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!"