"Good morning," she returned half-inquiringly.
She did not take a seat near him, and turned, as if for instruction, to Mrs. Bowen. It was probably the force of habit. In any case, Mrs. Bowen's eyes gave no response. She bowed slightly to Colville, and began, "I must leave Imogene to entertain you for the present, Mr.—"
"No!" cried the girl impetuously; "don't go." Mrs. Bowen stopped. "I wish to speak with you—with you and Mr. Colville together. I wish to say—I don't know how to say it exactly; but I wish to know—You asked him last night, Mrs. Bowen, whether he wished to consider it an engagement?"
"I thought perhaps you would rather hear from your mother—"
"Yes, I would be glad to know that my mother approved; but if she didn't, I couldn't help it. Mr. Colville said he was bound, but I was not. That can't be. I wish to be bound, if he is."
"I don't quite know what you expect me to say."
"Nothing," said Imogene. "I merely wished you to know. And I don't wish you to sacrifice anything to us. If you think best, Mr. Colville will not see me till I hear from home; though it won't make any difference with me what I hear."
"There's no reason why you shouldn't meet," said Mrs. Bowen absently.
"If you wish it to have the same appearance as an Italian engagement——"
"No," said Mrs. Bowen, putting her hand to her head with a gesture she had; "that would be quite unnecessary. It would be ridiculous under the circumstances. I have thought of it, and I have decided that the American way is the best."
"Very well, then," said Imogene, with the air of summing up; "then the only question is whether we shall make it known or not to other people."
This point seemed to give Mrs. Bowen greater pause than any. She was a long time silent, and Colville saw that Imogene was beginning to chafe at her indecision. Yet he did not see the moment to intervene in a debate in which he found himself somewhat ludicrously ignored, as if the affair were solely the concern of these two women, and none of his.
"Of course, Mrs. Bowen," said the girl haughtily, "if it will be disagreeable to you to have it known——"
Mrs. Bowen blushed delicately—a blush of protest and of generous surprise, or so it seemed to Colville. "I was not thinking of myself, Imogene. I only wish to consider you. And I was thinking whether, at this distance from home, you wouldn't prefer to have your family's approval before you made it known."
"I am sure of their approval. Father will do what mother says, and she has always said that she would never interfere with me in—in—such a thing."
"Perhaps you would like all the more, then, to show her the deference of waiting for her consent."
Imogene started as if stopped short in swift career; it was not hard for Colville to perceive that she saw for the first time the reverse side of a magnanimous impulse. She suddenly turned to him.
"I think Mrs. Bowen is right," he said gravely, in answer to the eyes of Imogene. He continued, with a flicker of his wonted mood: "You must consider me a little in the matter. I have some small shreds of self-respect about me somewhere, and I would rather not be put in the attitude of defying your family, or ignoring them."
"No," said Imogene, in the same effect of arrest.
"When it isn't absolutely necessary," continued Colville. "Especially as you say there will be no opposition."
"Of course," Imogene assented; and in fact what he said was very just, and he knew it; but he could perceive that he had suffered loss with her. A furtive glance at Mrs. Bowen did not assure him that he had made a compensating gain in that direction, where, indeed, he had no right to wish for any.
"Well, then," the girl went on, "it shall be so. We will wait. It will only be waiting. I ought to have thought of you before; I make a bad beginning," she said tremulously. "I supposed I was thinking of you; but I see that I was only thinking of myself." The tears stood in her eyes. Mrs. Bowen, quite overlooked in this apology, slipped from the room.
"Imogene!" said Colville, coming toward her.
She dropped herself upon his shoulder. "Oh, why, why, why am I so miserable?"
"Miserable, Imogene!" he murmured, stroking her beautiful hair.
"Yes, yes! Utterly miserable! It must be because I'm unworthy of you—unequal every way. If you think so, cast me off at once. Don't be weakly merciful!"
The words pierced his heart. "I would give the world to make you happy, my child!" he said, with perfidious truth, and a sigh that came from the bottom of his soul. "Sit down here by me," he said, moving to the sofa; and with whatever obscure sense of duty to her innocent self-abandon, he made a space between them, and reduced her embrace to a clasp of the hand she left with him. "Now tell me," he said, "what is it makes you unhappy?"
"Oh, I don't know," she answered, drying her averted eyes. "I suppose I am overwrought from not sleeping, and from thinking how we should arrange it all."
"And now that it's all arranged, can't you be cheerful again?"
"You're satisfied with the way we've arranged it? Because if—"
"Oh, perfectly—perfectly!" She hastily interrupted. "I wouldn't have it otherwise. Of course," she added, "it wasn't very pleasant having some one else suggest what I ought to have thought of myself, and seem more delicate about you than I was."
"Some one else?"
"You know! Mrs. Bowen."
"Oh! But I couldn't see that she was anxious to spare me. It occurred to me that she was concerned about your family."
"It led up to the other! it's all the same thing."
"Well, even in that case, I don't see why you should mind it. It was certainly very friendly of her, and I know that she has your interest at heart entirely."
"Yes; she knows how to make it seem so."
Colville hesitated in bewilderment. "Imogene!" he cried at last, "I don't understand this. Don't you think Mrs. Bowen likes you?"
"She detests me."
"Oh, no, no, no! That's too cruel an error. You mustn't think that. I can't let you. It's morbid. I'm sure that she's devotedly kind and good to you."
"Being kind and good isn't liking. I know what she thinks. But of course I can't expect to convince you of it; no one else could see it."
"No!" said Colville, with generous fervour.
"Because it doesn't exist and you mustn't imagine it. You are as sincerely and unselfishly regarded in this house as you could be in your own home. I'm sure of that. I know Mrs. Bowen. She has her little worldlinesses and unrealities of manner, but she is truth and loyalty itself. She would rather die than be false, or even unfair. I knew her long ago—"
"Yes," cried the girl, "long before you knew me!"
"And I know her to be the soul of honour," said Colville, ignoring the childish outburst. "Honour—like a man's," he added. "And, Imogene, I want you to promise me that you'll not think of her any more in that way. I want you to think of her as faithful and loving to you, for she is so. Will you do it?"
Imogene did not answer him at once. Then she turned upon him a face of radiant self-abnegation. "I will do anything you tell me. Only tell me things to do."
The next time he came he again saw Mrs. Bowen alone before Imogene appeared. The conversation was confined to two sentences.
"Mr. Colville," she said, with perfectly tranquil point, while she tilted a shut book to and fro on her knee, "I will thank you not to defend me."
Had she overheard? Had Imogene told her? He answered, in a fury of resentment for her ingratitude that stupefied him. "I will never speak of you again."
Now they were enemies; he did not know how or why, but he said to himself, in the bitterness of his heart, that it was better so; and when Imogene appeared, and Mrs. Bowen vanished, as she did without another word to him, he folded the girl in a vindictive embrace.
"What is the matter?" she asked, pushing away from him.
"Yes; you seem so excited."
"Oh, nothing," he said, shrinking from the sharpness of that scrutiny in a woman's eyes, which, when it begins the perusal of a man's soul, astonishes and intimidates him; he never perhaps becomes able to endure it with perfect self-control. "I suppose a slight degree of excitement in meeting you may be forgiven me." He smiled under the unrelaxed severity of her gaze.
"Was Mrs. Bowen saying anything about me?"
"Not a word," said Colville, glad of getting back to the firm truth again, even if it were mere literality.
"We have made it up," she said, her scrutiny changing to a lovely appeal for his approval. "What there was to make up."
"I told her what you had said. And now it's all right between us, and you mustn't be troubled at that any more. I did it to please you."
She seemed to ask him with the last words whether she really had pleased him, as if something in his aspect suggested a doubt; and he hastened to reassure her. "That was very good of you. I appreciate it highly. It's extremely gratifying."
She broke into a laugh of fond derision. "I don't believe you really cared about it, or else you're not thinking about it now. Sit down here; I want to tell you of something I've thought out." She pulled him to the sofa, and put his arm about her waist, with a simple fearlessness and matter-of-course promptness that made him shudder. He felt that he ought to tell her not to do it, but he did not quite know how without wounding her. She took hold of his hand and drew his lax arm taut. Then she looked up into his eyes, as if some sense of his misgiving had conveyed itself to her, but she did not release her hold of his hand.
"Perhaps we oughtn't, if we're not engaged?" she suggested, with such utter trust in him as made his heart quake.
"Oh," he sighed, from a complexity of feeling that no explanation could wholly declare, "we're engaged enough for that, I suppose."
"I'm glad you think so," she answered innocently. "I knew you wouldn't let me if it were not right." Having settled the question, "Of course," she continued, "we shall all do our best to keep our secret; but in spite of everything it may get out. Do you see?"
"Well, of course it will make a great deal of remark."
"Oh yes; you must be prepared for that, Imogene," said Colville, with as much gravity as he could make comport with his actual position.
"I am prepared for it, and prepared to despise it," answered the girl. "I shall have no trouble except the fear that you will mind it." She pressed his hand as if she expected him to say something to this.
"I shall never care for it," he said, and this was true enough. "My only care will be to keep you from regretting. I have tried from the first to make you see that I was very much older than you. It would be miserable enough if you came to see it too late."
"I have never seen it, and I never shall see it, because there's no such difference between us. It isn't the years that make us young or old—who is it says that? No matter, it's true. And I want you to believe it. I want you to feel that I am your youth—the youth you were robbed of—given back to you. Will you do it? Oh, if you could, I should be the happiest girl in the world." Tears of fervour dimmed the beautiful eyes which looked into his. "Don't speak!" she hurried on. "I won't let you till I have said it all. It's been this idea, this hope, with me always—ever since I knew what happened to you here long ago—that you might go back in my life and take up yours where it was broken off; that I might make your life what it would have been—complete your destiny—"
Colville wrenched himself loose from the hold that had been growing more tenderly close and clinging. "And do you think I could be such a vampire as to let you? Yes, yes; I have had my dreams of such a thing; but I see now how hideous they were. You shall make no such sacrifice to me. You must put away the fancies that could never be fulfilled, or if by some infernal magic they could, would only bring sorrow to you and shame to me. God forbid! And God forgive me, if I have done or said anything to put this in your head! And thank God it isn't too late yet for you to take yourself back."
"Oh," she murmured. "Do you think it is self-sacrifice for me to give myself to you? It's self-glorification! You don't understand—I haven't told you what I mean, or else I've told it in such a way that I've made it hateful to you. Do you think I don't care for you except to be something to you? I'm not so generous as that. You are all the world to me. If I take myself back from you, as you say, what shall I do with myself?"
"Has it come to that?" asked Colville. He sat down again with her, and this time he put his arm around her and drew her to him, but it seemed to him he did it as if she were his child. "I was going to tell you just now that each of us lived to himself in this world, and that no one could hope to enter into the life of another and complete it. But now I see that I was partly wrong. We two are bound together, Imogene, and whether we become all in all or nothing to each other, we can have no separate fate."
The girl's eyes kindled with rapture. "Then let us never speak of it again. I was going to say something, but now I won't say it."
"Yes, say it."
"No; it will make you think that I am anxious on my own account about appearances before people."
"You poor child, I shall never think you are anxious on your own account about anything. What were you going to say?"
"Oh, nothing! It was only—are you invited to the Phillipses' fancy ball?"
"Yes," said Colville, silently making what he could of the diversion, "I believe so."
"And are you going—did you mean to go?" she asked timidly.
"Good heavens, no! What in the world should I do at another fancy ball? I walked about with the airy grace of a bull in a china shop at the last one."
Imogene did not smile. She faintly sighed. "Well, then, I won't go either."
"Did you intend to go?"
"Why, of course you did, and it's very right you should. Did you want me to go?"
"It would bore you."
"Not if you're there." She gave his hand a grateful pressure. "Come, I'll go, of course, Imogene. A fancy ball to please you is a very different thing from a fancy ball in the abstract."
"Oh, what nice things you say! Do you know, I always admired your compliments? I think they're the most charming compliments in the world."
"I don't think they're half so pretty as yours; but they're more sincere."
"No, honestly. They flatter, and at the same time they make fun of the flattery a little; they make a person feel that you like them, even while you laugh at them."
"They appear to be rather an intricate kind of compliment—sort of salsa agradolce affair—tutti frutti style—species of moral mayonnaise."
"No—be quiet! You know what I mean. What were we talking about? Oh! I was going to say that the most fascinating thing about you always was that ironical way of yours."
"Have I an ironical way? You were going to tell me something more about the fancy ball."
"I don't care for it. I would rather talk about you."
"And I prefer the ball. It's a fresher topic—to me."
"Very well, then. But this I will say. No matter how happy you should be, I should always want you to keep that tone of persiflage. You've no idea how perfectly intoxicating it is."
"Oh yes, I have. It seems to have turned the loveliest and wisest head in the world."
"Oh, do you really think so? I would give anything if you did."
"Think I was pretty," she pleaded, with full eyes. "Do you?"
"No, but I think you are wise. Fifty per cent, of truth—it's a large average in compliments. What are you going to wear?"
"Wear? Oh! At the ball! Something Egyptian, I suppose. It's to be an Egyptian ball. Didn't you understand that?"
"Oh yes. But I supposed you could go in any sort of dress."
"You can't. You must go in some Egyptian character."
"How would Moses do? In the bulrushes, you know. You could be Pharaoh's daughter, and recognise me by my three hats. And toward the end of the evening, when I became very much bored, I could go round killing Egyptians."
"No, no. Be serious. Though I like you to joke, too. I shall always want you to joke. Shall you, always?"
"There may be emergencies when I shall fail—like family prayers, and grace before meat, and dangerous sickness."
"Why, of course. But I mean when we're together, and there's no reason why you shouldn't?"
"Oh, at such times I shall certainly joke."
"And before people, too! I won't have them saying that it's sobered you—that you used to be very gay, and now you're cross, and never say anything."
"I will try to keep it up sufficiently to meet the public demand."
"And I shall want you to joke me, too. You must satirise me. It does more to show me my faults than anything else, and it will show other people how perfectly submissive I am, and how I think everything you do is just right."
"If I were to beat you a little in company, don't you think it would serve the same purpose?"
"No, no; be serious."
"No, about me. I know that I'm very intense, and you must try to correct that tendency in me."
"I will, with pleasure. Which of my tendencies are you going to correct?"
"You have none."
"Well, then, neither have you. I'm not going to be outdone in civilities."
"Oh, if people could only hear you talk in this light way, and then know what I know!"
Colville broke out into a laugh at the deep sigh which accompanied these words. As a whole, the thing was grotesque and terrible to him, but after a habit of his, he was finding a strange pleasure in its details.
"No, no," she pleaded. "Don't laugh. There are girls that would give their eyes for it."
"As pretty eyes as yours?"
"Do you think they're nice?"
"Yes, if they were not so mysterious."
"Yes, I feel that your eyes can't really be as honest as they look. That was what puzzled me about them the first night I saw you."
"No—did it, really?"
"I went home saying to myself that no girl could be so sincere as that Miss Graham seemed."
"Did you say that?"
"Words to that effect."
"And what do you think now?"
"Ah, I don't know. You had better go as the Sphinx."
Imogene laughed in simple gaiety of heart.
"How far we've got from the ball!" she said, as if the remote excursion were a triumph. "What shall we really go as?"
"Isis and Osiris."
"Weren't they gods of some kind?"
"Little one-horse deities—not very much."
"It won't do to go as gods of any kind. They're always failures. People expect too much of them."
"Yes," said Colville. "That's human nature under all circumstances. But why go to an Egyptian ball at all?"
"Oh, we must go. If we both stayed away it would make talk at once, and my object is to keep people in the dark till the very last moment. Of course it's unfortunate your having told Mrs. Amsden that you were going away, and then telling her just after you came back with me that you were going to stay. But it can't be helped now. And I don't really care for it. But don't you see why I want you to go to all these things?"
"All these things?"
"Yes, everything you're invited to after this. It's not merely for a blind as regards ourselves now, but if they see that you're very fond of all sorts of gaieties, they will see that you are—they will understand——"
There was no need for her to complete the sentence. Colville rose. "Come, come, my dear child," he said, "why don't you end all this at once? I don't blame you. Heaven knows I blame no one but myself! I ought to have the strength to break away from this mistake, but I haven't. I couldn't bear to see you suffer from pain that I should give you even for your good. But do it yourself, Imogene, and for pity's sake don't forbear from any notion of sparing me. I have no wish except for your happiness, and now I tell you clearly that no appearance we can put on before the world will deceive the world. At the end of all our trouble I shall still be forty——"
She sprang to him and put her hand over his mouth. "I know what you're going to say, and I won't let you say it, for you've promised over and over again not to speak of that any more. Oh, do you think I care for the world, or what it will think or say?"
"Yes, very much."
"That shows how little you understand me. It's because I wish to defy the world—"
"Imogene! Be as honest with yourself as you are with me."
"I am honest."
"Look me in the eyes, then."
She did so for an instant, and then hid her face on his shoulder.
"You silly girl," he said. "What is it you really do wish?"
"I wish there was no one in the world but you and me."
"Ah, you'd find it very crowded at times," said Colville sadly. "Well, well," he added, "I'll go to your fandangoes, because you want me to go."
"That's all I wished you to say," she replied, lifting her head, and looking him radiantly in the face. "I don't want you to go at all! I only want you to promise that you'll come here every night that you're invited out, and read to Mrs. Bowen and me."
"Oh, I can't do that," said Colville; "I'm too fond of society. For example, I've been invited to an Egyptian fancy ball, and I couldn't think of giving that up."
"Oh, how delightful you are! They couldn't any of them talk like you."
He had learned to follow the processes of her thought now. "Perhaps they can when they come to my age."
"There!" she exclaimed, putting her hand on his mouth again, to remind him of another broken promise. "Why can't you give up the Egyptian ball?"
"Because I expect to meet a young lady there—a very beautiful young lady."
"But how shall you know her if she's disguised?"
"Why, I shall be disguised too, you know."
"Oh, what delicious nonsense you do talk! Sit down here and tell me what you are going to wear."
She tried to pull him back to the sofa. "What character shall you go in?"
"No, no," he said, resisting the gentle traction. "I can't; I have urgent business down-town."
"Oh! Business in Florence!"
"Well, if I stayed, I should tell you what disguise I'm going to the ball in."
"I knew it was that. What do you think would be a good character for me?"
"I don't know. The serpent of old Nile would be pretty good for you."
"Oh, I know you don't think it!" she cried fondly. She had now let him take her hand, and he stood holding it at arm's-length. Effie Bowen came into the room. "Good-bye," said Imogene, with an instant assumption of society manner.
"Good-bye," said Colville, and went out.
"Oh, Mr. Colville!" she called, before he got to the outer door.
"Yes," he said, starting back.
She met him midway of the dim corridor. "Only to—" She put her arms about his neck and sweetly kissed him.
Colville went out into the sunlight feeling like some strange, newly invented kind of scoundrel—a rascal of such recent origin and introduction that he had not yet had time to classify himself and ascertain the exact degree of his turpitude. The task employed his thoughts all that day, and kept him vibrating between an instinctive conviction of monstrous wickedness and a logical and well-reasoned perception that he had all the facts and materials for a perfectly good conscience. He was the betrothed lover of this poor child, whose affection he could not check without a degree of brutality for which only a better man would have the courage. When he thought of perhaps refusing her caresses, he imagined the shock it would give her, and the look of grief and mystification that would come into her eyes, and he found himself incapable of that cruel rectitude. He knew that these were the impulses of a white and loving soul; but at the end of all his argument they remained a terror to him, so that he lacked nothing but the will to fly from Florence and shun her altogether till she had heard from her family. This, he recalled, with bitter self-reproach was what had been his first inspiration; he had spoken of it to Mrs. Bowen, and it had still everything in its favour except that it was impossible.
Imogene returned to the salotto, where the little girl was standing with her face to the window, drearily looking out; her back expressed an inner desolation which revealed itself in her eyes when Imogene caught her head between her hands, and tilted up her face to kiss it.
"What is the matter, Effie?" she demanded gaily.
"Oh yes, there is."
"Nothing that you will care for. As long as he's pleasant to you, you don't care what he does to me."
"What has he done to you?"
"He didn't take the slightest notice of me when I came into the room. He didn't speak to me, or even look at me."
Imogene caught the little grieving, quivering face to her breast "He is a wicked, wicked wretch! And I will give him the awfulest scolding he ever had when he comes here again. I will teach him to neglect my pet. I will let him understand that if he doesn't notice you, he needn't notice me. I will tell you, Effie—I've just thought of a way. The next time he comes we will both receive him. We will sit up very stiffly on the sofa together, and just answer Yes, No, Yes, No, to everything he says, till he begins to take the hint, and learns how to behave himself. Will you?"
A smile glittered through the little girl's tears; but she asked, "Do you think it would be very polite?"
"No matter, polite or not, it's what he deserves. Of course, as soon as he begins to take the hint, we will be just as we always are."
Imogene despatched a note, which Colville got the next morning, to tell him of his crime, and apprise him of his punishment, and of the sweet compunction that had pleaded for him in the breast of the child. If he did not think he could help play the comedy through, he must come prepared to offer Effie some sort of atonement.
It was easy to do this: to come with his pockets full of presents, and take the little girl on his lap, and pour out all his troubled heart in the caresses and tendernesses which would bring him no remorse. He humbled himself to her thoroughly, and with a strange sincerity in the harmless duplicity, and promised, if she would take him back into favour, that he would never offend again. Mrs. Bowen had sent word that she was not well enough to see him; she had another of her headaches; and he sent back a sympathetic and respectful message by Effie, who stood thoughtfully at her mother's pillow after she had delivered it, fingering the bouquet Colville had brought her, and putting her head first on this side, and then on that to admire it.
"I think Mr. Colville and Imogene are much more affectionate than they used to be," she said.
Mrs. Bowen started up on her elbow. "What do you mean, Effie?"
"Oh, they're both so good to me."
"Yes," said her mother, dropping back to her pillow. "Both?"
"Yes; he's the most affectionate."
The mother turned her face the other way. "Then he must be," she murmured.
"What?" asked the child.
"Nothing. I didn't know I spoke."
The little girl stood a while still playing with her flowers. "I think Mr. Colville is about the pleasantest gentleman that comes here. Don't you, mamma?"
"He's so interesting, and says such nice things. I don't know whether children ought to think of such things, but I wish I was going to marry some one like Mr. Colville. Of course I should want to be tolerably old if I did. How old do you think a person ought to be to marry him?"
"You mustn't talk of such things, Effie," said her mother.
"No; I suppose it isn't very nice." She picked out a bud in her bouquet, and kissed it; then she held the nosegay at arm's-length before her, and danced away with it.
In the ensuing fortnight a great many gaieties besides the Egyptian ball took place, and Colville went wherever he and Imogene were both invited. He declined the quiet dinners which he liked, and which his hearty appetite and his habit of talk fitted him to enjoy, and accepted invitations to all sorts of evenings and At Homes, where dancing occupied a modest corner of the card, and usurped the chief place in the pleasures. At these places it was mainly his business to see Imogene danced with by others, but sometimes he waltzed with her himself, and then he was complimented by people of his own age, who had left off dancing, upon his vigour. They said they could not stand that sort of thing, though they supposed, if you kept yourself in practice, it did not come so hard. One of his hostesses, who had made a party for her daughters, told him that he was an example to everybody, and that if middle-aged people at home mingled more in the amusements of the young, American society would not be the silly, insipid, boy-and-girl affair that it was now. He went to these places in the character of a young man, but he was not readily accepted or recognised in that character. They gave him frumps to take out to supper, mothers and maiden aunts, and if the mothers were youngish, they threw off on him, and did not care for his talk.
At one of the parties Imogene seemed to become aware for the first time that the lapels of his dress-coat were not faced with silk.
"Why don't you have them so?" she asked. "All the other young men have. And you ought to wear a boutonniere."
"Oh, I think a man looks rather silly in silk lapels at my—" He arrested himself, and then continued: "I'll see what the tailor can do for me. In the meantime, give me a bud out of your bouquet."
"How sweet you are!" she sighed. "You do the least thing so that it is ten times as good as if any one else did it."
The same evening, as he stood leaning against a doorway, behind Imogene and a young fellow with whom she was beginning a quadrille, he heard her taking him to task.
"Why do you say 'Sir' to Mr. Colville?"
"Well, I know the English laugh at us for doing it, and say it's like servants; but I never feel quite right answering just 'Yes' and 'No' to a man of his age."
This was one of the Inglehart boys, whom he met at nearly all of these parties, and not all of whom were so respectful. Some of them treated him upon an old-boy theory, joking him as freely as if he were one of themselves, laughing his antiquated notions of art to scorn, but condoning them because he was good-natured, and because a man could not help being of his own epoch anyway. They put a caricature of him among the rest on the walls of their trattoria, where he once dined with them.
Mrs. Bowen did not often see him when he went to call upon Imogene, and she was not at more than two or three of the parties. Mrs. Amsden came to chaperon the girl, and apparently suffered an increase of unrequited curiosity in regard to his relations to the Bowen household, and the extraordinary development of his social activity. Colville not only went to all those evening parties, but he was in continual movement during the afternoon at receptions and at "days," of which he began to think each lady had two or three. Here he drank tea, cup after cup, in reckless excitement, and at night when he came home from the dancing parties, dropping with fatigue, he could not sleep till toward morning. He woke at the usual breakfast-hour, and then went about drowsing throughout the day till the tea began again in the afternoon. He fell asleep whenever he sat down, not only in the reading-room at Viesseux's, where he disturbed the people over their newspapers by his demonstrations of somnolence, but even at church, whither he went one Sunday to please Imogene, and started awake during the service with the impression that the clergyman had been making a joke. Everybody but Imogene was smiling. At the cafe he slept without scruple, selecting a corner seat for the purpose, and proportioning his buonamano to the indulgence of the giovane. He could not tell how long he slept at these places, but sometimes it seemed to him hours.
One day he went to see Imogene, and while Effie Bowen stood prattling to him as he sat waiting for Imogene to come in, he faded light-headedly away from himself on the sofa, as if he had been in his corner at the cafe. Then he was aware of some one saying "Sh!" and he saw Effie Bowen, with her finger on her lip, turned toward Imogene, a figure of beautiful despair in the doorway. He was all tucked up with sofa pillows, and made very comfortable, by the child, no doubt. She slipped out, seeing him awake, so as to leave him and Imogene alone, as she had apparently been generally instructed to do, and Imogene came forward.
"What is the matter, Theodore?" she asked patiently. She had taken to calling him Theodore when they were alone. She owned that she did not like the name, but she said it was right she should call him by it, since it was his. She came and sat down beside him, where he had raised himself to a sitting posture, but she did not offer him any caress.
"Nothing," he answered. "But this climate is making me insupportably drowsy; or else the spring weather."
"Oh no; it isn't that," she said, with a slight sigh. He had left her in the middle of a german at three o'clock in the morning, but she now looked as fresh and lambent as a star. "It's the late hours. They're killing you."
Colville tried to deny it; his incoherencies dissolved themselves in a yawn, which he did not succeed in passing for a careless laugh.
"It won't do," she said, as if speaking to herself; "no, it won't do."
"Oh yes, it will," Colville protested. "I don't mind being up. I've been used to it all my life on the paper. It's just some temporary thing. It'll come all right."
"Well, no matter," said Imogene. "It makes you ridiculous, going to all those silly places, and I'd rather give it up."
The tears began to steal down her cheeks, and Colville sighed. It seemed to him that somebody or other was always crying. A man never quite gets used to the tearfulness of women.
"Oh, don't mind it," he said. "If you wish me to go, I will go! Or die in the attempt," he added, with a smile.
Imogene did not smile with him. "I don't wish you to go any more. It was a mistake in the first place, and from this out I will adapt myself to you."
"And give up all your pleasures? Do you think I would let you do that? No, indeed! Neither in this nor in anything else. I will not cut off your young life in any way, Imogene—not shorten it or diminish it. If I thought I should do that, or you would try to do it for me, I should wish I had never seen you."
"It isn't that. I know how good you are, and that you would do anything for me."
"Well, then, why don't you go to these fandangoes alone? I can see that you have me on your mind all the time, when I'm with you."
"Yes, up to a certain point, but not up to the point of spoiling your fun. I will drop in now and then, but I won't try to come to all of them, after this; you'll get along perfectly well with Mrs. Amsden, and I shall be safe from her for a while. That old lady has marked me for her prey: I can see it in her glittering eyeglass. I shall fall asleep some evening between dances, and then she will get it all out of me."
Imogene still refused to smile. "No; I shall give it up. I don't think it's well, going so much without Mrs. Bowen. People will begin to talk."
"Yes; they will begin to say that I had better stay with her a little more, if she isn't well."
"Why, isn't Mrs. Bowen well?" asked Colville, with trepidation.
"No; she's miserable. Haven't you noticed?"
"She sees me so seldom now. I thought it was only her headaches——"
"It's much more than that. She seems to be failing every way. The doctor has told her she ought to get away from Florence." Colville could not speak; Imogene went on. "She's always delicate, you know. And I feel that all that's keeping her here now is the news from home that I—we're waiting for."
Colville got up. "This is ghastly! She mustn't do it!"
"How can you help her doing it? If she thinks anything is right, she can't help doing it. Who could?"
Colville thought to himself that he could have said; but he was silent. At the moment he was not equal to so much joke or so much truth; and Imogene went on—
"She'd be all the more strenuous about it if it were disagreeable, and rather than accept any relief from me she would die."
"Is she—unkind to you?" faltered Colville.
"She is only too kind. You can feel that she's determined to be so—that she's said she will have nothing to reproach herself with, and she won't. You don't suppose Mrs. Bowen would be unkind to any one she disliked?"
"Ah, I didn't know," sighed Colville.
"The more she disliked them, the better she would use them. It's because our engagement is so distasteful to her that she's determined to feel that she did nothing to oppose it."
"But how can you tell that it's distasteful, then?"
"She lets you feel it by—not saying anything about it."
"I can't see how—"
"She never speaks of you. I don't believe she ever mentions your name. She asks me about the places where I've been, and about the people—every one but you. It's very uncomfortable."
"Yes," said Colville, "it's uncomfortable."
"And if I allude to letters from home, she merely presses her lips together. It's perfectly wretched."
"I see. It's I whom she dislikes, and I would do anything to please her. She must know that," mused Colville aloud. "Imogene!" he exclaimed, with a sudden inspiration. "Why shouldn't I go away?"
"Go away?" she palpitated. "What should I do?"
The colours faded from his brilliant proposal. "Oh, I only meant till something was settled—determined—concluded; till this terrible suspense was over." He added hopelessly, "But nothing can be done!"
"I proposed," said Imogene, "that we should all go away. I suggested Via Reggio—the doctor said she ought to have sea air—or Venice; but she wouldn't hear of it. No; we must wait."
"Yes, we must wait," repeated Colville hollowly. "Then nothing can be done?"
"Why, haven't you said it?"
"Oh yes—yes. I can't go away, and you can't. But couldn't we do something—get up something?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"I mean, couldn't we—amuse her somehow? help her to take her mind off herself?"
Imogene stared at him rather a long time. Then, as if she had satisfied herself in her own mind, she shook her head. "She wouldn't submit to it."
"No; she seems to take everything amiss that I do," said Colville.
"She has no right to do that," cried Imogene. "I'm sure that you're always considering her, and proposing to do things for her. I won't let you humble yourself, as if you had wronged her."
"Oh, I don't call it humbling. I—I should only be too happy if I could do _anything that was agreeable to her."
"Very well, I will tell her," said the girl haughtily. "Shall you object to my joining you in your amusements, whatever they are? I assure you I will be very unobtrusive."
"I don't understand all this," replied Colville. "Who has proposed to exclude you? Why did you tell me anything about Mrs. Bowen if you didn't want me to say or do something? I supposed you did; but I'll withdraw the offensive proposition, whatever it was."
"There was nothing offensive. But if you pity her so much, why can't you pity me a little?"
"I didn't know anything was the matter with you. I thought you were enjoying yourself——"
"Enjoying? Keeping you up at dances till you drop asleep whenever you sit down? And then coming home and talking to a person who won't mention your name! Do you call that enjoying? I can't speak of you to any one; and no one speaks to me——"
"If you like, I will talk to you on the subject," Colville essayed, in dreary jest.
"Oh, don't joke about it! This perpetual joking, I believe it's that that's wearing me out. When I come to you for a little comfort in circumstances that drive me almost distracted, you want to amuse Mrs. Bowen, and when I ask to be allowed to share in the amusement, you laugh at me! If you don't understand it all, I'm sure I don't."
"No! It's very strange. There's only one explanation. You don't care for me."
"Not care for you!" cried Colville, thinking of his sufferings in the past fortnight.
"And I would have made any—any sacrifice for you. At least I wouldn't have made you show yourself a mean and grudging person if you had come to me for a little sympathy."
"O poor child!" he cried, and his heart ached with the sense that she really was nothing but an unhappy child. "I do sympathise with you, and I see how hard it is for you to manage with Mrs. Bowen's dislike for me. But you mustn't think of if. I dare say it will be different; I've no doubt we can get her to look at me in some brighter light. I—" He did not know what he should urge next; but he goaded his invention, and was able to declare that if they loved each other they needed not regard any one else. This flight, when accomplished, did not strike him as very original effect, and it was with a dull surprise that he saw it sufficed for her.
"No; no one!" she exclaimed, accepting the platitude as if it were now uttered for the first time. She dried her eyes and smiled. "I will tell Mrs. Bowen how you feel and what you've said, and I know she will appreciate your generosity."
"Yes," said Colville pensively; "there's nothing I won't propose doing for people."
She suddenly clung to him, and would not let him go. "Oh, what is the matter?" she moaned afresh. "I show out the worst that is in me, and only the worst. Do you think I shall always be so narrow-minded with you? I thought I loved you enough to be magnanimous. You are. It seemed to me that our lives together would be grand and large; and here I am, grovelling in the lowest selfishness! I am worrying and scolding you because you wish to please some one that has been as good as my own mother to me. Do you call that noble?"
Colville did not venture any reply to a demand evidently addressed to her own conscience.
But when she asked if he really thought he had better go away, he said, "Oh no; that was a mistake."
"Because, if you do, you shall—to punish me."
"My dearest girl, why should I wish to punish you?"
"Because I've been low and mean. Now I want you to do something for Mrs. Bowen—something to amuse her; to show that we appreciate her. And I don't want you to sympathise with me at all. When I ask for your sympathy, it's a sign that I don't deserve it."
"Is that so?"
"Oh, be serious with me. I mean it. And I want to beg your pardon for something."
"Yes; what's that?"
"Can't you guess?"
"You needn't have" your lapels silk-lined. You needn't wear boutonnieres."
"Oh, but I've had the coat changed."
"No matter! Change it back! It isn't for me to make you over. I must make myself over. It's my right, it's my sacred privilege to conform to you in every way, and I humble myself in the dust for having forgotten it at the very start. Oh, do you think I can ever be worthy of you? I will try; indeed I will! I shall not wear my light dresses another time! From this out, I shall dress more in keeping with you. I boasted that I should live to comfort and console you, to recompense you for the past, and what have I been doing? Wearying and degrading you!"
"Oh no," pleaded Colville. "I am very comfortable. I don't need any compensation for the past. I need—sleep. I'm going to bed tonight at eight o'clock, and I am going to sleep twenty-four hours. Then I shall be fresh for Mrs. Fleming's ball."
"I'm not going," said Imogene briefly.
"Oh yes, you are. I'll come round to-morrow evening and see."
"No. There are to be no more parties."
"I can't endure them."
She was looking at him and talking at him, but she seemed far aloof in the abstraction of a sublime regret; she seemed puzzled, bewildered at herself.
Colville got away. He felt the pathos of the confusion and question to which he left her, but he felt himself powerless against it. There was but one solution to it all, and that was impossible. He could only grieve over her trouble, and wait; grieve for the irrevocable loss which made her trouble remote and impersonal to him, and submit.
The young clergyman whom Colville saw talking to Imogene on his first evening at Mrs. Bowen's had come back from Rome, where he had been spending a month or two, and they began to meet at Palazzo Pinti again. If they got on well enough together, they did not get on very far. The suave house-priest manners of the young clergyman offended Colville; he could hardly keep from sneering at his taste in art and books, which in fact was rather conventional; and no doubt Mr. Morton had his own reserves, under which he was perfectly civil, and only too deferential to Colville, as to an older man. Since his return, Mrs. Bowen had come back to her salon. She looked haggard; but she did what she could to look otherwise. She was always polite to Colville, and she was politely cordial with the clergyman. Sometimes Colville saw her driving out with him and Effie; they appeared to make excursions, and he had an impression, very obscure, that Mrs. Bowen lent the young clergyman money; that he was a superstition of hers, and she a patron of his; he must have been ten years younger than she; not more than twenty-five.
The first Sunday after his return, Colville walked home with Mr. Waters from hearing a sermon of Mr. Morton's, which they agreed was rather well judged, and simply and fitly expressed.
"And he spoke with the authority of the priest," said the old minister. "His Church alone of all the Protestant Churches has preserved that to its ministers. Sometimes I have thought it was a great thing."
"Not always?" asked Colville, with a smile.
"These things are matters of mood rather than conviction with me," returned Mr. Waters. "Once they affected me very deeply; but now I shall so soon know all about it that they don't move me. But at times I think that if I were to live my life over again, I would prefer to be of some formal, some inflexibly ritualised, religion. At solemnities—-weddings and funerals—I have been impressed with the advantage of the Anglican rite: it is the Church speaking to and for humanity—or seems so," he added, with cheerful indifference. "Something in its favour," he continued, after a while, "is the influence that every ritualised faith has with women. If they apprehend those mysteries more subtly than we, such a preference of theirs must mean a good deal. Yes; the other Protestant systems are men's systems. Women must have form. They don't care for freedom."
"They appear to like the formalist too, as well as the form," said Colville, with scorn not obviously necessary.
"Oh yes; they must have everything in the concrete," said the old gentleman cheerfully.
"I wonder where Mr. Morton met Mrs. Bowen first," said Colville.
"Here, I think. I believe he had letters to her. Before you came I used often to meet him at her house. I think she has helped him with money at times."
"Isn't that rather an unpleasant idea?"
"Yes; it's disagreeable. And it places the ministry in a dependent attitude. But under our system it's unavoidable. Young men devoting themselves to the ministry frequently receive gifts of money."
"I don't like it," cried Colville.
"They don't feel it as others would. I didn't myself. Even at present I may be said to be living on charity. But sometimes I have fancied that in Mr. Morton's case there might be peculiarly mitigating circumstances."
"What do you mean?"
"When I met him first at Mrs. Bowen's I used to think that it was Miss Graham in whom he was interested——"
"I can assure you," interrupted Colville, "that she was never interested in him."
"Oh no; I didn't suppose that," returned the old man tranquilly. "And I've since had reason to revise my opinion. I think he is interested in Mrs. Bowen."
"Mrs. Bowen! And you think that would be a mitigating circumstance in his acceptance of money from her? If he had the spirit of a man at all, it would make it all the more revolting."
"Oh no, oh no," softly pleaded Mr. Waters. "We must not look at these things too romantically. He probably reasons that she would give him all her money if they were married."
"But he has no right to reason in that way," retorted Colville, with heat. "They are not married; it's ignoble and unmanly for him to count upon it. It's preposterous. She must be ten years older than he."
"Oh, I don't say that they're to be married," Mr. Waters replied. "But these disparities of age frequently occur in marriage. I don't like them, though sometimes I think the evil is less when it is the wife who is the elder. We look at youth and age in a gross, material way too often. Women remain young longer than men. They keep their youthful sympathies; an old woman understands a young girl. Do you—or do I—understand a young man?"
Colville laughed harshly. "It isn't quite the same thing, Mr. Waters. But yes; I'll admit, for the sake of argument, that I don't understand young men. I'll go further, and say that I don't like them; I'm afraid of them. And you wouldn't think," he added abruptly, "that it would be well for me to marry a girl twenty years younger than myself."
The old man glanced up at him with innocent slyness. "I prefer always to discuss these things in an impersonal way."
"But you can't discuss them impersonally with me; I'm engaged to Miss Graham. Ever since you first found me here after I told you I was going away I have wished to tell you this, and this seems as good a time as any—or as bad." The defiance faded from his voice, which dropped to a note of weary sadness. "Yes, we're engaged—or shall be, as soon as she can hear from her family. I wanted to tell you because it seemed somehow your due, and because I fancied you had a friendly interest in us both."
"Yes, that is true," returned Mr. Waters. "I wish you joy." He went through the form of offering his hand to Colville, who pressed it with anxious fervour.
"I confess," he said, "that I feel the risks of the affair. It's not that I have any dread for my own part; I have lived my life, such as it is. But the child is full of fancies about me that can't be fulfilled. She dreams of restoring my youth somehow, of retrieving the past for me, of avenging me at her own cost for an unlucky love affair that I had here twenty years ago. It's pretty of her, but it's terribly pathetic—it's tragic. I know very well that I'm a middle-aged man, and that there's no more youth for me. I'm getting grey, and I'm getting fat; I wouldn't be young if I could; it's a bore. I suppose I could keep up an illusion of youthfulness for five or six years more; and then if I could be quietly chloroformed out of the way, perhaps it wouldn't have been so very bad."
"I have always thought," said Mr. Waters dreamily, "that a good deal might be said for abbreviating hopeless suffering. I have known some very good people advocate its practice by science."
"Yes," answered Colville. "Perhaps I've presented that point too prominently. What I wished you to understand was that I don't care for myself; that I consider only the happiness of this young girl that's somehow—I hardly know how—been put in my keeping. I haven't forgotten the talks that we've had heretofore on this subject, and it would be affectation and bad taste in me to ignore them. Don't be troubled at anything you've said; it was probably true, and I'm sure it was sincere. Sometimes I think that the kindest—the least cruel—thing I could do would be to break with her, to leave her. But I know that I shall do nothing of the kind; I shall drift. The child is very dear to me. She has great and noble qualities; she's supremely unselfish; she loves me through her mistaken pity, and because she thinks she can sacrifice herself to me. But she can't. Everything is against that; she doesn't know how, and there is no reason why. I don't express it very well. I think nobody clearly understands it but Mrs. Bowen, and I've somehow alienated her."
He became aware that his self-abnegation was taking the character of self-pity, and he stopped.
Mr. Waters seemed to be giving the subject serious attention in the silence that ensued. "There is this to be remembered," he began, "which we don't consider in our mere speculations upon any phase of human affairs; and that is the wonderful degree of amelioration that any given difficulty finds in the realisation. It is the anticipation, not the experience, that is the trial. In a case of this kind, facts of temperament, of mere association, of union, work unexpected mitigations; they not only alleviate, they allay. You say that she cherishes an illusion concerning you: well, with women, nothing is so indestructible as an illusion. Give them any chance at all, and all the forces of their nature combine to preserve it. And if, as you say, she is so dear to you, that in itself is almost sufficient. I can well understand your misgivings, springing as they do from a sensitive conscience; but we may reasonably hope that they are exaggerated. Very probably there will not be the rapture for her that there would be if—if you were younger; but the chances of final happiness are great—yes, very considerable. She will learn to appreciate what is really best in you, and you already understand her. Your love for her is the key to the future. Without that, of course——"
"Oh, of course," interrupted Colville hastily. Every touch of this comforter's hand had been a sting; and he parted with him in that feeling of utter friendlessness involving a man who has taken counsel upon the confession of half his trouble.
Something in Mrs. Bowen's manner when he met her next made him think that perhaps Imogene had been telling her of the sympathy he had expressed for her ill-health. It was in the evening, and Imogene and Mr. Morton were looking over a copy of The Marble Faun, which he had illustrated with photographs at Rome. Imogene asked Colville to look at it too, but he said he would examine it later; he had his opinion of people who illustrated The Marble Faun with photographs; it surprised him that she seemed to find something novel and brilliant in the idea.
Effie Bowen looked round where she was kneeling on a chair beside the couple with the book, and seeing Colville wandering neglectedly about before he placed himself, she jumped down and ran and caught his hand.
"Well, what now?" he asked, with a dim smile, as she began to pull him toward the sofa. When he should be expelled from Palazzo Pinti he would really miss the worship of that little thing. He knew that her impulse had been to console him for his exclusion from the pleasures that Imogene and Mr. Morton were enjoying.
"Nothing. Just talk," she said, making him fast in a corner of the sofa by crouching tight against him.
"What about? About which is the pleasantest season?"
"Oh no; we've talked about that so often. Besides, of course you'd say spring, now that it's coming on so nicely."
"Do you think I'm so changeable as that? Haven't I always said winter when this question of the seasons was up? And I say it now. Shan't you be awfully sorry when you can't have a pleasant little fire on the hearth like this any more?"
"Yes; I know. But it's very nice having the flowers, too. The grass was all full of daisies to-day—perfectly powdered with them."
"At the Cascine. And in under the trees there were millions of violets and crow's-feet. Mr. Morton helped me to get them for mamma and Imogene. And we stayed so long that when we drove home the daisies had all shut up, and the little pink leaves outside made it look like a field of red clover. Are you never going there any more?"
Mrs. Bowen came in. From the fact that there was no greeting between her and Mr. Morton, Colville inferred that she was returning to the room after having already been there. She stood a moment, with a little uncertainty, when she had shaken hands with him, and then dropped upon the sofa beyond Effie. The little girl ran one hand through Colville's arm, and the other through her mother's, and gripped them fast. "Now I have got you both," she triumphed, and smiled first into her face, and then into his.
"Be quiet, Effie," said her mother, but she submitted.
"I hope you're better for your drive to-day, Mrs. Bowen. Effie has been telling me about it."
"We stayed out a long time. Yes, I think the air did me good; but I'm not an invalid, you know."
"I'm feeling a little fagged. And the weather was tempting. I suppose you've been taking one of your long walks."
"No, I've scarcely stirred out. I usually feel like going to meet the spring a little more than half-way; but this year I don't, somehow."
"A good many people are feeling rather languid, I believe," said Mrs. Bowen.
"I hope you'll get away from Florence," said Colville.
"Oh," she returned, with a faint flush, "I'm afraid Imogene exaggerated that a little." She added, "You are very good."
She was treating him more kindly than she had ever done since that Sunday afternoon when he came in with Imogene to say that he was going to stay. It might be merely because she had worn out her mood of severity, as people do, returning in good-humour to those with whom they were offended, merely through the reconciling force of time. She did not look at him, but this was better than meeting his eye with that interceptive glance. A strange peace touched his heart. Imogene and the young clergyman at the table across the room were intent on the book still; he was explaining and expatiating, and she listening. Colville saw that he had a fine head, and an intelligent, handsome, gentle face. When he turned again to Mrs. Bowen it was with the illusion that she had been saying something; but she was, in fact, sitting mute, and her face, with its bright colour, showed pathetically thin.
"I should imagine that Venice would be good for you," he said.
"It's still very harsh there, I hear. No; when we leave Florence, I think we will go to Switzerland."
"Oh, not to Madame Schebres's," pleaded the child, turning upon her.
"No, not to Madame Schebres," consented the mother. She continued, addressing Colville: "I was thinking of Lausanne. Do you know Lausanne at all?"
"Only from Gibbon's report. It's hardly up to date."
"I thought of taking a house there for the summer," said Mrs. Bowen, playing with Effie's fingers. "It's pleasant by the lake, I suppose."
"It's lovely by the lake!" cried the child. "Oh, do go, mamma! I could get a boat and learn to row. Here you can't row, the Arno's so swift."
"The air would bring you up," said Colville to Mrs. Bowen. "Switzerland's the only country where you're perfectly sure of waking new every morning."
This idea interested the child. "Waking new!" she repeated.
"Yes; perfectly made over. You wake up another person. Shouldn't you think that would be nice?"
"Well, I shouldn't, in your place. But in mine, I much prefer to wake up another person. Only it's pretty hard on the other person."
"How queer you are!" The child set her teeth for fondness of him, and seizing his cheeks between her hands, squeezed them hard, admiring the effect upon his features, which in some respects was not advantageous.
"Effie!" cried her mother sternly; and she dropped to her place again, and laid hold of Colville's arm for protection. "You are really very rude. I shall send you to bed."
"Oh no, don't, Mrs. Bowen," he begged. "I'm responsible for these violences. Effie used to be a very well behaved child before she began playing with me. It's all my fault."
They remained talking on the sofa together, while Imogene and Mr. Morton continued to interest themselves in the book. From time to time she looked over at them, and then turned again to the young clergyman, who, when he had closed the book, rested his hands on its top and began to give an animated account of something, conjecturably his sojourn in Rome.
In a low voice, and with pauses adjusted to the occasional silences of the young people across the room, Mrs. Bowen told Colville how Mr. Morton was introduced to her by an old friend who was greatly interested in him. She said, frankly, that she had been able to be of use to him, and that he was now going back to America very soon; it was as if she were privy to the conjecture that had come to the surface in his talk with Mr. Waters, and wished him to understand exactly how matters stood with the young clergyman and herself. Colville, indeed, began to be more tolerant of him; he succeeded in praising the sermon he had heard him preach.
"Oh, he has talent," said Mrs. Bowen.
They fell into the old, almost domestic strain, from which she broke at times with an effort, but returning as if helplessly to it. He had the gift of knowing how not to take an advantage with women; that sense of unconstraint in them fought in his favour; when Effie dropped her head wearily against his arm, her mother even laughed in sending her off to bed; she had hitherto been serious. Imogene said she would go to see her tucked in, and that sent the clergyman to say good-night to Mrs. Bowen, and to put an end to Colville's audience.
In these days, when Colville came every night to Palazzo Pinti, he got back the tone he had lost in the past fortnight. He thought that it was the complete immunity from his late pleasures, and the regular and sufficient sleep, which had set him firmly on his feet again, but he did not inquire very closely. Imogene went two or three times, after she had declared she would go no more, from the necessity women feel of blunting the edge of comment; but Colville profited instantly and fully by the release from the parties which she offered him. He did not go even to afternoon tea-drinkings; the "days" of the different ladies, which he had been so diligent to observe, knew him no more. At the hours when society assembled in this house or that and inquired for him, or wondered about him, he was commonly taking a nap, and he was punctually in bed every night at eleven, after his return from Mrs. Bowen's.
He believed, of course, that he went there because he now no longer met Imogene elsewhere, and he found the house pleasanter than it had ever been since the veglione. Mrs. Bowen's relenting was not continuous, however. There were times that seemed to be times of question and of struggle with her, when she vacillated between the old cordiality and the later alienation; when she went beyond the former, or lapsed into moods colder and more repellent than the latter. It would have been difficult to mark the moment when these struggles ceased altogether, and an evening passed in unbroken kindness between them. But afterwards Colville could remember an emotion of grateful surprise at a subtle word or action of hers in which she appeared to throw all restraint—scruple or rancour, whichever it might be—to the winds, and become perfectly his friend again. It must have been by compliance with some wish or assent to some opinion of his; what he knew was that he was not only permitted, he was invited, to feel himself the most favoured guest. The charming smile, so small and sweet, so very near to bitterness, came back to her lips, the deeply fringed eyelids were lifted to let the sunny eyes stream upon him. She did, now, whatever he asked her. She consulted his taste and judgment on many points; she consented to resume, when she should be a little stronger, their visits to the churches and galleries: it would be a shame to go away from Florence without knowing them thoroughly. It came to her asking him to drive with her and Imogene in the Cascine; and when Imogene made some excuse not to go, Mrs. Bowen did not postpone the drive, but took Colville and Effie.
They drove quite down to the end of the Cascine, and got out there to admire the gay monument, with the painted bust, of the poor young Indian prince who died in Florence. They strolled all about, talking of the old times in the Cascine, twenty years before; and walking up the road beside the canal, while the carriage slowly followed, they stopped to enjoy the peasants lying asleep in the grass on the other bank. Colville and Effie gathered wild-flowers, and piled them in her mother's lap when she remounted to the carriage and drove along while they made excursions into the little dingles beside the road. Some people who overtook them in these sylvan pleasures reported the fact at a reception to which they were going, and Mrs. Amsden, whose mind had been gradually clearing under the simultaneous withdrawal of Imogene and Colville from society, professed herself again as thickly clouded as a weather-glass before a storm. She appealed to the sympathy of others against this hardship.
Mrs. Bowen took Colville home to dinner; Mr. Morton was coming, she said, and he must come too. At table the young clergyman made her his compliment on her look of health, and she said, Yes; she had been driving, and she believed that she needed nothing but to be in the air a little more, as she very well could, now the spring weather was really coming. She said that they had been talking all winter of going to Fiesole, where Imogene had never been yet; and upon comparison it appeared that none of them had yet been to Fiesole except herself. Then they must all go together, she said; the carriage would hold four very comfortably.
"Ah! that leaves me out," said Colville, who had caught sight of Effie's fallen countenance.
"Oh no. How is that? It leaves Effie out."
"It's the same thing. But I might ride, and Effie might give me her hand to hold over the side of the carriage; that would sustain me."
"We could take her between us, Mrs. Bowen," suggested Imogene. "The back seat is wide."
"Then the party is made up," said Colville, "and Effie hasn't demeaned herself by asking to go where she wasn't invited."
The child turned inquiringly toward her mother, who met her with an indulgent smile, which became a little flush of grateful appreciation when it reached Colville; but Mrs. Bowen ignored Imogene in the matter altogether.
The evening passed delightfully. Mr. Morton had another book which he had brought to show Imogene, and Mrs. Bowen sat a long time at the piano, striking this air and that of the songs which she used to sing when she was a girl: Colville was trying to recall them. When he and Imogene were left alone for their adieux, they approached each other in an estrangement through which each tried to break.
"Why don't you scold me?" she asked. "I have neglected you the whole evening."
"How have you neglected me?"
"How? Ah! if you don't know——"
"No. I dare say I must be very stupid. I saw you talking with Mr. Morton, and you seemed interested. I thought I'd better not intrude."
She seemed uncertain of his intention, and then satisfied of its simplicity.
"Isn't it pleasant to have Mrs. Bowen in the old mood again?" he asked.
"Is she in the old mood?"
"Why, yes. Haven't you noticed how cordial she is?
"I thought she was rather colder than usual."
"Colder!" The chill of the idea penetrated even through the density of Colville's selfish content. A very complex emotion, which took itself for indignation, throbbed from his heart. "Is she cold with you, Imogene?"
"Oh, if you saw nothing——"
"No; and I think you must be mistaken. She never speaks of you without praising you."
"Does she speak of me?" asked the girl, with her honest eyes wide open upon him.
"Why, no," Colville acknowledged. "Come to reflect, it's I who speak of you. But how—how is she cold with you?"
"Oh, I dare say it's a delusion of mine. Perhaps I'm cold with her."
"Then don't be so, my dear! Be sure that she's your friend—true and good. Good night."
He caught the girl in his arms, and kissed her tenderly. She drew away, and stood a moment with her repellent fingers on his breast.
"Is it all for me?" she asked.
"For the whole obliging and amiable world," he answered gaily.
The next time Colville came he found himself alone with Imogene, who asked him what he had been doing all day.
"Oh, living along till evening. What have you?"
She did not answer at once, nor praise his speech for the devotion implied in it. After a while she said: "Do you believe in courses of reading? Mr. Morton has taken up a course of reading in Italian poetry. He intends to master it."
"Yes. Do you think something of the kind would be good for me?"
"Oh, if you thirst for conquest. But I should prefer to rest on my laurels if I were you."
Imogene did not smile. "Mr. Morton thinks I should enjoy a course of Kingsley. He says he's very earnest."
"Oh, immensely. But aren't you earnest enough already, my dear?"
"Do you think I'm too earnest?"
"No; I should say you were just right."
"You know better than that. I wish you would criticise me sometimes."
"Oh, I'd rather not."
"Why? Don't you see anything to criticise in me? Are you satisfied with me in every way? You ought to think. You ought to think now. Do you think that I am doing right in all respects? Am I all that I could be to you, and to you alone? If I am wrong in the least thing, criticise me, and I will try to be better."
"Oh, you might criticise back, and I shouldn't like that."
"Then you don't approve of a course of Kingsley?" asked the girl.
"Does that follow? But if you're going in for earnestness, why don't you take up a course of Carlyle?"
"Do you think that would be better than Kingsley?"
"Not a bit. But Carlyle's so earnest that he can't talk straight."
"I can't make out what you mean. Wouldn't you like me to improve?"
"Not much," laughed Colville. "If you did, I don't know what I should do. I should have to begin to improve too, and I'm very comfortable as I am."
"I should wish to do it to—to be more worthy of you," grieved the girl, as if deeply disappointed at his frivolous behaviour.
He could not help laughing, but he was sorry, and would have taken her hand; she kept it from him, and removed to the farthest corner of the sofa. Apparently, however, her ideal did not admit of open pique, and she went on trying to talk seriously with him.
"You think, don't you, that we oughtn't to let a day pass without storing away some thought—suggestion——"
"Oh, there's no hurry," he said lazily. "Life is rather a long affair—if you live. There appears to be plenty of time, though people say not, and I think it would be rather odious to make every day of use. Let a few of them go by without doing anything for you! And as for reading, why not read when you're hungry, just as you eat? Shouldn't you hate to take up a course of roast beef, or a course of turkey?"
"Very well, then," said Imogene. "I shall not begin Kingsley."
"Yes, do it. I dare say Mr. Morton's quite right. He will look at these things more from your own point of view. All the Kingsley novels are in the Tauchnitz. By all means do what he says."
"I will do what you say."
"Oh, but I say nothing."
"Then I will do nothing."
Colville laughed at this too, and soon after the clergyman appeared. Imogene met him so coldly that Colville felt obliged to make him some amends by a greater show of cordiality than he felt. But he was glad of the effort, for he began to like him as he talked to him; it was easy for him to like people; the young man showed sense and judgment, and if he was a little academic in his mind and manners, Colville tolerantly reflected that some people seemed to be born so, and that he was probably not artificial, as he had once imagined from the ecclesiastical scrupulosity of his dress.
Imogene ebbed away to the piano in the corner of the room, and struck some chords on it. At each stroke the young clergyman, whose eyes had wandered a little toward her from the first, seemed to vibrate in response. The conversation became incoherent before Mrs. Bowen joined them. Then, by a series of illogical processes, the clergyman was standing beside Imogene at the piano, and Mrs. Bowen was sitting beside Colville on the sofa.
"Isn't there to be any Effie, to-night?" he asked.
"No. She has been up too much of late. And I wished to speak with you—about Imogene."
"Yes," said Colville, not very eagerly. At that moment he could have chosen another topic.
"It is time that her mother should have got my letter. In less than a fortnight we ought to have an answer."
"Well?" said Colville, with a strange constriction of the heart.
"Her mother is a person of very strong character; her husband is absorbed in business, and defers to her in everything."
"It isn't an uncommon American situation," said Colville, relieving his tension by this excursion.
Mrs. Bowen ignored it. "I don't know how she may look at the affair. She may give her assent at once, or she may decide that nothing has taken place till—she sees you."
"I could hardly blame her for that," he answered submissively.
"It isn't a question of that," said Mrs. Bowen. "It's a question of—others. Mr. Morton was here before you came, and I know he was interested in Imogene—I am certain of it. He has come back, and he sees no reason why he should not renew his attentions."
"No—o—o," faltered Colville.
"I wish you to realise the fact."
"But what would you——"
"I told you," said Mrs. Bowen, with a full return of that severity whose recent absence Colville had found so comfortable, "that I can't advise or suggest anything at all."
He was long and miserably silent. At last, "Did you ever think," he asked, "did you ever suppose—that is to say, did you ever suspect that—she—that Imogene was—at all interested in him?"
"I think she was—at one time," said Mrs. Bowen promptly.
Colville sighed, with a wandering disposition to whistle.
"But that is nothing," she went on. "People have many passing fancies. The question is, what are you going to do now? I want to know, as Mr. Morton's friend."
"Ah, I wish you wanted to know as my friend, Mrs. Bowen!" A sudden thought flashed upon him. "Why shouldn't I go away from Florence till Imogene hears from her mother? That seemed to me right in the first place. There is no tie that binds her to me. I hold her to nothing. If she finds in my absence that she likes this young man better—" An expression of Mrs. Bowen's face stopped him. He perceived that he had said something very shocking to her; he perceived that the thing was shocking in itself, but it was not that which he cared for. "I don't mean that I won't hold myself true to her as long as she will. I recognise my responsibility fully. I know that I am answerable for all this, and that no one else is; and I am ready to bear any penalty. But what I can't bear is that you should misunderstand me, that you should—I have been so wretched ever since you first began to blame me for my part in this, and so happy this past fortnight that I can't—I won't—go back to that state of things. No; you have no right to relent toward me, and then fling me off as you have tried to do to-night! I have some feeling too—some rights. You shall receive me as a friend, or not at all! How can I live if you——"
She had been making little efforts as if to rise; now she forced herself to her feet, and ran from the room.
The young people looked up from their music; some wave of the sensation had spread to them, but seeing Colville remain seated, they went on with their playing till he rose. Then Imogene called out, "Isn't Mrs. Bowen coming back?"
"I don't know; I think not," answered Colville stupidly, standing where he had risen.
She hastened questioning toward him. "What is the matter? Isn't she well?"
Mr. Morton's face expressed a polite share in her anxiety.
"Oh yes; quite, I believe," Colville replied.
"She heard Effie call, I suppose," suggested the girl.
"Yes, yes; I think so; that is—yes. I must be going. Good night."
He took her hand and went away, leaving the clergyman still there; but he lingered only for a report from Mrs. Bowen, which Imogene hurried to get. She sent word that she would join them presently. But Mr. Morion said that it was late already, and he would beg Miss Graham to say good-night for him. When Mrs. Bowen returned Imogene was alone.
She did not seem surprised or concerned at that. "Imogene, I have been talking to Mr. Colville about you and Mr. Morton."
The girl started and turned pale.
"It is almost time to hear from your mother, and she may consent to your engagement. Then you must be prepared to act."
"To make it known. Matters can't go on as they have been going. I told Mr. Colville that Mr. Morton ought to know at once."
"Why ought he to know?" asked Imogene, doubtless with that impulse to temporise which is natural to the human soul in questions of right and interest. She sank into the chair beside which she had been standing.
"If your mother consents, you will feel bound to Mr. Colville?"
"Yes," said the girl.
"And if she refuses?"
"He has my word. I will keep my word to him," replied Imogene huskily. "Nothing shall make me break it."
"Very well, then!" exclaimed Mrs. Bowen. "We need not wait for your mother's answer. Mr. Morton ought to know, and he ought to know at once. Don't try to blind yourself, Imogene, to what you see as plainly as I do. He is in love with you."
"Oh," moaned the girl.
"Yes; you can't deny it. And it's cruel, it's treacherous, to let him go on thinking that you are free."
"I will never see him again."
"Ah! that isn't enough. He has a claim to know why. I will not let him be treated so."
They were both silent. Then, "What did Mr. Colville say?" asked Imogene.
"He? I don't know that he said anything. He——" Mrs. Bowen stopped.
Imogene rose from her chair.
"I will not let him tell Mr. Morton. It would be too indelicate."
"And shall you let it go on so?"
"No. I will tell him myself."
"How will you tell him?"
"I will tell him if he speaks to me."
"You will let it come to that?"
"There is no other way. I shall suffer more than he."
"But you will deserve to suffer, and your suffering will not help him."
Imogene trembled into her chair again.
"I see," said Mrs. Bowen bitterly, "how it will be at last. It will be as it has been from the first." She began to walk up and down the room, mechanically putting the chairs in place, and removing the disorder in which the occupancy of several people leaves a room at the end of an evening. She closed the piano, which Imogene had forgot to shut, with a clash that jarred the strings from their silence. "But I will do it, and I wonder——"
"You will speak to him?" faltered the girl.
"Yes!" returned Mrs. Bowen vehemently, and arresting herself in her rapid movements. "It won't do for you to tell him, and you won't let Mr. Colville."
"No, I can't," said Imogene, slowly shaking her head. "But I will discourage him; I will not see him anymore." Mrs. Bowen silently confronted her. "I will not see any one now till I have heard from home."
"And how will that help? He must have some explanation, and I will have to make it. What shall it be?"
Imogene did not answer. She said: "I will not have any one know what is between me and Mr. Colville till I have heard from home. If they try to refuse, then it will be for him to take me against their will. But if he doesn't choose to do that, then he shall be free, and I won't have him humiliated a second time before the world. This time he shall be the one to reject. And I don't care who suffers. The more I prize the person, the gladder I shall be; and if I could suffer before everybody I would. If people ever find it out, I will tell them that it was he who broke it off." She rose again from her chair, and stood flushed and thrilling with the notion of her self-sacrifice. Out of the tortuous complexity of the situation she had evolved this brief triumph, in which she rejoiced as if it were enduring success. But she suddenly fell from it in the dust. "Oh, what can I do for him? How can I make him feel more and more that I would give up anything, everything, for him! It's because he asks nothing and wants nothing that it's so hard! If I could see that he was unhappy, as I did once! If I could see that he was at all different since—since——Oh, what I dread is this smooth tranquillity! If our lives could only be stormy and full of cares and anxieties and troubles that I could take on myself, then, then I shouldn't be afraid of the future! But I'm afraid they won't be so—no, I'm afraid that they will be easy and quiet, and then what shall I do? O Mrs. Bowen, do you think he cares for me?"
Mrs. Bowen turned white; she did not speak.
The girl wrung her hands. "Sometimes it seems as if he didn't—as if I had forced myself on him through a mistake, and he had taken me to save me from the shame of knowing that I had made a mistake. Do you think that is true? If you can only tell me that it isn't—Or, no! If it is true, tell me that! That would be real mercy."
The other trembled, as if physically beaten upon by this appeal. But she gathered herself together rigidly. "How can I answer you such a thing as that? I mustn't listen to you; you mustn't ask me." She turned and left the girl standing still in her attitude of imploring. But in her own room, where she locked herself in, sobs mingled with the laughter which broke crazily from her lips as she removed this ribbon and that jewel, and pulled the bracelets from her wrists. A man would have plunged from the house and walked the night away; a woman must wear it out in her bed.
In the morning Mrs. Bowen received a note from her banker covering a despatch by cable from America. It was from Imogene's mother; it acknowledged the letters they had written, and announced that she sailed that day for Liverpool. It was dated at New York, and it was to be inferred that after perhaps writing in answer to their letters, she had suddenly made up her mind to come out.
"Yes, that is it," said Imogene, to whom Mrs. Bowen hastened with the despatch. "Why should she have telegraphed to you?" she asked coldly, but with a latent fire of resentment in her tone.
"You must ask her when she comes," returned Mrs. Bowen, with all her gentleness. "It won't be long now."
They looked as if they had neither of them slept; but the girl's vigil seemed to have made her wild and fierce, like some bird that has beat itself all night against its cage, and still from time to time feebly strikes the bars with its wings. Mrs. Bowen was simply worn to apathy.
"What shall you do about this?" she asked.
"Do about it? Oh, I will think. I will try not to trouble you."
"I shall have to tell Mr. Colville. But I don't know that I shall tell him at once. Give me the despatch, please." She possessed herself of it greedily, offensively. "I shall ask you not to speak of it."
"I will do whatever you wish."
Mrs. Bowen left the room, but she turned immediately to re-open the door she had closed behind her.
"We were to have gone to Fiesole to-morrow," she said inquiringly.
"We can still go if the day is fine," returned the girl. "Nothing is changed. I wish very much to go. Couldn't we go to-day?" she added, with eager defiance.
"It's too late to-day," said Mrs. Bowen quietly. "I will write to remind the gentlemen."
"Thank you. I wish we could have gone to-day."
"You can have the carriage if you wish to drive anywhere," said Mrs. Bowen.
"I will take Effie to see Mrs. Amsden." But Imogene changed her mind, and went to call upon two Misses Guicciardi, the result of an international marriage, whom Mrs. Bowen did not like very well. Imogene drove with them to the Cascine, where they bowed to a numerous military acquaintance, and they asked her if Mrs. Bowen would let her join them in a theatre party that evening: they were New-Yorkers by birth, and it was to be a theatre party in the New York style; they were to be chaperoned by a young married lady; two young men cousins of theirs, just out from America, had taken the box.
When Imogene returned home she told Mrs. Bowen that she had accepted this invitation. Mrs. Bowen said nothing, but when one of the young men came up to hand Imogene down to the carriage, which was waiting with the others at the gate, she could not have shown a greater tolerance of his second-rate New Yorkiness if she had been a Boston dowager offering him the scrupulous hospitalities of her city.
Imogene came in at midnight; she hummed an air of the opera as she took off her wraps and ornaments in her room, and this in the quiet of the hour had a terrible, almost profane effect: it was as if some other kind of girl had whistled. She showed the same nonchalance at breakfast, where she was prompt, and answered Mrs. Bowen's inquiries about her pleasure the night before with a liveliness that ignored the polite resolution that prompted them.
Mr. Morton was the first to arrive, and if his discouragement began at once, the first steps masked themselves in a reckless welcome, which seemed to fill him with joy, and Mrs. Bowen with silent perplexity. The girl ran on about her evening at the opera, and about the weather, and the excursion they were going to make; and after an apparently needless ado over the bouquet which he brought her, together with one for Mrs. Bowen, she put it into her belt, and made Colville notice it when he came: he had not thought to bring flowers.
He turned from her hilarity with anxious question to Mrs. Bowen, who did not meet his eye, and who snubbed Effie when the child found occasion to whisper: "I think Imogene is acting very strangely, for her; don't you, mamma? It seems as if going with those Guicciardi girls just once had spoiled her."
"Don't make remarks about people, Effie," said her mother sharply. "It isn't nice in little girls, and I don't want you to do it. You talk too much lately."
Effie turned grieving away from this rejection, and her face did not light up even at the whimsical sympathy in Colville's face, who saw that she had met a check of some sort; he had to take her on his knee and coax and kiss her before her wounded feelings were visibly healed. He put her down with a sighing wish that some one could take him up and soothe his troubled sensibilities too, and kept her hand in his while he sat waiting for the last of those last moments in which the hurrying delays of ladies preparing for an excursion seem never to end.
When they were ready to get into the carriage, the usual contest of self-sacrifice arose, which Imogene terminated by mounting to the front seat; Mr. Morton hastened to take the seat beside her, and Colville was left to sit with Effie and her mother. "You old people will be safer back there," said Imogene. It was a little joke which she addressed to the child, but a gleam from her eye as she turned to speak to the young man at her side visited Colville in desperate defiance. He wondered what she was about in that allusion to an idea which she had shrunk from so sensitively hitherto. But he found himself in a situation which he could not penetrate at any point. When he spoke with Mrs. Bowen, it was with a dark undercurrent of conjecture as to how and when she expected him to tell Mr. Morton of his relation to Imogene, or whether she still expected him to do it; when his eyes fell upon the face of the young man, he despaired as to the terms in which he should put the fact; any form in which he tacitly dramatised it remained very embarrassing, for he felt bound to say that while he held himself promised in the matter, he did not allow her to feel herself so.
A sky of American blueness and vastness, a mellow sun, and a delicate breeze did all that these things could for them, as they began the long, devious climb of the hills crowned by the ancient Etruscan city. At first they were all in the constraint of their own and one another's moods, known or imagined, and no talk began till the young clergyman turned to Imogene and asked, after a long look at the smiling landscape, "What sort of weather do you suppose they are having at Buffalo to-day?"
"At Buffalo?" she repeated, as if the place had only a dim existence in her remotest consciousness. "Oh! The ice isn't near out of the lake yet. You can't count on it before the first of May."
"And the first of May comes sooner or later, according to the season," said Colville. "I remember coming on once in the middle of the month, and the river was so full of ice between Niagara Falls and Buffalo that I had to shut the car window that I'd kept open all the way through Southern Canada. But we have very little of that local weather at home; our weather is as democratic and continental as our political constitution. Here it's March or May any time from September till June, according as there's snow on the mountains or not."
The young man smiled. "But don't you like," he asked with deference, "this slow, orderly advance of the Italian spring, where the flowers seem to come out one by one, and every blossom has its appointed time?"
"Oh yes, it's very well in its way; but I prefer the rush of the American spring; no thought of mild weather this morning; a warm, gusty rain to-morrow night; day after to-morrow a burst of blossoms and flowers and young leaves and birds. I don't know whether we were made for our climate or our climate was made for us, but its impatience and lavishness seem to answer some inner demand of our go-ahead souls. This happens to be the week of the peach blossoms here, and you see their pink everywhere to-day, and you don't see anything else in the blossom line. But imagine the American spring abandoning a whole week of her precious time to the exclusive use of peach blossoms! She wouldn't do it; she's got too many other things on hand."
Effie had stretched out over Colville's lap, and with her elbow sunk deep in his knee, was renting her chin in her hand and taking the facts of the landscape thoroughly in. "Do they have just a week?" she asked.
"Not an hour more or less," said Colville. "If they found an almond blossom hanging round anywhere after their time came, they would make an awful row; and if any lazy little peach-blow hadn't got out by the time their week was up, it would have to stay in till next year; the pear blossoms wouldn't let it come out."
"Wouldn't they?" murmured the child, in dreamy sympathy with this belated peach-blow.
"Well, that's what people say. In America it would be allowed to come out any time. It's a free country."
Mrs. Bowen offered to draw Effie back to a posture of more decorum, but Colville put his arm round the little girl. "Oh, let her stay! It doesn't incommode me, and she must be getting such a novel effect of the landscape."
The mother fell back into her former attitude of jaded passivity. He wondered whether she had changed her mind about having him speak to Mr. Morton; her quiescence might well have been indifference; one could have said, knowing the whole situation, that she had made up her mind to let things take their course, and struggle with them no longer.
He could not believe that she felt content with him; she must feel far otherwise; and he took refuge, as he had the power of doing, from the discomfort of his own thoughts in jesting with the child, and mocking her with this extravagance and that; the discomfort then became merely a dull ache that insisted upon itself at intervals, like a grumbling tooth.
The prospect was full of that mingled wildness and subordination that gives its supreme charm to the Italian landscape; and without elements of great variety, it combined them in infinite picturesqueness. There were olive orchards and vineyards, and again vineyards and olive orchards. Closer to the farm-houses and cottages there were peaches and other fruit trees and kitchen-gardens; broad ribbons of grain waved between the ranks of trees; around the white villas the spires of the cypresses pierced the blue air. Now and then they came to a villa with weather-beaten statues strutting about its parterres. A mild, pleasant heat brooded upon the fields and roofs, and the city, dropping lower and lower as they mounted, softened and blended its towers and monuments in a sombre mass shot with gleams of white.
Colville spoke to Imogene, who withdrew her eyes from it with a sigh, after long brooding upon the scene. "You can do nothing with it, I see."
"The landscape. It's too full of every possible interest. What a history is written all over it, public and private! If you don't take it simply like any other landscape, it becomes an oppression. It's well that tourists come to Italy so ignorant, and keep so. Otherwise they couldn't live to get home again; the past would crush them."