About a month later, Rowland addressed to his cousin Cecilia a letter of which the following is a portion:—
. . . “So much for myself; yet I tell you but a tithe of my own story unless I let you know how matters stand with poor Hudson, for he gives me more to think about just now than anything else in the world. I need a good deal of courage to begin this chapter. You warned me, you know, and I made rather light of your warning. I have had all kinds of hopes and fears, but hitherto, in writing to you, I have resolutely put the hopes foremost. Now, however, my pride has forsaken me, and I should like hugely to give expression to a little comfortable despair. I should like to say, ‘My dear wise woman, you were right and I was wrong; you were a shrewd observer and I was a meddlesome donkey!’ When I think of a little talk we had about the ‘salubrity of genius,’ I feel my ears tingle. If this is salubrity, give me raging disease! I ’m pestered to death; I go about with a chronic heartache; there are moments when I could shed salt tears. There’s a pretty portrait of the most placid of men! I wish I could make you understand; or rather, I wish you could make me! I don’t understand a jot; it’s a hideous, mocking mystery; I give it up! I don’t in the least give it up, you know; I ’m incapable of giving it up. I sit holding my head by the hour, racking my brain, wondering what under heaven is to be done. You told me at Northampton that I took the thing too easily; you would tell me now, perhaps, that I take it too hard. I do, altogether; but it can’t be helped. Without flattering myself, I may say I ’m sympathetic. Many another man before this would have cast his perplexities to the winds and declared that Mr. Hudson must lie on his bed as he had made it. Some men, perhaps, would even say that I am making a mighty ado about nothing; that I have only to give him rope, and he will tire himself out. But he tugs at his rope altogether too hard for me to hold it comfortably. I certainly never pretended the thing was anything else than an experiment; I promised nothing, I answered for nothing; I only said the case was hopeful, and that it would be a shame to neglect it. I have done my best, and if the machine is running down I have a right to stand aside and let it scuttle. Amen, amen! No, I can write that, but I can’t feel it. I can’t be just; I can only be generous. I love the poor fellow and I can’t give him up. As for understanding him, that’s another matter; nowadays I don’t believe even you would. One’s wits are sadly pestered over here, I assure you, and I ’m in the way of seeing more than one puzzling specimen of human nature. Roderick and Miss Light, between them! . . . Have n’t I already told you about Miss Light? Last winter everything was perfection. Roderick struck out bravely, did really great things, and proved himself, as I supposed, thoroughly solid. He was strong, he was first-rate; I felt perfectly secure and sang private paeans of joy. We had passed at a bound into the open sea, and left danger behind. But in the summer I began to be puzzled, though I succeeded in not being alarmed. When we came back to Rome, however, I saw that the tide had turned and that we were close upon the rocks. It is, in fact, another case of Ulysses alongside of the Sirens; only Roderick refuses to be tied to the mast. He is the most extraordinary being, the strangest mixture of qualities. I don’t understand so much force going with so much weakness — such a brilliant gift being subject to such lapses. The poor fellow is incomplete, and it is really not his own fault; Nature has given him the faculty out of hand and bidden him be hanged with it. I never knew a man harder to advise or assist, if he is not in the mood for listening. I suppose there is some key or other to his character, but I try in vain to find it; and yet I can’t believe that Providence is so cruel as to have turned the lock and thrown the key away. He perplexes me, as I say, to death, and though he tires out my patience, he still fascinates me. Sometimes I think he has n’t a grain of conscience, and sometimes I think that, in a way, he has an excess. He takes things at once too easily and too hard; he is both too lax and too tense, too reckless and too ambitious, too cold and too passionate. He has developed faster even than you prophesied, and for good and evil alike he takes up a formidable space. There’s too much of him for me, at any rate. Yes, he is hard; there is no mistake about that. He’s inflexible, he’s brittle; and though he has plenty of spirit, plenty of soul, he has n’t what I call a heart. He has something that Miss Garland took for one, and I ’m pretty sure she’s a judge. But she judged on scanty evidence. He has something that Christina Light, here, makes believe at times that she takes for one, but she is no judge at all! I think it is established that, in the long run, egotism makes a failure in conduct: is it also true that it makes a failure in the arts? . . . Roderick’s standard is immensely high; I must do him that justice. He will do nothing beneath it, and while he is waiting for inspiration, his imagination, his nerves, his senses must have something to amuse them. This is a highly philosophical way of saying that he has taken to dissipation, and that he has just been spending a month at Naples — a city where ‘pleasure’ is actively cultivated — in very bad company. Are they all like that, all the men of genius? There are a great many artists here who hammer away at their trade with exemplary industry; in fact I am surprised at their success in reducing the matter to a steady, daily grind: but I really don’t think that one of them has his exquisite quality of talent. It is in the matter of quantity that he has broken down. The bottle won’t pour; he turns it upside down; it’s no use! Sometimes he declares it’s empty — that he has done all he was made to do. This I consider great nonsense; but I would nevertheless take him on his own terms if it was only I that was concerned. But I keep thinking of those two praying, trusting neighbors of yours, and I feel wretchedly like a swindler. If his working mood came but once in five years I would willingly wait for it and maintain him in leisure, if need be, in the intervals; but that would be a sorry account to present to them. Five years of this sort of thing, moreover, would effectually settle the question. I wish he were less of a genius and more of a charlatan! He’s too confoundedly all of one piece; he won’t throw overboard a grain of the cargo to save the rest. Fancy him thus with all his brilliant personal charm, his handsome head, his careless step, his look as of a nervous nineteenth-century Apollo, and you will understand that there is mighty little comfort in seeing him in a bad way. He was tolerably foolish last summer at Baden Baden, but he got on his feet, and for a while he was steady. Then he began to waver again, and at last toppled over. Now, literally, he’s lying prone. He came into my room last night, miserably tipsy. I assure you, it did n’t amuse me. . . . . About Miss Light it’s a long story. She is one of the great beauties of all time, and worth coming barefoot to Rome, like the pilgrims of old, to see. Her complexion, her glance, her step, her dusky tresses, may have been seen before in a goddess, but never in a woman. And you may take this for truth, because I ’m not in love with her. On the contrary! Her education has been simply infernal. She is corrupt, perverse, as proud as the queen of Sheba, and an appalling coquette; but she is generous, and with patience and skill you may enlist her imagination in a good cause as well as in a bad one. The other day I tried to manipulate it a little. Chance offered me an interview to which it was possible to give a serious turn, and I boldly broke ground and begged her to suffer my poor friend to go in peace. After a good deal of finessing she consented, and the next day, with a single word, packed him off to Naples to drown his sorrow in debauchery. I have come to the conclusion that she is more dangerous in her virtuous moods than in her vicious ones, and that she probably has a way of turning her back which is the most provoking thing in the world. She’s an actress, she could n’t forego doing the thing dramatically, and it was the dramatic touch that made it fatal. I wished her, of course, to let him down easily; but she desired to have the curtain drop on an attitude, and her attitudes deprive inflammable young artists of their reason. . . . . Roderick made an admirable bust of her at the beginning of the winter, and a dozen women came rushing to him to be done, mutatis mutandis, in the same style. They were all great ladies and ready to take him by the hand, but he told them all their faces did n’t interest him, and sent them away vowing his destruction.”
At this point of his long effusion, Rowland had paused and put by his letter. He kept it three days and then read it over. He was disposed at first to destroy it, but he decided finally to keep it, in the hope that it might strike a spark of useful suggestion from the flint of Cecilia’s good sense. We know he had a talent for taking advice. And then it might be, he reflected, that his cousin’s answer would throw some light on Mary Garland’s present vision of things. In his altered mood he added these few lines:—
“I unburdened myself the other day of this monstrous load of perplexity; I think it did me good, and I let it stand. I was in a melancholy muddle, and I was trying to work myself free. You know I like discussion, in a quiet way, and there is no one with whom I can have it as quietly as with you, most sagacious of cousins! There is an excellent old lady with whom I often chat, and who talks very much to the point. But Madame Grandoni has disliked Roderick from the first, and if I were to take her advice I would wash my hands of him. You will laugh at me for my long face, but you would do that in any circumstances. I am half ashamed of my letter, for I have a faith in my friend that is deeper than my doubts. He was here last evening, talking about the Naples Museum, the Aristides, the bronzes, the Pompeian frescoes, with such a beautiful intelligence that doubt of the ultimate future seemed blasphemy. I walked back to his lodging with him, and he was as mild as midsummer moonlight. He has the ineffable something that charms and convinces; my last word about him shall not be a harsh one.”
Shortly after sending his letter, going one day into his friend’s studio, he found Roderick suffering from the grave infliction of a visit from Mr. Leavenworth. Roderick submitted with extreme ill grace to being bored, and he was now evidently in a state of high exasperation. He had lately begun a representation of a lazzarone lounging in the sun; an image of serene, irresponsible, sensuous life. The real lazzarone, he had admitted, was a vile fellow; but the ideal lazzarone — and his own had been subtly idealized — was a precursor of the millennium.
Mr. Leavenworth had apparently just transferred his unhurrying gaze to the figure.
“Something in the style of the Dying Gladiator?” he sympathetically observed.
“Oh no,” said Roderick seriously, “he’s not dying, he’s only drunk!”
“Ah, but intoxication, you know,” Mr. Leavenworth rejoined, “is not a proper subject for sculpture. Sculpture should not deal with transitory attitudes.”
“Lying dead drunk is not a transitory attitude! Nothing is more permanent, more sculpturesque, more monumental!”
“An entertaining paradox,” said Mr. Leavenworth, “if we had time to exercise our wits upon it. I remember at Florence an intoxicated figure by Michael Angelo which seemed to me a deplorable aberration of a great mind. I myself touch liquor in no shape whatever. I have traveled through Europe on cold water. The most varied and attractive lists of wines are offered me, but I brush them aside. No cork has ever been drawn at my command!”
“The movement of drawing a cork calls into play a very pretty set of muscles,” said Roderick. “I think I will make a figure in that position.”
“A Bacchus, realistically treated! My dear young friend, never trifle with your lofty mission. Spotless marble should represent virtue, not vice!” And Mr. Leavenworth placidly waved his hand, as if to exorcise the spirit of levity, while his glance journeyed with leisurely benignity to another object — a marble replica of the bust of Miss Light. “An ideal head, I presume,” he went on; “a fanciful representation of one of the pagan goddesses — a Diana, a Flora, a naiad or dryad? I often regret that our American artists should not boldly cast off that extinct nomenclature.”
“She is neither a naiad nor a dryad,” said Roderick, “and her name is as good as yours or mine.”
“You call her”— Mr. Leavenworth blandly inquired.
“Miss Light,” Rowland interposed, in charity.
“Ah, our great American beauty! Not a pagan goddess — an American, Christian lady! Yes, I have had the pleasure of conversing with Miss Light. Her conversational powers are not remarkable, but her beauty is of a high order. I observed her the other evening at a large party, where some of the proudest members of the European aristocracy were present — duchesses, princesses, countesses, and others distinguished by similar titles. But for beauty, grace, and elegance my fair countrywoman left them all nowhere. What women can compare with a truly refined American lady? The duchesses the other night had no attractions for my eyes; they looked coarse and sensual! It seemed to me that the tyranny of class distinctions must indeed be terrible when such countenances could inspire admiration. You see more beautiful girls in an hour on Broadway than in the whole tour of Europe. Miss Light, now, on Broadway, would excite no particular remark.”
“She has never been there!” cried Roderick, triumphantly.
“I ’m afraid she never will be there. I suppose you have heard the news about her.”
“What news?” Roderick had stood with his back turned, fiercely poking at his lazzarone; but at Mr. Leavenworth’s last words he faced quickly about.
“It’s the news of the hour, I believe. Miss Light is admired by the highest people here. They tacitly recognize her superiority. She has had offers of marriage from various great lords. I was extremely happy to learn this circumstance, and to know that they all had been left sighing. She has not been dazzled by their titles and their gilded coronets. She has judged them simply as men, and found them wanting. One of them, however, a young Neapolitan prince, I believe, has after a long probation succeeded in making himself acceptable. Miss Light has at last said yes, and the engagement has just been announced. I am not generally a retailer of gossip of this description, but the fact was alluded to an hour ago by a lady with whom I was conversing, and here, in Europe, these conversational trifles usurp the lion’s share of one’s attention. I therefore retained the circumstance. Yes, I regret that Miss Light should marry one of these used-up foreigners. Americans should stand by each other. If she wanted a brilliant match we could have fixed it for her. If she wanted a fine fellow — a fine, sharp, enterprising modern man — I would have undertaken to find him for her without going out of the city of New York. And if she wanted a big fortune, I would have found her twenty that she would have had hard work to spend: money down — not tied up in fever-stricken lands and worm-eaten villas! What is the name of the young man? Prince Castaway, or some such thing!”
It was well for Mr. Leavenworth that he was a voluminous and imperturbable talker; for the current of his eloquence floated him past the short, sharp, startled cry with which Roderick greeted his “conversational trifle.” The young man stood looking at him with parted lips and an excited eye.
“The position of woman,” Mr. Leavenworth placidly resumed, “is certainly a very degraded one in these countries. I doubt whether a European princess can command the respect which in our country is exhibited toward the obscurest females. The civilization of a country should be measured by the deference shown to the weaker sex. Judged by that standard, where are they, over here?”
Though Mr. Leavenworth had not observed Roderick’s emotion, it was not lost upon Rowland, who was making certain uncomfortable reflections upon it. He saw that it had instantly become one with the acute irritation produced by the poor gentleman’s oppressive personality, and that an explosion of some sort was imminent. Mr. Leavenworth, with calm unconsciousness, proceeded to fire the mine.
“And now for our Culture!” he said in the same sonorous tones, demanding with a gesture the unveiling of the figure, which stood somewhat apart, muffled in a great sheet.
Roderick stood looking at him for a moment with concentrated rancor, and then strode to the statue and twitched off the cover. Mr. Leavenworth settled himself into his chair with an air of flattered proprietorship, and scanned the unfinished image. “I can conscientiously express myself as gratified with the general conception,” he said. “The figure has considerable majesty, and the countenance wears a fine, open expression. The forehead, however, strikes me as not sufficiently intellectual. In a statue of Culture, you know, that should be the great point. The eye should instinctively seek the forehead. Could n’t you heighten it up a little?”
Roderick, for all answer, tossed the sheet back over the statue. “Oblige me, sir,” he said, “oblige me! Never mention that thing again.”
“Never mention it? Why my dear sir”—
“Never mention it. It’s an abomination!”
“An abomination! My Culture!”
“Yours indeed!” cried Roderick. “It’s none of mine. I disown it.”
“Disown it, if you please,” said Mr. Leavenworth sternly, “but finish it first!”
“I ‘d rather smash it!” cried Roderick.
“This is folly, sir. You must keep your engagements.”
“I made no engagement. A sculptor is n’t a tailor. Did you ever hear of inspiration? Mine is dead! And it’s no laughing matter. You yourself killed it.”
“I— I— killed your inspiration?” cried Mr. Leavenworth, with the accent of righteous wrath. “You’re a very ungrateful boy! If ever I encouraged and cheered and sustained any one, I ’m sure I have done so to you.”
“I appreciate your good intentions, and I don’t wish to be uncivil. But your encouragement is — superfluous. I can’t work for you!”
“I call this ill-humor, young man!” said Mr. Leavenworth, as if he had found the damning word.
“Oh, I ’m in an infernal humor!” Roderick answered.
“Pray, sir, is it my infelicitous allusion to Miss Light’s marriage?”
“It’s your infelicitous everything! I don’t say that to offend you; I beg your pardon if it does. I say it by way of making our rupture complete, irretrievable!”
Rowland had stood by in silence, but he now interfered. “Listen to me,” he said, laying his hand on Roderick’s arm. “You are standing on the edge of a gulf. If you suffer anything that has passed to interrupt your work on that figure, you take your plunge. It’s no matter that you don’t like it; you will do the wisest thing you ever did if you make that effort of will necessary for finishing it. Destroy the statue then, if you like, but make the effort. I speak the truth!”
Roderick looked at him with eyes that still inexorableness made almost tender. “You too!” he simply said.
Rowland felt that he might as well attempt to squeeze water from a polished crystal as hope to move him. He turned away and walked into the adjoining room with a sense of sickening helplessness. In a few moments he came back and found that Mr. Leavenworth had departed — presumably in a manner somewhat portentous. Roderick was sitting with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.
Rowland made one more attempt. “You decline to think of what I urge?”
“There’s one more point — that you shouldn’t, for a month, go to Mrs. Light’s.”
“I go there this evening.”
“That too is an utter folly.”
“There are such things as necessary follies.”
“You are not reflecting; you are speaking in passion.”
“Why then do you make me speak?”
Rowland meditated a moment. “Is it also necessary that you should lose the best friend you have?”
Roderick looked up. “That’s for you to settle!”
His best friend clapped on his hat and strode away; in a moment the door closed behind him. Rowland walked hard for nearly a couple of hours. He passed up the Corso, out of the Porta del Popolo and into the Villa Borghese, of which he made a complete circuit. The keenness of his irritation subsided, but it left him with an intolerable weight upon his heart. When dusk had fallen, he found himself near the lodging of his friend Madame Grandoni. He frequently paid her a visit during the hour which preceded dinner, and he now ascended her unillumined staircase and rang at her relaxed bell-rope with an especial desire for diversion. He was told that, for the moment, she was occupied, but that if he would come in and wait, she would presently be with him. He had not sat musing in the firelight for ten minutes when he heard the jingle of the door-bell and then a rustling and murmuring in the hall. The door of the little saloon opened, but before the visitor appeared he had recognized her voice. Christina Light swept forward, preceded by her poodle, and almost filling the narrow parlor with the train of her dress. She was colored here and there by the flicking firelight.
“They told me you were here,” she said simply, as she took a seat.
“And yet you came in? It is very brave,” said Rowland.
“You are the brave one, when one thinks of it! Where is the padrona?”
“Occupied for the moment. But she is coming.”
“I have already waited ten minutes; I expect her from moment to moment.”
“Meanwhile we are alone?” And she glanced into the dusky corners of the room.
“Unless Stenterello counts,” said Rowland.
“Oh, he knows my secrets — unfortunate brute!” She sat silent awhile, looking into the firelight. Then at last, glancing at Rowland, “Come! say something pleasant!” she exclaimed.
“I have been very happy to hear of your engagement.”
“No, I don’t mean that. I have heard that so often, only since breakfast, that it has lost all sense. I mean some of those unexpected, charming things that you said to me a month ago at Saint Cecilia’s.”
“I offended you, then,” said Rowland. “I was afraid I had.”
“Ah, it occurred to you? Why have n’t I seen you since?”
“Really, I don’t know.” And he began to hesitate for an explanation. “I have called, but you have never been at home.”
“You were careful to choose the wrong times. You have a way with a poor girl! You sit down and inform her that she is a person with whom a respectable young man cannot associate without contamination; your friend is a very nice fellow, you are very careful of his morals, you wish him to know none but nice people, and you beg me therefore to desist. You request me to take these suggestions to heart and to act upon them as promptly as possible. They are not particularly flattering to my vanity. Vanity, however, is a sin, and I listen submissively, with an immense desire to be just. If I have many faults I know it, in a general way, and I try on the whole to do my best. ‘Voyons,’ I say to myself, ‘it is n’t particularly charming to hear one’s self made out such a low person, but it is worth thinking over; there’s probably a good deal of truth in it, and at any rate we must be as good a girl as we can. That’s the great point! And then here’s a magnificent chance for humility. If there’s doubt in the matter, let the doubt count against one’s self. That is what Saint Catherine did, and Saint Theresa, and all the others, and they are said to have had in consequence the most ineffable joys. Let us go in for a little ineffable joy!’ I tried it; I swallowed my rising sobs, I made you my courtesy, I determined I would not be spiteful, nor passionate, nor vengeful, nor anything that is supposed to be particularly feminine. I was a better girl than you made out — better at least than you thought; but I would let the difference go and do magnificently right, lest I should not do right enough. I thought of it a deal for six hours when I know I did n’t seem to be, and then at last I did it! Santo Dio!”
“My dear Miss Light, my dear Miss Light!” said Rowland, pleadingly.
“Since then,” the young girl went on, “I have been waiting for the ineffable joys. They have n’t yet turned up!”
“Pray listen to me!” Rowland urged.
“Nothing, nothing, nothing has come of it. I have passed the dreariest month of my life!”
“My dear Miss Light, you are a very terrible young lady!” cried Rowland.
“What do you mean by that?”
“A good many things. We’ll talk them over. But first, forgive me if I have offended you!”
She looked at him a moment, hesitating, and then thrust her hands into her muff. “That means nothing. Forgiveness is between equals, and you don’t regard me as your equal.”
“Really, I don’t understand!”
Christina rose and moved for a moment about the room. Then turning suddenly, “You don’t believe in me!” she cried; “not a grain! I don’t know what I would not give to force you to believe in me!”
Rowland sprang up, protesting, but before he had time to go far one of the scanty portieres was raised, and Madame Grandoni came in, pulling her wig straight. “But you shall believe in me yet,” murmured Christina, as she passed toward her hostess.
Madame Grandoni turned tenderly to Christina. “I must give you a very solemn kiss, my dear; you are the heroine of the hour. You have really accepted him, eh?”
“So they say!”
“But you ought to know best.”
“I don’t know — I don’t care!” She stood with her hand in Madame Grandoni’s, but looking askance at Rowland.
“That’s a pretty state of mind,” said the old lady, “for a young person who is going to become a princess.”
Christina shrugged her shoulders. “Every one expects me to go into ecstacies over that! Could anything be more vulgar? They may chuckle by themselves! Will you let me stay to dinner?”
“If you can dine on a risotto. But I imagine you are expected at home.”
“You are right. Prince Casamassima dines there, en famille. But I ’m not in his family, yet!”
“Do you know you are very wicked? I have half a mind not to keep you.”
Christina dropped her eyes, reflectively. “I beg you will let me stay,” she said. “If you wish to cure me of my wickedness you must be very patient and kind with me. It will be worth the trouble. You must show confidence in me.” And she gave another glance at Rowland. Then suddenly, in a different tone, “I don’t know what I ’m saying!” she cried. “I am weary, I am more lonely than ever, I wish I were dead!” The tears rose to her eyes, she struggled with them an instant, and buried her face in her muff; but at last she burst into uncontrollable sobs and flung her arms upon Madame Grandoni’s neck. This shrewd woman gave Rowland a significant nod, and a little shrug, over the young girl’s beautiful bowed head, and then led Christina tenderly away into the adjoining room. Rowland, left alone, stood there for an instant, intolerably puzzled, face to face with Miss Light’s poodle, who had set up a sharp, unearthly cry of sympathy with his mistress. Rowland vented his confusion in dealing a rap with his stick at the animal’s unmelodious muzzle, and then rapidly left the house. He saw Mrs. Light’s carriage waiting at the door, and heard afterwards that Christina went home to dinner.
A couple of days later he went, for a fortnight, to Florence. He had twenty minds to leave Italy altogether; and at Florence he could at least more freely decide upon his future movements. He felt profoundly, incurably disgusted. Reflective benevolence stood prudently aside, and for the time touched the source of his irritation with no softening side-lights.
It was the middle of March, and by the middle of March in Florence the spring is already warm and deep. He had an infinite relish for the place and the season, but as he strolled by the Arno and paused here and there in the great galleries, they failed to soothe his irritation. He was sore at heart, and as the days went by the soreness deepened rather than healed. He felt as if he had a complaint against fortune; good-natured as he was, his good-nature this time quite declined to let it pass. He had tried to be wise, he had tried to be kind, he had embarked upon an estimable enterprise; but his wisdom, his kindness, his energy, had been thrown back in his face. He was disappointed, and his disappointment had an angry spark in it. The sense of wasted time, of wasted hope and faith, kept him constant company. There were times when the beautiful things about him only exasperated his discontent. He went to the Pitti Palace, and Raphael’s Madonna of the Chair seemed, in its soft serenity, to mock him with the suggestion of unattainable repose. He lingered on the bridges at sunset, and knew that the light was enchanting and the mountains divine, but there seemed to be something horribly invidious and unwelcome in the fact. He felt, in a word, like a man who has been cruelly defrauded and who wishes to have his revenge. Life owed him, he thought, a compensation, and he would be restless and resentful until he found it. He knew — or he seemed to know — where he should find it; but he hardly told himself, and thought of the thing under mental protest, as a man in want of money may think of certain funds that he holds in trust. In his melancholy meditations the idea of something better than all this, something that might softly, richly interpose, something that might reconcile him to the future, something that might make one’s tenure of life deep and zealous instead of harsh and uneven — the idea of concrete compensation, in a word — shaped itself sooner or later into the image of Mary Garland.
Very odd, you may say, that at this time of day Rowland should still be brooding over a plain girl of whom he had had but the lightest of glimpses two years before; very odd that so deep an impression should have been made by so lightly-pressed an instrument. We must admit the oddity and offer simply in explanation that his sentiment apparently belonged to that species of emotion of which, by the testimony of the poets, the very name and essence is oddity. One night he slept but half an hour; he found his thoughts taking a turn which excited him portentously. He walked up and down his room half the night. It looked out on the Arno; the noise of the river came in at the open window; he felt like dressing and going down into the streets. Toward morning he flung himself into a chair; though he was wide awake he was less excited. It seemed to him that he saw his idea from the outside, that he judged it and condemned it; yet it stood there before him, distinct, and in a certain way imperious. During the day he tried to banish it and forget it; but it fascinated, haunted, at moments frightened him. He tried to amuse himself, paid visits, resorted to several rather violent devices for diverting his thoughts. If on the morrow he had committed a crime, the persons whom he had seen that day would have testified that he had talked strangely and had not seemed like himself. He felt certainly very unlike himself; long afterwards, in retrospect, he used to reflect that during those days he had for a while been literally beside himself. His idea persisted; it clung to him like a sturdy beggar. The sense of the matter, roughly expressed, was this: If Roderick was really going, as he himself had phrased it, to “fizzle out,” one might help him on the way — one might smooth the descensus Averno. For forty-eight hours there swam before Rowland’s eyes a vision of Roderick, graceful and beautiful as he passed, plunging, like a diver, from an eminence into a misty gulf. The gulf was destruction, annihilation, death; but if death was decreed, why should not the agony be brief? Beyond this vision there faintly glimmered another, as in the children’s game of the “magic lantern” a picture is superposed on the white wall before the last one has quite faded. It represented Mary Garland standing there with eyes in which the horror seemed slowly, slowly to expire, and hanging, motionless hands which at last made no resistance when his own offered to take them. When, of old, a man was burnt at the stake it was cruel to have to be present; but if one was present it was kind to lend a hand to pile up the fuel and make the flames do their work quickly and the smoke muffle up the victim. With all deference to your kindness, this was perhaps an obligation you would especially feel if you had a reversionary interest in something the victim was to leave behind him.
One morning, in the midst of all this, Rowland walked heedlessly out of one of the city gates and found himself on the road to Fiesole. It was a completely lovely day; the March sun felt like May, as the English poet of Florence says; the thick-blossomed shrubs and vines that hung over the walls of villa and podere flung their odorous promise into the warm, still air. Rowland followed the winding, climbing lanes; lingered, as he got higher, beneath the rusty cypresses, beside the low parapets, where you look down on the charming city and sweep the vale of the Arno; reached the little square before the cathedral, and rested awhile in the massive, dusky church; then climbed higher, to the Franciscan convent which is poised on the very apex of the mountain. He rang at the little gateway; a shabby, senile, red-faced brother admitted him with almost maudlin friendliness. There was a dreary chill in the chapel and the corridors, and he passed rapidly through them into the delightfully steep and tangled old garden which runs wild over the forehead of the great hill. He had been in it before, and he was very fond of it. The garden hangs in the air, and you ramble from terrace to terrace and wonder how it keeps from slipping down, in full consummation of its bereaved forlornness, into the nakedly romantic gorge beneath. It was just noon when Rowland went in, and after roaming about awhile he flung himself in the sun on a mossy stone bench and pulled his hat over his eyes. The short shadows of the brown-coated cypresses above him had grown very long, and yet he had not passed back through the convent. One of the monks, in his faded snuff-colored robe, came wandering out into the garden, reading his greasy little breviary. Suddenly he came toward the bench on which Rowland had stretched himself, and paused a moment, attentively. Rowland was lingering there still; he was sitting with his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees. He seemed not to have heard the sandaled tread of the good brother, but as the monk remained watching him, he at last looked up. It was not the ignoble old man who had admitted him, but a pale, gaunt personage, of a graver and more ascetic, and yet of a benignant, aspect. Rowland’s face bore the traces of extreme trouble. The frate kept his finger in his little book, and folded his arms picturesquely across his breast. It can hardly be determined whether his attitude, as he bent his sympathetic Italian eye upon Rowland, was a happy accident or the result of an exquisite spiritual discernment. To Rowland, at any rate, under the emotion of that moment, it seemed blessedly opportune. He rose and approached the monk, and laid his hand on his arm.
“My brother,” he said, “did you ever see the Devil?”
The frate gazed, gravely, and crossed himself. “Heaven forbid!”
“He was here,” Rowland went on, “here in this lovely garden, as he was once in Paradise, half an hour ago. But have no fear; I drove him out.” And Rowland stooped and picked up his hat, which had rolled away into a bed of cyclamen, in vague symbolism of an actual physical tussle.
“You have been tempted, my brother?” asked the friar, tenderly.
“And you have resisted — and conquered!”
“I believe I have conquered.”
“The blessed Saint Francis be praised! It is well done. If you like, we will offer a mass for you.”
“I am not a Catholic,” said Rowland.
The frate smiled with dignity. “That is a reason the more.”
“But it’s for you, then, to choose. Shake hands with me,” Rowland added; “that will do as well; and suffer me, as I go out, to stop a moment in your chapel.”
They shook hands and separated. The frate crossed himself, opened his book, and wandered away, in relief against the western sky. Rowland passed back into the convent, and paused long enough in the chapel to look for the alms-box. He had had what is vulgarly termed a great scare; he believed, very poignantly for the time, in the Devil, and he felt an irresistible need to subscribe to any institution which engaged to keep him at a distance.
The next day he returned to Rome, and the day afterwards he went in search of Roderick. He found him on the Pincian with his back turned to the crowd, looking at the sunset. “I went to Florence,” Rowland said, “and I thought of going farther; but I came back on purpose to give you another piece of advice. Once more, you refuse to leave Rome?”
“Never!” said Roderick.
“The only chance that I see, then, of your reviving your sense of responsibility to — to those various sacred things you have forgotten, is in sending for your mother to join you here.”
Roderick stared. “For my mother?”
“For your mother — and for Miss Garland.”
Roderick still stared; and then, slowly and faintly, his face flushed. “For Mary Garland — for my mother?” he repeated. “Send for them?”
“Tell me this; I have often wondered, but till now I have forborne to ask. You are still engaged to Miss Garland?”
Roderick frowned darkly, but assented.
“It would give you pleasure, then, to see her?”
Roderick turned away and for some moments answered nothing. “Pleasure!” he said at last, huskily. “Call it pain.”
“I regard you as a sick man,” Rowland continued. “In such a case Miss Garland would say that her place was at your side.”
Roderick looked at him some time askance, mistrustfully. “Is this a deep-laid snare?” he asked slowly.
Rowland had come back with all his patience rekindled, but these words gave it an almost fatal chill. “Heaven forgive you!” he cried bitterly. “My idea has been simply this. Try, in decency, to understand it. I have tried to befriend you, to help you, to inspire you with confidence, and I have failed. I took you from the hands of your mother and your betrothed, and it seemed to me my duty to restore you to their hands. That’s all I have to say.”
He was going, but Roderick forcibly detained him. It would have been but a rough way of expressing it to say that one could never know how Roderick would take a thing. It had happened more than once that when hit hard, deservedly, he had received the blow with touching gentleness. On the other hand, he had often resented the softest taps. The secondary effect of Rowland’s present admonition seemed reassuring. “I beg you to wait,” he said, “to forgive that shabby speech, and to let me reflect.” And he walked up and down awhile, reflecting. At last he stopped, with a look in his face that Rowland had not seen all winter. It was a strikingly beautiful look.
“How strange it is,” he said, “that the simplest devices are the last that occur to one!” And he broke into a light laugh. “To see Mary Garland is just what I want. And my mother — my mother can’t hurt me now.”
“You will write, then?”
“I will telegraph. They must come, at whatever cost. Striker can arrange it all for them.”
In a couple of days he told Rowland that he had received a telegraphic answer to his message, informing him that the two ladies were to sail immediately for Leghorn, in one of the small steamers which ply between that port and New York. They would arrive, therefore, in less than a month. Rowland passed this month of expectation in no very serene frame of mind. His suggestion had had its source in the deepest places of his agitated conscience; but there was something intolerable in the thought of the suffering to which the event was probably subjecting those undefended women. They had scraped together their scanty funds and embarked, at twenty-four hours’ notice, upon the dreadful sea, to journey tremulously to shores darkened by the shadow of deeper alarms. He could only promise himself to be their devoted friend and servant. Preoccupied as he was, he was able to observe that expectation, with Roderick, took a form which seemed singular even among his characteristic singularities. If redemption — Roderick seemed to reason — was to arrive with his mother and his affianced bride, these last moments of error should be doubly erratic. He did nothing; but inaction, with him, took on an unwonted air of gentle gayety. He laughed and whistled and went often to Mrs. Light’s; though Rowland knew not in what fashion present circumstances had modified his relations with Christina. The month ebbed away and Rowland daily expected to hear from Roderick that he had gone to Leghorn to meet the ship. He heard nothing, and late one evening, not having seen his friend in three or four days, he stopped at Roderick’s lodging to assure himself that he had gone at last. A cab was standing in the street, but as it was a couple of doors off he hardly heeded it. The hall at the foot of the staircase was dark, like most Roman halls, and he paused in the street-doorway on hearing the advancing footstep of a person with whom he wished to avoid coming into collision. While he did so he heard another footstep behind him, and turning round found that Roderick in person had just overtaken him. At the same moment a woman’s figure advanced from within, into the light of the street-lamp, and a face, half-startled, glanced at him out of the darkness. He gave a cry — it was the face of Mary Garland. Her glance flew past him to Roderick, and in a second a startled exclamation broke from her own lips. It made Rowland turn again. Roderick stood there, pale, apparently trying to speak, but saying nothing. His lips were parted and he was wavering slightly with a strange movement — the movement of a man who has drunk too much. Then Rowland’s eyes met Miss Garland’s again, and her own, which had rested a moment on Roderick’s, were formidable!
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51