Old M. Pigeonneau had more than once proposed to me to take a walk, but I ha_itherto been unable to respond to so alluring an invitation. It befell, however, one afternoon, that I perceived him going forth upon a desultor_troll, with a certain lonesomeness of demeanour that attracted my sympathy. _astily overtook him, and passed my hand into his venerable arm, a proceedin_hich produced in the good old man so jovial a sense of comradeship that h_rdently proposed we should bend our steps to the English Garden; no localit_ess festive was worthy of the occasion. To the English Garden, accordingly, we went; it lay beyond the bridge, beside the lake. It was very pretty an_ery animated; there was a band playing in the middle, and a considerabl_umber of persons sitting under the small trees, on benches and little chairs, or strolling beside the blue water. We joined the strollers, we observed ou_ompanions, and conversed on obvious topics. Some of these last, of course, were the pretty women who embellished the scene, and who, in the light of M.
Pigeonneau's comprehensive criticism, appeared surprisingly numerous. H_eemed bent upon our making up our minds as to which was the prettiest, and a_his was an innocent game I consented to play at it.
Suddenly M. Pigeonneau stopped, pressing my arm with the liveliest emotion.
"La voila, la voila, the prettiest!" he quickly murmured, "coming toward us, in a blue dress, with the other." It was at the other I was looking, for th_ther, to my surprise, was our interesting fellow-pensioner, the daughter of _igilant mother. M. Pigeonneau, meanwhile, had redoubled his exclamations; h_ad recognised Miss Sophy Ruck. "Oh, la belle rencontre, nos aimable_onvives; the prettiest girl in the world, in effect!"
We immediately greeted and joined the young ladies, who, like ourselves, wer_alking arm in arm and enjoying the scene.
"I was citing you with admiration to my friend even before I had recognise_ou," said M. Pigeonneau to Miss Ruck.
"I don't believe in French compliments," remarked this young lady, presentin_er back to the smiling old man.
"Are you and Miss Ruck walking alone?" I asked of her companion. "You ha_etter accept of M. Pigeonneau's gallant protection, and of mine."
Aurora Church had taken her hand out of Miss Ruck's arm; she looked at me, smiling, with her head a little inclined, while, upon her shoulder, she mad_er open parasol revolve. "Which is most improper—to walk alone or to wal_ith gentlemen? I wish to do what is most improper."
"What mysterious logic governs your conduct?" I inquired.
"He thinks you can't understand him when he talks like that," said Miss Ruck.
"But I do understand you, always!"
"So I have always ventured to hope, my dear Miss Ruck."
"Well, if I didn't, it wouldn't be much loss," rejoined this young lady.
"Allons, en marche!" cried M. Pigeonneau, smiling still, and undiscouraged b_er inhumanity. "Let as make together the tour of the garden." And he impose_is society upon Miss Ruck with a respectful, elderly grace which wa_vidently unable to see anything in her reluctance but modesty, and wa_ublimely conscious of a mission to place modesty at its ease. This ill- assorted couple walked in front, while Aurora Church and I strolled alon_ogether.
"I am sure this is more improper," said my companion; "this is delightfull_mproper. I don't say that as a compliment to you," she added. "I would say i_o any man, no matter how stupid."
"Oh, I am very stupid," I answered, "but this doesn't seem to me wrong."
"Not for you, no; only for me. There is nothing that a man can do that i_rong, is there? En morale, you know, I mean. Ah, yes, he can steal; but _hink there is nothing else, is there?"
"I don't know. One doesn't know those things until after one has done them.
Then one is enlightened."
"And you mean that you have never been enlightened? You make yourself out ver_ood."
"That is better than making one's self out bad, as you do."
The young girl glanced at me a moment, and then, with her charming smile,
"That's one of the consequences of a false position."
"Is your position false?" I inquired, smiling too at this large formula.
"In what way?"
"Oh, in every way. For instance, I have to pretend to be a jeune fille. I a_ot a jeune fille; no American girl is a jeune fille; an American girl is a_ntelligent, responsible creature. I have to pretend to be very innocent, bu_ am not very innocent."
"You don't pretend to be very innocent; you pretend to be—what shall I cal_t?—very wise."
"That's no pretence. I am wise."
"You are not an American girl," I ventured to observe.
My companion almost stopped, looking at me; there was a little flush in he_heek. "Voila!" she said. "There's my false position. I want to be an America_irl, and I'm not."
"Do you want me to tell you?" I went on. "An American girl wouldn't talk a_ou are talking now."
"Please tell me," said Aurora Church, with expressive eagerness. "How woul_he talk?"
"I can't tell you all the things an American girl would say, but I think I ca_ell you the things she wouldn't say. She wouldn't reason out her conduct, a_ou seem to me to do."
Aurora gave me the most flattering attention. "I see. She would be simpler. T_o very simple things that are not at all simple—that is the American girl!"
I permitted myself a small explosion of hilarity. "I don't know whether yo_re a French girl, or what you are," I said, "but you are very witty."
"Ah, you mean that I strike false notes!" cried Aurora Church, sadly. "That'_ust what I want to avoid. I wish you would always tell me."
The conversational union between Miss Ruck and her neighbour, in front of us, had evidently not become a close one. The young lady suddenly turned round t_s with a question: "Don't you want some ice-cream?"
"SHE doesn't strike false notes," I murmured.
There was a kind of pavilion or kiosk, which served as a cafe, and at whic_he delicacies procurable at such an establishment were dispensed. Miss Ruc_ointed to the little green tables and chairs which were set out on th_ravel; M. Pigeonneau, fluttering with a sense of dissipation, seconded th_roposal, and we presently sat down and gave our order to a nimble attendant.
I managed again to place myself next to Aurora Church; our companions were o_he other side of the table.
My neighbour was delighted with our situation. "This is best of all," sh_aid. "I never believed I should come to a cafe with two strange men! Now, yo_an't persuade me this isn't wrong."
"To make it wrong we ought to see your mother coming down that path."
"Ah, my mother makes everything wrong," said the young girl, attacking with _ittle spoon in the shape of a spade the apex of a pink ice. And then sh_eturned to her idea of a moment before: "You must promise to tell me—to war_e in some way—whenever I strike a false note. You must give a little cough, like that—ahem!"
"You will keep me very busy, and people will think I am in a consumption."
"Voyons," she continued, "why have you never talked to me more? Is that _alse note? Why haven't you been 'attentive?' That's what American girls cal_t; that's what Miss Ruck calls it."
I assured myself that our companions were out of earshot, and that Miss Ruc_as much occupied with a large vanilla cream. "Because you are always entwine_ith that young lady. There is no getting near you."
Aurora looked at her friend while the latter devoted herself to her ice. "Yo_onder why I like her so much, I suppose. So does mamma; elle s'y perd. _on't like her particularly; je n'en suis pas folle. But she gives m_nformation; she tells me about America. Mamma has always tried to prevent m_nowing anything about it, and I am all the more curious. And then Miss Ruc_s very fresh."
"I may not be so fresh as Miss Ruck," I said, "but in future, when you wan_nformation, I recommend you to come to me for it."
"Our friend offers to take me to America; she invites me to go back with her, to stay with her. You couldn't do that, could you?" And the young girl looke_t me a moment. "Bon, a false note I can see it by your face; you remind me o_ maitre de piano."
"You overdo the character—the poor American girl," I said. "Are you going t_tay with that delightful family?"
"I will go and stay with any one that will take me or ask me. It's a rea_ostalgie. She says that in New York—in Thirty-Seventh Street- -I should hav_he most lovely time."
"I have no doubt you would enjoy it."
"Absolute liberty to begin with."
"It seems to me you have a certain liberty here," I rejoined.
"Ah, THIS? Oh, I shall pay for this. I shall be punished by mamma, and I shal_e lectured by Madame Galopin."
"The wife of the pasteur?"
"His digne epouse. Madame Galopin, for mamma, is the incarnation of Europea_pinion. That's what vexes me with mamma, her thinking so much of people lik_adame Galopin. Going to see Madame Galopin— mamma calls that being i_uropean society. European society! I'm so sick of that expression; I hav_eard it since I was six years old. Who is Madame Galopin—who thinks anythin_f her here? She is nobody; she is perfectly third-rate. If I like Americ_etter than mamma, I also know Europe better."
"But your mother, certainly," I objected, a trifle timidly, for my young lad_as excited, and had a charming little passion in her eye- -"your mother has _reat many social relations all over the Continent."
"She thinks so, but half the people don't care for us. They are not so good a_e, and they know it—I'll do them that justice—and they wonder why we shoul_are for them. When we are polite to them, they think the less of us; ther_re plenty of people like that. Mamma thinks so much of them simply becaus_hey are foreigners. If I could tell you all the dull, stupid, second-rat_eople I have had to talk to, for no better reason than that they were de leu_ays!— Germans, French, Italians, Turks, everything. When I complain, mamm_lways says that at any rate it's practice in the language. And she makes s_uch of the English, too; I don't know what that's practice in."
Before I had time to suggest an hypothesis, as regards this latter point, _aw something that made me rise, with a certain solemnity, from my chair. Thi_as nothing less than the neat little figure of Mrs. Church—a perfect model o_he femme comme il faut—approaching our table with an impatient step, an_ollowed most unexpectedly in her advance by the pre-eminent form of Mr. Ruck.
She had evidently come in quest of her daughter, and if she had commanded thi_entleman's attendance, it had been on no softer ground than that of hi_nenvied paternity to her guilty child's accomplice. My movement had given th_larm, and Aurora Church and M. Pigeonneau got up; Miss Ruck alone did not, i_he local phrase, derange herself. Mrs. Church, beneath her modest littl_onnet, looked very serious, but not at all fluttered; she came straight t_er daughter, who received her with a smile, and then she looked all round a_he rest of us, very fixedly and tranquilly, without bowing. I must do bot_hese ladies the justice to mention that neither of them made the least little
"I have come for you, dearest," said the mother.
"Yes, dear mamma."
"Come for you—come for you," Mrs. Church repeated, looking down at the relic_f our little feast. "I was obliged to ask Mr. Ruck's assistance. I wa_uzzled; I thought a long time."
"Well, Mrs. Church, I was glad to see you puzzled once in your life!" said Mr.
Ruck, with friendly jocosity. "But you came pretty straight for all that. _ad hard work to keep up with you."
"We will take a cab, Aurora," Mrs. Church went on, without heeding thi_leasantry—"a closed one. Come, my daughter."
"Yes, dear mamma." The young girl was blushing, yet she was still smiling; sh_ooked round at us all, and, as her eyes met mine, I thought she wa_eautiful. "Good-bye," she said to us. "I have had a LOVELY TIME."
"We must not linger," said her mother; "it is five o'clock. We are to dine, you know, with Madame Galopin."
"I had quite forgotten," Aurora declared. "That will be charming."
"Do you want me to assist you to carry her back, ma am?" asked Mr. Ruck.
Mrs. Church hesitated a moment, with her serene little gaze. "Do you prefer, then, to leave your daughter to finish the evening with these gentlemen?"
Mr. Ruck pushed back his hat and scratched the top of his head. "Well, I don'_now. How would you like that, Sophy?"
"Well, I never!" exclaimed Sophy, as Mrs. Church marched off with he_aughter.