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Chapter 3

  • That evening at dinner Felix Young gave his sister, the Baroness Munster, a_ccount of his impressions. She saw that he had come back in the highes_ossible spirits; but this fact, to her own mind, was not a reason fo_ejoicing. She had but a limited confidence in her brother's judgment; hi_apacity for taking rose-colored views was such as to vulgarize one of th_rettiest of tints. Still, she supposed he could be trusted to give her th_ere facts; and she invited him with some eagerness to communicate them. "_uppose, at least, they did n't turn you out from the door;" she said. "Yo_ave been away some ten hours."
  • "Turn me from the door!" Felix exclaimed. "They took me to their hearts; the_illed the fatted calf."
  • "I know what you want to say: they are a collection of angels."
  • "Exactly," said Felix. "They are a collection of angels—simply."
  • "C'est bien vague," remarked the Baroness. "What are they like?"
  • "Like nothing you ever saw."
  • "I am sure I am much obliged; but that is hardly more definite. Seriously, they were glad to see you?"
  • "Enchanted. It has been the proudest day of my life. Never, never have I bee_o lionized! I assure you, I was cock of the walk. My dear sister," said th_oung man, "nous n'avons qu'a nous tenir; we shall be great swells!"
  • Madame Munster looked at him, and her eye exhibited a slight responsive spark.
  • She touched her lips to a glass of wine, and then she said, "Describe them.
  • Give me a picture."
  • Felix drained his own glass. "Well, it 's in the country, among the meadow_nd woods; a wild sort of place, and yet not far from here. Only, such a road, my dear! Imagine one of the Alpine glaciers reproduced in mud. But you wil_ot spend much time on it, for they want you to come and stay, once for all."
  • "Ah," said the Baroness, "they want me to come and stay, once for all? Bon."
  • "It 's intensely rural, tremendously natural; and all overhung with thi_trange white light, this far-away blue sky. There 's a big wooden house—_ind of three-story bungalow; it looks like a magnified Nuremberg toy. Ther_as a gentleman there that made a speech to me about it and called it a
  • 'venerable mansion;' but it looks as if it had been built last night."
  • "Is it handsome—is it elegant?" asked the Baroness.
  • Felix looked at her a moment, smiling. "It 's very clean! No splendors, n_ilding, no troops of servants; rather straight-backed chairs. But you migh_at off the floors, and you can sit down on the stairs."
  • "That must be a privilege. And the inhabitants are straight-backed too, o_ourse."
  • "My dear sister," said Felix, "the inhabitants are charming."
  • "In what style?"
  • "In a style of their own. How shall I describe it? It 's primitive; it '_atriarchal; it 's the ton of the golden age."
  • "And have they nothing golden but their ton? Are there no symptoms of wealth?"
  • "I should say there was wealth without symptoms. A plain, homely way of life: nothing for show, and very little for—what shall I call it?—for the senses: but a great faisance, and a lot of money, out of sight, that comes forwar_ery quietly for subscriptions to institutions, for repairing tenements, fo_aying doctor's bills; perhaps even for portioning daughters."
  • "And the daughters?" Madame Munster demanded. "How many are there?"
  • "There are two, Charlotte and Gertrude."
  • "Are they pretty?"
  • "One of them," said Felix.
  • "Which is that?"
  • The young man was silent, looking at his sister. "Charlotte," he said at last.
  • She looked at him in return. "I see. You are in love with Gertrude. They mus_e Puritans to their finger-tips; anything but gay!"
  • "No, they are not gay," Felix admitted. "They are sober; they are even severe.
  • They are of a pensive cast; they take things hard. I think there is somethin_he matter with them; they have some melancholy memory or some depressin_xpectation. It 's not the epicurean temperament. My uncle, Mr. Wentworth, i_ tremendously high-toned old fellow; he looks as if he were undergoin_artyrdom, not by fire, but by freezing. But we shall cheer them up; we shal_o them good. They will take a good deal of stirring up; but they ar_onderfully kind and gentle. And they are appreciative. They think one clever; they think one remarkable!"
  • "That is very fine, so far as it goes," said the Baroness. "But are we to b_hut up to these three people, Mr. Wentworth and the two young women—what di_ou say their names were—Deborah and Hephzibah?"
  • "Oh, no; there is another little girl, a cousin of theirs, a very prett_reature; a thorough little American. And then there is the son of the house."
  • "Good!" said the Baroness. "We are coming to the gentlemen. What of the son o_he house?"
  • "I am afraid he gets tipsy."
  • "He, then, has the epicurean temperament! How old is he?"
  • "He is a boy of twenty; a pretty young fellow, but I am afraid he has vulga_astes. And then there is Mr. Brand—a very tall young man, a sort of lay- priest. They seem to think a good deal of him, but I don't exactly make hi_ut."
  • "And is there nothing," asked the Baroness, "between these extremes—thi_ysterious ecclesiastic and that intemperate youth?"
  • "Oh, yes, there is Mr. Acton. I think," said the young man, with a nod at hi_ister, "that you will like Mr. Acton."
  • "Remember that I am very fastidious," said the Baroness. "Has he very goo_anners?"
  • "He will have them with you. He is a man of the world; he has been to China."
  • Madame Munster gave a little laugh. "A man of the Chinese world! He must b_ery interesting."
  • "I have an idea that he brought home a fortune," said Felix.
  • "That is always interesting. Is he young, good-looking, clever?"
  • "He is less than forty; he has a baldish head; he says witty things. I rathe_hink," added the young man, "that he will admire the Baroness Munster."
  • "It is very possible," said this lady. Her brother never knew how she woul_ake things; but shortly afterwards she declared that he had made a ver_retty description and that on the morrow she would go and see for herself.
  • They mounted, accordingly, into a great barouche—a vehicle as to which th_aroness found nothing to criticise but the price that was asked for it an_he fact that the coachman wore a straw hat. (At Silberstadt Madame Munste_ad had liveries of yellow and crimson.) They drove into the country, and th_aroness, leaning far back and swaying her lace-fringed parasol, looked t_ight and to left and surveyed the way-side objects. After a while sh_ronounced them "affreux." Her brother remarked that it was apparently _ountry in which the foreground was inferior to the plans recules: and th_aroness rejoined that the landscape seemed to be all foreground. Felix ha_ixed with his new friends the hour at which he should bring his sister; i_as four o'clock in the afternoon. The large, clean-faced house wore, to hi_yes, as the barouche drove up to it, a very friendly aspect; the high, slender elms made lengthening shadows in front of it. The Baroness descended; her American kinsfolk were stationed in the portico. Felix waved his hat t_hem, and a tall, lean gentleman, with a high forehead and a clean shave_ace, came forward toward the garden gate. Charlotte Wentworth walked at hi_ide. Gertrude came behind, more slowly. Both of these young ladies wor_ustling silk dresses. Felix ushered his sister into the gate. "Be ver_racious," he said to her. But he saw the admonition was superfluous. Eugeni_as prepared to be gracious as only Eugenia could be. Felix knew no keene_leasure than to be able to admire his sister unrestrictedly; for if th_pportunity was frequent, it was not inveterate. When she desired to pleas_he was to him, as to every one else, the most charming woman in the world.
  • Then he forgot that she was ever anything else; that she was sometimes har_nd perverse; that he was occasionally afraid of her. Now, as she took his ar_o pass into the garden, he felt that she desired, that she proposed, t_lease, and this situation made him very happy. Eugenia would please.
  • The tall gentleman came to meet her, looking very rigid and grave. But it wa_ rigidity that had no illiberal meaning. Mr. Wentworth's manner was pregnant, on the contrary, with a sense of grand responsibility, of the solemnity of th_ccasion, of its being difficult to show sufficient deference to a lady a_nce so distinguished and so unhappy. Felix had observed on the day before hi_haracteristic pallor; and now he perceived that there was something almos_adaverous in his uncle's high-featured white face. But so clever were thi_oung man's quick sympathies and perceptions that he already learned that i_hese semi-mortuary manifestations there was no cause for alarm. His ligh_magination had gained a glimpse of Mr. Wentworth's spiritual mechanism, an_aught him that, the old man being infinitely conscientious, the specia_peration of conscience within him announced itself by several of th_ndications of physical faintness.
  • The Baroness took her uncle's hand, and stood looking at him with her ugl_ace and her beautiful smile. "Have I done right to come?" she asked.
  • "Very right, very right," said Mr. Wentworth, solemnly. He had arranged in hi_ind a little speech; but now it quite faded away. He felt almost frightened.
  • He had never been looked at in just that way—with just that fixed, intens_mile—by any woman; and it perplexed and weighed upon him, now, that the woma_ho was smiling so and who had instantly given him a vivid sense of he_ossessing other unprecedented attributes, was his own niece, the child of hi_wn father's daughter. The idea that his niece should be a German Baroness, married "morganatically" to a Prince, had already given him much to thin_bout. Was it right, was it just, was it acceptable? He always slept badly, and the night before he had lain awake much more even than usual, askin_imself these questions. The strange word "morganatic" was constantly in hi_ars; it reminded him of a certain Mrs. Morgan whom he had once known and wh_ad been a bold, unpleasant woman. He had a feeling that it was his duty, s_ong as the Baroness looked at him, smiling in that way, to meet her glanc_ith his own scrupulously adjusted, consciously frigid organs of vision; bu_n this occasion he failed to perform his duty to the last. He looked awa_oward his daughters. "We are very glad to see you," he had said. "Allow me t_ntroduce my daughters—Miss Charlotte Wentworth, Miss Gertrude Wentworth."
  • The Baroness thought she had never seen people less demonstrative. Bu_harlotte kissed her and took her hand, looking at her sweetly and solemnly.
  • Gertrude seemed to her almost funereal, though Gertrude might have found _ource of gayety in the fact that Felix, with his magnificent smile, had bee_alking to her; he had greeted her as a very old friend. When she kissed th_aroness she had tears in her eyes. Madame Munster took each of these youn_omen by the hand, and looked at them all over. Charlotte thought her ver_trange-looking and singularly dressed; she could not have said whether it wa_ell or ill. She was glad, at any rate, that they had put on their sil_owns—especially Gertrude. "My cousins are very pretty," said the Baroness, turning her eyes from one to the other. "Your daughters are very handsome, sir."
  • Charlotte blushed quickly; she had never yet heard her personal appearanc_lluded to in a loud, expressive voice. Gertrude looked away—not at Felix; sh_as extremely pleased. It was not the compliment that pleased her; she did no_elieve it; she thought herself very plain. She could hardly have told you th_ource of her satisfaction; it came from something in the way the Barones_poke, and it was not diminished—it was rather deepened, oddly enough—by th_oung girl's disbelief. Mr. Wentworth was silent; and then he asked, formally,
  • "Won't you come into the house?"
  • "These are not all; you have some other children," said the Baroness.
  • "I have a son," Mr. Wentworth answered.
  • "And why does n't he come to meet me?" Eugenia cried. "I am afraid he is no_o charming as his sisters."
  • "I don't know; I will see about it," the old man declared.
  • "He is rather afraid of ladies," Charlotte said, softly.
  • "He is very handsome," said Gertrude, as loud as she could.
  • "We will go in and find him. We will draw him out of his cachette." And th_aroness took Mr. Wentworth's arm, who was not aware that he had offered it t_er, and who, as they walked toward the house, wondered whether he ought t_ave offered it and whether it was proper for her to take it if it had no_een offered. "I want to know you well," said the Baroness, interrupting thes_editations, "and I want you to know me."
  • "It seems natural that we should know each other," Mr. Wentworth rejoined. "W_re near relatives."
  • "Ah, there comes a moment in life when one reverts, irresistibly, to one'_atural ties—to one's natural affections. You must have found that!" sai_ugenia.
  • Mr. Wentworth had been told the day before by Felix that Eugenia was ver_lever, very brilliant, and the information had held him in some suspense.
  • This was the cleverness, he supposed; the brilliancy was beginning. "Yes, th_atural affections are very strong," he murmured.
  • "In some people," the Baroness declared. "Not in all." Charlotte was walkin_eside her; she took hold of her hand again, smiling always. "And you, cousine, where did you get that enchanting complexion?" she went on; "suc_ilies and roses?" The roses in poor Charlotte's countenance began speedily t_redominate over the lilies, and she quickened her step and reached th_ortico. "This is the country of complexions," the Baroness continued, addressing herself to Mr. Wentworth. "I am convinced they are more delicate.
  • There are very good ones in England—in Holland; but they are very apt to b_oarse. There is too much red."
  • "I think you will find," said Mr. Wentworth, "that this country is superior i_any respects to those you mention. I have been to England and Holland."
  • "Ah, you have been to Europe?" cried the Baroness. "Why did n't you come an_ee me? But it 's better, after all, this way," she said. They were enterin_he house; she paused and looked round her. "I see you have arranged you_ouse—your beautiful house—in the—in the Dutch taste!"
  • "The house is very old," remarked Mr. Wentworth. "General Washington onc_pent a week here."
  • "Oh, I have heard of Washington," cried the Baroness. "My father used to tel_e of him."
  • Mr. Wentworth was silent a moment, and then, "I found he was very well know_n Europe," he said.
  • Felix had lingered in the garden with Gertrude; he was standing before her an_miling, as he had done the day before. What had happened the day befor_eemed to her a kind of dream. He had been there and he had change_verything; the others had seen him, they had talked with him; but that h_hould come again, that he should be part of the future, part of her small, familiar, much-meditating life—this needed, afresh, the evidence of he_enses. The evidence had come to her senses now; and her senses seemed t_ejoice in it. "What do you think of Eugenia?" Felix asked. "Is n't sh_harming?"
  • "She is very brilliant," said Gertrude. "But I can't tell yet. She seems to m_ike a singer singing an air. You can't tell till the song is done."
  • "Ah, the song will never be done!" exclaimed the young man, laughing. "Don'_ou think her handsome?"
  • Gertrude had been disappointed in the beauty of the Baroness Munster; she ha_xpected her, for mysterious reasons, to resemble a very pretty portrait o_he Empress Josephine, of which there hung an engraving in one of the parlors, and which the younger Miss Wentworth had always greatly admired. But th_aroness was not at all like that—not at all. Though different, however, sh_as very wonderful, and Gertrude felt herself most suggestively corrected. I_as strange, nevertheless, that Felix should speak in that positive way abou_is sister's beauty. "I think I shall think her handsome," Gertrude said. "I_ust be very interesting to know her. I don't feel as if I ever could."
  • "Ah, you will know her well; you will become great friends," Felix declared, as if this were the easiest thing in the world.
  • "She is very graceful," said Gertrude, looking after the Baroness, suspende_o her father's arm. It was a pleasure to her to say that any one wa_raceful.
  • Felix had been looking about him. "And your little cousin, of yesterday," h_aid, "who was so wonderfully pretty—what has become of her?"
  • "She is in the parlor," Gertrude answered. "Yes, she is very pretty." She fel_s if it were her duty to take him straight into the house, to where he migh_e near her cousin. But after hesitating a moment she lingered still. "I di_'t believe you would come back," she said.
  • "Not come back!" cried Felix, laughing. "You did n't know, then, th_mpression made upon this susceptible heart of mine."
  • She wondered whether he meant the impression her cousin Lizzie had made.
  • "Well," she said, "I did n't think we should ever see you again."
  • "And pray what did you think would become of me?"
  • "I don't know. I thought you would melt away."
  • "That 's a compliment to my solidity! I melt very often," said Felix, "bu_here is always something left of me."
  • "I came and waited for you by the door, because the others did," Gertrude wen_n. "But if you had never appeared I should not have been surprised."
  • "I hope," declared Felix, looking at her, "that you would have bee_isappointed."
  • She looked at him a little, and shook her head. "No—no!"
  • "Ah, par exemple!" cried the young man. "You deserve that I should never leav_ou."
  • Going into the parlor they found Mr. Wentworth performing introductions. _oung man was standing before the Baroness, blushing a good deal, laughing _ittle, and shifting his weight from one foot to the other—a slim, mild-face_oung man, with neatly-arranged features, like those of Mr. Wentworth. Tw_ther gentlemen, behind him, had risen from their seats, and a little apart, near one of the windows, stood a remarkably pretty young girl. The young gir_as knitting a stocking; but, while her fingers quickly moved, she looked wit_ide, brilliant eyes at the Baroness.
  • "And what is your son's name?" said Eugenia, smiling at the young man.
  • "My name is Clifford Wentworth, ma'am," he said in a tremulous voice.
  • "Why did n't you come out to meet me, Mr. Clifford Wentworth?" the Barones_emanded, with her beautiful smile.
  • "I did n't think you would want me," said the young man, slowly sidling about.
  • "One always wants a beau cousin,—if one has one! But if you are very nice t_e in future I won't remember it against you." And Madame M; auunste_ransferred her smile to the other persons present. It rested first upon th_andid countenance and long-skirted figure of Mr. Brand, whose eyes wer_ntently fixed upon Mr. Wentworth, as if to beg him not to prolong a_nomalous situation. Mr. Wentworth pronounced his name. Eugenia gave him _ery charming glance, and then looked at the other gentleman.
  • This latter personage was a man of rather less than the usual stature and th_sual weight, with a quick, observant, agreeable dark eye, a small quantity o_hin dark hair, and a small mustache. He had been standing with his hands i_is pockets; and when Eugenia looked at him he took them out. But he did not, like Mr. Brand, look evasively and urgently at their host. He met Eugenia'_yes; he appeared to appreciate the privilege of meeting them. Madame Munste_nstantly felt that he was, intrinsically, the most important person present.
  • She was not unconscious that this impression was in some degree manifested i_he little sympathetic nod with which she acknowledged Mr. Wentworth'_nnouncement, "My cousin, Mr. Acton!"
  • "Your cousin—not mine?" said the Baroness.
  • "It only depends upon you," Mr. Acton declared, laughing.
  • The Baroness looked at him a moment, and noticed that he had very white teeth.
  • "Let it depend upon your behavior," she said. "I think I had better wait. _ave cousins enough. Unless I can also claim relationship," she added, "wit_hat charming young lady," and she pointed to the young girl at the window.
  • "That 's my sister," said Mr. Acton. And Gertrude Wentworth put her arm roun_he young girl and led her forward. It was not, apparently, that she neede_uch leading. She came toward the Baroness with a light, quick step, and wit_erfect self-possession, rolling her stocking round its needles. She had dar_lue eyes and dark brown hair; she was wonderfully pretty.
  • Eugenia kissed her, as she had kissed the other young women, and then held he_ff a little, looking at her. "Now this is quite another type," she said; sh_ronounced the word in the French manner. "This is a different outline, m_ncle, a different character, from that of your own daughters. This, Felix,"
  • she went on, "is very much more what we have always thought of as the America_ype."
  • The young girl, during this exposition, was smiling askance at every one i_urn, and at Felix out of turn. "I find only one type here!" cried Felix, laughing. "The type adorable!"
  • This sally was received in perfect silence, but Felix, who learned all thing_uickly, had already learned that the silences frequently observed among hi_ew acquaintances were not necessarily restrictive or resentful. It was, a_ne might say, the silence of expectation, of modesty. They were all standin_ound his sister, as if they were expecting her to acquit herself of th_xhibition of some peculiar faculty, some brilliant talent. Their attitud_eemed to imply that she was a kind of conversational mountebank, attired, intellectually, in gauze and spangles. This attitude gave a certain ironica_orce to Madame Munster's next words. "Now this is your circle," she said t_er uncle. "This is your salon. These are your regular habitu; aaes, eh? I a_o glad to see you all together."
  • "Oh," said Mr. Wentworth, "they are always dropping in and out. You must d_he same."
  • "Father," interposed Charlotte Wentworth, "they must do something more." An_he turned her sweet, serious face, that seemed at once timid and placid, upo_heir interesting visitor. "What is your name?" she asked.
  • "Eugenia-Camilla-Dolores," said the Baroness, smiling. "But you need n't sa_ll that."
  • "I will say Eugenia, if you will let me. You must come and stay with us."
  • The Baroness laid her hand upon Charlotte's arm very tenderly; but sh_eserved herself. She was wondering whether it would be possible to "stay"
  • with these people. "It would be very charming—very charming," she said; an_er eyes wandered over the company, over the room. She wished to gain tim_efore committing herself. Her glance fell upon young Mr. Brand, who stoo_here, with his arms folded and his hand on his chin, looking at her. "Th_entleman, I suppose, is a sort of ecclesiastic," she said to Mr. Wentworth, lowering her voice a little.
  • "He is a minister," answered Mr. Wentworth.
  • "A Protestant?" asked Eugenia.
  • "I am a Unitarian, madam," replied Mr. Brand, impressively.
  • "Ah, I see," said Eugenia. "Something new." She had never heard of this for_f worship.
  • Mr. Acton began to laugh, and Gertrude looked anxiously at Mr. Brand.
  • "You have come very far," said Mr. Wentworth.
  • "Very far—very far," the Baroness replied, with a graceful shake of her head—_hake that might have meant many different things.
  • "That 's a reason why you ought to settle down with us," said Mr. Wentworth, with that dryness of utterance which, as Eugenia was too intelligent not t_eel, took nothing from the delicacy of his meaning.
  • She looked at him, and for an instant, in his cold, still face, she seemed t_ee a far-away likeness to the vaguely remembered image of her mother. Eugeni_as a woman of sudden emotions, and now, unexpectedly, she felt one rising i_er heart. She kept looking round the circle; she knew that there wa_dmiration in all the eyes that were fixed upon her. She smiled at them all.
  • "I came to look—to try—to ask," she said. "It seems to me I have done well. _m very tired; I want to rest." There were tears in her eyes. The luminou_nterior, the gentle, tranquil people, the simple, serious life—the sense o_hese things pressed upon her with an overmastering force, and she fel_erself yielding to one of the most genuine emotions she had ever known. "_hould like to stay here," she said. "Pray take me in."
  • Though she was smiling, there were tears in her voice as well as in her eyes.
  • "My dear niece," said Mr. Wentworth, softly. And Charlotte put out her arm_nd drew the Baroness toward her; while Robert Acton turned away, with hi_ands stealing into his pockets.