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Chapter 3

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
few preliminaries.

"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
little foot.

"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
friend."

"Mr. and Mrs. Parker--perhaps you have heard her speak of them," Mrs.
Ruck pursued.

"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
humorous look.

"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
Europe."

"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
demanded.

"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
cross."

"I do want it--I happen to want it." And Sophy glanced at me with a
little laugh.

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."

Henry James

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