By Mary Murdoch Mason
With an introductory poem, by Joaquin Miller.
The wheel of fortune guide you, The boy with the bow beside you Run aye in the way, till the dawn of day And a luckier lot betide you.
A DREAM OF ITALY.
AN ALLEGORY INTRODUCING "MAE MADDEN."
We two had been parted, God pity us, when The stars were unnamed and when heaven was dim; We two had been parted far back on the rim And the outermost border of heaven's red bars: We two had been parted ere the meeting of men Or God had set compass on spaces as yet. We two had been parted ere God had set His finger to spinning the spaces with stars,— And now, at the last in the gold and set Of the sun of Venice, we two had met.
Where the lion of Venice, with brows afrown, With tossed mane tumbled, and teeth in air, Looks out in his watch o'er the watery town, With a paw half lifted, with his claws half bare, By the blue Adriatic, in the edge of the sea, I saw her. I knew her, but she knew not me. I had found her at last! Why, I had sailed The antipodes through, had sought, had hailed All flags, had climbed where the storm clouds curled, And called from the awful arched dome of the world.
I saw her one moment, then fell back abashed And filled full to the throat. . . . Then I turned me once more So glad to the sea, while the level sun flashed On the far, snowy Alps. . . . Her breast! Why, her breast Was white as twin pillows that allure you to rest; Her sloping limbs moved like to melodies, told As she rose from the sea, and she threw back the gold Of her glory of hair, and set face to the shore. . . . I knew her! I knew her, though we had not met Since the far stars sang to the sun's first set.
How long I had sought her! I had hungered, nor ate Of any sweet fruits. I had tasted not one Of all the fair glories grown under the sun. I had sought only her. Yea, I knew that she Had come upon earth and stood waiting for me Somewhere by my way. But the path ways of fate They had led otherwhere. The round world round, The far North seas and the near profound Had failed me for aye. Now I stood by that sea While a ship drove by, and all dreamily.
I had turned from the lion a time, and when I looked tow'rd the tide and out on the lea Of the town where the warm sea tumbled and teemed With beauty, I saw her. I knew her then, The tallest, the fairest fair daughter of men. O, Venice stood full in her glory. She gleamed In the splendor of sunset and sensuous sea; Yet I saw but my bride, my affinity, While the doves hurried home to the dome of Saint Mark And the brass horses plunged their high manes in the dark,
Was it well with my love? Was she true? Was she brave With virtue's own valor? Was she waiting for me? O, how fared my love! Had she home? Had she bread? Had she known but the touch of the warm-tempered wave? Was she born upon earth with a crown on her head; Or born like myself, but a dreamer, instead? So long it had been! So long! Why the sea, That wrinkled and surly old time-tempered slave, Had been born, had his revels, grown wrinkled and hoar Since I last saw my love on that uttermost shore.
O, how fared my love? Once I lifted my face And I shook back my hair and looked out on the sea; I pressed my hot palms as I stood in my place And cried, "O, I come like a king to your side Though all hell intervene." . . . "Hist! she may be a bride! A mother at peace, with sweet babes on her knee! A babe at her breast and a spouse at her side! . . . Have I wandered too long, and has destiny Set mortal between us?" I buried my face In my hands, and I moaned as I stood in my place.
'Twas her year to be young. She was tall, she was fair Was she pure as the snow on the Alps over there? 'Twas her year to be young. She was fair, she was tall And I knew she was true as I lifted my face And saw her press down her rich robe to its place With a hand white and small as a babe's with a doll, And her feet—why, her feet, in the white shining sand, Were so small they might nest in my one brawny hand. Then she pushed back her hair with a round hand that shone And flashed in the light with a white starry stone.
Then, my love she was rich. My love she was fair. Was she pure as the snow on the Alps over there? She was gorgeous with wealth, "Thank God, she has bread," I said to myself. Then I humbled my head In gratitude. Then I questioned me where Was her palace? her parents? What name did she bear? What mortal on earth came nearest her heart? Who touched the small hand till it thrilled to a smart? 'Twas her day to be young. She was proud, she was fair. Was she pure as the snow on the Alps over there?
Now she turned, reached a hand; then a tall gondolier That had leaned on his oar, like a long lifted spear, Shot sudden and swift and all silently And drew to her side as she turned from the tide. . . It was odd, such a thing, and I counted it queer That a princess like this, whether virgin or bride, Should abide thus apart, and should bathe in that sea; And I shook back my hair, and so unsatisfied. Then I fluttered the doves that were perched close about, As I strode up and down in dismay and in doubt.
Then she stood in the boat on the borders of night As a goddess might stand on that far wonder land Of eternal sweet life, which men have named Death. I turned to the sea and I caught at my breath, As she drew from the boat through her white baby hand Her vestment of purple imperial, and white. Then the gondola shot! swift, sharp from the shore. There was never the sound of a song or of oar But the doves hurried home in white clouds to Saint Mark, And the lion loomed high o'er the sea in the dark.
Then I cried, "Quick! Follow her. Follow her. Fast! Come! Thrice double fare if you follow her true To her own palace door." There was plashing of oar And rattle of rowlock. . . . I sat leaning low Looking far in the dark, looking out as we sped With my soul all alert, bending down, leaning low. But only the oaths of the men as we passed When we jostled them sharp as we sudden shot thro' The watery town. Then a deep, distant roar— The rattle of rowlock, the rush of the oar.
Then an oath. Then a prayer! Then a gust that made rents Through the yellow sailed fishers. Then suddenly Came sharp forked fire! Then far thunder fell Like the great first gun! Ah, then there was route Of ships like the breaking of regiments And shouts as if hurled from an upper hell. Then tempest! It lifted, it spun us about, Then shot us ahead through the hills of the sea As if a great arrow shot shoreward in wars— Then heaven split open till we saw the blown stars.
On! On! Through the foam, through the storm, through the town, She was gone. She was lost in the wilderness Of palaces lifting their marbles of snow. I stood in my gondola. Up and all down I pushed through the surge of the salt-flood street Above me, below. . . Twas only the beat Of the sea's sad heart. . . Then I heard below The water-rat building, but nothing but that; Not even the sea bird screaming distress, As she lost her way in that wilderness.
I listened all night. I caught at each sound; I clutched and I caught as a man that drown'd. . . . Only the sullen low growl of the sea Far out the flood street at the edge of the ships. Only the billow slow licking his lips, Like a dog that lay crouching there watching for me; Growling and showing white teeth all the night, Reaching his neck and as ready to bite— Only the waves with their salt flood tears Fawning white stones of a thousand years.
Only the birds in the wilderness Of column and dome and of glittering spire That thrust to heaven and held the fire Of the thunder still: The bird's distress As he struck his wings in that wilderness, On marbles that speak and thrill and inspire. . . The night below and the night above; The water-rat building, the startled white dove, The wide-winged, dolorous sea bird's call The water-rat building, but that was all.
Lo! pushing the darkness from pillar to post, The morning came silent and gray like a ghost Slow up the canal. I leaned from the prow And listened. Not even the bird in distress Screaming above through the wilderness; Not even the stealthy old water-rat now. Only the bell in the fisherman's tower Slow tolling a-sea and telling the hour To kneel to their sweet Santa Barbara For tawny fishers a-sea and pray.
* * * * * *
My dream it is ended, the curtain withdrawn. The night that lay hard on the breast of earth, Deep and heavy as a horrid nightmare, Moves by, and I look to the rosy dawn. . . . . I shall leave you here, with a leader fair; One gentle, with faith and fear of her worth. She shall lead you on through that Italy That the gods have loved; and may it be A light-hearted hour that, hand in hand, You wander the warm and the careless love-land.
By the windy waters of the Michigan She invokes the gods. . . . Be it bright or dim, Who does his endeavor as best he can Does bravely, indeed. The rest is with Him. Let a new star dance in the Occident Till it shakes through the gossamer floors of God And shines, o'er Chicago. . . The Orient Is hoar with glories. Let Illini sod Bear glory as well as the gleaming grain, And engines smoking along her plain.
CHICAGO, NOV., 1875.
SCENE. Deck of an ocean steamer.
Characters: Mrs. Jerrold, matron and chaperon in general. Edith Jerrold, her daughter. Albert Madden, a young man on study intent. Eric, his brother, on pleasure bent. Norman Mann, cousin of the Jerrolds, old classmate of the Maddens. Mae Madden, sister of the brothers and leading lady.
"It's something like dying, I do declare," said Mae, and as she spoke a suspicious-looking drop slid softly across her cheek, down over the deck-railing, to join its original briny fellows in the deep below.
"What is like dying?" asked Eric.
"Why, leaving the only world you know. There, you see, papa and mamma are fast fading away, and here we are traveling off at the rate of ever so many miles an hour."
"Knots, Mae; do be nautical at sea."
"Away from everything and everybody we know. I do really think it is like dying,—don't you, Mr. Mann?" Mae turned abruptly and faced the young man by her side.
"People aren't apt to die in batches or by the half-dozen," he replied, coolly. "If you were all by yourself, it would be more like it, I suppose, but you are taking quite a slice of your own world along with you, and really—"
"And really pity is the very last article I have any use for. You are right. I was only sorry for the moment. 'Eastward Ho' is a very happy cry. How differently we shall all take Europe," she continued, in a moment. "There is Albert, I honestly believe he will live in his Baedeker just because he can see no further than the covers of a book. You need not laugh, for it is a fact that people confined for years to a room can't see beyond its limits when they are taken out into broader space, and I don't see why it shouldn't be the same with a man who lives in his books as Albert does."
"He sees the world in his books," said Mr. Mann, with a little spirit.
"He gets a microscopic view of it, yes," replied Mae, grandiloquently, "and Edith—"
"Always sees just what he does," suggested Eric maliciously.
"Now, boys," said Miss Mae, assuming suddenly a mighty patronage, "I will not have you hit at Albert and Edith in this way. It will be very annoying to them. They have a right to act just as absurdly as they choose. We none of us know how people who are falling in love would act."
No, the boys agreed this was quite true.
"And I really do suppose they are falling in love, don't you?" queried Mae.
Yes, they did both believe it.
Just here, up came the two subjects of conversation, looking, it must be confessed, as much like one subject as any man and wife.
"What are you talking of?" asked Edith, "Madame Tussaud or a French salad? No matter how trivial the topic, I am sure it has a foreign flavor."
"There you are mistaken," replied the frank Eric, "we were discussing you two people, in the most homelike kind of a way."
At this Edith blushed, Albert frowned, Mae scowled at Eric, who opened his eyes amazedly, Norman Mann looked over the deck railing and laughed, the wind blew, the sailors heave-ho-ed near by, and there was a grand tableau vivant for a few seconds.
"O, come," cried Mae, "suppose we stop looking like a set of illustrations for a phrenological journal, expressive of the various emotions. I was only speculating on the different sights we should see in the same places. Confess, now, Albert. Won't your eyes be forever hunting out old musty, dusty volumes? Will not books be your first pleasures in the sight-seeing line?"
"O, no, pictures," cried Edith.
"That is as you say," Mae demurely agreed. "Pictures and books for you two at any rate."
"For your mother, yes, and beer-gardens for Eric, and amphitheatres and battle fields for Mr. Mann."
"And for yourself?"
"The blue, blue bay of Naples, a grove of oranges, moonlight and a boat if it please you."
"By the way," suggested Albert, "about our plans; we really should begin to agitate the matter at once."
"Yes, to do our fighting on shipboard. Let us agree to hoist the white flag the day we sight land, else we shall settle down into a regular War of the Roses and never decide," laughed Norman.
"As there are six minds," continued Albert, "there will have to be some giving up."
"Why do you look at me?" enquired Mae. "I am the very most unselfish person in the world. I'll settle down anywhere for the winter, provided only that it is not in Rome."
"But that is the very place," cried Edith, and Albert, and Mrs. Jerrold from her camp-chair.
"O, how dreadful! The only way to prevent it will be for us to stand firm, boys, and make it a tie."
"But Norman is especially eager to go to Rome," said Edith, "and that makes us four strong at once in favor of that city."
"But is not Rome a fearful mixture of dead Caesar's bones and dirty beggars? And mustn't one carry hundreds of dates at one's finger-tips to appreciate this, and that, and the other? Is it not all tremendously and overwhelmingly historical, and don't you have to keep exerting your mind and thinking and remembering? I would rather go down to Southern Italy and look at lazzaroni lie on stone walls, in red cloaks, as they do in pictures, and not be obliged to topple off the common Italian to pile the gray stone with old memories of some great dead man. Everything is ghostly in Rome. Now, there must be some excitement in Southern Italy. There's Vesuvius, and she isn't dead—like Nero—but a living demon, that may erupt any night, and give you a little red grave by the sea for your share."
"She's not nearly through yet," laughed Edith, as Mae paused for breath.
"I'm only afraid," said Mae, "that after I had been down there a week, I should forget English, buy a contadina costume, marry a child of the sun, and run away from this big world with its puzzles and lessons, and rights and wrongs. Imagine me in my doorway as you passed in your travelling carriage, hot and tired on your way—say to Sorrento. I would dress my beautiful Italian all up in scarlet flowers and wreathe his big hat and kiss his brown eyes and take his brown hand, and then we would run along by the bay and laugh at you stiff, grand world's folks as we skipped past you."
"We shall know where to look for you, if ever you do disappear," said Norman Mann.
"But, my dear Mae," added Albert, "though this is amusing, it is utterly useless."
"Amusing things always are," said Mae.
"The question is, shall we or shall we not go to Rome for the winter?"
"Certainly, by all means, and if I don't like it, I'll run away to Sorrento," and Mae shook her sunny head and twinkled her eyes in a fascinating sort of way, that made Eric feel a proud brotherly pleasure in this saucy young woman, and that gave Norman Mann a sort of feeling he had had a good deal of late, a feeling hard to define, though we have all known it, a delicious concoction of pleasure and pain. His eyes were fixed on Mae, now. "What is it?" she asked. "You will like Rome, I am sure." "No, I never like what I think I shall not."
"It might save some trouble, then, if I ask you now if you expect to like me," said he, in a lower tone. "Why certainly, I do like you very much," she replied, honestly. "What a stupid question," he thinks, vexedly. "Why did I tell him I liked him?" she thinks, blushingly. So the waves of anxiety and doubt begin to swell in these two hearts as the outside waves beat with a truer sea-motion momently against the steamer's side.
Between days of sea-sickness come delightful intervals of calm sea and fresh breezes, when the party fly to the hurricane deck to get the very quintessence of life on the ocean wave. One morning Mrs. Jerrold and Edith were sitting there alone, with rugs and all sorts of head devices in soft wools and flannels, and books and a basket of fruit. The matron of the party was a tall, fine-looking woman, a good type of genuine New England stock softened by city breeding. New Englanders are so many propositions from Euclid, full of right angles and straight lines, but easy living and the dressmaker's art combine to turn the corners gently. Edith was like her mother, but softened by a touch of warm Dutch blood. She was tall, almost stately, with a good deal of American style, which at that time happened to be straight and slender. She was naturally reserved, but four years of boarding-school life had enriched her store of adjectives and her amount of endearing gush-power, and she had at least six girl friends to whom she sent weekly epistles of some half-dozen sheets in length, beginning, each one of them, with "My dearest ——" and ending "Your devoted Edith."
As Edith and her mother quietly read, and ate grapes, and lolled in a delightfully feminine way, voices were heard,—Mae's and Norman's. They were in the middle of a conversation. "Yes," Mae was saying, "you do away with individuality altogether nowadays, with your dreadful classifications. It is all the same from daffodils up to women."
"How do we classify women, pray?"
"In the mind of man," began Mae, as if she were reading, "there are three classes of women; the giddy butterflies, the busy bees, and the woman's righters. The first are pretty and silly; the second, plain and useful; the third, mannish and odious. The first wear long trailing dresses and smile at you while waltzing, the second wear aprons and give you apple-dumplings, and the third want your manly prerogatives, your dress-coat, your money, and your vote. Flirt with the giddy butterflies, your first love was one. First loves always are. Marry the busy bee. Your mother was a busy bee. Mothers always are. And keep on the other side of the street from the woman's righter as long as you can. Alas! your daughter will be one."
"Well, isn't there any classifying on the other side? Aren't there horsemen and sporting men and booky men, in the feminine mind?"
"Perhaps so. There certainly are the fops, and nowadays this terrible army of reformers and radicals, of whom my brother Albert here is the best known example."
"What is it?" asked Albert, looking up abstractedly from his book, for he and Eric had sauntered up the stairs too, by this time.
"They are the creatures," continued Mae, "who scorn joys and idle pleasures. They deal with the good of the many and the problems of the universe, and step solemnly along to that dirge known as the March of Progress. And what do they get for it all? Something like this. Put down your book, I'm going to prophesy," and Mae backed resolutely up against the railing and held her floating scarfs and veils in a bunch at her throat, while she prophesied in this way:
"Behold me, direct lineal descendant of Albert Madden, speaking to my children in the year 1995: 'What, children, want amusement? Want to see the magic lantern to note the effects of light? Alas! how frivolous. Listen, children, to the achievements of your great ancestor, as reported by the Encyclopedia. "A. Madden—promoter of civilization and progress, chiefly known by his excellent theory entitled The Number of Cells in a Human Brain compared to the Working Powers of Man, and that remarkable essay, headed by this formula: Given—10,000,000 laboring men, to find the number of loaves of bread in the world." Here, children, take these works. Progressimus, you may have the theory, while Civilizationica reads the essay. Then change about. Ponder them well, and while we walk to the Museum later, tell me their errors. Then I will show you the preserved ears of the first man found in Boshland by P. T. Barnum, jr.' Oh, bosh," said Mae suddenly, letting fly her streamers, "what a dry set of locusts you nineteenth century leaders are. You are devouring our green land, and some of us butterflies would like to turn our yellow wings into solid shields against you, if we could. There, I've made a goose of myself again on the old subject. Edith, there's the lunch bell. Take me down before I say another word." Exeunt feminines all.
"Where did the child pick up all that?" queried Albert.
"'All that' is in the air just now," answered Norman. "It is a natural reaction of a strong physical nature against the utilitarian views of the day. Miss Mae is a type of—"
"O, nonsense, what prigs you are," interrupted Eric, "Mae is jolly. Do stop your reasoning about her. If you are bound to be a potato yourself to help save the masses from starvation, don't grumble because she grew a flower. Come, let us go to lunch too."
Conversation was not always of this sort. One evening, not long after, there was a moon, and Edith and Albert were missing. Eric was following a blue-eyed girl along the deck, and Mae and Norman wandered off by themselves up to this same hurricane deck again. The moonlight was wonderful. It touched little groups here and there and fell full on the face of a woman in the steerage, who sat with her arms crossed on her knee and her face set eastward. She was singing, and her voice rose clearly above the puff of the engine and the jabber below. There was a chorus to the song, in which rough men and tired looking women joined. The song was about home, and once in a while the girl unclasped her arms and passed her hands over her eyes. Mae and Norman Mann looked at her silently. "I suppose we don't know when we make pictures," said Mae. "Don't we?" asked Norman pointedly. Mae looked very reprovingly out from her white wraps at him, but he smiled back composedly and admiringly, and drew her hand a trifle closer in his arm. And saucy Mae began to feel in that sort of purring mood women come to when they drop the bristling, ready-for-fight air with which they start on an acquaintance. Perhaps, if the steamer had been a sailing-vessel, there would have been no story to tell about Mae Madden, for a long line of evenings, and girls singing songs, and hurricane decks by moonlight, are dangerous things. But the vessel was a fast steamer, and was swiftly nearing land again.
ROME, February, 18—.
MY DEAR MAMMA:—Yes, it is Rome, mamma, and everybody is impressed. The boys talk of emperors all the time; Edith is wild over Madonnas and saints, and Mrs. Jerrold runs from Paul's house to Paul's walks and Paul's drives and Paul's stand at the prisoner's bar, and reads the Acts through five times a day, in the most religious and Romanistic spirit. No one could make more fuss over a patron saint, I am sure. For my part, I feel as if I were in the most terrible ghost story. The old Romans are all around me. Underneath the street noises, I seem to hear cries, and in the air I half see a constant flashing of swords and scars and blood, and I can't even put my foot on the Roman pavement without wondering which dead Caesar my saucy Burt boot No. 2 is walking over. I shouldn't mind trampling old Caligula, but I don't like the thought on general principles. I feel all out of place, so modern and fixed up and flimsy. If I could get into old picturesque clothes and out of the English-speaking quarter, I should not be so oppressed and might worship Rome. But I seriously think I shall die if I stay here much longer. There's a spirit-malaria that eats into my life. I feel as if all the volumes of Roman history bound in heavy vellum, that papa has in his study, were laid right on top of my little heart, so that every time it beats, it thumps against them, and I assure you, mamma, its worse than dyspepsia. If I could only get out on a New England hillside, where there were no graves more important than those of grasshoppers and butterflies! What should I do when I got there? Take off my hat, and scream for joy, and feel free and glad to be in a fresh country, with rich, warm, untainted earth and young life.
But all this is nonsense, mamma, and I shouldn't be writing it, if I hadn't just come from the catacombs of St. Calixtus. To think of Albert's insisting upon going there the very first thing! But so he did, and so we went, and talked solemnly about the Appian Way, and saw everybody's tombs and ashes, and quoted poetry, until I stuck a pin in Albert's arm and sang Yankee Doodle, to keep from crying. Then, oh, how shocked they looked. Even Mr. Mann seemed ashamed of me. When we reached the place, we each took a candle and the guide led the way down into the bowels of the earth. Mamma, they are very unpleasant. There were two German youths along, and green lizards crawled all over. They winked at me. The way grew so narrow that we had to walk one by one through lines of wall perforated with holes for dead bodies. Once in a while we would come to a small chapel, for miserable variety's sake, and be told to admire some very old, very wretched painting. Jonah and the whale were represented in a double-barreled miracle picture. Not only was the whale about to swallow Jonah, but he was only as large as a good-sized brook trout, while Jonah towered away above him like a Goliath. I found myself wondering if the guide had convulsions, and, if he should have one now, and die, how many days would pass before we should eat each other. And would they take me first, because I am youngest and plumpest? Albert would make good soup bones, and Eric's shoulder serve as a delicious fore-quarter. And by the time we came to the top again, I was all ready to cry. And then, mamma, I did an awful thing. Mr. Mann exclaimed: "Why, Miss Mae, how frightened you look. You are quite white." And I answered very sharply: "What a disagreeable man you are. I'm not frightened at all." I said it in a dreadful tone, and how his face changed. He looked so strangely. Everybody was still but Albert, and he said, "Why, Mae, you are very rude to Mr. Mann." Even then I didn't apologize. So here we are at sword's points, and all the rest sympathizing with my foe, who is only on the defensive. Why am I such a belligerent? I can't conceive where I got my nature, unless from that very disagreeable dear old grandpapa of papa's, who fought the whole world all his life. But how egotistic I am, even to my mother. Of course you want to know how we are lodged and clothed and fed. We have taken apartments, as I presume Albert wrote you, on the Via San Nicolo da Tolentino, quite near the Costanzi hotel, which is in the height of the fashion as a hotel; near too, which is better, to Mr. Story's studio and the old Barberini palace and the Barberini square and fountains. Off behind, is that terrible church of the Cappucini, with its cemetery underneath of bones and skulls and such horrors. I like the apartments very much, principally because I have made three staunch friends and one good enemy, in the kitchen. The padrona,—she's the woman who keeps the house, and serves us, too, in this case—though Mrs. Jerrold has a maid to wait on the table and care for our rooms—well, the padrona is my first friend. Her cousin, a handsome southern Italian, is here on a visit, and she is not only my friend, but my instructress. She tells me lovely stories about her home and the peasants and their life, while I sit on the floor with Giovanni,—friend number three and eldest son of the padrona,—and even Roberto, my enemy, the crying baby of three years, hushes his naughty mouth to listen to Lisetta, for that is the cousin's name. I am so glad I studied Italian as hard as I did for my music, for it comes very easily to me now, and already I slip the pretty words from my halting tongue much more smoothly and quickly than you would imagine I could. Mrs. Jerrold isn't quite satisfied, and would prefer the Costanzi, only she doesn't believe in letting us girls stay at large hotels. She and Edith are shocked at my kitchen tastes, so that I generally creep off quietly and say nothing about it. It is strange for me to have to keep anything secret, but I am learning how.
As for our clothes, O, mamma, Edith is ravishing in a deep blue-black silk, with a curly, wavy sort of fringe on it, and odd loopings here and there where you don't expect to find them. What can't a Parisian dressmaker do? They have such a wonderful idea of appropriateness, it seems to me. Now, at home you know we girls always wear the same sort of thing, but Madame H—— says no, Edith, and I should dress very differently; and now Edith's clothes all have a flow, and sweep, and grace about them, and her silks rustle in a stately way as she walks, while my dresses haven't any trimming to speak of, but are cut in a clinging, square sort of way, with jackets, and here and there a buckle, that makes me feel half the time as if I were playing soldier in a lady-like fashion. But what a budget this is. How shocked the people here would be. They take travel so solemnly, mamma, and treat Baedeker, like the Bible,—and here am I crushing down Rome, and raising Paris on top of it. Indeed, I can't help it, for Paris is utterly intoxicating. It takes away your moral nature and adds it all into your powers of enjoyment. Well, good-bye, my dear, and keep writing me tremendous letters, won't you; for I do love you dearly.
Your loving daughter,
Mae felt a great deal better when she had finished the letter, and, like a volatile girl as she was, buttoned her Burt boots and Paris gloves, singing gaily a dash from Trovatore in a very light-hearted manner.
"Why, you look like a different girl," cried Eric, as she entered the parlor, where he and Mr. Mann were sitting. "Mrs. Jerrold, Edith, and Albert have gone on in a carriage, and you are left to my tender care; will you ride or walk?"
"How can you ask? My feet are quite wild. No wonder I am a different girl. Are we not going to the Pincian hill to look at the live world and people? I have just unlocked the stop-gates and let the blood bound in my veins as it wants to."
"It has been taking the cinque-pace, I should say from your long face to-day."
"O, it has only been trying to keep step with the march of the ages, or some such stately tread, but it was hard work, and now the dear life of me hops, skips and jumps, like this," and Mae seized her brother and danced across the room, stopping very near Mr. Mann, who stood with his back to them, drumming on the window pane. She looked at him quizzically and half raised her eyebrows.
Eric shook his head, and said aloud in his outspoken way: "You owe him an apology, Mae, for this morning's rudeness."
Mr. Mann turned quickly. "I am surprised, Eric. Let your sister find out for herself when she is rude."
"Bless me," cried Eric, "what is the row?"
Mae looked determined. "Are you going to the Pincian with us?" she asked.
"No, I am going to stay home."
"Well, good-bye, then. Come, Eric." The door closed behind them.
Mr. Mann stood by the window and watched them walk away. Mae, with her eager, restless, fresh life showing out in every motion; Eric, with his boy-man air and his student swing and happy-go-lucky toss of his head. Mr. Mann smiled and then he sighed. "That's a good boy, so square and fair and merry—and a queer girl," he added. "Rome isn't the place for her. She must get away, though why I should take care for her, or worry about her, little vixen. I don't see." Still he smiled as one would over a very winning, very wicked child, and shortly after took his hat and went to the Pincio, after all.
Meantime, the brother and sister had walked gaily along, passed the Spanish Steps, and were on the Pincian hill. Here, Mae was indeed happy. The fine equipages and dark, rich beauty of the Italians delighted her, and she and Eric found a shaded bench, and watched the carriages drive round and round, and criticised, and admired, and laughed like two idle children. They bought some flowers, and Mae sat pulling them to pieces, when they caught sight, down the pathway, of two approaching Piedmontese officers.
"O," cried Mae, and dropped her flowers, and clasped her hands, and sprang to her feet, "O, Eric, are they gods or men?"
The Piedmontese officer is godlike. He must be of a certain imposing height to obtain his position, and his luxurious yellow moustaches and blue black eyes, enriched and intensified by southern blood, give him a strange fascination. The cold, manly beauty and strength of a northern blonde meet with the heat and lithe grace of the more supple southerner to produce this paragon. There is a combination of half-indolent elegance and sensuous langour, with a fire, a verve, a nobility, that puts him at the very head of masculine beauty. Add to the charms of his physique, the jauntiest, most bewitching of uniforms, the clinking spurs, the shining buttons, the jacket following every line of his figure, and no wonder maidens' hearts seek him out always and young pulses beat quicker at his approach.
Mae's admiration was simply rapturous. Utterly regardless of the pretty picture she herself made, of her vivid coloring and sparkling beauty, she stood among her dropped flowers until the two pairs of eyes were fixed upon her. Then she became suddenly aware of her attitude and with quick feminine cunning endeavored to transfer her admiration to some beautiful horses cantering by, exclaiming in Italian, that the officers might surely understand she was thinking only of the fine animals: "O, what wonderful horses!"
The foreign pronunciation, Eric's amusement, Mae's confusion, were not lost upon the men. Their curiosity was piqued, their eyes and pride gratified. They sauntered leisurely past, only to turn a corner and quicken their steps again toward the bench where Eric and Mae were seated. They found the brother and sister just arising, and followed them slowly.
An Italian is quick to detect secrets. The two had not proceeded far before one said to the other; "Eh, Luigi, we are not the only interested party."
Luigi looked slowly around and saw a crowd of Italian loungers gazing at the little stranger with their softly-bold black eyes full of admiration. He shrugged his shoulders slightly. "Bah, they gaze in that way at all womankind. See, now they are watching the next one," and as he spoke, the boys turned with one accord to stare at a young Italian girl, who pressed closer to the side of her hook-nosed old duenna:
"It is not those loungers that I noticed," replied the other. "Look there," and he waved his hand lightly toward the left, where, under a large-leafed tree, gazing apparently in idleness, stood a young man.
"Ah," said Luigi, still incredulous, "he sees nothing but Rome; he is fresh from over the seas."
"No, no, watch his eyes," replied the other.
They were assuredly fixed, with a keen searching glance, on a little form before them, and as Eric and Mae suddenly turned to the left, the stranger, half carelessly, but very quickly, crossed to another path, from which he could watch them, but be, in his turn, unobserved.
"Jealous," laughed Luigi, shrugging his shoulders again. "Her lover, probably."
"No," replied Bero, "but he may be some time." Then after a moment's pause, "Good evening," he said carelessly. "I am going to say my prayers at vespers. I've been a sorry scamp of late."
Luigi laughed disdainfully and lightly. "You want to get rid of me? Well, be it so. I don't want to lose my heart over a little foreigner. I have other game. However, Lillia shall not know of it. Addio, Bero." So Luigi went off the other way, and Bero, with a flushed face, followed Mae at a distance, and kept an eye on the stranger, flattering himself that he was quite unnoticed by those sharp, keen eyes. He was mistaken, Norman Mann had seen the officers before they saw him, had watched their footsteps, and had a pretty clear idea of the whole affair.
Mae walked on happily, chatting with Eric, and with that vague, delightful feeling of something exciting in the air. She knew there was an officer behind her, because she had heard the clicking spurs, but she only guessed that he might be one of the two who had passed—the taller, perhaps,—which, of course, he was. She had, moreover, in some mysterious way, caught sight of a figure resembling Norman Mann, trying, she thought, to avoid her. Her spirits rose with the half-mystery, and she grew brighter and prettier and more magnetic to the two followers as she tossed her shoulders slightly and now and then half-turned her sunny head.
As for Eric, he was totally unconscious of any secrets. He fancied himself and his pretty, nice, little sister all alone by their very selves, and he went so far as to expatiate on the vastness of the world, and how in this crowd there was no other life that bordered or touched on theirs.
To which Mae replied: "You don't know; you may fall in love with one of these very Italian girls, or my future husband may be walking behind me now." When she had said this, she flushed scarlet and was very much ashamed of herself in her heart.
"We must go home now," Eric replied, quite disdaining such sybilistic remarks. So they left the hill and went down the Steps in the rich afternoon light, and so homewards. Of course the Italian and Mr. Mann still followed them; Norman on the other side of the street, the Italian in a slyer, less conspicuous manner, by taking side streets, or the next parallel pavement, and appearing only at every corner in the distance. He appeared, however, close at hand, as Mae and Eric turned into their lodgings. His eyes met Mae's. She blushed involuntarily as she recognized him, and at once, in that moment, there was an invisible half-acquaintance established between the two. If they should ever meet again, they would remember each other.
Mae crept off to the kitchen that evening, to beg for another of Lisetta's stories, and quite forgot her walk, the officer, and Norman Mann while she listened to the
STORY OF TALILA.
Talila was a young girl, destined to be a nun. She was a naughty little girl and would make wry faces at the thought, and wish she could be a man, a soldier or sailor, instead of being a woman and a nun; and as she grew older she would dance all the time, and didn't say her prayers very much, and was so bad that the priest sent for her to see him. He told her how wicked she was, and that, too, when she was to be the bride of the church; but she said the church had many, many brides, and she would rather be the bride of Giovanni; and that she loved red-cheeked babies better than beads, and songs were nicer than prayers. Should she sing him such a pretty, gay one she knew? And the priest could hardly keep from laughing at the bright-eyed, naughty, naughty Talila. But he said: "If Giovanni does not want to marry you, will you then become the bride of the church?" And Talila laughed aloud and tossed her head. "Giovanni longs to marry me, Father," she said, "I know that already." But the Father sent for Giovanni and gave him money if he would say he did not want to marry Talila. At first he would not say so, but the Father showed him a purse all full of silver, which Talila's mother had brought him, for it was she who had vowed Talila should be a nun. Then the Father said: "This is yours if you say as I wish, and if not, you shall be cursed forever, and all your children shall be cursed, because you have married the bride of the church." Then Giovanni crossed himself and took the bag of silver, and the priest sent for Talila, and she heard her Giovanni say he didn't want to marry her—she had better be a nun; and she threw up her brown arms and screamed aloud, and fell down as if dead. And afterwards she was very ill, and when she grew better she had forgotten everything and was only a little child, and she loves little children, and is ever with them, but she calls them all Giovanni. They play together by the bay through the long day, and at night she takes them to their mothers, and goes alone to her home. But alas! she never tells her beads, or prays a prayer, and sorry things are said of her—that God gave her up because she left Him. But the children all love her, and she loves them.
Edith and Mae had a quarrel one morning. Mae's tongue was sharp, but although she breezed quickly, she calmed again very soon. The latter fact availed her little this time, for Edith maintained a cold displeasure that would not be melted by any bright speeches or frank apologies. "Edith," said little Miss Mae, quite humbly for her, as she put on her hat, and drew on her gloves, "Edith, aren't you going out with me?" "What for?" asked that young person indifferently.
"Why—for fun, and to make up. Haven't you forgiven me yet?"
Edith did not reply directly. "I am going out with mamma to buy our dominoes for the Carnival, and to see our balcony. Albert has engaged one for us, on the corner of the Corso and Santa Maria e Jesu. I suppose you can go too. There will be an extra seat. We'll come home by the Pincian Hill."
"Thank you," said Mae, "but I will get Eric and go for a tramp," and she left the room with compressed lips and flushed cheeks. In the hall were Albert, Eric and Norman, talking busily. "Where are you going Eric, mayn't I go too, please?" "I'm sorry Mae, but this is an entirely masculine affair—five-button gloves and parasols are out of the question."
"O, Ric, I am half lonely." Mae laughed a little hysterically. At that moment she caught Mr. Mann's eyes, full of sympathy. "But goodbye," she added, and opened the door, "I'm going."
"Alone?" asked Norman, involuntarily.
"Yes, alone," replied Mae. "Have you any objections, boys?" Eric and Albert were talking busily and did not hear her. Norman Mann held open the door for her to pass out, and smiled as she thanked him. She smiled back. She came very near saying, "I'm sorry I was rude the other day, forgive me," and he came very near saying, "May I go with you, Miss Mae?" But they neither of them spoke, and Norman closed the door with a sigh, and Mae walked away with a sigh. It was only a little morning's experience, sharp words, misunderstandings; but the child was young, far from home and her mother, and it seemed hard to her. She was in a very wild mood, a very hard mood, and yet all ready to be softened by a kind, sympathetic word, so nearly do extremes of emotion meet.
"There's no one to care a pin about me," said she to herself, "not a pin. I have a great mind to go and take the veil or drown myself in the Tiber. Then they would be bound to search for me, and convent vows and Tiber mud hold one fast. No, I won't, I'll go and sit in the Pincian gardens and talk Italian with the very first person I meet and forget all about myself. I wish Mr. Mann wouldn't pity me. Dear me, here I am remembering these forlorn people again. I wish I could see mamma and home this morning,—the dear old library. Why the house is shut up and mamma's south. I forgot that, and here am I all alone. It is like being dead. There, I have dropped a tear on my tie and spoiled it! Besides, if one is dead, there comes Heaven. Why shouldn't I play dead, and make my own Heaven?" Here Mae seated herself, for she was on the Pincio by this time, and looked off at the view, at that wonderful view of St. Peter's, the Tiber, all the domes and rising ruins and afar the campagna. "I wouldn't make my Heaven here," thought this dreadful Mae, "not if it is beautiful. I'd not stay here a single other day. Bah no!" and she shook her irreverent little fist right down at the Eternal City.
At this moment, a small beggar, who had been pleading unnoticed at her side, was lifted from his feet by a powerful hand, and a shower of soft Italian imprecations fell on Mae's ear. She sprang up quickly, "No, no," she cried in Italian, "how dare you hurt a harmless boy?" She lifted her face full toward that of the man who had inspired her wrath, and her eyes met those of the Piedmontese officer. She blushed scarlet.
"Pardon, a thousand pardons," began he. "It was for your sake, Signorina. I saw you shake your hand that he should leave you, and I fancied that the little scamp was troubling the foreign lady."
Mae laughed frankly, although she was greatly confused. The officer and the beggar boy behind him waited expectantly. "I shook my hand at my thoughts," she explained. "I did not see the boy. Forgive me, Signor, for my hasty words."
The officer enjoyed her confusion quietly. He threw a handful of small coin at the beggar, and bade him go. Then he turned again to Mae. "I am sorry, Signorina, that your thoughts are sad. I should think they would all be like sweet smiles." He said this with an indescribable delicacy and gallantry, as if he half feared to speak to her, but his sympathy must needs express itself.
Mae was, as we have seen, in a reckless, wild mood. She did not realize what she was doing. She had just broken down all barriers in her mind, was dead to her old life, and ready to plan for Heaven. And here before her stood a wonderful, sympathizing, new friend, who spoke in a strange tongue, lived in a strange land was as far removed from her old-time people and society as an inhabitant of Saturn, or an angel. She accepted him under her excitement, as she would have accepted them. No waiting for an introduction, no formal getting-acquainted talk, no reserve. She looked into the devoted, interested eyes above her, and said frankly:
"I was feeling all alone, and I hate Rome. I thought I would like to play I was dead, and plan out a Heaven for myself. It should not be in Rome. And then I suppose I shook my fist."
"Where would your Heaven be?" asked the Piedmontese, falling quickly, with ready southern sympathy, into her mood. Mae seated herself on the bench and made room for him at her side.
"Where should it be?" she repeated. "Down among the children of the sun, all out in the rich orange fields, by the blue Bay of Naples, I think, with Vesuvius near by, and Capri; yes, it would be in Sorrento that I should find my heaven."
The officer smiled under his long moustaches. "For three days,—at a hotel, Signorina."
"No, no; with the peasants. I am tired and sick of books, and people, and reasons. Shall I give you a day of my Heaven?"
Bero smiled and bent slightly forward and rested his hand lightly on the stick of her parasol, which lay between them. "Go on," he said.
"I would fill my apron with sweet flowers and golden fruit—great oranges, and those fragrant, delicious tiny mandarins—and I would get a crowd of little Italians about me, all a-babbling their pretty, pretty tongue, and I would go down to the bay and get in an anchored boat, and lie there all the morning, catching the sunlight in my eyes, trimming the brown babies and the boat with flowers, looking off at the water and the clouds, tossing the pretty fruit, and laughing, and playing, and enjoying. Later, there'd be a run on the beach, and a ride on a donkey, and a dance, with delirious music and frolic. And then the moon and quiet,—and I would steal away from the crowd, and take a little boat, and float and drift—"
"Alone?" asked Bero, softly. "Surely, you wouldn't condemn a mountaineer's yellow moustache, or a soldier's spurs and sword, if at heart he was really a child of the sun also? May I share your day of Heaven? It would be paradise for me, too." All this in the same soft, deferential manner.
"Well, well," half laughed, half sighed Mae. "All this is a dream, unless, indeed, I go home with Lisetta."
"Who is Lisetta?"
"Our padrona's cousin. She is here on a visit. She lives within a mile of Sorrento, on the coast. She goes home at the end of Carnival. Oh, how I do long for Carnival," continued Mae, frankly and confidentially. "Don't you? I am like a child over it, I am trying already to persuade Eric—that is my brother—to take me down on the Corso the last night, for the Mocoletti. It would be much better fun than staying on our balcony."
"Where is your balcony?" asked Bero, stroking his long moustaches.
"It is on the corner of Maria e Jesu, and if I ever see you coming by, I shall be tempted to pepper your pretty uniform. How beautiful it is!"
"Yes," replied Bero, again gazing proudly down at his lithe figure, in its well-fitting clothes, "but I would be willing to be showered with confetti daily to see you. How shall I know you? What is to be the color of your domino?" And he bent forward, hitting his spurs against the paving stones, flashing his deep eyes, and half reaching out his hand, in that same tender, respectful way.
Mae saw the sunlight strike his hair; she half heard his deep breath; and, like a flood, there suddenly swept over her the knowledge that this new friend, this sympathizing soul, was an unknown man, and that she was a girl. What had she done? What could she do? Confusion and embarrassment suddenly overtook her. She bent her eyes away from those other eyes, that were growing bolder and more tender in their gaze. "I—I—" she began, and just at this very inauspicious moment, while she sat there, flushed, by the stranger's side, the clatter of swiftly-approaching wheels sounded, and a carriage turned the corner, containing Mrs. Jerrold, Edith, Albert, and Norman Mann. They all saw her.
Mae laughed. It was such a dreadful situation that it was funny, and she laughed again. "Those are my friends," she said, in a low voice. "We can walk away," replied the officer, and turned his face in the opposite direction. "It is too late; and, besides, why should we?" And Mae looked full in his face, then turned to the carriage, which was close upon them.
"How do you all do?" she cried, gleefully and bravely. "Isn't there room for me in there? Mrs. Jerrold, I would like to introduce Signor—your name?"—she said, quite clearly, in Italian, turning to the officer.
"Bero," he replied.
"Signor Bero. He was very kind, and saved me from—from a little beggar boy."
"You must have been in peril, indeed," remarked Mrs. Jerrold, bowing distantly to Bero, and beckoning the coachman, as Mae sprang into the carriage, to drive on. "I am sorry to put you on the box, Norman," Mrs. Jerrold added, as Mae took the seat, in silence, that Mr. Mann had vacated for her, "and I hope Miss Mae is also." But Mae didn't hear this. She was plucking up courage in her heart, and assuming a saucy enough expression, that sat well on her bright face. Indeed, she was a pretty picture, as she sat erect, with lips and nostrils a trifle distended, and her head a little in the air. The Italian thought so, as he walked away, smiling softly, clicking his spurs and stroking his moustache; and Norman Mann thought so too, as he tapped his cane restlessly on the dash-board and scowled at the left ear of the off horse. The party preserved an amazed and stiff silence, as they drove homeward.
"Eric," cried Norman, very late that same night. "Do be sober, I have something to say to you about Miss Mae."
"Norman, old boy, how can a fellow of my make be sober when he has drunk four glasses of wine, waltzed fifteen times, and torn six flounces from a Paris dress? Why, man, I am delirious, I am. Tra, la, la, tra, la, la. Oh, Norman, if you could have heard that waltz," and Eric seized his companion in his big arms and started about the room in a mad dance. "You are Miss Hopkins, Norman, you are. Here goes—" but Norman struck out a bold stroke that nearly staggered Eric and broke loose. "For Heaven's sake, Eric, stop this fooling; I want to speak to you earnestly."
"Evidently," replied Eric, with excited face, "forcibly also. Blows belong after words, not before," and the big boy tramped indignantly off to bed.
Norman Mann was in earnest truly, forcible also, for he opened his mouth to let out a very expressive word as Eric left the room. It did him good seemingly, for he strode up and down more quietly. At last he sat down and began to talk with himself. "Norman Mann, you've got to do it all alone," he said. "Albert and Edith and Aunt Martha are too vexed and shocked to do the little rebel any good. Ric, oh, dear, Ric is a silly boy, God bless him, and here I am doomed to make that child hate me, and with no possible authority over her, or power, for that matter, trying to keep her from something terribly wild. If they don't look out, she will break loose. I know her well, and there's strong character under this storm a-top, if only some one could get at it. Damn it." Norman grew forcible again. "Why can't I keep my silly eyes away from her, and go off with the fellows. You see," continued Norman, still addressing his patient double, "she is a rebel, and—pshaw, I dare say it is half my fancy, but I hate that long moustached officer. I wish he would be summoned to the front and be shot. O, I forgot, there's no war. Well, then, I wish he would fall in love with any body but Mae. It must be late. Ric didn't leave that little party very early, I'm sure, but I can't sleep. I'll get down my Sismondi and read awhile. I wonder if that child is feeling badly now. I half believe she is—but here's my book."
Yes, Mae was feeling badly, heart-brokenly, all alone in her room. After a long, harrowing talk with Mrs. Jerrold, at the close of which she had received commands never to go out alone in Rome, because it wasn't proper, she had been allowed to depart for her own room. Here she closed the door leading into Mrs. Jerrold's and Edith's apartment, and opened her window wide, and held her head out in the night air—the poisonous Roman air. The street was very quiet. Now and then some late wayfarer passed under the light at the corner, but Mae had, on the whole, a desolate outlook—high, dark buildings opposite, and black clouds above, with only here and there a star peeping through.
She had taken down her long hair, thrown off her dress, and half wrapped herself in a shawl, out of which her bare arms stretched as she leaned on the deep window seat. She looked like the first woman—of the Darwinian, not the Biblical, Creation. There was a wild, half-hunted expression on her face that was like the set air of an animal brought suddenly to bay. She thought in little jerks, quick sentences that were almost like the barking growls with which a beast lashes itself to greater fury.
"They treated me unfairly. They had no right. I shall choose my own friends. How dare they accuse me of flirting? I flirt, pah! I'd like to run away. This stupid, stupid life!" And so on till the sentences grew more human. "I suppose Mr. Mann thinks I am horrid, but I don't care. I wish I could see Eric, he wouldn't blame me so. What a goose I am to mind anyway. The Carnival is coming! Even these old tombs must give way for ten whole riotous days. I must make them madly merry days. I wonder how I will look in my domino. I suppose the pink one is mine."
So Miss Mae dried her eyes, picked her deshabille self from the window seat, turned up the light, slipped into her pink and white carnival attire, and walked to the window again.
"This is the Corso all full of people, and I'll pelt them merrily, so, and so, and so!" She reached forth her bare, round arm into the darkness, and looked down, where, full under the street light, gazing up at her, stood the Piedmontese officer.
It was at that very moment that Norman Mann put down his Sismondi, and looked from his window also.
Mae met Mr. Mann at the breakfast table the next morning without the least embarrassment. Indeed, the little flutter in her talk could easily be attributed to unusually high spirits and an excited and pleased fancy. That was how Norman Mann translated it, of course. Really, the flutter was a genuine stirring of her heart with inquietude, timidity and semi-repentance; but Mae couldn't say this, and it's only what one says out that can be reckoned on in this world. So Norman Mann, who saw only the bright cheeks and eyes and restless quickening of an eager girl and did not see the palpitating feminine heart inside, was displeased and half-cold.
Could any one be long cold to Mae Madden? She believed not. She was quite accustomed to lightning-like white heats of anger in those with whom she came in contact, but coldness was out of her line. Still she met the occasion well. "Shall I give you some coffee?" she asked, pleasantly. "We breakfast all alone, until Eric appears. Mrs. Jerrold is not well, and Edith and Albert are off for Frascati."
"Poor child; how much alone she is," he thought to himself.
"I understand we all go to the play tonight?" queried Mae.
"The thought of Shakspeare dressed in Italian is not pleasant to me," said Mr. Mann, after a silence of a few minutes.
"I am quite longing to see him in his new clothes. There is so much softness and beauty in Italian that I expect to gain new ideas from hearing the play robed in more flowing phrases. Shakspeare certainly is for all the world."
"But Shakspeare's words are so strongly chosen that they are a great element in his great plays. And a translation at best is something of a parody, especially a translation from a northern tongue, with its force and backbone, so to speak, into a southern, serpentine, gliding language. You have heard the absurd rendering of that passage from Macbeth where the witches salute him with 'Hail to thee, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!' into such French as 'Comment vous portez vous, Monsieur Macbeth; comment vous portez vous, Monsieur Thane de Cawdor!' A translation must pass through the medium of another mind, and other minds like Shakspeare's are hard to find."
Norman spoke with so much reverence for Mae's greatest idol that her heart warmed and she smiled approval, though for argument's sake she remained on the other side.
"Isn't a translation more like an engraver's art, and aren't fine engravings to be sought and admired even when we know the great original in its glory of color? Then all writing is only translation, not copying. Shakspeare had to translate the tongues he found in stones, the books he found in brooks, with twenty-six little characters and his great mind, into what we all study, and love, and strive after. But he had to use these twenty-six characters in certain hard, Anglo-Saxon forms and confine himself to them. When he wanted to talk about
and such damp, shivery places, he is all right, but when he sings of 'love's light wings,' and all that nonsense, he is impeded; now open to him 'Italian, the language of angels'—you know the old rhyme—and see what a chance he has among the "liquid l's and bell-voiced m's and crushed tz's." To-night you will hear Desdemona call Othello 'Il mio marito,' in a way that will start the tears. What are the stiff English words to that? 'My husband!' Husband is a very uneuphonious name, I think."
Norman Mann smiled. "Another cup of coffee, if you please—not quite as sweet as the last," and he passed his cup. "I believe there is always a charm in a novel word that has not been commonized by the crowd. 'Dear' means very little to us nowadays, because every school girl is every other school girl's 'dear,' and elderly ladies 'my dear' the world at large, in a pretty and benevolent way. So with the words 'husband' and 'wife'; we hear them every day in commonest speech—'the coachman and his wife,' or 'Sally Jones's husband,'—but I take it this is when we stand outside. That wonderful little possessive pronoun MY has a great, thrilling power. 'My husband' will be as fine to your ears as 'il mio marito,' which has, after all, a slippery, uncertain sound; and as for 'my wife'—"
At that moment the coffee cup, which was on its way back, had reached the middle of the table, where by right it should have been met and guided by the steadier, masculine hand; Norman's hand was there in readiness, but instead of gently removing the cup from Mae's clasp, it folded itself involuntarily about the white, round wrist, as he paused on these last words. Was it the little possessive pronoun that sent the sudden thrill through the unexpecting wrist? At any rate it trembled; the cup, the saucer, the coffee, the spoon, followed a well known precedent, and "went to pieces all at once;" "all at once and nothing first just as bubbles do when they burst." And so alas! did the conversation, and that burst a beautiful bubble Norman had just blown.
Damages were barely repaired when Eric entered the breakfast room with a petulant sort of face and flung himself into a chair. "My! what a head I have on me this morning," he groaned. "Soda water would be worth all the coffee in the world, Mae; I'll take it black, if you please. How cosy you two look. I always take too much of every thing at a party, from flirtation to—O, Mae, you needn't look so sad. I'm not the one in disgrace now. Mrs. Jerrold, Edith and Albert are just piping mad at you, and as for Mann, here,—by the way," and Eric rubbed his forehead, as if trying to sharpen up a still sleepy memory, "I suppose you two have had it out by this time. Norman sat up till ever so late to talk you over with me, Mae. Do thank him for me; I am under the impression that I didn't do so last night."
Mae tapped her fourth finger, on which a small ring glistened, sharply against the cream jug. "If I were every body's pet lamb or black sheep, I couldn't have more shepherd's crooks about me. Have you joined the laudable band, Mr. Mann, and am I requested to thank you for that?"
"Not at all. Perhaps your brother's remembrances of last night are not very distinct. I certainly sat up for Sismondi's sake, not for yours." And he really thought, for the moment, that he told the truth.
"I warn you," continued Mae, rising as she spoke, "that I have a tremendous retinue of mentors, and nurses, and governesses already. You had better content yourself with the fact that you have four proper traveling companions, and bear the disgrace of being shocked as best you may by one wild scrap of femininity who will have her own way in spite of you all." Mae half laughed, but she was serious, and the boys both knew it.
"You flatter me," replied Norman, "I had aspired to no such position, but for your brother's sake, if not for your own, I wished to tell Eric that the Roman air at midnight was dangerous to your health. I saw you had your window open."
"Did you look through the ceiling, pray?" Mae retorted from the door-way. "Eric, ring if you want anything. Rosetta is close at hand."
"I have put my foot in it this time," said Eric, clumsily. "I am real sorry, Norman, old boy."
Norman did not feel like being pitied, and this remark of Eric's roused him. He fairly ground his teeth and clenched his hands, but his big brown moustache and the tablecloth hid these outer manifestations of anger. "Don't be a goose, Ric," he said. "What possible difference can all this make to me? Your sister is young and quick."
Now, it was Eric's turn to wince. Was he giving this fellow the impression that he thought his sister's opinions would affect him? Horrible suspicion! Boys always fancy everybody in love with their sister. He must cure that at once. "Of course," he replied quickly, "I know you and Mae never agree, that you barely stand each other. But I didn't know but you would prefer to be on good terms with her, for all that."
"Miss Mae can choose the terms on which we meet. I shall be content whatever her decision. What are your plans for the day?"
Lounging Eric straightened himself at once. "I was a perfect fool last night," he confessed, "and I must rely on you, old fellow, to help me out. I made engagements for two weeks ahead with Miss Hopkins and Miss Rae. At any rate, I'm booked for the play to-night. Now, I can't take two girls very well. That is, I can, but I thought you might like a show. You may have your choice of the two. Miss Rae, by the way, says she's wild to know you; thought you were the most provoking man she ever saw; and that you were—nonsensical idea—engaged to Mae. All because you wouldn't look at her the other day when she passed you two, But you can go with Miss Hopkins, if you prefer."
"Are they pretty?" asked Norman, apparently warming to the task, "and bright?"
"I should say they were. Miss Hopkins has gorgeous great eyes,—but Miss Rae is more your style. Still, you may have your choice."
"Silly boy; you're afraid to death that I shall choose Miss Hopkins. Well, if they are not over stupid and flirtatious—"
"Stupid! Oh, no,"—Eric scouted that idea—"and flirtatious, perhaps. Miss Hopkins rolls her eyes a good deal, but then she has a frankness, a winning way."
"Well," laughed Norman, "you're such a transparent, susceptible infant-in-arms that I'll go with you."
"As shepherd," suggested Eric, "as long as Mae won't have you. But come, we must go down and call on these people. It won't do at all for you to appear suddenly this evening, and say, 'I'll relieve my friend here of one of you.'"
"Oh, what a bore. Is that necessary? Won't a card or a box of Stillman's bon-bons do them? Well, if it must be, come along, then."
It was evening, and the brilliantly lighted theatre was crowded to overflowing. Of course there were English who scowled at the Americans, and Americans who smiled on every one and ate candy while Othello writhed in jealous rage, and a scattering of Germans with spectacles and a row of double-barrelled field glasses glued over them, and Frenchmen with impudent eyes and elegant gloves, and a general filling in of Italians, with the glitter here and there of nobility, and still oftener of bright uniforms. Finally there was a modicum of true gentry, and these not of any particular nation or class. It is pleasant to name our party immediately after referring to these goodly folks. They had a fine box, and although their ranks were thinned by the loss of two cavaliers, nobody seemed to care. Albert and Edith were perfectly happy side by side, and Mrs. Jerrold was well contented to observe her daughter's smile as Albert spoke to her, and the look of manly protection in his eyes, as his gaze met Edith's.
As for Mae, she had that delicious feminine pride which is as good a stimulant as success to women—in emergencies. And to-night was an emergency to this small, excitable, young thing. Her eyes were very dark from the expansion of the pupil. They possessed a rare charm, caught from a trick the eyelids had of drooping slowly and then suddenly and unexpectedly lifting to reveal the wide, bright depths, that half-concealed, half-revealed power, which is so tantalizing. Mae was dressed in this same spirit to-night, and she was dimly conscious of it. The masses of tulle that floated from her opera hat to her chin and down on her shoulders, revealed only here and there a glimpse of rich brown hair, or of white throat. Her cheeks were scarlet, her lips a-quiver with excitement and pleasure. She formed a pretty contrast to Edith, who sat by her side. Miss Jerrold leaned back in her chair quietly, composedly. She fanned herself in long sweeps, looked pleased, contented, but in no wise displaced or surprised—thoroughly well-bred and at home. She might have had a private rehearsal of Othello in her own dramatic hall the evening before, from her air and mien. Mae, on the contrary, was alert, on the qui vive, as interested as a child in each newcomer, and, after the curtain rose, in every tableau.
Such a woman can not fail to attract attention, as long as she is herself unconscious. The world grows blase so speedily that it enjoys all the more thoroughly the sight of freshness, verve, life,—that is, the male portion of the world. Women's great desire, as a rule, is to appear entirely at ease, city-bred, high-bred, used to all things, surprised by none.
So there were a great many glasses turned toward Mae that evening. Very probably the young women in the next box accepted a share of these glances as their own, and, in a crowd where the French and Italian elements predominate, or largely enter, they could not have been far wrong. Every girl or woman who pretends to any possible charm is quite sure of her share of admiration from these susceptible beings. The young ladies of the next box had that indescribable New York air, which extends from the carefully brushed eyebrows quite to the curves of the wrist and hand. Praise Parisian modes all you will, but for genuine style, a New York girl, softened a trifle by commonsense or good taste, leads the world—certainly if she is abroad. For there she soon finds it impossible to go to the extremes that American air seems to rush her into. Three months, or perhaps, if she is observant, three days in Paris, teach her that the very biggest buttons, or the very largest paniers, or the very flaringest hats are not for her, or any lady, and by stepping back to size number two, she does not detract from her style, while she does add to her lady-likeness.
These two girls, it may be surmised, were no other than Miss Hopkins and Miss Rae, whom chance or fate or bungling Eric Madden, who bought the tickets, had seated side by side with the Maddens and Jerrolds. It was bothersome, when Norman and Eric had played truant at any rate, but there was no help for it; so after a little Eric introduced them all round, and the two parties apparently merged into one, or broke up into four, for tete-a-tetes soon began. It was a little hard that three girls should have each a devoted servant, and that only one, and that one, Mae, should be obliged to receive her care from the chaperon; but so it was.
Nevertheless, Mae bore herself proudly. She was seated next Miss Rae, separated only by the nominal barrier of a little railing, while just beyond sat Norman, his chair turned toward the two girls. The stranger insisted on drawing Mae into the conversation, partly for curiosity's sake, to watch her odd face and manners, partly from that genuine generosity that comes to the most selfish of women, when she is satisfied with her position. It is pleasant to pity, to be generous; and Miss Rae, having the man, could afford to share him now and then, when it pleased her, with the lonely girl by her side. But Miss Rae's tactics did not work. Mae replied pleasantly when addressed, but returned speedily and eagerly to Mrs. Jerrold or a survey of the house, with the frank happiness of a child. She was all the more fascinating to the admiring eyes that watched her, because she sat alone, electrified by the inspiration and magnetism from within, and did not need the stimulus of another voice close by her side, breathing compliments and flattery, to brighten her eyes and call the blushes to her cheeks. Norman Mann saw the eyes fixed on her, and they vexed him. At the same time, he liked her the better on that very account.
And at last the curtain rose.
It was just as Desdemona assures her father of her love for Othello, that Mae became conscious of a riveted gaze—of a presence. Lifting her eyes, and widening them, she looked over to the opposite side of the house, and there, of course, was the Piedmontese officer again, handsomer, more brilliant than ever, with a grateful, soft look of recognition in his eyes.
Mae was out of harmony with all her friends. She was proud and lonely. The man's pleased, softened look touched her heart strangely. There was almost a choke in her throat, there were almost tears in her eyes, and there was a free, glad, welcoming smile on her lips.
Norman Mann saw it and followed it, and caught the officer receiving it, and thought "She's a wild coquette."
And Mae knew what he saw and what he thought.
Then a strange spirit entered the girl. Here was a man who vexed her, who piqued her, and who was rude, for Mae secretly thought it was rude to neglect Mrs. Jerrold, as the boys did that evening, and yet who was vexed and piqued in his turn, if she did what he didn't like and looked at another man.
And then here was the other man. Mae looked down at him.
Bless us! who is to blame a young woman for forgetting everything but the "other man" when he is a godlike Piedmontese officer, with strong soft cheek and throat, and Italian eyes, and yellow moustaches, and spurs and buttons that click and shine in a maddening sort of way?
Of course, in reality, everybody is to blame her, we among the very virtuous first. In this particular case, however, we have facts, not morals, to deal with. Mae did see Norman Mann talking delightedly to a pretty girl, and she did see the officer gazing at her rapturously, and she quite forgot Othello, and gave back look for look, only more shy and less intense perhaps, and knew that Norman Mann was very angry and she and the officer very happy. What matter though the one should hate her, and the other love her, and she—
But, bother all things but the delirious present moment. Never fear consequences. There were bright lights, and brilliant people, the hum of many voices, the flash of many eyes, and a half secret between her, this little creature up in the box, and the very handsomest man of them all.
So while Othello fell about the stage, and ground out tremendous curses, Mae half shivered and glanced tremblingly toward Bero, and Bero gazed back protectingly and grandly. Once, when Desdemona cried out thrillingly, "Othello, il mio marito," Mae looked at Norman involuntarily and caught a half flash of his eye, but he turned back quickly to his companion and Mae's glance wandered on to Bero and rested there as the wild voice cried out again, "il mio marito, il mio marito."
So the evening slid on. Mae smiled and smiled and opened and half closed her eyes, and Norman invited Miss Rae to go to church with him, and to drive with him, and to walk with him, and to go to the galleries with him, "until, Susie Hopkins, if you will believe it, I fairly thought he would drop on his knees and ask me to go through life with him, right then and there." So Miss Rae confided to Susie Hopkins after the victorious night, in the silence of a fourth-story Costanzi bedroom.
Susie Hopkins was putting her hair up on crimping-pins, but she paused long enough to say: "Well, Jack Durkee had better hurry himself and his ring along, then."
"O, he's coming as quickly as ever he can," laughed Miss Rae, whereat she proceeded to place a large letter and a picture under the left-hand pillow, crimped her hair, cold-creamed her lips, and laid her down to pleasant dreams of—Jack.
Mae was very much ashamed of herself the next morning. She had been restored in a measure to popular favor, through Eric, the day before. Edith and Albert were home from Frascati, when Eric made his raid bravely on their forces combined with those of Mrs. Jerrold. He advanced boldly. "It's all nonsense, child, as she is," he said. "It was natural enough, to talk with the man," for Mae had made a clean breast of her misdoings to him, to the extent of saying that they had chatted after the beggar left. "Do forgive her, poor little proud tot, away across the sea from her mother. Albert, you're as hard as a rock, and that Edith has no spirit in her," he added, under his breath. This remark made Albert white with rage. Nevertheless, he put in a plea for his wayward, reckless little sister, with effect. After a few more remarks from Mrs. Jerrold, Mae came out of the ordeal; was treated naturally, and, as we have seen, accompanied Mrs. Jerrold to the play the night before.
Now, it was the next day. Mrs. Jerrold breakfasted in her own room again, and spent the hours in writing home letters full of the Peter and Paul reminiscences and quotations. Norman and Eric left for the Costanzi, and Albert and Edith, armed with books, and note-books, and the small camp-stools, again started away together. This last 'again' was getting to be accepted quite as a matter of course. Everybody knew what it meant. They always invited the rest of the company to go with them, and were especially urgent, this morning, that Mae should accompany them.
"Why, with mamma in her room you will be lonely," suggested Edith, "and you can't go out by yourself."
Mae winced inwardly at this, but replied pleasantly: "I have letters to write also, and I'm not in the mood to-day for pictures, and the cold, chilling galleries filled with the damp breath of the ages."
So Edith and Albert, nothing loth, having discharged their duty, started off. These two have as yet appeared only in the background, and may have assumed a half-priggish air in opposition and contrast to Mae. They really, however, were very interesting young people. Albert with a strong desire in his heart—or was it in his head?—to aid the world, and Edith with a clear self-possession and New England shrewdness that helped and pleased him. Their travels were enriching them both. Edith was trying to draw the soul from all the great pictures and some of the lesser ones, and Albert was waking, through her influence, to the world of art. This morning they were on their way to the Transfiguration to study the scornful sister. They were taking the picture bit by bit, color by color, face by face. There are advantages in this analytical study, yet there is a chance of losing the spirit of the whole. So Mae thought and said: "I know that sister now, Edith, better than you ever will." This was while she was looping up her friend's dress here, and pulling out a fold there, in that destructive way girls have of beautifying each other. "See here!"
And down sank Miss Mae on her knees, with her lips curved, and her hands stretched out imploringly, half-mockingly. No need of words to say: "Save my brother, behold him. Ah, you cannot do it, your power is boast. Yet, save him, pray."
"A little more yellow in my hair, some pearls and a pink gown, and you might have the sister to study in a living model, Edith," laughed Mae, arising.
Edith and Albert were both struck by Mae's dramatic force, and they talked of her as they drove to the Vatican. "I wish I understood her better," said Edith. "I cannot feel as if travel were doing her good. She is changing so; she was always odd, but then she was always happy. Now she has her moods, and there is a look in her eye I am afraid of. It is almost savage. You would think the beauty in Rome would delight her nature, for she craves beauty and poetry in everything. I don't believe the theatre is good for her. Albert, suppose we give up our tickets for Thursday night."
"But you want particularly to see that play, Edith."
"I can easily give it up for Mae's sake. It would be cruel to go without her, and I think excitement is bad for her."
"You are very generous, Edith, and right, too, I dare say. I wish my little sister could see pleasure and duty through your steadier, clearer eyes."
Then the steady, clear eyes dropped suddenly, and the two forgot all about Mae, and rolled contentedly off, behind the limping Italian horse. And the red-cheeked vetturino with the flower in his button-hole, whistled a love-song, and thought of his Piametta, I suppose.
Meantime, Mae, left to herself, grew penitent and reckless by turns, blushed alternately with shame and with quick pulse-beats, as she remembered Norman Mann's face, or the officer's smile. She wondered where he lived, and whether she would see him soon again. Poor child! She was really innocent, and only dimly surmised how he would haunt her hereafter. Would he look well in citizen's clothes? How would Norman Mann seem in his uniform? She wished she had a jacket cut like his. And so on in an indolent way. But penitence was getting the better of her, and after vainly trying to read or write, she settled herself down for a cry. To think that she, Mae Madden, could have acted so absurdly. She never would forgive herself, never. Then she cried some more, a good deal more.
About four in the afternoon a very bright sunbeam peeped through her closed blinds, and she brushed away her tears, and peace came back to her small heart, and she felt like a New England valley after a shower, very fresh and clean, and goodly,—just a trifle subdued, however.
She would go to church. She had heard that there was lovely music at vespers, in the little church at the foot of Capo le Case. St. Andrea delle Frate, was it? It wasn't very far away. She could say her prayers and repent entirely and wholly. So she dressed rapidly, singing the familiar old Te Deum joyously all the while, and off she started.
The air was cool and clear and delicious and the street-scenes were pretty. Mae took in everything before her as she left the house, from the Barberini fountain to the groups of models at the corner of the Square and the Via Felice; but she did not see, at some distance behind her, on the opposite side of the street, the sudden start of a motionless figure as she left the house, or know that it straightened itself and moved along as she did, turning on to the pretty Via Sistina, so down the hill at Capo le Case, to the church below.
She was early for vespers, and there was only the music singing in her own happy little heart as she entered the quiet place. The contrast between the spot, with its shrines and symbols and aids to faith, and all that she had associated with religion, conspired to separate her from herself and her past, and left her a bit of breathing, worshiping life, praising the great Giver of Life. She fell on her knees in an exalted, jubilate spirit. She was more like a Praise-the-Lord psalm of David than like a young girl of the nineteenth century.
And yet close behind her, a little to the left, was Bero on his knees too, at his pater nosters.
By and by the music began. It was music beyond description; those wonderful male voices, the chorus of young boys, and then suddenly, the organ and some one wild falsetto carrying the great Latin soul-laden words up higher.
All this while Mae's head was bent low and her heart was a-praying.
All this while Bero was on his knees also, but his eyes were on Mae.
The music ceased; the prayers were ended. Mae heard indistinctly the sweep of trailing skirts, the sound of footsteps on the marble floor, the noise of voices as the people went away, but still she did not move. The selah pause had come after the psalm.
When she did rise, and turn, and start to go, her eyes fell on the kneeling form. She tried to pass quickly without recognition, but he reached out his hand.
"This is a church," said Mae; "my prayers are sacred; do not disturb me."
He held his rosary toward her, with the cross at the end tightly clasped in his hand. "My prayers are here, too," he said. "Oh, Signorina, give me one little prayer, one of your little prayers."
He knelt before her in the quiet, dim, half light, his hands clasped, and an intense earnestness in his easily moved Italian soul, that floated up to his face. It looked like beautiful penitence and faith to Mae. Here was a soul in sympathy with hers, one which met her harmoniously in every mood, slid into her dreams and wild wishes, sparkled with her enjoyment, and now knelt as she knelt, and asked for one of her prayers.
She stood a minute irresolute. Then she smiled down on him a full, rich smile, and said in English: "God bless you," The next moment she was gone.
Bero made no movement to follow her, but remained quietly on his knees, his head bowed low.
* * * * *
"I looked in at St. Andrea's, at vespers," said that dear, bungling fellow, Eric, at dinner that night, "and saw you Mae, but you were so busy with your prayers I came away." There was a pause, and Mae knew that people looked at her.
"Yes, I was there; the music was wonderful."
"Mae," asked Mrs. Jerrold, "Do you have to go to a Roman Catholic Church to say your prayers?" For Mrs. Jerrold was a Puritan of the Puritans, and had breathed in the shorter catechism and the doctrine of election with the mountain air and sea-salt of her childhood. Possibly the two former had had as much to do as the latter with her angularity and severe strength.
"Indeed," cried Mae, impulsively, "I wish I could always enter a church to say my prayers. There is so much to help one there."
"Is there any danger of your becoming a Romanist?" enquired Mrs. Jerrold, pushing the matter further.
"I wish there were a chance of my becoming anything half as good, but I am afraid there isn't. Still, I turn with an occasional loyal heart-beat to the great Mother Church, that the rest of you have all run away from." "Yes, you have," Mae shook her head decidedly at Edith. "She may be a cruel mother. I know you all think she's like the old woman who lived in a shoe, and that she whips her children and sends them supperless to bed, and gives them a stone for bread, but she's the mother of all of us, notwithstanding."
"What a dreadful mixture of Mother Goose and Holy Bible," exclaimed Eric, laughingly, while Mae cooled off, and Mrs. Jerrold stared amazedly, wondering how to take this tirade. She concluded at last that it would be better to let it pass as one of Mae's extravagances, so she ended the conversation by saying: "I hope, Eric, you will wait for your sister, if you see her alone, at church. It is not the thing for her to go by herself."
"No," added Albert, "we shall have to buy a chain for you soon."
"If you do," said Mae quietly, "I'll slip it." And not another prayer did she say that night.
It was the first day of Carnival. The determination to enjoy herself was so strong in Mae, that her face fairly shone with her "good time coming." She popped her head out of the doorway, and flung a big handful of confetti right at Eric, but he dodged, and Norman Mann caught it in his face. Then, seeing a try-to-be-dignified look creeping upon Mae, he seized the golden moment, gathered up such remnants of confetti as were tangled in his hair and whiskers, and flung them back again, shouting: "Long live King Pasquino! So his reign has begun, has it?"