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- The Pension Beaurepas - 2/13 -
"How long have you tried it?"
"Do you mean in this place?"
"Well, I mean anywhere. It seems to me pretty much the same all over."
"I have been in this house only a fortnight," I said.
"Well, what should you say, from what you have seen?" my companion asked.
"Oh," said I, "you can see all there is immediately. It's very simple."
"Sweet simplicity, eh? I'm afraid my two ladies will find it too simple."
"Everything is very good," I went on. "And Madame Beaurepas is a charming old woman. And then it's very cheap."
"Cheap, is it?" my friend repeated meditatively.
"Doesn't it strike you so?" I asked. I thought it very possible he had not inquired the terms. But he appeared not to have heard me; he sat there, clasping his knee and blinking, in a contemplative manner, at the sunshine.
"Are you from the United States, sir?" he presently demanded, turning his head again.
"Yes, sir," I replied; and I mentioned the place of my nativity.
"I presumed," he said, "that you were American or English. I'm from the United States myself; from New York city. Many of our people here?"
"Not so many as, I believe, there have sometimes been. There are two or three ladies."
"Well," my interlocutor declared, "I am very fond of ladies' society. I think when it's superior there's nothing comes up to it. I've got two ladies here myself; I must make you acquainted with them."
I rejoined that I should be delighted, and I inquired of my friend whether he had been long in Europe.
"Well, it seems precious long," he said, "but my time's not up yet. We have been here fourteen weeks and a half."
"Are you travelling for pleasure?" I asked.
My companion turned his head again and looked at me--looked at me so long in silence that I at last also turned and met his eyes.
"No, sir," he said presently. "No, sir," he repeated, after a considerable interval.
"Excuse me," said I, for there was something so solemn in his tone that I feared I had been indiscreet.
He took no notice of my ejaculation; he simply continued to look at me. "I'm travelling," he said, at last, "to please the doctors. They seemed to think they would like it."
"Ah, they sent you abroad for your health?"
"They sent me abroad because they were so confoundedly muddled they didn't know what else to do."
"That's often the best thing," I ventured to remark.
"It was a confession of weakness; they wanted me to stop plaguing them. They didn't know enough to cure me, and that's the way they thought they would get round it. I wanted to be cured--I didn't want to be transported. I hadn't done any harm."
I assented to the general proposition of the inefficiency of doctors, and asked my companion if he had been seriously ill.
"I didn't sleep," he said, after some delay.
"Ah, that's very annoying. I suppose you were overworked."
"I didn't eat; I took no interest in my food."
"Well, I hope you both eat and sleep now," I said.
"I couldn't hold a pen," my neighbour went on. "I couldn't sit still. I couldn't walk from my house to the cars--and it's only a little way. I lost my interest in business."
"You needed a holiday," I observed.
"That's what the doctors said. It wasn't so very smart of them. I had been paying strict attention to business for twenty-three years."
"In all that time you have never had a holiday?" I exclaimed with horror.
My companion waited a little. "Sundays," he said at last.
"No wonder, then, you were out of sorts."
"Well, sir," said my friend, "I shouldn't have been where I was three years ago if I had spent my time travelling round Europe. I was in a very advantageous position. I did a very large business. I was considerably interested in lumber." He paused, turned his head, and looked at me a moment. "Have you any business interests yourself?" I answered that I had none, and he went on again, slowly, softly, deliberately. "Well, sir, perhaps you are not aware that business in the United States is not what it was a short time since. Business interests are very insecure. There seems to be a general falling- off. Different parties offer different explanations of the fact, but so far as I am aware none of their observations have set things going again." I ingeniously intimated that if business was dull, the time was good for coming away; whereupon my neighbour threw back his head and stretched his legs a while. "Well, sir, that's one view of the matter certainly. There's something to be said for that. These things should be looked at all round. That's the ground my wife took. That's the ground," he added in a moment, "that a lady would naturally take;" and he gave a little dry laugh.
"You think it's slightly illogical," I remarked.
"Well, sir, the ground I took was, that the worse a man's business is, the more it requires looking after. I shouldn't want to go out to take a walk--not even to go to church--if my house was on fire. My firm is not doing the business it was; it's like a sick child, it requires nursing. What I wanted the doctors to do was to fix me up, so that I could go on at home. I'd have taken anything they'd have given me, and as many times a day. I wanted to be right there; I had my reasons; I have them still. But I came off all the same," said my friend, with a melancholy smile.
I was a great deal younger than he, but there was something so simple and communicative in his tone, so expressive of a desire to fraternise, and so exempt from any theory of human differences, that I quite forgot his seniority, and found myself offering him paternal I advice. "Don't think about all that," said I. "Simply enjoy yourself, amuse yourself, get well. Travel about and see Europe. At the end of a year, by the time you are ready to go home, things will have improved over there, and you will be quite well and happy."
My friend laid his hand on my knee; he looked at me for some moments, and I thought he was going to say, "You are very young!" But he said presently, "YOU have got used to Europe any way!"
At breakfast I encountered his ladies--his wife and daughter. They were placed, however, at a distance from me, and it was not until the pensionnaires had dispersed, and some of them, according to custom, had come out into the garden, that he had an opportunity of making me acquainted with them.
"Will you allow me to introduce you to my daughter?" he said, moved apparently by a paternal inclination to provide this young lady with social diversion. She was standing with her mother, in one of the paths, looking about with no great complacency, as I imagined, at the homely characteristics of the place, and old M. Pigeonneau was hovering near, hesitating apparently between the desire to be urbane and the absence of a pretext. "Mrs. Ruck--Miss Sophy Ruck," said my friend, leading me up.
Mrs. Ruck was a large, plump, light-coloured person, with a smooth fair face, a somnolent eye, and an elaborate coiffure. Miss Sophy was a girl of one-and-twenty, very small and very pretty--what I suppose would have been called a lively brunette. Both of these ladies were attired in black silk dresses, very much trimmed; they had an air of the highest elegance.
"Do you think highly of this pension?" inquired Mrs. Ruck, after a few preliminaries.
"It's a little rough, but it seems to me comfortable," I answered.
"Does it take a high rank in Geneva?" Mrs. Ruck pursued.
"I imagine it enjoys a very fair fame," I said, smiling.
"I should never dream of comparing it to a New York boarding-house," said Mrs. Ruck.
"It's quite a different style," her daughter observed.
Miss Ruck had folded her arms; she was holding her elbows with a pair of white little hands, and she was tapping the ground with a pretty little foot.
"We hardly expected to come to a pension," said Mrs. Ruck. "But we thought we would try; we had heard so much about Swiss pensions. I was saying to Mr. Ruck that I wondered whether this was a favourable specimen. I was afraid we might have made a mistake."
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