He slipped away from the gay party as soon as he could. His last glance round the room showed him Angelo Reanda and Gloria, sitting in a corner apart. The girl's face was grave. There was a gentle and happy light in the artist's eyes which Griggs had never seen. That also was the strong man's portion.
Wrathfully he strode away from the house, under the dim oil lamps, an unlighted cigar between his teeth, his soft felt hat drawn over his eyes. He crossed the city towards the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona, his cigar still unlighted.
The streets were alive, though it was very late. There was more freedom to be gay and more hope of being simply happy in those days. Many men and women wandered about in bands of ten or a dozen, singing in soft voices, above which now and then rose a few ringing tenor notes. There was laughter everywhere in the air; tambourines drummed and thumped and jingled, guitars twanged, and mandolines tinkled and quavered. From a dark lane somewhere off the broader thoroughfare, a single voice sang out in serenade. The Corso was bright with unusual lights, and strewn with the birdseed and plaster-of-Paris 'confetti,' with yellow sand and sprigs of box leaves, and withering flowers, and there was about all the neighbourhood that peculiar smell of plaster and crushed flower-stalks which belonged then to the street carnival of Rome. Further on, in the dim quarters by the Tiber, the wine shops were all crowded, and men stood and drank outside on the pavement, and paid, and went laughing on, laughing and singing, singing and laughing, through the night.
Griggs felt the penetrating loneliness of him who cannot laugh amidst laughter, and it was congenial to him. He had always been alone, and he felt that the world held no companion for him. There was satisfaction in knowing that no one could ever guess what went on between his heart and his head.
He wandered on with the same even, untiring stride, for a long time, through the dark and winding ways, from the Pantheon through the old city, through Piazza Paganica and Costaguti to Piazza Montanara, where the carters and carriers congregate from the country. There, in the middle of the three-cornered open space, a flag in the paving marked the spot on which men used to be put to death. To-night even the carriers were making merry. Griggs was thirsty, and paused at the door of a wine shop. Though it was winter, men were sitting outside, for there was no more room within. A flaring torch of pitched rope was stuck in an iron ring, and shed an uncertain, smoky light upon the men's faces. A drawer in an apron brought Griggs a glass, and he drank standing.
"It makes no difference," said a rough voice in the little crowd. "They may cut off my head there on the paving-stone. They would do me a favour. If I find him, I kill him. An evil death on him and all his house!"
Griggs looked at the speaker without surprise, for he had often heard such things said. He saw an iron-grey man in good peasant's clothes of dark blue with broad silver buttons, a man with a true Roman face, a small aquiline nose, and keen, dark eyes. He turned away, and began to retrace his steps.
In half an hour he was at the door of the old Falcone inn, gone now like many relics of that day. It stood in the Piazza of Saint Eustace near the Pantheon, and in its time was the best of the old-fashioned eating-houses. Griggs felt suddenly hungry. He had walked seven or eight miles since he had left the party. He entered, and passed through the crowded rooms below and up the narrow steps to a small upper chamber, where he hoped to be alone. But there, also, every seat was taken.
To his surprise Dalrymple and Reanda were at the table furthest from him, in earnest conversation, with a measure of wine between them. Griggs had never seen the Italian there before, but the latter caught sight of him as he stood in the door, and rose to his feet, making a sign which meant that he was going away, and that the chair was vacant. Griggs came forward, and looked into his face as they met. There was the same gentle and happy light in Reanda's eyes which had been there when he was sitting with Gloria in the corner of the Spanish artist's drawing-room. Then Griggs understood and knew the truth, and guessed the meaning of the unaccustomed pressure of the hand as Reanda greeted him without speaking, and hurriedly went out.
Dalrymple had seen Griggs coming and was already calling to a man in a spotless white jacket for another glass and more wine. The Scotchman's bony face was haggard, but there was a little colour in his cheeks, and he seemed pleased.
"Sit down, Griggs," he said. "There are no more chairs, so we can keep the table to ourselves. I hope you are half as thirsty as I am."
"Rather more than half," answered the other, and he drank eagerly. "Give me some more, please," he said, holding out his glass.
"I see that you are in the right humour to hear good news," said the Scot. "Reanda is to marry my daughter in the summer."
"I congratulate you all three," said Griggs, slowly, for he had known what was coming. "Let us drink the health of the couple."
"By all means," answered Dalrymple, filling again. "By all means let us drink. I could not swallow that sweet stuff at Mendoza's. This is better. By all means let us drink as much as we can."
"That might mean a good deal," said Griggs, quickly, and he drained a third glass. "Were you ever drunk, Dalrymple?" he inquired gravely.
"No. I never was," answered the Scotchman.
"Nor I. This seems a fitting occasion for trying an experiment. We might try to get drunk."
"By all means, let us try," replied Dalrymple. "I have my doubts about the possibility of the thing, however."
"So have I."
They sat opposite to one another in silence for some minutes, each satisfied that the other was in earnest. Dalrymple solemnly filled the glasses and then leaned back in his chair.
"You did not seem much surprised by what I told you," he observed at last. "I suppose you expected it."
"Yes. It seemed natural enough, though it is not always the natural things that happen."
"I think they are suited to marry. Of course, Reanda is very much older, but he is comparatively a young man still."
"Comparatively. He will make a better husband for having had experience, I daresay."
"That depends on what experience he has had. When I first saw him I thought he was in love with Donna Francesca. It would have been like an artist. They are mostly fools. But I was mistaken. He worships at a distance."
"And she preserves the distance," Griggs remarked. "You are not drinking fair. My glass is empty."
Dalrymple finished his and refilled both.
"I have been here some time," he observed, half apologetically. "But as I was saying—or rather, as you were saying—Donna Francesca preserves the distance. These Italians do that admirably. They know the difference between intimacy and familiarity."
"That is a nice distinction," said Griggs. "I will use it in my next letter. No. Donna Francesca could never be familiar with any one. They learn it when they are young, I suppose, and it becomes a race-characteristic."
"What?" asked Dalrymple, abruptly.
"A certain graceful loftiness," answered the younger man.
The Scotchman's wrinkled eyelids contracted, and he was silent for a few moments.
"A certain graceful loftiness," he repeated slowly. "Yes, perhaps so. A certain graceful loftiness."
"You seem struck by the expression," said Griggs.
"I am. Drink, man, drink!" added Dalrymple, suddenly, in a different tone. "There's no time to be lost if we mean to drink enough to hurt us before those beggars go to bed."
"Never fear. They will be up all night. Not that it is a reason for wasting time, as you say."
He drank his glass and watched Dalrymple as the latter did likewise, with that deliberate intention which few but Scotchmen can maintain on such occasions. The wine might have been poured into a quicksand, for any effect it had as yet produced.
"Those race-characteristics of families are very curious," continued Griggs, thoughtfully.
"Are they?" Dalrymple looked at him suspiciously.
"Very. Especially voices. They run in families, like resemblance of features."
"So they do," answered the other, thoughtfully. "So they do."
He had of late years got into the habit of often repeating such short phrases, in an absent-minded way.
"Yes," said Griggs. "I noticed Donna Francesca's voice, the first time I ever heard it. It is one of those voices which must be inherited. I am sure that all her family have spoken as she does. It reminds me of something—of some one—"
Dalrymple raised his eyes suddenly again, as though he were irritated.
"I say," he began, interrupting his companion. "Do you feel anything? Anything queer in your head?"
"You are talking rather disconnectedly, that is all."
"Am I? It did not strike me that I was incoherent. Probably one half of me was asleep while the other was talking." He laughed drily, and drank again. "No," he said thoughtfully, as he set down his glass. "I feel nothing unusual in my head. It would be odd if I did, considering that we have only just begun."
"So I thought," answered Dalrymple.
He ordered more wine and relapsed into silence. Neither spoke again for a long time.
"There goes another bottle," said Dalrymple, at last, as he drained the last drops from the flagon measure. "Drink a little faster. This is slow work. We know the old road well enough."
"You are not inclined to give up the attempt, are you?" inquired Griggs, whose still face showed no change. "Is it fair to eat? I am hungry."
"Certainly. Eat as much as you like."
Griggs ordered something, which was brought after considerable delay, and he began to eat.
"We are not loquacious over our cups," remarked Dalrymple. "Should you mind telling me why you are anxious to get drunk to-night for the first time in your life?"
"I might ask you the same question," answered Griggs, cautiously.
"Merely because you proposed it. It struck me as a perfectly new idea. I have not much to amuse me, you know, and I shall have less when my daughter leaves me. It would be an amusement to lose one's head in some way."
"In such a way as to be able to get it back, you mean. I was walking this evening after the party, and I came to the Piazza Montanara. There is a big flagstone there on which people used to leave their heads for good."
"Yes. I have seen it. You cannot tell me much about Rome which I do not know."
"There were a lot of carriers drinking close by. It was rather grim, I thought. An old fellow there had a spite against somebody. You know how they talk. 'They may cut off my head there on the paving-stone,' the man said. 'If I find him, I kill him. An evil death on him and all his house!' You have heard that sort of thing. But the fellow seemed to be very much in earnest."
"He will probably kill his man," said Dalrymple.
Suddenly his big, loose shoulders shook a little, and he shivered. He glanced towards the window, suspecting that it might be open.
"Are you cold?" asked Griggs, carelessly.
"Cold? No. Some one was walking over my grave, as they say. If we varied the entertainment with something stronger, we should get on faster, though."
"No," said Griggs. "I refuse to mix things. This may be the longer way, but it is the safer."
And he drank again.
"He was a man from Tivoli, or Subiaco," he remarked presently. "He spoke with that accent."
"I daresay," answered Dalrymple, who looked down into his glass at that moment, so that his face was in shadow.
Just then four men who had occupied a table near the door rose and went out. It was late, even for a night in Carnival.
"I hope they are not going to leave us all to ourselves," said Dalrymple. "The place will be shut up, and we need at least two hours more."
"At least," assented Paul Griggs. "But they expect to be open all night. I think there is time."
The men at the other tables showed no signs of moving. They sat quietly in their places, drinking steadily, by sips. Some of them were eating roasted chestnuts, and all were talking more or less in low tones. Occasionally one voice or another rose above the rest in an exclamation, but instantly subsided again. Italians of that class are rarely noisy, for though the Romans drink deep, they generally have strong heads, and would be ashamed of growing excited over their wine.
The air was heavy, for several men were smoking strong cigars. The vaulted chamber was lighted by a single large oil lamp with a reflector, hung by a cord from the intersection of the cross-arches. The floor was of glazed white tiles, and the single window had curtains of Turkey red. It was all very clean and respectable and well kept, even at that crowded season, but the air was heavy with wine and tobacco, and the smell of cooked food,—a peculiar atmosphere in which the old-fashioned Roman delighted to sit for hours on holidays.
Dalrymple looked about him, moving his pale blue eyes without turning his head. The colour had deepened a little on his prominent cheek bones, and his eyes were less bright than usual. But his red hair, growing sandy with grey, was brushed smoothly back, and his evening dress was unruffled. He and Griggs were so evidently gentlemen, that some of the Italians at the other tables glanced at them occasionally in quiet surprise, not that they should be there, but that they should remain so long, and so constantly renew their order for another bottle of wine.
Giulio, the stout, dark drawer in a spotless jacket, moved about silently and quickly. One of the Italians glanced at Griggs and Dalrymple and then at the waiter, who also glanced at them quickly and then shrugged his shoulders almost perceptibly. Dalrymple saw both glances, and his eyes lighted up.
"I believe that fellow is laughing at us," he said to Griggs.
"There is nothing to laugh at," answered the latter, unmoved. "But of course, if you think so, throw him downstairs."
Dalrymple laughed drily.
"There is a certain calmness about the suggestion," he said. "It has a good, old-fashioned ring to it. You are not a very civilized young man, considering your intellectual attainments."
"I grew up at sea and before the mast. That may account for it."
"You seem to have crammed a good deal into a short life," observed Dalrymple. "It must have been a classic ship, where they taught Greek and Latin."
"The captain used to call her his Ship of Fools. As a matter of fact, it was rather classic, as you say. The old man taught us navigation and Greek verse by turns for five years. He was a university man with a passion for literature, but I never knew a better sailor. He put me ashore when I was seventeen with pretty nearly the whole of my five years' pay in my pocket, and he made me promise that I would go to college and stay as long as my money held out. I got through somehow, but I am not sure that I bless him. He is afloat still, and I write to him now and then."
"An Englishman, I suppose?"
"No. An American."
"What strange people you Americans are!" exclaimed Dalrymple, and he drank again. "You take up a profession, and you wear it for a bit, like a coat, and then change it for another," he added, setting down his empty glass.
"Very much like you Scotch," answered Griggs. "I have heard you say that you were a doctor once."
"A doctor—yes—in a way, for the sake of being a man of science, or believing myself to be one. My family was opposed to it," he continued thoughtfully. "My father told me it was his sincere belief that science did not stand in need of any help from me. He said I was more likely to need the help of science, like other lunatics. I will not say that he was not right."
He laughed a little and filled his glass.
"Poor Dalrymple!" he exclaimed softly, still smiling.
Paul Griggs raised his slow eyes to his companion's face.
"It never struck me that you were much to be pitied," he observed.
"No, no. Perhaps not. But I will venture to say that the point is debatable, and could be argued. 'To be, or not to be' is a question admirably calculated to draw out the resources of the intellect in argument, if you are inclined for that sort of diversion. It is a very good thing, a very good thing for a man to consider and weigh that question while he is young. Before he goes to sleep, you know, Griggs, before he goes to sleep."
"'For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come—'" Griggs quoted, and stopped.
"'When we have shuffled off this mortal coil.' You do not know your Shakespeare, young man."
"'Must give us pause,'" continued Griggs. "I was thinking of the dreams, not of the rest."
"Dreams? Yes. There will be dreams there. Dreams, and other things—'this ae night of all.' Not that my reason admits that they can be more than dreams, you know, Griggs. Reason says 'to sleep—no more.' And fancy says 'perchance to dream.' Well, well, it will be a long dream, that's all."
"Yes. We shall be dead a long time. Better drink now." And Griggs drank.
"'Fire and sleet and candle-light, And Christ receive thy soul;'"
said Dalrymple, with a far-away look in his pale eyes. "Do you know the Lyke-Wake Dirge, Griggs? It is a grand dirge. Hark to the swing of it.
"'This ae night, this ae night, Every night and all, Fire and sleet and candle-light, And Christ receive thy soul.'"
He repeated the strange words in a dull, matter-of-fact way, with a Scotch accent rarely perceptible in his conversation. Griggs listened. He had heard the dirge before, with all its many stanzas, and it had always had an odd fascination for him. He said nothing.
"It bodes no good to be singing a dirge at a betrothal," said the Scotchman, suddenly. "Drink, man, drink! Drink till the blue devils fly away. Drink—
"'Till a' the seas gang dry, my love, Till a' the seas gang dry.'
Not that it is in the disposition of the Italian inn-keeper to give us time for that," he added drily. "As I was saying, I am of a melancholic temper. Not that I take you for a gay man yourself, Griggs. Drink a little more. It is my opinion that a little more will produce an agreeable impression upon you, my young friend. Drink a little more. You are too grave for so very young a man. I should not wish to be indiscreet, but I might almost take you for a man in love, if I did not know you better. Were you ever in love, Griggs?"
"Yes," answered Griggs, quietly. "And you, Dalrymple? Were you never in love?"
Dalrymple's loosely hung shoulders started suddenly, and his pale blue eyes set themselves steadily to look at Griggs. The red brows were shaggy, and there was a bright red spot on each cheek bone. He did not answer his companion's question, though his lips moved once or twice as though he were about to speak. They seemed unable to form words, and no sound came from them.
His anger was near, perhaps, and with another man it might have broken out. But the pale and stony face opposite him, and the deep, still eyes, exercised a quieting influence, and whatever words rose to his lips were never spoken. Griggs understood that he had touched the dead body of a great passion, sacred in its death as it must have been overwhelming in its life. He struck another subject immediately, and pretended not to have noticed Dalrymple's expression.
"I like your queer old Scotch ballads," he said, humouring the man's previous tendency to quote poetry.
"There's a lot of life in them still," answered Dalrymple, absently twisting his empty glass.
Griggs filled it for him, and they both drank. Little by little the Italians had begun to go away. Giulio, the fat, white-jacketed drawer, sat nodding in a corner, and the light from the high lamp gleamed on his smooth black hair as his head fell forward.
"There is a sincere vitality in our Scotch poets," said Dalrymple, as though not satisfied with the short answer he had given. "There is a very notable power of active living exhibited in their somewhat irregular versification, and in the concatenation of their ratiocinations regarding the three principal actions of the early Scottish life, which I take to have been birth, stealing, and a violent death."
"'But of these three charity is the greatest,'" observed Griggs, with something like a laugh, for he saw that Dalrymple was beginning to make long sentences, which is a bad sign for a Scotchman's sobriety.
"No," answered Dalrymple, with much gravity. "There I venture—indeed, I claim the right—to differ with you. For the Scotchman is hospitable, but not charitable. The process of the Scotch mind is unitary, if you will allow me to coin a word for which I will pay with my glass."
And he forthwith fulfilled the obligation in a deep draught. Setting down the tumbler, he leaned back in his chair and looked slowly round the room. His lips moved. Griggs could just distinguish the last lines of another old ballad.
"'Night and day on me she cries, And I am weary of the skies Since—'"
He broke off and shook himself nervously, and looked at Griggs, as though wondering whether the latter had heard.
"This wine is good," he said, rousing himself. "Let us have some more. Giulio!"
The fat waiter awoke instantly at the call, looked, nodded, went out, and returned immediately with another bottle.
"Is this the sixth or the seventh?" asked Dalrymple, slowly.
"Eight with Signor Reanda's," answered the man. "But Signor Reanda paid for his as he went out. You have therefore seven. It might be enough." Giulio smiled.
"Bring seven more, Giulio," said the Scotchman, gravely. "It will save you six journeys."
"Does the Signore speak in earnest?" asked the servant, and he glanced at Griggs, who was impassive as marble.
"You flatter yourself," said Dalrymple, impressively, to the man, "if you imagine that I would make even a bad joke to amuse you. Bring seven bottles." Giulio departed.
"That is a Homeric order," observed Griggs.
"I think—in fact, I am almost sure—that seven bottles more will produce an impression upon one of us. But I have a decidedly melancholic disposition, and I accustomed myself to Italian wine when I was very young. Melancholy people can drink more than others. Besides, what does such a bottle hold? I will show you. A tumbler to you, and one to me. Drink; you shall see."
He emptied his glass and poured the remainder of the bottle into it.
"Do you see? Half a tumbler. Two and a half are a bottle. Seven bottles are seventeen and a half glasses. What is that for you or me in a long evening? My blue devils are large. It would take an ocean to float them all. I insist upon going to bed in a good humour to-night, for once, in honour of my daughter's engagement. By the bye, Griggs, what do you think of Reanda?"
"He is a first-rate artist. I like him very well."
"A good man, eh? Well, well—from the point of view of discretion, Griggs, I am doing right. But then, as you may very wisely object, discretion is only a point of view. The important thing is the view, and not the point. Here comes Ganymede with the seven vials of wrath! Put them on the table, Giulio," he said, as the fat waiter came noiselessly up, carrying the bottles by the necks between his fingers, three in one hand and four in the other. "They make a fine show, all together," he observed thoughtfully, with his bony head a little on one side.
"And may God bless you!" said Giulio, solemnly. "If you do not die to-night, you will never die again."
"I regard it as improbable that we shall die more than once," answered Dalrymple. "I believe," he said, turning to Griggs, "that when men are drunk they make mistakes about money. We will pay now, while we are sober."
Griggs insisted on paying his share. They settled, and Giulio went away happy.
The two strong men sat opposite to each other, under the high lamp in the small room, drinking on and on. There was something terrifying in the Scotchman's determination to lose his senses—something grimly horrible in the younger man's marble impassiveness, as he swallowed glass for glass in time with his companion. His face grew paler still, and colder, but there was a far-off gleaming in the shadowy eyes, like the glimmer of a light over a lonely plain through the dark. Dalrymple's spirits did not rise, but he talked more and more, and his sentences became long and involved, and sometimes had no conclusion. The wine was telling on him at last. He had never been so strong as Griggs, at his best, and he was no match for him now. The younger man's strangely dual nature seemed to place his head beyond anything which could affect his senses.
Dalrymple talked on and on, rambling from one subject to another, and not waiting for any answer when he asked a question. He quoted long ballads and long passages from Shakespeare, and then turned suddenly off upon a scientific subject, until some word of his own suggested another quotation.
Griggs sat quietly in his seat, drinking as steadily, but paying little attention now to what the Scotchman said. Something had got hold of his heart, and was grinding it like grain between the millstones, grinding it to dust and ashes. He knew that he could not sleep that night. He might as well drink, for it could not hurt him. Nothing material had power to hurt him, it seemed. He felt the pain of longing for the utterly unattainable, knowing that it was beyond him forever. The widowhood of the unsatisfied is hell, compared with the bereavement of complete possession. He had not so much as told Gloria that he had loved her. How could he, being but one degree above a beggar? The unspoken words burned furrows in his heart, as molten metal scores smoking channels in living flesh. Gloria would laugh, if she knew. The torture made his face white. There was the scorn of himself with it, because a mere child could hurt him almost to death, and that made it worse. A mere child, barely out of the schoolroom, petulant, spoiled, selfish!
But she had the glory of heaven in her voice, and in her face the fatal beauty of her dead mother's deadly sin. He need not have despised himself for loving her. Her whole being appealed to that in man to which no woman ever appealed in vain since the first Adam sold heaven to Satan for woman's love.
Dalrymple, leaning on his elbow, one hand in his streaked beard, the other grasping his glass, talked on and quoted more and more.
"'The flame took fast upon her cheek, Took fast upon her chin, Took fast upon her fair body Because of her deadly sin.'"
His voice dropped to a hoarse whisper at the last words, and suddenly, regardless of his companion, his hand covered his eyes, and his long fingers strained desperately on his bony forehead. Griggs watched him, thinking that he was drunk at last.
"Because of her deadly sin," he repeated slowly, and the tone changed. "There is no sin in it!" he cried suddenly, in a low voice, that had a distant, ghostly ring in it.
He looked up, and his eyes were changed, and Griggs knew that they no longer saw him.
"Stiff," he said softly. "Quite stiff. Dead two or three hours, I daresay. It stands up on its feet beside me—certainly dead two or three hours."
He nodded wisely to himself twice, and then spoke again in the same far-off tone, gazing past Griggs, at the wall.
"The clothes-basket is a silly idea. Besides, I should lose the night. Rather carry it myself—wrap it up in the plaid. She'll never know, when she has it on her head. Who cares?"
A long silence followed. One hand grasped the empty glass. The other lay motionless on the table. The blue eyes, with widely dilated pupils, stared at the wall, never blinking nor turning. But in the face there was the drawn expression of a bodily effort. Presently Griggs saw the fine beads of perspiration on the great forehead. Then the voice spoke again, but in Italian this time.
"You had better look away while I go by. It is not a pretty sight. No," he continued, changing to English, "not at all a pretty sight. Stiff as a board still."
The unwinking eyes dilated. The bright colour was gone from the cheek bones.
"It burns very well," he said again in Italian. The whole face quivered and the hard lips softened and kissed the air. "It is golden—I can see it in the dark—but I must cover it, darling. Quick—this way. At last! No—you cannot see the fire, but it is burning well, I am sure. Hold on! Hold the pommel of the saddle with both hands—so!"
The voice ceased. Griggs began to understand. He touched Dalrymple's sleeve, leaning across the table.
"I say!" he called softly. "Dalrymple!"
The Scotchman started violently, and the pupils of his eyes contracted. The empty glass in his right hand rattled on the hard wood. Then he smiled vaguely at Griggs.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed in his natural voice. "I think I must have been napping—'Sleep'ry Sim of the Lamb-hill, and snoring Jock of Suport-mill!' By Jove, Griggs, we have got near the point at last. One bottle left, eh? The seventh.
"'Then up and gat the seventh o' them, And never a word spake he; But he has striped his bright brown brand—'
The rest has no bearing upon the subject," he concluded, filling both glasses. "Griggs," he said, before he drank, "I am afraid this settles the matter."
"I am afraid it does," said Griggs.
"Yes. I had hopes a little while ago, which appeared well founded. But that unfortunate little nap has sent me back to the starting-point. I should have to begin all over again. It is very late, I fancy. Let us drink this last glass to our own two selves, and then give it up."
Something had certainly sobered the Scotchman again, or at least cleared his head, for he had not been drunk in the ordinary sense of the word.
"It cannot be said that we have not given the thing a fair trial," said Griggs, gloomily. "I shall certainly not take the trouble to try it again."
Nevertheless he looked at his companion curiously, as they both rose to their feet together. Dalrymple doubled his long arms as he stood up and stretched them out.
"It is curious," he said. "I feel as though I had been carrying a heavy weight in my arms. I did once, for some distance," he added thoughtfully, "and I remember the sensation."
"Very odd," said Griggs, lighting a cigar.
Giulio, sitting outside, half asleep, woke up as he heard the steady tread of the two strong men go by.
"If you do not die to-night, you will never die again!" he said, half aloud, as he rose to go in and clear the room where the guests had been sitting.
END OF VOL. I.
F. MARION CRAWFORD
AUTHOR OF "SARACINESCA," "PIETRO GHISLERI," ETC.
IN TWO VOLUMES
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY A. CASTAIGNE
New York MACMILLAN AND CO. AND LONDON 1895
All rights reserved
COPYRIGHT, 1894, BY F. MARION CRAWFORD.
Norwood Press J. S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith Norwood Mass. U.S.A.
PART II.—Continued. GLORIA DALRYMPLE 1
PART III. DONNA FRANCESCA CAMPODONICO 227
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
PAGE "Gloria—forgive me!" 50
Stefanone and Gloria 100
"The horror of poverty smote him" 123
"Let us not speak of the dead" 203
"The last great, true note died away" 219
"As he stood there repeating the name" 331
DURING the first few months of their marriage Reanda and Gloria believed themselves happy, and really were, since there is no true criterion of man's happiness but his own belief in it. They took a small furnished apartment at the corner of the Macel de' Corvi, with an iron balcony overlooking the Forum of Trajan. They would have had no difficulty in obtaining other rooms adjoining the two Reanda had so long occupied in the Palazzetto Borgia, but Gloria was opposed to the arrangement, and Reanda did not insist upon it. The Forum of Trajan was within a convenient distance of the palace, and he went daily to his work.
"Besides," said Gloria, "you will not always be painting frescoes for Donna Francesca. I want you to paint a great picture, and send it to Paris and get a medal."
She was ambitious for him, and dreamed of his winning world-wide fame. She loved him, and she felt that Francesca had caged him, as Francesca herself had once felt. She wished to remove him altogether from the latter's influence, both because she was frankly jealous of his friendship for the older woman, and wished to have him quite to herself, and also in the belief that he could do greater things if he were altogether freed from the task of decorating the palace, which had kept him far too long in one limited sequence of production. There was, moreover, a selfish consideration of vanity in her view, closely linked with her unbounded admiration for her husband. She knew that she was beautiful, and she wished his greatest work to be a painting of herself.
Gloria, however, wished also to take a position in Roman society, and the only person who could help her and her husband to cross the line was Francesca Campodonico. It was therefore impossible for Gloria to break up the intimacy altogether, however much she might wish to do so. Meanwhile, too, Reanda had not finished his frescoes.
Soon after the marriage, which took place in the summer, Dalrymple left Rome, intending to be absent but a few months in Scotland, where his presence was necessary on account of certain family affairs and arrangements consequent upon the death of Lord Redin, the head of his branch of the Dalrymples, and of Lord Redin's son only a few weeks later, whereby the title went to an aged great-uncle of Angus Dalrymple's, who was unmarried, so that Dalrymple's only brother became the next heir.
Gloria was therefore quite alone with her husband. Paul Griggs had also left Rome for a time on business connected with his journalistic career. He had in reality been unwilling to expose himself to the unnecessary suffering of witnessing Gloria's happiness, and had taken the earliest opportunity of going away. Gloria herself was at first pleased by his departure. Later, however, she wished that he would come back. She had no one to whom she could turn when she was in need of any advice on matters which Reanda could not or would not decide.
Reanda himself was at first as absolutely happy as he had expected to be, and Francesca Campodonico congratulated herself on having brought about a perfectly successful match. While he continued to work at the Palazzetto Borgia, the two were often together for hours, as in former times. Gloria had at first come regularly in the course of the morning and sat in the hall while her husband was painting, but she had found it a monotonous affair after a while. Reanda could not talk perpetually. More than once, indeed, he introduced his wife's face amongst the many he painted, and she was pleased, though not satisfied. He could not make her one of the central figures which appeared throughout the series, because the greater part of the work was done already, and it was necessary to preserve the continuity of each resemblance. Gloria wished to be the first everywhere, though she did not say so.
Little by little, she came less regularly in the mornings. She either stayed at home and studied seriously the soprano parts of the great operas then fashionable, or invented small errands which kept her out of doors. She sometimes met Reanda when he left the palace, and they walked home together to their midday breakfast.
Little by little, also, Francesca fell into the habit of visiting Reanda in the great hall at hours when she was sure that Gloria would not be there. It was not that she disliked to see them together, but rather because she felt that Gloria was secretly antagonistic. There was a small, perpetual, unexpressed hostility in Gloria's manner which could not escape so sensitive a woman as Francesca. Reanda felt it, too, but said nothing. He was almost foolishly in love with his wife, and he was devotedly attached to Francesca herself. For the present he was very simple in his dealings with himself, and he quietly shut his eyes to the possibility of a disagreement between the two women, though he felt that it was in the air.
Instead of diminishing with his marriage, the obligations under which he was placed towards Donna Francesca were constantly increasing. She saw and understood his wife's social ambition, and gave herself trouble to satisfy it. Reanda felt this keenly, and while his gratitude increased, he inwardly wished that each kindness might be the last. But Gloria had the ambition and the right to be received in society on a footing of equality, and no one but Francesca Campodonico could then give her what she wanted.
She did not obtain what is commonly called social success, though many people received her and her husband during the following winter. She got admiration in plenty, and she herself believed that it was friendship. Of the two, Reanda, who had no social ambition at all, was by far the more popular. He was, as ever, quiet and unassuming, as became a man of his extraordinary talent. He so evidently preferred in society to talk with intelligent people rather than to make himself agreeable to the very great, that the very great tried to attract him to themselves, in order to appear intelligent in the eyes of others. They altogether forgot that he was the son of the steward of Gerano, though he sometimes spoke unaffectedly of his boyhood.
But Gloria reminded people too often that she had a right to be where she was, as the daughter of Angus Dalrymple, who might some day be Lord Redin. Fortunately for her, no one knew that Dalrymple had begun life as a doctor, and very far from such prospects as now seemed quite within the bounds of realization. But even as the possible Lord Redin, her father's existence did not interest the Romans at all. They were not accustomed to people who thought it necessary to justify their social position by allusions to their parentage, and since Francesca Campodonico had assured them that Dalrymple was a gentleman, they had no further questions to ask, and raised their eyebrows when Gloria volunteered information on the subject of her ancestors. They listened politely, and turned the subject as soon as they could, because it bored them.
But the admiration she got was genuine of its kind, as admiration and as nothing else. Her magnificent voice was useful to ancient and charitable princesses who wished to give concerts for the benefit of the deserving poor, but her face disturbed the hearts of those excellent ladies who had unmarried sons, and of other excellent ladies who had gay husbands. Her beauty and her voice together were a danger, and must be admired from a distance. Gloria and her husband were asked to many houses on important occasions. Gloria went to see the princesses and duchesses, and found them at home. Their cards appeared regularly at the small house in the Macel de' Corvi, but there was always a mystery as to how they got there, for the princesses and the duchesses themselves did not appear, except once or twice when Francesca Campodonico brought one of her friends with her, gently insisting that there should be a proper call. Gloria understood, and said bitter things about society when she was alone, and by degrees she began to say them to her husband.
"These Romans!" she exclaimed at last. "They believe that there is nobody like themselves!"
Angelo Reanda's face had a pained look, as he laid his long thin hand upon hers.
"My dear," he said gently. "You have married an artist. What would you have? I am sure, people have received us very well."
"Very well! Of course—as though we had not the right to be received well. But, Angelo—do not say such things—that I have married an artist—"
"It is quite true," he answered, with a smile. "I work with my hands. They do not. There is the difference."
"But you are the greatest artist in the world!" she cried enthusiastically, throwing her arms round his neck, and kissing him again and again. "It is ridiculous. In any other city, in London, in Paris, people would run after you, people would not be able to do enough for you. But it is not you; it is I. They do not like me, Angelo, I know that they do not like me! They want me at their big parties, and they want me to sing for them—but that is all. Not one of them wants me for a friend. I am so lonely, Angelo."
Her eyes filled with tears, and he tried to comfort her.
"What does it matter, my heart?" he asked, soothingly. "We have each other, have we not? I, who adore you, and you, who love me—"
"Love you? I worship you! That is why I wish you to have everything the world holds, everything at your feet."
"But I am quite satisfied," objected Reanda, with unwise truth. "Do not think of me."
She loved him, but she wished to put upon him some of her uncontrollable longing for social success, in order to justify herself. To please her, he should have joined in her complaint. Her tears dried suddenly, and her eyes flashed.
"I will think of you!" she cried. "I have nothing else to think of. You shall have it all, everything—they shall know what a man you are!"
"An artist, my dear, an artist. A little better than some, a little less good than others. What can society do for me?"
She sighed, and the colour deepened a little in her cheeks. But she hid her annoyance, for she loved him with a love at once passionate and intentional, compounded of reality and of a strong inborn desire for emotion, a desire closely connected with her longing for the life of the stage, but now suddenly thrown with full force into the channel of her actual life.
Reanda began to understand that his wife was not happy, and the certainty reacted strongly upon him. He became more sad and abstracted from day to day, when he was not with her. He longed, as only a man of such a nature can long, for a friend in whom he could confide, and of whom he could ask advice. He had such a friend, indeed, in Francesca Campodonico, but he was too proud to turn to her, and too deeply conscious that she had done all she could to give Gloria the social position the latter coveted.
Francesca, on her side, was not slow to notice that something was radically wrong. Reanda's manner had changed by degrees since his marriage. His pride made him more formal with the woman to whom he owed so much, and she felt that she could do nothing to break down the barrier which was slowly rising between them. She suffered, in her way, for she was far more sincerely attached to the man than she recognized, or perhaps would have been willing to recognize, when she allowed herself to look the situation fairly in the face. For months she struggled against anything which could make her regret the marriage she had made. But at last she admitted the fact that she regretted it, for it thrust itself upon her and embittered her own life. Then she became conscious in her heart of a silent and growing enmity for Gloria, and of a profound pity for Angelo Reanda. Being ashamed of the enmity, as something both sinful in her eyes, and beneath the nobility of her nature, she expressed it, if that were expression, by allowing her pity for the man to assert itself as it would. That, she told herself, was a form of charity, and could not be wrong, however she looked at it.
All mention of Gloria vanished from her conversation with Reanda when they were alone together. At such times she did her best to amuse him, to interest him, and to take him out of himself. At first she had little success. He answered her, and sometimes even entered into an argument with her, but as soon as the subject dropped, she saw the look of harassed preoccupation returning in his face. So far as his work was concerned, what he did was as good as ever. Francesca thought it was even better. But otherwise he was a changed man.
In the course of the winter Paul Griggs returned. One day Francesca was sitting in the hall with Reanda, when a servant announced that Griggs had asked to see her. She glanced at Reanda's face, and instantly decided to receive the American alone in the drawing-room, on the other side of the house.
"Why do you not receive him here?" asked Reanda, carelessly.
"Because—" she hesitated. "I should rather see him in the drawing-room," she added a moment later, without giving any further explanation.
Griggs told her that he had come back to stay through the year and perhaps longer. She took a kindly interest in the young man, and was glad to hear that he had improved his position and prospects during his absence. He rarely found sympathy anywhere, and indeed needed very little of it. But he was capable of impulse, and he had long ago decided that Francesca was good, discreet, and kind. He answered her questions readily enough, and his still face warmed a little while she talked with him. She, on her part, could not help being interested in the lonely, hard-working man who never seemed to need help of any kind, and was climbing through life by the strength of his own hands. There was about him at that time an air of reserved power which interested though it did not attract those who knew him.
Suddenly he asked about Gloria and her husband. There was an odd abruptness in the question, and a hard little laugh, quite unnecessary, accompanied it. Francesca noted the change of manner, and remembered how she had at first conceived the impression that Griggs admired Gloria, but that Gloria was repelled by him.
"I suppose they are radiantly happy," he said.
Francesca hesitated, being truthful by nature, as well as loyal. There was no reason why Griggs should not ask her the question, which was natural enough, but she had many reasons for not wishing to answer it.
"Are they not happy?" he asked quickly, as her silence roused his suspicions.
"I have never heard anything to the contrary," answered Francesca, dangerously accurate in the statement.
"Oh!" Griggs uttered the ejaculation in a thoughtful tone, but said no more.
"I hope I have not given you the impression that there is anything wrong," said Francesca, showing her anxiety too much.
"I saw Dalrymple in England," answered Griggs, with ready tact. "He seems very well satisfied with the match. By the bye, I daresay you have heard that Dalrymple stands a good chance of dying a peer, if he ever dies at all. With his constitution that is doubtful."
And he went on to explain to Francesca the matter of the Redin title, and that as Dalrymple's elder brother, though married, was childless, he himself would probably come into it some day. Then Griggs took his leave without mentioning Reanda or Gloria again. But Francesca was aware that she had betrayed Reanda's unhappiness to a man who had admired Gloria, and had probably loved her before her marriage. She afterwards blamed herself bitterly and very unjustly for what she had done.
Griggs went away, and called soon afterwards at the small house in the Macel de' Corvi. He found Gloria alone, and she was glad to see him. She told him that Reanda would also be delighted to hear of his return. Griggs, who wrote about everything which gave him an opportunity of using his very various knowledge, wrote also upon art, and besides the first article he had written about Reanda, more than a year previously, had, since then, frequently made allusion to the artist's great talent in his newspaper correspondence. Reanda was therefore under an obligation to the journalist, and Gloria herself was grateful. Moreover, Englishmen who came to Rome had frequently been to see Reanda's work in consequence of the articles. One old gentleman had tried to induce the artist to paint a picture for him, but had met with a refusal, on the ground that the work at the Palazzetto Borgia would occupy at least another year. The Englishman said he should come back and try again.
Between Griggs and Gloria there was the sort of friendly confidence which could not but exist under the circumstances. She had known him long, and he had been her father's only friend in Rome. She remembered him from the time when she had been a mere child, before her sudden transition to womanhood. She trusted him. She understood perfectly well that he loved her, but she believed that she had it in her power to keep his love as completely in the background as he himself had kept it hitherto. Her instinct told her also that Griggs might be a strong ally in a moment of difficulty. His reserved strength impressed her even more than it impressed Francesca Campodonico. She received him gladly, and told him to come again.
He came, and she asked him to dinner, feeling sure that Reanda would wish to see him. He accepted the first invitation and another which followed before long. By insensible degrees, during the winter, Griggs became very intimate at the house, as he had been formerly at Dalrymple's lodgings.
"That young man loves you, my dear," said Reanda, one day in the following spring, with a smile which showed how little anxiety he felt.
Gloria laughed gaily, and patted her husband's hand.
"What men like that call love!" she answered. "Besides—a journalist! And hideous as he is!"
"He certainly has not a handsome face," laughed Reanda. "I am not jealous," he added, with sudden gravity. "The man has done much for my reputation, too, and I know what I owe him. I have good reason for wishing to treat him well, and I am all the more pleased, if you find him agreeable."
He made the rather formal speech in a decidedly formal tone, and with the unconscious intention of justifying himself in some way, though he was far too simple by nature to suspect himself of any complicated motive. She looked at him, but did not quite understand.
"You surely do not suppose that I ever cared for him!" she said, readily suspecting that he suspected her.
He started perceptibly, and looked into her eyes. She was very truly in earnest, but her exaggerated self-consciousness had given her tone a colour which he did not recognize. Some seconds passed before he answered her. Then the gentle light came into his face as he realized how much he loved her.
"How foolish you are, love!" he exclaimed. "But Griggs is younger than I—it would not be so very unnatural if you had cared for him."
She broke out passionately.
"Younger than you! So am I, much younger than you! But you are young, too. I will not have you suggest that you are not young. Of course you are. You are unkind, besides. As though it could make the slightest difference to me, if you were a hundred years old! But you do not understand what my love for you is. You will never understand it. I wish I loved you less; I should be happier than I am."
He drew her to him, reluctant, and the pained look which Francesca knew so well came into his face.
"Are you unhappy, my heart?" he asked gently. "What is it, dear? Tell me!"
She was nervous, and the confession or complaint had been unintentional and the result of irritation more than of anything else. The fact that he had taken it up made matters much worse. She was in that state in which such a woman will make a mountain of a molehill rather than forego the sympathy which her constitution needs in a larger measure than her small sufferings can possibly claim.
"Oh, so unhappy!" she cried softly, hiding her face against his coat, and glad to feel the tears in her eyes.
"But what is it?" he asked very kindly, smoothing her auburn hair with one hand, while the other pressed her to him.
As he looked over her head at the wall, his face showed both pain and perplexity. He had not the least idea what to do, except to humour her as much as he could.
"I am so lonely, sometimes," she moaned. "The days are so long."
"And yet you do not come and sit with me in the mornings, as you used to do at first." There was an accent of regret in his voice.
"She is always there," said Gloria, pressing her face closer to his coat.
"Indeed she is not!" he cried, and she could feel the little breath of indignation he drew. "I am a great deal alone."
"Not half as much as I am."
"But what can I do?" he asked, in despair. "It is my work. It is her palace. You are free to come and go as you will, and if you will not come—"
"I know, I know," she answered, still clinging to him. "You will say it is my fault. It is just like a man. And yet I know that you are there, hour after hour, with her, and she is young and beautiful. And she loves you—oh, I know she loves you!"
Reanda began to lose patience.
"How absurd!" he exclaimed. "It is ridiculous. It is an insult to Donna Francesca to say that she is in love with me."
"It is true." Gloria suddenly raised her head and drew back from him a very little. "I am a woman," she said. "I know and I understand. She meant to sacrifice herself and make you happy, by marrying you to me, and now she regrets it. It is enough to see her. She follows you with her eyes as you move, and there is a look in them—"
Reanda laughed, with an effort.
"It is altogether too absurd!" he said. "I do not know what to say. I can only laugh."
"Because you know it is true," answered Gloria. "It is for your sake that she has done it all, that she makes such a pretence of being friendly to me, that she pushes us into society, and brings her friends here to see me. They never come unless she brings them," she added bitterly. "There is no fear of that. The Duchess of Astrardente would not have her black horses seen standing in the Macel de' Corvi, unless Donna Francesca made her do it and came with her."
"Why not?" asked Reanda, simply, for his Italian mind did not grasp the false shame which Gloria felt in living in a rather humble neighbourhood.
"She would not have people know that she had friends living in such a place," Gloria answered.
Unwittingly she had dealt Reanda a deadly thrust.
He had fallen in love with her and had married her on the understanding with himself, so to say, that she was in all respects as much a great lady as Donna Francesca herself, and he had taken it for granted that she must be above such pettiness. The lodging was extremely good and had the advantage of being very conveniently situated for his work. It had never struck him that because it was in an unfashionable position, Gloria could imagine that the people she knew would hesitate to come and see her. Since their marriage she had done and said many little things which had shaken his belief in the thoroughness of her refinement. She had suddenly destroyed that belief now, by a single foolish speech. It would be hard to build it up again.
Like many men of genius he could not forgive his own mistake, and Gloria was involved in this one. Moreover, as an Italian, he fancied that she secretly suspected him of meanness, and when Italians are not mean, there is nothing which they resent more than being thought to be so. He had plenty of money, for he had always lived very simply before his marriage, and Dalrymple gave Gloria an allowance.
His tone changed, when he answered her, but she was far from suspecting what she had done.
"We will get another apartment at once," he said quietly.
"No," she answered at once, protesting, "you must not do anything of the kind! What an idea! To change our home merely because it is not on the Corso or the Piazza di Venezia!"
"You would prefer the Corso?" inquired Angelo. "That is natural. It is more gay."
The reflexion that the view of the deserted Forum of Trajan was dull suggested itself to him as a Roman, knowing the predilection of Roman women of the middle class for looking out of the window.
"It is ridiculous!" cried Gloria. "You must not think of it. Besides—the expense—"
"The expense does not enter into the question, my dear," he answered, having fully made up his mind. "You shall not live in a place to which you think your friends may hesitate to come."
"Friends! They are not my friends, and they never mean to be," she replied more hotly. "Why should I care whether they will take the trouble to come and see me or not? Let them stay away, if I am not good enough for them. Tell Donna Francesca not to bring them—not to come herself any more. I hate to feel that she is thrusting me down the throat of a society that does not want me! She only does it to put me under an obligation to her. I am sure she talks about me behind my back and says horrid things—"
"You are very unjust," said Reanda, hurt by the vulgarity of the speech and deeply wounded in his own pride.
"You defend her! You see!" And the colour rose in Gloria's cheeks.
"She has done nothing that needs defence. She has acted always with the greatest kindness to me and to us. You have no right to suppose that she says unkind things of you when you are not present. I cannot imagine what has come over you to-day. It must be the weather. It is sirocco."
Gloria turned away angrily, thinking that he was laughing at her, whereas the suggestion about the weather was a perfectly natural one in Rome, where the southeast wind has an undoubted effect upon the human temper.
But the seeds of much discussion were sown on that close spring afternoon. Reanda was singularly tenacious of small purposes, as he was of great ideas where his art was concerned, and his nature though gentle was unforgiving, not out of hardness, but because he was so sensitive that his illusions were easy to destroy.
He went out and forthwith began to search for an apartment of which his wife should have no cause to complain. In the course of a week he found what he wanted. It was a part of the second floor of one of the palaces on the Corso, not far from the Piazza di Venezia. It was partially furnished, and without speaking to Gloria he had it made comfortable within a few days. When it was ready, he gave her short warning that they were to move immediately.
Strange to say, Gloria was very much displeased, and did not conceal her annoyance. She really liked the small house in the Macel de' Corvi, and resented the way in which her husband had taken her remarks about the situation. To tell the truth, Reanda had deceived himself with the idea that she would be delighted at the change, and had spent money rather lavishly, in the hope of giving her a pleasant surprise. He was proportionately disappointed by her unexpected displeasure.
"What was the use of spending so much money?" she asked, with a discontented face. "People will not come to see us because we live in a fine house."
"I did not take the house with that intention, my dear," said Reanda, gently, but wounded and repelled by the remark and the tone.
"Well then, we might have stayed where we were," she answered. "It was much cheaper, and there was more sun for the winter."
"But this is gayer," objected Reanda. "You have the Corso under the window."
"As though I looked out of the window!" exclaimed Gloria, scornfully. "It was so nice—our little place there."
"You are hard to please, my dear," said the artist, coldly.
Then she saw that she had hurt him, which she had not meant to do. Her own nature was self-conscious and greedy of emotion, but not sensitive. She threw her arms round him, and kissed him and thanked him.
But Reanda was not satisfied. Day by day when Francesca looked at him, she saw the harassed expression deepening in his face, and she felt that every furrow was scored in her own heart. And she, in her turn, grew very grave and thoughtful.
PAUL GRIGGS was a man compounded of dominant qualities and dormant contradictions of them which threatened at any moment to become dominant in their turn for a time. He himself almost believed that he had two separate individualities, if not two distinct minds.
It may be doubted whether it can be good for any man to dwell long upon such an idea in connexion with himself, however distinctly he may see in others the foundation of truth on which it rests. To Griggs, however, it presented itself so clearly that he found it impossible not to take it into consideration in the more important actions of his life. The two men were very sharply distinguished in his thoughts. The one man would do what the other would not. The other could think thoughts above the comprehension of the first.
The one was material, keen, strong, passionate, and selfish; pre-eminently adapted for hard work; conscientious in the force of its instinct to carry out everything undertaken by it to the very end, and judging that whatever it undertook was good and worth finishing; having something of the nature of a strong piece of clockwork which being wound up must run to the utmost limit before stopping, whether regulated to move fast or slow, with a fateful certainty independent of will; possessed of such uncommon strength as to make it dangerous if opposed while moving, and at the same time having an extraordinary inertia when not wound up to do a certain piece of work; self-reliant to a fault, as the lion is self-reliant in the superiority of physical endowment; gentle when not opposed, because almost incapable of action without a determinate object and aim; but developing an irresistible momentum when the inertia was overcome; thorough, in the sense in which the tide is thorough, in rising evenly and all at the same time, and as ruthless as the tide because it was that part of the whole man which was a result, and which, therefore, when once set in motion was almost beyond his control; reasonable only because, as a result, it followed its causes logically, and required a real cause to move it at first.
The other man in him was very different, almost wholly independent of the first, and very generally in direct conflict with it, at that time. It was an imaginative and meditative personality, easily deceived into assuming a false premise, but logical beyond all liability to deception when reasoning from anything it had accepted. Its processes were intuitively correct and almost instantaneous, while its assumptions were arbitrary in the extreme. It might begin to act at any point whatsoever, and unlike the material man, which required a will to move it at first, it struck spontaneously with the directness of straight lightning from one point to another, never misled in its path, though often fatally mistaken in the value of the points themselves.
Most men who have thought much, wisely or foolishly, and who have seen much, good or bad, are more or less conscious of their two individualities. Idle and thoughtless people are not, as a rule. With Griggs, the two were singularly distinct and independent. Sometimes it seemed to him that he sat in judgment, as a third person, between them. At other moments he felt himself wholly identified with the one and painfully aware of the opposition of the other. The imaginative part of him despised the material part for its pride of life and lust of living. The material part laughed to scorn the imaginative one for its false assumptions and unfounded beliefs. When he could abstract himself from both, he looked upon the intuitive personality as being himself in every true sense of the word, and upon the material man as a monstrous overgrowth and encumbrance upon his more spiritual self.
When he began to love Gloria Dalrymple, she appealed to both sides of his nature. For once, the spiritual instinct coincided with the direction given to the material man by a very earthly passion.
The cause of this was plain enough and altogether simple. The spiritual instinct had taken the lead. He had known Gloria before she had been a woman to be loved. The maiden genius of the girl had spoken to the higher man from a sphere above material things, and had created in him one of those assumed premises for subsequent spiritual intuition from which he derived almost the only happiness he knew. Then, all at once, the woman had sprung into existence, and her young beauty had addressed itself to the young gladiator with overwhelming force. The woman fascinated him, and the angelic being his imagination had assumed in the child still enchanted him.
He was not like Reanda; for his sensitiveness was one-sided, and therefore only half vulnerable. Gloria's faults were insignificant accidents of a general perfectness, the result of having arbitrarily assumed a perfect personality. They could not make the path of his spiritual intuitive love waver, and they produced no effect at all against his direct material passion. To destroy the prime beautiful illusion, something must take place which would upset the mistaken assumption from a point beyond it, so to say. As for the earthly part of his love, it was so strong that it might well stand alone, even if the other should disappear altogether.
Then came honour, and the semi-religious morality of the man, defending the woman against him, for the sake of the angel he saw through her. Chief of all, in her defence, stood his own conviction that she did not love him, and never would, nor ever could. To all intents and purposes, too, he had been her father's friend, though between the two men there had been little but the similarity of their gloomy characters. It was the will of the material man to be governed, and as no outward influence set it in motion, it remained inert, in unstable equilibrium, as a vast boulder may lie for ages on the very edge of a precipice, ready but not inclined to fall. There was fatality in its stillness, and in the certainty that if moved it must crash through everything it met.
Gloria had not the least understanding of the real man. She thought about him often during the months which followed his return, and a week rarely passed in which she did not see him two or three times. Her thoughts of him were too ignorant to be confused. She was conscious, rather than aware, that he loved her, but it seemed quite natural to her, at her age, that he should never express his love by any word or deed.
But she compared him with her husband, innocently and unconsciously, in matters where comparison was almost unavoidable. His leonine strength of body impressed her strongly, and she felt his presence in the room, even when she was not looking at him. Reanda was physically a weak and nervous man. When he was painting, the movements of his hand seemed to be independent of his will and guided by a superior unseen power, rather than directed by his judgment and will. Paul Griggs never made the slightest movement which did not strike Gloria as the expression of his will to accomplish something. He was wonderfully skilful with his hands. Whatever he meant to do, his fingers did, forthwith, unhesitatingly. His mental processes were similar, so far as she could see. If she asked him a question, he answered it categorically and clearly, if he were able. If not, he said so, and relapsed into silence, studying the problem, or trying to force his memory to recall a lost item. Reanda, on the other hand, answered most questions with the expression of a vague opinion, often right, but apparently not founded on anything particular. The accuracy of Griggs sometimes irritated the artist perceptibly, in conversation; but he took an interest in what Griggs wrote, and made Gloria translate many of the articles to him, reading aloud in Italian from the English. Strange to say, they pleased him for the very qualities which he disliked in the man's talk. The Italian mind, when it has developed favourably, is inclined to specialism rather than to generalization, and Griggs wrote of many things as though he were a specialist. He had enormous industry and great mechanical power of handling language.
"I have no genius," he said one day to Gloria, when she had been admiring something he had written, and using the extravagant terms of praise which rose easily to her lips. "Your husband has genius, but I have none. Some day I shall astonish you all by doing something very remarkable. But it will not be a work of genius."
It was in the late autumn days, more than a year and a half after Gloria's marriage. The southeast wind was blowing down the Corso, and the pavements were yellow and sticky with the moistened sand-blast from the African desert. The grains of sand are really found in the air at such times. It is said that the undoubted effect of the sirocco on the temper of Southern Italy is due to the irritation caused by inhaling the fine particles with the breath. Something there is in that especial wind, which changes the tempers of men and women very suddenly and strangely.
Gloria and her companion were seated in the drawing-room that afternoon, and the window was open. The wind stirred the white curtains, and now and then blew them inward and twisted them round the inner ones, which were of a dark grey stuff with broad brown velvet bands, in a fashion then new. Gloria had been singing, and sat leaning sideways on the desk of the grand piano. A tall red Bohemian glass stood beside the music on one of the little sliding shelves meant for the candles, and there were a few flowers in it, fresh an hour ago, but now already half withered and drooping under the poisonous breath of the southeast. The warm damp breeze came in gusts, and stirred the fading leaves and Gloria's auburn hair, and the sheet of music upright on the desk. Griggs sat in a low chair not far from her, his still face turned towards her, his shadowy eyes fixed on her features, his sinewy hands clasped round his crossed knees. The nature of the great athlete showed itself even in repose—the broad dark throat set deep in the chest, the square solidity of the shoulders, the great curved lines along the straightened arms, the small, compact head, with its close, dark hair, bent somewhat forward in the general relaxation of the resting muscles. In his complete immobility there was the certainty of instant leaping and flash-like motion which one feels rather than sees in the sleeping lion.
Gloria looked at him thoughtfully with half-closed lids.
"I shall surprise you all," he repeated slowly, "but it will not be genius."
"You will not surprise me," Gloria answered, still meeting his eyes. "As for genius, what is it?"
"It is what you have when you sing," said Griggs. "It is what Reanda has when he paints."
"Then why not what you do when you write?"
"The difference is simple enough. Reanda does things well because he cannot help it. When I do a thing well it is because I work so hard at it that the thing cannot help being done by me. Do you understand?"
"I always understand what you tell me. You put things so clearly. Yes, I think I understand you better than you understand yourself."
Griggs looked down at his hands and was silent for a moment. Mechanically he moved his thumb from side to side and watched the knot of muscle between it and the forefinger, as it swelled and disappeared with each contraction.
"Perhaps you do understand me. Perhaps you do," he said at last. "I have known you a long time. It must be four years, at least—ever since I first came here to work. It has been a long piece of life."
"Indeed it has," Gloria answered, and a moment later she sighed.
The wind blew the sheet of music against her. She folded it impatiently, threw it aside and resumed her position, resting one elbow on the narrow desk. The silence lasted several seconds, and the white curtains flapped softly against the heavy ones.
"I wonder whether you understand my life at all," she said presently.
"I am not sure that I do. It is a strange life, in some ways—like yourself."
"Am I strange?"
"What makes you think so?"
Again he was silent for a time. His face was very still. It would have been impossible to guess from it that he felt any emotion at the moment.
"Do you like compliments?" he asked abruptly.
"That depends upon whether I consider them compliments or not," she answered, with a little laugh.
"You are a very perfect woman in very imperfect surroundings," said Griggs.
"That is not a compliment to the surroundings, at all events. I do not know whether to laugh or not. Shall I?"
"If you will. I like to hear you laugh."
"You should hear me cry!" And she laughed again at herself.
"God forbid!" he said gravely.
"I do sometimes," she answered, and her face grew suddenly sad, as he watched her.
He felt a quick pain for her in his heart.
"I am sorry you have told me so," he said. "I do not like to think of it. Why should you cry? What have you to cry for?"
"What should you think?" she asked lightly, though no smile came with the words.
"I cannot guess. Tell me. Is it because you still wish to be a singer? Is that it?"
"No. That is not it."
"Then I cannot guess." He looked for the answer in her face. "Will you tell me?" he asked after a pause.
"Of what use could it be?" Her eyes met his for a moment, the lids fell, and she turned away. "Will you shut the window?" she said suddenly. "The wind blows the things about. Besides, it is getting late."
He rose and went to the window. She watched him as he shut it, turning his back to her, so that his figure stood out distinct and black against the light. She realized what a man he was. With those arms and those shoulders he could do anything, as he had once caught her in the air and saved her life, and then, again, as he had broken the cords that night at Mendoza's house. There was nothing physical which such a man could not do. He was something on which to rely in her limited life, an absolute contrast to her husband, whose vagueness irritated her, while his deadness of sensibility, where she had wrung his sensitiveness too far, humiliated her in her own eyes. She had kept her secret long, she thought, though she had kept it for the simple reason that she had no one in whom to confide.
Griggs came back from the window and sat down near her again in the low chair, looking up into her face.
"Mr. Griggs," she said, turning from his eyes and looking into the piano, "you asked me a question just now. I should like to answer it, if I were quite sure of you."
"Are you not sure of me?" he asked. "I think you might be, by this time. We were just saying that we had known each other so long."
"Yes. But—all sorts of things have happened in that time, you know. I am not the same as I was when I first knew you."
"No. You are married. That is one great difference."
"Too great," said she. "Honestly, do you think me improved since my marriage?"
"Improved? No. Why should you improve? You are just what you were meant to be, as you always were."
"I know. You called me a perfect woman a little while ago, and you said my surroundings were imperfect. You must have meant that they did not suit me, or that I did not suit them. Which was it?"
"They ought to suit you," said Griggs. "If they do not, it is not your fault."
"But I might have done something to make them suit me. I sometimes think that I have not treated them properly."
"Why should you blame yourself? You did not make them, and they cannot unmake you. You have a right to be yourself. Everybody has. It is the first right. Your surroundings owe you more than you owe to them, because you are what you are, and they are not what they ought to be. Let them bear the blame. As for not treating them properly, no one could accuse you of that."
"I do not know—some one might. People are so strange, sometimes."
She stopped, and he answered nothing. Looking down into the open piano, she idly watched the hammers move as she pressed the keys softly with one hand.
"Some people are just like this," she said, smiling, and repeating the action. "If you touch them in a certain way, they answer. If you press them gently, they do not understand. Do you see? The hammer comes just up to the string, and then falls back again without making any noise. I suppose those are my surroundings. Sometimes they answer me, and sometimes they do not. I like things I can be sure of."
"And by things you mean people," suggested Griggs.
"And by your surroundings you mean—what?"
"You know," she answered in a low voice, turning her face still further away from him.
She hesitated for a moment, knowing that her answer must have weight on the man.
"I suppose so," she said at last. "I ought not to say so—ought I? Tell me the truth."
"The truth is, you are unhappy," he answered slowly. "There is no reason why you should not tell me so. Perhaps I might help you, if you would let me."
He almost regretted that he had said so much, little as it was. But she had wished him to say it, and more, also. Still turning from him, she rested her chin in her hand. His face was still, but there was the beginning of an expression in it which she had never seen. Now that the window was shut it was very quiet in the room, and the air was strangely heavy and soft and dim. Now and then the panes rattled a little. Griggs looked at the graceful figure as Gloria sat thinking what she should say. He followed the lines till his eyes rested on what he could see of her averted face. Then he felt something like a sharp, quick blow at his temples, and the blood rose hot to his throat. At the same instant came the bitter little pang he had known long, telling him that she had never loved him and never could.
"Are you really my friend?" she asked softly.
"Yes." The word almost choked him, for there was not room for it and for the rest.
She turned quietly and surveyed the marble mask with curious inquiry.
"Why do you say it like that," she asked; "as though you would rather not? Do you grudge it?"
"No." He spoke barely above his breath.
"How you say it!" she exclaimed, with a little laugh that could not laugh itself out, for there was a strange tension in the air, and on her and on him. "You might say it better," she added, the pupils of her eyes dilating a little so that the room looked suddenly larger and less distinct.
She knew the sensation of coming emotion, and she loved it. She had never thought before that she could get it by talking with Paul Griggs. He did not answer her.
"Perhaps you meant it," she said presently. "I hardly know. Did you?"
"Please be reasonable," said Griggs, indistinctly, and his hands gripped each other on his knee.
"How oddly you talk!" she exclaimed. "What have I said that was unreasonable?"
She felt that the emotion she had expected was slipping from her, and her nerves unconsciously resented the disappointment. She was out of temper in an instant.
"You cannot understand," he answered. "There is no reason why you should. Forgive me. I am nervous to-day."
"You? Nervous?" She laughed again, with a little scorn. "You are not capable of being nervous."
She was dimly conscious that she was provoking him to something, she knew not what, and that he was resisting her. He did not answer her last words. She went back to the starting-point again, dropping her voice to a sadder key.
"Honestly, will you be my friend?" she asked, with a gentle smile.
"Heart and soul—and hand, too, if you want it," he said, for he had recovered his speech. "Tell me what the trouble is. If I can, I will take you out of it."
It was rather an odd speech, and she was struck by the turn of the phrase, which expressed more strength than doubt of power to do anything he undertook.
"I believe you could," she said, looking at him. "You are so strong. You could do anything."
"Things are never so hard as they look, if one is willing to risk everything," he answered. "And when one has nothing to lose," he added, as an after-thought.
She sighed, and turned away again, half satisfied.
"There is nothing to risk," she said. "It is not a case of danger. And you cannot take my trouble and tear it up like a pack of cards with those hands of yours. I wish you could. I am unhappy—yes, I have told you so. But what can you do to help me? You cannot make my surroundings what they are not, you know."
"No—I cannot change your husband," said Griggs.
She started a little, but still looked away.
"No. You cannot make him love me," she said, softly and sadly.
The big hands lost their hold on one another, and the deep eyes opened a little wider. But she was not watching him.
"Do you mean to say—" He stopped.
She slowly bent her head twice, but said nothing.
"Reanda does not love you?" he said, in wondering interrogation. "Why—I thought—" He hesitated.
"He cares no more for me than—that!" The hand that stretched towards him across the open piano tapped the polished wood once, and sharply.
"Are you in serious earnest?" asked Griggs, bending forward, as though to catch her first look when she should turn.
"Does any one jest about such things?" He could just see that her lips curled a little as she spoke.
"And you—you love him still?" he asked, with pressing voice.
"Yes—I love him. The more fool I."
The words did not grate on him, as they would have jarred on her husband's ear. The myth he had imagined made perfections of the woman's faults.
"It is a pity," he said, resting his forehead in his hand. "It is a deadly pity."
Then she turned at last and saw his attitude.
"You see," she said. "There is nothing to be done. Is there? You know my story now. I have married a man I worship, and he does not care for me. Take it and twist it as you may, it comes to that and nothing else. You can pity me, but you cannot help me. I must bear it as well as I can, and as long as I must. It will end some day—or I will make it end."
"For God's sake do not talk like that!"
"How should I talk? What should I say? Is it of any use to speak to him? Do you think I have not begged him, implored him, besought him, almost on my knees, to give up that work and do other things?"
Griggs looked straight into her eyes a moment and then almost understood what she meant.
"You mean that he—that when he is painting there—" He hesitated.
"Of course. All day long. All the bitter live-long day! They sit there together on pretence of talking about it. You know—you can guess at least—it is the old, old story, and I have to suffer for it. She could not marry him—because she is a princess and he an artist—good enough for me—God knows, I love him! Too good for her, ten thousand times too good! But yet not good enough for her to marry! He needed a wife, and she brought us together, and I suppose he told her that I should do very well for the purpose. I was a good subject. I fell in love with him—that was what they wanted. A wife for her favourite! O God! When I think of it—"
She stopped suddenly and buried her face in both her hands, as she leaned upon the piano.
"It is not to be believed!" The strong man's voice vibrated with the rising storm of anger.
She looked up again with flashing eyes and pale cheeks.
"No!" she cried. "It is not to be believed! But you see it now. You see what it all is, and how my life is wrecked and ruined before it is half begun. It would be bad enough if I had married him for his fame, for his face, for his money, for anything he has or could have. But I married him because I loved him with all my soul, and worshipped him and everything he did."
"I know. We all saw it."
"Of course—was it anything to hide? And I thought he loved me, too. Do you know?" She grew more calm. "At first I used to go and sit in the hall when he was at work. Then he grew silent, and I felt that he did not want me. I thought it was because he was such a great artist, and could not talk and work, and wanted to be alone. So I stayed away. Then, once, I went there, and she was there, sitting in that great chair—it shows off the innocence of her white face, you know! The innocence of it!" Gloria laughed bitterly. "They were talking when I came, and they stopped as soon as the door opened. I am sure they were talking about me. Then they seemed dreadfully uncomfortable, and she went away. After that I went several times. Once or twice she came in while I was there. Then she did not come any more. He must have told her, of course. He kept looking at the door, though, as if he expected her at any moment. But she never came again in those days. I could not bear it—his trying to talk to me, and evidently wishing all the time that she would come. I gave up going altogether at last. What could I do? It was unbearable. It was more than flesh and blood could stand."
"I do not wonder that you hate her," said Griggs. "I have often thought you did."
Gloria smiled sadly.
"Yes," she answered. "I hate her with all my heart. She has robbed me of the only thing I ever had worth having—if I ever had it. I sometimes wonder—or rather, no. I do not wonder, for I know the truth well enough. I have been over and over it again and again in the night. He never loved me. He never could love any one but her. He knew her long ago, and has loved her all his life. Why should he put me in her place? He admired me. I was a beautiful plaything—no, not beautiful—" She paused.
"You are the most beautiful woman in the world," said Paul Griggs, with deep conviction.
He saw the blush of pleasure in her face, saw the fluttering of the lids. But he neither knew that she had meant him to say it, nor did he judge of the vast gulf her mind must have instantaneously bridged, from the outpouring of her fancied injuries and of her hatred for Francesca Campodonico, to the unconcealable satisfaction his words gave her.