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The Europeans Henry James

Chapter XII

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"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.

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"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."

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The Europeans
Henry James

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