Infomotions, Inc.Indian Summer / Howells, William Dean, 1837-1920



Author: Howells, William Dean, 1837-1920
Title: Indian Summer
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): colville; bowen; imogene; effie; miss graham; palazzo pinti; effie bowen
Contributor(s): Widger, David, 1932- [Editor]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 96,796 words (short) Grade range: 7-10 (grade school) Readability score: 70 (easy)
Identifier: etext7359
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Title: Indian Summer

Author: William D. Howells

Release Date: January, 2005  [EBook #7359]
[This file was first posted on April 20, 2003]

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Language: English

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*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK, INDIAN SUMMER ***




David Garcia, Eric Eldred, Charles Franks, and the Online Distributed
Proofreaders Team



INDIAN SUMMER

BY

WILLIAM D. HOWELLS

AUTHOR OF "THE RISE OF SILAS LAPHAM," "A MODERN INSTANCE,"
"WOMAN'S REASON," ETC.







INDIAN SUMMER

       *       *       *       *       *

I


Midway of the Ponte Vecchio at Florence, where three arches break the
lines of the little jewellers' booths glittering on either hand, and
open an approach to the parapet, Colville lounged against the corner of
a shop and stared out upon the river. It was the late afternoon of a day
in January, which had begun bright and warm, but had suffered a change
of mood as its hours passed, and now, from a sky dimmed with flying grey
clouds, was threatening rain. There must already have been rain in the
mountains, for the yellow torrent that seethed and swirled around the
piers of the bridge was swelling momently on the wall of the Lung' Arno,
and rolling a threatening flood toward the Cascine, where it lost itself
under the ranks of the poplars that seemed to file across its course,
and let their delicate tops melt into the pallor of the low horizon.

The city, with the sweep of the Lung' Arno on either hand, and its domes
and towers hung in the dull air, and the country with its white villas
and black cypresses breaking the grey stretches of the olive orchards on
its hill-sides, had alike been growing more and more insufferable; and
Colville was finding a sort of vindictive satisfaction in the power to
ignore the surrounding frippery of landscape and architecture. He
isolated himself so perfectly from it, as he brooded upon the river,
that, for any sensible difference, he might have been standing on the
Main Street Bridge at Des Vaches, Indiana, looking down at the tawny
sweep of the Wabash. He had no love for that stream, nor for the
ambitious town on its banks, but ever since he woke that morning he had
felt a growing conviction that he had been a great ass to leave them. He
had, in fact, taken the prodigious risk of breaking his life sharp off
from the course in which it had been set for many years, and of
attempting to renew it in a direction from which it had long been
diverted. Such an act could be precipitated only by a strong impulse of
conscience or a profound disgust, and with Colville it sprang from
disgust. He had experienced a bitter disappointment in the city to whose
prosperity he had given the energies of his best years, and in whose
favour he imagined that he had triumphantly established himself.

He had certainly made the Des Vaches _Democrat-Republican_ a very good
paper; its ability was recognised throughout the State, and in Des
Vaches people of all parties were proud of it. They liked every morning
to see what Colville said; they believed that in his way he was the
smartest man in the State, and they were fond of claiming that there was
no such writer on any of the Indianapolis papers. They forgave some
political heresies to the talent they admired; they permitted him the
whim of free trade, they laughed tolerantly when he came out in favour
of civil service reform, and no one had much fault to find when the
_Democrat-Republican_ bolted the nomination of a certain politician of
its party for Congress. But when Colville permitted his own name to be
used by the opposing party, the people arose in their might and defeated
him by a tremendous majority. That was what the regular nominee said. It
was a withering rebuke to treason, in the opinion of this gentleman; it
was a good joke, anyway, with the Democratic managers who had taken
Colville up, being all in the Republican family; whichever it was, it
was a mortification for Colville which his pride could not brook. He
stood disgraced before the community not only as a theorist and
unpractical doctrinaire, but as a dangerous man; and what was worse, he
could not wholly acquit himself of a measure of bad faith; his
conscience troubled him even more than his pride. Money was found, and a
printer bought up with it to start a paper in opposition to the
_Democrat-Republican_. Then Colville contemptuously offered to sell out
to the Republican committee in charge of the new enterprise, and they
accepted his terms.

In private life he found much of the old kindness returning to him; and
his successful opponent took the first opportunity of heaping coals of
fire on his head in the public street, when he appeared to the outer eye
to be shaking hands with Colville. During the months that he remained to
close up his affairs after the sale of his paper, the _Post-Democrat-
Republican_ (the newspaper had agglutinated the titles of two of its
predecessors, after the fashion of American journals) was fulsome in
its complimentary allusions to him. It politely invented the fiction
that he was going to Europe for his health, impaired by his journalistic
labours, and adventurously promised its readers that they might hope
to hear from him from time to time in its columns. In some of its
allusions to him Colville detected the point of a fine irony, of which
he had himself introduced the practice in the _Democrat-Republican_;
and he experienced, with a sense of personal impoverishment,
the curious fact that a journalist of strong characteristics
leaves the tradition of himself in such degree with the journal
he has created that he seems to bring very little away. He was
obliged to confess in his own heart that the paper was as good as ever.
The assistants, who had trained themselves to write like him, seemed to
be writing quite as well, and his honesty would not permit him to
receive the consolation offered him by the friends who told him that
there was a great falling off in the _Post-Democrat-Republican_. Except
that it was rather more Stalwart in its Republicanism, and had turned
quite round on the question of the tariff, it was very much what it had
always been. It kept the old decency of tone which he had given it, and
it maintained the literary character which he was proud of. The new
management must have divined that its popularity, with the women at
least, was largely due to its careful selections of verse and fiction,
its literary news, and its full and piquant criticisms, with their long
extracts from new books. It was some time since he had personally looked
after this department, and the young fellow in charge of it under him
had remained with the paper. Its continued excellence, which he could
not have denied if he had wished, seemed to leave him drained and
feeble, and it was partly from the sense of this that he declined the
overtures, well backed up with money, to establish an independent paper
in Des Vaches. He felt that there was not fight enough in him for the
work, even if he had not taken that strong disgust for public life which
included the place and its people. He wanted to get away, to get far
away, and with the abrupt and total change in his humour he reverted to
a period in his life when journalism and politics and the ambition of
Congress were things undreamed of.

At that period he was a very young architect, with an inclination toward
the literary side of his profession, which made it seem profitable to
linger, with his Ruskin in his hand, among the masterpieces of Italian
Gothic, when perhaps he might have been better employed in designing
red-roofed many-verandaed, consciously mullioned seaside cottages on the
New England coast. He wrote a magazine paper on the zoology of the
Lombardic pillars in Verona, very Ruskinian, very scornful of modern
motive. He visited every part of the peninsula, but he gave the greater
part of his time to North Italy, and in Venice he met the young girl
whom he followed to Florence. His love did not prosper; when she went
away she left him in possession of that treasure to a man of his
temperament, a broken heart. From that time his vague dreams began to
lift, and to let him live in the clear light of common day; but he was
still lingering at Florence, ignorant of the good which had befallen
him, and cowering within himself under the sting of wounded vanity, when
he received a letter from his elder brother suggesting that he should
come and see how he liked the architecture of Des Vaches. His brother
had been seven years at Des Vaches, where he had lands, and a lead-mine,
and a scheme for a railroad, and had lately added a daily newspaper to
his other enterprises. He had, in fact, added two newspapers; for having
unexpectedly and almost involuntarily become the owner of the Des Vaches
_Republican_, the fancy of building up a great local journal seized him,
and he bought the _Wabash Valley Democrat_, uniting them under the name
of the _Democrat-Republican_. But he had trouble almost from the first
with his editors, and he naturally thought of the brother with a turn
for writing who had been running to waste for the last year or two in
Europe. His real purpose was to work Colville into the management of his
paper when he invited him to come out and look at the architecture of
Des Vaches.

Colville went, because he was at that moment in the humour to go
anywhere, and because his money was running low, and he must begin work
somehow. He was still romantic enough to like the notion of the place a
little, because it bore the name given to it by the old French
_voyageurs_ from a herd of buffalo cows which they had seen grazing on
the site of their camp there; but when he came to the place itself he
did not like it. He hated it; but he stayed, and as an architect was the
last thing any one wanted in Des Vaches since the jail and court-house
had been built, he became, half without his willing it, a newspaper man.
He learned in time to relish the humorous intimacy of the life about
him; and when it was decided that he was no fool--there were doubts,
growing out of his Eastern accent and the work of his New York tailor,
at first--he found himself the object of a pleasing popularity. In due
time he bought his brother out; he became very fond of newspaper life,
its constant excitements and its endless variety; and six weeks before
he sold his paper he would have scoffed at a prophecy of his return to
Europe for the resumption of any artistic purpose whatever. But here he
was, lounging on the Ponte Vecchio at Florence, whither he had come with
the intention of rubbing up his former studies, and of perhaps getting
back to put them in practice at New York ultimately. He had said to
himself before coming abroad that he was in no hurry; that he should
take it very easily--he had money enough for that; yet he would keep
architecture before him as an object, for he had lived long in a
community where every one was intensely occupied, and he unconsciously
paid to Des Vaches the tribute of feeling that an objectless life was
disgraceful to a man.

In the meantime he suffered keenly and at every moment the loss of the
occupation of which he had bereaved himself; in thinking of quite other
things, in talk of totally different matters, from the dreams of night,
he woke with a start to the realisation of the fact that he had no
longer a newspaper. He perceived now, as never before, that for fifteen
years almost every breath of his life had been drawn with reference to
his paper, and that without it he was in some sort lost, and, as it
were, extinct. A tide of ridiculous home-sickness, which was an
expression of this passionate regret for the life he had put behind him,
rather than any longing for Des Vaches, swept over him, and the first
passages of a letter to the _Post-Democrat-Republican_ began to shape
themselves in his mind. He had always, when he left home for New York or
Washington, or for his few weeks of summer vacation on the Canadian
rivers or the New England coast, written back to his readers, in whom he
knew he could count upon quick sympathy in all he saw and felt, and he
now found himself addressing them with that frank familiarity which
comes to the journalist, in minor communities, from the habit of print.
He began by confessing to them the defeat of certain expectations with
which he had returned to Florence, and told them that they must not look
for anything like the ordinary letters of travel from him. But he was
not so singular in his attitude toward the place as he supposed; for any
tourist who comes to Florence with the old-fashioned expectation of
impressions will probably suffer a disappointment, unless he arrives
very young and for the first time. It is a city superficially so well
known that it affects one somewhat like a collection of views of itself;
they are from the most striking points, of course, but one has examined
them before, and is disposed to be critical of them. Certain emotions,
certain sensations failed to repeat themselves to Colville at sight of
the familiar monuments, which seemed to wear a hardy and indifferent
air, as if being stared at so many years by so many thousands of
travellers had extinguished in them that sensibility which one likes to
fancy in objects of interest everywhere.

The life which was as vivid all about him as if caught by the latest
instantaneous process made the same comparatively ineffective appeal.
The operatic spectacle was still there. The people, with their cloaks
statuesquely draped over their left shoulders, moved down the street, or
posed in vehement dialogue on the sidewalks; the drama of bargaining,
with the customer's scorn, the shopman's pathos, came through the open
shop door; the handsome, heavy-eyed ladies, the bare-headed girls,
thronged the ways; the caffes were full of the well-remembered figures
over their newspapers and little cups; the officers were as splendid as
of old, with their long cigars in their mouths, their swords kicking
against their beautiful legs, and their spurs jingling; the dandies,
with their little dogs and their flower-like smiles, were still in front
of the confectioners' for the inspection of the ladies who passed; the
old beggar still crouched over her scaldino at the church door, and the
young man with one leg, whom he thought to escape by walking fast, had
timed him to a second from the other side of the street. There was the
wonted warmth in the sunny squares, and the old familiar damp and stench
in the deep narrow streets. But some charm had gone out of all this. The
artisans coming to the doors of their shallow booths for the light on
some bit of carpentering, or cobbling, or tinkering; the crowds swarming
through the middle of the streets on perfect terms with the wine-carts
and cab horses; the ineffective grandiosity of the palaces huddled upon
the crooked thoroughfares; the slight but insinuating cold of the
southern winter, gathering in the shade and dispersing in the sun, and
denied everywhere by the profusion of fruit and flowers, and by the
greenery of gardens showing through the grated portals and over the tops
of high walls; the groups of idle poor, permanently or temporarily
propped against the bases of edifices with a southern exposure; the
priests and monks and nuns in their gliding passage; the impassioned
snapping of the cabmen's whips; the clangour of bells that at some hours
inundated the city, and then suddenly subsided and left it to the
banging of coppersmiths; the open-air frying of cakes, with its
primitive smell of burning fat; the tramp of soldiery, and the fanfare
of bugles blown to gay measures--these and a hundred other
characteristic traits and facts still found a response in the
consciousness where they were once a rapture of novelty; but the
response was faint and thin; he could not warm over the old mood in
which he once treasured them all away as of equal preciousness.

Of course there was a pleasure in recognising some details of former
experience in Florence as they recurred. Colville had been met at once
by a _festa_, when nothing could be done, and he was more than consoled
by the caressing sympathy with which he was assured that his broken
trunk could not be mended till the day after to-morrow; he had quite
forgotten about the festas and the sympathy. That night the piazza on
which he lodged seemed full of snow to the casual glance he gave it;
then he saw that it was the white Italian moonlight, which he had also
forgotten....






II


Colville had readied this point in that sarcastic study of his own
condition of mind for the advantage of his late readers in the
_Post-Democrat-Republican_, when he was aware of a polite rustling of
draperies, with an ensuing well-bred murmur, which at once ignored him,
deprecated intrusion upon him, and asserted a common right to the
prospect on which he had been dwelling alone. He looked round with an
instinctive expectation of style and poise, in which he was not
disappointed. The lady, with a graceful lift of the head and a very
erect carriage, almost Bernhardtesque in the backward fling of her
shoulders and the strict compression of her elbows to her side, was
pointing out the different bridges to the little girl who was with her.

"That first one is the Santa Trinita, and the next is the Carraja, and
that one quite down by the Cascine is the iron bridge. The Cascine you
remember--the park where we were driving--that clump of woods there----"

A vagueness expressive of divided interest had crept into the lady's
tone rather than her words. Colville could feel that she was waiting for
the right moment to turn her delicate head, sculpturesquely defined by
its toque, and steal an imperceptible glance at him: and he
involuntarily afforded her the coveted excuse by the slight noise he
made in changing his position in order to be able to go away as soon as
he had seen whether she was pretty or not. At forty-one the question is
still important to every man with regard to every woman.

"Mr. Colville!"

The gentle surprise conveyed in the exclamation, without time for
recognition, convinced Colville, upon a cool review of the facts, that
the lady had known him before their eyes met.

"Why, Mrs. Bowen!" he said.

She put out her round, slender arm, and gave him a frank clasp of her
gloved hand. The glove wrinkled richly up the sleeve of her dress
half-way to her elbow. She bent on his face a demand for just what
quality and degree of change he found in hers, and apparently she
satisfied herself that his inspection was not to her disadvantage, for
she smiled brightly, and devoted the rest of her glance to an electric
summary of the facts of Colville's physiognomy; the sufficiently good
outline of his visage, with its full, rather close-cut, drabbish-brown
beard and moustache, both shaped a little by the ironical self-conscious
smile that lurked under them; the non-committal, rather weary-looking
eyes; the brown hair, slightly frosted, that showed while he stood with
his hat still off. He was a little above the middle height, and if it
must be confessed, neither his face nor his figure had quite preserved
their youthful lines. They were both much heavier than when Mrs. Bowen
saw them last, and the latter here and there swayed beyond the strict
bounds of symmetry. She was herself in that moment of life when, to the
middle-aged observer, at least, a woman's looks have a charm which is
wanting to her earlier bloom. By that time her character has wrought
itself more clearly out in her face, and her heart and mind confront you
more directly there. It is the youth of her spirit which has come to the
surface.

"I should have known you anywhere," she exclaimed, with friendly
pleasure in seeing him.

"You are very kind," said Colville. "I didn't know that I had preserved
my youthful beauty to that degree. But I can imagine it--if you say so,
Mrs. Bowen."

"Oh, I assure you that you have!" she protested; and now she began
gently to pursue him with one fine question after another about himself,
till she had mastered the main facts of his history since they had last
met. He would not have known so well how to possess himself of hers,
even if he had felt the same necessity; but in fact it had happened that
he had heard of her from time to time at not very long intervals. She
had married a leading lawyer of her Western city, who in due time had
gone to Congress, and after his term was out had "taken up his
residence" in Washington, as the newspapers said, "in his elegant
mansion at the corner of & Street and Idaho Avenue." After that he
remembered reading that Mrs. Bowen was going abroad for the education of
her daughter, from which he made his own inferences concerning her
marriage. And "You knew Mr. Bowen was no longer living?" she said, with
fit obsequy of tone.

"Yes, I knew," he answered, with decent sympathy.

"This is my little Effie," said Mrs. Bowen after a moment; and now the
child, hitherto keeping herself discreetly in the background, came
forward and promptly gave her hand to Colville, who perceived that she
was not so small as he had thought her at first; an effect of infancy
had possibly been studied in the brevity of her skirts and the
immaturity of her corsage, but both were in good taste, and really to
the advantage of her young figure. There was reason and justice in her
being dressed as she was, for she really was not so old as she looked by
two or three years; and there was reason in Mrs. Bowen's carrying in the
hollow of her left arm the India shawl sacque she had taken off and hung
there; the deep cherry silk lining gave life to the sombre tints
prevailing in her dress, which its removal left free to express all the
grace of her extremely lady-like person. Lady-like was the word for Mrs.
Bowen throughout--for the turn of her head, the management of her arm
from the elbow, the curve of her hand from wrist to finger-tips, the
smile, subdued, but sufficiently sweet, playing about her little mouth,
which was yet not too little, and the refined and indefinite perfume
which exhaled from the ensemble of her silks, her laces, and her gloves,
like an odorous version of that otherwise impalpable quality which women
call style. She had, with all her flexibility, a certain charming
stiffness, like the stiffness of a very tall feather.

"And have you been here a great while?" she asked, turning her head
slowly toward Colville, and looking at him with a little difficulty she
had in raising her eyelids; when she was younger the glance that shyly
stole from under the covert of their lashes was like a gleam of
sunshine, and it was still like a gleam of paler sunshine.

Colville, whose mood was very susceptible to the weather, brightened in
the ray. "I only arrived last night," he said, with a smile.

"How glad you must be to get back! Did you ever see Florence more
beautiful than it was this morning?"

"Not for years," said Colville, with another smile for her pretty
enthusiasm. "Not for seventeen years at the least calculation."

"Is it so many?" cried Mrs. Bowen, with lovely dismay. "Yes, it is," she
sighed, and she did not speak for an appreciable interval.

He knew that she was thinking of that old love affair of his, to which
she was privy in some degree, though he never could tell how much; and
when she spoke he perceived that she purposely avoided speaking of a
certain person, whom a woman of more tact or of less would have insisted
upon naming at once. "I never can believe in the lapse of time when I
get back to Italy; it always makes me feel as young as when I left it
last."

"I could imagine you'd never left it," said Colville.

Mrs. Bowen reflected a moment. "Is that a compliment?"

"I had an obscure intention of saying something fine; but I don't think
I've quite made it out," he owned.

Mrs. Bowen gave her small, sweet smile. "It was very nice of you to try.
But I haven't really been away for some time; I've taken a house in
Florence, and I've been here two years. Palazzo Pinti, Lung' Arno della
Zecca. You must come and see me. Thursdays from four till six."

"Thank you," said Colville.

"I'm afraid," said Mrs. Bowen, remotely preparing to offer her hand in
adieu, "that Effie and I broke in upon some very important cogitations
of yours." She shifted the silken burden off her arm a little, and the
child stirred from the correct pose she had been keeping, and smiled
politely.

"I don't think they deserve a real dictionary word like that," said
Colville. "I was simply mooning. If there was anything definite in my
mind, I was wishing that I was looking down on the Wabash in Dos Vaches,
instead of the Arno in Florence."

"Oh! And I supposed you must be indulging all sorts of historical
associations with the place. Effie and I have been walking through the
Via de' Bardi, where Romola lived, and I was bringing her back over the
Ponte Vecchio, so as to impress the origin of Florence on her mind."

"Is that what makes Miss Effie hate it?" asked Colville, looking at the
child, whose youthful resemblance to her mother was in all things so
perfect that a fantastic question whether she could ever have had any
other parent swept through him. Certainly, if Mrs. Bowen were to marry
again, there was nothing in this child's looks to suggest the idea of a
predecessor to the second husband.

"Effie doesn't hate any sort of useful knowledge," said her mother half
jestingly. "She's just come to me from school at Vevay."

"Oh, then, I think she might," persisted Colville. "Don't you hate the
origin of Florence a little?" he asked of the child.

"I don't know enough about it," she answered, with a quick look of
question at her mother, and checking herself in a possibly indiscreet
smile.

"Ah, that accounts for it," said Colville, and he laughed. It amused him
to see the child referring even this point of propriety to her mother,
and his thoughts idled off to what Mrs. Bowen's own untrammelled
girlhood must have been in her Western city. For her daughter there were
to be no buggy rides, or concerts, or dances at the invitation of young
men; no picnics, free and unchaperoned as the casing air; no sitting on
the steps at dusk with callers who never dreamed of asking for her
mother; no lingering at the gate with her youthful escort home from the
ball--nothing of that wild, sweet liberty which once made American
girlhood a long rapture. But would she be any the better for her
privations, for referring not only every point of conduct, but every
thought and feeling, to her mother? He suppressed a sigh for the
inevitable change, but rejoiced that his own youth had fallen in the
earlier time, and said, "You will hate it as soon as you've read a
little of it."

"The difficulty is to read a little of Florentine history. I can't find
anything in less than ten or twelve volumes," said Mrs. Bowen. "Effie
and I were going to Viesseux's Library again, in desperation, to see if
there wasn't something shorter in French."

She now offered Colville her hand, and he found himself very reluctant
to let it go. Something in her looks did not forbid him, and when she
took her hand away, he said, "Let me go to Viesseux's with you, Mrs.
Bowen, and give you the advantage of my unprejudiced ignorance in the
choice of a book on Florence."

"Oh, I was longing to ask you!" said Mrs. Bowen frankly. "It is really
such a serious matter, especially when the book is for a young person.
Unless it's very dry, it's so apt to be--objectionable,"

"Yes," said Colville, with a smile at her perplexity. He moved off down
the slope of the bridge with her, between the jewellers' shops, and felt
a singular satisfaction in her company. Women of fashion always
interested him; he liked them; it diverted him that they should take
themselves seriously. Their resolution, their suffering for their ideal,
such as it was, their energy in dressing and adorning themselves, the
pains they were at to achieve the trivialities they passed their lives
in, were perpetually delightful to him. He often found them people of
great simplicity, and sometimes of singularly good sense; their frequent
vein of piety was delicious.

Ten minutes earlier he would have said that nothing could have been less
welcome to him than this encounter, but now he felt unwilling to leave
Mrs. Bowen.

"Go before, Effie," she said; and she added, to Colville, "How very
Florentine all this is! If you dropped from the clouds on this spot
without previous warning, you would know that you were on the Ponte
Vecchio, and nowhere else."

"Yes, it's very Florentine," Colville assented. "The bridge is very well
as a bridge, but as a street I prefer the Main Street Bridge at Des
Vaches. I was looking at the jewellery before you came up, and I don't
think it's pretty, even the old pieces of peasant jewellery. Why do
people come here to look at it? If you were going to buy something for a
friend, would you dream of coming here for it?"

"Oh _no_!" replied Mrs. Bowen, with the deepest feeling.

They quitted the bridge, and turning to the left, moved down the street
which with difficulty finds space between the parapet of the river and
the shops of the mosaicists and dealers in statuary cramping it on the
other hand.

"Here's something distinctively Florentine too," said Colville. "These
table-tops, and paper-weights, and caskets, and photograph frames, and
lockets, and breast-pins; and here, this ghostly glare of undersized
Psyches and Hebes and Graces in alabaster."

"Oh, you mustn't think of any of them!" Mrs. Bowen broke in with horror.
"If your friend wishes you to get her something characteristically
Florentine, and at the same time very tasteful, you must go--"

Colville gave a melancholy laugh. "My friend is an abstraction, Mrs.
Bowen, without sex or any sort of entity."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Bowen. Some fine drops had begun to sprinkle the
pavement. "What a ridiculous blunder! It's raining! Effie, I'm afraid we
must give up your book for to-day. We're not dressed for damp weather,
and we'd better hurry home as soon as possible." She got promptly into
the shelter of a doorway, and gathered her daughter to her, while she
flung her sacque over her shoulder and caught her draperies from the
ground for the next movement. "Mr. Colville, will you please stop the
first closed carriage that comes in sight?"

A figure of _primo tenore_ had witnessed the manoeuvre from the box of
his cab; he held up his whip, and at a nod from Colville he drove
abreast of the doorway, his broken-kneed, tremulous little horse gay in
brass-mounted harness, and with a stiff turkey feather stuck upright at
one ear in his head-stall.

Mrs. Bowen had no more scruple than another woman in stopping travel and
traffic in a public street for her convenience. She now entered into a
brisk parting conversation with Colville, such as ladies love, blocking
the narrow sidewalk with herself, her daughter, and her open carriage
door, and making people walk round her cab, in the road, which they did
meekly enough, with the Florentine submissiveness to the pretensions of
any sort of vehicle. She said a dozen important things that seemed to
have just come into her head, and, "Why, how stupid I am!" she called
out, making Colville check the driver in his first start, after she had
got into the cab. "We are to have a few people tonight. If you have no
engagement, I should be so glad to have you come. Can't you?"

"Yes, I can," said Colville, admiring the whole transaction and the
parties to it with a passive smile.

After finding her pocket, she found that her card-case was not in it,
but in the purse she had given Effie to carry; but she got her address
at last, and gave it to Colville, though he said he should remember it
without. "Any time between nine and eleven," she said. "It's so nice of
you to promise!"

She questioned him from under her half-lifted eyelids, and he added,
with a laugh, "I'll come!" and was rewarded with two pretty smiles, just
alike, from mother and daughter, as they drove away.






III


Twenty years earlier, when Mrs. Bowen was Miss Lina Ridgely, she used to
be the friend and confidante of the girl who jilted Colville. They were
then both so young that they could scarcely have been a year out of
school before they left home for the year they were spending in Europe;
but to the young man's inexperience they seemed the wisest and maturest
of society women. His heart quaked in his breast when he saw them
talking and laughing together, for fear they should be talking and
laughing about him; he was even a little more afraid of Miss Ridgely
than of her friend, who was dashing and effective, where Miss Ridgely
was serene and elegant, according to his feeling at that time; but he
never saw her after his rejection, and it was not till he read of her
marriage with the Hon. Mr. Bowen that certain vague impressions began to
define themselves. He then remembered that Lina Ridgely in many fine
little ways had shown a kindness, almost a compassion, for him, as for
one whose unconsciousness a hopeless doom impended over. He perceived
that she had always seemed to like him--a thing that had not occurred to
him in the stupid absorption of his passion for the other--and fragments
of proof that she had probably defended and advocated him occurred to
him, and inspired a vain and retrospective gratitude; he abandoned
himself to regrets, which were proper enough in regard to Miss Ridgely,
but were certainly a little unlawful concerning Mrs. Bowen.

As he walked away toward his hotel he amused himself with the conjecture
whether he, with his forty-one years and his hundred and eighty five
pounds, were not still a pathetic and even a romantic figure to this
pretty and kindly woman, who probably imagined him as heart-broken as
ever. He was very willing to see more of her, if she wished; but with
the rain beginning to fall more thick and chill in the darkening street,
he could have postponed their next meeting till a pleasanter evening
without great self-denial. He felt a little twinge of rheumatism in his
shoulder when he got into his room, for your room in a Florentine hotel
is always some degrees colder than outdoors, unless you have fire in it;
and with the sun shining on his windows when he went out after lunch, it
had seemed to Colville ridiculous to have his morning fire kept up. The
sun was what he had taken the room for. It was in it, the landlord
assured him, from ten in the morning till four in the afternoon; and so,
in fact, it was, when it shone; but even then it was not fully in it,
but had a trick of looking in at the sides of the window, and painting
the chamber wall with a delusive glow. Colville raked away the ashes of
his fire-place, and throwing on two or three fagots of broom and pine
sprays, he had a blaze that would be very pretty to dress by after
dinner, but that gave out no warmth for the present. He left it, and
went down to the reading-room, as it was labelled over the door, in
homage to a predominance of English-speaking people among the guests;
but there was no fire there; that was kindled only by request, and he
shivered at the bare aspect of the apartment, with its cold piano, its
locked bookcases, and its table, where the London _Times_, the _Neue
Freie Presse_ of Vienna, and the _Italie_ of Rome exposed their titles,
one just beyond the margin of the other. He turned from the door and
went into the dining-room, where the stove was ostentatiously roaring
over its small logs and its lozenges of peat, But even here the fire had
been so recently lighted that the warmth was potential rather than
actual. By stooping down before the stove, and pressing his shoulder
against its brass doors, Colville managed to lull his enemy, while he
studied the figures of the woman-headed, woman-breasted hounds
developing into vines and foliage that covered the frescoed trellising
of the quadrangularly vaulted ceiling. The waiters, in their veteran
dress-coats, were putting the final touches to the table, and the sound
of voices outside the door obliged Colville to get up. The effort
involved made him still more reluctant about going out to Mrs. Bowen's.

The door opened, and some English ladies entered, faintly acknowledging,
provisionally ignoring, his presence, and talking of what they had been
doing since lunch. They agreed that it was really too cold in the
churches for any pleasure in the pictures, and that the Pitti Gallery,
where they had those braziers, was the only place you could go with
comfort. A French lady and her husband came in; a Russian lady followed;
an Italian gentleman, an American family, and three or four detached men
of the English-speaking race, whose language at once became the law of
the table.

As the dinner progressed from soup to fish, and from the _entree_ to the
roast and salad, the combined effect of the pleasant cheer and the
increasing earnestness of the stove made the room warmer and warmer.
They drank Chianti wine from the wicker-covered flasks, tied with tufts
of red and green silk, in which they serve table wine at Florence, and
said how pretty the bottles were, but how the wine did not seem very
good.

"It certainly isn't so good as it used to be," said Colville.

"Ah, then you have been in Florhence before." said the French lady,
whose English proved to be much better than the French that he began to
talk to her in.

"Yes, a great while ago; in a state of pre-existence, in fact," he said.

The lady looked a little puzzled, but interested. "In a state of
prhe-existence?" she repeated.

"Yes; when I was young," he added, catching the gleam in her eye. "When
I was twenty-four. A great while ago."

"You must be an Amerhican," said the lady, with a laugh.

"Why do you think so? From my accent?"

"Frhom your metaphysics too. The Amerhicans like to talk in that way."

"I didn't know it," said Colville.

"They like to strhike the key of personality; they can't endure not
being interhested. They must rhelate everything to themselves or to
those with whom they are talking."

"And the French, no?" asked Colville.

The lady laughed again. "There is a large Amerhican colony in Parhis.
Perhaps we have learned to be like you."

The lady's husband did not speak English, and it was probably what they
had been saying that she interpreted to him, for he smiled, looking
forward to catch Colville's eye in a friendly way, and as if he would
not have him take his wife's talk too seriously.

The Italian gentleman on Colville's right was politely offering him the
salad, which had been left for the guests to pass to one another.
Colville thanked him in Italian, and they began to talk of Italian
affairs. One thing led to another, and he found that his new friend, who
was not yet his acquaintance, was a member of Parliament, and a
republican.

"That interests me as an American," said Colville. "But why do you want
a republic in Italy?"

"When we have a constitutional king, why should we have a king?" asked
the Italian.

An Englishman across the table relieved Colville from the difficulty of
answering this question by asking him another that formed talk about it
between them. He made his tacit observation that the English, since he
met them last, seemed to have grown in the grace of facile speech with
strangers; it was the American family which kept its talk within itself,
and hushed to a tone so low that no one else could hear it. Colville did
not like their mumbling; for the honour of the country, which we all
have at heart, however little we think it, he would have preferred that
they should speak up, and not seem afraid or ashamed; he thought the
English manner was better. In fact, he found himself in an unexpectedly
social mood; he joined in helping to break the ice; he laughed and
hazarded comment with those who were new-comers like himself, and was
very respectful of the opinions of people who had been longer in the
hotel, when they spoke of the cook's habit of underdoing the vegetables.
The dinner at the Hotel d'Atene made an imposing show on the _carte du
jour_; it looked like ten or twelve courses, but in fact it was five,
and even when eked out with roast chestnuts and butter into six, it
seemed somehow to stop very abruptly, though one seemed to have had
enough. You could have coffee afterward if you ordered it. Colville
ordered it, and was sorry when the last of his commensals, slightly
bowing him a good-night, left him alone to it.

He had decided that he need not fear the damp in a cab rapidly driven to
Mrs. Bowen's. When he went to his room he had his doubts about his
dress-coat; but he put it on, and he took the crush hat with which he
had provided himself in coming through London. That was a part of the
social panoply unknown in Des Vaches; he had hardly been a dozen times
in evening dress there in fifteen years, and his suit was as new as his
hat. As he turned to the glass he thought himself personable enough, and
in fact he was one of those men who look better in evening dress than in
any other: the broad expanse of shirt bosom, with its three small studs
of gold dropping, points of light, one below the other, softened his
strong, almost harsh face, and balanced his rather large head. In his
morning coat, people had to look twice at him to make sure that he did
not look common; but now he was not wrong in thinking that he had an air
of distinction, as he took his hat under his arm and stood before the
pier-glass in his room. He was almost tempted to shave, and wear his
moustache alone, as he used to do: he had let his beard grow because he
found that under the lax social regimen at Des Vaches he neglected
shaving, and went about days at a time with his face in an offensive
stubble. Taking his chin between his fingers, and peering closer into
the mirror, he wondered how Mrs. Bowen should have known him; she must
have remembered him very vividly. He would like to take off his beard
and put on the youthfulness that comes of shaving, and see what she
would say. Perhaps, he thought, with a last glance at his toilet, he was
overdoing it, if she were only to have a few people, as she promised. He
put a thick neckerchief over his chest so as not to provoke that
abominable rheumatism by any sort of exposure, and he put on his ulster
instead of the light spring overcoat that he had gone about with all
day.

He found that Palazzo Pinti, when you came to it, was rather a grand
affair, with a gold-banded porter eating salad in the lodge at the great
doorway, and a handsome gate of iron cutting you off from the regions
above till you had rung the bell of Mrs. Bowen's apartment, when it
swung open of itself, and you mounted. At her door a man in modified
livery received Colville, and helped him off with his overcoat so
skilfully that he did not hurt his rheumatic shoulder at all; there were
half a dozen other hats and coats on the carved chests that stood at
intervals along the wall, and some gayer wraps that exhaled a faint,
fascinating fragrance on the chilly air. Colville experienced the slight
exhilaration, the mingled reluctance and eagerness, of a man who
formally re-enters an assemblage of society after long absence from it,
and rubbing his hands a little nervously together, he put aside the
yellow Abruzzi blanket _portiere_, and let himself into the brilliant
interior.

Mrs. Bowen stood in front of the fire in a brown silk of subdued
splendour, and with her hands and fan and handkerchief tastefully
composed before her. At sight of Colville she gave a slight start, which
would have betrayed to him, if he had been another woman, that she had
not really believed he would come, and came forward with a rustle and
murmur of pleasure to meet him; he had politely made a rush upon her, so
as to spare her this exertion, and he was tempted to a long-forgotten
foppishness of attitude as he stood talking with her during the brief
interval before she introduced him to any of the company. She had been
honest with him; there were not more than twenty-five or thirty people
there; but if he had overdone it in dressing for so small an affair, he
was not alone, and he was not sorry. He was sensible of a better
personal effect than the men in frock-coats and cut-aways were making,
and he perceived with self-satisfaction that his evening dress was of
better style than that of the others who wore it; at least no one else
carried a crush hat.--

At forty-one a man is still very much of a boy, and Colville was
obscurely willing that Mrs. Bowen, whose life since they last met at an
evening party had been passed chiefly at New York and Washington, should
see that he was a man of the world in spite of Des Vaches. Before she
had decided which of the company she should first present him to, her
daughter came up to his elbow with a cup of tea and some bread and
butter on a tray, and gave him good-evening with charming correctness of
manner. "Really," he said, turning about to take the cup, "I thought it
was you, Mrs. Bowen, who had got round to my side with a sash on. How do
you and Miss Effie justify yourselves in looking so bewitchingly alike?"

"You notice it, then?" Mrs. Bowen seemed delighted.

"I did every moment you were together to-day. You don't mind my having
been so personal in my observations?"

"Oh, not at all," said Mrs. Bowen, and Colville laughed.

"It must be true," he said, "what a French lady said to me at the
_table-d'hote_ dinner to-night: 'the Amerhicans always strhike the note
of perhsonality.'" He neatly imitated the French lady's guttural accent.

"I suppose we do," mused Mis. Bowen, "and that we don't mind it in each
other. I wish _you_ would say which I shall introduce you to," she said,
letting her glance stray invisibly over her company, where all the
people seemed comfortably talking.

"Oh, there's no hurry; put it off till to-morrow," said Colville.

"Oh no; that won't do," said Mrs. Bowen, like a woman who has public
duties to perform, and is resolute to sacrifice her private pleasure to
them. But she postponed them a moment longer. "I hope you got home
before the rain," she said.

"Yes," returned Colville. "That is, I don't mind a little sprinkling.
Who is the Junonian young person at the end of the room?"

"Ah," said Mrs. Bowen, "you can't be introduced to _her_ first. But
_isn't_ she lovely?"

"Yes. It's a wonderful effect of white and gold."

"You mustn't say that to her. She was doubtful about her dress, because
she says that the ivory white with her hair makes her look just like
white and gold furniture."

"Present me at once, then, before I forget not to say it to her."

"No; I must keep you for some other person: anybody can talk to a pretty
girl."

Colville said he did not know whether to smile or shed tears at this
embittered compliment, and pretended an eagerness for the acquaintance
denied him.

Mrs. Bowen seemed disposed to intensify his misery. "Did you ever see a
more statuesque creature--with those superb broad shoulders and that
little head, and that thick braid brought round over the top? Doesn't
her face, with that calm look in those starry eyes, and that peculiar
fall of the corners of the mouth, remind you of some of those exquisite
great Du Maurier women? That style of face is very fashionable now: you
might think he had made it so."

"Is there a fashion in faces?" asked Colville.

"Why, certainly. You must know that."

"Then why aren't all the ladies in the fashion?"

"It isn't one that can be put on. Besides, every one hasn't got Imogene
Graham's figure to carry it off."

"That's her name, then--Imogene Graham. It's a very pretty name."

"Yes. She's staying with me for the winter. Now that's all I can allow
you to know for the present. Come! You must!"

"But this is worse than nothing." He made a feint of protesting as she
led him away, and named him to the lady she wished him to know. But he
was not really sorry; he had his modest misgivings whether he were equal
to quite so much young lady as Miss Graham seemed. When he no longer
looked at her he had a whimsical impression of her being a heroic statue
of herself.

The lady whom Mrs. Bowen left him with had not much to say, and she made
haste to introduce her husband, who had a great deal to say. He was an
Italian, but master of that very efficient English which the Italians
get together with unimaginable sufferings from our orthography, and
Colville repeated the republican deputy's saying about a constitutional
king, which he had begun to think was neat.

"I might prefer a republic myself," said the Italian, "but I think that
gentleman is wrong to be a republican where he is, and for the present.
The monarchy is the condition of our unity; nothing else could hold us
together, and we must remain united if we are to exist as a nation. It's
a necessity, like our army of half a million men. We may not like it in
itself, but we know that it is our salvation." He began to speak of the
economic state of Italy, of the immense cost of freedom and independence
to a people whose political genius enables them to bear quietly burdens
of taxation that no other government would venture to impose. He spoke
with that fond, that appealing patriotism, which expresses so much to
the sympathetic foreigner in Italy: the sense of great and painful
uncertainty of Italy's future through the complications of diplomacy,
the memory of her sufferings in the past, the spirit of quiet and
inexhaustible patience for trials to come. This resolution, which is
almost resignation, poetises the attitude of the whole people; it made
Colville feel as if he had done nothing and borne nothing yet.

"I am ashamed," he said, not without a remote resentment of the
unworthiness of the republican voters of Des Vaches, "when I hear of
such things, to think of what we are at home, with all our resources and
opportunities."

The Italian would have politely excused us to him, but Colville would
have no palliation of our political and moral nakedness; and he framed a
continuation of the letter he began on the Ponte Vecchio to the
_Post-Democrat-Republican_, in which he made a bitterly ironical
comparison of the achievements of Italy and America in the last ten
years.

He forgot about Miss Graham, and had only a vague sense of her splendour
as he caught sight of her in the long mirror which she stood before. She
was talking to a very handsome young clergyman, and smiling upon him.
The company seemed to be mostly Americans, but there were a good many
evident English also, and Colville was dimly aware of a question in his
mind whether this clergyman was English or American. There were three or
four Italians and there were some Germans, who spoke English.

Colville moved about from group to group as his enlarging acquaintance
led, and found himself more interested in society than he could ever
have dreamed of being again. It was certainly a defect of the life at
Des Vaches that people, after the dancing and love-making period, went
out rarely or never. He began to see that the time he had spent so
busily in that enterprising city had certainly been in some sense
wasted.

At a certain moment in the evening, which perhaps marked its
advancement, the tea-urn was replaced by a jug of the rum punch, mild or
strong according to the custom of the house, which is served at most
Florentine receptions. Some of the people went immediately after, but
the young clergyman remained talking with Miss Graham.

Colville, with his smoking glass in his hand, found himself at the side
of a friendly old gentleman who had refused the punch. They joined in
talk by a common impulse, and the old gentleman said, directly, "You are
an American, I presume?"

His accent had already established the fact of his own nationality, but
he seemed to think it the part of candour to say, when Colville had
acknowledged his origin, "I'm an American myself."

"I've met several of our countrymen since I arrived," suggested
Colville.

The old gentleman seemed to like this way of putting it. "Well, yes,
we're not unfairly represented here in numbers, I must confess. But I'm
bound to say that I don't find our countrymen so aggressive, so loud, as
our international novelists would make out. I haven't met any of their
peculiar heroines as yet, sir."

Colville could not help laughing. "I wish _I_ had. But perhaps they
avoid people of our years and discretion, or else take such a filial
attitude toward us that we can't recognise them."

"Perhaps, perhaps," cried the old gentleman, with cheerful assent.

"I was talking with one of our German friends here just now, and he
complained that the American girls--especially the rich ones--seem very
calculating and worldly and conventional. I told him I didn't know how
to account for that. I tried to give him some notion of the ennobling
influences of society in Newport, as I've had glimpses of it."

The old gentleman caressed his elbows, which he was holding in the palms
of his hands, in high enjoyment of Colville's sarcasm. "Ah! very good!
very good!" he said. "I quite agree with you, and I think the other sort
are altogether preferable."

"I think," continued Colville, dropping his ironical tone, "that we've
much less to regret in their unsuspecting, unsophisticated freedom than
in the type of hard materialism which we produce in young girls,
perfectly wide awake, disenchanted, unromantic, who prefer the worldly
vanities and advantages deliberately and on principle, recognising
something better merely to despise it. I've sometimes seen them----"

Mrs. Bowen came up in her gentle, inquiring way. "I'm glad that you and
Mr. Colville have made acquaintance," she said to the old gentleman.

"Oh, but we haven't," said Colville. "We're entire strangers."

"Then I'll introduce you to Rev. Mr. Waters. And take you away," she
added, putting her hand through Colville's arm with a delicate touch
that flattered his whole being, "for your time's come at last, and I'm
going to present you to Miss Graham."

"I don't know," he said. "Of course, as there is a Miss Graham, I can't
help being presented to her, but I had almost worked myself up to the
point of wishing there were none. I believe I'm afraid."

"Oh, I don't believe that at all. A simple schoolgirl like that!" Mrs.
Bowen's sense of humour had not the national acuteness. She liked joking
in men, but she did not know how to say funny things back "You'll see,
as you come up to her."






IV


Miss Graham did, indeed, somehow diminish in the nearer perspective. She
ceased to be overwhelming. When Colville lifted his eyes from bowing
before her he perceived that she--was neither so very tall nor so very
large, but possessed merely a generous amplitude of womanhood. But she
was even more beautiful, with a sweet and youthful radiance of look that
was very winning. If she had ceased to be the goddess she looked across
the length of the _salon_, she had gained much by becoming an extremely
lovely young girl; and her teeth, when she spoke, showed a fascinating
little irregularity that gave her the last charm.

Mrs. Bowen glided away with the young clergyman, but Effie remained at
Miss Graham's side, and seemed to have hold of the left hand which the
girl let hang carelessly behind her in the volume of her robe. The
child's face expressed an adoration of Miss Graham far beyond her
allegiance to her mother.

"I began to doubt whether Mrs. Bowen was going to bring you at all," she
said frankly, with an innocent, nervous laugh, which made favour for her
with Colville. "She promised it early in the evening."

"She has used me much worse, Miss Graham," said Colville. "She has kept
me waiting from the beginning of time. So that I have grown grey on my
way up to you," he added, by an inspiration. "I was a comparatively
young man when Mrs. Bowen first told me she was going to introduce me."

"Oh, how _good_!" said Miss Graham joyously. And her companion, after a
moment's hesitation, permitted herself a polite little titter. She had
made a discovery; she had discovered that Mr. Colville was droll.

"I'm very glad you like it," he said, with a gravity that did not
deceive them.

"Oh yes," sighed Miss Graham, with generous ardour. "Who but an American
could say just such things? There's the loveliest old lady here in
Florence, who's lived here thirty years, and she's always going back and
never getting back, and she's so homesick she doesn't know what to do,
and she always says that Americans may not be _better_ than other
people, but they are _different_."

"That's very pretty. They're different in everything but thinking
themselves better. Their native modesty prevents that."

"I don't exactly know what you mean," said Miss Graham, after a little
hesitation.

"Well," returned Colville, "I haven't thought it out very clearly myself
yet. I may mean that the Americans differ from other people in not
thinking well of themselves, or they may differ from them in not
thinking well enough. But what I said had a very epigrammatic sound, and
I prefer not to investigate it too closely."

This made Miss Graham and Miss Effie both cry out "Oh!" in delighted
doubt of his intention. They both insensibly drifted a little nearer to
him.

"There was a French lady said to me at the _table-d'hote_ this evening
that she knew I was an American, because the Americans always strike the
key of personality." He practised these economies of material in
conversation quite recklessly, and often made the same incident or
suggestion do duty round a whole company.

"Ah, I don't believe that," said Miss Graham.

"Believe what?"

"That the Americans always talk about themselves."

"I'm not sure she meant that. You never can tell what a person means by
what he says--or _she_."

"How shocking!".

"Perhaps the French lady meant that we always talk about other people.
That's in the key of personality too."

"But I don't believe we do," said Miss Graham. "At any rate, _she_ was
talking about _us_, then."

"Oh, she accounted for that by saying there was a large American colony
in Paris, who had corrupted the French, and taught them our pernicious
habit of introspection."

"Do you think we're very introspective?"

"Do you?"

"I know I'm not. I hardly ever think about myself at all. At any rate,
not till it's too late. That's the great trouble. I wish I could. But
I'm always studying other people. They're so much more interesting."

"Perhaps if you knew yourself better you wouldn't think so," suggested
Colville.

"Yes, I know they are. I don't think any young person can be
interesting."

"Then what becomes of all the novels? They're full of young persons."

"They're ridiculous. If I were going to write a novel, I should take an
old person for a hero--thirty-five or forty." She looked at Colville,
and blushing a little, hastened to add, "I don't believe that they begin
to be interesting much before that time. Such flat things as young men
are always saying! Don't you remember that passage somewhere in Heine's
_Pictures of Travel_, where he sees the hand of a lady coming out from
under her mantle, when she's confessing in a church, and he knows that
it's the hand of a young person who has enjoyed nothing and suffered
nothing, it's so smooth and flower-like? After I read that I hated the
look of my hands--I was only sixteen, and it seemed as if I had had no
more experience than a child. Oh, I like people to go _through_
something. Don't you?"

"Well, yes, I suppose I do. Other people."

"No; but don't you like it for yourself?"

"I can't tell; I haven't been through anything worth speaking of yet."

Miss Graham looked at him dubiously, but pursued with ardour: "Why, just
getting back to Florence, after not having been here for so long--I
should think it would be so romantic. Oh dear! I wish I were here for
the second time."

"I'm afraid you wouldn't like it so well," said Colville. "I wish I were
here for the first time. There's nothing like the first time in
everything."

"Do you really think so?"

"Well, there's nothing like the first time in Florence."

"Oh, I can't imagine it. I should think that recalling the old emotions
would be perfectly fascinating."

"Yes, if they'd come when you do call them. But they're as
contrary-minded as spirits from the vasty deep. I've been shouting
around here for my old emotions all day, and I haven't had a responsive
squeak."

"Oh!" cried Miss Graham, staring full-eyed at him. "How delightful!"
Effie Bowen turned away her pretty little head and laughed, as if it
might not be quite kind to laugh at a person's joke to his face.

Stimulated by their appreciation, Colville went on with more nonsense.
"No; the only way to get at your old emotions in regard to Florence is
to borrow them from somebody who's having them fresh. What do _you_
think about Florence, Miss Graham?"

"I? I've been here two months."

"Then it's too late?"

"No, I don't know that it is. I keep feeling the strangeness all the
time. But I can't tell you. It's very different from Buffalo, I can
assure you."

"Buffalo? I can imagine the difference. And it's not altogether to the
disadvantage of Buffalo."

"Oh, have you been there?" asked Miss Graham, with a touching little
eagerness. "Do you know anybody in Buffalo?"

"Some of the newspaper men; and I pass through there once a year on my
way to New York--or used to. It's a lively place."

"Yes, it is," sighed Miss Graham fondly.

"Do the girls of Buffalo still come out at night and dance by the light
of the moon?"

"What!"

"Ah, I see," said Colville, peering at her under his thoughtfully
knitted brows, "you do belong to another era. You don't remember the old
negro minstrel song."

"No," said Miss Graham. "I can only remember the end of the war."

"How divinely young!" said Colville. "Well," he added, "I wish that
French lady could have overheard us, Miss Graham. I think she would have
changed her mind about Americans striking the note of personality in
their talk."

"Oh!" exclaimed the girl reproachfully, after a moment of swift
reflection and recognition, "I don't see how you could let me do it! You
don't suppose that I should have talked so with every one? It was
because you were another American, and such an old friend of Mrs.
Bowen's."

"That is what I shall certainly tell the French lady if she attacks me
about it," said Colville. He glanced carelessly toward the end of the
room, and saw the young clergyman taking leave of Mrs. Bowen; all the
rest of the company were gone. "Bless me!" he said, "I must be going."

Mrs. Bowen had so swiftly advanced upon him that she caught the last
words. "Why?" she asked.

"Because it's to-morrow, I suspect, and the invitation was for one day
only."

"It was a season ticket," said Mrs. Bowen, with gay hospitality, "and it
isn't to-morrow for half an hour yet. I can't think of letting you go.
Come up to the fire, all, and let's sit down by it. It's at its very
best."

Effie looked a pretty surprise and a pleasure in this girlish burst from
her mother, whose habitual serenity made it more striking in contrast,
and she forsook Miss Graham's hand and ran forward and disposed the
easy-chairs comfortably about the hearth.

Colville and Mrs. Bowen suddenly found themselves upon those terms which
often succeed a long separation with people who have felt kindly toward
each other at a former meeting and have parted friends: they were much
more intimate than they had supposed themselves to be, or had really any
reason for being.

"Which one of your guests do you wish me to offer up, Mrs. Bowen?" he
asked, from the hollow of the arm-chair, not too low, which he had sunk
into. With Mrs. Bowen in a higher chair at his right hand, and Miss
Graham intent upon him from the sofa on his left, a sense of delicious
satisfaction filled him from head to foot. "There isn't one I would
spare if you said the word."

"And there isn't one I want destroyed, I'm sorry to say," answered Mrs.
Bowen. "Don't you think they were all very agreeable?"

"Yes, yes; agreeable enough--agreeable enough, I suppose. But they
stayed too long. When I think we might have been sitting here for the
last half-hour, if they'd only gone sooner, I find it pretty hard to
forgive them."

Mrs. Bowen and Miss Graham exchanged glances above his head--a glance
which demanded, "Didn't I tell you?" for a glance that answered, "Oh, he
_is_!" Effie Bowen's eyes widened; she kept them fastened upon Colville
in silent worship.

He asked who were certain of the company that he had noticed, and Mrs.
Bowen let him make a little fun of them: the fun was very good-natured.
He repeated what the German had said about the worldly ambition of
American girls; but she would not allow him so great latitude in this.
She said they were no worldlier than other girls. Of course, they were
fond of society, and some of them got a little spoiled. But they were in
no danger of becoming too conventional.

Colville did not insist. "I missed the military to-night, Mrs. Bowen,"
he said. "I thought one couldn't get through an evening in Florence
without officers?"

"We have them when there is dancing," returned Mrs. Bowen.

"Yes, but they don't know anything but dancing," Miss Graham broke in.
"I like some one who can talk something besides compliments."

"You are very peculiar, you know, Imogene," urged Mrs. Bowen gently. "I
don't think our young men at home do much better in conversation, if you
come to that, though."

"Oh, _young_ men, yes! They're the same everywhere. But here, even when
they're away along in the thirties, they think that girls can only enjoy
flattery. _I_ should like a gentleman to talk to me without a single
word or look to show that he thought I was good-looking."

"Ah, how could he he?" Colville insinuated, and the young girl coloured.

"I mean, if I were pretty. This everlasting adulation is insulting."

"Mr. Morton doesn't flatter," said Mrs. Bowen thoughtfully, turning the
feather screen she held at her face, now edgewise, now flatwise, toward
Colville.

"Oh no," owned Miss Graham. "He's a clergyman."

Mrs. Bowen addressed herself to Colville. "You must go to hear him some
day. He's very interesting, if you don't mind his being rather Low
Church."

Colville was going to pretend to an advanced degree of ritualism; but it
occurred to him that it might be a serious matter to Mrs. Bowen, and he
asked instead who was the Rev. Mr. Waters.

"Oh, isn't he lovely?" cried Miss Graham. "There, Mrs. Bowen! Mr.
Waters's manner is what I call _truly_ complimentary. He always talks to
you as if he expected you to be interested in serious matters, and as if
you were his intellectual equal. And he's so _happy_ here in Florence!
He gives you the impression of feeling every breath he breathes here a
privilege. You ought to hear him talk about Savonarola, Mr. Colville."

"Well," said Colville, "I've heard a great many people talk about
Savonarola, and I'm rather glad he talked to me about American girls."

"American girls!" uttered Miss Graham, in a little scream. "Did Mr.
Waters talk to you about _girls_?"

"Yes. Why not? He was probably in love with one once."

"Mr. Waters?" cried the girl. "What nonsense!"

"Well, then, with some old lady. Would you like that better?"

Miss Graham looked at Mrs. Bowen for permission, as it seemed, and then
laughed, but did not attempt any reply to Colville.

"You find even that incredible of such pyramidal antiquity," he resumed.
"Well, it _is_ hard to believe. I told him what that German said, and we
agreed beautifully about another type of American girl which we said we
preferred."

"Oh! What could it be?" demanded Miss Graham.

"Ah, it wouldn't be so easy to say right off-hand," answered Colville
indolently.

Mrs. Bowen put her hand under the elbow of the arm holding her screen.
"I don't believe I should agree with you so well," she said, apparently
with a sort of didactic intention.

They entered into a discussion which is always fruitful with
Americans--the discussion of American girlhood, and Colville contended
for the old national ideal of girlish liberty as wide as the continent,
as fast as the Mississippi. Mrs. Bowen withstood him with delicate
firmness. "Oh," he said, "you're Europeanised."

"I certainly prefer the European plan of bringing up girls," she replied
steadfastly. "I shouldn't think of letting a daughter of mine have the
freedom I had."

"Well, perhaps it will come right in the next generation, then; she will
let her daughter have the freedom she hadn't."

"Not if I'm alive to prevent it," cried Mrs. Bowen.

Colville laughed. "Which plan do you prefer, Miss Graham?"

"I don't think it's quite the same now as it used to be," answered the
girl evasively.

"Well, then, all I can say is that if I had died before this chance, I
had lived a blessed time. I perceive more and more that I'm obsolete.
I'm in my dotage; I prattle of the good old times, and the new spirit of
the age flouts me. Miss Effie, do you prefer the Amer----"

"No, thank you," said her mother quickly.

"Effie is out of the question. It's time you were in bed, Effie."

The child came with instant submissiveness and kissed her mother
good-night; she kissed Miss Graham, and gave her hand to Colville. He
held it a moment, letting her pull shyly away from him, while he lolled
back in his chair, and laughed at her with his sad eyes. "It's past the
time _I_ should be in bed, my dear, and I'm sitting up merely because
there's nobody to send me. It's not that I'm really such a very bad boy.
Good night. Don't put me into a disagreeable dream; put me into a nice
one." The child bridled at the mild pleasantry, and when Colville
released her hand she suddenly stooped forward and kissed him.

"You're so _funny_!" she cried, and ran and escaped beyond the
_portiere_.

Mrs. Bowen stared in the same direction, but not with severity. "Really,
Effie has been carried a little beyond herself."

"Well," said Colville, "that's _one_ conquest since I came to Florence.
And merely by being funny! When I was in Florence before, Mrs. Bowen,"
he continued, after a moment, "there were two ladies here, and I used to
go about quite freely with either of them. They were both very pretty,
and we were all very young. Don't you think it was charming?" Mrs. Bowen
coloured a lovely red, and smiled, but made no other response. "Florence
has changed very much for the worse since that time. There used to be a
pretty flower-girl, with a wide-flapping straw hat, who flung a heavy
bough full of roses into my lap when she met me driving across the
Carraja bridge. I spent an hour looking for that girl to-day, and
couldn't find her. The only flower-girl I could find was a fat one of
fifty, who kept me fifteen minutes in Via Tornabuoni while she was
fumbling away at my button-hole, trying to poke three second-hand
violets and a sickly daisy into it. Ah, youth! youth! I suppose a young
fellow could have found that other flower-girl at a glance; but _my_ old
eyes! No, we belong, each of us, to our own generation. Mrs. Bowen," he
said, with a touch of tragedy--whether real or affected, he did not well
know himself--in his hardiness, "what has become of Mrs. Pilsbury?"

"Mrs. Milbury, you mean?" gasped Mrs. Bowen, in affright at his
boldness.

"Milbury, Bilbury, Pilsbury--it's all one, so long as it isn't----"

"They're living in Chicago!" she hastened to reply, as if she were
afraid he was going to say, "so long as it isn't Colville," and she
could not have borne that.

Colville clasped his hands at the back of his head and looked at Mrs.
Bowen with eyes that let her know that he was perfectly aware she had
been telling Miss Graham of his youthful romance, and that he had now
touched it purposely. "And you wouldn't," he said, as if that were quite
relevant to what they had been talking about--"you wouldn't let Miss
Graham go out walking alone with a dotard like me?"

"Certainly not," said Mrs. Bowen.

Colville got to his feet by a surprising activity. "Good-bye, Miss
Graham." He offered his hand to her with burlesque despair, and then
turned to Mrs. Bowen. "Thank you for _such_ a pleasant evening! What was
your day, did you say?"

"Oh, any day!" said Mrs. Bowen cordially, giving her hand.

"Do you know whom you look like?" he asked, holding it.

"No."

"Lina Ridgely."

The ladies stirred softly in their draperies after he was gone. They
turned and faced the hearth, where a log burned in a bed of hot ashes,
softly purring and ticking to itself, and whilst they stood pressing
their hands against the warm fronts of their dresses, as the fashion of
women is before a fire, the clock on the mantel began to strike twelve.

"Was that her name?" asked Miss Graham, when the clock had had its say.
"Lina Ridgely?"

"No; that was _my_ name," answered Mrs. Bowen.

"Oh yes!" murmured the young girl apologetically.

"She led him on; she certainly encouraged him. It was shocking. He was
quite wild about it."

"She must have been a cruel girl. How _could_ he speak of it so
lightly?"

"It was best to speak of it, and have done with it," said Mrs. Bowen.
"He knew that I must have been telling you something about it."

"Yes. How bold it was! A _young_ man couldn't have done it! Yes, he's
fascinating. But how old and sad he looked, as he lay back there in the
chair!"

"Old? I don't think he looked old. He looked sad. Yes, it's left its
mark on him."

The log burned quite through to its core, and fell asunder, a bristling
mass of embers. They had been looking at it with downcast heads. Now
they lifted their faces, and saw the pity in each other's eyes, and the
beautiful girl impulsively kissed the pretty woman good-night.






V


Colville fell asleep with the flattered sense which abounds in the heart
of a young man after his first successful evening in society, but which
can visit maturer life only upon some such conditions of long exile and
return as had been realised in his. The looks of these two charming
women followed him into his dreams; he knew he must have pleased them,
the dramatic homage of the child was evidence of that; and though it had
been many years since he had found it sufficient cause of happiness to
have pleased a woman, the desire to do so was by no means extinct in
him. The eyes of the girl hovered above him like stars; he felt in their
soft gaze that he was a romance to her young heart, and this made him
laugh; it also made him sigh.

He woke at dawn with a sharp twinge in his shoulder, and he rose to give
himself the pleasure of making his own fire with those fagots of broom
and pine twigs which he had enjoyed the night before, promising himself
to get back into bed when the fire was well going, and sleep late. While
he stood before the open stove, the jangling of a small bell outside
called him to the window, and he saw a procession which had just issued
from the church going to administer the extreme unction to some dying
person across the piazza. The parish priest went first, bearing the
consecrated wafer in its vessel, and at his side an acolyte holding a
yellow silk umbrella over the Eucharist; after them came a number of
_facchini_ in white robes and white hoods that hid their faces; their
tapers burned sallow and lifeless in the new morning light; the bell
jangled dismally.

"They even die dramatically in this country," thought Colville, in whom
the artist was taken with the effectiveness of the spectacle before his
human pity was stirred for the poor soul who was passing. He reproached
himself for that, and instead of getting back to bed, he dressed and
waited for the mature hour which he had ordered his breakfast for. When
it came at last, picturesquely borne on the open hand of Giovanni,
steaming coffee, hot milk, sweet butter in delicate disks, and two white
eggs coyly tucked in the fold of a napkin, and all grouped upon the wide
salver, it brought him a measure of the consolation which good cheer
imparts to the ridiculous human heart even in the house where death is.
But the sad incident tempered his mind with a sort of pensiveness that
lasted throughout the morning, and quite till lunch. He spent the time
in going about the churches; but the sunshine which the day began with
was overcast, as it was the day before, and the churches were rather too
dark and cold in the afternoon. He went to Viesseux's reading-room and
looked over the English papers, which he did not care for much; and he
also made a diligent search of the catalogue for some book about
Florence for little Effie Bowen: he thought he would like to surprise
her mother with his interest in the matter. As the day waned toward
dark, he felt more and more tempted to take her at her word, when she
had said that any day was her day to him, and go to see her. If he had
been a younger man he would have anxiously considered this indulgence
and denied himself, but after forty a man denies himself no reasonable
and harmless indulgence; he has learned by that time that it is a pity
and a folly to do so.

Colville found Mrs. Bowen's room half full of arriving and departing
visitors, and then he remembered that it was this day she had named to
him on the Ponte Vecchio, and when Miss Graham thanked him for coming
his first Thursday, he made a merit of not having forgotten it, and said
he was going to come every Thursday during the winter. Miss Graham drew
him a cup of tea from the Russian samovar which replaces in some
Florentine houses the tea-pot of Occidental civilisation, and Colville
smiled upon it and upon her, bending over the brazen urn with a
flower-like tilt of her beautiful head. She wore an aesthetic dress of
creamy camel's-hair, whose colour pleased the eye as its softness would
have flattered the touch.

"What a very Tourgueneffish effect the samovar gives!" he said, taking a
biscuit from the basket Effie Bowen brought him, shrinking with
redoubled shyness from the eyebrows which he arched at her. "I wonder
you can keep from calling me Fedor Colvillitch. Where is your mother,
Effie Bowenovna?" he asked of the child, with a temptation to say
Imogene Grahamovna.

They both looked mystified, but Miss Graham said, "I'm sorry to say you
won't see Mrs. Bowen today. She has a very bad headache, and has left
Effie and me to receive. We feel very incompetent, but she says it will
do us good."

There were some people there of the night before, and Colville had to
talk to them. One of the ladies asked him if he had met the Inglehart
boys as he came in.

"The Inglehart boys? No. What are the Inglehart boys?"

"They were here all last winter, and they've just got back. It's rather
exciting for Florence." She gave him a rapid sketch of that interesting
exodus of a score of young painters from the art school at Munich, under
the head of the singular and fascinating genius by whose name they
became known. "They had their own school for a while in Munich, and then
they all came down into Italy in a body. They had their studio things
with them, and they travelled third class, and they made the greatest
excitement everywhere, and had the greatest fun. They were a great
sensation in Florence. They went everywhere, and were such favourites. I
hope they are going to stay."

"I hope so too," said Colville. "I should like to see them."

"Dear me!" said the lady, with a glance at the clock. "It's five! I must
be going."

The other ladies went, and Colville approached to take leave, but Miss
Graham detained him.

"What is Tourgueneffish?" she demanded.

"The quality of the great Russian novelist, Tourgueneff," said Colville,
perceiving that she had not heard of him.

"Oh!"

"You ought to read him. The samovar sends up its agreeable odour all
through his books. Read _Lisa_ if you want your heart really broken.

"I'm glad you approve of heart-breaks in books. So many people won't
read anything but cheerful books. It's the only quarrel I have with Mrs.
Bowen. She says there are so many sad things in life that they ought to
be kept out of books."

"Ah, there I perceive a divided duty," said Colville. "I should like to
agree with both of you. But if Mrs. Bowen were here I should remind her
that if there are so many sad things in life that is a very good reason
for putting them in books too."

"Of course I shall tell her what you said."

"Why, I don't object to a certain degree of cheerfulness in books; only
don't carry it too far--that's all."

This made the young girl laugh, and Colville was encouraged to go on. He
told her of the sight he had seen from his window at daybreak, and he
depicted it all very graphically, and made her feel its pathos perhaps
more keenly than he had felt it. "Now, that little incident kept with me
all day, tempering my boisterous joy in the Giottos, and reducing me to
a decent composure in the presence of the Cimabues; and it's pretty hard
to keep from laughing at some of them, don't you think?"

The young people perceived that he was making fun again; but he
continued with an air of greater seriousness. "Don't you see what a very
good thing that was to begin one's day with? Why, even in Santa Croce,
with the thermometer ten degrees below zero in the shade of Alfieri's
monument, I was no gayer than I should have been in a church at home. I
suppose Mrs. Bowen would object to having that procession go by under
one's window in a book; but I can't really see how it would hurt the
reader, or damp his spirits permanently. A wholesome reaction would
ensue, such as you see now in me, whom the thing happened to in real
life."

He stirred his tea, and shook with an inward laugh as he carried it to
his lips.

"Yes," said Miss Graham thoughtfully, and she looked at him searchingly
in the interval of silence that ensued. But she only added, "I wish it
would get warmer in the churches. I've seen hardly anything of them
yet."

"From the way I felt in them to-day," sighed Colville, "I should think
the churches would begin to thaw out about the middle of May. But if one
goes well wrapped up in furs, and has a friend along to rouse him and
keep him walking when he is about to fall into that lethargy which
precedes death by freezing, I think they may be visited even now with
safety. Have you been in Santa Maria Novella yet?"

"No," said Miss Graham, with a shake of the head that expressed her
resolution to speak the whole truth if she died for it, "not even in
Santa Maria Novella."

"What a wonderful old place it is! That curious facade, with the dials
and its layers of black and white marble soaked golden-red in a hundred
thousand sunsets! That exquisite grand portal!" He gesticulated with the
hand that the tea-cup left free, to suggest form and measurement as
artists do. "Then the inside! The great Cimabue, with all that famous
history on its back--the first divine Madonna by the first divine
master, carried through the streets in a triumph of art and religion!
Those frescoes of Ghirlandajo's with real Florentine faces and figures
in them, and all lavished upon the eternal twilight of that choir--but I
suppose that if the full day were let in on them, once, they would
vanish like ghosts at cock-crow! You must be sure to see the Spanish
chapel; and the old cloister itself is such a pathetic place. There's a
boys' school, as well as a military college, in the suppressed convent
now, and the colonnades were full of boys running and screaming and
laughing and making a joyful racket; it was so much more sorrowful than
silence would have been there. One of the little scamps came up to me,
and the young monk that was showing me round, and bobbed us a mocking
bow and bobbed his hat off; then they all burst out laughing again and
raced away, and the monk looked after them and said, so sweetly and
wearily, 'They're at their diversions: we must have patience.' There are
only twelve monks left there; all the rest are scattered and gone." He
gave his cup to Miss Graham for more tea.

"Don't you think," she asked, drawing it from the samovar, "that it is
very sad having the convents suppressed?"

"It was very sad having slavery abolished--for some people," suggested
Colville; he felt the unfairness of the point he had made.

"Yes," sighed Miss Graham.

Colville stood stirring his second cup of tea, when the _portiere_
parted, and showed Mrs. Bowen wistfully pausing on the threshold. Her
face was pale, but she looked extremely pretty there.

"Ah, come in, Mrs. Bowen!" he called gaily to her. "I won't give you
away to the other people. A cup of tea will do you good."

"Oh, I'm a great deal better," said Mrs. Bowen, coming forward to give
him her hand. "I heard your voice, and I couldn't resist looking in."

"That was very kind of you," said Colville gratefully: and her eyes met
his in a glance that flushed her face a deep red. "You find me here--_I_
don't know why!--in my character of old family friend, doing my best to
make life a burden to the young ladies."

"I wish you would stay to a family dinner with us," said Mrs. Bowen, and
Miss Graham brightened in cordial support of the hospitality. "Why can't
you?"

"I don't know, unless it's because I'm a humane person, and have some
consideration for your headache."

"Oh, that's all gone," said Mrs. Bowen. "It was one of those convenient
headaches--if you ever had them, you'd know--that go off at sunset."

"But you'd have another to-morrow."

"No, I'm safe for a whole fortnight from another."

"Then you leave me without an excuse, and I was just wishing I had
none," said Colville.

After dinner Mrs. Bowen sent Effie to bed early to make up for the late
hours of the night before, but she sat before the fire with Miss Graham
rather late, talking Colville over, when he was gone.

"He's very puzzling to me," said Miss Graham. "Sometimes you think he's
nothing but an old cynic, from his talk, and then something so sweet and
fresh comes out that you don't know what to do. Don't you think he has
really a very poetical mind, and that he's putting all the rest on?"

"I think he likes to make little effects," said Mrs. Bowen judiciously.
"He always did, rather."

"Why, was he like this when he was young?"

"I don't consider him very old now."

"No, of course not. I meant when you knew him before." Miss Graham had
some needlework in her hand; Mrs. Bowen, who never even pretended to
work at that kind of thing, had nothing in hers but the feather screen.

"He is old, compared with you, Imogene; but you'll find, as you live
along, that your contemporaries are always young. Mr. Colville is very
much improved. He used to be painfully shy, but he put on a bold front,
and now the bold front seems to have become a second nature with him."

"I like it," said Miss Graham, to her needle.

"Yes; but I suspect he's still shy, at heart. He used to be very
sentimental, and was always talking Ruskin. I think if he hadn't talked
Ruskin so much, Jenny Milbury might have treated him better. It was very
priggish in him."

"Oh, I can't imagine Mr. Colville's being priggish!"

"He's very much improved. He used to be quite a sloven in his dress; you
know how very slovenly most American gentlemen are in their dress, at
any rate. I think that influenced her against him too."

"He isn't slovenly now," suggested Miss Graham.

"Oh no; he's quite swell," said Mrs. Bowen, depriving the adjective of
slanginess by the refinement of her tone.

"Well," said Miss Graham, "I don't see how you could have endured her
after that. It was atrocious."

"It was better for her to break with him, if she found out she didn't
love him, than to marry him. That," said Mrs. Bowen, with a depth of
feeling uncommon for her, "would have been a thousand times worse."

"Yes, but she ought to have found out before she led him on so far."

"Sometimes girls can't. They don't know themselves; they think they're
in love when they're not. She was very impulsive, and of course she was
flattered by it; he was so intellectual. But at last she found that she
couldn't bear it, and she had to tell him so."

"Did she ever say why she didn't love him?"

"No; I don't suppose she could. The only thing I remember her saying was
that he was 'too much of a mixture.'"

"What _did_ she mean by that?"

"I don't know exactly."

"Do you think he's insincere?"

"Oh no. Perhaps she meant that he wasn't single-minded."

"Fickle?"

"No. He certainly wasn't that in her case."

"Undecided?"

"He was decided enough with her--at last."

Imogene dropped the hopeless quest, "How can a man ever stand such a
thing?" she sighed.

"He stood it very nobly. That was the best thing about it; he took it in
the most delicate way. She showed me his letter. There wasn't a word or
a hint of reproach in it; he seemed to be anxious about nothing but her
feeling badly for him. Of course he couldn't help showing that he was
mortified for having pursued her with attentions that were disagreeable
to her; but that was delicate too. Yes, it was a very large-minded
letter,"

"It was shocking in her to show it."

"It wasn't very nice. But it was a letter that any girl might have been
proud to show."

"Oh, she _couldn't_ have done it to gratify her vanity!"

"Girls are very queer, my dear," said Mrs. Bowen, as if the fact were an
abstraction. She mused upon the flat of her screen, while Miss Graham
plied her needle in silence.

The latter spoke first. "Do you think he was very much broken by it?"

"You never can tell. He went out west then, and there he has stayed ever
since. I suppose his life would have been very different if nothing of
the kind had happened. He had a great deal of talent. I always thought I
should hear of him in some way."

"Well, it was a heartless, shameless thing! I don't see how you can
speak of it so leniently as you do, Mrs. Bowen. It makes all sorts of
coquetry and flirtation more detestable to me than ever. Why, it has
ruined his life!"

"Oh, he was young enough then to outlive it. After all, they were a boy
and girl."

"A boy and girl! How old were they?"

"He must have been twenty-three or four, and she was twenty."

"My age! Do you call that being a girl?"

"She was old enough to know what she was about," said Mrs. Bowen justly.

Imogene fell back in her chair, drawing out her needle the full length
of its thread, and then letting her hand fall. "I don't know. It seems
as if I never should be grown up, or anything but a child. Yes, when I
think of the way young men talk, they do seem boys. Why can't they talk
like Mr. Colville? I wish I could talk like him. It makes you forget how
old and plain he is."

She remained with her eyelids dropped in an absent survey of her sewing,
while Mrs. Bowen regarded her with a look of vexation, impatience,
resentment, on the last refinement of these emotions, which she banished
from her face before Miss Graham looked up and said, with a smile "How
funny it is to see Effie's infatuation with him! She can't take her eyes
off him for a moment, and she follows him round the room so as not to
lose a word he is saying. It was heroic of her to go to bed without a
murmur before he left to-night."

"Yes, she sees that he is good," said Mrs. Bowen.

"Oh, she sees that he's something very much more. Mr. Waters is good."

Miss Graham had the best of the argument, and so Mrs. Bowen did not
reply.

"I feel," continued the young girl, "as if it were almost a shame to
have asked him to go to that silly dancing party with us. It seems as if
we didn't appreciate him. I think we ought to have kept him for high
aesthetic occasions and historical researches."

"Oh, I don't think Mr. Colville was very deeply offended at being asked
to go with us."

"No," said Imogene, with another sigh, "he didn't seem so. I suppose
there's always an undercurrent of sadness--of tragedy--in everything for
him."

"I don't suppose anything of the kind," cried Mrs. Bowen gaily. "He's
had time enough to get over it."

"Do people _ever_ get over such things?"

"Yes--men."

"It must be because he was young, as you say. But if it had happened
_now_?"

"Oh, it _couldn't_ happen now. He's altogether too cool and
calculating."

"Do you think he's cool and calculating?"

"No. He's too old for a broken heart--a new one."

"Mrs. Bowen," demanded the girl solemnly, "could _you_ forgive yourself
for such a thing if you had done it?"

"Yes, perfectly well, if I wasn't in love with him."

"But if you'd made him _think_ you were?" pursued the girl breathlessly.

"If I were a flirt--yes."

"_I_ couldn't," said Imogene, with tragic depth.

"Oh, be done with your intensities, and go to bed, Imogene," said Mrs.
Bowen, giving her a playful push.






VI


It was so long since Colville had been at a dancing party that Mrs.
Bowen's offer to take him to Madame Uccelli's had first struck his sense
of the ludicrous. Then it had begun to flatter him; it implied that he
was still young enough to dance if he would, though he had stipulated
that they were not to expect anything of the kind from him. He liked
also the notion of being seen and accepted in Florentine society as the
old friend of Mrs. Bowen's, for he had not been long in discovering that
her position in Florence was, among the foreign residents, rather
authoritative. She was one of the very few Americans who were asked to
Italian houses, and Italian houses lying even beyond the neutral ground
of English-speaking intermarriages. She was not, of course, asked to the
great Princess Strozzi ball, where the Florentine nobility appeared in
the mediaeval pomp--the veritable costumes--of their ancestors; only a
rich American banking family went, and their distinction was spoken of
under the breath; but any glory short of this was within Mrs. Bowen's
reach. So an old lady who possessed herself of Colville the night before
had told him, celebrating Mrs. Bowen at length, and boasting of her
acceptance among the best English residents, who, next after the
natives, seem to constitute the social ambition of Americans living in
Italian cities.

It interested him to find that some geographical distinctions which are
fading at home had quite disappeared in Florence. When he was there
before, people from quite small towns in the East had made pretty Lina
Ridgely and her friend feel the disadvantage of having come from the
Western side of an imaginary line; he had himself been at the pains
always to let people know, at the American watering-places where he
spent his vacations, that though presently from Des Vaches, Indiana, he
was really born in Rhode Island; but in Florence it was not at all
necessary. He found in Mrs. Bowen's house people from Denver, Chicago,
St. Louis, Boston, New York, and Baltimore, all meeting as of apparently
the same civilisation, and whether Mrs. Bowen's own origin was, like
that of the Etruscan cities, lost in the mists of antiquity, or whether
she had sufficiently atoned for the error of her birth by subsequent
residence in the national capital and prolonged sojourn in New York, it
seemed certainly not to be remembered against her among her Eastern
acquaintance. The time had been when the fact that Miss Graham came from
Buffalo would have gone far to class her with the animal from which her
native city had taken its name; but now it made no difference, unless it
was a difference in her favour. The English spoke with the same vague
respect of Buffalo and of Philadelphia; and to a family of real
Bostonians Colville had the courage to say simply that he lived in Des
Vaches, and not to seek to palliate the truth in any sort. If he wished
to prevaricate at all, it was rather to attribute himself to Mrs.
Bowen's city in Ohio.

She and Miss Graham called for him with her carriage the next night,
when it was time to go to Madame Uccelli's.

"This gives me a very patronised and effeminate feeling," said Colville,
getting into the odorous dark of the carriage, and settling himself upon
the front seat with a skill inspired by his anxiety not to tear any of
the silken spreading white wraps that inundated the whole interior.
"Being come for by ladies!" They both gave some nervous joyful laughs,
as they found his hand in the obscurity, and left the sense of a gloved
pressure upon it. "Is this the way you used to do in Vesprucius, Mrs.
Bowen?"

"Oh no, indeed!" she answered. "The young gentlemen used to find out
whether I was going, and came for me with a hack, and generally, if the
weather was good, we walked home."

"That's the way we still do in Des Vaches. Sometimes, as a tremendous
joke, the ladies come for us in leap-year. How do you go to balls in
Buffalo, Miss Graham? Or, no; I withdraw the embarrassing question."
Some gleams from the street lamps, as they drove along, struck in
through the carriage windows, and flitted over the ladies' faces and
were gone again. "Ah! this is very trying. Couldn't you stop him at the
next corner, and let me see how radiant you ladies really are? I may be
in very great danger; I'd like to know just how much."

"It wouldn't be of any use," cried the young girl gaily. "We're all
wrapped up, and you couldn't form any idea of us. You must wait, and let
us burst upon you when we come out of the dressing-room at Madame
Uccelli's."

"But then it may be too late," he urged. "Is it very far?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen. "It's ridiculously far. It's outside the Roman
Gate. I don't see why people live at that distance."

"In order to give the friends you bring the more pleasure of your
company, Mrs. Bowen."

"Ah! that's very well. But you're not logical."

"No," said Colville; "you can't be logical and complimentary at the same
time. It's too much to ask. How delicious your flowers are!" The ladies
each had a bouquet in her hand, which she was holding in addition to her
fan, the edges of her cloak, and the skirt of her train.

"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen; "we are so much obliged to you for them."

"Why, I sent you _no flowers_," said Colville, startled into untimely
earnest.

"Didn't you?" triumphed Mrs. Bowen. "I thought gentlemen always sent
flowers to ladies when they were going to a ball with them. They used
to, in Columbus."

"And in Buffalo they always do," Miss Graham added.

"Ah! they don't in Des Vaches," said Colville. They tried to mystify him
further about the bouquets; they succeeded in being very gay, and in
making themselves laugh a great deal. Mrs. Bowen was even livelier than
the young girl.

Her carriage was one of the few private equipages that drove up to
Madame Uccelli's door; most people had not even come in a _remise_, but,
after the simple Florentine fashion, had taken the little cabs, which
stretched in a long line up and down the way; the horses had let their
weary heads drop, and were easing their broken knees by extending their
forelegs while they drowsed; the drivers, huddled in their great-coats,
had assembled around the doorway to see the guests alight, with that
amiable, unenvious interest of the Italians in the pleasure of others.
The deep sky glittered with stars; in the corner of the next villa
garden the black plumes of some cypresses blotted out their space among
them.

"_Isn't_ it Florentine?" demanded Mrs. Bowen, giving the hand which
Colville offered in helping her out of the carriage a little vivid
pressure, full of reminiscence and confident sympathy. A flush of youth
warmed his heart; he did not quail even when the porter of the villa
intervened between her and her coachman, whom she was telling when to
come back, and said that the carriages were ordered for three o'clock.

"Did you ever sit up so late as that in Des Vaches?" asked Miss Graham
mischievously.

"Oh yes; I was editor of a morning paper," he explained. But he did not
like the imputation of her question.

Madame Uccelli accepted him most hospitably among her guests when he was
presented. She was an American who had returned with her Italian husband
to Italy, and had long survived him in the villa which he had built with
her money. Such people grow very queer with the lapse of time. Madame
Uccelli's character remained inalienably American, but her manners and
customs had become largely Italian; without having learned the language
thoroughly, she spoke it very fluently, and its idioms marked her
Philadelphia English. Her house was a menagerie of all the
nationalities; she was liked in Italian society, and there were many
Italians; English-speaking Russians abounded; there were many genuine
English, Germans, Scandinavians, Protestant Irish, American Catholics,
and then Americans of all kinds. There was a superstition of her
exclusiveness among her compatriots, but one really met every one there
sooner or later; she was supposed to be a convert to the religion of her
late husband, but no one really knew what religion she was of, probably
not even Madame Uccelli herself. One thing you were sure of at her
house, and that was a substantial supper; it is the example of such
resident foreigners which has corrupted the Florentines, though many
native families still hold out against it.

The dancing was just beginning, and the daughter of Madame Uccelli, who
spoke both English and Italian much better than her mother, came forward
and possessed herself of Miss Graham, after a polite feint of pressing
Mrs. Bowen to let her find a partner for her.

Mrs. Bowen cooed a gracious refusal, telling Fanny Uccelli that she knew
very well that she never danced now. The girl had not much time for
Colville; she welcomed him, but she was full of her business of starting
the dance, and she hurried away without asking him whether she should
introduce him to some lady for the quadrille that was forming. Her
mother, however, asked him if he would not go out and get himself some
tea, and she found a lady to go with him to the supper-room. This lady
had daughters whom apparently she wished to supervise while they were
dancing, and she brought Colville back very soon. He had to stand by the
sofa where she sat till Madame Uccelli found him and introduced him to
another mother of daughters. Later he joined a group formed by the
father of one of the dancers and the non-dancing husband of a dancing
wife. Their conversation was perfunctory; they showed one another that
they had no pleasure in it.

Presently the father went to see how his daughter looked while dancing;
the husband had evidently no such curiosity concerning his wife; and
Colville went with the father, and looked at Miss Graham. She was very
beautiful, and she obeyed the music as if it were her breath; her face
was rapt, intense, full of an unsmiling delight, which shone in her dark
eyes, glowing like low stars. Her _abandon_ interested Colville, and
then awed him; the spectacle of that young, unjaded capacity for
pleasure touched him with a profound sense of loss. Suddenly Imogene
caught sight of him, and with the coming of a second look in her eyes
the light of an exquisite smile flashed over her face. His heart was in
his throat.

"_Your_ daughter?" asked the fond parent at his elbow. "That is mine
yonder in red."

Colville did not answer, nor look at the young lady in red. The dance
was ceasing; the fragments of those kaleidoscopic radiations were
dispersing themselves; the tormented piano was silent.

The officer whom Imogene had danced with brought her to Mrs. Bowen, and
resigned her with the regulation bow, hanging his head down before him
as if submitting his neck to the axe. She put her hand in Colville's
arm, where he stood beside Mrs. Bowen. "Oh, _do_ take me to get
something to eat!"

In the supper-room she devoured salad and ices with a childish joy in
them. The place was jammed, and she laughed from her corner at
Colville's struggles in getting the things for her and bringing them to
her. While she was still in the midst of an ice, the faint note of the
piano sounded. "Oh, they're beginning again. It's the Lancers!" she
said, giving him the plate back. She took his arm again; she almost
pulled him along on their return.

"Why don't _you_ dance?" she demanded mockingly.

"I would if you'd let me dance with you."

"Oh, that's impossible! I'm engaged ever so many deep." She dropped his
arm instantly at sight of a young Englishman who seemed to be looking
for her. This young Englishman had a zeal for dancing that was
unsparing; partners were nothing to him except as a means of dancing;
his manner expressed a supreme contempt for people who made the
slightest mistake, who danced with less science or less conscience than
himself. "I've been looking for you," he said, in a tone of cold rebuke,
without looking at her. "We've been waiting."

Colville wished to beat him, but Imogene took his rebuke meekly, and
murmured some apologies about not hearing the piano before. He hurried
her off without recognising Colville's existence in any way.

The undancing husband of the dancing wife was boring himself in a
corner; Colville decided that the chances with him were better than with
the fond father, and joined him, just as a polite officer came up and
entreated him to complete a set. "Oh, I never danced in my life," he
replied; and then he referred the officer to Colville. "Don't _you_
dance?"

"I used to dance," Colville began, while the officer stood looking
patiently at him. This was true. He used to dance the Lancers, too, and
very badly, seventeen years before. He had danced it with Lina Ridgely
and the other one, Mrs. Milbury. His glance wandered to the vacant place
on the floor; it was the same set which Miss Graham was in; she smiled
and beckoned derisively. A vain and foolish ambition fired him. "Oh yes,
I can dance a little," he said.

A little was quite enough for the eager officer. He had Colville a
partner in an instant, and the next he was on the floor.

"Oh, what fun!" cried Miss Graham; but the fun had not really begun yet.

Colville had forgotten everything about the Lancers. He walked round
like a bear in a pen: he capered to and fro with a futile absurdity;
people poked him hither and thither; his progress was attended by
rending noises from the trains over which he found his path. He smiled
and cringed, and apologised to the hardening faces of the dancers: even
Miss Graham's face had become very grave.

"This won't do," said the Englishman at last, with cold insolence. He
did not address himself to any one; he merely stopped; they all stopped,
and Colville was effectively expelled the set? another partner was found
for his lady, and he wandered giddily away. He did not know where to
turn; the whole room must have seen what an incredible ass he had made
of himself, but Mrs. Bowen looked as if she had not seen.

He went up to her, resolved to make fun of himself at the first sign she
gave of being privy to his disgrace. But she only said, "Have you found
your way to the supper-room yet?"

"Oh yes; twice," he answered, and kept on talking with her and Madame
Uccelli. After five minutes or so something occurred to Colville. "Have
_you_ found the way to the supper-room yet, Mrs. Bowen?"

"No!" she owned, with a small, pathetic laugh, which expressed a certain
physical faintness, and reproached him with insupportable gentleness for
his selfish obtuseness.

"Let me show you the way," he cried.

"Why, I _am_ rather hungry," said Mrs. Bowen, taking his arm, with a
patient arrangement first of her fan, her bouquet, and her train, and
then moving along by his side with a delicate footed pace, which
insinuated and deprecated her dependence upon him.

There were only a few people in the supper-room, and they had it
practically to themselves. She took a cup of tea and a slice of buttered
bread, with a little salad, which she excused herself from eating
because it was the day after her headache. "I shouldn't have thought you
_were_ hungry, Mrs. Bowen," he said, "if you hadn't told me so," and he
recalled that, as a young girl, her friend used to laugh at her for
having such a butterfly appetite; she was in fact one of those women who
go through life the marvels of such of our brutal sex as observe the
ethereal nature of their diet. But in an illogical revulsion of feeling.
Colville, who was again cramming himself with all the solids and fluids
in reach, and storing up a vain regret against the morrow, preferred her
delicacy to the magnificent rapacity of Miss Graham: Imogene had passed
from salad to ice, and at his suggestion had frankly reverted to salad
again and then taken a second ice, with the robust appetite of perfect
health and perfect youth. He felt a desire to speak against her to Mrs.
Bowen, he did not know why and he did not know how; he veiled his
feeling in an open attack. "Miss Graham has just been the cause of my
playing the fool, with her dancing. She dances so superbly that she
makes you want to dance too--she made me feel as if I _could_ dance."

"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen; "it was very kind of you to complete the set. I
saw you dancing," she added, without a glimmer of guilty consciousness
in her eyes.

It was very sweet, but Colville had to protest. "Oh no; you didn't see
me _dancing_; you saw me _not dancing_. I am a ruined man, and I leave
Florence to-morrow; but I have the sad satisfaction of reflecting that I
don't leave an unbroken train among the ladies of that set. And I have
made one young Englishman so mad that there is a reasonable hope of his
not recovering."

"Oh no; you _don't_ think of going away for that!" said Mrs. Bowen, not
heeding the rest of his joking.

"Well, the time has been when I have left Florence for loss," said
Colville, with the air of preparing himself to listen to reason.

"You mustn't," said Mrs. Bowen briefly.

"Oh, very well, then, I won't," said Colville whimsically, as if that
settled it.

Mrs. Bowen would not talk of the matter any more; he could see that with
her kindness, which was always more than her tact, she was striving to
get away from the subject. As he really cared for it no longer, this
made him persist in clinging to it; he liked this pretty woman's being
kind to him. "Well," he said finally, "I consent to stay in Florence on
condition that you suggest some means of atonement for me which I can
also make a punishment to Miss Graham."

Mrs. Bowen did not respond to the question of placating and punishing
her _protegee_ with sustained interest. They went back to Madame
Uccelli, and to the other elderly ladies in the room that opened by
archways upon the dancing-room.

Imogene was on the floor, dancing not merely with unabated joy, but with
a zest that seemed only to freshen from dance to dance. If she left the
dance, it was to go out on her partner's arm to the supper-room.
Colville could not decently keep on talking to Mrs. Bowen the whole
evening; it would be too conspicuous; he devolved from frump to frump;
he bored himself; he yawned in his passage from one of these mothers or
fathers to another. The hours passed; it was two o'clock; Imogene was
going out to the supper-room again. He was taking out his watch. She saw
him, and "Oh, don't!" she cried, laughing, as she passed.

The dancing went on; she was waltzing now in the interminable german.
Some one had let down, a window in the dancing-room, and he was feeling
it in his shoulder. Mrs. Bowen, across the room, looked heroically
patient, but weary. He glanced, down at the frump on the sofa near, and
realised that she had been making a long speech to him, which, he could
see from her look, had ended in some sort of question.

Three o'clock came, and they had to wait till the german was over. He
felt that Miss Graham was behaving badly, ungratefully, selfishly; on
the way home in the carriage he was silent from utter boredom and
fatigue, but Mrs. Bowen was sweetly sympathetic with the girl's rapture.
Imogene did not seem to feel his moodiness; she laughed, she joked, she
told a number of things that happened, she hummed the air of the last
waltz. "Isn't it divine?" she asked. "Oh! I feel as if I could dance for
a week." She was still dancing; she gave Colville's foot an accidental
tap in keeping time on the floor of the carriage to the tune she was
humming. No one said anything about a next meeting when they parted at
the gate of Palazzo Pinti, and Mrs. Bowen bade her coachman drive
Colville to his hotel. But both the ladies' voices called good-night to
him as he drove away. He fancied a shade of mocking in Miss Graham's
voice.

The great outer door of the hotel was locked, of course, and the poor
little porter kept Colville thumping at it some time before he unlocked
it, full of sleepy smiles and apologies. "I'm sorry to wake you up,"
said Colville kindly.

"It is my duty," said the porter, with amiable heroism. He discharged
another duty by lighting a whole new candle, which would be set down to
Colville's account, and went before him to his room, up the wide stairs,
cold in their white linen path, and on through the crooked corridors
haunted by the ghosts of extinct _tables d'hote_, and full of goblin
shadows. He had recovered a noonday suavity by the time he reached
Colville's door, and bowed himself out, after lighting the candles
within, with a sweet plenitude of politeness, which Colville, even in
his gloomy mood, could not help admiring in a man in his shirt sleeves,
with only one suspender up.

If there had been a fire, Colville would have liked to sit down before
it, and take an account of his feelings, but the atmosphere of a
bed-chamber in a Florentine hotel at half-past three o'clock on a winter
morning is not one that invites to meditation; and he made haste to get
into bed, with nothing clearer in his mind than a shapeless sense of
having been trifled with. He ought not to have gone to a dancing party,
to begin with, and then he certainly ought not to have attempted to
dance; so far he might have been master of the situation, and was
responsible for it; but he was, over and above this, aware of not having
wished to do either, of having been wrought upon against his convictions
to do both. He regarded now with supreme loathing a fantastic purpose
which he had formed while tramping round on those women's dresses, of
privately taking lessons in dancing, and astonishing Miss Graham at the
next ball where they met. Miss Graham? What did he care for that child?
Or Mrs. Bowen either, for the matter of that? Had he come four thousand
miles to be used, to be played with, by them? At this point Colville was
aware of the brutal injustice of his mood. They were ladies, both of
them, charming and good, and he had been a fool; that was all. It was
not the first time he had been a fool for women. An inexpressible
bitterness for that old wrong, which, however he had been used to laugh
at it and despise it, had made his life solitary and barren, poured upon
his soul; it was as if it had happened to him yesterday.

A band of young men burst from one of the narrow streets leading into
the piazza and straggled across it, letting their voices flare out upon
the silence, and then drop extinct one by one. A whole world of faded
associations flushed again in Colville's heart. This was Italy; this was
Florence; and he execrated the hour in which he had dreamed of
returning.






VII


The next morning's sunshine dispersed the black mood of the night
before; but enough of Colville's self-disgust remained to determine him
not to let his return to Florence be altogether vain, or his sojourn so
idle as it had begun being. The vague purpose which he had cherished of
studying the past life and character of the Florentines in their
architecture shaped itself anew in the half-hour which he gave himself
over his coffee; and he turned it over in his mind with that mounting
joy in its capabilities which attends the contemplation of any sort of
artistic endeavour. No people had ever more distinctly left the impress
of their whole temper in their architecture, or more sharply
distinguished their varying moods from period to period in their palaces
and temples. He believed that he could not only supply that brief
historical sketch of Florence which Mrs. Bowen had lamented the want of,
but he could make her history speak an unintelligible, an unmistakeable
tongue in every monument of the past, from the Etruscan wall at Fiesole
to the cheap, plain, and tasteless shaft raised to commemorate Italian
Unity in the next piazza. With sketches from his own pencil,
illustrative of points which he could not otherwise enforce, he could
make such a book on Florence as did not exist, such a book as no one had
yet thought of making. With this object in his mind, making and keeping
him young, he could laugh with any one who liked at the vanity of the
middle-aged Hoosier who had spoiled a set in the Lancers at Madame
Uccelli's party; he laughed at him now alone, with a wholly impersonal
sense of his absurdity.

After breakfast he went without delay to Viesseux's reading-room, to
examine his catalogue, and see what there was in it to his purpose.
While he was waiting his turn to pay his subscription, with the people
who surrounded the proprietor, half a dozen of the acquaintances he had
made at Mrs. Bowen's passed in and out. Viesseux's is a place where
sooner or later you meet every one you know among the foreign residents
at Florence; the natives in smaller proportion resort there too; and
Colville heard a lady asking for a book in that perfect Italian which
strikes envy to the heart of the stranger sufficiently versed in the
language to know that he never shall master it. He rather rejoiced in
his despair, however, as an earnest of his renewed intellectual life.
Henceforth his life would be wholly intellectual. He did not regret his
little excursion into society; it had shown him with dramatic sharpness
how unfit for it he was.

"Good _morning_!" said some one in a bland undertone full of a pleasant
recognition of the claims to quiet of a place where some others were
speaking in their ordinary tones.

Colville looked round on the Rev. Mr. Waters, and took his friendly
hand. "Good morning--glad to see you," he answered.

"Are you looking for that short Florentine history for Mrs. Bowen's
little girl?" asked Mr. Waters, inclining his head slightly for the
reply. "She mentioned it to me."

By day Colville remarked more distinctly that the old gentleman was
short and slight, with a youthful eagerness in his face surviving on
good terms with the grey locks that fell down his temples from under the
brim of his soft felt hat. With the boyish sweetness of his looks
blended a sort of appreciative shrewdness, which pointed his smiling
lips slightly aslant in what seemed the expectation rather than the
intention of humour.

"Not exactly," said Colville, experiencing a difficulty in withholding
the fact that in some sort he was just going to write a short Florentine
history, and finding a certain pleasure in Mrs. Bowen's having
remembered that he had taken an interest in Effie's reading. He had a
sudden wish to tell Mr. Waters of his plan, but this was hardly the time
or place.

They now found themselves face to face with the librarian, and Mr.
Waters made a gesture of waiving himself in Colville's favour.

"No, no!" said the latter; "you had better ask. I am going to put this
gentleman through rather an extended course of sprouts."

The librarian smiled with the helplessness of a foreigner, who knows his
interlocutor's English, but not the meaning of it.

"Oh, I merely wanted to ask," said Mr. Waters, addressing the librarian,
and explaining to Colville, "whether you had received that book on
Savonarola yet. The German one."

"I shall see," said the librarian, and he went upon a quest that kept
him some minutes.

"You're not thinking of taking Savonarola's life, I suppose?" suggested
Colville.

"Oh no. Villari's book has covered the whole ground for ever, it seems
to me. It's a wonderful book. You've read it?"

"Yes. It's a thing that makes you feel that, after all, the Italians
have only to make a real effort in any direction, and they go ahead of
everybody else. What biography of the last twenty years can compare with
it?"

"You're right, sir--you're right," cried the old man enthusiastically.
"They're a gifted race, a people of genius."

"I wish for their own sakes they'd give their minds a little to
generalship," said Colville, pressed by the facts to hedge somewhat.
"They did get so badly smashed in their last war, poor fellows."

"Oh, I don't think I should like them any better if they were better
soldiers. Perhaps the lesson of noble endurance that they've given our
times is all that we have the right to demand of them in the way of
heroism; no one can say they lack courage. And sometimes it seems to me
that in simply outgrowing the different sorts of despotism that had
fastened upon them, till their broken bonds fell away without positive
effort on their part, they showed a greater sublimity than if they had
violently conquered their freedom. Most nations sink lower and lower
under tyranny; the Italians grew steadily more and more civilised, more
noble, more gentle, more grand. It was a wonderful spectacle--like a
human soul perfected through suffering and privation. Every period of
their history is full of instruction. I find my ancestral puritanism
particularly appealed to by the puritanism of Savonarola."

"Then Villari hasn't satisfied you that Savonarola wasn't a Protestant?"

"Oh yes, he has. I said his puritanism. Just now I'm interested in
justifying his failure to myself, for it's one of the things in history
that I've found it hardest to accept. But no doubt his puritanic state
fell because it was dreary and ugly, as the puritanic state always has
been. It makes its own virtues intolerable; puritanism won't let you see
how good and beautiful the Puritans often are. It was inevitable that
Savonarola's enemies should misunderstand and hate him."

"You are one of the last men I should have expected to find among the
_Arrabiati_," said Colville.

"Oh, there's a great deal to be said for the Florentine Arrabiati, as
well as for the English Malignants, though the Puritans in neither case
would have known how to say it. Savonarola perished because he was
excessive. I am studying him in this aspect; it is fresh ground. It is
very interesting to inquire just at what point a man's virtues become
mischievous and intolerable."

These ideas interested Colville; he turned to them with relief from the
sense of his recent trivialities; in this old man's earnestness he found
support and encouragement in the new course he had marked out for
himself. Sometimes it had occurred to him not only that he was too old
for the interests of his youth at forty, but that there was no longer
time for him to take up new ones. He considered Mr. Waters's grey hairs,
and determined to be wiser. "I should like to talk these things over
with you--and some other things," he said.

The librarian came toward them with the book for Mr. Waters, who was
fumbling near-sightedly in his pocket-book for his card. "I shall be
very happy to see you at my room," he said. "Ah, thank you," he added,
taking his book, with a simple relish as if it were something whose
pleasantness was sensible to the touch. He gave Colville the scholar's
far-off look as he turned to go: he was already as remote as the
fifteenth century through the magic of the book, which he opened and
began to read at once. Colville stared after him; he did not wish to
come to just that yet, either. Life, active life, life of his own day,
called to him; he had been one of its busiest children: could he turn
his back upon it for any charm or use that was in the past? Again that
unnerving doubt, that paralysing distrust, beset him, and tempted him to
curse the day in which he had returned to this outworn Old World. Idler
on its modern surface, or delver in its deep-hearted past, could he
reconcile himself to it? What did he care for the Italians of to-day, or
the history of the Florentines as expressed in their architectural
monuments? It was the problems of the vast, tumultuous American life,
which he had turned his back on, that really concerned him. Later he
might take up the study that fascinated yonder old man, but for the
present it was intolerable.

He was no longer young, that was true; but with an ache of old regret he
felt that he had not yet lived his life, that his was a baffled destiny,
an arrested fate. A lady came up and took his turn with the librarian,
and Colville did not stay for another. He went out and walked down the
Lung' Arno toward the Cascine. The sun danced on the river, and bathed
the long line of pale buff and grey houses that followed its curve, and
ceased in the mist of leafless tree-tops where the Cascine began. It was
not the hour of the promenade, and there was little driving; but the
sidewalks were peopled thickly enough with persons, in groups, or
singly, who had the air of straying aimlessly up or down, with no
purpose but to be in the sun, after the rainy weather of the past week.
There were faces of invalids, wistful and thin, and here and there a
man, muffled to the chin, lounged feebly on the parapet and stared at
the river. Colville hastened by them; they seemed to claim him as one of
their ailing and aging company, and just then he was in the humour of
being very young and strong.

A carriage passed before him through the Cascine gates, and drove down
the road next the river. He followed, and when it had got a little way
it stopped at the roadside, and a lady and little girl alighted, who
looked about and caught sight of him, and then obviously waited for him
to come up with them. It was Imogene and Effie Bowen, and the young girl
called to him: "We _thought_ it was you. Aren't you astonished to find
us here at this hour?" she demanded, as soon as he came up, and gave him
her hand. "Mrs. Bowen sent us for our health--or Effie's health--and I
was just making the man stop and let us out for a little walk."

"My health is very much broken too, Miss Effie," said Colville. "Will
you let me walk with you?" The child smiled, as she did at Colville's
speeches, which she apparently considered all jokes, but diplomatically
referred the decision to Imogene with an upward glance.

"We shall be very glad indeed," said the girl.

"That's very polite of you. But Miss Effie makes no effort to conceal
her dismay," said Colville.

The little girl smiled again, and her smile was so like the smile of
Lina Ridgely, twenty years ago, that his next words were inevitably
tinged with reminiscence.

"Does one still come for one's health to the Cascine? When I was in
Florence before, there was no other place if one went to look for it
with young ladies--the Cascine or the Boboli Gardens. Do they keep the
fountain of youth turned on here during the winter still?"

"I've never seen it," said Imogene gaily.

"Of course not. You never looked for it. Neither did I when I was here
before. But it wouldn't escape me now."

Since he had met them he had aged again, in spite of his resolutions to
the contrary; somehow, beside their buoyancy and bloom, the youth in his
heart faded.

Imogene had started forward as soon as he joined them, and Colville,
with Effie's gloved hand stolen shyly in his, was finding it quite
enough to keep up with her in her elastic advance.

She wore a long habit of silk, whose fur-trimmed edge wandered
diagonally across her breast and down to the edge of her walking dress.
To Colville, whom her girlish slimness in her ball costume had puzzled
after his original impressions of Junonian abundance, she did not so
much dwindle as seem to vanish from the proportions his visions had
assigned her that first night when he saw her standing before the
mirror. In this outdoor avatar, this companionship with the sun and
breeze, she was new to him again, and he found himself searching his
consciousness for his lost acquaintance with her, and feeling as if he
knew her less and less. Perhaps, indeed, she had no very distinctive
individuality; perhaps at her age no woman has, but waits for it to come
to her through life, through experience. She was an expression of youth,
of health, of beauty, and of the moral loveliness that comes from a
fortunate combination of these; but beyond this she was elusive in a way
that seemed to characterise her even materially. He could not make
anything more of the mystery as he walked at her side, and he went
thinking--formlessly, as people always think--that with the child or
with her mother he would have had a community of interest and feeling
which he lacked with this splendid girlhood! he was both too young and
too old for it; and then, while he answered this or that to Imogene's
talk aptly enough, his mind went back to the time when this mystery was
no mystery, or when he was contemporary with it, and if he did not
understand it, at least accepted it as if it wore the most natural thing
in the world. It seemed a longer time now since it had been in his world
than it was since he was a child.

"Should you have thought," she asked, turning her face back toward him,
"that it would be so hot in the sun to-day? _Oh_, that beautiful river!
How it twists and writhes along! Do you remember that sonnet of
Longfellow's--the one he wrote in Italian about the Ponte Vecchio, and
the Arno twisting like a dragon underneath it? They say that Hawthorne
used to live in a villa just behind the hill over there; we're going to
look it up as soon as the weather is settled. Don't you think his books
are perfectly fascinating?"

"Yes," said Colville; "only I should want a good while to say it."

"_I_ shouldn't!" retorted the girl. "When you've said fascinating,
you've said everything. There's no other word for them. Don't you like
to talk about the books you've read?"

"I would if I could remember the names of the characters. But I get them
mixed up."

"Oh, _I_ never do! I remember the least one of them, and all they do and
say."

"I used to."

"It seems to me you _used_ to do everything."

"It seems to me as if I did."

  "'I remember, when I think,
   That my youth was half divine.'"


"Oh, Tennyson--yes! _He's_ fascinating. Don't you think he's
fascinating?"

"Very," said Colville. He was wondering whether this were the kind of
talk that he thought was literary when he was a young fellow.

"How perfectly weird the 'Vision of Sin' is!" Imogene continued. "Don't
you like _weird_ things?"

"Weird things?" Colville reflected. "Yes; but I don't see very much in
them any more. The fact is, they don't seem to come to anything in
particular."

"Oh, _I_ think they do! I've had dreams that I've lived on for days. Do
you ever have prophetic dreams?"

"Yes; but they never come true. When they do, I know that I didn't have
them."

"What _do_ you mean?"

"I mean that we are all so fond of the marvellous that we can't trust
ourselves about any experience that seems supernatural. If a ghost
appeared to me I should want him to prove it by at least two other
reliable, disinterested witnesses before I believed my own account of
the matter."

"Oh!" cried the girl, half puzzled, half amused. "Then of course you
don't believe in ghosts?"

"Yes; I expect to be one myself some day. But I'm in no hurry to mingle
with them."

Imogene smiled vaguely, as if the talk pleased her, even when it mocked
the fancies and whims which, after so many generations that have
indulged them, she was finding so fresh and new in her turn.

"Don't you like to walk by the side of a river?" she asked, increasing
her eager pace a little. "I feel as if it were bearing me along."

"I feel as if I were carrying it," said Colville. "It's as fatiguing as
walking on railroad ties."

"Oh, that's too bad!" cried the girl. "How can you be so prosaic? Should
you ever have believed that the sun could be so hot in January? And look
at those ridiculous green hillsides over the river there! Don't you like
it to be winter when it _is_ winter?"

She did not seem to have expected anything from Colville but an
impulsive acquiescence, but she listened while he defended the mild
weather. "I think it's very well for Italy," he said. "It has always
seemed to me--that is, it seems to me now for the first time, but one
has to begin the other way--as if the seasons here had worn themselves
out like the turbulent passions of the people. I dare say the winter was
much fiercer in the times of the Bianchi and Neri."

"Oh, how delightful! Do you really believe that?"

"No, I don't know that I do. But I shouldn't have much difficulty in
proving it, I think, to the sympathetic understanding."

"I wish you would prove it to mine. It sounds so pretty, I'm sure it
must be true."

"Oh, then, it isn't necessary. I'll reserve my arguments for Mrs.
Bowen."

"You had better. She isn't at all romantic. She says it's very well for
me she isn't--that her being matter-of-fact lets me be as romantic as I
like."

"Then Mrs. Bowen isn't as romantic as she would like to be if she hadn't
charge of a romantic young lady?"

"Oh, I don't say that. Dear me! I'd no idea it _could_ be so hot in
January." As they strolled along beside the long hedge of laurel, the
carriage slowly following them at a little distance, the sun beat strong
upon the white road, blotched here and there with the black irregular
shadows of the ilexes. The girl undid the pelisse across her breast,
with a fine impetuosity, and let it swing open as she walked. She
stopped suddenly. "Hark! What bird was that?"

"'It was the nightingale, and not the lark,'" suggested Colville lazily.

"Oh, _don't_ you think _Romeo and Juliet_ is divine?" demanded Imogene,
promptly dropping the question of the bird.

"I don't know about Romeo," returned Colville, "but it's sometimes
occurred to me that Juliet was rather forth-putting."

"You _know_ she wasn't. It's my favourite play. I could go every night.
It's perfectly amazing to me that they can play anything else."

"You would like it five hundred nights in the year, like _Hazel Kirke_?
That would be a good deal of Romeo, not to say Juliet."

"They ought to do it out of respect to Shakespeare. Don't you like
Shakespeare?"

"Well, I've seen the time when I preferred Alexander Smith," said
Colville evasively.

"Alexander Smith? Who in the world is Alexander Smith?"

"How recent you are! Alexander Smith was an immortal who flourished
about the year 1850."

"That was before I was born. How could I remember him? But I don't feel
so very recent for all that."

"Neither do I, this morning," said Colville. "I was up at one of
Pharaoh's balls last night, and I danced too much."

He gave Imogene a droll glance, and then bent it upon Effie's discreet
face. The child dropped her eyes with a blush like her mother's, having
first sought provisional counsel of Imogene, who turned away. He rightly
inferred that they all had been talking him over at breakfast, and he
broke into a laugh which they joined in, but Imogene said nothing in
recognition of the fact.

With what he felt to be haste for his relief she said, "Don't you hate
to be told to read a book?"

"I used to--quarter of a century ago," said Colville, recognising that
this was the way young people talked, even then.

"Used to?" she repeated. "Don't you now?"

"No; I'm a great deal more tractable now. I always say that I shall get
the book out of the library. I draw the line at buying. I still hate to
buy a book that people recommend."

"What kind of books do you like to buy?"

"Oh, no kind. I think we ought to get all our books out of the library."

"Do you never like to talk in earnest?"

"Well, not often," said Colville. "Because, if you do, you can't say
with a good conscience afterward that you were only in fun."

"Oh! And do you always like to talk so that you can get out of things
afterward?"

"No. I didn't say that, did I?"

"Very nearly, I should think."

"Then I'm glad I didn't quite."

"I like people to be outspoken--to say everything they think," said the
girl, regarding him with a puzzled look.

"Then I foresee that I shall become a favourite," answered Colville. "I
say a great deal more than I think."

She looked at him again with envy, with admiration, qualifying her
perplexity. They had come to a point where some moss-grown,
weather-beaten statues stood at the corners of the road that traversed
the bosky stretch between the avenues of the Cascine. "Ah, how beautiful
they are!" he said, halting, and giving himself to the rapture that a
blackened garden statue imparts to one who beholds it from the
vantage-ground of sufficient years and experience.

"Do you remember that story of Heine's," he resumed, after a moment, "of
the boy who steals out of the old castle by moonlight, and kisses the
lips of the garden statue, fallen among the rank grass of the ruinous
parterres? And long afterward, when he looks down on the sleep of the
dying girl where she lies on the green sofa, it seems to him that she
and that statue are the same?"

"Oh!" deeply sighed the young girl. "No, I never read it. Tell me what
it is. I _must_ read it."

"The rest is all talk--very good talk; but I doubt whether it would
interest you. He goes on to talk of a great many things---of the way
Bellini spoke French, for example. He says it was bloodcurdling,
horrible, cataclysmal. He brought out the poor French words and broke
them upon the wheel, till you thought the whole world must give way with
a thunder-crash. A dead hush reigned in the room; the women did not know
whether to faint or fly; the men looked down at their pantaloons, and
tried to realise what they had on."

"Oh, how perfectly delightful! how shameful!" cried the girl. "I _must_
read it. What is it in? What is the name of the story?"

"It isn't a story," said Colville. "Did you ever see anything lovelier
than these statues?"

"No," said Imogene. "_Are_ they good?"

"They are much better than good--they are the very worst rococo."

"What makes you say they are beautiful, then?"

"Why, don't you see? They commemorate youth, gaiety, brilliant, joyous
life. That's what that kind of statues was made for--to look on at rich,
young, beautiful people and their gallantries; to be danced before by
fine ladies and gentlemen playing at shepherd and shepherdesses; to be
driven past by marcheses and contessinas flirting in carriages; to be
hung with scarfs and wreaths; to be parts of eternal _fetes champetres_.
Don't you see how bored they look? When I first came to Italy I should
have detested and ridiculed their bad art; but now they're
exquisite--the worse, the better,"

"I don't know what in the world you _do_ mean," said Imogene, laughing
uneasily.

"Mrs. Bowen would. It's a pity Mrs. Bowen isn't here with us. Miss
Effie, if I lift you up to one of those statues, will you kindly ask it
if it doesn't remember a young American signor who was here just before
the French Revolution? I don't believe it's forgotten me."

"No, no," said Imogene. "It's time we were walking back. Don't you like
Scott!" she added. "I should think you would if you like those romantic
things. I used to like Scott so _much_. When I was fifteen I wouldn't
read anything but Scott. Don't you like Thackeray? Oh, he's so
_cynical_! It's perfectly delightful."

"Cynical?" repeated Colville thoughtfully. "I was looking into _The
Newcomes_ the other day, and I thought he was rather sentimental"

"Sentimental! Why, what an idea! That is the strangest thing I ever
heard of. Oh!" she broke in upon her own amazement, "don't you think
Browning's 'Statue and the Bust' is splendid? Mr. Morton read it to
us--to Mrs. Bowen, I mean."

Colville resented this freedom of Mr. Morion's, he did not know just
why; then his pique was lost in sarcastic recollection of the time when
he too used to read poems to ladies. He had read that poem to Lina
Ridgely and the other one.

"Mrs. Bowen asked him to read it," Imogene continued.

"Did she?" asked Colville pensively.

"And then we discussed it afterward. We had a long discussion. And then
he read us the 'Legend of Pornic,' and we had a discussion about that.
Mrs. Bowen says it was real gold they found in the coffin; but I think
it was the girl's 'gold hair.' I don't know which Mr. Morion thought.
Which do you? Don't you think the 'Legend of Pornic' is splendid?"

"Yes, it's a great poem, and deep," said Colville. They had come to a
place where the bank sloped invitingly to the river. "Miss Effie," he
asked, "wouldn't you like to go down and throw stones into the Arno?
That's what a river is for," he added, as the child glanced toward
Imogene for authorisation, "to have stones thrown into it."

"Oh, let us!" cried Imogene, rushing down to the brink. "I don't want to
throw stones into it, but to get near it--to get near to any bit of
nature. They do pen you up so from it in Europe!" She stood and watched
Colville skim stones over the current. "When you stand by the shore of a
swift river like this, or near a railroad train when it comes whirling
by, don't you ever have a morbid impulse to fling yourself forward?"

"Not at my time of life," said Colville, stooping to select a flat
stone. "Morbid impulses are one of the luxuries of youth." He threw the
stone, which skipped triumphantly far out into the stream. "That was
beautiful, wasn't it, Miss Effie?"

"Lovely!" murmured the child.

He offered her a flat pebble. "Would you like to try one?"

"It would spoil my gloves," she said, in deprecating refusal.

"Let _me_ try it!" cried Imogene. "I'm not afraid of my gloves."

Colville yielded the pebble, looking at her with the thought of how
intoxicating he should once have found this bit of wilful _abandon_, but
feeling rather sorry for it now. "Oh, perhaps not?" he said, laying his
hand upon hers, and looking into her eyes.

She returned his look, and then she dropped the pebble and put her hand
back in her muff, and turned and ran up the bank. "There's the carriage.
It's time we should be going." At the top of the bank she became a
mirror of dignity, a transparent mirror to his eye. "Are you going back
to town, Mr. Colville?" she asked, with formal state. "We could set you
down anywhere!"

"Thank you, Miss Graham. I shall be glad to avail myself of your very
kind offer. Allow me." He handed her ceremoniously to the carriage; he
handed Effie Bowen even more ceremoniously to the carriage, holding his
hat in one hand while he offered the other. Then he mounted to the seat
in front of them. "The weather has changed," he said.

Imogene hid her face in her muff, and Effie Bowen bowed hers against
Imogene's shoulder.

A sense of the girl's beauty lingered in Colville's thought all day, and
recurred to him again and again; and the ambitious intensity and
enthusiasm of her talk came back in touches of amusement and compassion.
How divinely young it all was, and how lovely! He patronised it from a
height far aloof.

He was not in the frame of mind for the hotel table, and he went to
lunch, at a restaurant. He chose a simple trattoria, the first he came
to, and he took his seat at one of the bare, rude tables, where the
joint saucers for pepper and salt, and a small glass for toothpicks,
with a much-scraped porcelain box for matches, expressed an uncorrupted
Florentinity of custom. But when he gave his order in offhand Italian,
the waiter answered in the French which waiters get together for the
traveller's confusion in Italy, and he resigned himself to whatever
chance of acquaintance might befall him. The place had a companionable
smell of stale tobacco, and the dim light showed him on the walls of a
space dropped a step or two lower, at the end of the room, a variety of
sketches and caricatures. A waiter was laying a large table in this
space, and when Colville came up to examine the drawings he jostled him,
with due apologies, in the haste of a man working against time for
masters who will brook no delay. He was hurrying still when a party of
young men came in and took their places at the table, and began to rough
him for his delay. Colville could recognise several of them in the
vigorous burlesques on the walls, and as others dropped in the grotesque
portraitures made him feel as if he had seen them before. They all
talked at once, each man of his own interests, except when they joined
in a shout of mockery and welcome for some new-comer. Colville, at his
_risotto_, almost the room's length away, could hear what they thought,
one and another, of Botticelli and Michelangelo; of old Piloty's things
at Munich; of the dishes they had served to them, and of the quality of
the Chianti; of the respective merits of German and Italian tobacco; of
whether Inglehart had probably got to Venice yet; of the personal habits
of Billings, and of the question whether the want of modelling in
Simmons's nose had anything to do with his style of snoring; of the
overrated colouring of some of those Venetian fellows; of the delicacy
of Mino da Fiesole, and of the genius of Babson's tailor. Babson was
there to defend the cut of his trousers, and Billings and Simmons were
present to answer for themselves at the expense of the pictures of those
who had called their habits and features into question. When it came to
this all the voices joined in jolly uproar. Derision and denial broke
out of the tumult, and presently they were all talking quietly of a
reception which some of them were at the day before. Then Colville heard
one of them saying that he would like a chance to paint some lady whose
name he did not catch, and "She looks awfully sarcastic," one of the
young fellows said.

"They say she _is_," said another. "They say she's awfully
intellectual."

"Boston?" queried a third.

"No, Kalamazoo. The centre of culture is out there now."

"She knows how to dress, anyhow," said the first commentator. "I wonder
what Parker would talk to her about when he was painting her. He's never
read anything but Poe's 'Ullalume.'"

"Well, that's a good subject--'Ullalume.'"

"I suppose she's read it?"

"She's read 'most everything, they say."

"What's an Ullalume, anyway, Parker?"

One of the group sprang up from the table and drew on the wall what he
labelled "An Ullalume." Another rapidly depicted Parker in the moment of
sketching a young lady; her portrait had got as far as the eyes and nose
when some one protested: "Oh, hello! No personalities."

The draughtsman said, "Well, all right!" and sat down again.

"Hall talked with her the most. What did she say, Hall?"

"Hall can't remember words in three syllables, but he says it was mighty
brilliant and mighty deep."

"They say she's a niece of Mrs. Bowen's. She's staying with Mrs. Bowen."

Then it was the wisdom and brilliancy and severity of Imogene Graham
that these young men stood in awe of! Colville remembered how the minds
of girls of twenty had once dazzled him. "And yes," he mused, "she must
have believed that we were talking literature in the Cascine. Certainly
I should have thought it an intellectual time when I was at that age,"
he owned to himself with forlorn irony.

The young fellows went on to speak of Mrs. Bowen, whom it seemed they
had known the winter before. She had been very polite to them; they
praised her as if she were quite an old woman.

"But she must have been a very pretty girl," one of them put in.

"Well, she has a good deal of style yet."

"Oh yes, but she never could have been a beauty like the other one."

On her part, Imogene was very sober when she met Mrs. Bowen, though she
had come in flushed and excited from the air and the morning's
adventure. Mrs. Bowen was sitting by the fire, placidly reading; a vase
of roses on the little table near her diffused the delicate odour of
winter roses through the room; all seemed very still and dim, and of
another time, somehow.

Imogene kept away from the fire, sitting down, in the provisional
fashion of women, with her things on; but she unbuttoned her pelisse and
flung it open. Effie had gone to her room.

"Did you have a pleasant drive?" asked Mrs. Bowen.

"Very," said the girl.

"Mr. Morton brought you these roses," continued Mrs. Bowen.

"Oh," said Imogene, with a cold glance at them.

"The Flemmings have asked us to a party Thursday. There is to be
dancing."

"The Flemmings?"

"Yes." As if she now saw reason to do so, Mrs. Bowen laid the book face
downward in her lap. She yawned a little, with her hand on her mouth.
"Did you meet any one you knew?"

"Yes; Mr. Colville." Mrs. Bowen cut her yawn in half. "We got out to
walk in the Cascine, and we saw him coming in at the gate. He came up
and asked if he might walk with us."

"Did you have a pleasant walk?" asked Mrs. Bowen, a breath more chillily
than she had asked if they had a pleasant drive.

"Yes, pleasant enough. And then we came back and went down the river
bank, and he skipped stones, and we took him to his hotel."

"Was there anybody you knew in the Cascine?"

"Oh no; the place was a howling wilderness. I never saw it so deserted,"
said the girl impatiently. "It was terribly hot walking. I thought I
should burn up."

Mrs. Bowen did not answer anything; she let the book lie in her lap.

"What an odd person Mr. Colville is!" said Imogene, after a moment.
"Don't you think he's very different from other gentlemen?"

"Why?"

"Oh, he has such a peculiar way of talking."

"What peculiar way?"

"Oh, I don't know. Plenty of the young men I see talk cynically, and I
do sometimes myself--desperately, don't you know. But then I know very
well we don't mean anything by it."

"And do you think Mr. Colville does? Do you think he talks cynically?"

Imogene leaned back in her chair and reflected. "No," she returned
slowly, "I can't say that he does. But he talks lightly, with a kind of
touch and go that makes you feel that he has exhausted all feeling. He
doesn't parade it at all. But you hear between the words, don't you
know, just as you read between the lines in some kinds of poetry. Of
course it's everything in knowing what he's been through. He's perfectly
unaffected; and don't you think he's good?"

"Oh yes," sighed Mrs. Bowen. "In his way."

"But he sees through you. Oh, quite! Nothing escapes him, and pretty
soon he lets out that he has seen through you, and then you feel so
_flat_! Oh, it's perfectly intoxicating to be with him. I would give the
world to talk as he does."

"What was your talk all about?"

"Oh, I don't know. I suppose it would have been called rather
intellectual."

Mrs. Bowen smiled infinitesimally. But after a moment she said gravely,
"Mr. Colville is very much older than you. He's old enough to be your
father."

"Yes, I know that. You feel that he feels old, and it's perfectly
tragical. Sometimes when he turns that slow, dull, melancholy look on
you, he seems a thousand years old."

"I don't mean that he's positively old," said Mrs. Bowen. "He's only old
comparatively."

"Oh yes; I understand that. And I don't mean that he really seems a
thousand years old. What I meant was, he seems a thousand years off, as
if he were still young, and had got left behind somehow. He seems to be
on the other side of some impassable barrier, and you want to get over
there and help him to our side, but you can't do it. I suppose his
talking in that light way is merely a subterfuge to hide his feeling, to
make him forget."

Mrs. Bowen fingered the edges of her book. "You mustn't let your fancy
run away with you, Imogene," she said, with a little painful smile.

"Oh, I _like_ to let it run away with me. And when I get such a subject
as Mr. Colville, there's no stopping. I can't stop, and I don't _wish_
to stop. Shouldn't you have thought that he would have been perfectly
crushed at the exhibition he made of himself in the Lancers last night?
He wasn't the least embarrassed when he met me, and the only allusion he
made to it was to say that he had been up late, and had danced too much.
Wasn't it wonderful he could do it? Oh, if _I_ could do that!"

"I wish he could have avoided the occasion for his bravado," said Mrs.
Bowen.

"I think I was a little to blame, perhaps," said the girl. "I beckoned
him to come and take the vacant place."

"I don't see that that was an excuse," returned Mrs. Bowen primly.

Imogene seemed insensible to the tone, as it concerned herself; it only
apparently reminded her of something. "Guess what Mr. Colville said,
when I had been silly, and then tried to make up for it by being very
dignified all of a sudden?"

"I don't know. How had you been silly?"

The servant brought in some cards. Imogene caught up the pelisse which
she had been gradually shedding as she sat talking to Mrs. Bowen, and
ran out of the room by another door.

They did not recur to the subject. But that night, when Mrs. Bowen went
to say good night to Effie, after the child had gone to bed, she
lingered.

"Effie," she said at last, in a husky whisper, "what did Imogene say to
Mr. Colville to-day that made him laugh?"

"I don't know," said the child. "They kept laughing at so many things."

"Laughing?"

"Yes; he laughed. Do you mean toward the last, when he had been throwing
stones into the river?"

"It must have been then."

The child stretched herself drowsily. "Oh I couldn't understand it all.
She wanted to throw a stone in the river, but he told her she had better
not. But that didn't make _him_ laugh. She was so very stiff just
afterward that he said the weather had changed, and that made _us_
laugh."

"Was that all?"

"We kept laughing ever so long. I never saw any one like Mr. Colville.
How queerly the fire shines on your face! It gives you such a beautiful
complexion."

"Does it?"

"Yes, lovely." The child's mother stooped over and kissed her. "You're
the prettiest mamma in the world," she said, throwing her arms round her
neck. "Sometimes I can't tell whether Imogene is prettier or not, but
to-night I'm certain you are. Do you like to have me think that?"

"Yes--yes. But don't pull me down so; you hurt my neck. Good night."

The child let her go. "I haven't said my prayer yet, mamma. I was
thinking."

"Well, say it now, then," said the mother gently.

When the child had finished she turned upon her cheek. "Good night,
mamma."

Mrs. Bowen went about the room a little while, picking up its pretty
disorder. Then she sat down in a chair by the hearth, where a log was
still burning. The light of the flame flickered upon her face, and threw
upon the ceiling a writhing, fantastic shadow, the odious caricature of
her gentle beauty.






VIII


In that still air of the Florentine winter, time seems to share the
arrest of the natural forces, the repose of the elements. The pale blue
sky is frequently overcast, and it rains two days out of five;
sometimes, under extraordinary provocation from the north a snow-storm
whirls along under the low grey dome, and whitens the brown roofs, where
a growth of spindling weeds and grass clothes the tiles the whole year
round, and shows its delicate green above the gathered flakes. But for
the most part the winds are laid, and the sole change is from quiet sun
to quiet shower. This at least is the impression which remains in the
senses of the sojourning stranger, whose days slip away with so little
difference one from another that they seem really not to have passed,
but, like the grass that keeps the hillsides fresh round Florence all
the winter long, to be waiting some decisive change of season before
they begin.

The first of the Carnival sights that marked the lapse of a month since
his arrival took Colville by surprise. He could not have believed that
it was February yet if it had not been for the straggling maskers in
armour whom he met one day in Via Borgognissanti, with their visors up
for their better convenience in smoking. They were part of the chorus at
one of the theatres, and they were going about to eke out their salaries
with the gifts of people whose windows the festival season privileged
them to play under. The silly spectacle stirred Colville's blood a
little, as any sort of holiday preparation was apt to do. He thought
that it afforded him a fair occasion to call at Palazzo Pinti, where he
had not been so much of late as in the first days of his renewed
acquaintance with Mrs. Bowen. He had at one time had the fancy that Mrs.
Bowen was cool toward him. He might very well have been mistaken in
this; in fact, she had several times addressed him the politest
reproaches for not coming, but he made some evasion, and went only on
the days when she was receiving other people, and when necessarily he
saw very little of the family.

Miss Graham was always very friendly, but always very busy, drawing tea
from the samovar, and looking after others. Effie Bowen dropped her eyes
in re-established strangeness when she brought the basket of cake to
him. There was one moment when he suspected that he had been talked over
in family council, and put under a certain regimen. But he had no proof
of this, and it had really nothing to do with his keeping away, which
was largely accidental. He had taken up, with as much earnestness as he
could reasonably expect of himself, that notion of studying the
architectural expression of Florentine character at the different
periods. He had spent a good deal of money in books, he had revived his
youthful familiarity with the city, and he had made what acquaintance he
could with people interested in such matters. He met some of these in
the limited but very active society in which he mingled daily and
nightly. After the first strangeness to any sort of social life had worn
off, he found himself very fond of the prompt hospitalities which his
introduction at Mrs. Bowen's had opened to him. His host--or more
frequently it was his hostess--had sometimes merely an apartment at a
hotel; perhaps the family was established in one of the furnished
lodgings which stretch the whole length of the Lung' Arno on either
hand, and abound in all the new streets approaching the Cascine, and had
set up the simple and facile housekeeping of the sojourner in Florence
for a few months; others had been living in the villa or the palace they
had taken for years.

The more recent and transitory people expressed something of the
prevailing English and American aestheticism in the decoration of their
apartments, but the greater part accepted the Florentine drawing-room as
their landlord had imagined it for them, with furniture and curtains in
yellow satin, a cheap ingrain carpet thinly covering the stone floor,
and a fire of little logs ineffectually blazing on the hearth, and
flickering on the carved frames of the pictures on the wall and the
nakedness of the frescoed allegories in the ceiling. Whether of longer
or shorter stay, the sojourners were bound together by a common language
and a common social tradition; they all had a Day, and on that day there
was tea and bread and butter for every comer. They had one another to
dine; there were evening parties, with dancing and without dancing.
Colville even went to a fancy ball, where he was kept in countenance by
several other Florentines of the period of Romola. At all these places
he met nearly the same people, whose alien life in the midst of the
native community struck him as one of the phases of modern civilisation
worthy of note, if not particular study; for he fancied it destined to a
wider future throughout Europe, as the conditions in England and America
grow more tiresome and more onerous. They seemed to see very little of
Italian society, and to be shut out from practical knowledge of the
local life by the terms upon which they had themselves insisted. Our
race finds its simplified and cheapened London or New York in all its
Continental resorts now, but nowhere has its taste been so much studied
as in Italy, and especially in Florence. It was not, perhaps, the real
Englishman or American who had been considered, but a _forestiere_
conventionalised from the Florentine's observation of many Anglo-Saxons.
But he had been so well conjectured that he was hemmed round with a very
fair illusion of his national circumstances.

It was not that he had his English or American doctor to prescribe for
him when sick, and his English or American apothecary to compound his
potion; it was not that there was an English tailor and an American
dentist, an English bookseller and an English baker, and chapels of
every shade of Protestantism, with Catholic preaching in English every
Sunday. These things were more or less matters of necessity, but
Colville objected that the barbers should offer him an American shampoo;
that the groceries should abound in English biscuit and our own canned
fruit and vegetables, and that the grocers' clerks should be ambitious
to read the labels of the Boston baked beans. He heard--though he did
not prove this by experiment--that the master of a certain trattoria had
studied the doughnut of New England till he had actually surpassed the
original in the qualities that have undermined our digestion as a
people. But above all it interested him to see that intense expression
of American civilisation, the horse-car, triumphing along the
magnificent avenues that mark the line of the old city walls; and he
recognised an instinctive obedience to an abtruse natural law in the
fact that whereas the omnibus, which the Italians have derived from the
English, was not filled beyond its seating capacity, the horse-car was
overcrowded without and within at Florence, just as it is with us who
invented it.

"I wouldn't mind even that," he said one day to the lady who was drawing
him his fifth or sixth cup of tea for that afternoon, and with whom he
was naturally making this absurd condition of things a matter of
personal question; "but you people here pass your days in a round of
unbroken English, except when you talk with your servants. I'm not sure
you don't speak English with the shop people. I can hardly get them to
speak Italian to me."

"Perhaps they think you can speak English better," said the lady.

This went over Florence; in a week it was told to Colville as something
said to some one else. He fearlessly reclaimed it as said to himself,
and this again was told. In the houses where he visited he had the
friendly acceptance of any intelligent and reasonably agreeable person
who comes promptly and willingly when he is asked, and seems always to
have enjoyed himself when he goes away. But besides this sort of general
favour, he enjoyed a very pleasing little personal popularity which came
from his interest in other people, from his good-nature, and from his
inertness. He slighted no acquaintance, and talked to every one with the
same apparent wish to be entertaining. This was because he was incapable
of the cruelty of open indifference when his lot was cast with a dull
person, and also because he was mentally too lazy to contrive pretences
for getting away; besides he did not really find anybody altogether a
bore, and he had no wish to shine. He listened without shrinking to
stories that he had heard before, and to things that had already been
said to him; as has been noted, he had himself the habit of repeating
his ideas with the recklessness of maturity, for he had lived long
enough to know that this can be done with almost entire safety.

He haunted the studios a good deal, and through a retrospective affinity
with art, and a human sympathy with the sacrifice which it always
involves, he was on friendly terms with sculptors and painters who were
not in every case so friendly with one another. More than once he saw
the scars of old rivalries, and he might easily have been an adherent of
two or three parties. But he tried to keep the freedom of the different
camps without taking sides; and he felt the pathos of the case when they
all told the same story of the disaster which the taste for bric-a-brac
had wrought to the cause of art; how people who came abroad no longer
gave orders for statues and pictures, but spent their money on curtains
and carpets, old chests and chairs, and pots and pans. There were some
among these artists whom he had known twenty years before in Florence,
ardent and hopeful beginners; and now the backs of their grey or bald
heads, as they talked to him with their faces towards their work, and a
pencil or a pinch of clay held thoughtfully between their fingers,
appealed to him as if he had remained young and prosperous, and they had
gone forward to age and hard work. They were very quaint at times. They
talked the American slang of the war days and of the days before the
war; without a mastery of Italian, they often used the idioms of that
tongue in their English speech. They were dim and vague about the
country, with whose affairs they had kept up through the newspapers.
Here and there one thought he was going home very soon; others had
finally relinquished all thoughts of return. These had, perhaps without
knowing it, lost the desire to come back; they cowered before the
expensiveness of life in America, and doubted of a future with which,
indeed, only the young can hopefully grapple. But in spite of their
accumulated years, and the evil times on which they had fallen, Colville
thought them mostly very happy men, leading simple and innocent lives in
a world of the ideal, and rich in the inexhaustible beauty of the city,
the sky, the air. They all, whether they were ever going back or not,
were fervent Americans, and their ineffaceable nationality marked them,
perhaps, all the more strongly for the patches of something alien that
overlaid it in places. They knew that he was or had been a newspaper
man; but if they secretly cherished the hope that he would bring them to
the _dolce lume_ of print, they never betrayed it; and the authorship of
his letter about the American artists in Florence, which he printed in
the _American Register_ at Paris, was not traced to him for a whole
week.

Colville was a frequent visitor of Mr. Waters, who had a lodging in
Piazza San Marco, of the poverty which can always be decent in Italy. It
was bare, but for the books that furnished it; with a table for his
writing, on a corner of which he breakfasted, a wide sofa with cushions
in coarse white linen that frankly confessed itself a bed by night, and
two chairs of plain Italian walnut; but the windows, which had no sun,
looked out upon the church and the convent sacred to the old Socinian
for the sake of the meek, heroic mystic whom they keep alive in all the
glory of his martyrdom. No two minds could well have been further apart
than the New England minister and the Florentine monk, and no two souls
nearer together, as Colville recognised with a not irreverent smile.

When the old man was not looking up some point of his saint's history in
his books, he was taking with the hopefulness of youth and the patience
of age a lesson in colloquial Italian from his landlady's daughter,
which he pronounced with a scholarly scrupulosity and a sincere atonic
Massachusetts accent. He practised the language wherever he could,
especially at the trattoria where he dined, and where he made occasions
to detain the waiter in conversation. They humoured him, out of their
national good-heartedness and sympathy, and they did what they could to
realise a strange American dish for him on Sundays--a combination of
stockfish and potatoes boiled, and then fried together in small cakes.
They revered him as a foreign gentleman of saintly amiability and
incomprehensible preferences; and he was held in equal regard at the
next green-grocer's where he spent every morning five centessimi for a
bunch of radishes and ten for a little pat of butter to eat with his
bread and coffee; he could not yet accustom himself to mere bread and
coffee for breakfast, though he conformed as completely as he could to
the Italian way of living. He respected the abstemiousness of the race;
he held that it came from a spirituality of nature to which the North
was still strange, with all its conscience and sense of individual
accountability. He contended that he never suffered in his small
dealings with these people from the dishonesty which most of his
countrymen complained of; and he praised their unfailing gentleness of
manner; this could arise only from goodness of heart, which was perhaps
the best kind of goodness after all.

None of these humble acquaintance of his could well have accounted for
the impression they all had that he was some sort of ecclesiastic. They
could never have understood--nor, for that matter, could any one have
understood through European tradition--the sort of sacerdotal office
that Mr. Waters had filled so long in the little deeply book-clubbed New
England village where he had outlived most of his flock, till one day he
rose in the midst of the surviving dyspeptics and consumptives and,
following the example of Mr. Emerson, renounced his calling for ever. By
that time even the pale Unitarianism thinning out into paler doubt was
no longer tenable with him. He confessed that while he felt the Divine
goodness more and more, he believed that it was a mistake to preach any
specific creed or doctrine, and he begged them to release him from their
service. A young man came to fill his place in their pulpit, but he kept
his place in their hearts. They raised a subscription of seventeen
hundred dollars and thirty-five cents; another being submitted to the
new button manufacturer, who had founded his industry in the village, he
promptly rounded it out to three thousand, and Mr. Waters came to
Florence. His people parted with him in terms of regret as delicate as
they were awkward, and their love followed him. He corresponded
regularly with two or three ladies, and his letters were sometimes read
from his pulpit.

Colville took the Piazza San Marco in on his way to Palazzo Pinti on the
morning when he had made up his mind to go there, and he stood at the
window looking out with the old man, when some more maskers passed
through the place--two young fellows in old Florentine dress, with a
third habited as a nun.

"Ah," said the old man gently, "I wish they hadn't introduced the nun!
But I suppose they can't help signalising their escape from the
domination of the Church on all occasions. It's a natural reaction. It
will all come right in time."

"You preach the true American gospel," said Colville.

"Of course; there is no other gospel. That is the gospel."

"Do you suppose that Savonarola would think it had all come out right,"
asked Colville, a little maliciously, "if he could look from the window
with us here and see the wicked old Carnival, that he tried so hard to
kill four hundred years ago, still alive? And kicking?" he added, in
cognisance of the caper of one of the maskers.

"Oh yes; why not? By this time he knows that his puritanism was all a
mistake, unless as a thing for the moment only. I should rather like to
have Savonarola here with us; he would find these costumes familiar;
they are of his time. I shall make a point of seeing all I can of the
Carnival, as part of my study of Savonarola, if nothing else."

"I'm afraid you'll have to give yourself limitations," said Colville, as
one of the maskers threw his arm round the mock-nun's neck. But the old
man did not see this, and Colville did not feel it necessary to explain
himself.

The maskers had passed out of the piazza, now, and "Have you seen our
friends at Palazzo Pinti lately?" said Mr. Waters.

"Not very," said Colville. "I was just on my way there."

"I wish you would make them my compliments. Such a beautiful young
creature."

"Yes," said Colville; "she is certainly a beautiful girl."

"I meant Mrs. Bowen," returned the old man quietly.

"Oh, I thought you meant Miss Graham. Mrs. Bowen is my contemporary, and
so I didn't think of her when you said young. I should have called her
pretty rather than beautiful."

"No; she's beautiful. The young girl is good-looking--I don't deny that;
but she is very crude yet."

Colville laughed. "Crude in looks? I should have said Miss Graham was
rather crude in mind, though I'm not sure I wouldn't have stopped at
saying _young_."

"No," mildly persisted the old man; "she couldn't be crude in mind
without being crude in looks."

"You mean," pursued Colville, smiling, but not wholly satisfied, "that
she hasn't a lovely nature?"

"You never can know what sort of nature a young girl has. Her nature
depends so much upon that of the man whose fate she shares."

"The woman is what the man makes her? That is convenient for the woman,
and relieves her of all responsibility."

"The man is what the woman makes him, too, but not so much so. The man
was cast into a deep sleep, you know----"

"And the woman was what he dreamed her. I wish she were."

"In most cases she is," said Mr. Waters.

They did not pursue the matter. The truth that floated in the old
minister's words pleased Colville by its vagueness, and flattered the
man in him by its implication of the man's superiority. He wanted to say
that if Mrs. Bowen were what the late Mr. Bowen had dreamed her, then
the late Mr. Bowen, when cast into his deep sleep, must have had Lina
Ridgely in his eye. But this seemed to be personalising the fantasy
unwarrantably, and pushing it too far. For like reason he forbore to say
that if Mr. Waters's theory were correct, it would be better to begin
with some one whom nobody else had dreamed before; then you could be
sure at least of not having a wife to somebody else's mind rather than
your own. Once on his way to Palazzo Pinti, he stopped, arrested by a
thought that had not occurred to him before in relation to what Mr.
Waters had been saying, and then pushed on with the sense of security
which is the compensation the possession of the initiative brings to our
sex along with many responsibilities. In the enjoyment of this, no man
stops to consider the other side, which must wait his initiative,
however they mean to meet it.

In the Por San Maria Colville found masks and dominoes filling the shop
windows and dangling from the doors. A devil in red and a clown in white
crossed the way in front of him from an intersecting street; several
children in pretty masquerading dresses flashed in and out among the
crowd. He hurried to the Lung' Arno, and reached the palace where Mrs.
Bowen lived, with these holiday sights fresh in his mind. Imogene turned
to meet him at the door of the apartment, running from the window where
she had left Effie Bowen still gazing.

"We saw you coming," she said gaily, without waiting to exchange formal
greetings. "We didn't know at first but it might; be somebody else
disguised as you. We've been watching the maskers go by. Isn't it
exciting?"

"Awfully," said Colville, going to the window with her, and putting his
arm on Effie's shoulder, where she knelt in a chair looking out. "What
have you seen?"

"Oh, only two Spanish students with mandolins," said Imogene; "but you
can see they're _beginning_ to come."

"They'll stop now," murmured Effie, with gentle disappointment; "it's
commencing to rain."

"Oh, too bad!" wailed the young girl. But just then two mediaeval
men-at-arms came in sight, carrying umbrellas. "Isn't that too
delicious? Umbrellas and chain-armour!"

"You can't expect them to let their chain-armour get rusty," said
Colville. "You ought to have been with me--minstrels in scale-armour,
Florentines of Savonarola's times, nuns, clowns, demons, fairies--no end
to them."

"It's very well saying we ought to have been with you; but we can't go
anywhere alone."

"I didn't say alone," said Colville. "Don't you think Mrs. Bowen would
trust you with me to see these Carnival beginnings?" He had not meant at
all to do anything of this kind, but that had not prevented his doing
it.

"How do we know, when she hasn't been asked?" said Imogene, with a touch
of burlesque dolor, such as makes a dignified girl enchanting, when she
permits it to herself. She took Effie's hand in hers, the child having
faced round from the window, and stood smoothing it, with her lovely
head pathetically tilted on one side.

"What haven't I been asked yet?" demanded Mrs. Bowen, coming lightly
toward them from a door at the side of the _salon_. She gave her hand to
Colville with the prettiest grace, and a cordiality that brought a flush
to her cheek. There had really been nothing between them but a little
unreasoned coolness, if it were even so much as that; say rather a
dryness, aggravated by time and absence, and now, as friends do, after a
thing of that kind, they were suddenly glad to be good to each other.

"Why, you haven't been asked how you have been this long time," said
Colville.

"I have been wanting to tell you for a whole week," returned Mrs. Bowen,
seating the rest and taking a chair for herself. "Where have you been?"

"Oh, shut up in my cell at Hotel d'Atene, writing a short history of the
Florentine people for Miss Effie."

"Effie, take Mr. Colville's hat," said her mother. "We're going to make
you stay to lunch," she explained to him.

"Is that so?" he asked, with an effect of polite curiosity.

"Yes." Imogene softly clapped her hands, unseen by Mrs. Bowen, for
Colville's instruction that all was going well. If it delights women to
pet an undangerous friend of our sex, to use him like one of themselves,
there are no words to paint the soft and flattered content with which
his spirit purrs under their caresses. "You must have nearly finished
the history," added Mrs. Bowen.

"Well, I could have finished it," said Colville, "if I had only begun
it. You see, writing a short history of the Florentine people is such
quick work that you have to be careful how you actually put pen to
paper, or you're through with it before you've had any fun out of it."

"I think Effie will like to read that kind of history," said her mother.

The child hung her head, and would not look at Colville; she was still
shy with him; his absence must have seemed longer to a child, of course.

At lunch they talked of the Carnival sights that had begun to appear. He
told of his call upon Mr. Waters, and of the old minister's purpose to
see all he could of the Carnival in order to judge intelligently of
Savonarola's opposition to it.

"Mr. Waters is a very good man," said Mrs. Bowen, with the air of not
meaning to approve him quite, nor yet to let any notion of his be made
fun of in her presence. "But for my part I wish there were not going to
be any Carnival; the city will be in such an uproar for the next two
weeks."

"O Mrs. Bowen!" cried Imogene reproachfully; Effie looked at her mother
in apparent anxiety lest she should be meaning to put forth an
unquestionable power and stop the Carnival.

"The last Carnival, I thought there was never going to be any end to it;
I was so glad when Lent came."

"Glad when _Lent_ came!" breathed Imogene, in astonishment; but she
ventured upon nothing more insubordinate, and Colville admired to see
this spirited girl as subject to Mrs. Bowen as her own child. There is
no reason why one woman should establish another woman over her, but
nearly all women do it in one sort or another, from love of a voluntary
submission, or from a fear of their own ignorance, if they are younger
and more inexperienced than their lieges. Neither the one passion nor
the other seems to reduce them to a like passivity as regards their
husbands. They must apparently have a fetish of their own sex. Colville
could see that Imogene obeyed Mrs. Bowen not only as a _protegee_ but as
a devotee.

"Oh, I suppose _you_ will have to go through it all," said Mrs. Bowen,
in reward of the girl's acquiescence.

"You're rather out of the way of it up here," said Colville. "You had
better let me go about with the young ladies--if you can trust them to
the care of an old fellow like me."

"Oh, I don't think you're so very old, at all times," replied Mrs.
Bowen, with a peculiar look, whether indulgent or reproachful he could
not quite make out.

But he replied, boldly, in his turn: "I have certainly my moments of
being young still; I don't deny it. There's always a danger of their
occurrence."

"I was thinking," said Mrs. Bowen, with a graceful effect of not
listening, "that you would let me go too. It would be quite like old
times."

"Only too much honour and pleasure," returned Colville, "if you will
leave out the old times. I'm not particular about having them along."
Mrs. Bowen joined in laughing at the joke, which they had to themselves.
"I was only consulting an explicit abhorrence of yours in not asking you
to go at first," he explained.

"Oh yes; I understand that."

The excellence of the whole arrangement seemed to grow upon Mrs. Bowen.
"Of course," she said, "Imogene ought to see all she can of the
Carnival. She may not have another chance, and perhaps if she had, _he_
wouldn't consent."

"I'll engage to get _his_ consent," said the girl. "What I was afraid of
was that I couldn't get yours, Mrs. Bowen."

"Am I so severe as that?" asked Mrs. Bowen softly.

"Quite," replied Imogene.

"Perhaps," thought Colville, "it isn't always silent submission."

For no very good reason that any one could give, the Carnival that year
was not a brilliant one. Colville's party seemed to be always meeting
the same maskers on the street, and the maskers did not greatly increase
in numbers. There were a few more of them after nightfall, but they were
then a little more bacchanal, and he felt it was better that the ladies
had gone home by that time. In the pursuit of the tempered pleasure of
looking up the maskers he was able to make the reflection that their
fantastic and vivid dresses sympathised in a striking way with the
architecture of the city, and gave him an effect of Florence which he
could not otherwise have had. There came by and by a little attempt at a
_corso_ in Via Cerratani and Via Tornabuoni. There were some masks in
carriages, and from one they actually threw plaster _confetti_; half a
dozen bare-legged boys ran before and beat one another with bladders,
Some people, but not many, watched the show from the windows, and the
footways were crowded.

Having proposed that they should see the Carnival together, Colville had
made himself responsible for it to the Bowen household. Imogene said,
"Well is this the famous Carnival of Florence?"

"It certainly doesn't compare with the Carnival last year," said Mrs.
Bowen.

"Your reproach is just, Mrs. Bowen," he acknowledged. "I've managed it
badly. But you know I've been out of practice a great while there in Des
Vaches."

"Oh, poor Mr. Colville!" cried Imogene. "He isn't altogether to blame."

"I don't know," said Mrs. Bowen, humouring the joke in her turn. "It
seems to me that if he had consulted us a little earlier, he might have
done better."

He drove home with the ladies, and Mrs. Bowen made him stay to tea. As
if she felt that he needed to be consoled for the failure of his
Carnival, she was especially indulgent with him. She played to him on
the piano some of the songs that were in fashion when they were in
Florence together before.

Imogene had never heard them; she had heard her mother speak of them.
One or two of them were negro songs, such as very pretty young ladies
used to sing without harm to themselves or offence to others; but
Imogene decided that they were rather rowdy. "Dear me, Mrs. Bowen! Did
_you_ sing such songs? You wouldn't let Effie!"

"No, I wouldn't let Effie. The times are changed. I wouldn't let Effie
go to the theatre alone with a young gentleman."

"The times are changed for the worse," Colville began. "What harm ever
came to a young man from a young lady's going alone to the theatre with
him?"

He stayed till the candles were brought in, and then went away only
because, as he said, they had not asked him to stay to dinner.

He came nearly every day, upon one pretext or another, and he met them
oftener than that at the teas and on the days of other ladies in
Florence; for he was finding the busy idleness of the life very
pleasant, and he went everywhere. He formed the habit of carrying
flowers to the Palazzo Pinti, excusing himself on the ground that they
were so cheap and so abundant as to be impersonal. He brought violets to
Effie and roses to Imogene; to Mrs. Bowen he always brought a bunch of
the huge purple anemones which grow so abundantly all winter long about
Florence. "I wonder why _purple_ anemones?" he asked her one day in
presenting them to her.

"Oh, it is quite time I should be wearing purple," she said gently.

"Ah, Mrs. Bowen!" he reproached her. "Why do I bring purple violets to
Miss Effie?"

"You must ask Effie!" said Mrs. Bowen, with a laugh.

After that he stayed away forty-eight hours, and then appeared with a
bunch of the red anemones, as large as tulips, which light up the meadow
grass when it begins to stir from its torpor in the spring. "They grew
on purpose to set me right with you," he said, "and I saw them when I
was in the country."

It was a little triumph for him, which she celebrated by putting them in
a vase on her table, and telling people who exclaimed over them that
they were some Mr. Colville gathered in the country. He enjoyed his
privileges at her house with the futureless satisfaction of a man. He
liked to go about with the Bowens; he was seen with the ladies driving
and walking, in most of their promenades. He directed their visits to
the churches and the galleries; he was fond of strolling about with
Effie's daintily-gloved little hand in his. He took her to Giocosa's and
treated her to ices; he let her choose from the confectioner's prettiest
caprices in candy; he was allowed to bring the child presents in his
pockets. Perhaps he was not as conscientious as he might have been in
his behaviour with the little girl. He did what he could to spoil her,
or at least to relax the severity of the training she had received; he
liked to see the struggle that went on in the mother's mind against
this, and then the other struggle with which she overcame her opposition
to it. The worst he did was to teach Effie some picturesque Western
phrases, which she used with innocent effectiveness; she committed the
crimes against convention which he taught her with all the conventional
elegance of her training. The most that he ever gained for her were some
concessions in going out in weather that her mother thought unfit, or
sitting up for half-hours after her bed-time. He ordered books for her
from Goodban's, and it was Colville now, and not the Rev. Mr. Morton,
who read poetry aloud to the ladies on afternoons when Mrs. Bowen gave
orders that she and Miss Graham should be denied to all other comers.

It was an intimacy; and society in Florence is not blind, and especially
it is not dumb. The old lady who had celebrated Mrs. Bowen to him the
first night at Palazzo Pinti led a life of active questions as to what
was the supreme attraction to Colville there, and she referred her doubt
to every friend with whom she drank tea. She philosophised the situation
very scientifically, and if not very conclusively, how few are the
absolute conclusions of science upon any point!

"He is a bachelor, and there is a natural affinity between bachelors and
widows--much more than if he were a widower too. If he were a widower I
should say it was undoubtedly mademoiselle. If he were a little _bit_
younger, I should have no doubt it was madame; but men of that age have
such an ambition to marry young girls! I suppose that they think it
proves they are not so very old, after all. And certainly he isn't too
old to marry. If he were wise--which he probably isn't, if he's like
other men in such matters--there wouldn't be any question about Mrs.
Bowen. Pretty creature! And so much sense! Too much for him. Ah, my
dear, how we are wasted upon that sex!"

Mrs. Bowen herself treated the affair with masterly frankness. More than
once in varying phrase, she said: "You are very good to give us so much
of your time, Mr. Colville, and I won't pretend I don't know it. You're
helping me out with a very hazardous experiment. When I undertook to see
Imogene through a winter in Florence, I didn't reflect what a very gay
time girls have at home, in Western towns especially. But I haven't
heard her breathe Buffalo once. And I'm sure it's doing her a great deal
of good here. She's naturally got a very good mind; she's very ambitious
to be cultivated. She's read a good deal, and she's anxious to know
history and art; and your advice and criticism are the greatest possible
advantage to her."

"Thank you," said Colville, with a fine, remote dissatisfaction. "I
supposed I was merely enjoying myself."

He had lately begun to haunt his banker's for information in regard to
the Carnival balls, with the hope that something might be made out of
them.

But either there were to be no great Carnival balls, or it was a mistake
to suppose that his banker ought to know about them. Colville went
experimentally to one of the people's balls at a minor theatre, which he
found advertised on the house walls. At half-past ten the dancing had
not begun, but the masks were arriving; young women in gay silks and
dirty white gloves; men in women's dresses, with enormous hands; girls
as pages; clowns, pantaloons, old women, and the like. They were all
very good-humoured; the men, who far outnumbered the women, danced
contentedly together. Colville liked two cavalry soldiers who waltzed
with each other for an hour, and then went off to a battery on
exhibition in the pit, and had as much electricity as they could hold.
He liked also two young citizens who danced together as long as he
stayed, and did not leave off even for electrical refreshment. He came
away at midnight, pushing out of the theatre through a crowd of people
at the door, some of whom were tipsy. This certainly would not have done
for the ladies, though the people were civilly tipsy.






IX


The next morning Paolo, when he brought up Colville's breakfast, brought
the news that there was to be a veglione at the Pergola Theatre. This
news revived Colville's courage. "Paolo," he said, "you ought to open a
banking-house." Paolo was used to being joked by foreigners who could
not speak Italian very well; he smiled as if he understood.

The banker had his astute doubts of Paolo's intelligence; the banker in
Europe doubts all news not originating in his house; but after a day or
two the advertisements in the newspapers carried conviction even to the
banker.

When Colville went to the ladies with news of the veglione, he found
that they had already heard of it. "Should you like to go?" he asked
Mrs. Bowen.

"I don't know. What do you think?" she asked in turn.

"Oh, it's for you to do the thinking. I only know what I want."

Imogene said nothing, while she watched the internal debate as it
expressed itself in Mrs. Bowen's face.

"People go in boxes," she said thoughtfully; "but you would feel that a
box wasn't the same thing exactly?"

"_We_ went on the floor," suggested Colville.

"It was very different then. And, besides, Mrs. Finlay had absolutely
_no_ sense of propriety." When a woman has explicitly condemned a given
action, she apparently gathers courage for its commission under a little
different conditions. "Of course, if we went upon the floor, I shouldn't
wish it to be known at all, though foreigners can do almost anything
they like."

"Really," said Colville, "when it comes to that, I don't see any harm in
it."

"And you say go?"

"I say whatever you say."

Mrs. Bowen looked from him to Imogene. "I don't either," she said
finally, and they understood that she meant the harm which he had not
seen.

"Which of us has been so good as to deserve this?" asked Colville.

"Oh, you have all been good," she said. "We shall go in masks and
dominoes," she continued. "Nothing will happen, and who should know us
if anything did?" They had received tickets to the great Borghese ball,
which is still a fashionable and desired event of the Carnival to
foreigners in Florence; but their preconceptions of the veglione threw
into the shade the entertainment which the gentlemen of Florence offered
to favoured sojourners.

"Come," said Mrs. Bowen, "you must go with us and help us choose our
dominoes."

A prudent woman does not do an imprudent thing by halves. Effie was to
be allowed to go to the veglione too, and she went with them to the shop
where they were to hire their dominoes. It would be so much more fun,
Mrs. Bowen said, to choose the dresses in the shop than to have them
sent home for you to look at. Effie was to be in black; Imogene was to
have a light blue domino, and Mrs. Bowen chose a purple one; even where
their faces were not to be seen they considered their complexions in
choosing the colours. If you happened to find a friend, and wanted to
unmask, you would not want to look horrid. The shop people took the
vividest interest in it all, as if it were a new thing to them, and
these were the first foreigners they had ever served with masks and
dominoes. They made Mrs. Bowen and Imogene go into an inner room and
come out for the mystification of Colville, hulking about in the front
shop with his mask and domino on.

"Which is which?" the ladies both challenged him, in the mask's
conventional falsetto, when they came out.

With a man's severe logic he distinguished them according to their
silks, but there had been time for them to think of changing, and they
took off their masks to laugh in his face.

They fluttered so airily about among the pendent masks and dominoes,
from which they shook a ghostly perfume of old carnivals, that his heart
leaped.

"Ah, you'll never be so fascinating again!" he cried. He wanted to take
them in his arms, they were both so delicious; a man has still only that
primitive way of expressing his supreme satisfaction in women. "Now,
which am I?" he demanded of them, and that made them laugh again. He had
really put his arm about Effie.

"Do you think you will know your papa at the veglione?" asked one of the
shop-women, with a mounting interest in the amiable family party.

They all laughed; the natural mistake seemed particularly droll to
Imogene.

"Come," cried Mrs. Bowen; "it's time we should be going."

That was true; they had passed so long a time in the shop that they did
not feel justified in seriously attempting to beat down the price of
their dresses. They took them at the first price. The woman said with
reason that it was Carnival, and she could get her price for the things.

They went to the veglione at eleven, the ladies calling for Colville, as
before, in Mrs. Bowen's carriage. He felt rather sheepish, coming out of
his room in his mask and domino, but the corridors of the hotel were
empty, and for the most part dark; there was no one up but the porter,
who wished him a pleasant time in as matter-of-fact fashion as if he
were going out to an evening party in his dress coat. His spirits
mounted in the atmosphere of adventure which the ladies diffused about
them in the carriage; Effie Bowen laughed aloud when he entered, in
childish gaiety of heart.

The narrow streets roared with the wheels of cabs and carriages coming
and going; the street before the theatre was so packed that it was some
time before they could reach the door. Masks were passing in and out;
the nervous joy of the ladies expressed itself in a deep-drawn quivering
sigh. Their carriage door was opened by a servant of the theatre, who
wished them a pleasant veglione, and the next moment they were in the
crowded vestibule, where they paused a moment, to let Imogene and Effie
really feel that they were part of a masquerade.

"Now, keep all together," said Mrs. Bowen, as they passed through the
inner door of the vestibule, and the brilliantly lighted theatre flashed
its colours and splendours upon them. The floor of the pit had been
levelled to that of the stage, which, stripped of the scenic apparatus,
opened vaster spaces for the motley crew already eddying over it in the
waltz. The boxes, tier over tier, blazed with the light of candelabra
which added their sparkle to that of the gas jets.

"You and Effie go before," said Mrs. Bowen to Imogene. She made them
take hands like children, and mechanically passed her own hand through
Colville's arm.

A mask in red from head to foot attached himself to the party, and began
to make love to her in excellent pantomime.

Colville was annoyed. He asked her if he should tell the fellow to take
himself off.

"Not on any account!" she answered. "It's perfectly delightful. It
wouldn't be the veglione without it. Did you ever see such good acting?"

"I don't think it's remarkable for anything but its fervour," said
Colville.

"I should like to see you making love to some lady," she rejoined
mischievously.

"I will make love to you, if you like," he said, but he felt in an
instant that his joke was in bad taste.

They went the round of the theatre. "That is Prince Strozzi, Imogene,"
said Mrs. Bowen, leaning forward to whisper to the girl. She pointed out
other people of historic and aristocratic names in the boxes, where
there was a democracy of beauty among the ladies, all painted and
powdered to the same marquise effect.

On the floor were gentlemen in evening dress, without masks, and here
and there ladies waltzing, who had masks but no dominoes. But for the
most part people were in costume; the theatre flushed and flowered in
gay variety of tint that teased the eye with its flow through the dance.

Mrs. Bowen had circumscribed the adventure so as to exclude dancing from
it. Imogene was not to dance. One might go to the veglione and look on
from a box; if one ventured further and went on the floor, decidedly one
was not to dance.

This was thoroughly understood beforehand, and there were to be no
petitions or murmurs at the theatre. They found a quiet corner, and sat
down to look on.

The mask in red followed, and took his place at a little distance,
where, whenever Mrs. Bowen looked that way, he continued to protest his
passion.

"You're sure he doesn't bore you?" suggested Colville.

"No, indeed. He's very amusing."

"Oh, all right!"

The waltz ceased; the whirling and winding confusion broke into an
irregular streaming hither and thither, up and down. They began to pick
out costumes and characters that interested them. Clowns in white, with
big noses, and harlequins in their motley, with flat black masks,
abounded. There were some admirable grasshoppers in green, with long
antennae quivering from their foreheads. Two or three Mephistos reddened
through the crowd. Several knights in armour got about with difficulty,
apparently burdened by their greaves and breastplates.

A group of leaping and dancing masks gathered around a young man in
evening dress, with long hair, who stood leaning against a pillar near
them, and who underwent their mockeries with a smile of patience, half
amused, half tormented.

When they grew tired of baiting him, and were looking about for other
prey, the red mask redoubled his show of devotion to Mrs. Bowen, and the
other masks began to flock round and approve.

"Oh, now," she said, with a little embarrassed laugh, in which there was
no displeasure, "I think you may ask him to go away. But don't be harsh
with him," she added, at a brusque movement which Colville made toward
the mask.

"Oh, why should I be harsh with him? We're not rivals." This was not in
good taste either, Colville felt. "Besides, I'm an Italian too," he
said, to retrieve himself. He made a few paces toward the mask, and said
in a low tone, with gentle suggestion, "Madame finds herself a little
incommoded."

The mask threw himself into an attitude of burlesque despair, bowed low
with his hand on his heart, in token of submission, and vanished into
the crowd. The rest dispersed with cries of applause.

"How very prettily you did it, both of you!" said Mrs. Bowen. "I begin
to believe you are an Italian, Mr. Colville. I shall be afraid of you."

"You weren't afraid of him."

"Oh, he was a real Italian."

"It seems to me that mamma is getting all the good of the veglione,"
said Effie, in a plaintive murmur. The well-disciplined child must have
suffered deeply before she lifted this seditious voice.

"Why, so I am, Effie," answered her mother, "and I don't think it's fair
myself. What shall we do about it?"

"I should like something to eat," said the child.

"So should I," said Colville. "That's reparation your mother owes us
all. Let's make her take us and get us something. Wouldn't you like an
ice, Miss Graham?"

"Yes, an _ice_," said Imogene, with an effect of adding, "Nothing more
for worlds," that made Colville laugh. She rose slowly, like one in a
dream, and cast a look as impassioned as a look could be made through a
mask on the scene she was leaving behind her. The band was playing a
waltz again, and the wide floor swam with circling couples.

The corridor where the tables were set was thronged with people, who
were drinking beer and eating cold beef and boned turkey and slices of
huge round sausages. "Oh, how _can_ they?" cried the girl, shuddering.

"I didn't know you were so ethereal-minded about these things," said
Colville. "I thought you didn't object to the salad at Madame
Uccelli's."

"Oh, but at the veglione!" breathed the girl for all answer. He laughed
again, but Mrs. Bowen did not laugh with him; he wondered why.

When they returned to their corner in the theatre they found a mask in a
black domino there, who made place for them, and remained standing near.
They began talking freely and audibly, as English-speaking people
incorrigibly do in Italy, where their tongue is all but the language of
the country.

"Really," said Colville, "I think I shall stifle in this mask. If you
ladies will do what you can to surround me and keep me secret, I'll take
it off a moment."

"I believe I will join you, Mr. Colville," said the mask near them. He
pushed up his little visor of silk, and discovered the mild, benignant
features of Mr. Waters.

"Bless my soul!" cried Colville.

Mrs. Bowen was apparently too much shocked to say anything.

"You didn't expect to meet me here?" asked the old man, as if otherwise
it should be the most natural thing in the world. After that they could
only unite in suppressing their astonishment. "It's extremely
interesting," he went on, "extremely! I've been here ever since the
exercises began, and I have not only been very greatly amused, but
greatly instructed. It seems to me the key to a great many anomalies in
the history of this wonderful people."

If Mr. Waters took this philosophical tone about the Carnival, it was
not possible for Colville to take any other.

"And have you been able to divine from what you have seen here," he
asked gravely, "the grounds of Savonarola's objection to the Carnival?"

"Not at all," said the old man promptly. "I have seen nothing but the
most harmless gaiety throughout the evening."

Colville hung his head. He remembered reading once in a passage from
Swedenborg, that the most celestial angels had scarcely any power of
perceiving evil.

"Why aren't you young people dancing?" asked Mr. Waters, in a cheerful
general way, of Mrs. Bowen's party.

Colville was glad to break the silence. "Mrs. Bowen doesn't approve of
dancing at vegliones."

"No?--why not?" inquired the old man, with invincible simplicity.

Mrs. Bowen smiled her pretty, small smile below her mask.

"The company is apt to be rather mixed," she said quietly.

"Yes," pursued Mr. Waters; "but you could dance with one another. The
company seems very well behaved."

"Oh, quite so," Mrs. Bowen assented.

"Shortly after I came," said Mr. Waters, "one of the masks asked me to
dance. I was really sorry that my age and traditions forbade my doing
so. I tried to explain, but I'm afraid I didn't make myself quite
clear."

"Probably it passed for a joke with her," said Colville, in order to say
something.

"Ah, very likely; but I shall always feel that my impressions of the
Carnival would have been more definite if I could have danced. Now, if I
were a young man like you----"

Imogens turned and looked at Colville through the eye-holes of her mask;
even in that sort of isolation he thought her eyes expressed surprise.

"It never occurred to you before that I was a young man," he suggested
gravely.

She did not reply.

After a little interval, "Imogene," asked Mrs. Bowen, "would you like to
dance?"

Colville was astonished. "The veglione has gone to your head, Mrs.
Bowen," he tacitly made his comment. She had spoken to Imogene, but she
glanced at him as if she expected him to be grateful to her for this
stroke of liberality.

"What would be the use?" returned the girl.

Colville rose. "After my performance in the Lancers, I can't expect you
to believe me; but I really do know how to waltz." He had but to extend
his arms, and she was hanging upon his shoulder, and they were whirling
away through a long orbit of delight to the girl.

"Oh, why have you let me do you such injustice?" she murmured intensely.
"I never shall forgive myself."

"It grieved me that you shouldn't have divined that I was really a
magnificent dancer in disguise, but I bore it as best I could," said
Colville, really amused at her seriousness. "Perhaps you'll find out
after a while that I'm not an old fellow either, but only a 'Lost
Youth,'"

"Hush," she said; "I don't like to hear you talk so."

"How?"

"About--age!" she answered. "It makes me feel----- Don't to-night!"

Colville laughed. "It isn't a fact that my blinking is going to change
materially. You had better make the most of me as a lost youth. I'm old
enough to be two of them."

She did not answer, and as they wound up and down through the other
orbing couples, he remembered the veglione of seventeen years before,
when he had dreamed through the waltz with the girl who jilted him; she
was very docile and submissive that night; he believed afterward that if
he had spoken frankly then, she would not have refused him. But he had
veiled his passion in words and phrases that, taken in themselves, had
no meaning--that neither committed him nor claimed her. He could not
help it; he had not the courage at any moment to risk the loss of her
for ever, till it was too late, till he must lose her.

"Do you believe in pre-existence?" he demanded of Imogene.

"Oh yes!" she flashed back. "This very instant it was just as if I had
been here before, long ago."

"Dancing with me?"

"With you? Yes--yes--I think so."

He had lived long enough to know that she was making herself believe
what she said, and that she had not lived long enough to know this.

"Then you remember what I said to you--tried to say to you--that night?"
Through one of those psychological juggles which we all practise with
ourselves at times, it amused him, it charmed him, to find her striving
to realise this past.

"No; it was so long ago? What was it?" she whispered dreamily.

A turn of the waltz brought them near Mrs. Bowen; her mask seemed to
wear a dumb reproach.

He began to be weary; one of the differences between youth and later
life is that the latter wearies so soon of any given emotion.

"Ah, I can't remember, either! Aren't you getting rather tired of the
waltz and me?"

"Oh no; go on!" she deeply murmured. "Try to remember."

The long, pulsating stream of the music broke and fell. The dancers
crookedly dispersed in wandering lines. She took his arm; he felt her
heart leap against it; those innocent, trustful throbs upbraided him. At
the same time his own heart beat with a sort of fond, protecting
tenderness; he felt the witchery of his power to make this young,
radiant, and beautiful creature hang flattered and bewildered on his
talk; he liked the compassionate worship with which his tacit confidence
had inspired her, even while he was not without some satirical sense of
the crude sort of heart-broken hero he must be in the fancy of a girl of
her age.

"Let us go and walk in the corridor a moment," he said. But they walked
there till the alluring melancholy music of the waltz began again. In a
mutual caprice, they rejoined the dance.

It came into his head to ask, "Who is _he_?" and as he had got past
denying himself anything, he asked it.

"He? What he?"

"He that Mrs. Bowen thought might object to your seeing the Carnival?"

"Oh!--oh yes! That was the not impossible he."

"Is that all?"

"Yes."

"Then he's not even the not improbable he?"

"No, indeed."

They waltzed in silence. Then, "Why did you ask me that?" she murmured.

"I don't know. Was it such a strange question?"

"I don't know. You ought to."

"Yes, if it was wrong, I'm old enough to know better."

"You promised not to say 'old' any more."

"Then I suppose I mustn't. But you mustn't get me to ignore it, and then
laugh at me for it."

"Oh!" she reproached him, "you think I could do that?"

"You could if it was you who were here with me once before."

"Then I know I wasn't."

Again they were silent, and it was he who spoke first. "I wish you would
tell me why you object to the interdicted topic?"

"Because--because I like every time to be perfect in itself."

"Oh! And this wouldn't be perfect in itself if I were--not so young as
some people?"

"I didn't mean that. No; but if you didn't mention it, no one else would
think of it or care for it."

"Did any one ever accuse you of flattering, Miss Graham?"

"Not till now. And you are unjust."

"Well, I withdraw the accusation."

"And will you ever pretend such a thing again?"

"Oh, never!"

"Then I have your promise."

The talk was light word-play, such as depends upon the talker's own mood
for its point or its pointlessness. Between two young people of equal
years it might have had meanings to penetrate, to sigh over, to
question. Colville found it delicious to be pursued by the ingenuous
fervour of this young girl, eager to vindicate her sincerity in
prohibiting him from his own ironical depreciation. Apparently, she had
a sentimental mission of which he was the object; he was to be convinced
that he was unnecessarily morbid; he was to be cheered up, to be kept in
heart.

"I must believe in you after this," he said, with a smile which his mask
hid.

"Thanks," she breathed. It seemed to him that her hand closed
convulsively upon his in their light clasp.

The pressure sent a real pang to his heart. It forced her name from his
lips. "Imogene! Ah, I've no right to call you that."

"Yes."

"From this out I promise to be twenty years younger. But no one is to
know it but you. Do you think you will know it? I shouldn't like to keep
the secret to myself altogether."

"No; I will help you. It shall be _our_ secret."

She gave a low laugh of delight. He convinced himself that she had
entered into the light spirit of banter in which he believed that he was
talking.

The music ceased again. He whirled her to the seat where he had left
Mrs. Bowen. She was not there, nor the others.

Colville felt the meanness of a man who has betrayed his trust, and his
self-contempt was the sharper because the trust had been as tacit and
indefinite as it was generous. The effect of Mrs. Bowen's absence was as
if she had indignantly flown, and left him to the consequences of his
treachery.

He sat down rather blankly with Imogene to wait for her return; it was
the only thing they could do.

It had grown very hot. The air was thick with dust. The lights burned
through it as through a fog.

"I believe I will take off my mask," she said. "I can scarcely breathe."

"No, no," protested Colville; "that won't do."

"I feel faint," she gasped.

His heart sank. "Don't," he said incoherently. "Come with me into the
vestibule, and get a breath of air."

He had almost to drag her through the crowd, but in the vestibule she
revived, and they returned to their place again. He did not share the
easy content with which she recognised the continued absence of Mrs.
Bowen.

"Why they must be lost. But isn't it perfect sitting here and watching
the maskers?"

"Perfect," said Colville distractedly.

"Don't you like to make romances about the different ones?"

It was on Colville's tongue to say that he had made all the romances he
wished for that evening, but he only answered, "Oh, very."

"Poor Mrs. Bowen," laughed the girl. "It will be such a joke on her,
with her punctilious notions, getting lost from her _protegee_ at a
Carnival ball! I shall tell every one."

"Oh no, don't," said Colville, in horror that big mask scarcely
concealed.

"Why not?"

"It wouldn't be at all the thing."

"Why, are you becoming Europeanised too?" she demanded. "I thought you
went in for all sorts of unconventionalities. Recollect your promise.
You must be as impulsive as I am."

Colville, staring anxiously about in every direction, made for the first
time the reflection that most young girls probably conform to the
proprieties without in the least knowing why.

"Do you think," he asked, in desperation, "that you would be afraid to
be left here a moment while I went about in the crowd and tried to find
them?"

"Not at all," she said. But she added, "Don't be gone long."

"Oh no," he answered, pulling off his mask. "Be sure not to move from
here on any account."

He plunged into the midst of the crowd that buffeted him from side to
side as he struck against its masses. The squeaking and gibbering masks
mocked in their falsetto at his wild-eyed, naked face thrusting hither
and thither among them.

"I saw your lady wife with another gentleman," cried one of them, in a
subtle misinterpretation of the cause of his distraction.

The throng had immensely increased; the clowns and harlequins ran
shrieking up and down, and leaped over one another's heads.

It was useless. He went back to Imogene with a heart-sickening fear that
she too might have vanished.

But she was still there.

"You ought to have come sooner," she said gaily. "That red mask has been
here again. He looked as if he wanted to make love to _me_ this time.
But he didn't. If you'd been here you might have asked him where Mrs.
Bowen was."

Colville sat down. He had done what he could to mend the matter, and the
time had come for philosophical submission. It was now his duty to keep
up Miss Graham's spirits. They were both Americans, and from the
national standpoint he was simply the young girl's middle-aged bachelor
friend. There was nothing in the situation for him to beat his breast
about.

"Well, all that we can do is to wait for them," he said.

"Oh yes," she answered easily. "They'll be sure to come back in the
course of time."

They waited a half-hour, talking somewhat at random, and still the
others did not come. But the red mask came again. He approached
Colville, and said politely--

"_La signora e partita._"

"The lady gone?" repeated Colville, taking this to be part of the red
mask's joke.

"_La bambina pareva poco lene._"

"The little one not well?" echoed Colville again, rising. "Are you
joking?"

The mask made a deep murmur of polite deprecation. "I am not capable of
such a thing in a serious affair. Perhaps you know me?" he said, taking
off his mask, and in further sign of good faith he gave the name of a
painter sufficiently famous in Florence.

"I beg your pardon, and thank you," said Colville. He had no need to
speak to Imogene--, her hand was already trembling on his arm.

They drove home in silence through the white moonlight of the streets,
filled everywhere with the gay voices and figures of the Carnival.

Mrs. Bowen met them at the door of her apartment, and received them with
a manner that justly distributed the responsibility and penalty for
their escapade. Colville felt that a meaner spirit would have wreaked
its displeasure upon the girl alone. She made short, quiet answers to
all his eager inquiries. Most probably it was some childish
indisposition; Effie had been faint. No, he need not go for the doctor.
Mr. Waters had called the doctor, who had just gone away. There was
nothing else that he could do for her. She dropped her eyes, and in
everything but words dismissed him. She would not even remain with him
till he could decently get himself out of the house. She left Imogene to
receive his adieux, feigning that she heard Effie calling.

"I'm--I'm very sorry," faltered the girl, "that we didn't go back to her
at once."

"Yes; I was to blame," answered the humiliated hero of her Carnival
dream. The clinging regret with which she kept his hand at parting
scarcely consoled him for what had happened.

"I will come round in the morning," he said. "I must know how Effie is."

"Yes; come."






X


Colville went to Palazzo Pinti next day with the feeling that he was
defying Mrs. Bowen. Upon a review of the facts he could not find himself
so very much to blame for the occurrences of the night before, and he
had not been able to prove to his reason that Mrs. Bowen had resented
his behaviour. She had not made a scene of any sort when he came in with
Imogene; it was natural that she should excuse herself, and should wish
to be with her sick child: she had done really nothing. But when a woman
has done nothing she fills the soul of the man whose conscience troubles
him with an instinctive apprehension. There is then no safety, his
nerves tell him, except in bringing the affair, whatever it is, to an
early issue--in having it out with her. Colville subdued the cowardly
impulse of his own heart, which would have deceived him with the
suggestion that Mrs. Bowen might be occupied with Effie, and it would be
better to ask for Miss Graham. He asked for Mrs. Bowen, and she came in
directly.

She smiled in the usual way, and gave her hand, as she always did; but
her hand was cold, and she looked tired, though she said Effie was quite
herself again, and had been asking for him. "Imogene has been telling
her about your adventure last night, and making her laugh."

If it had been Mrs. Bowen's purpose to mystify him, she could not have
done it more thoroughly than by this bold treatment of the affair. He
bent a puzzled gaze upon her. "I'm glad any of you have found it
amusing," he said;--"I confess that I couldn't let myself off so lightly
in regard to it." She did not reply, and he continued: "The fact is, I
don't think I behaved very well. I abused your kindness to Miss Graham."

"Abused my kindness to Miss Graham?"

"Yes. When you allowed her to dance at the veglione, I ought to have
considered that you were stretching a point. I ought to have taken her
back to you very soon, instead of tempting her to go and walk with me in
the corridor."

"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen. "So it was you who proposed it? Imogene was
afraid that she had. What exemplary young people you are! The way each
of you confesses and assumes all the blame would leave the severest
chaperone without a word."

Her gaiety made Colville uncomfortable. He said gravely, "What I blame
myself most for is that I was not there to be of use to you when
Effie----"

"Oh, you mustn't think of that at all. Mr. Waters was most efficient. My
admirer in the red mask was close at hand, and between them they got
Effie out without the slightest disturbance. I fancy most people thought
it was a Carnival joke. Please don't think of that again."

Nothing could be politer than all this.

"And you won't allow me to punish myself for not being there to give you
even a moral support?"

"Certainly not. As I told Imogene, young people will be young people;
and I knew how fond you were of dancing."

Though it pierced him, Colville could not help admiring the neatness of
this thrust. "I didn't know you were so ironical, Mrs. Bowen."

"Ironical? Not at all."

"Ah! I see I'm not forgiven."

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."

Imogene and Effie came in. The child was a little pale, and willingly
let him take her on his knee, and lay her languid head on his shoulder.
The girl had not aged overnight like himself and Mrs. Bowen; she looked
as fresh and strong as yesterday.

"Miss Graham," said Colville, "if a person to whom you had done a deadly
wrong insisted that you hadn't done any wrong at all, should you
consider yourself forgiven?"

"It would depend upon the person," said the girl, with innocent
liveliness, recognising the extravagance in his tone.

"Yes," he said, with an affected pensiveness, "so very much depends upon
the person in such a case."

Mrs. Bowen rose. "Excuse me a moment; I will be back directly. Don't get
up, please," she said, and prevented him with a quick withdrawal to
another room, which left upon his sense the impression of elegant grace,
and a smile and sunny glance. But neither had any warmth in it.

Colville heaved an involuntary sigh. "Do you feel very much used up?" he
asked Imogene.

"Not at all," she laughed. "Do you?"

"Not in the least. My veglione hasn't ended yet. I'm still practically
at the Pergola. It's easy to keep a thing of that sort up if you don't
sleep after you get home."

"Didn't you sleep? I expected to lie awake a long time thinking it over;
but I dropped asleep at once. I suppose I was very tired. I didn't even
dream."

"You must have slept hard. You're pretty apt to dream when you're
waking."

"How do you know?"

"Ah, I've noticed when you've been talking to me. Better not! It's a bad
habit; it gives you false views of things. I used----"

"But you mustn't say you _used!_ That's forbidden now. Remember your
promise!"

"My promise? What promise?"

"Oh, if you've forgotten already."

"I remember. But that was last night."

"No, no! It was for all time. Why should dreams be so very misleading? I
think there's ever so much in dreams. The most wonderful thing is the
way you make people talk in dreams. It isn't strange that you should
talk yourself, but that other people should say this and that when you
aren't at all expecting what they say."

"That's when you're sleeping. But when you're waking, you make people
say just what you want. And that's why day dreams are so bad. If you
make people say what you want, they probably don't mean it."

"Don't you think so?"

"Half the time. Do you ever have day dreams?" he asked Effie, pressing
her cheek against his own.

"I don't know what they are," she murmured, with a soft little note of
polite regret for her ignorance, if possibly it incommoded him.

"You will by and by," he said, "and then you must look out for them.
They're particularly bad in this air. I had one of them in Florence once
that lasted three months."

"What was it about?" asked the child.

Imogene involuntarily bent forward.

"Ah, I can't tell you now. She's trying to hear us."

"No, no," protested the girl, with a laugh. "I was thinking of something
else."

"Oh, we know her, don't we?" he said to the child, with a playful appeal
to that passion for the joint possession of a mystery which all children
have.

"We might whisper it," she suggested.

"No; better wait for some other time." They were sitting near a table
where a pencil and some loose leaves of paper lay. He pulled his chair a
little closer, and, with the child still upon his knee, began to
scribble and sketch at random. "Ah, there's San Miniato," he said, with
a glance from the window. "Must get its outline in. You've heard how
there came to be a church up there? No? Well, it shows the sort of man
San Miniato really was. He was one of the early Christians, and he gave
the poor pagans a great deal of trouble. They first threw him to the
wild beasts in the amphitheatre, but the moment those animals set eyes
on him they saw it would be of no use; they just lay down and died. Very
well, then; the pagans determined to see what effect the axe would have
upon San Miniato: but as soon as they struck off his head he picked it
up, set it back on his shoulders again, waded across the Arno, walked up
the hill, and when he came to a convenient little oratory up there he
knelt down and expired. Isn't that a pretty good story? It's like
fairies, isn't it?"

"Yes," whispered the child.

"What nonsense!" said Imogene. "You made it up."

"Oh, did I? Perhaps I built the church that stands there to commemorate
the fact. It's all in the history of Florence. Not in all histories;
some of them are too proud to put such stories in, but I'm going to put
every one I can find into the history I'm writing for Effie. San Miniato
was beheaded where the church of Santa Candida stands now, and he walked
all that distance."

"Did he have to die when he got to the oratory?" asked the child, with
gentle regret.

"It appears so," said Colville, sketching. "He would have been dead by
this time, anyway, you know."

"Yes," she reluctantly admitted.

"I never quite like those things, either, Effie," he said, pressing her
to him. "There were people cruelly put to death two or three thousand
years ago that I can't help feeling would be alive yet if they had been
justly treated. There are a good many fairy stories about Florence;
perhaps they used to be true stories; the truth seems to die out of
stories after a while, simply because people stop believing them. Saint
Ambrose of Milan restored the son of his host to life when he came down
here to dedicate the Church of San Giovanni. Then there was another
saint, San Zenobi, who worked a very pretty miracle after he was dead.
They were carrying his body from the Church of San Giovanni to the
Church of Santa Reparata, and in Piazza San Giovanni his bier touched a
dead elm-tree that stood there, and the tree instantly sprang into leaf
and flower, though it was in the middle of the winter. A great many
people took the leaves home with them, and a marble pillar was put up
there, with a cross and an elm-tree carved on it. Oh, the case is very
well authenticated."

"I shall really begin to think you believe such things," said Imogene.
"Perhaps you _are_ a Catholic."

Mrs. Bowen returned to the room, and sat down.

"There's another fairy story, prettier yet," said Colville, while the
little girl drew a long deep breath of satisfaction and expectation.
"You've heard of the Buondelmonti?" he asked Imogene.

"Oh, it seems to me as if I'd had _nothing_ but the Buondelmonti dinned
into me since I came to Florence!" she answered in lively despair.

"Ah, this happened some centuries before the Buondelmonte you've been
bored with was born. This was Giovanni Gualberto of the Buondelmonti,
and he was riding along one day in 1003, near the Church of San Miniato,
when he met a certain man named Ugo, who had killed one of his brothers.
Gualberto stopped and drew his sword; Ugo saw no other chance of escape,
and he threw himself face downward on the ground, with his arms
stretched out in the form of the cross. 'Gualberto, remember Jesus
Christ, who died upon the cross praying for His enemies.' The story says
that these words went to Gualberto's heart; he got down from his horse,
and in sign of pardon lifted his enemy and kissed and embraced him. Then
they went together into the church, and fell on their knees before the
figure of Christ upon the cross, and the figure bowed its head in sign
of approval and pleasure in Gualberto's noble act of Christian piety."

"Beautiful!" murmured the girl; the child only sighed.

"Ah, yes; it's an easy matter to pick up one's head from the ground, and
set it back on one's shoulders, or to bring the dead to life, or to make
a tree put forth leaves and flowers in midwinter; but to melt the heart
of a man with forgiveness in the presence of his enemy--that's a
different thing; _that's_ no fairy story; that's a real miracle; and I
believe this one happened--it's so impossible."

"Oh yes, it must have happened," said the girl.

"Do you think it's so very hard to forgive, then?" asked Mrs. Bowen
gravely.

"Oh, not for ladies," replied Colville.

She flushed, and her eyes shone when she glanced at him.

"I'm sorry to put you down," he said to the child; "but I can't take you
with me, and I must be going."

Mrs. Bowen did not ask him to stay to lunch; he thought afterward that
she might have relented as far as that but for the last little thrust,
which he would better have spared.

"Effie dear," said her mother, when the door closed upon Colville,
"don't you think you'd better lie down a while? You look so tired."

"Shall I lie down on the sofa here?"

"No, on your bed."

"Well."

"I'll go with you, Effie," said Imogene, "and see that you're nicely
tucked in."

When she returned alone, Mrs. Bowen was sitting where she had left her,
and seemed not to have moved. "I think Effie will drop off to sleep,"
she said; "she seems drowsy." She sat down, and after a pensive moment
continued, "I wonder what makes Mr. Colville seem so gloomy."

"Does he seem gloomy?" asked Mrs. Bowen unsympathetically.

"No, not gloomy exactly. But different from last night. I wish people
could always be the same! He was so gay and full of spirits; and now
he's so self-absorbed. He thinks you're offended with him, Mrs. Bowen."

"I don't think he was very much troubled about it. I only thought he was
flighty from want of sleep. At your age you don't mind the loss of a
night."

"Do you think Mr. Colville seems so very old?" asked Imogene anxiously.

Mrs. Bowen appeared not to have heard her. She went to the window and
looked out. When she came back, "Isn't it almost time for you to have a
letter from home?" she asked.

"Why, no. I had one from mother day before yesterday. What made you
think so?"

"Imogene," interrupted Mrs. Bowen, with a sudden excitement which she
tried to control, but which made her lips tremble, and break a little
from her restraint, "you know that I am here in the place of your
mother, to advise you and look after you in every way?"

"Why, yes, Mrs. Bowen," cried the girl, in surprise.

"It's a position of great responsibility in regard to a young lady. I
can't have anything to reproach myself with afterward."

"No."

"Have I always been kind to you, and considerate of your rights and your
freedom? Have I ever interfered with you in any way that you think I
oughtn't?"

"What an idea! You've been loveliness itself, Mrs. Bowen!"

"Then I want you to listen to me, and answer me frankly, and not suspect
my motives."

"Why, how _could_ I do that?"

"Never mind!" cried Mrs. Bowen impatiently, almost angrily. "People
can't help their suspicions! Do you think Mr. Morton cares for you?"

The girl hung her head.

"Imogene, answer me!"

"I don't know," answered Imogene coldly; "but if you're troubled about
that, Mrs. Bowen, you needn't be; I don't care anything for Mr. Morton."

"If I thought you were becoming interested in any one, it would be my
duty to write to your mother and tell her."

"Of course; I should expect you to do it."

"And if I saw you becoming interested in any one in a way that I thought
would make you unhappy, it would be my duty to warn you."

"Yes."

"Of course, I don't mean that any one would knowingly try to make you
unhappy?"

"No."

"Men don't go about nowadays trying to break girls' hearts. But very
good men can be thoughtless and selfish."

"Yes; I understand that," said Imogene, in a falling accent.

"I don't wish to prejudice you against any one. I should consider it
very wrong and wicked. Besides, I don't care to interfere with you to
that degree. You are old enough to see and judge for yourself."

Imogene sat silent, passing her hand across the front of her dress. The
clock ticked audibly from the mantel.

"I will not have it left to me!" cried Mrs. Bowen. "It is hard enough,
at any rate. Do you think I like to speak to you?"

"No."

"Of course it makes me seem inhospitable, and distrustful, and
detestable."

"I never thought of accusing you," said the girl, slowly lifting her
eyes.

"I will never, never speak to you of it again," said Mrs. Bowen, "and
from this time forth I insist upon your feeling just as free as if I
hadn't spoken." She trembled upon the verge of a sob, from which she
repelled herself.

Imogene sat still, with a sort of serious, bewildered look.

"You shall have every proper opportunity of meeting any one you like."

"Oh yes."

"And I shall be only too gl-glad to take back everything!"

Imogene sat motionless and silent. Mrs. Bowen broke out again with a
sort of violence; the years teach us something of self-control, perhaps,
but they weaken and unstring the nerves. In this opposition of silence
to silence, the woman of the world was no match for the inexperienced
girl.

"Have you nothing to say, Imogene?"

"I never thought of him in that way at all. I don't know what to say
yet. It--confuses me. I--I can't imagine it. But if you think that he is
trying to amuse himself----"

"I never said that!"

"No, I know it."

"He likes to make you talk, and to talk with you. But he is perfectly
idle here, and--there is too much difference, every way. The very good
in him makes it the worse. I suppose that after talking with him every
one else seems insipid."

"Yes."

Mrs. Bowen rose and ran suddenly from the room.

Imogene remained sitting cold and still.

No one had been named since they spoke of Mr. Morton.






XI


Colville had not done what he meant in going to Mrs. Bowen's; in fact,
he had done just what he had not meant to do, as he distinctly perceived
in coming away. It was then that in a luminous retrospect he discovered
his motive to have been a wish to atone to her for behaviour that must
have distressed her, or at least to explain it to her. She had not let
him do this at once; an instant willingness to hear and to condone was
not in a woman's nature; she had to make him feel, by the infliction of
a degree of punishment, that she had suffered. But before she ended she
had made it clear that she was ready to grant him a tacit pardon, and he
had answered with a silly sarcasm the question that was to have led to
peace. He could not help seeing that throughout the whole Carnival
adventure she had yielded her cherished reluctances to please him, to
show him that she was not stiff or prudish, to convince him that she
would not be a killjoy through her devotion to conventionalities which
she thought he despised. He could not help seeing that he had abused her
delicate generosity, insulted her subtle concessions. He strolled along
down the Arno, feeling flat and mean, as a man always does after a
contest with a woman in which he has got the victory; our sex can
preserve its self-respect only through defeat in such a case. It gave
him no pleasure to remember that the glamour of the night before seemed
still to rest on Imogene unbroken; that, indeed, was rather an added
pain. He surprised himself in the midst of his poignant reflections by a
yawn. Clearly the time was past when these ideal troubles could keep him
awake, and there was, after all, a sort of brutal consolation in the
fact. He was forty-one years old, and he was sleepy, whatever capacity
for suffering remained to him. He went to his hotel to catch a little
nap before lunch. When he woke it was dinner-time. The mists of slumber
still hung about him, and the events of the last forty-eight hours
showed vast and shapelessly threatening through them.

When the drama of the _table d'hote_ reached its climax of roast
chestnuts and butter, he determined to walk over to San Marco and pay a
visit to Mr. Waters. He found the old minister from Haddam East Village,
Massachusetts, Italianate outwardly in almost ludicrous degree. He wore
a fur-lined overcoat indoors; his feet, cased in thick woollen shoes,
rested on a strip of carpet laid before his table; a man who had lived
for forty years in the pungent atmosphere of an air-tight stove,
succeeding a quarter of a century of roaring hearth fires, contented
himself with the spare heat of a scaldino, which he held his clasped
hands over in the very Italian manner; the lamp that cast its light on
the book open before him was the classic _lucerna_, with three beaks,
fed with olive oil. He looked up at his visitor over his spectacles,
without recognising him, till Colville spoke. Then, after their
greeting, "Is it snowing heavily?" he asked.

"It isn't snowing at all. What made you think that?"

"Perhaps I was drowsing over my book and dreamed it. We become very
strange and interesting studies to ourselves as we live along."

He took up the metaphysical consideration with the promptness of a man
who has no small-talk, and who speaks of the mind and soul as if they
were the gossip of the neighbourhood.

"At times the forty winters that I passed in Haddam East Village seem
like an alien experience, and I find myself pitying the life I lived
there quite as if it were the life of some one else. It seems incredible
that men should still inhabit such climates."

"Then you're not homesick for Haddam East Village?"

"Ah! for the good and striving souls there, yes; especially the souls of
some women there. They used to think that it was I who gave them
consolation and spiritual purpose, but it was they who really imparted
it. Women souls--how beautiful they sometimes are! They seem truly like
angelic essences. I trust that I shall meet them somewhere some time,
but it will never be in Haddam East Village. Yes, I must have been
dreaming when you came in. I thought that I was by my fire there, and
all round over the hills and in the streets the snow was deep and
falling still. How distinctly, he said, closing his eyes, as artists do
in looking at a picture, I can see the black wavering lines of the walls
in the fields sinking into the drifts! the snow billowed over the graves
by the church where I preached! the banks of snow around the houses! the
white desolation everywhere! I ask myself at times if the people are
still there. Yes, I feel as blessedly remote from that terrible winter
as if I had died away from it, and were in the weather of heaven."

"Then you have no reproach for feeble-spirited fellow-citizens who
abandon their native climate and come to live in Italy?"

The old man drew his fur coat closer about him and shrugged his
shoulders in true Florentine fashion. "There may be something to say
against those who do so in the heyday of life, but I shall not be the
one to say it. The race must yet revert in its decrepitude, as I have in
mine, to the climates of the South. Since I have been in Italy I have
realised what used to occur to me dimly at home--the cruel disproportion
between the end gained and the means expended in reclaiming the savage
North. Half the human endeavour, half the human suffering, would have
made the whole South Protestant and the whole East Christian, and our
civilisation would now be there. No, I shall never go back to New
England. New England? New Ireland----New Canada! Half the farms in
Haddam are in the hands of our Irish friends, and the labour on the rest
is half done by French Canadians. That is all right and well. New
England must come to me here, by way of the great middle West and the
Pacific coast."

Colville smiled at the Emersonian touch, but he said gravely, "I can
never quite reconcile myself to the thought of dying out of my own
country."

"Why not? It is very unimportant where one dies. A moment after your
breath is gone you are in exile for ever--or at home for ever."

Colville sat musing upon this phase of Americanism, as he had upon many
others. At last he broke the silence they had both let fall, far away
from the topic they had touched.

"Well," he asked, "how did you enjoy the veglione?"

"Oh, I'm too old to go to such places for pleasure," said the minister
simply. "But it was very interesting, and certainly very striking:
especially when I went back, toward daylight, after seeing Mrs. Bowen
home."

"Did you go back?" demanded Colville, in some amaze.

"Oh yes. I felt that my experience was incomplete without some knowledge
of how the Carnival ended at such a place."

"Oh! And do you still feel that Savonarola was mistaken?"

"There seemed to be rather more boisterousness toward the close, and, if
I might judge, the excitement grew a little unwholesome. But I really
don't feel myself very well qualified to decide. My own life has been
passed in circumstances so widely different that I am at a certain
disadvantage."

"Yes," said Colville, with a smile; "I daresay the Carnival at Haddam
East Village was quite another tiling."

The old man smiled responsively. "I suppose that some of my former
parishioners might have been scandalised at my presence at a Carnival
ball, had they known the fact merely in the abstract; but in my letters
home I shall try to set it before them in an instructive light. I should
say that the worst thing about such a scene of revelry would be that it
took us too much out of our inner quiet. But I suppose the same remark
might apply to almost any form of social entertainment."

"Yes."

"But human nature is so constituted that some means of expansion must be
provided, or a violent explosion takes place. The only question is what
means are most innocent. I have been looking about," added the old man
quietly, "at the theatres lately."

"Have you?" asked Colville, opening his eyes, in suppressed surprise.

"Yes; with a view to determining the degree of harmless amusement that
may be derived from them. It's rather a difficult question. I should be
inclined to say, however, that I don't think the ballet can ever be
instrumental for good."

Colville could not deny himself the pleasure of saying, "Well, not the
highest, I suppose."

"No," said Mr. Waters, in apparent unconsciousness of the irony. "But I
think the Church has made a mistake in condemning the theatre _in toto_.
It appears to me that it might always have countenanced a certain order
of comedy, in which the motive and plot are unobjectionable. Though I
don't deny that there are moods when all laughter seems low and unworthy
and incompatible with the most advanced state of being. And I confess,"
he went on, with a dreamy thoughtfulness, "that I have very great
misgivings in regard to tragedy. The glare that it throws upon the play
of the passions--jealousy in its anguish, revenge glutting itself, envy
eating its heart, hopeless love--their nakedness is terrible. The terror
may be salutary; it may be very mischievous. I am afraid that I have
left some of my inquiries till it is too late. I seem to have no longer
the materials of judgment left in me. If I were still a young man like
you----"

"Am I still a young man?" interrupted Colville sadly.

"You are young enough to respond to the appeals that sometimes find me
silent. If I were of your age I should certainly investigate some of
these interesting problems."

"Ah, but if you become personally interested in the problems, it's as
bad as if you hadn't the materials of judgment left; you're prejudiced.
Besides, I doubt my youthfulness very much."

"You are fifty, I presume?" suggested Mr. Waters, in a leading way.

"Not very near--only too near," laughed Colville. "I'm forty-one."

"You are younger than I supposed. But I remember now that at your age I
had the same feeling which you intimate. It seemed to me then that I had
really passed the bound which separates us from the further possibility
of youth. But I've lived long enough since to know that I was mistaken.
At forty, one has still a great part of youth before him--perhaps the
richest and sweetest part. By that time the turmoil of ideas and
sensations is over; we see clearly and feel consciously. We are in a
sort of quiet in which we peacefully enjoy. We have enlarged our
perspective sufficiently to perceive things in their true proportion and
relation; we are no longer tormented with the lurking fear of death,
which darkens and embitters our earlier years; we have got into the
habit of life; we have often been ailing and we have not died. Then we
have time enough behind us to supply us with the materials of reverie
and reminiscence; the terrible solitude of inexperience is broken; we
have learned to smile at many things besides the fear of death. We ought
also to have learned pity and patience. Yes," the old man concluded, in
cheerful self-corroboration, "it is a beautiful age."

"But it doesn't look so beautiful as it is," Colville protested. "People
in that rosy prime don't produce the effect of garlanded striplings upon
the world at large. The women laugh at us; they think we are fat old
fellows; they don't recognise the slender and elegant youth that resides
in our unwieldy bulk."

"You take my meaning a little awry. Besides, I doubt if even the ground
you assume is tenable. If a woman has lived long enough to be truly
young herself, she won't find a man at forty either decrepit or
grotesque. He can even make himself youthful to a girl of thought and
imagination."

"Yes," Colville assented, with a certain discomfort.

"But to be truly young at forty," resumed Mr. Waters, "a man should be
already married."

"Yes?"

"I sometimes feel," continued the old man, "that I made a mistake in
yielding to a disappointment that I met with early in life, and in not
permitting myself the chance of retrieval. I have missed a beautiful and
consoling experience in my devotion to a barren regret."

Colville said nothing, but he experienced a mixed feeling of amusement,
of repulsion, and of curiosity at this.

"We are put into the world to be of it. I am more and more convinced of
that. We have scarcely a right to separate ourselves from the common lot
in any way. I justify myself for having lived alone only as a widower
might. I--lost her. It was a great while ago."

"Yes," said Colville, after the pause which ensued; "I agree with you
that one has no right to isolate himself, to refuse his portion of the
common lot; but the effects of even a rebuff may last so long that one
has no heart to put out his hand a second time--for a second rap over
the knuckles. Oh, I know how trivial it is in the retrospect, and how
what is called a disappointment is something to be humbly grateful for
in most cases; but for a while it certainly makes you doubtful whether
you were ever really intended to share the common lot." He was aware of
an insincerity in his words; he hoped that it might not be perceptible,
but he did not greatly care.

Mr. Waters took no notice of what he had been saying. He resumed from
another point. "But I should say that it would be unwise for a man of
mature life to seek his happiness with one much younger than himself. I
don't deny that there are cases in which the disparity of years counts
for little or nothing, but generally speaking, people ought to be as
equally mated in age as possible. They ought to start with the same
advantages of ignorance. A young girl can only live her life through a
community of feeling, an equality of inexperience in the man she gives
her heart to. If he is tired of things that still delight her, the
chances of unhappiness are increased."

"Yes, that's true," answered Colville gravely. "It's apt to be a mistake
and a wrong."

"Oh, not always--not always," said the old minister. "We mustn't look at
it in that way quite. Wrongs are of the will." He seemed to lapse into a
greater intimacy of feeling with Colville. "Have you seen Mrs. Bowen
to-day? Or--ah! true! I think you told me."

"No," said Colville. "Have we spoken of her? But I have seen her."

"And was the little one well?"

"Very much better."

"Pretty creatures, both of them," said the minister, with as fresh a
pleasure in his recognition of the fact as if he had not said nearly the
same thing once before, "You've noticed the very remarkable resemblance
between mother and daughter?"

"Oh yes."

"There is a gentleness in Mrs. Bowen which seems to me the last
refinement of a gracious spirit," suggested Mr. Waters. "I have never
met any lady who reconciled more exquisitely what is charming in society
with what is lovely in nature."

"Yes," said Colville. "Mrs. Bowen always had that gentle manner. I used
to know her here as a girl a great while ago."

"Did you? I wonder you allowed her to become Mrs. Bowen."

This sprightliness of Mr. Waters amused Colville greatly. "At that time
I was preoccupied with my great mistake, and I had no eyes for Mrs.
Bowen."

"It isn't too late yet," said Mr. Waters, with open insinuation.

A bachelor of forty is always flattered by any suggestion of marriage;
the suggestion that a beautiful and charming woman would marry him is
too much for whatever reserves of modesty and wisdom he may have stored
up Colville took leave of the old minister in better humour with himself
than he had been for forty-eight hours, or than he had any very good
reason for being now.

Mr. Waters came with him to the head of the stairs and held up the lamp
for him to see. The light fell upon the white locks thinly straggling
from beneath his velvet skull-cap, and he looked like some mediaeval
scholar of those who lived and died for learning in Florence when
letters were a passion there almost as strong as love.

The next day Colville would have liked to go at once and ask about
Effie, but upon the whole he thought he would not go till after he had
been at the reception where he was going in the afternoon. It was an
artist who was giving the reception; he had a number of pictures to
show, and there was to be tea. There are artists and artists. This
painter was one who had a distinct social importance. It was felt to be
rather a nice thing to be asked to his reception; one was sure at least
to meet the nicest people.

This reason prevailed with Colville so far as it related to Mrs. Bowen,
whom he felt that he would like to tell he had been there. He would
speak to her of this person and that--very respected and recognised
social figures,--so that she might see he was not the outlaw, the
Bohemian, he must sometimes have appeared to her. It would not be going
too far to say that something like an obscure intention to show himself
the next Sunday at the English chapel, where Mrs. Bowen went, was not
forming itself in his mind. As he went along it began to seem not
impossible that she would be at the reception. If Effie's indisposition
was no more serious than it appeared yesterday, very probably Mrs. Bowen
would be there. He even believed that he recognised her carriage among
those which were drawn up in front of the old palace, under the
painter's studio windows.

There were a great number of people of the four nationalities that
mostly consort in Italy. There were English and Americans and Russians
and the sort of Italians resulting from the native intermarriages with
them; here and there were Italians of pure blood, borderers upon the
foreign life through a literary interest, or an artistic relation, or a
matrimonial intention; here and there, also, the large stomach of a
German advanced the bounds of the new empire and the new ideal of duty.
There were no Frenchmen; one may meet them in more strictly Italian
assemblages, but it is as if the sorrows and uncertainties of France in
these times discouraged them from the international society in which
they were always an infrequent element. It is not, of course, imaginable
that as Frenchmen they have doubts of their merits, but that they have
their misgivings as to the intelligence of others. The language that
prevailed was English--in fact, one heard no other,--and the tea which
our civilisation carries everywhere with it steamed from the cups in all
hands. This beverage, in fact, becomes a formidable factor in the life
of a Florentine winter. One finds it at all houses, and more or less
mechanically drinks it.

"I am turning out a terrible tea toper," said Colville, stirring his cup
in front of the old lady whom his relations to the ladies at Palazzo
Pinti had interested so much. "I don't think I drink less than ten cups
a day; seventy cups a week is a low average for me. I'm really beginning
to look down at my boots a little anxiously."

Mrs. Amsden laughed. She had not been in America for forty years, but
she liked the American way of talking better than any other. "Oh, didn't
you hear about Inglehart when he was here? He was so good-natured that
he used to drink all the tea people offered him, and then the young
ladies made tea for him in his studio when they went to look at his
pictures. It almost killed him. By the time spring came he trembled so
that the brush flew out of his hands when he took it up. He had to hurry
off to Venice to save his life. It's just as bad at the Italian houses;
they've learned to like tea."

"When I was here before, they never offered you anything but coffee,"
said Colville. "They took tea for medicine, and there was an old joke
that I thought I should die of, I heard it so often about the Italian
that said to the English woman when she offered him tea, '_Grazie; sto
bene_.'"

"Oh, that's all changed now."

"Yes; I've seen the tea, and I haven't heard the joke."

The flavour of Colville's talk apparently encouraged his companion to
believe that he would like to make fun of their host's paintings with
her; but whether he liked them, or whether he was principled against
that sort of return for hospitality, he chose to reply seriously to some
ironical lures she threw out.

"Oh, if you're going to be good," she exclaimed, "I shall have nothing
more to say to you. Here comes Mr. Thurston; I can make _him_ abuse the
pictures. There! You had better go away to a young lady I see alone over
yonder, though I don't know what you will do with _one_ alone." She
laughed and shook her head in a way that had once been arch and lively,
but that was now puckery and infirm--it is affecting to see these things
in women--and welcomed the old gentleman who came up and superseded
Colville.

The latter turned, with his cup still in his hand, and wandered about
through the company, hoping he might see Mrs. Bowen among the groups
peering at the pictures or solidly blocking the view in front of them.
He did not find her, but he found Imogene Graham standing somewhat apart
near a window. He saw her face light up at sight of him, and then darken
again as he approached.

"Isn't this rather an unnatural state of things?" he asked when he had
come up. "I ought to be obliged to fight my way to you through
successive phalanxes of young men crowding round with cups of tea
outstretched in their imploring hands. Have you had some tea?"

"Thank you, no; I don't wish any," said the young girl, so coldly that
he could not help noticing, though commonly he was man enough to notice
very few things.

"How is Effie to-day?" he asked quickly.

"Oh, quite well," said Imogene.

"I don't see Mrs. Bowen," he ventured further.

"No," answered the girl, still very lifelessly; "I came with Mrs.
Fleming." She looked about the room as if not to look at him.

He now perceived a distinct intention to snub him. He smiled. "Have you
seen the pictures? There are two or three really lovely ones."

"Mrs. Fleming will be here in a moment, I suppose," said Imogene
evasively, but not with all her first coldness.

"Let us steal a march on her," said Colville briskly. "When she comes
you can tell her that I showed you the pictures."

"I don't know," faltered the girl.

"Perhaps it isn't necessary you should," he suggested.

She glanced at him with questioning trepidation.

"The respective duties of chaperone and _protegee_ are rather undefined.
Where the chaperone isn't there to command, the _protegee_ isn't there
to obey. I suppose you'd know if you were at home?"

"Oh yes!"

"Let me imagine myself at a loan exhibition in Buffalo. Ah! that appeal
is irresistible. You'll come, I see."

She hesitated; she looked at the nearest picture, then followed him to
another. He now did what he had refused to do for the old lady who
tempted him to it; he made fun of the pictures a little, but so amiably
and with so much justice to their good points that the painter himself
would not have minded his jesting. From time to time he made Imogene
smile, but in her eyes lurked a look of uneasiness, and her manner
expressed a struggle against his will which might have had its pathos
for him in different circumstances, but now it only incited him to make
her forget herself more and more; he treated her as one does a child
that is out of sorts--coaxingly, ironically.

When they had made the round of the rooms Mrs. Fleming was not at the
window where she had left Imogene; the girl detected the top of her
bonnet still in the next room.

"The chaperone is never there when you come back with the _protegee_,"
said Colville. "It seems to be the nature of the chaperone."

Imogene turned very grave. "I think I ought to go to her," she murmured.

"Oh no; she ought to come to you; I stand out for _protegee_'s rights."

"I suppose she will come directly."

"She sees me with you; she knows you are safe."

"Oh, of course," said the girl. After a constraint which she marked by
rather a long silence, she added, "How strange a roomful of talking
sounds, doesn't it? Just like a great caldron boiling up and bubbling
over. Wouldn't you like to know what they're all saying?"

"Oh, it's quite bad enough to see them," replied Colville frivolously.

"I think a company of gentlemen with their hats off look very queer,
don't you?" she asked, after another interval.

"Well, really," said Colville, laughing, "I don't know that the
spectacle ever suggested any metaphysical speculations to me. I rather
think they look queerer with their hats on."

"Oh yes."

"Though there is not very much to choose. We're a queer-looking set,
anyway."

He got himself another cup of tea, and coming back to her, allowed her
to make the efforts to keep up the conversation, and was not without a
malicious pleasure in her struggles. They interested him as social
exercises which, however abrupt and undexterous now, were destined, with
time and practice, to become the finesse of a woman of society, and to
be accepted, even while they were still abrupt and undexterous, as
touches of character. He had broken up that coldness with which she had
met him at first, and now he let her adjust the fragments as she could
to the new situation. He wore that air of a gentleman who has been
talking a long time to a lady, and who will not dispute her possession
with a new-comer.

But no one came, though, as he cast his eyes carelessly over the
company, he found that it had been increased by the accession of eight
or ten young fellows, with a refreshing light of originality in their
faces, and little touches of difference from the other men in their
dress.

"Oh, there are the Inglehart boys!" cried the girl, with a flash of
excitement.

There was a sensation of interest and friendliness in the company as
these young fellows, after their moment of social intimidation, began to
gather round the pictures, and to fling their praise and blame about,
and talk the delightful shop of the studio.

The sight of their fresh young faces, the sound of their voices, struck
a pang of regret that was almost envy to Colville's heart.

Imogene followed them with eager eyes. "Oh," she sighed, "shouldn't you
like to be an artist?"

"I should, very much."

"Oh, I beg your pardon; I forgot. I knew you were an architect."

"I should say I used to be, if you hadn't objected to my perfects and
preterits."

What came next seemed almost an accident.

"I didn't suppose you cared for my objections, so long as I amused you."
She suddenly glanced at him, as if terrified at her own words.

"Have you been trying to amuse me?" he asked.

"Oh no. I thought----"

"Oh, then," said Colville sharply, "you meant that I was amusing myself
with you?" She glanced at him in terror of his divination, but could not
protest. "Has any one told you that?" he pursued, with sudden angry
suspicion.

"No, _no_ one," began Imogene. She glanced about her, frightened. They
stood quite alone where they were; the people had mostly wandered off
into the other rooms. "Oh, don't--I didn't mean--I didn't intend to say
anything----"

"But you have said something--something that surprises me from _you_,
and hurts me. I wish to know whether you say it from yourself."

"I don't know--yes. That is, not----Oh, I wish Mrs. Fleming----"

She looked as if another word of pursuit would put it beyond her power
to control herself.

"Let me take you to Mrs. Fleming," said Colville, with freezing
_hauteur_; and led the way where the top of Mrs. Fleming's bonnet still
showed itself. He took leave at once, and hastily parting with his host,
found himself in the street, whirled in many emotions. The girl had not
said that from herself, but it was from some woman; he knew that by the
directness of the phrase and its excess, for he had noticed that women
who liked to beat about the bush in small matters have a prodigious
straightforwardness in more vital affairs, and will even call grey black
in order clearly to establish the presence of the black in that colour.
He could hardly keep himself from going to Palazzo Pinti.

But he contrived to go to his hotel instead, where he ate a moody
dinner, and then, after an hour's solitary bitterness in his room, went
out and passed the evening at the theatre. The play was one of those
fleering comedies which render contemptible for the time all honest and
earnest intention, and which surely are a whiff from the bottomless pit
itself. It made him laugh at the serious strain of self-question that
had mingled with his resentment; it made him laugh even at his
resentment, and with its humour in his thoughts, sent him off to sleep
in a sottish acceptance of whatever was trivial in himself as the only
thing that was real and lasting.

He slept late, and when Paolo brought up his breakfast, he brought with
it a letter which he said had been left with the porter an hour before.
A faint appealing perfume of violet exhaled from the note, and mingled
with the steaming odours of the coffee and boiled milk, when Colville,
after a glance at the unfamiliar handwriting of the superscription,
broke the seal.

"DEAR MR. COLVILLE,--I don't know what you will think of my writing to
you, but perhaps you can't think worse of me than you do already, and
anything will be better than the misery that I am in. I have not been
asleep all night. I hate myself for telling you, but I do want you to
understand how I have felt. I would give worlds if I could take back the
words that you say wounded you. I didn't mean to wound you. Nobody is to
blame for them but me; nobody ever breathed a word about you that was
meant in unkindness.

"I am not ashamed of writing this, _whatever_ you think, and I will sign
my name in full. IMOGENE GRAHAM."


Colville had commonly a good appetite for his breakfast, but now he let
his coffee stand long un-tasted. There were several things about this
note that touched him--the childlike simplicity and directness, the
generous courage, even the imperfection and crudity of the literature.
However he saw it afterward, he saw it then in its true intention. He
respected that intention; through all the sophistications in which life
had wrapped him, it awed him a little. He realised that if he had been
younger he would have gone to Imogene herself with her letter. He felt
for the moment a rush of the emotion which he would once not have
stopped to examine, which he would not have been capable of examining.
But now his duty was clear; he must go to Mrs. Bowen. In the noblest
human purpose there is always some admixture, however slight, of less
noble motive, and Colville was not without the willingness to see
whatever embarrassment she might feel when he showed her the letter, and
to invoke her finest tact to aid him in re-assuring the child.

She was alone in her drawing-room, and she told him in response to his
inquiry for their health that Imogene and Effie had gone out to drive.
She looked so pretty in the quiet house dress in which she rose from the
sofa and stood, letting him come the whole way to greet her, that he did
not think of any other look in her, but afterward he remembered an
evidence of inner tumult in her brightened eyes.

He said, smiling, "I'm so glad to see you alone," and this brought still
another look into her face, which also he afterward remembered. She did
not reply, but made a sound in her throat like a bird when it stirs
itself for flight or song. It was a strange, indefinite little note, in
which Colville thought he detected trepidation at the time, and recalled
for the sort of expectation suggested in it. She stood waiting for him
to go on.

"I have come to get you to help me out of trouble."

"Yes?" said Mrs. Bowen, with a vague smile. "I always supposed you would
be able to help yourself out of trouble. Or perhaps wouldn't mind it if
you were in it."

"Oh yes, I mind it very much," returned Colville, refusing her banter,
if it were banter. "Especially this sort of trouble, which involves some
one else in the discomfort." He went on abruptly: "I have been held up
to a young lady as a person who was amusing himself with her, and I was
so absurd as to be angry when she told me, and demanded the name of my
friend, whoever it was. My behaviour seems to have given the young lady
a bad night, and this morning she writes to tell me so, and to take all
the blame on herself, and to assure me that no harm was meant me by any
one. Of course I don't want her to be distressed about it. Perhaps you
can guess who has been writing to me."

Colville said all this looking down, in a fashion he had. When he looked
up he saw a severity in Mrs. Bowen's pretty face, such as he had not
seen there before.

"I didn't know she had been writing to you, but I know that you are
talking of Imogene. She told me what she had said to you yesterday, and
I blamed her for it, but I'm not sure that it wasn't best."

"Oh, indeed!" said Colville. "Perhaps you can tell me who put the idea
into her head?"

"Yes; I did."

A dead silence ensued, in which the fragments of the situation broken by
these words revolved before Colville's thought with kaleidoscopic
variety, and he passed through all the phases of anger, resentment,
wounded self-love, and accusing shame.

At last, "I suppose you had your reasons," he said simply.

"I am in her mother's place here," she replied, tightening the grip of
one little hand upon another, where she held them laid against the side
of her waist.

"Yes, I know that," said Colville; "but what reason had you to warn her
against me as a person who was amusing himself with her? I don't like
the phrase; but she seems to have got it from you; I use it at third
hand."

"I don't like the phrase either; I didn't invent it."

"You used it."

"No; it wasn't I who used it. I should have been glad to use another, if
I could," said Mrs. Bowen, with perfect steadiness.

"Then you mean to say that you believe I've been trifling with the
feelings of this child?"

"I mean to say nothing. You are very much older; and she is a romantic
girl, very extravagant. You have tried to make her like you."

"I certainly have. I have tried to make Effie Bowen like me too."

Mrs. Bowen passed this over in serenity that he felt was not far from
contempt.

He gave a laugh that did not express enjoyment.

"You have no right to laugh!" she cried, losing herself a little, and so
making her first gain upon him.

"It appears not. Perhaps you will tell me what I am to do about this
letter?"

"That is for you to decide." She recovered herself, and lost ground with
him in proportion.

"I thought perhaps that since you were able to judge my motives so
clearly, you might be able to advise me."

"I don't judge your motives," Mrs. Bowen began. She added suddenly, as
if by an after-thought, "I don't think you had any."

"I'm obliged to you."

"But you are as much to blame as if you had."

"And perhaps I'm as much to blame as if I had really wronged somebody?"

"Yes."

"It's rather paradoxical. You don't wish me to see her any more?"

"I haven't any wish about it; you must not _say_ that I have," said Mrs.
Bowen, with dignity.

Colville smiled. "May I _ask_ if you have?"

"Not for myself."

"You put me on very short allowance of conjecture."

"I will not let you trifle with the matter!" she cried. "You have made
me speak, when a word, a look, ought to have been enough. Oh, I didn't
think you had the miserable vanity to wish it!"

Colville stood thinking a long time and she waiting. "I see that
everything is at an end. I am going away from Florence. Good-bye, Mrs.
Bowen." He approached her, holding out his hand. But if he expected to
be rewarded for this, nothing of the kind happened. She shrank swiftly
back.

"No, no. You shall not touch me."

He paused a moment, gazing keenly at her face, in which, whatever other
feeling showed, there was certainly no fear of him. Then with a slight
bow he left the room.

Mrs. Bowen ran from it by another door, and shut herself into her own
room. When she returned to the salotto, Imogene and Effie were just
coming in. The child went to lay aside her hat and sacque; the girl,
after a glance at Mrs. Bowen's face, lingered inquiringly.

"Mr. Colville came here with your letter, Imogene."

"Yes," said Imogene faintly. "Do you think I oughtn't to have written
it?"

"Oh, it makes no difference now. He is going away from Florence."

"Yes?" breathed the girl.

"I spoke openly with him."

"Yes?"

"I didn't spare him. I made him think I hated and despised him."

Imogene was silent. Then she said, "I know that whatever you have done,
you have acted for the best."

"Yes, I have a right that you should say that--I have a right that you
should always say it. I think he has behaved very foolishly, but I don't
blame him----"

"No! I was to blame."

"I don't _know_ that he was to blame, and I won't let you think he was."

"Oh, he is the best man in the world!"

"He gave up at once; he didn't try to defend himself. It's nothing for
you to lose a friend at your age; but at mine----"

"I _know_ it, Mrs. Bowen."

"And I wouldn't even shake hands with him when he was going; I----"

"Oh, I don't see how you could be so hard!" cried Imogene. She put up
her hands to her face, and broke into tears. Mrs. Bowen watched her, dry
eyed, with her lips parted, and an intensity of question in her face.

"Imogene," she said at last, "I wish you to promise me one thing."

"Yes."

"Not to write to Mr. Colville again."

"No, no; indeed I won't, Mrs. Bowen!" The girl came up to kiss her; Mrs.
Bowen turned her cheek.

Imogene was going from the room, when Mrs. Bowen spoke again. "But I
wish you to promise me this only because you don't feel sure of yourself
about him. If you care for him--if you think you care for him--then I
leave you perfectly free."

The girl looked up, scared. "No, no; I'd rather you wouldn't leave me
free--you mustn't; I shouldn't know what to do."

"Very well, then," said Mrs. Bowen.

They both waited a moment, as if each were staying for the other to
speak. Then Imogene asked, "Is he--going soon?"

"I don't know," said Mrs. Bowen. "Why should he want to delay? He had
better go at once. And I hope he will go home--as far from Florence as
he can. I should think he would _hate_ the place."

"Yes," said the girl, with a quivering sigh; "it must be hateful to
him." She paused, and then she rushed on with bitter self-reproach. "And
I--_I_ have helped to make it so! O Mrs. Bowen, perhaps it's _I_ who
have been trifling with _him_ Trying to make him believe--no, not trying
to do that, but letting him see that I sympathised--Oh, do you think I
have?"

"You know what you have been doing, Imogene," said Mrs. Bowen, with the
hardness it surprises men to know women use with each other, they seem
such tender creatures in the abstract. "You have no need to ask me."

"No, no."

"As you say, I warned you from the first."

"Oh yes; you did."

"I couldn't do more than hint; it was too much to expect----"

"Oh, yes, yes."

"And if you couldn't take my hints, I was helpless."

"Yes; I see it."

"I was only afraid of saying too much, and all through that miserable
veglione business I was trying to please you and him, because I was
afraid I _had_ said too much--gone too far. I wanted to show you that I
disdained to be suspicious, that I was ashamed to suppose that a girl of
your age could care for the admiration of a man of his."

"Oh, I didn't care for his admiration. I admired _him_--and pitied him."

Mrs. Bowen apparently would not be kept now from saying all that had
been rankling in her breast. "I didn't approve of going to the veglione.
A great many people would be shocked if they knew I went; I wouldn't at
all like to have it known. But I was not going to have him thinking that
I was severe with you, and wanted to deny you any really harmless
pleasure."

"Oh, who could think that? You're only too good to me. You see," said
the girl, "what a return I have made for your trust. I knew you didn't
want to go to the veglione. If I hadn't been the most selfish girl in
the world I wouldn't have let you. But I did. I _forced_ you to go, and
then, after we got there, I seized every advantage, and abused your
kindness till I wonder I didn't sink through the floor. Yes; I ought to
have refused to dance--if I'd had a spark of generosity or gratitude I
would have done it; and I ought to have come straight back to you the
instant the waltz was done. And now see what has come of it! I've made
you think he was trifling with me, and I've made him think that I'm a
false and hollow-hearted thing."

"You know best what you have done, Imogene," said Mrs. Bowen, with a
smiling tearfulness that was somehow very bitter. She rose from the
sofa, as if to indicate that there was no more to be said, and Imogene,
with a fresh burst of grief, rushed away to her own room.

She dropped on her knees beside her bed, and stretched out her arms upon
it, an image of that desolation of soul which, when we are young, seems
limitless, but which in later life we know has comparatively narrow
bounds beyond the clouds that rest so blackly around us.






XII


In his room Colville was devouring as best he might the chagrin with
which he had come away from Palazzo Pinti, while he packed his trunk for
departure. Now that the thing was over, the worst was past. Again he
observed that his emotions had no longer the continuity that the
emotions of his youth possessed. As he remembered, a painful or pleasant
impression used to last indefinitely; but here he was with this
humiliating affair hot in his mind, shrugging his shoulders with a sense
of relief, almost a sense of escape. Does the soul really wear out with
the body? The question flitted across his mind as he took down a pair of
trousers, and noticed that they were considerably frayed about the feet;
he determined to give them to Paolo, and this reminded him to ring for
Paolo, and send word to the office that he was going to take the evening
train for Rome.

He went on packing, and putting away with the different garments the
unpleasant thoughts that he knew he should be sure to unpack with them
in Rome; but they would then have less poignancy.

For the present he was doing the best he could, and he was not making
any sort of pretences. When his trunk was locked he kindled himself a
fire, and sat down before it to think of Imogene. He began with her, but
presently it seemed to be Mrs. Bowen that he was thinking of; then he
knew he was dropping off to sleep by the manner in which their two ideas
mixed. The fatigues and excitements of the week had been great, but he
would not give way; it was too disgraceful.

Some one rapped at his door. He called out "_Avanti_!" and he would have
been less surprised to see either of those ladies than Paolo with the
account he had ordered to be made out. It was a long, pendulous,
minutely itemed affair, such as the traveller's recklessness in candles
and firewood comes to in the books of the Continental landlord, and it
almost swept the floor when its volume was unrolled. But it was not the
sum-total that dismayed Colville when he glanced at the final figure;
that, indeed, was not so very great, with all the items; it was the
conviction, suddenly flashing upon him, that he had not money enough by
him to pay it. His watch, held close to the fire, told him that it was
five o'clock; the banks had been closed an hour, and this was Saturday
afternoon.

The squalid accident had all the effect of intention, as he viewed it
from without himself, and considered that the money ought to have been
the first thing in his thoughts after he determined to go away. He must
get the money somehow, and be off to Rome by the seven o'clock train. A
whimsical suggestion, which was so good a bit of irony that it made him
smile, flashed across him: he might borrow it of Mrs. Bowen. She was, in
fact, the only person in Florence with whom he was at all on borrowing
terms, and a sad sense of the sweetness of her lost friendship followed
upon the antic notion. No; for once he could not go to Mrs. Bowen. He
recollected now the many pleasant talks they had had together,
confidential in virtue of their old acquaintance, and harmlessly
intimate in many things. He recalled how, when he was feeling dull from
the Florentine air, she had told him to take a little quinine, and he
had found immediate advantage in it. These memories did strike him as
grotesque or ludicrous; he only felt their pathos. He was ashamed even
to seem in anywise recreant further. If she should ever hear that he had
lingered for thirty-six hours in Florence after he had told her he was
going away, what could she think but that he had repented his decision?
He determined to go down to the office of the hotel, and see if he could
not make some arrangement with the landlord. It would be extremely
distasteful, but his ample letter of credit would be at least a voucher
of his final ability to pay. As a desperate resort he could go and try
to get the money of Mr. Waters.

He put on his coat and hat, and opened the door to some one who was just
in act to knock at it, and whom he struck against in the obscurity.

"I beg your pardon," said the visitor.

"Mr. Waters! Is it possible?" cried Colville, feeling something fateful
in the chance. "I was just going to see you."

"I'm fortunate in meeting you, then. Shall we go to my room?" he asked,
at a hesitation in Colville's manner.

"No, no," said the latter; "come in here." He led the way back into his
room, and struck a match to light the candles on his chimney. Their dim
rays fell upon the disorder his packing had left. "You must excuse the
look of things," he said. "The fact is, I'm just going away. I'm going
to Rome at seven o'clock."

"Isn't this rather sudden?" asked the minister, with less excitement
than the fact might perhaps have been expected to create in a friend. "I
thought you intended to pass the winter in Florence."

"Yes, I did--sit down, please--but I find myself obliged to cut my stay
short. Won't you take off your coat?" he asked, taking off his own.

"Thank you; I've formed the habit of keeping it on indoors," said Mr.
Waters. "And I oughtn't to stay long, if you're to be off so soon."

Colville gave a very uncomfortable laugh. "Why, the fact is, I'm not off
so very soon unless you help me."

"Ah?" returned the old gentleman, with polite interest.

"Yes, I find myself in the absurd position of a man who has reckoned
without his host. I have made all my plans for going, and have had my
hotel bill sent to me in pursuance of that idea, and now I discover that
I not only haven't money enough to pay it and get to Rome, but I haven't
much more than half enough to pay it. I have credit galore," he said,
trying to give the situation a touch of liveliness, "but the bank is
shut."

Mr. Waters listened to the statement with a silence concerning which
Colville was obliged to form his conjectures. "That is unfortunate," he
said sympathetically, but not encouragingly.

Colville pushed on desperately. "It is, unless you can help me, Mr.
Waters. I want you to lend me fifty dollars for as many hours."

Mr. Waters shook his head with a compassionate smile. "I haven't fifty
francs in cash. You are welcome to what there is. I'm very forgetful
about money matters, and haven't been to the bankers."

"Oh, don't excuse yourself to me, unless you wish to embitter my shame.
I'm obliged to you for offering to share your destitution with me. I
must try to run my face with the landlord," said Colville.

"Oh no," said Mr. Waters gently. "Is there such haste as all that?"

"Yes, I must go at once."

"I don't like to have you apply to a stranger," said the old man, with
fatherly kindness. "Can't you remain over till Monday? I had a little
excursion to propose."

"No, I can't possibly stay; I must go to-night," cried Colville.

The minister rose. "Then I really mustn't detain you, I suppose.
Good-bye." He offered his hand. Colville took it, but could not let it
go at once. "I would like extremely to tell you why I'm leaving Florence
in such haste. But I don't see what good it would do, for I don't want
you to persuade me to stay."

The old gentleman looked at him with friendly interest.

"The fact is," Colville proceeded, as if he had been encouraged to do
so, "I have had the misfortune--yes, I'm afraid I've had the fault--to
make myself very displeasing to Mrs. Bowen, and in such a way that the
very least I can do is to take myself off as far and as soon as I
conveniently can."

"Yes?" said Mr. Waters, with the cheerful note of incredulity in his
voice with which one is apt to respond to others' confession of
extremity. "Is it so bad as that? I've just seen Mrs. Bowen, and she
told me you were going."

"Oh," said Colville, with disagreeable sensation, "perhaps she told you
why I was going."

"No," answered Mr. Waters; "she didn't do that." Colville imagined a
consciousness in him, which perhaps did not exist. "She didn't allude to
the subject further than to state the fact, when I mentioned that I was
coming to see you."

Colville had dropped his hand. "She was very forbearing," he said, with
bitterness that might well have been incomprehensible to Mr. Waters upon
any theory but one.

"Perhaps," he suggested, "you are precipitate; perhaps you have
mistaken; perhaps you have been hasty. These things are often the result
of impulse in women. I have often wondered how they could make up their
minds; I believe they certainly ought to be allowed to change them at
least once."

Colville turned very red. "What in the world do you mean? Do you imagine
that I have been offering myself to Mrs. Bowen?"

"Wasn't it that which you wished to--which you said you would like to
tell me?"

Colville was suddenly silent, on the verge of a self-derisive laugh.
When he spoke, he said gently: "No; it wasn't that. I never thought of
offering myself to her. We have always been very good friends. But now
I'm afraid we can't be friends any more--at least we can't be
acquaintances."

"Oh!" exclaimed Mr. Waters. He waited a while as if for Colville to say
more, but the latter remained silent, and the old man gave his hand
again in farewell. "I must really be going. I hope you won't think me
intrusive in my mistaken conjecture?"

"Oh no."

"It was what I supposed you had been telling me----"

"I understand. You mustn't be troubled," said Colville, though he had to
own to himself that it seemed superfluous to make this request of Mr.
Waters, who was taking the affair with all the serenity of age
concerning matters of sentiment. "I wish you were going to Rome with
me," he added, to disembarrass the moment of parting.

"Thank you. But I shall not go to Rome for some years. Shall you come
back on your way in the spring?"

"No, I shall not come to Florence again," said Colville sadly.

"Ah, I'm sorry. Good-bye, my dear young friend. It's been a great
pleasure to know you." Colville walked down to the door of the hotel
with his visitor and parted with him there. As he turned back he met the
landlord, who asked him if he would have the omnibus for the station.
The landlord bowed smilingly, after his kind, and rubbed his hands. He
said he hoped Colville was pleased with his hotel, and ran to his desk
in the little office to get some cards for him, so that he might
recommend it accurately to American families.

Colville looked absently at the cards. "The fact is," he said, to the
little bowing, smiling man; "I don't know but I shall be obliged to
postpone my going till Monday." He smiled too, trying to give the fact a
jocose effect, and added, "I find myself out of money, and I've no means
of paying your bill till I can see my bankers."

After all his heroic intention, this was as near as he could come to
asking the landlord to let him send the money from Rome.

The little man set his head on one side.

"Oh, well, occupy the room until Monday, then," he cried hospitably. "It
is quite at your disposition. You will not want the omnibus?"

"No, I shall not want the omnibus," said Colville, with a laugh,
doubtless not perfectly intelligible to the landlord, who respectfully
joined him in it.

He did not mean to stop that night without writing to Mrs. Bowen, and
assuring her that though an accident had kept him in Florence till
Monday, she need not be afraid of seeing him again. But he could not go
back to his room yet; he wandered about the town, trying to pick himself
up from the ruin into which he had fallen again, and wondering with a
sort of alien compassion what was to become of his aimless, empty
existence. As he passed through the Piazza San Marco he had half a mind
to pick a pebble from the gardened margin of the fountain there and toss
it against the Rev. Mr. Waters's window, and when he put his skull-cap
out, to ask that optimistic agnostic what a man had best do with a life
that had ceased to interest him. But, for the time being, he got rid of
himself as he best could by going to the opera. They professed to give
_Rigoletto_, but it was all Mrs. Bowen and Imogene Graham to Colville.

It was so late when he got back to his hotel that the outer gate was
shut, and he had to wake up the poor little porter, as on that night
when he returned from Madame Uccelli's. The porter was again equal to
his duty, and contrived to light a new candle to show him the way to his
room. The repetition, almost mechanical, of this small chicane made
Colville smile, and this apparently encouraged the porter to ask, as if
he supposed him to have been in society somewhere--

"You have amused yourself this evening?

"Oh, very much."

"I am glad. There is a letter for you.'

"A letter! Where?"

"I sent it to your room. It came just before midnight."






XIII


Mrs. Bowen sat before the hearth in her _salon_, with her hands fallen
in her lap. At thirty-eight the emotions engrave themselves more deeply
in the face than they do in our first youth, or than they will when we
have really aged, and the pretty woman looked haggard.

Imogene came in, wearing a long blue robe, flung on as if with desperate
haste; her thick hair fell crazily out of a careless knot, down her
back. "I couldn't sleep," she said, with quivering lips, at the sight of
which Mrs. Bowen's involuntary smile hardened. "Isn't it eleven yet?"
she added, with a glance at the clock. "It seems years since I went to
bed."

"It's been a long day," Mrs. Bowen admitted. She did not ask Imogene why
she could not sleep, perhaps because she knew already, and was too
honest to affect ignorance.

The girl dropped into a chair opposite her, and began to pull her
fingers through the long tangle of her hair, while she drew her breath
in sighs that broke at times on her lips; some tears fell down her
cheeks unheeded. "Mrs. Bowen," she said, at length, "I should like to
know what right we have to drive any one from Florence? I should think
people would call it rather a high-handed proceeding if it were known."

Mrs. Bowen met this feebleness promptly. "It isn't likely to be known.
But we are not driving Mr. Colville away."

"He is going."

"Yes; he said he would go."

"Don't you believe he will go?"

"I believe he will do what he says."

"He has been very kind to us all; he has been as _good!_"

"No one feels that more than I," said Mrs. Bowen, with a slight tremor
in her voice. She faltered a moment. "I can't let you say those things
to me, Imogene."

"No; I know it's wrong. I didn't know what I was saying. Oh, I wish I
could tell what I ought to do! I wish I could make up my mind. Oh, I
can't let him go--_so_. I--I don't know what to think any more. Once it
was clear, but now I'm not sure; no, I'm not sure."

"Not sure about what?"

"I think I am the one to go away, if any one."

"You know you can't go away," said Mrs. Bowen, with weary patience.

"No, of course not. Well, I shall never see any one like him."

Mrs. Bowen made a start in her chair, as if she had no longer the power
to remain quiet, but only placed herself a little more rigidly in it.

"No," the girl went on, as if uttering a hopeless reverie. "He made
every moment interesting. He was always thinking of us--he never thought
of himself. He did as much for Effie as for any one; he tried just as
hard to make himself interesting to her. He was unselfish. I have seen
him at places being kind to the stupidest people. You never caught him
choosing out the stylish or attractive ones, or trying to shine at
anybody's expense. Oh, he's a true gentleman--I shall always say it. How
delicate he was, never catching you up, or if you said a foolish thing,
trying to turn it against you. No, never, never, never! Oh dear! And
now, what can he think of me? Oh, how frivolous and fickle and selfish
he must think me!"

"Imogene!" Mrs. Bowen cried out, but quelled herself again.

"Yes," pursued the girl, in the same dreary monotone, "he thinks I
couldn't appreciate him because he was old. He thinks that I cared for
his not being handsome! Perhaps--perhaps----" She began to catch her
breath in the effort to keep back the sobs that were coming. "Oh, I
can't bear it! I would rather die than let him think it--such a thing as
that!" She bent her head aside, and cried upon the two hands with which
she clutched the top of her chair.

Mrs. Bowen sat looking at her distractedly. From time to time she seemed
to silence a word upon her lips, and in fact she did not speak.

Imogene lifted her head at last, and softly dried her eyes. Then, as she
pushed her handkerchief back into the pocket of her robe, "What sort of
looking girl was that other one?"

"That other one?"

"Yes; you know what I mean: the one who behaved so badly to him before."

"Imogene!" said Mrs. Bowen severely, "this is nonsense, and I can't let
you go on so. I might pretend not to know what you mean; but I won't do
that; and I tell you that there is no sort of likeness--of
comparison----"

"No, no," wailed the girl, "there _is_ none. I feel that. She had
nothing to warn her--he hadn't suffered then; he was young; he was able
to bear it--you said it yourself, Mrs. Bowen. But now--_now_, what will
he do? He could make fun of that, and not hate her so much, because she
didn't know how much harm she was doing. But I did; and what can he
think of me?"

Mrs. Bowen looked across the barrier between them, that kept her from
taking Imogene into her arms, and laughing and kissing away her craze,
with cold dislike, and only said, "You know whether you've really
anything to accuse yourself of, Imogene. I can't and won't consider Mr.
Colville in the matter; I _didn't_ consider him in what I said to-day.
And I tell you again that I will not interfere with you in the slightest
degree beyond appearances and the responsibility I feel to your mother.
And it's for you to know your own mind. You are old enough. I will do
what you say. It's for you to be sure that you wish what you say."

"Yes," said Imogene huskily, and she let an interval that was long to
them both elapse before she said anything more. "Have I always done what
you thought best, Mrs. Bowen?"

"Yes, I have never complained of you."

"Then why can't you tell me now what you think best?"

"Because there is nothing to be done. It is all over."

"But if it were not, would you tell me?"

"No."

"Why?"

"Because I--couldn't."

"Then I take back my promise not to write to Mr. Colville. I am going to
ask him to stay."

"Have you made up your mind to that, Imogene?" asked Mrs. Bowen, showing
no sign of excitement, except to take a faster hold of her own wrists
with the slim hands in which she had caught them.

"Yes."

"You know the position it places you in?"

"What position?"

"Has he offered himself to you?"

"No!" the girl's face blazed.

"Then, after what's passed, this is the same as offering yourself to
him."

Imogene turned white. "I must write to him, unless you forbid me."

"Certainly I shall not forbid you." Mrs. Bowen rose and went to her
writing-desk. "But if you have fully made up your mind to this step, and
are ready for the consequences, whatever they are----" She stopped,
before sitting down, and looked back over her shoulder at Imogene.

"Yes," said the girl, who had also risen.

"Then I will write to Mr. Colville for you, and render the proceeding as
little objectionable as possible."

Imogene made no reply. She stood motionless while Mrs. Bowen wrote.

"Is this what you wished?" asked the latter, offering the sheet:----

"Dear Mr. Colville,--I have reasons for wishing to recall my consent to
your going away. Will you not come and lunch with us to-morrow, and try
to forget everything that has passed during a few days?

"Yours very sincerely,

"Evalina Bowen."

"Yes, that will do," gasped Imogene.

Mrs. Bowen rang the bell for the porter, and stood with her back to the
girl, waiting for him at the salon door. He came after a delay that
sufficiently intimated the lateness of the hour. "This letter must go at
once to the Hotel d'Atene," said Mrs. Bowen peremptorily.

"You shall be served," said the porter, with fortitude.

As Mrs. Bowen turned, Imogene ran toward her with clasped hands. "Oh,
how merciful--how good----"

Mrs. Bowen shrank back. "Don't touch me, Imogene, please!"

It was her letter which Colville found on his table and read by the
struggling light of his newly acquired candle. Then he sat down and
replied to it.

"Dear Mrs. Bowen,--I know that you mean some sort of kindness by me, and
I hope you will not think me prompted by any poor resentment in
declining to-morrow's lunch. I am satisfied that it is best for me to
go; and I am ashamed not to be gone already. But a ridiculous accident
has kept me, and when I came in and found your note I was just going to
write and ask your patience with my presence in Florence till Monday
morning.

"Yours sincerely, THEODORE COLVILLE."

He took his note down to the porter, who had lain down again in his
little booth, but sprang up with a cheerful request to be commanded.
Colville consulted him upon the propriety of sending the note to Palazzo
Pinti at once, and the porter, with his head laid in deprecation upon
one of his lifted shoulders, owned that it was perhaps the very least
little bit in the world late.

"Send it the first thing in the morning, then," said Colville.

Mrs. Bowen received it by the servant who brought her coffee to the
room, and she sent it without any word to Imogene. The girl came
instantly back with it. She was fully dressed, as if she had been up a
long time, and she wore a very plain, dull dress, in which one of her
own sex might have read the expression of a potential self-devotion.

"It's just as I wish it, Mrs. Bowen," she said, in a low key of
impassioned resolution. "_Now_, my conscience is at rest. And you have
done this for me, Mrs. Bowen!" She stood timidly with the door in her
hand, watching Mrs. Bowen's slight smile; then, as if at some sign in
it, she flew to the bed and kissed her, and so fled out of the room
again.

Colville slept late, and awoke with a vague sense of self-reproach,
which faded afterward to such poor satisfaction as comes to us from the
consciousness of having made the best of a bad business; some pangs of
softer regret mixed with this. At first he felt a stupid obligation to
keep indoors, and he really did not go out till after lunch. The
sunshine had looked cold from his window, and with the bright fire which
he found necessary in his room, he fancied a bitterness in the gusts
that caught up the dust in the piazza, and blew it against the line of
cabs on the other side; but when he got out into the weather he found
the breeze mild and the sun warm. The streets were thronged with people,
and at all the corners there were groups of cloaked and overcoated
talkers, soaking themselves full of the sunshine. The air throbbed, as
always, with the sound of bells, but it was a mellower and opener sound
than before, and looking at the purple bulk of one of those hills which
seem to rest like clouds at the end of each avenue in Florence, Colville
saw that it was clear of snow. He was going up through Via Cavour to
find Mr. Waters and propose a walk, but he met him before he had got
half-way to San Marco.

The old man was at a momentary stand-still, looking up at the Riccardi
Palace, and he received Colville with apparent forgetfulness of anything
odd in his being still in Florence. "Upon the whole," he said, without
preliminary of any sort, as Colville turned and joined him in walking
on, "I don't know any homicide that more distinctly proves the futility
of assassination as a political measure than that over yonder." He
nodded his head sidewise toward the palace as he shuffled actively along
at Colville's elbow.

"You might say that the moment when Lorenzino killed Alessandro was the
most auspicious for a deed of that kind. The Medici had only recently
been restored; Alessandro was the first ruler in Florence, who had worn
a title; no more reckless, brutal, and insolent tyrant ever lived, and
his right, even such as the Medici might have, to play the despot was
involved in the doubt of his origin; the heroism of the great siege
ought still to have survived in the people who withstood the forces of
the whole German Empire for fifteen months; it seems as if the taking
off of that single wretch should have ended the whole Medicean
domination; but there was not a voice raised to second the homicide's
appeal to the old love of liberty in Florence. The Medici party were
able to impose a boy of eighteen upon the most fiery democracy that ever
existed, and to hunt down and destroy Alessandro's murderer at their
leisure. No," added the old man thoughtfully, "I think that the friends
of progress must abandon assassination as invariably useless. The
trouble was not that Alessandro was alive, but that Florence was dead.
Assassination always comes too early or too late in any popular
movement. It may be," said Mr. Waters, with a carefulness to do justice
to assassination which made Colville smile, "that the modern scientific
spirits may be able to evolve something useful from the principle, but
considering the enormous abuses and perversions to which it is liable, I
am very doubtful of it--very doubtful."

Colville laughed. "I like your way of bringing a fresh mind to all these
questions in history and morals, whether they are conventionally settled
or not. Don't you think the modern scientific spirit could evolve
something useful out of the old classic idea of suicide?"

"Perhaps," said Mr. Waters; "I haven't yet thought it over. The worst
thing about suicide--and this must always rank it below political
assassination--is that its interest is purely personal. No man ever
kills himself for the good of others."

"That's certainly against it. We oughtn't to countenance such an
abominably selfish practice. But you can't bring that charge against
euthanasy. What have you to say of that?"

"I have heard one of the most benevolent and tender-hearted men I ever
knew defend it in cases of hopeless suffering. But I don't know that I
should be prepared to take his ground. There appears to be something so
sacred about human life that we must respect it even in spite of the
prayers of the sufferer who asks us to end his irremediable misery."

"Well," said Colville, "I suspect we must at least class murder with the
ballet as a means of good. One might say there was still some virtue in
the primal, eldest curse against bloodshed."

"Oh, I don't by any means deny those things," said the old man, with the
air of wishing to be scrupulously just. "Which way are you walking?"

"Your way, if you will let me," replied Colville. "I was going to your
house to ask you to take a walk with me."

"Ah, that's good. I was reading of the great siege last night, and I
thought of taking a look at Michelangelo's bastions. Let us go together,
if you don't think you'll find it too fatiguing."

"I shall be ashamed to complain if I do."

"And you didn't go to Rome after all?" said Mr. Waters.

"No; I couldn't face the landlord with a petition so preposterous as
mine. I told him that I found I had no money to pay his bill till I had
seen my banker, and as he didn't propose that I should send him the
amount back from Rome, I stayed. Landlords have their limitations; they
are not imaginative, as a class."

"Well, a day more will make no great difference to you, I suppose," said
the old man, "and a day less would have been a loss to me. I shall miss
you."

"Shall you, indeed?" asked Colville, with a grateful stir of the heart.
"It's very nice of you to say that."

"Oh no. I meet few people who are willing to look at life objectively
with me, and I have fancied some such willingness in you. What I chiefly
miss over here is a philosophic lift in the human mind, but probably
that is because my opportunities of meeting the best minds are few, and
my means of conversing with them are small. If I had not the whole past
with me, I should feel lonely at times."

"And is the past such good company always?".

"Yes, in a sense it is. The past is humanity set free from circumstance,
and history studied where it was once life is the past rehumanised."

As if he found this rarefied air too thin for his lungs, Colville made
some ineffectual gasps at response, and the old man continued: "What I
mean is that I meet here the characters I read of, and commune with them
before their errors were committed, before they had condemned themselves
to failure, while they were still wise and sane, and still active and
vital forces."

"Did they all fail? I thought some of the bad fellows had a pretty fair
worldly success?"

"The blossom of decay."

"Oh! what black pessimism!"

"Not at all! Men fail, but man succeeds. I don't know what it all means,
or any part of it; but I have had moods in which it seemed as if the
whole, secret of the mystery were about to flash upon me. Walking along
in the full sun, in the midst of men, or sometimes in the solitude of
midnight, poring over a book, and thinking of quite other things, I have
felt that I had almost surprised it."

"But never quite?"

"Oh, it isn't too late yet."

"I hope you won't have your revelation before I get away from Florence,
or I shall see them burning you here like the great _frate_."

They had been walking down the Via Calzioli from the Duomo, and now they
came out into the Piazza della Signoria, suddenly, as one always seems
to do, upon the rise of the old palace and the leap of its tower into
the blue air. The history of all Florence is there, with memories of
every great time in bronze or marble, but the supreme presence is the
martyr who hangs for ever from the gibbet over the quenchless fire in
the midst.

"Ah, they _had_ to kill him!" sighed the old man. "It has always been so
with the benefactors. They have always meant mankind more good than any
one generation can bear, and it must turn upon them and destroy them."

"How will it be with you, then, when you have read us 'the riddle of the
painful earth'?"

"That will be so simple that every one will accept it willingly and
gladly, and wonder that no one happened to think of it before. And,
perhaps, the world is now grown old enough and docile enough to receive
the truth without resentment."

"I take back my charge of pessimism," said Colville. "You are an
optimist of the deepest dye."

They walked out of the Piazza and down to the Lung' Arno, through the
corridor of the Uffizzi, where the illustrious Florentines stand in
marble under the arches, all reconciled and peaceful and equal at last.
Colville shivered a little as he passed between the silent ranks of the
statues.

"I can't stand those fellows, to-day. They seem to feel such a smirk
satisfaction at having got out of it all."

They issued upon the river, and he went to the parapet and looked down
on the water. "I wonder," he mused aloud, "if it has the same Sunday
look to these Sabbathless Italians as it has to us."

"No; Nature isn't puritan," replied the old minister.

"Not at Haddam East Village?"

"No; there less than here; for she's had to make a harder fight for her
life there."

"Ah, then you believe in Nature--you're a friend of Nature?" asked
Colville, following the lines of an oily swirl in the current with
indolent eye.

"Only up to a certain point." Mr. Waters seemed to be patient of any
direction which the other might be giving the talk. "Nature is a savage.
She has good impulses, but you can't trust her altogether."

"Do you know," said Colville, "I don't think there's very much of her
left in us after we reach a certain point in life? She drives us on at a
great pace for a while, and then some fine morning we wake up and find
that Nature has got tired of us and has left us to taste and conscience.
And taste and conscience are by no means so certain of what they want
you to do as Nature was."

"Yes," said the minister, "I see what you mean." He joined Colville in
leaning on the parapet, and he looked out on the river as if he saw his
meaning there. "But by the time we reach that point in life most of us
have got the direction which Nature meant us to take, and there's no
longer any need of her driving us on."

"And what about the unlucky fellows who haven't got the direction, or
haven't kept it?"

"They had better go back to it."

"But if Nature herself seemed to change her mind about you?"

"Ah, you mean persons of weak will. They are a great curse to themselves
and to everybody else."

"I'm not so sure of that," said Colville. "I've seen cases in which a
strong will looked very much more like the devil."

"Yes, a perverted will. But there can be no good without a strong will.
A weak will means inconstancy. It means, even in good, good attempted
and relinquished, which is always a terrible thing, because it is sure
to betray some one who relied upon its accomplishment."

"And in evil? Perhaps the evil, attempted and relinquished, turns into
good."

"Oh, never!" replied the minister fervently. "There is something very
mysterious in what we call evil. Apparently it has infinitely greater
force and persistence than good. I don't know why it should be so. But
so it appears."

"You'll have the reason of that along with the rest of the secret when
your revelation comes," said Colville, with a smile. He lifted his eyes
from the river, and looked up over the clustering roofs beyond it to the
hills beyond them, flecked to the crest of their purple slopes with the
white of villas and villages. As if something in the beauty of the
wonderful prospect had suggested the vision of its opposite, he said,
dreamily, "I don't think I shall go to Rome to-morrow, after all. I will
go to Des Vaches! Where did you say you were walking, Mr. Waters? Oh
yes! You told me. I will cross the bridge with you. But I couldn't stand
anything quite so vigorous as the associations of the siege this
afternoon. I'm going to the Boboli Gardens, to debauch myself with a
final sense of nerveless despotism, as it expressed itself in marble
allegory and formal alleys. The fact is that if I stay with you any
longer I shall tell you something that I'm too old to tell and you're
too old to hear." The old man smiled, but offered no urgence or comment,
and at the thither end of the bridge Colville said hastily, "Good-bye.
If you ever come to Des Vaches, look me up."

"Good-bye," said the minister. "Perhaps we shall meet in Florence
again."

"No, no. Whatever happens, that won't."

They shook hands and parted. Colville stood a moment, watching the
slight bent figure of the old man as he moved briskly up the Via de'
Bardi, turning his head from, side to side, to look at the palaces as he
passed, and so losing himself in the dim, cavernous curve of the street.
As soon as he was out of sight, Colville had an impulse to hurry after
him and rejoin him; then he felt like turning about and going back to
his hotel.

But he shook himself together into the shape of resolution, however
slight and transient. "I must do _something_ I intended to do," he said,
between his set teeth, and pushed on up through the Via Guicciardini. "I
will go to the Boboli because I _said_ I would."

As he walked along, he seemed to himself to be merely crumbling away in
this impulse and that, in one abortive intent and another. What did it
all mean? Had he been his whole life one of these weak wills which are a
curse to themselves and others, and most a curse when they mean the
best? Was that the secret of his failure in life? But for many years he
had seemed to succeed, to be as other men were, hard, practical men; he
had once made a good newspaper, which was certainly not a dream of
romance. Had he given that up at last because he was a weak will? And
now was he running away from Florence because his will was weak? He
could look back to that squalid tragedy of his youth, and see that a
more violent, a more determined man could have possessed himself of the
girl whom he had lost. And now would it not be more manly, if more
brutal, to stay here, where a hope, however fleeting, however fitful, of
what might have been, had revisited him in the love of this young girl?
He felt sure, if anything were sure, that something in him, in spite of
their wide disparity of years, had captured her fancy, and now, in his
abasement, he felt again the charm of his own power over her. They were
no farther apart in years than many a husband and wife; they would grow
more and more together; there was youth enough in his heart yet; and who
was pushing him away from her, forbidding him this treasure that he had
but to put out his hand and make his own? Some one whom through all his
thoughts of another he was trying to please, but whom he had made
finally and inexorably his enemy. Better stay, then, something said to
him; and when he answered, "I will," something else reminded him that
this also was not willing but unwilling.






XIV


When he entered the beautiful old garden, its benison of peace fell upon
his tumult, and he began to breathe a freer air, reverting to his
purpose to be gone in the morning and resting in it, as he strolled up
the broad curve of its alley from the gate. He had not been there since
he walked there with one now more like a ghost to him than any of the
dead who had since died. It was there that she had refused him; he
recalled with a grim smile the awkwardness of getting back with her to
the gate from the point, far within the garden, where he had spoken.
Except that this had happened in the fall, and now it was early spring,
there seemed no change since then; the long years that had elapsed were
like a winter between.

He met people in groups and singly loitering through the paths, and
chiefly speaking English; but no one spoke to him, and no one invaded
the solitude in which he walked. But the garden itself seemed to know
him, and to give him a tacit recognition; the great, foolish grotto
before the gate, with its statues by Bandinelli, and the fantastic
effects of drapery and flesh in party-coloured statues lifted high on
either side of the avenue; the vast shoulder of wall, covered thick with
ivy and myrtle, which he passed on his way to the amphitheatre behind
the palace; the alternate figures and urns on their pedestals in the
hemicycle, as if the urns were placed there to receive the ashes of the
figures when they became extinct; the white statues or the colossal
busts set at the ends of the long, alleys against black curtains of
foliage; the big fountain, with its group in the centre of the little
lake, and the meadow, quiet and sad, that stretched away on one side
from this; the keen light under the levels of the dense pines and
ilexes; the paths striking straight on either hand from the avenue
through which he sauntered, and the walk that coiled itself through the
depths of the plantations; all knew him, and from them and from the
winter neglect which was upon the place distilled a subtle influence, a
charm, an appeal belonging to that combination of artifice and nature
which is perfect only in an Italian garden under an Italian sky. He was
right in the name which he mockingly gave the effect before he felt it;
it was a debauch, delicate, refined, of unserious pensiveness, a smiling
melancholy, in which he walked emancipated from his harassing hopes, and
keeping only his shadowy regrets.

Colville did not care to scale the easy height from which you have the
magnificent view, conscious of many photographs, of Florence. He
wandered about the skirts of that silent meadow, and seeing himself
unseen, he invaded its borders far enough to pluck one of those large
scarlet anemones, such as he had given his gentle enemy. It was tilting
there in the breeze above the unkempt grass, and the grass was beginning
to feel the spring, and to stir and stretch itself after its winter
sleep; it was sprinkled with violets, but these he did not molest. He
came back to a stained and mossy stone bench on the avenue, fronting a
pair of rustic youths carved in stone, who had not yet finished some
game in which he remembered seeing them engaged when he was there
before. He had not walked fast, but he had walked far, and was warm
enough to like the whiffs of soft wind on his uncovered head. The spring
was coming; that was its breath, which you know unmistakably in Italy
after all the kisses that winter gives. Some birds were singing in the
trees; down an alley into which he could look, between the high walls of
green, he could see two people in flirtation: he waited patiently till
the young man should put his arm round the girl's waist, for the
fleeting embrace from which she pushed it and fled further down the
path.

"Yes, it's spring," thought Colville; and then, with the selfishness of
the troubled soul, he wished that it might be winter still and
indefinitely. It occurred to him now that he should not go back to Des
Vaches, for he did not know what he should do there. He would go to New
York: though he did not know what he should do in New York, either.

He became tired of looking at the people who passed, and of speculating
about them through the second consciousness which enveloped the sad
substance of his misgivings like an atmosphere; and he let his eyelids
fall, as he leaned his head back against the tree behind his bench. Then
their voices pursued him through the twilight that he had made himself,
and forced him to the same weary conjecture as if he had seen their
faces. He heard gay laughter, and laughter that affected gaiety; the
tones of young men in earnest disquisition reached him through the veil,
and the talk, falling to whisper, of girls, with the names of men in it;
sums of money, a hundred francs, forty thousand francs, came in high
tones; a husband and wife went by quarrelling in the false security of
English, and snapping at each other as confidingly as if in the
sanctuary of home. The man bade the woman not be a fool, and she asked
him how she was to-endure his company if she was not a fool.

Colville opened his eyes to look after them, when a voice that he knew
called out, "Why, it is Mr. Colville!"

It was Mrs. Amsden, and pausing with her, as if they had passed him in
doubt, and arrested themselves when they had got a little way by, were
Effie Bowen and Imogens Graham. The old lady had the child by the hand,
and the girl stood a few paces apart from them. She was one of those
beauties who have the property of looking very plain at times, and
Colville, who had seen her in more than one transformation, now beheld
her somehow clumsy of feature, and with the youth gone from her aspect.
She seemed a woman of thirty, and she wore an unbecoming walking dress
of a fashion that contributed to this effect of age. Colville was aware
afterward of having wished that she was really as old and plain as she
looked.

He had to come forward, and put on the conventional delight of a
gentleman meeting lady friends.

"It's remarkable how your having your eyes shut estranged you," said
Mrs. Amsden. "Now, if you had let me see you oftener in church, where
people close their eyes a good deal for one purpose or another, I should
have known you at once."

"I hope you haven't lost a great deal of time, as it is, Mrs. Amsden,"
said Colville. "Of course I should have had my eyes open if I had known
you were going by."

"Oh, don't apologise!" cried the old thing, with ready enjoyment of his
tone.

"I don't apologise for not being recognisable; I apologise for being
visible," said Colville, with some shapeless impression that he ought to
excuse his continued presence in Florence to Imogene, but keeping his
eyes upon Mrs. Amsden, to whom what he said could not be intelligible.
"I ought to be in Turin to-day."

"In Turin! Are you going away from Florence?"

"I'm going home."

"Why, did _you_ know that?" asked the old lady of Imogene, who slightly
nodded, and then of Effie, who also assented. "Really, the silence of
the Bowen family in regard to the affairs of others is extraordinary.
There never was a family more eminently qualified to live in Florence. I
dare say that if I saw a little more of them, I might hope to reach the
years of discretion myself some day. _Why_ are you going away? (You see
I haven't reached them yet!) Are you tired of Florence already?"

"No," said Colville passively; "Florence is tired of me."

"You're quite sure?"

"Yes; there's no mistaking one of her sex on such a point."

Mrs. Amsden laughed. "Ah, a great many people mistake us, both ways. And
you're really going back to America. What in the world for?"

"I haven't the least idea."

"Is America fonder of you than Florence?"

"She's never told her love. I suspect it's merely that she's more used
to me."

They were walking, without any volition of his, down the slope of the
broad avenue to the fountain, where he had already been.

"Is your mother well?" he asked of the little girl. It seemed to him
that he had better not speak to Imogene, who still kept that little
distance from the rest, and get away as soon as he decently could.

"She has a headache," said Effie.

"Oh, I'm sorry," returned Colville.

"Yes, she deputed me to take her young people out for an airing," said
Mrs. Amsden; "and Miss Graham decided us for the Boboli, where she
hadn't been yet. I've done what I could to make the place attractive.
But what is an old woman to do for a girl in a garden? We ought to have
brought some other young people--some of the Inglehart boys. But we're
respectable, we Americans abroad; we're decorous, above all things; and
I don't know about meeting _you_ here, Mr. Colville. It has a very bad
appearance. Are you sure that you didn't know I was to go by here at
exactly half-past four?"

"I was living from breath to breath in the expectation of seeing you.
You must have noticed how eagerly I was looking out for you."

"Yes, and with a single red anemone in your hand, so that I should know
you without being obliged to put on my spectacles."

"You divine everything, Mrs. Amsden," he said, giving her the flower.

"I shall make my brags to Mrs. Bowen when I see her," said the old lady.
"How far into the country did you walk for this?"

"As far as the meadow yonder."

They had got down to the sheet of water from which the sea-horses of the
fountain sprang, and the old lady sank upon a bench near it. Colville
held out his hand toward Effie. "I saw a lot of violets over there in
the grass."

"Did you?" She put her hand eagerly into his, and they strolled off
together. After a first motion to accompany them, Imogene sat down
beside Mrs. Amsden, answering quietly the talk of the old lady, and
seeming in nowise concerned about the expedition for violets. Except for
a dull first glance, she did not look that way. Colville stood in the
border of the grass, and the child ran quickly hither and thither in it,
stooping from time to time upon the flowers. Then she came out to where
he stood, and showed her bunch of violets, looking up into the face
which he bent upon her, while he trifled with his cane. He had a very
fatherly air with her.

"I think I'll go and see what they've found," said Imogene irrelevantly,
to a remark of Mrs. Amsden's about the expensiveness of Madame Bossi's
bonnets.

"Well," said the old lady. Imogene started, and the little girl ran to
meet her. She detained Effie with her admiration of the violets till
Colville lounged reluctantly up. "Go and show them to Mrs. Amsden," she
said, giving back the violets, which she had been smelling. The child
ran on. "Mr. Colville, I want to speak with you."

"Yes," said Colville helplessly.

"Why are you going away?"

"Why? Oh, I've accomplished the objects--or no-objects--I came for," he
said, with dreary triviality, "and I must hurry away to other fields of
activity." He kept his eyes on her face, which he saw full of a
passionate intensity, working to some sort of overflow.

"That is not true, and you needn't say it to spare me. You are going
away because Mrs. Bowen said something to you about me."

"Not quite that," returned Colville gently.

"No; it was something that she said to me about you. But it's the same
thing. It makes no difference. I ask you not to go for that."

"Do you know what you are saying, Imogene?"

"Yes."

Colville waited a long moment. "Then, I thank you, you dear girl, and I
am going to-morrow, all the same. But I shan't forget this; whatever my
life is to be, this will make it less unworthy and less unhappy. If it
could buy anything to give you joy, to add some little grace to the good
that must come to you, I would give it. Some day you'll meet the young
fellow whom you're to make immortal, and you must tell him of an old
fellow who knew you afar off, and understood how to worship you for an
angel of pity and unselfishness. Ah, I hope he'll understand, too!
Good-bye." If he was to fly, that was the sole instant. He took her
hand, and said again, "Good-bye." And then he suddenly cried, "Imogene,
do you wish me to stay?"

"Yes!" said the girl, pouring all the intensity of her face into that
whisper.

"Even if there had been nothing said to make me go away--should you
still wish me to stay?"

"Yes."

He looked her in the starry, lucid eyes, where a divine fervour
deepened. He sighed in nerveless perplexity; it was she who had the
courage.

"It's a mistake! You mustn't! I am too old for you! It would be a wrong
and a cruelty! Yes, you must let me go, and forget me. I have been to
blame. If Mrs. Bowen has blamed me, she was right--I deserved it; I
deserved all she could say against me."

"She never said anything against you. Do you think I would have let her?
No; it was I that said it, and I blamed you. It was because I thought
that you were--you were--"

"Trifling with you? How could you think that?"

"Yes, I know now how it was, and it makes you seem all the grander to
me. Did you think I cared for your being older than I was? I never cared
for it--I never hardly thought of it after the very first. I tried to
make you understand that, and how it hurt me to have you speak of it.
Don't you think that I could see how good you were? Do you suppose that
all I want is to be happy? I don't care for that--I despise it, and I
always hate myself for seeking my own pleasure, if I find myself doing
it. I have seen enough of life to know what _that_ comes to! And what
hurt me worst of all was that you seemed to believe that I cared for
nothing but amusing myself, when I wished to be something better,
higher! It's nothing whether you are of my age or not, if--if--you care
for me."

"Imogene!"

"All that I ask is to be with you, and try to make you forget what's
been sad in your life, and try to be of use to you in whatever you are
doing, and I shall be prouder and gladder of that than anything that
people _call_ happiness."

Colville stood holding her hand, while she uttered these ideas and
incoherent repetitions of them, with a deep sense of powerlessness. "If
I believed that I could keep you from regretting this--"

"What should I regret? I won't let you depreciate yourself--make
yourself out not good enough for the best. Oh, I know how it happened!
But now you shall never think of it again. No; I will not let you. That
is the only way you could make me regret anything."

"I am going to stay," said Colville. "But on my own terms. I will be
bound to you, but you shall not be bound to me."

"You doubt me! I would rather have you go! No; stay. And let me prove to
you how wrong you are. I mustn't ask more than that. Only give me the
chance to show you how different I am from what you think--how different
you are, too."

"Yes. But you must be free."

"Well."

"What are they doing so long there?" asked Mrs. Amsden of Effie, putting
her glasses to her eyes. "I can't see."

"They are just holding hands," said the child, with an easy satisfaction
in the explanation, which perhaps the old lady did not share. "He always
holds my hand when he is with me."

"Does he, indeed?" exclaimed Mrs. Amsden, with a cackle. She added,
"That's very polite of him, isn't it? You must be a great favourite with
Mr. Colville. You will miss him when he's gone."

"Yes. He's very nice."

Colville and Imogene returned, coming slowly across the loose, neglected
grass toward the old woman's seat. She rose as they came up.

"You don't seem to have succeeded so well in getting flowers for Miss
Graham as for the other ladies. But perhaps you didn't find her
favourite over there. What is your favourite flower, Miss Graham? Don't
say you have none! I didn't know that I preferred scarlet anemones. Were
there no forget-me-nots over there in the grass?"

"There was no occasion for them," answered Colville.

"You always did make such pretty speeches!" said the old lady. "And they
have such an orphic character, too; you can interpret them in so many
different ways. Should you mind saying just what you meant by that one?"

"Yes, very much," replied Colville.

The old lady laughed with cheerful resignation. She would as lief report
that reply of his as another. Even more than a man whom she could
entangle in his speech she liked a man who could slip through the toils
with unfailing ease. Her talk with such a man was the last consolation
which remained to her from a life of harmless coquetries.

"I will refer it to Mrs. Bowen," she said. "She is a very wise woman,
and she used to know you a great while ago."

"If you like, I will do it for you, Mrs. Amsden. I'm going to see her."

"To renew your adieux? Well, why not? Parting is such sweet sorrow! And
if I were a young man I would go to say good-bye to Mrs. Bowen as often
as she would let me. Now tell me honestly, Mr. Colville, did you ever
see such an exquisite, perfect _creature_?"

"Oh, that's asking a good deal."

"What?"

"To tell you a thing honestly. How did you come here, Mrs. Amsden?"

"In Mrs. Bowen's carriage. I sent it round from the Pitti entrance to
the Porta Romana. It's waiting there now, I suppose."

"I thought you had been corrupted, somehow. Your zeal is
carriage-bought. It _is_ a delightful vehicle. Do you think you could
give me a lift home in it?"

"Yes, indeed. I've always a seat for you in my carriage. To Hotel
d'Atene?"

"No, to Palazzo Pinti."

"This is deliciously mysterious," said Mrs. Amsden, drawing her shawl up
about her shoulders, which, if no longer rounded, had still a charming
droop. One realises in looking at such old ladies that there are women
who could manage their own skeletons winningly. She put up her glasses,
which were an old-fashioned sort, held to the nose by a handle, and
perused the different persons of the group. "Mr. Colville concealing an
inward trepidation under a bold front; Miss Graham agitated but firm;
the child as much puzzled as the old woman. I feel that we are a very
interesting group--almost dramatic."

"Oh, call us a passage from a modern novel," suggested Colville, "if
you're in the romantic mood. One of Mr. James's."

"Don't you think we ought to be rather more of the great world for that?
I hardly feel up to Mr. James. I should have said Howells. Only nothing
happens in that case!"

"Oh, very well; that's the most comfortable way. If it's only Howells,
there's no reason why I shouldn't go with Miss Graham to show her the
view of Florence from the cypress grove up yonder."

"No; he's very particular when he's on Italian ground," said Mrs.
Amsden, rising. "You must come another time with Miss Graham, and bring
Mrs. Bowen. It's quite time we were going home."

The light under the limbs of the trees had begun to grow more liquid.
The currents of warm breeze streaming through the cooler body of the air
had ceased to ruffle the lakelet round the fountain, and the naiads rode
their sea-horses through a perfect calm. A damp, pierced with the fresh
odour of the water and of the springing grass, descended upon them. The
saunterers through the different paths and alleys were issuing upon the
main avenues, and tending in gathering force toward the gate.

They found Mrs. Bowen's carriage there, and drove first to her house,
beyond which Mrs. Amsden lived in a direct line. On the way Colville
kept up with her the bantering talk that they always carried on
together, and found in it a respite from the formless future pressing
close upon him. He sat with Effie on the front seat, and he would not
look at Imogene's face, which, nevertheless, was present to some inner
vision. When the porter opened the iron gate below and rang Mrs. Bowen's
bell, and Effie sprang up the stairs before them to give her mother the
news of Mr. Colville's coming, the girl stole her hand into his.

"Shall you--tell her?"

"Of course. She must know without an instant's delay."

"Yes, yes; that is right. Oh!--Shall I go with you?"

"Yes; come!"






XV


Mrs. Bowen came in to them, looking pale and pain-worn, as she did that
evening when she would not let Colville go away with the other
tea-taking callers to whom she had made her headache an excuse. The
eyelids which she had always a little difficulty in lifting were heavy
with suffering, and her pretty smile had an effect of very great
remoteness. But there was no consciousness of anything unusual or
unexpected in his presence expressed in her looks or manner. Colville
had meant to take Imogene by the hand and confront Mrs. Bowen with an
immediate declaration of what had happened; but he found this
impossible, at least in the form of his intention; he took, instead, the
hand of conventional welcome which she gave him, and he obeyed her in
taking provisionally the seat to which she invited him. At the same time
the order of his words was dispersed in that wonder, whether she
suspected anything, with which he listened to her placid talk about the
weather; she said she had thought it was a chilly day outdoors; but her
headaches always made her very sensitive.

"Yes," said Colville, "I supposed it was cold myself till I went out,
for I woke with a tinge of rheumatism." He felt a strong desire to
excuse, to justify what had happened, and he went on, with a painful
sense of Imogene's eyes bent in bewildered deference upon him. "I
started out for a walk with Mr. Waters, but I left him after we got
across the Ponte Vecchio; he went up to look at the Michelangelo
bastions, and I strolled over to the Boboli Gardens--where I found your
young people."

He had certainly brought himself to the point, but he seemed actually
further from it than at first, and he made a desperate plunge, trying at
the same time to keep something of his habitual nonchalance. "But that
doesn't account for my being here. Imogene accounts for that. She has
allowed me to stay in Florence."

Mrs. Bowen could not turn paler than her headache had left her, and she
now underwent no change of complexion. But her throat was not clear
enough to say to the end, "Allowed you to stay in--" The trouble in her
throat arrested her again.

Colville became very red. He put out his hand and took Imogene's, and
now his eyes and Mrs. Bowen's met in the kind of glance in which people
intercept and turn each other aside before they have reached a
resting-place in each other's souls. But at the girl's touch his courage
revived--in some physical sort. "Yes, and if she will let me stay with
her, we are not going to part again."

Mrs. Bowen did not answer at once, and in the hush Colville heard the
breathing of all three.

"Of course," he said, "we wished you to know at once, and I came in with
Imogene to tell you."

"What do you wish me," asked Mrs. Bowen, "to do?"

Colville forced a nervous laugh. "Really, I'm so little used to this
sort of affair that I don't know whether I have any wish. Imogene is
here with you, and I suppose I supposed you would wish to do something."

"I will do whatever you think best."

"Thank you: that's very kind of you." He fell into a silence, in which
he was able only to wish that he knew what was best, and from which he
came to the surface with, "Imogene's family ought to know, of course."

"Yes; they put her in my charge. They will have to know. Shall I write
to them?"

"Why, if you will."

"Oh, certainly."

"Thank you."

He had taken to stroking with his right hand the hand of Imogene which
he held in his left, and now he looked round at her with a glance which
it was a relief not to have her meet. "And till we can hear from them, I
suppose you will let me come to see her?"

"You know you have always been welcome here."

"Thank you very much." It seemed as if there ought to be something else
to say, but Colville could not think of anything except: "We wish to act
in every way with your approval, Mrs. Bowen. And I know that you are
very particular in some things"--the words, now that they were said,
struck him as unfortunate, and even vulgar--"and I shouldn't wish to
annoy you--"

"Oh, I understand. I think it will be--I have no doubt you will know how
to manage all that. It isn't as if you were both--"

"Young?" asked Colville. "No; one of us is quite old enough to be
thoroughly up in the _convenances_. We are qualified, I'm afraid, as far
as that goes," he added bitterly, "to set all Florence an example of
correct behaviour."

He knew there must be pain in the face which he would not look at; he
kept looking at Mrs. Bowen's face, in which certainly there was not much
pleasure, either.

There was another silence, which became very oppressive before it ended
in a question from Mrs. Bowen, who stirred slightly in her chair, and
bent forward as if about to rise in asking it. "Shall you wish to
consider it an engagement?"

Colville felt Imogene's hand tremble in his, but he received no definite
prompting from the tremor. "I don't believe I know what you mean."

"I mean, till you have heard from Imogene's mother."

"I hadn't thought of that. Perhaps under the circumstances--" The tremor
died out of the hand he held; it lay lax between his. "What do you say,
Imogene?"

"I can't say anything. Whatever you think will be right--for me."

"I wish to do what will seem right and fair to your mother."

"Yes."

Colville heaved a hopeless sigh. Then with a deep inward humiliation, he
said, "Perhaps if you know Imogene's mother, Mrs. Bowen, you can
suggest--advise--You--"

"You must excuse me; I can't suggest or advise anything. I must leave
you perfectly free." She rose from her chair, and they, both rose too
from the sofa on which he had seated himself at Imogene's side. "I shall
have to leave you, I'm afraid; my head aches still a little. Imogene!"
She advanced toward the girl, who stood passively letting her come the
whole distance. As if sensible of the rebuff expressed in this attitude,
she halted a very little. Then she added, "I hope you will be very
happy," and suddenly cast her arms round the girl, and stood long
pressing her face into her neck. When she released her, Colville
trembled lest she should be going to give him her hand in
congratulation. But she only bowed slightly to him, with a sidelong,
aversive glance, and walked out of the room with a slow, rigid pace,
like one that controls a tendency to giddiness.

Imogene threw herself on Colville's' breast. It gave him a shock, as if
he were letting her do herself some wrong. But she gripped him fast, and
began to sob and to cry. "Oh! oh! oh!"

"What is it?--what is it, my poor girl?" he murmured. "Are you unhappy?
Are you sorry? Let it all end, then!"

"No, no; it isn't that! But I am very unhappy--yes, very, very unhappy!
Oh, I didn't suppose I should ever feel so toward any one. I hate her!"

"You hate her?" gasped Colville.

"Yes, I hate her. And she--she is so good to me! It must be that I've
done her some deadly wrong, without knowing it, or I couldn't hate her
as I know I do."

"Oh no," said Colville soothingly; "that's just your fancy. You haven't
harmed her, and you don't hate her."

"Yes, yes, I do! You can't understand how I feel toward her."

"But you can't feel so toward her long," he urged, dealing as he might
with what was wholly a mystery to him. She is so good--"

"It only makes my badness worse, and makes me hate her more."

"I don't understand. But you're excited now. When you're calmer you'll
feel differently, of course. I've kept you restless and nervous a long
time, poor child; but now our peace begins, and everything will be
bright and--" He stopped: the words had such a very hollow sound.

She pushed herself from him, and dried her eyes. "Oh yes."

"And, Imogene--perhaps--perhaps--Or, no; never mind, now. I must go
away--" She looked at him, frightened but submissive. "But I will be
back to-night, or perhaps to-morrow morning. I want to think--to give
you time to think. I don't want to be selfish about you--I want to
consider you, all the more because you won't consider yourself.
Good-bye." He stooped over and kissed her hair. Even in this he felt
like a thief; he could not look at the face she lifted to his.

Mrs. Bowen sent word from her room that she was not coming to dinner,
and Imogene did not come till the dessert was put on. Then she found
Effie Bowen sitting alone at the table, and served in serious formality
by the man, whom she had apparently felt it right to repress, for they
were both silent. The little girl had not known how to deny herself an
excess of the less wholesome dishes, and she was perhaps anticipating
the regret which this indulgence was to bring, for she was very pensive.

"Isn't mamma coming at _all_?" she asked plaintively, when Imogene sat
down, and refused everything but a cup of coffee. "Well," she went on,
"I can't make out what is coming to this family. You were all crying
last night because Mr. Colville was going away, and now, when he's going
to stay, it's just as bad. I don't think you make it very pleasant for
_him_. I should think he would be perfectly puzzled by it, after he's
done so much to please you all. I don't believe he thinks it's very
polite. I suppose it _is_ polite, but it doesn't seem so. And he's
always so cheerful and nice. I should think he would want to visit in
some family where there was more amusement. There used to be plenty in
this family, but now it's as dismal! The first of the winter you and
mamma used to be so pleasant when he came, and would try everything to
amuse him, and would let me come in to get some of the good of it; but
now you seem to fly every way as soon as he comes in sight of the house,
and I'm poked off in holes and corners before he can open his lips. And
I've borne it about as long as I can. I would rather be back in Vevay.
Or anywhere." At this point her own pathos overwhelmed her, and the
tears rolling down her cheeks moistened the crumbs of pastry at the
corners of her pretty mouth. "What was so strange, I should like to
know, about his staying, that mamma should pop up like a ghost, when I
told her he had come home with us, and grab me by the wrist, and twitch
me about, and ask me all sorts of questions I couldn't answer, and
frighten me almost to death? I haven't got over it yet. And I don't
think it's very nice. It used to be a very polite family, and pleasant
with each other, and always having something agreeable going on in it;
but if it keeps on very much longer in this way, I shall think the
Bowens are beginning to lose their good-breeding. I suppose that if Mr.
Colville were to go down on his knees to mamma and ask her to let him
take me somewhere now, she wouldn't do it." She pulled her handkerchief
out of her pocket, and dried her eyes on a ball of it. "I don't see what
_you've_ been crying about, Imogene. _You've_ got nothing to worry you."

"I'm not very well, Effie," returned the girl gently. "I haven't been
well all day."

"It seems to me that nobody is well any more. I don't believe Florence
is a very healthy place. Or at least this house isn't. _I_ think it must
be the drainage. If we keep on, I suppose we shall all have diphtheria.
Don't you, Imogene?"

"Yes," asserted the girl distractedly.

"The girls had it at Vevay frightfully. And none of them were as strong
afterward. Some of the parents came and took them away; but Madame
Schebres never let mamma know. Do you think that was right?"

"No; it was very wrong."

"I suppose Mr. Colville will have it if we do. That is, if he keeps
coming here. Is he coming any more?"

"Yes; he's coming to-morrow morning."

"_Is_ he?" A smile flickered over the rueful face. "What time is he
coming?"

"I don't know exactly," said Imogene, listlessly stirring her coffee.
"Some time in the forenoon."

"Do you suppose he's going to take us anywhere?"

"Yes--I think so. I can't tell exactly."

"If he asks me to go somewhere, will you tease mamma? She always lets
you, Imogene, and it seems sometimes as if she just took a pleasure in
denying me."

"You mustn't talk so of your mother, Effie."

"No; I wouldn't to _every_body. I know that she means for the best; but
I don't believe she understands how much I suffer when she won't let me
go with Mr. Colville. Don't you think he's about the nicest gentleman we
know, Imogene?"

"Yes; he's very kind."

"And I think he's handsome. A good many people would consider him
old-looking, and of course he isn't so young as Mr. Morton was, or the
Inglehart boys; but that makes him all the easier to get along with. And
his being just a little fat, that way, seems to suit so well with his
character." The smiles were now playing across the child's face, and her
eyes sparkling. "_I_ think Mr, Colville would make a good Saint
Nicholas--the kind they have going down chimneys in America. I'm going
to tell him, for the next veglione. It would be such a nice surprise."

"No, better not tell him that," suggested Imogene.

"Do you think he wouldn't like it?"

"Yes."

"Well, it would become him. How old do you suppose he is, Imogene?
Seventy-five?"

"What an idea!" cried the girl fiercely. "He's forty-one."

"I didn't know they had those little jiggering lines at the corners of
their eyes so quick. But forty-one is pretty old, isn't it? Is Mr.
Waters--"

"Effie," said her mother's voice at the door behind her, "will you ring
for Giovanni, and tell him to bring me a cup of coffee in here?" She
spoke from the _portiere_ of the _salotto_.

"Yes, mamma. I'll bring it to you myself."

"Thank you, dear," Mrs. Bowen called from within.

The little girl softly pressed her hands together. "I _hope_ she'll let
me stay up! I feel so excited, and I hate to lie and think so long
before I get to sleep. Couldn't you just hint a little to her that I
might stay up? It's Sunday night."

"I can't, Effie," said Imogene. "I oughtn't to interfere with any of
your mother's rules."

The child sighed submissively and took the coffee that Giovanni brought
to her. She and Imogene went into the _salotto_ together. Mrs. Bowen was
at her writing-desk. "You can bring the coffee here, Effie," she said.

"Must I go to bed at once, mamma?" asked the child, setting the cup
carefully down.

The mother looked distractedly up from her writing. "No; you may sit up
a while," she said, looking back to her writing.

"How long, mamma?" pleaded the little girl.

"Oh, till you're sleepy. It doesn't matter _now_."

She went on writing; from time to time she tore up what she had written.

Effie softly took a book from the table, and perching herself on a
stiff, high chair, bent over it and began to read.

Imogene sat by the hearth, where a small fire was pleasant in the indoor
chill of an Italian house, even after so warm a day as that had been.
She took some large beads of the strand she wore about her neck into her
mouth, and pulled at the strand listlessly with her hand while she
watched the fire. Her eyes wandered once to the child.

"What made you take such an uncomfortable chair, Effie?"

Effie shut her book over her hand. "It keeps me wakeful longer," she
whispered, with a glance at her mother from the corner of her eye.

"I don't see why any one should wish to be wakeful," sighed the girl.

When Mrs. Bowen tore up one of her half-written pages Imogene started
nervously forward, and then relapsed again into her chair. At last Mrs.
Bowen seemed to find the right phrases throughout, and she finished
rather a long letter, and read it over to herself. Then she said,
without leaving her desk, "Imogene, I've been trying to write to your
mother. Will you look at this?"

She held the sheet over her shoulder, and Imogene came languidly and
took it; Mrs. Bowen dropped her face forward on the desk, into her
hands, while Imogene was reading.

"FLORENCE, _March_ 10, 18--

"Dear Mrs. Graham,--I have some very important news to give you in
regard to Imogene, and as there is no way of preparing you for it, I
will tell you at once that it relates to her marriage.

"She has met at my house a gentleman whom I knew in Florence when I was
here before, and of whom I never knew anything but good. We have seen
him very often, and I have seen nothing in him that I could not approve.
He is Mr. Theodore Colville, of Prairie des Vaches, Indiana, where he
was for many years a newspaper editor; but he was born somewhere in New
England. He is a very cultivated, interesting man; and though not
exactly a society man, he is very agreeable and refined in his manners.
I am sure his character is irreproachable, though he is not a member of
any church. In regard to his means I know nothing whatever, and can only
infer from his way of life that he is in easy circumstances.

"The whole matter has been a surprise to me, for Mr. Colville is some
twenty-one or two years older than Imogene, who is very young in her
feelings for a girl of her age. If I could have realised anything like a
serious attachment between them sooner, I would have written before.
Even now I do not know whether I am to consider them engaged or not. No
doubt Imogene will write you more fully.

"Of course I would rather not have had anything of the kind happen while
Imogene was under my charge, though I am sure that you will not think I
have been careless or imprudent about her. I interfered as far as I
could, at the first moment I could, but it appears that it was then too
late to prevent what has followed.--Yours sincerely, EVALINA BOWEN."


Imogene read the letter twice over, and then she said, "Why isn't he a
society man?"

Probably Mrs. Bowen expected this sort of approach. "I don't think a
society man would have undertaken to dance the Lancers as he did at
Madam Uccelli's," she answered patiently, without lifting her head.

Imogene winced, but "I should despise him if he were merely a society
man," she said. "I have seen enough of them. I think it's better to be
intellectual and good."

Mrs. Bowen made no reply, and the girl went on. "And as to his being
older, I don't see what difference it makes. If people are in sympathy,
then they are of the same age, no difference how much older than one the
other is. I have always heard that." She urged this as if it were a
question.

"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen.

"And how should his having been a newspaper editor be anything against
him?"

Mrs. Bowen lifted her face and stared at the girl in astonishment. "Who
said it was against him?"

"You hint as much. The whole letter is against him."

"Imogene!"

"Yes! Every word! You make him out perfectly detestable. I don't know
why you should hate _him_, He's done everything he could to satisfy
you."

Mrs. Bowen rose from her desk, putting her hand to her forehead, as if
to soften a shock of headache that her change of posture had sent there.
"I will leave the letter with you, and you can send it or not as you
think best. It's merely a formality, my writing to your mother. Perhaps
you'll see it differently in the morning. Effie!" she called to the
child, who with her book shut upon her hand had been staring at them and
listening intently. "It's time to go to bed now."

When Effie stood before the glass in her mother's room, and Mrs. Bowen
was braiding her hair and tying it up for the night, she asked ruefully,
"What's the matter with Imogene, mamma?"

"She isn't very happy to-night."

"You don't seem very happy either," said the child, watching her own
face as it quivered in the mirror. "I should think that now Mr.
Colville's concluded to stay, we would all be happy again. But we don't
seem to. We're--we're perfectly demoralised!" It was one of the words
she had picked up from Colville.

The quivering face in the glass broke in a passion of tears, and Effie
sobbed herself to sleep.

Imogene sat down at Mrs. Bowen's desk, and pushing her letter away,
began to write.

"FLORENCE, _March_ 10, 18--.

"DEAR MOTHER,---I inclose a letter from Mrs. Bowen which will tell you
better than I can what I wish to tell. I do not see how I can add
anything that would give you more of an idea of him, or less, either. No
person can be put down in cold black and white, and not seem like a mere
inventory. I do not suppose you expected me to become engaged when you
sent me out to Florence, and, as Mrs. Bowen says, I don't know whether I
am engaged or not. I will leave it entirely to Mr. Colville; if he says
we are engaged, we are. I am sure he will do what is best. I only know
that he was going away from Florence because he thought I supposed he
was not in earnest, and I asked him to stay.

"I am a good deal excited to-night, and cannot write very clearly. But I
will write soon again, and more at length.

"Perhaps something will be decided by that time. With much love to
father,

"Your affectionate daughter,

"Imogene."

She put this letter into an envelope with Mrs. Bowen's, and leaving it
unsealed to show her in the morning, she began to write again. This time
she wrote to a girl with whom she had been on terms so intimate that
when they left school they had agreed to know each other by names
expressive of their extremely confidential friendship, and to address
each other respectively as Diary and Journal. They were going to write
every day, if only a line or two; and at the end of a year they were to
meet and read over together the records of their lives as set down in
these letters. They had never met since, though it was now three years
since they parted, and they had not written since Imogene came abroad;
that is, Imogene had not answered the only letter she had received from
her friend in Florence. This friend was a very serious girl, and had
wished to be a minister, but her family would not consent, or even
accept the compromise of studying medicine, which she proposed, and she
was still living at home in a small city of central New York. Imogene
now addressed her--

"DEAR DIARY,--You cannot think how far away the events of this day have
pushed the feelings and ideas of the time when I agreed to write to you
under this name. Till now it seems to me as if I had not changed in the
least thing since we parted, and now I can hardly know myself for the
same person. O dear Di! something very wonderful has come into my life,
and I feel that it rests with me to make it the greatest blessing to
myself and others, or the greatest misery. If I prove unworthy of it or
unequal to it, then I am sure that nothing but wretchedness will come of
it.

"I am engaged--yes!--and to a man more than twice my own age. It is so
easy to tell you this, for I know that your large-mindedness will
receive it very differently from most people, and that you will see it
as I do. He is the noblest of men, though he tries to conceal it under
the light, ironical manner with which he has been faithful to a cruel
disappointment. It was here in Florence, twenty years ago, that a
girl--I am ashamed to call her a girl--trifled with the priceless
treasure that has fallen to me, and flung it away. You, Di, will
understand how I was first fascinated with the idea of trying to atone
to him here for all the wrong he had suffered. At first it was only the
vaguest suggestion--something like what I had read in a poem or a
novel--that had nothing to do with me personally, but it grew upon me
more and more the more I saw of him, and felt the witchery of his light,
indifferent manner, which I learned to see was tense with the anguish he
had suffered. She had killed his youth; she had spoiled his life: if I
could revive them, restore them! It came upon me like a great flash of
light at last, and as soon as this thought took possession of me, I felt
my whole being elevated and purified by it, and I was enabled to put
aside with contempt the selfish considerations that had occurred to me
at first. At first the difference between our ages was very shocking to
me; for I had always imagined it would be some one young; but when this
light broke upon me, I saw that _he_ was young, younger even than I, as
a man is at the same age with a girl. Sometimes with my experiences, the
fancies and flirtations that every one has and _must_ have, however one
despises them, I felt so _old_ beside him; for he had been true to one
love all his life, and he had not wavered for a moment. If I could make
him forget it, if I could lift every feather's weight of sorrow from his
breast, if I could help him to complete the destiny, grand and beautiful
as it would have been, which another had arrested, broken off--don't you
see, Di dear, how rich my reward would be?

"And he, how forbearing, how considerate, how anxious for me, how full
of generous warning he has been! always putting me in mind, at every
step, of the difference in years between us; never thinking of himself,
and shrinking so much from even seeming to control me or sway me, that I
don't know really whether I have not made all the advances!

"I cannot write his name yet, and you must not ask it till I can; and I
cannot tell you anything about his looks or his life without seeming to
degrade him, somehow, and make him a common man like others.

"How can I make myself his companion in everything? How can I convince
him that there is no sacrifice for me, and that he alone is giving up?
These are the thoughts that keep whirling through my mind. I hope I
shall be helped, and I hope that I shall be tried, for that is the only
way for me to be helped. I feel strong enough for anything that people
can say. I should _welcome_ criticism and opposition from any quarter.
But I can see that _he_ is very sensitive--it comes from his keen sense
of the ridiculous--and if I suffer, it will be on account of this grand
unselfish nature, and I shall be glad of that.

"I know you will understand me, Di, and I am not afraid of your laughing
at these ravings. But if you did I should not care. It is such a comfort
to say these things about him, to exalt him, and get him in the true
light at last.

"Your faithful JOURNAL.

"I shall tell him about you, one of the first things, and perhaps he can
suggest some way out of your trouble, he has had so much experience of
every kind. You will worship him, as I do, when you see him; for you
will feel at once that he understands you, and that is such a rest.

"J."


Before Imogene fell asleep, Mrs. Bowen came to her in the dark, and
softly closed the door that opened from the girl's room into Effie's.
She sat down on the bed, and began to speak at once, as if she knew
Imogene must be awake. "I thought you would come to me, Imogene; but as
you didn't, I have come to you, for if you can go to sleep with hard
thoughts of me to-night, I can't let you. You need me for your friend,
and I wish to be your friend; it would be wicked in me to be anything
else; I would give the world if your mother were here; but I tried to
make my letter to her everything that it should be. If you don't think
it is, I will write it over in the morning."

"No," said the girl coldly; "it will do very well. I don't wish to
trouble you so much."

"Oh, how can you speak so to me? Do you think that I blame Mr. Colville?
Is that it? I don't ask you--I shall never ask you--how he came to
remain, but I know that he has acted truthfully and delicately. I knew
him long before you did, and no one need take his part with me." This
was not perhaps what Mrs. Bowen meant to say when she began. "I have
told you all along what I thought, but if you imagine that I am not
satisfied with Mr. Colville, you are very much mistaken. I can't burst
out into praises of him to your mother: that would be very patronising
and very bad taste. Can't you see that it would?"

"Oh yes."

Mrs. Bowen lingered, as if she expected Imogene to say something more,
but she did not, and Mrs. Bowen rose. "Then I hope we understand each
other," she said, and went out of the room.






XVI


When Colville came in the morning, Mrs. Bowen received him. They shook
hands, and their eyes met in the intercepting glance of the night
before.

"Imogene will be here in a moment," she said, with a naturalness that
made him awkward and conscious.

"Oh, there is no haste," he answered uncouthly. "That is, I am very glad
of the chance to speak a moment with you, and to ask your--to profit by
what you think best. I know you are not very well pleased with me, and I
don't know that I can ever put myself in a better light with you--the
true light. It seems that there are some things we must not do even for
the truth's sake. But that's neither here nor there. What I am most
anxious for is not to take a shadow of advantage of this child's--of
Imogene's inexperience, and her remoteness from her family. I feel that
I must in some sort protect her from herself. Yes--that is my idea. But
I have to do this in so many ways that I hardly know how to begin. I
should be very willing, if you thought best, to go away and stay away
till she has heard from her people, and let her have that time to think
it all over again. She is very young--so much younger than I! Or, if you
thought it better, I would stay, and let her remain free while I held
myself bound to any decision of hers. I am anxious to do what is right.
At the same time"--he smiled ruefully--"there is such a thing as being
so _dis_interested that one may seem _un_interested. I may leave her so
very free that she may begin to suspect that I want a little freedom
myself. What shall I do? I wish to act with your approval."

Mrs. Bowen had listened with acquiescence and intelligence that might
well have looked like sympathy, as she sat fingering the top of her
hand-screen, with her eyelids fallen. She lifted them to say, "I have
told you that I will not advise yon in any way. I cannot. I have no
longer any wish in this matter. I must still remain in the place of
Imogene's mother; but I will do only what you wish. Please understand
that, and don't ask me for advice any more. It is painful." She drew her
lower lip in a little, and let the screen fall into her lap.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Bowen, to do anything--say anything--that is painful to
you," Colville began. "You know that I would give the world to please
you----" The words escaped him and left him staring at her,

"What are you saying to me, Theodore Colville?" she exclaimed, flashing
a full-eyed glance upon him, and then breaking into a laugh, as
unnatural for her. "Really, I don't believe you know!"

"Heaven knows I meant nothing but what I said," he answered, struggling
stupidly with a confusion of desires which every man but no woman will
understand. After eighteen hundred years, the man is still imperfectly
monogamous. "Is there anything wrong in it?"

"Oh no! Not for you," she said scornfully.

"I am very much in earnest," he went on hopelessly, "in asking your
opinion, your help, in regard to how I shall treat this affair."

"And I am still more in earnest in telling you that I will give you no
opinion, no help. I forbid you to recur to the subject." He was silent,
unable to drop his eyes from hers. "But for her," continued Mrs. Bowen,
"I will do anything in my power. If she asks my advice I will give it,
and I will give her all the help I can."

"Thank you," said Colville vaguely.

"I will not have your thanks," promptly retorted Mrs. Bowen, "for I mean
you no kindness. I am trying to do my duty to Imogene, and when that is
ended, all is ended. There is no way now for you to please me--as you
call it--except to keep her from regretting what she has done."

"Do you think I shall fail in that?" he demanded indignantly.

"I can offer you no opinion. I can't tell what you will do."

"There are two ways of keeping her from regretting what she has done;
and perhaps the simplest and best way would be to free her from the
consequences, as far as they're involved in me," said Colville.

Mrs. Bowen dropped herself back in her armchair. "If you choose to force
these things upon me, I am a woman, and can't help myself. Especially, I
can't help myself against a guest."

"Oh, I will relieve you of my presence," said Colville. "I've no wish to
force anything upon you--least of all myself." He rose, and moved toward
the door.

She hastily intercepted him. "Do you think I will let you go without
seeing Imogene? Do you understand me so little as that? It's _too late_
for you to go! You know what I think of all this, and I know, better
than you, what you think. I shall play my part, and you shall play
yours. I have refused to give you advice or help, and I never shall do
it. But I know what my duty to her is, and I will fulfil it. No matter
how distasteful it is to either of us, you must come here as before. The
house is as free to you as ever--freer. And we are to be as good friends
as ever--better. You can see Imogene alone or in my presence, and, as
far as I am concerned, you shall consider yourself engaged or not, as
you choose. Do you understand?"

"Not in the least," said Colville, in the ghost of his old bantering
manner. "But don't explain, or I shall make still less of it."

"I mean simply that I do it for Imogene and not for you."

"Oh, I understand that you don't do it for me."

At this moment Imogene appeared between the folds of the _portiere_, and
her timid, embarrassed glance from Mrs. Bowen to Colville was the first
gleam of consolation that had visited him since he parted with her the
night before. A thrill of inexplicable pride and fondness passed through
his heart, and even the compunction that followed could not spoil its
sweetness. But if Mrs. Bowen discreetly turned her head aside that she
need not witness a tender greeting between them, the precaution was
unnecessary. He merely went forward and took the girl's hand, with a
sigh of relief. "Good morning, Imogene," he said, with a kind of
compassionate admiration.

"Good morning," she returned half-inquiringly.

She did not take a seat near him, and turned, as if for instruction, to
Mrs. Bowen. It was probably the force of habit. In any case, Mrs.
Bowen's eyes gave no response. She bowed slightly to Colville, and
began, "I must leave Imogene to entertain you for the present, Mr.--"

"No!" cried the girl impetuously; "don't go." Mrs. Bowen stopped. "I
wish to speak with you--with you and Mr. Colville together. I wish to
say--I don't know how to say it exactly; but I wish to know--You asked
him last night, Mrs. Bowen, whether he wished to consider it an
engagement?"

"I thought perhaps you would rather hear from your mother--"

"Yes, I would be glad to know that my mother approved; but if she
didn't, I couldn't help it. Mr. Colville said he was bound, but I was
not. That can't be. I _wish_ to be bound, if he is."

"I don't quite know what you expect me to say."

"Nothing," said Imogene. "I merely wished you to know. And I don't wish
you to sacrifice anything to us. If you think best, Mr. Colville will
not see me till I hear from home; though it won't make any difference
with me _what_ I hear."

"There's no reason why you shouldn't meet," said Mrs. Bowen absently.

"If you wish it to have the same appearance as an Italian
engagement----"

"No," said Mrs. Bowen, putting her hand to her head with a gesture she
had; "that would be quite unnecessary. It would be ridiculous under the
circumstances. I have thought of it, and I have decided that the
American way is the best."

"Very well, then," said Imogene, with the air of summing up; "then the
only question is whether we shall make it known or not to other people."

This point seemed to give Mrs. Bowen greater pause than any. She was a
long time silent, and Colville saw that Imogene was beginning to chafe
at her indecision. Yet he did not see the moment to intervene in a
debate in which he found himself somewhat ludicrously ignored, as if the
affair were solely the concern of these two women, and none of his.

"Of course, Mrs. Bowen," said the girl haughtily, "if it will be
disagreeable to you to have it known----"

Mrs. Bowen blushed delicately--a blush of protest and of generous
surprise, or so it seemed to Colville. "I was not thinking of myself,
Imogene. I only wish to consider you. And I was thinking whether, at
this distance from home, you wouldn't prefer to have your family's
approval before you made it known."

"I am sure of their approval. Father will do what mother says, and she
has always said that she would never interfere with me in--in--such a
thing."

"Perhaps you would like all the more, then, to show her the deference of
waiting for her consent."

Imogene started as if stopped short in swift career; it was not hard for
Colville to perceive that she saw for the first time the reverse side of
a magnanimous impulse. She suddenly turned to him.

"I think Mrs. Bowen is right," he said gravely, in answer to the eyes of
Imogene. He continued, with a flicker of his wonted mood: "You must
consider me a little in the matter. I have some small shreds of
self-respect about me somewhere, and I would rather not be put in the
attitude of defying your family, or ignoring them."

"No," said Imogene, in the same effect of arrest.

"When it isn't absolutely necessary," continued Colville. "Especially as
you say there will be no opposition."

"Of course," Imogene assented; and in fact what he said was very just,
and he knew it; but he could perceive that he had suffered loss with
her. A furtive glance at Mrs. Bowen did not assure him that he had made
a compensating gain in that direction, where, indeed, he had no right to
wish for any.

"Well, then," the girl went on, "it shall be so. We will wait. It will
only be waiting. I ought to have thought of you before; I make a bad
beginning," she said tremulously. "I supposed I was thinking of you; but
I see that I was only thinking of myself." The tears stood in her eyes.
Mrs. Bowen, quite overlooked in this apology, slipped from the room.

"Imogene!" said Colville, coming toward her.

She dropped herself upon his shoulder. "Oh, why, why, why am I so
miserable?"

"Miserable, Imogene!" he murmured, stroking her beautiful hair.

"Yes, yes! Utterly miserable! It must be because I'm unworthy of
you--unequal every way. If you think so, cast me off at once. Don't be
weakly merciful!"

The words pierced his heart. "I would give the world to make you happy,
my child!" he said, with perfidious truth, and a sigh that came from the
bottom of his soul. "Sit down here by me," he said, moving to the sofa;
and with whatever obscure sense of duty to her innocent self-abandon, he
made a space between them, and reduced her embrace to a clasp of the
hand she left with him. "Now tell me," he said, "what is it makes you
unhappy?"

"Oh, I don't know," she answered, drying her averted eyes. "I suppose I
am overwrought from not sleeping, and from thinking how we should
arrange it all."

"And now that it's all arranged, can't you be cheerful again?"

"Yes."

"You're satisfied with the way we've arranged it? Because if--"

"Oh, perfectly--perfectly!" She hastily interrupted. "I wouldn't have it
otherwise. Of course," she added, "it wasn't very pleasant having some
one else suggest what I ought to have thought of myself, and seem more
delicate about you than I was."

"Some one else?"

"You know! Mrs. Bowen."

"Oh! But I couldn't see that she was anxious to spare me. It occurred to
me that she was concerned about your family."

"It led up to the other! it's all the same thing."

"Well, even in that case, I don't see why you should mind it. It was
certainly very friendly of her, and I know that she has your interest at
heart entirely."

"Yes; she knows how to make it seem so."

Colville hesitated in bewilderment. "Imogene!" he cried at last, "I
don't understand this. Don't you think Mrs. Bowen likes you?"

"She detests me."

"Oh, no, no, no! That's too cruel an error. You mustn't think that. I
can't let you. It's morbid. I'm sure that she's devotedly kind and good
to you."

"Being kind and good isn't liking. I know what she thinks. But of course
I can't expect to convince you of it; no one else could see it."

"No!" said Colville, with generous fervour.

"Because it doesn't exist and you mustn't imagine it. You are as
sincerely and unselfishly regarded in this house as you could be in your
own home. I'm sure of that. I know Mrs. Bowen. She has her little
worldlinesses and unrealities of manner, but she is truth and loyalty
itself. She would rather die than be false, or even unfair. I knew her
long ago--"

"Yes," cried the girl, "long before you knew me!"

"And I know her to be the soul of honour," said Colville, ignoring the
childish outburst. "Honour--like a man's," he added. "And, Imogene, I
want you to promise me that you'll not think of her any more in that
way. I want you to think of her as faithful and loving to you, for she
is so. Will you do it?"

Imogene did not answer him at once. Then she turned upon him a face of
radiant self-abnegation. "I will do anything you tell me. Only tell me
things to do."

The next time he came he again saw Mrs. Bowen alone before Imogene
appeared. The conversation was confined to two sentences.

"Mr. Colville," she said, with perfectly tranquil point, while she
tilted a shut book to and fro on her knee, "I will thank you not to
defend me."

Had she overheard? Had Imogene told her? He answered, in a fury of
resentment for her ingratitude that stupefied him. "I will never speak
of you again."

Now they were enemies; he did not know how or why, but he said to
himself, in the bitterness of his heart, that it was better so; and when
Imogene appeared, and Mrs. Bowen vanished, as she did without another
word to him, he folded the girl in a vindictive embrace.

"What is the matter?" she asked, pushing away from him.

"With me?"

"Yes; you seem so excited."

"Oh, nothing," he said, shrinking from the sharpness of that scrutiny in
a woman's eyes, which, when it begins the perusal of a man's soul,
astonishes and intimidates him; he never perhaps becomes able to endure
it with perfect self-control. "I suppose a slight degree of excitement
in meeting you may be forgiven me." He smiled under the unrelaxed
severity of her gaze.

"Was Mrs. Bowen saying anything about me?"

"Not a word," said Colville, glad of getting back to the firm truth
again, even if it were mere literality.

"We have made it up," she said, her scrutiny changing to a lovely appeal
for his approval. "What there was to make up."

"Yes?"

"I told her what you had said. And now it's all right between us, and
you mustn't be troubled at that any more. I did it to please you."

She seemed to ask him with the last words whether she really had pleased
him, as if something in his aspect suggested a doubt; and he hastened to
reassure her. "That was very good of you. I appreciate it highly. It's
extremely gratifying."

She broke into a laugh of fond derision. "I don't believe you really
cared about it, or else you're not thinking about it now. Sit down here;
I want to tell you of something I've thought out." She pulled him to the
sofa, and put his arm about her waist, with a simple fearlessness and
matter-of-course promptness that made him shudder. He felt that he ought
to tell her not to do it, but he did not quite know how without wounding
her. She took hold of his hand and drew his lax arm taut. Then she
looked up into his eyes, as if some sense of his misgiving had conveyed
itself to her, but she did not release her hold of his hand.

"Perhaps we oughtn't, if we're not engaged?" she suggested, with such
utter trust in him as made his heart quake.

"Oh," he sighed, from a complexity of feeling that no explanation could
wholly declare, "we're engaged enough for that, I suppose."

"I'm glad you think so," she answered innocently. "I knew you wouldn't
let me if it were not right." Having settled the question, "Of course,"
she continued, "we shall all do our best to keep our secret; but in
spite of everything it may get out. Do you see?"

"Well?"

"Well, of course it will make a great deal of remark."

"Oh yes; you must be prepared for that, Imogene," said Colville, with as
much gravity as he could make comport with his actual position.

"I am prepared for it, and prepared to despise it," answered the girl.
"I shall have no trouble except the fear that you will mind it." She
pressed his hand as if she expected him to say something to this.

"I shall never care for it," he said, and this was true enough. "My only
care will be to keep you from regretting. I have tried from the first to
make you see that I was very much older than you. It would be miserable
enough if you came to see it too late."

"I have never seen it, and I never shall see it, because there's no such
difference between us. It isn't the years that make us young or old--who
is it says that? No matter, it's true. And I want you to believe it. I
want you to feel that I am your youth--the youth you were robbed
of--given back to you. Will you do it? Oh, if you could, I should be the
happiest girl in the world." Tears of fervour dimmed the beautiful eyes
which looked into his. "Don't speak!" she hurried on. "I won't let you
till I have said it all. It's been this idea, this hope, with me
always--ever since I knew what happened to you here long ago--that you
might go back in my life and take up yours where it was broken off; that
I might make your life what it would have been--complete your destiny--"

Colville wrenched himself loose from the hold that had been growing more
tenderly close and clinging. "And do you think I could be such a vampire
as to let you? Yes, yes; I have had my dreams of such a thing; but I see
now how hideous they were. You shall make no such sacrifice to me. You
must put away the fancies that could never be fulfilled, or if by some
infernal magic they could, would only bring sorrow to you and shame to
me. God forbid! And God forgive me, if I have done or said anything to
put this in your head! And thank God it isn't too late yet for you to
take yourself back."

"Oh," she murmured. "Do you think it is self-sacrifice for me to give
myself to you? It's self-glorification! You don't understand--I haven't
told you what I mean, or else I've told it in such a way that I've made
it hateful to you. Do you think I don't care for you except to be
something to you? I'm not so generous as that. You are all the world to
me. If I take myself back from you, as you say, what shall I do with
myself?"

"Has it come to that?" asked Colville. He sat down again with her, and
this time he put his arm around her and drew her to him, but it seemed
to him he did it as if she were his child. "I was going to tell you just
now that each of us lived to himself in this world, and that no one
could hope to enter into the life of another and complete it. But now I
see that I was partly wrong. We two are bound together, Imogene, and
whether we become all in all or nothing to each other, we can have no
separate fate."

The girl's eyes kindled with rapture. "Then let us never speak of it
again. I was going to say something, but now I won't say it."

"Yes, say it."

"No; it will make you think that I am anxious on my own account about
appearances before people."

"You poor child, I shall never think you are anxious on your own account
about anything. What were you going to say?"

"Oh, nothing! It was only--are you invited to the Phillipses' fancy
ball?"

"Yes," said Colville, silently making what he could of the diversion, "I
believe so."

"And are you going--did you mean to go?" she asked timidly.

"Good heavens, no! What in the world should I do at another fancy ball?
I walked about with the airy grace of a bull in a china shop at the last
one."

Imogene did not smile. She faintly sighed. "Well, then, I won't go
either."

"Did you intend to go?"

"Oh no!"

"Why, of course you did, and it's very right you should. Did you want me
to go?"

"It would bore you."

"Not if you're there." She gave his hand a grateful pressure. "Come,
I'll go, of course, Imogene. A fancy ball to please you is a very
different thing from a fancy ball in the abstract."

"Oh, what nice things you say! Do you know, I always admired your
compliments? I think they're the most charming compliments in the
world."

"I don't think they're half so pretty as yours; but they're more
sincere."

"No, honestly. They flatter, and at the same time they make fun of the
flattery a little; they make a person feel that you like them, even
while you laugh at them."

"They appear to be rather an intricate kind of compliment--sort of
_salsa agradolce_ affair--tutti frutti style--species of moral
mayonnaise."

"No--be quiet! You know what I mean. What were we talking about? Oh! I
was going to say that the most fascinating thing about you always was
that ironical way of yours."

"Have I an ironical way? You were going to tell me something more about
the fancy ball."

"I don't care for it. I would rather talk about you."

"And I prefer the ball. It's a fresher topic--to me."

"Very well, then. But this I will say. No matter how happy you should
be, I should always want you to keep that tone of persiflage. You've no
idea how perfectly intoxicating it is."

"Oh yes, I have. It seems to have turned the loveliest and wisest head
in the world."

"Oh, do you really think so? I would give anything if you did."

"What?"

"Think I was pretty," she pleaded, with full eyes. "Do you?"

"No, but I think you are wise. Fifty per cent, of truth--it's a large
average in compliments. What are you going to wear?"

"Wear? Oh! At the ball! Something Egyptian, I suppose. It's to be an
Egyptian ball. Didn't you understand that?"

"Oh yes. But I supposed you could go in any sort of dress."

"You can't. You must go in some Egyptian character."

"How would Moses do? In the bulrushes, you know. You could be Pharaoh's
daughter, and recognise me by my three hats. And toward the end of the
evening, when I became very much bored, I could go round killing
Egyptians."

"No, no. Be serious. Though I like you to joke, too. I shall always want
you to joke. Shall you, always?"

"There may be emergencies when I shall fail--like family prayers, and
grace before meat, and dangerous sickness."

"Why, of course. But I mean when we're together, and there's no reason
why you shouldn't?"

"Oh, at such times I shall certainly joke."

"And before people, too! I won't have them saying that it's sobered
you--that you used to be very gay, and now you're cross, and never say
anything."

"I will try to keep it up sufficiently to meet the public demand."

"And I shall want you to joke me, too. You must satirise me. It does
more to show me my faults than anything else, and it will show other
people how perfectly submissive I am, and how I think everything you do
is just right."

"If I were to beat you a little in company, don't you think it would
serve the same purpose?"

"No, no; be serious."

"About joking?"

"No, about me. I know that I'm very intense, and you must try to correct
that tendency in me."

"I will, with pleasure. Which of my tendencies are you going to
correct?"

"You have none."

"Well, then, neither have you. I'm not going to be outdone in
civilities."

"Oh, if people could only hear you talk in this light way, and then know
what _I_ know!"

Colville broke out into a laugh at the deep sigh which accompanied these
words. As a whole, the thing was grotesque and terrible to him, but
after a habit of his, he was finding a strange pleasure in its details.

"No, no," she pleaded. "Don't laugh. There are girls that would give
their eyes for it."

"As pretty eyes as yours?"

"Do you think they're nice?"

"Yes, if they were not so mysterious."

"Mysterious?"

"Yes, I feel that your eyes can't really be as honest as they look. That
was what puzzled me about them the first night I saw you."

"No--did it, really?"

"I went home saying to myself that no girl could be so sincere as that
Miss Graham seemed."

"Did you say that?"

"Words to that effect."

"And what do you think now?"

"Ah, I don't know. You had better go as the Sphinx."

Imogene laughed in simple gaiety of heart.

"How far we've got from the ball!" she said, as if the remote excursion
were a triumph. "What shall we really go as?"

"Isis and Osiris."

"Weren't they gods of some kind?"

"Little one-horse deities--not very much."

"It won't do to go as gods of any kind. They're always failures. People
expect too much of them."

"Yes," said Colville. "That's human nature under all circumstances. But
why go to an Egyptian ball at all?"

"Oh, we must go. If we both stayed away it would make talk at once, and
my object is to keep people in the dark till the very last moment. Of
course it's unfortunate your having told Mrs. Amsden that you were going
away, and then telling her just after you came back with me that you
were going to stay. But it can't be helped now. And I don't really care
for it. But don't you see why I want you to go to all these things?"

"All these things?"

"Yes, everything you're invited to after this. It's not merely for a
blind as regards ourselves now, but if they see that you're very fond of
all sorts of gaieties, they will see that you are--they will
understand----"

There was no need for her to complete the sentence. Colville rose.
"Come, come, my dear child," he said, "why don't you end all this at
once? I don't blame you. Heaven knows I blame no one but myself! I ought
to have the strength to break away from this mistake, but I haven't. I
couldn't bear to see you suffer from pain that I should give you even
for your good. But do it yourself, Imogene, and for pity's sake don't
forbear from any notion of sparing me. I have no wish except for your
happiness, and now I tell you clearly that no appearance we can put on
before the world will deceive the world. At the end of all our trouble I
shall still be forty----"

She sprang to him and put her hand over his mouth. "I know what you're
going to say, and I won't let you say it, for you've promised over and
over again not to speak of that any more. Oh, do you think I care for
the world, or what it will think or say?"

"Yes, very much."

"That shows how little you understand me. It's because I wish to _defy_
the world--"

"Imogene! Be as honest with yourself as you are with me."

"I _am_ honest."

"Look me in the eyes, then."

She did so for an instant, and then hid her face on his shoulder.

"You silly girl," he said. "What is it you really do wish?"

"I wish there was no one in the world but you and me."

"Ah, you'd find it very crowded at times," said Colville sadly. "Well,
well," he added, "I'll go to your fandangoes, because you want me to
go."

"That's all I wished you to say," she replied, lifting her head, and
looking him radiantly in the face. "I don't want you to go at all! I
only want you to promise that you'll come here every night that you're
invited out, and read to Mrs. Bowen and me."

"Oh, I can't do that," said Colville; "I'm too fond of society. For
example, I've been invited to an Egyptian fancy ball, and I couldn't
think of giving that up."

"Oh, how delightful you are! They couldn't any of them talk like you."

He had learned to follow the processes of her thought now. "Perhaps they
can when they come to my age."

"There!" she exclaimed, putting her hand on his mouth again, to remind
him of another broken promise. "Why can't you give up the Egyptian
ball?"

"Because I expect to meet a young lady there--a very beautiful young
lady."

"But how shall you know her if she's disguised?"

"Why, I shall be disguised too, you know."

"Oh, what delicious nonsense you _do_ talk! Sit down here and tell me
what you are going to wear."

She tried to pull him back to the sofa. "What character shall you go
in?"

"No, no," he said, resisting the gentle traction. "I can't; I have
urgent business down-town."

"Oh! Business in _Florence!"_

"Well, if I stayed, I should tell you what disguise I'm going to the
ball in."

"I knew it was that. What do you think would be a good character for
me?"

"I don't know. The serpent of old Nile would be pretty good for you."

"Oh, I know you don't think it!" she cried fondly. She had now let him
take her hand, and he stood holding it at arm's-length. Effie Bowen came
into the room. "Good-bye," said Imogene, with an instant assumption of
society manner.

"Good-bye," said Colville, and went out.

"Oh, Mr. Colville!" she called, before he got to the outer door.

"Yes," he said, starting back.

She met him midway of the dim corridor. "Only to--" She put her arms
about his neck and sweetly kissed him.

Colville went out into the sunlight feeling like some strange, newly
invented kind of scoundrel--a rascal of such recent origin and
introduction that he had not yet had time to classify himself and
ascertain the exact degree of his turpitude. The task employed his
thoughts all that day, and kept him vibrating between an instinctive
conviction of monstrous wickedness and a logical and well-reasoned
perception that he had all the facts and materials for a perfectly good
conscience. He was the betrothed lover of this poor child, whose
affection he could not check without a degree of brutality for which
only a better man would have the courage. When he thought of perhaps
refusing her caresses, he imagined the shock it would give her, and the
look of grief and mystification that would come into her eyes, and he
found himself incapable of that cruel rectitude. He knew that these were
the impulses of a white and loving soul; but at the end of all his
argument they remained a terror to him, so that he lacked nothing but
the will to fly from Florence and shun her altogether till she had heard
from her family. This, he recalled, with bitter self-reproach was what
had been his first inspiration; he had spoken of it to Mrs. Bowen, and
it had still everything in its favour except that it was impossible.

Imogene returned to the salotto, where the little girl was standing with
her face to the window, drearily looking out; her back expressed an
inner desolation which revealed itself in her eyes when Imogene caught
her head between her hands, and tilted up her face to kiss it.

"What is the matter, Effie?" she demanded gaily.

"Nothing."

"Oh yes, there is."

"Nothing that you will care for. As long as he's pleasant to you, you
don't care what he does to me."

"What has he done to you?"

"He didn't take the slightest notice of me when I came into the room. He
didn't speak to me, or even look at me."

Imogene caught the little grieving, quivering face to her breast "He is
a wicked, wicked wretch! And I will give him the awfulest scolding he
ever had when he comes here again. I will teach him to neglect my pet. I
will let him understand that if he doesn't notice you, he needn't notice
me. I will tell you, Effie--I've just thought of a way. The next time he
comes we will both receive him. We will sit up very stiffly on the sofa
together, and just answer Yes, No, Yes, No, to everything he says, till
he begins to take the hint, and learns how to behave himself. Will you?"

A smile glittered through the little girl's tears; but she asked, "Do
you think it would be very polite?"

"No matter, polite or not, it's what he deserves. Of course, as soon as
he begins to take the hint, we will be just as we always are."

Imogene despatched a note, which Colville got the next morning, to tell
him of his crime, and apprise him of his punishment, and of the sweet
compunction that had pleaded for him in the breast of the child. If he
did not think he could help play the comedy through, he must come
prepared to offer Effie some sort of atonement.

It was easy to do this: to come with his pockets full of presents, and
take the little girl on his lap, and pour out all his troubled heart in
the caresses and tendernesses which would bring him no remorse. He
humbled himself to her thoroughly, and with a strange sincerity in the
harmless duplicity, and promised, if she would take him back into
favour, that he would never offend again. Mrs. Bowen had sent word that
she was not well enough to see him; she had another of her headaches;
and he sent back a sympathetic and respectful message by Effie, who
stood thoughtfully at her mother's pillow after she had delivered it,
fingering the bouquet Colville had brought her, and putting her head
first on this side, and then on that to admire it.

"I think Mr. Colville and Imogene are much more affectionate than they
used to be," she said.

Mrs. Bowen started up on her elbow. "What do you mean, Effie?"

"Oh, they're both so good to me."

"Yes," said her mother, dropping back to her pillow. "Both?"

"Yes; he's the _most_ affectionate."

The mother turned her face the other way. "Then he must be," she
murmured.

"What?" asked the child.

"Nothing. I didn't know I spoke."

The little girl stood a while still playing with her flowers. "I think
Mr. Colville is about the pleasantest gentleman that comes here. Don't
you, mamma?"

"Yes."

"He's so interesting, and says such nice things. I don't know whether
children ought to think of such things, but I wish I was going to marry
some one like Mr. Colville. Of course I should want to be tolerably old
if I did. How old do you think a person ought to be to marry him?"

"You mustn't talk of such things, Effie," said her mother.

"No; I suppose it isn't very nice." She picked out a bud in her bouquet,
and kissed it; then she held the nosegay at arm's-length before her, and
danced away with it.






XVII


In the ensuing fortnight a great many gaieties besides the Egyptian ball
took place, and Colville went wherever he and Imogene were both invited.
He declined the quiet dinners which he liked, and which his hearty
appetite and his habit of talk fitted him to enjoy, and accepted
invitations to all sorts of evenings and At Homes, where dancing
occupied a modest corner of the card, and usurped the chief place in the
pleasures. At these places it was mainly his business to see Imogene
danced with by others, but sometimes he waltzed with her himself, and
then he was complimented by people of his own age, who had left off
dancing, upon his vigour. They said they could not stand that sort of
thing, though they supposed, if you kept yourself in practice, it did
not come so hard. One of his hostesses, who had made a party for her
daughters, told him that he was an example to everybody, and that if
middle-aged people at home mingled more in the amusements of the young,
American society would not be the silly, insipid, boy-and-girl affair
that it was now. He went to these places in the character of a young
man, but he was not readily accepted or recognised in that character.
They gave him frumps to take out to supper, mothers and maiden aunts,
and if the mothers were youngish, they threw off on him, and did not
care for his talk.

At one of the parties Imogene seemed to become aware for the first time
that the lapels of his dress-coat were not faced with silk.

"Why don't you have them so?" she asked. "All the _other_ young men
have. And you ought to wear a _boutonniere_."

"Oh, I think a man looks rather silly in silk lapels at my--" He
arrested himself, and then continued: "I'll see what the tailor can do
for me. In the meantime, give me a bud out of your bouquet."

"How sweet you are!" she sighed. "You do the least thing so that it is
ten times as good as if any one else did it."

The same evening, as he stood leaning against a doorway, behind Imogene
and a young fellow with whom she was beginning a quadrille, he heard her
taking him to task.

"Why do you say 'Sir' to Mr. Colville?"

"Well, I know the English laugh at us for doing it, and say it's like
servants; but I never feel quite right answering just 'Yes' and 'No' to
a man of his age."

This was one of the Inglehart boys, whom he met at nearly all of these
parties, and not all of whom were so respectful. Some of them treated
him upon an old-boy theory, joking him as freely as if he were one of
themselves, laughing his antiquated notions of art to scorn, but
condoning them because he was good-natured, and because a man could not
help being of his own epoch anyway. They put a caricature of him among
the rest on the walls of their _trattoria_, where he once dined with
them.

Mrs. Bowen did not often see him when he went to call upon Imogene, and
she was not at more than two or three of the parties. Mrs. Amsden came
to chaperon the girl, and apparently suffered an increase of unrequited
curiosity in regard to his relations to the Bowen household, and the
extraordinary development of his social activity. Colville not only went
to all those evening parties, but he was in continual movement during
the afternoon at receptions and at "days," of which he began to think
each lady had two or three. Here he drank tea, cup after cup, in
reckless excitement, and at night when he came home from the dancing
parties, dropping with fatigue, he could not sleep till toward morning.
He woke at the usual breakfast-hour, and then went about drowsing
throughout the day till the tea began again in the afternoon. He fell
asleep whenever he sat down, not only in the reading-room at Viesseux's,
where he disturbed the people over their newspapers by his
demonstrations of somnolence, but even at church, whither he went one
Sunday to please Imogene, and started awake during the service with the
impression that the clergyman had been making a joke. Everybody but
Imogene was smiling. At the cafe he slept without scruple, selecting a
corner seat for the purpose, and proportioning his _buonamano_ to the
indulgence of the _giovane_. He could not tell how long he slept at
these places, but sometimes it seemed to him hours.

One day he went to see Imogene, and while Effie Bowen stood prattling to
him as he sat waiting for Imogene to come in, he faded light-headedly
away from himself on the sofa, as if he had been in his corner at the
cafe. Then he was aware of some one saying "Sh!" and he saw Effie
Bowen, with her finger on her lip, turned toward Imogene, a figure of
beautiful despair in the doorway. He was all tucked up with sofa
pillows, and made very comfortable, by the child, no doubt. She slipped
out, seeing him awake, so as to leave him and Imogene alone, as she had
apparently been generally instructed to do, and Imogene came forward.

"What is the matter, Theodore?" she asked patiently. She had taken to
calling him Theodore when they were alone. She owned that she did not
like the name, but she said it was right she should call him by it,
since it was his. She came and sat down beside him, where he had raised
himself to a sitting posture, but she did not offer him any caress.

"Nothing," he answered. "But this climate is making me insupportably
drowsy; or else the spring weather."

"Oh no; it isn't that," she said, with a slight sigh. He had left her in
the middle of a german at three o'clock in the morning, but she now
looked as fresh and lambent as a star. "It's the late hours. They're
killing you."

Colville tried to deny it; his incoherencies dissolved themselves in a
yawn, which he did not succeed in passing for a careless laugh.

"It won't do," she said, as if speaking to herself; "no, it won't do."

"Oh yes, it will," Colville protested. "I don't mind being up. I've been
used to it all my life on the paper. It's just some temporary thing.
It'll come all right."

"Well, no matter," said Imogene. "It makes you ridiculous, going to all
those silly places, and I'd rather give it up."

The tears began to steal down her cheeks, and Colville sighed. It seemed
to him that somebody or other was always crying. A man never quite gets
used to the tearfulness of women.

"Oh, don't mind it," he said. "If you wish me to go, I will go! Or die
in the attempt," he added, with a smile.

Imogene did not smile with him. "I don't wish you to go any more. It was
a mistake in the first place, and from this out I will adapt myself to
you."

"And give up all your pleasures? Do you think I would let you do that?
No, indeed! Neither in this nor in anything else. I will not cut off
your young life in any way, Imogene--not shorten it or diminish it. If I
thought I should do that, or you would try to do it for me, I should
wish I had never seen you."

"It isn't that. I know how good you are, and that you would do anything
for me."

"Well, then, why don't you go to these fandangoes alone? I can see that
you have me on your mind all the time, when I'm with you."

"Oughtn't I?"

"Yes, up to a certain point, but not up to the point of spoiling your
fun. I will drop in now and then, but I won't try to come to all of
them, after this; you'll get along perfectly well with Mrs. Amsden, and
I shall be safe from her for a while. That old lady has marked me for
her prey: I can see it in her glittering eyeglass. I shall fall asleep
some evening between dances, and then she will get it all out of me."

Imogene still refused to smile. "No; I shall give it up. I don't think
it's well, going so much without Mrs. Bowen. People will begin to talk."

"Talk?"

"Yes; they will begin to say that I had better stay with her a little
more, if she isn't well."

"Why, isn't Mrs. Bowen well?" asked Colville, with trepidation.

"No; she's miserable. Haven't you noticed?"

"She sees me so seldom now. I thought it was only her headaches----"

"It's much more than that. She seems to be failing every way. The doctor
has told her she ought to get away from Florence." Colville could not
speak; Imogene went on. "She's always delicate, you know. And I feel
that all that's keeping her here now is the news from home that I--we're
waiting for."

Colville got up. "This is ghastly! She mustn't do it!"

"How can you help her doing it? If she thinks anything is right, she
can't help doing it. Who could?"

Colville thought to himself that he could have said; but he was silent.
At the moment he was not equal to so much joke or so much truth; and
Imogene went on--

"She'd be all the more strenuous about it if it were disagreeable, and
rather than accept any relief from _me_ she would die."

"Is she--unkind to you?" faltered Colville.

"She is only _too_ kind. You can feel that she's determined to be
so--that she's said she will have nothing to reproach herself with, and
she won't. You don't suppose Mrs. Bowen would be unkind to any one she
disliked?"

"Ah, I didn't know," sighed Colville.

"The more she disliked them, the better she would use them. It's because
our engagement is so distasteful to her that she's determined to feel
that she did nothing to oppose it."

"But how can you tell that it's distasteful, then?"

"She lets you feel it by--not saying anything about it."

"I can't see how--"

"She never speaks of you. I don't believe she ever mentions your name.
She asks me about the places where I've been, and about the
people--every one but you. It's very uncomfortable."

"Yes," said Colville, "it's uncomfortable."

"And if I allude to letters from home, she merely presses her lips
together. It's perfectly wretched."

"I see. It's I whom she dislikes, and I would do anything to please her.
She must know that," mused Colville aloud. "Imogene!" he exclaimed, with
a sudden inspiration. "Why shouldn't I go away?"

"Go away?" she palpitated. "What should I do?"

The colours faded from his brilliant proposal. "Oh, I only meant till
something was settled--determined--concluded; till this terrible
suspense was over." He added hopelessly, "But nothing can be done!"

"I proposed," said Imogene, "that we should all go away. I suggested Via
Reggio--the doctor said she ought to have sea air--or Venice; but she
wouldn't hear of it. No; we must wait."

"Yes, we must wait," repeated Colville hollowly. "Then nothing can be
done?"

"Why, haven't you said it?"

"Oh yes--yes. I can't go away, and you can't. But couldn't we do
something--get up something?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"I mean, couldn't we--amuse her somehow? help her to take her mind off
herself?"

Imogene stared at him rather a long time. Then, as if she had satisfied
herself in her own mind, she shook her head. "She wouldn't submit to
it."

"No; she seems to take everything amiss that I do," said Colville.

"She has no right to do that," cried Imogene. "I'm sure that you're
always considering her, and proposing to do things for her. I won't let
you humble yourself, as if you had wronged her."

"Oh, I don't call it humbling. I--I should only be too happy if I could
do _anything that was agreeable to her."

"Very well, I will tell her," said the girl haughtily. "Shall you object
to my joining you in your amusements, whatever they are? I assure you I
will be very unobtrusive."

"I don't understand all this," replied Colville. "Who has proposed to
exclude you? Why did you tell me anything about Mrs. Bowen if you didn't
want me to say or do something? I supposed you did; but I'll withdraw
the offensive proposition, whatever it was."

"There was nothing offensive. But if you pity her so much, why can't you
pity me a little?"

"I didn't know anything was the matter with you. I thought you were
enjoying yourself----"

"Enjoying? Keeping you up at dances till you drop asleep whenever you
sit down? And then coming home and talking to a person who won't mention
your name! Do you call that enjoying? I can't speak of you to any one;
and no one speaks to me----"

"If you like, I will talk to you on the subject," Colville essayed, in
dreary jest.

"Oh, don't joke about it! This perpetual joking, I believe it's that
that's wearing me out. When I come to you for a little comfort in
circumstances that drive me almost distracted, you want to amuse Mrs.
Bowen, and when I ask to be allowed to share in the amusement, you laugh
at me! If you don't understand it all, I'm sure _I_ don't."

"Imogene!"

"No! It's very strange. There's only one explanation. You don't care for
me."

"Not care for you!" cried Colville, thinking of his sufferings in the
past fortnight.

"And I would have made any--_any_ sacrifice for you. At least I wouldn't
have made you show yourself a mean and grudging person if you had come
to me for a little sympathy."

"O poor child!" he cried, and his heart ached with the sense that she
really was nothing but an unhappy child. "I do sympathise with you, and
I see how hard it is for you to manage with Mrs. Bowen's dislike for me.
But you mustn't think of if. I dare say it will be different; I've no
doubt we can get her to look at me in some brighter light. I--" He did
not know what he should urge next; but he goaded his invention, and was
able to declare that if they loved each other they needed not regard any
one else. This flight, when accomplished, did not strike him as very
original effect, and it was with a dull surprise that he saw it sufficed
for her.

"No; no one!" she exclaimed, accepting the platitude as if it were now
uttered for the first time. She dried her eyes and smiled. "I will tell
Mrs. Bowen how you feel and what you've said, and I know she will
appreciate your generosity."

"Yes," said Colville pensively; "there's nothing I won't _propose_ doing
for people."

She suddenly clung to him, and would not let him go. "Oh, what is the
matter?" she moaned afresh. "I show out the worst that is in me, and
only the worst. Do you think I shall always be so narrow-minded with
you? I thought I loved you enough to be magnanimous. _You_ are. It
seemed to me that our lives together would be grand and large; and here
I am, grovelling in the lowest selfishness! I am worrying and scolding
you because you wish to please some one that has been as good as my own
mother to me. Do you call that noble?"

Colville did not venture any reply to a demand evidently addressed to
her own conscience.

But when she asked if he really thought he had better go away, he said,
"Oh no; that was a mistake."

"Because, if you do, you shall--to punish me."

"My dearest girl, why should I wish to punish you?"

"Because I've been low and mean. Now I want you to do something for Mrs.
Bowen--something to amuse her; to show that we appreciate her. And I
don't want you to sympathise with me at all. When I ask for your
sympathy, it's a sign that I don't deserve it."

"Is that so?"

"Oh, be serious with me. I mean it. And I want to beg your pardon for
something."

"Yes; what's that?"

"Can't you guess?"

"No."

"You needn't have" your lapels silk-lined. You needn't wear
_boutonnieres_."

"Oh, but I've had the coat changed."

"No matter! Change it back! It isn't for me to make you over. I must
make myself over. It's my right, it's my sacred privilege to conform to
you in every way, and I humble myself in the dust for having forgotten
it at the very start. Oh, _do_ you think I can ever be worthy of you? I
_will_ try; indeed I will! I shall not wear my light dresses another
time! From this out, I shall dress more in keeping with you. I boasted
that I should live to comfort and console you, to recompense you for the
past, and what have I been doing? Wearying and degrading you!"

"Oh no," pleaded Colville. "I am very comfortable. I don't need any
compensation for the past. I need--sleep. I'm going to bed tonight at
eight o'clock, and I am going to sleep twenty-four hours. Then I shall
be fresh for Mrs. Fleming's ball."

"I'm not going," said Imogene briefly.

"Oh yes, you are. I'll come round to-morrow evening and see."

"No. There are to be no more parties."

"Why?"

"I can't endure them."

She was looking at him and talking at him, but she seemed far aloof in
the abstraction of a sublime regret; she seemed puzzled, bewildered at
herself.

Colville got away. He felt the pathos of the confusion and question to
which he left her, but he felt himself powerless against it. There was
but one solution to it all, and that was impossible. He could only
grieve over her trouble, and wait; grieve for the irrevocable loss which
made her trouble remote and impersonal to him, and submit.






XVIII


The young clergyman whom Colville saw talking to Imogene on his first
evening at Mrs. Bowen's had come back from Rome, where he had been
spending a month or two, and they began to meet at Palazzo Pinti again.
If they got on well enough together, they did not get on very far. The
suave house-priest manners of the young clergyman offended Colville; he
could hardly keep from sneering at his taste in art and books, which in
fact was rather conventional; and no doubt Mr. Morton had his own
reserves, under which he was perfectly civil, and only too deferential
to Colville, as to an older man. Since his return, Mrs. Bowen had come
back to her _salon_. She looked haggard; but she did what she could to
look otherwise. She was always polite to Colville, and she was politely
cordial with the clergyman. Sometimes Colville saw her driving out with
him and Effie; they appeared to make excursions, and he had an
impression, very obscure, that Mrs. Bowen lent the young clergyman
money; that he was a superstition of hers, and she a patron of his; he
must have been ten years younger than she; not more than twenty-five.

The first Sunday after his return, Colville walked home with Mr. Waters
from hearing a sermon of Mr. Morton's, which they agreed was rather well
judged, and simply and fitly expressed.

"And he spoke with the authority of the priest," said the old minister.
"His Church alone of all the Protestant Churches has preserved that to
its ministers. Sometimes I have thought it was a great thing."

"Not always?" asked Colville, with a smile.

"These things are matters of mood rather than conviction with me,"
returned Mr. Waters. "Once they affected me very deeply; but now I shall
so soon know all about it that they don't move me. But at times I think
that if I were to live my life over again, I would prefer to be of some
formal, some inflexibly ritualised, religion. At solemnities---weddings
and funerals--I have been impressed with the advantage of the Anglican
rite: it is the Church speaking to and for humanity--or seems so," he
added, with cheerful indifference. "Something in its favour," he
continued, after a while, "is the influence that every ritualised faith
has with women. If they apprehend those mysteries more subtly than we,
such a preference of theirs must mean a good deal. Yes; the other
Protestant systems are men's systems. Women must have form. They don't
care for freedom."

"They appear to like the formalist too, as well as the form," said
Colville, with scorn not obviously necessary.

"Oh yes; they must have everything in the concrete," said the old
gentleman cheerfully.

"I wonder where Mr. Morton met Mrs. Bowen first," said Colville.

"Here, I think. I believe he had letters to her. Before you came I used
often to meet him at her house. I think she has helped him with money at
times."

"Isn't that rather an unpleasant idea?"

"Yes; it's disagreeable. And it places the ministry in a dependent
attitude. But under our system it's unavoidable. Young men devoting
themselves to the ministry frequently receive gifts of money."

"I don't like it," cried Colville.

"They don't feel it as others would. I didn't myself. Even at present I
may be said to be living on charity. But sometimes I have fancied that
in Mr. Morton's case there might be peculiarly mitigating
circumstances."

"What do you mean?"

"When I met him first at Mrs. Bowen's I used to think that it was Miss
Graham in whom he was interested----"

"I can assure you," interrupted Colville, "that she was never interested
in him."

"Oh no; I didn't suppose that," returned the old man tranquilly. "And
I've since had reason to revise my opinion. I think he is interested in
Mrs. Bowen."

"Mrs. Bowen! And you think that would be a mitigating circumstance in
his acceptance of money from her? If he had the spirit of a man at all,
it would make it all the more revolting."

"Oh no, oh no," softly pleaded Mr. Waters. "We must not look at these
things too romantically. He probably reasons that she would give him all
her money if they were married."

"But he has no right to reason in that way," retorted Colville, with
heat. "They are not married; it's ignoble and unmanly for him to count
upon it. It's preposterous. She must be ten years older than he."

"Oh, I don't say that they're to be married," Mr. Waters replied. "But
these disparities of age frequently occur in marriage. I don't like
them, though sometimes I think the evil is less when it is the wife who
is the elder. We look at youth and age in a gross, material way too
often. Women remain young longer than men. They keep their youthful
sympathies; an old woman understands a young girl. Do you--or do
I--understand a young man?"

Colville laughed harshly. "It isn't _quite_ the same thing, Mr. Waters.
But yes; I'll admit, for the sake of argument, that I don't understand
young men. I'll go further, and say that I don't like them; I'm afraid
of them. And you wouldn't think," he added abruptly, "that it would be
well for me to marry a girl twenty years younger than myself."

The old man glanced up at him with innocent slyness. "I prefer always to
discuss these things in an impersonal way."

"But you can't discuss them impersonally with me; I'm engaged to Miss
Graham. Ever since you first found me here after I told you I was going
away I have wished to tell you this, and this seems as good a time as
any--or as bad." The defiance faded from his voice, which dropped to a
note of weary sadness. "Yes, we're engaged--or shall be, as soon as she
can hear from her family. I wanted to tell you because it seemed somehow
your due, and because I fancied you had a friendly interest in us both."

"Yes, that is true," returned Mr. Waters. "I wish you joy." He went
through the form of offering his hand to Colville, who pressed it with
anxious fervour.

"I confess," he said, "that I feel the risks of the affair. It's not
that I have any dread for my own part; I have lived my life, such as it
is. But the child is full of fancies about me that can't be fulfilled.
She dreams of restoring my youth somehow, of retrieving the past for me,
of avenging me at her own cost for an unlucky love affair that I had
here twenty years ago. It's pretty of her, but it's terribly
pathetic--it's tragic. I know very well that I'm a middle-aged man, and
that there's no more youth for me. I'm getting grey, and I'm getting
fat; I wouldn't be young if I could; it's a bore. I suppose I could keep
up an illusion of youthfulness for five or six years more; and then if I
could be quietly chloroformed out of the way, perhaps it wouldn't have
been so very bad."

"I have always thought," said Mr. Waters dreamily, "that a good deal
might be said for abbreviating hopeless suffering. I have known some
very good people advocate its practice by science."

"Yes," answered Colville. "Perhaps I've presented that point too
prominently. What I wished you to understand was that I don't care for
myself; that I consider only the happiness of this young girl that's
somehow--I hardly know how--been put in my keeping. I haven't forgotten
the talks that we've had heretofore on this subject, and it would be
affectation and bad taste in me to ignore them. Don't be troubled at
anything you've said; it was probably true, and I'm sure it was sincere.
Sometimes I think that the kindest--the least cruel--thing I could do
would be to break with her, to leave her. But I know that I shall do
nothing of the kind; I shall drift. The child is very dear to me. She
has great and noble qualities; she's supremely unselfish; she loves me
through her mistaken pity, and because she thinks she can sacrifice
herself to me. But she can't. Everything is against that; she doesn't
know how, and there is no reason why. I don't express it very well. I
think nobody clearly understands it but Mrs. Bowen, and I've somehow
alienated her."

He became aware that his self-abnegation was taking the character of
self-pity, and he stopped.

Mr. Waters seemed to be giving the subject serious attention in the
silence that ensued. "There is this to be remembered," he began, "which
we don't consider in our mere speculations upon any phase of human
affairs; and that is the wonderful degree of amelioration that any given
difficulty finds in the realisation. It is the anticipation, not the
experience, that is the trial. In a case of this kind, facts of
temperament, of mere association, of union, work unexpected mitigations;
they not only alleviate, they allay. You say that she cherishes an
illusion concerning you: well, with women, nothing is so indestructible
as an illusion. Give them any chance at all, and all the forces of their
nature combine to preserve it. And if, as you say, she is so dear to
you, that in itself is almost sufficient. I can well understand your
misgivings, springing as they do from a sensitive conscience; but we may
reasonably hope that they are exaggerated. Very probably there will not
be the rapture for her that there would be if--if you were younger; but
the chances of final happiness are great--yes, very considerable. She
will learn to appreciate what is really best in you, and you already
understand her. Your love for her is the key to the future. Without
that, of course----"

"Oh, of course," interrupted Colville hastily. Every touch of this
comforter's hand had been a sting; and he parted with him in that
feeling of utter friendlessness involving a man who has taken counsel
upon the confession of half his trouble.

Something in Mrs. Bowen's manner when he met her next made him think
that perhaps Imogene had been telling her of the sympathy he had
expressed for her ill-health. It was in the evening, and Imogene and Mr.
Morton were looking over a copy of _The Marble Faun_, which he had
illustrated with photographs at Rome. Imogene asked Colville to look at
it too, but he said he would examine it later; he had his opinion of
people who illustrated _The Marble Faun_ with photographs; it surprised
him that she seemed to find something novel and brilliant in the idea.

Effie Bowen looked round where she was kneeling on a chair beside the
couple with the book, and seeing Colville wandering neglectedly about
before he placed himself, she jumped down and ran and caught his hand.

"Well, what now?" he asked, with a dim smile, as she began to pull him
toward the sofa. When he should be expelled from Palazzo Pinti he would
really miss the worship of that little thing. He knew that her impulse
had been to console him for his exclusion from the pleasures that
Imogene and Mr. Morton were enjoying.

"Nothing. Just talk," she said, making him fast in a corner of the sofa
by crouching tight against him.

"What about? About which is the pleasantest season?"

"Oh no; we've talked about that so often. Besides, of course you'd say
spring, now that it's coming on so nicely."

"Do you think I'm so changeable as that? Haven't I always said winter
when this question of the seasons was up? And I say it now. Shan't you
be awfully sorry when you can't have a pleasant little fire on the
hearth like this any more?"

"Yes; I know. But it's very nice having the flowers, too. The grass was
all full of daisies to-day--perfectly powdered with them."

"To-day? Where?"

"At the Cascine. And in under the trees there were millions of violets
and crow's-feet. Mr. Morton helped me to get them for mamma and Imogene.
And we stayed so long that when we drove home the daisies had all shut
up, and the little pink leaves outside made it look like a field of red
clover. Are you never going there any more?"

Mrs. Bowen came in. From the fact that there was no greeting between her
and Mr. Morton, Colville inferred that she was returning to the room
after having already been there. She stood a moment, with a little
uncertainty, when she had shaken hands with him, and then dropped upon
the sofa beyond Effie. The little girl ran one hand through Colville's
arm, and the other through her mother's, and gripped them fast. "Now I
have got you both," she triumphed, and smiled first into her face, and
then into his.

"Be quiet, Effie," said her mother, but she submitted.

"I hope you're better for your drive to-day, Mrs. Bowen. Effie has been
telling me about it."

"We stayed out a long time. Yes, I think the air did me good; but I'm
not an invalid, you know."

"Oh no."

"I'm feeling a little fagged. And the weather was tempting. I suppose
you've been taking one of your long walks."

"No, I've scarcely stirred out. I usually feel like going to meet the
spring a little more than half-way; but this year I don't, somehow."

"A good many people are feeling rather languid, I believe," said Mrs.
Bowen.

"I hope you'll get away from Florence," said Colville.

"Oh," she returned, with a faint flush, "I'm afraid Imogene exaggerated
that a little." She added, "You are very good."

She was treating him more kindly than she had ever done since that
Sunday afternoon when he came in with Imogene to say that he was going
to stay. It might be merely because she had worn out her mood of
severity, as people do, returning in good-humour to those with whom they
were offended, merely through the reconciling force of time. She did not
look at him, but this was better than meeting his eye with that
interceptive glance. A strange peace touched his heart. Imogene and the
young clergyman at the table across the room were intent on the book
still; he was explaining and expatiating, and she listening. Colville
saw that he had a fine head, and an intelligent, handsome, gentle face.
When he turned again to Mrs. Bowen it was with the illusion that she had
been saying something; but she was, in fact, sitting mute, and her face,
with its bright colour, showed pathetically thin.

"I should imagine that Venice would be good for you," he said.

"It's still very harsh there, I hear. No; when we leave Florence, I
think we will go to Switzerland."

"Oh, not to Madame Schebres's," pleaded the child, turning upon her.

"No, not to Madame Schebres," consented the mother. She continued,
addressing Colville: "I was thinking of Lausanne. Do you know Lausanne
at all?"

"Only from Gibbon's report. It's hardly up to date."

"I thought of taking a house there for the summer," said Mrs. Bowen,
playing with Effie's fingers. "It's pleasant by the lake, I suppose."

"It's lovely by the lake!" cried the child. "Oh, do go, mamma! I could
get a boat and learn to row. Here you can't row, the Arno's so swift."

"The air would bring you up," said Colville to Mrs. Bowen.
"Switzerland's the only country where you're perfectly sure of waking
new every morning."

This idea interested the child. "Waking new!" she repeated.

"Yes; perfectly made over. You wake up another person. Shouldn't you
think that would be nice?"

"No."

"Well, I shouldn't, in your place. But in mine, I much prefer to wake up
another person. Only it's pretty hard on the other person."

"How queer you are!" The child set her teeth for fondness of him, and
seizing his cheeks between her hands, squeezed them hard, admiring the
effect upon his features, which in some respects was not advantageous.

"Effie!" cried her mother sternly; and she dropped to her place again,
and laid hold of Colville's arm for protection. "You are really very
rude. I shall send you to bed."

"Oh no, don't, Mrs. Bowen," he begged. "I'm responsible for these
violences. Effie used to be a very well behaved child before she began
playing with me. It's all my fault."

They remained talking on the sofa together, while Imogene and Mr. Morton
continued to interest themselves in the book. From time to time she
looked over at them, and then turned again to the young clergyman, who,
when he had closed the book, rested his hands on its top and began to
give an animated account of something, conjecturably his sojourn in
Rome.

In a low voice, and with pauses adjusted to the occasional silences of
the young people across the room, Mrs. Bowen told Colville how Mr.
Morton was introduced to her by an old friend who was greatly interested
in him. She said, frankly, that she had been able to be of use to him,
and that he was now going back to America very soon; it was as if she
were privy to the conjecture that had come to the surface in his talk
with Mr. Waters, and wished him to understand exactly how matters stood
with the young clergyman and herself. Colville, indeed, began to be more
tolerant of him; he succeeded in praising the sermon he had heard him
preach.

"Oh, he has talent," said Mrs. Bowen.

They fell into the old, almost domestic strain, from which she broke at
times with an effort, but returning as if helplessly to it. He had the
gift of knowing how not to take an advantage with women; that sense of
unconstraint in them fought in his favour; when Effie dropped her head
wearily against his arm, her mother even laughed in sending her off to
bed; she had hitherto been serious. Imogene said she would go to see her
tucked in, and that sent the clergyman to say good-night to Mrs. Bowen,
and to put an end to Colville's audience.

In these days, when Colville came every night to Palazzo Pinti, he got
back the tone he had lost in the past fortnight. He thought that it was
the complete immunity from his late pleasures, and the regular and
sufficient sleep, which had set him firmly on his feet again, but he did
not inquire very closely. Imogene went two or three times, after she had
declared she would go no more, from the necessity women feel of blunting
the edge of comment; but Colville profited instantly and fully by the
release from the parties which she offered him. He did not go even to
afternoon tea-drinkings; the "days" of the different ladies, which he
had been so diligent to observe, knew him no more. At the hours when
society assembled in this house or that and inquired for him, or
wondered about him, he was commonly taking a nap, and he was punctually
in bed every night at eleven, after his return from Mrs. Bowen's.

He believed, of course, that he went there because he now no longer met
Imogene elsewhere, and he found the house pleasanter than it had ever
been since the veglione. Mrs. Bowen's relenting was not continuous,
however. There were times that seemed to be times of question and of
struggle with her, when she vacillated between the old cordiality and
the later alienation; when she went beyond the former, or lapsed into
moods colder and more repellent than the latter. It would have been
difficult to mark the moment when these struggles ceased altogether, and
an evening passed in unbroken kindness between them. But afterwards
Colville could remember an emotion of grateful surprise at a subtle word
or action of hers in which she appeared to throw all restraint--scruple
or rancour, whichever it might be--to the winds, and become perfectly
his friend again. It must have been by compliance with some wish or
assent to some opinion of his; what he knew was that he was not only
permitted, he was invited, to feel himself the most favoured guest. The
charming smile, so small and sweet, so very near to bitterness, came
back to her lips, the deeply fringed eyelids were lifted to let the
sunny eyes stream upon him. She did, now, whatever he asked her. She
consulted his taste and judgment on many points; she consented to
resume, when she should be a little stronger, their visits to the
churches and galleries: it would be a shame to go away from Florence
without knowing them thoroughly. It came to her asking him to drive with
her and Imogene in the Cascine; and when Imogene made some excuse not to
go, Mrs. Bowen did not postpone the drive, but took Colville and Effie.

They drove quite down to the end of the Cascine, and got out there to
admire the gay monument, with the painted bust, of the poor young Indian
prince who died in Florence. They strolled all about, talking of the old
times in the Cascine, twenty years before; and walking up the road
beside the canal, while the carriage slowly followed, they stopped to
enjoy the peasants lying asleep in the grass on the other bank. Colville
and Effie gathered wild-flowers, and piled them in her mother's lap when
she remounted to the carriage and drove along while they made excursions
into the little dingles beside the road. Some people who overtook them
in these sylvan pleasures reported the fact at a reception to which they
were going, and Mrs. Amsden, whose mind had been gradually clearing
under the simultaneous withdrawal of Imogene and Colville from society,
professed herself again as thickly clouded as a weather-glass before a
storm. She appealed to the sympathy of others against this hardship.

Mrs. Bowen took Colville home to dinner; Mr. Morton was coming, she
said, and he must come too. At table the young clergyman made her his
compliment on her look of health, and she said, Yes; she had been
driving, and she believed that she needed nothing but to be in the air a
little more, as she very well could, now the spring weather was really
coming. She said that they had been talking all winter of going to
Fiesole, where Imogene had never been yet; and upon comparison it
appeared that none of them had yet been to Fiesole except herself. Then
they must all go together, she said; the carriage would hold four very
comfortably.

"Ah! that leaves me out," said Colville, who had caught sight of Effie's
fallen countenance.

"Oh no. How is that? It leaves Effie out."

"It's the same thing. But I might ride, and Effie might give me her hand
to hold over the side of the carriage; that would sustain me."

"We could take her between us, Mrs. Bowen," suggested Imogene. "The back
seat is wide."

"Then the party is made up," said Colville, "and Effie hasn't demeaned
herself by asking to go where she wasn't invited."

The child turned inquiringly toward her mother, who met her with an
indulgent smile, which became a little flush of grateful appreciation
when it reached Colville; but Mrs. Bowen ignored Imogene in the matter
altogether.

The evening passed delightfully. Mr. Morton had another book which he
had brought to show Imogene, and Mrs. Bowen sat a long time at the
piano, striking this air and that of the songs which she used to sing
when she was a girl: Colville was trying to recall them. When he and
Imogene were left alone for their adieux, they approached each other in
an estrangement through which each tried to break.

"Why don't you scold me?" she asked. "I have neglected you the whole
evening."

"How have you neglected me?"

"How? Ah! if you don't know----"

"No. I dare say I must be very stupid. I saw you talking with Mr.
Morton, and you seemed interested. I thought I'd better not intrude."

She seemed uncertain of his intention, and then satisfied of its
simplicity.

"Isn't it pleasant to have Mrs. Bowen in the old mood again?" he asked.

"Is she in the old mood?"

"Why, yes. Haven't you noticed how cordial she is?

"I thought she was rather colder than usual."

"Colder!" The chill of the idea penetrated even through the density of
Colville's selfish content. A very complex emotion, which took itself
for indignation, throbbed from his heart. "Is she cold with you,
Imogene?"

"Oh, if you saw nothing----"

"No; and I think you must be mistaken. She never speaks of you without
praising you."

"Does she speak of me?" asked the girl, with her honest eyes wide open
upon him.

"Why, no," Colville acknowledged. "Come to reflect, it's I who speak of
you. But how--how is she cold with you?"

"Oh, I dare say it's a delusion of mine. Perhaps I'm cold with her."

"Then don't be so, my dear! Be sure that she's your friend--true and
good. Good night."

He caught the girl in his arms, and kissed her tenderly. She drew away,
and stood a moment with her repellent fingers on his breast.

"Is it all for me?" she asked.

"For the whole obliging and amiable world," he answered gaily.






XIX


The next time Colville came he found himself alone with Imogene, who
asked him what he had been doing all day.

"Oh, living along till evening. What have you?"

She did not answer at once, nor praise his speech for the devotion
implied in it. After a while she said: "Do you believe in courses of
reading? Mr. Morton has taken up a course of reading in Italian poetry.
He intends to master it."

"Does he?"

"Yes. Do you think something of the kind would be good for me?"

"Oh, if you thirst for conquest. But I should prefer to rest on my
laurels if I were you."

Imogene did not smile. "Mr. Morton thinks I should enjoy a course of
Kingsley. He says he's very earnest."

"Oh, immensely. But aren't you earnest enough already, my dear?"

"Do you think I'm too earnest?"

"No; I should say you were just right."

"You know better than that. I wish you would criticise me sometimes."

"Oh, I'd rather not."

"Why? Don't you see anything to criticise in me? Are you satisfied with
me in every way? You ought to think. You ought to think now. Do you
think that I am doing right in all respects? Am I all that I could be to
you, and to you alone? If I am wrong in the least thing, criticise me,
and I will try to be better."

"Oh, you might criticise back, and I shouldn't like that."

"Then you don't approve of a course of Kingsley?" asked the girl.

"Does that follow? But if you're going in for earnestness, why don't you
take up a course of Carlyle?"

"Do you think that would be better than Kingsley?"

"Not a bit. But Carlyle's so earnest that he can't talk straight."

"I can't make out what you mean. Wouldn't you like me to improve?"

"Not much," laughed Colville. "If you did, I don't know what I should
do. I should have to begin to improve too, and I'm very comfortable as I
am."

"I should wish to do it to--to be more worthy of you," grieved the girl,
as if deeply disappointed at his frivolous behaviour.

He could not help laughing, but he was sorry, and would have taken her
hand; she kept it from him, and removed to the farthest corner of the
sofa. Apparently, however, her ideal did not admit of open pique, and
she went on trying to talk seriously with him.

"You think, don't you, that we oughtn't to let a day pass without
storing away some thought--suggestion----"

"Oh, there's no hurry," he said lazily. "Life is rather a long
affair--if you live. There appears to be plenty of time, though people
say not, and I think it would be rather odious to make every day of use.
Let a few of them go by without doing anything for you! And as for
reading, why not read when you're hungry, just as you eat? Shouldn't you
hate to take up a course of roast beef, or a course of turkey?"

"Very well, then," said Imogene. "I shall not begin Kingsley."

"Yes, do it. I dare say Mr. Morton's quite right. He will look at these
things more from your own point of view. All the Kingsley novels are in
the Tauchnitz. By all means do what he says."

"I will do what _you_ say."

"Oh, but I say nothing."

"Then I will do nothing."

Colville laughed at this too, and soon after the clergyman appeared.
Imogene met him so coldly that Colville felt obliged to make him some
amends by a greater show of cordiality than he felt. But he was glad of
the effort, for he began to like him as he talked to him; it was easy
for him to like people; the young man showed sense and judgment, and if
he was a little academic in his mind and manners, Colville tolerantly
reflected that some people seemed to be born so, and that he was
probably not artificial, as he had once imagined from the ecclesiastical
scrupulosity of his dress.

Imogene ebbed away to the piano in the corner of the room, and struck
some chords on it. At each stroke the young clergyman, whose eyes had
wandered a little toward her from the first, seemed to vibrate in
response. The conversation became incoherent before Mrs. Bowen joined
them. Then, by a series of illogical processes, the clergyman was
standing beside Imogene at the piano, and Mrs. Bowen was sitting beside
Colville on the sofa.

"Isn't there to be any Effie, to-night?" he asked.

"No. She has been up too much of late. And I wished to speak with
you--about Imogene."

"Yes," said Colville, not very eagerly. At that moment he could have
chosen another topic.

"It is time that her mother should have got my letter. In less than a
fortnight we ought to have an answer."

"Well?" said Colville, with a strange constriction of the heart.

"Her mother is a person of very strong character; her husband is
absorbed in business, and defers to her in everything."

"It isn't an uncommon American situation," said Colville, relieving his
tension by this excursion.

Mrs. Bowen ignored it. "I don't know how she may look at the affair. She
may give her assent at once, or she may decide that nothing has taken
place till--she sees you."

"I could hardly blame her for that," he answered submissively.

"It isn't a question of that," said Mrs. Bowen. "It's a question
of--others. Mr. Morton was here before you came, and I know he was
interested in Imogene--I am certain of it. He has come back, and he sees
no reason why he should not renew his attentions."

"No--o--o," faltered Colville.

"I wish you to realise the fact."

"But what would you----"

"I told you," said Mrs. Bowen, with a full return of that severity whose
recent absence Colville had found so comfortable, "that I can't advise
or suggest anything at all."

He was long and miserably silent. At last, "Did you ever think," he
asked, "did you ever suppose--that is to say, did you ever suspect
that--she--that Imogene was--at all interested in him?"

"I think she was--at one time," said Mrs. Bowen promptly.

Colville sighed, with a wandering disposition to whistle.

"But that is nothing," she went on. "People have many passing fancies.
The question is, what are you going to do now? I want to know, as Mr.
Morton's friend."

"Ah, I wish you wanted to know as _my_ friend, Mrs. Bowen!" A sudden
thought flashed upon him. "Why shouldn't I go away from Florence till
Imogene hears from her mother? That seemed to me right in the first
place. There is no tie that binds her to me. I hold her to nothing. If
she finds in my absence that she likes this young man better--" An
expression of Mrs. Bowen's face stopped him. He perceived that he had
said something very shocking to her; he perceived that the thing was
shocking in itself, but it was not that which he cared for. "I don't
mean that I won't hold myself true to her as long as she will. I
recognise my responsibility fully. I know that I am answerable for all
this, and that no one else is; and I am ready to bear any penalty. But
what I can't bear is that you should misunderstand me, that you
should--I have been so wretched ever since you first began to blame me
for my part in this, and so happy this past fortnight that I can't--I
_won't_--go back to that state of things. No; you have no right to
relent toward me, and then fling me off as you have tried to do
to-night! I have some feeling too--some rights. You shall receive me as
a friend, or not at all! How can I live if you----"

She had been making little efforts as if to rise; now she forced herself
to her feet, and ran from the room.

The young people looked up from their music; some wave of the sensation
had spread to them, but seeing Colville remain seated, they went on with
their playing till he rose. Then Imogene called out, "Isn't Mrs. Bowen
coming back?"

"I don't know; I think not," answered Colville stupidly, standing where
he had risen.

She hastened questioning toward him. "What is the matter? Isn't she
well?"

Mr. Morton's face expressed a polite share in her anxiety.

"Oh yes; quite, I believe," Colville replied.

"She heard Effie call, I suppose," suggested the girl.

"Yes, yes; I think so; that is--yes. I must be going. Good night."

He took her hand and went away, leaving the clergyman still there; but
he lingered only for a report from Mrs. Bowen, which Imogene hurried to
get. She sent word that she would join them presently. But Mr. Morion
said that it was late already, and he would beg Miss Graham to say
good-night for him. When Mrs. Bowen returned Imogene was alone.

She did not seem surprised or concerned at that. "Imogene, I have been
talking to Mr. Colville about you and Mr. Morton."

The girl started and turned pale.

"It is almost time to hear from your mother, and she may consent to your
engagement. Then you must be prepared to act."

"Act?"

"To make it known. Matters can't go on as they have been going. I told
Mr. Colville that Mr. Morton ought to know at once."

"Why ought he to know?" asked Imogene, doubtless with that impulse to
temporise which is natural to the human soul in questions of right and
interest. She sank into the chair beside which she had been standing.

"If your mother consents, you will feel bound to Mr. Colville?"

"Yes," said the girl.

"And if she refuses?"

"He has my word. I will keep my word to him," replied Imogene huskily.
"Nothing shall make me break it."

"Very well, then!" exclaimed Mrs. Bowen. "We need not wait for your
mother's answer. Mr. Morton ought to know, and he ought to know at once.
Don't try to blind yourself, Imogene, to what you see as plainly as I
do. He is in love with you."

"Oh," moaned the girl.

"Yes; you can't deny it. And it's cruel, it's treacherous, to let him go
on thinking that you are free."

"I will never see him again."

"Ah! that isn't enough. He has a claim to know why. I will not let him
be treated so."

They were both silent. Then, "What did Mr. Colville say?" asked Imogene.

"He? I don't know that he said anything. He----" Mrs. Bowen stopped.

Imogene rose from her chair.

"I will not let him tell Mr. Morton. It would be too indelicate."

"And shall you let it go on so?"

"No. I will tell him myself."

"How will you tell him?"

"I will tell him if he speaks to me."

"You will let it come to that?"

"There is no other way. I shall suffer more than he."

"But you will deserve to suffer, and your suffering will not help him."

Imogene trembled into her chair again.

"I see," said Mrs. Bowen bitterly, "how it will be at last. It will be
as it has been from the first." She began to walk up and down the room,
mechanically putting the chairs in place, and removing the disorder in
which the occupancy of several people leaves a room at the end of an
evening. She closed the piano, which Imogene had forgot to shut, with a
clash that jarred the strings from their silence. "But I will do it, and
I wonder----"

"You will speak to him?" faltered the girl.

"Yes!" returned Mrs. Bowen vehemently, and arresting herself in her
rapid movements. "It won't do for you to tell him, and you won't let Mr.
Colville."

"No, I can't," said Imogene, slowly shaking her head. "But I will
discourage him; I will not see him anymore." Mrs. Bowen silently
confronted her. "I will not see any one now till I have heard from
home."

"And how will that help? He must have some explanation, and I will have
to make it. What shall it be?"

Imogene did not answer. She said: "I will not have any one know what is
between me and Mr. Colville till I have heard from home. If they try to
refuse, then it will be for him to take me against their will. But if he
doesn't choose to do that, then he shall be free, and I won't have him
humiliated a second time before the world. _This_ time _he_ shall be the
one to reject. And I don't care who suffers. The more I prize the
person, the gladder I shall be; and if I could suffer before everybody I
would. If people ever find it out, I will tell them that it was he who
broke it off." She rose again from her chair, and stood flushed and
thrilling with the notion of her self-sacrifice. Out of the tortuous
complexity of the situation she had evolved this brief triumph, in which
she rejoiced as if it were enduring success. But she suddenly fell from
it in the dust. "Oh, what can I do for him? How can I make him feel more
and more that I would give up anything, everything, for him! It's
because he asks nothing and wants nothing that it's so hard! If I could
see that he was unhappy, as I did once! If I could see that he was at
all different since--since----Oh, what I dread is this smooth
tranquillity! If our lives could only be stormy and full of cares and
anxieties and troubles that I could take on myself, then, then I
shouldn't be afraid of the future! But I'm afraid they won't be so--no,
I'm afraid that they will be easy and quiet, and then what shall I do? O
Mrs. Bowen, do you think he cares for me?"

Mrs. Bowen turned white; she did not speak.

The girl wrung her hands. "Sometimes it seems as if he didn't--as if I
had forced myself on him through a mistake, and he had taken me to save
me from the shame of knowing that I had made a mistake. Do you think
that is true? If you can only tell me that it isn't--Or, no! If it is
true, tell me that! _That_ would be real mercy."

The other trembled, as if physically beaten upon by this appeal. But she
gathered herself together rigidly. "How can I answer you such a thing as
that? I mustn't listen to you; you mustn't ask me." She turned and left
the girl standing still in her attitude of imploring. But in her own
room, where she locked herself in, sobs mingled with the laughter which
broke crazily from her lips as she removed this ribbon and that jewel,
and pulled the bracelets from her wrists. A man would have plunged from
the house and walked the night away; a woman must wear it out in her
bed.






XX


In the morning Mrs. Bowen received a note from her banker covering a
despatch by cable from America. It was from Imogene's mother; it
acknowledged the letters they had written, and announced that she sailed
that day for Liverpool. It was dated at New York, and it was to be
inferred that after perhaps writing in answer to their letters, she had
suddenly made up her mind to come out.

"Yes, that is it," said Imogene, to whom Mrs. Bowen hastened with the
despatch. "Why should she have telegraphed to _you_?" she asked coldly,
but with a latent fire of resentment in her tone.

"You must ask her when she comes," returned Mrs. Bowen, with all her
gentleness. "It won't be long now."

They looked as if they had neither of them slept; but the girl's vigil
seemed to have made her wild and fierce, like some bird that has beat
itself all night against its cage, and still from time to time feebly
strikes the bars with its wings. Mrs. Bowen was simply worn to apathy.

"What shall you do about this?" she asked.

"Do about it? Oh, I will think. I will try not to trouble you."

"Imogene!"

"I shall have to tell Mr. Colville. But I don't know that I shall tell
him at once. Give me the despatch, please." She possessed herself of it
greedily, offensively. "I shall ask you not to speak of it."

"I will do whatever you wish."

"Thank you."

Mrs. Bowen left the room, but she turned immediately to re-open the door
she had closed behind her.

"We were to have gone to Fiesole to-morrow," she said inquiringly.

"We can still go if the day is fine," returned the girl. "Nothing is
changed. I wish very much to go. Couldn't we go to-day?" she added, with
eager defiance.

"It's too late to-day," said Mrs. Bowen quietly. "I will write to remind
the gentlemen."

"Thank you. I wish we could have gone to-day."

"You can have the carriage if you wish to drive anywhere," said Mrs.
Bowen.

"I will take Effie to see Mrs. Amsden." But Imogene changed her mind,
and went to call upon two Misses Guicciardi, the result of an
international marriage, whom Mrs. Bowen did not like very well. Imogene
drove with them to the Cascine, where they bowed to a numerous military
acquaintance, and they asked her if Mrs. Bowen would let her join them
in a theatre party that evening: they were New-Yorkers by birth, and it
was to be a theatre party in the New York style; they were to be
chaperoned by a young married lady; two young men cousins of theirs,
just out from America, had taken the box.

When Imogene returned home she told Mrs. Bowen that she had accepted
this invitation. Mrs. Bowen said nothing, but when one of the young men
came up to hand Imogene down to the carriage, which was waiting with the
others at the gate, she could not have shown a greater tolerance of his
second-rate New Yorkiness if she had been a Boston dowager offering him
the scrupulous hospitalities of her city.

Imogene came in at midnight; she hummed an air of the opera as she took
off her wraps and ornaments in her room, and this in the quiet of the
hour had a terrible, almost profane effect: it was as if some other kind
of girl had whistled. She showed the same nonchalance at breakfast,
where she was prompt, and answered Mrs. Bowen's inquiries about her
pleasure the night before with a liveliness that ignored the polite
resolution that prompted them.

Mr. Morton was the first to arrive, and if his discouragement began at
once, the first steps masked themselves in a reckless welcome, which
seemed to fill him with joy, and Mrs. Bowen with silent perplexity. The
girl ran on about her evening at the opera, and about the weather, and
the excursion they were going to make; and after an apparently needless
ado over the bouquet which he brought her, together with one for Mrs.
Bowen, she put it into her belt, and made Colville notice it when he
came: he had not thought to bring flowers.

He turned from her hilarity with anxious question to Mrs. Bowen, who did
not meet his eye, and who snubbed Effie when the child found occasion to
whisper: "_I_ think Imogene is acting very strangely, for _her_; don't
you, mamma? It seems as if going with those Guicciardi girls just once
had spoiled her."

"Don't make remarks about people, Effie," said her mother sharply. "It
isn't nice in little girls, and I don't want you to do it. You talk too
much lately."

Effie turned grieving away from this rejection, and her face did not
light up even at the whimsical sympathy in Colville's face, who saw that
she had met a check of some sort; he had to take her on his knee and
coax and kiss her before her wounded feelings were visibly healed. He
put her down with a sighing wish that some one could take him up and
soothe his troubled sensibilities too, and kept her hand in his while he
sat waiting for the last of those last moments in which the hurrying
delays of ladies preparing for an excursion seem never to end.

When they were ready to get into the carriage, the usual contest of
self-sacrifice arose, which Imogene terminated by mounting to the front
seat; Mr. Morton hastened to take the seat beside her, and Colville was
left to sit with Effie and her mother. "You old people will be safer
back there," said Imogene. It was a little joke which she addressed to
the child, but a gleam from her eye as she turned to speak to the young
man at her side visited Colville in desperate defiance. He wondered what
she was about in that allusion to an idea which she had shrunk from so
sensitively hitherto. But he found himself in a situation which he could
not penetrate at any point. When he spoke with Mrs. Bowen, it was with a
dark undercurrent of conjecture as to how and when she expected him to
tell Mr. Morton of his relation to Imogene, or whether she still
expected him to do it; when his eyes fell upon the face of the young
man, he despaired as to the terms in which he should put the fact; any
form in which he tacitly dramatised it remained very embarrassing, for
he felt bound to say that while he held himself promised in the matter,
he did not allow her to feel herself so.

A sky of American blueness and vastness, a mellow sun, and a delicate
breeze did all that these things could for them, as they began the long,
devious climb of the hills crowned by the ancient Etruscan city. At
first they were all in the constraint of their own and one another's
moods, known or imagined, and no talk began till the young clergyman
turned to Imogene and asked, after a long look at the smiling landscape,
"What sort of weather do you suppose they are having at Buffalo to-day?"

"At Buffalo?" she repeated, as if the place had only a dim existence in
her remotest consciousness. "Oh! The ice isn't near out of the lake yet.
You can't count on it before the first of May."

"And the first of May comes sooner or later, according to the season,"
said Colville. "I remember coming on once in the middle of the month,
and the river was so full of ice between Niagara Falls and Buffalo that
I had to shut the car window that I'd kept open all the way through
Southern Canada. But we have very little of that local weather at home;
our weather is as democratic and continental as our political
constitution. Here it's March or May any time from September till June,
according as there's snow on the mountains or not."

The young man smiled. "But don't you like," he asked with deference,
"this slow, orderly advance of the Italian spring, where the flowers
seem to come out one by one, and every blossom has its appointed time?"

"Oh yes, it's very well in its way; but I prefer the rush of the
American spring; no thought of mild weather this morning; a warm, gusty
rain to-morrow night; day after to-morrow a burst of blossoms and
flowers and young leaves and birds. I don't know whether we were made
for our climate or our climate was made for us, but its impatience and
lavishness seem to answer some inner demand of our go-ahead souls. This
happens to be the week of the peach blossoms here, and you see their
pink everywhere to-day, and you don't see anything else in the blossom
line. But imagine the American spring abandoning a whole week of her
precious time to the exclusive use of peach blossoms! She wouldn't do
it; she's got too many other things on hand."

Effie had stretched out over Colville's lap, and with her elbow sunk
deep in his knee, was renting her chin in her hand and taking the facts
of the landscape thoroughly in. "Do they have just a week?" she asked.

"Not an hour more or less," said Colville. "If they found an almond
blossom hanging round anywhere after their time came, they would make an
awful row; and if any lazy little peach-blow hadn't got out by the time
their week was up, it would have to stay in till next year; the pear
blossoms wouldn't let it come out."

"Wouldn't they?" murmured the child, in dreamy sympathy with this
belated peach-blow.

"Well, that's what people say. In America it would be allowed to come
out any time. It's a free country."

Mrs. Bowen offered to draw Effie back to a posture of more decorum, but
Colville put his arm round the little girl. "Oh, let her stay! It
doesn't incommode me, and she must be getting such a novel effect of the
landscape."

The mother fell back into her former attitude of jaded passivity. He
wondered whether she had changed her mind about having him speak to Mr.
Morton; her quiescence might well have been indifference; one could have
said, knowing the whole situation, that she had made up her mind to let
things take their course, and struggle with them no longer.

He could not believe that she felt content with him; she must feel far
otherwise; and he took refuge, as he had the power of doing, from the
discomfort of his own thoughts in jesting with the child, and mocking
her with this extravagance and that; the discomfort then became merely a
dull ache that insisted upon itself at intervals, like a grumbling
tooth.

The prospect was full of that mingled wildness and subordination that
gives its supreme charm to the Italian landscape; and without elements
of great variety, it combined them in infinite picturesqueness. There
were olive orchards and vineyards, and again vineyards and olive
orchards. Closer to the farm-houses and cottages there were peaches and
other fruit trees and kitchen-gardens; broad ribbons of grain waved
between the ranks of trees; around the white villas the spires of the
cypresses pierced the blue air. Now and then they came to a villa with
weather-beaten statues strutting about its parterres. A mild, pleasant
heat brooded upon the fields and roofs, and the city, dropping lower and
lower as they mounted, softened and blended its towers and monuments in
a sombre mass shot with gleams of white.

Colville spoke to Imogene, who withdrew her eyes from it with a sigh,
after long brooding upon the scene. "You can do nothing with it, I see."

"With what?"

"The landscape. It's too full of every possible interest. What a history
is written all over it, public and private! If you don't take it simply
like any other landscape, it becomes an oppression. It's well that
tourists come to Italy so ignorant, and keep so. Otherwise they couldn't
live to get home again; the past would crush them."

Imogene scrutinised him as if to extract some personal meaning from his
words, and then turned her head away. The clergyman addressed him with
what was like a respectful toleration of the drolleries of a gifted but
eccentric man, the flavour of whose talk he was beginning to taste.

"You don't really mean that one shouldn't come to Italy as well informed
as possible?"

"Well, I did," said Colville, "but I don't."

The young man pondered this, and Imogene started up with an air of
rescuing them from each other--as if she would not let Mr. Morton think
Colville trivial or Colville consider the clergyman stupid, but would do
what she could to take their minds off the whole question. Perhaps she
was not very clear as to how this was to be done; at any rate she did
not speak, and Mrs. Bowen came to her support, from whatever motive of
her own. It might have been from a sense of the injustice of letting Mr.
Morton suffer from the complications that involved herself and the
others. The affair had been going very hitchily ever since they started,
with the burden of the conversation left to the two men and that
helpless girl; if it were not to be altogether a failure she must
interfere."

"Did you ever hear of Gratiano when you were in Venice?" she asked Mr.
Morton.

"Is he one of their new water-colourists?" returned the young man. "I
heard they had quite a school there now."

"No," said Mrs. Bowen, ignoring her failure as well as she could; "he
was a famous talker; he loved to speak an infinite deal of nothing more
than any man in Venice."

"An ancestor of mine, Mr. Morton," said Colville; "a poor, honest man,
who did his best to make people forget that the ladies were silent.
Thank you, Mrs. Bowen, for mentioning him. I wish he were with us
to-day."

The young man laughed. "Oh, in the _Merchant of Venice_!"

"No other," said Colville.

"I confess," said Mrs. Bowen, "that I _am_ rather stupid this morning. I
suppose it's the softness of the air; it's been harsh and irritating so
long. It makes me drowsy."

"Don't mind _us_," returned Colville. "We will call you at important
points." They were driving into a village at which people stop sometimes
to admire the works of art in its church. "Here, for example, is--What
place is this?" he asked of the coachman.

"San Domenico."

"I should know it again by its beggars." Of all ages and sexes they
swarmed round the carriage, which the driver had instinctively slowed to
oblige them, and thrust forward their hands and hats. Colville gave
Effie his small change to distribute among them, at sight of which they
streamed down the street from every direction. Those who had received
brought forward the halt and blind, and did not scruple to propose being
rewarded for this service. At the same time they did not mind his
laughing in their faces; they laughed too, and went off content, or as
nearly so as beggars ever are. He buttoned up his pocket as they drove
on more rapidly. "I am the only person of no principle--except Effie--in
the carriage, and yet I am at this moment carrying more blessings out of
this village than I shall ever know what to do with. Mrs. Bowen, I know,
is regarding me with severe disapproval. She thinks that I ought to have
sent the beggars of San Domenico to Florence, where they would all be
shut up in the Pia Casa di Ricovero, and taught some useful occupation.
It's terrible in Florence. You can walk through Florence now and have no
appeal made to your better nature that is not made at the appellant's
risk of imprisonment. When I was there before, you had opportunities of
giving at every turn."

"You can send a cheque to the Pia Casa," said Mrs. Bowen.

"Ah, but what good would that do me? When I give I want the pleasure of
it; I want to see my beneficiary cringe under my bounty. But I've tried
in vain to convince you that the world has gone wrong in other ways. Do
you remember the one-armed man whom we used to give to on the Lung'
Arno? That persevering sufferer has been repeatedly arrested for
mendicancy, and obliged to pay a fine out of his hard earnings to escape
being sent to your Pia Casa."

Mrs. Bowen smiled, and said, Was he living yet? in a pensive tone of
reminiscence. She was even more than patient of Colville's nonsense. It
seemed to him that the light under her eyelids was sometimes a grateful
light. Confronting Imogene and the young man whose hopes of her he was
to destroy at the first opportunity, the lurid moral atmosphere which he
breathed seemed threatening to become a thing apparent to sense, and to
be about to blot the landscape. He fought it back as best he could, and
kept the hovering cloud from touching the earth by incessant effort. At
times he looked over the side of the carriage, and drew secretly a long
breath of fatigue. It began to be borne in upon him that these ladies
were using him ill in leaving him the burden of their entertainment. He
became angry, but his heart softened, and he forgave them again, for he
conjectured that he was the cause of the cares that kept them silent. He
felt certain that the affair had taken some new turn. He wondered if
Mrs. Bowen had told Imogene what she had demanded of him. But he could
only conjecture and wonder in the dreary undercurrent of thought that
flowed evenly and darkly on with the talk he kept going. He made the
most he could of the varying views of Florence which the turns and
mounting levels of the road gave him. He became affectionately grateful
to the young clergyman when he replied promptly and fully, and took an
interest in the objects or subjects he brought up.

Neither Mrs. Bowen nor Imogene was altogether silent. The one helped on
at times wearily, and the other broke at times from her abstraction.
Doubtless the girl had undertaken too much in insisting upon a party of
pleasure with her mind full of so many things, and doubtless Mrs. Bowen
was sore with a rankling resentment at her insistence, and vexed at
herself for having yielded to it. If at her time of life and with all
her experience of it, she could not rise under this inner load, Imogene
must have been crushed by it.

Her starts from the dreamy oppression, if that were what kept her
silent, took the form of aggression, when she disagreed with Colville
about things he was saying, or attacked him for this or that thing which
he had said in times past. It was an unhappy and unamiable
self-assertion, which he was not able to compassionate so much when she
resisted or defied Mrs. Bowen, as she seemed seeking to do at every
point. Perhaps another would not have felt it so; it must have been
largely in his consciousness; the young clergyman seemed not to see
anything in these bursts but the indulgence of a gay caprice, though his
laughing at them did not alleviate the effect to Colville, who, when he
turned to Mrs. Bowen for her alliance, was astonished with a prompt
snub, unmistakable to himself, however imperceptible to others.

He found what diversion and comfort he could in the party of children
who beset them at a point near the town, and followed the carriage,
trying to sell them various light and useless trifles made of
straw--fans, baskets, parasols, and the like. He bought recklessly of
them and gave them to Effie, whom he assured, without the applause of
the ladies, and with the grave question of the young clergyman, that the
vendors were little Etruscan girls, all at least twenty-five hundred
years old. "It's very hard to find any Etruscans under that age; most of
the grown-up people are three thousand."

The child humoured his extravagance with the faith in fable which
children are able to command, and said, "Oh, tell me about them!" while
she pushed up closer to him, and began to admire her presents, holding
them up before her, and dwelling fondly upon them one by one.

"Oh, there's very little to tell," answered Colville. "They're mighty
close people, and always keep themselves very much _to_ themselves. But
wouldn't you like to see a party of Etruscans of all ages, even down to
little babies only eleven or twelve hundred years old, come driving into
an American town? It would make a great excitement, wouldn't it?"

"It would be splendid."

"Yes; we would give them a collation in the basement of the City Hall,
and drive them out to the cemetery. The Americans and Etruscans are very
much alike in that--they always show you their tombs."

"Will they in Fiesole?"

"How you always like to burrow into the past!" interrupted Imogene.

"Well, it's rather difficult burrowing into the future," returned
Colville defensively. Accepting the challenge, he added: "Yes, I should
really like to meet a few Etruscans in Fiesole this morning. I should
feel as if I'd got amongst my contemporaries at last; they would
understand me."

The girl's face flushed. "Then no one else can understand you?"

"Apparently not. I am the great American _incompris_."

"I'm sorry for you," she returned feebly; and, in fact, sarcasm was not
her strong point.

When they entered the town they found the Etruscans preoccupied with
other visitors, whom at various points in the quaint little piazza they
surrounded in dense groups, to their own disadvantage as guides and
beggars and dealers in straw goods. One of the groups reluctantly
dispersed to devote itself to the new arrivals, and these then perceived
that it was a party of artists, scattered about and sketching, which had
absorbed the attention of the population. Colville went to the
restaurant to order lunch, leaving the ladies to the care of Mr. Morton.
When he came back he found the carriage surrounded by the artists, who
had turned out to be the Inglehart boys. They had walked up to Fiesole
the afternoon before, and they had been sketching there all the morning.
With the artist's indifference to the conventional objects of interest,
they were still ignorant of what ought to be seen in Fiesole by
tourists, and they accepted Colville's proposition to be of his party in
going the rounds of the Cathedral, the Museum, and the view from that
point of the wall called the Belvedere. They found that they had been at
the Belvedere before without knowing that it merited particular
recognition, and some of them had made sketches from it--of bits of
architecture and landscape, and of figure amongst the women with straw
fans and baskets to sell, who thronged round the whole party again, and
interrupted the prospect. In the church they differed amongst themselves
as to the best bits for study, and Colville listened in whimsical
despair to the enthusiasm of their likings and dislikings. All that was
so far from him now; but in the Museum, which had only a thin interest
based upon a small collection of art and archeology, he suffered a real
affliction in the presence of a young Italian couple, who were probably
plighted lovers. They went before a grey-haired pair, who might have
been the girl's father and mother, and they looked at none of the
objects, though they regularly stopped before them and waited till their
guide had said his say about them. The girl, clinging tight to the young
man's arm, knew nothing but him; her mouth and eyes were set in a
passionate concentration of her being upon him, and he seemed to walk in
a dream of her. From time to time they peered upon each other's faces,
and then they paused, rapt and indifferent to all besides.

The young painters had their jokes about it; even Mr. Morton smiled, and
Mrs. Bowen recognised it. But Imogene did not smile; she regarded the
lovers with an interest in them scarcely less intense than their
interest in each other; and a cold perspiration of question broke out on
Colville's forehead. Was that her ideal of what her own engagement
should be? Had she expected him to behave in that way to her, and to
accept from her a devotion like that girl's? How bitterly he must have
disappointed her! It was so impossible to him that the thought of it
made him feel that he must break all ties which bound him to anything
like it. And yet he reflected that the time was when he could have been
equal to that, and even more.

After lunch the painters joined them again, and they all went together
to visit the ruins of the Roman theatre and the stretch of Etruscan wall
beyond it. The former seems older than the latter, whose huge blocks of
stone lie as firmly and evenly in their courses as if placed there a
year ago; the turf creeps to the edge at top, and some small trees nod
along the crest of the wall, whose ancient face, clean and bare, looks
sternly out over a vast prospect, now young and smiling in the first
delight of spring. The piety or interest of the community, which guards
the entrance to the theatre by a fee of certain centesimi, may be
concerned in keeping the wall free from the grass and vines which are
stealing the half-excavated arena back to forgetfulness and decay; but
whatever agency it was, it weakened the appeal that the wall made to the
sympathy of the spectators.

They could do nothing with it; the artists did not take their
sketch-blocks from their pockets. But in the theatre, where a few broken
columns marked the place of the stage, and the stone benches of the
auditorium were here and there reached by a flight of uncovered steps,
the human interest returned.

"I suspect that there is such a thing as a ruin's being too old," said
Colville. "Our Etruscan friends made the mistake of building their wall
several thousand years too soon for our purpose."

"Yes," consented the young clergyman. "It seems as if our own race
became alienated from us through the mere effect of time, don't you
think, sir? I mean, of course, terrestrially."

The artists looked uneasy, as if they had not counted upon anything of
this kind, and they began to scatter about for points of view. Effie got
her mother's leave to run up and down one of the stairways, if she would
not fall. Mrs. Bowen sat down on one of the lower steps, and Mr. Morton
took his place respectfully near her.

"I wonder how it looks from the top?" Imogene asked this of Colville,
with more meaning than seemed to belong to the question properly.

"There is nothing like going to see," he suggested. He helped her up,
giving her his hand from one course of seats to another. When they
reached the point which commanded the best view of the whole, she sat
down, and he sank at her feet, but they did not speak of the view.

"Theodore, I want to tell you something," she said abruptly. "I have
heard from home."

"Yes?" he replied, in a tone in which he did his best to express a
readiness for any fate.

"Mother has telegraphed. She is coming out. She is on her way now. She
will be here very soon."

Colville did not know exactly what to say to these passionately
consecutive statements. "Well?" he said at last.

"Well"--she repeated his word--"what do you intend to do?"

"Intend to do in what event?" he asked, lifting his eyes for the first
time to the eyes which he felt burning down upon him.

"If she should refuse?"

Again he could not command an instant answer, but when it came it was a
fair one. "It isn't for me to say what I shall do," he replied gravely.
"Or, if it is, I can only say that I will do whatever you wish."

"Do _you_ wish nothing?"

"Nothing but your happiness."

"Nothing but my happiness!" she retorted. "What is my happiness to me?
Have I ever sought it?"

"I can't say," he answered; "but if I did not think you would find it--"

"I shall find it, if ever I find it, in yours," she interrupted. "And
what shall you do if my mother will not consent to our engagement?"

The experienced and sophisticated man--for that in no ill way was what
Colville was--felt himself on trial for his honour and his manhood by
this simple girl, this child. He could not endure to fall short of her
ideal of him at that moment, no matter what error or calamity the
fulfilment involved. "If you feel sure that you love me, Imogene, it
will make no difference to me what your mother says. I would be glad of
her consent; I should hate to go counter to her will; but I know that I
am good enough man to be true and keep you all my life the first in all
my thoughts, and that's enough for me. But if you have any fear, any
doubt of yourself, now is the time--"

Imogene rose to her feet as in some turmoil of thought or emotion that
would not suffer her to remain quiet.

"Oh, keep still!" "Don't get up yet!" "Hold on a minute, please!" came
from the artists in different parts of the theatre, and half a dozen
imploring pencils were waved in the air.

"They are sketching you," said Colville, and she sank compliantly into
her seat again.

"I have no doubt for myself--no," she said, as if there had been no
interruption.

"Then we need have no anxiety in meeting your mother," said Colville,
with a light sigh, after a moment's pause. "What makes you think she
will be unfavourable?"

"I don't think that; but I thought--I didn't know but--"

"What?"

"Nothing, now." Her lips were quivering; he could see her struggle for
self-control, but he could not see it unmoved.

"Poor child!" he said, putting out his hand toward her.

"Don't take my hand; they're all looking," she begged.

He forbore, and they remained silent and motionless a little while,
before she had recovered herself sufficiently to speak again.

"Then we are promised to each other, whatever happens," she said.

"Yes."

"And we will never speak of this again. But there is one thing. Did Mrs.
Bowen ask you to tell Mr. Morton of our engagement?"

"She said that I ought to do so."

"And did you say you would?"

"I don't know. But I suppose I ought to tell him."

"I don't wish you to!" cried the girl.

"You don't wish me to tell him?"

"No; I will not have it!"

"Oh, very well; it's much easier not. But it seems to me that it's only
fair to him."

"Did you think of that yourself?" she demanded fiercely.

"No," returned Colville, with sad self-recognition. "I'm afraid I'm not
apt to think of the comforts and rights of other people. It was Mrs.
Bowen who thought of it."

"I knew it!"

"But I must confess that I agreed with her, though I would have
preferred to postpone it till we heard from your family." He was
thoughtfully silent a moment; then he said, "But if their decision is to
have no weight with us, I think he ought to be told at once."

"Do you think that I am flirting with him?"

"Imogene!" exclaimed Colville reproachfully.

"That's what you imply; that's what she implies."

"You're very unjust to Mrs. Bowen, Imogene."

"Oh, you always defend her! It isn't the first time you've told me I was
unjust to her."

"I don't mean that you are willingly unjust, or could be so, to any
living creature, least of all to her. But I--we--owe her so much; she
has been so patient."

"What do we owe her? How has she been patient?"

"She has overcome her dislike to me."

"Oh, indeed!"

"And--and I feel under obligation to her for--in a thousand little ways;
and I should be glad to feel that we were acting with her approval; I
should like to please her."

"You wish to tell Mr. Morton?"

"I think I ought."

"To please Mrs. Bowen! Tell him, then! You always cared more to please
her than me. Perhaps you stayed in Florence to please her!"

She rose and ran down the broken seats and ruined steps so recklessly
and yet so sure-footedly that it seemed more like a flight than a pace
to the place where Mrs. Bowen and Mr. Morton were talking together.

Colville followed as he could, slowly and with a heavy heart. A good
thing develops itself in infinite and unexpected shapes of good; a bad
thing into manifold and astounding evils. This mistake was whirling away
beyond his recall in hopeless mazes of error. He saw this generous young
spirit betrayed by it to ignoble and unworthy excess, and he knew that
he and not she was to blame.

He was helpless to approach her, to speak with her, to set her right,
great as the need of that was, and he could see that she avoided him.
But their relations remained outwardly undisturbed. The artists brought
their sketches for inspection and comment, and, without speaking to each
other, he and Imogene discussed them with the rest.

When they started homeward the painters said they were coming a little
way with them for a send-off, and then going back to spend the night in
Fiesole. They walked beside the carriage, talking with Mrs. Bowen and
Imogene, who had taken their places, with Effie between them, on the
back seat; and when they took their leave, Colville and the young
clergyman, who had politely walked with them, continued on foot a little
further, till they came to the place where the highway to Florence
divided into the new road and the old. At this point it steeply overtops
the fields on one side, which is shored up by a wall some ten or twelve
feet deep; and here round a sharp turn of the hill on the other side
came a peasant driving a herd of the black pigs of the country.

Mrs. Bowen's horses were, perhaps, pampered beyond the habitual
resignation of Florentine horses to all manner of natural phenomena;
they reared at sight of the sable crew, and backing violently uphill,
set the carriage across the road, with its hind wheels a few feet from
the brink of the wall. The coachman sprang from his seat, the ladies and
the child remained in theirs as if paralysed.

Colville ran forward to the side of the carriage. "Jump, Mrs. Bowen!
jump, Effie! Imogene--"

The mother and the little one obeyed. He caught them in his arms and set
them down. The girl sat still, staring at him with reproachful, with
disdainful eyes.

He leaped forward to drag her out; she shrank away, and then he flew to
help the coachman, who had the maddened horses by the bit.

"Let go!" he heard the young clergyman calling to him; "she's safe!" He
caught a glimpse of Imogene, whom Mr. Morton had pulled from the other
side of the carriage. He struggled to free his wrist from the curb-bit
chain of the horse, through which he had plunged it in his attempt to
seize the bridle. The wheels of the carriage went over the wall; he felt
himself whirled into the air, and then swung ruining down into the
writhing and crashing heap at the bottom of the wall.






XXI


When Colville came to himself his first sensation was delight in the
softness and smoothness of the turf on which he lay. Then the strange
colour of the grass commended itself to his notice, and presently he
perceived that the thing under his head was a pillow, and that he was in
bed. He was supported in this conclusion by the opinion of the young man
who sat watching him a little way off, and who now smiled cheerfully at
the expression in the eyes which Colville turned inquiringly upon him.

"Where am I?" he asked, with what appeared to him very unnecessary
feebleness of voice.

The young man begged his pardon in Italian, and when Colville repeated
his question in that tongue, he told him that he was in Palazzo Pinti,
whither he had been brought from the scene of his accident. He added
that Colville must not talk till the doctor had seen him and given him
leave, and he explained that he was himself a nurse from the hospital,
who had been taking care of him.

Colville moved his head and felt the bandage upon it; he desisted in his
attempt to lift his right arm to it before the attendant could interfere
in behalf of the broken limb. He recalled dimly and fragmentarily long
histories that he had dreamed, but he forbore to ask how long he had
been in his present case, and he accepted patiently the apparition of
the doctor and other persons who came and went, and were at his bedside
or not there, as it seemed to him, between the opening and closing of an
eye. As the days passed they acquired greater permanence and maintained
a more uninterrupted identity. He was able to make quite sure of Mr.
Morton and of Mr. Waters; Mrs. Bowen came in, leading Effie, and this
gave him a great pleasure. Mrs. Bowen seemed to have grown younger and
better. Imogene was not among the phantoms who visited him; and he
accepted her absence as quiescently as he accepted the presence of the
others. There was a cheerfulness in those who came that permitted him no
anxiety, and he was too weak to invite it by any conjecture. He
consented to be spared and to spare himself; and there were some things
about the affair which gave him a singular and perhaps not wholly sane
content. One of these was the man nurse who had evidently taken care of
him throughout. He celebrated, whenever he looked at this capable
person, his escape from being, in the odious helplessness of sickness, a
burden upon the strength and sympathy of the two women for whom he had
otherwise made so much trouble. His satisfaction in this had much to do
with his recovery, which, when it once began, progressed rapidly to a
point where he was told that Imogene and her mother were at a hotel in
Florence, waiting till he should be strong enough to see them. It was
Mrs. Bowen who told him this with an air which she visibly strove to
render non-committal and impersonal, but which betrayed, nevertheless, a
faint apprehension for the effect upon him. The attitude of Imogene and
her mother was certainly not one to have been expected of people holding
their nominal relation to him, but Colville had been revising his
impressions of events on the day of his accident; Imogene's last look
came back to him, and he could not think the situation altogether
unaccountable.

"Have I been here a long time?" he asked, as if he had not heeded what
she told him.

"About a fortnight," answered Mrs. Bowen.

"And Imogene--how long has she been away?"

"Since they knew you would get well."

"I will see them any time," he said quietly.

"Do you think you are strong enough?"

"I shall never be stronger till I have seen them," he returned, with a
glance at her. "Yes; I want them to come to-day. I shall not be excited;
don't be troubled--if you were going to be," he added. "Please send to
them at once."

Mrs. Bowen hesitated, but after a moment left the room. She returned in
half an hour with a lady who revealed even to Colville's languid regard
evidences of the character which Mrs. Bowen had attributed to Imogene's
mother. She was a large, robust person, laced to sufficient shapeliness,
and she was well and simply dressed. She entered the room with a waft of
some clean, wholesome perfume, and a quiet temperament and perfect
health looked out of her clear, honest eyes--the eyes of Imogene Graham,
though the girl's were dark and the woman's were blue. When Mrs. Bowen
had named them to each other, in withdrawing, Mrs. Graham took
Colville's weak left hand in her fresh, strong, right, and then lifted
herself a chair to his bedside, and sat down.

"How do you do to-day, sir?" she said, with a touch of old-fashioned
respectfulness in the last word. "Do you think you are quite strong
enough to talk with me?"

"I think so," said Colville, with a faint smile. "At least I can listen
with fortitude."

Mrs. Graham was not apparently a person adapted to joking. "I don't know
whether it will require much fortitude to hear what I have to say or
not," she said, with her keen gaze fixed upon him. "It's simply this: I
am going to take Imogene home."

She seemed to expect that Colville would make some reply to this, and he
said blankly, "Yes?"

"I came out prepared to consent to what she wished, after I had seen
you, and satisfied myself that she was not mistaken; for I had always
promised myself that her choice should be perfectly untrammelled, and I
have tried to bring her up with principles and ideas that would enable
her to make a good choice."

"Yes," said Colville again. "I'm afraid you didn't take her temperament
and her youth into account, and that she disappointed you."

"No; I can't say that she did. It isn't that at all. I see no reason to
blame her for her choice. Her mistake was of another kind."

It appeared to Colville that this very sensible and judicial lady found
an intellectual pleasure in the analysis of the case, which modified the
intensity of her maternal feeling in regard to it, and that, like many
people who talk well, she liked to hear herself talk in the presence of
another appreciative listener. He did not offer to interrupt her, and
she went on. "No, sir, I am not disappointed in her choice. I think her
chances of happiness would have been greater, in the abstract, with one
nearer her own age; but that is a difference which other things affect
so much that it did not alarm me greatly. Some people are younger at
your age than at hers. No, sir, that is not the point." Mrs. Graham
fetched a sigh, as if she found it easier to say what was not the point
than to say what was, and her clear gaze grew troubled. But she
apparently girded herself for the struggle. "As far as you are
concerned, Mr. Colville, I have not a word to say. Your conduct
throughout has been most high-minded and considerate and delicate."

It is hard for any man to deny merits attributed to him, especially if
he has been ascribing to himself the opposite demerits. But Colville
summoned his dispersed forces to protest against this.

"Oh, no, no," he cried. "Anything but that. My conduct has been selfish
and shameful. If you could understand all--"

"I think I do understand all--at least far more, I regret to say, than
my daughter has been willing to tell me. And I am more than satisfied
with you. I thank you and honour you."

"Oh no; don't say that," pleaded Colville. "I really can't stand it."

"And when I came here it was with the full intention of approving and
confirming Imogene's decision. But I was met at once by a painful and
surprising state of things. You are aware that you have been very sick?"

"Dimly," said Colville.

"I found you very sick, and I found my daughter frantic at the error
which she had discovered in herself--discovered too late, as she felt."
Mrs. Graham hesitated, and then added abruptly, "She had found out that
she did not love you."

"Didn't love me?" repeated Colville feebly.

"She had been conscious of the truth before, but she had stifled her
misgivings insanely, and, as I feel, almost wickedly, pushing on, and
saying to herself that when you were married, then there would be no
escape, and she _must_ love you."

"Poor girl! poor child! I see, I see."

"But the accident that was almost your death saved her from that
miserable folly and iniquity. Yes," she continued, in answer to the
protest in his face, "folly and iniquity. I found her half crazed at
your bedside. She was fully aware of your danger, but while she was
feeling all the remorse that she ought to feel--that any one could
feel--she was more and more convinced that she never had loved you and
never should. I can give you no idea of her state of mind."

"Oh, you needn't! you needn't! Poor, poor child!"

"Yes, a child indeed. If it had not been for the pity I felt for
her--But no matter about that. She saw at last that if your heroic
devotion to her"--Colville did his best to hang his pillowed head for
shame--"if your present danger did not awaken her to some such feeling
for you as she had once imagined she had; if they both only increased
her despair and self-abhorrence, then the case was indeed hopeless. She
was simply distracted. I had to tear her away almost by force. She has
had a narrow escape from brain-fever. And now I have come to implore, to
_demand_"--Mrs. Graham, with all her poise and calm, was rising to the
hysterical key--"her release from a fate that would be worse than death
for such a girl. I mean marrying without the love of her whole soul. She
esteems you, she respects you, she admires you, she likes you; but--"
Mrs. Graham pressed her lips together, and her eyes shone.

"She is free," said Colville, and with the words a mighty load rolled
from his heart. "There is no need to demand anything."

"I know."

"There hasn't been an hour, an instant, during--since I--we--spoke
together that I wouldn't have released her if I could have known what
you tell me now."

"Of course!--of course!"

"I have had my fears--my doubts; but whenever I approached the point I
found no avenue by which we could reach a clearer understanding. I could
not say much without seeming to seek for myself the release I was
offering her."

"Naturally. And what added to her wretchedness was the suspicion at
the bottom of all that she had somehow forced herself upon you--
misunderstood you, and made you say and do things to spare her that
you would not have done voluntarily." This was advanced tentatively. In
the midst of his sophistications Colville had, as most of his sex have,
a native, fatal, helpless truthfulness, which betrayed him at the most
unexpected moments, and this must now have appeared in his countenance.
The lady rose haughtily. She had apparently been considering him, but,
after all, she must have been really considering her daughter. "If
anything of the kind was the case," she said, "I will ask you to spare
her the killing knowledge. It's quite enough for _me_ to know it. And
allow me to say, Mr. Colville, that it would have been far kinder in
you--"

"Ah, _think,_ my dear madam!" he exclaimed. "How _could_ I?"

She did think, evidently, and when she spoke it was with a generous
emotion, in which there was no trace of pique.

"You couldn't. You have done right; I feel that, and I will trust you to
say anything you will to my daughter."

"To your daughter? Shall I see her?"

"She came with me. She wished to beg your forgiveness."

Colville lay silent. "There is no forgiveness to be asked or granted,"
he said, at length. "Why should she suffer the pain of seeing me?--for
it would be nothing else. What do you think? Will it do her any good
hereafter? I don't care for myself."

"I don't know what to think," said Mrs. Graham. "She is a strange child.
She may have some idea of reparation."

"Oh, beseech her from me not to imagine that any reparation is due!
Where there has been an error there must be blame; but wherever it lies
in ours, I am sure it isn't at her door. Tell her I say this; tell her
that I acquit her with all my heart of every shadow of wrong; that I am
not unhappy, but glad for her sake and my own that this has ended as it
has." He stretched his left hand across the coverlet to her, and said,
with the feebleness of exhaustion, "Good-bye. Bid her good-bye for me."

Mrs. Graham pressed his hand and went out. A moment after the door was
flung open, and Imogene burst into the room. She threw herself on her
knees beside his bed. "I will _pray_ to you!" she said, her face intense
with the passions working in her soul. She seemed choking with words
which would not come; then, with an inarticulate cry that must stand for
all, she caught up the hand that lay limp on the coverlet; she crushed
it against her lips, and ran out of the room.

He sank into a deathly torpor, the physical refusal of his brain to take
account of what had passed. When he woke from it, little Effie Bowen was
airily tiptoeing about the room, fondly retouching its perfect order. He
closed his eyes, and felt her come to him and smooth the sheet softly
under his chin. Then he knew she must be standing with clasped hands
admiring the effect. Some one called her in whisper from the door. It
closed, and all was still again.






XXII


Colville got himself out of the comfort and quiet of Mrs. Bowen's house
as soon as he could. He made the more haste because he felt that if he
could have remained with the smallest trace of self-respect, he would
have been glad to stay there for ever.

Even as it was, the spring had advanced to early summer, and the sun was
lying hot and bright in the piazzas, and the shade dense and cool in the
narrow streets, before he left Palazzo Pinti; the Lung' Arno was a glare
of light that struck back from the curving line of the buff houses; the
river had shrivelled to a rill in its bed; the black cypresses were dim
in the tremor of the distant air on the hill-slopes beyond; the olives
seemed to swelter in the sun, and the villa walls to burn whiter and
whiter. At evening the mosquito began to wind his tiny horn. It was the
end of May, and nearly everybody but the Florentines had gone out of
Florence, dispersing to Villa Reggio by the sea, to the hills of
Pistoja, and to the high, cool air of Siena. More than once Colville had
said that he was keeping Mrs. Bowen after she ought to have got away,
and she had answered that she liked hot weather, and that this was not
comparable to the heat of Washington in June. She was looking very well,
and younger and prettier than she had since the first days of their
renewed acquaintance in the winter. Her southern complexion enriched
itself in the sun; sometimes when she came into his room from outdoors
the straying brown hair curled into loose rings on her temples, and her
cheeks glowed a deep red.

She said those polite things to appease him as long as he was not well
enough to go away, but she did not try to detain him after his strength
sufficiently returned. It was the blow on the head that kept him
longest. After his broken arm and his other bruises were quite healed,
he was aware of physical limits to thinking of the future or regretting
the past, and this sense of his powerlessness went far to reconcile him
to a life of present inaction and oblivion. Theoretically he ought to
have been devoured by remorse and chagrin, but as a matter of fact he
suffered very little from either. Even in people who are in full
possession of their capacity for mental anguish one observes that after
they have undergone a certain amount of pain they cease to feel.

Colville amused himself a good deal with Effie's endeavours to entertain
him and take care of him. The child was with him every moment that she
could steal from her tasks, and her mother no longer attempted to stem
the tide of her devotion. It was understood that Effie should joke and
laugh with Mr. Colville as much as she chose; that she should fan him as
long as he could stand it; that she should read to him when he woke, and
watch him when he slept. She brought him his breakfast, she petted him
and caressed him, and wished to make him a monster of dependence and
self-indulgence. It seemed to grieve her that he got well so fast.

The last night before he left the house she sat on his knee by the
window looking out beyond the firefly twinkle of Oltrarno, to the
silence and solid dark of the solemn company of hills beyond. They had
not lighted the lamps because of the mosquitoes, and they had talked
till her head dropped against his shoulder.

Mrs. Bowen came in to get her. "Why, is she asleep?"

"Yes. Don't take her yet," said Colville.

Mrs. Bowen rustled softly into the chair which Effie had left to get
into Colville's lap. Neither of them spoke, and he was so richly content
with the peace, the tacit sweetness of the little moment, that he would
have been glad to have it silently endure forever. If any troublesome
question of his right to such a moment of bliss obtruded itself upon
him, he did not concern himself with it.

"We shall have another hot day to-morrow," said Mrs. Bowen at length. "I
hope you will find your room comfortable."

"Yes: it's at the back of the hotel, mighty high, and wide, and no sun
ever comes into it except when they show it to foreigners in winter.
Then they get a few rays to enter as a matter of business, on condition
that they won't detain them. I dare say I shall stay there some time. I
suppose you will be getting away from Florence very soon.

"Yes. But I haven't decided where to go yet."

"Should you like some general expression of my gratitude for all you've
done for me, Mrs. Bowen?"

"No; I would rather not. It has been a great pleasure--to Effie."

"Oh, a luxury beyond the dreams of avarice." They spoke in low tones,
and there was something in the hush that suggested to Colville the
feasibility of taking into his unoccupied hand one of the pretty hands
which the pale night-light showed him lying in Mrs. Bowen's lap. But he
forbore, and only sighed. "Well, then, I will say nothing. But I shall
keep on thinking all my life."

She made no answer.

"When you are gone, I shall have to make the most of Mr. Waters," he
said.

"He is going to stop all summer, I believe."

"Oh yes. When I suggested to him the other day that he might find it too
hot, he said that he had seventy New England winters to thaw out of his
blood, and that all the summers he had left would not be more than he
needed. One of his friends told him that he could cook eggs in his
piazza in August, and he said that he should like nothing better than to
cook eggs there. He's the most delightfully expatriated compatriot I've
ever seen."

"Do you like it?"

"It's well enough for him. Life has no claims on him any more. I think
it's very pleasant over here, now that everybody's gone," added
Colville, from a confused resentfulness of collectively remembered Days
and Afternoons and Evenings. "How still the night is!"

A few feet clapping by on the pavement below alone broke the hush.

"Sometimes I feel very tired of it all, and want to get home," sighed
Mrs. Bowen.

"Well, so do I."

"I can't believe it's right staying away from the country so long."
People often say such things in Europe.

"No, I don't either, if you've got anything to do there."

"You can always make something to do there."

"Oh yes." Some young young men, breaking from a street near by, began to
sing. "We shouldn't have that sort of thing at home."

"No," said Mrs. Bowen pensively.

"I heard just such singing before I fell asleep the night after that
party at Madame Uccelli's, and it filled me with fury."

"Why should it do that?"

"I don't know. It seemed like voices from our youth--Lina."

She had no resentment of his use of her name in the tone with which she
asked: "Did you hate that so much?"

"No; the loss of it."

They both fetched a deep breath.

"The Uccellis have a villa near the baths of Lucca," said Mrs. Bowen.
"They have asked me to go."

"Do you think of going?" inquired Colville. "I've always fancied it must
be pleasant there."

"No; I declined. Sometimes I think I will just stay on in Florence."

"I dare say you'd find it perfectly comfortable. There's nothing like
having the range of one's own house in summer." He looked out of the
window on the blue-black sky.

  "'And deepening through their silent spheres,
   Heaven over heaven rose the night,'"


he quoted. "It's wonderful! Do you remember how I used to read _Mariana
in the South_ to you and poor Jenny? How it must have bored her! What an
ass I was!"

"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen breathlessly, in sympathy with his reminiscence
rather than in agreement with his self-denunciation.

Colville broke into a laugh, and then she began to laugh to; but not
quite willingly as it seemed.

Effie started from her sleep. "What--what is it?" she asked, stretching
and shivering as half-wakened children do.

"Bed-time," said her mother promptly, taking her hand to lead her away.
"Say good-night to Mr. Colville."

The child turned and kissed him. "Good night," she murmured.

"Good night, you sleepy little soul!" It seemed to Colville that he must
be a pretty good man, after all, if this little thing loved him so.

"Do you always kiss Mr. Colville good-night?" asked her mother when she
began to undo her hair for her in her room.

"Sometimes. Don't you think it's nice?"

"Oh yes; nice enough."

Colville sat by the window a long time thinking Mrs. Bowen might come
back; but she did not return.

Mr. Waters came to see him the next afternoon at his hotel.

"Are you pretty comfortable here?" he asked.

"Well, it's a change," said Colville. "I miss the little one awfully."

"She's a winning child," admitted the old man. "That combination of
conventionality and _naivete_ is very captivating. I notice it in the
mother."

"Yes, the mother has it too. Have you seen them to-day?"

"Yes; Mrs. Bowen was sorry to be out when you came."

"I had the misfortune to miss them. I had a great mind to go again
to-night."

The old man said nothing to this. "The fact is," Colville went on, "I'm
so habituated to being there that I'm rather spoiled."

"Ah, it's a nice place," Mr. Waters admitted.

"Of course I made all the haste I could to get away, and I have the
reward of a good conscience. But I don't find that the reward is very
great."

The old gentleman smiled. "The difficulty is to know conscience from
self-interest."

"Oh, there's no doubt of it in my case," said Colville. "If I'd
consulted my own comfort and advantage, I should still be at Palazzo
Pinti."

"I dare say they would have been glad to keep you."

"Do you really think so?" asked Colville, with sudden seriousness. "I
wish you would tell me why. Have you any reason--grounds? Pshaw! I'm
absurd!" He sank back into the easy-chair from whose depths he had
pulled himself in the eagerness of his demand, and wiped his forehead
with his handkerchief. "Mr. Waters, you remember my telling you of my
engagement to Miss Graham?"

"Yes."

"That is broken off--if it were ever really on. It was a great mistake
for both of us--a tragical one for her, poor child, a ridiculous one for
me. My only consolation is that it was a mistake and no more; but I
don't conceal from myself that I might have prevented it altogether if I
had behaved with greater wisdom and dignity at the outset. But I'm
afraid I was flattered by an illusion of hers that ought to have pained
and alarmed me, and the rest followed inevitably, though I was always
just on the point of escaping the consequences of my weakness--my
wickedness."

"Ah, there is something extremely interesting in all that," said the old
minister thoughtfully. "The situation used to be figured under the old
idea of a compact with the devil. His debtor was always on the point of
escaping, as you say, but I recollect no instance in which he did not
pay at last. The myth must have arisen from man's recognition of the
inexorable sequence of cause from effect, in the moral world, which even
repentance cannot avert. Goethe tries to imagine an atonement for
Faust's trespass against one human soul in his benefactions to the race
at large; but it is a very cloudy business."

"It isn't quite a parallel case," said Colville, rather sulkily. He had,
in fact, suffered more under Mr. Waters's generalisation than he could
from a more personal philosophy of the affair.

"Oh no; I didn't think that," consented the old man.

"And I don't think I shall undertake any extended scheme of drainage or
subsoiling in atonement for my little dream," Colville continued,
resenting the parity of outline that grew upon him in spite of his
protest. They were both silent for a while, and then Colville cried out,
"Yes, yes; they are alike. _I_ dreamed, too, of recovering and restoring
my own lost and broken past in the love of a young soul, and it was in
essence the same cruelly egotistic dream; and it's nothing in my defence
that it was all formless and undirected at first, and that as soon as I
recognised it I abhorred it."

"Oh yes, it is," replied the old man, with perfect equanimity. "Your
assertion is the hysterical excess of Puritanism in all times and
places. In the moral world we are responsible only for the wrong that we
intend. It can't he otherwise."

"And the evil that's suffered from the wrong we didn't intend?"

"Ah, perhaps that isn't evil."

"It's pain!"

"It's pain, yes."

"And to have wrung a young and innocent heart with the anguish of
self-doubt, with the fear of wrong to another, with the shame of an
error such as I allowed, perhaps encouraged her to make--"

"Yes," said the old man. "The young suffer terribly. But they recover.
Afterward we don't suffer so much, but we don't recover. I wouldn't
defend you against yourself if I thought you seriously in the wrong. If
you know yourself to be, you shouldn't let me."

Thus put upon his honour, Colville was a long time thoughtful. "How can
I tell?" he asked. "You know the facts; you can judge."

"If I were to judge at all, I should say you were likely to do a greater
wrong than any you have committed."

"I don't understand you."

"Miss Graham is a young girl, and I have no doubt that the young
clergyman--what was his name?"

"Morton. Do you think--do you suppose there was anything in that?"
demanded Colville, with eagerness, that a more humorous observer than
Mr. Waters might have found ludicrous. "He was an admirable young
fellow, with an excellent head and a noble heart. I underrated him at
one time, though I recognised his good qualities afterward; but I was
afraid she did not appreciate him."

"I'm not so sure of that," said the old man, with an astuteness of
manner which Colville thought authorised by some sort of definite
knowledge.

"I would give the world if it were so!" he cried fervently.

"But you are really very much more concerned in something else."

"In what else?"

"Can't you imagine?"

"No," said Colville; but he felt himself growing very red in the face.

"Then I have no more to say."

"Yes, speak!" And after an interval Colville added, "Is it anything
about--you hinted at something long ago--Mrs. Bowen?"

"Yes;" the old man nodded his head. "Do you owe her nothing?"

"Owe her nothing? Everything! My life! What self-respect is left me!
Immeasurable gratitude! The homage of a man saved from himself as far as
his stupidity and selfishness would permit! Why, I--I love her!" The
words gave him courage. "In every breath and pulse! She is the most
beautiful and gracious and wisest and best woman in the world! I have
loved her ever since I met her here in Florence last winter. Good
heavens! I must have always loved her! But," he added, falling from the
rapture of this confession, "she simply loathes _me_!"

"It was certainly not to your credit that you were willing at the same
time to marry some one else."

"Willing! I wasn't willing! I was bound hand and foot! Yes--I don't care
what you think of my weakness--I was not a free agent. It's very well to
condemn one's-self, but it may be carried too far; injustice to others
is not the only injustice, or the worst. What I was willing to do was to
keep my word--to prevent that poor child, if possible, from ever finding
out her mistake."

If Colville expected this heroic confession to impress his listener he
was disappointed. Mr. Waters made him no reply, and he was obliged to
ask, with a degree of sarcastic impatience, "I suppose you scarcely
blame me for that?"

"Oh, I don't know that I blame people for things. There are times when
it seems as if we were all puppets, pulled this way or that, without
control of our own movements. Hamlet was able to browbeat Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern with his business of the pipe; but if they had been in
a position to answer they might have told him that it required far less
skill to play upon a man than any other instrument. Most of us, in fact,
go sounding on without any special application of breath or fingers,
repeating the tunes that were played originally upon other men. It
appears to me that you suffered yourself to do something of the kind in
this affair. We are a long time learning to act with common-sense or
even common sanity in what are called matters of the affections. A
broken engagement may be a bad thing in some cases, but I am inclined to
think that it is the very best thing that could happen in most cases
where it happens. The evil is done long before; the broken engagement is
merely sanative, and so far beneficent."

The old gentleman rose, and Colville, dazed by the recognition of his
own cowardice and absurdity, did not try to detain him. But he followed
him down to the outer gate of the hotel. The afternoon sun was pouring
into the piazza a sea of glimmering heat, into which Mr. Waters plunged
with the security of a salamander. He wore a broad-brimmed Panama hat, a
sack coat of black alpaca, and loose trousers of the same material, and
Colville fancied him doubly defended against the torrid waves not only
by the stored cold of half a century of winters at Haddam East Village,
but by an inner coolness of spirit, which appeared to diffuse itself in
an appreciable atmosphere about him. It was not till he was gone that
Colville found himself steeped in perspiration, and glowing with a
strange excitement.






XXIII


Colville went back to his own room, and spent a good deal of time in the
contemplation of a suit of clothes, adapted to the season, which had
been sent home from the tailor's just before Mr. Waters came in. The
coat was of the lightest serge, the trousers of a pearly grey tending to
lavender, the waistcoat of cool white duck. On his way home from Palazzo
Pinti he had stopped in Via Tornabuoni and bought some silk gauze
neckties of a tasteful gaiety of tint, which he had at the time thought
very well of. But now, as he spread out the whole array on his bed, it
seemed too emblematic of a light and blameless spirit for his wear. He
ought to put on something as nearly analogous to sackcloth as a modern
stock of dry-goods afforded; he ought, at least, to wear the grave
materials of his winter costume. But they were really insupportable in
this sudden access of summer. Besides, he had grown thin during his
sickness, and the things bagged about him. If he were going to see Mrs.
Bowen that evening, he ought to go in some decent shape. It was perhaps
providential that he had failed to find her at home in the morning, when
he had ventured thither in the clumsy attire in which he had been
loafing about her drawing-room for the past week. He now owed it to her
to appear before her as well as he could. How charmingly punctilious she
always was herself!

As he put on his new clothes he felt the moral support which the
becomingness of dress alone can give. With the blue silk gauze lightly
tied under his collar, and the lapels of his thin coat thrown back to
admit his thumbs to his waistcoat pockets, he felt almost cheerful
before his glass. Should he shave? As once before, this important
question occurred to him. His thinness gave him some advantages of
figure, but he thought that it made his face older. What effect would
cutting off his beard have upon it? He had not seen the lower part of
his face for fifteen years. No one could say what recent ruin of a
double chin might not be lurking there. He decided not to shave, at
least till after dinner, and after dinner he was too impatient for his
visit to brook the necessary delay.

He was shown into the salotto alone, but Effie Bowen came running in to
meet him. She stopped suddenly, bridling.

"You never expected to see me looking quite so pretty," said Colville,
tracing the cause of her embarrassment to his summer splendour. "Where
is your mamma?"

"She is in the dining-room," replied the child, getting hold of his
hand. "She wants you to come and have coffee with us."

"By all means--not that I haven't had coffee already, though."

She led the way, looking up at him shyly over her shoulder as they went.

Mrs. Bowen rose, napkin in lap, and gave him a hand of welcome. "How are
you feeling to-day?" she asked, politely ignoring his finery.

"Like a new man," he said. And then he added, to relieve the strain of
the situation, "Of the best tailor's make in Florence."

"You look very well," she smiled.

"Oh, I always do when I take pains," said Colville. "The trouble is that
I don't always take pains. But I thought I would to-night, in upon a
lady."

"Effie will feel very much flattered," said Mrs. Bowen.

"Don't refuse a portion of the satisfaction," he cried.

"Oh, is it for me too?"

This gave Colville consolation which no religion or philosophy could
have brought him, and his pleasure was not marred, but rather
heightened, by the little pangs of expectation, bred by long custom,
that from moment to moment Imogene would appear. She did not appear, and
a thrill of security succeeded upon each alarm. He wished her well with
all his heart; such is the human heart that he wished her arrived home
the bretrothed of that excellent, that wholly unobjectionable young man,
Mr. Morton.

"Will you have a little of the ice before your coffee?" asked Mrs.
Bowen, proposing one of the moulded creams with her spoon.

"Yes, thank you. Perhaps I will take it in place of the coffee. They
forgot to offer us any ice at the _table d'hote_ this evening."

"This is rather luxurious for us," said Mrs. Bowen. "It's a compromise
with Effie. She wanted me to take her to Giacosa's this afternoon."

"I _thought_ you would come," whispered the child to Colville.

Her mother made a little face of mock surprise at her. "Don't give
yourself away, Effie."

"Why, let us go to Giacosa's too," said Colville, taking the ice. "We
shall be the only foreigners there, and we shall not even feel ourselves
foreign. It's astonishing how the hot weather has dispersed the
tourists. I didn't see a Baedeker on the whole way up here, and I walked
down Via Tornabuoni across through Porta Rosso and the Piazza della
Signoria and the Uffizzi. You've no idea how comfortable and home-like
it was--all the statues loafing about in their shirt sleeves, and the
objects of interest stretching and yawning round, and having a good rest
after their winter's work."

Effie understood Colville's way of talking well enough to enjoy this;
her mother did not laugh.

"Walked?" she asked.

"Certainly. Why not?"

"You are getting well again. You'll soon be gone too."

"I've _got_ well. But as to being gone, there's no hurry. I rather think
I shall wait now to see how long you stay."

"We may keep you all summer," said Mrs. Bowen, dropping her eyelids
indifferently.

"Oh, very well. All summer it is, then. Mr. Waters is going to stay, and
he is such a very cool old gentleman that I don't think one need fear
the wildest antics of the mercury where he is."

When Colville had finished his ice, Mrs. Bowen led the way to the
salotto; and they all sat down by the window there and watched the
sunset die on San Miniato. The bronze copy of Michelangelo's David, in
the Piazzale below the church, blackened in perfect relief against the
pink sky and then faded against the grey while they talked. They were so
domestic that Colville realised with difficulty that this was an image
of what might be rather than what really was; the very ease with which
he could apparently close his hand upon the happiness within his grasp
unnerved him. The talk strayed hither and thither, and went and came
aimlessly. A sound of singing floated in from the kitchen, and Effie
eagerly asked her mother if she might go and see Maddalena. Maddalena's
mother had come to see her, and she was from the mountains.

"Yes, go," said Mrs. Bowen; "but don't stay too long."

"Oh, I will be back in time," said the child, and Colville remembered
that he had proposed going to Giacosa's.

"Yes; don't forget." He had forgotten it himself.

"Maddalena is the cook," explained Mrs. Bowen. "She sings ballads to
Effie that she learned from her mother, and I suppose Effie wants to
hear them at first hand."

"Oh yes," said Colville dreamily.

They were alone now, and each little silence seemed freighted with a
meaning deeper than speech.

"Have you seen Mr. Waters to-day?" asked Mrs. Bowen, after one of these
lapses.

"Yes; he came this afternoon."

"He is a very strange old man. I should think he would be lonely here."

"He seems not to be. He says he finds company in the history of the
place. And his satisfaction at having got out of Haddam East Village is
perennial."

"But he will want to go back there before he dies."

"I don't know. He thinks not. He's a strange old man, as you say. He has
the art of putting all sorts of ideas into people's heads. Do you know
what we talked about this afternoon?"

"No, I don't," murmured Mrs. Bowen.

"About you. And he encouraged me to believe--imagine--that I might speak
to you--ask--tell you that--I loved you, Lina." He leaned forward and
took one of the hands that lay in her lap. It trembled with a violence
inconceivable in relation to the perfect quiet of her attitude. But she
did not try to take it away. "Could you--do you love me?"

"Yes," she whispered; but here she sprang up and slipped from his hold
altogether, as with an inarticulate cry of rapture he released her hand
to take her in his arms.

He followed her a pace or two. "And you will--will be my wife?" he
pursued eagerly.

"Never!" she answered, and now Colville stopped short, while a cold
bewilderment bathed him from head to foot. It must be some sort of jest,
though he could not tell where the humour was, and he could not treat it
otherwise than seriously.

"Lina, I have loved you from the first moment that I saw you this
winter, and Heaven knows how long before!"

"Yes; I know that."

"And every moment."

"Oh, I know that too."

"Even if I had no sort of hope that you cared for me, I loved you so
much that I must tell you before we parted--"

"I expected that--I intended it."

"You intended it! and you do love me! And yet you won't--Ah, I don't
understand!"

"How could _you_ understand? I love you--I blush and burn for shame to
think that I love you. But I will never marry you; I can at least help
doing that, and I can still keep some little trace of self-respect. How
you must really despise me, to think of anything else, after all that
has happened! Did you suppose that I was merely waiting till that poor
girl's back was turned, as you were? Oh, how can you be yourself, and
still be yourself? Yes, Jenny Wheelwright was right. You are too much of
a mixture, Theodore Colville"--her calling him so showed how often she
had thought of him so--"too much for her, too much for Imogene, too much
for me; too much for any woman except some wretched creature who enjoys
being trampled on and dragged through the dust, as you have dragged me."

"_I_ dragged _you_ through the dust? There hasn't been a moment in the
past six months when I wouldn't have rolled myself in it to please you."

"Oh, I knew that well enough! And do you think that was flattering to
me?"

"That has nothing to do with it. I only know that I love you, and that I
couldn't help wishing to show it even when I wouldn't acknowledge it to
myself. That is all. And now when I am free to speak, and you own that
you love me, you won't--I give it up!" he cried desperately. But in the
next breath he implored, "_Why_ do you drive me from you, Lina?"

"Because you have humiliated me too much." She was perfectly steady, but
he knew her so well that in the twilight he knew what bitterness there
must be in the smile which she must be keeping on her lips. "I was here
in the place of her mother, her best friend, and you made me treat her
like an enemy. You made me betray her and cast her off."

"I?"

"Yes, you! I knew from the very first that you did not really care for
her, that you were playing with yourself, as you were playing with her,
and I ought to have warned her."

"It appears to me you did warn her," said Colville, with some resentful
return of courage.

"I tried," she said simply, "and it made it worse. It made it worse
because I knew that I was acting for my own sake more than hers, because
I wasn't--disinterested." There was something in this explanation,
serious, tragic, as it was to Mrs. Bowen, which made Colville laugh. She
might have had some perception of its effect to him, or it may have been
merely from a hysterical helplessness, but she laughed too a little.

"But why," he gathered courage to ask, "do you still dwell upon that?
Mr. Waters told me that Mr. Morton--that there was--"

"He is mistaken. He offered himself, and she refused him. He told me."

"Oh!"

"Do you think she would do otherwise, with you lying here between life
and death? No: you can have no hope from that."

Colville, in fact, had none. This blow crushed and dispersed him. He had
not strength enough to feel resentment against Mr. Waters for misleading
him with this _ignis fatuus_.

"No one warned him, and it came to that," said Mrs. Bowen. "It was of a
piece with the whole affair. I was weak in that too."

Colville did not attempt to reply on this point. He feebly reverted to
the inquiry regarding himself, and was far enough from mirth in resuming
it.

"I couldn't imagine," he said, "that you cared anything for me when you
warned another against me. If I could--"

"You put me in a false position from the beginning. I ought to have
sympathised with her and helped her instead of making the poor child
feel that somehow I hated her. I couldn't even put her on guard against
herself, though I knew all along that she didn't really care for you,
but was just in love with her own fancy for you, Even after you were
engaged I ought to have broken it off; I ought to have been frank with
her; it was my duty; but I couldn't without feeling that I was acting
for myself too, and I would not submit to that degradation. No! I would
rather have died. I dare say you don't understand. How could you? You
are a man, and the kind of man who couldn't. At every point you made me
violate every principle that was dear to me. I loathed myself for caring
for a man who was in love with me when he was engaged to another. Don't
think it was gratifying to me. It was detestable; and yet I did let you
see that I cared for you. Yes, I even _tried_ to make you care for
me--falsely, cruelly, treacherously."

"You didn't have to try very hard," said Colville, with a sort of cold
resignation to his fate.

"Oh no; you were quite ready for any hint. I could have told her for her
own sake that she didn't love you, but that would have been for my sake
too; and I would have told you if I hadn't cared for you and known how
you cared for me. I've saved at least the consciousness of this from the
wreck."

"I don't think it's a great treasure," said Colville. "I wish that you
had saved the consciousness of having been frank even to your own
advantage."

"Do you dare to reproach me, Theodore Colville? But perhaps I've
deserved this too."

"No, Lina, you certainly don't deserve it, if it's unkindness, from me.
I won't afflict you with my presence: but will you listen to me before I
go?"

She sank into a chair in sign of assent. He also sat down. He had a dim
impression that he could talk better if he took her hand, but he did not
venture to ask for it. He contented himself with fixing his eyes upon as
much of her face as he could make out in the dusk, a pale blur in a
vague outline of dark.

"I want to assure you, Lina--Lina, my love, my dearest, as I shall call
you for the first and last time!--that I _do_ understand everything, as
delicately and fully as you could wish, all that you have expressed, and
all that you have left unsaid. I understand how high and pure your
ideals of duty are, and how heroically, angelically, you have struggled
to fulfil them, broken and borne down by my clumsy and stupid
selfishness from the start. I want you to believe, my dearest love--you
must forgive me!--that if I didn't see everything at the time, I do see
it now, and that I prize the love you kept from me far more than any
love you could have given me to the loss of your self-respect. It isn't
logic--it sounds more like nonsense, I am afraid--but you know what I
mean by it. You are more perfect, more lovely to me, than any being in
the world, and I accept whatever fate you choose for me. I would not win
you against your will if I could. You are sacred to me. If you say we
must part, I know that you speak from a finer discernment than mine, and
I submit. I will try to console myself with the thought of your love, if
I may not have you. Yes, I submit."

His instinct of forbearance had served him better than the subtlest art.
His submission was the best defence. He rose with a real dignity, and
she rose also. "Remember," he said, "that I confess all you accuse me
of, and that I acknowledge the justice of what you do--because you do
it." He put out his hand and took the hand which hung nerveless at her
side. "You are quite right. Good-bye." He hesitated a moment. "May I
kiss you, Lina?" He drew her to him, and she let him kiss her on the
lips.

"Good-bye," she whispered. "Go--"

"I am going."

Effie Bowen ran into the room from the kitchen.

"Aren't you going to take--" She stopped and turned to her mother. She
must not remind Mr. Colville of his invitation; that was what her
gesture expressed.

Colville would not say anything. He would not seize his advantage, and
play upon the mother's heart through the feelings of her child, though
there is no doubt that he was tempted to prolong the situation by any
means. Perhaps Mrs. Bowen divined both the temptation and the
resistance. "Tell her," she said, and turned away.

"I can't go with you to-night, Effie," he said, stooping toward her for
the inquiring kiss that she gave him. "I am--going away, and I must say
good-bye."

The solemnity of his voice alarmed her. "Going away!" she repeated.

"Yes--away from Florence. I'm afraid I shall not see you again."

The child turned from him to her mother again, who stood motionless.
Then, as if the whole calamitous fact had suddenly flashed upon her, she
plunged her face against her mother's breast. "I can't _bear_ it!" she
sobbed out; and the reticence of her lamentation told more than a storm
of cries and prayers.

Colville wavered.

"Oh, you must stay!" said Lina, in the self-contemptuous voice of a
woman who falls below her ideal of herself.






XXIV


In the levities which the most undeserving husbands permit themselves
with the severest of wives, there were times after their marriage when
Colville accused Lina of never really intending to drive him away, but
of meaning, after a disciplinary ordeal, to marry him in reward of his
tested self-sacrifice and obedience. He said that if the appearance of
Effie was not a _coup de theatre_ contrived beforehand, it was an
accident of no consequence whatever; that if she had not come in at that
moment, her mother would have found some other pretext for detaining
him. This is a point which I would not presume to decide. I only know
that they were married early in June before the syndic of Florence, who
tied a tricolour sash round his ample waist for the purpose, and never
looked more paternal or venerable than when giving the sanction of the
Italian state to their union. It is not, of course, to be supposed that
Mrs. Colville was contented with the civil rite, though Colville may
have thought it quite sufficient. The religious ceremony took place in
the English chapel, the assistant clergyman officiating in the absence
of the incumbent, who had already gone out of town.

The Rev. Mr. Waters gave away the bride, and then went home to Palazzo
Pinti with the party, the single and singularly honoured guest at their
wedding feast, for which Effie Bowen went with Colville to Giacosa's to
order the ices in person. She has never regretted her choice of a step
father, though when Colville asked her how she would like him in that
relation she had a moment of hesitation, in which she reconciled herself
to it; as to him she had no misgivings. He has sometimes found himself
the object of little jealousies on her part, but by promptly deciding
all questions between her and her mother in Effie's favour he has
convinced her of the groundlessness of her suspicions.

In the absence of any social pressure to the contrary, the Colvilles
spent the summer in Palazzo Pinti. Before their fellow-sojourners
returned from the _villeggiatura_ in the fall, however, they had turned
their faces southward, and they are now in Rome, where, arriving as a
married couple, there was no inquiry and no interest in their past.

It is best to be honest, and own that the affair with Imogene has been
the grain of sand to them. No one was to blame, or very much to blame;
even Mrs. Colville says that. It was a thing that happened, but one
would rather it had not happened.

Last winter, however, Mrs. Colville received a letter from Mrs. Graham
which suggested, if it did not impart, consolation. "Mr. Morton was here
the other day, and spent the morning. He has a parish at Erie, and there
is talk of his coming to Buffalo."

"Oh, Heaven grant it!" said Colville, with sudden piety.

"Why?" demanded his wife.

"Well, I wish she was married."

"You have nothing whatever to do with her."

It took him some time to realise that this was the fact.

"No," he confessed; "but what do you think about it?"

"There is no telling. We are such simpletons! If a man will keep on long
enough--But if it isn't Mr. Morton, it will be some one else--some
_young_ person."

Colville rose and went round the breakfast table to her. "I hope so," he
said. "_I_ have married a young person, and it would only be fair."

This magnanimity was irresistible.


THE END.




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