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Chapter 10

"That will matter little," I presently replied. "Telling you will do
no good."

"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
me?"

"Ruined you?"

"She has so perverted my mind, that when I try to be natural I am
necessarily immodest."

"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
as--as--"

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
separation."

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
the lock.

"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?"

"To America."

"Straight away?"

"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
green table.

"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
possibly desire."

"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
tongue!"

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,
straight."

"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
case."

"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
thing through."

I went back to the Pension Beaurepas, and when, an hour later, I left
it with my luggage, the family had not returned.

Henry James

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