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- The Pension Beaurepas - 6/13 -
The young ladies began to stroll about the garden again, and I enjoyed their society until M. Pigeonneau's festival came to an end.
Mr. Ruck did not take his departure for Appenzell on the morrow, in spite of the eagerness to witness such an event which he had attributed to Mrs. Church. He continued, on the contrary, for many days after, to hang about the garden, to wander up to the banker's and back again, to engage in desultory conversation with his fellow- boarders, and to endeavour to assuage his constitutional restlessness by perusal of the American journals. But on the morrow I had the honour of making Mrs. Church's acquaintance. She came into the salon, after the midday breakfast, with her German octavo under her arm, and she appealed to me for assistance in selecting a quiet corner.
"Would you very kindly," she said, "move that large fauteuil a little more this way? Not the largest; the one with the little cushion. The fauteuils here are very insufficient; I must ask Madame Beaurepas for another. Thank you; a little more to the left, please; that will do. Are you particularly engaged?" she inquired, after she had seated herself. "If not, I should like to have some conversation with you. It is some time since I have met a young American of your- -what shall I call it?--your affiliations. I have learned your name from Madame Beaurepas; I think I used to know some of your people. I don't know what has become of all my friends. I used to have a charming little circle at home, but now I meet no one I know. Don't you think there is a great difference between the people one meets and the people one would like to meet? Fortunately, sometimes," added my interlocutress graciously, "it's quite the same. I suppose you are a specimen, a favourable specimen," she went on, "of young America. Tell me, now, what is young America thinking of in these days of ours? What are its feelings, its opinions, its aspirations? What is its IDEAL?" I had seated myself near Mrs. Church, and she had pointed this interrogation with the gaze of her bright little eyes. I felt it embarrassing to be treated as a favourable specimen of young America, and to be expected to answer for the great republic. Observing my hesitation, Mrs. Church clasped her hands on the open page of her book and gave an intense, melancholy smile. "HAS it an ideal?" she softly asked. "Well, we must talk of this," she went on, without insisting. "Speak, for the present, for yourself simply. Have you come to Europe with any special design?"
"Nothing to boast of," I said. "I am studying a little."
"Ah, I am glad to hear that. You are gathering up a little European culture; that's what we lack, you know, at home. No individual can do much, of coarse. But you must not be discouraged; every little counts."
"I see that you, at least, are doing your part," I rejoined gallantly, dropping my eyes on my companion's learned volume.
"Yes, I frankly admit that I am fond of study. There is no one, after all, like the Germans. That is, for facts. For opinions I by no means always go with them. I form my opinions myself. I am sorry to say, however," Mrs. Church continued, "that I can hardly pretend to diffuse my acquisitions. I am afraid I am sadly selfish; I do little to irrigate the soil. I belong--I frankly confess it--to the class of absentees."
"I had the pleasure, last evening," I said, "of making the acquaintance of your daughter. She told me you had been a long time in Europe."
Mrs. Church smiled benignantly. "Can one ever be too long? We shall never leave it."
"Your daughter won't like that," I said, smiling too.
"Has she been taking you into her confidence? She is a more sensible young lady than she sometimes appears. I have taken great pains with her; she is really--I may be permitted to say it--superbly educated."
"She seemed to me a very charming girl," I rejoined. "And I learned that she speaks four languages."
"It is not only that," said Mrs. Church, in a tone which suggested that this might be a very superficial species of culture. "She has made what we call de fortes etudes--such as I suppose you are making now. She is familiar with the results of modern science; she keeps pace with the new historical school."
"Ah," said I, "she has gone much farther than I!"
"You doubtless think I exaggerate, and you force me, therefore, to mention the fact that I am able to speak of such matters with a certain intelligence."
"That is very evident," I said. "But your daughter thinks you ought to take her home." I began to fear, as soon as I had uttered these words, that they savoured of treachery to the young lady, but I was reassured by seeing that they produced on her mother's placid countenance no symptom whatever of irritation.
"My daughter has her little theories," Mrs. Church observed; "she has, I may say, her illusions. And what wonder! What would youth be without its illusions? Aurora has a theory that she would be happier in New York, in Boston, in Philadelphia, than in one of the charming old cities in which our lot is cast. But she is mistaken, that is all. We must allow our children their illusions, must we not? But we must watch over them."
Although she herself seemed proof against discomposure, I found something vaguely irritating in her soft, sweet positiveness.
"American cities," I said, "are the paradise of young girls."
"Do you mean," asked Mrs. Church, "that the young girls who come from those places are angels?"
"Yes," I said, resolutely.
"This young lady--what is her odd name?--with whom my daughter has formed a somewhat precipitate acquaintance: is Miss Ruck an angel? But I won't force you to say anything uncivil. It would be too cruel to make a single exception."
"Well," said I, "at any rate, in America young girls have an easier lot. They have much more liberty."
My companion laid her hand for an instant on my arm. "My dear young friend, I know America, I know the conditions of life there, so well. There is perhaps no subject on which I have reflected more than on our national idiosyncrasies."
"I am afraid you don't approve of them," said I, a little brutally.
Brutal indeed my proposition was, and Mrs. Church was not prepared to assent to it in this rough shape. She dropped her eyes on her book, with an air of acute meditation. Then, raising them, "We are very crude," she softly observed--"we are very crude." Lest even this delicately-uttered statement should seem to savour of the vice that she deprecated, she went on to explain. "There are two classes of minds, you know--those that hold back, and those that push forward. My daughter and I are not pushers; we move with little steps. We like the old, trodden paths; we like the old, old world."
"Ah," said I, "you know what you like; there is a great virtue in that."
"Yes, we like Europe; we prefer it. We like the opportunities of Europe; we like the REST. There is so much in that, you know. The world seems to me to be hurrying, pressing forward so fiercely, without knowing where it is going. 'Whither?' I often ask, in my little quiet way. But I have yet to learn that any one can tell me."
"You're a great conservative," I observed, while I wondered whether I myself could answer this inquiry.
Mrs. Church gave me a smile which was equivalent to a confession. "I wish to retain a LITTLE--just a little. Surely, we have done so much, we might rest a while; we might pause. That is all my feeling- -just to stop a little, to wait! I have seen so many changes. I wish to draw in, to draw in--to hold back, to hold back."
"You shouldn't hold your daughter back!" I answered, laughing and getting up. I got up, not by way of terminating our interview, for I perceived Mrs. Church's exposition of her views to be by no means complete, but in order to offer a chair to Miss Aurora, who at this moment drew near. She thanked me and remained standing, but without at first, as I noticed, meeting her mother's eye.
"You have been engaged with your new acquaintance, my dear?" this lady inquired.
"Yes, mamma, dear," said the young girl, gently.
"Do you find her very edifying?"
Aurora was silent a moment; then she looked at her mother. "I don't know, mamma; she is very fresh."
I ventured to indulge in a respectful laugh. "Your mother has another word for that. But I must not," I added, "be crude."
"Ah, vous m'en voulez?" inquired Mrs. Church. "And yet I can't pretend I said it in jest. I feel it too much. We have been having a little social discussion," she said to her daughter. "There is still so much to be said." "And I wish," she continued, turning to me, "that I could give you our point of view. Don't you wish, Aurora, that we could give him our point of view?"
"Yes, mamma," said Aurora.
"We consider ourselves very fortunate in our point of view, don't we, dearest?" mamma demanded.
"Very fortunate, indeed, mamma."
"You see we have acquired an insight into European life," the elder lady pursued. "We have our place at many a European fireside. We find so much to esteem--so much to enjoy. Do we not, my daughter?"
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