Rowland had a very friendly memory of a little mountain inn, accessible with moderate trouble from Lucerne, where he had once spent a blissful ten days. He had at that time been trudging, knapsack on back, over half Switzerland, and not being, on his legs, a particularly light weight, it was no shame to him to confess that he was mortally tired. The inn of which I speak presented striking analogies with a cow-stable; but in spite of this circumstance, it was crowded with hungry tourists. It stood in a high, shallow valley, with flower-strewn Alpine meadows sloping down to it from the base of certain rugged rocks whose outlines were grotesque against the evening sky. Rowland had seen grander places in Switzerland that pleased him less, and whenever afterwards he wished to think of Alpine opportunities at their best, he recalled this grassy concave among the mountain-tops, and the August days he spent there, resting deliciously, at his length, in the lee of a sun-warmed boulder, with the light cool air stirring about his temples, the wafted odors of the pines in his nostrils, the tinkle of the cattle-bells in his ears, the vast progression of the mountain shadows before his eyes, and a volume of Wordsworth in his pocket. His face, on the Swiss hill-sides, had been scorched to within a shade of the color nowadays called magenta, and his bed was a pallet in a loft, which he shared with a German botanist of colossal stature — every inch of him quaking at an open window. These had been drawbacks to felicity, but Rowland hardly cared where or how he was lodged, for he spent the livelong day under the sky, on the crest of a slope that looked at the Jungfrau. He remembered all this on leaving Florence with his friends, and he reflected that, as the midseason was over, accommodations would be more ample, and charges more modest. He communicated with his old friend the landlord, and, while September was yet young, his companions established themselves under his guidance in the grassy valley.
He had crossed the Saint Gothard Pass with them, in the same carriage. During the journey from Florence, and especially during this portion of it, the cloud that hung over the little party had been almost dissipated, and they had looked at each other, in the close contiguity of the train and the posting-carriage, without either accusing or consoling glances. It was impossible not to enjoy the magnificent scenery of the Apennines and the Italian Alps, and there was a tacit agreement among the travelers to abstain from sombre allusions. The effect of this delicate compact seemed excellent; it ensured them a week’s intellectual sunshine. Roderick sat and gazed out of the window with a fascinated stare, and with a perfect docility of attitude. He concerned himself not a particle about the itinerary, or about any of the wayside arrangements; he took no trouble, and he gave none. He assented to everything that was proposed, talked very little, and led for a week a perfectly contemplative life. His mother rarely removed her eyes from him; and if, a while before, this would have extremely irritated him, he now seemed perfectly unconscious of her observation and profoundly indifferent to anything that might befall him. They spent a couple of days on the Lake of Como, at a hotel with white porticoes smothered in oleander and myrtle, and the terrace-steps leading down to little boats with striped awnings. They agreed it was the earthly paradise, and they passed the mornings strolling through the perfumed alleys of classic villas, and the evenings floating in the moonlight in a circle of outlined mountains, to the music of silver-trickling oars. One day, in the afternoon, the two young men took a long stroll together. They followed the winding footway that led toward Como, close to the lake-side, past the gates of villas and the walls of vineyards, through little hamlets propped on a dozen arches, and bathing their feet and their pendant tatters in the gray-green ripple; past frescoed walls and crumbling campaniles and grassy village piazzas, and the mouth of soft ravines that wound upward, through belts of swinging vine and vaporous olive and splendid chestnut, to high ledges where white chapels gleamed amid the paler boskage, and bare cliff-surfaces, with their sun-cracked lips, drank in the azure light. It all was confoundingly picturesque; it was the Italy that we know from the steel engravings in old keepsakes and annuals, from the vignettes on music-sheets and the drop-curtains at theatres; an Italy that we can never confess to ourselves — in spite of our own changes and of Italy’s — that we have ceased to believe in. Rowland and Roderick turned aside from the little paved footway that clambered and dipped and wound and doubled beside the lake, and stretched themselves idly beneath a fig-tree, on a grassy promontory. Rowland had never known anything so divinely soothing as the dreamy softness of that early autumn afternoon. The iridescent mountains shut him in; the little waves, beneath him, fretted the white pebbles at the laziest intervals; the festooned vines above him swayed just visibly in the all but motionless air.
Roderick lay observing it all with his arms thrown back and his hands under his head. “This suits me,” he said; “I could be happy here and forget everything. Why not stay here forever?” He kept his position for a long time and seemed lost in his thoughts. Rowland spoke to him, but he made vague answers; at last he closed his eyes. It seemed to Rowland, also, a place to stay in forever; a place for perfect oblivion of the disagreeable. Suddenly Roderick turned over on his face, and buried it in his arms. There had been something passionate in his movement; but Rowland was nevertheless surprised, when he at last jerked himself back into a sitting posture, to perceive the trace of tears in his eyes. Roderick turned to his friend, stretching his two hands out toward the lake and mountains, and shaking them with an eloquent gesture, as if his heart was too full for utterance.
“Pity me, sir; pity me!” he presently cried. “Look at this lovely world, and think what it must be to be dead to it!”
“Dead?” said Rowland.
“Dead, dead; dead and buried! Buried in an open grave, where you lie staring up at the sailing clouds, smelling the waving flowers, and hearing all nature live and grow above you! That’s the way I feel!”
“I am glad to hear it,” said Rowland. “Death of that sort is very near to resurrection.”
“It’s too horrible,” Roderick went on; “it has all come over me here tremendously! If I were not ashamed, I could shed a bushel of tears. For one hour of what I have been, I would give up anything I may be!”
“Never mind what you have been; be something better!”
“I shall never be anything again: it’s no use talking! But I don’t know what secret spring has been touched since I have lain here. Something in my heart seemed suddenly to open and let in a flood of beauty and desire. I know what I have lost, and I think it horrible! Mind you, I know it, I feel it! Remember that hereafter. Don’t say that he was stupefied and senseless; that his perception was dulled and his aspiration dead. Say that he trembled in every nerve with a sense of the beauty and sweetness of life; that he rebelled and protested and shrieked; that he was buried alive, with his eyes open, and his heart beating to madness; that he clung to every blade of grass and every way-side thorn as he passed; that it was the most horrible spectacle you ever witnessed; that it was an outrage, a murder, a massacre!”
“Good heavens, man, are you insane?” Rowland cried.
“I never have been saner. I don’t want to be bad company, and in this beautiful spot, at this delightful hour, it seems an outrage to break the charm. But I am bidding farewell to Italy, to beauty, to honor, to life! I only want to assure you that I know what I lose. I know it in every pulse of my heart! Here, where these things are all loveliest, I take leave of them. Farewell, farewell!”
During their passage of the Saint Gothard, Roderick absented himself much of the time from the carriage, and rambled far in advance, along the huge zigzags of the road. He displayed an extraordinary activity; his light weight and slender figure made him an excellent pedestrian, and his friends frequently saw him skirting the edge of plunging chasms, loosening the stones on long, steep slopes, or lifting himself against the sky, from the top of rocky pinnacles. Mary Garland walked a great deal, but she remained near the carriage to be with Mrs. Hudson. Rowland remained near it to be with Miss Garland. He trudged by her side up that magnificent ascent from Italy, and found himself regretting that the Alps were so low, and that their trudging was not to last a week. She was exhilarated; she liked to walk; in the way of mountains, until within the last few weeks, she had seen nothing greater than Mount Holyoke, and she found that the Alps amply justified their reputation. Rowland knew that she loved nature, but he was struck afresh with the vivacity of her observation of it, and with her knowledge of plants and stones. At that season the wild flowers had mostly departed, but a few of them lingered, and Miss Garland never failed to espy them in their outlying corners. They interested her greatly; she was charmed when they were old friends, and charmed even more when they were new. She displayed a very light foot in going in quest of them, and had soon covered the front seat of the carriage with a tangle of strange vegetation. Rowland of course was alert in her service, and he gathered for her several botanical specimens which at first seemed inaccessible. One of these, indeed, had at first appeared easier of capture than his attempt attested, and he had paused a moment at the base of the little peak on which it grew, measuring the risk of farther pursuit. Suddenly, as he stood there, he remembered Roderick’s defiance of danger and of Miss Light, at the Coliseum, and he was seized with a strong desire to test the courage of his companion. She had just scrambled up a grassy slope near him, and had seen that the flower was out of reach. As he prepared to approach it, she called to him eagerly to stop; the thing was impossible! Poor Rowland, whose passion had been terribly starved, enjoyed immensely the thought of having her care, for three minutes, what became of him. He was the least brutal of men, but for a moment he was perfectly indifferent to her suffering.
“I can get the flower,” he called to her. “Will you trust me?”
“I don’t want it; I would rather not have it!” she cried.
“Will you trust me?” he repeated, looking at her.
She looked at him and then at the flower; he wondered whether she would shriek and swoon, as Miss Light had done. “I wish it were something better!” she said simply; and then stood watching him, while he began to clamber. Rowland was not shaped for an acrobat, and his enterprise was difficult; but he kept his wits about him, made the most of narrow foot-holds and coigns of vantage, and at last secured his prize. He managed to stick it into his buttonhole and then he contrived to descend. There was more than one chance for an ugly fall, but he evaded them all. It was doubtless not gracefully done, but it was done, and that was all he had proposed to himself. He was red in the face when he offered Miss Garland the flower, and she was visibly pale. She had watched him without moving. All this had passed without the knowledge of Mrs. Hudson, who was dozing beneath the hood of the carriage. Mary Garland’s eyes did not perhaps display that ardent admiration which was formerly conferred by the queen of beauty at a tournament; but they expressed something in which Rowland found his reward. “Why did you do that?” she asked, gravely.
He hesitated. He felt that it was physically possible to say, “Because I love you!” but that it was not morally possible. He lowered his pitch and answered, simply, “Because I wanted to do something for you.”
“Suppose you had fallen,” said Miss Garland.
“I believed I would not fall. And you believed it, I think.”
“I believed nothing. I simply trusted you, as you asked me.”
“Quod erat demonstrandum!” cried Rowland. “I think you know Latin.”
When our four friends were established in what I have called their grassy valley, there was a good deal of scrambling over slopes both grassy and stony, a good deal of flower-plucking on narrow ledges, a great many long walks, and, thanks to the lucid mountain air, not a little exhilaration. Mrs. Hudson was obliged to intermit her suspicions of the deleterious atmosphere of the old world, and to acknowledge the edifying purity of the breezes of Engelthal. She was certainly more placid than she had been in Italy; having always lived in the country, she had missed in Rome and Florence that social solitude mitigated by bushes and rocks which is so dear to the true New England temperament. The little unpainted inn at Engelthal, with its plank partitions, its milk-pans standing in the sun, its “help,” in the form of angular young women of the country-side, reminded her of places of summer sojourn in her native land; and the beautiful historic chambers of the Villa Pandolfini passed from her memory without a regret, and without having in the least modified her ideal of domiciliary grace. Roderick had changed his sky, but he had not changed his mind; his humor was still that of which he had given Rowland a glimpse in that tragic explosion on the Lake of Como. He kept his despair to himself, and he went doggedly about the ordinary business of life; but it was easy to see that his spirit was mortally heavy, and that he lived and moved and talked simply from the force of habit. In that sad half-hour among the Italian olives there had been such a fierce sincerity in his tone, that Rowland began to abdicate the critical attitude. He began to feel that it was essentially vain to appeal to the poor fellow’s will; there was no will left; its place was an impotent void. This view of the case indeed was occasionally contravened by certain indications on Roderick’s part of the power of resistance to disagreeable obligations: one might still have said, if one had been disposed to be didactic at any hazard, that there was a method in his madness, that his moral energy had its sleeping and its waking hours, and that, in a cause that pleased it, it was capable of rising with the dawn. But on the other hand, pleasure, in this case, was quite at one with effort; evidently the greatest bliss in life, for Roderick, would have been to have a plastic idea. And then, it was impossible not to feel tenderly to a despair which had so ceased to be aggressive — not to forgive a great deal of apathy to a temper which had so unlearned its irritability. Roderick said frankly that Switzerland made him less miserable than Italy, and the Alps seemed less to mock at his enforced leisure than the Apennines. He indulged in long rambles, generally alone, and was very fond of climbing into dizzy places, where no sound could overtake him, and there, flinging himself on the never-trodden moss, of pulling his hat over his eyes and lounging away the hours in perfect immobility. Rowland sometimes walked with him; though Roderick never invited him, he seemed duly grateful for his society. Rowland now made it a rule to treat him like a perfectly sane man, to assume that all things were well with him, and never to allude to the prosperity he had forfeited or to the work he was not doing. He would have still said, had you questioned him, that Roderick’s condition was a mood — certainly a puzzling one. It might last yet for many a weary hour; but it was a long lane that had no turning. Roderick’s blues would not last forever. Rowland’s interest in Miss Garland’s relations with her cousin was still profoundly attentive, and perplexed as he was on all sides, he found nothing transparent here. After their arrival at Engelthal, Roderick appeared to seek the young girl’s society more than he had done hitherto, and this revival of ardor could not fail to set his friend a-wondering. They sat together and strolled together, and Miss Garland often read aloud to him. One day, on their coming to dinner, after he had been lying half the morning at her feet, in the shadow of a rock, Rowland asked him what she had been reading.
“I don’t know,” Roderick said, “I don’t heed the sense.” Miss Garland heard this, and Rowland looked at her. She looked at Roderick sharply and with a little blush. “I listen to Mary,” Roderick continued, “for the sake of her voice. It’s distractingly sweet!” At this Miss Garland’s blush deepened, and she looked away.
Rowland, in Florence, as we know, had suffered his imagination to wander in the direction of certain conjectures which the reader may deem unflattering to Miss Garland’s constancy. He had asked himself whether her faith in Roderick had not faltered, and that demand of hers which had brought about his own departure for Switzerland had seemed almost equivalent to a confession that she needed his help to believe. Rowland was essentially a modest man, and he did not risk the supposition that Miss Garland had contrasted him with Roderick to his own advantage; but he had a certain consciousness of duty resolutely done which allowed itself to fancy, at moments, that it might be not illogically rewarded by the bestowal of such stray grains of enthusiasm as had crumbled away from her estimate of his companion. If some day she had declared, in a sudden burst of passion, that she was outwearied and sickened, and that she gave up her recreant lover, Rowland’s expectation would have gone half-way to meet her. And certainly if her passion had taken this course no generous critic would utterly condemn her. She had been neglected, ignored, forsaken, treated with a contempt which no girl of a fine temper could endure. There were girls, indeed, whose fineness, like that of Burd Helen in the ballad, lay in clinging to the man of their love through thick and thin, and in bowing their head to all hard usage. This attitude had often an exquisite beauty of its own, but Rowland deemed that he had solid reason to believe it never could be Mary Garland’s. She was not a passive creature; she was not soft and meek and grateful for chance bounties. With all her reserve of manner she was proud and eager; she asked much and she wanted what she asked; she believed in fine things and she never could long persuade herself that fine things missed were as beautiful as fine things achieved. Once Rowland passed an angry day. He had dreamed — it was the most insubstantial of dreams — that she had given him the right to believe that she looked to him to transmute her discontent. And yet here she was throwing herself back into Roderick’s arms at his lightest overture, and playing with his own half fearful, half shameful hopes! Rowland declared to himself that his position was essentially detestable, and that all the philosophy he could bring to bear upon it would make it neither honorable nor comfortable. He would go away and make an end of it. He did not go away; he simply took a long walk, stayed away from the inn all day, and on his return found Miss Garland sitting out in the moonlight with Roderick.
Rowland, communing with himself during the restless ramble in question, had determined that he would at least cease to observe, to heed, or to care for what Miss Garland and Roderick might do or might not do together. Nevertheless, some three days afterward, the opportunity presenting itself, he deliberately broached the subject with Roderick. He knew this was inconsistent and faint-hearted; it was indulgence to the fingers that itched to handle forbidden fruit. But he said to himself that it was really more logical to be inconsistent than the reverse; for they had formerly discussed these mysteries very candidly. Was it not perfectly reasonable that he should wish to know the sequel of the situation which Roderick had then delineated? Roderick had made him promises, and it was to be expected that he should ascertain how the promises had been kept. Rowland could not say to himself that if the promises had been extorted for Mary Garland’s sake, his present attention to them was equally disinterested; and so he had to admit that he was indeed faint-hearted. He may perhaps be deemed too narrow a casuist, but we have repeated more than once that he was solidly burdened with a conscience.
“I imagine,” he said to Roderick, “that you are not sorry, at present, to have allowed yourself to be dissuaded from making a final rupture with Miss Garland.”
Roderick eyed him with the vague and absent look which had lately become habitual to his face, and repeated “Dissuaded?”
“Don’t you remember that, in Rome, you wished to break your engagement, and that I urged you to respect it, though it seemed to hang by so slender a thread? I wished you to see what would come of it? If I am not mistaken, you are reconciled to it.”
“Oh yes,” said Roderick, “I remember what you said; you made it a kind of personal favor to yourself that I should remain faithful. I consented, but afterwards, when I thought of it, your attitude greatly amused me. Had it ever been seen before? — a man asking another man to gratify him by not suspending his attentions to a pretty girl!”
“It was as selfish as anything else,” said Rowland. “One man puts his selfishness into one thing, and one into another. It would have utterly marred my comfort to see Miss Garland in low spirits.”
“But you liked her — you admired her, eh? So you intimated.”
“I admire her profoundly.”
“It was your originality then — to do you justice you have a great deal, of a certain sort — to wish her happiness secured in just that fashion. Many a man would have liked better himself to make the woman he admired happy, and would have welcomed her low spirits as an opening for sympathy. You were awfully queer about it.”
“So be it!” said Rowland. “The question is, Are you not glad I was queer? Are you not finding that your affection for Miss Garland has a permanent quality which you rather underestimated?”
“I don’t pretend to say. When she arrived in Rome, I found I did n’t care for her, and I honestly proposed that we should have no humbug about it. If you, on the contrary, thought there was something to be gained by having a little humbug, I was willing to try it! I don’t see that the situation is really changed. Mary Garland is all that she ever was — more than all. But I don’t care for her! I don’t care for anything, and I don’t find myself inspired to make an exception in her favor. The only difference is that I don’t care now, whether I care for her or not. Of course, marrying such a useless lout as I am is out of the question for any woman, and I should pay Miss Garland a poor compliment to assume that she is in a hurry to celebrate our nuptials.”
“Oh, you’re in love!” said Rowland, not very logically. It must be confessed, at any cost, that this assertion was made for the sole purpose of hearing Roderick deny it.
But it quite failed of its aim. Roderick gave a liberal shrug of his shoulders and an irresponsible toss of his head. “Call it what you please! I am past caring for names.”
Rowland had not only been illogical, he had also been slightly disingenuous. He did not believe that his companion was in love; he had argued the false to learn the true. The true was that Roderick was again, in some degree, under a charm, and that he found a healing virtue in Mary’s presence, indisposed though he was to admit it. He had said, shortly before, that her voice was sweet to his ear; and this was a promising beginning. If her voice was sweet it was probable that her glance was not amiss, that her touch had a quiet magic, and that her whole personal presence had learned the art of not being irritating. So Rowland reasoned, and invested Mary Garland with a still finer loveliness.
It was true that she herself helped him little to definite conclusions, and that he remained in puzzled doubt as to whether these happy touches were still a matter of the heart, or had become simply a matter of the conscience. He watched for signs that she rejoiced in Roderick’s renewed acceptance of her society; but it seemed to him that she was on her guard against interpreting it too largely. It was now her turn — he fancied that he sometimes gathered from certain nameless indications of glance and tone and gesture — it was now her turn to be indifferent, to care for other things. Again and again Rowland asked himself what these things were that Miss Garland might be supposed to care for, to the injury of ideal constancy; and again, having designated them, he divided them into two portions. One was that larger experience, in general, which had come to her with her arrival in Europe; the vague sense, borne in upon her imagination, that there were more things one might do with one’s life than youth and ignorance and Northampton had dreamt of; the revision of old pledges in the light of new emotions. The other was the experience, in especial, of Rowland’s — what? Here Rowland always paused, in perfect sincerity, to measure afresh his possible claim to the young girl’s regard. What might he call it? It had been more than civility and yet it had been less than devotion. It had spoken of a desire to serve, but it had said nothing of a hope of reward. Nevertheless, Rowland’s fancy hovered about the idea that it was recompensable, and his reflections ended in a reverie which perhaps did not define it, but at least, on each occasion, added a little to its volume. Since Miss Garland had asked him as a sort of favor to herself to come also to Switzerland, he thought it possible she might let him know whether he seemed to have effectively served her. The days passed without her doing so, and at last Rowland walked away to an isolated eminence some five miles from the inn and murmured to the silent rocks that she was ungrateful. Listening nature seemed not to contradict him, so that, on the morrow, he asked the young girl, with an infinitesimal touch of irony, whether it struck her that his deflection from his Florentine plan had been attended with brilliant results.
“Why, we are delighted that you are with us!” she answered.
He was anything but satisfied with this; it seemed to imply that she had forgotten that she had solemnly asked him to come. He reminded her of her request, and recalled the place and time. “That evening on the terrace, late, after Mrs. Hudson had gone to bed, and Roderick being absent.”
She perfectly remembered, but the memory seemed to trouble her. “I am afraid your kindness has been a great charge upon you,” she said. “You wanted very much to do something else.”
“I wanted above all things to oblige you, and I made no sacrifice. But if I had made an immense one, it would be more than made up to me by any assurance that I have helped Roderick into a better mood.”
She was silent a moment, and then, “Why do you ask me?” she said. “You are able to judge quite as well as I.”
Rowland blushed; he desired to justify himself in the most veracious manner. “The truth is,” he said, “that I am afraid I care only in the second place for Roderick’s holding up his head. What I care for in the first place is your happiness.”
“I don’t know why that should be,” she answered. “I have certainly done nothing to make you so much my friend. If you were to tell me you intended to leave us tomorrow, I am afraid that I should not venture to ask you to stay. But whether you go or stay, let us not talk of Roderick!”
“But that,” said Rowland, “does n’t answer my question. Is he better?”
“No!” she said, and turned away.
He was careful not to tell her that he intended to leave them. One day, shortly after this, as the two young men sat at the inn-door watching the sunset, which on that evening was very striking and lurid, Rowland made an attempt to sound his companion’s present sentiment touching Christina Light. “I wonder where she is,” he said, “and what sort of a life she is leading her prince.”
Roderick at first made no response. He was watching a figure on the summit of some distant rocks, opposite to them. The figure was apparently descending into the valley, and in relief against the crimson screen of the western sky, it looked gigantic. “Christina Light?” Roderick at last repeated, as if arousing himself from a reverie. “Where she is? It’s extraordinary how little I care!”
“Have you, then, completely got over it?”
To this Roderick made no direct reply; he sat brooding a while. “She’s a humbug!” he presently exclaimed.
“Possibly!” said Rowland. “But I have known worse ones.”
“She disappointed me!” Roderick continued in the same tone.
“Had she, then, really given you hopes?”
“Oh, don’t recall it!” Roderick cried. “Why the devil should I think of it? It was only three months ago, but it seems like ten years.” His friend said nothing more, and after a while he went on of his own accord. “I believed there was a future in it all! She pleased me — pleased me; and when an artist — such as I was — is pleased, you know!” And he paused again. “You never saw her as I did; you never heard her in her great moments. But there is no use talking about that! At first she would n’t regard me seriously; she chaffed me and made light of me. But at last I forced her to admit I was a great man. Think of that, sir! Christina Light called me a great man. A great man was what she was looking for, and we agreed to find our happiness for life in each other. To please me she promised not to marry till I gave her leave. I was not in a marrying way myself, but it was damnation to think of another man possessing her. To spare my sensibilities, she promised to turn off her prince, and the idea of her doing so made me as happy as to see a perfect statue shaping itself in the block. You have seen how she kept her promise! When I learned it, it was as if the statue had suddenly cracked and turned hideous. She died for me, like that!” And he snapped his fingers. “Was it wounded vanity, disappointed desire, betrayed confidence? I am sure I don’t know; you certainly have some name for it.”
“The poor girl did the best she could,” said Rowland.
“If that was her best, so much the worse for her! I have hardly thought of her these two months, but I have not forgiven her.”
“Well, you may believe that you are avenged. I can’t think of her as happy.”
“I don’t pity her!” said Roderick. Then he relapsed into silence, and the two sat watching the colossal figure as it made its way downward along the jagged silhouette of the rocks. “Who is this mighty man,” cried Roderick at last, “and what is he coming down upon us for? We are small people here, and we can’t undertake to keep company with giants.”
“Wait till we meet him on our own level,” said Rowland, “and perhaps he will not overtop us.”
“For ten minutes, at least,” Roderick rejoined, “he will have been a great man!” At this moment the figure sank beneath the horizon line and became invisible in the uncertain light. Suddenly Roderick said, “I would like to see her once more — simply to look at her.”
“I would not advise it,” said Rowland.
“It was her beauty that did it!” Roderick went on. “It was all her beauty; in comparison, the rest was nothing. What befooled me was to think of it as my property! And I had made it mine — no one else had studied it as I had, no one else understood it. What does that stick of a Casamassima know about it at this hour? I should like to see it just once more; it’s the only thing in the world of which I can say so.”
“I would not advise it,” Rowland repeated.
“That’s right, dear Rowland,” said Roderick; “don’t advise! That’s no use now.”
The dusk meanwhile had thickened, and they had not perceived a figure approaching them across the open space in front of the house. Suddenly it stepped into the circle of light projected from the door and windows, and they beheld little Sam Singleton stopping to stare at them. He was the giant whom they had seen descending along the rocks. When this was made apparent Roderick was seized with a fit of intense hilarity — it was the first time he had laughed in three months. Singleton, who carried a knapsack and walking-staff, received from Rowland the friendliest welcome. He was in the serenest possible humor, and if in the way of luggage his knapsack contained nothing but a comb and a second shirt, he produced from it a dozen admirable sketches. He had been trudging over half Switzerland and making everywhere the most vivid pictorial notes. They were mostly in a box at Interlaken, and in gratitude for Rowland’s appreciation, he presently telegraphed for his box, which, according to the excellent Swiss method, was punctually delivered by post. The nights were cold, and our friends, with three or four other chance sojourners, sat indoors over a fire of logs. Even with Roderick sitting moodily in the outer shadow they made a sympathetic little circle, and they turned over Singleton’s drawings, while he perched in the chimney-corner, blushing and grinning, with his feet on the rounds of his chair. He had been pedestrianizing for six weeks, and he was glad to rest awhile at Engelthal. It was an economic repose, however, for he sallied forth every morning, with his sketching tools on his back, in search of material for new studies. Roderick’s hilarity, after the first evening, had subsided, and he watched the little painter’s serene activity with a gravity that was almost portentous. Singleton, who was not in the secret of his personal misfortunes, still treated him with timid frankness as the rising star of American art. Roderick had said to Rowland, at first, that Singleton reminded him of some curious little insect with a remarkable mechanical instinct in its antennae; but as the days went by it was apparent that the modest landscapist’s unflagging industry grew to have an oppressive meaning for him. It pointed a moral, and Roderick used to sit and con the moral as he saw it figured in Singleton’s bent back, on the hot hill-sides, protruding from beneath his white umbrella. One day he wandered up a long slope and overtook him as he sat at work; Singleton related the incident afterwards to Rowland, who, after giving him in Rome a hint of Roderick’s aberrations, had strictly kept his own counsel.
“Are you always like this?” said Roderick, in almost sepulchral accents.
“Like this?” repeated Singleton, blinking confusedly, with an alarmed conscience.
“You remind me of a watch that never runs down. If one listens hard one hears you always — tic-tic, tic-tic.”
“Oh, I see,” said Singleton, beaming ingenuously. “I am very equable.”
“You are very equable, yes. And do you find it pleasant to be equable?”
Singleton turned and grinned more brightly, while he sucked the water from his camel’s-hair brush. Then, with a quickened sense of his indebtedness to a Providence that had endowed him with intrinsic facilities, “Oh, delightful!” he exclaimed.
Roderick stood looking at him a moment. “Damnation!” he said at last, solemnly, and turned his back.
One morning, shortly after this, Rowland and Roderick took a long walk. They had walked before in a dozen different directions, but they had not yet crossed a charming little wooded pass, which shut in their valley on one side and descended into the vale of Engelberg. In coming from Lucerne they had approached their inn by this path, and, feeling that they knew it, had hitherto neglected it in favor of untrodden ways. But at last the list of these was exhausted, and Rowland proposed the walk to Engelberg as a novelty. The place is half bleak and half pastoral; a huge white monastery rises abruptly from the green floor of the valley and complicates its picturesqueness with an element rare in Swiss scenery. Hard by is a group of chalets and inns, with the usual appurtenances of a prosperous Swiss resort — lean brown guides in baggy homespun, lounging under carved wooden galleries, stacks of alpenstocks in every doorway, sun-scorched Englishmen without shirt-collars. Our two friends sat a while at the door of an inn, discussing a pint of wine, and then Roderick, who was indefatigable, announced his intention of climbing to a certain rocky pinnacle which overhung the valley, and, according to the testimony of one of the guides, commanded a view of the Lake of Lucerne. To go and come back was only a matter of an hour, but Rowland, with the prospect of his homeward trudge before him, confessed to a preference for lounging on his bench, or at most strolling a trifle farther and taking a look at the monastery. Roderick went off alone, and his companion after a while bent his steps to the monasterial church. It was remarkable, like most of the churches of Catholic Switzerland, for a hideous style of devotional ornament; but it had a certain cold and musty picturesqueness, and Rowland lingered there with some tenderness for Alpine piety. While he was near the high-altar some people came in at the west door; but he did not notice them, and was presently engaged in deciphering a curious old German epitaph on one of the mural tablets. At last he turned away, wondering whether its syntax or its theology was the more uncomfortable, and, to this infinite surprise, found himself confronted with the Prince and Princess Casamassima.
The surprise on Christina’s part, for an instant, was equal, and at first she seemed disposed to turn away without letting it give place to a greeting. The prince, however, saluted gravely, and then Christina, in silence, put out her hand. Rowland immediately asked whether they were staying at Engelberg, but Christina only looked at him without speaking. The prince answered his questions, and related that they had been making a month’s tour in Switzerland, that at Lucerne his wife had been somewhat obstinately indisposed, and that the physician had recommended a week’s trial of the tonic air and goat’s milk of Engelberg. The scenery, said the prince, was stupendous, but the life was terribly sad — and they had three days more! It was a blessing, he urbanely added, to see a good Roman face.
Christina’s attitude, her solemn silence and her penetrating gaze seemed to Rowland, at first, to savor of affectation; but he presently perceived that she was profoundly agitated, and that she was afraid of betraying herself. “Do let us leave this hideous edifice,” she said; “there are things here that set one’s teeth on edge.” They moved slowly to the door, and when they stood outside, in the sunny coolness of the valley, she turned to Rowland and said, “I am extremely glad to see you.” Then she glanced about her and observed, against the wall of the church, an old stone seat. She looked at Prince Casamassima a moment, and he smiled more intensely, Rowland thought, than the occasion demanded. “I wish to sit here,” she said, “and speak to Mr. Mallet — alone.”
“At your pleasure, dear friend,” said the prince.
The tone of each was measured, to Rowland’s ear; but that of Christina was dry, and that of her husband was splendidly urbane. Rowland remembered that the Cavaliere Giacosa had told him that Mrs. Light’s candidate was thoroughly a prince, and our friend wondered how he relished a peremptory accent. Casamassima was an Italian of the undemonstrative type, but Rowland nevertheless divined that, like other princes before him, he had made the acquaintance of the thing called compromise. “Shall I come back?” he asked with the same smile.
“In half an hour,” said Christina.
In the clear outer light, Rowland’s first impression of her was that she was more beautiful than ever. And yet in three months she could hardly have changed; the change was in Rowland’s own vision of her, which that last interview, on the eve of her marriage, had made unprecedentedly tender.
“How came you here?” she asked. “Are you staying in this place?”
“I am staying at Engelthal, some ten miles away; I walked over.”
“Are you alone?”
“I am with Mr. Hudson.”
“Is he here with you?”
“He went half an hour ago to climb a rock for a view.”
“And his mother and that young girl, where are they?”
“They also are at Engelthal.”
“What do you do there?”
“What do you do here?” said Rowland, smiling.
“I count the minutes till my week is up. I hate mountains; they depress me to death. I am sure Miss Garland likes them.”
“She is very fond of them, I believe.”
“You believe — don’t you know? But I have given up trying to imitate Miss Garland,” said Christina.
“You surely need imitate no one.”
“Don’t say that,” she said gravely. “So you have walked ten miles this morning? And you are to walk back again?”
“Back again to supper.”
“And Mr. Hudson too?”
“Mr. Hudson especially. He is a great walker.”
“You men are happy!” Christina cried. “I believe I should enjoy the mountains if I could do such things. It is sitting still and having them scowl down at you! Prince Casamassina never rides. He only goes on a mule. He was carried up the Faulhorn on a litter.”
“On a litter?” said Rowland.
“In one of those machines — a chaise a porteurs — like a woman.”
Rowland received this information in silence; it was equally unbecoming to either to relish or deprecate its irony.
“Is Mr. Hudson to join you again? Will he come here?” Christina asked.
“I shall soon begin to expect him.”
“What shall you do when you leave Switzerland?” Christina continued. “Shall you go back to Rome?”
“I rather doubt it. My plans are very uncertain.”
“They depend upon Mr. Hudson, eh?”
“In a great measure.”
“I want you to tell me about him. Is he still in that perverse state of mind that afflicted you so much?”
Rowland looked at her mistrustfully, without answering. He was indisposed, instinctively, to tell her that Roderick was unhappy; it was possible she might offer to help him back to happiness. She immediately perceived his hesitation.
“I see no reason why we should not be frank,” she said. “I should think we were excellently placed for that sort of thing. You remember that formerly I cared very little what I said, don’t you? Well, I care absolutely not at all now. I say what I please, I do what I please! How did Mr. Hudson receive the news of my marriage?”
“Very badly,” said Rowland.
“With rage and reproaches?” And as Rowland hesitated again —“With silent contempt?”
“I can tell you but little. He spoke to me on the subject, but I stopped him. I told him it was none of his business, or of mine.”
“That was an excellent answer!” said Christina, softly. “Yet it was a little your business, after those sublime protestations I treated you to. I was really very fine that morning, eh?”
“You do yourself injustice,” said Rowland. “I should be at liberty now to believe you were insincere.”
“What does it matter now whether I was insincere or not? I can’t conceive of anything mattering less. I was very fine — is n’t it true?”
“You know what I think of you,” said Rowland. And for fear of being forced to betray his suspicion of the cause of her change, he took refuge in a commonplace. “Your mother, I hope, is well.”
“My mother is in the enjoyment of superb health, and may be seen every evening at the Casino, at the Baths of Lucca, confiding to every new-comer that she has married her daughter to a pearl of a prince.”
Rowland was anxious for news of Mrs. Light’s companion, and the natural course was frankly to inquire about him. “And the Cavaliere Giacosa is well?” he asked.
Christina hesitated, but she betrayed no other embarrassment. “The Cavaliere has retired to his native city of Ancona, upon a pension, for the rest of his natural life. He is a very good old man!”
“I have a great regard for him,” said Rowland, gravely, at the same time that he privately wondered whether the Cavaliere’s pension was paid by Prince Casamassima for services rendered in connection with his marriage. Had the Cavaliere received his commission? “And what do you do,” Rowland continued, “on leaving this place?”
“We go to Italy — we go to Naples.” She rose and stood silent a moment, looking down the valley. The figure of Prince Casamassima appeared in the distance, balancing his white umbrella. As her eyes rested upon it, Rowland imagined that he saw something deeper in the strange expression which had lurked in her face while he talked to her. At first he had been dazzled by her blooming beauty, to which the lapse of weeks had only added splendor; then he had seen a heavier ray in the light of her eye — a sinister intimation of sadness and bitterness. It was the outward mark of her sacrificed ideal. Her eyes grew cold as she looked at her husband, and when, after a moment, she turned them upon Rowland, they struck him as intensely tragical. He felt a singular mixture of sympathy and dread; he wished to give her a proof of friendship, and yet it seemed to him that she had now turned her face in a direction where friendship was impotent to interpose. She half read his feelings, apparently, and she gave a beautiful, sad smile. “I hope we may never meet again!” she said. And as Rowland gave her a protesting look —“You have seen me at my best. I wish to tell you solemnly, I was sincere! I know appearances are against me,” she went on quickly. “There is a great deal I can’t tell you. Perhaps you have guessed it; I care very little. You know, at any rate, I did my best. It would n’t serve; I was beaten and broken; they were stronger than I. Now it’s another affair!”
“It seems to me you have a large chance for happiness yet,” said Rowland, vaguely.
“Happiness? I mean to cultivate rapture; I mean to go in for bliss ineffable! You remember I told you that I was, in part, the world’s and the devil’s. Now they have taken me all. It was their choice; may they never repent!”
“I shall hear of you,” said Rowland.
“You will hear of me. And whatever you do hear, remember this: I was sincere!”
Prince Casamassima had approached, and Rowland looked at him with a good deal of simple compassion as a part of that “world” against which Christina had launched her mysterious menace. It was obvious that he was a good fellow, and that he could not, in the nature of things, be a positively bad husband; but his distinguished inoffensiveness only deepened the infelicity of Christina’s situation by depriving her defiant attitude of the sanction of relative justice. So long as she had been free to choose, she had esteemed him: but from the moment she was forced to marry him she had detested him. Rowland read in the young man’s elastic Italian mask a profound consciousness of all this; and as he found there also a record of other curious things — of pride, of temper, of bigotry, of an immense heritage of more or less aggressive traditions — he reflected that the matrimonial conjunction of his two companions might be sufficiently prolific in incident.
“You are going to Naples?” Rowland said to the prince by way of conversation.
“We are going to Paris,” Christina interposed, slowly and softly. “We are going to London. We are going to Vienna. We are going to St. Petersburg.”
Prince Casamassima dropped his eyes and fretted the earth with the point of his umbrella. While he engaged Rowland’s attention Christina turned away. When Rowland glanced at her again he saw a change pass over her face; she was observing something that was concealed from his own eyes by the angle of the church-wall. In a moment Roderick stepped into sight.
He stopped short, astonished; his face and figure were jaded, his garments dusty. He looked at Christina from head to foot, and then, slowly, his cheek flushed and his eye expanded. Christina returned his gaze, and for some moments there was a singular silence. “You don’t look well!” Christina said at last.
Roderick answered nothing; he only looked and looked, as if she had been a statue. “You are no less beautiful!” he presently cried.
She turned away with a smile, and stood a while gazing down the valley; Roderick stared at Prince Casamassima. Christina then put out her hand to Rowland. “Farewell,” she said. “If you are near me in future, don’t try to see me!” And then, after a pause, in a lower tone, “I was sincere!” She addressed herself again to Roderick and asked him some commonplace about his walk. But he said nothing; he only looked at her. Rowland at first had expected an outbreak of reproach, but it was evident that the danger was every moment diminishing. He was forgetting everything but her beauty, and as she stood there and let him feast upon it, Rowland was sure that she knew it. “I won’t say farewell to you,” she said; “we shall meet again!” And she moved gravely away. Prince Casamassima took leave courteously of Rowland; upon Roderick he bestowed a bow of exaggerated civility. Roderick appeared not to see it; he was still watching Christina, as she passed over the grass. His eyes followed her until she reached the door of her inn. Here she stopped and looked back at him.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10