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- The Pension Beaurepas - 5/13 -
have put out their lights; they are sitting in darkness, lamenting your departure."
She looked at me, smiling; she was standing in the light that came from the house. M. Pigeonneau, meanwhile, who had been awaiting his chance, advanced to Miss Ruck with his glass of syrup. "I have kept it for you, Mademoiselle," he said; "I have jealously guarded it. It is very delicious!"
Miss Ruck looked at him and his syrup, without any motion to take the glass. "Well, I guess it's sour," she said in a moment; and she gave a little shake of her head.
M. Pigeonneau stood staring with his syrup in his hand; then he slowly turned away. He looked about at the rest of us, as if to appeal from Miss Ruck's insensibility, and went to deposit his rejected tribute on a bench.
"Won't you give it to me?" asked Miss Church, in faultless French. "J'adore le sirop, moi."
M. Pigeonneau came back with alacrity, and presented the glass with a very low bow. "I adore good manners," murmured the old man.
This incident caused me to look at Miss Church with quickened interest. She was not strikingly pretty, but in her charming irregular face there was something brilliant and ardent. Like her mother, she was very simply dressed.
"She wants to go to America, and her mother won't let her," said Miss Sophy to me, explaining her companion's situation.
"I am very sorry--for America," I answered, laughing.
"Well, I don't want to say anything against your mother, but I think it's shameful," Miss Ruck pursued.
"Mamma has very good reasons; she will tell you them all."
"Well, I'm sure I don't want to hear them," said Miss Ruck. "You have got a right to go to your own country; every one has a right to go to their own country."
"Mamma is not very patriotic," said Aurora Church, smiling.
"Well, I call that dreadful," her companion declared. "I have heard that there are some Americans like that, but I never believed it."
"There are all sorts of Americans," I said, laughing.
"Aurora's one of the right sort," rejoined Miss Ruck, who had apparently become very intimate with her new friend.
"Are you very patriotic?" I asked of the young girl.
"She's right down homesick," said Miss Sophy; "she's dying to go. If I were you my mother would have to take me."
"Mamma is going to take me to Dresden."
"Well, I declare I never heard of anything so dreadful!" cried Miss Ruck. "It's like something in a story."
"I never heard there was anything very dreadful in Dresden," I interposed.
Miss Ruck looked at me a moment. "Well, I don't believe YOU are a good American," she replied, "and I never supposed you were. You had better go in there and talk to Mrs. Church."
"Dresden is really very nice, isn't it?" I asked of her companion.
"It isn't nice if you happen to prefer New York," said Miss Sophy. "Miss Church prefers New York. Tell him you are dying to see New York; it will make him angry," she went on.
"I have no desire to make him angry," said Aurora, smiling.
"It is only Miss Ruck who can do that," I rejoined. "Have you been a long time in Europe?"
"I call that wicked!" Miss Sophy declared.
"You might be in a worse place," I continued. "I find Europe very interesting."
Miss Ruck gave a little laugh. "I was saying that you wanted to pass for a European."
"Yes, I want to pass for a Dalmatian."
Miss Ruck looked at me a moment. "Well, you had better not come home," she said. "No one will speak to you."
"Were you born in these countries?" I asked of her companion.
"Oh, no; I came to Europe when I was a small child. But I remember America a little, and it seems delightful."
"Wait till you see it again. It's just too lovely," said Miss Sophy.
"It's the grandest country in the world," I added.
Miss Ruck began to toss her head. "Come away, my dear," she said. "If there's a creature I despise it's a man that tries to say funny things about his own country."
"Don't you think one can be tired of Europe?" Aurora asked, lingering.
"Possibly--after many years."
"Father was tired of it after three weeks," said Miss Ruck.
"I have been here sixteen years," her friend went on, looking at me with a charming intentness, as if she had a purpose in speaking. "It used to be for my education. I don't know what it's for now."
"She's beautifully educated," said Miss Ruck. "She knows four languages."
"I am not very sure that I know English."
"You should go to Boston!" cried Miss Sophy. "They speak splendidly in Boston."
"C'est mon reve," said Aurora, still looking at me.
"Have you been all over Europe," I asked--"in all the different countries?"
She hesitated a moment. "Everywhere that there's a pension. Mamma is devoted to pensions. We have lived, at one time or another, in every pension in Europe."
"Well, I should think you had seen about enough," said Miss Ruck.
"It's a delightful way of seeing Europe," Aurora rejoined, with her brilliant smile. "You may imagine how it has attached me to the different countries. I have such charming souvenirs! There is a pension awaiting us now at Dresden,--eight francs a day, without wine. That's rather dear. Mamma means to make them give us wine. Mamma is a great authority on pensions; she is known, that way, all over Europe. Last winter we were in Italy, and she discovered one at Piacenza,--four francs a day. We made economies."
"Your mother doesn't seem to mingle much," observed Miss Ruck, glancing through the window at the scholastic attitude of Mrs. Church.
"No, she doesn't mingle, except in the native society. Though she lives in pensions, she detests them."
"Why does she live in them, then?" asked Miss Sophy, rather resentfully.
"Oh, because we are so poor; it's the cheapest way to live. We have tried having a cook, but the cook always steals. Mamma used to set me to watch her; that's the way I passed my jeunesse--my belle jeunesse. We are frightfully poor," the young girl went on, with the same strange frankness--a curious mixture of girlish grace and conscious cynicism. "Nous n'avons pas le sou. That's one of the reasons we don't go back to America; mamma says we can't afford to live there."
"Well, any one can see that you're an American girl," Miss Ruck remarked, in a consolatory manner. "I can tell an American girl a mile off. You've got the American style."
"I'm afraid I haven't the American toilette," said Aurora, looking at the other's superior splendour.
"Well, your dress was cut in France; any one can see that."
"Yes," said Aurora, with a laugh, "my dress was cut in France--at Avranches."
"Well, you've got a lovely figure, any way," pursued her companion.
"Ah," said the young girl, "at Avranches, too, my figure was admired." And she looked at me askance, with a certain coquetry. But I was an innocent youth, and I only looked back at her, wondering. She was a great deal nicer than Miss Ruck, and yet Miss Ruck would not have said that. "I try to be like an American girl," she continued; "I do my best, though mamma doesn't at all encourage it. I am very patriotic. I try to copy them, though mamma has brought me up a la francaise; that is, as much as one can in pensions. For instance, I have never been out of the house without mamma; oh, never, never. But sometimes I despair; American girls are so wonderfully frank. I can't be frank, like that. I am always afraid. But I do what I can, as you see. Excusez du peu!"
I thought this young lady at least as outspoken as most of her unexpatriated sisters; there was something almost comical in her despondency. But she had by no means caught, as it seemed to me, the American tone. Whatever her tone was, however, it had a fascination; there was something dainty about it, and yet it was decidedly audacious.
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