CHAPTER X. The Cavaliere
There befell at last a couple of days during which Rowland was unable to go to the hotel. Late in the evening of the second one Roderick came into his room. In a few moments he announced that he had finished the bust of his mother.
"And it 's magnificent!" he declared. "It 's one of the best things I have done."
"I believe it," said Rowland. "Never again talk to me about your inspiration being dead."
"Why not? This may be its last kick! I feel very tired. But it 's a masterpiece, though I do say it. They tell us we owe so much to our parents. Well, I 've paid the filial debt handsomely!" He walked up and down the room a few moments, with the purpose of his visit evidently still undischarged. "There 's one thing more I want to say," he presently resumed. "I feel as if I ought to tell you!" He stopped before Rowland with his head high and his brilliant glance unclouded. "Your invention is a failure!"
"My invention?" Rowland repeated.
"Bringing out my mother and Mary."
"It 's no use! They don't help me."
Rowland had fancied that Roderick had no more surprises for him; but he was now staring at him, wide-eyed.
"They bore me!" Roderick went on.
"Oh, oh!" cried Rowland.
"Listen, listen!" said Roderick with perfect gentleness. "I am not complaining of them; I am simply stating a fact. I am very sorry for them; I am greatly disappointed."
"Have you given them a fair trial?"
"Should n't you say so? It seems to me I have behaved beautifully."
"You have done very well; I have been building great hopes on it."
"I have done too well, then. After the first forty-eight hours my own hopes collapsed. But I determined to fight it out; to stand within the temple; to let the spirit of the Lord descend! Do you want to know the result? Another week of it, and I shall begin to hate them. I shall want to poison them."
"Miserable boy!" cried Rowland. "They are the loveliest of women!"
"Very likely! But they mean no more to me than a Bible text to an atheist!"
"I utterly fail," said Rowland, in a moment, "to understand your relation to Miss Garland."
Roderick shrugged his shoulders and let his hands drop at his sides. "She adores me! That 's my relation." And he smiled strangely.
"Have you broken your engagement?"
"Broken it? You can't break a ray of moonshine."
"Have you absolutely no affection for her?"
Roderick placed his hand on his heart and held it there a moment. "Dead-dead-dead!" he said at last.
"I wonder," Rowland asked presently, "if you begin to comprehend the beauty of Miss Garland's character. She is a person of the highest merit."
"Evidently-or I would not have cared for her!"
"Has that no charm for you now?"
"Oh, don't force a fellow to say rude things!"
"Well, I can only say that you don't know what you are giving up."
Roderick gave a quickened glance. "Do you know, so well?"
"I admire her immeasurably."
Roderick smiled, we may almost say sympathetically. "You have not wasted time."
Rowland's thoughts were crowding upon him fast. If Roderick was resolute, why oppose him? If Mary was to be sacrificed, why, in that way, try to save her? There was another way; it only needed a little presumption to make it possible. Rowland tried, mentally, to summon presumption to his aid; but whether it came or not, it found conscience there before it. Conscience had only three words, but they were cogent. "For her sake-for her sake," it dumbly murmured, and Rowland resumed his argument. "I don't know what I would n't do," he said, "rather than that Miss Garland should suffer."
"There is one thing to be said," Roderick answered reflectively. "She is very strong."
"Well, then, if she 's strong, believe that with a longer chance, a better chance, she will still regain your affection."
"Do you know what you ask?" cried Roderick. "Make love to a girl I hate?"
"As her lover, I should hate her!"
"Listen to me!" said Rowland with vehemence.
"No, listen you to me! Do you really urge my marrying a woman who would bore me to death? I would let her know it in very good season, and then where would she be?"
Rowland walked the length of the room a couple of times and then stopped suddenly. "Go your way, then! Say all this to her, not to me!"
"To her? I am afraid of her; I want you to help me."
"My dear Roderick," said Rowland with an eloquent smile, "I can help you no more!"
Roderick frowned, hesitated a moment, and then took his hat. "Oh, well," he said, "I am not so afraid of her as all that!" And he turned, as if to depart.
"Stop!" cried Rowland, as he laid his hand on the door.
Roderick paused and stood waiting, with his irritated brow.
"Come back; sit down there and listen to me. Of anything you were to say in your present state of mind you would live most bitterly to repent. You don't know what you really think; you don't know what you really feel. You don't know your own mind; you don't do justice to Miss Garland. All this is impossible here, under these circumstances. You 're blind, you 're deaf, you 're under a spell. To break it, you must leave Rome."
"Leave Rome! Rome was never so dear to me."
"That 's not of the smallest consequence. Leave it instantly."
"And where shall I go?"
"Go to some place where you may be alone with your mother and Miss Garland."
"Alone? You will not come?"
"Oh, if you desire it, I will come."
Roderick inclining his head a little, looked at his friend askance. "I don't understand you," he said; "I wish you liked Miss Garland either a little less, or a little more."
Rowland felt himself coloring, but he paid no heed to Roderick's speech. "You ask me to help you," he went on. "On these present conditions I can do nothing. But if you will postpone all decision as to the continuance of your engagement a couple of months longer, and meanwhile leave Rome, leave Italy, I will do what I can to 'help you,' as you say, in the event of your still wishing to break it."
"I must do without your help then! Your conditions are impossible. I will leave Rome at the time I have always intended-at the end of June. My rooms and my mother's are taken till then; all my arrangements are made accordingly. Then, I will depart; not before."
"You are not frank," said Rowland. "Your real reason for staying has nothing to do with your rooms."
Roderick's face betrayed neither embarrassment nor resentment. "If I 'm not frank, it 's for the first time in my life. Since you know so much about my real reason, let me hear it! No, stop!" he suddenly added, "I won't trouble you. You are right, I have a motive. On the twenty-fourth of June Miss Light is to be married. I take an immense interest in all that concerns her, and I wish to be present at her wedding."
"But you said the other day at Saint Peter's that it was by no means certain her marriage would take place."
"Apparently I was wrong: the invitations, I am told, are going out."
Rowland felt that it would be utterly vain to remonstrate, and that the only thing for him was to make the best terms possible. "If I offer no further opposition to your waiting for Miss Light's marriage," he said, "will you promise, meanwhile and afterwards, for a certain period, to defer to my judgment-to say nothing that may be a cause of suffering to Miss Garland?"
"For a certain period? What period?" Roderick demanded.
"Ah, don't drive so close a bargain! Don't you understand that I have taken you away from her, that I suffer in every nerve in consequence, and that I must do what I can to restore you?"
"Do what you can, then," said Roderick gravely, putting out his hand. "Do what you can!" His tone and his hand-shake seemed to constitute a promise, and upon this they parted.
Roderick's bust of his mother, whether or no it was a discharge of what he called the filial debt, was at least a most admirable production. Rowland, at the time it was finished, met Gloriani one evening, and this unscrupulous genius immediately began to ask questions about it. "I am told our high-flying friend has come down," he said. "He has been doing a queer little old woman."
"A queer little old woman!" Rowland exclaimed. "My dear sir, she is Hudson's mother."
"All the more reason for her being queer! It is a bust for terra-cotta, eh?"
"By no means; it is for marble."
"That 's a pity. It was described to me as a charming piece of quaintness: a little demure, thin-lipped old lady, with her head on one side, and the prettiest wrinkles in the world-a sort of fairy godmother."
"Go and see it, and judge for yourself," said Rowland.
"No, I see I shall be disappointed. It 's quite the other thing, the sort of thing they put into the campo-santos. I wish that boy would listen to me an hour!"
But a day or two later Rowland met him again in the street, and, as they were near, proposed they should adjourn to Roderick's studio. He consented, and on entering they found the young master. Roderick's demeanor to Gloriani was never conciliatory, and on this occasion supreme indifference was apparently all he had to offer. But Gloriani, like a genuine connoisseur, cared nothing for his manners; he cared only for his skill. In the bust of Mrs. Hudson there was something almost touching; it was an exquisite example of a ruling sense of beauty. The poor lady's small, neat, timorous face had certainly no great character, but Roderick had reproduced its sweetness, its mildness, its minuteness, its still maternal passion, with the most unerring art. It was perfectly unflattered, and yet admirably tender; it was the poetry of fidelity. Gloriani stood looking at it a long time most intently. Roderick wandered away into the neighboring room.
"I give it up!" said the sculptor at last. "I don't understand it."
"But you like it?" said Rowland.
"Like it? It 's a pearl of pearls. Tell me this," he added: "is he very fond of his mother; is he a very good son?" And he gave Rowland a sharp look.
"Why, she adores him," said Rowland, smiling.
"That 's not an answer! But it 's none of my business. Only if I, in his place, being suspected of having-what shall I call it?-a cold heart, managed to do that piece of work, oh, oh! I should be called a pretty lot of names. Charlatan, poseur, arrangeur! But he can do as he chooses! My dear young man, I know you don't like me," he went on, as Roderick came back. "It 's a pity; you are strong enough not to care about me at all. You are very strong."
"Not at all," said Roderick curtly. "I am very weak!"
"I told you last year that you would n't keep it up. I was a great ass. You will!"
"I beg your pardon-I won't!" retorted Roderick.
"Though I 'm a great ass, all the same, eh? Well, call me what you will, so long as you turn out this sort of thing! I don't suppose it makes any particular difference, but I should like to say now I believe in you."
Roderick stood looking at him for a moment with a strange hardness in his face. It flushed slowly, and two glittering, angry tears filled his eyes. It was the first time Rowland had ever seen them there; he saw them but once again. Poor Gloriani, he was sure, had never in his life spoken with less of irony; but to Roderick there was evidently a sense of mockery in his profession of faith. He turned away with a muttered, passionate imprecation. Gloriani was accustomed to deal with complex problems, but this time he was hopelessly puzzled. "What 's the matter with him?" he asked, simply.
Rowland gave a sad smile, and touched his forehead. "Genius, I suppose."
Gloriani sent another parting, lingering look at the bust of Mrs. Hudson. "Well, it 's deuced perfect, it 's deuced simple; I do believe in him!" he said. "But I 'm glad I 'm not a genius. It makes," he added with a laugh, as he looked for Roderick to wave him good-by, and saw his back still turned, "it makes a more sociable studio."
Rowland had purchased, as he supposed, temporary tranquillity for Mary Garland; but his own humor in these days was not especially peaceful. He was attempting, in a certain sense, to lead the ideal life, and he found it, at the least, not easy. The days passed, but brought with them no official invitation to Miss Light's wedding. He occasionally met her, and he occasionally met Prince Casamassima; but always separately, never together. They were apparently taking their happiness in the inexpressive manner proper to people of social eminence. Rowland continued to see Madame Grandoni, for whom he felt a confirmed affection. He had always talked to her with frankness, but now he made her a confidant of all his hidden dejection. Roderick and Roderick's concerns had been a common theme with him, and it was in the natural course to talk of Mrs. Hudson's arrival and Miss Garland's fine smile. Madame Grandoni was an intelligent listener, and she lost no time in putting his case for him in a nutshell. "At one moment you tell me the girl is plain," she said; "the next you tell me she 's pretty. I will invite them, and I shall see for myself. But one thing is very clear: you are in love with her."
Rowland, for all answer, glanced round to see that no one heard her.
"More than that," she added, "you have been in love with her these two years. There was that certain something about you!... I knew you were a mild, sweet fellow, but you had a touch of it more than was natural. Why did n't you tell me at once? You would have saved me a great deal of trouble. And poor Augusta Blanchard too!" And herewith Madame Grandoni communicated a pertinent fact: Augusta Blanchard and Mr. Leavenworth were going to make a match. The young lady had been staying for a month at Albano, and Mr. Leavenworth had been dancing attendance. The event was a matter of course. Rowland, who had been lately reproaching himself with a failure of attention to Miss Blanchard's doings, made some such observation.
"But you did not find it so!" cried his hostess. "It was a matter of course, perhaps, that Mr. Leavenworth, who seems to be going about Europe with the sole view of picking up furniture for his 'home,' as he calls it, should think Miss Blanchard a very handsome piece; but it was not a matter of course-or it need n't have been-that she should be willing to become a sort of superior table-ornament. She would have accepted you if you had tried."
"You are supposing the insupposable," said Rowland. "She never gave me a particle of encouragement."
"What would you have had her do? The poor girl did her best, and I am sure that when she accepted Mr. Leavenworth she thought of you."
"She thought of the pleasure her marriage would give me."
"Ay, pleasure indeed! She is a thoroughly good girl, but she has her little grain of feminine spite, like the rest. Well, he 's richer than you, and she will have what she wants; but before I forgive you I must wait and see this new arrival-what do you call her?-Miss Garland. If I like her, I will forgive you; if I don't, I shall always bear you a grudge."
Rowland answered that he was sorry to forfeit any advantage she might offer him, but that his exculpatory passion for Miss Garland was a figment of her fancy. Miss Garland was engaged to another man, and he himself had no claims.
"Well, then," said Madame Grandoni, "if I like her, we 'll have it that you ought to be in love with her. If you fail in this, it will be a double misdemeanor. The man she 's engaged to does n't care a straw for her. Leave me alone and I 'll tell her what I think of you."
As to Christina Light's marriage, Madame Grandoni could make no definite statement. The young girl, of late, had made her several flying visits, in the intervals of the usual pre-matrimonial shopping and dress-fitting; she had spoken of the event with a toss of her head, as a matter which, with a wise old friend who viewed things in their essence, she need not pretend to treat as a solemnity. It was for Prince Casamassima to do that. "It is what they call a marriage of reason," she once said. "That means, you know, a marriage of madness!"
"What have you said in the way of advice?" Rowland asked.
"Very little, but that little has favored the prince. I know nothing of the mysteries of the young lady's heart. It may be a gold-mine, but at any rate it 's a mine, and it 's a long journey down into it. But the marriage in itself is an excellent marriage. It 's not only brilliant, but it 's safe. I think Christina is quite capable of making it a means of misery; but there is no position that would be sacred to her. Casamassima is an irreproachable young man; there is nothing against him but that he is a prince. It is not often, I fancy, that a prince has been put through his paces at this rate. No one knows the wedding-day; the cards of invitation have been printed half a dozen times over, with a different date; each time Christina has destroyed them. There are people in Rome who are furious at the delay; they want to get away; they are in a dreadful fright about the fever, but they are dying to see the wedding, and if the day were fixed, they would make their arrangements to wait for it. I think it very possible that after having kept them a month and produced a dozen cases of malaria, Christina will be married at midnight by an old friar, with simply the legal witnesses."
"It is true, then, that she has become a Catholic?"
"So she tells me. One day she got up in the depths of despair; at her wit's end, I suppose, in other words, for a new sensation. Suddenly it occurred to her that the Catholic church might after all hold the key, might give her what she wanted! She sent for a priest; he happened to be a clever man, and he contrived to interest her. She put on a black dress and a black lace veil, and looking handsomer than ever she rustled into the Catholic church. The prince, who is very devout, and who had her heresy sorely on his conscience, was thrown into an ecstasy. May she never have a caprice that pleases him less!"
Rowland had already asked Madame Grandoni what, to her perception, was the present state of matters between Christina and Roderick; and he now repeated his question with some earnestness of apprehension. "The girl is so deucedly dramatic," he said, "that I don't know what coup de theatre she may have in store for us. Such a stroke was her turning Catholic; such a stroke would be her some day making her courtesy to a disappointed world as Princess Casamassima, married at midnight, in her bonnet. She might do-she may do-something that would make even more starers! I 'm prepared for anything."
"You mean that she might elope with your sculptor, eh?"
"I 'm prepared for anything!"
"Do you mean that he 's ready?"
"Do you think that she is?"
"They 're a precious pair! I think this. You by no means exhaust the subject when you say that Christina is dramatic. It 's my belief that in the course of her life she will do a certain number of things from pure disinterested passion. She 's immeasurably proud, and if that is often a fault in a virtuous person, it may be a merit in a vicious one. She needs to think well of herself; she knows a fine character, easily, when she meets one; she hates to suffer by comparison, even though the comparison is made by herself alone; and when the estimate she may have made of herself grows vague, she needs to do something to give it definite, impressive form. What she will do in such a case will be better or worse, according to her opportunity; but I imagine it will generally be something that will drive her mother to despair; something of the sort usually termed 'unworldly.'"
Rowland, as he was taking his leave, after some further exchange of opinions, rendered Miss Light the tribute of a deeply meditative sigh. "She has bothered me half to death," he said, "but somehow I can't manage, as I ought, to hate her. I admire her, half the time, and a good part of the rest I pity her."
"I think I most pity her!" said Madame Grandoni.
This enlightened woman came the next day to call upon the two ladies from Northampton. She carried their shy affections by storm, and made them promise to drink tea with her on the evening of the morrow. Her visit was an era in the life of poor Mrs. Hudson, who did nothing but make sudden desultory allusions to her, for the next thirty-six hours. "To think of her being a foreigner!" she would exclaim, after much intent reflection, over her knitting; "she speaks so beautifully!" Then in a little while, "She was n't so much dressed as you might have expected. Did you notice how easy it was in the waist? I wonder if that 's the fashion?" Or, "She 's very old to wear a hat; I should never dare to wear a hat!" Or, "Did you notice her hands?-very pretty hands for such a stout person. A great many rings, but nothing very handsome. I suppose they are hereditary." Or, "She 's certainly not handsome, but she 's very sweet-looking. I wonder why she does n't have something done to her teeth." Rowland also received a summons to Madame Grandoni's tea-drinking, and went betimes, as he had been requested. He was eagerly desirous to lend his mute applause to Mary Garland's debut in the Roman social world. The two ladies had arrived, with Roderick, silent and careless, in attendance. Miss Blanchard was also present, escorted by Mr. Leavenworth, and the party was completed by a dozen artists of both sexes and various nationalities. It was a friendly and easy assembly, like all Madame Grandoni's parties, and in the course of the evening there was some excellent music. People played and sang for Madame Grandoni, on easy terms, who, elsewhere, were not to be heard for the asking. She was herself a superior musician, and singers found it a privilege to perform to her accompaniment. Rowland talked to various persons, but for the first time in his life his attention visibly wandered; he could not keep his eyes off Mary Garland. Madame Grandoni had said that he sometimes spoke of her as pretty and sometimes as plain; to-night, if he had had occasion to describe her appearance, he would have called her beautiful. She was dressed more than he had ever seen her; it was becoming, and gave her a deeper color and an ampler presence. Two or three persons were introduced to her who were apparently witty people, for she sat listening to them with her brilliant natural smile. Rowland, from an opposite corner, reflected that he had never varied in his appreciation of Miss Blanchard's classic contour, but that somehow, to-night, it impressed him hardly more than an effigy stamped upon a coin of low value. Roderick could not be accused of rancor, for he had approached Mr. Leavenworth with unstudied familiarity, and, lounging against the wall, with hands in pockets, was discoursing to him with candid serenity. Now that he had done him an impertinence, he evidently found him less intolerable. Mr. Leavenworth stood stirring his tea and silently opening and shutting his mouth, without looking at the young sculptor, like a large, drowsy dog snapping at flies. Rowland had found it disagreeable to be told Miss Blanchard would have married him for the asking, and he would have felt some embarrassment in going to speak to her if his modesty had not found incredulity so easy. The facile side of a union with Miss Blanchard had never been present to his mind; it had struck him as a thing, in all ways, to be compassed with a great effort. He had half an hour's talk with her; a farewell talk, as it seemed to him-a farewell not to a real illusion, but to the idea that for him, in that matter, there could ever be an acceptable pis-aller. He congratulated Miss Blanchard upon her engagement, and she received his compliment with a touch of primness. But she was always a trifle prim, even when she was quoting Mrs. Browning and George Sand, and this harmless defect did not prevent her responding on this occasion that Mr. Leavenworth had a "glorious heart." Rowland wished to manifest an extreme regard, but toward the end of the talk his zeal relaxed, and he fell a-thinking that a certain natural ease in a woman was the most delightful thing in the world. There was Christina Light, who had too much, and here was Miss Blanchard, who had too little, and there was Mary Garland (in whom the quality was wholly uncultivated), who had just the right amount.
He went to Madame Grandoni in an adjoining room, where she was pouring out tea.
"I will make you an excellent cup," she said, "because I have forgiven you."
He looked at her, answering nothing; but he swallowed his tea with great gusto, and a slight deepening of his color; by all of which one would have known that he was gratified. In a moment he intimated that, in so far as he had sinned, he had forgiven himself.
"She is a lovely girl," said Madame Grandoni. "There is a great deal there. I have taken a great fancy to her, and she must let me make a friend of her."
"She is very plain," said Rowland, slowly, "very simple, very ignorant."
"Which, being interpreted, means, 'She is very handsome, very subtle, and has read hundreds of volumes on winter evenings in the country.'"
"You are a veritable sorceress," cried Rowland; "you frighten me away!" As he was turning to leave her, there rose above the hum of voices in the drawing-room the sharp, grotesque note of a barking dog. Their eyes met in a glance of intelligence.
"There is the sorceress!" said Madame Grandoni. "The sorceress and her necromantic poodle!" And she hastened back to the post of hospitality.
Rowland followed her, and found Christina Light standing in the middle of the drawing-room, and looking about in perplexity. Her poodle, sitting on his haunches and gazing at the company, had apparently been expressing a sympathetic displeasure at the absence of a welcome. But in a moment Madame Grandoni had come to the young girl's relief, and Christina had tenderly kissed her.
"I had no idea," said Christina, surveying the assembly, "that you had such a lot of grand people, or I would not have come in. The servant said nothing; he took me for an invitee. I came to spend a neighborly half-hour; you know I have n't many left! It was too dismally dreary at home. I hoped I should find you alone, and I brought Stenterello to play with the cat. I don't know that if I had known about all this I would have dared to come in; but since I 've stumbled into the midst of it, I beg you 'll let me stay. I am not dressed, but am I very hideous? I will sit in a corner and no one will notice me. My dear, sweet lady, do let me stay. Pray, why did n't you ask me? I never have been to a little party like this. They must be very charming. No dancing-tea and conversation? No tea, thank you; but if you could spare a biscuit for Stenterello; a sweet biscuit, please. Really, why did n't you ask me? Do you have these things often? Madame Grandoni, it 's very unkind!" And the young girl, who had delivered herself of the foregoing succession of sentences in her usual low, cool, penetrating voice, uttered these last words with a certain tremor of feeling. "I see," she went on, "I do very well for balls and great banquets, but when people wish to have a cosy, friendly, comfortable evening, they leave me out, with the big flower-pots and the gilt candlesticks."
"I 'm sure you 're welcome to stay, my dear," said Madame Grandoni, "and at the risk of displeasing you I must confess that if I did n't invite you, it was because you 're too grand. Your dress will do very well, with its fifty flounces, and there is no need of your going into a corner. Indeed, since you 're here, I propose to have the glory of it. You must remain where my people can see you."
"They are evidently determined to do that by the way they stare. Do they think I intend to dance a tarantella? Who are they all; do I know them?" And lingering in the middle of the room, with her arm passed into Madame Grandoni's, she let her eyes wander slowly from group to group. They were of course observing her. Standing in the little circle of lamplight, with the hood of an Eastern burnous, shot with silver threads, falling back from her beautiful head, one hand gathering together its voluminous, shimmering folds, and the other playing with the silken top-knot on the uplifted head of her poodle, she was a figure of radiant picturesqueness. She seemed to be a sort of extemporized tableau vivant. Rowland's position made it becoming for him to speak to her without delay. As she looked at him he saw that, judging by the light of her beautiful eyes, she was in a humor of which she had not yet treated him to a specimen. In a simpler person he would have called it exquisite kindness; but in this young lady's deportment the flower was one thing and the perfume another. "Tell me about these people," she said to him. "I had no idea there were so many people in Rome I had not seen. What are they all talking about? It 's all beyond me, I suppose. There is Miss Blanchard, sitting as usual in profile against a dark object. She is like a head on a postage-stamp. And there is that nice little old lady in black, Mrs. Hudson. What a dear little woman for a mother! Comme elle est proprette! And the other, the fiancee, of course she 's here. Ah, I see!" She paused; she was looking intently at Miss Garland. Rowland measured the intentness of her glance, and suddenly acquired a firm conviction. "I should like so much to know her!" she said, turning to Madame Grandoni. "She has a charming face; I am sure she 's an angel. I wish very much you would introduce me. No, on second thoughts, I had rather you did n't. I will speak to her bravely myself, as a friend of her cousin." Madame Grandoni and Rowland exchanged glances of baffled conjecture, and Christina flung off her burnous, crumpled it together, and, with uplifted finger, tossing it into a corner, gave it in charge to her poodle. He stationed himself upon it, on his haunches, with upright vigilance. Christina crossed the room with the step and smile of a ministering angel, and introduced herself to Mary Garland. She had once told Rowland that she would show him, some day, how gracious her manners could be; she was now redeeming her promise. Rowland, watching her, saw Mary Garland rise slowly, in response to her greeting, and look at her with serious deep-gazing eyes. The almost dramatic opposition of these two keenly interesting girls touched Rowland with a nameless apprehension, and after a moment he preferred to turn away. In doing so he noticed Roderick. The young sculptor was standing planted on the train of a lady's dress, gazing across at Christina's movements with undisguised earnestness. There were several more pieces of music; Rowland sat in a corner and listened to them. When they were over, several people began to take their leave, Mrs. Hudson among the number. Rowland saw her come up to Madame Grandoni, clinging shyly to Mary Garland's arm. Miss Garland had a brilliant eye and a deep color in her cheek. The two ladies looked about for Roderick, but Roderick had his back turned. He had approached Christina, who, with an absent air, was sitting alone, where she had taken her place near Miss Garland, looking at the guests pass out of the room. Christina's eye, like Miss Garland's, was bright, but her cheek was pale. Hearing Roderick's voice, she looked up at him sharply; then silently, with a single quick gesture, motioned him away. He obeyed her, and came and joined his mother in bidding good night to Madame Grandoni. Christina, in a moment, met Rowland's glance, and immediately beckoned him to come to her. He was familiar with her spontaneity of movement, and was scarcely surprised. She made a place for him on the sofa beside her; he wondered what was coming now. He was not sure it was not a mere fancy, but it seemed to him that he had never seen her look just as she was looking then. It was a humble, touching, appealing look, and it threw into wonderful relief the nobleness of her beauty. "How many more metamorphoses," he asked himself, "am I to be treated to before we have done?"
"I want to tell you," said Christina. "I have taken an immense fancy to Miss Garland. Are n't you glad?"
"Delighted!" exclaimed poor Rowland.
"Ah, you don't believe it," she said with soft dignity.
"Is it so hard to believe?"
"Not that people in general should admire her, but that I should. But I want to tell you; I want to tell some one, and I can't tell Miss Garland herself. She thinks me already a horrid false creature, and if I were to express to her frankly what I think of her, I should simply disgust her. She would be quite right; she has repose, and from that point of view I and my doings must seem monstrous. Unfortunately, I have n't repose. I am trembling now; if I could ask you to feel my arm, you would see! But I want to tell you that I admire Miss Garland more than any of the people who call themselves her friends-except of course you. Oh, I know that! To begin with, she is extremely handsome, and she does n't know it."
"She is not generally thought handsome," said Rowland.
"Evidently! That 's the vulgarity of the human mind. Her head has great character, great natural style. If a woman is not to be a supreme beauty in the regular way, she will choose, if she 's wise, to look like that. She 'll not be thought pretty by people in general, and desecrated, as she passes, by the stare of every vile wretch who chooses to thrust his nose under her bonnet; but a certain number of superior people will find it one of the delightful things of life to look at her. That lot is as good as another! Then she has a beautiful character!"
"You found that out soon!" said Rowland, smiling.
"How long did it take you? I found it out before I ever spoke to her. I met her the other day in Saint Peter's; I knew it then. I knew it-do you want to know how long I have known it?"
"Really," said Rowland, "I did n't mean to cross-examine you."
"Do you remember mamma's ball in December? We had some talk and you then mentioned her-not by name. You said but three words, but I saw you admired her, and I knew that if you admired her she must have a beautiful character. That 's what you require!"
"Upon my word," cried Rowland, "you make three words go very far!"
"Oh, Mr. Hudson has also spoken of her."
"Ah, that 's better!" said Rowland.
"I don't know; he does n't like her."
"Did he tell you so?" The question left Rowland's lips before he could stay it, which he would have done on a moment's reflection.
Christina looked at him intently. "No!" she said at last. "That would have been dishonorable, would n't it? But I know it from my knowledge of him. He does n't like perfection; he is not bent upon being safe, in his likings; he 's willing to risk something! Poor fellow, he risks too much!"
Rowland was silent; he did not care for the thrust; but he was profoundly mystified. Christina beckoned to her poodle, and the dog marched stiffly across to her. She gave a loving twist to his rose-colored top-knot, and bade him go and fetch her burnous. He obeyed, gathered it up in his teeth, and returned with great solemnity, dragging it along the floor.
"I do her justice. I do her full justice," she went on, with soft earnestness. "I like to say that, I like to be able to say it. She 's full of intelligence and courage and devotion. She does n't do me a grain of justice; but that is no harm. There is something so fine in the aversions of a good woman!"
"If you would give Miss Garland a chance," said Rowland, "I am sure she would be glad to be your friend."
"What do you mean by a chance? She has only to take it. I told her I liked her immensely, and she frowned as if I had said something disgusting. She looks very handsome when she frowns." Christina rose, with these words, and began to gather her mantle about her. "I don't often like women," she went on. "In fact I generally detest them. But I should like to know Miss Garland well. I should like to have a friendship with her; I have never had one; they must be very delightful. But I shan't have one now, either-not if she can help it! Ask her what she thinks of me; see what she will say. I don't want to know; keep it to yourself. It 's too sad. So we go through life. It 's fatality-that 's what they call it, is n't it? We please the people we don't care for, we displease those we do! But I appreciate her, I do her justice; that 's the more important thing. It 's because I have imagination. She has none. Never mind; it 's her only fault. I do her justice; I understand very well." She kept softly murmuring and looking about for Madame Grandoni. She saw the good lady near the door, and put out her hand to Rowland for good night. She held his hand an instant, fixing him with her eyes, the living splendor of which, at this moment, was something transcendent. "Yes, I do her justice," she repeated. "And you do her more; you would lay down your life for her." With this she turned away, and before he could answer, she left him. She went to Madame Grandoni, grasped her two hands, and held out her forehead to be kissed. The next moment she was gone.
"That was a happy accident!" said Madame Grandoni. "She never looked so beautiful, and she made my little party brilliant."
"Beautiful, verily!" Rowland answered. "But it was no accident."
"What was it, then?"
"It was a plan. She wished to see Miss Garland. She knew she was to be here."
"By Roderick, evidently."
"And why did she wish to see Miss Garland?"
"Heaven knows! I give it up!"
"Ah, the wicked girl!" murmured Madame Grandoni.
"No," said Rowland; "don't say that now. She 's too beautiful."
"Oh, you men! The best of you!"
"Well, then," cried Rowland, "she 's too good!"
The opportunity presenting itself the next day, he failed not, as you may imagine, to ask Mary Garland what she thought of Miss Light. It was a Saturday afternoon, the time at which the beautiful marbles of the Villa Borghese are thrown open to the public. Mary had told him that Roderick had promised to take her to see them, with his mother, and he joined the party in the splendid Casino. The warm weather had left so few strangers in Rome that they had the place almost to themselves. Mrs. Hudson had confessed to an invincible fear of treading, even with the help of her son's arm, the polished marble floors, and was sitting patiently on a stool, with folded hands, looking shyly, here and there, at the undraped paganism around her. Roderick had sauntered off alone, with an irritated brow, which seemed to betray the conflict between the instinct of observation and the perplexities of circumstance. Miss Garland was wandering in another direction, and though she was consulting her catalogue, Rowland fancied it was from habit; she too was preoccupied. He joined her, and she presently sat down on a divan, rather wearily, and closed her Murray. Then he asked her abruptly how Christina had pleased her.
She started the least bit at the question, and he felt that she had been thinking of Christina.
"I don't like her!" she said with decision.
"What do you think of her?"
"I think she 's false." This was said without petulance or bitterness, but with a very positive air.
"But she wished to please you; she tried," Rowland rejoined, in a moment.
"I think not. She wished to please herself!"
Rowland felt himself at liberty to say no more. No allusion to Christina had passed between them since the day they met her at Saint Peter's, but he knew that she knew, by that infallible sixth sense of a woman who loves, that this strange, beautiful girl had the power to injure her. To what extent she had the will, Mary was uncertain; but last night's interview, apparently, had not reassured her. It was, under these circumstances, equally unbecoming for Rowland either to depreciate or to defend Christina, and he had to content himself with simply having verified the girl's own assurance that she had made a bad impression. He tried to talk of indifferent matters-about the statues and the frescoes; but to-day, plainly, aesthetic curiosity, with Miss Garland, had folded its wings. Curiosity of another sort had taken its place. Mary was longing, he was sure, to question him about Christina; but she found a dozen reasons for hesitating. Her questions would imply that Roderick had not treated her with confidence, for information on this point should properly have come from him. They would imply that she was jealous, and to betray her jealousy was intolerable to her pride. For some minutes, as she sat scratching the brilliant pavement with the point of her umbrella, it was to be supposed that her pride and her anxiety held an earnest debate. At last anxiety won.
"A propos of Miss Light," she asked, "do you know her well?"
"I can hardly say that. But I have seen her repeatedly."
"Do you like her?"
"Yes and no. I think I am sorry for her."
Mary had spoken with her eyes on the pavement. At this she looked up. "Sorry for her? Why?"
"Well-she is unhappy."
"What are her misfortunes?"
"Well-she has a horrible mother, and she has had a most injurious education."
For a moment Miss Garland was silent. Then, "Is n't she very beautiful?" she asked.
"Don't you think so?"
"That 's measured by what men think! She is extremely clever, too."
"She has beautiful dresses."
"Yes, any number of them."
"And beautiful manners."
"And plenty of money."
"Money enough, apparently."
"And she receives great admiration."
"And she is to marry a prince."
"So they say."
Miss Garland rose and turned to rejoin her companions, commenting these admissions with a pregnant silence. "Poor Miss Light!" she said at last, simply. And in this it seemed to Rowland there was a touch of bitterness.
Very late on the following evening his servant brought him the card of a visitor. He was surprised at a visit at such an hour, but it may be said that when he read the inscription-Cavaliere Giuseppe Giacosa-his surprise declined. He had had an unformulated conviction that there was to be a sequel to the apparition at Madame Grandoni's; the Cavaliere had come to usher it in.
He had come, evidently, on a portentous errand. He was as pale as ashes and prodigiously serious; his little cold black eye had grown ardent, and he had left his caressing smile at home. He saluted Rowland, however, with his usual obsequious bow.
"You have more than once done me the honor to invite me to call upon you," he said. "I am ashamed of my long delay, and I can only say to you, frankly, that my time this winter has not been my own." Rowland assented, ungrudgingly fumbled for the Italian correlative of the adage "Better late than never," begged him to be seated, and offered him a cigar. The Cavaliere sniffed imperceptibly the fragrant weed, and then declared that, if his kind host would allow him, he would reserve it for consumption at another time. He apparently desired to intimate that the solemnity of his errand left him no breath for idle smoke-puffings. Rowland stayed himself, just in time, from an enthusiastic offer of a dozen more cigars, and, as he watched the Cavaliere stow his treasure tenderly away in his pocket-book, reflected that only an Italian could go through such a performance with uncompromised dignity. "I must confess," the little old man resumed, "that even now I come on business not of my own-or my own, at least, only in a secondary sense. I have been dispatched as an ambassador, an envoy extraordinary, I may say, by my dear friend Mrs. Light."
"If I can in any way be of service to Mrs. Light, I shall be happy," Rowland said.
"Well then, dear sir, Casa Light is in commotion. The signora is in trouble-in terrible trouble." For a moment Rowland expected to hear that the signora's trouble was of a nature that a loan of five thousand francs would assuage. But the Cavaliere continued: "Miss Light has committed a great crime; she has plunged a dagger into the heart of her mother."
"A dagger!" cried Rowland.
The Cavaliere patted the air an instant with his finger-tips. "I speak figuratively. She has broken off her marriage."
"Broken it off?"
"Short! She has turned the prince from the door." And the Cavaliere, when he had made this announcement, folded his arms and bent upon Rowland his intense, inscrutable gaze. It seemed to Rowland that he detected in the polished depths of it a sort of fantastic gleam of irony or of triumph; but superficially, at least, Giacosa did nothing to discredit his character as a presumably sympathetic representative of Mrs. Light's affliction.
Rowland heard his news with a kind of fierce disgust; it seemed the sinister counterpart of Christina's preternatural mildness at Madame Grandoni's tea-party. She had been too plausible to be honest. Without being able to trace the connection, he yet instinctively associated her present rebellion with her meeting with Mary Garland. If she had not seen Mary, she would have let things stand. It was monstrous to suppose that she could have sacrificed so brilliant a fortune to a mere movement of jealousy, to a refined instinct of feminine deviltry, to a desire to frighten poor Mary from her security by again appearing in the field. Yet Rowland remembered his first impression of her; she was "dangerous," and she had measured in each direction the perturbing effect of her rupture. She was smiling her sweetest smile at it! For half an hour Rowland simply detested her, and longed to denounce her to her face. Of course all he could say to Giacosa was that he was extremely sorry. "But I am not surprised," he added.
"You are not surprised?"
"With Miss Light everything is possible. Is n't that true?"
Another ripple seemed to play for an instant in the current of the old man's irony, but he waived response. "It was a magnificent marriage," he said, solemnly. "I do not respect many people, but I respect Prince Casamassima."
"I should judge him indeed to be a very honorable young man," said Rowland.
"Eh, young as he is, he 's made of the old stuff. And now, perhaps he 's blowing his brains out. He is the last of his house; it 's a great house. But Miss Light will have put an end to it!"
"Is that the view she takes of it?" Rowland ventured to ask.
This time, unmistakably, the Cavaliere smiled, but still in that very out-of-the-way place. "You have observed Miss Light with attention," he said, "and this brings me to my errand. Mrs. Light has a high opinion of your wisdom, of your kindness, and she has reason to believe you have influence with her daughter."
"I-with her daughter? Not a grain!"
"That is possibly your modesty. Mrs. Light believes that something may yet be done, and that Christina will listen to you. She begs you to come and see her before it is too late."
"But all this, my dear Cavaliere, is none of my business," Rowland objected. "I can't possibly, in such a matter, take the responsibility of advising Miss Light."
The Cavaliere fixed his eyes for a moment on the floor, in brief but intense reflection. Then looking up, "Unfortunately," he said, "she has no man near her whom she respects; she has no father!"
"And a fatally foolish mother!" Rowland gave himself the satisfaction of exclaiming.
The Cavaliere was so pale that he could not easily have turned paler; yet it seemed for a moment that his dead complexion blanched. "Eh, signore, such as she is, the mother appeals to you. A very handsome woman-disheveled, in tears, in despair, in dishabille!"
Rowland reflected a moment, not on the attractions of Mrs. Light under the circumstances thus indicated by the Cavaliere, but on the satisfaction he would take in accusing Christina to her face of having struck a cruel blow.
"I must add," said the Cavaliere, "that Mrs. Light desires also to speak to you on the subject of Mr. Hudson."
"She considers Mr. Hudson, then, connected with this step of her daughter's?"
"Intimately. He must be got out of Rome."
"Mrs. Light, then, must get an order from the Pope to remove him. It 's not in my power."
The Cavaliere assented, deferentially. "Mrs. Light is equally helpless. She would leave Rome to-morrow, but Christina will not budge. An order from the Pope would do nothing. A bull in council would do nothing."
"She 's a remarkable young lady," said Rowland, with bitterness.
But the Cavaliere rose and responded coldly, "She has a great spirit." And it seemed to Rowland that her great spirit, for mysterious reasons, gave him more pleasure than the distressing use she made of it gave him pain. He was on the point of charging him with his inconsistency, when Giacosa resumed: "But if the marriage can be saved, it must be saved. It 's a beautiful marriage. It will be saved."
"Notwithstanding Miss Light's great spirit to the contrary?"
"Miss Light, notwithstanding her great spirit, will call Prince Casamassima back."
"Heaven grant it!" said Rowland.
"I don't know," said the Cavaliere, solemnly, "that heaven will have much to do with it."
Rowland gave him a questioning look, but he laid his finger on his lips. And with Rowland's promise to present himself on the morrow at Casa Light, he shortly afterwards departed. He left Rowland revolving many things: Christina's magnanimity, Christina's perversity, Roderick's contingent fortune, Mary Garland's certain trouble, and the Cavaliere's own fine ambiguities.
Rowland's promise to the Cavaliere obliged him to withdraw from an excursion which he had arranged with the two ladies from Northampton. Before going to Casa Light he repaired in person to Mrs. Hudson's hotel, to make his excuses.
He found Roderick's mother sitting with tearful eyes, staring at an open note that lay in her lap. At the window sat Miss Garland, who turned her intense regard upon him as he came in. Mrs. Hudson quickly rose and came to him, holding out the note.
"In pity's name," she cried, "what is the matter with my boy? If he is ill, I entreat you to take me to him!"
"He is not ill, to my knowledge," said Rowland. "What have you there?"
"A note-a dreadful note. He tells us we are not to see him for a week. If I could only go to his room! But I am afraid, I am afraid!"
"I imagine there is no need of going to his room. What is the occasion, may I ask, of his note?"
"He was to have gone with us on this drive to-what is the place?-to Cervara. You know it was arranged yesterday morning. In the evening he was to have dined with us. But he never came, and this morning arrives this awful thing. Oh dear, I 'm so excited! Would you mind reading it?"
Rowland took the note and glanced at its half-dozen lines. "I cannot go to Cervara," they ran; "I have something else to do. This will occupy me perhaps for a week, and you 'll not see me. Don't miss me-learn not to miss me. R. H."
"Why, it means," Rowland commented, "that he has taken up a piece of work, and that it is all-absorbing. That 's very good news." This explanation was not sincere; but he had not the courage not to offer it as a stop-gap. But he found he needed all his courage to maintain it, for Miss Garland had left her place and approached him, formidably unsatisfied.
"He does not work in the evening," said Mrs. Hudson. "Can't he come for five minutes? Why does he write such a cruel, cold note to his poor mother-to poor Mary? What have we done that he acts so strangely? It 's this wicked, infectious, heathenish place!" And the poor lady's suppressed mistrust of the Eternal City broke out passionately. "Oh, dear Mr. Mallet," she went on, "I am sure he has the fever and he 's already delirious!"
"I am very sure it 's not that," said Miss Garland, with a certain dryness.
She was still looking at Rowland; his eyes met hers, and his own glance fell. This made him angry, and to carry off his confusion he pretended to be looking at the floor, in meditation. After all, what had he to be ashamed of? For a moment he was on the point of making a clean breast of it, of crying out, "Dearest friends, I abdicate: I can't help you!" But he checked himself; he felt so impatient to have his three words with Christina. He grasped his hat.
"I will see what it is!" he cried. And then he was glad he had not abdicated, for as he turned away he glanced again at Mary and saw that, though her eyes were full of trouble, they were not hard and accusing, but charged with appealing friendship.
He went straight to Roderick's apartment, deeming this, at an early hour, the safest place to seek him. He found him in his sitting-room, which had been closely darkened to keep out the heat. The carpets and rugs had been removed, the floor of speckled concrete was bare and lightly sprinkled with water. Here and there, over it, certain strongly perfumed flowers had been scattered. Roderick was lying on his divan in a white dressing-gown, staring up at the frescoed ceiling. The room was deliciously cool, and filled with the moist, sweet odor of the circumjacent roses and violets. All this seemed highly fantastic, and yet Rowland hardly felt surprised.
"Your mother was greatly alarmed at your note," he said, "and I came to satisfy myself that, as I believed, you are not ill." Roderick lay motionless, except that he slightly turned his head toward his friend. He was smelling a large white rose, and he continued to present it to his nose. In the darkness of the room he looked exceedingly pale, but his handsome eyes had an extraordinary brilliancy. He let them rest for some time on Rowland, lying there like a Buddhist in an intellectual swoon, whose perception should be slowly ebbing back to temporal matters. "Oh, I 'm not ill," he said at last. "I have never been better."
"Your note, nevertheless, and your absence," Rowland said, "have very naturally alarmed your mother. I advise you to go to her directly and reassure her."
"Go to her? Going to her would be worse than staying away. Staying away at present is a kindness." And he inhaled deeply his huge rose, looking up over it at Rowland. "My presence, in fact, would be indecent."
"Indecent? Pray explain."
"Why, you see, as regards Mary Garland. I am divinely happy! Does n't it strike you? You ought to agree with me. You wish me to spare her feelings; I spare them by staying away. Last night I heard something"-
"I heard it, too," said Rowland with brevity. "And it 's in honor of this piece of news that you have taken to your bed in this fashion?"
"Extremes meet! I can't get up for joy."
"May I inquire how you heard your joyous news?-from Miss Light herself?"
"By no means. It was brought me by her maid, who is in my service as well."
"Casamassima's loss, then, is to a certainty your gain?"
"I don't talk about certainties. I don't want to be arrogant, I don't want to offend the immortal gods. I 'm keeping very quiet, but I can't help being happy. I shall wait a while; I shall bide my time."
"And then that transcendent girl will confess to me that when she threw overboard her prince she remembered that I adored her!"
"I feel bound to tell you," was in the course of a moment Rowland's response to this speech, "that I am now on my way to Mrs. Light's."
"I congratulate you, I envy you!" Roderick murmured, imperturbably.
"Mrs. Light has sent for me to remonstrate with her daughter, with whom she has taken it into her head that I have influence. I don't know to what extent I shall remonstrate, but I give you notice I shall not speak in your interest."
Roderick looked at him a moment with a lazy radiance in his eyes. "Pray don't!" he simply answered.
"You deserve I should tell her you are a very shabby fellow."
"My dear Rowland, the comfort with you is that I can trust you. You 're incapable of doing anything disloyal."
"You mean to lie here, then, smelling your roses and nursing your visions, and leaving your mother and Miss Garland to fall ill with anxiety?"
"Can I go and flaunt my felicity in their faces? Wait till I get used to it a trifle. I have done them a palpable wrong, but I can at least forbear to add insult to injury. I may be an arrant fool, but, for the moment, I have taken it into my head to be prodigiously pleased. I should n't be able to conceal it; my pleasure would offend them; so I lock myself up as a dangerous character."
"Well, I can only say, 'May your pleasure never grow less, or your danger greater!'"
Roderick closed his eyes again, and sniffed at his rose. "God's will be done!"
On this Rowland left him and repaired directly to Mrs. Light's. This afflicted lady hurried forward to meet him. Since the Cavaliere's report of her condition she had somewhat smoothed and trimmed the exuberance of her distress, but she was evidently in extreme tribulation, and she clutched Rowland by his two hands, as if, in the shipwreck of her hopes, he were her single floating spar. Rowland greatly pitied her, for there is something respectable in passionate grief, even in a very bad cause; and as pity is akin to love, he endured her rather better than he had done hitherto.
"Speak to her, plead with her, command her!" she cried, pressing and shaking his hands. "She 'll not heed us, no more than if we were a pair of clocks a-ticking. Perhaps she will listen to you; she always liked you."
"She always disliked me," said Rowland. "But that does n't matter now. I have come here simply because you sent for me, not because I can help you. I cannot advise your daughter."
"Oh, cruel, deadly man! You must advise her; you shan't leave this house till you have advised her!" the poor woman passionately retorted. "Look at me in my misery and refuse to help me! Oh, you need n't be afraid, I know I 'm a fright, I have n't an idea what I have on. If this goes on, we may both as well turn scarecrows. If ever a woman was desperate, frantic, heart-broken, I am that woman. I can't begin to tell you. To have nourished a serpent, sir, all these years! to have lavished one's self upon a viper that turns and stings her own poor mother! To have toiled and prayed, to have pushed and struggled, to have eaten the bread of bitterness, and all the rest of it, sir-and at the end of all things to find myself at this pass. It can't be, it 's too cruel, such things don't happen, the Lord don't allow it. I 'm a religious woman, sir, and the Lord knows all about me. With his own hand he had given me his reward! I would have lain down in the dust and let her walk over me; I would have given her the eyes out of my head, if she had taken a fancy to them. No, she 's a cruel, wicked, heartless, unnatural girl! I speak to you, Mr. Mallet, in my dire distress, as to my only friend. There is n't a creature here that I can look to-not one of them all that I have faith in. But I always admired you. I said to Christina the first time I saw you that there at last was a real gentleman. Come, don't disappoint me now! I feel so terribly alone, you see; I feel what a nasty, hard, heartless world it is that has come and devoured my dinners and danced to my fiddles, and yet that has n't a word to throw to me in my agony! Oh, the money, alone, that I have put into this thing, would melt the heart of a Turk!"
During this frenzied outbreak Rowland had had time to look round the room, and to see the Cavaliere sitting in a corner, like a major-domo on the divan of an antechamber, pale, rigid, and inscrutable.
"I have it at heart to tell you," Rowland said, "that if you consider my friend Hudson"-
Mrs. Light gave a toss of her head and hands. "Oh, it 's not that. She told me last night to bother her no longer with Hudson, Hudson! She did n't care a button for Hudson. I almost wish she did; then perhaps one might understand it. But she does n't care for anything in the wide world, except to do her own hard, wicked will, and to crush me and shame me with her cruelty."
"Ah, then," said Rowland, "I am as much at sea as you, and my presence here is an impertinence. I should like to say three words to Miss Light on my own account. But I must absolutely and inexorably decline to urge the cause of Prince Casamassima. This is simply impossible."
Mrs. Light burst into angry tears. "Because the poor boy is a prince, eh? because he 's of a great family, and has an income of millions, eh? That 's why you grudge him and hate him. I knew there were vulgar people of that way of feeling, but I did n't expect it of you. Make an effort, Mr. Mallet; rise to the occasion; forgive the poor fellow his splendor. Be just, be reasonable! It 's not his fault, and it 's not mine. He 's the best, the kindest young man in the world, and the most correct and moral and virtuous! If he were standing here in rags, I would say it all the same. The man first-the money afterwards: that was always my motto, and always will be. What do you take me for? Do you suppose I would give Christina to a vicious person? do you suppose I would sacrifice my precious child, little comfort as I have in her, to a man against whose character one word could be breathed? Casamassima is only too good, he 's a saint of saints, he 's stupidly good! There is n't such another in the length and breadth of Europe. What he has been through in this house, not a common peasant would endure. Christina has treated him as you would n't treat a dog. He has been insulted, outraged, persecuted! He has been driven hither and thither till he did n't know where he was. He has stood there where you stand-there, with his name and his millions and his devotion-as white as your handkerchief, with hot tears in his eyes, and me ready to go down on my knees to him and say, 'My own sweet prince, I could kiss the ground you tread on, but it is n't decent that I should allow you to enter my house and expose yourself to these horrors again.' And he would come back, and he would come back, and go through it all again, and take all that was given him, and only want the girl the more! I was his confidant; I know everything. He used to beg my forgiveness for Christina. What do you say to that? I seized him once and kissed him, I did! To find that and to find all the rest with it, and to believe it was a gift straight from the pitying angels of heaven, and then to see it dashed away before your eyes and to stand here helpless-oh, it 's a fate I hope you may ever be spared!"
"It would seem, then, that in the interest of Prince Casamassima himself I ought to refuse to interfere," said Rowland.
Mrs. Light looked at him hard, slowly drying her eyes. The intensity of her grief and anger gave her a kind of majesty, and Rowland, for the moment, felt ashamed of the ironical ring of his observation. "Very good, sir," she said. "I 'm sorry your heart is not so tender as your conscience. My compliments to your conscience! It must give you great happiness. Heaven help me! Since you fail us, we are indeed driven to the wall. But I have fought my own battles before, and I have never lost courage, and I don't see why I should break down now. Cavaliere, come here!"
Giacosa rose at her summons and advanced with his usual deferential alacrity. He shook hands with Rowland in silence.
"Mr. Mallet refuses to say a word," Mrs. Light went on. "Time presses, every moment is precious. Heaven knows what that poor boy may be doing. If at this moment a clever woman should get hold of him she might be as ugly as she pleased! It 's horrible to think of it."
The Cavaliere fixed his eyes on Rowland, and his look, which the night before had been singular, was now most extraordinary. There was a nameless force of anguish in it which seemed to grapple with the young man's reluctance, to plead, to entreat, and at the same time to be glazed over with a reflection of strange things.
Suddenly, though most vaguely, Rowland felt the presence of a new element in the drama that was going on before him. He looked from the Cavaliere to Mrs. Light, whose eyes were now quite dry, and were fixed in stony hardness on the floor.
"If you could bring yourself," the Cavaliere said, in a low, soft, caressing voice, "to address a few words of solemn remonstrance to Miss Light, you would, perhaps, do more for us than you know. You would save several persons a great pain. The dear signora, first, and then Christina herself. Christina in particular. Me too, I might take the liberty to add!"
There was, to Rowland, something acutely touching in this humble petition. He had always felt a sort of imaginative tenderness for poor little unexplained Giacosa, and these words seemed a supreme contortion of the mysterious obliquity of his life. All of a sudden, as he watched the Cavaliere, something occurred to him; it was something very odd, and it stayed his glance suddenly from again turning to Mrs. Light. His idea embarrassed him, and to carry off his embarrassment, he repeated that it was folly to suppose that his words would have any weight with Christina.
The Cavaliere stepped forward and laid two fingers on Rowland's breast. "Do you wish to know the truth? You are the only man whose words she remembers."
Rowland was going from surprise to surprise. "I will say what I can!" he said. By this time he had ventured to glance at Mrs. Light. She was looking at him askance, as if, upon this, she was suddenly mistrusting his motives.
"If you fail," she said sharply, "we have something else! But please to lose no time."
She had hardly spoken when the sound of a short, sharp growl caused the company to turn. Christina's fleecy poodle stood in the middle of the vast saloon, with his muzzle lowered, in pompous defiance of the three conspirators against the comfort of his mistress. This young lady's claims for him seemed justified; he was an animal of amazingly delicate instincts. He had preceded Christina as a sort of van-guard of defense, and she now slowly advanced from a neighboring room.
"You will be so good as to listen to Mr. Mallet," her mother said, in a terrible voice, "and to reflect carefully upon what he says. I suppose you will admit that he is disinterested. In half an hour you shall hear from me again!" And passing her hand through the Cavaliere's arm, she swept rapidly out of the room.
Christina looked hard at Rowland, but offered him no greeting. She was very pale, and, strangely enough, it at first seemed to Rowland that her beauty was in eclipse. But he very soon perceived that it had only changed its character, and that if it was a trifle less brilliant than usual, it was admirably touching and noble. The clouded light of her eyes, the magnificent gravity of her features, the conscious erectness of her head, might have belonged to a deposed sovereign or a condemned martyr. "Why have you come here at this time?" she asked.
"Your mother sent for me in pressing terms, and I was very glad to have an opportunity to speak to you."
"Have you come to help me, or to persecute me?"
"I have as little power to do one as I have desire to do the other. I came in great part to ask you a question. First, your decision is irrevocable?"
Christina's two hands had been hanging clasped in front of her; she separated them and flung them apart by an admirable gesture.
"Would you have done this if you had not seen Miss Garland?"
She looked at him with quickened attention; then suddenly, "This is interesting!" she cried. "Let us have it out." And she flung herself into a chair and pointed to another.
"You don't answer my question," Rowland said.
"You have no right, that I know of, to ask it. But it 's a very clever one; so clever that it deserves an answer. Very likely I would not."
"Last night, when I said that to myself, I was extremely angry," Rowland rejoined.
"Oh, dear, and you are not angry now?"
"I am less angry."
"How very stupid! But you can say something at least."
"If I were to say what is uppermost in my mind, I would say that, face to face with you, it is never possible to condemn you."
"You know, yourself! But I can at least say now what I felt last night. It seemed to me that you had consciously, cruelly dealt a blow at that poor girl. Do you understand?"
"Wait a moment!" And with her eyes fixed on him, she inclined her head on one side, meditatively. Then a cold, brilliant smile covered her face, and she made a gesture of negation. "I see your train of reasoning, but it 's quite wrong. I meant no harm to Miss Garland; I should be extremely sorry to make her suffer. Tell me you believe that."
This was said with ineffable candor. Rowland heard himself answering, "I believe it!"
"And yet, in a sense, your supposition was true," Christina continued. "I conceived, as I told you, a great admiration for Miss Garland, and I frankly confess I was jealous of her. What I envied her was simply her character! I said to myself, 'She, in my place, would n't marry Casamassima.' I could not help saying it, and I said it so often that I found a kind of inspiration in it. I hated the idea of being worse than she-of doing something that she would n't do. I might be bad by nature, but I need n't be by volition. The end of it all was that I found it impossible not to tell the prince that I was his very humble servant, but that I could not marry him."
"Are you sure it was only of Miss Garland's character that you were jealous, not of-not of"-
"Speak out, I beg you. We are talking philosophy!"
"Not of her affection for her cousin?"
"Sure is a good deal to ask. Still, I think I may say it! There are two reasons; one, at least, I can tell you: her affection has not a shadow's weight with Mr. Hudson! Why then should one fear it?"
"And what is the other reason?"
"Excuse me; that is my own affair."
Rowland was puzzled, baffled, charmed, inspired, almost, all at once. "I have promised your mother," he presently resumed, "to say something in favor of Prince Casamassima."
She shook her head sadly. "Prince Casamassima needs nothing that you can say for him. He is a magnificent parti. I know it perfectly."
"You know also of the extreme affliction of your mother?"
"Her affliction is demonstrative. She has been abusing me for the last twenty-four hours as if I were the vilest of the vile." To see Christina sit there in the purity of her beauty and say this, might have made one bow one's head with a kind of awe. "I have failed of respect to her at other times, but I have not done so now. Since we are talking philosophy," she pursued with a gentle smile, "I may say it 's a simple matter! I don't love him. Or rather, perhaps, since we are talking philosophy, I may say it 's not a simple matter. I spoke just now of inspiration. The inspiration has been great, but-I frankly confess it-the choice has been hard. Shall I tell you?" she demanded, with sudden ardor; "will you understand me? It was on the one side the world, the splendid, beautiful, powerful, interesting world. I know what that is; I have tasted of the cup, I know its sweetness. Ah, if I chose, if I let myself go, if I flung everything to the winds, the world and I would be famous friends! I know its merits, and I think, without vanity, it would see mine. You would see some fine things! I should like to be a princess, and I think I should be a very good one; I would play my part well. I am fond of luxury, I am fond of a great society, I am fond of being looked at. I am corrupt, corruptible, corruption! Ah, what a pity that could n't be, too! Mercy of Heaven!" There was a passionate tremor in her voice; she covered her face with her hands and sat motionless. Rowland saw that an intense agitation, hitherto successfully repressed, underlay her calmness, and he could easily believe that her battle had been fierce. She rose quickly and turned away, walked a few paces, and stopped. In a moment she was facing him again, with tears in her eyes and a flush in her cheeks. "But you need n't think I 'm afraid!" she said. "I have chosen, and I shall hold to it. I have something here, here, here!" and she patted her heart. "It 's my own. I shan't part with it. Is it what you call an ideal? I don't know; I don't care! It is brighter than the Casamassima diamonds!"
"You say that certain things are your own affair," Rowland presently rejoined; "but I must nevertheless make an attempt to learn what all this means-what it promises for my friend Hudson. Is there any hope for him?"
"This is a point I can't discuss with you minutely. I like him very much."
"Would you marry him if he were to ask you?"
"He has asked me."
"And if he asks again?"
"I shall marry no one just now."
"Roderick," said Rowland, "has great hopes."
"Does he know of my rupture with the prince?"
"He is making a great holiday of it."
Christina pulled her poodle towards her and began to smooth his silky fleece. "I like him very much," she repeated; "much more than I used to. Since you told me all that about him at Saint Cecilia's, I have felt a great friendship for him. There 's something very fine about him; he 's not afraid of anything. He is not afraid of failure; he is not afraid of ruin or death."
"Poor fellow!" said Rowland, bitterly; "he is fatally picturesque."
"Picturesque, yes; that 's what he is. I am very sorry for him."
"Your mother told me just now that you had said that you did n't care a straw for him."
"Very likely! I meant as a lover. One does n't want a lover one pities, and one does n't want-of all things in the world-a picturesque husband! I should like Mr. Hudson as something else. I wish he were my brother, so that he could never talk to me of marriage. Then I could adore him. I would nurse him, I would wait on him and save him all disagreeable rubs and shocks. I am much stronger than he, and I would stand between him and the world. Indeed, with Mr. Hudson for my brother, I should be willing to live and die an old maid!"
"Have you ever told him all this?"
"I suppose so; I 've told him five hundred things! If it would please you, I will tell him again."
"Oh, Heaven forbid!" cried poor Rowland, with a groan.
He was lingering there, weighing his sympathy against his irritation, and feeling it sink in the scale, when the curtain of a distant doorway was lifted and Mrs. Light passed across the room. She stopped half-way, and gave the young persons a flushed and menacing look. It found apparently little to reassure her, and she moved away with a passionate toss of her drapery. Rowland thought with horror of the sinister compulsion to which the young girl was to be subjected. In this ethereal flight of hers there was a certain painful effort and tension of wing; but it was none the less piteous to imagine her being rudely jerked down to the base earth she was doing her adventurous utmost to spurn. She would need all her magnanimity for her own trial, and it seemed gross to make further demands upon it on Roderick's behalf.
Rowland took up his hat. "You asked a while ago if I had come to help you," he said. "If I knew how I might help you, I should be particularly glad."
She stood silent a moment, reflecting. Then at last, looking up, "You remember," she said, "your promising me six months ago to tell me what you finally thought of me? I should like you to tell me now."
He could hardly help smiling. Madame Grandoni had insisted on the fact that Christina was an actress, though a sincere one; and this little speech seemed a glimpse of the cloven foot. She had played her great scene, she had made her point, and now she had her eye at the hole in the curtain and she was watching the house! But she blushed as she perceived his smile, and her blush, which was beautiful, made her fault venial.
"You are an excellent girl!" he said, in a particular tone, and gave her his hand in farewell.
There was a great chain of rooms in Mrs. Light's apartment, the pride and joy of the hostess on festal evenings, through which the departing visitor passed before reaching the door. In one of the first of these Rowland found himself waylaid and arrested by the distracted lady herself.
"Well, well?" she cried, seizing his arm. "Has she listened to you-have you moved her?"
"In Heaven's name, dear madame," Rowland begged, "leave the poor girl alone! She is behaving very well!"
"Behaving very well? Is that all you have to tell me? I don't believe you said a proper word to her. You are conspiring together to kill me!"
Rowland tried to soothe her, to remonstrate, to persuade her that it was equally cruel and unwise to try to force matters. But she answered him only with harsh lamentations and imprecations, and ended by telling him that her daughter was her property, not his, and that his interference was most insolent and most scandalous. Her disappointment seemed really to have crazed her, and his only possible rejoinder was to take a summary departure.
A moment later he came upon the Cavaliere, who was sitting with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, so buried in thought that Rowland had to call him before he roused himself. Giacosa looked at him a moment keenly, and then gave a shake of the head, interrogatively.
Rowland gave a shake negative, to which the Cavaliere responded by a long, melancholy sigh. "But her mother is determined to force matters," said Rowland.
"It seems that it must be!"
"Do you consider that it must be?"
"I don't differ with Mrs. Light!"
"It will be a great cruelty!"
The Cavaliere gave a tragic shrug. "Eh! it is n't an easy world."
"You should do nothing to make it harder, then."
"What will you have? It 's a magnificent marriage."
"You disappoint me, Cavaliere," said Rowland, solemnly. "I imagined you appreciated the great elevation of Miss Light's attitude. She does n't love the prince; she has let the matter stand or fall by that."
The old man grasped him by the hand and stood a moment with averted eyes. At last, looking at him, he held up two fingers.
"I have two hearts," he said, "one for myself, one for the world. This one opposes Miss Light, the other adores her! One suffers horribly at what the other does."
"I don't understand double people, Cavaliere," Rowland said, "and I don't pretend to understand you. But I have guessed that you are going to play some secret card."
"The card is Mrs. Light's, not mine," said the Cavaliere.
"It 's a menace, at any rate?"
"The sword of Damocles! It hangs by a hair. Christina is to be given ten minutes to recant, under penalty of having it fall. On the blade there is something written in strange characters. Don't scratch your head; you will not make it out."
"I think I have guessed it," Rowland said, after a pregnant silence. The Cavaliere looked at him blankly but intently, and Rowland added, "Though there are some signs, indeed, I don't understand."
"Puzzle them out at your leisure," said the Cavaliere, shaking his hand. "I hear Mrs. Light; I must go to my post. I wish you were a Catholic; I would beg you to step into the first church you come to, and pray for us the next half-hour."
"For 'us'? For whom?"
"For all of us. At any rate remember this: I worship the Christina!"
Rowland heard the rustle of Mrs. Light's dress; he turned away, and the Cavaliere went, as he said, to his post. Rowland for the next couple of days pondered his riddle.
CHAPTER XI. Mrs. Hudson
Of Roderick, meanwhile, Rowland saw nothing; but he immediately went to Mrs. Hudson and assured her that her son was in even exceptionally good health and spirits. After this he called again on the two ladies from Northampton, but, as Roderick's absence continued, he was able neither to furnish nor to obtain much comfort. Miss Garland's apprehensive face seemed to him an image of his own state of mind. He was profoundly depressed; he felt that there was a storm in the air, and he wished it would come, without more delay, and perform its ravages. On the afternoon of the third day he went into Saint Peter's, his frequent resort whenever the outer world was disagreeable. From a heart-ache to a Roman rain there were few importunate pains the great church did not help him to forget. He had wandered there for half an hour, when he came upon a short figure, lurking in the shadow of one of the great piers. He saw it was that of an artist, hastily transferring to his sketch-book a memento of some fleeting variation in the scenery of the basilica; and in a moment he perceived that the artist was little Sam Singleton.
Singleton pocketed his sketch-book with a guilty air, as if it cost his modesty a pang to be detected in this greedy culture of opportunity. Rowland always enjoyed meeting him; talking with him, in these days, was as good as a wayside gush of clear, cold water, on a long, hot walk. There was, perhaps, no drinking-vessel, and you had to apply your lips to some simple natural conduit; but the result was always a sense of extreme moral refreshment. On this occasion he mentally blessed the ingenuous little artist, and heard presently with keen regret that he was to leave Rome on the morrow. Singleton had come to bid farewell to Saint Peter's, and he was gathering a few supreme memories. He had earned a purse-full of money, and he was meaning to take a summer's holiday; going to Switzerland, to Germany, to Paris. In the autumn he was to return home; his family-composed, as Rowland knew, of a father who was cashier in a bank and five unmarried sisters, one of whom gave lyceum-lectures on woman's rights, the whole resident at Buffalo, New York-had been writing him peremptory letters and appealing to him as a son, brother, and fellow-citizen. He would have been grateful for another year in Rome, but what must be must be, and he had laid up treasure which, in Buffalo, would seem infinite. They talked some time; Rowland hoped they might meet in Switzerland, and take a walk or two together. Singleton seemed to feel that Buffalo had marked him for her own; he was afraid he should not see Rome again for many a year.
"So you expect to live at Buffalo?" Rowland asked sympathetically.
"Well, it will depend upon the views-upon the attitude-of my family," Singleton replied. "Oh, I think I shall get on; I think it can be done. If I find it can be done, I shall really be quite proud of it; as an artist of course I mean, you know. Do you know I have some nine hundred sketches? I shall live in my portfolio. And so long as one is not in Rome, pray what does it matter where one is? But how I shall envy all you Romans-you and Mr. Gloriani, and Mr. Hudson, especially!"
"Don't envy Hudson; he has nothing to envy."
Singleton grinned at what he considered a harmless jest. "Yes, he 's going to be the great man of our time! And I say, Mr. Mallet, is n't it a mighty comfort that it 's we who have turned him out?"
"Between ourselves," said Rowland, "he has disappointed me."
Singleton stared, open-mouthed. "Dear me, what did you expect?"
"Truly," said Rowland to himself, "what did I expect?"
"I confess," cried Singleton, "I can't judge him rationally. He fascinates me; he 's the sort of man one makes one's hero of."
"Strictly speaking, he is not a hero," said Rowland.
Singleton looked intensely grave, and, with almost tearful eyes, "Is there anything amiss-anything out of the way, about him?" he timidly asked. Then, as Rowland hesitated to reply, he quickly added, "Please, if there is, don't tell me! I want to know no evil of him, and I think I should hardly believe it. In my memories of this Roman artist-life, he will be the central figure. He will stand there in radiant relief, as beautiful and unspotted as one of his own statues!"
"Amen!" said Rowland, gravely. He remembered afresh that the sea is inhabited by big fishes and little, and that the latter often find their way down the throats of the former. Singleton was going to spend the afternoon in taking last looks at certain other places, and Rowland offered to join him on his sentimental circuit. But as they were preparing to leave the church, he heard himself suddenly addressed from behind. Turning, he beheld a young woman whom he immediately recognized as Madame Grandoni's maid. Her mistress was present, she said, and begged to confer with him before he departed.
This summons obliged Rowland to separate from Singleton, to whom he bade farewell. He followed the messenger, and presently found Madame Grandoni occupying a liberal area on the steps of the tribune, behind the great altar, where, spreading a shawl on the polished red marble, she had comfortably seated herself. He expected that she had something especial to impart, and she lost no time in bringing forth her treasure.
"Don't shout very loud," she said, "remember that we are in church; there 's a limit to the noise one may make even in Saint Peter's. Christina Light was married this morning to Prince Casamassima."
Rowland did not shout at all; he gave a deep, short murmur: "Married-this morning?"
"Married this morning, at seven o'clock, le plus tranquillement du monde, before three or four persons. The young couple left Rome an hour afterwards."
For some moments this seemed to him really terrible; the dark little drama of which he had caught a glimpse had played itself out. He had believed that Christina would resist; that she had succumbed was a proof that the pressure had been cruel. Rowland's imagination followed her forth with an irresistible tremor into the world toward which she was rolling away, with her detested husband and her stifled ideal; but it must be confessed that if the first impulse of his compassion was for Christina, the second was for Prince Casamassima. Madame Grandoni acknowledged an extreme curiosity as to the secret springs of these strange doings: Casamassima's sudden dismissal, his still more sudden recall, the hurried private marriage. "Listen," said Rowland, hereupon, "and I will tell you something." And he related, in detail, his last visit to Mrs. Light and his talk with this lady, with Christina, and with the Cavaliere.
"Good," she said; "it 's all very curious. But it 's a riddle, and I only half guess it."
"Well," said Rowland, "I desire to harm no one; but certain suppositions have taken shape in my mind which serve as a solvent to several ambiguities."
"It is very true," Madame Grandoni answered, "that the Cavaliere, as he stands, has always needed to be explained."
"He is explained by the hypothesis that, three-and-twenty years ago, at Ancona, Mrs. Light had a lover."
"I see. Ancona was dull, Mrs. Light was lively, and-three-and-twenty years ago-perhaps, the Cavaliere was fascinating. Doubtless it would be fairer to say that he was fascinated. Poor Giacosa!"
"He has had his compensation," Rowland said. "He has been passionately fond of Christina."
"Naturally. But has Christina never wondered why?"
"If she had been near guessing, her mother's shabby treatment of him would have put her off the scent. Mrs. Light's conscience has apparently told her that she could expiate an hour's too great kindness by twenty years' contempt. So she kept her secret. But what is the profit of having a secret unless you can make some use of it? The day at last came when she could turn hers to account; she could let the skeleton out of the closet and create a panic."
"I don't understand."
"Neither do I morally," said Rowland. "I only conceive that there was a horrible, fabulous scene. The poor Cavaliere stood outside, at the door, white as a corpse and as dumb. The mother and daughter had it out together. Mrs. Light burnt her ships. When she came out she had three lines of writing in her daughter's hand, which the Cavaliere was dispatched with to the prince. They overtook the young man in time, and, when he reappeared, he was delighted to dispense with further waiting. I don't know what he thought of the look in his bride's face; but that is how I roughly reconstruct history."
"Christina was forced to decide, then, that she could not afford not to be a princess?"
"She was reduced by humiliation. She was assured that it was not for her to make conditions, but to thank her stars that there were none made for her. If she persisted, she might find it coming to pass that there would be conditions, and the formal rupture-the rupture that the world would hear of and pry into-would then proceed from the prince and not from her."
"That 's all nonsense!" said Madame Grandoni, energetically.
"To us, yes; but not to the proudest girl in the world, deeply wounded in her pride, and not stopping to calculate probabilities, but muffling her shame, with an almost sensuous relief, in a splendor that stood within her grasp and asked no questions. Is it not possible that the late Mr. Light had made an outbreak before witnesses who are still living?"
"Certainly her marriage now," said Madame Grandoni, less analytically, "has the advantage that it takes her away from her-parents!"
This lady's farther comments upon the event are not immediately pertinent to our history; there were some other comments of which Rowland had a deeply oppressive foreboding. He called, on the evening of the morrow upon Mrs. Hudson, and found Roderick with the two ladies. Their companion had apparently but lately entered, and Rowland afterwards learned that it was his first appearance since the writing of the note which had so distressed his mother. He had flung himself upon a sofa, where he sat with his chin upon his breast, staring before him with a sinister spark in his eye. He fixed his gaze on Rowland, but gave him no greeting. He had evidently been saying something to startle the women; Mrs. Hudson had gone and seated herself, timidly and imploringly, on the edge of the sofa, trying to take his hand. Miss Garland was applying herself to some needlework with conscious intentness.
Mrs. Hudson gave Rowland, on his entrance, a touching look of gratitude. "Oh, we have such blessed news!" she said. "Roderick is ready to leave Rome."
"It 's not blessed news; it 's most damnable news!" cried Roderick.
"Oh, but we are very glad, my son, and I am sure you will be when you get away. You 're looking most dreadfully thin; is n't he, Mr. Mallet? It 's plain enough you need a change. I 'm sure we will go wherever you like. Where would you like to go?"
Roderick turned his head slowly and looked at her. He had let her take his hand, which she pressed tenderly between her own. He gazed at her for some time in silence. "Poor mother!" he said at last, in a portentous tone.
"My own dear son!" murmured Mrs. Hudson in all the innocence of her trust.
"I don't care a straw where you go! I don't care a straw for anything!"
"Oh, my dear boy, you must not say that before all of us here-before Mary, before Mr. Mallet!"
"Mary-Mr. Mallet?" Roderick repeated, almost savagely. He released himself from the clasp of his mother's hand and turned away, leaning his elbows on his knees and holding his head in his hands. There was a silence; Rowland said nothing because he was watching Miss Garland. "Why should I stand on ceremony with Mary and Mr. Mallet?" Roderick presently added. "Mary pretends to believe I 'm a fine fellow, and if she believes it as she ought to, nothing I can say will alter her opinion. Mallet knows I 'm a hopeless humbug; so I need n't mince my words with him."
"Ah, my dear, don't use such dreadful language!" said Mrs. Hudson. "Are n't we all devoted to you, and proud of you, and waiting only to hear what you want, so that we may do it?"
Roderick got up, and began to walk about the room; he was evidently in a restless, reckless, profoundly demoralized condition. Rowland felt that it was literally true that he did not care a straw for anything, but he observed with anxiety that Mrs. Hudson, who did not know on what delicate ground she was treading, was disposed to chide him caressingly, as a mere expression of tenderness. He foresaw that she would bring down the hovering thunderbolt on her head.
"In God's name," Roderick cried, "don't remind me of my obligations! It 's intolerable to me, and I don't believe it 's pleasant to Mallet. I know they 're tremendous-I know I shall never repay them. I 'm bankrupt! Do you know what that means?"
The poor lady sat staring, dismayed, and Rowland angrily interfered. "Don't talk such stuff to your mother!" he cried. "Don't you see you 're frightening her?"
"Frightening her? she may as well be frightened first as last. Do I frighten you, mother?" Roderick demanded.
"Oh, Roderick, what do you mean?" whimpered the poor lady. "Mr. Mallet, what does he mean?"
"I mean that I 'm an angry, savage, disappointed, miserable man!" Roderick went on. "I mean that I can't do a stroke of work nor think a profitable thought! I mean that I 'm in a state of helpless rage and grief and shame! Helpless, helpless-that 's what it is. You can't help me, poor mother-not with kisses, nor tears, nor prayers! Mary can't help me-not for all the honor she does me, nor all the big books on art that she pores over. Mallet can't help me-not with all his money, nor all his good example, nor all his friendship, which I 'm so profoundly well aware of: not with it all multiplied a thousand times and repeated to all eternity! I thought you would help me, you and Mary; that 's why I sent for you. But you can't, don't think it! The sooner you give up the idea the better for you. Give up being proud of me, too; there 's nothing left of me to be proud of! A year ago I was a mighty fine fellow; but do you know what has become of me now? I have gone to the devil!"
There was something in the ring of Roderick's voice, as he uttered these words, which sent them home with convincing force. He was not talking for effect, or the mere sensuous pleasure of extravagant and paradoxical utterance, as had often enough been the case ere this; he was not even talking viciously or ill-humoredly. He was talking passionately, desperately, and from an irresistible need to throw off the oppressive burden of his mother's confidence. His cruel eloquence brought the poor lady to her feet, and she stood there with clasped hands, petrified and voiceless. Mary Garland quickly left her place, came straight to Roderick, and laid her hand on his arm, looking at him with all her tormented heart in her eyes. He made no movement to disengage himself; he simply shook his head several times, in dogged negation of her healing powers. Rowland had been living for the past month in such intolerable expectancy of disaster that now that the ice was broken, and the fatal plunge taken, his foremost feeling was almost elation; but in a moment his orderly instincts and his natural love of superficial smoothness overtook it.
"I really don't see, Roderick," he said, "the profit of your talking in just this way at just this time. Don't you see how you are making your mother suffer?"
"Do I enjoy it myself?" cried Roderick. "Is the suffering all on your side and theirs? Do I look as if I were happy, and were stirring you up with a stick for my amusement? Here we all are in the same boat; we might as well understand each other! These women must know that I 'm not to be counted on. That sounds remarkably cool, no doubt, and I certainly don't deny your right to be utterly disgusted with me."
"Will you keep what you have got to say till another time," said Mary, "and let me hear it alone?"
"Oh, I 'll let you hear it as often as you please; but what 's the use of keeping it? I 'm in the humor; it won't keep! It 's a very simple matter. I 'm a failure, that 's all; I 'm not a first-rate man. I 'm second-rate, tenth-rate, anything you please. After that, it 's all one!"
Mary Garland turned away and buried her face in her hands; but Roderick, struck, apparently, in some unwonted fashion with her gesture, drew her towards him again, and went on in a somewhat different tone. "It 's hardly worth while we should have any private talk about this, Mary," he said. "The thing would be comfortable for neither of us. It 's better, after all, that it be said once for all and dismissed. There are things I can't talk to you about. Can I, at least? You are such a queer creature!"
"I can imagine nothing you should n't talk to me about," said Mary.
"You are not afraid?" he demanded, sharply, looking at her.
She turned away abruptly, with lowered eyes, hesitating a moment. "Anything you think I should hear, I will hear," she said. And then she returned to her place at the window and took up her work.
"I have had a great blow," said Roderick. "I was a great ass, but it does n't make the blow any easier to bear."
"Mr. Mallet, tell me what Roderick means!" said Mrs. Hudson, who had found her voice, in a tone more peremptory than Rowland had ever heard her use.
"He ought to have told you before," said Roderick. "Really, Rowland, if you will allow me to say so, you ought! You could have given a much better account of all this than I myself; better, especially, in that it would have been more lenient to me. You ought to have let them down gently; it would have saved them a great deal of pain. But you always want to keep things so smooth! Allow me to say that it 's very weak of you."
"I hereby renounce such weakness!" said Rowland.
"Oh, what is it, sir; what is it?" groaned Mrs. Hudson, insistently.
"It 's what Roderick says: he 's a failure!"
Mary Garland, on hearing this declaration, gave Rowland a single glance and then rose, laid down her work, and walked rapidly out of the room. Mrs. Hudson tossed her head and timidly bristled. "This from you, Mr. Mallet!" she said with an injured air which Rowland found harrowing.
But Roderick, most characteristically, did not in the least resent his friend's assertion; he sent him, on the contrary, one of those large, clear looks of his, which seemed to express a stoical pleasure in Rowland's frankness, and which set his companion, then and there, wondering again, as he had so often done before, at the extraordinary contradictions of his temperament. "My dear mother," Roderick said, "if you had had eyes that were not blinded by this sad maternal vanity, you would have seen all this for yourself; you would have seen that I 'm anything but prosperous."
"Is it anything about money?" cried Mrs. Hudson. "Oh, do write to Mr. Striker!"
"Money?" said Roderick. "I have n't a cent of money; I 'm bankrupt!"
"Oh, Mr. Mallet, how could you let him?" asked Mrs. Hudson, terribly.
"Everything I have is at his service," said Rowland, feeling ill.
"Of course Mr. Mallet will help you, my son!" cried the poor lady, eagerly.
"Oh, leave Mr. Mallet alone!" said Roderick. "I have squeezed him dry; it 's not my fault, at least, if I have n't!"
"Roderick, what have you done with all your money?" his mother demanded.
"Thrown it away! It was no such great amount. I have done nothing this winter."
"You have done nothing?"
"I have done no work! Why in the world did n't you guess it and spare me all this? Could n't you see I was idle, distracted, dissipated?"
"Dissipated, my dear son?" Mrs. Hudson repeated.
"That 's over for the present! But could n't you see-could n't Mary see-that I was in a damnably bad way?"
"I have no doubt Miss Garland saw," said Rowland.
"Mary has said nothing!" cried Mrs. Hudson.
"Oh, she 's a fine girl!" Rowland said.
"Have you done anything that will hurt poor Mary?" Mrs. Hudson asked.
"I have only been thinking night and day of another woman!"
Mrs. Hudson dropped helplessly into her seat again. "Oh dear, dear, had n't we better go home?"
"Not to get out of her way!" Roderick said. "She has started on a career of her own, and she does n't care a straw for me. My head was filled with her; I could think of nothing else; I would have sacrificed everything to her-you, Mary, Mallet, my work, my fortune, my future, my honor! I was in a fine state, eh? I don't pretend to be giving you good news; but I 'm telling the simple, literal truth, so that you may know why I have gone to the dogs. She pretended to care greatly for all this, and to be willing to make any sacrifice in return; she had a magnificent chance, for she was being forced into a mercenary marriage with a man she detested. She led me to believe that she would give this up, and break short off, and keep herself free and sacred and pure for me. This was a great honor, and you may believe that I valued it. It turned my head, and I lived only to see my happiness come to pass. She did everything to encourage me to hope it would; everything that her infernal coquetry and falsity could suggest."
"Oh, I say, this is too much!" Rowland broke out.
"Do you defend her?" Roderick cried, with a renewal of his passion. "Do you pretend to say that she gave me no hopes?" He had been speaking with growing bitterness, quite losing sight of his mother's pain and bewilderment in the passionate joy of publishing his wrongs. Since he was hurt, he must cry out; since he was in pain, he must scatter his pain abroad. Of his never thinking of others, save as they spoke and moved from his cue, as it were, this extraordinary insensibility to the injurious effects of his eloquence was a capital example; the more so as the motive of his eloquence was never an appeal for sympathy or compassion, things to which he seemed perfectly indifferent and of which he could make no use. The great and characteristic point with him was the perfect absoluteness of his own emotions and experience. He never saw himself as part of a whole; only as the clear-cut, sharp-edged, isolated individual, rejoicing or raging, as the case might be, but needing in any case absolutely to affirm himself. All this, to Rowland, was ancient history, but his perception of it stirred within him afresh, at the sight of Roderick's sense of having been betrayed. That he, under the circumstances, should not in fairness be the first to lodge a complaint of betrayal was a point to which, at his leisure, Rowland was of course capable of rendering impartial justice; but Roderick's present desperation was so peremptory that it imposed itself on one's sympathies. "Do you pretend to say," he went on, "that she did n't lead me along to the very edge of fulfillment and stupefy me with all that she suffered me to believe, all that she sacredly promised? It amused her to do it, and she knew perfectly well what she really meant. She never meant to be sincere; she never dreamed she could be. She 's a ravenous flirt, and why a flirt is a flirt is more than I can tell you. I can't understand playing with those matters; for me they 're serious, whether I take them up or lay them down. I don't see what 's in your head, Rowland, to attempt to defend Miss Light; you were the first to cry out against her! You told me she was dangerous, and I pooh-poohed you. You were right; you 're always right. She 's as cold and false and heartless as she 's beautiful, and she has sold her heartless beauty to the highest bidder. I hope he knows what he gets!"
"Oh, my son," cried Mrs. Hudson, plaintively, "how could you ever care for such a dreadful creature?"
"It would take long to tell you, dear mother!"
Rowland's lately-deepened sympathy and compassion for Christina was still throbbing in his mind, and he felt that, in loyalty to it, he must say a word for her. "You believed in her too much at first," he declared, "and you believe in her too little now."
Roderick looked at him with eyes almost lurid, beneath lowering brows. "She is an angel, then, after all?-that 's what you want to prove!" he cried. "That 's consoling for me, who have lost her! You 're always right, I say; but, dear friend, in mercy, be wrong for once!"
"Oh yes, Mr. Mallet, be merciful!" said Mrs. Hudson, in a tone which, for all its gentleness, made Rowland stare. The poor fellow's stare covered a great deal of concentrated wonder and apprehension-a presentiment of what a small, sweet, feeble, elderly lady might be capable of, in the way of suddenly generated animosity. There was no space in Mrs. Hudson's tiny maternal mind for complications of feeling, and one emotion existed only by turning another over flat and perching on top of it. She was evidently not following Roderick at all in his dusky aberrations. Sitting without, in dismay, she only saw that all was darkness and trouble, and as Roderick's glory had now quite outstripped her powers of imagination and urged him beyond her jurisdiction, so that he had become a thing too precious and sacred for blame, she found it infinitely comfortable to lay the burden of their common affliction upon Rowland's broad shoulders. Had he not promised to make them all rich and happy? And this was the end of it! Rowland felt as if his trials were, in a sense, only beginning. "Had n't you better forget all this, my dear?" Mrs. Hudson said. "Had n't you better just quietly attend to your work?"
"Work, madame?" cried Roderick. "My work 's over. I can't work-I have n't worked all winter. If I were fit for anything, this sentimental collapse would have been just the thing to cure me of my apathy and break the spell of my idleness. But there 's a perfect vacuum here!" And he tapped his forehead. "It 's bigger than ever; it grows bigger every hour!"
"I 'm sure you have made a beautiful likeness of your poor little mother," said Mrs. Hudson, coaxingly.
"I had done nothing before, and I have done nothing since! I quarreled with an excellent man, the other day, from mere exasperation of my nerves, and threw away five thousand dollars!"
"Threw away-five thousand dollars!" Roderick had been wandering among formidable abstractions and allusions too dark to penetrate. But here was a concrete fact, lucidly stated, and poor Mrs. Hudson, for a moment, looked it in the face. She repeated her son's words a third time with a gasping murmur, and then, suddenly, she burst into tears. Roderick went to her, sat down beside her, put his arm round her, fixed his eyes coldly on the floor, and waited for her to weep herself out. She leaned her head on his shoulder and sobbed broken-heartedly. She said not a word, she made no attempt to scold; but the desolation of her tears was overwhelming. It lasted some time-too long for Rowland's courage. He had stood silent, wishing simply to appear very respectful; but the elation that was mentioned a while since had utterly ebbed, and he found his situation intolerable. He walked away-not, perhaps, on tiptoe, but with a total absence of bravado in his tread.
The next day, while he was at home, the servant brought him the card of a visitor. He read with surprise the name of Mrs. Hudson, and hurried forward to meet her. He found her in his sitting-room, leaning on the arm of her son and looking very pale, her eyes red with weeping, and her lips tightly compressed. Her advent puzzled him, and it was not for some time that he began to understand the motive of it. Roderick's countenance threw no light upon it; but Roderick's countenance, full of light as it was, in a way, itself, had never thrown light upon anything. He had not been in Rowland's rooms for several weeks, and he immediately began to look at those of his own works that adorned them. He lost himself in silent contemplation. Mrs. Hudson had evidently armed herself with dignity, and, so far as she might, she meant to be impressive. Her success may be measured by the fact that Rowland's whole attention centred in the fear of seeing her begin to weep. She told him that she had come to him for practical advice; she begged to remind him that she was a stranger in the land. Where were they to go, please? what were they to do? Rowland glanced at Roderick, but Roderick had his back turned and was gazing at his Adam with the intensity with which he might have examined Michael Angelo's Moses.
"Roderick says he does n't know, he does n't care," Mrs. Hudson said; "he leaves it entirely to you."
Many another man, in Rowland's place, would have greeted this information with an irate and sarcastic laugh, and told his visitors that he thanked them infinitely for their confidence, but that, really, as things stood now, they must settle these matters between themselves; many another man might have so demeaned himself, even if, like Rowland, he had been in love with Mary Garland and pressingly conscious that her destiny was also part of the question. But Rowland swallowed all hilarity and all sarcasm, and let himself seriously consider Mrs. Hudson's petition. His wits, however, were but indifferently at his command; they were dulled by his sense of the inexpressible change in Mrs. Hudson's attitude. Her visit was evidently intended as a formal reminder of the responsiblities Rowland had worn so lightly. Mrs. Hudson was doubtless too sincerely humble a person to suppose that if he had been recreant to his vows of vigilance and tenderness, her still, small presence would operate as a chastisement. But by some diminutive logical process of her own she had convinced herself that she had been weakly trustful, and that she had suffered Rowland to think too meanly, not only of her understanding, but of her social consequence. A visit in her best gown would have an admonitory effect as regards both of these attributes; it would cancel some favors received, and show him that she was no such fool! These were the reflections of a very shy woman, who, determining for once in her life to hold up her head, was perhaps carrying it a trifle extravagantly.
"You know we have very little money to spend," she said, as Rowland remained silent. "Roderick tells me that he has debts and nothing at all to pay them with. He says I must write to Mr. Striker to sell my house for what it will bring, and send me out the money. When the money comes I must give it to him. I 'm sure I don't know; I never heard of anything so dreadful! My house is all I have. But that is all Roderick will say. We must be very economical."
Before this speech was finished Mrs. Hudson's voice had begun to quaver softly, and her face, which had no capacity for the expression of superior wisdom, to look as humbly appealing as before. Rowland turned to Roderick and spoke like a school-master. "Come away from those statues, and sit down here and listen to me!"
Roderick started, but obeyed with the most graceful docility.
"What do you propose to your mother to do?" Rowland asked.
"Propose?" said Roderick, absently. "Oh, I propose nothing."
The tone, the glance, the gesture with which this was said were horribly irritating (though obviously without the slightest intention of being so), and for an instant an imprecation rose to Rowland's lips. But he checked it, and he was afterwards glad he had done so. "You must do something," he said. "Choose, select, decide!"
"My dear Rowland, how you talk!" Roderick cried. "The very point of the matter is that I can't do anything. I will do as I 'm told, but I don't call that doing. We must leave Rome, I suppose, though I don't see why. We have got no money, and you have to pay money on the railroads."
Mrs. Hudson surreptitiously wrung her hands. "Listen to him, please!" she cried. "Not leave Rome, when we have staid here later than any Christians ever did before! It 's this dreadful place that has made us so unhappy."
"That 's very true," said Roderick, serenely. "If I had not come to Rome, I would n't have risen, and if I had not risen, I should n't have fallen."
"Fallen-fallen!" murmured Mrs. Hudson. "Just hear him!"
"I will do anything you say, Rowland," Roderick added. "I will do anything you want. I have not been unkind to my mother-have I, mother? I was unkind yesterday, without meaning it; for after all, all that had to be said. Murder will out, and my low spirits can't be hidden. But we talked it over and made it up, did n't we? It seemed to me we did. Let Rowland decide it, mother; whatever he suggests will be the right thing." And Roderick, who had hardly removed his eyes from the statues, got up again and went back to look at them.
Mrs. Hudson fixed her eyes upon the floor in silence. There was not a trace in Roderick's face, or in his voice, of the bitterness of his emotion of the day before, and not a hint of his having the lightest weight upon his conscience. He looked at Rowland with his frank, luminous eye as if there had never been a difference of opinion between them; as if each had ever been for both, unalterably, and both for each.
Rowland had received a few days before a letter from a lady of his acquaintance, a worthy Scotswoman domiciled in a villa upon one of the olive-covered hills near Florence. She held her apartment in the villa upon a long lease, and she enjoyed for a sum not worth mentioning the possession of an extraordinary number of noble, stone-floored rooms, with ceilings vaulted and frescoed, and barred windows commanding the loveliest view in the world. She was a needy and thrifty spinster, who never hesitated to declare that the lovely view was all very well, but that for her own part she lived in the villa for cheapness, and that if she had a clear three hundred pounds a year she would go and really enjoy life near her sister, a baronet's lady, at Glasgow. She was now proposing to make a visit to that exhilarating city, and she desired to turn an honest penny by sub-letting for a few weeks her historic Italian chambers. The terms on which she occupied them enabled her to ask a rent almost jocosely small, and she begged Rowland to do what she called a little genteel advertising for her. Would he say a good word for her rooms to his numerous friends, as they left Rome? He said a good word for them now to Mrs. Hudson, and told her in dollars and cents how cheap a summer's lodging she might secure. He dwelt upon the fact that she would strike a truce with tables-d'hote and have a cook of her own, amenable possibly to instruction in the Northampton mysteries. He had touched a tender chord; Mrs. Hudson became almost cheerful. Her sentiments upon the table-d'hote system and upon foreign household habits generally were remarkable, and, if we had space for it, would repay analysis; and the idea of reclaiming a lost soul to the Puritanic canons of cookery quite lightened the burden of her depression. While Rowland set forth his case Roderick was slowly walking round the magnificent Adam, with his hands in his pockets. Rowland waited for him to manifest an interest in their discussion, but the statue seemed to fascinate him and he remained calmly heedless. Rowland was a practical man; he possessed conspicuously what is called the sense of detail. He entered into Mrs. Hudson's position minutely, and told her exactly why it seemed good that she should remove immediately to the Florentine villa. She received his advice with great frigidity, looking hard at the floor and sighing, like a person well on her guard against an insidious optimism. But she had nothing better to propose, and Rowland received her permission to write to his friend that he had let the rooms.
Roderick assented to this decision without either sighs or smiles. "A Florentine villa is a good thing!" he said. "I am at your service."
"I 'm sure I hope you 'll get better there," moaned his mother, gathering her shawl together.
Roderick laid one hand on her arm and with the other pointed to Rowland's statues. "Better or worse, remember this: I did those things!" he said.
Mrs. Hudson gazed at them vaguely, and Rowland said, "Remember it yourself!"
"They are horribly good!" said Roderick.
Rowland solemnly shrugged his shoulders; it seemed to him that he had nothing more to say. But as the others were going, a last light pulsation of the sense of undischarged duty led him to address to Roderick a few words of parting advice. "You 'll find the Villa Pandolfini very delightful, very comfortable," he said. "You ought to be very contented there. Whether you work or whether you loaf, it 's a place for an artist to be happy in. I hope you will work."
"I hope I may!" said Roderick with a magnificent smile.
"When we meet again, have something to show me."
"When we meet again? Where the deuce are you going?" Roderick demanded.
"Oh, I hardly know; over the Alps."
"Over the Alps! You 're going to leave me?" Roderick cried.
Rowland had most distinctly meant to leave him, but his resolution immediately wavered. He glanced at Mrs. Hudson and saw that her eyebrows were lifted and her lips parted in soft irony. She seemed to accuse him of a craven shirking of trouble, to demand of him to repair his cruel havoc in her life by a solemn renewal of zeal. But Roderick's expectations were the oddest! Such as they were, Rowland asked himself why he should n't make a bargain with them. "You desire me to go with you?" he asked.
"If you don't go, I won't-that 's all! How in the world shall I get through the summer without you?"
"How will you get through it with me? That 's the question."
"I don't pretend to say; the future is a dead blank. But without you it 's not a blank-it 's certain damnation!"
"Mercy, mercy!" murmured Mrs. Hudson.
Rowland made an effort to stand firm, and for a moment succeeded. "If I go with you, will you try to work?"
Roderick, up to this moment, had been looking as unperturbed as if the deep agitation of the day before were a thing of the remote past. But at these words his face changed formidably; he flushed and scowled, and all his passion returned. "Try to work!" he cried. "Try-try! work-work! In God's name don't talk that way, or you 'll drive me mad! Do you suppose I 'm trying not to work? Do you suppose I stand rotting here for the fun of it? Don't you suppose I would try to work for myself before I tried for you?"
"Mr. Mallet," cried Mrs. Hudson, piteously, "will you leave me alone with this?"
Rowland turned to her and informed her, gently, that he would go with her to Florence. After he had so pledged himself he thought not at all of the pain of his position as mediator between the mother's resentful grief and the son's incurable weakness; he drank deep, only, of the satisfaction of not separating from Mary Garland. If the future was a blank to Roderick, it was hardly less so to himself. He had at moments a lively foreboding of impending calamity. He paid it no especial deference, but it made him feel indisposed to take the future into his account. When, on his going to take leave of Madame Grandoni, this lady asked at what time he would come back to Rome, he answered that he was coming back either never or forever. When she asked him what he meant, he said he really could n't tell her, and parted from her with much genuine emotion; the more so, doubtless, that she blessed him in a quite loving, maternal fashion, and told him she honestly believed him to be the best fellow in the world.
The Villa Pandolfini stood directly upon a small grass-grown piazza, on the top of a hill which sloped straight from one of the gates of Florence. It offered to the outer world a long, rather low facade, colored a dull, dark yellow, and pierced with windows of various sizes, no one of which, save those on the ground floor, was on the same level with any other. Within, it had a great, cool, gray cortile, with high, light arches around it, heavily-corniced doors, of majestic altitude, opening out of it, and a beautiful mediaeval well on one side of it. Mrs. Hudson's rooms opened into a small garden supported on immense substructions, which were planted on the farther side of the hill, as it sloped steeply away. This garden was a charming place. Its south wall was curtained with a dense orange vine, a dozen fig-trees offered you their large-leaved shade, and over the low parapet the soft, grave Tuscan landscape kept you company. The rooms themselves were as high as chapels and as cool as royal sepulchres. Silence, peace, and security seemed to abide in the ancient house and make it an ideal refuge for aching hearts. Mrs. Hudson had a stunted, brown-faced Maddalena, who wore a crimson handkerchief passed over her coarse, black locks and tied under her sharp, pertinacious chin, and a smile which was as brilliant as a prolonged flash of lightning. She smiled at everything in life, especially the things she did n't like and which kept her talent for mendacity in healthy exercise. A glance, a word, a motion was sufficient to make her show her teeth at you like a cheerful she-wolf. This inexpugnable smile constituted her whole vocabulary in her dealings with her melancholy mistress, to whom she had been bequeathed by the late occupant of the apartment, and who, to Rowland's satisfaction, promised to be diverted from her maternal sorrows by the still deeper perplexities of Maddalena's theory of roasting, sweeping, and bed-making.
Rowland took rooms at a villa a trifle nearer Florence, whence in the summer mornings he had five minutes' walk in the sharp, black, shadow-strip projected by winding, flower-topped walls, to join his friends. The life at the Villa Pandolfini, when it had fairly defined itself, was tranquil and monotonous, but it might have borrowed from exquisite circumstance an absorbing charm. If a sensible shadow rested upon it, this was because it had an inherent vice; it was feigning a repose which it very scantily felt. Roderick had lost no time in giving the full measure of his uncompromising chagrin, and as he was the central figure of the little group, as he held its heart-strings all in his own hand, it reflected faithfully the eclipse of his own genius. No one had ventured upon the cheerful commonplace of saying that the change of air and of scene would restore his spirits; this would have had, under the circumstances, altogether too silly a sound. The change in question had done nothing of the sort, and his companions had, at least, the comfort of their perspicacity. An essential spring had dried up within him, and there was no visible spiritual law for making it flow again. He was rarely violent, he expressed little of the irritation and ennui that he must have constantly felt; it was as if he believed that a spiritual miracle for his redemption was just barely possible, and was therefore worth waiting for. The most that one could do, however, was to wait grimly and doggedly, suppressing an imprecation as, from time to time, one looked at one's watch. An attitude of positive urbanity toward life was not to be expected; it was doing one's duty to hold one's tongue and keep one's hands off one's own windpipe, and other people's. Roderick had long silences, fits of profound lethargy, almost of stupefaction. He used to sit in the garden by the hour, with his head thrown back, his legs outstretched, his hands in his pockets, and his eyes fastened upon the blinding summer sky. He would gather a dozen books about him, tumble them out on the ground, take one into his lap, and leave it with the pages unturned. These moods would alternate with hours of extreme restlessness, during which he mysteriously absented himself. He bore the heat of the Italian summer like a salamander, and used to start off at high noon for long walks over the hills. He often went down into Florence, rambled through her close, dim streets, and lounged away mornings in the churches and galleries. On many of these occasions Rowland bore him company, for they were the times when he was most like his former self. Before Michael Angelo's statues and the pictures of the early Tuscans, he quite forgot his own infelicities, and picked up the thread of his old aesthetic loquacity. He had a particular fondness for Andrea del Sarto, and affirmed that if he had been a painter he would have taken the author of the Madonna del Sacco for his model. He found in Florence some of his Roman friends, and went down on certain evenings to meet them. More than once he asked Mary Garland to go with him into town, and showed her the things he most cared for. He had some modeling clay brought up to the villa and deposited in a room suitable for his work; but when this had been done he turned the key in the door and the clay never was touched. His eye was heavy and his hand cold, and his mother put up a secret prayer that he might be induced to see a doctor. But on a certain occasion, when her prayer became articulate, he had a great outburst of anger and begged her to know, once for all, that his health was better than it had ever been. On the whole, and most of the time, he was a sad spectacle; he looked so hopelessly idle. If he was not querulous and bitter, it was because he had taken an extraordinary vow not to be; a vow heroic, for him, a vow which those who knew him well had the tenderness to appreciate. Talking with him was like skating on thin ice, and his companions had a constant mental vision of spots designated "dangerous."
This was a difficult time for Rowland; he said to himself that he would endure it to the end, but that it must be his last adventure of the kind. Mrs. Hudson divided her time between looking askance at her son, with her hands tightly clasped about her pocket-handkerchief, as if she were wringing it dry of the last hour's tears, and turning her eyes much more directly upon Rowland, in the mutest, the feeblest, the most intolerable reproachfulness. She never phrased her accusations, but he felt that in the unillumined void of the poor lady's mind they loomed up like vaguely-outlined monsters. Her demeanor caused him the acutest suffering, and if, at the outset of his enterprise, he had seen, how dimly soever, one of those plaintive eye-beams in the opposite scale, the brilliancy of Roderick's promises would have counted for little. They made their way to the softest spot in his conscience and kept it chronically aching. If Mrs. Hudson had been loquacious and vulgar, he would have borne even a less valid persecution with greater fortitude. But somehow, neat and noiseless and dismally lady-like, as she sat there, keeping her grievance green with her soft-dropping tears, her displeasure conveyed an overwhelming imputation of brutality. He felt like a reckless trustee who has speculated with the widow's mite, and is haunted with the reflection of ruin that he sees in her tearful eyes. He did everything conceivable to be polite to Mrs. Hudson, and to treat her with distinguished deference. Perhaps his exasperated nerves made him overshoot the mark, and rendered his civilities a trifle peremptory. She seemed capable of believing that he was trying to make a fool of her; she would have thought him cruelly recreant if he had suddenly departed in desperation, and yet she gave him no visible credit for his constancy. Women are said by some authorities to be cruel; I don't know how true this is, but it may at least be pertinent to remark that Mrs. Hudson was very much of a woman. It often seemed to Rowland that he had too decidedly forfeited his freedom, and that there was something positively grotesque in a man of his age and circumstances living in such a moral bondage.
But Mary Garland had helped him before, and she helped him now-helped him not less than he had assured himself she would when he found himself drifting to Florence. Yet her help was rendered in the same unconscious, unacknowledged fashion as before; there was no explicit change in their relations. After that distressing scene in Rome which had immediately preceded their departure, it was of course impossible that there should not be on Miss Garland's part some frankness of allusion to Roderick's sad condition. She had been present, the reader will remember, during only half of his unsparing confession, and Rowland had not seen her confronted with any absolute proof of Roderick's passion for Christina Light. But he knew that she knew far too much for her happiness; Roderick had told him, shortly after their settlement at the Villa Pandolfini, that he had had a "tremendous talk" with his cousin. Rowland asked no questions about it; he preferred not to know what had passed between them. If their interview had been purely painful, he wished to ignore it for Miss Garland's sake; and if it had sown the seeds of reconciliation, he wished to close his eyes to it for his own-for the sake of that unshaped idea, forever dismissed and yet forever present, which hovered in the background of his consciousness, with a hanging head, as it were, and yet an unshamed glance, and whose lightest motions were an effectual bribe to patience. Was the engagement broken? Rowland wondered, yet without asking. But it hardly mattered, for if, as was more than probable, Miss Garland had peremptorily released her cousin, her own heart had by no means recovered its liberty. It was very certain to Rowland's mind that if she had given him up she had by no means ceased to care for him passionately, and that, to exhaust her charity for his weaknesses, Roderick would have, as the phrase is, a long row to hoe. She spoke of Roderick as she might have done of a person suffering from a serious malady which demanded much tenderness; but if Rowland had found it possible to accuse her of dishonesty he would have said now that she believed appreciably less than she pretended to in her victim's being an involuntary patient. There are women whose love is care-taking and patronizing, and who rather prefer a weak man because he gives them a comfortable sense of strength. It did not in the least please Rowland to believe that Mary Garland was one of these; for he held that such women were only males in petticoats, and he was convinced that Miss Garland's heart was constructed after the most perfect feminine model. That she was a very different woman from Christina Light did not at all prove that she was less a woman, and if the Princess Casamassima had gone up into a high place to publish her disrelish of a man who lacked the virile will, it was very certain that Mary Garland was not a person to put up, at any point, with what might be called the princess's leavings. It was Christina's constant practice to remind you of the complexity of her character, of the subtlety of her mind, of her troublous faculty of seeing everything in a dozen different lights. Mary Garland had never pretended not to be simple; but Rowland had a theory that she had really a more multitudinous sense of human things, a more delicate imagination, and a finer instinct of character. She did you the honors of her mind with a grace far less regal, but was not that faculty of quite as remarkable an adjustment? If in poor Christina's strangely commingled nature there was circle within circle, and depth beneath depth, it was to be believed that Mary Garland, though she did not amuse herself with dropping stones into her soul, and waiting to hear them fall, laid quite as many sources of spiritual life under contribution. She had believed Roderick was a fine fellow when she bade him farewell beneath the Northampton elms, and this belief, to her young, strenuous, concentrated imagination, had meant many things. If it was to grow cold, it would be because disenchantment had become total and won the battle at each successive point.
Miss Garland had even in her face and carriage something of the preoccupied and wearied look of a person who is watching at a sick-bed; Roderick's broken fortunes, his dead ambitions, were a cruel burden to the heart of a girl who had believed that he possessed "genius," and supposed that genius was to one's spiritual economy what full pockets were to one's domestic. And yet, with her, Rowland never felt, as with Mrs. Hudson, that undercurrent of reproach and bitterness toward himself, that impertinent implication that he had defrauded her of happiness. Was this justice, in Miss Garland, or was it mercy? The answer would have been difficult, for she had almost let Rowland feel before leaving Rome that she liked him well enough to forgive him an injury. It was partly, Rowland fancied, that there were occasional lapses, deep and sweet, in her sense of injury. When, on arriving at Florence, she saw the place Rowland had brought them to in their trouble, she had given him a look and said a few words to him that had seemed not only a remission of guilt but a positive reward. This happened in the court of the villa-the large gray quadrangle, overstretched, from edge to edge of the red-tiled roof, by the soft Italian sky. Mary had felt on the spot the sovereign charm of the place; it was reflected in her deeply intelligent glance, and Rowland immediately accused himself of not having done the villa justice. Miss Garland took a mighty fancy to Florence, and used to look down wistfully at the towered city from the windows and garden. Roderick having now no pretext for not being her cicerone, Rowland was no longer at liberty, as he had been in Rome, to propose frequent excursions to her. Roderick's own invitations, however, were not frequent, and Rowland more than once ventured to introduce her to a gallery or a church. These expeditions were not so blissful, to his sense, as the rambles they had taken together in Rome, for his companion only half surrendered herself to her enjoyment, and seemed to have but a divided attention at her command. Often, when she had begun with looking intently at a picture, her silence, after an interval, made him turn and glance at her. He usually found that if she was looking at the picture still, she was not seeing it. Her eyes were fixed, but her thoughts were wandering, and an image more vivid than any that Raphael or Titian had drawn had superposed itself upon the canvas. She asked fewer questions than before, and seemed to have lost heart for consulting guide-books and encyclopaedias. From time to time, however, she uttered a deep, full murmur of gratification. Florence in midsummer was perfectly void of travelers, and the dense little city gave forth its aesthetic aroma with a larger frankness, as the nightingale sings when the listeners have departed. The churches were deliciously cool, but the gray streets were stifling, and the great, dove-tailed polygons of pavement as hot to the tread as molten lava. Rowland, who suffered from intense heat, would have found all this uncomfortable in solitude; but Florence had never charmed him so completely as during these midsummer strolls with his preoccupied companion. One evening they had arranged to go on the morrow to the Academy. Miss Garland kept her appointment, but as soon as she appeared, Rowland saw that something painful had befallen her. She was doing her best to look at her ease, but her face bore the marks of tears. Rowland told her that he was afraid she was ill, and that if she preferred to give up the visit to Florence he would submit with what grace he might. She hesitated a moment, and then said she preferred to adhere to their plan. "I am not well," she presently added, "but it 's a moral malady, and in such cases I consider your company beneficial."
"But if I am to be your doctor," said Rowland, "you must tell me how your illness began."
"I can tell you very little. It began with Mrs. Hudson being unjust to me, for the first time in her life. And now I am already better!"
I mention this incident because it confirmed an impression of Rowland's from which he had derived a certain consolation. He knew that Mrs. Hudson considered her son's ill-regulated passion for Christina Light a very regrettable affair, but he suspected that her manifest compassion had been all for Roderick, and not in the least for Mary Garland. She was fond of the young girl, but she had valued her primarily, during the last two years, as a kind of assistant priestess at Roderick's shrine. Roderick had honored her by asking her to become his wife, but that poor Mary had any rights in consequence Mrs. Hudson was quite incapable of perceiving. Her sentiment on the subject was of course not very vigorously formulated, but she was unprepared to admit that Miss Garland had any ground for complaint. Roderick was very unhappy; that was enough, and Mary's duty was to join her patience and her prayers to those of his doting mother. Roderick might fall in love with whom he pleased; no doubt that women trained in the mysterious Roman arts were only too proud and too happy to make it easy for him; and it was very presuming in poor, plain Mary to feel any personal resentment. Mrs. Hudson's philosophy was of too narrow a scope to suggest that a mother may forgive where a mistress cannot, and she thought herself greatly aggrieved that Miss Garland was not so disinterested as herself. She was ready to drop dead in Roderick's service, and she was quite capable of seeing her companion falter and grow faint, without a tremor of compassion. Mary, apparently, had given some intimation of her belief that if constancy is the flower of devotion, reciprocity is the guarantee of constancy, and Mrs. Hudson had rebuked her failing faith and called it cruelty. That Miss Garland had found it hard to reason with Mrs. Hudson, that she suffered deeply from the elder lady's softly bitter imputations, and that, in short, he had companionship in misfortune-all this made Rowland find a certain luxury in his discomfort.
The party at Villa Pandolfini used to sit in the garden in the evenings, which Rowland almost always spent with them. Their entertainment was in the heavily perfumed air, in the dim, far starlight, in the crenelated tower of a neighboring villa, which loomed vaguely above them in the warm darkness, and in such conversation as depressing reflections allowed. Roderick, clad always in white, roamed about like a restless ghost, silent for the most part, but making from time to time a brief observation, characterized by the most fantastic cynicism. Roderick's contributions to the conversation were indeed always so fantastic that, though half the time they wearied him unspeakably, Rowland made an effort to treat them humorously. With Rowland alone Roderick talked a great deal more; often about things related to his own work, or about artistic and aesthetic matters in general. He talked as well as ever, or even better; but his talk always ended in a torrent of groans and curses. When this current set in, Rowland straightway turned his back or stopped his ears, and Roderick now witnessed these movements with perfect indifference. When the latter was absent from the star-lit circle in the garden, as often happened, Rowland knew nothing of his whereabouts; he supposed him to be in Florence, but he never learned what he did there. All this was not enlivening, but with an even, muffled tread the days followed each other, and brought the month of August to a close. One particular evening at this time was most enchanting; there was a perfect moon, looking so extraordinarily large that it made everything its light fell upon seem small; the heat was tempered by a soft west wind, and the wind was laden with the odors of the early harvest. The hills, the vale of the Arno, the shrunken river, the domes of Florence, were vaguely effaced by the dense moonshine; they looked as if they were melting out of sight like an exorcised vision. Rowland had found the two ladies alone at the villa, and he had sat with them for an hour. He felt absolutely hushed by the solemn splendor of the scene, but he had risked the remark that, whatever life might yet have in store for either of them, this was a night that they would never forget.
"It 's a night to remember on one's death-bed!" Miss Garland exclaimed.
"Oh, Mary, how can you!" murmured Mrs. Hudson, to whom this savored of profanity, and to whose shrinking sense, indeed, the accumulated loveliness of the night seemed to have something shameless and defiant.
They were silent after this, for some time, but at last Rowland addressed certain idle words to Miss Garland. She made no reply, and he turned to look at her. She was sitting motionless, with her head pressed to Mrs. Hudson's shoulder, and the latter lady was gazing at him through the silvered dusk with a look which gave a sort of spectral solemnity to the sad, weak meaning of her eyes. She had the air, for the moment, of a little old malevolent fairy. Miss Garland, Rowland perceived in an instant, was not absolutely motionless; a tremor passed through her figure. She was weeping, or on the point of weeping, and she could not trust herself to speak. Rowland left his place and wandered to another part of the garden, wondering at the motive of her sudden tears. Of women's sobs in general he had a sovereign dread, but these, somehow, gave him a certain pleasure. When he returned to his place Miss Garland had raised her head and banished her tears. She came away from Mrs. Hudson, and they stood for a short time leaning against the parapet.
"It seems to you very strange, I suppose," said Rowland, "that there should be any trouble in such a world as this."
"I used to think," she answered, "that if any trouble came to me I would bear it like a stoic. But that was at home, where things don't speak to us of enjoyment as they do here. Here it is such a mixture; one does n't know what to choose, what to believe. Beauty stands there-beauty such as this night and this place, and all this sad, strange summer, have been so full of-and it penetrates to one's soul and lodges there, and keeps saying that man was not made to suffer, but to enjoy. This place has undermined my stoicism, but-shall I tell you? I feel as if I were saying something sinful-I love it!"
"If it is sinful, I absolve you," said Rowland, "in so far as I have power. We are made, I suppose, both to suffer and to enjoy. As you say, it 's a mixture. Just now and here, it seems a peculiarly strange one. But we must take things in turn."
His words had a singular aptness, for he had hardly uttered them when Roderick came out from the house, evidently in his darkest mood. He stood for a moment gazing hard at the view.
"It 's a very beautiful night, my son," said his mother, going to him timidly, and touching his arm.
He passed his hand through his hair and let it stay there, clasping his thick locks. "Beautiful?" he cried; "of course it 's beautiful! Everything is beautiful; everything is insolent, defiant, atrocious with beauty. Nothing is ugly but me-me and my poor dead brain!"
"Oh, my dearest son," pleaded poor Mrs. Hudson, "don't you feel any better?"
Roderick made no immediate answer; but at last he spoke in a different voice. "I came expressly to tell you that you need n't trouble yourselves any longer to wait for something to turn up. Nothing will turn up! It 's all over! I said when I came here I would give it a chance. I have given it a chance. Have n't I, eh? Have n't I, Rowland? It 's no use; the thing 's a failure! Do with me now what you please. I recommend you to set me up there at the end of the garden and shoot me."
"I feel strongly inclined," said Rowland gravely, "to go and get my revolver."
"Oh, mercy on us, what language!" cried Mrs. Hudson.
"Why not?" Roderick went on. "This would be a lovely night for it, and I should be a lucky fellow to be buried in this garden. But bury me alive, if you prefer. Take me back to Northampton."
"Roderick, will you really come?" cried his mother.
"Oh yes, I 'll go! I might as well be there as anywhere-reverting to idiocy and living upon alms. I can do nothing with all this; perhaps I should really like Northampton. If I 'm to vegetate for the rest of my days, I can do it there better than here."
"Oh, come home, come home," Mrs. Hudson said, "and we shall all be safe and quiet and happy. My dearest son, come home with your poor mother!"
"Let us go, then, and go quickly!"
Mrs. Hudson flung herself upon his neck for gratitude. "We 'll go to-morrow!" she cried. "The Lord is very good to me!"
Mary Garland said nothing to this; but she looked at Rowland, and her eyes seemed to contain a kind of alarmed appeal. Rowland noted it with exultation, but even without it he would have broken into an eager protest.
"Are you serious, Roderick?" he demanded.
"Serious? of course not! How can a man with a crack in his brain be serious? how can a muddlehead reason? But I 'm not jesting, either; I can no more make jokes than utter oracles!"
"Are you willing to go home?"
"Willing? God forbid! I am simply amenable to force; if my mother chooses to take me, I won't resist. I can't! I have come to that!"
"Let me resist, then," said Rowland. "Go home as you are now? I can't stand by and see it."
It may have been true that Roderick had lost his sense of humor, but he scratched his head with a gesture that was almost comical in its effect. "You are a queer fellow! I should think I would disgust you horribly."
"Stay another year," Rowland simply said.
"You shall do something. I am responsible for your doing something."
"To whom are you responsible?"
Rowland, before replying, glanced at Miss Garland, and his glance made her speak quickly. "Not to me!"
"I 'm responsible to myself," Rowland declared.
"My poor, dear fellow!" said Roderick.
"Oh, Mr. Mallet, are n't you satisfied?" cried Mrs. Hudson, in the tone in which Niobe may have addressed the avenging archers, after she had seen her eldest-born fall. "It 's out of all nature keeping him here. When we 're in a poor way, surely our own dear native land is the place for us. Do leave us to ourselves, sir!"
This just failed of being a dismissal in form, and Rowland bowed his head to it. Roderick was silent for some moments; then, suddenly, he covered his face with his two hands. "Take me at least out of this terrible Italy," he cried, "where everything mocks and reproaches and torments and eludes me! Take me out of this land of impossible beauty and put me in the midst of ugliness. Set me down where nature is coarse and flat, and men and manners are vulgar. There must be something awfully ugly in Germany. Pack me off there!"
Rowland answered that if he wished to leave Italy the thing might be arranged; he would think it over and submit a proposal on the morrow. He suggested to Mrs. Hudson, in consequence, that she should spend the autumn in Switzerland, where she would find a fine tonic climate, plenty of fresh milk, and several pensions at three francs and a half a day. Switzerland, of course, was not ugly, but one could not have everything.
Mrs. Hudson neither thanked him nor assented; but she wept and packed her trunks. Rowland had a theory, after the scene which led to these preparations, that Mary Garland was weary of waiting for Roderick to come to his senses, that the faith which had bravely borne his manhood company hitherto, on the tortuous march he was leading it, had begun to believe it had gone far enough. This theory was not vitiated by something she said to him on the day before that on which Mrs. Hudson had arranged to leave Florence.
"Cousin Sarah, the other evening," she said, "asked you to please leave us. I think she hardly knew what she was saying, and I hope you have not taken offense."
"By no means; but I honestly believe that my leaving you would contribute greatly to Mrs. Hudson's comfort. I can be your hidden providence, you know; I can watch you at a distance, and come upon the scene at critical moments."
Miss Garland looked for a moment at the ground; and then, with sudden earnestness, "I beg you to come with us!" she said.
It need hardly be added that after this Rowland went with them.
CHAPTER XII. The Princess Casamassima
Rowland had a very friendly memory of a little mountain inn, accessible with moderate trouble from Lucerne, where he had once spent a blissful ten days. He had at that time been trudging, knapsack on back, over half Switzerland, and not being, on his legs, a particularly light weight, it was no shame to him to confess that he was mortally tired. The inn of which I speak presented striking analogies with a cow-stable; but in spite of this circumstance, it was crowded with hungry tourists. It stood in a high, shallow valley, with flower-strewn Alpine meadows sloping down to it from the base of certain rugged rocks whose outlines were grotesque against the evening sky. Rowland had seen grander places in Switzerland that pleased him less, and whenever afterwards he wished to think of Alpine opportunities at their best, he recalled this grassy concave among the mountain-tops, and the August days he spent there, resting deliciously, at his length, in the lee of a sun-warmed boulder, with the light cool air stirring about his temples, the wafted odors of the pines in his nostrils, the tinkle of the cattle-bells in his ears, the vast progression of the mountain shadows before his eyes, and a volume of Wordsworth in his pocket. His face, on the Swiss hill-sides, had been scorched to within a shade of the color nowadays called magenta, and his bed was a pallet in a loft, which he shared with a German botanist of colossal stature-every inch of him quaking at an open window. These had been drawbacks to felicity, but Rowland hardly cared where or how he was lodged, for he spent the livelong day under the sky, on the crest of a slope that looked at the Jungfrau. He remembered all this on leaving Florence with his friends, and he reflected that, as the midseason was over, accommodations would be more ample, and charges more modest. He communicated with his old friend the landlord, and, while September was yet young, his companions established themselves under his guidance in the grassy valley.
He had crossed the Saint Gothard Pass with them, in the same carriage. During the journey from Florence, and especially during this portion of it, the cloud that hung over the little party had been almost dissipated, and they had looked at each other, in the close contiguity of the train and the posting-carriage, without either accusing or consoling glances. It was impossible not to enjoy the magnificent scenery of the Apennines and the Italian Alps, and there was a tacit agreement among the travelers to abstain from sombre allusions. The effect of this delicate compact seemed excellent; it ensured them a week's intellectual sunshine. Roderick sat and gazed out of the window with a fascinated stare, and with a perfect docility of attitude. He concerned himself not a particle about the itinerary, or about any of the wayside arrangements; he took no trouble, and he gave none. He assented to everything that was proposed, talked very little, and led for a week a perfectly contemplative life. His mother rarely removed her eyes from him; and if, a while before, this would have extremely irritated him, he now seemed perfectly unconscious of her observation and profoundly indifferent to anything that might befall him. They spent a couple of days on the Lake of Como, at a hotel with white porticoes smothered in oleander and myrtle, and the terrace-steps leading down to little boats with striped awnings. They agreed it was the earthly paradise, and they passed the mornings strolling through the perfumed alleys of classic villas, and the evenings floating in the moonlight in a circle of outlined mountains, to the music of silver-trickling oars. One day, in the afternoon, the two young men took a long stroll together. They followed the winding footway that led toward Como, close to the lake-side, past the gates of villas and the walls of vineyards, through little hamlets propped on a dozen arches, and bathing their feet and their pendant tatters in the gray-green ripple; past frescoed walls and crumbling campaniles and grassy village piazzas, and the mouth of soft ravines that wound upward, through belts of swinging vine and vaporous olive and splendid chestnut, to high ledges where white chapels gleamed amid the paler boskage, and bare cliff-surfaces, with their sun-cracked lips, drank in the azure light. It all was confoundingly picturesque; it was the Italy that we know from the steel engravings in old keepsakes and annuals, from the vignettes on music-sheets and the drop-curtains at theatres; an Italy that we can never confess to ourselves-in spite of our own changes and of Italy's-that we have ceased to believe in. Rowland and Roderick turned aside from the little paved footway that clambered and dipped and wound and doubled beside the lake, and stretched themselves idly beneath a fig-tree, on a grassy promontory. Rowland had never known anything so divinely soothing as the dreamy softness of that early autumn afternoon. The iridescent mountains shut him in; the little waves, beneath him, fretted the white pebbles at the laziest intervals; the festooned vines above him swayed just visibly in the all but motionless air.
Roderick lay observing it all with his arms thrown back and his hands under his head. "This suits me," he said; "I could be happy here and forget everything. Why not stay here forever?" He kept his position for a long time and seemed lost in his thoughts. Rowland spoke to him, but he made vague answers; at last he closed his eyes. It seemed to Rowland, also, a place to stay in forever; a place for perfect oblivion of the disagreeable. Suddenly Roderick turned over on his face, and buried it in his arms. There had been something passionate in his movement; but Rowland was nevertheless surprised, when he at last jerked himself back into a sitting posture, to perceive the trace of tears in his eyes. Roderick turned to his friend, stretching his two hands out toward the lake and mountains, and shaking them with an eloquent gesture, as if his heart was too full for utterance.
"Pity me, sir; pity me!" he presently cried. "Look at this lovely world, and think what it must be to be dead to it!"
"Dead?" said Rowland.
"Dead, dead; dead and buried! Buried in an open grave, where you lie staring up at the sailing clouds, smelling the waving flowers, and hearing all nature live and grow above you! That 's the way I feel!"
"I am glad to hear it," said Rowland. "Death of that sort is very near to resurrection."
"It 's too horrible," Roderick went on; "it has all come over me here tremendously! If I were not ashamed, I could shed a bushel of tears. For one hour of what I have been, I would give up anything I may be!"
"Never mind what you have been; be something better!"
"I shall never be anything again: it 's no use talking! But I don't know what secret spring has been touched since I have lain here. Something in my heart seemed suddenly to open and let in a flood of beauty and desire. I know what I have lost, and I think it horrible! Mind you, I know it, I feel it! Remember that hereafter. Don't say that he was stupefied and senseless; that his perception was dulled and his aspiration dead. Say that he trembled in every nerve with a sense of the beauty and sweetness of life; that he rebelled and protested and shrieked; that he was buried alive, with his eyes open, and his heart beating to madness; that he clung to every blade of grass and every way-side thorn as he passed; that it was the most horrible spectacle you ever witnessed; that it was an outrage, a murder, a massacre!"
"Good heavens, man, are you insane?" Rowland cried.
"I never have been saner. I don't want to be bad company, and in this beautiful spot, at this delightful hour, it seems an outrage to break the charm. But I am bidding farewell to Italy, to beauty, to honor, to life! I only want to assure you that I know what I lose. I know it in every pulse of my heart! Here, where these things are all loveliest, I take leave of them. Farewell, farewell!"
During their passage of the Saint Gothard, Roderick absented himself much of the time from the carriage, and rambled far in advance, along the huge zigzags of the road. He displayed an extraordinary activity; his light weight and slender figure made him an excellent pedestrian, and his friends frequently saw him skirting the edge of plunging chasms, loosening the stones on long, steep slopes, or lifting himself against the sky, from the top of rocky pinnacles. Mary Garland walked a great deal, but she remained near the carriage to be with Mrs. Hudson. Rowland remained near it to be with Miss Garland. He trudged by her side up that magnificent ascent from Italy, and found himself regretting that the Alps were so low, and that their trudging was not to last a week. She was exhilarated; she liked to walk; in the way of mountains, until within the last few weeks, she had seen nothing greater than Mount Holyoke, and she found that the Alps amply justified their reputation. Rowland knew that she loved nature, but he was struck afresh with the vivacity of her observation of it, and with her knowledge of plants and stones. At that season the wild flowers had mostly departed, but a few of them lingered, and Miss Garland never failed to espy them in their outlying corners. They interested her greatly; she was charmed when they were old friends, and charmed even more when they were new. She displayed a very light foot in going in quest of them, and had soon covered the front seat of the carriage with a tangle of strange vegetation. Rowland of course was alert in her service, and he gathered for her several botanical specimens which at first seemed inaccessible. One of these, indeed, had at first appeared easier of capture than his attempt attested, and he had paused a moment at the base of the little peak on which it grew, measuring the risk of farther pursuit. Suddenly, as he stood there, he remembered Roderick's defiance of danger and of Miss Light, at the Coliseum, and he was seized with a strong desire to test the courage of his companion. She had just scrambled up a grassy slope near him, and had seen that the flower was out of reach. As he prepared to approach it, she called to him eagerly to stop; the thing was impossible! Poor Rowland, whose passion had been terribly starved, enjoyed immensely the thought of having her care, for three minutes, what became of him. He was the least brutal of men, but for a moment he was perfectly indifferent to her suffering.
"I can get the flower," he called to her. "Will you trust me?"
"I don't want it; I would rather not have it!" she cried.
"Will you trust me?" he repeated, looking at her.
She looked at him and then at the flower; he wondered whether she would shriek and swoon, as Miss Light had done. "I wish it were something better!" she said simply; and then stood watching him, while he began to clamber. Rowland was not shaped for an acrobat, and his enterprise was difficult; but he kept his wits about him, made the most of narrow foot-holds and coigns of vantage, and at last secured his prize. He managed to stick it into his buttonhole and then he contrived to descend. There was more than one chance for an ugly fall, but he evaded them all. It was doubtless not gracefully done, but it was done, and that was all he had proposed to himself. He was red in the face when he offered Miss Garland the flower, and she was visibly pale. She had watched him without moving. All this had passed without the knowledge of Mrs. Hudson, who was dozing beneath the hood of the carriage. Mary Garland's eyes did not perhaps display that ardent admiration which was formerly conferred by the queen of beauty at a tournament; but they expressed something in which Rowland found his reward. "Why did you do that?" she asked, gravely.
He hesitated. He felt that it was physically possible to say, "Because I love you!" but that it was not morally possible. He lowered his pitch and answered, simply, "Because I wanted to do something for you."
"Suppose you had fallen," said Miss Garland.
"I believed I would not fall. And you believed it, I think."
"I believed nothing. I simply trusted you, as you asked me."
"Quod erat demonstrandum!" cried Rowland. "I think you know Latin."
When our four friends were established in what I have called their grassy valley, there was a good deal of scrambling over slopes both grassy and stony, a good deal of flower-plucking on narrow ledges, a great many long walks, and, thanks to the lucid mountain air, not a little exhilaration. Mrs. Hudson was obliged to intermit her suspicions of the deleterious atmosphere of the old world, and to acknowledge the edifying purity of the breezes of Engelthal. She was certainly more placid than she had been in Italy; having always lived in the country, she had missed in Rome and Florence that social solitude mitigated by bushes and rocks which is so dear to the true New England temperament. The little unpainted inn at Engelthal, with its plank partitions, its milk-pans standing in the sun, its "help," in the form of angular young women of the country-side, reminded her of places of summer sojourn in her native land; and the beautiful historic chambers of the Villa Pandolfini passed from her memory without a regret, and without having in the least modified her ideal of domiciliary grace. Roderick had changed his sky, but he had not changed his mind; his humor was still that of which he had given Rowland a glimpse in that tragic explosion on the Lake of Como. He kept his despair to himself, and he went doggedly about the ordinary business of life; but it was easy to see that his spirit was mortally heavy, and that he lived and moved and talked simply from the force of habit. In that sad half-hour among the Italian olives there had been such a fierce sincerity in his tone, that Rowland began to abdicate the critical attitude. He began to feel that it was essentially vain to appeal to the poor fellow's will; there was no will left; its place was an impotent void. This view of the case indeed was occasionally contravened by certain indications on Roderick's part of the power of resistance to disagreeable obligations: one might still have said, if one had been disposed to be didactic at any hazard, that there was a method in his madness, that his moral energy had its sleeping and its waking hours, and that, in a cause that pleased it, it was capable of rising with the dawn. But on the other hand, pleasure, in this case, was quite at one with effort; evidently the greatest bliss in life, for Roderick, would have been to have a plastic idea. And then, it was impossible not to feel tenderly to a despair which had so ceased to be aggressive-not to forgive a great deal of apathy to a temper which had so unlearned its irritability. Roderick said frankly that Switzerland made him less miserable than Italy, and the Alps seemed less to mock at his enforced leisure than the Apennines. He indulged in long rambles, generally alone, and was very fond of climbing into dizzy places, where no sound could overtake him, and there, flinging himself on the never-trodden moss, of pulling his hat over his eyes and lounging away the hours in perfect immobility. Rowland sometimes walked with him; though Roderick never invited him, he seemed duly grateful for his society. Rowland now made it a rule to treat him like a perfectly sane man, to assume that all things were well with him, and never to allude to the prosperity he had forfeited or to the work he was not doing. He would have still said, had you questioned him, that Roderick's condition was a mood-certainly a puzzling one. It might last yet for many a weary hour; but it was a long lane that had no turning. Roderick's blues would not last forever. Rowland's interest in Miss Garland's relations with her cousin was still profoundly attentive, and perplexed as he was on all sides, he found nothing transparent here. After their arrival at Engelthal, Roderick appeared to seek the young girl's society more than he had done hitherto, and this revival of ardor could not fail to set his friend a-wondering. They sat together and strolled together, and Miss Garland often read aloud to him. One day, on their coming to dinner, after he had been lying half the morning at her feet, in the shadow of a rock, Rowland asked him what she had been reading.
"I don't know," Roderick said, "I don't heed the sense." Miss Garland heard this, and Rowland looked at her. She looked at Roderick sharply and with a little blush. "I listen to Mary," Roderick continued, "for the sake of her voice. It 's distractingly sweet!" At this Miss Garland's blush deepened, and she looked away.
Rowland, in Florence, as we know, had suffered his imagination to wander in the direction of certain conjectures which the reader may deem unflattering to Miss Garland's constancy. He had asked himself whether her faith in Roderick had not faltered, and that demand of hers which had brought about his own departure for Switzerland had seemed almost equivalent to a confession that she needed his help to believe. Rowland was essentially a modest man, and he did not risk the supposition that Miss Garland had contrasted him with Roderick to his own advantage; but he had a certain consciousness of duty resolutely done which allowed itself to fancy, at moments, that it might be not illogically rewarded by the bestowal of such stray grains of enthusiasm as had crumbled away from her estimate of his companion. If some day she had declared, in a sudden burst of passion, that she was outwearied and sickened, and that she gave up her recreant lover, Rowland's expectation would have gone half-way to meet her. And certainly if her passion had taken this course no generous critic would utterly condemn her. She had been neglected, ignored, forsaken, treated with a contempt which no girl of a fine temper could endure. There were girls, indeed, whose fineness, like that of Burd Helen in the ballad, lay in clinging to the man of their love through thick and thin, and in bowing their head to all hard usage. This attitude had often an exquisite beauty of its own, but Rowland deemed that he had solid reason to believe it never could be Mary Garland's. She was not a passive creature; she was not soft and meek and grateful for chance bounties. With all her reserve of manner she was proud and eager; she asked much and she wanted what she asked; she believed in fine things and she never could long persuade herself that fine things missed were as beautiful as fine things achieved. Once Rowland passed an angry day. He had dreamed-it was the most insubstantial of dreams-that she had given him the right to believe that she looked to him to transmute her discontent. And yet here she was throwing herself back into Roderick's arms at his lightest overture, and playing with his own half fearful, half shameful hopes! Rowland declared to himself that his position was essentially detestable, and that all the philosophy he could bring to bear upon it would make it neither honorable nor comfortable. He would go away and make an end of it. He did not go away; he simply took a long walk, stayed away from the inn all day, and on his return found Miss Garland sitting out in the moonlight with Roderick.
Rowland, communing with himself during the restless ramble in question, had determined that he would at least cease to observe, to heed, or to care for what Miss Garland and Roderick might do or might not do together. Nevertheless, some three days afterward, the opportunity presenting itself, he deliberately broached the subject with Roderick. He knew this was inconsistent and faint-hearted; it was indulgence to the fingers that itched to handle forbidden fruit. But he said to himself that it was really more logical to be inconsistent than the reverse; for they had formerly discussed these mysteries very candidly. Was it not perfectly reasonable that he should wish to know the sequel of the situation which Roderick had then delineated? Roderick had made him promises, and it was to be expected that he should ascertain how the promises had been kept. Rowland could not say to himself that if the promises had been extorted for Mary Garland's sake, his present attention to them was equally disinterested; and so he had to admit that he was indeed faint-hearted. He may perhaps be deemed too narrow a casuist, but we have repeated more than once that he was solidly burdened with a conscience.
"I imagine," he said to Roderick, "that you are not sorry, at present, to have allowed yourself to be dissuaded from making a final rupture with Miss Garland."
Roderick eyed him with the vague and absent look which had lately become habitual to his face, and repeated "Dissuaded?"
"Don't you remember that, in Rome, you wished to break your engagement, and that I urged you to respect it, though it seemed to hang by so slender a thread? I wished you to see what would come of it? If I am not mistaken, you are reconciled to it."
"Oh yes," said Roderick, "I remember what you said; you made it a kind of personal favor to yourself that I should remain faithful. I consented, but afterwards, when I thought of it, your attitude greatly amused me. Had it ever been seen before?-a man asking another man to gratify him by not suspending his attentions to a pretty girl!"
"It was as selfish as anything else," said Rowland. "One man puts his selfishness into one thing, and one into another. It would have utterly marred my comfort to see Miss Garland in low spirits."
"But you liked her-you admired her, eh? So you intimated."
"I admire her profoundly."
"It was your originality then-to do you justice you have a great deal, of a certain sort-to wish her happiness secured in just that fashion. Many a man would have liked better himself to make the woman he admired happy, and would have welcomed her low spirits as an opening for sympathy. You were awfully queer about it."
"So be it!" said Rowland. "The question is, Are you not glad I was queer? Are you not finding that your affection for Miss Garland has a permanent quality which you rather underestimated?"
"I don't pretend to say. When she arrived in Rome, I found I did n't care for her, and I honestly proposed that we should have no humbug about it. If you, on the contrary, thought there was something to be gained by having a little humbug, I was willing to try it! I don't see that the situation is really changed. Mary Garland is all that she ever was-more than all. But I don't care for her! I don't care for anything, and I don't find myself inspired to make an exception in her favor. The only difference is that I don't care now, whether I care for her or not. Of course, marrying such a useless lout as I am is out of the question for any woman, and I should pay Miss Garland a poor compliment to assume that she is in a hurry to celebrate our nuptials."
"Oh, you 're in love!" said Rowland, not very logically. It must be confessed, at any cost, that this assertion was made for the sole purpose of hearing Roderick deny it.
But it quite failed of its aim. Roderick gave a liberal shrug of his shoulders and an irresponsible toss of his head. "Call it what you please! I am past caring for names."
Rowland had not only been illogical, he had also been slightly disingenuous. He did not believe that his companion was in love; he had argued the false to learn the true. The true was that Roderick was again, in some degree, under a charm, and that he found a healing virtue in Mary's presence, indisposed though he was to admit it. He had said, shortly before, that her voice was sweet to his ear; and this was a promising beginning. If her voice was sweet it was probable that her glance was not amiss, that her touch had a quiet magic, and that her whole personal presence had learned the art of not being irritating. So Rowland reasoned, and invested Mary Garland with a still finer loveliness.
It was true that she herself helped him little to definite conclusions, and that he remained in puzzled doubt as to whether these happy touches were still a matter of the heart, or had become simply a matter of the conscience. He watched for signs that she rejoiced in Roderick's renewed acceptance of her society; but it seemed to him that she was on her guard against interpreting it too largely. It was now her turn-he fancied that he sometimes gathered from certain nameless indications of glance and tone and gesture-it was now her turn to be indifferent, to care for other things. Again and again Rowland asked himself what these things were that Miss Garland might be supposed to care for, to the injury of ideal constancy; and again, having designated them, he divided them into two portions. One was that larger experience, in general, which had come to her with her arrival in Europe; the vague sense, borne in upon her imagination, that there were more things one might do with one's life than youth and ignorance and Northampton had dreamt of; the revision of old pledges in the light of new emotions. The other was the experience, in especial, of Rowland's-what? Here Rowland always paused, in perfect sincerity, to measure afresh his possible claim to the young girl's regard. What might he call it? It had been more than civility and yet it had been less than devotion. It had spoken of a desire to serve, but it had said nothing of a hope of reward. Nevertheless, Rowland's fancy hovered about the idea that it was recompensable, and his reflections ended in a reverie which perhaps did not define it, but at least, on each occasion, added a little to its volume. Since Miss Garland had asked him as a sort of favor to herself to come also to Switzerland, he thought it possible she might let him know whether he seemed to have effectively served her. The days passed without her doing so, and at last Rowland walked away to an isolated eminence some five miles from the inn and murmured to the silent rocks that she was ungrateful. Listening nature seemed not to contradict him, so that, on the morrow, he asked the young girl, with an infinitesimal touch of irony, whether it struck her that his deflection from his Florentine plan had been attended with brilliant results.
"Why, we are delighted that you are with us!" she answered.
He was anything but satisfied with this; it seemed to imply that she had forgotten that she had solemnly asked him to come. He reminded her of her request, and recalled the place and time. "That evening on the terrace, late, after Mrs. Hudson had gone to bed, and Roderick being absent."
She perfectly remembered, but the memory seemed to trouble her. "I am afraid your kindness has been a great charge upon you," she said. "You wanted very much to do something else."
"I wanted above all things to oblige you, and I made no sacrifice. But if I had made an immense one, it would be more than made up to me by any assurance that I have helped Roderick into a better mood."
She was silent a moment, and then, "Why do you ask me?" she said. "You are able to judge quite as well as I."
Rowland blushed; he desired to justify himself in the most veracious manner. "The truth is," he said, "that I am afraid I care only in the second place for Roderick's holding up his head. What I care for in the first place is your happiness."
"I don't know why that should be," she answered. "I have certainly done nothing to make you so much my friend. If you were to tell me you intended to leave us to-morrow, I am afraid that I should not venture to ask you to stay. But whether you go or stay, let us not talk of Roderick!"
"But that," said Rowland, "does n't answer my question. Is he better?"
"No!" she said, and turned away.
He was careful not to tell her that he intended to leave them. One day, shortly after this, as the two young men sat at the inn-door watching the sunset, which on that evening was very striking and lurid, Rowland made an attempt to sound his companion's present sentiment touching Christina Light. "I wonder where she is," he said, "and what sort of a life she is leading her prince."
Roderick at first made no response. He was watching a figure on the summit of some distant rocks, opposite to them. The figure was apparently descending into the valley, and in relief against the crimson screen of the western sky, it looked gigantic. "Christina Light?" Roderick at last repeated, as if arousing himself from a reverie. "Where she is? It 's extraordinary how little I care!"
"Have you, then, completely got over it?"
To this Roderick made no direct reply; he sat brooding a while. "She 's a humbug!" he presently exclaimed.
"Possibly!" said Rowland. "But I have known worse ones."
"She disappointed me!" Roderick continued in the same tone.
"Had she, then, really given you hopes?"
"Oh, don't recall it!" Roderick cried. "Why the devil should I think of it? It was only three months ago, but it seems like ten years." His friend said nothing more, and after a while he went on of his own accord. "I believed there was a future in it all! She pleased me-pleased me; and when an artist-such as I was-is pleased, you know!" And he paused again. "You never saw her as I did; you never heard her in her great moments. But there is no use talking about that! At first she would n't regard me seriously; she chaffed me and made light of me. But at last I forced her to admit I was a great man. Think of that, sir! Christina Light called me a great man. A great man was what she was looking for, and we agreed to find our happiness for life in each other. To please me she promised not to marry till I gave her leave. I was not in a marrying way myself, but it was damnation to think of another man possessing her. To spare my sensibilities, she promised to turn off her prince, and the idea of her doing so made me as happy as to see a perfect statue shaping itself in the block. You have seen how she kept her promise! When I learned it, it was as if the statue had suddenly cracked and turned hideous. She died for me, like that!" And he snapped his fingers. "Was it wounded vanity, disappointed desire, betrayed confidence? I am sure I don't know; you certainly have some name for it."
"The poor girl did the best she could," said Rowland.
"If that was her best, so much the worse for her! I have hardly thought of her these two months, but I have not forgiven her."
"Well, you may believe that you are avenged. I can't think of her as happy."
"I don't pity her!" said Roderick. Then he relapsed into silence, and the two sat watching the colossal figure as it made its way downward along the jagged silhouette of the rocks. "Who is this mighty man," cried Roderick at last, "and what is he coming down upon us for? We are small people here, and we can't undertake to keep company with giants."
"Wait till we meet him on our own level," said Rowland, "and perhaps he will not overtop us."
"For ten minutes, at least," Roderick rejoined, "he will have been a great man!" At this moment the figure sank beneath the horizon line and became invisible in the uncertain light. Suddenly Roderick said, "I would like to see her once more-simply to look at her."
"I would not advise it," said Rowland.
"It was her beauty that did it!" Roderick went on. "It was all her beauty; in comparison, the rest was nothing. What befooled me was to think of it as my property! And I had made it mine-no one else had studied it as I had, no one else understood it. What does that stick of a Casamassima know about it at this hour? I should like to see it just once more; it 's the only thing in the world of which I can say so."
"I would not advise it," Rowland repeated.
"That 's right, dear Rowland," said Roderick; "don't advise! That 's no use now."
The dusk meanwhile had thickened, and they had not perceived a figure approaching them across the open space in front of the house. Suddenly it stepped into the circle of light projected from the door and windows, and they beheld little Sam Singleton stopping to stare at them. He was the giant whom they had seen descending along the rocks. When this was made apparent Roderick was seized with a fit of intense hilarity-it was the first time he had laughed in three months. Singleton, who carried a knapsack and walking-staff, received from Rowland the friendliest welcome. He was in the serenest possible humor, and if in the way of luggage his knapsack contained nothing but a comb and a second shirt, he produced from it a dozen admirable sketches. He had been trudging over half Switzerland and making everywhere the most vivid pictorial notes. They were mostly in a box at Interlaken, and in gratitude for Rowland's appreciation, he presently telegraphed for his box, which, according to the excellent Swiss method, was punctually delivered by post. The nights were cold, and our friends, with three or four other chance sojourners, sat in-doors over a fire of logs. Even with Roderick sitting moodily in the outer shadow they made a sympathetic little circle, and they turned over Singleton's drawings, while he perched in the chimney-corner, blushing and grinning, with his feet on the rounds of his chair. He had been pedestrianizing for six weeks, and he was glad to rest awhile at Engelthal. It was an economic repose, however, for he sallied forth every morning, with his sketching tools on his back, in search of material for new studies. Roderick's hilarity, after the first evening, had subsided, and he watched the little painter's serene activity with a gravity that was almost portentous. Singleton, who was not in the secret of his personal misfortunes, still treated him with timid frankness as the rising star of American art. Roderick had said to Rowland, at first, that Singleton reminded him of some curious little insect with a remarkable mechanical instinct in its antennae; but as the days went by it was apparent that the modest landscapist's unflagging industry grew to have an oppressive meaning for him. It pointed a moral, and Roderick used to sit and con the moral as he saw it figured in Singleton's bent back, on the hot hill-sides, protruding from beneath his white umbrella. One day he wandered up a long slope and overtook him as he sat at work; Singleton related the incident afterwards to Rowland, who, after giving him in Rome a hint of Roderick's aberrations, had strictly kept his own counsel.
"Are you always like this?" said Roderick, in almost sepulchral accents.
"Like this?" repeated Singleton, blinking confusedly, with an alarmed conscience.
"You remind me of a watch that never runs down. If one listens hard one hears you always-tic-tic, tic-tic."
"Oh, I see," said Singleton, beaming ingenuously. "I am very equable."
"You are very equable, yes. And do you find it pleasant to be equable?"
Singleton turned and grinned more brightly, while he sucked the water from his camel's-hair brush. Then, with a quickened sense of his indebtedness to a Providence that had endowed him with intrinsic facilities, "Oh, delightful!" he exclaimed.
Roderick stood looking at him a moment. "Damnation!" he said at last, solemnly, and turned his back.
One morning, shortly after this, Rowland and Roderick took a long walk. They had walked before in a dozen different directions, but they had not yet crossed a charming little wooded pass, which shut in their valley on one side and descended into the vale of Engelberg. In coming from Lucerne they had approached their inn by this path, and, feeling that they knew it, had hitherto neglected it in favor of untrodden ways. But at last the list of these was exhausted, and Rowland proposed the walk to Engelberg as a novelty. The place is half bleak and half pastoral; a huge white monastery rises abruptly from the green floor of the valley and complicates its picturesqueness with an element rare in Swiss scenery. Hard by is a group of chalets and inns, with the usual appurtenances of a prosperous Swiss resort-lean brown guides in baggy homespun, lounging under carved wooden galleries, stacks of alpenstocks in every doorway, sun-scorched Englishmen without shirt-collars. Our two friends sat a while at the door of an inn, discussing a pint of wine, and then Roderick, who was indefatigable, announced his intention of climbing to a certain rocky pinnacle which overhung the valley, and, according to the testimony of one of the guides, commanded a view of the Lake of Lucerne. To go and come back was only a matter of an hour, but Rowland, with the prospect of his homeward trudge before him, confessed to a preference for lounging on his bench, or at most strolling a trifle farther and taking a look at the monastery. Roderick went off alone, and his companion after a while bent his steps to the monasterial church. It was remarkable, like most of the churches of Catholic Switzerland, for a hideous style of devotional ornament; but it had a certain cold and musty picturesqueness, and Rowland lingered there with some tenderness for Alpine piety. While he was near the high-altar some people came in at the west door; but he did not notice them, and was presently engaged in deciphering a curious old German epitaph on one of the mural tablets. At last he turned away, wondering whether its syntax or its theology was the more uncomfortable, and, to this infinite surprise, found himself confronted with the Prince and Princess Casamassima.
The surprise on Christina's part, for an instant, was equal, and at first she seemed disposed to turn away without letting it give place to a greeting. The prince, however, saluted gravely, and then Christina, in silence, put out her hand. Rowland immediately asked whether they were staying at Engelberg, but Christina only looked at him without speaking. The prince answered his questions, and related that they had been making a month's tour in Switzerland, that at Lucerne his wife had been somewhat obstinately indisposed, and that the physician had recommended a week's trial of the tonic air and goat's milk of Engelberg. The scenery, said the prince, was stupendous, but the life was terribly sad-and they had three days more! It was a blessing, he urbanely added, to see a good Roman face.
Christina's attitude, her solemn silence and her penetrating gaze seemed to Rowland, at first, to savor of affectation; but he presently perceived that she was profoundly agitated, and that she was afraid of betraying herself. "Do let us leave this hideous edifice," she said; "there are things here that set one's teeth on edge." They moved slowly to the door, and when they stood outside, in the sunny coolness of the valley, she turned to Rowland and said, "I am extremely glad to see you." Then she glanced about her and observed, against the wall of the church, an old stone seat. She looked at Prince Casamassima a moment, and he smiled more intensely, Rowland thought, than the occasion demanded. "I wish to sit here," she said, "and speak to Mr. Mallet-alone."
"At your pleasure, dear friend," said the prince.
The tone of each was measured, to Rowland's ear; but that of Christina was dry, and that of her husband was splendidly urbane. Rowland remembered that the Cavaliere Giacosa had told him that Mrs. Light's candidate was thoroughly a prince, and our friend wondered how he relished a peremptory accent. Casamassima was an Italian of the undemonstrative type, but Rowland nevertheless divined that, like other princes before him, he had made the acquaintance of the thing called compromise. "Shall I come back?" he asked with the same smile.
"In half an hour," said Christina.
In the clear outer light, Rowland's first impression of her was that she was more beautiful than ever. And yet in three months she could hardly have changed; the change was in Rowland's own vision of her, which that last interview, on the eve of her marriage, had made unprecedentedly tender.
"How came you here?" she asked. "Are you staying in this place?"
"I am staying at Engelthal, some ten miles away; I walked over."
"Are you alone?"
"I am with Mr. Hudson."
"Is he here with you?"
"He went half an hour ago to climb a rock for a view."
"And his mother and that young girl, where are they?"
"They also are at Engelthal."
"What do you do there?"
"What do you do here?" said Rowland, smiling.
"I count the minutes till my week is up. I hate mountains; they depress me to death. I am sure Miss Garland likes them."
"She is very fond of them, I believe."
"You believe-don't you know? But I have given up trying to imitate Miss Garland," said Christina.
"You surely need imitate no one."
"Don't say that," she said gravely. "So you have walked ten miles this morning? And you are to walk back again?"
"Back again to supper."
"And Mr. Hudson too?"
"Mr. Hudson especially. He is a great walker."
"You men are happy!" Christina cried. "I believe I should enjoy the mountains if I could do such things. It is sitting still and having them scowl down at you! Prince Casamassina never rides. He only goes on a mule. He was carried up the Faulhorn on a litter."
"On a litter?" said Rowland.
"In one of those machines-a chaise a porteurs-like a woman."
Rowland received this information in silence; it was equally unbecoming to either to relish or deprecate its irony.
"Is Mr. Hudson to join you again? Will he come here?" Christina asked.
"I shall soon begin to expect him."
"What shall you do when you leave Switzerland?" Christina continued. "Shall you go back to Rome?"
"I rather doubt it. My plans are very uncertain."
"They depend upon Mr. Hudson, eh?"
"In a great measure."
"I want you to tell me about him. Is he still in that perverse state of mind that afflicted you so much?"
Rowland looked at her mistrustfully, without answering. He was indisposed, instinctively, to tell her that Roderick was unhappy; it was possible she might offer to help him back to happiness. She immediately perceived his hesitation.
"I see no reason why we should not be frank," she said. "I should think we were excellently placed for that sort of thing. You remember that formerly I cared very little what I said, don't you? Well, I care absolutely not at all now. I say what I please, I do what I please! How did Mr. Hudson receive the news of my marriage?"
"Very badly," said Rowland.
"With rage and reproaches?" And as Rowland hesitated again-"With silent contempt?"
"I can tell you but little. He spoke to me on the subject, but I stopped him. I told him it was none of his business, or of mine."
"That was an excellent answer!" said Christina, softly. "Yet it was a little your business, after those sublime protestations I treated you to. I was really very fine that morning, eh?"
"You do yourself injustice," said Rowland. "I should be at liberty now to believe you were insincere."
"What does it matter now whether I was insincere or not? I can't conceive of anything mattering less. I was very fine-is n't it true?"
"You know what I think of you," said Rowland. And for fear of being forced to betray his suspicion of the cause of her change, he took refuge in a commonplace. "Your mother, I hope, is well."
"My mother is in the enjoyment of superb health, and may be seen every evening at the Casino, at the Baths of Lucca, confiding to every new-comer that she has married her daughter to a pearl of a prince."
Rowland was anxious for news of Mrs. Light's companion, and the natural course was frankly to inquire about him. "And the Cavaliere Giacosa is well?" he asked.
Christina hesitated, but she betrayed no other embarrassment. "The Cavaliere has retired to his native city of Ancona, upon a pension, for the rest of his natural life. He is a very good old man!"
"I have a great regard for him," said Rowland, gravely, at the same time that he privately wondered whether the Cavaliere's pension was paid by Prince Casamassima for services rendered in connection with his marriage. Had the Cavaliere received his commission? "And what do you do," Rowland continued, "on leaving this place?"
"We go to Italy-we go to Naples." She rose and stood silent a moment, looking down the valley. The figure of Prince Casamassima appeared in the distance, balancing his white umbrella. As her eyes rested upon it, Rowland imagined that he saw something deeper in the strange expression which had lurked in her face while he talked to her. At first he had been dazzled by her blooming beauty, to which the lapse of weeks had only added splendor; then he had seen a heavier ray in the light of her eye-a sinister intimation of sadness and bitterness. It was the outward mark of her sacrificed ideal. Her eyes grew cold as she looked at her husband, and when, after a moment, she turned them upon Rowland, they struck him as intensely tragical. He felt a singular mixture of sympathy and dread; he wished to give her a proof of friendship, and yet it seemed to him that she had now turned her face in a direction where friendship was impotent to interpose. She half read his feelings, apparently, and she gave a beautiful, sad smile. "I hope we may never meet again!" she said. And as Rowland gave her a protesting look-"You have seen me at my best. I wish to tell you solemnly, I was sincere! I know appearances are against me," she went on quickly. "There is a great deal I can't tell you. Perhaps you have guessed it; I care very little. You know, at any rate, I did my best. It would n't serve; I was beaten and broken; they were stronger than I. Now it 's another affair!"
"It seems to me you have a large chance for happiness yet," said Rowland, vaguely.
"Happiness? I mean to cultivate rapture; I mean to go in for bliss ineffable! You remember I told you that I was, in part, the world's and the devil's. Now they have taken me all. It was their choice; may they never repent!"
"I shall hear of you," said Rowland.
"You will hear of me. And whatever you do hear, remember this: I was sincere!"
Prince Casamassima had approached, and Rowland looked at him with a good deal of simple compassion as a part of that "world" against which Christina had launched her mysterious menace. It was obvious that he was a good fellow, and that he could not, in the nature of things, be a positively bad husband; but his distinguished inoffensiveness only deepened the infelicity of Christina's situation by depriving her defiant attitude of the sanction of relative justice. So long as she had been free to choose, she had esteemed him: but from the moment she was forced to marry him she had detested him. Rowland read in the young man's elastic Italian mask a profound consciousness of all this; and as he found there also a record of other curious things-of pride, of temper, of bigotry, of an immense heritage of more or less aggressive traditions-he reflected that the matrimonial conjunction of his two companions might be sufficiently prolific in incident.
"You are going to Naples?" Rowland said to the prince by way of conversation.
"We are going to Paris," Christina interposed, slowly and softly. "We are going to London. We are going to Vienna. We are going to St. Petersburg."
Prince Casamassima dropped his eyes and fretted the earth with the point of his umbrella. While he engaged Rowland's attention Christina turned away. When Rowland glanced at her again he saw a change pass over her face; she was observing something that was concealed from his own eyes by the angle of the church-wall. In a moment Roderick stepped into sight.
He stopped short, astonished; his face and figure were jaded, his garments dusty. He looked at Christina from head to foot, and then, slowly, his cheek flushed and his eye expanded. Christina returned his gaze, and for some moments there was a singular silence. "You don't look well!" Christina said at last.
Roderick answered nothing; he only looked and looked, as if she had been a statue. "You are no less beautiful!" he presently cried.
She turned away with a smile, and stood a while gazing down the valley; Roderick stared at Prince Casamassima. Christina then put out her hand to Rowland. "Farewell," she said. "If you are near me in future, don't try to see me!" And then, after a pause, in a lower tone, "I was sincere!" She addressed herself again to Roderick and asked him some commonplace about his walk. But he said nothing; he only looked at her. Rowland at first had expected an outbreak of reproach, but it was evident that the danger was every moment diminishing. He was forgetting everything but her beauty, and as she stood there and let him feast upon it, Rowland was sure that she knew it. "I won't say farewell to you," she said; "we shall meet again!" And she moved gravely away. Prince Casamassima took leave courteously of Rowland; upon Roderick he bestowed a bow of exaggerated civility. Roderick appeared not to see it; he was still watching Christina, as she passed over the grass. His eyes followed her until she reached the door of her inn. Here she stopped and looked back at him.
CHAPTER XIII. Switzerland
On the homeward walk, that evening, Roderick preserved a silence which Rowland allowed to make him uneasy. Early on the morrow Roderick, saying nothing of his intentions, started off on a walk; Rowland saw him striding with light steps along the rugged path to Engelberg. He was absent all day and he gave no account of himself on his return. He said he was deadly tired, and he went to bed early. When he had left the room Miss Garland drew near to Rowland.
"I wish to ask you a question," she said. "What happened to Roderick yesterday at Engelberg?"
"You have discovered that something happened?" Rowland answered.
"I am sure of it. Was it something painful?"
"I don't know how, at the present moment, he judges it. He met the Princess Casamassima."
"Thank you!" said Miss Garland, simply, and turned away.
The conversation had been brief, but, like many small things, it furnished Rowland with food for reflection. When one is looking for symptoms one easily finds them. This was the first time Mary Garland had asked Rowland a question which it was in Roderick's power to answer, the first time she had frankly betrayed Roderick's reticence. Rowland ventured to think it marked an era.
The next morning was sultry, and the air, usually so fresh at those altitudes, was oppressively heavy. Rowland lounged on the grass a while, near Singleton, who was at work under his white umbrella, within view of the house; and then in quest of coolness he wandered away to the rocky ridge whence you looked across at the Jungfrau. To-day, however, the white summits were invisible; their heads were muffled in sullen clouds and the valleys beneath them curtained in dun-colored mist. Rowland had a book in his pocket, and he took it out and opened it. But his page remained unturned; his own thoughts were more importunate. His interview with Christina Light had made a great impression upon him, and he was haunted with the memory of her almost blameless bitterness, and of all that was tragic and fatal in her latest transformation. These things were immensely appealing, and Rowland thought with infinite impatience of Roderick's having again encountered them. It required little imagination to apprehend that the young sculptor's condition had also appealed to Christina. His consummate indifference, his supreme defiance, would make him a magnificent trophy, and Christina had announced with sufficient distinctness that she had said good-by to scruples. It was her fancy at present to treat the world as a garden of pleasure, and if, hitherto, she had played with Roderick's passion on its stem, there was little doubt that now she would pluck it with an unfaltering hand and drain it of its acrid sweetness. And why the deuce need Roderick have gone marching back to destruction? Rowland's meditations, even when they began in rancor, often brought him peace; but on this occasion they ushered in a quite peculiar quality of unrest. He felt conscious of a sudden collapse in his moral energy; a current that had been flowing for two years with liquid strength seemed at last to pause and evaporate. Rowland looked away at the stagnant vapors on the mountains; their dreariness seemed a symbol of the dreariness which his own generosity had bequeathed him. At last he had arrived at the uttermost limit of the deference a sane man might pay to other people's folly; nay, rather, he had transgressed it; he had been befooled on a gigantic scale. He turned to his book and tried to woo back patience, but it gave him cold comfort and he tossed it angrily away. He pulled his hat over his eyes, and tried to wonder, dispassionately, whether atmospheric conditions had not something to do with his ill-humor. He remained for some time in this attitude, but was finally aroused from it by a singular sense that, although he had heard nothing, some one had approached him. He looked up and saw Roderick standing before him on the turf. His mood made the spectacle unwelcome, and for a moment he felt like uttering an uncivil speech. Roderick stood looking at him with an expression of countenance which had of late become rare. There was an unfamiliar spark in his eye and a certain imperious alertness in his carriage. Confirmed habit, with Rowland, came speedily to the front. "What is it now?" he asked himself, and invited Roderick to sit down. Roderick had evidently something particular to say, and if he remained silent for a time it was not because he was ashamed of it.
"I would like you to do me a favor," he said at last. "Lend me some money."
"How much do you wish?" Rowland asked.
"Say a thousand francs."
Rowland hesitated a moment. "I don't wish to be indiscreet, but may I ask what you propose to do with a thousand francs?"
"To go to Interlaken."
"And why are you going to Interlaken?"
Roderick replied without a shadow of wavering, "Because that woman is to be there."
Rowland burst out laughing, but Roderick remained serenely grave. "You have forgiven her, then?" said Rowland.
"Not a bit of it!"
"I don't understand."
"Neither do I. I only know that she is incomparably beautiful, and that she has waked me up amazingly. Besides, she asked me to come."
"She asked you?"
"Yesterday, in so many words."
"Ah, the jade!"
"Exactly. I am willing to take her for that."
"Why in the name of common sense did you go back to her?"
"Why did I find her standing there like a goddess who had just stepped out of her cloud? Why did I look at her? Before I knew where I was, the harm was done."
Rowland, who had been sitting erect, threw himself back on the grass and lay for some time staring up at the sky. At last, raising himself, "Are you perfectly serious?" he asked.
"Your idea is to remain at Interlaken some time?"
"Indefinitely!" said Roderick; and it seemed to his companion that the tone in which he said this made it immensely well worth hearing.
"And your mother and cousin, meanwhile, are to remain here? It will soon be getting very cold, you know."
"It does n't seem much like it to-day."
"Very true; but to-day is a day by itself."
"There is nothing to prevent their going back to Lucerne. I depend upon your taking charge of them."
At this Rowland reclined upon the grass again; and again, after reflection, he faced his friend. "How would you express," he asked, "the character of the profit that you expect to derive from your excursion?"
"I see no need of expressing it. The proof of the pudding is in the eating! The case is simply this. I desire immensely to be near Christina Light, and it is such a huge refreshment to find myself again desiring something, that I propose to drift with the current. As I say, she has waked me up, and it is possible something may come of it. She makes me feel as if I were alive again. This," and he glanced down at the inn, "I call death!"
"That I am very grateful to hear. You really feel as if you might do something?"
"Don't ask too much. I only know that she makes my heart beat, makes me see visions."
"You feel encouraged?"
"I feel excited."
"You are really looking better."
"I am glad to hear it. Now that I have answered your questions, please to give me the money."
Rowland shook his head. "For that purpose, I can't!"
"It 's impossible. Your plan is rank folly. I can't help you in it."
Roderick flushed a little, and his eye expanded. "I will borrow what money I can, then, from Mary!" This was not viciously said; it had simply the ring of passionate resolution.
Instantly it brought Rowland to terms. He took a bunch of keys from his pocket and tossed it upon the grass. "The little brass one opens my dressing-case," he said. "You will find money in it."
Roderick let the keys lie; something seemed to have struck him; he looked askance at his friend. "You are awfully gallant!"
"You certainly are not. Your proposal is an outrage."
"Very likely. It 's a proof the more of my desire."
"If you have so much steam on, then, use it for something else. You say you are awake again. I am delighted; only be so in the best sense. Is n't it very plain? If you have the energy to desire, you have also the energy to reason and to judge. If you can care to go, you can also care to stay, and staying being the more profitable course, the inspiration, on that side, for a man who has his self-confidence to win back again, should be greater."
Roderick, plainly, did not relish this simple logic, and his eye grew angry as he listened to its echo. "Oh, the devil!" he cried.
Rowland went on. "Do you believe that hanging about Christina Light will do you any good? Do you believe it won't? In either case you should keep away from her. If it won't, it 's your duty; and if it will, you can get on without it."
"Do me good?" cried Roderick. "What do I want of 'good'-what should I do with 'good'? I want what she gives me, call it by what name you will. I want to ask no questions, but to take what comes and let it fill the impossible hours! But I did n't come to discuss the matter."
"I have not the least desire to discuss it," said Rowland. "I simply protest."
Roderick meditated a moment. "I have never yet thought twice of accepting a favor of you," he said at last; "but this one sticks in my throat."
"It is not a favor; I lend you the money only under compulsion."
"Well, then, I will take it only under compulsion!" Roderick exclaimed. And he sprang up abruptly and marched away.
His words were ambiguous; Rowland lay on the grass, wondering what they meant. Half an hour had not elapsed before Roderick reappeared, heated with rapid walking, and wiping his forehead. He flung himself down and looked at his friend with an eye which expressed something purer than bravado and yet baser than conviction.
"I have done my best!" he said. "My mother is out of money; she is expecting next week some circular notes from London. She had only ten francs in her pocket. Mary Garland gave me every sou she possessed in the world. It makes exactly thirty-four francs. That 's not enough."
"You asked Miss Garland?" cried Rowland.
"I asked her."
"And told her your purpose?"
"I named no names. But she knew!"
"What did she say?"
"Not a syllable. She simply emptied her purse."
Rowland turned over and buried his face in his arms. He felt a movement of irrepressible elation, and he barely stifled a cry of joy. Now, surely, Roderick had shattered the last link in the chain that bound Mary to him, and after this she would be free!... When he turned about again, Roderick was still sitting there, and he had not touched the keys which lay on the grass.
"I don't know what is the matter with me," said Roderick, "but I have an insurmountable aversion to taking your money."
"The matter, I suppose, is that you have a grain of wisdom left."
"No, it 's not that. It 's a kind of brute instinct. I find it extremely provoking!" He sat there for some time with his head in his hands and his eyes on the ground. His lips were compressed, and he was evidently, in fact, in a state of profound irritation. "You have succeeded in making this thing excessively unpleasant!" he exclaimed.
"I am sorry," said Rowland, "but I can't see it in any other way."
"That I believe, and I resent the range of your vision pretending to be the limit of my action. You can't feel for me nor judge for me, and there are certain things you know nothing about. I have suffered, sir!" Roderick went on with increasing emphasis. "I have suffered damnable torments. Have I been such a placid, contented, comfortable man this last six months, that when I find a chance to forget my misery, I should take such pains not to profit by it? You ask too much, for a man who himself has no occasion to play the hero. I don't say that invidiously; it 's your disposition, and you can't help it. But decidedly, there are certain things you know nothing about."
Rowland listened to this outbreak with open eyes, and Roderick, if he had been less intent upon his own eloquence, would probably have perceived that he turned pale. "These things-what are they?" Rowland asked.
"They are women, principally, and what relates to women. Women for you, by what I can make out, mean nothing. You have no imagination-no sensibility!"
"That 's a serious charge," said Rowland, gravely.
"I don't make it without proof!"
"And what is your proof?"
Roderick hesitated a moment. "The way you treated Christina Light. I call that grossly obtuse."
"Obtuse?" Rowland repeated, frowning.
"Thick-skinned, beneath your good fortune."
"My good fortune?"
"There it is-it 's all news to you! You had pleased her. I don't say she was dying of love for you, but she took a fancy to you."
"We will let this pass!" said Rowland, after a silence.
"Oh, I don't insist. I have only her own word for it."
"She told you this?"
"You noticed, at least, I suppose, that she was not afraid to speak. I never repeated it, not because I was jealous, but because I was curious to see how long your ignorance would last if left to itself."
"I frankly confess it would have lasted forever. And yet I don't consider that my insensibility is proved."
"Oh, don't say that," cried Roderick, "or I shall begin to suspect-what I must do you the justice to say that I never have suspected-that you are a trifle conceited. Upon my word, when I think of all this, your protest, as you call it, against my following Christina Light seems to me thoroughly offensive. There is something monstrous in a man's pretending to lay down the law to a sort of emotion with which he is quite unacquainted-in his asking a fellow to give up a lovely woman for conscience' sake, when he has never had the impulse to strike a blow for one for passion's!"
"Oh, oh!" cried Rowland.
"All that 's very easy to say," Roderick went on; "but you must remember that there are such things as nerves, and senses, and imagination, and a restless demon within that may sleep sometimes for a day, or for six months, but that sooner or later wakes up and thumps at your ribs till you listen to him! If you can't understand it, take it on trust, and let a poor imaginative devil live his life as he can!"
Roderick's words seemed at first to Rowland like something heard in a dream; it was impossible they had been actually spoken-so supreme an expression were they of the insolence of egotism. Reality was never so consistent as that! But Roderick sat there balancing his beautiful head, and the echoes of his strident accent still lingered along the half-muffled mountain-side. Rowland suddenly felt that the cup of his chagrin was full to overflowing, and his long-gathered bitterness surged into the simple, wholesome passion of anger for wasted kindness. But he spoke without violence, and Roderick was probably at first far from measuring the force that lay beneath his words.
"You are incredibly ungrateful," he said. "You are talking arrogant nonsense. What do you know about my sensibilities and my imagination? How do you know whether I have loved or suffered? If I have held my tongue and not troubled you with my complaints, you find it the most natural thing in the world to put an ignoble construction on my silence. I loved quite as well as you; indeed, I think I may say rather better. I have been constant. I have been willing to give more than I received. I have not forsaken one mistress because I thought another more beautiful, nor given up the other and believed all manner of evil about her because I had not my way with her. I have been a good friend to Christina Light, and it seems to me my friendship does her quite as much honor as your love!"
"Your love-your suffering-your silence-your friendship!" cried Roderick. "I declare I don't understand!"
"I dare say not. You are not used to understanding such things-you are not used to hearing me talk of my feelings. You are altogether too much taken up with your own. Be as much so as you please; I have always respected your right. Only when I have kept myself in durance on purpose to leave you an open field, don't, by way of thanking me, come and call me an idiot."
"Oh, you claim then that you have made sacrifices?"
"Several! You have never suspected it?"
"If I had, do you suppose I would have allowed it?" cried Roderick.
"They were the sacrifices of friendship and they were easily made; only I don't enjoy having them thrown back in my teeth."
This was, under the circumstances, a sufficiently generous speech; but Roderick was not in the humor to take it generously. "Come, be more definite," he said. "Let me know where it is the shoe has pinched."
Rowland frowned; if Roderick would not take generosity, he should have full justice. "It 's a perpetual sacrifice," he said, "to live with a perfect egotist."
"I am an egotist?" cried Roderick.
"Did it never occur to you?"
"An egotist to whom you have made perpetual sacrifices?" He repeated the words in a singular tone; a tone that denoted neither exactly indignation nor incredulity, but (strange as it may seem) a sudden violent curiosity for news about himself.
"You are selfish," said Rowland; "you think only of yourself and believe only in yourself. You regard other people only as they play into your own hands. You have always been very frank about it, and the thing seemed so mixed up with the temper of your genius and the very structure of your mind, that often one was willing to take the evil with the good and to be thankful that, considering your great talent, you were no worse. But if one believed in you, as I have done, one paid a tax upon it."
Roderick leaned his elbows on his knees, clasped his hands together, and crossed them, shadewise, over his eyes. In this attitude, for a moment, he sat looking coldly at his friend. "So I have made you very uncomfortable?" he went on.
"I have been eager, grasping, obstinate, vain, ungrateful, indifferent, cruel?"
"I have accused you, mentally, of all these things, with the exception of vanity."
"You have often hated me?"
"Never. I should have parted company with you before coming to that."
"But you have wanted to part company, to bid me go my way and be hanged!"
"Repeatedly. Then I have had patience and forgiven you."
"Forgiven me, eh? Suffering all the while?"
"Yes, you may call it suffering."
"Why did you never tell me all this before?"
"Because my affection was always stronger than my resentment; because I preferred to err on the side of kindness; because I had, myself, in a measure, launched you in the world and thrown you into temptations; and because nothing short of your unwarrantable aggression just now could have made me say these painful things."
Roderick picked up a blade of long grass and began to bite it; Rowland was puzzled by his expression and manner. They seemed strangely cynical; there was something revolting in his deepening calmness. "I must have been hideous," Roderick presently resumed.
"I am not talking for your entertainment," said Rowland.
"Of course not. For my edification!" As Roderick said these words there was not a ray of warmth in his brilliant eye.
"I have spoken for my own relief," Rowland went on, "and so that you need never again go so utterly astray as you have done this morning."
"It has been a terrible mistake, then?" What his tone expressed was not willful mockery, but a kind of persistent irresponsibility which Rowland found equally exasperating. He answered nothing.
"And all this time," Roderick continued, "you have been in love? Tell me the woman."
Rowland felt an immense desire to give him a visible, palpable pang. "Her name is Mary Garland," he said.
Apparently he succeeded. The surprise was great; Roderick colored as he had never done. "Mary Garland? Heaven forgive us!"
Rowland observed the "us;" Roderick threw himself back on the turf. The latter lay for some time staring at the sky. At last he sprang to his feet, and Rowland rose also, rejoicing keenly, it must be confessed, in his companion's confusion.
"For how long has this been?" Roderick demanded.
"Since I first knew her."
"Two years! And you have never told her?"
"You have told no one?"
"You are the first person."
"Why have you been silent?"
"Because of your engagement."
"But you have done your best to keep that up."
"That 's another matter!"
"It 's very strange!" said Roderick, presently. "It 's like something in a novel."
"We need n't expatiate on it," said Rowland. "All I wished to do was to rebut your charge that I am an abnormal being."
But still Roderick pondered. "All these months, while I was going on! I wish you had mentioned it."
"I acted as was necessary, and that 's the end of it."
"You have a very high opinion of her?"
"I remember now your occasionally expressing it and my being struck with it. But I never dreamed you were in love with her. It 's a pity she does n't care for you!"
Rowland had made his point and he had no wish to prolong the conversation; but he had a desire to hear more of this, and he remained silent.
"You hope, I suppose, that some day she may?"
"I should n't have offered to say so; but since you ask me, I do."
"I don't believe it. She idolizes me, and if she never were to see me again she would idolize my memory."
This might be profound insight, and it might be profound fatuity. Rowland turned away; he could not trust himself to speak.
"My indifference, my neglect of her, must have seemed to you horrible. Altogether, I must have appeared simply hideous."
"Do you really care," Rowland asked, "what you appeared?"
"Certainly. I have been damnably stupid. Is n't an artist supposed to be a man of perceptions? I am hugely disgusted."
"Well, you understand now, and we can start afresh."
"And yet," said Roderick, "though you have suffered, in a degree, I don't believe you have suffered so much as some other men would have done."
"Very likely not. In such matters quantitative analysis is difficult."
Roderick picked up his stick and stood looking at the ground. "Nevertheless, I must have seemed hideous," he repeated-"hideous." He turned away, scowling, and Rowland offered no contradiction.
They were both silent for some time, and at last Roderick gave a heavy sigh and began to walk away. "Where are you going?" Rowland then asked.
"Oh, I don't care! To walk; you have given me something to think of." This seemed a salutary impulse, and yet Rowland felt a nameless perplexity. "To have been so stupid damns me more than anything!" Roderick went on. "Certainly, I can shut up shop now."
Rowland felt in no smiling humor, and yet, in spite of himself, he could almost have smiled at the very consistency of the fellow. It was egotism still: aesthetic disgust at the graceless contour of his conduct, but never a hint of simple sorrow for the pain he had given. Rowland let him go, and for some moments stood watching him. Suddenly Mallet became conscious of a singular and most illogical impulse-a desire to stop him, to have another word with him-not to lose sight of him. He called him and Roderick turned. "I should like to go with you," said Rowland.
"I am fit only to be alone. I am damned!"
"You had better not think of it at all," Rowland cried, "than think in that way."
"There is only one way. I have been hideous!" And he broke off and marched away with his long, elastic step, swinging his stick. Rowland watched him and at the end of a moment called to him. Roderick stopped and looked at him in silence, and then abruptly turned, and disappeared below the crest of a hill.
Rowland passed the remainder of the day uncomfortably. He was half irritated, half depressed; he had an insufferable feeling of having been placed in the wrong, in spite of his excellent cause. Roderick did not come home to dinner; but of this, with his passion for brooding away the hours on far-off mountain sides, he had almost made a habit. Mrs. Hudson appeared at the noonday repast with a face which showed that Roderick's demand for money had unsealed the fountains of her distress. Little Singleton consumed an enormous and well-earned dinner. Miss Garland, Rowland observed, had not contributed her scanty assistance to her kinsman's pursuit of the Princess Casamassima without an effort. The effort was visible in her pale face and her silence; she looked so ill that when they left the table Rowland felt almost bound to remark upon it. They had come out upon the grass in front of the inn.
"I have a headache," she said. And then suddenly, looking about at the menacing sky and motionless air, "It 's this horrible day!"
Rowland that afternoon tried to write a letter to his cousin Cecilia, but his head and his heart were alike heavy, and he traced upon the paper but a single line. "I believe there is such a thing as being too reasonable. But when once the habit is formed, what is one to do?" He had occasion to use his keys and he felt for them in his pocket; they were missing, and he remembered that he had left them lying on the hill-top where he had had his talk with Roderick. He went forth in search of them and found them where he had thrown them. He flung himself down in the same place again; he felt indisposed to walk. He was conscious that his mood had vastly changed since the morning; his extraordinary, acute sense of his rights had been replaced by the familiar, chronic sense of his duties. Only, his duties now seemed impracticable; he turned over and buried his face in his arms. He lay so a long time, thinking of many things; the sum of them all was that Roderick had beaten him. At last he was startled by an extraordinary sound; it took him a moment to perceive that it was a portentous growl of thunder. He roused himself and saw that the whole face of the sky had altered. The clouds that had hung motionless all day were moving from their stations, and getting into position, as it were, for a battle. The wind was rising; the sallow vapors were turning dark and consolidating their masses. It was a striking spectacle, but Rowland judged best to observe it briefly, as a storm was evidently imminent. He took his way down to the inn and found Singleton still at his post, profiting by the last of the rapidly-failing light to finish his study, and yet at the same time taking rapid notes of the actual condition of the clouds.
"We are going to have a most interesting storm," the little painter gleefully cried. "I should like awfully to do it."
Rowland adjured him to pack up his tools and decamp, and repaired to the house. The air by this time had become portentously dark, and the thunder was incessant and tremendous; in the midst of it the lightning flashed and vanished, like the treble shrilling upon the bass. The innkeeper and his servants had crowded to the doorway, and were looking at the scene with faces which seemed a proof that it was unprecedented. As Rowland approached, the group divided, to let some one pass from within, and Mrs. Hudson came forth, as white as a corpse and trembling in every limb.
"My boy, my boy, where is my boy?" she cried. "Mr. Mallet, why are you here without him? Bring him to me!"
"Has no one seen Mr. Hudson?" Rowland asked of the others. "Has he not returned?"
Each one shook his head and looked grave, and Rowland attempted to reassure Mrs. Hudson by saying that of course he had taken refuge in a chalet.
"Go and find him, go and find him!" she cried, insanely. "Don't stand there and talk, or I shall die!" It was now as dark as evening, and Rowland could just distinguish the figure of Singleton scampering homeward with his box and easel. "And where is Mary?" Mrs. Hudson went on; "what in mercy's name has become of her? Mr. Mallet, why did you ever bring us here?"
There came a prodigious flash of lightning, and the limitless tumult about them turned clearer than midsummer noonday. The brightness lasted long enough to enable Rowland to see a woman's figure on the top of an eminence near the house. It was Mary Garland, questioning the lurid darkness for Roderick. Rowland sprang out to interrupt her vigil, but in a moment he encountered her, retreating. He seized her hand and hurried her to the house, where, as soon as she stepped into the covered gallery, Mrs. Hudson fell upon her with frantic lamentations.
"Did you see nothing,-nothing?" she cried. "Tell Mr. Mallet he must go and find him, with some men, some lights, some wrappings. Go, go, go, sir! In mercy, go!"
Rowland was extremely perturbed by the poor lady's vociferous folly, for he deemed her anxiety superfluous. He had offered his suggestion with sincerity; nothing was more probable than that Roderick had found shelter in a herdsman's cabin. These were numerous on the neighboring mountains, and the storm had given fair warning of its approach. Miss Garland stood there very pale, saying nothing, but looking at him. He expected that she would check her cousin's importunity. "Could you find him?" she suddenly asked. "Would it be of use?"
The question seemed to him a flash intenser than the lightning that was raking the sky before them. It shattered his dream that he weighed in the scale! But before he could answer, the full fury of the storm was upon them; the rain descended in sounding torrents. Every one fell back into the house. There had been no time to light lamps, and in the little uncarpeted parlor, in the unnatural darkness, Rowland felt Mary's hand upon his arm. For a moment it had an eloquent pressure; it seemed to retract her senseless challenge, and to say that she believed, for Roderick, what he believed. But nevertheless, thought Rowland, the cry had come, her heart had spoken; her first impulse had been to sacrifice him. He had been uncertain before; here, at least, was the comfort of certainty!
It must be confessed, however, that the certainty in question did little to enliven the gloom of that formidable evening. There was a noisy crowd about him in the room-noisy even with the accompaniment of the continual thunder-peals; lodgers and servants, chattering, shuffling, and bustling, and annoying him equally by making too light of the tempest and by vociferating their alarm. In the disorder, it was some time before a lamp was lighted, and the first thing he saw, as it was swung from the ceiling, was the white face of Mrs. Hudson, who was being carried out of the room in a swoon by two stout maid-servants, with Mary Garland forcing a passage. He rendered what help he could, but when they had laid the poor woman on her bed, Miss Garland motioned him away.
"I think you make her worse," she said.
Rowland went to his own chamber. The partitions in Swiss mountain-inns are thin, and from time to time he heard Mrs. Hudson moaning, three rooms off. Considering its great fury, the storm took long to expend itself; it was upwards of three hours before the thunder ceased. But even then the rain continued to fall heavily, and the night, which had come on, was impenetrably black. This lasted till near midnight. Rowland thought of Mary Garland's challenge in the porch, but he thought even more that, although the fetid interior of a high-nestling chalet may offer a convenient refuge from an Alpine tempest, there was no possible music in the universe so sweet as the sound of Roderick's voice. At midnight, through his dripping window-pane, he saw a star, and he immediately went downstairs and out into the gallery. The rain had ceased, the cloud-masses were dissevered here and there, and several stars were visible. In a few minutes he heard a step behind him, and, turning, saw Miss Garland. He asked about Mrs. Hudson and learned that she was sleeping, exhausted by her fruitless lamentations. Miss Garland kept scanning the darkness, but she said nothing to cast doubt on Roderick's having found a refuge. Rowland noticed it. "This also have I guaranteed!" he said to himself. There was something that Mary wished to learn, and a question presently revealed it.
"What made him start on a long walk so suddenly?" she asked. "I saw him at eleven o'clock, and then he meant to go to Engelberg, and sleep."
"On his way to Interlaken?" Rowland said.
"Yes," she answered, under cover of the darkness.
"We had some talk," said Rowland, "and he seemed, for the day, to have given up Interlaken."
"Did you dissuade him?"
"Not exactly. We discussed another question, which, for the time, superseded his plan."
Miss Garland was silent. Then-"May I ask whether your discussion was violent?" she said.
"I am afraid it was agreeable to neither of us."
"And Roderick left you in-in irritation?"
"I offered him my company on his walk. He declined it."
Miss Garland paced slowly to the end of the gallery and then came back. "If he had gone to Engelberg," she said, "he would have reached the hotel before the storm began."
Rowland felt a sudden explosion of ferocity. "Oh, if you like," he cried, "he can start for Interlaken as soon as he comes back!"
But she did not even notice his wrath. "Will he come back early?" she went on.
"We may suppose so."
"He will know how anxious we are, and he will start with the first light!"
Rowland was on the point of declaring that Roderick's readiness to throw himself into the feelings of others made this extremely probable; but he checked himself and said, simply, "I expect him at sunrise."
Miss Garland bent her eyes once more upon the irresponsive darkness, and then, in silence, went into the house. Rowland, it must be averred, in spite of his resolution not to be nervous, found no sleep that night. When the early dawn began to tremble in the east, he came forth again into the open air. The storm had completely purged the atmosphere, and the day gave promise of cloudless splendor. Rowland watched the early sun-shafts slowly reaching higher, and remembered that if Roderick did not come back to breakfast, there were two things to be taken into account. One was the heaviness of the soil on the mountain-sides, saturated with the rain; this would make him walk slowly: the other was the fact that, speaking without irony, he was not remarkable for throwing himself into the sentiments of others. Breakfast, at the inn, was early, and by breakfast-time Roderick had not appeared. Then Rowland admitted that he was nervous. Neither Mrs. Hudson nor Miss Garland had left their apartment; Rowland had a mental vision of them sitting there praying and listening; he had no desire to see them more directly. There were a couple of men who hung about the inn as guides for the ascent of the Titlis; Rowland sent each of them forth in a different direction, to ask the news of Roderick at every chalet door within a morning's walk. Then he called Sam Singleton, whose peregrinations had made him an excellent mountaineer, and whose zeal and sympathy were now unbounded, and the two started together on a voyage of research. By the time they had lost sight of the inn, Rowland was obliged to confess that, decidedly, Roderick had had time to come back.
He wandered about for several hours, but he found only the sunny stillness of the mountain-sides. Before long he parted company with Singleton, who, to his suggestion that separation would multiply their resources, assented with a silent, frightened look which reflected too vividly his own rapidly-dawning thought. The day was magnificent; the sun was everywhere; the storm had lashed the lower slopes into a deeper flush of autumnal color, and the snow-peaks reared themselves against the near horizon in glaring blocks and dazzling spires. Rowland made his way to several chalets, but most of them were empty. He thumped at their low, foul doors with a kind of nervous, savage anger; he challenged the stupid silence to tell him something about his friend. Some of these places had evidently not been open in months. The silence everywhere was horrible; it seemed to mock at his impatience and to be a conscious symbol of calamity. In the midst of it, at the door of one of the chalets, quite alone, sat a hideous cretin, who grinned at Rowland over his goitre when, hardly knowing what he did, he questioned him. The creature's family was scattered on the mountain-sides; he could give Rowland no help to find them. Rowland climbed into many awkward places, and skirted, intently and peeringly, many an ugly chasm and steep-dropping ledge. But the sun, as I have said, was everywhere; it illumined the deep places over which, not knowing where to turn next, he halted and lingered, and showed him nothing but the stony Alpine void-nothing so human even as death. At noon he paused in his quest and sat down on a stone; the conviction was pressing upon him that the worst that was now possible was true. He suspended his search; he was afraid to go on. He sat there for an hour, sick to the depths of his soul. Without his knowing why, several things, chiefly trivial, that had happened during the last two years and that he had quite forgotten, became vividly present to his mind. He was aroused at last by the sound of a stone dislodged near by, which rattled down the mountain. In a moment, on a steep, rocky slope opposite to him, he beheld a figure cautiously descending-a figure which was not Roderick. It was Singleton, who had seen him and began to beckon to him.
"Come down-come down!" cried the painter, steadily making his own way down. Rowland saw that as he moved, and even as he selected his foothold and watched his steps, he was looking at something at the bottom of the cliff. This was a great rugged wall which had fallen backward from the perpendicular, and the descent, though difficult, was with care sufficiently practicable.
"What do you see?" cried Rowland.
Singleton stopped, looked across at him and seemed to hesitate; then, "Come down-come down!" he simply repeated.
Rowland's course was also a steep descent, and he attacked it so precipitately that he afterwards marveled he had not broken his neck. It was a ten minutes' headlong scramble. Half-way down he saw something that made him dizzy; he saw what Singleton had seen. In the gorge below them a vague white mass lay tumbled upon the stones. He let himself go, blindly, fiercely. Singleton had reached the rocky bottom of the ravine before him, and had bounded forward and fallen upon his knees. Rowland overtook him and his own legs collapsed. The thing that yesterday was his friend lay before him as the chance of the last breath had left it, and out of it Roderick's face stared upward, open-eyed, at the sky.
He had fallen from a great height, but he was singularly little disfigured. The rain had spent its torrents upon him, and his clothes and hair were as wet as if the billows of the ocean had flung him upon the strand. An attempt to move him would show some hideous fracture, some horrible physical dishonor; but what Rowland saw on first looking at him was only a strangely serene expression of life. The eyes were dead, but in a short time, when Rowland had closed them, the whole face seemed to awake. The rain had washed away all blood; it was as if Violence, having done her work, had stolen away in shame. Roderick's face might have shamed her; it looked admirably handsome.
"He was a beautiful man!" said Singleton.
They looked up through their horror at the cliff from which he had apparently fallen, and which lifted its blank and stony face above him, with no care now but to drink the sunshine on which his eyes were closed, and then Rowland had an immense outbreak of pity and anguish. At last they spoke of carrying him back to the inn. "There must be three or four men," Rowland said, "and they must be brought here quickly. I have not the least idea where we are."
"We are at about three hours' walk from home," said Singleton. "I will go for help; I can find my way."
"Remember," said Rowland, "whom you will have to face."
"I remember," the excellent fellow answered. "There was nothing I could ever do for him in life; I will do what I can now."
He went off, and Rowland stayed there alone. He watched for seven long hours, and his vigil was forever memorable. The most rational of men was for an hour the most passionate. He reviled himself with transcendent bitterness, he accused himself of cruelty and injustice, he would have lain down there in Roderick's place to unsay the words that had yesterday driven him forth on his lonely ramble. Roderick had been fond of saying that there are such things as necessary follies, and Rowland was now proving it. At last he grew almost used to the dumb exultation of the cliff above him. He saw that Roderick was a mass of hideous injury, and he tried to understand what had happened. Not that it helped him; before that confounding mortality one hypothesis after another faltered and swooned away. Roderick's passionate walk had carried him farther and higher than he knew; he had outstayed, supposably, the first menace of the storm, and perhaps even found a defiant entertainment in watching it. Perhaps he had simply lost himself. The tempest had overtaken him, and when he tried to return, it was too late. He had attempted to descend the cliff in the darkness, he had made the inevitable slip, and whether he had fallen fifty feet or three hundred little mattered. The condition of his body indicated the shorter fall. Now that all was over, Rowland understood how exclusively, for two years, Roderick had filled his life. His occupation was gone.
Singleton came back with four men-one of them the landlord of the inn. They had formed a sort of rude bier of the frame of a chaise a porteurs, and by taking a very round-about course homeward were able to follow a tolerably level path and carry their burden with a certain decency. To Rowland it seemed as if the little procession would never reach the inn; but as they drew near it he would have given his right hand for a longer delay. The people of the inn came forward to meet them, in a little silent, solemn convoy. In the doorway, clinging together, appeared the two bereaved women. Mrs. Hudson tottered forward with outstretched hands and the expression of a blind person; but before she reached her son, Mary Garland had rushed past her, and, in the face of the staring, pitying, awe-stricken crowd, had flung herself, with the magnificent movement of one whose rights were supreme, and with a loud, tremendous cry, upon the senseless vestige of her love.
That cry still lives in Rowland's ears. It interposes, persistently, against the reflection that when he sometimes-very rarely-sees her, she is unreservedly kind to him; against the memory that during the dreary journey back to America, made of course with his assistance, there was a great frankness in her gratitude, a great gratitude in her frankness. Miss Garland lives with Mrs. Hudson, at Northampton, where Rowland visits his cousin Cecilia more frequently than of old. When he calls upon Miss Garland he never sees Mrs. Hudson. Cecilia, who, having her shrewd impression that he comes to see Miss Garland as much as to see herself, does not feel obliged to seem unduly flattered, calls him, whenever he reappears, the most restless of mortals. But he always says to her in answer, "No, I assure you I am the most patient!"