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?"
"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.