There befell at last a couple of days during which Rowland was unable to go to the hotel. Late in the evening of the second one Roderick came into his room. In a few moments he announced that he had finished the bust of his mother.
“And it’s magnificent!” he declared. “It’s one of the best things I have done.”
“I believe it,” said Rowland. “Never again talk to me about your inspiration being dead.”
“Why not? This may be its last kick! I feel very tired. But it’s a masterpiece, though I do say it. They tell us we owe so much to our parents. Well, I’ve paid the filial debt handsomely!” He walked up and down the room a few moments, with the purpose of his visit evidently still undischarged. “There’s one thing more I want to say,” he presently resumed. “I feel as if I ought to tell you!” He stopped before Rowland with his head high and his brilliant glance unclouded. “Your invention is a failure!”
“My invention?” Rowland repeated.
“Bringing out my mother and Mary.”
“It’s no use! They don’t help me.”
Rowland had fancied that Roderick had no more surprises for him; but he was now staring at him, wide-eyed.
“They bore me!” Roderick went on.
“Oh, oh!” cried Rowland.
“Listen, listen!” said Roderick with perfect gentleness. “I am not complaining of them; I am simply stating a fact. I am very sorry for them; I am greatly disappointed.”
“Have you given them a fair trial?”
“Should n’t you say so? It seems to me I have behaved beautifully.”
“You have done very well; I have been building great hopes on it.”
“I have done too well, then. After the first forty-eight hours my own hopes collapsed. But I determined to fight it out; to stand within the temple; to let the spirit of the Lord descend! Do you want to know the result? Another week of it, and I shall begin to hate them. I shall want to poison them.”
“Miserable boy!” cried Rowland. “They are the loveliest of women!”
“Very likely! But they mean no more to me than a Bible text to an atheist!”
“I utterly fail,” said Rowland, in a moment, “to understand your relation to Miss Garland.”
Roderick shrugged his shoulders and let his hands drop at his sides. “She adores me! That’s my relation.” And he smiled strangely.
“Have you broken your engagement?”
“Broken it? You can’t break a ray of moonshine.”
“Have you absolutely no affection for her?”
Roderick placed his hand on his heart and held it there a moment. “Dead — dead — dead!” he said at last.
“I wonder,” Rowland asked presently, “if you begin to comprehend the beauty of Miss Garland’s character. She is a person of the highest merit.”
“Evidently — or I would not have cared for her!”
“Has that no charm for you now?”
“Oh, don’t force a fellow to say rude things!”
“Well, I can only say that you don’t know what you are giving up.”
Roderick gave a quickened glance. “Do you know, so well?”
“I admire her immeasurably.”
Roderick smiled, we may almost say sympathetically. “You have not wasted time.”
Rowland’s thoughts were crowding upon him fast. If Roderick was resolute, why oppose him? If Mary was to be sacrificed, why, in that way, try to save her? There was another way; it only needed a little presumption to make it possible. Rowland tried, mentally, to summon presumption to his aid; but whether it came or not, it found conscience there before it. Conscience had only three words, but they were cogent. “For her sake — for her sake,” it dumbly murmured, and Rowland resumed his argument. “I don’t know what I would n’t do,” he said, “rather than that Miss Garland should suffer.”
“There is one thing to be said,” Roderick answered reflectively. “She is very strong.”
“Well, then, if she’s strong, believe that with a longer chance, a better chance, she will still regain your affection.”
“Do you know what you ask?” cried Roderick. “Make love to a girl I hate?”
“As her lover, I should hate her!”
“Listen to me!” said Rowland with vehemence.
“No, listen you to me! Do you really urge my marrying a woman who would bore me to death? I would let her know it in very good season, and then where would she be?”
Rowland walked the length of the room a couple of times and then stopped suddenly. “Go your way, then! Say all this to her, not to me!”
“To her? I am afraid of her; I want you to help me.”
“My dear Roderick,” said Rowland with an eloquent smile, “I can help you no more!”
Roderick frowned, hesitated a moment, and then took his hat. “Oh, well,” he said, “I am not so afraid of her as all that!” And he turned, as if to depart.
“Stop!” cried Rowland, as he laid his hand on the door.
Roderick paused and stood waiting, with his irritated brow.
“Come back; sit down there and listen to me. Of anything you were to say in your present state of mind you would live most bitterly to repent. You don’t know what you really think; you don’t know what you really feel. You don’t know your own mind; you don’t do justice to Miss Garland. All this is impossible here, under these circumstances. You’re blind, you’re deaf, you’re under a spell. To break it, you must leave Rome.”
“Leave Rome! Rome was never so dear to me.”
“That’s not of the smallest consequence. Leave it instantly.”
“And where shall I go?”
“Go to some place where you may be alone with your mother and Miss Garland.”
“Alone? You will not come?”
“Oh, if you desire it, I will come.”
Roderick inclining his head a little, looked at his friend askance. “I don’t understand you,” he said; “I wish you liked Miss Garland either a little less, or a little more.”
Rowland felt himself coloring, but he paid no heed to Roderick’s speech. “You ask me to help you,” he went on. “On these present conditions I can do nothing. But if you will postpone all decision as to the continuance of your engagement a couple of months longer, and meanwhile leave Rome, leave Italy, I will do what I can to ‘help you,’ as you say, in the event of your still wishing to break it.”
“I must do without your help then! Your conditions are impossible. I will leave Rome at the time I have always intended — at the end of June. My rooms and my mother’s are taken till then; all my arrangements are made accordingly. Then, I will depart; not before.”
“You are not frank,” said Rowland. “Your real reason for staying has nothing to do with your rooms.”
Roderick’s face betrayed neither embarrassment nor resentment. “If I ’m not frank, it’s for the first time in my life. Since you know so much about my real reason, let me hear it! No, stop!” he suddenly added, “I won’t trouble you. You are right, I have a motive. On the twenty-fourth of June Miss Light is to be married. I take an immense interest in all that concerns her, and I wish to be present at her wedding.”
“But you said the other day at Saint Peter’s that it was by no means certain her marriage would take place.”
“Apparently I was wrong: the invitations, I am told, are going out.”
Rowland felt that it would be utterly vain to remonstrate, and that the only thing for him was to make the best terms possible. “If I offer no further opposition to your waiting for Miss Light’s marriage,” he said, “will you promise, meanwhile and afterwards, for a certain period, to defer to my judgment — to say nothing that may be a cause of suffering to Miss Garland?”
“For a certain period? What period?” Roderick demanded.
“Ah, don’t drive so close a bargain! Don’t you understand that I have taken you away from her, that I suffer in every nerve in consequence, and that I must do what I can to restore you?”
“Do what you can, then,” said Roderick gravely, putting out his hand. “Do what you can!” His tone and his hand-shake seemed to constitute a promise, and upon this they parted.
Roderick’s bust of his mother, whether or no it was a discharge of what he called the filial debt, was at least a most admirable production. Rowland, at the time it was finished, met Gloriani one evening, and this unscrupulous genius immediately began to ask questions about it. “I am told our high-flying friend has come down,” he said. “He has been doing a queer little old woman.”
“A queer little old woman!” Rowland exclaimed. “My dear sir, she is Hudson’s mother.”
“All the more reason for her being queer! It is a bust for terra-cotta, eh?”
“By no means; it is for marble.”
“That’s a pity. It was described to me as a charming piece of quaintness: a little demure, thin-lipped old lady, with her head on one side, and the prettiest wrinkles in the world — a sort of fairy godmother.”
“Go and see it, and judge for yourself,” said Rowland.
“No, I see I shall be disappointed. It’s quite the other thing, the sort of thing they put into the campo-santos. I wish that boy would listen to me an hour!”
But a day or two later Rowland met him again in the street, and, as they were near, proposed they should adjourn to Roderick’s studio. He consented, and on entering they found the young master. Roderick’s demeanor to Gloriani was never conciliatory, and on this occasion supreme indifference was apparently all he had to offer. But Gloriani, like a genuine connoisseur, cared nothing for his manners; he cared only for his skill. In the bust of Mrs. Hudson there was something almost touching; it was an exquisite example of a ruling sense of beauty. The poor lady’s small, neat, timorous face had certainly no great character, but Roderick had reproduced its sweetness, its mildness, its minuteness, its still maternal passion, with the most unerring art. It was perfectly unflattered, and yet admirably tender; it was the poetry of fidelity. Gloriani stood looking at it a long time most intently. Roderick wandered away into the neighboring room.
“I give it up!” said the sculptor at last. “I don’t understand it.”
“But you like it?” said Rowland.
“Like it? It’s a pearl of pearls. Tell me this,” he added: “is he very fond of his mother; is he a very good son?” And he gave Rowland a sharp look.
“Why, she adores him,” said Rowland, smiling.
“That’s not an answer! But it’s none of my business. Only if I, in his place, being suspected of having — what shall I call it? — a cold heart, managed to do that piece of work, oh, oh! I should be called a pretty lot of names. Charlatan, poseur, arrangeur! But he can do as he chooses! My dear young man, I know you don’t like me,” he went on, as Roderick came back. “It’s a pity; you are strong enough not to care about me at all. You are very strong.”
“Not at all,” said Roderick curtly. “I am very weak!”
“I told you last year that you would n’t keep it up. I was a great ass. You will!”
“I beg your pardon — I won’t!” retorted Roderick.
“Though I ’m a great ass, all the same, eh? Well, call me what you will, so long as you turn out this sort of thing! I don’t suppose it makes any particular difference, but I should like to say now I believe in you.”
Roderick stood looking at him for a moment with a strange hardness in his face. It flushed slowly, and two glittering, angry tears filled his eyes. It was the first time Rowland had ever seen them there; he saw them but once again. Poor Gloriani, he was sure, had never in his life spoken with less of irony; but to Roderick there was evidently a sense of mockery in his profession of faith. He turned away with a muttered, passionate imprecation. Gloriani was accustomed to deal with complex problems, but this time he was hopelessly puzzled. “What’s the matter with him?” he asked, simply.
Rowland gave a sad smile, and touched his forehead. “Genius, I suppose.”
Gloriani sent another parting, lingering look at the bust of Mrs. Hudson. “Well, it’s deuced perfect, it’s deuced simple; I do believe in him!” he said. “But I ’m glad I ’m not a genius. It makes,” he added with a laugh, as he looked for Roderick to wave him good-by, and saw his back still turned, “it makes a more sociable studio.”
Rowland had purchased, as he supposed, temporary tranquillity for Mary Garland; but his own humor in these days was not especially peaceful. He was attempting, in a certain sense, to lead the ideal life, and he found it, at the least, not easy. The days passed, but brought with them no official invitation to Miss Light’s wedding. He occasionally met her, and he occasionally met Prince Casamassima; but always separately, never together. They were apparently taking their happiness in the inexpressive manner proper to people of social eminence. Rowland continued to see Madame Grandoni, for whom he felt a confirmed affection. He had always talked to her with frankness, but now he made her a confidant of all his hidden dejection. Roderick and Roderick’s concerns had been a common theme with him, and it was in the natural course to talk of Mrs. Hudson’s arrival and Miss Garland’s fine smile. Madame Grandoni was an intelligent listener, and she lost no time in putting his case for him in a nutshell. “At one moment you tell me the girl is plain,” she said; “the next you tell me she’s pretty. I will invite them, and I shall see for myself. But one thing is very clear: you are in love with her.”
Rowland, for all answer, glanced round to see that no one heard her.
“More than that,” she added, “you have been in love with her these two years. There was that certain something about you! . . . I knew you were a mild, sweet fellow, but you had a touch of it more than was natural. Why did n’t you tell me at once? You would have saved me a great deal of trouble. And poor Augusta Blanchard too!” And herewith Madame Grandoni communicated a pertinent fact: Augusta Blanchard and Mr. Leavenworth were going to make a match. The young lady had been staying for a month at Albano, and Mr. Leavenworth had been dancing attendance. The event was a matter of course. Rowland, who had been lately reproaching himself with a failure of attention to Miss Blanchard’s doings, made some such observation.
“But you did not find it so!” cried his hostess. “It was a matter of course, perhaps, that Mr. Leavenworth, who seems to be going about Europe with the sole view of picking up furniture for his ‘home,’ as he calls it, should think Miss Blanchard a very handsome piece; but it was not a matter of course — or it need n’t have been — that she should be willing to become a sort of superior table-ornament. She would have accepted you if you had tried.”
“You are supposing the insupposable,” said Rowland. “She never gave me a particle of encouragement.”
“What would you have had her do? The poor girl did her best, and I am sure that when she accepted Mr. Leavenworth she thought of you.”
“She thought of the pleasure her marriage would give me.”
“Ay, pleasure indeed! She is a thoroughly good girl, but she has her little grain of feminine spite, like the rest. Well, he’s richer than you, and she will have what she wants; but before I forgive you I must wait and see this new arrival — what do you call her? — Miss Garland. If I like her, I will forgive you; if I don’t, I shall always bear you a grudge.”
Rowland answered that he was sorry to forfeit any advantage she might offer him, but that his exculpatory passion for Miss Garland was a figment of her fancy. Miss Garland was engaged to another man, and he himself had no claims.
“Well, then,” said Madame Grandoni, “if I like her, we’ll have it that you ought to be in love with her. If you fail in this, it will be a double misdemeanor. The man she’s engaged to does n’t care a straw for her. Leave me alone and I’ll tell her what I think of you.”
As to Christina Light’s marriage, Madame Grandoni could make no definite statement. The young girl, of late, had made her several flying visits, in the intervals of the usual prematrimonial shopping and dress-fitting; she had spoken of the event with a toss of her head, as a matter which, with a wise old friend who viewed things in their essence, she need not pretend to treat as a solemnity. It was for Prince Casamassima to do that. “It is what they call a marriage of reason,” she once said. “That means, you know, a marriage of madness!”
“What have you said in the way of advice?” Rowland asked.
“Very little, but that little has favored the prince. I know nothing of the mysteries of the young lady’s heart. It may be a gold-mine, but at any rate it’s a mine, and it’s a long journey down into it. But the marriage in itself is an excellent marriage. It’s not only brilliant, but it’s safe. I think Christina is quite capable of making it a means of misery; but there is no position that would be sacred to her. Casamassima is an irreproachable young man; there is nothing against him but that he is a prince. It is not often, I fancy, that a prince has been put through his paces at this rate. No one knows the wedding-day; the cards of invitation have been printed half a dozen times over, with a different date; each time Christina has destroyed them. There are people in Rome who are furious at the delay; they want to get away; they are in a dreadful fright about the fever, but they are dying to see the wedding, and if the day were fixed, they would make their arrangements to wait for it. I think it very possible that after having kept them a month and produced a dozen cases of malaria, Christina will be married at midnight by an old friar, with simply the legal witnesses.”
“It is true, then, that she has become a Catholic?”
“So she tells me. One day she got up in the depths of despair; at her wit’s end, I suppose, in other words, for a new sensation. Suddenly it occurred to her that the Catholic church might after all hold the key, might give her what she wanted! She sent for a priest; he happened to be a clever man, and he contrived to interest her. She put on a black dress and a black lace veil, and looking handsomer than ever she rustled into the Catholic church. The prince, who is very devout, and who had her heresy sorely on his conscience, was thrown into an ecstasy. May she never have a caprice that pleases him less!”
Rowland had already asked Madame Grandoni what, to her perception, was the present state of matters between Christina and Roderick; and he now repeated his question with some earnestness of apprehension. “The girl is so deucedly dramatic,” he said, “that I don’t know what coup de theatre she may have in store for us. Such a stroke was her turning Catholic; such a stroke would be her some day making her courtesy to a disappointed world as Princess Casamassima, married at midnight, in her bonnet. She might do — she may do — something that would make even more starers! I ’m prepared for anything.”
“You mean that she might elope with your sculptor, eh?”
“I ’m prepared for anything!”
“Do you mean that he’s ready?”
“Do you think that she is?”
“They’re a precious pair! I think this. You by no means exhaust the subject when you say that Christina is dramatic. It’s my belief that in the course of her life she will do a certain number of things from pure disinterested passion. She’s immeasurably proud, and if that is often a fault in a virtuous person, it may be a merit in a vicious one. She needs to think well of herself; she knows a fine character, easily, when she meets one; she hates to suffer by comparison, even though the comparison is made by herself alone; and when the estimate she may have made of herself grows vague, she needs to do something to give it definite, impressive form. What she will do in such a case will be better or worse, according to her opportunity; but I imagine it will generally be something that will drive her mother to despair; something of the sort usually termed ‘unworldly.’”
Rowland, as he was taking his leave, after some further exchange of opinions, rendered Miss Light the tribute of a deeply meditative sigh. “She has bothered me half to death,” he said, “but somehow I can’t manage, as I ought, to hate her. I admire her, half the time, and a good part of the rest I pity her.”
“I think I most pity her!” said Madame Grandoni.
This enlightened woman came the next day to call upon the two ladies from Northampton. She carried their shy affections by storm, and made them promise to drink tea with her on the evening of the morrow. Her visit was an era in the life of poor Mrs. Hudson, who did nothing but make sudden desultory allusions to her, for the next thirty-six hours. “To think of her being a foreigner!” she would exclaim, after much intent reflection, over her knitting; “she speaks so beautifully!” Then in a little while, “She was n’t so much dressed as you might have expected. Did you notice how easy it was in the waist? I wonder if that’s the fashion?” Or, “She’s very old to wear a hat; I should never dare to wear a hat!” Or, “Did you notice her hands? — very pretty hands for such a stout person. A great many rings, but nothing very handsome. I suppose they are hereditary.” Or, “She’s certainly not handsome, but she’s very sweet-looking. I wonder why she does n’t have something done to her teeth.” Rowland also received a summons to Madame Grandoni’s tea-drinking, and went betimes, as he had been requested. He was eagerly desirous to lend his mute applause to Mary Garland’s debut in the Roman social world. The two ladies had arrived, with Roderick, silent and careless, in attendance. Miss Blanchard was also present, escorted by Mr. Leavenworth, and the party was completed by a dozen artists of both sexes and various nationalities. It was a friendly and easy assembly, like all Madame Grandoni’s parties, and in the course of the evening there was some excellent music. People played and sang for Madame Grandoni, on easy terms, who, elsewhere, were not to be heard for the asking. She was herself a superior musician, and singers found it a privilege to perform to her accompaniment. Rowland talked to various persons, but for the first time in his life his attention visibly wandered; he could not keep his eyes off Mary Garland. Madame Grandoni had said that he sometimes spoke of her as pretty and sometimes as plain; to-night, if he had had occasion to describe her appearance, he would have called her beautiful. She was dressed more than he had ever seen her; it was becoming, and gave her a deeper color and an ampler presence. Two or three persons were introduced to her who were apparently witty people, for she sat listening to them with her brilliant natural smile. Rowland, from an opposite corner, reflected that he had never varied in his appreciation of Miss Blanchard’s classic contour, but that somehow, to-night, it impressed him hardly more than an effigy stamped upon a coin of low value. Roderick could not be accused of rancor, for he had approached Mr. Leavenworth with unstudied familiarity, and, lounging against the wall, with hands in pockets, was discoursing to him with candid serenity. Now that he had done him an impertinence, he evidently found him less intolerable. Mr. Leavenworth stood stirring his tea and silently opening and shutting his mouth, without looking at the young sculptor, like a large, drowsy dog snapping at flies. Rowland had found it disagreeable to be told Miss Blanchard would have married him for the asking, and he would have felt some embarrassment in going to speak to her if his modesty had not found incredulity so easy. The facile side of a union with Miss Blanchard had never been present to his mind; it had struck him as a thing, in all ways, to be compassed with a great effort. He had half an hour’s talk with her; a farewell talk, as it seemed to him — a farewell not to a real illusion, but to the idea that for him, in that matter, there could ever be an acceptable pis-aller. He congratulated Miss Blanchard upon her engagement, and she received his compliment with a touch of primness. But she was always a trifle prim, even when she was quoting Mrs. Browning and George Sand, and this harmless defect did not prevent her responding on this occasion that Mr. Leavenworth had a “glorious heart.” Rowland wished to manifest an extreme regard, but toward the end of the talk his zeal relaxed, and he fell a-thinking that a certain natural ease in a woman was the most delightful thing in the world. There was Christina Light, who had too much, and here was Miss Blanchard, who had too little, and there was Mary Garland (in whom the quality was wholly uncultivated), who had just the right amount.
He went to Madame Grandoni in an adjoining room, where she was pouring out tea.
“I will make you an excellent cup,” she said, “because I have forgiven you.”
He looked at her, answering nothing; but he swallowed his tea with great gusto, and a slight deepening of his color; by all of which one would have known that he was gratified. In a moment he intimated that, in so far as he had sinned, he had forgiven himself.
“She is a lovely girl,” said Madame Grandoni. “There is a great deal there. I have taken a great fancy to her, and she must let me make a friend of her.”
“She is very plain,” said Rowland, slowly, “very simple, very ignorant.”
“Which, being interpreted, means, ‘She is very handsome, very subtle, and has read hundreds of volumes on winter evenings in the country.’”
“You are a veritable sorceress,” cried Rowland; “you frighten me away!” As he was turning to leave her, there rose above the hum of voices in the drawing-room the sharp, grotesque note of a barking dog. Their eyes met in a glance of intelligence.
“There is the sorceress!” said Madame Grandoni. “The sorceress and her necromantic poodle!” And she hastened back to the post of hospitality.
Rowland followed her, and found Christina Light standing in the middle of the drawing-room, and looking about in perplexity. Her poodle, sitting on his haunches and gazing at the company, had apparently been expressing a sympathetic displeasure at the absence of a welcome. But in a moment Madame Grandoni had come to the young girl’s relief, and Christina had tenderly kissed her.
“I had no idea,” said Christina, surveying the assembly, “that you had such a lot of grand people, or I would not have come in. The servant said nothing; he took me for an invitee. I came to spend a neighborly half-hour; you know I have n’t many left! It was too dismally dreary at home. I hoped I should find you alone, and I brought Stenterello to play with the cat. I don’t know that if I had known about all this I would have dared to come in; but since I’ve stumbled into the midst of it, I beg you’ll let me stay. I am not dressed, but am I very hideous? I will sit in a corner and no one will notice me. My dear, sweet lady, do let me stay. Pray, why did n’t you ask me? I never have been to a little party like this. They must be very charming. No dancing — tea and conversation? No tea, thank you; but if you could spare a biscuit for Stenterello; a sweet biscuit, please. Really, why did n’t you ask me? Do you have these things often? Madame Grandoni, it’s very unkind!” And the young girl, who had delivered herself of the foregoing succession of sentences in her usual low, cool, penetrating voice, uttered these last words with a certain tremor of feeling. “I see,” she went on, “I do very well for balls and great banquets, but when people wish to have a cosy, friendly, comfortable evening, they leave me out, with the big flower-pots and the gilt candlesticks.”
“I ’m sure you’re welcome to stay, my dear,” said Madame Grandoni, “and at the risk of displeasing you I must confess that if I did n’t invite you, it was because you’re too grand. Your dress will do very well, with its fifty flounces, and there is no need of your going into a corner. Indeed, since you’re here, I propose to have the glory of it. You must remain where my people can see you.”
“They are evidently determined to do that by the way they stare. Do they think I intend to dance a tarantella? Who are they all; do I know them?” And lingering in the middle of the room, with her arm passed into Madame Grandoni’s, she let her eyes wander slowly from group to group. They were of course observing her. Standing in the little circle of lamplight, with the hood of an Eastern burnous, shot with silver threads, falling back from her beautiful head, one hand gathering together its voluminous, shimmering folds, and the other playing with the silken top-knot on the uplifted head of her poodle, she was a figure of radiant picturesqueness. She seemed to be a sort of extemporized tableau vivant. Rowland’s position made it becoming for him to speak to her without delay. As she looked at him he saw that, judging by the light of her beautiful eyes, she was in a humor of which she had not yet treated him to a specimen. In a simpler person he would have called it exquisite kindness; but in this young lady’s deportment the flower was one thing and the perfume another. “Tell me about these people,” she said to him. “I had no idea there were so many people in Rome I had not seen. What are they all talking about? It’s all beyond me, I suppose. There is Miss Blanchard, sitting as usual in profile against a dark object. She is like a head on a postage-stamp. And there is that nice little old lady in black, Mrs. Hudson. What a dear little woman for a mother! Comme elle est proprette! And the other, the fiancee, of course she’s here. Ah, I see!” She paused; she was looking intently at Miss Garland. Rowland measured the intentness of her glance, and suddenly acquired a firm conviction. “I should like so much to know her!” she said, turning to Madame Grandoni. “She has a charming face; I am sure she’s an angel. I wish very much you would introduce me. No, on second thoughts, I had rather you did n’t. I will speak to her bravely myself, as a friend of her cousin.” Madame Grandoni and Rowland exchanged glances of baffled conjecture, and Christina flung off her burnous, crumpled it together, and, with uplifted finger, tossing it into a corner, gave it in charge to her poodle. He stationed himself upon it, on his haunches, with upright vigilance. Christina crossed the room with the step and smile of a ministering angel, and introduced herself to Mary Garland. She had once told Rowland that she would show him, some day, how gracious her manners could be; she was now redeeming her promise. Rowland, watching her, saw Mary Garland rise slowly, in response to her greeting, and look at her with serious deep-gazing eyes. The almost dramatic opposition of these two keenly interesting girls touched Rowland with a nameless apprehension, and after a moment he preferred to turn away. In doing so he noticed Roderick. The young sculptor was standing planted on the train of a lady’s dress, gazing across at Christina’s movements with undisguised earnestness. There were several more pieces of music; Rowland sat in a corner and listened to them. When they were over, several people began to take their leave, Mrs. Hudson among the number. Rowland saw her come up to Madame Grandoni, clinging shyly to Mary Garland’s arm. Miss Garland had a brilliant eye and a deep color in her cheek. The two ladies looked about for Roderick, but Roderick had his back turned. He had approached Christina, who, with an absent air, was sitting alone, where she had taken her place near Miss Garland, looking at the guests pass out of the room. Christina’s eye, like Miss Garland’s, was bright, but her cheek was pale. Hearing Roderick’s voice, she looked up at him sharply; then silently, with a single quick gesture, motioned him away. He obeyed her, and came and joined his mother in bidding good night to Madame Grandoni. Christina, in a moment, met Rowland’s glance, and immediately beckoned him to come to her. He was familiar with her spontaneity of movement, and was scarcely surprised. She made a place for him on the sofa beside her; he wondered what was coming now. He was not sure it was not a mere fancy, but it seemed to him that he had never seen her look just as she was looking then. It was a humble, touching, appealing look, and it threw into wonderful relief the nobleness of her beauty. “How many more metamorphoses,” he asked himself, “am I to be treated to before we have done?”
“I want to tell you,” said Christina. “I have taken an immense fancy to Miss Garland. Are n’t you glad?”
“Delighted!” exclaimed poor Rowland.
“Ah, you don’t believe it,” she said with soft dignity.
“Is it so hard to believe?”
“Not that people in general should admire her, but that I should. But I want to tell you; I want to tell some one, and I can’t tell Miss Garland herself. She thinks me already a horrid false creature, and if I were to express to her frankly what I think of her, I should simply disgust her. She would be quite right; she has repose, and from that point of view I and my doings must seem monstrous. Unfortunately, I have n’t repose. I am trembling now; if I could ask you to feel my arm, you would see! But I want to tell you that I admire Miss Garland more than any of the people who call themselves her friends — except of course you. Oh, I know that! To begin with, she is extremely handsome, and she does n’t know it.”
“She is not generally thought handsome,” said Rowland.
“Evidently! That’s the vulgarity of the human mind. Her head has great character, great natural style. If a woman is not to be a supreme beauty in the regular way, she will choose, if she’s wise, to look like that. She’ll not be thought pretty by people in general, and desecrated, as she passes, by the stare of every vile wretch who chooses to thrust his nose under her bonnet; but a certain number of superior people will find it one of the delightful things of life to look at her. That lot is as good as another! Then she has a beautiful character!”
“You found that out soon!” said Rowland, smiling.
“How long did it take you? I found it out before I ever spoke to her. I met her the other day in Saint Peter’s; I knew it then. I knew it — do you want to know how long I have known it?”
“Really,” said Rowland, “I did n’t mean to cross-examine you.”
“Do you remember mamma’s ball in December? We had some talk and you then mentioned her — not by name. You said but three words, but I saw you admired her, and I knew that if you admired her she must have a beautiful character. That’s what you require!”
“Upon my word,” cried Rowland, “you make three words go very far!”
“Oh, Mr. Hudson has also spoken of her.”
“Ah, that’s better!” said Rowland.
“I don’t know; he does n’t like her.”
“Did he tell you so?” The question left Rowland’s lips before he could stay it, which he would have done on a moment’s reflection.
Christina looked at him intently. “No!” she said at last. “That would have been dishonorable, would n’t it? But I know it from my knowledge of him. He does n’t like perfection; he is not bent upon being safe, in his likings; he’s willing to risk something! Poor fellow, he risks too much!”
Rowland was silent; he did not care for the thrust; but he was profoundly mystified. Christina beckoned to her poodle, and the dog marched stiffly across to her. She gave a loving twist to his rose-colored top-knot, and bade him go and fetch her burnous. He obeyed, gathered it up in his teeth, and returned with great solemnity, dragging it along the floor.
“I do her justice. I do her full justice,” she went on, with soft earnestness. “I like to say that, I like to be able to say it. She’s full of intelligence and courage and devotion. She does n’t do me a grain of justice; but that is no harm. There is something so fine in the aversions of a good woman!”
“If you would give Miss Garland a chance,” said Rowland, “I am sure she would be glad to be your friend.”
“What do you mean by a chance? She has only to take it. I told her I liked her immensely, and she frowned as if I had said something disgusting. She looks very handsome when she frowns.” Christina rose, with these words, and began to gather her mantle about her. “I don’t often like women,” she went on. “In fact I generally detest them. But I should like to know Miss Garland well. I should like to have a friendship with her; I have never had one; they must be very delightful. But I shan’t have one now, either — not if she can help it! Ask her what she thinks of me; see what she will say. I don’t want to know; keep it to yourself. It’s too sad. So we go through life. It’s fatality — that’s what they call it, is n’t it? We please the people we don’t care for, we displease those we do! But I appreciate her, I do her justice; that’s the more important thing. It’s because I have imagination. She has none. Never mind; it’s her only fault. I do her justice; I understand very well.” She kept softly murmuring and looking about for Madame Grandoni. She saw the good lady near the door, and put out her hand to Rowland for good night. She held his hand an instant, fixing him with her eyes, the living splendor of which, at this moment, was something transcendent. “Yes, I do her justice,” she repeated. “And you do her more; you would lay down your life for her.” With this she turned away, and before he could answer, she left him. She went to Madame Grandoni, grasped her two hands, and held out her forehead to be kissed. The next moment she was gone.
“That was a happy accident!” said Madame Grandoni. “She never looked so beautiful, and she made my little party brilliant.”
“Beautiful, verily!” Rowland answered. “But it was no accident.”
“What was it, then?”
“It was a plan. She wished to see Miss Garland. She knew she was to be here.”
“By Roderick, evidently.”
“And why did she wish to see Miss Garland?”
“Heaven knows! I give it up!”
“Ah, the wicked girl!” murmured Madame Grandoni.
“No,” said Rowland; “don’t say that now. She’s too beautiful.”
“Oh, you men! The best of you!”
“Well, then,” cried Rowland, “she’s too good!”
The opportunity presenting itself the next day, he failed not, as you may imagine, to ask Mary Garland what she thought of Miss Light. It was a Saturday afternoon, the time at which the beautiful marbles of the Villa Borghese are thrown open to the public. Mary had told him that Roderick had promised to take her to see them, with his mother, and he joined the party in the splendid Casino. The warm weather had left so few strangers in Rome that they had the place almost to themselves. Mrs. Hudson had confessed to an invincible fear of treading, even with the help of her son’s arm, the polished marble floors, and was sitting patiently on a stool, with folded hands, looking shyly, here and there, at the undraped paganism around her. Roderick had sauntered off alone, with an irritated brow, which seemed to betray the conflict between the instinct of observation and the perplexities of circumstance. Miss Garland was wandering in another direction, and though she was consulting her catalogue, Rowland fancied it was from habit; she too was preoccupied. He joined her, and she presently sat down on a divan, rather wearily, and closed her Murray. Then he asked her abruptly how Christina had pleased her.
She started the least bit at the question, and he felt that she had been thinking of Christina.
“I don’t like her!” she said with decision.
“What do you think of her?”
“I think she’s false.” This was said without petulance or bitterness, but with a very positive air.
“But she wished to please you; she tried,” Rowland rejoined, in a moment.
“I think not. She wished to please herself!”
Rowland felt himself at liberty to say no more. No allusion to Christina had passed between them since the day they met her at Saint Peter’s, but he knew that she knew, by that infallible sixth sense of a woman who loves, that this strange, beautiful girl had the power to injure her. To what extent she had the will, Mary was uncertain; but last night’s interview, apparently, had not reassured her. It was, under these circumstances, equally unbecoming for Rowland either to depreciate or to defend Christina, and he had to content himself with simply having verified the girl’s own assurance that she had made a bad impression. He tried to talk of indifferent matters — about the statues and the frescoes; but today, plainly, aesthetic curiosity, with Miss Garland, had folded its wings. Curiosity of another sort had taken its place. Mary was longing, he was sure, to question him about Christina; but she found a dozen reasons for hesitating. Her questions would imply that Roderick had not treated her with confidence, for information on this point should properly have come from him. They would imply that she was jealous, and to betray her jealousy was intolerable to her pride. For some minutes, as she sat scratching the brilliant pavement with the point of her umbrella, it was to be supposed that her pride and her anxiety held an earnest debate. At last anxiety won.
“A propos of Miss Light,” she asked, “do you know her well?”
“I can hardly say that. But I have seen her repeatedly.”
“Do you like her?”
“Yes and no. I think I am sorry for her.”
Mary had spoken with her eyes on the pavement. At this she looked up. “Sorry for her? Why?”
“Well — she is unhappy.”
“What are her misfortunes?”
“Well — she has a horrible mother, and she has had a most injurious education.”
For a moment Miss Garland was silent. Then, “Is n’t she very beautiful?” she asked.
“Don’t you think so?”
“That’s measured by what men think! She is extremely clever, too.”
“She has beautiful dresses.”
“Yes, any number of them.”
“And beautiful manners.”
“Yes — sometimes.”
“And plenty of money.”
“Money enough, apparently.”
“And she receives great admiration.”
“And she is to marry a prince.”
“So they say.”
Miss Garland rose and turned to rejoin her companions, commenting these admissions with a pregnant silence. “Poor Miss Light!” she said at last, simply. And in this it seemed to Rowland there was a touch of bitterness.
Very late on the following evening his servant brought him the card of a visitor. He was surprised at a visit at such an hour, but it may be said that when he read the inscription — Cavaliere Giuseppe Giacosa — his surprise declined. He had had an unformulated conviction that there was to be a sequel to the apparition at Madame Grandoni’s; the Cavaliere had come to usher it in.
He had come, evidently, on a portentous errand. He was as pale as ashes and prodigiously serious; his little cold black eye had grown ardent, and he had left his caressing smile at home. He saluted Rowland, however, with his usual obsequious bow.
“You have more than once done me the honor to invite me to call upon you,” he said. “I am ashamed of my long delay, and I can only say to you, frankly, that my time this winter has not been my own.” Rowland assented, ungrudgingly fumbled for the Italian correlative of the adage “Better late than never,” begged him to be seated, and offered him a cigar. The Cavaliere sniffed imperceptibly the fragrant weed, and then declared that, if his kind host would allow him, he would reserve it for consumption at another time. He apparently desired to intimate that the solemnity of his errand left him no breath for idle smoke-puffings. Rowland stayed himself, just in time, from an enthusiastic offer of a dozen more cigars, and, as he watched the Cavaliere stow his treasure tenderly away in his pocket-book, reflected that only an Italian could go through such a performance with uncompromised dignity. “I must confess,” the little old man resumed, “that even now I come on business not of my own — or my own, at least, only in a secondary sense. I have been dispatched as an ambassador, an envoy extraordinary, I may say, by my dear friend Mrs. Light.”
“If I can in any way be of service to Mrs. Light, I shall be happy,” Rowland said.
“Well then, dear sir, Casa Light is in commotion. The signora is in trouble — in terrible trouble.” For a moment Rowland expected to hear that the signora’s trouble was of a nature that a loan of five thousand francs would assuage. But the Cavaliere continued: “Miss Light has committed a great crime; she has plunged a dagger into the heart of her mother.”
“A dagger!” cried Rowland.
The Cavaliere patted the air an instant with his finger-tips. “I speak figuratively. She has broken off her marriage.”
“Broken it off?”
“Short! She has turned the prince from the door.” And the Cavaliere, when he had made this announcement, folded his arms and bent upon Rowland his intense, inscrutable gaze. It seemed to Rowland that he detected in the polished depths of it a sort of fantastic gleam of irony or of triumph; but superficially, at least, Giacosa did nothing to discredit his character as a presumably sympathetic representative of Mrs. Light’s affliction.
Rowland heard his news with a kind of fierce disgust; it seemed the sinister counterpart of Christina’s preternatural mildness at Madame Grandoni’s tea-party. She had been too plausible to be honest. Without being able to trace the connection, he yet instinctively associated her present rebellion with her meeting with Mary Garland. If she had not seen Mary, she would have let things stand. It was monstrous to suppose that she could have sacrificed so brilliant a fortune to a mere movement of jealousy, to a refined instinct of feminine deviltry, to a desire to frighten poor Mary from her security by again appearing in the field. Yet Rowland remembered his first impression of her; she was “dangerous,” and she had measured in each direction the perturbing effect of her rupture. She was smiling her sweetest smile at it! For half an hour Rowland simply detested her, and longed to denounce her to her face. Of course all he could say to Giacosa was that he was extremely sorry. “But I am not surprised,” he added.
“You are not surprised?”
“With Miss Light everything is possible. Is n’t that true?”
Another ripple seemed to play for an instant in the current of the old man’s irony, but he waived response. “It was a magnificent marriage,” he said, solemnly. “I do not respect many people, but I respect Prince Casamassima.”
“I should judge him indeed to be a very honorable young man,” said Rowland.
“Eh, young as he is, he’s made of the old stuff. And now, perhaps he’s blowing his brains out. He is the last of his house; it’s a great house. But Miss Light will have put an end to it!”
“Is that the view she takes of it?” Rowland ventured to ask.
This time, unmistakably, the Cavaliere smiled, but still in that very out-of-the-way place. “You have observed Miss Light with attention,” he said, “and this brings me to my errand. Mrs. Light has a high opinion of your wisdom, of your kindness, and she has reason to believe you have influence with her daughter.”
“I— with her daughter? Not a grain!”
“That is possibly your modesty. Mrs. Light believes that something may yet be done, and that Christina will listen to you. She begs you to come and see her before it is too late.”
“But all this, my dear Cavaliere, is none of my business,” Rowland objected. “I can’t possibly, in such a matter, take the responsibility of advising Miss Light.”
The Cavaliere fixed his eyes for a moment on the floor, in brief but intense reflection. Then looking up, “Unfortunately,” he said, “she has no man near her whom she respects; she has no father!”
“And a fatally foolish mother!” Rowland gave himself the satisfaction of exclaiming.
The Cavaliere was so pale that he could not easily have turned paler; yet it seemed for a moment that his dead complexion blanched. “Eh, signore, such as she is, the mother appeals to you. A very handsome woman — disheveled, in tears, in despair, in dishabille!”
Rowland reflected a moment, not on the attractions of Mrs. Light under the circumstances thus indicated by the Cavaliere, but on the satisfaction he would take in accusing Christina to her face of having struck a cruel blow.
“I must add,” said the Cavaliere, “that Mrs. Light desires also to speak to you on the subject of Mr. Hudson.”
“She considers Mr. Hudson, then, connected with this step of her daughter’s?”
“Intimately. He must be got out of Rome.”
“Mrs. Light, then, must get an order from the Pope to remove him. It’s not in my power.”
The Cavaliere assented, deferentially. “Mrs. Light is equally helpless. She would leave Rome tomorrow, but Christina will not budge. An order from the Pope would do nothing. A bull in council would do nothing.”
“She’s a remarkable young lady,” said Rowland, with bitterness.
But the Cavaliere rose and responded coldly, “She has a great spirit.” And it seemed to Rowland that her great spirit, for mysterious reasons, gave him more pleasure than the distressing use she made of it gave him pain. He was on the point of charging him with his inconsistency, when Giacosa resumed: “But if the marriage can be saved, it must be saved. It’s a beautiful marriage. It will be saved.”
“Notwithstanding Miss Light’s great spirit to the contrary?”
“Miss Light, notwithstanding her great spirit, will call Prince Casamassima back.”
“Heaven grant it!” said Rowland.
“I don’t know,” said the Cavaliere, solemnly, “that heaven will have much to do with it.”
Rowland gave him a questioning look, but he laid his finger on his lips. And with Rowland’s promise to present himself on the morrow at Casa Light, he shortly afterwards departed. He left Rowland revolving many things: Christina’s magnanimity, Christina’s perversity, Roderick’s contingent fortune, Mary Garland’s certain trouble, and the Cavaliere’s own fine ambiguities.
Rowland’s promise to the Cavaliere obliged him to withdraw from an excursion which he had arranged with the two ladies from Northampton. Before going to Casa Light he repaired in person to Mrs. Hudson’s hotel, to make his excuses.
He found Roderick’s mother sitting with tearful eyes, staring at an open note that lay in her lap. At the window sat Miss Garland, who turned her intense regard upon him as he came in. Mrs. Hudson quickly rose and came to him, holding out the note.
“In pity’s name,” she cried, “what is the matter with my boy? If he is ill, I entreat you to take me to him!”
“He is not ill, to my knowledge,” said Rowland. “What have you there?”
“A note — a dreadful note. He tells us we are not to see him for a week. If I could only go to his room! But I am afraid, I am afraid!”
“I imagine there is no need of going to his room. What is the occasion, may I ask, of his note?”
“He was to have gone with us on this drive to — what is the place? — to Cervara. You know it was arranged yesterday morning. In the evening he was to have dined with us. But he never came, and this morning arrives this awful thing. Oh dear, I ’m so excited! Would you mind reading it?”
Rowland took the note and glanced at its half-dozen lines. “I cannot go to Cervara,” they ran; “I have something else to do. This will occupy me perhaps for a week, and you’ll not see me. Don’t miss me — learn not to miss me. R. H.”
“Why, it means,” Rowland commented, “that he has taken up a piece of work, and that it is all-absorbing. That’s very good news.” This explanation was not sincere; but he had not the courage not to offer it as a stop-gap. But he found he needed all his courage to maintain it, for Miss Garland had left her place and approached him, formidably unsatisfied.
“He does not work in the evening,” said Mrs. Hudson. “Can’t he come for five minutes? Why does he write such a cruel, cold note to his poor mother — to poor Mary? What have we done that he acts so strangely? It’s this wicked, infectious, heathenish place!” And the poor lady’s suppressed mistrust of the Eternal City broke out passionately. “Oh, dear Mr. Mallet,” she went on, “I am sure he has the fever and he’s already delirious!”
“I am very sure it’s not that,” said Miss Garland, with a certain dryness.
She was still looking at Rowland; his eyes met hers, and his own glance fell. This made him angry, and to carry off his confusion he pretended to be looking at the floor, in meditation. After all, what had he to be ashamed of? For a moment he was on the point of making a clean breast of it, of crying out, “Dearest friends, I abdicate: I can’t help you!” But he checked himself; he felt so impatient to have his three words with Christina. He grasped his hat.
“I will see what it is!” he cried. And then he was glad he had not abdicated, for as he turned away he glanced again at Mary and saw that, though her eyes were full of trouble, they were not hard and accusing, but charged with appealing friendship.
He went straight to Roderick’s apartment, deeming this, at an early hour, the safest place to seek him. He found him in his sitting-room, which had been closely darkened to keep out the heat. The carpets and rugs had been removed, the floor of speckled concrete was bare and lightly sprinkled with water. Here and there, over it, certain strongly perfumed flowers had been scattered. Roderick was lying on his divan in a white dressing-gown, staring up at the frescoed ceiling. The room was deliciously cool, and filled with the moist, sweet odor of the circumjacent roses and violets. All this seemed highly fantastic, and yet Rowland hardly felt surprised.
“Your mother was greatly alarmed at your note,” he said, “and I came to satisfy myself that, as I believed, you are not ill.” Roderick lay motionless, except that he slightly turned his head toward his friend. He was smelling a large white rose, and he continued to present it to his nose. In the darkness of the room he looked exceedingly pale, but his handsome eyes had an extraordinary brilliancy. He let them rest for some time on Rowland, lying there like a Buddhist in an intellectual swoon, whose perception should be slowly ebbing back to temporal matters. “Oh, I ’m not ill,” he said at last. “I have never been better.”
“Your note, nevertheless, and your absence,” Rowland said, “have very naturally alarmed your mother. I advise you to go to her directly and reassure her.”
“Go to her? Going to her would be worse than staying away. Staying away at present is a kindness.” And he inhaled deeply his huge rose, looking up over it at Rowland. “My presence, in fact, would be indecent.”
“Indecent? Pray explain.”
“Why, you see, as regards Mary Garland. I am divinely happy! Does n’t it strike you? You ought to agree with me. You wish me to spare her feelings; I spare them by staying away. Last night I heard something”—
“I heard it, too,” said Rowland with brevity. “And it’s in honor of this piece of news that you have taken to your bed in this fashion?”
“Extremes meet! I can’t get up for joy.”
“May I inquire how you heard your joyous news? — from Miss Light herself?”
“By no means. It was brought me by her maid, who is in my service as well.”
“Casamassima’s loss, then, is to a certainty your gain?”
“I don’t talk about certainties. I don’t want to be arrogant, I don’t want to offend the immortal gods. I ’m keeping very quiet, but I can’t help being happy. I shall wait a while; I shall bide my time.”
“And then that transcendent girl will confess to me that when she threw overboard her prince she remembered that I adored her!”
“I feel bound to tell you,” was in the course of a moment Rowland’s response to this speech, “that I am now on my way to Mrs. Light’s.”
“I congratulate you, I envy you!” Roderick murmured, imperturbably.
“Mrs. Light has sent for me to remonstrate with her daughter, with whom she has taken it into her head that I have influence. I don’t know to what extent I shall remonstrate, but I give you notice I shall not speak in your interest.”
Roderick looked at him a moment with a lazy radiance in his eyes. “Pray don’t!” he simply answered.
“You deserve I should tell her you are a very shabby fellow.”
“My dear Rowland, the comfort with you is that I can trust you. You’re incapable of doing anything disloyal.”
“You mean to lie here, then, smelling your roses and nursing your visions, and leaving your mother and Miss Garland to fall ill with anxiety?”
“Can I go and flaunt my felicity in their faces? Wait till I get used to it a trifle. I have done them a palpable wrong, but I can at least forbear to add insult to injury. I may be an arrant fool, but, for the moment, I have taken it into my head to be prodigiously pleased. I should n’t be able to conceal it; my pleasure would offend them; so I lock myself up as a dangerous character.”
“Well, I can only say, ‘May your pleasure never grow less, or your danger greater!’”
Roderick closed his eyes again, and sniffed at his rose. “God’s will be done!”
On this Rowland left him and repaired directly to Mrs. Light’s. This afflicted lady hurried forward to meet him. Since the Cavaliere’s report of her condition she had somewhat smoothed and trimmed the exuberance of her distress, but she was evidently in extreme tribulation, and she clutched Rowland by his two hands, as if, in the shipwreck of her hopes, he were her single floating spar. Rowland greatly pitied her, for there is something respectable in passionate grief, even in a very bad cause; and as pity is akin to love, he endured her rather better than he had done hitherto.
“Speak to her, plead with her, command her!” she cried, pressing and shaking his hands. “She’ll not heed us, no more than if we were a pair of clocks a-ticking. Perhaps she will listen to you; she always liked you.”
“She always disliked me,” said Rowland. “But that does n’t matter now. I have come here simply because you sent for me, not because I can help you. I cannot advise your daughter.”
“Oh, cruel, deadly man! You must advise her; you shan’t leave this house till you have advised her!” the poor woman passionately retorted. “Look at me in my misery and refuse to help me! Oh, you need n’t be afraid, I know I ’m a fright, I have n’t an idea what I have on. If this goes on, we may both as well turn scarecrows. If ever a woman was desperate, frantic, heart-broken, I am that woman. I can’t begin to tell you. To have nourished a serpent, sir, all these years! to have lavished one’s self upon a viper that turns and stings her own poor mother! To have toiled and prayed, to have pushed and struggled, to have eaten the bread of bitterness, and all the rest of it, sir — and at the end of all things to find myself at this pass. It can’t be, it’s too cruel, such things don’t happen, the Lord don’t allow it. I ’m a religious woman, sir, and the Lord knows all about me. With his own hand he had given me his reward! I would have lain down in the dust and let her walk over me; I would have given her the eyes out of my head, if she had taken a fancy to them. No, she’s a cruel, wicked, heartless, unnatural girl! I speak to you, Mr. Mallet, in my dire distress, as to my only friend. There is n’t a creature here that I can look to — not one of them all that I have faith in. But I always admired you. I said to Christina the first time I saw you that there at last was a real gentleman. Come, don’t disappoint me now! I feel so terribly alone, you see; I feel what a nasty, hard, heartless world it is that has come and devoured my dinners and danced to my fiddles, and yet that has n’t a word to throw to me in my agony! Oh, the money, alone, that I have put into this thing, would melt the heart of a Turk!”
During this frenzied outbreak Rowland had had time to look round the room, and to see the Cavaliere sitting in a corner, like a major-domo on the divan of an antechamber, pale, rigid, and inscrutable.
“I have it at heart to tell you,” Rowland said, “that if you consider my friend Hudson”—
Mrs. Light gave a toss of her head and hands. “Oh, it’s not that. She told me last night to bother her no longer with Hudson, Hudson! She did n’t care a button for Hudson. I almost wish she did; then perhaps one might understand it. But she does n’t care for anything in the wide world, except to do her own hard, wicked will, and to crush me and shame me with her cruelty.”
“Ah, then,” said Rowland, “I am as much at sea as you, and my presence here is an impertinence. I should like to say three words to Miss Light on my own account. But I must absolutely and inexorably decline to urge the cause of Prince Casamassima. This is simply impossible.”
Mrs. Light burst into angry tears. “Because the poor boy is a prince, eh? because he’s of a great family, and has an income of millions, eh? That’s why you grudge him and hate him. I knew there were vulgar people of that way of feeling, but I did n’t expect it of you. Make an effort, Mr. Mallet; rise to the occasion; forgive the poor fellow his splendor. Be just, be reasonable! It’s not his fault, and it’s not mine. He’s the best, the kindest young man in the world, and the most correct and moral and virtuous! If he were standing here in rags, I would say it all the same. The man first — the money afterwards: that was always my motto, and always will be. What do you take me for? Do you suppose I would give Christina to a vicious person? do you suppose I would sacrifice my precious child, little comfort as I have in her, to a man against whose character one word could be breathed? Casamassima is only too good, he’s a saint of saints, he’s stupidly good! There is n’t such another in the length and breadth of Europe. What he has been through in this house, not a common peasant would endure. Christina has treated him as you would n’t treat a dog. He has been insulted, outraged, persecuted! He has been driven hither and thither till he did n’t know where he was. He has stood there where you stand — there, with his name and his millions and his devotion — as white as your handkerchief, with hot tears in his eyes, and me ready to go down on my knees to him and say, ‘My own sweet prince, I could kiss the ground you tread on, but it is n’t decent that I should allow you to enter my house and expose yourself to these horrors again.’ And he would come back, and he would come back, and go through it all again, and take all that was given him, and only want the girl the more! I was his confidant; I know everything. He used to beg my forgiveness for Christina. What do you say to that? I seized him once and kissed him, I did! To find that and to find all the rest with it, and to believe it was a gift straight from the pitying angels of heaven, and then to see it dashed away before your eyes and to stand here helpless — oh, it’s a fate I hope you may ever be spared!”
“It would seem, then, that in the interest of Prince Casamassima himself I ought to refuse to interfere,” said Rowland.
Mrs. Light looked at him hard, slowly drying her eyes. The intensity of her grief and anger gave her a kind of majesty, and Rowland, for the moment, felt ashamed of the ironical ring of his observation. “Very good, sir,” she said. “I ’m sorry your heart is not so tender as your conscience. My compliments to your conscience! It must give you great happiness. Heaven help me! Since you fail us, we are indeed driven to the wall. But I have fought my own battles before, and I have never lost courage, and I don’t see why I should break down now. Cavaliere, come here!”
Giacosa rose at her summons and advanced with his usual deferential alacrity. He shook hands with Rowland in silence.
“Mr. Mallet refuses to say a word,” Mrs. Light went on. “Time presses, every moment is precious. Heaven knows what that poor boy may be doing. If at this moment a clever woman should get hold of him she might be as ugly as she pleased! It’s horrible to think of it.”
The Cavaliere fixed his eyes on Rowland, and his look, which the night before had been singular, was now most extraordinary. There was a nameless force of anguish in it which seemed to grapple with the young man’s reluctance, to plead, to entreat, and at the same time to be glazed over with a reflection of strange things.
Suddenly, though most vaguely, Rowland felt the presence of a new element in the drama that was going on before him. He looked from the Cavaliere to Mrs. Light, whose eyes were now quite dry, and were fixed in stony hardness on the floor.
“If you could bring yourself,” the Cavaliere said, in a low, soft, caressing voice, “to address a few words of solemn remonstrance to Miss Light, you would, perhaps, do more for us than you know. You would save several persons a great pain. The dear signora, first, and then Christina herself. Christina in particular. Me too, I might take the liberty to add!”
There was, to Rowland, something acutely touching in this humble petition. He had always felt a sort of imaginative tenderness for poor little unexplained Giacosa, and these words seemed a supreme contortion of the mysterious obliquity of his life. All of a sudden, as he watched the Cavaliere, something occurred to him; it was something very odd, and it stayed his glance suddenly from again turning to Mrs. Light. His idea embarrassed him, and to carry off his embarrassment, he repeated that it was folly to suppose that his words would have any weight with Christina.
The Cavaliere stepped forward and laid two fingers on Rowland’s breast. “Do you wish to know the truth? You are the only man whose words she remembers.”
Rowland was going from surprise to surprise. “I will say what I can!” he said. By this time he had ventured to glance at Mrs. Light. She was looking at him askance, as if, upon this, she was suddenly mistrusting his motives.
“If you fail,” she said sharply, “we have something else! But please to lose no time.”
She had hardly spoken when the sound of a short, sharp growl caused the company to turn. Christina’s fleecy poodle stood in the middle of the vast saloon, with his muzzle lowered, in pompous defiance of the three conspirators against the comfort of his mistress. This young lady’s claims for him seemed justified; he was an animal of amazingly delicate instincts. He had preceded Christina as a sort of van-guard of defense, and she now slowly advanced from a neighboring room.
“You will be so good as to listen to Mr. Mallet,” her mother said, in a terrible voice, “and to reflect carefully upon what he says. I suppose you will admit that he is disinterested. In half an hour you shall hear from me again!” And passing her hand through the Cavaliere’s arm, she swept rapidly out of the room.
Christina looked hard at Rowland, but offered him no greeting. She was very pale, and, strangely enough, it at first seemed to Rowland that her beauty was in eclipse. But he very soon perceived that it had only changed its character, and that if it was a trifle less brilliant than usual, it was admirably touching and noble. The clouded light of her eyes, the magnificent gravity of her features, the conscious erectness of her head, might have belonged to a deposed sovereign or a condemned martyr. “Why have you come here at this time?” she asked.
“Your mother sent for me in pressing terms, and I was very glad to have an opportunity to speak to you.”
“Have you come to help me, or to persecute me?”
“I have as little power to do one as I have desire to do the other. I came in great part to ask you a question. First, your decision is irrevocable?”
Christina’s two hands had been hanging clasped in front of her; she separated them and flung them apart by an admirable gesture.
“Would you have done this if you had not seen Miss Garland?”
She looked at him with quickened attention; then suddenly, “This is interesting!” she cried. “Let us have it out.” And she flung herself into a chair and pointed to another.
“You don’t answer my question,” Rowland said.
“You have no right, that I know of, to ask it. But it’s a very clever one; so clever that it deserves an answer. Very likely I would not.”
“Last night, when I said that to myself, I was extremely angry,” Rowland rejoined.
“Oh, dear, and you are not angry now?”
“I am less angry.”
“How very stupid! But you can say something at least.”
“If I were to say what is uppermost in my mind, I would say that, face to face with you, it is never possible to condemn you.”
“You know, yourself! But I can at least say now what I felt last night. It seemed to me that you had consciously, cruelly dealt a blow at that poor girl. Do you understand?”
“Wait a moment!” And with her eyes fixed on him, she inclined her head on one side, meditatively. Then a cold, brilliant smile covered her face, and she made a gesture of negation. “I see your train of reasoning, but it’s quite wrong. I meant no harm to Miss Garland; I should be extremely sorry to make her suffer. Tell me you believe that.”
This was said with ineffable candor. Rowland heard himself answering, “I believe it!”
“And yet, in a sense, your supposition was true,” Christina continued. “I conceived, as I told you, a great admiration for Miss Garland, and I frankly confess I was jealous of her. What I envied her was simply her character! I said to myself, ‘She, in my place, would n’t marry Casamassima.’ I could not help saying it, and I said it so often that I found a kind of inspiration in it. I hated the idea of being worse than she — of doing something that she would n’t do. I might be bad by nature, but I need n’t be by volition. The end of it all was that I found it impossible not to tell the prince that I was his very humble servant, but that I could not marry him.”
“Are you sure it was only of Miss Garland’s character that you were jealous, not of — not of”—
“Speak out, I beg you. We are talking philosophy!”
“Not of her affection for her cousin?”
“Sure is a good deal to ask. Still, I think I may say it! There are two reasons; one, at least, I can tell you: her affection has not a shadow’s weight with Mr. Hudson! Why then should one fear it?”
“And what is the other reason?”
“Excuse me; that is my own affair.”
Rowland was puzzled, baffled, charmed, inspired, almost, all at once. “I have promised your mother,” he presently resumed, “to say something in favor of Prince Casamassima.”
She shook her head sadly. “Prince Casamassima needs nothing that you can say for him. He is a magnificent parti. I know it perfectly.”
“You know also of the extreme affliction of your mother?”
“Her affliction is demonstrative. She has been abusing me for the last twenty-four hours as if I were the vilest of the vile.” To see Christina sit there in the purity of her beauty and say this, might have made one bow one’s head with a kind of awe. “I have failed of respect to her at other times, but I have not done so now. Since we are talking philosophy,” she pursued with a gentle smile, “I may say it’s a simple matter! I don’t love him. Or rather, perhaps, since we are talking philosophy, I may say it’s not a simple matter. I spoke just now of inspiration. The inspiration has been great, but — I frankly confess it — the choice has been hard. Shall I tell you?” she demanded, with sudden ardor; “will you understand me? It was on the one side the world, the splendid, beautiful, powerful, interesting world. I know what that is; I have tasted of the cup, I know its sweetness. Ah, if I chose, if I let myself go, if I flung everything to the winds, the world and I would be famous friends! I know its merits, and I think, without vanity, it would see mine. You would see some fine things! I should like to be a princess, and I think I should be a very good one; I would play my part well. I am fond of luxury, I am fond of a great society, I am fond of being looked at. I am corrupt, corruptible, corruption! Ah, what a pity that could n’t be, too! Mercy of Heaven!” There was a passionate tremor in her voice; she covered her face with her hands and sat motionless. Rowland saw that an intense agitation, hitherto successfully repressed, underlay her calmness, and he could easily believe that her battle had been fierce. She rose quickly and turned away, walked a few paces, and stopped. In a moment she was facing him again, with tears in her eyes and a flush in her cheeks. “But you need n’t think I ’m afraid!” she said. “I have chosen, and I shall hold to it. I have something here, here, here!” and she patted her heart. “It’s my own. I shan’t part with it. Is it what you call an ideal? I don’t know; I don’t care! It is brighter than the Casamassima diamonds!”
“You say that certain things are your own affair,” Rowland presently rejoined; “but I must nevertheless make an attempt to learn what all this means — what it promises for my friend Hudson. Is there any hope for him?”
“This is a point I can’t discuss with you minutely. I like him very much.”
“Would you marry him if he were to ask you?”
“He has asked me.”
“And if he asks again?”
“I shall marry no one just now.”
“Roderick,” said Rowland, “has great hopes.”
“Does he know of my rupture with the prince?”
“He is making a great holiday of it.”
Christina pulled her poodle towards her and began to smooth his silky fleece. “I like him very much,” she repeated; “much more than I used to. Since you told me all that about him at Saint Cecilia’s, I have felt a great friendship for him. There’s something very fine about him; he’s not afraid of anything. He is not afraid of failure; he is not afraid of ruin or death.”
“Poor fellow!” said Rowland, bitterly; “he is fatally picturesque.”
“Picturesque, yes; that’s what he is. I am very sorry for him.”
“Your mother told me just now that you had said that you did n’t care a straw for him.”
“Very likely! I meant as a lover. One does n’t want a lover one pities, and one does n’t want — of all things in the world — a picturesque husband! I should like Mr. Hudson as something else. I wish he were my brother, so that he could never talk to me of marriage. Then I could adore him. I would nurse him, I would wait on him and save him all disagreeable rubs and shocks. I am much stronger than he, and I would stand between him and the world. Indeed, with Mr. Hudson for my brother, I should be willing to live and die an old maid!”
“Have you ever told him all this?”
“I suppose so; I’ve told him five hundred things! If it would please you, I will tell him again.”
“Oh, Heaven forbid!” cried poor Rowland, with a groan.
He was lingering there, weighing his sympathy against his irritation, and feeling it sink in the scale, when the curtain of a distant doorway was lifted and Mrs. Light passed across the room. She stopped half-way, and gave the young persons a flushed and menacing look. It found apparently little to reassure her, and she moved away with a passionate toss of her drapery. Rowland thought with horror of the sinister compulsion to which the young girl was to be subjected. In this ethereal flight of hers there was a certain painful effort and tension of wing; but it was none the less piteous to imagine her being rudely jerked down to the base earth she was doing her adventurous utmost to spurn. She would need all her magnanimity for her own trial, and it seemed gross to make further demands upon it on Roderick’s behalf.
Rowland took up his hat. “You asked a while ago if I had come to help you,” he said. “If I knew how I might help you, I should be particularly glad.”
She stood silent a moment, reflecting. Then at last, looking up, “You remember,” she said, “your promising me six months ago to tell me what you finally thought of me? I should like you to tell me now.”
He could hardly help smiling. Madame Grandoni had insisted on the fact that Christina was an actress, though a sincere one; and this little speech seemed a glimpse of the cloven foot. She had played her great scene, she had made her point, and now she had her eye at the hole in the curtain and she was watching the house! But she blushed as she perceived his smile, and her blush, which was beautiful, made her fault venial.
“You are an excellent girl!” he said, in a particular tone, and gave her his hand in farewell.
There was a great chain of rooms in Mrs. Light’s apartment, the pride and joy of the hostess on festal evenings, through which the departing visitor passed before reaching the door. In one of the first of these Rowland found himself waylaid and arrested by the distracted lady herself.
“Well, well?” she cried, seizing his arm. “Has she listened to you — have you moved her?”
“In Heaven’s name, dear madame,” Rowland begged, “leave the poor girl alone! She is behaving very well!”
“Behaving very well? Is that all you have to tell me? I don’t believe you said a proper word to her. You are conspiring together to kill me!”
Rowland tried to soothe her, to remonstrate, to persuade her that it was equally cruel and unwise to try to force matters. But she answered him only with harsh lamentations and imprecations, and ended by telling him that her daughter was her property, not his, and that his interference was most insolent and most scandalous. Her disappointment seemed really to have crazed her, and his only possible rejoinder was to take a summary departure.
A moment later he came upon the Cavaliere, who was sitting with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, so buried in thought that Rowland had to call him before he roused himself. Giacosa looked at him a moment keenly, and then gave a shake of the head, interrogatively.
Rowland gave a shake negative, to which the Cavaliere responded by a long, melancholy sigh. “But her mother is determined to force matters,” said Rowland.
“It seems that it must be!”
“Do you consider that it must be?”
“I don’t differ with Mrs. Light!”
“It will be a great cruelty!”
The Cavaliere gave a tragic shrug. “Eh! it is n’t an easy world.”
“You should do nothing to make it harder, then.”
“What will you have? It’s a magnificent marriage.”
“You disappoint me, Cavaliere,” said Rowland, solemnly. “I imagined you appreciated the great elevation of Miss Light’s attitude. She does n’t love the prince; she has let the matter stand or fall by that.”
The old man grasped him by the hand and stood a moment with averted eyes. At last, looking at him, he held up two fingers.
“I have two hearts,” he said, “one for myself, one for the world. This one opposes Miss Light, the other adores her! One suffers horribly at what the other does.”
“I don’t understand double people, Cavaliere,” Rowland said, “and I don’t pretend to understand you. But I have guessed that you are going to play some secret card.”
“The card is Mrs. Light’s, not mine,” said the Cavaliere.
“It’s a menace, at any rate?”
“The sword of Damocles! It hangs by a hair. Christina is to be given ten minutes to recant, under penalty of having it fall. On the blade there is something written in strange characters. Don’t scratch your head; you will not make it out.”
“I think I have guessed it,” Rowland said, after a pregnant silence. The Cavaliere looked at him blankly but intently, and Rowland added, “Though there are some signs, indeed, I don’t understand.”
“Puzzle them out at your leisure,” said the Cavaliere, shaking his hand. “I hear Mrs. Light; I must go to my post. I wish you were a Catholic; I would beg you to step into the first church you come to, and pray for us the next half-hour.”
“For ‘us’? For whom?”
“For all of us. At any rate remember this: I worship the Christina!”
Rowland heard the rustle of Mrs. Light’s dress; he turned away, and the Cavaliere went, as he said, to his post. Rowland for the next couple of days pondered his riddle.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10