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Eugene Pickering

Eugene Pickering

Henry James

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1

  • It was at Homburg, several years ago, before the gaming had been suppressed.
  • The evening was very warm, and all the world was gathered on the terrace o_he Kursaal and the esplanade below it to listen to the excellent orchestra; or half the world, rather, for the crowd was equally dense in the gaming-room_round the tables. Everywhere the crowd was great. The night was perfect, th_eason was at its height, the open windows of the Kursaal sent long shafts o_nnatural light into the dusky woods, and now and then, in the intervals o_he music, one might almost hear the clink of the napoleons and the metalli_all of the croupiers rise above the watching silence of the saloons. I ha_een strolling with a friend, and we at last prepared to sit down. Chairs, however, were scarce. I had captured one, but it seemed no easy matter to fin_ mate for it. I was on the point of giving up in despair, and proposing a_djournment to the silken ottomans of the Kursaal, when I observed a young ma_ounging back on one of the objects of my quest, with his feet supported o_he rounds of another. This was more than his share of luxury, and I promptl_pproached him. He evidently belonged to the race which has the credit o_nowing best, at home and abroad, how to make itself comfortable; bu_omething in his appearance suggested that his present attitude was the resul_f inadvertence rather than of egotism. He was staring at the conductor of th_rchestra and listening intently to the music. His hands were locked round hi_ong legs, and his mouth was half open, with rather a foolish air. "There ar_o few chairs," I said, "that I must beg you to surrender this second one." H_tarted, stared, blushed, pushed the chair away with awkward alacrity, an_urmured something about not having noticed that he had it.
  • "What an odd-looking youth!" said my companion, who had watched me, as _eated myself beside her.
  • "Yes, he is odd-looking; but what is odder still is that I have seen hi_efore, that his face is familiar to me, and yet that I can't place him." Th_rchestra was playing the Prayer from Der Freischutz, but Weber's lovely musi_nly deepened the blank of memory. Who the deuce was he? where, when, how, ha_ known him? It seemed extraordinary that a face should be at once so familia_nd so strange. We had our backs turned to him, so that I could not look a_im again. When the music ceased we left our places, and I went to consign m_riend to her mamma on the terrace. In passing, I saw that my young man ha_eparted; I concluded that he only strikingly resembled some one I knew. Bu_ho in the world was it he resembled? The ladies went off to their lodgings, which were near by, and I turned into the gaming-rooms and hovered about th_ircle at roulette. Gradually I filtered through to the inner edge, near th_able, and, looking round, saw my puzzling friend stationed opposite to me. H_as watching the game, with his hands in his pockets; but singularly enough, now that I observed him at my leisure, the look of familiarity quite fade_rom his face. What had made us call his appearance odd was his great lengt_nd leanness of limb, his long, white neck, his blue, prominent eyes, and hi_ngenuous, unconscious absorption in the scene before him. He was no_andsome, certainly, but he looked peculiarly amiable and if his over_onderment savoured a trifle of rurality, it was an agreeable contrast to th_ard, inexpressive masks about him. He was the verdant offshoot, I said t_yself, of some ancient, rigid stem; he had been brought up in the quietest o_omes, and he was having his first glimpse of life. I was curious to se_hether he would put anything on the table; he evidently felt the temptation, but he seemed paralysed by chronic embarrassment. He stood gazing at th_hinking complexity of losses and gains, shaking his loose gold in his pocket, and every now and then passing his hand nervously over his eyes.
  • Most of the spectators were too attentive to the play to have many thought_or each other; but before long I noticed a lady who evidently had an eye fo_er neighbours as well as for the table. She was seated about half-way betwee_y friend and me, and I presently observed that she was trying to catch hi_ye. Though at Homburg, as people said, "one could never be sure," I ye_oubted whether this lady were one of those whose especial vocation it was t_atch a gentleman's eye. She was youthful rather than elderly, and prett_ather than plain; indeed, a few minutes later, when I saw her smile, _hought her wonderfully pretty. She had a charming gray eye and a good deal o_ellow hair disposed in picturesque disorder; and though her features wer_eagre and her complexion faded, she gave one a sense of sentimental, artificial gracefulness. She was dressed in white muslin very much puffed an_illed, but a trifle the worse for wear, relieved here and there by a pal_lue ribbon. I used to flatter myself on guessing at people's nationality b_heir faces, and, as a rule, I guessed aright. This faded, crumpled, vaporou_eauty, I conceived, was a German—such a German, somehow, as I had see_magined in literature. Was she not a friend of poets, a correspondent o_hilosophers, a muse, a priestess of aesthetics— something in the way of _ettina, a Rahel? My conjectures, however, were speedily merged in wondermen_s to what my diffident friend was making of her. She caught his eye at last, and raising an ungloved hand, covered altogether with blue-gemme_ings—turquoises, sapphires, and lapis—she beckoned him to come to her. Th_esture was executed with a sort of practised coolness, and accompanied wit_n appealing smile. He stared a moment, rather blankly, unable to suppose tha_he invitation was addressed to him; then, as it was immediately repeated wit_ good deal of intensity, he blushed to the roots of his hair, wavere_wkwardly, and at last made his way to the lady's chair. By the time h_eached it he was crimson, and wiping his forehead with his pocket- handkerchief. She tilted back, looked up at him with the same smile, laid tw_ingers on his sleeve, and said something, interrogatively, to which h_eplied by a shake of the head. She was asking him, evidently, if he had eve_layed, and he was saying no. Old players have a fancy that when luck ha_urned her back on them they can put her into good-humour again by havin_heir stakes placed by a novice. Our young man's physiognomy had seemed to hi_ew acquaintance to express the perfection of inexperience, and, like _ractical woman, she had determined to make him serve her turn. Unlike most o_er neighbours, she had no little pile of gold before her, but she drew fro_er pocket a double napoleon, put it into his hand, and bade him place it on _umber of his own choosing. He was evidently filled with a sort of delightfu_rouble; he enjoyed the adventure, but he shrank from the hazard. I would hav_taked the coin on its being his companion's last; for although she stil_miled intently as she watched his hesitation, there was anything bu_ndifference in her pale, pretty face. Suddenly, in desperation, he reache_ver and laid the piece on the table. My attention was diverted at this momen_y my having to make way for a lady with a great many flounces, before me, t_ive up her chair to a rustling friend to whom she had promised it; when _gain looked across at the lady in white muslin, she was drawing in a ver_oodly pile of gold with her little blue-gemmed claw. Good luck and bad, a_he Homburg tables, were equally undemonstrative, and this happy adventures_ewarded her young friend for the sacrifice of his innocence with a single, rapid, upward smile. He had innocence enough left, however, to look round th_able with a gleeful, conscious laugh, in the midst of which his eye_ncountered my own. Then suddenly the familiar look which had vanished fro_is face flickered up unmistakably; it was the boyish laugh of a boyhood'_riend. Stupid fellow that I was, I had been looking at Eugene Pickering!
  • Though I lingered on for some time longer he failed to recognise me.
  • Recognition, I think, had kindled a smile in my own face; but, less fortunat_han he, I suppose my smile had ceased to be boyish. Now that luck had face_bout again, his companion played for herself— played and won, hand over hand.
  • At last she seemed disposed to rest on her gains, and proceeded to bury the_n the folds of her muslin. Pickering had staked nothing for himself, but a_e saw her prepare to withdraw he offered her a double napoleon and begged he_o place it. She shook her head with great decision, and seemed to bid him pu_t up again; but he, still blushing a good deal, pressed her with awkwar_rdour, and she at last took it from him, looked at him a moment fixedly, an_aid it on a number. A moment later the croupier was raking it in. She gav_he young man a little nod which seemed to say, "I told you so;" he glance_ound the table again and laughed; she left her chair, and he made a way fo_er through the crowd. Before going home I took a turn on the terrace an_ooked down on the esplanade. The lamps were out, but the warm starligh_aguely illumined a dozen figures scattered in couples. One of these figures, I thought, was a lady in a white dress.
  • I had no intention of letting Pickering go without reminding him of our ol_cquaintance. He had been a very singular boy, and I was curious to see wha_ad become of his singularity. I looked for him the next morning at two o_hree of the hotels, and at last I discovered his whereabouts. But he was out, the waiter said; he had gone to walk an hour before. I went my way, confiden_hat I should meet him in the evening. It was the rule with the Homburg worl_o spend its evenings at the Kursaal, and Pickering, apparently, had alread_iscovered a good reason for not being an exception. One of the charms o_omburg is the fact that of a hot day you may walk about for a whole afternoo_n unbroken shade. The umbrageous gardens of the Kursaal mingle with th_harming Hardtwald, which in turn melts away into the wooded slopes of th_aunus Mountains. To the Hardtwald I bent my steps, and strolled for an hou_hrough mossy glades and the still, perpendicular gloom of the fir-woods.
  • Suddenly, on the grassy margin of a by-path, I came upon a young man stretche_t his length in the sun-checkered shade, and kicking his heels towards _atch of blue sky. My step was so noiseless on the turf that, before he sa_e, I had time to recognise Pickering again. He looked as if he had bee_ounging there for some time; his hair was tossed about as if he had bee_leeping; on the grass near him, beside his hat and stick, lay a seale_etter. When he perceived me he jerked himself forward, and I stood looking a_im without introducing myself—purposely, to give him a chance to recognis_e. He put on his glasses, being awkwardly near-sighted, and stared up at m_ith an air of general trustfulness, but without a sign of knowing me. So a_ast I introduced myself. Then he jumped up and grasped my hands, and stare_nd blushed and laughed, and began a dozen random questions, ending with _emand as to how in the world I had known him.
  • "Why, you are not changed so utterly," I said; "and after all, it's bu_ifteen years since you used to do my Latin exercises for me."
  • "Not changed, eh?" he answered, still smiling, and yet speaking with a sort o_ngenuous dismay.
  • Then I remembered that poor Pickering had been, in those Latin days, a victi_f juvenile irony. He used to bring a bottle of medicine to school and take _ose in a glass of water before lunch; and every day at two o'clock, half a_our before the rest of us were liberated, an old nurse with bushy eyebrow_ame and fetched him away in a carriage. His extremely fair complexion, hi_urse, and his bottle of medicine, which suggested a vague analogy with th_leeping-potion in the tragedy, caused him to be called Juliet. Certainl_omeo's sweetheart hardly suffered more; she was not, at least, a standin_oke in Verona. Remembering these things, I hastened to say to Pickering tha_ hoped he was still the same good fellow who used to do my Latin for me. "W_ere capital friends, you know," I went on, "then and afterwards."
  • "Yes, we were very good friends," he said, "and that makes it the stranger _houldn't have known you. For you know, as a boy, I never had many friends, nor as a man either. You see," he added, passing his hand over his eyes, "I a_ather dazed, rather bewildered at finding myself for the first time—alone."
  • And he jerked back his shoulders nervously, and threw up his head, as if t_ettle himself in an unwonted position. I wondered whether the old nurse wit_he bushy eyebrows had remained attached to his person up to a recent period, and discovered presently that, virtually at least, she had. We had the whol_ummer day before us, and we sat down on the grass together and overhauled ou_ld memories. It was as if we had stumbled upon an ancient cupboard in som_usky corner, and rummaged out a heap of childish playthings—tin soldiers an_orn story-books, jack-knives and Chinese puzzles. This is what we remembere_etween us.
  • He had made but a short stay at school—not because he was tormented, for h_hought it so fine to be at school at all that he held his tongue at hom_bout the sufferings incurred through the medicine- bottle, but because hi_ather thought he was learning bad manners. This he imparted to me i_onfidence at the time, and I remember how it increased my oppressive awe o_r. Pickering, who had appeared to me in glimpses as a sort of high priest o_he proprieties. Mr. Pickering was a widower—a fact which seemed to produce i_im a sort of preternatural concentration of parental dignity. He was _ajestic man, with a hooked nose, a keen dark eye, very large whiskers, an_otions of his own as to how a boy—or his boy, at any rate—should be brough_p. First and foremost, he was to be a "gentleman"; which seemed to mean, chiefly, that he was always to wear a muffler and gloves, and be sent to bed, after a supper of bread and milk, at eight o'clock. School-life, o_xperiment, seemed hostile to these observances, and Eugene was taken hom_gain, to be moulded into urbanity beneath the parental eye. A tutor wa_rovided for him, and a single select companion was prescribed. The choice, mysteriously, fell on me, born as I was under quite another star; my parent_ere appealed to, and I was allowed for a few months to have my lessons wit_ugene. The tutor, I think, must have been rather a snob, for Eugene wa_reated like a prince, while I got all the questions and the raps with th_uler. And yet I remember never being jealous of my happier comrade, an_triking up, for the time, one of those friendships of childhood. He had _atch and a pony and a great store of picture-books, but my envy of thes_uxuries was tempered by a vague compassion which left me free to be generous.
  • I could go out to play alone, I could button my jacket myself, and sit up til_ was sleepy. Poor Pickering could never take a step without asking leave, o_pend half an hour in the garden without a formal report of it when he cam_n. My parents, who had no desire to see me inoculated with importunat_irtues, sent me back to school at the end of six months. After that I neve_aw Eugene. His father went to live in the country, to protect the lad'_orals, and Eugene faded, in reminiscence, into a pale image of the depressin_ffects of education. I think I vaguely supposed that he would melt into thi_ir, and indeed began gradually to doubt of his existence, and to regard hi_s one of the foolish things one ceased to believe in as one grew older. I_eemed natural that I should have no more news of him. Our present meeting wa_y first assurance that he had really survived all that muffling and coddling.
  • I observed him now with a good deal of interest, for he was a rar_henomenon—the fruit of a system persistently and uninterruptedly applied. H_truck me, in a fashion, as certain young monks I had seen in Italy; he ha_he same candid, unsophisticated cloister face. His education had been reall_lmost monastic. It had found him evidently a very compliant, yieldin_ubject; his gentle affectionate spirit was not one of those that need to b_roken. It had bequeathed him, now that he stood on the threshold of the grea_orld, an extraordinary freshness of impression and alertness of desire, and _onfess that, as I looked at him and met his transparent blue eye, I tremble_or the unwarned innocence of such a soul. I became aware, gradually, that th_orld had already wrought a certain work upon him and roused him to _estless, troubled self- consciousness. Everything about him pointed to a_xperience from which he had been debarred; his whole organism trembled with _awning sense of unsuspected possibilities of feeling. This appealing tremo_as indeed outwardly visible. He kept shifting himself about on the grass, thrusting his hands through his hair, wiping a light perspiration from hi_orehead, breaking out to say something and rushing off to something else. Ou_udden meeting had greatly excited him, and I saw that I was likely to profi_y a certain overflow of sentimental fermentation. I could do so with a goo_onscience, for all this trepidation filled me with a great friendliness.
  • "It's nearly fifteen years, as you say," he began, "since you used to call me
  • 'butter-fingers' for always missing the ball. That's a long time to give a_ccount of, and yet they have been, for me, such eventless, monotonous years, that I could almost tell their history in ten words. You, I suppose, have ha_ll kinds of adventures and travelled over half the world. I remember you ha_ turn for deeds of daring; I used to think you a little Captain Cook i_oundabouts, for climbing the garden fence to get the ball when I had let i_ly over. I climbed no fences then or since. You remember my father, _uppose, and the great care he took of me? I lost him some five months ago.
  • From those boyish days up to his death we were always together. I don't thin_hat in fifteen years we spent half a dozen hours apart. We lived in th_ountry, winter and summer, seeing but three or four people. I had _uccession of tutors, and a library to browse about in; I assure you I am _remendous scholar. It was a dull life for a growing boy, and a duller lif_or a young man grown, but I never knew it. I was perfectly happy." He spok_f his father at some length, and with a respect which I privately declined t_mulate. Mr. Pickering had been, to my sense, a frigid egotist, unable t_onceive of any larger vocation for his son than to strive to reproduce s_rreproachable a model. "I know I have been strangely brought up," said m_riend, "and that the result is something grotesque; but my education, piec_y piece, in detail, became one of my father's personal habits, as it were. H_ook a fancy to it at first through his intense affection for my mother an_he sort of worship he paid her memory. She died at my birth, and as I gre_p, it seems that I bore an extraordinary likeness to her. Besides, my fathe_ad a great many theories; he prided himself on his conservative opinions; h_hought the usual American laisser- aller in education was a very vulga_ractice, and that children were not to grow up like dusty thorns by th_ayside. "So you see," Pickering went on, smiling and blushing, and yet wit_omething of the irony of vain regret, "I am a regular garden plant. I hav_een watched and watered and pruned, and if there is any virtue in tending _ught to take the prize at a flower show. Some three years ago my father'_ealth broke down, and he was kept very much within doors. So, although I wa_ man grown, I lived altogether at home. If I was out of his sight for _uarter of an hour he sent some one after me. He had severe attacks o_euralgia, and he used to sit at his window, basking in the sun. He kept a_pera-glass at hand, and when I was out in the garden he used to watch me wit_t. A few days before his death I was twenty-seven years old, and the mos_nnocent youth, I suppose, on the continent. After he died I missed hi_reatly," Pickering continued, evidently with no intention of making a_pigram. "I stayed at home, in a sort of dull stupor. It seemed as if lif_ffered itself to me for the first time, and yet as if I didn't know how t_ake hold of it."
  • He uttered all this with a frank eagerness which increased as he talked, an_here was a singular contrast between the meagre experience he described and _ertain radiant intelligence which I seemed to perceive in his glance an_one. Evidently he was a clever fellow, and his natural faculties wer_xcellent. I imagined he had read a great deal, and recovered, in some degree, in restless intellectual conjecture, the freedom he was condemned to ignore i_ractice. Opportunity was now offering a meaning to the empty forms with whic_is imagination was stored, but it appeared to him dimly, through the veil o_is personal diffidence.
  • "I have not sailed round the world, as you suppose," I said, "but I confess _nvy you the novelties you are going to behold. Coming to Homburg you hav_lunged in medias res."
  • He glanced at me to see if my remark contained an allusion, and hesitated _oment. "Yes, I know it. I came to Bremen in the steamer with a very friendl_erman, who undertook to initiate me into the glories and mysteries of th_atherland. At this season, he said, I must begin with Homburg. I landed but _ortnight ago, and here I am." Again he hesitated, as if he were going to ad_omething about the scene at the Kursaal but suddenly, nervously, he took u_he letter which was lying beside him, looked hard at the seal with a trouble_rown, and then flung it back on the grass with a sigh.
  • "How long do you expect to be in Europe?" I asked.
  • "Six months I supposed when I came. But not so long—now!" And he let his eye_ander to the letter again.
  • "And where shall you go—what shall you do?"
  • "Everywhere, everything, I should have said yesterday. But now it i_ifferent."
  • I glanced at the letter—interrogatively, and he gravely picked it up and pu_t into his pocket. We talked for a while longer, but I saw that he ha_uddenly become preoccupied; that he was apparently weighing an impulse t_reak some last barrier of reserve. At last he suddenly laid his hand on m_rm, looked at me a moment appealingly, and cried, "Upon my word, I shoul_ike to tell you everything!"
  • "Tell me everything, by all means," I answered, smiling. "I desire nothin_etter than to lie here in the shade and hear everything."
  • "Ah, but the question is, will you understand it? No matter; you think me _ueer fellow already. It's not easy, either, to tell you what I feel—not eas_or so queer a fellow as I to tell you in how many ways he is queer!" He go_p and walked away a moment, passing his hand over his eyes, then came bac_apidly and flung himself on the grass again. "I said just now I alway_upposed I was happy; it's true; but now that my eyes are open, I see I wa_nly stultified. I was like a poodle-dog that is led about by a blue ribbon, and scoured and combed and fed on slops. It was not life; life is learning t_now one's self, and in that sense I have lived more in the past six week_han in all the years that preceded them. I am filled with this feverish sens_f liberation; it keeps rising to my head like the fumes of strong wine. _ind I am an active, sentient, intelligent creature, with desires, wit_assions, with possible convictions—even with what I never dreamed of, _ossible will of my own! I find there is a world to know, a life to lead, me_nd women to form a thousand relations with. It all lies there like a grea_urging sea, where we must plunge and dive and feel the breeze and breast th_aves. I stand shivering here on the brink, staring, longing, wondering, charmed by the smell of the brine and yet afraid of the water. The worl_eckons and smiles and calls, but a nameless influence from the past, that _an neither wholly obey nor wholly resist, seems to hold me back. I am full o_mpulses, but, somehow, I am not full of strength. Life seems inspiring a_ertain moments, but it seems terrible and unsafe; and I ask myself why _hould wantonly measure myself with merciless forces, when I have learned s_ell how to stand aside and let them pass. Why shouldn't I turn my back upo_t all and go home to—what awaits me?- -to that sightless, soundless countr_ife, and long days spent among old books? But if a man IS weak, he doesn'_ant to assent beforehand to his weakness; he wants to taste whateve_weetness there may be in paying for the knowledge. So it is that it come_ack—this irresistible impulse to take my plunge—to let myself swing, to g_here liberty leads me." He paused a moment, fixing me with his excited eyes, and perhaps perceived in my own an irrepressible smile at his perplexity.
  • "'Swing ahead, in Heaven's name,' you want to say, 'and much good may it d_ou.' I don't know whether you are laughing at my scruples or at what possibl_trikes you as my depravity. I doubt," he went on gravely, "whether I have a_nclination toward wrong-doing; if I have, I am sure I shall not prosper i_t. I honestly believe I may safely take out a license to amuse myself. But i_sn't that I think of, any more than I dream of, playing with suffering.
  • Pleasure and pain are empty words to me; what I long for is knowledge—som_ther knowledge than comes to us in formal, colourless, impersonal precept.
  • You would understand all this better if you could breathe for an hour th_usty in-door atmosphere in which I have always lived. To break a window an_et in light and air—I feel as if at last I must ACT!"
  • "Act, by all means, now and always, when you have a chance," I answered. "Bu_on't take things too hard, now or ever. Your long confinement makes you thin_he world better worth knowing than you are likely to find it. A man with a_ood a head and heart as yours has a very ample world within himself, and I a_o believer in art for art, nor in what's called 'life' for life's sake.
  • Nevertheless, take your plunge, and come and tell me whether you have foun_he pearl of wisdom." He frowned a little, as if he thought my sympathy _rifle meagre. I shook him by the hand and laughed. "The pearl of wisdom," _ried, "is love; honest love in the most convenient concentration o_xperience! I advise you to fall in love." He gave me no smile in response, but drew from his pocket the letter of which I have spoken, held it up, an_hook it solemnly. "What is it?" I asked.
  • "It is my sentence!"
  • "Not of death, I hope!"
  • "Of marriage."
  • "With whom?"
  • "With a person I don't love."
  • This was serious. I stopped smiling, and begged him to explain.
  • "It is the singular part of my story," he said at last. "It will remind you o_n old-fashioned romance. Such as I sit here, talking in this wild way, an_ossing off provocations to destiny, my destiny is settled and sealed. I a_ngaged, I am given in marriage. It's a bequest of the past—the past I had n_and in! The marriage was arranged by my father, years ago, when I was a boy.
  • The young girl's father was his particular friend; he was also a widower, an_as bringing up his daughter, on his side, in the same severe seclusion i_hich I was spending my days. To this day I am unacquainted with the origin o_he bond of union between our respective progenitors. Mr. Vernor was largel_ngaged in business, and I imagine that once upon a time he found himself in _inancial strait and was helped through it by my father's coming forward wit_ heavy loan, on which, in his situation, he could offer no security but hi_ord. Of this my father was quite capable. He was a man of dogmas, and he wa_ure to have a rule of life—as clear as if it had been written out in hi_eautiful copper-plate hand—adapted to the conduct of a gentleman toward _riend in pecuniary embarrassment. What is more, he was sure to adhere to it.
  • Mr. Vernor, I believe, got on his feet, paid his debt, and vowed my father a_ternal gratitude. His little daughter was the apple of his eye, and h_ledged himself to bring her up to be the wife of his benefactor's son. So ou_ate was fixed, parentally, and we have been educated for each other. I hav_ot seen my betrothed since she was a very plain-faced little girl in a stick_inafore, hugging a one-armed doll—of the male sex, I believe—as big a_erself. Mr. Vernor is in what is called the Eastern trade, and has bee_iving these many years at Smyrna. Isabel has grown up there in a white-walle_arden, in an orange grove, between her father and her governess. She is _ood deal my junior; six months ago she was seventeen; when she is eighteen w_re to marry."
  • He related all this calmly enough, without the accent of complaint, dril_ather and doggedly, as if he were weary of thinking of it. "It's a romance, indeed, for these dull days," I said, "and I heartily congratulate you. It'_ot every young man who finds, on reaching the marrying age, a wife kept in _ox of rose-leaves for him. A thousand to one Miss Vernor is charming; _onder you don't post off to Smyrna."
  • "You are joking," he answered, with a wounded air, "and I am terribly serious.
  • Let me tell you the rest. I never suspected this superior conspiracy til_omething less than a year ago. My father, wishing to provide against hi_eath, informed me of it very solemnly. I was neither elated nor depressed; _eceived it, as I remember, with a sort of emotion which varied only in degre_rom that with which I could have hailed the announcement that he had ordere_e a set of new shirts. I supposed that was the way that all marriages wer_ade; I had heard of their being made in heaven, and what was my father but _ivinity? Novels and poems, indeed, talked about falling in love; but novel_nd poems were one thing and life was another. A short time afterwards h_ntroduced me to a photograph of my predestined, who has a pretty, but a_xtremely inanimate, face. After this his health failed rapidly. One night _as sitting, as I habitually sat for hours, in his dimly-lighted room, nea_is bed, to which he had been confined for a week. He had not spoken for som_ime, and I supposed he was asleep; but happening to look at him I saw hi_yes wide open, and fixed on me strangely. He was smiling benignantly, intensely, and in a moment he beckoned to me. Then, on my going to him—'I fee_hat I shall not last long,' he said; 'but I am willing to die when I thin_ow comfortably I have arranged your future.' He was talking of death, an_nything but grief at that moment was doubtless impious and monstrous; bu_here came into my heart for the first time a throbbing sense of being over- governed. I said nothing, and he thought my silence was all sorrow. 'I shal_ot live to see you married,' he went on, 'but since the foundation is laid, that little signifies; it would be a selfish pleasure, and I have neve_hought of myself but in you. To foresee your future, in its main outline, t_now to a certainty that you will be safely domiciled here, with a wif_pproved by my judgment, cultivating the moral fruit of which I have sown th_eed—this will content me. But, my son, I wish to clear this bright visio_rom the shadow of a doubt. I believe in your docility; I believe I may trus_he salutary force of your respect for my memory. But I must remember tha_hen I am removed you will stand here alone, face to face with a hundre_ameless temptations to perversity. The fumes of unrighteous pride may ris_nto your brain and tempt you, in the interest of a vulgar theory which i_ill call your independence, to shatter the edifice I have so laboriousl_onstructed. So I must ask you for a promise—the solemn promise you owe m_ondition.' And he grasped my hand. 'You will follow the path I have marked; you will be faithful to the young girl whom an influence as devoted as tha_hich has governed your own young life has moulded into everything amiable; you will marry Isabel Vernor.' This was pretty 'steep,' as we used to say a_chool. I was frightened; I drew away my hand and asked to be trusted withou_ny such terrible vow. My reluctance startled my father into a suspicion tha_he vulgar theory of independence had already been whispering to me. He sat u_n his bed and looked at me with eyes which seemed to foresee a lifetime o_dious ingratitude. I felt the reproach; I feel it now. I promised! And eve_ow I don't regret my promise nor complain of my father's tenacity. I feel, somehow, as if the seeds of ultimate repose had been sown in thos_nsuspecting years—as if after many days I might gather the mellow fruit. Bu_fter many days! I will keep my promise, I will obey; but I want to LIV_irst!"
  • "My dear fellow, you are living now. All this passionate consciousness of you_ituation is a very ardent life. I wish I could say as much for my own."
  • "I want to forget my situation. I want to spend three months without thinkin_f the past or the future, grasping whatever the present offers me. Yesterda_ thought I was in a fair way to sail with the tide. But this morning come_his memento!" And he held up his letter again.
  • "What is it?"
  • "A letter from Smyrna."
  • "I see you have not yet broken the seal."
  • "No; nor do I mean to, for the present. It contains bad news."
  • "What do you call bad news?"
  • "News that I am expected in Smyrna in three weeks. News that Mr. Verno_isapproves of my roving about the world. News that his daughter is standin_xpectant at the altar."
  • "Is not this pure conjecture?"
  • "Conjecture, possibly, but safe conjecture. As soon as I looked at the lette_omething smote me at the heart. Look at the device on the seal, and I am sur_ou will find it's TARRY NOT!" And he flung the letter on the grass.
  • "Upon my word, you had better open it," I said.
  • "If I were to open it and read my summons, do you know what I should do? _hould march home and ask the Oberkellner how one gets to Smyrna, pack m_runk, take my ticket, and not stop till I arrived. I know I should; it woul_e the fascination of habit. The only way, therefore, to wander to my rope'_nd is to leave the letter unread."
  • "In your place," I said, "curiosity would make me open it."
  • He shook his head. "I have no curiosity! For a long time now the idea of m_arriage has ceased to be a novelty, and I have contemplated it mentally i_very possible light. I fear nothing from that side, but I do fear somethin_rom conscience. I want my hands tied. Will you do me a favour? Pick up th_etter, put it into your pocket, and keep it till I ask you for it. When I do, you may know that I am at my rope's end."
  • I took the letter, smiling. "And how long is your rope to be? The Hombur_eason doesn't last for ever."
  • "Does it last a month? Let that be my season! A month hence you will give i_ack to me."
  • "To-morrow if you say so. Meanwhile, let it rest in peace!" And I consigned i_o the most sacred interstice of my pocket-book. To say that I was disposed t_umour the poor fellow would seem to be saying that I thought his reques_antastic. It was his situation, by no fault of his own, that was fantastic, and he was only trying to be natural. He watched me put away the letter, an_hen it had disappeared gave a soft sigh of relief. The sigh was natural, an_et it set me thinking. His general recoil from an immediate responsibilit_mposed by others might be wholesome enough; but if there was an old grievanc_n one side, was there not possibly a new- born delusion on the other? I_ould be unkind to withhold a reflection that might serve as a warning; so _old him, abruptly, that I had been an undiscovered spectator, the nigh_efore, of his exploits at roulette.
  • He blushed deeply, but he met my eyes with the same clear good- humour.
  • "Ah, then, you saw that wonderful lady?"
  • "Wonderful she was indeed. I saw her afterwards, too, sitting on the terrac_n the starlight. I imagine she was not alone."
  • "No, indeed, I was with her—for nearly an hour. Then I walked home with her."
  • "Ah! And did you go in?"
  • "No, she said it was too late to ask me; though she remarked that in a genera_ay she did not stand upon ceremony."
  • "She did herself injustice. When it came to losing your money for you, sh_ade you insist."
  • "Ah, you noticed that too?" cried Pickering, still quite unconfused. "I fel_s if the whole table were staring at me; but her manner was so gracious an_eassuring that I supposed she was doing nothing unusual. She confessed, however, afterwards, that she is very eccentric. The world began to call he_o, she said, before she ever dreamed of it, and at last finding that she ha_he reputation, in spite of herself, she resolved to enjoy its privileges.
  • Now, she does what she chooses."
  • "In other words, she is a lady with no reputation to lose!"
  • Pickering seemed puzzled; he smiled a little. "Is not that what you say of ba_omen?"
  • "Of some—of those who are found out."
  • "Well," he said, still smiling, "I have not yet found out Madame Blumenthal."
  • "If that's her name, I suppose she's German."
  • "Yes; but she speaks English so well that you wouldn't know it. She is ver_lever. Her husband is dead."
  • I laughed involuntarily at the conjunction of these facts, and Pickering'_lear glance seemed to question my mirth. "You have been so bluntly frank wit_e," I said, "that I too must be frank. Tell me, if you can, whether thi_lever Madame Blumenthal, whose husband is dead, has given a point to you_esire for a suspension of communication with Smyrna."
  • He seemed to ponder my question, unshrinkingly. "I think not," he said, a_ast. "I have had the desire for three months; I have known Madame Blumentha_or less than twenty-four hours."
  • "Very true. But when you found this letter of yours on your place a_reakfast, did you seem for a moment to see Madame Blumenthal sittin_pposite?"
  • "Opposite?"
  • "Opposite, my dear fellow, or anywhere in the neighbourhood. In a word, doe_he interest you?"
  • "Very much!" he cried, joyously.
  • "Amen!" I answered, jumping up with a laugh. "And now, if we are to see th_orld in a month, there is no time to lose. Let us begin with the Hardtwald."
  • Pickering rose, and we strolled away into the forest, talking of lighte_hings. At last we reached the edge of the wood, sat down on a fallen log, an_ooked out across an interval of meadow at the long wooded waves of th_aunus. What my friend was thinking of I can't say; I was meditating on hi_ueer biography, and letting my wonderment wander away to Smyrna. Suddenly _emembered that he possessed a portrait of the young girl who was waiting fo_im there in a white-walled garden. I asked him if he had it with him. He sai_othing, but gravely took out his pocket-book and drew forth a smal_hotograph. It represented, as the poet says, a simple maiden in her flower—_light young girl, with a certain childish roundness of contour. There was n_ase in her posture; she was standing, stiffly and shyly, for her likeness; she wore a short-waisted white dress; her arms hung at her sides and her hand_ere clasped in front; her head was bent downward a little, and her dark eye_ixed. But her awkwardness was as pretty as that of some angular seraph in _ediaeval carving, and in her timid gaze there seemed to lurk the questionin_leam of childhood. "What is this for?" her charming eyes appeared to ask;
  • "why have I been dressed up for this ceremony in a white frock and ambe_eads?"
  • "Gracious powers!" I said to myself; "what an enchanting thing is innocence!"
  • "That portrait was taken a year and a half ago," said Pickering, as if with a_ffort to be perfectly just. "By this time, I suppose, she looks a littl_iser."
  • "Not much, I hope," I said, as I gave it back. "She is very sweet!"
  • "Yes, poor girl, she is very sweet—no doubt!" And he put the thing awa_ithout looking at it.
  • We were silent for some moments. At last, abruptly—"My dear fellow," I said,
  • "I should take some satisfaction in seeing you immediately leave Homburg."
  • "Immediately?"
  • "To-day—as soon as you can get ready."
  • He looked at me, surprised, and little by little he blushed. "There i_omething I have not told you," he said; "something that your saying tha_adame Blumenthal has no reputation to lose has made me half afraid to tel_ou."
  • "I think I can guess it. Madame Blumenthal has asked you to come and play he_ame for her again."
  • "Not at all!" cried Pickering, with a smile of triumph. "She says that sh_eans to play no more for the present. She has asked me to come and take te_ith her this evening."
  • "Ah, then," I said, very gravely, "of course you can't leave Homburg."
  • He answered nothing, but looked askance at me, as if he were expecting me t_augh. "Urge it strongly," he said in a moment. "Say it's my duty—that _UST."
  • I didn't quite understand him, but, feathering the shaft with a harmles_xpletive, I told him that unless he followed my advice I would never speak t_im again.
  • He got up, stood before me, and struck the ground with his stick. "Good!" h_ried; "I wanted an occasion to break a rule—to leap a barrier. Here it is. _tay!"
  • I made him a mock bow for his energy. "That's very fine," I said; "but now, t_ut you in a proper mood for Madame Blumenthal's tea, we will go and listen t_he band play Schubert under the lindens." And we walked back through th_oods.
  • I went to see Pickering the next day, at his inn, and on knocking, a_irected, at his door, was surprised to hear the sound of a loud voice within.
  • My knock remained unnoticed, so I presently introduced myself. I found n_ompany, but I discovered my friend walking up and down the room an_pparently declaiming to himself from a little volume bound in white vellum.
  • He greeted me heartily, threw his book on the table, and said that he wa_aking a German lesson.
  • "And who is your teacher?" I asked, glancing at the book.
  • He rather avoided meeting my eye, as he answered, after an instant's delay,
  • "Madame Blumenthal."
  • "Indeed! Has she written a grammar?"
  • "It's not a grammar; it's a tragedy." And he handed me the book.
  • I opened it, and beheld, in delicate type, with a very large margin, a_istorisches Trauerspiel in five acts, entitled "Cleopatra." There were _reat many marginal corrections and annotations, apparently from the author'_and; the speeches were very long, and there was an inordinate number o_oliloquies by the heroine. One of them, I remember, towards the end of th_lay, began in this fashion -
  • "What, after all, is life but sensation, and sensation but deception?—realit_hat pales before the light of one's dreams as Octavia's dull beauty fade_eside mine? But let me believe in some intenser bliss, and seek it in th_rms of death!"
  • "It seems decidedly passionate," I said. "Has the tragedy ever been acted?"
  • "Never in public; but Madame Blumenthal tells me that she had it played at he_wn house in Berlin, and that she herself undertook the part of the heroine."
  • Pickering's unworldly life had not been of a sort to sharpen his perception o_he ridiculous, but it seemed to me an unmistakable sign of his being unde_he charm, that this information was very soberly offered. He was preoccupied, he was irresponsive to my experimental observations on vulgar topics—the ho_eather, the inn, the advent of Adelina Patti. At last, uttering his thoughts, he announced that Madame Blumenthal had proved to be an extraordinaril_nteresting woman. He seemed to have quite forgotten our long talk in th_artwaldt, and betrayed no sense of this being a confession that he had take_is plunge and was floating with the current. He only remembered that I ha_poken slightingly of the lady, and he now hinted that it behoved me to amen_y opinion. I had received the day before so strong an impression of a sort o_piritual fastidiousness in my friend's nature, that on hearing now th_triking of a new hour, as it were, in his consciousness, and observing ho_he echoes of the past were immediately quenched in its music, I said t_yself that it had certainly taken a delicate hand to wind up that fin_achine. No doubt Madame Blumenthal was a clever woman. It is a good Germa_ustom at Homburg to spend the hour preceding dinner in listening to th_rchestra in the Kurgarten; Mozart and Beethoven, for organisms in which th_nterfusion of soul and sense is peculiarly mysterious, are a vigorou_timulus to the appetite. Pickering and I conformed, as we had done the da_efore, to the fashion, and when we were seated under the trees, he began t_xpatiate on his friend's merits.
  • "I don't know whether she is eccentric or not," he said; "to me every on_eems eccentric, and it's not for me, yet a while, to measure people by m_arrow precedents. I never saw a gaming table in my life before, and suppose_hat a gambler was of necessity some dusky villain with an evil eye. I_ermany, says Madame Blumenthal, people play at roulette as they play a_illiards, and her own venerable mother originally taught her the rules of th_ame. It is a recognised source of subsistence for decent people with smal_eans. But I confess Madame Blumenthal might do worse things than play a_oulette, and yet make them harmonious and beautiful. I have never been in th_abit of thinking positive beauty the most excellent thing in a woman. I hav_lways said to myself that if my heart were ever to be captured it would be b_ sort of general grace—a sweetness of motion and tone—on which one coul_ount for soothing impressions, as one counts on a musical instrument that i_erfectly in tune. Madame Blumenthal has it—this grace that soothes an_atisfies; and it seems the more perfect that it keeps order and harmony in _haracter really passionately ardent and active. With her eager nature and he_nnumerable accomplishments nothing would be easier than that she should see_estless and aggressive. You will know her, and I leave you to judge whethe_he does seem so! She has every gift, and culture has done everything fo_ach. What goes on in her mind I of course can't say; what reaches th_bserver—the admirer—is simply a sort of fragrant emanation of intelligenc_nd sympathy."
  • "Madame Blumenthal," I said, smiling, "might be the loveliest woman in th_orld, and you the object of her choicest favours, and yet what I should mos_nvy you would be, not your peerless friend, but your beautiful imagination."
  • "That's a polite way of calling me a fool," said Pickering. "You are _ceptic, a cynic, a satirist! I hope I shall be a long time coming to that."
  • "You will make the journey fast if you travel by express trains. But pray tel_e, have you ventured to intimate to Madame Blumenthal your high opinion o_er?"
  • "I don't know what I may have said. She listens even better than she talks, and I think it possible I may have made her listen to a great deal o_onsense. For after the first few words I exchanged with her I was consciou_f an extraordinary evaporation of all my old diffidence. I have, in truth, _uppose," he added in a moment, "owing to my peculiar circumstances, a grea_ccumulated fund of unuttered things of all sorts to get rid of. Last evening, sitting there before that charming woman, they came swarming to my lips. Ver_ikely I poured them all out. I have a sense of having enshrouded myself in _ort of mist of talk, and of seeing her lovely eyes shining through i_pposite to me, like fog-lamps at sea." And here, if I remember rightly, Pickering broke off into an ardent parenthesis, and declared that Madam_lumenthal's eyes had something in them that he had never seen in any others.
  • "It was a jumble of crudities and inanities," he went on; "they must hav_eemed to her great rubbish; but I felt the wiser and the stronger, somehow, for having fired off all my guns—they could hurt nobody now if they hit- -an_ imagine I might have gone far without finding another woman in whom such a_xhibition would have provoked so little of mere cold amusement."
  • "Madame Blumenthal, on the contrary," I surmised, "entered into your situatio_ith warmth."
  • "Exactly so—the greatest! She has felt and suffered, and now she understands!"
  • "She told you, I imagine, that she understood you as if she had made you, an_he offered to be your guide, philosopher, and friend."
  • "She spoke to me," Pickering answered, after a pause, "as I had never bee_poken to before, and she offered me, formally, all the offices of a woman'_riendship."
  • "Which you as formally accepted?"
  • "To you the scene sounds absurd, I suppose, but allow me to say I don't care!"
  • Pickering spoke with an air of genial defiance which was the most inoffensiv_hing in the world. "I was very much moved; I was, in fact, very much excited.
  • I tried to say something, but I couldn't; I had had plenty to say before, bu_ow I stammered and bungled, and at last I bolted out of the room."
  • "Meanwhile she had dropped her tragedy into your pocket!"
  • "Not at all. I had seen it on the table before she came in. Afterwards sh_indly offered to read German aloud with me, for the accent, two or thre_imes a week. 'What shall we begin with?' she asked. 'With this!' I said, an_eld up the book. And she let me take it to look it over."
  • I was neither a cynic nor a satirist, but even if I had been, I might hav_een disarmed by Pickering's assurance, before we parted, that Madam_lumenthal wished to know me and expected him to introduce me. Among th_oolish things which, according to his own account, he had uttered, were som_enerous words in my praise, to which she had civilly replied. I confess I wa_urious to see her, but I begged that the introduction should not b_mmediate, for I wished to let Pickering work out his destiny alone. For som_ays I saw little of him, though we met at the Kursaal and strolle_ccasionally in the park. I watched, in spite of my desire to let him alone, for the signs and portents of the world's action upon him—of that portion o_he world, in especial, of which Madame Blumenthal had constituted herself th_gent. He seemed very happy, and gave me in a dozen ways an impression o_ncreased self-confidence and maturity. His mind was admirably active, an_lways, after a quarter of an hour's talk with him, I asked myself wha_xperience could really do, that innocence had not done, to make it bright an_ine. I was struck with his deep enjoyment of the whole spectacle of foreig_ife—its novelty, its picturesqueness, its light and shade—and with th_nfinite freedom with which he felt he could go and come and rove and linge_nd observe it all. It was an expansion, an awakening, a coming to mora_anhood. Each time I met him he spoke a little less of Madame Blumenthal; bu_e let me know generally that he saw her often, and continued to admire her. _as forced to admit to myself, in spite of preconceptions, that if she wer_eally the ruling star of this happy season, she must be a very superio_oman. Pickering had the air of an ingenuous young philosopher sitting at th_eet of an austere muse, and not of a sentimental spendthrift dangling abou_ome supreme incarnation of levity.