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Chapter 2

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
hands.

"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
over."

"I have been in this house only a fortnight," I said.

"Well, what should you say, from what you have seen?" my companion
asked.

"Oh," said I, "you can see all there is immediately. It's very
simple."

"Sweet simplicity, eh? I'm afraid my two ladies will find it too
simple."

"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
here?"

"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
considerable interval.

"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
horror.

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!"

Henry James

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