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The Europeans Henry James

Chapter XI

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"I don't mean in my appearance," rejoined Felix, laughing; for Charlotte was looking at his boots. "I mean in my conduct. You don't think it 's an abuse of hospitality?"

"To--to care for Gertrude?" asked Charlotte.

"To have really expressed one's self. Because I have expressed myself, Charlotte; I must tell you the whole truth--I have! Of course I want to marry her--and here is the difficulty. I held off as long as I could; but she is such a terribly fascinating person! She 's a strange creature, Charlotte; I don't believe you really know her." Charlotte took up her tapestry again, and again she laid it down. "I know your father has had higher views," Felix continued; "and I think you have shared them. You have wanted to marry her to Mr. Brand."

"Oh, no," said Charlotte, very earnestly. "Mr. Brand has always admired her. But we did not want anything of that kind."

Felix stared. "Surely, marriage was what you proposed."

"Yes; but we did n't wish to force her."

"A la bonne heure! That 's very unsafe you know. With these arranged marriages there is often the deuce to pay."

"Oh, Felix," said Charlotte, "we did n't want to 'arrange.' "

"I am delighted to hear that. Because in such cases--even when the woman is a thoroughly good creature--she can't help looking for a compensation. A charming fellow comes along--and voila!" Charlotte sat mutely staring at the floor, and Felix presently added, "Do go on with your slipper, I like to see you work."

Charlotte took up her variegated canvas, and began to draw vague blue stitches in a big round rose. "If Gertrude is so-- so strange," she said, "why do you want to marry her?"

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"Ah, that 's it, dear Charlotte! I like strange women; I always have liked them. Ask Eugenia! And Gertrude is wonderful; she says the most beautiful things!"

Charlotte looked at him, almost for the first time, as if her meaning required to be severely pointed. "You have a great influence over her. "

"Yes--and no!" said Felix. "I had at first, I think; but now it is six of one and half-a-dozen of the other; it is reciprocal. She affects me strongly--for she is so strong. I don't believe you know her; it 's a beautiful nature."

"Oh, yes, Felix; I have always thought Gertrude's nature beautiful."

"Well, if you think so now," cried the young man, "wait and see! She 's a folded flower. Let me pluck her from the parent tree and you will see her expand. I 'm sure you will enjoy it."

"I don't understand you," murmured Charlotte. "I can't, Felix."

"Well, you can understand this--that I beg you to say a good word for me to your father. He regards me, I naturally believe, as a very light fellow, a Bohemian, an irregular character. Tell him I am not all this; if I ever was, I have forgotten it. I am fond of pleasure--yes; but of innocent pleasure. Pain is all one; but in pleasure, you know, there are tremendous distinctions. Say to him that Gertrude is a folded flower and that I am a serious man!"

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The Europeans
Henry James

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