was holding her elbows with a pair
of white little hands, and she was tapping the ground with a pretty
"We hardly expected to come to a pension," said Mrs. Ruck. "But we
thought we would try; we had heard so much about Swiss pensions. I
was saying to Mr. Ruck that I wondered whether this was a favourable
specimen. I was afraid we might have made a mistake."
"We knew some people who had been here; they thought everything of
Madame Beaurepas," said Miss Sophy. "They said she was a real
"Mr. and Mrs. Parker--perhaps you have heard her speak of them," Mrs.
"Madame Beaurepas has had a great many Americans; she is very fond of
Americans," I replied.
"Well, I must say I should think she would be, if she compares them
with some others."
"Mother is always comparing," observed Miss Ruck.
"Of course I am always comparing," rejoined the elder lady. "I never
had a chance till now; I never knew my privileges. Give me an
American!" And Mrs. Ruck indulged in a little laugh.
"Well, I must say there are some things I like over here," said Miss
Sophy, with courage. And indeed I could see that she was a young
woman of great decision.
"You like the shops--that's what you like," her father affirmed.
The young lady addressed herself to me, without heeding this remark.
"I suppose you feel quite at home here."
"Oh, he likes it; he has got used to the life!" exclaimed Mr. Ruck.
"I wish you'd teach Mr. Ruck," said his wife. "It seems as if he
couldn't get used to anything."
"I'm used to you, my dear," the husband retorted, giving me a
"He's intensely restless," continued Mrs. Ruck.
"That's what made me want to come to a pension. I thought he would
settle down more."
"I don't think I AM used to you, after all," said her husband.
In view of a possible exchange of conjugal repartee I took refuge in
conversation with Miss Ruck, who seemed perfectly able to play her
part in any colloquy. I learned from this young lady that, with her
parents, after visiting the British Islands, she had been spending a
month in Paris, and that she thought she should have died when she
left that city. "I hung out of the carriage, when we left the
hotel," said Miss Ruck, "I assure you I did. And mother did, too."
"Out of the other window, I hope," said I.
"Yes, one out of each window," she replied promptly. "Father had
hard work, I can tell you. We hadn't half finished; there were ever
so many places we wanted to go to."
"Your father insisted on coming away?"
"Yes; after we had been there about a month he said he had enough.
He's fearfully restless; he's very much out of health. Mother and I
said to him that if he was restless in Paris he needn't hope for
peace anywhere. We don't mean to leave him alone till he takes us
back." There was an air of keen resolution in Miss Ruck's pretty
face, of lucid apprehension of desirable ends, which made me, as she
pronounced these words, direct a glance of covert compassion toward
her poor recalcitrant father. He had walked away a little with his
wife, and I saw only his back and his stooping, patient-looking
shoulders, whose air of acute resignation was thrown into relief by
the voluminous tranquillity of Mrs. Ruck. "He will have to take us
back in September, any way," the young girl pursued; "he will have to
take us back to get some things we have ordered."
"Have you ordered a great many things?" I asked jocosely.
"Well, I guess we have ordered SOME. Of course we wanted to take
advantage of being in Paris--ladies always do. We have left the
principal things till we go back. Of course that is the principal
interest, for ladies. Mother said she should feel so shabby if she
just passed through. We have promised all the people to be back in
September, and I never broke a promise yet. So Mr. Ruck has got to
make his plans accordingly."
"And what are his plans?"
"I don't know; he doesn't seem able to make any. His great idea was
to get to Geneva; but now that he has got here he doesn't seem to
care. It's the effect of ill health. He used to be so bright; but
now he is quite subdued. It's about time he should improve, any way.
We went out last night to look at the jewellers' windows--in that
street behind the hotel. I had always heard of those jewellers'
windows. We saw some lovely things, but it didn't seem to rouse
father. He'll get tired of Geneva sooner than he did of Paris."
"Ah," said I, "there are finer things here than the jewellers'
windows. We are very near some of the most beautiful scenery in
"I suppose you mean the mountains. Well, we have seen plenty of
mountains at home. We used to go to the mountains every summer. We
are familiar enough with the mountains. Aren't we, mother?" the
young lady demanded, appealing to Mrs. Ruck, who, with her husband,
had drawn near again.
"Aren't we what?" inquired the elder lady.
"Aren't we familiar with the mountains?"
"Well, I hope so," said Mrs. Ruck.
Mr. Ruck, with his hands in his pockets, gave me a sociable wink.--
"There's nothing much you can tell them!" he said.
The two ladies stood face to face a few moments, surveying each
other's garments. "Don't you want to go out?" the young girl at last
inquired of her mother.
"Well, I think we had better; we have got to go up to that place."
"To what place?" asked Mr. Ruck.
"To that jeweller's--to that big one."
"They all seemed big enough; they were too big!" And Mr. Ruck gave
me another wink.
"That one where we saw the blue cross," said his daughter.
"Oh, come, what do you want of that blue cross?" poor Mr. Ruck
"She wants to hang it on a black velvet ribbon and tie it round her
neck," said his wife.
"A black velvet ribbon? No, I thank you!" cried the young lady. "Do
you suppose I would wear that cross on a black velvet ribbon? On a
nice little gold chain, if you please--a little narrow gold chain,
like an old-fashioned watch-chain. That's the proper thing for that
blue cross. I know the sort of chain I mean; I'm going to look for
one. When I want a thing," said Miss Ruck, with decision, "I can
generally find it."
"Look here, Sophy," her father urged, "you don't want that blue
"I do want it--I happen to want it." And Sophy glanced at me with a
Her laugh, which in itself was pretty, suggested that there were
various relations in which one might stand to Miss Ruck; but I think
I was conscious of a certain satisfaction in not occupying the
paternal one. "Don't worry the poor child," said her mother.
"Come on, mother," said Miss Ruck.
"We are going to look about a little," explained the elder lady to
me, by way of taking leave.
"I know what that means," remarked Mr. Ruck, as his companions moved
away. He stood looking at them a moment, while he raised his hand to
his head, behind, and stood rubbing it a little, with a movement that
displaced his hat. (I may remark in parenthesis that I never saw a
hat more easily displaced than Mr. Ruck's.) I supposed he was going
to say something querulous, but I was mistaken. Mr. Ruck was
unhappy, but he was very good-natured. "Well, they want to pick up
something," he said. "That's the principal interest, for ladies."
Mr. Ruck distinguished me, as the French say. He honoured me with
his esteem, and, as the days elapsed, with a large portion of his
confidence. Sometimes he bored me a little, for the tone of his
conversation was not cheerful, tending as it did almost exclusively
to a melancholy dirge over the financial prostration of our common
country. "No, sir, business in the United States is not what it once
was," he found occasion to remark several times a day. "There's not
the same spring--there's not the same hopeful feeling. You can see
it in all departments." He used to sit by the hour in the little
garden of the pension, with a roll of American newspapers in his lap
and his high hat pushed back, swinging one of his long legs and
reading the New York Herald. He paid a daily visit to the American
banker's, on the other side of the Rhone, and remained there a long
time, turning over the old papers on the green velvet table in the
middle of the Salon des Etrangers, and fraternising with chance
compatriots. But in spite of these diversions his time hung heavily
upon his hands. I used sometimes to propose to him to take a walk;
but he had a mortal horror of pedestrianism, and regarded my own
taste for it as' a morbid form of activity. "You'll kill yourself,
if you don't look out," he said, "walking all over the country. I
don't want to walk round that way; I ain't a postman!" Briefly
speaking, Mr. Ruck had few resources. His wife and daughter, on the
other hand, it was to be supposed, were possessed of a good many that
could not be apparent to an unobtrusive young man. They also sat a
great deal in the garden or in the salon, side by side, with folded
hands, contemplating material objects, and were remarkably
independent of most of the usual feminine aids to idleness--light
literature, tapestry, the use of the piano. They were, however, much
fonder of locomotion than their companion, and I often met them in
the Rue du Rhone and on the quays, loitering in front of the
jewellers' windows. They might have had a cavalier in the person of
old M. Pigeonneau, who possessed a high appreciation of their charms,
but who, owing to the absence of a common idiom, was deprived of the
pleasures of intimacy. He knew no English, and Mrs. Ruck and her
daughter had, as it seemed, an incurable mistrust of the beautiful
tongue which, as the old man endeavoured to impress upon them, was
pre-eminently the language of conversation.
"They have a tournure de princesse--a distinction supreme," he said
to me. "One is surprised to find them in a little pension, at seven
francs a day."
"Oh, they don't come for economy," I answered. "They must be rich."
"They don't come for my beaux yeux--for mine," said M. Pigeonneau,
sadly. "Perhaps it's for yours, young man. Je vous recommande la
I reflected a moment. "They came on account of Mr. Ruck--because at
hotels he's so restless."
M. Pigeonneau gave me a knowing nod. "Of course he is, with such a
wife as that--a femme superbe. Madame Ruck is preserved in
perfection--a miraculous fraicheur. I like those large, fair, quiet
women; they are often, dans l'intimite, the most agreeable. I'll
warrant you that at heart Madame Ruck is a finished coquette."
"I rather doubt it," I said.
"You suppose her cold? Ne vous y fiez pas!"
"It is a matter in which I have nothing at stake."
"You young Americans are droll," said M. Pigeonneau; "you never have
anything at stake! But the little one, for example; I'll warrant you
she's not cold. She is admirably made."
"She is very pretty."
"'She is very pretty!' Vous dites cela d'un ton! When you pay
compliments to Mademoiselle Ruck, I hope that's not the way you do
"I don't pay compliments to Mademoiselle Ruck."
"Ah, decidedly," said M. Pigeonneau, "you young Americans are droll!"
I should have suspected that these two ladies would not especially
commend themselves to Madame Beaurepas; that as a maitresse de salon,
which she in some degree aspired to be, she would have found them
wanting in a certain flexibility of deportment. But I should have
gone quite wrong; Madame Beaurepas had no fault at all to find with
her new pensionnaires. "I have no observation whatever to make about
them," she said to me one evening. "I see nothing in those ladies
which is at all deplace. They don't complain of anything; they don't
meddle; they take what's given them; they leave me tranquil. The
Americans are often like that. Often, but not always," Madame
Beaurepas pursued. "We are to have a specimen to-morrow of a very
"An American?" I inquired.
"Two Americaines--a mother and a daughter. There are Americans and
Americans: when you are difficiles, you are more so than any one,
and when you have pretensions--ah, per exemple, it's serious. I
foresee that with this little lady everything will be serious,
beginning with her cafe au lait. She has been staying at the Pension
Chamousset--my concurrent, you know, farther up the street; but she
is coming away because the coffee is bad. She holds to her coffee,
it appears. I don't know what liquid Madame Chamousset may have
invented, but we will do the best we can for her. Only, I know she
will make me des histoires about something else. She will demand a
new lamp for the salon; vous alles voir cela. She wishes to pay but
eleven francs a day for herself and her daughter, tout compris; and
for their eleven francs they expect to be lodged like princesses.
But she is very 'ladylike'--isn't that what you call it in English?
Oh, pour cela, she is ladylike!"
I caught a glimpse on the morrow of this ladylike person, who was
arriving at her new residence as I came in from a walk. She had come
in a cab, with her daughter and her luggage; and, with an air of
perfect softness and serenity, she was disputing the fare as she
stood among her boxes, on the steps. She addressed her cabman in a
very English accent, but with extreme precision and correctness. "I
wish to be perfectly reasonable, but I don't wish to encourage you in
exorbitant demands. With a franc and a half you are sufficiently
paid. It is not the custom at Geneva to give a pour-boire for so
short a drive. I have made inquiries, and I find it is not the
custom, even in the best families. I am a stranger, yes, but I
always adopt the custom of the native families. I think it my duty
toward the natives."
"But I am a native, too, moi!" said the cabman, with an angry laugh.
"You seem to me to speak with a German accent," continued the lady.
"You are probably from Basel. A franc and a half is sufficient. I
see you have left behind the little red bag which I asked you to hold
between your knees; you will please to go back to the other house and
get it. Very well, if you are impolite I will make a complaint of
you to-morrow at the administration. Aurora, you will find a pencil
in the outer pocket of my embroidered satchel; please to write down
his number,--87; do you see it distinctly?--in case we should forget
The young lady addressed as "Aurora"--a slight, fair girl, holding a
large parcel of umbrellas--stood at hand while this allocution went
forward, but she apparently gave no heed to it. She stood looking
about her, in a listless manner, at the front of the house, at the
corridor, at Celestine tucking up her apron in the doorway, at me as
I passed in amid the disseminated luggage; her mother's parsimonious
attitude seeming to produce in Miss Aurora neither sympathy nor
embarrassment. At dinner the two ladies were placed on the same side
of the table as myself, below Mrs. Ruck and her daughter, my own
position being on the right of Mr. Ruck. I had therefore little
observation of Mrs. Church--such I learned to be her name--but I
occasionally heard her soft, distinct voice.
"White wine, if you please; we prefer white wine. There is none on
the table? Then you will please to get some, and to remember to
place a bottle of it always here, between my daughter and myself."
"That lady seems to know what she wants," said Mr. Ruck, "and she
speaks so I can understand her. I can't understand every one, over
here. I should like to make that lady's acquaintance. Perhaps she
knows what _I_ want, too; it seems hard to find out. But I don't
want any of their sour white wine; that's one of the things I don't
want. I expect she'll be an addition to the pension."
Mr. Ruck made the acquaintance of Mrs. Church that evening in the
parlour, being presented to her by his wife, who presumed on the
rights conferred upon herself by the mutual proximity, at table, of
the two ladies. I suspected that in Mrs. Church's view Mrs. Ruck
presumed too far. The fugitive from the Pension Chamousset, as M.
Pigeonneau called her, was a little fresh, plump, comely woman,
looking less than her age, with a round, bright, serious face. She
was very simply and frugally dressed, not at all in the manner of Mr.
Ruck's companions, and she had an air of quiet distinction which was
an excellent defensive weapon. She exhibited a polite disposition to
listen to what Mr. Ruck might have to say, but her manner was
equivalent to an intimation that what she valued least in boarding-
house life was its social opportunities. She had placed herself near
a lamp, after carefully screwing it and turning it up, and she had
opened in her lap, with the assistance of a large embroidered marker,
an octavo volume, which I perceived to be in German. To Mrs. Ruck
and her daughter she was evidently a puzzle, with her economical
attire and her expensive culture. The two younger ladies, however,
had begun to fraternise very freely, and Miss Ruck presently went
wandering out of the room with her arm round the waist of Miss
Church. It was a very warm evening; the long windows of the salon
stood wide open into the garden, and, inspired by the balmy darkness,
M. Pigeonneau and Mademoiselle Beaurepas, a most obliging little
woman, who lisped and always wore a huge cravat, declared they would
organise a fete de nuit. They engaged in this undertaking, and the
fete developed itself, consisting of half-a-dozen red paper lanterns,
hung about on the trees, and of several glasses of sirop, carried on
a tray by the stout-armed Celestine. As the festival deepened to its
climax I went out into the garden, where M. Pigeonneau was master of
"But where are those charming young ladies," he cried, "Miss Ruck and
the new-comer, l'aimable transfuge? Their absence has been remarked,
and they are wanting to the brilliancy of the occasion. Voyez I have
selected a glass of syrup--a generous glass--for Mademoiselle Ruck,
and I advise you, my young friend, if you wish to make a good
impression, to put aside one which you may offer to the other young
lady. What is her name? Miss Church. I see; it's a singular name.
There is a church in which I would willingly worship!"
Mr. Ruck presently came out of the salon, having concluded his
interview with Mrs. Church. Through the open window I saw the latter
lady sitting under the lamp with her German octavo, while Mrs. Ruck,
established, empty-handed, in an arm-chair near her, gazed at her
with an air of fascination.
"Well, I told you she would know what I want," said Mr. Ruck. "She
says I want to go up to Appenzell, wherever that is; that I want to
drink whey and live in a high latitude--what did she call it?--a high
altitude. She seemed to think we ought to leave for Appenzell to-
morrow; she'd got it all fixed. She says this ain't a high enough
lat--a high enough altitude. And she says I mustn't go too high
either; that would be just as bad; she seems to know just the right
figure. She says she'll give me a list of the hotels where we must
stop, on the way to Appenzell. I asked her if she didn't want to go
with as, but she says she'd rather sit still and read. I expect
she's a big reader."
The daughter of this accomplished woman now reappeared, in company
with Miss Ruck, with whom she had been strolling through the outlying
parts of the garden.
"Well," said Miss Ruck, glancing at the red paper lanterns, "are they
trying to stick the flower-pots into the trees?"
"It's an illumination in honour of our arrival," the other young girl
rejoined. "It's a triumph over Madame Chamousset."
"Meanwhile, at the Pension Chamousset," I ventured to suggest, "they
have put out their lights; they are sitting in darkness, lamenting
She looked at me, smiling; she was standing in the light that came
from the house. M. Pigeonneau, meanwhile, who had been awaiting his
chance, advanced to Miss Ruck with his glass of syrup. "I have kept
it for you, Mademoiselle," he said; "I have jealously guarded it. It
is very delicious!"
Miss Ruck looked at him and his syrup, without any motion to take the
glass. "Well, I guess it's sour," she said in a moment; and she gave
a little shake of her head.
M. Pigeonneau stood staring with his syrup in his hand; then he
slowly turned away. He looked about at the rest of us, as if to
appeal from Miss Ruck's insensibility, and went to deposit his
rejected tribute on a bench.
"Won't you give it to me?" asked Miss Church, in faultless French.
"J'adore le sirop, moi."
M. Pigeonneau came back with alacrity, and presented the glass with a
very low bow. "I adore good manners," murmured the old man.
This incident caused me to look at Miss Church with quickened
interest. She was not strikingly pretty, but in her charming
irregular face there was something brilliant and ardent. Like her
mother, she was very simply dressed.
"She wants to go to America, and her mother won't let her," said Miss
Sophy to me, explaining her companion's situation.
"I am very sorry--for America," I answered, laughing.
"Well, I don't want to say anything against your mother, but I think
it's shameful," Miss Ruck pursued.
"Mamma has very good reasons; she will tell you them all."
"Well, I'm sure I don't want to hear them," said Miss Ruck. "You
have got a right to go to your own country; every one has a right to
go to their own country."
"Mamma is not very patriotic," said Aurora Church, smiling.
"Well, I call that dreadful," her companion declared. "I have heard
that there are some Americans like that, but I never believed it."
"There are all sorts of Americans," I said, laughing.
"Aurora's one of the right sort," rejoined Miss Ruck, who had
apparently become very intimate with her new friend.
"Are you very patriotic?" I asked of the young girl.
"She's right down homesick," said Miss Sophy; "she's dying to go. If
I were you my mother would have to take me."
"Mamma is going to take me to Dresden."
"Well, I declare I never heard of anything so dreadful!" cried Miss
Ruck. "It's like something in a story."
"I never heard there was anything very dreadful in Dresden," I
Miss Ruck looked at me a moment. "Well, I don't believe YOU are a
good American," she replied, "and I never supposed you were. You had
better go in there and talk to Mrs. Church."
"Dresden is really very nice, isn't it?" I asked of her companion.
"It isn't nice if you happen to prefer New York," said Miss Sophy.
"Miss Church prefers New York. Tell him you are dying to see New
York; it will make him angry," she went on.
"I have no desire to make him angry," said Aurora, smiling.
"It is only Miss Ruck who can do that," I rejoined. "Have you been a
long time in Europe?"
"I call that wicked!" Miss Sophy declared.
"You might be in a worse place," I continued. "I find Europe very
Miss Ruck gave a little laugh. "I was saying that you wanted to pass
for a European."
"Yes, I want to pass for a Dalmatian."
Miss Ruck looked at me a moment. "Well, you had better not come
home," she said. "No one will speak to you."
"Were you born in these countries?" I asked of her companion.
"Oh, no; I came to Europe when I was a small child. But I remember
America a little, and it seems delightful."
"Wait till you see it again. It's just too lovely," said Miss Sophy.
"It's the grandest country in the world," I added.
Miss Ruck began to toss her head. "Come away, my dear," she said.
"If there's a creature I despise it's a man that tries to say funny
things about his own country."
"Don't you think one can be tired of Europe?" Aurora asked,
"Possibly--after many years."
"Father was tired of it after three weeks," said Miss Ruck.
"I have been here sixteen years," her friend went on, looking at me
with a charming intentness, as if she had a purpose in speaking. "It
used to be for my education. I don't know what it's for now."
"She's beautifully educated," said Miss Ruck. "She knows four
"I am not very sure that I know English."
"You should go to Boston!" cried Miss Sophy. "They speak splendidly
"C'est mon reve," said Aurora, still looking at me.
"Have you been all over Europe," I asked--"in all the different
She hesitated a moment. "Everywhere that there's a pension. Mamma
is devoted to pensions. We have lived, at one time or another, in
every pension in Europe."
"Well, I should think you had seen about enough," said Miss Ruck.
"It's a delightful way of seeing Europe," Aurora rejoined, with her
brilliant smile. "You may imagine how it has attached me to the
different countries. I have such charming souvenirs! There is a
pension awaiting us now at Dresden,--eight francs a day, without
wine. That's rather dear. Mamma means to make them give us wine.
Mamma is a great authority on pensions; she is known, that way, all
over Europe. Last winter we were in Italy, and she discovered one at
Piacenza,--four francs a day. We made economies."
"Your mother doesn't seem to mingle much," observed Miss Ruck,
glancing through the window at the scholastic attitude of Mrs.
"No, she doesn't mingle, except in the native society. Though she
lives in pensions, she detests them."
"Why does she live in them, then?" asked Miss Sophy, rather
"Oh, because we are so poor; it's the cheapest way to live. We have
tried having a cook, but the cook always steals. Mamma used to set
me to watch her; that's the way I passed my jeunesse--my belle
jeunesse. We are frightfully poor," the young girl went on, with the
same strange frankness--a curious mixture of girlish grace and
conscious cynicism. "Nous n'avons pas le sou. That's one of the
reasons we don't go back to America; mamma says we can't afford to
"Well, any one can see that you're an American girl," Miss Ruck
remarked, in a consolatory manner. "I can tell an American girl a
mile off. You've got the American style."
"I'm afraid I haven't the American toilette," said Aurora, looking at
the other's superior splendour.
"Well, your dress was cut in France; any one can see that."
"Yes," said Aurora, with a laugh, "my dress was cut in France--at
"Well, you've got a lovely figure, any way," pursued her companion.
"Ah," said the young girl, "at Avranches, too, my figure was
admired." And she looked at me askance, with a certain coquetry.
But I was an innocent youth, and I only looked back at her,
wondering. She was a great deal nicer than Miss Ruck, and yet Miss
Ruck would not have said that. "I try to be like an American girl,"
she continued; "I do my best, though mamma doesn't at all encourage
it. I am very patriotic. I try to copy them, though mamma has
brought me up a la francaise; that is, as much as one can in
pensions. For instance, I have never been out of the house without
mamma; oh, never, never. But sometimes I despair; American girls are
so wonderfully frank. I can't be frank, like that. I am always
afraid. But I do what I can, as you see. Excusez du peu!"
I thought this young lady at least as outspoken as most of her
unexpatriated sisters; there was something almost comical in her
despondency. But she had by no means caught, as it seemed to me, the
American tone. Whatever her tone was, however, it had a fascination;
there was something dainty about it, and yet it was decidedly
The young ladies began to stroll about the garden again, and I
enjoyed their society until M. Pigeonneau's festival came to an end.
Mr. Ruck did not take his departure for Appenzell on the morrow, in
spite of the eagerness to witness such an event which he had
attributed to Mrs. Church. He continued, on the contrary, for many
days after, to hang about the garden, to wander up to the banker's
and back again, to engage in desultory conversation with his fellow-
boarders, and to endeavour to assuage his constitutional restlessness
by perusal of the American journals. But on the morrow I had the
honour of making Mrs. Church's acquaintance. She came into the
salon, after the midday breakfast, with her German octavo under her
arm, and she appealed to me for assistance in selecting a quiet
"Would you very kindly," she said, "move that large fauteuil a little
more this way? Not the largest; the one with the little cushion.
The fauteuils here are very insufficient; I must ask Madame Beaurepas
for another. Thank you; a little more to the left, please; that will
do. Are you particularly engaged?" she inquired, after she had
seated herself. "If not, I should like to have some conversation
with you. It is some time since I have met a young American of your-
-what shall I call it?--your affiliations. I have learned your name
from Madame Beaurepas; I think I used to know some of your people. I
don't know what has become of all my friends. I used to have a
charming little circle at home, but now I meet no one I know. Don't
you think there is a great difference between the people one meets
and the people one would like to meet? Fortunately, sometimes,"
added my interlocutress graciously, "it's quite the same. I suppose
you are a specimen, a favourable specimen," she went on, "of young
America. Tell me, now, what is young America thinking of in these
days of ours? What are its feelings, its opinions, its aspirations?
What is its IDEAL?" I had seated myself near Mrs. Church, and she
had pointed this interrogation with the gaze of her bright little
eyes. I felt it embarrassing to be treated as a favourable specimen
of young America, and to be expected to answer for the great
republic. Observing my hesitation, Mrs. Church clasped her hands on
the open page of her book and gave an intense, melancholy smile.
"HAS it an ideal?" she softly asked. "Well, we must talk of this,"
she went on, without insisting. "Speak, for the present, for
yourself simply. Have you come to Europe with any special design?"
"Nothing to boast of," I said. "I am studying a little."
"Ah, I am glad to hear that. You are gathering up a little European
culture; that's what we lack, you know, at home. No individual can
do much, of coarse. But you must not be discouraged; every little
"I see that you, at least, are doing your part," I rejoined
gallantly, dropping my eyes on my companion's learned volume.
"Yes, I frankly admit that I am fond of study. There is no one,
after all, like the Germans. That is, for facts. For opinions I by
no means always go with them. I form my opinions myself. I am sorry
to say, however," Mrs. Church continued, "that I can hardly pretend
to diffuse my acquisitions. I am afraid I am sadly selfish; I do
little to irrigate the soil. I belong--I frankly confess it--to the
class of absentees."
"I had the pleasure, last evening," I said, "of making the
acquaintance of your daughter. She told me you had been a long time
Mrs. Church smiled benignantly. "Can one ever be too long? We shall
never leave it."
"Your daughter won't like that," I said, smiling too.
"Has she been taking you into her confidence? She is a more sensible
young lady than she sometimes appears. I have taken great pains with
her; she is really--I may be permitted to say it--superbly educated."
"She seemed to me a very charming girl," I rejoined. "And I learned
that she speaks four languages."
"It is not only that," said Mrs. Church, in a tone which suggested
that this might be a very superficial species of culture. "She has
made what we call de fortes etudes--such as I suppose you are making
now. She is familiar with the results of modern science; she keeps
pace with the new historical school."
"Ah," said I, "she has gone much farther than I!"
"You doubtless think I exaggerate, and you force me, therefore, to
mention the fact that I am able to speak of such matters with a
"That is very evident," I said. "But your daughter thinks you ought
to take her home." I began to fear, as soon as I had uttered these
words, that they savoured of treachery to the young lady, but I was
reassured by seeing that they produced on her mother's placid
countenance no symptom whatever of irritation.
"My daughter has her little theories," Mrs. Church observed; "she
has, I may say, her illusions. And what wonder! What would youth be
without its illusions? Aurora has a theory that she would be happier
in New York, in Boston, in Philadelphia, than in one of the charming
old cities in which our lot is cast. But she is mistaken, that is
all. We must allow our children their illusions, must we not? But
we must watch over them."
Although she herself seemed proof against discomposure, I found
something vaguely irritating in her soft, sweet positiveness.
"American cities," I said, "are the paradise of young girls."
"Do you mean," asked Mrs. Church, "that the young girls who come from
those places are angels?"
"Yes," I said, resolutely.
"This young lady--what is her odd name?--with whom my daughter has
formed a somewhat precipitate acquaintance: is Miss Ruck an angel?
But I won't force you to say anything uncivil. It would be too cruel
to make a single exception."
"Well," said I, "at any rate, in America young girls have an easier
lot. They have much more liberty."
My companion laid her hand for an instant on my arm. "My dear young
friend, I know America, I know the conditions of life there, so well.
There is perhaps no subject on which I have reflected more than on
our national idiosyncrasies."
"I am afraid you don't approve of them," said I, a little brutally.
Brutal indeed my proposition was, and Mrs. Church was not prepared to
assent to it in this rough shape. She dropped her eyes on her book,
with an air of acute meditation. Then, raising them, "We are very
crude," she softly observed--"we are very crude." Lest even this
delicately-uttered statement should seem to savour of the vice that
she deprecated, she went on to explain. "There are two classes of
minds, you know--those that hold back, and those that push forward.
My daughter and I are not pushers; we move with little steps. We
like the old, trodden paths; we like the old, old world."
"Ah," said I, "you know what you like; there is a great virtue in
"Yes, we like Europe; we prefer it. We like the opportunities of
Europe; we like the REST. There is so much in that, you know. The
world seems to me to be hurrying, pressing forward so fiercely,
without knowing where it is going. 'Whither?' I often ask, in my
little quiet way. But I have yet to learn that any one can tell me."
"You're a great conservative," I observed, while I wondered whether I
myself could answer this inquiry.
Mrs. Church gave me a smile which was equivalent to a confession. "I
wish to retain a LITTLE--just a little. Surely, we have done so
much, we might rest a while; we might pause. That is all my feeling-
-just to stop a little, to wait! I have seen so many changes. I wish
to draw in, to draw in--to hold back, to hold back."
"You shouldn't hold your daughter back!" I answered, laughing and
getting up. I got up, not by way of terminating our interview, for I
perceived Mrs. Church's exposition of her views to be by no means
complete, but in order to offer a chair to Miss Aurora, who at this
moment drew near. She thanked me and remained standing, but without
at first, as I noticed, meeting her mother's eye.
"You have been engaged with your new acquaintance, my dear?" this
"Yes, mamma, dear," said the young girl, gently.
"Do you find her very edifying?"
Aurora was silent a moment; then she looked at her mother. "I don't
know, mamma; she is very fresh."
I ventured to indulge in a respectful laugh. "Your mother has
another word for that. But I must not," I added, "be crude."
"Ah, vous m'en voulez?" inquired Mrs. Church. "And yet I can't
pretend I said it in jest. I feel it too much. We have been having
a little social discussion," she said to her daughter. "There is
still so much to be said." "And I wish," she continued, turning to
me, "that I could give you our point of view. Don't you wish,
Aurora, that we could give him our point of view?"
"Yes, mamma," said Aurora.
"We consider ourselves very fortunate in our point of view, don't we,
dearest?" mamma demanded.
"Very fortunate, indeed, mamma."
"You see we have acquired an insight into European life," the elder
lady pursued. "We have our place at many a European fireside. We
find so much to esteem--so much to enjoy. Do we not, my daughter?"
"So very much, mamma," the young girl went on, with a sort of
inscrutable submissiveness. I wondered at it; it offered so strange
a contrast to the mocking freedom of her tone the night before; but
while I wondered I was careful not to let my perplexity take
precedence of my good manners.
"I don't know what you ladies may have found at European firesides,"
I said, "but there can be very little doubt what you have left
Mrs. Church got up, to acknowledge my compliment. "We have spent
some charming hours. And that reminds me that we have just now such
an occasion in prospect. We are to call upon some Genevese friends--
the family of the Pasteur Galopin. They are to go with us to the old
library at the Hotel de Ville, where there are some very interesting
documents of the period of the Reformation; we are promised a glimpse
of some manuscripts of poor Servetus, the antagonist and victim, you
know, of Calvin. Here, of course, one can only speak of Calvin under
one's breath, but some day, when we are more private," and Mrs.
Church looked round the room, "I will give you my view of him. I
think it has a touch of originality. Aurora is familiar with, are
you not, my daughter, familiar with my view of Calvin?"
"Yes, mamma," said Aurora, with docility, while the two ladies went
to prepare for their visit to the Pasteur Galopin.
"She has demanded a new lamp; I told you she would!" This
communication was made me by Madame Beaurepas a couple of days later.
"And she has asked for a new tapis de lit, and she has requested me
to provide Celestine with a pair of light shoes. I told her that, as
a general thing, cooks are not shod with satin. That poor
"Mrs. Church may be exacting," I said, "but she is a clever little
"A lady who pays but five francs and a half shouldn't be too clever.
C'est deplace. I don't like the type."
"What type do you call Mrs. Church's?"
"Mon Dieu," said Madame Beaurepas, "c'est une de ces mamans comme
vous en avez, qui promenent leur fille."
"She is trying to marry her daughter? I don't think she's of that
But Madame Beaurepas shrewdly held to her idea. "She is trying it in
her own way; she does it very quietly. She doesn't want an American;
she wants a foreigner. And she wants a mari serieux. But she is
travelling over Europe in search of one. She would like a
"A gros bonnet of some kind; a professor or a deputy."
"I am very sorry for the poor girl," I said, laughing.
"You needn't pity her too much; she's a sly thing."
"Ah, for that, no!" I exclaimed. "She's a charming girl."
Madame Beaurepas gave an elderly grin. "She has hooked you, eh? But
the mother won't have you."
I developed my idea, without heeding this insinuation. "She's a
charming girl, but she is a little odd. It's a necessity of her
position. She is less submissive to her mother than she has to
pretend to be. That's in self-defence; it's to make her life
"She wishes to get away from her mother," continued Madame Beaurepas.
"She wishes to courir les champs."
"She wishes to go to America, her native country."
"Precisely. And she will certainly go."
"I hope so!" I rejoined.
"Some fine morning--or evening--she will go off with a young man;
probably with a young American."
"Allons donc!" said I, with disgust.
"That will be quite America enough," pursued my cynical hostess. "I
have kept a boarding-house for forty years. I have seen that type."
"Have such things as that happened chez vous?" I asked.
"Everything has happened chez moi. But nothing has happened more
than once. Therefore this won't happen here. It will be at the next
place they go to, or the next. Besides, here there is no young
American pour la partie--none except you, Monsieur. You are
susceptible, but you are too reasonable."
"It's lucky for you I am reasonable," I answered. "It's thanks to
that fact that you escape a scolding!"
One morning, about this time, instead of coming back to breakfast at
the pension, after my lectures at the Academy, I went to partake of
this meal with a fellow-student, at an ancient eating-house in the
collegiate quarter. On separating from my friend, I took my way
along that charming public walk known in Geneva as the Treille, a
shady terrace, of immense elevation, overhanging a portion of the
lower town. There are spreading trees and well-worn benches, and
over the tiles and chimneys of the ville basse there is a view of the
snow-crested Alps. On the other side, as you turn your back to the
view, the promenade is overlooked by a row of tall, sober-faced
hotels, the dwellings of the local aristocracy. I was very fond of
the place, and often resorted to it to stimulate my sense of the
picturesque. Presently, as I lingered there on this occasion, I
became aware that a gentleman was seated not far from where I stood,
with his back to the Alpine chain, which this morning was brilliant
and distinct, and a newspaper, unfolded, in his lap. He was not
reading, however; he was staring before him in gloomy contemplation.
I don't know whether I recognised first the newspaper or its
proprietor; one, in either case, would have helped me to identify the
other. One was the New York Herald; the other, of course, was Mr.
Ruck. As I drew nearer, he transferred his eyes from the stony,
high-featured masks of the gray old houses on the other side of the
terrace, and I knew by the expression of his face just how he had
been feeling about these distinguished abodes. He had made up his
mind that their proprietors were a dusky, narrow-minded, unsociable
company; plunging their roots into a superfluous past. I
endeavoured, therefore, as I sat down beside him, to suggest
something more impersonal.
"That's a beautiful view of the Alps," I observed.
"Yes," said Mr. Ruck, without moving, "I've examined it. Fine thing,
in its way--fine thing. Beauties of nature--that sort of thing. We
came up on purpose to look at it."
"Your ladies, then, have been with you?"
"Yes; they are just walking round. They're awfully restless. They
keep saying I'm restless, but I'm as quiet as a sleeping child to
them. It takes," he added in a moment, drily, "the form of
"Are they shopping now?"
"Well, if they ain't, they're trying to. They told me to sit here a
while, and they'd just walk round. I generally know what that means.
But that's the principal interest for ladies," he added, retracting
his irony. "We thought we'd come up here and see the cathedral; Mrs.
Church seemed to think it a dead loss that we shouldn't see the
cathedral, especially as we hadn't seen many yet. And I had to come
up to the banker's any way. Well, we certainly saw the cathedral. I
don't know as we are any the better for it, and I don't know as I
should know it again. But we saw it, any way. I don't know as I
should want to go there regularly; but I suppose it will give us, in
conversation, a kind of hold on Mrs. Church, eh? I guess we want
something of that kind. Well," Mr. Ruck continued, "I stepped in at
the banker's to see if there wasn't something, and they handed me out
"I hope the Herald is full of good news," I said.
"Can't say it is. D-d bad news."
"Political," I inquired, "or commercial?"
"Oh, hang politics! It's business, sir. There ain't any business.
It's all gone to,"--and Mr. Ruck became profane. "Nine failures in
one day. What do you say-to that?"
"I hope they haven't injured you," I said.
"Well, they haven't helped me much. So many houses on fire, that's
all. If they happen to take place in your own street, they don't
increase the value of your property. When mine catches, I suppose
they'll write and tell me--one of these days, when they've got
nothing else to do. I didn't get a blessed letter this morning; I
suppose they think I'm having such a good time over here it's a pity
to disturb me. If I could attend to business for about half an hour,
I'd find out something. But I can't, and it's no use talking. The
state of my health was never so unsatisfactory as it was about five
o'clock this morning."
"I am very sorry to hear that," I said, "and I recommend you strongly
not to think of business."
"I don't," Mr. Ruck replied. "I'm thinking of cathedrals; I'm
thinking of the beauties of nature. Come," he went on, turning round
on the bench and leaning his elbow on the parapet, "I'll think of
those mountains over there; they ARE pretty, certainly. Can't you
get over there?"
"Over to those hills. Don't they run a train right up?"
"You can go to Chamouni," I said. "You can go to Grindelwald and
Zermatt and fifty other places. You can't go by rail, but you can
"All right, we'll drive--and not in a one-horse concern, either.
Yes, Chamouni is one of the places we put down. I hope there are a
few nice shops in Chamouni." Mr. Ruck spoke with a certain quickened
emphasis, and in a tone more explicitly humorous than he commonly
employed. I thought he was excited, and yet he had not the
appearance of excitement. He looked like a man who has simply taken,
in the face of disaster, a sudden, somewhat imaginative, resolution
not to "worry." He presently twisted himself about on his bench
again and began to watch for his companions. "Well, they ARE walking
round," he resumed; "I guess they've hit on something, somewhere.
And they've got a carriage waiting outside of that archway too. They
seem to do a big business in archways here, don't they. They like to
have a carriage to carry home the things--those ladies of mine. Then
they're sure they've got them." The ladies, after this, to do them
justice, were not very long in appearing. They came toward us, from
under the archway to which Mr. Ruck had somewhat invidiously alluded,
slowly and with a rather exhausted step and expression. My companion
looked at them a moment, as they advanced. "They're tired," he said
softly. "When they're tired, like that, it's very expensive."
"Well," said Mrs. Ruck, "I'm glad you've had some company." Her
husband looked at her, in silence, through narrowed eyelids, and I
suspected that this gracious observation on the lady's part was
prompted by a restless conscience.
Miss Sophy glanced at me with her little straightforward air of
defiance. "It would have been more proper if WE had had the company.
Why didn't you come after us, instead of sitting there?" she asked of
Mr. Ruck's companion.
"I was told by your father," I explained, "that you were engaged in
sacred rites." Miss Ruck was not gracious, though I doubt whether it
was because her conscience was better than her mother's.
"Well, for a gentleman there is nothing so sacred as ladies'
society," replied Miss Ruck, in the manner of a person accustomed to
giving neat retorts.
"I suppose you refer to the Cathedral," said her mother. "Well, I
must say, we didn't go back there. I don't know what it may be of a
Sunday, but it gave me a chill."
"We discovered the loveliest little lace-shop," observed the young
girl, with a serenity that was superior to bravado.
Her father looked at her a while; then turned about again, leaning on
the parapet, and gazed away at the "hills."
"Well, it was certainly cheap," said Mrs. Ruck, also contemplating
"We are going to Chamouni," said her husband. "You haven't any
occasion for lace at Chamouni."
"Well, I'm glad to hear you have decided to go somewhere," rejoined
his wife. "I don't want to be a fixture at a boarding-house."
"You can wear lace anywhere," said Miss Ruck, "if you pat it on
right. That's the great thing, with lace. I don't think they know
how to wear lace in Europe. I know how I mean to wear mine; but I
mean to keep it till I get home."
Her father transferred his melancholy gaze to her elaborately-
appointed little person; there was a great deal of very new-looking
detail in Miss Ruck's appearance. Then, in a tone of voice quite out
of consonance with his facial despondency, "Have you purchased a
great deal?" he inquired.
"I have purchased enough for you to make a fuss about."
"He can't make a fuss about that," said Mrs. Ruck.
"Well, you'll see!" declared the young girl with a little sharp
But her father went on, in the same tone: "Have you got it in your
pocket? Why don't you put it on--why don't you hang it round you?"
"I'll hang it round YOU, if you don't look out!" cried Miss Sophy.
"Don't you want to show it to this gentleman?" Mr. Ruck continued.
"Mercy, how you do talk about that lace!" said his wife.
"Well, I want to be lively. There's every reason for it; we're going
"You're restless; that's what's the matter with you." And Mrs. Ruck
"No, I ain't," said her husband. "I never felt so quiet; I feel as
peaceful as a little child."
Mrs. Ruck, who had no sense whatever of humour, looked at her
daughter and at me. "Well, I hope you'll improve," she said.
"Send in the bills," Mr. Ruck went on, rising to his feet. "Don't
hesitate, Sophy. I don't care what you do now. In for a penny, in
for a pound."
Miss Ruck joined her mother, with a little toss of her head, and we
followed the ladies to the carriage. "In your place," said Miss
Sophy to her father, "I wouldn't talk so much about pennies and
pounds before strangers."
Poor Mr. Ruck appeared to feel the force of this observation, which,
in the consciousness of a man who had never been "mean," could hardly
fail to strike a responsive chord. He coloured a little, and he was
silent; his companions got into their vehicle, the front seat of
which was adorned with a large parcel. Mr. Ruck gave the parcel a
little poke with his umbrella, and then, turning to me with a rather
grimly penitential smile, "After all," he said, "for the ladies
that's the principal interest."
Old M. Pigeonneau had more than once proposed to me to take a walk,
but I had hitherto been unable to respond to so alluring an
invitation. It befell, however, one afternoon, that I perceived him
going forth upon a desultory stroll, with a certain lonesomeness of
demeanour that attracted my sympathy. I hastily overtook him, and
passed my hand into his venerable arm, a proceeding which produced in
the good old man so jovial a sense of comradeship that he ardently
proposed we should bend our steps to the English Garden; no locality
less festive was worthy of the occasion. To the English Garden,
accordingly, we went; it lay beyond the bridge, beside the lake. It
was very pretty and very animated; there was a band playing in the
middle, and a considerable number of persons sitting under the small
trees, on benches and little chairs, or strolling beside the blue
water. We joined the strollers, we observed our companions, and
conversed on obvious topics. Some of these last, of course, were the
pretty women who embellished the scene, and who, in the light of M.
Pigeonneau's comprehensive criticism, appeared surprisingly numerous.
He seemed bent upon our making up our minds as to which was the
prettiest, and as this was an innocent game I consented to play at
Suddenly M. Pigeonneau stopped, pressing my arm with the liveliest
emotion. "La voila, la voila, the prettiest!" he quickly murmured,
"coming toward us, in a blue dress, with the other." It was at the
other I was looking, for the other, to my surprise, was our
interesting fellow-pensioner, the daughter of a vigilant mother. M.
Pigeonneau, meanwhile, had redoubled his exclamations; he had
recognised Miss Sophy Ruck. "Oh, la belle rencontre, nos aimables
convives; the prettiest girl in the world, in effect!"
We immediately greeted and joined the young ladies, who, like
ourselves, were walking arm in arm and enjoying the scene.
"I was citing you with admiration to my friend even before I had
recognised you," said M. Pigeonneau to Miss Ruck.
"I don't believe in French compliments," remarked this young lady,
presenting her back to the smiling old man.
"Are you and Miss Ruck walking alone?" I asked of her companion.
"You had better accept of M. Pigeonneau's gallant protection, and of
Aurora Church had taken her hand out of Miss Ruck's arm; she looked
at me, smiling, with her head a little inclined, while, upon her
shoulder, she made her open parasol revolve. "Which is most
improper--to walk alone or to walk with gentlemen? I wish to do what
is most improper."
"What mysterious logic governs your conduct?" I inquired.
"He thinks you can't understand him when he talks like that," said
Miss Ruck. "But I do understand you, always!"
"So I have always ventured to hope, my dear Miss Ruck."
"Well, if I didn't, it wouldn't be much loss," rejoined this young
"Allons, en marche!" cried M. Pigeonneau, smiling still, and
undiscouraged by her inhumanity. "Let as make together the tour of
the garden." And he imposed his society upon Miss Ruck with a
respectful, elderly grace which was evidently unable to see anything
in her reluctance but modesty, and was sublimely conscious of a
mission to place modesty at its ease. This ill-assorted couple
walked in front, while Aurora Church and I strolled along together.
"I am sure this is more improper," said my companion; "this is
delightfully improper. I don't say that as a compliment to you," she
added. "I would say it to any man, no matter how stupid."
"Oh, I am very stupid," I answered, "but this doesn't seem to me
"Not for you, no; only for me. There is nothing that a man can do
that is wrong, is there? En morale, you know, I mean. Ah, yes, he
can steal; but I think there is nothing else, is there?"
"I don't know. One doesn't know those things until after one has
done them. Then one is enlightened."
"And you mean that you have never been enlightened? You make
yourself out very good."
"That is better than making one's self out bad, as you do."
The young girl glanced at me a moment, and then, with her charming
smile, "That's one of the consequences of a false position."
"Is your position false?" I inquired, smiling too at this large
"In what way?"
"Oh, in every way. For instance, I have to pretend to be a jeune
fille. I am not a jeune fille; no American girl is a jeune fille; an
American girl is an intelligent, responsible creature. I have to
pretend to be very innocent, but I am not very innocent."
"You don't pretend to be very innocent; you pretend to be--what shall
I call it?--very wise."
"That's no pretence. I am wise."
"You are not an American girl," I ventured to observe.
My companion almost stopped, looking at me; there was a little flush
in her cheek. "Voila!" she said. "There's my false position. I
want to be an American girl, and I'm not."
"Do you want me to tell you?" I went on. "An American girl wouldn't
talk as you are talking now."
"Please tell me," said Aurora Church, with expressive eagerness.
"How would she talk?"
"I can't tell you all the things an American girl would say, but I
think I can tell you the things she wouldn't say. She wouldn't
reason out her conduct, as you seem to me to do."
Aurora gave me the most flattering attention. "I see. She would be
simpler. To do very simple things that are not at all simple--that
is the American girl!"
I permitted myself a small explosion of hilarity. "I don't know
whether you are a French girl, or what you are," I said, "but you are
"Ah, you mean that I strike false notes!" cried Aurora Church, sadly.
"That's just what I want to avoid. I wish you would always tell me."
The conversational union between Miss Ruck and her neighbour, in
front of us, had evidently not become a close one. The young lady
suddenly turned round to us with a question: "Don't you want some
"SHE doesn't strike false notes," I murmured.
There was a kind of pavilion or kiosk, which served as a cafe, and at
which the delicacies procurable at such an establishment were
dispensed. Miss Ruck pointed to the little green tables and chairs
which were set out on the gravel; M. Pigeonneau, fluttering with a
sense of dissipation, seconded the proposal, and we presently sat
down and gave our order to a nimble attendant. I managed again to
place myself next to Aurora Church; our companions were on the other
side of the table.
My neighbour was delighted with our situation. "This is best of
all," she said. "I never believed I should come to a cafe with two
strange men! Now, you can't persuade me this isn't wrong."
"To make it wrong we ought to see your mother coming down that path."
"Ah, my mother makes everything wrong," said the young girl,
attacking with a little spoon in the shape of a spade the apex of a
pink ice. And then she returned to her idea of a moment before:
"You must promise to tell me--to warn me in some way--whenever I
strike a false note. You must give a little cough, like that--ahem!"
"You will keep me very busy, and people will think I am in a
"Voyons," she continued, "why have you never talked to me more? Is
that a false note? Why haven't you been 'attentive?' That's what
American girls call it; that's what Miss Ruck calls it."
I assured myself that our companions were out of earshot, and that
Miss Ruck was much occupied with a large vanilla cream. "Because you
are always entwined with that young lady. There is no getting near
Aurora looked at her friend while the latter devoted herself to her
ice. "You wonder why I like her so much, I suppose. So does mamma;
elle s'y perd. I don't like her particularly; je n'en suis pas
folle. But she gives me information; she tells me about America.
Mamma has always tried to prevent my knowing anything about it, and I
am all the more curious. And then Miss Ruck is very fresh."
"I may not be so fresh as Miss Ruck," I said, "but in future, when
you want information, I recommend you to come to me for it."
"Our friend offers to take me to America; she invites me to go back
with her, to stay with her. You couldn't do that, could you?" And
the young girl looked at me a moment. "Bon, a false note I can see
it by your face; you remind me of a maitre de piano."
"You overdo the character--the poor American girl," I said. "Are you
going to stay with that delightful family?"
"I will go and stay with any one that will take me or ask me. It's a
real nostalgie. She says that in New York--in Thirty-Seventh Street-
-I should have the most lovely time."
"I have no doubt you would enjoy it."
"Absolute liberty to begin with."
"It seems to me you have a certain liberty here," I rejoined.
"Ah, THIS? Oh, I shall pay for this. I shall be punished by mamma,
and I shall be lectured by Madame Galopin."
"The wife of the pasteur?"
"His digne epouse. Madame Galopin, for mamma, is the incarnation of
European opinion. That's what vexes me with mamma, her thinking so
much of people like Madame Galopin. Going to see Madame Galopin--
mamma calls that being in European society. European society! I'm
so sick of that expression; I have heard it since I was six years
old. Who is Madame Galopin--who thinks anything of her here? She is
nobody; she is perfectly third-rate. If I like America better than
mamma, I also know Europe better."
"But your mother, certainly," I objected, a trifle timidly, for my
young lady was excited, and had a charming little passion in her eye-
-"your mother has a great many social relations all over the
"She thinks so, but half the people don't care for us. They are not
so good as we, and they know it--I'll do them that justice--and they
wonder why we should care for them. When we are polite to them, they
think the less of us; there are plenty of people like that. Mamma
thinks so much of them simply because they are foreigners. If I
could tell you all the dull, stupid, second-rate people I have had to
talk to, for no better reason than that they were de leur pays!--
Germans, French, Italians, Turks, everything. When I complain, mamma
always says that at any rate it's practice in the language. And she
makes so much of the English, too; I don't know what that's practice
Before I had time to suggest an hypothesis, as regards this latter
point, I saw something that made me rise, with a certain solemnity,
from my chair. This was nothing less than the neat little figure of
Mrs. Church--a perfect model of the femme comme il faut--approaching
our table with an impatient step, and followed most unexpectedly in
her advance by the pre-eminent form of Mr. Ruck. She had evidently
come in quest of her daughter, and if she had commanded this
gentleman's attendance, it had been on no softer ground than that of
his unenvied paternity to her guilty child's accomplice. My movement
had given the alarm, and Aurora Church and M. Pigeonneau got up; Miss
Ruck alone did not, in the local phrase, derange herself. Mrs.
Church, beneath her modest little bonnet, looked very serious, but
not at all fluttered; she came straight to her daughter, who received
her with a smile, and then she looked all round at the rest of us,
very fixedly and tranquilly, without bowing. I must do both these
ladies the justice to mention that neither of them made the least
"I have come for you, dearest," said the mother.
"Yes, dear mamma."
"Come for you--come for you," Mrs. Church repeated, looking down at
the relics of our little feast. "I was obliged to ask Mr. Ruck's
assistance. I was puzzled; I thought a long time."
"Well, Mrs. Church, I was glad to see you puzzled once in your life!"
said Mr. Ruck, with friendly jocosity. "But you came pretty straight
for all that. I had hard work to keep up with you."
"We will take a cab, Aurora," Mrs. Church went on, without heeding
this pleasantry--"a closed one. Come, my daughter."
"Yes, dear mamma." The young girl was blushing, yet she was still
smiling; she looked round at us all, and, as her eyes met mine, I
thought she was beautiful. "Good-bye," she said to us. "I have had
a LOVELY TIME."
"We must not linger," said her mother; "it is five o'clock. We are
to dine, you know, with Madame Galopin."
"I had quite forgotten," Aurora declared. "That will be charming."
"Do you want me to assist you to carry her back, ma am?" asked Mr.
Mrs. Church hesitated a moment, with her serene little gaze. "Do you
prefer, then, to leave your daughter to finish the evening with these
Mr. Ruck pushed back his hat and scratched the top of his head.
"Well, I don't know. How would you like that, Sophy?"
"Well, I never!" exclaimed Sophy, as Mrs. Church marched off with her
I had half expected that Mrs. Church would make me feel the weight of
her disapproval of my own share in that little act of revelry in the
English Garden. But she maintained her claim to being a highly
reasonable woman--I could not but admire the justice of this
pretension--by recognising my irresponsibility. I had taken her
daughter as I found her, which was, according to Mrs. Church's view,
in a very equivocal position. The natural instinct of a young man,
in such a situation, is not to protest but to profit; and it was
clear to Mrs. Church that I had had nothing to do with Miss Aurora's
appearing in public under the insufficient chaperonage of Miss Ruck.
Besides, she liked to converse, and she apparently did me the honour
to believe that of all the members of the Pension Beaurepas I had the
most cultivated understanding. I found her in the salon a couple of
evenings after the incident I have just narrated, and I approached
her with a view of making my peace with her, if this should prove
necessary. But Mrs. Church was as gracious as I could have desired;
she put her marker into her book, and folded her plump little hands
on the cover. She made no specific allusion to the English Garden;
she embarked, rather, upon those general considerations in which her
refined intellect was so much at home.
"Always at your studies, Mrs. Church," I ventured to observe.
"Que voulez-vous? To say studies is to say too much; one doesn't
study in the parlour of a boarding-house. But I do what I can; I
have always done what I can. That is all I have ever claimed."
"No one can do more, and you seem to have done a great deal."
"Do you know my secret?" she asked, with an air of brightening
confidence. And she paused a moment before she imparted her secret--
"To care only for the BEST! To do the best, to know the best--to
have, to desire, to recognise, only the best. That's what I have
always done, in my quiet little way. I have gone through Europe on
my devoted little errand, seeking, seeing, heeding, only the best.
And it has not been for myself alone; it has been for my daughter.
My daughter has had the best. We are not rich, but I can say that."
"She has had you, madam," I rejoined finely.
"Certainly, such as I am, I have been devoted. We have got something
everywhere; a little here, a little there. That's the real secret--
to get something everywhere; you always can if you are devoted.
Sometimes it has been a little music, sometimes a little deeper
insight into the history of art; every little counts you know.
Sometimes it has been just a glimpse, a view, a lovely landscape, an
impression. We have always been on the look-out. Sometimes it has
been a valued friendship, a delightful social tie."
"Here comes the 'European society,' the poor daughter's bugbear," I
said to myself. "Certainly," I remarked aloud--I admit, rather
perversely--"if you have lived a great deal in pensions, you must
have got acquainted with lots of people."
Mrs. Church dropped her eyes a moment; and then, with considerable
gravity, "I think the European pension system in many respects
remarkable, and in some satisfactory. But of the friendships that we
have formed, few have been contracted in establishments of this
"I am sorry to hear that!" I said, laughing.
"I don't say it for you, though I might say it for some others. We
have been interested in European homes."
"Oh, I see!"
"We have the entree of the old Genevese society I like its tone. I
prefer it to that of Mr. Ruck," added Mrs. Church, calmly; "to that
of Mrs. Ruck and Miss Ruck--of Miss Ruck especially."
"Ah, the poor Rucks haven't any tone at all," I said "Don't take them
more seriously than they take themselves."
"Tell me this," my companion rejoined, "are they fair examples?"
"Examples of what?"
"Of our American tendencies."
"'Tendencies' is a big word, dear lady; tendencies are difficult to
calculate. And you shouldn't abuse those good Rucks, who have been
very kind to your daughter. They have invited her to go and stay
with them in Thirty-Seventh Street."
"Aurora has told me. It might be very serious."
"It might be very droll," I said.
"To me," declared Mrs. Church, "it is simply terrible. I think we
shall have to leave the Pension Beaurepas. I shall go back to Madame
"On account of the Rucks?" I asked.
"Pray, why don't they go themselves? I have given them some
excellent addresses--written down the very hours of the trains. They
were going to Appenzell; I thought it was arranged."
"They talk of Chamouni now," I said; "but they are very helpless and
"I will give them some Chamouni addresses. Mrs. Ruck will send a
chaise a porteurs; I will give her the name of a man who lets them
lower than you get them at the hotels. After that they MUST go."
"Well, I doubt," I observed, "whether Mr. Ruck will ever really be
seen on the Mer de Glace--in a high hat. He's not like you; he
doesn't value his European privileges. He takes no interest. He
regrets Wall Street, acutely. As his wife says, he is very restless,
but he has no curiosity about Chamouni. So you must not depend too
much on the effect of your addresses."
"Is it a frequent type?" asked Mrs. Church, with an air of self-
"I am afraid so. Mr. Ruck is a broken-down man of business. He is
broken down in health, and I suspect he is broken down in fortune.
He has spent his whole life in buying and selling; he knows how to do
nothing else. His wife and daughter have spent their lives, not in
selling, but in buying; and they, on their side, know how to do
nothing else. To get something in a shop that they can put on their
backs--that is their one idea; they haven't another in their heads.
Of course they spend no end of money, and they do it with an
implacable persistence, with a mixture of audacity and of cunning.
They do it in his teeth and they do it behind his back; the mother
protects the daughter, and the daughter eggs on the mother. Between
them they are bleeding him to death."
"Ah, what a picture!" murmured Mrs. Church. "I am afraid they are
"I share your fears. They are perfectly ignorant; they have no
resources. The vision of fine clothes occupies their whole
imagination. They have not an idea--even a worse one--to compete
with it. Poor Mr. Ruck, who is extremely good-natured and soft,
seems to me a really tragic figure. He is getting bad news every day
from home; his business is going to the dogs. He is unable to stop
it; he has to stand and watch his fortunes ebb. He has been used to
doing things in a big way, and he feels mean, if he makes a fuss
about bills. So the ladies keep sending them in."
"But haven't they common sense? Don't they know they are ruining
"They don't believe it. The duty of an American husband and father
is to keep them going. If he asks them how, that's his own affair.
So, by way of not being mean, of being a good American husband and
father, poor Ruck stands staring at bankruptcy."
Mrs. Church looked at me a moment, in quickened meditation. "Why, if
Aurora were to go to stay with them, she might not even be properly
"I don't, on the whole, recommend," I said, laughing, "that your
daughter should pay a visit to Thirty-Seventh Street."
"Why should I be subjected to such trials--so sadly eprouvee? Why
should a daughter of mine like that dreadful girl?"
"DOES she like her?"
"Pray, do you mean," asked my companion, softly, "that Aurora is a
I hesitated a moment. "A little, since you ask me. I think you have
forced her to be."
Mrs. Church answered this possibly presumptuous charge with a
tranquil, candid exultation. "I never force my daughter!"
"She is nevertheless in a false position," I rejoined. "She hungers
and thirsts to go back to her own country; she wants 'to come' out in
New York, which is certainly, socially speaking, the El Dorado of
young ladies. She likes any one, for the moment, who will talk to
her of that, and serve as a connecting-link with her native shores.
Miss Ruck performs this agreeable office."
"Your idea is, then, that if she were to go with Miss Ruck to America
she would drop her afterwards."
I complimented Mrs. Church upon her logical mind, but I repudiated
this cynical supposition. "I can't imagine her--when it should come
to the point--embarking with the famille Ruck. But I wish she might
Mrs. Church shook her head serenely, and smiled at my inappropriate
zeal. "I trust my poor child may never be guilty of so fatal a
mistake. She is completely in error; she is wholly unadapted to the
peculiar conditions of American life. It would not please her. She
would not sympathise. My daughter's ideal is not the ideal of the
class of young women to which Miss Ruck belongs. I fear they are
very numerous; they give the tone--they give the tone."
"It is you that are mistaken," I said; "go home for six months and
"I have not, unfortunately, the means to make costly experiments. My
daughter has had great advantages--rare advantages--and I should be
very sorry to believe that au fond she does not appreciate them. One
thing is certain: I must remove her from this pernicious influence.
We must part company with this deplorable family. If Mr. Ruck and
his ladies cannot be induced to go to Chamouni--a journey that no
traveller with the smallest self-respect would omit--my daughter and
I shall be obliged to retire. We shall go to Dresden."
"The capital of Saxony. I had arranged to go there for the autumn,
but it will be simpler to go immediately. There are several works in
the gallery with which my daughter has not, I think, sufficiently
familiarised herself; it is especially strong in the seventeenth
As my companion offered me this information I perceived Mr. Ruck come
lounging in, with his hands in his pockets, and his elbows making
acute angles. He had his usual anomalous appearance of both seeking
and avoiding society, and he wandered obliquely toward Mrs. Church,
whose last words he had overheard. "The seventeenth century
schools," he said, slowly, as if he were weighing some very small
object in a very large-pair of scales. "Now, do you suppose they HAD
schools at that period?"
Mrs. Church rose with a good deal of precision, making no answer to
this incongruous jest. She clasped her large volume to her neat
little bosom, and she fixed a gentle, serious eye upon Mr. Ruck.
"I had a letter this morning from Chamouni," she said.
"Well," replied Mr. Ruck, "I suppose you've got friends all over."
"I have friends at Chamouni, but they are leaving. To their great
regret." I had got up, too; I listened to this statement, and I
wondered. I am almost ashamed to mention the subject of my
agitation. I asked myself whether this was a sudden improvisation,
consecrated by maternal devotion; but this point has never been
elucidated. "They are giving up some charming rooms; perhaps you
would like them. I would suggest your telegraphing. The weather is
glorious," continued Mrs. Church, "and the highest peaks are now
perceived with extraordinary distinctness."
Mr. Ruck listened, as he always listened, respectfully. "Well," he
said, "I don't know as I want to go up Mount Blank. That's the
principal attraction, isn't it?"
"There are many others. I thought I would offer you an--an
"Well," said Mr. Ruck, "you're right down friendly. But I seem to
have more opportunities than I know what to do with. I don't seem
able to take hold."
"It only needs a little decision," remarked Mrs. Church, with an air
which was an admirable example of this virtue. "I wish you good-
night, sir." And she moved noiselessly away.
Mr. Ruck, with his long legs apart, stood staring after her; then he
transferred his perfectly quiet eyes to me. "Does she own a hotel
over there?" he asked. "Has she got any stock in Mount Blank?"
The next day Madame Beaurepas handed me, with her own elderly
fingers, a missive, which proved to be a telegram. After glancing at
it, I informed her that it was apparently a signal for my departure;
my brother had arrived in England, and proposed to me to meet him
there; he had come on business, and was to spend but three weeks in
Europe. "But my house empties itself!" cried the old woman. "The
famille Ruck talks of leaving me, and Madame Church nous fait la
"Mrs. Church is going away?"
"She is packing her trunk; she is a very extraordinary person. Do
you know what she asked me this morning? To invent some combination
by which the famille Ruck should move away. I informed her that I
was not an inventor. That poor famille Ruck! 'Oblige me by getting
rid of them,' said Madame Church, as she would have asked Celestine
to remove a dish of cabbage. She speaks as if the world were made
for Madame Church. I intimated to her that if she objected to the
company there was a very simple remedy; and at present elle fait ses
"She really asked you to get the Rucks out of the house?"
"She asked me to tell them that their rooms had been let, three
months ago, to another family. She has an APLOMB!"
Mrs. Church's aplomb caused me considerable diversion; I am not sure
that it was not, in some degree, to laugh over it at my leisure that
I went out into the garden that evening to smoke a cigar. The night
was dark and not particularly balmy, and most of my fellow-
pensioners, after dinner, had remained in-doors. A long straight
walk conducted from the door of the house to the ancient grille that
I have described, and I stood here for some time, looking through the
iron bars at the silent empty street. The prospect was not
entertaining, and I presently turned away. At this moment I saw, in
the distance, the door of the house open and throw a shaft of
lamplight into the darkness. Into the lamplight there stepped the
figure of a female, who presently closed the door behind her. She
disappeared in the dusk of the garden, and I had seen her but for an
instant, but I remained under the impression that Aurora Church, on
the eve of her departure, had come out for a meditative stroll.
I lingered near the gate, keeping the red tip of my cigar turned
toward the house, and before long a young lady emerged from among the
shadows of the trees and encountered the light of a lamp that stood
just outside the gate. It was in fact Aurora Church, but she seemed
more bent upon conversation than upon meditation. She stood a moment
looking at me, and then she said, -
"Ought I to retire--to return to the house?"
"If you ought, I should be very sorry to tell you so," I answered.
"But we are all alone; there is no one else in the garden."
"It is not the first time that I have been alone with a young lady.
I am not at all terrified."
"Ah, but I?" said the young girl. "I have never been alone--" then,
quickly, she interrupted herself. "Good, there's another false
"Yes, I am obliged to admit that one is very false."
She stood looking at me. "I am going away to-morrow; after that
there will be no one to tell me."
"That will matter little," I presently replied. "Telling you will do
"Ah, why do you say that?" murmured Aurora Church.
I said it partly because it was true; but I said it for other reasons
as well, which it was hard to define. Standing there bare-headed, in
the night air, in the vague light, this young lady looked extremely
interesting; and the interest of her appearance was not diminished by
a suspicion on my own part that she had come into the garden knowing
me to be there. I thought her a charming girl, and I felt very sorry
for her; but, as I looked at her, the terms in which Madame Beaurepas
had ventured to characterise her recurred to me with a certain force.
I had professed a contempt for them at the time, but it now came into
my head that perhaps this unfortunately situated, this insidiously
mutinous young creature, was looking out for a preserver. She was
certainly not a girl to throw herself at a man's head, but it was
possible that in her intense--her almost morbid-desire to put into
effect an ideal which was perhaps after all charged with as many
fallacies as her mother affirmed, she might do something reckless and
irregular--something in which a sympathetic compatriot, as yet
unknown, would find his profit. The image, unshaped though it was,
of this sympathetic compatriot, filled me with a sort of envy. For
some moments I was silent, conscious of these things, and then I
answered her question. "Because some things--some differences are
felt, not learned. To you liberty is not natural; you are like a
person who has bought a repeater, and, in his satisfaction, is
constantly making it sound. To a real American girl her liberty is a
very vulgarly-ticking old clock."
"Ah, you mean, then," said the poor girl, "that my mother has ruined
"She has so perverted my mind, that when I try to be natural I am
"That again is a false note," I said, laughing.
She turned away. "I think you are cruel."
"By no means," I declared; "because, for my own taste, I prefer you
I hesitated, and she turned back. "As what?"
"As you are."
She looked at me a while again, and then she said, in a little
reasoning voice that reminded me of her mother's, only that it was
conscious and studied, "I was not aware that I am under any
particular obligation to please you!" And then she gave a clear
laugh, quite at variance with her voice.
"Oh, there is no obligation," I said, "but one has preferences. I am
very sorry you are going away."
"What does it matter to you? You are going yourself."
"As I am going in a different direction that makes all the greater
She answered nothing; she stood looking through the bars of the tall
gate at the empty, dusky street. "This grille is like a cage," she
said, at last.
"Fortunately, it is a cage that will open." And I laid my hand on
"Don't open it," and she pressed the gate back. "If you should open
it I would go out--and never return."
"Where should you go?"
"Somehow or other. I would go to the American consul. I would beg
him to give me money--to help me."
I received this assertion without a smile; I was not in a smiling
humour. On the contrary, I felt singularly excited, and I kept my
hand on the lock of the gate. I believed (or I thought I believed)
what my companion said, and I had--absurd as it may appear--an
irritated vision of her throwing herself upon consular sympathy. It
seemed to me, for a moment, that to pass out of that gate with this
yearning, straining, young creature, would be to pass into some
mysterious felicity. If I were only a hero of romance, I would
offer, myself, to take her to America.
In a moment more, perhaps, I should have persuaded myself that I was
one, but at this juncture I heard a sound that was not romantic. It
proved to be the very realistic tread of Celestine, the cook, who
stood grinning at us as we turned about from our colloquy.
"I ask bien pardon," said Celestine. "The mother of Mademoiselle
desires that Mademoiselle should come in immediately. M. le Pasteur
Galopin has come to make his adieux to ces dames."
Aurora gave me only one glance, but it was a touching one. Then she
slowly departed with Celestine.
The next morning, on coming into the garden, I found that Mrs. Church
and her daughter had departed. I was informed of this fact by old M.
Pigeonneau, who sat there under a tree, having his coffee at a little
"I have nothing to envy you," he said; "I had the last glimpse of
that charming Miss Aurora."
"I had a very late glimpse," I answered, "and it was all I could
"I have always noticed," rejoined M. Pigeonneau, "That your desires
are more moderate than mine. Que voulez-vous? I am of the old
school. Je crois que la race se perd. I regret the departure of
that young girl: she had an enchanting smile. Ce sera une femme
d'esprit. For the mother, I can console myself. I am not sure that
SHE was a femme d'esprit, though she wished to pass for one. Round,
rosy, potelee, she yet had not the temperament of her appearance; she
was a femme austere. I have often noticed that contradiction in
American ladies. You see a plump little woman, with a speaking eye,
and the contour and complexion of a ripe peach, and if you venture to
conduct yourself in the smallest degree in accordance with these
indices, you discover a species of Methodist--of what do you call
it?--of Quakeress. On the other hand, you encounter a tall, lean,
angular person, without colour, without grace, all elbows and knees,
and you find it's a nature of the tropics! The women of duty look
like coquettes, and the others look like alpenstocks! However, we
have still the handsome Madame Ruck--a real femme de Rubens, celle-
la. It is very true that to talk to her one must know the Flemish
I had determined, in accordance with my brother's telegram, to go
away in the afternoon; so that, having various duties to perform, I
left M. Pigeonneau to his international comparisons. Among other
things, I went in the course of the morning to the banker's, to draw
money for my journey, and there I found Mr. Ruck, with a pile of
crumpled letters in his lap, his chair tipped back, and his eyes
gloomily fixed on the fringe of the green plush table-cloth. I
timidly expressed the hope that he had got better news from home;
whereupon he gave me a look in which, considering his provocation,
the absence of irritation was conspicuous.
He took up his letters in his large hand, and crushing them together,
held it out to me. "That epistolary matter," he said, "is worth
about five cents. But I guess," he added, rising, "I have taken it
in by this time." When I had drawn my money I asked him to come and
breakfast with me at the little brasserie, much favoured by students,
to which I used to resort in the old town. "I couldn't eat, sir," he
said, "I--couldn't eat. Bad news takes away the appetite. But I
guess I'll go with you, so that I needn't go to table down there at
the pension. The old woman down there is always accusing me of
turning up my nose at her food. Well, I guess I shan't turn up my
nose at anything now."
We went to the little brasserie, where poor Mr. Ruck made the
lightest possible breakfast. But if he ate very little, he talked a
great deal; he talked about business, going into a hundred details in
which I was quite unable to follow him. His talk was not angry nor
bitter; it was a long, meditative, melancholy monologue; if it had
been a trifle less incoherent I should almost have called it
philosophic. I was very sorry for him; I wanted to do something for
him, but the only thing I could do was, when we had breakfasted, to
see him safely back to the Pension Beaurepas. We went across the
Treille and down the Corraterie, out of which we turned into the Rue
du Rhone. In this latter street, as all the world knows, are many of
those brilliant jewellers' shops for which Geneva is famous. I
always admired their glittering windows, and never passed them
without a lingering glance. Even on this occasion, pre-occupied as I
was with my impending departure, and with my companion's troubles, I
suffered my eyes to wander along the precious tiers that flashed and
twinkled behind the huge clear plates of glass. Thanks to this
inveterate habit, I made a discovery. In the largest and most
brilliant of these establishments I perceived two ladies, seated
before the counter with an air of absorption, which sufficiently
proclaimed their identity. I hoped my companion would not see them,
but as we came abreast of the door, a little beyond, we found it open
to the warm summer air. Mr. Ruck happened to glance in, and he
immediately recognised his wife and daughter. He slowly stopped,
looking at them; I wondered what he would do. The salesman was
holding up a bracelet before them, on its velvet cushion, and
flashing it about in an irresistible manner.
Mr. Ruck said nothing, but he presently went in, and I did the same.
"It will be an opportunity," I remarked, as cheerfully as possible,
"for me to bid good-bye to the ladies."
They turned round when Mr. Ruck came in, and looked at him without
confusion. "Well, you had better go home to breakfast," remarked his
wife. Miss Sophy made no remark, but she took the bracelet from the
attendant and gazed at it very fixedly. Mr. Ruck seated himself on
an empty stool and looked round the shop.
"Well, you have been here before," said his wife; "you were here the
first day we came."
Miss Ruck extended the precious object in her hands towards me.
"Don't you think that sweet?" she inquired.
I looked at it a moment. "No, I think it's ugly."
She glanced at me a moment, incredulous. "Well, I don't believe you
have any taste."
"Why, sir, it's just lovely," said Mrs. Ruck.
"You'll see it some day on me, any way," her daughter declared.
"No, he won't," said Mr. Ruck, quietly.
"It will be his own fault, then," Miss Sophy observed.
"Well, if we are going to Chamouni we want to get something here,"
said Mrs. Ruck. "We may not have another chance."
Mr. Ruck was still looking round the shop, whistling in a very low
tone. "We ain't going to Chamouni. We are going to New York city,
"Well, I'm glad to hear that," said Mrs. Ruck. "Don't you suppose we
want to take something home?"
"If we are going straight back I must have that bracelet," her
daughter declared, "Only I don't want a velvet case; I want a satin
"I must bid you good-bye," I said to the ladies. "I am leaving
Geneva in an hour or two."
"Take a good look at that bracelet, so you'll know it when you see
it," said Miss Sophy.
"She's bound to have something," remarked her mother, almost proudly.
Mr. Ruck was still vaguely inspecting the shop; he was still
whistling a little. "I am afraid he is not at all well," I said,
softly, to his wife.
She twisted her head a little, and glanced at him.
"Well, I wish he'd improve!" she exclaimed.
"A satin case, and a nice one!" said Miss Ruck to the shopman.
I bade Mr. Ruck good-bye. "Don't wait for me," he said, sitting
there on his stool, and not meeting my eye. "I've got to see this
I went back to the Pension Beaurepas, and when, an hour later, I left
it with my luggage, the family had not returned.
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