Felix allowed Charlotte time to plead his cause; and then, on the third day, he sought an interview with his uncle. It was in the morning; Mr. Wentworth was in his office; and, on going in, Felix found that Charlotte was at that moment in conference with her father. She had, in fact, been constantly near him since her interview with Felix; she had made up her mind that it was her duty to repeat very literally her cousin's passionate plea. She had accordingly followed Mr. Wentworth about like a shadow, in order to find him at hand when she should have mustered sufficient composure to speak. For poor Charlotte, in this matter, naturally lacked composure; especially when she meditated upon some of Felix's intimations. It was not cheerful work, at the best, to keep giving small hammer-taps to the coffin in which one had laid away, for burial, the poor little unacknowledged offspring of one's own misbehaving heart; and the occupation was not rendered more agreeable by the fact that the ghost of one's stifled dream had been summoned from the shades by the strange, bold words of a talkative young foreigner. What had Felix meant by saying that Mr. Brand was not so keen? To herself her sister's justly depressed suitor had shown no sign of faltering. Charlotte trembled all over when she allowed herself to believe for an instant now and then that, privately, Mr. Brand might have faltered; and as it seemed to give more force to Felix's words to repeat them to her father, she was waiting until she should have taught herself to be very calm. But she had now begun to tell Mr. Wentworth that she was extremely anxious. She was proceeding to develop this idea, to enumerate the objects of her anxiety, when Felix came in.
Mr. Wentworth sat there, with his legs crossed, lifting his dry, pure countenance from the Boston "Advertiser." Felix entered smiling, as if he had something particular to say, and his uncle looked at him as if he both expected and deprecated this event. Felix vividly expressing himself had come to be a formidable figure to his uncle, who had not yet arrived at definite views as to a proper tone. For the first time in his life, as I have said, Mr. Wentworth shirked a responsibility; he earnestly desired that it might not be laid upon him to determine how his nephew's lighter propositions should be treated. He lived under an apprehension that Felix might yet beguile him into assent to doubtful inductions, and his conscience instructed him that the best form of vigilance was the avoidance of discussion. He hoped that the pleasant episode of his nephew's visit would pass away without a further lapse of consistency.
Felix looked at Charlotte with an air of understanding, and then at Mr. Wentworth, and then at Charlotte again. Mr. Wentworth bent his refined eyebrows upon his nephew and stroked down the first page of the "Advertiser." "I ought to have brought a bouquet," said Felix, laughing. "In France they always do."
"We are not in France," observed Mr. Wentworth, gravely, while Charlotte earnestly gazed at him.
"No, luckily, we are not in France, where I am afraid I should have a harder time of it. My dear Charlotte, have you rendered me that delightful service?" And Felix bent toward her as if some one had been presenting him.
Charlotte looked at him with almost frightened eyes; and Mr. Wentworth thought this might be the beginning of a discussion. "What is the bouquet for?" he inquired, by way of turning it off.
Felix gazed at him, smiling. "Pour la demande!" And then, drawing up a chair, he seated himself, hat in hand, with a kind of conscious solemnity.
Presently he turned to Charlotte again. "My good Charlotte, my admirable Charlotte," he murmured, "you have not played me false—you have not sided against me?"
Charlotte got up, trembling extremely, though imperceptibly. "You must speak to my father yourself," she said. "I think you are clever enough."
But Felix, rising too, begged her to remain. "I can speak better to an audience!" he declared.
"I hope it is nothing disagreeable," said Mr. Wentworth.
"It 's something delightful, for me!" And Felix, laying down his hat, clasped his hands a little between his knees. "My dear uncle," he said, "I desire, very earnestly, to marry your daughter Gertrude." Charlotte sank slowly into her chair again, and Mr. Wentworth sat staring, with a light in his face that might have been flashed back from an iceberg. He stared and stared; he said nothing. Felix fell back, with his hands still clasped. "Ah—you don't like it. I was afraid!" He blushed deeply, and Charlotte noticed it—remarking to herself that it was the first time she had ever seen him blush. She began to blush herself and to reflect that he might be much in love.
"This is very abrupt," said Mr. Wentworth, at last.
"Have you never suspected it, dear uncle?" Felix inquired. "Well, that proves how discreet I have been. Yes, I thought you would n't like it."
"It is very serious, Felix," said Mr. Wentworth.
"You think it 's an abuse of hospitality!" exclaimed Felix, smiling again.
"Of hospitality?—an abuse?" his uncle repeated very slowly.
"That is what Felix said to me," said Charlotte, conscientiously.
"Of course you think so; don't defend yourself!" Felix pursued. "It is an abuse, obviously; the most I can claim is that it is perhaps a pardonable one. I simply fell head over heels in love; one can hardly help that. Though you are Gertrude's progenitor I don't believe you know how attractive she is. Dear uncle, she contains the elements of a singularly—I may say a strangely—charming woman!"
"She has always been to me an object of extreme concern," said Mr. Wentworth. "We have always desired her happiness."
"Well, here it is!" Felix declared. "I will make her happy. She believes it, too. Now had n't you noticed that?"
"I had noticed that she was much changed," Mr. Wentworth declared, in a tone whose unexpressive, unimpassioned quality appeared to Felix to reveal a profundity of opposition. "It may be that she is only becoming what you call a charming woman."
"Gertrude, at heart, is so earnest, so true," said Charlotte, very softly, fastening her eyes upon her father.
"I delight to hear you praise her!" cried Felix.
"She has a very peculiar temperament," said Mr. Wentworth.
"Eh, even that is praise!" Felix rejoined. "I know I am not the man you might have looked for. I have no position and no fortune; I can give Gertrude no place in the world. A place in the world—that 's what she ought to have; that would bring her out."
"A place to do her duty!" remarked Mr. Wentworth.
"Ah, how charmingly she does it—her duty!" Felix exclaimed, with a radiant face. "What an exquisite conception she has of it! But she comes honestly by that, dear uncle." Mr. Wentworth and Charlotte both looked at him as if they were watching a greyhound doubling. "Of course with me she will hide her light under a bushel," he continued; "I being the bushel! Now I know you like me—you have certainly proved it. But you think I am frivolous and penniless and shabby! Granted—granted—a thousand times granted. I have been a loose fish—a fiddler, a painter, an actor. But there is this to be said: In the first place, I fancy you exaggerate; you lend me qualities I have n't had. I have been a Bohemian—yes; but in Bohemia I always passed for a gentleman. I wish you could see some of my old camarades—they would tell you! It was the liberty I liked, but not the opportunities! My sins were all peccadilloes; I always respected my neighbor's property—my neighbor's wife. Do you see, dear uncle?" Mr. Wentworth ought to have seen; his cold blue eyes were intently fixed. "And then, c'est fini! It 's all over. Je me range. I have settled down to a jog-trot. I find I can earn my living—a very fair one—by going about the world and painting bad portraits. It 's not a glorious profession, but it is a perfectly respectable one. You won't deny that, eh? Going about the world, I say? I must not deny that, for that I am afraid I shall always do—in quest of agreeable sitters. When I say agreeable, I mean susceptible of delicate flattery and prompt of payment. Gertrude declares she is willing to share my wanderings and help to pose my models. She even thinks it will be charming; and that brings me to my third point. Gertrude likes me. Encourage her a little and she will tell you so."
Felix's tongue obviously moved much faster than the imagination of his auditors; his eloquence, like the rocking of a boat in a deep, smooth lake, made long eddies of silence. And he seemed to be pleading and chattering still, with his brightly eager smile, his uplifted eyebrows, his expressive mouth, after he had ceased speaking, and while, with his glance quickly turning from the father to the daughter, he sat waiting for the effect of his appeal. "It is not your want of means," said Mr. Wentworth, after a period of severe reticence.
"Now it 's delightful of you to say that! Only don't say it 's my want of character. Because I have a character—I assure you I have; a small one, a little slip of a thing, but still something tangible."
"Ought you not to tell Felix that it is Mr. Brand, father?" Charlotte asked, with infinite mildness.
"It is not only Mr. Brand," Mr. Wentworth solemnly declared. And he looked at his knee for a long time. "It is difficult to explain," he said. He wished, evidently, to be very just. "It rests on moral grounds, as Mr. Brand says. It is the question whether it is the best thing for Gertrude."
"What is better—what is better, dear uncle?" Felix rejoined urgently, rising in his urgency and standing before Mr. Wentworth. His uncle had been looking at his knee; but when Felix moved he transferred his gaze to the handle of the door which faced him. "It is usually a fairly good thing for a girl to marry the man she loves!" cried Felix.
While he spoke, Mr. Wentworth saw the handle of the door begin to turn; the door opened and remained slightly ajar, until Felix had delivered himself of the cheerful axiom just quoted. Then it opened altogether and Gertrude stood there. She looked excited; there was a spark in her sweet, dull eyes. She came in slowly, but with an air of resolution, and, closing the door softly, looked round at the three persons present. Felix went to her with tender gallantry, holding out his hand, and Charlotte made a place for her on the sofa. But Gertrude put her hands behind her and made no motion to sit down.
"We are talking of you!" said Felix.
"I know it," she answered. "That 's why I came." And she fastened her eyes on her father, who returned her gaze very fixedly. In his own cold blue eyes there was a kind of pleading, reasoning light.
"It is better you should be present," said Mr. Wentworth. "We are discussing your future."
"Why discuss it?" asked Gertrude. "Leave it to me."
"That is, to me!" cried Felix.
"I leave it, in the last resort, to a greater wisdom than ours," said the old man.
Felix rubbed his forehead gently. "But en attendant the last resort, your father lacks confidence," he said to Gertrude.
"Have n't you confidence in Felix?" Gertrude was frowning; there was something about her that her father and Charlotte had never seen. Charlotte got up and came to her, as if to put her arm round her; but suddenly, she seemed afraid to touch her.
Mr. Wentworth, however, was not afraid. "I have had more confidence in Felix than in you," he said.
"Yes, you have never had confidence in me—never, never! I don't know why."
"Oh sister, sister!" murmured Charlotte.
"You have always needed advice," Mr. Wentworth declared. "You have had a difficult temperament."
"Why do you call it difficult? It might have been easy, if you had allowed it. You would n't let me be natural. I don't know what you wanted to make of me. Mr. Brand was the worst."
Charlotte at last took hold of her sister. She laid her two hands upon Gertrude's arm. "He cares so much for you," she almost whispered.
Gertrude looked at her intently an instant; then kissed her. "No, he does not," she said.
"I have never seen you so passionate," observed Mr. Wentworth, with an air of indignation mitigated by high principles.
"I am sorry if I offend you," said Gertrude.
"You offend me, but I don't think you are sorry."
"Yes, father, she is sorry," said Charlotte.
"I would even go further, dear uncle," Felix interposed. "I would question whether she really offends you. How can she offend you?"
To this Mr. Wentworth made no immediate answer. Then, in a moment, "She has not profited as we hoped."
"Profited? Ah voila!" Felix exclaimed.
Gertrude was very pale; she stood looking down. "I have told Felix I would go away with him," she presently said.
"Ah, you have said some admirable things!" cried the young man.
"Go away, sister?" asked Charlotte.
"Away—away; to some strange country."
"That is to frighten you," said Felix, smiling at Charlotte.
"To—what do you call it?" asked Gertrude, turning an instant to Felix. "To Bohemia."
"Do you propose to dispense with preliminaries?" asked Mr. Wentworth, getting up.
"Dear uncle, vous plaisantez!" cried Felix. "It seems to me that these are preliminaries."
Gertrude turned to her father. "I have profited," she said. "You wanted to form my character. Well, my character is formed—for my age. I know what I want; I have chosen. I am determined to marry this gentleman."
"You had better consent, sir," said Felix very gently.
"Yes, sir, you had better consent," added a very different voice.
Charlotte gave a little jump, and the others turned to the direction from which it had come. It was the voice of Mr. Brand, who had stepped through the long window which stood open to the piazza. He stood patting his forehead with his pocket-handkerchief; he was very much flushed; his face wore a singular expression.
"Yes, sir, you had better consent," Mr. Brand repeated, coming forward. "I know what Miss Gertrude means."
"My dear friend!" murmured Felix, laying his hand caressingly on the young minister's arm.
Mr. Brand looked at him; then at Mr. Wentworth; lastly at Gertrude. He did not look at Charlotte. But Charlotte's earnest eyes were fastened to his own countenance; they were asking an immense question of it. The answer to this question could not come all at once; but some of the elements of it were there. It was one of the elements of it that Mr. Brand was very red, that he held his head very high, that he had a bright, excited eye and an air of embarrassed boldness—the air of a man who has taken a resolve, in the execution of which he apprehends the failure, not of his moral, but of his personal, resources. Charlotte thought he looked very grand; and it is incontestable that Mr. Brand felt very grand. This, in fact, was the grandest moment of his life; and it was natural that such a moment should contain opportunities of awkwardness for a large, stout, modest young man.
"Come in, sir," said Mr. Wentworth, with an angular wave of his hand. "It is very proper that you should be present."
"I know what you are talking about," Mr. Brand rejoined. "I heard what your nephew said."
"And he heard what you said!" exclaimed Felix, patting him again on the arm.
"I am not sure that I understood," said Mr. Wentworth, who had angularity in his voice as well as in his gestures.
Gertrude had been looking hard at her former suitor. She had been puzzled, like her sister; but her imagination moved more quickly than Charlotte's. "Mr. Brand asked you to let Felix take me away," she said to her father.
The young minister gave her a strange look. "It is not because I don't want to see you any more," he declared, in a tone intended as it were for publicity.
"I should n't think you would want to see me any more," Gertrude answered, gently.
Mr. Wentworth stood staring. "Is n't this rather a change, sir?" he inquired.
"Yes, sir." And Mr. Brand looked anywhere; only still not at Charlotte. "Yes, sir," he repeated. And he held his handkerchief a few moments to his lips.
"Where are our moral grounds?" demanded Mr. Wentworth, who had always thought Mr. Brand would be just the thing for a younger daughter with a peculiar temperament.
"It is sometimes very moral to change, you know," suggested Felix.
Charlotte had softly left her sister's side. She had edged gently toward her father, and now her hand found its way into his arm. Mr. Wentworth had folded up the "Advertiser" into a surprisingly small compass, and, holding the roll with one hand, he earnestly clasped it with the other. Mr. Brand was looking at him; and yet, though Charlotte was so near, his eyes failed to meet her own. Gertrude watched her sister.
"It is better not to speak of change," said Mr. Brand. "In one sense there is no change. There was something I desired—something I asked of you; I desire something still—I ask it of you." And he paused a moment; Mr. Wentworth looked bewildered. "I should like, in my ministerial capacity, to unite this young couple."
Gertrude, watching her sister, saw Charlotte flushing intensely, and Mr. Wentworth felt her pressing upon his arm. "Heavenly Powers!" murmured Mr. Wentworth. And it was the nearest approach to profanity he had ever made.
"That is very nice; that is very handsome!" Felix exclaimed.
"I don't understand," said Mr. Wentworth; though it was plain that every one else did.
"That is very beautiful, Mr. Brand," said Gertrude, emulating Felix.
"I should like to marry you. It will give me great pleasure."
"As Gertrude says, it 's a beautiful idea," said Felix.
Felix was smiling, but Mr. Brand was not even trying to. He himself treated his proposition very seriously. "I have thought of it, and I should like to do it," he affirmed.
Charlotte, meanwhile, was staring with expanded eyes. Her imagination, as I have said, was not so rapid as her sister's, but now it had taken several little jumps. "Father," she murmured, "consent!"
Mr. Brand heard her; he looked away. Mr. Wentworth, evidently, had no imagination at all. "I have always thought," he began, slowly, "that Gertrude's character required a special line of development."
"Father," repeated Charlotte, "consent."
Then, at last, Mr. Brand looked at her. Her father felt her leaning more heavily upon his folded arm than she had ever done before; and this, with a certain sweet faintness in her voice, made him wonder what was the matter. He looked down at her and saw the encounter of her gaze with the young theologian's; but even this told him nothing, and he continued to be bewildered. Nevertheless, "I consent," he said at last, "since Mr. Brand recommends it."
"I should like to perform the ceremony very soon," observed Mr. Brand, with a sort of solemn simplicity.
"Come, come, that 's charming!" cried Felix, profanely.
Mr. Wentworth sank into his chair. "Doubtless, when you understand it," he said, with a certain judicial asperity.
Gertrude went to her sister and led her away, and Felix having passed his arm into Mr. Brand's and stepped out of the long window with him, the old man was left sitting there in unillumined perplexity.
Felix did no work that day. In the afternoon, with Gertrude, he got into one of the boats and floated about with idly-dipping oars. They talked a good deal of Mr. Brand—though not exclusively.
"That was a fine stroke," said Felix. "It was really heroic."
Gertrude sat musing, with her eyes upon the ripples. "That was what he wanted to be; he wanted to do something fine."
"He won't be comfortable till he has married us," said Felix. "So much the better."
"He wanted to be magnanimous; he wanted to have a fine moral pleasure. I know him so well," Gertrude went on. Felix looked at her; she spoke slowly, gazing at the clear water. "He thought of it a great deal, night and day. He thought it would be beautiful. At last he made up his mind that it was his duty, his duty to do just that—nothing less than that. He felt exalted; he felt sublime. That 's how he likes to feel. It is better for him than if I had listened to him."
"It 's better for me," smiled Felix. "But do you know, as regards the sacrifice, that I don't believe he admired you when this decision was taken quite so much as he had done a fortnight before?"
"He never admired me. He admires Charlotte; he pitied me. I know him so well."
"Well, then, he did n't pity you so much."
Gertrude looked at Felix a little, smiling. "You should n't permit yourself," she said, "to diminish the splendor of his action. He admires Charlotte," she repeated.
"That's capital!" said Felix laughingly, and dipping his oars. I cannot say exactly to which member of Gertrude's phrase he alluded; but he dipped his oars again, and they kept floating about.
Neither Felix nor his sister, on that day, was present at Mr. Wentworth's at the evening repast. The two occupants of the chalet dined together, and the young man informed his companion that his marriage was now an assured fact. Eugenia congratulated him, and replied that if he were as reasonable a husband as he had been, on the whole, a brother, his wife would have nothing to complain of.
Felix looked at her a moment, smiling. "I hope," he said, "not to be thrown back on my reason."
"It is very true," Eugenia rejoined, "that one's reason is dismally flat. It 's a bed with the mattress removed."
But the brother and sister, later in the evening, crossed over to the larger house, the Baroness desiring to compliment her prospective sister-in-law. They found the usual circle upon the piazza, with the exception of Clifford Wentworth and Lizzie Acton; and as every one stood up as usual to welcome the Baroness, Eugenia had an admiring audience for her compliment to Gertrude.
Robert Acton stood on the edge of the piazza, leaning against one of the white columns, so that he found himself next to Eugenia while she acquitted herself of a neat little discourse of congratulation.
"I shall be so glad to know you better," she said; "I have seen so much less of you than I should have liked. Naturally; now I see the reason why! You will love me a little, won't you? I think I may say I gain on being known." And terminating these observations with the softest cadence of her voice, the Baroness imprinted a sort of grand official kiss upon Gertrude's forehead.
Increased familiarity had not, to Gertrude's imagination, diminished the mysterious impressiveness of Eugenia's personality, and she felt flattered and transported by this little ceremony. Robert Acton also seemed to admire it, as he admired so many of the gracious manifestations of Madame Munster's wit.
They had the privilege of making him restless, and on this occasion he walked away, suddenly, with his hands in his pockets, and then came back and leaned against his column. Eugenia was now complimenting her uncle upon his daughter's engagement, and Mr. Wentworth was listening with his usual plain yet refined politeness. It is to be supposed that by this time his perception of the mutual relations of the young people who surrounded him had become more acute; but he still took the matter very seriously, and he was not at all exhilarated.
"Felix will make her a good husband," said Eugenia. "He will be a charming companion; he has a great quality—indestructible gayety."
"You think that 's a great quality?" asked the old man.
Eugenia meditated, with her eyes upon his. "You think one gets tired of it, eh?"
"I don't know that I am prepared to say that," said Mr. Wentworth.
"Well, we will say, then, that it is tiresome for others but delightful for one's self. A woman's husband, you know, is supposed to be her second self; so that, for Felix and Gertrude, gayety will be a common property."
"Gertrude was always very gay," said Mr. Wentworth. He was trying to follow this argument.
Robert Acton took his hands out of his pockets and came a little nearer to the Baroness. "You say you gain by being known," he said. "One certainly gains by knowing you."
"What have you gained?" asked Eugenia.
"An immense amount of wisdom."
"That 's a questionable advantage for a man who was already so wise!"
Acton shook his head. "No, I was a great fool before I knew you!"
"And being a fool you made my acquaintance? You are very complimentary."
"Let me keep it up," said Acton, laughing. "I hope, for our pleasure, that your brother's marriage will detain you."
"Why should I stop for my brother's marriage when I would not stop for my own?" asked the Baroness.
"Why should n't you stop in either case, now that, as you say, you have dissolved that mechanical tie that bound you to Europe?"
The Baroness looked at him a moment. "As I say? You look as if you doubted it."
"Ah," said Acton, returning her glance, "that is a remnant of my old folly! We have other attractions," he added. "We are to have another marriage."
But she seemed not to hear him; she was looking at him still. "My word was never doubted before," she said.
"We are to have another marriage," Acton repeated, smiling.
Then she appeared to understand. "Another marriage?" And she looked at the others. Felix was chattering to Gertrude; Charlotte, at a distance, was watching them; and Mr. Brand, in quite another quarter, was turning his back to them, and, with his hands under his coat-tails and his large head on one side, was looking at the small, tender crescent of a young moon. "It ought to be Mr. Brand and Charlotte," said Eugenia, "but it does n't look like it."
"There," Acton answered, "you must judge just now by contraries. There is more than there looks to be. I expect that combination one of these days; but that is not what I meant."
"Well," said the Baroness, "I never guess my own lovers; so I can't guess other people's."
Acton gave a loud laugh, and he was about to add a rejoinder when Mr. Wentworth approached his niece. "You will be interested to hear," the old man said, with a momentary aspiration toward jocosity, "of another matrimonial venture in our little circle."
"I was just telling the Baroness," Acton observed.
"Mr. Acton was apparently about to announce his own engagement," said Eugenia.
Mr. Wentworth's jocosity increased. "It is not exactly that; but it is in the family. Clifford, hearing this morning that Mr. Brand had expressed a desire to tie the nuptial knot for his sister, took it into his head to arrange that, while his hand was in, our good friend should perform a like ceremony for himself and Lizzie Acton."
The Baroness threw back her head and smiled at her uncle; then turning, with an intenser radiance, to Robert Acton, "I am certainly very stupid not to have thought of that," she said. Acton looked down at his boots, as if he thought he had perhaps reached the limits of legitimate experimentation, and for a moment Eugenia said nothing more. It had been, in fact, a sharp knock, and she needed to recover herself. This was done, however, promptly enough. "Where are the young people?" she asked.
"They are spending the evening with my mother."
"Is not the thing very sudden?"
Acton looked up. "Extremely sudden. There had been a tacit understanding; but within a day or two Clifford appears to have received some mysterious impulse to precipitate the affair."
"The impulse," said the Baroness, "was the charms of your very pretty sister."
"But my sister's charms were an old story; he had always known her." Acton had begun to experiment again.
Here, however, it was evident the Baroness would not help him. "Ah, one can't say! Clifford is very young; but he is a nice boy."
"He 's a likeable sort of boy, and he will be a rich man." This was Acton's last experiment. Madame Munster turned away.
She made but a short visit and Felix took her home. In her little drawing-room she went almost straight to the mirror over the chimney-piece, and, with a candle uplifted, stood looking into it. "I shall not wait for your marriage," she said to her brother. "To-morrow my maid shall pack up."
"My dear sister," Felix exclaimed, "we are to be married immediately! Mr. Brand is too uncomfortable."
But Eugenia, turning and still holding her candle aloft, only looked about the little sitting-room at her gimcracks and curtains and cushions. "My maid shall pack up," she repeated. "Bonte divine, what rubbish! I feel like a strolling actress; these are my 'properties.'"
"Is the play over, Eugenia?" asked Felix.
She gave him a sharp glance. "I have spoken my part."
"With great applause!" said her brother.
"Oh, applause—applause!" she murmured. And she gathered up two or three of her dispersed draperies. She glanced at the beautiful brocade, and then, "I don't see how I can have endured it!" she said.
"Endure it a little longer. Come to my wedding."
"Thank you; that 's your affair. My affairs are elsewhere."
"Where are you going?"
"To Germany—by the first ship."
"You have decided not to marry Mr. Acton?"
"I have refused him," said Eugenia.
Her brother looked at her in silence. "I am sorry," he rejoined at last. "But I was very discreet, as you asked me to be. I said nothing."
"Please continue, then, not to allude to the matter," said Eugenia.
Felix inclined himself gravely. "You shall be obeyed. But your position in Germany?" he pursued.
"Please to make no observations upon it."
"I was only going to say that I supposed it was altered."
"You are mistaken."
"But I thought you had signed"—
"I have not signed!" said the Baroness.
Felix urged her no further, and it was arranged that he should immediately assist her to embark.
Mr. Brand was indeed, it appeared, very impatient to consummate his sacrifice and deliver the nuptial benediction which would set it off so handsomely; but Eugenia's impatience to withdraw from a country in which she had not found the fortune she had come to seek was even less to be mistaken. It is true she had not made any very various exertion; but she appeared to feel justified in generalizing—in deciding that the conditions of action on this provincial continent were not favorable to really superior women. The elder world was, after all, their natural field. The unembarrassed directness with which she proceeded to apply these intelligent conclusions appeared to the little circle of spectators who have figured in our narrative but the supreme exhibition of a character to which the experience of life had imparted an inimitable pliancy. It had a distinct effect upon Robert Acton, who, for the two days preceding her departure, was a very restless and irritated mortal. She passed her last evening at her uncle's, where she had never been more charming; and in parting with Clifford Wentworth's affianced bride she drew from her own finger a curious old ring and presented it to her with the prettiest speech and kiss. Gertrude, who as an affianced bride was also indebted to her gracious bounty, admired this little incident extremely, and Robert Acton almost wondered whether it did not give him the right, as Lizzie's brother and guardian, to offer in return a handsome present to the Baroness. It would have made him extremely happy to be able to offer a handsome present to the Baroness; but he abstained from this expression of his sentiments, and they were in consequence, at the very last, by so much the less comfortable. It was almost at the very last that he saw her—late the night before she went to Boston to embark.
"For myself, I wish you might have stayed," he said. "But not for your own sake."
"I don't make so many differences," said the Baroness. "I am simply sorry to be going."
"That 's a much deeper difference than mine," Acton declared; "for you mean you are simply glad!"
Felix parted with her on the deck of the ship. "We shall often meet over there," he said.
"I don't know," she answered. "Europe seems to me much larger than America."
Mr. Brand, of course, in the days that immediately followed, was not the only impatient spirit; but it may be said that of all the young spirits interested in the event none rose more eagerly to the level of the occasion. Gertrude left her father's house with Felix Young; they were imperturbably happy and they went far away. Clifford and his young wife sought their felicity in a narrower circle, and the latter's influence upon her husband was such as to justify, strikingly, that theory of the elevating effect of easy intercourse with clever women which Felix had propounded to Mr. Wentworth. Gertrude was for a good while a distant figure, but she came back when Charlotte married Mr. Brand. She was present at the wedding feast, where Felix's gayety confessed to no change. Then she disappeared, and the echo of a gayety of her own, mingled with that of her husband, often came back to the home of her earlier years. Mr. Wentworth at last found himself listening for it; and Robert Acton, after his mother's death, married a particularly nice young girl.