He felt for her something like veneration. The word does not express exactly the attitude of his mind towards her, but no other defines his position so well. He was not in love with her in the Italian sense of the expression, for he did not conceive it possible that she should ever love him, whereas he told himself that he might possibly marry, if he found a wife to his taste, and be in love with his wife without in the least infringing upon his devotion to Donna Francesca.
That she was young and lovely, if not beautiful, he saw and knew. He even admitted unconsciously that if she had been an old woman he could not have 'venerated' her as he did, though veneration, as such, is the due of the old rather than of the young. Her spiritual eyes and virginal face were often before him in his dreams and waking thoughts. There was a maidenlike modesty, as it were, even about her graceful bodily self, which belonged, in his imagination, to a saint upon an altar, rather than to a statue upon a pedestal. There was something in the sweep of her soft dark brown hair which suggested that it would be sacrilege and violence for a man's hand to touch it. There was a dewy delicacy on her young lips, as though they could kiss nothing more earthly than a newly opened flower, already above the earth, but not yet touched by the sun. There was a thoughtful turn of modelling in the smooth, white forehead, which it was utterly beyond Reanda's art to reproduce, often as he had tried. He thought a great sculptor might succeed, and it was the one thing which made him sometimes wish that he had taken the chisel for his tool, instead of the brush.
She was never considered one of the great beauties of Rome. She had not the magnificent presence and colouring of her kinswoman, Maria Addolorata, whose tragic death in the convent of Subiaco—a fictitious tragedy accepted as real by all Roman society—had given her a special place in the history of the Braccio family. She had not the dark and queenly splendour of Corona d'Astradente, her contemporary and the most beautiful woman of her time. But she had, for those who loved her, something which was quite her own and which placed her beyond them in some ways and, in any case, out of competition for the homage received by the great beauties. No one recognized this more fully than Angelo Reanda, and he would as soon have thought of being in love with her, as men love women, as he would have imagined that his father, for instance, could have loved Maria Addolorata, the Carmelite nun.
The one human point in his devoted adoration lay in his terror lest Francesca Campodonico should die young and leave him to grow old without her. He sometimes told her so.
"You should marry," she answered one day, when they were together in the great hall which he was decorating.
She was still dressed in black, and as she spoke, he turned and saw the outline of her small pure face against the high back of the old chair in which she was sitting. It was so white just then that he fancied he saw in it that fatal look which belonged to some of the Braccio family, and which was always spoken of as having been one of Maria Addolorata's chief characteristics. He looked at her long and sadly, leaning against an upright of his scaffolding as he stood on the floor near her, holding his brushes in his hand.
"I do not think I shall ever marry," he answered at last, looking down and idly mixing two colours on his palette.
"Why not?" she asked quickly. "I have heard you say that you might, some day."
"Some day, some day—and then, all at once, the 'some day' is past, and is not any more in the future. Why should I marry? I am well enough as I am; there would only be unhappiness."
"Do you think that every one who marries must be unhappy?" she asked. "You are cynical. I did not know it."
"No. I am not cynical. I say it only of myself. There are many reasons. I could not marry such a woman as I should wish to have for my wife. You must surely understand that. It is very easy to understand."
He made as though he would go up the ladder to his little platform and continue his work. But she stopped him.
"What is the use of hurting your eyes?" she asked. "It is late, and the light is bad. Besides, I am not so sure that I understand what you mean, though you say that it is so easy. We have never talked about it much."
He laid his palette and brushes upon a ragged straw chair and sat down upon another, not far from her. There was no other furniture in the great vaulted hall, and the brick pavement was bare, and splashed in many places with white plaster. Fresco-painting can only be done upon stucco just laid on, while it is still moist, and a mason came early every day and prepared as much of the wall as Reanda could cover before night. If he did not paint over the whole surface, the remainder was chipped away and freshly laid over on the following morning.
The evening light already reddened the tall western windows, for it was autumn, and the days were shortening quickly. Reanda knew that he could not do much more, and sat down, to answer Francesca's question, if he could.
"I am not a gentleman, as you understand the word," he said slowly. "And yet I am certainly not of the class to which my father belonged. My position is not defined. I could not marry a woman of your class, and I should not care to marry one of any other. That is all. Is it not clear?"
"Yes," answered Francesca. "It is clear enough. But—"
She checked herself, and he looked into her face, expecting her to continue. But she said nothing more.
"You were going to find an objection to what I said," he observed.
"No; I was not. I will say it, for you will understand me. What you tell me is true enough, and I am sorry that it should be so. Is it not to some extent my fault?"
"Your fault?" cried Reanda, leaning forward and looking into her eyes. "How? I do not understand."
"I blame myself," answered Francesca, quietly. "I have kept you out of the world, perhaps, and in many ways. Here you live, day after day, as though nothing else existed for you. In the morning, long before I am awake, you come down your staircase through that door, and go up that ladder, and work, and work, and work, all day long, until it is dark, as you have worked to-day, and yesterday, and for months. And when you might and should be out of doors, or associating with other people, as just now, I sit and talk to you and take up all your leisure time. It is wrong. You ought to see more of other men and women. Do men of genius never marry? It seems to me absurd!"
"Genius!" exclaimed Reanda, shaking his head sadly. "Do not use the word of me."
"I will do as other people do," answered Francesca. "But that is not the question. The truth is that you live pent up in this old house, like a bird in a cage. I want you to spread your wings."
"To go away for a time?" asked Reanda, anxiously.
"I did not say that. Perhaps I should. Yes, if you could enjoy a journey, go away—for a time."
She spoke with some hesitation and rather nervously, for he had said more than she had meant to propose.
"Just to make a change," she added, after a moment's pause, as he said nothing. "You ought to see more of other people, as I said. You ought to mix with the world. You ought at least to offer yourself the chance of marrying, even if you think that you might not find a wife to your taste."
"If I do not find one here—" He did not complete the sentence, but smiled a little.
"Must you marry a Roman princess?" she asked. "What should you say to a foreigner? Is that impossible, too?"
"It would matter little where she came from, if I wished to marry her," he answered. "But I like my life as it is. Why should I try to change it? I am happy as I am. I work, and I enjoy working. I work for you, and you are satisfied. It seems to me that there is nothing more to be said. Why are you so anxious that I should marry?"
Donna Francesca laughed softly, but without much mirth.
"Because I think that in some way it is my fault if you have not married," she said. "And besides, I was thinking of a young girl whom I met, or rather, saw, the other day, and who might please you. She has the most beautiful voice in the world, I think. She could make her fortune as a singer, and I believe she wishes to try it. But her father objects. They are foreigners—English or Scotch—it is the same. She is a mere child, they say, but she seems to be quite grown up. There is something strange about them. He is a man of science, I am told, but I fancy he is one of those English enthusiasts about Italian liberty. His name is Dalrymple."
"What a name!" Reanda laughed. "I suppose they have come to spend the winter in Rome," he added.
"Not at all. I hear that they have lived here for years. But one never meets the foreigners, unless they wish to be in society. His wife died young, they say, and this girl is his only daughter. I wish you could hear her sing!"
"For that matter, I wish I might," said Reanda, who was passionately fond of music.
SEVENTEEN years had scored their account on Angus Dalrymple's hard face, and one great sorrow had set an even deeper mark upon him—a sorrow so deep and so overwhelming that none had ever dared to speak of it to him. And he was not the man to bear any affliction resignedly, to feed on memory, and find rest in the dreams of what had been. Sullenly and fiercely rebellious against his fate, he went down life, rather than through it, savage and silent, for the most part, Nero-like in his wish that he could end the world at a single blow, himself and all that lived. Yet it was characteristic of the man that he had not chosen suicide as a means of escape, as he would have done in his earlier years, if Maria Addolorata had failed him. It seemed cowardly now, and he had never done anything cowardly in his life. Through his grief the sense of responsibility had remained with him, and had kept him alive. He looked upon his existence not as a state from which he had a right to escape, but as a personal enemy to be fought with, to be despised, to be ill-treated barbarously, perhaps, but still as an enemy to murder whom in cold blood would be an act of cowardice.
There was little more than the mere sense of the responsibility, for he did little enough to fulfil his obligations. His wife had borne him a daughter, but it was not in Angus Dalrymple's nature to substitute one being in his heart for another. He could not love the girl simply because her mother was dead. He could only spoil her, with a rough idea that she should be spared all suffering as much as possible, but that if he gave her what she wanted, he had done all that could be expected of him. For the rest, he lived his own life.
He had a good intelligence and superior gifts, together with considerable powers of intellectual acquisition. He had believed in his youth that he was destined to make great discoveries, and his papers afterwards showed that he was really on the track of great and new things. But with his bereavement, all ambition as well as all curiosity disappeared in one day from his character. Since then he had never gone back to his studies, which disgusted him and seemed stale and flat. He grew rudely dogmatical when scientific matters were discussed before him, as he had become rough, tyrannical, and almost violent in his ordinary dealings with the world, whenever he found any opposition to his opinions or his will. The only exception he made was in his treatment of his daughter, whom he indulged in every way except in her desire to be a public singer. It seemed to him that to give her everything she wanted was to fulfil all his obligations to her; in the one question of appearing on the stage he was inflexible. He simply refused to hear of it, rarely giving her any reasons beyond the ordinary ones which present themselves in such cases, and which were far from answering the impulse of the girl's genius.
They had called her Gloria in the days of their passionate happiness. The sentimental name had meant a great deal to them, for Dalrymple had at that time developed that sort of uncouth sentimentality which is in strong men like a fungus on an oak, and disgusts them afterwards unless they are able to forget it. The two had felt that the glory of life was in the child, and they had named her for it, as it were.
Years afterwards Dalrymple brought the little girl to Rome, drawn back irresistibly to the place by that physical association of impressions which moves such men strongly. They had remained, keeping from year to year a lodging Dalrymple had hired, at first hired for a few months. He never went to Subiaco.
He gave Gloria teachers, the best that could be found, and there were good instructors in those days when people were willing to take time in learning. In music she had her mother's voice and talent. Her father gave her a musician's opportunities, and it was no wonder that she should dream of conquering Europe from behind the footlights as Grisi had done, and as Patti was just about to do in her turn.
She and her father spoke English together, but Gloria was bilingual, as children of mixed marriages often are, speaking English and Italian with equal ease. Dalrymple found a respectable middle-aged German governess who came daily and spent most of the day with Gloria, teaching her and walking with her—worshipping her, too, with that curious faculty for idealizing the very human, which belongs to German governesses when they like their pupils.
Dalrymple led his own life. Had he chosen to mix in Roman society, he would have been well received, as a member of a great Scotch family and not very far removed from the head of his house. No one of his relatives had ever known the truth about his wife except his father, who had died with the secret, and it was not likely that any one should ask questions. If any one did, he would certainly not satisfy such curiosity. But he cared little for society, and spent his time either alone with books and wine, or in occasional excursions into the artist world, where his eccentricities excited little remark, and where he met men who secretly sympathized with the Italian revolutionary movement, and dabbled in conspiracies which rather amused than disquieted the papal government.
Though Gloria was at that time but little more than sixteen years of age, her father took her with him to little informal parties at the studios or even at the houses of artists, where there was often good music, and clever if not serious conversation. The conventionalities of age were little regarded in such circles. Gloria appeared, too, much older than she really was, and her marvellous voice made her a centre of attraction at an age when most young girls are altogether in the background. Dalrymple never objected to her singing on such occasions, and he invariably listened with closed eyes and folded hands, as though he were assisting at a religious service. Her voice was like her mother's, excepting that it was pitched higher, and had all the compass and power necessary for a great soprano. Dalrymple's almost devout attitude when Gloria was singing was the only allusion, if one may call it so, which he ever made to his dead wife's existence, and no one who watched him knew what it meant. But he was often more silent than usual after she had sung, and he sometimes went off by himself afterwards and sat for hours in one of the old wine cellars near the Capitol, drinking gloomily of the oldest and strongest he could find. For he drank more or less perpetually in the evening, and wine made him melancholic and morose, though it did not seem to affect him otherwise. Little by little, however, it was dulling the early keenness of his intellect, though it hardly touched his constitution at all. He was lean and bony still, as in the old days, but paler in the face, and he had allowed his red beard to grow. It was streaked with grey, and there were small, nervous lines about his eyes, as well as deep furrows on his forehead and face.
Dalrymple had found in the artist world a man who was something of a companion to him at times,—a very young man, whom he could not understand, though his own dogmatic temper made him as a rule believe that he understood most things and most men. But this particular individual alternately puzzled, delighted, and irritated the nervous Scotchman.
They had made acquaintance at an artists' supper in the previous year, had afterwards met accidentally at the bookseller's in the Piazza di Spagna, where they both went from time to time to look at the English newspapers, and little by little they had fallen into the habit of meeting there of a morning, and of strolling in the direction of Dalrymple's lodging afterwards. At last Dalrymple had asked his companion to come in and look at a book, and so the acquaintance had grown. Gloria watched the young stranger, and at first she disliked him.
The aforesaid bookseller dealt, and deals still, in photographs and prints, as well as in foreign and Italian books. At the present time his establishment is distinctively a Roman Catholic one. In those days it was almost the only one of its kind, and was patronized alike by Romans and foreigners. Even Donna Francesca Campodonico went there from time to time for a book on art or an engraving which she and Reanda needed for their work. They occasionally walked all the way from the Palazzetto Borgia to the Piazza di Spagna together in the morning. When they had found what they wanted, Donna Francesca generally drove home in a cab, and Reanda went to his midday meal before returning. For the line of his intimacy with her was drawn at this point. He had never sat down at the same table with her, and he never expected to do so. As the two stood to one another at present, though Francesca would willingly have asked him to breakfast, she would have hesitated to do so, merely because the first invitation would inevitably call attention to the fact that the line had been drawn somewhere, whereas both were willing to believe that it had never existed at all. Under any pressure of necessity she would have driven with him in a cab, but not in her own carriage. They both knew it, and by tacit consent never allowed such unknown possibilities to suggest themselves. But in the mornings, there was nothing to prevent their walking together as far as the Piazza di Spagna, or anywhere else.
They went to the bookseller's one day soon after the conversation which had led Francesca to mention the Dalrymples. As they walked along the east side of the great square, they saw two men before them.
"There goes the Gladiator," said Reanda to his companion, suddenly. "There is no mistaking his walk, even at this distance."
"What do you mean?" asked Francesca. "Unless I am mistaken, the man who is a little the taller, the one in the rough English clothes, is Mr. Dalrymple. I spoke of him the other day, you know."
"Oh! Is that he? The other has a still more extraordinary name. He is Paul Griggs. He is the son of an American consul who died in Civita Vecchia twenty years ago, and left him a sort of waif, for he had no money and apparently no relatives. Somehow he has grown up, Heaven knows how, and gets a living by journalism. I believe he was at sea for some years as a boy. He is really as much Italian as American. I have met him with artists and literary people."
"Why do you call him the Gladiator?" asked Francesca, with some interest.
"It is a nickname he has got. Cotogni, the sculptor, was in despair for a model last year. Griggs and two or three other men were in the studio, and somebody suggested that Griggs was very near the standard of the ancients in his proportions. They persuaded him to let them measure him. You know that in the 'Canons' of proportion, the Borghese Gladiator—the one in the Louvre—is given as the best example of an athlete. They measured Griggs then and there, and found that he was at all points the exact living image of the statue. The name has stuck to him. You see what a fellow he is, and how he walks."
"Yes, he looks strong," said Francesca, watching the man with natural curiosity.
The young American was a little shorter than Dalrymple, but evidently better proportioned. No one could fail to notice the vast breadth of shoulder, the firm, columnar throat, and the small athlete's head with close-set ears. He moved without any of that swinging motion of the upper part of the body which is natural to many strong men and was noticeable in Dalrymple, but there was something peculiar in his walk, almost undefinable, but conveying the idea of very great strength with very great elasticity.
"But he is an ugly man," observed Reanda, almost immediately. "Ugly, but not repulsive. You will see, if he turns his head. His face is like a mask. It is not the face you would expect with such a body."
"How curious!" exclaimed Francesca, rather idly, for her interest in Paul Griggs was almost exhausted.
They went on along the crowded pavement. When they reached the bookseller's and went in, they saw that the two men were there before them, looking over the foreign papers, which were neatly arranged on a little table apart. Dalrymple looked up and recognized Francesca, to whom he had been introduced at a small concert given for a charity in a private house, on which occasion Gloria had sung. He lifted his hat from his head and laid it down upon the newspapers, when Francesca rather unexpectedly held out her hand to him in English fashion. He had left a card at her house on the day after their meeting, but as she was alone in the world, she had no means of returning the civility.
"It would give me great pleasure if you would bring your daughter to see me," she said graciously.
"You are very kind," answered Dalrymple, his steely blue eyes scrutinizing her pure young features.
She only glanced at him, for she was suddenly conscious that his companion was looking at her. He, too, had laid down his hat, and she instantly understood what Reanda had meant by comparing his face to a mask. The features were certainly very far from handsome. If they were redeemed at all, it was by the very deep-set eyes, which gazed into hers in a strangely steady way, as though the lids never could droop from under the heavy overhanging brow, and then, still unwinking, turned in another direction. The man's complexion was of that perfectly even but almost sallow colour which often belongs to very strong melancholic temperaments. His face was clean-shaven and unnaturally square and expressionless, excepting for such life as there was in the deep eyes. Dark, straight, closely cut hair grew thick and smooth as a priest's skull-cap, low on the forehead and far forward at the temples. The level mouth, firmly closed, divided the lower part of the face like the scar of a straight sabre-cut. The nose was very thick between the eyes, relatively long, with unusually broad nostrils which ran upward from the point to the lean cheeks. The man wore very dark clothes of extreme simplicity, and at a time when pins and chains were much in fashion, he had not anything visible about him of gold or silver. He wore his watch on a short, doubled piece of black silk braid slipped through his buttonhole. He dressed almost as though he were in mourning.
Francesca unconsciously looked at him so intently for a moment that Dalrymple thought it natural to introduce him, fancying that she might have heard of him and might wish to know him out of curiosity.
"May I introduce Mr. Griggs?" he said, with the stiff inclination which was a part of his manner.
Griggs bowed, and Donna Francesca bent her head a little. Reanda came up and shook hands with the American, and Francesca introduced the artist to Dalrymple.
"I have long wished to have the pleasure of knowing you, Signor Reanda," said the latter. "We have many mutual acquaintances among the artists here. I may say that I am a great admirer of your work, and my daughter, too, for that matter."
Reanda said something civil as his hand parted from the Scotchman's. Francesca saw an opportunity of bringing Reanda and Gloria together.
"As you like Signor Reanda's painting so much," she said to Dalrymple, "will you not bring your daughter this afternoon to see the frescoes he is doing in my house? You know the Palazzetto? Of course—you left a card, but I had no one to return it," she added rather sadly. "Will you also come, Mr. Griggs?" she asked, turning to the American. "It will give me much pleasure, and I see you know Signor Reanda. This afternoon, if you like, at any time after four o'clock."
Both Dalrymple and Griggs secretly wondered a little at receiving such an invitation from a Roman lady whom the one had met but once before, and to whom the other had but just been introduced. But they bowed their thanks, and promised to come.
After a few more words they separated, Francesca and Reanda to pick out the engraving they wanted, and the other two men to return to their newspapers. By and bye Francesca passed them again, on her way out.
"I shall expect you after four o'clock," she said, nodding graciously as she went by.
Dalrymple looked after her, till she had left the shop.
"That woman is not like other women, I think," he said thoughtfully, to his companion.
The mask-like face turned itself deliberately towards him, with shadowy, unwinking eyes.
"No," answered Griggs, and he slowly took up his paper again.
DONNA FRANCESCA received her three guests in the drawing-room, on the side of the house which she inhabited. Reanda was at his work in the great hall.
Gloria entered first, followed closely by her father, and Francesca was dazzled by the young girl's brilliancy of colour and expression, though she had seen her once before. As she came in, the afternoon sun streamed upon her face and turned her auburn hair to red gold, and gleamed upon her small white teeth as her strong lips parted to speak the first words. She was tall and supple, graceful as a panther, and her voice rang and whispered and rang again in quick changes of tone, like a waterfall in the woods in summer. With much of her mother's beauty, she had inherited from her father the violent vitality of his youth. Yet she was not noisy, though her manners were not like Francesca's. Her voice rippled and rang, but she did not speak too loud. She moved swiftly and surely, but not with rude haste. Nevertheless, it seemed to Francesca that there must be some exaggeration somewhere. The elder woman at first set it down as a remnant of schoolgirl shyness, and then at once felt that she was mistaken, because there was not the smallest awkwardness nor lack of self-possession about it. The contrast between the young girl and Paul Griggs was so striking as to be almost violent. He was cold and funereal in his leonine strength, and his face was more like a mask than ever as he bowed and sat down in silence. When he did not remind her of a gladiator, he made her think of a black lion with a strange, human face, and eyes that were not exactly human, though they did not remind her of any animal's eyes which she had ever seen.
As for Dalrymple, she thought that he was singularly haggard and worn for a man apparently only in middle age. There was a certain imposing air about him, which she liked. Besides, she rarely met foreigners, and they interested her. She noticed that both men wore black coats and carried their tall hats in their hands. They were therefore not artists, nor to be classed with artists. She was still young enough to judge them to some extent by details, to which people attached a good deal more importance at that time than at present. She made up her mind in the course of the next few minutes that both Dalrymple and Griggs belonged to her own class, though she did not ask herself where the young American had got his manners. But somehow, though Gloria fascinated her eyes and her ears, she set down the girl as being inferior to her father. She wondered whether Gloria's mother had not been an actress; which was a curious reflexion, considering that the dead woman had been of her own house and name.
After exchanging a few words with her guests, Francesca suggested that they should cross to the other side and see the frescoes, adding that Reanda was probably still at work.
"You know him, Mr. Griggs?" she said, as they all rose to leave the room.
"Yes," he answered, "as one man knows another."
"What does that mean?" asked Francesca, moving towards the door to lead the way.
"It does not mean much," replied the young man, with curious ambiguity.
He was very gentle in his manner, and spoke in a low voice and rather diffidently. She looked at him as though mentally determining to renew the question at some other time. Her first impression was that of a sort of duality about the man, as she found the possibility of a double meaning in his answer. His magnificent frame seemed to belong to one person, his voice and manner to another. Both might be good in their way, but her curiosity was excited by the side which was the less apparent.
They all went through the house till they came to a door which divided the inhabited part from the hall in which Reanda was working. She knocked gently upon it with her knuckles, and then smiled as she saw Gloria looking at her.
"We keep it locked," she said. "The masons come in the morning to lay on the stucco. One never trusts those people. Signor Reanda keeps the key of this door."
The artist opened from within, and stood aside to let the party pass. He started perceptibly when he first saw Gloria. As a boy he had seen Maria Braccio more than once before she had entered the convent, and he was struck by the girl's strong resemblance to her. Francesca, following Gloria, saw his movement of surprise, and attributed it merely to admiration or astonishment such as she had felt herself a quarter of an hour earlier. She smiled a little as she went by, and Reanda knew that the smile was for him because he had shown surprise. He understood the misinterpretation, and resented it a little.
But she knew Reanda well, and before ten minutes had passed she had convinced herself that he was repelled rather than attracted by the young girl, in spite of the latter's undisguised admiration of his work. It was not mere unintelligent enthusiasm, either, and he might well have been pleased and flattered by her unaffected praise.
She was interested, too, in the technical mechanics of fresco-painting, which she had never before been able to see at close quarters. Everything interested Gloria, and especially everything connected with art. As soon as they had all spoken their first words of compliment and appreciation, she entered into conversation with the painter, asking him all sorts of questions, and listening earnestly to what he said, until he realized that she was certainly not assuming an appearance of admiration for the sake of flattering him.
Meanwhile Francesca talked with Griggs, and Dalrymple, having gone slowly round the hall alone after all the others, came and stood beside the two and watched Francesca, occasionally offering a rather dry remark in a somewhat absent-minded way. It was all rather commonplace and decidedly quiet, and he was not much amused, though from time to time he seemed to become absorbed in studying Francesca's face, as though he saw something there which was past his comprehension. She noticed that he watched her, and felt a little uncomfortable under his steely blue eyes, so that she turned her head and talked more with Griggs than with him. Remembering what Reanda had told her of the young man's origin, she did not like to ask him the common questions about residence in Rome and his liking for Italy. She was self-possessed and ready enough at conversation, and she chose to talk of general subjects. They talked in Italian, of course. Dalrymple, as of old, spoke fluently, but with a strange accent. Any one would have taken Paul Griggs for a Roman. At last, almost in spite of herself, she made a remark about his speech.
"I was born here," answered Griggs. "It is much more remarkable that Miss Dalrymple should speak Italian as she does, having been born in Scotland."
"Are you talking about me?" asked the young girl, turning her head quickly, though she was standing with Reanda at some distance from the others.
"I was speaking of your accent in Italian," said Griggs.
"Is there anything wrong about it?" asked Gloria, with an anxiety that seemed exaggerated.
"On the contrary," answered Donna Francesca, "Mr. Griggs was telling me how perfectly you speak. But I had noticed it."
"Oh! I thought Mr. Griggs was finding fault," answered Gloria, turning to Reanda again.
Dalrymple looked at his daughter as though he were annoyed. The eyes of Francesca and Griggs met for a moment. All three were aware that they resented the young girl's quick question as one which they themselves would not have asked in her place, had they accidentally heard their names mentioned in a distant conversation. But Francesca instantly went on with the subject.
"To us Italians," she said, "it seems incredible that any one should speak our language and English equally well. It is as though you were two persons, Mr. Griggs," she added, smiling at the covered expression of her thought about him.
"I sometimes think so myself," answered Griggs, with one of his steady looks. "In a way, every one must have a sort of duality—a good and evil principle."
"God and the devil," suggested Francesca, simply.
"Body and soul would do, I suppose. The one is always in slavery to the other. The result is a sinner or a saint, as the case may be. One never can tell," he added more carelessly. "I am not sure that it matters. But one can see it. The battle is fought in the face."
"I do not understand. What battle?"
"The battle between body and soul. The face tells which way the fight is going."
She looked at his own, and she felt that she could not tell. But to a certain extent she understood him.
"Griggs is full of theories," observed Dalrymple. "Gloria, come down!" he cried in English, suddenly.
Gloria, intent upon understanding how fresco-painting was done, was boldly mounting the steps of the ladder towards the top of the little scaffolding, which might have been fourteen feet high. For the vault had long been finished, and Reanda was painting the walls.
"Nonsense, papa!" answered the young girl, also in English. "There's no danger at all."
"Well—don't break your neck," said Dalrymple. "I wish you would come down, though."
Francesca was surprised at his indifference, and at his daughter's calm disregard of his authority. Timid, too, as most Italian women of higher rank, she watched the girl nervously. Griggs raised his eyes without lifting his head.
"Gloria is rather wild," said Dalrymple, in a sort of apology. "I hope you will forgive her—she is so much interested."
"Oh—if she wishes to see, let her go, of course," answered Francesca, concealing a little nervous irritation she felt.
A moment later Gloria and Reanda were on the small platform, on one side of which only there was a hand rail. It had been made for him, and his head was steady even at a much greater elevation. He was pointing out to her the way in which the colours slowly changed as the stucco dried from day to day, and explaining how it was impossible to see the effect of what was done until all was completely dry. The others continued to talk below, but Griggs glanced up from time to time, and Francesca's eyes followed his. Dalrymple had become indifferent, allowing his daughter to do what she pleased, as usual.
When Gloria had seen all she wished to see, she turned with a quick movement to come down again, and on turning, she found herself much nearer to the edge than she had expected. She was bending forwards a little, and Griggs saw at once that she must lose her balance, unless Reanda caught her from behind. But she made no sound, and turned very white as she swayed a little, trying to throw herself back.
With a swift movement that was gentle but irresistible, Griggs pushed Francesca back, keeping his eyes on the girl above. It all happened in an instant.
"Jump!" he cried, in a voice of command.
She had felt that she must spring or fall, and her body was already overbalanced as she threw herself off, instinctively gathering her skirt with her hands. Dalrymple turned as pale as she. If she struck the bare brick floor, she could scarcely escape serious injury. But she did not reach it, for Paul Griggs caught her in his arms, swayed with her weight, then stood as steady as a rock, and set her gently upon her feet, beside her father.
"Maria Santissima!" cried Francesca, terrified, though instantly relieved, and dimly understanding the stupendous feat of bodily strength which had just been done before her eyes.
Above, Reanda leaned upon the single rail of the scaffolding with wide-staring eyes. Gloria was faint with the shock of fear, and grasped her father's arm.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" he said roughly, in English, but in a low voice. "You probably owe your life to Mr. Griggs," he added, immediately regaining his self-possession.
Griggs alone seemed wholly unmoved by what had happened. Gloria had held one of her gloves loosely in her hand, and it had fallen to the ground as she sprang. He picked it up and handed it to her with a curious gentleness.
"It must be yours, Miss Dalrymple," he said.
IT was late before Reanda and Donna Francesca were alone together on that afternoon. When the first surprise and shock of Gloria's accident had passed, Francesca would not allow Dalrymple to take her away at once, as he seemed anxious to do. The girl was not in the least hurt, but she was still dazed and frightened. Francesca took them all back to the drawing-room and insisted upon giving them tea, because they were foreigners, and Gloria, she said, must naturally need something to restore her nerves. Roman tea, thirty years ago, was a strange and uncertain beverage, as both Gloria and her father knew, but they drank what Francesca gave them, and at last went away with many apologies for the disturbance they had made. To tell the truth, Francesca was glad when they were gone and she was at liberty to return to the hall where Reanda was still at work. She found him nervous and irritated. He came down from the scaffolding as soon as he heard her open the door. Neither spoke until she had seated herself in her accustomed chair, with a very frank sigh of relief.
"I am very grateful to you, Donna Francesca," said Reanda, twisting his beard round his long, thin fingers, as he glanced at her and then surveyed his work.
"It was your fault," she answered, tapping the worm-eaten arms of the old chair with both her white hands, for she herself was still annoyed and irritated. "Do not make me responsible for the girl's folly."
"Responsibility! May that never be!" exclaimed the artist, in the common Italian phrase, but with a little irony. "But as for the responsibility, I do not know whose it was. It was certainly not I who invited the young lady to go up the ladder."
"Well, it was her fault. Besides, the absent are always wrong. But she is handsome, is she not?"
Reanda shrugged his thin shoulders, and looked critically at his hands, which were smeared with paint.
"Very handsome," he said indifferently. "But it is a beauty that says nothing to me. One must be young to like that kind of beauty. She is a beautiful storm, that young lady. For one who seeks peace—" He shrugged his shoulders again. "And then, her manners! I do not understand English, but I know that her father was telling her to come down, and yet she went up. I do not know what education these foreigners have. Instruction, yes, as much as you please; but education, no. They have no more than barbarians. The father says, 'You must not do that.' And the daughter does it. What education is that? Of course, if they were friends of yours, I should not say it."
"Nevertheless that girl is very handsome," insisted Francesca. "She has the Venetian colouring. Titian would have painted her just as she is, without changing anything."
"Beauty, beauty!" exclaimed Reanda, impatiently. "Of course, it is beauty! Food for the brush, that says nothing to the heart. The devil can also take the shape of a beautiful woman. That is it. There is something in that young lady's face—how shall I say? It pleases me—little! You must forgive me, princess. My nerves are shaken. Divine goodness! To see a young girl flying through the air like Simon Magus! It was enough!"
Francesca laughed gently. Reanda shook his head with slow disapprobation, and frowned.
"I say the truth," he said. "There is something—I cannot explain. But I can show you," he added quickly.
He took up his palette and brushes from the chair on which they lay, and reached the white plastered wall in two steps.
"Paint her," said Francesca, to encourage him.
"Yes, I will show her to you—as I think she is," he answered.
He closed his eyes for a moment, calling up the image before him, then went back to the chair and took a quantity of colour from a tube which lay, with half-a-dozen others, in the hollow of the rush seat. They were not the colours he used for fresco-painting, but had been left there when he had made a sketch of a head two or three days previously. In a moment he was before the wall again. It was roughly plastered from the floor to the lower line of the frescoes. With a long, coarse brush he began to sketch a gigantic head of a woman. The oil paint lay well on the rough, dry surface. He worked in great strokes at the full length of his arm.
"Make her beautiful, at least," said Francesca, watching him.
"Oh, yes—very beautiful," he answered.
He worked rapidly for a few minutes, smiling, as his hand moved, but not pleasantly. Francesca thought there was an evil look in his face which she had never seen there before, and that his smile was wicked and spiteful.
"But you are painting a sunset!" she cried suddenly.
"A sunset? That is her hair. It is red, and she has much of it. Wait a little."
And he went on. It was certainly something like a sunset, the bright, waving streamers of the clouds flying far to right and left, and blending away to the neutral tint of the dry plaster as though to a grey sky.
"Yes, but it is still a sunset," said Francesca. "I have seen it like that from the Campagna in winter."
"She is not 'Gloria' for nothing," answered Reanda. "I am making her glorious. You shall see."
Suddenly, with another tone, he brought out the main features of the striking face, by throwing in strong shadows from the flaming hair. Francesca became more interested. The head was colossal, extraordinary, almost unearthly; the expression was strange.
"What a monster!" exclaimed Francesca at last, as he stood aside, still touching the enormous sketch here and there with his long brush, at arm's length. "It is terrible," she added, in a lower tone.
"Truth is always terrible," answered Reanda. "But you cannot say that it is not like her."
"Horribly like. It is diabolical!"
"And yet it is a beautiful head," said the artist. "Perhaps you are too near." He himself crossed the hall, and then turned round to look at his work. "It is better from here," he said. "Will you come?"
She went to his side. The huge face and wildly streaming hair stood out as though in three dimensions from the wall. The great, strong mouth smiled at her with a smile that was at once evil and sad and fatal. The strange eyes looked her through and through from beneath the vast brow.
"It is diabolical, satanical!" she responded, under her breath.
Reanda still smiled wickedly and watched her. The face seemed to grow and grow till it filled the whole range of vision. The dark eyes flashed; the lips trembled; the flaming hair quivered and waved and curled up like snakes that darted hither and thither. Yet it was horribly like Gloria, and the fresh, rich oil colours gave it her startling and vivid brilliancy.
It was the sudden and enormous expression of a man of genius, strung and stung, till irritation had to find its explosion through the one art of which he was absolute master—in a fearful caricature exaggerating beauty itself to the bounds of the devilish.
"I cannot bear it!" cried Francesca.
She snatched the big brush from his hand, and, running lightly across the room, dashed the colour left in it across the face in all directions, over the eyes and the mouth, and through the long red hair. In ten seconds nothing remained but confused daubs and splashes of brilliant paint.
"There!" cried Francesca. "And I wish I had never seen it!"
Still holding the brush in her hand, she turned her back to the obliterated sketch and faced Reanda, with a look of girlish defiance and satisfaction. His face was grave now, but he seemed pleased with what he had done.
"It makes no difference," he said. "You will never forget it."
He felt that he was revenged for the smile she had bestowed upon his apparent surprise at Gloria's beauty, when she had followed the girl into the hall, and had seen him start. He could not conceal his triumph.
"That is the young lady whom you thought I might wish to marry," he said. "You know me little after so many years, Donna Francesca. You have bestowed much kindness upon a man whom you do not know."
"My dear Reanda, who can understand you? But as for kindness, do not let me hear the word between you and me. It has no meaning. We are always good friends, as we were when I was a little girl and used to play with your paints. You have given me far more than I can ever repay you for, in your works. I do not flatter you, my friend. Cupid and Psyche, there in your frescoes, will outlive me and be famous when I am forgotten—yet they are mine, are they not? And you gave them to me."
The sweet young face turned to him with an unaffected, grateful smile. His sad features softened all at once.
"Ah, Donna Francesca," he said gently, "you have given me something better than Cupid and Psyche, for your gift will live forever in heaven."
She looked thoughtfully into his eyes, but with a sort of question in her own.
"Your dear friendship," he added, bending his head a little. Then he laughed suddenly. "Do not give me a wife," he concluded.
"And you, Reanda—do not make wicked caricatures of women you have only seen once! Besides, I go back to it again. I saw you start when she passed you at the door. You were surprised at her beauty. You must admit that. And then, because you are irritated with her, you take a brush and daub that monstrous thing upon the wall! It is a shame!"
"I started, yes. It was not because she struck me as beautiful. It was something much more strange. Do you know? She is the very portrait of Donna Maria, who was in the Carmelite convent at Subiaco, and who was burned to death. I have often told you that I remembered having seen her when I was a boy, both at Gerano and at the Palazzo Braccio, before she took the veil. There is a little difference in the colouring, I think, and much in the expression. But the rest—it is the image!"
Francesca, who could not remember her ill-fated kinswoman, was not much impressed by Reanda's statement.
"It makes your caricature all the worse," she answered, "since it was also a caricature of that holy woman. As for the resemblance, after all these years, it is a mere impression. Who knows? It may be. There is no portrait of Sister Maria Addolorata."
"Oh, but I remember well!" insisted Reanda.
"Well, it concludes nothing, after all," returned Francesca, with much logic. "It does not make a fiend of the poor nun, who is an angel by this time, and it does not make Miss Dalrymple less beautiful. And now, Signor Painter," she added, with another girlish laugh, "if we have quarrelled enough to restore your nerves, I am going out. It is almost dark, and I have to go to the Austrian Embassy before dinner, and the carriage has been waiting for an hour."
"You, princess!" exclaimed Reanda, in surprise; for she had not begun to go into the world yet since her husband's death.
"It is not a reception. We are to meet there about arranging another of those charity concerts for the deaf and dumb."
"I might have known," answered the painter. "As for me, I shall go to the theatre to-night. There is the Trovatore."
"That is a new thing for you, too. But I am glad. Amuse yourself, and tell me about the singing to-morrow. Remember to lock the door and take the key. I do not trust the masons in the morning."
"Do I ever forget?" asked Reanda. "But I will lock it now, as you go out; for it is late, and I shall go upstairs."
"Good night," said Francesca, as she turned to leave the room.
"And you forgive the caricature?" asked Reanda, holding the door open for her to pass.
"I would forgive you many things," she answered, smiling as she went by.
IN those days the Trovatore was not an old-fashioned opera. It was not 'threshed-out,' to borrow the vigorous German phrase. Wagner had not eclipsed melody with 'tone-poetry,' nor made men feel more than they could hear. Many of the great things of this century-ending had not been done then, nor even dreamed of, and even musicians listened to the Trovatore with pleasure, not dreaming of the untried strength that lay waiting in Verdi's vast reserve. It was then the music of youth. To us it seems but the music of childhood. Many of us cannot listen to Manrico's death-song from the tower without hearing the grind-organ upon which its passion has grown so pathetically poor. But one could understand that music. The mere statement that it was comprehensible raises a smile to-day. It appealed to simple feelings. We are no longer satisfied with such simplicity, and even long for powers that do not appeal, but twist us with something stronger than our hardened selves, until we ourselves appeal to the unknown, in a sort of despairing ecstasy of unsatisfied delight, asking of possibility to stretch itself out to the impossible. We are in a strange phase of development. We see the elaborately artificial world-scape painted by Science on the curtain close before our eyes, but our restless hands are thrust through it and beyond, opening eagerly and shutting on nothing, though we know that something is there.
Angelo Reanda was passionately fond of what was called music in Italy more than thirty years ago. He had the true ear and the facile memory for melody common to Italians, who are a singing people, if not a musical race, and which constituted a talent for music when music was considered to be a succession of sounds rather than a series of sensuous impressions. He could listen to an opera, understand it without thought, enjoy it simply, and remember it without difficulty, like thousands of other Romans. Most of us would willingly go back to such childlike amusements if we could. A few possess the power even now, and are looked upon with friendly contempt by their more cultured, and therefore more tortured, musical acquaintances, whose dream it is to be torn to very rags in the delirium of orchestral passion.
Reanda went to the Apollo Theatre in search of merely pleasurable sensations, and he got exactly what he wanted. The old house was brilliant even in those days, less with light than with jewels, it is true, but perhaps that illumination was as good as any other. The Roman ladies and the ladies of the great embassies used then to sit through the whole evening in their boxes, and it was the privilege, as it is still in Rome, of the men in the stalls and pit to stand up between the acts and admire them and their diamonds as much as they pleased. The light was dim enough, compared with what we have nowadays; for gas was but just introduced in a few of the principal streets, and the lamps in the huge chandelier at the Apollo, and in the brackets around the house, were filled with the olive oil which to-day dresses the world's salad. But it was a soft warm light, with rich yellow in it, which penetrated the shadows and beautified all it touched.
Reanda, like the others, stood up and looked about him after the first act. His eyes were instantly arrested by Gloria's splendid hair, which caught the light from above. She was seated in the front of a box on the third tier, the second row of boxes being almost exclusively reserved in those days. Dalrymple was beside his daughter, and the dark, still face of Paul Griggs was just visible in the shadow.
Gloria saw the artist almost immediately, for he could not help looking at her curiously, comparing her face with the mad sketch he had made on the wall. She nodded to him, and then spoke to her father, evidently calling his attention to Reanda, for Dalrymple looked down at once, and also nodded, while Griggs leaned forward a little and stared vacantly into the pit.
"It is an obsession to-day," said Reanda to himself, reflecting that though the girl lived in Rome he had never noticed her before, and had now seen her twice on the same day.
He mentally added the reflexion that she must have good nerves, and that most young girls would be at home with a headache after such a narrow escape as hers. She was quite as handsome as he had thought, however, and even more so, now that he saw her in her girlish evening gown, which was just a little open at the throat, and without even the simplest of ornaments. The white material and the shadow around and behind her threw her head into strong relief.
The curtain went up again, and Reanda sat down and watched the performance and listened to the simple, stirring melodies. But he was uncomfortably conscious that Gloria was looking at the back of his head from her box. Nervous people know the unpleasant sensation which such a delusion can produce. Reanda moved uneasily in his seat, and looked round more than once, just far enough to catch sight of Gloria's hair without looking up into her eyes.
His thoughts were disturbed, and he recalled vividly the face of the dead nun, which he had seen long ago. The resemblance was certainly strong. Maria Addolorata had sometimes had a strange expression which was quite her own, and which he had not yet seen in Gloria. But he felt that he should see it some day. He was sure of it, so sure that he had thrown its full force into the sketch on the wall, knowing that it would startle Donna Francesca. It was not possible that two women should be so much alike and yet that one of them should never have that look. Perhaps Gloria had it now and was staring at the back of his head.
An unaccountable nervousness took possession of the sensitive man, and he suffered as he sat there. After the curtain dropped he rose and left the theatre without looking up, and crossed the narrow street to a little coffee shop familiar to him for many years. He drank a cup of coffee, broke off the end of a thin black Roman cigar, and smoked for a few minutes before he returned.
Gloria had not moved, but Griggs was either gone or had retired further back into the shadow. Dalrymple was leaning back in his chair, bony and haggard, one of his great hands hanging listlessly over the front of the box. Reanda sat down again, and determined that he would not turn round before the end of the act. But it was of no use. He irritated his neighbours on each side by his restlessness, and his forehead was moist as though he were suffering great pain. Again he faced about and stared upwards at the box. Gloria, to his surprise, was not looking at him, but in the shadow he met the inscrutable eyes of Paul Griggs, fixed upon him as though they would never look away. But he cared very little whether Griggs looked at him or not. He faced the stage again and was more quiet.
It was a good performance, and he began to be glad that he had come. The singers were young, the audience was inclined to applaud, and everything went smoothly. Reanda thought the soprano rather weak in the great tower scene.
"Calpesta il mio cadavere, ma salva il Trovator!"
she sang in great ascending intervals.
Reanda sighed, for she made no impression on him, and he remembered that he had been deeply impressed, even thrilled, when he had first heard the phrase. He had realized the situation then and had felt with Leonora. Perhaps he had grown too old to feel that sort of young emotion any more. He sighed regretfully as he rose from his seat. Looking up once more, he saw that Gloria was putting on her cloak, her back turned to the theatre. He waited a moment and then moved on with the crowd, to get his coat from the cloak-room.
He went out and walked slowly up the Via di Tordinona. It was a dark and narrow street in those days. The great old-fashioned lanterns were swung up with their oil lamps in them, by long levers held in place by chains locked to the wall. Here and there over a low door a red light showed that wine was sold in a basement which was almost a cellar. The crowd from the theatre hurried along close by the walls, in constant danger from the big coaches that dashed past, bringing the Roman ladies home, for all had to pass through that narrow street. Landaus were not yet invented, and the heavy carriages rumbled loudly through the darkness, over the small paving-stones. But the people on foot were used to them, and stood pressed against the walls as they went by, or grouped for a moment on the low doorsteps of the dark houses.
Reanda went with the rest. He might have gone the other way, by the Banchi Vecchi, from the bridge of Sant' Angelo, and it would have been nearer, but he had a curious fancy that the Dalrymples might walk home, and that he might see Gloria again. Though it was not yet winter, the night was bright and cold, and it was pleasant to walk. The regular season at the Apollo Theatre did not begin until Christmas, but there were often good companies there at other times of the year.
The artist walked on, glancing at the groups he passed in the dim street, but neither pausing nor hurrying. He meant to let fate have her own way with him that night.
Fate was not far off. He had gone on some distance, and the crowd had dispersed in various directions, till he was almost alone as he emerged into the open space where the Via del Clementino intersects the Ripetta. At that moment he heard a wild and thrilling burst of song.
"Calpesta il mio cadavere, ma salva il Trovator!"
The great soprano rang out upon the midnight silence, like the voice of a despairing archangel, and there was nothing more.
"Hush!" exclaimed a man's voice energetically.
Two or three windows were opened high up, for no one had ever heard such a woman's voice in the streets before. Reanda peered before him through the gloom, saw three people standing at the next corner, and hastened his long steps. An instinct he could not explain told him that Gloria had sung the short strain, which had left him cold and indifferent when he had heard it in the theatre. He was neither now, and he was possessed by the desire to be sure that it had been she.
He was not mistaken. Griggs had recognized him first, and they had waited for him at the corner.
"It is an unexpected pleasure to meet twice in the same day," said Reanda.
"The pleasure is ours," answered Dalrymple, in the correct phrase, but with his peculiar accent. "I suppose you heard my daughter's screams," he added drily. "She was explaining to us how a particular phrase should be sung."
"Was I not right?" asked Gloria, quickly appealing to Reanda with the certainty of support.
"A thousand times right," he answered. "How could one be wrong with such a voice?"
Gloria was pleased, and they all walked on together till they reached the door of Dalrymple's lodging.
"Come in and have supper with us," said the Scotchman, who seemed to be less gloomy than usual. "I suppose you live in our neighbourhood?"
"No. In the Palazzetto Borgia, where I work."
"This is not exactly on your way home, then," observed Gloria. "You may as well rest and refresh yourself."
Reanda accepted the invitation, wondering inwardly at the assurance of the foreign girl. With her Italian speech she should have had Italian manners, he thought. The three men all carried tapers, as was then customary, and they all lit them before they ascended the dark staircase.
"This is an illumination," said Dalrymple, looking back as he led the way.
Gloria stopped suddenly, and looked round. She was following her father, and Reanda came after her, Griggs being the last.
"One, two, three," she counted, and her eyes met Reanda's.
Without the slightest hesitation, she blew out the taper he held in his hand. But, for one instant, he had seen in her face the expression of the dead nun, distinct in the clear light, and close to his eyes.
"Why did you do that?" asked Dalrymple, who had turned his head again, as the taper was extinguished.
"Three lights mean death," said Gloria, promptly; and she laughed, as she went quickly up the steps.
"It is true," answered Reanda, in a low voice, as he followed her; and it occurred to him that in a flash he had seen death written in the brilliant young face.
Ten minutes later, they were seated around the table in the Dalrymples' small dining-room. Reanda noticed that everything he saw there evidently belonged to the hired lodging, from the old-fashioned Italian silver forks, battered and crooked at the prongs, to the heavy cut-glass decanters, stained with age and use, at the neck, and between the diamond-shaped cuttings. There was supper enough for half-a-dozen people, however, and an extraordinary quantity of wine. Dalrymple swallowed a big tumbler of it before he ate anything. Paul Griggs filled his glass to the brim, and looked at it. He had hardly spoken since Reanda had joined the party.
The artist made an effort to be agreeable, feeling that the invitation had been a very friendly one, considering the slight acquaintance he had with the Dalrymples, an acquaintance not yet twenty-four hours old. Presently he asked Gloria if she had felt no ill effects from her extraordinary accident in the afternoon.
"I had not thought about it again," she answered. "I have thought of nothing but your painting all the evening, until that woman sang that phrase as though she were asking the Conte di Luna for more strawberries and cream."
She laughed, but her eyes were fixed on his face.
"'Un altro po' di fravole, e dammi crema ancor,'"
she sang softly, in the Roman dialect.
Then she laughed again, and Reanda smiled at the absurd words—"A few more strawberries, and give me some more cream." But even the few notes, a lazy parody of the prima donna's singing of the phrase, charmed his simple love of melody.
"Don't look so grim, papa," she said in English. "Nobody can hear me here, you know."
"I should not think anybody would wish to," answered the Scotchman; but he spoke in Italian, in consideration of his guest, who did not understand English.
"I do not know why you are always so angry if I sing anything foolish," said the young girl, going back to Italian. "One cannot be always serious. But I was talking about your frescoes, Signor Reanda. I have thought of nothing else."
Again her eyes met the artist's, but fell before his. He was too great a painter not to know the value of such flattering speeches in general, and in a way he was inclined to resent the girl's boldness. But at the same time, it was hard to believe that she was not really in earnest, for she had that power of sudden gravity which lends great weight to little speeches. In spite of himself, and perhaps rightly, he believed her. Paul Griggs did not, and he watched her curiously.
"Why do you look at me like that?" she asked, turning upon him with a little show of temper.
"If your father will allow me to say so, you are the object most worth looking at in the room," answered the young man, calmly.
"You will make her vain with your pretty speeches, Griggs," said Dalrymple.
"I doubt that," answered Griggs.
He relapsed into silence, and drained a big tumbler of wine. Reanda suspected, with a shrewd intuition, that the American admired Gloria, but that she did not like him much.
"Miss Dalrymple is doing her best to make me vain with her praise," said Reanda.
"I never flattered any one in my life," answered Gloria. "Signor Reanda is the greatest painter in Italy. Everybody says so. It would be foolish of me to even pretend that after seeing him at work I had thought of anything else. We have all said, this evening, that the frescoes were wonderful, and that no one, not even Raphael, who did the same thing, has ever had a more beautiful idea of the history of Cupid and Psyche. Why should we not tell the truth, just because he happens to be here? How illogical you are!"
"I believe I excepted Raphael," said Dalrymple, with his national accuracy. "But Signor Reanda will not quarrel with me on that account, I am sure."
"But I did not except Raphael, nor any one," persisted Gloria, before Reanda could speak.
"Really, Signorina, though I am mortal and susceptible, you go a little too far. Flattery is not appreciation, you know."
"It is not flattery," she answered, and the colour rose in her face. "I am quite in earnest. Nobody ever painted anything better than your Cupid and Psyche. Raphael's is dull and uninteresting compared with it."
"I blush, but I cannot accept so much," said the Italian, smiling politely, but still trying to discover whether she meant what she said or not.
In spite of himself, as before, he continued to believe her, though his judgment told him that hers could not be worth much. But he was pleased to have made such an impression, and by quick degrees his prejudice against her began to disappear. What had seemed like boldness in her no longer shocked him, and he described it to himself as the innocent frankness of a foreign girl. It was not possible that any one so like the dead Maria Braccio could be vulgar or bold. From that moment he began to rank Gloria as belonging to the higher sphere from which his birth excluded him. It was a curious and quick transition, and he would not have admitted that it was due to her exaggerated praise of his work. Strange as it must seem to those not familiar with the almost impassable barriers of old Italian society, Reanda had that evening, for the first time in his life, the sensation of being liked, admired, and talked with by a woman of Francesca Campodonico's class; stranger still, it was one of the most delicious sensations he had ever experienced. Yet the woman in question was but a girl not yet seventeen years old. Before he rose to go home, he unconsciously resented Griggs's silent admiration for Gloria. To the average Italian, such silence is a sign that a man is in love, and Reanda was the more attracted to Gloria because she treated Griggs with such perfect indifference.
It was nearly one o'clock when he lighted his taper to descend the stairs. Griggs was also ready to go. It was a relief to know that he was not going to stay behind and talk with Gloria. They went down in silence.
"I wanted to ask you a question," said the American, as they came out upon the street, and blew out their tapers. "We live in opposite directions, so I must ask it now. Should you mind, if I wrote an article on your frescoes for a London paper?"
"Mind!" exclaimed the artist, with a sudden revulsion of feeling in favour of the journalist. "I should be delighted—flattered."
"No," said Griggs, coldly. "I shall not write as Miss Dalrymple talks. But I shall try and do you justice, and that is a good deal, when one is a serious artist, as you are."
Reanda was struck by the cool moderation of the words, which expressed his own modest judgment of himself almost too exactly to be agreeable after Gloria's unlimited praise. He thanked Griggs warmly, however, and they shook hands before they parted.
THREE months passed, and Reanda was intimate with the Dalrymples. It was natural enough, considering the circumstances. They lived much alone, and Reanda was like them in this respect, for he rarely went where he was obliged to talk. During the day he saw much of Donna Francesca, but when it grew dark in the early afternoons of midwinter, the artist was thrown upon his own resources. In former years he had now and then done as many of the other artists did, and had sometimes for a month or two spent most of his evenings at the eating-house where he dined, in company with half-a-dozen others who frequented the same establishment. Each dropped in, at any hour that chanced to suit him, ate his supper, pushed back his chair, and joined in the general conversation, smoking, and drinking coffee or a little wine, until it was time to go home. There were grey-headed painters who had hardly been absent more than a few days in five and twenty years from their accustomed tables at such places as the Falcone, the Gabbione, or the Genio. But Reanda had never joined in any of these little circles for longer than a month or two, by which time he had exhausted the stock of his companions' ideas, and returned to solitude and his own thoughts. For he had something which they had not, besides his greater talent, his broader intelligence, and his deeper artistic insight. Donna Francesca's refining influence exerted itself continually upon him, and made much of the common conversation tiresome or disagreeable to him. A man whose existence is penetrated by the presence of a rarely refined woman seldom cares much for the daily society of men. He prefers to be alone, when he cannot be with her.
Reanda believed that what he felt for Francesca was a devoted and almost devout friendship. The fact that before many weeks had passed after his first meeting with Gloria he was perceptibly in love with the girl, while he felt not the smallest change in his relations with Donna Francesca, satisfactorily proved to him that he was right. It would not have been like an Italian and a Latin to compare his feelings for the two women by imaginary tests, as, for instance, by asking himself for which of the two he would make the greater sacrifice. He took it for granted that the one sentiment was friendship and the other love, and he acted accordingly.
He was distrustful, indeed, and very suspicious, but not of himself. Gloria treated him too well. Her eyes told him more than he felt able to believe. It was not natural that a girl so young and fresh and beautiful, with the world before her, should fall in love with a man of his age. That, at least, was what he thought. But the fact that it was unnatural did not prevent it from taking place.
Reanda ignored certain points of great importance. In the first place, Gloria had not really the world before her. Her little sphere was closely limited by her father's morose selfishness, which led him to keep her in Rome because he liked the place himself, and to keep away from his countrymen, whom he detested as heartily as Britons living abroad sometimes do. On the other hand, a vague dread lest the story of his marriage might some day come to the light kept him away from Roman society. He had fallen back upon artistic Bohemia for such company as he wanted, which was little enough, and as his child grew up he had not understood that she was developing early and coming to womanhood while she was still under the care of the governess he had provided. He had not even made any plans for her future, for he did not love her, though he indulged her as a selfish and easy means of fulfilling his paternal obligations. It was to get rid of her importunity that he began to take her to the houses of some of the married artists when she was only sixteen years old, though she looked at least two years older.
But in such society as that, Reanda was easily first, apart from the talent which placed him at the head of the whole artistic profession. He had been brought up, taught, and educated among gentlemen, sons of one of the oldest and most fastidious aristocracies in Europe, and he had their manners, their speech, their quiet air of superiority, and especially that exterior gentleness and modesty of demeanour which most touches some women. In Gloria's opinion, he even had much of their appearance, being tall, thin, and dark. Accustomed as she was to living with her father, who was gloomy and morose, and to seeing much of Paul Griggs, whose powers of silence were phenomenal at that time, Reanda's easy grace of conversation charmed and flattered her. He was, by many degrees, the superior in talent, in charm, in learning, to any one she had ever met, and it must not be forgotten that although he was twenty years older than she, he was not yet forty, and that, as he had not a grey hair in his head, he could still pass for a young man, though his grave disposition made him feel older than he was. Of the three melancholic men in whose society she chiefly lived, her father was selfish and morose; Griggs was gentle, but silent and incomprehensible, though he exerted an undoubted influence over her; Reanda alone, though naturally melancholy, was at once gentle, companionable, and talkative with her.
Dalrymple accepted the intimacy with indifference and even with a certain satisfaction. In his reflexions, he characterized Reanda as a rare combination of the great artist and the gentleman. Since Gloria had known him she had grown more quiet. She admired him and imitated his manner. It was a good thing. He was glad, too, that Reanda was not married, for it would have been a nuisance, thought Dalrymple, to have the man's wife always about and expecting to be amused.
It began to occur to him that Reanda might be falling in love with Gloria, and he did not resent the idea. In fact, though at first sight it should have seemed strange to an Englishman, he looked upon the idea with favour. He wished to live out his life in Italy, for he had got that fierce affection for the country which has overcome and bound many northern men, from Sir John Hawkwood to Landor and Browning. Though he did not love Gloria, he was attached to her in his own way, and did not wish to lose sight of her altogether. But, in consequence of his own irregular marriage, he could not marry her to a man of his own rank in Rome, who would not fail to make inquiries about her mother. It was most natural that he should look upon such a man as Reanda with favour. Reanda had many good qualities. Dalrymple's judgment was generally keen enough about people, and he had understood that such a woman as Donna Francesca Campodonico would certainly not make a personal friend of a painter, and allow him to occupy rooms in her palace, unless his character were altogether above suspicion.
Gloria was, of course, too young to be married yet, though she seemed to be so entirely grown up and altogether a woman. In this respect Dalrymple was not prejudiced. His own mother had been married at the age of seventeen, and he had lived long in Italy, where early marriages were common enough. There could certainly be no serious objection to the match on that score, when another year should have passed.
Dalrymple's only anxiety about his daughter concerned her strong inclination to be a public singer. The prejudice was by no means extraordinary, and as a Scotchman, it had even more weight with him than it could have had, for instance, with an Italian. Reanda entirely agreed with him on this point, and when Gloria spoke of it, he never failed to draw a lively picture of the drawbacks attending stage life. The artist spoke very strongly, for one of Gloria's earliest and chiefest attractions in his eyes had been the certainty he felt that she belonged to Francesca's class. For that reason her flattering admiration had brought with it a peculiar savour, especially delightful to the taste of a man of humble origin. Dalrymple did not understand that, but he knew that if Gloria married the great painter, the latter would effectually keep her from the stage.
As for Griggs, the Scotchman was well aware that the poor young journalist might easily fall in love with the beautiful girl. But this did not deter him at all from having Griggs constantly at the house. Griggs was the only man he had ever met who did not bore him, who could be silent for an hour at a time, who could swallow as much strong wine as he without the slightest apparent effect upon his manner, who understood all he said, though sometimes saying things which he could not understand—in short, Griggs was a necessity to him. The young man was perhaps aware of the fact, and he found Dalrymple congenial to his own temper; but he was as excessively proud as he was extremely poor, at that time, and he managed to refuse the greater part of the hospitality offered to him, simply because he could not return it. It was very rarely that he accepted an invitation to a meal, though he now generally came in the evening, besides meeting Dalrymple almost every morning when they went to the bookseller's together.
He puzzled the Scotchman strangely. He was an odd combination of a thinker and an athlete, half literary man, half gladiator. The common phrase 'an old head on young shoulders' described him as well as any phrase could. The shoulders were perhaps the more remarkable, but the head was not to be despised. A man who could break a horseshoe and tear in two a pack of cards, and who spent his spare time in studying Hegel and Kant, when he was not writing political correspondence for newspapers, deserved to be considered an exception. He seemed to have no material wants, and yet he had the animal power of enjoying material things even in excess, which is rare. He had a couple of rooms in the Via della Frezza, between the Corso and the Ripetta, where he lived in a rather mysterious way, though he made no secret about it. Occasionally an acquaintance climbed the steep stairs, but no one ever got him to open the door nor to give any sign that he was at home, if he were within. A one-eyed cobbler acted as porter downstairs, from morning till night, astride upon his bench and ever at work, an ill-savoured old pipe in his mouth.
"You may try," he answered, when any one asked for Griggs. "Who knows? Perhaps Sor Paolo will open. Try a little, if you have patience."
Patience being exhausted, the visitor came down the five flights again, and remonstrated with the cobbler.
"I did not say anything," he would reply, in a cloud of smoke. "Many have tried. I told you to try. Am I to tell you that no one has ever got in? Why? To disoblige you? If you want anything of Sor Paolo, say it to me. Or come again."
"But he will not open," objected the visitor.
"Oh, that is true," returned the man of one eye. "But if you wish to try, I am not here to hinder you. This is the truth."
Now and then, some one more inquisitive suggested that there might be a lady in the question. The one eye then fixed itself in a vacant stare.
"Females?" the cobbler would exclaim. "Not even cats. What passes through your head? He is alone always. If you do not believe me, you can try. I do not say Sor Paolo will not open the door. A door is a door, to be opened."
"But since I have tried!"
"And I, what can I do? You have come, you have seen, you have knocked, and no one has opened. May the Madonna accompany you! I can do nothing."
So even the most importunate of visitors departed at last. But Griggs had taken Dalrymple up to his lodgings more than once, and they had sat there for an hour talking over books. Dalrymple observed, indeed, that Griggs was more inclined to talk in his own rooms than anywhere else, and that his manner then changed so much as to make him almost seem to be a different man. There was a look of interest in the stony mask, and there was a light in the deep-set eyes which neither wine nor wit could bring there at other times. The man wore his armour against the world, as it were, a tough shell made up of a poor man's pride, and solid with that sense of absolute physical superiority which is an element in the character of strong men, and which the Scotchman understood. He himself had been of the strong, but not always the strongest. Paul Griggs had never yet been matched by any man since he had first got his growth. He was the equal of many in intellect, but his bodily strength was not equalled by any in his youth and manhood. The secret of his one well-hidden vanity lay in that. His moral power showed itself in his assumed modesty about it, for it was almost impossible to prevail upon him to make exhibition of it. Gloria alone seemed able to induce him, for her especial amusement, to break a silver dollar with his fingers, or tear a pack of cards, and then only in the presence of her father or Reanda, but never before other people.
"You are the strongest man in the world, are you not?" she asked him once.
"Yes," he answered. "I probably am, if it is I. I am vain of it, but not proud of it. That makes me think sometimes that I am two men in one. That might account for it, you know."
"What nonsense!" Gloria laughed.
"Is it? I daresay it is." And he relapsed into indifference, so far as she could see.
"What is the other man like?" she asked. "Not the strong man of the two, but the other?"
"He is a good man. The strong man is bad. They fight, and the result is insignificance. Some day one of the two will get the better of the other."
"What will happen then?" she asked lightly, and still inclined to laugh.
"One or the other, or both, will die, I suppose," he answered.
"How very unpleasant!"
She did not at all understand what he meant. At the same time she could not help feeling that he was eminently a man to whom she would turn in danger or trouble. Girl though she was, she could not mistake his great admiration of her, and by degrees, as the winter wore on, she trusted him more, though he still repelled her a little, for his saturnine calm was opposed to her violent vitality, as a black rock to a tawny torrent. Griggs had neither the manner nor the temper which wins women's hearts as a rule. Such men are sometimes loved by women when their sorrow has chained them to the rock of horror, and grief insatiable tears out their broken hearts. But in their strength they are not loved. They cannot give themselves yet, for their strength hinders them, and women think them miserly of words and of love's little coin of change. If they get love at last, it is as the pity which the unhurt weak feel for the ruined strong.
Gloria was not above irritating Griggs occasionally, when the fancy took her to seek amusement in that way. She knew how to do it, and he rarely turned upon her, even in the most gentle way.
"We are good friends, are we not?" she asked one day, when it was raining and he was alone with her, waiting for her father to come in.
"I hope so," he answered, turning his impassive face slowly towards her.
"Then you ought to be much nicer to me," she said.
"I am as nice as I know how to be," replied Griggs, with fixed eyes. "What shall I do?"
"That is it. You ought to know. You could talk and say pleasant things, for instance. Don't you admit that you are very dull to-day?"
"I admit it. I regret it, and I wish I were not."
"You need not be. I am sure you can talk very well, when you please. You are not exactly funny at any time, but to-day you are funereal. You remind me of those big black horses they use for hearses, you know."
"Thank you, thank you," said Griggs, quietly, repeating the words without emphasis.
"I don't like you!" she exclaimed petulantly, but with a little laugh.
"I know that," he answered. "But I like you very much. We were probably meant to differ."
"Then you might amuse me. It's awfully dull when it rains. Pull the house down, or tear up silver scudi, or something."
"I am not Samson, and I am not a clown," observed Griggs, coldly.
"I shall never like you if you are so disagreeable," said Gloria, taking up a book, and settling herself to read.
"I am afraid you never will," answered Griggs, following her example.
A few minutes passed in silence. Then Gloria looked up suddenly.
"I did not mean to be horrid."
"No, of course not."
"Because, if I were ever in trouble, you know—I should come straight to you."
"Thank you," he answered very gently. "But I hope you will never be in trouble. If you ever should be—" He stopped.
"I do not think you would find anybody who would try harder to help you," he said simply.
She wished that his voice would tremble, or that he would put out his hand towards her, or show something a little more like emotion. But she had to be satisfied.
"Would it be the good man or the bad man that would help me?" she asked, remembering the former conversation.
"Both," answered Griggs, without hesitation.
"I am not sure that I might not like the bad man better," said Gloria, almost to herself.
"Is Reanda a bad man?" inquired Griggs, slowly, and looking for the blush in her face.
"Why?" But she blushed, as he expected.
"Because you like him better than me."
"You are quite different. It is of no use to talk about it, and I want to read."
She turned from him and buried herself in her book, but she moved restlessly two or three times, and it was some minutes before the heightened colour disappeared from her face.
She was very girlish still, and when she had irritated Griggs as far as such a man was capable of irritation, she preferred to refuse battle rather than deal with the difficulty she had created. But Griggs understood, and amongst his still small sufferings he often felt the little, dull, hopeless pang which tells a man that he is unlovable.
VERY late, one night in the Carnival season, Paul Griggs was walking the streets alone. His sufferings were no longer so small as they had been, and the bitterness of solitude was congenial to him.
He had been at the house of a Spanish artist, where there had been dancing and music and supper and improvised tableaux. Gloria and her father and Reanda had all been there, too, and something had happened which had stirred the depths of the young man's slow temper. He hated to make an exhibition of himself, and much against his will he had been exhibited, as it were, to help the gaiety of the entertainment. Cotogni, the great sculptor, had suggested that Griggs should appear as Samson, asleep with his head on Delilah's knee, and bound by her with cords which he should seem to break as the Philistines rushed in. He had refused flatly, again and again, till all the noisy party caught the idea and forced him to it.
They had dressed him in silk draperies, his mighty arms bare almost to the shoulder, and they had given him a long, dark, theatrical wig. They had bound his arms and chest with cords, and had made him lie down and pretend to be asleep at the feet of the artist's beautiful wife. They had made slipping knots in the cords, so that he could easily wrench them loose. Then the curtain had been drawn aside, and there had been a pause as the tableau was shown. All at once a mob of artists, draped hastily in anything they could lay their hands upon, and with all manner of helmets on their heads from the Spaniard's collection, had rushed in.
"The Philistines are upon thee!" cried Delilah in a piercing voice.
He sprang to his feet, his legs being free, and he struggled with the cords. The knots would not slip as they were meant to do. The situation lasted several seconds, and was ridiculous enough.
People began to laugh.
"Cut off his hair!" cried one.
"Of what use was the wig?" laughed another, and every one tittered.
Griggs could hear Gloria's clear, high laugh above the rest. His blood slowly rose in his throat. But no one pulled the curtain across. The Philistines, young artists, mad with Carnival, improvised a very eccentric dance of triumph, and the laughter increased.
Griggs looked at the cords. Then his mask-like face turned slowly to the audience. Only the great veins swelled suddenly at his temples, while every one watched him in the general amusement. Suddenly his eyes flashed, and he drew a deep breath, for he was angry. In an instant there was dead silence in the room. A moment later one of the cords, drawn tight round his chest, over the silk robe, snapped like a thread, then another, and then a third. Then in a sort of frenzy of anger he savagely broke the whole cord into pieces with his hands, tossing the bits contemptuously upon the floor. His face was as white as a dead man's.
A roar of applause broke the silence when the guests realized what he had done. The artists seized him and carried him high in procession round the room, the women threw flowers at him, and some one struck up a triumphal march on the piano. It was an ovation. Half an hour later, dressed again in his ordinary clothes, he found himself next to Gloria.
"You told me the other day that you were not Samson," she said. "You see you can be when you choose."
"No," answered Griggs, coldly; "I am a clown."
What she had said was natural enough, but somehow the satisfaction of his bodily vanity had stung his moral pride beyond endurance. It seemed a despicable thing to be as vain as he was of a gift for which he had not paid any price. Deep down, too, he felt bitterly that he had never received the slightest praise for any thought of his which he had written down and sent to that cauldron of the English daily press in which all individual right to distinction disappears, with all claim to praise, from written matter, however good it be. He worked, he read, he studied, he wrote late, and rose early to observe. But his natural gift was to be a mountebank, a clown, a circus Hercules. By stiffening one of his senseless arms he could bring down roars of applause. By years of bitter labour with his pen he earned the barest living. The muscles that a porter might have, offered him opulence, because it was tougher by a few degrees than the flesh of other men. The knowledge he had striven for just kept him above absolute want.