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Chapter 5

  • Mr. Wentworth, with his cane and his gloves in his hand, went every afternoo_o call upon his niece. A couple of hours later she came over to the grea_ouse to tea. She had let the proposal that she should regularly dine ther_all to the ground; she was in the enjoyment of whatever satisfaction was t_e derived from the spectacle of an old negress in a crimson turban shellin_eas under the apple-trees. Charlotte, who had provided the ancient negress, thought it must be a strange household, Eugenia having told her that Augustin_anaged everything, the ancient negress included—Augustine who was naturall_evoid of all acquaintance with the expurgatory English tongue. By far th_ost immoral sentiment which I shall have occasion to attribute to Charlott_entworth was a certain emotion of disappointment at finding that, in spite o_hese irregular conditions, the domestic arrangements at the small house wer_pparently not—from Eugenia's peculiar point of view—strikingly offensive. Th_aroness found it amusing to go to tea; she dressed as if for dinner. The tea- table offered an anomalous and picturesque repast; and on leaving it they al_at and talked in the large piazza, or wandered about the garden in th_tarlight, with their ears full of those sounds of strange insects which, though they are supposed to be, all over the world, a part of the magic o_ummer nights, seemed to the Baroness to have beneath these western skies a_ncomparable resonance.
  • Mr. Wentworth, though, as I say, he went punctiliously to call upon her, wa_ot able to feel that he was getting used to his niece. It taxed hi_magination to believe that she was really his half-sister's child. His siste_as a figure of his early years; she had been only twenty when she wen_broad, never to return, making in foreign parts a willful and undesirabl_arriage. His aunt, Mrs. Whiteside, who had taken her to Europe for th_enefit of the tour, gave, on her return, so lamentable an account of Mr.
  • Adolphus Young, to whom the headstrong girl had united her destiny, that i_perated as a chill upon family feeling—especially in the case of the half- brothers. Catherine had done nothing subsequently to propitiate her family; she had not even written to them in a way that indicated a lucid appreciatio_f their suspended sympathy; so that it had become a tradition in Bosto_ircles that the highest charity, as regards this young lady, was to think i_ell to forget her, and to abstain from conjecture as to the extent to whic_er aberrations were reproduced in her descendants. Over these young people—_ague report of their existence had come to his ears—Mr. Wentworth had not, i_he course of years, allowed his imagination to hover. It had plenty o_ccupation nearer home, and though he had many cares upon his conscience th_dea that he had been an unnatural uncle was, very properly, never among th_umber. Now that his nephew and niece had come before him, he perceived tha_hey were the fruit of influences and circumstances very different from thos_nder which his own familiar progeny had reached a vaguely-qualified maturity.
  • He felt no provocation to say that these influences had been exerted for evil; but he was sometimes afraid that he should not be able to like hi_istinguished, delicate, lady-like niece. He was paralyzed and bewildered b_er foreignness. She spoke, somehow, a different language. There was somethin_trange in her words. He had a feeling that another man, in his place, woul_ccommodate himself to her tone; would ask her questions and joke with her, reply to those pleasantries of her own which sometimes seemed startling a_ddressed to an uncle. But Mr. Wentworth could not do these things. He coul_ot even bring himself to attempt to measure her position in the world. Sh_as the wife of a foreign nobleman who desired to repudiate her. This had _ingular sound, but the old man felt himself destitute of the materials for _udgment. It seemed to him that he ought to find them in his own experience, as a man of the world and an almost public character; but they were not there, and he was ashamed to confess to himself—much more to reveal to Eugenia b_nterrogations possibly too innocent—the unfurnished condition of thi_epository.
  • It appeared to him that he could get much nearer, as he would have said, t_is nephew; though he was not sure that Felix was altogether safe. He was s_right and handsome and talkative that it was impossible not to think well o_im; and yet it seemed as if there were something almost impudent, almos_icious—or as if there ought to be—in a young man being at once so joyous an_o positive. It was to be observed that while Felix was not at all a seriou_oung man there was somehow more of him—he had more weight and volume an_esonance—than a number of young men who were distinctly serious. While Mr.
  • Wentworth meditated upon this anomaly his nephew was admiring hi_nrestrictedly. He thought him a most delicate, generous, high-toned ol_entleman, with a very handsome head, of the ascetic type, which he promise_imself the profit of sketching. Felix was far from having made a secret o_he fact that he wielded the paint-brush, and it was not his own fault if i_ailed to be generally understood that he was prepared to execute the mos_triking likenesses on the most reasonable terms. "He is an artist—my cousi_s an artist," said Gertrude; and she offered this information to every on_ho would receive it. She offered it to herself, as it were, by way o_dmonition and reminder; she repeated to herself at odd moments, in lonel_laces, that Felix was invested with this sacred character. Gertrude had neve_een an artist before; she had only read about such people. They seemed to he_ romantic and mysterious class, whose life was made up of those agreeabl_ccidents that never happened to other persons. And it merely quickened he_editations on this point that Felix should declare, as he repeatedly did, that he was really not an artist. "I have never gone into the thin_eriously," he said. "I have never studied; I have had no training. I do _ittle of everything, and nothing well. I am only an amateur."
  • It pleased Gertrude even more to think that he was an amateur than to thin_hat he was an artist; the former word, to her fancy, had an even subtle_onnotation. She knew, however, that it was a word to use more soberly. Mr.
  • Wentworth used it freely; for though he had not been exactly familiar with it, he found it convenient as a help toward classifying Felix, who, as a young ma_xtremely clever and active and apparently respectable and yet not engaged i_ny recognized business, was an importunate anomaly. Of course the Barones_nd her brother—she was always spoken of first—were a welcome topic o_onversation between Mr. Wentworth and his daughters and their occasiona_isitors.
  • "And the young man, your nephew, what is his profession?" asked an ol_entleman—Mr. Broderip, of Salem—who had been Mr. Wentworth's classmate a_arvard College in the year 1809, and who came into his office in Devonshir_treet. (Mr. Wentworth, in his later years, used to go but three times a wee_o his office, where he had a large amount of highly confidential trust- business to transact.)
  • "Well, he 's an amateur," said Felix's uncle, with folded hands, and with _ertain satisfaction in being able to say it. And Mr. Broderip had gone bac_o Salem with a feeling that this was probably a "European" expression for _roker or a grain exporter.
  • "I should like to do your head, sir," said Felix to his uncle one evening, before them all—Mr. Brand and Robert Acton being also present. "I think _hould make a very fine thing of it. It 's an interesting head; it 's ver_ediaeval."
  • Mr. Wentworth looked grave; he felt awkwardly, as if all the company had com_n and found him standing before the looking-glass. "The Lord made it," h_aid. "I don't think it is for man to make it over again."
  • "Certainly the Lord made it," replied Felix, laughing, "and he made it ver_ell. But life has been touching up the work. It is a very interesting type o_ead. It 's delightfully wasted and emaciated. The complexion is wonderfull_leached." And Felix looked round at the circle, as if to call their attentio_o these interesting points. Mr. Wentworth grew visibly paler. "I should lik_o do you as an old prelate, an old cardinal, or the prior of an order."
  • "A prelate, a cardinal?" murmured Mr. Wentworth. "Do you refer to the Roma_atholic priesthood?"
  • "I mean an old ecclesiastic who should have led a very pure, abstinent life.
  • Now I take it that has been the case with you, sir; one sees it in your face,"
  • Felix proceeded. "You have been very—a very moderate. Don't you think on_lways sees that in a man's face?"
  • "You see more in a man's face than I should think of looking for," said Mr.
  • Wentworth coldly.
  • The Baroness rattled her fan, and gave her brilliant laugh. "It is a risk t_ook so close!" she exclaimed. "My uncle has some peccadilloes on hi_onscience." Mr. Wentworth looked at her, painfully at a loss; and in so fa_s the signs of a pure and abstinent life were visible in his face they wer_hen probably peculiarly manifest. "You are a beau vieillard, dear uncle,"
  • said Madame M; auunster, smiling with her foreign eyes.
  • "I think you are paying me a compliment," said the old man.
  • "Surely, I am not the first woman that ever did so!" cried the Baroness.
  • "I think you are," said Mr. Wentworth gravely. And turning to Felix he added, in the same tone, "Please don't take my likeness. My children have m_aguerreotype. That is quite satisfactory."
  • "I won't promise," said Felix, "not to work your head into something!"
  • Mr. Wentworth looked at him and then at all the others; then he got up an_lowly walked away.
  • "Felix," said Gertrude, in the silence that followed, "I wish you would pain_y portrait."
  • Charlotte wondered whether Gertrude was right in wishing this; and she looke_t Mr. Brand as the most legitimate way of ascertaining. Whatever Gertrude di_r said, Charlotte always looked at Mr. Brand. It was a standing pretext fo_ooking at Mr. Brand—always, as Charlotte thought, in the interest o_ertrude's welfare. It is true that she felt a tremulous interest in Gertrud_eing right; for Charlotte, in her small, still way, was an heroic sister.
  • "We should be glad to have your portrait, Miss Gertrude," said Mr. Brand.
  • "I should be delighted to paint so charming a model," Felix declared.
  • "Do you think you are so lovely, my dear?" asked Lizzie Acton, with her littl_noffensive pertness, biting off a knot in her knitting.
  • "It is not because I think I am beautiful," said Gertrude, looking all round.
  • "I don't think I am beautiful, at all." She spoke with a sort of consciou_eliberateness; and it seemed very strange to Charlotte to hear her discussin_his question so publicly. "It is because I think it would be amusing to si_nd be painted. I have always thought that."
  • "I am sorry you have not had better things to think about, my daughter," sai_r. Wentworth.
  • "You are very beautiful, cousin Gertrude," Felix declared.
  • "That 's a compliment," said Gertrude. "I put all the compliments I receiv_nto a little money-jug that has a slit in the side. I shake them up and down, and they rattle. There are not many yet—only two or three."
  • "No, it 's not a compliment," Felix rejoined. "See; I am careful not to giv_t the form of a compliment. I did n't think you were beautiful at first. Bu_ou have come to seem so little by little."
  • "Take care, now, your jug does n't burst!" exclaimed Lizzie.
  • "I think sitting for one's portrait is only one of the various forms o_dleness," said Mr. Wentworth. "Their name is legion."
  • "My dear sir," cried Felix, "you can't be said to be idle when you are makin_ man work so!"
  • "One might be painted while one is asleep," suggested Mr. Brand, as _ontribution to the discussion.
  • "Ah, do paint me while I am asleep," said Gertrude to Felix, smiling. And sh_losed her eyes a little. It had by this time become a matter of almos_xciting anxiety to Charlotte what Gertrude would say or would do next.
  • She began to sit for her portrait on the following day—in the open air, on th_orth side of the piazza. "I wish you would tell me what you think of us—ho_e seem to you," she said to Felix, as he sat before his easel.
  • "You seem to me the best people in the world," said Felix.
  • "You say that," Gertrude resumed, "because it saves you the trouble of sayin_nything else."
  • The young man glanced at her over the top of his canvas. "What else should _ay? It would certainly be a great deal of trouble to say anything different."
  • "Well," said Gertrude, "you have seen people before that you have liked, hav_ou not?"
  • "Indeed I have, thank Heaven!"
  • "And they have been very different from us," Gertrude went on.
  • "That only proves," said Felix, "that there are a thousand different ways o_eing good company."
  • "Do you think us good company?" asked Gertrude.
  • "Company for a king!"
  • Gertrude was silent a moment; and then, "There must be a thousand differen_ays of being dreary," she said; "and sometimes I think we make use of the_ll."
  • Felix stood up quickly, holding up his hand. "If you could only keep that loo_n your face for half an hour—while I catch it!" he said. "It is uncommonl_andsome."
  • "To look handsome for half an hour—that is a great deal to ask of me," sh_nswered.
  • "It would be the portrait of a young woman who has taken some vow, som_ledge, that she repents of," said Felix, "and who is thinking it over a_eisure."
  • "I have taken no vow, no pledge," said Gertrude, very gravely; "I have nothin_o repent of."
  • "My dear cousin, that was only a figure of speech. I am very sure that no on_n your excellent family has anything to repent of."
  • "And yet we are always repenting!" Gertrude exclaimed. "That is what I mean b_ur being dreary. You know it perfectly well; you only pretend that yo_on't."
  • Felix gave a quick laugh. "The half hour is going on, and yet you ar_andsomer than ever. One must be careful what one says, you see."
  • "To me," said Gertrude, "you can say anything."
  • Felix looked at her, as an artist might, and painted for some time in silence.
  • "Yes, you seem to me different from your father and sister—from most of th_eople you have lived with," he observed.
  • "To say that one's self," Gertrude went on, "is like saying—by implication, a_east—that one is better. I am not better; I am much worse. But they sa_hemselves that I am different. It makes them unhappy."
  • "Since you accuse me of concealing my real impressions, I may admit that _hink the tendency—among you generally—is to be made unhappy too easily."
  • "I wish you would tell that to my father," said Gertrude.
  • "It might make him more unhappy!" Felix exclaimed, laughing.
  • "It certainly would. I don't believe you have seen people like that."
  • "Ah, my dear cousin, how do you know what I have seen?" Felix demanded. "Ho_an I tell you?"
  • "You might tell me a great many things, if you only would. You have see_eople like yourself—people who are bright and gay and fond of amusement. W_re not fond of amusement."
  • "Yes," said Felix, "I confess that rather strikes me. You don't seem to me t_et all the pleasure out of life that you might. You don't seem to me t_njoy… .. Do you mind my saying this?" he asked, pausing.
  • "Please go on," said the girl, earnestly.
  • "You seem to me very well placed for enjoying. You have money and liberty an_hat is called in Europe a 'position.' But you take a painful view of life, a_ne may say."
  • "One ought to think it bright and charming and delightful, eh?" aske_ertrude.
  • "I should say so—if one can. It is true it all depends upon that," Feli_dded.
  • "You know there is a great deal of misery in the world," said his model.
  • "I have seen a little of it," the young man rejoined. "But it was all ove_here—beyond the sea. I don't see any here. This is a paradise."
  • Gertrude said nothing; she sat looking at the dahlias and the currant-bushe_n the garden, while Felix went on with his work. "To 'enjoy,'" she began a_ast, "to take life—not painfully, must one do something wrong?"
  • Felix gave his long, light laugh again. "Seriously, I think not. And for thi_eason, among others: you strike me as very capable of enjoying, if the chanc_ere given you, and yet at the same time as incapable of wrong-doing."
  • "I am sure," said Gertrude, "that you are very wrong in telling a person tha_he is incapable of that. We are never nearer to evil than when we believ_hat."
  • "You are handsomer than ever," observed Felix, irrelevantly.
  • Gertrude had got used to hearing him say this. There was not so muc_xcitement in it as at first. "What ought one to do?" she continued. "To giv_arties, to go to the theatre, to read novels, to keep late hours?"
  • "I don't think it 's what one does or one does n't do that promote_njoyment," her companion answered. "It is the general way of looking a_ife."
  • "They look at it as a discipline—that 's what they do here. I have often bee_old that."
  • "Well, that 's very good. But there is another way," added Felix, smiling: "t_ook at it as an opportunity."
  • "An opportunity—yes," said Gertrude. "One would get more pleasure that way."
  • "I don't attempt to say anything better for it than that it has been my ow_ay—and that is not saying much!" Felix had laid down his palette and brushes; he was leaning back, with his arms folded, to judge the effect of his work.
  • "And you know," he said, "I am a very petty personage."
  • "You have a great deal of talent," said Gertrude.
  • "No—no," the young man rejoined, in a tone of cheerful impartiality, "I hav_ot a great deal of talent. It is nothing at all remarkable. I assure you _hould know if it were. I shall always be obscure. The world will never hea_f me." Gertrude looked at him with a strange feeling. She was thinking of th_reat world which he knew and which she did not, and how full of brillian_alents it must be, since it could afford to make light of his abilities. "Yo_eed n't in general attach much importance to anything I tell you," h_ursued; "but you may believe me when I say this,—that I am little better tha_ good-natured feather-head."
  • "A feather-head?" she repeated.
  • "I am a species of Bohemian."
  • "A Bohemian?" Gertrude had never heard this term before, save as _eographical denomination; and she quite failed to understand the figurativ_eaning which her companion appeared to attach to it. But it gave he_leasure.
  • Felix had pushed back his chair and risen to his feet; he slowly came towar_er, smiling. "I am a sort of adventurer," he said, looking down at her.
  • She got up, meeting his smile. "An adventurer?" she repeated. "I should lik_o hear your adventures."
  • For an instant she believed that he was going to take her hand; but he droppe_is own hands suddenly into the pockets of his painting-jacket. "There is n_eason why you should n't," he said. "I have been an adventurer, but m_dventures have been very innocent. They have all been happy ones; I don'_hink there are any I should n't tell. They were very pleasant and ver_retty; I should like to go over them in memory. Sit down again, and I wil_egin," he added in a moment, with his naturally persuasive smile.
  • Gertrude sat down again on that day, and she sat down on several other days.
  • Felix, while he plied his brush, told her a great many stories, and sh_istened with charmed avidity. Her eyes rested upon his lips; she was ver_erious; sometimes, from her air of wondering gravity, he thought she wa_ispleased. But Felix never believed for more than a single moment in an_ispleasure of his own producing. This would have been fatuity if the optimis_t expressed had not been much more a hope than a prejudice. It is beside th_atter to say that he had a good conscience; for the best conscience is a sor_f self-reproach, and this young man's brilliantly healthy nature spent itsel_n objective good intentions which were ignorant of any test save exactness i_itting their mark. He told Gertrude how he had walked over France and Ital_ith a painter's knapsack on his back, paying his way often by knocking off _lattering portrait of his host or hostess. He told her how he had played th_iolin in a little band of musicians—not of high celebrity—who travele_hrough foreign lands giving provincial concerts. He told her also how he ha_een a momentary ornament of a troupe of strolling actors, engaged in th_rduous task of interpreting Shakespeare to French and German, Polish an_ungarian audiences.
  • While this periodical recital was going on, Gertrude lived in a fantasti_orld; she seemed to herself to be reading a romance that came out in dail_umbers. She had known nothing so delightful since the perusal of "Nichola_ickleby." One afternoon she went to see her cousin, Mrs. Acton, Robert'_other, who was a great invalid, never leaving the house. She came back alone, on foot, across the fields—this being a short way which they often used. Feli_ad gone to Boston with her father, who desired to take the young man to cal_pon some of his friends, old gentlemen who remembered his mother—remembere_er, but said nothing about her—and several of whom, with the gentle ladie_heir wives, had driven out from town to pay their respects at the littl_ouse among the apple-trees, in vehicles which reminded the Baroness, wh_eceived her visitors with discriminating civility, of the large, light, rattling barouche in which she herself had made her journey to thi_eighborhood. The afternoon was waning; in the western sky the great pictur_f a New England sunset, painted in crimson and silver, was suspended from th_enith; and the stony pastures, as Gertrude traversed them, thinking intentl_o herself, were covered with a light, clear glow. At the open gate of one o_he fields she saw from the distance a man's figure; he stood there as if h_ere waiting for her, and as she came nearer she recognized Mr. Brand. She ha_ feeling as of not having seen him for some time; she could not have said fo_ow long, for it yet seemed to her that he had been very lately at the house.
  • "May I walk back with you?" he asked. And when she had said that he might i_e wanted, he observed that he had seen her and recognized her half a mil_way.
  • "You must have very good eyes," said Gertrude.
  • "Yes, I have very good eyes, Miss Gertrude," said Mr. Brand. She perceive_hat he meant something; but for a long time past Mr. Brand had constantl_eant something, and she had almost got used to it. She felt, however, tha_hat he meant had now a renewed power to disturb her, to perplex and agitat_er. He walked beside her in silence for a moment, and then he added, "I hav_ad no trouble in seeing that you are beginning to avoid me. But perhaps," h_ent on, "one need n't have had very good eyes to see that."
  • "I have not avoided you," said Gertrude, without looking at him.
  • "I think you have been unconscious that you were avoiding me," Mr. Bran_eplied. "You have not even known that I was there."
  • "Well, you are here now, Mr. Brand!" said Gertrude, with a little laugh. "_now that very well."
  • He made no rejoinder. He simply walked beside her slowly, as they were oblige_o walk over the soft grass. Presently they came to another gate, which wa_losed. Mr. Brand laid his hand upon it, but he made no movement to open it; he stood and looked at his companion. "You are very much interested—very muc_bsorbed," he said.
  • Gertrude glanced at him; she saw that he was pale and that he looked excited.
  • She had never seen Mr. Brand excited before, and she felt that the spectacle, if fully carried out, would be impressive, almost painful. "Absorbed in what?"
  • she asked. Then she looked away at the illuminated sky. She felt guilty an_ncomfortable, and yet she was vexed with herself for feeling so. But Mr.
  • Brand, as he stood there looking at her with his small, kind, persistent eyes, represented an immense body of half-obliterated obligations, that were risin_gain into a certain distinctness.
  • "You have new interests, new occupations," he went on. "I don't know that _an say that you have new duties. We have always old ones, Gertrude," h_dded.
  • "Please open the gate, Mr. Brand," she said; and she felt as if, in saying so, she were cowardly and petulant. But he opened the gate, and allowed her t_ass; then he closed it behind himself. Before she had time to turn away h_ut out his hand and held her an instant by the wrist.
  • "I want to say something to you," he said.
  • "I know what you want to say," she answered. And she was on the point o_dding, "And I know just how you will say it;" but these words she kept back.
  • "I love you, Gertrude," he said. "I love you very much; I love you more tha_ver."
  • He said the words just as she had known he would; she had heard them before.
  • They had no charm for her; she had said to herself before that it was ver_trange. It was supposed to be delightful for a woman to listen to such words; but these seemed to her flat and mechanical. "I wish you would forget that,"
  • she declared.
  • "How can I—why should I?" he asked.
  • "I have made you no promise—given you no pledge," she said, looking at him, with her voice trembling a little.
  • "You have let me feel that I have an influence over you. You have opened you_ind to me."
  • "I never opened my mind to you, Mr. Brand!" Gertrude cried, with som_ehemence.
  • "Then you were not so frank as I thought—as we all thought."
  • "I don't see what any one else had to do with it!" cried the girl.
  • "I mean your father and your sister. You know it makes them happy to think yo_ill listen to me."
  • She gave a little laugh. "It does n't make them happy," she said. "Nothin_akes them happy. No one is happy here."
  • "I think your cousin is very happy—Mr. Young," rejoined Mr. Brand, in a soft, almost timid tone.
  • "So much the better for him!" And Gertrude gave her little laugh again.
  • The young man looked at her a moment. "You are very much changed," he said.
  • "I am glad to hear it," Gertrude declared.
  • "I am not. I have known you a long time, and I have loved you as you were."
  • "I am much obliged to you," said Gertrude. "I must be going home."
  • He on his side, gave a little laugh.
  • "You certainly do avoid me—you see!"
  • "Avoid me, then," said the girl.
  • He looked at her again; and then, very gently, "No I will not avoid you," h_eplied; "but I will leave you, for the present, to yourself. I think you wil_emember—after a while—some of the things you have forgotten. I think you wil_ome back to me; I have great faith in that."
  • This time his voice was very touching; there was a strong, reproachful forc_n what he said, and Gertrude could answer nothing. He turned away and stoo_here, leaning his elbows on the gate and looking at the beautiful sunset.
  • Gertrude left him and took her way home again; but when she reached the middl_f the next field she suddenly burst into tears. Her tears seemed to her t_ave been a long time gathering, and for some moments it was a kind of glee t_hed them. But they presently passed away. There was something a little har_bout Gertrude; and she never wept again.