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Chapter 6

"She has demanded a new lamp; I told you she would!" This
communication was made me by Madame Beaurepas a couple of days later.
"And she has asked for a new tapis de lit, and she has requested me
to provide Celestine with a pair of light shoes. I told her that, as
a general thing, cooks are not shod with satin. That poor
Celestine!"

"Mrs. Church may be exacting," I said, "but she is a clever little
woman."

"A lady who pays but five francs and a half shouldn't be too clever.
C'est deplace. I don't like the type."

"What type do you call Mrs. Church's?"

"Mon Dieu," said Madame Beaurepas, "c'est une de ces mamans comme
vous en avez, qui promenent leur fille."

"She is trying to marry her daughter? I don't think she's of that
sort."

But Madame Beaurepas shrewdly held to her idea. "She is trying it in
her own way; she does it very quietly. She doesn't want an American;
she wants a foreigner. And she wants a mari serieux. But she is
travelling over Europe in search of one. She would like a
magistrate."

"A magistrate?"

"A gros bonnet of some kind; a professor or a deputy."

"I am very sorry for the poor girl," I said, laughing.

"You needn't pity her too much; she's a sly thing."

"Ah, for that, no!" I exclaimed. "She's a charming girl."

Madame Beaurepas gave an elderly grin. "She has hooked you, eh? But
the mother won't have you."

I developed my idea, without heeding this insinuation. "She's a
charming girl, but she is a little odd. It's a necessity of her
position. She is less submissive to her mother than she has to
pretend to be. That's in self-defence; it's to make her life
possible."

"She wishes to get away from her mother," continued Madame Beaurepas.
"She wishes to courir les champs."

"She wishes to go to America, her native country."

"Precisely. And she will certainly go."

"I hope so!" I rejoined.

"Some fine morning--or evening--she will go off with a young man;
probably with a young American."

"Allons donc!" said I, with disgust.

"That will be quite America enough," pursued my cynical hostess. "I
have kept a boarding-house for forty years. I have seen that type."

"Have such things as that happened chez vous?" I asked.

"Everything has happened chez moi. But nothing has happened more
than once. Therefore this won't happen here. It will be at the next
place they go to, or the next. Besides, here there is no young
American pour la partie--none except you, Monsieur. You are
susceptible, but you are too reasonable."

"It's lucky for you I am reasonable," I answered. "It's thanks to
that fact that you escape a scolding!"

One morning, about this time, instead of coming back to breakfast at
the pension, after my lectures at the Academy, I went to partake of
this meal with a fellow-student, at an ancient eating-house in the
collegiate quarter. On separating from my friend, I took my way
along that charming public walk known in Geneva as the Treille, a
shady terrace, of immense elevation, overhanging a portion of the
lower town. There are spreading trees and well-worn benches, and
over the tiles and chimneys of the ville basse there is a view of the
snow-crested Alps. On the other side, as you turn your back to the
view, the promenade is overlooked by a row of tall, sober-faced
hotels, the dwellings of the local aristocracy. I was very fond of
the place, and often resorted to it to stimulate my sense of the
picturesque. Presently, as I lingered there on this occasion, I
became aware that a gentleman was seated not far from where I stood,
with his back to the Alpine chain, which this morning was brilliant
and distinct, and a newspaper, unfolded, in his lap. He was not
reading, however; he was staring before him in gloomy contemplation.
I don't know whether I recognised first the newspaper or its
proprietor; one, in either case, would have helped me to identify the
other. One was the New York Herald; the other, of course, was Mr.
Ruck. As I drew nearer, he transferred his eyes from the stony,
high-featured masks of the gray old houses on the other side of the
terrace, and I knew by the expression of his face just how he had
been feeling about these distinguished abodes. He had made up his
mind that their proprietors were a dusky, narrow-minded, unsociable
company; plunging their roots into a superfluous past. I
endeavoured, therefore, as I sat down beside him, to suggest
something more impersonal.

"That's a beautiful view of the Alps," I observed.

"Yes," said Mr. Ruck, without moving, "I've examined it. Fine thing,
in its way--fine thing. Beauties of nature--that sort of thing. We
came up on purpose to look at it."

"Your ladies, then, have been with you?"

"Yes; they are just walking round. They're awfully restless. They
keep saying I'm restless, but I'm as quiet as a sleeping child to
them. It takes," he added in a moment, drily, "the form of
shopping."

"Are they shopping now?"

"Well, if they ain't, they're trying to. They told me to sit here a
while, and they'd just walk round. I generally know what that means.
But that's the principal interest for ladies," he added, retracting
his irony. "We thought we'd come up here and see the cathedral; Mrs.
Church seemed to think it a dead loss that we shouldn't see the
cathedral, especially as we hadn't seen many yet. And I had to come
up to the banker's any way. Well, we certainly saw the cathedral. I
don't know as we are any the better for it, and I don't know as I
should know it again. But we saw it, any way. I don't know as I
should want to go there regularly; but I suppose it will give us, in
conversation, a kind of hold on Mrs. Church, eh? I guess we want
something of that kind. Well," Mr. Ruck continued, "I stepped in at
the banker's to see if there wasn't something, and they handed me out
a Herald."

"I hope the Herald is full of good news," I said.

"Can't say it is. D-d bad news."

"Political," I inquired, "or commercial?"

"Oh, hang politics! It's business, sir. There ain't any business.
It's all gone to,"--and Mr. Ruck became profane. "Nine failures in
one day. What do you say-to that?"

"I hope they haven't injured you," I said.

"Well, they haven't helped me much. So many houses on fire, that's
all. If they happen to take place in your own street, they don't
increase the value of your property. When mine catches, I suppose
they'll write and tell me--one of these days, when they've got
nothing else to do. I didn't get a blessed letter this morning; I
suppose they think I'm having such a good time over here it's a pity
to disturb me. If I could attend to business for about half an hour,
I'd find out something. But I can't, and it's no use talking. The
state of my health was never so unsatisfactory as it was about five
o'clock this morning."

"I am very sorry to hear that," I said, "and I recommend you strongly
not to think of business."

"I don't," Mr. Ruck replied. "I'm thinking of cathedrals; I'm
thinking of the beauties of nature. Come," he went on, turning round
on the bench and leaning his elbow on the parapet, "I'll think of
those mountains over there; they ARE pretty, certainly. Can't you
get over there?"

"Over where?"

"Over to those hills. Don't they run a train right up?"

"You can go to Chamouni," I said. "You can go to Grindelwald and
Zermatt and fifty other places. You can't go by rail, but you can
drive."

"All right, we'll drive--and not in a one-horse concern, either.
Yes, Chamouni is one of the places we put down. I hope there are a
few nice shops in Chamouni." Mr. Ruck spoke with a certain quickened
emphasis, and in a tone more explicitly humorous than he commonly
employed. I thought he was excited, and yet he had not the
appearance of excitement. He looked like a man who has simply taken,
in the face of disaster, a sudden, somewhat imaginative, resolution
not to "worry." He presently twisted himself about on his bench
again and began to watch for his companions. "Well, they ARE walking
round," he resumed; "I guess they've hit on something, somewhere.
And they've got a carriage waiting outside of that archway too. They
seem to do a big business in archways here, don't they. They like to
have a carriage to carry home the things--those ladies of mine. Then
they're sure they've got them." The ladies, after this, to do them
justice, were not very long in appearing. They came toward us, from
under the archway to which Mr. Ruck had somewhat invidiously alluded,
slowly and with a rather exhausted step and expression. My companion
looked at them a moment, as they advanced. "They're tired," he said
softly. "When they're tired, like that, it's very expensive."

"Well," said Mrs. Ruck, "I'm glad you've had some company." Her
husband looked at her, in silence, through narrowed eyelids, and I
suspected that this gracious observation on the lady's part was
prompted by a restless conscience.

Miss Sophy glanced at me with her little straightforward air of
defiance. "It would have been more proper if WE had had the company.
Why didn't you come after us, instead of sitting there?" she asked of
Mr. Ruck's companion.

"I was told by your father," I explained, "that you were engaged in
sacred rites." Miss Ruck was not gracious, though I doubt whether it
was because her conscience was better than her mother's.

"Well, for a gentleman there is nothing so sacred as ladies'
society," replied Miss Ruck, in the manner of a person accustomed to
giving neat retorts.

"I suppose you refer to the Cathedral," said her mother. "Well, I
must say, we didn't go back there. I don't know what it may be of a
Sunday, but it gave me a chill."

"We discovered the loveliest little lace-shop," observed the young
girl, with a serenity that was superior to bravado.

Her father looked at her a while; then turned about again, leaning on
the parapet, and gazed away at the "hills."

"Well, it was certainly cheap," said Mrs. Ruck, also contemplating
the Alps.

"We are going to Chamouni," said her husband. "You haven't any
occasion for lace at Chamouni."

"Well, I'm glad to hear you have decided to go somewhere," rejoined
his wife. "I don't want to be a fixture at a boarding-house."

"You can wear lace anywhere," said Miss Ruck, "if you pat it on
right. That's the great thing, with lace. I don't think they know
how to wear lace in Europe. I know how I mean to wear mine; but I
mean to keep it till I get home."

Her father transferred his melancholy gaze to her elaborately-
appointed little person; there was a great deal of very new-looking
detail in Miss Ruck's appearance. Then, in a tone of voice quite out
of consonance with his facial despondency, "Have you purchased a
great deal?" he inquired.

"I have purchased enough for you to make a fuss about."

"He can't make a fuss about that," said Mrs. Ruck.

"Well, you'll see!" declared the young girl with a little sharp
laugh.

But her father went on, in the same tone: "Have you got it in your
pocket? Why don't you put it on--why don't you hang it round you?"

"I'll hang it round YOU, if you don't look out!" cried Miss Sophy.

"Don't you want to show it to this gentleman?" Mr. Ruck continued.

"Mercy, how you do talk about that lace!" said his wife.

"Well, I want to be lively. There's every reason for it; we're going
to Chamouni."

"You're restless; that's what's the matter with you." And Mrs. Ruck
got up.

"No, I ain't," said her husband. "I never felt so quiet; I feel as
peaceful as a little child."

Mrs. Ruck, who had no sense whatever of humour, looked at her
daughter and at me. "Well, I hope you'll improve," she said.

"Send in the bills," Mr. Ruck went on, rising to his feet. "Don't
hesitate, Sophy. I don't care what you do now. In for a penny, in
for a pound."

Miss Ruck joined her mother, with a little toss of her head, and we
followed the ladies to the carriage. "In your place," said Miss
Sophy to her father, "I wouldn't talk so much about pennies and
pounds before strangers."

Poor Mr. Ruck appeared to feel the force of this observation, which,
in the consciousness of a man who had never been "mean," could hardly
fail to strike a responsive chord. He coloured a little, and he was
silent; his companions got into their vehicle, the front seat of
which was adorned with a large parcel. Mr. Ruck gave the parcel a
little poke with his umbrella, and then, turning to me with a rather
grimly penitential smile, "After all," he said, "for the ladies
that's the principal interest."

Henry James

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