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|The Europeans||Henry James|
|Page 2 of 10||
"I have come to bid you good-by," said Eugenia. "I shall soon be going away."
"When are you going away?"
"Very soon--any day."
"I am very sorry," said Mrs. Acton. "I hoped you would stay--always."
"Always?" Eugenia demanded.
"Well, I mean a long time," said Mrs. Acton, in her sweet, feeble tone. "They tell me you are so comfortable--that you have got such a beautiful little house."
Eugenia stared--that is, she smiled; she thought of her poor little chalet and she wondered whether her hostess were jesting. "Yes, my house is exquisite," she said; "though not to be compared to yours. "
"And my son is so fond of going to see you," Mrs. Acton added. "I am afraid my son will miss you."
"Ah, dear madame," said Eugenia, with a little laugh, "I can't stay in America for your son!"
"Don't you like America?"
The Baroness looked at the front of her dress. "If I liked it-- that would not be staying for your son!"
Mrs. Acton gazed at her with her grave, tender eyes, as if she had not quite understood. The Baroness at last found something irritating in the sweet, soft stare of her hostess; and if one were not bound to be merciful to great invalids she would almost have taken the liberty of pronouncing her, mentally, a fool. "I am afraid, then, I shall never see you again," said Mrs. Acton. "You know I am dying."
"Ah, dear madame," murmured Eugenia.
"I want to leave my children cheerful and happy. My daughter will probably marry her cousin."
"Two such interesting young people," said the Baroness, vaguely. She was not thinking of Clifford Wentworth.
"I feel so tranquil about my end," Mrs. Acton went on. "It is coming so easily, so surely." And she paused, with her mild gaze always on Eugenia's.
The Baroness hated to be reminded of death; but even in its imminence, so far as Mrs. Acton was concerned, she preserved her good manners. "Ah, madame, you are too charming an invalid," she rejoined.
But the delicacy of this rejoinder was apparently lost upon her hostess, who went on in her low, reasonable voice. "I want to leave my children bright and comfortable. You seem to me all so happy here--just as you are. So I wish you could stay. It would be so pleasant for Robert."
Eugenia wondered what she meant by its being pleasant for Robert; but she felt that she would never know what such a woman as that meant. She got up; she was afraid Mrs. Acton would tell her again that she was dying. "Good-by, dear madame," she said. "I must remember that your strength is precious."
Mrs. Acton took her hand and held it a moment. "Well, you have been happy here, have n't you? And you like us all, don't you? I wish you would stay," she added, "in your beautiful little house."
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