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|The Europeans||Henry James|
|Page 8 of 9||
"I wish very much you would answer me a question," Acton said. "What were you doing, last night, at Madame Munster's?"
Clifford began to laugh and to blush, by no means like a young man with a romantic secret. "What did she tell you?" he asked.
"That is exactly what I don't want to say."
"Well, I want to tell you the same," said Clifford; "and unless I know it perhaps I can't."
They had stopped in a garden path; Acton looked hard at his rosy young kinsman. "She said she could n't fancy what had got into you; you appeared to have taken a violent dislike to her."
Clifford stared, looking a little alarmed. "Oh, come," he growled, "you don't mean that!"
"And that when--for common civility's sake--you came occasionally to the house you left her alone and spent your time in Felix's studio, under pretext of looking at his sketches."
"Oh, come!" growled Clifford, again.
"Did you ever know me to tell an untruth?"
"Yes, lots of them!" said Clifford, seeing an opening, out of the discussion, for his sarcastic powers. "Well," he presently added, "I thought you were my father."
"You knew some one was there?"
"We heard you coming in."
Acton meditated. "You had been with the Baroness, then?"
"I was in the parlor. We heard your step outside. I thought it was my father."
"And on that," asked Acton, "you ran away?"
"She told me to go--to go out by the studio."
Acton meditated more intensely; if there had been a chair at hand he would have sat down. "Why should she wish you not to meet your father?"
"Well," said Clifford, "father does n't like to see me there."
Acton looked askance at his companion and forbore to make any comment upon this assertion. "Has he said so," he asked, "to the Baroness?"
"Well, I hope not," said Clifford. "He has n't said so--in so many words-- to me. But I know it worries him; and I want to stop worrying him. The Baroness knows it, and she wants me to stop, too."
"To stop coming to see her?"
"I don't know about that; but to stop worrying father. Eugenia knows everything," Clifford added, with an air of knowingness of his own.
"Ah," said Acton, interrogatively, "Eugenia knows everything?"
"She knew it was not father coming in."
"Then why did you go?"
Clifford blushed and laughed afresh. "Well, I was afraid it was. And besides, she told me to go, at any rate."
"Did she think it was I?" Acton asked.
"She did n't say so."
Again Robert Acton reflected. "But you did n't go," he presently said; "you came back."
"I could n't get out of the studio," Clifford rejoined. "The door was locked, and Felix has nailed some planks across the lower half of the confounded windows to make the light come in from above. So they were no use. I waited there a good while, and then, suddenly, I felt ashamed. I did n't want to be hiding away from my own father. I could n't stand it any longer. I bolted out, and when I found it was you I was a little flurried. But Eugenia carried it off, did n't she?" Clifford added, in the tone of a young humorist whose perception had not been permanently clouded by the sense of his own discomfort.
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