Part 4 out of 8
"When you err, you say, the fault 's your own," he said at last.
"It is because your faults are your own that I care about them."
Rowland's voice, when he spoke with feeling, had an extraordinary amenity.
Roderick sat staring a moment longer at the floor, then he sprang
up and laid his hand affectionately on his friend's shoulder.
"You are the best man in the world," he said, "and I am a vile brute.
Only," he added in a moment, "you don't understand me!" And he looked
at him with eyes of such radiant lucidity that one might have said
(and Rowland did almost say so, himself) that it was the fault of one's
own grossness if one failed to read to the bottom of that beautiful soul.
Rowland smiled sadly. "What is it now? Explain."
"Oh, I can't explain!" cried Roderick impatiently, returning to his work.
"I have only one way of expressing my deepest feelings--it 's this!"
And he swung his tool. He stood looking at the half-wrought clay
for a moment, and then flung the instrument down. "And even this half
the time plays me false!"
Rowland felt that his irritation had not subsided,
and he himself had no taste for saying disagreeable things.
Nevertheless he saw no sufficient reason to forbear uttering
the words he had had on his conscience from the beginning.
"We must do what we can and be thankful," he said.
"And let me assure you of this--that it won't help you to become
entangled with Miss Light."
Roderick pressed his hand to his forehead with vehemence and then shook
it in the air, despairingly; a gesture that had become frequent with him
since he had been in Italy. "No, no, it 's no use; you don't understand me!
But I don't blame you. You can't!"
"You think it will help you, then?" said Rowland, wondering.
"I think that when you expect a man to produce beautiful and wonderful
works of art, you ought to allow him a certain freedom of action,
you ought to give him a long rope, you ought to let him follow his
fancy and look for his material wherever he thinks he may find it!
A mother can't nurse her child unless she follows a certain diet; an artist
can't bring his visions to maturity unless he has a certain experience.
You demand of us to be imaginative, and you deny us that which feeds
the imagination. In labor we must be as passionate as the inspired sibyl;
in life we must be mere machines. It won't do. When you have got an
artist to deal with, you must take him as he is, good and bad together.
I don't say they are pleasant fellows to know or easy fellows to live with;
I don't say they satisfy themselves any better than other people.
I only say that if you want them to produce, you must let them conceive.
If you want a bird to sing, you must not cover up its cage.
Shoot them, the poor devils, drown them, exterminate them, if you will,
in the interest of public morality; it may be morality would gain--
I dare say it would! But if you suffer them to live, let them live
on their own terms and according to their own inexorable needs!"
Rowland burst out laughing. "I have no wish whatever either
to shoot you or to drown you!" he said. "Why launch such a
tirade against a warning offered you altogether in the interest
of your freest development? Do you really mean that you have
an inexorable need of embarking on a flirtation with Miss Light?--
a flirtation as to the felicity of which there may be differences
of opinion, but which cannot at best, under the circumstances,
be called innocent. Your last summer's adventures were more so!
As for the terms on which you are to live, I had an idea you
had arranged them otherwise!"
"I have arranged nothing--thank God! I don't pretend to arrange.
I am young and ardent and inquisitive, and I admire Miss Light.
That 's enough. I shall go as far as admiration leads me.
I am not afraid. Your genuine artist may be sometimes half a madman,
but he 's not a coward!"
"Suppose that in your speculation you should come to grief,
not only sentimentally but artistically?"
"Come what come will! If I 'm to fizzle out, the sooner
I know it the better. Sometimes I half suspect it.
But let me at least go out and reconnoitre for the enemy,
and not sit here waiting for him, cudgeling my brains for ideas
that won't come!"
Do what he would, Rowland could not think of Roderick's theory
of unlimited experimentation, especially as applied in the case
under discussion, as anything but a pernicious illusion.
But he saw it was vain to combat longer, for inclination
was powerfully on Roderick's side. He laid his hand on
Roderick's shoulder, looked at him a moment with troubled eyes,
then shook his head mournfully and turned away.
"I can't work any more," said Roderick. "You have upset me!
I 'll go and stroll on the Pincian." And he tossed aside
his working-jacket and prepared himself for the street.
As he was arranging his cravat before the glass,
something occurred to him which made him thoughtful.
He stopped a few moments afterward, as they were going out,
with his hand on the door-knob. "You did, from your own point
of view, an indiscreet thing," he said, "to tell Miss Light
of my engagement."
Rowland looked at him with a glance which was partly an interrogation,
but partly, also, an admission.
"If she 's the coquette you say," Roderick added, "you have given
her a reason the more."
"And that 's the girl you propose to devote yourself to?" cried Rowland.
"Oh, I don't say it, mind! I only say that she 's the most interesting
creature in the world! The next time you mean to render me a service,
pray give me notice beforehand!"
It was perfectly characteristic of Roderick that, a fortnight later, he should
have let his friend know that he depended upon him for society at Frascati,
as freely as if no irritating topic had ever been discussed between them.
Rowland thought him generous, and he had at any rate a liberal faculty
of forgetting that he had given you any reason to be displeased with him.
It was equally characteristic of Rowland that he complied with his friend's
summons without a moment's hesitation. His cousin Cecilia had once told him
that he was the dupe of his intense benevolence. She put the case with too
little favor, or too much, as the reader chooses; it is certain, at least,
that he had a constitutional tendency towards magnanimous interpretations.
Nothing happened, however, to suggest to him that he was deluded in thinking
that Roderick's secondary impulses were wiser than his primary ones,
and that the rounded total of his nature had a harmony perfectly attuned
to the most amiable of its brilliant parts. Roderick's humor, for the time,
was pitched in a minor key; he was lazy, listless, and melancholy,
but he had never been more friendly and kindly and appealingly submissive.
Winter had begun, by the calendar, but the weather was divinely mild,
and the two young men took long slow strolls on the hills and lounged away
the mornings in the villas. The villas at Frascati are delicious places,
and replete with romantic suggestiveness. Roderick, as he had said,
was meditating, and if a masterpiece was to come of his meditations,
Rowland was perfectly willing to bear him company and coax along the process.
But Roderick let him know from the first that he was in a miserably
sterile mood, and, cudgel his brains as he would, could think of nothing
that would serve for the statue he was to make for Mr. Leavenworth.
"It is worse out here than in Rome," he said, "for here
I am face to face with the dead blank of my mind!
There I could n't think of anything either, but there
I found things to make me forget that I needed to."
This was as frank an allusion to Christina Light as could have been
expected under the circumstances; it seemed, indeed, to Rowland
surprisingly frank, and a pregnant example of his companion's
often strangely irresponsible way of looking at harmful facts.
Roderick was silent sometimes for hours, with a puzzled look on his
face and a constant fold between his even eyebrows; at other times
he talked unceasingly, with a slow, idle, half-nonsensical drawl.
Rowland was half a dozen times on the point of asking him what
was the matter with him; he was afraid he was going to be ill.
Roderick had taken a great fancy to the Villa Mondragone,
and used to declaim fantastic compliments to it as they
strolled in the winter sunshine on the great terrace which
looks toward Tivoli and the iridescent Sabine mountains.
He carried his volume of Ariosto in his pocket, and took
it out every now and then and spouted half a dozen stanzas
to his companion. He was, as a general thing, very little
of a reader; but at intervals he would take a fancy to one of
the classics and peruse it for a month in disjointed scraps.
He had picked up Italian without study, and had a wonderfully
sympathetic accent, though in reading aloud he ruined
the sense of half the lines he rolled off so sonorously.
Rowland, who pronounced badly but understood everything,
once said to him that Ariosto was not the poet for a man
of his craft; a sculptor should make a companion of Dante.
So he lent him the Inferno, which he had brought with him,
and advised him to look into it. Roderick took it
with some eagerness; perhaps it would brighten his wits.
He returned it the next day with disgust; he had found
it intolerably depressing.
"A sculptor should model as Dante writes--you 're right there," he said.
"But when his genius is in eclipse, Dante is a dreadfully smoky lamp.
By what perversity of fate," he went on, "has it come about that I am
a sculptor at all? A sculptor is such a confoundedly special genius;
there are so few subjects he can treat, so few things in life that bear
upon his work, so few moods in which he himself is inclined to it."
(It may be noted that Rowland had heard him a dozen times affirm
the flat reverse of all this.) "If I had only been a painter--
a little quiet, docile, matter-of-fact painter, like our friend Singleton--
I should only have to open my Ariosto here to find a subject, to find color
and attitudes, stuffs and composition; I should only have to look up from
the page at that mouldy old fountain against the blue sky, at that cypress
alley wandering away like a procession of priests in couples, at the crags
and hollows of the Sabine hills, to find myself grasping my brush.
Best of all would be to be Ariosto himself, or one of his brotherhood.
Then everything in nature would give you a hint, and every form
of beauty be part of your stock. You would n't have to look at
things only to say,--with tears of rage half the time,--'Oh, yes,
it 's wonderfully pretty, but what the deuce can I do with it?'
But a sculptor, now! That 's a pretty trade for a fellow who has got
his living to make and yet is so damnably constituted that he can't work
to order, and considers that, aesthetically, clock ornaments don't pay!
You can't model the serge-coated cypresses, nor those mouldering old
Tritons and all the sunny sadness of that dried-up fountain; you can't
put the light into marble--the lovely, caressing, consenting Italian
light that you get so much of for nothing. Say that a dozen times in his
life a man has a complete sculpturesque vision--a vision in which the
imagination recognizes a subject and the subject kindles the imagination.
It is a remunerative rate of work, and the intervals are comfortable!"
One morning, as the two young men were lounging on the sun-warmed
grass at the foot of one of the slanting pines of the Villa
Mondragone, Roderick delivered himself of a tissue of lugubrious
speculations as to the possible mischances of one's genius.
"What if the watch should run down," he asked, "and you
should lose the key? What if you should wake up some morning
and find it stopped, inexorably, appallingly stopped?
Such things have been, and the poor devils to whom they happened have
had to grin and bear it. The whole matter of genius is a mystery.
It bloweth where it listeth and we know nothing of its mechanism.
If it gets out of order we can't mend it; if it breaks down
altogether we can't set it going again. We must let it choose
its own pace, and hold our breath lest it should lose its balance.
It 's dealt out in different doses, in big cups and little,
and when you have consumed your portion it 's as naif to ask
for more as it was for Oliver Twist to ask for more porridge.
Lucky for you if you 've got one of the big cups; we drink
them down in the dark, and we can't tell their size until
we tip them up and hear the last gurgle. Those of some men
last for life; those of others for a couple of years.
Nay, what are you smiling at so damnably?" he went on.
"Nothing is more common than for an artist who has set out
on his journey on a high-stepping horse to find himself all
of a sudden dismounted and invited to go his way on foot.
You can number them by the thousand--the people of two or
three successes; the poor fellows whose candle burnt out in a night.
Some of them groped their way along without it, some of them
gave themselves up for blind and sat down by the wayside
to beg. Who shall say that I 'm not one of these?
Who shall assure me that my credit is for an unlimited sum?
Nothing proves it, and I never claimed it; or if I did, I did
so in the mere boyish joy of shaking off the dust of Northampton.
If you believed so, my dear fellow, you did so at your own risk!
What am I, what are the best of us, but an experiment? Do I succeed--
do I fail? It does n't depend on me. I 'm prepared for failure.
It won't be a disappointment, simply because I shan't survive it.
The end of my work shall be the end of my life. When I have
played my last card, I shall cease to care for the game.
I 'm not making vulgar threats of suicide; for destiny, I trust,
won't add insult to injury by putting me to that abominable trouble.
But I have a conviction that if the hour strikes here,"
and he tapped his forehead, "I shall disappear, dissolve, be carried
off in a cloud! For the past ten days I have had the vision
of some such fate perpetually swimming before my eyes.
My mind is like a dead calm in the tropics, and my imagination
as motionless as the phantom ship in the Ancient Mariner!"
Rowland listened to this outbreak, as he often had occasion to listen
to Roderick's heated monologues, with a number of mental restrictions.
Both in gravity and in gayety he said more than he meant, and you
did him simple justice if you privately concluded that neither
the glow of purpose nor the chill of despair was of so intense
a character as his florid diction implied. The moods of an artist,
his exaltations and depressions, Rowland had often said to himself,
were like the pen-flourishes a writing-master makes in the air
when he begins to set his copy. He may bespatter you with ink,
he may hit you in the eye, but he writes a magnificent hand.
It was nevertheless true that at present poor Roderick gave
unprecedented tokens of moral stagnation, and as for genius being
held by the precarious tenure he had sketched, Rowland was at a loss
to see whence he could borrow the authority to contradict him.
He sighed to himself, and wished that his companion had a
trifle more of little Sam Singleton's evenness of impulse.
But then, was Singleton a man of genius? He answered that such
reflections seemed to him unprofitable, not to say morbid;
that the proof of the pudding was in the eating; that he did n't
know about bringing a genius that had palpably spent its last
breath back to life again, but that he was satisfied that vigorous
effort was a cure for a great many ills that seemed far gone.
"Don't heed your mood," he said, "and don't believe there is any
calm so dead that your own lungs can't ruffle it with a breeze.
If you have work to do, don't wait to feel like it; set to work
and you will feel like it."
"Set to work and produce abortions!" cried Roderick with ire.
"Preach that to others. Production with me must be either
pleasure or nothing. As I said just now, I must either stay
in the saddle or not go at all. I won't do second-rate work;
I can't if I would. I have no cleverness, apart from inspiration.
I am not a Gloriani! You are right," he added after a while;
"this is unprofitable talk, and it makes my head ache.
I shall take a nap and see if I can dream of a bright idea or two."
He turned his face upward to the parasol of the great pine,
closed his eyes, and in a short time forgot his sombre fancies.
January though it was, the mild stillness seemed to vibrate with faint
midsummer sounds. Rowland sat listening to them and wishing that,
for the sake of his own felicity, Roderick's temper were graced
with a certain absent ductility. He was brilliant, but was he,
like many brilliant things, brittle? Suddenly, to his musing sense,
the soft atmospheric hum was overscored with distincter sounds.
He heard voices beyond a mass of shrubbery, at the turn of a
neighboring path. In a moment one of them began to seem familiar,
and an instant later a large white poodle emerged into view.
He was slowly followed by his mistress. Miss Light paused a moment
on seeing Rowland and his companion; but, though the former perceived
that he was recognized, she made no bow. Presently she walked
directly toward him. He rose and was on the point of waking Roderick,
but she laid her finger on her lips and motioned him to forbear.
She stood a moment looking at Roderick's handsome slumber.
"What delicious oblivion!" she said. "Happy man! Stenterello"--and she
pointed to his face--"wake him up!"
The poodle extended a long pink tongue and began to lick Roderick's cheek.
"Why," asked Rowland, "if he is happy?"
"Oh, I want companions in misery! Besides, I want to show off my dog."
Roderick roused himself, sat up, and stared. By this time Mrs. Light
had approached, walking with a gentleman on each side of her.
One of these was the Cavaliere Giacosa; the other was Prince Casamassima.
"I should have liked to lie down on the grass and go to sleep,"
Christina added. "But it would have been unheard of."
"Oh, not quite," said the Prince, in English, with a tone of great precision.
"There was already a Sleeping Beauty in the Wood!"
"Charming!" cried Mrs. Light. "Do you hear that, my dear?"
"When the prince says a brilliant thing, it would be a pity
to lose it," said the young girl. "Your servant, sir!"
And she smiled at him with a grace that might have reassured him,
if he had thought her compliment ambiguous.
Roderick meanwhile had risen to his feet, and Mrs. Light began to exclaim
on the oddity of their meeting and to explain that the day was so lovely
that she had been charmed with the idea of spending it in the country.
And who would ever have thought of finding Mr. Mallet and Mr. Hudson
sleeping under a tree!
"Oh, I beg your pardon; I was not sleeping," said Rowland.
"Don't you know that Mr. Mallet is Mr. Hudson's sheep-dog?" asked Christina.
"He was mounting guard to keep away the wolves."
"To indifferent purpose, madame!" said Rowland, indicating the young girl.
"Is that the way you spend your time?" Christina demanded of Roderick.
"I never yet happened to learn what men were doing when they supposed women
were not watching them but it was something vastly below their reputation."
"When, pray," said Roderick, smoothing his ruffled locks,
"are women not watching them?"
"We shall give you something better to do, at any rate.
How long have you been here? It 's an age since I have seen you.
We consider you domiciled here, and expect you to play host
and entertain us."
Roderick said that he could offer them nothing but to show them
the great terrace, with its view; and ten minutes later the group
was assembled there. Mrs. Light was extravagant in her satisfaction;
Christina looked away at the Sabine mountains, in silence.
The prince stood by, frowning at the rapture of the elder lady.
"This is nothing," he said at last. "My word of honor.
Have you seen the terrace at San Gaetano?"
"Ah, that terrace," murmured Mrs. Light, amorously. "I suppose
it is magnificent!"
"It is four hundred feet long, and paved with marble.
And the view is a thousand times more beautiful than this.
You see, far away, the blue, blue sea and the little
smoke of Vesuvio!"
"Christina, love," cried Mrs. Light forthwith, "the prince has
a terrace four hundred feet long, all paved with marble!"
The Cavaliere gave a little cough and began to wipe his eye-glass.
"Stupendous!" said Christina. "To go from one end to
the other, the prince must have out his golden carriage."
This was apparently an allusion to one of the other items
of the young man's grandeur.
"You always laugh at me," said the prince. "I know no more what to say!"
She looked at him with a sad smile and shook her head.
"No, no, dear prince, I don't laugh at you. Heaven forbid!
You are much too serious an affair. I assure you I feel your importance.
What did you inform us was the value of the hereditary diamonds
of the Princess Casamassima?"
"Ah, you are laughing at me yet!" said the poor young man,
standing rigid and pale.
"It does n't matter," Christina went on. "We have a note of it;
mamma writes all those things down in a little book!"
"If you are laughed at, dear prince, at least it 's in company,"
said Mrs. Light, caressingly; and she took his arm, as if to resist
his possible displacement under the shock of her daughter's sarcasm.
But the prince looked heavy-eyed toward Rowland and Roderick,
to whom the young girl was turning, as if he had much rather his lot
were cast with theirs.
"Is the villa inhabited?" Christina asked, pointing to the vast
melancholy structure which rises above the terrace.
"Not privately," said Roderick. "It is occupied by a Jesuits'
college, for little boys."
"Can women go in?"
"I am afraid not." And Roderick began to laugh.
"Fancy the poor little devils looking up from their Latin
declensions and seeing Miss Light standing there!"
"I should like to see the poor little devils, with their rosy
cheeks and their long black gowns, and when they were pretty,
I should n't scruple to kiss them. But if I can't have that
amusement I must have some other. We must not stand planted on this
enchanting terrace as if we were stakes driven into the earth.
We must dance, we must feast, we must do something picturesque.
Mamma has arranged, I believe, that we are to go back
to Frascati to lunch at the inn. I decree that we lunch
here and send the Cavaliere to the inn to get the provisions!
He can take the carriage, which is waiting below."
Miss Light carried out this undertaking with unfaltering ardor.
The Cavaliere was summoned, and he stook to receive her commands
hat in hand, with his eyes cast down, as if she had been
a princess addressing her major-domo. She, however, laid her hand
with friendly grace upon his button-hole, and called him a dear,
good old Cavaliere, for being always so willing. Her spirits had
risen with the occasion, and she talked irresistible nonsense.
"Bring the best they have," she said, "no matter if it ruins us!
And if the best is very bad, it will be all the more amusing.
I shall enjoy seeing Mr. Mallet try to swallow it for propriety's sake!
Mr. Hudson will say out like a man that it 's horrible stuff,
and that he 'll be choked first! Be sure you bring a dish of maccaroni;
the prince must have the diet of the Neapolitan nobility.
But I leave all that to you, my poor, dear Cavaliere; you know
what 's good! Only be sure, above all, you bring a guitar.
Mr. Mallet will play us a tune, I 'll dance with Mr. Hudson,
and mamma will pair off with the prince, of whom she is so fond!"
And as she concluded her recommendations, she patted
her bland old servitor caressingly on the shoulder.
He looked askance at Rowland; his little black eye glittered;
it seemed to say, "Did n't I tell you she was a good girl!"
The Cavaliere returned with zealous speed, accompanied by one
of the servants of the inn, laden with a basket containing
the materials of a rustic luncheon. The porter of the villa
was easily induced to furnish a table and half a dozen chairs,
and the repast, when set forth, was pronounced a perfect success;
not so good as to fail of the proper picturesqueness,
nor yet so bad as to defeat the proper function of repasts.
Christina continued to display the most charming animation,
and compelled Rowland to reflect privately that,
think what one might of her, the harmonious gayety of a
beautiful girl was the most beautiful sight in nature.
Her good-humor was contagious. Roderick, who an hour before had
been descanting on madness and suicide, commingled his laughter
with hers in ardent devotion; Prince Casamassima stroked his
young moustache and found a fine, cool smile for everything;
his neighbor, Mrs. Light, who had Rowland on the other side,
made the friendliest confidences to each of the young men,
and the Cavaliere contributed to the general hilarity by
the solemnity of his attention to his plate. As for Rowland,
the spirit of kindly mirth prompted him to propose the health of this
useful old gentleman, as the effective author of their pleasure.
A moment later he wished he had held his tongue, for although
the toast was drunk with demonstrative good-will, the Cavaliere
received it with various small signs of eager self-effacement
which suggested to Rowland that his diminished gentility
but half relished honors which had a flavor of patronage.
To perform punctiliously his mysterious duties toward
the two ladies, and to elude or to baffle observation on his
own merits--this seemed the Cavaliere's modest programme.
Rowland perceived that Mrs. Light, who was not always remarkable
for tact, seemed to have divined his humor on this point.
She touched her glass to her lips, but offered him no compliment
and immediately gave another direction to the conversation.
He had brought no guitar, so that when the feast was over there
was nothing to hold the little group together. Christina wandered
away with Roderick to another part of the terrace; the prince,
whose smile had vanished, sat gnawing the head of his cane,
near Mrs. Light, and Rowland strolled apart with the Cavaliere,
to whom he wished to address a friendly word in compensation
for the discomfort he had inflicted on his modesty.
The Cavaliere was a mine of information upon all Roman places
and people; he told Rowland a number of curious anecdotes
about the old Villa Mondragone. "If history could always be
taught in this fashion!" thought Rowland. "It 's the ideal--
strolling up and down on the very spot commemorated,
hearing sympathetic anecdotes from deeply indigenous lips."
At last, as they passed, Rowland observed the mournful
physiognomy of Prince Casamassima, and, glancing toward
the other end of the terrace, saw that Roderick and Christina
had disappeared from view. The young man was sitting upright,
in an attitude, apparently habitual, of ceremonious rigidity;
but his lower jaw had fallen and was propped up with his cane,
and his dull dark eye was fixed upon the angle of the villa
which had just eclipsed Miss Light and her companion.
His features were grotesque and his expression vacuous;
but there was a lurking delicacy in his face which seemed
to tell you that nature had been making Casamassimas for a great
many centuries, and, though she adapted her mould to circumstances,
had learned to mix her material to an extraordinary fineness
and to perform the whole operation with extreme smoothness.
The prince was stupid, Rowland suspected, but he imagined
he was amiable, and he saw that at any rate he had the great
quality of regarding himself in a thoroughly serious light.
Rowland touched his companion's arm and pointed to
the melancholy nobleman.
"Why in the world does he not go after her and insist on
being noticed!" he asked.
"Oh, he 's very proud!" said the Cavaliere.
"That 's all very well, but a gentleman who cultivates a passion
for that young lady must be prepared to make sacrifices."
"He thinks he has already made a great many. He comes
of a very great family--a race of princes who for six hundred
years have married none but the daughters of princes.
But he is seriously in love, and he would marry her to-morrow."
"And she will not have him?"
"Ah, she is very proud, too!" The Cavaliere was silent
a moment, as if he were measuring the propriety of frankness.
He seemed to have formed a high opinion of Rowland's discretion,
for he presently continued: "It would be a great match, for she
brings him neither a name nor a fortune--nothing but her beauty.
But the signorina will receive no favors; I know her well!
She would rather have her beauty blasted than seem to care
about the marriage, and if she ever accepts the prince it
will be only after he has implored her on his knees!"
"But she does care about it," said Rowland, "and to bring him
to his knees she is working upon his jealousy by pretending
to be interested in my friend Hudson. If you said more,
you would say that, eh?"
The Cavaliere's shrewdness exchanged a glance with Rowland's. "By no means.
Miss Light is a singular girl; she has many romantic ideas. She would be
quite capable of interesting herself seriously in an interesting young man,
like your friend, and doing her utmost to discourage a splendid suitor,
like the prince. She would act sincerely and she would go very far.
But it would be unfortunate for the young man," he added, after a pause,
"for at the last she would retreat!"
"A singular girl, indeed!"
"She would accept the more brilliant parti. I can answer for it."
"And what would be her motive?"
"She would be forced. There would be circumstances.... I can't
tell you more."
"But this implies that the rejected suitor would also come back.
He might grow tired of waiting."
"Oh, this one is good! Look at him now." Rowland looked,
and saw that the prince had left his place by Mrs. Light and was
marching restlessly to and fro between the villa and the parapet
of the terrace. Every now and then he looked at his watch.
"In this country, you know," said the Cavaliere, "a young
lady never goes walking alone with a handsome young man.
It seems to him very strange."
"It must seem to him monstrous, and if he overlooks it he must
be very much in love."
"Oh, he will overlook it. He is far gone."
"Who is this exemplary lover, then; what is he?"
"A Neapolitan; one of the oldest houses in Italy. He is a prince
in your English sense of the word, for he has a princely fortune.
He is very young; he is only just of age; he saw the signorina
last winter in Naples. He fell in love with her from the first,
but his family interfered, and an old uncle, an ecclesiastic,
Monsignor B----, hurried up to Naples, seized him, and locked him up.
Meantime he has passed his majority, and he can dispose of himself.
His relations are moving heaven and earth to prevent his
marrying Miss Light, and they have sent us word that he forfeits
his property if he takes his wife out of a certain line.
I have investigated the question minutely, and I find this is but a
fiction to frighten us. He is perfectly free; but the estates are
such that it is no wonder they wish to keep them in their own hands.
For Italy, it is an extraordinary case of unincumbered property.
The prince has been an orphan from his third year; he has therefore
had a long minority and made no inroads upon his fortune.
Besides, he is very prudent and orderly; I am only afraid that some day
he will pull the purse-strings too tight. All these years his affairs
have been in the hands of Monsignor B----, who has managed them
to perfection--paid off mortagages, planted forests, opened up mines.
It is now a magnificent fortune; such a fortune as, with his name,
would justify the young man in pretending to any alliance whatsoever.
And he lays it all at the feet of that young girl who is wandering
in yonder boschetto with a penniless artist."
"He is certainly a phoenix of princes! The signora must
be in a state of bliss."
The Cavaliere looked imperturbably grave. "The signora has a high
esteem for his character."
"His character, by the way," rejoined Rowland, with a smile;
"what sort of a character is it?"
"Eh, Prince Casamassima is a veritable prince!
He is a very good young man. He is not brilliant,
nor witty, but he 'll not let himself be made a fool of.
He 's very grave and very devout--though he does propose to marry
a Protestant. He will handle that point after marriage.
He 's as you see him there: a young man without many ideas,
but with a very firm grasp of a single one--the conviction that
Prince Casamassima is a very great person, that he greatly honors
any young lady by asking for her hand, and that things are going
very strangely when the young lady turns her back upon him.
The poor young man, I am sure, is profoundly perplexed.
But I whisper to him every day, 'Pazienza, Signor Principe!' "
"So you firmly believe," said Rowland, in conclusion, "that Miss
Light will accept him just in time not to lose him!"
"I count upon it. She would make too perfect a princess
to miss her destiny."
"And you hold that nevertheless, in the mean while,
in listening to, say, my friend Hudson, she will have been
acting in good faith?"
The Cavaliere lifted his shoulders a trifle, and gave an inscrutable smile.
"Eh, dear signore, the Christina is very romantic!"
"So much so, you intimate, that she will eventually retract, in consequence
not of a change of sentiment, but of a mysterious outward pressure?"
"If everything else fails, there is that resource.
But it is mysterious, as you say, and you need n't try to guess it.
You will never know."
"The poor signorina, then, will suffer!"
"Not too much, I hope."
"And the poor young man! You maintain that there is nothing
but disappointment in store for the infatuated youth who loses
his heart to her!"
The Cavaliere hesitated. "He had better," he said in a moment,
"go and pursue his studies in Florence. There are very fine
antiques in the Uffizi!"
Rowland presently joined Mrs. Light, to whom her restless
protege had not yet returned. "That 's right," she said;
"sit down here; I have something serious to say to you.
I am going to talk to you as a friend. I want your assistance.
In fact, I demand it; it 's your duty to render it.
Look at that unhappy young man."
"Yes," said Rowland, "he seems unhappy."
"He is just come of age, he bears one of the greatest names in Italy
and owns one of the greatest properties, and he is pining away with love
for my daughter."
"So the Cavaliere tells me."
"The Cavaliere should n't gossip," said Mrs. Light dryly.
"Such information should come from me. The prince
is pining, as I say; he 's consumed, he 's devoured.
It 's a real Italian passion; I know what that means!"
And the lady gave a speaking glance, which seemed to coquet
for a moment with retrospect. "Meanwhile, if you please,
my daughter is hiding in the woods with your dear friend Mr. Hudson.
I could cry with rage."
"If things are so bad as that," said Rowland, "it seems to me that you
ought to find nothing easier than to dispatch the Cavaliere to bring
the guilty couple back."
"Never in the world! My hands are tied. Do you know what Christina
would do? She would tell the Cavaliere to go about his business--
Heaven forgive her!--and send me word that, if she had a mind to,
she would walk in the woods till midnight. Fancy the Cavaliere
coming back and delivering such a message as that before the prince!
Think of a girl wantonly making light of such a chance as hers!
He would marry her to-morrow, at six o'clock in the morning!"
"It is certainly very sad," said Rowland.
"That costs you little to say. If you had left your precious young
meddler to vegetate in his native village you would have saved me
a world of distress!"
"Nay, you marched into the jaws of danger," said Rowland.
"You came and disinterred poor Hudson in his own secluded studio."
"In an evil hour! I wish to Heaven you would talk with him."
"I have done my best."
"I wish, then, you would take him away. You have plenty of money.
Do me a favor. Take him to travel. Go to the East--go to Timbuctoo.
Then, when Christina is Princess Casamassima," Mrs. Light added in a moment,
"he may come back if he chooses."
"Does she really care for him?" Rowland asked, abruptly.
"She thinks she does, possibly. She is a living riddle.
She must needs follow out every idea that comes into her head.
Fortunately, most of them don't last long; but this one may last long
enough to give the prince a chill. If that were to happen, I don't
know what I should do! I should be the most miserable of women.
It would be too cruel, after all I 've suffered to make her
what she is, to see the labor of years blighted by a caprice.
For I can assure you, sir," Mrs. Light went on, "that if my daughter
is the greatest beauty in the world, some of the credit is mine."
Rowland promptly remarked that this was obvious.
He saw that the lady's irritated nerves demanded comfort from
flattering reminiscence, and he assumed designedly the attitude
of a zealous auditor. She began to retail her efforts,
her hopes, her dreams, her presentiments, her disappointments,
in the cause of her daughter's matrimonial fortunes.
It was a long story, and while it was being unfolded, the prince
continued to pass to and fro, stiffly and solemnly, like a pendulum
marking the time allowed for the young lady to come to her senses.
Mrs. Light evidently, at an early period, had gathered her
maternal hopes into a sacred sheaf, which she said her prayers
and burnt incense to, and treated like a sort of fetish.
They had been her religion; she had none other, and she performed
her devotions bravely and cheerily, in the light of day.
The poor old fetish had been so caressed and manipulated,
so thrust in and out of its niche, so passed from hand to hand,
so dressed and undressed, so mumbled and fumbled over,
that it had lost by this time much of its early freshness,
and seemed a rather battered and disfeatured divinity.
But it was still brought forth in moments of trouble to have its
tinseled petticoat twisted about and be set up on its altar.
Rowland observed that Mrs. Light had a genuine maternal conscience;
she considered that she had been performing a sacred duty in bringing
up Christina to set her cap for a prince, and when the future
looked dark, she found consolation in thinking that destiny could
never have the heart to deal a blow at so deserving a person.
This conscience upside down presented to Rowland's fancy a real
physical image; he was on the point, half a dozen times,
of bursting out laughing.
"I don't know whether you believe in presentiments," said Mrs. Light,
"and I don't care! I have had one for the last fifteen years.
People have laughed at it, but they have n't laughed me out of it.
It has been everything to me. I could n't have lived without it.
One must believe in something! It came to me in a flash,
when Christina was five years old. I remember the day and
the place, as if it were yesterday. She was a very ugly baby;
for the first two years I could hardly bear to look at her,
and I used to spoil my own looks with crying about her.
She had an Italian nurse who was very fond of her and insisted
that she would grow up pretty. I could n't believe her;
I used to contradict her, and we were forever squabbling.
I was just a little silly in those days--surely I may say it now--
and I was very fond of being amused. If my daughter was ugly,
it was not that she resembled her mamma; I had no lack of amusement.
People accused me, I believe, of neglecting my little girl;
if it was so, I 've made up for it since. One day I went to drive
on the Pincio in very low spirits. A trusted friend had greatly
disappointed me. While I was there he passed me in a carriage,
driving with a horrible woman who had made trouble between us.
I got out of my carriage to walk about, and at last sat
down on a bench. I can show you the spot at this hour.
While I sat there a child came wandering along the path--
a little girl of four or five, very fantastically dressed
in crimson and orange. She stopped in front of me and stared
at me, and I stared at her queer little dress, which was
a cheap imitation of the costume of one of these contadine.
At last I looked up at her face, and said to myself, 'Bless me,
what a beautiful child! what a splendid pair of eyes,
what a magnificent head of hair! If my poor Christina were
only like that!' The child turned away slowly, but looking
back with its eyes fixed on me. All of a sudden I gave a cry,
pounced on it, pressed it in my arms, and covered it with kisses.
It was Christina, my own precious child, so disguised
by the ridiculous dress which the nurse had amused herself
in making for her, that her own mother had not recognized her.
She knew me, but she said afterwards that she had not spoken
to me because I looked so angry. Of course my face was sad.
I rushed with my child to the carriage, drove home post-haste,
pulled off her rags, and, as I may say, wrapped her in cotton.
I had been blind, I had been insane; she was a creature
in ten millions, she was to be a beauty of beauties,
a priceless treasure! Every day, after that, the certainty grew.
From that time I lived only for my daughter. I watched her,
I caressed her from morning till night, I worshipped her.
I went to see doctors about her, I took every sort of advice.
I was determined she should be perfection. The things that
have been done for that girl, sir--you would n't believe them;
they would make you smile! Nothing was spared; if I had been
told that she must have a bath every morning of molten pearls,
I would have found means to give it to her. She never raised
a finger for herself, she breathed nothing but perfumes,
she walked upon velvet. She never was out of my sight,
and from that day to this I have never said a sharp word to her.
By the time she was ten years old she was beautiful as an angel,
and so noticed wherever we went that I had to make her wear a veil,
like a woman of twenty. Her hair reached down to her feet;
her hands were the hands of a princess. Then I saw that she
was as clever as she was beautiful, and that she had only
to play her cards. She had masters, professors, every
educational advantage. They told me she was a little prodigy.
She speaks French, Italian, German, better than most natives.
She has a wonderful genius for music, and might make her
fortune as a pianist, if it was not made for her otherwise!
I traveled all over Europe; every one told me she was a marvel.
The director of the opera in Paris saw her dance at a child's
party at Spa, and offered me an enormous sum if I would give
her up to him and let him have her educated for the ballet.
I said, 'No, I thank you, sir; she is meant to be something
finer than a princesse de theatre.' I had a passionate
belief that she might marry absolutely whom she chose,
that she might be a princess out and out. It has never left
me till this hour, and I can assure you that it has sustained
me in many embarrassments. Financial, some of them; I don't
mind confessing it! I have raised money on that girl's face!
I 've taken her to the Jews and bade her put up her veil,
and asked if the mother of that young lady was not safe!
She, of course, was too young to understand me. And yet,
as a child, you would have said she knew what was in store for her;
before she could read, she had the manners, the tastes, the instincts
of a little princess. She would have nothing to do with shabby
things or shabby people; if she stained one of her frocks,
she was seized with a kind of frenzy and tore it to pieces.
At Nice, at Baden, at Brighton, wherever we stayed, she used to be
sent for by all the great people to play with their children.
She has played at kissing-games with people who now stand
on the steps of thrones! I have gone so far as to think
at times that those childish kisses were a sign--a symbol--
a portent. You may laugh at me if you like, but have n't
such things happened again and again without half as good
a cause, and does n't history notoriously repeat itself?
There was a little Spanish girl at a second-rate English
boarding-school thirty years ago!.... The Empress certainly
is a pretty woman; but what is my Christina, pray?
I 've dreamt of it, sometimes every night for a month.
I won't tell you I have been to consult those old women who
advertise in the newspapers; you 'll call me an old imbecile.
Imbecile if you please! I have refused magnificent offers
because I believed that somehow or other--if wars and revolutions
were needed to bring it about--we should have nothing less
than that. There might be another coup d'etat somewhere,
and another brilliant young sovereign looking out for a wife!
At last, however," Mrs. Light proceeded with incomparable gravity,
"since the overturning of the poor king of Naples and that
charming queen, and the expulsion of all those dear little
old-fashioned Italian grand-dukes, and the dreadful radical
talk that is going on all over the world, it has come to seem
to me that with Christina in such a position I should be
really very nervous. Even in such a position she would hold
her head very high, and if anything should happen to her,
she would make no concessions to the popular fury.
The best thing, if one is prudent, seems to be a nobleman of
the highest possible rank, short of belonging to a reigning stock.
There you see one striding up and down, looking at his watch,
and counting the minutes till my daughter reappears!"
Rowland listened to all this with a huge compassion
for the heroine of the tale. What an education,
what a history, what a school of character and of morals!
He looked at the prince and wondered whether he too had
heard Mrs. Light's story. If he had he was a brave man.
"I certainly hope you 'll keep him," he said to Mrs. Light.
"You have played a dangerous game with your daughter;
it would be a pity not to win. But there is hope for you yet;
here she comes at last!"
Christina reappeared as he spoke these words, strolling beside her
companion with the same indifferent tread with which she had departed.
Rowland imagined that there was a faint pink flush in her cheek
which she had not carried away with her, and there was certainly
a light in Roderick's eyes which he had not seen there for a week.
"Bless my soul, how they are all looking at us!" she cried,
as they advanced. "One would think we were prisoners of
the Inquisition!" And she paused and glanced from the prince
to her mother, and from Rowland to the Cavaliere, and then
threw back her head and burst into far-ringing laughter.
"What is it, pray? Have I been very improper? Am I ruined forever?
Dear prince, you are looking at me as if I had committed
the unpardonable sin!"
"I myself," said the prince, "would never have ventured to ask
you to walk with me alone in the country for an hour!"
"The more fool you, dear prince, as the vulgar say!
Our walk has been charming. I hope you, on your side,
have enjoyed each other's society."
"My dear daughter," said Mrs. Light, taking the arm of her predestined
son-in-law, "I shall have something serious to say to you when we reach home.
We will go back to the carriage."
"Something serious! Decidedly, it is the Inquisition.
Mr. Hudson, stand firm, and let us agree to make no
confessions without conferring previously with each other!
They may put us on the rack first. Mr. Mallet, I see also,"
Christina added, "has something serious to say to me!"
Rowland had been looking at her with the shadow of his
lately-stirred pity in his eyes. "Possibly," he said.
"But it must be for some other time."
"I am at your service. I see our good-humor is gone.
And I only wanted to be amiable! It is very discouraging.
Cavaliere, you, only, look as if you had a little of the milk
of human kindness left; from your venerable visage, at least;
there is no telling what you think. Give me your arm and
take me away!"
The party took its course back to the carriage, which was waiting in the
grounds of the villa, and Rowland and Roderick bade their friends farewell.
Christina threw herself back in her seat and closed her eyes;
a manoeuvre for which Rowland imagined the prince was grateful,
as it enabled him to look at her without seeming to depart from his
attitude of distinguished disapproval.Rowland found himself aroused
from sleep early the next morning, to see Roderick standing before him,
dressed for departure, with his bag in his hand. "I am off," he said.
"I am back to work. I have an idea. I must strike while the iron
's hot! Farewell!" And he departed by the first train.
Rowland went alone by the next.
CHAPTER VII. Saint Cecilia's
Rowland went often to the Coliseum; he never wearied of it.
One morning, about a month after his return from Frascati,
as he was strolling across the vast arena, he observed a young
woman seated on one of the fragments of stone which are ranged
along the line of the ancient parapet. It seemed to him that
he had seen her before, but he was unable to localize her face.
Passing her again, he perceived that one of the little
red-legged French soldiers at that time on guard there had
approached her and was gallantly making himself agreeable.
She smiled brilliantly, and Rowland recognized the smile
(it had always pleased him) of a certain comely Assunta,
who sometimes opened the door for Mrs. Light's visitors.
He wondered what she was doing alone in the Coliseum, and conjectured
that Assunta had admirers as well as her young mistress, but that,
being without the same domiciliary conveniencies, she was using
this massive heritage of her Latin ancestors as a boudoir.
In other words, she had an appointment with her lover,
who had better, from present appearances, be punctual.
It was a long time since Rowland had ascended to the ruinous
upper tiers of the great circus, and, as the day was radiant
and the distant views promised to be particularly clear,
he determined to give himself the pleasure. The custodian
unlocked the great wooden wicket, and he climbed through
the winding shafts, where the eager Roman crowds had billowed
and trampled, not pausing till he reached the highest accessible
point of the ruin. The views were as fine as he had supposed;
the lights on the Sabine Mountains had never been more lovely.
He gazed to his satisfaction and retraced his steps.
In a moment he paused again on an abutment somewhat lower,
from which the glance dropped dizzily into the interior.
There are chance anfractuosities of ruin in the upper portions
of the Coliseum which offer a very fair imitation of the rugged
face of an Alpine cliff. In those days a multitude of delicate
flowers and sprays of wild herbage had found a friendly soil
in the hoary crevices, and they bloomed and nodded amid the antique
masonry as freely as they would have done in the virgin rock.
Rowland was turning away, when he heard a sound of voices
rising up from below. He had but to step slightly
forward to find himself overlooking two persons who had
seated themselves on a narrow ledge, in a sunny corner.
They had apparently had an eye to extreme privacy, but they
had not observed that their position was commanded by Rowland's
stand-point. One of these airy adventurers was a lady,
thickly veiled, so that, even if he had not been standing
directly above her, Rowland could not have seen her face.
The other was a young man, whose face was also invisible,
but who, as Rowland stood there, gave a toss of his clustering
locks which was equivalent to the signature--Roderick Hudson.
A moment's reflection, hereupon, satisfied him of the identity
of the lady. He had been unjust to poor Assunta, sitting patient
in the gloomy arena; she had not come on her own errand.
Rowland's discoveries made him hesitate. Should he retire
as noiselessly as possible, or should he call out a friendly
good morning? While he was debating the question, he found
himself distinctly hearing his friends' words. They were
of such a nature as to make him unwilling to retreat, and yet
to make it awkward to be discovered in a position where it
would be apparent that he had heard them.
"If what you say is true," said Christina, with her usual
soft deliberateness--it made her words rise with peculiar
distinctness to Rowland's ear--"you are simply weak. I am sorry!
I hoped--I really believed--you were not."
"No, I am not weak," answered Roderick, with vehemence; "I maintain
that I am not weak! I am incomplete, perhaps; but I can't help that.
Weakness is a man's own fault!"
"Incomplete, then!" said Christina, with a laugh. "It 's
the same thing, so long as it keeps you from splendid achievement.
Is it written, then, that I shall really never know what I
have so often dreamed of?"
"What have you dreamed of?"
"A man whom I can perfectly respect!" cried the young girl, with a
sudden flame. "A man, at least, whom I can unrestrictedly admire.
I meet one, as I have met more than one before, whom I fondly believe
to be cast in a larger mould than most of the vile human breed,
to be large in character, great in talent, strong in will!
In such a man as that, I say, one's weary imagination at
last may rest; or it may wander if it will, yet never need
to wander far from the deeps where one's heart is anchored.
When I first knew you, I gave no sign, but you had struck me.
I observed you, as women observe, and I fancied you had
the sacred fire."
"Before heaven, I believe I have!" cried Roderick.
"Ah, but so little! It flickers and trembles and sputters;
it goes out, you tell me, for whole weeks together.
From your own account, it 's ten to one that in the long run
you 're a failure."
"I say those things sometimes myself, but when I hear you say them
they make me feel as if I could work twenty years at a sitting,
on purpose to refute you!"
"Ah, the man who is strong with what I call strength,"
Christina replied, "would neither rise nor fall by anything I could say!
I am a poor, weak woman; I have no strength myself, and I can
give no strength. I am a miserable medley of vanity and folly.
I am silly, I am ignorant, I am affected, I am false.
I am the fruit of a horrible education, sown on a worthless soil.
I am all that, and yet I believe I have one merit! I should know
a great character when I saw it, and I should delight in it with a
generosity which would do something toward the remission of my sins.
For a man who should really give me a certain feeling--
which I have never had, but which I should know when it came--
I would send Prince Casamassima and his millions to perdition.
I don't know what you think of me for saying all this; I suppose
we have not climbed up here under the skies to play propriety.
Why have you been at such pains to assure me, after all, that you
are a little man and not a great one, a weak one and not a strong?
I innocently imagined that your eyes declared you were strong.
But your voice condemns you; I always wondered at it; it 's not
the voice of a conqueror!"
"Give me something to conquer," cried Roderick, "and when I say
that I thank you from my soul, my voice, whatever you think of it,
shall speak the truth!"
Christina for a moment said nothing. Rowland was too interested
to think of moving. "You pretend to such devotion," she went on,
"and yet I am sure you have never really chosen between me
and that person in America."
"Do me the favor not to speak of her," said Roderick, imploringly.
"Why not? I say no ill of her, and I think all kinds of good.
I am certain she is a far better girl than I, and far more likely
to make you happy."
"This is happiness, this present, palpable moment," said Roderick;
"though you have such a genius for saying the things that torture me!"
"It 's greater happiness than you deserve, then! You have never chosen,
I say; you have been afraid to choose. You have never really faced
the fact that you are false, that you have broken your faith.
You have never looked at it and seen that it was hideous, and yet said,
'No matter, I 'll brave the penalty, I 'll bear the shame!'
You have closed your eyes; you have tried to stifle remembrance,
to persuade yourself that you were not behaving as badly as you
seemed to be, and there would be some way, after all, of compassing
bliss and yet escaping trouble. You have faltered and drifted,
you have gone on from accident to accident, and I am sure that at
this present moment you can't tell what it is you really desire!"
Roderick was sitting with his knees drawn up and bent, and his hands clapsed
around his legs. He bent his head and rested his forehead on his knees.
Christina went on with a sort of infernal calmness:
"I believe that, really, you don't greatly care for your friend
in America any more than you do for me. You are one of the men who
care only for themselves and for what they can make of themselves.
That 's very well when they can make something great,
and I could interest myself in a man of extraordinary power
who should wish to turn all his passions to account.
But if the power should turn out to be, after all, rather ordinary?
Fancy feeling one's self ground in the mill of a third-rate talent!
If you have doubts about yourself, I can't reassure you;
I have too many doubts myself, about everything in this weary world.
You have gone up like a rocket, in your profession, they tell me;
are you going to come down like the stick? I don't pretend to know;
I repeat frankly what I have said before--that all modern
sculpture seems to me weak, and that the only things I care
for are some of the most battered of the antiques of the Vatican.
No, no, I can't reassure you; and when you tell me--with a confidence
in my discretion of which, certainly, I am duly sensible--
that at times you feel terribly small, why, I can only answer,
'Ah, then, my poor friend, I am afraid you are small.'
The language I should like to hear, from a certain person,
would be the language of absolute decision."
Roderick raised his head, but he said nothing; he seemed
to be exchanging a long glance with his companion.
The result of it was to make him fling himself back with an
inarticulate murmur. Rowland, admonished by the silence,
was on the point of turning away, but he was arrested by a gesture
of the young girl. She pointed for a moment into the blue air.
Roderick followed the direction of her gesture.
"Is that little flower we see outlined against that dark niche,"
she asked, "as intensely blue as it looks through my veil?"
She spoke apparently with the amiable design of directing
the conversation into a less painful channel.
Rowland, from where he stood, could see the flower she meant--
a delicate plant of radiant hue, which sprouted from the top of an
immense fragment of wall some twenty feet from Christina's place.
Roderick turned his head and looked at it without answering.
At last, glancing round, "Put up your veil!" he said.
Christina complied. "Does it look as blue now?" he asked.
"Ah, what a lovely color!" she murmured, leaning her head on one side.
"Would you like to have it?"
She stared a moment and then broke into a light laugh.
"Would you like to have it?" he repeated in a ringing voice.
"Don't look as if you would eat me up," she answered.
"It 's harmless if I say yes!"
Roderick rose to his feet and stood looking at the little flower.
It was separated from the ledge on which he stood by a rugged surface
of vertical wall, which dropped straight into the dusky vaults behind
the arena. Suddenly he took off his hat and flung it behind him.
Christina then sprang to her feet.
"I will bring it you," he said.
She seized his arm. "Are you crazy? Do you mean to kill yourself?"
"I shall not kill myself. Sit down!"
"Excuse me. Not till you do!" And she grasped his arm with both hands.
Roderick shook her off and pointed with a violent gesture
to her former place. "Go there!" he cried fiercely.
"You can never, never!" she murmured beseechingly, clasping her hands.
"I implore you!"
Roderick turned and looked at her, and then in a voice which Rowland
had never heard him use, a voice almost thunderous, a voice which
awakened the echoes of the mighty ruin, he repeated, "Sit down!"
She hesitated a moment and then she dropped on the ground and buried
her face in her hands.
Rowland had seen all this, and he saw more. He saw Roderick
clasp in his left arm the jagged corner of the vertical
partition along which he proposed to pursue his crazy journey,
stretch out his leg, and feel for a resting-place for his foot.
Rowland had measured with a glance the possibility of his
sustaining himself, and pronounced it absolutely nil.
The wall was garnished with a series of narrow projections,
the remains apparently of a brick cornice supporting
the arch of a vault which had long since collapsed.
It was by lodging his toes on these loose brackets and
grasping with his hands at certain mouldering protuberances
on a level with his head, that Roderick intended to proceed.
The relics of the cornice were utterly worthless as a support.
Rowland had observed this, and yet, for a moment, he had hesitated.
If the thing were possible, he felt a sudden admiring glee at
the thought of Roderick's doing it. It would be finely done,
it would be gallant, it would have a sort of masculine
eloquence as an answer to Christina's sinister persiflage.
But it was not possible! Rowland left his place with a bound,
and scrambled down some neighboring steps, and the next
moment a stronger pair of hands than Christina's were laid
upon Roderick's shoulder.
He turned, staring, pale and angry. Christina rose,
pale and staring, too, but beautiful in her wonder and alarm.
"My dear Roderick," said Rowland, "I am only preventing you
from doing a very foolish thing. That 's an exploit for spiders,
not for young sculptors of promise."
Roderick wiped his forehead, looked back at the wall, and then
closed his eyes, as if with a spasm, of retarded dizziness.
"I won't resist you," he said. "But I have made you obey,"
he added, turning to Christina. "Am I weak now?"
She had recovered her composure; she looked straight past him
and addressed Rowland: "Be so good as to show me the way
out of this horrible place!"
He helped her back into the corridor; Roderick followed after
a short interval. Of course, as they were descending the steps,
came questions for Rowland to answer, and more or less surprise.
Where had he come from? how happened he to have appeared at just that moment?
Rowland answered that he had been rambling overhead, and that,
looking out of an aperture, he had seen a gentleman preparing to undertake
a preposterous gymnastic feat, and a lady swooning away in consequence.
Interference seemed justifiable, and he had made it as prompt as possible.
Roderick was far from hanging his head, like a man who has been caught
in the perpetration of an extravagant folly; but if he held it more
erect than usual Rowland believed that this was much less because
he had made a show of personal daring than because he had triumphantly
proved to Christina that, like a certain person she had dreamed of,
he too could speak the language of decision. Christina descended
to the arena in silence, apparently occupied with her own thoughts.
She betrayed no sense of the privacy of her interview with Roderick
needing an explanation. Rowland had seen stranger things in New York!
The only evidence of her recent agitation was that, on being joined
by her maid, she declared that she was unable to walk home; she must
have a carriage. A fiacre was found resting in the shadow of the Arch
of Constantine, and Rowland suspected that after she had got into it
she disburdened herself, under her veil, of a few natural tears.
Rowland had played eavesdropper to so good a purpose that he might
justly have omitted the ceremony of denouncing himself to Roderick.
He preferred, however, to let him know that he had overheard a portion
of his talk with Christina.
"Of course it seems to you," Roderick said, "a proof that I
am utterly infatuated."
"Miss Light seemed to me to know very well how far she could go,"
Rowland answered. "She was twisting you round her finger.
I don't think she exactly meant to defy you; but your crazy
pursuit of that flower was a proof that she could go all lengths
in the way of making a fool of you."
"Yes," said Roderick, meditatively; "she is making a fool of me."
"And what do you expect to come of it?"
"Nothing good!" And Roderick put his hands into his pockets and looked
as if he had announced the most colorless fact in the world.
"And in the light of your late interview, what do you make
of your young lady?"
"If I could tell you that, it would be plain sailing.
But she 'll not tell me again I am weak!"
"Are you very sure you are not weak?"
"I may be, but she shall never know it."
Rowland said no more until they reached the Corso, when he asked
his companion whether he was going to his studio.
Roderick started out of a reverie and passed his hands over his eyes.
"Oh no, I can't settle down to work after such a scene as that.
I was not afraid of breaking my neck then, but I feel all in a tremor now.
I will go--I will go and sit in the sun on the Pincio!"
"Promise me this, first," said Rowland, very solemnly:
"that the next time you meet Miss Light, it shall be on the earth
and not in the air."
Since his return from Frascati, Roderick had been working
doggedly at the statue ordered by Mr. Leavenworth.
To Rowland's eye he had made a very fair beginning,
but he had himself insisted, from the first, that he liked
neither his subject nor his patron, and that it was impossible
to feel any warmth of interest in a work which was to be
incorporated into the ponderous personality of Mr. Leavenworth.
It was all against the grain; he wrought without love.
Nevertheless after a fashion he wrought, and the figure grew
beneath his hands. Miss Blanchard's friend was ordering works
of art on every side, and his purveyors were in many cases
persons whom Roderick declared it was infamy to be paired with.
There had been grand tailors, he said, who declined to make
you a coat unless you got the hat you were to wear with it
from an artist of their own choosing. It seemed to him
that he had an equal right to exact that his statue should
not form part of the same system of ornament as the "Pearl
of Perugia," a picture by an American confrere who had,
in Mr. Leavenworth's opinion, a prodigious eye for color.
As a customer, Mr. Leavenworth used to drop into Roderick's studio,
to see how things were getting on, and give a friendly hint or so.
He would seat himself squarely, plant his gold-topped cane
between his legs, which he held very much apart, rest his
large white hands on the head, and enunciate the principles
of spiritual art, as he hoisted them one by one, as you
might say, out of the depths of his moral consciousness.
His benignant and imperturbable pomposity gave Roderick the sense
of suffocating beneath a large fluffy bolster, and the worst
of the matter was that the good gentleman's placid vanity had
an integument whose toughness no sarcastic shaft could pierce.
Roderick admitted that in thinking over the tribulations
of struggling genius, the danger of dying of over-patronage
had never occurred to him.
The deterring effect of the episode of the Coliseum was
apparently of long continuance; if Roderick's nerves had been
shaken his hand needed time to recover its steadiness.
He cultivated composure upon principles of his own; by frequenting
entertainments from which he returned at four o'clock in the morning,
and lapsing into habits which might fairly be called irregular.
He had hitherto made few friends among the artistic fraternity;
chiefly because he had taken no trouble about it, and there was in his
demeanor an elastic independence of the favor of his fellow-mortals
which made social advances on his own part peculiarly necessary.
Rowland had told him more than once that he ought to fraternize
a trifle more with the other artists, and he had always answered
that he had not the smallest objection to fraternizing:
let them come! But they came on rare occasions, and Roderick
was not punctilious about returning their visits. He declared
there was not one of them whose works gave him the smallest
desire to make acquaintance with the insides of their heads.
For Gloriani he professed a superb contempt, and, having been
once to look at his wares, never crossed his threshold again.
The only one of the fraternity for whom by his own admission
he cared a straw was little Singleton; but he expressed his regard
only in a kind of sublime hilarity whenever he encountered this
humble genius, and quite forgot his existence in the intervals.
He had never been to see him, but Singleton edged his way, from time
to time, timidly, into Roderick's studio, and agreed with characteristic
modesty that brilliant fellows like the sculptor might consent
to receive homage, but could hardly be expected to render it.
Roderick never exactly accepted homage, and apparently did not quite
observe whether poor Singleton spoke in admiration or in blame.
Roderick's taste as to companions was singularly capricious.
There were very good fellows, who were disposed to cultivate him,
who bored him to death; and there were others, in whom even Rowland's
good-nature was unable to discover a pretext for tolerance,
in whom he appeared to find the highest social qualities.
He used to give the most fantastic reasons for his likes and dislikes.
He would declare he could n't speak a civil word to a man
who brushed his hair in a certain fashion, and he would explain
his unaccountable fancy for an individual of imperceptible merit
by telling you that he had an ancestor who in the thirteenth
century had walled up his wife alive. "I like to talk to a man
whose ancestor has walled up his wife alive," he would say.
"You may not see the fun of it, and think poor P---- is a very
dull fellow. It 's very possible; I don't ask you to admire him.
But, for reasons of my own, I like to have him about.
The old fellow left her for three days with her face uncovered,
and placed a long mirror opposite to her, so that she could see,
as he said, if her gown was a fit!"
His relish for an odd flavor in his friends had led him to make
the acquaintance of a number of people outside of Rowland's
well-ordered circle, and he made no secret of their being very queer fish.
He formed an intimacy, among others, with a crazy fellow who had come
to Rome as an emissary of one of the Central American republics,
to drive some ecclesiastical bargain with the papal government.
The Pope had given him the cold shoulder, but since he had not
prospered as a diplomatist, he had sought compensation as a man
of the world, and his great flamboyant curricle and negro lackeys
were for several weeks one of the striking ornaments of the Pincian.
He spoke a queer jargon of Italian, Spanish, French, and English,
humorously relieved with scraps of ecclesiastical Latin,
and to those who inquired of Roderick what he found to interest
him in such a fantastic jackanapes, the latter would reply,
looking at his interlocutor with his lucid blue eyes, that it
was worth any sacrifice to hear him talk nonsense! The two had
gone together one night to a ball given by a lady of some renown
in the Spanish colony, and very late, on his way home, Roderick came
up to Rowland's rooms, in whose windows he had seen a light.
Rowland was going to bed, but Roderick flung himself into an armchair
and chattered for an hour. The friends of the Costa Rican envoy
were as amusing as himself, and in very much the same line.
The mistress of the house had worn a yellow satin dress, and gold
heels to her slippers, and at the close of the entertainment had
sent for a pair of castanets, tucked up her petticoats, and danced
a fandango, while the gentlemen sat cross-legged on the floor.
"It was awfully low," Roderick said; "all of a sudden I perceived it,
and bolted. Nothing of that kind ever amuses me to the end:
before it 's half over it bores me to death; it makes me sick.
Hang it, why can't a poor fellow enjoy things in peace?
My illusions are all broken-winded; they won't carry me twenty paces!
I can't laugh and forget; my laugh dies away before it begins.
Your friend Stendhal writes on his book-covers (I never got farther)
that he has seen too early in life la beaute parfaite.
I don't know how early he saw it; I saw it before I was born--
in another state of being! I can't describe it positively;
I can only say I don't find it anywhere now. Not at the bottom of
champagne glasses; not, strange as it may seem, in that extra half-yard
or so of shoulder that some women have their ball-dresses cut to expose.
I don't find it at merry supper-tables, where half a dozen ugly men
with pomatumed heads are rapidly growing uglier still with heat and wine;
not when I come away and walk through these squalid black streets,
and go out into the Forum and see a few old battered stone
posts standing there like gnawed bones stuck into the earth.
Everything is mean and dusky and shabby, and the men and women who make up
this so-called brilliant society are the meanest and shabbiest of all.
They have no real spontaneity; they are all cowards and popinjays.
They have no more dignity than so many grasshoppers. Nothing is good
but one!" And he jumped up and stood looking at one of his statues,
which shone vaguely across the room in the dim lamplight.
"Yes, do tell us," said Rowland, "what to hold on by!"
"Those things of mine were tolerably good," he answered.
"But my idea was better--and that 's what I mean!"
Rowland said nothing. He was willing to wait for Roderick to complete
the circle of his metamorphoses, but he had no desire to officiate
as chorus to the play. If Roderick chose to fish in troubled waters,
he must land his prizes himself.
"You think I 'm an impudent humbug," the latter said at last,
"coming up to moralize at this hour of the night. You think I
want to throw dust into your eyes, to put you off the scent.
That 's your eminently rational view of the case."
"Excuse me from taking any view at all," said Rowland.
"You have given me up, then?"
"No, I have merely suspended judgment. I am waiting."
"You have ceased then positively to believe in me?"
Rowland made an angry gesture. "Oh, cruel boy! When you
have hit your mark and made people care for you, you should
n't twist your weapon about at that rate in their vitals.
Allow me to say I am sleepy. Good night!"
Some days afterward it happened that Rowland, on a long afternoon ramble,
took his way through one of the quiet corners of the Trastevere.
He was particularly fond of this part of Rome, though he could
hardly have expressed the charm he found in it. As you pass
away from the dusky, swarming purlieus of the Ghetto, you emerge
into a region of empty, soundless, grass-grown lanes and alleys,
where the shabby houses seem mouldering away in disuse, and yet your
footstep brings figures of startling Roman type to the doorways.
There are few monuments here, but no part of Rome seemed
more historic, in the sense of being weighted with a crushing past,
blighted with the melancholy of things that had had their day.
When the yellow afternoon sunshine slept on the sallow, battered walls,
and lengthened the shadows in the grassy courtyards of small
closed churches, the place acquired a strange fascination.
The church of Saint Cecilia has one of these sunny,
waste-looking courts; the edifice seems abandoned to silence
and the charity of chance devotion. Rowland never passed it
without going in, and he was generally the only visitor.
He entered it now, but found that two persons had preceded him.
Both were women. One was at her prayers at one of the side altars;
the other was seated against a column at the upper end of the nave.
Rowland walked to the altar, and paid, in a momentary glance at
the clever statue of the saint in death, in the niche beneath it,
the usual tribute to the charm of polished ingenuity. As he turned
away he looked at the person seated and recognized Christina Light.
Seeing that she perceived him, he advanced to speak to her.
She was sitting in a listless attitude, with her hands in her lap;
she seemed to be tired. She was dressed simply, as if for walking
and escaping observation. When he had greeted her he glanced back
at her companion, and recognized the faithful Assunta.
Christina smiled. "Are you looking for Mr. Hudson?
He is not here, I am happy to say."
"But you?" he asked. "This is a strange place to find you."
"Not at all! People call me a strange girl, and I might as well
have the comfort of it. I came to take a walk; that, by the way,
is part of my strangeness. I can't loll all the morning on a sofa,
and all the afternoon in a carriage. I get horribly restless.
I must move; I must do something and see something. Mamma suggests
a cup of tea. Meanwhile I put on an old dress and half a dozen veils,
I take Assunta under my arm, and we start on a pedestrian tour.
It 's a bore that I can't take the poodle, but he attracts attention.
We trudge about everywhere; there is nothing I like so much.
I hope you will congratulate me on the simplicity of my tastes."
"I congratulate you on your wisdom. To live in Rome and not to walk would,
I think, be poor pleasure. But you are terribly far from home, and I am
afraid you are tired."
"A little--enough to sit here a while."
"Might I offer you my company while you rest?"
"If you will promise to amuse me. I am in dismal spirits."
Rowland said he would do what he could, and brought a chair and placed
it near her. He was not in love with her; he disapproved of her;
he mistrusted her; and yet he felt it a kind of privilege to
watch her, and he found a peculiar excitement in talking to her.
The background of her nature, as he would have called it, was large
and mysterious, and it emitted strange, fantastic gleams and flashes.
Watching for these rather quickened one's pulses. Moreover, it was
not a disadvantage to talk to a girl who made one keep guard on
one's composure; it diminished one's chronic liability to utter
something less than revised wisdom.
Assunta had risen from her prayers, and, as he took his place,
was coming back to her mistress. But Christina motioned her away.
"No, no; while you are about it, say a few dozen more!" she said.
"Pray for me," she added in English. "Pray, I say nothing silly.
She has been at it half an hour; I envy her capacity!"
"Have you never felt in any degree," Rowland asked,
"the fascination of Catholicism?"
"Yes, I have been through that, too! There was a time when I
wanted immensely to be a nun; it was not a laughing matter.
It was when I was about sixteen years old. I read the Imitation
and the Life of Saint Catherine. I fully believed in the miracles
of the saints, and I was dying to have one of my own.
The least little accident that could have been twisted into a miracle
would have carried me straight into the bosom of the church.
I had the real religious passion. It has passed away, and, as I
sat here just now, I was wondering what had become of it!"
Rowland had already been sensible of something in this young lady's tone
which he would have called a want of veracity, and this epitome of her
religious experience failed to strike him as an absolute statement of fact.
But the trait was not disagreeable, for she herself was evidently
the foremost dupe of her inventions. She had a fictitious history in
which she believed much more fondly than in her real one, and an infinite
capacity for extemporized reminiscence adapted to the mood of the hour.
She liked to idealize herself, to take interesting and picturesque
attitudes to her own imagination; and the vivacity and spontaneity
of her character gave her, really, a starting-point in experience;
so that the many-colored flowers of fiction which blossomed in her talk
were not so much perversions, as sympathetic exaggerations, of fact.
And Rowland felt that whatever she said of herself might have been,
under the imagined circumstances; impulse was there, audacity, the restless,
questioning temperament. "I am afraid I am sadly prosaic," he said,
"for in these many months now that I have been in Rome, I have never
ceased for a moment to look at Catholicism simply from the outside.
I don't see an opening as big as your finger-nail where I could
creep into it!"
"What do you believe?" asked Christina, looking at him.
"Are you religious?"
"I believe in God."
Christina let her beautiful eyes wander a while, and then gave a little sigh.
"You are much to be envied!"
"You, I imagine, in that line have nothing to envy me."
"Yes, I have. Rest!"
"You are too young to say that."
"I am not young; I have never been young! My mother took care of that.
I was a little wrinkled old woman at ten."
"I am afraid," said Rowland, in a moment, "that you are fond
of painting yourself in dark colors."
She looked at him a while in silence. "Do you wish,"
she demanded at last, "to win my eternal gratitude?
Prove to me that I am better than I suppose."
"I should have first to know what you really suppose."
She shook her head. "It would n't do. You would be horrified
to learn even the things I imagine about myself, and shocked
at the knowledge of evil displayed in my very mistakes."
"Well, then," said Rowland, "I will ask no questions. But, at a venture,
I promise you to catch you some day in the act of doing something very good."
"Can it be, can it be," she asked, "that you too are trying
to flatter me? I thought you and I had fallen, from the first,
into rather a truth-speaking vein."
"Oh, I have not abandoned it!" said Rowland; and he determined,
since he had the credit of homely directness, to push
his advantage farther. The opportunity seemed excellent.
But while he was hesitating as to just how to begin, the young
girl said, bending forward and clasping her hands in her lap,
"Please tell me about your religion."
"Tell you about it? I can't!" said Rowland, with a good deal of emphasis.
She flushed a little. "Is it such a mighty mystery it cannot
be put into words, nor communicated to my base ears?"
"It is simply a sentiment that makes part of my life, and I can't
detach myself from it sufficiently to talk about it."
"Religion, it seems to me, should be eloquent and aggressive.
It should wish to make converts, to persuade and illumine,
to sway all hearts!"
"One's religion takes the color of one's general disposition.
I am not aggressive, and certainly I am not eloquent."
"Beware, then, of finding yourself confronted with doubt and despair!
I am sure that doubt, at times, and the bitterness that comes of it,
can be terribly eloquent. To tell the truth, my lonely musings,
before you came in, were eloquent enough, in their way. What do you
know of anything but this strange, terrible world that surrounds you?
How do you know that your faith is not a mere crazy castle in the air;
one of those castles that we are called fools for building when we
lodge them in this life?"
"I don't know it, any more than any one knows the contrary.
But one's religion is extremely ingenious in doing without knowledge."
"In such a world as this it certainly needs to be!"
Rowland smiled. "What is your particular quarrel with this world?"
"It 's a general quarrel. Nothing is true, or fixed, or permanent.
We all seem to be playing with shadows more or less grotesque.
It all comes over me here so dismally! The very atmosphere of this cold,
deserted church seems to mock at one's longing to believe in something.
Who cares for it now? who comes to it? who takes it seriously?
Poor stupid Assunta there gives in her adhesion in a jargon she does
n't understand, and you and I, proper, passionless tourists, come lounging
in to rest from a walk. And yet the Catholic church was once the proudest
institution in the world, and had quite its own way with men's souls.
When such a mighty structure as that turns out to have a flaw,
what faith is one to put in one's poor little views and philosophies?
What is right and what is wrong? What is one really to care for?
What is the proper rule of life? I am tired of trying to discover,
and I suspect it 's not worth the trouble. Live as most amuses you!"
"Your perplexities are so terribly comprehensive," said Rowland,
smiling, "that one hardly knows where to meet them first."
"I don't care much for anything you can say, because it 's sure
to be half-hearted. You are not in the least contented, yourself."
"How do you know that?"
"Oh, I am an observer!"
"No one is absolutely contented, I suppose, but I assure you
I complain of nothing."
"So much the worse for your honesty. To begin with, you are in love."
"You would not have me complain of that!"
"And it does n't go well. There are grievous obstacles.
So much I know! You need n't protest; I ask no questions.
You will tell no one--me least of all. Why does one never see you?"
"Why, if I came to see you," said Rowland, deliberating, "it would
n't be, it could n't be, for a trivial reason--because I had not
been in a month, because I was passing, because I admire you.
It would be because I should have something very particular to say.
I have not come, because I have been slow in making up my mind
to say it."
"You are simply cruel. Something particular, in this ocean of inanities?
In common charity, speak!"
"I doubt whether you will like it."
"Oh, I hope to heaven it 's not a compliment!"
"It may be called a compliment to your reasonableness.
You perhaps remember that I gave you a hint of it the other
day at Frascati."
"Has it been hanging fire all this time? Explode! I promise
not to stop my ears."
"It relates to my friend Hudson." And Rowland paused.
She was looking at him expectantly; her face gave no sign.
"I am rather disturbed in mind about him. He seems to me
at times to be in an unpromising way." He paused again,
but Christina said nothing. "The case is simply this,"
he went on. "It was by my advice he renounced his career at
home and embraced his present one. I made him burn his ships.
I brought him to Rome, I launched him in the world, and I
stand surety, in a measure, to--to his mother, for his prosperity.
It is not such smooth sailing as it might be, and I am inclined
to put up prayers for fair winds. If he is to succeed,
he must work--quietly, devotedly. It is not news to you,
I imagine, that Hudson is a great admirer of yours."
Christina remained silent; she turned away her eyes
with an air, not of confusion, but of deep deliberation.
Surprising frankness had, as a general thing, struck Rowland
as the key-note of her character, but she had more than once
given him a suggestion of an unfathomable power of calculation,
and her silence now had something which it is hardly extravagant
to call portentous. He had of course asked himself how far
it was questionable taste to inform an unprotected girl,
for the needs of a cause, that another man admired her;
the thing, superficially, had an uncomfortable analogy with the
shrewdness that uses a cat's paw and lets it risk being singed.
But he decided that even rigid discretion is not bound to take
a young lady at more than her own valuation, and Christina
presently reassured him as to the limits of her susceptibility.
"Mr. Hudson is in love with me!" she said.
Rowland flinched a trifle. Then--"Am I," he asked, "from this
point of view of mine, to be glad or sorry?"
"I don't understand you."
"Why, is Hudson to be happy, or unhappy?"
She hesitated a moment. "You wish him to be great in his profession?
And for that you consider that he must be happy in his life?"
"Decidedly. I don't say it 's a general rule, but I think it
is a rule for him."
"So that if he were very happy, he would become very great?"
"He would at least do himself justice."
"And by that you mean a great deal?"
"A great deal."
Christina sank back in her chair and rested her eyes
on the cracked and polished slabs of the pavement.
At last, looking up, "You have not forgotten, I suppose,
that you told me he was engaged?"
"By no means."
"He is still engaged, then?"
"To the best of my belief."
"And yet you desire that, as you say, he should be made happy
by something I can do for him?"
"What I desire is this. That your great influence with him should be exerted
for his good, that it should help him and not retard him. Understand me.
You probably know that your lovers have rather a restless time of it.
I can answer for two of them. You don't know your own mind very well,
I imagine, and you like being admired, rather at the expense of the admirer.
Since we are really being frank, I wonder whether I might not say
the great word."
"You need n't; I know it. I am a horrible coquette."
"No, not a horrible one, since I am making an appeal to your generosity.
I am pretty sure you cannot imagine yourself marrying my friend."
"There 's nothing I cannot imagine! That is my trouble."
Rowland's brow contracted impatiently. "I cannot imagine
it, then!" he affirmed.
Christina flushed faintly; then, very gently, "I am not so bad
as you think," she said.
"It is not a question of badness; it is a question of whether circumstances
don't make the thing an extreme improbability."
"Worse and worse. I can be bullied, then, or bribed!"
"You are not so candid," said Rowland, "as you pretend to be.
My feeling is this. Hudson, as I understand him, does not need,
as an artist, the stimulus of strong emotion, of passion.
He's better without it; he's emotional and passionate enough
when he 's left to himself. The sooner passion is at rest,
therefore, the sooner he will settle down to work, and the fewer
emotions he has that are mere emotions and nothing more,
the better for him. If you cared for him enough to marry him,
I should have nothing to say; I would never venture to interfere.
But I strongly suspect you don't, and therefore I would suggest,
most respectfully, that you should let him alone."
"And if I let him alone, as you say, all will be well with him
for ever more?"
"Not immediately and not absolutely, but things will be easier.
He will be better able to concentrate himself."
"What is he doing now? Wherein does he dissatisfy you?"
"I can hardly say. He 's like a watch that 's running down.
He is moody, desultory, idle, irregular, fantastic."
"Heavens, what a list! And it 's all poor me?"
"No, not all. But you are a part of it, and I turn to you because you
are a more tangible, sensible, responsible cause than the others."
Christina raised her hand to her eyes, and bent her head thoughtfully.
Rowland was puzzled to measure the effect of his venture; she rather surprised
him by her gentleness. At last, without moving, "If I were to marry him,"
she asked, "what would have become of his fianc; aaee?"
"I am bound to suppose that she would be extremely unhappy."
Christina said nothing more, and Rowland, to let her make
her reflections, left his place and strolled away.
Poor Assunta, sitting patiently on a stone bench, and unprovided,
on this occasion, with military consolation, gave him a bright,
frank smile, which might have been construed as an expression
of regret for herself, and of sympathy for her mistress.
Rowland presently seated himself again near Christina.
"What do you think," she asked, looking at him, "of your friend's infidelity?"
"I don't like it."
"Was he very much in love with her?"
"He asked her to marry him. You may judge."
"Is she rich?"
"No, she is poor."
"Is she very much in love with him?"
"I know her too little to say."
She paused again, and then resumed: "You have settled in
your mind, then, that I will never seriously listen to him?"
"I think it unlikely, until the contrary is proved."
"How shall it be proved? How do you know what passes between us?"
"I can judge, of course, but from appearance; but, like you, I am
an observer. Hudson has not at all the air of a prosperous suitor."
"If he is depressed, there is a reason. He has a bad conscience.
One must hope so, at least. On the other hand, simply as a friend,"
she continued gently, "you think I can do him no good?"
The humility of her tone, combined with her beauty, as she
made this remark, was inexpressibly touching, and Rowland
had an uncomfortable sense of being put at a disadvantage.
"There are doubtless many good things you might do, if you had
proper opportunity," he said. "But you seem to be sailing with a
current which leaves you little leisure for quiet benevolence.
You live in the whirl and hurry of a world into which a poor
artist can hardly find it to his advantage to follow you."
"In plain English, I am hopelessly frivolous. You put it very generously."
"I won't hesitate to say all my thought," said Rowland.
"For better or worse, you seem to me to belong, both by
character and by circumstance, to what is called the world,
the great world. You are made to ornament it magnificently.
You are not made to be an artist's wife."
"I see. But even from your point of view, that would depend upon the artist.
Extraordinary talent might make him a member of the great world!"
Rowland smiled. "That is very true."
"If, as it is," Christina continued in a moment, "you take a low view
of me--no, you need n't protest--I wonder what you would think if you
knew certain things."
"What things do you mean?"
"Well, for example, how I was brought up. I have had a horrible education.
There must be some good in me, since I have perceived it, since I have turned
and judged my circumstances."
"My dear Miss Light!" Rowland murmured.
She gave a little, quick laugh. "You don't want to hear? you
don't want to have to think about that?"
"Have I a right to? You need n't justify yourself."
She turned upon him a moment the quickened light of her beautiful eyes,
then fell to musing again. "Is there not some novel or some play,"
she asked at last, "in which some beautiful, wicked woman who has ensnared
a young man sees his father come to her and beg her to let him go?"
"Very likely," said Rowland. "I hope she consents."
"I forget. But tell me," she continued, "shall you consider--
admitting your proposition--that in ceasing to flirt with Mr. Hudson,
so that he may go about his business, I do something magnanimous,
heroic, sublime--something with a fine name like that?"
Rowland, elated with the prospect of gaining his point, was about
to reply that she would deserve the finest name in the world;
but he instantly suspected that this tone would not please her,
and, besides, it would not express his meaning.
"You do something I shall greatly respect," he contented himself with saying.
She made no answer, and in a moment she beckoned to her maid.
"What have I to do to-day?" she asked.
Assunta meditated. "Eh, it 's a very busy day! Fortunately I have
a better memory than the signorina," she said, turning to Rowland.
She began to count on her fingers. "We have to go to the Pie di Marmo to see
about those laces that were sent to be washed. You said also that you
wished to say three sharp words to the Buonvicini about your pink dress.
You want some moss-rosebuds for to-night, and you won't get them for nothing!
You dine at the Austrian Embassy, and that Frenchman is to powder your hair.
You 're to come home in time to receive, for the signora gives a dance.
And so away, away till morning!"
"Ah, yes, the moss-roses!" Christina murmured, caressingly.
"I must have a quantity--at least a hundred. Nothing but buds, eh?
You must sew them in a kind of immense apron, down the front of my dress.
Packed tight together, eh? It will be delightfully barbarous.
And then twenty more or so for my hair. They go very well
with powder; don't you think so?" And she turned to Rowland.
"I am going en Pompadour."
"To the Spanish Embassy, or whatever it is."
"All down the front, signorina? Dio buono! You must give me time!"
"Yes, we'll go!" And she left her place. She walked
slowly to the door of the church, looking at the pavement,
and Rowland could not guess whether she was thinking of her apron
of moss-rosebuds or of her opportunity for moral sublimity.
Before reaching the door she turned away and stood gazing at
an old picture, indistinguishable with blackness, over an altar.
At last they passed out into the court. Glancing at her in
the open air, Rowland was startled; he imagined he saw the traces
of hastily suppressed tears. They had lost time, she said,
and they must hurry; she sent Assunta to look for a fiacre.
She remained silent a while, scratching the ground with
the point of her parasol, and then at last, looking up,
she thanked Rowland for his confidence in her "reasonableness."
"It 's really very comfortable to be asked, to be expected,
to do something good, after all the horrid things one has
been used to doing--instructed, commanded, forced to do!
I 'll think over what you have said to me." In that deserted
quarter fiacres are rare, and there was some delay in
Assunta's procuring one. Christina talked of the church,
of the picturesque old court, of that strange, decaying corner
of Rome. Rowland was perplexed; he was ill at ease.
At last the fiacre arrived, but she waited a moment longer.
"So, decidedly," she suddenly asked, "I can only harm him?"
"You make me feel very brutal," said Rowland.
"And he is such a fine fellow that it would be really a great pity, eh?"
"I shall praise him no more," Rowland said.
She turned away quickly, but she lingered still.
"Do you remember promising me, soon after we first met,
that at the end of six months you would tell me definitely
what you thought of me?"
"It was a foolish promise."
"You gave it. Bear it in mind. I will think of what you have said
to me. Farewell." She stepped into the carriage, and it rolled away.
Rowland stood for some minutes, looking after it, and then
went his way with a sigh. If this expressed general mistrust,
he ought, three days afterward, to have been reassured.
He received by the post a note containing these words:--
"I have done it. Begin and respect me!
To be perfectly satisfactory, indeed, the note required a commentary.
He called that evening upon Roderick, and found one in the information
offered him at the door, by the old serving-woman--the startling
information that the signorino had gone to Naples.
CHAPTER VIII. Provocation
About a month later, Rowland addressed to his cousin Cecilia
a letter of which the following is a portion:--
...."So much for myself; yet I tell you but a tithe of my own
story unless I let you know how matters stand with poor Hudson,
for he gives me more to think about just now than anything else
in the world. I need a good deal of courage to begin this chapter.
You warned me, you know, and I made rather light of your warning.
I have had all kinds of hopes and fears, but hitherto,
in writing to you, I have resolutely put the hopes foremost.
Now, however, my pride has forsaken me, and I should like hugely
to give expression to a little comfortable despair. I should
like to say, 'My dear wise woman, you were right and I was wrong;
you were a shrewd observer and I was a meddlesome donkey!'