CHAPTER IV. Experience
Rowland passed the summer in England, staying with several old friends and two or three new ones. On his arrival, he felt it on his conscience to write to Mrs. Hudson and inform her that her son had relieved him of his tutelage. He felt that she considered him an incorruptible Mentor, following Roderick like a shadow, and he wished to let her know the truth. But he made the truth very comfortable, and gave a succinct statement of the young man's brilliant beginnings. He owed it to himself, he said, to remind her that he had not judged lightly, and that Roderick's present achievements were more profitable than his inglorious drudgery at Messrs. Striker & Spooner's. He was now taking a well-earned holiday and proposing to see a little of the world. He would work none the worse for this; every artist needed to knock about and look at things for himself. They had parted company for a couple of months, for Roderick was now a great man and beyond the need of going about with a keeper. But they were to meet again in Rome in the autumn, and then he should be able to send her more good news. Meanwhile, he was very happy in what Roderick had already done-especially happy in the happiness it must have brought to her. He ventured to ask to be kindly commended to Miss Garland.
His letter was promptly answered-to his surprise in Miss Garland's own hand. The same mail brought also an epistle from Cecilia. The latter was voluminous, and we must content ourselves with giving an extract.
"Your letter was filled with an echo of that brilliant Roman world, which made me almost ill with envy. For a week after I got it I thought Northampton really unpardonably tame. But I am drifting back again to my old deeps of resignation, and I rush to the window, when any one passes, with all my old gratitude for small favors. So Roderick Hudson is already a great man, and you turn out to be a great prophet? My compliments to both of you; I never heard of anything working so smoothly. And he takes it all very quietly, and does n't lose his balance nor let it turn his head? You judged him, then, in a day better than I had done in six months, for I really did not expect that he would settle down into such a jog-trot of prosperity. I believed he would do fine things, but I was sure he would intersperse them with a good many follies, and that his beautiful statues would spring up out of the midst of a straggling plantation of wild oats. But from what you tell me, Mr. Striker may now go hang himself..... There is one thing, however, to say as a friend, in the way of warning. That candid soul can keep a secret, and he may have private designs on your equanimity which you don't begin to suspect. What do you think of his being engaged to Miss Garland? The two ladies had given no hint of it all winter, but a fortnight ago, when those big photographs of his statues arrived, they first pinned them up on the wall, and then trotted out into the town, made a dozen calls, and announced the news. Mrs. Hudson did, at least; Miss Garland, I suppose, sat at home writing letters. To me, I confess, the thing was a perfect surprise. I had not a suspicion that all the while he was coming so regularly to make himself agreeable on my veranda, he was quietly preferring his cousin to any one else. Not, indeed, that he was ever at particular pains to make himself agreeable! I suppose he has picked up a few graces in Rome. But he must not acquire too many: if he is too polite when he comes back, Miss Garland will count him as one of the lost. She will be a very good wife for a man of genius, and such a one as they are often shrewd enough to take. She 'll darn his stockings and keep his accounts, and sit at home and trim the lamp and keep up the fire while he studies the Beautiful in pretty neighbors at dinner-parties. The two ladies are evidently very happy, and, to do them justice, very humbly grateful to you. Mrs. Hudson never speaks of you without tears in her eyes, and I am sure she considers you a specially patented agent of Providence. Verily, it 's a good thing for a woman to be in love: Miss Garland has grown almost pretty. I met her the other night at a tea-party; she had a white rose in her hair, and sang a sentimental ballad in a fine contralto voice."
Miss Garland's letter was so much shorter that we may give it entire:-
My dear Sir,-Mrs. Hudson, as I suppose you know, has been for some time unable to use her eyes. She requests me, therefore, to answer your favor of the 22d of June. She thanks you extremely for writing, and wishes me to say that she considers herself in every way under great obligations to you. Your account of her son's progress and the high estimation in which he is held has made her very happy, and she earnestly prays that all may continue well with him. He sent us, a short time ago, several large photographs of his two statues, taken from different points of view. We know little about such things, but they seem to us wonderfully beautiful. We sent them to Boston to be handsomely framed, and the man, on returning them, wrote us that he had exhibited them for a week in his store, and that they had attracted great attention. The frames are magnificent, and the pictures now hang in a row on the parlor wall. Our only quarrel with them is that they make the old papering and the engravings look dreadfully shabby. Mr. Striker stood and looked at them the other day full five minutes, and said, at last, that if Roderick's head was running on such things it was no wonder he could not learn to draw up a deed. We lead here so quiet and monotonous a life that I am afraid I can tell you nothing that will interest you. Mrs. Hudson requests me to say that the little more or less that may happen to us is of small account, as we live in our thoughts and our thoughts are fixed on her dear son. She thanks Heaven he has so good a friend. Mrs. Hudson says that this is too short a letter, but I can say nothing more.
Yours most respectfully,
It is a question whether the reader will know why, but this letter gave Rowland extraordinary pleasure. He liked its very brevity and meagreness, and there seemed to him an exquisite modesty in its saying nothing from the young girl herself. He delighted in the formal address and conclusion; they pleased him as he had been pleased by an angular gesture in some expressive girlish figure in an early painting. The letter renewed that impression of strong feeling combined with an almost rigid simplicity, which Roderick's betrothed had personally given him. And its homely stiffness seemed a vivid reflection of a life concentrated, as the young girl had borrowed warrant from her companion to say, in a single devoted idea. The monotonous days of the two women seemed to Rowland's fancy to follow each other like the tick-tick of a great time-piece, marking off the hours which separated them from the supreme felicity of clasping the far-away son and lover to lips sealed with the excess of joy. He hoped that Roderick, now that he had shaken off the oppression of his own importunate faith, was not losing a tolerant temper for the silent prayers of the two women at Northampton.
He was left to vain conjectures, however, as to Roderick's actual moods and occupations. He knew he was no letter-writer, and that, in the young sculptor's own phrase, he had at any time rather build a monument than write a note. But when a month had passed without news of him, he began to be half anxious and half angry, and wrote him three lines, in the care of a Continental banker, begging him at least to give some sign of whether he was alive or dead. A week afterwards came an answer-brief, and dated Baden-Baden. "I know I have been a great brute," Roderick wrote, "not to have sent you a word before; but really I don't know what has got into me. I have lately learned terribly well how to be idle. I am afraid to think how long it is since I wrote to my mother or to Mary. Heaven help them-poor, patient, trustful creatures! I don't know how to tell you what I am doing. It seems all amusing enough while I do it, but it would make a poor show in a narrative intended for your formidable eyes. I found Baxter in Switzerland, or rather he found me, and he grabbed me by the arm and brought me here. I was walking twenty miles a day in the Alps, drinking milk in lonely chalets, sleeping as you sleep, and thinking it was all very good fun; but Baxter told me it would never do, that the Alps were 'd--d rot,' that Baden-Baden was the place, and that if I knew what was good for me I would come along with him. It is a wonderful place, certainly, though, thank the Lord, Baxter departed last week, blaspheming horribly at trente et quarante. But you know all about it and what one does-what one is liable to do. I have succumbed, in a measure, to the liabilities, and I wish I had some one here to give me a thundering good blowing up. Not you, dear friend; you would draw it too mild; you have too much of the milk of human kindness. I have fits of horrible homesickness for my studio, and I shall be devoutly grateful when the summer is over and I can go back and swing a chisel. I feel as if nothing but the chisel would satisfy me; as if I could rush in a rage at a block of unshaped marble. There are a lot of the Roman people here, English and American; I live in the midst of them and talk nonsense from morning till night. There is also some one else; and to her I don't talk sense, nor, thank heaven, mean what I say. I confess, I need a month's work to recover my self-respect."
These lines brought Rowland no small perturbation; the more, that what they seemed to point to surprised him. During the nine months of their companionship Roderick had shown so little taste for dissipation that Rowland had come to think of it as a canceled danger, and it greatly perplexed him to learn that his friend had apparently proved so pliant to opportunity. But Roderick's allusions were ambiguous, and it was possible they might simply mean that he was out of patience with a frivolous way of life and fretting wholesomely over his absent work. It was a very good thing, certainly, that idleness should prove, on experiment, to sit heavily on his conscience. Nevertheless, the letter needed, to Rowland's mind, a key: the key arrived a week later. "In common charity," Roderick wrote, "lend me a hundred pounds! I have gambled away my last franc-I have made a mountain of debts. Send me the money first; lecture me afterwards!" Rowland sent the money by return of mail; then he proceeded, not to lecture, but to think. He hung his head; he was acutely disappointed. He had no right to be, he assured himself; but so it was. Roderick was young, impulsive, unpracticed in stoicism; it was a hundred to one that he was to pay the usual vulgar tribute to folly. But his friend had regarded it as securely gained to his own belief in virtue that he was not as other foolish youths are, and that he would have been capable of looking at folly in the face and passing on his way. Rowland for a while felt a sore sense of wrath. What right had a man who was engaged to that fine girl in Northampton to behave as if his consciousness were a common blank, to be overlaid with coarse sensations? Yes, distinctly, he was disappointed. He had accompanied his missive with an urgent recommendation to leave Baden-Baden immediately, and an offer to meet Roderick at any point he would name. The answer came promptly; it ran as follows: "Send me another fifty pounds! I have been back to the tables. I will leave as soon as the money comes, and meet you at Geneva. There I will tell you everything."
There is an ancient terrace at Geneva, planted with trees and studded with benches, overlooked by gravely aristocratic old dwellings and overlooking the distant Alps. A great many generations have made it a lounging-place, a great many friends and lovers strolled there, a great many confidential talks and momentous interviews gone forward. Here, one morning, sitting on one of the battered green benches, Roderick, as he had promised, told his friend everything. He had arrived late the night before; he looked tired, and yet flushed and excited. He made no professions of penitence, but he practiced an unmitigated frankness, and his self-reprobation might be taken for granted. He implied in every phrase that he had done with it all, and that he was counting the hours till he could get back to work. We shall not rehearse his confession in detail; its main outline will be sufficient. He had fallen in with some very idle people, and had discovered that a little example and a little practice were capable of producing on his own part a considerable relish for their diversions. What could he do? He never read, and he had no studio; in one way or another he had to pass the time. He passed it in dangling about several very pretty women in wonderful Paris toilets, and reflected that it was always something gained for a sculptor to sit under a tree, looking at his leisure into a charming face and saying things that made it smile and play its muscles and part its lips and show its teeth. Attached to these ladies were certain gentlemen who walked about in clouds of perfume, rose at midday, and supped at midnight. Roderick had found himself in the mood for thinking them very amusing fellows. He was surprised at his own taste, but he let it take its course. It led him to the discovery that to live with ladies who expect you to present them with expensive bouquets, to ride with them in the Black Forest on well-looking horses, to come into their opera-boxes on nights when Patti sang and prices were consequent, to propose little light suppers at the Conversation House after the opera or drives by moonlight to the Castle, to be always arrayed and anointed, trinketed and gloved,-that to move in such society, we say, though it might be a privilege, was a privilege with a penalty attached. But the tables made such things easy; half the Baden world lived by the tables. Roderick tried them and found that at first they smoothed his path delightfully. This simplification of matters, however, was only momentary, for he soon perceived that to seem to have money, and to have it in fact, exposed a good-looking young man to peculiar liabilities. At this point of his friend's narrative, Rowland was reminded of Madame de Cruchecassee in The Newcomes, and though he had listened in tranquil silence to the rest of it, he found it hard not to say that all this had been, under the circumstances, a very bad business. Roderick admitted it with bitterness, and then told how much-measured simply financially-it had cost him. His luck had changed; the tables had ceased to back him, and he had found himself up to his knees in debt. Every penny had gone of the solid sum which had seemed a large equivalent of those shining statues in Rome. He had been an ass, but it was not irreparable; he could make another statue in a couple of months.
Rowland frowned. "For heaven's sake," he said, "don't play such dangerous games with your facility. If you have got facility, revere it, respect it, adore it, treasure it-don't speculate on it." And he wondered what his companion, up to his knees in debt, would have done if there had been no good-natured Rowland Mallet to lend a helping hand. But he did not formulate his curiosity audibly, and the contingency seemed not to have presented itself to Roderick's imagination. The young sculptor reverted to his late adventures again in the evening, and this time talked of them more objectively, as the phrase is; more as if they had been the adventures of another person. He related half a dozen droll things that had happened to him, and, as if his responsibility had been disengaged by all this free discussion, he laughed extravagantly at the memory of them. Rowland sat perfectly grave, on principle. Then Roderick began to talk of half a dozen statues that he had in his head, and set forth his design, with his usual vividness. Suddenly, as it was relevant, he declared that his Baden doings had not been altogether fruitless, for that the lady who had reminded Rowland of Madame de Cruchecassee was tremendously statuesque. Rowland at last said that it all might pass if he felt that he was really the wiser for it. "By the wiser," he added, "I mean the stronger in purpose, in will."
"Oh, don't talk about will!" Roderick answered, throwing back his head and looking at the stars. This conversation also took place in the open air, on the little island in the shooting Rhone where Jean-Jacques has a monument. "The will, I believe, is the mystery of mysteries. Who can answer for his will? who can say beforehand that it 's strong? There are all kinds of indefinable currents moving to and fro between one's will and one's inclinations. People talk as if the two things were essentially distinct; on different sides of one's organism, like the heart and the liver. Mine, I know, are much nearer together. It all depends upon circumstances. I believe there is a certain group of circumstances possible for every man, in which his will is destined to snap like a dry twig."
"My dear boy," said Rowland, "don't talk about the will being 'destined.' The will is destiny itself. That 's the way to look at it."
"Look at it, my dear Rowland," Roderick answered, "as you find most comfortable. One conviction I have gathered from my summer's experience," he went on-"it 's as well to look it frankly in the face-is that I possess an almost unlimited susceptibility to the influence of a beautiful woman."
Rowland stared, then strolled away, softly whistling to himself. He was unwilling to admit even to himself that this speech had really the sinister meaning it seemed to have. In a few days the two young men made their way back to Italy, and lingered a while in Florence before going on to Rome. In Florence Roderick seemed to have won back his old innocence and his preference for the pleasures of study over any others. Rowland began to think of the Baden episode as a bad dream, or at the worst as a mere sporadic piece of disorder, without roots in his companion's character. They passed a fortnight looking at pictures and exploring for out the way bits of fresco and carving, and Roderick recovered all his earlier fervor of appreciation and comment. In Rome he went eagerly to work again, and finished in a month two or three small things he had left standing on his departure. He talked the most joyous nonsense about finding himself back in his old quarters. On the first Sunday afternoon following their return, on their going together to Saint Peter's, he delivered himself of a lyrical greeting to the great church and to the city in general, in a tone of voice so irrepressibly elevated that it rang through the nave in rather a scandalous fashion, and almost arrested a procession of canons who were marching across to the choir. He began to model a new statue-a female figure, of which he had said nothing to Rowland. It represented a woman, leaning lazily back in her chair, with her head drooping as if she were listening, a vague smile on her lips, and a pair of remarkably beautiful arms folded in her lap. With rather less softness of contour, it would have resembled the noble statue of Agrippina in the Capitol. Rowland looked at it and was not sure he liked it. "Who is it? what does it mean?" he asked.
"Anything you please!" said Roderick, with a certain petulance. "I call it A Reminiscence."
Rowland then remembered that one of the Baden ladies had been "statuesque," and asked no more questions. This, after all, was a way of profiting by experience. A few days later he took his first ride of the season on the Campagna, and as, on his homeward way, he was passing across the long shadow of a ruined tower, he perceived a small figure at a short distance, bent over a sketch-book. As he drew near, he recognized his friend Singleton. The honest little painter's face was scorched to flame-color by the light of southern suns, and borrowed an even deeper crimson from his gleeful greeting of his most appreciative patron. He was making a careful and charming little sketch. On Rowland's asking him how he had spent his summer, he gave an account of his wanderings which made poor Mallet sigh with a sense of more contrasts than one. He had not been out of Italy, but he had been delving deep into the picturesque heart of the lovely land, and gathering a wonderful store of subjects. He had rambled about among the unvisited villages of the Apennines, pencil in hand and knapsack on back, sleeping on straw and eating black bread and beans, but feasting on local color, rioting, as it were, on chiaroscuro, and laying up a treasure of pictorial observations. He took a devout satisfaction in his hard-earned wisdom and his happy frugality. Rowland went the next day, by appointment, to look at his sketches, and spent a whole morning turning them over. Singleton talked more than he had ever done before, explained them all, and told some quaintly humorous anecdote about the production of each.
"Dear me, how I have chattered!" he said at last. "I am afraid you had rather have looked at the things in peace and quiet. I did n't know I could talk so much. But somehow, I feel very happy; I feel as if I had improved."
"That you have," said Rowland. "I doubt whether an artist ever passed a more profitable three months. You must feel much more sure of yourself."
Singleton looked for a long time with great intentness at a knot in the floor. "Yes," he said at last, in a fluttered tone, "I feel much more sure of myself. I have got more facility!" And he lowered his voice as if he were communicating a secret which it took some courage to impart. "I hardly like to say it, for fear I should after all be mistaken. But since it strikes you, perhaps it 's true. It 's a great happiness; I would not exchange it for a great deal of money."
"Yes, I suppose it 's a great happiness," said Rowland. "I shall really think of you as living here in a state of scandalous bliss. I don't believe it 's good for an artist to be in such brutally high spirits."
Singleton stared for a moment, as if he thought Rowland was in earnest; then suddenly fathoming the kindly jest, he walked about the room, scratching his head and laughing intensely to himself. "And Mr. Hudson?" he said, as Rowland was going; "I hope he is well and happy."
"He is very well," said Rowland. "He is back at work again."
"Ah, there 's a man," cried Singleton, "who has taken his start once for all, and does n't need to stop and ask himself in fear and trembling every month or two whether he is advancing or not. When he stops, it 's to rest! And where did he spend his summer?"
"The greater part of it at Baden-Baden."
"Ah, that 's in the Black Forest," cried Singleton, with profound simplicity. "They say you can make capital studies of trees there."
"No doubt," said Rowland, with a smile, laying an almost paternal hand on the little painter's yellow head. "Unfortunately trees are not Roderick's line. Nevertheless, he tells me that at Baden he made some studies. Come when you can, by the way," he added after a moment, "to his studio, and tell me what you think of something he has lately begun." Singleton declared that he would come delightedly, and Rowland left him to his work.
He met a number of his last winter's friends again, and called upon Madame Grandoni, upon Miss Blanchard, and upon Gloriani, shortly after their return. The ladies gave an excellent account of themselves. Madame Grandoni had been taking sea-baths at Rimini, and Miss Blanchard painting wild flowers in the Tyrol. Her complexion was somewhat browned, which was very becoming, and her flowers were uncommonly pretty. Gloriani had been in Paris and had come away in high good-humor, finding no one there, in the artist-world, cleverer than himself. He came in a few days to Roderick's studio, one afternoon when Rowland was present. He examined the new statue with great deference, said it was very promising, and abstained, considerately, from irritating prophecies. But Rowland fancied he observed certain signs of inward jubilation on the clever sculptor's part, and walked away with him to learn his private opinion.
"Certainly; I liked it as well as I said," Gloriani declared in answer to Rowland's anxious query; "or rather I liked it a great deal better. I did n't say how much, for fear of making your friend angry. But one can leave him alone now, for he 's coming round. I told you he could n't keep up the transcendental style, and he has already broken down. Don't you see it yourself, man?"
"I don't particularly like this new statue," said Rowland.
"That 's because you 're a purist. It 's deuced clever, it 's deuced knowing, it 's deuced pretty, but it is n't the topping high art of three months ago. He has taken his turn sooner than I supposed. What has happened to him? Has he been disappointed in love? But that 's none of my business. I congratulate him on having become a practical man."
Roderick, however, was less to be congratulated than Gloriani had taken it into his head to believe. He was discontented with his work, he applied himself to it by fits and starts, he declared that he did n't know what was coming over him; he was turning into a man of moods. "Is this of necessity what a fellow must come to"-he asked of Rowland, with a sort of peremptory flash in his eye, which seemed to imply that his companion had undertaken to insure him against perplexities and was not fulfilling his contract-"this damnable uncertainty when he goes to bed at night as to whether he is going to wake up in a working humor or in a swearing humor? Have we only a season, over before we know it, in which we can call our faculties our own? Six months ago I could stand up to my work like a man, day after day, and never dream of asking myself whether I felt like it. But now, some mornings, it 's the very devil to get going. My statue looks so bad when I come into the studio that I have twenty minds to smash it on the spot, and I lose three or four hours in sitting there, moping and getting used to it."
Rowland said that he supposed that this sort of thing was the lot of every artist and that the only remedy was plenty of courage and faith. And he reminded him of Gloriani's having forewarned him against these sterile moods the year before.
"Gloriani 's an ass!" said Roderick, almost fiercely. He hired a horse and began to ride with Rowland on the Campagna. This delicious amusement restored him in a measure to cheerfulness, but seemed to Rowland on the whole not to stimulate his industry. Their rides were always very long, and Roderick insisted on making them longer by dismounting in picturesque spots and stretching himself in the sun among a heap of overtangled stones. He let the scorching Roman luminary beat down upon him with an equanimity which Rowland found it hard to emulate. But in this situation Roderick talked so much amusing nonsense that, for the sake of his company, Rowland consented to be uncomfortable, and often forgot that, though in these diversions the days passed quickly, they brought forth neither high art nor low. And yet it was perhaps by their help, after all, that Roderick secured several mornings of ardent work on his new figure, and brought it to rapid completion. One afternoon, when it was finished, Rowland went to look at it, and Roderick asked him for his opinion.
"What do you think yourself?" Rowland demanded, not from pusillanimity, but from real uncertainty.
"I think it is curiously bad," Roderick answered. "It was bad from the first; it has fundamental vices. I have shuffled them in a measure out of sight, but I have not corrected them. I can't-I can't-I can't!" he cried passionately. "They stare me in the face-they are all I see!"
Rowland offered several criticisms of detail, and suggested certain practicable changes. But Roderick differed with him on each of these points; the thing had faults enough, but they were not those faults. Rowland, unruffled, concluded by saying that whatever its faults might be, he had an idea people in general would like it.
"I wish to heaven some person in particular would buy it, and take it off my hands and out of my sight!" Roderick cried. "What am I to do now?" he went on. "I have n't an idea. I think of subjects, but they remain mere lifeless names. They are mere words-they are not images. What am I to do?"
Rowland was a trifle annoyed. "Be a man," he was on the point of saying, "and don't, for heaven's sake, talk in that confoundedly querulous voice." But before he had uttered the words, there rang through the studio a loud, peremptory ring at the outer door.
Roderick broke into a laugh. "Talk of the devil," he said, "and you see his horns! If that 's not a customer, it ought to be."
The door of the studio was promptly flung open, and a lady advanced to the threshold-an imposing, voluminous person, who quite filled up the doorway. Rowland immediately felt that he had seen her before, but he recognized her only when she moved forward and disclosed an attendant in the person of a little bright-eyed, elderly gentleman, with a bristling white moustache. Then he remembered that just a year before he and his companion had seen in the Ludovisi gardens a wonderfully beautiful girl, strolling in the train of this conspicuous couple. He looked for her now, and in a moment she appeared, following her companions with the same nonchalant step as before, and leading her great snow-white poodle, decorated with motley ribbons. The elder lady offered the two young men a sufficiently gracious salute; the little old gentleman bowed and smiled with extreme alertness. The young girl, without casting a glance either at Roderick or at Rowland, looked about for a chair, and, on perceiving one, sank into it listlessly, pulled her poodle towards her, and began to rearrange his top-knot. Rowland saw that, even with her eyes dropped, her beauty was still dazzling.
"I trust we are at liberty to enter," said the elder lady, with majesty. "We were told that Mr. Hudson had no fixed day, and that we might come at any time. Let us not disturb you."
Roderick, as one of the lesser lights of the Roman art-world, had not hitherto been subject to incursions from inquisitive tourists, and, having no regular reception day, was not versed in the usual formulas of welcome. He said nothing, and Rowland, looking at him, saw that he was looking amazedly at the young girl and was apparently unconscious of everything else. "By Jove!" he cried precipitately, "it 's that goddess of the Villa Ludovisi!" Rowland in some confusion, did the honors as he could, but the little old gentleman begged him with the most obsequious of smiles to give himself no trouble. "I have been in many a studio!" he said, with his finger on his nose and a strong Italian accent.
"We are going about everywhere," said his companion. "I am passionately fond of art!"
Rowland smiled sympathetically, and let them turn to Roderick's statue. He glanced again at the young sculptor, to invite him to bestir himself, but Roderick was still gazing wide-eyed at the beautiful young mistress of the poodle, who by this time had looked up and was gazing straight at him. There was nothing bold in her look; it expressed a kind of languid, imperturbable indifference. Her beauty was extraordinary; it grew and grew as the young man observed her. In such a face the maidenly custom of averted eyes and ready blushes would have seemed an anomaly; nature had produced it for man's delight and meant that it should surrender itself freely and coldly to admiration. It was not immediately apparent, however, that the young lady found an answering entertainment in the physiognomy of her host; she turned her head after a moment and looked idly round the room, and at last let her eyes rest on the statue of the woman seated. It being left to Rowland to stimulate conversation, he began by complimenting her on the beauty of her dog.
"Yes, he 's very handsome," she murmured. "He 's a Florentine. The dogs in Florence are handsomer than the people." And on Rowland's caressing him: "His name is Stenterello," she added. "Stenterello, give your hand to the gentleman." This order was given in Italian. "Say buon giorno a lei."
Stenterello thrust out his paw and gave four short, shrill barks; upon which the elder lady turned round and raised her forefinger.
"My dear, my dear, remember where you are! Excuse my foolish child," she added, turning to Roderick with an agreeable smile. "She can think of nothing but her poodle."
"I am teaching him to talk for me," the young girl went on, without heeding her mother; "to say little things in society. It will save me a great deal of trouble. Stenterello, love, give a pretty smile and say tanti complimenti!" The poodle wagged his white pate-it looked like one of those little pads in swan's-down, for applying powder to the face-and repeated the barking process.
"He is a wonderful beast," said Rowland.
"He is not a beast," said the young girl. "A beast is something black and dirty-something you can't touch."
"He is a very valuable dog," the elder lady explained. "He was presented to my daughter by a Florentine nobleman."
"It is not for that I care about him. It is for himself. He is better than the prince."
"My dear, my dear!" repeated the mother in deprecating accents, but with a significant glance at Rowland which seemed to bespeak his attention to the glory of possessing a daughter who could deal in that fashion with the aristocracy.
Rowland remembered that when their unknown visitors had passed before them, a year previous, in the Villa Ludovisi, Roderick and he had exchanged conjectures as to their nationality and social quality. Roderick had declared that they were old-world people; but Rowland now needed no telling to feel that he might claim the elder lady as a fellow-countrywoman. She was a person of what is called a great deal of presence, with the faded traces, artfully revived here and there, of once brilliant beauty. Her daughter had come lawfully by her loveliness, but Rowland mentally made the distinction that the mother was silly and that the daughter was not. The mother had a very silly mouth-a mouth, Rowland suspected, capable of expressing an inordinate degree of unreason. The young girl, in spite of her childish satisfaction in her poodle, was not a person of feeble understanding. Rowland received an impression that, for reasons of her own, she was playing a part. What was the part and what were her reasons? She was interesting; Rowland wondered what were her domestic secrets. If her mother was a daughter of the great Republic, it was to be supposed that the young girl was a flower of the American soil; but her beauty had a robustness and tone uncommon in the somewhat facile loveliness of our western maidenhood. She spoke with a vague foreign accent, as if she had spent her life in strange countries. The little Italian apparently divined Rowland's mute imaginings, for he presently stepped forward, with a bow like a master of ceremonies. "I have not done my duty," he said, "in not announcing these ladies. Mrs. Light, Miss Light!"
Rowland was not materially the wiser for this information, but Roderick was aroused by it to the exercise of some slight hospitality. He altered the light, pulled forward two or three figures, and made an apology for not having more to show. "I don't pretend to have anything of an exhibition-I am only a novice."
"Indeed?-a novice! For a novice this is very well," Mrs. Light declared. "Cavaliere, we have seen nothing better than this."
The Cavaliere smiled rapturously. "It is stupendous!" he murmured. "And we have been to all the studios."
"Not to all-heaven forbid!" cried Mrs. Light. "But to a number that I have had pointed out by artistic friends. I delight in studios: they are the temples of the beautiful here below. And if you are a novice, Mr. Hudson," she went on, "you have already great admirers. Half a dozen people have told us that yours were among the things to see." This gracious speech went unanswered; Roderick had already wandered across to the other side of the studio and was revolving about Miss Light. "Ah, he 's gone to look at my beautiful daughter; he is not the first that has had his head turned," Mrs. Light resumed, lowering her voice to a confidential undertone; a favor which, considering the shortness of their acquaintance, Rowland was bound to appreciate. "The artists are all crazy about her. When she goes into a studio she is fatal to the pictures. And when she goes into a ball-room what do the other women say? Eh, Cavaliere?"
"She is very beautiful," Rowland said, gravely.
Mrs. Light, who through her long, gold-cased glass was looking a little at everything, and at nothing as if she saw it, interrupted her random murmurs and exclamations, and surveyed Rowland from head to foot. She looked at him all over; apparently he had not been mentioned to her as a feature of Roderick's establishment. It was the gaze, Rowland felt, which the vigilant and ambitious mamma of a beautiful daughter has always at her command for well-dressed young men of candid physiognomy. Her inspection in this case seemed satisfactory. "Are you also an artist?" she inquired with an almost caressing inflection. It was clear that what she meant was something of this kind: "Be so good as to assure me without delay that you are really the young man of substance and amiability that you appear."
But Rowland answered simply the formal question-not the latent one. "Dear me, no; I am only a friend of Mr. Hudson."
Mrs. Light, with a sigh, returned to the statues, and after mistaking the Adam for a gladiator, and the Eve for a Pocahontas, declared that she could not judge of such things unless she saw them in the marble. Rowland hesitated a moment, and then speaking in the interest of Roderick's renown, said that he was the happy possessor of several of his friend's works and that she was welcome to come and see them at his rooms. She bade the Cavaliere make a note of his address. "Ah, you 're a patron of the arts," she said. "That 's what I should like to be if I had a little money. I delight in beauty in every form. But all these people ask such monstrous prices. One must be a millionaire, to think of such things, eh? Twenty years ago my husband had my portrait painted, here in Rome, by Papucci, who was the great man in those days. I was in a ball dress, with all my jewels, my neck and arms, and all that. The man got six hundred francs, and thought he was very well treated. Those were the days when a family could live like princes in Italy for five thousand scudi a year. The Cavaliere once upon a time was a great dandy-don't blush, Cavaliere; any one can see that, just as any one can see that I was once a pretty woman! Get him to tell you what he made a figure upon. The railroads have brought in the vulgarians. That 's what I call it now-the invasion of the vulgarians! What are poor we to do?"
Rowland had begun to murmur some remedial proposition, when he was interrupted by the voice of Miss Light calling across the room, "Mamma!"
"My own love?"
"This gentleman wishes to model my bust. Please speak to him."
The Cavaliere gave a little chuckle. "Already?" he cried.
Rowland looked round, equally surprised at the promptitude of the proposal. Roderick stood planted before the young girl with his arms folded, looking at her as he would have done at the Medicean Venus. He never paid compliments, and Rowland, though he had not heard him speak, could imagine the startling distinctness with which he made his request.
"He saw me a year ago," the young girl went on, "and he has been thinking of me ever since." Her tone, in speaking, was peculiar; it had a kind of studied inexpressiveness, which was yet not the vulgar device of a drawl.
"I must make your daughter's bust-that 's all, madame!" cried Roderick, with warmth.
"I had rather you made the poodle's," said the young girl. "Is it very tiresome? I have spent half my life sitting for my photograph, in every conceivable attitude and with every conceivable coiffure. I think I have posed enough."
"My dear child," said Mrs. Light, "it may be one's duty to pose. But as to my daughter's sitting to you, sir-to a young sculptor whom we don't know-it is a matter that needs reflection. It is not a favor that 's to be had for the mere asking."
"If I don't make her from life," said Roderick, with energy, "I will make her from memory, and if the thing 's to be done, you had better have it done as well as possible."
"Mamma hesitates," said Miss Light, "because she does n't know whether you mean she shall pay you for the bust. I can assure you that she will not pay you a sou."
"My darling, you forget yourself," said Mrs. Light, with an attempt at majestic severity. "Of course," she added, in a moment, with a change of note, "the bust would be my own property."
"Of course!" cried Roderick, impatiently.
"Dearest mother," interposed the young girl, "how can you carry a marble bust about the world with you? Is it not enough to drag the poor original?"
"My dear, you 're nonsensical!" cried Mrs. Light, almost angrily.
"You can always sell it," said the young girl, with the same artful artlessness.
Mrs. Light turned to Rowland, who pitied her, flushed and irritated. "She is very wicked to-day!"
The Cavaliere grinned in silence and walked away on tiptoe, with his hat to his lips, as if to leave the field clear for action. Rowland, on the contrary, wished to avert the coming storm. "You had better not refuse," he said to Miss Light, "until you have seen Mr. Hudson's things in the marble. Your mother is to come and look at some that I possess."
"Thank you; I have no doubt you will see us. I dare say Mr. Hudson is very clever; but I don't care for modern sculpture. I can't look at it!"
"You shall care for my bust, I promise you!" cried Roderick, with a laugh.
"To satisfy Miss Light," said the Cavaliere, "one of the old Greeks ought to come to life."
"It would be worth his while," said Roderick, paying, to Rowland's knowledge, his first compliment.
"I might sit to Phidias, if he would promise to be very amusing and make me laugh. What do you say, Stenterello? would you sit to Phidias?"
"We must talk of this some other time," said Mrs. Light. "We are in Rome for the winter. Many thanks. Cavaliere, call the carriage." The Cavaliere led the way out, backing like a silver-stick, and Miss Light, following her mother, nodded, without looking at them, to each of the young men.
"Immortal powers, what a head!" cried Roderick, when they had gone. "There 's my fortune!"
"She is certainly very beautiful," said Rowland. "But I 'm sorry you have undertaken her bust."
"And why, pray?"
"I suspect it will bring trouble with it."
"What kind of trouble?"
"I hardly know. They are queer people. The mamma, I suspect, is the least bit of an adventuress. Heaven knows what the daughter is."
"She 's a goddess!" cried Roderick.
"Just so. She is all the more dangerous."
"Dangerous? What will she do to me? She does n't bite, I imagine."
"It remains to be seen. There are two kinds of women-you ought to know it by this time-the safe and the unsafe. Miss Light, if I am not mistaken, is one of the unsafe. A word to the wise!"
"Much obliged!" said Roderick, and he began to whistle a triumphant air, in honor, apparently, of the advent of his beautiful model.
In calling this young lady and her mamma "queer people," Rowland but roughly expressed his sentiment. They were so marked a variation from the monotonous troop of his fellow-country people that he felt much curiosity as to the sources of the change, especially since he doubted greatly whether, on the whole, it elevated the type. For a week he saw the two ladies driving daily in a well-appointed landau, with the Cavaliere and the poodle in the front seat. From Mrs. Light he received a gracious salute, tempered by her native majesty; but the young girl, looking straight before her, seemed profoundly indifferent to observers. Her extraordinary beauty, however, had already made observers numerous and given the habitues of the Pincian plenty to talk about. The echoes of their commentary reached Rowland's ears; but he had little taste for random gossip, and desired a distinctly veracious informant. He had found one in the person of Madame Grandoni, for whom Mrs. Light and her beautiful daughter were a pair of old friends.
"I have known the mamma for twenty years," said this judicious critic, "and if you ask any of the people who have been living here as long as I, you will find they remember her well. I have held the beautiful Christina on my knee when she was a little wizened baby with a very red face and no promise of beauty but those magnificent eyes. Ten years ago Mrs. Light disappeared, and has not since been seen in Rome, except for a few days last winter, when she passed through on her way to Naples. Then it was you met the trio in the Ludovisi gardens. When I first knew her she was the unmarried but very marriageable daughter of an old American painter of very bad landscapes, which people used to buy from charity and use for fire-boards. His name was Savage; it used to make every one laugh, he was such a mild, melancholy, pitiful old gentleman. He had married a horrible wife, an Englishwoman who had been on the stage. It was said she used to beat poor Savage with his mahl-stick and when the domestic finances were low to lock him up in his studio and tell him he should n't come out until he had painted half a dozen of his daubs. She had a good deal of showy beauty. She would then go forth, and, her beauty helping, she would make certain people take the pictures. It helped her at last to make an English lord run away with her. At the time I speak of she had quite disappeared. Mrs. Light was then a very handsome girl, though by no means so handsome as her daughter has now become. Mr. Light was an American consul, newly appointed at one of the Adriatic ports. He was a mild, fair-whiskered young man, with some little property, and my impression is that he had got into bad company at home, and that his family procured him his place to keep him out of harm's way. He came up to Rome on a holiday, fell in love with Miss Savage, and married her on the spot. He had not been married three years when he was drowned in the Adriatic, no one ever knew how. The young widow came back to Rome, to her father, and here shortly afterwards, in the shadow of Saint Peter's, her little girl was born. It might have been supposed that Mrs. Light would marry again, and I know she had opportunities. But she overreached herself. She would take nothing less than a title and a fortune, and they were not forthcoming. She was admired and very fond of admiration; very vain, very worldly, very silly. She remained a pretty widow, with a surprising variety of bonnets and a dozen men always in her train. Giacosa dates from this period. He calls himself a Roman, but I have an impression he came up from Ancona with her. He was l'ami de la maison. He used to hold her bouquets, clean her gloves (I was told), run her errands, get her opera-boxes, and fight her battles with the shopkeepers. For this he needed courage, for she was smothered in debt. She at last left Rome to escape her creditors. Many of them must remember her still, but she seems now to have money to satisfy them. She left her poor old father here alone-helpless, infirm and unable to work. A subscription was shortly afterwards taken up among the foreigners, and he was sent back to America, where, as I afterwards heard, he died in some sort of asylum. From time to time, for several years, I heard vaguely of Mrs. Light as a wandering beauty at French and German watering-places. Once came a rumor that she was going to make a grand marriage in England; then we heard that the gentleman had thought better of it and left her to keep afloat as she could. She was a terribly scatter-brained creature. She pretends to be a great lady, but I consider that old Filomena, my washer-woman, is in essentials a greater one. But certainly, after all, she has been fortunate. She embarked at last on a lawsuit about some property, with her husband's family, and went to America to attend to it. She came back triumphant, with a long purse. She reappeared in Italy, and established herself for a while in Venice. Then she came to Florence, where she spent a couple of years and where I saw her. Last year she passed down to Naples, which I should have said was just the place for her, and this winter she has laid siege to Rome. She seems very prosperous. She has taken a floor in the Palazzo F--, she keeps her carriage, and Christina and she, between them, must have a pretty milliner's bill. Giacosa has turned up again, looking as if he had been kept on ice at Ancona, for her return."
"What sort of education," Rowland asked, "do you imagine the mother's adventures to have been for the daughter?"
"A strange school! But Mrs. Light told me, in Florence, that she had given her child the education of a princess. In other words, I suppose, she speaks three or four languages, and has read several hundred French novels. Christina, I suspect, is very clever. When I saw her, I was amazed at her beauty, and, certainly, if there is any truth in faces, she ought to have the soul of an angel. Perhaps she has. I don't judge her; she 's an extraordinary young person. She has been told twenty times a day by her mother, since she was five years old, that she is a beauty of beauties, that her face is her fortune, and that, if she plays her cards, she may marry a duke. If she has not been fatally corrupted, she is a very superior girl. My own impression is that she is a mixture of good and bad, of ambition and indifference. Mrs. Light, having failed to make her own fortune in matrimony, has transferred her hopes to her daughter, and nursed them till they have become a kind of monomania. She has a hobby, which she rides in secret; but some day she will let you see it. I 'm sure that if you go in some evening unannounced, you will find her scanning the tea-leaves in her cup, or telling her daughter's fortune with a greasy pack of cards, preserved for the purpose. She promises her a prince-a reigning prince. But if Mrs. Light is silly, she is shrewd, too, and, lest considerations of state should deny her prince the luxury of a love-match, she keeps on hand a few common mortals. At the worst she would take a duke, an English lord, or even a young American with a proper number of millions. The poor woman must be rather uncomfortable. She is always building castles and knocking them down again-always casting her nets and pulling them in. If her daughter were less of a beauty, her transparent ambition would be very ridiculous; but there is something in the girl, as one looks at her, that seems to make it very possible she is marked out for one of those wonderful romantic fortunes that history now and then relates. 'Who, after all, was the Empress of the French?' Mrs. Light is forever saying. 'And beside Christina the Empress is a dowdy!'"
"And what does Christina say?"
"She makes no scruple, as you know, of saying that her mother is a fool. What she thinks, heaven knows. I suspect that, practically, she does not commit herself. She is excessively proud, and thinks herself good enough to occupy the highest station in the world; but she knows that her mother talks nonsense, and that even a beautiful girl may look awkward in making unsuccessful advances. So she remains superbly indifferent, and lets her mother take the risks. If the prince is secured, so much the better; if he is not, she need never confess to herself that even a prince has slighted her."
"Your report is as solid," Rowland said to Madame Grandoni, thanking her, "as if it had been prepared for the Academy of Sciences;" and he congratulated himself on having listened to it when, a couple of days later, Mrs. Light and her daughter, attended by the Cavaliere and the poodle, came to his rooms to look at Roderick's statues. It was more comfortable to know just with whom he was dealing.
Mrs. Light was prodigiously gracious, and showered down compliments not only on the statues, but on all his possessions. "Upon my word," she said, "you men know how to make yourselves comfortable. If one of us poor women had half as many easy-chairs and knick-knacks, we should be famously abused. It 's really selfish to be living all alone in such a place as this. Cavaliere, how should you like this suite of rooms and a fortune to fill them with pictures and statues? Christina, love, look at that mosaic table. Mr. Mallet, I could almost beg it from you. Yes, that Eve is certainly very fine. We need n't be ashamed of such a great-grandmother as that. If she was really such a beautiful woman, it accounts for the good looks of some of us. Where is Mr. What 's-his-name, the young sculptor? Why is n't he here to be complimented?"
Christina had remained but for a moment in the chair which Rowland had placed for her, had given but a cursory glance at the statues, and then, leaving her place, had begun to wander round the room-looking at herself in the mirror, touching the ornaments and curiosities, glancing at the books and prints. Rowland's sitting-room was encumbered with bric-a-brac, and she found plenty of occupation. Rowland presently joined her, and pointed out some of the objects he most valued.
"It 's an odd jumble," she said frankly. "Some things are very pretty-some are very ugly. But I like ugly things, when they have a certain look. Prettiness is terribly vulgar nowadays, and it is not every one that knows just the sort of ugliness that has chic. But chic is getting dreadfully common too. There 's a hint of it even in Madame Baldi's bonnets. I like looking at people's things," she added in a moment, turning to Rowland and resting her eyes on him. "It helps you to find out their characters."
"Am I to suppose," asked Rowland, smiling, "that you have arrived at any conclusions as to mine?"
"I am rather muddled; you have too many things; one seems to contradict another. You are very artistic and yet you are very prosaic; you have what is called a 'catholic' taste and yet you are full of obstinate little prejudices and habits of thought, which, if I knew you, I should find very tiresome. I don't think I like you."
"You make a great mistake," laughed Rowland; "I assure you I am very amiable."
"Yes, I am probably wrong, and if I knew you, I should find out I was wrong, and that would irritate me and make me dislike you more. So you see we are necessary enemies."
"No, I don't dislike you."
"Worse and worse; for you certainly will not like me."
"You are very discouraging."
"I am fond of facing the truth, though some day you will deny that. Where is that queer friend of yours?"
"You mean Mr. Hudson. He is represented by these beautiful works."
Miss Light looked for some moments at Roderick's statues. "Yes," she said, "they are not so silly as most of the things we have seen. They have no chic, and yet they are beautiful."
"You describe them perfectly," said Rowland. "They are beautiful, and yet they have no chic. That 's it!"
"If he will promise to put none into my bust, I have a mind to let him make it. A request made in those terms deserves to be granted."
"In what terms?"
"Did n't you hear him? 'Mademoiselle, you almost satisfy my conception of the beautiful. I must model your bust.' That almost should be rewarded. He is like me; he likes to face the truth. I think we should get on together."
The Cavaliere approached Rowland, to express the pleasure he had derived from his beautiful "collection." His smile was exquisitely bland, his accent appealing, caressing, insinuating. But he gave Rowland an odd sense of looking at a little waxen image, adjusted to perform certain gestures and emit certain sounds. It had once contained a soul, but the soul had leaked out. Nevertheless, Rowland reflected, there are more profitless things than mere sound and gesture, in a consummate Italian. And the Cavaliere, too, had soul enough left to desire to speak a few words on his own account, and call Rowland's attention to the fact that he was not, after all, a hired cicerone, but an ancient Roman gentleman. Rowland felt sorry for him; he hardly knew why. He assured him in a friendly fashion that he must come again; that his house was always at his service. The Cavaliere bowed down to the ground. "You do me too much honor," he murmured. "If you will allow me-it is not impossible!"
Mrs. Light, meanwhile, had prepared to depart. "If you are not afraid to come and see two quiet little women, we shall be most happy!" she said. "We have no statues nor pictures-we have nothing but each other. Eh, darling?"
"I beg your pardon," said Christina.
"Oh, and the Cavaliere," added her mother.
"The poodle, please!" cried the young girl.
Rowland glanced at the Cavaliere; he was smiling more blandly than ever.
A few days later Rowland presented himself, as civility demanded, at Mrs. Light's door. He found her living in one of the stately houses of the Via dell' Angelo Custode, and, rather to his surprise, was told she was at home. He passed through half a dozen rooms and was ushered into an immense saloon, at one end of which sat the mistress of the establishment, with a piece of embroidery. She received him very graciously, and then, pointing mysteriously to a large screen which was unfolded across the embrasure of one of the deep windows, "I am keeping guard!" she said. Rowland looked interrogative; whereupon she beckoned him forward and motioned him to look behind the screen. He obeyed, and for some moments stood gazing. Roderick, with his back turned, stood before an extemporized pedestal, ardently shaping a formless mass of clay. Before him sat Christina Light, in a white dress, with her shoulders bare, her magnificent hair twisted into a classic coil, and her head admirably poised. Meeting Rowland's gaze, she smiled a little, only with her deep gray eyes, without moving. She looked divinely beautiful.
CHAPTER V. Christina
The brilliant Roman winter came round again, and Rowland enjoyed it, in a certain way, more deeply than before. He grew at last to feel that sense of equal possession, of intellectual nearness, which it belongs to the peculiar magic of the ancient city to infuse into minds of a cast that she never would have produced. He became passionately, unreasoningly fond of all Roman sights and sensations, and to breathe the Roman atmosphere began to seem a needful condition of being. He could not have defined and explained the nature of his great love, nor have made up the sum of it by the addition of his calculable pleasures. It was a large, vague, idle, half-profitless emotion, of which perhaps the most pertinent thing that may be said is that it enforced a sort of oppressive reconciliation to the present, the actual, the sensuous-to life on the terms that there offered themselves. It was perhaps for this very reason that, in spite of the charm which Rome flings over one's mood, there ran through Rowland's meditations an undertone of melancholy, natural enough in a mind which finds its horizon insidiously limited to the finite, even in very picturesque forms. Whether it is one that tacitly concedes to the Roman Church the monopoly of a guarantee of immortality, so that if one is indisposed to bargain with her for the precious gift, one must do without it altogether; or whether in an atmosphere so heavily weighted with echoes and memories one grows to believe that there is nothing in one's consciousness that is not foredoomed to moulder and crumble and become dust for the feet, and possible malaria for the lungs, of future generations-the fact at least remains that one parts half-willingly with one's hopes in Rome, and misses them only under some very exceptional stress of circumstance. For this reason one may perhaps say that there is no other place in which one's daily temper has such a mellow serenity, and none, at the same time, in which acute attacks of depression are more intolerable. Rowland found, in fact, a perfect response to his prevision that to live in Rome was an education to one's senses and one's imagination, but he sometimes wondered whether this was not a questionable gain in case of one's not being prepared to live wholly by one's imagination and one's senses. The tranquil profundity of his daily satisfaction seemed sometimes to turn, by a mysterious inward impulse, and face itself with questioning, admonishing, threatening eyes. "But afterwards...?" it seemed to ask, with a long reverberation; and he could give no answer but a shy affirmation that there was no such thing as afterwards, and a hope, divided against itself, that his actual way of life would last forever. He often felt heavy-hearted; he was sombre without knowing why; there were no visible clouds in his heaven, but there were cloud-shadows on his mood. Shadows projected, they often were, without his knowing it, by an undue apprehension that things after all might not go so ideally well with Roderick. When he understood his anxiety it vexed him, and he rebuked himself for taking things unmanfully hard. If Roderick chose to follow a crooked path, it was no fault of his; he had given him, he would continue to give him, all that he had offered him-friendship, sympathy, advice. He had not undertaken to provide him with unflagging strength of purpose, nor to stand bondsman for unqualified success.
If Rowland felt his roots striking and spreading in the Roman soil, Roderick also surrendered himself with renewed abandon to the local influence. More than once he declared to his companion that he meant to live and die within the shadow of Saint Peter's, and that he cared little if he never again drew breath in American air. "For a man of my temperament, Rome is the only possible place," he said; "it 's better to recognize the fact early than late. So I shall never go home unless I am absolutely forced."
"What is your idea of 'force'?" asked Rowland, smiling. "It seems to me you have an excellent reason for going home some day or other."
"Ah, you mean my engagement?" Roderick answered with unaverted eyes. "Yes, I am distinctly engaged, in Northampton, and impatiently waited for!" And he gave a little sympathetic sigh. "To reconcile Northampton and Rome is rather a problem. Mary had better come out here. Even at the worst I have no intention of giving up Rome within six or eight years, and an engagement of that duration would be rather absurd."
"Miss Garland could hardly leave your mother," Rowland observed.
"Oh, of course my mother should come. I think I will suggest it in my next letter. It will take her a year or two to make up her mind to it, but if she consents it will brighten her up. It 's too small a life, over there, even for a timid old lady. It is hard to imagine," he added, "any change in Mary being a change for the better; but I should like her to take a look at the world and have her notions stretched a little. One is never so good, I suppose, but that one can improve a little."
"If you wish your mother and Miss Garland to come," Rowland suggested, "you had better go home and bring them."
"Oh, I can't think of leaving Europe, for many a day," Roderick answered. "At present it would quite break the charm. I am just beginning to profit, to get used to things and take them naturally. I am sure the sight of Northampton Main Street would permanently upset me."
It was reassuring to hear that Roderick, in his own view, was but "just beginning" to spread his wings, and Rowland, if he had had any forebodings, might have suffered them to be modified by this declaration. This was the first time since their meeting at Geneva that Roderick had mentioned Miss Garland's name, but the ice being broken, he indulged for some time afterward in frequent allusions to his betrothed, which always had an accent of scrupulous, of almost studied, consideration. An uninitiated observer, hearing him, would have imagined her to be a person of a certain age-possibly an affectionate maiden aunt-who had once done him a kindness which he highly appreciated: perhaps presented him with a check for a thousand dollars. Rowland noted the difference between his present frankness and his reticence during the first six months of his engagement, and sometimes wondered whether it was not rather an anomaly that he should expatiate more largely as the happy event receded. He had wondered over the whole matter, first and last, in a great many different ways, and looked at it in all possible lights. There was something terribly hard to explain in the fact of his having fallen in love with his cousin. She was not, as Rowland conceived her, the sort of girl he would have been likely to fancy, and the operation of sentiment, in all cases so mysterious, was particularly so in this one. Just why it was that Roderick should not logically have fancied Miss Garland, his companion would have been at loss to say, but I think the conviction had its roots in an unformulated comparison between himself and the accepted suitor. Roderick and he were as different as two men could be, and yet Roderick had taken it into his head to fall in love with a woman for whom he himself had been keeping in reserve, for years, a profoundly characteristic passion. That if he chose to conceive a great notion of the merits of Roderick's mistress, the irregularity here was hardly Roderick's, was a view of the case to which poor Rowland did scanty justice. There were women, he said to himself, whom it was every one's business to fall in love with a little-women beautiful, brilliant, artful, easily fascinating. Miss Light, for instance, was one of these; every man who spoke to her did so, if not in the language, at least with something of the agitation, the divine tremor, of a lover. There were other women-they might have great beauty, they might have small; perhaps they were generally to be classified as plain-whose triumphs in this line were rare, but immutably permanent. Such a one preeminently, was Mary Garland. Upon the doctrine of probabilities, it was unlikely that she had had an equal charm for each of them, and was it not possible, therefore, that the charm for Roderick had been simply the charm imagined, unquestioningly accepted: the general charm of youth, sympathy, kindness-of the present feminine, in short-enhanced indeed by several fine facial traits? The charm in this case for Rowland was-the charm!-the mysterious, individual, essential woman. There was an element in the charm, as his companion saw it, which Rowland was obliged to recognize, but which he forbore to ponder; the rather important attraction, namely, of reciprocity. As to Miss Garland being in love with Roderick and becoming charming thereby, this was a point with which his imagination ventured to take no liberties; partly because it would have been indelicate, and partly because it would have been vain. He contented himself with feeling that the young girl was still as vivid an image in his memory as she had been five days after he left her, and with drifting nearer and nearer to the impression that at just that crisis any other girl would have answered Roderick's sentimental needs as well. Any other girl indeed would do so still! Roderick had confessed as much to him at Geneva, in saying that he had been taking at Baden the measure of his susceptibility to female beauty.
His extraordinary success in modeling the bust of the beautiful Miss Light was pertinent evidence of this amiable quality. She sat to him, repeatedly, for a fortnight, and the work was rapidly finished. On one of the last days Roderick asked Rowland to come and give his opinion as to what was still wanting; for the sittings had continued to take place in Mrs. Light's apartment, the studio being pronounced too damp for the fair model. When Rowland presented himself, Christina, still in her white dress, with her shoulders bare, was standing before a mirror, readjusting her hair, the arrangement of which, on this occasion, had apparently not met the young sculptor's approval. He stood beside her, directing the operation with a peremptoriness of tone which seemed to Rowland to denote a considerable advance in intimacy. As Rowland entered, Christina was losing patience. "Do it yourself, then!" she cried, and with a rapid movement unloosed the great coil of her tresses and let them fall over her shoulders.
They were magnificent, and with her perfect face dividing their rippling flow she looked like some immaculate saint of legend being led to martyrdom. Rowland's eyes presumably betrayed his admiration, but her own manifested no consciousness of it. If Christina was a coquette, as the remarkable timeliness of this incident might have suggested, she was not a superficial one.
"Hudson 's a sculptor," said Rowland, with warmth. "But if I were only a painter!"
"Thank Heaven you are not!" said Christina. "I am having quite enough of this minute inspection of my charms."
"My dear young man, hands off!" cried Mrs. Light, coming forward and seizing her daughter's hair. "Christina, love, I am surprised."
"Is it indelicate?" Christina asked. "I beg Mr. Mallet's pardon." Mrs. Light gathered up the dusky locks and let them fall through her fingers, glancing at her visitor with a significant smile. Rowland had never been in the East, but if he had attempted to make a sketch of an old slave-merchant, calling attention to the "points" of a Circassian beauty, he would have depicted such a smile as Mrs. Light's. "Mamma 's not really shocked," added Christina in a moment, as if she had guessed her mother's by-play. "She is only afraid that Mr. Hudson might have injured my hair, and that, per consequenza, I should sell for less."
"You unnatural child!" cried mamma. "You deserve that I should make a fright of you!" And with half a dozen skillful passes she twisted the tresses into a single picturesque braid, placed high on the head, as a kind of coronal.
"What does your mother do when she wants to do you justice?" Rowland asked, observing the admirable line of the young girl's neck.
"I do her justice when I say she says very improper things. What is one to do with such a thorn in the flesh?" Mrs. Light demanded.
"Think of it at your leisure, Mr. Mallet," said Christina, "and when you 've discovered something, let us hear. But I must tell you that I shall not willingly believe in any remedy of yours, for you have something in your physiognomy that particularly provokes me to make the remarks that my mother so sincerely deplores. I noticed it the first time I saw you. I think it 's because your face is so broad. For some reason or other, broad faces exasperate me; they fill me with a kind of rabbia. Last summer, at Carlsbad, there was an Austrian count, with enormous estates and some great office at court. He was very attentive-seriously so; he was really very far gone. Cela ne tenait qu' a moi! But I could n't; he was impossible! He must have measured, from ear to ear, at least a yard and a half. And he was blond, too, which made it worse-as blond as Stenterello; pure fleece! So I said to him frankly, 'Many thanks, Herr Graf; your uniform is magnificent, but your face is too fat.'"
"I am afraid that mine also," said Rowland, with a smile, "seems just now to have assumed an unpardonable latitude."
"Oh, I take it you know very well that we are looking for a husband, and that none but tremendous swells need apply. Surely, before these gentlemen, mamma, I may speak freely; they are disinterested. Mr. Mallet won't do, because, though he 's rich, he 's not rich enough. Mamma made that discovery the day after we went to see you, moved to it by the promising look of your furniture. I hope she was right, eh? Unless you have millions, you know, you have no chance."
"I feel like a beggar," said Rowland.
"Oh, some better girl than I will decide some day, after mature reflection, that on the whole you have enough. Mr. Hudson, of course, is nowhere; he has nothing but his genius and his beaux yeux."
Roderick had stood looking at Christina intently while she delivered herself, softly and slowly, of this surprising nonsense. When she had finished, she turned and looked at him; their eyes met, and he blushed a little. "Let me model you, and he who can may marry you!" he said, abruptly.
Mrs. Light, while her daughter talked, had been adding a few touches to her coiffure. "She is not so silly as you might suppose," she said to Rowland, with dignity. "If you will give me your arm, we will go and look at the bust."
"Does that represent a silly girl?" Christina demanded, when they stood before it.
Rowland transferred his glance several times from the portrait to the original. "It represents a young lady," he said, "whom I should not pretend to judge off-hand."
"She may be a fool, but you are not sure. Many thanks! You have seen me half a dozen times. You are either very slow or I am very deep."
"I am certainly slow," said Rowland. "I don't expect to make up my mind about you within six months."
"I give you six months if you will promise then a perfectly frank opinion. Mind, I shall not forget; I shall insist upon it."
"Well, though I am slow, I am tolerably brave," said Rowland. "We shall see."
Christina looked at the bust with a sigh. "I am afraid, after all," she said, "that there 's very little wisdom in it save what the artist has put there. Mr. Hudson looked particularly wise while he was working; he scowled and growled, but he never opened his mouth. It is very kind of him not to have represented me gaping."
"If I had talked a lot of stuff to you," said Roderick, roundly, "the thing would not have been a tenth so good."
"Is it good, after all? Mr. Mallet is a famous connoisseur; has he not come here to pronounce?"
The bust was in fact a very happy performance, and Roderick had risen to the level of his subject. It was thoroughly a portrait, and not a vague fantasy executed on a graceful theme, as the busts of pretty women, in modern sculpture, are apt to be. The resemblance was deep and vivid; there was extreme fidelity of detail and yet a noble simplicity. One could say of the head that, without idealization, it was a representation of ideal beauty. Rowland, however, as we know, was not fond of exploding into superlatives, and, after examining the piece, contented himself with suggesting two or three alterations of detail.
"Nay, how can you be so cruel?" demanded Mrs. Light, with soft reproachfulness. "It is surely a wonderful thing!"
"Rowland knows it 's a wonderful thing," said Roderick, smiling. "I can tell that by his face. The other day I finished something he thought bad, and he looked very differently from this."
"How did Mr. Mallet look?" asked Christina.
"My dear Rowland," said Roderick, "I am speaking of my seated woman. You looked as if you had on a pair of tight boots."
"Ah, my child, you 'll not understand that!" cried Mrs. Light. "You never yet had a pair that were small enough."
"It 's a pity, Mr. Hudson," said Christina, gravely, "that you could not have introduced my feet into the bust. But we can hang a pair of slippers round the neck!"
"I nevertheless like your statues, Roderick," Rowland rejoined, "better than your jokes. This is admirable. Miss Light, you may be proud!"
"Thank you, Mr. Mallet, for the permission," rejoined the young girl.
"I am dying to see it in the marble, with a red velvet screen behind it," said Mrs. Light.
"Placed there under the Sassoferrato!" Christina went on. "I hope you keep well in mind, Mr. Hudson, that you have not a grain of property in your work, and that if mamma chooses, she may have it photographed and the copies sold in the Piazza di Spagna, at five francs apiece, without your having a sou of the profits."
"Amen!" said Roderick. "It was so nominated in the bond. My profits are here!" and he tapped his forehead.
"It would be prettier if you said here!" And Christina touched her heart.
"My precious child, how you do run on!" murmured Mrs. Light.
"It is Mr. Mallet," the young girl answered. "I can't talk a word of sense so long as he is in the room. I don't say that to make you go," she added, "I say it simply to justify myself."
Rowland bowed in silence. Roderick declared that he must get at work and requested Christina to take her usual position, and Mrs. Light proposed to her visitor that they should adjourn to her boudoir. This was a small room, hardly more spacious than an alcove, opening out of the drawing-room and having no other issue. Here, as they entered, on a divan near the door, Rowland perceived the Cavaliere Giacosa, with his arms folded, his head dropped upon his breast, and his eyes closed.
"Sleeping at his post!" said Rowland with a kindly laugh.
"That 's a punishable offense," rejoined Mrs. Light, sharply. She was on the point of calling him, in the same tone, when he suddenly opened his eyes, stared a moment, and then rose with a smile and a bow.
"Excuse me, dear lady," he said, "I was overcome by the-the great heat."
"Nonsense, Cavaliere!" cried the lady, "you know we are perishing here with the cold! You had better go and cool yourself in one of the other rooms."
"I obey, dear lady," said the Cavaliere; and with another smile and bow to Rowland he departed, walking very discreetly on his toes. Rowland out-stayed him but a short time, for he was not fond of Mrs. Light, and he found nothing very inspiring in her frank intimation that if he chose, he might become a favorite. He was disgusted with himself for pleasing her; he confounded his fatal urbanity. In the court-yard of the palace he overtook the Cavaliere, who had stopped at the porter's lodge to say a word to his little girl. She was a young lady of very tender years and she wore a very dirty pinafore. He had taken her up in his arms and was singing an infantine rhyme to her, and she was staring at him with big, soft Roman eyes. On seeing Rowland he put her down with a kiss, and stepped forward with a conscious grin, an unresentful admission that he was sensitive both to chubbiness and ridicule. Rowland began to pity him again; he had taken his dismissal from the drawing-room so meekly.
"You don't keep your promise," said Rowland, "to come and see me. Don't forget it. I want you to tell me about Rome thirty years ago."
"Thirty years ago? Ah, dear sir, Rome is Rome still; a place where strange things happen! But happy things too, since I have your renewed permission to call. You do me too much honor. Is it in the morning or in the evening that I should least intrude?"
"Take your own time, Cavaliere; only come, sometime. I depend upon you," said Rowland.
The Cavaliere thanked him with an humble obeisance. To the Cavaliere, too, he felt that he was, in Roman phrase, sympathetic, but the idea of pleasing this extremely reduced gentleman was not disagreeable to him.
Miss Light's bust stood for a while on exhibition in Roderick's studio, and half the foreign colony came to see it. With the completion of his work, however, Roderick's visits at the Palazzo F-- by no means came to an end. He spent half his time in Mrs. Light's drawing-room, and began to be talked about as "attentive" to Christina. The success of the bust restored his equanimity, and in the garrulity of his good-humor he suffered Rowland to see that she was just now the object uppermost in his thoughts. Rowland, when they talked of her, was rather listener than speaker; partly because Roderick's own tone was so resonant and exultant, and partly because, when his companion laughed at him for having called her unsafe, he was too perplexed to defend himself. The impression remained that she was unsafe; that she was a complex, willful, passionate creature, who might easily engulf a too confiding spirit in the eddies of her capricious temper. And yet he strongly felt her charm; the eddies had a strange fascination! Roderick, in the glow of that renewed admiration provoked by the fixed attention of portrayal, was never weary of descanting on the extraordinary perfection of her beauty.
"I had no idea of it," he said, "till I began to look at her with an eye to reproducing line for line and curve for curve. Her face is the most exquisite piece of modeling that ever came from creative hands. Not a line without meaning, not a hair's breadth that is not admirably finished. And then her mouth! It 's as if a pair of lips had been shaped to utter pure truth without doing it dishonor!" Later, after he had been working for a week, he declared if Miss Light were inordinately plain, she would still be the most fascinating of women. "I 've quite forgotten her beauty," he said, "or rather I have ceased to perceive it as something distinct and defined, something independent of the rest of her. She is all one, and all consummately interesting!"
"What does she do-what does she say, that is so remarkable?" Rowland had asked.
"Say? Sometimes nothing-sometimes everything. She is never the same. Sometimes she walks in and takes her place without a word, without a smile, gravely, stiffly, as if it were an awful bore. She hardly looks at me, and she walks away without even glancing at my work. On other days she laughs and chatters and asks endless questions, and pours out the most irresistible nonsense. She is a creature of moods; you can't count upon her; she keeps observation on the stretch. And then, bless you, she has seen such a lot! Her talk is full of the oddest allusions!"
"It is altogether a very singular type of young lady," said Rowland, after the visit which I have related at length. "It may be a charm, but it is certainly not the orthodox charm of marriageable maidenhood, the charm of shrinking innocence and soft docility. Our American girls are accused of being more knowing than any others, and Miss Light is nominally an American. But it has taken twenty years of Europe to make her what she is. The first time we saw her, I remember you called her a product of the old world, and certainly you were not far wrong."
"Ah, she has an atmosphere," said Roderick, in the tone of high appreciation.
"Young unmarried women," Rowland answered, "should be careful not to have too much!"
"Ah, you don't forgive her," cried his companion, "for hitting you so hard! A man ought to be flattered at such a girl as that taking so much notice of him."
"A man is never flattered at a woman's not liking him."
"Are you sure she does n't like you? That 's to the credit of your humility. A fellow of more vanity might, on the evidence, persuade himself that he was in favor."
"He would have also," said Rowland, laughing, "to be a fellow of remarkable ingenuity!" He asked himself privately how the deuce Roderick reconciled it to his conscience to think so much more of the girl he was not engaged to than of the girl he was. But it amounted almost to arrogance, you may say, in poor Rowland to pretend to know how often Roderick thought of Miss Garland. He wondered gloomily, at any rate, whether for men of his companion's large, easy power, there was not a larger moral law than for narrow mediocrities like himself, who, yielding Nature a meagre interest on her investment (such as it was), had no reason to expect from her this affectionate laxity as to their accounts. Was it not a part of the eternal fitness of things that Roderick, while rhapsodizing about Miss Light, should have it at his command to look at you with eyes of the most guileless and unclouded blue, and to shake off your musty imputations by a toss of his picturesque brown locks? Or had he, in fact, no conscience to speak of? Happy fellow, either way!
Our friend Gloriani came, among others, to congratulate Roderick on his model and what he had made of her. "Devilish pretty, through and through!" he said as he looked at the bust. "Capital handling of the neck and throat; lovely work on the nose. You 're a detestably lucky fellow, my boy! But you ought not to have squandered such material on a simple bust; you should have made a great imaginative figure. If I could only have got hold of her, I would have put her into a statue in spite of herself. What a pity she is not a ragged Trasteverine, whom we might have for a franc an hour! I have been carrying about in my head for years a delicious design for a fantastic figure, but it has always stayed there for want of a tolerable model. I have seen intimations of the type, but Miss Light is the perfection of it. As soon as I saw her I said to myself, 'By Jove, there 's my statue in the flesh!'"
"What is your subject?" asked Roderick.
"Don't take it ill," said Gloriani. "You know I 'm the very deuce for observation. She would make a magnificent Herodias!"
If Roderick had taken it ill (which was unlikely, for we know he thought Gloriani an ass, and expected little of his wisdom), he might have been soothed by the candid incense of Sam Singleton, who came and sat for an hour in a sort of mental prostration before both bust and artist. But Roderick's attitude before his patient little devotee was one of undisguised though friendly amusement; and, indeed, judged from a strictly plastic point of view, the poor fellow's diminutive stature, his enormous mouth, his pimples and his yellow hair were sufficiently ridiculous. "Nay, don't envy our friend," Rowland said to Singleton afterwards, on his expressing, with a little groan of depreciation of his own paltry performances, his sense of the brilliancy of Roderick's talent. "You sail nearer the shore, but you sail in smoother waters. Be contented with what you are and paint me another picture."
"Oh, I don't envy Hudson anything he possesses," Singleton said, "because to take anything away would spoil his beautiful completeness. 'Complete,' that 's what he is; while we little clevernesses are like half-ripened plums, only good eating on the side that has had a glimpse of the sun. Nature has made him so, and fortune confesses to it! He is the handsomest fellow in Rome, he has the most genius, and, as a matter of course, the most beautiful girl in the world comes and offers to be his model. If that is not completeness, where shall we find it?"
One morning, going into Roderick's studio, Rowland found the young sculptor entertaining Miss Blanchard-if this is not too flattering a description of his gracefully passive tolerance of her presence. He had never liked her and never climbed into her sky-studio to observe her wonderful manipulation of petals. He had once quoted Tennyson against her:-
"And is there any moral shut Within the bosom of the rose?"
"In all Miss Blanchard's roses you may be sure there is a moral," he had said. "You can see it sticking out its head, and, if you go to smell the flower, it scratches your nose." But on this occasion she had come with a propitiatory gift-introducing her friend Mr. Leavenworth. Mr. Leavenworth was a tall, expansive, bland gentleman, with a carefully brushed whisker and a spacious, fair, well-favored face, which seemed, somehow, to have more room in it than was occupied by a smile of superior benevolence, so that (with his smooth, white forehead) it bore a certain resemblance to a large parlor with a very florid carpet, but no pictures on the walls. He held his head high, talked sonorously, and told Roderick, within five minutes, that he was a widower, traveling to distract his mind, and that he had lately retired from the proprietorship of large mines of borax in Pennsylvania. Roderick supposed at first that, in his character of depressed widower, he had come to order a tombstone; but observing then the extreme blandness of his address to Miss Blanchard, he credited him with a judicious prevision that by the time the tombstone was completed, a monument of his inconsolability might have become an anachronism. But Mr. Leavenworth was disposed to order something.
"You will find me eager to patronize our indigenous talent," he said. "I am putting up a little shanty in my native town, and I propose to make a rather nice thing of it. It has been the will of Heaven to plunge me into mourning; but art has consolations! In a tasteful home, surrounded by the memorials of my wanderings, I hope to take more cheerful views. I ordered in Paris the complete appurtenances of a dining-room. Do you think you could do something for my library? It is to be filled with well-selected authors, and I think a pure white image in this style,"-pointing to one of Roderick's statues,-"standing out against the morocco and gilt, would have a noble effect. The subject I have already fixed upon. I desire an allegorical representation of Culture. Do you think, now," asked Mr. Leavenworth, encouragingly, "you could rise to the conception?"
"A most interesting subject for a truly serious mind," remarked Miss Blanchard.
Roderick looked at her a moment, and then-"The simplest thing I could do," he said, "would be to make a full-length portrait of Miss Blanchard. I could give her a scroll in her hand, and that would do for the allegory."
Miss Blanchard colored; the compliment might be ironical; and there was ever afterwards a reflection of her uncertainty in her opinion of Roderick's genius. Mr. Leavenworth responded that with all deference to Miss Blanchard's beauty, he desired something colder, more monumental, more impersonal. "If I were to be the happy possessor of a likeness of Miss Blanchard," he added, "I should prefer to have it in no factitious disguise!"
Roderick consented to entertain the proposal, and while they were discussing it, Rowland had a little talk with the fair artist. "Who is your friend?" he asked.
"A very worthy man. The architect of his own fortune-which is magnificent. One of nature's gentlemen!"
This was a trifle sententious, and Rowland turned to the bust of Miss Light. Like every one else in Rome, by this time, Miss Blanchard had an opinion on the young girl's beauty, and, in her own fashion, she expressed it epigrammatically. "She looks half like a Madonna and half like a ballerina," she said.
Mr. Leavenworth and Roderick came to an understanding, and the young sculptor good-naturedly promised to do his best to rise to his patron's conception. "His conception be hanged!" Roderick exclaimed, after he had departed. "His conception is sitting on a globe with a pen in her ear and a photographic album in her hand. I shall have to conceive, myself. For the money, I ought to be able to!"
Mrs. Light, meanwhile, had fairly established herself in Roman society. "Heaven knows how!" Madame Grandoni said to Rowland, who had mentioned to her several evidences of the lady's prosperity. "In such a case there is nothing like audacity. A month ago she knew no one but her washerwoman, and now I am told that the cards of Roman princesses are to be seen on her table. She is evidently determined to play a great part, and she has the wit to perceive that, to make remunerative acquaintances, you must seem yourself to be worth knowing. You must have striking rooms and a confusing variety of dresses, and give good dinners, and so forth. She is spending a lot of money, and you 'll see that in two or three weeks she will take upon herself to open the season by giving a magnificent ball. Of course it is Christina's beauty that floats her. People go to see her because they are curious."
"And they go again because they are charmed," said Rowland. "Miss Christina is a very remarkable young lady."
"Oh, I know it well; I had occasion to say so to myself the other day. She came to see me, of her own free will, and for an hour she was deeply interesting. I think she 's an actress, but she believes in her part while she is playing it. She took it into her head the other day to believe that she was very unhappy, and she sat there, where you are sitting, and told me a tale of her miseries which brought tears into my eyes. She cried, herself, profusely, and as naturally as possible. She said she was weary of life and that she knew no one but me she could speak frankly to. She must speak, or she would go mad. She sobbed as if her heart would break. I assure you it 's well for you susceptible young men that you don't see her when she sobs. She said, in so many words, that her mother was an immoral woman. Heaven knows what she meant. She meant, I suppose, that she makes debts that she knows she can't pay. She said the life they led was horrible; that it was monstrous a poor girl should be dragged about the world to be sold to the highest bidder. She was meant for better things; she could be perfectly happy in poverty. It was not money she wanted. I might not believe her, but she really cared for serious things. Sometimes she thought of taking poison!"
"What did you say to that?"
"I recommended her," said Madame Grandoni, "to come and see me instead. I would help her about as much, and I was, on the whole, less unpleasant. Of course I could help her only by letting her talk herself out and kissing her and patting her beautiful hands and telling her to be patient and she would be happy yet. About once in two months I expect her to reappear, on the same errand, and meanwhile to quite forget my existence. I believe I melted down to the point of telling her that I would find some good, quiet, affectionate husband for her; but she declared, almost with fury, that she was sick unto death of husbands, and begged I would never again mention the word. And, in fact, it was a rash offer; for I am sure that there is not a man of the kind that might really make a woman happy but would be afraid to marry mademoiselle. Looked at in that way she is certainly very much to be pitied, and indeed, altogether, though I don't think she either means all she says or, by a great deal, says all that she means. I feel very sorry for her."
Rowland met the two ladies, about this time, at several entertainments, and looked at Christina with a kind of distant attendrissement. He imagined more than once that there had been a passionate scene between them about coming out, and wondered what arguments Mrs. Light had found effective. But Christina's face told no tales, and she moved about, beautiful and silent, looking absently over people's heads, barely heeding the men who pressed about her, and suggesting somehow that the soul of a world-wearied mortal had found its way into the blooming body of a goddess. "Where in the world has Miss Light been before she is twenty," observers asked, "to have left all her illusions behind?" And the general verdict was, that though she was incomparably beautiful, she was intolerably proud. Young ladies to whom the former distinction was not conceded were free to reflect that she was "not at all liked."
It would have been difficult to guess, however, how they reconciled this conviction with a variety of conflicting evidence, and, in especial, with the spectacle of Roderick's inveterate devotion. All Rome might behold that he, at least, "liked" Christina Light. Wherever she appeared he was either awaiting her or immediately followed her. He was perpetually at her side, trying, apparently, to preserve the thread of a disconnected talk, the fate of which was, to judge by her face, profoundly immaterial to the young lady. People in general smiled at the radiant good faith of the handsome young sculptor, and asked each other whether he really supposed that beauties of that quality were meant to wed with poor artists. But although Christina's deportment, as I have said, was one of superb inexpressiveness, Rowland had derived from Roderick no suspicion that he suffered from snubbing, and he was therefore surprised at an incident which befell one evening at a large musical party. Roderick, as usual, was in the field, and, on the ladies taking the chairs which had been arranged for them, he immediately placed himself beside Christina. As most of the gentlemen were standing, his position made him as conspicuous as Hamlet at Ophelia's feet, at the play. Rowland was leaning, somewhat apart, against the chimney-piece. There was a long, solemn pause before the music began, and in the midst of it Christina rose, left her place, came the whole length of the immense room, with every one looking at her, and stopped before him. She was neither pale nor flushed; she had a soft smile.
"Will you do me a favor?" she asked.
"Not now, but at your earliest convenience. Please remind Mr. Hudson that he is not in a New England village-that it is not the custom in Rome to address one's conversation exclusively, night after night, to the same poor girl, and that"....
The music broke out with a great blare and covered her voice. She made a gesture of impatience, and Rowland offered her his arm and led her back to her seat.
The next day he repeated her words to Roderick, who burst into joyous laughter. "She 's a delightfully strange girl!" he cried. "She must do everything that comes into her head!"
"Had she never asked you before not to talk to her so much?"
"On the contrary, she has often said to me, 'Mind you now, I forbid you to leave me. Here comes that tiresome So-and-so.' She cares as little about the custom as I do. What could be a better proof than her walking up to you, with five hundred people looking at her? Is that the custom for young girls in Rome?"
"Why, then, should she take such a step?"
"Because, as she sat there, it came into her head. That 's reason enough for her. I have imagined she wishes me well, as they say here-though she has never distinguished me in such a way as that!"
Madame Grandoni had foretold the truth; Mrs. Light, a couple of weeks later, convoked all Roman society to a brilliant ball. Rowland went late, and found the staircase so encumbered with flower-pots and servants that he was a long time making his way into the presence of the hostess. At last he approached her, as she stood making courtesies at the door, with her daughter by her side. Some of Mrs. Light's courtesies were very low, for she had the happiness of receiving a number of the social potentates of the Roman world. She was rosy with triumph, to say nothing of a less metaphysical cause, and was evidently vastly contented with herself, with her company, and with the general promise of destiny. Her daughter was less overtly jubilant, and distributed her greetings with impartial frigidity. She had never been so beautiful. Dressed simply in vaporous white, relieved with half a dozen white roses, the perfection of her features and of her person and the mysterious depth of her expression seemed to glow with the white light of a splendid pearl. She recognized no one individually, and made her courtesy slowly, gravely, with her eyes on the ground. Rowland fancied that, as he stood before her, her obeisance was slightly exaggerated, as with an intention of irony; but he smiled philosophically to himself, and reflected, as he passed into the room, that, if she disliked him, he had nothing to reproach himself with. He walked about, had a few words with Miss Blanchard, who, with a fillet of cameos in her hair, was leaning on the arm of Mr. Leavenworth, and at last came upon the Cavaliere Giacosa, modestly stationed in a corner. The little gentleman's coat-lappet was decorated with an enormous bouquet and his neck encased in a voluminous white handkerchief of the fashion of thirty years ago. His arms were folded, and he was surveying the scene with contracted eyelids, through which you saw the glitter of his intensely dark, vivacious pupil. He immediately embarked on an elaborate apology for not having yet manifested, as he felt it, his sense of the honor Rowland had done him.
"I am always on service with these ladies, you see," he explained, "and that is a duty to which one would not willingly be faithless for an instant."
"Evidently," said Rowland, "you are a very devoted friend. Mrs. Light, in her situation, is very happy in having you."
"We are old friends," said the Cavaliere, gravely. "Old friends. I knew the signora many years ago, when she was the prettiest woman in Rome-or rather in Ancona, which is even better. The beautiful Christina, now, is perhaps the most beautiful young girl in Europe!"
"Very likely," said Rowland.
"Very well, sir, I taught her to read; I guided her little hands to touch the piano keys." And at these faded memories, the Cavaliere's eyes glittered more brightly. Rowland half expected him to proceed, with a little flash of long-repressed passion, "And now-and now, sir, they treat me as you observed the other day!" But the Cavaliere only looked out at him keenly from among his wrinkles, and seemed to say, with all the vividness of the Italian glance, "Oh, I say nothing more. I am not so shallow as to complain!"
Evidently the Cavaliere was not shallow, and Rowland repeated respectfully, "You are a devoted friend."
"That 's very true. I am a devoted friend. A man may do himself justice, after twenty years!"
Rowland, after a pause, made some remark about the beauty of the ball. It was very brilliant.
"Stupendous!" said the Cavaliere, solemnly. "It is a great day. We have four Roman princes, to say nothing of others." And he counted them over on his fingers and held up his hand triumphantly. "And there she stands, the girl to whom I-I, Giuseppe Giacosa-taught her alphabet and her piano-scales; there she stands in her incomparable beauty, and Roman princes come and bow to her. Here, in his corner, her old master permits himself to be proud."
"It is very friendly of him," said Rowland, smiling.
The Cavaliere contracted his lids a little more and gave another keen glance. "It is very natural, signore. The Christina is a good girl; she remembers my little services. But here comes," he added in a moment, "the young Prince of the Fine Arts. I am sure he has bowed lowest of all."
Rowland looked round and saw Roderick moving slowly across the room and casting about him his usual luminous, unshrinking looks. He presently joined them, nodded familiarly to the Cavaliere, and immediately demanded of Rowland, "Have you seen her?"
"I have seen Miss Light," said Rowland. "She 's magnificent."
"I 'm half crazy!" cried Roderick; so loud that several persons turned round.
Rowland saw that he was flushed, and laid his hand on his arm. Roderick was trembling. "If you will go away," Rowland said instantly, "I will go with you."
"Go away?" cried Roderick, almost angrily. "I intend to dance with her!"
The Cavaliere had been watching him attentively; he gently laid his hand on his other arm. "Softly, softly, dear young man," he said. "Let me speak to you as a friend."
"Oh, speak even as an enemy and I shall not mind it," Roderick answered, frowning.
"Be very reasonable, then, and go away."
"Why the deuce should I go away?"
"Because you are in love," said the Cavaliere.
"I might as well be in love here as in the streets."
"Carry your love as far as possible from Christina. She will not listen to you-she can't."
"She 'can't'?" demanded Roderick. "She is not a person of whom you may say that. She can if she will; she does as she chooses."
"Up to a certain point. It would take too long to explain; I only beg you to believe that if you continue to love Miss Light you will be very unhappy. Have you a princely title? have you a princely fortune? Otherwise you can never have her."
And the Cavaliere folded his arms again, like a man who has done his duty. Roderick wiped his forehead and looked askance at Rowland; he seemed to be guessing his thoughts and they made him blush a little. But he smiled blandly, and addressing the Cavaliere, "I 'm much obliged to you for the information," he said. "Now that I have obtained it, let me tell you that I am no more in love with Miss Light than you are. Mr. Mallet knows that. I admire her-yes, profoundly. But that 's no one's business but my own, and though I have, as you say, neither a princely title nor a princely fortune, I mean to suffer neither those advantages nor those who possess them to diminish my right."
"If you are not in love, my dear young man," said the Cavaliere, with his hand on his heart and an apologetic smile, "so much the better. But let me entreat you, as an affectionate friend, to keep a watch on your emotions. You are young, you are handsome, you have a brilliant genius and a generous heart, but-I may say it almost with authority-Christina is not for you!"
Whether Roderick was in love or not, he was nettled by what apparently seemed to him an obtrusive negation of an inspiring possibility. "You speak as if she had made her choice!" he cried. "Without pretending to confidential information on the subject, I am sure she has not."
"No, but she must make it soon," said the Cavaliere. And raising his forefinger, he laid it against his under lip. "She must choose a name and a fortune-and she will!"
"She will do exactly as her inclination prompts! She will marry the man who pleases her, if he has n't a dollar! I know her better than you."
The Cavaliere turned a little paler than usual, and smiled more urbanely. "No, no, my dear young man, you do not know her better than I. You have not watched her, day by day, for twenty years. I too have admired her. She is a good girl; she has never said an unkind word to me; the blessed Virgin be thanked! But she must have a brilliant destiny; it has been marked out for her, and she will submit. You had better believe me; it may save you much suffering."
"We shall see!" said Roderick, with an excited laugh.
"Certainly we shall see. But I retire from the discussion," the Cavaliere added. "I have no wish to provoke you to attempt to prove to me that I am wrong. You are already excited."
"No more than is natural to a man who in an hour or so is to dance the cotillon with Miss Light."
"The cotillon? has she promised?"
Roderick patted the air with a grand confidence. "You 'll see!" His gesture might almost have been taken to mean that the state of his relations with Miss Light was such that they quite dispensed with vain formalities.
The Cavaliere gave an exaggerated shrug. "You make a great many mourners!"
"He has made one already!" Rowland murmured to himself. This was evidently not the first time that reference had been made between Roderick and the Cavaliere to the young man's possible passion, and Roderick had failed to consider it the simplest and most natural course to say in three words to the vigilant little gentleman that there was no cause for alarm-his affections were preoccupied. Rowland hoped, silently, with some dryness, that his motives were of a finer kind than they seemed to be. He turned away; it was irritating to look at Roderick's radiant, unscrupulous eagerness. The tide was setting toward the supper-room and he drifted with it to the door. The crowd at this point was dense, and he was obliged to wait for some minutes before he could advance. At last he felt his neighbors dividing behind him, and turning he saw Christina pressing her way forward alone. She was looking at no one, and, save for the fact of her being alone, you would not have supposed she was in her mother's house. As she recognized Rowland she beckoned to him, took his arm, and motioned him to lead her into the supper-room. She said nothing until he had forced a passage and they stood somewhat isolated.
"Take me into the most out-of-the-way corner you can find," she then said, "and then go and get me a piece of bread."
"Nothing more? There seems to be everything conceivable."
"A simple roll. Nothing more, on your peril. Only bring something for yourself."
It seemed to Rowland that the embrasure of a window (embrasures in Roman palaces are deep) was a retreat sufficiently obscure for Miss Light to execute whatever design she might have contrived against his equanimity. A roll, after he had found her a seat, was easily procured. As he presented it, he remarked that, frankly speaking, he was at loss to understand why she should have selected for the honor of a tete-a-tete an individual for whom she had so little taste.
"Ah yes, I dislike you," said Christina. "To tell the truth, I had forgotten it. There are so many people here whom I dislike more, that when I espied you just now, you seemed like an intimate friend. But I have not come into this corner to talk nonsense," she went on. "You must not think I always do, eh?"
"I have never heard you do anything else," said Rowland, deliberately, having decided that he owed her no compliments.
"Very good. I like your frankness. It 's quite true. You see, I am a strange girl. To begin with, I am frightfully egotistical. Don't flatter yourself you have said anything very clever if you ever take it into your head to tell me so. I know it much better than you. So it is, I can't help it. I am tired to death of myself; I would give all I possess to get out of myself; but somehow, at the end, I find myself so vastly more interesting than nine tenths of the people I meet. If a person wished to do me a favor I would say to him, 'I beg you, with tears in my eyes, to interest me. Be strong, be positive, be imperious, if you will; only be something,-something that, in looking at, I can forget my detestable self!' Perhaps that is nonsense too. If it is, I can't help it. I can only apologize for the nonsense I know to be such and that I talk-oh, for more reasons than I can tell you! I wonder whether, if I were to try, you would understand me."
"I am afraid I should never understand," said Rowland, "why a person should willingly talk nonsense."
"That proves how little you know about women. But I like your frankness. When I told you the other day that you displeased me, I had an idea you were more formal,-how do you say it?-more guinde. I am very capricious. To-night I like you better."
"Oh, I am not guinde," said Rowland, gravely.
"I beg your pardon, then, for thinking so. Now I have an idea that you would make a useful friend-an intimate friend-a friend to whom one could tell everything. For such a friend, what would n't I give!"
Rowland looked at her in some perplexity. Was this touching sincerity, or unfathomable coquetry? Her beautiful eyes looked divinely candid; but then, if candor was beautiful, beauty was apt to be subtle. "I hesitate to recommend myself out and out for the office," he said, "but I believe that if you were to depend upon me for anything that a friend may do, I should not be found wanting."
"Very good. One of the first things one asks of a friend is to judge one not by isolated acts, but by one's whole conduct. I care for your opinion-I don't know why."
"Nor do I, I confess," said Rowland with a laugh.
"What do you think of this affair?" she continued, without heeding his laugh.
"Of your ball? Why, it 's a very grand affair."
"It 's horrible-that 's what it is! It 's a mere rabble! There are people here whom I never saw before, people who were never asked. Mamma went about inviting every one, asking other people to invite any one they knew, doing anything to have a crowd. I hope she is satisfied! It is not my doing. I feel weary, I feel angry, I feel like crying. I have twenty minds to escape into my room and lock the door and let mamma go through with it as she can. By the way," she added in a moment, without a visible reason for the transition, "can you tell me something to read?"
Rowland stared, at the disconnectedness of the question.
"Can you recommend me some books?" she repeated. "I know you are a great reader. I have no one else to ask. We can buy no books. We can make debts for jewelry and bonnets and five-button gloves, but we can't spend a sou for ideas. And yet, though you may not believe it, I like ideas quite as well."
"I shall be most happy to lend you some books," Rowland said. "I will pick some out to-morrow and send them to you."
"No novels, please! I am tired of novels. I can imagine better stories for myself than any I read. Some good poetry, if there is such a thing nowadays, and some memoirs and histories and books of facts."
"You shall be served. Your taste agrees with my own."
She was silent a moment, looking at him. Then suddenly-"Tell me something about Mr. Hudson," she demanded. "You are great friends!"
"Oh yes," said Rowland; "we are great friends."
"Tell me about him. Come, begin!"
"Where shall I begin? You know him for yourself."
"No, I don't know him; I don't find him so easy to know. Since he has finished my bust and begun to come here disinterestedly, he has become a great talker. He says very fine things; but does he mean all he says?"
"Few of us do that."
"You do, I imagine. You ought to know, for he tells me you discovered him." Rowland was silent, and Christina continued, "Do you consider him very clever?"
"His talent is really something out of the common way?"
"So it seems to me."
"In short, he 's a man of genius?"
"Yes, call it genius."
"And you found him vegetating in a little village and took him by the hand and set him on his feet in Rome?"
"Is that the popular legend?" asked Rowland.
"Oh, you need n't be modest. There was no great merit in it; there would have been none at least on my part in the same circumstances. Real geniuses are not so common, and if I had discovered one in the wilderness, I would have brought him out into the market-place to see how he would behave. It would be excessively amusing. You must find it so to watch Mr. Hudson, eh? Tell me this: do you think he is going to be a great man-become famous, have his life written, and all that?"
"I don't prophesy, but I have good hopes."
Christina was silent. She stretched out her bare arm and looked at it a moment absently, turning it so as to see-or almost to see-the dimple in her elbow. This was apparently a frequent gesture with her; Rowland had already observed it. It was as coolly and naturally done as if she had been in her room alone. "So he 's a man of genius," she suddenly resumed. "Don't you think I ought to be extremely flattered to have a man of genius perpetually hanging about? He is the first I ever saw, but I should have known he was not a common mortal. There is something strange about him. To begin with, he has no manners. You may say that it 's not for me to blame him, for I have none myself. That 's very true, but the difference is that I can have them when I wish to (and very charming ones too; I 'll show you some day); whereas Mr. Hudson will never have them. And yet, somehow, one sees he 's a gentleman. He seems to have something urging, driving, pushing him, making him restless and defiant. You see it in his eyes. They are the finest, by the way, I ever saw. When a person has such eyes as that you can forgive him his bad manners. I suppose that is what they call the sacred fire."
Rowland made no answer except to ask her in a moment if she would have another roll. She merely shook her head and went on:-
"Tell me how you found him. Where was he-how was he?"
"He was in a place called Northampton. Did you ever hear of it? He was studying law-but not learning it."
"It appears it was something horrible, eh?"
"This little village. No society, no pleasures, no beauty, no life."
"You have received a false impression. Northampton is not as gay as Rome, but Roderick had some charming friends."
"Tell me about them. Who were they?"
"Well, there was my cousin, through whom I made his acquaintance: a delightful woman."
"Yes, a good deal of both. And very clever."
"Did he make love to her?"
"Not in the least."
"Well, who else?"
"He lived with his mother. She is the best of women."
"Ah yes, I know all that one's mother is. But she does not count as society. And who else?"
Rowland hesitated. He wondered whether Christina's insistence was the result of a general interest in Roderick's antecedents or of a particular suspicion. He looked at her; she was looking at him a little askance, waiting for his answer. As Roderick had said nothing about his engagement to the Cavaliere, it was probable that with this beautiful girl he had not been more explicit. And yet the thing was announced, it was public; that other girl was happy in it, proud of it. Rowland felt a kind of dumb anger rising in his heart. He deliberated a moment intently.
"What are you frowning at?" Christina asked.
"There was another person," he answered, "the most important of all: the young girl to whom he is engaged."
Christina stared a moment, raising her eyebrows. "Ah, Mr. Hudson is engaged?" she said, very simply. "Is she pretty?"
"She is not called a beauty," said Rowland. He meant to practice great brevity, but in a moment he added, "I have seen beauties, however, who pleased me less."
"Ah, she pleases you, too? Why don't they marry?"
"Roderick is waiting till he can afford to marry."
Christina slowly put out her arm again and looked at the dimple in her elbow. "Ah, he 's engaged?" she repeated in the same tone. "He never told me."
Rowland perceived at this moment that the people about them were beginning to return to the dancing-room, and immediately afterwards he saw Roderick making his way toward themselves. Roderick presented himself before Miss Light.
"I don't claim that you have promised me the cotillon," he said, "but I consider that you have given me hopes which warrant the confidence that you will dance with me."
Christina looked at him a moment. "Certainly I have made no promises," she said. "It seemed to me that, as the daughter of the house, I should keep myself free and let it depend on circumstances."
"I beseech you to dance with me!" said Roderick, with vehemence.
Christina rose and began to laugh. "You say that very well, but the Italians do it better."
This assertion seemed likely to be put to the proof. Mrs. Light hastily approached, leading, rather than led by, a tall, slim young man, of an unmistakably Southern physiognomy. "My precious love," she cried, "what a place to hide in! We have been looking for you for twenty minutes; I have chosen a cavalier for you, and chosen well!"
The young man disengaged himself, made a ceremonious bow, joined his two hands, and murmured with an ecstatic smile, "May I venture to hope, dear signorina, for the honor of your hand?"
"Of course you may!" said Mrs. Light. "The honor is for us."
Christina hesitated but for a moment, then swept the young man a courtesy as profound as his own bow. "You are very kind, but you are too late. I have just accepted!"
"Ah, my own darling!" murmured-almost moaned-Mrs. Light.
Christina and Roderick exchanged a single glance-a glance brilliant on both sides. She passed her hand into his arm; he tossed his clustering locks and led her away.
A short time afterwards Rowland saw the young man whom she had rejected leaning against a doorway. He was ugly, but what is called distinguished-looking. He had a heavy black eye, a sallow complexion, a long, thin neck; his hair was cropped en brosse. He looked very young, yet extremely bored. He was staring at the ceiling and stroking an imperceptible moustache. Rowland espied the Cavaliere Giacosa hard by, and, having joined him, asked him the young man's name.
"Oh," said the Cavaliere, "he 's a pezzo grosso! A Neapolitan. Prince Casamassima."
CHAPTER VI. Frascati
One day, on entering Roderick's lodging (not the modest rooms on the Ripetta which he had first occupied, but a much more sumptuous apartment on the Corso), Rowland found a letter on the table addressed to himself. It was from Roderick, and consisted of but three lines: "I am gone to Frascati-for meditation. If I am not at home on Friday, you had better join me." On Friday he was still absent, and Rowland went out to Frascati. Here he found his friend living at the inn and spending his days, according to his own account, lying under the trees of the Villa Mondragone, reading Ariosto. He was in a sombre mood; "meditation" seemed not to have been fruitful. Nothing especially pertinent to our narrative had passed between the two young men since Mrs. Light's ball, save a few words bearing on an incident of that entertainment. Rowland informed Roderick, the next day, that he had told Miss Light of his engagement. "I don't know whether you 'll thank me," he had said, "but it 's my duty to let you know it. Miss Light perhaps has already done so."
Roderick looked at him a moment, intently, with his color slowly rising. "Why should n't I thank you?" he asked. "I am not ashamed of my engagement."
"As you had not spoken of it yourself, I thought you might have a reason for not having it known."
"A man does n't gossip about such a matter with strangers," Roderick rejoined, with the ring of irritation in his voice.
"With strangers-no!" said Rowland, smiling.
Roderick continued his work; but after a moment, turning round with a frown: "If you supposed I had a reason for being silent, pray why should you have spoken?"
"I did not speak idly, my dear Roderick. I weighed the matter before I spoke, and promised myself to let you know immediately afterwards. It seemed to me that Miss Light had better know that your affections are pledged."
"The Cavaliere has put it into your head, then, that I am making love to her?"
"No; in that case I would not have spoken to her first."
"Do you mean, then, that she is making love to me?"
"This is what I mean," said Rowland, after a pause. "That girl finds you interesting, and is pleased, even though she may play indifference, at your finding her so. I said to myself that it might save her some sentimental disappointment to know without delay that you are not at liberty to become indefinitely interested in other women."
"You seem to have taken the measure of my liberty with extraordinary minuteness!" cried Roderick.
"You must do me justice. I am the cause of your separation from Miss Garland, the cause of your being exposed to temptations which she hardly even suspects. How could I ever face her," Rowland demanded, with much warmth of tone, "if at the end of it all she should be unhappy?"
"I had no idea that Miss Garland had made such an impression on you. You are too zealous; I take it she did n't charge you to look after her interests."
"If anything happens to you, I am accountable. You must understand that."
"That 's a view of the situation I can't accept; in your own interest, no less than in mine. It can only make us both very uncomfortable. I know all I owe you; I feel it; you know that! But I am not a small boy nor an outer barbarian any longer, and, whatever I do, I do with my eyes open. When I do well, the merit 's mine; if I do ill, the fault 's mine! The idea that I make you nervous is detestable. Dedicate your nerves to some better cause, and believe that if Miss Garland and I have a quarrel, we shall settle it between ourselves."
Rowland had found himself wondering, shortly before, whether possibly his brilliant young friend was without a conscience; now it dimly occurred to him that he was without a heart. Rowland, as we have already intimated, was a man with a moral passion, and no small part of it had gone forth into his relations with Roderick. There had been, from the first, no protestations of friendship on either side, but Rowland had implicitly offered everything that belongs to friendship, and Roderick had, apparently, as deliberately accepted it. Rowland, indeed, had taken an exquisite satisfaction in his companion's deep, inexpressive assent to his interest in him. "Here is an uncommonly fine thing," he said to himself: "a nature unconsciously grateful, a man in whom friendship does the thing that love alone generally has the credit of-knocks the bottom out of pride!" His reflective judgment of Roderick, as time went on, had indulged in a great many irrepressible vagaries; but his affection, his sense of something in his companion's whole personality that overmastered his heart and beguiled his imagination, had never for an instant faltered. He listened to Roderick's last words, and then he smiled as he rarely smiled-with bitterness.
"I don't at all like your telling me I am too zealous," he said. "If I had not been zealous, I should never have cared a fig for you."
Roderick flushed deeply, and thrust his modeling tool up to the handle into the clay. "Say it outright! You have been a great fool to believe in me."
"I desire to say nothing of the kind, and you don't honestly believe I do!" said Rowland. "It seems to me I am really very good-natured even to reply to such nonsense."
Roderick sat down, crossed his arms, and fixed his eyes on the floor. Rowland looked at him for some moments; it seemed to him that he had never so clearly read his companion's strangely commingled character-his strength and his weakness, his picturesque personal attractiveness and his urgent egoism, his exalted ardor and his puerile petulance. It would have made him almost sick, however, to think that, on the whole, Roderick was not a generous fellow, and he was so far from having ceased to believe in him that he felt just now, more than ever, that all this was but the painful complexity of genius. Rowland, who had not a grain of genius either to make one say he was an interested reasoner, or to enable one to feel that he could afford a dangerous theory or two, adhered to his conviction of the essential salubrity of genius. Suddenly he felt an irresistible compassion for his companion; it seemed to him that his beautiful faculty of production was a double-edged instrument, susceptible of being dealt in back-handed blows at its possessor. Genius was priceless, inspired, divine; but it was also, at its hours, capricious, sinister, cruel; and men of genius, accordingly, were alternately very enviable and very helpless. It was not the first time he had had a sense of Roderick's standing helpless in the grasp of his temperament. It had shaken him, as yet, but with a half good-humored wantonness; but, henceforth, possibly, it meant to handle him more roughly. These were not times, therefore, for a friend to have a short patience.
"When you err, you say, the fault 's your own," he said at last. "It is because your faults are your own that I care about them."
Rowland's voice, when he spoke with feeling, had an extraordinary amenity. Roderick sat staring a moment longer at the floor, then he sprang up and laid his hand affectionately on his friend's shoulder. "You are the best man in the world," he said, "and I am a vile brute. Only," he added in a moment, "you don't understand me!" And he looked at him with eyes of such radiant lucidity that one might have said (and Rowland did almost say so, himself) that it was the fault of one's own grossness if one failed to read to the bottom of that beautiful soul.
Rowland smiled sadly. "What is it now? Explain."
"Oh, I can't explain!" cried Roderick impatiently, returning to his work. "I have only one way of expressing my deepest feelings-it 's this!" And he swung his tool. He stood looking at the half-wrought clay for a moment, and then flung the instrument down. "And even this half the time plays me false!"
Rowland felt that his irritation had not subsided, and he himself had no taste for saying disagreeable things. Nevertheless he saw no sufficient reason to forbear uttering the words he had had on his conscience from the beginning. "We must do what we can and be thankful," he said. "And let me assure you of this-that it won't help you to become entangled with Miss Light."
Roderick pressed his hand to his forehead with vehemence and then shook it in the air, despairingly; a gesture that had become frequent with him since he had been in Italy. "No, no, it 's no use; you don't understand me! But I don't blame you. You can't!"
"You think it will help you, then?" said Rowland, wondering.
"I think that when you expect a man to produce beautiful and wonderful works of art, you ought to allow him a certain freedom of action, you ought to give him a long rope, you ought to let him follow his fancy and look for his material wherever he thinks he may find it! A mother can't nurse her child unless she follows a certain diet; an artist can't bring his visions to maturity unless he has a certain experience. You demand of us to be imaginative, and you deny us that which feeds the imagination. In labor we must be as passionate as the inspired sibyl; in life we must be mere machines. It won't do. When you have got an artist to deal with, you must take him as he is, good and bad together. I don't say they are pleasant fellows to know or easy fellows to live with; I don't say they satisfy themselves any better than other people. I only say that if you want them to produce, you must let them conceive. If you want a bird to sing, you must not cover up its cage. Shoot them, the poor devils, drown them, exterminate them, if you will, in the interest of public morality; it may be morality would gain-I dare say it would! But if you suffer them to live, let them live on their own terms and according to their own inexorable needs!"
Rowland burst out laughing. "I have no wish whatever either to shoot you or to drown you!" he said. "Why launch such a tirade against a warning offered you altogether in the interest of your freest development? Do you really mean that you have an inexorable need of embarking on a flirtation with Miss Light?-a flirtation as to the felicity of which there may be differences of opinion, but which cannot at best, under the circumstances, be called innocent. Your last summer's adventures were more so! As for the terms on which you are to live, I had an idea you had arranged them otherwise!"
"I have arranged nothing-thank God! I don't pretend to arrange. I am young and ardent and inquisitive, and I admire Miss Light. That 's enough. I shall go as far as admiration leads me. I am not afraid. Your genuine artist may be sometimes half a madman, but he 's not a coward!"
"Suppose that in your speculation you should come to grief, not only sentimentally but artistically?"
"Come what come will! If I 'm to fizzle out, the sooner I know it the better. Sometimes I half suspect it. But let me at least go out and reconnoitre for the enemy, and not sit here waiting for him, cudgeling my brains for ideas that won't come!"
Do what he would, Rowland could not think of Roderick's theory of unlimited experimentation, especially as applied in the case under discussion, as anything but a pernicious illusion. But he saw it was vain to combat longer, for inclination was powerfully on Roderick's side. He laid his hand on Roderick's shoulder, looked at him a moment with troubled eyes, then shook his head mournfully and turned away.
"I can't work any more," said Roderick. "You have upset me! I 'll go and stroll on the Pincian." And he tossed aside his working-jacket and prepared himself for the street. As he was arranging his cravat before the glass, something occurred to him which made him thoughtful. He stopped a few moments afterward, as they were going out, with his hand on the door-knob. "You did, from your own point of view, an indiscreet thing," he said, "to tell Miss Light of my engagement."
Rowland looked at him with a glance which was partly an interrogation, but partly, also, an admission.
"If she 's the coquette you say," Roderick added, "you have given her a reason the more."
"And that 's the girl you propose to devote yourself to?" cried Rowland.
"Oh, I don't say it, mind! I only say that she 's the most interesting creature in the world! The next time you mean to render me a service, pray give me notice beforehand!"
It was perfectly characteristic of Roderick that, a fortnight later, he should have let his friend know that he depended upon him for society at Frascati, as freely as if no irritating topic had ever been discussed between them. Rowland thought him generous, and he had at any rate a liberal faculty of forgetting that he had given you any reason to be displeased with him. It was equally characteristic of Rowland that he complied with his friend's summons without a moment's hesitation. His cousin Cecilia had once told him that he was the dupe of his intense benevolence. She put the case with too little favor, or too much, as the reader chooses; it is certain, at least, that he had a constitutional tendency towards magnanimous interpretations. Nothing happened, however, to suggest to him that he was deluded in thinking that Roderick's secondary impulses were wiser than his primary ones, and that the rounded total of his nature had a harmony perfectly attuned to the most amiable of its brilliant parts. Roderick's humor, for the time, was pitched in a minor key; he was lazy, listless, and melancholy, but he had never been more friendly and kindly and appealingly submissive. Winter had begun, by the calendar, but the weather was divinely mild, and the two young men took long slow strolls on the hills and lounged away the mornings in the villas. The villas at Frascati are delicious places, and replete with romantic suggestiveness. Roderick, as he had said, was meditating, and if a masterpiece was to come of his meditations, Rowland was perfectly willing to bear him company and coax along the process. But Roderick let him know from the first that he was in a miserably sterile mood, and, cudgel his brains as he would, could think of nothing that would serve for the statue he was to make for Mr. Leavenworth.
"It is worse out here than in Rome," he said, "for here I am face to face with the dead blank of my mind! There I could n't think of anything either, but there I found things to make me forget that I needed to." This was as frank an allusion to Christina Light as could have been expected under the circumstances; it seemed, indeed, to Rowland surprisingly frank, and a pregnant example of his companion's often strangely irresponsible way of looking at harmful facts. Roderick was silent sometimes for hours, with a puzzled look on his face and a constant fold between his even eyebrows; at other times he talked unceasingly, with a slow, idle, half-nonsensical drawl. Rowland was half a dozen times on the point of asking him what was the matter with him; he was afraid he was going to be ill. Roderick had taken a great fancy to the Villa Mondragone, and used to declaim fantastic compliments to it as they strolled in the winter sunshine on the great terrace which looks toward Tivoli and the iridescent Sabine mountains. He carried his volume of Ariosto in his pocket, and took it out every now and then and spouted half a dozen stanzas to his companion. He was, as a general thing, very little of a reader; but at intervals he would take a fancy to one of the classics and peruse it for a month in disjointed scraps. He had picked up Italian without study, and had a wonderfully sympathetic accent, though in reading aloud he ruined the sense of half the lines he rolled off so sonorously. Rowland, who pronounced badly but understood everything, once said to him that Ariosto was not the poet for a man of his craft; a sculptor should make a companion of Dante. So he lent him the Inferno, which he had brought with him, and advised him to look into it. Roderick took it with some eagerness; perhaps it would brighten his wits. He returned it the next day with disgust; he had found it intolerably depressing.
"A sculptor should model as Dante writes-you 're right there," he said. "But when his genius is in eclipse, Dante is a dreadfully smoky lamp. By what perversity of fate," he went on, "has it come about that I am a sculptor at all? A sculptor is such a confoundedly special genius; there are so few subjects he can treat, so few things in life that bear upon his work, so few moods in which he himself is inclined to it." (It may be noted that Rowland had heard him a dozen times affirm the flat reverse of all this.) "If I had only been a painter-a little quiet, docile, matter-of-fact painter, like our friend Singleton-I should only have to open my Ariosto here to find a subject, to find color and attitudes, stuffs and composition; I should only have to look up from the page at that mouldy old fountain against the blue sky, at that cypress alley wandering away like a procession of priests in couples, at the crags and hollows of the Sabine hills, to find myself grasping my brush. Best of all would be to be Ariosto himself, or one of his brotherhood. Then everything in nature would give you a hint, and every form of beauty be part of your stock. You would n't have to look at things only to say,-with tears of rage half the time,-'Oh, yes, it 's wonderfully pretty, but what the deuce can I do with it?' But a sculptor, now! That 's a pretty trade for a fellow who has got his living to make and yet is so damnably constituted that he can't work to order, and considers that, aesthetically, clock ornaments don't pay! You can't model the serge-coated cypresses, nor those mouldering old Tritons and all the sunny sadness of that dried-up fountain; you can't put the light into marble-the lovely, caressing, consenting Italian light that you get so much of for nothing. Say that a dozen times in his life a man has a complete sculpturesque vision-a vision in which the imagination recognizes a subject and the subject kindles the imagination. It is a remunerative rate of work, and the intervals are comfortable!"
One morning, as the two young men were lounging on the sun-warmed grass at the foot of one of the slanting pines of the Villa Mondragone, Roderick delivered himself of a tissue of lugubrious speculations as to the possible mischances of one's genius. "What if the watch should run down," he asked, "and you should lose the key? What if you should wake up some morning and find it stopped, inexorably, appallingly stopped? Such things have been, and the poor devils to whom they happened have had to grin and bear it. The whole matter of genius is a mystery. It bloweth where it listeth and we know nothing of its mechanism. If it gets out of order we can't mend it; if it breaks down altogether we can't set it going again. We must let it choose its own pace, and hold our breath lest it should lose its balance. It 's dealt out in different doses, in big cups and little, and when you have consumed your portion it 's as naif to ask for more as it was for Oliver Twist to ask for more porridge. Lucky for you if you 've got one of the big cups; we drink them down in the dark, and we can't tell their size until we tip them up and hear the last gurgle. Those of some men last for life; those of others for a couple of years. Nay, what are you smiling at so damnably?" he went on. "Nothing is more common than for an artist who has set out on his journey on a high-stepping horse to find himself all of a sudden dismounted and invited to go his way on foot. You can number them by the thousand-the people of two or three successes; the poor fellows whose candle burnt out in a night. Some of them groped their way along without it, some of them gave themselves up for blind and sat down by the wayside to beg. Who shall say that I 'm not one of these? Who shall assure me that my credit is for an unlimited sum? Nothing proves it, and I never claimed it; or if I did, I did so in the mere boyish joy of shaking off the dust of Northampton. If you believed so, my dear fellow, you did so at your own risk! What am I, what are the best of us, but an experiment? Do I succeed-do I fail? It does n't depend on me. I 'm prepared for failure. It won't be a disappointment, simply because I shan't survive it. The end of my work shall be the end of my life. When I have played my last card, I shall cease to care for the game. I 'm not making vulgar threats of suicide; for destiny, I trust, won't add insult to injury by putting me to that abominable trouble. But I have a conviction that if the hour strikes here," and he tapped his forehead, "I shall disappear, dissolve, be carried off in a cloud! For the past ten days I have had the vision of some such fate perpetually swimming before my eyes. My mind is like a dead calm in the tropics, and my imagination as motionless as the phantom ship in the Ancient Mariner!"
Rowland listened to this outbreak, as he often had occasion to listen to Roderick's heated monologues, with a number of mental restrictions. Both in gravity and in gayety he said more than he meant, and you did him simple justice if you privately concluded that neither the glow of purpose nor the chill of despair was of so intense a character as his florid diction implied. The moods of an artist, his exaltations and depressions, Rowland had often said to himself, were like the pen-flourishes a writing-master makes in the air when he begins to set his copy. He may bespatter you with ink, he may hit you in the eye, but he writes a magnificent hand. It was nevertheless true that at present poor Roderick gave unprecedented tokens of moral stagnation, and as for genius being held by the precarious tenure he had sketched, Rowland was at a loss to see whence he could borrow the authority to contradict him. He sighed to himself, and wished that his companion had a trifle more of little Sam Singleton's evenness of impulse. But then, was Singleton a man of genius? He answered that such reflections seemed to him unprofitable, not to say morbid; that the proof of the pudding was in the eating; that he did n't know about bringing a genius that had palpably spent its last breath back to life again, but that he was satisfied that vigorous effort was a cure for a great many ills that seemed far gone. "Don't heed your mood," he said, "and don't believe there is any calm so dead that your own lungs can't ruffle it with a breeze. If you have work to do, don't wait to feel like it; set to work and you will feel like it."
"Set to work and produce abortions!" cried Roderick with ire. "Preach that to others. Production with me must be either pleasure or nothing. As I said just now, I must either stay in the saddle or not go at all. I won't do second-rate work; I can't if I would. I have no cleverness, apart from inspiration. I am not a Gloriani! You are right," he added after a while; "this is unprofitable talk, and it makes my head ache. I shall take a nap and see if I can dream of a bright idea or two."
He turned his face upward to the parasol of the great pine, closed his eyes, and in a short time forgot his sombre fancies. January though it was, the mild stillness seemed to vibrate with faint midsummer sounds. Rowland sat listening to them and wishing that, for the sake of his own felicity, Roderick's temper were graced with a certain absent ductility. He was brilliant, but was he, like many brilliant things, brittle? Suddenly, to his musing sense, the soft atmospheric hum was overscored with distincter sounds. He heard voices beyond a mass of shrubbery, at the turn of a neighboring path. In a moment one of them began to seem familiar, and an instant later a large white poodle emerged into view. He was slowly followed by his mistress. Miss Light paused a moment on seeing Rowland and his companion; but, though the former perceived that he was recognized, she made no bow. Presently she walked directly toward him. He rose and was on the point of waking Roderick, but she laid her finger on her lips and motioned him to forbear. She stood a moment looking at Roderick's handsome slumber.
"What delicious oblivion!" she said. "Happy man! Stenterello"-and she pointed to his face-"wake him up!"
The poodle extended a long pink tongue and began to lick Roderick's cheek.
"Why," asked Rowland, "if he is happy?"
"Oh, I want companions in misery! Besides, I want to show off my dog." Roderick roused himself, sat up, and stared. By this time Mrs. Light had approached, walking with a gentleman on each side of her. One of these was the Cavaliere Giacosa; the other was Prince Casamassima. "I should have liked to lie down on the grass and go to sleep," Christina added. "But it would have been unheard of."
"Oh, not quite," said the Prince, in English, with a tone of great precision. "There was already a Sleeping Beauty in the Wood!"
"Charming!" cried Mrs. Light. "Do you hear that, my dear?"
"When the prince says a brilliant thing, it would be a pity to lose it," said the young girl. "Your servant, sir!" And she smiled at him with a grace that might have reassured him, if he had thought her compliment ambiguous.
Roderick meanwhile had risen to his feet, and Mrs. Light began to exclaim on the oddity of their meeting and to explain that the day was so lovely that she had been charmed with the idea of spending it in the country. And who would ever have thought of finding Mr. Mallet and Mr. Hudson sleeping under a tree!
"Oh, I beg your pardon; I was not sleeping," said Rowland.
"Don't you know that Mr. Mallet is Mr. Hudson's sheep-dog?" asked Christina. "He was mounting guard to keep away the wolves."
"To indifferent purpose, madame!" said Rowland, indicating the young girl.
"Is that the way you spend your time?" Christina demanded of Roderick. "I never yet happened to learn what men were doing when they supposed women were not watching them but it was something vastly below their reputation."
"When, pray," said Roderick, smoothing his ruffled locks, "are women not watching them?"
"We shall give you something better to do, at any rate. How long have you been here? It 's an age since I have seen you. We consider you domiciled here, and expect you to play host and entertain us."
Roderick said that he could offer them nothing but to show them the great terrace, with its view; and ten minutes later the group was assembled there. Mrs. Light was extravagant in her satisfaction; Christina looked away at the Sabine mountains, in silence. The prince stood by, frowning at the rapture of the elder lady.
"This is nothing," he said at last. "My word of honor. Have you seen the terrace at San Gaetano?"
"Ah, that terrace," murmured Mrs. Light, amorously. "I suppose it is magnificent!"
"It is four hundred feet long, and paved with marble. And the view is a thousand times more beautiful than this. You see, far away, the blue, blue sea and the little smoke of Vesuvio!"
"Christina, love," cried Mrs. Light forthwith, "the prince has a terrace four hundred feet long, all paved with marble!"
The Cavaliere gave a little cough and began to wipe his eye-glass.
"Stupendous!" said Christina. "To go from one end to the other, the prince must have out his golden carriage." This was apparently an allusion to one of the other items of the young man's grandeur.
"You always laugh at me," said the prince. "I know no more what to say!"
She looked at him with a sad smile and shook her head. "No, no, dear prince, I don't laugh at you. Heaven forbid! You are much too serious an affair. I assure you I feel your importance. What did you inform us was the value of the hereditary diamonds of the Princess Casamassima?"
"Ah, you are laughing at me yet!" said the poor young man, standing rigid and pale.
"It does n't matter," Christina went on. "We have a note of it; mamma writes all those things down in a little book!"
"If you are laughed at, dear prince, at least it 's in company," said Mrs. Light, caressingly; and she took his arm, as if to resist his possible displacement under the shock of her daughter's sarcasm. But the prince looked heavy-eyed toward Rowland and Roderick, to whom the young girl was turning, as if he had much rather his lot were cast with theirs.
"Is the villa inhabited?" Christina asked, pointing to the vast melancholy structure which rises above the terrace.
"Not privately," said Roderick. "It is occupied by a Jesuits' college, for little boys."
"Can women go in?"
"I am afraid not." And Roderick began to laugh. "Fancy the poor little devils looking up from their Latin declensions and seeing Miss Light standing there!"
"I should like to see the poor little devils, with their rosy cheeks and their long black gowns, and when they were pretty, I should n't scruple to kiss them. But if I can't have that amusement I must have some other. We must not stand planted on this enchanting terrace as if we were stakes driven into the earth. We must dance, we must feast, we must do something picturesque. Mamma has arranged, I believe, that we are to go back to Frascati to lunch at the inn. I decree that we lunch here and send the Cavaliere to the inn to get the provisions! He can take the carriage, which is waiting below."
Miss Light carried out this undertaking with unfaltering ardor. The Cavaliere was summoned, and he stook to receive her commands hat in hand, with his eyes cast down, as if she had been a princess addressing her major-domo. She, however, laid her hand with friendly grace upon his button-hole, and called him a dear, good old Cavaliere, for being always so willing. Her spirits had risen with the occasion, and she talked irresistible nonsense. "Bring the best they have," she said, "no matter if it ruins us! And if the best is very bad, it will be all the more amusing. I shall enjoy seeing Mr. Mallet try to swallow it for propriety's sake! Mr. Hudson will say out like a man that it 's horrible stuff, and that he 'll be choked first! Be sure you bring a dish of maccaroni; the prince must have the diet of the Neapolitan nobility. But I leave all that to you, my poor, dear Cavaliere; you know what 's good! Only be sure, above all, you bring a guitar. Mr. Mallet will play us a tune, I 'll dance with Mr. Hudson, and mamma will pair off with the prince, of whom she is so fond!"
And as she concluded her recommendations, she patted her bland old servitor caressingly on the shoulder. He looked askance at Rowland; his little black eye glittered; it seemed to say, "Did n't I tell you she was a good girl!"
The Cavaliere returned with zealous speed, accompanied by one of the servants of the inn, laden with a basket containing the materials of a rustic luncheon. The porter of the villa was easily induced to furnish a table and half a dozen chairs, and the repast, when set forth, was pronounced a perfect success; not so good as to fail of the proper picturesqueness, nor yet so bad as to defeat the proper function of repasts. Christina continued to display the most charming animation, and compelled Rowland to reflect privately that, think what one might of her, the harmonious gayety of a beautiful girl was the most beautiful sight in nature. Her good-humor was contagious. Roderick, who an hour before had been descanting on madness and suicide, commingled his laughter with hers in ardent devotion; Prince Casamassima stroked his young moustache and found a fine, cool smile for everything; his neighbor, Mrs. Light, who had Rowland on the other side, made the friendliest confidences to each of the young men, and the Cavaliere contributed to the general hilarity by the solemnity of his attention to his plate. As for Rowland, the spirit of kindly mirth prompted him to propose the health of this useful old gentleman, as the effective author of their pleasure. A moment later he wished he had held his tongue, for although the toast was drunk with demonstrative good-will, the Cavaliere received it with various small signs of eager self-effacement which suggested to Rowland that his diminished gentility but half relished honors which had a flavor of patronage. To perform punctiliously his mysterious duties toward the two ladies, and to elude or to baffle observation on his own merits-this seemed the Cavaliere's modest programme. Rowland perceived that Mrs. Light, who was not always remarkable for tact, seemed to have divined his humor on this point. She touched her glass to her lips, but offered him no compliment and immediately gave another direction to the conversation. He had brought no guitar, so that when the feast was over there was nothing to hold the little group together. Christina wandered away with Roderick to another part of the terrace; the prince, whose smile had vanished, sat gnawing the head of his cane, near Mrs. Light, and Rowland strolled apart with the Cavaliere, to whom he wished to address a friendly word in compensation for the discomfort he had inflicted on his modesty. The Cavaliere was a mine of information upon all Roman places and people; he told Rowland a number of curious anecdotes about the old Villa Mondragone. "If history could always be taught in this fashion!" thought Rowland. "It 's the ideal-strolling up and down on the very spot commemorated, hearing sympathetic anecdotes from deeply indigenous lips." At last, as they passed, Rowland observed the mournful physiognomy of Prince Casamassima, and, glancing toward the other end of the terrace, saw that Roderick and Christina had disappeared from view. The young man was sitting upright, in an attitude, apparently habitual, of ceremonious rigidity; but his lower jaw had fallen and was propped up with his cane, and his dull dark eye was fixed upon the angle of the villa which had just eclipsed Miss Light and her companion. His features were grotesque and his expression vacuous; but there was a lurking delicacy in his face which seemed to tell you that nature had been making Casamassimas for a great many centuries, and, though she adapted her mould to circumstances, had learned to mix her material to an extraordinary fineness and to perform the whole operation with extreme smoothness. The prince was stupid, Rowland suspected, but he imagined he was amiable, and he saw that at any rate he had the great quality of regarding himself in a thoroughly serious light. Rowland touched his companion's arm and pointed to the melancholy nobleman.
"Why in the world does he not go after her and insist on being noticed!" he asked.
"Oh, he 's very proud!" said the Cavaliere.
"That 's all very well, but a gentleman who cultivates a passion for that young lady must be prepared to make sacrifices."
"He thinks he has already made a great many. He comes of a very great family-a race of princes who for six hundred years have married none but the daughters of princes. But he is seriously in love, and he would marry her to-morrow."
"And she will not have him?"
"Ah, she is very proud, too!" The Cavaliere was silent a moment, as if he were measuring the propriety of frankness. He seemed to have formed a high opinion of Rowland's discretion, for he presently continued: "It would be a great match, for she brings him neither a name nor a fortune-nothing but her beauty. But the signorina will receive no favors; I know her well! She would rather have her beauty blasted than seem to care about the marriage, and if she ever accepts the prince it will be only after he has implored her on his knees!"
"But she does care about it," said Rowland, "and to bring him to his knees she is working upon his jealousy by pretending to be interested in my friend Hudson. If you said more, you would say that, eh?"
The Cavaliere's shrewdness exchanged a glance with Rowland's. "By no means. Miss Light is a singular girl; she has many romantic ideas. She would be quite capable of interesting herself seriously in an interesting young man, like your friend, and doing her utmost to discourage a splendid suitor, like the prince. She would act sincerely and she would go very far. But it would be unfortunate for the young man," he added, after a pause, "for at the last she would retreat!"
"A singular girl, indeed!"
"She would accept the more brilliant parti. I can answer for it."
"And what would be her motive?"
"She would be forced. There would be circumstances.... I can't tell you more."
"But this implies that the rejected suitor would also come back. He might grow tired of waiting."
"Oh, this one is good! Look at him now." Rowland looked, and saw that the prince had left his place by Mrs. Light and was marching restlessly to and fro between the villa and the parapet of the terrace. Every now and then he looked at his watch. "In this country, you know," said the Cavaliere, "a young lady never goes walking alone with a handsome young man. It seems to him very strange."
"It must seem to him monstrous, and if he overlooks it he must be very much in love."
"Oh, he will overlook it. He is far gone."
"Who is this exemplary lover, then; what is he?"
"A Neapolitan; one of the oldest houses in Italy. He is a prince in your English sense of the word, for he has a princely fortune. He is very young; he is only just of age; he saw the signorina last winter in Naples. He fell in love with her from the first, but his family interfered, and an old uncle, an ecclesiastic, Monsignor B--, hurried up to Naples, seized him, and locked him up. Meantime he has passed his majority, and he can dispose of himself. His relations are moving heaven and earth to prevent his marrying Miss Light, and they have sent us word that he forfeits his property if he takes his wife out of a certain line. I have investigated the question minutely, and I find this is but a fiction to frighten us. He is perfectly free; but the estates are such that it is no wonder they wish to keep them in their own hands. For Italy, it is an extraordinary case of unincumbered property. The prince has been an orphan from his third year; he has therefore had a long minority and made no inroads upon his fortune. Besides, he is very prudent and orderly; I am only afraid that some day he will pull the purse-strings too tight. All these years his affairs have been in the hands of Monsignor B--, who has managed them to perfection-paid off mortagages, planted forests, opened up mines. It is now a magnificent fortune; such a fortune as, with his name, would justify the young man in pretending to any alliance whatsoever. And he lays it all at the feet of that young girl who is wandering in yonder boschetto with a penniless artist."
"He is certainly a phoenix of princes! The signora must be in a state of bliss."
The Cavaliere looked imperturbably grave. "The signora has a high esteem for his character."
"His character, by the way," rejoined Rowland, with a smile; "what sort of a character is it?"
"Eh, Prince Casamassima is a veritable prince! He is a very good young man. He is not brilliant, nor witty, but he 'll not let himself be made a fool of. He 's very grave and very devout-though he does propose to marry a Protestant. He will handle that point after marriage. He 's as you see him there: a young man without many ideas, but with a very firm grasp of a single one-the conviction that Prince Casamassima is a very great person, that he greatly honors any young lady by asking for her hand, and that things are going very strangely when the young lady turns her back upon him. The poor young man, I am sure, is profoundly perplexed. But I whisper to him every day, 'Pazienza, Signor Principe!'"
"So you firmly believe," said Rowland, in conclusion, "that Miss Light will accept him just in time not to lose him!"
"I count upon it. She would make too perfect a princess to miss her destiny."
"And you hold that nevertheless, in the mean while, in listening to, say, my friend Hudson, she will have been acting in good faith?"
The Cavaliere lifted his shoulders a trifle, and gave an inscrutable smile. "Eh, dear signore, the Christina is very romantic!"
"So much so, you intimate, that she will eventually retract, in consequence not of a change of sentiment, but of a mysterious outward pressure?"
"If everything else fails, there is that resource. But it is mysterious, as you say, and you need n't try to guess it. You will never know."
"The poor signorina, then, will suffer!"
"Not too much, I hope."
"And the poor young man! You maintain that there is nothing but disappointment in store for the infatuated youth who loses his heart to her!"
The Cavaliere hesitated. "He had better," he said in a moment, "go and pursue his studies in Florence. There are very fine antiques in the Uffizi!"
Rowland presently joined Mrs. Light, to whom her restless protege had not yet returned. "That 's right," she said; "sit down here; I have something serious to say to you. I am going to talk to you as a friend. I want your assistance. In fact, I demand it; it 's your duty to render it. Look at that unhappy young man."
"Yes," said Rowland, "he seems unhappy."
"He is just come of age, he bears one of the greatest names in Italy and owns one of the greatest properties, and he is pining away with love for my daughter."
"So the Cavaliere tells me."
"The Cavaliere should n't gossip," said Mrs. Light dryly. "Such information should come from me. The prince is pining, as I say; he 's consumed, he 's devoured. It 's a real Italian passion; I know what that means!" And the lady gave a speaking glance, which seemed to coquet for a moment with retrospect. "Meanwhile, if you please, my daughter is hiding in the woods with your dear friend Mr. Hudson. I could cry with rage."
"If things are so bad as that," said Rowland, "it seems to me that you ought to find nothing easier than to dispatch the Cavaliere to bring the guilty couple back."
"Never in the world! My hands are tied. Do you know what Christina would do? She would tell the Cavaliere to go about his business-Heaven forgive her!-and send me word that, if she had a mind to, she would walk in the woods till midnight. Fancy the Cavaliere coming back and delivering such a message as that before the prince! Think of a girl wantonly making light of such a chance as hers! He would marry her to-morrow, at six o'clock in the morning!"
"It is certainly very sad," said Rowland.
"That costs you little to say. If you had left your precious young meddler to vegetate in his native village you would have saved me a world of distress!"
"Nay, you marched into the jaws of danger," said Rowland. "You came and disinterred poor Hudson in his own secluded studio."
"In an evil hour! I wish to Heaven you would talk with him."
"I have done my best."
"I wish, then, you would take him away. You have plenty of money. Do me a favor. Take him to travel. Go to the East-go to Timbuctoo. Then, when Christina is Princess Casamassima," Mrs. Light added in a moment, "he may come back if he chooses."
"Does she really care for him?" Rowland asked, abruptly.
"She thinks she does, possibly. She is a living riddle. She must needs follow out every idea that comes into her head. Fortunately, most of them don't last long; but this one may last long enough to give the prince a chill. If that were to happen, I don't know what I should do! I should be the most miserable of women. It would be too cruel, after all I 've suffered to make her what she is, to see the labor of years blighted by a caprice. For I can assure you, sir," Mrs. Light went on, "that if my daughter is the greatest beauty in the world, some of the credit is mine."
Rowland promptly remarked that this was obvious. He saw that the lady's irritated nerves demanded comfort from flattering reminiscence, and he assumed designedly the attitude of a zealous auditor. She began to retail her efforts, her hopes, her dreams, her presentiments, her disappointments, in the cause of her daughter's matrimonial fortunes. It was a long story, and while it was being unfolded, the prince continued to pass to and fro, stiffly and solemnly, like a pendulum marking the time allowed for the young lady to come to her senses. Mrs. Light evidently, at an early period, had gathered her maternal hopes into a sacred sheaf, which she said her prayers and burnt incense to, and treated like a sort of fetish. They had been her religion; she had none other, and she performed her devotions bravely and cheerily, in the light of day. The poor old fetish had been so caressed and manipulated, so thrust in and out of its niche, so passed from hand to hand, so dressed and undressed, so mumbled and fumbled over, that it had lost by this time much of its early freshness, and seemed a rather battered and disfeatured divinity. But it was still brought forth in moments of trouble to have its tinseled petticoat twisted about and be set up on its altar. Rowland observed that Mrs. Light had a genuine maternal conscience; she considered that she had been performing a sacred duty in bringing up Christina to set her cap for a prince, and when the future looked dark, she found consolation in thinking that destiny could never have the heart to deal a blow at so deserving a person. This conscience upside down presented to Rowland's fancy a real physical image; he was on the point, half a dozen times, of bursting out laughing.
"I don't know whether you believe in presentiments," said Mrs. Light, "and I don't care! I have had one for the last fifteen years. People have laughed at it, but they have n't laughed me out of it. It has been everything to me. I could n't have lived without it. One must believe in something! It came to me in a flash, when Christina was five years old. I remember the day and the place, as if it were yesterday. She was a very ugly baby; for the first two years I could hardly bear to look at her, and I used to spoil my own looks with crying about her. She had an Italian nurse who was very fond of her and insisted that she would grow up pretty. I could n't believe her; I used to contradict her, and we were forever squabbling. I was just a little silly in those days-surely I may say it now-and I was very fond of being amused. If my daughter was ugly, it was not that she resembled her mamma; I had no lack of amusement. People accused me, I believe, of neglecting my little girl; if it was so, I 've made up for it since. One day I went to drive on the Pincio in very low spirits. A trusted friend had greatly disappointed me. While I was there he passed me in a carriage, driving with a horrible woman who had made trouble between us. I got out of my carriage to walk about, and at last sat down on a bench. I can show you the spot at this hour. While I sat there a child came wandering along the path-a little girl of four or five, very fantastically dressed in crimson and orange. She stopped in front of me and stared at me, and I stared at her queer little dress, which was a cheap imitation of the costume of one of these contadine. At last I looked up at her face, and said to myself, 'Bless me, what a beautiful child! what a splendid pair of eyes, what a magnificent head of hair! If my poor Christina were only like that!' The child turned away slowly, but looking back with its eyes fixed on me. All of a sudden I gave a cry, pounced on it, pressed it in my arms, and covered it with kisses. It was Christina, my own precious child, so disguised by the ridiculous dress which the nurse had amused herself in making for her, that her own mother had not recognized her. She knew me, but she said afterwards that she had not spoken to me because I looked so angry. Of course my face was sad. I rushed with my child to the carriage, drove home post-haste, pulled off her rags, and, as I may say, wrapped her in cotton. I had been blind, I had been insane; she was a creature in ten millions, she was to be a beauty of beauties, a priceless treasure! Every day, after that, the certainty grew. From that time I lived only for my daughter. I watched her, I caressed her from morning till night, I worshipped her. I went to see doctors about her, I took every sort of advice. I was determined she should be perfection. The things that have been done for that girl, sir-you would n't believe them; they would make you smile! Nothing was spared; if I had been told that she must have a bath every morning of molten pearls, I would have found means to give it to her. She never raised a finger for herself, she breathed nothing but perfumes, she walked upon velvet. She never was out of my sight, and from that day to this I have never said a sharp word to her. By the time she was ten years old she was beautiful as an angel, and so noticed wherever we went that I had to make her wear a veil, like a woman of twenty. Her hair reached down to her feet; her hands were the hands of a princess. Then I saw that she was as clever as she was beautiful, and that she had only to play her cards. She had masters, professors, every educational advantage. They told me she was a little prodigy. She speaks French, Italian, German, better than most natives. She has a wonderful genius for music, and might make her fortune as a pianist, if it was not made for her otherwise! I traveled all over Europe; every one told me she was a marvel. The director of the opera in Paris saw her dance at a child's party at Spa, and offered me an enormous sum if I would give her up to him and let him have her educated for the ballet. I said, 'No, I thank you, sir; she is meant to be something finer than a princesse de theatre.' I had a passionate belief that she might marry absolutely whom she chose, that she might be a princess out and out. It has never left me till this hour, and I can assure you that it has sustained me in many embarrassments. Financial, some of them; I don't mind confessing it! I have raised money on that girl's face! I 've taken her to the Jews and bade her put up her veil, and asked if the mother of that young lady was not safe! She, of course, was too young to understand me. And yet, as a child, you would have said she knew what was in store for her; before she could read, she had the manners, the tastes, the instincts of a little princess. She would have nothing to do with shabby things or shabby people; if she stained one of her frocks, she was seized with a kind of frenzy and tore it to pieces. At Nice, at Baden, at Brighton, wherever we stayed, she used to be sent for by all the great people to play with their children. She has played at kissing-games with people who now stand on the steps of thrones! I have gone so far as to think at times that those childish kisses were a sign-a symbol-a portent. You may laugh at me if you like, but have n't such things happened again and again without half as good a cause, and does n't history notoriously repeat itself? There was a little Spanish girl at a second-rate English boarding-school thirty years ago!... The Empress certainly is a pretty woman; but what is my Christina, pray? I 've dreamt of it, sometimes every night for a month. I won't tell you I have been to consult those old women who advertise in the newspapers; you 'll call me an old imbecile. Imbecile if you please! I have refused magnificent offers because I believed that somehow or other-if wars and revolutions were needed to bring it about-we should have nothing less than that. There might be another coup d'etat somewhere, and another brilliant young sovereign looking out for a wife! At last, however," Mrs. Light proceeded with incomparable gravity, "since the overturning of the poor king of Naples and that charming queen, and the expulsion of all those dear little old-fashioned Italian grand-dukes, and the dreadful radical talk that is going on all over the world, it has come to seem to me that with Christina in such a position I should be really very nervous. Even in such a position she would hold her head very high, and if anything should happen to her, she would make no concessions to the popular fury. The best thing, if one is prudent, seems to be a nobleman of the highest possible rank, short of belonging to a reigning stock. There you see one striding up and down, looking at his watch, and counting the minutes till my daughter reappears!"
Rowland listened to all this with a huge compassion for the heroine of the tale. What an education, what a history, what a school of character and of morals! He looked at the prince and wondered whether he too had heard Mrs. Light's story. If he had he was a brave man. "I certainly hope you 'll keep him," he said to Mrs. Light. "You have played a dangerous game with your daughter; it would be a pity not to win. But there is hope for you yet; here she comes at last!"
Christina reappeared as he spoke these words, strolling beside her companion with the same indifferent tread with which she had departed. Rowland imagined that there was a faint pink flush in her cheek which she had not carried away with her, and there was certainly a light in Roderick's eyes which he had not seen there for a week.
"Bless my soul, how they are all looking at us!" she cried, as they advanced. "One would think we were prisoners of the Inquisition!" And she paused and glanced from the prince to her mother, and from Rowland to the Cavaliere, and then threw back her head and burst into far-ringing laughter. "What is it, pray? Have I been very improper? Am I ruined forever? Dear prince, you are looking at me as if I had committed the unpardonable sin!"
"I myself," said the prince, "would never have ventured to ask you to walk with me alone in the country for an hour!"
"The more fool you, dear prince, as the vulgar say! Our walk has been charming. I hope you, on your side, have enjoyed each other's society."
"My dear daughter," said Mrs. Light, taking the arm of her predestined son-in-law, "I shall have something serious to say to you when we reach home. We will go back to the carriage."
"Something serious! Decidedly, it is the Inquisition. Mr. Hudson, stand firm, and let us agree to make no confessions without conferring previously with each other! They may put us on the rack first. Mr. Mallet, I see also," Christina added, "has something serious to say to me!"
Rowland had been looking at her with the shadow of his lately-stirred pity in his eyes. "Possibly," he said. "But it must be for some other time."
"I am at your service. I see our good-humor is gone. And I only wanted to be amiable! It is very discouraging. Cavaliere, you, only, look as if you had a little of the milk of human kindness left; from your venerable visage, at least; there is no telling what you think. Give me your arm and take me away!"
The party took its course back to the carriage, which was waiting in the grounds of the villa, and Rowland and Roderick bade their friends farewell. Christina threw herself back in her seat and closed her eyes; a manoeuvre for which Rowland imagined the prince was grateful, as it enabled him to look at her without seeming to depart from his attitude of distinguished disapproval. Rowland found himself aroused from sleep early the next morning, to see Roderick standing before him, dressed for departure, with his bag in his hand. "I am off," he said. "I am back to work. I have an idea. I must strike while the iron 's hot! Farewell!" And he departed by the first train. Rowland went alone by the next.