Of Roderick, meanwhile, Rowland saw nothing; but he immediately went to Mrs. Hudson and assured her that her son was in even exceptionally good health and spirits. After this he called again on the two ladies from Northampton, but, as Roderick’s absence continued, he was able neither to furnish nor to obtain much comfort. Miss Garland’s apprehensive face seemed to him an image of his own state of mind. He was profoundly depressed; he felt that there was a storm in the air, and he wished it would come, without more delay, and perform its ravages. On the afternoon of the third day he went into Saint Peter’s, his frequent resort whenever the outer world was disagreeable. From a heart-ache to a Roman rain there were few importunate pains the great church did not help him to forget. He had wandered there for half an hour, when he came upon a short figure, lurking in the shadow of one of the great piers. He saw it was that of an artist, hastily transferring to his sketch-book a memento of some fleeting variation in the scenery of the basilica; and in a moment he perceived that the artist was little Sam Singleton.
Singleton pocketed his sketch-book with a guilty air, as if it cost his modesty a pang to be detected in this greedy culture of opportunity. Rowland always enjoyed meeting him; talking with him, in these days, was as good as a wayside gush of clear, cold water, on a long, hot walk. There was, perhaps, no drinking-vessel, and you had to apply your lips to some simple natural conduit; but the result was always a sense of extreme moral refreshment. On this occasion he mentally blessed the ingenuous little artist, and heard presently with keen regret that he was to leave Rome on the morrow. Singleton had come to bid farewell to Saint Peter’s, and he was gathering a few supreme memories. He had earned a purse-full of money, and he was meaning to take a summer’s holiday; going to Switzerland, to Germany, to Paris. In the autumn he was to return home; his family — composed, as Rowland knew, of a father who was cashier in a bank and five unmarried sisters, one of whom gave lyceum-lectures on woman’s rights, the whole resident at Buffalo, New York — had been writing him peremptory letters and appealing to him as a son, brother, and fellow-citizen. He would have been grateful for another year in Rome, but what must be must be, and he had laid up treasure which, in Buffalo, would seem infinite. They talked some time; Rowland hoped they might meet in Switzerland, and take a walk or two together. Singleton seemed to feel that Buffalo had marked him for her own; he was afraid he should not see Rome again for many a year.
“So you expect to live at Buffalo?” Rowland asked sympathetically.
“Well, it will depend upon the views — upon the attitude — of my family,” Singleton replied. “Oh, I think I shall get on; I think it can be done. If I find it can be done, I shall really be quite proud of it; as an artist of course I mean, you know. Do you know I have some nine hundred sketches? I shall live in my portfolio. And so long as one is not in Rome, pray what does it matter where one is? But how I shall envy all you Romans — you and Mr. Gloriani, and Mr. Hudson, especially!”
“Don’t envy Hudson; he has nothing to envy.”
Singleton grinned at what he considered a harmless jest. “Yes, he’s going to be the great man of our time! And I say, Mr. Mallet, is n’t it a mighty comfort that it’s we who have turned him out?”
“Between ourselves,” said Rowland, “he has disappointed me.”
Singleton stared, open-mouthed. “Dear me, what did you expect?”
“Truly,” said Rowland to himself, “what did I expect?”
“I confess,” cried Singleton, “I can’t judge him rationally. He fascinates me; he’s the sort of man one makes one’s hero of.”
“Strictly speaking, he is not a hero,” said Rowland.
Singleton looked intensely grave, and, with almost tearful eyes, “Is there anything amiss — anything out of the way, about him?” he timidly asked. Then, as Rowland hesitated to reply, he quickly added, “Please, if there is, don’t tell me! I want to know no evil of him, and I think I should hardly believe it. In my memories of this Roman artist-life, he will be the central figure. He will stand there in radiant relief, as beautiful and unspotted as one of his own statues!”
“Amen!” said Rowland, gravely. He remembered afresh that the sea is inhabited by big fishes and little, and that the latter often find their way down the throats of the former. Singleton was going to spend the afternoon in taking last looks at certain other places, and Rowland offered to join him on his sentimental circuit. But as they were preparing to leave the church, he heard himself suddenly addressed from behind. Turning, he beheld a young woman whom he immediately recognized as Madame Grandoni’s maid. Her mistress was present, she said, and begged to confer with him before he departed.
This summons obliged Rowland to separate from Singleton, to whom he bade farewell. He followed the messenger, and presently found Madame Grandoni occupying a liberal area on the steps of the tribune, behind the great altar, where, spreading a shawl on the polished red marble, she had comfortably seated herself. He expected that she had something especial to impart, and she lost no time in bringing forth her treasure.
“Don’t shout very loud,” she said, “remember that we are in church; there’s a limit to the noise one may make even in Saint Peter’s. Christina Light was married this morning to Prince Casamassima.”
Rowland did not shout at all; he gave a deep, short murmur: “Married — this morning?”
“Married this morning, at seven o’clock, le plus tranquillement du monde, before three or four persons. The young couple left Rome an hour afterwards.”
For some moments this seemed to him really terrible; the dark little drama of which he had caught a glimpse had played itself out. He had believed that Christina would resist; that she had succumbed was a proof that the pressure had been cruel. Rowland’s imagination followed her forth with an irresistible tremor into the world toward which she was rolling away, with her detested husband and her stifled ideal; but it must be confessed that if the first impulse of his compassion was for Christina, the second was for Prince Casamassima. Madame Grandoni acknowledged an extreme curiosity as to the secret springs of these strange doings: Casamassima’s sudden dismissal, his still more sudden recall, the hurried private marriage. “Listen,” said Rowland, hereupon, “and I will tell you something.” And he related, in detail, his last visit to Mrs. Light and his talk with this lady, with Christina, and with the Cavaliere.
“Good,” she said; “it’s all very curious. But it’s a riddle, and I only half guess it.”
“Well,” said Rowland, “I desire to harm no one; but certain suppositions have taken shape in my mind which serve as a solvent to several ambiguities.”
“It is very true,” Madame Grandoni answered, “that the Cavaliere, as he stands, has always needed to be explained.”
“He is explained by the hypothesis that, three-and-twenty years ago, at Ancona, Mrs. Light had a lover.”
“I see. Ancona was dull, Mrs. Light was lively, and — three-and-twenty years ago — perhaps, the Cavaliere was fascinating. Doubtless it would be fairer to say that he was fascinated. Poor Giacosa!”
“He has had his compensation,” Rowland said. “He has been passionately fond of Christina.”
“Naturally. But has Christina never wondered why?”
“If she had been near guessing, her mother’s shabby treatment of him would have put her off the scent. Mrs. Light’s conscience has apparently told her that she could expiate an hour’s too great kindness by twenty years’ contempt. So she kept her secret. But what is the profit of having a secret unless you can make some use of it? The day at last came when she could turn hers to account; she could let the skeleton out of the closet and create a panic.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I morally,” said Rowland. “I only conceive that there was a horrible, fabulous scene. The poor Cavaliere stood outside, at the door, white as a corpse and as dumb. The mother and daughter had it out together. Mrs. Light burnt her ships. When she came out she had three lines of writing in her daughter’s hand, which the Cavaliere was dispatched with to the prince. They overtook the young man in time, and, when he reappeared, he was delighted to dispense with further waiting. I don’t know what he thought of the look in his bride’s face; but that is how I roughly reconstruct history.”
“Christina was forced to decide, then, that she could not afford not to be a princess?”
“She was reduced by humiliation. She was assured that it was not for her to make conditions, but to thank her stars that there were none made for her. If she persisted, she might find it coming to pass that there would be conditions, and the formal rupture — the rupture that the world would hear of and pry into — would then proceed from the prince and not from her.”
“That’s all nonsense!” said Madame Grandoni, energetically.
“To us, yes; but not to the proudest girl in the world, deeply wounded in her pride, and not stopping to calculate probabilities, but muffling her shame, with an almost sensuous relief, in a splendor that stood within her grasp and asked no questions. Is it not possible that the late Mr. Light had made an outbreak before witnesses who are still living?”
“Certainly her marriage now,” said Madame Grandoni, less analytically, “has the advantage that it takes her away from her — parents!”
This lady’s farther comments upon the event are not immediately pertinent to our history; there were some other comments of which Rowland had a deeply oppressive foreboding. He called, on the evening of the morrow upon Mrs. Hudson, and found Roderick with the two ladies. Their companion had apparently but lately entered, and Rowland afterwards learned that it was his first appearance since the writing of the note which had so distressed his mother. He had flung himself upon a sofa, where he sat with his chin upon his breast, staring before him with a sinister spark in his eye. He fixed his gaze on Rowland, but gave him no greeting. He had evidently been saying something to startle the women; Mrs. Hudson had gone and seated herself, timidly and imploringly, on the edge of the sofa, trying to take his hand. Miss Garland was applying herself to some needlework with conscious intentness.
Mrs. Hudson gave Rowland, on his entrance, a touching look of gratitude. “Oh, we have such blessed news!” she said. “Roderick is ready to leave Rome.”
“It’s not blessed news; it’s most damnable news!” cried Roderick.
“Oh, but we are very glad, my son, and I am sure you will be when you get away. You’re looking most dreadfully thin; is n’t he, Mr. Mallet? It’s plain enough you need a change. I ’m sure we will go wherever you like. Where would you like to go?”
Roderick turned his head slowly and looked at her. He had let her take his hand, which she pressed tenderly between her own. He gazed at her for some time in silence. “Poor mother!” he said at last, in a portentous tone.
“My own dear son!” murmured Mrs. Hudson in all the innocence of her trust.
“I don’t care a straw where you go! I don’t care a straw for anything!”
“Oh, my dear boy, you must not say that before all of us here — before Mary, before Mr. Mallet!”
“Mary — Mr. Mallet?” Roderick repeated, almost savagely. He released himself from the clasp of his mother’s hand and turned away, leaning his elbows on his knees and holding his head in his hands. There was a silence; Rowland said nothing because he was watching Miss Garland. “Why should I stand on ceremony with Mary and Mr. Mallet?” Roderick presently added. “Mary pretends to believe I ’m a fine fellow, and if she believes it as she ought to, nothing I can say will alter her opinion. Mallet knows I ’m a hopeless humbug; so I need n’t mince my words with him.”
“Ah, my dear, don’t use such dreadful language!” said Mrs. Hudson. “Are n’t we all devoted to you, and proud of you, and waiting only to hear what you want, so that we may do it?”
Roderick got up, and began to walk about the room; he was evidently in a restless, reckless, profoundly demoralized condition. Rowland felt that it was literally true that he did not care a straw for anything, but he observed with anxiety that Mrs. Hudson, who did not know on what delicate ground she was treading, was disposed to chide him caressingly, as a mere expression of tenderness. He foresaw that she would bring down the hovering thunderbolt on her head.
“In God’s name,” Roderick cried, “don’t remind me of my obligations! It’s intolerable to me, and I don’t believe it’s pleasant to Mallet. I know they’re tremendous — I know I shall never repay them. I ’m bankrupt! Do you know what that means?”
The poor lady sat staring, dismayed, and Rowland angrily interfered. “Don’t talk such stuff to your mother!” he cried. “Don’t you see you’re frightening her?”
“Frightening her? she may as well be frightened first as last. Do I frighten you, mother?” Roderick demanded.
“Oh, Roderick, what do you mean?” whimpered the poor lady. “Mr. Mallet, what does he mean?”
“I mean that I ’m an angry, savage, disappointed, miserable man!” Roderick went on. “I mean that I can’t do a stroke of work nor think a profitable thought! I mean that I ’m in a state of helpless rage and grief and shame! Helpless, helpless — that’s what it is. You can’t help me, poor mother — not with kisses, nor tears, nor prayers! Mary can’t help me — not for all the honor she does me, nor all the big books on art that she pores over. Mallet can’t help me — not with all his money, nor all his good example, nor all his friendship, which I ’m so profoundly well aware of: not with it all multiplied a thousand times and repeated to all eternity! I thought you would help me, you and Mary; that’s why I sent for you. But you can’t, don’t think it! The sooner you give up the idea the better for you. Give up being proud of me, too; there’s nothing left of me to be proud of! A year ago I was a mighty fine fellow; but do you know what has become of me now? I have gone to the devil!”
There was something in the ring of Roderick’s voice, as he uttered these words, which sent them home with convincing force. He was not talking for effect, or the mere sensuous pleasure of extravagant and paradoxical utterance, as had often enough been the case ere this; he was not even talking viciously or ill-humoredly. He was talking passionately, desperately, and from an irresistible need to throw off the oppressive burden of his mother’s confidence. His cruel eloquence brought the poor lady to her feet, and she stood there with clasped hands, petrified and voiceless. Mary Garland quickly left her place, came straight to Roderick, and laid her hand on his arm, looking at him with all her tormented heart in her eyes. He made no movement to disengage himself; he simply shook his head several times, in dogged negation of her healing powers. Rowland had been living for the past month in such intolerable expectancy of disaster that now that the ice was broken, and the fatal plunge taken, his foremost feeling was almost elation; but in a moment his orderly instincts and his natural love of superficial smoothness overtook it.
“I really don’t see, Roderick,” he said, “the profit of your talking in just this way at just this time. Don’t you see how you are making your mother suffer?”
“Do I enjoy it myself?” cried Roderick. “Is the suffering all on your side and theirs? Do I look as if I were happy, and were stirring you up with a stick for my amusement? Here we all are in the same boat; we might as well understand each other! These women must know that I ’m not to be counted on. That sounds remarkably cool, no doubt, and I certainly don’t deny your right to be utterly disgusted with me.”
“Will you keep what you have got to say till another time,” said Mary, “and let me hear it alone?”
“Oh, I’ll let you hear it as often as you please; but what’s the use of keeping it? I ’m in the humor; it won’t keep! It’s a very simple matter. I ’m a failure, that’s all; I ’m not a first-rate man. I ’m second-rate, tenth-rate, anything you please. After that, it’s all one!”
Mary Garland turned away and buried her face in her hands; but Roderick, struck, apparently, in some unwonted fashion with her gesture, drew her towards him again, and went on in a somewhat different tone. “It’s hardly worth while we should have any private talk about this, Mary,” he said. “The thing would be comfortable for neither of us. It’s better, after all, that it be said once for all and dismissed. There are things I can’t talk to you about. Can I, at least? You are such a queer creature!”
“I can imagine nothing you should n’t talk to me about,” said Mary.
“You are not afraid?” he demanded, sharply, looking at her.
She turned away abruptly, with lowered eyes, hesitating a moment. “Anything you think I should hear, I will hear,” she said. And then she returned to her place at the window and took up her work.
“I have had a great blow,” said Roderick. “I was a great ass, but it does n’t make the blow any easier to bear.”
“Mr. Mallet, tell me what Roderick means!” said Mrs. Hudson, who had found her voice, in a tone more peremptory than Rowland had ever heard her use.
“He ought to have told you before,” said Roderick. “Really, Rowland, if you will allow me to say so, you ought! You could have given a much better account of all this than I myself; better, especially, in that it would have been more lenient to me. You ought to have let them down gently; it would have saved them a great deal of pain. But you always want to keep things so smooth! Allow me to say that it’s very weak of you.”
“I hereby renounce such weakness!” said Rowland.
“Oh, what is it, sir; what is it?” groaned Mrs. Hudson, insistently.
“It’s what Roderick says: he’s a failure!”
Mary Garland, on hearing this declaration, gave Rowland a single glance and then rose, laid down her work, and walked rapidly out of the room. Mrs. Hudson tossed her head and timidly bristled. “This from you, Mr. Mallet!” she said with an injured air which Rowland found harrowing.
But Roderick, most characteristically, did not in the least resent his friend’s assertion; he sent him, on the contrary, one of those large, clear looks of his, which seemed to express a stoical pleasure in Rowland’s frankness, and which set his companion, then and there, wondering again, as he had so often done before, at the extraordinary contradictions of his temperament. “My dear mother,” Roderick said, “if you had had eyes that were not blinded by this sad maternal vanity, you would have seen all this for yourself; you would have seen that I ’m anything but prosperous.”
“Is it anything about money?” cried Mrs. Hudson. “Oh, do write to Mr. Striker!”
“Money?” said Roderick. “I have n’t a cent of money; I ’m bankrupt!”
“Oh, Mr. Mallet, how could you let him?” asked Mrs. Hudson, terribly.
“Everything I have is at his service,” said Rowland, feeling ill.
“Of course Mr. Mallet will help you, my son!” cried the poor lady, eagerly.
“Oh, leave Mr. Mallet alone!” said Roderick. “I have squeezed him dry; it’s not my fault, at least, if I have n’t!”
“Roderick, what have you done with all your money?” his mother demanded.
“Thrown it away! It was no such great amount. I have done nothing this winter.”
“You have done nothing?”
“I have done no work! Why in the world did n’t you guess it and spare me all this? Could n’t you see I was idle, distracted, dissipated?”
“Dissipated, my dear son?” Mrs. Hudson repeated.
“That’s over for the present! But could n’t you see — could n’t Mary see — that I was in a damnably bad way?”
“I have no doubt Miss Garland saw,” said Rowland.
“Mary has said nothing!” cried Mrs. Hudson.
“Oh, she’s a fine girl!” Rowland said.
“Have you done anything that will hurt poor Mary?” Mrs. Hudson asked.
“I have only been thinking night and day of another woman!”
Mrs. Hudson dropped helplessly into her seat again. “Oh dear, dear, had n’t we better go home?”
“Not to get out of her way!” Roderick said. “She has started on a career of her own, and she does n’t care a straw for me. My head was filled with her; I could think of nothing else; I would have sacrificed everything to her — you, Mary, Mallet, my work, my fortune, my future, my honor! I was in a fine state, eh? I don’t pretend to be giving you good news; but I ’m telling the simple, literal truth, so that you may know why I have gone to the dogs. She pretended to care greatly for all this, and to be willing to make any sacrifice in return; she had a magnificent chance, for she was being forced into a mercenary marriage with a man she detested. She led me to believe that she would give this up, and break short off, and keep herself free and sacred and pure for me. This was a great honor, and you may believe that I valued it. It turned my head, and I lived only to see my happiness come to pass. She did everything to encourage me to hope it would; everything that her infernal coquetry and falsity could suggest.”
“Oh, I say, this is too much!” Rowland broke out.
“Do you defend her?” Roderick cried, with a renewal of his passion. “Do you pretend to say that she gave me no hopes?” He had been speaking with growing bitterness, quite losing sight of his mother’s pain and bewilderment in the passionate joy of publishing his wrongs. Since he was hurt, he must cry out; since he was in pain, he must scatter his pain abroad. Of his never thinking of others, save as they spoke and moved from his cue, as it were, this extraordinary insensibility to the injurious effects of his eloquence was a capital example; the more so as the motive of his eloquence was never an appeal for sympathy or compassion, things to which he seemed perfectly indifferent and of which he could make no use. The great and characteristic point with him was the perfect absoluteness of his own emotions and experience. He never saw himself as part of a whole; only as the clear-cut, sharp-edged, isolated individual, rejoicing or raging, as the case might be, but needing in any case absolutely to affirm himself. All this, to Rowland, was ancient history, but his perception of it stirred within him afresh, at the sight of Roderick’s sense of having been betrayed. That he, under the circumstances, should not in fairness be the first to lodge a complaint of betrayal was a point to which, at his leisure, Rowland was of course capable of rendering impartial justice; but Roderick’s present desperation was so peremptory that it imposed itself on one’s sympathies. “Do you pretend to say,” he went on, “that she did n’t lead me along to the very edge of fulfillment and stupefy me with all that she suffered me to believe, all that she sacredly promised? It amused her to do it, and she knew perfectly well what she really meant. She never meant to be sincere; she never dreamed she could be. She’s a ravenous flirt, and why a flirt is a flirt is more than I can tell you. I can’t understand playing with those matters; for me they’re serious, whether I take them up or lay them down. I don’t see what’s in your head, Rowland, to attempt to defend Miss Light; you were the first to cry out against her! You told me she was dangerous, and I pooh-poohed you. You were right; you’re always right. She’s as cold and false and heartless as she’s beautiful, and she has sold her heartless beauty to the highest bidder. I hope he knows what he gets!”
“Oh, my son,” cried Mrs. Hudson, plaintively, “how could you ever care for such a dreadful creature?”
“It would take long to tell you, dear mother!”
Rowland’s lately-deepened sympathy and compassion for Christina was still throbbing in his mind, and he felt that, in loyalty to it, he must say a word for her. “You believed in her too much at first,” he declared, “and you believe in her too little now.”
Roderick looked at him with eyes almost lurid, beneath lowering brows. “She is an angel, then, after all? — that’s what you want to prove!” he cried. “That’s consoling for me, who have lost her! You’re always right, I say; but, dear friend, in mercy, be wrong for once!”
“Oh yes, Mr. Mallet, be merciful!” said Mrs. Hudson, in a tone which, for all its gentleness, made Rowland stare. The poor fellow’s stare covered a great deal of concentrated wonder and apprehension — a presentiment of what a small, sweet, feeble, elderly lady might be capable of, in the way of suddenly generated animosity. There was no space in Mrs. Hudson’s tiny maternal mind for complications of feeling, and one emotion existed only by turning another over flat and perching on top of it. She was evidently not following Roderick at all in his dusky aberrations. Sitting without, in dismay, she only saw that all was darkness and trouble, and as Roderick’s glory had now quite outstripped her powers of imagination and urged him beyond her jurisdiction, so that he had become a thing too precious and sacred for blame, she found it infinitely comfortable to lay the burden of their common affliction upon Rowland’s broad shoulders. Had he not promised to make them all rich and happy? And this was the end of it! Rowland felt as if his trials were, in a sense, only beginning. “Had n’t you better forget all this, my dear?” Mrs. Hudson said. “Had n’t you better just quietly attend to your work?”
“Work, madame?” cried Roderick. “My work’s over. I can’t work — I have n’t worked all winter. If I were fit for anything, this sentimental collapse would have been just the thing to cure me of my apathy and break the spell of my idleness. But there’s a perfect vacuum here!” And he tapped his forehead. “It’s bigger than ever; it grows bigger every hour!”
“I ’m sure you have made a beautiful likeness of your poor little mother,” said Mrs. Hudson, coaxingly.
“I had done nothing before, and I have done nothing since! I quarreled with an excellent man, the other day, from mere exasperation of my nerves, and threw away five thousand dollars!”
“Threw away — five thousand dollars!” Roderick had been wandering among formidable abstractions and allusions too dark to penetrate. But here was a concrete fact, lucidly stated, and poor Mrs. Hudson, for a moment, looked it in the face. She repeated her son’s words a third time with a gasping murmur, and then, suddenly, she burst into tears. Roderick went to her, sat down beside her, put his arm round her, fixed his eyes coldly on the floor, and waited for her to weep herself out. She leaned her head on his shoulder and sobbed broken-heartedly. She said not a word, she made no attempt to scold; but the desolation of her tears was overwhelming. It lasted some time — too long for Rowland’s courage. He had stood silent, wishing simply to appear very respectful; but the elation that was mentioned a while since had utterly ebbed, and he found his situation intolerable. He walked away — not, perhaps, on tiptoe, but with a total absence of bravado in his tread.
The next day, while he was at home, the servant brought him the card of a visitor. He read with surprise the name of Mrs. Hudson, and hurried forward to meet her. He found her in his sitting-room, leaning on the arm of her son and looking very pale, her eyes red with weeping, and her lips tightly compressed. Her advent puzzled him, and it was not for some time that he began to understand the motive of it. Roderick’s countenance threw no light upon it; but Roderick’s countenance, full of light as it was, in a way, itself, had never thrown light upon anything. He had not been in Rowland’s rooms for several weeks, and he immediately began to look at those of his own works that adorned them. He lost himself in silent contemplation. Mrs. Hudson had evidently armed herself with dignity, and, so far as she might, she meant to be impressive. Her success may be measured by the fact that Rowland’s whole attention centred in the fear of seeing her begin to weep. She told him that she had come to him for practical advice; she begged to remind him that she was a stranger in the land. Where were they to go, please? what were they to do? Rowland glanced at Roderick, but Roderick had his back turned and was gazing at his Adam with the intensity with which he might have examined Michael Angelo’s Moses.
“Roderick says he does n’t know, he does n’t care,” Mrs. Hudson said; “he leaves it entirely to you.”
Many another man, in Rowland’s place, would have greeted this information with an irate and sarcastic laugh, and told his visitors that he thanked them infinitely for their confidence, but that, really, as things stood now, they must settle these matters between themselves; many another man might have so demeaned himself, even if, like Rowland, he had been in love with Mary Garland and pressingly conscious that her destiny was also part of the question. But Rowland swallowed all hilarity and all sarcasm, and let himself seriously consider Mrs. Hudson’s petition. His wits, however, were but indifferently at his command; they were dulled by his sense of the inexpressible change in Mrs. Hudson’s attitude. Her visit was evidently intended as a formal reminder of the responsiblities Rowland had worn so lightly. Mrs. Hudson was doubtless too sincerely humble a person to suppose that if he had been recreant to his vows of vigilance and tenderness, her still, small presence would operate as a chastisement. But by some diminutive logical process of her own she had convinced herself that she had been weakly trustful, and that she had suffered Rowland to think too meanly, not only of her understanding, but of her social consequence. A visit in her best gown would have an admonitory effect as regards both of these attributes; it would cancel some favors received, and show him that she was no such fool! These were the reflections of a very shy woman, who, determining for once in her life to hold up her head, was perhaps carrying it a trifle extravagantly.
“You know we have very little money to spend,” she said, as Rowland remained silent. “Roderick tells me that he has debts and nothing at all to pay them with. He says I must write to Mr. Striker to sell my house for what it will bring, and send me out the money. When the money comes I must give it to him. I ’m sure I don’t know; I never heard of anything so dreadful! My house is all I have. But that is all Roderick will say. We must be very economical.”
Before this speech was finished Mrs. Hudson’s voice had begun to quaver softly, and her face, which had no capacity for the expression of superior wisdom, to look as humbly appealing as before. Rowland turned to Roderick and spoke like a school-master. “Come away from those statues, and sit down here and listen to me!”
Roderick started, but obeyed with the most graceful docility.
“What do you propose to your mother to do?” Rowland asked.
“Propose?” said Roderick, absently. “Oh, I propose nothing.”
The tone, the glance, the gesture with which this was said were horribly irritating (though obviously without the slightest intention of being so), and for an instant an imprecation rose to Rowland’s lips. But he checked it, and he was afterwards glad he had done so. “You must do something,” he said. “Choose, select, decide!”
“My dear Rowland, how you talk!” Roderick cried. “The very point of the matter is that I can’t do anything. I will do as I ’m told, but I don’t call that doing. We must leave Rome, I suppose, though I don’t see why. We have got no money, and you have to pay money on the railroads.”
Mrs. Hudson surreptitiously wrung her hands. “Listen to him, please!” she cried. “Not leave Rome, when we have staid here later than any Christians ever did before! It’s this dreadful place that has made us so unhappy.”
“That’s very true,” said Roderick, serenely. “If I had not come to Rome, I would n’t have risen, and if I had not risen, I should n’t have fallen.”
“Fallen — fallen!” murmured Mrs. Hudson. “Just hear him!”
“I will do anything you say, Rowland,” Roderick added. “I will do anything you want. I have not been unkind to my mother — have I, mother? I was unkind yesterday, without meaning it; for after all, all that had to be said. Murder will out, and my low spirits can’t be hidden. But we talked it over and made it up, did n’t we? It seemed to me we did. Let Rowland decide it, mother; whatever he suggests will be the right thing.” And Roderick, who had hardly removed his eyes from the statues, got up again and went back to look at them.
Mrs. Hudson fixed her eyes upon the floor in silence. There was not a trace in Roderick’s face, or in his voice, of the bitterness of his emotion of the day before, and not a hint of his having the lightest weight upon his conscience. He looked at Rowland with his frank, luminous eye as if there had never been a difference of opinion between them; as if each had ever been for both, unalterably, and both for each.
Rowland had received a few days before a letter from a lady of his acquaintance, a worthy Scotswoman domiciled in a villa upon one of the olive-covered hills near Florence. She held her apartment in the villa upon a long lease, and she enjoyed for a sum not worth mentioning the possession of an extraordinary number of noble, stone-floored rooms, with ceilings vaulted and frescoed, and barred windows commanding the loveliest view in the world. She was a needy and thrifty spinster, who never hesitated to declare that the lovely view was all very well, but that for her own part she lived in the villa for cheapness, and that if she had a clear three hundred pounds a year she would go and really enjoy life near her sister, a baronet’s lady, at Glasgow. She was now proposing to make a visit to that exhilarating city, and she desired to turn an honest penny by sub-letting for a few weeks her historic Italian chambers. The terms on which she occupied them enabled her to ask a rent almost jocosely small, and she begged Rowland to do what she called a little genteel advertising for her. Would he say a good word for her rooms to his numerous friends, as they left Rome? He said a good word for them now to Mrs. Hudson, and told her in dollars and cents how cheap a summer’s lodging she might secure. He dwelt upon the fact that she would strike a truce with tables-d’hote and have a cook of her own, amenable possibly to instruction in the Northampton mysteries. He had touched a tender chord; Mrs. Hudson became almost cheerful. Her sentiments upon the table-d’hote system and upon foreign household habits generally were remarkable, and, if we had space for it, would repay analysis; and the idea of reclaiming a lost soul to the Puritanic canons of cookery quite lightened the burden of her depression. While Rowland set forth his case Roderick was slowly walking round the magnificent Adam, with his hands in his pockets. Rowland waited for him to manifest an interest in their discussion, but the statue seemed to fascinate him and he remained calmly heedless. Rowland was a practical man; he possessed conspicuously what is called the sense of detail. He entered into Mrs. Hudson’s position minutely, and told her exactly why it seemed good that she should remove immediately to the Florentine villa. She received his advice with great frigidity, looking hard at the floor and sighing, like a person well on her guard against an insidious optimism. But she had nothing better to propose, and Rowland received her permission to write to his friend that he had let the rooms.
Roderick assented to this decision without either sighs or smiles. “A Florentine villa is a good thing!” he said. “I am at your service.”
“I ’m sure I hope you’ll get better there,” moaned his mother, gathering her shawl together.
Roderick laid one hand on her arm and with the other pointed to Rowland’s statues. “Better or worse, remember this: I did those things!” he said.
Mrs. Hudson gazed at them vaguely, and Rowland said, “Remember it yourself!”
“They are horribly good!” said Roderick.
Rowland solemnly shrugged his shoulders; it seemed to him that he had nothing more to say. But as the others were going, a last light pulsation of the sense of undischarged duty led him to address to Roderick a few words of parting advice. “You’ll find the Villa Pandolfini very delightful, very comfortable,” he said. “You ought to be very contented there. Whether you work or whether you loaf, it’s a place for an artist to be happy in. I hope you will work.”
“I hope I may!” said Roderick with a magnificent smile.
“When we meet again, have something to show me.”
“When we meet again? Where the deuce are you going?” Roderick demanded.
“Oh, I hardly know; over the Alps.”
“Over the Alps! You’re going to leave me?” Roderick cried.
Rowland had most distinctly meant to leave him, but his resolution immediately wavered. He glanced at Mrs. Hudson and saw that her eyebrows were lifted and her lips parted in soft irony. She seemed to accuse him of a craven shirking of trouble, to demand of him to repair his cruel havoc in her life by a solemn renewal of zeal. But Roderick’s expectations were the oddest! Such as they were, Rowland asked himself why he should n’t make a bargain with them. “You desire me to go with you?” he asked.
“If you don’t go, I won’t — that’s all! How in the world shall I get through the summer without you?”
“How will you get through it with me? That’s the question.”
“I don’t pretend to say; the future is a dead blank. But without you it’s not a blank — it’s certain damnation!”
“Mercy, mercy!” murmured Mrs. Hudson.
Rowland made an effort to stand firm, and for a moment succeeded. “If I go with you, will you try to work?”
Roderick, up to this moment, had been looking as unperturbed as if the deep agitation of the day before were a thing of the remote past. But at these words his face changed formidably; he flushed and scowled, and all his passion returned. “Try to work!” he cried. “Try — try! work — work! In God’s name don’t talk that way, or you’ll drive me mad! Do you suppose I ’m trying not to work? Do you suppose I stand rotting here for the fun of it? Don’t you suppose I would try to work for myself before I tried for you?”
“Mr. Mallet,” cried Mrs. Hudson, piteously, “will you leave me alone with this?”
Rowland turned to her and informed her, gently, that he would go with her to Florence. After he had so pledged himself he thought not at all of the pain of his position as mediator between the mother’s resentful grief and the son’s incurable weakness; he drank deep, only, of the satisfaction of not separating from Mary Garland. If the future was a blank to Roderick, it was hardly less so to himself. He had at moments a lively foreboding of impending calamity. He paid it no especial deference, but it made him feel indisposed to take the future into his account. When, on his going to take leave of Madame Grandoni, this lady asked at what time he would come back to Rome, he answered that he was coming back either never or forever. When she asked him what he meant, he said he really could n’t tell her, and parted from her with much genuine emotion; the more so, doubtless, that she blessed him in a quite loving, maternal fashion, and told him she honestly believed him to be the best fellow in the world.
The Villa Pandolfini stood directly upon a small grass-grown piazza, on the top of a hill which sloped straight from one of the gates of Florence. It offered to the outer world a long, rather low facade, colored a dull, dark yellow, and pierced with windows of various sizes, no one of which, save those on the ground floor, was on the same level with any other. Within, it had a great, cool, gray cortile, with high, light arches around it, heavily-corniced doors, of majestic altitude, opening out of it, and a beautiful mediaeval well on one side of it. Mrs. Hudson’s rooms opened into a small garden supported on immense substructions, which were planted on the farther side of the hill, as it sloped steeply away. This garden was a charming place. Its south wall was curtained with a dense orange vine, a dozen fig-trees offered you their large-leaved shade, and over the low parapet the soft, grave Tuscan landscape kept you company. The rooms themselves were as high as chapels and as cool as royal sepulchres. Silence, peace, and security seemed to abide in the ancient house and make it an ideal refuge for aching hearts. Mrs. Hudson had a stunted, brown-faced Maddalena, who wore a crimson handkerchief passed over her coarse, black locks and tied under her sharp, pertinacious chin, and a smile which was as brilliant as a prolonged flash of lightning. She smiled at everything in life, especially the things she did n’t like and which kept her talent for mendacity in healthy exercise. A glance, a word, a motion was sufficient to make her show her teeth at you like a cheerful she-wolf. This inexpugnable smile constituted her whole vocabulary in her dealings with her melancholy mistress, to whom she had been bequeathed by the late occupant of the apartment, and who, to Rowland’s satisfaction, promised to be diverted from her maternal sorrows by the still deeper perplexities of Maddalena’s theory of roasting, sweeping, and bed-making.
Rowland took rooms at a villa a trifle nearer Florence, whence in the summer mornings he had five minutes’ walk in the sharp, black, shadow-strip projected by winding, flower-topped walls, to join his friends. The life at the Villa Pandolfini, when it had fairly defined itself, was tranquil and monotonous, but it might have borrowed from exquisite circumstance an absorbing charm. If a sensible shadow rested upon it, this was because it had an inherent vice; it was feigning a repose which it very scantily felt. Roderick had lost no time in giving the full measure of his uncompromising chagrin, and as he was the central figure of the little group, as he held its heart-strings all in his own hand, it reflected faithfully the eclipse of his own genius. No one had ventured upon the cheerful commonplace of saying that the change of air and of scene would restore his spirits; this would have had, under the circumstances, altogether too silly a sound. The change in question had done nothing of the sort, and his companions had, at least, the comfort of their perspicacity. An essential spring had dried up within him, and there was no visible spiritual law for making it flow again. He was rarely violent, he expressed little of the irritation and ennui that he must have constantly felt; it was as if he believed that a spiritual miracle for his redemption was just barely possible, and was therefore worth waiting for. The most that one could do, however, was to wait grimly and doggedly, suppressing an imprecation as, from time to time, one looked at one’s watch. An attitude of positive urbanity toward life was not to be expected; it was doing one’s duty to hold one’s tongue and keep one’s hands off one’s own windpipe, and other people’s. Roderick had long silences, fits of profound lethargy, almost of stupefaction. He used to sit in the garden by the hour, with his head thrown back, his legs outstretched, his hands in his pockets, and his eyes fastened upon the blinding summer sky. He would gather a dozen books about him, tumble them out on the ground, take one into his lap, and leave it with the pages unturned. These moods would alternate with hours of extreme restlessness, during which he mysteriously absented himself. He bore the heat of the Italian summer like a salamander, and used to start off at high noon for long walks over the hills. He often went down into Florence, rambled through her close, dim streets, and lounged away mornings in the churches and galleries. On many of these occasions Rowland bore him company, for they were the times when he was most like his former self. Before Michael Angelo’s statues and the pictures of the early Tuscans, he quite forgot his own infelicities, and picked up the thread of his old aesthetic loquacity. He had a particular fondness for Andrea del Sarto, and affirmed that if he had been a painter he would have taken the author of the Madonna del Sacco for his model. He found in Florence some of his Roman friends, and went down on certain evenings to meet them. More than once he asked Mary Garland to go with him into town, and showed her the things he most cared for. He had some modeling clay brought up to the villa and deposited in a room suitable for his work; but when this had been done he turned the key in the door and the clay never was touched. His eye was heavy and his hand cold, and his mother put up a secret prayer that he might be induced to see a doctor. But on a certain occasion, when her prayer became articulate, he had a great outburst of anger and begged her to know, once for all, that his health was better than it had ever been. On the whole, and most of the time, he was a sad spectacle; he looked so hopelessly idle. If he was not querulous and bitter, it was because he had taken an extraordinary vow not to be; a vow heroic, for him, a vow which those who knew him well had the tenderness to appreciate. Talking with him was like skating on thin ice, and his companions had a constant mental vision of spots designated “dangerous.”
This was a difficult time for Rowland; he said to himself that he would endure it to the end, but that it must be his last adventure of the kind. Mrs. Hudson divided her time between looking askance at her son, with her hands tightly clasped about her pocket-handkerchief, as if she were wringing it dry of the last hour’s tears, and turning her eyes much more directly upon Rowland, in the mutest, the feeblest, the most intolerable reproachfulness. She never phrased her accusations, but he felt that in the unillumined void of the poor lady’s mind they loomed up like vaguely-outlined monsters. Her demeanor caused him the acutest suffering, and if, at the outset of his enterprise, he had seen, how dimly soever, one of those plaintive eye-beams in the opposite scale, the brilliancy of Roderick’s promises would have counted for little. They made their way to the softest spot in his conscience and kept it chronically aching. If Mrs. Hudson had been loquacious and vulgar, he would have borne even a less valid persecution with greater fortitude. But somehow, neat and noiseless and dismally lady-like, as she sat there, keeping her grievance green with her soft-dropping tears, her displeasure conveyed an overwhelming imputation of brutality. He felt like a reckless trustee who has speculated with the widow’s mite, and is haunted with the reflection of ruin that he sees in her tearful eyes. He did everything conceivable to be polite to Mrs. Hudson, and to treat her with distinguished deference. Perhaps his exasperated nerves made him overshoot the mark, and rendered his civilities a trifle peremptory. She seemed capable of believing that he was trying to make a fool of her; she would have thought him cruelly recreant if he had suddenly departed in desperation, and yet she gave him no visible credit for his constancy. Women are said by some authorities to be cruel; I don’t know how true this is, but it may at least be pertinent to remark that Mrs. Hudson was very much of a woman. It often seemed to Rowland that he had too decidedly forfeited his freedom, and that there was something positively grotesque in a man of his age and circumstances living in such a moral bondage.
But Mary Garland had helped him before, and she helped him now — helped him not less than he had assured himself she would when he found himself drifting to Florence. Yet her help was rendered in the same unconscious, unacknowledged fashion as before; there was no explicit change in their relations. After that distressing scene in Rome which had immediately preceded their departure, it was of course impossible that there should not be on Miss Garland’s part some frankness of allusion to Roderick’s sad condition. She had been present, the reader will remember, during only half of his unsparing confession, and Rowland had not seen her confronted with any absolute proof of Roderick’s passion for Christina Light. But he knew that she knew far too much for her happiness; Roderick had told him, shortly after their settlement at the Villa Pandolfini, that he had had a “tremendous talk” with his cousin. Rowland asked no questions about it; he preferred not to know what had passed between them. If their interview had been purely painful, he wished to ignore it for Miss Garland’s sake; and if it had sown the seeds of reconciliation, he wished to close his eyes to it for his own — for the sake of that unshaped idea, forever dismissed and yet forever present, which hovered in the background of his consciousness, with a hanging head, as it were, and yet an unshamed glance, and whose lightest motions were an effectual bribe to patience. Was the engagement broken? Rowland wondered, yet without asking. But it hardly mattered, for if, as was more than probable, Miss Garland had peremptorily released her cousin, her own heart had by no means recovered its liberty. It was very certain to Rowland’s mind that if she had given him up she had by no means ceased to care for him passionately, and that, to exhaust her charity for his weaknesses, Roderick would have, as the phrase is, a long row to hoe. She spoke of Roderick as she might have done of a person suffering from a serious malady which demanded much tenderness; but if Rowland had found it possible to accuse her of dishonesty he would have said now that she believed appreciably less than she pretended to in her victim’s being an involuntary patient. There are women whose love is care-taking and patronizing, and who rather prefer a weak man because he gives them a comfortable sense of strength. It did not in the least please Rowland to believe that Mary Garland was one of these; for he held that such women were only males in petticoats, and he was convinced that Miss Garland’s heart was constructed after the most perfect feminine model. That she was a very different woman from Christina Light did not at all prove that she was less a woman, and if the Princess Casamassima had gone up into a high place to publish her disrelish of a man who lacked the virile will, it was very certain that Mary Garland was not a person to put up, at any point, with what might be called the princess’s leavings. It was Christina’s constant practice to remind you of the complexity of her character, of the subtlety of her mind, of her troublous faculty of seeing everything in a dozen different lights. Mary Garland had never pretended not to be simple; but Rowland had a theory that she had really a more multitudinous sense of human things, a more delicate imagination, and a finer instinct of character. She did you the honors of her mind with a grace far less regal, but was not that faculty of quite as remarkable an adjustment? If in poor Christina’s strangely commingled nature there was circle within circle, and depth beneath depth, it was to be believed that Mary Garland, though she did not amuse herself with dropping stones into her soul, and waiting to hear them fall, laid quite as many sources of spiritual life under contribution. She had believed Roderick was a fine fellow when she bade him farewell beneath the Northampton elms, and this belief, to her young, strenuous, concentrated imagination, had meant many things. If it was to grow cold, it would be because disenchantment had become total and won the battle at each successive point.
Miss Garland had even in her face and carriage something of the preoccupied and wearied look of a person who is watching at a sick-bed; Roderick’s broken fortunes, his dead ambitions, were a cruel burden to the heart of a girl who had believed that he possessed “genius,” and supposed that genius was to one’s spiritual economy what full pockets were to one’s domestic. And yet, with her, Rowland never felt, as with Mrs. Hudson, that undercurrent of reproach and bitterness toward himself, that impertinent implication that he had defrauded her of happiness. Was this justice, in Miss Garland, or was it mercy? The answer would have been difficult, for she had almost let Rowland feel before leaving Rome that she liked him well enough to forgive him an injury. It was partly, Rowland fancied, that there were occasional lapses, deep and sweet, in her sense of injury. When, on arriving at Florence, she saw the place Rowland had brought them to in their trouble, she had given him a look and said a few words to him that had seemed not only a remission of guilt but a positive reward. This happened in the court of the villa — the large gray quadrangle, overstretched, from edge to edge of the red-tiled roof, by the soft Italian sky. Mary had felt on the spot the sovereign charm of the place; it was reflected in her deeply intelligent glance, and Rowland immediately accused himself of not having done the villa justice. Miss Garland took a mighty fancy to Florence, and used to look down wistfully at the towered city from the windows and garden. Roderick having now no pretext for not being her cicerone, Rowland was no longer at liberty, as he had been in Rome, to propose frequent excursions to her. Roderick’s own invitations, however, were not frequent, and Rowland more than once ventured to introduce her to a gallery or a church. These expeditions were not so blissful, to his sense, as the rambles they had taken together in Rome, for his companion only half surrendered herself to her enjoyment, and seemed to have but a divided attention at her command. Often, when she had begun with looking intently at a picture, her silence, after an interval, made him turn and glance at her. He usually found that if she was looking at the picture still, she was not seeing it. Her eyes were fixed, but her thoughts were wandering, and an image more vivid than any that Raphael or Titian had drawn had superposed itself upon the canvas. She asked fewer questions than before, and seemed to have lost heart for consulting guide-books and encyclopaedias. From time to time, however, she uttered a deep, full murmur of gratification. Florence in midsummer was perfectly void of travelers, and the dense little city gave forth its aesthetic aroma with a larger frankness, as the nightingale sings when the listeners have departed. The churches were deliciously cool, but the gray streets were stifling, and the great, dove-tailed polygons of pavement as hot to the tread as molten lava. Rowland, who suffered from intense heat, would have found all this uncomfortable in solitude; but Florence had never charmed him so completely as during these midsummer strolls with his preoccupied companion. One evening they had arranged to go on the morrow to the Academy. Miss Garland kept her appointment, but as soon as she appeared, Rowland saw that something painful had befallen her. She was doing her best to look at her ease, but her face bore the marks of tears. Rowland told her that he was afraid she was ill, and that if she preferred to give up the visit to Florence he would submit with what grace he might. She hesitated a moment, and then said she preferred to adhere to their plan. “I am not well,” she presently added, “but it’s a moral malady, and in such cases I consider your company beneficial.”
“But if I am to be your doctor,” said Rowland, “you must tell me how your illness began.”
“I can tell you very little. It began with Mrs. Hudson being unjust to me, for the first time in her life. And now I am already better!”
I mention this incident because it confirmed an impression of Rowland’s from which he had derived a certain consolation. He knew that Mrs. Hudson considered her son’s ill-regulated passion for Christina Light a very regrettable affair, but he suspected that her manifest compassion had been all for Roderick, and not in the least for Mary Garland. She was fond of the young girl, but she had valued her primarily, during the last two years, as a kind of assistant priestess at Roderick’s shrine. Roderick had honored her by asking her to become his wife, but that poor Mary had any rights in consequence Mrs. Hudson was quite incapable of perceiving. Her sentiment on the subject was of course not very vigorously formulated, but she was unprepared to admit that Miss Garland had any ground for complaint. Roderick was very unhappy; that was enough, and Mary’s duty was to join her patience and her prayers to those of his doting mother. Roderick might fall in love with whom he pleased; no doubt that women trained in the mysterious Roman arts were only too proud and too happy to make it easy for him; and it was very presuming in poor, plain Mary to feel any personal resentment. Mrs. Hudson’s philosophy was of too narrow a scope to suggest that a mother may forgive where a mistress cannot, and she thought herself greatly aggrieved that Miss Garland was not so disinterested as herself. She was ready to drop dead in Roderick’s service, and she was quite capable of seeing her companion falter and grow faint, without a tremor of compassion. Mary, apparently, had given some intimation of her belief that if constancy is the flower of devotion, reciprocity is the guarantee of constancy, and Mrs. Hudson had rebuked her failing faith and called it cruelty. That Miss Garland had found it hard to reason with Mrs. Hudson, that she suffered deeply from the elder lady’s softly bitter imputations, and that, in short, he had companionship in misfortune — all this made Rowland find a certain luxury in his discomfort.
The party at Villa Pandolfini used to sit in the garden in the evenings, which Rowland almost always spent with them. Their entertainment was in the heavily perfumed air, in the dim, far starlight, in the crenelated tower of a neighboring villa, which loomed vaguely above them in the warm darkness, and in such conversation as depressing reflections allowed. Roderick, clad always in white, roamed about like a restless ghost, silent for the most part, but making from time to time a brief observation, characterized by the most fantastic cynicism. Roderick’s contributions to the conversation were indeed always so fantastic that, though half the time they wearied him unspeakably, Rowland made an effort to treat them humorously. With Rowland alone Roderick talked a great deal more; often about things related to his own work, or about artistic and aesthetic matters in general. He talked as well as ever, or even better; but his talk always ended in a torrent of groans and curses. When this current set in, Rowland straightway turned his back or stopped his ears, and Roderick now witnessed these movements with perfect indifference. When the latter was absent from the star-lit circle in the garden, as often happened, Rowland knew nothing of his whereabouts; he supposed him to be in Florence, but he never learned what he did there. All this was not enlivening, but with an even, muffled tread the days followed each other, and brought the month of August to a close. One particular evening at this time was most enchanting; there was a perfect moon, looking so extraordinarily large that it made everything its light fell upon seem small; the heat was tempered by a soft west wind, and the wind was laden with the odors of the early harvest. The hills, the vale of the Arno, the shrunken river, the domes of Florence, were vaguely effaced by the dense moonshine; they looked as if they were melting out of sight like an exorcised vision. Rowland had found the two ladies alone at the villa, and he had sat with them for an hour. He felt absolutely hushed by the solemn splendor of the scene, but he had risked the remark that, whatever life might yet have in store for either of them, this was a night that they would never forget.
“It’s a night to remember on one’s death-bed!” Miss Garland exclaimed.
“Oh, Mary, how can you!” murmured Mrs. Hudson, to whom this savored of profanity, and to whose shrinking sense, indeed, the accumulated loveliness of the night seemed to have something shameless and defiant.
They were silent after this, for some time, but at last Rowland addressed certain idle words to Miss Garland. She made no reply, and he turned to look at her. She was sitting motionless, with her head pressed to Mrs. Hudson’s shoulder, and the latter lady was gazing at him through the silvered dusk with a look which gave a sort of spectral solemnity to the sad, weak meaning of her eyes. She had the air, for the moment, of a little old malevolent fairy. Miss Garland, Rowland perceived in an instant, was not absolutely motionless; a tremor passed through her figure. She was weeping, or on the point of weeping, and she could not trust herself to speak. Rowland left his place and wandered to another part of the garden, wondering at the motive of her sudden tears. Of women’s sobs in general he had a sovereign dread, but these, somehow, gave him a certain pleasure. When he returned to his place Miss Garland had raised her head and banished her tears. She came away from Mrs. Hudson, and they stood for a short time leaning against the parapet.
“It seems to you very strange, I suppose,” said Rowland, “that there should be any trouble in such a world as this.”
“I used to think,” she answered, “that if any trouble came to me I would bear it like a stoic. But that was at home, where things don’t speak to us of enjoyment as they do here. Here it is such a mixture; one does n’t know what to choose, what to believe. Beauty stands there — beauty such as this night and this place, and all this sad, strange summer, have been so full of — and it penetrates to one’s soul and lodges there, and keeps saying that man was not made to suffer, but to enjoy. This place has undermined my stoicism, but — shall I tell you? I feel as if I were saying something sinful — I love it!”
“If it is sinful, I absolve you,” said Rowland, “in so far as I have power. We are made, I suppose, both to suffer and to enjoy. As you say, it’s a mixture. Just now and here, it seems a peculiarly strange one. But we must take things in turn.”
His words had a singular aptness, for he had hardly uttered them when Roderick came out from the house, evidently in his darkest mood. He stood for a moment gazing hard at the view.
“It’s a very beautiful night, my son,” said his mother, going to him timidly, and touching his arm.
He passed his hand through his hair and let it stay there, clasping his thick locks. “Beautiful?” he cried; “of course it’s beautiful! Everything is beautiful; everything is insolent, defiant, atrocious with beauty. Nothing is ugly but me — me and my poor dead brain!”
“Oh, my dearest son,” pleaded poor Mrs. Hudson, “don’t you feel any better?”
Roderick made no immediate answer; but at last he spoke in a different voice. “I came expressly to tell you that you need n’t trouble yourselves any longer to wait for something to turn up. Nothing will turn up! It’s all over! I said when I came here I would give it a chance. I have given it a chance. Have n’t I, eh? Have n’t I, Rowland? It’s no use; the thing’s a failure! Do with me now what you please. I recommend you to set me up there at the end of the garden and shoot me.”
“I feel strongly inclined,” said Rowland gravely, “to go and get my revolver.”
“Oh, mercy on us, what language!” cried Mrs. Hudson.
“Why not?” Roderick went on. “This would be a lovely night for it, and I should be a lucky fellow to be buried in this garden. But bury me alive, if you prefer. Take me back to Northampton.”
“Roderick, will you really come?” cried his mother.
“Oh yes, I’ll go! I might as well be there as anywhere — reverting to idiocy and living upon alms. I can do nothing with all this; perhaps I should really like Northampton. If I ’m to vegetate for the rest of my days, I can do it there better than here.”
“Oh, come home, come home,” Mrs. Hudson said, “and we shall all be safe and quiet and happy. My dearest son, come home with your poor mother!”
“Let us go, then, and go quickly!”
Mrs. Hudson flung herself upon his neck for gratitude. “We’ll go tomorrow!” she cried. “The Lord is very good to me!”
Mary Garland said nothing to this; but she looked at Rowland, and her eyes seemed to contain a kind of alarmed appeal. Rowland noted it with exultation, but even without it he would have broken into an eager protest.
“Are you serious, Roderick?” he demanded.
“Serious? of course not! How can a man with a crack in his brain be serious? how can a muddlehead reason? But I ’m not jesting, either; I can no more make jokes than utter oracles!”
“Are you willing to go home?”
“Willing? God forbid! I am simply amenable to force; if my mother chooses to take me, I won’t resist. I can’t! I have come to that!”
“Let me resist, then,” said Rowland. “Go home as you are now? I can’t stand by and see it.”
It may have been true that Roderick had lost his sense of humor, but he scratched his head with a gesture that was almost comical in its effect. “You are a queer fellow! I should think I would disgust you horribly.”
“Stay another year,” Rowland simply said.
“You shall do something. I am responsible for your doing something.”
“To whom are you responsible?”
Rowland, before replying, glanced at Miss Garland, and his glance made her speak quickly. “Not to me!”
“I ’m responsible to myself,” Rowland declared.
“My poor, dear fellow!” said Roderick.
“Oh, Mr. Mallet, are n’t you satisfied?” cried Mrs. Hudson, in the tone in which Niobe may have addressed the avenging archers, after she had seen her eldest-born fall. “It’s out of all nature keeping him here. When we’re in a poor way, surely our own dear native land is the place for us. Do leave us to ourselves, sir!”
This just failed of being a dismissal in form, and Rowland bowed his head to it. Roderick was silent for some moments; then, suddenly, he covered his face with his two hands. “Take me at least out of this terrible Italy,” he cried, “where everything mocks and reproaches and torments and eludes me! Take me out of this land of impossible beauty and put me in the midst of ugliness. Set me down where nature is coarse and flat, and men and manners are vulgar. There must be something awfully ugly in Germany. Pack me off there!”
Rowland answered that if he wished to leave Italy the thing might be arranged; he would think it over and submit a proposal on the morrow. He suggested to Mrs. Hudson, in consequence, that she should spend the autumn in Switzerland, where she would find a fine tonic climate, plenty of fresh milk, and several pensions at three francs and a half a day. Switzerland, of course, was not ugly, but one could not have everything.
Mrs. Hudson neither thanked him nor assented; but she wept and packed her trunks. Rowland had a theory, after the scene which led to these preparations, that Mary Garland was weary of waiting for Roderick to come to his senses, that the faith which had bravely borne his manhood company hitherto, on the tortuous march he was leading it, had begun to believe it had gone far enough. This theory was not vitiated by something she said to him on the day before that on which Mrs. Hudson had arranged to leave Florence.
“Cousin Sarah, the other evening,” she said, “asked you to please leave us. I think she hardly knew what she was saying, and I hope you have not taken offense.”
“By no means; but I honestly believe that my leaving you would contribute greatly to Mrs. Hudson’s comfort. I can be your hidden providence, you know; I can watch you at a distance, and come upon the scene at critical moments.”
Miss Garland looked for a moment at the ground; and then, with sudden earnestness, “I beg you to come with us!” she said.
It need hardly be added that after this Rowland went with them.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56