How it befell that Roderick had failed to be in Leghorn on his mother’s arrival never clearly transpired; for he undertook to give no elaborate explanation of his fault. He never indulged in professions (touching personal conduct) as to the future, or in remorse as to the past, and as he would have asked no praise if he had traveled night and day to embrace his mother as she set foot on shore, he made (in Rowland’s presence, at least) no apology for having left her to come in search of him. It was to be said that, thanks to an unprecedentedly fine season, the voyage of the two ladies had been surprisingly rapid, and that, according to common probabilities, if Roderick had left Rome on the morrow (as he declared that he had intended), he would have had a day or two of waiting at Leghorn. Rowland’s silent inference was that Christina Light had beguiled him into letting the time slip, and it was accompanied with a silent inquiry whether she had done so unconsciously or maliciously. He had told her, presumably, that his mother and his cousin were about to arrive; and it was pertinent to remember hereupon that she was a young lady of mysterious impulses. Rowland heard in due time the story of the adventures of the two ladies from Northampton. Miss Garland’s wish, at Leghorn, on finding they were left at the mercy of circumstances, had been to telegraph to Roderick and await an answer; for she knew that their arrival was a trifle premature. But Mrs. Hudson’s maternal heart had taken the alarm. Roderick’s sending for them was, to her imagination, a confession of illness, and his not being at Leghorn, a proof of it; an hour’s delay was therefore cruel both to herself and to him. She insisted on immediate departure; and, unskilled as they were in the mysteries of foreign (or even of domestic) travel, they had hurried in trembling eagerness to Rome. They had arrived late in the evening, and, knowing nothing of inns, had got into a cab and proceeded to Roderick’s lodging. At the door, poor Mrs. Hudson’s frightened anxiety had overcome her, and she had sat quaking and crying in the vehicle, too weak to move. Miss Garland had bravely gone in, groped her way up the dusky staircase, reached Roderick’s door, and, with the assistance of such acquaintance with the Italian tongue as she had culled from a phrase-book during the calmer hours of the voyage, had learned from the old woman who had her cousin’s household economy in charge that he was in the best of health and spirits, and had gone forth a few hours before with his hat on his ear, per divertirsi.
These things Rowland learned during a visit he paid the two ladies the evening after their arrival. Mrs. Hudson spoke of them at great length and with an air of clinging confidence in Rowland which told him how faithfully time had served him, in her imagination. But her fright was over, though she was still catching her breath a little, like a person dragged ashore out of waters uncomfortably deep. She was excessively bewildered and confused, and seemed more than ever to demand a tender handling from her friends. Before Miss Garland, Rowland was distinctly conscious that he trembled. He wondered extremely what was going on in her mind; what was her silent commentary on the incidents of the night before. He wondered all the more, because he immediately perceived that she was greatly changed since their parting, and that the change was by no means for the worse. She was older, easier, more free, more like a young woman who went sometimes into company. She had more beauty as well, inasmuch as her beauty before had been the depth of her expression, and the sources from which this beauty was fed had in these two years evidently not wasted themselves. Rowland felt almost instantly — he could hardly have said why: it was in her voice, in her tone, in the air — that a total change had passed over her attitude towards himself. She trusted him now, absolutely; whether or no she liked him, she believed he was solid. He felt that during the coming weeks he would need to be solid. Mrs. Hudson was at one of the smaller hotels, and her sitting-room was frugally lighted by a couple of candles. Rowland made the most of this dim illumination to try to detect the afterglow of that frightened flash from Miss Garland’s eyes the night before. It had been but a flash, for what provoked it had instantly vanished. Rowland had murmured a rapturous blessing on Roderick’s head, as he perceived him instantly apprehend the situation. If he had been drinking, its gravity sobered him on the spot; in a single moment he collected his wits. The next moment, with a ringing, jovial cry, he was folding the young girl in his arms, and the next he was beside his mother’s carriage, half smothered in her sobs and caresses. Rowland had recommended a hotel close at hand, and had then discreetly withdrawn. Roderick was at this time doing his part superbly, and Miss Garland’s brow was serene. It was serene now, twenty-four hours later; but nevertheless, her alarm had lasted an appreciable moment. What had become of it? It had dropped down deep into her memory, and it was lying there for the present in the shade. But with another week, Rowland said to himself, it would leap erect again; the lightest friction would strike a spark from it. Rowland thought he had schooled himself to face the issue of Mary Garland’s advent, casting it even in a tragical phase; but in her personal presence — in which he found a poignant mixture of the familiar and the strange — he seemed to face it and all that it might bring with it for the first time. In vulgar parlance, he stood uneasy in his shoes. He felt like walking on tiptoe, not to arouse the sleeping shadows. He felt, indeed, almost like saying that they might have their own way later, if they would only allow to these first few days the clear light of ardent contemplation. For Rowland at last was ardent, and all the bells within his soul were ringing bravely in jubilee. Roderick, he learned, had been the whole day with his mother, and had evidently responded to her purest trust. He appeared to her appealing eyes still unspotted by the world. That is what it is, thought Rowland, to be “gifted,” to escape not only the superficial, but the intrinsic penalties of misconduct. The two ladies had spent the day within doors, resting from the fatigues of travel. Miss Garland, Rowland suspected, was not so fatigued as she suffered it to be assumed. She had remained with Mrs. Hudson, to attend to her personal wants, which the latter seemed to think, now that she was in a foreign land, with a southern climate and a Catholic religion, would forthwith become very complex and formidable, though as yet they had simply resolved themselves into a desire for a great deal of tea and for a certain extremely familiar old black and white shawl across her feet, as she lay on the sofa. But the sense of novelty was evidently strong upon Miss Garland, and the light of expectation was in her eye. She was restless and excited; she moved about the room and went often to the window; she was observing keenly; she watched the Italian servants intently, as they came and went; she had already had a long colloquy with the French chambermaid, who had expounded her views on the Roman question; she noted the small differences in the furniture, in the food, in the sounds that came in from the street. Rowland felt, in all this, that her intelligence, here, would have a great unfolding. He wished immensely he might have a share in it; he wished he might show her Rome. That, of course, would be Roderick’s office. But he promised himself at least to take advantage of off-hours.
“It behooves you to appreciate your good fortune,” he said to her. “To be young and elastic, and yet old enough and wise enough to discriminate and reflect, and to come to Italy for the first time — that is one of the greatest pleasures that life offers us. It is but right to remind you of it, so that you make the most of opportunity and do not accuse yourself, later, of having wasted the precious season.”
Miss Garland looked at him, smiling intently, and went to the window again. “I expect to enjoy it,” she said. “Don’t be afraid; I am not wasteful.”
“I am afraid we are not qualified, you know,” said Mrs. Hudson. “We are told that you must know so much, that you must have read so many books. Our taste has not been cultivated. When I was a young lady at school, I remember I had a medal, with a pink ribbon, for ‘proficiency in Ancient History’— the seven kings, or is it the seven hills? and Quintus Curtius and Julius Caesar and — and that period, you know. I believe I have my medal somewhere in a drawer, now, but I have forgotten all about the kings. But after Roderick came to Italy we tried to learn something about it. Last winter Mary used to read ‘Corinne’ to me in the evenings, and in the mornings she used to read another book, to herself. What was it, Mary, that book that was so long, you know — in fifteen volumes?”
“It was Sismondi’s Italian Republics,” said Mary, simply.
Rowland could not help laughing; whereupon Mary blushed. “Did you finish it?” he asked.
“Yes, and began another — a shorter one — Roscoe’s Leo the Tenth.”
“Did you find them interesting?”
“Do you like history?”
“Some of it.”
“That’s a woman’s answer! And do you like art?”
She paused a moment. “I have never seen it!”
“You have great advantages, now, my dear, with Roderick and Mr. Mallet,” said Mrs. Hudson. “I am sure no young lady ever had such advantages. You come straight to the highest authorities. Roderick, I suppose, will show you the practice of art, and Mr. Mallet, perhaps, if he will be so good, will show you the theory. As an artist’s wife, you ought to know something about it.”
“One learns a good deal about it, here, by simply living,” said Rowland; “by going and coming about one’s daily avocations.”
“Dear, dear, how wonderful that we should be here in the midst of it!” murmured Mrs. Hudson. “To think of art being out there in the streets! We did n’t see much of it last evening, as we drove from the depot. But the streets were so dark and we were so frightened! But we are very easy now; are n’t we, Mary?”
“I am very happy,” said Mary, gravely, and wandered back to the window again.
Roderick came in at this moment and kissed his mother, and then went over and joined Miss Garland. Rowland sat with Mrs. Hudson, who evidently had a word which she deemed of some value for his private ear. She followed Roderick with intensely earnest eyes.
“I wish to tell you, sir,” she said, “how very grateful — how very thankful — what a happy mother I am! I feel as if I owed it all to you, sir. To find my poor boy so handsome, so prosperous, so elegant, so famous — and ever to have doubted of you! What must you think of me? You’re our guardian angel, sir. I often say so to Mary.”
Rowland wore, in response to this speech, a rather haggard brow. He could only murmur that he was glad she found Roderick looking well. He had of course promptly asked himself whether the best discretion dictated that he should give her a word of warning — just turn the handle of the door through which, later, disappointment might enter. He had determined to say nothing, but simply to wait in silence for Roderick to find effective inspiration in those confidently expectant eyes. It was to be supposed that he was seeking for it now; he remained sometime at the window with his cousin. But at last he turned away and came over to the fireside with a contraction of the eyebrows which seemed to intimate that Miss Garland’s influence was for the moment, at least, not soothing. She presently followed him, and for an instant Rowland observed her watching him as if she thought him strange. “Strange enough,” thought Rowland, “he may seem to her, if he will!” Roderick directed his glance to his friend with a certain peremptory air, which — roughly interpreted — was equivalent to a request to share the intellectual expense of entertaining the ladies. “Good heavens!” Rowland cried within himself; “is he already tired of them?”
“To-morrow, of course, we must begin to put you through the mill,” Roderick said to his mother. “And be it hereby known to Mallet that we count upon him to turn the wheel.”
“I will do as you please, my son,” said Mrs. Hudson. “So long as I have you with me I don’t care where I go. We must not take up too much of Mr. Mallet’s time.”
“His time is inexhaustible; he has nothing under the sun to do. Have you, Rowland? If you had seen the big hole I have been making in it! Where will you go first? You have your choice — from the Scala Santa to the Cloaca Maxima.”
“Let us take things in order,” said Rowland. “We will go first to Saint Peter’s. Miss Garland, I hope you are impatient to see Saint Peter’s.”
“I would like to go first to Roderick’s studio,” said Miss Garland.
“It’s a very nasty place,” said Roderick. “At your pleasure!”
“Yes, we must see your beautiful things before we can look contentedly at anything else,” said Mrs. Hudson.
“I have no beautiful things,” said Roderick. “You may see what there is! What makes you look so odd?”
This inquiry was abruptly addressed to his mother, who, in response, glanced appealingly at Mary and raised a startled hand to her smooth hair.
“No, it’s your face,” said Roderick. “What has happened to it these two years? It has changed its expression.”
“Your mother has prayed a great deal,” said Miss Garland, simply.
“I did n’t suppose, of course, it was from doing anything bad! It makes you a very good face — very interesting, very solemn. It has very fine lines in it; something might be done with it.” And Rowland held one of the candles near the poor lady’s head.
She was covered with confusion. “My son, my son,” she said with dignity, “I don’t understand you.”
In a flash all his old alacrity had come to him. “I suppose a man may admire his own mother!” he cried. “If you please, madame, you’ll sit to me for that head. I see it, I see it! I will make something that a queen can’t get done for her.”
Rowland respectfully urged her to assent; he saw Roderick was in the vein and would probably do something eminently original. She gave her promise, at last, after many soft, inarticulate protests and a frightened petition that she might be allowed to keep her knitting.
Rowland returned the next day, with plenty of zeal for the part Roderick had assigned to him. It had been arranged that they should go to Saint Peter’s. Roderick was in high good-humor, and, in the carriage, was watching his mother with a fine mixture of filial and professional tenderness. Mrs. Hudson looked up mistrustfully at the tall, shabby houses, and grasped the side of the barouche in her hand, as if she were in a sail-boat, in dangerous waters. Rowland sat opposite to Miss Garland. She was totally oblivious of her companions; from the moment the carriage left the hotel, she sat gazing, wide-eyed and absorbed, at the objects about them. If Rowland had felt disposed he might have made a joke of her intense seriousness. From time to time he told her the name of a place or a building, and she nodded, without looking at him. When they emerged into the great square between Bernini’s colonnades, she laid her hand on Mrs. Hudson’s arm and sank back in the carriage, staring up at the vast yellow facade of the church. Inside the church, Roderick gave his arm to his mother, and Rowland constituted himself the especial guide of Miss Garland. He walked with her slowly everywhere, and made the entire circuit, telling her all he knew of the history of the building. This was a great deal, but she listened attentively, keeping her eyes fixed on the dome. To Rowland himself it had never seemed so radiantly sublime as at these moments; he felt almost as if he had contrived it himself and had a right to be proud of it. He left Miss Garland a while on the steps of the choir, where she had seated herself to rest, and went to join their companions. Mrs. Hudson was watching a great circle of tattered contadini, who were kneeling before the image of Saint Peter. The fashion of their tatters fascinated her; she stood gazing at them in a sort of terrified pity, and could not be induced to look at anything else. Rowland went back to Miss Garland and sat down beside her.
“Well, what do you think of Europe?” he asked, smiling.
“I think it’s horrible!” she said abruptly.
“I feel so strangely — I could almost cry.”
“How is it that you feel?”
“So sorry for the poor past, that seems to have died here, in my heart, in an hour!”
“But, surely, you’re pleased — you’re interested.”
“I am overwhelmed. Here in a single hour, everything is changed. It is as if a wall in my mind had been knocked down at a stroke. Before me lies an immense new world, and it makes the old one, the poor little narrow, familiar one I have always known, seem pitiful.”
“But you did n’t come to Rome to keep your eyes fastened on that narrow little world. Forget it, turn your back on it, and enjoy all this.”
“I want to enjoy it; but as I sat here just now, looking up at that golden mist in the dome, I seemed to see in it the vague shapes of certain people and things at home. To enjoy, as you say, as these things demand of one to enjoy them, is to break with one’s past. And breaking is a pain!”
“Don’t mind the pain, and it will cease to trouble you. Enjoy, enjoy; it is your duty. Yours especially!”
“Why mine especially?”
“Because I am very sure that you have a mind capable of doing the most liberal justice to everything interesting and beautiful. You are extremely intelligent.”
“You don’t know,” said Miss Garland, simply.
“In that matter one feels. I really think that I know better than you. I don’t want to seem patronizing, but I suspect that your mind is susceptible of a great development. Give it the best company, trust it, let it go!”
She looked away from him for some moments, down the gorgeous vista of the great church. “But what you say,” she said at last, “means change!”
“Change for the better!” cried Rowland.
“How can one tell? As one stands, one knows the worst. It seems to me very frightful to develop,” she added, with her complete smile.
“One is in for it in one way or another, and one might as well do it with a good grace as with a bad! Since one can’t escape life, it is better to take it by the hand.”
“Is this what you call life?” she asked.
“What do you mean by ‘this’?”
“Saint Peter’s — all this splendor, all Rome — pictures, ruins, statues, beggars, monks.”
“It is not all of it, but it is a large part of it. All these things are impregnated with life; they are the fruits of an old and complex civilization.”
“An old and complex civilization: I am afraid I don’t like that.”
“Don’t conclude on that point just yet. Wait till you have tested it. While you wait, you will see an immense number of very beautiful things — things that you are made to understand. They won’t leave you as they found you; then you can judge. Don’t tell me I know nothing about your understanding. I have a right to assume it.”
Miss Garland gazed awhile aloft in the dome. “I am not sure I understand that,” she said.
“I hope, at least, that at a cursory glance it pleases you,” said Rowland. “You need n’t be afraid to tell the truth. What strikes some people is that it is so remarkably small.”
“Oh, it’s large enough; it’s very wonderful. There are things in Rome, then,” she added in a moment, turning and looking at him, “that are very, very beautiful?”
“Lots of them.”
“Some of the most beautiful things in the world?”
“What are they? which things have most beauty?”
“That is according to taste. I should say the statues.”
“How long will it take to see them all? to know, at least, something about them?”
“You can see them all, as far as mere seeing goes, in a fortnight. But to know them is a thing for one’s leisure. The more time you spend among them, the more you care for them.” After a moment’s hesitation he went on: “Why should you grudge time? It’s all in your way, since you are to be an artist’s wife.”
“I have thought of that,” she said. “It may be that I shall always live here, among the most beautiful things in the world!”
“Very possibly! I should like to see you ten years hence.”
“I dare say I shall seem greatly altered. But I am sure of one thing.”
“That for the most part I shall be quite the same. I ask nothing better than to believe the fine things you say about my understanding, but even if they are true, it won’t matter. I shall be what I was made, what I am now — a young woman from the country! The fruit of a civilization not old and complex, but new and simple.”
“I am delighted to hear it: that’s an excellent foundation.”
“Perhaps, if you show me anything more, you will not always think so kindly of it. Therefore I warn you.”
“I am not frightened. I should like vastly to say something to you: Be what you are, be what you choose; but do, sometimes, as I tell you.”
If Rowland was not frightened, neither, perhaps, was Miss Garland; but she seemed at least slightly disturbed. She proposed that they should join their companions.
Mrs. Hudson spoke under her breath; she could not be accused of the want of reverence sometimes attributed to Protestants in the great Catholic temples. “Mary, dear,” she whispered, “suppose we had to kiss that dreadful brass toe. If I could only have kept our door-knocker, at Northampton, as bright as that! I think it’s so heathenish; but Roderick says he thinks it’s sublime.”
Roderick had evidently grown a trifle perverse. “It’s sublimer than anything that your religion asks you to do!” he exclaimed.
“Surely our religion sometimes gives us very difficult duties,” said Miss Garland.
“The duty of sitting in a whitewashed meeting-house and listening to a nasal Puritan! I admit that’s difficult. But it’s not sublime. I am speaking of ceremonies, of forms. It is in my line, you know, to make much of forms. I think this is a very beautiful one. Could n’t you do it?” he demanded, looking at his cousin.
She looked back at him intently and then shook her head. “I think not!”
“I don’t know; I could n’t!”
During this little discussion our four friends were standing near the venerable image of Saint Peter, and a squalid, savage-looking peasant, a tattered ruffian of the most orthodox Italian aspect, had been performing his devotions before it. He turned away, crossing himself, and Mrs. Hudson gave a little shudder of horror.
“After that,” she murmured, “I suppose he thinks he is as good as any one! And here is another. Oh, what a beautiful person!”
A young lady had approached the sacred effigy, after having wandered away from a group of companions. She kissed the brazen toe, touched it with her forehead, and turned round, facing our friends. Rowland then recognized Christina Light. He was stupefied: had she suddenly embraced the Catholic faith? It was but a few weeks before that she had treated him to a passionate profession of indifference. Had she entered the church to put herself en regle with what was expected of a Princess Casamassima? While Rowland was mentally asking these questions she was approaching him and his friends, on her way to the great altar. At first she did not perceive them.
Mary Garland had been gazing at her. “You told me,” she said gently, to Rowland, “that Rome contained some of the most beautiful things in the world. This surely is one of them!”
At this moment Christina’s eye met Rowland’s and before giving him any sign of recognition she glanced rapidly at his companions. She saw Roderick, but she gave him no bow; she looked at Mrs. Hudson, she looked at Mary Garland. At Mary Garland she looked fixedly, piercingly, from head to foot, as the slow pace at which she was advancing made possible. Then suddenly, as if she had perceived Roderick for the first time, she gave him a charming nod, a radiant smile. In a moment he was at her side. She stopped, and he stood talking to her; she continued to look at Miss Garland.
“Why, Roderick knows her!” cried Mrs. Hudson, in an awe-struck whisper. “I supposed she was some great princess.”
“She is — almost!” said Rowland. “She is the most beautiful girl in Europe, and Roderick has made her bust.”
“Her bust? Dear, dear!” murmured Mrs. Hudson, vaguely shocked. “What a strange bonnet!”
“She has very strange eyes,” said Mary, and turned away.
The two ladies, with Rowland, began to descend toward the door of the church. On their way they passed Mrs. Light, the Cavaliere, and the poodle, and Rowland informed his companions of the relation in which these personages stood to Roderick’s young lady.
“Think of it, Mary!” said Mrs. Hudson. “What splendid people he must know! No wonder he found Northampton dull!”
“I like the poor little old gentleman,” said Mary.
“Why do you call him poor?” Rowland asked, struck with the observation.
“He seems so!” she answered simply.
As they were reaching the door they were overtaken by Roderick, whose interview with Miss Light had perceptibly brightened his eye. “So you are acquainted with princesses!” said his mother softly, as they passed into the portico.
“Miss Light is not a princess!” said Roderick, curtly.
“But Mr. Mallet says so,” urged Mrs. Hudson, rather disappointed.
“I meant that she was going to be!” said Rowland.
“It’s by no means certain that she is even going to be!” Roderick answered.
“Ah,” said Rowland, “I give it up!”
Roderick almost immediately demanded that his mother should sit to him, at his studio, for her portrait, and Rowland ventured to add another word of urgency. If Roderick’s idea really held him, it was an immense pity that his inspiration should be wasted; inspiration, in these days, had become too precious a commodity. It was arranged therefore that, for the present, during the mornings, Mrs. Hudson should place herself at her son’s service. This involved but little sacrifice, for the good lady’s appetite for antiquities was diminutive and bird-like, the usual round of galleries and churches fatigued her, and she was glad to purchase immunity from sight-seeing by a regular afternoon drive. It became natural in this way that, Miss Garland having her mornings free, Rowland should propose to be the younger lady’s guide in whatever explorations she might be disposed to make. She said she knew nothing about it, but she had a great curiosity, and would be glad to see anything that he would show her. Rowland could not find it in his heart to accuse Roderick of neglect of the young girl; for it was natural that the inspirations of a capricious man of genius, when they came, should be imperious; but of course he wondered how Miss Garland felt, as the young man’s promised wife, on being thus expeditiously handed over to another man to be entertained. However she felt, he was certain he would know little about it. There had been, between them, none but indirect allusions to her engagement, and Rowland had no desire to discuss it more largely; for he had no quarrel with matters as they stood. They wore the same delightful aspect through the lovely month of May, and the ineffable charm of Rome at that period seemed but the radiant sympathy of nature with his happy opportunity. The weather was divine; each particular morning, as he walked from his lodging to Mrs. Hudson’s modest inn, seemed to have a blessing upon it. The elder lady had usually gone off to the studio, and he found Miss Garland sitting alone at the open window, turning the leaves of some book of artistic or antiquarian reference that he had given her. She always had a smile, she was always eager, alert, responsive. She might be grave by nature, she might be sad by circumstance, she might have secret doubts and pangs, but she was essentially young and strong and fresh and able to enjoy. Her enjoyment was not especially demonstrative, but it was curiously diligent. Rowland felt that it was not amusement and sensation that she coveted, but knowledge — facts that she might noiselessly lay away, piece by piece, in the perfumed darkness of her serious mind, so that, under this head at least, she should not be a perfectly portionless bride. She never merely pretended to understand; she let things go, in her modest fashion, at the moment, but she watched them on their way, over the crest of the hill, and when her fancy seemed not likely to be missed it went hurrying after them and ran breathless at their side, as it were, and begged them for the secret. Rowland took an immense satisfaction in observing that she never mistook the second-best for the best, and that when she was in the presence of a masterpiece, she recognized the occasion as a mighty one. She said many things which he thought very profound — that is, if they really had the fine intention he suspected. This point he usually tried to ascertain; but he was obliged to proceed cautiously, for in her mistrustful shyness it seemed to her that cross-examination must necessarily be ironical. She wished to know just where she was going — what she would gain or lose. This was partly on account of a native intellectual purity, a temper of mind that had not lived with its door ajar, as one might say, upon the high-road of thought, for passing ideas to drop in and out at their pleasure; but had made much of a few long visits from guests cherished and honored — guests whose presence was a solemnity. But it was even more because she was conscious of a sort of growing self-respect, a sense of devoting her life not to her own ends, but to those of another, whose life would be large and brilliant. She had been brought up to think a great deal of “nature” and nature’s innocent laws; but now Rowland had spoken to her ardently of culture; her strenuous fancy had responded, and she was pursuing culture into retreats where the need for some intellectual effort gave a noble severity to her purpose. She wished to be very sure, to take only the best, knowing it to be the best. There was something exquisite in this labor of pious self-adornment, and Rowland helped it, though its fruits were not for him. In spite of her lurking rigidity and angularity, it was very evident that a nervous, impulsive sense of beauty was constantly at play in her soul, and that her actual experience of beautiful things moved her in some very deep places. For all that she was not demonstrative, that her manner was simple, and her small-talk of no very ample flow; for all that, as she had said, she was a young woman from the country, and the country was West Nazareth, and West Nazareth was in its way a stubborn little fact, she was feeling the direct influence of the great amenities of the world, and they were shaping her with a divinely intelligent touch. “Oh exquisite virtue of circumstance!” cried Rowland to himself, “that takes us by the hand and leads us forth out of corners where, perforce, our attitudes are a trifle contracted, and beguiles us into testing mistrusted faculties!” When he said to Mary Garland that he wished he might see her ten years hence, he was paying mentally an equal compliment to circumstance and to the girl herself. Capacity was there, it could be freely trusted; observation would have but to sow its generous seed. “A superior woman”— the idea had harsh associations, but he watched it imaging itself in the vagueness of the future with a kind of hopeless confidence.
They went a great deal to Saint Peter’s, for which Rowland had an exceeding affection, a large measure of which he succeeded in infusing into his companion. She confessed very speedily that to climb the long, low, yellow steps, beneath the huge florid facade, and then to push the ponderous leathern apron of the door, to find one’s self confronted with that builded, luminous sublimity, was a sensation of which the keenness renewed itself with surprising generosity. In those days the hospitality of the Vatican had not been curtailed, and it was an easy and delightful matter to pass from the gorgeous church to the solemn company of the antique marbles. Here Rowland had with his companion a great deal of talk, and found himself expounding aesthetics a perte de vue. He discovered that she made notes of her likes and dislikes in a new-looking little memorandum book, and he wondered to what extent she reported his own discourse. These were charming hours. The galleries had been so cold all winter that Rowland had been an exile from them; but now that the sun was already scorching in the great square between the colonnades, where the twin fountains flashed almost fiercely, the marble coolness of the long, image-bordered vistas made them a delightful refuge. The great herd of tourists had almost departed, and our two friends often found themselves, for half an hour at a time, in sole and tranquil possession of the beautiful Braccio Nuovo. Here and there was an open window, where they lingered and leaned, looking out into the warm, dead air, over the towers of the city, at the soft-hued, historic hills, at the stately shabby gardens of the palace, or at some sunny, empty, grass-grown court, lost in the heart of the labyrinthine pile. They went sometimes into the chambers painted by Raphael, and of course paid their respects to the Sistine Chapel; but Mary’s evident preference was to linger among the statues. Once, when they were standing before that noblest of sculptured portraits, the so-called Demosthenes, in the Braccio Nuovo, she made the only spontaneous allusion to her projected marriage, direct or indirect, that had yet fallen from her lips. “I am so glad,” she said, “that Roderick is a sculptor and not a painter.”
The allusion resided chiefly in the extreme earnestness with which the words were uttered. Rowland immediately asked her the reason of her gladness.
“It’s not that painting is not fine,” she said, “but that sculpture is finer. It is more manly.”
Rowland tried at times to make her talk about herself, but in this she had little skill. She seemed to him so much older, so much more pliant to social uses than when he had seen her at home, that he had a desire to draw from her some categorical account of her occupation and thoughts. He told her his desire and what suggested it. “It appears, then,” she said, “that, after all, one can grow at home!”
“Unquestionably, if one has a motive. Your growth, then, was unconscious? You did not watch yourself and water your roots?”
She paid no heed to his question. “I am willing to grant,” she said, “that Europe is more delightful than I supposed; and I don’t think that, mentally, I had been stingy. But you must admit that America is better than you have supposed.”
“I have not a fault to find with the country which produced you!” Rowland thought he might risk this, smiling.
“And yet you want me to change — to assimilate Europe, I suppose you would call it.”
“I have felt that desire only on general principles. Shall I tell you what I feel now? America has made you thus far; let America finish you! I should like to ship you back without delay and see what becomes of you. That sounds unkind, and I admit there is a cold intellectual curiosity in it.”
She shook her head. “The charm is broken; the thread is snapped! I prefer to remain here.”
Invariably, when he was inclined to make of something they were talking of a direct application to herself, she wholly failed to assist him; she made no response. Whereupon, once, with a spark of ardent irritation, he told her she was very “secretive.” At this she colored a little, and he said that in default of any larger confidence it would at least be a satisfaction to make her confess to that charge. But even this satisfaction she denied him, and his only revenge was in making, two or three times afterward, a softly ironical allusion to her slyness. He told her that she was what is called in French a sournoise. “Very good,” she answered, almost indifferently, “and now please tell me again — I have forgotten it — what you said an ‘architrave’ was.”
It was on the occasion of her asking him a question of this kind that he charged her, with a humorous emphasis in which, also, if she had been curious in the matter, she might have detected a spark of restless ardor, with having an insatiable avidity for facts. “You are always snatching at information,” he said; “you will never consent to have any disinterested conversation.”
She frowned a little, as she always did when he arrested their talk upon something personal. But this time she assented, and said that she knew she was eager for facts. “One must make hay while the sun shines,” she added. “I must lay up a store of learning against dark days. Somehow, my imagination refuses to compass the idea that I may be in Rome indefinitely.”
He knew he had divined her real motives; but he felt that if he might have said to her — what it seemed impossible to say — that fortune possibly had in store for her a bitter disappointment, she would have been capable of answering, immediately after the first sense of pain, “Say then that I am laying up resources for solitude!”
But all the accusations were not his. He had been watching, once, during some brief argument, to see whether she would take her forefinger out of her Murray, into which she had inserted it to keep a certain page. It would have been hard to say why this point interested him, for he had not the slightest real apprehension that she was dry or pedantic. The simple human truth was, the poor fellow was jealous of science. In preaching science to her, he had over-estimated his powers of self-effacement. Suddenly, sinking science for the moment, she looked at him very frankly and began to frown. At the same time she let the Murray slide down to the ground, and he was so charmed with this circumstance that he made no movement to pick it up.
“You are singularly inconsistent, Mr. Mallet,” she said.
“That first day that we were in Saint Peter’s you said things that inspired me. You bade me plunge into all this. I was all ready; I only wanted a little push; yours was a great one; here I am in mid-ocean! And now, as a reward for my bravery, you have repeatedly snubbed me.”
“Distinctly, then,” said Rowland, “I strike you as inconsistent?”
“That is the word.”
“Then I have played my part very ill.”
“Your part? What is your part supposed to have been?”
He hesitated a moment. “That of usefulness, pure and simple.”
“I don’t understand you!” she said; and picking up her Murray, she fairly buried herself in it.
That evening he said something to her which necessarily increased her perplexity, though it was not uttered with such an intention. “Do you remember,” he asked, “my begging you, the other day, to do occasionally as I told you? It seemed to me you tacitly consented.”
“I have never yet really presumed on your consent. But now I would like you to do this: whenever you catch me in the act of what you call inconsistency, ask me the meaning of some architectural term. I will know what you mean; a word to the wise!”
One morning they spent among the ruins of the Palatine, that sunny desolation of crumbling, over-tangled fragments, half excavated and half identified, known as the Palace of the Caesars. Nothing in Rome is more interesting, and no locality has such a confusion of picturesque charms. It is a vast, rambling garden, where you stumble at every step on the disinterred bones of the past; where damp, frescoed corridors, relics, possibly, of Nero’s Golden House, serve as gigantic bowers, and where, in the springtime, you may sit on a Latin inscription, in the shade of a flowering almond-tree, and admire the composition of the Campagna. The day left a deep impression on Rowland’s mind, partly owing to its intrinsic sweetness, and partly because his companion, on this occasion, let her Murray lie unopened for an hour, and asked several questions irrelevant to the Consuls and the Caesars. She had begun by saying that it was coming over her, after all, that Rome was a ponderously sad place. The sirocco was gently blowing, the air was heavy, she was tired, she looked a little pale.
“Everything,” she said, “seems to say that all things are vanity. If one is doing something, I suppose one feels a certain strength within one to contradict it. But if one is idle, surely it is depressing to live, year after year, among the ashes of things that once were mighty. If I were to remain here I should either become permanently ‘low,’ as they say, or I would take refuge in some dogged daily work.”
“I would open a school for those beautiful little beggars; though I am sadly afraid I should never bring myself to scold them.”
“I am idle,” said Rowland, “and yet I have kept up a certain spirit.”
“I don’t call you idle,” she answered with emphasis.
“It is very good of you. Do you remember our talking about that in Northampton?”
“During that picnic? Perfectly. Has your coming abroad succeeded, for yourself, as well as you hoped?”
“I think I may say that it has turned out as well as I expected.”
“Are you happy?”
“Don’t I look so?”
“So it seems to me. But”— and she hesitated a moment —“I imagine you look happy whether you are so or not.”
“I ’m like that ancient comic mask that we saw just now in yonder excavated fresco: I am made to grin.”
“Shall you come back here next winter?”
“Are you settled here forever?”
“‘Forever’ is a long time. I live only from year to year.”
“Shall you never marry?”
Rowland gave a laugh. “‘Forever’—‘never!’ You handle large ideas. I have not taken a vow of celibacy.”
“Would n’t you like to marry?”
“I should like it immensely.”
To this she made no rejoinder: but presently she asked, “Why don’t you write a book?”
Rowland laughed, this time more freely. “A book! What book should I write?”
“A history; something about art or antiquities.”
“I have neither the learning nor the talent.”
She made no attempt to contradict him; she simply said she had supposed otherwise. “You ought, at any rate,” she continued in a moment, “to do something for yourself.”
“For myself? I should have supposed that if ever a man seemed to live for himself”—
“I don’t know how it seems,” she interrupted, “to careless observers. But we know — we know that you have lived — a great deal — for us.”
Her voice trembled slightly, and she brought out the last words with a little jerk.
“She has had that speech on her conscience,” thought Rowland; “she has been thinking she owed it to me, and it seemed to her that now was her time to make it and have done with it.”
She went on in a way which confirmed these reflections, speaking with due solemnity. “You ought to be made to know very well what we all feel. Mrs. Hudson tells me that she has told you what she feels. Of course Roderick has expressed himself. I have been wanting to thank you too; I do, from my heart.”
Rowland made no answer; his face at this moment resembled the tragic mask much more than the comic. But Miss Garland was not looking at him; she had taken up her Murray again.
In the afternoon she usually drove with Mrs. Hudson, but Rowland frequently saw her again in the evening. He was apt to spend half an hour in the little sitting-room at the hotel-pension on the slope of the Pincian, and Roderick, who dined regularly with his mother, was present on these occasions. Rowland saw him little at other times, and for three weeks no observations passed between them on the subject of Mrs. Hudson’s advent. To Rowland’s vision, as the weeks elapsed, the benefits to proceed from the presence of the two ladies remained shrouded in mystery. Roderick was peculiarly inscrutable. He was preoccupied with his work on his mother’s portrait, which was taking a very happy turn; and often, when he sat silent, with his hands in his pockets, his legs outstretched, his head thrown back, and his eyes on vacancy, it was to be supposed that his fancy was hovering about the half-shaped image in his studio, exquisite even in its immaturity. He said little, but his silence did not of necessity imply disaffection, for he evidently found it a deep personal luxury to lounge away the hours in an atmosphere so charged with feminine tenderness. He was not alert, he suggested nothing in the way of excursions (Rowland was the prime mover in such as were attempted), but he conformed passively at least to the tranquil temper of the two women, and made no harsh comments nor sombre allusions. Rowland wondered whether he had, after all, done his friend injustice in denying him the sentiment of duty. He refused invitations, to Rowland’s knowledge, in order to dine at the jejune little table-d’hote; wherever his spirit might be, he was present in the flesh with religious constancy. Mrs. Hudson’s felicity betrayed itself in a remarkable tendency to finish her sentences and wear her best black silk gown. Her tremors had trembled away; she was like a child who discovers that the shaggy monster it has so long been afraid to touch is an inanimate terror, compounded of straw and saw-dust, and that it is even a safe audacity to tickle its nose. As to whether the love-knot of which Mary Garland had the keeping still held firm, who should pronounce? The young girl, as we know, did not wear it on her sleeve. She always sat at the table, near the candles, with a piece of needle-work. This was the attitude in which Rowland had first seen her, and he thought, now that he had seen her in several others, it was not the least becoming.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56