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- The Pension Beaurepas - 4/13 -
literature, tapestry, the use of the piano. They were, however, much fonder of locomotion than their companion, and I often met them in the Rue du Rhone and on the quays, loitering in front of the jewellers' windows. They might have had a cavalier in the person of old M. Pigeonneau, who possessed a high appreciation of their charms, but who, owing to the absence of a common idiom, was deprived of the pleasures of intimacy. He knew no English, and Mrs. Ruck and her daughter had, as it seemed, an incurable mistrust of the beautiful tongue which, as the old man endeavoured to impress upon them, was pre-eminently the language of conversation.
"They have a tournure de princesse--a distinction supreme," he said to me. "One is surprised to find them in a little pension, at seven francs a day."
"Oh, they don't come for economy," I answered. "They must be rich."
"They don't come for my beaux yeux--for mine," said M. Pigeonneau, sadly. "Perhaps it's for yours, young man. Je vous recommande la mere."
I reflected a moment. "They came on account of Mr. Ruck--because at hotels he's so restless."
M. Pigeonneau gave me a knowing nod. "Of course he is, with such a wife as that--a femme superbe. Madame Ruck is preserved in perfection--a miraculous fraicheur. I like those large, fair, quiet women; they are often, dans l'intimite, the most agreeable. I'll warrant you that at heart Madame Ruck is a finished coquette."
"I rather doubt it," I said.
"You suppose her cold? Ne vous y fiez pas!"
"It is a matter in which I have nothing at stake."
"You young Americans are droll," said M. Pigeonneau; "you never have anything at stake! But the little one, for example; I'll warrant you she's not cold. She is admirably made."
"She is very pretty."
"'She is very pretty!' Vous dites cela d'un ton! When you pay compliments to Mademoiselle Ruck, I hope that's not the way you do it."
"I don't pay compliments to Mademoiselle Ruck."
"Ah, decidedly," said M. Pigeonneau, "you young Americans are droll!"
I should have suspected that these two ladies would not especially commend themselves to Madame Beaurepas; that as a maitresse de salon, which she in some degree aspired to be, she would have found them wanting in a certain flexibility of deportment. But I should have gone quite wrong; Madame Beaurepas had no fault at all to find with her new pensionnaires. "I have no observation whatever to make about them," she said to me one evening. "I see nothing in those ladies which is at all deplace. They don't complain of anything; they don't meddle; they take what's given them; they leave me tranquil. The Americans are often like that. Often, but not always," Madame Beaurepas pursued. "We are to have a specimen to-morrow of a very different sort."
"An American?" I inquired.
"Two Americaines--a mother and a daughter. There are Americans and Americans: when you are difficiles, you are more so than any one, and when you have pretensions--ah, per exemple, it's serious. I foresee that with this little lady everything will be serious, beginning with her cafe au lait. She has been staying at the Pension Chamousset--my concurrent, you know, farther up the street; but she is coming away because the coffee is bad. She holds to her coffee, it appears. I don't know what liquid Madame Chamousset may have invented, but we will do the best we can for her. Only, I know she will make me des histoires about something else. She will demand a new lamp for the salon; vous alles voir cela. She wishes to pay but eleven francs a day for herself and her daughter, tout compris; and for their eleven francs they expect to be lodged like princesses. But she is very 'ladylike'--isn't that what you call it in English? Oh, pour cela, she is ladylike!"
I caught a glimpse on the morrow of this ladylike person, who was arriving at her new residence as I came in from a walk. She had come in a cab, with her daughter and her luggage; and, with an air of perfect softness and serenity, she was disputing the fare as she stood among her boxes, on the steps. She addressed her cabman in a very English accent, but with extreme precision and correctness. "I wish to be perfectly reasonable, but I don't wish to encourage you in exorbitant demands. With a franc and a half you are sufficiently paid. It is not the custom at Geneva to give a pour-boire for so short a drive. I have made inquiries, and I find it is not the custom, even in the best families. I am a stranger, yes, but I always adopt the custom of the native families. I think it my duty toward the natives."
"But I am a native, too, moi!" said the cabman, with an angry laugh.
"You seem to me to speak with a German accent," continued the lady. "You are probably from Basel. A franc and a half is sufficient. I see you have left behind the little red bag which I asked you to hold between your knees; you will please to go back to the other house and get it. Very well, if you are impolite I will make a complaint of you to-morrow at the administration. Aurora, you will find a pencil in the outer pocket of my embroidered satchel; please to write down his number,--87; do you see it distinctly?--in case we should forget it."
The young lady addressed as "Aurora"--a slight, fair girl, holding a large parcel of umbrellas--stood at hand while this allocution went forward, but she apparently gave no heed to it. She stood looking about her, in a listless manner, at the front of the house, at the corridor, at Celestine tucking up her apron in the doorway, at me as I passed in amid the disseminated luggage; her mother's parsimonious attitude seeming to produce in Miss Aurora neither sympathy nor embarrassment. At dinner the two ladies were placed on the same side of the table as myself, below Mrs. Ruck and her daughter, my own position being on the right of Mr. Ruck. I had therefore little observation of Mrs. Church--such I learned to be her name--but I occasionally heard her soft, distinct voice.
"White wine, if you please; we prefer white wine. There is none on the table? Then you will please to get some, and to remember to place a bottle of it always here, between my daughter and myself."
"That lady seems to know what she wants," said Mr. Ruck, "and she speaks so I can understand her. I can't understand every one, over here. I should like to make that lady's acquaintance. Perhaps she knows what _I_ want, too; it seems hard to find out. But I don't want any of their sour white wine; that's one of the things I don't want. I expect she'll be an addition to the pension."
Mr. Ruck made the acquaintance of Mrs. Church that evening in the parlour, being presented to her by his wife, who presumed on the rights conferred upon herself by the mutual proximity, at table, of the two ladies. I suspected that in Mrs. Church's view Mrs. Ruck presumed too far. The fugitive from the Pension Chamousset, as M. Pigeonneau called her, was a little fresh, plump, comely woman, looking less than her age, with a round, bright, serious face. She was very simply and frugally dressed, not at all in the manner of Mr. Ruck's companions, and she had an air of quiet distinction which was an excellent defensive weapon. She exhibited a polite disposition to listen to what Mr. Ruck might have to say, but her manner was equivalent to an intimation that what she valued least in boarding- house life was its social opportunities. She had placed herself near a lamp, after carefully screwing it and turning it up, and she had opened in her lap, with the assistance of a large embroidered marker, an octavo volume, which I perceived to be in German. To Mrs. Ruck and her daughter she was evidently a puzzle, with her economical attire and her expensive culture. The two younger ladies, however, had begun to fraternise very freely, and Miss Ruck presently went wandering out of the room with her arm round the waist of Miss Church. It was a very warm evening; the long windows of the salon stood wide open into the garden, and, inspired by the balmy darkness, M. Pigeonneau and Mademoiselle Beaurepas, a most obliging little woman, who lisped and always wore a huge cravat, declared they would organise a fete de nuit. They engaged in this undertaking, and the fete developed itself, consisting of half-a-dozen red paper lanterns, hung about on the trees, and of several glasses of sirop, carried on a tray by the stout-armed Celestine. As the festival deepened to its climax I went out into the garden, where M. Pigeonneau was master of ceremonies.
"But where are those charming young ladies," he cried, "Miss Ruck and the new-comer, l'aimable transfuge? Their absence has been remarked, and they are wanting to the brilliancy of the occasion. Voyez I have selected a glass of syrup--a generous glass--for Mademoiselle Ruck, and I advise you, my young friend, if you wish to make a good impression, to put aside one which you may offer to the other young lady. What is her name? Miss Church. I see; it's a singular name. There is a church in which I would willingly worship!"
Mr. Ruck presently came out of the salon, having concluded his interview with Mrs. Church. Through the open window I saw the latter lady sitting under the lamp with her German octavo, while Mrs. Ruck, established, empty-handed, in an arm-chair near her, gazed at her with an air of fascination.
"Well, I told you she would know what I want," said Mr. Ruck. "She says I want to go up to Appenzell, wherever that is; that I want to drink whey and live in a high latitude--what did she call it?--a high altitude. She seemed to think we ought to leave for Appenzell to- morrow; she'd got it all fixed. She says this ain't a high enough lat--a high enough altitude. And she says I mustn't go too high either; that would be just as bad; she seems to know just the right figure. She says she'll give me a list of the hotels where we must stop, on the way to Appenzell. I asked her if she didn't want to go with as, but she says she'd rather sit still and read. I expect she's a big reader."
The daughter of this accomplished woman now reappeared, in company with Miss Ruck, with whom she had been strolling through the outlying parts of the garden.
"Well," said Miss Ruck, glancing at the red paper lanterns, "are they trying to stick the flower-pots into the trees?"
"It's an illumination in honour of our arrival," the other young girl rejoined. "It's a triumph over Madame Chamousset."
"Meanwhile, at the Pension Chamousset," I ventured to suggest, "they
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