Rowland passed the summer in England, staying with several old friends and two or three new ones. On his arrival, he felt it on his conscience to write to Mrs. Hudson and inform her that her son had relieved him of his tutelage. He felt that she considered him an incorruptible Mentor, following Roderick like a shadow, and he wished to let her know the truth. But he made the truth very comfortable, and gave a succinct statement of the young man’s brilliant beginnings. He owed it to himself, he said, to remind her that he had not judged lightly, and that Roderick’s present achievements were more profitable than his inglorious drudgery at Messrs. Striker & Spooner’s. He was now taking a well-earned holiday and proposing to see a little of the world. He would work none the worse for this; every artist needed to knock about and look at things for himself. They had parted company for a couple of months, for Roderick was now a great man and beyond the need of going about with a keeper. But they were to meet again in Rome in the autumn, and then he should be able to send her more good news. Meanwhile, he was very happy in what Roderick had already done — especially happy in the happiness it must have brought to her. He ventured to ask to be kindly commended to Miss Garland.
His letter was promptly answered — to his surprise in Miss Garland’s own hand. The same mail brought also an epistle from Cecilia. The latter was voluminous, and we must content ourselves with giving an extract.
“Your letter was filled with an echo of that brilliant Roman world, which made me almost ill with envy. For a week after I got it I thought Northampton really unpardonably tame. But I am drifting back again to my old deeps of resignation, and I rush to the window, when any one passes, with all my old gratitude for small favors. So Roderick Hudson is already a great man, and you turn out to be a great prophet? My compliments to both of you; I never heard of anything working so smoothly. And he takes it all very quietly, and does n’t lose his balance nor let it turn his head? You judged him, then, in a day better than I had done in six months, for I really did not expect that he would settle down into such a jog-trot of prosperity. I believed he would do fine things, but I was sure he would intersperse them with a good many follies, and that his beautiful statues would spring up out of the midst of a straggling plantation of wild oats. But from what you tell me, Mr. Striker may now go hang himself. . . . . There is one thing, however, to say as a friend, in the way of warning. That candid soul can keep a secret, and he may have private designs on your equanimity which you don’t begin to suspect. What do you think of his being engaged to Miss Garland? The two ladies had given no hint of it all winter, but a fortnight ago, when those big photographs of his statues arrived, they first pinned them up on the wall, and then trotted out into the town, made a dozen calls, and announced the news. Mrs. Hudson did, at least; Miss Garland, I suppose, sat at home writing letters. To me, I confess, the thing was a perfect surprise. I had not a suspicion that all the while he was coming so regularly to make himself agreeable on my veranda, he was quietly preferring his cousin to any one else. Not, indeed, that he was ever at particular pains to make himself agreeable! I suppose he has picked up a few graces in Rome. But he must not acquire too many: if he is too polite when he comes back, Miss Garland will count him as one of the lost. She will be a very good wife for a man of genius, and such a one as they are often shrewd enough to take. She’ll darn his stockings and keep his accounts, and sit at home and trim the lamp and keep up the fire while he studies the Beautiful in pretty neighbors at dinner-parties. The two ladies are evidently very happy, and, to do them justice, very humbly grateful to you. Mrs. Hudson never speaks of you without tears in her eyes, and I am sure she considers you a specially patented agent of Providence. Verily, it’s a good thing for a woman to be in love: Miss Garland has grown almost pretty. I met her the other night at a tea-party; she had a white rose in her hair, and sang a sentimental ballad in a fine contralto voice.”
Miss Garland’s letter was so much shorter that we may give it entire:—
My dear Sir — Mrs. Hudson, as I suppose you know, has been for some time unable to use her eyes. She requests me, therefore, to answer your favor of the 22d of June. She thanks you extremely for writing, and wishes me to say that she considers herself in every way under great obligations to you. Your account of her son’s progress and the high estimation in which he is held has made her very happy, and she earnestly prays that all may continue well with him. He sent us, a short time ago, several large photographs of his two statues, taken from different points of view. We know little about such things, but they seem to us wonderfully beautiful. We sent them to Boston to be handsomely framed, and the man, on returning them, wrote us that he had exhibited them for a week in his store, and that they had attracted great attention. The frames are magnificent, and the pictures now hang in a row on the parlor wall. Our only quarrel with them is that they make the old papering and the engravings look dreadfully shabby. Mr. Striker stood and looked at them the other day full five minutes, and said, at last, that if Roderick’s head was running on such things it was no wonder he could not learn to draw up a deed. We lead here so quiet and monotonous a life that I am afraid I can tell you nothing that will interest you. Mrs. Hudson requests me to say that the little more or less that may happen to us is of small account, as we live in our thoughts and our thoughts are fixed on her dear son. She thanks Heaven he has so good a friend. Mrs. Hudson says that this is too short a letter, but I can say nothing more.
Yours most respectfully,
It is a question whether the reader will know why, but this letter gave Rowland extraordinary pleasure. He liked its very brevity and meagreness, and there seemed to him an exquisite modesty in its saying nothing from the young girl herself. He delighted in the formal address and conclusion; they pleased him as he had been pleased by an angular gesture in some expressive girlish figure in an early painting. The letter renewed that impression of strong feeling combined with an almost rigid simplicity, which Roderick’s betrothed had personally given him. And its homely stiffness seemed a vivid reflection of a life concentrated, as the young girl had borrowed warrant from her companion to say, in a single devoted idea. The monotonous days of the two women seemed to Rowland’s fancy to follow each other like the tick-tick of a great time-piece, marking off the hours which separated them from the supreme felicity of clasping the far-away son and lover to lips sealed with the excess of joy. He hoped that Roderick, now that he had shaken off the oppression of his own importunate faith, was not losing a tolerant temper for the silent prayers of the two women at Northampton.
He was left to vain conjectures, however, as to Roderick’s actual moods and occupations. He knew he was no letter-writer, and that, in the young sculptor’s own phrase, he had at any time rather build a monument than write a note. But when a month had passed without news of him, he began to be half anxious and half angry, and wrote him three lines, in the care of a Continental banker, begging him at least to give some sign of whether he was alive or dead. A week afterwards came an answer — brief, and dated Baden–Baden. “I know I have been a great brute,” Roderick wrote, “not to have sent you a word before; but really I don’t know what has got into me. I have lately learned terribly well how to be idle. I am afraid to think how long it is since I wrote to my mother or to Mary. Heaven help them — poor, patient, trustful creatures! I don’t know how to tell you what I am doing. It seems all amusing enough while I do it, but it would make a poor show in a narrative intended for your formidable eyes. I found Baxter in Switzerland, or rather he found me, and he grabbed me by the arm and brought me here. I was walking twenty miles a day in the Alps, drinking milk in lonely chalets, sleeping as you sleep, and thinking it was all very good fun; but Baxter told me it would never do, that the Alps were ‘d —— d rot,’ that Baden–Baden was the place, and that if I knew what was good for me I would come along with him. It is a wonderful place, certainly, though, thank the Lord, Baxter departed last week, blaspheming horribly at trente et quarante. But you know all about it and what one does — what one is liable to do. I have succumbed, in a measure, to the liabilities, and I wish I had some one here to give me a thundering good blowing up. Not you, dear friend; you would draw it too mild; you have too much of the milk of human kindness. I have fits of horrible homesickness for my studio, and I shall be devoutly grateful when the summer is over and I can go back and swing a chisel. I feel as if nothing but the chisel would satisfy me; as if I could rush in a rage at a block of unshaped marble. There are a lot of the Roman people here, English and American; I live in the midst of them and talk nonsense from morning till night. There is also some one else; and to her I don’t talk sense, nor, thank heaven, mean what I say. I confess, I need a month’s work to recover my self-respect.”
These lines brought Rowland no small perturbation; the more, that what they seemed to point to surprised him. During the nine months of their companionship Roderick had shown so little taste for dissipation that Rowland had come to think of it as a canceled danger, and it greatly perplexed him to learn that his friend had apparently proved so pliant to opportunity. But Roderick’s allusions were ambiguous, and it was possible they might simply mean that he was out of patience with a frivolous way of life and fretting wholesomely over his absent work. It was a very good thing, certainly, that idleness should prove, on experiment, to sit heavily on his conscience. Nevertheless, the letter needed, to Rowland’s mind, a key: the key arrived a week later. “In common charity,” Roderick wrote, “lend me a hundred pounds! I have gambled away my last franc — I have made a mountain of debts. Send me the money first; lecture me afterwards!” Rowland sent the money by return of mail; then he proceeded, not to lecture, but to think. He hung his head; he was acutely disappointed. He had no right to be, he assured himself; but so it was. Roderick was young, impulsive, unpracticed in stoicism; it was a hundred to one that he was to pay the usual vulgar tribute to folly. But his friend had regarded it as securely gained to his own belief in virtue that he was not as other foolish youths are, and that he would have been capable of looking at folly in the face and passing on his way. Rowland for a while felt a sore sense of wrath. What right had a man who was engaged to that fine girl in Northampton to behave as if his consciousness were a common blank, to be overlaid with coarse sensations? Yes, distinctly, he was disappointed. He had accompanied his missive with an urgent recommendation to leave Baden–Baden immediately, and an offer to meet Roderick at any point he would name. The answer came promptly; it ran as follows: “Send me another fifty pounds! I have been back to the tables. I will leave as soon as the money comes, and meet you at Geneva. There I will tell you everything.”
There is an ancient terrace at Geneva, planted with trees and studded with benches, overlooked by gravely aristocratic old dwellings and overlooking the distant Alps. A great many generations have made it a lounging-place, a great many friends and lovers strolled there, a great many confidential talks and momentous interviews gone forward. Here, one morning, sitting on one of the battered green benches, Roderick, as he had promised, told his friend everything. He had arrived late the night before; he looked tired, and yet flushed and excited. He made no professions of penitence, but he practiced an unmitigated frankness, and his self-reprobation might be taken for granted. He implied in every phrase that he had done with it all, and that he was counting the hours till he could get back to work. We shall not rehearse his confession in detail; its main outline will be sufficient. He had fallen in with some very idle people, and had discovered that a little example and a little practice were capable of producing on his own part a considerable relish for their diversions. What could he do? He never read, and he had no studio; in one way or another he had to pass the time. He passed it in dangling about several very pretty women in wonderful Paris toilets, and reflected that it was always something gained for a sculptor to sit under a tree, looking at his leisure into a charming face and saying things that made it smile and play its muscles and part its lips and show its teeth. Attached to these ladies were certain gentlemen who walked about in clouds of perfume, rose at midday, and supped at midnight. Roderick had found himself in the mood for thinking them very amusing fellows. He was surprised at his own taste, but he let it take its course. It led him to the discovery that to live with ladies who expect you to present them with expensive bouquets, to ride with them in the Black Forest on well-looking horses, to come into their opera-boxes on nights when Patti sang and prices were consequent, to propose little light suppers at the Conversation House after the opera or drives by moonlight to the Castle, to be always arrayed and anointed, trinketed and gloved — that to move in such society, we say, though it might be a privilege, was a privilege with a penalty attached. But the tables made such things easy; half the Baden world lived by the tables. Roderick tried them and found that at first they smoothed his path delightfully. This simplification of matters, however, was only momentary, for he soon perceived that to seem to have money, and to have it in fact, exposed a good-looking young man to peculiar liabilities. At this point of his friend’s narrative, Rowland was reminded of Madame de Cruchecassee in The Newcomes, and though he had listened in tranquil silence to the rest of it, he found it hard not to say that all this had been, under the circumstances, a very bad business. Roderick admitted it with bitterness, and then told how much — measured simply financially — it had cost him. His luck had changed; the tables had ceased to back him, and he had found himself up to his knees in debt. Every penny had gone of the solid sum which had seemed a large equivalent of those shining statues in Rome. He had been an ass, but it was not irreparable; he could make another statue in a couple of months.
Rowland frowned. “For heaven’s sake,” he said, “don’t play such dangerous games with your facility. If you have got facility, revere it, respect it, adore it, treasure it — don’t speculate on it.” And he wondered what his companion, up to his knees in debt, would have done if there had been no good-natured Rowland Mallet to lend a helping hand. But he did not formulate his curiosity audibly, and the contingency seemed not to have presented itself to Roderick’s imagination. The young sculptor reverted to his late adventures again in the evening, and this time talked of them more objectively, as the phrase is; more as if they had been the adventures of another person. He related half a dozen droll things that had happened to him, and, as if his responsibility had been disengaged by all this free discussion, he laughed extravagantly at the memory of them. Rowland sat perfectly grave, on principle. Then Roderick began to talk of half a dozen statues that he had in his head, and set forth his design, with his usual vividness. Suddenly, as it was relevant, he declared that his Baden doings had not been altogether fruitless, for that the lady who had reminded Rowland of Madame de Cruchecassee was tremendously statuesque. Rowland at last said that it all might pass if he felt that he was really the wiser for it. “By the wiser,” he added, “I mean the stronger in purpose, in will.”
“Oh, don’t talk about will!” Roderick answered, throwing back his head and looking at the stars. This conversation also took place in the open air, on the little island in the shooting Rhone where Jean–Jacques has a monument. “The will, I believe, is the mystery of mysteries. Who can answer for his will? who can say beforehand that it’s strong? There are all kinds of indefinable currents moving to and fro between one’s will and one’s inclinations. People talk as if the two things were essentially distinct; on different sides of one’s organism, like the heart and the liver. Mine, I know, are much nearer together. It all depends upon circumstances. I believe there is a certain group of circumstances possible for every man, in which his will is destined to snap like a dry twig.”
“My dear boy,” said Rowland, “don’t talk about the will being ‘destined.’ The will is destiny itself. That’s the way to look at it.”
“Look at it, my dear Rowland,” Roderick answered, “as you find most comfortable. One conviction I have gathered from my summer’s experience,” he went on —“it’s as well to look it frankly in the face — is that I possess an almost unlimited susceptibility to the influence of a beautiful woman.”
Rowland stared, then strolled away, softly whistling to himself. He was unwilling to admit even to himself that this speech had really the sinister meaning it seemed to have. In a few days the two young men made their way back to Italy, and lingered a while in Florence before going on to Rome. In Florence Roderick seemed to have won back his old innocence and his preference for the pleasures of study over any others. Rowland began to think of the Baden episode as a bad dream, or at the worst as a mere sporadic piece of disorder, without roots in his companion’s character. They passed a fortnight looking at pictures and exploring for out the way bits of fresco and carving, and Roderick recovered all his earlier fervor of appreciation and comment. In Rome he went eagerly to work again, and finished in a month two or three small things he had left standing on his departure. He talked the most joyous nonsense about finding himself back in his old quarters. On the first Sunday afternoon following their return, on their going together to Saint Peter’s, he delivered himself of a lyrical greeting to the great church and to the city in general, in a tone of voice so irrepressibly elevated that it rang through the nave in rather a scandalous fashion, and almost arrested a procession of canons who were marching across to the choir. He began to model a new statue — a female figure, of which he had said nothing to Rowland. It represented a woman, leaning lazily back in her chair, with her head drooping as if she were listening, a vague smile on her lips, and a pair of remarkably beautiful arms folded in her lap. With rather less softness of contour, it would have resembled the noble statue of Agrippina in the Capitol. Rowland looked at it and was not sure he liked it. “Who is it? what does it mean?” he asked.
“Anything you please!” said Roderick, with a certain petulance. “I call it A Reminiscence.”
Rowland then remembered that one of the Baden ladies had been “statuesque,” and asked no more questions. This, after all, was a way of profiting by experience. A few days later he took his first ride of the season on the Campagna, and as, on his homeward way, he was passing across the long shadow of a ruined tower, he perceived a small figure at a short distance, bent over a sketch-book. As he drew near, he recognized his friend Singleton. The honest little painter’s face was scorched to flame-color by the light of southern suns, and borrowed an even deeper crimson from his gleeful greeting of his most appreciative patron. He was making a careful and charming little sketch. On Rowland’s asking him how he had spent his summer, he gave an account of his wanderings which made poor Mallet sigh with a sense of more contrasts than one. He had not been out of Italy, but he had been delving deep into the picturesque heart of the lovely land, and gathering a wonderful store of subjects. He had rambled about among the unvisited villages of the Apennines, pencil in hand and knapsack on back, sleeping on straw and eating black bread and beans, but feasting on local color, rioting, as it were, on chiaroscuro, and laying up a treasure of pictorial observations. He took a devout satisfaction in his hard-earned wisdom and his happy frugality. Rowland went the next day, by appointment, to look at his sketches, and spent a whole morning turning them over. Singleton talked more than he had ever done before, explained them all, and told some quaintly humorous anecdote about the production of each.
“Dear me, how I have chattered!” he said at last. “I am afraid you had rather have looked at the things in peace and quiet. I did n’t know I could talk so much. But somehow, I feel very happy; I feel as if I had improved.”
“That you have,” said Rowland. “I doubt whether an artist ever passed a more profitable three months. You must feel much more sure of yourself.”
Singleton looked for a long time with great intentness at a knot in the floor. “Yes,” he said at last, in a fluttered tone, “I feel much more sure of myself. I have got more facility!” And he lowered his voice as if he were communicating a secret which it took some courage to impart. “I hardly like to say it, for fear I should after all be mistaken. But since it strikes you, perhaps it’s true. It’s a great happiness; I would not exchange it for a great deal of money.”
“Yes, I suppose it’s a great happiness,” said Rowland. “I shall really think of you as living here in a state of scandalous bliss. I don’t believe it’s good for an artist to be in such brutally high spirits.”
Singleton stared for a moment, as if he thought Rowland was in earnest; then suddenly fathoming the kindly jest, he walked about the room, scratching his head and laughing intensely to himself. “And Mr. Hudson?” he said, as Rowland was going; “I hope he is well and happy.”
“He is very well,” said Rowland. “He is back at work again.”
“Ah, there’s a man,” cried Singleton, “who has taken his start once for all, and does n’t need to stop and ask himself in fear and trembling every month or two whether he is advancing or not. When he stops, it’s to rest! And where did he spend his summer?”
“The greater part of it at Baden–Baden.”
“Ah, that’s in the Black Forest,” cried Singleton, with profound simplicity. “They say you can make capital studies of trees there.”
“No doubt,” said Rowland, with a smile, laying an almost paternal hand on the little painter’s yellow head. “Unfortunately trees are not Roderick’s line. Nevertheless, he tells me that at Baden he made some studies. Come when you can, by the way,” he added after a moment, “to his studio, and tell me what you think of something he has lately begun.” Singleton declared that he would come delightedly, and Rowland left him to his work.
He met a number of his last winter’s friends again, and called upon Madame Grandoni, upon Miss Blanchard, and upon Gloriani, shortly after their return. The ladies gave an excellent account of themselves. Madame Grandoni had been taking sea-baths at Rimini, and Miss Blanchard painting wild flowers in the Tyrol. Her complexion was somewhat browned, which was very becoming, and her flowers were uncommonly pretty. Gloriani had been in Paris and had come away in high good-humor, finding no one there, in the artist-world, cleverer than himself. He came in a few days to Roderick’s studio, one afternoon when Rowland was present. He examined the new statue with great deference, said it was very promising, and abstained, considerately, from irritating prophecies. But Rowland fancied he observed certain signs of inward jubilation on the clever sculptor’s part, and walked away with him to learn his private opinion.
“Certainly; I liked it as well as I said,” Gloriani declared in answer to Rowland’s anxious query; “or rather I liked it a great deal better. I did n’t say how much, for fear of making your friend angry. But one can leave him alone now, for he’s coming round. I told you he could n’t keep up the transcendental style, and he has already broken down. Don’t you see it yourself, man?”
“I don’t particularly like this new statue,” said Rowland.
“That’s because you’re a purist. It’s deuced clever, it’s deuced knowing, it’s deuced pretty, but it is n’t the topping high art of three months ago. He has taken his turn sooner than I supposed. What has happened to him? Has he been disappointed in love? But that’s none of my business. I congratulate him on having become a practical man.”
Roderick, however, was less to be congratulated than Gloriani had taken it into his head to believe. He was discontented with his work, he applied himself to it by fits and starts, he declared that he did n’t know what was coming over him; he was turning into a man of moods. “Is this of necessity what a fellow must come to”— he asked of Rowland, with a sort of peremptory flash in his eye, which seemed to imply that his companion had undertaken to insure him against perplexities and was not fulfilling his contract —“this damnable uncertainty when he goes to bed at night as to whether he is going to wake up in a working humor or in a swearing humor? Have we only a season, over before we know it, in which we can call our faculties our own? Six months ago I could stand up to my work like a man, day after day, and never dream of asking myself whether I felt like it. But now, some mornings, it’s the very devil to get going. My statue looks so bad when I come into the studio that I have twenty minds to smash it on the spot, and I lose three or four hours in sitting there, moping and getting used to it.”
Rowland said that he supposed that this sort of thing was the lot of every artist and that the only remedy was plenty of courage and faith. And he reminded him of Gloriani’s having forewarned him against these sterile moods the year before.
“Gloriani’s an ass!” said Roderick, almost fiercely. He hired a horse and began to ride with Rowland on the Campagna. This delicious amusement restored him in a measure to cheerfulness, but seemed to Rowland on the whole not to stimulate his industry. Their rides were always very long, and Roderick insisted on making them longer by dismounting in picturesque spots and stretching himself in the sun among a heap of overtangled stones. He let the scorching Roman luminary beat down upon him with an equanimity which Rowland found it hard to emulate. But in this situation Roderick talked so much amusing nonsense that, for the sake of his company, Rowland consented to be uncomfortable, and often forgot that, though in these diversions the days passed quickly, they brought forth neither high art nor low. And yet it was perhaps by their help, after all, that Roderick secured several mornings of ardent work on his new figure, and brought it to rapid completion. One afternoon, when it was finished, Rowland went to look at it, and Roderick asked him for his opinion.
“What do you think yourself?” Rowland demanded, not from pusillanimity, but from real uncertainty.
“I think it is curiously bad,” Roderick answered. “It was bad from the first; it has fundamental vices. I have shuffled them in a measure out of sight, but I have not corrected them. I can’t — I can’t — I can’t!” he cried passionately. “They stare me in the face — they are all I see!”
Rowland offered several criticisms of detail, and suggested certain practicable changes. But Roderick differed with him on each of these points; the thing had faults enough, but they were not those faults. Rowland, unruffled, concluded by saying that whatever its faults might be, he had an idea people in general would like it.
“I wish to heaven some person in particular would buy it, and take it off my hands and out of my sight!” Roderick cried. “What am I to do now?” he went on. “I have n’t an idea. I think of subjects, but they remain mere lifeless names. They are mere words — they are not images. What am I to do?”
Rowland was a trifle annoyed. “Be a man,” he was on the point of saying, “and don’t, for heaven’s sake, talk in that confoundedly querulous voice.” But before he had uttered the words, there rang through the studio a loud, peremptory ring at the outer door.
Roderick broke into a laugh. “Talk of the devil,” he said, “and you see his horns! If that’s not a customer, it ought to be.”
The door of the studio was promptly flung open, and a lady advanced to the threshold — an imposing, voluminous person, who quite filled up the doorway. Rowland immediately felt that he had seen her before, but he recognized her only when she moved forward and disclosed an attendant in the person of a little bright-eyed, elderly gentleman, with a bristling white moustache. Then he remembered that just a year before he and his companion had seen in the Ludovisi gardens a wonderfully beautiful girl, strolling in the train of this conspicuous couple. He looked for her now, and in a moment she appeared, following her companions with the same nonchalant step as before, and leading her great snow-white poodle, decorated with motley ribbons. The elder lady offered the two young men a sufficiently gracious salute; the little old gentleman bowed and smiled with extreme alertness. The young girl, without casting a glance either at Roderick or at Rowland, looked about for a chair, and, on perceiving one, sank into it listlessly, pulled her poodle towards her, and began to rearrange his top-knot. Rowland saw that, even with her eyes dropped, her beauty was still dazzling.
“I trust we are at liberty to enter,” said the elder lady, with majesty. “We were told that Mr. Hudson had no fixed day, and that we might come at any time. Let us not disturb you.”
Roderick, as one of the lesser lights of the Roman art-world, had not hitherto been subject to incursions from inquisitive tourists, and, having no regular reception day, was not versed in the usual formulas of welcome. He said nothing, and Rowland, looking at him, saw that he was looking amazedly at the young girl and was apparently unconscious of everything else. “By Jove!” he cried precipitately, “it’s that goddess of the Villa Ludovisi!” Rowland in some confusion, did the honors as he could, but the little old gentleman begged him with the most obsequious of smiles to give himself no trouble. “I have been in many a studio!” he said, with his finger on his nose and a strong Italian accent.
“We are going about everywhere,” said his companion. “I am passionately fond of art!”
Rowland smiled sympathetically, and let them turn to Roderick’s statue. He glanced again at the young sculptor, to invite him to bestir himself, but Roderick was still gazing wide-eyed at the beautiful young mistress of the poodle, who by this time had looked up and was gazing straight at him. There was nothing bold in her look; it expressed a kind of languid, imperturbable indifference. Her beauty was extraordinary; it grew and grew as the young man observed her. In such a face the maidenly custom of averted eyes and ready blushes would have seemed an anomaly; nature had produced it for man’s delight and meant that it should surrender itself freely and coldly to admiration. It was not immediately apparent, however, that the young lady found an answering entertainment in the physiognomy of her host; she turned her head after a moment and looked idly round the room, and at last let her eyes rest on the statue of the woman seated. It being left to Rowland to stimulate conversation, he began by complimenting her on the beauty of her dog.
“Yes, he’s very handsome,” she murmured. “He’s a Florentine. The dogs in Florence are handsomer than the people.” And on Rowland’s caressing him: “His name is Stenterello,” she added. “Stenterello, give your hand to the gentleman.” This order was given in Italian. “Say buon giorno a lei.”
Stenterello thrust out his paw and gave four short, shrill barks; upon which the elder lady turned round and raised her forefinger.
“My dear, my dear, remember where you are! Excuse my foolish child,” she added, turning to Roderick with an agreeable smile. “She can think of nothing but her poodle.”
“I am teaching him to talk for me,” the young girl went on, without heeding her mother; “to say little things in society. It will save me a great deal of trouble. Stenterello, love, give a pretty smile and say tanti complimenti!” The poodle wagged his white pate — it looked like one of those little pads in swan’s-down, for applying powder to the face — and repeated the barking process.
“He is a wonderful beast,” said Rowland.
“He is not a beast,” said the young girl. “A beast is something black and dirty — something you can’t touch.”
“He is a very valuable dog,” the elder lady explained. “He was presented to my daughter by a Florentine nobleman.”
“It is not for that I care about him. It is for himself. He is better than the prince.”
“My dear, my dear!” repeated the mother in deprecating accents, but with a significant glance at Rowland which seemed to bespeak his attention to the glory of possessing a daughter who could deal in that fashion with the aristocracy.
Rowland remembered that when their unknown visitors had passed before them, a year previous, in the Villa Ludovisi, Roderick and he had exchanged conjectures as to their nationality and social quality. Roderick had declared that they were old-world people; but Rowland now needed no telling to feel that he might claim the elder lady as a fellow-countrywoman. She was a person of what is called a great deal of presence, with the faded traces, artfully revived here and there, of once brilliant beauty. Her daughter had come lawfully by her loveliness, but Rowland mentally made the distinction that the mother was silly and that the daughter was not. The mother had a very silly mouth — a mouth, Rowland suspected, capable of expressing an inordinate degree of unreason. The young girl, in spite of her childish satisfaction in her poodle, was not a person of feeble understanding. Rowland received an impression that, for reasons of her own, she was playing a part. What was the part and what were her reasons? She was interesting; Rowland wondered what were her domestic secrets. If her mother was a daughter of the great Republic, it was to be supposed that the young girl was a flower of the American soil; but her beauty had a robustness and tone uncommon in the somewhat facile loveliness of our western maidenhood. She spoke with a vague foreign accent, as if she had spent her life in strange countries. The little Italian apparently divined Rowland’s mute imaginings, for he presently stepped forward, with a bow like a master of ceremonies. “I have not done my duty,” he said, “in not announcing these ladies. Mrs. Light, Miss Light!”
Rowland was not materially the wiser for this information, but Roderick was aroused by it to the exercise of some slight hospitality. He altered the light, pulled forward two or three figures, and made an apology for not having more to show. “I don’t pretend to have anything of an exhibition — I am only a novice.”
“Indeed? — a novice! For a novice this is very well,” Mrs. Light declared. “Cavaliere, we have seen nothing better than this.”
The Cavaliere smiled rapturously. “It is stupendous!” he murmured. “And we have been to all the studios.”
“Not to all — heaven forbid!” cried Mrs. Light. “But to a number that I have had pointed out by artistic friends. I delight in studios: they are the temples of the beautiful here below. And if you are a novice, Mr. Hudson,” she went on, “you have already great admirers. Half a dozen people have told us that yours were among the things to see.” This gracious speech went unanswered; Roderick had already wandered across to the other side of the studio and was revolving about Miss Light. “Ah, he’s gone to look at my beautiful daughter; he is not the first that has had his head turned,” Mrs. Light resumed, lowering her voice to a confidential undertone; a favor which, considering the shortness of their acquaintance, Rowland was bound to appreciate. “The artists are all crazy about her. When she goes into a studio she is fatal to the pictures. And when she goes into a ball-room what do the other women say? Eh, Cavaliere?”
“She is very beautiful,” Rowland said, gravely.
Mrs. Light, who through her long, gold-cased glass was looking a little at everything, and at nothing as if she saw it, interrupted her random murmurs and exclamations, and surveyed Rowland from head to foot. She looked at him all over; apparently he had not been mentioned to her as a feature of Roderick’s establishment. It was the gaze, Rowland felt, which the vigilant and ambitious mamma of a beautiful daughter has always at her command for well-dressed young men of candid physiognomy. Her inspection in this case seemed satisfactory. “Are you also an artist?” she inquired with an almost caressing inflection. It was clear that what she meant was something of this kind: “Be so good as to assure me without delay that you are really the young man of substance and amiability that you appear.”
But Rowland answered simply the formal question — not the latent one. “Dear me, no; I am only a friend of Mr. Hudson.”
Mrs. Light, with a sigh, returned to the statues, and after mistaking the Adam for a gladiator, and the Eve for a Pocahontas, declared that she could not judge of such things unless she saw them in the marble. Rowland hesitated a moment, and then speaking in the interest of Roderick’s renown, said that he was the happy possessor of several of his friend’s works and that she was welcome to come and see them at his rooms. She bade the Cavaliere make a note of his address. “Ah, you’re a patron of the arts,” she said. “That’s what I should like to be if I had a little money. I delight in beauty in every form. But all these people ask such monstrous prices. One must be a millionaire, to think of such things, eh? Twenty years ago my husband had my portrait painted, here in Rome, by Papucci, who was the great man in those days. I was in a ball dress, with all my jewels, my neck and arms, and all that. The man got six hundred francs, and thought he was very well treated. Those were the days when a family could live like princes in Italy for five thousand scudi a year. The Cavaliere once upon a time was a great dandy — don’t blush, Cavaliere; any one can see that, just as any one can see that I was once a pretty woman! Get him to tell you what he made a figure upon. The railroads have brought in the vulgarians. That’s what I call it now — the invasion of the vulgarians! What are poor we to do?”
Rowland had begun to murmur some remedial proposition, when he was interrupted by the voice of Miss Light calling across the room, “Mamma!”
“My own love?”
“This gentleman wishes to model my bust. Please speak to him.”
The Cavaliere gave a little chuckle. “Already?” he cried.
Rowland looked round, equally surprised at the promptitude of the proposal. Roderick stood planted before the young girl with his arms folded, looking at her as he would have done at the Medicean Venus. He never paid compliments, and Rowland, though he had not heard him speak, could imagine the startling distinctness with which he made his request.
“He saw me a year ago,” the young girl went on, “and he has been thinking of me ever since.” Her tone, in speaking, was peculiar; it had a kind of studied inexpressiveness, which was yet not the vulgar device of a drawl.
“I must make your daughter’s bust — that’s all, madame!” cried Roderick, with warmth.
“I had rather you made the poodle’s,” said the young girl. “Is it very tiresome? I have spent half my life sitting for my photograph, in every conceivable attitude and with every conceivable coiffure. I think I have posed enough.”
“My dear child,” said Mrs. Light, “it may be one’s duty to pose. But as to my daughter’s sitting to you, sir — to a young sculptor whom we don’t know — it is a matter that needs reflection. It is not a favor that’s to be had for the mere asking.”
“If I don’t make her from life,” said Roderick, with energy, “I will make her from memory, and if the thing’s to be done, you had better have it done as well as possible.”
“Mamma hesitates,” said Miss Light, “because she does n’t know whether you mean she shall pay you for the bust. I can assure you that she will not pay you a sou.”
“My darling, you forget yourself,” said Mrs. Light, with an attempt at majestic severity. “Of course,” she added, in a moment, with a change of note, “the bust would be my own property.”
“Of course!” cried Roderick, impatiently.
“Dearest mother,” interposed the young girl, “how can you carry a marble bust about the world with you? Is it not enough to drag the poor original?”
“My dear, you’re nonsensical!” cried Mrs. Light, almost angrily.
“You can always sell it,” said the young girl, with the same artful artlessness.
Mrs. Light turned to Rowland, who pitied her, flushed and irritated. “She is very wicked today!”
The Cavaliere grinned in silence and walked away on tiptoe, with his hat to his lips, as if to leave the field clear for action. Rowland, on the contrary, wished to avert the coming storm. “You had better not refuse,” he said to Miss Light, “until you have seen Mr. Hudson’s things in the marble. Your mother is to come and look at some that I possess.”
“Thank you; I have no doubt you will see us. I dare say Mr. Hudson is very clever; but I don’t care for modern sculpture. I can’t look at it!”
“You shall care for my bust, I promise you!” cried Roderick, with a laugh.
“To satisfy Miss Light,” said the Cavaliere, “one of the old Greeks ought to come to life.”
“It would be worth his while,” said Roderick, paying, to Rowland’s knowledge, his first compliment.
“I might sit to Phidias, if he would promise to be very amusing and make me laugh. What do you say, Stenterello? would you sit to Phidias?”
“We must talk of this some other time,” said Mrs. Light. “We are in Rome for the winter. Many thanks. Cavaliere, call the carriage.” The Cavaliere led the way out, backing like a silver-stick, and Miss Light, following her mother, nodded, without looking at them, to each of the young men.
“Immortal powers, what a head!” cried Roderick, when they had gone. “There’s my fortune!”
“She is certainly very beautiful,” said Rowland. “But I ’m sorry you have undertaken her bust.”
“And why, pray?”
“I suspect it will bring trouble with it.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“I hardly know. They are queer people. The mamma, I suspect, is the least bit of an adventuress. Heaven knows what the daughter is.”
“She’s a goddess!” cried Roderick.
“Just so. She is all the more dangerous.”
“Dangerous? What will she do to me? She does n’t bite, I imagine.”
“It remains to be seen. There are two kinds of women — you ought to know it by this time — the safe and the unsafe. Miss Light, if I am not mistaken, is one of the unsafe. A word to the wise!”
“Much obliged!” said Roderick, and he began to whistle a triumphant air, in honor, apparently, of the advent of his beautiful model.
In calling this young lady and her mamma “queer people,” Rowland but roughly expressed his sentiment. They were so marked a variation from the monotonous troop of his fellow-country people that he felt much curiosity as to the sources of the change, especially since he doubted greatly whether, on the whole, it elevated the type. For a week he saw the two ladies driving daily in a well-appointed landau, with the Cavaliere and the poodle in the front seat. From Mrs. Light he received a gracious salute, tempered by her native majesty; but the young girl, looking straight before her, seemed profoundly indifferent to observers. Her extraordinary beauty, however, had already made observers numerous and given the habitues of the Pincian plenty to talk about. The echoes of their commentary reached Rowland’s ears; but he had little taste for random gossip, and desired a distinctly veracious informant. He had found one in the person of Madame Grandoni, for whom Mrs. Light and her beautiful daughter were a pair of old friends.
“I have known the mamma for twenty years,” said this judicious critic, “and if you ask any of the people who have been living here as long as I, you will find they remember her well. I have held the beautiful Christina on my knee when she was a little wizened baby with a very red face and no promise of beauty but those magnificent eyes. Ten years ago Mrs. Light disappeared, and has not since been seen in Rome, except for a few days last winter, when she passed through on her way to Naples. Then it was you met the trio in the Ludovisi gardens. When I first knew her she was the unmarried but very marriageable daughter of an old American painter of very bad landscapes, which people used to buy from charity and use for fire-boards. His name was Savage; it used to make every one laugh, he was such a mild, melancholy, pitiful old gentleman. He had married a horrible wife, an Englishwoman who had been on the stage. It was said she used to beat poor Savage with his mahl-stick and when the domestic finances were low to lock him up in his studio and tell him he should n’t come out until he had painted half a dozen of his daubs. She had a good deal of showy beauty. She would then go forth, and, her beauty helping, she would make certain people take the pictures. It helped her at last to make an English lord run away with her. At the time I speak of she had quite disappeared. Mrs. Light was then a very handsome girl, though by no means so handsome as her daughter has now become. Mr. Light was an American consul, newly appointed at one of the Adriatic ports. He was a mild, fair-whiskered young man, with some little property, and my impression is that he had got into bad company at home, and that his family procured him his place to keep him out of harm’s way. He came up to Rome on a holiday, fell in love with Miss Savage, and married her on the spot. He had not been married three years when he was drowned in the Adriatic, no one ever knew how. The young widow came back to Rome, to her father, and here shortly afterwards, in the shadow of Saint Peter’s, her little girl was born. It might have been supposed that Mrs. Light would marry again, and I know she had opportunities. But she overreached herself. She would take nothing less than a title and a fortune, and they were not forthcoming. She was admired and very fond of admiration; very vain, very worldly, very silly. She remained a pretty widow, with a surprising variety of bonnets and a dozen men always in her train. Giacosa dates from this period. He calls himself a Roman, but I have an impression he came up from Ancona with her. He was l’ami de la maison. He used to hold her bouquets, clean her gloves (I was told), run her errands, get her opera-boxes, and fight her battles with the shopkeepers. For this he needed courage, for she was smothered in debt. She at last left Rome to escape her creditors. Many of them must remember her still, but she seems now to have money to satisfy them. She left her poor old father here alone — helpless, infirm and unable to work. A subscription was shortly afterwards taken up among the foreigners, and he was sent back to America, where, as I afterwards heard, he died in some sort of asylum. From time to time, for several years, I heard vaguely of Mrs. Light as a wandering beauty at French and German watering-places. Once came a rumor that she was going to make a grand marriage in England; then we heard that the gentleman had thought better of it and left her to keep afloat as she could. She was a terribly scatter-brained creature. She pretends to be a great lady, but I consider that old Filomena, my washer-woman, is in essentials a greater one. But certainly, after all, she has been fortunate. She embarked at last on a lawsuit about some property, with her husband’s family, and went to America to attend to it. She came back triumphant, with a long purse. She reappeared in Italy, and established herself for a while in Venice. Then she came to Florence, where she spent a couple of years and where I saw her. Last year she passed down to Naples, which I should have said was just the place for her, and this winter she has laid siege to Rome. She seems very prosperous. She has taken a floor in the Palazzo F— — she keeps her carriage, and Christina and she, between them, must have a pretty milliner’s bill. Giacosa has turned up again, looking as if he had been kept on ice at Ancona, for her return.”
“What sort of education,” Rowland asked, “do you imagine the mother’s adventures to have been for the daughter?”
“A strange school! But Mrs. Light told me, in Florence, that she had given her child the education of a princess. In other words, I suppose, she speaks three or four languages, and has read several hundred French novels. Christina, I suspect, is very clever. When I saw her, I was amazed at her beauty, and, certainly, if there is any truth in faces, she ought to have the soul of an angel. Perhaps she has. I don’t judge her; she’s an extraordinary young person. She has been told twenty times a day by her mother, since she was five years old, that she is a beauty of beauties, that her face is her fortune, and that, if she plays her cards, she may marry a duke. If she has not been fatally corrupted, she is a very superior girl. My own impression is that she is a mixture of good and bad, of ambition and indifference. Mrs. Light, having failed to make her own fortune in matrimony, has transferred her hopes to her daughter, and nursed them till they have become a kind of monomania. She has a hobby, which she rides in secret; but some day she will let you see it. I ’m sure that if you go in some evening unannounced, you will find her scanning the tea-leaves in her cup, or telling her daughter’s fortune with a greasy pack of cards, preserved for the purpose. She promises her a prince — a reigning prince. But if Mrs. Light is silly, she is shrewd, too, and, lest considerations of state should deny her prince the luxury of a love-match, she keeps on hand a few common mortals. At the worst she would take a duke, an English lord, or even a young American with a proper number of millions. The poor woman must be rather uncomfortable. She is always building castles and knocking them down again — always casting her nets and pulling them in. If her daughter were less of a beauty, her transparent ambition would be very ridiculous; but there is something in the girl, as one looks at her, that seems to make it very possible she is marked out for one of those wonderful romantic fortunes that history now and then relates. ‘Who, after all, was the Empress of the French?’ Mrs. Light is forever saying. ‘And beside Christina the Empress is a dowdy!’”
“And what does Christina say?”
“She makes no scruple, as you know, of saying that her mother is a fool. What she thinks, heaven knows. I suspect that, practically, she does not commit herself. She is excessively proud, and thinks herself good enough to occupy the highest station in the world; but she knows that her mother talks nonsense, and that even a beautiful girl may look awkward in making unsuccessful advances. So she remains superbly indifferent, and lets her mother take the risks. If the prince is secured, so much the better; if he is not, she need never confess to herself that even a prince has slighted her.”
“Your report is as solid,” Rowland said to Madame Grandoni, thanking her, “as if it had been prepared for the Academy of Sciences;” and he congratulated himself on having listened to it when, a couple of days later, Mrs. Light and her daughter, attended by the Cavaliere and the poodle, came to his rooms to look at Roderick’s statues. It was more comfortable to know just with whom he was dealing.
Mrs. Light was prodigiously gracious, and showered down compliments not only on the statues, but on all his possessions. “Upon my word,” she said, “you men know how to make yourselves comfortable. If one of us poor women had half as many easy-chairs and knick-knacks, we should be famously abused. It’s really selfish to be living all alone in such a place as this. Cavaliere, how should you like this suite of rooms and a fortune to fill them with pictures and statues? Christina, love, look at that mosaic table. Mr. Mallet, I could almost beg it from you. Yes, that Eve is certainly very fine. We need n’t be ashamed of such a great-grandmother as that. If she was really such a beautiful woman, it accounts for the good looks of some of us. Where is Mr. What ’s-his-name, the young sculptor? Why is n’t he here to be complimented?”
Christina had remained but for a moment in the chair which Rowland had placed for her, had given but a cursory glance at the statues, and then, leaving her place, had begun to wander round the room — looking at herself in the mirror, touching the ornaments and curiosities, glancing at the books and prints. Rowland’s sitting-room was encumbered with bric-a-brac, and she found plenty of occupation. Rowland presently joined her, and pointed out some of the objects he most valued.
“It’s an odd jumble,” she said frankly. “Some things are very pretty — some are very ugly. But I like ugly things, when they have a certain look. Prettiness is terribly vulgar nowadays, and it is not every one that knows just the sort of ugliness that has chic. But chic is getting dreadfully common too. There’s a hint of it even in Madame Baldi’s bonnets. I like looking at people’s things,” she added in a moment, turning to Rowland and resting her eyes on him. “It helps you to find out their characters.”
“Am I to suppose,” asked Rowland, smiling, “that you have arrived at any conclusions as to mine?”
“I am rather muddled; you have too many things; one seems to contradict another. You are very artistic and yet you are very prosaic; you have what is called a ‘catholic’ taste and yet you are full of obstinate little prejudices and habits of thought, which, if I knew you, I should find very tiresome. I don’t think I like you.”
“You make a great mistake,” laughed Rowland; “I assure you I am very amiable.”
“Yes, I am probably wrong, and if I knew you, I should find out I was wrong, and that would irritate me and make me dislike you more. So you see we are necessary enemies.”
“No, I don’t dislike you.”
“Worse and worse; for you certainly will not like me.”
“You are very discouraging.”
“I am fond of facing the truth, though some day you will deny that. Where is that queer friend of yours?”
“You mean Mr. Hudson. He is represented by these beautiful works.”
Miss Light looked for some moments at Roderick’s statues. “Yes,” she said, “they are not so silly as most of the things we have seen. They have no chic, and yet they are beautiful.”
“You describe them perfectly,” said Rowland. “They are beautiful, and yet they have no chic. That’s it!”
“If he will promise to put none into my bust, I have a mind to let him make it. A request made in those terms deserves to be granted.”
“In what terms?”
“Did n’t you hear him? ‘Mademoiselle, you almost satisfy my conception of the beautiful. I must model your bust.’ That almost should be rewarded. He is like me; he likes to face the truth. I think we should get on together.”
The Cavaliere approached Rowland, to express the pleasure he had derived from his beautiful “collection.” His smile was exquisitely bland, his accent appealing, caressing, insinuating. But he gave Rowland an odd sense of looking at a little waxen image, adjusted to perform certain gestures and emit certain sounds. It had once contained a soul, but the soul had leaked out. Nevertheless, Rowland reflected, there are more profitless things than mere sound and gesture, in a consummate Italian. And the Cavaliere, too, had soul enough left to desire to speak a few words on his own account, and call Rowland’s attention to the fact that he was not, after all, a hired cicerone, but an ancient Roman gentleman. Rowland felt sorry for him; he hardly knew why. He assured him in a friendly fashion that he must come again; that his house was always at his service. The Cavaliere bowed down to the ground. “You do me too much honor,” he murmured. “If you will allow me — it is not impossible!”
Mrs. Light, meanwhile, had prepared to depart. “If you are not afraid to come and see two quiet little women, we shall be most happy!” she said. “We have no statues nor pictures — we have nothing but each other. Eh, darling?”
“I beg your pardon,” said Christina.
“Oh, and the Cavaliere,” added her mother.
“The poodle, please!” cried the young girl.
Rowland glanced at the Cavaliere; he was smiling more blandly than ever.
A few days later Rowland presented himself, as civility demanded, at Mrs. Light’s door. He found her living in one of the stately houses of the Via dell’ Angelo Custode, and, rather to his surprise, was told she was at home. He passed through half a dozen rooms and was ushered into an immense saloon, at one end of which sat the mistress of the establishment, with a piece of embroidery. She received him very graciously, and then, pointing mysteriously to a large screen which was unfolded across the embrasure of one of the deep windows, “I am keeping guard!” she said. Rowland looked interrogative; whereupon she beckoned him forward and motioned him to look behind the screen. He obeyed, and for some moments stood gazing. Roderick, with his back turned, stood before an extemporized pedestal, ardently shaping a formless mass of clay. Before him sat Christina Light, in a white dress, with her shoulders bare, her magnificent hair twisted into a classic coil, and her head admirably poised. Meeting Rowland’s gaze, she smiled a little, only with her deep gray eyes, without moving. She looked divinely beautiful.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10