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Chapter 5

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
corner.

"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
counts."

"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
in Europe."

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
certain intelligence."

"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
that."

"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
lady inquired.

"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
there."

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.

Henry James

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