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- The Pension Beaurepas - 10/13 -
"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't know. How would you like that, Sophy?"
"Well, I never!" exclaimed Sophy, as Mrs. Church marched off with her daughter.
I had half expected that Mrs. Church would make me feel the weight of her disapproval of my own share in that little act of revelry in the English Garden. But she maintained her claim to being a highly reasonable woman--I could not but admire the justice of this pretension--by recognising my irresponsibility. I had taken her daughter as I found her, which was, according to Mrs. Church's view, in a very equivocal position. The natural instinct of a young man, in such a situation, is not to protest but to profit; and it was clear to Mrs. Church that I had had nothing to do with Miss Aurora's appearing in public under the insufficient chaperonage of Miss Ruck. Besides, she liked to converse, and she apparently did me the honour to believe that of all the members of the Pension Beaurepas I had the most cultivated understanding. I found her in the salon a couple of evenings after the incident I have just narrated, and I approached her with a view of making my peace with her, if this should prove necessary. But Mrs. Church was as gracious as I could have desired; she put her marker into her book, and folded her plump little hands on the cover. She made no specific allusion to the English Garden; she embarked, rather, upon those general considerations in which her refined intellect was so much at home.
"Always at your studies, Mrs. Church," I ventured to observe.
"Que voulez-vous? To say studies is to say too much; one doesn't study in the parlour of a boarding-house. But I do what I can; I have always done what I can. That is all I have ever claimed."
"No one can do more, and you seem to have done a great deal."
"Do you know my secret?" she asked, with an air of brightening confidence. And she paused a moment before she imparted her secret-- "To care only for the BEST! To do the best, to know the best--to have, to desire, to recognise, only the best. That's what I have always done, in my quiet little way. I have gone through Europe on my devoted little errand, seeking, seeing, heeding, only the best. And it has not been for myself alone; it has been for my daughter. My daughter has had the best. We are not rich, but I can say that."
"She has had you, madam," I rejoined finely.
"Certainly, such as I am, I have been devoted. We have got something everywhere; a little here, a little there. That's the real secret-- to get something everywhere; you always can if you are devoted. Sometimes it has been a little music, sometimes a little deeper insight into the history of art; every little counts you know. Sometimes it has been just a glimpse, a view, a lovely landscape, an impression. We have always been on the look-out. Sometimes it has been a valued friendship, a delightful social tie."
"Here comes the 'European society,' the poor daughter's bugbear," I said to myself. "Certainly," I remarked aloud--I admit, rather perversely--"if you have lived a great deal in pensions, you must have got acquainted with lots of people."
Mrs. Church dropped her eyes a moment; and then, with considerable gravity, "I think the European pension system in many respects remarkable, and in some satisfactory. But of the friendships that we have formed, few have been contracted in establishments of this kind."
"I am sorry to hear that!" I said, laughing.
"I don't say it for you, though I might say it for some others. We have been interested in European homes."
"Oh, I see!"
"We have the entree of the old Genevese society I like its tone. I prefer it to that of Mr. Ruck," added Mrs. Church, calmly; "to that of Mrs. Ruck and Miss Ruck--of Miss Ruck especially."
"Ah, the poor Rucks haven't any tone at all," I said "Don't take them more seriously than they take themselves."
"Tell me this," my companion rejoined, "are they fair examples?"
"Examples of what?"
"Of our American tendencies."
"'Tendencies' is a big word, dear lady; tendencies are difficult to calculate. And you shouldn't abuse those good Rucks, who have been very kind to your daughter. They have invited her to go and stay with them in Thirty-Seventh Street."
"Aurora has told me. It might be very serious."
"It might be very droll," I said.
"To me," declared Mrs. Church, "it is simply terrible. I think we shall have to leave the Pension Beaurepas. I shall go back to Madame Chamousset."
"On account of the Rucks?" I asked.
"Pray, why don't they go themselves? I have given them some excellent addresses--written down the very hours of the trains. They were going to Appenzell; I thought it was arranged."
"They talk of Chamouni now," I said; "but they are very helpless and undecided."
"I will give them some Chamouni addresses. Mrs. Ruck will send a chaise a porteurs; I will give her the name of a man who lets them lower than you get them at the hotels. After that they MUST go."
"Well, I doubt," I observed, "whether Mr. Ruck will ever really be seen on the Mer de Glace--in a high hat. He's not like you; he doesn't value his European privileges. He takes no interest. He regrets Wall Street, acutely. As his wife says, he is very restless, but he has no curiosity about Chamouni. So you must not depend too much on the effect of your addresses."
"Is it a frequent type?" asked Mrs. Church, with an air of self- control.
"I am afraid so. Mr. Ruck is a broken-down man of business. He is broken down in health, and I suspect he is broken down in fortune. He has spent his whole life in buying and selling; he knows how to do nothing else. His wife and daughter have spent their lives, not in selling, but in buying; and they, on their side, know how to do nothing else. To get something in a shop that they can put on their backs--that is their one idea; they haven't another in their heads. Of course they spend no end of money, and they do it with an implacable persistence, with a mixture of audacity and of cunning. They do it in his teeth and they do it behind his back; the mother protects the daughter, and the daughter eggs on the mother. Between them they are bleeding him to death."
"Ah, what a picture!" murmured Mrs. Church. "I am afraid they are very-uncultivated."
"I share your fears. They are perfectly ignorant; they have no resources. The vision of fine clothes occupies their whole imagination. They have not an idea--even a worse one--to compete with it. Poor Mr. Ruck, who is extremely good-natured and soft, seems to me a really tragic figure. He is getting bad news every day from home; his business is going to the dogs. He is unable to stop it; he has to stand and watch his fortunes ebb. He has been used to doing things in a big way, and he feels mean, if he makes a fuss about bills. So the ladies keep sending them in."
"But haven't they common sense? Don't they know they are ruining themselves?"
"They don't believe it. The duty of an American husband and father is to keep them going. If he asks them how, that's his own affair. So, by way of not being mean, of being a good American husband and father, poor Ruck stands staring at bankruptcy."
Mrs. Church looked at me a moment, in quickened meditation. "Why, if Aurora were to go to stay with them, she might not even be properly fed!"
"I don't, on the whole, recommend," I said, laughing, "that your daughter should pay a visit to Thirty-Seventh Street."
"Why should I be subjected to such trials--so sadly eprouvee? Why should a daughter of mine like that dreadful girl?"
"DOES she like her?"
"Pray, do you mean," asked my companion, softly, "that Aurora is a hypocrite?"
I hesitated a moment. "A little, since you ask me. I think you have forced her to be."
Mrs. Church answered this possibly presumptuous charge with a tranquil, candid exultation. "I never force my daughter!"
"She is nevertheless in a false position," I rejoined. "She hungers and thirsts to go back to her own country; she wants 'to come' out in New York, which is certainly, socially speaking, the El Dorado of young ladies. She likes any one, for the moment, who will talk to her of that, and serve as a connecting-link with her native shores. Miss Ruck performs this agreeable office."
"Your idea is, then, that if she were to go with Miss Ruck to America she would drop her afterwards."
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