"That will matter little," I presently replied. "Telling you will do no good."
"Ah, why do you say that?" murmured Aurora Church.
I said it partly because it was true; but I said it for other reasons as well, which it was hard to define. Standing there bare-headed, in the night air, i_he vague light, this young lady looked extremely interesting; and th_nterest of her appearance was not diminished by a suspicion on my own par_hat she had come into the garden knowing me to be there. I thought her _harming girl, and I felt very sorry for her; but, as I looked at her, th_erms in which Madame Beaurepas had ventured to characterise her recurred t_e with a certain force. I had professed a contempt for them at the time, bu_t now came into my head that perhaps this unfortunately situated, thi_nsidiously mutinous young creature, was looking out for a preserver. She wa_ertainly not a girl to throw herself at a man's head, but it was possibl_hat in her intense—her almost morbid-desire to put into effect an ideal whic_as perhaps after all charged with as many fallacies as her mother affirmed, she might do something reckless and irregular—something in which a sympatheti_ompatriot, as yet unknown, would find his profit. The image, unshaped thoug_t was, of this sympathetic compatriot, filled me with a sort of envy. Fo_ome moments I was silent, conscious of these things, and then I answered he_uestion. "Because some things—some differences are felt, not learned. To yo_iberty is not natural; you are like a person who has bought a repeater, and, in his satisfaction, is constantly making it sound. To a real American gir_er liberty is a very vulgarly-ticking old clock."
"Ah, you mean, then," said the poor girl, "that my mother has ruined me?"
"She has so perverted my mind, that when I try to be natural I am necessaril_mmodest."
"That again is a false note," I said, laughing.
She turned away. "I think you are cruel."
"By no means," I declared; "because, for my own taste, I prefer you as—as—"
I hesitated, and she turned back. "As what?"
"As you are."
She looked at me a while again, and then she said, in a little reasoning voic_hat reminded me of her mother's, only that it was conscious and studied, "_as not aware that I am under any particular obligation to please you!" An_hen she gave a clear laugh, quite at variance with her voice.
"Oh, there is no obligation," I said, "but one has preferences. I am ver_orry you are going away."
"What does it matter to you? You are going yourself."
"As I am going in a different direction that makes all the greate_eparation."
She answered nothing; she stood looking through the bars of the tall gate a_he empty, dusky street. "This grille is like a cage," she said, at last.
"Fortunately, it is a cage that will open." And I laid my hand on the lock.
"Don't open it," and she pressed the gate back. "If you should open it I woul_o out—and never return."
"Where should you go?"
"Somehow or other. I would go to the American consul. I would beg him to giv_e money—to help me."
I received this assertion without a smile; I was not in a smiling humour. O_he contrary, I felt singularly excited, and I kept my hand on the lock of th_ate. I believed (or I thought I believed) what my companion said, and _ad—absurd as it may appear—an irritated vision of her throwing herself upo_onsular sympathy. It seemed to me, for a moment, that to pass out of tha_ate with this yearning, straining, young creature, would be to pass into som_ysterious felicity. If I were only a hero of romance, I would offer, myself, to take her to America.
In a moment more, perhaps, I should have persuaded myself that I was one, bu_t this juncture I heard a sound that was not romantic. It proved to be th_ery realistic tread of Celestine, the cook, who stood grinning at us as w_urned about from our colloquy.
"I ask bien pardon," said Celestine. "The mother of Mademoiselle desires tha_ademoiselle should come in immediately. M. le Pasteur Galopin has come t_ake his adieux to ces dames."
Aurora gave me only one glance, but it was a touching one. Then she slowl_eparted with Celestine.
The next morning, on coming into the garden, I found that Mrs. Church and he_aughter had departed. I was informed of this fact by old M. Pigeonneau, wh_at there under a tree, having his coffee at a little green table.
"I have nothing to envy you," he said; "I had the last glimpse of tha_harming Miss Aurora."
"I had a very late glimpse," I answered, "and it was all I could possibl_esire."
"I have always noticed," rejoined M. Pigeonneau, "That your desires are mor_oderate than mine. Que voulez-vous? I am of the old school. Je crois que l_ace se perd. I regret the departure of that young girl: she had an enchantin_mile. Ce sera une femme d'esprit. For the mother, I can console myself. I a_ot sure that SHE was a femme d'esprit, though she wished to pass for one.
Round, rosy, potelee, she yet had not the temperament of her appearance; sh_as a femme austere. I have often noticed that contradiction in America_adies. You see a plump little woman, with a speaking eye, and the contour an_omplexion of a ripe peach, and if you venture to conduct yourself in th_mallest degree in accordance with these indices, you discover a species o_ethodist—of what do you call it?—of Quakeress. On the other hand, yo_ncounter a tall, lean, angular person, without colour, without grace, al_lbows and knees, and you find it's a nature of the tropics! The women of dut_ook like coquettes, and the others look like alpenstocks! However, we hav_till the handsome Madame Ruck—a real femme de Rubens, celle- la. It is ver_rue that to talk to her one must know the Flemish tongue!"
I had determined, in accordance with my brother's telegram, to go away in th_fternoon; so that, having various duties to perform, I left M. Pigeonneau t_is international comparisons. Among other things, I went in the course of th_orning to the banker's, to draw money for my journey, and there I found Mr.
Ruck, with a pile of crumpled letters in his lap, his chair tipped back, an_is eyes gloomily fixed on the fringe of the green plush table-cloth. _imidly expressed the hope that he had got better news from home; whereupon h_ave me a look in which, considering his provocation, the absence o_rritation was conspicuous.
He took up his letters in his large hand, and crushing them together, held i_ut to me. "That epistolary matter," he said, "is worth about five cents. Bu_ guess," he added, rising, "I have taken it in by this time." When I ha_rawn my money I asked him to come and breakfast with me at the littl_rasserie, much favoured by students, to which I used to resort in the ol_own. "I couldn't eat, sir," he said, "I—couldn't eat. Bad news takes away th_ppetite. But I guess I'll go with you, so that I needn't go to table dow_here at the pension. The old woman down there is always accusing me o_urning up my nose at her food. Well, I guess I shan't turn up my nose a_nything now."
We went to the little brasserie, where poor Mr. Ruck made the lightes_ossible breakfast. But if he ate very little, he talked a great deal; h_alked about business, going into a hundred details in which I was quit_nable to follow him. His talk was not angry nor bitter; it was a long, meditative, melancholy monologue; if it had been a trifle less incoherent _hould almost have called it philosophic. I was very sorry for him; I wante_o do something for him, but the only thing I could do was, when we ha_reakfasted, to see him safely back to the Pension Beaurepas. We went acros_he Treille and down the Corraterie, out of which we turned into the Rue d_hone. In this latter street, as all the world knows, are many of thos_rilliant jewellers' shops for which Geneva is famous. I always admired thei_littering windows, and never passed them without a lingering glance. Even o_his occasion, pre-occupied as I was with my impending departure, and with m_ompanion's troubles, I suffered my eyes to wander along the precious tier_hat flashed and twinkled behind the huge clear plates of glass. Thanks t_his inveterate habit, I made a discovery. In the largest and most brillian_f these establishments I perceived two ladies, seated before the counter wit_n air of absorption, which sufficiently proclaimed their identity. I hoped m_ompanion would not see them, but as we came abreast of the door, a littl_eyond, we found it open to the warm summer air. Mr. Ruck happened to glanc_n, and he immediately recognised his wife and daughter. He slowly stopped, looking at them; I wondered what he would do. The salesman was holding up _racelet before them, on its velvet cushion, and flashing it about in a_rresistible manner.
Mr. Ruck said nothing, but he presently went in, and I did the same.
"It will be an opportunity," I remarked, as cheerfully as possible, "for me t_id good-bye to the ladies."
They turned round when Mr. Ruck came in, and looked at him without confusion.
"Well, you had better go home to breakfast," remarked his wife. Miss Soph_ade no remark, but she took the bracelet from the attendant and gazed at i_ery fixedly. Mr. Ruck seated himself on an empty stool and looked round th_hop.
"Well, you have been here before," said his wife; "you were here the first da_e came."
Miss Ruck extended the precious object in her hands towards me. "Don't yo_hink that sweet?" she inquired.
I looked at it a moment. "No, I think it's ugly."
She glanced at me a moment, incredulous. "Well, I don't believe you have an_aste."
"Why, sir, it's just lovely," said Mrs. Ruck.
"You'll see it some day on me, any way," her daughter declared.
"No, he won't," said Mr. Ruck, quietly.
"It will be his own fault, then," Miss Sophy observed.
"Well, if we are going to Chamouni we want to get something here," said Mrs.
Ruck. "We may not have another chance."
Mr. Ruck was still looking round the shop, whistling in a very low tone. "W_in't going to Chamouni. We are going to New York city, straight."
"Well, I'm glad to hear that," said Mrs. Ruck. "Don't you suppose we want t_ake something home?"
"If we are going straight back I must have that bracelet," her daughte_eclared, "Only I don't want a velvet case; I want a satin case."
"I must bid you good-bye," I said to the ladies. "I am leaving Geneva in a_our or two."
"Take a good look at that bracelet, so you'll know it when you see it," sai_iss Sophy.
"She's bound to have something," remarked her mother, almost proudly.
Mr. Ruck was still vaguely inspecting the shop; he was still whistling _ittle. "I am afraid he is not at all well," I said, softly, to his wife.
She twisted her head a little, and glanced at him.
"Well, I wish he'd improve!" she exclaimed.
"A satin case, and a nice one!" said Miss Ruck to the shopman.
I bade Mr. Ruck good-bye. "Don't wait for me," he said, sitting there on hi_tool, and not meeting my eye. "I've got to see this thing through."
I went back to the Pension Beaurepas, and when, an hour later, I left it wit_y luggage, the family had not returned.