It was necessary to find a better lodging than the one in the Via della Frezza, and to provide as well as he could for Gloria's comfort. He was met by a difficulty upon which he had not reflected as yet, though he had been dimly aware of it more than once during the past twelve hours.
He was almost penniless, and he had no means of obtaining money at short notice. The payments he received from the newspapers for which he worked came regularly, but were not due for at least three weeks from that day. Alone in his bachelor existence he could have got through the time very well and without any greater privations than his capriciously ascetic nature had often imposed upon itself.
He was not an improvident man, but in his lonely existence he had no sense of future necessities, and the weakest point in his judgment was his undiscriminating generosity. Of the value of money as a store against possible needs, he had no appreciation at all, and he gave away what he earned beyond his most pressing requirements in secret and often ill-judged charities, whenever an occasion of doing so presented itself, though he never sought one. For himself, he was able to subsist on bread and water, and the meagre fare was scarcely a privation to his hardy constitution. If he chanced to have no money to spare for fuel, he bore the cold and buttoned up his old pea-jacket to the throat while he sat at work at his table. His self-respect made him wise and careful in regard to his dress, but in other matters many a handicraftsman was accustomed to more luxury than he. At the present juncture he had been taken unawares, and he found himself in great difficulty. He had left himself barely enough for subsistence until the arrival of the next remittance, and that meant but a very few scudi; and yet he knew that certain expenses must be met immediately, almost within the twenty-four hours. The very first thing was to get a lodging suitable for Gloria. It would be necessary to pay at least one month's rent in advance. Even if he were able to do that, he would be left without a penny for daily expenses. He had no bank account; for he cashed the drafts he received and kept the money in his room. He had never borrowed of an acquaintance, and the idea was repulsive to him and most humiliating. Had he possessed any bit of jewelry, or anything of value, he would have sold the object, but he had nothing of the kind. His books were practically valueless, consisting of such volumes as he absolutely needed for his daily use, chiefly cheap editions, poorly bound and well worn. He needed at least fifty scudi, and he did not possess quite ten. Three weeks earlier he had sent a hundred, anonymously, to free a starving artist from debt.
His position was only very partially enviable just then, but the bright north wind seemed to blow his troubles back from him as he faced it, walking home from his ineffectual attempt to meet Reanda. It was very unlike the man to return to his lodging without having accomplished anything, but he was hardly conscious of the fact. The face of the ancient city was suddenly changed, and it seemed as though nothing could go wrong if he would only allow fortune to play her own game without interference. He walked lightly, and there was a little colour in his face. He tried to think of what he should do to meet his present difficulties, but when he thought of them they were whirled away, shapeless and unrecognizable, and he felt a sense of irresistible power with each breath of the crisp dry air.
As he went along he glanced at the houses he passed, and on some of the doors were little notices scrawled in queer handwritings and telling that a lodging was to let. Occasionally he paused, looked up and hesitated, and then he went on. The difficulty was suddenly before him, and he knew that even if he looked at the rooms he could not hire them, as he had not enough money to cover the first month's rent. Immediately he attempted to devise some means of raising the sum he needed, but before he had reached the very next corner the clear north wind had blown the trouble away like a cobweb. With all his strength and industry and determination, he was still a very young man, and perplexity had no hold upon him since passion had taken its own way.
He reached the corner of his own street and stood still for a few moments. He could almost have smiled at himself as he paused. He had been out more than an hour and had done nothing, thought out nothing, made no definite plan for the future. His present poverty, which was desperate enough, had put on a carnival mask and laughed at him, as it were, and ran away when he tried to grapple with it and look it in the face. Gloria was there, upstairs in that tall house on which the morning sun was shining, and nothing else could possibly matter. But if anything mattered, it would be simple to talk it over together and to decide it in common.
Suddenly he felt ashamed of himself and of the confusion of his own intelligence. There was something meek and childish in standing still at the street corner, watching the people as they went by, listening to the regularly recurring yell of the man who was selling country vegetables from a hand-cart, and looking into the faces of people who went by, as though expecting to find there some solution of a difficulty which his disturbed powers of concentration did not clearly grasp. He could not think connectedly, much less could he reason sensibly. He made a few steps forward towards his house, and then stopped again, asking himself what he was going to do. He felt that he had no right to go back to Gloria until he had decided something for the future. He felt like a boy who has been sent on an errand, and who comes back having forgotten what he was to do. All at once he had lost his hold upon the logic of common-sense, and when he groped for a thread that might lead him, he was suddenly dazzled by the blaze of his happiness and deafened by the voice of his own joy.
He went on again and came to his own door. The one-eyed cobbler was at work, astride of his little bench with a brown pot of coals beside him. From time to time, when he had drawn the waxed yarn out through the leather on both sides, he blew into his black hands. Griggs stood still and looked at him in idle indetermination, and only struggling against the power that drew him towards the stairs.
"A fine north wind," observed Griggs, by way of salutation.
"It seems that it must be said," grunted the old man, punching a fresh hole in the sole he was cobbling. "To me, my fingers say it. It has always been a fine trade, this cobbling. It is a gentleman's trade because one is always sitting down."
"I am going to change my lodging," said Griggs.
The cobbler looked up, resting his dingy fists upon the bench on each side of the shoe, his awl in one hand, the other half encased in a leathern sheath, black with age.
"After so many years!" he exclaimed. "The world will also come to an end. I expected that it would. Now where will you take lodging?"
"Where I can find one. I want a little apartment—"
"It seems that your affairs go better," observed the old man, scrutinizing the other's face with his one eye.
"No. No better. That is the trouble. I want a little apartment, and I do not want to pay for it till the end of the first month."
"Then wait till the end of the month before you move to it, Signore."
"That is impossible."
"Then there is a female," said the cobbler, without the slightest hesitation. "I understand. Why did you not say so?"
Griggs hesitated. The man's guess had taken him by surprise. He reflected that it could make no difference whether the old cobbler knew of Gloria's coming or not.
"There is a signora—a relation of mine—who has come to Rome."
"A fair signora? Very beautiful? With a little eye of the devil? I have seen. Thanks be to heaven, one eye is still good. You are dark, and your family is fair. How can it interest me?"
"What? Has she gone out?" asked Griggs, in sudden anxiety. "When?"
"I had guessed!" exclaimed the cobbler, with a grunting laugh, and he ran the delicate bristles, which pointed the yarn, in opposite directions through the hole he had made, caught one yarn round the knot on the handle of the awl and the other round the leather sheath on his left hand. He drew the yarn tight to his arm's length with a vicious jerk.
"When did the signora go out?" enquired Griggs, repeating his question.
"It may be half an hour ago. Apoplexy! If your relations are all as beautiful as that!"
But Griggs was already moving towards the staircase. The cobbler called him back, and he stood still at the foot of the steps.
"There is the little apartment on the left, on the third floor," said the man. "The lodgers went away yesterday. I was going to ask you to write me a notice to put up on the door. As for paying, the padrone will not mind, seeing that you are an old lodger. It is good, do you know? There is sun. There is also a kitchen. There are five rooms with the entry."
"I will take it," said Griggs, instantly, and he ran up the stairs.
He was breathless with anxiety as he entered his work-room, and looked about him for something which should tell him where Gloria was gone. Almost instantly his eyes fell upon a sheet of paper lying before his accustomed seat. The writing on it was hers.
"I have gone to tell him. I shall be back soon."
That was all it said, but it was enough to blacken the sun that streamed through the windows upon the old carpet. Griggs sat down and rested his head in his hand. With the cloud that came between him and happiness, his powers of reason returned, and he saw quickly, in the pre-vision of logic, a scene of violence and anger between husband and wife, a possible reconciliation, and the instant wreck of his storm-driven love. It was impossible to know what Gloria would tell Reanda.
At the same instant the difficulties of his position rushed upon him and demanded an instant solution. He looked about him at the poor room, the miserable furniture, and the worn-out carpet, and the horror of poverty smote him in the face. He had allowed Gloria to come to him, and he knew that he could not support her decently. He had never found himself in so desperate a position in the course of his short and adventurous life. He could face anything when he alone was to suffer privation, but it was horrible to force misery upon the woman he loved.
Then, too, he asked himself what was to happen to Gloria if Reanda killed him, as was possible enough. And if he were not killed, there was Dalrymple, her father, who might return at any moment. No one could foretell what the Scotchman would do. It would be like him to do nothing except to refuse ever to see his daughter again. But he, also, might choose to fight, though his English traditions would be against it. In any case, Gloria ran the risk of being left alone, ruined and unprotected.
But the present problem was a meaner one, though not less desperate in its way. He reproached himself with having wasted even an hour when the case was so urgent. Without longer hesitation, he began to write letters to the editors for whom he worked, requesting them as a favour to advance the next remittance. Even then, he could scarcely expect to have money in less than ten days, and there was no one to whom he would willingly turn for help. Under ordinary circumstances he would have gone without food for days rather than have borrowed of an acquaintance, but he realized that he must overcome any such false pride within a day or two, at the risk of making Gloria suffer.
In those first hours he was not conscious of any question of right or wrong in what had taken place. Honour, in a rather worldly sense, had always supplied for him the place of all other moral considerations. The woman he loved had been ill-treated by her husband, and had come to him for protection. He had done his best, in spite of his love, to make her go back, and she had known how to refuse. Men, as men, would not blame him for what he was doing. Gloria, as a woman, could never reproach him with having tempted her. He might suffer for his deeds, but he could never blush for them.
MEANWHILE, Gloria had gone out alone, intending to find her husband and to tell him that the die was cast, that she had left him in haste and anger, but that she never would return to his house. She felt that she must live through the chain of emotions to the very last link, as it were, until she could feel no more. It was like her to go straight to Reanda and take up the battle where she had interrupted it. Her anger had been sudden, but it was not brief. She had left weakness, and had found strength to add to her own, and she wished the man who had hurt her to feel how strong she was, and how she was able to take her life out of his hands and to keep it for herself, and live it as she pleased in spite of him and every one. The wild blood that ran in her veins was free, now, and she meant that no one but herself should ever again have the right to thwart it, to tell her heart that it should beat so many times in each minute and no more. She was perfectly well aware that she was accepting social ruin with her freedom, but she had long nourished a rancorous hatred for the society which had seemed to accept her under protest, for Francesca's sake, and she was ready enough to turn her back on it before it should finally make up its polite mind to relegate her to the middle distance of indifferent toleration.
As for Reanda, on that first morning she hated him with all her soul, for himself, and for what he had done to her. She had words ready for him, and she turned and fitted them in her heart that they might cut him and stab him as long as he could feel. The selfishness with a tendency to cruelty which was a working spring of her father's character was strong in her, and craved the satisfaction of wounding. A part of the sudden joy in life which she felt as she walked towards what had been her home, lay in the certainty of dealing back fourfold hurt for every real and fancied injury she had ever suffered at Reanda's hands.
She felt quite sure of finding him. She did not imagine it possible that after what had happened he should go to the Palazzetto Borgia to work as usual. Besides, he must have discovered her absence by this time, and would in all probability be searching for her. She smiled at the idea, and she went swiftly on, keenly ready to give all the pain she could.
At her own door the servant seemed surprised to see her. Every one had supposed that she was still in her room, for it was not yet midday, and she sometimes slept very late. She glanced at the hall table and saw her key lying amongst the cards where she had thrown it when she had left the house. The servant did not see her take it, for she made a pretence of turning the cards over to find some particular one. She asked indifferently about her husband. The man said that Reanda had gone out as usual. Gloria started a little in surprise, and inquired whether he had left no message for her. On hearing that he had given none, she sent the servant away, went to her own room, and locked herself in.
With a curious Scotch caution very much at variance with her conduct, she reflected that as the servants were evidently not aware of what had taken place, they might as well be kept in the dark. In a few moments she gave the room the appearance which it usually had in the morning. With perfect calmness she dressed for the day, and then rang for her maid.
She told the woman that she had slept badly, had got up early, and had gone out for a long walk; that she now intended to leave Rome for a few days, for a change of air, and must have what she needed packed within an hour. She gave a few orders, clearly and concisely, and then went out again, leaving word that if Reanda returned he should be told that she was coming back very soon.
Clearly, she thought, he must have supposed that she was still sleeping, and he had gone to his painting without any further thought of her. Again she smiled, and a line of delicate cruelty was faintly shadowed about her lips. She left the house and walked in the direction of the Palazzetto. Reanda always came home to the midday breakfast, and it was nearly time for him to be on his way. Gloria knew every turning which he would take, and she hoped to meet him. Her eyes flashed in anticipation of the contest, and she felt that he would not be able to meet them. They would be too bright for him. There was a small mark on her cheek still, where one of the sharp edges of the ivory slats had scratched her fair skin, and there was a slight redness on that side, but the bright red bar was gone. She was glad of it, as she nodded to a passing acquaintance.
She wished to assure herself that her husband was really at the Palazzetto, and she inquired of the porter at the great gate whether Reanda had been seen that morning. The man said that he had come at the usual hour, and stood aside for her to pass, but she turned from him abruptly and went away without a word.
The blood rose in her cheeks, and her heart beat angrily. He had attached no more importance than this to what he had done, and had gone to his painting as though nothing had happened. He had not even tried to see her in the morning to beg her pardon for having struck her. Strange to say, in spite of what she herself had done, that was what most roused her anger. She demanded the satisfaction of his asking her forgiveness, as though she had no fault to find with herself. In comparison with his cowardly violence to her, her leaving him for Griggs was as nothing in her eyes.
She walked more slowly as she went homewards, and the unspoken bitterness of her heart choked her, and the sharp words she could not speak cut her cruelly. She compared the hand that had dared to hurt though it had not strength to kill, with that other, dearer, gentler, more terrible hand, which could have killed anything, but which would rather be burned to the wrist than let one of its fingers touch her roughly. She compared them, and she loved the one and she loathed the other, with all her heart. And with that same hand Reanda, at that same moment, was painting some goddess's face, and it had forgotten whose divinely lovely cheek it had struck. It was painting unless, perhaps, it lay in Francesca's. But Gloria had not forgotten, and she would repay before the day darkened.
Her husband, since he was calm enough to go to his work, would come home for his breakfast when he was hungry. Gloria went back to her room and superintended the packing of what she needed. But she was not so calm as she had been half an hour earlier, and she waited impatiently for her husband's return and for the last scene of the drama. When the things were packed, she had the box taken out to the hall and sent for a cab. As she foresaw the situation, she would leave the house forever as soon as the last word was spoken. Then she went into the drawing-room and waited, watching the clock.
There, on the mantelpiece, lay the broken fan, where the fragments had been placed by the servant. Gloria looked at them, handled them curiously, and felt her cheek softly with her hand. He must have struck her with all his might, she thought, to have hurt her as he had with so light a weapon; and the whole quarrel came back to her vividly, in every detail, and with every spoken word.
She could not regret what she had done. With an attempt at self-examination, which was only a self-justification, she tried to recall the early days when she had loved her husband, and to conjure up the face with the gentle light in it. She failed, of course, and the picture that came disgusted her and was unutterably contemptible and weak and full of cowardice. The face of Paul Griggs came in its place a moment later, and she heard in her ears the deep, stern voice, quavering with strength rather than with weakness, and she could feel the arms she loved about her, pressing her almost to pain, able to press her to death in their love-clasp.
The hands of the clock went on, and Reanda did not come. She was surprised to find how long she had waited, and with a revulsion of feeling she rose to her feet. If he would not come, she would not wait for him. She was hungry, too. It was absurd, perhaps, but she would not eat his bread nor sit at his table, not even alone. She went to her writing-table and wrote a note to him, short, cruel, and decisive. She wrote that if her father had been in Rome she would have gone to him for protection. As he was absent, she had gone to her father's best friend and her own—to Paul Griggs. She said nothing more. He might interpret the statement as he pleased. She sealed the note and addressed it, and before she went out of the house she gave it to the servant, to be given to Reanda as soon as he came home. The man-servant went downstairs with her, and stood looking after the little open cab; he saw Gloria speak to the coachman, who nodded and changed his direction before they were out of sight.
At the door in the Via della Frezza the cabman let down Gloria's luggage and drove away. She stood still a moment and looked at the one-eyed cobbler.
"You have given the signore a beautiful fright," observed the old man. "I told him you had gone out. With one jump he was upstairs. By this time he cries."
Gloria took a silver piece of two pauls from her purse.
"Can you carry up these things for me?" she inquired, concealing her annoyance at the man's speech.
"I am not a porter," said the cobbler, with his head on one side. "But one must live. With courage and money one makes war. There are three pieces. One at a time. But you must watch the door while I carry up the box. If any one should steal my tools, it would be a beautiful day's work. Without them I should be in the middle of the street. You will understand, Signora. It is not to do you a discourtesy, but my tools are my bread. Without them I cannot eat. There is also the left boot of Sor Ercole. If any one were to steal it, Sor Ercole would go upon one leg. Imagine the disgrace!"
"I will stay here," said Gloria. "Do not be afraid."
The cobbler, who was a strong old man, got hold of the trunk and shouldered it with ease. When he stood up, Gloria saw that he was bandy-legged and very short.
She turned and stood on the threshold of the street door as she had stood on the previous night. No one would have believed that a few hours earlier the rain had fallen in torrents, for the pavement was dry, and even under the arch there seemed to be no dampness. Looking up the street towards the Corso, she saw that there was a wine shop, a few doors higher on the opposite side. Two or three men were standing before it, under the brown bush which served for a sign, and amongst them she saw a peasant in blue cloth clothes with silver buttons and clean white stockings. She recognized him as the man who had held his umbrella over her in the storm. He also saw her, lifted his felt hat and came forwards, crossing the street. His look was fixed on her face with a stare of curiosity as he stood before her.
"I hope you have not caught cold, Signora," he said, with steady, unwinking eyes. "We passed a beautiful storm. Signora, I sell wine to that host. If you should need wine, I recommend him to you." He pointed to the shop.
"You told me to ask for you at the Piazza Montanara," said Gloria, smiling.
"With that water you could not see the shop," answered Stefanone. "Signora, you are very beautiful. With permission, I say that you should not walk alone at night."
"It was the first and last time," said Gloria. "Fortunately, I met a person of good manners. I thank you again."
"Signora, you are so beautiful that the Madonna and her angels always accompany you. With permission, I go. Good day."
To the last, until he turned, he kept his eyes steadily fixed on Gloria's face, as though searching for a resemblance in her features. She noticed his manner and remembered him very distinctly after the second meeting.
The cobbler came back again, closely followed by Griggs himself, who said nothing, but took possession of the small valise and bag which Gloria had brought in addition to her box. He led the way, and she followed him swiftly. Inside the door of his lodging he turned and looked at her.
"Please do not go away suddenly without telling me," he said in a low voice. "I am easily frightened about you."
Gloria held out her two hands to meet him. He nodded as he took them.
"That is better than anything you have ever said to me." She drew him to her.
It was natural, for she was thinking how Reanda had calmly gone back to his work that morning, without so much as asking for her. The contrast was too great and too strong, between love and indifference.
They went into the work-room together, and Gloria sat down on one of the rush chairs, and told Griggs what she had done. He walked slowly up and down while she was speaking, his eyes on the pattern of the old carpet.
"I might have stayed," she said at last. "The servants did not even know that I had been out of the house."
"You should have stayed," said Griggs. "I ought to say it, at least."
But as he spoke the mask softened and the rare smile beautified for one instant the still, stern face.
REANDA neither wished to see Gloria again, nor to take vengeance upon Paul Griggs. He was not a brave man, morally or physically, and he was glad that his wife had left him. She had put him in the right, and he had every reason for refusing ever to see her again. With a cynicism which would have been revolting if it had not been almost childlike in its simplicity, he discharged his servants, sold his furniture, gave up his apartment in the Corso, and moved back to his old quarters in the Palazzetto Borgia. But he did not acknowledge Gloria's note in any other way.
She had left him, and he wished to blot out her existence as though he had never known her, not even remembering the long two years of his married life. She was gone. There was no Gloria, and he wished that there never had been any woman with her name and face.
On the third day, he met Paul Griggs in the street. The younger man saw Reanda coming, and stood still on the narrow pavement, in order to show that he had no intention of avoiding him. As the artist came up, Griggs lifted his hat gravely. Reanda mechanically raised his hand to his own hat and passed the man who had injured him, without a word. Griggs saw a slight, nervous twitching in the delicate face, but that was all. He thought that Reanda looked better, less harassed and less thin, than for a long time. He had at once returned to his old peaceful life and enjoyed it, and had evidently not the smallest intention of ever demanding satisfaction of his former friend.
Francesca Campodonico had listened in nervous silence to Reanda's story.
"She has done me a kindness," he concluded. "It is the first. She has given me back my freedom. I shall not disturb her."
The colour was in Francesca's face, and her eyes looked down. Her delicate lips were a little drawn in, as though she were making an effort to restrain her words, for it was one of the hardest moments of her life. Being what she was, it was impossible for her to understand Gloria's conduct. But at the same time she felt that she was liberated from something which had oppressed her, and the colour in her cheeks was a flash of satisfaction and relief mingled with a certain displeasure at her own sensations and the certainty that she should be ashamed of them by and bye.
It was not in her nature to accept such a termination for Reanda's married life, however he himself might be disposed to look upon it.
"You are to blame almost as much as Gloria," she said, and she was sincerely in earnest.
She was too good and devout a woman to believe in duelling, but she was far too womanly to be pleased with Reanda's indifference. It was wicked to fight duels and unchristian to seek revenge. She knew that, and it was a conviction as well as an opinion. But a man who allowed another to take his wife from him and did not resent the injury could not command her respect. Something in her blood revolted against such tameness, though she would not for all the world have had Reanda take Gloria back. Between the two opposites of conviction and instinct, she did not know what to do. Moreover, Reanda had struck his wife. He admitted it, though apologetically and with every extenuating circumstance which he could remember.
"Yes," he answered. "I know that I did wrong. Am I infallible? Holy Saint Patience! I could bear no more. But it is clear that she was waiting for a reason for leaving me. I gave it to her, and she should be grateful. She also is free, as I am."
"It is horrible!" exclaimed Francesca, with sorrowful emphasis.
She blamed herself quite as much as Reanda or Gloria, because she had brought them together and had suggested the marriage. Reanda's thin shoulders went up, and he smiled incredulously.
"I do not see what is so horrible," he answered. "Two people think they are in love. They marry. They discover their mistake. They separate. Well? It is finished. Let us make the sign of the cross over it."
The common Roman phrase, signifying that a matter is ended and buried, as it were, jarred upon Francesca, for whom the smallest religious allusion had a real meaning.
"It is not the sign of the cross which should be made," she said sadly and gravely, and the colour was gone from her face now. "There are two lives wrecked, and a human soul in danger. We cannot say that it is finished, and pass on."
"What would you have me do?" asked Reanda, almost impatiently. "Take her back?"
"No!" exclaimed Francesca, with a sharp intonation as though she were hurt.
"Well, then, what? I do not see that anything is to be done. She herself can think of her soul. It is her property. She has made me suffer enough—let some one else suffer. I have enough of it."
"You will forgive her some day," said Francesca. "You are angry still, and you speak cruelly. You will forgive her."
"Never," answered Reanda, with emphasis. "I will not forgive her for what she made me bear, any more than I will forgive Griggs for receiving her when she left me. I will not touch them, but I will not forgive them. I am not angry. Why should I be?"
Francesca sighed, for she did not understand the man, though hitherto she had always understood him, or thought that she had, ever since she had been a mere child, playing with his colours and brushes in the Palazzo Braccio. She left the hall and went to her own sitting-room on the other side of the house. As soon as she was alone, the tears came to her eyes. She was hardly aware of them, and when she felt them on her cheeks she wondered why she was crying, for she did not often shed tears, and was a woman of singularly well balanced nature, able to control herself on the rare occasions when she felt any strong emotion.
In spite of Reanda's conduct, she determined not to leave matters as they were without attempting to improve them. She wrote a note to Paul Griggs, asking him to come and see her during the afternoon.
He could not refuse to answer the summons, knowing, as he did, that he must in honour respond to any demand for an explanation coming from Reanda's side. Gloria wished him to reply to the note, giving an excuse and hinting that no good could come of any meeting.
"It is a point of honour," he answered briefly, and she yielded, for he dominated her altogether.
Francesca received him in her own small sitting-room, which overlooked the square before the Palazzetto. It was very quiet, and there were roses in old Vienna vases. It was a very old-fashioned room, the air was sweet with the fresh flowers, and the afternoon sun streamed in through a single tall window. Francesca sat on a small sofa which stood crosswise between the window and the writing-table. She had a frame before her on which was stretched a broad band of deep red satin, a piece of embroidery in which she was working heraldic beasts and armorial bearings in coloured silks.
She did not rise, nor hold out her hand, but pointed to a chair near her, as she spoke.
"I asked you to come," she said, "because I wish to speak to you about Gloria."
Griggs bent his head, sat down, and waited with a perfectly impassive face. Possibly there was a rather unusual aggressiveness in the straight lines of his jaw and his even lips. There was a short silence before Francesca spoke again.
"Do you know what you have done?" she asked, finishing a stitch and looking quietly into the man's deep eyes.
He met her glance calmly, but said nothing, merely bending his head again, very slightly.
"It is very wicked," said she, and she began to make another stitch, looking down again.
"I have no doubt that you think so," answered Paul Griggs, slowly nodding a third time.
"It is not a question of opinion. It is a matter of fact. You have ruined the life of an innocent woman."
"If social position is the object of existence, you are right," he replied. "I have nothing to say."
"I am not speaking of social position," said Donna Francesca, continuing to make stitches.
"Then I am afraid that I do not understand you."
"Can you conceive of nothing more important to the welfare of men and women than social position?"
"It is precisely because I do, that I care so little what society thinks. I do not understand you."
"I have known you some time," said Francesca. "I had not supposed that you were a man without a sense of right and wrong. That is the question which is concerned now."
"It is a question which may be answered from more than one point of view. You look at it in one way, and I in another. With your permission, we will differ about it, since we can never agree."
"There is no such thing as differing about right and wrong," answered Donna Francesca, with a little impatience. "Right is right, and wrong is wrong. You cannot possibly believe that you have done right. Therefore you know that you have done wrong."
"That sort of logic assumes God at the expense of man," said Griggs, calmly.
Francesca looked up with a startled expression in her eyes, for she was shocked, though she did not understand him.
"God is good, and man is sinful," she answered, in the words of her simple faith.
"Why?" asked Griggs, gravely.
He waited for her answer to the most tremendous question which man can ask, and he knew that she could not answer him, though she might satisfy herself.
"I have never talked about religion with an atheist," she said at last, slowly pushing her needle through the heavy satin.
"I am not an atheist, Princess."
"A Protestant, then—"
"I am not a Protestant. I am a Catholic, as you are."
She looked up suddenly and faced him with earnest eyes.
"Then you are not a good Catholic," she said. "No good Catholic could speak as you do."
"Even the Apostles had doubts," answered Griggs. "But I do not pretend to be good. Since I am a man, I have a right to be a man, and to be treated as a man. If the right is not given me freely, I will take it. You cannot expect a body to behave as though it were a spirit. A man cannot imitate an invisible essence, any more than a sculptor can imitate sound with a shape of clay. When we are spirits, we shall act as spirits. Meanwhile we are men and women. As a man, I have not done wrong. You have no right to judge me as an angel. Is that clear?"
"Terribly clear!" Francesca slowly shook her head. "And terribly mistaken," she added.
"You see," answered the young man. "It is impossible to argue the point. We do not speak the same language. You, by your nature, believe that you can imitate a spirit. You are spiritual by intuition and good by instinct, according to the spiritual standard of good. I am, on the contrary, a normal man, and destined to act as men act. I cannot understand you and you, if you will allow me to say so, cannot possibly understand me. That is why I propose that we should agree to differ."
"And do you think you can sweep away all right and wrong, belief and unbelief, salvation and perdition, with such a statement as that?"
"Not at all," replied Griggs. "You tell me that I am wicked. That only means that I am not doing what you consider right. You deny my right of judgment, in favour of your own. You make witnesses of spirits against the doings of men. You judge my body and condemn my soul. And there is no possible appeal from your tribunal, because it is an imaginary one. But if you will return to the facts of the case, you will find it hard to prove that I have ruined the life of an innocent woman, as you told me that I had."
"You have! There is no denying it."
"Socially, and it is the fault of society. But society is nothing to me. I would be an outcast from society for a much less object than the love of a woman, provided that I had not to do anything dishonourable."
"Ah, that is it! You forget that a man's honour is his reputation at the club, while the honour of a woman is founded in religion, and maintained upon a single one of God's commandments—as you men demand that it shall be."
Griggs was silent for a moment. He had never heard a woman state the case so plainly and forcibly, and he was struck by what she said. He could have answered her quickly enough. But the answer would not have been satisfactory to himself.
"You see, you have nothing to say," she said. "But in one way you are right. We cannot argue this question. I did not ask you to come in order to discuss it. I sent for you to beg you to do what is right, as far as you can. And you could do much."
"What should you think right?" asked Griggs, curious to know what she thought.
"You should take Gloria to her father, as you are his friend. Since she has left her husband, she should live with her father."
"That is a very simple idea!" exclaimed the young man, with something almost like a laugh.
"Right is always simple," answered Francesca, quietly. "There is never any doubt about it."
She looked at him once, and then continued to work at her embroidery. His eyes rested on the pure outline of her maidenlike face, and he was silent for a moment. Somehow, he felt that her simplicity of goodness rebuked the simplicity of his sin.
"You forget one thing," said Griggs at last. "You make a spiritual engine of mankind, and you forget the mainspring of the world. You leave love out of the question."
"Perhaps—as you understand love. But you will not pretend to tell me that love is necessarily right, whatever it involves."
"Yes," answered the young man. "That is what I mean. Unless your God is a malignant and maleficent demon, the overwhelming passions which take hold of men, and against which no man can fight beyond a certain point, are right, because they exist and are irresistible. As for what you propose that I should do, I cannot do it."
"You could, if you would," said Francesca. "There is nothing to hinder you, if you will."
"There is love, and I cannot."
PAUL GRIGGS left Francesca with the certainty in his own mind that she had produced no impression whatever upon him, but he was conscious that his opinion of her had undergone a change. He was suddenly convinced that she was the best woman he had ever known, and that Gloria's accusations were altogether unjust and unfounded. Recalling her face, her manner, and her words, he knew that whatever influence she might have had upon Reanda, there could be no ground for Gloria's jealousy. She certainly disturbed him strangely, for Gloria was perfect in his eyes, and he accepted all she said almost blindly. The fact that Reanda had struck her now stood in his mind as the sole reason for the separation of husband and wife.
Gloria was far from realizing what influence she had over the man she loved. It seemed to her, on the contrary, that she was completely dominated by him, and she was glad to feel his strength at every turn. Her enormous vanity was flattered by his care of her, and by his uncompromising admiration of her beauty as well as of her character, and she yielded to him purposely in small things that she might the better feel his strength, as she supposed. The truth, had she known it, was that he hardly asserted himself at all, and was ready to make any and every sacrifice for her comfort and happiness. He had sacrificed his pride to borrow money from a friend to meet the first necessities of their life together. He would have given his life as readily.
They led a strangely lonely existence in the little apartment in the Via della Frezza. The world had very soon heard of what had happened, and had behaved according to its lights. Walking alone one morning while Griggs was at work, Gloria had met Donna Tullia Meyer, whom she had known in society, and thoughtlessly enough had bowed as though nothing had happened. Donna Tullia had stared at her coldly, and then turned away. After that, Gloria had realized what she had already understood, and had either not gone out without Griggs, or, when she did, had kept to the more secluded streets, where she would not easily meet acquaintances.
Griggs worked perpetually, and she watched him, delighting at first in the difference between his way of working and that of Angelo Reanda; delighted, too, to be alone with him, and to feel that he was writing for her. She could sit almost in silence for hours, half busy with some bit of needlework, and yet busy with him in her thoughts. It seemed to her that she understood him—she told him so, and he believed her, for he felt that he could not be hard to understand.
He was as singularly methodical as Reanda was exceptionally intuitive. She felt that his work was second to her in his estimation of it, but that, since they both depended upon it for their livelihood, they had agreed together to put it first. With Reanda, art was above everything and beyond all other interests, and he had made her feel that he worked for art's sake rather than for hers. There was a vast difference in the value placed upon her by the two men, in relation to their two occupations.
"I have no genius," said Griggs to her one day. "I have no intuitions of underlying truth. But I have good brains, and few men are able to work as hard as I. By and bye, I shall succeed and make money, and it will be less dull for you."
"It is never dull for me when I can be with you," she answered.
As he looked, the sunshine caught her red auburn hair, and the love-lights played with the sunshine in her eyes. Griggs knew that life had no more dulness for him while she lived, and as for her, he believed what she said.
Without letting him know what she was doing, she wrote to her father. It was not an easy letter to write, and she thought that she knew the savage old Scotchman's temper. She told him everything. At such a distance, it was easy to throw herself upon his mercy, and it was safer to write him all while he was far away, so that there might be nothing left to rouse his anger if he returned. She had no lack of words with which to describe Reanda's treatment of her; but she was also willing to take all the blame of the mistake she had made in marrying him. She had ruined her life before it had begun, she said. She had taken the law into her own hands, to mend it as best she could. Her father knew that Paul Griggs was not like other men—that he was able to protect her against all comers, and that he could make the world fear him if he could not make it respect her. Her father must do as he thought right. He would be justified, from the world's point of view, in casting her off and never remembering her existence again, but she begged him to forgive her, and to think kindly of her. Meanwhile, she and Griggs were wretchedly poor, and she begged her father to continue her allowance.
If Paul Griggs had seen this letter, he would have been startled out of some of his belief in Gloria's perfection. There was a total absence of any moral sense of right or wrong in what she wrote, which would have made a more cynical man than Griggs was look grave. The request for the continuation of the allowance would have shocked him and perhaps disgusted him. The whole tone was too calm and business-like. It was too much as though she were fulfilling a duty and seeking to gain an object rather than appealing to Dalrymple to forgive her for yielding to the overwhelming mastery of a great passion. It was cold, it was calculating, and it was, in a measure, unwomanly.
When she had sent the letter, she told Griggs what she had done, but her account of its contents satisfied him with one of those brilliant false impressions which she knew so well how to convey. She told him rather what she should have said than what she had really written, and, as usual, he found that she had done right.
It was not that she would not have written a better letter if she had been able to compose one. She had done the best that she could. But the truth lay there, or the letter was composed as an expression of what she knew that she ought to feel, and was not the actual outpouring of an overfull heart. She could not be blamed for not feeling more deeply, nor for her inability to express what she did not feel. But when she spoke of it to the man she loved, she roused herself to emotion easily enough, and her words sounded well in her own ears and in his. To the last, he never understood that she loved such emotion for its own sake, and that he helped her to produce it in herself. In the comparatively simple view of human nature which he took in those days, it seemed to him that if a woman were willing to sacrifice everything, including social respectability itself, for any man, she must love him with all her heart. He could not have understood that any woman should give up everything, practically, in the attempt to feel something of which she was not capable.
In reply to her letter, Dalrymple sent a draft for a considerable sum of money, through his banker. The fact that it was addressed to her at Via della Frezza was the only indication that he had received her letter. In due time, Gloria wrote to thank him, but he took no notice of the communication.
"He never loved me," she said to Griggs as the days went by and brought her nothing from her father. "I used to think so, when I was a mere child, but I am sure of it now. You are the only human being that ever loved me."
She was pale that day, and her white hand sought his as she spoke, with a quiver of the lip.
"I am glad of it," he answered. "I shall not divide you with any one."
So their life went on, somewhat monotonously after the first few weeks. Griggs worked hard and earned more money than formerly, but he discovered very soon that it would be all he could do to support Gloria in bare comfort. He would not allow her to use her own money for anything which was to be in common, or in which he had any share whatever.
"You must spend it on yourself," he said. "I will not touch it. I will not accept anything you buy with it—not so much as a box of cigarettes. You must spend it on your clothes or on jewels."
"You are unkind," she answered. "You know how much pleasure it would give me to help you."
"Yes. I know. You cannot understand, but you must try. Men never do that sort of thing."
And, as usual, he dominated her, and she dropped the subject, inwardly pleased with him, and knowing that he was right.
His strength fascinated her, and she admired his manliness of heart and feeling as she had never admired any qualities in any one during her life. But he did not amuse her, even as much as she had been amused by Reanda. He was melancholic, earnest, hard working, not inclined to repeat lightly the words of love once spoken in moments of passion. He meant, perhaps, to show her how he loved her by what he would do for her sake, rather than tell her of it over and over again. And he worked as he had never worked before, hour after hour, day after day, sitting at his writing-table almost from morning till night. Besides his correspondence, he was now writing a book, from which he hoped great things—for her. It was a novel, and he read her day by day the pages he wrote. She talked over with him what he had written, and her imagination and dramatic intelligence, forever grasping at situations of emotion for herself and others, suggested many variations upon his plan.
"It is my book," she often said, when they had been talking all the evening.
It was her book, and it was a failure, because it was hers and not his. Her imagination was disorderly, to borrow a foreign phrase, and she was altogether without any sense of proportion in what she imagined. He did not, indeed, look upon her as intellectually perfect, though for him she was otherwise unapproachably superior to every other woman in the world. But he loved her so wholly and unselfishly that he could not bear to disappoint her by not making use of her suggestions. When she was telling him of some scene she had imagined, her voice and manner, too, were so thoroughly dramatic that he was persuaded of the real value of the matter. Divested of her individuality and transferred in his rather mechanically over-correct language to the black and white of pen and ink, the result was disappointing, even when he read it to her. He knew that it was, and wasted time in trying to improve what was bad from the beginning. She saw that he failed, and she felt that he was not a man of genius. Her vanity suffered because her ideas did not look well on his paper.
Before he had finished the manuscript, she had lost her interest in it. Feeling that she had, and seeing it in her face, he exerted his strength of will in the attempt to bring back the expression of surprise and delight which the earlier readings had called up, but he felt that he was working uphill and against heavy odds. Nevertheless he completed the work, and spent much time in fancied improvement of its details. At a later period in his life he wrote three successful books in the time he had bestowed upon his first failure, but he wrote them alone.
Gloria's face brightened when he told her that it was done. She took the manuscript and read over parts of it to herself, smiling a little from time to time, for she knew that he was watching her. She did not read it all.
"Dedicate it to me," she said, holding out one hand to find his, while she settled the pages on her knees with the other.
"Of course," he answered, and he wrote a few words of dedication to her on a sheet of paper.
He sent it to a publisher in London whom he knew. It was returned with some wholesome advice, and Gloria's vanity suffered another blow, both in the failure of the book which contained so many of her ideas and in the failure of the man to be successful, for in her previous life she had not been accustomed to failure of any sort.
"I am afraid I am only a newspaper man, after all," said Paul Griggs, quietly. "You will have to be satisfied with me as I am. But I will try again."
"No," answered Gloria, more coldly than she usually spoke. "When you find that you cannot do a thing naturally, leave it alone. It is of no use to force talent in one direction when it wants to go in another."
She sighed softly, and busied herself with some work. Griggs felt that he was a failure, and he felt lonely, too, for a moment, and went to his own room to put away the rejected manuscript in a safe place. It was not his nature to destroy it angrily, as some men might have done at his age.
When he came back to the door of the sitting-room he heard her singing, as she often did when she was alone. But to-day she was singing an old song which he had not heard for a long time, and which reminded him painfully of that other house in which she had lived and of that other man whom she never saw, but who was still her husband.
He entered the room rather suddenly, after having paused a moment outside, with his hand on the door.
"Please do not sing that song!" he said quickly, as he entered.
"Why not?" she asked, interrupting herself in the middle of a stave.
"It reminds me of unpleasant things."
"Does it? I am sorry. I will not sing it again."
But she knew what it meant, for it reminded her of Reanda. She was no longer so sure that the reminiscence was all painful.
IN spite of all that Griggs could do, and he did his utmost, it was hard to live in anything approaching to comfort on the meagre remuneration he received for his correspondence, and his pride altogether forbade him to allow Gloria to contribute anything to the slender resources of the small establishment. At first, it had amused her to practise little economies, even in the matter of their daily meals. Griggs denied himself everything which was not absolutely necessary, and it pleased Gloria to imitate him, for it made her feel that she was helping him. The housekeeping was a simple affair enough, and she undertook it readily. They had one woman servant as cook and maid-of-all-work, a strong young creature, not without common-sense, and plentifully gifted with that warm, superficial devotion which is common enough in Italian servants. Gloria had kept house for her father long enough to understand what she had undertaken, and it seemed easy at first to do the same thing for Griggs, though on a much more restricted scale.
But the restriction soon became irksome. In a more active and interesting existence, she would perhaps not have felt the constant pinching of such excessive economy. If there had been more means within her reach for satisfying her hungry vanity, she could have gone through the daily round of little domestic cares with a lighter heart or, at least, with more indifference. But she and Griggs led a very lonely life, and, as in all lonely lives, the smallest details became important.
It was not long before Gloria wished herself in her old home in the Corso, not indeed with Reanda, but with Paul Griggs. He had made her promise to use only the money he gave her himself for their housekeeping. She secretly deceived him and drew upon her own store, and listened in silence to his praise of her ingenuity in making the little he was able to give her go so far. He trusted her so completely that he suspected nothing.
She expected that at the end of three months her father would send her another draft, but the day passed, and she received nothing, so that she at last wrote to him again, asking for money. It came, as before, without any word of inquiry or greeting. Dalrymple evidently intended to take this means of knowing from time to time that his daughter was alive and well. She would be obliged to write to him whenever she needed assistance. It was a humiliation, and she felt it bitterly, for she had thought that she had freed herself altogether and she found herself still bound by the necessity of asking for help.
It seemed very hard to be thus shut off from the world in the prime of her youth, and beauty, and talent. To a woman who craved admiration for all she did and could do, it was almost unbearable. Paul Griggs worked and looked forward to success, and was satisfied in his aspirations, and more than happy in the companionship of the woman he so dearly loved.
"I shall succeed," he said quietly, but with perfect assurance. "Before long we shall be able to leave Rome, and begin life somewhere else, where nobody will know our story. It will not be so dull for you there."
"It is never dull when I am with you," said Gloria, but there was no conviction in the tone any more. "If you would let me go upon the stage," she added, with a change of voice, "things would be very different. I could earn a great deal of money."
But Paul Griggs was as much opposed to the project as Reanda had been, and in this one respect he really asserted his will. He was so confident of ultimately attaining to success and fortune by his pen that he would not hear of Gloria's singing in public.
"Besides," he said, after giving her many and excellent reasons, "if you earned millions, I would not touch the money."
She sighed for the lost opportunities of brilliant popularity, but she smiled at his words, knowing how she had used her own money for him, and in spite of him. But for her own part she had lost all belief in his talent since the failure of the book he had written.
The long summer days were hard to bear. He was not able to leave Rome, for he was altogether dependent upon his regular correspondence for what he earned, and he did not succeed in persuading his editors to employ him anywhere else, for the very reason that he did so well what was required of him where he was.
The weather grew excessively hot, and it was terribly dreary and dull in the little apartment in the Via della Frezza. All day long the windows were tightly closed to keep out the fiery air, both the old green blinds and the glass within them. Griggs had moved his writing-table to the feeble light, and worked away as hard as ever. Gloria spent most of the hot hours in reading and dreaming. They went out together early in the morning and in the evening, when there was some coolness, but during the greater part of the day they were practically imprisoned by the heat.
Gloria watched the strong man and wondered at his power of working under any circumstances. He was laborious as well as industrious. He often wrote a page over two and three times, in the hope of improving it, and he was capable of spending an hour in finding a quotation from a great writer, not for the sake of quoting it, but in order to satisfy himself that he had authority for using some particular construction of phrase. He kept notebooks in which he made long indexed lists of words which in common language were improperly used, with examples showing how they should be rightly employed.
"I am constructing a superiority for myself," he said once. "No one living takes so much pains as I do."
But Gloria had no faith in his painstaking ways, though she wondered at his unflagging perseverance. Her own single great talent lay in her singing, and she had never given herself any trouble about it. Reanda, too, though he worked carefully and often slowly, worked without effort. It was true that Griggs never showed fatigue, but that was due to his amazing bodily strength. The intellectual labour was apparent, however, and he always seemed to be painfully overcoming some almost unyielding difficulty by sheer force of steady application, though nothing came of it, so far as she could see.
"I cannot understand why you take so much trouble," she said. "They are only newspaper articles, after all, to be read to-day and forgotten to-morrow."
"I am learning to write," he answered. "It takes a long time to learn anything unless one has a great gift, as you have for singing. I have failed with one book, but I will not fail with another. The next will not be an extraordinary book, but it will succeed."
Nothing could disturb him, and he sat at his table day after day. He was moved by the strongest incentives which can act upon a man, at the time when he himself is strongest; namely, necessity and love. Even Gloria could never discover whether he had what she would have called ambition. He himself said that he had none, and she compared him with Reanda, who believed in the divinity of art, the temple of fame, and the reality of glory.
In the young man's nature, Gloria had taken the place of all other divinities, real and imaginary. His enduring nature could no more be wearied in its worship of her than it could be tired in toiling for her. He only resented the necessity of cutting out such a main part of the day for work as left him but little time to be at leisure with her.
She complained of his industry, for she was tired of spending her life with novels, and the hours hung like leaden weights upon her, dragging with her as she went through the day.
"Give yourself a rest," she said, not because she thought he needed it, but because she wished him to amuse her.
"I am never tired of working for you," he answered, and the rare smile came to his face.
With any other man in the world she might have told the truth and might have said frankly that her life was growing almost unbearable, buried from the world as she was, and cut off from society. But she was conscious that she should never dare to say as much to Paul Griggs. She was realizing, little by little, that his love for her was greater than she had dreamed of, and immeasurably stronger than what she felt for him.
Then she knew the pain of receiving more than she had to give. It was a genuine pain of its kind, and in it, as in many other things, she suffered a constant humiliation. She had taken herself for a heroic character in the great moment when she had resolved to leave her husband, intuitively sure that she loved Paul Griggs with all her heart, and that she should continue to love him to the end in spite of the world. She knew now that there was no endurance in the passion.
The very efforts she made to sustain it contributed to its destruction; but she continued to play her part. Her strong dramatic instinct told her when to speak and when to be silent, and how to modulate her voice to a tender appeal, to a touching sadness, to the strength of suppressed emotion. It was for a good object, she told herself, and therefore it must be right. He was giving his life for her, day by day, and he must never know that she no longer loved him. It would kill him, she thought; for with him it was all real. She grew melancholy and thought of death. If she died young, he should never guess that she had not loved him to the very last.
In her lonely thoughts she dwelt upon the possibility, for it was a possibility now. There was that before her which, when it came, might turn life into death very suddenly. She had moments of tenderness when she thought of her own dead face lying on the white pillow, and the picture was so real that her eyes filled with tears. She would be very beautiful when she was dead.
The idea took root in her mind; for it afforded her an inward emotion which touched her strangely and cost her nothing. It gained in fascination as she allowed it to come back when it would, and the details of death came vividly before her imagination, as she had read of them in books,—her own white face, the darkened room, the candles, Paul Griggs standing motionless beside her body.
One day he looked from his work and saw tears on her cheeks. He dropped his pen as though something had struck him unawares; and he was beside her in a moment, looking anxiously into her eyes.
"What is it?" he asked, and his hands were on hers and pressed them.
"It is nothing," she answered. "It is natural, I suppose—"
"No. It is not natural. You are unhappy. Tell me what is the matter."
"It is foolish," she said, turning her face from him. "I see you working so hard day after day. I am a burden to you—it would be better if I were out of the way. You are working yourself to death. If you could see your face sometimes!" And more tears trickled down.
His strong hands shook suddenly.
"I am not working too hard—for me," he answered, but his voice trembled a little. "One of your tears hurts me more than a hundred years of hard work. Even if it were true—I would rather die for you than live to be the greatest man that ever breathed—without you."
She threw her arms about his neck, and hid her face upon his shoulder.
"Tell me you love me!" she cried. "You are all I have in the world!"
"Does it need telling?" he asked, soothing her.
Then all at once his arms tightened so that she could hardly draw breath for a moment, and his head was bent down and rested for an instant upon her neck as though he himself sought rest and refuge.
"I think you know, dear," he said.
She knew far better than he could tell her, for the truth of his passion shook the dramatic and artificial fabric of her own to its foundations; and even as she pressed him to her, she felt that secret repugnance which those who do not love feel for those who love them overmuch. It was mingled with a sense of shame which made her hate herself, and she began to suffer acutely.
When she thought of Reanda, as she now often did, she longed for what she had felt for him, rather than for anything she had ever felt for Paul Griggs. In the pitiful reaching after something real, she groped for memories of true tenderness, and now and then they came back to her from beyond the chaos which lay between, as memories of home come to a man cast after many storms upon a desert island. She dwelt upon them and tried to construct an under-life out of the past, made up only of sweet things amongst which all that had not been good should be forgotten. She went for comfort to the days when she had loved Reanda, before their marriage—or when she had loved his genius as though it were himself, believing that it was all for her.
Beside her always, with even, untiring strength, Paul Griggs toiled on, his whole life based and founded in hers, every penstroke for her, every dream of her, every aspiration and hope for her alone. He was splendidly unconscious of his own utter loneliness, blankly unaware of the life-comedy—or tragedy—which Gloria was acting for him out of pity for the heart she could break, and out of shame at finding out what her own heart was. Had he known the truth, the end would have come quickly and terribly. But he did not know it. The woman's gifts were great, and her beauty was greater. Greater than all was his whole-souled belief in her. He had never conceived it possible, in his ignorance of women, that a woman should really love him. She, whom he had first loved so hopelessly, had given him all she had to give, which was herself, frankly and freely. And after she had come to him, she loved him for a time, beyond even self-deception. But when she no longer loved him, she hid her secret and kept it long and well; for she feared him. He was not like Reanda. He would not strike only; he would kill and make an end of both.
But she might have gone much nearer to the truth without danger. It was not his nature to ask anything nor to expect much, and he had taken all there was to take, and knew it, and was satisfied.
THE summer passed, with its monotonous heat. Rain fell in August and poisoned the campagna with fever for six weeks, and the clear October breezes blew from the hills, and the second greenness of the late season was over everything for a brief month of vintage and laughter. Then came November with its pestilent sirocco gales and its dampness, pierced and cut through now and then by the first northerly winds of winter.
And then, one day, there was a new life in the little apartment in the Via della Frezza. Fate, relentless, had brought to the light a little child, to be the grandson of that fated Maria Braccio who had died long ago, to have his day of happiness and his night of suffering in his turn and to be a living bond between Gloria and the man who loved her.
They called the boy Walter Crowdie for a relative of Angus Dalrymple, who had been the last of the name. It was convenient, and he would never need any other, nor any third name after the two given to him in baptism.
For a few days after the child's birth, Griggs left his writing-table. He was almost too happy to work, and he spent many hours by Gloria's side, not talking, for he knew that she must be kept quiet, but often holding her hand and always looking at her face, with the strong, dumb devotion of a faithful bloodhound.
Often she pretended to be sleeping when he was there, though she was wide awake and could have talked well enough. But it was easier to seem to be asleep than to play the comedy now, while she was so weak and helpless. With the simplicity of a little child Griggs watched her, and when her eyes were closed believed that she was sleeping. As soon as she opened them he spoke to her. She understood and sometimes smiled in spite of herself, with close-shut lids. He thought she was dreaming of him, or of the child, and was smiling in her sleep.
As she lay there and thought over all that had happened, she knew that she hated him as she had never loved him, even in the first days. And she hated the child, for its life was the last bond, linking her to Paul Griggs and barring her from the world forever. Until it had been there she had vaguely felt that if she had the courage and really wished it, she might in some way get back to her old life. She knew that all hope of that was gone from her now.
In the deep perspective of her loosened intelligence the endless years to come rolled away, grey and monotonous, to their vanishing point. She had made her choice and had not found heart to give it up, after she had made it, while there was yet time. Time itself took shape before her closed eyes, as many succeeding steps, and she saw herself toiling up them, a bent, veiled figure of great weariness. It was terrible to look forward to such truth, and the present was no better. She grasped at the past and dragged it up to her and looked at its faded prettiness, and would have kissed it, as though it had been a living thing. But she knew that it was dead and that what lived was horrible to her.
She wished that she might die, as she had often thought she might during the long summer months. In those days her eyes had filled with tears of pity for herself. They were dry now, for the suffering was real and the pain was in her bodily heart. Yet she was so strong, and she feared Paul Griggs with such an abject fear, that she played the comedy when she could not make him think that she was asleep.
"My only thought is for you," she said. "It is another burden on you."
He was utterly happy, and he laughed aloud.
"It is another reason for working," he said.
And even as he said it she saw the writing-table, the poor room, his stern, determined face and busy hand, and herself seated in her own chair, with a half-read novel on her lap, staring at the grey future of mediocrity and mean struggling that loomed like a leaden figure above his bent head. Year after year, perhaps, she was to sit in that chair and watch the same silent battle for bare existence. It was too horrible to be borne. If only he were a man of genius, she could have suffered it all, she thought, and more also. But he himself said that he had no genius. His terrible mechanics of mind killed the little originality he had. His gloomy sobriety over his work made her desperate. But she feared him. The belief grew on her that if he ever found out that she did not love him, he would end life then, for them both—perhaps for them all three.
Surely, hell had no tortures worse than hers, she thought. Yet she bore them, in terror of him. And he was perfectly happy and suspected nothing. She could not understand how with his melancholy nature and his constant assertion that he had but a little talent and much industry for all his stock in trade, he could believe in his own future as he did. It was an anomaly, a contradiction of terms, a weak point in the low level of his unimaginative, dogged strength. She thought often of the poor book he had written. She had heard that talent was stirred to music by a great passion that strung it and struck it, till its heartstrings rang wild changes and breathed deep chords, and burst into rushing harmonies of eloquence. But his love was dumb and dull, though it might be deadly. There had been neither eloquence nor music in his book. It had been an old story, badly told. He had said that he was only fit to be a newspaper man, and it was true, so far as she could see. His letters to the paper were excellent in their way, but that was all he could do. And she had given him, in the child, another reason for being what he was, hard-working, silent—dull.
She looked at him and wondered; for there was a mystery in his shadowy eyes and still face, which had promised much more than she had ever found in him. There was something mysterious and dreadful, too, in his unnatural strength. The fear of him grew upon her, and sometimes when he kissed her she burst into tears out of sheer terror at his touch.
"They are tears of happiness," she said, trembling and drying her eyes quickly.
She smiled, and he believed her, happier every day in her and in the child.
Then came the realization of the grey dream of misery. Again she was seated by the window in her accustomed chair, and he was in his place, pen in hand, eyes on paper, thoughts fixed like steel in that obstinate effort to do better, while she had the certainty of his failure before her. And between them, in a straw cradle with a hood, all gauze and lace and blue ribbons, lay the thing that bound her to him and cut her off forever from the world,—little Walter Crowdie, the child without a name, as she called him in her thoughts. And above the child, between her and Paul Griggs, floated the little imaginary stage on which she was to go on acting her play over and over again till all was done. She had not even the right to shed tears for herself without telling him that they were for the happiness he expected of her.
He would not leave her. He had scarcely been out of the house for weeks, though the only perceptible effect of remaining indoors so long was that he had grown a little paler. She implored him to go out. In a few days she would be able to go with him, and meanwhile there was no reason why he should be perpetually at her side. He yielded to her importunity at last, and she was left alone with the child.
It was a relief even greater than she had anticipated. She could cry, she could laugh, she could sing, and he was not there to ask questions. For one moment after she had heard the outer door close behind him she almost hesitated as to which she should do, for she was half hysterical with the long outward restraint of herself while, inwardly, she had allowed her thoughts to run wild as they would. She stood for a moment, and there was a vague, uncertain look in her face. Then her breast heaved, and she burst into tears, weeping as never before in her short life, passionately, angrily, violently, without thought of control, or indeed of anything definite.
Before an hour had passed Griggs came back. She was seated quietly in her chair, as when he had left her. The light was all behind her, and he could not see the slight redness of her eyes. Pale as she was, he thought she had never been more beautiful. There was a gentleness in her manner, too, beyond what he was accustomed to. He believed that perhaps she might be the better for being left to herself for an hour or two every day, until she should be quite strong again. On the following day she again suggested that he should go out for a walk, and he made no objection.
Again, as soon as he was gone, she burst into tears, almost in spite of herself, though she unconsciously longed for the relief they had brought her the first time. But to-day the fit of weeping did not pass so soon. The spasms of sobbing lasted long after her eyes were dry, and she had less time to compose herself before Griggs returned. Still, he noticed nothing. The tears had refreshed her, and he found that same gentleness which had touched him on the previous day.
Several times, after that, he went out and left her alone in the afternoon. Then, one day, while he was walking, a heavy shower came on, and he made his way home as fast as he could. He opened the door quickly and came upon her to find her sobbing as though her heart would break.
He turned very pale and stood still for a moment. There was terror in her face when she saw him, but in an instant he was holding her in his arms and kissing her hair, asking her what was the matter.
"I am a millstone around your neck!" she sobbed. "It is breaking my heart—I shall die, if I see you working so!"
He tried to comfort her, soothing her and laughing at her fears for him, but believing her, as he always did. Little by little, her sobs subsided, and she was herself again, as far as he could see. He tried to argue the case fairly on its merits.
She listened to him, and listening was a new torture, knowing as she did what her tears were shed for. But she had to play the comedy again, at short notice, not having had the time to compose herself and enjoy the relief she found in crying alone.
It was a relief which she sought again and again. When she thought of it afterwards, it was as an indescribable, half-painful, half-pleasant emotion through which she passed every day. When she felt that it was before her, as soon as Griggs was out of the house, she made a slight effort to resist it, for she was sensible enough to understand that it was becoming a habit which she could not easily break.
Even after she was quite strong again, Griggs often left her to herself for an hour, and he did not again come in accidentally and find her in tears. He thought it natural that she should sometimes wish to be alone.
One day, when she had dried her eyes, she took a sheet of paper from his table and began to write. She had no distinct intention, but she knew that she was going to write about herself and her sufferings. It gave her a strange and unhealthy pleasure to set down in black and white all that she suffered. She could look at it, turn it, change it, and look at it again. Constantly, as the pen ran on, the tears came to her eyes afresh, and she brushed them away with a smile.
Then, all at once, she looked at the clock—the same cheap little American clock which had ticked so long on the mantelpiece in Griggs's old lodging upstairs. She knew that he would be back before long, and she tore the sheets she had covered into tiny strips and threw them into the waste-paper basket. When Griggs returned, she was singing softly to herself over her needlework.
But she had enjoyed a rare delight in writing down the story of her troubles. The utter loneliness of her existence, when Griggs was not with her, made it natural enough. Then a strange thought crossed her mind. She would write to Reanda and tell him that she had forgiven him, and had expiated the wrong she had done him. She craved the excitement of confession, and it could do no harm. He might, perhaps, answer her. Griggs would never know, for she always received the letters and sorted them for him, merely to save him trouble. The correspondence of a newspaper man is necessarily large, covering many sources of his information.
It was rather a wild idea, she thought, but it attracted her, or rather it distracted her thoughts by taking her out of the daily comedy she was obliged to keep up. There was in it, too, a very slight suggestion of danger; for it was conceivable, though almost impossible, that some letter of hers or her husband's might fall into Griggs's hands. There was a perverseness about it which was seductive to her tortuous mind.
At the first opportunity she wrote a very long letter. It was the letter of a penitent. She told him all that she had told herself a hundred times, and it was a very different production from the one she had sent to her father nearly a year earlier. There were tears in the phrases, there were sobs in the broken sentences. And there were tears in her own eyes when she sealed it.
She was going to ring for the woman servant to take it, and her hand was on the bell. She paused, looked at the addressed envelope, glanced furtively round the room, and then kissed it passionately. Then she rang.
Griggs came home later than usual, but he thought she was preoccupied and absent-minded.
"Has anything gone wrong?" he asked anxiously.
"Wrong?" she repeated. "Oh no!" She sighed. "It is the same thing. I am always anxious about you. You were a little pale before you went out and you had hardly eaten anything at breakfast."
"There is nothing the matter with me," laughed Griggs. "I am indestructible. I defy fate."
She started perceptibly, for she was too much of an Italian not to be a little superstitious.
STEPHANONE was often seen in the Via della Frezza, for the host of the little wine shop was one of his good customers. The neighbourhood was very quiet and respectable, and the existence of the wine shop was a matter of convenience and almost of necessity to the respectable citizens who dwelt there. They sent their women servants or came themselves at regular hours, bringing their own bottles and vessels of all shapes and of many materials for the daily allowance of wine; they invariably paid in cash, and they never went away in the summer. The business was a very good one; for the Romans, though they rarely drink too much and are on the whole a sober people, consume an amount of strong wine which would produce a curious effect upon any other race, in any other climate. Stefanone, though his wife had formerly thought him extravagant, had ultimately turned out to be a very prudent person, and in the course of a thirty years' acquaintance with Rome had selected his customers with care, judgment, and foresight. Whenever he was in Rome and had time to spare he came to the little shop in the Via della Frezza. He had stood godfather for one of the host's children, which in those days constituted a real tie between parents and god-parents.
But he had another reason for his frequent visits since that night on which he had accompanied Gloria and had shielded her from the rain with his gigantic brass-tipped umbrella. He took an interest in her, and would wait a long time in the hope of seeing her, sitting on a rush-bottomed stool outside the wine shop, and generally chewing the end of a wisp of broom. He had the faculty of sitting motionless for an hour at a time, his sturdy white-stockinged legs crossed one over the other, his square peasant's hands crossed upon his knee,—the sharp angles of the thumb-bones marked the labouring race,—his soft black hat tilted a little forward over his eyes, his jacket buttoned up when the weather was cool, thrown back and showing the loosened shirt open far below the throat when the day was warm.
Gloria reminded him of Dalrymple. The process of mind was a very simple one and needs no analysis. He had sought Dalrymple for years, but in vain, and Gloria had something in her face which recalled her father, though the latter's features were rough and harshly accentuated. Stefanone had made the acquaintance of the one-eyed cobbler without difficulty and had ascertained that there was a mystery about Gloria, whom the cobbler had first seen on the morning after Stefanone had met her in the storm. It was of course very improbable that she should be the daughter of Dalrymple and Annetta, but even the faint possibility of being on the track of his enemy had a strong effect upon the unforgiving peasant. If he ever found Dalrymple, he intended to kill him. In the meanwhile he had found a simple plan for finding out whether Gloria was the Scotchman's daughter or not. He waited patiently for the spring, and he came to Rome now every month for a week at a time.