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Chapter 7

  • 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.
  • "Distinctly so."
  • "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
  • "scene."
  • "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.