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Chapter 8

I had half expected that Mrs. Church would make me feel the weight of
her disapproval of my own share in that little act of revelry in the
English Garden. But she maintained her claim to being a highly
reasonable woman--I could not but admire the justice of this
pretension--by recognising my irresponsibility. I had taken her
daughter as I found her, which was, according to Mrs. Church's view,
in a very equivocal position. The natural instinct of a young man,
in such a situation, is not to protest but to profit; and it was
clear to Mrs. Church that I had had nothing to do with Miss Aurora's
appearing in public under the insufficient chaperonage of Miss Ruck.
Besides, she liked to converse, and she apparently did me the honour
to believe that of all the members of the Pension Beaurepas I had the
most cultivated understanding. I found her in the salon a couple of
evenings after the incident I have just narrated, and I approached
her with a view of making my peace with her, if this should prove
necessary. But Mrs. Church was as gracious as I could have desired;
she put her marker into her book, and folded her plump little hands
on the cover. She made no specific allusion to the English Garden;
she embarked, rather, upon those general considerations in which her
refined intellect was so much at home.

"Always at your studies, Mrs. Church," I ventured to observe.

"Que voulez-vous? To say studies is to say too much; one doesn't
study in the parlour of a boarding-house. But I do what I can; I
have always done what I can. That is all I have ever claimed."

"No one can do more, and you seem to have done a great deal."

"Do you know my secret?" she asked, with an air of brightening
confidence. And she paused a moment before she imparted her secret--
"To care only for the BEST! To do the best, to know the best--to
have, to desire, to recognise, only the best. That's what I have
always done, in my quiet little way. I have gone through Europe on
my devoted little errand, seeking, seeing, heeding, only the best.
And it has not been for myself alone; it has been for my daughter.
My daughter has had the best. We are not rich, but I can say that."

"She has had you, madam," I rejoined finely.

"Certainly, such as I am, I have been devoted. We have got something
everywhere; a little here, a little there. That's the real secret--
to get something everywhere; you always can if you are devoted.
Sometimes it has been a little music, sometimes a little deeper
insight into the history of art; every little counts you know.
Sometimes it has been just a glimpse, a view, a lovely landscape, an
impression. We have always been on the look-out. Sometimes it has
been a valued friendship, a delightful social tie."

"Here comes the 'European society,' the poor daughter's bugbear," I
said to myself. "Certainly," I remarked aloud--I admit, rather
perversely--"if you have lived a great deal in pensions, you must
have got acquainted with lots of people."

Mrs. Church dropped her eyes a moment; and then, with considerable
gravity, "I think the European pension system in many respects
remarkable, and in some satisfactory. But of the friendships that we
have formed, few have been contracted in establishments of this
kind."

"I am sorry to hear that!" I said, laughing.

"I don't say it for you, though I might say it for some others. We
have been interested in European homes."

"Oh, I see!"

"We have the entree of the old Genevese society I like its tone. I
prefer it to that of Mr. Ruck," added Mrs. Church, calmly; "to that
of Mrs. Ruck and Miss Ruck--of Miss Ruck especially."

"Ah, the poor Rucks haven't any tone at all," I said "Don't take them
more seriously than they take themselves."

"Tell me this," my companion rejoined, "are they fair examples?"

"Examples of what?"

"Of our American tendencies."

"'Tendencies' is a big word, dear lady; tendencies are difficult to
calculate. And you shouldn't abuse those good Rucks, who have been
very kind to your daughter. They have invited her to go and stay
with them in Thirty-Seventh Street."

"Aurora has told me. It might be very serious."

"It might be very droll," I said.

"To me," declared Mrs. Church, "it is simply terrible. I think we
shall have to leave the Pension Beaurepas. I shall go back to Madame
Chamousset."

"On account of the Rucks?" I asked.

"Pray, why don't they go themselves? I have given them some
excellent addresses--written down the very hours of the trains. They
were going to Appenzell; I thought it was arranged."

"They talk of Chamouni now," I said; "but they are very helpless and
undecided."

"I will give them some Chamouni addresses. Mrs. Ruck will send a
chaise a porteurs; I will give her the name of a man who lets them
lower than you get them at the hotels. After that they MUST go."

"Well, I doubt," I observed, "whether Mr. Ruck will ever really be
seen on the Mer de Glace--in a high hat. He's not like you; he
doesn't value his European privileges. He takes no interest. He
regrets Wall Street, acutely. As his wife says, he is very restless,
but he has no curiosity about Chamouni. So you must not depend too
much on the effect of your addresses."

"Is it a frequent type?" asked Mrs. Church, with an air of self-
control.

"I am afraid so. Mr. Ruck is a broken-down man of business. He is
broken down in health, and I suspect he is broken down in fortune.
He has spent his whole life in buying and selling; he knows how to do
nothing else. His wife and daughter have spent their lives, not in
selling, but in buying; and they, on their side, know how to do
nothing else. To get something in a shop that they can put on their
backs--that is their one idea; they haven't another in their heads.
Of course they spend no end of money, and they do it with an
implacable persistence, with a mixture of audacity and of cunning.
They do it in his teeth and they do it behind his back; the mother
protects the daughter, and the daughter eggs on the mother. Between
them they are bleeding him to death."

"Ah, what a picture!" murmured Mrs. Church. "I am afraid they are
very-uncultivated."

"I share your fears. They are perfectly ignorant; they have no
resources. The vision of fine clothes occupies their whole
imagination. They have not an idea--even a worse one--to compete
with it. Poor Mr. Ruck, who is extremely good-natured and soft,
seems to me a really tragic figure. He is getting bad news every day
from home; his business is going to the dogs. He is unable to stop
it; he has to stand and watch his fortunes ebb. He has been used to
doing things in a big way, and he feels mean, if he makes a fuss
about bills. So the ladies keep sending them in."

"But haven't they common sense? Don't they know they are ruining
themselves?"

"They don't believe it. The duty of an American husband and father
is to keep them going. If he asks them how, that's his own affair.
So, by way of not being mean, of being a good American husband and
father, poor Ruck stands staring at bankruptcy."

Mrs. Church looked at me a moment, in quickened meditation. "Why, if
Aurora were to go to stay with them, she might not even be properly
fed!"

"I don't, on the whole, recommend," I said, laughing, "that your
daughter should pay a visit to Thirty-Seventh Street."

"Why should I be subjected to such trials--so sadly eprouvee? Why
should a daughter of mine like that dreadful girl?"

"DOES she like her?"

"Pray, do you mean," asked my companion, softly, "that Aurora is a
hypocrite?"

I hesitated a moment. "A little, since you ask me. I think you have
forced her to be."

Mrs. Church answered this possibly presumptuous charge with a
tranquil, candid exultation. "I never force my daughter!"

"She is nevertheless in a false position," I rejoined. "She hungers
and thirsts to go back to her own country; she wants 'to come' out in
New York, which is certainly, socially speaking, the El Dorado of
young ladies. She likes any one, for the moment, who will talk to
her of that, and serve as a connecting-link with her native shores.
Miss Ruck performs this agreeable office."

"Your idea is, then, that if she were to go with Miss Ruck to America
she would drop her afterwards."

I complimented Mrs. Church upon her logical mind, but I repudiated
this cynical supposition. "I can't imagine her--when it should come
to the point--embarking with the famille Ruck. But I wish she might
go, nevertheless."

Mrs. Church shook her head serenely, and smiled at my inappropriate
zeal. "I trust my poor child may never be guilty of so fatal a
mistake. She is completely in error; she is wholly unadapted to the
peculiar conditions of American life. It would not please her. She
would not sympathise. My daughter's ideal is not the ideal of the
class of young women to which Miss Ruck belongs. I fear they are
very numerous; they give the tone--they give the tone."

"It is you that are mistaken," I said; "go home for six months and
see."

"I have not, unfortunately, the means to make costly experiments. My
daughter has had great advantages--rare advantages--and I should be
very sorry to believe that au fond she does not appreciate them. One
thing is certain: I must remove her from this pernicious influence.
We must part company with this deplorable family. If Mr. Ruck and
his ladies cannot be induced to go to Chamouni--a journey that no
traveller with the smallest self-respect would omit--my daughter and
I shall be obliged to retire. We shall go to Dresden."

"To Dresden?"

"The capital of Saxony. I had arranged to go there for the autumn,
but it will be simpler to go immediately. There are several works in
the gallery with which my daughter has not, I think, sufficiently
familiarised herself; it is especially strong in the seventeenth
century schools."

As my companion offered me this information I perceived Mr. Ruck come
lounging in, with his hands in his pockets, and his elbows making
acute angles. He had his usual anomalous appearance of both seeking
and avoiding society, and he wandered obliquely toward Mrs. Church,
whose last words he had overheard. "The seventeenth century
schools," he said, slowly, as if he were weighing some very small
object in a very large-pair of scales. "Now, do you suppose they HAD
schools at that period?"

Mrs. Church rose with a good deal of precision, making no answer to
this incongruous jest. She clasped her large volume to her neat
little bosom, and she fixed a gentle, serious eye upon Mr. Ruck.

"I had a letter this morning from Chamouni," she said.

"Well," replied Mr. Ruck, "I suppose you've got friends all over."

"I have friends at Chamouni, but they are leaving. To their great
regret." I had got up, too; I listened to this statement, and I
wondered. I am almost ashamed to mention the subject of my
agitation. I asked myself whether this was a sudden improvisation,
consecrated by maternal devotion; but this point has never been
elucidated. "They are giving up some charming rooms; perhaps you
would like them. I would suggest your telegraphing. The weather is
glorious," continued Mrs. Church, "and the highest peaks are now
perceived with extraordinary distinctness."

Mr. Ruck listened, as he always listened, respectfully. "Well," he
said, "I don't know as I want to go up Mount Blank. That's the
principal attraction, isn't it?"

"There are many others. I thought I would offer you an--an
exceptional opportunity."

"Well," said Mr. Ruck, "you're right down friendly. But I seem to
have more opportunities than I know what to do with. I don't seem
able to take hold."

"It only needs a little decision," remarked Mrs. Church, with an air
which was an admirable example of this virtue. "I wish you good-
night, sir." And she moved noiselessly away.

Mr. Ruck, with his long legs apart, stood staring after her; then he
transferred his perfectly quiet eyes to me. "Does she own a hotel
over there?" he asked. "Has she got any stock in Mount Blank?"

Henry James

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