Eugene Pickering by Henry James


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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Eugene Pickering, by Henry James

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Title: Eugene Pickering

Author: Henry James

Release Date: May 8, 2005 [eBook #2534]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


Transcribed from the 1887 Macmillan and Co. edition of "The Madonna of
the Future et al." by David Price, email Proofed
by Vanessa M. Mosher, Faith Matievich and Jonesey.

by Henry James


It was at Homburg, several years ago, before the gaming had been
suppressed. The evening was very warm, and all the world was gathered on
the terrace of the Kursaal and the esplanade below it to listen to the
excellent orchestra; or half the world, rather, for the crowd was equally
dense in the gaming-rooms around the tables. Everywhere the crowd was
great. The night was perfect, the season was at its height, the open
windows of the Kursaal sent long shafts of unnatural light into the dusky
woods, and now and then, in the intervals of the music, one might almost
hear the clink of the napoleons and the metallic call of the croupiers
rise above the watching silence of the saloons. I had been strolling
with a friend, and we at last prepared to sit down. Chairs, however,
were scarce. I had captured one, but it seemed no easy matter to find a
mate for it. I was on the point of giving up in despair, and proposing
an adjournment to the silken ottomans of the Kursaal, when I observed a
young man lounging back on one of the objects of my quest, with his feet
supported on the rounds of another. This was more than his share of
luxury, and I promptly approached him. He evidently belonged to the race
which has the credit of knowing best, at home and abroad, how to make
itself comfortable; but something in his appearance suggested that his
present attitude was the result of inadvertence rather than of egotism.
He was staring at the conductor of the orchestra and listening intently
to the music. His hands were locked round his long legs, and his mouth
was half open, with rather a foolish air. "There are so few chairs," I
said, "that I must beg you to surrender this second one." He started,
stared, blushed, pushed the chair away with awkward alacrity, and
murmured something about not having noticed that he had it.

"What an odd-looking youth!" said my companion, who had watched me, as I
seated myself beside her.

"Yes, he is odd-looking; but what is odder still is that I have seen him
before, that his face is familiar to me, and yet that I can't place him."
The orchestra was playing the Prayer from Der Freischutz, but Weber's
lovely music only deepened the blank of memory. Who the deuce was he?
where, when, how, had I known him? It seemed extraordinary that a face
should be at once so familiar and so strange. We had our backs turned to
him, so that I could not look at him again. When the music ceased we
left our places, and I went to consign my friend to her mamma on the
terrace. In passing, I saw that my young man had departed; I concluded
that he only strikingly resembled some one I knew. But who in the world
was it he resembled? The ladies went off to their lodgings, which were
near by, and I turned into the gaming-rooms and hovered about the circle
at roulette. Gradually I filtered through to the inner edge, near the
table, and, looking round, saw my puzzling friend stationed opposite to
me. He was watching the game, with his hands in his pockets; but
singularly enough, now that I observed him at my leisure, the look of
familiarity quite faded from his face. What had made us call his
appearance odd was his great length and leanness of limb, his long, white
neck, his blue, prominent eyes, and his ingenuous, unconscious absorption
in the scene before him. He was not handsome, certainly, but he looked
peculiarly amiable and if his overt wonderment savoured a trifle of
rurality, it was an agreeable contrast to the hard, inexpressive masks
about him. He was the verdant offshoot, I said to myself, of some
ancient, rigid stem; he had been brought up in the quietest of homes, and
he was having his first glimpse of life. I was curious to see whether he
would put anything on the table; he evidently felt the temptation, but he
seemed paralysed by chronic embarrassment. He stood gazing at the
chinking complexity of losses and gains, shaking his loose gold in his
pocket, and every now and then passing his hand nervously over his eyes.

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