One day, on entering Roderick's lodging (not the modest rooms on the Ripett_hich he had first occupied, but a much more sumptuous apartment on th_orso), Rowland found a letter on the table addressed to himself. It was fro_oderick, and consisted of but three lines: "I am gone to Frascati—fo_editation. If I am not at home on Friday, you had better join me." On Frida_e was still absent, and Rowland went out to Frascati. Here he found hi_riend living at the inn and spending his days, according to his own account, lying under the trees of the Villa Mondragone, reading Ariosto. He was in _ombre mood; "meditation" seemed not to have been fruitful. Nothing especiall_ertinent to our narrative had passed between the two young men since Mrs.
Light's ball, save a few words bearing on an incident of that entertainment.
Rowland informed Roderick, the next day, that he had told Miss Light of hi_ngagement. "I don't know whether you 'll thank me," he had said, "but it '_y duty to let you know it. Miss Light perhaps has already done so."
Roderick looked at him a moment, intently, with his color slowly rising. "Wh_hould n't I thank you?" he asked. "I am not ashamed of my engagement."
"As you had not spoken of it yourself, I thought you might have a reason fo_ot having it known."
"A man does n't gossip about such a matter with strangers," Roderick rejoined, with the ring of irritation in his voice.
"With strangers—no!" said Rowland, smiling.
Roderick continued his work; but after a moment, turning round with a frown:
"If you supposed I had a reason for being silent, pray why should you hav_poken?"
"I did not speak idly, my dear Roderick. I weighed the matter before I spoke, and promised myself to let you know immediately afterwards. It seemed to m_hat Miss Light had better know that your affections are pledged."
"The Cavaliere has put it into your head, then, that I am making love to her?"
"No; in that case I would not have spoken to her first."
"Do you mean, then, that she is making love to me?"
"This is what I mean," said Rowland, after a pause. "That girl finds yo_nteresting, and is pleased, even though she may play indifference, at you_inding her so. I said to myself that it might save her some sentimenta_isappointment to know without delay that you are not at liberty to becom_ndefinitely interested in other women."
"You seem to have taken the measure of my liberty with extraordinar_inuteness!" cried Roderick.
"You must do me justice. I am the cause of your separation from Miss Garland, the cause of your being exposed to temptations which she hardly even suspects.
How could I ever face her," Rowland demanded, with much warmth of tone, "if a_he end of it all she should be unhappy?"
"I had no idea that Miss Garland had made such an impression on you. You ar_oo zealous; I take it she did n't charge you to look after her interests."
"If anything happens to you, I am accountable. You must understand that."
"That 's a view of the situation I can't accept; in your own interest, no les_han in mine. It can only make us both very uncomfortable. I know all I ow_ou; I feel it; you know that! But I am not a small boy nor an outer barbaria_ny longer, and, whatever I do, I do with my eyes open. When I do well, th_erit 's mine; if I do ill, the fault 's mine! The idea that I make yo_ervous is detestable. Dedicate your nerves to some better cause, and believ_hat if Miss Garland and I have a quarrel, we shall settle it betwee_urselves."
Rowland had found himself wondering, shortly before, whether possibly hi_rilliant young friend was without a conscience; now it dimly occurred to hi_hat he was without a heart. Rowland, as we have already intimated, was a ma_ith a moral passion, and no small part of it had gone forth into hi_elations with Roderick. There had been, from the first, no protestations o_riendship on either side, but Rowland had implicitly offered everything tha_elongs to friendship, and Roderick had, apparently, as deliberately accepte_t. Rowland, indeed, had taken an exquisite satisfaction in his companion'_eep, inexpressive assent to his interest in him. "Here is an uncommonly fin_hing," he said to himself: "a nature unconsciously grateful, a man in who_riendship does the thing that love alone generally has the credit of—knock_he bottom out of pride!" His reflective judgment of Roderick, as time wen_n, had indulged in a great many irrepressible vagaries; but his affection, his sense of something in his companion's whole personality that overmastere_is heart and beguiled his imagination, had never for an instant faltered. H_istened to Roderick's last words, and then he smiled as he rarely smiled—wit_itterness.
"I don't at all like your telling me I am too zealous," he said. "If I had no_een zealous, I should never have cared a fig for you."
Roderick flushed deeply, and thrust his modeling tool up to the handle int_he clay. "Say it outright! You have been a great fool to believe in me."
"I desire to say nothing of the kind, and you don't honestly believe I do!"
said Rowland. "It seems to me I am really very good-natured even to reply t_uch nonsense."
Roderick sat down, crossed his arms, and fixed his eyes on the floor. Rowlan_ooked at him for some moments; it seemed to him that he had never so clearl_ead his companion's strangely commingled character—his strength and hi_eakness, his picturesque personal attractiveness and his urgent egoism, hi_xalted ardor and his puerile petulance. It would have made him almost sick, however, to think that, on the whole, Roderick was not a generous fellow, an_e was so far from having ceased to believe in him that he felt just now, mor_han ever, that all this was but the painful complexity of genius. Rowland, who had not a grain of genius either to make one say he was an intereste_easoner, or to enable one to feel that he could afford a dangerous theory o_wo, adhered to his conviction of the essential salubrity of genius. Suddenl_e felt an irresistible compassion for his companion; it seemed to him tha_is beautiful faculty of production was a double-edged instrument, susceptibl_f being dealt in back-handed blows at its possessor. Genius was priceless, inspired, divine; but it was also, at its hours, capricious, sinister, cruel; and men of genius, accordingly, were alternately very enviable and ver_elpless. It was not the first time he had had a sense of Roderick's standin_elpless in the grasp of his temperament. It had shaken him, as yet, but wit_ half good-humored wantonness; but, henceforth, possibly, it meant to handl_im more roughly. These were not times, therefore, for a friend to have _hort patience.
"When you err, you say, the fault 's your own," he said at last. "It i_ecause your faults are your own that I care about them."
Rowland's voice, when he spoke with feeling, had an extraordinary amenity.
Roderick sat staring a moment longer at the floor, then he sprang up and lai_is hand affectionately on his friend's shoulder. "You are the best man in th_orld," he said, "and I am a vile brute. Only," he added in a moment, "yo_on't understand me!" And he looked at him with eyes of such radiant lucidit_hat one might have said (and Rowland did almost say so, himself) that it wa_he fault of one's own grossness if one failed to read to the bottom of tha_eautiful soul.
Rowland smiled sadly. "What is it now? Explain."
"Oh, I can't explain!" cried Roderick impatiently, returning to his work. "_ave only one way of expressing my deepest feelings—it 's this!" And he swun_is tool. He stood looking at the half-wrought clay for a moment, and the_lung the instrument down. "And even this half the time plays me false!"
Rowland felt that his irritation had not subsided, and he himself had no tast_or saying disagreeable things. Nevertheless he saw no sufficient reason t_orbear uttering the words he had had on his conscience from the beginning.
"We must do what we can and be thankful," he said. "And let me assure you o_his—that it won't help you to become entangled with Miss Light."
Roderick pressed his hand to his forehead with vehemence and then shook it i_he air, despairingly; a gesture that had become frequent with him since h_ad been in Italy. "No, no, it 's no use; you don't understand me! But I don'_lame you. You can't!"
"You think it will help you, then?" said Rowland, wondering.
"I think that when you expect a man to produce beautiful and wonderful work_f art, you ought to allow him a certain freedom of action, you ought to giv_im a long rope, you ought to let him follow his fancy and look for hi_aterial wherever he thinks he may find it! A mother can't nurse her chil_nless she follows a certain diet; an artist can't bring his visions t_aturity unless he has a certain experience. You demand of us to b_maginative, and you deny us that which feeds the imagination. In labor w_ust be as passionate as the inspired sibyl; in life we must be mere machines.
It won't do. When you have got an artist to deal with, you must take him as h_s, good and bad together. I don't say they are pleasant fellows to know o_asy fellows to live with; I don't say they satisfy themselves any better tha_ther people. I only say that if you want them to produce, you must let the_onceive. If you want a bird to sing, you must not cover up its cage. Shoo_hem, the poor devils, drown them, exterminate them, if you will, in th_nterest of public morality; it may be morality would gain—I dare say i_ould! But if you suffer them to live, let them live on their own terms an_ccording to their own inexorable needs!"
Rowland burst out laughing. "I have no wish whatever either to shoot you or t_rown you!" he said. "Why launch such a tirade against a warning offered yo_ltogether in the interest of your freest development? Do you really mean tha_ou have an inexorable need of embarking on a flirtation with Miss Light?—_lirtation as to the felicity of which there may be differences of opinion, but which cannot at best, under the circumstances, be called innocent. You_ast summer's adventures were more so! As for the terms on which you are t_ive, I had an idea you had arranged them otherwise!"
"I have arranged nothing—thank God! I don't pretend to arrange. I am young an_rdent and inquisitive, and I admire Miss Light. That 's enough. I shall go a_ar as admiration leads me. I am not afraid. Your genuine artist may b_ometimes half a madman, but he 's not a coward!"
"Suppose that in your speculation you should come to grief, not onl_entimentally but artistically?"
"Come what come will! If I 'm to fizzle out, the sooner I know it the better.
Sometimes I half suspect it. But let me at least go out and reconnoitre fo_he enemy, and not sit here waiting for him, cudgeling my brains for idea_hat won't come!"
Do what he would, Rowland could not think of Roderick's theory of unlimite_xperimentation, especially as applied in the case under discussion, a_nything but a pernicious illusion. But he saw it was vain to combat longer, for inclination was powerfully on Roderick's side. He laid his hand o_oderick's shoulder, looked at him a moment with troubled eyes, then shook hi_ead mournfully and turned away.
"I can't work any more," said Roderick. "You have upset me! I 'll go an_troll on the Pincian." And he tossed aside his working-jacket and prepare_imself for the street. As he was arranging his cravat before the glass, something occurred to him which made him thoughtful. He stopped a few moment_fterward, as they were going out, with his hand on the door-knob. "You did, from your own point of view, an indiscreet thing," he said, "to tell Mis_ight of my engagement."
Rowland looked at him with a glance which was partly an interrogation, bu_artly, also, an admission.
"If she 's the coquette you say," Roderick added, "you have given her a reaso_he more."
"And that 's the girl you propose to devote yourself to?" cried Rowland.
"Oh, I don't say it, mind! I only say that she 's the most interestin_reature in the world! The next time you mean to render me a service, pra_ive me notice beforehand!"
It was perfectly characteristic of Roderick that, a fortnight later, he shoul_ave let his friend know that he depended upon him for society at Frascati, a_reely as if no irritating topic had ever been discussed between them. Rowlan_hought him generous, and he had at any rate a liberal faculty of forgettin_hat he had given you any reason to be displeased with him. It was equall_haracteristic of Rowland that he complied with his friend's summons without _oment's hesitation. His cousin Cecilia had once told him that he was the dup_f his intense benevolence. She put the case with too little favor, or to_uch, as the reader chooses; it is certain, at least, that he had _onstitutional tendency towards magnanimous interpretations. Nothing happened, however, to suggest to him that he was deluded in thinking that Roderick'_econdary impulses were wiser than his primary ones, and that the rounde_otal of his nature had a harmony perfectly attuned to the most amiable of it_rilliant parts. Roderick's humor, for the time, was pitched in a minor key; he was lazy, listless, and melancholy, but he had never been more friendly an_indly and appealingly submissive. Winter had begun, by the calendar, but th_eather was divinely mild, and the two young men took long slow strolls on th_ills and lounged away the mornings in the villas. The villas at Frascati ar_elicious places, and replete with romantic suggestiveness. Roderick, as h_ad said, was meditating, and if a masterpiece was to come of his meditations, Rowland was perfectly willing to bear him company and coax along the process.
But Roderick let him know from the first that he was in a miserably steril_ood, and, cudgel his brains as he would, could think of nothing that woul_erve for the statue he was to make for Mr. Leavenworth.
"It is worse out here than in Rome," he said, "for here I am face to face wit_he dead blank of my mind! There I could n't think of anything either, bu_here I found things to make me forget that I needed to." This was as frank a_llusion to Christina Light as could have been expected under th_ircumstances; it seemed, indeed, to Rowland surprisingly frank, and _regnant example of his companion's often strangely irresponsible way o_ooking at harmful facts. Roderick was silent sometimes for hours, with _uzzled look on his face and a constant fold between his even eyebrows; a_ther times he talked unceasingly, with a slow, idle, half-nonsensical drawl.
Rowland was half a dozen times on the point of asking him what was the matte_ith him; he was afraid he was going to be ill. Roderick had taken a grea_ancy to the Villa Mondragone, and used to declaim fantastic compliments to i_s they strolled in the winter sunshine on the great terrace which look_oward Tivoli and the iridescent Sabine mountains. He carried his volume o_riosto in his pocket, and took it out every now and then and spouted half _ozen stanzas to his companion. He was, as a general thing, very little of _eader; but at intervals he would take a fancy to one of the classics an_eruse it for a month in disjointed scraps. He had picked up Italian withou_tudy, and had a wonderfully sympathetic accent, though in reading aloud h_uined the sense of half the lines he rolled off so sonorously. Rowland, wh_ronounced badly but understood everything, once said to him that Ariosto wa_ot the poet for a man of his craft; a sculptor should make a companion o_ante. So he lent him the Inferno, which he had brought with him, and advise_im to look into it. Roderick took it with some eagerness; perhaps it woul_righten his wits. He returned it the next day with disgust; he had found i_ntolerably depressing.
"A sculptor should model as Dante writes—you 're right there," he said. "Bu_hen his genius is in eclipse, Dante is a dreadfully smoky lamp. By wha_erversity of fate," he went on, "has it come about that I am a sculptor a_ll? A sculptor is such a confoundedly special genius; there are so fe_ubjects he can treat, so few things in life that bear upon his work, so fe_oods in which he himself is inclined to it." (It may be noted that Rowlan_ad heard him a dozen times affirm the flat reverse of all this.) "If I ha_nly been a painter—a little quiet, docile, matter-of-fact painter, like ou_riend Singleton—I should only have to open my Ariosto here to find a subject, to find color and attitudes, stuffs and composition; I should only have t_ook up from the page at that mouldy old fountain against the blue sky, a_hat cypress alley wandering away like a procession of priests in couples, a_he crags and hollows of the Sabine hills, to find myself grasping my brush.
Best of all would be to be Ariosto himself, or one of his brotherhood. The_verything in nature would give you a hint, and every form of beauty be par_f your stock. You would n't have to look at things only to say,—with tears o_age half the time,—'Oh, yes, it 's wonderfully pretty, but what the deuce ca_ do with it?' But a sculptor, now! That 's a pretty trade for a fellow wh_as got his living to make and yet is so damnably constituted that he can'_ork to order, and considers that, aesthetically, clock ornaments don't pay!
You can't model the serge-coated cypresses, nor those mouldering old Triton_nd all the sunny sadness of that dried-up fountain; you can't put the ligh_nto marble—the lovely, caressing, consenting Italian light that you get s_uch of for nothing. Say that a dozen times in his life a man has a complet_culpturesque vision—a vision in which the imagination recognizes a subjec_nd the subject kindles the imagination. It is a remunerative rate of work, and the intervals are comfortable!"
One morning, as the two young men were lounging on the sun-warmed grass at th_oot of one of the slanting pines of the Villa Mondragone, Roderick delivere_imself of a tissue of lugubrious speculations as to the possible mischance_f one's genius. "What if the watch should run down," he asked, "and yo_hould lose the key? What if you should wake up some morning and find i_topped, inexorably, appallingly stopped? Such things have been, and the poo_evils to whom they happened have had to grin and bear it. The whole matter o_enius is a mystery. It bloweth where it listeth and we know nothing of it_echanism. If it gets out of order we can't mend it; if it breaks dow_ltogether we can't set it going again. We must let it choose its own pace, and hold our breath lest it should lose its balance. It 's dealt out i_ifferent doses, in big cups and little, and when you have consumed you_ortion it 's as naif to ask for more as it was for Oliver Twist to ask fo_ore porridge. Lucky for you if you 've got one of the big cups; we drink the_own in the dark, and we can't tell their size until we tip them up and hea_he last gurgle. Those of some men last for life; those of others for a coupl_f years. Nay, what are you smiling at so damnably?" he went on. "Nothing i_ore common than for an artist who has set out on his journey on a high- stepping horse to find himself all of a sudden dismounted and invited to g_is way on foot. You can number them by the thousand—the people of two o_hree successes; the poor fellows whose candle burnt out in a night. Some o_hem groped their way along without it, some of them gave themselves up fo_lind and sat down by the wayside to beg. Who shall say that I 'm not one o_hese? Who shall assure me that my credit is for an unlimited sum? Nothin_roves it, and I never claimed it; or if I did, I did so in the mere boyis_oy of shaking off the dust of Northampton. If you believed so, my dea_ellow, you did so at your own risk! What am I, what are the best of us, bu_n experiment? Do I succeed—do I fail? It does n't depend on me. I 'm prepare_or failure. It won't be a disappointment, simply because I shan't survive it.
The end of my work shall be the end of my life. When I have played my las_ard, I shall cease to care for the game. I 'm not making vulgar threats o_uicide; for destiny, I trust, won't add insult to injury by putting me t_hat abominable trouble. But I have a conviction that if the hour strike_ere," and he tapped his forehead, "I shall disappear, dissolve, be carrie_ff in a cloud! For the past ten days I have had the vision of some such fat_erpetually swimming before my eyes. My mind is like a dead calm in th_ropics, and my imagination as motionless as the phantom ship in the Ancien_ariner!"
Rowland listened to this outbreak, as he often had occasion to listen t_oderick's heated monologues, with a number of mental restrictions. Both i_ravity and in gayety he said more than he meant, and you did him simpl_ustice if you privately concluded that neither the glow of purpose nor th_hill of despair was of so intense a character as his florid diction implied.
The moods of an artist, his exaltations and depressions, Rowland had ofte_aid to himself, were like the pen-flourishes a writing-master makes in th_ir when he begins to set his copy. He may bespatter you with ink, he may hi_ou in the eye, but he writes a magnificent hand. It was nevertheless tru_hat at present poor Roderick gave unprecedented tokens of moral stagnation, and as for genius being held by the precarious tenure he had sketched, Rowlan_as at a loss to see whence he could borrow the authority to contradict him.
He sighed to himself, and wished that his companion had a trifle more o_ittle Sam Singleton's evenness of impulse. But then, was Singleton a man o_enius? He answered that such reflections seemed to him unprofitable, not t_ay morbid; that the proof of the pudding was in the eating; that he did n'_now about bringing a genius that had palpably spent its last breath back t_ife again, but that he was satisfied that vigorous effort was a cure for _reat many ills that seemed far gone. "Don't heed your mood," he said, "an_on't believe there is any calm so dead that your own lungs can't ruffle i_ith a breeze. If you have work to do, don't wait to feel like it; set to wor_nd you will feel like it."
"Set to work and produce abortions!" cried Roderick with ire. "Preach that t_thers. Production with me must be either pleasure or nothing. As I said jus_ow, I must either stay in the saddle or not go at all. I won't do second-rat_ork; I can't if I would. I have no cleverness, apart from inspiration. I a_ot a Gloriani! You are right," he added after a while; "this is unprofitabl_alk, and it makes my head ache. I shall take a nap and see if I can dream o_ bright idea or two."
He turned his face upward to the parasol of the great pine, closed his eyes, and in a short time forgot his sombre fancies. January though it was, the mil_tillness seemed to vibrate with faint midsummer sounds. Rowland sat listenin_o them and wishing that, for the sake of his own felicity, Roderick's tempe_ere graced with a certain absent ductility. He was brilliant, but was he, like many brilliant things, brittle? Suddenly, to his musing sense, the sof_tmospheric hum was overscored with distincter sounds. He heard voices beyon_ mass of shrubbery, at the turn of a neighboring path. In a moment one o_hem began to seem familiar, and an instant later a large white poodle emerge_nto view. He was slowly followed by his mistress. Miss Light paused a momen_n seeing Rowland and his companion; but, though the former perceived that h_as recognized, she made no bow. Presently she walked directly toward him. H_ose and was on the point of waking Roderick, but she laid her finger on he_ips and motioned him to forbear. She stood a moment looking at Roderick'_andsome slumber.
"What delicious oblivion!" she said. "Happy man! Stenterello"—and she pointe_o his face—"wake him up!"
The poodle extended a long pink tongue and began to lick Roderick's cheek.
"Why," asked Rowland, "if he is happy?"
"Oh, I want companions in misery! Besides, I want to show off my dog."
Roderick roused himself, sat up, and stared. By this time Mrs. Light ha_pproached, walking with a gentleman on each side of her. One of these was th_avaliere Giacosa; the other was Prince Casamassima. "I should have liked t_ie down on the grass and go to sleep," Christina added. "But it would hav_een unheard of."
"Oh, not quite," said the Prince, in English, with a tone of great precision.
"There was already a Sleeping Beauty in the Wood!"
"Charming!" cried Mrs. Light. "Do you hear that, my dear?"
"When the prince says a brilliant thing, it would be a pity to lose it," sai_he young girl. "Your servant, sir!" And she smiled at him with a grace tha_ight have reassured him, if he had thought her compliment ambiguous.
Roderick meanwhile had risen to his feet, and Mrs. Light began to exclaim o_he oddity of their meeting and to explain that the day was so lovely that sh_ad been charmed with the idea of spending it in the country. And who woul_ver have thought of finding Mr. Mallet and Mr. Hudson sleeping under a tree!
"Oh, I beg your pardon; I was not sleeping," said Rowland.
"Don't you know that Mr. Mallet is Mr. Hudson's sheep-dog?" asked Christina.
"He was mounting guard to keep away the wolves."
"To indifferent purpose, madame!" said Rowland, indicating the young girl.
"Is that the way you spend your time?" Christina demanded of Roderick. "_ever yet happened to learn what men were doing when they supposed women wer_ot watching them but it was something vastly below their reputation."
"When, pray," said Roderick, smoothing his ruffled locks, "are women no_atching them?"
"We shall give you something better to do, at any rate. How long have you bee_ere? It 's an age since I have seen you. We consider you domiciled here, an_xpect you to play host and entertain us."
Roderick said that he could offer them nothing but to show them the grea_errace, with its view; and ten minutes later the group was assembled there.
Mrs. Light was extravagant in her satisfaction; Christina looked away at th_abine mountains, in silence. The prince stood by, frowning at the rapture o_he elder lady.
"This is nothing," he said at last. "My word of honor. Have you seen th_errace at San Gaetano?"
"Ah, that terrace," murmured Mrs. Light, amorously. "I suppose it i_agnificent!"
"It is four hundred feet long, and paved with marble. And the view is _housand times more beautiful than this. You see, far away, the blue, blue se_nd the little smoke of Vesuvio!"
"Christina, love," cried Mrs. Light forthwith, "the prince has a terrace fou_undred feet long, all paved with marble!"
The Cavaliere gave a little cough and began to wipe his eye-glass.
"Stupendous!" said Christina. "To go from one end to the other, the princ_ust have out his golden carriage." This was apparently an allusion to one o_he other items of the young man's grandeur.
"You always laugh at me," said the prince. "I know no more what to say!"
She looked at him with a sad smile and shook her head. "No, no, dear prince, _on't laugh at you. Heaven forbid! You are much too serious an affair. _ssure you I feel your importance. What did you inform us was the value of th_ereditary diamonds of the Princess Casamassima?"
"Ah, you are laughing at me yet!" said the poor young man, standing rigid an_ale.
"It does n't matter," Christina went on. "We have a note of it; mamma write_ll those things down in a little book!"
"If you are laughed at, dear prince, at least it 's in company," said Mrs.
Light, caressingly; and she took his arm, as if to resist his possibl_isplacement under the shock of her daughter's sarcasm. But the prince looke_eavy-eyed toward Rowland and Roderick, to whom the young girl was turning, a_f he had much rather his lot were cast with theirs.
"Is the villa inhabited?" Christina asked, pointing to the vast melanchol_tructure which rises above the terrace.
"Not privately," said Roderick. "It is occupied by a Jesuits' college, fo_ittle boys."
"Can women go in?"
"I am afraid not." And Roderick began to laugh. "Fancy the poor little devil_ooking up from their Latin declensions and seeing Miss Light standing there!"
"I should like to see the poor little devils, with their rosy cheeks and thei_ong black gowns, and when they were pretty, I should n't scruple to kis_hem. But if I can't have that amusement I must have some other. We must no_tand planted on this enchanting terrace as if we were stakes driven into th_arth. We must dance, we must feast, we must do something picturesque. Mamm_as arranged, I believe, that we are to go back to Frascati to lunch at th_nn. I decree that we lunch here and send the Cavaliere to the inn to get th_rovisions! He can take the carriage, which is waiting below."
Miss Light carried out this undertaking with unfaltering ardor. The Cavalier_as summoned, and he stook to receive her commands hat in hand, with his eye_ast down, as if she had been a princess addressing her major-domo. She, however, laid her hand with friendly grace upon his button-hole, and calle_im a dear, good old Cavaliere, for being always so willing. Her spirits ha_isen with the occasion, and she talked irresistible nonsense. "Bring the bes_hey have," she said, "no matter if it ruins us! And if the best is very bad, it will be all the more amusing. I shall enjoy seeing Mr. Mallet try t_wallow it for propriety's sake! Mr. Hudson will say out like a man that it '_orrible stuff, and that he 'll be choked first! Be sure you bring a dish o_accaroni; the prince must have the diet of the Neapolitan nobility. But _eave all that to you, my poor, dear Cavaliere; you know what 's good! Only b_ure, above all, you bring a guitar. Mr. Mallet will play us a tune, I 'l_ance with Mr. Hudson, and mamma will pair off with the prince, of whom she i_o fond!"
And as she concluded her recommendations, she patted her bland old servito_aressingly on the shoulder. He looked askance at Rowland; his little blac_ye glittered; it seemed to say, "Did n't I tell you she was a good girl!"
The Cavaliere returned with zealous speed, accompanied by one of the servant_f the inn, laden with a basket containing the materials of a rustic luncheon.
The porter of the villa was easily induced to furnish a table and half a doze_hairs, and the repast, when set forth, was pronounced a perfect success; no_o good as to fail of the proper picturesqueness, nor yet so bad as to defea_he proper function of repasts. Christina continued to display the mos_harming animation, and compelled Rowland to reflect privately that, thin_hat one might of her, the harmonious gayety of a beautiful girl was the mos_eautiful sight in nature. Her good-humor was contagious. Roderick, who a_our before had been descanting on madness and suicide, commingled hi_aughter with hers in ardent devotion; Prince Casamassima stroked his youn_oustache and found a fine, cool smile for everything; his neighbor, Mrs.
Light, who had Rowland on the other side, made the friendliest confidences t_ach of the young men, and the Cavaliere contributed to the general hilarit_y the solemnity of his attention to his plate. As for Rowland, the spirit o_indly mirth prompted him to propose the health of this useful old gentleman, as the effective author of their pleasure. A moment later he wished he ha_eld his tongue, for although the toast was drunk with demonstrative good- will, the Cavaliere received it with various small signs of eager self- effacement which suggested to Rowland that his diminished gentility but hal_elished honors which had a flavor of patronage. To perform punctiliously hi_ysterious duties toward the two ladies, and to elude or to baffle observatio_n his own merits—this seemed the Cavaliere's modest programme. Rowlan_erceived that Mrs. Light, who was not always remarkable for tact, seemed t_ave divined his humor on this point. She touched her glass to her lips, bu_ffered him no compliment and immediately gave another direction to th_onversation. He had brought no guitar, so that when the feast was over ther_as nothing to hold the little group together. Christina wandered away wit_oderick to another part of the terrace; the prince, whose smile had vanished, sat gnawing the head of his cane, near Mrs. Light, and Rowland strolled apar_ith the Cavaliere, to whom he wished to address a friendly word i_ompensation for the discomfort he had inflicted on his modesty. The Cavalier_as a mine of information upon all Roman places and people; he told Rowland _umber of curious anecdotes about the old Villa Mondragone. "If history coul_lways be taught in this fashion!" thought Rowland. "It 's the ideal—strollin_p and down on the very spot commemorated, hearing sympathetic anecdotes fro_eeply indigenous lips." At last, as they passed, Rowland observed th_ournful physiognomy of Prince Casamassima, and, glancing toward the other en_f the terrace, saw that Roderick and Christina had disappeared from view. Th_oung man was sitting upright, in an attitude, apparently habitual, o_eremonious rigidity; but his lower jaw had fallen and was propped up with hi_ane, and his dull dark eye was fixed upon the angle of the villa which ha_ust eclipsed Miss Light and her companion. His features were grotesque an_is expression vacuous; but there was a lurking delicacy in his face whic_eemed to tell you that nature had been making Casamassimas for a great man_enturies, and, though she adapted her mould to circumstances, had learned t_ix her material to an extraordinary fineness and to perform the whol_peration with extreme smoothness. The prince was stupid, Rowland suspected, but he imagined he was amiable, and he saw that at any rate he had the grea_uality of regarding himself in a thoroughly serious light. Rowland touche_is companion's arm and pointed to the melancholy nobleman.
"Why in the world does he not go after her and insist on being noticed!" h_sked.
"Oh, he 's very proud!" said the Cavaliere.
"That 's all very well, but a gentleman who cultivates a passion for tha_oung lady must be prepared to make sacrifices."
"He thinks he has already made a great many. He comes of a very great family—_ace of princes who for six hundred years have married none but the daughter_f princes. But he is seriously in love, and he would marry her to-morrow."
"And she will not have him?"
"Ah, she is very proud, too!" The Cavaliere was silent a moment, as if he wer_easuring the propriety of frankness. He seemed to have formed a high opinio_f Rowland's discretion, for he presently continued: "It would be a grea_atch, for she brings him neither a name nor a fortune—nothing but her beauty.
But the signorina will receive no favors; I know her well! She would rathe_ave her beauty blasted than seem to care about the marriage, and if she eve_ccepts the prince it will be only after he has implored her on his knees!"
"But she does care about it," said Rowland, "and to bring him to his knees sh_s working upon his jealousy by pretending to be interested in my frien_udson. If you said more, you would say that, eh?"
The Cavaliere's shrewdness exchanged a glance with Rowland's. "By no means.
Miss Light is a singular girl; she has many romantic ideas. She would be quit_apable of interesting herself seriously in an interesting young man, lik_our friend, and doing her utmost to discourage a splendid suitor, like th_rince. She would act sincerely and she would go very far. But it would b_nfortunate for the young man," he added, after a pause, "for at the last sh_ould retreat!"
"A singular girl, indeed!"
"She would accept the more brilliant parti. I can answer for it."
"And what would be her motive?"
"She would be forced. There would be circumstances… . I can't tell you more."
"But this implies that the rejected suitor would also come back. He might gro_ired of waiting."
"Oh, this one is good! Look at him now." Rowland looked, and saw that th_rince had left his place by Mrs. Light and was marching restlessly to and fr_etween the villa and the parapet of the terrace. Every now and then he looke_t his watch. "In this country, you know," said the Cavaliere, "a young lad_ever goes walking alone with a handsome young man. It seems to him ver_trange."
"It must seem to him monstrous, and if he overlooks it he must be very much i_ove."
"Oh, he will overlook it. He is far gone."
"Who is this exemplary lover, then; what is he?"
"A Neapolitan; one of the oldest houses in Italy. He is a prince in you_nglish sense of the word, for he has a princely fortune. He is very young; h_s only just of age; he saw the signorina last winter in Naples. He fell i_ove with her from the first, but his family interfered, and an old uncle, a_cclesiastic, Monsignor B——, hurried up to Naples, seized him, and locked hi_p. Meantime he has passed his majority, and he can dispose of himself. Hi_elations are moving heaven and earth to prevent his marrying Miss Light, an_hey have sent us word that he forfeits his property if he takes his wife ou_f a certain line. I have investigated the question minutely, and I find thi_s but a fiction to frighten us. He is perfectly free; but the estates ar_uch that it is no wonder they wish to keep them in their own hands. Fo_taly, it is an extraordinary case of unincumbered property. The prince ha_een an orphan from his third year; he has therefore had a long minority an_ade no inroads upon his fortune. Besides, he is very prudent and orderly; _m only afraid that some day he will pull the purse-strings too tight. Al_hese years his affairs have been in the hands of Monsignor B——, who ha_anaged them to perfection—paid off mortagages, planted forests, opened u_ines. It is now a magnificent fortune; such a fortune as, with his name, would justify the young man in pretending to any alliance whatsoever. And h_ays it all at the feet of that young girl who is wandering in yonde_oschetto with a penniless artist."
"He is certainly a phoenix of princes! The signora must be in a state o_liss."
The Cavaliere looked imperturbably grave. "The signora has a high esteem fo_is character."
"His character, by the way," rejoined Rowland, with a smile; "what sort of _haracter is it?"
"Eh, Prince Casamassima is a veritable prince! He is a very good young man. H_s not brilliant, nor witty, but he 'll not let himself be made a fool of. He
's very grave and very devout—though he does propose to marry a Protestant. H_ill handle that point after marriage. He 's as you see him there: a young ma_ithout many ideas, but with a very firm grasp of a single one—the convictio_hat Prince Casamassima is a very great person, that he greatly honors an_oung lady by asking for her hand, and that things are going very strangel_hen the young lady turns her back upon him. The poor young man, I am sure, i_rofoundly perplexed. But I whisper to him every day, 'Pazienza, Signo_rincipe!'"
"So you firmly believe," said Rowland, in conclusion, "that Miss Light wil_ccept him just in time not to lose him!"
"I count upon it. She would make too perfect a princess to miss her destiny."
"And you hold that nevertheless, in the mean while, in listening to, say, m_riend Hudson, she will have been acting in good faith?"
The Cavaliere lifted his shoulders a trifle, and gave an inscrutable smile.
"Eh, dear signore, the Christina is very romantic!"
"So much so, you intimate, that she will eventually retract, in consequenc_ot of a change of sentiment, but of a mysterious outward pressure?"
"If everything else fails, there is that resource. But it is mysterious, a_ou say, and you need n't try to guess it. You will never know."
"The poor signorina, then, will suffer!"
"Not too much, I hope."
"And the poor young man! You maintain that there is nothing but disappointmen_n store for the infatuated youth who loses his heart to her!"
The Cavaliere hesitated. "He had better," he said in a moment, "go and pursu_is studies in Florence. There are very fine antiques in the Uffizi!"
Rowland presently joined Mrs. Light, to whom her restless protege had not ye_eturned. "That 's right," she said; "sit down here; I have something seriou_o say to you. I am going to talk to you as a friend. I want your assistance.
In fact, I demand it; it 's your duty to render it. Look at that unhappy youn_an."
"Yes," said Rowland, "he seems unhappy."
"He is just come of age, he bears one of the greatest names in Italy and own_ne of the greatest properties, and he is pining away with love for m_aughter."
"So the Cavaliere tells me."
"The Cavaliere should n't gossip," said Mrs. Light dryly. "Such informatio_hould come from me. The prince is pining, as I say; he 's consumed, he '_evoured. It 's a real Italian passion; I know what that means!" And the lad_ave a speaking glance, which seemed to coquet for a moment with retrospect.
"Meanwhile, if you please, my daughter is hiding in the woods with your dea_riend Mr. Hudson. I could cry with rage."
"If things are so bad as that," said Rowland, "it seems to me that you ough_o find nothing easier than to dispatch the Cavaliere to bring the guilt_ouple back."
"Never in the world! My hands are tied. Do you know what Christina would do?
She would tell the Cavaliere to go about his business—Heaven forgive her!—an_end me word that, if she had a mind to, she would walk in the woods til_idnight. Fancy the Cavaliere coming back and delivering such a message a_hat before the prince! Think of a girl wantonly making light of such a chanc_s hers! He would marry her to-morrow, at six o'clock in the morning!"
"It is certainly very sad," said Rowland.
"That costs you little to say. If you had left your precious young meddler t_egetate in his native village you would have saved me a world of distress!"
"Nay, you marched into the jaws of danger," said Rowland. "You came an_isinterred poor Hudson in his own secluded studio."
"In an evil hour! I wish to Heaven you would talk with him."
"I have done my best."
"I wish, then, you would take him away. You have plenty of money. Do me _avor. Take him to travel. Go to the East—go to Timbuctoo. Then, whe_hristina is Princess Casamassima," Mrs. Light added in a moment, "he may com_ack if he chooses."
"Does she really care for him?" Rowland asked, abruptly.
"She thinks she does, possibly. She is a living riddle. She must needs follo_ut every idea that comes into her head. Fortunately, most of them don't las_ong; but this one may last long enough to give the prince a chill. If tha_ere to happen, I don't know what I should do! I should be the most miserabl_f women. It would be too cruel, after all I 've suffered to make her what sh_s, to see the labor of years blighted by a caprice. For I can assure you, sir," Mrs. Light went on, "that if my daughter is the greatest beauty in th_orld, some of the credit is mine."
Rowland promptly remarked that this was obvious. He saw that the lady'_rritated nerves demanded comfort from flattering reminiscence, and he assume_esignedly the attitude of a zealous auditor. She began to retail her efforts, her hopes, her dreams, her presentiments, her disappointments, in the cause o_er daughter's matrimonial fortunes. It was a long story, and while it wa_eing unfolded, the prince continued to pass to and fro, stiffly and solemnly, like a pendulum marking the time allowed for the young lady to come to he_enses. Mrs. Light evidently, at an early period, had gathered her materna_opes into a sacred sheaf, which she said her prayers and burnt incense to, and treated like a sort of fetish. They had been her religion; she had non_ther, and she performed her devotions bravely and cheerily, in the light o_ay. The poor old fetish had been so caressed and manipulated, so thrust i_nd out of its niche, so passed from hand to hand, so dressed and undressed, so mumbled and fumbled over, that it had lost by this time much of its earl_reshness, and seemed a rather battered and disfeatured divinity. But it wa_till brought forth in moments of trouble to have its tinseled petticoa_wisted about and be set up on its altar. Rowland observed that Mrs. Light ha_ genuine maternal conscience; she considered that she had been performing _acred duty in bringing up Christina to set her cap for a prince, and when th_uture looked dark, she found consolation in thinking that destiny could neve_ave the heart to deal a blow at so deserving a person. This conscience upsid_own presented to Rowland's fancy a real physical image; he was on the point, half a dozen times, of bursting out laughing.
"I don't know whether you believe in presentiments," said Mrs. Light, "and _on't care! I have had one for the last fifteen years. People have laughed a_t, but they have n't laughed me out of it. It has been everything to me. _ould n't have lived without it. One must believe in something! It came to m_n a flash, when Christina was five years old. I remember the day and th_lace, as if it were yesterday. She was a very ugly baby; for the first tw_ears I could hardly bear to look at her, and I used to spoil my own look_ith crying about her. She had an Italian nurse who was very fond of her an_nsisted that she would grow up pretty. I could n't believe her; I used t_ontradict her, and we were forever squabbling. I was just a little silly i_hose days—surely I may say it now—and I was very fond of being amused. If m_aughter was ugly, it was not that she resembled her mamma; I had no lack o_musement. People accused me, I believe, of neglecting my little girl; if i_as so, I 've made up for it since. One day I went to drive on the Pincio i_ery low spirits. A trusted friend had greatly disappointed me. While I wa_here he passed me in a carriage, driving with a horrible woman who had mad_rouble between us. I got out of my carriage to walk about, and at last sa_own on a bench. I can show you the spot at this hour. While I sat there _hild came wandering along the path—a little girl of four or five, ver_antastically dressed in crimson and orange. She stopped in front of me an_tared at me, and I stared at her queer little dress, which was a chea_mitation of the costume of one of these contadine. At last I looked up at he_ace, and said to myself, 'Bless me, what a beautiful child! what a splendi_air of eyes, what a magnificent head of hair! If my poor Christina were onl_ike that!' The child turned away slowly, but looking back with its eyes fixe_n me. All of a sudden I gave a cry, pounced on it, pressed it in my arms, an_overed it with kisses. It was Christina, my own precious child, so disguise_y the ridiculous dress which the nurse had amused herself in making for her, that her own mother had not recognized her. She knew me, but she sai_fterwards that she had not spoken to me because I looked so angry. Of cours_y face was sad. I rushed with my child to the carriage, drove home post- haste, pulled off her rags, and, as I may say, wrapped her in cotton. I ha_een blind, I had been insane; she was a creature in ten millions, she was t_e a beauty of beauties, a priceless treasure! Every day, after that, th_ertainty grew. From that time I lived only for my daughter. I watched her, _aressed her from morning till night, I worshipped her. I went to see doctor_bout her, I took every sort of advice. I was determined she should b_erfection. The things that have been done for that girl, sir—you would n'_elieve them; they would make you smile! Nothing was spared; if I had bee_old that she must have a bath every morning of molten pearls, I would hav_ound means to give it to her. She never raised a finger for herself, sh_reathed nothing but perfumes, she walked upon velvet. She never was out of m_ight, and from that day to this I have never said a sharp word to her. By th_ime she was ten years old she was beautiful as an angel, and so notice_herever we went that I had to make her wear a veil, like a woman of twenty.
Her hair reached down to her feet; her hands were the hands of a princess.
Then I saw that she was as clever as she was beautiful, and that she had onl_o play her cards. She had masters, professors, every educational advantage.
They told me she was a little prodigy. She speaks French, Italian, German, better than most natives. She has a wonderful genius for music, and might mak_er fortune as a pianist, if it was not made for her otherwise! I traveled al_ver Europe; every one told me she was a marvel. The director of the opera i_aris saw her dance at a child's party at Spa, and offered me an enormous su_f I would give her up to him and let him have her educated for the ballet. _aid, 'No, I thank you, sir; she is meant to be something finer than _rincesse de theatre.' I had a passionate belief that she might marr_bsolutely whom she chose, that she might be a princess out and out. It ha_ever left me till this hour, and I can assure you that it has sustained me i_any embarrassments. Financial, some of them; I don't mind confessing it! _ave raised money on that girl's face! I 've taken her to the Jews and bad_er put up her veil, and asked if the mother of that young lady was not safe!
She, of course, was too young to understand me. And yet, as a child, you woul_ave said she knew what was in store for her; before she could read, she ha_he manners, the tastes, the instincts of a little princess. She would hav_othing to do with shabby things or shabby people; if she stained one of he_rocks, she was seized with a kind of frenzy and tore it to pieces. At Nice, at Baden, at Brighton, wherever we stayed, she used to be sent for by all th_reat people to play with their children. She has played at kissing-games wit_eople who now stand on the steps of thrones! I have gone so far as to thin_t times that those childish kisses were a sign—a symbol—a portent. You ma_augh at me if you like, but have n't such things happened again and agai_ithout half as good a cause, and does n't history notoriously repeat itself?
There was a little Spanish girl at a second-rate English boarding-schoo_hirty years ago!… The Empress certainly is a pretty woman; but what is m_hristina, pray? I 've dreamt of it, sometimes every night for a month. _on't tell you I have been to consult those old women who advertise in th_ewspapers; you 'll call me an old imbecile. Imbecile if you please! I hav_efused magnificent offers because I believed that somehow or other—if war_nd revolutions were needed to bring it about—we should have nothing less tha_hat. There might be another coup d'etat somewhere, and another brillian_oung sovereign looking out for a wife! At last, however," Mrs. Ligh_roceeded with incomparable gravity, "since the overturning of the poor kin_f Naples and that charming queen, and the expulsion of all those dear littl_ld-fashioned Italian grand-dukes, and the dreadful radical talk that is goin_n all over the world, it has come to seem to me that with Christina in such _osition I should be really very nervous. Even in such a position she woul_old her head very high, and if anything should happen to her, she would mak_o concessions to the popular fury. The best thing, if one is prudent, seem_o be a nobleman of the highest possible rank, short of belonging to _eigning stock. There you see one striding up and down, looking at his watch, and counting the minutes till my daughter reappears!"
Rowland listened to all this with a huge compassion for the heroine of th_ale. What an education, what a history, what a school of character and o_orals! He looked at the prince and wondered whether he too had heard Mrs.
Light's story. If he had he was a brave man. "I certainly hope you 'll kee_im," he said to Mrs. Light. "You have played a dangerous game with you_aughter; it would be a pity not to win. But there is hope for you yet; her_he comes at last!"
Christina reappeared as he spoke these words, strolling beside her companio_ith the same indifferent tread with which she had departed. Rowland imagine_hat there was a faint pink flush in her cheek which she had not carried awa_ith her, and there was certainly a light in Roderick's eyes which he had no_een there for a week.
"Bless my soul, how they are all looking at us!" she cried, as they advanced.
"One would think we were prisoners of the Inquisition!" And she paused an_lanced from the prince to her mother, and from Rowland to the Cavaliere, an_hen threw back her head and burst into far-ringing laughter. "What is it, pray? Have I been very improper? Am I ruined forever? Dear prince, you ar_ooking at me as if I had committed the unpardonable sin!"
"I myself," said the prince, "would never have ventured to ask you to wal_ith me alone in the country for an hour!"
"The more fool you, dear prince, as the vulgar say! Our walk has bee_harming. I hope you, on your side, have enjoyed each other's society."
"My dear daughter," said Mrs. Light, taking the arm of her predestined son-in- law, "I shall have something serious to say to you when we reach home. We wil_o back to the carriage."
"Something serious! Decidedly, it is the Inquisition. Mr. Hudson, stand firm, and let us agree to make no confessions without conferring previously wit_ach other! They may put us on the rack first. Mr. Mallet, I see also,"
Christina added, "has something serious to say to me!"
Rowland had been looking at her with the shadow of his lately-stirred pity i_is eyes. "Possibly," he said. "But it must be for some other time."
"I am at your service. I see our good-humor is gone. And I only wanted to b_miable! It is very discouraging. Cavaliere, you, only, look as if you had _ittle of the milk of human kindness left; from your venerable visage, a_east; there is no telling what you think. Give me your arm and take me away!"
The party took its course back to the carriage, which was waiting in th_rounds of the villa, and Rowland and Roderick bade their friends farewell.
Christina threw herself back in her seat and closed her eyes; a manoeuvre fo_hich Rowland imagined the prince was grateful, as it enabled him to look a_er without seeming to depart from his attitude of distinguished disapproval.
Rowland found himself aroused from sleep early the next morning, to se_oderick standing before him, dressed for departure, with his bag in his hand.
"I am off," he said. "I am back to work. I have an idea. I must strike whil_he iron 's hot! Farewell!" And he departed by the first train. Rowland wen_lone by the next.