Henry James Collection: The Complete Novels, Short Stories, Plays, Travel Writings, Essays, Autobiographies
8643 pages
English

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Henry James Collection: The Complete Novels, Short Stories, Plays, Travel Writings, Essays, Autobiographies

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8643 pages
English

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In this book you will find the following works:
THE NOVELS
Watch and Ward, Roderick Hudson, The American, The Europeans, Confidence, Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima, The Reverberator, The Tragic Muse, The Other House, The Spoils of Poynton, What Maisie Knew, The Awkward Age, The Sacred Fount, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, The Golden Bowl, The Outcry, The Whole Family, The Ivory Tower, The Sense of the Past
THE TALES
A Tragedy of Error, The Story of a Year, A Landscape-Painter, A Day of Days, My Friend Bingham, Poor Richard, The Story of a Masterpiece, The Romance of Certain Old Clothes, A Most Extraordinary Case, A Problem, etc.
THE PLAYS
Pyramus And Thisbe, Still Waters, A Change of Heart, Daisy Miller, Tenants, Disengaged, The Album, The Reprobate, Guy Domville, Summersoft, The High Bid, The Outcry
THE TRAVEL WRITING
Transatlantic Sketches, Portraits of Places, A Little Tour in France, English Hours, The American Scene, Italian Hours
THE CRITICISM
French Novelists and Poets, Hawthorne, Partial Portraits, Essays in London and Elsewhere, Picture and Text, Views and Reviews, Notes on Novelists, Within the Rim and Other Essays, Notes and Reviews
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHIES
A Small Boy and Others, Notes of a Son and Brother, The Middle Years
This edition has been professionally formatted and contains several tables of contents. The first table of contents (at the very beginning of the ebook) lists the titles of all novels included in this volume. By clicking on one of those titles you will be redirected to the beginning of that work, where you'll find a new TOC that lists all the chapters and sub-chapters of that specific work.

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Publié par
Date de parution 06 décembre 2019
Nombre de lectures 2
EAN13 9789897786518
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo

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Exrait

The Complete Works of HENRY JAMES
contents—works
The Novels
The Tales
The Plays
The Travel Writing
The Criticism
The Autobiographies
henry james’ complete works
THE NOVELS

contents—novels
Watch and Ward
1871
Roderick Hudson
1875
The American
1877
The Europeans
1878
Confidence
1879
Washington Square
1880
The Portrait of a Lady
1881
The Bostonians
1886
The Princess Casamassima

The Reverberator
1888
The Tragic Muse
1890
The Other House
1896
The Spoils of Poynton
1897
What Maisie Knew

The Awkward Age
1899
The Sacred Fount
1901
The Wings of the Dove
1902
The Ambassadors
1903
The Golden Bowl
1904
The Outcry
1908
The Whole Family
1911
The Ivory Tower
1917
The Sense of the Past
henry james’ novels
1871
WATCH AND WARD
The Atlantic Monthly, 1871.

contents—watch
Part First
I  II
Part Second
III  IV
Part Third
V  VI
Part Fourth
VII  VIII
Part Fifth
IX  X  XI
Part First
I
Roger Lawrence had come to town for the express purpose of doing a certain act, but as the hour for action approached he felt his ardor rapidly ebbing away. Of the ardor that comes from hope, indeed, he had felt little from the first; so little that as he whirled along in the train he wondered to find himself engaged in this fool’s errand. But in default of hope he was sustained, I may almost say, by despair. He would fail, he was sure, but he must fail again before he could rest. Meanwhile he was restless enough. In the evening, at his hotel, having roamed aimlessly about the streets for a couple of hours in the dark December cold, he went up to his room and dressed, with a painful sense of having but partly succeeded in giving himself the tournure of an impassioned suitor. He was twenty-nine years old, sound and strong, with a tender heart, and a genius, almost, for common sense; his face told clearly of youth and kindness and sanity, but it had little other beauty. His complexion was so fresh as to be almost absurd in a man of his age,—an effect rather enhanced by a precocious partial baldness. Being extremely short-sighted, he went with his head thrust forward; but as this infirmity is considered by persons who have studied the picturesque to impart an air of distinction, he may have the benefit of the possibility. His figure was compact and sturdy, and, on the whole, his best point; although, owing to an incurable personal shyness, he had a good deal of awkwardness of movement. He was fastidiously neat in his person, and extremely precise and methodical in his habits, which were of the sort supposed to mark a man for bachelorhood. The desire to get the better of his diffidence had given him a somewhat ponderous formalism of manner, which many persons found extremely amusing. He was remarkable for the spotlessness of his linen, the high polish of his boots, and the smoothness of his hat. He carried in all weathers a peculiarly neat umbrella. He never smoked; he drank in moderation. His voice, instead of being the robust barytone which his capacious chest led you to expect, was a mild, deferential tenor. He was fond of going early to bed, and was suspected of what is called “fussing” with his health. No one had ever accused him of meanness, yet he passed universally for a cunning economist. In trifling matters, such as the choice of a shoemaker or a dentist, his word carried weight; but no one dreamed of asking his opinion in politics or literature. Here and there, nevertheless, an observer less superficial than the majority would have whispered you that Roger was an under-valued man, and that in the long run he would come out even with the best. “Have you ever studied his face?” such an observer would say. Beneath its simple serenity, over which his ruddy blushes seemed to pass like clouds in a summer sky, there slumbered a fund of exquisite human expression. The eye was excellent; small, perhaps, and somewhat dull, but with a certain appealing depth, like the tender dumbness in the gaze of a dog. In repose Lawrence may have looked stupid; but as he talked his face slowly brightened by gradual fine degrees, until at the end of an hour it inspired you with a confidence so perfect as to be in some degree a tribute to its owner’s intellect, as it certainly was to his integrity. On this occasion Roger dressed himself with unusual care and with a certain sober elegance. He debated for three minutes over two cravats, and then, blushing in his mirror at his puerile vanity, he replaced the plain black tie in which he had travelled. When he had finished dressing, it was still too early to go forth on his errand. He went into the reading-room of the hotel, but here there soon appeared two smokers. Wishing not to be infected by their fumes, he crossed over to the great empty drawing-room, sat down, and beguiled his impatience with trying on a pair of lavender gloves.
While he was thus engaged there came into the room a person who attracted his attention by the singularity of his conduct. This was a man of less than middle age, good-looking, pale, with a rather pretentious blond mustache, and various shabby remnants of finery. His face was haggard, his whole aspect was that of grim and hopeless misery. He walked straight to the table in the centre of the room, and poured out and drank without stopping three full glasses of ice-water, as if he were striving to quench the fury of some inner fever. He then went to the window, leaned his forehead against the cold pane, and drummed a nervous tattoo with his long stiff finger-nails. Finally he strode over to the fireplace, flung himself into a chair, leaned forward with his head in his hands, and groaned audibly. Lawrence, as he smoothed down his lavender gloves, watched him and reflected: “What an image of fallen prosperity, of degradation and despair! I have been fancying myself in trouble; I have been dejected, doubtful, anxious. I’m hopeless. But what is my sentimental sorrow to this?” The unhappy gentleman rose from his chair, turned his back to the chimney-piece, and stood with folded arms gazing at Lawrence, who was seated opposite to him. The young man sustained his glance, but with sensible discomfort. His face was as white as ashes, his eyes were as lurid as coals. Roger had never seen anything so tragic as the two long harsh lines which descended from his nose beside his mouth, showing almost black on his chalky skin, and seeming to satirize the silly drooping ends of his fair relaxed mustache. Lawrence felt that his companion was going to address him; he began to draw off his gloves. The stranger suddenly came towards him, stopped a moment, eyed him again with insolent intensity, and then seated himself on the sofa beside him. His first movement was to seize the young man’s arm. “He’s simply crazy!” thought Lawrence. Roger was now able to appreciate the pathetic disrepair of his appearance. His open waistcoat displayed a soiled and crumpled shirt-bosom, from whose empty button-holes the studs had recently been wrenched. In his normal freshness the man must have looked like a gambler with a run of luck. He spoke in a rapid, excited tone, with a hard, petulant voice.
“You’ll think me crazy, I suppose. Well, I shall be soon. Will you lend me a hundred dollars?”
“Who are you? What’s your trouble?” Roger asked.
“My name would tell you nothing. I’m a stranger here. My trouble,—it’s a long story! But it’s grievous, I assure you. It’s pressing upon me with a fierceness that grows while I sit here talking to you. A hundred dollars would stave it off,—a few days at least. Don’t refuse me!” These last words were uttered half as an entreaty, half as a threat. “Don’t say you haven’t got them,—a man that wears gloves like that! Come! you look like a good fellow. Look at me! I’m a good fellow, too! I don’t need to swear to my being in distress.”
Lawrence was moved, disgusted, and irritated. The man’s distress was real enough, but there was something flagrantly dissolute and unsavory in his expression and tone. Roger declined to entertain his request without learning more about him. From the stranger’s persistent reluctance to do more than simply declare that he was from St. Louis, and repeat that he was in trouble, in hideous, overwhelming trouble, Lawrence was led to believe that he had been dabbling in crime. The more he insisted upon some definite statement of his circumstances, the more fierce and peremptory became the other’s petition. Lawrence was before all things deliberate and perspicacious, the last man in the world to be hustled or bullied. It was quite out of his nature to do a thing without distinctly knowing why. He of course had no imagination, which, as we know, should always stand at the right hand of charity; but he had good store of that wholesome discretion whose place is at the left. Discretion told him that his companion was a dissolute scoundrel, who had sinned through grievous temptation, perhaps, but who had certainly sinned. His perfect misery was incontestable. Roger felt that he could not cancel his misery without in some degree sanctioning his vices. It was not in his power, at any rate, to present him, out of hand, a hundred dollars. He compromised. “I can’t think of giving you the sum you ask,” he said. “I have no time, moreover, to investigate your case at present. If you will meet me here to-morrow morning, I will listen to anything more you may have made up your mind to say. Meanwhile, here are ten dollars.”
The man looked at the proffered note and made no movement to accept it. Then raising his eyes to Roger’s face,—eyes streaming with tears of helpless rage and baffled want: “O, the devil!” he cried. “What can I do with ten dollars? Damn it, I don’t know how to beg. Listen to me! If you don’t give me what I ask, I shall cut my throat! Think of that! on your head be the penalty!”
Lawrence repocketed his note and rose to his feet. “No, decidedly,” he said, “you don’t know how to beg!” A moment after, he had left the hotel and was walking rapidly toward a well-remembered dwelling. He was shocked and discomposed by this brutal collision with want and vice; but, as he walked, the cool night air restored the healthy tone of his sensibilities. The image of his heated petitioner was speedily replaced by the calmer figure of Isabel Morton.
He had come to know her three years before, through a visit she had then made to one of his neighbors in the country. In spite of his unventurous tastes and the even tenor of his habits, Lawrence was by no means lacking, as regards life, in what the French call les grandes curiosites ; but from an early age his curiosity had chiefly taken the form of a timid but strenuous desire to fathom the depths of matrimony. He had dreamed of this gentle bondage as other men dream of the “free unhoused condition” of celibacy. He had been born a marrying man, with a conscious desire for progeny. The world in this respect had not done him justice. It had supposed him to be wrapped up in his petty comforts; whereas, in fact, he was serving a devout apprenticeship to the profession of husband and father. Feeling at twenty-six that he had something to offer a woman, he allowed himself to become interested in Miss Morton. It was rather odd that a man of tremors and blushes should in this line have been signally bold; for Miss Morton had the reputation of being extremely fastidious, and was supposed to wear some dozen broken hearts on her girdle, as an Indian wears the scalps of his enemies.
It is said that, as a rule, men fall in love with their opposites; certainly Lawrence complied with the rule. He was the most unobtrusively natural of men; she, on the other hand, was preeminently artificial. She was pretty, but not really so pretty as she seemed; clever, but not intelligent; amiable, but not generous. She possessed in perfection the manner of society, which she lavished with indiscriminate grace on the just and the unjust, and which very effectively rounded and completed the somewhat meagre outline of her personal character. In reality, Miss Morton was keenly ambitious. A woman of simpler needs, she might very well have accepted our hero. He offered himself with urgent and obstinate warmth. She esteemed him more than any man she had known,—so she told him; but she added that the man she married must satisfy her heart. Her heart, she did not add, was bent upon a carriage and diamonds.
From the point of view of ambition, a match with Roger Lawrence was not worth discussing. He was therefore dismissed with gracious but inexorable firmness. From this moment the young man’s sentiment hardened into a passion. Six months later he heard that Miss Morton was preparing to go to Europe. He sought her out before her departure and urged his suit afresh, with the same result. But his passion had cost too much to be flung away unused. During her residence abroad he wrote her three letters, only one of which she briefly answered, in terms which amounted to little more than this: “Dear Mr. Lawrence, do leave me alone!” At the end of two years she returned, and was now visiting her married brother. Lawrence had just heard of her arrival and had come to town to make, as we have said, a supreme appeal.
Her brother and his wife were out for the evening; Roger found her in the drawing-room, under the lamp, teaching a stitch in crochet to her niece, a little girl of ten, who stood leaning at her side. She seemed to him prettier than before; although, in fact, she looked older and stouter. Her prettiness, for the most part, however, was a matter of coquetry; and naturally, as youth departed, coquetry filled the vacancy. She was fair and plump, and she had a very pretty trick of suddenly turning her head and showing a charming white throat and ear. Above her well-filled corsage these objects produced a most agreeable effect. She always dressed in light colors and with perfect certainty of taste. Charming as she may have been, there was, nevertheless, about her so marked a want of the natural, that, to admire her particularly, it was necessary to be, like Roger, in love with her. She received him with such flattering friendliness and so little apparent suspicion of his purpose, that he almost took heart and hope. If she didn’t fear a declaration, perhaps she desired it. For the first half-hour it hung fire. Roger sat dumbly sensitive to the tempered brightness of her presence. She talked to better purpose than before she went abroad, and if Roger had ever doubted, he might have believed now with his eyes shut. For the moment he sat tongue-tied for very modesty. Miss Morton’s little niece was a very pretty child; her hair was combed out into a golden cloud, which covered her sloping shoulders. She kept her place beside her aunt, clasping one of the latter’s hands, and staring at Lawrence with that sweet curiosity of little girls. There glimmered mistily in the young man’s brain a vision of a home-scene in the future,—a lamp-lit parlor on a winter night, a placid wife and mother, wreathed in household smiles, a golden-haired child, and, in the midst, his sentient self, drunk with possession and gratitude. As the clock struck nine, the little girl was sent to bed, having been kissed by her aunt and rekissed, or unkissed shall I say? by her aunt’s lover. When she had disappeared, Roger proceeded to business. He had proposed so often to Miss Morton, that, actually, practice had begun to tell. It took but a few moments to make his meaning plain. Miss Morton addressed herself to her niece’s tapestry, and as her lover went on with manly eloquence, glanced up at him from her work with womanly finesse . He spoke of his persistent love, of his long waiting and his passionate hope. Her acceptance of his hand was the main condition of his happiness. He should never love another woman; if she now refused him, it was the end of all things; he should continue to exist, to work and act, to eat and sleep, but he should have ceased to live .
“In heaven’s name,” he said, “don’t answer me as you have answered me before.”
She folded her hands, and with a serious smile; “I shall not, altogether,” she said. “When I have refused you before, I have simply told you that I couldn’t love you. I can’t love you, Mr. Lawrence! I must repeat it again to-night, but with a better reason than before. I love another man: I’m engaged.”
Roger rose to his feet like a man who has received a heavy blow and springs forward in self-defence. But he was indefensible, his assailant inattackable. He sat down again and hung his head. Miss Morton came to him and took his hand and demanded of him, as a right, that he should be resigned. “Beyond a certain point,” she said, “you have no right to obtrude upon me the expression of your regret. The injury I do you in refusing you is less than that I should do you in accepting you without love.”
He looked at her with his eyes full of tears. “Well! I shall never marry,” he said. “There’s something you can’t refuse me. Though I shall never possess you, I may at least espouse your memory and live in intimate union with your image; spend my life on my knees before it!” She smiled at this fine talk; she had heard so much in her day! He had fancied himself prepared for the worst, but as he walked back to his hotel, it seemed intolerably bitter. Its bitterness, however, quickened his temper and prompted a violent reaction. He would now, he declared, cast his lot with pure reason. He had tried love and faith, but they would none of him. He had made a woman a goddess, and she had made him a fool. He would henceforth care neither for woman nor man, but simply for comfort, and, if need should be, for pleasure. Beneath this gathered gust of cynicism the future lay as hard and narrow as the silent street before him. He was absurdly unconscious that good-humor was lurking round the very next corner.
It was not till near morning that he was able to sleep. His sleep, however, had lasted less than an hour when it was interrupted by a loud noise from the adjoining room. He started up in bed, lending his ear to the stillness. The sound was immediately repeated; it was that of a pistol-shot. This second report was followed by a loud shrill cry. Roger jumped out of bed, thrust himself into his trousers, quitted his room, and ran to the neighboring door. It opened without difficulty, and revealed an astonishing scene. In the middle of the floor lay a man, in his trousers and shirt, his head bathed in blood, his hand grasping the pistol from which he had just sent a bullet through his brain. Beside him stood a little girl in her night-dress, her long hair on her shoulders, shrieking and wringing her hands. Stooping over the prostrate body, Roger recognized, in spite of his bedabbled visage, the person who had addressed him in the parlor of the hotel. He had kept the spirit, if not the letter, of his menace. “O father, father, father!” sobbed the little girl. Roger, overcome with horror and pity, stooped towards her and opened his arms. She, conscious of nothing but the presence of human help, rushed into his embrace and buried her head in his grasp.
The rest of the house was immediately aroused, and the room invaded by a body of lodgers and servants. Soon followed a couple of policemen, and finally the proprietor in person. The fact of suicide was so apparent that Roger’s presence was easily explained. From the child nothing but sobs could be obtained. After a vast amount of talking and pushing and staring, after a physician had affirmed that the stranger was dead, and the ladies had passed the child from hand to hand through a bewildering circle of caresses and questions, the multitude dispersed, and the little girl was borne away in triumph by the proprietor’s wife, further investigation being appointed for the morrow. For Roger, seemingly, this was to have been a night of sensations. There came to him, as it wore away, a cruel sense of his own accidental part in his neighbor’s tragedy. His refusal to help the poor man had brought on the catastrophe. The idea haunted him awhile; but at last, with an effort, he dismissed it. The next man, he assured himself, would have done no more than he, might possibly have done less. He felt, however, a certain indefeasible fellowship in the sorrow of the little girl. He lost no time, the next morning, in calling on the wife of the proprietor. She was a kindly woman enough, but so thoroughly the mistress of a public house that she seemed to deal out her very pity over a bar. She exhibited toward her protegee a hard business-like charity which foreshadowed vividly to Roger’s mind the poor child’s probable portion in life, and repeated to him the little creature’s story, as she had been able to learn it. The father had come in early in the evening, in great trouble and excitement, and had made her go to bed. He had kissed her and cried over her, and, of course, made her cry. Late at night she was aroused by feeling him again at her bedside, kissing her, fondling her and raving over her. He bade her good night and passed into the adjoining room, where she heard him fiercely knocking about. She was very much frightened, and fancied he was out of his mind. She knew that their troubles had lately been thickening fast, and now the worst had come. Suddenly he called her. She asked what he wanted, and he bade her get out of bed and come to him. She trembled, but obeyed. On reaching the threshold of his room she saw the gas turned low, and her father standing in his shirt against the door at the other end. He ordered her to stop where she was. Suddenly she heard a loud report and felt beside her cheek the wind of a bullet. He had aimed at her with a pistol. She retreated in terror to her own bedside and buried her head in the clothes. This, however, did not prevent her from hearing a second report, followed by a deep groan. Venturing back again, she found her father on the floor, bleeding from the face. “He meant to kill her, of course,” said the landlady, “that she mightn’t be left alone in the world. It’s a queer mixture of cruelty and kindness!”
It seemed to Roger an altogether pitiful tale. He related his own interview with the deceased, and the latter’s menace of suicide. “It gives me,” he said, “a sickening sense of connection with the calamity, though a gratuitous one, I confess. Nevertheless, I wish he had taken my ten dollars.”
Of the antecedent history of the deceased they could learn little. The child had recognized Lawrence, and had broken out again into a quivering convulsion of tears. Little by little, from among her sobs, they gathered a few facts. Her father had brought her during the preceding month from St. Louis: they had stopped some time in New York. Her father had been for months in great distress and want of money. They had once had money enough; she couldn’t say what had become of it. Her mother had died many months before; she had no other kindred nor friends. Her father may have had friends, but she never saw them. She could indicate no source of possible assistance or sympathy. Roger put the poor little fragments of her story together. The most salient fact among them all was her absolute destitution.
“Well!” said the proprietress, “there are other people still to be attended to; I must go about my business. Perhaps you can learn something more.” The little girl sat on the sofa with a pale face and swollen eyes, and with a stupefied helpless stare watched her friend depart. She was by no means a pretty child. Her clear auburn hair was thrust carelessly into a net with broken meshes, and her limbs encased in a suit of shabby, pretentious mourning. In her appearance, in spite of her childish innocence and grief, there was something undeniably vulgar. “She looks as if she belonged to a circus troupe,” Roger said to himself. Her face, however, though without beauty, was not without interest. Her forehead was high and boldly rounded, and her mouth at once large and gentle. Her eyes were light in color, yet by no means colorless. A sort of arrested, concentrated brightness, a soft introversion of their rays, gave them a remarkable depth of tone. “Poor little betrayed, unfriended mortal!” thought the young man.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Nora Lambert,” said the child.
“How old are you?”
“Twelve.”
“And you live in St. Louis?”
“We used to live there. I was born there.”
“Why had your father come to the East?”
“To make money, he said.”
“Where was he going to live?”
“Anywhere he could find business.”
“What was his business?”
“He had none. He wanted to find employment.”
“To your knowledge, you say, you have no friends nor relations?”
The child gazed a few moments in silence. “He told me when he woke me up and kissed me, last night, that I hadn’t a friend in the world nor a person that cared for me.”
Before the exquisite sadness of this statement Lawrence was silent. He leaned back in his chair and looked at the child,—the little forlorn, precocious, potential woman. His own sense of recent bereavement rose powerful in his heart and seemed to respond to hers. “Nora,” he said, “come here.”
She stared a moment, without moving, and then left the sofa and came slowly towards him. She was tall for her years. She laid her hand on the arm of his chair and he took it. “You have seen me before,” he said. She nodded. “Do you remember my taking you last night in my arms?” It was his fancy that, for an answer, she faintly blushed. He laid his hand on her head and smoothed away her thick disordered hair. She submitted to his consoling touch with a plaintive docility. He put his arm round her waist. An irresistible sense of her childish sweetness, of her tender feminine promise, stole softly into his pulses. A dozen caressing questions rose to his lips. Had she been to school? Could she read and write? Was she musical? She murmured her answers with gathering confidence. She had never been to school; but her mother had taught her to read and write a little, and to play a little. She said, almost with a smile, that she was very backward. Lawrence felt the tears rising to his eyes; he felt in his heart the tumult of a new emotion. Was it the inexpugnable instinct of paternity? Was it the restless ghost of his buried hope? He thought of his angry vow the night before to live only for himself and turn the key on his heart. From the lips of babes and sucklings!—he softly mused. Before twenty-four hours had elapsed a child’s fingers were fumbling with the key. He felt deliciously contradicted; he was after all but a lame egotist. Was he to believe, then, that he couldn’t live without love, and that he must take it where he found it? His promise to Miss Morton seemed still to vibrate in his heart. But there was love and love! He could be a protector, a father, a brother! What was the child before him but a tragic embodiment of the misery of isolation, a warning from his own blank future! “God forbid!” he cried. And as he did so, he drew her towards him and kissed her.
At this moment the landlord appeared with a scrap of paper, which he had found in the room of the deceased; it being the only object which gave a clew to his circumstances. He had evidently burned a mass of papers just before his death, as the grate was filled with fresh ashes. Roger read the note, which was scrawled in a hurried, vehement hand and ran as follows:—

“This is to say that I must—I must—I must! Starving, without a friend in the world, and a reputation worse than worthless,—what can I do? Life’s impossible! Try it yourself! As regards my daughter,—anything, everything is cruel; but this is the shortest way.”
“She has had to take the longest, after all,” said the proprietor, sotto voce , with a kindly wink at Roger. The landlady soon reappeared with one of the ladies who had been present overnight,—a little pushing, patronizing woman, who seemed strangely familiar with the various devices of applied charity. “I have come to arrange,” she said, “about our subscription for the little one. I shall not be able to contribute myself, but I will go round among the other ladies with a paper. I’ve just been seeing the reporter of the ‘Universe’; he’s to insert a kind of ‘appeal,’ you know, in his account of the affair. Perhaps this gentleman will draw up our paper? And I think it will be a beautiful idea to take the child with me.”
Lawrence was sickened. The world’s tenderness had fairly begun. Nora gazed at her energetic benefactress, and then with her eyes appealed mutely to Roger. Her glance, somehow, moved him to the soul. Poor little disfathered daughter,—poor little uprooted germ of womanhood! Her innocent eyes seemed to more than beseech,—to admonish almost, and command. Should he speak and rescue her? Should he subscribe the whole sum in the name of human charity? He thought of the risk. She was an unknown quantity. Her nature, her heritage, her good and bad possibilities, were an unsolved problem. Her father had been an adventurer; what had her mother been? Conjecture was useless; she was a vague spot of light on a dark background. He was unable even to decide whether, after all, she was plain.
“If you want to take her round with you,” said the landlady to her companion, “I’d better sponge off her face.”
“No indeed!” cried the other, “she’s much better as she is. If I could only have her little night-gown with the blood on it! Are you sure the bullet didn’t strike your dress, deary? I’m sure we can easily get fifty names at five dollars apiece. Two hundred and fifty dollars. Perhaps this gentleman will make it three hundred. Come, sir, now!”
Thus adjured, Roger turned to the child. “Nora,” he said, “you know you’re quite alone. You have no home.” Her lips trembled, but her eyes were fixed and fascinated. “Do you think you could love me?” She flushed to the tender roots of her tumbled hair. “Will you come and try?” Her range of expression of course was limited; she could only answer by another burst of tears.
[]
II
I have adopted a little girl, you know,” Roger said, after this, to a number of his friends; but he felt, rather, as if she had adopted him. With the downright sense of paternity he found it somewhat difficult to make his terms. It was indeed an immense satisfaction to feel, as time went on, that there was small danger of his repenting of his bargain. It seemed to him more and more that he had obeyed a divine voice; though indeed he was equally conscious that there was something grotesque in his new condition,—in the sudden assumption of paternal care by a man who had seemed to the world to rejoice so placidly in his sleek and comfortable singleness. But for all this he found himself able to look the world squarely in the face. At first it had been with an effort, a blush, and a deprecating smile that he spoke of his pious venture; but very soon he began to take a robust satisfaction in alluding to it freely, in all companies. There was but one man of whose jocular verdict he thought with some annoyance,—his cousin Hubert Lawrence, namely, who was so terribly clever and trenchant, and who had been through life a commentator formidable to his modesty, though, in the end, always absolved by his good-nature. But he made up his mind that, though Hubert might laugh, he himself was serious; and to prove it equally to himself and his friends, he determined on a great move. He annulled his personal share in business and prepared to occupy his house in the country. The latter was immediately transformed into a home for Nora,—a home admirably fitted to become the starting-point of a happy life. Roger’s dwelling stood in the midst of certain paternal acres,—a little less than a “place,” a little more than a farm; deep in the country, and yet at two hours’ journey from town. Of recent years a dusty disorder had fallen upon the house, telling of its master’s long absences and his rare and restless visits. It was but half lived in. But beneath this pulverous deposit the austerer household gods of a former generation stand erect on their pedestals. As Nora grew older, she came to love her new home with an almost passionate fondness, and to cherish all its transmitted memories as a kind compensation for her own dissevered past. There had lived with Lawrence for many years an elderly woman, of exemplary virtue, Lucinda Brown by name, who had been a personal attendant of his mother, and since her death had remained in his service as the lonely warden of his villa. Roger had an old-time regard for her, founded upon a fancy that she preserved with pious fidelity certain graceful household traditions of his mother. It seemed to him that she might communicate to little Nora, through the medium of housewifely gossip, a ray of this lady’s peaceful domestic genius. Lucinda, who had been divided between hope and fear as to Roger’s possibly marrying,—the fear of a diminished empire having exceeded, on the whole, the hope of company below stairs,—accepted Nora’s arrival as a very comfortable compromise. The child was too young to menace her authority, and yet of sufficient importance to warrant a gradual extension of the meagre household economy. Lucinda had a vision of new carpets and curtains, of a regenerated kitchen, of a poplin dress, of her niece coming as sempstress. Nora was the narrow end of the wedge; it would broaden with her growth. Lucinda therefore was gracious.
For Roger, it seemed as if life had begun afresh and the world had put on a new face. High above the level horizon now, clearly defined against the empty sky, rose this little commanding figure, with the added magnitude that objects acquire in this position. She gave him a vast deal to think about. The child a man begets and rears weaves its existence insensibly into the tissue of his life, so that he becomes trained by fine degrees to the paternal office. But Roger had to skip experience, and spring with a bound into the paternal consciousness. In fact he missed his leap, and never tried again. Time should induct him at leisure into his proper honors, whatever they might be. He felt a strong aversion to claim in his protegee that prosaic right of property which belongs to the paternal name. He accepted with solemn glee his novel duties and cares, but he shrank with a tender humility of temper from all precise definition of his rights. He was too young and too sensible of his youth to wish to give this final turn to things. His heart was flattered, rather, by the idea of living at the mercy of that melting impermanence which beguiles us forever with deferred promises. It lay close to his heart, however, to drive away the dusky fears and sordid memories of Nora’s anterior life. He strove to conceal the past from her childish sense by a great pictured screen, as it were, of present joys and comforts. He wished her life to date from the moment he had taken her home. He had taken her for better, for worse; but he longed to quench all baser chances in the broad daylight of prosperity. His philosophy in this as in all things was extremely simple,—to make her happy, that she might be good. Meanwhile, as he cunningly devised her happiness, his own seemed securely established. He felt twice as much a man as before, and the world seemed as much again a world. All his small stale virtues became fragrant, to his soul, with the borrowed sweetness of their unselfish use.
One of his first acts, before he left town, had been to divest her of her shabby mourning and dress her afresh in light, childish colors. He learned from the proprietor’s wife at his hotel that this was considered by several ladies interested in Nora’s fortunes (especially by her of the subscription) an act of awful impiety; but he held to his purpose, nevertheless. When she was freshly arrayed, he took her to a photographer and made her sit for half a dozen portraits. They were not flattering; they gave her an aged, sombre, lifeless air. He showed them to two old ladies of his acquaintance, whose judgment he valued, without saying whom they represented; the ladies pronounced her a little monster. It was directly after this that Roger hurried her away to the peaceful, uncritical country. Her manner here for a long time remained singularly docile and spiritless. She was not exactly sad, but neither was she cheerful. She smiled, as if from the fear to displease by not smiling. She had the air of a child who has been much alone, and who has learned quite to underestimate her natural right to amusement. She seemed at times hopelessly, defiantly torpid. “Good heavens!” thought Roger, as he surreptitiously watched her; “is she stupid?” He perceived at last, however, that her listless quietude covered a great deal of observation, and that she led a silent, active life of her own. His ignorance of her past distressed and vexed him, jealous as he was of admitting even to himself that she had ever lived till now. He trod on tiptoe in the region of her early memories, in the dread of reviving some dormant claim, some unclean ghost. Yet he felt that to know so little of her twelve first years was to reckon without an important factor in his problem; as if, in spite of his summons to all the fairies for this second baptism, the godmother-in-chief lurked maliciously apart, with intent to arrive at the end of years and spoil the birthday feast. Nora seemed by instinct to have perceived the fitness of her not speaking of her own affairs, and indeed displayed in the matter a precocious good taste. Among her scanty personal effects the only object referring too vividly to the past had been a small painted photograph of her mother, a languid-looking lady in a low-necked dress, with a good deal of prettiness, in spite of the rough handling of the colorist. Nora had apparently a timid reserve of vanity in the fact, which she once imparted to Roger with a kind of desperate abruptness, that her mother had been a public singer; and the heterogeneous nature of her own culture testified to some familiarity with the scenery of Bohemia. The common relations of things seemed quite reversed in her brief experience, and immaturity and precocity shared her young mind in the freest fellowship. She was ignorant of the plainest truths, and credulous of the quaintest falsities; unversed in the commonest learning, and instructed in the rarest. She barely knew that the earth is round, but she knew that Leonora is the heroine of Il Trovatore . She could neither write nor spell, but she could perform the most startling tricks with cards. She confessed to a passion for strong green tea, and to an interest in the romances of the Sunday newspapers which, with many other productions of the same complexion, she seemed to have perused by that subtle divining process common to illiterate children. Evidently she had sprung from a horribly vulgar soil; she was a brand snatched from the burning. She uttered various improper words with the most guileless accent and glance, and was as yet equally unsuspicious of the grammar and the Catechism. But when once Roger had straightened out her phrase, she was careful to preserve its shape; and when he had solemnly proscribed these all-too-innocent words, they seldom reappeared. For the rudiments of theological learning, also, she manifested a due respect. Considering the make-shift process of her growth, he marvelled that it had not straggled into even more perilous places. His impression of her father was fatal, ineffaceable; the late Mr. Lambert had been a blackguard. Roger had a fancy, however, that this was not all the truth. He was free to assume that the poor fellow’s wife had been of a gentle nurture and temper; and he had even framed on this theme an ingenious little romance, which gave him a great deal of comfort. Mrs. Lambert had been deceived by the lacquered plausibility of her husband, and had awaked after marriage to a life of shifting expedients and struggling poverty, during which she had been glad to turn to account the voice which the friends of her happier girlhood had praised. She had died outwearied and broken-hearted, invoking human pity on her child. Roger established in this way a sentimental intimacy with the poor lady’s spirit, and exchanged many a greeting over the little girl’s head with this vague maternal shape. But he was by no means given up to these imaginative joys; he addressed himself vigorously to the practical needs of the case. He determined to drive in the first nail with his own hands, to lay the first smooth foundation-stones of her culture, to teach her to read and write and cipher, to associate himself largely with the growth of her primal sense of things. Behold him thus converted into a gentle pedagogue, wooing with mild inflections the timid ventures of her thought. A moted morning sunbeam used to enter his little study and, resting on Nora’s auburn hair, seemed to make of the place a humming school-room. Roger began also to anticipate the future needs of preceptorship. He plunged into a course of useful reading, and devoured a hundred volumes on education, on hygiene, on morals, on history. He drew up a table of rules and observances for the child’s health; he weighed and measured her food, and spent hours with Lucinda, the minister’s wife, and the doctor, in the discussion of her regimen and clothing. He bought her a pony, and rode with her over the neighboring country, roamed with her in the woods and fields, and made discreet provision of society among the little damsels of the country-side. A doting grandmother, in all this matter, could not have shown a finer genius for detail. His zeal indeed left him very little peace, and Lucinda often endeavored to assuage it by the assurance that he was fretting himself away and wearing himself thin on his happiness. He passed a dozen times a week from the fear of coddling and spoiling the child to the fear of letting her run wild and grow vulgar amid too much rusticity. Sometimes he dismissed her tasks for days together, and kept her idling at his side in the winter sunshine; sometimes for a week he kept her within doors, reading to her, preaching to her, showing her prints, and telling her stories. She had an excellent musical ear, and the promise of a charming voice; Roger took counsel in a dozen quarters as to whether he ought to make her use her voice or spare it. Once he took her up to town to a matinee at one of the theatres, and was in anguish for a week afterwards, lest he had quickened some inherited tendency to dissipation. He used to lie awake at night, trying hard to fix in his mind the happy medium between coldness and weak fondness. With a heart full of tenderness, he used to dole out his caresses. He was in doubt for a long time as to what he should have her call him. At the outset he decided instinctively against “father.” It was a question between “Mr. Lawrence” and his baptismal name. He weighed the proprieties for a week, and then he determined the child should choose for herself. She had as yet avoided addressing him by name; at last he asked what name she preferred. She stared rather blankly at the time, but a few days afterwards he heard her shouting “Roger!” from the garden under his window. She had ventured upon a small shallow pond enclosed by his land, and now coated with thin ice. The ice had cracked with a great report under her tread, and was swaying gently beneath her weight, at some yards from the edge. In her alarm her heart had chosen, and her heart’s election was never subsequently gainsaid. Circumstances seemed to affect her slowly; for a long time she showed few symptoms of change. Roger in his slippers, by the fireside, in the winter evenings, used to gaze at her with an anxious soul, and wonder whether it was not only a stupid child that could sit for an hour by the chimney-corner, stroking the cat’s back in absolute silence, asking no questions and telling no lies. Then, musing upon a certain positive, elderly air in her brow and eyes, he would fancy that she was wiser than he knew; that she was mocking him or judging him, and counter-plotting his pious labors with elfish gravity. Arrange it as he might, he could not call her pretty. Plain women are apt to be clever; mightn’t she (horror of horrors!) turn out too clever? In the evening, after she had attended Nora to bed, Lucinda would come into the little library, and she and Roger would solemnly put their heads together. In matters in which he deemed her sex gave her an advantage of judgment, he used freely to ask her opinion. She made a vast parade of motherly science, rigid spinster as she was, and hinted by many a nod and wink at the mystic depths of her penetration. As to the child’s being thankless or heartless, she quite reassured him. Didn’t she cry herself to sleep, under her breath, on her little pillow? Didn’t she mention him every night in her prayers,—him, and him alone? However much her family may have left to be desired as a “family,”—and of its shortcomings in this respect Lucinda had an altogether awful sense,—Nora was clearly a lady in her own right. As for her plain face, they could wait awhile for a change. Plainness in a child was almost always prettiness in a woman; and at all events, if she was not to be pretty, she need never be vain.
Roger had no wish to cultivate in his young companion any expression of formal gratitude; for it was the very key-stone of his plan that their relation should ripen into a perfect matter of course; but he watched patiently, like a wandering botanist for the first woodland violets for the year, for the shy field-flower of spontaneous affection. He aimed at nothing more or less than to inspire the child with a passion. Until he had detected in her glance and tone the note of passionate tenderness, his experiment must have failed. It would have succeeded on the day when she should break out into cries and tears and tell him with a clinging embrace that she loved him. So he argued with himself; but, in fact, he expected perhaps more than belongs to the lame logic of this life. As a child, she would be too irreflective to play so pretty a part; as a young girl, too self-conscious. I undertake to tell no secrets, however. Roger, thanks to a wholesome reserve of temper in the matter of sentiment, continued to possess his soul in patience. She meanwhile, seemingly, showed as little of distrust as of positive tenderness. She grew and grew in ungrudged serenity. It was in person, first, that she began gently, or rather ungently, to expand; acquiring a well-nurtured sturdiness of contour, but passing quite into the shambling and sheepish stage of girlhood. Lucinda cast about her in vain for possibilities of future beauty, and took refuge in vigorous attention to the young girl’s bountiful auburn hair, which she combed and braided with a kind of fierce assiduity. The winter had passed away, the spring was well advanced. Roger, looking at his protegee , felt a certain sinking of the heart as he thought of his cousin Hubert’s visit. As matters stood, Nora bore rather livelier testimony to his charity than to his taste.
He had debated some time as to whether he should write to Hubert and as to how he should write. Hubert Lawrence was some four years his junior; but Roger had always allowed him a large precedence in the things of the mind. Hubert had just entered the Unitarian ministry; it seemed now that grace would surely lend a generous hand to nature and complete the circle of his accomplishments. He was extremely good-looking and clever with just such a cleverness as seemed but an added personal charm. He and Roger had been much together in early life and had formed an intimacy strangely compounded of harmony and discord. Utterly unlike in temper and tone, they neither thought nor felt nor acted together on any single point. Roger was constantly differing, mutely and profoundly, and Hubert frankly and sarcastically; but each, nevertheless, seemed to find in the other a welcome counterpart and complement to his own personality. There was in their relation a large measure of healthy boyish levity which kept them from lingering long on delicate ground; but they felt at times that they belonged, by temperament, to irreconcilable camps, and that the more each of them came to lead his own life, the more their lives would diverge. Roger was of a loving turn of mind, and it cost him many a sigh that a certain glassy hardness of soul on his cousin’s part was forever blunting the edge of his affection. He nevertheless had a profound regard for him; he admired his talents, he enjoyed his society, he wrapped him about with his good-will. He had told him more than once that he cared for him more than Hubert would ever believe, could in the nature of things believe,—far more than Hubert cared for him, inasmuch as Hubert’s benevolence was largely spiced with contempt. “Judge what a real regard I have for you,” Roger had said, “since I forgive you even that.” But Hubert, who reserved his faith for heavenly mysteries, had small credence for earthly ones, and he had replied that to his perception they loved each other with a precisely equal ardor, beyond everything in life, to wit, but their own peculiar pleasure. Roger had in his mind a kind of metaphysical “idea” of a possible Hubert which the actual Hubert took a wanton satisfaction in turning upside down. Roger had drawn in his fancy a pure and ample outline, into which the wilful young minister projected a grotesquely unproportioned shadow. Roger took his cousin more au serieux than the young man himself. In fact, Hubert had apparently come into the world to play. He played at life, altogether; he played at learning, he played at theology, he played at friendship; and it was to be conjectured that, on particular holidays, he would play with especial relish at love. Hubert, for some time, had been settled in New York, and of late they had exchanged but few letters. Something had been said about Hubert’s coming to spend a part of his summer vacation with his cousin; now that the latter was at the head of a household and a family, Roger reminded him of their understanding. He had finally told him his little romance, with a fine bravado of indifference to his verdict; but he was, in secret, extremely anxious to obtain Hubert’s judgment of the heroine. Hubert replied that he was altogether prepared for the news, and that it must be a very pretty sight to see him at dinner pinning her bib, or to hear him sermonizing her over a torn frock.
“But, pray, what relation is the young lady to me?” he added. “How far does the adoption go, and where does it stop? Your own proper daughter would be my cousin; but I take it a man isn’t to have fictitious cousins grafted upon him, at this rate. I shall wait till I see her; then, if she is pleasing, I shall personally adopt her into cousinship.”
He came down for a fortnight, in July, and was soon introduced to Nora. She came sidling shyly into the room, with a rent in her short-waisted frock, and the “Child’s Own Book” in her hand, with her finger in the history of “The Discreet Princess.” Hubert kissed her gallantly, and declared that he was happy to make his acquaintance. She retreated to a station beside Roger’s knee and stood staring at the young man. “ Elle a les pieds enormes ,” said Hubert.
Roger was annoyed, partly with himself, for he made her wear big shoes. “What do you think of him?” he asked, stroking the child’s hair, and hoping, half maliciously, that, with the frank perspicacity of childhood, she would utter some formidable truth about the young man. But to appreciate Hubert’s failings, one must have had vital experience of them. At this time twenty-five years of age, he was a singularly handsome youth. Although of about the same height as his cousin, the pliant slimness of his figure made him look taller. He had a cool gray eye and a mass of fair curling hair. His features were cut with admirable purity; his teeth were white, his smile superb. “I think,” said Nora, “that he looks like the Prince Avenant .”
Before Hubert went away, Roger asked him for a deliberate opinion of the child. Was she ugly or pretty? was she interesting? He found it hard, however, to induce him to consider her seriously. Hubert’s observation was exercised rather less in the interest of general truth than of particular profit; and of what profit to Hubert was Nora’s shambling childhood? “I can’t think of her as a girl,” he said; “she seems to me a boy. She climbs trees, she scales fences, she keeps rabbits, she straddles upon your old mare, bare-backed. I found her this morning wading in the pond up to her knees. She’s growing up a hoyden; you ought to give her more civilized influences than she enjoys hereabouts; you ought to engage a governess, or send her to school. It’s well enough now; but, my poor fellow, what will you do when she’s twenty?”
You may imagine, from Hubert’s sketch, that Nora’s was a happy life. She had few companions, but during the long summer days, in woods and fields and orchards, Roger initiated her into all those rural mysteries which are so dear to childhood and so fondly remembered in later years. She grew more hardy and lively, more inquisitive, more active. She tasted deeply of the joy of tattered dresses and sun-burnt cheeks and arms, and long nights at the end of tired days. But Roger, pondering his cousin’s words, began to believe that to keep her longer at home would be to fail of justice to the ewig Weibliche . The current of her growth would soon begin to flow deeper than the plummet of a man’s wit. He determined, therefore, to send her to school, and he began with this view to investigate the merits of various establishments. At last, after a vast amount of meditation and an extensive correspondence with the school-keeping class, he selected one which appeared rich in fair promises. Nora, who had never known an hour’s schooling, entered joyously upon her new career; but she gave her friend that sweet and long-deferred emotion of which I have spoken, when, on parting with him, she hung upon his neck with a sort of convulsive fondness. He took her head in his two hands and looked at her; her eyes were streaming with tears. During the month which followed he received from her a dozen letters, sadly misspelled, but divinely lachrymose.
It is needless to relate in detail this phase of Nora’s history. It lasted two years. Roger found that he missed her sadly; his occupation was gone. Still, her very absence occupied him. He wrote her long letters of advice, told her everything that happened to him, and sent her books and useful garments and wholesome sweets. At the end of a year he began to long terribly to take her back again; but as his judgment forbade this measure, he determined to beguile the following year by travel. Before starting, he went to the little country town which was the seat of her academy, to bid Nora farewell. He had not seen her since she left him, as he had chosen—quite heroically, poor fellow—to have her spend her vacation with a school-mate, the bosom friend of this especial period. He found her surprisingly altered. She looked three years older; she was growing by the hour. Prettiness and symmetry had not yet been vouchsafed to her; but Roger found in her young imperfection a sweet assurance that her account with nature was not yet closed. She had, moreover, a subtle grace of her own. She had reached that charming girlish moment when the broad freedom of childhood begins to be faintly tempered by the sense of sex. She was coming fast, too, into her woman’s heritage of garrulity. She entertained him for a whole morning; she took him into her confidence; she rattled and prattled unceasingly upon all the swarming little school interests,—her likes and aversions, her hopes and fears, her friends and teachers, her studies and story-books. Roger sat grinning in broad enchantment; she seemed to him to exhale the very genius of girlhood. For the first time, he became conscious of her native force; there was a vast deal of her; she overflowed. When they parted, he gave his hopes to her keeping in a long, long kiss. She kissed him too, but this time with smiles, not with tears. She neither suspected nor could she have understood the thought which, during this interview, had blossomed in her friend’s mind. On leaving her, he took a long walk in the country over unknown roads. That evening he consigned his thought to a short letter, addressed to Mrs. Keith. This was the present title of the lady who had once been Miss Morton. She had married and gone abroad; where, in Rome, she had done as the Americans do, and entered the Roman Church. His letter ran as follows:—
“ My dear Mrs. Keith : I promised you once to be very unhappy, but I doubt whether you believed me; you didn’t look as if you did. I am sure, at all events, you hoped otherwise. I am told you have become a Roman Catholic. Perhaps you have been praying for me at St. Peter’s. This is the easiest way to account for my conversion to a worthier state of mind. You know that, two years ago, I adopted a homeless little girl. One of these days she will be a lovely woman. I mean to do what I can to make her one. Perhaps, six years hence, she will be grateful enough not to refuse me as you did. Pray for me more than ever. I have begun at the beginning; it will be my own fault if I haven’t a perfect wife.”
[]
Part Second
III
Roger’s journey was long and various. He went to the West Indies and to South America, whence, taking a ship at one of the eastern ports, he sailed round the Horn and paid a visit to Mexico. He journeyed thence to California, and returned home across the Isthmus, stopping awhile on his upward course at various Southern cities. It was in some degree a sentimental journey. Roger was a practical man; as he went he gathered facts and noted manners and customs; but the muse of observation for him was his little girl at home, the ripening companion of his own ripe years. It was for her sake that he used his eyes and ears and garnered information. He had determined that she should be a lovely woman and a perfect wife; but to be worthy of such a woman as his fancy foreshadowed, he himself had much to learn. To be a good husband, one must first be a wise man; to educate her, he should first educate himself. He would make it possible that daily contact with him should be a liberal education, and that his simple society should be a benefit. For this purpose he should be stored with facts, tempered and tested by experience. He travelled in a spirit of solemn attention, like some grim devotee of a former age, making a pilgrimage for the welfare of one he loved. He kept with great labor a copious diary, which he meant to read aloud on the winter nights of coming years. His diary was directly addressed to Nora, she being implied throughout as reader or auditor. He thought at moments of his vow to Isabel Morton, and asked himself what had become of the passion of that hour. It had betaken itself to the common limbo of our dead passions. He rejoiced to know that she was well and happy; he meant to write to her again on his return and reiterate the assurance of his own happiness. He mused ever and anon on the nature of his affection for Nora, and wondered what earthly name he could call it by. Assuredly he was not in love with her: you couldn’t fall in love with a child. But if he had not a lover’s love, he had at least a lover’s jealousy; it would have made him miserable to believe his scheme might miscarry. It would fail, he fondly assured himself, by no fault of hers. He was sure of her future; in that last interview at school he had guessed the answer to the riddle of her formless girlhood. If he could only be as sure of his own constancy as of her worthiness! On this point poor Roger might fairly have let his conscience rest; but to test his resolution, he deliberately courted temptation and on a dozen occasions allowed present loveliness to measure itself with absent. At the risk of a terrible increase of blushes, he bravely incurred the blandishments of various charming persons of the south. They failed signally, in every case but one, to quicken his pulses. He studied them, he noted their gifts and graces, so that he might know the range of the feminine charm. Of the utmost that women can be he wished to have personal experience. But with the sole exception I have mentioned, not a charmer of them all but shone with a radiance less magical than that dim but rounded shape which glimmered forever in the dark future, like the luminous complement of the early moon. It was at Lima that his poor little potential Nora suffered temporary eclipse. He made here the acquaintance of a young Spanish lady whose plump and full-blown innocence seemed to him divinely amiable. If ignorance is grace, what a lamentable error to be wise! He had crossed from Havana to Rio on the same vessel with her brother, a friendly young fellow, who had made him promise to come and stay with him on his arrival at Lima. Roger, in execution of this promise, passed three weeks under his roof, in the society of the lovely Senorita. She caused him to reflect, with a good deal of zeal. She moved him the more because, being wholly without coquetry, she made no attempt whatever to interest him. Her charm was the charm of absolute naivete and a certain tame, unseasoned sweetness,—the sweetness of an angel who is without mundane reminiscences; to say nothing of a pair of liquid hazel eyes and a coil of crinkled blue-black hair. She could barely write her name, and from the summer twilight of her mind, which seemed to ring with amorous bird-notes, twittering in a lazy Eden, she flung a scornful shadow upon Nora’s prospective condition. Roger thought of Nora, by contrast, as a creature of senseless mechanism, a thing wound up with a key, creaking and droning through the barren circle of her graces. Why travel so far round about for a wife, when here was one ready made to his heart, as illiterate as an angel and as faithful as the little page of a mediaeval ballad,—and with those two perpetual love-lights beneath her silly little forehead?
Day by day, at the Senorita’s side, Roger grew better pleased with the present. It was so happy, so idle, so secure! He protested against the future. He grew impatient of the stiff little figure which he had posted in the distance, to stare at him with those monstrous pale eyes: they seemed to grow and grow as he thought of them. In other words, he was in love with Teresa. She, on her side, was delighted to be loved. She caressed him with her fond dark looks and smiled perpetual assent. Late one afternoon, at the close of a long hot day, which had left with Roger the unwholesome fancy of a perpetual siesta , troubled by a vague confusion of dreams, they ascended together to a terrace on the top of the house. The sun had just disappeared; the lovely earth below and around was drinking in the cool of night. They stood awhile in silence; at last Roger felt that he must speak of his love. He walked away to the farther end of the terrace, casting about in his mind for the fitting words. They were hard to find. His companion spoke a little English, and he a little Spanish; but there came upon him a sudden perplexing sense of the infantine rarity of her wits. He had never done her the honor to pay her a compliment, he had never really talked with her. It was not for him to talk, but for her to perceive! She turned about, leaning back against the parapet of the terrace, looking at him and smiling. She was always smiling. She had on an old faded pink morning-dress, very much open at the throat, and a ribbon round her neck, to which was suspended a little cross of turquoise. One of the braids of her hair had fallen down, and she had drawn it forward and was plaiting the end with her plump white fingers. Her nails were not fastidiously clean. He went towards her. When he next became perfectly conscious of their relative positions, he knew that he had passionately kissed her, more than once, and that she had more than suffered him. He stood holding both her hands; he was blushing; her own complexion was undisturbed, her smile barely deepened; another of her braids had come down. He was filled with a sense of pleasure in her sweetness, tempered by a vague feeling of pain in his all-too-easy conquest. There was nothing of poor Teresita but that you could kiss her! It came upon him with a sort of horror that he had never yet distinctly told her that he loved her. “Teresa,” he said, almost angrily, “I love you. Do you understand?” For all answer she raised his two hands successively to her lips. Soon after this she went off with her mother to church.
The next morning, one of his friend’s clerks brought him a package of letters from his banker. One of them was a note from Nora. It ran as follows:—
Dear Roger : I want so much to tell you that I have just got the prize for the piano. I hope you will not think it very silly to write so far only to tell you this. But I’m so proud I want you to know it. Of the three girls who tried for it, two were seventeen. The prize is a beautiful picture called “Mozart a Vienne”; probably you have seen it. Miss Murray says I may hang it up in my bedroom. Now I have got to go and practise, for Miss Murray says I must practise more than ever. My dear Roger, I do hope you are enjoying your travels. I have learned lots of geography, following you on the map. Don’t ever forget your loving
Nora.
After reading this letter, Roger told his host that he would have to leave him. The young Peruvian demurred, objected, and begged for a reason.
“Well,” said Roger, “I find I’m in love with your sister.” The words sounded on his ear as if some one else had spoken them. Teresa’s light was quenched, and she had no more fascination than a smouldering lamp, smelling of oil.
“Why, my dear fellow,” said his friend, “that seems to me a reason for staying. I shall be most happy to have you for a brother-in-law.”
“It’s impossible! I’m engaged to a young lady in my own country.”
“You are in love here, you are engaged there, and you go where you are engaged! You Englishmen are strange fellows!”
“Tell Teresa that I adore her, but that I am pledged at home. I had rather not see her.”
And so Roger departed from Lima, without further communion with Teresa. On his return home he received a letter from her brother, telling him of her engagement to a young merchant of Valparaiso,—an excellent match. The young lady sent him her salutations. Roger, answering his friend’s letter, begged that the Do­a Teresa would accept, as a wedding-present, of the accompanying trinket,—a little brooch in turquoise. It would look very well with pink!
Roger reached home in the autumn, but left Nora at school till the beginning of the Christmas holidays. He occupied the interval in refurnishing his house, and clearing the stage for the last act of the young girl’s childhood. He had always possessed a modest taste for upholstery; he now began to apply it under the guidance of a delicate idea. His idea led him to prefer, in all things, the fresh and graceful to the grave and formal, and to wage war throughout his old dwelling on the lurking mustiness of the past. He had a lively regard for elegance, balanced by a horror of wanton luxury. He fancied that a woman is the better for being well dressed and well domiciled, and that vanity, too stingily treated, is sure to avenge itself. So he took her into account. Nothing annoyed him more, however, than the fear of seeing Nora a precocious fine lady; so that while he aimed at all possible purity of effect, he stayed his hand here and there before certain admonitory relics of ancestral ugliness and virtue, embodied for the most part in hair-cloth and cotton damask. Chintz and muslin, flowers and photographs and books, gave their clear light tone to the house. Nothing could be more tenderly propitious and virginal, or better chosen to chasten alike the young girl’s aspirations and remind her of her protector’s tenderness.
Since his return he had designedly refused himself a glimpse of her. He wished to give her a single undivided welcome to his home and his heart. Shortly before Christmas, as he had even yet not laid by his hammer and nails, Lucinda Brown was sent to fetch her from school. If Roger had expected that Nora would return with any marked accession of beauty, he would have had to say “Amen” with an effort. She had pretty well ceased to be a child; she was still his grave, imperfect Nora. She had gained her full height,—a great height, which her young strong slimness rendered the more striking. Her slender throat supported a head of massive mould, bound about with dense auburn braids. Beneath a somewhat serious brow her large, fair eyes retained their collected light, as if uncertain where to fling it. Now and then the lids parted widely and showered down these gathered shafts; and if at these times a certain rare smile divided, in harmony, her childish lips, Nora was for the moment a passable beauty. But for the most part, the best charm of her face was in a modest refinement of line, which rather evaded notice than courted it. The first impression she was likely to produce was of a kind of awkward slender majesty. Roger pronounced her “stately,” and for a fortnight thought her too imposing by half; but as the days went on, and the pliable innocence of early maidenhood gave a soul to this formidable grace, he began to feel that in essentials she was still the little daughter of his charity. He even began to observe in her an added consciousness of this lowly position; as if with the growth of her mind she had come to reflect upon it, and deem it rather less and less a matter of course. He meditated much as to whether he should frankly talk it over with her and allow her to feel that, for him as well, their relation could never become commonplace. This would be in a measure untender, but would it not be prudent? Ought he not, in the interest of his final purpose, to force home to her soul in her sensitive youth an impression of all that she owed him, so that when his time had come, if imagination should lead her a-wandering, gratitude would stay her steps? A dozen times over he was on the verge of making his point, of saying, “Nora, Nora, these are not vulgar alms; I expect a return. One of these days you must pay your debt. Guess my riddle! I love you less than you think,—and more! A word to the wise.” But he was silenced by a saving sense of the brutality of such a course, and by a suspicion that, after all, it was not needful. A passion of gratitude was silently gathering in the young girl’s heart: that heart could be trusted to keep its engagements. A deep conciliatory purpose seemed now to pervade her life, of infinite delight to Roger as little by little it stole upon his mind, like the fragrance of a deepening spring. He had his idea: he suspected that she had hers. They were but opposite faces of the same deep need. Her musing silence, her deliberate smiles, the childish keenness of her questionings, the growing womanly cunning of her little nameless services and caresses, were all alike redolent of a pious sense of suffered beneficence, which implied perfect self-devotion as a response.
On Christmas eve they sat together alone by a blazing log-fire in Roger’s little library. He had been reading aloud a chapter of his diary, to which Nora sat listening in dutiful demureness, though her thoughts evidently were nearer home than Cuba and Peru. There is no denying it was dull; he could gossip to better purpose. He felt its dulness himself, and closing it finally with good-humored petulance, declared it was fit only to throw into the fire. Upon which Nora looked up, protesting. “You must do no such thing,” she said. “You must keep your journals carefully, and one of these days I shall have them bound in morocco and gilt, and ranged in a row in my own bookcase.”
“That’s but a polite way of burning them up,” said Roger. “They will be as little read as if they were in the fire. I don’t know how it is. They seemed to be very amusing when I wrote them: they’re as stale as an old newspaper now. I can’t write: that’s the amount of it. I’m a very stupid fellow, Nora; you might as well know it first as last.”
Nora’s school had been of the punctilious Episcopal order, and she had learned there the pretty custom of decorating the house at Christmas-tide with garlands and crowns of evergreen and holly. She had spent the day in decking out the chimney-piece, and now, seated on a stool under the mantel-shelf, she twisted the last little wreath, which was to complete her design. A great still snow-storm was falling without, and seemed to be blocking them in from the world. She bit off the thread with which she had been binding her twigs, held out her garland to admire its effect, and then: “I don’t believe you’re stupid, Roger,” she said; “and if I did, I shouldn’t much care.”
“Is that philosophy, or indifference?” said the young man.
“I don’t know that it’s either; it’s because I know you’re so good.”
“That’s what they say about all stupid people.”
Nora added another twig to her wreath and bound it up. “I’m sure,” she said at last, “that when people are as good as you are, they can’t be stupid. I should like some one to tell me you’re stupid. I know, Roger; I know!”
The young man began to feel a little uneasy; it was no part of his plan that her good-will should spend itself too soon. “Dear me, Nora, if you think so well of me, I shall find it hard to live up to your expectations. I’m afraid I shall disappoint you. I have a little gimcrack to put in your stocking to-night; but I’m rather ashamed of it now.”
“A gimcrack more or less is of small account. I’ve had my stocking hanging up these three years, and everything I possess is a present from you.”
Roger frowned; the conversation had taken just such a turn as he had often longed to provoke, but now it was too much for him. “O, come,” he said; “I have done simply my duty to my little girl.”
“But, Roger,” said Nora, staring with expanded eyes, “I’m not your little girl.”
His frown darkened; his heart began to beat. “Don’t talk nonsense!” he said.
“But, Roger, it’s true. I’m no one’s little girl. Do you think I’ve no memory? Where is my father? Where is my mother?”
“Listen to me,” said Roger, sternly. “You mustn’t talk of such things.”
“You mustn’t forbid me, Roger. I can’t think of them without thinking of you. This is Christmas eve! Miss Murray told us that we must never let it pass without thinking of all that it means. But without Miss Murray, I have been thinking all day of things which are hard to name,—of death and life, of my parents and you, of my incredible happiness. I feel to-night like a princess in a fairy-tale. I’m a poor creature, without a friend, without a penny or a home; and yet, here I sit by a blazing fire, with money, with food, with clothes, with love. The snow outside is burying the stone-walls, and yet here I can sit and simply say, ‘How pretty!’ Suppose I were in it, wandering and begging,—I might have been! Would I think it pretty then? Roger, Roger, I’m no one’s child!” The tremor in her voice deepened, and she broke into a sudden passion of tears. Roger took her in his arms and tried to soothe away her sobs. But she disengaged herself and went on with an almost fierce exaltation: “No, no, I won’t be comforted! I have had comfort enough, I hate it. I want for an hour to be myself and feel how little that is, to be my poor, wicked father’s daughter, to fancy I hear my mother’s voice. I’ve never spoken of them before; you must let me to-night. You must tell me about my father; you know something I don’t. You never refused me anything, Roger; don’t refuse me this. He wasn’t good, like you; but now he can do no harm. You have never mentioned his name to me, but happy as we are here together, we should be poorly set to work to despise him!”
Roger yielded to the vehemence of this flood of emotion. He stood watching her with two helpless tears in his own eyes, and then he drew her gently towards him and kissed her on the forehead. She took up her work again, and he told her, with every minutest detail he could recall, the story of his sole brief interview with Mr. Lambert. Gradually he lost the sense of effort and reluctance, and talked freely, abundantly, almost with pleasure. Nora listened with tender curiosity and with an amount of self-control which denoted the habit of constant retrospect. She asked a hundred questions as to Roger’s impression of her father’s appearance. Wasn’t he wonderfully handsome? Then taking up the tale herself, she poured out a torrent of feverish reminiscence of her childhood and unpacked her early memories with a kind of rapture of relief. Her evident joy in this frolic of confidence gave Roger a pitying sense of what her long silence must have cost her. But evidently she bore him no grudge, and his present tolerance of her rambling gossip seemed to her but another proof of his tenderness and charity. She rose at last, and stood before the fire, into which she had thrown the refuse of her greenery, watching it blaze up and turn to ashes. “So much for past!” she said, at last. “The rest is the future. The girls at school used to be always talking about what they meant to do in coming years, what they hoped, what they wished; wondering, choosing, and longing. You don’t know how girls talk, Roger; you’d be surprised! I never used to say much; my future is fixed. I’ve nothing to choose, nothing to hope, nothing to fear. I’m to make you happy. That’s simple enough. You have undertaken to bring me up, Roger; you must do your best, because now I’m here, it’s for long, and you’d rather have a wise girl than a silly one.” And she smiled with a kind of tentative daughterliness through the traces of her recent grief. She put her two hands on his shoulders and eyed him with arch solemnity. “You shall never repent. I shall learn everything, I shall be everything! Oh! I wish I were pretty.” And she tossed back her head in impatience of her fatal plainness, with an air which forced Roger to assure her that she would do very well as she was. “If you are satisfied,” she said, “I am!” For a moment Roger felt as if she were twenty years old, as if the future had flashed down on him and à proposal of marriage was at his tongue’s end.
This serious Christmas eve left its traces upon many ensuing weeks. Nora’s education was resumed with a certain added solemnity. Roger was no longer obliged to condescend to the level of her intelligence, and he found reason to thank his stars that he had laid up a provision of facts. He found use for all he possessed. The day of childish “lessons” was over, and Nora sought instruction in the perusal of various classical authors, in her own and other tongues, in concert with her friend. They read aloud to each other alternately, discussed their acquisitions and digested them with perhaps equal rapidity. Roger, in former years, had had but a small literary appetite; he liked a few books and knew them well, but he felt as if to settle down to an unread author were very like starting on a journey,—a case for farewells, a packing of trunks, and buying of tickets. His curiosity, now, however, imbued and quickened with a motive, led him through a hundred untrodden paths. He found it hard sometimes to keep pace with Nora’s pattering step; through the flowery lanes of poetry, in especial, she would gallop without drawing breath. Was she quicker-witted than her friend, or only more superficial? Something of one, doubtless, and something of the other. Roger was forever suspecting her of a deeper penetration than his own, and hanging his head with an odd mixture of pride and humility. Her youthful brightness, at times, made him feel irretrievably dull and antiquated. His ears would tingle, his cheeks would burn, his old hope would fade into a shadow. “It’s a—” he would declare. “How can I ever have for her that charm of infallibility, that romance of omniscience, that a woman demands of her lover? She has seen me scratching my head, she has seen me counting on my fingers! Before she’s seventeen she’ll be mortally tired of me, and by the time she’s twenty I shall be fatally familiar and incurably stale. It’s very well for her to talk about life-long devotion and eternal gratitude. She doesn’t know the meaning of words. She must grow and outgrow, that’s her first necessity. She must come to woman’s estate and pay the inevitable tribute. I can open the door and let in the lover. If her present sentiment is in its way a passion, I shall have had my turn. I can’t hope to be the object of two passions. I must thank the Lord for small favors!” Then as he seemed to taste, in advance, the bitterness of disappointment, casting him about him angrily for some means of appeal: “I ought to go away and stay away for years and never write at all, instead of compounding ponderous diaries to make even my absence detestable. I ought to convert myself into a beneficent shadow, a vague tutelary name. Then I ought to come back in glory, fragrant with exotic perfumes and shod with shoes of mystery! Otherwise, I ought to clip the wings of her fancy and put her on half-rations. I ought to snub her and scold her and bully her and tell her she’s deplorably plain,—treat her as Rochester treats Jane Eyre. If I were only a good old Catholic, that I might shut her up in a convent and keep her childish and stupid and contented!” Roger felt that he was too doggedly conscientious; but abuse his conscience as he would, he could not make it yield an inch; so that in the constant strife between his egotistical purpose and his generous temper, the latter kept gaining ground and Nora innocently enjoyed the spoils of victory. It was his very generosity that detained him on the spot, by her side, watching her, working for her, and performing a hundred offices which in other hands would have lost their sweet precision. Roger watched intently for the signs of that inevitable hour when a young girl begins to loosen her fingers in the grasp of a guiding hand and wander softly in pursuit of that sinuous silver thread of experience which deflects, through meadows of perennial green, from the dull gray stream of the common lot. She had relapsed in the course of time into the careless gayety and the light immediate joys of girlhood. If she cherished a pious purpose in her heart, she made no indecent parade of it. But her very placidity and patience somehow afflicted her friend. She was too monotonously sweet, too easily obedient. If once in a while she would only flash out into petulance or rebellion! She kept her temper so carefully: what in the world was she keeping it for? If she would only bless him for once with an angry look and tell him that he bored her, that he worried and disgusted her!
During the second year after her return from school Roger began to fancy that she half avoided his society and resented his share in her occupations. She was fonder of lonely walks, readings and reveries. She had all of a young girl’s passion for novels, and she had been in the habit of satisfying it largely. For works of fiction in general Roger had no great fondness, though he professed an especial relish for Thackeray. Nora had her favorites, but “The Newcomes,” as yet, was not one of them. One evening in the early spring she sat down to a twentieth perusal of the classic tale of “The Initials.” Roger, as usual, asked her to read aloud. She began and proceeded through a dozen pages. Looking up, at this point, she beheld Roger asleep. She smiled softly and privately resumed her reading. At the end of an hour, Roger, having finished his nap, rather startled her by his excessive annoyance at his lapse of consciousness. He wondered whether he had snored, but the absurd fellow was ashamed to ask her. Recovering himself finally: “The fact is, Nora,” he said, “all novels seem to me stupid. They are nothing to what I can fancy! I have in my heart a prettier romance than any of them.”
“A romance?” said Nora, simply. “Pray let me hear it. You’re quite as good a hero as this poor Mr. Hamilton. Begin!”
He stood before the fire, looking at her with almost funereal gravity. “My denouement is not yet written,” he said. “Wait till the story is finished; then you shall hear the whole.”
As at this time Nora put on long dresses and began to arrange her hair as a young lady, it occurred to Roger that he might make some change in his own appearance and reinforce his waning attractions. He was now thirty-two; he fancied he was growing stout. Bald, corpulent, middle-aged—at this rate he would soon be shelved! He was seized with a mad desire to win back the lost graces of youth. He had a dozen interviews with his tailor, the result of which was that for a fortnight he appeared daily in a new garment. Suddenly amid this restless longing to revise and embellish himself, he determined to suppress his whiskers. This would take off five years. He appeared, therefore, one morning, in the severe simplicity of a mustache. Nora started and greeted him with a little cry of horror. “Don’t you like it?” he asked.
She hung her head on one side and the other. “Well no—to be frank.”
“Oh, of course to be frank! It will only take five years to grow them again. What’s the trouble?”
She gave a critical frown. “It makes you look too—too fat; too much like Mr. Vose.” It is sufficient to explain that Mr. Vose was the butcher, who called every day in his cart, and who recently—Roger with horror only now remembered it—had sacrificed his whiskers to a greater singleness of effect.
“I’m sorry!” said Roger. “It was for you I did it!”
“For me!” And Nora burst into a violent laugh.
“Why, my dear Nora,” cried the young man with a certain angry vehemence, “don’t I do everything in life for you?”
She relapsed into sudden gravity. And then, after much meditation: “Excuse my unfeeling levity,” she said. “You might cut off your nose, Roger, and I should like your face as well.” But this was but half comfort. “Too fat!” Her subtler sense had spoken, and Roger never encountered Mr. Vose for three months after this without wishing to attack him with one of his own cleavers.
He made now an heroic attempt to scale the frowning battlements of the future. He pretended to be making arrangements for a tour in Europe, and for having his house completely remodelled in his absence; noting the while attentively the effect upon Nora of his cunning machinations. But she gave no sign of suspicion that his future, to the uttermost day, could be anything but her future too. One evening, nevertheless, an incident occurred which fatally confounded his calculations,—an evening of perfect mid-spring, full of warm, vague odors, of growing day-light, of the sense of bursting sap and fresh-turned earth. Roger sat on the piazza, looking out on things with an opera-glass. Nora, who had been strolling in the garden, returned to the house and sat down on the steps of the portico. “Roger,” she said, after a pause, “has it never struck you as very strange that we should be living together in this way?”
Roger’s heart rose to his throat. But he was loath to concede anything to her imagination, lest he should concede too much. “It’s not especially strange,” he said.
“Surely it is strange,” she answered. “What are you? Neither my brother, nor my father, nor my uncle, nor my cousin,—nor even, by law, my guardian.”
“By law! My dear child, what do you know about law?”
“I know that if I should run away and leave you now, you couldn’t force me to return.”
“That’s fine talk! Who told you that?”
“No one; I thought of it myself. As I grow older, I ought to think of such things.”
“Upon my word! Of running away and leaving me?”
“That’s but one side of the question. The other is that you can turn me out of your house this moment, and no one can force you to take me back. I ought to remember such things.”
“Pray what good will it do you to remember them?”
Nora hesitated a moment. “There is always some good in not losing sight of the truth.”
“The truth! you’re very young to begin to talk about it.”
“Not too young. I’m old for my age. I ought to be!” These last words were uttered with a little sigh which roused Roger to action.
“Since we’re talking about the truth,” he said, “I wonder whether you know a tithe of it.”
For an instant she was silent; then rising slowly to her feet: “What do you mean?” she asked. “Is there any secret in all that you’ve done for me?” Suddenly she clasped her hands, and eagerly, with a smile, went on: “You said the other day you had a romance. Is it a real romance, Roger? Are you, after all, related to me,—my cousin, my brother?”
He let her stand before him, perplexed and expectant. “It’s more of a romance than that.”
She slid upon her knees at his feet. “Dear Roger, do tell me,” she said.
He began to stroke her hair. “You think so much,” he answered; “do you never think about the future, the real future, ten years hence?”
“A great deal.”
“What do you think?”
She blushed a little, and then he felt that she was drawing confidence from the steady glow of his benignant eyes. “Promise not to laugh!” she said, half laughing herself. He nodded. “I think about my husband!” she proclaimed. And then, as if she had, after all, been very absurd, and to forestall his laughter: “And about your wife!” she quickly added. “I want dreadfully to see her. Why don’t you marry?”
He continued to stroke her hair in silence. At last he said sententiously: “I hope to marry one of these days.”
“I wish you’d do it now,” Nora went on. “If only she’d be nice! We should be sisters, and I should take care of the children.”
“You’re too young to understand what you say, or what I mean. Little girls shouldn’t talk about marriage. It can mean nothing to you until you come yourself to marry—as you will, of course. You’ll have to decide and choose.”
“I suppose I shall. I shall refuse him.”
“What do you mean?”
But without answering his question: “Were you ever in love, Roger?” she suddenly asked. “Is that your romance?”
“Almost.”
“Then it’s not about me, after all?”
“It’s about you, Nora; but, after all, it’s not a romance. It’s solid, it’s real, it’s truth itself; as true as your silly novels are false. Nora, I care for no one, I shall never care for any one, but you!”
He spoke in tones so deep and solemn that she was impressed. “Do you mean, Roger, that you care so much for me that you’ll never marry?”
He rose quickly in his chair, pressing his hand over his brow. “Ah, Nora,” he cried, “you’re terrible!”
Evidently she had pained him; her heart was filled with the impulse of reparation. She took his two hands in her own. “Roger,” she whispered gravely, “if you don’t wish it, I promise never, never, never to marry, but to be yours alone—yours alone!”
[]
IV
The summer passed away; Nora was turned sixteen. Deeming it time she should begin to see something of the world, Roger spent the autumn in travelling. Of his tour in Europe he had ceased to talk; it was indefinitely deferred. It matters little where they went; Nora vastly enjoyed the excursion and found all spots alike delightful. For Roger, too, it was full of a certain reassuring felicity. His remoter visions were merged in the present overflow of sympathy and pride, in his happy sense of her quickened observation and in the gratified vanity of possession. Whether or no she was pretty, people certainly looked at her. He overheard them a dozen times call her “striking.” Striking! The word seemed to him rich in meaning; if he had seen her for the first time taking the breeze on the deck of a river steamer, he certainly would have been struck. On his return home he found among his letters the following missive:—
My dear Sir : I have learned, after various fruitless researches, that you have adopted my cousin. Miss Lambert, at the time she left St. Louis, was too young to know much about her family, or even to care much; and you, I suppose, have not investigated the subject. You, however, better than any one, can understand my desire to make her acquaintance. I hope you’ll not deny me the privilege. I am the second son of a half-sister of her mother, between whom and my own mother there was always the greatest affection. It was not until some time after it happened that I heard of Mr. Lambert’s melancholy death. But it is useless to recur to that painful scene! I resolved to spare no trouble in ascertaining the fate of his daughter. I have only just succeeded, after having fairly given her up. I have thought it better to write to you than to her, but I beg you to give her my compliments. I anticipate no difficulty in satisfying you that I am not a humbug. I have no hope of being able to better her circumstances; but, whatever they may be, blood is blood, and cousins are cousins, especially in the West. A speedy answer will oblige
Yours truly, George Fenton.
The letter was dated in New York, from a hotel. Roger was shocked. It had been from the first a peculiar satisfaction to him that Nora began and ended so distinctly with herself. But here was a hint of indefinite continuity! Here, at last, was an echo of her past. He immediately showed the letter to Nora. As she read it, her face flushed deep with wonder and suppressed relief. She had never heard, she confessed, of her mother’s half-sister. The “great affection” between the two ladies must have been anterior to Mrs. Lambert’s marriage. Roger’s own provisional solution of the problem was that Mrs. Lambert had married so little to the taste of her family as to forfeit all communication with them. If he had obeyed his immediate impulse, he would have written to his mysterious petitioner that Miss Lambert was sensible of the honor implied in his request, but that never having missed his society, it seemed needless that, at this time of day, she should cultivate it. But Nora had become infected by a huge curiosity; the dormant pulse of kinship had been quickened; it began to throb with delicious power. This was enough for Roger. “I don’t know,” he said, “whether he’s an honest man or a scamp, but at a venture I suppose I must invite him down.” To this Nora replied that she thought his letter was “lovely”; and Mr. Fenton received a fairly civil summons.
Whether or no he was an honest man remained to be seen; but on the face of the matter he appeared no scamp. He was, in fact, a person difficult to classify. Roger had made up his mind that he would be outrageously rough and Western; full of strange oaths and bearded, for aught he knew, like the pard. In aspect, however, Fenton was a pretty fellow enough, and his speech, if not especially conciliatory to ears polite, possessed a certain homely vigor in which ears polite might have found their account. He was as little as possible, certainly, of Roger’s monde ; but he carried about him the native fragrance of another monde , beside which the social perfume familiar to Roger’s nostrils must have seemed a trifle stale and insipid. He was invested with a loose-fitting cosmopolitan Occidentalism, which seemed to say to Roger that, of the two, he was provincial. Whether or no Fenton was a good man, he was a good American; though I doubt that he would, after the saying, have sought his Mahomet’s Paradise in Paris. Considering his years,—they numbered but twenty-five,—Fenton’s precocity and maturity of tone were an amazing spectacle. You would have very soon confessed, however, that he had a true genius for his part, and that it became him better to play at manhood than at juvenility. He could never have been a ruddy-cheeked boy. He was tall and lean, with a keen dark eye, a smile humorous, but not exactly genial, a thin, drawling, almost feminine voice and a strange Southwestern accent. His voice, at first, might have given you certain presumptuous hopes as to a soft spot in his tough young hide; but after listening awhile to its colorless monotone, you would have felt, I think, that though it was an instrument of one string, that solitary chord had been tempered in brine. Fenton was furthermore flat-chested and high-shouldered, but without any look of debility. He wore a little dead black mustache, which, at first, you would have been likely to suspect unjustly of a borrowed tint. His straight black hair was always carefully combed, and a small diamond pin adorned the bosom of his shirt. His feet were small and slender, and his left hand was decorated with a neat specimen of tattooing. You would never have called him modest, yet you would hardly have called him impudent; for he had evidently lived with people among whom the ideas of modesty and impudence, in their finer shades, had no great circulation. He had nothing whatever of the manner of society, but it was surprising how gracefully a certain shrewd bonhomie and smart good-humor enabled him to dispense with it. He stood with his hands in his pockets, watching punctilio taking its course, and thinking, probably, what a d—d fool she was to go so far roundabout to a point he could reach with a single shuffle of his long legs. Roger, from the first hour of his being in the house, felt pledged to dislike him. He patronized him; he made him feel like a small boy, like an old woman; he sapped the roots of the poor fellow’s comfortable consciousness of being a man of the world. Fenton was a man of twenty worlds. He had knocked about and dabbled in affairs and adventures since he was ten years old; he knew the American continent as he knew the palm of his hand; he was redolent of enterprise, of “operations,” of a certain fierce friction with mankind. Roger would have liked to believe that he doubted his word, that there was a chance of his not being Nora’s cousin, but a youth of an ardent swindling genius who had come into possession of a parcel of facts too provokingly pertinent to be wasted. He had evidently known the late Mr. Lambert—the poor man must have had plenty of such friends; but was he, in truth, his wife’s nephew? Was not this shadowy nepotism excogitated over an unpaid hotel bill? So Roger fretfully meditated, but generally with no great gain of ground. He inclined, on the whole, to believe the young man’s pretensions were valid, and to reserve his mistrust for the use he might possibly make of them. Of course Fenton had not come down to spend a stupid week in the country out of pure cousinly affection. Nora was but the means; Roger’s presumptive wealth and bounty were the end. “He comes to make love to his cousin, and marry her if he can. I, who have done so much, will of course do more; settle an income directly on the bride, make my will in her favor, and die at my earliest convenience! How furious he must be,” Roger continued to meditate, “to find me so young and hearty! How furious he would be if he knew a little more!” This line of argument was justified in a manner by the frank assurance which Fenton was constantly at pains to convey, that he was incapable of any other relation to a fact than a desire to turn it to pecuniary account. Roger was uneasy, yet he took a certain comfort in the belief that, thanks to his early lessons, Nora could be trusted to confine her cousin to the precinct of cousinship. In whatever he might have failed, he had certainly taught her to know a gentleman. Cousins are born, not made; but lovers may be accepted at discretion. Nora’s discretion, surely, would not be wanting. I may add also that, in his desire to order all things well, Roger caught himself wondering whether, at the worst, a little precursory love-making would do any harm. The ground might be gently tickled to receive his own sowing; the petals of the young girl’s nature, playfully forced apart, would leave the golden heart of the flower but the more accessible to his own vertical rays.
It was cousinship for Nora, certainly; but cousinship was much, more than Roger fancied, luckily for his peace of mind. In the utter penury of her native gifts, her tardy kinsman acquired a portentous value. She was so proud of turning out to have a cousin as well as other folks, that she lavished on the young man all the idle tenderness of her primitive instincts, the savings and sparings, such as they were, of her girlish good-will. It must be said that Fenton was not altogether unworthy of her favors. He meant no especial harm to other people, save in so far as he meant uncompromising benefit to himself. The Knight of La Mancha, on the torrid flats of Spain, never urged his gaunt steed with a grimmer pressure of the knees than that with which Fenton held himself erect on the hungry hobby of success. Shrewd as he was, he had perhaps, as well, a ray of Don Quixote’s divine obliquity of vision. It is at least true that success as yet had been painfully elusive, and a part of the peril to Nora’s girlish heart lay in this melancholy grace of undeserved failure. The young man’s imagination was a trifle restless; he had a generous need of keeping too many irons on the fire. It had been in a kind of fanciful despair of doing better, for the time, that he had made overtures to Roger. He had learned six months before of his cousin’s situation and had felt no great sentimental need of making her acquaintance; but at last, revolving many things of a certain sort, he had come to wonder whether these good people couldn’t be induced to play into his hands. Roger’s wealth (which he largely overestimated) and Roger’s obvious taste for sharing it with other people, Nora’s innocence and Nora’s prospects—it would surely take a great fool not to pluck the rose from so thornless a tree. He foresaw these good things melting and trickling into the shallow current of his own career. Exactly what use he meant to make of Nora he would have been at a loss to say. Plain matrimony might or might not be a prize. At any rate, it could do a clever man no harm to have a rich girl foolishly in love with him. He turned, therefore, upon his charming cousin the sunny side of his genius. He very soon began to doubt that he had ever known so delightful a person, and indeed his growing sense of her sweetness bade fair to make him bungle his naughtiness. She was altogether sweet enough to be valued for herself. She made him feel that he had never encountered a really fine girl. Nora was a young lady: how she had come to it was one of the outer mysteries; but there she was, consummate! He made no point of a man being a gentleman; in fact, when a man was a gentleman you had rather to be one yourself, which didn’t pay; but for a woman to be a lady was plainly pure gain. He had a fine enough sense to detect something extremely grateful in the half-concessions, the reserve of freshness, the fugitive dignity, of gently nurtured maidenhood. Women, to him, had seemed mostly as cut flowers, blooming awhile in the waters of occasion, but yielding no second or rarer freshness. Nora was fast overtaking herself in the exhilarating atmosphere of her cousin’s gallantry. She had known so few young men that she had not learned to be fastidious, and Fenton represented to her fancy that great collective manhood of which Roger was not. He had an irresistible air of action, alertness, and purpose. Poor Roger, beside him, was most prosaically passive. She regarded her cousin with something of the thrilled attention which one bestows on the naked arrow, poised across the bow. He had, moreover, the inestimable merit of representing her own side of her situation. He very soon became sensible of this merit, and you may be sure he entertained her to the top of her bent. He gossiped by the hour about her father, and gave her very plainly to understand that poor Mr. Lambert had been more sinned against than sinning. His wrongs, his sufferings, his ambitions and adventures, formed on Fenton’s lips not only a most pathetic recital, but a standing pretext for Western anecdotes, not always strictly adapted, it must be confessed, to the melting mood. Of her mother, too, he discoursed with a wholesale fecundity of praise and reminiscence. Facts, facts, facts was Nora’s demand: she got them, and if here and there a fiction slipped into the basket, it passed muster with the rest.
Nora was not slow to perceive that Roger had no love for their guest, and she immediately conceded him his right of judgment. She allowed for a certain fatal and needful antagonism in their common interest in herself. Fenton’s presence was a tacit infringement of Roger’s prescriptive right of property. If her cousin had only never come! It might have been, though she could not bring herself to wish it. Nora felt vaguely that here was a chance for tact, for the woman’s peace-making art. To keep Roger in spirits, she put on a dozen unwonted graces; she waited on him, appealed to him, smiled at him with unwearied iteration. But the main effect of these sweet offices was to deepen her gracious radiance in her cousin’s eyes. Roger’s rancorous suspicion transmuted to bitterness what would otherwise have been pure delight. She was turning hypocrite; she was throwing dust in his eyes; she was plotting with that vulgar Missourian. Fenton, of course, was forced to admit that he had reckoned without his host. Roger had had the impudence not to turn out a simpleton; he was not a shepherd of the golden age; he was a dogged modern, with prosy prejudices; the wind of his favor blew as it listed. Fenton took the liberty of being extremely irritated at the other’s want of ductility. “Hang the man!” he said to himself, “why can’t he trust me? What is he afraid of? Why don’t he take me as a friend rather than an enemy? Let him be frank, and I’ll be frank. I could put him up to things! And what does he want to do with Nora, any way?” This latter question Fenton came very soon to answer, and the answer amused him not a little. It seemed to him an extremely odd use of one’s time and capital, this fashioning of a wife to order. There was in it a long-winded patience, a broad arrogance of leisure, which excited his ire. Roger might surely have found his fit ready made! His disappointment, a certain angry impulse to rescue his cousin from this pitiful compression of circumstance, the sense finally that what he should gain he would gain from her alone, though indeed she was too confoundedly innocent to appreciate his fierce immediate ends;—these things combined to heat the young man’s humor to the fever-point and to make him strike more random blows than belonged to plain prudence.
The autumn being well advanced, the warmth of the sun had become very grateful. Nora used to spend much of the morning in strolling about the dismantled garden with her cousin. Roger would stand at the window with his honest face more nearly disfigured by a scowl than ever before. It was the old, old story, to his mind: nothing succeeds with women like just too little deference. Fenton would lounge along by Nora’s side, with his hands in his pockets, a cigar in his mouth, his shoulders raised to his ears, and a pair of tattered slippers on his absurdly diminutive feet. Not only had Nora forgiven him this last breach of civility, but she had forthwith begun to work him a new pair of slippers. “What on earth,” thought Roger, “do they find to talk about?” Their conversation, meanwhile, ran in some such strain as this:—
“My dear Nora,” said the young man, “what on earth, week in and week out, do you and Mr. Lawrence find to talk about?”
“A great many things, George. We have lived long enough together to have a great many interests in common.”
“It was a most extraordinary thing, his adopting you, if you don’t mind my saying so. Imagine my adopting a little girl.”
“You and Roger are very different men.”
“We certainly are. What in the world did he expect to do with you?”
“Very much what he has done, I suppose. He has educated me, he has made me what I am.”
“You’re a very nice little person; but, upon my word, I don’t see that he’s to thank for it. A lovely girl can be neither made nor marred.”
“Possibly! But I give you notice that I’m not a lovely girl. I have it in me to be, under provocation, anything but a lovely girl. I owe everything to Roger. You must say nothing against him. I won’t have it. What would have become of me—” She stopped, betrayed by her glance and voice.
“Mr. Lawrence is a model of all the virtues, I admit! But, Nora, I confess I’m jealous of him. Does he expect to educate you forever? You seem to me to have already all the learning a pretty woman needs. What does he know about women? What does he expect to do with you two or three years hence? Two or three years hence, you’ll be—” And Fenton, breaking off, began to whistle with vehement gayety and executed with shuffling feet a momentary fandango. “Two or three years hence, when you look in the glass, remember I said so!”
“He means to go to Europe one of these days,” said Nora, laughing.
“One of these days! One would think he expects to keep you forever. Not if I can help it. And why Europe, in the name of all that’s patriotic? Europe be hanged! You ought to come out to your own section of the country, and see your own people. I can introduce you to the best people in St. Louis. It’s a glorious place, worth a thousand of your dismal Bostons. I’ll tell you what, my dear. You don’t know it, but you’re a regular Western girl.”
A certain foolish gladness in being the creature thus denominated prompted Nora to a gush of momentary laughter, of which Roger, within the window, caught the soundless ripple. “You ought to know, George,” she said, “you’re Western enough yourself.”
“Of course I am. I glory in it. It’s the only place for a man of ideas! In the West you can do something! Round here you’re all stuck fast in a Slough of Despond. For yourself, Nora, at bottom you’re all right; but superficially you’re just a trifle overstarched. But we’ll take it out of you! It comes of living with stiff-necked—”
Nora bent for a moment her lustrous eyes on the young man, as if to recall him to order. “I beg you to understand, once for all,” she said, “that I refuse to listen to disrespectful allusions to Roger.”
“I’ll say it again, just to make you look at me so. If I ever fall in love with you, it will be when you are scolding me. All I’ve got to do is to attack your papa—”
“He’s not my papa. I have had one papa; that’s enough. I say it in all respect.”
“If he’s not your papa, what is he? He’s a dog in the manger. He must be either one thing or the other. When you’re very little older, you’ll understand that.”
“He may be whatever thing you please. I shall be but one,—his best friend.”
Fenton laughed with a kind of fierce hilarity. “You’re so innocent, my dear, that one doesn’t know where to take you. You expect, in other words, to marry him?”
Nora stopped in the path, with her eyes on her cousin. For a moment he was half confounded by their startled severity and the flush of pain in her cheek. “Marry Roger!” she said with great gravity.
“Why, he’s a man, after all!”
Nora was silent a moment; and then with a certain forced levity, walking on: “I’d better wait till I’m asked.”
“He’ll ask you! You’ll see.”
“If he does, I shall be surprised.”
“You’ll pretend to be. Women always do.”
“He has known me as a child,” she continued, heedless of his sarcasm. “I shall always be a child, for him.”
“He’ll like that,” said Fenton, with heat. “He’ll like a child of twenty.”
Nora, for an instant, was sunk in meditation. “As regards marriage,” she said at last, with a slightly defiant emphasis, “I’ll do what Roger wishes.”
Fenton lost patience. “Roger be hanged!” he cried. “You’re not his slave. You must choose for yourself and act for yourself. You must obey your own heart. You don’t know what you’re talking about. One of these days your heart will say its say. Then we’ll see what becomes of Roger’s wishes! If he wants to mould you to his will, he should have taken you younger—or older! Don’t tell me seriously that you can ever love (don’t play upon words: love, I mean, in the one sense that means anything!) such a solemn little fop as that! Don’t protest, my dear girl; I must have my say. I speak in your own interest; I speak, at any rate, from my own heart. I detest the man. I came here in all deference and honesty, and he has treated me as if I weren’t fit to touch with a tongs. I’m poor, I’ve my way to make, I’m on the world; but I’m an honest man, for all that, and as good as he, take me altogether. Why can’t he show me a moment’s frankness? Why can’t he take me by the hand and say, ‘Come, young man, I’ve got capital, and you’ve got brains; let’s pull together a stroke.’ Does he think I want to steal his spoons or pick his pocket? Is that hospitality? If that’s the way they understand it hereabouts, I prefer the Western article!”
This passionate outbreak, prompted in about equal measure by baffled ambition and wounded sensibility, made sad havoc with Nora’s strenuous loyalty to her friend. Her sense of infinite property in her cousin—the instinct of free affection alternating more gratefully than she knew with the dim consciousness of measured dependence—had become in her heart a sort of boundless and absolute rapture. She desired neither to question nor to set a term to it: she only knew that while it lasted it was potently sweet. Roger’s mistrust was certainly cruel; it was crueller still that he should obtrude it on poor George’s notice. She felt, however, that two angry men were muttering over her head and her main desire was to avert an explosion. She promised herself to dismiss Fenton the next day. Of course, by the very fact of this concession, Roger lost ground in her tenderness, and George acquired the grace of the persecuted. Meanwhile, Roger’s jealous irritation came to a head. On the evening following the little scene I have narrated the young couple sat by the fire in the library; Fenton on a stool at his cousin’s feet holding, while Nora wound them on reels, the wools which were to be applied to the manufacture of those invidious slippers. Roger, after grimly watching their mutual amenities for some time over the cover of a book, unable to master his fierce discomposure, departed with a tell-tale stride. They heard him afterwards walking up and down the piazza, where he was appealing from his troubled nerves to the ordered quietude of the stars.
“He hates me so,” said Fenton, “that I believe if I were to go out there he’d draw a knife on me.”
“O George!” cried Nora, horrified.
“It’s a fact, my dear. I’m afraid you’ll have to give me up. I wish I had never seen you!”
“At all events, we can write to each other.”
“What’s writing? I don’t know how to write! I will, though! I suppose he’ll open my letters. So much the worse for him!”
Nora, as she wound her spool, mused intently. “I can’t believe he really grudges me our friendship. It must be something else.”
Fenton, with a clinch of his fist, arrested suddenly the outflow of the skein from his hand. “It is something else,” he said. “It’s our possible—more than friendship!” And he grasped her two hands in his own. “Nora, choose! Between me and him!”
She stared a moment; then her eyes filled with tears. “O George,” she cried, “you make me very unhappy.” She must certainly tell him to go; and yet that very movement of his which had made it doubly needful made it doubly hard. “I’ll talk to Roger,” she said. “No one should be condemned unheard. We may all misunderstand each other.”
Fenton, half an hour later, having, as he said, letters to write, went up to his own room; shortly after which, Roger returned to the library. Half an hour’s communion with the star-light and the long beat of the crickets had drawn the sting from his irritation. There came to him, too, a mortifying sense of his guest having outdone him in civility. This would never do. He took refuge in imperturbable good-humor, and entered the room with a bravado of cool indifference. But even before he had spoken, something in Nora’s face caused this wholesome dose of resignation to stick in his throat. “Your cousin’s gone?” he said.
“To his own room. He has some letters to write.”
“Shall I hold your wools?” Roger asked, after a pause, with a rather awkward air of overture.
“Thank you. They are all wound.”
“For whom are your slippers?” He knew, of course; but the question came.
“For George. Didn’t I tell you? Aren’t they pretty?” And she held up her work.
“Prettier than he deserves.”
Nora gave him a rapid glance and miscounted her stitch. “You don’t like poor George,” she said.
“Poor George” set his wound a-throbbing again. “No. Since you ask me, I don’t like poor George.”
Nora was silent. At last: “Well!” she said, “you’ve not the same reasons as I have.”
“So I’m bound to believe!” cried Roger, with a laugh. “You must have excellent reasons.”
“Excellent. He’s my own, you know.”
“Your own— Oho!” And he laughed louder.
His tone forced Nora to blush. “My own cousin,” she cried.
“Your own fiddlestick!” cried Roger.
She stopped her work. “What do you mean?” she asked gravely.
Roger himself began to blush a little. “I mean—I mean—that I don’t half believe in your cousin. He doesn’t satisfy me. I don’t like him. He’s a jumble of contradictions. I have nothing but his own word. I’m not bound to take it. He tells the truth, if you like, but he tells fibs too.”
“Roger, Roger,” said Nora, with great softness, “do you mean that he’s an impostor?”
“The word is your own. He’s not honest.”
She slowly rose from her little bench, gathering her work into the skirt of her dress. “And, doubting of his honesty, you’ve let him take up his abode here, you’ve let him become dear to me?”
She was making him ten times a fool! “Why, if you liked him,” he said. “When did I ever refuse you anything?”
There came upon Nora a sudden unpitying sense that then and there Roger was ridiculous. “Honest or not honest,” she said with vehemence, “I do like him. Cousin or no cousin, he’s my friend.”
“Very good. But I warn you. I don’t enjoy talking to you thus. But let me tell you, once for all, that your cousin, your friend,—your—whatever he is!”—He faltered an instant; Nora’s eyes were fixed on him. “That he disgusts me!”
“You’re extremely unjust. You’ve taken no trouble to know him. You’ve treated him from the first with small civility!”
“Good heavens! Was the trouble to be all mine? Civility! he never missed it; he doesn’t know what it means.”
“He knows more than you think. But we must talk no more about him.” She rolled together her canvas and reels; and then suddenly, with passionate inconsequence, “Poor, poor George!” she cried.
Roger watched her, rankling with that unsatisfied need, familiar alike to good men and bad when vanity is at stake, of smothering feminine right in hard manly fact. “Nora,” he said, cruelly, “you disappoint me.”
“You must have formed great hopes of me!” she cried.
“I confess I had.”
“Say good by to them then, Roger. If this is wrong, I’m all wrong!” She spoke with a rich displeasure which transformed with admirable effect her habitual expression of docility. She had never yet come so near being beautiful. In the midst of his passionate vexation he admired her. The scene seemed for a moment a bad dream, from which, with a start, he might awake into a declaration of love.
“Your anger gives an admirable point to your remarks. Indeed, it gives a beauty to your face. Must a woman be in the wrong to be charming?” He went on, hardly knowing what he said. But a burning blush in her cheeks recalled him to a kind of self-abhorrence. “Would to God,” he cried, “your abominable cousin had never come between us!”
“Between us? He’s not between us. I stand as near you, Roger, as I ever did. Of course George will leave immediately.”
“Of course! I’m not so sure. He will, I suppose, if he’s asked.”
“Of course I shall ask him.”
“Nonsense. You’ll not enjoy that.”
“We’re old friends by this time,” said Nora, with terrible malice. “I sha’n’t in the least mind.”
Roger could have choked himself. He had brought his case to this: Fenton a martyred proscript, and Nora a brooding victim of duty. “Do I want to turn the man out of the house?” he cried. “Do me a favor,—I demand it. Say nothing to him, let him stay as long as he pleases. I’m not afraid! I don’t trust him, but I trust you. I’m curious to see how long he’ll have the hardihood to stay. A fortnight hence, I shall be justified. You’ll say to me, ‘Roger, you were right. George isn’t a gentleman.’ There! I insist.”
“A gentleman? Really, what are we talking about? Do you mean that he wears a false diamond in his shirt? He’ll take it off if I ask him. There’s a long way between wearing false diamonds—”
“And stealing real ones! I don’t know. I have always fancied they go together. At all events, Nora, he’s not to suspect that he has been able to make trouble between two old friends.”
Nora stood for a moment in irresponsive meditation. “I think he means to go,” she said. “If you want him to stay, you must ask him.” And without further words she marched out of the room. Roger followed her with his eyes. He thought of Lady Castlewood in “Henry Esmond,” who looked “devilish handsome in a passion.”
Lady Castlewood, meanwhile, ascended to her own room, flung her work upon the floor, and, dropping into a chair, betook herself to weeping. It was late before she slept. She awoke with a keener consciousness of the burden of life. Her own burden certainly was small, but her strength, as yet, was untested. She had thought, in her many reveries, of a possible rupture of harmony with Roger, and prayed that it might never come by a fault of hers. The fault was hers now in that she had surely cared less for duty than for joy. Roger, indeed, had shown a pitiful smallness of view. This was a weakness; but who was she, to keep account of Roger’s weaknesses? It was to a weakness of Roger’s that she owed her food and raiment and shelter. It helped to quench her resentment that she felt, somehow, that, whether Roger smiled or frowned, George would still be George. He was not a gentleman: well and good; neither was she, for that matter, a lady. But a certain manful hardness like George’s would not be amiss in the man one was to love. There was a discord now in that daily commonplace of happiness which had seemed to repeat the image of their mutual trust as a lucid pool reflects the cloudless blue. But if the discord should deepen and swell, it was sweet to think she might deafen her sense in that sturdy cousinship.
A simpler soul than Fenton’s might have guessed at the trouble of this quiet household. Fenton read in it as well an omen of needful departure. He accepted the necessity with an acute sense of failure,—almost of injury. He had gained nothing but the bother of being loved. It was a bother, because it gave him a vague importunate sense of responsibility. It seemed to fling upon all things a gray shade of prohibition. Yet the matter had its brightness, too, if a man could but swallow his superstitions. He cared for Nora quite enough to tell her he loved her; he had said as much, with an easy conscience, to girls for whom he cared far less. He felt gratefully enough the cool vestment of tenderness which she had spun about him, like a web of imponderous silver; but he had other uses for his time than to go masquerading through Nora’s fancy. The defeat of his hope that Roger, like an ideal oncle de comedie , would shower blessings and bank-notes upon his union with his cousin, involved the discomfiture of a secondary project; that, namely, of borrowing five thousand dollars. The reader will smile: but such is the naivete of “smart men.” He would consent, now, to be put off with five hundred. In this collapse of his visions he fell a-musing upon Nora’s financial value.
“Look here,” he said to her, with an air of heroic effort, “I see I’m in the way. I must be off.”
“I’m sorry, George,” said Nora, sadly.
“So am I. I never supposed I was proud. But I reckoned without my host!” he said with a bitter laugh. “I wish I had never come. Or rather I don’t. My girl of girls!”
She began to question him soothingly about his projects and prospects; and hereupon, for once, Fenton bent his mettle to simulate a pathetic incapacity. He set forth that he was discouraged; the future was a blank. It was child’s play, attempting to do anything without capital.
“And you have no capital?” said Nora, anxiously.
Fenton gave a poignant smile. “Why, my dear girl, I’m a poor man!”
“How poor?”
“Poor, poor, poor. Poor as a rat.”
“You don’t mean that you’re penniless?”
“What’s the use of my telling you? You can’t help me. And it would only make you unhappy.”
“If you are unhappy, I want to be!”
This golden vein of sentiment might certainly be worked. Fenton took out his pocket-book, drew from it four bank-notes of five dollars each, and ranged them with a sort of mournful playfulness in a line on his knee. “That’s my fortune.”
“Do you mean to say that twenty dollars is all you have in the world?”
Fenton smoothed out the creases, caressingly, in the soiled and crumpled notes. “It’s a great shame to bring you down to these sordid mysteries of misery,” he said. “Fortune has raised you above them.”
Nora’s heart began to beat. “Yes, it has. I have a little money, George. Some eighty dollars.”
Eighty dollars! George suppressed a groan. “He keeps you rather low.”
“Why, I have little use for money, and no chance, here in the country, to spend it. Roger is extremely generous. Every few weeks he forces money upon me. I often give it away to the poor people hereabouts. Only a fortnight ago I refused to take any more on account of my having this unspent. It’s agreed between us that I may give what I please in charity, and that my charities are my own affair. If I had only known of you, George, I should have appointed you my pensioner-in-chief.”
George was silent. He was wondering intently how he might arrange to become the standing recipient of her overflow. Suddenly he remembered that he ought to protest. But Nora had lightly quitted the room. Fenton repocketed his twenty dollars and awaited her reappearance. Eighty dollars was not a fortune; still it was a sum. To his great annoyance, before Nora returned, Roger presented himself. The young man felt for an instant as if he had been caught in an act of sentimental burglary, and made a movement to conciliate his detector. “I’m afraid I must bid you good by,” he said.
Roger frowned and wondered whether Nora had spoken. At this moment she reappeared, flushed and out of breath with the excitement of her purpose. She had been counting over her money and held in each hand a little fluttering package of bank-notes. On seeing Roger she stopped and blushed, exchanging with her cousin a rapid glance of inquiry. He almost glared at her, whether with warning or with menace she hardly knew. Roger stood looking at her, half amazed. Suddenly, as the meaning of her errand flashed upon him, he turned a furious crimson. He made a step forward, but cautioned himself; then, folding his arms, he silently waited. Nora, after a moment’s hesitation, rolling her notes together, came up to her cousin and held out the little package. Fenton kept his hands in his pockets and devoured her with his eyes. “What’s all this?” he said, brutally.
“O George!” cried Nora; and her eyes filled with tears.
Roger had divined the situation; the shabby victimization of the young girl and her kinsman’s fury at the disclosure of his avidity. He was angry; but he was even more disgusted. From so vulgar a knave there was little rivalship to fear. “I’m afraid I’m rather a marplot,” he said. “Don’t insist, Nora. Wait till my back is turned.”
“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Nora.
“ You? O, nothing whatever!” cried Roger, with a laugh.
Fenton stood leaning against the mantel-piece, desperately sullen, with a look of vicious confusion. “It’s only I who have anything to be ashamed of,” he said at last, bitterly, with an effort. “My poverty!”
Roger smiled graciously. “Honest poverty is never shameful!”
Fenton gave him an insolent stare. “Honest poverty! You know a great deal about it.”
“Don’t appeal to poor little Nora, man, for her savings,” Roger went on. “Come to me.”
“You’re unjust,” said Nora. “He didn’t appeal to me. I appealed to him. I guessed his poverty. He has only twenty dollars in the world.”
“O, you poor little fool!” roared Fenton’s eyes.
Roger was delighted. At a single stroke he might redeem his incivility and reinstate himself in Nora’s affections. He took out his pocket-book. “Let me help you. It was very stupid of me not to have guessed your embarrassment.” And he counted out a dozen notes.
Nora stepped to her cousin’s side and passed her hand through his arm. “Don’t be proud,” she murmured caressingly.
Roger’s notes were new and crisp. Fenton looked hard at the opposite wall, but, explain it who can, he read their successive figures,—a fifty, four twenties, six tens. He could have howled.
“Come don’t be proud,” repeated Roger, holding out this little bundle of wealth.
Two great passionate tears welled into the young man’s eyes. The sight of Roger’s sturdy sleekness, of the comfortable twinkle of patronage in his eye, was too much for him. “I sha’n’t give you a chance to be proud,” he said. “Take care! Your papers may go into the fire.”
“O George!” murmured Nora; and her murmur seemed to him delicious.
He bent down his head, passed his arm around her shoulders, and kissed her on her forehead. “Good by, dearest Nora,” he said.
Roger stood staring, with his proffered gift. “You decline?” he cried, almost defiantly.
“‘Decline’ isn’t the word. A man doesn’t decline an insult.”
Was Fenton, then, to have the best of it, and was his own very generosity to be turned against him? Blindly, passionately, Roger crumpled the notes in his fist and tossed them into the fire. In an instant they begun to blaze.
“Roger, are you mad?” cried Nora. And she made a movement to rescue the crackling paper. Fenton burst into a laugh. He caught her by the arm, clasped her round the waist, and forced her to stand and watch the brief blaze. Pressed against his side, she felt the quick beating of his heart. As the notes disappeared her eyes sought Roger’s face. He looked at her stupidly, and then turning on his heel, he walked out of the room. Her cousin, still holding her, showered upon her forehead half a dozen fierce kisses. But disengaging herself: “You must leave the house!” she cried. “Something dreadful will happen.”
Fenton had soon packed his valise, and Nora, meanwhile, had ordered a vehicle to carry him to the station. She waited for him in the portico. When he came out, with his bag in his hand, she offered him again her little roll of bills. But he was a wiser man than half an hour before. He took them, turned them over and selected a one-dollar note. “I’ll keep this,” he said, “in remembrance, and only spend it for my last dinner.” She made him promise, however, that if trouble really overtook him, he would let her know, and in any case he would write. As the wagon went over the crest of an adjoining hill he stood up and waved his hat. His tall, gaunt young figure, as it rose dark against the cold November sunset, cast a cooling shadow across the fount of her virgin sympathies. Such was the outline, surely, of the conquering hero, not of the conquered. Her fancy followed him forth into the world with a tender impulse of comradeship.
[]
Part Third
V
Roger’s quarrel with his young companion, if quarrel it was, was never repaired. It had scattered its seed; they were left lying, to be absorbed in the conscious soil or dispersed by some benignant breeze of accident, as destiny might appoint. But as a manner of clearing the air of its thunder, Roger, a week after Fenton’s departure, proposed she should go with him for a fortnight to town. Later, perhaps, they might arrange to remain for the winter. Nora had been longing vaguely for the relief of a change of circumstance; she assented with great good-will. They lodged at a hotel,—not the establishment at which they had made acquaintance. Here, late in the afternoon, the day after their arrival, Nora sat by the window, waiting for Roger to come and take her to dinner, and watching with the intentness of country eyes the hurrying throng in the street; thinking too at moments of a certain blue bonnet she had bought that morning, and comparing it, not uncomplacently, with the transitory bonnets on the pavement. A gentleman was introduced; Nora had not forgotten Hubert Lawrence. Hubert had occupied for more than a year past a pastoral office in the West, and had recently had little communication with his cousin. Nora he had seen but on a single occasion, that of his visit to Roger, six months after her advent. She had grown in the interval, from the little girl who slept with the “Child’s Own Book” under her pillow and dreamed of the Prince Avenant, into a stately maiden who read the “Heir of Redcliffe,” and mused upon the loves of the clergy. Hubert, too, had changed in his own degree. He was now thirty-one years of age and his character had lost something of a certain boyish vagueness of outline, which formerly had not been without its grace. But his elder grace was scarcely less effective. Various possible half-shadows in his personality had melted into broad, shallow lights. He was now, distinctly, one of the light-armed troops of the army of the Lord. He fought the Devil as an irresponsible skirmisher, not as a sturdy gunsman planted beside a booming sixty-pounder. The clerical cloth, as Hubert wore it, was not unmitigated sable; and in spite of his cloth, such as it was, humanity rather than divinity got the lion’s share of his attentions. He loved doubtless, in this world, the heavenward face of things, but he loved, as regards heaven, the earthward. He was rather an idler in the walks of theology and he was uncommitted to any very rigid convictions. He thought the old theological positions in very bad taste, but he thought the new theological negations in no taste at all. In fact, Hubert believed so vaguely and languidly in the Devil that there was but slender logic in his having undertaken the cure of souls. He administered his spiritual medicines in homoeopathic doses. It had been maliciously said that he had turned parson because parsons enjoy peculiar advantages in approaching the fair sex. The presumption is in their favor. Our business, however, is not to pick up idle reports. Hubert was, on the whole, a decidedly light weight, and yet his want of spiritual passion was by no means in effect a want of motive or stimulus; for the central pivot of his being continued to operate with the most noiseless precision and regularity,—the slim, erect, inflexible Ego . To the eyes of men, and especially to the eyes of women, whatever may have been the moving cause, the outer manifestation was supremely gracious. If Hubert had no great firmness of faith, he had a very pretty firmness of manner. He was gentle without timidity, frank without arrogance, clever without pedantry. The common measure of clerical disallowance was reduced in his hands to the tacit protest of a generous personal purity. His appearance bore various wholesome traces of the practical lessons of his Western pastorate. This had been disagreeable; he had had to apply himself, to devote himself, to compromise with a hundred aversions. His talents had been worth less to him than he expected, and he had been obliged, as the French say, to payer de sa personne ,—that person for which he entertained so delicate a respect,—in a peculiarly unsympathetic medium. All this had given him a slightly jaded, overwearied look, certain to deepen his interest in female eyes. He had actually a couple of wrinkles in his fair seraphic forehead. He secretly rejoiced in his wrinkles. They were his crown of glory. He had suffered, he had worked, he had been bored. Now he believed in earthly compensations.
“Dear me!” he said, “can this be Nora Lambert?”
She had risen to meet him, and held out her hand with girlish frankness. She was dressed in a light silk dress; she seemed altogether a young woman. “I have been growing hard in all these years,” she said. “I have had to overtake those pieds enormes .” The readers will not have forgotten that Hubert had thus qualified her lower members. Ignorant as she was, at the moment, of the French tongue, her memory had instinctively retained the words, and she had taken an early opportunity to look out pied in the dictionary. Enorme , of course, spoke for itself.
“You must have caught up with them now,” Hubert said, laughing. “You’re an enormous young lady. I should never have known you.” He sat down, asked various questions about Roger, and adjured her to tell him, as he said, “all about herself.” The invitation was flattering, but it met only a partial compliance. Unconscious as yet of her own charm, Nora was oppressed by a secret admiration of her companion. His presence seemed to open a sudden vista in the narrow precinct of her young experience. She compared him with her cousin, and wondered that he should be at once so impressive and so different. She blushed a little, privately, for Fenton, and was not ill-pleased to think he was absent. In the light of Hubert’s good manners, his admission that he was no gentleman acquired an excessive force. By this thrilling intimation of the diversity of the male sex, the mental pinafore of childhood seemed finally dismissed. Hubert was so frank and friendly, so tenderly and gallantly patronizing, that more than once she felt herself drifting toward an answering freedom of confidence; but on the verge of effusion, something absent in the tone of his assent, a vague fancy that, in the gathering dusk, he was looking at her all at his ease, rather than listening to her, converted her bravery into what she knew to be deplorable little-girlishness. On the whole, this interview may have passed for Nora’s first lesson in the art, indispensable to a young lady on the threshold of society, of talking for half an hour without saying anything. The lesson was interrupted by the arrival of Roger, who greeted his cousin with almost extravagant warmth, and insisted on his staying to dinner. Roger was to take Nora after dinner to a concert, for which he felt no great enthusiasm; he proposed to Hubert, who was a musical man, to occupy his place. Hubert demurred awhile; but in the mean time Nora, having gone to prepare herself, reappeared, looking extremely well in the blue crape bonnet before mentioned, with her face bright with anticipated pleasure. For a moment Roger was vexed at having resigned his office: Hubert immediately stepped into it. They came home late, the blue bonnet nothing the worse for wear, and the young girl’s face illumined by a dozen intense impressions. She was in a fever of gayety; she treated Roger to a representation of the concert, and made a great show of voice. Her departing childishness, her dawning tact, her freedom with Roger, her half-freedom with Hubert, made a charming mixture, and insured for her auditors the success of the entertainment. When she had retired, amid a mimic storm of applause from the two gentlemen, Roger solemnly addressed his cousin, “Well, what do you think of her? I hope you have no fault to find with her feet.”
“I have had no observation of her feet,” said Hubert; “but she will have very handsome hands. She’s a very nice creature.” Roger sat lounging in his chair with his hands in his pockets, his chin on his breast, and a heavy gaze fixed on Hubert. The latter was struck with his deeply preoccupied aspect. “But let us talk of you rather than of Nora,” he said. “I have been waiting for a chance to tell you that you look very poorly.”
“Nora or I,—it’s all one. Hubert, I live in that child!”
Hubert was startled by the sombre energy of his tone. The old polished placid Roger was in abeyance. “My dear fellow,” he said, “you’re altogether wrong. Live for yourself. You may be sure she’ll do as much. You take it too hard.”
“Yes, I take it too hard. It wears upon me.”
“What’s the matter? Is she troublesome? Is she more than you bargained for?” Roger sat gazing at him in silence, with the same grave eye. He began to suspect Nora had turned out a losing investment. “Is she—a—vicious?” he went on. “Surely not with that sweet face!”
Roger started to his feet impatiently. “Don’t misunderstand me!” he cried. “I’ve been longing to see some one—to talk—to get some advice—some sympathy. I’m fretting myself away.”
“Good heavens, man, give her a thousand dollars and send her back to her family. You’ve educated her.”
“Her family! She has no family! She’s the loneliest as well as the sweetest, wisest, best of creatures! If she were only a tenth as good, I should be a happier man. I can’t think of parting with her; not for all I possess!”
Hubert stared a moment. “Why, you’re in love!”
“Yes,” said Roger, blushing. “I’m in love.”
“Come!”
“I’m not ashamed of it,” rejoined Roger, softly.
It was no business of Hubert’s certainly; but he felt the least bit disappointed. “Well,” he said, coolly, “why don’t you marry her?”
“It’s not so simple as that!”
“She’ll not have you?”
Roger frowned impatiently. “Reflect a moment. You pretend to be a man of delicacy.”
“You mean she’s too young? Nonsense. If you are sure of her, the younger the better.”
“Hubert,” cried Roger, “for my unutterable misery, I have a conscience. I wish to leave her free, and take the risk. I wish to be just, and let the matter work itself out. You may think me absurd, but I wish to be loved for myself, as other men are loved.”
It was a specialty of Hubert’s that in proportion as other people grew hot, he grew cool. To keep cool, morally, in a heated medium was, in fact, for Hubert a peculiar satisfaction. He broke into a long light laugh. “Excuse me,” he said, “but there is something ludicrous in your attitude. What business has a lover with a conscience? None at all! That’s why I keep out of it. It seems to me your prerogative to be downright. If you waste any more time in hair-splitting, you’ll find your young lady has taken things in the lump!”
“Do you really think there is danger?” Roger demanded, pitifully. “Not yet awhile. She’s only a child. Tell me, rather, is she only a child? You’ve spent the evening beside her: how does she strike a stranger?”
While Hubert’s answer lingered on his lips, the door opened and Nora came in. Her errand was to demand the use of Roger’s watch-key, her own having mysteriously vanished. She had begun to take out her pins and had muffled herself for this excursion in a merino dressing-gown of sombre blue. Her hair was gathered for the night into a single massive coil, which had been loosened by the rapidity of her flight along the passage. Roger’s key proved a complete misfit, so that she had recourse to Hubert’s. It hung on the watch-chain which depended from his waistcoat, and some rather intimate fumbling was needed to adjust it to Nora’s diminutive timepiece. It worked admirably, and she stood looking at him with a little smile of caution as it creaked on the pivot. “I wouldn’t have troubled you,” she said, “but that without my watch I should oversleep myself. You know Roger’s temper, and what I should suffer if I were late for breakfast!”
Roger was ravished at this humorous sally, and when, on making her escape, she clasped one hand to her head to support her released tresses, and hurried along the corridor with the other confining the skirts of her inflated robe, he kissed his hand after her with more than jocular good-will.
“Ah! it’s as bad as that!” said Hubert, shaking his head.
“I had no idea she had such hair,” cried Roger. “You’re right, it’s no case for shilly-shallying.”
“Take care!” said Hubert. “She’s only a child.”
Roger looked at him a moment. “My dear fellow, you’re a hypocrite.”
Hubert colored the least bit, and then took up his hat and began to smooth it with his handkerchief. “Not at all. See how frank I can be. I recommend you to marry the young lady and have done with it. If you wait, it will be at your own risk. I assure you I think she’s charming, and if I’m not mistaken, this is only a hint of future possibilities. Don’t sow for others to reap. If you think the harvest isn’t ripe, let it ripen in milder sunbeams than these vigorous hand-kisses! Lodge her with some proper person and go to Europe; come home from Paris a year hence with her trousseau in your trunks, and I’ll perform the ceremony without another fee than the prospect of having an adorable cousin.” With these words Hubert left his companion pensive.
His words reverberated in Roger’s mind; I may almost say that they rankled. A couple of days later, in the hope of tenderer counsel, he called upon our friend Mrs. Keith. This lady had completely rounded the cape of matrimony, and was now buoyantly at anchor in the placid cover of well-dowered widowhood. I have heard many a young unmarried lady exclaim with a bold sweep of conception, “Ah me! I wish I were a widow!” Mrs. Keith was precisely the widow that young unmarried ladies wish to be. With her diamonds in her dressing-case and her carriage in her stable, and without a feather’s weight of encumbrance, she offered a finished example of satisfied ambition. Her wants had been definite; these once gratified, she had not presumed further. She was a very much worthier woman than in those hungry virginal days when Roger had wooed her. Prosperity had agreed equally well with her beauty and her temper. The wrinkles on her brow had stood still, like Joshua’s sun, and a host of good intentions and fair promises seemed to irradiate her person. Roger, as he stood before her, not only felt that his passion was incurably defunct, but allowed himself to doubt that this veuve consolee would have made an ideal wife. The lady, mistaking his embarrassment for the forms of smouldering ardor, determined to transmute his devotion by the subtle chemistry of friendship. This she found easy work; in ten minutes the echoes of the past were hushed in the small-talk of the present. Mrs. Keith was on the point of sailing for Europe, and had much to say of her plans and arrangements,—of the miserable rent she was to get for her house. “Why shouldn’t one turn an honest penny?” she said. “And now,” she went on, when the field had been cleared, “tell me about the young lady.” This was precisely what Roger wished; but just as he was about to begin his story there came an irruption of visitors, fatal to the confidential. Mrs. Keith found means to take him aside. “Seeing is better than hearing,” she said, “and I’m dying to see her. Bring her this evening to dinner, and we shall have her to ourselves.”
Mrs. Keith had long been for Nora an object of mystical veneration. Roger had been in the habit of alluding to her, not freely nor frequently, but with a certain implicit homage which more than once had set Nora wondering. She entered the lady’s drawing-room that evening with an oppressive desire to please. The interest manifested by Roger in the question of what she should wear assured her that he had staked a nameless something on the impression she might make. She was not only reassured, however, but altogether captivated, by the lavish cordiality of her hostess. Mrs. Keith kissed her on both cheeks, held her at her two arms’ length, gave a twist to the fall of her sash, and made her feel very plainly that she was being inspected and appraised; but all with a certain flattering light in the eye and a tender matronly smile, which rather increased than diminished the young girl’s composure. Mrs. Keith was herself so elegant, so finished, so fragrant of taste and sense, that before an hour was over Nora felt that she had borrowed the hint of a dozen indispensable graces. After dinner her hostess bade her sit down to the piano. Here, feeling sure of her ground, Nora surpassed herself. Mrs. Keith beckoned to Roger to come and sit beside her on the sofa, where, as she nodded time with her head, she softly conversed under cover of the music. Prosperity, as I have intimated, had acted on her moral nature very much as a medicinal tonic—quinine or iron—acts upon the physical. She was in a comfortable glow of charity. She itched gently, she hardly knew where,—was it in heart or brain?—to render some one a service. She had on hand a small capital of sentimental patronage for which she desired a secure investment. Here was her chance. The project which Roger had imparted to her three years before seemed to her, now she had taken Nora’s measure, to contain such pretty elements of success that she deemed it a sovereign pity it should not be rounded into blissful symmetry. She determined to lend an artistic hand. “Does she know it, that matter?” she asked in a whisper.
“I have never told her.”
“That’s right. I approve your delicacy. Of course you’re sure of your case. She’s altogether lovely,—she’s one in a thousand. I really envy you; upon my word, Mr. Lawrence, I’m jealous. She has a style of her own. It’s not quite beauty; it’s not quite cleverness. It belongs neither altogether to her person, nor yet to her mind. It’s a sort of ‘tone.’ Time will bring it out. She has pretty things, too; one of these days she may take it into her head to be a beauty of beauties. Nature never meant her to hold up her head so well for nothing. Ah, how wrinkled and becapped it makes one feel! To be sixteen years old, with that head of hair, with health and good connections, with that amount of good-will at the piano, it’s the very best thing in the world, if they but knew it! But no! they must leave it all behind them; they must pull their hair to pieces, they must get rid of their complexions; they must be twenty, they must have lovers, and go their own gait. Well, since it must come, we must attend to the profits: they’ll take care of the lovers. Give Nora to me for a year. She needs a woman, a wise woman, a woman like me. Men, when they undertake to meddle with a young girl’s education, are veriest old grandmothers. Let me take her to Europe and bring her out in Rome. Don’t be afraid; I’ll guard your interests. I’ll bring you back the finest girl in America. I see her from here!” And describing a great curve in the air with her fan, Mrs. Keith inclined her head to one side in a manner suggestive of a milliner who descries in the bosom of futurity the ideal bonnet. Looking at Roger, she saw that her point was gained; and Nora, having just finished her piece, was accordingly summoned to the sofa and made to sit down at Mrs. Keith’s feet. Roger went and stood before the fire. “My dear Nora,” said Mrs. Keith, as if she had known her from childhood, “how would you like to go with me to Rome?”
Nora started to her feet, and stood looking open-eyed from one to the other. “Really?” she said. “Does Roger—”
“Roger,” said Mrs. Keith, “finds you so hard to manage that he has made you over to me. I forewarn you, I’m a terrible woman. But if you are not afraid, I shall scold you and pinch you no harder than I would a daughter of my own.”
“I give you up for a year,” said Roger. “It’s hard, troublesome as you are.”
Nora stood wavering for a moment, hesitating where to deposit her excess of joy. Then graciously dropping on her knees before Mrs. Keith, she bent her young head and exhaled it in an ample kiss. “I’m not afraid of you,” she said, simply. Roger turned round and began to poke the fire.
The next day Nora went forth to buy certain articles necessary in travelling. It was raining so heavily that, at Roger’s direction, she took a carriage. Coming out of a shop, in the course of her expedition, she encountered Hubert Lawrence, tramping along in the wet. He helped her back to her carriage, and stood for a moment talking to her through the window. As they were going in the same direction, she invited him to get in; and on his hesitating, she added that she hoped their interview was not to end there, as she was going to Europe with Mrs. Keith. At this news Hubert jumped in and placed himself on the front seat. The knowledge that she was drifting away gave a sudden value to the present occasion. Add to this that in the light of Roger’s revelation after the concert, this passive, predestined figure of hers had acquired for the young man a certain rich interest. Nora found herself strangely at ease with her companion. From time to time she strove to check the headlong course of her girlish epanouissement ; but Hubert evidently, with his broad superior gallantry, was not the person to note to a hair’s value the pitiful more or less of a school-girl’s primness. Her enjoyment of his presence, her elation in the prospect of departure, made her gayety reckless. They went together to half a dozen shops and talked and laughed so distractedly over her purchases, that she made them sadly at haphazard. At last their progress was arrested by a dead-lock of vehicles in front of them, caused by the breaking down of a horse-car. The carriage drew up near the sidewalk in front of a confectioner’s. On Nora’s regretting the delay, and saying she was ravenous for lunch, Hubert went into the shop, and returned with a bundle of tarts. The rain came down in sheeted torrents, so that they had to close both the windows. Circled about with this watery screen, they feasted on their tarts with extraordinary relish. In a short time Hubert made another excursion, and returned with a second course. His diving to and fro in the rain excited them to extravagant mirth. Nora had bought some pocket-handkerchiefs, which were in that cohesive state common to these articles in the shop. It seemed a very pretty joke to spread the piece across their knees as a table-cloth.
“To think of picnicking in the midst of Washington Street!” cried Nora, with her lips besprinkled with flakes of pastry.
“For a young lady about to leave her native land, her home, and friends, and all that’s dear to her,” said Hubert, “you seem to me in very good spirits.”
“Don’t speak of it,” said Nora. “I shall cry to-night; I know I shall.”
“You’ll not be able to do this kind of thing abroad,” said Hubert. “Do you know we’re monstrously improper? For a young girl it’s by no means pure gain, going to Europe. She comes into a very pretty heritage of prohibitions. You have no idea of the number of improper things a young girl can do. You’re walking on the edge of a precipice. Don’t look over or you’ll lose your head and never walk straight again. Here, you’re all blindfold. Promise me not to lose this blessed bondage of American innocence. Promise me that, when you come back, we shall spend another morning together as free and delightful as this one!”
“I promise you!” said Nora; but Hubert’s words had potently foreshadowed the forfeiture of sweet possibilities. For the rest of the drive she was in a graver mood. They found Roger beneath the portico of the hotel, watch in hand, staring up and down the street. Preceding events having been explained to him, he offered to drive his cousin home.
“I suppose Nora has told you,” he began, as they proceeded.
“Yes! Well, I’m sorry. She’s a charming girl.”
“Ah!” Roger cried; “I knew you thought so!”
“You’re as knowing as ever! She sails, she tells me, on Wednesday next. And you, when do you sail?”
“I don’t sail at all. I’m going home.”
“Are you sure of that?”
Roger gazed for a moment out of the window. “I mean for a year,” he said, “to allow her perfect liberty.”
“And to accept the consequences?”
“Absolutely.” And Roger folded his arms.
This conversation took place on a Friday. Nora was to sail from New York on the succeeding Wednesday; for which purpose she was to leave Boston with Mrs. Keith on the Monday. The two ladies were of course to be attended to the ship by Roger. Early Sunday morning Nora received a visit from her friend. The reader will perhaps remember that Mrs. Keith was a recent convert to the Roman Catholic faith; as such, she performed her religious duties with peculiar assiduity. Her present errand was to propose that Nora should go with her to church and join in offering a mass for their safety at sea. “I don’t want to undermine your faith, you know; but I think it would be so nice,” said Mrs. Keith. Appealing to Roger, Nora received permission to do as she pleased; she therefore lent herself with fervor to this pious enterprise. The two ladies spent an hour at the foot of the altar,—an hour of romantic delight to the younger one. On Sunday evening Roger, who, as the day of separation approached, became painfully anxious and reluctant, betook himself to Mrs. Keith, with the desire to enforce upon her mind a solemn sense of her responsibilities and of the value of the treasure he had confided to her. Nora, left alone, sat wondering whether Hubert might not come to bid her farewell. Wandering listlessly about the room, her eye fell on the Saturday-evening paper. She took it up and glanced down the columns. In one of them she perceived a list of the various church services of the morrow. Last in the line stood this announcement: “At the —— —— Church, the Rev. Hubert Lawrence, at eight o’clock.” It gave her a gentle shock; it destroyed the vision of his coming in and their having, under the lamp, by the fire, the serious counterpart of their frolicsome tête-à-tête in the carriage. She longed to show him that she was not a giggling child, but a wise young lady. But no; in a bright, crowded church, before a hundred eyes, he was speaking of divine things. How did he look in the pulpit? If she could only see him! And why not? She looked at her watch; it stood at ten minutes to eight. She made no pause to reflect; she only felt that she must hurry. She rang the bell and ordered a carriage, and then, hastening to her room, put on her shawl and bonnet,—the blue crape bonnet of the concert. In a few moments she was on her way to the church. When she reached it, her heart was beating fast; she was on the point of turning back. But the coachman opened the carriage door with such a flourish, that she was ashamed not to get out. She was late; the church was full, the hymn had been sung, and the sermon was about to begin. The sexton with great solemnity conducted her up the aisle to a pew directly beneath the pulpit. She bent her eyes on the ground, but she knew that there was a deep expectant silence, and that Hubert, in a white cravat, was upright before the desk, looking at her. She sat down beside a very grim-visaged old lady with bushy eyebrows, who stared at her so hard, that to hide her confusion she buried her head and improvised a prayer; upon which the old lady seemed to stare more intently, as if she thought her very pretentious. When she raised her head, Hubert had begun to speak; he was looking above her and beyond her, and during the sermon his level glance never met her own. Of what did he speak and what was the moral of his discourse? Nora could not have told you; yet not a soul in the audience surely, not all those listening souls together, were more devoutly attentive than she. But it was not on what he said, but on what he was, or seemed to be, that her perception was centred. Hubert Lawrence had an excellent gift of oratory. His voice was full of penetrating sweetness, and in the bright warm air of the compact little church, modulated with singular refinement, it resounded and sank with the cadence of ringing silver. His speech was silver, though I doubt that his silence was ever golden. His utterance seemed to Nora the perfection of eloquence. She thought of her brief exaltation of the morning, in the incense-thickened air of the Catholic church; but what a straighter flight to heaven was this! Hubert’s week-day face was a summer cloud, with a lining of celestial brightness. Now, how the divine truth overlapped its relenting edges and seemed to transform it into a dazzling focus of light! He spoke for half an hour, but Nora took no note of time. As the service drew to a close, he gave her from the pulpit a rapid glance, which she interpreted as a request to remain. When the congregation began to disperse, a number of persons, chiefly ladies, waited for him near the pulpit, and, as he came down, met him with greetings and compliments. Nora watched him from her place, listening, smiling and passing his handkerchief over his forehead. At last they relieved him, and he came up to her. She remembered for years afterward the strange half-smile on his face. There was something in it like a pair of eyes peeping over a wall. It seemed to express so fine an acquiescence in what she had done, that, for the moment, she had a startled sense of having committed herself to something. He gave her his hand, without manifesting any surprise. “How did you get here?”
“In a carriage. I saw it in the paper at the last moment.”
“Does Roger know you came?”
“No; he had gone to Mrs. Keith’s.”
“So you started off alone, at a moment’s notice?”
She nodded, blushing. He was still holding her hand; he pressed it and dropped it. “O Hubert,” cried Nora, suddenly, “ now I know you!”
Two ladies were lingering near, apparently mother and daughter. “I must be civil to them,” he said; “they have come from New York to hear me.” He quickly rejoined them and conducted them toward their carriage. The younger one was extremely pretty, and looked a little like a Jewess. Nora observed that she wore a great diamond in each ear; she eyed our heroine rather severely as they passed. In a few minutes Hubert came back, and, before she knew it, she had taken his arm and he was beside her in her own carriage. They drove to the hotel in silence; he went up stairs with her. Roger had not returned. “Mrs. Keith is very agreeable,” said Hubert. “But Roger knew that long ago. I suppose you have heard,” he added; “but perhaps you’ve not heard.”
“I’ve not heard,” said Nora, “but I’ve suspected—”
“What?”
“No; it’s for you to say.”
“Why, that Mrs. Keith might have been Mrs. Lawrence.”
“Ah, I was right,—I was right,” murmured Nora, with a little air of triumph. “She may be still. I wish she would!” Nora was removing her bonnet before the mirror over the chimney-piece; as she spoke, she caught Hubert’s eye in the glass. He dropped it and took up his hat. “Won’t you wait?” she asked.
He said he thought he had better go, but he lingered without sitting down. Nora walked about the room, she hardly knew why, smoothing the table-covers and rearranging the chairs.
“Did you cry about your departure, the other night, as you promised?” Hubert asked.
“I confess that I was so tired with our adventures, that I went straight to sleep.”
“Keep your tears for a better cause. One of the greatest pleasures in life is in store for you. There are a hundred things I should like to say to you about Rome. How I only wish I were going to show it you! Let me beg you to go some day to a little place in the Via Felice, on the Pincian,—a house with a terrace adjoining the fourth floor. There is a plasterer’s shop in the basement. You can reach the terrace by the common staircase. I occupied the rooms adjoining it, and it was my peculiar property. I remember I used often to share it with a poor little American sculptress who lived below. She made my bust; the Apollo Belvedere was nothing to it. I wonder what has become of her! Take a look at the view,—the view I woke up to every morning, read by, studied by, lived by. I used to alternate my periods of sight-seeing with fits of passionate study. In another winter I think I might have learned something. Your real lover of Rome oscillates with a kind of delicious pain between the city in itself and the city in literature. They keep forever referring you to each other and bandying you to and fro. If we had eyes for metaphysical things, Nora, you might see a hundred odd bits of old ambitions and day-dreams strewing that little terrace. Ah, as I sat there, how the Campagna used to take up the tale and respond to my printed page! If I know anything of the lesson of history (a man of my profession is supposed to), I learned it in that empurpled air! I should like to know who’s sitting in the same school now. Perhaps you’ll write me a word.”
“I’ll piously gather up the crumbs of your feasts and make a meal of them,” said Nora. “I’ll let you know how they taste.”
“Pray do. And one more request. Don’t let Mrs. Keith make a Catholic of you.” And he put out his hand.
She shook her head slowly, as she took it. “I’ll have no Pope but you,” she said.
The next moment he was gone.
[]
VI
Roger had assured his cousin that he meant to return home, and indeed, after Nora’s departure, he spent a fortnight in the country. But finding he had no patience left for solitude, he again came to town and established himself for the winter. A restless need of getting rid of time caused him to resume his earlier social habits. It began to be said of him that now he had disposed of that queer little girl whom he had picked up heaven knew where (whom it was certainly very good-natured of Mrs. Keith to take off his hands), he was going to look about him for a young person whom he might take to his home in earnest. Roger felt as if he were now establishing himself in society in behalf of that larger personality into which his narrow singleness was destined to expand. He was paving the way for Nora. It seemed to him that she might find it an easy way to tread. He compared her attentively with every young girl he met; many were prettier, some possessed in larger degree the air of “brightness”; but none revealed that deep-shrined natural force, lurking in the shadow of modesty like a statue in a recess, which you hardly know whether to denominate humility or pride.
One evening, at a large party, Roger found himself approached by an elderly lady who had known him from his boyhood and for whom he had a vague traditional regard, but with whom of late years he had relaxed his intercourse, from a feeling that, being a very worldly old woman, her influence on Nora might be pernicious. She had never smiled on the episode of which Nora was the heroine, and she hailed Roger’s reappearance as a sign that this episode was at an end, and that he meant to begin to live as a man of taste. She was somewhat cynical in her shrewdness, and, so far as she might, she handled matters without gloves.
“I’m glad to see you have found your wits again,” she said, “and that that forlorn little orphan—Dora, Flora, what’s her name?—hasn’t altogether made a fool of you. You want to marry; come, don’t deny it. You can no more remain unmarried than I can remain standing here. Go ask that little man for his chair. With your means and your disposition and all the rest of it, you ought by this time to be setting a good example. But it’s never too late to mend. J’ai votre affaire . Have you been introduced to Miss Sandys? Who is Miss Sandys? There you are to the life! Miss Sandys is Miss Sandys, the young lady in whose honor we are here convened. She is staying with my sister. You must have heard of her. New York, but good New York; so pretty that she might be as silly as you please, yet as clever and good as if she were as plain as I. She’s everything a man can want. If you’ve not seen her it’s providential. Come; don’t protest for the sake of protesting. I have thought it all out. Allow me! in this matter I have a real sixth sense. I know at a glance what will do and what won’t. You’re made for each other. Come and be presented. You have just time to settle down to it before supper.”
Then came into Roger’s honest visage a sort of Mephistophelian glee,—the momentary intoxication of duplicity. “Well, well,” he said, “let us see all that’s to be seen.” And he thought of his Peruvian Teresa. Miss Sandys, however, proved no Teresa, and Roger’s friend had not overstated her merits. Her beauty was remarkable; and strangely, in spite of her blooming maturity, something in her expression, her smile, reminded him forcibly of Nora. So Nora might look after ten or twelve years of evening parties. There was a hint, just a hint, of customary triumph in the poise of her head, an air of serene success in her carriage; but it was her especial charm that she seemed to melt downward and condescend from this altitude of loveliness with a benignant and considerate grace; to drop, as it were, from the zenith of her favor, with a little shake of invitation, the silken cable of a long-drawn smile. Roger felt that there was so little to be feared from her that he actually enjoyed the mere surface glow of his admiration; the sense of floating unmelted in the genial zone of her presence, like a polar ice-block in a summer sea. The more he observed her, the more she seemed to foreshadow his prospective Nora; so that at last, borrowing confidence from this phantasmal identity, he addressed her with unaffected friendliness. Miss Sandys, who was a woman of perceptions, seeing an obviously modest man swimming, as it were, in this mystical calm, became interested. She divined in Roger’s manner an unwonted force of admiration. She had feasted her fill on uttered flattery; but here was a good man whose appreciation left compliments far behind. At the end of ten minutes Roger frankly proclaimed that she reminded him singularly of a young girl he knew. “A young girl, forsooth,” thought Miss Sandys. “Is he coming to his fadaises , like the rest of them?”
“You’re older than she,” Roger added, “but I expect her to look like you some time hence.”
“I gladly bequeath her my youth, as I come to give it up.”
“You can never have been plain,” said Roger. “My friend, just now, is no beauty. But I assure you, you encourage me.”
“Tell me about this young lady,” his companion rejoined. “It’s interesting to hear about people one looks like.”
“I should like to tell you,” said Roger, “but you would laugh at me.”
“You do me injustice. Evidently this is a matter of sentiment. A bit of genuine sentiment is the best thing in the world; and when I catch myself laughing at a mortal who confesses to one, I submit to being told that I have grown old only to grow silly.”
Roger smiled approval. “I can only say,” he answered, “that this young friend of mine is, to me, the most interesting object in the world.”
“In other words, you’re engaged to her.”
“Not a bit of it.”
“Why, then, she is a deaf-mute whom you have rendered vocal, or a pretty heathen whom you have brought to Sunday school.”
Roger laughed exuberantly. “You’ve hit it,” he said; “a deaf-mute whom I have taught to speak. Add to that, that she was a little blind, and that now she recognizes me with spectacles, and you’ll admit that I have reason to be proud of my work.” Then after a pause he pursued, seriously: “If anything were to happen to her—”
“If she were to lose her faculties—”
“I should be in despair; but I know what I should do. I should come to you.”
“O, I should be a poor substitute!”
“I should make love to you,” Roger went on.
“You would be in despair indeed. But you must bring me some supper.”
Half an hour later, as the ladies were cloaking themselves, Mrs. Middleton, who had undertaken Roger’s case, asked Miss Sandys for her impressions. These seemed to have been highly propitious. “He is not a shining light perhaps,” the young lady said, “but he has the real moral heat that one so seldom meets. He’s in earnest; after what I have been through, that’s very pleasant. And by the way, what is this little deaf and dumb girl in whom he is interested?”
Mrs. Middleton stared. “I never heard she was deaf and dumb. Very likely. He adopted her and brought her up. He has sent her abroad—to learn the languages!”
Miss Sandys mused as they descended the stairs. “He’s a good man,” she said. “I like him.”
It was in consequence, doubtless, of this last remark that Roger, the next morning, received a note from his friend. “You have made a hit; I shall never forgive you, if you don’t follow it up. You have only to be decently civil and then propose. Come and dine with me on Wednesday. I shall have only one guest. You know I always take a nap after dinner.”
The same post that brought Mrs. Middleton’s note brought him a letter from Nora. It was dated from Rome, and ran as follows:—
“I hardly know, dearest Roger, whether to begin with an apology or a scolding. We have each something to forgive, but you have certainly least. I have before me your two poor little notes, which I have been reading over for the twentieth time; trying, in this city of miracles, to work upon them the miracle of the loaves and fishes. But the miracle won’t come; they remain only two very much bethumbed epistles. Dear Roger, I have been extremely vexed and uneasy. I have fancied you were ill, or, worse,—that out of sight is out of mind. It’s not with me, I assure you. I have written you twelve little letters. They have been short only cause I have been horribly busy. To-day I declined an invitation to drive on the Campagna, on purpose to write to you. The Campagna,—do you hear? I can hardly believe that, five months ago, I was watching the ripe apples drop in the orchard at C——. We are always on our second floor on the Pincian, with plenty of sun, which you know is the great necessity here. Close at hand are the great steps of the Piazza di Spagna, where the beggars and models sit at the receipt of custom. Some of them are so handsome, sunning themselves there in their picturesqueness, that I can’t help wishing I knew how to paint or draw. I wish I had been a good girl three years ago and done as you wished, and taken drawing-lessons in earnest. Dear Roger, I never neglected your advice but to my cost. Mrs. Keith is extremely kind and determined I shall have not come abroad to ‘mope,’ as she says. She doesn’t care much for sight-seeing, having done it all before; though she keeps pretty well au courant of the various church festivals. She very often talks of you and is very fond of you. She is full of good points, but that is her best one. My own sight-seeing habits don’t at all incommode her, owing to my having made the acquaintance of a little old German lady who lives at the top of our house. She is a queer wizened oddity of a woman, but she is very clever and friendly, and she has the things of Rome on her fingers’ ends. The reason of her being here is very sad and beautiful. Twelve years ago her younger sister, a beautiful girl (she has shown me her miniature), was deceived and abandoned by her betrothed. She fled away from her home, and after many weary wanderings found her way to Rome, and gained admission to the convent with the dreadful name,—the Sepolte Vive. Here, ever since, she has been immured. The inmates are literally buried alive; they are dead to the outer world. My poor little Mademoiselle Stamm followed her and took up her dwelling here, to be near her, though with a dead stone wall between them. For twelve years she has never seen her. Her only communication with Lisa—her conventual name she doesn’t even know—is once a week to deposit a bouquet of flowers, with her name attached, in the little blind wicket of the convent-wall. To do this with her own hands, she lives in Rome. She composes her bouquet with a kind of passion; I have seen her and helped her. Fortunately flowers in Rome are very cheap, for my friend is deplorably poor. I have had a little pleasure, a great pleasure rather, I confess it has been. For the past two months I have furnished the flowers, and I assure you we have had the best. I go each time with Mademoiselle Stamm to the wicket, and we put in our bouquet and see it gobbled up into the speechless maw of the cloister. It’s a dismal amusement, but I confess it interests me. I feel as if I knew this poor Lisa; though, after all, she may be dead, and we may be worshipping a shadow. But in this city of shadows and memories, what is one shadow the more? Don’t think, however, that we spend all our time in this grim fashion. We go everywhere, we see everything; I couldn’t be in better hands. Mrs. Keith has doubts about my friend’s moral influence; she accuses her of being a German philosopher in petticoats. She is a German, she wears petticoats; and having known poverty and unhappiness, she is obliged to be something of a philosopher. As for her metaphysics, they may be very wicked, but I should be too stupid to understand them, and it’s less trouble to abide by my own—and Mrs. Keith’s! At all events, I have told her all about you, and she says you are the one good man she ever heard of: so it’s not for you to disapprove of her! My mornings I spend with her; after lunch I go out with Mrs. Keith. We drive to the various villas, make visits upon all kinds of people, go to studios and churches and palaces. In the evenings we hold high revel. Mrs. Keith knows every one; she receives a great many people, and we go out in proportion. It’s a most amusing world. I have seen more people in the last six weeks than I ever expected to in a lifetime. I feel so old—you wouldn’t know me! One grows more in a month in this wonderful Rome than in a year at home. Mrs. Keith is very much liked and admired. She has lightened her mourning and looks much better; but, as she says, she will never be herself till she gets back to pink. As for me, I wear pink and blue and every color of the rainbow. It appears that everything suits me; there’s no spoiling me. You see it’s an advantage not to have a complexion. Of course, I’m out ,—a thousand miles out. I came out six weeks ago at the great ball of the Princess X. How the Princess X.—poor lady!—came to serve my turn, is more than I can say; but Mrs. Keith is a fairy godmother; she shod me in glass slippers and we went. I fortunately came home with my slippers on my feet. I was very much frightened when we went in. I curtesied to the Princess; and the Princess stared good-naturedly; while I heard Mrs. Keith behind me whispering, ‘Lower, lower!’ But I have yet to learn how to curtesy to condescending princesses. Now I can drop a little bow to a good old cardinal as smartly as you please. Mrs. Keith has presented me to half a dozen, with whom I pass, I suppose, for an interesting convert. Alas, I’m only a convert to worldly vanities, which I confess I vastly enjoy. Dear Roger, I am hopelessly frivolous. The shrinking diffidence of childhood I have utterly cast away. I speak up at people as bold as brass. I like having them introduced to me, and having to be interested and interesting at a moment’s notice. I like listening and watching; I like sitting up to the small hours; I like talking myself. But I need hardly to tell you this, at the end of my ten pages of chatter. I have talked about my own affairs, because I know they will interest you. Profit by my good example, and tell me all about yours. Do you miss me? I have read over and over your two little notes, to find some little hint that you do; but not a word! I confess I wouldn’t have you too unhappy. I am so glad to hear you are in town, and not at that dreary, wintry C——. Is our old C—— life at an end, I wonder? Nothing can ever be the same after a winter in Rome. Sometimes I’m half frightened at having had it in my youth. It leaves such a chance for a contrasted future! But I shall come back some day with you. And not even the Princess X. shall make me forget my winter seat by the library fire at C——, my summer seat under the great apple-tree.”
This production seemed to Roger a marvel of intellectual promise and epistolary grace; it filled his eyes with grateful tears; he carried it in his pocket-book and read it to a dozen people. His tears, however, were partly those of penitence, as well as of delight. He had had a purpose in staying his own hand, though heaven knows it had ached to write. He wished to make Nora miss him and to let silence combine with absence to plead for him. Had he succeeded? Not too well, it would seem; yet well enough to make him feel that he had been cruel. His letter occupied him so intensely that it was not till within an hour of Mrs. Middleton’s dinner that he remembered his engagement. In the drawing-room he found Miss Sandys, looking even more beautiful in a dark high-necked dress than in the glory of gauze and flowers. During dinner he was in excellent spirits; he uttered perhaps no epigrams, but he gave, by his laughter, an epigrammatic turn to the ladyish gossip of his companions. Mrs. Middleton entertained the best hopes. When they had left the table she betook herself to her arm-chair, and erected a little hand-screen before her face, behind which she slept or not, as you please. Roger, suddenly bethinking himself that if Miss Sandys had been made a party to the old lady’s views, his alacrity of manner might compromise him, checked his vivacity, and asked his companion stiffly if she played the piano. On her confessing to this accomplishment, he of course proceeded to open the instrument, which stood in the adjoining room. Here Miss Sandys sat down and played with great resolution an exquisite composition of Schubert. As she struck the last note he uttered some superlative of praise. She was silent for a moment, and then, “That’s a thing I rarely play,” she said.
“It’s very difficult, I suppose.”
“It’s not only difficult, but it’s too sad.”
“Sad!” cried Roger, “I should call it very joyous.”
“You must be in very good spirits! I take it to have been meant for pure sadness. This is what should suit your mood!” and she attacked with great animation one of Strauss’s waltzes. But she had played but a dozen chords when he interrupted her. “Spare me,” he said. “I may be glad, but not with that gladness. I confess that I am in spirits. I have just had a letter from that young friend of whom I spoke to you.”
“Your adopted daughter? Mrs. Middleton told me about her.”
“Mrs. Middleton,” said Roger, in downright fashion, “knows nothing about her. Mrs. Middleton,” and he lowered his voice and laughed, “is not an oracle of wisdom.” He glanced into the other room at their hostess and her complaisant screen. He felt with peculiar intensity that, whether she was napping or no, she was a sadly superficial—in fact a positively immoral—old woman. It seemed absurd to believe that this fair wise creature before him had lent herself to a scheme of such a one’s making. He looked awhile at her deep clear eyes and the firm sweetness of her lips. It would be a satisfaction to smile with her over Mrs. Middleton’s machinations. “Do you know what she wants to do with us?” he went on. “She wants to make a match between us.”
He waited for her smile, but it was heralded by a blush,—a blush portentous, formidable, tragical. Like a sudden glow of sunset in a noonday sky, it covered her fair face and burned on her cloudless brow. “The deuce!” thought Roger. “Can it be,—can it be?” The smile he had invoked followed fast; but this was not the order of nature.
“A match between us! ” said Miss Sandys. “What a brilliant idea!”
“Not that I can’t easily imagine falling in love with you,” Roger rejoined; “but—but—”
“But you’re in love with some one else.” Her eyes, for a moment, rested on him intently. “With your protegee! ”
Roger hesitated. It seemed odd to be making this sacred confidence to a stranger; but with this matter of Mrs. Middleton’s little arrangement between them, she was hardly a stranger. If he had offended her, too, the part of gallantry was to avow everything. “Yes, I’m in love!” he said. “And with the young lady you so much resemble. She doesn’t know it. Only one or two persons know it, save yourself. It’s the secret of my life, Miss Sandys. She is abroad. I have wished to do what I could for her. It’s an odd sort of position, you know. I have brought her up with the view of making her my wife, but I’ve never breathed a word of it to her. She must choose for herself. My hope is that she’ll choose me. But heaven knows what turn she may take, what may happen to her over there in Rome. I hope for the best; but I think of little else. Meanwhile I go about with a sober face, and eat and sleep and talk, like the rest of the world; but all the while I’m counting the hours. Really, I don’t know what has started me up in this way. I don’t suppose you’ll at all understand my situation; but you are evidently so good that I feel as if I might count on your sympathies.”
Miss Sandys listened with her eyes bent downward, and with great gravity. When he had spoken, she gave him her hand with a certain passionate abruptness. “You have them!” she said. “Much good may they do you! I know nothing of your friend, but it’s hard to fancy her disappointing you. I perhaps don’t altogether enter into your situation. It’s novel, but it’s extremely interesting. I hope before rejecting you she’ll think twice. I don’t bestow my esteem at random, but you have it, Mr. Lawrence, absolutely.” And with these words she rose. At the same moment their hostess suspended her siesta, and the conversation became general. It can hardly be said, however, to have prospered. Miss Sandys talked with a certain gracious zeal which was not unallied, I imagine, to a desire to efface the trace of that superb blush I have attempted to chronicle. Roger brooded and wondered; and Mrs. Middleton, fancying that things were not going well, expressed her displeasure by abusing every one who was mentioned. She took heart again for the moment when, on the young lady’s carriage being announced, the latter, turning in farewell to Roger, asked him if he ever came to New York. “When you are next there,” she said, “you must make a point of coming to see me. You’ll have something to tell me.”
After she had gone Roger demanded of Mrs. Middleton whether she had imparted to Miss Sandys her scheme for their common felicity. “Never mind what I said, or didn’t say,” she replied. “She knows enough not to be taken unawares. And now tell me—” But Roger would tell her nothing. He made his escape, and as he walked home in the frosty star-light, his face wore a broad smile of the most shameless elation. He had gone up in the market. Nora might do worse! There stood that beautiful woman knocking at his door.
A few evenings after this Roger called upon Hubert. Not immediately, but on what may be called the second line of conversation, Hubert asked him what news he had from Nora. Roger replied by reading her letter aloud. For some moments after he had finished Hubert was silent. “‘One grows more in a month in this wonderful Rome,’ “ he said at last, quoting, “than in a year at home.”
“Grow, grow, grow, and heaven speed it!” said Roger.
“She’s growing, you may depend upon it.”
“Of course she is; and yet,” said Roger, discriminatingly, “there is a kind of girlish freshness, a childish simplicity, in her style.”
“Strongly marked,” said Hubert, laughing. “I have just got a letter from her you’d take to be written by a child of ten.”
“ You have a letter?”
“It came an hour ago. Let me read it.”
“Had you written to her?”
“Not a word. But you’ll see.” And Hubert in his dressing-gown, standing before the fire, with the same silver-sounding accents Nora had admired, distilled her own gentle prose into Roger’s attentive ear.
“‘I have not forgotten your asking me to write to you about your beloved Pincian view. Indeed, I have been daily reminded of it by having that same view continually before my eyes. From my own window I see the same dark Rome, the same blue Campagna. I have rigorously performed my promise, however, of ascending to your little terrace. I have an old German friend here, a perfect archaeologist in petticoats, in whose company I think as little of climbing to terraces and towers as of diving into catacombs and crypts. We chose the finest day of the winter, and made the pilgrimage together. The plaster-merchant is still in the basement. We saw him in his doorway, standing to dry, whitened over as if he meant personally to be cast. We reached your terrace in safety. It was flooded with light, with that tempered Roman glow which seems to be compounded of molten gold and liquid amethyst. A young painter who occupies your rooms had set up his easel under an umbrella in the open air. A young contadina , imported I suppose from the Piazza di Spagna, was sitting to him in the brilliant light, which deepened splendidly her brown face, her blue-black hair, and her white head-cloth. He was flattering her to his heart’s content, and of course to hers. When I want my portrait painted, I shall know where to go. My friend explained to him that we had come to look at his terrace in behalf of an unhappy far-away American gentleman who had once been master of it. Hereupon he was charmingly polite. He showed us the little salonetta , the fragment of bas-relief inserted in the wall,—was it there in your day?—and a dozen of his own pictures. One of them was a very pretty version of the view from the terrace. Does it betray an indecent greed for applause to let you know that I bought it, and that, if you are very good and write me a delightful long letter, you shall have it when I get home? It seemed to me that you would be glad to learn that your little habitation hadn’t fallen away from its high tradition, and that it still is consecrated to the sunny vigils of genius and ambition. Your vigils, I suppose, were not enlivened by dark-eyed contadine , though they were shared by that poor little American sculptress. I asked the young painter if she had left any memory behind her. Only a memory, it appears. She died a month after his arrival. I never was so bountifully thanked for anything as for buying our young man’s picture. As he poured out his lovely Italian gratulations, I felt like some patronizing duchess of the Renaissance. You will have to do your best, when I transfer it to your hands, to give as pretty a turn to your gratitude. This is only one specimen of a hundred delightful rambles I have had with Mlle. Stamm. We go a great deal to the churches; I never tire of them. Not in the least that I’m turning Papist; though in Mrs. Keith’s society, if I chose to do so, I might treat myself to the luxury of being a nine days’ wonder, but because they are so picturesque and historic; so redolent of memories, so rich with traditions, so charged with atmosphere, so haunted with the past. I like to linger in them,—a barbarous Western maid, doubly a heretic, an alien social and religious,—and watch the people come and go on this eternal business of salvation,—take their ease between the fancy walls of the faith. To go into most of the churches is like reading some better novel than I find most novels. They are pitched, as it were, in various keys. On a fine day, if I have on my best bonnet, if I have been to a party the night before, I like to go to Sta. Maria Maggiore. Standing there, I dream, I dream, cugino mio ; I should be ashamed to tell you the nonsense I do dream! On a rainy day, when I tramp out with Mlle. Stamm in my water-proof; when the evening before, instead of going to a party, I have sat quietly at home reading Rio’s “Art Chretien” (recommended by the Abbe Ledoux, Mrs. Keith’s confessor), I like to go to the Ara Coeli. There you stand among the very bric-a-brac of Christian history. Something takes you at the throat,—but you will have felt it; I needn’t try to define the indefinable. Nevertheless, in spite of M. Rio and the Abbe Ledoux (he’s a very charming old man too, and a keeper of ladies’ consciences, if there ever was one), there is small danger of my changing my present faith for one which will make it a sin to go and hear you preach. Of course, we don’t only haunt the churches. I know in a way the Vatican, the Capitol, and those entertaining galleries of the great palaces. You, of course, frequented them and held phantasmal revel there. I’m stopped short on every side by my deplorable ignorance; still, as far as may be given to a silly girl, I enjoy. I wish you were here, or that I knew some benevolent man of culture. My little German duenna is a marvel of learning and communicativeness, and when she fairly harangues me, I feel as if in my single person I were a young ladies’ boarding-school of fifty. But only a man can talk really to the point of this manliest of cities. Mrs. Keith sees a great many gentlemen of one sort and another; but what do they know of Brutus and Augustus, of Emperors and Popes? But I shall keep my impressions, such as they are, and we shall talk them over at our leisure. I shall bring home plenty of photographs; we shall have charming times looking at them. Roger writes that he means next winter to take a furnished house in town. You must come often and see us. We are to spend the summer in England. . . . . Do you often see Roger? I suppose so,—he wrote he was having a ‘capital winter.’ By the way, I’m ‘out.’ I go to balls and wear Paris dresses. I toil not, neither do I spin. There is apparently no end to my banker’s account, and Mrs. Keith sets me a prodigious example of buying. Is Roger meanwhile going about in patched trousers?”
At this point Hubert stopped, and on Roger’s asking him if there was nothing more, declared that the rest was private. “As you please,” said Roger. “By Jove! what a letter,—what a letter!”
Several months later, in September, Roger hired for the ensuing winter a small furnished house. Mrs. Keith and her companion were expected to reach home on the 10th of October. On the 6th, Roger took possession of his house. Most of the rooms had been repainted, and on preparing to establish himself in one for the night, Roger found that the fresh paint emitted such an odor as to make his position untenable. Exploring the premises he discovered in the lower regions, in a kind of sub-basement, a small vacant apartment, destined to a servant, in which he had a bed erected. It was damp, but, as he thought, not too damp, the basement being dry, as basements go. For three nights he occupied this room. On the fourth morning he woke up with a chill and a headache. By noon he had a fever. The physician, being sent for, pronounced him seriously ill, and assured him that he had been guilty of a gross imprudence. He might as well have slept in a vault. It was the first sanitary indiscretion Roger had ever committed; he had a dismal foreboding of its results. Towards evening the fever deepened and he began to lose his head. He was still distinctly conscious that Nora was to arrive on the morrrow, and sadly disgusted that she was to find him in this sorry plight. It was a bitter disappointment that he might not meet her at the steamer. Still, Hubert might. He sent for Hubert accordingly, and had him brought to his bedside. “I shall be all right in a day or two,” he said, “but meanwhile some one must receive Nora. I know you’ll be glad to, you villain!”
Hubert declared that he was no villain, but that he would be happy to perform this service. As he looked at his poor fever-stricken cousin, however, he doubted strongly that Roger would be “all right” in a day or two. On the morrow he went down to the ship.
[]
Part Fourth
VII
On arriving at the landing-place of the European steamer Hubert found the passengers filing ashore from the tug-boat in which they had been transferred from the ship. He instructed himself, as he took his place near the gangway, to allow for change in Nora’s appearance; but even with this allowance, none of the various advancing ladies seemed to be Nora. Suddenly he found himself confronted with a fair stranger, a smile, and an outstretched hand. The smile and the offered hand of course proclaimed the young lady’s identity. Yet in spite of them, Hubert stood amazed. Verily, his allowance had been small. But the next moment, “Now you speak,” he said, “I recognize you”; and the next he had greeted Mrs. Keith, who immediately followed her companion; after which he ushered the two ladies, with their servant and their various feminine impedimenta , into a carriage. Mrs. Keith was to return directly to her own house, where, hospitable even amid prospective chaos, she invited Hubert to join them at dinner. He had, of course, been obliged to inform Nora off-hand of the cause of Roger’s absence, though as yet he made light of his illness. It was agreed, however, that Nora should remain with her companion until she had communicated with her guardian.
Entering Mrs. Keith’s drawing-room a couple of hours later, Hubert found the young girl on her knees before the hearth. “I’m rejoicing,” she said, “in the first honest fire I’ve seen since I left home.” He sat down near by, and in the glow of the firelight he noted her altered aspect. A year, somehow, had made more than a year’s difference. Hubert, in his intercourse with women, was accustomed to indulge in a sort of still, cool contemplation which, as a habit, found favor according to the sensibility of the ladies touching whom it was practised. It had been intimated to him more than once, in spite of his cloth, that just a certain turn of the head made this a license. But on this occasion his gaze was all respectful. He was lost in admiration. Yes, Nora was beautiful! Her beauty struck him the more that, not having witnessed the stages quick and fine by which it had come to her, he beheld now as a sudden revelation the consummate result. She had left home a simple maiden of common gifts, with no greater burden of loveliness than the slender, angular, neutral grace of youth and freshness; yet here she stood, a woman turned, perfect, mature, superb! It was as if she had bloomed into golden ripeness in the potent sunshine of a great contentment; as if, fed by the sources of aesthetic delight, her nature had risen calmly to its uttermost level and filled its measured space with a deep and lucid flood. A singular harmony and serenity seemed to pervade her person. Her beauty lay in no inordinate perfection of individual features, but in the deep sweet fellowship which reigned between smile and step and glance and tone. The total effect was an impression of the simplest and yet most stately loveliness. “Pallas Athene,” said Hubert to himself, “sprang full-armed, we are told, from the brain of Jove. What a pity! What an untruth! She was born in the West, a plain, fair child; she grew through years and pinafores and all the changes of slow-coming comeliness. Then one fine day she was eighteen and she wore a black silk dress of Paris!” Meanwhile Pallas Athene had been asking about Roger. “Shall I see him to-morrow, at least?” she demanded.
“I doubt it; he’ll not get out for a number of days.”
“But I can easily go to him. Dearest Roger! How things never turn out as we arrange them! I had arranged this meeting of ours to perfection! He was to dine with us here, and we were to talk, talk, talk, till midnight, and then I was to go home with him; and there we were to stand leaning on the banisters at his room door, and talk, talk, talk till morning.”
“And where was I to be?” asked Hubert.
“I hadn’t arranged for you. But I expected to see you to-morrow. To-morrow I shall go to Roger.”
“If the doctor allows,” said Hubert.
Nora rose to her feet. “You don’t mean to say, Hubert, that it’s as bad as that? ” She frowned a little and bent her eyes eagerly on his face. Hubert heard Mrs. Keith’s voice in the hall; in a moment their tête-à-tête would be at an end. Instead of answering her question—“Nora,” he said, in his deepest, lowest voice, “you’re beautiful!” He caught her startled, unsatisfied glance; then he turned and greeted Mrs. Keith. He had not pleased Nora, evidently; it was premature. So to efface the solemnity of his speech, he repeated it aloud; “I tell Nora she is beautiful!”
“Bah!” said Mrs. Keith; “you needn’t tell her; she knows it.”
Nora smiled unconfusedly. “O, say it all the same!”
“Wasn’t it the French ambassador, in Rome,” Mrs. Keith demanded, “who attacked you in that fashion? He asked to be introduced. There’s an honor! ‘ Mademoiselle, vous etes parfaitement belle .’”
“Frenchwomen, as a rule, are not parfaitement belles ,” said Nora.
Hubert was a lover of the luxuries and splendors of life. He had no immediate personal need of them; he could make his terms with narrow circumstances; but his imagination was a born aristocrat. He liked to be reminded that certain things were,—ambassadors, ambassadorial compliments, old-world drawing-rooms, with duskily moulded ceilings. Nora’s beauty, to his vision, took a deeper color from this homage of an old starred and gartered diplomat . It was sound, it had passed the ordeal. He had little need at table to play at discreet inattention. Mrs. Keith, preoccupied with her housekeeping and the “dreadful state” in which her freshly departed tenants had left her rooms, indulged in a tragic monologue and dispensed with responses. Nora, looking frankly at Hubert, consoled their hostess with gentle optimism; and Hubert returned her looks, wondering. He mused upon the mystery of beauty. What sudden gift had made her fair? She was the same tender slip of girlhood who had come trembling to hear him preach a year before; the same, yet how different! And how sufficient she had grown, withal, to her beauty! How with the added burden had come an added strength,—with the greater charm a greater force,—a force subtle, sensitive, just faintly self-suspecting. Then came the thought that all this was Roger’s,—Roger’s investment, Roger’s property! He pitied the poor fellow, lying senseless and helpless, instead of sitting there delightedly, drawing her out and showing her off. After dinner Nora talked little, partly, as he felt, from anxiety about her friend, and partly because of that natural reserve of the altered mind when confronted with old associations. He would have been glad to believe that she was taking pensive note of his own appearance. He had made his mark in her mind a twelvemonth before. Innumerable scenes and figures had since passed over it; but his figure, Nora now discovered, had not been trampled out. Fixed there indelibly, it had grown with the growth of her imagination. She knew that she had vastly changed, and she had wondered ardently whether Hubert would have lost favor with difference. Would he suffer by contrast with people she had seen? Would he seem graceless, colorless, common? Little by little, as his presence defined itself, it became plain to her that the Hubert of the past had a lease of the future. As he rose to take his leave, she begged him to let her write a line to Roger, which he might carry.
“He’ll not be able to read it,” said Hubert.
Nora mused. “I’ll write it, nevertheless. You’ll place it by his bedside, and the moment he is better he will find it at hand.”
When she had left the room, Mrs. Keith demanded tribute. “Haven’t I done well? Haven’t I made a charming girl of her?”
“She does you vast credit,” said Hubert, with a mental reservation.
“O, but wait awhile! You’ve not seen her yet. She’s tired and anxious about your cousin. Wait till she comes out. My dear Mr. Lawrence, she’s perfect. She lacks nothing, she has nothing too much. You must do me justice. I saw it all in the rough, and I knew just what it wanted. I wish she were my daughter: you should see great doings! And she’s as good as gold! It’s her nature. After all, unless your nature’s right, what are you?” But before Hubert could reply to this little spasm of philosophy, Nora reappeared with her note.
The next morning Mrs. Keith went to call officially upon her mother-in-law; and Nora, left alone and thinking much of Roger’s condition, conceived an intense desire to see him. He had never been so dear to her as now, and no one’s right to be with him was equal to hers. She dressed hastily and repaired to the little dwelling they were to have so cosily occupied. She was admitted by her old friend Lucinda, who, between trouble and wonder, found a thousand things to say. Nora’s beauty had never received warmer tribute than the affectionate marvellings of this old woman who had known her early plainness so well. She led her into the drawing-room, opened the windows and turned her about in the light, patted her braided tresses, and rejoiced with motherly unction in her tallness and straightness and elegance. Of Roger she spoke with tearful eyes. “It would be for him to see you, my dear,” she said; “he’d not be disappointed. You’re better than his brightest dreams. O, I know all about it! He used to talk to me evenings, after you were in bed. ‘Lucinda, do you think she’s pretty? Lucinda, do you think she’s plain? Lucinda, do you dress her warm? Lucinda, have you changed her shoes? And mind, Lucinda, take good care of her hair; it’s the only thing we’re sure of!’ Yes, my dear, you’ve me to thank for these big braids. Would he feel sure of you now, poor man? You must keep yourself in cotton-wool till he recovers. You’re like a picture; you ought to be enclosed in a gilt frame and stand against the wall.” Lucinda begged, however, that Nora would not insist upon seeing him; and her great reluctance betraying his evil case, Nora consented to wait. Her own slight experience could avail nothing. “He’s flighty,” said Lucinda, “and I’m afraid he wouldn’t recognize you. If he shouldn’t, it would do you no good; and if he should, it would do him none; it would increase his fever. He’s bad, my dear, he’s bad; but leave him to me! I nursed him as a baby; I nursed him as a boy; I’ll nurse him as a man grown. I’ve seen him worse than this, with the scarlet fever at college, when his poor mother was dying at home. Baby, boy, and man, he’s always had the patience of a saint. I’ll keep him for you, Miss Nora, now I’ve seen you! I shouldn’t dare to meet him in heaven, if I were to let him miss you!”
When Lucinda had returned to her bedside duties, Nora wandered about the house with a soundless tread, taking melancholy note of the preparations Roger had made for her return. His choice, his taste, his ingenuity, were everywhere visible. The best beloved of her possessions from the old house in the country had been transferred hither and placed in such kindly half-lights as would temper justice with mercy; others had been replaced at a great cost. Nora went into the drawing-room, where the blinds were closed and the chairs and sofas shrouded in brown linen, and sat sadly revolving possibilities. How, with Roger’s death, loneliness again would close about her; how he was her world, her strength, her fate! He had made her life; she needed him still to watch his work. She seemed to apprehend, as by a sudden supernatural light, the strong essence of his affection, his wisdom, his alertness, his masterly zeal. In the perfect stillness of the house she could almost hear his tread on the stairs, hear his voice utter her name with that tender adjustment of tone which conveyed a benediction in a commonplace. Her heart rose to her throat; she felt a passionate desire to scream. She buried her head in a cushion to stifle the sound; her silent tears fell upon the silk. Suddenly she heard a step in the hall; she had only time to brush them away before Hubert Lawrence came in. He greeted her with surprise. “I came to bring your note,” he said; “I didn’t expect to find you.”
“Where can I better be?” she asked, with intensity. “I can do nothing here, but I should look ill elsewhere. Give me back my note, please. It doesn’t say half I feel.” He returned it and stood watching her while she tore it in bits and threw it into the empty fireplace. “I have been wandering over the house,” she added. “Everything tells me of poor Roger.” She felt an indefinable need of protesting of her affection for him. “I never knew till now,” she said, “how much I loved him. I’m sure you don’t know him, Hubert; not as I do. I don’t believe any one does. People always speak of him with a little air of amusement. Even Mrs. Keith is witty at his expense. But I know him; I grew to know him in thinking of him while I was away. There’s more of him than the world knows or than the world would ever know, if it was left to his modesty and the world’s stupidity!” Hubert made her a little bow, for her eloquence. “But I mean to put an end to his modesty. I mean to say, ‘Come, Roger, hold up your head and speak out your mind and do yourself common justice.’ I’ve seen people without a quarter of his goodness who had twenty times his assurance and his success. I shall turn the tables! People shall have no favor from me, unless they recognize Roger. If they want me, they must take him too. They tell me I’m a beauty, and I can do what I please. We shall see. The first thing I shall do will be to tip off their hats to the best man in the world.”
“I admire your spirit,” said Hubert. “Dr. Johnson liked a good hater; I like a good lover. On the whole, it’s more rarely found. But aren’t you the least bit Quixotic, with your terrible good-faith? No one denies that Roger is the best of the best of the best! But do what you please, Nora, you can’t make pure virtue entertaining. I, as a minister, you know, have often regretted this dreadful Siamese twinship that exists between goodness and dulness. I have my own little Quixotisms. I’ve tried to cut them in two; I’ve dressed them in the most opposite colors; I’ve called them by different names; I’ve boldly denied the connection. But it’s no use; there’s a fatal family likeness! Of course you’re fond of Roger. So am I, so is every one in his heart of hearts. But what are we to do about it? The kindest thing is to leave him alone. His virtues are of the fireside. You describe him perfectly when you say that everything in the house here sings his praise—already, before he’s been here ten days! The chairs are all straight, the pictures are admirably hung, the locks are oiled, the winter fuel is stocked, the bills are paid! Look at the tidies pinned on the chairs. I’ll warrant you he pinned them with his own hands. Such is Roger! Such virtues, in a household, are priceless. He ought never to marry; his wife would die for want of occupation. What society cares for in a man is not his household virtues, but his worldly ones. It wants to see things by the large end of the telescope, not by the small. ‘Be as good as you please,’ says society, ‘but unless you’re interesting, I’ll none of you!’”
“Interesting!” cried Nora, with a rosy flush. “I’ve seen some very interesting people who have bored me to death. But if people don’t care for Roger, it’s their own loss!” Pausing a moment she fixed Hubert with the searching candor of her gaze. “You’re unjust,” she said.
This charge was pleasant to the young man’s soul; he would not, for the world, have summarily rebutted it. “Explain, dear cousin,” he said, smiling kindly. “Wherein am I unjust?”
It was the first time he had called her cousin; the word made a sweet confusion in her thoughts. But looking at him still while she collected them, “You don’t care to know!” she cried. “Not when you smile so! You’re laughing at me, at Roger, at every one!” Clever men had ere this been called dreadfully satirical before by pretty women; but never, surely, with just that imperious naivete . She spoke with a kind of joy in her frankness; the sense of intimacy with the young man had effaced the sense of difference.
“The scoffing fiend! That’s a pretty character to give a clergyman!” said Hubert.
“Are you, at heart, a clergyman? I’ve been wondering.”
“You’ve heard me preach.”
“Yes, a year ago, when I was a silly little girl. I want to hear you again.”
“Nay, I’ve gained my crown, I propose to keep it. I’d rather not be found out. Besides, I’m not preaching now; I’m resting. Some people think me a clergyman, Nora,” he said, lowering his voice with a hint of mock humility. “But do you know you’re formidable, with your fierce friendships and your divine suspicions? If you doubt of me, well and good. Let me walk like a Homeric god in a cloud; without my cloud, I should be sadly ungodlike. Eh! for that matter, I doubt of myself, on all but one point,—my sincere regard for Roger. I love him, I admire him, I envy him. I’d give the world to be able to exchange my restless imagination for his silent, sturdy usefulness. I feel as if I were toiling in the sun, and he were sitting under green trees resting from an effort which he has never needed to make. Well, virtue I suppose is welcome to the shade. It’s cool, but it’s dreadfully obscure! People are free to find out the best and the worst of me! Here I stand, with all my imperfections on my head, tricked out with a white cravat, baptized with a reverend , (heaven save the mark!) equipped with platform and pulpit and text and audience,—erected into a mouthpiece of the spiritual aspirations of mankind. Well, I confess our sins; that’s good humble-minded work. And I must say, in justice, that when once I don my white cravat (I insist on the cravat, I can do nothing without it) and mount into the pulpit, a certain gift comes to me. They call it eloquence; I suppose it is. I don’t know what it’s worth, but they seem to like it.”
Nora sat speechless, with expanded eyes, hardly knowing whether his humility or his audacity became him best; flattered, above all, by what she deemed the recklessness of his confidence. She had removed her hat, which she held in her hand, gently curling its great black feather. Few things in a woman could be fairer than her free uncovered brow, illumined with her gentle wonder. The moment, for Hubert, was critical. He knew that a young girl’s heart stood trembling on the verge of his influence; he felt, without fatuity, that a glance might beckon her forward, a word might fix her there. Should he speak his word? This mystic precinct was haunted with the rustling ghosts of women who had ventured within and found no rest. But as the innermost meaning of Nora’s beauty grew vivid before him, it seemed to him that she, at least, might purge it of its sinister memories and dedicate it to peace. He knew in his conscience that to such as Nora he was no dispenser of peace; but as he looked at her she seemed to him as an angel knocking at his gates. He couldn’t turn her away. Let her come, at her risk! For angels there is a special providence. “Don’t think me worse than I am,” he said, “but don’t think me better! I shall love Roger well until I begin to fancy that you love him too well. Then—it’s absurd perhaps, but I feel it will be so—I shall be jealous.”
The words were lightly uttered, but his eyes and voice gave them value. Nora colored and rose; she went to the mirror and put on her hat. Then turning round with a laugh which, to one in the secret, might have seemed to sound the coming-of-age of her maiden’s fancy, “If you mean to be jealous,” she said, “now’s your time! I love Roger now with all my heart. I can’t do more!” She remained but a moment longer.
Her friend’s illness baffled the doctors; a sceptic would have said it obeyed them. For a fortnight it went from bad to worse. Nora remained constantly at home, and played but a passive part to the little social drama enacted in Mrs. Keith’s drawing-room. This lady had already cleared her stage and rung up her curtain. To the temporary indisposition of her jeune premiere she resigned herself with that serene good grace which she had always at command and which was so subtle an intermixture of kindness and shrewdness that it would have taken a wiser head than Nora’s to apportion them. She valued the young girl for her social uses; but she spared her at this trying hour just as an impressario , with an eye to the whole season, spares a prima donna who is threatened with bronchitis. Between these two there was little natural sympathy, but in place of it a wondrous adjustment of caresses and civilities; little confidence, but innumerable confidences. They had quietly judged each other and each sat serenely encamped in her estimate as in a high strategical position. Nevertheless I would have trusted neither one’s account of the other. Nora, for perfect fairness, had too much to learn and Mrs. Keith too much to unlearn. With her companion, however, she had unlearned much of that circumspect jealousy with which, in the interest of her remnant of youth and beauty, she taxed her commerce with most of the fashionable sisterhood. She strove to repair her one notable grievance against fate by treating Nora as a daughter. She mused with real maternal ardor upon the young girl’s matrimonial possibilities, and among them upon that design of which Roger had dropped her a hint of old. He held to his purpose of course; if he had fancied Nora then, he could but fancy her now.
But were his purpose and his fancy to be viewed with undiminished complacency? What might have been great prospects for Nora as a plain, homeless child, were small prospects for a young lady gifted with beauty which, with time, would bring the world to her feet. Roger would be the best of husbands; but in Mrs. Keith’s philosophy, a very good husband might stand for a very indifferent marriage. She herself had married a fool, but she had married well. Her easy, opulent widowhood was there to show it. To call things by their names, would Nora, in marrying Roger, marry money? Mrs. Keith was at loss to appraise the worldly goods of her rejected suitor. At the time of his suit she had the matter at her fingers’ ends; but she suspected that since then he had been lining his pockets. He puzzled her; he had a way of seeming neither rich nor poor. When he spent largely, he had the air of one straining a point; yet when he abstained, it seemed rather from taste than necessity. She had been surprised more than once, while abroad, by his copious remittances to Nora. The point was worth looking up. The reader will agree with me that her conclusion warranted her friend either a fool or a hero; for she graciously assumed that if, financially, Roger should be found wanting, she could easily prevail upon him to give the pas to a possible trio of Messrs. So-and-So, millionnaires to a man. Never was better evidence that Roger passed for a good fellow. In any event, however, Mrs. Keith had no favor to spare for Hubert and his marked and increasing “attentions.” She had determined to beware of a false alarm; but meanwhile she was vigilant. Hubert presented himself daily with a report of his cousin’s condition,—a report most minute and exhaustive, seemingly, as a couple of hours were needed to make it. Nora, moreover, went frequently to her friend’s house, wandered about aimlessly, and talked with Lucinda; and here Hubert was sure to be found, or to find her, engaged in a similar errand. Roger’s malady had defined itself as virulent typhus fever; strength and reason were at the lowest ebb. Of course on these occasions Hubert walked home with the young girl; and as the autumn weather made walking delightful, they chose the longest way. They might have been seen at this period perambulating in deep discourse certain outlying regions, the connection of which with the main line of travel between Mrs. Keith’s abode and Roger’s was not immediately obvious. Apart from her prudent fears, Mrs. Keith had a scantier kindness for Hubert than for most comely men. She fancied of him that he meant nothing,—nothing at least but the pleasure of the hour; and the want of a certain masterly intention was of all shortcomings the one she most deprecated in a clever man. “What is he, when you come to the point?” she impatiently demanded of a friend to whom she had imparted her fears. “He’s neither fish nor flesh, neither a priest nor a layman. I like a clergyman to bring with him a little odor of sanctity,—something that rests you, after common talk. Nothing is so pleasant, near the fire, at the sober end of one’s drawing-room. If he doesn’t fill a certain place, he’s in the way. The Reverend Hubert is sprawling everywhere at once. His manners are neither of this world nor, I hope, of the next. Last night he let me bring him a cup of tea and sat lounging in his chair while I put it in his hand. O, he knows what he’s about. He’s pretentious, with all his nonchalance . He finds Bible texts rather meagre fare for week-days; so he consoles himself with his pretty parishioners. To be one, you needn’t go to his church. Is Nora, after all I’ve done for her, going to rush into one of these random American engagements? I’d rather she married Mr. Jenks the carpenter, outright.”
But in spite of Mrs. Keith’s sinister previsions, these young persons played their game in their own way, with larger moves, even, and heavier stakes, than their shrewd hostess suspected. As Nora, for the present, declined all invitations, Mrs. Keith in the evening frequently went out alone and left her perforce in the drawing-room to entertain Hubert at her ease. Roger’s illness furnished a grave undercurrent to their talk and gave it a tone of hazardous melancholy. Nora’s young life had known no such hours as these. She hardly knew, perhaps, just what made them what they were. She hardly wished to know; she shrank from staying the even lapse of destiny with a question. The scenes of the past year had gathered into the background like a huge distant landscape, glowing with color and swarming with life; she seemed to stand with her friend in the double shadow of a passing cloud and a rustling tree, looking off and away into the mighty picture, caressing its fine outlines and lingering where the haze of regret lay purple in its hollows,—while he whispered the romance of hill and dale and town and stream. Never, she fondly fancied, had a young couple conversed with less of narrow exclusion; they took all history, all culture, into their confidence; the radiant light of an immense horizon seemed to shine between them. Nora had felt deliciously satisfied; she seemed to live equally in every need of her being, in soul and sense, in heart and mind. As for Hubert, he knew nothing, for the time, save that the angel was within his gates and must be treated to angelic fare. He had for the time the conscience, or the no-conscience, of a man who is feasting on the slopes of Elysium. He thought no evil, he designed no harm; the hard face of destiny was twisted into a smile. If only, for Hubert’s sake, this had been an irresponsible world, without penalties to pay, without turnings to the longest lanes! If the peaches and plums in the garden of pleasure had no cheeks but ripe ones, and if, when we have eaten the fruit, we hadn’t to dispose of the stones! Nora’s charm of charms was a cool maidenly reserve which Hubert both longed and feared to make an end of. While it soothed his conscience it irritated his ambition. He wished to know in what depth of water he stood; but no telltale ripple in this tropic calm availed to register the tide. Was he drifting in mid-ocean, or was he cruising idly among the sandy shallows? I regret to say, that as the days elapsed Hubert found his rest troubled by this folded rose-leaf of doubt; for he was not used to being baffled by feminine riddles. He determined to pluck out the heart of the mystery.
One evening, at Mrs. Keith’s urgent request, Nora had prepared to go to the opera, as the season was to last but a week. Mrs. Keith was to dine with some friends and go thither in their company; one of the ladies was to call for Nora after dinner, and they were to join the party at the theatre. In the afternoon came a young German lady, a pianist of merit who had her way to make, a niece of Nora’s regular professor, with whom Nora had an engagement to practise duets twice a week. It so happened that, owing to a violent rain, Miss Lilienthal had been unable to depart after their playing; whereupon Nora had kept her to dinner, and the two, over their sweetbread, had sworn an eternal friendship. After dinner Nora went up to dress for the opera, and, on descending, found Hubert sitting by the fire deep in German discourse with the musical stranger. “I was afraid you’d be going,” said Hubert; “I saw Don Giovanni on the placards. Well, lots of pleasure! Let me stay here awhile and polish up my German with mademoiselle. It’s great fun. And when the rain’s over, Fraulein, perhaps you’ll not mind my walking home with you.”
But the Fraulein was gazing in mute envy at Nora, standing before her in festal array. “She can take the carriage,” said Nora, “when we have used it.” And then reading the burden of that wistful regard—“Have you never heard Don Giovanni? ”
“Often!” said the other, with a poignant smile.
Nora reflected a moment, then drew off her gloves. “You shall go, you shall take my place. I’ll stay at home. Your dress will do; you shall wear my shawl. Let me put this flower in your hair, and here are my gloves and my fan. So! You’re charming. My gloves are large,—never mind. The others will be delighted to have you; come to-morrow and tell me all about it.” Nora’s friend, in her carriage, was already at the door. The gentle Fraulein, half shrinking, half eager, suffered herself to be hurried down to the carriage. On the doorstep she turned and kissed her hostess with a fervent “ Du allerliebste! ” Hubert wondered whether Nora’s purpose had been to please her friend or to please herself. Was it that she preferred his society to Mozart’s music? He knew that she had a passion for Mozart. “You’ve lost the opera,” he said, when she reappeared; “but let us have an opera of our own. Play something; play Mozart.” So she played Mozart for more than an hour; and I doubt whether, among the singers who filled the theatre with their melody, the great master found that evening a truer interpreter than the young girl playing in the lamplit parlor to the man she loved. She played herself tired. “You ought to be extremely grateful,” she said, as she struck the last chord; “I have never played so well.”
Later they came to speak of a novel which lay on the table, and which Nora had been reading. “It’s very silly,” she said, “but I go on with it in spite of myself. I’m afraid I’m too easily pleased; no novel is so silly I can’t read it. I recommend you this, by the way. The hero is a young clergyman endowed with every grace, who falls in love with a fair Papist. She is wedded to her faith, and though she loves the young man after a fashion, she loves her religion better. To win his suit he comes near going over to Rome; but he pulls up short and determines the mountain shall come to Mahomet. He sets bravely to work, converts the young lady, baptizes her with his own hands one week, and marries her the next.”
“Heaven preserve us! what a hotch-potch!” cried Hubert. “Is that what they are doing nowadays? I very seldom read a novel, but when I glance into one, I’m sure to find some such stuff as that! Nothing irritates me so as the flatness of people’s imagination. Common life—I don’t say it’s a vision of bliss, but it’s better than that! Their stories are like the underside of a carpet,—nothing but the stringy grain of the tissue—a muddle of figures without shape and flowers without color. When I read a novel my imagination starts off at a gallop and leaves the narrator hidden in a cloud of dust; I have to come jogging twenty miles back to the denouement . Your clergyman here with his Romish sweetheart must be a very pretty fellow. Why didn’t he marry her first and convert her afterwards? Isn’t a clergyman after all, before all, a man? I mean to write a novel about a priest who falls in love with a pretty Mahometan and swears by Allah to win her.”
“Ah Hubert!” cried Nora, “would you like a clergyman to love a pretty Mahometan better than the truth?”
“The truth? A pretty Mahometan may be the truth. If you can get it in the concrete, after shivering all your days in the cold abstract, it’s worth a bit of a compromise. Nora, Nora!” he went on, stretching himself back on the sofa and flinging one arm over his head, “I stand up for passion! If a thing can take the shape of passion, that’s a fact in its favor. The greater passion is the better cause. If my love wrestles with my faith, as the angel with Jacob, and if my love stands uppermost, I’ll admit it’s a fair game. Faith is faith, under a hundred forms! Upon my word, I should like to prove it, in my own person. What a fraction of my personality is this clerical title! How little it expresses; how little it covers! On Sundays, in the pulpit, I stand up and talk to five hundred people. Does each of them, think you, appropriate his five hundredth share of my discourse? I can imagine talking to one person and saying five hundred times as much, even though she were a pretty Mahometan or a prepossessing idolatress! I can imagine being five thousand miles away from this blessed Boston,—in Turkish trousers, if you please, with a turban on my head and a chibouque in my mouth, with a great blue ball of Eastern sky staring in through the round window, high up; all in divine insouciance of the fact that Boston was abusing, or, worse still, forgetting me! That Eastern sky is part of the mise en scène of the New Testament,—it has seen greater miracles! But, my dear Nora,” he added, suddenly, “don’t let me muddle your convictions.” And he left his sofa and came and leaned against the mantel-shelf. “This is between ourselves; I talk to you as I would to no one else. Understand me and forgive me! There are times when I must speak out and make my bow to the possible, the ideal! I must protest against the vulgar assumption of people who don’t see beyond their noses; that people who do, you and I, for instance, are living up to the top of our capacity, that we are contented, satisfied, balanced. I promise you I’m not satisfied, not I! I’ve room for more. I only half live; I’m like a purse filled at one end with small coin and empty at the other. Perhaps the other will never know the golden rattle! The Lord’s will be done! I can say that with the best of them. But I shall never pretend that I’ve known happiness, that I’ve known life. On the contrary, I shall maintain I’m a failure! I had the wit to see, but I lacked the courage to do—and yet I’ve been called reckless, irreverent, audacious. My dear Nora, I’m the veriest coward on earth; pity me if you don’t despise me. There are men born to imagine things, others born to do them. Evidently, I’m one of the first. But I do imagine them, I assure you!”
Nora listened to this flow of sweet unreason without staying her hand in the work, which, as she perceived the drift of his talk, she had rapidly caught up, but with a beating heart and a sense of rising tears. It was a ravishing medley of mystery and pathos and frankness. It was the agony of a restless soul, leaping in passionate rupture from the sickening circle of routine. Of old, she had thought of Hubert’s mind as immutably placid and fixed; it gave her the notion of lucid depth and soundless volume. But of late, with greater nearness, she had seen the ripples on its surface and heard it beating its banks. This was not the first time; but the waves had never yet broken so high; she had never felt their salt spray on her cheeks. He had rent for her sake the seamless veil of the temple and shown her its gorgeous gloom. Before her, she discerned the image of the genius loci , the tutelar deity, with a dying lamp smoking at its feet and a fissure in its golden side. The rich atmosphere confused and enchanted her. The pavement under her feet seemed to vibrate with the mournful music of a retreating choir. She went on with her work, mechanically taking her stitches. She felt Hubert’s intense blue eyes; the little blue flower in her tapestry grew under her quick needle. A great door had been opened between their hearts; she passed through it. “What is it you imagine,” she asked, with intense curiosity; “what is it you dream of doing?”
“I dream,” he said, “of breaking a law for your sake!”
The answer frightened her; it savored of the disorder of passion. What had she to do with broken laws? She trembled and rolled up her work. “I dream,” she said, trying to smile, “of the romance of keeping laws. I expect to get a deal of pleasure out of it yet.” And she left her chair. For an instant Hubert was confused. Was this the last struggle which precedes submission or the mere prudence of indifference? Nora’s eyes were on the clock. It rang out eleven. “To begin with,” she said, “let me keep the law of ‘early to bed.’ Good night!”
Hubert wondered; he hardly knew whether he was rebuked or challenged. “You’ll at least shake hands,” he said, reproachfully.
A deeper consciousness had somehow been opened in her common consciousness, and she had meant in self-defence to omit this ceremony. “Good night,” she repeated, letting him take her hand. Hubert gazed at her a moment and raised it to his lips. She blushed and rapidly withdrew it. “There!” cried Hubert. “I’ve broken a law!”
“Much good may it do you!” she answered, and went her way. He stood for a moment, waiting, and fancying, rather fatuously, that she might come back. Then, as he took up his hat, he wondered whether she too was not a bit of a coquette.
Nora wondered on her own side whether this scene had not been the least bit a piece de circonstance . For a day love and doubt fared in company. Lucinda’s mournful discourse on the morrow was not of a nature to restore her calmness. “Last night,” said Roger’s nurse, “he was very bad. He woke out of his lethargy, but oh, on the other side of sense! He talked all night about you. If he murmurs a word, it’s always your name. He asked a dozen times if you had arrived, and forgot as often as I told him—he, dear man, who used to remember to a collar what he’d put into the wash! He kept wondering whether anything had happened to you. Late in the evening, when the carriages began to pass, he cried out over each that it was you, and what would you think of him for not coming to meet you? ‘Don’t tell her how bad I am,’ he says; ‘I must have been in bed two or three days, haven’t I, Lucinda? Say I’ll be out to-morrow; that I’ve only a little cold; that she’s not to mind it, Hubert will do everything for her.’ And then when, at midnight, the wind began to blow, he declared it was a storm, that your ship was on the coast. God keep you safe! Then he asked if you were changed and grown; were you pretty, were you tall, would he know you? And he took the hand-glass and looked at himself and wondered if you would know him. He cried out that he was ugly, he was horrible, you’d hate him. He bade me bring him his razors and let him shave; and when I wouldn’t, he began to rage and call me names, and then he broke down and cried like a child.” Hearing these things, Nora prayed almost angrily for Roger’s recovery,—that he might live to see her more cunningly and lovingly his debtor. She wished to do something, she hardly knew what, not only to prove, but forever to commemorate, her devotion. Her fancy moulded with dim prevision the monumental image of some pious sacrifice. You would have marvelled to see, meanwhile, the easy breathing of her conscience. To serve Roger, to please Roger, she would give up her dream of Hubert. But best of all, if the clement skies should suffer that Hubert and she, one in all things else, should be one in his affection, one in his service!
For a couple of days she saw nothing of Hubert. On the third there came excellent news of Roger, who had taken a marked turn for the better, and was out of the woods. She had declined, for the evening, a certain most seductive invitation; but on the receipt of these tidings she revoked her refusal. Coming down to the drawing-room with Mrs. Keith, dressed and shawled, she found Hubert in waiting, with a face which uttered bad news. Roger’s improvement had been momentary, a relapse had followed, and he was worse than ever. She tossed off her shawl with an energy not unnoted by her duenna. “Of course I can’t go,” she said. “It’s neither possible nor proper.” Mrs. Keith would have given the camellia out of her chignon that this thing should not have happened in just this way; but she submitted with a good grace—for a duenna. Hubert went down with her to her carriage. At the foot of the stairs she stopped, and while gathering up her skirts, “Mr. Lawrence,” she demanded, “are you going to remain here?”
“A little while,” said Hubert, with his imperturbable smile.
“A very little while, I hope.” She had been wondering whether admonition would serve as a check or a stimulus. “I need hardly to tell you that the young lady up stairs is not a person to be trifled with.”
“I hardly know what you mean,” said Hubert. “Am I a person to trifle?”
“Is it serious, then?”
Hubert hesitated a moment. She perceived a sudden watchful quiver in his eye, like a sword turned edge outward. She unsheathed one of her own steely beams, and for the tenth of a second there was a dainty crossing of blades. “I admire Miss Lambert,” cried Hubert, “with all my heart.”
“True admiration,” said Mrs. Keith, “is one half respect and the other half self-denial.”
Hubert laughed, ever so politely. “I’ll put that in a sermon,” he said.
“O, I have a sermon to preach you,” she answered. “Take your hat and go.”
He made her a little bow, “I’ll go up and get my hat.” Mrs. Keith, catching his eye as he closed the carriage door, wished to heaven that she had held her tongue. “I’ve done him injustice.” she murmured as she went. “I’ve fancied him light, but I see he’s vicious.” Hubert, however, kept his promise in so far as that he did take up his hat. Having held it a moment, he put it down. He had reckoned without his hostess! Nora was seated by the fire, with her bare arms folded, with a downcast brow. Dressed in pale corn-color, her white throat confined by a band of blue velvet, sewn with a dozen pearls, she was not a subject for summary farewells. Meeting her eyes, he saw they were filled with tears. “You mustn’t take this thing too hard,” he said.
For a moment she said nothing; then she bent her face into her hands and her tears flowed. “O poor, poor Roger!” she cried.
Hubert watched her weeping in her ball-dress those primitive tears. “I’ve not given him up,” he said at last. “But suppose I had—” She raised her head and looked at him. “O,” he cried, “I should have a hundred things to say. Both as a minister and as a man, I should preach resignation. In this crisis, let me speak my mind. Roger is part of your childhood; your childhood’s at an end. Possibly, with it, he too is to go! At all events you’re not to feel that in losing him you lose everything. I protest! As you sit here, he belongs to your past. Ask yourself what part he may play in your future. Believe me, you’ll have to settle it, you’ll have to choose. Here, in any case, your life begins. Your tears are for the dead past; this is the future, with its living needs. Roger’s fate is only one of them.”
She rose, with her tears replaced by a passionate gravity. “Ah, you don’t know what you say!” she cried. “Talk of my future if you like, but not of my past! No one can speak of it, no one knows it! Such as you see me here, bedecked and bedizened, I’m a penniless, homeless, friendless creature! But for Roger, I might be in the streets! Do you think I’ve forgotten it, that I ever can? There are things that color one’s life, memories that last forever. I’ve my share! What am I to settle, between whom am I to choose? My love for Roger’s no choice, it’s part and parcel of my being!”
She seemed to shine, as she spoke, with a virginal faithfulness which commanded his own sincerity. Hubert was inspired. He forgot everything but that she was lovely. “I wish to heaven,” he cried, “that you had never ceased to be penniless and friendless! I wish Roger had left you alone and not smothered you beneath this monstrous burden of gratitude! Give him back his gifts! Take all I have! In the streets? In the streets I should have found you, as lovely in your poverty as you’re now in your finery, and a thousand times more free!” He seized her hand and met her eyes with the frankness of passion. Pain and pleasure, at once, possessed Nora’s heart. It was as if joy, bursting in, had trampled certain tender flowers which bloomed on the threshold. But Hubert had cried, “I love you! I love you!” and joy had taken up the words. She was unable to speak audibly; but in an instant she was spared the effort. The servant hastily came in with a note superscribed with her name. She motioned to Hubert to open it. He read it aloud. “Mr. Lawrence is sinking. You had better come. I send my carriage.” Nora’s voice came to her with a cry,—“He’s dying, he’s dying!”
In a minute’s time she found herself wrapped in her shawl and seated with Hubert in the doctor’s coupe . A few moments more and the doctor received them at the door of Roger’s room. They passed in and Nora went straight to the bed. Hubert stood an instant and saw her drop on her knees at the pillow. She flung back her shawl with vehemence, as if to release her hands; he was unable to see where she placed them. He went on into the adjoining chamber, of which the door stood open. The room was dark, the other lit by a night-lamp. He stood listening awhile, but heard nothing; then he began to walk slowly to and fro, past the doorway. He could see nothing but the shining train of Nora’s dress lying on the carpet beyond the angle of the bed. He wanted terribly to see more, but he feared to see too much. At moments he fancied he heard whispers. This lasted some time; then the doctor came in, with what seemed to him an odd, unprofessional smile. “The young lady knows a few remedies not taught in the schools,” he whispered. “He has recognized her. He’s good for to-night, at least. Half an hour ago he had no pulse at all, but this has started it. I’ll come back in an hour.” After he had gone Lucinda came, self-commissioned, and shut the door in Hubert’s face. He stood a moment, with an unreasoned sense of insult and defeat. Then he walked straight out of the house. But the next morning, after breakfast, a more generous sentiment moved him to return. The doctor was just coming away. “It was a Daniel come to judgment!” the doctor declared. “I verily believe she saved him. He’ll be sitting up in a fortnight!” Hubert learned that, having achieved her miracle, Nora had returned to Mrs. Keith’s. What arts she had used he was left to imagine. He had still a sore feeling of having just missed a crowning joy; but there might yet be time to grasp it. He felt, too, an urgent need of catching a glimpse of the after-glow of Nora’s mystical effluence. He repaired to Mrs. Keith’s, hoping to find the young girl alone. But the elder lady, as luck would have it, was established in the drawing-room, and she made haste to inform him that Nora, fatigued by her “watching,” had not yet left her room. But if Hubert was sombre, Mrs. Keith was radiant. Now was her chance to preach her promised sermon; she had just come into possession of facts which furnished a capital text.
“I suppose you’ll call me a meddling busybody,” she said. “I confess I seem to myself a model of forbearance. Be so good as to tell me in three words whether you are in love with Nora.”
Taken thus abruptly to task, Hubert, after a moment’s trepidation, kept his balance. He measured the situation at a glance, and pronounced it bad. But if heroic urbanity would save it, he would be urbane. “It’s hardly a question to answer in two words,” he answered, with an ingenuous smile. “I wish you could tell me!”
“Really,” said Mrs. Keith, “it seems to me that by this time you might know. Tell me at least whether you are prepared to marry her?”
Hubert hesitated just an instant. “Of course not—so long as I’m not sure I’m in love with her!”
“And pray when will you make up your mind? And what’s to become of poor Nora meanwhile?”
“Why, Mrs. Keith, if Nora can wait, surely you can.” The urbanity need not be all on his side.
“Nora can wait? That’s easily said. Is a young girl a thing to be tried like a horse, to be taken up and dropped again? O Mr. Lawrence, if I had ever doubted of the selfishness of men! What this matter has been for you, you know best yourself; but I can tell you that for Nora it has been serious!” At these words Hubert passed his hand nervously through his hair and walked to the window. “The fop!” said Mrs. Keith, sotto voce . “His vanity is tickled, on the very verge of exposure. If you are not consciously, passionately in love, you have no business here,” she proceeded. “Retire, quietly, expeditiously, humbly. Leave Nora to me. I’ll heal her bruises. They shall have been wholesome ones.”
Hubert felt that these peremptory accents implied a menace; and that the lady spoke by book. His vanity rankled, but discretion drew a long breath. For a fortnight it had been shut up in a closet. He thanked the Lord they had no witnesses; with Mrs. Keith, for once, he could afford to sing small. He remained silent for a moment, with his brow bent in meditation. Then turning suddenly, he took the bull by the horns. “Mrs. Keith,” he said, “you’ve done me a service. I thank you sincerely. I have gone further than I meant; I admit it. I’m selfish, I’m vain, I’m anything you please. My only excuse is Nora’s loveliness. It had beguiled me; I had forgotten that this is a life of hard logic.” And he bravely took up his hat.
Mrs. Keith was primed for a “scene”; she was annoyed at missing it, and her easy triumph led her on. She thought, too, of the young girl up stairs, combing out her golden hair, and dreaming less of the logic than the poetry of life. She had dragged a heavy gun to the front; she determined to fire her shot. So much virtue had never inspired her with so little respect. She played a moment with the bow on her morning-dress. “Let me thank you for your great humility,” she said. “Do you know I was going to be afraid of you, so that I had intrenched myself behind a great big preposterous fact? I met last evening Mrs. Chatterton of New York. You know she’s a great talker, but she talks to the point. She mentioned your engagement to a certain young lady, a dark-eyed person—need I repeat the name?” Nay, it was as well she shouldn’t! Hubert stood before her, flushing crimson, with his blue eyes flashing cold wrath. He remained silent a moment, shaking a scornful finger at her. “For shame, madam,” he cried. “That’s shocking taste! You might have been generous; it seems to me I deserve it.” And with a summary bow he departed.
Mrs. Keith repented of this extra touch of zeal; the more so as she found that, practically, Nora was to be the victim of the young man’s displeasure. For four days he gave no sign; Nora was left to explain his absence as she might. Even Roger’s amendment failed to console her. At last, as the two ladies were sitting at lunch, his card was brought in, superscribed P. P. C. Nora read it in silence, and for a moment rested her eyes on her companion with a piteous look which seemed to cry, “It’s you I’ve to thank for this!” A torrent of remonstrances rose to Nora’s lips, but they were sealed by the reflection that, though her friend might have provoked Hubert’s desertion, its desperate abruptness pointed to some deeper cause. She pretended to occupy herself with her plate; but her self-control was rapidly ebbing. She silently rose and retreated to her own room, leaving Mrs. Keith moralizing over her mutton-chop, upon the miseries of young ladyhood and the immeasurable egotism of the man who had rather produce a cruel effect than none at all. The various emotions to which Nora had been recently exposed proved too much for her strength; for a week after this she was seriously ill. On the day she left her room she received a short note from Hubert.
“New York.
“ Dear friend : You have, I suppose, been expecting to hear from me; but I have not written, because I am unable to write as I wish and unwilling to write as—other people would wish! I left Boston suddenly, but not unadvisedly. I shall for the present be occupied here. The last month I spent there will remain one of the best memories of my life. But it was time it should end! Remember me a little—what do I say?—forget me! Farewell. I received this morning from the doctor the best accounts of Roger.”
Nora handled this letter somewhat as one may imagine a pious maiden of the antique world to have treated a messenger from the Delphic oracle. It was obscure, it was even sinister; but deep in its sacred dimness there seemed to glow a fiery particle of truth. She locked it up in her dressing-case and wondered and waited. Shortly after came a missive of a different cast. It was from her cousin, George Fenton, and also dated New York.
“ Dear Nora : You have left me to find out your return in the papers. I saw your name a month ago in the steamer’s list. But I hope the fine people and things you have been seeing haven’t driven me quite out of your heart, and that you have a corner left for your poor old cousin and his scrawls. I received your answer to my letter of last February; after which I immediately wrote again, but in vain! Perhaps you never got my letter; I could scarcely decipher your Italian address. Excuse my want of learning! Your photograph is a joy forever. Are you really as good looking as that? It taxes even the credulity of one who knows how pretty you used to be; how good you must be still. When I last wrote I told you of my having taken stock in an enterprise for working over refuse iron,—dreadful trade! What do you care for refuse iron? It’s awfully dirty and not fit to be talked of to a fine lady like you. Still, if you have any odd bits,—old keys, old nails,—the smallest contributions thankfully received! We think there’s money in it; if there isn’t, I’m afloat again; but again I suppose I shall drift ashore. If this fails, I think of going to Texas. I wish hugely I might see you before the bloom of my youth is sicklied o’er by an atmosphere of iron-rust. Get Mr. Lawrence to bring you to New York for a week. I suppose it wouldn’t do for me to call on you in the light of day; but I might take service as a waiter at your hotel, and express my sentiments in strong tea and soft mutton-chops. Does he still loathe me, Mr. Lawrence? Poor man, tell him to take it easy; I sha’n’t trouble him again. Are you ever lonely in the midst of your grandeur? Do you ever feel that, after all, these people are not of your blood and bone? I should like you to quarrel with them, to know a day’s friendlessness or a day’s freedom, so that you might remember that here in New York, in a dusty iron-yard, there is a poor devil who is yours without question, without condition, and till death!”
[]
VIII
Roger’s convalescence went bravely on. One morning as he lay coquetting deliciously with returning sense, he became aware that a woman was sitting at his window in the sun. She seemed to be reading. He fancied vaguely that she was Lucinda; but at last it occurred to him that Lucinda was not addicted to literature, and that Lucinda’s tresses, catching the light, were not of a kind to take on the likeness of a queenly crown. She was no vision; his visions had been dark and troubled; and this image was radiant and fixed. He half closed his eyes and watched her lazily through the lids. There came to him, out of his boyish past, a vague, delightful echo of the “Arabian Nights.” The room was gilded by the autumn sunshine into the semblance of an enamelled harem court; he himself seemed a languid Persian, lounging on musky cushions; the fair woman at the window a Scheherazade, a Badoura. He closed his eyes completely and gave a little groan, to see if she would move. When he opened them, she had moved; she stood near his bed, looking at him. For a moment his puzzled gaze still told him nothing but that she was fictitiously fair. She smiled and smiled, and, after a little, as he only stared confusedly, she blushed, not like Badoura or Scheherazade, but like Nora. Her frequent presence after this became the great fact in his convalescence. The thought of her beauty filled the long empty hours during which he was forbidden to do anything but grow strong. Sometimes he wondered whether his impression of it was only part of the universal optimism of a man with a raging appetite. Then he would question Lucinda, who would shake her head and chuckle with elderly archness. “Wait till you’re on your feet, sir, and judge for yourself,” she would say. “Go and call on her at Mrs. Keith’s, and then tell me what you think.” He grew well with a beating heart; he would have stayed his recovery for the very dread of facing his happiness. He muffled his pulse in a kind of brooding gravity which puzzled the young girl, who began to wonder whether his illness had left a flaw in his temper. Toward the last, Roger began to blush for his lingering aroma of medicine, and to wish to make a better appearance. He made a point, for some days, of refusing to see her,—always with a loving message, of course, conveyed through Lucinda. Meanwhile, he was shaved, anointed, and costumed. Finally, on a Sunday, he discarded his dressing-gown and sat up clothed and in his right mind. The effort, of course, gave him a huge appetite, and he dealt vigorous justice upon his luncheon. He had just finished, and his little table was still in position near his arm-chair, when Nora made her appearance. She had been to church, and on leaving church had taken a long walk. She wore one of those dark rich toilets of early winter, so becoming to fair beauties; but her face lacked freshness; she was pale and tired. On Roger’s remarking it, she said the service had given her a headache; as a remedy, she had marched off briskly at haphazard, missed her way and wandered hither and thither. But here she was, safe and sound and hungry. She petitioned for a share in certain eleemosynary dainties,—that heavy crop of forbidden fruit, which blooms in convalescence,—which she had perceived wasting their sweetness in the dining-room. Hereupon she took off her bonnet and was bountifully served at Roger’s table. She ate largely and hungrily, jesting at her appetite and getting back her color. Roger leaned back in his chair, watching her, carving her partridge, offering her this and that; in a word, falling in love. It happened as naturally, as he had never allowed for it. The flower of her beauty had bloomed in a night, that of his passion in a day. When at last she laid down her fork, and, sinking back in her chair, folded her hands on her arms and sat facing him with a friendly, pointless, satisfied smile, and then raising her goblet, threw back her head and showed her white throat and glanced at him over the brim, while he noted her plump ringless hand, with the little finger curled out, he felt that he was in health again. She strolled about the room, idly touching the instruments on his dressing-table and the odds and ends on his chimney-piece. Her dress, which she had released from the loops and festoons then in fashion, trailed rustling on the carpet, and lent her a sumptuous, ladyish air which seemed to give a price to this domiciliary visit. “Everywhere, everywhere, a little dust,” she said. “I see it’s more than time I should be back here. I have been waiting for you to invite me; but as you don’t seem inclined, I invite myself.”
Roger said nothing for a moment. Then with a blush: “I don’t mean to invite you; I don’t want you.”
Nora stared. “Don’t want me? Par exemple! ”
“I want you as a visitor, but not as a—” And he fumbled for his word.
“As a ‘regular boarder’?” she took it gayly. “You turn me out of doors?”
“No; I don’t take you in—yet awhile. My dear child, I have a reason.”
Nora wondered, still smiling. “I might consider this very unkind,” she said, “if I hadn’t the patience of an angel. Could you favor me with a hint of your reason?”
“Not now,” he answered. “Never fear,” he cried, with a laugh. “When it comes, it will be all-sufficient!” But he imparted it, a couple of days after, to Mrs. Keith, who came late in the afternoon to present her compliments on his recovery. She displayed an almost sisterly graciousness, enhanced by a lingering spice of coquetry; but somehow, as she talked, he felt as if she were an old woman and he still a young man. It seemed a sort of hearsay that they should ever have been mistress and lover. “Nora will have told you,” he said, “of my wishing you to kindly keep her awhile. I can give you no better proof of my regard, for the fact is, my dear friend, I’m in love with her.”
“Come!” she cried. “This is interesting.”
“I wish her to accept me freely, as she would accept any other man. For that purpose I must cease to be, in all personal matters, her guardian.”
“She must herself forget her wardship, if there is to be any sentimentalizing between you,—all but forget it, at least. Let me speak frankly,” she went on. Whereupon Roger frowned a bit, for he had known her frankness to be somewhat incisive. “It’s all very well that you should be in love with her. You’re not the first. Don’t be frightened; your chance is fair. The needful point is that she should be just the least bit in love with you.”
He shook his head with melancholy modesty. “I don’t expect that. She loves me a little, I hope; but I say nothing to her imagination. Circumstances are fatally against it. If she falls in love, it will be with a man as unlike me as possible. Nevertheless, I do hope she may, without pain, learn to think of me as a husband. I hope,” he cried, with appealing eyes, “that she may see a certain rough propriety in it. After all, who can make her such a husband as I? I’m neither handsome, nor clever, nor accomplished, nor known. She might choose from a dozen men who are. Pretty lovers doubtless they’d make; but, my friend, it’s the husband , the husband, that counts!” And he beat his clenched hand on his knee. “Do they know her, have they watched her, as I have done? What are their months to my years, their vows to my acts? Mrs. Keith!”—and he grasped her hand as if to call her to witness,—“I undertake to make her happy. I know what you can say,—that a woman’s happiness is worth nothing unless imagination lends a hand. Well, even as a lover, perhaps I’m not a hopeless case! And then, I confess, other things being equal, I’d rather Nora shouldn’t marry a poor man.”
Mrs. Keith spoke, on this hint. “You’re a rich one then?”
Roger folded up his pocket-handkerchief and patted it out on his knee, with pregnant hesitation. “Yes, I’m rich,—I may call it so. I’m rich!” he repeated with unction. “I can say it at last.” He paused a moment, and then, with admirable bonhomie : “I was not altogether a pauper when you refused me. Since then, for the last six years, I have been saving and sparing and counting. My purpose has sharpened my wits, and fortune, too, has favored me. I’ve speculated a little, I’ve handled stock and turned this and that about, and now I can offer my wife a very pretty fortune. It’s been going on very quietly; people don’t know it; but Nora, if she cares to, shall show ’em!” Mrs. Keith colored and mused; she was lost in a tardy afterthought. “It seems odd to be talking to you this way,” Roger went on, exhilarated by this resume of his career. “Do you remember that letter of mine from P——?”
“I didn’t tear it up in a rage,” she answered. “I came across it the other day.”
“It was rather odd, my writing it, you know,” Roger confessed. “But in my sudden desire to register a vow, I needed a friend. I turned to you as my best friend.” Mrs. Keith acknowledged the honor with a little bow. Had she made a mistake of old? She very soon decided that Nora should not repeat it. Her hand-shake, as she left her friend, was generous; it seemed to assure him that he might count upon her.
When, soon after, he made his appearance in her drawing-room, she gave him many a hint as to how to play his cards. But he irritated her by his slowness; he was too circumspect by half. It was only in the evening that he took a hand in the game. During the day, he left Nora to her own affairs, and was in general neither more nor less attentive than if he had been some susceptible stranger. To spectators his present relation with the young girl was somewhat puzzling; though Mrs. Keith, “by no ambiguous giving out,” had diffused a sympathetic expectancy. Roger wondered again and again whether Nora had guessed his meaning. He observed in her at times, in talk, he fancied, a forced nervous levity which seemed born of a need to conjure away the phantom of sentiment. And of this hostile need, of course, he hereupon strove to trace the lineage. He talked with her little, as yet, and never interfered in her talk with others; but he watched her devotedly from corners, and caught her words through the hum of voices, at a distance, while she exchanged soft nothings with the rank and file of her admirers. He was lost in incredulity of his good fortune; he rubbed his eyes. O heavenly favor of fate! Sometimes, as she stood before him, he caught her looking at him with heavy eyes and uncertain lips, as if she were on the verge of some passionate confidence. Adding this to that, Roger found himself rudely confronted with the suspicion that she was in love. Search as he could, however, he was unable to find his man. It was no one there present; they were all alike wasting their shot; the enemy had stolen a march and was hidden in the very heart of the citadel. He appealed distractedly to Mrs. Keith. “Lovesick,—lovesick is the word,” he groaned. “I’ve read of it all my days in the poets, but here it is in the flesh. Poor girl, poor girl! She plays her part well; she’s wound up tight; but the spring will snap and the watch run down. D—n the man! I’d rather he had her than sit and see this.” He saw that his friend had bad news. “Tell me everything,” he said; “don’t spare me.”
“You’ve noticed it at last,” she answered. “I was afraid you would. Well! he’s not far to seek. Think it over; can’t you guess? My dear Mr. Lawrence, you’re celestially simple. Your cousin Hubert is not.”
“Hubert!” Roger echoed, staring. A spasm passed over his face; his eyes flashed. At last he hung his head. “Good heavens! Have I done it all for Hubert?”
“Not if I can help it!” cried Mrs. Keith, with force. “She mayn’t marry you; but at the worst, she sha’n’t marry him!”
Roger laid his hand on her arm; first heavily, then gently. “Dear friend, she must be happy, at any cost. If she loves Hubert, she must marry him. I’ll settle an income!”
Mrs. Keith gave his knuckles a great rap with her fan. “You’ll settle a fiddlestick! You’ll keep your money and you’ll have Miss Nora. Leave it to me! If you have no regard for your rights, at least I have.”
“Rights? what rights have I? I might have let her alone. I needn’t have settled down on her in her helpless childhood. O, Hubert’s a happy man! Does he know it? You must write to him. I can’t!”
Mrs. Keith burst into a ringing laugh. “Know it? You’re amazing! Hadn’t I better telegraph?”
Roger stared and frowned. “Does he suspect it then?”
Mrs. Keith rolled up her eyes. “Come,” she said, “we must begin at the beginning. When you speak of your cousin, you open up a gulf. There’s not much in it, it’s true; but it’s a gulf. Your cousin is a knave,—neither more nor less. Allow me; I know what I say. He knew, of course, of your plans for Nora?” Roger nodded. “Of course he did! He took his chance, therefore, while you were well out of the way. He lost no time, and if Nora is in love with him, he can tell you why. He knew that he couldn’t marry her, that he shouldn’t, that he wouldn’t. But he made love to her, to pass the time. Happily, it passed soon. I had of course to be cautious; but as soon as I saw how things were going, I spoke, and spoke to the point. Though he’s a knave, he’s no fool; that was all he needed. He made his excuses, such as they were! I shall know in future what to think of him.”
Roger shook his head mournfully. “I’m afraid it’s not to be so easily settled. As you say, Hubert’s a gulf. I never sounded it. The fact remains, they love each other. It’s hard, but it’s fatal.”
Mrs. Keith lost patience. “Don’t try the heroic; you’ll break down,” she cried. “You’re the best of men, but I’ll warrant you no saint. To begin with, Hubert doesn’t love her. He loves no one but himself! Nora must find her happiness where women as good have found it before this, in a sound, sensible marriage. She can’t marry Hubert; he’s engaged to another person. Yes, I have the facts; a young girl in New York with whom he has been off and on for a couple of years, but who holds him to his bargain. I wish her joy of it! He’s not to be pitied; she’s not Nora, but she’s a nice girl, and she’s to have money. So good-by to Hubert! As for you, cut the knot! She’s a bit sentimental just now; but one sentiment, at that age, is as good as another! And, my dear man, the girl has a conscience, it’s to be hoped; give her a chance to show it. A word to the wise!”
Thus exhorted, Roger determined to act. The next day was a Sunday. While the ladies were at church he took up his position in their drawing-room. Nora came in alone; Mrs. Keith had made a pretext for ascending to her own room, where she waited, breathing stout prayers. “I’m glad to find you,” Nora said. “I have been wanting particularly to speak to you. Isn’t my probation over? Can’t I now come back?”
“It’s about that,” he answered, “that I came to talk to you. The probation, Nora, has been mine. Has it lasted long enough! Do you love me yet? Come back to me, come back to me as my wife.”
She looked at him, as he spoke, with a clear, unfrightened gaze, and, with his last words, broke frankly into a laugh. But as his own face was intensely grave, a gradual blush arrested her laugh. “Your wife, Roger?” she asked gently.
“My wife. I offer you my hand. Dear Nora, is it so incredible?”
To his uttermost meaning, somehow, her ear was still closed, as if she fancied he was half joking. “Is that the only condition on which we can live together?”
“The only one—for me!”
She looked at him, still sounding his eyes with her own. But his passion, merciful still, retreated before her frank doubt. “Ah,” she said, smiling, “what a pity I have grown up!”
“Well,” he said, “since you’re grown we must make the best of it. Think of it, Nora, think of it. I’m not so old, you know. I was young when we begun. You know me so well; you’d be safe. It would simplify matters vastly; it’s at least to think of,” he went on, pleading for very tenderness, in this pitiful minor key. “I know it must seem odd; but I make you the offer!”
Nora was painfully startled. In this strange new character of a lover she seemed to see him eclipsed as a friend, now when, in the trouble of her love, she turned longingly to friendship. She was silent awhile, with her embarrassment. “Dear Roger,” she answered, at last, “let me love you in the old, old way. Why need we change? Nothing is so good, so safe as that. I thank you from my heart for your offer. You’ve given me too much already. Marry any woman you please, and I’ll be her serving-maid.”
He had no heart to meet her eyes; he had wrought his own fate. Mechanically, he took up his hat and turned away, without speaking. She looked at him an instant, uncertain, and then, loath to part with him so abruptly, she laid her arm round his neck. “You don’t think me unkind?” she said. “I’ll do anything for you on earth”—“but that,” was unspoken, yet Roger heard it. The dream of years was shattered; he felt sick; he was dumb. “You forgive me?” she went on. “O Roger, Roger!” and, with a strange inconsequence of lovingness, she dropped her head on his shoulder. He held her for a moment as close as he had held his hope, and then released her as suddenly as he had parted with it. Before she knew it, he was gone.
Nora drew a long breath. It had all come and gone so fast that she was bewildered. It had been what she had heard called a “chance.” Suppose she had grasped at it? She felt a kind of relief in the thought that she had been wise. That she had been cruel, she never suspected. She watched Roger, from the window, cross the street and take his way up the sunny slope. Two ladies passed him, friends as Nora saw; but he made no bow. Suddenly Nora’s reflections deepened and the scene became portentous. If she had been wrong, she had been horribly wrong. She hardly dared to think of it. She ascended to her own room, to counsel with familiar privacy. In the hall, as she passed, she found Mrs. Keith at her open door. This lady put her arm round her waist, led her into the chamber toward the light. “Something has happened,” she said, looking at her curiously.
“Yes, I’ve had an offer. From Roger.”
“Well, well?” Mrs. Keith was puzzled by her face.
“Isn’t he good? To think he should have thought it necessary! It was soon settled.”
“Settled, dearest? How?”
“Why—why—” And Nora began to smile the more resolutely, as her imagination had taken alarm. “I declined.”
Mrs. Keith released her with a gesture almost of repulsion. “Declined? Unhappy girl!” The words were charged with a sort of righteous indignation so unusual to the speaker, that Nora’s conscience took the hint.
She turned very pale. “What have I done?” she asked, appealingly.
“Done, my dear? You’ve done a blind, cruel act! Look here.” And Mrs. Keith having hastily ransacked a drawer, turned about with an open letter. “Read that and repent.”
Nora took the letter; it was old and crumpled, the ink faded. She glanced at the date,—that of her first school-year. In a moment she had read to the closing sentence. “It will be my own fault if I haven’t a perfect wife.” In a moment more its heavy meaning overwhelmed her; its vital spark flashed back over the interval of years. She seemed to see Roger’s bent, stunned head in the street. Mrs. Keith was frightened at her work. Nora dropped the letter and stood staring, open-mouthed, pale as death, with her poor young face blank with horror.
[]
Part Fifth
IX
Nora frequently wondered in after years how that Sunday afternoon had worked itself away; how, through the tumult of amazement and grief, decision, illumination, action had finally come. She had disembarrassed herself of a vague attempt of Mrs. Keith’s towards some compensatory caress, and making her way half blindly to her own room, had sat down face to face with her trouble. Here, if ever, was thunder from a clear sky. Her friend’s disclosure took time to swell to its full magnitude; for an hour she sat, half stunned, seeming to see it climb heaven-high and glare upon her like some monstrous blighting sun. Then at last she broke into a cry and wept. For an hour she poured out her tears; the ample flood seemed to purge and unchoke the channel of thought. Her immense pain gushed and filtered through her heart and passed out in shuddering sobs. The whole face of things was hideously altered; a sudden chasm had yawned in that backward outlook of her life which had seemed to command the very headspring of domestic security. Between the world and her, much might happen; between her and Roger, nothing! She felt horribly deluded and injured; the sense of suffered wrong absorbed for the time the thought of wrong inflicted. She was too weak for indignation, but she overflowed with a tenderness of reproach which contained the purest essence of resentment. That Roger, whom all these years she had fancied as simple as charity, should have been as double as interest, should have played a part and laid a train, that she had been living in darkness, in illusion, on lies, was a sickening, tormenting thought. The worst of the worst was, that she had been cheated of the chance to be really loyal. Why had he never told her that she wore a chain? Why, when he took her, had he not drawn up his terms and made his bargain? She would have kept it, she would have taught herself to be his wife. Duty then would have been duty; sentiment would have been sentiment; her youth would not have been so wretchedly misspent. She would have surrendered her heart gladly in its youth; doubtless it would have learned to beat to a decent and satisfied measure; but now it had throbbed to a finer music, a melody that would ring in her ears forever. But she had challenged conscience, poor girl, in retrospect; at the very whisper of its name, it stood before her as a living fact. Suddenly, with an agonizing moral convulsion, she found herself dedicating her tears to her own want of faith. She it was who had been cruel, cunning, heedless of a sacred obligation. The longer she gazed at the situation, the more without relief or issue it seemed to her; the more densely compounded of their common fatal want of wisdom. That out of it now, on her part, repentance and assent should spring, seemed as a birth of folly out of chaos. Was she to be startled back into a marriage which experience had overpassed? Yet what should she do? To be what she had been, and to be what Roger wished her to be, were now alike impossible. While she turned in her pain, longing somehow to act, Mrs. Keith knocked at the door. Nora repaired to the dressing-glass, to efface the traces of her tears; and while she stood there, she saw in her open dressing-case her last letter from her cousin. It supplied the thought she was vaguely groping for. By the time she had crossed the room and opened the door, she had welcomed and blessed this thought; and while she gravely shook her head in response to Mrs. Keith’s softly urgent, “Nora, dear, won’t you let me come to you?” she had passionately embraced it. “I had rather be alone,” she said; “I thank you very much.”
It was nearly six o’clock; Mrs. Keith was dressed for the evening. It was her gracious practice on Sundays to dine with her mother-in-law. Nora knew, therefore, that if her companion accepted this present dismissal, she would be alone for several hours.
“Can’t I do something for you?” Mrs. Keith inquired, soothingly.
“Nothing at all, thank you. You’re very kind.”
Mrs. Keith looked at her, wondering whether this was the irony of bitter grief; but a certain cold calmness in the young girl’s face, overlying her agitation, seemed to intimate that she had taken a wise resolve. And, in fact, Nora was now soaring sublime on the wings of purpose, and viewed Mrs. Keith’s offence as a diminished fact. Mrs. Keith took her hands. “Write him a line, my dear,” she gently adjured.
Nora nodded. “Yes, I will write him a line.”
“And when I come back, it will be all over?”
“Yes,—all over.”
“God bless you, my dear.” And on this theological gracieusete the two women kissed and separated. Nora returned to her dressing-case and read over her cousin’s letter. Its clear friendliness seemed to ring out audibly amid this appalling hush of the harmonies of life. “I wish you might know a day’s friendliness or a day’s freedom, yours without question, without condition, and till death.” Here was the voice of nature, of appointed protection; the sound of it aroused her early sense of native nearness to her cousin; had he been at hand she would have sought a wholesome refuge in his arms. She sat down at her writing-table, with her brow in her hands, light-headed with her passionate purpose, steadying herself to think. A day’s freedom had come at last; a lifetime’s freedom confronted her. For, as you will have guessed, immediate retrocession and departure had imperiously prescribed themselves. Until this had taken place, there could be nothing but deeper trouble. On the old terms there could be no clearing up; she could speak to Roger again only in perfect independence. She must throw off those suffocating bounties which had been meant to hold her to the service in which she had so miserably failed. Her failure now she felt no impulse to question, her decision no energy to revise. I shall have told my story ill if these things seem to lack logic. The fault lay deeper and dated from longer ago than her morning’s words of denial. Roger and she shared it between them; it was a heavy burden for both. He had wondered, we may add, whether that lurking force which gave her the dignity that entranced him was humility or pride. Would he have wondered now?
She wrote her “line,” as she had promised Mrs. Keith, rapidly, without erasure; then wrote another to Mrs. Keith, folded and directed them and laid them on her dressing-table. She remembered now, distinctly, that she had heard of a Sunday-evening train to New York. She hastened down stairs, found in a newspaper the railway advertisement, and learned that the train started at eight; satisfied herself, too, that the coast was clear of servants, and that she might depart unquestioned. She bade a gleeful farewell to her borrowed possessions, vain bribes, ineffective lures. She exchanged the dress she had worn to church for an old black silk one, put a few articles of the first necessity into a small travelling-bag, and emptied her purse of all save a few dollars. Then bonneted, shawled, veiled, with her bag in her hand, she went forth into the street. She would begin as she would have to proceed; she started for the station, savingly, on foot. Happily it was not far off; she reached it through the wintry darkness, out of breath, but in safety. She seemed to feel about her, as she went, the reckless makeshift atmosphere of her childhood. She was once more her father’s daughter. She bought her ticket and found a seat in the train without adventure; with a sort of shame, in fact, that this great deed of hers should be so easy to do. But as the train rattled hideously through the long wakeful hours of the night, difficulties came thickly; in the mere oppression of her conscious purpose, in the keener vision at moments of Roger’s distress, in a vague dread of the great unknown into which she was rushing. But she could do no other,—no other; with this refrain she lulled her doubts. It was strange how, as the night elapsed and her heart-beats seemed to keep time to the crashing swing of the train, her pity grew for her friend. It would have been a vast relief to be able to hate him. Her undiminished affection, forced back on her heart, swelled and rankled there tormentingly. But unable to hate Roger, she could at least abuse herself. Every fact of the last six years, in this new light, seemed to glow like a portent of that morning scene, and, in contrast, her own insensibility seemed to mantle with the duskiness of sin. She felt a passionate desire to redeem herself by work,—work of any kind, at any cost,—the harder, the humbler the better. Her music, she deemed, would have a marketable value; she would write to Miss Murray, her former teacher, and beg her to employ her or recommend her. Her lonely life would borrow something of the dignity it so sadly needed from teaching scales to little girls in pinafores. Meanwhile George, George, was the word. She kept his letter clinched in her hand during half the journey. But among all these things she found time to think of one who was neither George nor Roger. Hubert Lawrence had wished in memorable accents that he had known her friendless and helpless. She imagined now that her placid dependence had stirred his contempt. But for this, he might have cut the knot of her destiny. As she thought of him it seemed not misery, but happiness, to be wandering forth alone. She wished he might see her sitting there in poverty; she wondered whether there was a chance of her meeting him in New York. She would tell him then that she understood and forgave him. What had seemed cruelty was in fact magnanimity; for, of course, he had learned Roger’s plan, and on this ground had renounced. She wondered whether she might properly let him know that she was free.
Toward morning, weariness mastered her and she fell asleep. She was aroused by a great tumult and the stopping of the train. It had arrived. She found with dismay that, as it was but seven o’clock, she had two or three hours on her hands. George would hardly be at his place of business before ten, and the interval seemed formidable. The dusk of a winter’s morning lingered still, and increased her trouble. But she followed her companions and stood in the street. Half a dozen hackmen attacked her; a facetious gentleman, lighting a cigar, asked her if she wouldn’t take a carriage with him.
She made her escape from the bustle and hurried along the street, praying to be unnoticed. She told herself sternly that now her difficulties had begun and must be bravely faced; but as she stood at the street-corner, beneath an unextinguished lamp, listening to the nascent hum of the town, she felt a most unreasoned sinking of the heart. A Dutch grocer, behind her, was beginning to open his shop; an ash-barrel stood beside her, and while she lingered an old woman with a filthy bag on her back came and poked in it with a stick; a policeman, muffled in a comforter, came lounging squarely along the pavement and took her slender measure with his hard official eye. What a hideous sordid world! She was afraid to do anything but walk and walk. Fortunately, in New York, in the upper region, it is impossible to lose one’s way; and she knew that by keeping downward and to the right she would reach her appointed refuge. The streets looked shabby and of ill-repute; the houses seemed mean and sinister. When, to fill her time, she stopped before the window of a small shop, the objects within seemed, in their ugliness, to mock at the delicate needs begotten of Roger’s teaching, and now come a-begging. At last she began to feel faint and hungry, for she had fasted since the previous morning. She ventured into an establishment which had Ladies’ Café inscribed in gilt letters on a blue tablet in the window, and justified its title by an exhibition of stale pies and fly-blown festoons of tissue-paper. On her request, humbly preferred, for a cup of tea, she was served staringly and condescendingly by a half-dressed young woman, with frowzy hair and tumid eyes. The tea was bad, yet Nora swallowed it, not to complicate the situation. The young woman had come and sat down at her table, handled her travelling-bag, and asked a number of plain questions; among others, if she wouldn’t like to go up and lie down. “I guess it’s a dollar,” said this person, to conclude her achievements, alluding to the cup of tea. Nora came afterwards to a square, in which was an enclosure containing trees, a frozen fountain, thawing fast, and benches. She went in and sat down on one of the benches. Several of the others were occupied by shabby men, sullen with fasting, with their hands thrust deep into their pockets, swinging their feet for warmth. She felt a faint fellowship in their grim idleness; but the fact that they were all men and she the only woman, seemed to open out deeper depths in her loneliness. At last, when it was nine o’clock, she made her way to Tenth Avenue and to George’s address. It was a neighborhood of storehouses and lumber-yards, of wholesale traffic in articles she had never heard of, and of multitudinous carts, drawn up along the pavement. She found a large cheap-looking sign in black and white,— Franks and Fenton . Beneath it was an alley, and at the end of this alley a small office which seemed to communicate with an extension of the precinct in the rear. The office was open; a small ragged boy was sweeping it with a broom. From him she learned that neither Franks nor Fenton had arrived, but that if she wanted, she might come in and wait. She sat down in a corner, tremulous with conjecture, and scanned the room, trying to bridge over this dull interval with some palpable memento of her cousin. But the desk, the stove, the iron safe, the chairs, the sordid ink-spotted walls, were as blank and impersonal as so many columns of figures. When at last the door opened and a man appeared, it was not Fenton, but, presumably, Franks. Mr. Franks was a small meagre man, with a whitish coloring, weak blue eyes and thin yellow whiskers, laboring apparently under a chronic form of that malady vulgarly known as the “fidgets,” the opening steps of Saint Vitus’s dance. He nodded, he stumbled, he jerked his arms and legs about with pitiful comicality. He had a huge protuberant forehead, such a forehead as would have done honor to a Goethe or a Newton; but poor Mr. Franks must have been at best a man of genius manque . In other words, he was next door to a fool. He informed Nora, on learning her errand, that his partner (“pardner” he called it) was gone to Williamsburg on business, and would not return till noon; meanwhile, was it anything he could do? Nora’s heart sank at this vision of comfort still deferred; but she thanked Mr. Franks, and begged leave to sit in her corner and wait. Her presence seemed to redouble his agitation; she remained for an hour gazing in painful fascination at his grotesque shrugs and spasms, as he busied himself at his desk. The Muse of accounts, for poor Mr. Franks, was, in fact, not habitually a young woman, thrice beautiful with trouble, sitting so sensibly at his elbow. Nora wondered how George had come to marry his strength to such weakness; then she guessed that it was his need of capital that had discovered a secret affinity with Mr. Franks’s need of brains. The merciless intensity of thought begotten by her excitement suggested the dishonorable color of this connection. From time to time Mr. Franks wheeled about in his chair and fixed her solemnly with his pallid glance, as if to offer her the privilege of telling him her story; and on her failure to avail herself of it, turned back to his ledger with a little grunt of injury and a renewal of his vacant nods and becks. As the morning wore away, various gentlemen of the kind designated as “parties” came in and demanded Fenton, quite over Mr. Franks’s restless head. Several of them sat awhile on tilted chairs, chewing their toothpicks, stroking their beards, and listening with a half-bored grin to what appeared to be an intensely confidential exposition of Mr. Franks’s wrongs. One of them, as he departed, gave Nora a wink, as if to imply that the state of affairs between the two members of the firm was so broad a joke that even a pretty young woman might enjoy it. At last, when they had been alone again for half an hour, Mr. Franks closed with a slap the great leathern flanks of his account-book, and sat a moment burying his head in his arms. Then he suddenly rose and stood before the young girl. “Mr. Fenton’s your cousin, Miss, you say, eh? Well, then, let me tell you that your cousin’s a rascal! I can prove it to you on them books! Where is my money, thirty thousand dollars that I put into this d—d humbug of a business? What is there to show for it? I’ve been made a fool of,—as if I wasn’t fool enough already.” The tears stood in his eyes, he stamped with the bitterness of his spite; and then thrusting his hat on his head and giving Nora’s amazement no time to reply, he darted out of the door and went up the alley. Nora saw him from the window, looking up and down the street. Suddenly, while he stood and while she looked, George came up. Mr. Franks’s fury seemed suddenly to evaporate; he received his companion’s hand-shake and nodded toward the office, as if to tell of Nora’s being there; while, to her surprise, George hereupon, without looking toward the window, turned back into the street. In a few minutes, however, he reappeared alone, and in another moment he stood before her. “Well!” he cried; “here’s a sensation!”
“George,” she said, “I’ve taken you at your word.”
“My word? O yes!” cried George, bravely.
She instantly perceived that he was changed, and not for the better. He looked older, he was better dressed and more prosperous; but as Nora glanced at him, she felt that she had asked too much of her heart. In fact, George was the same George, only more so, as the phrase is. The lapse of a year and a half had hammered him hard. His face had acquired the settled expression of a man turning over a hard bargain with cynical suspicion. He looked at Nora from head to foot, and in a moment he had noted her simple dress and her pale face. “What on earth has happened?” he asked, closing the door with a kick.
Nora hesitated, feeling that, with words, tears might come.
“You’re sick,” he said, “or you will be.”
This horrible idea helped her to recall her self-control. “I’ve left Mr. Lawrence,” she said.
“So I see!” said George, wavering between relish and disapproval. When, a few moments before, his partner had told him that a young lady was in the office, calling herself his cousin, he had straightway placed himself on his guard. The case was delicate; so that, instead of immediately advancing, he had retreated behind a green baize door twenty yards off, had “taken something,” and briskly meditated. She had taken him at his word: he knew that before she told him. But confound his word, if it came to this! It had been meant, not as an invitation to put herself under his care, but as a simple high-colored hint of his standing claims. George, however, had a native sympathy with positive measures; Nora evidently had engaged in one which, as such, might yield profit. “How do you stand?” he asked. “Have you quarrelled?”
“Don’t call it a quarrel, George! He’s as kind, he’s kinder than ever!” Nora cried. “But what do you think? He has asked me to marry him.”
“Eh, my dear, I told you so!”
“I didn’t believe you! I ought to have believed you. But it isn’t only that. It is that, years ago, he adopted me with that view. He brought me up for that purpose. He has done everything for me on that condition. I was to pay my debt and be his wife! I never dreamed of it. And now at last that I’m a woman grown and he makes his demand, I can’t, I can’t!”
“You can’t, eh? So you’ve left him!”
“Of course I’ve left him. It was the only thing to do. It was give and take. I can’t give what he wants, nor can I give back all I have received. But I can refuse to take more.”
Fenton sat on the edge of his desk, swinging his leg. He folded his arms and whistled a lively air, looking at Nora with a brightened eye. “I see, I see,” he said.
Telling her tale had deepened her color and added to her beauty. “So here I am,” she went on. “I know that I’m dreadfully alone, that I’m homeless and helpless. But it’s a heaven to living as I have lived. I have been content all these days, because I thought I could content him. But we never understood each other. He has given me immeasurable happiness; I know that; and he knows that I know it; don’t you think he knows, George?” she cried, eager even in her reserve. “I would have made him a sister, a friend. But I don’t expect you to understand all this. It’s enough that I’m satisfied. I’m satisfied,” the poor girl repeated vehemently. “I’m not going into the heroics; you can trust me, George. I mean to earn my own living. I can teach; I’m a good musician; I want above all things to work. I shall look for some employment without delay. All this time I might have been writing to Miss Murray. But I was sick with impatience to see you. To come to you was the only thing I could do; but I sha’n’t trouble you for long.”
Fenton seemed to have but half caught the meaning of this impassioned statement, for simple admiration of her radiant purity of purpose was fast getting the better of his caution. He gave his knee a loud slap. “Nora,” he said, “you’re a great girl!”
For a moment she was silent and thoughtful. “For heaven’s sake,” she cried at last, “say nothing to make me feel that I have done this thing too easily, too proudly and recklessly! Really, I’m anything but brave. I’m full of doubts and fears.”
“You’re beautiful; that’s one sure thing!” said Fenton. “I’d rather marry you than lose you. Poor Lawrence!” Nora turned away in silence and walked to the window, which grew to her eyes, for the moment, as the “glimmering square” of the poet. “I thought you loved him so!” he added, abruptly. Nora turned back with an effort and a blush. “If he were to come to you now,” he went on, “and go down on his knees and beg and plead and rave and all that sort of thing, would you still refuse him?”
She covered her face with her hands. “O George, George!” she cried.
“He’ll follow you, of course. He’ll not let you go so easily.”
“Possibly; but I have begged him solemnly to let me take my way. Roger isn’t one to rave and rage. At all events, I shall refuse to see him now. A year hence, perhaps. His great desire will be, of course, that I don’t suffer. I sha’n’t suffer.”
“By Jove, not if I can help it!” cried Fenton, with warmth. Nora answered with a faint, grave smile, and stood looking at him, invoking by her helpless silence some act of high protection. He colored beneath her glance with the pressure of his thoughts. They resolved themselves chiefly into the recurring question, “What can be made of it?” While he was awaiting inspiration, he took refuge in a somewhat inexpensive piece of gallantry. “By the way, you must be hungry.”
“No, I’m not hungry,” said Nora, “but I’m tired. You must find me a lodging—in some quiet hotel.”
“O, you shall be quiet enough,” he answered; but he insisted that unless, meanwhile, she took some dinner, he should have her ill on his hands. They quitted the office, and he hailed a hack, which drove them over to the upper Broadway region, where they were soon established in a well-appointed restaurant. They made, however, no very hearty meal. Nora’s hunger of the morning had passed away in fever, and Fenton himself was, as he would have expressed it, off his feed. Nora’s head had begun to ache; she had removed her bonnet, and sat facing him at their small table, leaning wearily against the wall, her plate neglected, her arms folded, her bright eyes expanded with her trouble and consulting the uncertain future. He noted narrowly her splendid gain of beauty since their parting; but more even than by this he was struck by her brave playing of her part, and by the purity and mystery of moral temper it implied. It belonged to a line of conduct in which he felt no commission to dabble; but in a creature of another sort he was free to admire these luxuries of conscience. In man or woman the capacity then and there to act was the thing he most relished. Nora had not faltered and wavered; she had chosen, and here she sat. He felt a sort of rage that he was not the manner of man for whom such a woman might so choose, and that his own temper was pitched in so much lower a key; for as he looked askance at her beautiful absent eyes, he more than suspected that there was a positive as well as a negative side to her refusal of her friend. To refuse Roger, favored as Roger was, her heart, at least, must have accepted another. It was love, and not indifference, that had pulled the wires of her adventure. Fenton, as we have intimated, was one who, when it suited him, could ride rough-shod to his mark. “You’ve told me half your story,” he said, “but your eyes tell the rest. You’ll not be Roger’s wife, but you’ll not die an old maid.”
She started, and her utmost effort at self-control was unable to banish a beautiful guiltiness from her blush. “To what you can learn from my eyes you are welcome,” she said. “Though they may compromise me, they won’t any one else.”
“My dear girl,” he said, “I religiously respect your secrets.” But, in truth, he only half respected them. Stirred as he was by her beauty and by that sense of feminine appeal which to a man who retains aught of the generosity of manhood is the most inspiring of all motives, he was keenly mortified by the feeling that her tenderness passed him by, barely touching him with the hem of its garment. She was doing mighty fine things, but she was using him, her hard, shabby cousin, as a senseless stepping-stone. These reflections quickened his appreciation of her charm, but took the edge from his delicacy. As they rose to go, Nora, who in spite of her absent eyes had watched him well, felt that cousinship was but a name. George had been to her maturer vision a singular disappointment. His face, from the moment of their meeting, had given her warning to withdraw her trust. Was it she or he who had changed since that fervid youthful parting of sixteen months before? She, in the interval, had been refined by life; he had been vulgarized. She had seen the world. She had known better things and better men; she had known Hubert, and, more than ever, she had known Roger. But as she drew on her gloves she reflected with horror that trouble was making her fastidious. She wished to be coarse and careless; she wished that she might have eaten a heavy dinner, that she might enjoy taking George’s arm. And the slower flowed the current of her confidence, the softer dropped her words. “Now, dear George,” she said, with a desperate attempt at a cheerful smile, “let me know where you mean to take me.”
“Upon my soul, Nora,” he said, with a hard grin, “I feel as if I had a jewel I must lay in soft cotton. The thing is to find it soft enough.” With George himself, perhaps, she might make terms; but she had a growing horror of his friends. Among them, probably, were the female correlatives of the men who had come to chat with Mr. Franks. She prayed he might not treat her to company. “You see I want to do the pretty thing,” he went on. “I want to treat you, by Jove, as I’d treat a queen! I can’t thrust you all alone into a hotel, and I can’t put up at one with you,—can I?”
“I’m not in a position now to be fastidious,” said Nora. “I sha’n’t object to going alone.”
“No, no!” he cried, with a flourish of his hand. “I’ll do for you what I’d do for my own sister. I’m not one of your pious boys, but I know the decencies. I live in the house of a lady who lets out rooms,—a very nice little woman; she and I are great cronies; I’m sure you’ll like her. She’ll make you as snug as you ever were with our friend Roger! A female companion for a lonely girl is never amiss, you know. She’s a first-rate little woman. You’ll see!”
Nora’s heart sank, but she assented. They re-entered their carriage, and a drive of moderate length brought them to a brown-stone dwelling of the third order of gentility, as one may say, stationed in a cheap and serried row. In a few moments, in a small tawdry front parlor, Nora was introduced to George’s hostess, the nice little woman, Mrs. Paul by name. Nice enough she seemed, for Nora’s comfort. She was youngish and fair, plump and comely, with a commendable air of remote widowhood. She was a trifle too loving on short acquaintance, perhaps; but, after all, thought Nora, who was she now, to complain of that? When the two women had gone up stairs, Fenton put on his hat,—he could never meditate without it (he had written that last letter to Nora with his beaver resting on the bridge of his nose),—and paced slowly up and down the narrow entry, chewing the end of a cigar, with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground. In ten minutes Mrs. Paul reappeared. “Well, sir,” she cried, “what does all this mean?”
“It means money, if you’ll not scream so loud,” he answered. “Come in here.” They went into the parlor and remained there for a couple of hours with closed doors. At last Fenton came forth and left the house. He walked along the street, humming gently to himself. Dusk had fallen; he stopped beneath a lighted lamp at the corner, looked up and down a moment, and then exhaled a deep, an almost melancholy sigh. Having thus purged his conscience, he proceeded to business. He consulted his watch; it was five o’clock. An empty hack rolled by; he called it and got in, breathing the motto of great spirits, “Confound the expense!” His business led him to visit successively several of the upper hotels. Roger, he argued, starting immediately in pursuit of Nora, would have taken the first train from Boston, and would now have been more than an hour in town. Fenton could, of course, proceed only by probabilities; but according to these, Roger was to be found at one of the establishments aforesaid. Fenton knew his New York, and, from what he knew of Roger, he believed him to be at the Brevoort House. Here, in fact, he found his name freshly registered. He would give him time, however; he would take time himself. He stretched his long legs awhile on one of the divans in the hall. At last Roger appeared, strolling gloomily down the corridor, with his eyes on the ground. For a moment Fenton scarcely recognized him. He was pale and grave; distress had already made him haggard. Fenton observed that, as he passed, people stared at him. He walked slowly to the street door; whereupon Fenton, fearing he might lose him, followed him, and stood for a moment behind him. Roger turned suddenly, as if from an instinct of the other’s nearness, and the two faced each other. Those dumb eyes of Roger’s for once were eloquent. They glowed like living coals.
[]
X
The good lady who enjoyed the sinecure of being mother-in-law to Mrs. Keith passed on that especial Sunday an exceptionally dull evening. Her son’s widow was oppressed and preoccupied, and took an early leave. Mrs. Keith’s first question on reaching home was whether Nora had left her room. On learning that she had quitted the house alone, after dark, Mrs. Keith made her way, stirred by vague conjecture, to the empty chamber, where, of course, she speedily laid her hands on those two testamentary notes of which mention has been made. In a moment she had read the one addressed to herself. Perturbed as she was, she yet could not repress an impulse of intelligent applause. Ah, how character plays the cards! how a fine girl’s very errors set her off! If Roger longed for Nora to-day, who could measure the morrow’s longing? He might enjoy, however, without waiting for the morrow, this refinement of desire. In spite of the late hour, Mrs. Keith repaired to his abode, armed with the other letter, deeming this, at such a moment, a more gracious course than to send for him. The letter Roger found to be brief but pregnant. “Dear Roger,” it ran, “I learned this afternoon the secret of all these years,—too late for our happiness. I have been blind; you have been too forbearing,—generous where you should have been narrowly just. I never dreamed of what this day would bring. Now, I must leave you; I can do nothing else. This is no time to thank you for these years, but I shall live to do so yet. Dear Roger, get married, and send me your children to teach. I shall live by teaching. I have a family, you know; I go to N. Y. to-night. I write this on my knees, imploring you to be happy. One of these days, when I have learned to be myself again, we shall be better friends than ever. I beg you solemnly not to follow me.”
Mrs. Keith sat with her friend half the night in contemplation of this prodigious fact. For the first time in her knowledge of him she saw Roger violent,—violent with horror and self-censure, and vain imprecation of circumstance. But as the hours passed, she noted that effect of which she had had prevision: the intenser heat of his passion, the need to answer act with act. He spoke of Nora with lowered tones, with circumlocutions, as some old pagan of an unveiled goddess. Consistency is a jewel; Mrs. Keith maintained in the teeth of the event that she had given sound advice. “She’ll have you yet,” she said, “if you let her alone. Take her at her word,—don’t follow her. Let her knock against the world a little, and she’ll make you a better wife for this very escapade.”
This philosophy seemed to Roger too stoical by half; to sit at home and let Nora knock against the world was more than he could undertake. “Wife or no wife,” he said, “I must bring her back. I’m responsible for her to Heaven. Good God! think of her afloat in that horrible city with that rascal of a half cousin—her ‘family’ she calls him!—for a pilot!” He took, of course, the first train to New York. How to proceed, where to look, was a hard question; but to linger and waver was agony. He was haunted, as he went, with dreadful visions of what might have befallen her; it seemed to him that he had hated her till now.
Fenton, as he recognized him, seemed a comfortable sight, in spite of his detested identity. He was better than uncertainty. “You have news for me!” Roger cried. “Where is she?”
Fenton looked about him at his leisure, feeling, agreeably, that now he held the cards. “Gently,” he said. “Hadn’t we better retire?” Upon which Roger, grasping his arm with grim devotion, led him to his own bedroom. “I rather hit it,” George went on. “I’m not the fool you once tried to make me seem.”
“Where is she,—tell me that!” Roger demanded.
“Allow me, dear sir,” said Fenton, settling himself in spacious vantage. “If I’ve come here to oblige you, you must let me take my own way. You don’t suppose I’ve rushed to meet you out of pure gratitude! I owe it to my cousin, in the first place, to say that I’ve come without her knowledge.”
“If you mean only to torture me,” Roger answered, “say so outright. Is she well? is she safe?”
“Safe? the safest woman in the city, sir! A delightful home, maternal care!”
Roger wondered whether Fenton was making horrible sport of his trouble; he turned cold at the thought of maternal care of his providing. But he cautioned himself to lose nothing by arrogance. “I thank you extremely for your kindness. Nothing remains but that I should see her.”
“Nothing indeed! You’re very considerate. You know that she particularly objects to seeing you.”
“Possibly! But that’s for her to say. I claim the right to take the refusal from her own lips.”
Fenton looked at him with an impudent parody of compassion. “Don’t you think you’ve had refusals enough? You must enjoy ’em!”
Roger turned away with an imprecation, but he continued to swallow his impatience. “Mr. Fenton,” he said, “you have not come here, I know, to waste words, nor have I to waste temper. You see before you a desperate man. Come, make the most of me! I’m willing, I’m delighted, to be fleeced! You’ll help me, but not for nothing. Name your terms.”
It is odd how ugly a face our passions, our projects may wear, reflected in other minds, dressed out by other hands. Fenton scowled and flinched, all but repudiated. To save the situation as far as possible, he swaggered. “Well, you see,” he answered, “my assistance is worth something. Let me explain how much. You’ll not guess! I know your story; Nora has told me everything,—everything! We’ve had a great talk, I can tell you! Let me give you a little hint of my story,—and excuse egotism! You proposed to her; she refused you. You offered her money, luxury, a position. She knew you, she liked you enormously, yet she refused you flat! Now reflect on this.”
There was something revolting to Roger in seeing his adversary profaning these sacred mysteries; he protested. “I have reflected, abundantly. You can tell me nothing. Her affections,” he added, stiffly, to make an end of it, “were pre-engaged.”
“Exactly! You see how that complicates matters. Poor, dear little Nora!” And Fenton gave a twist to his mustache. “Imagine, if you can, how a man placed as I am feels toward a woman,—toward the woman! If he reciprocates, it’s love, it’s passion, it’s what you will, but it’s common enough! But when he doesn’t repay her in kind, when he can’t, poor devil, it’s—it’s—upon my word,” cried Fenton, slapping his knee, “it’s chivalry!”
For some moments Roger failed to appreciate the astounding purport of these observations; then, suddenly, it dawned upon him. “Do I understand you,” he asked, in a voice gentle by force of wonder, “that you are the man?”
Fenton squared himself in his chair. “You’ve hit it, sir. I’m the man,—the happy, the unhappy man. Damn it, sir, it’s not my fault!”
Roger stood lost in tumultuous silence; Fenton felt his eyes penetrating him to the core. “Excuse me,” said Roger, at last, “if I suggest your giving me some slight evidence of this extraordinary fact!”
“Evidence? isn’t there evidence enough and to spare? When a young girl gives up home and friends and fortune and—and reputation, and rushes out into the world to throw herself into a man’s arms, you may make a note of her preference, I think! But if you’ll not take my word, you may leave it! I may look at the matter once too often, let me tell you! I admire Nora with all my heart; I worship the ground she treads on; but I confess I’m afraid of her; she’s too good for me; she was meant for a finer gentleman than I! By which I don’t mean you , of necessity. But you have been good to her, and you have a claim. It has been cancelled, in a measure; but you wish to re-establish it. Now you see that I stand in your way; that if I had a mind to, I might stand there forever! Hang it, sir, I’m playing the part of a saint. I have but a word to say to settle my case, and yours too! But I have my eye on a lady neither so young nor so pretty as my cousin, but whom I can marry with a better conscience, for she expects no more than I can give her. Nevertheless, I don’t answer for myself. A man isn’t a saint by the week! Talk about conscience when a beautiful girl sits gazing at you through a mist of tears! O, you have yourself to thank for it all! A year and a half ago, if you hadn’t treated me like a sharper, Nora would have been content to treat me like a cousin. But women have a fancy for an outlaw. You turned me out of doors, and Nora’s heart went with me. It has followed me ever since. Here I sit with my ugly face and hold it in my hand. As I say, I don’t quite know what to do with it. You propose an arrangement, I inquire your terms. A man loved is a man listened to. If I were to say to Nora to-morrow, ‘My dear girl, you’ve made a mistake. You’re in a false position. Go back to Mr. Lawrence directly, and then we’ll talk about it!’ she’d look at me a moment with those eyes of hers, she’d sigh, she’d gather herself up like a queen on trial for treason, remanded to prison,—and she’d march to your door. Once she’s within it, it’s your own affair. That’s what I can do. Now what can you do? Come, something handsome!”
Fenton spoke loud and fast, as if to deepen and outstrip possible self-contempt. Roger listened amazedly to this prodigious tissue of falsity, impudence and greed, and at last, as Fenton paused, and he seemed to see Nora’s image blushing piteously beneath this heavy mantle of dishonor, his disgust broke forth. “Upon my word, sir,” he cried, “you go too far; you ask too much. Nora in love with you,—you who haven’t the grace even to lie decently! Tell me she’s ill, she’s lost, she’s dead; but don’t tell me she can fancy you for a moment an honest man!”
Fenton rose and stood for a moment, glaring with anger at his vain self-exposure. For an instant, Roger expected a tussle. But Fenton deemed that he could deal harder vengeance than by his fists. “Very good!” he cried. “You’ve chosen. I don’t mind your words; you’re a fool at best, and of course you’re twenty times a fool when you’re put out by a disagreeable truth. But you’re not such a fool, I guess, as not to repent!” And Fenton made a rather braver exit than you might have expected.
Roger’s recent vigil with Mrs. Keith had been hideous enough; but he was yet to learn that a sleepless night may contain deeper possibilities of suffering. He had flung back Fenton’s words, but they returned to the charge. When once the gate is opened to self-torture, the whole army of fiends files in. Before morning he had fairly out-Fentoned Fenton. There he tossed, himself a living instance, if need were, of the furious irresponsibility of passion; loving in the teeth of reason, of hope, of justice almost, in blind obedience to a reckless personal need. Why, if his passion scorned counsel, was Nora’s bound to take it? We love as we must, not as we should; and she, poor girl, had bowed to the common law. In the morning he slept awhile for weariness, but he awoke to a world of agitation. If Fenton’s tale was true, and if, at Mrs. Keith’s instigation, his own suspicions had done Hubert wrong, he would go to Hubert, pour out his woes, and demand aid and comfort. He must move to find rest. Hubert’s lodging was high up town; Roger started on foot. The weather was perfect; one of those happy days of February which seem to snatch a mood from May,—a day when any sorrow is twice a sorrow. All winter was a-melting; you heard on all sides, in the still sunshine, the raising of windows; on the edges of opposing house-tops rested a vault of vernal blue. Where was she hidden, in the vast bright city? Hideous seemed the streets and houses and crowds which made gross distance of their nearness. He would have beggared himself for the sound of her voice, though her words might damn him. When at last he reached Hubert’s dwelling a sudden sense of all that he risked checked his steps. Hubert, after all, and Hubert alone, was a possible rival, and it would be sad work to put the torch in his hands! So he turned heavily back to the Fifth Avenue and kept his way to the Park. Here, for some time he walked about, heeding, feeling, seeing nothing but that garish nature mocked his unsunned soul. At last he sat down on a bench. The delicious mildness of the air almost sickened him. It was some time before he perceived through the mist of his thoughts that two ladies had descended from a carriage hard by, and were approaching his bench,—the only one near at hand. One of these ladies was of great age and evidently infirm; she came slowly, leaning on her companion’s arm; she wore a green shade over her eyes. The younger lady, who was in the prime of youth and beauty, supported her friend with peculiar tenderness. As Roger rose to give them place, he dimly observed on the young lady’s face a movement of recognition, a smile,—the smile of Miss Sandys! Blushing slightly, she frankly greeted him. He met her with the best grace at his command, and felt her eyes, as he spoke, scanning the trouble in his aspect. “There is no need of my introducing you to my aunt,” she said. “She has lost her hearing, and her only pleasure is to bask in the sun.” She turned and helped this venerable invalid to settle herself on the bench, put a shawl about her, and satisfied her feeble needs with filial solicitude. At the end of ten minutes of commonplace talk, relieved however by certain mutual glances of a subtler complexion, Roger felt the presence of this fine woman closing about him like some softer moral climate. At last these sympathetic eye-beams resolved themselves, on Miss Sandys’s part, into speech. “You’re either very unwell, Mr. Lawrence, or very unhappy.”
Roger hesitated an instant, under the empire of that stubborn aversion to complaint which, in his character, was half modesty and half philosophy. But Miss Sandys seemed to sit there eying him so like some Muse of friendship that he answered simply, “I’m unhappy!”
“I was afraid it would come!” said Miss Sandys. “It seemed to me when we met, a year ago, that your spirits were too good for this life. You know you told me something which gives me the right—I was going to say, to be interested; let me say, at least, to be compassionate.”
“I hardly remember what I told you. I only know that I admired you to a degree which may very well have loosened my tongue.”
“O, it was about the charms of another you spoke! You told me about the young girl to whom you had devoted yourself.”
“I was dreaming then; now I’m awake!” Roger hung his head and poked the ground with his stick. Suddenly he looked up, and she saw that his eyes were filled with tears. “O Miss Sandys,” he cried, “you’ve stirred deep waters! Don’t question me. I’m ridiculous with disappointment and sorrow!”
She gently laid her hand on his arm. “Let me hear it all! I assure you I can’t go away and leave you sitting here the same image of suicidal despair I found you.”
Thus urged, Roger told his story. In the clear still air of her attention, it seemed to assume to his own vision a larger and more palpable outline. As he talked, he worked off the superficial disorder of his grief. He was forcibly struck, for the first time, with his own great charity; the silent respect of his companion’s gaze seemed to attest it. When he came to speak of this dark contingency of Nora’s love for her cousin, he threw himself frankly upon Miss Sandys’s pity, upon her wisdom. “Is such a thing possible?” he asked. “Do you believe it?”
She raised her eyebrows. “You must remember that I know neither Miss Lambert nor her kinsman. I can hardly risk a judgment; I can only say this, that the general effect of your story is to diminish my esteem for women, to elevate my opinion of men.”
“O, except Nora on one side, and Fenton on the other! Nora’s an angel!”
Miss Sandys gave a vexed smile. “Possibly! You’re a man, and you ought to have loved a woman. Angels have a good conscience guaranteed them; they may do what they please! If I should except any one, it would be Mr. Hubert Lawrence. I met him the other evening.”
“You think it’s Hubert then?” Roger demanded mournfully.
Miss Sandys broke into a warm laugh which seemed to Roger to sound the emancipation of his puzzled spirit. “For an angel, Miss Lambert hasn’t lost her time on earth! But don’t ask me for advice, Mr. Lawrence; at least not now and here. Come and see me to-morrow, or this evening. Don’t regret having spoken; you may believe at least that the burden of your grief is shared. It was too miserable that at such a time you should be sitting here alone, feeding upon your own heart.”
These seemed to Roger rich words; they lost nothing on the speaker’s lips. She was indeed admirably beautiful; her face, softened by intelligent pity, was lighted by a gleam of tender irony of his patience. Was he, after all, stupidly patient, ignobly fond? There was in Miss Sandys something singularly assured and complete. Nora, in momentary contrast, seemed a flighty school-girl. He looked about him, vaguely invoking the bright empty air, longing for rest, yet dreading forfeiture. He left his place and strolled across the dull-colored turf. At the base of a tree, on its little bed of sparse raw verdure, he suddenly spied the first violet of the year. He stooped and picked it; its mild firm tint was the color of friendship. He brought it back to Miss Sandys, who now had risen with her companion and was preparing to return to the carriage. He silently offered her the violet,—a mere pin’s head of bloom; a passionate throb of his heart had told him that this was all he could offer her. She took it with a sober smile; it seemed pale beneath her deep eyes. “We shall see you again?” she said.
Roger felt himself blushing to his brows. He had a vision on either hand of an offered cup,—the deep-hued wine of illusion,—the bitter draught of constancy. A certain passionate instinct answered,—an instinct deeper than his wisdom, his reason, his virtue,—deep as his love. “Not now,” he said. “A year hence!”
Miss Sandys turned away and stood for a full moment as motionless as some sculptured statue of renunciation. Then, passing her arm caressingly round her companion, “Come, dear aunt,” she murmured; “we must go.” This little address to the stone-deaf dame was her single tribute to confusion. Roger walked with the ladies to their carriage and silently helped them to enter it. He noted the affectionate tact with which Miss Sandys adjusted her movements to those of her companion. When he lifted his hat, his friend bowed, as he fancied, with an air of redoubled compassion. She had but imagined his prior loss,—she knew his present one! “Ah, she would make a wife!” he said, as the carriage rolled away. He stood watching it for some minutes; then, as it wheeled round a turn, he was seized with a deeper, sorer sense of his impotent idleness. He would go to Hubert to accuse him, if not to appeal to him.
[]
XI
Nora , relieved of her hostess’s company, turned the key in her door and went through certain motions mechanically suggestive of her being at rest and satisfied. She unpacked her little bag and repaired her disordered toilet. She took out her writing-materials and prepared to compose a letter to Miss Murray. But she had not written many words before she lapsed into sombre thought. Now that she had seen George again and judged him, she was coming rapidly to feel that to have exchanged Roger’s care for his care was, for the time, to have outraged Roger. It may have been needful, but it was none the less a revolting need. But it should pass quickly! She took refuge again in her letter and begged for an immediate reply. From time to time, as she wrote, she heard a step in the house, which she supposed to be George’s; it somehow quickened her pen and the ardor of her petition. This was just finished when Mrs. Paul reappeared, bearing a salver charged with tea and toast,—a gracious attention, which Nora was unable to repudiate. The lady took advantage of it to open a conversation. Mrs. Paul’s overtures, as well as her tea and toast, were the result of her close conference with Fenton; but though his instructions had made a very pretty show as he laid them down, they dwindled sensibly in the vivid glare of Nora’s mistrust. Mrs. Paul, nevertheless, seated herself bravely on the bed and rubbed her plump pretty hands like the best little woman in the world. But the more Nora looked at her, the less she liked her. At the end of five minutes she had conceived a horror of her. It seemed to her that she had met just such women in reports of criminal trials. She had wondered what the heroines of these tragedies were like. Why, like Mrs. Paul, of course! They had her comely stony face, her false smile, her little tulle cap, which seemed forever to discredit coquetry. And here, in her person, sat the whole sinister sisterhood on Nora’s bed, calling the young girl “my dear,” wanting to take her hand and draw her out! With a defiant flourish, Nora addressed her letter with Miss Murray’s honest title: “I should like to have this posted, please,” she said.
“Give it to me, my dear; I’ll attend to it,” said Mrs. Paul; and straightway read the address. “I suppose this is your old schoolmistress. Mr. Fenton told me all about it.” Then, after turning the letter for a moment, “Keep it over a day!”
“Not an hour,” said Nora, with decision. “My time is precious.”
“Why, my dear,” cried Mrs. Paul, “we shall be delighted to keep you a month.”
“You’re very good. You know I’ve my living to make.”
“Don’t talk about that! I make my living,—I know what it means! Come, let me talk to you as a friend. Don’t go too far. Suppose, now, you repent? Six months hence, it may be too late. If you leave him lamenting too long, he’ll marry the first pretty girl he sees. They always do,—a man refused is just like a widower. They’re not so faithful as the widows! But let me tell you it’s not every girl that gets such a chance; if I’d had it, I wouldn’t have split hairs! He’ll love you the better, you see, for your having led him a little dance. But he mustn’t dance too long! Excuse my breaking out this way; but Mr. Fenton and I, you see, are great friends, and I feel as if his cousin was my cousin. Take back this letter and give me just one word to post,— Come! Poor little man! You must have a high opinion of men, my dear, to think you hadn’t drawn a prize!”
If Roger had wished for a proof that sentiment survived in Nora’s mind, he would have found it in the disgust she felt at hearing Mrs. Paul undertake his case. She colored with her sense of the defilement of sacred things. George, surely, for an hour, at least, might have kept her story intact. “Really, madam,” she answered, “I can’t discuss this matter. I’m extremely obliged to you.” But Mrs. Paul was not to be so easily baffled. Poor Roger, roaming helpless and hopeless, would have been amazed to hear how warmly his cause was a-pleading. Nora, of course, made no attempt to argue the case. She waited till the lady had exhausted her eloquence, and then, “I’m a very obstinate person,” she said; “you waste your words. If you go any further I shall feel persecuted.” And she rose, to signify that Mrs. Paul might do likewise. Mrs. Paul took the hint, but in an instant she had turned about the hard reverse of her fair face, in which defeated self-interest smirked horribly. “Bah! you’re a silly girl!” she cried; and swept out of the room. Nora, after this, determined to avoid a second interview with George. Her bad headache furnished a sufficient pretext for escaping it. Half an hour later he knocked at her door, quite too loudly, she thought, for good taste. When she opened it, he stood there, excited, angry, ill-disposed. “I’m sorry you’re ill,” he said; “but a night’s rest will put you right. I’ve seen Roger.”
“Roger! he’s here?”
“Yes, he’s here. But he don’t know where you are. Thank the Lord you left him! he’s a brute!” Nora would fain have learned more,—whether he was angry, whether he was suffering, whether he had asked to see her; but at these words she shut the door in her cousin’s face. She hardly dared think of what offered impertinence this outbreak of Fenton’s was the rebound. Her night’s rest brought little comfort. Time seemed not to cancel her disturbing thoughts, but to multiply them. She wondered whether Roger had supposed George to be her appointed mediator, and asked herself whether it was not her duty to see him once again and bid him a respectfully personal farewell. It was a long time after she rose before she could bring herself to leave her room. She had a vague hope that if she delayed, her companions might have gone out. But in the dining-room, in spite of the late hour, she found George gallantly awaiting her. He had apparently had the discretion to dismiss Mrs. Paul to the background, and apologized for her absence by saying that she had breakfasted long since and had gone to market. He seemed to have slept off his wrath and was full of brotherly bonhomie . “I suppose you’ll want to know about Roger,” he said, when they were seated at breakfast. “He had followed you directly, in spite of your solemn request; but not out of pure affection, I think. The little man’s mad. He expects you to back down and come to him on your knees,—beg his pardon and promise never to do it again. Pretty terms to marry a man on, for a woman of spirit! But he doesn’t know his woman, does he, Nora? Do you know what he intimated? indeed, he came right out with it! That you and I want to make a match! That you’re in love with me, Miss, and ran away to marry me. That we expected him to forgive us and endow us with a pile of money. But he’ll not forgive us,—not he! We may starve, we and our brats, before he looks at us. Much obliged! We shall thrive, for many a year, as brother and sister, sha’n’t we, Nora? and need neither his money nor his pardon!”
In reply to this speech, Nora sat staring in pale amazement. “Roger thought,” she at last found words to say, “that it was to marry you I refused him,—to marry you I came to New York?”
Fenton, with seven-and-twenty years of impudence at his back, had received in his day snubs and shocks of various shades of intensity; but he had never felt in his face so chilling a blast of reprobation as this cold disgust of Nora’s. We know that the scorn of a lovely woman makes cowards brave; it may do something towards making knaves honest men. “Upon my word, my dear,” he cried, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. It’s rough, but it’s so!”
Nora wished in after years she had been able to laugh at this disclosure; to pretend, at least, to a mirth she so little felt. But she remained almost sternly silent, with her eyes on her plate, stirring her tea. Roger, meanwhile, was walking about under this miserable error! Let him think anything but that! “What did you reply,” she asked, “to this—to this—”
“To this handsome compliment? I replied that I only wished it were true; but that I feared I had no such luck! Upon which he told me to go to the Devil—in a tone which implied that he didn’t much care if you went with me.”
Nora listened to this speech in sceptical silence. “Where is Roger?” she asked at last.
Fenton shot her a glance of harsh mistrust. “Where is he? What do you want to know that for?”
“Where is he, please?” she simply repeated. And then, suddenly, she wondered how and where it was the two men had happened to meet. “Where did you find him?” she went on. “How did it happen?”
Fenton drained his cup of tea at one long gulp before he answered. “My dear Nora,” he said, “it’s all very well to be modest, it’s all very well to be proud; but take care you’re not ungrateful! I went purposely to look him up. I was convinced he would have followed you,—as I supposed, to beg and beg and beg again. I wanted to say to him, ‘She’s safe, she’s happy, she’s in the best hands. Don’t waste your time, your words, your hopes. Give her rope. Go quietly home and leave things to me. If she turns homesick, I’ll let you know.’ You see I’m frank, Nora; that’s what I meant to say. But I was received with this broadside. I found a perfect bluster of injured vanity. ‘You’re her lover, she’s your mistress, and be d—d to both of you!’”
That George lied Nora did not distinctly say to herself, for she lacked practice in this range of incrimination. But she as little said to herself that this could be the truth. “I’m not ungrateful,” she answered, firmly. “But where was it?”
At this, George pushed back his chair. “Where—where? Don’t you believe me? Do you want to go and ask him if it’s true? What are you, anyway? Nora, who are you, where are you? Have you put yourself into my hands or not?” A certain manly indignation was now kindled in his breast; he was equally angry with Roger, with Nora, and with himself; fate had offered him an overdose of contumely, and he felt a reckless, savage impulse to wring from the occasion that compliment to his force which had been so rudely denied to his delicacy. “Are you using me simply as a vulgar tool? Don’t you care for me the least little bit? Let me suggest that for a girl in your—your ambiguous position, you are too proud, by several shades. Don’t go back to Roger in a hurry! You’re not the unspotted maiden you were but two short days ago. Who am I, what am I, to the people whose opinion you care for? A very low fellow, madam; and yet with me you’ve gone far to cast your lot. If you’re not prepared to do more, you should have done less. Nora, Nora,” he went on, breaking into a vein none the less revolting for being more ardent, “I confess I don’t understand you! But the more you puzzle me the more you fascinate me; and the less you like me the more I love you. What has there been, anyway, between you and Lawrence? Hang me if I can understand! Are you an angel of purity, or are you the most audacious of flirts?”
She had risen before he had gone far. “Spare me,” she said, “the necessity of hearing your opinions or answering your questions. Be a gentleman! Tell me, I once more beg of you, where Roger is to be found?”
“Be a gentleman!” was a galling touch. He had gone too far to be a gentleman; but in so far as a man means a bully, he might still be a man. He placed himself before the door. “I refuse the information,” he said. “I don’t mean to have been played with, to have been buffeted hither by Roger and thither by you! I mean to make something out of all this. I mean to request you to remain quietly in this room. Mrs. Paul will keep you company. You didn’t treat her over-well, yesterday; but, in her way, she’s quite as strong as you. Meanwhile I shall go to our friend. ‘She’s locked up tight,’ I’ll say; ‘she’s as good as in jail. Give me five thousand dollars and I’ll let her out.’ Of course he’ll drop a hint of the law. ‘O, the law! not so fast. Two can play at that game. Go to a magistrate and present your case. I’ll go straight to the ‘Herald’ office and demand a special reporter and the very biggest headings. That will rather take the bloom off your meeting.’ The public don’t mind details, Nora; it looks at things in the gross; and the gross here is gross, for you! It won’t hurt me!”
“Heaven forgive you!” murmured Nora, for all response to this explosion. It made a hideous whirl about her; but she felt that to advance in the face of it was her best safety. It sickened rather than frightened her. She went to the door. “Let me pass!” she said.
Fenton stood motionless, leaning his head against the door, with his eyes closed. She faced him a moment, looking at him intently. He seemed hideous. “Coward!” she cried. He opened his eyes at the sound; for an instant they met hers; then a burning blush blazed out strangely on his dead complexion; he strode past her, dropped into a chair and buried his face in his hands. “O God!” he cried. “I’m an ass!”
Nora made it the work of a single moment to reach her own room and fling on her bonnet and shawl, of another to descend to the hall door. Once in the street, she never stopped running till she had turned a corner and put the house out of sight. She went far, hurried along by the ecstasy of relief and escape, and it was some time before she perceived that this was but half the question, and that she was now quite without refuge. Thrusting her hand into her pocket to feel for her purse, she found that she had left it in her room. Stunned and sickened as she was already, it can hardly be said that the discovery added to her grief. She was being precipitated toward a great decision; sooner or later made little difference. The thought of seeing Hubert Lawrence now filled her soul. That, after what had passed between them, she should so sorely need help, and yet not turn to him, seemed as great an outrage against his professions as it was an impossibility to her own heart. Reserve, prudence, mistrust, had melted away; she was conscious only of her trouble, of his ardor, and of their nearness. His address she well remembered, and she neither paused nor faltered. To say even that she reflected would be to speak amiss, for her longing and her haste were one. Between them both, you may believe, it was with a beating heart that she reached his door. The servant admitted her without visible surprise (for Nora wore, as she conceived, the air of some needy parishioner), and ushered her into the little sitting-room which, with an adjoining chamber, constituted his apartments. As she crossed the threshold, she perceived, with something of regret and relief, that he was not alone. He was sitting somewhat stiffly, with folded arms, facing the window, near which, before an easel, stood a long-haired gentleman of foreign and artistic aspect, giving the finishing touches to a portrait in crayons. Hubert was in position for a likeness of his handsome face. When Nora appeared, his handsome face remained for a moment a blank; the next it turned most eloquently pale. “Miss Lambert!” he cried.
There was such a tremor in his voice that Nora felt that, for the moment, she must have self-possession for both. “I interrupt you,” she said, with excessive deference.
“We are just finishing!” Hubert answered. “It’s my portrait, you see. You must look at it.” The artist made way for her before the easel, laid down his implements, and took up his hat and gloves. She looked mechanically at the picture, while Hubert accompanied him to the door, and they talked awhile about another sitting and about a frame which was to be sent home. The portrait was clever, but superficial; better looking at once, and worse looking than Hubert,—elegant, effeminate, and unreal. An impulse of wonder passed through her mind that she should happen just then to find him engaged in this odd self-reproduction. It was a different Hubert that turned and faced her as the door closed behind his companion, the real Hubert, with a vengeance! He had gained time; but surprise, admiration, conjecture, a broad hint of dismay, wrought bright confusion on his brow. Nora had dropped into the chair vacated by the artist; and as she sat there with clasped hands, she felt the young man reading the riddle of her shabby dress and her excited face. For him, too, she was the real Nora. Dismay began to prevail in his questioning eyes. He advanced, pushed towards her the chair in which he had been posturing, and, as he seated himself, made a half-movement to offer his hand; but before she could take it, he had begun to play with his watch-chain. “Nora,” he asked, “what is it?”
What was it, indeed? What was her errand, and in what words could it be told? An utter weakness had taken possession of her, a sense of having reached the goal of her journey, the term of her strength. She dropped her eyes on her shabby skirt, and passed her hand over it with a gesture of eloquent simplicity. “I’ve left Roger,” she said.
Hubert made no answer, but his silence somehow seemed to fill the room. He sunk back in his chair, still looking at her with startled eyes. The fact intimidated him; he was amazed and confused; yet he felt he must say something, and in his confusion he uttered a gross absurdity: “Ah, with his consent?”
The sound of his voice was so grateful to her that, at first, she hardly heeded his words. “I’m alone,” she added, “I’m free.” It was after she had spoken, as she saw him, growing, to his own sense, infinitely small in the large confidence of her gaze, rise in a perfect agony of impotence and stand before her, stupidly staring, that she felt he had neither taken her hand, nor dropped at her feet, nor divinely guessed her trouble; that, in fact, his very silence was a summons to tell her story and to justify herself. Her presence there was either a rapture or a shame. Nora felt as if she had taken a jump, and was learning in mid-air that the distance was tenfold what she had imagined. It is strange how the hinging point of great emotions may rest on an instant of time. These instants, however, seem as ages, viewed from within; and in such a reverberating moment Nora felt the spiritual substructure of a passion melting from beneath her feet, crumbling and crashing into the gulf on whose edge she stood. But her shame at least should be brief. She rose and bridged this dizzy chasm with some tragic counterfeit of a smile. “I’ve come—I’ve come—” she began and faltered. It was a vast pity some great actress had not been there to note upon the tablets of her art the light, all-eloquent tremor of tone with which she transposed her embarrassment into the petition, “Could you lend me a little money?”
Hubert was simply afraid of her. At his freest and bravest, he would have shrunk from being thus peremptorily brought to the point; and as matters stood, he felt all the more miserably paralyzed. For him, too, this was a vital moment. All his falsity, all his levity, all his egotism and sophism, seemed to crowd upon him and accuse him in deafening chorus; he seemed, under some glaring blue sky, to stand in the public stocks for all his pleasant sins. It was with a vast sense of relief that he heard her ask this simple favor. Money? Would money buy his release? He took out his purse and grasped a roll of bills; then suddenly he was overwhelmed by a sense of his cruelty. He flung the thing on the floor and passed his hands over his face. “Nora, Nora,” he cried, “say it outright; I disappoint you!”
He had become, in the brief space of a moment, the man she once had loved; but if he was no longer the rose, he stood too near it to be wantonly bruised. Men and women alike need in some degree to respect those they have suffered to wrong them. She stooped and picked up the porte-monnaie, like a beggar-maid in a ballad. “A very little will do,” she said. “In a day or two I hope to be independent.”
“Tell me at least what has happened!” he cried.
She hesitated a moment. “Roger has asked me to be his wife.” Hubert’s head swam with the vision of all that this simple statement embodied and implied. “I refused,” Nora added, “and, having refused, I was unwilling to live any longer on his—on his—” Her speech at the last word melted into silence, and she seemed to fall a-musing. But in an instant she recovered herself. “I remember your once saying that you would have liked to see me poor and homeless. Here I am! You ought at least,” she added with a laugh, “to pay for the exhibition!”
Hubert abruptly drew out his watch. “I expect here this moment,” he said, “a young lady of whom you may have heard. She is to come and see my portrait. I’m engaged to her. I was engaged to her five months ago. She’s rich, pretty, charming. Say but a single word, that you don’t despise me, that you forgive me, and I’ll give her up, now, here, forever, and be anything you’ll take me for,—your husband, your friend, your slave!” To have been able to make this speech gave Hubert immense relief. He felt almost himself again.
Nora fixed her eyes on him, with a kind of unfathomable gentleness. “You’re engaged, you were engaged? How strangely you talk about giving up! Give her my compliments!” It seemed, however, that Nora was to have the chance of offering them personally. The door was thrown open and admitted two ladies whom Nora vaguely remembered to have seen. In a moment she recognized them as the persons whom, on the evening she had gone to hear Hubert preach, he had left her, after the sermon, to conduct to their carriage. The younger one was decidedly pretty, in spite of a nose a trifle too aquiline. A pair of imperious dark eyes, as bright as the diamond which glittered in each of her ears, and a nervous capricious rapidity of motion and gesture, gave her an air of girlish brusquerie , which was by no means without charm. Her mother’s aspect, however, testified to its being as well to enjoy this charm at a distance. She was a stout, coarse-featured, good-natured woman, with a jaded, submissive expression, and seemed to proclaim by a certain bulky languor, as she followed in her daughter’s wake, the subserviency of matter to mind. Both ladies were dressed to the utmost limits of the occasion, and savored potently of New York. They came into the room staring frankly at Nora, and overlooking Hubert with gracious implication of his being already one of the family. The situation was a trying one, but he faced it as he might.
“This is Miss Lambert,” he said, gravely; and then with an effort to conjure away confusion with a jest, waving his hand toward his portrait, “This is the Rev. Hubert Lawrence!”
The elder lady moved toward the picture, but the other came straight to Nora. “I’ve seen you before!” she cried defiantly, and with defiance in her fine eyes. “And I’ve heard of you too! Yes, you’re certainly very handsome. But pray, what are you doing here?”
“My dear child!” said Hubert, imploringly, and with a burning side-glance at Nora. If he had been in the pillory before, it was not till now that the rain of missiles had begun.
“My dear Hubert,” said the young lady, “what is she doing here? I have a right to know. Have you come running after him even here? You’re a wicked girl. You’ve done me a wrong. You’ve tried to turn him away from me. You kept him in Boston for weeks, when he ought to have been here; when I was writing to him day after day to come. I heard all about it! I don’t know what’s the matter with you. I thought you were so very well off! You look very poor and unhappy, but I must say what I think!”
“My own darling, be reasonable!” murmured her mother. “Come and look at this beautiful picture. There’s no deceit on that brow!”
Nora smiled charitably. “Don’t attack me,” she said. “If I ever wronged you, I was quite unconscious of it, and I beg your pardon now.”
“Nora,” murmured Hubert, piteously, “spare me!”
“Ah, does he call you Nora?” cried the young lady. “The harm’s done, madam! He’ll never be what he was. You’ve changed, Hubert!” And she turned passionately on her fiance . “You know you are! You talk to me, but you think of her. And what is the meaning of this visit? You’re both vastly excited; what have you been talking about?”
“Mr. Lawrence has been telling me about you,” said Nora; “how pretty, how charming, how gentle you are!”
“I’m not gentle!” cried the other. “You’re laughing at me! Was it to talk about my prettiness you came here? Do you go about alone, this way? I never heard of such a thing. You’re shameless! do you know that? But I’m very glad of it; because once you’ve done this for him, he’ll not care for you. That’s the way with men. And I’m not pretty either, not as you are! You’re pale and tired; you’ve got a horrid dress and shawl, and yet you’re beautiful! Is that the way I must look to please you?” she demanded, turning back to Hubert.
Hubert, during this spiteful tirade , had stood looking as dark as thunder, and at this point he broke out fiercely, “Good God, Amy! hold your tongue. I command you.”
Nora, gathering her shawl together, gave Hubert a glance. “She loves you,” she said, softly.
Amy stared a moment at this vehement adjuration; then she melted into a smile and turned in ecstasy to her mother. “Good, good!” she cried. “That’s how I like him. I shall have my husband yet.”
Nora left the room; and, in spite of her gesture of earnest deprecation, Hubert followed her down stairs to the street door. “Where are you going?” he asked in a whisper. “With whom are you staying?”
“I’m alone,” said Nora.
“Alone in this great city? Nora, I will do something for you.”
“Hubert,” she said, “I never in my life needed help less than at this moment. Farewell.” He fancied for an instant that she was going to offer him her hand, but she only motioned him to open the door. He did so and she passed out.
She stood there on the pavement, strangely, almost absurdly, free and light of spirit. She knew neither whither she should turn nor what she should do, yet the fears which had haunted her for a whole day and night had vanished. The sky was blazing blue overhead; the opposite side of the street was all in sun; she hailed the joyous brightness of the day with a kind of answering joy. She seemed to be in the secret of the universe. A nursery-maid came along, pushing a baby in a perambulator. She stooped and greeted the child, and talked pretty nonsense to it with a fervor which left the young woman staring. Nurse and child went their way, and Nora lingered, looking up and down the empty street. Suddenly a gentleman turned into it from the cross-street above. He was walking fast; he had his hat in his hand, and with his other hand he was passing his handkerchief over his forehead. As she stood and watched him draw near, down the bright vista of the street, there came upon her a singular and altogether nameless sensation, strangely similar to one she had felt a couple of years before, when a physician had given her a dose of ether. The gentleman, she perceived, was Roger; but the short interval of space and time which separated them seemed to expand into a throbbing immensity and eternity. She seemed to be watching him for an age, and, as she did so, to be swinging through the whole circle of emotion and the full realization of being. Yes, she was in the secret of the universe, and the secret of the universe was, that Roger was the only man in it who had a heart. Suddenly she felt a palpable grasp. Roger stood before her, and had taken her hand. For a moment he said nothing; but the touch of his hand spoke loud. They stood for an instant scanning the change in each other’s faces. “Where are you going?” said Roger, at last, imploringly.
Nora read silently in his haggard furrows the whole record of his passion and grief. It is a strange truth that they seemed the most beautiful things she had ever looked upon; the sight of them was delicious. They seemed to whisper louder and louder that secret about Roger’s heart.
Nora collected herself as solemnly as one on a death-bed making a will; but Roger was still in miserable doubt and dread. “I’ve followed you,” he said, “in spite of that request in your letter.”
“Have you got my letter?” Nora asked.
“It was the only thing you had left me,” he said, and drew it, creased and crumpled, out of his pocket.
She took it from him and tore it slowly into a dozen pieces, never taking her eyes off his own. “Don’t try and forget that I wrote it,” she said. “My destroying it now means more than that would have meant.”
“What does it mean, Nora?” he asked, in hardly audible tones.
“It means that I’m a wiser girl to-day than then . I know myself better, I know you better. O Roger!” she cried, “it means everything!”
He passed her hand through his arm and held it there against his heart, while he stood looking hard at the pavement, as if to steady himself amid this great convulsion of things. Then raising his head, “Come,” he said; “come!”
But she detained him, laying her other hand on his arm. “No; you must understand first. If I’m wiser now, I’ve learnt wisdom at my cost. I’m not the girl you proposed to on Sunday. I feel—I feel dishonored! ” she said, uttering the word with a vehemence which stirred his soul to its depths.
“My own poor child!” he murmured, staring.
“There’s a young girl in that house,” Nora went on, “who will tell you that I’m shameless!”
“What house? what young girl?”
“I don’t know her name. Hubert is engaged to her.”
Roger gave a glance at the house behind them, as if to fling defiance and oblivion upon all that it suggested and contained. Then turning to Nora with a smile of consummate tenderness: “My dear Nora, what have we to do with Hubert’s young girls?”
Roger, the reader will admit, was on a level with the occasion,—as with every other occasion which subsequently presented itself.
Mrs. Keith and Mrs. Lawrence are very good friends. On being complimented on possessing the confidence of so charming a woman as Mrs. Lawrence, Mrs. Keith has been known to say, opening and shutting her fan, “The fact is, Nora is under a very peculiar obligation to me.” Another of Mrs. Keith’s sayings may perhaps be appositely retailed,—her answer, one evening, to an inquiry as to Roger’s age: “Twenty-five— seconde jeunesse .” Hubert Lawrence, on the other hand, has already begun to pass for an elderly man. Mrs. Hubert, however, preserves the balance. She is wonderfully fresh, and, with time, has grown stout, like her mother, though she has nothing of the jaded look of that excellent lady.
the end
[]
henry james’ novels
1875
RODERICK HUDSON
1875 book version

contents—roderick
Preface to The New York Edition, 1907
I. Rowland
II. Roderick
III. Rome
IV. Experience
V. Christina
VI. Frascati
VII. Saint Cecilia’s
VIII. Provocation
IX. Mary Garland
X. The Cavaliere
XI. Mrs. Hudson
XII. The Princess Casamassima
XIII. Switzerland
Preface to The New York Edition, 1907
Roderick Hudson was begun in Florence in the spring of 1874, designed from the first for serial publication in The Atlantic monthly , where it opened in January 1875 and persisted through the year. I yield to the pleasure of placing these circumstances on record, as I shall place others, and as I have yielded to the need of renewing acquaintance with the book after a quarter of a century. This revival of an all but extinct relation with an early work may often produce for an artist, I think, more kinds of interest and emotion than he shall find it easy to express, and yet will light not a little, to his eyes, that veiled face of his Muse which he is condemned for ever and all anxiously to study. The art of representation bristles with questions the very terms of which are difficult to apply and to appreciate; but whatever makes it arduous makes it, for our refreshment, infinite, causes the practice of it, with experience, to spread round us in a widening, not in a narrowing circle. Therefore it is that experience has to organise, for convenience and cheer, some system of observation—for fear, in the admirable immensity, of losing its way. We see it as pausing from time to time to consult its notes, to measure, for guidance, as many aspects and distances as possible, as many steps taken and obstacles mastered and fruits gathered and beauties enjoyed. Everything counts, nothing is superfluous in such a survey; the explorer’s note-book strikes me here as endlessly receptive. This accordingly is what I mean by the contributive value—or put it simply as, to one’s own sense, the beguiling charm—of the accessory facts in a given artistic case. This is why, as one looks back, the private history of any sincere work, however modest its pretensions, looms with its own completeness in the rich, ambiguous æsthetic air, and seems at once to borrow a dignity and to mark, so to say, a station. This is why, reading over, for revision, correction and republication, the volumes here in hand, I find myself, all attentively, in presence of some such recording scroll or engraved commemorative table—from which the ‘private’ character, moreover, quite insists on dropping out. These notes represent, over a considerable course, the continuity of an artist’s endeavour, the growth of his whole operative consciousness and, best of all, perhaps, their own tendency to multiply, with the implication, thereby, of a memory much enriched. Addicted to ‘stories’ and inclined to retrospect, he fondly takes, under this backward view, his whole unfolding, his process of production, for a thrilling tale, almost for a wondrous adventure, only asking himself at what stage of remembrance the mark of the relevant will begin to fail. He frankly proposes to take this mark everywhere for granted.
Roderick Hudson was my first attempt at a novel, a long fiction with a ‘complicated’ subject, and I recall again the quite uplifted sense with which my idea, such as it was, permitted me at last to put quite out to sea. I had but hugged the shore on sundry previous small occasions; bumping about, to acquire skill, in the shallow waters and sandy coves of the ‘short story’ and master as yet of no vessel constructed to carry a sail. The subject of Roderick figured to me vividly this employment of canvas, and I have not forgotten, even after long years, how the blue southern sea seemed to spread immediately before me and the breath of the spice-islands to be already in the breeze. Yet it must even then have begun for me too, the ache of fear, that was to become so familiar, of being unduly tempted and led on by ‘developments’; which is but the desperate discipline of the question involved in them. They are of the very essence of the novelist’s process, and it is by their aid, fundamentally, that his idea takes form and lives; but they impose on him, through the principle of continuity that rides them, a proportionate anxiety. They are the very condition of interest, which languishes and drops without them; the painter’s subject consisting ever, obviously, of the related state, to each other, of certain figures and things. To exhibit these relations, once they have all been recognised, is to ‘treat’ his idea, which involves neglecting none of those that directly minister to interest; the degree of that directness remaining meanwhile a matter of highly difficult appreciation, and one on which felicity of form and composition, as a part of the total effect, mercilessly rests. Up to what point is such and such a development indispensable to the interest? What is the point beyond which it ceases to be rigourously so? Where, for the complete expression of one’s subject, does a particular relation stop—giving way to some other not concerned in that expression?
Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so. He is in the perpetual predicament that the continuity of things is the whole matter, for him, of comedy and tragedy; that this continuity is never, by the space of an instant or an inch, broken, and that, to do anything at all, he has at once intensely to consult and intensely to ignore it. All of which will perhaps pass but for a supersubtle way of pointing the plain moral that a young embroiderer of the canvas of life soon began to work in terror, fairly, of the vast expanse of that surface, of the boundless number of its distinct perforations for the needle, and of the tendency inherent in his many-coloured flowers and figures to cover and consume as many as possible of the little holes. The development of the flower, of the figure, involved thus an immense counting of holes and a careful selection among them. That would have been, it seemed to him, a brave enough process, were it not the very nature of the holes so to invite, to solicit, to persuade, to practise positively a thousand lures and deceits. The prime effect of so sustained a system, so prepared a surface, is to lead on and on; while the fascination of following resides, by the same token, in the presumability somewhere of a convenient, of a visibly-appointed stopping-place. Art would be easy indeed if, by a fond power disposed to ‘patronise’ it, such conveniences, such simplifications, had been provided. We have, as the case stands, to invent and establish them, to arrive at them by a difficult, dire process of selection and comparison, of surrender and sacrifice. The very meaning of expertness is acquired courage to brace one’s self for the cruel crisis from the moment one sees it grimly loom.
Roderick Hudson was further, was earnestly pursued during a summer partly spent in the Black Forest and (as I had returned to America early in September) during three months passed near Boston. It is one of the silver threads of the recoverable texture of that embarrassed phase, however, that the book was not finished when it had to begin appearing in monthly fragments: a fact in the light of which I find myself live over again, and quite with wonderment and tenderness, so intimate an experience of difficulty and delay. To have ‘liked’ so much writing it, to have worked out with such conviction the pale embroidery, and yet not, at the end of so many months, to have come through, was clearly still to have fallen short of any facility and any confidence: though the long-drawn process now most appeals to memory, I confess, by this very quality of shy and groping duration. One fact about it indeed outlives all others; the fact that, as the loved Italy was the scene of my fiction—so much more loved than one has ever been able, even after fifty efforts, to say!—and as having had to leave it persisted as an inward ache, so there was soreness in still contriving, after a fashion, to hang about it and in prolonging, from month to month, the illusion of the golden air. Little enough of that medium may the novel, read over to-day, seem to supply; yet half the actual interest lurks for me in the earnest, baffled intention of making it felt. A whole side of the old consciousness, under this mild pressure, flushes up and prevails again; a reminder, ever so penetrating, of the quantity of ‘evocation’ involved in my plan, and of the quantity I must even have supposed myself to achieve. I take the lingering perception of all this, I may add—that is of the various admonitions of the whole reminiscence—for a signal instance of the way a work of art, however small, if but sufficiently sincere, may vivify and even dignify the accidents and incidents of its growth.
I must that winter (which I again like to put on record that I spent in New York) have brought up my last instalments in due time, for I recall no haunting anxiety: what I do recall perfectly is the felt pleasure, during those months—and in East Twenty-fifth Street!—of trying, on the other side of the world, still to surround with the appropriate local glow the characters that had combined, to my vision, the previous year in Florence. A benediction, a great advantage, as seemed to me, had so from the first rested on them, and to nurse them along was really to sit again in the high, charming, shabby old room which had originally overarched them and which, in the hot May and June, had looked out, through the slits of cooling shutters, at the rather dusty but ever-romantic glare of Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The house formed the corner (I delight to specify) of Via della Scala, and I fear that what the early chapters of the book most ‘render’ to me to-day is not the umbrageous air of their New England town, but the view of the small cab-stand sleepily disposed—long before the days of strident electric cars—round the rococo obelisk of the Piazza, which is supported on its pedestal, if I remember rightly, by four delightful little elephants. (That, at any rate, is how the object in question, deprecating verification, comes back to me with the clatter of the horse-pails, the discussions, in the intervals of repose under well-drawn hoods, of the unbuttoned cocchieri, sons of the most garrulous of races, and the occasional stillness as of the noonday desert.)
Pathetic, as we say, on the other hand, no doubt, to reperusal, the manner in which the evocation, so far as attempted, of the small New England town of my first two chapters, fails of intensity—if intensity, in such a connexion, had been indeed to be looked for. Could I verily, by the terms of my little plan, have ‘gone in’ for it at the best, and even though one of these terms was the projection, for my fable, at the outset, of some more or less vivid antithesis to a state of civilisation providing for ‘art’? What I wanted, in essence, was the image of some perfectly humane community which was yet all incapable of providing for it, and I had to take what my scant experience furnished me. I remember feeling meanwhile no drawback in this scantness, but a complete, an exquisite little adequacy, so that the presentation arrived at would quite have served its purpose, I think, had I not misled myself into naming my place. To name a place, in fiction, is to pretend in some degree to represent it—and I speak here of course but of the use of existing names, the only ones that carry weight. I wanted one that carried weight—so at least I supposed; but obviously I was wrong, since my effect lay, so superficially, and could only lie, in the local type , as to which I had my handful of impressions. The particular local case was another matter, and I was to see again, after long years, the case into which, all recklessly, the opening passages of Roderick Hudson put their foot. I was to have nothing then, on the spot, to sustain me but the rather feeble plea that I had not pretended so very much to ‘do’ Northampton Mass. The plea was charmingly allowed, but nothing could have been more to the point than the way in which, in such a situation, the whole question of the novelist’s ‘doing’, with its eternal wealth, or in other words its eternal torment of interest, once more came up. He embarks, rash adventurer, under the star of ‘representation’, and is pledged thereby to remember that the art of interesting us in things—once these things are the right ones for his case—can only be the art of representing them. This relation to them, for invoked interest, involves his accordingly ‘doing’; and it is for him to settle with his intelligence what that variable process shall commit him to.
Its fortune rests primarily, beyond doubt, on somebody’s having, under suggestion, a sense for it—even the reader will do, on occasion, when the writer, as so often happens, completely falls out. The way in which this sense has been, or has not been, applied constitutes, at all events, in respect to any fiction, the very ground of critical appreciation. Such appreciation takes account, primarily, of the thing, in the case, to have been done, and I now see what, for the first and second chapters of Roderick, that was. It was a peaceful, rural New England community quelconque—it was not, it was under no necessity of being, Northampton Mass. But one nestled, technically, in those days, and with yearning, in the great shadow of Balzac; his august example, little as the secret might ever be guessed, towered for me over the scene; so that what was clearer than anything else was how, if it was a question of Saumur, of Limoges, of Guérande, he ‘did’ Saumur, did Limoges, did Guérande. I remember how, in my feebler fashion, I yearned over the preliminary presentation of my small square patch of the American scene, and yet was not sufficiently on my guard to see how easily his high practice might be delusive for my case. Balzac talked of Nemours and Provins: therefore why should n’t one, with fond fatuity, talk of almost the only small American ville de province of which one had happened to lay up, long before, a pleased vision? The reason was plain: one was not in the least, in one’s prudence, emulating his systematic closeness. It did n’t confuse the question either that he would verily, after all, addressed as he was to a due density in his material, have found little enough in Northampton Mass to tackle. He tackled no group of appearances, no presented face of the social organism (conspicuity thus attending it), but to make something of it. To name it simply and not in some degree tackle it would have seemed to him an act reflecting on his general course the deepest dishonour. Therefore it was that, as the moral of these many remarks, I ‘named’, under his contagion, when I was really most conscious of not being held to it; and therefore it was, above all, that for all the effect of representation I was to achieve, I might have let the occasion pass. A ‘fancy’ indication would have served my turn—except that I should so have failed perhaps of a pretext for my present insistence.
Since I do insist, at all events, I find this ghostly interest perhaps even more reasserted for me by the questions begotten within the very covers of the book, those that wander and idle there as in some sweet old overtangled walled garden, a safe paradise of self-criticism. Here it is that if there be air for it to breathe at all, the critical question swarms, and here it is, in particular, that one of the happy hours of the painter’s long day may strike. I speak of the painter in general and of his relation to the old picture, the work of his hand, that has been lost to sight and that, when found again, is put back on the easel for measure of what time and the weather may, in the interval, have done to it. Has it too fatally faded, has it blackened or ‘sunk’, or otherwise abdicated, or has it only, blest thought, strengthened, for its allotted duration, and taken up, in its degree, poor dear brave thing, some shade of the all appreciable, yet all indescribable grace that we know as pictorial ‘tone’? The anxious artist has to wipe it over, in the first place, to see; he has to ‘clean it up’, say, or to varnish it anew, or at the least to place it in a light, for any right judgment of its aspect or its worth. But the very uncertainties themselves yield a thrill, and if subject and treatment, working together, have had their felicity, the artist, the prime creator, may find a strange charm in this stage of the connexion. It helps him to live back into a forgotten state, into convictions, credulities too early spent perhaps, it breathes upon the dead reasons of things, buried as they are in the texture of the work, and makes them revive, so that the actual appearances and the old motives fall together once more, and a lesson and a moral and a consecrating final light are somehow disengaged.
All this, I mean of course, if the case will wonderfully take any such pressure, if the work doesn’t break down under even such mild overhauling. The author knows well enough how easily that may happen—which he in fact frequently enough sees it do. The old reasons then are too dead to revive; they were not, it is plain, good enough reasons to live. The only possible relation of the present mind to the thing is to dismiss it altogether. On the other hand, when it is not dismissed—as the only detachment is the detachment of aversion—the creative intimacy is reaffirmed, and appreciation, critical apprehension, insists on becoming as active as it can. Who shall say, granted this, where it shall not begin and where it shall consent to end? The painter who passes over his old sunk canvas the wet sponge that shows him what may still come out again makes his criticism essentially active. When having seen, while his momentary glaze remains, that the canvas has kept a few buried secrets, he proceeds to repeat the process with due care and with a bottle of varnish and a brush, he is ‘living back’, as I say, to the top of his bent, is taking up the old relation, so workable apparently, yet, and there is nothing logically to stay him from following it all the way. I have felt myself then, on looking over past productions, the painter making use again and again of the tentative wet sponge. The sunk surface has here and there, beyond doubt, refused to respond: the buried secrets, the intentions, are buried too deep to rise again, and were indeed, it would appear, not much worth the burying. Not so, however, when the moistened canvas does obscurely flush and when resort to the varnish-bottle is thereby immediately indicated. The simplest figure for my revision of this present array of earlier, later, larger, smaller, canvases, is to say that I have achieved it by the very aid of the varnish-bottle. It is true of them throughout that, in words I have had occasion to use in another connexion (where too I had revised with a view to ‘possible amendment of form and enhancement of meaning’), I have ‘nowhere scrupled to re-write a sentence or a passage on judging it susceptible of a better turn’.
To re-read Roderick Hudson was to find one remark so promptly and so urgently prescribed that I could at once only take it as pointing almost too stern a moral. It stared me in the face that the time-scheme of the story is quite inadequate, and positively to that degree that the fault but just fails to wreck it. The thing escapes, I conceive, with its life: the effect sought is fortunately more achieved than missed, since the interest of the subject bears down, auspiciously dissimulates, this particular flaw in the treatment. Everything occurs, none the less, too punctually and moves too fast: Roderick’s disintegration, a gradual process, and of which the exhibitional interest is exactly that it is gradual and occasional, and thereby traceable and watchable, swallows two years in a mouthful, proceeds quite not by years, but by weeks and months, and thus renders the whole view the disservice of appearing to present him as a morbidly special case. The very claim of the fable is naturally that he is special, that his great gift makes and keeps him highly exceptional; but that is not for a moment supposed to preclude his appearing typical (of the general type) as well; for the fictive hero successfully appeals to us only as an eminent instance, as eminent as we like, of our own conscious kind. My mistake on Roderick’s behalf—and not in the least of conception, but of composition and expression—is that, at the rate at which he falls to pieces, he seems to place himself beyond our understanding and our sympathy. These are not our rates, we say; we ourselves certainly, under like pressure,—for what is it after all?—would make more of a fight. We conceive going to pieces—nothing is easier, since we see people do it, one way or another, all round us; but this young man must either have had less of the principle of development to have had so much of the principle of collapse, or less of the principle of collapse to have had so much of the principle of development. “On the basis of so great a weakness,” one hears the reader say, “where was your idea of the interest? On the basis of so great an interest, where is the provision for so much weakness?” One feels indeed, in the light of this challenge, on how much too scantly projected and suggested a field poor Roderick and his large capacity for ruin are made to turn round. It has all begun too soon, as I say, and too simply, and the determinant function attributed to Christina Light, the character of well-nigh sole agent of his catastrophe that this unfortunate young woman has forced upon her, fails to commend itself to our sense of truth and proportion.
It was not, however, that I was at ease on this score even in the first fond good faith of composition; I felt too, all the while, how many more ups and downs, how many more adventures and complications my young man would have had to know, how much more experience it would have taken, in short, either to make him go under or to make him triumph. The greater complexity, the superior truth, was all more or less present to me; only the question was, too dreadfully, how make it present to the reader? How boil down so many facts in the alembic, so that the distilled result, the produced appearance, should have intensity, lucidity, brevity, beauty, all the merits required for my effect? How, when it was already so difficult, as I found, to proceed even as I was proceeding? It didn’t help, alas, it only maddened, to remember that Balzac would have known how, and would have yet asked no additional credit for it. All the difficulty I could dodge still struck me, at any rate, as leaving more than enough; and yet I was already consciously in presence, here, of the most interesting question the artist has to consider. To give the image and the sense of certain things while still keeping them subordinate to his plan, keeping them in relation to matters more immediate and apparent, to give all the sense, in a word, without all the substance or all the surface, and so to summarise and foreshorten, so to make values both rich and sharp, that the mere procession of items and profiles is not only, for the occasion, superseded, but is, for essential quality, almost ‘compromised’—such a case of delicacy proposes itself at every turn to the painter of life who wishes both to treat his chosen subject and to confine his necessary picture. It is only by doing such things that art becomes exquisite, and it is only by positively becoming exquisite that it keeps clear of becoming vulgar, repudiates the coarse industries that masquerade in its name. This eternal time-question is accordingly, for the novelist, always there and always formidable; always insisting on the effect of the great lapse and passage, of the ‘dark backward and abysm’, by the terms of truth, and on the effect of compression, of composition and form, by the terms of literary arrangement. It is really a business to terrify all but stout hearts into abject omission and mutilation, though the terror would indeed be more general were the general consciousness of the difficulty greater. It is not by consciousness of difficulty, in truth, that the story-teller is mostly ridden; so prodigious a number of stories would otherwise scarce get themselves (shall it be called?) ‘told’. None was ever very well told, I think, under the law of mere elimination—inordinately as that device appears in many quarters to be depended on. I remember doing my best not to be reduced to it for Roderick , at the same time that I did so helplessly and consciously beg a thousand questions. What I clung to as my principle of simplification was the precious truth that I was dealing, after all, essentially with an Action, and that no action, further, was ever made historically vivid without a certain factitious compactness; though this logic indeed opened up horizons and abysses of its own. But into these we must plunge on some other occasion.
It was at any rate under an admonition or two fished out of their depths that I must have tightened my hold of the remedy afforded, such as it was, for the absence of those more adequate illustrations of Roderick’s character and history. Since one was dealing with an Action one might borrow a scrap of the Dramatist’s all-in-all, his intensity—which the novelist so often ruefully envies him as a fortune in itself. The amount of illustration I could allow to the grounds of my young man’s disaster was unquestionably meagre, but I might perhaps make it lively; I might produce illusion if I should be able to achieve intensity. It was for that I must have tried, I now see, with such art as I could command; but I make out in another quarter above all what really saved me. My subject, all blissfully, in face of difficulties, had defined itself—and this in spite of the title of the book—as not directly, in the least, my young sculptor’s adventure. This it had been but indirectly, being all the while in essence and in final effect another man’s, his friend’s and patron’s, view and experience of him. One’s luck was to have felt one’s subject right—whether instinct or calculation, in those dim days, most served; and the circumstance even amounts perhaps to a little lesson that when this has happily occurred faults may show, faults may disfigure, and yet not upset the work. It remains in equilibrium by having found its centre, the point of command of all the rest. From this centre the subject has been treated, from this centre the interest has spread, and so, whatever else it may do or may not do, the thing has acknowledged a principle of composition and contrives at least to hang together. We see in such a case why it should so hang; we escape that dreariest displeasure it is open to experiments in this general order to inflict, the sense of any hanging-together precluded as by the very terms of the case.
The centre of interest throughout Roderick is in Rowland Mallet’s consciousness, and the drama is the very drama of that consciousness—which I had of course to make sufficiently acute in order to enable it, like a set and lighted scene, to hold the play. By making it acute, meanwhile, one made its own movement—or rather, strictly, its movement in the particular connexion—interesting; this movement really being quite the stuff of one’s thesis. It had, naturally, Rowland’s consciousness, not to be too acute—which would have disconnected it and made it superhuman: the beautiful little problem was to keep it connected, connected intimately, with the general human exposure, and thereby bedimmed and befooled and bewildered, anxious, restless, fallible, and yet to endow it with such intelligence that the appearances reflected in it, and constituting together there the situation and the ‘story’, should become by that fact intelligible. Discernible from the first the joy of such a ‘job’ as this making of his relation to everything involved a sufficiently limited, a sufficiently pathetic, tragic, comic, ironic, personal state to be thoroughly natural, and yet at the same time a sufficiently clear medium to represent a whole. This whole was to be the sum of what ‘happened’ to him, or in other words his total adventure; but as what happened to him was above all to feel certain things happening to others, to Roderick, to Christina, to Mary Garland, to Mrs Hudson, to the Cavaliere, to the Prince, so the beauty of the constructional game was to preserve in everything its especial value for him . The ironic effect of his having fallen in love with the girl who is herself in love with Roderick, though he is unwitting, at the time, of that secret—the conception of this last irony, I must add, has remained happier than my execution of it; which should logically have involved the reader’s being put into position to take more closely home the impression made by Mary Garland. The ground has not been laid for it, and when that is the case one builds all vainly in the air: one patches up one’s superstructure, one paints it in the prettiest colours, one hangs fine old tapestry and rare brocade over its window-sills, one flies emblazoned banners from its roof—the building none the less totters and refuses to stand square.
It is not really worked-in that Roderick himself could have pledged his faith in such a quarter, much more at such a crisis, before leaving America: and that weakness, clearly, produces a limp in the whole march of the fable. Just so, though there was no reason on earth (unless I except one, presently to be mentioned) why Rowland should not , at Northampton, have conceived a passion, or as near an approach to one as he was capable of, for a remarkable young woman there suddenly dawning on his sight, a particular fundamental care was required for the vivification of that possibility. The care, unfortunately, has not been skilfully enough taken, in spite of the later patching-up of the girl’s figure. We fail to accept it, on the actual showing, as that of a young person irresistible at any moment, and above all irresistible at a moment of the liveliest other preoccupation, as that of the weaver of (even the highly conditioned) spell that the narrative imputes to her. The spell of attraction is cast upon young men by young women in all sorts of ways, and the novel has no more constant office than to remind us of that. But Mary Garland’s way doesn’t, indubitably, convince us; any more than we are truly convinced, I think, that Rowland’s destiny, or say his nature, would have made him accessible at the same hour to two quite distinct commotions, each a very deep one, of his whole personal economy. Rigidly viewed, each of these upheavals of his sensibility must have been exclusive of other upheavals, yet the reader is asked to accept them as working together. They are different vibrations, but the whole sense of the situation depicted is that they should each have been of the strongest, too strong to walk hand in hand. Therefore it is that when, on the ship, under the stars, Roderick suddenly takes his friend into the confidence of his engagement, we instinctively disallow the friend’s title to discomfiture. The whole picture presents him as for the time on the mounting wave, exposed highly enough, no doubt, to a hundred discomfitures, but least exposed to that one. The damage to verisimilitude is deep.
The difficulty had been from the first that I required my antithesis—my antithesis to Christina Light, one of the main terms of the subject. One is ridden by the law that antitheses, to be efficient, shall be both direct and complete. Directness seemed to fail unless Mary should be, so to speak, ‘plain’, Christina being essentially so ‘coloured’; and completeness seemed to fail unless she too should have her potency. She could moreover, by which I mean the antithetic young woman could, perfectly have had it; only success would have been then in the narrator’s art to attest it. Christina’s own presence and action are, on the other hand, I think, all firm ground; the truth probably being that the ideal antithesis rarely does ‘come off’, and that it has to content itself for the most part with a strong term and a weak term, and even then to feel itself lucky. If one of the terms is strong, that perhaps may pass, in the most difficult of the arts, for a triumph. I remember at all events feeling, toward the end of Roderick , that the Princess Casamassima had been launched, that, wound-up with the right silver key, she would go on a certain time by the motion communicated; thanks to which I knew the pity, the real pang of losing sight of her. I desired as in no other such case I can recall to preserve, to recover the vision; and I have seemed to myself in re-reading the book quite to understand why. The multiplication of touches had produced even more life than the subject required, and that life, in other conditions, in some other prime relation, would still have somehow to be spent. Thus one would watch for her and waylay her at some turn of the road to come—all that was to be needed was to give her time. This I did in fact, meeting her again and taking her up later on.
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Chapter I. Rowland
Mallet had made his arrangements to sail for Europe on the first of September, and having in the interval a fortnight to spare, he determined to spend it with his cousin Cecilia, the widow of a nephew of his father. He was urged by the reflection that an affectionate farewell might help to exonerate him from the charge of neglect frequently preferred by this lady. It was not that the young man disliked her; on the contrary, he regarded her with a tender admiration, and he had not forgotten how, when his cousin had brought her home on her marriage, he had seemed to feel the upward sweep of the empty bough from which the golden fruit had been plucked, and had then and there accepted the prospect of bachelorhood. The truth was, that, as it will be part of the entertainment of this narrative to exhibit, Rowland Mallet had an uncomfortably sensitive conscience, and that, in spite of the seeming paradox, his visits to Cecilia were rare because she and her misfortunes were often uppermost in it. Her misfortunes were three in number: first, she had lost her husband; second, she had lost her money (or the greater part of it); and third, she lived at Northampton, Massachusetts. Mallet’s compassion was really wasted, because Cecilia was a very clever woman, and a most skillful counter-plotter to adversity. She had made herself a charming home, her economies were not obtrusive, and there was always a cheerful flutter in the folds of her crape. It was the consciousness of all this that puzzled Mallet whenever he felt tempted to put in his oar. He had money and he had time, but he never could decide just how to place these gifts gracefully at Cecilia’s service. He no longer felt like marrying her: in these eight years that fancy had died a natural death. And yet her extreme cleverness seemed somehow to make charity difficult and patronage impossible. He would rather chop off his hand than offer her a check, a piece of useful furniture, or a black silk dress; and yet there was some sadness in seeing such a bright, proud woman living in such a small, dull way. Cecilia had, moreover, a turn for sarcasm, and her smile, which was her pretty feature, was never so pretty as when her sprightly phrase had a lurking scratch in it. Rowland remembered that, for him, she was all smiles, and suspected, awkwardly, that he ministered not a little to her sense of the irony of things. And in truth, with his means, his leisure, and his opportunities, what had he done? He had an unaffected suspicion of his uselessness. Cecilia, meanwhile, cut out her own dresses, and was personally giving her little girl the education of a princess.
This time, however, he presented himself bravely enough; for in the way of activity it was something definite, at least, to be going to Europe and to be meaning to spend the winter in Rome. Cecilia met him in the early dusk at the gate of her little garden, amid a studied combination of floral perfumes. A rosy widow of twenty-eight, half cousin, half hostess, doing the honors of an odorous cottage on a midsummer evening, was a phenomenon to which the young man’s imagination was able to do ample justice. Cecilia was always gracious, but this evening she was almost joyous. She was in a happy mood, and Mallet imagined there was a private reason for it—a reason quite distinct from her pleasure in receiving her honored kinsman. The next day he flattered himself he was on the way to discover it.
For the present, after tea, as they sat on the rose-framed porch, while Rowland held his younger cousin between his knees, and she, enjoying her situation, listened timorously for the stroke of bedtime, Cecilia insisted on talking more about her visitor than about herself.
“What is it you mean to do in Europe?” she asked, lightly, giving a turn to the frill of her sleeve—just such a turn as seemed to Mallet to bring out all the latent difficulties of the question.
“Why, very much what I do here,” he answered. “No great harm.”
“Is it true,” Cecilia asked, “that here you do no great harm? Is not a man like you doing harm when he is not doing positive good?”
“Your compliment is ambiguous,” said Rowland.
“No,” answered the widow, “you know what I think of you. You have a particular aptitude for beneficence. You have it in the first place in your character. You are a benevolent person. Ask Bessie if you don’t hold her more gently and comfortably than any of her other admirers.”
“He holds me more comfortably than Mr. Hudson,” Bessie declared, roundly.
Rowland, not knowing Mr. Hudson, could but half appreciate the eulogy, and Cecilia went on to develop her idea. “Your circumstances, in the second place, suggest the idea of social usefulness. You are intelligent, you are well-informed, and your charity, if one may call it charity, would be discriminating. You are rich and unoccupied, so that it might be abundant. Therefore, I say, you are a person to do something on a large scale. Bestir yourself, dear Rowland, or we may be taught to think that virtue herself is setting a bad example.”
“Heaven forbid,” cried Rowland, “that I should set the examples of virtue! I am quite willing to follow them, however, and if I don’t do something on the grand scale, it is that my genius is altogether imitative, and that I have not recently encountered any very striking models of grandeur. Pray, what shall I do? Found an orphan asylum, or build a dormitory for Harvard College? I am not rich enough to do either in an ideally handsome way, and I confess that, yet awhile, I feel too young to strike my grand coup . I am holding myself ready for inspiration. I am waiting till something takes my fancy irresistibly. If inspiration comes at forty, it will be a hundred pities to have tied up my money-bag at thirty.”
“Well, I give you till forty,” said Cecilia. “It’s only a word to the wise, a notification that you are expected not to run your course without having done something handsome for your fellow-men.”
Nine o’clock sounded, and Bessie, with each stroke, courted a closer embrace. But a single winged word from her mother overleaped her successive intrenchments. She turned and kissed her cousin, and deposited an irrepressible tear on his moustache. Then she went and said her prayers to her mother: it was evident she was being admirably brought up. Rowland, with the permission of his hostess, lighted a cigar and puffed it awhile in silence. Cecilia’s interest in his career seemed very agreeable. That Mallet was without vanity I by no means intend to affirm; but there had been times when, seeing him accept, hardly less deferentially, advice even more peremptory than the widow’s, you might have asked yourself what had become of his vanity. Now, in the sweet-smelling starlight, he felt gently wooed to egotism. There was a project connected with his going abroad which it was on his tongue’s end to communicate. It had no relation to hospitals or dormitories, and yet it would have sounded very generous. But it was not because it would have sounded generous that poor Mallet at last puffed it away in the fumes of his cigar. Useful though it might be, it expressed most imperfectly the young man’s own personal conception of usefulness. He was extremely fond of all the arts, and he had an almost passionate enjoyment of pictures. He had seen many, and he judged them sagaciously. It had occurred to him some time before that it would be the work of a good citizen to go abroad and with all expedition and secrecy purchase certain valuable specimens of the Dutch and Italian schools as to which he had received private proposals, and then present his treasures out of hand to an American city, not unknown to aesthetic fame, in which at that time there prevailed a good deal of fruitless aspiration toward an art-museum. He had seen himself in imagination, more than once, in some mouldy old saloon of a Florentine palace, turning toward the deep embrasure of the window some scarcely-faded Ghirlandaio or Botticelli, while a host in reduced circumstances pointed out the lovely drawing of a hand. But he imparted none of these visions to Cecilia, and he suddenly swept them away with the declaration that he was of course an idle, useless creature, and that he would probably be even more so in Europe than at home. “The only thing is,” he said, “that there I shall seem to be doing something. I shall be better entertained, and shall be therefore, I suppose, in a better humor with life. You may say that that is just the humor a useless man should keep out of. He should cultivate discontentment. I did a good many things when I was in Europe before, but I did not spend a winter in Rome. Every one assures me that this is a peculiar refinement of bliss; most people talk about Rome in the same way. It is evidently only a sort of idealized form of loafing: a passive life in Rome, thanks to the number and the quality of one’s impressions, takes on a very respectable likeness to activity. It is still lotus-eating, only you sit down at table, and the lotuses are served up on rococo china. It’s all very well, but I have a distinct prevision of this—that if Roman life doesn’t do something substantial to make you happier, it increases tenfold your liability to moral misery. It seems to me a rash thing for a sensitive soul deliberately to cultivate its sensibilities by rambling too often among the ruins of the Palatine, or riding too often in the shadow of the aqueducts. In such recreations the chords of feeling grow tense, and after-life, to spare your intellectual nerves, must play upon them with a touch as dainty as the tread of Mignon when she danced her egg-dance.”
“I should have said, my dear Rowland,” said Cecilia, with a laugh, “that your nerves were tough, that your eggs were hard!”
“That being stupid, you mean, I might be happy? Upon my word I am not. I am clever enough to want more than I’ve got. I am tired of myself, my own thoughts, my own affairs, my own eternal company. True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of one’s self; but the point is not only to get out—you must stay out; and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand. Unfortunately, I’ve got no errand, and nobody will trust me with one. I want to care for something, or for some one. And I want to care with a certain ardor; even, if you can believe it, with a certain passion. I can’t just now feel ardent and passionate about a hospital or a dormitory. Do you know I sometimes think that I’m a man of genius, half finished? The genius has been left out, the faculty of expression is wanting; but the need for expression remains, and I spend my days groping for the latch of a closed door.”
“What an immense number of words,” said Cecilia after a pause, “to say you want to fall in love! I’ve no doubt you have as good a genius for that as any one, if you would only trust it.”
“Of course I’ve thought of that, and I assure you I hold myself ready. But, evidently, I’m not inflammable. Is there in Northampton some perfect epitome of the graces?”
“Of the graces?” said Cecilia, raising her eyebrows and suppressing too distinct a consciousness of being herself a rosy embodiment of several. “The household virtues are better represented. There are some excellent girls, and there are two or three very pretty ones. I will have them here, one by one, to tea, if you like.”
“I should particularly like it; especially as I should give you a chance to see, by the profundity of my attention, that if I am not happy, it’s not for want of taking pains.”
Cecilia was silent a moment; and then, “On the whole,” she resumed, “I don’t think there are any worth asking. There are none so very pretty, none so very pleasing.”
“Are you very sure?” asked the young man, rising and throwing away his cigar-end.
“Upon my word,” cried Cecilia, “one would suppose I wished to keep you for myself. Of course I am sure! But as the penalty of your insinuations, I shall invite the plainest and prosiest damsel that can be found, and leave you alone with her.”
Rowland smiled. “Even against her,” he said, “I should be sorry to conclude until I had given her my respectful attention.”
This little profession of ideal chivalry (which closed the conversation) was not quite so fanciful on Mallet’s lips as it would have been on those of many another man; as a rapid glance at his antecedents may help to make the reader perceive. His life had been a singular mixture of the rough and the smooth. He had sprung from a rigid Puritan stock, and had been brought up to think much more intently of the duties of this life than of its privileges and pleasures. His progenitors had submitted in the matter of dogmatic theology to the relaxing influences of recent years; but if Rowland’s youthful consciousness was not chilled by the menace of long punishment for brief transgression, he had at least been made to feel that there ran through all things a strain of right and of wrong, as different, after all, in their complexions, as the texture, to the spiritual sense, of Sundays and week-days. His father was a chip of the primal Puritan block, a man with an icy smile and a stony frown. He had always bestowed on his son, on principle, more frowns than smiles, and if the lad had not been turned to stone himself, it was because nature had blessed him, inwardly, with a well of vivifying waters. Mrs. Mallet had been a Miss Rowland, the daughter of a retired sea-captain, once famous on the ships that sailed from Salem and Newburyport. He had brought to port many a cargo which crowned the edifice of fortunes already almost colossal, but he had also done a little sagacious trading on his own account, and he was able to retire, prematurely for so sea-worthy a maritime organism, upon a pension of his own providing. He was to be seen for a year on the Salem wharves, smoking the best tobacco and eying the seaward horizon with an inveteracy which superficial minds interpreted as a sign of repentance. At last, one evening, he disappeared beneath it, as he had often done before; this time, however, not as a commissioned navigator, but simply as an amateur of an observing turn likely to prove oppressive to the officer in command of the vessel. Five months later his place at home knew him again, and made the acquaintance also of a handsome, blonde young woman, of redundant contours, speaking a foreign tongue. The foreign tongue proved, after much conflicting research, to be the idiom of Amsterdam, and the young woman, which was stranger still, to be Captain Rowland’s wife. Why he had gone forth so suddenly across the seas to marry her, what had happened between them before, and whether—though it was of questionable propriety for a good citizen to espouse a young person of mysterious origin, who did her hair in fantastically elaborate plaits, and in whose appearance “figure” enjoyed such striking predominance—he would not have had a heavy weight on his conscience if he had remained an irresponsible bachelor; these questions and many others, bearing with varying degrees of immediacy on the subject, were much propounded but scantily answered, and this history need not be charged with resolving them. Mrs. Rowland, for so handsome a woman, proved a tranquil neighbor and an excellent housewife. Her extremely fresh complexion, however, was always suffused with an air of apathetic homesickness, and she played her part in American society chiefly by having the little squares of brick pavement in front of her dwelling scoured and polished as nearly as possible into the likeness of Dutch tiles. Rowland Mallet remembered having seen her, as a child—an immensely stout, white-faced lady, wearing a high cap of very stiff tulle, speaking English with a formidable accent, and suffering from dropsy. Captain Rowland was a little bronzed and wizened man, with eccentric opinions. He advocated the creation of a public promenade along the sea, with arbors and little green tables for the consumption of beer, and a platform, surrounded by Chinese lanterns, for dancing. He especially desired the town library to be opened on Sundays, though, as he never entered it on week-days, it was easy to turn the proposition into ridicule. If, therefore, Mrs. Mallet was a woman of an exquisite moral tone, it was not that she had inherited her temper from an ancestry with a turn for casuistry. Jonas Mallet, at the time of his marriage, was conducting with silent shrewdness a small, unpromising business. Both his shrewdness and his silence increased with his years, and at the close of his life he was an extremely well-dressed, well-brushed gentleman, with a frigid gray eye, who said little to anybody, but of whom everybody said that he had a very handsome fortune. He was not a sentimental father, and the roughness I just now spoke of in Rowland’s life dated from his early boyhood. Mr. Mallet, whenever he looked at his son, felt extreme compunction at having made a fortune. He remembered that the fruit had not dropped ripe from the tree into his own mouth, and determined it should be no fault of his if the boy was corrupted by luxury. Rowland, therefore, except for a good deal of expensive instruction in foreign tongues and abstruse sciences, received the education of a poor man’s son. His fare was plain, his temper familiar with the discipline of patched trousers, and his habits marked by an exaggerated simplicity which it really cost a good deal of money to preserve unbroken. He was kept in the country for months together, in the midst of servants who had strict injunctions to see that he suffered no serious harm, but were as strictly forbidden to wait upon him. As no school could be found conducted on principles sufficiently rigorous, he was attended at home by a master who set a high price on the understanding that he was to illustrate the beauty of abstinence not only by precept but by example. Rowland passed for a child of ordinary parts, and certainly, during his younger years, was an excellent imitation of a boy who had inherited nothing whatever that was to make life easy. He was passive, pliable, frank, extremely slow at his books, and inordinately fond of trout-fishing. His hair, a memento of his Dutch ancestry, was of the fairest shade of yellow, his complexion absurdly rosy, and his measurement around the waist, when he was about ten years old, quite alarmingly large. This, however, was but an episode in his growth; he became afterwards a fresh-colored, yellow-bearded man, but he was never accused of anything worse than a tendency to corpulence. He emerged from childhood a simple, wholesome, round-eyed lad, with no suspicion that a less roundabout course might have been taken to make him happy, but with a vague sense that his young experience was not a fair sample of human freedom, and that he was to make a great many discoveries. When he was about fifteen, he achieved a momentous one. He ascertained that his mother was a saint. She had always been a very distinct presence in his life, but so ineffably gentle a one that his sense was fully opened to it only by the danger of losing her. She had an illness which for many months was liable at any moment to terminate fatally, and during her long-arrested convalescence she removed the mask which she had worn for years by her husband’s order. Rowland spent his days at her side and felt before long as if he had made a new friend. All his impressions at this period were commented and interpreted at leisure in the future, and it was only then that he understood that his mother had been for fifteen years a perfectly unhappy woman. Her marriage had been an immitigable error which she had spent her life in trying to look straight in the face. She found nothing to oppose to her husband’s will of steel but the appearance of absolute compliance; her spirit sank, and she lived for a while in a sort of helpless moral torpor. But at last, as her child emerged from babyhood, she began to feel a certain charm in patience, to discover the uses of ingenuity, and to learn that, somehow or other, one can always arrange one’s life. She cultivated from this time forward a little private plot of sentiment, and it was of this secluded precinct that, before her death, she gave her son the key. Rowland’s allowance at college was barely sufficient to maintain him decently, and as soon as he graduated, he was taken into his father’s counting-house, to do small drudgery on a proportionate salary. For three years he earned his living as regularly as the obscure functionary in fustian who swept the office. Mr. Mallet was consistent, but the perfection of his consistency was known only on his death. He left but a third of his property to his son, and devoted the remainder to various public institutions and local charities. Rowland’s third was an easy competence, and he never felt a moment’s jealousy of his fellow-pensioners; but when one of the establishments which had figured most advantageously in his father’s will bethought itself to affirm the existence of a later instrument, in which it had been still more handsomely treated, the young man felt a sudden passionate need to repel the claim by process of law. There was a lively tussle, but he gained his case; immediately after which he made, in another quarter, a donation of the contested sum. He cared nothing for the money, but he had felt an angry desire to protest against a destiny which seemed determined to be exclusively salutary. It seemed to him that he would bear a little spoiling. And yet he treated himself to a very modest quantity, and submitted without reserve to the great national discipline which began in 1861. When the Civil War broke out he immediately obtained a commission, and did his duty for three long years as a citizen soldier. His duty was obscure, but he never lost a certain private satisfaction in remembering that on two or three occasions it had been performed with something of an ideal precision. He had disentangled himself from business, and after the war he felt a profound disinclination to tie the knot again. He had no desire to make money, he had money enough; and although he knew, and was frequently reminded, that a young man is the better for a fixed occupation, he could discover no moral advantage in driving a lucrative trade. Yet few young men of means and leisure ever made less of a parade of idleness, and indeed idleness in any degree could hardly be laid at the door of a young man who took life in the serious, attentive, reasoning fashion of our friend. It often seemed to Mallet that he wholly lacked the prime requisite of a graceful flaneur —the simple, sensuous, confident relish of pleasure. He had frequent fits of extreme melancholy, in which he declared that he was neither fish nor flesh nor good red herring. He was neither an irresponsibly contemplative nature nor a sturdily practical one, and he was forever looking in vain for the uses of the things that please and the charm of the things that sustain. He was an awkward mixture of strong moral impulse and restless aesthetic curiosity, and yet he would have made a most ineffective reformer and a very indifferent artist. It seemed to him that the glow of happiness must be found either in action, of some immensely solid kind, on behalf of an idea, or in producing a masterpiece in one of the arts. Oftenest, perhaps, he wished he were a vigorous young man of genius, without a penny. As it was, he could only buy pictures, and not paint them; and in the way of action, he had to content himself with making a rule to render scrupulous moral justice to handsome examples of it in others. On the whole, he had an incorruptible modesty. With his blooming complexion and his serene gray eye, he felt the friction of existence more than was suspected; but he asked no allowance on grounds of temper, he assumed that fate had treated him inordinately well and that he had no excuse for taking an ill-natured view of life, and he undertook constantly to believe that all women were fair, all men were brave, and the world was a delightful place of sojourn, until the contrary had been distinctly proved.
Cecilia’s blooming garden and shady porch had seemed so friendly to repose and a cigar, that she reproached him the next morning with indifference to her little parlor, not less, in its way, a monument to her ingenious taste. “And by the way,” she added as he followed her in, “if I refused last night to show you a pretty girl, I can at least show you a pretty boy.”
She threw open a window and pointed to a statuette which occupied the place of honor among the ornaments of the room. Rowland looked at it a moment and then turned to her with an exclamation of surprise. She gave him a rapid glance, perceived that her statuette was of altogether exceptional merit, and then smiled, knowingly, as if this had long been an agreeable certainty.
“Who did it? where did you get it?” Rowland demanded.
“Oh,” said Cecilia, adjusting the light, “it’s a little thing of Mr. Hudson’s.”
“And who the deuce is Mr. Hudson?” asked Rowland. But he was absorbed; he lost her immediate reply. The statuette, in bronze, something less than two feet high, represented a naked youth drinking from a gourd. The attitude was perfectly simple. The lad was squarely planted on his feet, with his legs a little apart; his back was slightly hollowed, his head thrown back, and both hands raised to support the rustic cup. There was a loosened fillet of wild flowers about his head, and his eyes, under their drooped lids, looked straight into the cup. On the base was scratched the Greek word Δίψα, Thirst . The figure might have been some beautiful youth of ancient fable,—Hylas or Narcissus, Paris or Endymion. Its beauty was the beauty of natural movement; nothing had been sought to be represented but the perfection of an attitude. This had been most attentively studied, and it was exquisitely rendered. Rowland demanded more light, dropped his head on this side and that, uttered vague exclamations. He said to himself, as he had said more than once in the Louvre and the Vatican, “We ugly mortals, what beautiful creatures we are!” Nothing, in a long time, had given him so much pleasure. “Hudson—Hudson,” he asked again; “who is Hudson?”
“A young man of this place,” said Cecilia.
“A young man? How old?”
“I suppose he is three or four and twenty.”
“Of this place, you say—of Northampton, Massachusetts?”
“He lives here, but he comes from Virginia.”
“Is he a sculptor by profession?”
“He’s a law-student.”
Rowland burst out laughing. “He has found something in Blackstone that I never did. He makes statues then simply for his pleasure?”
Cecilia, with a smile, gave a little toss of her head. “For mine!”
“I congratulate you,” said Rowland. “I wonder whether he could be induced to do anything for me?”
“This was a matter of friendship. I saw the figure when he had modeled it in clay, and of course greatly admired it. He said nothing at the time, but a week ago, on my birthday, he arrived in a buggy, with this. He had had it cast at the foundry at Chicopee; I believe it’s a beautiful piece of bronze. He begged me to accept.”
“Upon my word,” said Mallet, “he does things handsomely!” And he fell to admiring the statue again.
“So then,” said Cecilia, “it’s very remarkable?”
“Why, my dear cousin,” Rowland answered, “Mr. Hudson, of Virginia, is an extraordinary—” Then suddenly stopping: “Is he a great friend of yours?” he asked.
“A great friend?” and Cecilia hesitated. “I regard him as a child!”
“Well,” said Rowland, “he’s a very clever child. Tell me something about him: I should like to see him.”
Cecilia was obliged to go to her daughter’s music-lesson, but she assured Rowland that she would arrange for him a meeting with the young sculptor. He was a frequent visitor, and as he had not called for some days it was likely he would come that evening. Rowland, left alone, examined the statuette at his leisure, and returned more than once during the day to take another look at it. He discovered its weak points, but it wore well. It had the stamp of genius. Rowland envied the happy youth who, in a New England village, without aid or encouragement, without models or resources, had found it so easy to produce a lovely work.
In the evening, as he was smoking his cigar on the veranda, a light, quick step pressed the gravel of the garden path, and in a moment a young man made his bow to Cecilia. It was rather a nod than a bow, and indicated either that he was an old friend, or that he was scantily versed in the usual social forms. Cecilia, who was sitting near the steps, pointed to a neighboring chair, but the young man seated himself abruptly on the floor at her feet, began to fan himself vigorously with his hat, and broke out into a lively objurgation upon the hot weather. “I’m dripping wet!” he said, without ceremony.
“You walk too fast,” said Cecilia. “You do everything too fast.”
“I know it, I know it!” he cried, passing his hand through his abundant dark hair and making it stand out in a picturesque shock. “I can’t be slow if I try. There’s something inside of me that drives me. A restless fiend!”
Cecilia gave a light laugh, and Rowland leaned forward in his hammock. He had placed himself in it at Bessie’s request, and was playing that he was her baby and that she was rocking him to sleep. She sat beside him, swinging the hammock to and fro, and singing a lullaby. When he raised himself she pushed him back and said that the baby must finish its nap. “But I want to see the gentleman with the fiend inside of him,” said Rowland.
“What is a fiend?” Bessie demanded. “It’s only Mr. Hudson.”
“Very well, I want to see him.”
“Oh, never mind him!” said Bessie, with the brevity of contempt.
“You speak as if you didn’t like him.”
“I don’t!” Bessie affirmed, and put Rowland to bed again.
The hammock was swung at the end of the veranda, in the thickest shade of the vines, and this fragment of dialogue had passed unnoticed. Rowland submitted a while longer to be cradled, and contented himself with listening to Mr. Hudson’s voice. It was a soft and not altogether masculine organ, and was pitched on this occasion in a somewhat plaintive and pettish key. The young man’s mood seemed fretful; he complained of the heat, of the dust, of a shoe that hurt him, of having gone on an errand a mile to the other side of the town and found the person he was in search of had left Northampton an hour before.
“Won’t you have a cup of tea?” Cecilia asked. “Perhaps that will restore your equanimity.”
“Aye, by keeping me awake all night!” said Hudson. “At the best, it’s hard enough to go down to the office. With my nerves set on edge by a sleepless night, I should perforce stay at home and be brutal to my poor mother.”
“Your mother is well, I hope.”
“Oh, she’s as usual.”
“And Miss Garland?”
“She’s as usual, too. Every one, everything, is as usual. Nothing ever happens, in this benighted town.”
“I beg your pardon; things do happen, sometimes,” said Cecilia. “Here is a dear cousin of mine arrived on purpose to congratulate you on your statuette.” And she called to Rowland to come and be introduced to Mr. Hudson. The young man sprang up with alacrity, and Rowland, coming forward to shake hands, had a good look at him in the light projected from the parlor window. Something seemed to shine out of Hudson’s face as a warning against a “compliment” of the idle, unpondered sort.
“Your statuette seems to me very good,” Rowland said gravely. “It has given me extreme pleasure.”
“And my cousin knows what is good,” said Cecilia. “He’s a connoisseur.”
Hudson smiled and stared. “A connoisseur?” he cried, laughing. “He’s the first I’ve ever seen! Let me see what they look like;” and he drew Rowland nearer to the light. “Have they all such good heads as that? I should like to model yours.”
“Pray do,” said Cecilia. “It will keep him a while. He is running off to Europe.”
“Ah, to Europe!” Hudson exclaimed with a melancholy cadence, as they sat down. “Happy man!”
But the note seemed to Rowland to be struck rather at random, for he perceived no echo of it in the boyish garrulity of his later talk. Hudson was a tall, slender young fellow, with a singularly mobile and intelligent face. Rowland was struck at first only with its responsive vivacity, but in a short time he perceived it was remarkably handsome. The features were admirably chiseled and finished, and a frank smile played over them as gracefully as a breeze among flowers. The fault of the young man’s whole structure was an excessive want of breadth. The forehead, though it was high and rounded, was narrow; the jaw and the shoulders were narrow; and the result was an air of insufficient physical substance. But Mallet afterwards learned that this fair, slim youth could draw indefinitely upon a mysterious fund of nervous force, which outlasted and outwearied the endurance of many a sturdier temperament. And certainly there was life enough in his eye to furnish an immortality! It was a generous dark gray eye, in which there came and went a sort of kindling glow, which would have made a ruder visage striking, and which gave at times to Hudson’s harmonious face an altogether extraordinary beauty. There was to Rowland’s sympathetic sense a slightly pitiful disparity between the young sculptor’s delicate countenance and the shabby gentility of his costume. He was dressed for a visit—a visit to a pretty woman. He was clad from head to foot in a white linen suit, which had never been remarkable for the felicity of its cut, and had now quite lost that crispness which garments of this complexion can as ill spare as the back-scene of a theatre the radiance of the footlights. He wore a vivid blue cravat, passed through a ring altogether too splendid to be valuable; he pulled and twisted, as he sat, a pair of yellow kid gloves; he emphasized his conversation with great dashes and flourishes of a light, silver-tipped walking-stick, and he kept constantly taking off and putting on one of those slouched sombreros which are the traditional property of the Virginian or Carolinian of romance. When this was on, he was very picturesque, in spite of his mock elegance; and when it was off, and he sat nursing it and turning it about and not knowing what to do with it, he could hardly be said to be awkward. He evidently had a natural relish for brilliant accessories, and appropriated what came to his hand. This was visible in his talk, which abounded in the florid and sonorous. He liked words with color in them.
Rowland, who was but a moderate talker, sat by in silence, while Cecilia, who had told him that she desired his opinion upon her friend, used a good deal of characteristic finesse in leading the young man to expose himself. She perfectly succeeded, and Hudson rattled away for an hour with a volubility in which boyish unconsciousness and manly shrewdness were singularly combined. He gave his opinion on twenty topics, he opened up an endless budget of local gossip, he described his repulsive routine at the office of Messrs. Striker and Spooner, counselors at law, and he gave with great felicity and gusto an account of the annual boat-race between Harvard and Yale, which he had lately witnessed at Worcester. He had looked at the straining oarsmen and the swaying crowd with the eye of the sculptor. Rowland was a good deal amused and not a little interested. Whenever Hudson uttered some peculiarly striking piece of youthful grandiloquence, Cecilia broke into a long, light, familiar laugh.
“What are you laughing at?” the young man then demanded. “Have I said anything so ridiculous?”
“Go on, go on,” Cecilia replied. “You are too delicious! Show Mr. Mallet how Mr. Striker read the Declaration of Independence.”
Hudson, like most men with a turn for the plastic arts, was an excellent mimic, and he represented with a great deal of humor the accent and attitude of a pompous country lawyer sustaining the burden of this customary episode of our national festival. The sonorous twang, the see-saw gestures, the odd pronunciation, were vividly depicted. But Cecilia’s manner, and the young man’s quick response, ruffled a little poor Rowland’s paternal conscience. He wondered whether his cousin was not sacrificing the faculty of reverence in her clever protégé to her need for amusement. Hudson made no serious rejoinder to Rowland’s compliment on his statuette until he rose to go. Rowland wondered whether he had forgotten it, and supposed that the oversight was a sign of the natural self-sufficiency of genius. But Hudson stood a moment before he said good night, twirled his sombrero, and hesitated for the first time. He gave Rowland a clear, penetrating glance, and then, with a wonderfully frank, appealing smile: “You really meant,” he asked, “what you said a while ago about that thing of mine? It is good—essentially good?”
“I really meant it,” said Rowland, laying a kindly hand on his shoulder. “It is very good indeed. It is, as you say, essentially good. That is the beauty of it.”
Hudson’s eyes glowed and expanded; he looked at Rowland for some time in silence. “I have a notion you really know,” he said at last. “But if you don’t, it doesn’t much matter.”
“My cousin asked me to-day,” said Cecilia, “whether I supposed you knew yourself how good it is.”
Hudson stared, blushing a little. “Perhaps not!” he cried.
“Very likely,” said Mallet. “I read in a book the other day that great talent in action—in fact the book said genius—is a kind of somnambulism. The artist performs great feats, in a dream. We must not wake him up, lest he should lose his balance.”
“Oh, when he’s back in bed again!” Hudson answered with a laugh. “Yes, call it a dream. It was a very happy one!”
“Tell me this,” said Rowland. “Did you mean anything by your young Water-drinker? Does he represent an idea? Is he a symbol?”
Hudson raised his eyebrows and gently scratched his head. “Why, he’s youth, you know; he’s innocence, he’s health, he’s strength, he’s curiosity. Yes, he’s a good many things.”
“And is the cup also a symbol?”
“The cup is knowledge, pleasure, experience. Anything of that kind!”
“Well, he’s guzzling in earnest,” said Rowland.
Hudson gave a vigorous nod. “Aye, poor fellow, he’s thirsty!” And on this he cried good night, and bounded down the garden path.
“Well, what do you make of him?” asked Cecilia, returning a short time afterwards from a visit of investigation as to the sufficiency of Bessie’s bedclothes.
“I confess I like him,” said Rowland. “He’s very immature,—but there’s stuff in him.”
“He’s a strange being,” said Cecilia, musingly.
“Who are his people? what has been his education?” Rowland asked.
“He has had no education, beyond what he has picked up, with little trouble, for himself. His mother is a widow, of a Massachusetts country family, a little timid, tremulous woman, who is always on pins and needles about her son. She had some property herself, and married a Virginian gentleman of good estates. He turned out, I believe, a very licentious personage, and made great havoc in their fortune. Everything, or almost everything, melted away, including Mr. Hudson himself. This is literally true, for he drank himself to death. Ten years ago his wife was left a widow, with scanty means and a couple of growing boys. She paid her husband’s debts as best she could, and came to establish herself here, where by the death of a charitable relative she had inherited an old-fashioned ruinous house. Roderick, our friend, was her pride and joy, but Stephen, the elder, was her comfort and support. I remember him, later; he was an ugly, sturdy, practical lad, very different from his brother, and in his way, I imagine, a very fine fellow. When the war broke out he found that the New England blood ran thicker in his veins than the Virginian, and immediately obtained a commission. He fell in some Western battle and left his mother inconsolable. Roderick, however, has given her plenty to think about, and she has induced him, by some mysterious art, to abide, nominally at least, in a profession that he abhors, and for which he is about as fit, I should say, as I am to drive a locomotive. He grew up à la grâce de Dieu , and was horribly spoiled. Three or four years ago he graduated at a small college in this neighborhood, where I am afraid he had given a good deal more attention to novels and billiards than to mathematics and Greek. Since then he has been reading law, at the rate of a page a day. If he is ever admitted to practice I’m afraid my friendship won’t avail to make me give him my business. Good, bad, or indifferent, the boy is essentially an artist—an artist to his fingers’ ends.”
“Why, then,” asked Rowland, “doesn’t he deliberately take up the chisel?”
“For several reasons. In the first place, I don’t think he more than half suspects his talent. The flame is smouldering, but it is never fanned by the breath of criticism. He sees nothing, hears nothing, to help him to self-knowledge. He’s hopelessly discontented, but he doesn’t know where to look for help. Then his mother, as she one day confessed to me, has a holy horror of a profession which consists exclusively, as she supposes, in making figures of people without their clothes on. Sculpture, to her mind, is an insidious form of immorality, and for a young man of a passionate disposition she considers the law a much safer investment. Her father was a judge, she has two brothers at the bar, and her elder son had made a very promising beginning in the same line. She wishes the tradition to be perpetuated. I’m pretty sure the law won’t make Roderick’s fortune, and I’m afraid it will, in the long run, spoil his temper.”
“What sort of a temper is it?”
“One to be trusted, on the whole. It is quick, but it is generous. I have known it to breathe flame and fury at ten o’clock in the evening, and soft, sweet music early on the morrow. It’s a very entertaining temper to observe. I, fortunately, can do so dispassionately, for I’m the only person in the place he has not quarreled with.”
“Has he then no society? Who is Miss Garland, whom you asked about?”
“A young girl staying with his mother, a sort of far-away cousin; a good plain girl, but not a person to delight a sculptor’s eye. Roderick has a goodly share of the old Southern arrogance; he has the aristocratic temperament. He will have nothing to do with the small towns-people; he says they ‘re ‘ignoble.’ He cannot endure his mother’s friends—the old ladies and the ministers and the tea-party people; they bore him to death. So he comes and lounges here and rails at everything and every one.”
This graceful young scoffer reappeared a couple of evenings later, and confirmed the friendly feeling he had provoked on Rowland’s part. He was in an easier mood than before, he chattered less extravagantly, and asked Rowland a number of rather naif questions about the condition of the fine arts in New York and Boston. Cecilia, when he had gone, said that this was the wholesome effect of Rowland’s praise of his statuette. Roderick was acutely sensitive, and Rowland’s tranquil commendation had stilled his restless pulses. He was ruminating the full-flavored verdict of culture. Rowland felt an irresistible kindness for him, a mingled sense of his personal charm and his artistic capacity. He had an indefinable attraction—the something divine of unspotted, exuberant, confident youth. The next day was Sunday, and Rowland proposed that they should take a long walk and that Roderick should show him the country. The young man assented gleefully, and in the morning, as Rowland at the garden gate was giving his hostess Godspeed on her way to church, he came striding along the grassy margin of the road and out-whistling the music of the church bells. It was one of those lovely days of August when you feel the complete exuberance of summer just warned and checked by autumn. “Remember the day, and take care you rob no orchards,” said Cecilia, as they separated.
The young men walked away at a steady pace, over hill and dale, through woods and fields, and at last found themselves on a grassy elevation studded with mossy rocks and red cedars. Just beneath them, in a great shining curve, flowed the goodly Connecticut. They flung themselves on the grass and tossed stones into the river; they talked like old friends. Rowland lit a cigar, and Roderick refused one with a grimace of extravagant disgust. He thought them vile things; he didn’t see how decent people could tolerate them. Rowland was amused, and wondered what it was that made this ill-mannered speech seem perfectly inoffensive on Roderick’s lips. He belonged to the race of mortals, to be pitied or envied according as we view the matter, who are not held to a strict account for their aggressions. Looking at him as he lay stretched in the shade, Rowland vaguely likened him to some beautiful, supple, restless, bright-eyed animal, whose motions should have no deeper warrant than the tremulous delicacy of its structure, and be graceful even when they were most inconvenient. Rowland watched the shadows on Mount Holyoke, listened to the gurgle of the river, and sniffed the balsam of the pines. A gentle breeze had begun to tickle their summits, and brought the smell of the mown grass across from the elm-dotted river meadows. He sat up beside his companion and looked away at the far-spreading view. It seemed to him beautiful, and suddenly a strange feeling of prospective regret took possession of him. Something seemed to tell him that later, in a foreign land, he would remember it lovingly and penitently.
“It’s a wretched business,” he said, “this practical quarrel of ours with our own country, this everlasting impatience to get out of it. Is one’s only safety then in flight? This is an American day, an American landscape, an American atmosphere. It certainly has its merits, and some day when I am shivering with ague in classic Italy, I shall accuse myself of having slighted them.”
Roderick kindled with a sympathetic glow, and declared that America was good enough for him, and that he had always thought it the duty of an honest citizen to stand by his own country and help it along. He had evidently thought nothing whatever about it, and was launching his doctrine on the inspiration of the moment. The doctrine expanded with the occasion, and he declared that he was above all an advocate for American art. He didn’t see why we shouldn’t produce the greatest works in the world. We were the biggest people, and we ought to have the biggest conceptions. The biggest conceptions of course would bring forth in time the biggest performances. We had only to be true to ourselves, to pitch in and not be afraid, to fling Imitation overboard and fix our eyes upon our National Individuality. “I declare,” he cried, “there’s a career for a man, and I’ve twenty minds to decide, on the spot, to embrace it—to be the consummate, typical, original, national American artist! It’s inspiring!”
Rowland burst out laughing and told him that he liked his practice better than his theory, and that a saner impulse than this had inspired his little Water-drinker. Roderick took no offense, and three minutes afterwards was talking volubly of some humbler theme, but half heeded by his companion, who had returned to his cogitations. At last Rowland delivered himself of the upshot of these. “How would you like,” he suddenly demanded, “to go to Rome?”
Hudson stared, and, with a hungry laugh which speedily consigned our National Individuality to perdition, responded that he would like it reasonably well. “And I should like, by the same token,” he added, “to go to Athens, to Constantinople, to Damascus, to the holy city of Benares, where there is a golden statue of Brahma twenty feet tall.”
“Nay,” said Rowland soberly, “if you were to go to Rome, you should settle down and work. Athens might help you, but for the present I shouldn’t recommend Benares.”
“It will be time to arrange details when I pack my trunk,” said Hudson.
“If you mean to turn sculptor, the sooner you pack your trunk the better.”
“Oh, but I’m a practical man! What is the smallest sum per annum, on which one can keep alive the sacred fire in Rome?”
“What is the largest sum at your disposal?”
Roderick stroked his light moustache, gave it a twist, and then announced with mock pomposity: “Three hundred dollars!”
“The money question could be arranged,” said Rowland. “There are ways of raising money.”
“I should like to know a few! I never yet discovered one.”
“One consists,” said Rowland, “in having a friend with a good deal more than he wants, and not being too proud to accept a part of it.”
Roderick stared a moment and his face flushed. “Do you mean—do you mean?”.... he stammered. He was greatly excited.
Rowland got up, blushing a little, and Roderick sprang to his feet. “In three words, if you are to be a sculptor, you ought to go to Rome and study the antique. To go to Rome you need money. I’m fond of fine statues, but unfortunately I can’t make them myself. I have to order them. I order a dozen from you, to be executed at your convenience. To help you, I pay you in advance.”
Roderick pushed off his hat and wiped his forehead, still gazing at his companion. “You believe in me!” he cried at last.
“Allow me to explain,” said Rowland. “I believe in you, if you are prepared to work and to wait, and to struggle, and to exercise a great many virtues. And then, I’m afraid to say it, lest I should disturb you more than I should help you. You must decide for yourself. I simply offer you an opportunity.”
Hudson stood for some time, profoundly meditative. “You have not seen my other things,” he said suddenly. “Come and look at them.”
“Now?”
“Yes, we ‘ll walk home. We ‘ll settle the question.”
He passed his hand through Rowland’s arm and they retraced their steps. They reached the town and made their way along a broad country street, dusky with the shade of magnificent elms. Rowland felt his companion’s arm trembling in his own. They stopped at a large white house, flanked with melancholy hemlocks, and passed through a little front garden, paved with moss-coated bricks and ornamented with parterres bordered with high box hedges. The mansion had an air of antiquated dignity, but it had seen its best days, and evidently sheltered a shrunken household. Mrs. Hudson, Rowland was sure, might be seen in the garden of a morning, in a white apron and a pair of old gloves, engaged in frugal horticulture. Roderick’s studio was behind, in the basement; a large, empty room, with the paper peeling off the walls. This represented, in the fashion of fifty years ago, a series of small fantastic landscapes of a hideous pattern, and the young sculptor had presumably torn it away in great scraps, in moments of aesthetic exasperation. On a board in a corner was a heap of clay, and on the floor, against the wall, stood some dozen medallions, busts, and figures, in various stages of completion. To exhibit them Roderick had to place them one by one on the end of a long packing-box, which served as a pedestal. He did so silently, making no explanations, and looking at them himself with a strange air of quickened curiosity. Most of the things were portraits; and the three at which he looked longest were finished busts. One was a colossal head of a negro, tossed back, defiant, with distended nostrils; one was the portrait of a young man whom Rowland immediately perceived, by the resemblance, to be his deceased brother; the last represented a gentleman with a pointed nose, a long, shaved upper lip, and a tuft on the end of his chin. This was a face peculiarly unadapted to sculpture; but as a piece of modeling it was the best, and it was admirable. It reminded Rowland in its homely veracity, its artless artfulness, of the works of the early Italian Renaissance. On the pedestal was cut the name—Barnaby Striker, Esq. Rowland remembered that this was the appellation of the legal luminary from whom his companion had undertaken to borrow a reflected ray, and although in the bust there was naught flagrantly set down in malice, it betrayed, comically to one who could relish the secret, that the features of the original had often been scanned with an irritated eye. Besides these there were several rough studies of the nude, and two or three figures of a fanciful kind. The most noticeable (and it had singular beauty) was a small modeled design for a sepulchral monument; that, evidently, of Stephen Hudson. The young soldier lay sleeping eternally, with his hand on his sword, like an old crusader in a Gothic cathedral.
Rowland made no haste to pronounce; too much depended on his judgment. “Upon my word,” cried Hudson at last, “they seem to me very good.”
And in truth, as Rowland looked, he saw they were good. They were youthful, awkward, and ignorant; the effort, often, was more apparent than the success. But the effort was signally powerful and intelligent; it seemed to Rowland that it needed only to let itself go to compass great things. Here and there, too, success, when grasped, had something masterly. Rowland turned to his companion, who stood with his hands in his pockets and his hair very much crumpled, looking at him askance. The light of admiration was in Rowland’s eyes, and it speedily kindled a wonderful illumination on Hudson’s handsome brow. Rowland said at last, gravely, “You have only to work!”
“I think I know what that means,” Roderick answered. He turned away, threw himself on a rickety chair, and sat for some moments with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. “Work—work?” he said at last, looking up, “ah, if I could only begin!” He glanced round the room a moment and his eye encountered on the mantel-shelf the vivid physiognomy of Mr. Barnaby Striker. His smile vanished, and he stared at it with an air of concentrated enmity. “I want to begin,” he cried, “and I can’t make a better beginning than this! Good-by, Mr. Striker!” He strode across the room, seized a mallet that lay at hand, and before Rowland could interfere, in the interest of art if not of morals, dealt a merciless blow upon Mr. Striker’s skull. The bust cracked into a dozen pieces, which toppled with a great crash upon the floor. Rowland relished neither the destruction of the image nor his companion’s look in working it, but as he was about to express his displeasure the door opened and gave passage to a young girl. She came in with a rapid step and startled face, as if she had been summoned by the noise. Seeing the heap of shattered clay and the mallet in Roderick’s hand, she gave a cry of horror. Her voice died away when she perceived that Rowland was a stranger, but she murmured reproachfully, “Why, Roderick, what have you done?”
Roderick gave a joyous kick to the shapeless fragments. “I’ve driven the money-changers out of the temple!” he cried.
The traces retained shape enough to be recognized, and she gave a little moan of pity. She seemed not to understand the young man’s allegory, but yet to feel that it pointed to some great purpose, which must be an evil one, from being expressed in such a lawless fashion, and to perceive that Rowland was in some way accountable for it. She looked at him with a sharp, frank mistrust, and turned away through the open door. Rowland looked after her with extraordinary interest.
[]
Chapter II. Roderick
Early on the morrow Rowland received a visit from his new friend. Roderick was in a state of extreme exhilaration, tempered, however, by a certain amount of righteous wrath. He had had a domestic struggle, but he had remained master of the situation. He had shaken the dust of Mr. Striker’s office from his feet.
“I had it out last night with my mother,” he said. “I dreaded the scene, for she takes things terribly hard. She doesn’t scold nor storm, and she doesn’t argue nor insist. She sits with her eyes full of tears that never fall, and looks at me, when I displease her, as if I were a perfect monster of depravity. And the trouble is that I was born to displease her. She doesn’t trust me; she never has and she never will. I don’t know what I have done to set her against me, but ever since I can remember I have been looked at with tears. The trouble is,” he went on, giving a twist to his moustache, “I’ve been too absurdly docile. I’ve been sprawling all my days by the maternal fireside, and my dear mother has grown used to bullying me. I’ve made myself cheap! If I’m not in my bed by eleven o’clock, the girl is sent out to explore with a lantern. When I think of it, I fairly despise my amiability. It’s rather a hard fate, to live like a saint and to pass for a sinner! I should like for six months to lead Mrs. Hudson the life some fellows lead their mothers!”
“Allow me to believe,” said Rowland, “that you would like nothing of the sort. If you have been a good boy, don’t spoil it by pretending you don’t like it. You have been very happy, I suspect, in spite of your virtues, and there are worse fates in the world than being loved too well. I have not had the pleasure of seeing your mother, but I would lay you a wager that that is the trouble. She is passionately fond of you, and her hopes, like all intense hopes, keep trembling into fears.” Rowland, as he spoke, had an instinctive vision of how such a beautiful young fellow must be loved by his female relatives.
Roderick frowned, and with an impatient gesture, “I do her justice,” he cried. “May she never do me less!” Then after a moment’s hesitation, “I’ll tell you the perfect truth,” he went on. “I have to fill a double place. I have to be my brother as well as myself. It’s a good deal to ask of a man, especially when he has so little talent as I for being what he is not. When we were both young together I was the curled darling. I had the silver mug and the biggest piece of pudding, and I stayed in-doors to be kissed by the ladies while he made mud-pies in the garden and was never missed, of course. Really, he was worth fifty of me! When he was brought home from Vicksburg with a piece of shell in his skull, my poor mother began to think she hadn’t loved him enough. I remember, as she hung round my neck sobbing, before his coffin, she told me that I must be to her everything that he would have been. I swore in tears and in perfect good faith that I would, but naturally I have not kept my promise. I have been utterly different. I have been idle, restless, egotistical, discontented. I have done no harm, I believe, but I have done no good. My brother, if he had lived, would have made fifty thousand dollars and put gas and water into the house. My mother, brooding night and day on her bereavement, has come to fix her ideal in offices of that sort. Judged by that standard I’m nowhere!”
Rowland was at loss how to receive this account of his friend’s domestic circumstances; it was plaintive, and yet the manner seemed to him over-trenchant. “You must lose no time in making a masterpiece,” he answered; “then with the proceeds you can give her gas from golden burners.”
“So I have told her; but she only half believes either in masterpiece or in proceeds. She can see no good in my making statues; they seem to her a snare of the enemy. She would fain see me all my life tethered to the law, like a browsing goat to a stake. In that way I’m in sight. ‘It’s a more regular occupation!’ that’s all I can get out of her. A more regular damnation! Is it a fact that artists, in general, are such wicked men? I never had the pleasure of knowing one, so I couldn’t confute her with an example. She had the advantage of me, because she formerly knew a portrait-painter at Richmond, who did her miniature in black lace mittens (you may see it on the parlor table), who used to drink raw brandy and beat his wife. I promised her that, whatever I might do to my wife, I would never beat my mother, and that as for brandy, raw or diluted, I detested it. She sat silently crying for an hour, during which I expended treasures of eloquence. It’s a good thing to have to reckon up one’s intentions, and I assure you, as I pleaded my cause, I was most agreeably impressed with the elevated character of my own. I kissed her solemnly at last, and told her that I had said everything and that she must make the best of it. This morning she has dried her eyes, but I warrant you it isn’t a cheerful house. I long to be out of it!”
“I’m extremely sorry,” said Rowland, “to have been the prime cause of so much suffering. I owe your mother some amends; will it be possible for me to see her?”
“If you’ll see her, it will smooth matters vastly; though to tell the truth she ‘ll need all her courage to face you, for she considers you an agent of the foul fiend. She doesn’t see why you should have come here and set me by the ears: you are made to ruin ingenuous youths and desolate doting mothers. I leave it to you, personally, to answer these charges. You see, what she can’t forgive—what she ‘ll not really ever forgive—is your taking me off to Rome. Rome is an evil word, in my mother’s vocabulary, to be said in a whisper, as you ‘d say ‘damnation.’ Northampton is in the centre of the earth and Rome far away in outlying dusk, into which it can do no Christian any good to penetrate. And there was I but yesterday a doomed habitue of that repository of every virtue, Mr. Striker’s office!”
“And does Mr. Striker know of your decision?” asked Rowland.
“To a certainty! Mr. Striker, you must know, is not simply a good-natured attorney, who lets me dog’s-ear his law-books. He’s a particular friend and general adviser. He looks after my mother’s property and kindly consents to regard me as part of it. Our opinions have always been painfully divergent, but I freely forgive him his zealous attempts to unscrew my head-piece and set it on hind part before. He never understood me, and it was useless to try to make him. We speak a different language—we ‘re made of a different clay. I had a fit of rage yesterday when I smashed his bust, at the thought of all the bad blood he had stirred up in me; it did me good, and it’s all over now. I don’t hate him any more; I’m rather sorry for him. See how you’ve improved me! I must have seemed to him wilfully, wickedly stupid, and I’m sure he only tolerated me on account of his great regard for my mother. This morning I grasped the bull by the horns. I took an armful of law-books that have been gathering the dust in my room for the last year and a half, and presented myself at the office. ‘Allow me to put these back in their places,’ I said. ‘I shall never have need for them more—never more, never more, never more!’ ‘So you’ve learned everything they contain?’ asked Striker, leering over his spectacles. ‘Better late than never.’ ‘I’ve learned nothing that you can teach me,’ I cried. ‘But I shall tax your patience no longer. I’m going to be a sculptor. I’m going to Rome. I won’t bid you good-by just yet; I shall see you again. But I bid good-by here, with rapture, to these four detested walls—to this living tomb! I didn’t know till now how I hated it! My compliments to Mr. Spooner, and my thanks for all you have not made of me!’”
“I’m glad to know you are to see Mr. Striker again,” Rowland answered, correcting a primary inclination to smile. “You certainly owe him a respectful farewell, even if he has not understood you. I confess you rather puzzle me. There is another person,” he presently added, “whose opinion as to your new career I should like to know. What does Miss Garland think?”
Hudson looked at him keenly, with a slight blush. Then, with a conscious smile, “What makes you suppose she thinks anything?” he asked.
“Because, though I saw her but for a moment yesterday, she struck me as a very intelligent person, and I am sure she has opinions.”
The smile on Roderick’s mobile face passed rapidly into a frown. “Oh, she thinks what I think!” he answered.
Before the two young men separated Rowland attempted to give as harmonious a shape as possible to his companion’s scheme. “I have launched you, as I may say,” he said, “and I feel as if I ought to see you into port. I am older than you and know the world better, and it seems well that we should voyage a while together. It’s on my conscience that I ought to take you to Rome, walk you through the Vatican, and then lock you up with a heap of clay. I sail on the fifth of September; can you make your preparations to start with me?”
Roderick assented to all this with an air of candid confidence in his friend’s wisdom that outshone the virtue of pledges. “I have no preparations to make,” he said with a smile, raising his arms and letting them fall, as if to indicate his unencumbered condition. “What I am to take with me I carry here!” and he tapped his forehead.
“Happy man!” murmured Rowland with a sigh, thinking of the light stowage, in his own organism, in the region indicated by Roderick, and of the heavy one in deposit at his banker’s, of bags and boxes.
When his companion had left him he went in search of Cecilia. She was sitting at work at a shady window, and welcomed him to a low chintz-covered chair. He sat some time, thoughtfully snipping tape with her scissors; he expected criticism and he was preparing a rejoinder. At last he told her of Roderick’s decision and of his own influence in it. Cecilia, besides an extreme surprise, exhibited a certain fine displeasure at his not having asked her advice.
“What would you have said, if I had?” he demanded.
“I would have said in the first place, ‘Oh for pity’s sake don’t carry off the person in all Northampton who amuses me most!’ I would have said in the second place, ‘Nonsense! the boy is doing very well. Let well alone!’”
“That in the first five minutes. What would you have said later?”
“That for a man who is generally averse to meddling, you were suddenly rather officious.”
Rowland’s countenance fell. He frowned in silence. Cecilia looked at him askance; gradually the spark of irritation faded from her eye.
“Excuse my sharpness,” she resumed at last. “But I am literally in despair at losing Roderick Hudson. His visits in the evening, for the past year, have kept me alive. They have given a silver tip to leaden days. I don’t say he is of a more useful metal than other people, but he is of a different one. Of course, however, that I shall miss him sadly is not a reason for his not going to seek his fortune. Men must work and women must weep!”
“Decidedly not!” said Rowland, with a good deal of emphasis. He had suspected from the first hour of his stay that Cecilia had treated herself to a private social luxury; he had then discovered that she found it in Hudson’s lounging visits and boyish chatter, and he had felt himself wondering at last whether, judiciously viewed, her gain in the matter was not the young man’s loss. It was evident that Cecilia was not judicious, and that her good sense, habitually rigid under the demands of domestic economy, indulged itself with a certain agreeable laxity on this particular point. She liked her young friend just as he was; she humored him, flattered him, laughed at him, caressed him—did everything but advise him. It was a flirtation without the benefits of a flirtation. She was too old to let him fall in love with her, which might have done him good; and her inclination was to keep him young, so that the nonsense he talked might never transgress a certain line. It was quite conceivable that poor Cecilia should relish a pastime; but if one had philanthropically embraced the idea that something considerable might be made of Roderick, it was impossible not to see that her friendship was not what might be called tonic. So Rowland reflected, in the glow of his new-born sympathy. There was a later time when he would have been grateful if Hudson’s susceptibility to the relaxing influence of lovely women might have been limited to such inexpensive tribute as he rendered the excellent Cecilia.
“I only desire to remind you,” she pursued, “that you are likely to have your hands full.”
“I’ve thought of that, and I rather like the idea; liking, as I do, the man. I told you the other day, you know, that I longed to have something on my hands. When it first occurred to me that I might start our young friend on the path of glory, I felt as if I had an unimpeachable inspiration. Then I remembered there were dangers and difficulties, and asked myself whether I had a right to step in between him and his obscurity. My sense of his really having the divine flame answered the question. He is made to do the things that humanity is the happier for! I can’t do such things myself, but when I see a young man of genius standing helpless and hopeless for want of capital, I feel—and it’s no affectation of humility, I assure you—as if it would give at least a reflected usefulness to my own life to offer him his opportunity.”
“In the name of humanity, I suppose, I ought to thank you. But I want, first of all, to be happy myself. You guarantee us at any rate, I hope, the masterpieces.”
“A masterpiece a year,” said Rowland smiling, “for the next quarter of a century.”
“It seems to me that we have a right to ask more: to demand that you guarantee us not only the development of the artist, but the security of the man.”
Rowland became grave again. “His security?”
“His moral, his sentimental security. Here, you see, it’s perfect. We are all under a tacit compact to preserve it. Perhaps you believe in the necessary turbulence of genius, and you intend to enjoin upon your protégé the importance of cultivating his passions.”
“On the contrary, I believe that a man of genius owes as much deference to his passions as any other man, but not a particle more, and I confess I have a strong conviction that the artist is better for leading a quiet life. That is what I shall preach to my protégé , as you call him, by example as well as by precept. You evidently believe,” he added in a moment, “that he will lead me a dance.”
“Nay, I prophesy nothing. I only think that circumstances, with our young man, have a great influence; as is proved by the fact that although he has been fuming and fretting here for the last five years, he has nevertheless managed to make the best of it, and found it easy, on the whole, to vegetate. Transplanted to Rome, I fancy he’ll put forth a denser leafage. I should like vastly to see the change. You must write me about it, from stage to stage. I hope with all my heart that the fruit will be proportionate to the foliage. Don’t think me a bird of ill omen; only remember that you will be held to a strict account.”
“A man should make the most of himself, and be helped if he needs help,” Rowland answered, after a long pause. “Of course when a body begins to expand, there comes in the possibility of bursting; but I nevertheless approve of a certain tension of one’s being. It’s what a man is meant for. And then I believe in the essential salubrity of genius—true genius.”
“Very good,” said Cecilia, with an air of resignation which made Rowland, for the moment, seem to himself culpably eager. “We ‘ll drink then to-day at dinner to the health of our friend.”
Having it much at heart to convince Mrs. Hudson of the purity of his intentions, Rowland waited upon her that evening. He was ushered into a large parlor, which, by the light of a couple of candles, he perceived to be very meagrely furnished and very tenderly and sparingly used. The windows were open to the air of the summer night, and a circle of three persons was temporarily awed into silence by his appearance. One of these was Mrs. Hudson, who was sitting at one of the windows, empty-handed save for the pocket-handkerchief in her lap, which was held with an air of familiarity with its sadder uses. Near her, on the sofa, half sitting, half lounging, in the attitude of a visitor outstaying ceremony, with one long leg flung over the other and a large foot in a clumsy boot swinging to and fro continually, was a lean, sandy-haired gentleman whom Rowland recognized as the original of the portrait of Mr. Barnaby Striker. At the table, near the candles, busy with a substantial piece of needle-work, sat the young girl of whom he had had a moment’s quickened glimpse in Roderick’s studio, and whom he had learned to be Miss Garland, his companion’s kinswoman. This young lady’s limpid, penetrating gaze was the most effective greeting he received. Mrs. Hudson rose with a soft, vague sound of distress, and stood looking at him shrinkingly and waveringly, as if she were sorely tempted to retreat through the open window. Mr. Striker swung his long leg a trifle defiantly. No one, evidently, was used to offering hollow welcomes or telling polite fibs. Rowland introduced himself; he had come, he might say, upon business.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Hudson tremulously; “I know—my son has told me. I suppose it is better I should see you. Perhaps you will take a seat.”
With this invitation Rowland prepared to comply, and, turning, grasped the first chair that offered itself.
“Not that one,” said a full, grave voice; whereupon he perceived that a quantity of sewing-silk had been suspended and entangled over the back, preparatory to being wound on reels. He felt the least bit irritated at the curtness of the warning, coming as it did from a young woman whose countenance he had mentally pronounced interesting, and with regard to whom he was conscious of the germ of the inevitable desire to produce a responsive interest. And then he thought it would break the ice to say something playfully urbane.
“Oh, you should let me take the chair,” he answered, “and have the pleasure of holding the skeins myself!”
For all reply to this sally he received a stare of undisguised amazement from Miss Garland, who then looked across at Mrs. Hudson with a glance which plainly said: “You see he’s quite the insidious personage we feared.” The elder lady, however, sat with her eyes fixed on the ground and her two hands tightly clasped. But touching her Rowland felt much more compassion than resentment; her attitude was not coldness, it was a kind of dread, almost a terror. She was a small, eager woman, with a pale, troubled face, which added to her apparent age. After looking at her for some minutes Rowland saw that she was still young, and that she must have been a very girlish bride. She had been a pretty one, too, though she probably had looked terribly frightened at the altar. She was very delicately made, and Roderick had come honestly by his physical slimness and elegance. She wore no cap, and her flaxen hair, which was of extraordinary fineness, was smoothed and confined with Puritanic precision. She was excessively shy, and evidently very humble-minded; it was singular to see a woman to whom the experience of life had conveyed so little reassurance as to her own resources or the chances of things turning out well. Rowland began immediately to like her, and to feel impatient to persuade her that there was no harm in him, and that, twenty to one, her son would make her a well-pleased woman yet. He foresaw that she would be easy to persuade, and that a benevolent conversational tone would probably make her pass, fluttering, from distrust into an oppressive extreme of confidence. But he had an indefinable sense that the person who was testing that strong young eyesight of hers in the dim candle-light was less readily beguiled from her mysterious feminine preconceptions. Miss Garland, according to Cecilia’s judgment, as Rowland remembered, had not a countenance to inspire a sculptor; but it seemed to Rowland that her countenance might fairly inspire a man who was far from being a sculptor. She was not pretty, as the eye of habit judges prettiness, but when you made the observation you somehow failed to set it down against her, for you had already passed from measuring contours to tracing meanings. In Mary Garland’s face there were many possible ones, and they gave you the more to think about that it was not—like Roderick Hudson’s, for instance—a quick and mobile face, over which expression flickered like a candle in a wind. They followed each other slowly, distinctly, gravely, sincerely, and you might almost have fancied that, as they came and went, they gave her a sort of pain. She was tall and slender, and had an air of maidenly strength and decision. She had a broad forehead and dark eyebrows, a trifle thicker than those of classic beauties; her gray eye was clear but not brilliant, and her features were perfectly irregular. Her mouth was large, fortunately for the principal grace of her physiognomy was her smile, which displayed itself with magnificent amplitude. Rowland, indeed, had not yet seen her smile, but something assured him that her rigid gravity had a radiant counterpart. She wore a scanty white dress, and had a nameless rustic air which would have led one to speak of her less as a young lady than as a young woman. She was evidently a girl of a great personal force, but she lacked pliancy. She was hemming a kitchen towel with the aid of a large steel thimble. She bent her serious eyes at last on her work again, and let Rowland explain himself.
“I have become suddenly so very intimate with your son,” he said at last, addressing himself to Mrs. Hudson, “that it seems just I should make your acquaintance.”
“Very just,” murmured the poor lady, and after a moment’s hesitation was on the point of adding something more; but Mr. Striker here interposed, after a prefatory clearance of the throat.
“I should like to take the liberty,” he said, “of addressing you a simple question. For how long a period of time have you been acquainted with our young friend?” He continued to kick the air, but his head was thrown back and his eyes fixed on the opposite wall, as if in aversion to the spectacle of Rowland’s inevitable confusion.
“A very short time, I confess. Hardly three days.”
“And yet you call yourself intimate, eh? I have been seeing Mr. Roderick daily these three years, and yet it was only this morning that I felt as if I had at last the right to say that I knew him. We had a few moments’ conversation in my office which supplied the missing links in the evidence. So that now I do venture to say I’m acquainted with Mr. Roderick! But wait three years, sir, like me!” and Mr. Striker laughed, with a closed mouth and a noiseless shake of all his long person.
Mrs. Hudson smiled confusedly, at hazard; Miss Garland kept her eyes on her stitches. But it seemed to Rowland that the latter colored a little. “Oh, in three years, of course,” he said, “we shall know each other better. Before many years are over, madam,” he pursued, “I expect the world to know him. I expect him to be a great man! ”
Mrs. Hudson looked at first as if this could be but an insidious device for increasing her distress by the assistance of irony. Then reassured, little by little, by Rowland’s benevolent visage, she gave him an appealing glance and a timorous “Really?”
But before Rowland could respond, Mr. Striker again intervened. “Do I fully apprehend your expression?” he asked. “Our young friend is to become a great man?”
“A great artist, I hope,” said Rowland.
“This is a new and interesting view,” said Mr. Striker, with an assumption of judicial calmness. “We have had hopes for Mr. Roderick, but I confess, if I have rightly understood them, they stopped short of greatness. We shouldn’t have taken the responsibility of claiming it for him. What do you say, ladies? We all feel about him here—his mother, Miss Garland, and myself—as if his merits were rather in the line of the”—and Mr. Striker waved his hand with a series of fantastic flourishes in the air—“of the light ornamental!” Mr. Striker bore his recalcitrant pupil a grudge, but he was evidently trying both to be fair and to respect the susceptibilities of his companions. But he was unversed in the mysterious processes of feminine emotion. Ten minutes before, there had been a general harmony of sombre views; but on hearing Roderick’s limitations thus distinctly formulated to a stranger, the two ladies mutely protested. Mrs. Hudson uttered a short, faint sigh, and Miss Garland raised her eyes toward their advocate and visited him with a short, cold glance.
“I’m afraid, Mrs. Hudson,” Rowland pursued, evading the discussion of Roderick’s possible greatness, “that you don’t at all thank me for stirring up your son’s ambition on a line which leads him so far from home. I suspect I have made you my enemy.”
Mrs. Hudson covered her mouth with her finger-tips and looked painfully perplexed between the desire to confess the truth and the fear of being impolite. “My cousin is no one’s enemy,” Miss Garland hereupon declared, gently, but with that same fine deliberateness with which she had made Rowland relax his grasp of the chair.
“Does she leave that to you?” Rowland ventured to ask, with a smile.
“We are inspired with none but Christian sentiments,” said Mr. Striker; “Miss Garland perhaps most of all. Miss Garland,” and Mr. Striker waved his hand again as if to perform an introduction which had been regrettably omitted, “is the daughter of a minister, the granddaughter of a minister, the sister of a minister.” Rowland bowed deferentially, and the young girl went on with her sewing, with nothing, apparently, either of embarrassment or elation at the promulgation of these facts. Mr. Striker continued: “Mrs. Hudson, I see, is too deeply agitated to converse with you freely. She will allow me to address you a few questions. Would you kindly inform her, as exactly as possible, just what you propose to do with her son?”
The poor lady fixed her eyes appealingly on Rowland’s face and seemed to say that Mr. Striker had spoken her desire, though she herself would have expressed it less defiantly. But Rowland saw in Mr. Striker’s many-wrinkled light blue eye, shrewd at once and good-natured, that he had no intention of defiance, and that he was simply pompous and conceited and sarcastically compassionate of any view of things in which Roderick Hudson was regarded in a serious light.
“Do, my dear madam?” demanded Rowland. “I don’t propose to do anything. He must do for himself. I simply offer him the chance. He’s to study, to work—hard, I hope.”
“Not too hard, please,” murmured Mrs. Hudson, pleadingly, wheeling about from recent visions of dangerous leisure. “He’s not very strong, and I’m afraid the climate of Europe is very relaxing.”
“Ah, study?” repeated Mr. Striker. “To what line of study is he to direct his attention?” Then suddenly, with an impulse of disinterested curiosity on his own account, “How do you study sculpture, anyhow?”
“By looking at models and imitating them.”
“At models, eh? To what kind of models do you refer?”
“To the antique, in the first place.”
“Ah, the antique,” repeated Mr. Striker, with a jocose intonation. “Do you hear, madam? Roderick is going off to Europe to learn to imitate the antique.”
“I suppose it’s all right,” said Mrs. Hudson, twisting herself in a sort of delicate anguish.
“An antique, as I understand it,” the lawyer continued, “is an image of a pagan deity, with considerable dirt sticking to it, and no arms, no nose, and no clothing. A precious model, certainly!”
“That’s a very good description of many,” said Rowland, with a laugh.
“Mercy! Truly?” asked Mrs. Hudson, borrowing courage from his urbanity.
“But a sculptor’s studies, you intimate, are not confined to the antique,” Mr. Striker resumed. “After he has been looking three or four years at the objects I describe”—
“He studies the living model,” said Rowland.
“Does it take three or four years?” asked Mrs. Hudson, imploringly.
“That depends upon the artist’s aptitude. After twenty years a real artist is still studying.”
“Oh, my poor boy!” moaned Mrs. Hudson, finding the prospect, under every light, still terrible.
“Now this study of the living model,” Mr. Striker pursued. “Inform Mrs. Hudson about that.”
“Oh dear, no!” cried Mrs. Hudson, shrinkingly.
“That too,” said Rowland, “is one of the reasons for studying in Rome. It’s a handsome race, you know, and you find very well-made people.”
“I suppose they ‘re no better made than a good tough Yankee,” objected Mr. Striker, transposing his interminable legs. “The same God made us.”
“Surely,” sighed Mrs. Hudson, but with a questioning glance at her visitor which showed that she had already begun to concede much weight to his opinion. Rowland hastened to express his assent to Mr. Striker’s proposition.
Miss Garland looked up, and, after a moment’s hesitation: “Are the Roman women very beautiful?” she asked.
Rowland too, in answering, hesitated; he was looking straight at the young girl. “On the whole, I prefer ours,” he said.
She had dropped her work in her lap; her hands were crossed upon it, her head thrown a little back. She had evidently expected a more impersonal answer, and she was dissatisfied. For an instant she seemed inclined to make a rejoinder, but she slowly picked up her work in silence and drew her stitches again.
Rowland had for the second time the feeling that she judged him to be a person of a disagreeably sophisticated tone. He noticed too that the kitchen towel she was hemming was terribly coarse. And yet his answer had a resonant inward echo, and he repeated to himself, “Yes, on the whole, I prefer ours.”
“Well, these models,” began Mr. Striker. “You put them into an attitude, I suppose.”
“An attitude, exactly.”
“And then you sit down and look at them.”
“You must not sit too long. You must go at your clay and try to build up something that looks like them.”
“Well, there you are with your model in an attitude on one side, yourself, in an attitude too, I suppose, on the other, and your pile of clay in the middle, building up, as you say. So you pass the morning. After that I hope you go out and take a walk, and rest from your exertions.”
“Unquestionably. But to a sculptor who loves his work there is no time lost. Everything he looks at teaches or suggests something.”
“That’s a tempting doctrine to young men with a taste for sitting by the hour with the page unturned, watching the flies buzz, or the frost melt on the window-pane. Our young friend, in this way, must have laid up stores of information which I never suspected!”
“Very likely,” said Rowland, with an unresentful smile, “he will prove some day the completer artist for some of those lazy reveries.”
This theory was apparently very grateful to Mrs. Hudson, who had never had the case put for her son with such ingenious hopefulness, and found herself disrelishing the singular situation of seeming to side against her own flesh and blood with a lawyer whose conversational tone betrayed the habit of cross-questioning.
“My son, then,” she ventured to ask, “my son has great—what you would call great powers?”
“To my sense, very great powers.”
Poor Mrs. Hudson actually smiled, broadly, gleefully, and glanced at Miss Garland, as if to invite her to do likewise. But the young girl’s face remained serious, like the eastern sky when the opposite sunset is too feeble to make it glow. “Do you really know?” she asked, looking at Rowland.
“One cannot know in such a matter save after proof, and proof takes time. But one can believe.”
“And you believe?”
“I believe.”
But even then Miss Garland vouchsafed no smile. Her face became graver than ever.
“Well, well,” said Mrs. Hudson, “we must hope that it is all for the best.”
Mr. Striker eyed his old friend for a moment with a look of some displeasure; he saw that this was but a cunning feminine imitation of resignation, and that, through some untraceable process of transition, she was now taking more comfort in the opinions of this insinuating stranger than in his own tough dogmas. He rose to his feet, without pulling down his waistcoat, but with a wrinkled grin at the inconsistency of women. “Well, sir, Mr. Roderick’s powers are nothing to me,” he said, “nor no use he makes of them. Good or bad, he’s no son of mine. But, in a friendly way, I’m glad to hear so fine an account of him. I’m glad, madam, you ‘re so satisfied with the prospect. Affection, sir, you see, must have its guarantees!” He paused a moment, stroking his beard, with his head inclined and one eye half-closed, looking at Rowland. The look was grotesque, but it was significant, and it puzzled Rowland more than it amused him. “I suppose you ‘re a very brilliant young man,” he went on, “very enlightened, very cultivated, quite up to the mark in the fine arts and all that sort of thing. I’m a plain, practical old boy, content to follow an honorable profession in a free country. I didn’t go off to the Old World to learn my business; no one took me by the hand; I had to grease my wheels myself, and, such as I am, I’m a self-made man, every inch of me! Well, if our young friend is booked for fame and fortune, I don’t suppose his going to Rome will stop him. But, mind you, it won’t help him such a long way, either. If you have undertaken to put him through, there’s a thing or two you ‘d better remember. The crop we gather depends upon the seed we sow. He may be the biggest genius of the age: his potatoes won’t come up without his hoeing them. If he takes things so almighty easy as—well, as one or two young fellows of genius I’ve had under my eye—his produce will never gain the prize. Take the word for it of a man who has made his way inch by inch, and doesn’t believe that we ‘ll wake up to find our work done because we ‘ve lain all night a-dreaming of it; anything worth doing is devilish hard to do! If your young protajay finds things easy and has a good time and says he likes the life, it’s a sign that—as I may say—you had better step round to the office and look at the books. That’s all I desire to remark. No offense intended. I hope you’ll have a first-rate time.”
Rowland could honestly reply that this seemed pregnant sense, and he offered Mr. Striker a friendly hand-shake as the latter withdrew. But Mr. Striker’s rather grim view of matters cast a momentary shadow on his companions, and Mrs. Hudson seemed to feel that it necessitated between them some little friendly agreement not to be overawed.
Rowland sat for some time longer, partly because he wished to please the two women and partly because he was strangely pleased himself. There was something touching in their unworldly fears and diffident hopes, something almost terrible in the way poor little Mrs. Hudson seemed to flutter and quiver with intense maternal passion. She put forth one timid conversational venture after another, and asked Rowland a number of questions about himself, his age, his family, his occupations, his tastes, his religious opinions. Rowland had an odd feeling at last that she had begun to consider him very exemplary, and that she might make, later, some perturbing discovery. He tried, therefore, to invent something that would prepare her to find him fallible. But he could think of nothing. It only seemed to him that Miss Garland secretly mistrusted him, and that he must leave her to render him the service, after he had gone, of making him the object of a little firm derogation. Mrs. Hudson talked with low-voiced eagerness about her son.
“He’s very lovable, sir, I assure you. When you come to know him you’ll find him very lovable. He’s a little spoiled, of course; he has always done with me as he pleased; but he’s a good boy, I’m sure he’s a good boy. And every one thinks him very attractive: I’m sure he ‘d be noticed, anywhere. Don’t you think he’s very handsome, sir? He features his poor father. I had another—perhaps you’ve been told. He was killed.” And the poor little lady bravely smiled, for fear of doing worse. “He was a very fine boy, but very different from Roderick. Roderick is a little strange; he has never been an easy boy. Sometimes I feel like the goose—wasn’t it a goose, dear?” and startled by the audacity of her comparison she appealed to Miss Garland—“the goose, or the hen, who hatched a swan’s egg. I have never been able to give him what he needs. I have always thought that in more—in more brilliant circumstances he might find his place and be happy. But at the same time I was afraid of the world for him; it was so large and dangerous and dreadful. No doubt I know very little about it. I never suspected, I confess, that it contained persons of such liberality as yours.”
Rowland replied that, evidently, she had done the world but scanty justice. “No,” objected Miss Garland, after a pause, “it is like something in a fairy tale.”
“What, pray?”
“Your coming here all unknown, so rich and so polite, and carrying off my cousin in a golden cloud.”
If this was badinage Miss Garland had the best of it, for Rowland almost fell a-musing silently over the question whether there was a possibility of irony in that transparent gaze. Before he withdrew, Mrs. Hudson made him tell her again that Roderick’s powers were extraordinary. He had inspired her with a clinging, caressing faith in his wisdom. “He will really do great things,” she asked, “the very greatest?”
“I see no reason in his talent itself why he should not.”
“Well, we’ll think of that as we sit here alone,” she rejoined. “Mary and I will sit here and talk about it. So I give him up,” she went on, as he was going. “I’m sure you’ll be the best of friends to him, but if you should ever forget him, or grow tired of him, or lose your interest in him, and he should come to any harm or any trouble, please, sir, remember”—And she paused, with a tremulous voice.
“Remember, my dear madam?”
“That he is all I have—that he is everything—and that it would be very terrible.”
“In so far as I can help him, he shall succeed,” was all Rowland could say. He turned to Miss Garland, to bid her good night, and she rose and put out her hand. She was very straightforward, but he could see that if she was too modest to be bold, she was much too simple to be shy. “Have you no charge to lay upon me?” he asked—to ask her something.
She looked at him a moment and then, although she was not shy, she blushed. “Make him do his best,” she said.
Rowland noted the soft intensity with which the words were uttered. “Do you take a great interest in him?” he demanded.
“Certainly.”
“Then, if he will not do his best for you, he will not do it for me.” She turned away with another blush, and Rowland took his leave.
He walked homeward, thinking of many things. The great Northampton elms interarched far above in the darkness, but the moon had risen and through scattered apertures was hanging the dusky vault with silver lamps. There seemed to Rowland something intensely serious in the scene in which he had just taken part. He had laughed and talked and braved it out in self-defense; but when he reflected that he was really meddling with the simple stillness of this little New England home, and that he had ventured to disturb so much living security in the interest of a far-away, fantastic hypothesis, he paused, amazed at his temerity. It was true, as Cecilia had said, that for an unofficious man it was a singular position. There stirred in his mind an odd feeling of annoyance with Roderick for having thus peremptorily enlisted his sympathies. As he looked up and down the long vista, and saw the clear white houses glancing here and there in the broken moonshine, he could almost have believed that the happiest lot for any man was to make the most of life in some such tranquil spot as that. Here were kindness, comfort, safety, the warning voice of duty, the perfect hush of temptation. And as Rowland looked along the arch of silvered shadow and out into the lucid air of the American night, which seemed so doubly vast, somehow, and strange and nocturnal, he felt like declaring that here was beauty too—beauty sufficient for an artist not to starve upon it. As he stood, lost in the darkness, he presently heard a rapid tread on the other side of the road, accompanied by a loud, jubilant whistle, and in a moment a figure emerged into an open gap of moonshine. He had no difficulty in recognizing Hudson, who was presumably returning from a visit to Cecilia. Roderick stopped suddenly and stared up at the moon, with his face vividly illumined. He broke out into a snatch of song:—

The splendor falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story!
And with a great, musical roll of his voice he went swinging off into the darkness again, as if his thoughts had lent him wings. He was dreaming of the inspiration of foreign lands,—of castled crags and historic landscapes. What a pity, after all, thought Rowland, as he went his own way, that he shouldn’t have a taste of it!
It had been a very just remark of Cecilia’s that Roderick would change with a change in his circumstances. Rowland had telegraphed to New York for another berth on his steamer, and from the hour the answer came Hudson’s spirits rose to incalculable heights. He was radiant with good-humor, and his kindly jollity seemed the pledge of a brilliant future. He had forgiven his old enemies and forgotten his old grievances, and seemed every way reconciled to a world in which he was going to count as an active force. He was inexhaustibly loquacious and fantastic, and as Cecilia said, he had suddenly become so good that it was only to be feared he was going to start not for Europe but for heaven. He took long walks with Rowland, who felt more and more the fascination of what he would have called his giftedness. Rowland returned several times to Mrs. Hudson’s, and found the two ladies doing their best to be happy in their companion’s happiness. Miss Garland, he thought, was succeeding better than her demeanor on his first visit had promised. He tried to have some especial talk with her, but her extreme reserve forced him to content himself with such response to his rather urgent overtures as might be extracted from a keenly attentive smile. It must be confessed, however, that if the response was vague, the satisfaction was great, and that Rowland, after his second visit, kept seeing a lurking reflection of this smile in the most unexpected places. It seemed strange that she should please him so well at so slender a cost, but please him she did, prodigiously, and his pleasure had a quality altogether new to him. It made him restless, and a trifle melancholy; he walked about absently, wondering and wishing. He wondered, among other things, why fate should have condemned him to make the acquaintance of a girl whom he would make a sacrifice to know better, just as he was leaving the country for years. It seemed to him that he was turning his back on a chance of happiness—happiness of a sort of which the slenderest germ should be cultivated. He asked himself whether, feeling as he did, if he had only himself to please, he would give up his journey and—wait. He had Roderick to please now, for whom disappointment would be cruel; but he said to himself that certainly, if there were no Roderick in the case, the ship should sail without him. He asked Hudson several questions about his cousin, but Roderick, confidential on most points, seemed to have reasons of his own for being reticent on this one. His measured answers quickened Rowland’s curiosity, for Miss Garland, with her own irritating half-suggestions, had only to be a subject of guarded allusion in others to become intolerably interesting. He learned from Roderick that she was the daughter of a country minister, a far-away cousin of his mother, settled in another part of the State; that she was one of a half-a-dozen daughters, that the family was very poor, and that she had come a couple of months before to pay his mother a long visit. “It is to be a very long one now,” he said, “for it is settled that she is to remain while I am away.”
The fermentation of contentment in Roderick’s soul reached its climax a few days before the young men were to make their farewells. He had been sitting with his friends on Cecilia’s veranda, but for half an hour past he had said nothing. Lounging back against a vine-wreathed column and gazing idly at the stars, he kept caroling softly to himself with that indifference to ceremony for which he always found allowance, and which in him had a sort of pleading grace. At last, springing up: “I want to strike out, hard!” he exclaimed. “I want to do something violent, to let off steam!”
“I’ll tell you what to do, this lovely weather,” said Cecilia. “Give a picnic. It can be as violent as you please, and it will have the merit of leading off our emotion into a safe channel, as well as yours.”
Roderick laughed uproariously at Cecilia’s very practical remedy for his sentimental need, but a couple of days later, nevertheless, the picnic was given. It was to be a family party, but Roderick, in his magnanimous geniality, insisted on inviting Mr. Striker, a decision which Rowland mentally applauded. “And we ‘ll have Mrs. Striker, too,” he said, “if she ‘ll come, to keep my mother in countenance; and at any rate we ‘ll have Miss Striker—the divine Petronilla!” The young lady thus denominated formed, with Mrs. Hudson, Miss Garland, and Cecilia, the feminine half of the company. Mr. Striker presented himself, sacrificing a morning’s work, with a magnanimity greater even than Roderick’s, and foreign support was further secured in the person of Mr. Whitefoot, the young Orthodox minister. Roderick had chosen the feasting-place; he knew it well and had passed many a summer afternoon there, lying at his length on the grass and gazing at the blue undulations of the horizon. It was a meadow on the edge of a wood, with mossy rocks protruding through the grass and a little lake on the other side. It was a cloudless August day; Rowland always remembered it, and the scene, and everything that was said and done, with extraordinary distinctness. Roderick surpassed himself in friendly jollity, and at one moment, when exhilaration was at the highest, was seen in Mr. Striker’s high white hat, drinking champagne from a broken tea-cup to Mr. Striker’s health. Miss Striker had her father’s pale blue eye; she was dressed as if she were going to sit for her photograph, and remained for a long time with Roderick on a little promontory overhanging the lake. Mrs. Hudson sat all day with a little meek, apprehensive smile. She was afraid of an “accident,” though unless Miss Striker (who indeed was a little of a romp) should push Roderick into the lake, it was hard to see what accident could occur. Mrs. Hudson was as neat and crisp and uncrumpled at the end of the festival as at the beginning. Mr. Whitefoot, who but a twelvemonth later became a convert to episcopacy and was already cultivating a certain conversational sonority, devoted himself to Cecilia. He had a little book in his pocket, out of which he read to her at intervals, lying stretched at her feet, and it was a lasting joke with Cecilia, afterwards, that she would never tell what Mr. Whitefoot’s little book had been. Rowland had placed himself near Miss Garland, while the feasting went forward on the grass. She wore a so-called gypsy hat—a little straw hat, tied down over her ears, so as to cast her eyes into shadow, by a ribbon passing outside of it. When the company dispersed, after lunch, he proposed to her to take a stroll in the wood. She hesitated a moment and looked toward Mrs. Hudson, as if for permission to leave her. But Mrs. Hudson was listening to Mr. Striker, who sat gossiping to her with relaxed magniloquence, his waistcoat unbuttoned and his hat on his nose.
“You can give your cousin your society at any time,” said Rowland. “But me, perhaps, you’ll never see again.”
“Why then should we wish to be friends, if nothing is to come of it?” she asked, with homely logic. But by this time she had consented, and they were treading the fallen pine-needles.
“Oh, one must take all one can get,” said Rowland. “If we can be friends for half an hour, it’s so much gained.”
“Do you expect never to come back to Northampton again?”
“‘Never’ is a good deal to say. But I go to Europe for a long stay.”
“Do you prefer it so much to your own country?”
“I will not say that. But I have the misfortune to be a rather idle man, and in Europe the burden of idleness is less heavy than here.”
She was silent for a few minutes; then at last, “In that, then, we are better than Europe,” she said. To a certain point Rowland agreed with her, but he demurred, to make her say more.
“Wouldn’t it be better,” she asked, “to work to get reconciled to America, than to go to Europe to get reconciled to idleness?”
“Doubtless; but you know work is hard to find.”
“I come from a little place where every one has plenty,” said Miss Garland. “We all work; every one I know works. And really,” she added presently, “I look at you with curiosity; you are the first unoccupied man I ever saw.”
“Don’t look at me too hard,” said Rowland, smiling. “I shall sink into the earth. What is the name of your little place?”
“West Nazareth,” said Miss Garland, with her usual sobriety. “It is not so very little, though it’s smaller than Northampton.”
“I wonder whether I could find any work at West Nazareth,” Rowland said.
“You would not like it,” Miss Garland declared reflectively. “Though there are far finer woods there than this. We have miles and miles of woods.”
“I might chop down trees,” said Rowland. “That is, if you allow it.”
“Allow it? Why, where should we get our firewood?” Then, noticing that he had spoken jestingly, she glanced at him askance, though with no visible diminution of her gravity. “Don’t you know how to do anything? Have you no profession?”
Rowland shook his head. “Absolutely none.”
“What do you do all day?”
“Nothing worth relating. That’s why I am going to Europe. There, at least, if I do nothing, I shall see a great deal; and if I’m not a producer, I shall at any rate be an observer.”
“Can’t we observe everywhere?”
“Certainly; and I really think that in that way I make the most of my opportunities. Though I confess,” he continued, “that I often remember there are things to be seen here to which I probably haven’t done justice. I should like, for instance, to see West Nazareth.”
She looked round at him, open-eyed; not, apparently, that she exactly supposed he was jesting, for the expression of such a desire was not necessarily facetious; but as if he must have spoken with an ulterior motive. In fact, he had spoken from the simplest of motives. The girl beside him pleased him unspeakably, and, suspecting that her charm was essentially her own and not reflected from social circumstance, he wished to give himself the satisfaction of contrasting her with the meagre influences of her education. Miss Garland’s second movement was to take him at his word. “Since you are free to do as you please, why don’t you go there?”
“I am not free to do as I please now. I have offered your cousin to bear him company to Europe, he has accepted with enthusiasm, and I cannot retract.”
“Are you going to Europe simply for his sake?”
Rowland hesitated a moment. “I think I may almost say so.”
Miss Garland walked along in silence. “Do you mean to do a great deal for him?” she asked at last.
“What I can. But my power of helping him is very small beside his power of helping himself.”
For a moment she was silent again. “You are very generous,” she said, almost solemnly.
“No, I am simply very shrewd. Roderick will repay me. It’s an investment. At first, I think,” he added shortly afterwards, “you would not have paid me that compliment. You distrusted me.”
She made no attempt to deny it. “I didn’t see why you should wish to make Roderick discontented. I thought you were rather frivolous.”
“You did me injustice. I don’t think I’m that.”
“It was because you are unlike other men—those, at least, whom I have seen.”
“In what way?”
“Why, as you describe yourself. You have no duties, no profession, no home. You live for your pleasure.”
“That’s all very true. And yet I maintain I’m not frivolous.”
“I hope not,” said Miss Garland, simply. They had reached a point where the wood-path forked and put forth two divergent tracks which lost themselves in a verdurous tangle. Miss Garland seemed to think that the difficulty of choice between them was a reason for giving them up and turning back. Rowland thought otherwise, and detected agreeable grounds for preference in the left-hand path. As a compromise, they sat down on a fallen log. Looking about him, Rowland espied a curious wild shrub, with a spotted crimson leaf; he went and plucked a spray of it and brought it to Miss Garland. He had never observed it before, but she immediately called it by its name. She expressed surprise at his not knowing it; it was extremely common. He presently brought her a specimen of another delicate plant, with a little blue-streaked flower. “I suppose that’s common, too,” he said, “but I have never seen it—or noticed it, at least.” She answered that this one was rare, and meditated a moment before she could remember its name. At last she recalled it, and expressed surprise at his having found the plant in the woods; she supposed it grew only in open marshes. Rowland complimented her on her fund of useful information.
“It’s not especially useful,” she answered; “but I like to know the names of plants as I do those of my acquaintances. When we walk in the woods at home—which we do so much—it seems as unnatural not to know what to call the flowers as it would be to see some one in the town with whom we were not on speaking terms.”
“ Apropos of frivolity,” Rowland said, “I’m sure you have very little of it, unless at West Nazareth it is considered frivolous to walk in the woods and nod to the nodding flowers. Do kindly tell me a little about yourself.” And to compel her to begin, “I know you come of a race of theologians,” he went on.
“No,” she replied, deliberating; “they are not theologians, though they are ministers. We don’t take a very firm stand upon doctrine; we are practical, rather. We write sermons and preach them, but we do a great deal of hard work beside.”
“And of this hard work what has your share been?”
“The hardest part: doing nothing.”
“What do you call nothing?”
“I taught school a while: I must make the most of that. But I confess I didn’t like it. Otherwise, I have only done little things at home, as they turned up.”
“What kind of things?”
“Oh, every kind. If you had seen my home, you would understand.”
Rowland would have liked to make her specify; but he felt a more urgent need to respect her simplicity than he had ever felt to defer to the complex circumstance of certain other women. “To be happy, I imagine,” he contented himself with saying, “you need to be occupied. You need to have something to expend yourself upon.”
“That is not so true as it once was; now that I am older, I am sure I am less impatient of leisure. Certainly, these two months that I have been with Mrs. Hudson, I have had a terrible amount of it. And yet I have liked it! And now that I am probably to be with her all the while that her son is away, I look forward to more with a resignation that I don’t quite know what to make of.”
“It is settled, then, that you are to remain with your cousin?”
“It depends upon their writing from home that I may stay. But that is probable. Only I must not forget,” she said, rising, “that the ground for my doing so is that she be not left alone.”
“I am glad to know,” said Rowland, “that I shall probably often hear about you. I assure you I shall often think about you!” These words were half impulsive, half deliberate. They were the simple truth, and he had asked himself why he should not tell her the truth. And yet they were not all of it; her hearing the rest would depend upon the way she received this. She received it not only, as Rowland foresaw, without a shadow of coquetry, of any apparent thought of listening to it gracefully, but with a slight movement of nervous deprecation, which seemed to betray itself in the quickening of her step. Evidently, if Rowland was to take pleasure in hearing about her, it would have to be a highly disinterested pleasure. She answered nothing, and Rowland too, as he walked beside her, was silent; but as he looked along the shadow-woven wood-path, what he was really facing was a level three years of disinterestedness. He ushered them in by talking composed civility until he had brought Miss Garland back to her companions.
He saw her but once again. He was obliged to be in New York a couple of days before sailing, and it was arranged that Roderick should overtake him at the last moment. The evening before he left Northampton he went to say farewell to Mrs. Hudson. The ceremony was brief. Rowland soon perceived that the poor little lady was in the melting mood, and, as he dreaded her tears, he compressed a multitude of solemn promises into a silent hand-shake and took his leave. Miss Garland, she had told him, was in the back-garden with Roderick: he might go out to them. He did so, and as he drew near he heard Roderick’s high-pitched voice ringing behind the shrubbery. In a moment, emerging, he found Miss Garland leaning against a tree, with her cousin before her talking with great emphasis. He asked pardon for interrupting them, and said he wished only to bid her good-by. She gave him her hand and he made her his bow in silence. “Don’t forget,” he said to Roderick, as he turned away. “And don’t, in this company, repent of your bargain.”
“I shall not let him,” said Miss Garland, with something very like gayety. “I shall see that he is punctual. He must go! I owe you an apology for having doubted that he ought to.” And in spite of the dusk Rowland could see that she had an even finer smile than he had supposed.
Roderick was punctual, eagerly punctual, and they went. Rowland for several days was occupied with material cares, and lost sight of his sentimental perplexities. But they only slumbered, and they were sharply awakened. The weather was fine, and the two young men always sat together upon deck late into the evening. One night, toward the last, they were at the stern of the great ship, watching her grind the solid blackness of the ocean into phosphorescent foam. They talked on these occasions of everything conceivable, and had the air of having no secrets from each other. But it was on Roderick’s conscience that this air belied him, and he was too frank by nature, moreover, for permanent reticence on any point.
“I must tell you something,” he said at last. “I should like you to know it, and you will be so glad to know it. Besides, it’s only a question of time; three months hence, probably, you would have guessed it. I am engaged to Mary Garland.”
Rowland sat staring; though the sea was calm, it seemed to him that the ship gave a great dizzying lurch. But in a moment he contrived to answer coherently: “Engaged to Miss Garland! I never supposed—I never imagined”—
“That I was in love with her?” Roderick interrupted. “Neither did I, until this last fortnight. But you came and put me into such ridiculous good-humor that I felt an extraordinary desire to tell some woman that I adored her. Miss Garland is a magnificent girl; you know her too little to do her justice. I have been quietly learning to know her, these past three months, and have been falling in love with her without being conscious of it. It appeared, when I spoke to her, that she had a kindness for me. So the thing was settled. I must of course make some money before we can marry. It’s rather droll, certainly, to engage one’s self to a girl whom one is going to leave the next day, for years. We shall be condemned, for some time to come, to do a terrible deal of abstract thinking about each other. But I wanted her blessing on my career and I could not help asking for it. Unless a man is unnaturally selfish he needs to work for some one else than himself, and I am sure I shall run a smoother and swifter course for knowing that that fine creature is waiting, at Northampton, for news of my greatness. If ever I am a dull companion and over-addicted to moping, remember in justice to me that I am in love and that my sweetheart is five thousand miles away.”
Rowland listened to all this with a sort of feeling that fortune had played him an elaborately-devised trick. It had lured him out into mid-ocean and smoothed the sea and stilled the winds and given him a singularly sympathetic comrade, and then it had turned and delivered him a thumping blow in mid-chest. “Yes,” he said, after an attempt at the usual formal congratulation, “you certainly ought to do better—with Miss Garland waiting for you at Northampton.”
Roderick, now that he had broken ground, was eloquent and rung a hundred changes on the assurance that he was a very happy man. Then at last, suddenly, his climax was a yawn, and he declared that he must go to bed. Rowland let him go alone, and sat there late, between sea and sky.
[]
Chapter III. Rome
One warm, still day, late in the Roman autumn, our two young men were sitting beneath one of the high-stemmed pines of the Villa Ludovisi. They had been spending an hour in the mouldy little garden-house, where the colossal mask of the famous Juno looks out with blank eyes from that dusky corner which must seem to her the last possible stage of a lapse from Olympus. Then they had wandered out into the gardens, and were lounging away the morning under the spell of their magical picturesqueness. Roderick declared that he would go nowhere else; that, after the Juno, it was a profanation to look at anything but sky and trees. There was a fresco of Guercino, to which Rowland, though he had seen it on his former visit to Rome, went dutifully to pay his respects. But Roderick, though he had never seen it, declared that it couldn’t be worth a fig, and that he didn’t care to look at ugly things. He remained stretched on his overcoat, which he had spread on the grass, while Rowland went off envying the intellectual comfort of genius, which can arrive at serene conclusions without disagreeable processes. When the latter came back, his friend was sitting with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. Rowland, in the geniality of a mood attuned to the mellow charm of a Roman villa, found a good word to say for the Guercino; but he chiefly talked of the view from the little belvedere on the roof of the casino, and how it looked like the prospect from a castle turret in a fairy tale.
“Very likely,” said Roderick, throwing himself back with a yawn. “But I must let it pass. I have seen enough for the present; I have reached the top of the hill. I have an indigestion of impressions; I must work them off before I go in for any more. I don’t want to look at any more of other people’s works, for a month—not even at Nature’s own. I want to look at Roderick Hudson’s. The result of it all is that I’m not afraid. I can but try, as well as the rest of them! The fellow who did that gazing goddess yonder only made an experiment. The other day, when I was looking at Michael Angelo’s Moses, I was seized with a kind of defiance—a reaction against all this mere passive enjoyment of grandeur. It was a rousing great success, certainly, that rose there before me, but somehow it was not an inscrutable mystery, and it seemed to me, not perhaps that I should some day do as well, but that at least I might! ”
“As you say, you can but try,” said Rowland. “Success is only passionate effort.”
“Well, the passion is blazing; we have been piling on fuel handsomely. It came over me just now that it is exactly three months to a day since I left Northampton. I can’t believe it!”
“It certainly seems more.”
“It seems like ten years. What an exquisite ass I was!”
“Do you feel so wise now?”
“Verily! Don’t I look so? Surely I haven’t the same face. Haven’t I a different eye, a different expression, a different voice?”
“I can hardly say, because I have seen the transition. But it’s very likely. You are, in the literal sense of the word, more civilized. I dare say,” added Rowland, “that Miss Garland would think so.”
“That’s not what she would call it; she would say I was corrupted.”
Rowland asked few questions about Miss Garland, but he always listened narrowly to his companion’s voluntary observations.
“Are you very sure?” he replied.
“Why, she’s a stern moralist, and she would infer from my appearance that I had become a cynical sybarite.” Roderick had, in fact, a Venetian watch-chain round his neck and a magnificent Roman intaglio on the third finger of his left hand.
“Will you think I take a liberty,” asked Rowland, “if I say you judge her superficially?”
“For heaven’s sake,” cried Roderick, laughing, “don’t tell me she’s not a moralist! It was for that I fell in love with her, and with rigid virtue in her person.”
“She is a moralist, but not, as you imply, a narrow one. That’s more than a difference in degree; it’s a difference in kind. I don’t know whether I ever mentioned it, but I admire her extremely. There is nothing narrow about her but her experience; everything else is large. My impression of her is of a person of great capacity, as yet wholly unmeasured and untested. Some day or other, I’m sure, she will judge fairly and wisely of everything.”
“Stay a bit!” cried Roderick; “you ‘re a better Catholic than the Pope. I shall be content if she judges fairly of me—of my merits, that is. The rest she must not judge at all. She’s a grimly devoted little creature; may she always remain so! Changed as I am, I adore her none the less. What becomes of all our emotions, our impressions,” he went on, after a long pause, “all the material of thought that life pours into us at such a rate during such a memorable three months as these? There are twenty moments a week—a day, for that matter, some days—that seem supreme, twenty impressions that seem ultimate, that appear to form an intellectual era. But others come treading on their heels and sweeping them along, and they all melt like water into water and settle the question of precedence among themselves. The curious thing is that the more the mind takes in, the more it has space for, and that all one’s ideas are like the Irish people at home who live in the different corners of a room, and take boarders.”
“I fancy it is our peculiar good luck that we don’t see the limits of our minds,” said Rowland. “We are young, compared with what we may one day be. That belongs to youth; it is perhaps the best part of it. They say that old people do find themselves at last face to face with a solid blank wall, and stand thumping against it in vain. It resounds, it seems to have something beyond it, but it won’t move! That’s only a reason for living with open doors as long as we can!”
“Open doors?” murmured Roderick. “Yes, let us close no doors that open upon Rome. For this, for the mind, is eternal summer! But though my doors may stand open to-day,” he presently added, “I shall see no visitors. I want to pause and breathe; I want to dream of a statue. I have been working hard for three months; I have earned a right to a reverie.”
Rowland, on his side, was not without provision for reflection, and they lingered on in broken, desultory talk. Rowland felt the need for intellectual rest, for a truce to present care for churches, statues, and pictures, on even better grounds than his companion, inasmuch as he had really been living Roderick’s intellectual life the past three months, as well as his own. As he looked back on these full-flavored weeks, he drew a long breath of satisfaction, almost of relief. Roderick, thus far, had justified his confidence and flattered his perspicacity; he was rapidly unfolding into an ideal brilliancy. He was changed even more than he himself suspected; he had stepped, without faltering, into his birthright, and was spending money, intellectually, as lavishly as a young heir who has just won an obstructive lawsuit. Roderick’s glance and voice were the same, doubtless, as when they enlivened the summer dusk on Cecilia’s veranda, but in his person, generally, there was an indefinable expression of experience rapidly and easily assimilated. Rowland had been struck at the outset with the instinctive quickness of his observation and his free appropriation of whatever might serve his purpose. He had not been, for instance, half an hour on English soil before he perceived that he was dressed like a rustic, and he had immediately reformed his toilet with the most unerring tact. His appetite for novelty was insatiable, and for everything characteristically foreign, as it presented itself, he had an extravagant greeting; but in half an hour the novelty had faded, he had guessed the secret, he had plucked out the heart of the mystery and was clamoring for a keener sensation. At the end of a month, he presented, mentally, a puzzling spectacle to his companion. He had caught, instinctively, the key-note of the old world. He observed and enjoyed, he criticised and rhapsodized, but though all things interested him and many delighted him, none surprised him; he had divined their logic and measured their proportions, and referred them infallibly to their categories. Witnessing the rate at which he did intellectual execution on the general spectacle of European life, Rowland at moments felt vaguely uneasy for the future; the boy was living too fast, he would have said, and giving alarming pledges to ennui in his later years. But we must live as our pulses are timed, and Roderick’s struck the hour very often. He was, by imagination, though he never became in manner, a natural man of the world; he had intuitively, as an artist, what one may call the historic consciousness. He had a relish for social subtleties and mysteries, and, in perception, when occasion offered him an inch he never failed to take an ell. A single glimpse of a social situation of the elder type enabled him to construct the whole, with all its complex chiaroscuro, and Rowland more than once assured him that he made him believe in the metempsychosis, and that he must have lived in European society, in the last century, as a gentleman in a cocked hat and brocaded waistcoat. Hudson asked Rowland questions which poor Rowland was quite unable to answer, and of which he was equally unable to conceive where he had picked up the data. Roderick ended by answering them himself, tolerably to his satisfaction, and in a short time he had almost turned the tables and become in their walks and talks the accredited source of information. Rowland told him that when he turned sculptor a capital novelist was spoiled, and that to match his eye for social detail one would have to go to Honoré de Balzac. In all this Rowland took a generous pleasure; he felt an especial kindness for his comrade’s radiant youthfulness of temperament. He was so much younger than he himself had ever been! And surely youth and genius, hand in hand, were the most beautiful sight in the world. Roderick added to this the charm of his more immediately personal qualities. The vivacity of his perceptions, the audacity of his imagination, the picturesqueness of his phrase when he was pleased,—and even more when he was displeased,—his abounding good-humor, his candor, his unclouded frankness, his unfailing impulse to share every emotion and impression with his friend; all this made comradeship a pure felicity, and interfused with a deeper amenity their long evening talks at café doors in Italian towns.
They had gone almost immediately to Paris, and had spent their days at the Louvre and their evenings at the theatre. Roderick was divided in mind as to whether Titian or Mademoiselle Delaporte was the greater artist. They had come down through France to Genoa and Milan, had spent a fortnight in Venice and another in Florence, and had now been a month in Rome. Roderick had said that he meant to spend three months in simply looking, absorbing, and reflecting, without putting pencil to paper. He looked indefatigably, and certainly saw great things—things greater, doubtless, at times, than the intentions of the artist. And yet he made few false steps and wasted little time in theories of what he ought to like and to dislike. He judged instinctively and passionately, but never vulgarly. At Venice, for a couple of days, he had half a fit of melancholy over the pretended discovery that he had missed his way, and that the only proper vestment of plastic conceptions was the coloring of Titian and Paul Veronese. Then one morning the two young men had themselves rowed out to Torcello, and Roderick lay back for a couple of hours watching a brown-breasted gondolier making superb muscular movements, in high relief, against the sky of the Adriatic, and at the end jerked himself up with a violence that nearly swamped the gondola, and declared that the only thing worth living for was to make a colossal bronze and set it aloft in the light of a public square. In Rome his first care was for the Vatican; he went there again and again. But the old imperial and papal city altogether delighted him; only there he really found what he had been looking for from the first—the complete antipodes of Northampton. And indeed Rome is the natural home of those spirits with which we just now claimed fellowship for Roderick—the spirits with a deep relish for the artificial element in life and the infinite superpositions of history. It is the immemorial city of convention. The stagnant Roman air is charged with convention; it colors the yellow light and deepens the chilly shadows. And in that still recent day the most impressive convention in all history was visible to men’s eyes, in the Roman streets, erect in a gilded coach drawn by four black horses. Roderick’s first fortnight was a high aesthetic revel. He declared that Rome made him feel and understand more things than he could express: he was sure that life must have there, for all one’s senses, an incomparable fineness; that more interesting things must happen to one than anywhere else. And he gave Rowland to understand that he meant to live freely and largely, and be as interested as occasion demanded. Rowland saw no reason to regard this as a menace of dissipation, because, in the first place, there was in all dissipation, refine it as one might, a grossness which would disqualify it for Roderick’s favor, and because, in the second, the young sculptor was a man to regard all things in the light of his art, to hand over his passions to his genius to be dealt with, and to find that he could live largely enough without exceeding the circle of wholesome curiosity. Rowland took immense satisfaction in his companion’s deep impatience to make something of all his impressions. Some of these indeed found their way into a channel which did not lead to statues, but it was none the less a safe one. He wrote frequent long letters to Miss Garland; when Rowland went with him to post them he thought wistfully of the fortune of the great loosely-written missives, which cost Roderick unconscionable sums in postage. He received punctual answers of a more frugal form, written in a clear, minute hand, on paper vexatiously thin. If Rowland was present when they came, he turned away and thought of other things—or tried to. These were the only moments when his sympathy halted, and they were brief. For the rest he let the days go by unprotestingly, and enjoyed Roderick’s serene efflorescence as he would have done a beautiful summer sunrise. Rome, for the past month, had been delicious. The annual descent of the Goths had not yet begun, and sunny leisure seemed to brood over the city.
Roderick had taken out a note-book and was roughly sketching a memento of the great Juno. Suddenly there was a noise on the gravel, and the young men, looking up, saw three persons advancing. One was a woman of middle age, with a rather grand air and a great many furbelows. She looked very hard at our friends as she passed, and glanced back over her shoulder, as if to hasten the step of a young girl who slowly followed her. She had such an expansive majesty of mien that Rowland supposed she must have some proprietary right in the villa and was not just then in a hospitable mood. Beside her walked a little elderly man, tightly buttoned in a shabby black coat, but with a flower in his lappet, and a pair of soiled light gloves. He was a grotesque-looking personage, and might have passed for a gentleman of the old school, reduced by adversity to playing cicerone to foreigners of distinction. He had a little black eye which glittered like a diamond and rolled about like a ball of quicksilver, and a white moustache, cut short and stiff, like a worn-out brush. He was smiling with extreme urbanity, and talking in a low, mellifluous voice to the lady, who evidently was not listening to him. At a considerable distance behind this couple strolled a young girl, apparently of about twenty. She was tall and slender, and dressed with extreme elegance; she led by a cord a large poodle of the most fantastic aspect. He was combed and decked like a ram for sacrifice; his trunk and haunches were of the most transparent pink, his fleecy head and shoulders as white as jeweler’s cotton, and his tail and ears ornamented with long blue ribbons. He stepped along stiffly and solemnly beside his mistress, with an air of conscious elegance. There was something at first slightly ridiculous in the sight of a young lady gravely appended to an animal of these incongruous attributes, and Roderick, with his customary frankness, greeted the spectacle with a confident smile. The young girl perceived it and turned her face full upon him, with a gaze intended apparently to enforce greater deference. It was not deference, however, her face provoked, but startled, submissive admiration; Roderick’s smile fell dead, and he sat eagerly staring. A pair of extraordinary dark blue eyes, a mass of dusky hair over a low forehead, a blooming oval of perfect purity, a flexible lip, just touched with disdain, the step and carriage of a tired princess—these were the general features of his vision. The young lady was walking slowly and letting her long dress rustle over the gravel; the young men had time to see her distinctly before she averted her face and went her way. She left a vague, sweet perfume behind her as she passed.
“Immortal powers!” cried Roderick, “what a vision! In the name of transcendent perfection, who is she?” He sprang up and stood looking after her until she rounded a turn in the avenue. “What a movement, what a manner, what a poise of the head! I wonder if she would sit to me.”
“You had better go and ask her,” said Rowland, laughing. “She is certainly most beautiful.”
“Beautiful? She’s beauty itself—she’s a revelation. I don’t believe she is living—she’s a phantasm, a vapor, an illusion!”
“The poodle,” said Rowland, “is certainly alive.”
“Nay, he too may be a grotesque phantom, like the black dog in Faust .”
“I hope at least that the young lady has nothing in common with Mephistopheles. She looked dangerous.”
“If beauty is immoral, as people think at Northampton,” said Roderick, “she is the incarnation of evil. The mamma and the queer old gentleman, moreover, are a pledge of her reality. Who are they all?”
“The Prince and Princess Ludovisi and the principessina ,” suggested Rowland.
“There are no such people,” said Roderick. “Besides, the little old man is not the papa.” Rowland smiled, wondering how he had ascertained these facts, and the young sculptor went on. “The old man is a Roman, a hanger-on of the mamma, a useful personage who now and then gets asked to dinner. The ladies are foreigners, from some Northern country; I won’t say which.”
“Perhaps from the State of Maine,” said Rowland.
“No, she’s not an American, I’ll lay a wager on that. She’s a daughter of this elder world. We shall see her again, I pray my stars; but if we don’t, I shall have done something I never expected to—I shall have had a glimpse of ideal beauty.” He sat down again and went on with his sketch of the Juno, scrawled away for ten minutes, and then handed the result in silence to Rowland. Rowland uttered an exclamation of surprise and applause. The drawing represented the Juno as to the position of the head, the brow, and the broad fillet across the hair; but the eyes, the mouth, the physiognomy were a vivid portrait of the young girl with the poodle. “I have been wanting a subject,” said Roderick: “there’s one made to my hand! And now for work!”
They saw no more of the young girl, though Roderick looked hopefully, for some days, into the carriages on the Pincian. She had evidently been but passing through Rome; Naples or Florence now happily possessed her, and she was guiding her fleecy companion through the Villa Reale or the Boboli Gardens with the same superb defiance of irony. Roderick went to work and spent a month shut up in his studio; he had an idea, and he was not to rest till he had embodied it. He had established himself in the basement of a huge, dusky, dilapidated old house, in that long, tortuous, and preeminently Roman street which leads from the Corso to the Bridge of St. Angelo. The black archway which admitted you might have served as the portal of the Augean stables, but you emerged presently upon a mouldy little court, of which the fourth side was formed by a narrow terrace, overhanging the Tiber. Here, along the parapet, were stationed half a dozen shapeless fragments of sculpture, with a couple of meagre orange-trees in terra-cotta tubs, and an oleander that never flowered. The unclean, historic river swept beneath; behind were dusky, reeking walls, spotted here and there with hanging rags and flower-pots in windows; opposite, at a distance, were the bare brown banks of the stream, the huge rotunda of St. Angelo, tipped with its seraphic statue, the dome of St. Peter’s, and the broad-topped pines of the Villa Doria. The place was crumbling and shabby and melancholy, but the river was delightful, the rent was a trifle, and everything was picturesque. Roderick was in the best humor with his quarters from the first, and was certain that the working mood there would be intenser in an hour than in twenty years of Northampton. His studio was a huge, empty room with a vaulted ceiling, covered with vague, dark traces of an old fresco, which Rowland, when he spent an hour with his friend, used to stare at vainly for some surviving coherence of floating draperies and clasping arms. Roderick had lodged himself economically in the same quarter. He occupied a fifth floor on the Ripetta, but he was only at home to sleep, for when he was not at work he was either lounging in Rowland’s more luxurious rooms or strolling through streets and churches and gardens.
Rowland had found a convenient corner in a stately old palace not far from the Fountain of Trevi, and made himself a home to which books and pictures and prints and odds and ends of curious furniture gave an air of leisurely permanence. He had the tastes of a collector; he spent half his afternoons ransacking the dusty magazines of the curiosity-mongers, and often made his way, in quest of a prize, into the heart of impecunious Roman households, which had been prevailed upon to listen—with closed doors and an impenetrably wary smile—to proposals for an hereditary “antique.” In the evening, often, under the lamp, amid dropped curtains and the scattered gleam of firelight upon polished carvings and mellow paintings, the two friends sat with their heads together, criticising intaglios and etchings, water-color drawings and illuminated missals. Roderick’s quick appreciation of every form of artistic beauty reminded his companion of the flexible temperament of those Italian artists of the sixteenth century who were indifferently painters and sculptors, sonneteers and engravers. At times when he saw how the young sculptor’s day passed in a single sustained pulsation, while his own was broken into a dozen conscious devices for disposing of the hours, and intermingled with sighs, half suppressed, some of them, for conscience’ sake, over what he failed of in action and missed in possession—he felt a pang of something akin to envy. But Rowland had two substantial aids for giving patience the air of contentment: he was an inquisitive reader and a passionate rider. He plunged into bulky German octavos on Italian history, and he spent long afternoons in the saddle, ranging over the grassy desolation of the Campagna. As the season went on and the social groups began to constitute themselves, he found that he knew a great many people and that he had easy opportunity for knowing others. He enjoyed a quiet corner of a drawing-room beside an agreeable woman, and although the machinery of what calls itself society seemed to him to have many superfluous wheels, he accepted invitations and made visits punctiliously, from the conviction that the only way not to be overcome by the ridiculous side of most of such observances is to take them with exaggerated gravity. He introduced Roderick right and left, and suffered him to make his way himself—an enterprise for which Roderick very soon displayed an all-sufficient capacity. Wherever he went he made, not exactly what is called a favorable impression, but what, from a practical point of view, is better—a puzzling one. He took to evening parties as a duck to water, and before the winter was half over was the most freely and frequently discussed young man in the heterogeneous foreign colony. Rowland’s theory of his own duty was to let him run his course and play his cards, only holding himself ready to point out shoals and pitfalls, and administer a friendly propulsion through tight places. Roderick’s manners on the precincts of the Pincian were quite the same as his manners on Cecilia’s veranda: that is, they were no manners at all. But it remained as true as before that it would have been impossible, on the whole, to violate ceremony with less of lasting offense. He interrupted, he contradicted, he spoke to people he had never seen, and left his social creditors without the smallest conversational interest on their loans; he lounged and yawned, he talked loud when he should have talked low, and low when he should have talked loud. Many people, in consequence, thought him insufferably conceited, and declared that he ought to wait till he had something to show for his powers, before he assumed the airs of a spoiled celebrity. But to Rowland and to most friendly observers this judgment was quite beside the mark, and the young man’s undiluted naturalness was its own justification. He was impulsive, spontaneous, sincere; there were so many people at dinner-tables and in studios who were not, that it seemed worth while to allow this rare specimen all possible freedom of action. If Roderick took the words out of your mouth when you were just prepared to deliver them with the most effective accent, he did it with a perfect good conscience and with no pretension of a better right to being heard, but simply because he was full to overflowing of his own momentary thought and it sprang from his lips without asking leave. There were persons who waited on your periods much more deferentially, who were a hundred times more capable than Roderick of a reflective impertinence. Roderick received from various sources, chiefly feminine, enough finely-adjusted advice to have established him in life as an embodiment of the proprieties, and he received it, as he afterwards listened to criticisms on his statues, with unfaltering candor and good-humor. Here and there, doubtless, as he went, he took in a reef in his sail; but he was too adventurous a spirit to be successfully tamed, and he remained at most points the florid, rather strident young Virginian whose serene inflexibility had been the despair of Mr. Striker. All this was what friendly commentators (still chiefly feminine) alluded to when they spoke of his delightful freshness, and critics of harsher sensibilities (of the other sex) when they denounced his damned impertinence. His appearance enforced these impressions—his handsome face, his radiant, unaverted eyes, his childish, unmodulated voice. Afterwards, when those who loved him were in tears, there was something in all this unspotted comeliness that seemed to lend a mockery to the causes of their sorrow.
Certainly, among the young men of genius who, for so many ages, have gone up to Rome to test their powers, none ever made a fairer beginning than Roderick. He rode his two horses at once with extraordinary good fortune; he established the happiest modus vivendi betwixt work and play. He wrestled all day with a mountain of clay in his studio, and chattered half the night away in Roman drawing-rooms. It all seemed part of a kind of divine facility. He was passionately interested, he was feeling his powers; now that they had thoroughly kindled in the glowing aesthetic atmosphere of Rome, the ardent young fellow should be pardoned for believing that he never was to see the end of them. He enjoyed immeasurably, after the chronic obstruction of home, the downright act of production. He kept models in his studio till they dropped with fatigue; he drew, on other days, at the Capitol and the Vatican, till his own head swam with his eagerness, and his limbs stiffened with the cold. He had promptly set up a life-sized figure which he called an “Adam,” and was pushing it rapidly toward completion. There were naturally a great many wiseheads who smiled at his precipitancy, and cited him as one more example of Yankee crudity, a capital recruit to the great army of those who wish to dance before they can walk. They were right, but Roderick was right too, for the success of his statue was not to have been foreseen; it partook, really, of the miraculous. He never surpassed it afterwards, and a good judge here and there has been known to pronounce it the finest piece of sculpture of our modern era. To Rowland it seemed to justify superbly his highest hopes of his friend, and he said to himself that if he had invested his happiness in fostering a genius, he ought now to be in possession of a boundless complacency. There was something especially confident and masterly in the artist’s negligence of all such small picturesque accessories as might serve to label his figure to a vulgar apprehension. If it represented the father of the human race and the primal embodiment of human sensation, it did so in virtue of its look of balanced physical perfection, and deeply, eagerly sentient vitality. Rowland, in fraternal zeal, traveled up to Carrara and selected at the quarries the most magnificent block of marble he could find, and when it came down to Rome, the two young men had a “celebration.” They drove out to Albano, breakfasted boisterously (in their respective measure) at the inn, and lounged away the day in the sun on the top of Monte Cavo. Roderick’s head was full of ideas for other works, which he described with infinite spirit and eloquence, as vividly as if they were ranged on their pedestals before him. He had an indefatigable fancy; things he saw in the streets, in the country, things he heard and read, effects he saw just missed or half-expressed in the works of others, acted upon his mind as a kind of challenge, and he was terribly restless until, in some form or other, he had taken up the glove and set his lance in rest.
The Adam was put into marble, and all the world came to see it. Of the criticisms passed upon it this history undertakes to offer no record; over many of them the two young men had a daily laugh for a month, and certain of the formulas of the connoisseurs, restrictive or indulgent, furnished Roderick with a permanent supply of humorous catch-words. But people enough spoke flattering good-sense to make Roderick feel as if he were already half famous. The statue passed formally into Rowland’s possession, and was paid for as if an illustrious name had been chiseled on the pedestal. Poor Roderick owed every franc of the money. It was not for this, however, but because he was so gloriously in the mood, that, denying himself all breathing-time, on the same day he had given the last touch to the Adam, he began to shape the rough contour of an Eve. This went forward with equal rapidity and success. Roderick lost his temper, time and again, with his models, who offered but a gross, degenerate image of his splendid ideal; but his ideal, as he assured Rowland, became gradually such a fixed, vivid presence, that he had only to shut his eyes to behold a creature far more to his purpose than the poor girl who stood posturing at forty sous an hour. The Eve was finished in a month, and the feat was extraordinary, as well as the statue, which represented an admirably beautiful woman. When the spring began to muffle the rugged old city with its clambering festoons, it seemed to him that he had done a handsome winter’s work and had fairly earned a holiday. He took a liberal one, and lounged away the lovely Roman May, doing nothing. He looked very contented; with himself, perhaps, at times, a trifle too obviously. But who could have said without good reason? He was “flushed with triumph;” this classic phrase portrayed him, to Rowland’s sense. He would lose himself in long reveries, and emerge from them with a quickened smile and a heightened color. Rowland grudged him none of his smiles, and took an extreme satisfaction in his two statues. He had the Adam and the Eve transported to his own apartment, and one warm evening in May he gave a little dinner in honor of the artist. It was small, but Rowland had meant it should be very agreeably composed. He thought over his friends and chose four. They were all persons with whom he lived in a certain intimacy.
One of them was an American sculptor of French extraction, or remotely, perhaps, of Italian, for he rejoiced in the somewhat fervid name of Gloriani. He was a man of forty, he had been living for years in Paris and in Rome, and he now drove a very pretty trade in sculpture of the ornamental and fantastic sort. In his youth he had had money; but he had spent it recklessly, much of it scandalously, and at twenty-six had found himself obliged to make capital of his talent. This was quite inimitable, and fifteen years of indefatigable exercise had brought it to perfection. Rowland admitted its power, though it gave him very little pleasure; what he relished in the man was the extraordinary vivacity and frankness, not to call it the impudence, of his ideas. He had a definite, practical scheme of art, and he knew at least what he meant. In this sense he was solid and complete. There were so many of the aesthetic fraternity who were floundering in unknown seas, without a notion of which way their noses were turned, that Gloriani, conscious and compact, unlimitedly intelligent and consummately clever, dogmatic only as to his own duties, and at once gracefully deferential and profoundly indifferent to those of others, had for Rowland a certain intellectual refreshment quite independent of the character of his works. These were considered by most people to belong to a very corrupt, and by many to a positively indecent school. Others thought them tremendously knowing, and paid enormous prices for them; and indeed, to be able to point to one of Gloriani’s figures in a shady corner of your library was tolerable proof that you were not a fool. Corrupt things they certainly were; in the line of sculpture they were quite the latest fruit of time. It was the artist’s opinion that there is no essential difference between beauty and ugliness; that they overlap and intermingle in a quite inextricable manner; that there is no saying where one begins and the other ends; that hideousness grimaces at you suddenly from out of the very bosom of loveliness, and beauty blooms before your eyes in the lap of vileness; that it is a waste of wit to nurse metaphysical distinctions, and a sadly meagre entertainment to caress imaginary lines; that the thing to aim at is the expressive, and the way to reach it is by ingenuity; that for this purpose everything may serve, and that a consummate work is a sort of hotch-potch of the pure and the impure, the graceful and the grotesque. Its prime duty is to amuse, to puzzle, to fascinate, to savor of a complex imagination. Gloriani’s statues were florid and meretricious; they looked like magnified goldsmith’s work. They were extremely elegant, but they had no charm for Rowland. He never bought one, but Gloriani was such an honest fellow, and withal was so deluged with orders, that this made no difference in their friendship. The artist might have passed for a Frenchman. He was a great talker, and a very picturesque one; he was almost bald; he had a small, bright eye, a broken nose, and a moustache with waxed ends. When sometimes he received you at his lodging, he introduced you to a lady with a plain face whom he called Madame Gloriani—which she was not.
Rowland’s second guest was also an artist, but of a very different type. His friends called him Sam Singleton; he was an American, and he had been in Rome a couple of years. He painted small landscapes, chiefly in water-colors: Rowland had seen one of them in a shop window, had liked it extremely, and, ascertaining his address, had gone to see him and found him established in a very humble studio near the Piazza Barberini, where, apparently, fame and fortune had not yet found him out. Rowland took a fancy to him and bought several of his pictures; Singleton made few speeches, but was grateful. Rowland heard afterwards that when he first came to Rome he painted worthless daubs and gave no promise of talent. Improvement had come, however, hand in hand with patient industry, and his talent, though of a slender and delicate order, was now incontestable. It was as yet but scantily recognized, and he had hard work to live. Rowland hung his little water-colors on the parlor wall, and found that, as he lived with them, he grew very fond of them. Singleton was a diminutive, dwarfish personage; he looked like a precocious child. He had a high, protuberant forehead, a transparent brown eye, a perpetual smile, an extraordinary expression of modesty and patience. He listened much more willingly than he talked, with a little fixed, grateful grin; he blushed when he spoke, and always offered his ideas in a sidelong fashion, as if the presumption were against them. His modesty set them off, and they were eminently to the point. He was so perfect an example of the little noiseless, laborious artist whom chance, in the person of a moneyed patron, has never taken by the hand, that Rowland would have liked to befriend him by stealth. Singleton had expressed a fervent admiration for Roderick’s productions, but had not yet met the young master. Roderick was lounging against the chimney-piece when he came in, and Rowland presently introduced him. The little water-colorist stood with folded hands, blushing, smiling, and looking up at him as if Roderick were himself a statue on a pedestal. Singleton began to murmur something about his pleasure, his admiration; the desire to make his compliment smoothly gave him a kind of grotesque formalism. Roderick looked down at him surprised, and suddenly burst into a laugh. Singleton paused a moment and then, with an intenser smile, went on: “Well, sir, your statues are beautiful, all the same!”
Rowland’s two other guests were ladies, and one of them, Miss Blanchard, belonged also to the artistic fraternity. She was an American, she was young, she was pretty, and she had made her way to Rome alone and unaided. She lived alone, or with no other duenna than a bushy-browed old serving-woman, though indeed she had a friendly neighbor in the person of a certain Madame Grandoni, who in various social emergencies lent her a protecting wing, and had come with her to Rowland’s dinner. Miss Blanchard had a little money, but she was not above selling her pictures. These represented generally a bunch of dew-sprinkled roses, with the dew-drops very highly finished, or else a wayside shrine, and a peasant woman, with her back turned, kneeling before it. She did backs very well, but she was a little weak in faces. Flowers, however, were her speciality, and though her touch was a little old-fashioned and finical, she painted them with remarkable skill. Her pictures were chiefly bought by the English. Rowland had made her acquaintance early in the winter, and as she kept a saddle horse and rode a great deal, he had asked permission to be her cavalier. In this way they had become almost intimate. Miss Blanchard’s name was Augusta; she was slender, pale, and elegant looking; she had a very pretty head and brilliant auburn hair, which she braided with classical simplicity. She talked in a sweet, soft voice, used language at times a trifle superfine, and made literary allusions. These had often a patriotic strain, and Rowland had more than once been irritated by her quotations from Mrs. Sigourney in the cork-woods of Monte Mario, and from Mr. Willis among the ruins of Veii. Rowland was of a dozen different minds about her, and was half surprised, at times, to find himself treating it as a matter of serious moment whether he liked her or not. He admired her, and indeed there was something admirable in her combination of beauty and talent, of isolation and tranquil self-support. He used sometimes to go into the little, high-niched, ordinary room which served her as a studio, and find her working at a panel six inches square, at an open casement, profiled against the deep blue Roman sky. She received him with a meek-eyed dignity that made her seem like a painted saint on a church window, receiving the daylight in all her being. The breath of reproach passed her by with folded wings. And yet Rowland wondered why he did not like her better. If he failed, the reason was not far to seek. There was another woman whom he liked better, an image in his heart which refused to yield precedence.
On that evening to which allusion has been made, when Rowland was left alone between the starlight and the waves with the sudden knowledge that Mary Garland was to become another man’s wife, he had made, after a while, the simple resolution to forget her. And every day since, like a famous philosopher who wished to abbreviate his mourning for a faithful servant, he had said to himself in substance—“Remember to forget Mary Garland.” Sometimes it seemed as if he were succeeding; then, suddenly, when he was least expecting it, he would find her name, inaudibly, on his lips, and seem to see her eyes meeting his eyes. All this made him uncomfortable, and seemed to portend a possible discord. Discord was not to his taste; he shrank from imperious passions, and the idea of finding himself jealous of an unsuspecting friend was absolutely repulsive. More than ever, then, the path of duty was to forget Mary Garland, and he cultivated oblivion, as we may say, in the person of Miss Blanchard. Her fine temper, he said to himself, was a trifle cold and conscious, her purity prudish, perhaps, her culture pedantic. But since he was obliged to give up hopes of Mary Garland, Providence owed him a compensation, and he had fits of angry sadness in which it seemed to him that to attest his right to sentimental satisfaction he would be capable of falling in love with a woman he absolutely detested, if she were the best that came in his way. And what was the use, after all, of bothering about a possible which was only, perhaps, a dream? Even if Mary Garland had been free, what right had he to assume that he would have pleased her? The actual was good enough. Miss Blanchard had beautiful hair, and if she was a trifle old-maidish, there is nothing like matrimony for curing old-maidishness.
Madame Grandoni, who had formed with the companion of Rowland’s rides an alliance which might have been called defensive on the part of the former and attractive on that of Miss Blanchard, was an excessively ugly old lady, highly esteemed in Roman society for her homely benevolence and her shrewd and humorous good sense. She had been the widow of a German archaeologist, who had come to Rome in the early ages as an attache of the Prussian legation on the Capitoline. Her good sense had been wanting on but a single occasion, that of her second marriage. This occasion was certainly a momentous one, but these, by common consent, are not test cases. A couple of years after her first husband’s death, she had accepted the hand and the name of a Neapolitan music-master, ten years younger than herself, and with no fortune but his fiddle-bow. The marriage was most unhappy, and the Maestro Grandoni was suspected of using the fiddle-bow as an instrument of conjugal correction. He had finally run off with a prima donna assoluta , who, it was to be hoped, had given him a taste of the quality implied in her title. He was believed to be living still, but he had shrunk to a small black spot in Madame Grandoni’s life, and for ten years she had not mentioned his name. She wore a light flaxen wig, which was never very artfully adjusted, but this mattered little, as she made no secret of it. She used to say, “I was not always so ugly as this; as a young girl I had beautiful golden hair, very much the color of my wig.” She had worn from time immemorial an old blue satin dress, and a white crape shawl embroidered in colors; her appearance was ridiculous, but she had an interminable Teutonic pedigree, and her manners, in every presence, were easy and jovial, as became a lady whose ancestor had been cup-bearer to Frederick Barbarossa. Thirty years’ observation of Roman society had sharpened her wits and given her an inexhaustible store of anecdotes, but she had beneath her crumpled bodice a deep-welling fund of Teutonic sentiment, which she communicated only to the objects of her particular favor. Rowland had a great regard for her, and she repaid it by wishing him to get married. She never saw him without whispering to him that Augusta Blanchard was just the girl.
It seemed to Rowland a sort of foreshadowing of matrimony to see Miss Blanchard standing gracefully on his hearth-rug and blooming behind the central bouquet at his circular dinner-table. The dinner was very prosperous and Roderick amply filled his position as hero of the feast. He had always an air of buoyant enjoyment in his work, but on this occasion he manifested a good deal of harmless pleasure in his glory. He drank freely and talked bravely; he leaned back in his chair with his hands in his pockets, and flung open the gates of his eloquence. Singleton sat gazing and listening open-mouthed, as if Apollo in person were talking. Gloriani showed a twinkle in his eye and an evident disposition to draw Roderick out. Rowland was rather regretful, for he knew that theory was not his friend’s strong point, and that it was never fair to take his measure from his talk.
“As you have begun with Adam and Eve,” said Gloriani, “I suppose you are going straight through the Bible.” He was one of the persons who thought Roderick delightfully fresh.
“I may make a David,” said Roderick, “but I shall not try any more of the Old Testament people. I don’t like the Jews; I don’t like pendulous noses. David, the boy David, is rather an exception; you can think of him and treat him as a young Greek. Standing forth there on the plain of battle between the contending armies, rushing forward to let fly his stone, he looks like a beautiful runner at the Olympic games. After that I shall skip to the New Testament. I mean to make a Christ.”
“You ‘ll put nothing of the Olympic games into him, I hope,” said Gloriani.
“Oh, I shall make him very different from the Christ of tradition; more—more”—and Roderick paused a moment to think. This was the first that Rowland had heard of his Christ.
“More rationalistic, I suppose,” suggested Miss Blanchard.
“More idealistic!” cried Roderick. “The perfection of form, you know, to symbolize the perfection of spirit.”
“For a companion piece,” said Miss Blanchard, “you ought to make a Judas.”
“Never! I mean never to make anything ugly. The Greeks never made anything ugly, and I’m a Hellenist; I’m not a Hebraist! I have been thinking lately of making a Cain, but I should never dream of making him ugly. He should be a very handsome fellow, and he should lift up the murderous club with the beautiful movement of the fighters in the Greek friezes who are chopping at their enemies.”
“There’s no use trying to be a Greek,” said Gloriani. “If Phidias were to come back, he would recommend you to give it up. I am half Italian and half French, and, as a whole, a Yankee. What sort of a Greek should I make? I think the Judas is a capital idea for a statue. Much obliged to you, madame, for the suggestion. What an insidious little scoundrel one might make of him, sitting there nursing his money-bag and his treachery! There can be a great deal of expression in a pendulous nose, my dear sir, especially when it is cast in green bronze.”
“Very likely,” said Roderick. “But it is not the sort of expression I care for. I care only for perfect beauty. There it is, if you want to know it! That’s as good a profession of faith as another. In future, so far as my things are not positively beautiful, you may set them down as failures. For me, it’s either that or nothing. It’s against the taste of the day, I know; we have really lost the faculty to understand beauty in the large, ideal way. We stand like a race with shrunken muscles, staring helplessly at the weights our forefathers easily lifted. But I don’t hesitate to proclaim it—I mean to lift them again! I mean to go in for big things; that’s my notion of my art. I mean to do things that will be simple and vast and infinite. You ‘ll see if they won’t be infinite! Excuse me if I brag a little; all those Italian fellows in the Renaissance used to brag. There was a sensation once common, I am sure, in the human breast—a kind of religious awe in the presence of a marble image newly created and expressing the human type in superhuman purity. When Phidias and Praxiteles had their statues of goddesses unveiled in the temples of the AEgean, don’t you suppose there was a passionate beating of hearts, a thrill of mysterious terror? I mean to bring it back; I mean to thrill the world again! I mean to produce a Juno that will make you tremble, a Venus that will make you swoon!”
“So that when we come and see you,” said Madame Grandoni, “we must be sure and bring our smelling-bottles. And pray have a few soft sofas conveniently placed.”
“Phidias and Praxiteles,” Miss Blanchard remarked, “had the advantage of believing in their goddesses. I insist on believing, for myself, that the pagan mythology is not a fiction, and that Venus and Juno and Apollo and Mercury used to come down in a cloud into this very city of Rome where we sit talking nineteenth century English.”
“Nineteenth century nonsense, my dear!” cried Madame Grandoni. “Mr. Hudson may be a new Phidias, but Venus and Juno—that’s you and I—arrived to-day in a very dirty cab; and were cheated by the driver, too.”
“But, my dear fellow,” objected Gloriani, “you don’t mean to say you are going to make over in cold blood those poor old exploded Apollos and Hebes.”
“It won’t matter what you call them,” said Roderick. “They shall be simply divine forms. They shall be Beauty; they shall be Wisdom; they shall be Power; they shall be Genius; they shall be Daring. That’s all the Greek divinities were.”
“That’s rather abstract, you know,” said Miss Blanchard.
“My dear fellow,” cried Gloriani, “you ‘re delightfully young.”
“I hope you’ll not grow any older,” said Singleton, with a flush of sympathy across his large white forehead. “You can do it if you try.”
“Then there are all the Forces and Mysteries and Elements of Nature,” Roderick went on. “I mean to do the Morning; I mean to do the Night! I mean to do the Ocean and the Mountains; the Moon and the West Wind. I mean to make a magnificent statue of America!”
“America—the Mountains—the Moon!” said Gloriani. “You ‘ll find it rather hard, I’m afraid, to compress such subjects into classic forms.”
“Oh, there’s a way,” cried Roderick, “and I shall think it out. My figures shall make no contortions, but they shall mean a tremendous deal.”
“I’m sure there are contortions enough in Michael Angelo,” said Madame Grandoni. “Perhaps you don’t approve of him.”
“Oh, Michael Angelo was not me!” said Roderick, with sublimity. There was a great laugh; but after all, Roderick had done some fine things.
Rowland had bidden one of the servants bring him a small portfolio of prints, and had taken out a photograph of Roderick’s little statue of the youth drinking. It pleased him to see his friend sitting there in radiant ardor, defending idealism against so knowing an apostle of corruption as Gloriani, and he wished to help the elder artist to be confuted. He silently handed him the photograph.
“Bless me!” cried Gloriani, “did he do this?”
“Ages ago,” said Roderick.
Gloriani looked at the photograph a long time, with evident admiration.
“It’s deucedly pretty,” he said at last. “But, my dear young friend, you can’t keep this up.”
“I shall do better,” said Roderick.
“You will do worse! You will become weak. You will have to take to violence, to contortions, to romanticism, in self-defense. This sort of thing is like a man trying to lift himself up by the seat of his trousers. He may stand on tiptoe, but he can’t do more. Here you stand on tiptoe, very gracefully, I admit; but you can’t fly; there’s no use trying.”
“My ‘America’ shall answer you!” said Roderick, shaking toward him a tall glass of champagne and drinking it down.
Singleton had taken the photograph and was poring over it with a little murmur of delight.
“Was this done in America?” he asked.
“In a square white wooden house at Northampton, Massachusetts,” Roderick answered.
“Dear old white wooden houses!” said Miss Blanchard.
“If you could do as well as this there,” said Singleton, blushing and smiling, “one might say that really you had only to lose by coming to Rome.”
“Mallet is to blame for that,” said Roderick. “But I am willing to risk the loss.”
The photograph had been passed to Madame Grandoni. “It reminds me,” she said, “of the things a young man used to do whom I knew years ago, when I first came to Rome. He was a German, a pupil of Overbeck and a votary of spiritual art. He used to wear a black velvet tunic and a very low shirt collar; he had a neck like a sickly crane, and let his hair grow down to his shoulders. His name was Herr Schafgans. He never painted anything so profane as a man taking a drink, but his figures were all of the simple and slender and angular pattern, and nothing if not innocent—like this one of yours. He would not have agreed with Gloriani any more than you. He used to come and see me very often, and in those days I thought his tunic and his long neck infallible symptoms of genius. His talk was all of gilded aureoles and beatific visions; he lived on weak wine and biscuits, and wore a lock of Saint Somebody’s hair in a little bag round his neck. If he was not a Beato Angelico, it was not his own fault. I hope with all my heart that Mr. Hudson will do the fine things he talks about, but he must bear in mind the history of dear Mr. Schafgans as a warning against high-flown pretensions. One fine day this poor young man fell in love with a Roman model, though she had never sat to him, I believe, for she was a buxom, bold-faced, high-colored creature, and he painted none but pale, sickly women. He offered to marry her, and she looked at him from head to foot, gave a shrug, and consented. But he was ashamed to set up his menage in Rome. They went to Naples, and there, a couple of years afterwards, I saw him. The poor fellow was ruined. His wife used to beat him, and he had taken to drinking. He wore a ragged black coat, and he had a blotchy, red face. Madame had turned washerwoman and used to make him go and fetch the dirty linen. His talent had gone heaven knows where! He was getting his living by painting views of Vesuvius in eruption on the little boxes they sell at Sorrento.”
“Moral: don’t fall in love with a buxom Roman model,” said Roderick. “I’m much obliged to you for your story, but I don’t mean to fall in love with any one.”
Gloriani had possessed himself of the photograph again, and was looking at it curiously. “It’s a happy bit of youth,” he said. “But you can’t keep it up—you can’t keep it up!”
The two sculptors pursued their discussion after dinner, in the drawing-room. Rowland left them to have it out in a corner, where Roderick’s Eve stood over them in the shaded lamplight, in vague white beauty, like the guardian angel of the young idealist. Singleton was listening to Madame Grandoni, and Rowland took his place on the sofa, near Miss Blanchard. They had a good deal of familiar, desultory talk. Every now and then Madame Grandoni looked round at them. Miss Blanchard at last asked Rowland certain questions about Roderick: who he was, where he came from, whether it was true, as she had heard, that Rowland had discovered him and brought him out at his own expense. Rowland answered her questions; to the last he gave a vague affirmative. Finally, after a pause, looking at him, “You ‘re very generous,” Miss Blanchard said. The declaration was made with a certain richness of tone, but it brought to Rowland’s sense neither delight nor confusion. He had heard the words before; he suddenly remembered the grave sincerity with which Miss Garland had uttered them as he strolled with her in the woods the day of Roderick’s picnic. They had pleased him then; now he asked Miss Blanchard whether she would have some tea.
When the two ladies withdrew, he attended them to their carriage. Coming back to the drawing-room, he paused outside the open door; he was struck by the group formed by the three men. They were standing before Roderick’s statue of Eve, and the young sculptor had lifted up the lamp and was showing different parts of it to his companions. He was talking ardently, and the lamplight covered his head and face. Rowland stood looking on, for the group struck him with its picturesque symbolism. Roderick, bearing the lamp and glowing in its radiant circle, seemed the beautiful image of a genius which combined sincerity with power. Gloriani, with his head on one side, pulling his long moustache and looking keenly from half-closed eyes at the lighted marble, represented art with a worldly motive, skill unleavened by faith, the mere base maximum of cleverness. Poor little Singleton, on the other side, with his hands behind him, his head thrown back, and his eyes following devoutly the course of Roderick’s elucidation, might pass for an embodiment of aspiring candor, with feeble wings to rise on. In all this, Roderick’s was certainly the beau rôle .
Gloriani turned to Rowland as he came up, and pointed back with his thumb to the statue, with a smile half sardonic, half good-natured. “A pretty thing—a devilish pretty thing,” he said. “It’s as fresh as the foam in the milk-pail. He can do it once, he can do it twice, he can do it at a stretch half a dozen times. But— but —”
He was returning to his former refrain, but Rowland intercepted him. “Oh, he will keep it up,” he said, smiling, “I will answer for him.”
Gloriani was not encouraging, but Roderick had listened smiling. He was floating unperturbed on the tide of his deep self-confidence. Now, suddenly, however, he turned with a flash of irritation in his eye, and demanded in a ringing voice, “In a word, then, you prophesy that I am to fail?”
Gloriani answered imperturbably, patting him kindly on the shoulder. “My dear fellow, passion burns out, inspiration runs to seed. Some fine day every artist finds himself sitting face to face with his lump of clay, with his empty canvas, with his sheet of blank paper, waiting in vain for the revelation to be made, for the Muse to descend. He must learn to do without the Muse! When the fickle jade forgets the way to your studio, don’t waste any time in tearing your hair and meditating on suicide. Come round and see me, and I will show you how to console yourself.”
“If I break down,” said Roderick, passionately, “I shall stay down. If the Muse deserts me, she shall at least have her infidelity on her conscience.”
“You have no business,” Rowland said to Gloriani, “to talk lightly of the Muse in this company. Mr. Singleton, too, has received pledges from her which place her constancy beyond suspicion.” And he pointed out on the wall, near by, two small landscapes by the modest water-colorist.
The sculptor examined them with deference, and Singleton himself began to laugh nervously; he was trembling with hope that the great Gloriani would be pleased. “Yes, these are fresh too,” Gloriani said; “extraordinarily fresh! How old are you?”
“Twenty-six, sir,” said Singleton.
“For twenty-six they are famously fresh. They must have taken you a long time; you work slowly.”
“Yes, unfortunately, I work very slowly. One of them took me six weeks, the other two months.”
“Upon my word! The Muse pays you long visits.” And Gloriani turned and looked, from head to foot, at so unlikely an object of her favors. Singleton smiled and began to wipe his forehead very hard. “Oh, you!” said the sculptor; “you’ll keep it up!”
A week after his dinner-party, Rowland went into Roderick’s studio and found him sitting before an unfinished piece of work, with a hanging head and a heavy eye. He could have fancied that the fatal hour foretold by Gloriani had struck. Roderick rose with a sombre yawn and flung down his tools. “It’s no use,” he said, “I give it up!”
“What is it?”
“I have struck a shallow! I have been sailing bravely, but for the last day or two my keel has been crunching the bottom.”
“A difficult place?” Rowland asked, with a sympathetic inflection, looking vaguely at the roughly modeled figure.
“Oh, it’s not the poor clay!” Roderick answered. “The difficult place is here! ” And he struck a blow on his heart. “I don’t know what’s the matter with me. Nothing comes; all of a sudden I hate things. My old things look ugly; everything looks stupid.”
Rowland was perplexed. He was in the situation of a man who has been riding a blood horse at an even, elastic gallop, and of a sudden feels him stumble and balk. As yet, he reflected, he had seen nothing but the sunshine of genius; he had forgotten that it has its storms. Of course it had! And he felt a flood of comradeship rise in his heart which would float them both safely through the worst weather. “Why, you ‘re tired!” he said. “Of course you ‘re tired. You have a right to be!”
“Do you think I have a right to be?” Roderick asked, looking at him.
“Unquestionably, after all you have done.”
“Well, then, right or wrong, I am tired. I certainly have done a fair winter’s work. I want a change.”
Rowland declared that it was certainly high time they should be leaving Rome. They would go north and travel. They would go to Switzerland, to Germany, to Holland, to England. Roderick assented, his eye brightened, and Rowland talked of a dozen things they might do. Roderick walked up and down; he seemed to have something to say which he hesitated to bring out. He hesitated so rarely that Rowland wondered, and at last asked him what was on his mind. Roderick stopped before him, frowning a little.
“I have such unbounded faith in your good-will,” he said, “that I believe nothing I can say would offend you.”
“Try it,” said Rowland.
“Well, then, I think my journey will do me more good if I take it alone. I needn’t say I prefer your society to that of any man living. For the last six months it has been everything to me. But I have a perpetual feeling that you are expecting something of me, that you are measuring my doings by a terrifically high standard. You are watching me; I don’t want to be watched. I want to go my own way; to work when I choose and to loaf when I choose. It is not that I don’t know what I owe you; it is not that we are not friends. It is simply that I want a taste of absolutely unrestricted freedom. Therefore, I say, let us separate.”
Rowland shook him by the hand. “Willingly. Do as you desire, I shall miss you, and I venture to believe you’ll pass some lonely hours. But I have only one request to make: that if you get into trouble of any kind whatever, you will immediately let me know.”
They began their journey, however, together, and crossed the Alps side by side, muffled in one rug, on the top of the St. Gothard coach. Rowland was going to England to pay some promised visits; his companion had no plan save to ramble through Switzerland and Germany as fancy guided him. He had money, now, that would outlast the summer; when it was spent he would come back to Rome and make another statue. At a little mountain village by the way, Roderick declared that he would stop; he would scramble about a little in the high places and doze in the shade of the pine forests. The coach was changing horses; the two young men walked along the village street, picking their way between dunghills, breathing the light, cool air, and listening to the plash of the fountain and the tinkle of cattle-bells. The coach overtook them, and then Rowland, as he prepared to mount, felt an almost overmastering reluctance.
“Say the word,” he exclaimed, “and I will stop too.”
Roderick frowned. “Ah, you don’t trust me; you don’t think I’m able to take care of myself. That proves that I was right in feeling as if I were watched!”
“Watched, my dear fellow!” said Rowland. “I hope you may never have anything worse to complain of than being watched in the spirit in which I watch you. But I will spare you even that. Good-by!” Standing in his place, as the coach rolled away, he looked back at his friend lingering by the roadside. A great snow-mountain, behind Roderick, was beginning to turn pink in the sunset. The young man waved his hat, still looking grave. Rowland settled himself in his place, reflecting after all that this was a salubrious beginning of independence. He was among forests and glaciers, leaning on the pure bosom of nature. And then—and then—was it not in itself a guarantee against folly to be engaged to Mary Garland?
[]
Chapter IV. Experience
Rowland passed the summer in England, staying with several old friends and two or three new ones. On his arrival, he felt it on his conscience to write to Mrs. Hudson and inform her that her son had relieved him of his tutelage. He felt that she considered him an incorruptible Mentor, following Roderick like a shadow, and he wished to let her know the truth. But he made the truth very comfortable, and gave a succinct statement of the young man’s brilliant beginnings. He owed it to himself, he said, to remind her that he had not judged lightly, and that Roderick’s present achievements were more profitable than his inglorious drudgery at Messrs. Striker & Spooner’s. He was now taking a well-earned holiday and proposing to see a little of the world. He would work none the worse for this; every artist needed to knock about and look at things for himself. They had parted company for a couple of months, for Roderick was now a great man and beyond the need of going about with a keeper. But they were to meet again in Rome in the autumn, and then he should be able to send her more good news. Meanwhile, he was very happy in what Roderick had already done—especially happy in the happiness it must have brought to her. He ventured to ask to be kindly commended to Miss Garland.
His letter was promptly answered—to his surprise in Miss Garland’s own hand. The same mail brought also an epistle from Cecilia. The latter was voluminous, and we must content ourselves with giving an extract.
“Your letter was filled with an echo of that brilliant Roman world, which made me almost ill with envy. For a week after I got it I thought Northampton really unpardonably tame. But I am drifting back again to my old deeps of resignation, and I rush to the window, when any one passes, with all my old gratitude for small favors. So Roderick Hudson is already a great man, and you turn out to be a great prophet? My compliments to both of you; I never heard of anything working so smoothly. And he takes it all very quietly, and doesn’t lose his balance nor let it turn his head? You judged him, then, in a day better than I had done in six months, for I really did not expect that he would settle down into such a jog-trot of prosperity. I believed he would do fine things, but I was sure he would intersperse them with a good many follies, and that his beautiful statues would spring up out of the midst of a straggling plantation of wild oats. But from what you tell me, Mr. Striker may now go hang himself..... There is one thing, however, to say as a friend, in the way of warning. That candid soul can keep a secret, and he may have private designs on your equanimity which you don’t begin to suspect. What do you think of his being engaged to Miss Garland? The two ladies had given no hint of it all winter, but a fortnight ago, when those big photographs of his statues arrived, they first pinned them up on the wall, and then trotted out into the town, made a dozen calls, and announced the news. Mrs. Hudson did, at least; Miss Garland, I suppose, sat at home writing letters. To me, I confess, the thing was a perfect surprise. I had not a suspicion that all the while he was coming so regularly to make himself agreeable on my veranda, he was quietly preferring his cousin to any one else. Not, indeed, that he was ever at particular pains to make himself agreeable! I suppose he has picked up a few graces in Rome. But he must not acquire too many: if he is too polite when he comes back, Miss Garland will count him as one of the lost. She will be a very good wife for a man of genius, and such a one as they are often shrewd enough to take. She ‘ll darn his stockings and keep his accounts, and sit at home and trim the lamp and keep up the fire while he studies the Beautiful in pretty neighbors at dinner-parties. The two ladies are evidently very happy, and, to do them justice, very humbly grateful to you. Mrs. Hudson never speaks of you without tears in her eyes, and I am sure she considers you a specially patented agent of Providence. Verily, it’s a good thing for a woman to be in love: Miss Garland has grown almost pretty. I met her the other night at a tea-party; she had a white rose in her hair, and sang a sentimental ballad in a fine contralto voice.”
Miss Garland’s letter was so much shorter that we may give it entire:—
My dear Sir,—Mrs. Hudson, as I suppose you know, has been for some time unable to use her eyes. She requests me, therefore, to answer your favor of the 22d of June. She thanks you extremely for writing, and wishes me to say that she considers herself in every way under great obligations to you. Your account of her son’s progress and the high estimation in which he is held has made her very happy, and she earnestly prays that all may continue well with him. He sent us, a short time ago, several large photographs of his two statues, taken from different points of view. We know little about such things, but they seem to us wonderfully beautiful. We sent them to Boston to be handsomely framed, and the man, on returning them, wrote us that he had exhibited them for a week in his store, and that they had attracted great attention. The frames are magnificent, and the pictures now hang in a row on the parlor wall. Our only quarrel with them is that they make the old papering and the engravings look dreadfully shabby. Mr. Striker stood and looked at them the other day full five minutes, and said, at last, that if Roderick’s head was running on such things it was no wonder he could not learn to draw up a deed. We lead here so quiet and monotonous a life that I am afraid I can tell you nothing that will interest you. Mrs. Hudson requests me to say that the little more or less that may happen to us is of small account, as we live in our thoughts and our thoughts are fixed on her dear son. She thanks Heaven he has so good a friend. Mrs. Hudson says that this is too short a letter, but I can say nothing more.
Yours most respectfully, Mary Garland.
It is a question whether the reader will know why, but this letter gave Rowland extraordinary pleasure. He liked its very brevity and meagreness, and there seemed to him an exquisite modesty in its saying nothing from the young girl herself. He delighted in the formal address and conclusion; they pleased him as he had been pleased by an angular gesture in some expressive girlish figure in an early painting. The letter renewed that impression of strong feeling combined with an almost rigid simplicity, which Roderick’s betrothed had personally given him. And its homely stiffness seemed a vivid reflection of a life concentrated, as the young girl had borrowed warrant from her companion to say, in a single devoted idea. The monotonous days of the two women seemed to Rowland’s fancy to follow each other like the tick-tick of a great time-piece, marking off the hours which separated them from the supreme felicity of clasping the far-away son and lover to lips sealed with the excess of joy. He hoped that Roderick, now that he had shaken off the oppression of his own importunate faith, was not losing a tolerant temper for the silent prayers of the two women at Northampton.
He was left to vain conjectures, however, as to Roderick’s actual moods and occupations. He knew he was no letter-writer, and that, in the young sculptor’s own phrase, he had at any time rather build a monument than write a note. But when a month had passed without news of him, he began to be half anxious and half angry, and wrote him three lines, in the care of a Continental banker, begging him at least to give some sign of whether he was alive or dead. A week afterwards came an answer—brief, and dated Baden-Baden. “I know I have been a great brute,” Roderick wrote, “not to have sent you a word before; but really I don’t know what has got into me. I have lately learned terribly well how to be idle. I am afraid to think how long it is since I wrote to my mother or to Mary. Heaven help them—poor, patient, trustful creatures! I don’t know how to tell you what I am doing. It seems all amusing enough while I do it, but it would make a poor show in a narrative intended for your formidable eyes. I found Baxter in Switzerland, or rather he found me, and he grabbed me by the arm and brought me here. I was walking twenty miles a day in the Alps, drinking milk in lonely chalets, sleeping as you sleep, and thinking it was all very good fun; but Baxter told me it would never do, that the Alps were ‘d—d rot,’ that Baden-Baden was the place, and that if I knew what was good for me I would come along with him. It is a wonderful place, certainly, though, thank the Lord, Baxter departed last week, blaspheming horribly at trente et quarante . But you know all about it and what one does—what one is liable to do. I have succumbed, in a measure, to the liabilities, and I wish I had some one here to give me a thundering good blowing up. Not you, dear friend; you would draw it too mild; you have too much of the milk of human kindness. I have fits of horrible homesickness for my studio, and I shall be devoutly grateful when the summer is over and I can go back and swing a chisel. I feel as if nothing but the chisel would satisfy me; as if I could rush in a rage at a block of unshaped marble. There are a lot of the Roman people here, English and American; I live in the midst of them and talk nonsense from morning till night. There is also some one else; and to her I don’t talk sense, nor, thank heaven, mean what I say. I confess, I need a month’s work to recover my self-respect.”
These lines brought Rowland no small perturbation; the more, that what they seemed to point to surprised him. During the nine months of their companionship Roderick had shown so little taste for dissipation that Rowland had come to think of it as a canceled danger, and it greatly perplexed him to learn that his friend had apparently proved so pliant to opportunity. But Roderick’s allusions were ambiguous, and it was possible they might simply mean that he was out of patience with a frivolous way of life and fretting wholesomely over his absent work. It was a very good thing, certainly, that idleness should prove, on experiment, to sit heavily on his conscience. Nevertheless, the letter needed, to Rowland’s mind, a key: the key arrived a week later. “In common charity,” Roderick wrote, “lend me a hundred pounds! I have gambled away my last franc—I have made a mountain of debts. Send me the money first; lecture me afterwards!” Rowland sent the money by return of mail; then he proceeded, not to lecture, but to think. He hung his head; he was acutely disappointed. He had no right to be, he assured himself; but so it was. Roderick was young, impulsive, unpracticed in stoicism; it was a hundred to one that he was to pay the usual vulgar tribute to folly. But his friend had regarded it as securely gained to his own belief in virtue that he was not as other foolish youths are, and that he would have been capable of looking at folly in the face and passing on his way. Rowland for a while felt a sore sense of wrath. What right had a man who was engaged to that fine girl in Northampton to behave as if his consciousness were a common blank, to be overlaid with coarse sensations? Yes, distinctly, he was disappointed. He had accompanied his missive with an urgent recommendation to leave Baden-Baden immediately, and an offer to meet Roderick at any point he would name. The answer came promptly; it ran as follows: “Send me another fifty pounds! I have been back to the tables. I will leave as soon as the money comes, and meet you at Geneva. There I will tell you everything.”
There is an ancient terrace at Geneva, planted with trees and studded with benches, overlooked by gravely aristocratic old dwellings and overlooking the distant Alps. A great many generations have made it a lounging-place, a great many friends and lovers strolled there, a great many confidential talks and momentous interviews gone forward. Here, one morning, sitting on one of the battered green benches, Roderick, as he had promised, told his friend everything. He had arrived late the night before; he looked tired, and yet flushed and excited. He made no professions of penitence, but he practiced an unmitigated frankness, and his self-reprobation might be taken for granted. He implied in every phrase that he had done with it all, and that he was counting the hours till he could get back to work. We shall not rehearse his confession in detail; its main outline will be sufficient. He had fallen in with some very idle people, and had discovered that a little example and a little practice were capable of producing on his own part a considerable relish for their diversions. What could he do? He never read, and he had no studio; in one way or another he had to pass the time. He passed it in dangling about several very pretty women in wonderful Paris toilets, and reflected that it was always something gained for a sculptor to sit under a tree, looking at his leisure into a charming face and saying things that made it smile and play its muscles and part its lips and show its teeth. Attached to these ladies were certain gentlemen who walked about in clouds of perfume, rose at midday, and supped at midnight. Roderick had found himself in the mood for thinking them very amusing fellows. He was surprised at his own taste, but he let it take its course. It led him to the discovery that to live with ladies who expect you to present them with expensive bouquets, to ride with them in the Black Forest on well-looking horses, to come into their opera-boxes on nights when Patti sang and prices were consequent, to propose little light suppers at the Conversation House after the opera or drives by moonlight to the Castle, to be always arrayed and anointed, trinketed and gloved,—that to move in such society, we say, though it might be a privilege, was a privilege with a penalty attached. But the tables made such things easy; half the Baden world lived by the tables. Roderick tried them and found that at first they smoothed his path delightfully. This simplification of matters, however, was only momentary, for he soon perceived that to seem to have money, and to have it in fact, exposed a good-looking young man to peculiar liabilities. At this point of his friend’s narrative, Rowland was reminded of Madame de Cruchecassee in The Newcomes, and though he had listened in tranquil silence to the rest of it, he found it hard not to say that all this had been, under the circumstances, a very bad business. Roderick admitted it with bitterness, and then told how much—measured simply financially—it had cost him. His luck had changed; the tables had ceased to back him, and he had found himself up to his knees in debt. Every penny had gone of the solid sum which had seemed a large equivalent of those shining statues in Rome. He had been an ass, but it was not irreparable; he could make another statue in a couple of months.
Rowland frowned. “For heaven’s sake,” he said, “don’t play such dangerous games with your facility. If you have got facility, revere it, respect it, adore it, treasure it—don’t speculate on it.” And he wondered what his companion, up to his knees in debt, would have done if there had been no good-natured Rowland Mallet to lend a helping hand. But he did not formulate his curiosity audibly, and the contingency seemed not to have presented itself to Roderick’s imagination. The young sculptor reverted to his late adventures again in the evening, and this time talked of them more objectively, as the phrase is; more as if they had been the adventures of another person. He related half a dozen droll things that had happened to him, and, as if his responsibility had been disengaged by all this free discussion, he laughed extravagantly at the memory of them. Rowland sat perfectly grave, on principle. Then Roderick began to talk of half a dozen statues that he had in his head, and set forth his design, with his usual vividness. Suddenly, as it was relevant, he declared that his Baden doings had not been altogether fruitless, for that the lady who had reminded Rowland of Madame de Cruchecassee was tremendously statuesque. Rowland at last said that it all might pass if he felt that he was really the wiser for it. “By the wiser,” he added, “I mean the stronger in purpose, in will.”
“Oh, don’t talk about will!” Roderick answered, throwing back his head and looking at the stars. This conversation also took place in the open air, on the little island in the shooting Rhone where Jean-Jacques has a monument. “The will, I believe, is the mystery of mysteries. Who can answer for his will? who can say beforehand that it’s strong? There are all kinds of indefinable currents moving to and fro between one’s will and one’s inclinations. People talk as if the two things were essentially distinct; on different sides of one’s organism, like the heart and the liver. Mine, I know, are much nearer together. It all depends upon circumstances. I believe there is a certain group of circumstances possible for every man, in which his will is destined to snap like a dry twig.”
“My dear boy,” said Rowland, “don’t talk about the will being ‘destined.’ The will is destiny itself. That’s the way to look at it.”
“Look at it, my dear Rowland,” Roderick answered, “as you find most comfortable. One conviction I have gathered from my summer’s experience,” he went on—“it’s as well to look it frankly in the face—is that I possess an almost unlimited susceptibility to the influence of a beautiful woman.”
Rowland stared, then strolled away, softly whistling to himself. He was unwilling to admit even to himself that this speech had really the sinister meaning it seemed to have. In a few days the two young men made their way back to Italy, and lingered a while in Florence before going on to Rome. In Florence Roderick seemed to have won back his old innocence and his preference for the pleasures of study over any others. Rowland began to think of the Baden episode as a bad dream, or at the worst as a mere sporadic piece of disorder, without roots in his companion’s character. They passed a fortnight looking at pictures and exploring for out the way bits of fresco and carving, and Roderick recovered all his earlier fervor of appreciation and comment. In Rome he went eagerly to work again, and finished in a month two or three small things he had left standing on his departure. He talked the most joyous nonsense about finding himself back in his old quarters. On the first Sunday afternoon following their return, on their going together to Saint Peter’s, he delivered himself of a lyrical greeting to the great church and to the city in general, in a tone of voice so irrepressibly elevated that it rang through the nave in rather a scandalous fashion, and almost arrested a procession of canons who were marching across to the choir. He began to model a new statue—a female figure, of which he had said nothing to Rowland. It represented a woman, leaning lazily back in her chair, with her head drooping as if she were listening, a vague smile on her lips, and a pair of remarkably beautiful arms folded in her lap. With rather less softness of contour, it would have resembled the noble statue of Agrippina in the Capitol. Rowland looked at it and was not sure he liked it. “Who is it? what does it mean?” he asked.
“Anything you please!” said Roderick, with a certain petulance. “I call it A Reminiscence.”
Rowland then remembered that one of the Baden ladies had been “statuesque,” and asked no more questions. This, after all, was a way of profiting by experience. A few days later he took his first ride of the season on the Campagna, and as, on his homeward way, he was passing across the long shadow of a ruined tower, he perceived a small figure at a short distance, bent over a sketch-book. As he drew near, he recognized his friend Singleton. The honest little painter’s face was scorched to flame-color by the light of southern suns, and borrowed an even deeper crimson from his gleeful greeting of his most appreciative patron. He was making a careful and charming little sketch. On Rowland’s asking him how he had spent his summer, he gave an account of his wanderings which made poor Mallet sigh with a sense of more contrasts than one. He had not been out of Italy, but he had been delving deep into the picturesque heart of the lovely land, and gathering a wonderful store of subjects. He had rambled about among the unvisited villages of the Apennines, pencil in hand and knapsack on back, sleeping on straw and eating black bread and beans, but feasting on local color, rioting, as it were, on chiaroscuro, and laying up a treasure of pictorial observations. He took a devout satisfaction in his hard-earned wisdom and his happy frugality. Rowland went the next day, by appointment, to look at his sketches, and spent a whole morning turning them over. Singleton talked more than he had ever done before, explained them all, and told some quaintly humorous anecdote about the production of each.
“Dear me, how I have chattered!” he said at last. “I am afraid you had rather have looked at the things in peace and quiet. I didn’t know I could talk so much. But somehow, I feel very happy; I feel as if I had improved.”
“That you have,” said Rowland. “I doubt whether an artist ever passed a more profitable three months. You must feel much more sure of yourself.”
Singleton looked for a long time with great intentness at a knot in the floor. “Yes,” he said at last, in a fluttered tone, “I feel much more sure of myself. I have got more facility!” And he lowered his voice as if he were communicating a secret which it took some courage to impart. “I hardly like to say it, for fear I should after all be mistaken. But since it strikes you, perhaps it’s true. It’s a great happiness; I would not exchange it for a great deal of money.”
“Yes, I suppose it’s a great happiness,” said Rowland. “I shall really think of you as living here in a state of scandalous bliss. I don’t believe it’s good for an artist to be in such brutally high spirits.”
Singleton stared for a moment, as if he thought Rowland was in earnest; then suddenly fathoming the kindly jest, he walked about the room, scratching his head and laughing intensely to himself. “And Mr. Hudson?” he said, as Rowland was going; “I hope he is well and happy.”
“He is very well,” said Rowland. “He is back at work again.”
“Ah, there’s a man,” cried Singleton, “who has taken his start once for all, and doesn’t need to stop and ask himself in fear and trembling every month or two whether he is advancing or not. When he stops, it’s to rest! And where did he spend his summer?”
“The greater part of it at Baden-Baden.”
“Ah, that’s in the Black Forest,” cried Singleton, with profound simplicity. “They say you can make capital studies of trees there.”
“No doubt,” said Rowland, with a smile, laying an almost paternal hand on the little painter’s yellow head. “Unfortunately trees are not Roderick’s line. Nevertheless, he tells me that at Baden he made some studies. Come when you can, by the way,” he added after a moment, “to his studio, and tell me what you think of something he has lately begun.” Singleton declared that he would come delightedly, and Rowland left him to his work.
He met a number of his last winter’s friends again, and called upon Madame Grandoni, upon Miss Blanchard, and upon Gloriani, shortly after their return. The ladies gave an excellent account of themselves. Madame Grandoni had been taking sea-baths at Rimini, and Miss Blanchard painting wild flowers in the Tyrol. Her complexion was somewhat browned, which was very becoming, and her flowers were uncommonly pretty. Gloriani had been in Paris and had come away in high good-humor, finding no one there, in the artist-world, cleverer than himself. He came in a few days to Roderick’s studio, one afternoon when Rowland was present. He examined the new statue with great deference, said it was very promising, and abstained, considerately, from irritating prophecies. But Rowland fancied he observed certain signs of inward jubilation on the clever sculptor’s part, and walked away with him to learn his private opinion.
“Certainly; I liked it as well as I said,” Gloriani declared in answer to Rowland’s anxious query; “or rather I liked it a great deal better. I didn’t say how much, for fear of making your friend angry. But one can leave him alone now, for he’s coming round. I told you he couldn’t keep up the transcendental style, and he has already broken down. Don’t you see it yourself, man?”
“I don’t particularly like this new statue,” said Rowland.
“That’s because you ‘re a purist. It’s deuced clever, it’s deuced knowing, it’s deuced pretty, but it isn’t the topping high art of three months ago. He has taken his turn sooner than I supposed. What has happened to him? Has he been disappointed in love? But that’s none of my business. I congratulate him on having become a practical man.”
Roderick, however, was less to be congratulated than Gloriani had taken it into his head to believe. He was discontented with his work, he applied himself to it by fits and starts, he declared that he didn’t know what was coming over him; he was turning into a man of moods. “Is this of necessity what a fellow must come to”—he asked of Rowland, with a sort of peremptory flash in his eye, which seemed to imply that his companion had undertaken to insure him against perplexities and was not fulfilling his contract—“this damnable uncertainty when he goes to bed at night as to whether he is going to wake up in a working humor or in a swearing humor? Have we only a season, over before we know it, in which we can call our faculties our own? Six months ago I could stand up to my work like a man, day after day, and never dream of asking myself whether I felt like it. But now, some mornings, it’s the very devil to get going. My statue looks so bad when I come into the studio that I have twenty minds to smash it on the spot, and I lose three or four hours in sitting there, moping and getting used to it.”
Rowland said that he supposed that this sort of thing was the lot of every artist and that the only remedy was plenty of courage and faith. And he reminded him of Gloriani’s having forewarned him against these sterile moods the year before.
“Gloriani’s an ass!” said Roderick, almost fiercely. He hired a horse and began to ride with Rowland on the Campagna. This delicious amusement restored him in a measure to cheerfulness, but seemed to Rowland on the whole not to stimulate his industry. Their rides were always very long, and Roderick insisted on making them longer by dismounting in picturesque spots and stretching himself in the sun among a heap of overtangled stones. He let the scorching Roman luminary beat down upon him with an equanimity which Rowland found it hard to emulate. But in this situation Roderick talked so much amusing nonsense that, for the sake of his company, Rowland consented to be uncomfortable, and often forgot that, though in these diversions the days passed quickly, they brought forth neither high art nor low. And yet it was perhaps by their help, after all, that Roderick secured several mornings of ardent work on his new figure, and brought it to rapid completion. One afternoon, when it was finished, Rowland went to look at it, and Roderick asked him for his opinion.
“What do you think yourself?” Rowland demanded, not from pusillanimity, but from real uncertainty.
“I think it is curiously bad,” Roderick answered. “It was bad from the first; it has fundamental vices. I have shuffled them in a measure out of sight, but I have not corrected them. I can’t—I can’t—I can’t!” he cried passionately. “They stare me in the face—they are all I see!”
Rowland offered several criticisms of detail, and suggested certain practicable changes. But Roderick differed with him on each of these points; the thing had faults enough, but they were not those faults. Rowland, unruffled, concluded by saying that whatever its faults might be, he had an idea people in general would like it.
“I wish to heaven some person in particular would buy it, and take it off my hands and out of my sight!” Roderick cried. “What am I to do now?” he went on. “I haven’t an idea. I think of subjects, but they remain mere lifeless names. They are mere words—they are not images. What am I to do?”
Rowland was a trifle annoyed. “Be a man,” he was on the point of saying, “and don’t, for heaven’s sake, talk in that confoundedly querulous voice.” But before he had uttered the words, there rang through the studio a loud, peremptory ring at the outer door.
Roderick broke into a laugh. “Talk of the devil,” he said, “and you see his horns! If that’s not a customer, it ought to be.”
The door of the studio was promptly flung open, and a lady advanced to the threshold—an imposing, voluminous person, who quite filled up the doorway. Rowland immediately felt that he had seen her before, but he recognized her only when she moved forward and disclosed an attendant in the person of a little bright-eyed, elderly gentleman, with a bristling white moustache. Then he remembered that just a year before he and his companion had seen in the Ludovisi gardens a wonderfully beautiful girl, strolling in the train of this conspicuous couple. He looked for her now, and in a moment she appeared, following her companions with the same nonchalant step as before, and leading her great snow-white poodle, decorated with motley ribbons. The elder lady offered the two young men a sufficiently gracious salute; the little old gentleman bowed and smiled with extreme alertness. The young girl, without casting a glance either at Roderick or at Rowland, looked about for a chair, and, on perceiving one, sank into it listlessly, pulled her poodle towards her, and began to rearrange his top-knot. Rowland saw that, even with her eyes dropped, her beauty was still dazzling.
“I trust we are at liberty to enter,” said the elder lady, with majesty. “We were told that Mr. Hudson had no fixed day, and that we might come at any time. Let us not disturb you.”
Roderick, as one of the lesser lights of the Roman art-world, had not hitherto been subject to incursions from inquisitive tourists, and, having no regular reception day, was not versed in the usual formulas of welcome. He said nothing, and Rowland, looking at him, saw that he was looking amazedly at the young girl and was apparently unconscious of everything else. “By Jove!” he cried precipitately, “it’s that goddess of the Villa Ludovisi!” Rowland in some confusion, did the honors as he could, but the little old gentleman begged him with the most obsequious of smiles to give himself no trouble. “I have been in many a studio!” he said, with his finger on his nose and a strong Italian accent.
“We are going about everywhere,” said his companion. “I am passionately fond of art!”
Rowland smiled sympathetically, and let them turn to Roderick’s statue. He glanced again at the young sculptor, to invite him to bestir himself, but Roderick was still gazing wide-eyed at the beautiful young mistress of the poodle, who by this time had looked up and was gazing straight at him. There was nothing bold in her look; it expressed a kind of languid, imperturbable indifference. Her beauty was extraordinary; it grew and grew as the young man observed her. In such a face the maidenly custom of averted eyes and ready blushes would have seemed an anomaly; nature had produced it for man’s delight and meant that it should surrender itself freely and coldly to admiration. It was not immediately apparent, however, that the young lady found an answering entertainment in the physiognomy of her host; she turned her head after a moment and looked idly round the room, and at last let her eyes rest on the statue of the woman seated. It being left to Rowland to stimulate conversation, he began by complimenting her on the beauty of her dog.
“Yes, he’s very handsome,” she murmured. “He’s a Florentine. The dogs in Florence are handsomer than the people.” And on Rowland’s caressing him: “His name is Stenterello,” she added. “Stenterello, give your hand to the gentleman.” This order was given in Italian. “Say buon giorno a lei .”
Stenterello thrust out his paw and gave four short, shrill barks; upon which the elder lady turned round and raised her forefinger.
“My dear, my dear, remember where you are! Excuse my foolish child,” she added, turning to Roderick with an agreeable smile. “She can think of nothing but her poodle.”
“I am teaching him to talk for me,” the young girl went on, without heeding her mother; “to say little things in society. It will save me a great deal of trouble. Stenterello, love, give a pretty smile and say tanti complimenti! ” The poodle wagged his white pate—it looked like one of those little pads in swan’s-down, for applying powder to the face—and repeated the barking process.
“He is a wonderful beast,” said Rowland.
“He is not a beast,” said the young girl. “A beast is something black and dirty—something you can’t touch.”
“He is a very valuable dog,” the elder lady explained. “He was presented to my daughter by a Florentine nobleman.”
“It is not for that I care about him. It is for himself. He is better than the prince.”
“My dear, my dear!” repeated the mother in deprecating accents, but with a significant glance at Rowland which seemed to bespeak his attention to the glory of possessing a daughter who could deal in that fashion with the aristocracy.
Rowland remembered that when their unknown visitors had passed before them, a year previous, in the Villa Ludovisi, Roderick and he had exchanged conjectures as to their nationality and social quality. Roderick had declared that they were old-world people; but Rowland now needed no telling to feel that he might claim the elder lady as a fellow-countrywoman. She was a person of what is called a great deal of presence, with the faded traces, artfully revived here and there, of once brilliant beauty. Her daughter had come lawfully by her loveliness, but Rowland mentally made the distinction that the mother was silly and that the daughter was not. The mother had a very silly mouth—a mouth, Rowland suspected, capable of expressing an inordinate degree of unreason. The young girl, in spite of her childish satisfaction in her poodle, was not a person of feeble understanding. Rowland received an impression that, for reasons of her own, she was playing a part. What was the part and what were her reasons? She was interesting; Rowland wondered what were her domestic secrets. If her mother was a daughter of the great Republic, it was to be supposed that the young girl was a flower of the American soil; but her beauty had a robustness and tone uncommon in the somewhat facile loveliness of our western maidenhood. She spoke with a vague foreign accent, as if she had spent her life in strange countries. The little Italian apparently divined Rowland’s mute imaginings, for he presently stepped forward, with a bow like a master of ceremonies. “I have not done my duty,” he said, “in not announcing these ladies. Mrs. Light, Miss Light!”
Rowland was not materially the wiser for this information, but Roderick was aroused by it to the exercise of some slight hospitality. He altered the light, pulled forward two or three figures, and made an apology for not having more to show. “I don’t pretend to have anything of an exhibition—I am only a novice.”
“Indeed?—a novice! For a novice this is very well,” Mrs. Light declared. “Cavaliere, we have seen nothing better than this.”
The Cavaliere smiled rapturously. “It is stupendous!” he murmured. “And we have been to all the studios.”
“Not to all—heaven forbid!” cried Mrs. Light. “But to a number that I have had pointed out by artistic friends. I delight in studios: they are the temples of the beautiful here below. And if you are a novice, Mr. Hudson,” she went on, “you have already great admirers. Half a dozen people have told us that yours were among the things to see.” This gracious speech went unanswered; Roderick had already wandered across to the other side of the studio and was revolving about Miss Light. “Ah, he’s gone to look at my beautiful daughter; he is not the first that has had his head turned,” Mrs. Light resumed, lowering her voice to a confidential undertone; a favor which, considering the shortness of their acquaintance, Rowland was bound to appreciate. “The artists are all crazy about her. When she goes into a studio she is fatal to the pictures. And when she goes into a ball-room what do the other women say? Eh, Cavaliere?”
“She is very beautiful,” Rowland said, gravely.
Mrs. Light, who through her long, gold-cased glass was looking a little at everything, and at nothing as if she saw it, interrupted her random murmurs and exclamations, and surveyed Rowland from head to foot. She looked at him all over; apparently he had not been mentioned to her as a feature of Roderick’s establishment. It was the gaze, Rowland felt, which the vigilant and ambitious mamma of a beautiful daughter has always at her command for well-dressed young men of candid physiognomy. Her inspection in this case seemed satisfactory. “Are you also an artist?” she inquired with an almost caressing inflection. It was clear that what she meant was something of this kind: “Be so good as to assure me without delay that you are really the young man of substance and amiability that you appear.”
But Rowland answered simply the formal question—not the latent one. “Dear me, no; I am only a friend of Mr. Hudson.”
Mrs. Light, with a sigh, returned to the statues, and after mistaking the Adam for a gladiator, and the Eve for a Pocahontas, declared that she could not judge of such things unless she saw them in the marble. Rowland hesitated a moment, and then speaking in the interest of Roderick’s renown, said that he was the happy possessor of several of his friend’s works and that she was welcome to come and see them at his rooms. She bade the Cavaliere make a note of his address. “Ah, you ‘re a patron of the arts,” she said. “That’s what I should like to be if I had a little money. I delight in beauty in every form. But all these people ask such monstrous prices. One must be a millionaire, to think of such things, eh? Twenty years ago my husband had my portrait painted, here in Rome, by Papucci, who was the great man in those days. I was in a ball dress, with all my jewels, my neck and arms, and all that. The man got six hundred francs, and thought he was very well treated. Those were the days when a family could live like princes in Italy for five thousand scudi a year. The Cavaliere once upon a time was a great dandy—don’t blush, Cavaliere; any one can see that, just as any one can see that I was once a pretty woman! Get him to tell you what he made a figure upon. The railroads have brought in the vulgarians. That’s what I call it now—the invasion of the vulgarians! What are poor we to do?”
Rowland had begun to murmur some remedial proposition, when he was interrupted by the voice of Miss Light calling across the room, “Mamma!”
“My own love?”
“This gentleman wishes to model my bust. Please speak to him.”
The Cavaliere gave a little chuckle. “Already?” he cried.
Rowland looked round, equally surprised at the promptitude of the proposal. Roderick stood planted before the young girl with his arms folded, looking at her as he would have done at the Medicean Venus. He never paid compliments, and Rowland, though he had not heard him speak, could imagine the startling distinctness with which he made his request.
“He saw me a year ago,” the young girl went on, “and he has been thinking of me ever since.” Her tone, in speaking, was peculiar; it had a kind of studied inexpressiveness, which was yet not the vulgar device of a drawl.
“I must make your daughter’s bust—that’s all, madame!” cried Roderick, with warmth.
“I had rather you made the poodle’s,” said the young girl. “Is it very tiresome? I have spent half my life sitting for my photograph, in every conceivable attitude and with every conceivable coiffure. I think I have posed enough.”
“My dear child,” said Mrs. Light, “it may be one’s duty to pose. But as to my daughter’s sitting to you, sir—to a young sculptor whom we don’t know—it is a matter that needs reflection. It is not a favor that’s to be had for the mere asking.”
“If I don’t make her from life,” said Roderick, with energy, “I will make her from memory, and if the thing’s to be done, you had better have it done as well as possible.”
“Mamma hesitates,” said Miss Light, “because she doesn’t know whether you mean she shall pay you for the bust. I can assure you that she will not pay you a sou.”
“My darling, you forget yourself,” said Mrs. Light, with an attempt at majestic severity. “Of course,” she added, in a moment, with a change of note, “the bust would be my own property.”
“Of course!” cried Roderick, impatiently.
“Dearest mother,” interposed the young girl, “how can you carry a marble bust about the world with you? Is it not enough to drag the poor original?”
“My dear, you ‘re nonsensical!” cried Mrs. Light, almost angrily.
“You can always sell it,” said the young girl, with the same artful artlessness.
Mrs. Light turned to Rowland, who pitied her, flushed and irritated. “She is very wicked to-day!”
The Cavaliere grinned in silence and walked away on tiptoe, with his hat to his lips, as if to leave the field clear for action. Rowland, on the contrary, wished to avert the coming storm. “You had better not refuse,” he said to Miss Light, “until you have seen Mr. Hudson’s things in the marble. Your mother is to come and look at some that I possess.”
“Thank you; I have no doubt you will see us. I dare say Mr. Hudson is very clever; but I don’t care for modern sculpture. I can’t look at it!”
“You shall care for my bust, I promise you!” cried Roderick, with a laugh.
“To satisfy Miss Light,” said the Cavaliere, “one of the old Greeks ought to come to life.”
“It would be worth his while,” said Roderick, paying, to Rowland’s knowledge, his first compliment.
“I might sit to Phidias, if he would promise to be very amusing and make me laugh. What do you say, Stenterello? would you sit to Phidias?”
“We must talk of this some other time,” said Mrs. Light. “We are in Rome for the winter. Many thanks. Cavaliere, call the carriage.” The Cavaliere led the way out, backing like a silver-stick, and Miss Light, following her mother, nodded, without looking at them, to each of the young men.
“Immortal powers, what a head!” cried Roderick, when they had gone. “There’s my fortune!”
“She is certainly very beautiful,” said Rowland. “But I’m sorry you have undertaken her bust.”
“And why, pray?”
“I suspect it will bring trouble with it.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“I hardly know. They are queer people. The mamma, I suspect, is the least bit of an adventuress. Heaven knows what the daughter is.”
“She’s a goddess!” cried Roderick.
“Just so. She is all the more dangerous.”
“Dangerous? What will she do to me? She doesn’t bite, I imagine.”
“It remains to be seen. There are two kinds of women—you ought to know it by this time—the safe and the unsafe. Miss Light, if I am not mistaken, is one of the unsafe. A word to the wise!”
“Much obliged!” said Roderick, and he began to whistle a triumphant air, in honor, apparently, of the advent of his beautiful model.
In calling this young lady and her mamma “queer people,” Rowland but roughly expressed his sentiment. They were so marked a variation from the monotonous troop of his fellow-country people that he felt much curiosity as to the sources of the change, especially since he doubted greatly whether, on the whole, it elevated the type. For a week he saw the two ladies driving daily in a well-appointed landau, with the Cavaliere and the poodle in the front seat. From Mrs. Light he received a gracious salute, tempered by her native majesty; but the young girl, looking straight before her, seemed profoundly indifferent to observers. Her extraordinary beauty, however, had already made observers numerous and given the habitues of the Pincian plenty to talk about. The echoes of their commentary reached Rowland’s ears; but he had little taste for random gossip, and desired a distinctly veracious informant. He had found one in the person of Madame Grandoni, for whom Mrs. Light and her beautiful daughter were a pair of old friends.
“I have known the mamma for twenty years,” said this judicious critic, “and if you ask any of the people who have been living here as long as I, you will find they remember her well. I have held the beautiful Christina on my knee when she was a little wizened baby with a very red face and no promise of beauty but those magnificent eyes. Ten years ago Mrs. Light disappeared, and has not since been seen in Rome, except for a few days last winter, when she passed through on her way to Naples. Then it was you met the trio in the Ludovisi gardens. When I first knew her she was the unmarried but very marriageable daughter of an old American painter of very bad landscapes, which people used to buy from charity and use for fire-boards. His name was Savage; it used to make every one laugh, he was such a mild, melancholy, pitiful old gentleman. He had married a horrible wife, an Englishwoman who had been on the stage. It was said she used to beat poor Savage with his mahl-stick and when the domestic finances were low to lock him up in his studio and tell him he shouldn’t come out until he had painted half a dozen of his daubs. She had a good deal of showy beauty. She would then go forth, and, her beauty helping, she would make certain people take the pictures. It helped her at last to make an English lord run away with her. At the time I speak of she had quite disappeared. Mrs. Light was then a very handsome girl, though by no means so handsome as her daughter has now become. Mr. Light was an American consul, newly appointed at one of the Adriatic ports. He was a mild, fair-whiskered young man, with some little property, and my impression is that he had got into bad company at home, and that his family procured him his place to keep him out of harm’s way. He came up to Rome on a holiday, fell in love with Miss Savage, and married her on the spot. He had not been married three years when he was drowned in the Adriatic, no one ever knew how. The young widow came back to Rome, to her father, and here shortly afterwards, in the shadow of Saint Peter’s, her little girl was born. It might have been supposed that Mrs. Light would marry again, and I know she had opportunities. But she overreached herself. She would take nothing less than a title and a fortune, and they were not forthcoming. She was admired and very fond of admiration; very vain, very worldly, very silly. She remained a pretty widow, with a surprising variety of bonnets and a dozen men always in her train. Giacosa dates from this period. He calls himself a Roman, but I have an impression he came up from Ancona with her. He was l’ami de la maison . He used to hold her bouquets, clean her gloves (I was told), run her errands, get her opera-boxes, and fight her battles with the shopkeepers. For this he needed courage, for she was smothered in debt. She at last left Rome to escape her creditors. Many of them must remember her still, but she seems now to have money to satisfy them. She left her poor old father here alone—helpless, infirm and unable to work. A subscription was shortly afterwards taken up among the foreigners, and he was sent back to America, where, as I afterwards heard, he died in some sort of asylum. From time to time, for several years, I heard vaguely of Mrs. Light as a wandering beauty at French and German watering-places. Once came a rumor that she was going to make a grand marriage in England; then we heard that the gentleman had thought better of it and left her to keep afloat as she could. She was a terribly scatter-brained creature. She pretends to be a great lady, but I consider that old Filomena, my washer-woman, is in essentials a greater one. But certainly, after all, she has been fortunate. She embarked at last on a lawsuit about some property, with her husband’s family, and went to America to attend to it. She came back triumphant, with a long purse. She reappeared in Italy, and established herself for a while in Venice. Then she came to Florence, where she spent a couple of years and where I saw her. Last year she passed down to Naples, which I should have said was just the place for her, and this winter she has laid siege to Rome. She seems very prosperous. She has taken a floor in the Palazzo F——, she keeps her carriage, and Christina and she, between them, must have a pretty milliner’s bill. Giacosa has turned up again, looking as if he had been kept on ice at Ancona, for her return.”
“What sort of education,” Rowland asked, “do you imagine the mother’s adventures to have been for the daughter?”
“A strange school! But Mrs. Light told me, in Florence, that she had given her child the education of a princess. In other words, I suppose, she speaks three or four languages, and has read several hundred French novels. Christina, I suspect, is very clever. When I saw her, I was amazed at her beauty, and, certainly, if there is any truth in faces, she ought to have the soul of an angel. Perhaps she has. I don’t judge her; she’s an extraordinary young person. She has been told twenty times a day by her mother, since she was five years old, that she is a beauty of beauties, that her face is her fortune, and that, if she plays her cards, she may marry a duke. If she has not been fatally corrupted, she is a very superior girl. My own impression is that she is a mixture of good and bad, of ambition and indifference. Mrs. Light, having failed to make her own fortune in matrimony, has transferred her hopes to her daughter, and nursed them till they have become a kind of monomania. She has a hobby, which she rides in secret; but some day she will let you see it. I’m sure that if you go in some evening unannounced, you will find her scanning the tea-leaves in her cup, or telling her daughter’s fortune with a greasy pack of cards, preserved for the purpose. She promises her a prince—a reigning prince. But if Mrs. Light is silly, she is shrewd, too, and, lest considerations of state should deny her prince the luxury of a love-match, she keeps on hand a few common mortals. At the worst she would take a duke, an English lord, or even a young American with a proper number of millions. The poor woman must be rather uncomfortable. She is always building castles and knocking them down again—always casting her nets and pulling them in. If her daughter were less of a beauty, her transparent ambition would be very ridiculous; but there is something in the girl, as one looks at her, that seems to make it very possible she is marked out for one of those wonderful romantic fortunes that history now and then relates. ‘Who, after all, was the Empress of the French?’ Mrs. Light is forever saying. ‘And beside Christina the Empress is a dowdy!’”
“And what does Christina say?”
“She makes no scruple, as you know, of saying that her mother is a fool. What she thinks, heaven knows. I suspect that, practically, she does not commit herself. She is excessively proud, and thinks herself good enough to occupy the highest station in the world; but she knows that her mother talks nonsense, and that even a beautiful girl may look awkward in making unsuccessful advances. So she remains superbly indifferent, and lets her mother take the risks. If the prince is secured, so much the better; if he is not, she need never confess to herself that even a prince has slighted her.”
“Your report is as solid,” Rowland said to Madame Grandoni, thanking her, “as if it had been prepared for the Academy of Sciences;” and he congratulated himself on having listened to it when, a couple of days later, Mrs. Light and her daughter, attended by the Cavaliere and the poodle, came to his rooms to look at Roderick’s statues. It was more comfortable to know just with whom he was dealing.
Mrs. Light was prodigiously gracious, and showered down compliments not only on the statues, but on all his possessions. “Upon my word,” she said, “you men know how to make yourselves comfortable. If one of us poor women had half as many easy-chairs and knick-knacks, we should be famously abused. It’s really selfish to be living all alone in such a place as this. Cavaliere, how should you like this suite of rooms and a fortune to fill them with pictures and statues? Christina, love, look at that mosaic table. Mr. Mallet, I could almost beg it from you. Yes, that Eve is certainly very fine. We needn’t be ashamed of such a great-grandmother as that. If she was really such a beautiful woman, it accounts for the good looks of some of us. Where is Mr. What ‘s-his-name, the young sculptor? Why isn’t he here to be complimented?”
Christina had remained but for a moment in the chair which Rowland had placed for her, had given but a cursory glance at the statues, and then, leaving her place, had begun to wander round the room—looking at herself in the mirror, touching the ornaments and curiosities, glancing at the books and prints. Rowland’s sitting-room was encumbered with bric-a-brac, and she found plenty of occupation. Rowland presently joined her, and pointed out some of the objects he most valued.
“It’s an odd jumble,” she said frankly. “Some things are very pretty—some are very ugly. But I like ugly things, when they have a certain look. Prettiness is terribly vulgar nowadays, and it is not every one that knows just the sort of ugliness that has chic . But chic is getting dreadfully common too. There’s a hint of it even in Madame Baldi’s bonnets. I like looking at people’s things,” she added in a moment, turning to Rowland and resting her eyes on him. “It helps you to find out their characters.”
“Am I to suppose,” asked Rowland, smiling, “that you have arrived at any conclusions as to mine?”
“I am rather muddled; you have too many things; one seems to contradict another. You are very artistic and yet you are very prosaic; you have what is called a ‘catholic’ taste and yet you are full of obstinate little prejudices and habits of thought, which, if I knew you, I should find very tiresome. I don’t think I like you.”
“You make a great mistake,” laughed Rowland; “I assure you I am very amiable.”
“Yes, I am probably wrong, and if I knew you, I should find out I was wrong, and that would irritate me and make me dislike you more. So you see we are necessary enemies.”
“No, I don’t dislike you.”
“Worse and worse; for you certainly will not like me.”
“You are very discouraging.”
“I am fond of facing the truth, though some day you will deny that. Where is that queer friend of yours?”
“You mean Mr. Hudson. He is represented by these beautiful works.”
Miss Light looked for some moments at Roderick’s statues. “Yes,” she said, “they are not so silly as most of the things we have seen. They have no chic, and yet they are beautiful.”
“You describe them perfectly,” said Rowland. “They are beautiful, and yet they have no chic. That’s it!”
“If he will promise to put none into my bust, I have a mind to let him make it. A request made in those terms deserves to be granted.”
“In what terms?”
“Didn’t you hear him? ‘Mademoiselle, you almost satisfy my conception of the beautiful. I must model your bust.’ That almost should be rewarded. He is like me; he likes to face the truth. I think we should get on together.”
The Cavaliere approached Rowland, to express the pleasure he had derived from his beautiful “collection.” His smile was exquisitely bland, his accent appealing, caressing, insinuating. But he gave Rowland an odd sense of looking at a little waxen image, adjusted to perform certain gestures and emit certain sounds. It had once contained a soul, but the soul had leaked out. Nevertheless, Rowland reflected, there are more profitless things than mere sound and gesture, in a consummate Italian. And the Cavaliere, too, had soul enough left to desire to speak a few words on his own account, and call Rowland’s attention to the fact that he was not, after all, a hired cicerone, but an ancient Roman gentleman. Rowland felt sorry for him; he hardly knew why. He assured him in a friendly fashion that he must come again; that his house was always at his service. The Cavaliere bowed down to the ground. “You do me too much honor,” he murmured. “If you will allow me—it is not impossible!”
Mrs. Light, meanwhile, had prepared to depart. “If you are not afraid to come and see two quiet little women, we shall be most happy!” she said. “We have no statues nor pictures—we have nothing but each other. Eh, darling?”
“I beg your pardon,” said Christina.
“Oh, and the Cavaliere,” added her mother.
“The poodle, please!” cried the young girl.
Rowland glanced at the Cavaliere; he was smiling more blandly than ever.
A few days later Rowland presented himself, as civility demanded, at Mrs. Light’s door. He found her living in one of the stately houses of the Via dell’ Angelo Custode, and, rather to his surprise, was told she was at home. He passed through half a dozen rooms and was ushered into an immense saloon, at one end of which sat the mistress of the establishment, with a piece of embroidery. She received him very graciously, and then, pointing mysteriously to a large screen which was unfolded across the embrasure of one of the deep windows, “I am keeping guard!” she said. Rowland looked interrogative; whereupon she beckoned him forward and motioned him to look behind the screen. He obeyed, and for some moments stood gazing. Roderick, with his back turned, stood before an extemporized pedestal, ardently shaping a formless mass of clay. Before him sat Christina Light, in a white dress, with her shoulders bare, her magnificent hair twisted into a classic coil, and her head admirably poised. Meeting Rowland’s gaze, she smiled a little, only with her deep gray eyes, without moving. She looked divinely beautiful.
[]
Chapter V. Christina
The brilliant Roman winter came round again, and Rowland enjoyed it, in a certain way, more deeply than before. He grew at last to feel that sense of equal possession, of intellectual nearness, which it belongs to the peculiar magic of the ancient city to infuse into minds of a cast that she never would have produced. He became passionately, unreasoningly fond of all Roman sights and sensations, and to breathe the Roman atmosphere began to seem a needful condition of being. He could not have defined and explained the nature of his great love, nor have made up the sum of it by the addition of his calculable pleasures. It was a large, vague, idle, half-profitless emotion, of which perhaps the most pertinent thing that may be said is that it enforced a sort of oppressive reconciliation to the present, the actual, the sensuous—to life on the terms that there offered themselves. It was perhaps for this very reason that, in spite of the charm which Rome flings over one’s mood, there ran through Rowland’s meditations an undertone of melancholy, natural enough in a mind which finds its horizon insidiously limited to the finite, even in very picturesque forms. Whether it is one that tacitly concedes to the Roman Church the monopoly of a guarantee of immortality, so that if one is indisposed to bargain with her for the precious gift, one must do without it altogether; or whether in an atmosphere so heavily weighted with echoes and memories one grows to believe that there is nothing in one’s consciousness that is not foredoomed to moulder and crumble and become dust for the feet, and possible malaria for the lungs, of future generations—the fact at least remains that one parts half-willingly with one’s hopes in Rome, and misses them only under some very exceptional stress of circumstance. For this reason one may perhaps say that there is no other place in which one’s daily temper has such a mellow serenity, and none, at the same time, in which acute attacks of depression are more intolerable. Rowland found, in fact, a perfect response to his prevision that to live in Rome was an education to one’s senses and one’s imagination, but he sometimes wondered whether this was not a questionable gain in case of one’s not being prepared to live wholly by one’s imagination and one’s senses. The tranquil profundity of his daily satisfaction seemed sometimes to turn, by a mysterious inward impulse, and face itself with questioning, admonishing, threatening eyes. “But afterwards...?” it seemed to ask, with a long reverberation; and he could give no answer but a shy affirmation that there was no such thing as afterwards, and a hope, divided against itself, that his actual way of life would last forever. He often felt heavy-hearted; he was sombre without knowing why; there were no visible clouds in his heaven, but there were cloud-shadows on his mood. Shadows projected, they often were, without his knowing it, by an undue apprehension that things after all might not go so ideally well with Roderick. When he understood his anxiety it vexed him, and he rebuked himself for taking things unmanfully hard. If Roderick chose to follow a crooked path, it was no fault of his; he had given him, he would continue to give him, all that he had offered him—friendship, sympathy, advice. He had not undertaken to provide him with unflagging strength of purpose, nor to stand bondsman for unqualified success.
If Rowland felt his roots striking and spreading in the Roman soil, Roderick also surrendered himself with renewed abandon to the local influence. More than once he declared to his companion that he meant to live and die within the shadow of Saint Peter’s, and that he cared little if he never again drew breath in American air. “For a man of my temperament, Rome is the only possible place,” he said; “it’s better to recognize the fact early than late. So I shall never go home unless I am absolutely forced.”
“What is your idea of ‘force’?” asked Rowland, smiling. “It seems to me you have an excellent reason for going home some day or other.”
“Ah, you mean my engagement?” Roderick answered with unaverted eyes. “Yes, I am distinctly engaged, in Northampton, and impatiently waited for!” And he gave a little sympathetic sigh. “To reconcile Northampton and Rome is rather a problem. Mary had better come out here. Even at the worst I have no intention of giving up Rome within six or eight years, and an engagement of that duration would be rather absurd.”
“Miss Garland could hardly leave your mother,” Rowland observed.
“Oh, of course my mother should come. I think I will suggest it in my next letter. It will take her a year or two to make up her mind to it, but if she consents it will brighten her up. It’s too small a life, over there, even for a timid old lady. It is hard to imagine,” he added, “any change in Mary being a change for the better; but I should like her to take a look at the world and have her notions stretched a little. One is never so good, I suppose, but that one can improve a little.”
“If you wish your mother and Miss Garland to come,” Rowland suggested, “you had better go home and bring them.”
“Oh, I can’t think of leaving Europe, for many a day,” Roderick answered. “At present it would quite break the charm. I am just beginning to profit, to get used to things and take them naturally. I am sure the sight of Northampton Main Street would permanently upset me.”
It was reassuring to hear that Roderick, in his own view, was but “just beginning” to spread his wings, and Rowland, if he had had any forebodings, might have suffered them to be modified by this declaration. This was the first time since their meeting at Geneva that Roderick had mentioned Miss Garland’s name, but the ice being broken, he indulged for some time afterward in frequent allusions to his betrothed, which always had an accent of scrupulous, of almost studied, consideration. An uninitiated observer, hearing him, would have imagined her to be a person of a certain age—possibly an affectionate maiden aunt—who had once done him a kindness which he highly appreciated: perhaps presented him with a check for a thousand dollars. Rowland noted the difference between his present frankness and his reticence during the first six months of his engagement, and sometimes wondered whether it was not rather an anomaly that he should expatiate more largely as the happy event receded. He had wondered over the whole matter, first and last, in a great many different ways, and looked at it in all possible lights. There was something terribly hard to explain in the fact of his having fallen in love with his cousin. She was not, as Rowland conceived her, the sort of girl he would have been likely to fancy, and the operation of sentiment, in all cases so mysterious, was particularly so in this one. Just why it was that Roderick should not logically have fancied Miss Garland, his companion would have been at loss to say, but I think the conviction had its roots in an unformulated comparison between himself and the accepted suitor. Roderick and he were as different as two men could be, and yet Roderick had taken it into his head to fall in love with a woman for whom he himself had been keeping in reserve, for years, a profoundly characteristic passion. That if he chose to conceive a great notion of the merits of Roderick’s mistress, the irregularity here was hardly Roderick’s, was a view of the case to which poor Rowland did scanty justice. There were women, he said to himself, whom it was every one’s business to fall in love with a little—women beautiful, brilliant, artful, easily fascinating. Miss Light, for instance, was one of these; every man who spoke to her did so, if not in the language, at least with something of the agitation, the divine tremor, of a lover. There were other women—they might have great beauty, they might have small; perhaps they were generally to be classified as plain—whose triumphs in this line were rare, but immutably permanent. Such a one preeminently, was Mary Garland. Upon the doctrine of probabilities, it was unlikely that she had had an equal charm for each of them, and was it not possible, therefore, that the charm for Roderick had been simply the charm imagined, unquestioningly accepted: the general charm of youth, sympathy, kindness—of the present feminine, in short—enhanced indeed by several fine facial traits? The charm in this case for Rowland was— the charm!—the mysterious, individual, essential woman. There was an element in the charm, as his companion saw it, which Rowland was obliged to recognize, but which he forbore to ponder; the rather important attraction, namely, of reciprocity. As to Miss Garland being in love with Roderick and becoming charming thereby, this was a point with which his imagination ventured to take no liberties; partly because it would have been indelicate, and partly because it would have been vain. He contented himself with feeling that the young girl was still as vivid an image in his memory as she had been five days after he left her, and with drifting nearer and nearer to the impression that at just that crisis any other girl would have answered Roderick’s sentimental needs as well. Any other girl indeed would do so still! Roderick had confessed as much to him at Geneva, in saying that he had been taking at Baden the measure of his susceptibility to female beauty.
His extraordinary success in modeling the bust of the beautiful Miss Light was pertinent evidence of this amiable quality. She sat to him, repeatedly, for a fortnight, and the work was rapidly finished. On one of the last days Roderick asked Rowland to come and give his opinion as to what was still wanting; for the sittings had continued to take place in Mrs. Light’s apartment, the studio being pronounced too damp for the fair model. When Rowland presented himself, Christina, still in her white dress, with her shoulders bare, was standing before a mirror, readjusting her hair, the arrangement of which, on this occasion, had apparently not met the young sculptor’s approval. He stood beside her, directing the operation with a peremptoriness of tone which seemed to Rowland to denote a considerable advance in intimacy. As Rowland entered, Christina was losing patience. “Do it yourself, then!” she cried, and with a rapid movement unloosed the great coil of her tresses and let them fall over her shoulders.
They were magnificent, and with her perfect face dividing their rippling flow she looked like some immaculate saint of legend being led to martyrdom. Rowland’s eyes presumably betrayed his admiration, but her own manifested no consciousness of it. If Christina was a coquette, as the remarkable timeliness of this incident might have suggested, she was not a superficial one.
“Hudson’s a sculptor,” said Rowland, with warmth. “But if I were only a painter!”
“Thank Heaven you are not!” said Christina. “I am having quite enough of this minute inspection of my charms.”
“My dear young man, hands off!” cried Mrs. Light, coming forward and seizing her daughter’s hair. “Christina, love, I am surprised.”
“Is it indelicate?” Christina asked. “I beg Mr. Mallet’s pardon.” Mrs. Light gathered up the dusky locks and let them fall through her fingers, glancing at her visitor with a significant smile. Rowland had never been in the East, but if he had attempted to make a sketch of an old slave-merchant, calling attention to the “points” of a Circassian beauty, he would have depicted such a smile as Mrs. Light’s. “Mamma’s not really shocked,” added Christina in a moment, as if she had guessed her mother’s by-play. “She is only afraid that Mr. Hudson might have injured my hair, and that, per consequenza , I should sell for less.”
“You unnatural child!” cried mamma. “You deserve that I should make a fright of you!” And with half a dozen skillful passes she twisted the tresses into a single picturesque braid, placed high on the head, as a kind of coronal.
“What does your mother do when she wants to do you justice?” Rowland asked, observing the admirable line of the young girl’s neck.
“I do her justice when I say she says very improper things. What is one to do with such a thorn in the flesh?” Mrs. Light demanded.
“Think of it at your leisure, Mr. Mallet,” said Christina, “and when you’ve discovered something, let us hear. But I must tell you that I shall not willingly believe in any remedy of yours, for you have something in your physiognomy that particularly provokes me to make the remarks that my mother so sincerely deplores. I noticed it the first time I saw you. I think it’s because your face is so broad. For some reason or other, broad faces exasperate me; they fill me with a kind of rabbia. Last summer, at Carlsbad, there was an Austrian count, with enormous estates and some great office at court. He was very attentive—seriously so; he was really very far gone. Cela ne tenait qu’ a moi! But I couldn’t; he was impossible! He must have measured, from ear to ear, at least a yard and a half. And he was blond, too, which made it worse—as blond as Stenterello; pure fleece! So I said to him frankly, ‘Many thanks, Herr Graf; your uniform is magnificent, but your face is too fat.’”
“I am afraid that mine also,” said Rowland, with a smile, “seems just now to have assumed an unpardonable latitude.”
“Oh, I take it you know very well that we are looking for a husband, and that none but tremendous swells need apply. Surely, before these gentlemen, mamma, I may speak freely; they are disinterested. Mr. Mallet won’t do, because, though he’s rich, he’s not rich enough. Mamma made that discovery the day after we went to see you, moved to it by the promising look of your furniture. I hope she was right, eh? Unless you have millions, you know, you have no chance.”
“I feel like a beggar,” said Rowland.
“Oh, some better girl than I will decide some day, after mature reflection, that on the whole you have enough. Mr. Hudson, of course, is nowhere; he has nothing but his genius and his beaux yeux .”
Roderick had stood looking at Christina intently while she delivered herself, softly and slowly, of this surprising nonsense. When she had finished, she turned and looked at him; their eyes met, and he blushed a little. “Let me model you, and he who can may marry you!” he said, abruptly.
Mrs. Light, while her daughter talked, had been adding a few touches to her coiffure. “She is not so silly as you might suppose,” she said to Rowland, with dignity. “If you will give me your arm, we will go and look at the bust.”
“Does that represent a silly girl?” Christina demanded, when they stood before it.
Rowland transferred his glance several times from the portrait to the original. “It represents a young lady,” he said, “whom I should not pretend to judge off-hand.”
“She may be a fool, but you are not sure. Many thanks! You have seen me half a dozen times. You are either very slow or I am very deep.”
“I am certainly slow,” said Rowland. “I don’t expect to make up my mind about you within six months.”
“I give you six months if you will promise then a perfectly frank opinion. Mind, I shall not forget; I shall insist upon it.”
“Well, though I am slow, I am tolerably brave,” said Rowland. “We shall see.”
Christina looked at the bust with a sigh. “I am afraid, after all,” she said, “that there’s very little wisdom in it save what the artist has put there. Mr. Hudson looked particularly wise while he was working; he scowled and growled, but he never opened his mouth. It is very kind of him not to have represented me gaping.”
“If I had talked a lot of stuff to you,” said Roderick, roundly, “the thing would not have been a tenth so good.”
“Is it good, after all? Mr. Mallet is a famous connoisseur; has he not come here to pronounce?”
The bust was in fact a very happy performance, and Roderick had risen to the level of his subject. It was thoroughly a portrait, and not a vague fantasy executed on a graceful theme, as the busts of pretty women, in modern sculpture, are apt to be. The resemblance was deep and vivid; there was extreme fidelity of detail and yet a noble simplicity. One could say of the head that, without idealization, it was a representation of ideal beauty. Rowland, however, as we know, was not fond of exploding into superlatives, and, after examining the piece, contented himself with suggesting two or three alterations of detail.
“Nay, how can you be so cruel?” demanded Mrs. Light, with soft reproachfulness. “It is surely a wonderful thing!”
“Rowland knows it’s a wonderful thing,” said Roderick, smiling. “I can tell that by his face. The other day I finished something he thought bad, and he looked very differently from this.”
“How did Mr. Mallet look?” asked Christina.
“My dear Rowland,” said Roderick, “I am speaking of my seated woman. You looked as if you had on a pair of tight boots.”
“Ah, my child, you’ll not understand that!” cried Mrs. Light. “You never yet had a pair that were small enough.”
“It’s a pity, Mr. Hudson,” said Christina, gravely, “that you could not have introduced my feet into the bust. But we can hang a pair of slippers round the neck!”
“I nevertheless like your statues, Roderick,” Rowland rejoined, “better than your jokes. This is admirable. Miss Light, you may be proud!”
“Thank you, Mr. Mallet, for the permission,” rejoined the young girl.
“I am dying to see it in the marble, with a red velvet screen behind it,” said Mrs. Light.
“Placed there under the Sassoferrato!” Christina went on. “I hope you keep well in mind, Mr. Hudson, that you have not a grain of property in your work, and that if mamma chooses, she may have it photographed and the copies sold in the Piazza di Spagna, at five francs apiece, without your having a sou of the profits.”
“Amen!” said Roderick. “It was so nominated in the bond. My profits are here!” and he tapped his forehead.
“It would be prettier if you said here! ” And Christina touched her heart.
“My precious child, how you do run on!” murmured Mrs. Light.
“It is Mr. Mallet,” the young girl answered. “I can’t talk a word of sense so long as he is in the room. I don’t say that to make you go,” she added, “I say it simply to justify myself.”
Rowland bowed in silence. Roderick declared that he must get at work and requested Christina to take her usual position, and Mrs. Light proposed to her visitor that they should adjourn to her boudoir. This was a small room, hardly more spacious than an alcove, opening out of the drawing-room and having no other issue. Here, as they entered, on a divan near the door, Rowland perceived the Cavaliere Giacosa, with his arms folded, his head dropped upon his breast, and his eyes closed.
“Sleeping at his post!” said Rowland with a kindly laugh.
“That’s a punishable offense,” rejoined Mrs. Light, sharply. She was on the point of calling him, in the same tone, when he suddenly opened his eyes, stared a moment, and then rose with a smile and a bow.
“Excuse me, dear lady,” he said, “I was overcome by the—the great heat.”
“Nonsense, Cavaliere!” cried the lady, “you know we are perishing here with the cold! You had better go and cool yourself in one of the other rooms.”
“I obey, dear lady,” said the Cavaliere; and with another smile and bow to Rowland he departed, walking very discreetly on his toes. Rowland out-stayed him but a short time, for he was not fond of Mrs. Light, and he found nothing very inspiring in her frank intimation that if he chose, he might become a favorite. He was disgusted with himself for pleasing her; he confounded his fatal urbanity. In the court-yard of the palace he overtook the Cavaliere, who had stopped at the porter’s lodge to say a word to his little girl. She was a young lady of very tender years and she wore a very dirty pinafore. He had taken her up in his arms and was singing an infantine rhyme to her, and she was staring at him with big, soft Roman eyes. On seeing Rowland he put her down with a kiss, and stepped forward with a conscious grin, an unresentful admission that he was sensitive both to chubbiness and ridicule. Rowland began to pity him again; he had taken his dismissal from the drawing-room so meekly.
“You don’t keep your promise,” said Rowland, “to come and see me. Don’t forget it. I want you to tell me about Rome thirty years ago.”
“Thirty years ago? Ah, dear sir, Rome is Rome still; a place where strange things happen! But happy things too, since I have your renewed permission to call. You do me too much honor. Is it in the morning or in the evening that I should least intrude?”
“Take your own time, Cavaliere; only come, sometime. I depend upon you,” said Rowland.
The Cavaliere thanked him with an humble obeisance. To the Cavaliere, too, he felt that he was, in Roman phrase, sympathetic, but the idea of pleasing this extremely reduced gentleman was not disagreeable to him.
Miss Light’s bust stood for a while on exhibition in Roderick’s studio, and half the foreign colony came to see it. With the completion of his work, however, Roderick’s visits at the Palazzo F—— by no means came to an end. He spent half his time in Mrs. Light’s drawing-room, and began to be talked about as “attentive” to Christina. The success of the bust restored his equanimity, and in the garrulity of his good-humor he suffered Rowland to see that she was just now the object uppermost in his thoughts. Rowland, when they talked of her, was rather listener than speaker; partly because Roderick’s own tone was so resonant and exultant, and partly because, when his companion laughed at him for having called her unsafe, he was too perplexed to defend himself. The impression remained that she was unsafe; that she was a complex, willful, passionate creature, who might easily engulf a too confiding spirit in the eddies of her capricious temper. And yet he strongly felt her charm; the eddies had a strange fascination! Roderick, in the glow of that renewed admiration provoked by the fixed attention of portrayal, was never weary of descanting on the extraordinary perfection of her beauty.
“I had no idea of it,” he said, “till I began to look at her with an eye to reproducing line for line and curve for curve. Her face is the most exquisite piece of modeling that ever came from creative hands. Not a line without meaning, not a hair’s breadth that is not admirably finished. And then her mouth! It’s as if a pair of lips had been shaped to utter pure truth without doing it dishonor!” Later, after he had been working for a week, he declared if Miss Light were inordinately plain, she would still be the most fascinating of women. “I’ve quite forgotten her beauty,” he said, “or rather I have ceased to perceive it as something distinct and defined, something independent of the rest of her. She is all one, and all consummately interesting!”
“What does she do—what does she say, that is so remarkable?” Rowland had asked.
“Say? Sometimes nothing—sometimes everything. She is never the same. Sometimes she walks in and takes her place without a word, without a smile, gravely, stiffly, as if it were an awful bore. She hardly looks at me, and she walks away without even glancing at my work. On other days she laughs and chatters and asks endless questions, and pours out the most irresistible nonsense. She is a creature of moods; you can’t count upon her; she keeps observation on the stretch. And then, bless you, she has seen such a lot! Her talk is full of the oddest allusions!”
“It is altogether a very singular type of young lady,” said Rowland, after the visit which I have related at length. “It may be a charm, but it is certainly not the orthodox charm of marriageable maidenhood, the charm of shrinking innocence and soft docility. Our American girls are accused of being more knowing than any others, and Miss Light is nominally an American. But it has taken twenty years of Europe to make her what she is. The first time we saw her, I remember you called her a product of the old world, and certainly you were not far wrong.”
“Ah, she has an atmosphere,” said Roderick, in the tone of high appreciation.
“Young unmarried women,” Rowland answered, “should be careful not to have too much!”
“Ah, you don’t forgive her,” cried his companion, “for hitting you so hard! A man ought to be flattered at such a girl as that taking so much notice of him.”
“A man is never flattered at a woman’s not liking him.”
“Are you sure she doesn’t like you? That’s to the credit of your humility. A fellow of more vanity might, on the evidence, persuade himself that he was in favor.”
“He would have also,” said Rowland, laughing, “to be a fellow of remarkable ingenuity!” He asked himself privately how the deuce Roderick reconciled it to his conscience to think so much more of the girl he was not engaged to than of the girl he was. But it amounted almost to arrogance, you may say, in poor Rowland to pretend to know how often Roderick thought of Miss Garland. He wondered gloomily, at any rate, whether for men of his companion’s large, easy power, there was not a larger moral law than for narrow mediocrities like himself, who, yielding Nature a meagre interest on her investment (such as it was), had no reason to expect from her this affectionate laxity as to their accounts. Was it not a part of the eternal fitness of things that Roderick, while rhapsodizing about Miss Light, should have it at his command to look at you with eyes of the most guileless and unclouded blue, and to shake off your musty imputations by a toss of his picturesque brown locks? Or had he, in fact, no conscience to speak of? Happy fellow, either way!
Our friend Gloriani came, among others, to congratulate Roderick on his model and what he had made of her. “Devilish pretty, through and through!” he said as he looked at the bust. “Capital handling of the neck and throat; lovely work on the nose. You ‘re a detestably lucky fellow, my boy! But you ought not to have squandered such material on a simple bust; you should have made a great imaginative figure. If I could only have got hold of her, I would have put her into a statue in spite of herself. What a pity she is not a ragged Trasteverine, whom we might have for a franc an hour! I have been carrying about in my head for years a delicious design for a fantastic figure, but it has always stayed there for want of a tolerable model. I have seen intimations of the type, but Miss Light is the perfection of it. As soon as I saw her I said to myself, ‘By Jove, there’s my statue in the flesh!’”
“What is your subject?” asked Roderick.
“Don’t take it ill,” said Gloriani. “You know I’m the very deuce for observation. She would make a magnificent Herodias!”
If Roderick had taken it ill (which was unlikely, for we know he thought Gloriani an ass, and expected little of his wisdom), he might have been soothed by the candid incense of Sam Singleton, who came and sat for an hour in a sort of mental prostration before both bust and artist. But Roderick’s attitude before his patient little devotee was one of undisguised though friendly amusement; and, indeed, judged from a strictly plastic point of view, the poor fellow’s diminutive stature, his enormous mouth, his pimples and his yellow hair were sufficiently ridiculous. “Nay, don’t envy our friend,” Rowland said to Singleton afterwards, on his expressing, with a little groan of depreciation of his own paltry performances, his sense of the brilliancy of Roderick’s talent. “You sail nearer the shore, but you sail in smoother waters. Be contented with what you are and paint me another picture.”
“Oh, I don’t envy Hudson anything he possesses,” Singleton said, “because to take anything away would spoil his beautiful completeness. ‘Complete,’ that’s what he is; while we little clevernesses are like half-ripened plums, only good eating on the side that has had a glimpse of the sun. Nature has made him so, and fortune confesses to it! He is the handsomest fellow in Rome, he has the most genius, and, as a matter of course, the most beautiful girl in the world comes and offers to be his model. If that is not completeness, where shall we find it?”
One morning, going into Roderick’s studio, Rowland found the young sculptor entertaining Miss Blanchard—if this is not too flattering a description of his gracefully passive tolerance of her presence. He had never liked her and never climbed into her sky-studio to observe her wonderful manipulation of petals. He had once quoted Tennyson against her:—

“And is there any moral shut
Within the bosom of the rose?”
“In all Miss Blanchard’s roses you may be sure there is a moral,” he had said. “You can see it sticking out its head, and, if you go to smell the flower, it scratches your nose.” But on this occasion she had come with a propitiatory gift—introducing her friend Mr. Leavenworth. Mr. Leavenworth was a tall, expansive, bland gentleman, with a carefully brushed whisker and a spacious, fair, well-favored face, which seemed, somehow, to have more room in it than was occupied by a smile of superior benevolence, so that (with his smooth, white forehead) it bore a certain resemblance to a large parlor with a very florid carpet, but no pictures on the walls. He held his head high, talked sonorously, and told Roderick, within five minutes, that he was a widower, traveling to distract his mind, and that he had lately retired from the proprietorship of large mines of borax in Pennsylvania. Roderick supposed at first that, in his character of depressed widower, he had come to order a tombstone; but observing then the extreme blandness of his address to Miss Blanchard, he credited him with a judicious prevision that by the time the tombstone was completed, a monument of his inconsolability might have become an anachronism. But Mr. Leavenworth was disposed to order something.
“You will find me eager to patronize our indigenous talent,” he said. “I am putting up a little shanty in my native town, and I propose to make a rather nice thing of it. It has been the will of Heaven to plunge me into mourning; but art has consolations! In a tasteful home, surrounded by the memorials of my wanderings, I hope to take more cheerful views. I ordered in Paris the complete appurtenances of a dining-room. Do you think you could do something for my library? It is to be filled with well-selected authors, and I think a pure white image in this style,”—pointing to one of Roderick’s statues,—“standing out against the morocco and gilt, would have a noble effect. The subject I have already fixed upon. I desire an allegorical representation of Culture. Do you think, now,” asked Mr. Leavenworth, encouragingly, “you could rise to the conception?”
“A most interesting subject for a truly serious mind,” remarked Miss Blanchard.
Roderick looked at her a moment, and then—“The simplest thing I could do,” he said, “would be to make a full-length portrait of Miss Blanchard. I could give her a scroll in her hand, and that would do for the allegory.”
Miss Blanchard colored; the compliment might be ironical; and there was ever afterwards a reflection of her uncertainty in her opinion of Roderick’s genius. Mr. Leavenworth responded that with all deference to Miss Blanchard’s beauty, he desired something colder, more monumental, more impersonal. “If I were to be the happy possessor of a likeness of Miss Blanchard,” he added, “I should prefer to have it in no factitious disguise!”
Roderick consented to entertain the proposal, and while they were discussing it, Rowland had a little talk with the fair artist. “Who is your friend?” he asked.
“A very worthy man. The architect of his own fortune—which is magnificent. One of nature’s gentlemen!”
This was a trifle sententious, and Rowland turned to the bust of Miss Light. Like every one else in Rome, by this time, Miss Blanchard had an opinion on the young girl’s beauty, and, in her own fashion, she expressed it epigrammatically. “She looks half like a Madonna and half like a ballerina ,” she said.
Mr. Leavenworth and Roderick came to an understanding, and the young sculptor good-naturedly promised to do his best to rise to his patron’s conception. “His conception be hanged!” Roderick exclaimed, after he had departed. “His conception is sitting on a globe with a pen in her ear and a photographic album in her hand. I shall have to conceive, myself. For the money, I ought to be able to!”
Mrs. Light, meanwhile, had fairly established herself in Roman society. “Heaven knows how!” Madame Grandoni said to Rowland, who had mentioned to her several evidences of the lady’s prosperity. “In such a case there is nothing like audacity. A month ago she knew no one but her washerwoman, and now I am told that the cards of Roman princesses are to be seen on her table. She is evidently determined to play a great part, and she has the wit to perceive that, to make remunerative acquaintances, you must seem yourself to be worth knowing. You must have striking rooms and a confusing variety of dresses, and give good dinners, and so forth. She is spending a lot of money, and you’ll see that in two or three weeks she will take upon herself to open the season by giving a magnificent ball. Of course it is Christina’s beauty that floats her. People go to see her because they are curious.”
“And they go again because they are charmed,” said Rowland. “Miss Christina is a very remarkable young lady.”
“Oh, I know it well; I had occasion to say so to myself the other day. She came to see me, of her own free will, and for an hour she was deeply interesting. I think she’s an actress, but she believes in her part while she is playing it. She took it into her head the other day to believe that she was very unhappy, and she sat there, where you are sitting, and told me a tale of her miseries which brought tears into my eyes. She cried, herself, profusely, and as naturally as possible. She said she was weary of life and that she knew no one but me she could speak frankly to. She must speak, or she would go mad. She sobbed as if her heart would break. I assure you it’s well for you susceptible young men that you don’t see her when she sobs. She said, in so many words, that her mother was an immoral woman. Heaven knows what she meant. She meant, I suppose, that she makes debts that she knows she can’t pay. She said the life they led was horrible; that it was monstrous a poor girl should be dragged about the world to be sold to the highest bidder. She was meant for better things; she could be perfectly happy in poverty. It was not money she wanted. I might not believe her, but she really cared for serious things. Sometimes she thought of taking poison!”
“What did you say to that?”
“I recommended her,” said Madame Grandoni, “to come and see me instead. I would help her about as much, and I was, on the whole, less unpleasant. Of course I could help her only by letting her talk herself out and kissing her and patting her beautiful hands and telling her to be patient and she would be happy yet. About once in two months I expect her to reappear, on the same errand, and meanwhile to quite forget my existence. I believe I melted down to the point of telling her that I would find some good, quiet, affectionate husband for her; but she declared, almost with fury, that she was sick unto death of husbands, and begged I would never again mention the word. And, in fact, it was a rash offer; for I am sure that there is not a man of the kind that might really make a woman happy but would be afraid to marry mademoiselle. Looked at in that way she is certainly very much to be pitied, and indeed, altogether, though I don’t think she either means all she says or, by a great deal, says all that she means. I feel very sorry for her.”
Rowland met the two ladies, about this time, at several entertainments, and looked at Christina with a kind of distant attendrissement . He imagined more than once that there had been a passionate scene between them about coming out, and wondered what arguments Mrs. Light had found effective. But Christina’s face told no tales, and she moved about, beautiful and silent, looking absently over people’s heads, barely heeding the men who pressed about her, and suggesting somehow that the soul of a world-wearied mortal had found its way into the blooming body of a goddess. “Where in the world has Miss Light been before she is twenty,” observers asked, “to have left all her illusions behind?” And the general verdict was, that though she was incomparably beautiful, she was intolerably proud. Young ladies to whom the former distinction was not conceded were free to reflect that she was “not at all liked.”
It would have been difficult to guess, however, how they reconciled this conviction with a variety of conflicting evidence, and, in especial, with the spectacle of Roderick’s inveterate devotion. All Rome might behold that he, at least, “liked” Christina Light. Wherever she appeared he was either awaiting her or immediately followed her. He was perpetually at her side, trying, apparently, to preserve the thread of a disconnected talk, the fate of which was, to judge by her face, profoundly immaterial to the young lady. People in general smiled at the radiant good faith of the handsome young sculptor, and asked each other whether he really supposed that beauties of that quality were meant to wed with poor artists. But although Christina’s deportment, as I have said, was one of superb inexpressiveness, Rowland had derived from Roderick no suspicion that he suffered from snubbing, and he was therefore surprised at an incident which befell one evening at a large musical party. Roderick, as usual, was in the field, and, on the ladies taking the chairs which had been arranged for them, he immediately placed himself beside Christina. As most of the gentlemen were standing, his position made him as conspicuous as Hamlet at Ophelia’s feet, at the play. Rowland was leaning, somewhat apart, against the chimney-piece. There was a long, solemn pause before the music began, and in the midst of it Christina rose, left her place, came the whole length of the immense room, with every one looking at her, and stopped before him. She was neither pale nor flushed; she had a soft smile.
“Will you do me a favor?” she asked.
“A thousand!”
“Not now, but at your earliest convenience. Please remind Mr. Hudson that he is not in a New England village—that it is not the custom in Rome to address one’s conversation exclusively, night after night, to the same poor girl, and that”....
The music broke out with a great blare and covered her voice. She made a gesture of impatience, and Rowland offered her his arm and led her back to her seat.
The next day he repeated her words to Roderick, who burst into joyous laughter. “She’s a delightfully strange girl!” he cried. “She must do everything that comes into her head!”
“Had she never asked you before not to talk to her so much?”
“On the contrary, she has often said to me, ‘Mind you now, I forbid you to leave me. Here comes that tiresome So-and-so.’ She cares as little about the custom as I do. What could be a better proof than her walking up to you, with five hundred people looking at her? Is that the custom for young girls in Rome?”
“Why, then, should she take such a step?”
“Because, as she sat there, it came into her head. That’s reason enough for her. I have imagined she wishes me well, as they say here—though she has never distinguished me in such a way as that!”
Madame Grandoni had foretold the truth; Mrs. Light, a couple of weeks later, convoked all Roman society to a brilliant ball. Rowland went late, and found the staircase so encumbered with flower-pots and servants that he was a long time making his way into the presence of the hostess. At last he approached her, as she stood making courtesies at the door, with her daughter by her side. Some of Mrs. Light’s courtesies were very low, for she had the happiness of receiving a number of the social potentates of the Roman world. She was rosy with triumph, to say nothing of a less metaphysical cause, and was evidently vastly contented with herself, with her company, and with the general promise of destiny. Her daughter was less overtly jubilant, and distributed her greetings with impartial frigidity. She had never been so beautiful. Dressed simply in vaporous white, relieved with half a dozen white roses, the perfection of her features and of her person and the mysterious depth of her expression seemed to glow with the white light of a splendid pearl. She recognized no one individually, and made her courtesy slowly, gravely, with her eyes on the ground. Rowland fancied that, as he stood before her, her obeisance was slightly exaggerated, as with an intention of irony; but he smiled philosophically to himself, and reflected, as he passed into the room, that, if she disliked him, he had nothing to reproach himself with. He walked about, had a few words with Miss Blanchard, who, with a fillet of cameos in her hair, was leaning on the arm of Mr. Leavenworth, and at last came upon the Cavaliere Giacosa, modestly stationed in a corner. The little gentleman’s coat-lappet was decorated with an enormous bouquet and his neck encased in a voluminous white handkerchief of the fashion of thirty years ago. His arms were folded, and he was surveying the scene with contracted eyelids, through which you saw the glitter of his intensely dark, vivacious pupil. He immediately embarked on an elaborate apology for not having yet manifested, as he felt it, his sense of the honor Rowland had done him.
“I am always on service with these ladies, you see,” he explained, “and that is a duty to which one would not willingly be faithless for an instant.”
“Evidently,” said Rowland, “you are a very devoted friend. Mrs. Light, in her situation, is very happy in having you.”
“We are old friends,” said the Cavaliere, gravely. “Old friends. I knew the signora many years ago, when she was the prettiest woman in Rome—or rather in Ancona, which is even better. The beautiful Christina, now, is perhaps the most beautiful young girl in Europe!”
“Very likely,” said Rowland.
“Very well, sir, I taught her to read; I guided her little hands to touch the piano keys.” And at these faded memories, the Cavaliere’s eyes glittered more brightly. Rowland half expected him to proceed, with a little flash of long-repressed passion, “And now—and now, sir, they treat me as you observed the other day!” But the Cavaliere only looked out at him keenly from among his wrinkles, and seemed to say, with all the vividness of the Italian glance, “Oh, I say nothing more. I am not so shallow as to complain!”
Evidently the Cavaliere was not shallow, and Rowland repeated respectfully, “You are a devoted friend.”
“That’s very true. I am a devoted friend. A man may do himself justice, after twenty years!”
Rowland, after a pause, made some remark about the beauty of the ball. It was very brilliant.
“Stupendous!” said the Cavaliere, solemnly. “It is a great day. We have four Roman princes, to say nothing of others.” And he counted them over on his fingers and held up his hand triumphantly. “And there she stands, the girl to whom I—I, Giuseppe Giacosa—taught her alphabet and her piano-scales; there she stands in her incomparable beauty, and Roman princes come and bow to her. Here, in his corner, her old master permits himself to be proud.”
“It is very friendly of him,” said Rowland, smiling.
The Cavaliere contracted his lids a little more and gave another keen glance. “It is very natural, signore. The Christina is a good girl; she remembers my little services. But here comes,” he added in a moment, “the young Prince of the Fine Arts. I am sure he has bowed lowest of all.”
Rowland looked round and saw Roderick moving slowly across the room and casting about him his usual luminous, unshrinking looks. He presently joined them, nodded familiarly to the Cavaliere, and immediately demanded of Rowland, “Have you seen her?”
“I have seen Miss Light,” said Rowland. “She’s magnificent.”
“I’m half crazy!” cried Roderick; so loud that several persons turned round.
Rowland saw that he was flushed, and laid his hand on his arm. Roderick was trembling. “If you will go away,” Rowland said instantly, “I will go with you.”
“Go away?” cried Roderick, almost angrily. “I intend to dance with her!”
The Cavaliere had been watching him attentively; he gently laid his hand on his other arm. “Softly, softly, dear young man,” he said. “Let me speak to you as a friend.”
“Oh, speak even as an enemy and I shall not mind it,” Roderick answered, frowning.
“Be very reasonable, then, and go away.”
“Why the deuce should I go away?”
“Because you are in love,” said the Cavaliere.
“I might as well be in love here as in the streets.”
“Carry your love as far as possible from Christina. She will not listen to you—she can’t.”
“She ‘can’t’?” demanded Roderick. “She is not a person of whom you may say that. She can if she will; she does as she chooses.”
“Up to a certain point. It would take too long to explain; I only beg you to believe that if you continue to love Miss Light you will be very unhappy. Have you a princely title? have you a princely fortune? Otherwise you can never have her.”
And the Cavaliere folded his arms again, like a man who has done his duty. Roderick wiped his forehead and looked askance at Rowland; he seemed to be guessing his thoughts and they made him blush a little. But he smiled blandly, and addressing the Cavaliere, “I’m much obliged to you for the information,” he said. “Now that I have obtained it, let me tell you that I am no more in love with Miss Light than you are. Mr. Mallet knows that. I admire her—yes, profoundly. But that’s no one’s business but my own, and though I have, as you say, neither a princely title nor a princely fortune, I mean to suffer neither those advantages nor those who possess them to diminish my right.”
“If you are not in love, my dear young man,” said the Cavaliere, with his hand on his heart and an apologetic smile, “so much the better. But let me entreat you, as an affectionate friend, to keep a watch on your emotions. You are young, you are handsome, you have a brilliant genius and a generous heart, but—I may say it almost with authority—Christina is not for you!”
Whether Roderick was in love or not, he was nettled by what apparently seemed to him an obtrusive negation of an inspiring possibility. “You speak as if she had made her choice!” he cried. “Without pretending to confidential information on the subject, I am sure she has not.”
“No, but she must make it soon,” said the Cavaliere. And raising his forefinger, he laid it against his under lip. “She must choose a name and a fortune—and she will!”
“She will do exactly as her inclination prompts! She will marry the man who pleases her, if he hasn’t a dollar! I know her better than you.”
The Cavaliere turned a little paler than usual, and smiled more urbanely. “No, no, my dear young man, you do not know her better than I. You have not watched her, day by day, for twenty years. I too have admired her. She is a good girl; she has never said an unkind word to me; the blessed Virgin be thanked! But she must have a brilliant destiny; it has been marked out for her, and she will submit. You had better believe me; it may save you much suffering.”
“We shall see!” said Roderick, with an excited laugh.
“Certainly we shall see. But I retire from the discussion,” the Cavaliere added. “I have no wish to provoke you to attempt to prove to me that I am wrong. You are already excited.”
“No more than is natural to a man who in an hour or so is to dance the cotillon with Miss Light.”
“The cotillon? has she promised?”
Roderick patted the air with a grand confidence. “You ‘ll see!” His gesture might almost have been taken to mean that the state of his relations with Miss Light was such that they quite dispensed with vain formalities.
The Cavaliere gave an exaggerated shrug. “You make a great many mourners!”
“He has made one already!” Rowland murmured to himself. This was evidently not the first time that reference had been made between Roderick and the Cavaliere to the young man’s possible passion, and Roderick had failed to consider it the simplest and most natural course to say in three words to the vigilant little gentleman that there was no cause for alarm—his affections were preoccupied. Rowland hoped, silently, with some dryness, that his motives were of a finer kind than they seemed to be. He turned away; it was irritating to look at Roderick’s radiant, unscrupulous eagerness. The tide was setting toward the supper-room and he drifted with it to the door. The crowd at this point was dense, and he was obliged to wait for some minutes before he could advance. At last he felt his neighbors dividing behind him, and turning he saw Christina pressing her way forward alone. She was looking at no one, and, save for the fact of her being alone, you would not have supposed she was in her mother’s house. As she recognized Rowland she beckoned to him, took his arm, and motioned him to lead her into the supper-room. She said nothing until he had forced a passage and they stood somewhat isolated.
“Take me into the most out-of-the-way corner you can find,” she then said, “and then go and get me a piece of bread.”
“Nothing more? There seems to be everything conceivable.”
“A simple roll. Nothing more, on your peril. Only bring something for yourself.”
It seemed to Rowland that the embrasure of a window (embrasures in Roman palaces are deep) was a retreat sufficiently obscure for Miss Light to execute whatever design she might have contrived against his equanimity. A roll, after he had found her a seat, was easily procured. As he presented it, he remarked that, frankly speaking, he was at loss to understand why she should have selected for the honor of a tête-à-tête an individual for whom she had so little taste.
“Ah yes, I dislike you,” said Christina. “To tell the truth, I had forgotten it. There are so many people here whom I dislike more, that when I espied you just now, you seemed like an intimate friend. But I have not come into this corner to talk nonsense,” she went on. “You must not think I always do, eh?”
“I have never heard you do anything else,” said Rowland, deliberately, having decided that he owed her no compliments.
“Very good. I like your frankness. It’s quite true. You see, I am a strange girl. To begin with, I am frightfully egotistical. Don’t flatter yourself you have said anything very clever if you ever take it into your head to tell me so. I know it much better than you. So it is, I can’t help it. I am tired to death of myself; I would give all I possess to get out of myself; but somehow, at the end, I find myself so vastly more interesting than nine tenths of the people I meet. If a person wished to do me a favor I would say to him, ‘I beg you, with tears in my eyes, to interest me. Be strong, be positive, be imperious, if you will; only be something ,—something that, in looking at, I can forget my detestable self!’ Perhaps that is nonsense too. If it is, I can’t help it. I can only apologize for the nonsense I know to be such and that I talk—oh, for more reasons than I can tell you! I wonder whether, if I were to try, you would understand me.”
“I am afraid I should never understand,” said Rowland, “why a person should willingly talk nonsense.”
“That proves how little you know about women. But I like your frankness. When I told you the other day that you displeased me, I had an idea you were more formal,—how do you say it?—more guindé . I am very capricious. To-night I like you better.”
“Oh, I am not guindé ,” said Rowland, gravely.
“I beg your pardon, then, for thinking so. Now I have an idea that you would make a useful friend—an intimate friend—a friend to whom one could tell everything. For such a friend, what wouldn’t I give!”
Rowland looked at her in some perplexity. Was this touching sincerity, or unfathomable coquetry? Her beautiful eyes looked divinely candid; but then, if candor was beautiful, beauty was apt to be subtle. “I hesitate to recommend myself out and out for the office,” he said, “but I believe that if you were to depend upon me for anything that a friend may do, I should not be found wanting.”
“Very good. One of the first things one asks of a friend is to judge one not by isolated acts, but by one’s whole conduct. I care for your opinion—I don’t know why.”
“Nor do I, I confess,” said Rowland with a laugh.
“What do you think of this affair?” she continued, without heeding his laugh.
“Of your ball? Why, it’s a very grand affair.”
“It’s horrible—that’s what it is! It’s a mere rabble! There are people here whom I never saw before, people who were never asked. Mamma went about inviting every one, asking other people to invite any one they knew, doing anything to have a crowd. I hope she is satisfied! It is not my doing. I feel weary, I feel angry, I feel like crying. I have twenty minds to escape into my room and lock the door and let mamma go through with it as she can. By the way,” she added in a moment, without a visible reason for the transition, “can you tell me something to read?”
Rowland stared, at the disconnectedness of the question.
“Can you recommend me some books?” she repeated. “I know you are a great reader. I have no one else to ask. We can buy no books. We can make debts for jewelry and bonnets and five-button gloves, but we can’t spend a sou for ideas. And yet, though you may not believe it, I like ideas quite as well.”
“I shall be most happy to lend you some books,” Rowland said. “I will pick some out to-morrow and send them to you.”
“No novels, please! I am tired of novels. I can imagine better stories for myself than any I read. Some good poetry, if there is such a thing nowadays, and some memoirs and histories and books of facts.”
“You shall be served. Your taste agrees with my own.”
She was silent a moment, looking at him. Then suddenly—“Tell me something about Mr. Hudson,” she demanded. “You are great friends!”
“Oh yes,” said Rowland; “we are great friends.”
“Tell me about him. Come, begin!”
“Where shall I begin? You know him for yourself.”
“No, I don’t know him; I don’t find him so easy to know. Since he has finished my bust and begun to come here disinterestedly, he has become a great talker. He says very fine things; but does he mean all he says?”
“Few of us do that.”
“You do, I imagine. You ought to know, for he tells me you discovered him.” Rowland was silent, and Christina continued, “Do you consider him very clever?”
“Unquestionably.”
“His talent is really something out of the common way?”
“So it seems to me.”
“In short, he’s a man of genius?”
“Yes, call it genius.”
“And you found him vegetating in a little village and took him by the hand and set him on his feet in Rome?”
“Is that the popular legend?” asked Rowland.
“Oh, you needn’t be modest. There was no great merit in it; there would have been none at least on my part in the same circumstances. Real geniuses are not so common, and if I had discovered one in the wilderness, I would have brought him out into the market-place to see how he would behave. It would be excessively amusing. You must find it so to watch Mr. Hudson, eh? Tell me this: do you think he is going to be a great man—become famous, have his life written, and all that?”
“I don’t prophesy, but I have good hopes.”
Christina was silent. She stretched out her bare arm and looked at it a moment absently, turning it so as to see—or almost to see—the dimple in her elbow. This was apparently a frequent gesture with her; Rowland had already observed it. It was as coolly and naturally done as if she had been in her room alone. “So he’s a man of genius,” she suddenly resumed. “Don’t you think I ought to be extremely flattered to have a man of genius perpetually hanging about? He is the first I ever saw, but I should have known he was not a common mortal. There is something strange about him. To begin with, he has no manners. You may say that it’s not for me to blame him, for I have none myself. That’s very true, but the difference is that I can have them when I wish to (and very charming ones too; I’ll show you some day); whereas Mr. Hudson will never have them. And yet, somehow, one sees he’s a gentleman. He seems to have something urging, driving, pushing him, making him restless and defiant. You see it in his eyes. They are the finest, by the way, I ever saw. When a person has such eyes as that you can forgive him his bad manners. I suppose that is what they call the sacred fire.”
Rowland made no answer except to ask her in a moment if she would have another roll. She merely shook her head and went on:—
“Tell me how you found him. Where was he—how was he?”
“He was in a place called Northampton. Did you ever hear of it? He was studying law—but not learning it.”
“It appears it was something horrible, eh?”
“Something horrible?”
“This little village. No society, no pleasures, no beauty, no life.”
“You have received a false impression. Northampton is not as gay as Rome, but Roderick had some charming friends.”
“Tell me about them. Who were they?”
“Well, there was my cousin, through whom I made his acquaintance: a delightful woman.”
“Young—pretty?”
“Yes, a good deal of both. And very clever.”
“Did he make love to her?”
“Not in the least.”
“Well, who else?”
“He lived with his mother. She is the best of women.”
“Ah yes, I know all that one’s mother is. But she does not count as society. And who else?”
Rowland hesitated. He wondered whether Christina’s insistence was the result of a general interest in Roderick’s antecedents or of a particular suspicion. He looked at her; she was looking at him a little askance, waiting for his answer. As Roderick had said nothing about his engagement to the Cavaliere, it was probable that with this beautiful girl he had not been more explicit. And yet the thing was announced, it was public; that other girl was happy in it, proud of it. Rowland felt a kind of dumb anger rising in his heart. He deliberated a moment intently.
“What are you frowning at?” Christina asked.
“There was another person,” he answered, “the most important of all: the young girl to whom he is engaged.”
Christina stared a moment, raising her eyebrows. “Ah, Mr. Hudson is engaged?” she said, very simply. “Is she pretty?”
“She is not called a beauty,” said Rowland. He meant to practice great brevity, but in a moment he added, “I have seen beauties, however, who pleased me less.”
“Ah, she pleases you, too? Why don’t they marry?”
“Roderick is waiting till he can afford to marry.”
Christina slowly put out her arm again and looked at the dimple in her elbow. “Ah, he’s engaged?” she repeated in the same tone. “He never told me.”
Rowland perceived at this moment that the people about them were beginning to return to the dancing-room, and immediately afterwards he saw Roderick making his way toward themselves. Roderick presented himself before Miss Light.
“I don’t claim that you have promised me the cotillon,” he said, “but I consider that you have given me hopes which warrant the confidence that you will dance with me.”
Christina looked at him a moment. “Certainly I have made no promises,” she said. “It seemed to me that, as the daughter of the house, I should keep myself free and let it depend on circumstances.”
“I beseech you to dance with me!” said Roderick, with vehemence.
Christina rose and began to laugh. “You say that very well, but the Italians do it better.”
This assertion seemed likely to be put to the proof. Mrs. Light hastily approached, leading, rather than led by, a tall, slim young man, of an unmistakably Southern physiognomy. “My precious love,” she cried, “what a place to hide in! We have been looking for you for twenty minutes; I have chosen a cavalier for you, and chosen well!”
The young man disengaged himself, made a ceremonious bow, joined his two hands, and murmured with an ecstatic smile, “May I venture to hope, dear signorina, for the honor of your hand?”
“Of course you may!” said Mrs. Light. “The honor is for us.”
Christina hesitated but for a moment, then swept the young man a courtesy as profound as his own bow. “You are very kind, but you are too late. I have just accepted!”
“Ah, my own darling!” murmured—almost moaned—Mrs. Light.
Christina and Roderick exchanged a single glance—a glance brilliant on both sides. She passed her hand into his arm; he tossed his clustering locks and led her away.
A short time afterwards Rowland saw the young man whom she had rejected leaning against a doorway. He was ugly, but what is called distinguished-looking. He had a heavy black eye, a sallow complexion, a long, thin neck; his hair was cropped en brosse . He looked very young, yet extremely bored. He was staring at the ceiling and stroking an imperceptible moustache. Rowland espied the Cavaliere Giacosa hard by, and, having joined him, asked him the young man’s name.
“Oh,” said the Cavaliere, “he’s a pezzo grosso! A Neapolitan. Prince Casamassima.”
[]
Chapter VI. Frascati
One day, on entering Roderick’s lodging (not the modest rooms on the Ripetta which he had first occupied, but a much more sumptuous apartment on the Corso), Rowland found a letter on the table addressed to himself. It was from Roderick, and consisted of but three lines: “I am gone to Frascati—for meditation. If I am not at home on Friday, you had better join me.” On Friday he was still absent, and Rowland went out to Frascati. Here he found his friend living at the inn and spending his days, according to his own account, lying under the trees of the Villa Mondragone, reading Ariosto. He was in a sombre mood; “meditation” seemed not to have been fruitful. Nothing especially pertinent to our narrative had passed between the two young men since Mrs. Light’s ball, save a few words bearing on an incident of that entertainment. Rowland informed Roderick, the next day, that he had told Miss Light of his engagement. “I don’t know whether you’ll thank me,” he had said, “but it’s my duty to let you know it. Miss Light perhaps has already done so.”
Roderick looked at him a moment, intently, with his color slowly rising. “Why shouldn’t I thank you?” he asked. “I am not ashamed of my engagement.”
“As you had not spoken of it yourself, I thought you might have a reason for not having it known.”
“A man doesn’t gossip about such a matter with strangers,” Roderick rejoined, with the ring of irritation in his voice.
“With strangers—no!” said Rowland, smiling.
Roderick continued his work; but after a moment, turning round with a frown: “If you supposed I had a reason for being silent, pray why should you have spoken?”
“I did not speak idly, my dear Roderick. I weighed the matter before I spoke, and promised myself to let you know immediately afterwards. It seemed to me that Miss Light had better know that your affections are pledged.”
“The Cavaliere has put it into your head, then, that I am making love to her?”
“No; in that case I would not have spoken to her first.”
“Do you mean, then, that she is making love to me?”
“This is what I mean,” said Rowland, after a pause. “That girl finds you interesting, and is pleased, even though she may play indifference, at your finding her so. I said to myself that it might save her some sentimental disappointment to know without delay that you are not at liberty to become indefinitely interested in other women.”
“You seem to have taken the measure of my liberty with extraordinary minuteness!” cried Roderick.
“You must do me justice. I am the cause of your separation from Miss Garland, the cause of your being exposed to temptations which she hardly even suspects. How could I ever face her,” Rowland demanded, with much warmth of tone, “if at the end of it all she should be unhappy?”
“I had no idea that Miss Garland had made such an impression on you. You are too zealous; I take it she didn’t charge you to look after her interests.”
“If anything happens to you, I am accountable. You must understand that.”
“That’s a view of the situation I can’t accept; in your own interest, no less than in mine. It can only make us both very uncomfortable. I know all I owe you; I feel it; you know that! But I am not a small boy nor an outer barbarian any longer, and, whatever I do, I do with my eyes open. When I do well, the merit’s mine; if I do ill, the fault’s mine! The idea that I make you nervous is detestable. Dedicate your nerves to some better cause, and believe that if Miss Garland and I have a quarrel, we shall settle it between ourselves.”
Rowland had found himself wondering, shortly before, whether possibly his brilliant young friend was without a conscience; now it dimly occurred to him that he was without a heart. Rowland, as we have already intimated, was a man with a moral passion, and no small part of it had gone forth into his relations with Roderick. There had been, from the first, no protestations of friendship on either side, but Rowland had implicitly offered everything that belongs to friendship, and Roderick had, apparently, as deliberately accepted it. Rowland, indeed, had taken an exquisite satisfaction in his companion’s deep, inexpressive assent to his interest in him. “Here is an uncommonly fine thing,” he said to himself: “a nature unconsciously grateful, a man in whom friendship does the thing that love alone generally has the credit of—knocks the bottom out of pride!” His reflective judgment of Roderick, as time went on, had indulged in a great many irrepressible vagaries; but his affection, his sense of something in his companion’s whole personality that overmastered his heart and beguiled his imagination, had never for an instant faltered. He listened to Roderick’s last words, and then he smiled as he rarely smiled—with bitterness.
“I don’t at all like your telling me I am too zealous,” he said. “If I had not been zealous, I should never have cared a fig for you.”
Roderick flushed deeply, and thrust his modeling tool up to the handle into the clay. “Say it outright! You have been a great fool to believe in me.”
“I desire to say nothing of the kind, and you don’t honestly believe I do!” said Rowland. “It seems to me I am really very good-natured even to reply to such nonsense.”
Roderick sat down, crossed his arms, and fixed his eyes on the floor. Rowland looked at him for some moments; it seemed to him that he had never so clearly read his companion’s strangely commingled character—his strength and his weakness, his picturesque personal attractiveness and his urgent egoism, his exalted ardor and his puerile petulance. It would have made him almost sick, however, to think that, on the whole, Roderick was not a generous fellow, and he was so far from having ceased to believe in him that he felt just now, more than ever, that all this was but the painful complexity of genius. Rowland, who had not a grain of genius either to make one say he was an interested reasoner, or to enable one to feel that he could afford a dangerous theory or two, adhered to his conviction of the essential salubrity of genius. Suddenly he felt an irresistible compassion for his companion; it seemed to him that his beautiful faculty of production was a double-edged instrument, susceptible of being dealt in back-handed blows at its possessor. Genius was priceless, inspired, divine; but it was also, at its hours, capricious, sinister, cruel; and men of genius, accordingly, were alternately very enviable and very helpless. It was not the first time he had had a sense of Roderick’s standing helpless in the grasp of his temperament. It had shaken him, as yet, but with a half good-humored wantonness; but, henceforth, possibly, it meant to handle him more roughly. These were not times, therefore, for a friend to have a short patience.
“When you err, you say, the fault’s your own,” he said at last. “It is because your faults are your own that I care about them.”
Rowland’s voice, when he spoke with feeling, had an extraordinary amenity. Roderick sat staring a moment longer at the floor, then he sprang up and laid his hand affectionately on his friend’s shoulder. “You are the best man in the world,” he said, “and I am a vile brute. Only,” he added in a moment, “ you don’t understand me! ” And he looked at him with eyes of such radiant lucidity that one might have said (and Rowland did almost say so, himself) that it was the fault of one’s own grossness if one failed to read to the bottom of that beautiful soul.
Rowland smiled sadly. “What is it now? Explain.”
“Oh, I can’t explain!” cried Roderick impatiently, returning to his work. “I have only one way of expressing my deepest feelings—it’s this!” And he swung his tool. He stood looking at the half-wrought clay for a moment, and then flung the instrument down. “And even this half the time plays me false!”
Rowland felt that his irritation had not subsided, and he himself had no taste for saying disagreeable things. Nevertheless he saw no sufficient reason to forbear uttering the words he had had on his conscience from the beginning. “We must do what we can and be thankful,” he said. “And let me assure you of this—that it won’t help you to become entangled with Miss Light.”
Roderick pressed his hand to his forehead with vehemence and then shook it in the air, despairingly; a gesture that had become frequent with him since he had been in Italy. “No, no, it’s no use; you don’t understand me! But I don’t blame you. You can’t!”
“You think it will help you, then?” said Rowland, wondering.
“I think that when you expect a man to produce beautiful and wonderful works of art, you ought to allow him a certain freedom of action, you ought to give him a long rope, you ought to let him follow his fancy and look for his material wherever he thinks he may find it! A mother can’t nurse her child unless she follows a certain diet; an artist can’t bring his visions to maturity unless he has a certain experience. You demand of us to be imaginative, and you deny us that which feeds the imagination. In labor we must be as passionate as the inspired sibyl; in life we must be mere machines. It won’t do. When you have got an artist to deal with, you must take him as he is, good and bad together. I don’t say they are pleasant fellows to know or easy fellows to live with; I don’t say they satisfy themselves any better than other people. I only say that if you want them to produce, you must let them conceive. If you want a bird to sing, you must not cover up its cage. Shoot them, the poor devils, drown them, exterminate them, if you will, in the interest of public morality; it may be morality would gain—I dare say it would! But if you suffer them to live, let them live on their own terms and according to their own inexorable needs!”
Rowland burst out laughing. “I have no wish whatever either to shoot you or to drown you!” he said. “Why launch such a tirade against a warning offered you altogether in the interest of your freest development? Do you really mean that you have an inexorable need of embarking on a flirtation with Miss Light?—a flirtation as to the felicity of which there may be differences of opinion, but which cannot at best, under the circumstances, be called innocent. Your last summer’s adventures were more so! As for the terms on which you are to live, I had an idea you had arranged them otherwise!”
“I have arranged nothing—thank God! I don’t pretend to arrange. I am young and ardent and inquisitive, and I admire Miss Light. That’s enough. I shall go as far as admiration leads me. I am not afraid. Your genuine artist may be sometimes half a madman, but he’s not a coward!”
“Suppose that in your speculation you should come to grief, not only sentimentally but artistically?”
“Come what come will! If I’m to fizzle out, the sooner I know it the better. Sometimes I half suspect it. But let me at least go out and reconnoitre for the enemy, and not sit here waiting for him, cudgeling my brains for ideas that won’t come!”
Do what he would, Rowland could not think of Roderick’s theory of unlimited experimentation, especially as applied in the case under discussion, as anything but a pernicious illusion. But he saw it was vain to combat longer, for inclination was powerfully on Roderick’s side. He laid his hand on Roderick’s shoulder, looked at him a moment with troubled eyes, then shook his head mournfully and turned away.
“I can’t work any more,” said Roderick. “You have upset me! I’ll go and stroll on the Pincian.” And he tossed aside his working-jacket and prepared himself for the street. As he was arranging his cravat before the glass, something occurred to him which made him thoughtful. He stopped a few moments afterward, as they were going out, with his hand on the door-knob. “You did, from your own point of view, an indiscreet thing,” he said, “to tell Miss Light of my engagement.”
Rowland looked at him with a glance which was partly an interrogation, but partly, also, an admission.
“If she’s the coquette you say,” Roderick added, “you have given her a reason the more.”
“And that’s the girl you propose to devote yourself to?” cried Rowland.
“Oh, I don’t say it, mind! I only say that she’s the most interesting creature in the world! The next time you mean to render me a service, pray give me notice beforehand!”
It was perfectly characteristic of Roderick that, a fortnight later, he should have let his friend know that he depended upon him for society at Frascati, as freely as if no irritating topic had ever been discussed between them. Rowland thought him generous, and he had at any rate a liberal faculty of forgetting that he had given you any reason to be displeased with him. It was equally characteristic of Rowland that he complied with his friend’s summons without a moment’s hesitation. His cousin Cecilia had once told him that he was the dupe of his intense benevolence. She put the case with too little favor, or too much, as the reader chooses; it is certain, at least, that he had a constitutional tendency towards magnanimous interpretations. Nothing happened, however, to suggest to him that he was deluded in thinking that Roderick’s secondary impulses were wiser than his primary ones, and that the rounded total of his nature had a harmony perfectly attuned to the most amiable of its brilliant parts. Roderick’s humor, for the time, was pitched in a minor key; he was lazy, listless, and melancholy, but he had never been more friendly and kindly and appealingly submissive. Winter had begun, by the calendar, but the weather was divinely mild, and the two young men took long slow strolls on the hills and lounged away the mornings in the villas. The villas at Frascati are delicious places, and replete with romantic suggestiveness. Roderick, as he had said, was meditating, and if a masterpiece was to come of his meditations, Rowland was perfectly willing to bear him company and coax along the process. But Roderick let him know from the first that he was in a miserably sterile mood, and, cudgel his brains as he would, could think of nothing that would serve for the statue he was to make for Mr. Leavenworth.
“It is worse out here than in Rome,” he said, “for here I am face to face with the dead blank of my mind! There I couldn’t think of anything either, but there I found things to make me forget that I needed to.” This was as frank an allusion to Christina Light as could have been expected under the circumstances; it seemed, indeed, to Rowland surprisingly frank, and a pregnant example of his companion’s often strangely irresponsible way of looking at harmful facts. Roderick was silent sometimes for hours, with a puzzled look on his face and a constant fold between his even eyebrows; at other times he talked unceasingly, with a slow, idle, half-nonsensical drawl. Rowland was half a dozen times on the point of asking him what was the matter with him; he was afraid he was going to be ill. Roderick had taken a great fancy to the Villa Mondragone, and used to declaim fantastic compliments to it as they strolled in the winter sunshine on the great terrace which looks toward Tivoli and the iridescent Sabine mountains. He carried his volume of Ariosto in his pocket, and took it out every now and then and spouted half a dozen stanzas to his companion. He was, as a general thing, very little of a reader; but at intervals he would take a fancy to one of the classics and peruse it for a month in disjointed scraps. He had picked up Italian without study, and had a wonderfully sympathetic accent, though in reading aloud he ruined the sense of half the lines he rolled off so sonorously. Rowland, who pronounced badly but understood everything, once said to him that Ariosto was not the poet for a man of his craft; a sculptor should make a companion of Dante. So he lent him the Inferno , which he had brought with him, and advised him to look into it. Roderick took it with some eagerness; perhaps it would brighten his wits. He returned it the next day with disgust; he had found it intolerably depressing.
“A sculptor should model as Dante writes—you ‘re right there,” he said. “But when his genius is in eclipse, Dante is a dreadfully smoky lamp. By what perversity of fate,” he went on, “has it come about that I am a sculptor at all? A sculptor is such a confoundedly special genius; there are so few subjects he can treat, so few things in life that bear upon his work, so few moods in which he himself is inclined to it.” (It may be noted that Rowland had heard him a dozen times affirm the flat reverse of all this.) “If I had only been a painter—a little quiet, docile, matter-of-fact painter, like our friend Singleton—I should only have to open my Ariosto here to find a subject, to find color and attitudes, stuffs and composition; I should only have to look up from the page at that mouldy old fountain against the blue sky, at that cypress alley wandering away like a procession of priests in couples, at the crags and hollows of the Sabine hills, to find myself grasping my brush. Best of all would be to be Ariosto himself, or one of his brotherhood. Then everything in nature would give you a hint, and every form of beauty be part of your stock. You wouldn’t have to look at things only to say,—with tears of rage half the time,—‘Oh, yes, it’s wonderfully pretty, but what the deuce can I do with it?’ But a sculptor, now! That’s a pretty trade for a fellow who has got his living to make and yet is so damnably constituted that he can’t work to order, and considers that, aesthetically, clock ornaments don’t pay! You can’t model the serge-coated cypresses, nor those mouldering old Tritons and all the sunny sadness of that dried-up fountain; you can’t put the light into marble—the lovely, caressing, consenting Italian light that you get so much of for nothing. Say that a dozen times in his life a man has a complete sculpturesque vision—a vision in which the imagination recognizes a subject and the subject kindles the imagination. It is a remunerative rate of work, and the intervals are comfortable!”
One morning, as the two young men were lounging on the sun-warmed grass at the foot of one of the slanting pines of the Villa Mondragone, Roderick delivered himself of a tissue of lugubrious speculations as to the possible mischances of one’s genius. “What if the watch should run down,” he asked, “and you should lose the key? What if you should wake up some morning and find it stopped, inexorably, appallingly stopped? Such things have been, and the poor devils to whom they happened have had to grin and bear it. The whole matter of genius is a mystery. It bloweth where it listeth and we know nothing of its mechanism. If it gets out of order we can’t mend it; if it breaks down altogether we can’t set it going again. We must let it choose its own pace, and hold our breath lest it should lose its balance. It’s dealt out in different doses, in big cups and little, and when you have consumed your portion it’s as naif to ask for more as it was for Oliver Twist to ask for more porridge. Lucky for you if you’ve got one of the big cups; we drink them down in the dark, and we can’t tell their size until we tip them up and hear the last gurgle. Those of some men last for life; those of others for a couple of years. Nay, what are you smiling at so damnably?” he went on. “Nothing is more common than for an artist who has set out on his journey on a high-stepping horse to find himself all of a sudden dismounted and invited to go his way on foot. You can number them by the thousand—the people of two or three successes; the poor fellows whose candle burnt out in a night. Some of them groped their way along without it, some of them gave themselves up for blind and sat down by the wayside to beg. Who shall say that I’m not one of these? Who shall assure me that my credit is for an unlimited sum? Nothing proves it, and I never claimed it; or if I did, I did so in the mere boyish joy of shaking off the dust of Northampton. If you believed so, my dear fellow, you did so at your own risk! What am I, what are the best of us, but an experiment? Do I succeed—do I fail? It doesn’t depend on me. I’m prepared for failure. It won’t be a disappointment, simply because I shan’t survive it. The end of my work shall be the end of my life. When I have played my last card, I shall cease to care for the game. I’m not making vulgar threats of suicide; for destiny, I trust, won’t add insult to injury by putting me to that abominable trouble. But I have a conviction that if the hour strikes here ,” and he tapped his forehead, “I shall disappear, dissolve, be carried off in a cloud! For the past ten days I have had the vision of some such fate perpetually swimming before my eyes. My mind is like a dead calm in the tropics, and my imagination as motionless as the phantom ship in the Ancient Mariner!”
Rowland listened to this outbreak, as he often had occasion to listen to Roderick’s heated monologues, with a number of mental restrictions. Both in gravity and in gayety he said more than he meant, and you did him simple justice if you privately concluded that neither the glow of purpose nor the chill of despair was of so intense a character as his florid diction implied. The moods of an artist, his exaltations and depressions, Rowland had often said to himself, were like the pen-flourishes a writing-master makes in the air when he begins to set his copy. He may bespatter you with ink, he may hit you in the eye, but he writes a magnificent hand. It was nevertheless true that at present poor Roderick gave unprecedented tokens of moral stagnation, and as for genius being held by the precarious tenure he had sketched, Rowland was at a loss to see whence he could borrow the authority to contradict him. He sighed to himself, and wished that his companion had a trifle more of little Sam Singleton’s evenness of impulse. But then, was Singleton a man of genius? He answered that such reflections seemed to him unprofitable, not to say morbid; that the proof of the pudding was in the eating; that he didn’t know about bringing a genius that had palpably spent its last breath back to life again, but that he was satisfied that vigorous effort was a cure for a great many ills that seemed far gone. “Don’t heed your mood,” he said, “and don’t believe there is any calm so dead that your own lungs can’t ruffle it with a breeze. If you have work to do, don’t wait to feel like it; set to work and you will feel like it.”
“Set to work and produce abortions!” cried Roderick with ire. “Preach that to others. Production with me must be either pleasure or nothing. As I said just now, I must either stay in the saddle or not go at all. I won’t do second-rate work; I can’t if I would. I have no cleverness, apart from inspiration. I am not a Gloriani! You are right,” he added after a while; “this is unprofitable talk, and it makes my head ache. I shall take a nap and see if I can dream of a bright idea or two.”
He turned his face upward to the parasol of the great pine, closed his eyes, and in a short time forgot his sombre fancies. January though it was, the mild stillness seemed to vibrate with faint midsummer sounds. Rowland sat listening to them and wishing that, for the sake of his own felicity, Roderick’s temper were graced with a certain absent ductility. He was brilliant, but was he, like many brilliant things, brittle? Suddenly, to his musing sense, the soft atmospheric hum was overscored with distincter sounds. He heard voices beyond a mass of shrubbery, at the turn of a neighboring path. In a moment one of them began to seem familiar, and an instant later a large white poodle emerged into view. He was slowly followed by his mistress. Miss Light paused a moment on seeing Rowland and his companion; but, though the former perceived that he was recognized, she made no bow. Presently she walked directly toward him. He rose and was on the point of waking Roderick, but she laid her finger on her lips and motioned him to forbear. She stood a moment looking at Roderick’s handsome slumber.
“What delicious oblivion!” she said. “Happy man! Stenterello”—and she pointed to his face—“wake him up!”
The poodle extended a long pink tongue and began to lick Roderick’s cheek.
“Why,” asked Rowland, “if he is happy?”
“Oh, I want companions in misery! Besides, I want to show off my dog.” Roderick roused himself, sat up, and stared. By this time Mrs. Light had approached, walking with a gentleman on each side of her. One of these was the Cavaliere Giacosa; the other was Prince Casamassima. “I should have liked to lie down on the grass and go to sleep,” Christina added. “But it would have been unheard of.”
“Oh, not quite,” said the Prince, in English, with a tone of great precision. “There was already a Sleeping Beauty in the Wood!”
“Charming!” cried Mrs. Light. “Do you hear that, my dear?”
“When the prince says a brilliant thing, it would be a pity to lose it,” said the young girl. “Your servant, sir!” And she smiled at him with a grace that might have reassured him, if he had thought her compliment ambiguous.
Roderick meanwhile had risen to his feet, and Mrs. Light began to exclaim on the oddity of their meeting and to explain that the day was so lovely that she had been charmed with the idea of spending it in the country. And who would ever have thought of finding Mr. Mallet and Mr. Hudson sleeping under a tree!
“Oh, I beg your pardon; I was not sleeping,” said Rowland.
“Don’t you know that Mr. Mallet is Mr. Hudson’s sheep-dog?” asked Christina. “He was mounting guard to keep away the wolves.”
“To indifferent purpose, madame!” said Rowland, indicating the young girl.
“Is that the way you spend your time?” Christina demanded of Roderick. “I never yet happened to learn what men were doing when they supposed women were not watching them but it was something vastly below their reputation.”
“When, pray,” said Roderick, smoothing his ruffled locks, “are women not watching them?”
“We shall give you something better to do, at any rate. How long have you been here? It’s an age since I have seen you. We consider you domiciled here, and expect you to play host and entertain us.”
Roderick said that he could offer them nothing but to show them the great terrace, with its view; and ten minutes later the group was assembled there. Mrs. Light was extravagant in her satisfaction; Christina looked away at the Sabine mountains, in silence. The prince stood by, frowning at the rapture of the elder lady.
“This is nothing,” he said at last. “My word of honor. Have you seen the terrace at San Gaetano?”
“Ah, that terrace,” murmured Mrs. Light, amorously. “I suppose it is magnificent!”
“It is four hundred feet long, and paved with marble. And the view is a thousand times more beautiful than this. You see, far away, the blue, blue sea and the little smoke of Vesuvio!”
“Christina, love,” cried Mrs. Light forthwith, “the prince has a terrace four hundred feet long, all paved with marble!”
The Cavaliere gave a little cough and began to wipe his eye-glass.
“Stupendous!” said Christina. “To go from one end to the other, the prince must have out his golden carriage.” This was apparently an allusion to one of the other items of the young man’s grandeur.
“You always laugh at me,” said the prince. “I know no more what to say!”
She looked at him with a sad smile and shook her head. “No, no, dear prince, I don’t laugh at you. Heaven forbid! You are much too serious an affair. I assure you I feel your importance. What did you inform us was the value of the hereditary diamonds of the Princess Casamassima?”
“Ah, you are laughing at me yet!” said the poor young man, standing rigid and pale.
“It doesn’t matter,” Christina went on. “We have a note of it; mamma writes all those things down in a little book!”
“If you are laughed at, dear prince, at least it’s in company,” said Mrs. Light, caressingly; and she took his arm, as if to resist his possible displacement under the shock of her daughter’s sarcasm. But the prince looked heavy-eyed toward Rowland and Roderick, to whom the young girl was turning, as if he had much rather his lot were cast with theirs.
“Is the villa inhabited?” Christina asked, pointing to the vast melancholy structure which rises above the terrace.
“Not privately,” said Roderick. “It is occupied by a Jesuits’ college, for little boys.”
“Can women go in?”
“I am afraid not.” And Roderick began to laugh. “Fancy the poor little devils looking up from their Latin declensions and seeing Miss Light standing there!”
“I should like to see the poor little devils, with their rosy cheeks and their long black gowns, and when they were pretty, I shouldn’t scruple to kiss them. But if I can’t have that amusement I must have some other. We must not stand planted on this enchanting terrace as if we were stakes driven into the earth. We must dance, we must feast, we must do something picturesque. Mamma has arranged, I believe, that we are to go back to Frascati to lunch at the inn. I decree that we lunch here and send the Cavaliere to the inn to get the provisions! He can take the carriage, which is waiting below.”
Miss Light carried out this undertaking with unfaltering ardor. The Cavaliere was summoned, and he stook to receive her commands hat in hand, with his eyes cast down, as if she had been a princess addressing her major-domo. She, however, laid her hand with friendly grace upon his button-hole, and called him a dear, good old Cavaliere, for being always so willing. Her spirits had risen with the occasion, and she talked irresistible nonsense. “Bring the best they have,” she said, “no matter if it ruins us! And if the best is very bad, it will be all the more amusing. I shall enjoy seeing Mr. Mallet try to swallow it for propriety’s sake! Mr. Hudson will say out like a man that it’s horrible stuff, and that he ‘ll be choked first! Be sure you bring a dish of maccaroni; the prince must have the diet of the Neapolitan nobility. But I leave all that to you, my poor, dear Cavaliere; you know what’s good! Only be sure, above all, you bring a guitar. Mr. Mallet will play us a tune, I’ll dance with Mr. Hudson, and mamma will pair off with the prince, of whom she is so fond!”
And as she concluded her recommendations, she patted her bland old servitor caressingly on the shoulder. He looked askance at Rowland; his little black eye glittered; it seemed to say, “Didn’t I tell you she was a good girl!”
The Cavaliere returned with zealous speed, accompanied by one of the servants of the inn, laden with a basket containing the materials of a rustic luncheon. The porter of the villa was easily induced to furnish a table and half a dozen chairs, and the repast, when set forth, was pronounced a perfect success; not so good as to fail of the proper picturesqueness, nor yet so bad as to defeat the proper function of repasts. Christina continued to display the most charming animation, and compelled Rowland to reflect privately that, think what one might of her, the harmonious gayety of a beautiful girl was the most beautiful sight in nature. Her good-humor was contagious. Roderick, who an hour before had been descanting on madness and suicide, commingled his laughter with hers in ardent devotion; Prince Casamassima stroked his young moustache and found a fine, cool smile for everything; his neighbor, Mrs. Light, who had Rowland on the other side, made the friendliest confidences to each of the young men, and the Cavaliere contributed to the general hilarity by the solemnity of his attention to his plate. As for Rowland, the spirit of kindly mirth prompted him to propose the health of this useful old gentleman, as the effective author of their pleasure. A moment later he wished he had held his tongue, for although the toast was drunk with demonstrative good-will, the Cavaliere received it with various small signs of eager self-effacement which suggested to Rowland that his diminished gentility but half relished honors which had a flavor of patronage. To perform punctiliously his mysterious duties toward the two ladies, and to elude or to baffle observation on his own merits—this seemed the Cavaliere’s modest programme. Rowland perceived that Mrs. Light, who was not always remarkable for tact, seemed to have divined his humor on this point. She touched her glass to her lips, but offered him no compliment and immediately gave another direction to the conversation. He had brought no guitar, so that when the feast was over there was nothing to hold the little group together. Christina wandered away with Roderick to another part of the terrace; the prince, whose smile had vanished, sat gnawing the head of his cane, near Mrs. Light, and Rowland strolled apart with the Cavaliere, to whom he wished to address a friendly word in compensation for the discomfort he had inflicted on his modesty. The Cavaliere was a mine of information upon all Roman places and people; he told Rowland a number of curious anecdotes about the old Villa Mondragone. “If history could always be taught in this fashion!” thought Rowland. “It’s the ideal—strolling up and down on the very spot commemorated, hearing sympathetic anecdotes from deeply indigenous lips.” At last, as they passed, Rowland observed the mournful physiognomy of Prince Casamassima, and, glancing toward the other end of the terrace, saw that Roderick and Christina had disappeared from view. The young man was sitting upright, in an attitude, apparently habitual, of ceremonious rigidity; but his lower jaw had fallen and was propped up with his cane, and his dull dark eye was fixed upon the angle of the villa which had just eclipsed Miss Light and her companion. His features were grotesque and his expression vacuous; but there was a lurking delicacy in his face which seemed to tell you that nature had been making Casamassimas for a great many centuries, and, though she adapted her mould to circumstances, had learned to mix her material to an extraordinary fineness and to perform the whole operation with extreme smoothness. The prince was stupid, Rowland suspected, but he imagined he was amiable, and he saw that at any rate he had the great quality of regarding himself in a thoroughly serious light. Rowland touched his companion’s arm and pointed to the melancholy nobleman.
“Why in the world does he not go after her and insist on being noticed!” he asked.
“Oh, he’s very proud!” said the Cavaliere.
“That’s all very well, but a gentleman who cultivates a passion for that young lady must be prepared to make sacrifices.”
“He thinks he has already made a great many. He comes of a very great family—a race of princes who for six hundred years have married none but the daughters of princes. But he is seriously in love, and he would marry her to-morrow.”
“And she will not have him?”
“Ah, she is very proud, too!” The Cavaliere was silent a moment, as if he were measuring the propriety of frankness. He seemed to have formed a high opinion of Rowland’s discretion, for he presently continued: “It would be a great match, for she brings him neither a name nor a fortune—nothing but her beauty. But the signorina will receive no favors; I know her well! She would rather have her beauty blasted than seem to care about the marriage, and if she ever accepts the prince it will be only after he has implored her on his knees!”
“But she does care about it,” said Rowland, “and to bring him to his knees she is working upon his jealousy by pretending to be interested in my friend Hudson. If you said more, you would say that, eh?”
The Cavaliere’s shrewdness exchanged a glance with Rowland’s. “By no means. Miss Light is a singular girl; she has many romantic ideas. She would be quite capable of interesting herself seriously in an interesting young man, like your friend, and doing her utmost to discourage a splendid suitor, like the prince. She would act sincerely and she would go very far. But it would be unfortunate for the young man,” he added, after a pause, “for at the last she would retreat!”
“A singular girl, indeed!”
“She would accept the more brilliant parti . I can answer for it.”
“And what would be her motive?”
“She would be forced. There would be circumstances.... I can’t tell you more.”
“But this implies that the rejected suitor would also come back. He might grow tired of waiting.”
“Oh, this one is good! Look at him now.” Rowland looked, and saw that the prince had left his place by Mrs. Light and was marching restlessly to and fro between the villa and the parapet of the terrace. Every now and then he looked at his watch. “In this country, you know,” said the Cavaliere, “a young lady never goes walking alone with a handsome young man. It seems to him very strange.”
“It must seem to him monstrous, and if he overlooks it he must be very much in love.”
“Oh, he will overlook it. He is far gone.”
“Who is this exemplary lover, then; what is he?”
“A Neapolitan; one of the oldest houses in Italy. He is a prince in your English sense of the word, for he has a princely fortune. He is very young; he is only just of age; he saw the signorina last winter in Naples. He fell in love with her from the first, but his family interfered, and an old uncle, an ecclesiastic, Monsignor B—, hurried up to Naples, seized him, and locked him up. Meantime he has passed his majority, and he can dispose of himself. His relations are moving heaven and earth to prevent his marrying Miss Light, and they have sent us word that he forfeits his property if he takes his wife out of a certain line. I have investigated the question minutely, and I find this is but a fiction to frighten us. He is perfectly free; but the estates are such that it is no wonder they wish to keep them in their own hands. For Italy, it is an extraordinary case of unincumbered property. The prince has been an orphan from his third year; he has therefore had a long minority and made no inroads upon his fortune. Besides, he is very prudent and orderly; I am only afraid that some day he will pull the purse-strings too tight. All these years his affairs have been in the hands of Monsignor B—, who has managed them to perfection—paid off mortagages, planted forests, opened up mines. It is now a magnificent fortune; such a fortune as, with his name, would justify the young man in pretending to any alliance whatsoever. And he lays it all at the feet of that young girl who is wandering in yonder boschetto with a penniless artist.”
“He is certainly a phoenix of princes! The signora must be in a state of bliss.”
The Cavaliere looked imperturbably grave. “The signora has a high esteem for his character.”
“His character, by the way,” rejoined Rowland, with a smile; “what sort of a character is it?”
“Eh, Prince Casamassima is a veritable prince! He is a very good young man. He is not brilliant, nor witty, but he ‘ll not let himself be made a fool of. He’s very grave and very devout—though he does propose to marry a Protestant. He will handle that point after marriage. He’s as you see him there: a young man without many ideas, but with a very firm grasp of a single one—the conviction that Prince Casamassima is a very great person, that he greatly honors any young lady by asking for her hand, and that things are going very strangely when the young lady turns her back upon him. The poor young man, I am sure, is profoundly perplexed. But I whisper to him every day, ‘Pazienza, Signor Principe!’”
“So you firmly believe,” said Rowland, in conclusion, “that Miss Light will accept him just in time not to lose him!”
“I count upon it. She would make too perfect a princess to miss her destiny.”
“And you hold that nevertheless, in the mean while, in listening to, say, my friend Hudson, she will have been acting in good faith?”
The Cavaliere lifted his shoulders a trifle, and gave an inscrutable smile. “Eh, dear signore, the Christina is very romantic!”
“So much so, you intimate, that she will eventually retract, in consequence not of a change of sentiment, but of a mysterious outward pressure?”
“If everything else fails, there is that resource. But it is mysterious, as you say, and you needn’t try to guess it. You will never know.”
“The poor signorina, then, will suffer!”
“Not too much, I hope.”
“And the poor young man! You maintain that there is nothing but disappointment in store for the infatuated youth who loses his heart to her!”
The Cavaliere hesitated. “He had better,” he said in a moment, “go and pursue his studies in Florence. There are very fine antiques in the Uffizi!”
Rowland presently joined Mrs. Light, to whom her restless protégé had not yet returned. “That’s right,” she said; “sit down here; I have something serious to say to you. I am going to talk to you as a friend. I want your assistance. In fact, I demand it; it’s your duty to render it. Look at that unhappy young man.”
“Yes,” said Rowland, “he seems unhappy.”
“He is just come of age, he bears one of the greatest names in Italy and owns one of the greatest properties, and he is pining away with love for my daughter.”
“So the Cavaliere tells me.”
“The Cavaliere shouldn’t gossip,” said Mrs. Light dryly. “Such information should come from me. The prince is pining, as I say; he’s consumed, he’s devoured. It’s a real Italian passion; I know what that means!” And the lady gave a speaking glance, which seemed to coquet for a moment with retrospect. “Meanwhile, if you please, my daughter is hiding in the woods with your dear friend Mr. Hudson. I could cry with rage.”
“If things are so bad as that,” said Rowland, “it seems to me that you ought to find nothing easier than to dispatch the Cavaliere to bring the guilty couple back.”
“Never in the world! My hands are tied. Do you know what Christina would do? She would tell the Cavaliere to go about his business—Heaven forgive her!—and send me word that, if she had a mind to, she would walk in the woods till midnight. Fancy the Cavaliere coming back and delivering such a message as that before the prince! Think of a girl wantonly making light of such a chance as hers! He would marry her to-morrow, at six o’clock in the morning!”
“It is certainly very sad,” said Rowland.
“That costs you little to say. If you had left your precious young meddler to vegetate in his native village you would have saved me a world of distress!”
“Nay, you marched into the jaws of danger,” said Rowland. “You came and disinterred poor Hudson in his own secluded studio.”
“In an evil hour! I wish to Heaven you would talk with him.”
“I have done my best.”
“I wish, then, you would take him away. You have plenty of money. Do me a favor. Take him to travel. Go to the East—go to Timbuctoo. Then, when Christina is Princess Casamassima,” Mrs. Light added in a moment, “he may come back if he chooses.”
“Does she really care for him?” Rowland asked, abruptly.
“She thinks she does, possibly. She is a living riddle. She must needs follow out every idea that comes into her head. Fortunately, most of them don’t last long; but this one may last long enough to give the prince a chill. If that were to happen, I don’t know what I should do! I should be the most miserable of women. It would be too cruel, after all I’ve suffered to make her what she is, to see the labor of years blighted by a caprice. For I can assure you, sir,” Mrs. Light went on, “that if my daughter is the greatest beauty in the world, some of the credit is mine.”
Rowland promptly remarked that this was obvious. He saw that the lady’s irritated nerves demanded comfort from flattering reminiscence, and he assumed designedly the attitude of a zealous auditor. She began to retail her efforts, her hopes, her dreams, her presentiments, her disappointments, in the cause of her daughter’s matrimonial fortunes. It was a long story, and while it was being unfolded, the prince continued to pass to and fro, stiffly and solemnly, like a pendulum marking the time allowed for the young lady to come to her senses. Mrs. Light evidently, at an early period, had gathered her maternal hopes into a sacred sheaf, which she said her prayers and burnt incense to, and treated like a sort of fetish. They had been her religion; she had none other, and she performed her devotions bravely and cheerily, in the light of day. The poor old fetish had been so caressed and manipulated, so thrust in and out of its niche, so passed from hand to hand, so dressed and undressed, so mumbled and fumbled over, that it had lost by this time much of its early freshness, and seemed a rather battered and disfeatured divinity. But it was still brought forth in moments of trouble to have its tinseled petticoat twisted about and be set up on its altar. Rowland observed that Mrs. Light had a genuine maternal conscience; she considered that she had been performing a sacred duty in bringing up Christina to set her cap for a prince, and when the future looked dark, she found consolation in thinking that destiny could never have the heart to deal a blow at so deserving a person. This conscience upside down presented to Rowland’s fancy a real physical image; he was on the point, half a dozen times, of bursting out laughing.
“I don’t know whether you believe in presentiments,” said Mrs. Light, “and I don’t care! I have had one for the last fifteen years. People have laughed at it, but they haven’t laughed me out of it. It has been everything to me. I couldn’t have lived without it. One must believe in something! It came to me in a flash, when Christina was five years old. I remember the day and the place, as if it were yesterday. She was a very ugly baby; for the first two years I could hardly bear to look at her, and I used to spoil my own looks with crying about her. She had an Italian nurse who was very fond of her and insisted that she would grow up pretty. I couldn’t believe her; I used to contradict her, and we were forever squabbling. I was just a little silly in those days—surely I may say it now—and I was very fond of being amused. If my daughter was ugly, it was not that she resembled her mamma; I had no lack of amusement. People accused me, I believe, of neglecting my little girl; if it was so, I’ve made up for it since. One day I went to drive on the Pincio in very low spirits. A trusted friend had greatly disappointed me. While I was there he passed me in a carriage, driving with a horrible woman who had made trouble between us. I got out of my carriage to walk about, and at last sat down on a bench. I can show you the spot at this hour. While I sat there a child came wandering along the path—a little girl of four or five, very fantastically dressed in crimson and orange. She stopped in front of me and stared at me, and I stared at her queer little dress, which was a cheap imitation of the costume of one of these contadine . At last I looked up at her face, and said to myself, ‘Bless me, what a beautiful child! what a splendid pair of eyes, what a magnificent head of hair! If my poor Christina were only like that!’ The child turned away slowly, but looking back with its eyes fixed on me. All of a sudden I gave a cry, pounced on it, pressed it in my arms, and covered it with kisses. It was Christina, my own precious child, so disguised by the ridiculous dress which the nurse had amused herself in making for her, that her own mother had not recognized her. She knew me, but she said afterwards that she had not spoken to me because I looked so angry. Of course my face was sad. I rushed with my child to the carriage, drove home post-haste, pulled off her rags, and, as I may say, wrapped her in cotton. I had been blind, I had been insane; she was a creature in ten millions, she was to be a beauty of beauties, a priceless treasure! Every day, after that, the certainty grew. From that time I lived only for my daughter. I watched her, I caressed her from morning till night, I worshipped her. I went to see doctors about her, I took every sort of advice. I was determined she should be perfection. The things that have been done for that girl, sir—you wouldn’t believe them; they would make you smile! Nothing was spared; if I had been told that she must have a bath every morning of molten pearls, I would have found means to give it to her. She never raised a finger for herself, she breathed nothing but perfumes, she walked upon velvet. She never was out of my sight, and from that day to this I have never said a sharp word to her. By the time she was ten years old she was beautiful as an angel, and so noticed wherever we went that I had to make her wear a veil, like a woman of twenty. Her hair reached down to her feet; her hands were the hands of a princess. Then I saw that she was as clever as she was beautiful, and that she had only to play her cards. She had masters, professors, every educational advantage. They told me she was a little prodigy. She speaks French, Italian, German, better than most natives. She has a wonderful genius for music, and might make her fortune as a pianist, if it was not made for her otherwise! I traveled all over Europe; every one told me she was a marvel. The director of the opera in Paris saw her dance at a child’s party at Spa, and offered me an enormous sum if I would give her up to him and let him have her educated for the ballet. I said, ‘No, I thank you, sir; she is meant to be something finer than a princesse de théâtre .’ I had a passionate belief that she might marry absolutely whom she chose, that she might be a princess out and out. It has never left me till this hour, and I can assure you that it has sustained me in many embarrassments. Financial, some of them; I don’t mind confessing it! I have raised money on that girl’s face! I’ve taken her to the Jews and bade her put up her veil, and asked if the mother of that young lady was not safe! She, of course, was too young to understand me. And yet, as a child, you would have said she knew what was in store for her; before she could read, she had the manners, the tastes, the instincts of a little princess. She would have nothing to do with shabby things or shabby people; if she stained one of her frocks, she was seized with a kind of frenzy and tore it to pieces. At Nice, at Baden, at Brighton, wherever we stayed, she used to be sent for by all the great people to play with their children. She has played at kissing-games with people who now stand on the steps of thrones! I have gone so far as to think at times that those childish kisses were a sign—a symbol—a portent. You may laugh at me if you like, but haven’t such things happened again and again without half as good a cause, and doesn’t history notoriously repeat itself? There was a little Spanish girl at a second-rate English boarding-school thirty years ago!... The Empress certainly is a pretty woman; but what is my Christina, pray? I’ve dreamt of it, sometimes every night for a month. I won’t tell you I have been to consult those old women who advertise in the newspapers; you’ll call me an old imbecile. Imbecile if you please! I have refused magnificent offers because I believed that somehow or other—if wars and revolutions were needed to bring it about—we should have nothing less than that . There might be another coup d’état somewhere, and another brilliant young sovereign looking out for a wife! At last, however,” Mrs. Light proceeded with incomparable gravity, “since the overturning of the poor king of Naples and that charming queen, and the expulsion of all those dear little old-fashioned Italian grand-dukes, and the dreadful radical talk that is going on all over the world, it has come to seem to me that with Christina in such a position I should be really very nervous. Even in such a position she would hold her head very high, and if anything should happen to her, she would make no concessions to the popular fury. The best thing, if one is prudent, seems to be a nobleman of the highest possible rank, short of belonging to a reigning stock. There you see one striding up and down, looking at his watch, and counting the minutes till my daughter reappears!”
Rowland listened to all this with a huge compassion for the heroine of the tale. What an education, what a history, what a school of character and of morals! He looked at the prince and wondered whether he too had heard Mrs. Light’s story. If he had he was a brave man. “I certainly hope you’ll keep him,” he said to Mrs. Light. “You have played a dangerous game with your daughter; it would be a pity not to win. But there is hope for you yet; here she comes at last!”
Christina reappeared as he spoke these words, strolling beside her companion with the same indifferent tread with which she had departed. Rowland imagined that there was a faint pink flush in her cheek which she had not carried away with her, and there was certainly a light in Roderick’s eyes which he had not seen there for a week.
“Bless my soul, how they are all looking at us!” she cried, as they advanced. “One would think we were prisoners of the Inquisition!” And she paused and glanced from the prince to her mother, and from Rowland to the Cavaliere, and then threw back her head and burst into far-ringing laughter. “What is it, pray? Have I been very improper? Am I ruined forever? Dear prince, you are looking at me as if I had committed the unpardonable sin!”
“I myself,” said the prince, “would never have ventured to ask you to walk with me alone in the country for an hour!”
“The more fool you, dear prince, as the vulgar say! Our walk has been charming. I hope you, on your side, have enjoyed each other’s society.”
“My dear daughter,” said Mrs. Light, taking the arm of her predestined son-in-law, “I shall have something serious to say to you when we reach home. We will go back to the carriage.”
“Something serious! Decidedly, it is the Inquisition. Mr. Hudson, stand firm, and let us agree to make no confessions without conferring previously with each other! They may put us on the rack first. Mr. Mallet, I see also,” Christina added, “has something serious to say to me!”
Rowland had been looking at her with the shadow of his lately-stirred pity in his eyes. “Possibly,” he said. “But it must be for some other time.”
“I am at your service. I see our good-humor is gone. And I only wanted to be amiable! It is very discouraging. Cavaliere, you, only, look as if you had a little of the milk of human kindness left; from your venerable visage, at least; there is no telling what you think. Give me your arm and take me away!”
The party took its course back to the carriage, which was waiting in the grounds of the villa, and Rowland and Roderick bade their friends farewell. Christina threw herself back in her seat and closed her eyes; a manoeuvre for which Rowland imagined the prince was grateful, as it enabled him to look at her without seeming to depart from his attitude of distinguished disapproval. Rowland found himself aroused from sleep early the next morning, to see Roderick standing before him, dressed for departure, with his bag in his hand. “I am off,” he said. “I am back to work. I have an idea. I must strike while the iron’s hot! Farewell!” And he departed by the first train. Rowland went alone by the next.
[]
Chapter VII. Saint Cecilia’s
Rowland went often to the Coliseum; he never wearied of it. One morning, about a month after his return from Frascati, as he was strolling across the vast arena, he observed a young woman seated on one of the fragments of stone which are ranged along the line of the ancient parapet. It seemed to him that he had seen her before, but he was unable to localize her face. Passing her again, he perceived that one of the little red-legged French soldiers at that time on guard there had approached her and was gallantly making himself agreeable. She smiled brilliantly, and Rowland recognized the smile (it had always pleased him) of a certain comely Assunta, who sometimes opened the door for Mrs. Light’s visitors. He wondered what she was doing alone in the Coliseum, and conjectured that Assunta had admirers as well as her young mistress, but that, being without the same domiciliary conveniencies, she was using this massive heritage of her Latin ancestors as a boudoir. In other words, she had an appointment with her lover, who had better, from present appearances, be punctual. It was a long time since Rowland had ascended to the ruinous upper tiers of the great circus, and, as the day was radiant and the distant views promised to be particularly clear, he determined to give himself the pleasure. The custodian unlocked the great wooden wicket, and he climbed through the winding shafts, where the eager Roman crowds had billowed and trampled, not pausing till he reached the highest accessible point of the ruin. The views were as fine as he had supposed; the lights on the Sabine Mountains had never been more lovely. He gazed to his satisfaction and retraced his steps. In a moment he paused again on an abutment somewhat lower, from which the glance dropped dizzily into the interior. There are chance anfractuosities of ruin in the upper portions of the Coliseum which offer a very fair imitation of the rugged face of an Alpine cliff. In those days a multitude of delicate flowers and sprays of wild herbage had found a friendly soil in the hoary crevices, and they bloomed and nodded amid the antique masonry as freely as they would have done in the virgin rock. Rowland was turning away, when he heard a sound of voices rising up from below. He had but to step slightly forward to find himself overlooking two persons who had seated themselves on a narrow ledge, in a sunny corner. They had apparently had an eye to extreme privacy, but they had not observed that their position was commanded by Rowland’s stand-point. One of these airy adventurers was a lady, thickly veiled, so that, even if he had not been standing directly above her, Rowland could not have seen her face. The other was a young man, whose face was also invisible, but who, as Rowland stood there, gave a toss of his clustering locks which was equivalent to the signature—Roderick Hudson. A moment’s reflection, hereupon, satisfied him of the identity of the lady. He had been unjust to poor Assunta, sitting patient in the gloomy arena; she had not come on her own errand. Rowland’s discoveries made him hesitate. Should he retire as noiselessly as possible, or should he call out a friendly good morning? While he was debating the question, he found himself distinctly hearing his friends’ words. They were of such a nature as to make him unwilling to retreat, and yet to make it awkward to be discovered in a position where it would be apparent that he had heard them.
“If what you say is true,” said Christina, with her usual soft deliberateness—it made her words rise with peculiar distinctness to Rowland’s ear—“you are simply weak. I am sorry! I hoped—I really believed—you were not.”
“No, I am not weak,” answered Roderick, with vehemence; “I maintain that I am not weak! I am incomplete, perhaps; but I can’t help that. Weakness is a man’s own fault!”
“Incomplete, then!” said Christina, with a laugh. “It’s the same thing, so long as it keeps you from splendid achievement. Is it written, then, that I shall really never know what I have so often dreamed of?”
“What have you dreamed of?”
“A man whom I can perfectly respect!” cried the young girl, with a sudden flame. “A man, at least, whom I can unrestrictedly admire. I meet one, as I have met more than one before, whom I fondly believe to be cast in a larger mould than most of the vile human breed, to be large in character, great in talent, strong in will! In such a man as that, I say, one’s weary imagination at last may rest; or it may wander if it will, yet never need to wander far from the deeps where one’s heart is anchored. When I first knew you, I gave no sign, but you had struck me. I observed you, as women observe, and I fancied you had the sacred fire.”
“Before heaven, I believe I have!” cried Roderick.
“Ah, but so little! It flickers and trembles and sputters; it goes out, you tell me, for whole weeks together. From your own account, it’s ten to one that in the long run you ‘re a failure.”
“I say those things sometimes myself, but when I hear you say them they make me feel as if I could work twenty years at a sitting, on purpose to refute you!”
“Ah, the man who is strong with what I call strength,” Christina replied, “would neither rise nor fall by anything I could say! I am a poor, weak woman; I have no strength myself, and I can give no strength. I am a miserable medley of vanity and folly. I am silly, I am ignorant, I am affected, I am false. I am the fruit of a horrible education, sown on a worthless soil. I am all that, and yet I believe I have one merit! I should know a great character when I saw it, and I should delight in it with a generosity which would do something toward the remission of my sins. For a man who should really give me a certain feeling—which I have never had, but which I should know when it came—I would send Prince Casamassima and his millions to perdition. I don’t know what you think of me for saying all this; I suppose we have not climbed up here under the skies to play propriety. Why have you been at such pains to assure me, after all, that you are a little man and not a great one, a weak one and not a strong? I innocently imagined that your eyes declared you were strong. But your voice condemns you; I always wondered at it; it’s not the voice of a conqueror!”
“Give me something to conquer,” cried Roderick, “and when I say that I thank you from my soul, my voice, whatever you think of it, shall speak the truth!”
Christina for a moment said nothing. Rowland was too interested to think of moving. “You pretend to such devotion,” she went on, “and yet I am sure you have never really chosen between me and that person in America.”
“Do me the favor not to speak of her,” said Roderick, imploringly.
“Why not? I say no ill of her, and I think all kinds of good. I am certain she is a far better girl than I, and far more likely to make you happy.”
“This is happiness, this present, palpable moment,” said Roderick; “though you have such a genius for saying the things that torture me!”
“It’s greater happiness than you deserve, then! You have never chosen, I say; you have been afraid to choose. You have never really faced the fact that you are false, that you have broken your faith. You have never looked at it and seen that it was hideous, and yet said, ‘No matter, I’ll brave the penalty, I’ll bear the shame!’ You have closed your eyes; you have tried to stifle remembrance, to persuade yourself that you were not behaving as badly as you seemed to be, and there would be some way, after all, of compassing bliss and yet escaping trouble. You have faltered and drifted, you have gone on from accident to accident, and I am sure that at this present moment you can’t tell what it is you really desire!”
Roderick was sitting with his knees drawn up and bent, and his hands clapsed around his legs. He bent his head and rested his forehead on his knees.
Christina went on with a sort of infernal calmness: “I believe that, really, you don’t greatly care for your friend in America any more than you do for me. You are one of the men who care only for themselves and for what they can make of themselves. That’s very well when they can make something great, and I could interest myself in a man of extraordinary power who should wish to turn all his passions to account. But if the power should turn out to be, after all, rather ordinary? Fancy feeling one’s self ground in the mill of a third-rate talent! If you have doubts about yourself, I can’t reassure you; I have too many doubts myself, about everything in this weary world. You have gone up like a rocket, in your profession, they tell me; are you going to come down like the stick? I don’t pretend to know; I repeat frankly what I have said before—that all modern sculpture seems to me weak, and that the only things I care for are some of the most battered of the antiques of the Vatican. No, no, I can’t reassure you; and when you tell me—with a confidence in my discretion of which, certainly, I am duly sensible—that at times you feel terribly small, why, I can only answer, ‘Ah, then, my poor friend, I am afraid you are small.’ The language I should like to hear, from a certain person, would be the language of absolute decision.”
Roderick raised his head, but he said nothing; he seemed to be exchanging a long glance with his companion. The result of it was to make him fling himself back with an inarticulate murmur. Rowland, admonished by the silence, was on the point of turning away, but he was arrested by a gesture of the young girl. She pointed for a moment into the blue air. Roderick followed the direction of her gesture.
“Is that little flower we see outlined against that dark niche,” she asked, “as intensely blue as it looks through my veil?” She spoke apparently with the amiable design of directing the conversation into a less painful channel.
Rowland, from where he stood, could see the flower she meant—a delicate plant of radiant hue, which sprouted from the top of an immense fragment of wall some twenty feet from Christina’s place.
Roderick turned his head and looked at it without answering. At last, glancing round, “Put up your veil!” he said. Christina complied. “Does it look as blue now?” he asked.
“Ah, what a lovely color!” she murmured, leaning her head on one side.
“Would you like to have it?”
She stared a moment and then broke into a light laugh.
“Would you like to have it?” he repeated in a ringing voice.
“Don’t look as if you would eat me up,” she answered. “It’s harmless if I say yes!”
Roderick rose to his feet and stood looking at the little flower. It was separated from the ledge on which he stood by a rugged surface of vertical wall, which dropped straight into the dusky vaults behind the arena. Suddenly he took off his hat and flung it behind him. Christina then sprang to her feet.
“I will bring it you,” he said.
She seized his arm. “Are you crazy? Do you mean to kill yourself?”
“I shall not kill myself. Sit down!”
“Excuse me. Not till you do!” And she grasped his arm with both hands.
Roderick shook her off and pointed with a violent gesture to her former place. “Go there!” he cried fiercely.
“You can never, never!” she murmured beseechingly, clasping her hands. “I implore you!”
Roderick turned and looked at her, and then in a voice which Rowland had never heard him use, a voice almost thunderous, a voice which awakened the echoes of the mighty ruin, he repeated, “Sit down!” She hesitated a moment and then she dropped on the ground and buried her face in her hands.
Rowland had seen all this, and he saw more. He saw Roderick clasp in his left arm the jagged corner of the vertical partition along which he proposed to pursue his crazy journey, stretch out his leg, and feel for a resting-place for his foot. Rowland had measured with a glance the possibility of his sustaining himself, and pronounced it absolutely nil. The wall was garnished with a series of narrow projections, the remains apparently of a brick cornice supporting the arch of a vault which had long since collapsed. It was by lodging his toes on these loose brackets and grasping with his hands at certain mouldering protuberances on a level with his head, that Roderick intended to proceed. The relics of the cornice were utterly worthless as a support. Rowland had observed this, and yet, for a moment, he had hesitated. If the thing were possible, he felt a sudden admiring glee at the thought of Roderick’s doing it. It would be finely done, it would be gallant, it would have a sort of masculine eloquence as an answer to Christina’s sinister persiflage . But it was not possible! Rowland left his place with a bound, and scrambled down some neighboring steps, and the next moment a stronger pair of hands than Christina’s were laid upon Roderick’s shoulder.
He turned, staring, pale and angry. Christina rose, pale and staring, too, but beautiful in her wonder and alarm. “My dear Roderick,” said Rowland, “I am only preventing you from doing a very foolish thing. That’s an exploit for spiders, not for young sculptors of promise.”
Roderick wiped his forehead, looked back at the wall, and then closed his eyes, as if with a spasm, of retarded dizziness. “I won’t resist you,” he said. “But I have made you obey,” he added, turning to Christina. “Am I weak now?”
She had recovered her composure; she looked straight past him and addressed Rowland: “Be so good as to show me the way out of this horrible place!”
He helped her back into the corridor; Roderick followed after a short interval. Of course, as they were descending the steps, came questions for Rowland to answer, and more or less surprise. Where had he come from? how happened he to have appeared at just that moment? Rowland answered that he had been rambling overhead, and that, looking out of an aperture, he had seen a gentleman preparing to undertake a preposterous gymnastic feat, and a lady swooning away in consequence. Interference seemed justifiable, and he had made it as prompt as possible. Roderick was far from hanging his head, like a man who has been caught in the perpetration of an extravagant folly; but if he held it more erect than usual Rowland believed that this was much less because he had made a show of personal daring than because he had triumphantly proved to Christina that, like a certain person she had dreamed of, he too could speak the language of decision. Christina descended to the arena in silence, apparently occupied with her own thoughts. She betrayed no sense of the privacy of her interview with Roderick needing an explanation. Rowland had seen stranger things in New York! The only evidence of her recent agitation was that, on being joined by her maid, she declared that she was unable to walk home; she must have a carriage. A fiacre was found resting in the shadow of the Arch of Constantine, and Rowland suspected that after she had got into it she disburdened herself, under her veil, of a few natural tears.
Rowland had played eavesdropper to so good a purpose that he might justly have omitted the ceremony of denouncing himself to Roderick. He preferred, however, to let him know that he had overheard a portion of his talk with Christina.
“Of course it seems to you,” Roderick said, “a proof that I am utterly infatuated.”
“Miss Light seemed to me to know very well how far she could go,” Rowland answered. “She was twisting you round her finger. I don’t think she exactly meant to defy you; but your crazy pursuit of that flower was a proof that she could go all lengths in the way of making a fool of you.”
“Yes,” said Roderick, meditatively; “she is making a fool of me.”
“And what do you expect to come of it?”
“Nothing good!” And Roderick put his hands into his pockets and looked as if he had announced the most colorless fact in the world.
“And in the light of your late interview, what do you make of your young lady?”
“If I could tell you that, it would be plain sailing. But she ‘ll not tell me again I am weak!”
“Are you very sure you are not weak?”
“I may be, but she shall never know it.”
Rowland said no more until they reached the Corso, when he asked his companion whether he was going to his studio.
Roderick started out of a reverie and passed his hands over his eyes. “Oh no, I can’t settle down to work after such a scene as that. I was not afraid of breaking my neck then, but I feel all in a tremor now. I will go—I will go and sit in the sun on the Pincio!”
“Promise me this, first,” said Rowland, very solemnly: “that the next time you meet Miss Light, it shall be on the earth and not in the air.”
Since his return from Frascati, Roderick had been working doggedly at the statue ordered by Mr. Leavenworth. To Rowland’s eye he had made a very fair beginning, but he had himself insisted, from the first, that he liked neither his subject nor his patron, and that it was impossible to feel any warmth of interest in a work which was to be incorporated into the ponderous personality of Mr. Leavenworth. It was all against the grain; he wrought without love. Nevertheless after a fashion he wrought, and the figure grew beneath his hands. Miss Blanchard’s friend was ordering works of art on every side, and his purveyors were in many cases persons whom Roderick declared it was infamy to be paired with. There had been grand tailors, he said, who declined to make you a coat unless you got the hat you were to wear with it from an artist of their own choosing. It seemed to him that he had an equal right to exact that his statue should not form part of the same system of ornament as the “Pearl of Perugia,” a picture by an American confrère who had, in Mr. Leavenworth’s opinion, a prodigious eye for color. As a customer, Mr. Leavenworth used to drop into Roderick’s studio, to see how things were getting on, and give a friendly hint or so. He would seat himself squarely, plant his gold-topped cane between his legs, which he held very much apart, rest his large white hands on the head, and enunciate the principles of spiritual art, as he hoisted them one by one, as you might say, out of the depths of his moral consciousness. His benignant and imperturbable pomposity gave Roderick the sense of suffocating beneath a large fluffy bolster, and the worst of the matter was that the good gentleman’s placid vanity had an integument whose toughness no sarcastic shaft could pierce. Roderick admitted that in thinking over the tribulations of struggling genius, the danger of dying of over-patronage had never occurred to him.
The deterring effect of the episode of the Coliseum was apparently of long continuance; if Roderick’s nerves had been shaken his hand needed time to recover its steadiness. He cultivated composure upon principles of his own; by frequenting entertainments from which he returned at four o’clock in the morning, and lapsing into habits which might fairly be called irregular. He had hitherto made few friends among the artistic fraternity; chiefly because he had taken no trouble about it, and there was in his demeanor an elastic independence of the favor of his fellow-mortals which made social advances on his own part peculiarly necessary. Rowland had told him more than once that he ought to fraternize a trifle more with the other artists, and he had always answered that he had not the smallest objection to fraternizing: let them come! But they came on rare occasions, and Roderick was not punctilious about returning their visits. He declared there was not one of them whose works gave him the smallest desire to make acquaintance with the insides of their heads. For Gloriani he professed a superb contempt, and, having been once to look at his wares, never crossed his threshold again. The only one of the fraternity for whom by his own admission he cared a straw was little Singleton; but he expressed his regard only in a kind of sublime hilarity whenever he encountered this humble genius, and quite forgot his existence in the intervals. He had never been to see him, but Singleton edged his way, from time to time, timidly, into Roderick’s studio, and agreed with characteristic modesty that brilliant fellows like the sculptor might consent to receive homage, but could hardly be expected to render it. Roderick never exactly accepted homage, and apparently did not quite observe whether poor Singleton spoke in admiration or in blame. Roderick’s taste as to companions was singularly capricious. There were very good fellows, who were disposed to cultivate him, who bored him to death; and there were others, in whom even Rowland’s good-nature was unable to discover a pretext for tolerance, in whom he appeared to find the highest social qualities. He used to give the most fantastic reasons for his likes and dislikes. He would declare he couldn’t speak a civil word to a man who brushed his hair in a certain fashion, and he would explain his unaccountable fancy for an individual of imperceptible merit by telling you that he had an ancestor who in the thirteenth century had walled up his wife alive. “I like to talk to a man whose ancestor has walled up his wife alive,” he would say. “You may not see the fun of it, and think poor P—is a very dull fellow. It’s very possible; I don’t ask you to admire him. But, for reasons of my own, I like to have him about. The old fellow left her for three days with her face uncovered, and placed a long mirror opposite to her, so that she could see, as he said, if her gown was a fit!”
His relish for an odd flavor in his friends had led him to make the acquaintance of a number of people outside of Rowland’s well-ordered circle, and he made no secret of their being very queer fish. He formed an intimacy, among others, with a crazy fellow who had come to Rome as an emissary of one of the Central American republics, to drive some ecclesiastical bargain with the papal government. The Pope had given him the cold shoulder, but since he had not prospered as a diplomatist, he had sought compensation as a man of the world, and his great flamboyant curricle and negro lackeys were for several weeks one of the striking ornaments of the Pincian. He spoke a queer jargon of Italian, Spanish, French, and English, humorously relieved with scraps of ecclesiastical Latin, and to those who inquired of Roderick what he found to interest him in such a fantastic jackanapes, the latter would reply, looking at his interlocutor with his lucid blue eyes, that it was worth any sacrifice to hear him talk nonsense! The two had gone together one night to a ball given by a lady of some renown in the Spanish colony, and very late, on his way home, Roderick came up to Rowland’s rooms, in whose windows he had seen a light. Rowland was going to bed, but Roderick flung himself into an armchair and chattered for an hour. The friends of the Costa Rican envoy were as amusing as himself, and in very much the same line. The mistress of the house had worn a yellow satin dress, and gold heels to her slippers, and at the close of the entertainment had sent for a pair of castanets, tucked up her petticoats, and danced a fandango, while the gentlemen sat cross-legged on the floor. “It was awfully low,” Roderick said; “all of a sudden I perceived it, and bolted. Nothing of that kind ever amuses me to the end: before it’s half over it bores me to death; it makes me sick. Hang it, why can’t a poor fellow enjoy things in peace? My illusions are all broken-winded; they won’t carry me twenty paces! I can’t laugh and forget; my laugh dies away before it begins. Your friend Stendhal writes on his book-covers (I never got farther) that he has seen too early in life la beauté parfaite . I don’t know how early he saw it; I saw it before I was born—in another state of being! I can’t describe it positively; I can only say I don’t find it anywhere now. Not at the bottom of champagne glasses; not, strange as it may seem, in that extra half-yard or so of shoulder that some women have their ball-dresses cut to expose. I don’t find it at merry supper-tables, where half a dozen ugly men with pomatumed heads are rapidly growing uglier still with heat and wine; not when I come away and walk through these squalid black streets, and go out into the Forum and see a few old battered stone posts standing there like gnawed bones stuck into the earth. Everything is mean and dusky and shabby, and the men and women who make up this so-called brilliant society are the meanest and shabbiest of all. They have no real spontaneity; they are all cowards and popinjays. They have no more dignity than so many grasshoppers. Nothing is good but one!” And he jumped up and stood looking at one of his statues, which shone vaguely across the room in the dim lamplight.
“Yes, do tell us,” said Rowland, “what to hold on by!”
“Those things of mine were tolerably good,” he answered. “But my idea was better—and that’s what I mean!”
Rowland said nothing. He was willing to wait for Roderick to complete the circle of his metamorphoses, but he had no desire to officiate as chorus to the play. If Roderick chose to fish in troubled waters, he must land his prizes himself.
“You think I’m an impudent humbug,” the latter said at last, “coming up to moralize at this hour of the night. You think I want to throw dust into your eyes, to put you off the scent. That’s your eminently rational view of the case.”
“Excuse me from taking any view at all,” said Rowland.
“You have given me up, then?”
“No, I have merely suspended judgment. I am waiting.”
“You have ceased then positively to believe in me?”
Rowland made an angry gesture. “Oh, cruel boy! When you have hit your mark and made people care for you, you shouldn’t twist your weapon about at that rate in their vitals. Allow me to say I am sleepy. Good night!”
Some days afterward it happened that Rowland, on a long afternoon ramble, took his way through one of the quiet corners of the Trastevere. He was particularly fond of this part of Rome, though he could hardly have expressed the charm he found in it. As you pass away from the dusky, swarming purlieus of the Ghetto, you emerge into a region of empty, soundless, grass-grown lanes and alleys, where the shabby houses seem mouldering away in disuse, and yet your footstep brings figures of startling Roman type to the doorways. There are few monuments here, but no part of Rome seemed more historic, in the sense of being weighted with a crushing past, blighted with the melancholy of things that had had their day. When the yellow afternoon sunshine slept on the sallow, battered walls, and lengthened the shadows in the grassy courtyards of small closed churches, the place acquired a strange fascination. The church of Saint Cecilia has one of these sunny, waste-looking courts; the edifice seems abandoned to silence and the charity of chance devotion. Rowland never passed it without going in, and he was generally the only visitor. He entered it now, but found that two persons had preceded him. Both were women. One was at her prayers at one of the side altars; the other was seated against a column at the upper end of the nave. Rowland walked to the altar, and paid, in a momentary glance at the clever statue of the saint in death, in the niche beneath it, the usual tribute to the charm of polished ingenuity. As he turned away he looked at the person seated and recognized Christina Light. Seeing that she perceived him, he advanced to speak to her.
She was sitting in a listless attitude, with her hands in her lap; she seemed to be tired. She was dressed simply, as if for walking and escaping observation. When he had greeted her he glanced back at her companion, and recognized the faithful Assunta.
Christina smiled. “Are you looking for Mr. Hudson? He is not here, I am happy to say.”
“But you?” he asked. “This is a strange place to find you.”
“Not at all! People call me a strange girl, and I might as well have the comfort of it. I came to take a walk; that, by the way, is part of my strangeness. I can’t loll all the morning on a sofa, and all the afternoon in a carriage. I get horribly restless. I must move; I must do something and see something. Mamma suggests a cup of tea. Meanwhile I put on an old dress and half a dozen veils, I take Assunta under my arm, and we start on a pedestrian tour. It’s a bore that I can’t take the poodle, but he attracts attention. We trudge about everywhere; there is nothing I like so much. I hope you will congratulate me on the simplicity of my tastes.”
“I congratulate you on your wisdom. To live in Rome and not to walk would, I think, be poor pleasure. But you are terribly far from home, and I am afraid you are tired.”
“A little—enough to sit here a while.”
“Might I offer you my company while you rest?”
“If you will promise to amuse me. I am in dismal spirits.”
Ro