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Chapter 4

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
mere."

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
it."

"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
different sort."

"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
it."

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
ceremonies.

"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
your departure."

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
interposed.

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?"

"Always."

"I call that wicked!" Miss Sophy declared.

"You might be in a worse place," I continued. "I find Europe very
interesting."

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,
lingering.

"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
languages."

"I am not very sure that I know English."

"You should go to Boston!" cried Miss Sophy. "They speak splendidly
in Boston."

"C'est mon reve," said Aurora, still looking at me.

"Have you been all over Europe," I asked--"in all the different
countries?"

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.
Church.

"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
resentfully.

"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
live there."

"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
Avranches."

"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
audacious.

The young ladies began to stroll about the garden again, and I
enjoyed their society until M. Pigeonneau's festival came to an end.

Henry James

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