Rowland went often to the Coliseum; he never wearied of it. One morning, abou_ month after his return from Frascati, as he was strolling across the vas_rena, he observed a young woman seated on one of the fragments of stone whic_re ranged along the line of the ancient parapet. It seemed to him that he ha_een her before, but he was unable to localize her face. Passing her again, h_erceived that one of the little red-legged French soldiers at that time o_uard there had approached her and was gallantly making himself agreeable. Sh_miled brilliantly, and Rowland recognized the smile (it had always please_im) of a certain comely Assunta, who sometimes opened the door for Mrs.
Light's visitors. He wondered what she was doing alone in the Coliseum, an_onjectured that Assunta had admirers as well as her young mistress, but that, being without the same domiciliary conveniencies, she was using this massiv_eritage of her Latin ancestors as a boudoir. In other words, she had a_ppointment with her lover, who had better, from present appearances, b_unctual. It was a long time since Rowland had ascended to the ruinous uppe_iers of the great circus, and, as the day was radiant and the distant view_romised to be particularly clear, he determined to give himself the pleasure.
The custodian unlocked the great wooden wicket, and he climbed through th_inding shafts, where the eager Roman crowds had billowed and trampled, no_ausing till he reached the highest accessible point of the ruin. The view_ere as fine as he had supposed; the lights on the Sabine Mountains had neve_een more lovely. He gazed to his satisfaction and retraced his steps. In _oment he paused again on an abutment somewhat lower, from which the glanc_ropped dizzily into the interior. There are chance anfractuosities of ruin i_he upper portions of the Coliseum which offer a very fair imitation of th_ugged face of an Alpine cliff. In those days a multitude of delicate flower_nd sprays of wild herbage had found a friendly soil in the hoary crevices, and they bloomed and nodded amid the antique masonry as freely as they woul_ave done in the virgin rock. Rowland was turning away, when he heard a soun_f voices rising up from below. He had but to step slightly forward to fin_imself overlooking two persons who had seated themselves on a narrow ledge, in a sunny corner. They had apparently had an eye to extreme privacy, but the_ad not observed that their position was commanded by Rowland's stand-point.
One of these airy adventurers was a lady, thickly veiled, so that, even if h_ad not been standing directly above her, Rowland could not have seen he_ace. The other was a young man, whose face was also invisible, but who, a_owland stood there, gave a toss of his clustering locks which was equivalen_o the signature—Roderick Hudson. A moment's reflection, hereupon, satisfie_im of the identity of the lady. He had been unjust to poor Assunta, sittin_atient in the gloomy arena; she had not come on her own errand. Rowland'_iscoveries made him hesitate. Should he retire as noiselessly as possible, o_hould he call out a friendly good morning? While he was debating th_uestion, he found himself distinctly hearing his friends' words. They were o_uch a nature as to make him unwilling to retreat, and yet to make it awkwar_o be discovered in a position where it would be apparent that he had hear_hem.
"If what you say is true," said Christina, with her usual sof_eliberateness—it made her words rise with peculiar distinctness to Rowland'_ar—"you are simply weak. I am sorry! I hoped—I really believed—you were not."
"No, I am not weak," answered Roderick, with vehemence; "I maintain that I a_ot weak! I am incomplete, perhaps; but I can't help that. Weakness is a man'_wn fault!"
"Incomplete, then!" said Christina, with a laugh. "It 's the same thing, s_ong as it keeps you from splendid achievement. Is it written, then, that _hall really never know what I have so often dreamed of?"
"What have you dreamed of?"
"A man whom I can perfectly respect!" cried the young girl, with a sudde_lame. "A man, at least, whom I can unrestrictedly admire. I meet one, as _ave met more than one before, whom I fondly believe to be cast in a large_ould than most of the vile human breed, to be large in character, great i_alent, strong in will! In such a man as that, I say, one's weary imaginatio_t last may rest; or it may wander if it will, yet never need to wander fa_rom the deeps where one's heart is anchored. When I first knew you, I gave n_ign, but you had struck me. I observed you, as women observe, and I fancie_ou had the sacred fire."
"Before heaven, I believe I have!" cried Roderick.
"Ah, but so little! It flickers and trembles and sputters; it goes out, yo_ell me, for whole weeks together. From your own account, it 's ten to on_hat in the long run you 're a failure."
"I say those things sometimes myself, but when I hear you say them they mak_e feel as if I could work twenty years at a sitting, on purpose to refut_ou!"
"Ah, the man who is strong with what I call strength," Christina replied,
"would neither rise nor fall by anything I could say! I am a poor, weak woman; I have no strength myself, and I can give no strength. I am a miserable medle_f vanity and folly. I am silly, I am ignorant, I am affected, I am false. _m the fruit of a horrible education, sown on a worthless soil. I am all that, and yet I believe I have one merit! I should know a great character when I sa_t, and I should delight in it with a generosity which would do somethin_oward the remission of my sins. For a man who should really give me a certai_eeling—which I have never had, but which I should know when it came—I woul_end Prince Casamassima and his millions to perdition. I don't know what yo_hink of me for saying all this; I suppose we have not climbed up here unde_he skies to play propriety. Why have you been at such pains to assure me, after all, that you are a little man and not a great one, a weak one and not _trong? I innocently imagined that your eyes declared you were strong. Bu_our voice condemns you; I always wondered at it; it 's not the voice of _onqueror!"
"Give me something to conquer," cried Roderick, "and when I say that I than_ou from my soul, my voice, whatever you think of it, shall speak the truth!"
Christina for a moment said nothing. Rowland was too interested to think o_oving. "You pretend to such devotion," she went on, "and yet I am sure yo_ave never really chosen between me and that person in America."
"Do me the favor not to speak of her," said Roderick, imploringly.
"Why not? I say no ill of her, and I think all kinds of good. I am certain sh_s a far better girl than I, and far more likely to make you happy."
"This is happiness, this present, palpable moment," said Roderick; "though yo_ave such a genius for saying the things that torture me!"
"It 's greater happiness than you deserve, then! You have never chosen, I say; you have been afraid to choose. You have never really faced the fact that yo_re false, that you have broken your faith. You have never looked at it an_een that it was hideous, and yet said, 'No matter, I 'll brave the penalty, I
'll bear the shame!' You have closed your eyes; you have tried to stifl_emembrance, to persuade yourself that you were not behaving as badly as yo_eemed to be, and there would be some way, after all, of compassing bliss an_et escaping trouble. You have faltered and drifted, you have gone on fro_ccident to accident, and I am sure that at this present moment you can't tel_hat it is you really desire!"
Roderick was sitting with his knees drawn up and bent, and his hands clapse_round his legs. He bent his head and rested his forehead on his knees.
Christina went on with a sort of infernal calmness: "I believe that, really, you don't greatly care for your friend in America any more than you do for me.
You are one of the men who care only for themselves and for what they can mak_f themselves. That 's very well when they can make something great, and _ould interest myself in a man of extraordinary power who should wish to tur_ll his passions to account. But if the power should turn out to be, afte_ll, rather ordinary? Fancy feeling one's self ground in the mill of a third- rate talent! If you have doubts about yourself, I can't reassure you; I hav_oo many doubts myself, about everything in this weary world. You have gone u_ike a rocket, in your profession, they tell me; are you going to come dow_ike the stick? I don't pretend to know; I repeat frankly what I have sai_efore—that all modern sculpture seems to me weak, and that the only things _are for are some of the most battered of the antiques of the Vatican. No, no, I can't reassure you; and when you tell me—with a confidence in my discretio_f which, certainly, I am duly sensible—that at times you feel terribly small, why, I can only answer, 'Ah, then, my poor friend, I am afraid you are small.'
The language I should like to hear, from a certain person, would be th_anguage of absolute decision."
Roderick raised his head, but he said nothing; he seemed to be exchanging _ong glance with his companion. The result of it was to make him fling himsel_ack with an inarticulate murmur. Rowland, admonished by the silence, was o_he point of turning away, but he was arrested by a gesture of the young girl.
She pointed for a moment into the blue air. Roderick followed the direction o_er gesture.
"Is that little flower we see outlined against that dark niche," she asked,
"as intensely blue as it looks through my veil?" She spoke apparently with th_miable design of directing the conversation into a less painful channel.
Rowland, from where he stood, could see the flower she meant—a delicate plan_f radiant hue, which sprouted from the top of an immense fragment of wal_ome twenty feet from Christina's place.
Roderick turned his head and looked at it without answering. At last, glancin_ound, "Put up your veil!" he said. Christina complied. "Does it look as blu_ow?" he asked.
"Ah, what a lovely color!" she murmured, leaning her head on one side.
"Would you like to have it?"
She stared a moment and then broke into a light laugh.
"Would you like to have it?" he repeated in a ringing voice.
"Don't look as if you would eat me up," she answered. "It 's harmless if I sa_es!"
Roderick rose to his feet and stood looking at the little flower. It wa_eparated from the ledge on which he stood by a rugged surface of vertica_all, which dropped straight into the dusky vaults behind the arena. Suddenl_e took off his hat and flung it behind him. Christina then sprang to he_eet.
"I will bring it you," he said.
She seized his arm. "Are you crazy? Do you mean to kill yourself?"
"I shall not kill myself. Sit down!"
"Excuse me. Not till you do!" And she grasped his arm with both hands.
Roderick shook her off and pointed with a violent gesture to her former place.
"Go there!" he cried fiercely.
"You can never, never!" she murmured beseechingly, clasping her hands. "_mplore you!"
Roderick turned and looked at her, and then in a voice which Rowland had neve_eard him use, a voice almost thunderous, a voice which awakened the echoes o_he mighty ruin, he repeated, "Sit down!" She hesitated a moment and then sh_ropped on the ground and buried her face in her hands.
Rowland had seen all this, and he saw more. He saw Roderick clasp in his lef_rm the jagged corner of the vertical partition along which he proposed t_ursue his crazy journey, stretch out his leg, and feel for a resting-plac_or his foot. Rowland had measured with a glance the possibility of hi_ustaining himself, and pronounced it absolutely nil. The wall was garnishe_ith a series of narrow projections, the remains apparently of a brick cornic_upporting the arch of a vault which had long since collapsed. It was b_odging his toes on these loose brackets and grasping with his hands a_ertain mouldering protuberances on a level with his head, that Roderic_ntended to proceed. The relics of the cornice were utterly worthless as _upport. Rowland had observed this, and yet, for a moment, he had hesitated.
If the thing were possible, he felt a sudden admiring glee at the thought o_oderick's doing it. It would be finely done, it would be gallant, it woul_ave a sort of masculine eloquence as an answer to Christina's siniste_ersiflage. But it was not possible! Rowland left his place with a bound, an_crambled down some neighboring steps, and the next moment a stronger pair o_ands than Christina's were laid upon Roderick's shoulder.
He turned, staring, pale and angry. Christina rose, pale and staring, too, bu_eautiful in her wonder and alarm. "My dear Roderick," said Rowland, "I a_nly preventing you from doing a very foolish thing. That 's an exploit fo_piders, not for young sculptors of promise."
Roderick wiped his forehead, looked back at the wall, and then closed hi_yes, as if with a spasm, of retarded dizziness. "I won't resist you," h_aid. "But I have made you obey," he added, turning to Christina. "Am I wea_ow?"
She had recovered her composure; she looked straight past him and addresse_owland: "Be so good as to show me the way out of this horrible place!"
He helped her back into the corridor; Roderick followed after a shor_nterval. Of course, as they were descending the steps, came questions fo_owland to answer, and more or less surprise. Where had he come from? ho_appened he to have appeared at just that moment? Rowland answered that he ha_een rambling overhead, and that, looking out of an aperture, he had seen _entleman preparing to undertake a preposterous gymnastic feat, and a lad_wooning away in consequence. Interference seemed justifiable, and he had mad_t as prompt as possible. Roderick was far from hanging his head, like a ma_ho has been caught in the perpetration of an extravagant folly; but if h_eld it more erect than usual Rowland believed that this was much less becaus_e had made a show of personal daring than because he had triumphantly prove_o Christina that, like a certain person she had dreamed of, he too coul_peak the language of decision. Christina descended to the arena in silence, apparently occupied with her own thoughts. She betrayed no sense of th_rivacy of her interview with Roderick needing an explanation. Rowland ha_een stranger things in New York! The only evidence of her recent agitatio_as that, on being joined by her maid, she declared that she was unable t_alk home; she must have a carriage. A fiacre was found resting in the shado_f the Arch of Constantine, and Rowland suspected that after she had got int_t she disburdened herself, under her veil, of a few natural tears.
Rowland had played eavesdropper to so good a purpose that he might justly hav_mitted the ceremony of denouncing himself to Roderick. He preferred, however, to let him know that he had overheard a portion of his talk with Christina.
"Of course it seems to you," Roderick said, "a proof that I am utterl_nfatuated."
"Miss Light seemed to me to know very well how far she could go," Rowlan_nswered. "She was twisting you round her finger. I don't think she exactl_eant to defy you; but your crazy pursuit of that flower was a proof that sh_ould go all lengths in the way of making a fool of you."
"Yes," said Roderick, meditatively; "she is making a fool of me."
"And what do you expect to come of it?"
"Nothing good!" And Roderick put his hands into his pockets and looked as i_e had announced the most colorless fact in the world.
"And in the light of your late interview, what do you make of your youn_ady?"
"If I could tell you that, it would be plain sailing. But she 'll not tell m_gain I am weak!"
"Are you very sure you are not weak?"
"I may be, but she shall never know it."
Rowland said no more until they reached the Corso, when he asked his companio_hether he was going to his studio.
Roderick started out of a reverie and passed his hands over his eyes. "Oh no, I can't settle down to work after such a scene as that. I was not afraid o_reaking my neck then, but I feel all in a tremor now. I will go—I will go an_it in the sun on the Pincio!"
"Promise me this, first," said Rowland, very solemnly: "that the next time yo_eet Miss Light, it shall be on the earth and not in the air."
Since his return from Frascati, Roderick had been working doggedly at th_tatue ordered by Mr. Leavenworth. To Rowland's eye he had made a very fai_eginning, but he had himself insisted, from the first, that he liked neithe_is subject nor his patron, and that it was impossible to feel any warmth o_nterest in a work which was to be incorporated into the ponderous personalit_f Mr. Leavenworth. It was all against the grain; he wrought without love.
Nevertheless after a fashion he wrought, and the figure grew beneath hi_ands. Miss Blanchard's friend was ordering works of art on every side, an_is purveyors were in many cases persons whom Roderick declared it was infam_o be paired with. There had been grand tailors, he said, who declined to mak_ou a coat unless you got the hat you were to wear with it from an artist o_heir own choosing. It seemed to him that he had an equal right to exact tha_is statue should not form part of the same system of ornament as the "Pear_f Perugia," a picture by an American confrere who had, in Mr. Leavenworth'_pinion, a prodigious eye for color. As a customer, Mr. Leavenworth used t_rop into Roderick's studio, to see how things were getting on, and give _riendly hint or so. He would seat himself squarely, plant his gold-toppe_ane between his legs, which he held very much apart, rest his large whit_ands on the head, and enunciate the principles of spiritual art, as h_oisted them one by one, as you might say, out of the depths of his mora_onsciousness. His benignant and imperturbable pomposity gave Roderick th_ense of suffocating beneath a large fluffy bolster, and the worst of th_atter was that the good gentleman's placid vanity had an integument whos_oughness no sarcastic shaft could pierce. Roderick admitted that in thinkin_ver the tribulations of struggling genius, the danger of dying of over- patronage had never occurred to him.
The deterring effect of the episode of the Coliseum was apparently of lon_ontinuance; if Roderick's nerves had been shaken his hand needed time t_ecover its steadiness. He cultivated composure upon principles of his own; b_requenting entertainments from which he returned at four o'clock in th_orning, and lapsing into habits which might fairly be called irregular. H_ad hitherto made few friends among the artistic fraternity; chiefly becaus_e had taken no trouble about it, and there was in his demeanor an elasti_ndependence of the favor of his fellow-mortals which made social advances o_is own part peculiarly necessary. Rowland had told him more than once that h_ught to fraternize a trifle more with the other artists, and he had alway_nswered that he had not the smallest objection to fraternizing: let the_ome! But they came on rare occasions, and Roderick was not punctilious abou_eturning their visits. He declared there was not one of them whose works gav_im the smallest desire to make acquaintance with the insides of their heads.
For Gloriani he professed a superb contempt, and, having been once to look a_is wares, never crossed his threshold again. The only one of the fraternit_or whom by his own admission he cared a straw was little Singleton; but h_xpressed his regard only in a kind of sublime hilarity whenever h_ncountered this humble genius, and quite forgot his existence in th_ntervals. He had never been to see him, but Singleton edged his way, fro_ime to time, timidly, into Roderick's studio, and agreed with characteristi_odesty that brilliant fellows like the sculptor might consent to receiv_omage, but could hardly be expected to render it. Roderick never exactl_ccepted homage, and apparently did not quite observe whether poor Singleto_poke in admiration or in blame. Roderick's taste as to companions wa_ingularly capricious. There were very good fellows, who were disposed t_ultivate him, who bored him to death; and there were others, in whom eve_owland's good-nature was unable to discover a pretext for tolerance, in who_e appeared to find the highest social qualities. He used to give the mos_antastic reasons for his likes and dislikes. He would declare he could n'_peak a civil word to a man who brushed his hair in a certain fashion, and h_ould explain his unaccountable fancy for an individual of imperceptible meri_y telling you that he had an ancestor who in the thirteenth century ha_alled up his wife alive. "I like to talk to a man whose ancestor has walle_p his wife alive," he would say. "You may not see the fun of it, and thin_oor P—— is a very dull fellow. It 's very possible; I don't ask you to admir_im. But, for reasons of my own, I like to have him about. The old fellow lef_er for three days with her face uncovered, and placed a long mirror opposit_o her, so that she could see, as he said, if her gown was a fit!"
His relish for an odd flavor in his friends had led him to make th_cquaintance of a number of people outside of Rowland's well-ordered circle, and he made no secret of their being very queer fish. He formed an intimacy, among others, with a crazy fellow who had come to Rome as an emissary of on_f the Central American republics, to drive some ecclesiastical bargain wit_he papal government. The Pope had given him the cold shoulder, but since h_ad not prospered as a diplomatist, he had sought compensation as a man of th_orld, and his great flamboyant curricle and negro lackeys were for severa_eeks one of the striking ornaments of the Pincian. He spoke a queer jargon o_talian, Spanish, French, and English, humorously relieved with scraps o_cclesiastical Latin, and to those who inquired of Roderick what he found t_nterest him in such a fantastic jackanapes, the latter would reply, lookin_t his interlocutor with his lucid blue eyes, that it was worth any sacrific_o hear him talk nonsense! The two had gone together one night to a ball give_y a lady of some renown in the Spanish colony, and very late, on his wa_ome, Roderick came up to Rowland's rooms, in whose windows he had seen _ight. Rowland was going to bed, but Roderick flung himself into an armchai_nd chattered for an hour. The friends of the Costa Rican envoy were a_musing as himself, and in very much the same line. The mistress of the hous_ad worn a yellow satin dress, and gold heels to her slippers, and at th_lose of the entertainment had sent for a pair of castanets, tucked up he_etticoats, and danced a fandango, while the gentlemen sat cross-legged on th_loor. "It was awfully low," Roderick said; "all of a sudden I perceived it, and bolted. Nothing of that kind ever amuses me to the end: before it 's hal_ver it bores me to death; it makes me sick. Hang it, why can't a poor fello_njoy things in peace? My illusions are all broken-winded; they won't carry m_wenty paces! I can't laugh and forget; my laugh dies away before it begins.
Your friend Stendhal writes on his book-covers (I never got farther) that h_as seen too early in life la beaute parfaite. I don't know how early he sa_t; I saw it before I was born—in another state of being! I can't describe i_ositively; I can only say I don't find it anywhere now. Not at the bottom o_hampagne glasses; not, strange as it may seem, in that extra half-yard or s_f shoulder that some women have their ball-dresses cut to expose. I don'_ind it at merry supper-tables, where half a dozen ugly men with pomatume_eads are rapidly growing uglier still with heat and wine; not when I com_way and walk through these squalid black streets, and go out into the Foru_nd see a few old battered stone posts standing there like gnawed bones stuc_nto the earth. Everything is mean and dusky and shabby, and the men and wome_ho make up this so-called brilliant society are the meanest and shabbiest o_ll. They have no real spontaneity; they are all cowards and popinjays. The_ave no more dignity than so many grasshoppers. Nothing is good but one!" An_e jumped up and stood looking at one of his statues, which shone vaguel_cross the room in the dim lamplight.
"Yes, do tell us," said Rowland, "what to hold on by!"
"Those things of mine were tolerably good," he answered. "But my idea wa_etter—and that 's what I mean!"
Rowland said nothing. He was willing to wait for Roderick to complete th_ircle of his metamorphoses, but he had no desire to officiate as chorus t_he play. If Roderick chose to fish in troubled waters, he must land hi_rizes himself.
"You think I 'm an impudent humbug," the latter said at last, "coming up t_oralize at this hour of the night. You think I want to throw dust into you_yes, to put you off the scent. That 's your eminently rational view of th_ase."
"Excuse me from taking any view at all," said Rowland.
"You have given me up, then?"
"No, I have merely suspended judgment. I am waiting."
"You have ceased then positively to believe in me?"
Rowland made an angry gesture. "Oh, cruel boy! When you have hit your mark an_ade people care for you, you should n't twist your weapon about at that rat_n their vitals. Allow me to say I am sleepy. Good night!"
Some days afterward it happened that Rowland, on a long afternoon ramble, too_is way through one of the quiet corners of the Trastevere. He wa_articularly fond of this part of Rome, though he could hardly have expresse_he charm he found in it. As you pass away from the dusky, swarming purlieu_f the Ghetto, you emerge into a region of empty, soundless, grass-grown lane_nd alleys, where the shabby houses seem mouldering away in disuse, and ye_our footstep brings figures of startling Roman type to the doorways. Ther_re few monuments here, but no part of Rome seemed more historic, in the sens_f being weighted with a crushing past, blighted with the melancholy of thing_hat had had their day. When the yellow afternoon sunshine slept on th_allow, battered walls, and lengthened the shadows in the grassy courtyards o_mall closed churches, the place acquired a strange fascination. The church o_aint Cecilia has one of these sunny, waste-looking courts; the edifice seem_bandoned to silence and the charity of chance devotion. Rowland never passe_t without going in, and he was generally the only visitor. He entered it now, but found that two persons had preceded him. Both were women. One was at he_rayers at one of the side altars; the other was seated against a column a_he upper end of the nave. Rowland walked to the altar, and paid, in _omentary glance at the clever statue of the saint in death, in the nich_eneath it, the usual tribute to the charm of polished ingenuity. As he turne_way he looked at the person seated and recognized Christina Light. Seein_hat she perceived him, he advanced to speak to her.
She was sitting in a listless attitude, with her hands in her lap; she seeme_o be tired. She was dressed simply, as if for walking and escapin_bservation. When he had greeted her he glanced back at her companion, an_ecognized the faithful Assunta.
Christina smiled. "Are you looking for Mr. Hudson? He is not here, I am happ_o say."
"But you?" he asked. "This is a strange place to find you."
"Not at all! People call me a strange girl, and I might as well have th_omfort of it. I came to take a walk; that, by the way, is part of m_trangeness. I can't loll all the morning on a sofa, and all the afternoon i_ carriage. I get horribly restless. I must move; I must do something and se_omething. Mamma suggests a cup of tea. Meanwhile I put on an old dress an_alf a dozen veils, I take Assunta under my arm, and we start on a pedestria_our. It 's a bore that I can't take the poodle, but he attracts attention. W_rudge about everywhere; there is nothing I like so much. I hope you wil_ongratulate me on the simplicity of my tastes."
"I congratulate you on your wisdom. To live in Rome and not to walk would, _hink, be poor pleasure. But you are terribly far from home, and I am afrai_ou are tired."
"A little—enough to sit here a while."
"Might I offer you my company while you rest?"
"If you will promise to amuse me. I am in dismal spirits."
Rowland said he would do what he could, and brought a chair and placed it nea_er. He was not in love with her; he disapproved of her; he mistrusted her; and yet he felt it a kind of privilege to watch her, and he found a peculia_xcitement in talking to her. The background of her nature, as he would hav_alled it, was large and mysterious, and it emitted strange, fantastic gleam_nd flashes. Watching for these rather quickened one's pulses. Moreover, i_as not a disadvantage to talk to a girl who made one keep guard on one'_omposure; it diminished one's chronic liability to utter something less tha_evised wisdom.
Assunta had risen from her prayers, and, as he took his place, was coming bac_o her mistress. But Christina motioned her away. "No, no; while you are abou_t, say a few dozen more!" she said. "Pray for me," she added in English.
"Pray, I say nothing silly. She has been at it half an hour; I envy he_apacity!"
"Have you never felt in any degree," Rowland asked, "the fascination o_atholicism?"
"Yes, I have been through that, too! There was a time when I wanted immensel_o be a nun; it was not a laughing matter. It was when I was about sixtee_ears old. I read the Imitation and the Life of Saint Catherine. I full_elieved in the miracles of the saints, and I was dying to have one of my own.
The least little accident that could have been twisted into a miracle woul_ave carried me straight into the bosom of the church. I had the rea_eligious passion. It has passed away, and, as I sat here just now, I wa_ondering what had become of it!"
Rowland had already been sensible of something in this young lady's tone whic_e would have called a want of veracity, and this epitome of her religiou_xperience failed to strike him as an absolute statement of fact. But th_rait was not disagreeable, for she herself was evidently the foremost dupe o_er inventions. She had a fictitious history in which she believed much mor_ondly than in her real one, and an infinite capacity for extemporize_eminiscence adapted to the mood of the hour. She liked to idealize herself, to take interesting and picturesque attitudes to her own imagination; and th_ivacity and spontaneity of her character gave her, really, a starting-poin_n experience; so that the many-colored flowers of fiction which blossomed i_er talk were not so much perversions, as sympathetic exaggerations, of fact.
And Rowland felt that whatever she said of herself might have been, under th_magined circumstances; impulse was there, audacity, the restless, questionin_emperament. "I am afraid I am sadly prosaic," he said, "for in these man_onths now that I have been in Rome, I have never ceased for a moment to loo_t Catholicism simply from the outside. I don't see an opening as big as you_inger-nail where I could creep into it!"
"What do you believe?" asked Christina, looking at him. "Are you religious?"
"I believe in God."
Christina let her beautiful eyes wander a while, and then gave a little sigh.
"You are much to be envied!"
"You, I imagine, in that line have nothing to envy me."
"Yes, I have. Rest!"
"You are too young to say that."
"I am not young; I have never been young! My mother took care of that. I was _ittle wrinkled old woman at ten."
"I am afraid," said Rowland, in a moment, "that you are fond of paintin_ourself in dark colors."
She looked at him a while in silence. "Do you wish," she demanded at last, "t_in my eternal gratitude? Prove to me that I am better than I suppose."
"I should have first to know what you really suppose."
She shook her head. "It would n't do. You would be horrified to learn even th_hings I imagine about myself, and shocked at the knowledge of evil displaye_n my very mistakes."
"Well, then," said Rowland, "I will ask no questions. But, at a venture, _romise you to catch you some day in the act of doing something very good."
"Can it be, can it be," she asked, "that you too are trying to flatter me? _hought you and I had fallen, from the first, into rather a truth-speakin_ein."
"Oh, I have not abandoned it!" said Rowland; and he determined, since he ha_he credit of homely directness, to push his advantage farther. Th_pportunity seemed excellent. But while he was hesitating as to just how t_egin, the young girl said, bending forward and clasping her hands in her lap,
"Please tell me about your religion."
"Tell you about it? I can't!" said Rowland, with a good deal of emphasis.
She flushed a little. "Is it such a mighty mystery it cannot be put int_ords, nor communicated to my base ears?"
"It is simply a sentiment that makes part of my life, and I can't detac_yself from it sufficiently to talk about it."
"Religion, it seems to me, should be eloquent and aggressive. It should wis_o make converts, to persuade and illumine, to sway all hearts!"
"One's religion takes the color of one's general disposition. I am no_ggressive, and certainly I am not eloquent."
"Beware, then, of finding yourself confronted with doubt and despair! I a_ure that doubt, at times, and the bitterness that comes of it, can b_erribly eloquent. To tell the truth, my lonely musings, before you came in, were eloquent enough, in their way. What do you know of anything but thi_trange, terrible world that surrounds you? How do you know that your faith i_ot a mere crazy castle in the air; one of those castles that we are calle_ools for building when we lodge them in this life?"
"I don't know it, any more than any one knows the contrary. But one's religio_s extremely ingenious in doing without knowledge."
"In such a world as this it certainly needs to be!"
Rowland smiled. "What is your particular quarrel with this world?"
"It 's a general quarrel. Nothing is true, or fixed, or permanent. We all see_o be playing with shadows more or less grotesque. It all comes over me her_o dismally! The very atmosphere of this cold, deserted church seems to moc_t one's longing to believe in something. Who cares for it now? who comes t_t? who takes it seriously? Poor stupid Assunta there gives in her adhesion i_ jargon she does n't understand, and you and I, proper, passionless tourists, come lounging in to rest from a walk. And yet the Catholic church was once th_roudest institution in the world, and had quite its own way with men's souls.
When such a mighty structure as that turns out to have a flaw, what faith i_ne to put in one's poor little views and philosophies? What is right and wha_s wrong? What is one really to care for? What is the proper rule of life? _m tired of trying to discover, and I suspect it 's not worth the trouble.
Live as most amuses you!"
"Your perplexities are so terribly comprehensive," said Rowland, smiling,
"that one hardly knows where to meet them first."
"I don't care much for anything you can say, because it 's sure to be half- hearted. You are not in the least contented, yourself."
"How do you know that?"
"Oh, I am an observer!"
"No one is absolutely contented, I suppose, but I assure you I complain o_othing."
"So much the worse for your honesty. To begin with, you are in love."
"You would not have me complain of that!"
"And it does n't go well. There are grievous obstacles. So much I know! Yo_eed n't protest; I ask no questions. You will tell no one—me least of all.
Why does one never see you?"
"Why, if I came to see you," said Rowland, deliberating, "it would n't be, i_ould n't be, for a trivial reason—because I had not been in a month, becaus_ was passing, because I admire you. It would be because I should hav_omething very particular to say. I have not come, because I have been slow i_aking up my mind to say it."
"You are simply cruel. Something particular, in this ocean of inanities? I_ommon charity, speak!"
"I doubt whether you will like it."
"Oh, I hope to heaven it 's not a compliment!"
"It may be called a compliment to your reasonableness. You perhaps remembe_hat I gave you a hint of it the other day at Frascati."
"Has it been hanging fire all this time? Explode! I promise not to stop m_ars."
"It relates to my friend Hudson." And Rowland paused. She was looking at hi_xpectantly; her face gave no sign. "I am rather disturbed in mind about him.
He seems to me at times to be in an unpromising way." He paused again, bu_hristina said nothing. "The case is simply this," he went on. "It was by m_dvice he renounced his career at home and embraced his present one. I mad_im burn his ships. I brought him to Rome, I launched him in the world, and _tand surety, in a measure, to—to his mother, for his prosperity. It is no_uch smooth sailing as it might be, and I am inclined to put up prayers fo_air winds. If he is to succeed, he must work—quietly, devotedly. It is no_ews to you, I imagine, that Hudson is a great admirer of yours."
Christina remained silent; she turned away her eyes with an air, not o_onfusion, but of deep deliberation. Surprising frankness had, as a genera_hing, struck Rowland as the key-note of her character, but she had more tha_nce given him a suggestion of an unfathomable power of calculation, and he_ilence now had something which it is hardly extravagant to call portentous.
He had of course asked himself how far it was questionable taste to inform a_nprotected girl, for the needs of a cause, that another man admired her; th_hing, superficially, had an uncomfortable analogy with the shrewdness tha_ses a cat's paw and lets it risk being singed. But he decided that even rigi_iscretion is not bound to take a young lady at more than her own valuation, and Christina presently reassured him as to the limits of her susceptibility.
"Mr. Hudson is in love with me!" she said.
Rowland flinched a trifle. Then—"Am I," he asked, "from this point of view o_ine, to be glad or sorry?"
"I don't understand you."
"Why, is Hudson to be happy, or unhappy?"
She hesitated a moment. "You wish him to be great in his profession? And fo_hat you consider that he must be happy in his life?"
"Decidedly. I don't say it 's a general rule, but I think it is a rule fo_im."
"So that if he were very happy, he would become very great?"
"He would at least do himself justice."
"And by that you mean a great deal?"
"A great deal."
Christina sank back in her chair and rested her eyes on the cracked an_olished slabs of the pavement. At last, looking up, "You have not forgotten, I suppose, that you told me he was engaged?"
"By no means."
"He is still engaged, then?"
"To the best of my belief."
"And yet you desire that, as you say, he should be made happy by something _an do for him?"
"What I desire is this. That your great influence with him should be exerte_or his good, that it should help him and not retard him. Understand me. Yo_robably know that your lovers have rather a restless time of it. I can answe_or two of them. You don't know your own mind very well, I imagine, and yo_ike being admired, rather at the expense of the admirer. Since we are reall_eing frank, I wonder whether I might not say the great word."
"You need n't; I know it. I am a horrible coquette."
"No, not a horrible one, since I am making an appeal to your generosity. I a_retty sure you cannot imagine yourself marrying my friend."
"There 's nothing I cannot imagine! That is my trouble."
Rowland's brow contracted impatiently. "I cannot imagine it, then!" h_ffirmed.
Christina flushed faintly; then, very gently, "I am not so bad as you think,"
"It is not a question of badness; it is a question of whether circumstance_on't make the thing an extreme improbability."
"Worse and worse. I can be bullied, then, or bribed!"
"You are not so candid," said Rowland, "as you pretend to be. My feeling i_his. Hudson, as I understand him, does not need, as an artist, the stimulu_f strong emotion, of passion. He's better without it; he's emotional an_assionate enough when he 's left to himself. The sooner passion is at rest, therefore, the sooner he will settle down to work, and the fewer emotions h_as that are mere emotions and nothing more, the better for him. If you care_or him enough to marry him, I should have nothing to say; I would neve_enture to interfere. But I strongly suspect you don't, and therefore I woul_uggest, most respectfully, that you should let him alone."
"And if I let him alone, as you say, all will be well with him for ever more?"
"Not immediately and not absolutely, but things will be easier. He will b_etter able to concentrate himself."
"What is he doing now? Wherein does he dissatisfy you?"
"I can hardly say. He 's like a watch that 's running down. He is moody, desultory, idle, irregular, fantastic."
"Heavens, what a list! And it 's all poor me?"
"No, not all. But you are a part of it, and I turn to you because you are _ore tangible, sensible, responsible cause than the others."
Christina raised her hand to her eyes, and bent her head thoughtfully. Rowlan_as puzzled to measure the effect of his venture; she rather surprised him b_er gentleness. At last, without moving, "If I were to marry him," she asked,
"what would have become of his fiancee?"
"I am bound to suppose that she would be extremely unhappy."
Christina said nothing more, and Rowland, to let her make her reflections, left his place and strolled away. Poor Assunta, sitting patiently on a ston_ench, and unprovided, on this occasion, with military consolation, gave him _right, frank smile, which might have been construed as an expression o_egret for herself, and of sympathy for her mistress. Rowland presently seate_imself again near Christina.
"What do you think," she asked, looking at him, "of your friend's infidelity?"
"I don't like it."
"Was he very much in love with her?"
"He asked her to marry him. You may judge."
"Is she rich?"
"No, she is poor."
"Is she very much in love with him?"
"I know her too little to say."
She paused again, and then resumed: "You have settled in your mind, then, tha_ will never seriously listen to him?"
"I think it unlikely, until the contrary is proved."
"How shall it be proved? How do you know what passes between us?"
"I can judge, of course, but from appearance; but, like you, I am an observer.
Hudson has not at all the air of a prosperous suitor."
"If he is depressed, there is a reason. He has a bad conscience. One must hop_o, at least. On the other hand, simply as a friend," she continued gently,
"you think I can do him no good?"
The humility of her tone, combined with her beauty, as she made this remark, was inexpressibly touching, and Rowland had an uncomfortable sense of bein_ut at a disadvantage. "There are doubtless many good things you might do, i_ou had proper opportunity," he said. "But you seem to be sailing with _urrent which leaves you little leisure for quiet benevolence. You live in th_hirl and hurry of a world into which a poor artist can hardly find it to hi_dvantage to follow you."
"In plain English, I am hopelessly frivolous. You put it very generously."
"I won't hesitate to say all my thought," said Rowland. "For better or worse, you seem to me to belong, both by character and by circumstance, to what i_alled the world, the great world. You are made to ornament it magnificently.
You are not made to be an artist's wife."
"I see. But even from your point of view, that would depend upon the artist.
Extraordinary talent might make him a member of the great world!"
Rowland smiled. "That is very true."
"If, as it is," Christina continued in a moment, "you take a low view o_e—no, you need n't protest—I wonder what you would think if you knew certai_hings."
"What things do you mean?"
"Well, for example, how I was brought up. I have had a horrible education.
There must be some good in me, since I have perceived it, since I have turne_nd judged my circumstances."
"My dear Miss Light!" Rowland murmured.
She gave a little, quick laugh. "You don't want to hear? you don't want t_ave to think about that?"
"Have I a right to? You need n't justify yourself."
She turned upon him a moment the quickened light of her beautiful eyes, the_ell to musing again. "Is there not some novel or some play," she asked a_ast, "in which some beautiful, wicked woman who has ensnared a young man see_is father come to her and beg her to let him go?"
"Very likely," said Rowland. "I hope she consents."
"I forget. But tell me," she continued, "shall you consider—admitting you_roposition—that in ceasing to flirt with Mr. Hudson, so that he may go abou_is business, I do something magnanimous, heroic, sublime—something with _ine name like that?"
Rowland, elated with the prospect of gaining his point, was about to repl_hat she would deserve the finest name in the world; but he instantl_uspected that this tone would not please her, and, besides, it would no_xpress his meaning.
"You do something I shall greatly respect," he contented himself with saying.
She made no answer, and in a moment she beckoned to her maid. "What have I t_o to-day?" she asked.
Assunta meditated. "Eh, it 's a very busy day! Fortunately I have a bette_emory than the signorina," she said, turning to Rowland. She began to coun_n her fingers. "We have to go to the Pie di Marmo to see about those lace_hat were sent to be washed. You said also that you wished to say three shar_ords to the Buonvicini about your pink dress. You want some moss-rosebuds fo_o-night, and you won't get them for nothing! You dine at the Austria_mbassy, and that Frenchman is to powder your hair. You 're to come home i_ime to receive, for the signora gives a dance. And so away, away til_orning!"
"Ah, yes, the moss-roses!" Christina murmured, caressingly. "I must have _uantity—at least a hundred. Nothing but buds, eh? You must sew them in a kin_f immense apron, down the front of my dress. Packed tight together, eh? I_ill be delightfully barbarous. And then twenty more or so for my hair. The_o very well with powder; don't you think so?" And she turned to Rowland. "_m going en Pompadour."
"To the Spanish Embassy, or whatever it is."
"All down the front, signorina? Dio buono! You must give me time!" Assunt_ried.
"Yes, we'll go!" And she left her place. She walked slowly to the door of th_hurch, looking at the pavement, and Rowland could not guess whether she wa_hinking of her apron of moss-rosebuds or of her opportunity for mora_ublimity. Before reaching the door she turned away and stood gazing at an ol_icture, indistinguishable with blackness, over an altar. At last they passe_ut into the court. Glancing at her in the open air, Rowland was startled; h_magined he saw the traces of hastily suppressed tears. They had lost time, she said, and they must hurry; she sent Assunta to look for a fiacre. Sh_emained silent a while, scratching the ground with the point of her parasol, and then at last, looking up, she thanked Rowland for his confidence in her
"reasonableness." "It 's really very comfortable to be asked, to be expected, to do something good, after all the horrid things one has been used t_oing—instructed, commanded, forced to do! I 'll think over what you have sai_o me." In that deserted quarter fiacres are rare, and there was some delay i_ssunta's procuring one. Christina talked of the church, of the picturesqu_ld court, of that strange, decaying corner of Rome. Rowland was perplexed; h_as ill at ease. At last the fiacre arrived, but she waited a moment longer.
"So, decidedly," she suddenly asked, "I can only harm him?"
"You make me feel very brutal," said Rowland.
"And he is such a fine fellow that it would be really a great pity, eh?"
"I shall praise him no more," Rowland said.
She turned away quickly, but she lingered still. "Do you remember promisin_e, soon after we first met, that at the end of six months you would tell m_efinitely what you thought of me?"
"It was a foolish promise."
"You gave it. Bear it in mind. I will think of what you have said to me.
Farewell." She stepped into the carriage, and it rolled away. Rowland stoo_or some minutes, looking after it, and then went his way with a sigh. If thi_xpressed general mistrust, he ought, three days afterward, to have bee_eassured. He received by the post a note containing these words:—
"I have done it. Begin and respect me!
To be perfectly satisfactory, indeed, the note required a commentary. H_alled that evening upon Roderick, and found one in the information offere_im at the door, by the old serving-woman—the startling information that th_ignorino had gone to Naples.