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Chapter 7

Old M. Pigeonneau had more than once proposed to me to take a walk,
but I had hitherto been unable to respond to so alluring an
invitation. It befell, however, one afternoon, that I perceived him
going forth upon a desultory stroll, with a certain lonesomeness of
demeanour that attracted my sympathy. I hastily overtook him, and
passed my hand into his venerable arm, a proceeding which produced in
the good old man so jovial a sense of comradeship that he ardently
proposed we should bend our steps to the English Garden; no locality
less festive was worthy of the occasion. To the English Garden,
accordingly, we went; it lay beyond the bridge, beside the lake. It
was very pretty and very animated; there was a band playing in the
middle, and a considerable number of persons sitting under the small
trees, on benches and little chairs, or strolling beside the blue
water. We joined the strollers, we observed our companions, and
conversed on obvious topics. Some of these last, of course, were the
pretty women who embellished the scene, and who, in the light of M.
Pigeonneau's comprehensive criticism, appeared surprisingly numerous.
He seemed bent upon our making up our minds as to which was the
prettiest, and as this was an innocent game I consented to play at
it.

Suddenly M. Pigeonneau stopped, pressing my arm with the liveliest
emotion. "La voila, la voila, the prettiest!" he quickly murmured,
"coming toward us, in a blue dress, with the other." It was at the
other I was looking, for the other, to my surprise, was our
interesting fellow-pensioner, the daughter of a vigilant mother. M.
Pigeonneau, meanwhile, had redoubled his exclamations; he had
recognised Miss Sophy Ruck. "Oh, la belle rencontre, nos aimables
convives; the prettiest girl in the world, in effect!"

We immediately greeted and joined the young ladies, who, like
ourselves, were walking arm in arm and enjoying the scene.

"I was citing you with admiration to my friend even before I had
recognised you," said M. Pigeonneau to Miss Ruck.

"I don't believe in French compliments," remarked this young lady,
presenting her back to the smiling old man.

"Are you and Miss Ruck walking alone?" I asked of her companion.
"You had better accept of M. Pigeonneau's gallant protection, and of
mine."

Aurora Church had taken her hand out of Miss Ruck's arm; she looked
at me, smiling, with her head a little inclined, while, upon her
shoulder, she made her open parasol revolve. "Which is most
improper--to walk alone or to walk with gentlemen? I wish to do what
is most improper."

"What mysterious logic governs your conduct?" I inquired.

"He thinks you can't understand him when he talks like that," said
Miss Ruck. "But I do understand you, always!"

"So I have always ventured to hope, my dear Miss Ruck."

"Well, if I didn't, it wouldn't be much loss," rejoined this young
lady.

"Allons, en marche!" cried M. Pigeonneau, smiling still, and
undiscouraged by her inhumanity. "Let as make together the tour of
the garden." And he imposed his society upon Miss Ruck with a
respectful, elderly grace which was evidently unable to see anything
in her reluctance but modesty, and was sublimely conscious of a
mission to place modesty at its ease. This ill-assorted couple
walked in front, while Aurora Church and I strolled along together.

"I am sure this is more improper," said my companion; "this is
delightfully improper. I don't say that as a compliment to you," she
added. "I would say it to any man, no matter how stupid."

"Oh, I am very stupid," I answered, "but this doesn't seem to me
wrong."

"Not for you, no; only for me. There is nothing that a man can do
that is wrong, is there? En morale, you know, I mean. Ah, yes, he
can steal; but I think there is nothing else, is there?"

"I don't know. One doesn't know those things until after one has
done them. Then one is enlightened."

"And you mean that you have never been enlightened? You make
yourself out very good."

"That is better than making one's self out bad, as you do."

The young girl glanced at me a moment, and then, with her charming
smile, "That's one of the consequences of a false position."

"Is your position false?" I inquired, smiling too at this large
formula.

"Distinctly so."

"In what way?"

"Oh, in every way. For instance, I have to pretend to be a jeune
fille. I am not a jeune fille; no American girl is a jeune fille; an
American girl is an intelligent, responsible creature. I have to
pretend to be very innocent, but I am not very innocent."

"You don't pretend to be very innocent; you pretend to be--what shall
I call it?--very wise."

"That's no pretence. I am wise."

"You are not an American girl," I ventured to observe.

My companion almost stopped, looking at me; there was a little flush
in her cheek. "Voila!" she said. "There's my false position. I
want to be an American girl, and I'm not."

"Do you want me to tell you?" I went on. "An American girl wouldn't
talk as you are talking now."

"Please tell me," said Aurora Church, with expressive eagerness.
"How would she talk?"

"I can't tell you all the things an American girl would say, but I
think I can tell you the things she wouldn't say. She wouldn't
reason out her conduct, as you seem to me to do."

Aurora gave me the most flattering attention. "I see. She would be
simpler. To do very simple things that are not at all simple--that
is the American girl!"

I permitted myself a small explosion of hilarity. "I don't know
whether you are a French girl, or what you are," I said, "but you are
very witty."

"Ah, you mean that I strike false notes!" cried Aurora Church, sadly.
"That's just what I want to avoid. I wish you would always tell me."

The conversational union between Miss Ruck and her neighbour, in
front of us, had evidently not become a close one. The young lady
suddenly turned round to us with a question: "Don't you want some
ice-cream?"

"SHE doesn't strike false notes," I murmured.

There was a kind of pavilion or kiosk, which served as a cafe, and at
which the delicacies procurable at such an establishment were
dispensed. Miss Ruck pointed to the little green tables and chairs
which were set out on the gravel; M. Pigeonneau, fluttering with a
sense of dissipation, seconded the proposal, and we presently sat
down and gave our order to a nimble attendant. I managed again to
place myself next to Aurora Church; our companions were on the other
side of the table.

My neighbour was delighted with our situation. "This is best of
all," she said. "I never believed I should come to a cafe with two
strange men! Now, you can't persuade me this isn't wrong."

"To make it wrong we ought to see your mother coming down that path."

"Ah, my mother makes everything wrong," said the young girl,
attacking with a little spoon in the shape of a spade the apex of a
pink ice. And then she returned to her idea of a moment before:
"You must promise to tell me--to warn me in some way--whenever I
strike a false note. You must give a little cough, like that--ahem!"

"You will keep me very busy, and people will think I am in a
consumption."

"Voyons," she continued, "why have you never talked to me more? Is
that a false note? Why haven't you been 'attentive?' That's what
American girls call it; that's what Miss Ruck calls it."

I assured myself that our companions were out of earshot, and that
Miss Ruck was much occupied with a large vanilla cream. "Because you
are always entwined with that young lady. There is no getting near
you."

Aurora looked at her friend while the latter devoted herself to her
ice. "You wonder why I like her so much, I suppose. So does mamma;
elle s'y perd. I don't like her particularly; je n'en suis pas
folle. But she gives me information; she tells me about America.
Mamma has always tried to prevent my knowing anything about it, and I
am all the more curious. And then Miss Ruck is very fresh."

"I may not be so fresh as Miss Ruck," I said, "but in future, when
you want information, I recommend you to come to me for it."

"Our friend offers to take me to America; she invites me to go back
with her, to stay with her. You couldn't do that, could you?" And
the young girl looked at me a moment. "Bon, a false note I can see
it by your face; you remind me of a maitre de piano."

"You overdo the character--the poor American girl," I said. "Are you
going to stay with that delightful family?"

"I will go and stay with any one that will take me or ask me. It's a
real nostalgie. She says that in New York--in Thirty-Seventh Street-
-I should have the most lovely time."

"I have no doubt you would enjoy it."

"Absolute liberty to begin with."

"It seems to me you have a certain liberty here," I rejoined.

"Ah, THIS? Oh, I shall pay for this. I shall be punished by mamma,
and I shall be lectured by Madame Galopin."

"The wife of the pasteur?"

"His digne epouse. Madame Galopin, for mamma, is the incarnation of
European opinion. That's what vexes me with mamma, her thinking so
much of people like Madame Galopin. Going to see Madame Galopin--
mamma calls that being in European society. European society! I'm
so sick of that expression; I have heard it since I was six years
old. Who is Madame Galopin--who thinks anything of her here? She is
nobody; she is perfectly third-rate. If I like America better than
mamma, I also know Europe better."

"But your mother, certainly," I objected, a trifle timidly, for my
young lady was excited, and had a charming little passion in her eye-
-"your mother has a great many social relations all over the
Continent."

"She thinks so, but half the people don't care for us. They are not
so good as we, and they know it--I'll do them that justice--and they
wonder why we should care for them. When we are polite to them, they
think the less of us; there are plenty of people like that. Mamma
thinks so much of them simply because they are foreigners. If I
could tell you all the dull, stupid, second-rate people I have had to
talk to, for no better reason than that they were de leur pays!--
Germans, French, Italians, Turks, everything. When I complain, mamma
always says that at any rate it's practice in the language. And she
makes so much of the English, too; I don't know what that's practice
in."

Before I had time to suggest an hypothesis, as regards this latter
point, I saw something that made me rise, with a certain solemnity,
from my chair. This was nothing less than the neat little figure of
Mrs. Church--a perfect model of the femme comme il faut--approaching
our table with an impatient step, and followed most unexpectedly in
her advance by the pre-eminent form of Mr. Ruck. She had evidently
come in quest of her daughter, and if she had commanded this
gentleman's attendance, it had been on no softer ground than that of
his unenvied paternity to her guilty child's accomplice. My movement
had given the alarm, and Aurora Church and M. Pigeonneau got up; Miss
Ruck alone did not, in the local phrase, derange herself. Mrs.
Church, beneath her modest little bonnet, looked very serious, but
not at all fluttered; she came straight to her daughter, who received
her with a smile, and then she looked all round at the rest of us,
very fixedly and tranquilly, without bowing. I must do both these
ladies the justice to mention that neither of them made the least
little "scene."

"I have come for you, dearest," said the mother.

"Yes, dear mamma."

"Come for you--come for you," Mrs. Church repeated, looking down at
the relics of our little feast. "I was obliged to ask Mr. Ruck's
assistance. I was puzzled; I thought a long time."

"Well, Mrs. Church, I was glad to see you puzzled once in your life!"
said Mr. Ruck, with friendly jocosity. "But you came pretty straight
for all that. I had hard work to keep up with you."

"We will take a cab, Aurora," Mrs. Church went on, without heeding
this pleasantry--"a closed one. Come, my daughter."

"Yes, dear mamma." The young girl was blushing, yet she was still
smiling; she looked round at us all, and, as her eyes met mine, I
thought she was beautiful. "Good-bye," she said to us. "I have had
a LOVELY TIME."

"We must not linger," said her mother; "it is five o'clock. We are
to dine, you know, with Madame Galopin."

"I had quite forgotten," Aurora declared. "That will be charming."

"Do you want me to assist you to carry her back, ma am?" asked Mr.
Ruck.

Mrs. Church hesitated a moment, with her serene little gaze. "Do you
prefer, then, to leave your daughter to finish the evening with these
gentlemen?"

Mr. Ruck pushed back his hat and scratched the top of his head.
"Well, I don't know. How would you like that, Sophy?"

"Well, I never!" exclaimed Sophy, as Mrs. Church marched off with her
daughter.

Henry James

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