"Your friend was a judge of places."
"It wasn't he alone influenced me. He was sick a long time, and I used to read aloud to him, and one spell, when his mind for some reason or other was running on Italy, every book he chose had the scene laid here. There were whole pages of description, and anything so lovely, so luscious, as the places and people described I never did dream. I didn't understand more than a quarter, but I swallowed it all and gloated. The woman who wrote those books certainly did have an imagination. O Antonia, let me meet you and have a good look at you so I can tell a—hm, the owner of an imagination when I see one again!"
"Antonia, did you say?" The consul smiled.
"That was the writer's name. You know the books I mean?"
"I have read a work or two of Antonia's, yes. She lives near Florence, you know, on another of these little hills."
"Oh, does she!"
"Her name is Mrs. Grangeon. She is an Englishwoman, with an extraordinary sense of, and feeling for, Italy. She is, at her best, a poet; at her worst, slightly deficient, perhaps, in humor. But her passion for Italy is genuine, and I have no doubt she sees it as glowing as the pictures she makes of it."
"Her books are 'grand, John'! If I never had come here, I never should have appreciated them or her—making up that wonderful world, all pomegranates and jasmin-stars, and curls like clustering blue-black grapes, and staturesque limbs, out of the back of her head. Yes, and the golden dust of centuries, and time's mellow caressing touch—oh, I wish I could remember it all!"
"Mrs. Hawthorne, we must take you in hand. Be it ours to initiate you. Come, what have you been to see?"
"Treasures of art? We haven't had time yet. We've been getting a house fit to live in. When you asked me how I liked Florence, I ought to have begun by that end. I love my house, Mr. Foss. I love my garden. I love the Lungarno. And the Casheeny. And Boboly. And the drive up here. And the stores! I positively dote on those little bits of stores on the jewelers' bridge."
"Well, well, that's quite enough to begin with."
"Now that we're going to have some time to spare, we mean to go sight-seeing like other folks."
"How I wish, dear Mrs. Hawthorne, that I were not such a busy man! But"—Mr. Foss had a look of bright inspiration—"should I on that account be dejected? Here is Mr. Fane—"
He turned to Gerald, who, after bringing up Mrs. Hawthorne, had stood near, a silent third, waiting to act further as her escort by and by. Meanwhile he had been listening with a varied assortment of feelings and a boundless fatigue of spirit.
"Mr. Fane," said the consul, "who is not nearly so busy a man as I, and is the most sympathetic, well-informed cicerone you could find. When we wish to be sure our visiting friends shall see Florence under the best possible circumstances, we turn them over to Mr. Fane."
Gerald's face struggled into a sourish smile, and he bowed ironical thanks for the compliment. Lifting his head, he shot a glance of reproachful interrogation at the consul. Was his friend doing this humorously, to tease him, or was the man simply not thinking?
The consul looked innocent of any sly intention; he was all of a jocund smile; the consul, who should have known better, wore the air of doing him a pleasure and her a pleasure and a pleasure to himself; the air of thinking that any normally constituted young man would be grateful for such a chance.
"I shall be most happy," said Gerald, with irreproachable and misleading politeness.
Mrs. Hawthorne turned to him readily.
"Any time you say. Let me tell you where we live."
The room in which Mrs. Hawthorne went to bed an hour or two after taking leave of the dwindling company at Villa Foss was large and luxurious. Its windows were enormous, arched at the top and reaching the floor. A wrought-iron railing outside made them safe. In the angle of the wall between two of them—it was a corner room—stood a mirror nearly the size of the windows, in a broad frame of carved and gilt wood, resting on a marble shelf that supported besides two alabaster vases holding bunches of roses.
In the corner opposite to the mirror and placed "catty-corner," as the occupier worded it, stood the stateliest of beds, upholstered and draped in heavy watered silk of a dull, even dingy, yellow. Its hangings were gathered at the top into the hollow of a great gold coronet, whence they spread and fell in folds that were looped back with silk cords. The walls were covered by that same texture of dull gold, held in place by tarnished gilt moldings.
Mrs. Hawthorne had wanted all this dusty and faded splendor removed,—it seemed to her the possible lurking-place of mice or worse,—but the agent would not hear of it. The noble landlord was not really eager to let.
So Mrs. Hawthorne, to brighten the room in spite of it, for she wished to keep it for her own, having taken a fancy to the fresco overhead,—that fascinating chariot driven among clouds by a radiant youth surrounded by smiling, flower-scattering maidens,—Mrs. Hawthorne to "gay up" the room, as she said, had hung windows and doors with draperies of her favorite cornflower blue, and covered the chairs with the same. On the floor she had stretched a pearl-gray carpet all aglow with wreaths of roses tied with ribbons of blue; and over the carpet—at the bedside, before the dressing-table, in front of the fireplace—laid down white bear-skins.
To cover further the yellow silk, she had hung in one panel of it a painting of the "Madonna della Seggiola," in another, Carlo Dolci's "Angel of the Annunciation," and in another, Carlo Dolci's Magdalen clasping the box of ointment—all works of art bought in Via dei Fossi, framed in great gilt-wood frames, like the mirror.
The lace curtains under the cornflower blue brocade were like Brussels wedding veils seen through a magnifying glass.
Yes, the room had been made to look bright. It had lamps of cream-colored biscuit, painted with roses and crowned with pink shades; it had polished brass fire-irons. But the point of supreme brightness was the dressing-table, where glittered in orderly display Mrs. Hawthorne's American toilet silver, mirror, trays, brushes, boxes, bottles—solid, shining, richly embossed.
There was just one thing in all the room that looked poor, workaday. It was on the small table at the head of the bed, beside the candle-stick and match-safe, a black book, the commonest kind of Bible, such a Bible as is dispensed by those who have to furnish the sacred writings in large numbers—Sunday schools, for instance.
It was in fact a Sunday-school prize that now lay on the night-stand, in what the sober volume presented to a pious little girl must have thought strange company. Cover to cover with it, cheek by jowl, lay a book on etiquette.
It was for the Bible, however, that Mrs. Hawthorne reached after she had got into bed. She found her place. She read in it every night before sleeping, to keep a promise made long ago, and avoid the reproaches of a person gone from this earth, but who still, she never questioned, could be pleased or displeased with her actions.
She did not always try to understand or follow; when she was sleepy she read merely with her eyes. To-night her mind was too full of personal things to permit of strict attention to the text. As she enumerated the wonders of the House that Solomon built for the Lord, there formed no picture of it in her mind.
"I wonder what knops are," she said to herself drowsily. "I must remember to ask Hattie."
There was a stir. Both doors of her room were open; the little unobtrusive one into the dressing-room for air,—the window there stood wide open through the night,—the large one into the sitting-room so as to leave a free road to Miss Madison's room beyond. Through this now slipped a slender form in a soft, fur-bordered wrapper, and with front locks done up in curling-kids.
"You in bed?"
"Yes; I'm just reading my chapter."
Livvy, or Miss Deliverance Jones, was the maid they had brought from America, a New York negress of the most faintly colored complexion, with hair mysteriously blond. Her head was egg-shaped, her nose slightly flat, her lip voluptuous, her brown-black eye sad as a homesick monkey's; but she could wind a chocolate veil about her face and stylish hat, and walk forth happy in the fancy that she passed for white. She was an accomplished dressmaker and hair-dresser; she moreover had spent some time in the service of a beauty-doctor. The ladies had secured her just before sailing, and liked her, but did not talk freely when she was present.
"Yes, she's gone."
"I'm not a bit sleepy, are you? I'm too excited. Let's talk."
She climbed on to her friend's bed, gathered her knees to her chin, and hugged them, with the effect of hugging to herself a great happiness.
Mrs. Hawthorne closed her Bible and put it aside. The single candle by which she had been reading showed the shining mirthfulness of the eyes with which the two regarded each other.
"Wasn't it fun?"
"Oh, wasn't it!"
They spoke softly, whether because the suggestion of the late hour was upon them, or they thought, without thinking, that Livvy might still be near. They whispered like school-girls who have come together in forbidden fun.
"I never did have such a good time."
"Nor I, neither. Oh, Hat, isn't it fun!"
"Isn't it, just!"
"See here, Hat, you've got to teach me to dance. I was almost crazy this evening, I wanted so to be dancing with the rest. Where d'you learn?"
"I went to dancing-school, my dear."
"No! Did you?"
"Yes, I did; all one winter. What are you thinking about? I've been to parties in my life. Not many, but I've been. There was the Home Club party——"
"Yes, of course. I remember how I teased once to go to the Home Club party; but ma wouldn't let me. I hadn't anything to put on, anyhow. But I'd have gone in my shirt if they'd let me. The nearest to a real party I'd been to before to-night was a clam-bake. I don't count church sociables. Out West there used to be celebrations in a sort of bar-room place, but even I couldn't stand those. To think I've always yearned so to have a good time, and now I'm having it! Oh, Hat, wasn't it lovely! That's a mighty nice house of the Fosses. How good it looked, all fixed up! The flowers and candles, one room opening into the other, everything just right. Hat, Mrs. Foss is the finest woman I ever knew, and in my opinion makes the most elegant appearance. She's the one I'd choose to be like if I could. Just watch me copy-cat her. You'll see. 'My dear Mrs. Hawthorne, pray don't speak of the trouble! It's been nothing but a pleasure. Be sure you call upon us whenever we can be of the smallest service.'"
"You've caught her, Nell, you silly thing! Down to the ground."
"I'm going to pattern after her till it comes natural. How sweet they all are! How kind they've been!" Mrs. Hawthorne grew dreamy.
"Your dress, Nell, was a perfect success," the other ran on—"perfect. How did you think mine looked? I'll tell you a compliment I got for you, if you'll tell me one you got for me. If not, I'll save it up in my secret breast till you're ready to make a trade."
"To think," said Mrs. Hawthorne, still engrossed by her dream of absent and bygone things, "that we're the same little girls—and one of them barefoot!—who used to play house together on a sand-heap of old Cape Cod and pin on any old rag that would tail along the ground and play ladies! 'My dear Mrs. Madison, how do you do?'"
"'My dear Mrs. Hawthorne, my toes are just as sore as they can be!'"
"'That comes, my dear Mrs. Madison, of you dancing like a crazy woman from ten o'clock till one, in tight shoes!'—Mrs. Hawthorne! Mrs. Madison! Aurora! Estelle! To think, after all these years, we should be playing our old play that we played at Wellfleet and East Boston, only playing it with real things, in Paris and Florence!"
"Nell, I'm so afraid of forgetting and calling you Nell that every time I catch myself near doing it I can feel the cold sweat break out on my brow."
"What would it matter? We aren't impostors, Hat. We're just having fun, and don't want our real names to queer it. If they should slip out when we aren't thinking, they'd simply sound like nicknames we've got for each other. But they won't slip out. I'm too fond of calling you Estelle. Don't you love to call me Aurora? Hat, how did I behave, far as you could see?"
"Nell, if I hadn't known you, and had just been seeing you for the first time, I should have said to myself: 'What a fine, good-looking, beautifully dressed, refined, and ladylike woman that is! Wish t' I might make her acquaintance.' And what would you have said, if you'd seen me, never having met me before?"
"I should have said: 'What a bright, smart, intelligent, and rarely beautiful girl! So well dressed, too, and slender as a worm! A queen of society. I do like her looks! She's the spittin' image of my little friend Hattie Carver, the schoolmarm in East Boston, that I used to know!' Oh, Hat, the queerest thing! What do you suppose I saw this evening at that lovely house full of lovely people? I was in the library learning to dance. And I looked up and there was what I took to be a young man smoking a cigarette. Next thing, I saw that his dress was low-necked almost down to the waist. Hat, it was a woman smoking! a woman with her hair cut short. I never saw anything like it, except an old Irishwoman once, with her pipe."
"Seems to me I've heard of ladies in Europe doing it, and it being considered all right. I have heard that some do it in New York, but I guess they're careful not to be seen."
"Well, it does seem a queer thing to do!—Go ahead, Hat; what was the compliment?"
"Sure, now, you've got one for me?"
"It was What's-his-name, the English fellow we see every time we go in to Cook's—Mr. Dysart. Leslie says he comes of a very good family. He said to me, 'How very charming Mrs. Hawthorne is looking this evening!'"
"Hattie, that man's a humbug, that man's leading a double life. He said to me, 'How very charming Miss Madison is looking this evening!' He did."
"Go 'way! You're making it up to save trouble."
"No, I ain't! Stop, Hattie! I know! I am not. Confusion upon it! You've made me so nervous when I talk that I can't say ain't without jumping as if I'd sat on a pin!"
"Nell Goodwin, look me square in the eye. How many times did you say ain't at the party this evening?"
"Not once; I swear it. I was looking out every minute. 'I am not,' I said; 'We are not,' I said; 'He doesn't,' I said; 'He isn't,' I said. There! Between you'n' I, Hat, it's a dreadful nuisance, keeping my mind on the way I talk. I hope I shall come in time to talking lofty without thinking about it. Why do I have to, Hat, after all? I've lived among educated people. Wasn't the Judge highly educated? And nobody ever found fault with my way of talking. My folks all had been to school and read books. And didn't I go to school till I was fourteen? And didn't I graduate from the grammar school with the rest? What's the matter with my natural way of talking?"
"It's all right at home, Nell, but it's different over here. They're a different kind of people we're thrown with."
"This pernickety way of talking never sounds cozy or friendly one bit. We're as good as anybody, of course, but when I say 'I am not, he does not,' I always feel as if I were setting up to be better than the rest!—Oh, it isn't, is it? Oh, do you say so? 'Between you and I' isn't correct? But I thought you told me.... To Jericho, Hattie! How's a feller ever going to get to know?"
"Listen, Nell, while I go over it again. When you say——"
"Ah, no! Not at this time of night, Estelle! Let me live in ignorance till morning! You know all those sorts of things, my dear Estelle, because you're paid by the government to know them. I don't; but I know lots and lots of things that are a sight funnier."
She grabbed one of the pillows and flung it at her friend, who flung it back at her; and the simple creatures laughed.
Aurora re-tied in a bow the blue ribbon that closed the collar of her nightgown, and settled back again, with her arms out on the white satin quilt, flowered with roses and lined with blue. The two braids of her fair hair lay, one on each side, down her big, frank, undisguised bosom.
"You heaping dish of vanilla ice-cream!" said Hattie.
"You stick of rhubarb!" said Nell. "Stop, Hat! Behave! Do you suppose all the people we've invited to come and see us will come?"
"Doctor Chandler will come. And the Hunt girls will come. And Madame Bentivoglio I guess will come."
"Yes, and the Satterlees I'm sure will come. And Mrs. Seymour and her daughter that I said I'd help with the church fair. And the minister; what was it? Spottiswood."
"And won't the Mr. Hunt come that you seemed to be having such a good time with?"
"Yes, he'll come. He'll come to-morrow, I shouldn't wonder. Then that thinnish fellow with the hair like a hearth-brush—did you meet him? Mr. Fane, a great friend of the Fosses. He's coming to take us sight-seeing." She yawned a wide, audible yawn. "I only hope there'll be some fun in it. Confound you, Hat, go to bed!"
After the Fosses had helped the lessees of the Haughty Hermitage to make it habitable; found for them a coachman who had a little French and, when told what they desired to buy, would take them to the proper shops; provided them with a butler to the same extent a linguist, through whom Estelle, who in Paris had ambitiously studied a manual of conversation, could give her orders, they not unnaturally became less generous of their company.
But they were not permitted to make the intervals long between visits. The coachman wise in French was perpetually driving his spanking pair to their gates, delivering a message, and waiting to take them down for lunch or dinner with their joyfully welcoming and grateful friends. It was not at all unpleasant. It was not prized preciously,—there was too much of it and too urgently lavished,—but the lavishers were loved for it by two women neither dry-hearted nor world-hardened. Leslie fell into the way, when she was in town and had time, of running in to Aurora's, where it would be cheerful and she looked for a laugh.
Leslie, having reached, as she considered, years of discretion, thought fit to disregard the Florentine rule that young unmarried women must not walk in the streets unattended. She had balanced the two inconveniences: that of staying at home unless some one could go out with her, and that of being spoken to in the street, and decided that it was less unpleasant to hear a strange young man murmur as she passed, "Angel of paradise!" or "Beautiful eyes!"—no grosser insult had ever been offered her,—than to be bothered by a servant at her heels. The fact that she looked American and was understood to be following the custom of her own country secured her against any real misinterpretation.
It was chilly, Novemberish, and within the doors of Florentine domiciles rather colder, for some reason, than in the open air. The Fosses kept their house at a more human temperature than most people, but yet after years of Italy did not heat very thoroughly: one drops into the way of doing as others do, and grows accustomed to putting up with cold in winter. Leslie often expressed the opinion that in America people really exaggerate in the matter of heating their houses. Nevertheless, just for the joy of the eyes and, through the eyes, of the depressed spirit, she was glad to-day of the big fire dancing and crackling in Aurora's chimney-place.
The upstairs sitting-room, where the ladies generally sat, might look rather like a day nursery; yet after one had accepted it, with its chintz of big red flowers and green foliage, its rich strawberry rug and new gold picture-frames, it did seem to brighten one's mood. How think grayly amid that dazzle and glow any more than feel cold before that fire?
Leslie held her hands to the blaze, and with an amiable display of interest inquired of their affairs, the progress made in "getting settled." There was still a good deal to do of a minor sort.
Accounts were given her in a merry duet; purchases were shown; she was told all that had happened since they last saw her, who had called, whom they had been to see.
Casting about in her mind for further things to communicate, Aurora was reminded of a small grievance.
"I thought your friend Mr. Fane was going to come and take us sight-seeing," she said.
"Was it so arranged?"
"So I supposed."
"And he hasn't been?"
"Hide nor hair of him have we seen."
"I meant, hasn't he perhaps called while you were out?"
"Strange. It's not like him to be rude. But, then, he's not like himself these days. You must excuse him."
"What's the matter with him? Isn't he well?"
"He's not ill in the usual sense. If he were, we should make him have a doctor and hope to see him cured. It's worse than an illness. He is blue—chronically blue."
"Oh, he has reasons. But the same reasons, of course, would not have made a person of a different temperament change as he has changed."
"I don't suppose you want to tell us what the reasons are?" Very tentatively this was said.
"Why ... ordinarily one would not feel free to do so, but you are sure to hear about it before you have been here long. In Florence, you know, everybody knows everything about everybody else. Not always the truth, but in any case an interesting version. Oh, it behooves one to be careful in Florence if one doesn't wish one's affairs known and talked about. But in the case of Gerald there was nothing secret. Everybody knows him, everybody knew when he was engaged to Violet Van Zandt, everybody knows that she married some one else."
"Oh, the poor boy!"
"It's very simple, you see, commonplace as possible. But it's like the old story of the poem: an old story, yet forever new. And the one to whom it happens has his heart broken, one way or the other."
"And she married some one else?"
Both Aurora and Estelle were craning toward the speaker in a curiosity full of sympathy.
Leslie was used to seeing them hang on her lips. "I do love to hear you talk!" Aurora candidly said. "It doesn't make any difference whether I know what you're talking about, it fascinates me, the way you say things!" And the compliment disposed Leslie to talk to them no otherwise than she talked with Lady Linbrook or Countess Costetti, leaving them to grasp or not her allusions and fine shades. She was by a number of years the youngest of the three drawn up to the fire; yet some advantage of fluency, collectedness, habit of good society—a neat effect altogether of authority, made her seem in a way the oldest.
"Violet," she began, like a grown person willing to indulge children with a story, "is Madame Balm de Breze's sister. You saw Madame de Breze that Friday evening at our house. Violet is very like her, only much younger and a blonde. Amabel is—let us call things by their names in the seclusion of this snug fireside—Amabel is scrawny; Violet was ethereal. Amabel is sharp-featured; Violet's face was delicate and clear-cut. I say was, because she has grown much stouter. We have known them since they first came to Florence, and have been friends without being passionately attached. They are Americans, but had lived in Paris since Violet was a baby. They came here, orphans, because it is cheaper. They used to live on the top floor of a stony old palace in Via de' Servi, where they painted fans on silk, sending them to a firm in Paris. Amabel did them exquisitely: shepherds and shepherdesses, corners of old gardens, Cupids—Watteau effects, veritable miniature work. The little sister was beginning to do them well, too; she painted only flowers. Amabel had no objection to Violet marrying Gerald. He was as far as possible from being a good match, but in those days both Amabel and Violet seemed to live in an atmosphere that excluded the consideration of things from a vulgar material point of view. Violet and Gerald were alike in that, and so very much alike in their superfine tastes and ways of thinking. Nous autres who live upon this earth wondered how they would keep the pot boiling in case of 'that not remote contingent, la famille.' Gerald has an income simply tiny. You would hardly believe how small. We supposed that now he would paint a little more than he ever has done with the idea of pleasing the general public and securing patronage. They were so much in love, anyhow, and made such an interesting pair, that one's old romantic feelings were gratified by seeing them together. They were to wait until she was twenty-one, when a crumb of money in trust for her would fall due. Then Amabel surprises us all by marrying De Breze. Violet of course lives with them, and with them goes to Paris. And in Paris she becomes Madame Pfaffenheim. Tout bonnement!"
"Oh, the wretch, the bad-hearted minx!"
"No," said Leslie, reflectively. She turned from the warmth of the fire and let her eyes rest on the gray sky seen in wide patches through the three great windows, arched at the top and blocked at the bottom by wrought-iron guards, that admitted into the red and green room such very floods of light—"no," Leslie repeated. "One is the sort of person one is. The sin is to pretend. I don't believe Violet knew the sort of person she was until it came to the test. She thought, very likely, that she was all composed of poetry and fine sentiments and eternal love. She wasn't; and there it is. When she had the chance actually to choose, she preferred money, a fine establishment, luxury, and she took them. How ghastly if, with that nature concealed in her behind the pearl and pale roses, she had married poor Gerald! It's much better as it is, don't you agree with me? I call him fortunate beyond words."
"Well, of course; that's one way of looking at it."
"It's his way. Gerald knows just how fortunate he has been, and it's exactly that which makes him so miserable. At first, you understand, he could lay the entire blame on the De Brezes; he was sure they had in some mysterious way constrained her, and though he was angrily, tragically, suicidally wretched, it was one kind of woe—a clean, classic woe, I will call it. He believed it shared by her in the secret of her uncongenial conjugal life. 'Ich grolle nicht,' he could say, and all that. But a year or two ago she came to Florence with Pfaffenheim on a visit to her sister. I don't know how Gerald felt, whether he tried to avoid her or tried to see her. That he saw her, however, is certain. She is perfectly happy, my dears, in her marriage! And that she should love Pfaffenheim, or be proud of him, is inconceivable. So her happiness rests entirely upon the fact of her riches and worldly consequence."
"Say what you please, I call her a nasty, mean thing!" exclaimed Aurora.
Leslie shrugged her shoulders, as if saying: "Have it your way; but a more philosophical view is possible."
"She was looking very beautiful," she went on. "Much more beautiful than before, but in such a different way! From diaphanous she has become opaque; from airy, solid. She brought a most wonderful wardrobe, and, kept in the background with her husband, two fat babies."
"I should think she would have been ashamed to come back here."
"Oh, no; not Violet. She was enchanted to show herself in her glory to those who remembered her in the modest plumage of her girlhood. Florence did not really like it, because she affected toward Florence the attitude of one who comes to it from places immeasurably grander. You would have thought Florence an amusing little hole where she long ago, by some accident, had spent a month or two. She found us quaint, provincial, old-fashioned. She was witty about us. She criticized us with a freedom and publicity that made her funnier to us than we were funny to her. It was not an endearing thing to do or a very intelligent one. It was, in fact, rather antipathetic."
"Antip—I call it the actions of a bug!"
"You can see how it all left Gerald. The Violet he cared for was obviously no more. Worse than that, she had probably never been. Comforting knowledge, isn't it, that for years you have treasured memories that had no reality to start from; that you have suffered agonies of love without any real object. Nauseous! Intolerable! A tragedy that is shown to have been all along a farce! To a man of imagination, to a person as sincere as Gerald, you can see what it would mean. You can see what it would leave behind it."
"I should think he would just despise her, and shake it off, and forget her as she deserves."
"Your simple device, dear Aurora, is the one he adopted. But to have an empty hollow where your beautiful hoard of pure gold was stored is a thing it takes time to grow used to. He is not an unhappy lover now, certainly; but he is a man who has been robbed, and he has fallen into the habit of low spirits. It is a thousand pities his poor mother and sister could not have been spared to make a home for him. Being too much alone is bad for any one. He shuts himself in with his blues, and they are growing more and more confirmed. Love is a curious thing." Leslie said the latter separately and after a pause, as if from a particular case she had been led to reviewing the whole subject. "It complicates life so," she added, and rose to go.
They teased her to remain and lunch with them. But Leslie was suddenly more tired at the contemplation of life than she had been when she came. The total result of her call had not been to cheer her, for by an uncomfortable stirring within, as soon as she had finished, she was made to repent having talked to outsiders about things so personal, so private, regarding Gerald—Gerald, who was infinitely reserved. It seemed a crime against friendship. That somebody else would have been sure to tell his story did not excuse her.
Leslie's mood to talk was over for that morning and she went home, but not before she had been forced to take a bottle of perfume which she had carelessly picked up off Aurora's toilet-table, sniffed, and praised; also, lifted out of their vase, a bunch of orchids for her mother; and for Lily the box of sweets that had stood invitingly open on the sitting-room table.
* * * * *
Next time Aurora saw Gerald—it was on Viale Principe Amedeo—she waved to him.
He did not see it. He was just aware of a victoria coming down the middle of the street he was preparing to cross and of something fluttering, but that it concerned him he did not suspect.
Then suddenly the victoria, like a huge Jack-in-the-box, shot up a figure, and he recognized Mrs. Hawthorne standing at full height in the moving carriage, and waving both hands, as he must suppose, nobody else being near,—to him.
He lifted his hat. He saw her reach for the coachman and by touch make him aware that she wished to stop. The horses were pulled up. Mrs. Hawthorne, from the seat into which the jerk had thrown her, made beckoning signs to him, laughing the while, and calling, "Mr. Fane! Mr. Fane!"
He went to stand at the carriage-step.
"I thought," said Mrs. Hawthorne, "that you were going to come and take us sight-seeing."
"I thought I was," said Gerald, with that scant smile of his; "but I was not so fortunate as to find you at home."
It was true that he had gone to her door one afternoon, having previously caught a glimpse of her in the heart of the city, shopping.
"You mean to say you came?"
"You did not find my card?"
"No; but it's all right. This is Miss Madison—Mr. Fane. We are together. What have you got to do?"
Gerald looked as if the question had not been quite clear, and he waited for some amplification of it before he could answer.
"Have you got anything very important to do? Aren't you lonesome? Don't you want to jump in and come home with us? Wish you would."
Gerald smiled again in his remote way, and looked as if he knew, as any one would know, that this was not meant to be taken seriously.
"I have just seen a beautiful spectacle," he said, after a vague head-shake that thanked her shadowily for an unreal invitation. "A game of pallone, which is the nearest to your football that boys have over here. Beautiful bronzed athletes at exercise, a delightful sight, statues in motion. I go to see them whenever I can.—The days are becoming very short, are they not?"
"Yes. Jump in and come home with us. Tell you what we'll do. I'll go down into the kitchen and make some soda biscuits that we'll have hot for supper—with maple syrup. We've had a big box of sugar come."
Gerald again smiled his civil, but joyless, smile, and after another vague head-shake that thanked, but eluded the question, he said: "They are very indigestible; hot bread is not good for the health. At least, that is what they tell us over here. We keep our bread two days before eating it, or longer. But I am afraid I am detaining you."
The horses were jingling their bits, frisking their docked tails. The driver, checking their restless attempts to start, was giving them smothered thunder in Italian. Gerald withdrew by a step from the danger to his shins.
"Oh, jump in!" said Mrs. Hawthorne for the third time. And because his choice lay between saying curtly, "Impossible!" and letting the impatient horses proceed, or else obeying, Gerald, who hated being rude to women, found himself irresolutely climbing in, just long enough, as he intended, to explain that he could not and must not go home with them to the hot biscuits and syrup.
The little third seat had been let down for him; his knees were snugly wedged in between those of the ladies. Aurora was beaming over at him; Estelle was beaming, too. Aurora's smile was a blandishment; Estelle's was a light. The horses were flying toward the Lungarno. And he gave up; he helplessly gave up trying to find an excuse for asking to be set down again and allowed to go his lonely way.
It might be entertaining, he tried to think, to see what they had done to the Hermitage. But no! That was very sure to be revolting. If the evening were to afford entertainment, it must be found in watching this healthy and unhampered being who, just as certain fishes color the water around them, seemed to affect the air in such a way that, coming near enough, you were forced to like her, without ceasing to think her the most impossible person that had ever found her way into cultivated society.
The carriage-wheels crunched gravel; the horses' hoofs rang on the pavement of a columned portico; the door was opened by a man in blue livery.
Entering the wide hall, they faced an ample double staircase, between the converging flights of which stood, closed, a great stately white-and-gold door.
Gerald, as bidden, followed the ladies up the stairs to the cozier sitting-room, where a fire, they hoped, had been kept up. In the beginning dimness of an early twilight he first saw the big red flowers and green, green leaves. He was left a moment alone while the ladies took off their hats, and he sent his eyes traveling around him, prepared really for something worse than they found, though the pictures on the wall called from him the gesture of trying to sweep away an unpleasant dream.
Aurora reappeared from her room in a business-like white apron.
"Now I'm going down to make the biscuit. Oh, no trouble. No trouble at all. I want them myself. I'm homesick for some food that tastes like home. Estelle will entertain you while I'm gone. I sha'n't be but a minute."
Estelle sat in a low arm-chair close to the fire.
Gerald, to whom it did not seem cold enough for a fire, took a seat nearer the windows, whence he could watch the fading sunset-end beyond garden and street, river and hill.
He would have cared less, no doubt, to make himself not too dull company for this stranger, had he known that there, before that fireplace, a few days before, she had been placed in possession of the most intimate facts of his humiliating destiny. Unsuspecting, in a mood rather more amiable than usual, he asked, by way of entering into conversation, whether she and her friend were not New-Englanders. It established the sense of a bond, however light, to find that they and he were almost townsmen. He had been born in Boston, or, at least, near it. His parents had owned a house in Charlestown, where he had lived till he was ten years old. They talked for a while of Boston.
He had heard a singular thing, he said, she might be able to tell him how true: that in Boston a new medical method had arisen by which the sick were said to be made well without the help of drugs. Mind cure, he believed it was called. It seemed very extraordinary, and rather interesting, if it were not all a fraud or a fable, that persons of the most prosaic, as these had been described to him, should go about professing to do for a fee the same thing that saints of old are recorded to have done through their mysterious powers. The subject had come into his mind—he went on making conversation—from recently re-reading a book of George Sand's, La Petite Fadette, in which a cure is performed which seemed to him very similar. If she had not read the book, she must permit him to bring it for her perusal. He talked about the book.
A maid brought in a lighted lamp, and, as is the pleasant custom of the country, wished them a happy evening.
Very soon after it came Aurora, with a dab of flour on one cheek, which the kitchen fire had warmed to a deeper pink.
"There," she said, "they're all ready for the oven. When we took the house, all the stove we had was a big stone block thing with little square holes. The cook fanned them with a turkey-wing. But now we've got a range. Don't you want me to show you over the house? There'll be just time before supper."
"I'm afraid it's all dark," said Estelle. "Let me ring and have them light up. Think of a city house without gas!"
"No, they'd be too long. I can take a lamp."
She went for it to her dressing-room, and came back with one easy to carry, long in the stem and small in the tank, from which, to make it brighter, she had lifted off the shade. Gerald reached to take it from her, but she refused his help.
"The weight's nothing. I want you to be free to look around. Coming, Estelle?"
"I'll join you in a minute."
They went down the wide stairs side by side. She led through a door, at the right, as you entered the house, of the main door.
"Here's one of the parlors. We have four on this floor, between big and little. Four parlors and a dining-room. Doesn't that seem a good many for two lone women?"
The unshaded lamplight showed a crowd of furniture, modern, muffled, expensive, the lack of simplicity in design of which was further rendered dreadful to the artist by every device to make it still less simple, embroidered scarfs thrown over chair-backs, varicolored textiles depending from the mantel-shelf, drooping over the mirror, down pillows of every shape and tint piled in sofa-corners. Nothing was left undecorated. The waste-basket even wore a fat satin bow, like a pet poodle. Every horizontal surface was encumbered with knick-knacks.
"This is where we have people come when we don't know them very well," said Mrs. Hawthorne, hardly concealing her pride. "We couldn't ask the minister to come right upstairs, as we did you. How do you—"
"Mrs. Hawthorne," came hurriedly from Gerald, "I beg you will not ask me how I like it! It is a peculiarity like—like not liking oysters. I can't bear to be asked how I like things."
"How funny! But, then, you're different from other people, aren't you? That's what makes you so interesting."
She preceded him into the next room, which was not so bad as the first for the reason that, as she explained, "they hadn't yet finished with it." He seized the occasion almost eagerly to praise the chairs.
"We found them here when we came," she informed him. "There was a good lot of furniture of this big, bare sort; clumsy, I call it. We stored some of it in the top rooms, but Leslie Foss begged me so to let these stay that we just had the seats covered over with this new stuff and left them."
When she opened the next door and stepped into the space beyond it seemed as if her lamp had dwindled to a taper, the room was so vast. It had nine great windows, five in an unbroken row on the front of the house the entire width of which it occupied. Aurora's light was faintly reflected in a polished floor; it twinkled in the myriad motionless drops of two great crystal chandeliers.
"Ah," exclaimed Gerald in a long sigh. "This is superb!"
"Yes," she said, "but you might as well try to furnish all outdoors. You see that we haven't done anything beyond putting up curtains. We never use it. All those chairs along the walls are going to be regilded when we can get them to come and fetch them. Things move awfully slowly over here, don't they, even if you're willing to pay."
"What a ball-room!"
"Yes. Wish we could give a ball; but we only know about a dozen people. We've got to wait till we know enough at least for two sets of a quadrille."
She was moving across the wide floor, holding her torch-like lamp high the better to illumine the great pale, silent emptiness. No longer hearing his footsteps echoing behind hers, she looked over her shoulder; whereupon he hurriedly joined her, without explaining why he had lagged.
"This," she said, as turning to the left they passed from the ball-room into a small oval room the domed ceiling of which was all tenderly bepainted with Cupids and garlands—"this is almost my favorite."
She set down her lamp on a table of rose-tinged marble, and dropped for a minute on to a little rococo settee.
"The things in here we found just as you see them."
"So I imagined."
"All but the ornaments on the mantel."
"Very astute in me; I divined that, too."
"We liked it, so we left it. Pretty, ain't it? Oh, beg pardon!" She blushed and looked at him sidelong, laughing. "That was a bad break! That came mighty near to being the forbidden question how you like it. All the same, it is pretty, is it not?"
"Extremely. Extremely pretty."
"There are going to be some tapestries presently. Oh, don't be afraid! Not those old worsted things full of maggots, but beautiful new ones, painted by hand, all in these same delicate colors. A story in four scenes, one for each panel. The 'Fountain of Love' is the subject. It sounds to me like something Biblical, Sunday-schoolish, but Mr. Hunt says, no, it is not."
"The nephew, Charlie. You know him, don't you? He's getting them done for me. He's a great friend of mine. He's helped me a lot to buy things."
"Did he help you to buy the pictures?"
"Yes. He knows the dealers, and gets them to make fair prices. I think it perfectly wonderful how cheap everything is over here. He helped me to buy these, too." She lifted the chain of pink corals, graduated from the size of a pea to that of a hazelnut, which with their delicate living color brightened her winter dress. "I can't say, though," she dropped, "that I found these particularly cheap. Hush!" she broke off. "It's Hat! Quick!" she whispered, "let's get behind the door and say 'Boo!' as she comes in."
Amazingly, incredibly to him, this grown woman appeared about to ensconce herself.
"But won't it make her jump?" he asked, supposing it to be Miss Madison for whom the little surprise was intended.
"Of course it'll make her jump. No matter how often I do it, she jumps. That's the fun."
"Mrs. Hawthorne, please!" he begged nervously. "As a very special favor to me, don't! It would make me jump, too—horribly."
She stood listening while the footsteps turned away and faded fruitlessly. With a look of disappointment, as at opportunity missed, she took up her lamp and moved on.
"And here," she said, leaving the oval room by the door opposite to the one they had come through, "is the dining-room. Which takes us back to the hall and completes the circle."
This room, of a fine new Pompeian red, was lighted. The table was set; a butler busied himself at the sideboard. Gerald's eye was caught by the brightness of a china basket piled high with sumptuous fruit, and similarly caught the next moment by the pattern of the curtains, in which the same rampant red lion was innumerably repeated on a ground of wide-meshed lace.
"Wouldn't it be a lovely house to give a party in?" she asked him. "Isn't it exactly right to give a party in? There are two big spare chambers upstairs at the back that would do, one for gentlemen, one for ladies, to lay off their things in. No use; we shall have to give a party."
Having returned upstairs, he was without any false delicacy shown her bedroom and her friend's bedroom and their dressing-rooms, as well as given a peep into the two spare rooms, as yet incompletely furnished, that he might get an idea how beautiful these were going to be when finally industry and good taste had been brought to bear on them.
* * * * *
At dinner, which Mrs. Hawthorne seemed to have a fixed preference for calling supper, it was Gerald who did most of the talking. The ladies abandoned the lead to him, and listened with flattering attention while he called into use his not too sadly rusted social gifts. He related what he knew about the Indian Prince whose monument at the far end of the Cascine had roused their interest. He explained the Misericordia. He asked if they had noticed the wonderful figures of babies over the colonnade of the Foundling Hospital, and told them how the "infantile asylum," as he rendered it, was managed. He tried to amuse them by the episodes from which certain streets in Florence have derived their names, Street of the Dead Woman, Street of the Dissatisfied, Burg of the Blithe.
Whenever he stopped there was silence, which he hastened again to break.
"You talk like Leslie," suddenly remarked Mrs. Hawthorne.
But now came the hot biscuits and the syrup, borne in by the mystified butler at the same time as the more conventional dessert prepared by the cook.
Aurora smiled at the biscuits' beautiful brown and, having broken one to test its lightness, nodded in self-approval.
"They're all right. Now you want to put on lots of butter," she said. "Here, that's not near enough," she reproved him. She reached over, took his biscuit, buttered it as she thought it should be buttered, and returned it to his plate; then, while eating, watched him eat with eyes that expressed her simple love of feeding up any one, man or animal, so lean as he.
There had been shining in Aurora's eyes all this evening, when they rested on him, a look of great kindness, the consequence of knowing how badly life had treated him, and desiring that compensation should be made. He could not fail to feel that warm ray playing over his bleak surface. He could not but think what nice eyes Mrs. Hawthorne had.
When he asked her if she knew how to make many other such delicious things it became her turn to talk. Estelle here joined in, and they exalted the fare of home, affecting the fiction of having found nothing but frogs' legs, cocks' combs, and snails to feed upon since they struck Italy. Blueberry-pie—did Mr. Fane remember it? Fried oysters! Buckwheat cakes!
He said he remembered, but did not confess to any great emotion.
"You wait till Thursday," said Aurora. "It's Thanksgiving. We're going to have chicken-pie, roast turkey, mince-pie, squash-pie, everything but cranberry sauce. We can't get the cranberries. Will you come?"
In haste and confusion he said, alas! it would be impossible, wholly impossible, intimating that he was a man of a thousand engagements and occupations.
But after an interval, and talk of other things, he inquired, with an effect of enormous discretion, whether he might without too great impertinence ask who was coming to eat that wonderful Thanksgiving dinner which her own hands, he must suppose, would largely have to prepare.
"Just the Fosses. All the Fosses."
"Ah, Mr. Foss will feel agreeably like the great Turk."
"You mean he'll be the only man? I guess he can stand it. We thought of asking Charlie Hunt, too, but he's English and would seem an outsider at this particular gathering. Wish you'd come. You're such a friend of theirs. Come on, come!"
"Mrs. Hawthorne, you are so very unusually kind. If you would leave it open, and then when the day arrives, if I should find I could do so without—without—"
"Oh, yes. Come if you can. And be sure, now, you come!"
They were still sitting at the table—dinner had been retarded by the circumstantial round of the house—when music resounding through the echoing rooms stopped the talk.
It was the piano across the hall that had been briskly and powerfully attacked. The "Royal March" of Italy was played, first baldly, then with manifold clinging and wreathing variations.
Aurora signed to the servant to open the dining-room door. All three at the table sat in silence till the end of the piece.
Gerald wondered what the evening caller could be who made the moments of waiting light to himself in this fanciful manner.
"It's Italo," said Mrs. Hawthorne, rising. "I call him Italo because I never can remember his other name. Come, let's go into the parlor."
It was all rosily lighted. Candles set on the piano at each side of the music-rest enkindled glossy high lights on the nose-bump and forehead bosses of Signor Ceccherelli, who at Mrs. Hawthorne's appearance sprang up to salute. She reached him her hand, over which he deeply bowed.
"You're to play all those lovely things I'm so fond of," she directed him. "'The Swallow and the Prisoner,' 'The Butterflies,' 'The Cascade of Pearls.' And don't forget the 'Souvenir of Saint Helena.' Then the one of the soldiers marching off and the soldiers coming home again. All our favorites. Mr. Fane— Are you acquainted with each other? Italo—you'll have to tell him your name yourself. All I can think of is Checkerberry."
"Yes, yes, we are acquainted," said Gerald, hurriedly. "We have seen each other many times. Come sta?"
"Oh, he can speak English."
"A leetle," Ceccherelli modestly admitted.
"He understands everything I say. We have great conversations. He comes every evening when he isn't engaged to play somewhere else."
She went to sit on the gorgeous brocade sofa, arranging herself amid the multitude of cushions so as to listen long and happily. Estelle preferring a straight-backed chair, Gerald took the other corner of Aurora's sofa. Immediately Ceccherelli opened with "Souvenir de Sainte-Helene." Aurora, respectful to the artist, talked in a whisper.
"He's so talented! You simply couldn't count the pieces he can play. We do enjoy it so! We haven't anything in particular to do evenings if no one calls. We don't often go out. We haven't been here long enough to know many people. And aside from his magnificent playing, the little man is such good company! We do have fun! There, I mustn't talk, I'm keeping you from listening."
Gerald settled back, too, as if to listen, but to do the contrary was his fixed purpose, even though the pianist, at last appreciated, put into his playing so much feeling and force. Gerald's eyes went wandering among the clutter of bric-a-brac, from a green bronze lizard to a mosaic picture of Roman peasants, from a leaning tower of Pisa to a Sorrento box. Then they rose to the paintings. He closed them.
The music was describing a hero's death-bed, besieged by dreams of battle, at moments so noisy that Gerald had to open his eyes again for a look of curiosity at the person who could produce so much sound. As he watched him and his nose, like the magnified beak of a hen,—the nose of a man who loves to talk,—he tried a little to imagine those merry evenings spoken of by Aurora. The fellow looked almost ludicrously solemn at this moment. He took himself and his art right seriously, there could be no doubt of it. His face was a map of the emotions expressed by the music, and wore, besides, according to his conception of the part, the look of a great man unacclaimed by his own generation.
Dio! what an ugly little man!
Gerald closed his eyes again.
The last cannon was fired over the hero's grave, the music stopped. The ladies applauded. Gerald, smiling sickly, clapped his hands, too, without, it might have been observed, making any noise to speak of. Estelle went to the piano to compliment the player more articulately, and loitered there, practising her French while he perfected himself in English, by mutual aid.
"Italo," Mrs. Hawthorne interrupted them, "play that lovely thing of your own now—you know, the one we're so crazy about, that by and by turns into a waltz."
Without laying upon the ladies the tiresome necessity of pressing him, the composer plunged into this masterpiece, and Gerald sat back again, wondering what the little man thought of hearing himself called Italo by the fair forestiera. He was dimly troubled, knowing that there is no hope of an Italian ever really understanding the ways of being and doing of American women, and especially an Italian of that class. But then it would be equally difficult to make this American woman understand just how the Italian might misunderstand her.
He permitted himself a direct look at her, where she rested among the cushions, with eyes closed again and a smile diffused all over her face; her whole person, indeed, permeated with the essence of a smile. Extraordinary that, loving music so much, one could so much love such music.
She surprised him by opening her eyes and whispering:
"Don't you want to smoke?" showing that for a moment at least she had not been thinking of music. "You can, if you want to. Here, we've got some. Don't go and think, now, that Estelle and I have taken to smoking. Heavens above! We sent out for them the other night when Charlie Hunt was here."
She reached across the table near her and handed him a box of cigarettes.
He was very glad to light one. To smoke is soothing, and he felt the need of it. Added to his vague distress at the spectacle of such familiarity from these ladies to that impossible little Italian, a ferment of resentment was disquieting him apropos of Hunt—those works of art of which Hunt had facilitated the purchase.
Hunt, of a truth, ever since the first mention of him that evening had been like a fish bone in Gerald's throat.
He checked his thoughts, recognizing that it is not sane or safe to permit oneself to interpret the conduct of a person whom one does not like. The chances of being misled are too great. He uprooted a suspicion dishonoring to both.
Let it be taken for assured, then, that Hunt had in this case no interest to forward beyond his love for making himself important. After all, if the ladies liked bad pictures!... Yet it was a shame that he should frequent their house, be accepted as their friend, invited by them, made much of in their innocent and generous way, then should make fun of them. Permissible, if you choose, to make fun of funny people, but you must not at the same time make use of their kindness. A precept for the perfect gentleman, in Florence or elsewhere: You can make fun of persons, or you can cultivate their friendship, but not both things at once. And Gerald, without proof, felt certain that Charlie Hunt spread good stories about Aurora.
Mrs. Innes, his mother's old friend, meeting him at Vieusseux's reading-room a few days before, had detained him for a chat, and in the course of it asked him if he knew this Mrs. Hawthorne of whom the Fosses appeared so fond. An amusing type, she must be. Seeing that statue of the she-wolf and little Romulus and Remus at the foot of Vial de' Colli, it seemed she had asked what it meant, and said she didn't believe it.
It indefinably hurt him, incommoded some nerve of envenomed sensitiveness—yes, annoyed him like sand in his salad, to think of his country-woman, with the good faith of a dog in her face, so quoted as to make her ridiculous by a fellow wanting in human vitals, like Hunt.
He would have liked, had it been possible, to ask a few frank questions of Mrs. Hawthorne, and find out more certainly what he should think. He would have liked to warn her against trusting her enormous ignorance to one who would have so little good-humor and protectiveness toward that baby-eyed giant-child. Really, instinct ought to teach her better whom to make her confident as respected that grave affair.
Singularly, when next the music stopped, Mrs. Hawthorne, after she with true politeness had taken the box of cigarettes to the other of her guests, spoke of Hunt. Perhaps her thoughts, too, had gone straying, and mysteriously encountered some straying thought of his.
"Charlie Hunt," she said, "is coming on Sunday morning to take us to the picture-galleries. We're going to play hooky from church. His work, don't you see, keeps him at the bank on week days till everything of that sort is closed."
"Mrs. Hawthorne," cried Gerald and sat up in unaffected indignation, while mustache, beard, hair, everything about him appeared to bristle, "I thought I had been engaged to take you sight-seeing! I thought it was to be my honor and privilege. Mrs. Hawthorne, my dear friend, if you do not wish deeply to hurt me, deeply to hurt me, you will write to Mr. Hunt at once, this evening, and I will post the letter, that you have thought better of that immoral plan for Sunday morning, and are going to church like a good Christian woman. And to-morrow, Mrs. Hawthorne, at whatever time will be convenient for you, I will come and take you to the Uffizi."
And so because, in his uncalled-for chivalry, he had made himself guide to a lady in a ball-room, Gerald, one thing leading to another, was once more committed to serving as a guide in Florence.
He had filled the part so often, at the appeal of one good friend and another, that he had sworn never again to be caught, cajoled, or hired. He could have hated the Ghiberti doors had such a thing not been impossible. He did rather hate the Santissima Annunziata. And now it was all to do over again.
It might be adduced, as a mitigation of his misfortune, that this was different.
This was sometimes very different.
A singular thing about acquaintance with Mrs. Hawthorne was that it had in a sense no beginning. One started fairly in the middle. No sooner did one meet her than one seemed to have known her long and know her well. Most people found this so. One therefore readily slid into speaking one's mind to Mrs. Hawthorne, dispensing with the formal affectation of a perfect respect for her every act and opinion, secure in the recognition that anger, sulkiness, the self-love that easily takes umbrage, were as far from her breezy sturdiness as the scrupulosities of an anxious refinement.
That one could say what one pleased to Mrs. Hawthorne put more life into intercourse with her, naturally, than there would have been if, with her limitations, one had been forced to be entirely and tamely circumspect.
"Mrs. Hawthorne," cried Gerald, "do me the very real favor, will you, like a dear good woman, of not calling the most venerable of the primitives Simma Bewey!"
It was astonishing what things Gerald Fane could say without losing his effect of a complete, even considerate politeness.
"But that's the way it's written," said Mrs. Hawthorne.
"You will pardon the liberty I take of contradicting you; it is not. It gives me goose-flesh. Cimabue!"
"Very well. I'll try to remember. But it doesn't matter what I call him; his Madonna is no beauty. Do you mean to tell me there was a time when people admired faces like that? She gives me a pain."
"That is not the point; her beauty is not the point. Besides, she is beautiful."
"Oh, very well. If you'd like to have me look like her, I can."
She tipped her head to one side, lengthened her jaw, pointed her hand, and by a knack she had for mimicry made herself vaguely resemble the large-eyed, small-mouthed, pale and serious Lady of Heaven before whose portrait by the old master this dialogue took place.
"It is really a very poor joke, Mrs. Hawthorne," Gerald said, with mouth distorted by the conflict between laughter and disgust. "To travesty a dignified and sacred thing is a very poor pastime. Of course I laugh. Miss Madison laughs, and I laugh. I think very poorly of it, all the same. You would do much better to frame your mind to an attitude of respect and try to understand. I can't say, though, that I think it unnatural you should not at first appreciate the earliest old masters. We will go to look at something more obvious."
"Wait a moment. These fascinate me, they're so queer and so awful. I tell you those old codgers of the time you say these belong to had strong nerves and stomachs. All these wounds and dripping blood and hollow ribs and criminals being boiled in caldrons, and having their heads cut off and arrows shot into them!... I guess you're right; we'd better move on to something more cheerful."
Miss Madison was never guilty of the foolishness that fell from Mrs. Hawthorne's gross and unconcerned ignorance. Miss Madison took modesty and tact with her, as well as keenness of eye, when she went to picture-galleries and museums. But this, strange to say, did not make her the more acceptable companion of the two to their guide. What Miss Madison did never seemed so important as what her larger, weightier friend did. The one personality to a singular extent eclipsed the other, who was accustomed to this to the point of not feeling it. A laughing lack of conceit in both women marvelously simplified their relation.
Gerald, in choosing pictures for their enjoyment, avoided with a conscientiousness of very special brand to halt with them before paintings fit to please their unpracticed eyes but which he did not think worthy of admiration. He likewise passed Venuses, Eves, Truths, all nudities, without remark or pause, acquainted of old with the simple-minded prudery of certain Americans, and not disrespectful to it.
"Mrs. Hawthorne," he said, "to be ignorant is no sin. One may have been doing beautiful, gracious, useful and merciful things while others were cultivating the arts and sciences. But ignorance on any subject is not in itself beautiful or desirable. One should therefore not be complacent in it, proud of it. With a little humility, Mrs. Hawthorne, what can one not hope to accomplish? Now, please, Mrs. Hawthorne, drop all preconception, and use your eyes. Look at that angel."
"Do you mean to tell me I could live long enough to think that angel beautiful? With those Chinese eyes?... Give it up, my friend, why do you want to bother?"
"Because, Mrs. Hawthorne, you have essentially a good brain. You are at the back of all a very intelligent woman—"
"Go 'way with you! You know that if you feed me taffy enough you can make me see and say anything you want."
"—a very intelligent woman. And I am so constituted that I simply cannot go on living in the same world with a really intelligent woman—my friend, besides—who does not see the difference between Raphael and Guido Reni, and likes one exactly as well as the other. I ache to change it!"
"Go ahead. We don't want you to die. But I'm afraid it'll take surgery. You'll have to drill a hole in my thick head to get the things you mean into that good brain so full of real intelligence."
"If you wouldn't be flippant!"
"If you would bring reverence to the study of things done by great people, and that people of great taste and learning have collected for our joy and improvement!"
"See here! Don't you want me to have a little fun while we do Florence? I don't see how I can stand it, if we're to be solemn as those old saints with mouldy green complexions."
"We're not to be solemn. I have done these galleries solemnly times enough, Heaven knows. But we're to be attentive, respectful, of an open and receptive mind. We're not to say outrageous things in the mere desire to shock our guide, or tease him."
"You don't mean to say you think that I—?"
"It's not funny."
"It mayn't be funny—but it's fun! Go on and lecture. You haven't got a bit of fun in you."
"Yes, I have!" said Gerald, and with a creeping smile—grudging at first, then brighter—looked Mrs. Hawthorne in the eye, while such fun as lived in him traveled over the bridge of their glances, and she was permitted to get a glimpse of his underlying relish.
"All I ask of you, Mrs. Hawthorne," he said, finally, "is that you will not let your innocence on these subjects appear when you are with others. I don't say pretend. Just keep still, be silent! It does not matter when you are with me. When you are with me I beg of you to be yourself. But with others.... You would become the talk of the town, and—" he shuddered, "I should most horribly hate it!"
* * * * *
"Mrs. Hawthorne," he said, with a quiver of annoyance in his voice a few days later, "did I not implore you not to let it be known in Florence how you are affected by the proudest treasures of her world-famous collections?"
"Yes, you told me. But I didn't promise."
"And now I am asked—with laughter and mockery—whether I have seen Mrs. Hawthorne giving an imitation of a Madonna by Simma Bewey, and heard Mrs. Hawthorne on the subject of G. Ottow and Others."
"Didn't you say—with laughter? Well, then, it's all right. Don't you care. I just got to training and did it to make them a little sport. Didn't they tell you about my Native of Italy eating Macaroni?"
"Mrs. Hawthorne, you are just a bad big school-girl—a bad big school-girl—"
"'Hark, from the tomb!'" said Mrs. Hawthorne, in lieu of anything more scintillating.
"A bad big school-girl, and I will have nothing more to do with you. If you delight in being the talk of the town, all you have to do is allow your friend Mr. Hunt in his spare hours to take you to see such things as I have not yet had the honor of showing you."
"Blessed if I—Look here, you aren't mad in earnest? Sooner'n lose you, I won't say another word. There! I've been Tchee-mah-boo-eh's Madonna for the last time. Don't be cross with little T. T.—Talk of the Town!"
"If you had any discrimination, any reticence ..."
"No reticence? Does that mean can't keep anything to myself? You don't know me!"
"You even tell your age."
"You aren't going to find fault with me for that?"
"Yes. At your age one should know better. It is part of your general and too great frankness."
They upon occasions came near quarreling, but not seriously, her disposition to quarrel was so small. Yet, two could not be outspoken and one of them irritable, and those rocks never even be grazed.
She unwarily enlarged to him one day upon her disappointment in Florence. By this time, she said, she was growing used to it, she didn't notice so much the things she didn't like. But at first, with her expectation high, her imagination inflamed by the Judge's and Antonia's eloquence, the narrow streets, in some of them no sidewalks even, the gloomy bars at the windows, the muddy river with the dirty old houses huddled on the bank, the stuffy churches with the average height of the Italian populace marked on the pillars by a dubious grindy brown tint, the dreadful beggars, the black fingernails, the smells....
"Mrs. Hawthorne!" came from Gerald, who with difficulty had let her go on thus far, "those were all you noticed, were they? In the most wonderful city in the whole world, those are all you find to talk about! The narrow streets, the beggars, the smells. Mrs. Hawthorne—" he nearly trembled with the effort to keep calm, "this is obviously not the place for you. You should have gone to ... to Switzerland! Instead of a sunburned hill-side, with sober silver olives and solemn black cypresses, and a pair of beautiful calm white oxen plowing, you would have seen a nice grass-green pasture, at the foot of blinding peaks, cut by an arsenic-green stream, on whose bank a red and white cow feeding! Then among the habitations all would have been well-regulated, the churches swept, perhaps even ventilated, the people washed, clean aprons, clean caps, no beggars, no disorder, no crimes. And there would have been no disturbing manifestations of genius, either; no troublesome masterpieces or other evidences of a little fire in the blood. It would have suited you perfectly."
"I guess you mean that to be cutting, don't you?"
"Let me try to tell you how much I liked New York, when I went back there some years ago after an absence of ten or eleven years. I had some idea, you know, of perhaps returning to live in America. Well, I shivered. I shut my eyes. I held my ears. I fled. I remained just the time I was forced to by the affairs of my poor mother and, as I tell you, I fled!"
"Why, what's the matter with New York?"
"I will tell you what is the matter with New York, with Boston, with all the places in America that I have seen again since I was grown up—"
"No! Stop! Don't say anything against America. It's the one way to make me mad.—I didn't know you felt the same way about Florence. You aren't an Italian, are you? It's because we're both alike Americans that we sit here fighting so chummily."
Lending her spacious front room for the Christmas bazaar in aid of the church, and beholding it full of bustle and brightness, was the thing that brought to the acute stage Mrs. Hawthorne's longing to see her whole house the scene of some huge good time: she sent out innumerable invitations to a ball. Mrs. Foss's card was inclosed with hers. It was a farewell party given for Brenda, whose day of sailing was very near. The frequent inquiry how Brenda should be crossing the ocean so late in the year met with the answer that her traveling companions had a brother whose wedding had been timed thus awkwardly for them.
On the morning of the day before the ball Gerald came to see Mrs. Hawthorne. He was still intrusting the servant with his message when Aurora, leaning over the railing of the hallway above, called down to him, "Come right upstairs!"
He was aware of unusual activities all around—workmen, the sound of hammering, housemaids plying brooms and brushes. Leslie Foss, with her hat on, looked from the dining-room and said, "Hello, Gerald!" too busy for anything more. Fraeulein seemed to be with her, helping at something.
The great central white-and-gold door, to-day open, permitted a glimpse, as he started up the stairs, of a man on a step-ladder fitting tall wax-candles into one of the great chandeliers. From unseen quarters floated Estelle's voice, saying, "Ploo bah! Nong, ploo hoe!"
Mrs. Hawthorne met him at the head of the stairs. The slight disorder of her hair, usually so tidy, pointed to unusual exertions on her part, also. Her face was flushed with excitement and, to judge by her wreathing smiles, with happiness.
"I saw you coming," she greeted him. "Riverisco! Beata Lei! Mamma mia! And do you know how I saw you? Come here."
She led the way to the back, where the window-door stood open on to the roof of the portico, which formed a terrace.
"See? I've had it glassed in for to-morrow night. We couldn't say we hadn't plenty of rooms before, and plenty of room in them. That's just the trouble: there aren't any nooks in this big, square house. So I've made one. This is Flirtation Alcove. Here a loving couple can come to cool off after dancing and look up at the stars together. Oh, it's going to be so pretty! You can't tell anything about it as it looks now; I've only got these few things in it. But the gardeners are going to bring all sorts of tall plants and flowers in pots. Just wait till to-morrow night!"
"You are very busy, I am afraid, Mrs. Hawthorne. I ought not to take your time."
"Can't you sit down a minute?"
"I have come to ask a favor."
"I guess I can say it's granted even before you ask."
"I should like to retract my refusal of your very kind invitation for to-morrow evening. I have explained to you my weak avoidance of crowds. I have determined to overcome it in this case, and I want your permission to bring a friend."
"That? How can you ask? Bring ten! Bring twenty! Bring as many as you've got! As for coming yourself, I'm tickled to death that you've reconsidered."
"It's not quite as simple as it seems, Mrs. Hawthorne. I shall have to tell you more."
At her indication, he took the other half of the little dumpling sofa which had seemed to her an appropriate piece of furniture for Flirtation Alcove, and which, with a rug on the floor, formed so far its only decoration. In the clear, bare morning light of outdoors, which bathed them, she still looked triumphantly fresh, but he looked tired.
"It is Lieutenant Giglioli for whom I have come to beg an invitation. You perhaps know whom I mean."
"Let me see. I can't tell. Quite a few officers have been introduced, but I never can get their names."
"Hasn't Mrs. Foss or Leslie ever spoken of him?"
"Not so far as I can remember. In what way do you mean?"
"They evidently have not." He seemed to be given pause by this and need to gather force from reflection before going on, as he did after a moment, overcoming his repugnance. "He is the reason for poor Brenda being packed off to America."
"Oh, is that it?"
"He came to see me last evening and spent most of the night talking of her. We were barely acquainted before; but he knew I am a close friend of the Fosses, and in that necessity to ease their hearts with talk which Italians seem to feel he chose me. I felt sorry for him."
"She's turned him down?"
"No; she loves him."
Again Gerald stopped, as after making a communication of great gravity. Mrs. Hawthorne, listening with breathless interest, made no sound that urged him to go on. The fact he had announced seemed solemn to both alike, with the vision floating between them of Brenda's white-rose face and deer's eyes, the feeling they had in common that Brenda, for indefinable reasons, was not like ordinary mortals, and that what she felt was more significant, more important.
"But he has nothing beside his officer's pay," Gerald went on when the surprise of his revelation had been allowed time to pass, "and she on her side has nothing but what her parents might give her, who, you probably know, have no great abundance. His proposals were made to them, as is the custom in this country, and have been formally declined."
He left it to her to appreciate the situation created by this, and, while thinking on his side, ran the point of the slender cane which he had not abandoned round and round the same figure of the rug-pattern at their feet.
"They are both too poor. I see," said Mrs. Hawthorne; but added quickly, as if she had not really seen: "It seems sort of funny, though, doesn't it, to let that keep them, if they're fond of each other?"
"Oh, it's not that. However fond, they couldn't marry without her bringing her husband a fixed portion. It is the law in this country, in the case of officers of the army,—to keep up the dignity of that impressive body, you understand. In the case of a lieutenant the dote, or dowry, must be forty thousand francs. I learned the exact sum for the first time last night."
"How much is that? Let me see,"—Mrs. Hawthorne did mental arithmetic, rather quickly for a woman,—"eight thousand dollars. And the Fosses can't give it."
"Of their ability to give it if they wished to I am no judge. I dare say they could, though with their son John going before long to hang out his shingle, as they call it, I doubt if it could be without bleeding themselves. But they are not convinced that the sacrifice ought to be made." He frowned at the pattern on the rug, and suddenly cut at it impatiently with his stick. "It is a singular story, in which everybody is right and the result wrong, horribly wrong!"
"Oh, dear me!" sighed Mrs. Hawthorne, feeling with him even before understanding.
"I ought perhaps to say," he corrected, "everybody is good and well-meaning, but has been unwise. And everybody now has to pay."
"I've thought right along that the Fosses had some reason for not being very happy," said Mrs. Hawthorne, "and I guessed it was something about Brenda. But they never said anything, and I didn't try to make out. Brenda doesn't take to me, somehow, as the others do. I'm not her kind, of course; but I do adore her from afar. She's so beautiful! She's like a person in a story-book, who at the end dies, looking at the sunset over the sea, or else marries the prince."
"Yes, Brenda is wonderful."
"I never should take her for an American."
"She's not like one, and yet she is. She has grown up in this country and breathed in its ideas and feelings till she even looks Italian. Her parents are the sort of Americans that fifty years of foreign countries wouldn't budge; but they began later. Still, it is because Brenda is American, after all, that cruelties are being committed. Her family have taken it for granted that one of them couldn't really be in love with an Italian, least of all that joke, a dapper and decorative Italian officer that a girl buys at a fixed price for her husband. And Brenda can't say to them: 'But I am. I am in love with just such a man. The happiness of my life depends upon your finding the vulgar sum of money with which to buy him for me.' Because of the American-ness all round, Brenda can't say that to them, and because she doesn't say it, they are in doubt, they only half apprehend, they don't understand. The one thing they are sure of is that to marry a foreigner is a mistake. And the one safe thing they see to do, when Brenda's face, combined with her entire reserve toward them, has begun to torment them seriously, is to send her away where, if the truth be that she mysteriously is 'interested in' an Italian, the change of scene may help to put him out of her head."
"So that's why they're sending her home!"
"There are no better or dearer people in the world, kind, true, just; but"—Gerald held in, and showed how much he hated to make any sort of reservation—"in this they have been to blame. They bring growing girls to Italy, where, such is their confidence in I don't know what quality supposed to be inherent and to produce immunity from love of Italian men, they never dream that there might happen to them an Italian son-in-law."
He gave her a moment to realize how rash this was; then hurried, as if wishing to get through as quickly as possible with the disagreeable, if not disgraceful, task of criticizing his friends and of gossiping:
"During the progress of the affair Mrs. Foss lets all go on as the little affairs and flirtations of her own youth were allowed to go on at home. She likes her daughters to be admired. It is only proper they should make conquests, have beaus. Leslie has had flirtations with Italians as well as with others, and come out of them without impairing that sense of humor which permits her to see as funny that one should succumb to the attractions of one of those only half-understood men, who may either be playing a comedy of love while in truth pursuing a fortune, or, if in earnest, are rather alarming, with the hint of jealous ferocity in their eyes. With Mrs. Foss's knowledge, Brenda, during a whole summer at the seaside, receives Giglioli's letters, written at first, or partly, in English, which he is learning with her help. With this excuse of English, it is a correspondence and courtship dans toutes les regles. Brenda is not asked by an American mother to show her letters or his. Giglioli, with his traditions, could not have imagined such a thing if the parents were unwilling to receive him as a suitor. Brenda herself—one will never know about Brenda, how it began, what she thought or hoped. She is very young; no doubt she did hope. Children seldom know much about their parents' means. She very likely thought hers could make her the present of a dowry, as they had made her other presents. But when she discovered their attitude toward the whole matter, with dignity and delicacy she let all be as they desired, incapable of pressing them to tax their resources to give her a thing their prejudice is so strongly set against. They did what they thought best, and have hung in doubt ever since as to whether it was best; for though Brenda gives her confidence to none of them, and they do not press her to give it, with that respect for a child's liberty which is also American, they are growing more and more uneasy with the suspicion that it was serious on her part, too. They love her extraordinarily, and she has always dearly loved them. They show their love by protecting her youth from a step she may repent. She shows hers by being strong, poor love, and trying not to grieve them with the revelation of her heart. And they are making one another wretched."
For a moment Mrs. Hawthorne had nothing to say, busy with pondering what she had heard. "I don't see how, if she really loves this Italian, she could give him up so gracefully," she finally said.
"She has not given him up, Mrs. Hawthorne," said Gerald. "Believe me, she has not. She has some plan, some dream, for bringing about the good end in time without aid from her parents. I am sure of it. No, she has not given him up." He had before him, vivid in memory, the image of Brenda in the little church, and was looking at that, though his eyes were on Mrs. Hawthorne's friendly and attentive face. "She is at the wonderful hour of her love," he said, "when the world is transfigured and life lifted above the every-day into regions of poetry; when the simple fact of his existence justifies the plan of creation, when to wait a hundred years for him would seem no more difficult than to wait a day, and to perform the labors of Hercules no more than breaking off so many roses. She is sure of him, the immortality of his passion, as she is sure of herself. So they are above circumstances, and nothing that friend or foe can do should trouble their essential serenity."
"How wonderful!" breathed Mrs. Hawthorne, after a little silence in which Gerald had been thinking with a very sickness of sympathy of Brenda and the sinister propensity of the Fates for bringing to nothing the most valiant dreams and hopes; and Mrs. Hawthorne had been thinking entirely of Gerald, whose own heart was so much more certainly revealed by what he said than could be anybody else's.
"Unfortunately,"—he turned abruptly to another part of his subject,—"he is not of the same temperament. She has some project, I imagine, for earning the money for her dowry, poor child, by music, singing, painting. But he does not know her vows of fidelity, because her parents did use their authority so far as gently to request her not to write to him or see him; and she promised, and a promise with Brenda is binding. And he has felt his honor involved in not writing or meeting her. But, though separated, they have been in the same city; they could hope to catch a glimpse of each other now and then. Heaven only knows how often he has stood to see her pass, or watched her window, and lived on such things as unhappy lovers find to live on. After all, the faith that when he dreamed of her she dreamed of him, that as he kissed a glove she kissed a silver button, was a life, something to go on with. I dare say, too, he cherished the hope of some miracle,—it is so natural to hope!... But now they are sending her away, and it seems to him the black end of everything."
"I see. And what you want is—"
"To be driven half a world apart for indefinite periods, more than probably forever, without one look, one word of leave-taking, is truly too much. Granted that they are not to have each other, they ought not to be torn in two like a bleeding body. Let them have to remember a few last beautiful moments!"
Mrs. Hawthorne had become pensive. He watched her sidewise, trying to divine what turn her thoughts were taking. Her prolonged silence made him uneasy.
"It wouldn't be wrong, you think?" she asked finally. "Mrs. Foss wouldn't be cross with us?"
"If it is wrong, my dear Mrs. Hawthorne, let it be wrong!" he cried impetuously. "If any one is cross, we will bow our heads meekly—after having done what we regarded as merciful. Let us not permit a cruelty it was in our power to prevent!"
But Mrs. Hawthorne continued to disquiet him by hesitating, while her face suggested the travels of her thought all around and in and out of the question under consideration.
"You don't think it would perhaps be cruel to Brenda?" she laid before him another difficulty in the way of making up her mind. "Mightn't it just ruin the evening for her, with the painfulness of good-bys? Or, if she doesn't in the least expect him, the shock of the surprise?"
"If I know that beautiful girl, passionate as an Italian under her American self-control, it will be the blessed shock of an answered prayer. She prays nightly, never doubt it, that Heaven may manage for her just such a surprise."
He was growing afraid of the calm common sense that tried to see the thing from every side and weight the merits of each person's point of view. Feeling it intolerable to be refused, he suddenly appealed to her pity, away from her justice.
"Oh, Mrs. Hawthorne, life is so unkind, and to be always wise simply deadly! A few memories to treasure are all the good we finally have of our miserable days, and to catch at a moment of gold without care that it will have to be paid for is the only way to have in our hands in all our lives anything but copper and lead; yes, dull lead, common copper." He covered his face and pressed his eyes, in a way he had when the world seemed too hopeless and baffling; then as suddenly straightened up, remarking more quietly, "The Fosses are too wise."
"They have my sympathy, I must say, Mr. Fane," Mrs. Hawthorne hurriedly defended herself against being moved. "I should be just as much afraid as they to have my daughter marry a foreigner."
"Mrs. Hawthorne, you ought to be afraid to have your daughter marry anybody." He gathered heat again and vehemence. "As regards Italians, we are all one mass of superstitions. We are always comparing our best with their bad. As a matter of truth, our best and their best and the best the world over are one as good as the other, and our worst can't be exceeded by anything Italy can show. If you make the difficulty that we are different, our point of view different, I object that Brenda's is not so different. The international marriages that turn out well make no noise, but there are plenty of them. I have seen any number in the ordinary middle classes. No, parents are twice as old as their children; that is the trouble and always will be. The older people by prudence secure a certain thing, but it's not the thing youth wanted. The older see a certain thing as preferable, because they are old; but the young were right for themselves, for a time, at least, until they, too, grew old and saw a long peace and comfort as superior to a brief love and rapture. Brenda is not shallow or changeable; it may be her one chance of happiness that her parents in their anxious affection are trying to remove her from, and which she will cling to with every invisible fiber of her being until she conquers, or turns into a dismal old maid. Brenda is not like other girls. Love is serious to her. She never played with it as Leslie has always done, and as American girls do, yes, in Massachusetts and Virginia alike. She is an earnest, simple, sincere, constant nature, very much, in fact, like him."
"You seem to like him. Is he such a fine man really?"
"I don't know a finer, in his way."
"Mrs. Hawthorne, what a frivolous question! But he is. He is one of the most completely handsome men I know. Rather short, that's all."
"Oh, what a pity!"
"But, if you must insist on that sort of symmetry, Brenda is not tall. He is a kind of Italian, more common than one thinks, that doesn't get into literature, having nothing exciting, mysterious, wicked, or even conspicuously picturesque about him. After being a good son,—they are very often good sons,—he will be a good husband and a good father, like his own father before him. He is without vanity, while looking like a square-built, stocky, responsible Romeo. Devoted to duty, passionate for order, absolutely punctilious in matters of honor and courtesy, he is a good citizen, a good soldier. He belongs to excellent people, I gathered, whose fortune, once larger, is very small. They live in the Abruzzi, I think he said. He is the eldest son and hope of the house. His gratitude to them comes first of all, he made me understand. He would be an indegno, unworthy of esteem and love, if that were not so. He had never cared for pleasures, he told me; even in the time not demanded by the service he studied. He wished to be useful to his country; he looked for the advancement to be gained by solid capacity in military things. He felt older than his years, he said, from being the eldest of the family and always carrying responsibilities. He committed no follies of youth, had no quarrels, made no debts. His companions sometimes laughed at him for this prosaic seriousness. But he had friends, for he is of a manly, modest sort. One evening during Carnival last year certain of these friends dropped in on their way to a dance, a costume party at the house of Americans, and seeing him so absorbed by duties and studies, thought it a lark to tempt him from these and take him along. And he, to astonish them for once, he says, let it happen, they assuring him that he would be well received if presented as their friend. One of them had on two costumes, one on top of the other, of which he lent him one, a monk's frock and cowl. So they went. At the ball was Brenda as the Snow-queen. And the fatal thing happened at very first sight of her. It is a repetition of Romeo and Juliet, as you see. He had shunned women as the rivals of duty and work. He believes his instantaneous adoration owing to the fact that Brenda so far surpassed all he had ever known,—a being entirely formed of light and snow and fragrance.... I am using his words. Her very name is sweet to Italian lips. He permitted himself the dreams of other men. He permitted himself to hope. And then!... These things he told me with actual tears in the finest dark eyes I have perhaps ever seen, and without seeming any the less manly for them. He told me, and I believed him. He came to me, poor fellow, because it was the nearest he could come to Brenda, and he trusted, I suppose, that I would tell her he had been. It was a way of sending her a message. He talked more than half the night, walking the floor, then throwing himself into a chair and grasping his head. I can't tell you all he said, but it filled me with pity and respect. It made me his friend."
Mrs. Hawthorne looked soft and sympathetic, but far away, and when he stopped did not speak, engrossed, it was to be hoped, by the story just told.
He continued, though discouraged:
"He wanted to know if I thought he would be guilty of an unpardonable breach should he ask permission to write her one letter before she left. This parting without farewell is the last bitter touch to his tragedy. Brenda, when it had been decided that she should leave, sent word to him by that little pianist who comes here. Again through the same channel he received word that the day of departure was fixed. Can you think what it means, Mrs. Hawthorne? Have you in your experience or imagination the wherewith to form any conception, dear Mrs. Hawthorne, of what it means? The day of departure fixed! The day of parting! Do you realize? No more sight or sound of each other! The end! The sea between! Silence! And it is to befall on Saturday of this week, and we are at Wednesday!"
"All right, Mr. Fane; bring him!" she said in haste. "You've made me want to cry. I mustn't let myself cry; it makes my nose red. What did you say his name is?"