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.
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,"
"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.