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Eugenia, a baroness divorced from a German prince, and her bohemian brother, Felix, are coming back to America. Raised and cultured in Europe, they are returning destitute to New England to seek out their rich and innocent cousins. Eugenia wins the attentions of Robert Acton, the most appropriate suitor in the area, while also seducing her younger cousin, Clifford. But her foreign gentility and audacity confuse the puritanical customs of the New World. On the other hand, Felix’s luxurious romantic ways find acceptance with the American women. But misunderstandings of a different kind complicate his plans. In a bungle of culture clash and love triangles, the Europeans hang their fortunes upon their ability to adapt. Where their scheming leads them is the last place they expect.
A narrow grave–yard in the heart of a bustling, indifferent city, seen from the windows of a gloomy–looking inn, is at no time an object of enlivening suggestion; and the spectacle is not at its best when the mouldy tombstones and funereal umbrage have received the ineffectual refreshment of a dull, moist snow–fall. If, while the air is thickened by this frosty drizzle, the calendar should happen to indicate that the blessed vernal season is already six weeks old, it will be admitted that no depressing influence is absent from the scene. This fact was keenly felt on a certain 12th of May, upwards of thirty years since, by a lady who stood looking out of one of the windows of the best hotel in the ancient city of Boston. She had stood there for half an hour—stood there, that is, at intervals; for from time to time she turned back into the room and measured its length with a restless step. In the chimney–place was a red–hot fire which emitted a small blue flame; and in front of the fire, at a table, sat a young man who was busily plying a pencil. He had a number of sheets of paper cut into small equal squares, and he was apparently covering them with pictorial designs—strange–looking figures. He worked rapidly and attentively, sometimes threw back his head and held out his drawing at arm’s–length, and kept up a soft, gay–sounding humming and whistling. The lady brushed past him in her walk; her much–trimmed skirts were voluminous. She never dropped her eyes upon his work; she only turned them, occasionally, as she passed, to a mirror suspended above the toilet–table on the other side of the room. Here she paused a moment, gave a pinch to her waist with her two hands, or raised these members—they were very plump and pretty—to the multifold braids of her hair, with a movement half caressing, half corrective. An attentive observer might have fancied that during these periods of desultory self–inspection her face forgot its melancholy; but as soon as she neared the window again it began to proclaim that she was a very ill–pleased woman. And indeed, in what met her eyes there was little to be pleased with. The window–panes were battered by the sleet; the head–stones in the grave–yard beneath seemed to be holding themselves askance to keep it out of their faces. A tall iron railing protected them from the street, and on the other side of the railing an assemblage of Bostonians were trampling about in the liquid snow. Many of them were looking up and down; they appeared to be waiting for something. From time to time a strange vehicle drew near to the place where they stood,—such a vehicle as the lady at the window, in spite of a considerable acquaintance with human inventions, had never seen before: a huge, low omnibus, painted in brilliant colors, and decorated apparently with jangling bells, attached to a species of groove in the pavement, through which it was dragged, with a great deal of rumbling, bouncing and scratching, by a couple of remarkably small horses. When it reached a certain point the people in front of the grave–yard, of whom much the greater number were women, carrying satchels and parcels, projected themselves upon it in a compact body—a movement suggesting the scramble for places in a life–boat at sea—and were engulfed in its large interior. Then the life–boat—or the life–car, as the lady at the window of the hotel vaguely designated it—went bumping and jingling away upon its invisible wheels, with the helmsman (the man at the wheel) guiding its course incongruously from the prow. This phenomenon was repeated every three minutes, and the supply of eagerly–moving women in cloaks, bearing reticules and bundles, renewed itself in the most liberal manner. On the other side of the grave–yard was a row of small red brick houses, showing a series of homely, domestic–looking backs; at the end opposite the hotel a tall wooden church–spire, painted white, rose high into the vagueness of the snow–flakes. The lady at the window looked at it for some time; for reasons of her own she thought it the ugliest thing she had ever seen. She hated it, she despised it; it threw her into a state of irritation that was quite out of proportion to any sensible motive. She had never known herself to care so much about church–spires.