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.