Of Roderick, meanwhile, Rowland saw nothing; but he immediately went to Mrs.
Hudson and assured her that her son was in even exceptionally good health an_pirits. After this he called again on the two ladies from Northampton, but, as Roderick's absence continued, he was able neither to furnish nor to obtai_uch comfort. Miss Garland's apprehensive face seemed to him an image of hi_wn state of mind. He was profoundly depressed; he felt that there was a stor_n the air, and he wished it would come, without more delay, and perform it_avages. On the afternoon of the third day he went into Saint Peter's, hi_requent resort whenever the outer world was disagreeable. From a heart-ach_o a Roman rain there were few importunate pains the great church did not hel_im to forget. He had wandered there for half an hour, when he came upon _hort figure, lurking in the shadow of one of the great piers. He saw it wa_hat of an artist, hastily transferring to his sketch-book a memento of som_leeting variation in the scenery of the basilica; and in a moment h_erceived that the artist was little Sam Singleton.
Singleton pocketed his sketch-book with a guilty air, as if it cost hi_odesty a pang to be detected in this greedy culture of opportunity. Rowlan_lways enjoyed meeting him; talking with him, in these days, was as good as _ayside gush of clear, cold water, on a long, hot walk. There was, perhaps, n_rinking-vessel, and you had to apply your lips to some simple natura_onduit; but the result was always a sense of extreme moral refreshment. O_his occasion he mentally blessed the ingenuous little artist, and hear_resently with keen regret that he was to leave Rome on the morrow. Singleto_ad come to bid farewell to Saint Peter's, and he was gathering a few suprem_emories. He had earned a purse-full of money, and he was meaning to take _ummer's holiday; going to Switzerland, to Germany, to Paris. In the autumn h_as to return home; his family—composed, as Rowland knew, of a father who wa_ashier in a bank and five unmarried sisters, one of whom gave lyceum-lecture_n woman's rights, the whole resident at Buffalo, New York—had been writin_im peremptory letters and appealing to him as a son, brother, and fellow- citizen. He would have been grateful for another year in Rome, but what mus_e must be, and he had laid up treasure which, in Buffalo, would see_nfinite. They talked some time; Rowland hoped they might meet in Switzerland, and take a walk or two together. Singleton seemed to feel that Buffalo ha_arked him for her own; he was afraid he should not see Rome again for many _ear.
"So you expect to live at Buffalo?" Rowland asked sympathetically.
"Well, it will depend upon the views—upon the attitude—of my family,"
Singleton replied. "Oh, I think I shall get on; I think it can be done. If _ind it can be done, I shall really be quite proud of it; as an artist o_ourse I mean, you know. Do you know I have some nine hundred sketches? _hall live in my portfolio. And so long as one is not in Rome, pray what doe_t matter where one is? But how I shall envy all you Romans—you and Mr.
Gloriani, and Mr. Hudson, especially!"
"Don't envy Hudson; he has nothing to envy."
Singleton grinned at what he considered a harmless jest. "Yes, he 's going t_e the great man of our time! And I say, Mr. Mallet, is n't it a might_omfort that it 's we who have turned him out?"
"Between ourselves," said Rowland, "he has disappointed me."
Singleton stared, open-mouthed. "Dear me, what did you expect?"
"Truly," said Rowland to himself, "what did I expect?"
"I confess," cried Singleton, "I can't judge him rationally. He fascinates me; he 's the sort of man one makes one's hero of."
"Strictly speaking, he is not a hero," said Rowland.
Singleton looked intensely grave, and, with almost tearful eyes, "Is ther_nything amiss—anything out of the way, about him?" he timidly asked. Then, a_owland hesitated to reply, he quickly added, "Please, if there is, don't tel_e! I want to know no evil of him, and I think I should hardly believe it. I_y memories of this Roman artist-life, he will be the central figure. He wil_tand there in radiant relief, as beautiful and unspotted as one of his ow_tatues!"
"Amen!" said Rowland, gravely. He remembered afresh that the sea is inhabite_y big fishes and little, and that the latter often find their way down th_hroats of the former. Singleton was going to spend the afternoon in takin_ast looks at certain other places, and Rowland offered to join him on hi_entimental circuit. But as they were preparing to leave the church, he hear_imself suddenly addressed from behind. Turning, he beheld a young woman who_e immediately recognized as Madame Grandoni's maid. Her mistress was present, she said, and begged to confer with him before he departed.
This summons obliged Rowland to separate from Singleton, to whom he bad_arewell. He followed the messenger, and presently found Madame Grandon_ccupying a liberal area on the steps of the tribune, behind the great altar, where, spreading a shawl on the polished red marble, she had comfortabl_eated herself. He expected that she had something especial to impart, and sh_ost no time in bringing forth her treasure.
"Don't shout very loud," she said, "remember that we are in church; there 's _imit to the noise one may make even in Saint Peter's. Christina Light wa_arried this morning to Prince Casamassima."
Rowland did not shout at all; he gave a deep, short murmur: "Married—thi_orning?"
"Married this morning, at seven o'clock, le plus tranquillement du monde, before three or four persons. The young couple left Rome an hour afterwards."
For some moments this seemed to him really terrible; the dark little drama o_hich he had caught a glimpse had played itself out. He had believed tha_hristina would resist; that she had succumbed was a proof that the pressur_ad been cruel. Rowland's imagination followed her forth with an irresistibl_remor into the world toward which she was rolling away, with her deteste_usband and her stifled ideal; but it must be confessed that if the firs_mpulse of his compassion was for Christina, the second was for Princ_asamassima. Madame Grandoni acknowledged an extreme curiosity as to th_ecret springs of these strange doings: Casamassima's sudden dismissal, hi_till more sudden recall, the hurried private marriage. "Listen," sai_owland, hereupon, "and I will tell you something." And he related, in detail, his last visit to Mrs. Light and his talk with this lady, with Christina, an_ith the Cavaliere.
"Good," she said; "it 's all very curious. But it 's a riddle, and I only hal_uess it."
"Well," said Rowland, "I desire to harm no one; but certain suppositions hav_aken shape in my mind which serve as a solvent to several ambiguities."
"It is very true," Madame Grandoni answered, "that the Cavaliere, as h_tands, has always needed to be explained."
"He is explained by the hypothesis that, three-and-twenty years ago, a_ncona, Mrs. Light had a lover."
"I see. Ancona was dull, Mrs. Light was lively, and—three-and-twenty year_go—perhaps, the Cavaliere was fascinating. Doubtless it would be fairer t_ay that he was fascinated. Poor Giacosa!"
"He has had his compensation," Rowland said. "He has been passionately fond o_hristina."
"Naturally. But has Christina never wondered why?"
"If she had been near guessing, her mother's shabby treatment of him woul_ave put her off the scent. Mrs. Light's conscience has apparently told he_hat she could expiate an hour's too great kindness by twenty years' contempt.
So she kept her secret. But what is the profit of having a secret unless yo_an make some use of it? The day at last came when she could turn hers t_ccount; she could let the skeleton out of the closet and create a panic."
"I don't understand."
"Neither do I morally," said Rowland. "I only conceive that there was _orrible, fabulous scene. The poor Cavaliere stood outside, at the door, whit_s a corpse and as dumb. The mother and daughter had it out together. Mrs.
Light burnt her ships. When she came out she had three lines of writing in he_aughter's hand, which the Cavaliere was dispatched with to the prince. The_vertook the young man in time, and, when he reappeared, he was delighted t_ispense with further waiting. I don't know what he thought of the look in hi_ride's face; but that is how I roughly reconstruct history."
"Christina was forced to decide, then, that she could not afford not to be _rincess?"
"She was reduced by humiliation. She was assured that it was not for her t_ake conditions, but to thank her stars that there were none made for her. I_he persisted, she might find it coming to pass that there would b_onditions, and the formal rupture—the rupture that the world would hear o_nd pry into—would then proceed from the prince and not from her."
"That 's all nonsense!" said Madame Grandoni, energetically.
"To us, yes; but not to the proudest girl in the world, deeply wounded in he_ride, and not stopping to calculate probabilities, but muffling her shame, with an almost sensuous relief, in a splendor that stood within her grasp an_sked no questions. Is it not possible that the late Mr. Light had made a_utbreak before witnesses who are still living?"
"Certainly her marriage now," said Madame Grandoni, less analytically, "ha_he advantage that it takes her away from her—parents!"
This lady's farther comments upon the event are not immediately pertinent t_ur history; there were some other comments of which Rowland had a deepl_ppressive foreboding. He called, on the evening of the morrow upon Mrs.
Hudson, and found Roderick with the two ladies. Their companion had apparentl_ut lately entered, and Rowland afterwards learned that it was his firs_ppearance since the writing of the note which had so distressed his mother.
He had flung himself upon a sofa, where he sat with his chin upon his breast, staring before him with a sinister spark in his eye. He fixed his gaze o_owland, but gave him no greeting. He had evidently been saying something t_tartle the women; Mrs. Hudson had gone and seated herself, timidly an_mploringly, on the edge of the sofa, trying to take his hand. Miss Garlan_as applying herself to some needlework with conscious intentness.
Mrs. Hudson gave Rowland, on his entrance, a touching look of gratitude. "Oh, we have such blessed news!" she said. "Roderick is ready to leave Rome."
"It 's not blessed news; it 's most damnable news!" cried Roderick.
"Oh, but we are very glad, my son, and I am sure you will be when you ge_way. You 're looking most dreadfully thin; is n't he, Mr. Mallet? It 's plai_nough you need a change. I 'm sure we will go wherever you like. Where woul_ou like to go?"
Roderick turned his head slowly and looked at her. He had let her take hi_and, which she pressed tenderly between her own. He gazed at her for som_ime in silence. "Poor mother!" he said at last, in a portentous tone.
"My own dear son!" murmured Mrs. Hudson in all the innocence of her trust.
"I don't care a straw where you go! I don't care a straw for anything!"
"Oh, my dear boy, you must not say that before all of us here—before Mary, before Mr. Mallet!"
"Mary—Mr. Mallet?" Roderick repeated, almost savagely. He released himsel_rom the clasp of his mother's hand and turned away, leaning his elbows on hi_nees and holding his head in his hands. There was a silence; Rowland sai_othing because he was watching Miss Garland. "Why should I stand on ceremon_ith Mary and Mr. Mallet?" Roderick presently added. "Mary pretends to believ_ 'm a fine fellow, and if she believes it as she ought to, nothing I can sa_ill alter her opinion. Mallet knows I 'm a hopeless humbug; so I need n'_ince my words with him."
"Ah, my dear, don't use such dreadful language!" said Mrs. Hudson. "Are n't w_ll devoted to you, and proud of you, and waiting only to hear what you want, so that we may do it?"
Roderick got up, and began to walk about the room; he was evidently in _estless, reckless, profoundly demoralized condition. Rowland felt that it wa_iterally true that he did not care a straw for anything, but he observed wit_nxiety that Mrs. Hudson, who did not know on what delicate ground she wa_reading, was disposed to chide him caressingly, as a mere expression o_enderness. He foresaw that she would bring down the hovering thunderbolt o_er head.
"In God's name," Roderick cried, "don't remind me of my obligations! It '_ntolerable to me, and I don't believe it 's pleasant to Mallet. I know they
're tremendous—I know I shall never repay them. I 'm bankrupt! Do you kno_hat that means?"
The poor lady sat staring, dismayed, and Rowland angrily interfered. "Don'_alk such stuff to your mother!" he cried. "Don't you see you 're frightenin_er?"
"Frightening her? she may as well be frightened first as last. Do I frighte_ou, mother?" Roderick demanded.
"Oh, Roderick, what do you mean?" whimpered the poor lady. "Mr. Mallet, wha_oes he mean?"
"I mean that I 'm an angry, savage, disappointed, miserable man!" Roderic_ent on. "I mean that I can't do a stroke of work nor think a profitabl_hought! I mean that I 'm in a state of helpless rage and grief and shame!
Helpless, helpless—that 's what it is. You can't help me, poor mother—not wit_isses, nor tears, nor prayers! Mary can't help me—not for all the honor sh_oes me, nor all the big books on art that she pores over. Mallet can't hel_e—not with all his money, nor all his good example, nor all his friendship, which I 'm so profoundly well aware of: not with it all multiplied a thousan_imes and repeated to all eternity! I thought you would help me, you and Mary; that 's why I sent for you. But you can't, don't think it! The sooner you giv_p the idea the better for you. Give up being proud of me, too; there '_othing left of me to be proud of! A year ago I was a mighty fine fellow; bu_o you know what has become of me now? I have gone to the devil!"
There was something in the ring of Roderick's voice, as he uttered thes_ords, which sent them home with convincing force. He was not talking fo_ffect, or the mere sensuous pleasure of extravagant and paradoxica_tterance, as had often enough been the case ere this; he was not even talkin_iciously or ill-humoredly. He was talking passionately, desperately, and fro_n irresistible need to throw off the oppressive burden of his mother'_onfidence. His cruel eloquence brought the poor lady to her feet, and sh_tood there with clasped hands, petrified and voiceless. Mary Garland quickl_eft her place, came straight to Roderick, and laid her hand on his arm, looking at him with all her tormented heart in her eyes. He made no movemen_o disengage himself; he simply shook his head several times, in dogge_egation of her healing powers. Rowland had been living for the past month i_uch intolerable expectancy of disaster that now that the ice was broken, an_he fatal plunge taken, his foremost feeling was almost elation; but in _oment his orderly instincts and his natural love of superficial smoothnes_vertook it.
"I really don't see, Roderick," he said, "the profit of your talking in jus_his way at just this time. Don't you see how you are making your mothe_uffer?"
"Do I enjoy it myself?" cried Roderick. "Is the suffering all on your side an_heirs? Do I look as if I were happy, and were stirring you up with a stic_or my amusement? Here we all are in the same boat; we might as wel_nderstand each other! These women must know that I 'm not to be counted on.
That sounds remarkably cool, no doubt, and I certainly don't deny your righ_o be utterly disgusted with me."
"Will you keep what you have got to say till another time," said Mary, "an_et me hear it alone?"
"Oh, I 'll let you hear it as often as you please; but what 's the use o_eeping it? I 'm in the humor; it won't keep! It 's a very simple matter. I '_ failure, that 's all; I 'm not a first-rate man. I 'm second-rate, tenth- rate, anything you please. After that, it 's all one!"
Mary Garland turned away and buried her face in her hands; but Roderick, struck, apparently, in some unwonted fashion with her gesture, drew he_owards him again, and went on in a somewhat different tone. "It 's hardl_orth while we should have any private talk about this, Mary," he said. "Th_hing would be comfortable for neither of us. It 's better, after all, that i_e said once for all and dismissed. There are things I can't talk to yo_bout. Can I, at least? You are such a queer creature!"
"I can imagine nothing you should n't talk to me about," said Mary.
"You are not afraid?" he demanded, sharply, looking at her.
She turned away abruptly, with lowered eyes, hesitating a moment. "Anythin_ou think I should hear, I will hear," she said. And then she returned to he_lace at the window and took up her work.
"I have had a great blow," said Roderick. "I was a great ass, but it does n'_ake the blow any easier to bear."
"Mr. Mallet, tell me what Roderick means!" said Mrs. Hudson, who had found he_oice, in a tone more peremptory than Rowland had ever heard her use.
"He ought to have told you before," said Roderick. "Really, Rowland, if yo_ill allow me to say so, you ought! You could have given a much better accoun_f all this than I myself; better, especially, in that it would have been mor_enient to me. You ought to have let them down gently; it would have save_hem a great deal of pain. But you always want to keep things so smooth! Allo_e to say that it 's very weak of you."
"I hereby renounce such weakness!" said Rowland.
"Oh, what is it, sir; what is it?" groaned Mrs. Hudson, insistently.
"It 's what Roderick says: he 's a failure!"
Mary Garland, on hearing this declaration, gave Rowland a single glance an_hen rose, laid down her work, and walked rapidly out of the room. Mrs. Hudso_ossed her head and timidly bristled. "This from you, Mr. Mallet!" she sai_ith an injured air which Rowland found harrowing.
But Roderick, most characteristically, did not in the least resent hi_riend's assertion; he sent him, on the contrary, one of those large, clea_ooks of his, which seemed to express a stoical pleasure in Rowland'_rankness, and which set his companion, then and there, wondering again, as h_ad so often done before, at the extraordinary contradictions of hi_emperament. "My dear mother," Roderick said, "if you had had eyes that wer_ot blinded by this sad maternal vanity, you would have seen all this fo_ourself; you would have seen that I 'm anything but prosperous."
"Is it anything about money?" cried Mrs. Hudson. "Oh, do write to Mr.
"Money?" said Roderick. "I have n't a cent of money; I 'm bankrupt!"
"Oh, Mr. Mallet, how could you let him?" asked Mrs. Hudson, terribly.
"Everything I have is at his service," said Rowland, feeling ill.
"Of course Mr. Mallet will help you, my son!" cried the poor lady, eagerly.
"Oh, leave Mr. Mallet alone!" said Roderick. "I have squeezed him dry; it '_ot my fault, at least, if I have n't!"
"Roderick, what have you done with all your money?" his mother demanded.
"Thrown it away! It was no such great amount. I have done nothing thi_inter."
"You have done nothing?"
"I have done no work! Why in the world did n't you guess it and spare me al_his? Could n't you see I was idle, distracted, dissipated?"
"Dissipated, my dear son?" Mrs. Hudson repeated.
"That 's over for the present! But could n't you see—could n't Mary see—that _as in a damnably bad way?"
"I have no doubt Miss Garland saw," said Rowland.
"Mary has said nothing!" cried Mrs. Hudson.
"Oh, she 's a fine girl!" Rowland said.
"Have you done anything that will hurt poor Mary?" Mrs. Hudson asked.
"I have only been thinking night and day of another woman!"
Mrs. Hudson dropped helplessly into her seat again. "Oh dear, dear, had n't w_etter go home?"
"Not to get out of her way!" Roderick said. "She has started on a career o_er own, and she does n't care a straw for me. My head was filled with her; _ould think of nothing else; I would have sacrificed everything to her—you, Mary, Mallet, my work, my fortune, my future, my honor! I was in a fine state, eh? I don't pretend to be giving you good news; but I 'm telling the simple, literal truth, so that you may know why I have gone to the dogs. She pretende_o care greatly for all this, and to be willing to make any sacrifice i_eturn; she had a magnificent chance, for she was being forced into _ercenary marriage with a man she detested. She led me to believe that sh_ould give this up, and break short off, and keep herself free and sacred an_ure for me. This was a great honor, and you may believe that I valued it. I_urned my head, and I lived only to see my happiness come to pass. She di_verything to encourage me to hope it would; everything that her inferna_oquetry and falsity could suggest."
"Oh, I say, this is too much!" Rowland broke out.
"Do you defend her?" Roderick cried, with a renewal of his passion. "Do yo_retend to say that she gave me no hopes?" He had been speaking with growin_itterness, quite losing sight of his mother's pain and bewilderment in th_assionate joy of publishing his wrongs. Since he was hurt, he must cry out; since he was in pain, he must scatter his pain abroad. Of his never thinkin_f others, save as they spoke and moved from his cue, as it were, thi_xtraordinary insensibility to the injurious effects of his eloquence was _apital example; the more so as the motive of his eloquence was never a_ppeal for sympathy or compassion, things to which he seemed perfectl_ndifferent and of which he could make no use. The great and characteristi_oint with him was the perfect absoluteness of his own emotions an_xperience. He never saw himself as part of a whole; only as the clear-cut, sharp-edged, isolated individual, rejoicing or raging, as the case might be, but needing in any case absolutely to affirm himself. All this, to Rowland, was ancient history, but his perception of it stirred within him afresh, a_he sight of Roderick's sense of having been betrayed. That he, under th_ircumstances, should not in fairness be the first to lodge a complaint o_etrayal was a point to which, at his leisure, Rowland was of course capabl_f rendering impartial justice; but Roderick's present desperation was s_eremptory that it imposed itself on one's sympathies. "Do you pretend t_ay," he went on, "that she did n't lead me along to the very edge o_ulfillment and stupefy me with all that she suffered me to believe, all tha_he sacredly promised? It amused her to do it, and she knew perfectly wel_hat she really meant. She never meant to be sincere; she never dreamed sh_ould be. She 's a ravenous flirt, and why a flirt is a flirt is more than _an tell you. I can't understand playing with those matters; for me they 'r_erious, whether I take them up or lay them down. I don't see what 's in you_ead, Rowland, to attempt to defend Miss Light; you were the first to cry ou_gainst her! You told me she was dangerous, and I pooh-poohed you. You wer_ight; you 're always right. She 's as cold and false and heartless as she '_eautiful, and she has sold her heartless beauty to the highest bidder. I hop_e knows what he gets!"
"Oh, my son," cried Mrs. Hudson, plaintively, "how could you ever care fo_uch a dreadful creature?"
"It would take long to tell you, dear mother!"
Rowland's lately-deepened sympathy and compassion for Christina was stil_hrobbing in his mind, and he felt that, in loyalty to it, he must say a wor_or her. "You believed in her too much at first," he declared, "and yo_elieve in her too little now."
Roderick looked at him with eyes almost lurid, beneath lowering brows. "She i_n angel, then, after all?—that 's what you want to prove!" he cried. "That '_onsoling for me, who have lost her! You 're always right, I say; but, dea_riend, in mercy, be wrong for once!"
"Oh yes, Mr. Mallet, be merciful!" said Mrs. Hudson, in a tone which, for al_ts gentleness, made Rowland stare. The poor fellow's stare covered a grea_eal of concentrated wonder and apprehension—a presentiment of what a small, sweet, feeble, elderly lady might be capable of, in the way of suddenl_enerated animosity. There was no space in Mrs. Hudson's tiny maternal min_or complications of feeling, and one emotion existed only by turning anothe_ver flat and perching on top of it. She was evidently not following Roderic_t all in his dusky aberrations. Sitting without, in dismay, she only saw tha_ll was darkness and trouble, and as Roderick's glory had now quit_utstripped her powers of imagination and urged him beyond her jurisdiction, so that he had become a thing too precious and sacred for blame, she found i_nfinitely comfortable to lay the burden of their common affliction upo_owland's broad shoulders. Had he not promised to make them all rich an_appy? And this was the end of it! Rowland felt as if his trials were, in _ense, only beginning. "Had n't you better forget all this, my dear?" Mrs.
Hudson said. "Had n't you better just quietly attend to your work?"
"Work, madame?" cried Roderick. "My work 's over. I can't work—I have n'_orked all winter. If I were fit for anything, this sentimental collapse woul_ave been just the thing to cure me of my apathy and break the spell of m_dleness. But there 's a perfect vacuum here!" And he tapped his forehead. "It
's bigger than ever; it grows bigger every hour!"
"I 'm sure you have made a beautiful likeness of your poor little mother,"
said Mrs. Hudson, coaxingly.
"I had done nothing before, and I have done nothing since! I quarreled with a_xcellent man, the other day, from mere exasperation of my nerves, and thre_way five thousand dollars!"
"Threw away—five thousand dollars!" Roderick had been wandering amon_ormidable abstractions and allusions too dark to penetrate. But here was _oncrete fact, lucidly stated, and poor Mrs. Hudson, for a moment, looked i_n the face. She repeated her son's words a third time with a gasping murmur, and then, suddenly, she burst into tears. Roderick went to her, sat dow_eside her, put his arm round her, fixed his eyes coldly on the floor, an_aited for her to weep herself out. She leaned her head on his shoulder an_obbed broken-heartedly. She said not a word, she made no attempt to scold; but the desolation of her tears was overwhelming. It lasted some time—too lon_or Rowland's courage. He had stood silent, wishing simply to appear ver_espectful; but the elation that was mentioned a while since had utterl_bbed, and he found his situation intolerable. He walked away—not, perhaps, o_iptoe, but with a total absence of bravado in his tread.
The next day, while he was at home, the servant brought him the card of _isitor. He read with surprise the name of Mrs. Hudson, and hurried forward t_eet her. He found her in his sitting-room, leaning on the arm of her son an_ooking very pale, her eyes red with weeping, and her lips tightly compressed.
Her advent puzzled him, and it was not for some time that he began t_nderstand the motive of it. Roderick's countenance threw no light upon it; but Roderick's countenance, full of light as it was, in a way, itself, ha_ever thrown light upon anything. He had not been in Rowland's rooms fo_everal weeks, and he immediately began to look at those of his own works tha_dorned them. He lost himself in silent contemplation. Mrs. Hudson ha_vidently armed herself with dignity, and, so far as she might, she meant t_e impressive. Her success may be measured by the fact that Rowland's whol_ttention centred in the fear of seeing her begin to weep. She told him tha_he had come to him for practical advice; she begged to remind him that sh_as a stranger in the land. Where were they to go, please? what were they t_o? Rowland glanced at Roderick, but Roderick had his back turned and wa_azing at his Adam with the intensity with which he might have examine_ichael Angelo's Moses.
"Roderick says he does n't know, he does n't care," Mrs. Hudson said; "h_eaves it entirely to you."
Many another man, in Rowland's place, would have greeted this information wit_n irate and sarcastic laugh, and told his visitors that he thanked the_nfinitely for their confidence, but that, really, as things stood now, the_ust settle these matters between themselves; many another man might have s_emeaned himself, even if, like Rowland, he had been in love with Mary Garlan_nd pressingly conscious that her destiny was also part of the question. Bu_owland swallowed all hilarity and all sarcasm, and let himself seriousl_onsider Mrs. Hudson's petition. His wits, however, were but indifferently a_is command; they were dulled by his sense of the inexpressible change in Mrs.
Hudson's attitude. Her visit was evidently intended as a formal reminder o_he responsiblities Rowland had worn so lightly. Mrs. Hudson was doubtless to_incerely humble a person to suppose that if he had been recreant to his vow_f vigilance and tenderness, her still, small presence would operate as _hastisement. But by some diminutive logical process of her own she ha_onvinced herself that she had been weakly trustful, and that she had suffere_owland to think too meanly, not only of her understanding, but of her socia_onsequence. A visit in her best gown would have an admonitory effect a_egards both of these attributes; it would cancel some favors received, an_how him that she was no such fool! These were the reflections of a very sh_oman, who, determining for once in her life to hold up her head, was perhap_arrying it a trifle extravagantly.
"You know we have very little money to spend," she said, as Rowland remaine_ilent. "Roderick tells me that he has debts and nothing at all to pay the_ith. He says I must write to Mr. Striker to sell my house for what it wil_ring, and send me out the money. When the money comes I must give it to him.
I 'm sure I don't know; I never heard of anything so dreadful! My house is al_ have. But that is all Roderick will say. We must be very economical."
Before this speech was finished Mrs. Hudson's voice had begun to quave_oftly, and her face, which had no capacity for the expression of superio_isdom, to look as humbly appealing as before. Rowland turned to Roderick an_poke like a school-master. "Come away from those statues, and sit down her_nd listen to me!"
Roderick started, but obeyed with the most graceful docility.
"What do you propose to your mother to do?" Rowland asked.
"Propose?" said Roderick, absently. "Oh, I propose nothing."
The tone, the glance, the gesture with which this was said were horribl_rritating (though obviously without the slightest intention of being so), an_or an instant an imprecation rose to Rowland's lips. But he checked it, an_e was afterwards glad he had done so. "You must do something," he said.
"Choose, select, decide!"
"My dear Rowland, how you talk!" Roderick cried. "The very point of the matte_s that I can't do anything. I will do as I 'm told, but I don't call tha_oing. We must leave Rome, I suppose, though I don't see why. We have got n_oney, and you have to pay money on the railroads."
Mrs. Hudson surreptitiously wrung her hands. "Listen to him, please!" sh_ried. "Not leave Rome, when we have staid here later than any Christians eve_id before! It 's this dreadful place that has made us so unhappy."
"That 's very true," said Roderick, serenely. "If I had not come to Rome, _ould n't have risen, and if I had not risen, I should n't have fallen."
"I will do anything you say, Rowland," Roderick added. "I will do anything yo_ant. I have not been unkind to my mother—have I, mother? I was unkin_esterday, without meaning it; for after all, all that had to be said. Murde_ill out, and my low spirits can't be hidden. But we talked it over and mad_t up, did n't we? It seemed to me we did. Let Rowland decide it, mother; whatever he suggests will be the right thing." And Roderick, who had hardl_emoved his eyes from the statues, got up again and went back to look at them.
Mrs. Hudson fixed her eyes upon the floor in silence. There was not a trace i_oderick's face, or in his voice, of the bitterness of his emotion of the da_efore, and not a hint of his having the lightest weight upon his conscience.
He looked at Rowland with his frank, luminous eye as if there had never been _ifference of opinion between them; as if each had ever been for both, unalterably, and both for each.
Rowland had received a few days before a letter from a lady of hi_cquaintance, a worthy Scotswoman domiciled in a villa upon one of the olive- covered hills near Florence. She held her apartment in the villa upon a lon_ease, and she enjoyed for a sum not worth mentioning the possession of a_xtraordinary number of noble, stone-floored rooms, with ceilings vaulted an_rescoed, and barred windows commanding the loveliest view in the world. Sh_as a needy and thrifty spinster, who never hesitated to declare that th_ovely view was all very well, but that for her own part she lived in th_illa for cheapness, and that if she had a clear three hundred pounds a yea_he would go and really enjoy life near her sister, a baronet's lady, a_lasgow. She was now proposing to make a visit to that exhilarating city, an_he desired to turn an honest penny by sub-letting for a few weeks he_istoric Italian chambers. The terms on which she occupied them enabled her t_sk a rent almost jocosely small, and she begged Rowland to do what she calle_ little genteel advertising for her. Would he say a good word for her room_o his numerous friends, as they left Rome? He said a good word for them no_o Mrs. Hudson, and told her in dollars and cents how cheap a summer's lodgin_he might secure. He dwelt upon the fact that she would strike a truce wit_ables-d'hote and have a cook of her own, amenable possibly to instruction i_he Northampton mysteries. He had touched a tender chord; Mrs. Hudson becam_lmost cheerful. Her sentiments upon the table-d'hote system and upon foreig_ousehold habits generally were remarkable, and, if we had space for it, woul_epay analysis; and the idea of reclaiming a lost soul to the Puritanic canon_f cookery quite lightened the burden of her depression. While Rowland se_orth his case Roderick was slowly walking round the magnificent Adam, wit_is hands in his pockets. Rowland waited for him to manifest an interest i_heir discussion, but the statue seemed to fascinate him and he remaine_almly heedless. Rowland was a practical man; he possessed conspicuously wha_s called the sense of detail. He entered into Mrs. Hudson's positio_inutely, and told her exactly why it seemed good that she should remov_mmediately to the Florentine villa. She received his advice with grea_rigidity, looking hard at the floor and sighing, like a person well on he_uard against an insidious optimism. But she had nothing better to propose, and Rowland received her permission to write to his friend that he had let th_ooms.
Roderick assented to this decision without either sighs or smiles. "_lorentine villa is a good thing!" he said. "I am at your service."
"I 'm sure I hope you 'll get better there," moaned his mother, gathering he_hawl together.
Roderick laid one hand on her arm and with the other pointed to Rowland'_tatues. "Better or worse, remember this: I did those things!" he said.
Mrs. Hudson gazed at them vaguely, and Rowland said, "Remember it yourself!"
"They are horribly good!" said Roderick.
Rowland solemnly shrugged his shoulders; it seemed to him that he had nothin_ore to say. But as the others were going, a last light pulsation of the sens_f undischarged duty led him to address to Roderick a few words of partin_dvice. "You 'll find the Villa Pandolfini very delightful, very comfortable,"
he said. "You ought to be very contented there. Whether you work or whethe_ou loaf, it 's a place for an artist to be happy in. I hope you will work."
"I hope I may!" said Roderick with a magnificent smile.
"When we meet again, have something to show me."
"When we meet again? Where the deuce are you going?" Roderick demanded.
"Oh, I hardly know; over the Alps."
"Over the Alps! You 're going to leave me?" Roderick cried.
Rowland had most distinctly meant to leave him, but his resolution immediatel_avered. He glanced at Mrs. Hudson and saw that her eyebrows were lifted an_er lips parted in soft irony. She seemed to accuse him of a craven shirkin_f trouble, to demand of him to repair his cruel havoc in her life by a solem_enewal of zeal. But Roderick's expectations were the oddest! Such as the_ere, Rowland asked himself why he should n't make a bargain with them. "Yo_esire me to go with you?" he asked.
"If you don't go, I won't—that 's all! How in the world shall I get throug_he summer without you?"
"How will you get through it with me? That 's the question."
"I don't pretend to say; the future is a dead blank. But without you it 's no_ blank—it 's certain damnation!"
"Mercy, mercy!" murmured Mrs. Hudson.
Rowland made an effort to stand firm, and for a moment succeeded. "If I g_ith you, will you try to work?"
Roderick, up to this moment, had been looking as unperturbed as if the dee_gitation of the day before were a thing of the remote past. But at thes_ords his face changed formidably; he flushed and scowled, and all his passio_eturned. "Try to work!" he cried. "Try—try! work—work! In God's name don'_alk that way, or you 'll drive me mad! Do you suppose I 'm trying not t_ork? Do you suppose I stand rotting here for the fun of it? Don't you suppos_ would try to work for myself before I tried for you?"
"Mr. Mallet," cried Mrs. Hudson, piteously, "will you leave me alone wit_his?"
Rowland turned to her and informed her, gently, that he would go with her t_lorence. After he had so pledged himself he thought not at all of the pain o_is position as mediator between the mother's resentful grief and the son'_ncurable weakness; he drank deep, only, of the satisfaction of not separatin_rom Mary Garland. If the future was a blank to Roderick, it was hardly les_o to himself. He had at moments a lively foreboding of impending calamity. H_aid it no especial deference, but it made him feel indisposed to take th_uture into his account. When, on his going to take leave of Madame Grandoni, this lady asked at what time he would come back to Rome, he answered that h_as coming back either never or forever. When she asked him what he meant, h_aid he really could n't tell her, and parted from her with much genuin_motion; the more so, doubtless, that she blessed him in a quite loving, maternal fashion, and told him she honestly believed him to be the best fello_n the world.
The Villa Pandolfini stood directly upon a small grass-grown piazza, on th_op of a hill which sloped straight from one of the gates of Florence. I_ffered to the outer world a long, rather low facade, colored a dull, dar_ellow, and pierced with windows of various sizes, no one of which, save thos_n the ground floor, was on the same level with any other. Within, it had _reat, cool, gray cortile, with high, light arches around it, heavily-cornice_oors, of majestic altitude, opening out of it, and a beautiful mediaeval wel_n one side of it. Mrs. Hudson's rooms opened into a small garden supported o_mmense substructions, which were planted on the farther side of the hill, a_t sloped steeply away. This garden was a charming place. Its south wall wa_urtained with a dense orange vine, a dozen fig-trees offered you their large- leaved shade, and over the low parapet the soft, grave Tuscan landscape kep_ou company. The rooms themselves were as high as chapels and as cool as roya_epulchres. Silence, peace, and security seemed to abide in the ancient hous_nd make it an ideal refuge for aching hearts. Mrs. Hudson had a stunted, brown-faced Maddalena, who wore a crimson handkerchief passed over her coarse, black locks and tied under her sharp, pertinacious chin, and a smile which wa_s brilliant as a prolonged flash of lightning. She smiled at everything i_ife, especially the things she did n't like and which kept her talent fo_endacity in healthy exercise. A glance, a word, a motion was sufficient t_ake her show her teeth at you like a cheerful she-wolf. This inexpugnabl_mile constituted her whole vocabulary in her dealings with her melanchol_istress, to whom she had been bequeathed by the late occupant of th_partment, and who, to Rowland's satisfaction, promised to be diverted fro_er maternal sorrows by the still deeper perplexities of Maddalena's theory o_oasting, sweeping, and bed-making.
Rowland took rooms at a villa a trifle nearer Florence, whence in the summe_ornings he had five minutes' walk in the sharp, black, shadow-strip projecte_y winding, flower-topped walls, to join his friends. The life at the Vill_andolfini, when it had fairly defined itself, was tranquil and monotonous, but it might have borrowed from exquisite circumstance an absorbing charm. I_ sensible shadow rested upon it, this was because it had an inherent vice; i_as feigning a repose which it very scantily felt. Roderick had lost no tim_n giving the full measure of his uncompromising chagrin, and as he was th_entral figure of the little group, as he held its heart-strings all in hi_wn hand, it reflected faithfully the eclipse of his own genius. No one ha_entured upon the cheerful commonplace of saying that the change of air and o_cene would restore his spirits; this would have had, under the circumstances, altogether too silly a sound. The change in question had done nothing of th_ort, and his companions had, at least, the comfort of their perspicacity. A_ssential spring had dried up within him, and there was no visible spiritua_aw for making it flow again. He was rarely violent, he expressed little o_he irritation and ennui that he must have constantly felt; it was as if h_elieved that a spiritual miracle for his redemption was just barely possible, and was therefore worth waiting for. The most that one could do, however, wa_o wait grimly and doggedly, suppressing an imprecation as, from time to time, one looked at one's watch. An attitude of positive urbanity toward life wa_ot to be expected; it was doing one's duty to hold one's tongue and kee_ne's hands off one's own windpipe, and other people's. Roderick had lon_ilences, fits of profound lethargy, almost of stupefaction. He used to sit i_he garden by the hour, with his head thrown back, his legs outstretched, hi_ands in his pockets, and his eyes fastened upon the blinding summer sky. H_ould gather a dozen books about him, tumble them out on the ground, take on_nto his lap, and leave it with the pages unturned. These moods woul_lternate with hours of extreme restlessness, during which he mysteriousl_bsented himself. He bore the heat of the Italian summer like a salamander, and used to start off at high noon for long walks over the hills. He ofte_ent down into Florence, rambled through her close, dim streets, and lounge_way mornings in the churches and galleries. On many of these occasion_owland bore him company, for they were the times when he was most like hi_ormer self. Before Michael Angelo's statues and the pictures of the earl_uscans, he quite forgot his own infelicities, and picked up the thread of hi_ld aesthetic loquacity. He had a particular fondness for Andrea del Sarto, and affirmed that if he had been a painter he would have taken the author o_he Madonna del Sacco for his model. He found in Florence some of his Roma_riends, and went down on certain evenings to meet them. More than once h_sked Mary Garland to go with him into town, and showed her the things he mos_ared for. He had some modeling clay brought up to the villa and deposited i_ room suitable for his work; but when this had been done he turned the key i_he door and the clay never was touched. His eye was heavy and his hand cold, and his mother put up a secret prayer that he might be induced to see _octor. But on a certain occasion, when her prayer became articulate, he had _reat outburst of anger and begged her to know, once for all, that his healt_as better than it had ever been. On the whole, and most of the time, he was _ad spectacle; he looked so hopelessly idle. If he was not querulous an_itter, it was because he had taken an extraordinary vow not to be; a vo_eroic, for him, a vow which those who knew him well had the tenderness t_ppreciate. Talking with him was like skating on thin ice, and his companion_ad a constant mental vision of spots designated "dangerous."
This was a difficult time for Rowland; he said to himself that he would endur_t to the end, but that it must be his last adventure of the kind. Mrs. Hudso_ivided her time between looking askance at her son, with her hands tightl_lasped about her pocket-handkerchief, as if she were wringing it dry of th_ast hour's tears, and turning her eyes much more directly upon Rowland, i_he mutest, the feeblest, the most intolerable reproachfulness. She neve_hrased her accusations, but he felt that in the unillumined void of the poo_ady's mind they loomed up like vaguely-outlined monsters. Her demeanor cause_im the acutest suffering, and if, at the outset of his enterprise, he ha_een, how dimly soever, one of those plaintive eye-beams in the opposit_cale, the brilliancy of Roderick's promises would have counted for little.
They made their way to the softest spot in his conscience and kept i_hronically aching. If Mrs. Hudson had been loquacious and vulgar, he woul_ave borne even a less valid persecution with greater fortitude. But somehow, neat and noiseless and dismally lady-like, as she sat there, keeping he_rievance green with her soft-dropping tears, her displeasure conveyed a_verwhelming imputation of brutality. He felt like a reckless trustee who ha_peculated with the widow's mite, and is haunted with the reflection of rui_hat he sees in her tearful eyes. He did everything conceivable to be polit_o Mrs. Hudson, and to treat her with distinguished deference. Perhaps hi_xasperated nerves made him overshoot the mark, and rendered his civilities _rifle peremptory. She seemed capable of believing that he was trying to mak_ fool of her; she would have thought him cruelly recreant if he had suddenl_eparted in desperation, and yet she gave him no visible credit for hi_onstancy. Women are said by some authorities to be cruel; I don't know ho_rue this is, but it may at least be pertinent to remark that Mrs. Hudson wa_ery much of a woman. It often seemed to Rowland that he had too decidedl_orfeited his freedom, and that there was something positively grotesque in _an of his age and circumstances living in such a moral bondage.
But Mary Garland had helped him before, and she helped him now—helped him no_ess than he had assured himself she would when he found himself drifting t_lorence. Yet her help was rendered in the same unconscious, unacknowledge_ashion as before; there was no explicit change in their relations. After tha_istressing scene in Rome which had immediately preceded their departure, i_as of course impossible that there should not be on Miss Garland's part som_rankness of allusion to Roderick's sad condition. She had been present, th_eader will remember, during only half of his unsparing confession, an_owland had not seen her confronted with any absolute proof of Roderick'_assion for Christina Light. But he knew that she knew far too much for he_appiness; Roderick had told him, shortly after their settlement at the Vill_andolfini, that he had had a "tremendous talk" with his cousin. Rowland aske_o questions about it; he preferred not to know what had passed between them.
If their interview had been purely painful, he wished to ignore it for Mis_arland's sake; and if it had sown the seeds of reconciliation, he wished t_lose his eyes to it for his own—for the sake of that unshaped idea, foreve_ismissed and yet forever present, which hovered in the background of hi_onsciousness, with a hanging head, as it were, and yet an unshamed glance, and whose lightest motions were an effectual bribe to patience. Was th_ngagement broken? Rowland wondered, yet without asking. But it hardl_attered, for if, as was more than probable, Miss Garland had peremptoril_eleased her cousin, her own heart had by no means recovered its liberty. I_as very certain to Rowland's mind that if she had given him up she had by n_eans ceased to care for him passionately, and that, to exhaust her charit_or his weaknesses, Roderick would have, as the phrase is, a long row to hoe.
She spoke of Roderick as she might have done of a person suffering from _erious malady which demanded much tenderness; but if Rowland had found i_ossible to accuse her of dishonesty he would have said now that she believe_ppreciably less than she pretended to in her victim's being an involuntar_atient. There are women whose love is care-taking and patronizing, and wh_ather prefer a weak man because he gives them a comfortable sense o_trength. It did not in the least please Rowland to believe that Mary Garlan_as one of these; for he held that such women were only males in petticoats, and he was convinced that Miss Garland's heart was constructed after the mos_erfect feminine model. That she was a very different woman from Christin_ight did not at all prove that she was less a woman, and if the Princes_asamassima had gone up into a high place to publish her disrelish of a ma_ho lacked the virile will, it was very certain that Mary Garland was not _erson to put up, at any point, with what might be called the princess'_eavings. It was Christina's constant practice to remind you of the complexit_f her character, of the subtlety of her mind, of her troublous faculty o_eeing everything in a dozen different lights. Mary Garland had neve_retended not to be simple; but Rowland had a theory that she had really _ore multitudinous sense of human things, a more delicate imagination, and _iner instinct of character. She did you the honors of her mind with a grac_ar less regal, but was not that faculty of quite as remarkable an adjustment?
If in poor Christina's strangely commingled nature there was circle withi_ircle, and depth beneath depth, it was to be believed that Mary Garland, though she did not amuse herself with dropping stones into her soul, an_aiting to hear them fall, laid quite as many sources of spiritual life unde_ontribution. She had believed Roderick was a fine fellow when she bade hi_arewell beneath the Northampton elms, and this belief, to her young, strenuous, concentrated imagination, had meant many things. If it was to gro_old, it would be because disenchantment had become total and won the battl_t each successive point.
Miss Garland had even in her face and carriage something of the preoccupie_nd wearied look of a person who is watching at a sick-bed; Roderick's broke_ortunes, his dead ambitions, were a cruel burden to the heart of a girl wh_ad believed that he possessed "genius," and supposed that genius was to one'_piritual economy what full pockets were to one's domestic. And yet, with her, Rowland never felt, as with Mrs. Hudson, that undercurrent of reproach an_itterness toward himself, that impertinent implication that he had defraude_er of happiness. Was this justice, in Miss Garland, or was it mercy? Th_nswer would have been difficult, for she had almost let Rowland feel befor_eaving Rome that she liked him well enough to forgive him an injury. It wa_artly, Rowland fancied, that there were occasional lapses, deep and sweet, i_er sense of injury. When, on arriving at Florence, she saw the place Rowlan_ad brought them to in their trouble, she had given him a look and said a fe_ords to him that had seemed not only a remission of guilt but a positiv_eward. This happened in the court of the villa—the large gray quadrangle, overstretched, from edge to edge of the red-tiled roof, by the soft Italia_ky. Mary had felt on the spot the sovereign charm of the place; it wa_eflected in her deeply intelligent glance, and Rowland immediately accuse_imself of not having done the villa justice. Miss Garland took a mighty fanc_o Florence, and used to look down wistfully at the towered city from th_indows and garden. Roderick having now no pretext for not being her cicerone, Rowland was no longer at liberty, as he had been in Rome, to propose frequen_xcursions to her. Roderick's own invitations, however, were not frequent, an_owland more than once ventured to introduce her to a gallery or a church.
These expeditions were not so blissful, to his sense, as the rambles they ha_aken together in Rome, for his companion only half surrendered herself to he_njoyment, and seemed to have but a divided attention at her command. Often, when she had begun with looking intently at a picture, her silence, after a_nterval, made him turn and glance at her. He usually found that if she wa_ooking at the picture still, she was not seeing it. Her eyes were fixed, bu_er thoughts were wandering, and an image more vivid than any that Raphael o_itian had drawn had superposed itself upon the canvas. She asked fewe_uestions than before, and seemed to have lost heart for consulting guide- books and encyclopaedias. From time to time, however, she uttered a deep, ful_urmur of gratification. Florence in midsummer was perfectly void o_ravelers, and the dense little city gave forth its aesthetic aroma with _arger frankness, as the nightingale sings when the listeners have departed.
The churches were deliciously cool, but the gray streets were stifling, an_he great, dove-tailed polygons of pavement as hot to the tread as molte_ava. Rowland, who suffered from intense heat, would have found all thi_ncomfortable in solitude; but Florence had never charmed him so completely a_uring these midsummer strolls with his preoccupied companion. One evenin_hey had arranged to go on the morrow to the Academy. Miss Garland kept he_ppointment, but as soon as she appeared, Rowland saw that something painfu_ad befallen her. She was doing her best to look at her ease, but her fac_ore the marks of tears. Rowland told her that he was afraid she was ill, an_hat if she preferred to give up the visit to Florence he would submit wit_hat grace he might. She hesitated a moment, and then said she preferred t_dhere to their plan. "I am not well," she presently added, "but it 's a mora_alady, and in such cases I consider your company beneficial."
"But if I am to be your doctor," said Rowland, "you must tell me how you_llness began."
"I can tell you very little. It began with Mrs. Hudson being unjust to me, fo_he first time in her life. And now I am already better!"
I mention this incident because it confirmed an impression of Rowland's fro_hich he had derived a certain consolation. He knew that Mrs. Hudso_onsidered her son's ill-regulated passion for Christina Light a ver_egrettable affair, but he suspected that her manifest compassion had been al_or Roderick, and not in the least for Mary Garland. She was fond of the youn_irl, but she had valued her primarily, during the last two years, as a kin_f assistant priestess at Roderick's shrine. Roderick had honored her b_sking her to become his wife, but that poor Mary had any rights i_onsequence Mrs. Hudson was quite incapable of perceiving. Her sentiment o_he subject was of course not very vigorously formulated, but she wa_nprepared to admit that Miss Garland had any ground for complaint. Roderic_as very unhappy; that was enough, and Mary's duty was to join her patienc_nd her prayers to those of his doting mother. Roderick might fall in lov_ith whom he pleased; no doubt that women trained in the mysterious Roman art_ere only too proud and too happy to make it easy for him; and it was ver_resuming in poor, plain Mary to feel any personal resentment. Mrs. Hudson'_hilosophy was of too narrow a scope to suggest that a mother may forgiv_here a mistress cannot, and she thought herself greatly aggrieved that Mis_arland was not so disinterested as herself. She was ready to drop dead i_oderick's service, and she was quite capable of seeing her companion falte_nd grow faint, without a tremor of compassion. Mary, apparently, had give_ome intimation of her belief that if constancy is the flower of devotion, reciprocity is the guarantee of constancy, and Mrs. Hudson had rebuked he_ailing faith and called it cruelty. That Miss Garland had found it hard t_eason with Mrs. Hudson, that she suffered deeply from the elder lady's softl_itter imputations, and that, in short, he had companionship in misfortune—al_his made Rowland find a certain luxury in his discomfort.
The party at Villa Pandolfini used to sit in the garden in the evenings, whic_owland almost always spent with them. Their entertainment was in the heavil_erfumed air, in the dim, far starlight, in the crenelated tower of _eighboring villa, which loomed vaguely above them in the warm darkness, an_n such conversation as depressing reflections allowed. Roderick, clad alway_n white, roamed about like a restless ghost, silent for the most part, bu_aking from time to time a brief observation, characterized by the mos_antastic cynicism. Roderick's contributions to the conversation were indee_lways so fantastic that, though half the time they wearied him unspeakably, Rowland made an effort to treat them humorously. With Rowland alone Roderic_alked a great deal more; often about things related to his own work, or abou_rtistic and aesthetic matters in general. He talked as well as ever, or eve_etter; but his talk always ended in a torrent of groans and curses. When thi_urrent set in, Rowland straightway turned his back or stopped his ears, an_oderick now witnessed these movements with perfect indifference. When th_atter was absent from the star-lit circle in the garden, as often happened, Rowland knew nothing of his whereabouts; he supposed him to be in Florence, but he never learned what he did there. All this was not enlivening, but wit_n even, muffled tread the days followed each other, and brought the month o_ugust to a close. One particular evening at this time was most enchanting; there was a perfect moon, looking so extraordinarily large that it mad_verything its light fell upon seem small; the heat was tempered by a sof_est wind, and the wind was laden with the odors of the early harvest. Th_ills, the vale of the Arno, the shrunken river, the domes of Florence, wer_aguely effaced by the dense moonshine; they looked as if they were meltin_ut of sight like an exorcised vision. Rowland had found the two ladies alon_t the villa, and he had sat with them for an hour. He felt absolutely hushe_y the solemn splendor of the scene, but he had risked the remark that, whatever life might yet have in store for either of them, this was a nigh_hat they would never forget.
"It 's a night to remember on one's death-bed!" Miss Garland exclaimed.
"Oh, Mary, how can you!" murmured Mrs. Hudson, to whom this savored o_rofanity, and to whose shrinking sense, indeed, the accumulated loveliness o_he night seemed to have something shameless and defiant.
They were silent after this, for some time, but at last Rowland addresse_ertain idle words to Miss Garland. She made no reply, and he turned to loo_t her. She was sitting motionless, with her head pressed to Mrs. Hudson'_houlder, and the latter lady was gazing at him through the silvered dusk wit_ look which gave a sort of spectral solemnity to the sad, weak meaning of he_yes. She had the air, for the moment, of a little old malevolent fairy. Mis_arland, Rowland perceived in an instant, was not absolutely motionless; _remor passed through her figure. She was weeping, or on the point of weeping, and she could not trust herself to speak. Rowland left his place and wandere_o another part of the garden, wondering at the motive of her sudden tears. O_omen's sobs in general he had a sovereign dread, but these, somehow, gave hi_ certain pleasure. When he returned to his place Miss Garland had raised he_ead and banished her tears. She came away from Mrs. Hudson, and they stoo_or a short time leaning against the parapet.
"It seems to you very strange, I suppose," said Rowland, "that there should b_ny trouble in such a world as this."
"I used to think," she answered, "that if any trouble came to me I would bea_t like a stoic. But that was at home, where things don't speak to us o_njoyment as they do here. Here it is such a mixture; one does n't know wha_o choose, what to believe. Beauty stands there—beauty such as this night an_his place, and all this sad, strange summer, have been so full of—and i_enetrates to one's soul and lodges there, and keeps saying that man was no_ade to suffer, but to enjoy. This place has undermined my stoicism, but—shal_ tell you? I feel as if I were saying something sinful—I love it!"
"If it is sinful, I absolve you," said Rowland, "in so far as I have power. W_re made, I suppose, both to suffer and to enjoy. As you say, it 's a mixture.
Just now and here, it seems a peculiarly strange one. But we must take thing_n turn."
His words had a singular aptness, for he had hardly uttered them when Roderic_ame out from the house, evidently in his darkest mood. He stood for a momen_azing hard at the view.
"It 's a very beautiful night, my son," said his mother, going to him timidly, and touching his arm.
He passed his hand through his hair and let it stay there, clasping his thic_ocks. "Beautiful?" he cried; "of course it 's beautiful! Everything i_eautiful; everything is insolent, defiant, atrocious with beauty. Nothing i_gly but me—me and my poor dead brain!"
"Oh, my dearest son," pleaded poor Mrs. Hudson, "don't you feel any better?"
Roderick made no immediate answer; but at last he spoke in a different voice.
"I came expressly to tell you that you need n't trouble yourselves any longe_o wait for something to turn up. Nothing will turn up! It 's all over! I sai_hen I came here I would give it a chance. I have given it a chance. Have n'_, eh? Have n't I, Rowland? It 's no use; the thing 's a failure! Do with m_ow what you please. I recommend you to set me up there at the end of th_arden and shoot me."
"I feel strongly inclined," said Rowland gravely, "to go and get my revolver."
"Oh, mercy on us, what language!" cried Mrs. Hudson.
"Why not?" Roderick went on. "This would be a lovely night for it, and _hould be a lucky fellow to be buried in this garden. But bury me alive, i_ou prefer. Take me back to Northampton."
"Roderick, will you really come?" cried his mother.
"Oh yes, I 'll go! I might as well be there as anywhere—reverting to idioc_nd living upon alms. I can do nothing with all this; perhaps I should reall_ike Northampton. If I 'm to vegetate for the rest of my days, I can do i_here better than here."
"Oh, come home, come home," Mrs. Hudson said, "and we shall all be safe an_uiet and happy. My dearest son, come home with your poor mother!"
"Let us go, then, and go quickly!"
Mrs. Hudson flung herself upon his neck for gratitude. "We 'll go to-morrow!"
she cried. "The Lord is very good to me!"
Mary Garland said nothing to this; but she looked at Rowland, and her eye_eemed to contain a kind of alarmed appeal. Rowland noted it with exultation, but even without it he would have broken into an eager protest.
"Are you serious, Roderick?" he demanded.
"Serious? of course not! How can a man with a crack in his brain be serious?
how can a muddlehead reason? But I 'm not jesting, either; I can no more mak_okes than utter oracles!"
"Are you willing to go home?"
"Willing? God forbid! I am simply amenable to force; if my mother chooses t_ake me, I won't resist. I can't! I have come to that!"
"Let me resist, then," said Rowland. "Go home as you are now? I can't stand b_nd see it."
It may have been true that Roderick had lost his sense of humor, but h_cratched his head with a gesture that was almost comical in its effect. "Yo_re a queer fellow! I should think I would disgust you horribly."
"Stay another year," Rowland simply said.
"You shall do something. I am responsible for your doing something."
"To whom are you responsible?"
Rowland, before replying, glanced at Miss Garland, and his glance made he_peak quickly. "Not to me!"
"I 'm responsible to myself," Rowland declared.
"My poor, dear fellow!" said Roderick.
"Oh, Mr. Mallet, are n't you satisfied?" cried Mrs. Hudson, in the tone i_hich Niobe may have addressed the avenging archers, after she had seen he_ldest-born fall. "It 's out of all nature keeping him here. When we 're in _oor way, surely our own dear native land is the place for us. Do leave us t_urselves, sir!"
This just failed of being a dismissal in form, and Rowland bowed his head t_t. Roderick was silent for some moments; then, suddenly, he covered his fac_ith his two hands. "Take me at least out of this terrible Italy," he cried,
"where everything mocks and reproaches and torments and eludes me! Take me ou_f this land of impossible beauty and put me in the midst of ugliness. Set m_own where nature is coarse and flat, and men and manners are vulgar. Ther_ust be something awfully ugly in Germany. Pack me off there!"
Rowland answered that if he wished to leave Italy the thing might be arranged; he would think it over and submit a proposal on the morrow. He suggested t_rs. Hudson, in consequence, that she should spend the autumn in Switzerland, where she would find a fine tonic climate, plenty of fresh milk, and severa_ensions at three francs and a half a day. Switzerland, of course, was no_gly, but one could not have everything.
Mrs. Hudson neither thanked him nor assented; but she wept and packed he_runks. Rowland had a theory, after the scene which led to these preparations, that Mary Garland was weary of waiting for Roderick to come to his senses, that the faith which had bravely borne his manhood company hitherto, on th_ortuous march he was leading it, had begun to believe it had gone far enough.
This theory was not vitiated by something she said to him on the day befor_hat on which Mrs. Hudson had arranged to leave Florence.
"Cousin Sarah, the other evening," she said, "asked you to please leave us. _hink she hardly knew what she was saying, and I hope you have not take_ffense."
"By no means; but I honestly believe that my leaving you would contribut_reatly to Mrs. Hudson's comfort. I can be your hidden providence, you know; _an watch you at a distance, and come upon the scene at critical moments."
Miss Garland looked for a moment at the ground; and then, with sudde_arnestness, "I beg you to come with us!" she said.
It need hardly be added that after this Rowland went with them.