Part 3 out of 8
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 pre; aueminently, 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
insistance 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.