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Chapter 4

  • Mr. Ruck distinguished me, as the French say. He honoured me with his esteem, and, as the days elapsed, with a large portion of his confidence. Sometimes h_ored me a little, for the tone of his conversation was not cheerful, tendin_s it did almost exclusively to a melancholy dirge over the financia_rostration of our common country. "No, sir, business in the United States i_ot what it once was," he found occasion to remark several times a day.
  • "There's not the same spring—there's not the same hopeful feeling. You can se_t in all departments." He used to sit by the hour in the little garden of th_ension, with a roll of American newspapers in his lap and his high hat pushe_ack, swinging one of his long legs and reading the New York Herald. He paid _aily visit to the American banker's, on the other side of the Rhone, an_emained there a long time, turning over the old papers on the green velve_able in the middle of the Salon des Etrangers, and fraternising with chanc_ompatriots. But in spite of these diversions his time hung heavily upon hi_ands. I used sometimes to propose to him to take a walk; but he had a morta_orror of pedestrianism, and regarded my own taste for it as' a morbid form o_ctivity. "You'll kill yourself, if you don't look out," he said, "walking al_ver the country. I don't want to walk round that way; I ain't a postman!"
  • Briefly speaking, Mr. Ruck had few resources. His wife and daughter, on th_ther hand, it was to be supposed, were possessed of a good many that coul_ot be apparent to an unobtrusive young man. They also sat a great deal in th_arden or in the salon, side by side, with folded hands, contemplatin_aterial objects, and were remarkably independent of most of the usua_eminine aids to idleness—light literature, tapestry, the use of the piano.
  • They were, however, much fonder of locomotion than their companion, and _ften met them in the Rue du Rhone and on the quays, loitering in front of th_ewellers' windows. They might have had a cavalier in the person of old M.
  • Pigeonneau, who possessed a high appreciation of their charms, but who, owin_o the absence of a common idiom, was deprived of the pleasures of intimacy.
  • He knew no English, and Mrs. Ruck and her daughter had, as it seemed, a_ncurable mistrust of the beautiful tongue which, as the old man endeavoure_o impress upon them, was pre-eminently the language of conversation.
  • "They have a tournure de princesse—a distinction supreme," he said to me. "On_s surprised to find them in a little pension, at seven francs a day."
  • "Oh, they don't come for economy," I answered. "They must be rich."
  • "They don't come for my beaux yeux—for mine," said M. Pigeonneau, sadly.
  • "Perhaps it's for yours, young man. Je vous recommande la mere."
  • I reflected a moment. "They came on account of Mr. Ruck—because at hotels he'_o restless."
  • M. Pigeonneau gave me a knowing nod. "Of course he is, with such a wife a_hat—a femme superbe. Madame Ruck is preserved in perfection—a miraculou_raicheur. I like those large, fair, quiet women; they are often, dan_'intimite, the most agreeable. I'll warrant you that at heart Madame Ruck i_ finished coquette."
  • "I rather doubt it," I said.
  • "You suppose her cold? Ne vous y fiez pas!"
  • "It is a matter in which I have nothing at stake."
  • "You young Americans are droll," said M. Pigeonneau; "you never have anythin_t stake! But the little one, for example; I'll warrant you she's not cold.
  • She is admirably made."
  • "She is very pretty."
  • "'She is very pretty!' Vous dites cela d'un ton! When you pay compliments t_ademoiselle Ruck, I hope that's not the way you do it."
  • "I don't pay compliments to Mademoiselle Ruck."
  • "Ah, decidedly," said M. Pigeonneau, "you young Americans are droll!"
  • I should have suspected that these two ladies would not especially commen_hemselves to Madame Beaurepas; that as a maitresse de salon, which she i_ome degree aspired to be, she would have found them wanting in a certai_lexibility of deportment. But I should have gone quite wrong; Madam_eaurepas had no fault at all to find with her new pensionnaires. "I have n_bservation whatever to make about them," she said to me one evening. "I se_othing in those ladies which is at all deplace. They don't complain o_nything; they don't meddle; they take what's given them; they leave m_ranquil. The Americans are often like that. Often, but not always," Madam_eaurepas pursued. "We are to have a specimen to-morrow of a very differen_ort."
  • "An American?" I inquired.
  • "Two Americaines—a mother and a daughter. There are Americans and Americans: when you are difficiles, you are more so than any one, and when you hav_retensions—ah, per exemple, it's serious. I foresee that with this littl_ady everything will be serious, beginning with her cafe au lait. She has bee_taying at the Pension Chamousset—my concurrent, you know, farther up th_treet; but she is coming away because the coffee is bad. She holds to he_offee, it appears. I don't know what liquid Madame Chamousset may hav_nvented, but we will do the best we can for her. Only, I know she will mak_e des histoires about something else. She will demand a new lamp for th_alon; vous alles voir cela. She wishes to pay but eleven francs a day fo_erself and her daughter, tout compris; and for their eleven francs the_xpect to be lodged like princesses. But she is very 'ladylike'—isn't tha_hat you call it in English? Oh, pour cela, she is ladylike!"
  • I caught a glimpse on the morrow of this ladylike person, who was arriving a_er new residence as I came in from a walk. She had come in a cab, with he_aughter and her luggage; and, with an air of perfect softness and serenity, she was disputing the fare as she stood among her boxes, on the steps. Sh_ddressed her cabman in a very English accent, but with extreme precision an_orrectness. "I wish to be perfectly reasonable, but I don't wish to encourag_ou in exorbitant demands. With a franc and a half you are sufficiently paid.
  • It is not the custom at Geneva to give a pour-boire for so short a drive. _ave made inquiries, and I find it is not the custom, even in the bes_amilies. I am a stranger, yes, but I always adopt the custom of the nativ_amilies. I think it my duty toward the natives."
  • "But I am a native, too, moi!" said the cabman, with an angry laugh.
  • "You seem to me to speak with a German accent," continued the lady. "You ar_robably from Basel. A franc and a half is sufficient. I see you have lef_ehind the little red bag which I asked you to hold between your knees; yo_ill please to go back to the other house and get it. Very well, if you ar_mpolite I will make a complaint of you to-morrow at the administration.
  • Aurora, you will find a pencil in the outer pocket of my embroidered satchel; please to write down his number,—87; do you see it distinctly?—in case w_hould forget it."
  • The young lady addressed as "Aurora"—a slight, fair girl, holding a larg_arcel of umbrellas—stood at hand while this allocution went forward, but sh_pparently gave no heed to it. She stood looking about her, in a listles_anner, at the front of the house, at the corridor, at Celestine tucking u_er apron in the doorway, at me as I passed in amid the disseminated luggage; her mother's parsimonious attitude seeming to produce in Miss Aurora neithe_ympathy nor embarrassment. At dinner the two ladies were placed on the sam_ide of the table as myself, below Mrs. Ruck and her daughter, my own positio_eing on the right of Mr. Ruck. I had therefore little observation of Mrs.
  • Church—such I learned to be her name—but I occasionally heard her soft, distinct voice.
  • "White wine, if you please; we prefer white wine. There is none on the table?
  • Then you will please to get some, and to remember to place a bottle of i_lways here, between my daughter and myself."
  • "That lady seems to know what she wants," said Mr. Ruck, "and she speaks so _an understand her. I can't understand every one, over here. I should like t_ake that lady's acquaintance. Perhaps she knows what I want, too; it seem_ard to find out. But I don't want any of their sour white wine; that's one o_he things I don't want. I expect she'll be an addition to the pension."
  • Mr. Ruck made the acquaintance of Mrs. Church that evening in the parlour, being presented to her by his wife, who presumed on the rights conferred upo_erself by the mutual proximity, at table, of the two ladies. I suspected tha_n Mrs. Church's view Mrs. Ruck presumed too far. The fugitive from th_ension Chamousset, as M. Pigeonneau called her, was a little fresh, plump, comely woman, looking less than her age, with a round, bright, serious face.
  • She was very simply and frugally dressed, not at all in the manner of Mr.
  • Ruck's companions, and she had an air of quiet distinction which was a_xcellent defensive weapon. She exhibited a polite disposition to listen t_hat Mr. Ruck might have to say, but her manner was equivalent to a_ntimation that what she valued least in boarding- house life was its socia_pportunities. She had placed herself near a lamp, after carefully screwing i_nd turning it up, and she had opened in her lap, with the assistance of _arge embroidered marker, an octavo volume, which I perceived to be in German.
  • To Mrs. Ruck and her daughter she was evidently a puzzle, with her economica_ttire and her expensive culture. The two younger ladies, however, had begu_o fraternise very freely, and Miss Ruck presently went wandering out of th_oom with her arm round the waist of Miss Church. It was a very warm evening; the long windows of the salon stood wide open into the garden, and, inspire_y the balmy darkness, M. Pigeonneau and Mademoiselle Beaurepas, a mos_bliging little woman, who lisped and always wore a huge cravat, declared the_ould organise a fete de nuit. They engaged in this undertaking, and the fet_eveloped itself, consisting of half-a-dozen red paper lanterns, hung about o_he trees, and of several glasses of sirop, carried on a tray by the stout- armed Celestine. As the festival deepened to its climax I went out into th_arden, where M. Pigeonneau was master of ceremonies.
  • "But where are those charming young ladies," he cried, "Miss Ruck and the new- comer, l'aimable transfuge? Their absence has been remarked, and they ar_anting to the brilliancy of the occasion. Voyez I have selected a glass o_yrup—a generous glass—for Mademoiselle Ruck, and I advise you, my youn_riend, if you wish to make a good impression, to put aside one which you ma_ffer to the other young lady. What is her name? Miss Church. I see; it's _ingular name. There is a church in which I would willingly worship!"
  • Mr. Ruck presently came out of the salon, having concluded his interview wit_rs. Church. Through the open window I saw the latter lady sitting under th_amp with her German octavo, while Mrs. Ruck, established, empty-handed, in a_rm-chair near her, gazed at her with an air of fascination.
  • "Well, I told you she would know what I want," said Mr. Ruck. "She says I wan_o go up to Appenzell, wherever that is; that I want to drink whey and live i_ high latitude—what did she call it?—a high altitude. She seemed to think w_ught to leave for Appenzell to- morrow; she'd got it all fixed. She says thi_in't a high enough lat—a high enough altitude. And she says I mustn't go to_igh either; that would be just as bad; she seems to know just the righ_igure. She says she'll give me a list of the hotels where we must stop, o_he way to Appenzell. I asked her if she didn't want to go with as, but sh_ays she'd rather sit still and read. I expect she's a big reader."
  • The daughter of this accomplished woman now reappeared, in company with Mis_uck, with whom she had been strolling through the outlying parts of th_arden.
  • "Well," said Miss Ruck, glancing at the red paper lanterns, "are they tryin_o stick the flower-pots into the trees?"
  • "It's an illumination in honour of our arrival," the other young gir_ejoined. "It's a triumph over Madame Chamousset."
  • "Meanwhile, at the Pension Chamousset," I ventured to suggest, "they have pu_ut their lights; they are sitting in darkness, lamenting your departure."
  • She looked at me, smiling; she was standing in the light that came from th_ouse. M. Pigeonneau, meanwhile, who had been awaiting his chance, advanced t_iss Ruck with his glass of syrup. "I have kept it for you, Mademoiselle," h_aid; "I have jealously guarded it. It is very delicious!"
  • Miss Ruck looked at him and his syrup, without any motion to take the glass.
  • "Well, I guess it's sour," she said in a moment; and she gave a little shak_f her head.
  • M. Pigeonneau stood staring with his syrup in his hand; then he slowly turne_way. He looked about at the rest of us, as if to appeal from Miss Ruck'_nsensibility, and went to deposit his rejected tribute on a bench.
  • "Won't you give it to me?" asked Miss Church, in faultless French. "J'adore l_irop, moi."
  • M. Pigeonneau came back with alacrity, and presented the glass with a very lo_ow. "I adore good manners," murmured the old man.
  • This incident caused me to look at Miss Church with quickened interest. Sh_as not strikingly pretty, but in her charming irregular face there wa_omething brilliant and ardent. Like her mother, she was very simply dressed.
  • "She wants to go to America, and her mother won't let her," said Miss Sophy t_e, explaining her companion's situation.
  • "I am very sorry—for America," I answered, laughing.
  • "Well, I don't want to say anything against your mother, but I think it'_hameful," Miss Ruck pursued.
  • "Mamma has very good reasons; she will tell you them all."
  • "Well, I'm sure I don't want to hear them," said Miss Ruck. "You have got _ight to go to your own country; every one has a right to go to their ow_ountry."
  • "Mamma is not very patriotic," said Aurora Church, smiling.
  • "Well, I call that dreadful," her companion declared. "I have heard that ther_re some Americans like that, but I never believed it."
  • "There are all sorts of Americans," I said, laughing.
  • "Aurora's one of the right sort," rejoined Miss Ruck, who had apparentl_ecome very intimate with her new friend.
  • "Are you very patriotic?" I asked of the young girl.
  • "She's right down homesick," said Miss Sophy; "she's dying to go. If I wer_ou my mother would have to take me."
  • "Mamma is going to take me to Dresden."
  • "Well, I declare I never heard of anything so dreadful!" cried Miss Ruck.
  • "It's like something in a story."
  • "I never heard there was anything very dreadful in Dresden," I interposed.
  • Miss Ruck looked at me a moment. "Well, I don't believe YOU are a goo_merican," she replied, "and I never supposed you were. You had better go i_here and talk to Mrs. Church."
  • "Dresden is really very nice, isn't it?" I asked of her companion.
  • "It isn't nice if you happen to prefer New York," said Miss Sophy. "Mis_hurch prefers New York. Tell him you are dying to see New York; it will mak_im angry," she went on.
  • "I have no desire to make him angry," said Aurora, smiling.
  • "It is only Miss Ruck who can do that," I rejoined. "Have you been a long tim_n Europe?"
  • "Always."
  • "I call that wicked!" Miss Sophy declared.
  • "You might be in a worse place," I continued. "I find Europe ver_nteresting."
  • Miss Ruck gave a little laugh. "I was saying that you wanted to pass for _uropean."
  • "Yes, I want to pass for a Dalmatian."
  • Miss Ruck looked at me a moment. "Well, you had better not come home," sh_aid. "No one will speak to you."
  • "Were you born in these countries?" I asked of her companion.
  • "Oh, no; I came to Europe when I was a small child. But I remember America _ittle, and it seems delightful."
  • "Wait till you see it again. It's just too lovely," said Miss Sophy.
  • "It's the grandest country in the world," I added.
  • Miss Ruck began to toss her head. "Come away, my dear," she said. "If there'_ creature I despise it's a man that tries to say funny things about his ow_ountry."
  • "Don't you think one can be tired of Europe?" Aurora asked, lingering.
  • "Possibly—after many years."
  • "Father was tired of it after three weeks," said Miss Ruck.
  • "I have been here sixteen years," her friend went on, looking at me with _harming intentness, as if she had a purpose in speaking. "It used to be fo_y education. I don't know what it's for now."
  • "She's beautifully educated," said Miss Ruck. "She knows four languages."
  • "I am not very sure that I know English."
  • "You should go to Boston!" cried Miss Sophy. "They speak splendidly i_oston."
  • "C'est mon reve," said Aurora, still looking at me.
  • "Have you been all over Europe," I asked—"in all the different countries?"
  • She hesitated a moment. "Everywhere that there's a pension. Mamma is devote_o pensions. We have lived, at one time or another, in every pension i_urope."
  • "Well, I should think you had seen about enough," said Miss Ruck.
  • "It's a delightful way of seeing Europe," Aurora rejoined, with her brillian_mile. "You may imagine how it has attached me to the different countries. _ave such charming souvenirs! There is a pension awaiting us now a_resden,—eight francs a day, without wine. That's rather dear. Mamma means t_ake them give us wine. Mamma is a great authority on pensions; she is known, that way, all over Europe. Last winter we were in Italy, and she discovere_ne at Piacenza,—four francs a day. We made economies."
  • "Your mother doesn't seem to mingle much," observed Miss Ruck, glancin_hrough the window at the scholastic attitude of Mrs. Church.
  • "No, she doesn't mingle, except in the native society. Though she lives i_ensions, she detests them."
  • "Why does she live in them, then?" asked Miss Sophy, rather resentfully.
  • "Oh, because we are so poor; it's the cheapest way to live. We have trie_aving a cook, but the cook always steals. Mamma used to set me to watch her; that's the way I passed my jeunesse—my belle jeunesse. We are frightfull_oor," the young girl went on, with the same strange frankness—a curiou_ixture of girlish grace and conscious cynicism. "Nous n'avons pas le sou.
  • That's one of the reasons we don't go back to America; mamma says we can'_fford to live there."
  • "Well, any one can see that you're an American girl," Miss Ruck remarked, in _onsolatory manner. "I can tell an American girl a mile off. You've got th_merican style."
  • "I'm afraid I haven't the American toilette," said Aurora, looking at th_ther's superior splendour.
  • "Well, your dress was cut in France; any one can see that."
  • "Yes," said Aurora, with a laugh, "my dress was cut in France—at Avranches."
  • "Well, you've got a lovely figure, any way," pursued her companion.
  • "Ah," said the young girl, "at Avranches, too, my figure was admired." And sh_ooked at me askance, with a certain coquetry. But I was an innocent youth, and I only looked back at her, wondering. She was a great deal nicer than Mis_uck, and yet Miss Ruck would not have said that. "I try to be like a_merican girl," she continued; "I do my best, though mamma doesn't at al_ncourage it. I am very patriotic. I try to copy them, though mamma ha_rought me up a la francaise; that is, as much as one can in pensions. Fo_nstance, I have never been out of the house without mamma; oh, never, never.
  • But sometimes I despair; American girls are so wonderfully frank. I can't b_rank, like that. I am always afraid. But I do what I can, as you see. Excuse_u peu!"
  • I thought this young lady at least as outspoken as most of her unexpatriate_isters; there was something almost comical in her despondency. But she had b_o means caught, as it seemed to me, the American tone. Whatever her tone was, however, it had a fascination; there was something dainty about it, and yet i_as decidedly audacious.
  • The young ladies began to stroll about the garden again, and I enjoyed thei_ociety until M. Pigeonneau's festival came to an end.