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Richard happened to pass the house the next day, and stopped, for Ruth happened to be in the garden.
“Let’s go and sit under the apple-tree,” he said. “It is so cool and shady there.”
Ruth felt hurt. She had supposed he would remember about the apple-tree, even if he had forgotten everything
else. And now he wanted to sit there. Yes, he wanted to sit there. But why? Be
cause it was “cool and shady there!”
“It is damp,” she answered. “We had better take a walk instead.”
He hardly spoke to her, and she wondered sadly to herself as they walked along. Why was it he did not seem to want even her friendship 2 It --→ must be because he loved some one else. Yet there was a cloud over his face. He was unhappy. She must be kind to him. No matter if she did show how she felt. Only her pride would suffer. For there is nothing wrong about lowing a man even if he does not love you. Not such a man as Richard. A man so good, so kind, so noble. She felt calm and secure again. She turned quickly to him, her heart overflowing with earnest love. Perhaps she could help him.
She turned and found him looking at her. Her eyes could not meet his, for all at once the calm of the world broke into rapture.
Ruth told him all that had ever happened to her. She told him all the things which one never tells to any one. And as he gazed at her she saw that he understood, that he understood it all.
Yet there was a touch of wonder in her heart, for his eyes shone as if they were looking right into heaven.
PARIs, September 25, 1904.
| [" was about thirteen years old, and he
was from Baltimore. His mother was —only the family Bible knows how old; she also was from Baltimore, such part of her as did not come from the rue de la Paix district, Paris. Her marvellous gowns were plainly from one of the great couturiers of that enchanting quarter; her wonderful golden hair, waved and dressed with exquisite art, came as unmistakably from a certain shop there, and her complexion—the roses on her cheeks, the rosebuds on her lips, the lily on her brow—bore the stamp of still another well - known shop; it was even rumored at Etretat, where I encountered her, that her eyelashes were bought at a great price from a famous beauty-shop on the Place Vendome, that they were created by no vulgar trick of burnt cork or pencil, but were genuine eyelashes which had by some magic been grafted on the lids. The woman I had seen many times, and I had expended considerable breath on her account, disputing the charge made that she was an American. One could discern that while she was, so far as money could accomplish it, a French production, she, nevertheless, was not French, and yet I insisted that if the wealth and the soul constituting the origin of her identity were American, then she must have come from Patagonia or the Argentine Confederation. The United States is not all of America— a geographical fact which French people habitually accept, to the destruction of our national self - importance, until it concerns the impossible woman from America, when America means never anything but the United States. The nationality of the boy one discerned at a glance, in spite of his socks, his pointed-toed shoes, and his facility in speaking French, but when I discovered that he was the son of this woman and that the woman was, in truth, my countrywoman, it was a shock to my patriotism which only the boy saved from being very serious indeed. Etretat is a French watering-place which was settled by William the Conqueror or
another ancient gentleman involved in the early affairs of Normandy (I am not overstrong on history), and more recently has been discovered by Americans, though not yet in sufficient numbers to harm the character of the place. We can take a savage or a great virgin country and do wonders with it, but American influence exercised upon Old World persons and places appears to have the sole effect of raising prices. How limited the United States's sphere of influence remains in Etretat is shown in that one can still live here comfortably and quite inexpensively, and that while one sees a great deal of the splendor of wealth, there is no “splurging,” no loud clinking of the coin to impress one with the amount of money that is being spent. Among the French, Etretat, aside from its exceeding beauty of nature, is famed as being the summer resort of especially chic women and of artists and journalists. It is the nearest to Paris of any of the fashionable seaside places, and the life here vibrates with the same currents that in the Paris season animate and color the world which parades along the Avenue des Acacias of the Bois de Boulogne. A boulevardier will tell you that the Avenue des Acacias is the main route to Potinville, which is also very near to Etretat, and by Potinville he means the unreal city where, “they say ”—on dit— resides the dwelling-place of Rumor. Marcel Prevost has found at Etretat material for one of his most deliciously caustic romances, which well sets forth the ironies governing the world here—a world that, regarding everything from the literary point of view, delights in anything—above all, l'amour, les femmes—possessing artistic merit. The irony is in some respects brutal—more so than at Trouville, Dieppe, or other gay resorts, because the world is smaller, and its doings, therefore, more intimate and at the same time better known. To leave nothing wanting to the force of irony exemplified, on Sundays and fête-days, all the world of Etretat goes to church—a grim, gray, massive stone structure dating
back three hundred years, where, inside, the walls are covered with green mould and the air is heavy with a gruesome smell that comes as if from the graves which crowd thick and close about the walls outside. It was against the background of the world of Etretat emerging from church on the great fete of the Annunciation that the Baltimore boy stood disclosed to me, the son of the impossible woman I have described. The woman was talking with a young Spaniard of an especially efflorescent type, dressed in extravagant fashion, handsome, and insolent with the consciousness of being so. To one side was the boy waiting for his mother. (Think of a mother in a yellow wig and false eyelashes, not to speak of her complexion and the young Spaniard') Strongly built, straight, sturdy of nature, there was in the boy as good American as one could wish to see, and there was something fairly heroic in the way he held his head, accepting with a spirit of magnificent tolerance a scheme of life that, including his impossible mother, nevertheless bored him inexpressibly. The crown of his glory fell upon him when his bonne (picture a thirteen-year-old American boy tagged in public by a French maid!) approached him and told him to be ashamed of himself, standing there with his hands in his pockets like a great peasant. He did not groan nor sigh, but still manfully submitting to the cruel destiny his impossible mother imposed upon him, he withdrew his hands from his pockets, crossed them behind him, and continued waiting. Presently, permitted by a sign from his mother, he started off toward the beach, with the white - bonneted bonne at his heels. During the balance of the season this boy served for me to mark with great distinctness how that which is purely American diverges from that which is purely French. The artistic perfection of the most which one finds in France is so great that one is prone to succumb to its charm, and under this influence American principles are apt to look much as a two-story-and-wing framehouse built by a Kansas carpenter would look set up in, say, the Luxembourg Garden. I recall that in one of Balzac's philosophical novels a mystic argument is presented concerning whether the line of God is a straight line or a curve. The American at home has no doubt that God’s line is a straight one, while here in France, behold! one never sees VOL. XXXVIII.-68
anything but curves. Are the French, then, all wrong, or may it be the curve—certainly it is pretty enough—which is the line of God? This problem, constantly encountered in one or another practical form, gives me a great deal of trouble—above all did I find it confusing at Etretat, and often did I envy the Baltimore boy his poise. At the seashore, at home, human nature— my own with the rest truly American—delights in short skirts, shirt-waists, bare head, sports—earth's maternal relation to us admitted and adored even to the point of “roughing it’ in untrod ways with savages for brothers. At Etretat one had the casino, a fresh and ever more elaborate toilette each day, and love-affairs (these too changed, if not every day, then as often as possible). To be sure, there was sport—that is to say, tennis; which, however, as is the case with all sports among Frenchmen, served only as a means of promoting love-affairs and parading exquisite clothes. For the little children there was eternally the toilette (I have seen innumerable French boys on the beach in the morning wearing white gloves, which they never soiled), and there was a dancing-class at the casino every morning, and every Thursday afternoon a children's ball, viewing which I never got over marvelling at how naturally French boys take to being “little gentlemen,” and really find pleasure in the rôle. Even bathing served mainly as the occasion for assembling on the beach to chatter and flirt—men, women, and children alike displaying dainty dress never destined to be wet; it was almost entirely foreigners— les Américains, les Anglais—who bathed. The French who did so were commonly mere husbands, and occasionally a very old, fat wife utterly abandoned to good works and the hope of the life to come. Here I would be comfortably resigned to the spell of the scene— feasting my eyes on the color and the graceful motion of it, when down would come the |Baltimore boy, and, presto! my consciousness of straight lines was restored. He would go stalking along manfully in the peignor, which I am sure he detested as heartily as he detested his mother's yellow wig and the efflorescent young Spaniard always dangling at her side. (Such are the curves of French modesty, even a small boy at the seashore may not appear on the beach except he be enveloped in a huge robe covering his innocent, naked legs.) At the water's edge, the way the Baltimore boy would cast off his peignor and plunge head first into the breakers, to reappear swimming with great vigor and skill, was so truly American that for the moment every sort of beauty and of grace seemed perfectly contained in the straight line. On one point he permanently established me—we Americans are at our best only along straight lines. The truth of this was in the Baltimore boy, especially as he appeared contrasted with an American boy of older growth, much in evidence at Etretat, who had conceived the ambition of being mistaken for a French nobleman. This boy is a story all in himself. Properly considered, the beach at any French watering-place is a purely incidental feature of the casino. That is the real raison d'étre of a summer resort—the casino. Here the terrace by day and the ball-room and the theatre by night afford fitting opportunity for the display of dress and of the devotion pertaining thereto. Here, also, equally indispensable adjuncts of la monde qui s'amuse, are baccarat and the pet its chevauac. What dress and love-affairs are for the young woman at the seashore, gambling is for the old woman. Around the flying toy horses at Etretat old women would sit gambling by the hour; I have secn more than one come away to take a cup of chocolate or coffee on the terrace at midnight, and then go back to the horses to stay as late as the croupier would receive her money. The young women would enter, play a bit, and go, the men following, and children dashed in and out, according to their fitful pleasure, but it was the old women who filed in with the sounding of the gong announcing the starting of the horses and remained till the last course was run. One of the most fascinating mysteries of the French people is thus put in words by a popular current writer, Pierre de Coulevain, “Les Français ont un sale caractère, mais ils possédent une âme merveille use et noble.” To
possess at once an offensive character and a soul which is marvellous and noble, defines a paradox almost beyond the American power of understanding; yet experience among the French people constantly bears witness to the truth so declared. Apropos of it I found the life at Etretat, in particular, the petits chevaux. Here we had gambling—a vice— by virtue of the French people's spirit of doing things, so transformed that actually nothing objectionable was manifest. The old women, faithful to the pet its chevaux, were elsewhere equally devoted grandmothers and dispensers of charity; really excellent fathers and mothers played simply for the pastime so provided, and one let a child look on or perhaps risk a few sous—say, twenty sous once a week if he had been good—with no sense of any wrong enacted. To be sure, the appearance of the Baltimore boy always put me to considerable effort to defend this position, though I think that if it were mentioned to him he would agree with me—indeed, I believe that it was his own unconscious perception of the same relation of things which enabled him to maintain his poise, bored as he was, at Etretat. At an angle of the road leading to the grim old church of Etretat is a large, gray, moss-spotted stone cross erected on the top of several steps forming the base—steps that are worn as if by the weight of those who have knelt and prayed there in passing. Inscribed on the cross is St. Augustin’s rule of life, “Aime Dieu et va ton chemin *-* Love God and go thy way,” or, as I have known the motto to be translated from the Latin by a really religious American, “Love God and do as you please.” After all, are not the curve and the straight line one and the same thing at bottom – mere extension of a point in space? And what is more important than to know our destiny and to arrive, let the accidents of life—race, temperament, what not— be as they may ?