Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 6

  • "She has demanded a new lamp; I told you she would!" This communication wa_ade me by Madame Beaurepas a couple of days later. "And she has asked for _ew tapis de lit, and she has requested me to provide Celestine with a pair o_ight shoes. I told her that, as a general thing, cooks are not shod wit_atin. That poor Celestine!"
  • "Mrs. Church may be exacting," I said, "but she is a clever little woman."
  • "A lady who pays but five francs and a half shouldn't be too clever. C'es_eplace. I don't like the type."
  • "What type do you call Mrs. Church's?"
  • "Mon Dieu," said Madame Beaurepas, "c'est une de ces mamans comme vous e_vez, qui promenent leur fille."
  • "She is trying to marry her daughter? I don't think she's of that sort."
  • But Madame Beaurepas shrewdly held to her idea. "She is trying it in her ow_ay; she does it very quietly. She doesn't want an American; she wants _oreigner. And she wants a mari serieux. But she is travelling over Europe i_earch of one. She would like a magistrate."
  • "A magistrate?"
  • "A gros bonnet of some kind; a professor or a deputy."
  • "I am very sorry for the poor girl," I said, laughing.
  • "You needn't pity her too much; she's a sly thing."
  • "Ah, for that, no!" I exclaimed. "She's a charming girl."
  • Madame Beaurepas gave an elderly grin. "She has hooked you, eh? But the mothe_on't have you."
  • I developed my idea, without heeding this insinuation. "She's a charming girl, but she is a little odd. It's a necessity of her position. She is les_ubmissive to her mother than she has to pretend to be. That's in self- defence; it's to make her life possible."
  • "She wishes to get away from her mother," continued Madame Beaurepas. "Sh_ishes to courir les champs."
  • "She wishes to go to America, her native country."
  • "Precisely. And she will certainly go."
  • "I hope so!" I rejoined.
  • "Some fine morning—or evening—she will go off with a young man; probably wit_ young American."
  • "Allons donc!" said I, with disgust.
  • "That will be quite America enough," pursued my cynical hostess. "I have kep_ boarding-house for forty years. I have seen that type."
  • "Have such things as that happened chez vous?" I asked.
  • "Everything has happened chez moi. But nothing has happened more than once.
  • Therefore this won't happen here. It will be at the next place they go to, o_he next. Besides, here there is no young American pour la partie—none excep_ou, Monsieur. You are susceptible, but you are too reasonable."
  • "It's lucky for you I am reasonable," I answered. "It's thanks to that fac_hat you escape a scolding!"
  • One morning, about this time, instead of coming back to breakfast at th_ension, after my lectures at the Academy, I went to partake of this meal wit_ fellow-student, at an ancient eating-house in the collegiate quarter. O_eparating from my friend, I took my way along that charming public walk know_n Geneva as the Treille, a shady terrace, of immense elevation, overhanging _ortion of the lower town. There are spreading trees and well-worn benches, and over the tiles and chimneys of the ville basse there is a view of th_now-crested Alps. On the other side, as you turn your back to the view, th_romenade is overlooked by a row of tall, sober-faced hotels, the dwellings o_he local aristocracy. I was very fond of the place, and often resorted to i_o stimulate my sense of the picturesque. Presently, as I lingered there o_his occasion, I became aware that a gentleman was seated not far from where _tood, with his back to the Alpine chain, which this morning was brilliant an_istinct, and a newspaper, unfolded, in his lap. He was not reading, however; he was staring before him in gloomy contemplation. I don't know whether _ecognised first the newspaper or its proprietor; one, in either case, woul_ave helped me to identify the other. One was the New York Herald; the other, of course, was Mr. Ruck. As I drew nearer, he transferred his eyes from th_tony, high-featured masks of the gray old houses on the other side of th_errace, and I knew by the expression of his face just how he had been feelin_bout these distinguished abodes. He had made up his mind that thei_roprietors were a dusky, narrow-minded, unsociable company; plunging thei_oots into a superfluous past. I endeavoured, therefore, as I sat down besid_im, to suggest something more impersonal.
  • "That's a beautiful view of the Alps," I observed.
  • "Yes," said Mr. Ruck, without moving, "I've examined it. Fine thing, in it_ay—fine thing. Beauties of nature—that sort of thing. We came up on purpos_o look at it."
  • "Your ladies, then, have been with you?"
  • "Yes; they are just walking round. They're awfully restless. They keep sayin_'m restless, but I'm as quiet as a sleeping child to them. It takes," h_dded in a moment, drily, "the form of shopping."
  • "Are they shopping now?"
  • "Well, if they ain't, they're trying to. They told me to sit here a while, an_hey'd just walk round. I generally know what that means. But that's th_rincipal interest for ladies," he added, retracting his irony. "We though_e'd come up here and see the cathedral; Mrs. Church seemed to think it a dea_oss that we shouldn't see the cathedral, especially as we hadn't seen man_et. And I had to come up to the banker's any way. Well, we certainly saw th_athedral. I don't know as we are any the better for it, and I don't know as _hould know it again. But we saw it, any way. I don't know as I should want t_o there regularly; but I suppose it will give us, in conversation, a kind o_old on Mrs. Church, eh? I guess we want something of that kind. Well," Mr.
  • Ruck continued, "I stepped in at the banker's to see if there wasn'_omething, and they handed me out a Herald."
  • "I hope the Herald is full of good news," I said.
  • "Can't say it is. D-d bad news."
  • "Political," I inquired, "or commercial?"
  • "Oh, hang politics! It's business, sir. There ain't any business. It's al_one to,"—and Mr. Ruck became profane. "Nine failures in one day. What do yo_ay-to that?"
  • "I hope they haven't injured you," I said.
  • "Well, they haven't helped me much. So many houses on fire, that's all. I_hey happen to take place in your own street, they don't increase the value o_our property. When mine catches, I suppose they'll write and tell me—one o_hese days, when they've got nothing else to do. I didn't get a blessed lette_his morning; I suppose they think I'm having such a good time over here it'_ pity to disturb me. If I could attend to business for about half an hour, I'd find out something. But I can't, and it's no use talking. The state of m_ealth was never so unsatisfactory as it was about five o'clock this morning."
  • "I am very sorry to hear that," I said, "and I recommend you strongly not t_hink of business."
  • "I don't," Mr. Ruck replied. "I'm thinking of cathedrals; I'm thinking of th_eauties of nature. Come," he went on, turning round on the bench and leanin_is elbow on the parapet, "I'll think of those mountains over there; they AR_retty, certainly. Can't you get over there?"
  • "Over where?"
  • "Over to those hills. Don't they run a train right up?"
  • "You can go to Chamouni," I said. "You can go to Grindelwald and Zermatt an_ifty other places. You can't go by rail, but you can drive."
  • "All right, we'll drive—and not in a one-horse concern, either. Yes, Chamoun_s one of the places we put down. I hope there are a few nice shops i_hamouni." Mr. Ruck spoke with a certain quickened emphasis, and in a ton_ore explicitly humorous than he commonly employed. I thought he was excited, and yet he had not the appearance of excitement. He looked like a man who ha_imply taken, in the face of disaster, a sudden, somewhat imaginative, resolution not to "worry." He presently twisted himself about on his benc_gain and began to watch for his companions. "Well, they ARE walking round,"
  • he resumed; "I guess they've hit on something, somewhere. And they've got _arriage waiting outside of that archway too. They seem to do a big busines_n archways here, don't they. They like to have a carriage to carry home th_hings—those ladies of mine. Then they're sure they've got them." The ladies, after this, to do them justice, were not very long in appearing. They cam_oward us, from under the archway to which Mr. Ruck had somewhat invidiousl_lluded, slowly and with a rather exhausted step and expression. My companio_ooked at them a moment, as they advanced. "They're tired," he said softly.
  • "When they're tired, like that, it's very expensive."
  • "Well," said Mrs. Ruck, "I'm glad you've had some company." Her husband looke_t her, in silence, through narrowed eyelids, and I suspected that thi_racious observation on the lady's part was prompted by a restless conscience.
  • Miss Sophy glanced at me with her little straightforward air of defiance. "I_ould have been more proper if WE had had the company. Why didn't you com_fter us, instead of sitting there?" she asked of Mr. Ruck's companion.
  • "I was told by your father," I explained, "that you were engaged in sacre_ites." Miss Ruck was not gracious, though I doubt whether it was because he_onscience was better than her mother's.
  • "Well, for a gentleman there is nothing so sacred as ladies' society," replie_iss Ruck, in the manner of a person accustomed to giving neat retorts.
  • "I suppose you refer to the Cathedral," said her mother. "Well, I must say, w_idn't go back there. I don't know what it may be of a Sunday, but it gave m_ chill."
  • "We discovered the loveliest little lace-shop," observed the young girl, wit_ serenity that was superior to bravado.
  • Her father looked at her a while; then turned about again, leaning on th_arapet, and gazed away at the "hills."
  • "Well, it was certainly cheap," said Mrs. Ruck, also contemplating the Alps.
  • "We are going to Chamouni," said her husband. "You haven't any occasion fo_ace at Chamouni."
  • "Well, I'm glad to hear you have decided to go somewhere," rejoined his wife.
  • "I don't want to be a fixture at a boarding-house."
  • "You can wear lace anywhere," said Miss Ruck, "if you pat it on right. That'_he great thing, with lace. I don't think they know how to wear lace i_urope. I know how I mean to wear mine; but I mean to keep it till I ge_ome."
  • Her father transferred his melancholy gaze to her elaborately- appointe_ittle person; there was a great deal of very new-looking detail in Mis_uck's appearance. Then, in a tone of voice quite out of consonance with hi_acial despondency, "Have you purchased a great deal?" he inquired.
  • "I have purchased enough for you to make a fuss about."
  • "He can't make a fuss about that," said Mrs. Ruck.
  • "Well, you'll see!" declared the young girl with a little sharp laugh.
  • But her father went on, in the same tone: "Have you got it in your pocket? Wh_on't you put it on—why don't you hang it round you?"
  • "I'll hang it round YOU, if you don't look out!" cried Miss Sophy.
  • "Don't you want to show it to this gentleman?" Mr. Ruck continued.
  • "Mercy, how you do talk about that lace!" said his wife.
  • "Well, I want to be lively. There's every reason for it; we're going t_hamouni."
  • "You're restless; that's what's the matter with you." And Mrs. Ruck got up.
  • "No, I ain't," said her husband. "I never felt so quiet; I feel as peaceful a_ little child."
  • Mrs. Ruck, who had no sense whatever of humour, looked at her daughter and a_e. "Well, I hope you'll improve," she said.
  • "Send in the bills," Mr. Ruck went on, rising to his feet. "Don't hesitate, Sophy. I don't care what you do now. In for a penny, in for a pound."
  • Miss Ruck joined her mother, with a little toss of her head, and we followe_he ladies to the carriage. "In your place," said Miss Sophy to her father, "_ouldn't talk so much about pennies and pounds before strangers."
  • Poor Mr. Ruck appeared to feel the force of this observation, which, in th_onsciousness of a man who had never been "mean," could hardly fail to strik_ responsive chord. He coloured a little, and he was silent; his companion_ot into their vehicle, the front seat of which was adorned with a larg_arcel. Mr. Ruck gave the parcel a little poke with his umbrella, and then, turning to me with a rather grimly penitential smile, "After all," he said,
  • "for the ladies that's the principal interest."