"Oh yes; I understand that."
The excellence of the whole arrangement seemed to grow upon Mrs. Bowen. "Of course," she said, "Imogene ought to see all she can of the Carnival. She may not have another chance, and perhaps if she had, he wouldn't consent."
"I'll engage to get his consent," said the girl. "What I was afraid of was that I couldn't get yours, Mrs. Bowen."
"Am I so severe as that?" asked Mrs. Bowen softly.
"Quite," replied Imogene.
"Perhaps," thought Colville, "it isn't always silent submission."
For no very good reason that any one could give, the Carnival that year was not a brilliant one. Colville's party seemed to be always meeting the same maskers on the street, and the maskers did not greatly increase in numbers. There were a few more of them after nightfall, but they were then a little more bacchanal, and he felt it was better that the ladies had gone home by that time. In the pursuit of the tempered pleasure of looking up the maskers he was able to make the reflection that their fantastic and vivid dresses sympathised in a striking way with the architecture of the city, and gave him an effect of Florence which he could not otherwise have had. There came by and by a little attempt at a corso in Via Cerratani and Via Tornabuoni. There were some masks in carriages, and from one they actually threw plaster confetti; half a dozen bare-legged boys ran before and beat one another with bladders, Some people, but not many, watched the show from the windows, and the footways were crowded.
Having proposed that they should see the Carnival together, Colville had made himself responsible for it to the Bowen household. Imogene said, "Well is this the famous Carnival of Florence?"
"It certainly doesn't compare with the Carnival last year," said Mrs. Bowen.
"Your reproach is just, Mrs. Bowen," he acknowledged. "I've managed it badly. But you know I've been out of practice a great while there in Des Vaches."
"Oh, poor Mr. Colville!" cried Imogene. "He isn't altogether to blame."
"I don't know," said Mrs. Bowen, humouring the joke in her turn. "It seems to me that if he had consulted us a little earlier, he might have done better."
He drove home with the ladies, and Mrs. Bowen made him stay to tea. As if she felt that he needed to be consoled for the failure of his Carnival, she was especially indulgent with him. She played to him on the piano some of the songs that were in fashion when they were in Florence together before.
Imogene had never heard them; she had heard her mother speak of them. One or two of them were negro songs, such as very pretty young ladies used to sing without harm to themselves or offence to others; but Imogene decided that they were rather rowdy. "Dear me, Mrs. Bowen! Did you sing such songs? You wouldn't let Effie!"
"No, I wouldn't let Effie. The times are changed. I wouldn't let Effie go to the theatre alone with a young gentleman."
"The times are changed for the worse," Colville began. "What harm ever came to a young man from a young lady's going alone to the theatre with him?"
He stayed till the candles were brought in, and then went away only because, as he said, they had not asked him to stay to dinner.
He came nearly every day, upon one pretext or another, and he met them oftener than that at the teas and on the days of other ladies in Florence; for he was finding the busy idleness of the life very pleasant, and he went everywhere. He formed the habit of carrying flowers to the Palazzo Pinti, excusing himself on the ground that they were so cheap and so abundant as to be impersonal. He brought violets to Effie and roses to Imogene; to Mrs. Bowen he always brought a bunch of the huge purple anemones which grow so abundantly all winter long about Florence. "I wonder why purple anemones?" he asked her one day in presenting them to her.
"Oh, it is quite time I should be wearing purple," she said gently.
"Ah, Mrs. Bowen!" he reproached her. "Why do I bring purple violets to Miss Effie?"
"You must ask Effie!" said Mrs. Bowen, with a laugh.
After that he stayed away forty-eight hours, and then appeared with a bunch of the red anemones, as large as tulips, which light up the meadow grass when it begins to stir from its torpor in the spring. "They grew on purpose to set me right with you," he said, "and I saw them when I was in the country."
It was a little triumph for him, which she celebrated by putting them in a vase on her table, and telling people who exclaimed over them that they were some Mr. Colville gathered in the country. He enjoyed his privileges at her house with the futureless satisfaction of a man. He liked to go about with the Bowens; he was seen with the ladies driving and walking, in most of their promenades. He directed their visits to the churches and the galleries; he was fond of strolling about with Effie's daintily-gloved little hand in his. He took her to Giocosa's and treated her to ices; he let her choose from the confectioner's prettiest caprices in candy; he was allowed to bring the child presents in his pockets. Perhaps he was not as conscientious as he might have been in his behaviour with the little girl. He did what he could to spoil her, or at least to relax the severity of the training she had received; he liked to see the struggle that went on in the mother's mind against this, and then the other struggle with which she overcame her opposition to it. The worst he did was to teach Effie some picturesque Western phrases, which she used with innocent effectiveness; she committed the crimes against convention which he taught her with all the conventional elegance of her training. The most that he ever gained for her were some concessions in going out in weather that her mother thought unfit, or sitting up for half-hours after her bed-time. He ordered books for her from Goodban's, and it was Colville now, and not the Rev. Mr. Morton, who read poetry aloud to the ladies on afternoons when Mrs. Bowen gave orders that she and Miss Graham should be denied to all other comers.
It was an intimacy; and society in Florence is not blind, and especially it is not dumb. The old lady who had celebrated Mrs. Bowen to him the first night at Palazzo Pinti led a life of active questions as to what was the supreme attraction to Colville there, and she referred her doubt to every friend with whom she drank tea. She philosophised the situation very scientifically, and if not very conclusively, how few are the absolute conclusions of science upon any point!
"He is a bachelor, and there is a natural affinity between bachelors and widows—much more than if he were a widower too. If he were a widower I should say it was undoubtedly mademoiselle. If he were a little bit younger, I should have no doubt it was madame; but men of that age have such an ambition to marry young girls! I suppose that they think it proves they are not so very old, after all. And certainly he isn't too old to marry. If he were wise—which he probably isn't, if he's like other men in such matters—there wouldn't be any question about Mrs. Bowen. Pretty creature! And so much sense! Too much for him. Ah, my dear, how we are wasted upon that sex!"
Mrs. Bowen herself treated the affair with masterly frankness. More than once in varying phrase, she said: "You are very good to give us so much of your time, Mr. Colville, and I won't pretend I don't know it. You're helping me out with a very hazardous experiment. When I undertook to see Imogene through a winter in Florence, I didn't reflect what a very gay time girls have at home, in Western towns especially. But I haven't heard her breathe Buffalo once. And I'm sure it's doing her a great deal of good here. She's naturally got a very good mind; she's very ambitious to be cultivated. She's read a good deal, and she's anxious to know history and art; and your advice and criticism are the greatest possible advantage to her."
"Thank you," said Colville, with a fine, remote dissatisfaction. "I supposed I was merely enjoying myself."
He had lately begun to haunt his banker's for information in regard to the Carnival balls, with the hope that something might be made out of them.
But either there were to be no great Carnival balls, or it was a mistake to suppose that his banker ought to know about them. Colville went experimentally to one of the people's balls at a minor theatre, which he found advertised on the house walls. At half-past ten the dancing had not begun, but the masks were arriving; young women in gay silks and dirty white gloves; men in women's dresses, with enormous hands; girls as pages; clowns, pantaloons, old women, and the like. They were all very good-humoured; the men, who far outnumbered the women, danced contentedly together. Colville liked two cavalry soldiers who waltzed with each other for an hour, and then went off to a battery on exhibition in the pit, and had as much electricity as they could hold. He liked also two young citizens who danced together as long as he stayed, and did not leave off even for electrical refreshment. He came away at midnight, pushing out of the theatre through a crowd of people at the door, some of whom were tipsy. This certainly would not have done for the ladies, though the people were civilly tipsy.
The next morning Paolo, when he brought up Colville's breakfast, brought the news that there was to be a veglione at the Pergola Theatre. This news revived Colville's courage. "Paolo," he said, "you ought to open a banking-house." Paolo was used to being joked by foreigners who could not speak Italian very well; he smiled as if he understood.
The banker had his astute doubts of Paolo's intelligence; the banker in Europe doubts all news not originating in his house; but after a day or two the advertisements in the newspapers carried conviction even to the banker.
When Colville went to the ladies with news of the veglione, he found that they had already heard of it. "Should you like to go?" he asked Mrs. Bowen.
"I don't know. What do you think?" she asked in turn.
"Oh, it's for you to do the thinking. I only know what I want."
Imogene said nothing, while she watched the internal debate as it expressed itself in Mrs. Bowen's face.
"People go in boxes," she said thoughtfully; "but you would feel that a box wasn't the same thing exactly?"
"We went on the floor," suggested Colville.
"It was very different then. And, besides, Mrs. Finlay had absolutely no sense of propriety." When a woman has explicitly condemned a given action, she apparently gathers courage for its commission under a little different conditions. "Of course, if we went upon the floor, I shouldn't wish it to be known at all, though foreigners can do almost anything they like."
"Really," said Colville, "when it comes to that, I don't see any harm in it."
"And you say go?"
"I say whatever you say."
Mrs. Bowen looked from him to Imogene. "I don't either," she said finally, and they understood that she meant the harm which he had not seen.
"Which of us has been so good as to deserve this?" asked Colville.
"Oh, you have all been good," she said. "We shall go in masks and dominoes," she continued. "Nothing will happen, and who should know us if anything did?" They had received tickets to the great Borghese ball, which is still a fashionable and desired event of the Carnival to foreigners in Florence; but their preconceptions of the veglione threw into the shade the entertainment which the gentlemen of Florence offered to favoured sojourners.
"Come," said Mrs. Bowen, "you must go with us and help us choose our dominoes."
A prudent woman does not do an imprudent thing by halves. Effie was to be allowed to go to the veglione too, and she went with them to the shop where they were to hire their dominoes. It would be so much more fun, Mrs. Bowen said, to choose the dresses in the shop than to have them sent home for you to look at. Effie was to be in black; Imogene was to have a light blue domino, and Mrs. Bowen chose a purple one; even where their faces were not to be seen they considered their complexions in choosing the colours. If you happened to find a friend, and wanted to unmask, you would not want to look horrid. The shop people took the vividest interest in it all, as if it were a new thing to them, and these were the first foreigners they had ever served with masks and dominoes. They made Mrs. Bowen and Imogene go into an inner room and come out for the mystification of Colville, hulking about in the front shop with his mask and domino on.
"Which is which?" the ladies both challenged him, in the mask's conventional falsetto, when they came out.
With a man's severe logic he distinguished them according to their silks, but there had been time for them to think of changing, and they took off their masks to laugh in his face.
They fluttered so airily about among the pendent masks and dominoes, from which they shook a ghostly perfume of old carnivals, that his heart leaped.
"Ah, you'll never be so fascinating again!" he cried. He wanted to take them in his arms, they were both so delicious; a man has still only that primitive way of expressing his supreme satisfaction in women. "Now, which am I?" he demanded of them, and that made them laugh again. He had really put his arm about Effie.
"Do you think you will know your papa at the veglione?" asked one of the shop-women, with a mounting interest in the amiable family party.
They all laughed; the natural mistake seemed particularly droll to Imogene.
"Come," cried Mrs. Bowen; "it's time we should be going."
That was true; they had passed so long a time in the shop that they did not feel justified in seriously attempting to beat down the price of their dresses. They took them at the first price. The woman said with reason that it was Carnival, and she could get her price for the things.
They went to the veglione at eleven, the ladies calling for Colville, as before, in Mrs. Bowen's carriage. He felt rather sheepish, coming out of his room in his mask and domino, but the corridors of the hotel were empty, and for the most part dark; there was no one up but the porter, who wished him a pleasant time in as matter-of-fact fashion as if he were going out to an evening party in his dress coat. His spirits mounted in the atmosphere of adventure which the ladies diffused about them in the carriage; Effie Bowen laughed aloud when he entered, in childish gaiety of heart.
The narrow streets roared with the wheels of cabs and carriages coming and going; the street before the theatre was so packed that it was some time before they could reach the door. Masks were passing in and out; the nervous joy of the ladies expressed itself in a deep-drawn quivering sigh. Their carriage door was opened by a servant of the theatre, who wished them a pleasant veglione, and the next moment they were in the crowded vestibule, where they paused a moment, to let Imogene and Effie really feel that they were part of a masquerade.
"Now, keep all together," said Mrs. Bowen, as they passed through the inner door of the vestibule, and the brilliantly lighted theatre flashed its colours and splendours upon them. The floor of the pit had been levelled to that of the stage, which, stripped of the scenic apparatus, opened vaster spaces for the motley crew already eddying over it in the waltz. The boxes, tier over tier, blazed with the light of candelabra which added their sparkle to that of the gas jets.
"You and Effie go before," said Mrs. Bowen to Imogene. She made them take hands like children, and mechanically passed her own hand through Colville's arm.
A mask in red from head to foot attached himself to the party, and began to make love to her in excellent pantomime.
Colville was annoyed. He asked her if he should tell the fellow to take himself off.
"Not on any account!" she answered. "It's perfectly delightful. It wouldn't be the veglione without it. Did you ever see such good acting?"
"I don't think it's remarkable for anything but its fervour," said Colville.
"I should like to see you making love to some lady," she rejoined mischievously.
"I will make love to you, if you like," he said, but he felt in an instant that his joke was in bad taste.
They went the round of the theatre. "That is Prince Strozzi, Imogene," said Mrs. Bowen, leaning forward to whisper to the girl. She pointed out other people of historic and aristocratic names in the boxes, where there was a democracy of beauty among the ladies, all painted and powdered to the same marquise effect.
On the floor were gentlemen in evening dress, without masks, and here and there ladies waltzing, who had masks but no dominoes. But for the most part people were in costume; the theatre flushed and flowered in gay variety of tint that teased the eye with its flow through the dance.
Mrs. Bowen had circumscribed the adventure so as to exclude dancing from it. Imogene was not to dance. One might go to the veglione and look on from a box; if one ventured further and went on the floor, decidedly one was not to dance.
This was thoroughly understood beforehand, and there were to be no petitions or murmurs at the theatre. They found a quiet corner, and sat down to look on.
The mask in red followed, and took his place at a little distance, where, whenever Mrs. Bowen looked that way, he continued to protest his passion.
"You're sure he doesn't bore you?" suggested Colville.
"No, indeed. He's very amusing."
"Oh, all right!"
The waltz ceased; the whirling and winding confusion broke into an irregular streaming hither and thither, up and down. They began to pick out costumes and characters that interested them. Clowns in white, with big noses, and harlequins in their motley, with flat black masks, abounded. There were some admirable grasshoppers in green, with long antennae quivering from their foreheads. Two or three Mephistos reddened through the crowd. Several knights in armour got about with difficulty, apparently burdened by their greaves and breastplates.
A group of leaping and dancing masks gathered around a young man in evening dress, with long hair, who stood leaning against a pillar near them, and who underwent their mockeries with a smile of patience, half amused, half tormented.
When they grew tired of baiting him, and were looking about for other prey, the red mask redoubled his show of devotion to Mrs. Bowen, and the other masks began to flock round and approve.
"Oh, now," she said, with a little embarrassed laugh, in which there was no displeasure, "I think you may ask him to go away. But don't be harsh with him," she added, at a brusque movement which Colville made toward the mask.
"Oh, why should I be harsh with him? We're not rivals." This was not in good taste either, Colville felt. "Besides, I'm an Italian too," he said, to retrieve himself. He made a few paces toward the mask, and said in a low tone, with gentle suggestion, "Madame finds herself a little incommoded."
The mask threw himself into an attitude of burlesque despair, bowed low with his hand on his heart, in token of submission, and vanished into the crowd. The rest dispersed with cries of applause.
"How very prettily you did it, both of you!" said Mrs. Bowen. "I begin to believe you are an Italian, Mr. Colville. I shall be afraid of you."
"You weren't afraid of him."
"Oh, he was a real Italian."
"It seems to me that mamma is getting all the good of the veglione," said Effie, in a plaintive murmur. The well-disciplined child must have suffered deeply before she lifted this seditious voice.
"Why, so I am, Effie," answered her mother, "and I don't think it's fair myself. What shall we do about it?"
"I should like something to eat," said the child.
"So should I," said Colville. "That's reparation your mother owes us all. Let's make her take us and get us something. Wouldn't you like an ice, Miss Graham?"
"Yes, an ice," said Imogene, with an effect of adding, "Nothing more for worlds," that made Colville laugh. She rose slowly, like one in a dream, and cast a look as impassioned as a look could be made through a mask on the scene she was leaving behind her. The band was playing a waltz again, and the wide floor swam with circling couples.
The corridor where the tables were set was thronged with people, who were drinking beer and eating cold beef and boned turkey and slices of huge round sausages. "Oh, how can they?" cried the girl, shuddering.
"I didn't know you were so ethereal-minded about these things," said Colville. "I thought you didn't object to the salad at Madame Uccelli's."
"Oh, but at the veglione!" breathed the girl for all answer. He laughed again, but Mrs. Bowen did not laugh with him; he wondered why.
When they returned to their corner in the theatre they found a mask in a black domino there, who made place for them, and remained standing near. They began talking freely and audibly, as English-speaking people incorrigibly do in Italy, where their tongue is all but the language of the country.
"Really," said Colville, "I think I shall stifle in this mask. If you ladies will do what you can to surround me and keep me secret, I'll take it off a moment."
"I believe I will join you, Mr. Colville," said the mask near them. He pushed up his little visor of silk, and discovered the mild, benignant features of Mr. Waters.
"Bless my soul!" cried Colville.
Mrs. Bowen was apparently too much shocked to say anything.
"You didn't expect to meet me here?" asked the old man, as if otherwise it should be the most natural thing in the world. After that they could only unite in suppressing their astonishment. "It's extremely interesting," he went on, "extremely! I've been here ever since the exercises began, and I have not only been very greatly amused, but greatly instructed. It seems to me the key to a great many anomalies in the history of this wonderful people."
If Mr. Waters took this philosophical tone about the Carnival, it was not possible for Colville to take any other.
"And have you been able to divine from what you have seen here," he asked gravely, "the grounds of Savonarola's objection to the Carnival?"
"Not at all," said the old man promptly. "I have seen nothing but the most harmless gaiety throughout the evening."
Colville hung his head. He remembered reading once in a passage from Swedenborg, that the most celestial angels had scarcely any power of perceiving evil.
"Why aren't you young people dancing?" asked Mr. Waters, in a cheerful general way, of Mrs. Bowen's party.
Colville was glad to break the silence. "Mrs. Bowen doesn't approve of dancing at vegliones."
"No?—why not?" inquired the old man, with invincible simplicity.
Mrs. Bowen smiled her pretty, small smile below her mask.
"The company is apt to be rather mixed," she said quietly.
"Yes," pursued Mr. Waters; "but you could dance with one another. The company seems very well behaved."
"Oh, quite so," Mrs. Bowen assented.
"Shortly after I came," said Mr. Waters, "one of the masks asked me to dance. I was really sorry that my age and traditions forbade my doing so. I tried to explain, but I'm afraid I didn't make myself quite clear."
"Probably it passed for a joke with her," said Colville, in order to say something.
"Ah, very likely; but I shall always feel that my impressions of the Carnival would have been more definite if I could have danced. Now, if I were a young man like you——"
Imogens turned and looked at Colville through the eye-holes of her mask; even in that sort of isolation he thought her eyes expressed surprise.
"It never occurred to you before that I was a young man," he suggested gravely.
She did not reply.
After a little interval, "Imogene," asked Mrs. Bowen, "would you like to dance?"
Colville was astonished. "The veglione has gone to your head, Mrs. Bowen," he tacitly made his comment. She had spoken to Imogene, but she glanced at him as if she expected him to be grateful to her for this stroke of liberality.
"What would be the use?" returned the girl.
Colville rose. "After my performance in the Lancers, I can't expect you to believe me; but I really do know how to waltz." He had but to extend his arms, and she was hanging upon his shoulder, and they were whirling away through a long orbit of delight to the girl.
"Oh, why have you let me do you such injustice?" she murmured intensely. "I never shall forgive myself."
"It grieved me that you shouldn't have divined that I was really a magnificent dancer in disguise, but I bore it as best I could," said Colville, really amused at her seriousness. "Perhaps you'll find out after a while that I'm not an old fellow either, but only a 'Lost Youth,'"
"Hush," she said; "I don't like to hear you talk so."
"About—age!" she answered. "It makes me feel——- Don't to-night!"
Colville laughed. "It isn't a fact that my blinking is going to change materially. You had better make the most of me as a lost youth. I'm old enough to be two of them."
She did not answer, and as they wound up and down through the other orbing couples, he remembered the veglione of seventeen years before, when he had dreamed through the waltz with the girl who jilted him; she was very docile and submissive that night; he believed afterward that if he had spoken frankly then, she would not have refused him. But he had veiled his passion in words and phrases that, taken in themselves, had no meaning—that neither committed him nor claimed her. He could not help it; he had not the courage at any moment to risk the loss of her for ever, till it was too late, till he must lose her.
"Do you believe in pre-existence?" he demanded of Imogene.
"Oh yes!" she flashed back. "This very instant it was just as if I had been here before, long ago."
"Dancing with me?"
"With you? Yes—yes—I think so."
He had lived long enough to know that she was making herself believe what she said, and that she had not lived long enough to know this.
"Then you remember what I said to you—tried to say to you—that night?" Through one of those psychological juggles which we all practise with ourselves at times, it amused him, it charmed him, to find her striving to realise this past.
"No; it was so long ago? What was it?" she whispered dreamily.
A turn of the waltz brought them near Mrs. Bowen; her mask seemed to wear a dumb reproach.
He began to be weary; one of the differences between youth and later life is that the latter wearies so soon of any given emotion.
"Ah, I can't remember, either! Aren't you getting rather tired of the waltz and me?"
"Oh no; go on!" she deeply murmured. "Try to remember."
The long, pulsating stream of the music broke and fell. The dancers crookedly dispersed in wandering lines. She took his arm; he felt her heart leap against it; those innocent, trustful throbs upbraided him. At the same time his own heart beat with a sort of fond, protecting tenderness; he felt the witchery of his power to make this young, radiant, and beautiful creature hang flattered and bewildered on his talk; he liked the compassionate worship with which his tacit confidence had inspired her, even while he was not without some satirical sense of the crude sort of heart-broken hero he must be in the fancy of a girl of her age.
"Let us go and walk in the corridor a moment," he said. But they walked there till the alluring melancholy music of the waltz began again. In a mutual caprice, they rejoined the dance.
It came into his head to ask, "Who is he?" and as he had got past denying himself anything, he asked it.
"He? What he?"
"He that Mrs. Bowen thought might object to your seeing the Carnival?"
"Oh!—oh yes! That was the not impossible he."
"Is that all?"
"Then he's not even the not improbable he?"
They waltzed in silence. Then, "Why did you ask me that?" she murmured.
"I don't know. Was it such a strange question?"
"I don't know. You ought to."
"Yes, if it was wrong, I'm old enough to know better."
"You promised not to say 'old' any more."
"Then I suppose I mustn't. But you mustn't get me to ignore it, and then laugh at me for it."
"Oh!" she reproached him, "you think I could do that?"
"You could if it was you who were here with me once before."
"Then I know I wasn't."
Again they were silent, and it was he who spoke first. "I wish you would tell me why you object to the interdicted topic?"
"Because—because I like every time to be perfect in itself."
"Oh! And this wouldn't be perfect in itself if I were—not so young as some people?"
"I didn't mean that. No; but if you didn't mention it, no one else would think of it or care for it."
"Did any one ever accuse you of flattering, Miss Graham?"
"Not till now. And you are unjust."
"Well, I withdraw the accusation."
"And will you ever pretend such a thing again?"
"Then I have your promise."
The talk was light word-play, such as depends upon the talker's own mood for its point or its pointlessness. Between two young people of equal years it might have had meanings to penetrate, to sigh over, to question. Colville found it delicious to be pursued by the ingenuous fervour of this young girl, eager to vindicate her sincerity in prohibiting him from his own ironical depreciation. Apparently, she had a sentimental mission of which he was the object; he was to be convinced that he was unnecessarily morbid; he was to be cheered up, to be kept in heart.
"I must believe in you after this," he said, with a smile which his mask hid.
"Thanks," she breathed. It seemed to him that her hand closed convulsively upon his in their light clasp.
The pressure sent a real pang to his heart. It forced her name from his lips. "Imogene! Ah, I've no right to call you that."
"From this out I promise to be twenty years younger. But no one is to know it but you. Do you think you will know it? I shouldn't like to keep the secret to myself altogether."
"No; I will help you. It shall be our secret."
She gave a low laugh of delight. He convinced himself that she had entered into the light spirit of banter in which he believed that he was talking.
The music ceased again. He whirled her to the seat where he had left Mrs. Bowen. She was not there, nor the others.
Colville felt the meanness of a man who has betrayed his trust, and his self-contempt was the sharper because the trust had been as tacit and indefinite as it was generous. The effect of Mrs. Bowen's absence was as if she had indignantly flown, and left him to the consequences of his treachery.
He sat down rather blankly with Imogene to wait for her return; it was the only thing they could do.
It had grown very hot. The air was thick with dust. The lights burned through it as through a fog.
"I believe I will take off my mask," she said. "I can scarcely breathe."
"No, no," protested Colville; "that won't do."
"I feel faint," she gasped.
His heart sank. "Don't," he said incoherently. "Come with me into the vestibule, and get a breath of air."
He had almost to drag her through the crowd, but in the vestibule she revived, and they returned to their place again. He did not share the easy content with which she recognised the continued absence of Mrs. Bowen.
"Why they must be lost. But isn't it perfect sitting here and watching the maskers?"
"Perfect," said Colville distractedly.
"Don't you like to make romances about the different ones?"
It was on Colville's tongue to say that he had made all the romances he wished for that evening, but he only answered, "Oh, very."
"Poor Mrs. Bowen," laughed the girl. "It will be such a joke on her, with her punctilious notions, getting lost from her protegee at a Carnival ball! I shall tell every one."
"Oh no, don't," said Colville, in horror that big mask scarcely concealed.
"It wouldn't be at all the thing."
"Why, are you becoming Europeanised too?" she demanded. "I thought you went in for all sorts of unconventionalities. Recollect your promise. You must be as impulsive as I am."
Colville, staring anxiously about in every direction, made for the first time the reflection that most young girls probably conform to the proprieties without in the least knowing why.
"Do you think," he asked, in desperation, "that you would be afraid to be left here a moment while I went about in the crowd and tried to find them?"
"Not at all," she said. But she added, "Don't be gone long."
"Oh no," he answered, pulling off his mask. "Be sure not to move from here on any account."
He plunged into the midst of the crowd that buffeted him from side to side as he struck against its masses. The squeaking and gibbering masks mocked in their falsetto at his wild-eyed, naked face thrusting hither and thither among them.
"I saw your lady wife with another gentleman," cried one of them, in a subtle misinterpretation of the cause of his distraction.
The throng had immensely increased; the clowns and harlequins ran shrieking up and down, and leaped over one another's heads.
It was useless. He went back to Imogene with a heart-sickening fear that she too might have vanished.
But she was still there.
"You ought to have come sooner," she said gaily. "That red mask has been here again. He looked as if he wanted to make love to me this time. But he didn't. If you'd been here you might have asked him where Mrs. Bowen was."
Colville sat down. He had done what he could to mend the matter, and the time had come for philosophical submission. It was now his duty to keep up Miss Graham's spirits. They were both Americans, and from the national standpoint he was simply the young girl's middle-aged bachelor friend. There was nothing in the situation for him to beat his breast about.
"Well, all that we can do is to wait for them," he said.
"Oh yes," she answered easily. "They'll be sure to come back in the course of time."
They waited a half-hour, talking somewhat at random, and still the others did not come. But the red mask came again. He approached Colville, and said politely—
"La signora e partita."
"The lady gone?" repeated Colville, taking this to be part of the red mask's joke.
"La bambina pareva poco lene."
"The little one not well?" echoed Colville again, rising. "Are you joking?"
The mask made a deep murmur of polite deprecation. "I am not capable of such a thing in a serious affair. Perhaps you know me?" he said, taking off his mask, and in further sign of good faith he gave the name of a painter sufficiently famous in Florence.
"I beg your pardon, and thank you," said Colville. He had no need to speak to Imogene—, her hand was already trembling on his arm.
They drove home in silence through the white moonlight of the streets, filled everywhere with the gay voices and figures of the Carnival.
Mrs. Bowen met them at the door of her apartment, and received them with a manner that justly distributed the responsibility and penalty for their escapade. Colville felt that a meaner spirit would have wreaked its displeasure upon the girl alone. She made short, quiet answers to all his eager inquiries. Most probably it was some childish indisposition; Effie had been faint. No, he need not go for the doctor. Mr. Waters had called the doctor, who had just gone away. There was nothing else that he could do for her. She dropped her eyes, and in everything but words dismissed him. She would not even remain with him till he could decently get himself out of the house. She left Imogene to receive his adieux, feigning that she heard Effie calling.
"I'm—I'm very sorry," faltered the girl, "that we didn't go back to her at once."
"Yes; I was to blame," answered the humiliated hero of her Carnival dream. The clinging regret with which she kept his hand at parting scarcely consoled him for what had happened.
"I will come round in the morning," he said. "I must know how Effie is."
Colville went to Palazzo Pinti next day with the feeling that he was defying Mrs. Bowen. Upon a review of the facts he could not find himself so very much to blame for the occurrences of the night before, and he had not been able to prove to his reason that Mrs. Bowen had resented his behaviour. She had not made a scene of any sort when he came in with Imogene; it was natural that she should excuse herself, and should wish to be with her sick child: she had done really nothing. But when a woman has done nothing she fills the soul of the man whose conscience troubles him with an instinctive apprehension. There is then no safety, his nerves tell him, except in bringing the affair, whatever it is, to an early issue—in having it out with her. Colville subdued the cowardly impulse of his own heart, which would have deceived him with the suggestion that Mrs. Bowen might be occupied with Effie, and it would be better to ask for Miss Graham. He asked for Mrs. Bowen, and she came in directly.
She smiled in the usual way, and gave her hand, as she always did; but her hand was cold, and she looked tired, though she said Effie was quite herself again, and had been asking for him. "Imogene has been telling her about your adventure last night, and making her laugh."
If it had been Mrs. Bowen's purpose to mystify him, she could not have done it more thoroughly than by this bold treatment of the affair. He bent a puzzled gaze upon her. "I'm glad any of you have found it amusing," he said;—"I confess that I couldn't let myself off so lightly in regard to it." She did not reply, and he continued: "The fact is, I don't think I behaved very well. I abused your kindness to Miss Graham."
"Abused my kindness to Miss Graham?"
"Yes. When you allowed her to dance at the veglione, I ought to have considered that you were stretching a point. I ought to have taken her back to you very soon, instead of tempting her to go and walk with me in the corridor."
"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen. "So it was you who proposed it? Imogene was afraid that she had. What exemplary young people you are! The way each of you confesses and assumes all the blame would leave the severest chaperone without a word."
Her gaiety made Colville uncomfortable. He said gravely, "What I blame myself most for is that I was not there to be of use to you when Effie——"
"Oh, you mustn't think of that at all. Mr. Waters was most efficient. My admirer in the red mask was close at hand, and between them they got Effie out without the slightest disturbance. I fancy most people thought it was a Carnival joke. Please don't think of that again."
Nothing could be politer than all this.
"And you won't allow me to punish myself for not being there to give you even a moral support?"
"Certainly not. As I told Imogene, young people will be young people; and I knew how fond you were of dancing."
Though it pierced him, Colville could not help admiring the neatness of this thrust. "I didn't know you were so ironical, Mrs. Bowen."
"Ironical? Not at all."
"Ah! I see I'm not forgiven."
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
Imogene and Effie came in. The child was a little pale, and willingly let him take her on his knee, and lay her languid head on his shoulder. The girl had not aged overnight like himself and Mrs. Bowen; she looked as fresh and strong as yesterday.
"Miss Graham," said Colville, "if a person to whom you had done a deadly wrong insisted that you hadn't done any wrong at all, should you consider yourself forgiven?"
"It would depend upon the person," said the girl, with innocent liveliness, recognising the extravagance in his tone.
"Yes," he said, with an affected pensiveness, "so very much depends upon the person in such a case."
Mrs. Bowen rose. "Excuse me a moment; I will be back directly. Don't get up, please," she said, and prevented him with a quick withdrawal to another room, which left upon his sense the impression of elegant grace, and a smile and sunny glance. But neither had any warmth in it.
Colville heaved an involuntary sigh. "Do you feel very much used up?" he asked Imogene.
"Not at all," she laughed. "Do you?"
"Not in the least. My veglione hasn't ended yet. I'm still practically at the Pergola. It's easy to keep a thing of that sort up if you don't sleep after you get home."
"Didn't you sleep? I expected to lie awake a long time thinking it over; but I dropped asleep at once. I suppose I was very tired. I didn't even dream."
"You must have slept hard. You're pretty apt to dream when you're waking."
"How do you know?"
"Ah, I've noticed when you've been talking to me. Better not! It's a bad habit; it gives you false views of things. I used——"
"But you mustn't say you used! That's forbidden now. Remember your promise!"
"My promise? What promise?"
"Oh, if you've forgotten already."
"I remember. But that was last night."
"No, no! It was for all time. Why should dreams be so very misleading? I think there's ever so much in dreams. The most wonderful thing is the way you make people talk in dreams. It isn't strange that you should talk yourself, but that other people should say this and that when you aren't at all expecting what they say."
"That's when you're sleeping. But when you're waking, you make people say just what you want. And that's why day dreams are so bad. If you make people say what you want, they probably don't mean it."
"Don't you think so?"
"Half the time. Do you ever have day dreams?" he asked Effie, pressing her cheek against his own.
"I don't know what they are," she murmured, with a soft little note of polite regret for her ignorance, if possibly it incommoded him.
"You will by and by," he said, "and then you must look out for them. They're particularly bad in this air. I had one of them in Florence once that lasted three months."
"What was it about?" asked the child.
Imogene involuntarily bent forward.
"Ah, I can't tell you now. She's trying to hear us."
"No, no," protested the girl, with a laugh. "I was thinking of something else."
"Oh, we know her, don't we?" he said to the child, with a playful appeal to that passion for the joint possession of a mystery which all children have.
"We might whisper it," she suggested.
"No; better wait for some other time." They were sitting near a table where a pencil and some loose leaves of paper lay. He pulled his chair a little closer, and, with the child still upon his knee, began to scribble and sketch at random. "Ah, there's San Miniato," he said, with a glance from the window. "Must get its outline in. You've heard how there came to be a church up there? No? Well, it shows the sort of man San Miniato really was. He was one of the early Christians, and he gave the poor pagans a great deal of trouble. They first threw him to the wild beasts in the amphitheatre, but the moment those animals set eyes on him they saw it would be of no use; they just lay down and died. Very well, then; the pagans determined to see what effect the axe would have upon San Miniato: but as soon as they struck off his head he picked it up, set it back on his shoulders again, waded across the Arno, walked up the hill, and when he came to a convenient little oratory up there he knelt down and expired. Isn't that a pretty good story? It's like fairies, isn't it?"
"Yes," whispered the child.
"What nonsense!" said Imogene. "You made it up."
"Oh, did I? Perhaps I built the church that stands there to commemorate the fact. It's all in the history of Florence. Not in all histories; some of them are too proud to put such stories in, but I'm going to put every one I can find into the history I'm writing for Effie. San Miniato was beheaded where the church of Santa Candida stands now, and he walked all that distance."
"Did he have to die when he got to the oratory?" asked the child, with gentle regret.
"It appears so," said Colville, sketching. "He would have been dead by this time, anyway, you know."
"Yes," she reluctantly admitted.
"I never quite like those things, either, Effie," he said, pressing her to him. "There were people cruelly put to death two or three thousand years ago that I can't help feeling would be alive yet if they had been justly treated. There are a good many fairy stories about Florence; perhaps they used to be true stories; the truth seems to die out of stories after a while, simply because people stop believing them. Saint Ambrose of Milan restored the son of his host to life when he came down here to dedicate the Church of San Giovanni. Then there was another saint, San Zenobi, who worked a very pretty miracle after he was dead. They were carrying his body from the Church of San Giovanni to the Church of Santa Reparata, and in Piazza San Giovanni his bier touched a dead elm-tree that stood there, and the tree instantly sprang into leaf and flower, though it was in the middle of the winter. A great many people took the leaves home with them, and a marble pillar was put up there, with a cross and an elm-tree carved on it. Oh, the case is very well authenticated."
"I shall really begin to think you believe such things," said Imogene. "Perhaps you are a Catholic."
Mrs. Bowen returned to the room, and sat down.
"There's another fairy story, prettier yet," said Colville, while the little girl drew a long deep breath of satisfaction and expectation. "You've heard of the Buondelmonti?" he asked Imogene.
"Oh, it seems to me as if I'd had nothing but the Buondelmonti dinned into me since I came to Florence!" she answered in lively despair.
"Ah, this happened some centuries before the Buondelmonte you've been bored with was born. This was Giovanni Gualberto of the Buondelmonti, and he was riding along one day in 1003, near the Church of San Miniato, when he met a certain man named Ugo, who had killed one of his brothers. Gualberto stopped and drew his sword; Ugo saw no other chance of escape, and he threw himself face downward on the ground, with his arms stretched out in the form of the cross. 'Gualberto, remember Jesus Christ, who died upon the cross praying for His enemies.' The story says that these words went to Gualberto's heart; he got down from his horse, and in sign of pardon lifted his enemy and kissed and embraced him. Then they went together into the church, and fell on their knees before the figure of Christ upon the cross, and the figure bowed its head in sign of approval and pleasure in Gualberto's noble act of Christian piety."
"Beautiful!" murmured the girl; the child only sighed.
"Ah, yes; it's an easy matter to pick up one's head from the ground, and set it back on one's shoulders, or to bring the dead to life, or to make a tree put forth leaves and flowers in midwinter; but to melt the heart of a man with forgiveness in the presence of his enemy—that's a different thing; that's no fairy story; that's a real miracle; and I believe this one happened—it's so impossible."
"Oh yes, it must have happened," said the girl.
"Do you think it's so very hard to forgive, then?" asked Mrs. Bowen gravely.
"Oh, not for ladies," replied Colville.
She flushed, and her eyes shone when she glanced at him.
"I'm sorry to put you down," he said to the child; "but I can't take you with me, and I must be going."
Mrs. Bowen did not ask him to stay to lunch; he thought afterward that she might have relented as far as that but for the last little thrust, which he would better have spared.
"Effie dear," said her mother, when the door closed upon Colville, "don't you think you'd better lie down a while? You look so tired."
"Shall I lie down on the sofa here?"
"No, on your bed."
"I'll go with you, Effie," said Imogene, "and see that you're nicely tucked in."
When she returned alone, Mrs. Bowen was sitting where she had left her, and seemed not to have moved. "I think Effie will drop off to sleep," she said; "she seems drowsy." She sat down, and after a pensive moment continued, "I wonder what makes Mr. Colville seem so gloomy."
"Does he seem gloomy?" asked Mrs. Bowen unsympathetically.
"No, not gloomy exactly. But different from last night. I wish people could always be the same! He was so gay and full of spirits; and now he's so self-absorbed. He thinks you're offended with him, Mrs. Bowen."
"I don't think he was very much troubled about it. I only thought he was flighty from want of sleep. At your age you don't mind the loss of a night."
"Do you think Mr. Colville seems so very old?" asked Imogene anxiously.
Mrs. Bowen appeared not to have heard her. She went to the window and looked out. When she came back, "Isn't it almost time for you to have a letter from home?" she asked.
"Why, no. I had one from mother day before yesterday. What made you think so?"
"Imogene," interrupted Mrs. Bowen, with a sudden excitement which she tried to control, but which made her lips tremble, and break a little from her restraint, "you know that I am here in the place of your mother, to advise you and look after you in every way?"
"Why, yes, Mrs. Bowen," cried the girl, in surprise.
"It's a position of great responsibility in regard to a young lady. I can't have anything to reproach myself with afterward."
"Have I always been kind to you, and considerate of your rights and your freedom? Have I ever interfered with you in any way that you think I oughtn't?"
"What an idea! You've been loveliness itself, Mrs. Bowen!"
"Then I want you to listen to me, and answer me frankly, and not suspect my motives."
"Why, how could I do that?"
"Never mind!" cried Mrs. Bowen impatiently, almost angrily. "People can't help their suspicions! Do you think Mr. Morton cares for you?"
The girl hung her head.
"Imogene, answer me!"
"I don't know," answered Imogene coldly; "but if you're troubled about that, Mrs. Bowen, you needn't be; I don't care anything for Mr. Morton."
"If I thought you were becoming interested in any one, it would be my duty to write to your mother and tell her."
"Of course; I should expect you to do it."
"And if I saw you becoming interested in any one in a way that I thought would make you unhappy, it would be my duty to warn you."
"Of course, I don't mean that any one would knowingly try to make you unhappy?"
"Men don't go about nowadays trying to break girls' hearts. But very good men can be thoughtless and selfish."
"Yes; I understand that," said Imogene, in a falling accent.
"I don't wish to prejudice you against any one. I should consider it very wrong and wicked. Besides, I don't care to interfere with you to that degree. You are old enough to see and judge for yourself."
Imogene sat silent, passing her hand across the front of her dress. The clock ticked audibly from the mantel.
"I will not have it left to me!" cried Mrs. Bowen. "It is hard enough, at any rate. Do you think I like to speak to you?"
"Of course it makes me seem inhospitable, and distrustful, and detestable."
"I never thought of accusing you," said the girl, slowly lifting her eyes.
"I will never, never speak to you of it again," said Mrs. Bowen, "and from this time forth I insist upon your feeling just as free as if I hadn't spoken." She trembled upon the verge of a sob, from which she repelled herself.
Imogene sat still, with a sort of serious, bewildered look.
"You shall have every proper opportunity of meeting any one you like."
"And I shall be only too gl-glad to take back everything!"
Imogene sat motionless and silent. Mrs. Bowen broke out again with a sort of violence; the years teach us something of self-control, perhaps, but they weaken and unstring the nerves. In this opposition of silence to silence, the woman of the world was no match for the inexperienced girl.
"Have you nothing to say, Imogene?"
"I never thought of him in that way at all. I don't know what to say yet. It—confuses me. I—I can't imagine it. But if you think that he is trying to amuse himself——"
"I never said that!"
"No, I know it."
"He likes to make you talk, and to talk with you. But he is perfectly idle here, and—there is too much difference, every way. The very good in him makes it the worse. I suppose that after talking with him every one else seems insipid."
Mrs. Bowen rose and ran suddenly from the room.
Imogene remained sitting cold and still.
No one had been named since they spoke of Mr. Morton.
Colville had not done what he meant in going to Mrs. Bowen's; in fact, he had done just what he had not meant to do, as he distinctly perceived in coming away. It was then that in a luminous retrospect he discovered his motive to have been a wish to atone to her for behaviour that must have distressed her, or at least to explain it to her. She had not let him do this at once; an instant willingness to hear and to condone was not in a woman's nature; she had to make him feel, by the infliction of a degree of punishment, that she had suffered. But before she ended she had made it clear that she was ready to grant him a tacit pardon, and he had answered with a silly sarcasm the question that was to have led to peace. He could not help seeing that throughout the whole Carnival adventure she had yielded her cherished reluctances to please him, to show him that she was not stiff or prudish, to convince him that she would not be a killjoy through her devotion to conventionalities which she thought he despised. He could not help seeing that he had abused her delicate generosity, insulted her subtle concessions. He strolled along down the Arno, feeling flat and mean, as a man always does after a contest with a woman in which he has got the victory; our sex can preserve its self-respect only through defeat in such a case. It gave him no pleasure to remember that the glamour of the night before seemed still to rest on Imogene unbroken; that, indeed, was rather an added pain. He surprised himself in the midst of his poignant reflections by a yawn. Clearly the time was past when these ideal troubles could keep him awake, and there was, after all, a sort of brutal consolation in the fact. He was forty-one years old, and he was sleepy, whatever capacity for suffering remained to him. He went to his hotel to catch a little nap before lunch. When he woke it was dinner-time. The mists of slumber still hung about him, and the events of the last forty-eight hours showed vast and shapelessly threatening through them.
When the drama of the table d'hote reached its climax of roast chestnuts and butter, he determined to walk over to San Marco and pay a visit to Mr. Waters. He found the old minister from Haddam East Village, Massachusetts, Italianate outwardly in almost ludicrous degree. He wore a fur-lined overcoat indoors; his feet, cased in thick woollen shoes, rested on a strip of carpet laid before his table; a man who had lived for forty years in the pungent atmosphere of an air-tight stove, succeeding a quarter of a century of roaring hearth fires, contented himself with the spare heat of a scaldino, which he held his clasped hands over in the very Italian manner; the lamp that cast its light on the book open before him was the classic lucerna, with three beaks, fed with olive oil. He looked up at his visitor over his spectacles, without recognising him, till Colville spoke. Then, after their greeting, "Is it snowing heavily?" he asked.
"It isn't snowing at all. What made you think that?"
"Perhaps I was drowsing over my book and dreamed it. We become very strange and interesting studies to ourselves as we live along."
He took up the metaphysical consideration with the promptness of a man who has no small-talk, and who speaks of the mind and soul as if they were the gossip of the neighbourhood.
"At times the forty winters that I passed in Haddam East Village seem like an alien experience, and I find myself pitying the life I lived there quite as if it were the life of some one else. It seems incredible that men should still inhabit such climates."
"Then you're not homesick for Haddam East Village?"
"Ah! for the good and striving souls there, yes; especially the souls of some women there. They used to think that it was I who gave them consolation and spiritual purpose, but it was they who really imparted it. Women souls—how beautiful they sometimes are! They seem truly like angelic essences. I trust that I shall meet them somewhere some time, but it will never be in Haddam East Village. Yes, I must have been dreaming when you came in. I thought that I was by my fire there, and all round over the hills and in the streets the snow was deep and falling still. How distinctly, he said, closing his eyes, as artists do in looking at a picture, I can see the black wavering lines of the walls in the fields sinking into the drifts! the snow billowed over the graves by the church where I preached! the banks of snow around the houses! the white desolation everywhere! I ask myself at times if the people are still there. Yes, I feel as blessedly remote from that terrible winter as if I had died away from it, and were in the weather of heaven."
"Then you have no reproach for feeble-spirited fellow-citizens who abandon their native climate and come to live in Italy?"
The old man drew his fur coat closer about him and shrugged his shoulders in true Florentine fashion. "There may be something to say against those who do so in the heyday of life, but I shall not be the one to say it. The race must yet revert in its decrepitude, as I have in mine, to the climates of the South. Since I have been in Italy I have realised what used to occur to me dimly at home—the cruel disproportion between the end gained and the means expended in reclaiming the savage North. Half the human endeavour, half the human suffering, would have made the whole South Protestant and the whole East Christian, and our civilisation would now be there. No, I shall never go back to New England. New England? New Ireland——New Canada! Half the farms in Haddam are in the hands of our Irish friends, and the labour on the rest is half done by French Canadians. That is all right and well. New England must come to me here, by way of the great middle West and the Pacific coast."
Colville smiled at the Emersonian touch, but he said gravely, "I can never quite reconcile myself to the thought of dying out of my own country."
"Why not? It is very unimportant where one dies. A moment after your breath is gone you are in exile for ever—or at home for ever."
Colville sat musing upon this phase of Americanism, as he had upon many others. At last he broke the silence they had both let fall, far away from the topic they had touched.
"Well," he asked, "how did you enjoy the veglione?"
"Oh, I'm too old to go to such places for pleasure," said the minister simply. "But it was very interesting, and certainly very striking: especially when I went back, toward daylight, after seeing Mrs. Bowen home."
"Did you go back?" demanded Colville, in some amaze.
"Oh yes. I felt that my experience was incomplete without some knowledge of how the Carnival ended at such a place."
"Oh! And do you still feel that Savonarola was mistaken?"
"There seemed to be rather more boisterousness toward the close, and, if I might judge, the excitement grew a little unwholesome. But I really don't feel myself very well qualified to decide. My own life has been passed in circumstances so widely different that I am at a certain disadvantage."
"Yes," said Colville, with a smile; "I daresay the Carnival at Haddam East Village was quite another tiling."
The old man smiled responsively. "I suppose that some of my former parishioners might have been scandalised at my presence at a Carnival ball, had they known the fact merely in the abstract; but in my letters home I shall try to set it before them in an instructive light. I should say that the worst thing about such a scene of revelry would be that it took us too much out of our inner quiet. But I suppose the same remark might apply to almost any form of social entertainment."
"But human nature is so constituted that some means of expansion must be provided, or a violent explosion takes place. The only question is what means are most innocent. I have been looking about," added the old man quietly, "at the theatres lately."
"Have you?" asked Colville, opening his eyes, in suppressed surprise.
"Yes; with a view to determining the degree of harmless amusement that may be derived from them. It's rather a difficult question. I should be inclined to say, however, that I don't think the ballet can ever be instrumental for good."
Colville could not deny himself the pleasure of saying, "Well, not the highest, I suppose."
"No," said Mr. Waters, in apparent unconsciousness of the irony. "But I think the Church has made a mistake in condemning the theatre in toto. It appears to me that it might always have countenanced a certain order of comedy, in which the motive and plot are unobjectionable. Though I don't deny that there are moods when all laughter seems low and unworthy and incompatible with the most advanced state of being. And I confess," he went on, with a dreamy thoughtfulness, "that I have very great misgivings in regard to tragedy. The glare that it throws upon the play of the passions—jealousy in its anguish, revenge glutting itself, envy eating its heart, hopeless love—their nakedness is terrible. The terror may be salutary; it may be very mischievous. I am afraid that I have left some of my inquiries till it is too late. I seem to have no longer the materials of judgment left in me. If I were still a young man like you——"
"Am I still a young man?" interrupted Colville sadly.
"You are young enough to respond to the appeals that sometimes find me silent. If I were of your age I should certainly investigate some of these interesting problems."
"Ah, but if you become personally interested in the problems, it's as bad as if you hadn't the materials of judgment left; you're prejudiced. Besides, I doubt my youthfulness very much."
"You are fifty, I presume?" suggested Mr. Waters, in a leading way.
"Not very near—only too near," laughed Colville. "I'm forty-one."
"You are younger than I supposed. But I remember now that at your age I had the same feeling which you intimate. It seemed to me then that I had really passed the bound which separates us from the further possibility of youth. But I've lived long enough since to know that I was mistaken. At forty, one has still a great part of youth before him—perhaps the richest and sweetest part. By that time the turmoil of ideas and sensations is over; we see clearly and feel consciously. We are in a sort of quiet in which we peacefully enjoy. We have enlarged our perspective sufficiently to perceive things in their true proportion and relation; we are no longer tormented with the lurking fear of death, which darkens and embitters our earlier years; we have got into the habit of life; we have often been ailing and we have not died. Then we have time enough behind us to supply us with the materials of reverie and reminiscence; the terrible solitude of inexperience is broken; we have learned to smile at many things besides the fear of death. We ought also to have learned pity and patience. Yes," the old man concluded, in cheerful self-corroboration, "it is a beautiful age."
"But it doesn't look so beautiful as it is," Colville protested. "People in that rosy prime don't produce the effect of garlanded striplings upon the world at large. The women laugh at us; they think we are fat old fellows; they don't recognise the slender and elegant youth that resides in our unwieldy bulk."
"You take my meaning a little awry. Besides, I doubt if even the ground you assume is tenable. If a woman has lived long enough to be truly young herself, she won't find a man at forty either decrepit or grotesque. He can even make himself youthful to a girl of thought and imagination."
"Yes," Colville assented, with a certain discomfort.
"But to be truly young at forty," resumed Mr. Waters, "a man should be already married."
"I sometimes feel," continued the old man, "that I made a mistake in yielding to a disappointment that I met with early in life, and in not permitting myself the chance of retrieval. I have missed a beautiful and consoling experience in my devotion to a barren regret."
Colville said nothing, but he experienced a mixed feeling of amusement, of repulsion, and of curiosity at this.
"We are put into the world to be of it. I am more and more convinced of that. We have scarcely a right to separate ourselves from the common lot in any way. I justify myself for having lived alone only as a widower might. I—lost her. It was a great while ago."
"Yes," said Colville, after the pause which ensued; "I agree with you that one has no right to isolate himself, to refuse his portion of the common lot; but the effects of even a rebuff may last so long that one has no heart to put out his hand a second time—for a second rap over the knuckles. Oh, I know how trivial it is in the retrospect, and how what is called a disappointment is something to be humbly grateful for in most cases; but for a while it certainly makes you doubtful whether you were ever really intended to share the common lot." He was aware of an insincerity in his words; he hoped that it might not be perceptible, but he did not greatly care.
Mr. Waters took no notice of what he had been saying. He resumed from another point. "But I should say that it would be unwise for a man of mature life to seek his happiness with one much younger than himself. I don't deny that there are cases in which the disparity of years counts for little or nothing, but generally speaking, people ought to be as equally mated in age as possible. They ought to start with the same advantages of ignorance. A young girl can only live her life through a community of feeling, an equality of inexperience in the man she gives her heart to. If he is tired of things that still delight her, the chances of unhappiness are increased."
"Yes, that's true," answered Colville gravely. "It's apt to be a mistake and a wrong."
"Oh, not always—not always," said the old minister. "We mustn't look at it in that way quite. Wrongs are of the will." He seemed to lapse into a greater intimacy of feeling with Colville. "Have you seen Mrs. Bowen to-day? Or—ah! true! I think you told me."
"No," said Colville. "Have we spoken of her? But I have seen her."
"And was the little one well?"
"Very much better."
"Pretty creatures, both of them," said the minister, with as fresh a pleasure in his recognition of the fact as if he had not said nearly the same thing once before, "You've noticed the very remarkable resemblance between mother and daughter?"
"There is a gentleness in Mrs. Bowen which seems to me the last refinement of a gracious spirit," suggested Mr. Waters. "I have never met any lady who reconciled more exquisitely what is charming in society with what is lovely in nature."
"Yes," said Colville. "Mrs. Bowen always had that gentle manner. I used to know her here as a girl a great while ago."
"Did you? I wonder you allowed her to become Mrs. Bowen."
This sprightliness of Mr. Waters amused Colville greatly. "At that time I was preoccupied with my great mistake, and I had no eyes for Mrs. Bowen."
"It isn't too late yet," said Mr. Waters, with open insinuation.
A bachelor of forty is always flattered by any suggestion of marriage; the suggestion that a beautiful and charming woman would marry him is too much for whatever reserves of modesty and wisdom he may have stored up Colville took leave of the old minister in better humour with himself than he had been for forty-eight hours, or than he had any very good reason for being now.
Mr. Waters came with him to the head of the stairs and held up the lamp for him to see. The light fell upon the white locks thinly straggling from beneath his velvet skull-cap, and he looked like some mediaeval scholar of those who lived and died for learning in Florence when letters were a passion there almost as strong as love.
The next day Colville would have liked to go at once and ask about Effie, but upon the whole he thought he would not go till after he had been at the reception where he was going in the afternoon. It was an artist who was giving the reception; he had a number of pictures to show, and there was to be tea. There are artists and artists. This painter was one who had a distinct social importance. It was felt to be rather a nice thing to be asked to his reception; one was sure at least to meet the nicest people.
This reason prevailed with Colville so far as it related to Mrs. Bowen, whom he felt that he would like to tell he had been there. He would speak to her of this person and that—very respected and recognised social figures,—so that she might see he was not the outlaw, the Bohemian, he must sometimes have appeared to her. It would not be going too far to say that something like an obscure intention to show himself the next Sunday at the English chapel, where Mrs. Bowen went, was not forming itself in his mind. As he went along it began to seem not impossible that she would be at the reception. If Effie's indisposition was no more serious than it appeared yesterday, very probably Mrs. Bowen would be there. He even believed that he recognised her carriage among those which were drawn up in front of the old palace, under the painter's studio windows.
There were a great number of people of the four nationalities that mostly consort in Italy. There were English and Americans and Russians and the sort of Italians resulting from the native intermarriages with them; here and there were Italians of pure blood, borderers upon the foreign life through a literary interest, or an artistic relation, or a matrimonial intention; here and there, also, the large stomach of a German advanced the bounds of the new empire and the new ideal of duty. There were no Frenchmen; one may meet them in more strictly Italian assemblages, but it is as if the sorrows and uncertainties of France in these times discouraged them from the international society in which they were always an infrequent element. It is not, of course, imaginable that as Frenchmen they have doubts of their merits, but that they have their misgivings as to the intelligence of others. The language that prevailed was English—in fact, one heard no other,—and the tea which our civilisation carries everywhere with it steamed from the cups in all hands. This beverage, in fact, becomes a formidable factor in the life of a Florentine winter. One finds it at all houses, and more or less mechanically drinks it.
"I am turning out a terrible tea toper," said Colville, stirring his cup in front of the old lady whom his relations to the ladies at Palazzo Pinti had interested so much. "I don't think I drink less than ten cups a day; seventy cups a week is a low average for me. I'm really beginning to look down at my boots a little anxiously."
Mrs. Amsden laughed. She had not been in America for forty years, but she liked the American way of talking better than any other. "Oh, didn't you hear about Inglehart when he was here? He was so good-natured that he used to drink all the tea people offered him, and then the young ladies made tea for him in his studio when they went to look at his pictures. It almost killed him. By the time spring came he trembled so that the brush flew out of his hands when he took it up. He had to hurry off to Venice to save his life. It's just as bad at the Italian houses; they've learned to like tea."
"When I was here before, they never offered you anything but coffee," said Colville. "They took tea for medicine, and there was an old joke that I thought I should die of, I heard it so often about the Italian that said to the English woman when she offered him tea, 'Grazie; sto bene.'"
"Oh, that's all changed now."
"Yes; I've seen the tea, and I haven't heard the joke."
The flavour of Colville's talk apparently encouraged his companion to believe that he would like to make fun of their host's paintings with her; but whether he liked them, or whether he was principled against that sort of return for hospitality, he chose to reply seriously to some ironical lures she threw out.
"Oh, if you're going to be good," she exclaimed, "I shall have nothing more to say to you. Here comes Mr. Thurston; I can make him abuse the pictures. There! You had better go away to a young lady I see alone over yonder, though I don't know what you will do with one alone." She laughed and shook her head in a way that had once been arch and lively, but that was now puckery and infirm—it is affecting to see these things in women—and welcomed the old gentleman who came up and superseded Colville.
The latter turned, with his cup still in his hand, and wandered about through the company, hoping he might see Mrs. Bowen among the groups peering at the pictures or solidly blocking the view in front of them. He did not find her, but he found Imogene Graham standing somewhat apart near a window. He saw her face light up at sight of him, and then darken again as he approached.
"Isn't this rather an unnatural state of things?" he asked when he had come up. "I ought to be obliged to fight my way to you through successive phalanxes of young men crowding round with cups of tea outstretched in their imploring hands. Have you had some tea?"
"Thank you, no; I don't wish any," said the young girl, so coldly that he could not help noticing, though commonly he was man enough to notice very few things.
"How is Effie to-day?" he asked quickly.
"Oh, quite well," said Imogene.
"I don't see Mrs. Bowen," he ventured further.
"No," answered the girl, still very lifelessly; "I came with Mrs. Fleming." She looked about the room as if not to look at him.
He now perceived a distinct intention to snub him. He smiled. "Have you seen the pictures? There are two or three really lovely ones."
"Mrs. Fleming will be here in a moment, I suppose," said Imogene evasively, but not with all her first coldness.
"Let us steal a march on her," said Colville briskly. "When she comes you can tell her that I showed you the pictures."
"I don't know," faltered the girl.
"Perhaps it isn't necessary you should," he suggested.
She glanced at him with questioning trepidation.
"The respective duties of chaperone and protegee are rather undefined. Where the chaperone isn't there to command, the protegee isn't there to obey. I suppose you'd know if you were at home?"
"Let me imagine myself at a loan exhibition in Buffalo. Ah! that appeal is irresistible. You'll come, I see."
She hesitated; she looked at the nearest picture, then followed him to another. He now did what he had refused to do for the old lady who tempted him to it; he made fun of the pictures a little, but so amiably and with so much justice to their good points that the painter himself would not have minded his jesting. From time to time he made Imogene smile, but in her eyes lurked a look of uneasiness, and her manner expressed a struggle against his will which might have had its pathos for him in different circumstances, but now it only incited him to make her forget herself more and more; he treated her as one does a child that is out of sorts—coaxingly, ironically.
When they had made the round of the rooms Mrs. Fleming was not at the window where she had left Imogene; the girl detected the top of her bonnet still in the next room.
"The chaperone is never there when you come back with the protegee," said Colville. "It seems to be the nature of the chaperone."
Imogene turned very grave. "I think I ought to go to her," she murmured.
"Oh no; she ought to come to you; I stand out for protegee's rights."
"I suppose she will come directly."
"She sees me with you; she knows you are safe."
"Oh, of course," said the girl. After a constraint which she marked by rather a long silence, she added, "How strange a roomful of talking sounds, doesn't it? Just like a great caldron boiling up and bubbling over. Wouldn't you like to know what they're all saying?"
"Oh, it's quite bad enough to see them," replied Colville frivolously.
"I think a company of gentlemen with their hats off look very queer, don't you?" she asked, after another interval.
"Well, really," said Colville, laughing, "I don't know that the spectacle ever suggested any metaphysical speculations to me. I rather think they look queerer with their hats on."
"Though there is not very much to choose. We're a queer-looking set, anyway."
He got himself another cup of tea, and coming back to her, allowed her to make the efforts to keep up the conversation, and was not without a malicious pleasure in her struggles. They interested him as social exercises which, however abrupt and undexterous now, were destined, with time and practice, to become the finesse of a woman of society, and to be accepted, even while they were still abrupt and undexterous, as touches of character. He had broken up that coldness with which she had met him at first, and now he let her adjust the fragments as she could to the new situation. He wore that air of a gentleman who has been talking a long time to a lady, and who will not dispute her possession with a new-comer.
But no one came, though, as he cast his eyes carelessly over the company, he found that it had been increased by the accession of eight or ten young fellows, with a refreshing light of originality in their faces, and little touches of difference from the other men in their dress.
"Oh, there are the Inglehart boys!" cried the girl, with a flash of excitement.
There was a sensation of interest and friendliness in the company as these young fellows, after their moment of social intimidation, began to gather round the pictures, and to fling their praise and blame about, and talk the delightful shop of the studio.
The sight of their fresh young faces, the sound of their voices, struck a pang of regret that was almost envy to Colville's heart.
Imogene followed them with eager eyes. "Oh," she sighed, "shouldn't you like to be an artist?"
"I should, very much."
"Oh, I beg your pardon; I forgot. I knew you were an architect."
"I should say I used to be, if you hadn't objected to my perfects and preterits."
What came next seemed almost an accident.
"I didn't suppose you cared for my objections, so long as I amused you." She suddenly glanced at him, as if terrified at her own words.
"Have you been trying to amuse me?" he asked.
"Oh no. I thought——"
"Oh, then," said Colville sharply, "you meant that I was amusing myself with you?" She glanced at him in terror of his divination, but could not protest. "Has any one told you that?" he pursued, with sudden angry suspicion.
"No, no one," began Imogene. She glanced about her, frightened. They stood quite alone where they were; the people had mostly wandered off into the other rooms. "Oh, don't—I didn't mean—I didn't intend to say anything——"
"But you have said something—something that surprises me from you, and hurts me. I wish to know whether you say it from yourself."
"I don't know—yes. That is, not——Oh, I wish Mrs. Fleming——"
She looked as if another word of pursuit would put it beyond her power to control herself.
"Let me take you to Mrs. Fleming," said Colville, with freezing hauteur; and led the way where the top of Mrs. Fleming's bonnet still showed itself. He took leave at once, and hastily parting with his host, found himself in the street, whirled in many emotions. The girl had not said that from herself, but it was from some woman; he knew that by the directness of the phrase and its excess, for he had noticed that women who liked to beat about the bush in small matters have a prodigious straightforwardness in more vital affairs, and will even call grey black in order clearly to establish the presence of the black in that colour. He could hardly keep himself from going to Palazzo Pinti.
But he contrived to go to his hotel instead, where he ate a moody dinner, and then, after an hour's solitary bitterness in his room, went out and passed the evening at the theatre. The play was one of those fleering comedies which render contemptible for the time all honest and earnest intention, and which surely are a whiff from the bottomless pit itself. It made him laugh at the serious strain of self-question that had mingled with his resentment; it made him laugh even at his resentment, and with its humour in his thoughts, sent him off to sleep in a sottish acceptance of whatever was trivial in himself as the only thing that was real and lasting.
He slept late, and when Paolo brought up his breakfast, he brought with it a letter which he said had been left with the porter an hour before. A faint appealing perfume of violet exhaled from the note, and mingled with the steaming odours of the coffee and boiled milk, when Colville, after a glance at the unfamiliar handwriting of the superscription, broke the seal.
"DEAR MR. COLVILLE,—I don't know what you will think of my writing to you, but perhaps you can't think worse of me than you do already, and anything will be better than the misery that I am in. I have not been asleep all night. I hate myself for telling you, but I do want you to understand how I have felt. I would give worlds if I could take back the words that you say wounded you. I didn't mean to wound you. Nobody is to blame for them but me; nobody ever breathed a word about you that was meant in unkindness.
"I am not ashamed of writing this, whatever you think, and I will sign my name in full. IMOGENE GRAHAM."
Colville had commonly a good appetite for his breakfast, but now he let his coffee stand long un-tasted. There were several things about this note that touched him—the childlike simplicity and directness, the generous courage, even the imperfection and crudity of the literature. However he saw it afterward, he saw it then in its true intention. He respected that intention; through all the sophistications in which life had wrapped him, it awed him a little. He realised that if he had been younger he would have gone to Imogene herself with her letter. He felt for the moment a rush of the emotion which he would once not have stopped to examine, which he would not have been capable of examining. But now his duty was clear; he must go to Mrs. Bowen. In the noblest human purpose there is always some admixture, however slight, of less noble motive, and Colville was not without the willingness to see whatever embarrassment she might feel when he showed her the letter, and to invoke her finest tact to aid him in re-assuring the child.
She was alone in her drawing-room, and she told him in response to his inquiry for their health that Imogene and Effie had gone out to drive. She looked so pretty in the quiet house dress in which she rose from the sofa and stood, letting him come the whole way to greet her, that he did not think of any other look in her, but afterward he remembered an evidence of inner tumult in her brightened eyes.
He said, smiling, "I'm so glad to see you alone," and this brought still another look into her face, which also he afterward remembered. She did not reply, but made a sound in her throat like a bird when it stirs itself for flight or song. It was a strange, indefinite little note, in which Colville thought he detected trepidation at the time, and recalled for the sort of expectation suggested in it. She stood waiting for him to go on.
"I have come to get you to help me out of trouble."
"Yes?" said Mrs. Bowen, with a vague smile. "I always supposed you would be able to help yourself out of trouble. Or perhaps wouldn't mind it if you were in it."
"Oh yes, I mind it very much," returned Colville, refusing her banter, if it were banter. "Especially this sort of trouble, which involves some one else in the discomfort." He went on abruptly: "I have been held up to a young lady as a person who was amusing himself with her, and I was so absurd as to be angry when she told me, and demanded the name of my friend, whoever it was. My behaviour seems to have given the young lady a bad night, and this morning she writes to tell me so, and to take all the blame on herself, and to assure me that no harm was meant me by any one. Of course I don't want her to be distressed about it. Perhaps you can guess who has been writing to me."
Colville said all this looking down, in a fashion he had. When he looked up he saw a severity in Mrs. Bowen's pretty face, such as he had not seen there before.
"I didn't know she had been writing to you, but I know that you are talking of Imogene. She told me what she had said to you yesterday, and I blamed her for it, but I'm not sure that it wasn't best."
"Oh, indeed!" said Colville. "Perhaps you can tell me who put the idea into her head?"
"Yes; I did."
A dead silence ensued, in which the fragments of the situation broken by these words revolved before Colville's thought with kaleidoscopic variety, and he passed through all the phases of anger, resentment, wounded self-love, and accusing shame.
At last, "I suppose you had your reasons," he said simply.
"I am in her mother's place here," she replied, tightening the grip of one little hand upon another, where she held them laid against the side of her waist.
"Yes, I know that," said Colville; "but what reason had you to warn her against me as a person who was amusing himself with her? I don't like the phrase; but she seems to have got it from you; I use it at third hand."
"I don't like the phrase either; I didn't invent it."
"You used it."
"No; it wasn't I who used it. I should have been glad to use another, if I could," said Mrs. Bowen, with perfect steadiness.
"Then you mean to say that you believe I've been trifling with the feelings of this child?"
"I mean to say nothing. You are very much older; and she is a romantic girl, very extravagant. You have tried to make her like you."
"I certainly have. I have tried to make Effie Bowen like me too."
Mrs. Bowen passed this over in serenity that he felt was not far from contempt.
He gave a laugh that did not express enjoyment.
"You have no right to laugh!" she cried, losing herself a little, and so making her first gain upon him.
"It appears not. Perhaps you will tell me what I am to do about this letter?"
"That is for you to decide." She recovered herself, and lost ground with him in proportion.
"I thought perhaps that since you were able to judge my motives so clearly, you might be able to advise me."
"I don't judge your motives," Mrs. Bowen began. She added suddenly, as if by an after-thought, "I don't think you had any."
"I'm obliged to you."
"But you are as much to blame as if you had."
"And perhaps I'm as much to blame as if I had really wronged somebody?"
"It's rather paradoxical. You don't wish me to see her any more?"
"I haven't any wish about it; you must not say that I have," said Mrs. Bowen, with dignity.
Colville smiled. "May I ask if you have?"
"Not for myself."
"You put me on very short allowance of conjecture."
"I will not let you trifle with the matter!" she cried. "You have made me speak, when a word, a look, ought to have been enough. Oh, I didn't think you had the miserable vanity to wish it!"
Colville stood thinking a long time and she waiting. "I see that everything is at an end. I am going away from Florence. Good-bye, Mrs. Bowen." He approached her, holding out his hand. But if he expected to be rewarded for this, nothing of the kind happened. She shrank swiftly back.
"No, no. You shall not touch me."
He paused a moment, gazing keenly at her face, in which, whatever other feeling showed, there was certainly no fear of him. Then with a slight bow he left the room.
Mrs. Bowen ran from it by another door, and shut herself into her own room. When she returned to the salotto, Imogene and Effie were just coming in. The child went to lay aside her hat and sacque; the girl, after a glance at Mrs. Bowen's face, lingered inquiringly.
"Mr. Colville came here with your letter, Imogene."
"Yes," said Imogene faintly. "Do you think I oughtn't to have written it?"
"Oh, it makes no difference now. He is going away from Florence."
"Yes?" breathed the girl.
"I spoke openly with him."
"I didn't spare him. I made him think I hated and despised him."
Imogene was silent. Then she said, "I know that whatever you have done, you have acted for the best."
"Yes, I have a right that you should say that—I have a right that you should always say it. I think he has behaved very foolishly, but I don't blame him——"
"No! I was to blame."
"I don't know that he was to blame, and I won't let you think he was."
"Oh, he is the best man in the world!"
"He gave up at once; he didn't try to defend himself. It's nothing for you to lose a friend at your age; but at mine——"
"I know it, Mrs. Bowen."
"And I wouldn't even shake hands with him when he was going; I——"
"Oh, I don't see how you could be so hard!" cried Imogene. She put up her hands to her face, and broke into tears. Mrs. Bowen watched her, dry eyed, with her lips parted, and an intensity of question in her face.
"Imogene," she said at last, "I wish you to promise me one thing."
"Not to write to Mr. Colville again."
"No, no; indeed I won't, Mrs. Bowen!" The girl came up to kiss her; Mrs. Bowen turned her cheek.
Imogene was going from the room, when Mrs. Bowen spoke again. "But I wish you to promise me this only because you don't feel sure of yourself about him. If you care for him—if you think you care for him—then I leave you perfectly free."
The girl looked up, scared. "No, no; I'd rather you wouldn't leave me free—you mustn't; I shouldn't know what to do."
"Very well, then," said Mrs. Bowen.
They both waited a moment, as if each were staying for the other to speak. Then Imogene asked, "Is he—going soon?"
"I don't know," said Mrs. Bowen. "Why should he want to delay? He had better go at once. And I hope he will go home—as far from Florence as he can. I should think he would hate the place."
"Yes," said the girl, with a quivering sigh; "it must be hateful to him." She paused, and then she rushed on with bitter self-reproach. "And I—I have helped to make it so! O Mrs. Bowen, perhaps it's I who have been trifling with him Trying to make him believe—no, not trying to do that, but letting him see that I sympathised—Oh, do you think I have?"
"You know what you have been doing, Imogene," said Mrs. Bowen, with the hardness it surprises men to know women use with each other, they seem such tender creatures in the abstract. "You have no need to ask me."
"As you say, I warned you from the first."
"Oh yes; you did."
"I couldn't do more than hint; it was too much to expect——"
"Oh, yes, yes."
"And if you couldn't take my hints, I was helpless."
"Yes; I see it."
"I was only afraid of saying too much, and all through that miserable veglione business I was trying to please you and him, because I was afraid I had said too much—gone too far. I wanted to show you that I disdained to be suspicious, that I was ashamed to suppose that a girl of your age could care for the admiration of a man of his."
"Oh, I didn't care for his admiration. I admired him—and pitied him."
Mrs. Bowen apparently would not be kept now from saying all that had been rankling in her breast. "I didn't approve of going to the veglione. A great many people would be shocked if they knew I went; I wouldn't at all like to have it known. But I was not going to have him thinking that I was severe with you, and wanted to deny you any really harmless pleasure."
"Oh, who could think that? You're only too good to me. You see," said the girl, "what a return I have made for your trust. I knew you didn't want to go to the veglione. If I hadn't been the most selfish girl in the world I wouldn't have let you. But I did. I forced you to go, and then, after we got there, I seized every advantage, and abused your kindness till I wonder I didn't sink through the floor. Yes; I ought to have refused to dance—if I'd had a spark of generosity or gratitude I would have done it; and I ought to have come straight back to you the instant the waltz was done. And now see what has come of it! I've made you think he was trifling with me, and I've made him think that I'm a false and hollow-hearted thing."
"You know best what you have done, Imogene," said Mrs. Bowen, with a smiling tearfulness that was somehow very bitter. She rose from the sofa, as if to indicate that there was no more to be said, and Imogene, with a fresh burst of grief, rushed away to her own room.
She dropped on her knees beside her bed, and stretched out her arms upon it, an image of that desolation of soul which, when we are young, seems limitless, but which in later life we know has comparatively narrow bounds beyond the clouds that rest so blackly around us.
In his room Colville was devouring as best he might the chagrin with which he had come away from Palazzo Pinti, while he packed his trunk for departure. Now that the thing was over, the worst was past. Again he observed that his emotions had no longer the continuity that the emotions of his youth possessed. As he remembered, a painful or pleasant impression used to last indefinitely; but here he was with this humiliating affair hot in his mind, shrugging his shoulders with a sense of relief, almost a sense of escape. Does the soul really wear out with the body? The question flitted across his mind as he took down a pair of trousers, and noticed that they were considerably frayed about the feet; he determined to give them to Paolo, and this reminded him to ring for Paolo, and send word to the office that he was going to take the evening train for Rome.
He went on packing, and putting away with the different garments the unpleasant thoughts that he knew he should be sure to unpack with them in Rome; but they would then have less poignancy.
For the present he was doing the best he could, and he was not making any sort of pretences. When his trunk was locked he kindled himself a fire, and sat down before it to think of Imogene. He began with her, but presently it seemed to be Mrs. Bowen that he was thinking of; then he knew he was dropping off to sleep by the manner in which their two ideas mixed. The fatigues and excitements of the week had been great, but he would not give way; it was too disgraceful.
Some one rapped at his door. He called out "Avanti!" and he would have been less surprised to see either of those ladies than Paolo with the account he had ordered to be made out. It was a long, pendulous, minutely itemed affair, such as the traveller's recklessness in candles and firewood comes to in the books of the Continental landlord, and it almost swept the floor when its volume was unrolled. But it was not the sum-total that dismayed Colville when he glanced at the final figure; that, indeed, was not so very great, with all the items; it was the conviction, suddenly flashing upon him, that he had not money enough by him to pay it. His watch, held close to the fire, told him that it was five o'clock; the banks had been closed an hour, and this was Saturday afternoon.
The squalid accident had all the effect of intention, as he viewed it from without himself, and considered that the money ought to have been the first thing in his thoughts after he determined to go away. He must get the money somehow, and be off to Rome by the seven o'clock train. A whimsical suggestion, which was so good a bit of irony that it made him smile, flashed across him: he might borrow it of Mrs. Bowen. She was, in fact, the only person in Florence with whom he was at all on borrowing terms, and a sad sense of the sweetness of her lost friendship followed upon the antic notion. No; for once he could not go to Mrs. Bowen. He recollected now the many pleasant talks they had had together, confidential in virtue of their old acquaintance, and harmlessly intimate in many things. He recalled how, when he was feeling dull from the Florentine air, she had told him to take a little quinine, and he had found immediate advantage in it. These memories did strike him as grotesque or ludicrous; he only felt their pathos. He was ashamed even to seem in anywise recreant further. If she should ever hear that he had lingered for thirty-six hours in Florence after he had told her he was going away, what could she think but that he had repented his decision? He determined to go down to the office of the hotel, and see if he could not make some arrangement with the landlord. It would be extremely distasteful, but his ample letter of credit would be at least a voucher of his final ability to pay. As a desperate resort he could go and try to get the money of Mr. Waters.
He put on his coat and hat, and opened the door to some one who was just in act to knock at it, and whom he struck against in the obscurity.
"I beg your pardon," said the visitor.
"Mr. Waters! Is it possible?" cried Colville, feeling something fateful in the chance. "I was just going to see you."
"I'm fortunate in meeting you, then. Shall we go to my room?" he asked, at a hesitation in Colville's manner.
"No, no," said the latter; "come in here." He led the way back into his room, and struck a match to light the candles on his chimney. Their dim rays fell upon the disorder his packing had left. "You must excuse the look of things," he said. "The fact is, I'm just going away. I'm going to Rome at seven o'clock."