There befell at last a couple of days during which Rowland was unable to go t_he hotel. Late in the evening of the second one Roderick came into his room.
In a few moments he announced that he had finished the bust of his mother.
"And it 's magnificent!" he declared. "It 's one of the best things I hav_one."
"I believe it," said Rowland. "Never again talk to me about your inspiratio_eing dead."
"Why not? This may be its last kick! I feel very tired. But it 's _asterpiece, though I do say it. They tell us we owe so much to our parents.
Well, I 've paid the filial debt handsomely!" He walked up and down the room _ew moments, with the purpose of his visit evidently still undischarged.
"There 's one thing more I want to say," he presently resumed. "I feel as if _ught to tell you!" He stopped before Rowland with his head high and hi_rilliant glance unclouded. "Your invention is a failure!"
"My invention?" Rowland repeated.
"Bringing out my mother and Mary."
"It 's no use! They don't help me."
Rowland had fancied that Roderick had no more surprises for him; but he wa_ow staring at him, wide-eyed.
"They bore me!" Roderick went on.
"Oh, oh!" cried Rowland.
"Listen, listen!" said Roderick with perfect gentleness. "I am not complainin_f them; I am simply stating a fact. I am very sorry for them; I am greatl_isappointed."
"Have you given them a fair trial?"
"Should n't you say so? It seems to me I have behaved beautifully."
"You have done very well; I have been building great hopes on it."
"I have done too well, then. After the first forty-eight hours my own hope_ollapsed. But I determined to fight it out; to stand within the temple; t_et the spirit of the Lord descend! Do you want to know the result? Anothe_eek of it, and I shall begin to hate them. I shall want to poison them."
"Miserable boy!" cried Rowland. "They are the loveliest of women!"
"Very likely! But they mean no more to me than a Bible text to an atheist!"
"I utterly fail," said Rowland, in a moment, "to understand your relation t_iss Garland."
Roderick shrugged his shoulders and let his hands drop at his sides. "Sh_dores me! That 's my relation." And he smiled strangely.
"Have you broken your engagement?"
"Broken it? You can't break a ray of moonshine."
"Have you absolutely no affection for her?"
Roderick placed his hand on his heart and held it there a moment.
"Dead—dead—dead!" he said at last.
"I wonder," Rowland asked presently, "if you begin to comprehend the beauty o_iss Garland's character. She is a person of the highest merit."
"Evidently—or I would not have cared for her!"
"Has that no charm for you now?"
"Oh, don't force a fellow to say rude things!"
"Well, I can only say that you don't know what you are giving up."
Roderick gave a quickened glance. "Do you know, so well?"
"I admire her immeasurably."
Roderick smiled, we may almost say sympathetically. "You have not waste_ime."
Rowland's thoughts were crowding upon him fast. If Roderick was resolute, wh_ppose him? If Mary was to be sacrificed, why, in that way, try to save her?
There was another way; it only needed a little presumption to make i_ossible. Rowland tried, mentally, to summon presumption to his aid; bu_hether it came or not, it found conscience there before it. Conscience ha_nly three words, but they were cogent. "For her sake—for her sake," it dumbl_urmured, and Rowland resumed his argument. "I don't know what I would n'_o," he said, "rather than that Miss Garland should suffer."
"There is one thing to be said," Roderick answered reflectively. "She is ver_trong."
"Well, then, if she 's strong, believe that with a longer chance, a bette_hance, she will still regain your affection."
"Do you know what you ask?" cried Roderick. "Make love to a girl I hate?"
"As her lover, I should hate her!"
"Listen to me!" said Rowland with vehemence.
"No, listen you to me! Do you really urge my marrying a woman who would bor_e to death? I would let her know it in very good season, and then where woul_he be?"
Rowland walked the length of the room a couple of times and then stoppe_uddenly. "Go your way, then! Say all this to her, not to me!"
"To her? I am afraid of her; I want you to help me."
"My dear Roderick," said Rowland with an eloquent smile, "I can help you n_ore!"
Roderick frowned, hesitated a moment, and then took his hat. "Oh, well," h_aid, "I am not so afraid of her as all that!" And he turned, as if to depart.
"Stop!" cried Rowland, as he laid his hand on the door.
Roderick paused and stood waiting, with his irritated brow.
"Come back; sit down there and listen to me. Of anything you were to say i_our present state of mind you would live most bitterly to repent. You don'_now what you really think; you don't know what you really feel. You don'_now your own mind; you don't do justice to Miss Garland. All this i_mpossible here, under these circumstances. You 're blind, you 're deaf, you
're under a spell. To break it, you must leave Rome."
"Leave Rome! Rome was never so dear to me."
"That 's not of the smallest consequence. Leave it instantly."
"And where shall I go?"
"Go to some place where you may be alone with your mother and Miss Garland."
"Alone? You will not come?"
"Oh, if you desire it, I will come."
Roderick inclining his head a little, looked at his friend askance. "I don'_nderstand you," he said; "I wish you liked Miss Garland either a little less, or a little more."
Rowland felt himself coloring, but he paid no heed to Roderick's speech. "Yo_sk me to help you," he went on. "On these present conditions I can d_othing. But if you will postpone all decision as to the continuance of you_ngagement a couple of months longer, and meanwhile leave Rome, leave Italy, _ill do what I can to 'help you,' as you say, in the event of your stil_ishing to break it."
"I must do without your help then! Your conditions are impossible. I wil_eave Rome at the time I have always intended—at the end of June. My rooms an_y mother's are taken till then; all my arrangements are made accordingly.
Then, I will depart; not before."
"You are not frank," said Rowland. "Your real reason for staying has nothin_o do with your rooms."
Roderick's face betrayed neither embarrassment nor resentment. "If I 'm no_rank, it 's for the first time in my life. Since you know so much about m_eal reason, let me hear it! No, stop!" he suddenly added, "I won't troubl_ou. You are right, I have a motive. On the twenty-fourth of June Miss Ligh_s to be married. I take an immense interest in all that concerns her, and _ish to be present at her wedding."
"But you said the other day at Saint Peter's that it was by no means certai_er marriage would take place."
"Apparently I was wrong: the invitations, I am told, are going out."
Rowland felt that it would be utterly vain to remonstrate, and that the onl_hing for him was to make the best terms possible. "If I offer no furthe_pposition to your waiting for Miss Light's marriage," he said, "will yo_romise, meanwhile and afterwards, for a certain period, to defer to m_udgment—to say nothing that may be a cause of suffering to Miss Garland?"
"For a certain period? What period?" Roderick demanded.
"Ah, don't drive so close a bargain! Don't you understand that I have take_ou away from her, that I suffer in every nerve in consequence, and that _ust do what I can to restore you?"
"Do what you can, then," said Roderick gravely, putting out his hand. "Do wha_ou can!" His tone and his hand-shake seemed to constitute a promise, and upo_his they parted.
Roderick's bust of his mother, whether or no it was a discharge of what h_alled the filial debt, was at least a most admirable production. Rowland, a_he time it was finished, met Gloriani one evening, and this unscrupulou_enius immediately began to ask questions about it. "I am told our high-flyin_riend has come down," he said. "He has been doing a queer little old woman."
"A queer little old woman!" Rowland exclaimed. "My dear sir, she is Hudson'_other."
"All the more reason for her being queer! It is a bust for terra-cotta, eh?"
"By no means; it is for marble."
"That 's a pity. It was described to me as a charming piece of quaintness: _ittle demure, thin-lipped old lady, with her head on one side, and th_rettiest wrinkles in the world—a sort of fairy godmother."
"Go and see it, and judge for yourself," said Rowland.
"No, I see I shall be disappointed. It 's quite the other thing, the sort o_hing they put into the campo-santos. I wish that boy would listen to me a_our!"
But a day or two later Rowland met him again in the street, and, as they wer_ear, proposed they should adjourn to Roderick's studio. He consented, and o_ntering they found the young master. Roderick's demeanor to Gloriani wa_ever conciliatory, and on this occasion supreme indifference was apparentl_ll he had to offer. But Gloriani, like a genuine connoisseur, cared nothin_or his manners; he cared only for his skill. In the bust of Mrs. Hudson ther_as something almost touching; it was an exquisite example of a ruling sens_f beauty. The poor lady's small, neat, timorous face had certainly no grea_haracter, but Roderick had reproduced its sweetness, its mildness, it_inuteness, its still maternal passion, with the most unerring art. It wa_erfectly unflattered, and yet admirably tender; it was the poetry o_idelity. Gloriani stood looking at it a long time most intently. Roderic_andered away into the neighboring room.
"I give it up!" said the sculptor at last. "I don't understand it."
"But you like it?" said Rowland.
"Like it? It 's a pearl of pearls. Tell me this," he added: "is he very fon_f his mother; is he a very good son?" And he gave Rowland a sharp look.
"Why, she adores him," said Rowland, smiling.
"That 's not an answer! But it 's none of my business. Only if I, in hi_lace, being suspected of having—what shall I call it?—a cold heart, manage_o do that piece of work, oh, oh! I should be called a pretty lot of names.
Charlatan, poseur, arrangeur! But he can do as he chooses! My dear young man, I know you don't like me," he went on, as Roderick came back. "It 's a pity; you are strong enough not to care about me at all. You are very strong."
"Not at all," said Roderick curtly. "I am very weak!"
"I told you last year that you would n't keep it up. I was a great ass. Yo_ill!"
"I beg your pardon—I won't!" retorted Roderick.
"Though I 'm a great ass, all the same, eh? Well, call me what you will, s_ong as you turn out this sort of thing! I don't suppose it makes an_articular difference, but I should like to say now I believe in you."
Roderick stood looking at him for a moment with a strange hardness in hi_ace. It flushed slowly, and two glittering, angry tears filled his eyes. I_as the first time Rowland had ever seen them there; he saw them but onc_gain. Poor Gloriani, he was sure, had never in his life spoken with less o_rony; but to Roderick there was evidently a sense of mockery in hi_rofession of faith. He turned away with a muttered, passionate imprecation.
Gloriani was accustomed to deal with complex problems, but this time he wa_opelessly puzzled. "What 's the matter with him?" he asked, simply.
Rowland gave a sad smile, and touched his forehead. "Genius, I suppose."
Gloriani sent another parting, lingering look at the bust of Mrs. Hudson.
"Well, it 's deuced perfect, it 's deuced simple; I do believe in him!" h_aid. "But I 'm glad I 'm not a genius. It makes," he added with a laugh, a_e looked for Roderick to wave him good-by, and saw his back still turned, "i_akes a more sociable studio."
Rowland had purchased, as he supposed, temporary tranquillity for Mar_arland; but his own humor in these days was not especially peaceful. He wa_ttempting, in a certain sense, to lead the ideal life, and he found it, a_he least, not easy. The days passed, but brought with them no officia_nvitation to Miss Light's wedding. He occasionally met her, and h_ccasionally met Prince Casamassima; but always separately, never together.
They were apparently taking their happiness in the inexpressive manner prope_o people of social eminence. Rowland continued to see Madame Grandoni, fo_hom he felt a confirmed affection. He had always talked to her wit_rankness, but now he made her a confidant of all his hidden dejection.
Roderick and Roderick's concerns had been a common theme with him, and it wa_n the natural course to talk of Mrs. Hudson's arrival and Miss Garland's fin_mile. Madame Grandoni was an intelligent listener, and she lost no time i_utting his case for him in a nutshell. "At one moment you tell me the girl i_lain," she said; "the next you tell me she 's pretty. I will invite them, an_ shall see for myself. But one thing is very clear: you are in love wit_er."
Rowland, for all answer, glanced round to see that no one heard her.
"More than that," she added, "you have been in love with her these two years.
There was that certain something about you!… I knew you were a mild, swee_ellow, but you had a touch of it more than was natural. Why did n't you tel_e at once? You would have saved me a great deal of trouble. And poor August_lanchard too!" And herewith Madame Grandoni communicated a pertinent fact: Augusta Blanchard and Mr. Leavenworth were going to make a match. The youn_ady had been staying for a month at Albano, and Mr. Leavenworth had bee_ancing attendance. The event was a matter of course. Rowland, who had bee_ately reproaching himself with a failure of attention to Miss Blanchard'_oings, made some such observation.
"But you did not find it so!" cried his hostess. "It was a matter of course, perhaps, that Mr. Leavenworth, who seems to be going about Europe with th_ole view of picking up furniture for his 'home,' as he calls it, should thin_iss Blanchard a very handsome piece; but it was not a matter of course—or i_eed n't have been—that she should be willing to become a sort of superio_able-ornament. She would have accepted you if you had tried."
"You are supposing the insupposable," said Rowland. "She never gave me _article of encouragement."
"What would you have had her do? The poor girl did her best, and I am sur_hat when she accepted Mr. Leavenworth she thought of you."
"She thought of the pleasure her marriage would give me."
"Ay, pleasure indeed! She is a thoroughly good girl, but she has her littl_rain of feminine spite, like the rest. Well, he 's richer than you, and sh_ill have what she wants; but before I forgive you I must wait and see thi_ew arrival—what do you call her?—Miss Garland. If I like her, I will forgiv_ou; if I don't, I shall always bear you a grudge."
Rowland answered that he was sorry to forfeit any advantage she might offe_im, but that his exculpatory passion for Miss Garland was a figment of he_ancy. Miss Garland was engaged to another man, and he himself had no claims.
"Well, then," said Madame Grandoni, "if I like her, we 'll have it that yo_ught to be in love with her. If you fail in this, it will be a doubl_isdemeanor. The man she 's engaged to does n't care a straw for her. Leave m_lone and I 'll tell her what I think of you."
As to Christina Light's marriage, Madame Grandoni could make no definit_tatement. The young girl, of late, had made her several flying visits, in th_ntervals of the usual pre-matrimonial shopping and dress-fitting; she ha_poken of the event with a toss of her head, as a matter which, with a wis_ld friend who viewed things in their essence, she need not pretend to trea_s a solemnity. It was for Prince Casamassima to do that. "It is what the_all a marriage of reason," she once said. "That means, you know, a marriag_f madness!"
"What have you said in the way of advice?" Rowland asked.
"Very little, but that little has favored the prince. I know nothing of th_ysteries of the young lady's heart. It may be a gold-mine, but at any rate it
's a mine, and it 's a long journey down into it. But the marriage in itsel_s an excellent marriage. It 's not only brilliant, but it 's safe. I thin_hristina is quite capable of making it a means of misery; but there is n_osition that would be sacred to her. Casamassima is an irreproachable youn_an; there is nothing against him but that he is a prince. It is not often, _ancy, that a prince has been put through his paces at this rate. No one know_he wedding-day; the cards of invitation have been printed half a dozen time_ver, with a different date; each time Christina has destroyed them. There ar_eople in Rome who are furious at the delay; they want to get away; they ar_n a dreadful fright about the fever, but they are dying to see the wedding, and if the day were fixed, they would make their arrangements to wait for it.
I think it very possible that after having kept them a month and produced _ozen cases of malaria, Christina will be married at midnight by an old friar, with simply the legal witnesses."
"It is true, then, that she has become a Catholic?"
"So she tells me. One day she got up in the depths of despair; at her wit'_nd, I suppose, in other words, for a new sensation. Suddenly it occurred t_er that the Catholic church might after all hold the key, might give her wha_he wanted! She sent for a priest; he happened to be a clever man, and h_ontrived to interest her. She put on a black dress and a black lace veil, an_ooking handsomer than ever she rustled into the Catholic church. The prince, who is very devout, and who had her heresy sorely on his conscience, wa_hrown into an ecstasy. May she never have a caprice that pleases him less!"
Rowland had already asked Madame Grandoni what, to her perception, was th_resent state of matters between Christina and Roderick; and he now repeate_is question with some earnestness of apprehension. "The girl is so deucedl_ramatic," he said, "that I don't know what coup de theatre she may have i_tore for us. Such a stroke was her turning Catholic; such a stroke would b_er some day making her courtesy to a disappointed world as Princes_asamassima, married at midnight, in her bonnet. She might do—she ma_o—something that would make even more starers! I 'm prepared for anything."
"You mean that she might elope with your sculptor, eh?"
"I 'm prepared for anything!"
"Do you mean that he 's ready?"
"Do you think that she is?"
"They 're a precious pair! I think this. You by no means exhaust the subjec_hen you say that Christina is dramatic. It 's my belief that in the course o_er life she will do a certain number of things from pure disintereste_assion. She 's immeasurably proud, and if that is often a fault in a virtuou_erson, it may be a merit in a vicious one. She needs to think well o_erself; she knows a fine character, easily, when she meets one; she hates t_uffer by comparison, even though the comparison is made by herself alone; an_hen the estimate she may have made of herself grows vague, she needs to d_omething to give it definite, impressive form. What she will do in such _ase will be better or worse, according to her opportunity; but I imagine i_ill generally be something that will drive her mother to despair; somethin_f the sort usually termed 'unworldly.'"
Rowland, as he was taking his leave, after some further exchange of opinions, rendered Miss Light the tribute of a deeply meditative sigh. "She has bothere_e half to death," he said, "but somehow I can't manage, as I ought, to hat_er. I admire her, half the time, and a good part of the rest I pity her."
"I think I most pity her!" said Madame Grandoni.
This enlightened woman came the next day to call upon the two ladies fro_orthampton. She carried their shy affections by storm, and made them promis_o drink tea with her on the evening of the morrow. Her visit was an era i_he life of poor Mrs. Hudson, who did nothing but make sudden desultor_llusions to her, for the next thirty-six hours. "To think of her being _oreigner!" she would exclaim, after much intent reflection, over he_nitting; "she speaks so beautifully!" Then in a little while, "She was n't s_uch dressed as you might have expected. Did you notice how easy it was in th_aist? I wonder if that 's the fashion?" Or, "She 's very old to wear a hat; _hould never dare to wear a hat!" Or, "Did you notice her hands?—very prett_ands for such a stout person. A great many rings, but nothing very handsome.
I suppose they are hereditary." Or, "She 's certainly not handsome, but she '_ery sweet-looking. I wonder why she does n't have something done to he_eeth." Rowland also received a summons to Madame Grandoni's tea-drinking, an_ent betimes, as he had been requested. He was eagerly desirous to lend hi_ute applause to Mary Garland's debut in the Roman social world. The tw_adies had arrived, with Roderick, silent and careless, in attendance. Mis_lanchard was also present, escorted by Mr. Leavenworth, and the party wa_ompleted by a dozen artists of both sexes and various nationalities. It was _riendly and easy assembly, like all Madame Grandoni's parties, and in th_ourse of the evening there was some excellent music. People played and san_or Madame Grandoni, on easy terms, who, elsewhere, were not to be heard fo_he asking. She was herself a superior musician, and singers found it _rivilege to perform to her accompaniment. Rowland talked to various persons, but for the first time in his life his attention visibly wandered; he coul_ot keep his eyes off Mary Garland. Madame Grandoni had said that he sometime_poke of her as pretty and sometimes as plain; to-night, if he had ha_ccasion to describe her appearance, he would have called her beautiful. Sh_as dressed more than he had ever seen her; it was becoming, and gave her _eeper color and an ampler presence. Two or three persons were introduced t_er who were apparently witty people, for she sat listening to them with he_rilliant natural smile. Rowland, from an opposite corner, reflected that h_ad never varied in his appreciation of Miss Blanchard's classic contour, bu_hat somehow, to-night, it impressed him hardly more than an effigy stampe_pon a coin of low value. Roderick could not be accused of rancor, for he ha_pproached Mr. Leavenworth with unstudied familiarity, and, lounging agains_he wall, with hands in pockets, was discoursing to him with candid serenity.
Now that he had done him an impertinence, he evidently found him les_ntolerable. Mr. Leavenworth stood stirring his tea and silently opening an_hutting his mouth, without looking at the young sculptor, like a large, drowsy dog snapping at flies. Rowland had found it disagreeable to be tol_iss Blanchard would have married him for the asking, and he would have fel_ome embarrassment in going to speak to her if his modesty had not foun_ncredulity so easy. The facile side of a union with Miss Blanchard had neve_een present to his mind; it had struck him as a thing, in all ways, to b_ompassed with a great effort. He had half an hour's talk with her; a farewel_alk, as it seemed to him—a farewell not to a real illusion, but to the ide_hat for him, in that matter, there could ever be an acceptable pis-aller. H_ongratulated Miss Blanchard upon her engagement, and she received hi_ompliment with a touch of primness. But she was always a trifle prim, eve_hen she was quoting Mrs. Browning and George Sand, and this harmless defec_id not prevent her responding on this occasion that Mr. Leavenworth had a
"glorious heart." Rowland wished to manifest an extreme regard, but toward th_nd of the talk his zeal relaxed, and he fell a-thinking that a certai_atural ease in a woman was the most delightful thing in the world. There wa_hristina Light, who had too much, and here was Miss Blanchard, who had to_ittle, and there was Mary Garland (in whom the quality was wholl_ncultivated), who had just the right amount.
He went to Madame Grandoni in an adjoining room, where she was pouring ou_ea.
"I will make you an excellent cup," she said, "because I have forgiven you."
He looked at her, answering nothing; but he swallowed his tea with grea_usto, and a slight deepening of his color; by all of which one would hav_nown that he was gratified. In a moment he intimated that, in so far as h_ad sinned, he had forgiven himself.
"She is a lovely girl," said Madame Grandoni. "There is a great deal there. _ave taken a great fancy to her, and she must let me make a friend of her."
"She is very plain," said Rowland, slowly, "very simple, very ignorant."
"Which, being interpreted, means, 'She is very handsome, very subtle, and ha_ead hundreds of volumes on winter evenings in the country.'"
"You are a veritable sorceress," cried Rowland; "you frighten me away!" As h_as turning to leave her, there rose above the hum of voices in the drawing- room the sharp, grotesque note of a barking dog. Their eyes met in a glance o_ntelligence.
"There is the sorceress!" said Madame Grandoni. "The sorceress and he_ecromantic poodle!" And she hastened back to the post of hospitality.
Rowland followed her, and found Christina Light standing in the middle of th_rawing-room, and looking about in perplexity. Her poodle, sitting on hi_aunches and gazing at the company, had apparently been expressing _ympathetic displeasure at the absence of a welcome. But in a moment Madam_randoni had come to the young girl's relief, and Christina had tenderl_issed her.
"I had no idea," said Christina, surveying the assembly, "that you had such _ot of grand people, or I would not have come in. The servant said nothing; h_ook me for an invitee. I came to spend a neighborly half-hour; you know _ave n't many left! It was too dismally dreary at home. I hoped I should fin_ou alone, and I brought Stenterello to play with the cat. I don't know tha_f I had known about all this I would have dared to come in; but since I 'v_tumbled into the midst of it, I beg you 'll let me stay. I am not dressed, but am I very hideous? I will sit in a corner and no one will notice me. M_ear, sweet lady, do let me stay. Pray, why did n't you ask me? I never hav_een to a little party like this. They must be very charming. No dancing—te_nd conversation? No tea, thank you; but if you could spare a biscuit fo_tenterello; a sweet biscuit, please. Really, why did n't you ask me? Do yo_ave these things often? Madame Grandoni, it 's very unkind!" And the youn_irl, who had delivered herself of the foregoing succession of sentences i_er usual low, cool, penetrating voice, uttered these last words with _ertain tremor of feeling. "I see," she went on, "I do very well for balls an_reat banquets, but when people wish to have a cosy, friendly, comfortabl_vening, they leave me out, with the big flower-pots and the gil_andlesticks."
"I 'm sure you 're welcome to stay, my dear," said Madame Grandoni, "and a_he risk of displeasing you I must confess that if I did n't invite you, i_as because you 're too grand. Your dress will do very well, with its fift_lounces, and there is no need of your going into a corner. Indeed, since you
're here, I propose to have the glory of it. You must remain where my peopl_an see you."
"They are evidently determined to do that by the way they stare. Do they thin_ intend to dance a tarantella? Who are they all; do I know them?" An_ingering in the middle of the room, with her arm passed into Madam_randoni's, she let her eyes wander slowly from group to group. They were o_ourse observing her. Standing in the little circle of lamplight, with th_ood of an Eastern burnous, shot with silver threads, falling back from he_eautiful head, one hand gathering together its voluminous, shimmering folds, and the other playing with the silken top-knot on the uplifted head of he_oodle, she was a figure of radiant picturesqueness. She seemed to be a sor_f extemporized tableau vivant. Rowland's position made it becoming for him t_peak to her without delay. As she looked at him he saw that, judging by th_ight of her beautiful eyes, she was in a humor of which she had not ye_reated him to a specimen. In a simpler person he would have called i_xquisite kindness; but in this young lady's deportment the flower was on_hing and the perfume another. "Tell me about these people," she said to him.
"I had no idea there were so many people in Rome I had not seen. What are the_ll talking about? It 's all beyond me, I suppose. There is Miss Blanchard, sitting as usual in profile against a dark object. She is like a head on _ostage-stamp. And there is that nice little old lady in black, Mrs. Hudson.
What a dear little woman for a mother! Comme elle est proprette! And th_ther, the fiancee, of course she 's here. Ah, I see!" She paused; she wa_ooking intently at Miss Garland. Rowland measured the intentness of he_lance, and suddenly acquired a firm conviction. "I should like so much t_now her!" she said, turning to Madame Grandoni. "She has a charming face; _m sure she 's an angel. I wish very much you would introduce me. No, o_econd thoughts, I had rather you did n't. I will speak to her bravely myself, as a friend of her cousin." Madame Grandoni and Rowland exchanged glances o_affled conjecture, and Christina flung off her burnous, crumpled it together, and, with uplifted finger, tossing it into a corner, gave it in charge to he_oodle. He stationed himself upon it, on his haunches, with upright vigilance.
Christina crossed the room with the step and smile of a ministering angel, an_ntroduced herself to Mary Garland. She had once told Rowland that she woul_how him, some day, how gracious her manners could be; she was now redeemin_er promise. Rowland, watching her, saw Mary Garland rise slowly, in respons_o her greeting, and look at her with serious deep-gazing eyes. The almos_ramatic opposition of these two keenly interesting girls touched Rowland wit_ nameless apprehension, and after a moment he preferred to turn away. I_oing so he noticed Roderick. The young sculptor was standing planted on th_rain of a lady's dress, gazing across at Christina's movements wit_ndisguised earnestness. There were several more pieces of music; Rowland sa_n a corner and listened to them. When they were over, several people began t_ake their leave, Mrs. Hudson among the number. Rowland saw her come up t_adame Grandoni, clinging shyly to Mary Garland's arm. Miss Garland had _rilliant eye and a deep color in her cheek. The two ladies looked about fo_oderick, but Roderick had his back turned. He had approached Christina, who, with an absent air, was sitting alone, where she had taken her place near Mis_arland, looking at the guests pass out of the room. Christina's eye, lik_iss Garland's, was bright, but her cheek was pale. Hearing Roderick's voice, she looked up at him sharply; then silently, with a single quick gesture, motioned him away. He obeyed her, and came and joined his mother in biddin_ood night to Madame Grandoni. Christina, in a moment, met Rowland's glance, and immediately beckoned him to come to her. He was familiar with he_pontaneity of movement, and was scarcely surprised. She made a place for hi_n the sofa beside her; he wondered what was coming now. He was not sure i_as not a mere fancy, but it seemed to him that he had never seen her loo_ust as she was looking then. It was a humble, touching, appealing look, an_t threw into wonderful relief the nobleness of her beauty. "How many mor_etamorphoses," he asked himself, "am I to be treated to before we have done?"
"I want to tell you," said Christina. "I have taken an immense fancy to Mis_arland. Are n't you glad?"
"Delighted!" exclaimed poor Rowland.
"Ah, you don't believe it," she said with soft dignity.
"Is it so hard to believe?"
"Not that people in general should admire her, but that I should. But I wan_o tell you; I want to tell some one, and I can't tell Miss Garland herself.
She thinks me already a horrid false creature, and if I were to express to he_rankly what I think of her, I should simply disgust her. She would be quit_ight; she has repose, and from that point of view I and my doings must see_onstrous. Unfortunately, I have n't repose. I am trembling now; if I coul_sk you to feel my arm, you would see! But I want to tell you that I admir_iss Garland more than any of the people who call themselves he_riends—except of course you. Oh, I know that! To begin with, she is extremel_andsome, and she does n't know it."
"She is not generally thought handsome," said Rowland.
"Evidently! That 's the vulgarity of the human mind. Her head has grea_haracter, great natural style. If a woman is not to be a supreme beauty i_he regular way, she will choose, if she 's wise, to look like that. She 'l_ot be thought pretty by people in general, and desecrated, as she passes, b_he stare of every vile wretch who chooses to thrust his nose under he_onnet; but a certain number of superior people will find it one of th_elightful things of life to look at her. That lot is as good as another! The_he has a beautiful character!"
"You found that out soon!" said Rowland, smiling.
"How long did it take you? I found it out before I ever spoke to her. I me_er the other day in Saint Peter's; I knew it then. I knew it—do you want t_now how long I have known it?"
"Really," said Rowland, "I did n't mean to cross-examine you."
"Do you remember mamma's ball in December? We had some talk and you the_entioned her—not by name. You said but three words, but I saw you admire_er, and I knew that if you admired her she must have a beautiful character.
That 's what you require!"
"Upon my word," cried Rowland, "you make three words go very far!"
"Oh, Mr. Hudson has also spoken of her."
"Ah, that 's better!" said Rowland.
"I don't know; he does n't like her."
"Did he tell you so?" The question left Rowland's lips before he could sta_t, which he would have done on a moment's reflection.
Christina looked at him intently. "No!" she said at last. "That would hav_een dishonorable, would n't it? But I know it from my knowledge of him. H_oes n't like perfection; he is not bent upon being safe, in his likings; he
's willing to risk something! Poor fellow, he risks too much!"
Rowland was silent; he did not care for the thrust; but he was profoundl_ystified. Christina beckoned to her poodle, and the dog marched stiffl_cross to her. She gave a loving twist to his rose-colored top-knot, and bad_im go and fetch her burnous. He obeyed, gathered it up in his teeth, an_eturned with great solemnity, dragging it along the floor.
"I do her justice. I do her full justice," she went on, with soft earnestness.
"I like to say that, I like to be able to say it. She 's full of intelligenc_nd courage and devotion. She does n't do me a grain of justice; but that i_o harm. There is something so fine in the aversions of a good woman!"
"If you would give Miss Garland a chance," said Rowland, "I am sure she woul_e glad to be your friend."
"What do you mean by a chance? She has only to take it. I told her I liked he_mmensely, and she frowned as if I had said something disgusting. She look_ery handsome when she frowns." Christina rose, with these words, and began t_ather her mantle about her. "I don't often like women," she went on. "In fac_ generally detest them. But I should like to know Miss Garland well. I shoul_ike to have a friendship with her; I have never had one; they must be ver_elightful. But I shan't have one now, either—not if she can help it! Ask he_hat she thinks of me; see what she will say. I don't want to know; keep it t_ourself. It 's too sad. So we go through life. It 's fatality—that 's wha_hey call it, is n't it? We please the people we don't care for, we displeas_hose we do! But I appreciate her, I do her justice; that 's the mor_mportant thing. It 's because I have imagination. She has none. Never mind; it 's her only fault. I do her justice; I understand very well." She kep_oftly murmuring and looking about for Madame Grandoni. She saw the good lad_ear the door, and put out her hand to Rowland for good night. She held hi_and an instant, fixing him with her eyes, the living splendor of which, a_his moment, was something transcendent. "Yes, I do her justice," sh_epeated. "And you do her more; you would lay down your life for her." Wit_his she turned away, and before he could answer, she left him. She went t_adame Grandoni, grasped her two hands, and held out her forehead to b_issed. The next moment she was gone.
"That was a happy accident!" said Madame Grandoni. "She never looked s_eautiful, and she made my little party brilliant."
"Beautiful, verily!" Rowland answered. "But it was no accident."
"What was it, then?"
"It was a plan. She wished to see Miss Garland. She knew she was to be here."
"By Roderick, evidently."
"And why did she wish to see Miss Garland?"
"Heaven knows! I give it up!"
"Ah, the wicked girl!" murmured Madame Grandoni.
"No," said Rowland; "don't say that now. She 's too beautiful."
"Oh, you men! The best of you!"
"Well, then," cried Rowland, "she 's too good!"
The opportunity presenting itself the next day, he failed not, as you ma_magine, to ask Mary Garland what she thought of Miss Light. It was a Saturda_fternoon, the time at which the beautiful marbles of the Villa Borghese ar_hrown open to the public. Mary had told him that Roderick had promised t_ake her to see them, with his mother, and he joined the party in the splendi_asino. The warm weather had left so few strangers in Rome that they had th_lace almost to themselves. Mrs. Hudson had confessed to an invincible fear o_reading, even with the help of her son's arm, the polished marble floors, an_as sitting patiently on a stool, with folded hands, looking shyly, here an_here, at the undraped paganism around her. Roderick had sauntered off alone, with an irritated brow, which seemed to betray the conflict between th_nstinct of observation and the perplexities of circumstance. Miss Garland wa_andering in another direction, and though she was consulting her catalogue, Rowland fancied it was from habit; she too was preoccupied. He joined her, an_he presently sat down on a divan, rather wearily, and closed her Murray. The_e asked her abruptly how Christina had pleased her.
She started the least bit at the question, and he felt that she had bee_hinking of Christina.
"I don't like her!" she said with decision.
"What do you think of her?"
"I think she 's false." This was said without petulance or bitterness, bu_ith a very positive air.
"But she wished to please you; she tried," Rowland rejoined, in a moment.
"I think not. She wished to please herself!"
Rowland felt himself at liberty to say no more. No allusion to Christina ha_assed between them since the day they met her at Saint Peter's, but he kne_hat she knew, by that infallible sixth sense of a woman who loves, that thi_trange, beautiful girl had the power to injure her. To what extent she ha_he will, Mary was uncertain; but last night's interview, apparently, had no_eassured her. It was, under these circumstances, equally unbecoming fo_owland either to depreciate or to defend Christina, and he had to conten_imself with simply having verified the girl's own assurance that she had mad_ bad impression. He tried to talk of indifferent matters—about the statue_nd the frescoes; but to-day, plainly, aesthetic curiosity, with Miss Garland, had folded its wings. Curiosity of another sort had taken its place. Mary wa_onging, he was sure, to question him about Christina; but she found a doze_easons for hesitating. Her questions would imply that Roderick had no_reated her with confidence, for information on this point should properl_ave come from him. They would imply that she was jealous, and to betray he_ealousy was intolerable to her pride. For some minutes, as she sat scratchin_he brilliant pavement with the point of her umbrella, it was to be suppose_hat her pride and her anxiety held an earnest debate. At last anxiety won.
"A propos of Miss Light," she asked, "do you know her well?"
"I can hardly say that. But I have seen her repeatedly."
"Do you like her?"
"Yes and no. I think I am sorry for her."
Mary had spoken with her eyes on the pavement. At this she looked up. "Sorr_or her? Why?"
"Well—she is unhappy."
"What are her misfortunes?"
"Well—she has a horrible mother, and she has had a most injurious education."
For a moment Miss Garland was silent. Then, "Is n't she very beautiful?" sh_sked.
"Don't you think so?"
"That 's measured by what men think! She is extremely clever, too."
"She has beautiful dresses."
"Yes, any number of them."
"And beautiful manners."
"And plenty of money."
"Money enough, apparently."
"And she receives great admiration."
"And she is to marry a prince."
"So they say."
Miss Garland rose and turned to rejoin her companions, commenting thes_dmissions with a pregnant silence. "Poor Miss Light!" she said at last, simply. And in this it seemed to Rowland there was a touch of bitterness.
Very late on the following evening his servant brought him the card of _isitor. He was surprised at a visit at such an hour, but it may be said tha_hen he read the inscription—Cavaliere Giuseppe Giacosa—his surprise declined.
He had had an unformulated conviction that there was to be a sequel to th_pparition at Madame Grandoni's; the Cavaliere had come to usher it in.
He had come, evidently, on a portentous errand. He was as pale as ashes an_rodigiously serious; his little cold black eye had grown ardent, and he ha_eft his caressing smile at home. He saluted Rowland, however, with his usua_bsequious bow.
"You have more than once done me the honor to invite me to call upon you," h_aid. "I am ashamed of my long delay, and I can only say to you, frankly, tha_y time this winter has not been my own." Rowland assented, ungrudgingl_umbled for the Italian correlative of the adage "Better late than never,"
begged him to be seated, and offered him a cigar. The Cavaliere sniffe_mperceptibly the fragrant weed, and then declared that, if his kind hos_ould allow him, he would reserve it for consumption at another time. H_pparently desired to intimate that the solemnity of his errand left him n_reath for idle smoke-puffings. Rowland stayed himself, just in time, from a_nthusiastic offer of a dozen more cigars, and, as he watched the Cavalier_tow his treasure tenderly away in his pocket-book, reflected that only a_talian could go through such a performance with uncompromised dignity. "_ust confess," the little old man resumed, "that even now I come on busines_ot of my own—or my own, at least, only in a secondary sense. I have bee_ispatched as an ambassador, an envoy extraordinary, I may say, by my dea_riend Mrs. Light."
"If I can in any way be of service to Mrs. Light, I shall be happy," Rowlan_aid.
"Well then, dear sir, Casa Light is in commotion. The signora is in trouble—i_errible trouble." For a moment Rowland expected to hear that the signora'_rouble was of a nature that a loan of five thousand francs would assuage. Bu_he Cavaliere continued: "Miss Light has committed a great crime; she ha_lunged a dagger into the heart of her mother."
"A dagger!" cried Rowland.
The Cavaliere patted the air an instant with his finger-tips. "I spea_iguratively. She has broken off her marriage."
"Broken it off?"
"Short! She has turned the prince from the door." And the Cavaliere, when h_ad made this announcement, folded his arms and bent upon Rowland his intense, inscrutable gaze. It seemed to Rowland that he detected in the polished depth_f it a sort of fantastic gleam of irony or of triumph; but superficially, a_east, Giacosa did nothing to discredit his character as a presumabl_ympathetic representative of Mrs. Light's affliction.
Rowland heard his news with a kind of fierce disgust; it seemed the siniste_ounterpart of Christina's preternatural mildness at Madame Grandoni's tea- party. She had been too plausible to be honest. Without being able to trac_he connection, he yet instinctively associated her present rebellion with he_eeting with Mary Garland. If she had not seen Mary, she would have let thing_tand. It was monstrous to suppose that she could have sacrificed so brillian_ fortune to a mere movement of jealousy, to a refined instinct of feminin_eviltry, to a desire to frighten poor Mary from her security by agai_ppearing in the field. Yet Rowland remembered his first impression of her; she was "dangerous," and she had measured in each direction the perturbin_ffect of her rupture. She was smiling her sweetest smile at it! For half a_our Rowland simply detested her, and longed to denounce her to her face. O_ourse all he could say to Giacosa was that he was extremely sorry. "But I a_ot surprised," he added.
"You are not surprised?"
"With Miss Light everything is possible. Is n't that true?"
Another ripple seemed to play for an instant in the current of the old man'_rony, but he waived response. "It was a magnificent marriage," he said, solemnly. "I do not respect many people, but I respect Prince Casamassima."
"I should judge him indeed to be a very honorable young man," said Rowland.
"Eh, young as he is, he 's made of the old stuff. And now, perhaps he '_lowing his brains out. He is the last of his house; it 's a great house. Bu_iss Light will have put an end to it!"
"Is that the view she takes of it?" Rowland ventured to ask.
This time, unmistakably, the Cavaliere smiled, but still in that very out-of- the-way place. "You have observed Miss Light with attention," he said, "an_his brings me to my errand. Mrs. Light has a high opinion of your wisdom, o_our kindness, and she has reason to believe you have influence with he_aughter."
"I—with her daughter? Not a grain!"
"That is possibly your modesty. Mrs. Light believes that something may yet b_one, and that Christina will listen to you. She begs you to come and see he_efore it is too late."
"But all this, my dear Cavaliere, is none of my business," Rowland objected.
"I can't possibly, in such a matter, take the responsibility of advising Mis_ight."
The Cavaliere fixed his eyes for a moment on the floor, in brief but intens_eflection. Then looking up, "Unfortunately," he said, "she has no man nea_er whom she respects; she has no father!"
"And a fatally foolish mother!" Rowland gave himself the satisfaction o_xclaiming.
The Cavaliere was so pale that he could not easily have turned paler; yet i_eemed for a moment that his dead complexion blanched. "Eh, signore, such a_he is, the mother appeals to you. A very handsome woman—disheveled, in tears, in despair, in dishabille!"
Rowland reflected a moment, not on the attractions of Mrs. Light under th_ircumstances thus indicated by the Cavaliere, but on the satisfaction h_ould take in accusing Christina to her face of having struck a cruel blow.
"I must add," said the Cavaliere, "that Mrs. Light desires also to speak t_ou on the subject of Mr. Hudson."
"She considers Mr. Hudson, then, connected with this step of her daughter's?"
"Intimately. He must be got out of Rome."
"Mrs. Light, then, must get an order from the Pope to remove him. It 's not i_y power."
The Cavaliere assented, deferentially. "Mrs. Light is equally helpless. Sh_ould leave Rome to-morrow, but Christina will not budge. An order from th_ope would do nothing. A bull in council would do nothing."
"She 's a remarkable young lady," said Rowland, with bitterness.
But the Cavaliere rose and responded coldly, "She has a great spirit." And i_eemed to Rowland that her great spirit, for mysterious reasons, gave him mor_leasure than the distressing use she made of it gave him pain. He was on th_oint of charging him with his inconsistency, when Giacosa resumed: "But i_he marriage can be saved, it must be saved. It 's a beautiful marriage. I_ill be saved."
"Notwithstanding Miss Light's great spirit to the contrary?"
"Miss Light, notwithstanding her great spirit, will call Prince Casamassim_ack."
"Heaven grant it!" said Rowland.
"I don't know," said the Cavaliere, solemnly, "that heaven will have much t_o with it."
Rowland gave him a questioning look, but he laid his finger on his lips. An_ith Rowland's promise to present himself on the morrow at Casa Light, h_hortly afterwards departed. He left Rowland revolving many things: Christina's magnanimity, Christina's perversity, Roderick's contingen_ortune, Mary Garland's certain trouble, and the Cavaliere's own fin_mbiguities.
Rowland's promise to the Cavaliere obliged him to withdraw from an excursio_hich he had arranged with the two ladies from Northampton. Before going t_asa Light he repaired in person to Mrs. Hudson's hotel, to make his excuses.
He found Roderick's mother sitting with tearful eyes, staring at an open not_hat lay in her lap. At the window sat Miss Garland, who turned her intens_egard upon him as he came in. Mrs. Hudson quickly rose and came to him, holding out the note.
"In pity's name," she cried, "what is the matter with my boy? If he is ill, _ntreat you to take me to him!"
"He is not ill, to my knowledge," said Rowland. "What have you there?"
"A note—a dreadful note. He tells us we are not to see him for a week. If _ould only go to his room! But I am afraid, I am afraid!"
"I imagine there is no need of going to his room. What is the occasion, may _sk, of his note?"
"He was to have gone with us on this drive to—what is the place?—to Cervara.
You know it was arranged yesterday morning. In the evening he was to hav_ined with us. But he never came, and this morning arrives this awful thing.
Oh dear, I 'm so excited! Would you mind reading it?"
Rowland took the note and glanced at its half-dozen lines. "I cannot go t_ervara," they ran; "I have something else to do. This will occupy me perhap_or a week, and you 'll not see me. Don't miss me—learn not to miss me. R. H."
"Why, it means," Rowland commented, "that he has taken up a piece of work, an_hat it is all-absorbing. That 's very good news." This explanation was no_incere; but he had not the courage not to offer it as a stop-gap. But h_ound he needed all his courage to maintain it, for Miss Garland had left he_lace and approached him, formidably unsatisfied.
"He does not work in the evening," said Mrs. Hudson. "Can't he come for fiv_inutes? Why does he write such a cruel, cold note to his poor mother—to poo_ary? What have we done that he acts so strangely? It 's this wicked, infectious, heathenish place!" And the poor lady's suppressed mistrust of th_ternal City broke out passionately. "Oh, dear Mr. Mallet," she went on, "I a_ure he has the fever and he 's already delirious!"
"I am very sure it 's not that," said Miss Garland, with a certain dryness.
She was still looking at Rowland; his eyes met hers, and his own glance fell.
This made him angry, and to carry off his confusion he pretended to be lookin_t the floor, in meditation. After all, what had he to be ashamed of? For _oment he was on the point of making a clean breast of it, of crying out,
"Dearest friends, I abdicate: I can't help you!" But he checked himself; h_elt so impatient to have his three words with Christina. He grasped his hat.
"I will see what it is!" he cried. And then he was glad he had not abdicated, for as he turned away he glanced again at Mary and saw that, though her eye_ere full of trouble, they were not hard and accusing, but charged wit_ppealing friendship.
He went straight to Roderick's apartment, deeming this, at an early hour, th_afest place to seek him. He found him in his sitting-room, which had bee_losely darkened to keep out the heat. The carpets and rugs had been removed, the floor of speckled concrete was bare and lightly sprinkled with water. Her_nd there, over it, certain strongly perfumed flowers had been scattered.
Roderick was lying on his divan in a white dressing-gown, staring up at th_rescoed ceiling. The room was deliciously cool, and filled with the moist, sweet odor of the circumjacent roses and violets. All this seemed highl_antastic, and yet Rowland hardly felt surprised.
"Your mother was greatly alarmed at your note," he said, "and I came t_atisfy myself that, as I believed, you are not ill." Roderick lay motionless, except that he slightly turned his head toward his friend. He was smelling _arge white rose, and he continued to present it to his nose. In the darknes_f the room he looked exceedingly pale, but his handsome eyes had a_xtraordinary brilliancy. He let them rest for some time on Rowland, lyin_here like a Buddhist in an intellectual swoon, whose perception should b_lowly ebbing back to temporal matters. "Oh, I 'm not ill," he said at last.
"I have never been better."
"Your note, nevertheless, and your absence," Rowland said, "have ver_aturally alarmed your mother. I advise you to go to her directly and reassur_er."
"Go to her? Going to her would be worse than staying away. Staying away a_resent is a kindness." And he inhaled deeply his huge rose, looking up ove_t at Rowland. "My presence, in fact, would be indecent."
"Indecent? Pray explain."
"Why, you see, as regards Mary Garland. I am divinely happy! Does n't i_trike you? You ought to agree with me. You wish me to spare her feelings; _pare them by staying away. Last night I heard something"—
"I heard it, too," said Rowland with brevity. "And it 's in honor of thi_iece of news that you have taken to your bed in this fashion?"
"Extremes meet! I can't get up for joy."
"May I inquire how you heard your joyous news?—from Miss Light herself?"
"By no means. It was brought me by her maid, who is in my service as well."
"Casamassima's loss, then, is to a certainty your gain?"
"I don't talk about certainties. I don't want to be arrogant, I don't want t_ffend the immortal gods. I 'm keeping very quiet, but I can't help bein_appy. I shall wait a while; I shall bide my time."
"And then that transcendent girl will confess to me that when she thre_verboard her prince she remembered that I adored her!"
"I feel bound to tell you," was in the course of a moment Rowland's respons_o this speech, "that I am now on my way to Mrs. Light's."
"I congratulate you, I envy you!" Roderick murmured, imperturbably.
"Mrs. Light has sent for me to remonstrate with her daughter, with whom sh_as taken it into her head that I have influence. I don't know to what exten_ shall remonstrate, but I give you notice I shall not speak in you_nterest."
Roderick looked at him a moment with a lazy radiance in his eyes. "Pra_on't!" he simply answered.
"You deserve I should tell her you are a very shabby fellow."
"My dear Rowland, the comfort with you is that I can trust you. You 'r_ncapable of doing anything disloyal."
"You mean to lie here, then, smelling your roses and nursing your visions, an_eaving your mother and Miss Garland to fall ill with anxiety?"
"Can I go and flaunt my felicity in their faces? Wait till I get used to it _rifle. I have done them a palpable wrong, but I can at least forbear to ad_nsult to injury. I may be an arrant fool, but, for the moment, I have take_t into my head to be prodigiously pleased. I should n't be able to concea_t; my pleasure would offend them; so I lock myself up as a dangerou_haracter."
"Well, I can only say, 'May your pleasure never grow less, or your dange_reater!'"
Roderick closed his eyes again, and sniffed at his rose. "God's will be done!"
On this Rowland left him and repaired directly to Mrs. Light's. This afflicte_ady hurried forward to meet him. Since the Cavaliere's report of he_ondition she had somewhat smoothed and trimmed the exuberance of he_istress, but she was evidently in extreme tribulation, and she clutche_owland by his two hands, as if, in the shipwreck of her hopes, he were he_ingle floating spar. Rowland greatly pitied her, for there is somethin_espectable in passionate grief, even in a very bad cause; and as pity is aki_o love, he endured her rather better than he had done hitherto.
"Speak to her, plead with her, command her!" she cried, pressing and shakin_is hands. "She 'll not heed us, no more than if we were a pair of clock_-ticking. Perhaps she will listen to you; she always liked you."
"She always disliked me," said Rowland. "But that does n't matter now. I hav_ome here simply because you sent for me, not because I can help you. I canno_dvise your daughter."
"Oh, cruel, deadly man! You must advise her; you shan't leave this house til_ou have advised her!" the poor woman passionately retorted. "Look at me in m_isery and refuse to help me! Oh, you need n't be afraid, I know I 'm _right, I have n't an idea what I have on. If this goes on, we may both a_ell turn scarecrows. If ever a woman was desperate, frantic, heart-broken, _m that woman. I can't begin to tell you. To have nourished a serpent, sir, all these years! to have lavished one's self upon a viper that turns an_tings her own poor mother! To have toiled and prayed, to have pushed an_truggled, to have eaten the bread of bitterness, and all the rest of it, sir—and at the end of all things to find myself at this pass. It can't be, it
's too cruel, such things don't happen, the Lord don't allow it. I 'm _eligious woman, sir, and the Lord knows all about me. With his own hand h_ad given me his reward! I would have lain down in the dust and let her wal_ver me; I would have given her the eyes out of my head, if she had taken _ancy to them. No, she 's a cruel, wicked, heartless, unnatural girl! I spea_o you, Mr. Mallet, in my dire distress, as to my only friend. There is n't _reature here that I can look to—not one of them all that I have faith in. Bu_ always admired you. I said to Christina the first time I saw you that ther_t last was a real gentleman. Come, don't disappoint me now! I feel s_erribly alone, you see; I feel what a nasty, hard, heartless world it is tha_as come and devoured my dinners and danced to my fiddles, and yet that ha_'t a word to throw to me in my agony! Oh, the money, alone, that I have pu_nto this thing, would melt the heart of a Turk!"
During this frenzied outbreak Rowland had had time to look round the room, an_o see the Cavaliere sitting in a corner, like a major-domo on the divan of a_ntechamber, pale, rigid, and inscrutable.
"I have it at heart to tell you," Rowland said, "that if you consider m_riend Hudson"—
Mrs. Light gave a toss of her head and hands. "Oh, it 's not that. She told m_ast night to bother her no longer with Hudson, Hudson! She did n't care _utton for Hudson. I almost wish she did; then perhaps one might understan_t. But she does n't care for anything in the wide world, except to do her ow_ard, wicked will, and to crush me and shame me with her cruelty."
"Ah, then," said Rowland, "I am as much at sea as you, and my presence here i_n impertinence. I should like to say three words to Miss Light on my ow_ccount. But I must absolutely and inexorably decline to urge the cause o_rince Casamassima. This is simply impossible."
Mrs. Light burst into angry tears. "Because the poor boy is a prince, eh?
because he 's of a great family, and has an income of millions, eh? That '_hy you grudge him and hate him. I knew there were vulgar people of that wa_f feeling, but I did n't expect it of you. Make an effort, Mr. Mallet; ris_o the occasion; forgive the poor fellow his splendor. Be just, be reasonable!
It 's not his fault, and it 's not mine. He 's the best, the kindest young ma_n the world, and the most correct and moral and virtuous! If he were standin_ere in rags, I would say it all the same. The man first—the money afterwards: that was always my motto, and always will be. What do you take me for? Do yo_uppose I would give Christina to a vicious person? do you suppose I woul_acrifice my precious child, little comfort as I have in her, to a man agains_hose character one word could be breathed? Casamassima is only too good, he
's a saint of saints, he 's stupidly good! There is n't such another in th_ength and breadth of Europe. What he has been through in this house, not _ommon peasant would endure. Christina has treated him as you would n't trea_ dog. He has been insulted, outraged, persecuted! He has been driven hithe_nd thither till he did n't know where he was. He has stood there where yo_tand—there, with his name and his millions and his devotion—as white as you_andkerchief, with hot tears in his eyes, and me ready to go down on my knee_o him and say, 'My own sweet prince, I could kiss the ground you tread on, but it is n't decent that I should allow you to enter my house and expos_ourself to these horrors again.' And he would come back, and he would com_ack, and go through it all again, and take all that was given him, and onl_ant the girl the more! I was his confidant; I know everything. He used to be_y forgiveness for Christina. What do you say to that? I seized him once an_issed him, I did! To find that and to find all the rest with it, and t_elieve it was a gift straight from the pitying angels of heaven, and then t_ee it dashed away before your eyes and to stand here helpless—oh, it 's _ate I hope you may ever be spared!"
"It would seem, then, that in the interest of Prince Casamassima himself _ught to refuse to interfere," said Rowland.
Mrs. Light looked at him hard, slowly drying her eyes. The intensity of he_rief and anger gave her a kind of majesty, and Rowland, for the moment, fel_shamed of the ironical ring of his observation. "Very good, sir," she said.
"I 'm sorry your heart is not so tender as your conscience. My compliments t_our conscience! It must give you great happiness. Heaven help me! Since yo_ail us, we are indeed driven to the wall. But I have fought my own battle_efore, and I have never lost courage, and I don't see why I should break dow_ow. Cavaliere, come here!"
Giacosa rose at her summons and advanced with his usual deferential alacrity.
He shook hands with Rowland in silence.
"Mr. Mallet refuses to say a word," Mrs. Light went on. "Time presses, ever_oment is precious. Heaven knows what that poor boy may be doing. If at thi_oment a clever woman should get hold of him she might be as ugly as sh_leased! It 's horrible to think of it."
The Cavaliere fixed his eyes on Rowland, and his look, which the night befor_ad been singular, was now most extraordinary. There was a nameless force o_nguish in it which seemed to grapple with the young man's reluctance, t_lead, to entreat, and at the same time to be glazed over with a reflection o_trange things.
Suddenly, though most vaguely, Rowland felt the presence of a new element i_he drama that was going on before him. He looked from the Cavaliere to Mrs.
Light, whose eyes were now quite dry, and were fixed in stony hardness on th_loor.
"If you could bring yourself," the Cavaliere said, in a low, soft, caressin_oice, "to address a few words of solemn remonstrance to Miss Light, yo_ould, perhaps, do more for us than you know. You would save several persons _reat pain. The dear signora, first, and then Christina herself. Christina i_articular. Me too, I might take the liberty to add!"
There was, to Rowland, something acutely touching in this humble petition. H_ad always felt a sort of imaginative tenderness for poor little unexplaine_iacosa, and these words seemed a supreme contortion of the mysteriou_bliquity of his life. All of a sudden, as he watched the Cavaliere, somethin_ccurred to him; it was something very odd, and it stayed his glance suddenl_rom again turning to Mrs. Light. His idea embarrassed him, and to carry of_is embarrassment, he repeated that it was folly to suppose that his word_ould have any weight with Christina.
The Cavaliere stepped forward and laid two fingers on Rowland's breast. "D_ou wish to know the truth? You are the only man whose words she remembers."
Rowland was going from surprise to surprise. "I will say what I can!" he said.
By this time he had ventured to glance at Mrs. Light. She was looking at hi_skance, as if, upon this, she was suddenly mistrusting his motives.
"If you fail," she said sharply, "we have something else! But please to los_o time."
She had hardly spoken when the sound of a short, sharp growl caused th_ompany to turn. Christina's fleecy poodle stood in the middle of the vas_aloon, with his muzzle lowered, in pompous defiance of the three conspirator_gainst the comfort of his mistress. This young lady's claims for him seeme_ustified; he was an animal of amazingly delicate instincts. He had precede_hristina as a sort of van-guard of defense, and she now slowly advanced fro_ neighboring room.
"You will be so good as to listen to Mr. Mallet," her mother said, in _errible voice, "and to reflect carefully upon what he says. I suppose yo_ill admit that he is disinterested. In half an hour you shall hear from m_gain!" And passing her hand through the Cavaliere's arm, she swept rapidl_ut of the room.
Christina looked hard at Rowland, but offered him no greeting. She was ver_ale, and, strangely enough, it at first seemed to Rowland that her beauty wa_n eclipse. But he very soon perceived that it had only changed its character, and that if it was a trifle less brilliant than usual, it was admirabl_ouching and noble. The clouded light of her eyes, the magnificent gravity o_er features, the conscious erectness of her head, might have belonged to _eposed sovereign or a condemned martyr. "Why have you come here at thi_ime?" she asked.
"Your mother sent for me in pressing terms, and I was very glad to have a_pportunity to speak to you."
"Have you come to help me, or to persecute me?"
"I have as little power to do one as I have desire to do the other. I came i_reat part to ask you a question. First, your decision is irrevocable?"
Christina's two hands had been hanging clasped in front of her; she separate_hem and flung them apart by an admirable gesture.
"Would you have done this if you had not seen Miss Garland?"
She looked at him with quickened attention; then suddenly, "This i_nteresting!" she cried. "Let us have it out." And she flung herself into _hair and pointed to another.
"You don't answer my question," Rowland said.
"You have no right, that I know of, to ask it. But it 's a very clever one; s_lever that it deserves an answer. Very likely I would not."
"Last night, when I said that to myself, I was extremely angry," Rowlan_ejoined.
"Oh, dear, and you are not angry now?"
"I am less angry."
"How very stupid! But you can say something at least."
"If I were to say what is uppermost in my mind, I would say that, face to fac_ith you, it is never possible to condemn you."
"You know, yourself! But I can at least say now what I felt last night. I_eemed to me that you had consciously, cruelly dealt a blow at that poor girl.
Do you understand?"
"Wait a moment!" And with her eyes fixed on him, she inclined her head on on_ide, meditatively. Then a cold, brilliant smile covered her face, and sh_ade a gesture of negation. "I see your train of reasoning, but it 's quit_rong. I meant no harm to Miss Garland; I should be extremely sorry to mak_er suffer. Tell me you believe that."
This was said with ineffable candor. Rowland heard himself answering, "_elieve it!"
"And yet, in a sense, your supposition was true," Christina continued. "_onceived, as I told you, a great admiration for Miss Garland, and I frankl_onfess I was jealous of her. What I envied her was simply her character! _aid to myself, 'She, in my place, would n't marry Casamassima.' I could no_elp saying it, and I said it so often that I found a kind of inspiration i_t. I hated the idea of being worse than she—of doing something that she woul_'t do. I might be bad by nature, but I need n't be by volition. The end of i_ll was that I found it impossible not to tell the prince that I was his ver_umble servant, but that I could not marry him."
"Are you sure it was only of Miss Garland's character that you were jealous, not of—not of"—
"Speak out, I beg you. We are talking philosophy!"
"Not of her affection for her cousin?"
"Sure is a good deal to ask. Still, I think I may say it! There are tw_easons; one, at least, I can tell you: her affection has not a shadow'_eight with Mr. Hudson! Why then should one fear it?"
"And what is the other reason?"
"Excuse me; that is my own affair."
Rowland was puzzled, baffled, charmed, inspired, almost, all at once. "I hav_romised your mother," he presently resumed, "to say something in favor o_rince Casamassima."
She shook her head sadly. "Prince Casamassima needs nothing that you can sa_or him. He is a magnificent parti. I know it perfectly."
"You know also of the extreme affliction of your mother?"
"Her affliction is demonstrative. She has been abusing me for the last twenty- four hours as if I were the vilest of the vile." To see Christina sit there i_he purity of her beauty and say this, might have made one bow one's head wit_ kind of awe. "I have failed of respect to her at other times, but I have no_one so now. Since we are talking philosophy," she pursued with a gentl_mile, "I may say it 's a simple matter! I don't love him. Or rather, perhaps, since we are talking philosophy, I may say it 's not a simple matter. I spok_ust now of inspiration. The inspiration has been great, but—I frankly confes_t—the choice has been hard. Shall I tell you?" she demanded, with sudde_rdor; "will you understand me? It was on the one side the world, th_plendid, beautiful, powerful, interesting world. I know what that is; I hav_asted of the cup, I know its sweetness. Ah, if I chose, if I let myself go, if I flung everything to the winds, the world and I would be famous friends! _now its merits, and I think, without vanity, it would see mine. You would se_ome fine things! I should like to be a princess, and I think I should be _ery good one; I would play my part well. I am fond of luxury, I am fond of _reat society, I am fond of being looked at. I am corrupt, corruptible, corruption! Ah, what a pity that could n't be, too! Mercy of Heaven!" Ther_as a passionate tremor in her voice; she covered her face with her hands an_at motionless. Rowland saw that an intense agitation, hitherto successfull_epressed, underlay her calmness, and he could easily believe that her battl_ad been fierce. She rose quickly and turned away, walked a few paces, an_topped. In a moment she was facing him again, with tears in her eyes and _lush in her cheeks. "But you need n't think I 'm afraid!" she said. "I hav_hosen, and I shall hold to it. I have something here, here, here!" and sh_atted her heart. "It 's my own. I shan't part with it. Is it what you call a_deal? I don't know; I don't care! It is brighter than the Casamassim_iamonds!"
"You say that certain things are your own affair," Rowland presently rejoined;
"but I must nevertheless make an attempt to learn what all this means—what i_romises for my friend Hudson. Is there any hope for him?"
"This is a point I can't discuss with you minutely. I like him very much."
"Would you marry him if he were to ask you?"
"He has asked me."
"And if he asks again?"
"I shall marry no one just now."
"Roderick," said Rowland, "has great hopes."
"Does he know of my rupture with the prince?"
"He is making a great holiday of it."
Christina pulled her poodle towards her and began to smooth his silky fleece.
"I like him very much," she repeated; "much more than I used to. Since yo_old me all that about him at Saint Cecilia's, I have felt a great friendshi_or him. There 's something very fine about him; he 's not afraid of anything.
He is not afraid of failure; he is not afraid of ruin or death."
"Poor fellow!" said Rowland, bitterly; "he is fatally picturesque."
"Picturesque, yes; that 's what he is. I am very sorry for him."
"Your mother told me just now that you had said that you did n't care a stra_or him."
"Very likely! I meant as a lover. One does n't want a lover one pities, an_ne does n't want—of all things in the world—a picturesque husband! I shoul_ike Mr. Hudson as something else. I wish he were my brother, so that he coul_ever talk to me of marriage. Then I could adore him. I would nurse him, _ould wait on him and save him all disagreeable rubs and shocks. I am muc_tronger than he, and I would stand between him and the world. Indeed, wit_r. Hudson for my brother, I should be willing to live and die an old maid!"
"Have you ever told him all this?"
"I suppose so; I 've told him five hundred things! If it would please you, _ill tell him again."
"Oh, Heaven forbid!" cried poor Rowland, with a groan.
He was lingering there, weighing his sympathy against his irritation, an_eeling it sink in the scale, when the curtain of a distant doorway was lifte_nd Mrs. Light passed across the room. She stopped half-way, and gave th_oung persons a flushed and menacing look. It found apparently little t_eassure her, and she moved away with a passionate toss of her drapery.
Rowland thought with horror of the sinister compulsion to which the young gir_as to be subjected. In this ethereal flight of hers there was a certai_ainful effort and tension of wing; but it was none the less piteous t_magine her being rudely jerked down to the base earth she was doing he_dventurous utmost to spurn. She would need all her magnanimity for her ow_rial, and it seemed gross to make further demands upon it on Roderick'_ehalf.
Rowland took up his hat. "You asked a while ago if I had come to help you," h_aid. "If I knew how I might help you, I should be particularly glad."
She stood silent a moment, reflecting. Then at last, looking up, "Yo_emember," she said, "your promising me six months ago to tell me what yo_inally thought of me? I should like you to tell me now."
He could hardly help smiling. Madame Grandoni had insisted on the fact tha_hristina was an actress, though a sincere one; and this little speech seeme_ glimpse of the cloven foot. She had played her great scene, she had made he_oint, and now she had her eye at the hole in the curtain and she was watchin_he house! But she blushed as she perceived his smile, and her blush, whic_as beautiful, made her fault venial.
"You are an excellent girl!" he said, in a particular tone, and gave her hi_and in farewell.
There was a great chain of rooms in Mrs. Light's apartment, the pride and jo_f the hostess on festal evenings, through which the departing visitor passe_efore reaching the door. In one of the first of these Rowland found himsel_aylaid and arrested by the distracted lady herself.
"Well, well?" she cried, seizing his arm. "Has she listened to you—have yo_oved her?"
"In Heaven's name, dear madame," Rowland begged, "leave the poor girl alone!
She is behaving very well!"
"Behaving very well? Is that all you have to tell me? I don't believe you sai_ proper word to her. You are conspiring together to kill me!"
Rowland tried to soothe her, to remonstrate, to persuade her that it wa_qually cruel and unwise to try to force matters. But she answered him onl_ith harsh lamentations and imprecations, and ended by telling him that he_aughter was her property, not his, and that his interference was mos_nsolent and most scandalous. Her disappointment seemed really to have craze_er, and his only possible rejoinder was to take a summary departure.
A moment later he came upon the Cavaliere, who was sitting with his elbows o_is knees and his head in his hands, so buried in thought that Rowland had t_all him before he roused himself. Giacosa looked at him a moment keenly, an_hen gave a shake of the head, interrogatively.
Rowland gave a shake negative, to which the Cavaliere responded by a long, melancholy sigh. "But her mother is determined to force matters," sai_owland.
"It seems that it must be!"
"Do you consider that it must be?"
"I don't differ with Mrs. Light!"
"It will be a great cruelty!"
The Cavaliere gave a tragic shrug. "Eh! it is n't an easy world."
"You should do nothing to make it harder, then."
"What will you have? It 's a magnificent marriage."
"You disappoint me, Cavaliere," said Rowland, solemnly. "I imagined yo_ppreciated the great elevation of Miss Light's attitude. She does n't lov_he prince; she has let the matter stand or fall by that."
The old man grasped him by the hand and stood a moment with averted eyes. A_ast, looking at him, he held up two fingers.
"I have two hearts," he said, "one for myself, one for the world. This on_pposes Miss Light, the other adores her! One suffers horribly at what th_ther does."
"I don't understand double people, Cavaliere," Rowland said, "and I don'_retend to understand you. But I have guessed that you are going to play som_ecret card."
"The card is Mrs. Light's, not mine," said the Cavaliere.
"It 's a menace, at any rate?"
"The sword of Damocles! It hangs by a hair. Christina is to be given te_inutes to recant, under penalty of having it fall. On the blade there i_omething written in strange characters. Don't scratch your head; you will no_ake it out."
"I think I have guessed it," Rowland said, after a pregnant silence. Th_avaliere looked at him blankly but intently, and Rowland added, "Though ther_re some signs, indeed, I don't understand."
"Puzzle them out at your leisure," said the Cavaliere, shaking his hand. "_ear Mrs. Light; I must go to my post. I wish you were a Catholic; I would be_ou to step into the first church you come to, and pray for us the next half- hour."
"For 'us'? For whom?"
"For all of us. At any rate remember this: I worship the Christina!"
Rowland heard the rustle of Mrs. Light's dress; he turned away, and th_avaliere went, as he said, to his post. Rowland for the next couple of day_ondered his riddle.