"I think he likes to make little effects," said Mrs. Bowen judiciously. "He always did, rather."
"Why, was he like this when he was young?"
"I don't consider him very old now."
"No, of course not. I meant when you knew him before." Miss Graham had some needlework in her hand; Mrs. Bowen, who never even pretended to work at that kind of thing, had nothing in hers but the feather screen.
"He is old, compared with you, Imogene; but you'll find, as you live along, that your contemporaries are always young. Mr. Colville is very much improved. He used to be painfully shy, but he put on a bold front, and now the bold front seems to have become a second nature with him."
"I like it," said Miss Graham, to her needle.
"Yes; but I suspect he's still shy, at heart. He used to be very sentimental, and was always talking Ruskin. I think if he hadn't talked Ruskin so much, Jenny Milbury might have treated him better. It was very priggish in him."
"Oh, I can't imagine Mr. Colville's being priggish!"
"He's very much improved. He used to be quite a sloven in his dress; you know how very slovenly most American gentlemen are in their dress, at any rate. I think that influenced her against him too."
"He isn't slovenly now," suggested Miss Graham.
"Oh no; he's quite swell," said Mrs. Bowen, depriving the adjective of slanginess by the refinement of her tone.
"Well," said Miss Graham, "I don't see how you could have endured her after that. It was atrocious."
"It was better for her to break with him, if she found out she didn't love him, than to marry him. That," said Mrs. Bowen, with a depth of feeling uncommon for her, "would have been a thousand times worse."
"Yes, but she ought to have found out before she led him on so far."
"Sometimes girls can't. They don't know themselves; they think they're in love when they're not. She was very impulsive, and of course she was flattered by it; he was so intellectual. But at last she found that she couldn't bear it, and she had to tell him so."
"Did she ever say why she didn't love him?"
"No; I don't suppose she could. The only thing I remember her saying was that he was 'too much of a mixture.'"
"What did she mean by that?"
"I don't know exactly."
"Do you think he's insincere?"
"Oh no. Perhaps she meant that he wasn't single-minded."
"No. He certainly wasn't that in her case."
"He was decided enough with her—at last."
Imogene dropped the hopeless quest, "How can a man ever stand such a thing?" she sighed.
"He stood it very nobly. That was the best thing about it; he took it in the most delicate way. She showed me his letter. There wasn't a word or a hint of reproach in it; he seemed to be anxious about nothing but her feeling badly for him. Of course he couldn't help showing that he was mortified for having pursued her with attentions that were disagreeable to her; but that was delicate too. Yes, it was a very large-minded letter,"
"It was shocking in her to show it."
"It wasn't very nice. But it was a letter that any girl might have been proud to show."
"Oh, she couldn't have done it to gratify her vanity!"
"Girls are very queer, my dear," said Mrs. Bowen, as if the fact were an abstraction. She mused upon the flat of her screen, while Miss Graham plied her needle in silence.
The latter spoke first. "Do you think he was very much broken by it?"
"You never can tell. He went out west then, and there he has stayed ever since. I suppose his life would have been very different if nothing of the kind had happened. He had a great deal of talent. I always thought I should hear of him in some way."
"Well, it was a heartless, shameless thing! I don't see how you can speak of it so leniently as you do, Mrs. Bowen. It makes all sorts of coquetry and flirtation more detestable to me than ever. Why, it has ruined his life!"
"Oh, he was young enough then to outlive it. After all, they were a boy and girl."
"A boy and girl! How old were they?"
"He must have been twenty-three or four, and she was twenty."
"My age! Do you call that being a girl?"
"She was old enough to know what she was about," said Mrs. Bowen justly.
Imogene fell back in her chair, drawing out her needle the full length of its thread, and then letting her hand fall. "I don't know. It seems as if I never should be grown up, or anything but a child. Yes, when I think of the way young men talk, they do seem boys. Why can't they talk like Mr. Colville? I wish I could talk like him. It makes you forget how old and plain he is."
She remained with her eyelids dropped in an absent survey of her sewing, while Mrs. Bowen regarded her with a look of vexation, impatience, resentment, on the last refinement of these emotions, which she banished from her face before Miss Graham looked up and said, with a smile "How funny it is to see Effie's infatuation with him! She can't take her eyes off him for a moment, and she follows him round the room so as not to lose a word he is saying. It was heroic of her to go to bed without a murmur before he left to-night."
"Yes, she sees that he is good," said Mrs. Bowen.
"Oh, she sees that he's something very much more. Mr. Waters is good."
Miss Graham had the best of the argument, and so Mrs. Bowen did not reply.
"I feel," continued the young girl, "as if it were almost a shame to have asked him to go to that silly dancing party with us. It seems as if we didn't appreciate him. I think we ought to have kept him for high aesthetic occasions and historical researches."
"Oh, I don't think Mr. Colville was very deeply offended at being asked to go with us."
"No," said Imogene, with another sigh, "he didn't seem so. I suppose there's always an undercurrent of sadness—of tragedy—in everything for him."
"I don't suppose anything of the kind," cried Mrs. Bowen gaily. "He's had time enough to get over it."
"Do people ever get over such things?"
"It must be because he was young, as you say. But if it had happened now?"
"Oh, it couldn't happen now. He's altogether too cool and calculating."
"Do you think he's cool and calculating?"
"No. He's too old for a broken heart—a new one."
"Mrs. Bowen," demanded the girl solemnly, "could you forgive yourself for such a thing if you had done it?"
"Yes, perfectly well, if I wasn't in love with him."
"But if you'd made him think you were?" pursued the girl breathlessly.
"If I were a flirt—yes."
"I couldn't," said Imogene, with tragic depth.
"Oh, be done with your intensities, and go to bed, Imogene," said Mrs. Bowen, giving her a playful push.
It was so long since Colville had been at a dancing party that Mrs. Bowen's offer to take him to Madame Uccelli's had first struck his sense of the ludicrous. Then it had begun to flatter him; it implied that he was still young enough to dance if he would, though he had stipulated that they were not to expect anything of the kind from him. He liked also the notion of being seen and accepted in Florentine society as the old friend of Mrs. Bowen's, for he had not been long in discovering that her position in Florence was, among the foreign residents, rather authoritative. She was one of the very few Americans who were asked to Italian houses, and Italian houses lying even beyond the neutral ground of English-speaking intermarriages. She was not, of course, asked to the great Princess Strozzi ball, where the Florentine nobility appeared in the mediaeval pomp—the veritable costumes—of their ancestors; only a rich American banking family went, and their distinction was spoken of under the breath; but any glory short of this was within Mrs. Bowen's reach. So an old lady who possessed herself of Colville the night before had told him, celebrating Mrs. Bowen at length, and boasting of her acceptance among the best English residents, who, next after the natives, seem to constitute the social ambition of Americans living in Italian cities.
It interested him to find that some geographical distinctions which are fading at home had quite disappeared in Florence. When he was there before, people from quite small towns in the East had made pretty Lina Ridgely and her friend feel the disadvantage of having come from the Western side of an imaginary line; he had himself been at the pains always to let people know, at the American watering-places where he spent his vacations, that though presently from Des Vaches, Indiana, he was really born in Rhode Island; but in Florence it was not at all necessary. He found in Mrs. Bowen's house people from Denver, Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, New York, and Baltimore, all meeting as of apparently the same civilisation, and whether Mrs. Bowen's own origin was, like that of the Etruscan cities, lost in the mists of antiquity, or whether she had sufficiently atoned for the error of her birth by subsequent residence in the national capital and prolonged sojourn in New York, it seemed certainly not to be remembered against her among her Eastern acquaintance. The time had been when the fact that Miss Graham came from Buffalo would have gone far to class her with the animal from which her native city had taken its name; but now it made no difference, unless it was a difference in her favour. The English spoke with the same vague respect of Buffalo and of Philadelphia; and to a family of real Bostonians Colville had the courage to say simply that he lived in Des Vaches, and not to seek to palliate the truth in any sort. If he wished to prevaricate at all, it was rather to attribute himself to Mrs. Bowen's city in Ohio.
She and Miss Graham called for him with her carriage the next night, when it was time to go to Madame Uccelli's.
"This gives me a very patronised and effeminate feeling," said Colville, getting into the odorous dark of the carriage, and settling himself upon the front seat with a skill inspired by his anxiety not to tear any of the silken spreading white wraps that inundated the whole interior. "Being come for by ladies!" They both gave some nervous joyful laughs, as they found his hand in the obscurity, and left the sense of a gloved pressure upon it. "Is this the way you used to do in Vesprucius, Mrs. Bowen?"
"Oh no, indeed!" she answered. "The young gentlemen used to find out whether I was going, and came for me with a hack, and generally, if the weather was good, we walked home."
"That's the way we still do in Des Vaches. Sometimes, as a tremendous joke, the ladies come for us in leap-year. How do you go to balls in Buffalo, Miss Graham? Or, no; I withdraw the embarrassing question." Some gleams from the street lamps, as they drove along, struck in through the carriage windows, and flitted over the ladies' faces and were gone again. "Ah! this is very trying. Couldn't you stop him at the next corner, and let me see how radiant you ladies really are? I may be in very great danger; I'd like to know just how much."
"It wouldn't be of any use," cried the young girl gaily. "We're all wrapped up, and you couldn't form any idea of us. You must wait, and let us burst upon you when we come out of the dressing-room at Madame Uccelli's."
"But then it may be too late," he urged. "Is it very far?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen. "It's ridiculously far. It's outside the Roman Gate. I don't see why people live at that distance."
"In order to give the friends you bring the more pleasure of your company, Mrs. Bowen."
"Ah! that's very well. But you're not logical."
"No," said Colville; "you can't be logical and complimentary at the same time. It's too much to ask. How delicious your flowers are!" The ladies each had a bouquet in her hand, which she was holding in addition to her fan, the edges of her cloak, and the skirt of her train.
"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen; "we are so much obliged to you for them."
"Why, I sent you no flowers," said Colville, startled into untimely earnest.
"Didn't you?" triumphed Mrs. Bowen. "I thought gentlemen always sent flowers to ladies when they were going to a ball with them. They used to, in Columbus."
"And in Buffalo they always do," Miss Graham added.
"Ah! they don't in Des Vaches," said Colville. They tried to mystify him further about the bouquets; they succeeded in being very gay, and in making themselves laugh a great deal. Mrs. Bowen was even livelier than the young girl.
Her carriage was one of the few private equipages that drove up to Madame Uccelli's door; most people had not even come in a remise, but, after the simple Florentine fashion, had taken the little cabs, which stretched in a long line up and down the way; the horses had let their weary heads drop, and were easing their broken knees by extending their forelegs while they drowsed; the drivers, huddled in their great-coats, had assembled around the doorway to see the guests alight, with that amiable, unenvious interest of the Italians in the pleasure of others. The deep sky glittered with stars; in the corner of the next villa garden the black plumes of some cypresses blotted out their space among them.
"Isn't it Florentine?" demanded Mrs. Bowen, giving the hand which Colville offered in helping her out of the carriage a little vivid pressure, full of reminiscence and confident sympathy. A flush of youth warmed his heart; he did not quail even when the porter of the villa intervened between her and her coachman, whom she was telling when to come back, and said that the carriages were ordered for three o'clock.
"Did you ever sit up so late as that in Des Vaches?" asked Miss Graham mischievously.
"Oh yes; I was editor of a morning paper," he explained. But he did not like the imputation of her question.
Madame Uccelli accepted him most hospitably among her guests when he was presented. She was an American who had returned with her Italian husband to Italy, and had long survived him in the villa which he had built with her money. Such people grow very queer with the lapse of time. Madame Uccelli's character remained inalienably American, but her manners and customs had become largely Italian; without having learned the language thoroughly, she spoke it very fluently, and its idioms marked her Philadelphia English. Her house was a menagerie of all the nationalities; she was liked in Italian society, and there were many Italians; English-speaking Russians abounded; there were many genuine English, Germans, Scandinavians, Protestant Irish, American Catholics, and then Americans of all kinds. There was a superstition of her exclusiveness among her compatriots, but one really met every one there sooner or later; she was supposed to be a convert to the religion of her late husband, but no one really knew what religion she was of, probably not even Madame Uccelli herself. One thing you were sure of at her house, and that was a substantial supper; it is the example of such resident foreigners which has corrupted the Florentines, though many native families still hold out against it.
The dancing was just beginning, and the daughter of Madame Uccelli, who spoke both English and Italian much better than her mother, came forward and possessed herself of Miss Graham, after a polite feint of pressing Mrs. Bowen to let her find a partner for her.
Mrs. Bowen cooed a gracious refusal, telling Fanny Uccelli that she knew very well that she never danced now. The girl had not much time for Colville; she welcomed him, but she was full of her business of starting the dance, and she hurried away without asking him whether she should introduce him to some lady for the quadrille that was forming. Her mother, however, asked him if he would not go out and get himself some tea, and she found a lady to go with him to the supper-room. This lady had daughters whom apparently she wished to supervise while they were dancing, and she brought Colville back very soon. He had to stand by the sofa where she sat till Madame Uccelli found him and introduced him to another mother of daughters. Later he joined a group formed by the father of one of the dancers and the non-dancing husband of a dancing wife. Their conversation was perfunctory; they showed one another that they had no pleasure in it.
Presently the father went to see how his daughter looked while dancing; the husband had evidently no such curiosity concerning his wife; and Colville went with the father, and looked at Miss Graham. She was very beautiful, and she obeyed the music as if it were her breath; her face was rapt, intense, full of an unsmiling delight, which shone in her dark eyes, glowing like low stars. Her abandon interested Colville, and then awed him; the spectacle of that young, unjaded capacity for pleasure touched him with a profound sense of loss. Suddenly Imogene caught sight of him, and with the coming of a second look in her eyes the light of an exquisite smile flashed over her face. His heart was in his throat.
"Your daughter?" asked the fond parent at his elbow. "That is mine yonder in red."
Colville did not answer, nor look at the young lady in red. The dance was ceasing; the fragments of those kaleidoscopic radiations were dispersing themselves; the tormented piano was silent.
The officer whom Imogene had danced with brought her to Mrs. Bowen, and resigned her with the regulation bow, hanging his head down before him as if submitting his neck to the axe. She put her hand in Colville's arm, where he stood beside Mrs. Bowen. "Oh, do take me to get something to eat!"
In the supper-room she devoured salad and ices with a childish joy in them. The place was jammed, and she laughed from her corner at Colville's struggles in getting the things for her and bringing them to her. While she was still in the midst of an ice, the faint note of the piano sounded. "Oh, they're beginning again. It's the Lancers!" she said, giving him the plate back. She took his arm again; she almost pulled him along on their return.
"Why don't you dance?" she demanded mockingly.
"I would if you'd let me dance with you."
"Oh, that's impossible! I'm engaged ever so many deep." She dropped his arm instantly at sight of a young Englishman who seemed to be looking for her. This young Englishman had a zeal for dancing that was unsparing; partners were nothing to him except as a means of dancing; his manner expressed a supreme contempt for people who made the slightest mistake, who danced with less science or less conscience than himself. "I've been looking for you," he said, in a tone of cold rebuke, without looking at her. "We've been waiting."
Colville wished to beat him, but Imogene took his rebuke meekly, and murmured some apologies about not hearing the piano before. He hurried her off without recognising Colville's existence in any way.
The undancing husband of the dancing wife was boring himself in a corner; Colville decided that the chances with him were better than with the fond father, and joined him, just as a polite officer came up and entreated him to complete a set. "Oh, I never danced in my life," he replied; and then he referred the officer to Colville. "Don't you dance?"
"I used to dance," Colville began, while the officer stood looking patiently at him. This was true. He used to dance the Lancers, too, and very badly, seventeen years before. He had danced it with Lina Ridgely and the other one, Mrs. Milbury. His glance wandered to the vacant place on the floor; it was the same set which Miss Graham was in; she smiled and beckoned derisively. A vain and foolish ambition fired him. "Oh yes, I can dance a little," he said.
A little was quite enough for the eager officer. He had Colville a partner in an instant, and the next he was on the floor.
"Oh, what fun!" cried Miss Graham; but the fun had not really begun yet.
Colville had forgotten everything about the Lancers. He walked round like a bear in a pen: he capered to and fro with a futile absurdity; people poked him hither and thither; his progress was attended by rending noises from the trains over which he found his path. He smiled and cringed, and apologised to the hardening faces of the dancers: even Miss Graham's face had become very grave.
"This won't do," said the Englishman at last, with cold insolence. He did not address himself to any one; he merely stopped; they all stopped, and Colville was effectively expelled the set? another partner was found for his lady, and he wandered giddily away. He did not know where to turn; the whole room must have seen what an incredible ass he had made of himself, but Mrs. Bowen looked as if she had not seen.
He went up to her, resolved to make fun of himself at the first sign she gave of being privy to his disgrace. But she only said, "Have you found your way to the supper-room yet?"
"Oh yes; twice," he answered, and kept on talking with her and Madame Uccelli. After five minutes or so something occurred to Colville. "Have you found the way to the supper-room yet, Mrs. Bowen?"
"No!" she owned, with a small, pathetic laugh, which expressed a certain physical faintness, and reproached him with insupportable gentleness for his selfish obtuseness.
"Let me show you the way," he cried.
"Why, I am rather hungry," said Mrs. Bowen, taking his arm, with a patient arrangement first of her fan, her bouquet, and her train, and then moving along by his side with a delicate footed pace, which insinuated and deprecated her dependence upon him.
There were only a few people in the supper-room, and they had it practically to themselves. She took a cup of tea and a slice of buttered bread, with a little salad, which she excused herself from eating because it was the day after her headache. "I shouldn't have thought you were hungry, Mrs. Bowen," he said, "if you hadn't told me so," and he recalled that, as a young girl, her friend used to laugh at her for having such a butterfly appetite; she was in fact one of those women who go through life the marvels of such of our brutal sex as observe the ethereal nature of their diet. But in an illogical revulsion of feeling. Colville, who was again cramming himself with all the solids and fluids in reach, and storing up a vain regret against the morrow, preferred her delicacy to the magnificent rapacity of Miss Graham: Imogene had passed from salad to ice, and at his suggestion had frankly reverted to salad again and then taken a second ice, with the robust appetite of perfect health and perfect youth. He felt a desire to speak against her to Mrs. Bowen, he did not know why and he did not know how; he veiled his feeling in an open attack. "Miss Graham has just been the cause of my playing the fool, with her dancing. She dances so superbly that she makes you want to dance too—she made me feel as if I could dance."
"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen; "it was very kind of you to complete the set. I saw you dancing," she added, without a glimmer of guilty consciousness in her eyes.
It was very sweet, but Colville had to protest. "Oh no; you didn't see me dancing; you saw me not dancing. I am a ruined man, and I leave Florence to-morrow; but I have the sad satisfaction of reflecting that I don't leave an unbroken train among the ladies of that set. And I have made one young Englishman so mad that there is a reasonable hope of his not recovering."
"Oh no; you don't think of going away for that!" said Mrs. Bowen, not heeding the rest of his joking.
"Well, the time has been when I have left Florence for loss," said Colville, with the air of preparing himself to listen to reason.
"You mustn't," said Mrs. Bowen briefly.
"Oh, very well, then, I won't," said Colville whimsically, as if that settled it.
Mrs. Bowen would not talk of the matter any more; he could see that with her kindness, which was always more than her tact, she was striving to get away from the subject. As he really cared for it no longer, this made him persist in clinging to it; he liked this pretty woman's being kind to him. "Well," he said finally, "I consent to stay in Florence on condition that you suggest some means of atonement for me which I can also make a punishment to Miss Graham."
Mrs. Bowen did not respond to the question of placating and punishing her protegee with sustained interest. They went back to Madame Uccelli, and to the other elderly ladies in the room that opened by archways upon the dancing-room.
Imogene was on the floor, dancing not merely with unabated joy, but with a zest that seemed only to freshen from dance to dance. If she left the dance, it was to go out on her partner's arm to the supper-room. Colville could not decently keep on talking to Mrs. Bowen the whole evening; it would be too conspicuous; he devolved from frump to frump; he bored himself; he yawned in his passage from one of these mothers or fathers to another. The hours passed; it was two o'clock; Imogene was going out to the supper-room again. He was taking out his watch. She saw him, and "Oh, don't!" she cried, laughing, as she passed.
The dancing went on; she was waltzing now in the interminable german. Some one had let down, a window in the dancing-room, and he was feeling it in his shoulder. Mrs. Bowen, across the room, looked heroically patient, but weary. He glanced, down at the frump on the sofa near, and realised that she had been making a long speech to him, which, he could see from her look, had ended in some sort of question.
Three o'clock came, and they had to wait till the german was over. He felt that Miss Graham was behaving badly, ungratefully, selfishly; on the way home in the carriage he was silent from utter boredom and fatigue, but Mrs. Bowen was sweetly sympathetic with the girl's rapture. Imogene did not seem to feel his moodiness; she laughed, she joked, she told a number of things that happened, she hummed the air of the last waltz. "Isn't it divine?" she asked. "Oh! I feel as if I could dance for a week." She was still dancing; she gave Colville's foot an accidental tap in keeping time on the floor of the carriage to the tune she was humming. No one said anything about a next meeting when they parted at the gate of Palazzo Pinti, and Mrs. Bowen bade her coachman drive Colville to his hotel. But both the ladies' voices called good-night to him as he drove away. He fancied a shade of mocking in Miss Graham's voice.
The great outer door of the hotel was locked, of course, and the poor little porter kept Colville thumping at it some time before he unlocked it, full of sleepy smiles and apologies. "I'm sorry to wake you up," said Colville kindly.
"It is my duty," said the porter, with amiable heroism. He discharged another duty by lighting a whole new candle, which would be set down to Colville's account, and went before him to his room, up the wide stairs, cold in their white linen path, and on through the crooked corridors haunted by the ghosts of extinct tables d'hote, and full of goblin shadows. He had recovered a noonday suavity by the time he reached Colville's door, and bowed himself out, after lighting the candles within, with a sweet plenitude of politeness, which Colville, even in his gloomy mood, could not help admiring in a man in his shirt sleeves, with only one suspender up.
If there had been a fire, Colville would have liked to sit down before it, and take an account of his feelings, but the atmosphere of a bed-chamber in a Florentine hotel at half-past three o'clock on a winter morning is not one that invites to meditation; and he made haste to get into bed, with nothing clearer in his mind than a shapeless sense of having been trifled with. He ought not to have gone to a dancing party, to begin with, and then he certainly ought not to have attempted to dance; so far he might have been master of the situation, and was responsible for it; but he was, over and above this, aware of not having wished to do either, of having been wrought upon against his convictions to do both. He regarded now with supreme loathing a fantastic purpose which he had formed while tramping round on those women's dresses, of privately taking lessons in dancing, and astonishing Miss Graham at the next ball where they met. Miss Graham? What did he care for that child? Or Mrs. Bowen either, for the matter of that? Had he come four thousand miles to be used, to be played with, by them? At this point Colville was aware of the brutal injustice of his mood. They were ladies, both of them, charming and good, and he had been a fool; that was all. It was not the first time he had been a fool for women. An inexpressible bitterness for that old wrong, which, however he had been used to laugh at it and despise it, had made his life solitary and barren, poured upon his soul; it was as if it had happened to him yesterday.
A band of young men burst from one of the narrow streets leading into the piazza and straggled across it, letting their voices flare out upon the silence, and then drop extinct one by one. A whole world of faded associations flushed again in Colville's heart. This was Italy; this was Florence; and he execrated the hour in which he had dreamed of returning.
The next morning's sunshine dispersed the black mood of the night before; but enough of Colville's self-disgust remained to determine him not to let his return to Florence be altogether vain, or his sojourn so idle as it had begun being. The vague purpose which he had cherished of studying the past life and character of the Florentines in their architecture shaped itself anew in the half-hour which he gave himself over his coffee; and he turned it over in his mind with that mounting joy in its capabilities which attends the contemplation of any sort of artistic endeavour. No people had ever more distinctly left the impress of their whole temper in their architecture, or more sharply distinguished their varying moods from period to period in their palaces and temples. He believed that he could not only supply that brief historical sketch of Florence which Mrs. Bowen had lamented the want of, but he could make her history speak an unintelligible, an unmistakeable tongue in every monument of the past, from the Etruscan wall at Fiesole to the cheap, plain, and tasteless shaft raised to commemorate Italian Unity in the next piazza. With sketches from his own pencil, illustrative of points which he could not otherwise enforce, he could make such a book on Florence as did not exist, such a book as no one had yet thought of making. With this object in his mind, making and keeping him young, he could laugh with any one who liked at the vanity of the middle-aged Hoosier who had spoiled a set in the Lancers at Madame Uccelli's party; he laughed at him now alone, with a wholly impersonal sense of his absurdity.
After breakfast he went without delay to Viesseux's reading-room, to examine his catalogue, and see what there was in it to his purpose. While he was waiting his turn to pay his subscription, with the people who surrounded the proprietor, half a dozen of the acquaintances he had made at Mrs. Bowen's passed in and out. Viesseux's is a place where sooner or later you meet every one you know among the foreign residents at Florence; the natives in smaller proportion resort there too; and Colville heard a lady asking for a book in that perfect Italian which strikes envy to the heart of the stranger sufficiently versed in the language to know that he never shall master it. He rather rejoiced in his despair, however, as an earnest of his renewed intellectual life. Henceforth his life would be wholly intellectual. He did not regret his little excursion into society; it had shown him with dramatic sharpness how unfit for it he was.
"Good morning!" said some one in a bland undertone full of a pleasant recognition of the claims to quiet of a place where some others were speaking in their ordinary tones.
Colville looked round on the Rev. Mr. Waters, and took his friendly hand. "Good morning—glad to see you," he answered.
"Are you looking for that short Florentine history for Mrs. Bowen's little girl?" asked Mr. Waters, inclining his head slightly for the reply. "She mentioned it to me."
By day Colville remarked more distinctly that the old gentleman was short and slight, with a youthful eagerness in his face surviving on good terms with the grey locks that fell down his temples from under the brim of his soft felt hat. With the boyish sweetness of his looks blended a sort of appreciative shrewdness, which pointed his smiling lips slightly aslant in what seemed the expectation rather than the intention of humour.
"Not exactly," said Colville, experiencing a difficulty in withholding the fact that in some sort he was just going to write a short Florentine history, and finding a certain pleasure in Mrs. Bowen's having remembered that he had taken an interest in Effie's reading. He had a sudden wish to tell Mr. Waters of his plan, but this was hardly the time or place.
They now found themselves face to face with the librarian, and Mr. Waters made a gesture of waiving himself in Colville's favour.
"No, no!" said the latter; "you had better ask. I am going to put this gentleman through rather an extended course of sprouts."
The librarian smiled with the helplessness of a foreigner, who knows his interlocutor's English, but not the meaning of it.
"Oh, I merely wanted to ask," said Mr. Waters, addressing the librarian, and explaining to Colville, "whether you had received that book on Savonarola yet. The German one."
"I shall see," said the librarian, and he went upon a quest that kept him some minutes.
"You're not thinking of taking Savonarola's life, I suppose?" suggested Colville.
"Oh no. Villari's book has covered the whole ground for ever, it seems to me. It's a wonderful book. You've read it?"
"Yes. It's a thing that makes you feel that, after all, the Italians have only to make a real effort in any direction, and they go ahead of everybody else. What biography of the last twenty years can compare with it?"
"You're right, sir—you're right," cried the old man enthusiastically. "They're a gifted race, a people of genius."
"I wish for their own sakes they'd give their minds a little to generalship," said Colville, pressed by the facts to hedge somewhat. "They did get so badly smashed in their last war, poor fellows."
"Oh, I don't think I should like them any better if they were better soldiers. Perhaps the lesson of noble endurance that they've given our times is all that we have the right to demand of them in the way of heroism; no one can say they lack courage. And sometimes it seems to me that in simply outgrowing the different sorts of despotism that had fastened upon them, till their broken bonds fell away without positive effort on their part, they showed a greater sublimity than if they had violently conquered their freedom. Most nations sink lower and lower under tyranny; the Italians grew steadily more and more civilised, more noble, more gentle, more grand. It was a wonderful spectacle—like a human soul perfected through suffering and privation. Every period of their history is full of instruction. I find my ancestral puritanism particularly appealed to by the puritanism of Savonarola."
"Then Villari hasn't satisfied you that Savonarola wasn't a Protestant?"
"Oh yes, he has. I said his puritanism. Just now I'm interested in justifying his failure to myself, for it's one of the things in history that I've found it hardest to accept. But no doubt his puritanic state fell because it was dreary and ugly, as the puritanic state always has been. It makes its own virtues intolerable; puritanism won't let you see how good and beautiful the Puritans often are. It was inevitable that Savonarola's enemies should misunderstand and hate him."
"You are one of the last men I should have expected to find among the Arrabiati," said Colville.
"Oh, there's a great deal to be said for the Florentine Arrabiati, as well as for the English Malignants, though the Puritans in neither case would have known how to say it. Savonarola perished because he was excessive. I am studying him in this aspect; it is fresh ground. It is very interesting to inquire just at what point a man's virtues become mischievous and intolerable."
These ideas interested Colville; he turned to them with relief from the sense of his recent trivialities; in this old man's earnestness he found support and encouragement in the new course he had marked out for himself. Sometimes it had occurred to him not only that he was too old for the interests of his youth at forty, but that there was no longer time for him to take up new ones. He considered Mr. Waters's grey hairs, and determined to be wiser. "I should like to talk these things over with you—and some other things," he said.
The librarian came toward them with the book for Mr. Waters, who was fumbling near-sightedly in his pocket-book for his card. "I shall be very happy to see you at my room," he said. "Ah, thank you," he added, taking his book, with a simple relish as if it were something whose pleasantness was sensible to the touch. He gave Colville the scholar's far-off look as he turned to go: he was already as remote as the fifteenth century through the magic of the book, which he opened and began to read at once. Colville stared after him; he did not wish to come to just that yet, either. Life, active life, life of his own day, called to him; he had been one of its busiest children: could he turn his back upon it for any charm or use that was in the past? Again that unnerving doubt, that paralysing distrust, beset him, and tempted him to curse the day in which he had returned to this outworn Old World. Idler on its modern surface, or delver in its deep-hearted past, could he reconcile himself to it? What did he care for the Italians of to-day, or the history of the Florentines as expressed in their architectural monuments? It was the problems of the vast, tumultuous American life, which he had turned his back on, that really concerned him. Later he might take up the study that fascinated yonder old man, but for the present it was intolerable.
He was no longer young, that was true; but with an ache of old regret he felt that he had not yet lived his life, that his was a baffled destiny, an arrested fate. A lady came up and took his turn with the librarian, and Colville did not stay for another. He went out and walked down the Lung' Arno toward the Cascine. The sun danced on the river, and bathed the long line of pale buff and grey houses that followed its curve, and ceased in the mist of leafless tree-tops where the Cascine began. It was not the hour of the promenade, and there was little driving; but the sidewalks were peopled thickly enough with persons, in groups, or singly, who had the air of straying aimlessly up or down, with no purpose but to be in the sun, after the rainy weather of the past week. There were faces of invalids, wistful and thin, and here and there a man, muffled to the chin, lounged feebly on the parapet and stared at the river. Colville hastened by them; they seemed to claim him as one of their ailing and aging company, and just then he was in the humour of being very young and strong.
A carriage passed before him through the Cascine gates, and drove down the road next the river. He followed, and when it had got a little way it stopped at the roadside, and a lady and little girl alighted, who looked about and caught sight of him, and then obviously waited for him to come up with them. It was Imogene and Effie Bowen, and the young girl called to him: "We thought it was you. Aren't you astonished to find us here at this hour?" she demanded, as soon as he came up, and gave him her hand. "Mrs. Bowen sent us for our health—or Effie's health—and I was just making the man stop and let us out for a little walk."
"My health is very much broken too, Miss Effie," said Colville. "Will you let me walk with you?" The child smiled, as she did at Colville's speeches, which she apparently considered all jokes, but diplomatically referred the decision to Imogene with an upward glance.
"We shall be very glad indeed," said the girl.
"That's very polite of you. But Miss Effie makes no effort to conceal her dismay," said Colville.
The little girl smiled again, and her smile was so like the smile of Lina Ridgely, twenty years ago, that his next words were inevitably tinged with reminiscence.
"Does one still come for one's health to the Cascine? When I was in Florence before, there was no other place if one went to look for it with young ladies—the Cascine or the Boboli Gardens. Do they keep the fountain of youth turned on here during the winter still?"
"I've never seen it," said Imogene gaily.
"Of course not. You never looked for it. Neither did I when I was here before. But it wouldn't escape me now."
Since he had met them he had aged again, in spite of his resolutions to the contrary; somehow, beside their buoyancy and bloom, the youth in his heart faded.
Imogene had started forward as soon as he joined them, and Colville, with Effie's gloved hand stolen shyly in his, was finding it quite enough to keep up with her in her elastic advance.
She wore a long habit of silk, whose fur-trimmed edge wandered diagonally across her breast and down to the edge of her walking dress. To Colville, whom her girlish slimness in her ball costume had puzzled after his original impressions of Junonian abundance, she did not so much dwindle as seem to vanish from the proportions his visions had assigned her that first night when he saw her standing before the mirror. In this outdoor avatar, this companionship with the sun and breeze, she was new to him again, and he found himself searching his consciousness for his lost acquaintance with her, and feeling as if he knew her less and less. Perhaps, indeed, she had no very distinctive individuality; perhaps at her age no woman has, but waits for it to come to her through life, through experience. She was an expression of youth, of health, of beauty, and of the moral loveliness that comes from a fortunate combination of these; but beyond this she was elusive in a way that seemed to characterise her even materially. He could not make anything more of the mystery as he walked at her side, and he went thinking—formlessly, as people always think—that with the child or with her mother he would have had a community of interest and feeling which he lacked with this splendid girlhood! he was both too young and too old for it; and then, while he answered this or that to Imogene's talk aptly enough, his mind went back to the time when this mystery was no mystery, or when he was contemporary with it, and if he did not understand it, at least accepted it as if it wore the most natural thing in the world. It seemed a longer time now since it had been in his world than it was since he was a child.
"Should you have thought," she asked, turning her face back toward him, "that it would be so hot in the sun to-day? Oh, that beautiful river! How it twists and writhes along! Do you remember that sonnet of Longfellow's—the one he wrote in Italian about the Ponte Vecchio, and the Arno twisting like a dragon underneath it? They say that Hawthorne used to live in a villa just behind the hill over there; we're going to look it up as soon as the weather is settled. Don't you think his books are perfectly fascinating?"
"Yes," said Colville; "only I should want a good while to say it."
"I shouldn't!" retorted the girl. "When you've said fascinating, you've said everything. There's no other word for them. Don't you like to talk about the books you've read?"
"I would if I could remember the names of the characters. But I get them mixed up."
"Oh, I never do! I remember the least one of them, and all they do and say."
"I used to."
"It seems to me you used to do everything."
"It seems to me as if I did."
"'I remember, when I think, That my youth was half divine.'"
"Oh, Tennyson—yes! He's fascinating. Don't you think he's fascinating?"
"Very," said Colville. He was wondering whether this were the kind of talk that he thought was literary when he was a young fellow.
"How perfectly weird the 'Vision of Sin' is!" Imogene continued. "Don't you like weird things?"
"Weird things?" Colville reflected. "Yes; but I don't see very much in them any more. The fact is, they don't seem to come to anything in particular."
"Oh, I think they do! I've had dreams that I've lived on for days. Do you ever have prophetic dreams?"
"Yes; but they never come true. When they do, I know that I didn't have them."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that we are all so fond of the marvellous that we can't trust ourselves about any experience that seems supernatural. If a ghost appeared to me I should want him to prove it by at least two other reliable, disinterested witnesses before I believed my own account of the matter."
"Oh!" cried the girl, half puzzled, half amused. "Then of course you don't believe in ghosts?"
"Yes; I expect to be one myself some day. But I'm in no hurry to mingle with them."
Imogene smiled vaguely, as if the talk pleased her, even when it mocked the fancies and whims which, after so many generations that have indulged them, she was finding so fresh and new in her turn.
"Don't you like to walk by the side of a river?" she asked, increasing her eager pace a little. "I feel as if it were bearing me along."
"I feel as if I were carrying it," said Colville. "It's as fatiguing as walking on railroad ties."
"Oh, that's too bad!" cried the girl. "How can you be so prosaic? Should you ever have believed that the sun could be so hot in January? And look at those ridiculous green hillsides over the river there! Don't you like it to be winter when it is winter?"
She did not seem to have expected anything from Colville but an impulsive acquiescence, but she listened while he defended the mild weather. "I think it's very well for Italy," he said. "It has always seemed to me—that is, it seems to me now for the first time, but one has to begin the other way—as if the seasons here had worn themselves out like the turbulent passions of the people. I dare say the winter was much fiercer in the times of the Bianchi and Neri."
"Oh, how delightful! Do you really believe that?"
"No, I don't know that I do. But I shouldn't have much difficulty in proving it, I think, to the sympathetic understanding."
"I wish you would prove it to mine. It sounds so pretty, I'm sure it must be true."
"Oh, then, it isn't necessary. I'll reserve my arguments for Mrs. Bowen."
"You had better. She isn't at all romantic. She says it's very well for me she isn't—that her being matter-of-fact lets me be as romantic as I like."
"Then Mrs. Bowen isn't as romantic as she would like to be if she hadn't charge of a romantic young lady?"
"Oh, I don't say that. Dear me! I'd no idea it could be so hot in January." As they strolled along beside the long hedge of laurel, the carriage slowly following them at a little distance, the sun beat strong upon the white road, blotched here and there with the black irregular shadows of the ilexes. The girl undid the pelisse across her breast, with a fine impetuosity, and let it swing open as she walked. She stopped suddenly. "Hark! What bird was that?"
"'It was the nightingale, and not the lark,'" suggested Colville lazily.
"Oh, don't you think Romeo and Juliet is divine?" demanded Imogene, promptly dropping the question of the bird.
"I don't know about Romeo," returned Colville, "but it's sometimes occurred to me that Juliet was rather forth-putting."
"You know she wasn't. It's my favourite play. I could go every night. It's perfectly amazing to me that they can play anything else."
"You would like it five hundred nights in the year, like Hazel Kirke? That would be a good deal of Romeo, not to say Juliet."
"They ought to do it out of respect to Shakespeare. Don't you like Shakespeare?"
"Well, I've seen the time when I preferred Alexander Smith," said Colville evasively.
"Alexander Smith? Who in the world is Alexander Smith?"
"How recent you are! Alexander Smith was an immortal who flourished about the year 1850."
"That was before I was born. How could I remember him? But I don't feel so very recent for all that."
"Neither do I, this morning," said Colville. "I was up at one of Pharaoh's balls last night, and I danced too much."
He gave Imogene a droll glance, and then bent it upon Effie's discreet face. The child dropped her eyes with a blush like her mother's, having first sought provisional counsel of Imogene, who turned away. He rightly inferred that they all had been talking him over at breakfast, and he broke into a laugh which they joined in, but Imogene said nothing in recognition of the fact.
With what he felt to be haste for his relief she said, "Don't you hate to be told to read a book?"
"I used to—quarter of a century ago," said Colville, recognising that this was the way young people talked, even then.
"Used to?" she repeated. "Don't you now?"
"No; I'm a great deal more tractable now. I always say that I shall get the book out of the library. I draw the line at buying. I still hate to buy a book that people recommend."
"What kind of books do you like to buy?"
"Oh, no kind. I think we ought to get all our books out of the library."
"Do you never like to talk in earnest?"
"Well, not often," said Colville. "Because, if you do, you can't say with a good conscience afterward that you were only in fun."
"Oh! And do you always like to talk so that you can get out of things afterward?"
"No. I didn't say that, did I?"
"Very nearly, I should think."
"Then I'm glad I didn't quite."
"I like people to be outspoken—to say everything they think," said the girl, regarding him with a puzzled look.
"Then I foresee that I shall become a favourite," answered Colville. "I say a great deal more than I think."
She looked at him again with envy, with admiration, qualifying her perplexity. They had come to a point where some moss-grown, weather-beaten statues stood at the corners of the road that traversed the bosky stretch between the avenues of the Cascine. "Ah, how beautiful they are!" he said, halting, and giving himself to the rapture that a blackened garden statue imparts to one who beholds it from the vantage-ground of sufficient years and experience.
"Do you remember that story of Heine's," he resumed, after a moment, "of the boy who steals out of the old castle by moonlight, and kisses the lips of the garden statue, fallen among the rank grass of the ruinous parterres? And long afterward, when he looks down on the sleep of the dying girl where she lies on the green sofa, it seems to him that she and that statue are the same?"
"Oh!" deeply sighed the young girl. "No, I never read it. Tell me what it is. I must read it."
"The rest is all talk—very good talk; but I doubt whether it would interest you. He goes on to talk of a great many things—-of the way Bellini spoke French, for example. He says it was bloodcurdling, horrible, cataclysmal. He brought out the poor French words and broke them upon the wheel, till you thought the whole world must give way with a thunder-crash. A dead hush reigned in the room; the women did not know whether to faint or fly; the men looked down at their pantaloons, and tried to realise what they had on."
"Oh, how perfectly delightful! how shameful!" cried the girl. "I must read it. What is it in? What is the name of the story?"
"It isn't a story," said Colville. "Did you ever see anything lovelier than these statues?"
"No," said Imogene. "Are they good?"
"They are much better than good—they are the very worst rococo."
"What makes you say they are beautiful, then?"
"Why, don't you see? They commemorate youth, gaiety, brilliant, joyous life. That's what that kind of statues was made for—to look on at rich, young, beautiful people and their gallantries; to be danced before by fine ladies and gentlemen playing at shepherd and shepherdesses; to be driven past by marcheses and contessinas flirting in carriages; to be hung with scarfs and wreaths; to be parts of eternal fetes champetres. Don't you see how bored they look? When I first came to Italy I should have detested and ridiculed their bad art; but now they're exquisite—the worse, the better,"
"I don't know what in the world you do mean," said Imogene, laughing uneasily.
"Mrs. Bowen would. It's a pity Mrs. Bowen isn't here with us. Miss Effie, if I lift you up to one of those statues, will you kindly ask it if it doesn't remember a young American signor who was here just before the French Revolution? I don't believe it's forgotten me."
"No, no," said Imogene. "It's time we were walking back. Don't you like Scott!" she added. "I should think you would if you like those romantic things. I used to like Scott so much. When I was fifteen I wouldn't read anything but Scott. Don't you like Thackeray? Oh, he's so cynical! It's perfectly delightful."
"Cynical?" repeated Colville thoughtfully. "I was looking into The Newcomes the other day, and I thought he was rather sentimental"
"Sentimental! Why, what an idea! That is the strangest thing I ever heard of. Oh!" she broke in upon her own amazement, "don't you think Browning's 'Statue and the Bust' is splendid? Mr. Morton read it to us—to Mrs. Bowen, I mean."
Colville resented this freedom of Mr. Morion's, he did not know just why; then his pique was lost in sarcastic recollection of the time when he too used to read poems to ladies. He had read that poem to Lina Ridgely and the other one.
"Mrs. Bowen asked him to read it," Imogene continued.
"Did she?" asked Colville pensively.
"And then we discussed it afterward. We had a long discussion. And then he read us the 'Legend of Pornic,' and we had a discussion about that. Mrs. Bowen says it was real gold they found in the coffin; but I think it was the girl's 'gold hair.' I don't know which Mr. Morion thought. Which do you? Don't you think the 'Legend of Pornic' is splendid?"
"Yes, it's a great poem, and deep," said Colville. They had come to a place where the bank sloped invitingly to the river. "Miss Effie," he asked, "wouldn't you like to go down and throw stones into the Arno? That's what a river is for," he added, as the child glanced toward Imogene for authorisation, "to have stones thrown into it."
"Oh, let us!" cried Imogene, rushing down to the brink. "I don't want to throw stones into it, but to get near it—to get near to any bit of nature. They do pen you up so from it in Europe!" She stood and watched Colville skim stones over the current. "When you stand by the shore of a swift river like this, or near a railroad train when it comes whirling by, don't you ever have a morbid impulse to fling yourself forward?"
"Not at my time of life," said Colville, stooping to select a flat stone. "Morbid impulses are one of the luxuries of youth." He threw the stone, which skipped triumphantly far out into the stream. "That was beautiful, wasn't it, Miss Effie?"
"Lovely!" murmured the child.
He offered her a flat pebble. "Would you like to try one?"
"It would spoil my gloves," she said, in deprecating refusal.
"Let me try it!" cried Imogene. "I'm not afraid of my gloves."
Colville yielded the pebble, looking at her with the thought of how intoxicating he should once have found this bit of wilful abandon, but feeling rather sorry for it now. "Oh, perhaps not?" he said, laying his hand upon hers, and looking into her eyes.
She returned his look, and then she dropped the pebble and put her hand back in her muff, and turned and ran up the bank. "There's the carriage. It's time we should be going." At the top of the bank she became a mirror of dignity, a transparent mirror to his eye. "Are you going back to town, Mr. Colville?" she asked, with formal state. "We could set you down anywhere!"
"Thank you, Miss Graham. I shall be glad to avail myself of your very kind offer. Allow me." He handed her ceremoniously to the carriage; he handed Effie Bowen even more ceremoniously to the carriage, holding his hat in one hand while he offered the other. Then he mounted to the seat in front of them. "The weather has changed," he said.
Imogene hid her face in her muff, and Effie Bowen bowed hers against Imogene's shoulder.
A sense of the girl's beauty lingered in Colville's thought all day, and recurred to him again and again; and the ambitious intensity and enthusiasm of her talk came back in touches of amusement and compassion. How divinely young it all was, and how lovely! He patronised it from a height far aloof.
He was not in the frame of mind for the hotel table, and he went to lunch, at a restaurant. He chose a simple trattoria, the first he came to, and he took his seat at one of the bare, rude tables, where the joint saucers for pepper and salt, and a small glass for toothpicks, with a much-scraped porcelain box for matches, expressed an uncorrupted Florentinity of custom. But when he gave his order in offhand Italian, the waiter answered in the French which waiters get together for the traveller's confusion in Italy, and he resigned himself to whatever chance of acquaintance might befall him. The place had a companionable smell of stale tobacco, and the dim light showed him on the walls of a space dropped a step or two lower, at the end of the room, a variety of sketches and caricatures. A waiter was laying a large table in this space, and when Colville came up to examine the drawings he jostled him, with due apologies, in the haste of a man working against time for masters who will brook no delay. He was hurrying still when a party of young men came in and took their places at the table, and began to rough him for his delay. Colville could recognise several of them in the vigorous burlesques on the walls, and as others dropped in the grotesque portraitures made him feel as if he had seen them before. They all talked at once, each man of his own interests, except when they joined in a shout of mockery and welcome for some new-comer. Colville, at his risotto, almost the room's length away, could hear what they thought, one and another, of Botticelli and Michelangelo; of old Piloty's things at Munich; of the dishes they had served to them, and of the quality of the Chianti; of the respective merits of German and Italian tobacco; of whether Inglehart had probably got to Venice yet; of the personal habits of Billings, and of the question whether the want of modelling in Simmons's nose had anything to do with his style of snoring; of the overrated colouring of some of those Venetian fellows; of the delicacy of Mino da Fiesole, and of the genius of Babson's tailor. Babson was there to defend the cut of his trousers, and Billings and Simmons were present to answer for themselves at the expense of the pictures of those who had called their habits and features into question. When it came to this all the voices joined in jolly uproar. Derision and denial broke out of the tumult, and presently they were all talking quietly of a reception which some of them were at the day before. Then Colville heard one of them saying that he would like a chance to paint some lady whose name he did not catch, and "She looks awfully sarcastic," one of the young fellows said.
"They say she is," said another. "They say she's awfully intellectual."
"Boston?" queried a third.
"No, Kalamazoo. The centre of culture is out there now."
"She knows how to dress, anyhow," said the first commentator. "I wonder what Parker would talk to her about when he was painting her. He's never read anything but Poe's 'Ullalume.'"
"Well, that's a good subject—'Ullalume.'"
"I suppose she's read it?"
"She's read 'most everything, they say."
"What's an Ullalume, anyway, Parker?"
One of the group sprang up from the table and drew on the wall what he labelled "An Ullalume." Another rapidly depicted Parker in the moment of sketching a young lady; her portrait had got as far as the eyes and nose when some one protested: "Oh, hello! No personalities."
The draughtsman said, "Well, all right!" and sat down again.
"Hall talked with her the most. What did she say, Hall?"
"Hall can't remember words in three syllables, but he says it was mighty brilliant and mighty deep."
"They say she's a niece of Mrs. Bowen's. She's staying with Mrs. Bowen."
Then it was the wisdom and brilliancy and severity of Imogene Graham that these young men stood in awe of! Colville remembered how the minds of girls of twenty had once dazzled him. "And yes," he mused, "she must have believed that we were talking literature in the Cascine. Certainly I should have thought it an intellectual time when I was at that age," he owned to himself with forlorn irony.
The young fellows went on to speak of Mrs. Bowen, whom it seemed they had known the winter before. She had been very polite to them; they praised her as if she were quite an old woman.
"But she must have been a very pretty girl," one of them put in.
"Well, she has a good deal of style yet."
"Oh yes, but she never could have been a beauty like the other one."
On her part, Imogene was very sober when she met Mrs. Bowen, though she had come in flushed and excited from the air and the morning's adventure. Mrs. Bowen was sitting by the fire, placidly reading; a vase of roses on the little table near her diffused the delicate odour of winter roses through the room; all seemed very still and dim, and of another time, somehow.
Imogene kept away from the fire, sitting down, in the provisional fashion of women, with her things on; but she unbuttoned her pelisse and flung it open. Effie had gone to her room.
"Did you have a pleasant drive?" asked Mrs. Bowen.
"Very," said the girl.
"Mr. Morton brought you these roses," continued Mrs. Bowen.
"Oh," said Imogene, with a cold glance at them.
"The Flemmings have asked us to a party Thursday. There is to be dancing."
"Yes." As if she now saw reason to do so, Mrs. Bowen laid the book face downward in her lap. She yawned a little, with her hand on her mouth. "Did you meet any one you knew?"
"Yes; Mr. Colville." Mrs. Bowen cut her yawn in half. "We got out to walk in the Cascine, and we saw him coming in at the gate. He came up and asked if he might walk with us."
"Did you have a pleasant walk?" asked Mrs. Bowen, a breath more chillily than she had asked if they had a pleasant drive.
"Yes, pleasant enough. And then we came back and went down the river bank, and he skipped stones, and we took him to his hotel."
"Was there anybody you knew in the Cascine?"
"Oh no; the place was a howling wilderness. I never saw it so deserted," said the girl impatiently. "It was terribly hot walking. I thought I should burn up."
Mrs. Bowen did not answer anything; she let the book lie in her lap.
"What an odd person Mr. Colville is!" said Imogene, after a moment. "Don't you think he's very different from other gentlemen?"
"Oh, he has such a peculiar way of talking."
"What peculiar way?"
"Oh, I don't know. Plenty of the young men I see talk cynically, and I do sometimes myself—desperately, don't you know. But then I know very well we don't mean anything by it."
"And do you think Mr. Colville does? Do you think he talks cynically?"
Imogene leaned back in her chair and reflected. "No," she returned slowly, "I can't say that he does. But he talks lightly, with a kind of touch and go that makes you feel that he has exhausted all feeling. He doesn't parade it at all. But you hear between the words, don't you know, just as you read between the lines in some kinds of poetry. Of course it's everything in knowing what he's been through. He's perfectly unaffected; and don't you think he's good?"
"Oh yes," sighed Mrs. Bowen. "In his way."
"But he sees through you. Oh, quite! Nothing escapes him, and pretty soon he lets out that he has seen through you, and then you feel so flat! Oh, it's perfectly intoxicating to be with him. I would give the world to talk as he does."
"What was your talk all about?"
"Oh, I don't know. I suppose it would have been called rather intellectual."
Mrs. Bowen smiled infinitesimally. But after a moment she said gravely, "Mr. Colville is very much older than you. He's old enough to be your father."
"Yes, I know that. You feel that he feels old, and it's perfectly tragical. Sometimes when he turns that slow, dull, melancholy look on you, he seems a thousand years old."
"I don't mean that he's positively old," said Mrs. Bowen. "He's only old comparatively."
"Oh yes; I understand that. And I don't mean that he really seems a thousand years old. What I meant was, he seems a thousand years off, as if he were still young, and had got left behind somehow. He seems to be on the other side of some impassable barrier, and you want to get over there and help him to our side, but you can't do it. I suppose his talking in that light way is merely a subterfuge to hide his feeling, to make him forget."
Mrs. Bowen fingered the edges of her book. "You mustn't let your fancy run away with you, Imogene," she said, with a little painful smile.
"Oh, I like to let it run away with me. And when I get such a subject as Mr. Colville, there's no stopping. I can't stop, and I don't wish to stop. Shouldn't you have thought that he would have been perfectly crushed at the exhibition he made of himself in the Lancers last night? He wasn't the least embarrassed when he met me, and the only allusion he made to it was to say that he had been up late, and had danced too much. Wasn't it wonderful he could do it? Oh, if I could do that!"
"I wish he could have avoided the occasion for his bravado," said Mrs. Bowen.
"I think I was a little to blame, perhaps," said the girl. "I beckoned him to come and take the vacant place."
"I don't see that that was an excuse," returned Mrs. Bowen primly.
Imogene seemed insensible to the tone, as it concerned herself; it only apparently reminded her of something. "Guess what Mr. Colville said, when I had been silly, and then tried to make up for it by being very dignified all of a sudden?"
"I don't know. How had you been silly?"
The servant brought in some cards. Imogene caught up the pelisse which she had been gradually shedding as she sat talking to Mrs. Bowen, and ran out of the room by another door.
They did not recur to the subject. But that night, when Mrs. Bowen went to say good night to Effie, after the child had gone to bed, she lingered.
"Effie," she said at last, in a husky whisper, "what did Imogene say to Mr. Colville to-day that made him laugh?"
"I don't know," said the child. "They kept laughing at so many things."
"Yes; he laughed. Do you mean toward the last, when he had been throwing stones into the river?"
"It must have been then."
The child stretched herself drowsily. "Oh I couldn't understand it all. She wanted to throw a stone in the river, but he told her she had better not. But that didn't make him laugh. She was so very stiff just afterward that he said the weather had changed, and that made us laugh."
"Was that all?"
"We kept laughing ever so long. I never saw any one like Mr. Colville. How queerly the fire shines on your face! It gives you such a beautiful complexion."
"Yes, lovely." The child's mother stooped over and kissed her. "You're the prettiest mamma in the world," she said, throwing her arms round her neck. "Sometimes I can't tell whether Imogene is prettier or not, but to-night I'm certain you are. Do you like to have me think that?"
"Yes—yes. But don't pull me down so; you hurt my neck. Good night."
The child let her go. "I haven't said my prayer yet, mamma. I was thinking."
"Well, say it now, then," said the mother gently.
When the child had finished she turned upon her cheek. "Good night, mamma."
Mrs. Bowen went about the room a little while, picking up its pretty disorder. Then she sat down in a chair by the hearth, where a log was still burning. The light of the flame flickered upon her face, and threw upon the ceiling a writhing, fantastic shadow, the odious caricature of her gentle beauty.
In that still air of the Florentine winter, time seems to share the arrest of the natural forces, the repose of the elements. The pale blue sky is frequently overcast, and it rains two days out of five; sometimes, under extraordinary provocation from the north a snow-storm whirls along under the low grey dome, and whitens the brown roofs, where a growth of spindling weeds and grass clothes the tiles the whole year round, and shows its delicate green above the gathered flakes. But for the most part the winds are laid, and the sole change is from quiet sun to quiet shower. This at least is the impression which remains in the senses of the sojourning stranger, whose days slip away with so little difference one from another that they seem really not to have passed, but, like the grass that keeps the hillsides fresh round Florence all the winter long, to be waiting some decisive change of season before they begin.
The first of the Carnival sights that marked the lapse of a month since his arrival took Colville by surprise. He could not have believed that it was February yet if it had not been for the straggling maskers in armour whom he met one day in Via Borgognissanti, with their visors up for their better convenience in smoking. They were part of the chorus at one of the theatres, and they were going about to eke out their salaries with the gifts of people whose windows the festival season privileged them to play under. The silly spectacle stirred Colville's blood a little, as any sort of holiday preparation was apt to do. He thought that it afforded him a fair occasion to call at Palazzo Pinti, where he had not been so much of late as in the first days of his renewed acquaintance with Mrs. Bowen. He had at one time had the fancy that Mrs. Bowen was cool toward him. He might very well have been mistaken in this; in fact, she had several times addressed him the politest reproaches for not coming, but he made some evasion, and went only on the days when she was receiving other people, and when necessarily he saw very little of the family.
Miss Graham was always very friendly, but always very busy, drawing tea from the samovar, and looking after others. Effie Bowen dropped her eyes in re-established strangeness when she brought the basket of cake to him. There was one moment when he suspected that he had been talked over in family council, and put under a certain regimen. But he had no proof of this, and it had really nothing to do with his keeping away, which was largely accidental. He had taken up, with as much earnestness as he could reasonably expect of himself, that notion of studying the architectural expression of Florentine character at the different periods. He had spent a good deal of money in books, he had revived his youthful familiarity with the city, and he had made what acquaintance he could with people interested in such matters. He met some of these in the limited but very active society in which he mingled daily and nightly. After the first strangeness to any sort of social life had worn off, he found himself very fond of the prompt hospitalities which his introduction at Mrs. Bowen's had opened to him. His host—or more frequently it was his hostess—had sometimes merely an apartment at a hotel; perhaps the family was established in one of the furnished lodgings which stretch the whole length of the Lung' Arno on either hand, and abound in all the new streets approaching the Cascine, and had set up the simple and facile housekeeping of the sojourner in Florence for a few months; others had been living in the villa or the palace they had taken for years.
The more recent and transitory people expressed something of the prevailing English and American aestheticism in the decoration of their apartments, but the greater part accepted the Florentine drawing-room as their landlord had imagined it for them, with furniture and curtains in yellow satin, a cheap ingrain carpet thinly covering the stone floor, and a fire of little logs ineffectually blazing on the hearth, and flickering on the carved frames of the pictures on the wall and the nakedness of the frescoed allegories in the ceiling. Whether of longer or shorter stay, the sojourners were bound together by a common language and a common social tradition; they all had a Day, and on that day there was tea and bread and butter for every comer. They had one another to dine; there were evening parties, with dancing and without dancing. Colville even went to a fancy ball, where he was kept in countenance by several other Florentines of the period of Romola. At all these places he met nearly the same people, whose alien life in the midst of the native community struck him as one of the phases of modern civilisation worthy of note, if not particular study; for he fancied it destined to a wider future throughout Europe, as the conditions in England and America grow more tiresome and more onerous. They seemed to see very little of Italian society, and to be shut out from practical knowledge of the local life by the terms upon which they had themselves insisted. Our race finds its simplified and cheapened London or New York in all its Continental resorts now, but nowhere has its taste been so much studied as in Italy, and especially in Florence. It was not, perhaps, the real Englishman or American who had been considered, but a forestiere conventionalised from the Florentine's observation of many Anglo-Saxons. But he had been so well conjectured that he was hemmed round with a very fair illusion of his national circumstances.
It was not that he had his English or American doctor to prescribe for him when sick, and his English or American apothecary to compound his potion; it was not that there was an English tailor and an American dentist, an English bookseller and an English baker, and chapels of every shade of Protestantism, with Catholic preaching in English every Sunday. These things were more or less matters of necessity, but Colville objected that the barbers should offer him an American shampoo; that the groceries should abound in English biscuit and our own canned fruit and vegetables, and that the grocers' clerks should be ambitious to read the labels of the Boston baked beans. He heard—though he did not prove this by experiment—that the master of a certain trattoria had studied the doughnut of New England till he had actually surpassed the original in the qualities that have undermined our digestion as a people. But above all it interested him to see that intense expression of American civilisation, the horse-car, triumphing along the magnificent avenues that mark the line of the old city walls; and he recognised an instinctive obedience to an abtruse natural law in the fact that whereas the omnibus, which the Italians have derived from the English, was not filled beyond its seating capacity, the horse-car was overcrowded without and within at Florence, just as it is with us who invented it.
"I wouldn't mind even that," he said one day to the lady who was drawing him his fifth or sixth cup of tea for that afternoon, and with whom he was naturally making this absurd condition of things a matter of personal question; "but you people here pass your days in a round of unbroken English, except when you talk with your servants. I'm not sure you don't speak English with the shop people. I can hardly get them to speak Italian to me."
"Perhaps they think you can speak English better," said the lady.
This went over Florence; in a week it was told to Colville as something said to some one else. He fearlessly reclaimed it as said to himself, and this again was told. In the houses where he visited he had the friendly acceptance of any intelligent and reasonably agreeable person who comes promptly and willingly when he is asked, and seems always to have enjoyed himself when he goes away. But besides this sort of general favour, he enjoyed a very pleasing little personal popularity which came from his interest in other people, from his good-nature, and from his inertness. He slighted no acquaintance, and talked to every one with the same apparent wish to be entertaining. This was because he was incapable of the cruelty of open indifference when his lot was cast with a dull person, and also because he was mentally too lazy to contrive pretences for getting away; besides he did not really find anybody altogether a bore, and he had no wish to shine. He listened without shrinking to stories that he had heard before, and to things that had already been said to him; as has been noted, he had himself the habit of repeating his ideas with the recklessness of maturity, for he had lived long enough to know that this can be done with almost entire safety.
He haunted the studios a good deal, and through a retrospective affinity with art, and a human sympathy with the sacrifice which it always involves, he was on friendly terms with sculptors and painters who were not in every case so friendly with one another. More than once he saw the scars of old rivalries, and he might easily have been an adherent of two or three parties. But he tried to keep the freedom of the different camps without taking sides; and he felt the pathos of the case when they all told the same story of the disaster which the taste for bric-a-brac had wrought to the cause of art; how people who came abroad no longer gave orders for statues and pictures, but spent their money on curtains and carpets, old chests and chairs, and pots and pans. There were some among these artists whom he had known twenty years before in Florence, ardent and hopeful beginners; and now the backs of their grey or bald heads, as they talked to him with their faces towards their work, and a pencil or a pinch of clay held thoughtfully between their fingers, appealed to him as if he had remained young and prosperous, and they had gone forward to age and hard work. They were very quaint at times. They talked the American slang of the war days and of the days before the war; without a mastery of Italian, they often used the idioms of that tongue in their English speech. They were dim and vague about the country, with whose affairs they had kept up through the newspapers. Here and there one thought he was going home very soon; others had finally relinquished all thoughts of return. These had, perhaps without knowing it, lost the desire to come back; they cowered before the expensiveness of life in America, and doubted of a future with which, indeed, only the young can hopefully grapple. But in spite of their accumulated years, and the evil times on which they had fallen, Colville thought them mostly very happy men, leading simple and innocent lives in a world of the ideal, and rich in the inexhaustible beauty of the city, the sky, the air. They all, whether they were ever going back or not, were fervent Americans, and their ineffaceable nationality marked them, perhaps, all the more strongly for the patches of something alien that overlaid it in places. They knew that he was or had been a newspaper man; but if they secretly cherished the hope that he would bring them to the dolce lume of print, they never betrayed it; and the authorship of his letter about the American artists in Florence, which he printed in the American Register at Paris, was not traced to him for a whole week.
Colville was a frequent visitor of Mr. Waters, who had a lodging in Piazza San Marco, of the poverty which can always be decent in Italy. It was bare, but for the books that furnished it; with a table for his writing, on a corner of which he breakfasted, a wide sofa with cushions in coarse white linen that frankly confessed itself a bed by night, and two chairs of plain Italian walnut; but the windows, which had no sun, looked out upon the church and the convent sacred to the old Socinian for the sake of the meek, heroic mystic whom they keep alive in all the glory of his martyrdom. No two minds could well have been further apart than the New England minister and the Florentine monk, and no two souls nearer together, as Colville recognised with a not irreverent smile.
When the old man was not looking up some point of his saint's history in his books, he was taking with the hopefulness of youth and the patience of age a lesson in colloquial Italian from his landlady's daughter, which he pronounced with a scholarly scrupulosity and a sincere atonic Massachusetts accent. He practised the language wherever he could, especially at the trattoria where he dined, and where he made occasions to detain the waiter in conversation. They humoured him, out of their national good-heartedness and sympathy, and they did what they could to realise a strange American dish for him on Sundays—a combination of stockfish and potatoes boiled, and then fried together in small cakes. They revered him as a foreign gentleman of saintly amiability and incomprehensible preferences; and he was held in equal regard at the next green-grocer's where he spent every morning five centessimi for a bunch of radishes and ten for a little pat of butter to eat with his bread and coffee; he could not yet accustom himself to mere bread and coffee for breakfast, though he conformed as completely as he could to the Italian way of living. He respected the abstemiousness of the race; he held that it came from a spirituality of nature to which the North was still strange, with all its conscience and sense of individual accountability. He contended that he never suffered in his small dealings with these people from the dishonesty which most of his countrymen complained of; and he praised their unfailing gentleness of manner; this could arise only from goodness of heart, which was perhaps the best kind of goodness after all.
None of these humble acquaintance of his could well have accounted for the impression they all had that he was some sort of ecclesiastic. They could never have understood—nor, for that matter, could any one have understood through European tradition—the sort of sacerdotal office that Mr. Waters had filled so long in the little deeply book-clubbed New England village where he had outlived most of his flock, till one day he rose in the midst of the surviving dyspeptics and consumptives and, following the example of Mr. Emerson, renounced his calling for ever. By that time even the pale Unitarianism thinning out into paler doubt was no longer tenable with him. He confessed that while he felt the Divine goodness more and more, he believed that it was a mistake to preach any specific creed or doctrine, and he begged them to release him from their service. A young man came to fill his place in their pulpit, but he kept his place in their hearts. They raised a subscription of seventeen hundred dollars and thirty-five cents; another being submitted to the new button manufacturer, who had founded his industry in the village, he promptly rounded it out to three thousand, and Mr. Waters came to Florence. His people parted with him in terms of regret as delicate as they were awkward, and their love followed him. He corresponded regularly with two or three ladies, and his letters were sometimes read from his pulpit.
Colville took the Piazza San Marco in on his way to Palazzo Pinti on the morning when he had made up his mind to go there, and he stood at the window looking out with the old man, when some more maskers passed through the place—two young fellows in old Florentine dress, with a third habited as a nun.
"Ah," said the old man gently, "I wish they hadn't introduced the nun! But I suppose they can't help signalising their escape from the domination of the Church on all occasions. It's a natural reaction. It will all come right in time."
"You preach the true American gospel," said Colville.
"Of course; there is no other gospel. That is the gospel."
"Do you suppose that Savonarola would think it had all come out right," asked Colville, a little maliciously, "if he could look from the window with us here and see the wicked old Carnival, that he tried so hard to kill four hundred years ago, still alive? And kicking?" he added, in cognisance of the caper of one of the maskers.
"Oh yes; why not? By this time he knows that his puritanism was all a mistake, unless as a thing for the moment only. I should rather like to have Savonarola here with us; he would find these costumes familiar; they are of his time. I shall make a point of seeing all I can of the Carnival, as part of my study of Savonarola, if nothing else."
"I'm afraid you'll have to give yourself limitations," said Colville, as one of the maskers threw his arm round the mock-nun's neck. But the old man did not see this, and Colville did not feel it necessary to explain himself.
The maskers had passed out of the piazza, now, and "Have you seen our friends at Palazzo Pinti lately?" said Mr. Waters.
"Not very," said Colville. "I was just on my way there."
"I wish you would make them my compliments. Such a beautiful young creature."
"Yes," said Colville; "she is certainly a beautiful girl."
"I meant Mrs. Bowen," returned the old man quietly.
"Oh, I thought you meant Miss Graham. Mrs. Bowen is my contemporary, and so I didn't think of her when you said young. I should have called her pretty rather than beautiful."
"No; she's beautiful. The young girl is good-looking—I don't deny that; but she is very crude yet."
Colville laughed. "Crude in looks? I should have said Miss Graham was rather crude in mind, though I'm not sure I wouldn't have stopped at saying young."
"No," mildly persisted the old man; "she couldn't be crude in mind without being crude in looks."
"You mean," pursued Colville, smiling, but not wholly satisfied, "that she hasn't a lovely nature?"
"You never can know what sort of nature a young girl has. Her nature depends so much upon that of the man whose fate she shares."
"The woman is what the man makes her? That is convenient for the woman, and relieves her of all responsibility."
"The man is what the woman makes him, too, but not so much so. The man was cast into a deep sleep, you know——"
"And the woman was what he dreamed her. I wish she were."
"In most cases she is," said Mr. Waters.
They did not pursue the matter. The truth that floated in the old minister's words pleased Colville by its vagueness, and flattered the man in him by its implication of the man's superiority. He wanted to say that if Mrs. Bowen were what the late Mr. Bowen had dreamed her, then the late Mr. Bowen, when cast into his deep sleep, must have had Lina Ridgely in his eye. But this seemed to be personalising the fantasy unwarrantably, and pushing it too far. For like reason he forbore to say that if Mr. Waters's theory were correct, it would be better to begin with some one whom nobody else had dreamed before; then you could be sure at least of not having a wife to somebody else's mind rather than your own. Once on his way to Palazzo Pinti, he stopped, arrested by a thought that had not occurred to him before in relation to what Mr. Waters had been saying, and then pushed on with the sense of security which is the compensation the possession of the initiative brings to our sex along with many responsibilities. In the enjoyment of this, no man stops to consider the other side, which must wait his initiative, however they mean to meet it.
In the Por San Maria Colville found masks and dominoes filling the shop windows and dangling from the doors. A devil in red and a clown in white crossed the way in front of him from an intersecting street; several children in pretty masquerading dresses flashed in and out among the crowd. He hurried to the Lung' Arno, and reached the palace where Mrs. Bowen lived, with these holiday sights fresh in his mind. Imogene turned to meet him at the door of the apartment, running from the window where she had left Effie Bowen still gazing.
"We saw you coming," she said gaily, without waiting to exchange formal greetings. "We didn't know at first but it might; be somebody else disguised as you. We've been watching the maskers go by. Isn't it exciting?"
"Awfully," said Colville, going to the window with her, and putting his arm on Effie's shoulder, where she knelt in a chair looking out. "What have you seen?"
"Oh, only two Spanish students with mandolins," said Imogene; "but you can see they're beginning to come."
"They'll stop now," murmured Effie, with gentle disappointment; "it's commencing to rain."
"Oh, too bad!" wailed the young girl. But just then two mediaeval men-at-arms came in sight, carrying umbrellas. "Isn't that too delicious? Umbrellas and chain-armour!"
"You can't expect them to let their chain-armour get rusty," said Colville. "You ought to have been with me—minstrels in scale-armour, Florentines of Savonarola's times, nuns, clowns, demons, fairies—no end to them."
"It's very well saying we ought to have been with you; but we can't go anywhere alone."
"I didn't say alone," said Colville. "Don't you think Mrs. Bowen would trust you with me to see these Carnival beginnings?" He had not meant at all to do anything of this kind, but that had not prevented his doing it.
"How do we know, when she hasn't been asked?" said Imogene, with a touch of burlesque dolor, such as makes a dignified girl enchanting, when she permits it to herself. She took Effie's hand in hers, the child having faced round from the window, and stood smoothing it, with her lovely head pathetically tilted on one side.
"What haven't I been asked yet?" demanded Mrs. Bowen, coming lightly toward them from a door at the side of the salon. She gave her hand to Colville with the prettiest grace, and a cordiality that brought a flush to her cheek. There had really been nothing between them but a little unreasoned coolness, if it were even so much as that; say rather a dryness, aggravated by time and absence, and now, as friends do, after a thing of that kind, they were suddenly glad to be good to each other.
"Why, you haven't been asked how you have been this long time," said Colville.
"I have been wanting to tell you for a whole week," returned Mrs. Bowen, seating the rest and taking a chair for herself. "Where have you been?"
"Oh, shut up in my cell at Hotel d'Atene, writing a short history of the Florentine people for Miss Effie."
"Effie, take Mr. Colville's hat," said her mother. "We're going to make you stay to lunch," she explained to him.
"Is that so?" he asked, with an effect of polite curiosity.
"Yes." Imogene softly clapped her hands, unseen by Mrs. Bowen, for Colville's instruction that all was going well. If it delights women to pet an undangerous friend of our sex, to use him like one of themselves, there are no words to paint the soft and flattered content with which his spirit purrs under their caresses. "You must have nearly finished the history," added Mrs. Bowen.
"Well, I could have finished it," said Colville, "if I had only begun it. You see, writing a short history of the Florentine people is such quick work that you have to be careful how you actually put pen to paper, or you're through with it before you've had any fun out of it."
"I think Effie will like to read that kind of history," said her mother.
The child hung her head, and would not look at Colville; she was still shy with him; his absence must have seemed longer to a child, of course.
At lunch they talked of the Carnival sights that had begun to appear. He told of his call upon Mr. Waters, and of the old minister's purpose to see all he could of the Carnival in order to judge intelligently of Savonarola's opposition to it.
"Mr. Waters is a very good man," said Mrs. Bowen, with the air of not meaning to approve him quite, nor yet to let any notion of his be made fun of in her presence. "But for my part I wish there were not going to be any Carnival; the city will be in such an uproar for the next two weeks."
"O Mrs. Bowen!" cried Imogene reproachfully; Effie looked at her mother in apparent anxiety lest she should be meaning to put forth an unquestionable power and stop the Carnival.
"The last Carnival, I thought there was never going to be any end to it; I was so glad when Lent came."
"Glad when Lent came!" breathed Imogene, in astonishment; but she ventured upon nothing more insubordinate, and Colville admired to see this spirited girl as subject to Mrs. Bowen as her own child. There is no reason why one woman should establish another woman over her, but nearly all women do it in one sort or another, from love of a voluntary submission, or from a fear of their own ignorance, if they are younger and more inexperienced than their lieges. Neither the one passion nor the other seems to reduce them to a like passivity as regards their husbands. They must apparently have a fetish of their own sex. Colville could see that Imogene obeyed Mrs. Bowen not only as a protegee but as a devotee.
"Oh, I suppose you will have to go through it all," said Mrs. Bowen, in reward of the girl's acquiescence.
"You're rather out of the way of it up here," said Colville. "You had better let me go about with the young ladies—if you can trust them to the care of an old fellow like me."
"Oh, I don't think you're so very old, at all times," replied Mrs. Bowen, with a peculiar look, whether indulgent or reproachful he could not quite make out.
But he replied, boldly, in his turn: "I have certainly my moments of being young still; I don't deny it. There's always a danger of their occurrence."
"I was thinking," said Mrs. Bowen, with a graceful effect of not listening, "that you would let me go too. It would be quite like old times."
"Only too much honour and pleasure," returned Colville, "if you will leave out the old times. I'm not particular about having them along." Mrs. Bowen joined in laughing at the joke, which they had to themselves. "I was only consulting an explicit abhorrence of yours in not asking you to go at first," he explained.