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Chapter 2

  • As commonly happens in boarding-houses, the rustle of petticoats was, at th_ension Beaurepas, the most familiar form of the human tread. There was th_sual allotment of economical widows and old maids, and to maintain th_alance of the sexes there were only an old Frenchman and a young American. I_ardly made the matter easier that the old Frenchman came from Lausanne. H_as a native of that estimable town, but he had once spent six months i_aris, he had tasted of the tree of knowledge; he had got beyond Lausanne, whose resources he pronounced inadequate. Lausanne, as he said, "manquai_'agrements." When obliged, for reasons which he never specified, to bring hi_esidence in Paris to a close, he had fallen back on Geneva; he had broken hi_all at the Pension Beaurepas. Geneva was, after all, more like Paris, and a_ Genevese boarding-house there was sure to be plenty of Americans with who_ne could talk about the French metropolis. M. Pigeonneau was a little lea_an, with a large narrow nose, who sat a great deal in the garden, readin_ith the aid of a large magnifying glass a volume from the cabinet de lecture.
  • One day, a fortnight after my arrival at the Pension Beaurepas, I came back, rather earlier than usual from my academic session; it wanted half an hour o_he midday breakfast. I went into the salon with the design of possessin_yself of the day's Galignani before one of the little English old maid_hould have removed it to her virginal bower—a privilege to which Madam_eaurepas frequently alluded as one of the attractions of the establishment.
  • In the salon I found a new-comer, a tall gentleman in a high black hat, whom _mmediately recognised as a compatriot. I had often seen him, or hi_quivalent, in the hotel parlours of my native land. He apparently suppose_imself to be at the present moment in a hotel parlour; his hat was on hi_ead, or, rather, half off it—pushed back from his forehead, and rathe_uspended than poised. He stood before a table on which old newspapers wer_cattered, one of which he had taken up and, with his eye-glass on his nose, was holding out at arm's-length. It was that honourable but extremel_iminutive sheet, the Journal de Geneve, a newspaper of about the size of _ocket-handkerchief. As I drew near, looking for my Galignani, the tal_entleman gave me, over the top of his eye-glass, a somewhat solemn stare.
  • Presently, however, before I had time to lay my hand on the object of m_earch, he silently offered me the Journal de Geneve.
  • "It appears," he said, "to be the paper of the country."
  • "Yes," I answered, "I believe it's the best."
  • He gazed at it again, still holding it at arm's-length, as if it had been _ooking-glass. "Well," he said, "I suppose it's natural a small country shoul_ave small papers. You could wrap it up, mountains and all, in one of ou_ailies!"
  • I found my Galignani, and went off with it into the garden, where I seate_yself on a bench in the shade. Presently I saw the tall gentleman in the ha_ppear in one of the open windows of the salon, and stand there with his hand_n his pockets and his legs a little apart. He looked very much bored, and—_on't know why—I immediately began to feel sorry for him. He was not at all _icturesque personage; he looked like a jaded, faded man of business. Bu_fter a little he came into the garden and began to stroll about; and then hi_estless, unoccupied carriage, and the vague, unacquainted manner in which hi_yes wandered over the place, seemed to make it proper that, as an olde_esident, I should exercise a certain hospitality. I said something to him, and he came and sat down beside me on my bench, clasping one of his long knee_n his hands.
  • "When is it this big breakfast of theirs comes off?" he inquired. "That's wha_ call it—the little breakfast and the big breakfast. I never thought I shoul_ive to see the time when I should care to eat two breakfasts. But a man'_lad to do anything over here."
  • "For myself," I observed, "I find plenty to do."
  • He turned his head and glanced at me with a dry, deliberate, kind- lookin_ye. "You're getting used to the life, are you?"
  • "I like the life very much," I answered, laughing.
  • "How long have you tried it?"
  • "Do you mean in this place?"
  • "Well, I mean anywhere. It seems to me pretty much the same all over."
  • "I have been in this house only a fortnight," I said.
  • "Well, what should you say, from what you have seen?" my companion asked.
  • "Oh," said I, "you can see all there is immediately. It's very simple."
  • "Sweet simplicity, eh? I'm afraid my two ladies will find it too simple."
  • "Everything is very good," I went on. "And Madame Beaurepas is a charming ol_oman. And then it's very cheap."
  • "Cheap, is it?" my friend repeated meditatively.
  • "Doesn't it strike you so?" I asked. I thought it very possible he had no_nquired the terms. But he appeared not to have heard me; he sat there, clasping his knee and blinking, in a contemplative manner, at the sunshine.
  • "Are you from the United States, sir?" he presently demanded, turning his hea_gain.
  • "Yes, sir," I replied; and I mentioned the place of my nativity.
  • "I presumed," he said, "that you were American or English. I'm from the Unite_tates myself; from New York city. Many of our people here?"
  • "Not so many as, I believe, there have sometimes been. There are two or thre_adies."
  • "Well," my interlocutor declared, "I am very fond of ladies' society. I thin_hen it's superior there's nothing comes up to it. I've got two ladies her_yself; I must make you acquainted with them."
  • I rejoined that I should be delighted, and I inquired of my friend whether h_ad been long in Europe.
  • "Well, it seems precious long," he said, "but my time's not up yet. We hav_een here fourteen weeks and a half."
  • "Are you travelling for pleasure?" I asked.
  • My companion turned his head again and looked at me—looked at me so long i_ilence that I at last also turned and met his eyes.
  • "No, sir," he said presently. "No, sir," he repeated, after a considerabl_nterval.
  • "Excuse me," said I, for there was something so solemn in his tone that _eared I had been indiscreet.
  • He took no notice of my ejaculation; he simply continued to look at me. "I'_ravelling," he said, at last, "to please the doctors. They seemed to thin_hey would like it."
  • "Ah, they sent you abroad for your health?"
  • "They sent me abroad because they were so confoundedly muddled they didn'_now what else to do."
  • "That's often the best thing," I ventured to remark.
  • "It was a confession of weakness; they wanted me to stop plaguing them. The_idn't know enough to cure me, and that's the way they thought they would ge_ound it. I wanted to be cured—I didn't want to be transported. I hadn't don_ny harm."
  • I assented to the general proposition of the inefficiency of doctors, an_sked my companion if he had been seriously ill.
  • "I didn't sleep," he said, after some delay.
  • "Ah, that's very annoying. I suppose you were overworked."
  • "I didn't eat; I took no interest in my food."
  • "Well, I hope you both eat and sleep now," I said.
  • "I couldn't hold a pen," my neighbour went on. "I couldn't sit still. _ouldn't walk from my house to the cars—and it's only a little way. I lost m_nterest in business."
  • "You needed a holiday," I observed.
  • "That's what the doctors said. It wasn't so very smart of them. I had bee_aying strict attention to business for twenty-three years."
  • "In all that time you have never had a holiday?" I exclaimed with horror.
  • My companion waited a little. "Sundays," he said at last.
  • "No wonder, then, you were out of sorts."
  • "Well, sir," said my friend, "I shouldn't have been where I was three year_go if I had spent my time travelling round Europe. I was in a ver_dvantageous position. I did a very large business. I was considerabl_nterested in lumber." He paused, turned his head, and looked at me a moment.
  • "Have you any business interests yourself?" I answered that I had none, and h_ent on again, slowly, softly, deliberately. "Well, sir, perhaps you are no_ware that business in the United States is not what it was a short tim_ince. Business interests are very insecure. There seems to be a genera_alling- off. Different parties offer different explanations of the fact, bu_o far as I am aware none of their observations have set things going again."
  • I ingeniously intimated that if business was dull, the time was good fo_oming away; whereupon my neighbour threw back his head and stretched his leg_ while. "Well, sir, that's one view of the matter certainly. There'_omething to be said for that. These things should be looked at all round.
  • That's the ground my wife took. That's the ground," he added in a moment,
  • "that a lady would naturally take;" and he gave a little dry laugh.
  • "You think it's slightly illogical," I remarked.
  • "Well, sir, the ground I took was, that the worse a man's business is, th_ore it requires looking after. I shouldn't want to go out to take a walk—no_ven to go to church—if my house was on fire. My firm is not doing th_usiness it was; it's like a sick child, it requires nursing. What I wante_he doctors to do was to fix me up, so that I could go on at home. I'd hav_aken anything they'd have given me, and as many times a day. I wanted to b_ight there; I had my reasons; I have them still. But I came off all th_ame," said my friend, with a melancholy smile.
  • I was a great deal younger than he, but there was something so simple an_ommunicative in his tone, so expressive of a desire to fraternise, and s_xempt from any theory of human differences, that I quite forgot hi_eniority, and found myself offering him paternal I advice. "Don't think abou_ll that," said I. "Simply enjoy yourself, amuse yourself, get well. Trave_bout and see Europe. At the end of a year, by the time you are ready to g_ome, things will have improved over there, and you will be quite well an_appy."
  • My friend laid his hand on my knee; he looked at me for some moments, and _hought he was going to say, "You are very young!" But he said presently, "YO_ave got used to Europe any way!"