William D. Howells
Part 1 out of 6
David Garcia, Eric Eldred, Charles Franks, and the Online Distributed
WILLIAM D. HOWELLS
AUTHOR OF "THE RISE OF SILAS LAPHAM," "A MODERN INSTANCE,"
"WOMAN'S REASON," ETC.
* * * * *
Midway of the Ponte Vecchio at Florence, where three arches break the
lines of the little jewellers' booths glittering on either hand, and
open an approach to the parapet, Colville lounged against the corner of
a shop and stared out upon the river. It was the late afternoon of a day
in January, which had begun bright and warm, but had suffered a change
of mood as its hours passed, and now, from a sky dimmed with flying grey
clouds, was threatening rain. There must already have been rain in the
mountains, for the yellow torrent that seethed and swirled around the
piers of the bridge was swelling momently on the wall of the Lung' Arno,
and rolling a threatening flood toward the Cascine, where it lost itself
under the ranks of the poplars that seemed to file across its course,
and let their delicate tops melt into the pallor of the low horizon.
The city, with the sweep of the Lung' Arno on either hand, and its domes
and towers hung in the dull air, and the country with its white villas
and black cypresses breaking the grey stretches of the olive orchards on
its hill-sides, had alike been growing more and more insufferable; and
Colville was finding a sort of vindictive satisfaction in the power to
ignore the surrounding frippery of landscape and architecture. He
isolated himself so perfectly from it, as he brooded upon the river,
that, for any sensible difference, he might have been standing on the
Main Street Bridge at Des Vaches, Indiana, looking down at the tawny
sweep of the Wabash. He had no love for that stream, nor for the
ambitious town on its banks, but ever since he woke that morning he had
felt a growing conviction that he had been a great ass to leave them. He
had, in fact, taken the prodigious risk of breaking his life sharp off
from the course in which it had been set for many years, and of
attempting to renew it in a direction from which it had long been
diverted. Such an act could be precipitated only by a strong impulse of
conscience or a profound disgust, and with Colville it sprang from
disgust. He had experienced a bitter disappointment in the city to whose
prosperity he had given the energies of his best years, and in whose
favour he imagined that he had triumphantly established himself.
He had certainly made the Des Vaches _Democrat-Republican_ a very good
paper; its ability was recognised throughout the State, and in Des
Vaches people of all parties were proud of it. They liked every morning
to see what Colville said; they believed that in his way he was the
smartest man in the State, and they were fond of claiming that there was
no such writer on any of the Indianapolis papers. They forgave some
political heresies to the talent they admired; they permitted him the
whim of free trade, they laughed tolerantly when he came out in favour
of civil service reform, and no one had much fault to find when the
_Democrat-Republican_ bolted the nomination of a certain politician of
its party for Congress. But when Colville permitted his own name to be
used by the opposing party, the people arose in their might and defeated
him by a tremendous majority. That was what the regular nominee said. It
was a withering rebuke to treason, in the opinion of this gentleman; it
was a good joke, anyway, with the Democratic managers who had taken
Colville up, being all in the Republican family; whichever it was, it
was a mortification for Colville which his pride could not brook. He
stood disgraced before the community not only as a theorist and
unpractical doctrinaire, but as a dangerous man; and what was worse, he
could not wholly acquit himself of a measure of bad faith; his
conscience troubled him even more than his pride. Money was found, and a
printer bought up with it to start a paper in opposition to the
_Democrat-Republican_. Then Colville contemptuously offered to sell out
to the Republican committee in charge of the new enterprise, and they
accepted his terms.
In private life he found much of the old kindness returning to him; and
his successful opponent took the first opportunity of heaping coals of
fire on his head in the public street, when he appeared to the outer eye
to be shaking hands with Colville. During the months that he remained to
close up his affairs after the sale of his paper, the _Post-Democrat-
Republican_ (the newspaper had agglutinated the titles of two of its
predecessors, after the fashion of American journals) was fulsome in
its complimentary allusions to him. It politely invented the fiction
that he was going to Europe for his health, impaired by his journalistic
labours, and adventurously promised its readers that they might hope
to hear from him from time to time in its columns. In some of its
allusions to him Colville detected the point of a fine irony, of which
he had himself introduced the practice in the _Democrat-Republican_;
and he experienced, with a sense of personal impoverishment,
the curious fact that a journalist of strong characteristics
leaves the tradition of himself in such degree with the journal
he has created that he seems to bring very little away. He was
obliged to confess in his own heart that the paper was as good as ever.
The assistants, who had trained themselves to write like him, seemed to
be writing quite as well, and his honesty would not permit him to
receive the consolation offered him by the friends who told him that
there was a great falling off in the _Post-Democrat-Republican_. Except
that it was rather more Stalwart in its Republicanism, and had turned
quite round on the question of the tariff, it was very much what it had
always been. It kept the old decency of tone which he had given it, and
it maintained the literary character which he was proud of. The new
management must have divined that its popularity, with the women at
least, was largely due to its careful selections of verse and fiction,
its literary news, and its full and piquant criticisms, with their long
extracts from new books. It was some time since he had personally looked
after this department, and the young fellow in charge of it under him
had remained with the paper. Its continued excellence, which he could
not have denied if he had wished, seemed to leave him drained and
feeble, and it was partly from the sense of this that he declined the
overtures, well backed up with money, to establish an independent paper
in Des Vaches. He felt that there was not fight enough in him for the
work, even if he had not taken that strong disgust for public life which
included the place and its people. He wanted to get away, to get far
away, and with the abrupt and total change in his humour he reverted to
a period in his life when journalism and politics and the ambition of
Congress were things undreamed of.
At that period he was a very young architect, with an inclination toward
the literary side of his profession, which made it seem profitable to
linger, with his Ruskin in his hand, among the masterpieces of Italian
Gothic, when perhaps he might have been better employed in designing
red-roofed many-verandaed, consciously mullioned seaside cottages on the
New England coast. He wrote a magazine paper on the zoology of the
Lombardic pillars in Verona, very Ruskinian, very scornful of modern
motive. He visited every part of the peninsula, but he gave the greater
part of his time to North Italy, and in Venice he met the young girl
whom he followed to Florence. His love did not prosper; when she went
away she left him in possession of that treasure to a man of his
temperament, a broken heart. From that time his vague dreams began to
lift, and to let him live in the clear light of common day; but he was
still lingering at Florence, ignorant of the good which had befallen
him, and cowering within himself under the sting of wounded vanity, when
he received a letter from his elder brother suggesting that he should
come and see how he liked the architecture of Des Vaches. His brother
had been seven years at Des Vaches, where he had lands, and a lead-mine,
and a scheme for a railroad, and had lately added a daily newspaper to
his other enterprises. He had, in fact, added two newspapers; for having
unexpectedly and almost involuntarily become the owner of the Des Vaches
_Republican_, the fancy of building up a great local journal seized him,
and he bought the _Wabash Valley Democrat_, uniting them under the name
of the _Democrat-Republican_. But he had trouble almost from the first
with his editors, and he naturally thought of the brother with a turn
for writing who had been running to waste for the last year or two in
Europe. His real purpose was to work Colville into the management of his
paper when he invited him to come out and look at the architecture of
Colville went, because he was at that moment in the humour to go
anywhere, and because his money was running low, and he must begin work
somehow. He was still romantic enough to like the notion of the place a
little, because it bore the name given to it by the old French
_voyageurs_ from a herd of buffalo cows which they had seen grazing on
the site of their camp there; but when he came to the place itself he
did not like it. He hated it; but he stayed, and as an architect was the
last thing any one wanted in Des Vaches since the jail and court-house
had been built, he became, half without his willing it, a newspaper man.
He learned in time to relish the humorous intimacy of the life about
him; and when it was decided that he was no fool--there were doubts,
growing out of his Eastern accent and the work of his New York tailor,
at first--he found himself the object of a pleasing popularity. In due
time he bought his brother out; he became very fond of newspaper life,
its constant excitements and its endless variety; and six weeks before
he sold his paper he would have scoffed at a prophecy of his return to
Europe for the resumption of any artistic purpose whatever. But here he
was, lounging on the Ponte Vecchio at Florence, whither he had come with
the intention of rubbing up his former studies, and of perhaps getting
back to put them in practice at New York ultimately. He had said to
himself before coming abroad that he was in no hurry; that he should
take it very easily--he had money enough for that; yet he would keep
architecture before him as an object, for he had lived long in a
community where every one was intensely occupied, and he unconsciously
paid to Des Vaches the tribute of feeling that an objectless life was
disgraceful to a man.
In the meantime he suffered keenly and at every moment the loss of the
occupation of which he had bereaved himself; in thinking of quite other
things, in talk of totally different matters, from the dreams of night,
he woke with a start to the realisation of the fact that he had no
longer a newspaper. He perceived now, as never before, that for fifteen
years almost every breath of his life had been drawn with reference to
his paper, and that without it he was in some sort lost, and, as it
were, extinct. A tide of ridiculous home-sickness, which was an
expression of this passionate regret for the life he had put behind him,
rather than any longing for Des Vaches, swept over him, and the first
passages of a letter to the _Post-Democrat-Republican_ began to shape
themselves in his mind. He had always, when he left home for New York or
Washington, or for his few weeks of summer vacation on the Canadian
rivers or the New England coast, written back to his readers, in whom he
knew he could count upon quick sympathy in all he saw and felt, and he
now found himself addressing them with that frank familiarity which
comes to the journalist, in minor communities, from the habit of print.
He began by confessing to them the defeat of certain expectations with
which he had returned to Florence, and told them that they must not look
for anything like the ordinary letters of travel from him. But he was
not so singular in his attitude toward the place as he supposed; for any
tourist who comes to Florence with the old-fashioned expectation of
impressions will probably suffer a disappointment, unless he arrives
very young and for the first time. It is a city superficially so well
known that it affects one somewhat like a collection of views of itself;
they are from the most striking points, of course, but one has examined
them before, and is disposed to be critical of them. Certain emotions,
certain sensations failed to repeat themselves to Colville at sight of
the familiar monuments, which seemed to wear a hardy and indifferent
air, as if being stared at so many years by so many thousands of
travellers had extinguished in them that sensibility which one likes to
fancy in objects of interest everywhere.
The life which was as vivid all about him as if caught by the latest
instantaneous process made the same comparatively ineffective appeal.
The operatic spectacle was still there. The people, with their cloaks
statuesquely draped over their left shoulders, moved down the street, or
posed in vehement dialogue on the sidewalks; the drama of bargaining,
with the customer's scorn, the shopman's pathos, came through the open
shop door; the handsome, heavy-eyed ladies, the bare-headed girls,
thronged the ways; the caffes were full of the well-remembered figures
over their newspapers and little cups; the officers were as splendid as
of old, with their long cigars in their mouths, their swords kicking
against their beautiful legs, and their spurs jingling; the dandies,
with their little dogs and their flower-like smiles, were still in front
of the confectioners' for the inspection of the ladies who passed; the
old beggar still crouched over her scaldino at the church door, and the
young man with one leg, whom he thought to escape by walking fast, had
timed him to a second from the other side of the street. There was the
wonted warmth in the sunny squares, and the old familiar damp and stench
in the deep narrow streets. But some charm had gone out of all this. The
artisans coming to the doors of their shallow booths for the light on
some bit of carpentering, or cobbling, or tinkering; the crowds swarming
through the middle of the streets on perfect terms with the wine-carts
and cab horses; the ineffective grandiosity of the palaces huddled upon
the crooked thoroughfares; the slight but insinuating cold of the
southern winter, gathering in the shade and dispersing in the sun, and
denied everywhere by the profusion of fruit and flowers, and by the
greenery of gardens showing through the grated portals and over the tops
of high walls; the groups of idle poor, permanently or temporarily
propped against the bases of edifices with a southern exposure; the
priests and monks and nuns in their gliding passage; the impassioned
snapping of the cabmen's whips; the clangour of bells that at some hours
inundated the city, and then suddenly subsided and left it to the
banging of coppersmiths; the open-air frying of cakes, with its
primitive smell of burning fat; the tramp of soldiery, and the fanfare
of bugles blown to gay measures--these and a hundred other
characteristic traits and facts still found a response in the
consciousness where they were once a rapture of novelty; but the
response was faint and thin; he could not warm over the old mood in
which he once treasured them all away as of equal preciousness.
Of course there was a pleasure in recognising some details of former
experience in Florence as they recurred. Colville had been met at once
by a _festa_, when nothing could be done, and he was more than consoled
by the caressing sympathy with which he was assured that his broken
trunk could not be mended till the day after to-morrow; he had quite
forgotten about the festas and the sympathy. That night the piazza on
which he lodged seemed full of snow to the casual glance he gave it;
then he saw that it was the white Italian moonlight, which he had also
Colville had readied this point in that sarcastic study of his own
condition of mind for the advantage of his late readers in the
_Post-Democrat-Republican_, when he was aware of a polite rustling of
draperies, with an ensuing well-bred murmur, which at once ignored him,
deprecated intrusion upon him, and asserted a common right to the
prospect on which he had been dwelling alone. He looked round with an
instinctive expectation of style and poise, in which he was not
disappointed. The lady, with a graceful lift of the head and a very
erect carriage, almost Bernhardtesque in the backward fling of her
shoulders and the strict compression of her elbows to her side, was
pointing out the different bridges to the little girl who was with her.
"That first one is the Santa Trinita, and the next is the Carraja, and
that one quite down by the Cascine is the iron bridge. The Cascine you
remember--the park where we were driving--that clump of woods there----"
A vagueness expressive of divided interest had crept into the lady's
tone rather than her words. Colville could feel that she was waiting for
the right moment to turn her delicate head, sculpturesquely defined by
its toque, and steal an imperceptible glance at him: and he
involuntarily afforded her the coveted excuse by the slight noise he
made in changing his position in order to be able to go away as soon as
he had seen whether she was pretty or not. At forty-one the question is
still important to every man with regard to every woman.
The gentle surprise conveyed in the exclamation, without time for
recognition, convinced Colville, upon a cool review of the facts, that
the lady had known him before their eyes met.
"Why, Mrs. Bowen!" he said.
She put out her round, slender arm, and gave him a frank clasp of her
gloved hand. The glove wrinkled richly up the sleeve of her dress
half-way to her elbow. She bent on his face a demand for just what
quality and degree of change he found in hers, and apparently she
satisfied herself that his inspection was not to her disadvantage, for
she smiled brightly, and devoted the rest of her glance to an electric
summary of the facts of Colville's physiognomy; the sufficiently good
outline of his visage, with its full, rather close-cut, drabbish-brown
beard and moustache, both shaped a little by the ironical self-conscious
smile that lurked under them; the non-committal, rather weary-looking
eyes; the brown hair, slightly frosted, that showed while he stood with
his hat still off. He was a little above the middle height, and if it
must be confessed, neither his face nor his figure had quite preserved
their youthful lines. They were both much heavier than when Mrs. Bowen
saw them last, and the latter here and there swayed beyond the strict
bounds of symmetry. She was herself in that moment of life when, to the
middle-aged observer, at least, a woman's looks have a charm which is
wanting to her earlier bloom. By that time her character has wrought
itself more clearly out in her face, and her heart and mind confront you
more directly there. It is the youth of her spirit which has come to the
"I should have known you anywhere," she exclaimed, with friendly
pleasure in seeing him.
"You are very kind," said Colville. "I didn't know that I had preserved
my youthful beauty to that degree. But I can imagine it--if you say so,
"Oh, I assure you that you have!" she protested; and now she began
gently to pursue him with one fine question after another about himself,
till she had mastered the main facts of his history since they had last
met. He would not have known so well how to possess himself of hers,
even if he had felt the same necessity; but in fact it had happened that
he had heard of her from time to time at not very long intervals. She
had married a leading lawyer of her Western city, who in due time had
gone to Congress, and after his term was out had "taken up his
residence" in Washington, as the newspapers said, "in his elegant
mansion at the corner of & Street and Idaho Avenue." After that he
remembered reading that Mrs. Bowen was going abroad for the education of
her daughter, from which he made his own inferences concerning her
marriage. And "You knew Mr. Bowen was no longer living?" she said, with
fit obsequy of tone.
"Yes, I knew," he answered, with decent sympathy.
"This is my little Effie," said Mrs. Bowen after a moment; and now the
child, hitherto keeping herself discreetly in the background, came
forward and promptly gave her hand to Colville, who perceived that she
was not so small as he had thought her at first; an effect of infancy
had possibly been studied in the brevity of her skirts and the
immaturity of her corsage, but both were in good taste, and really to
the advantage of her young figure. There was reason and justice in her
being dressed as she was, for she really was not so old as she looked by
two or three years; and there was reason in Mrs. Bowen's carrying in the
hollow of her left arm the India shawl sacque she had taken off and hung
there; the deep cherry silk lining gave life to the sombre tints
prevailing in her dress, which its removal left free to express all the
grace of her extremely lady-like person. Lady-like was the word for Mrs.
Bowen throughout--for the turn of her head, the management of her arm
from the elbow, the curve of her hand from wrist to finger-tips, the
smile, subdued, but sufficiently sweet, playing about her little mouth,
which was yet not too little, and the refined and indefinite perfume
which exhaled from the ensemble of her silks, her laces, and her gloves,
like an odorous version of that otherwise impalpable quality which women
call style. She had, with all her flexibility, a certain charming
stiffness, like the stiffness of a very tall feather.
"And have you been here a great while?" she asked, turning her head
slowly toward Colville, and looking at him with a little difficulty she
had in raising her eyelids; when she was younger the glance that shyly
stole from under the covert of their lashes was like a gleam of
sunshine, and it was still like a gleam of paler sunshine.
Colville, whose mood was very susceptible to the weather, brightened in
the ray. "I only arrived last night," he said, with a smile.
"How glad you must be to get back! Did you ever see Florence more
beautiful than it was this morning?"
"Not for years," said Colville, with another smile for her pretty
enthusiasm. "Not for seventeen years at the least calculation."
"Is it so many?" cried Mrs. Bowen, with lovely dismay. "Yes, it is," she
sighed, and she did not speak for an appreciable interval.
He knew that she was thinking of that old love affair of his, to which
she was privy in some degree, though he never could tell how much; and
when she spoke he perceived that she purposely avoided speaking of a
certain person, whom a woman of more tact or of less would have insisted
upon naming at once. "I never can believe in the lapse of time when I
get back to Italy; it always makes me feel as young as when I left it
"I could imagine you'd never left it," said Colville.
Mrs. Bowen reflected a moment. "Is that a compliment?"
"I had an obscure intention of saying something fine; but I don't think
I've quite made it out," he owned.
Mrs. Bowen gave her small, sweet smile. "It was very nice of you to try.
But I haven't really been away for some time; I've taken a house in
Florence, and I've been here two years. Palazzo Pinti, Lung' Arno della
Zecca. You must come and see me. Thursdays from four till six."
"Thank you," said Colville.
"I'm afraid," said Mrs. Bowen, remotely preparing to offer her hand in
adieu, "that Effie and I broke in upon some very important cogitations
of yours." She shifted the silken burden off her arm a little, and the
child stirred from the correct pose she had been keeping, and smiled
"I don't think they deserve a real dictionary word like that," said
Colville. "I was simply mooning. If there was anything definite in my
mind, I was wishing that I was looking down on the Wabash in Dos Vaches,
instead of the Arno in Florence."
"Oh! And I supposed you must be indulging all sorts of historical
associations with the place. Effie and I have been walking through the
Via de' Bardi, where Romola lived, and I was bringing her back over the
Ponte Vecchio, so as to impress the origin of Florence on her mind."
"Is that what makes Miss Effie hate it?" asked Colville, looking at the
child, whose youthful resemblance to her mother was in all things so
perfect that a fantastic question whether she could ever have had any
other parent swept through him. Certainly, if Mrs. Bowen were to marry
again, there was nothing in this child's looks to suggest the idea of a
predecessor to the second husband.
"Effie doesn't hate any sort of useful knowledge," said her mother half
jestingly. "She's just come to me from school at Vevay."
"Oh, then, I think she might," persisted Colville. "Don't you hate the
origin of Florence a little?" he asked of the child.
"I don't know enough about it," she answered, with a quick look of
question at her mother, and checking herself in a possibly indiscreet
"Ah, that accounts for it," said Colville, and he laughed. It amused him
to see the child referring even this point of propriety to her mother,
and his thoughts idled off to what Mrs. Bowen's own untrammelled
girlhood must have been in her Western city. For her daughter there were
to be no buggy rides, or concerts, or dances at the invitation of young
men; no picnics, free and unchaperoned as the casing air; no sitting on
the steps at dusk with callers who never dreamed of asking for her
mother; no lingering at the gate with her youthful escort home from the
ball--nothing of that wild, sweet liberty which once made American
girlhood a long rapture. But would she be any the better for her
privations, for referring not only every point of conduct, but every
thought and feeling, to her mother? He suppressed a sigh for the
inevitable change, but rejoiced that his own youth had fallen in the
earlier time, and said, "You will hate it as soon as you've read a
little of it."
"The difficulty is to read a little of Florentine history. I can't find
anything in less than ten or twelve volumes," said Mrs. Bowen. "Effie
and I were going to Viesseux's Library again, in desperation, to see if
there wasn't something shorter in French."
She now offered Colville her hand, and he found himself very reluctant
to let it go. Something in her looks did not forbid him, and when she
took her hand away, he said, "Let me go to Viesseux's with you, Mrs.
Bowen, and give you the advantage of my unprejudiced ignorance in the
choice of a book on Florence."
"Oh, I was longing to ask you!" said Mrs. Bowen frankly. "It is really
such a serious matter, especially when the book is for a young person.
Unless it's very dry, it's so apt to be--objectionable,"
"Yes," said Colville, with a smile at her perplexity. He moved off down
the slope of the bridge with her, between the jewellers' shops, and felt
a singular satisfaction in her company. Women of fashion always
interested him; he liked them; it diverted him that they should take
themselves seriously. Their resolution, their suffering for their ideal,
such as it was, their energy in dressing and adorning themselves, the
pains they were at to achieve the trivialities they passed their lives
in, were perpetually delightful to him. He often found them people of
great simplicity, and sometimes of singularly good sense; their frequent
vein of piety was delicious.
Ten minutes earlier he would have said that nothing could have been less
welcome to him than this encounter, but now he felt unwilling to leave
"Go before, Effie," she said; and she added, to Colville, "How very
Florentine all this is! If you dropped from the clouds on this spot
without previous warning, you would know that you were on the Ponte
Vecchio, and nowhere else."
"Yes, it's very Florentine," Colville assented. "The bridge is very well
as a bridge, but as a street I prefer the Main Street Bridge at Des
Vaches. I was looking at the jewellery before you came up, and I don't
think it's pretty, even the old pieces of peasant jewellery. Why do
people come here to look at it? If you were going to buy something for a
friend, would you dream of coming here for it?"
"Oh _no_!" replied Mrs. Bowen, with the deepest feeling.
They quitted the bridge, and turning to the left, moved down the street
which with difficulty finds space between the parapet of the river and
the shops of the mosaicists and dealers in statuary cramping it on the
"Here's something distinctively Florentine too," said Colville. "These
table-tops, and paper-weights, and caskets, and photograph frames, and
lockets, and breast-pins; and here, this ghostly glare of undersized
Psyches and Hebes and Graces in alabaster."
"Oh, you mustn't think of any of them!" Mrs. Bowen broke in with horror.
"If your friend wishes you to get her something characteristically
Florentine, and at the same time very tasteful, you must go--"
Colville gave a melancholy laugh. "My friend is an abstraction, Mrs.
Bowen, without sex or any sort of entity."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Bowen. Some fine drops had begun to sprinkle the
pavement. "What a ridiculous blunder! It's raining! Effie, I'm afraid we
must give up your book for to-day. We're not dressed for damp weather,
and we'd better hurry home as soon as possible." She got promptly into
the shelter of a doorway, and gathered her daughter to her, while she
flung her sacque over her shoulder and caught her draperies from the
ground for the next movement. "Mr. Colville, will you please stop the
first closed carriage that comes in sight?"
A figure of _primo tenore_ had witnessed the manoeuvre from the box of
his cab; he held up his whip, and at a nod from Colville he drove
abreast of the doorway, his broken-kneed, tremulous little horse gay in
brass-mounted harness, and with a stiff turkey feather stuck upright at
one ear in his head-stall.
Mrs. Bowen had no more scruple than another woman in stopping travel and
traffic in a public street for her convenience. She now entered into a
brisk parting conversation with Colville, such as ladies love, blocking
the narrow sidewalk with herself, her daughter, and her open carriage
door, and making people walk round her cab, in the road, which they did
meekly enough, with the Florentine submissiveness to the pretensions of
any sort of vehicle. She said a dozen important things that seemed to
have just come into her head, and, "Why, how stupid I am!" she called
out, making Colville check the driver in his first start, after she had
got into the cab. "We are to have a few people tonight. If you have no
engagement, I should be so glad to have you come. Can't you?"
"Yes, I can," said Colville, admiring the whole transaction and the
parties to it with a passive smile.
After finding her pocket, she found that her card-case was not in it,
but in the purse she had given Effie to carry; but she got her address
at last, and gave it to Colville, though he said he should remember it
without. "Any time between nine and eleven," she said. "It's so nice of
you to promise!"
She questioned him from under her half-lifted eyelids, and he added,
with a laugh, "I'll come!" and was rewarded with two pretty smiles, just
alike, from mother and daughter, as they drove away.
Twenty years earlier, when Mrs. Bowen was Miss Lina Ridgely, she used to
be the friend and confidante of the girl who jilted Colville. They were
then both so young that they could scarcely have been a year out of
school before they left home for the year they were spending in Europe;
but to the young man's inexperience they seemed the wisest and maturest
of society women. His heart quaked in his breast when he saw them
talking and laughing together, for fear they should be talking and
laughing about him; he was even a little more afraid of Miss Ridgely
than of her friend, who was dashing and effective, where Miss Ridgely
was serene and elegant, according to his feeling at that time; but he
never saw her after his rejection, and it was not till he read of her
marriage with the Hon. Mr. Bowen that certain vague impressions began to
define themselves. He then remembered that Lina Ridgely in many fine
little ways had shown a kindness, almost a compassion, for him, as for
one whose unconsciousness a hopeless doom impended over. He perceived
that she had always seemed to like him--a thing that had not occurred to
him in the stupid absorption of his passion for the other--and fragments
of proof that she had probably defended and advocated him occurred to
him, and inspired a vain and retrospective gratitude; he abandoned
himself to regrets, which were proper enough in regard to Miss Ridgely,
but were certainly a little unlawful concerning Mrs. Bowen.
As he walked away toward his hotel he amused himself with the conjecture
whether he, with his forty-one years and his hundred and eighty five
pounds, were not still a pathetic and even a romantic figure to this
pretty and kindly woman, who probably imagined him as heart-broken as
ever. He was very willing to see more of her, if she wished; but with
the rain beginning to fall more thick and chill in the darkening street,
he could have postponed their next meeting till a pleasanter evening
without great self-denial. He felt a little twinge of rheumatism in his
shoulder when he got into his room, for your room in a Florentine hotel
is always some degrees colder than outdoors, unless you have fire in it;
and with the sun shining on his windows when he went out after lunch, it
had seemed to Colville ridiculous to have his morning fire kept up. The
sun was what he had taken the room for. It was in it, the landlord
assured him, from ten in the morning till four in the afternoon; and so,
in fact, it was, when it shone; but even then it was not fully in it,
but had a trick of looking in at the sides of the window, and painting
the chamber wall with a delusive glow. Colville raked away the ashes of
his fire-place, and throwing on two or three fagots of broom and pine
sprays, he had a blaze that would be very pretty to dress by after
dinner, but that gave out no warmth for the present. He left it, and
went down to the reading-room, as it was labelled over the door, in
homage to a predominance of English-speaking people among the guests;
but there was no fire there; that was kindled only by request, and he
shivered at the bare aspect of the apartment, with its cold piano, its
locked bookcases, and its table, where the London _Times_, the _Neue
Freie Presse_ of Vienna, and the _Italie_ of Rome exposed their titles,
one just beyond the margin of the other. He turned from the door and
went into the dining-room, where the stove was ostentatiously roaring
over its small logs and its lozenges of peat, But even here the fire had
been so recently lighted that the warmth was potential rather than
actual. By stooping down before the stove, and pressing his shoulder
against its brass doors, Colville managed to lull his enemy, while he
studied the figures of the woman-headed, woman-breasted hounds
developing into vines and foliage that covered the frescoed trellising
of the quadrangularly vaulted ceiling. The waiters, in their veteran
dress-coats, were putting the final touches to the table, and the sound
of voices outside the door obliged Colville to get up. The effort
involved made him still more reluctant about going out to Mrs. Bowen's.
The door opened, and some English ladies entered, faintly acknowledging,
provisionally ignoring, his presence, and talking of what they had been
doing since lunch. They agreed that it was really too cold in the
churches for any pleasure in the pictures, and that the Pitti Gallery,
where they had those braziers, was the only place you could go with
comfort. A French lady and her husband came in; a Russian lady followed;
an Italian gentleman, an American family, and three or four detached men
of the English-speaking race, whose language at once became the law of
As the dinner progressed from soup to fish, and from the _entree_ to the
roast and salad, the combined effect of the pleasant cheer and the
increasing earnestness of the stove made the room warmer and warmer.
They drank Chianti wine from the wicker-covered flasks, tied with tufts
of red and green silk, in which they serve table wine at Florence, and
said how pretty the bottles were, but how the wine did not seem very
"It certainly isn't so good as it used to be," said Colville.
"Ah, then you have been in Florhence before." said the French lady,
whose English proved to be much better than the French that he began to
talk to her in.
"Yes, a great while ago; in a state of pre-existence, in fact," he said.
The lady looked a little puzzled, but interested. "In a state of
prhe-existence?" she repeated.
"Yes; when I was young," he added, catching the gleam in her eye. "When
I was twenty-four. A great while ago."
"You must be an Amerhican," said the lady, with a laugh.
"Why do you think so? From my accent?"
"Frhom your metaphysics too. The Amerhicans like to talk in that way."
"I didn't know it," said Colville.
"They like to strhike the key of personality; they can't endure not
being interhested. They must rhelate everything to themselves or to
those with whom they are talking."
"And the French, no?" asked Colville.
The lady laughed again. "There is a large Amerhican colony in Parhis.
Perhaps we have learned to be like you."
The lady's husband did not speak English, and it was probably what they
had been saying that she interpreted to him, for he smiled, looking
forward to catch Colville's eye in a friendly way, and as if he would
not have him take his wife's talk too seriously.
The Italian gentleman on Colville's right was politely offering him the
salad, which had been left for the guests to pass to one another.
Colville thanked him in Italian, and they began to talk of Italian
affairs. One thing led to another, and he found that his new friend, who
was not yet his acquaintance, was a member of Parliament, and a
"That interests me as an American," said Colville. "But why do you want
a republic in Italy?"
"When we have a constitutional king, why should we have a king?" asked
An Englishman across the table relieved Colville from the difficulty of
answering this question by asking him another that formed talk about it
between them. He made his tacit observation that the English, since he
met them last, seemed to have grown in the grace of facile speech with
strangers; it was the American family which kept its talk within itself,
and hushed to a tone so low that no one else could hear it. Colville did
not like their mumbling; for the honour of the country, which we all
have at heart, however little we think it, he would have preferred that
they should speak up, and not seem afraid or ashamed; he thought the
English manner was better. In fact, he found himself in an unexpectedly
social mood; he joined in helping to break the ice; he laughed and
hazarded comment with those who were new-comers like himself, and was
very respectful of the opinions of people who had been longer in the
hotel, when they spoke of the cook's habit of underdoing the vegetables.
The dinner at the Hotel d'Atene made an imposing show on the _carte du
jour_; it looked like ten or twelve courses, but in fact it was five,
and even when eked out with roast chestnuts and butter into six, it
seemed somehow to stop very abruptly, though one seemed to have had
enough. You could have coffee afterward if you ordered it. Colville
ordered it, and was sorry when the last of his commensals, slightly
bowing him a good-night, left him alone to it.
He had decided that he need not fear the damp in a cab rapidly driven to
Mrs. Bowen's. When he went to his room he had his doubts about his
dress-coat; but he put it on, and he took the crush hat with which he
had provided himself in coming through London. That was a part of the
social panoply unknown in Des Vaches; he had hardly been a dozen times
in evening dress there in fifteen years, and his suit was as new as his
hat. As he turned to the glass he thought himself personable enough, and
in fact he was one of those men who look better in evening dress than in
any other: the broad expanse of shirt bosom, with its three small studs
of gold dropping, points of light, one below the other, softened his
strong, almost harsh face, and balanced his rather large head. In his
morning coat, people had to look twice at him to make sure that he did
not look common; but now he was not wrong in thinking that he had an air
of distinction, as he took his hat under his arm and stood before the
pier-glass in his room. He was almost tempted to shave, and wear his
moustache alone, as he used to do: he had let his beard grow because he
found that under the lax social regimen at Des Vaches he neglected
shaving, and went about days at a time with his face in an offensive
stubble. Taking his chin between his fingers, and peering closer into
the mirror, he wondered how Mrs. Bowen should have known him; she must
have remembered him very vividly. He would like to take off his beard
and put on the youthfulness that comes of shaving, and see what she
would say. Perhaps, he thought, with a last glance at his toilet, he was
overdoing it, if she were only to have a few people, as she promised. He
put a thick neckerchief over his chest so as not to provoke that
abominable rheumatism by any sort of exposure, and he put on his ulster
instead of the light spring overcoat that he had gone about with all
He found that Palazzo Pinti, when you came to it, was rather a grand
affair, with a gold-banded porter eating salad in the lodge at the great
doorway, and a handsome gate of iron cutting you off from the regions
above till you had rung the bell of Mrs. Bowen's apartment, when it
swung open of itself, and you mounted. At her door a man in modified
livery received Colville, and helped him off with his overcoat so
skilfully that he did not hurt his rheumatic shoulder at all; there were
half a dozen other hats and coats on the carved chests that stood at
intervals along the wall, and some gayer wraps that exhaled a faint,
fascinating fragrance on the chilly air. Colville experienced the slight
exhilaration, the mingled reluctance and eagerness, of a man who
formally re-enters an assemblage of society after long absence from it,
and rubbing his hands a little nervously together, he put aside the
yellow Abruzzi blanket _portiere_, and let himself into the brilliant
Mrs. Bowen stood in front of the fire in a brown silk of subdued
splendour, and with her hands and fan and handkerchief tastefully
composed before her. At sight of Colville she gave a slight start, which
would have betrayed to him, if he had been another woman, that she had
not really believed he would come, and came forward with a rustle and
murmur of pleasure to meet him; he had politely made a rush upon her, so
as to spare her this exertion, and he was tempted to a long-forgotten
foppishness of attitude as he stood talking with her during the brief
interval before she introduced him to any of the company. She had been
honest with him; there were not more than twenty-five or thirty people
there; but if he had overdone it in dressing for so small an affair, he
was not alone, and he was not sorry. He was sensible of a better
personal effect than the men in frock-coats and cut-aways were making,
and he perceived with self-satisfaction that his evening dress was of
better style than that of the others who wore it; at least no one else
carried a crush hat.--
At forty-one a man is still very much of a boy, and Colville was
obscurely willing that Mrs. Bowen, whose life since they last met at an
evening party had been passed chiefly at New York and Washington, should
see that he was a man of the world in spite of Des Vaches. Before she
had decided which of the company she should first present him to, her
daughter came up to his elbow with a cup of tea and some bread and
butter on a tray, and gave him good-evening with charming correctness of
manner. "Really," he said, turning about to take the cup, "I thought it
was you, Mrs. Bowen, who had got round to my side with a sash on. How do
you and Miss Effie justify yourselves in looking so bewitchingly alike?"
"You notice it, then?" Mrs. Bowen seemed delighted.
"I did every moment you were together to-day. You don't mind my having
been so personal in my observations?"
"Oh, not at all," said Mrs. Bowen, and Colville laughed.
"It must be true," he said, "what a French lady said to me at the
_table-d'hote_ dinner to-night: 'the Amerhicans always strhike the note
of perhsonality.'" He neatly imitated the French lady's guttural accent.
"I suppose we do," mused Mis. Bowen, "and that we don't mind it in each
other. I wish _you_ would say which I shall introduce you to," she said,
letting her glance stray invisibly over her company, where all the
people seemed comfortably talking.
"Oh, there's no hurry; put it off till to-morrow," said Colville.
"Oh no; that won't do," said Mrs. Bowen, like a woman who has public
duties to perform, and is resolute to sacrifice her private pleasure to
them. But she postponed them a moment longer. "I hope you got home
before the rain," she said.
"Yes," returned Colville. "That is, I don't mind a little sprinkling.
Who is the Junonian young person at the end of the room?"
"Ah," said Mrs. Bowen, "you can't be introduced to _her_ first. But
_isn't_ she lovely?"
"Yes. It's a wonderful effect of white and gold."
"You mustn't say that to her. She was doubtful about her dress, because
she says that the ivory white with her hair makes her look just like
white and gold furniture."
"Present me at once, then, before I forget not to say it to her."
"No; I must keep you for some other person: anybody can talk to a pretty
Colville said he did not know whether to smile or shed tears at this
embittered compliment, and pretended an eagerness for the acquaintance
Mrs. Bowen seemed disposed to intensify his misery. "Did you ever see a
more statuesque creature--with those superb broad shoulders and that
little head, and that thick braid brought round over the top? Doesn't
her face, with that calm look in those starry eyes, and that peculiar
fall of the corners of the mouth, remind you of some of those exquisite
great Du Maurier women? That style of face is very fashionable now: you
might think he had made it so."
"Is there a fashion in faces?" asked Colville.
"Why, certainly. You must know that."
"Then why aren't all the ladies in the fashion?"
"It isn't one that can be put on. Besides, every one hasn't got Imogene
Graham's figure to carry it off."
"That's her name, then--Imogene Graham. It's a very pretty name."
"Yes. She's staying with me for the winter. Now that's all I can allow
you to know for the present. Come! You must!"
"But this is worse than nothing." He made a feint of protesting as she
led him away, and named him to the lady she wished him to know. But he
was not really sorry; he had his modest misgivings whether he were equal
to quite so much young lady as Miss Graham seemed. When he no longer
looked at her he had a whimsical impression of her being a heroic statue
The lady whom Mrs. Bowen left him with had not much to say, and she made
haste to introduce her husband, who had a great deal to say. He was an
Italian, but master of that very efficient English which the Italians
get together with unimaginable sufferings from our orthography, and
Colville repeated the republican deputy's saying about a constitutional
king, which he had begun to think was neat.
"I might prefer a republic myself," said the Italian, "but I think that
gentleman is wrong to be a republican where he is, and for the present.
The monarchy is the condition of our unity; nothing else could hold us
together, and we must remain united if we are to exist as a nation. It's
a necessity, like our army of half a million men. We may not like it in
itself, but we know that it is our salvation." He began to speak of the
economic state of Italy, of the immense cost of freedom and independence
to a people whose political genius enables them to bear quietly burdens
of taxation that no other government would venture to impose. He spoke
with that fond, that appealing patriotism, which expresses so much to
the sympathetic foreigner in Italy: the sense of great and painful
uncertainty of Italy's future through the complications of diplomacy,
the memory of her sufferings in the past, the spirit of quiet and
inexhaustible patience for trials to come. This resolution, which is
almost resignation, poetises the attitude of the whole people; it made
Colville feel as if he had done nothing and borne nothing yet.
"I am ashamed," he said, not without a remote resentment of the
unworthiness of the republican voters of Des Vaches, "when I hear of
such things, to think of what we are at home, with all our resources and
The Italian would have politely excused us to him, but Colville would
have no palliation of our political and moral nakedness; and he framed a
continuation of the letter he began on the Ponte Vecchio to the
_Post-Democrat-Republican_, in which he made a bitterly ironical
comparison of the achievements of Italy and America in the last ten
He forgot about Miss Graham, and had only a vague sense of her splendour
as he caught sight of her in the long mirror which she stood before. She
was talking to a very handsome young clergyman, and smiling upon him.
The company seemed to be mostly Americans, but there were a good many
evident English also, and Colville was dimly aware of a question in his
mind whether this clergyman was English or American. There were three or
four Italians and there were some Germans, who spoke English.
Colville moved about from group to group as his enlarging acquaintance
led, and found himself more interested in society than he could ever
have dreamed of being again. It was certainly a defect of the life at
Des Vaches that people, after the dancing and love-making period, went
out rarely or never. He began to see that the time he had spent so
busily in that enterprising city had certainly been in some sense
At a certain moment in the evening, which perhaps marked its
advancement, the tea-urn was replaced by a jug of the rum punch, mild or
strong according to the custom of the house, which is served at most
Florentine receptions. Some of the people went immediately after, but
the young clergyman remained talking with Miss Graham.
Colville, with his smoking glass in his hand, found himself at the side
of a friendly old gentleman who had refused the punch. They joined in
talk by a common impulse, and the old gentleman said, directly, "You are
an American, I presume?"
His accent had already established the fact of his own nationality, but
he seemed to think it the part of candour to say, when Colville had
acknowledged his origin, "I'm an American myself."
"I've met several of our countrymen since I arrived," suggested
The old gentleman seemed to like this way of putting it. "Well, yes,
we're not unfairly represented here in numbers, I must confess. But I'm
bound to say that I don't find our countrymen so aggressive, so loud, as
our international novelists would make out. I haven't met any of their
peculiar heroines as yet, sir."
Colville could not help laughing. "I wish _I_ had. But perhaps they
avoid people of our years and discretion, or else take such a filial
attitude toward us that we can't recognise them."
"Perhaps, perhaps," cried the old gentleman, with cheerful assent.
"I was talking with one of our German friends here just now, and he
complained that the American girls--especially the rich ones--seem very
calculating and worldly and conventional. I told him I didn't know how
to account for that. I tried to give him some notion of the ennobling
influences of society in Newport, as I've had glimpses of it."
The old gentleman caressed his elbows, which he was holding in the palms
of his hands, in high enjoyment of Colville's sarcasm. "Ah! very good!
very good!" he said. "I quite agree with you, and I think the other sort
are altogether preferable."
"I think," continued Colville, dropping his ironical tone, "that we've
much less to regret in their unsuspecting, unsophisticated freedom than
in the type of hard materialism which we produce in young girls,
perfectly wide awake, disenchanted, unromantic, who prefer the worldly
vanities and advantages deliberately and on principle, recognising
something better merely to despise it. I've sometimes seen them----"
Mrs. Bowen came up in her gentle, inquiring way. "I'm glad that you and
Mr. Colville have made acquaintance," she said to the old gentleman.
"Oh, but we haven't," said Colville. "We're entire strangers."
"Then I'll introduce you to Rev. Mr. Waters. And take you away," she
added, putting her hand through Colville's arm with a delicate touch
that flattered his whole being, "for your time's come at last, and I'm
going to present you to Miss Graham."
"I don't know," he said. "Of course, as there is a Miss Graham, I can't
help being presented to her, but I had almost worked myself up to the
point of wishing there were none. I believe I'm afraid."
"Oh, I don't believe that at all. A simple schoolgirl like that!" Mrs.
Bowen's sense of humour had not the national acuteness. She liked joking
in men, but she did not know how to say funny things back "You'll see,
as you come up to her."
Miss Graham did, indeed, somehow diminish in the nearer perspective. She
ceased to be overwhelming. When Colville lifted his eyes from bowing
before her he perceived that she--was neither so very tall nor so very
large, but possessed merely a generous amplitude of womanhood. But she
was even more beautiful, with a sweet and youthful radiance of look that
was very winning. If she had ceased to be the goddess she looked across
the length of the _salon_, she had gained much by becoming an extremely
lovely young girl; and her teeth, when she spoke, showed a fascinating
little irregularity that gave her the last charm.
Mrs. Bowen glided away with the young clergyman, but Effie remained at
Miss Graham's side, and seemed to have hold of the left hand which the
girl let hang carelessly behind her in the volume of her robe. The
child's face expressed an adoration of Miss Graham far beyond her
allegiance to her mother.
"I began to doubt whether Mrs. Bowen was going to bring you at all," she
said frankly, with an innocent, nervous laugh, which made favour for her
with Colville. "She promised it early in the evening."
"She has used me much worse, Miss Graham," said Colville. "She has kept
me waiting from the beginning of time. So that I have grown grey on my
way up to you," he added, by an inspiration. "I was a comparatively
young man when Mrs. Bowen first told me she was going to introduce me."
"Oh, how _good_!" said Miss Graham joyously. And her companion, after a
moment's hesitation, permitted herself a polite little titter. She had
made a discovery; she had discovered that Mr. Colville was droll.
"I'm very glad you like it," he said, with a gravity that did not
"Oh yes," sighed Miss Graham, with generous ardour. "Who but an American
could say just such things? There's the loveliest old lady here in
Florence, who's lived here thirty years, and she's always going back and
never getting back, and she's so homesick she doesn't know what to do,
and she always says that Americans may not be _better_ than other
people, but they are _different_."
"That's very pretty. They're different in everything but thinking
themselves better. Their native modesty prevents that."
"I don't exactly know what you mean," said Miss Graham, after a little
"Well," returned Colville, "I haven't thought it out very clearly myself
yet. I may mean that the Americans differ from other people in not
thinking well of themselves, or they may differ from them in not
thinking well enough. But what I said had a very epigrammatic sound, and
I prefer not to investigate it too closely."
This made Miss Graham and Miss Effie both cry out "Oh!" in delighted
doubt of his intention. They both insensibly drifted a little nearer to
"There was a French lady said to me at the _table-d'hote_ this evening
that she knew I was an American, because the Americans always strike the
key of personality." He practised these economies of material in
conversation quite recklessly, and often made the same incident or
suggestion do duty round a whole company.
"Ah, I don't believe that," said Miss Graham.
"That the Americans always talk about themselves."
"I'm not sure she meant that. You never can tell what a person means by
what he says--or _she_."
"Perhaps the French lady meant that we always talk about other people.
That's in the key of personality too."
"But I don't believe we do," said Miss Graham. "At any rate, _she_ was
talking about _us_, then."
"Oh, she accounted for that by saying there was a large American colony
in Paris, who had corrupted the French, and taught them our pernicious
habit of introspection."
"Do you think we're very introspective?"
"I know I'm not. I hardly ever think about myself at all. At any rate,
not till it's too late. That's the great trouble. I wish I could. But
I'm always studying other people. They're so much more interesting."
"Perhaps if you knew yourself better you wouldn't think so," suggested
"Yes, I know they are. I don't think any young person can be
"Then what becomes of all the novels? They're full of young persons."
"They're ridiculous. If I were going to write a novel, I should take an
old person for a hero--thirty-five or forty." She looked at Colville,
and blushing a little, hastened to add, "I don't believe that they begin
to be interesting much before that time. Such flat things as young men
are always saying! Don't you remember that passage somewhere in Heine's
_Pictures of Travel_, where he sees the hand of a lady coming out from
under her mantle, when she's confessing in a church, and he knows that
it's the hand of a young person who has enjoyed nothing and suffered
nothing, it's so smooth and flower-like? After I read that I hated the
look of my hands--I was only sixteen, and it seemed as if I had had no
more experience than a child. Oh, I like people to go _through_
something. Don't you?"
"Well, yes, I suppose I do. Other people."
"No; but don't you like it for yourself?"
"I can't tell; I haven't been through anything worth speaking of yet."
Miss Graham looked at him dubiously, but pursued with ardour: "Why, just
getting back to Florence, after not having been here for so long--I
should think it would be so romantic. Oh dear! I wish I were here for
the second time."
"I'm afraid you wouldn't like it so well," said Colville. "I wish I were
here for the first time. There's nothing like the first time in
"Do you really think so?"
"Well, there's nothing like the first time in Florence."
"Oh, I can't imagine it. I should think that recalling the old emotions
would be perfectly fascinating."
"Yes, if they'd come when you do call them. But they're as
contrary-minded as spirits from the vasty deep. I've been shouting
around here for my old emotions all day, and I haven't had a responsive
"Oh!" cried Miss Graham, staring full-eyed at him. "How delightful!"
Effie Bowen turned away her pretty little head and laughed, as if it
might not be quite kind to laugh at a person's joke to his face.
Stimulated by their appreciation, Colville went on with more nonsense.
"No; the only way to get at your old emotions in regard to Florence is
to borrow them from somebody who's having them fresh. What do _you_
think about Florence, Miss Graham?"
"I? I've been here two months."
"Then it's too late?"
"No, I don't know that it is. I keep feeling the strangeness all the
time. But I can't tell you. It's very different from Buffalo, I can
"Buffalo? I can imagine the difference. And it's not altogether to the
disadvantage of Buffalo."
"Oh, have you been there?" asked Miss Graham, with a touching little
eagerness. "Do you know anybody in Buffalo?"
"Some of the newspaper men; and I pass through there once a year on my
way to New York--or used to. It's a lively place."
"Yes, it is," sighed Miss Graham fondly.
"Do the girls of Buffalo still come out at night and dance by the light
of the moon?"
"Ah, I see," said Colville, peering at her under his thoughtfully
knitted brows, "you do belong to another era. You don't remember the old
negro minstrel song."
"No," said Miss Graham. "I can only remember the end of the war."
"How divinely young!" said Colville. "Well," he added, "I wish that
French lady could have overheard us, Miss Graham. I think she would have
changed her mind about Americans striking the note of personality in
"Oh!" exclaimed the girl reproachfully, after a moment of swift
reflection and recognition, "I don't see how you could let me do it! You
don't suppose that I should have talked so with every one? It was
because you were another American, and such an old friend of Mrs.
"That is what I shall certainly tell the French lady if she attacks me
about it," said Colville. He glanced carelessly toward the end of the
room, and saw the young clergyman taking leave of Mrs. Bowen; all the
rest of the company were gone. "Bless me!" he said, "I must be going."
Mrs. Bowen had so swiftly advanced upon him that she caught the last
words. "Why?" she asked.
"Because it's to-morrow, I suspect, and the invitation was for one day
"It was a season ticket," said Mrs. Bowen, with gay hospitality, "and it
isn't to-morrow for half an hour yet. I can't think of letting you go.
Come up to the fire, all, and let's sit down by it. It's at its very
Effie looked a pretty surprise and a pleasure in this girlish burst from
her mother, whose habitual serenity made it more striking in contrast,
and she forsook Miss Graham's hand and ran forward and disposed the
easy-chairs comfortably about the hearth.
Colville and Mrs. Bowen suddenly found themselves upon those terms which
often succeed a long separation with people who have felt kindly toward
each other at a former meeting and have parted friends: they were much
more intimate than they had supposed themselves to be, or had really any
reason for being.
"Which one of your guests do you wish me to offer up, Mrs. Bowen?" he
asked, from the hollow of the arm-chair, not too low, which he had sunk
into. With Mrs. Bowen in a higher chair at his right hand, and Miss
Graham intent upon him from the sofa on his left, a sense of delicious
satisfaction filled him from head to foot. "There isn't one I would
spare if you said the word."
"And there isn't one I want destroyed, I'm sorry to say," answered Mrs.
Bowen. "Don't you think they were all very agreeable?"
"Yes, yes; agreeable enough--agreeable enough, I suppose. But they
stayed too long. When I think we might have been sitting here for the
last half-hour, if they'd only gone sooner, I find it pretty hard to
Mrs. Bowen and Miss Graham exchanged glances above his head--a glance
which demanded, "Didn't I tell you?" for a glance that answered, "Oh, he
_is_!" Effie Bowen's eyes widened; she kept them fastened upon Colville
in silent worship.
He asked who were certain of the company that he had noticed, and Mrs.
Bowen let him make a little fun of them: the fun was very good-natured.
He repeated what the German had said about the worldly ambition of
American girls; but she would not allow him so great latitude in this.
She said they were no worldlier than other girls. Of course, they were
fond of society, and some of them got a little spoiled. But they were in
no danger of becoming too conventional.
Colville did not insist. "I missed the military to-night, Mrs. Bowen,"
he said. "I thought one couldn't get through an evening in Florence
"We have them when there is dancing," returned Mrs. Bowen.
"Yes, but they don't know anything but dancing," Miss Graham broke in.
"I like some one who can talk something besides compliments."
"You are very peculiar, you know, Imogene," urged Mrs. Bowen gently. "I
don't think our young men at home do much better in conversation, if you
come to that, though."
"Oh, _young_ men, yes! They're the same everywhere. But here, even when
they're away along in the thirties, they think that girls can only enjoy
flattery. _I_ should like a gentleman to talk to me without a single
word or look to show that he thought I was good-looking."
"Ah, how could he he?" Colville insinuated, and the young girl coloured.
"I mean, if I were pretty. This everlasting adulation is insulting."
"Mr. Morton doesn't flatter," said Mrs. Bowen thoughtfully, turning the
feather screen she held at her face, now edgewise, now flatwise, toward
"Oh no," owned Miss Graham. "He's a clergyman."
Mrs. Bowen addressed herself to Colville. "You must go to hear him some
day. He's very interesting, if you don't mind his being rather Low
Colville was going to pretend to an advanced degree of ritualism; but it
occurred to him that it might be a serious matter to Mrs. Bowen, and he
asked instead who was the Rev. Mr. Waters.
"Oh, isn't he lovely?" cried Miss Graham. "There, Mrs. Bowen! Mr.
Waters's manner is what I call _truly_ complimentary. He always talks to
you as if he expected you to be interested in serious matters, and as if
you were his intellectual equal. And he's so _happy_ here in Florence!
He gives you the impression of feeling every breath he breathes here a
privilege. You ought to hear him talk about Savonarola, Mr. Colville."
"Well," said Colville, "I've heard a great many people talk about
Savonarola, and I'm rather glad he talked to me about American girls."
"American girls!" uttered Miss Graham, in a little scream. "Did Mr.
Waters talk to you about _girls_?"
"Yes. Why not? He was probably in love with one once."
"Mr. Waters?" cried the girl. "What nonsense!"
"Well, then, with some old lady. Would you like that better?"
Miss Graham looked at Mrs. Bowen for permission, as it seemed, and then
laughed, but did not attempt any reply to Colville.
"You find even that incredible of such pyramidal antiquity," he resumed.
"Well, it _is_ hard to believe. I told him what that German said, and we
agreed beautifully about another type of American girl which we said we
"Oh! What could it be?" demanded Miss Graham.
"Ah, it wouldn't be so easy to say right off-hand," answered Colville
Mrs. Bowen put her hand under the elbow of the arm holding her screen.
"I don't believe I should agree with you so well," she said, apparently
with a sort of didactic intention.
They entered into a discussion which is always fruitful with
Americans--the discussion of American girlhood, and Colville contended
for the old national ideal of girlish liberty as wide as the continent,
as fast as the Mississippi. Mrs. Bowen withstood him with delicate
firmness. "Oh," he said, "you're Europeanised."
"I certainly prefer the European plan of bringing up girls," she replied
steadfastly. "I shouldn't think of letting a daughter of mine have the
freedom I had."
"Well, perhaps it will come right in the next generation, then; she will
let her daughter have the freedom she hadn't."
"Not if I'm alive to prevent it," cried Mrs. Bowen.
Colville laughed. "Which plan do you prefer, Miss Graham?"
"I don't think it's quite the same now as it used to be," answered the
"Well, then, all I can say is that if I had died before this chance, I
had lived a blessed time. I perceive more and more that I'm obsolete.
I'm in my dotage; I prattle of the good old times, and the new spirit of
the age flouts me. Miss Effie, do you prefer the Amer----"
"No, thank you," said her mother quickly.
"Effie is out of the question. It's time you were in bed, Effie."
The child came with instant submissiveness and kissed her mother
good-night; she kissed Miss Graham, and gave her hand to Colville. He
held it a moment, letting her pull shyly away from him, while he lolled
back in his chair, and laughed at her with his sad eyes. "It's past the
time _I_ should be in bed, my dear, and I'm sitting up merely because
there's nobody to send me. It's not that I'm really such a very bad boy.
Good night. Don't put me into a disagreeable dream; put me into a nice
one." The child bridled at the mild pleasantry, and when Colville
released her hand she suddenly stooped forward and kissed him.
"You're so _funny_!" she cried, and ran and escaped beyond the
Mrs. Bowen stared in the same direction, but not with severity. "Really,
Effie has been carried a little beyond herself."
"Well," said Colville, "that's _one_ conquest since I came to Florence.
And merely by being funny! When I was in Florence before, Mrs. Bowen,"
he continued, after a moment, "there were two ladies here, and I used to
go about quite freely with either of them. They were both very pretty,
and we were all very young. Don't you think it was charming?" Mrs. Bowen
coloured a lovely red, and smiled, but made no other response. "Florence
has changed very much for the worse since that time. There used to be a
pretty flower-girl, with a wide-flapping straw hat, who flung a heavy
bough full of roses into my lap when she met me driving across the
Carraja bridge. I spent an hour looking for that girl to-day, and
couldn't find her. The only flower-girl I could find was a fat one of
fifty, who kept me fifteen minutes in Via Tornabuoni while she was
fumbling away at my button-hole, trying to poke three second-hand
violets and a sickly daisy into it. Ah, youth! youth! I suppose a young
fellow could have found that other flower-girl at a glance; but _my_ old
eyes! No, we belong, each of us, to our own generation. Mrs. Bowen," he
said, with a touch of tragedy--whether real or affected, he did not well
know himself--in his hardiness, "what has become of Mrs. Pilsbury?"
"Mrs. Milbury, you mean?" gasped Mrs. Bowen, in affright at his
"Milbury, Bilbury, Pilsbury--it's all one, so long as it isn't----"
"They're living in Chicago!" she hastened to reply, as if she were
afraid he was going to say, "so long as it isn't Colville," and she
could not have borne that.
Colville clasped his hands at the back of his head and looked at Mrs.
Bowen with eyes that let her know that he was perfectly aware she had
been telling Miss Graham of his youthful romance, and that he had now
touched it purposely. "And you wouldn't," he said, as if that were quite
relevant to what they had been talking about--"you wouldn't let Miss
Graham go out walking alone with a dotard like me?"
"Certainly not," said Mrs. Bowen.
Colville got to his feet by a surprising activity. "Good-bye, Miss
Graham." He offered his hand to her with burlesque despair, and then
turned to Mrs. Bowen. "Thank you for _such_ a pleasant evening! What was
your day, did you say?"
"Oh, any day!" said Mrs. Bowen cordially, giving her hand.
"Do you know whom you look like?" he asked, holding it.
The ladies stirred softly in their draperies after he was gone. They
turned and faced the hearth, where a log burned in a bed of hot ashes,
softly purring and ticking to itself, and whilst they stood pressing
their hands against the warm fronts of their dresses, as the fashion of
women is before a fire, the clock on the mantel began to strike twelve.
"Was that her name?" asked Miss Graham, when the clock had had its say.
"No; that was _my_ name," answered Mrs. Bowen.
"Oh yes!" murmured the young girl apologetically.
"She led him on; she certainly encouraged him. It was shocking. He was
quite wild about it."
"She must have been a cruel girl. How _could_ he speak of it so
"It was best to speak of it, and have done with it," said Mrs. Bowen.
"He knew that I must have been telling you something about it."
"Yes. How bold it was! A _young_ man couldn't have done it! Yes, he's
fascinating. But how old and sad he looked, as he lay back there in the
"Old? I don't think he looked old. He looked sad. Yes, it's left its
mark on him."
The log burned quite through to its core, and fell asunder, a bristling
mass of embers. They had been looking at it with downcast heads. Now
they lifted their faces, and saw the pity in each other's eyes, and the
beautiful girl impulsively kissed the pretty woman good-night.
Colville fell asleep with the flattered sense which abounds in the heart
of a young man after his first successful evening in society, but which
can visit maturer life only upon some such conditions of long exile and
return as had been realised in his. The looks of these two charming
women followed him into his dreams; he knew he must have pleased them,
the dramatic homage of the child was evidence of that; and though it had
been many years since he had found it sufficient cause of happiness to
have pleased a woman, the desire to do so was by no means extinct in
him. The eyes of the girl hovered above him like stars; he felt in their
soft gaze that he was a romance to her young heart, and this made him
laugh; it also made him sigh.
He woke at dawn with a sharp twinge in his shoulder, and he rose to give
himself the pleasure of making his own fire with those fagots of broom
and pine twigs which he had enjoyed the night before, promising himself
to get back into bed when the fire was well going, and sleep late. While
he stood before the open stove, the jangling of a small bell outside
called him to the window, and he saw a procession which had just issued
from the church going to administer the extreme unction to some dying
person across the piazza. The parish priest went first, bearing the
consecrated wafer in its vessel, and at his side an acolyte holding a
yellow silk umbrella over the Eucharist; after them came a number of
_facchini_ in white robes and white hoods that hid their faces; their
tapers burned sallow and lifeless in the new morning light; the bell
"They even die dramatically in this country," thought Colville, in whom
the artist was taken with the effectiveness of the spectacle before his
human pity was stirred for the poor soul who was passing. He reproached
himself for that, and instead of getting back to bed, he dressed and
waited for the mature hour which he had ordered his breakfast for. When
it came at last, picturesquely borne on the open hand of Giovanni,
steaming coffee, hot milk, sweet butter in delicate disks, and two white
eggs coyly tucked in the fold of a napkin, and all grouped upon the wide
salver, it brought him a measure of the consolation which good cheer
imparts to the ridiculous human heart even in the house where death is.
But the sad incident tempered his mind with a sort of pensiveness that
lasted throughout the morning, and quite till lunch. He spent the time
in going about the churches; but the sunshine which the day began with
was overcast, as it was the day before, and the churches were rather too
dark and cold in the afternoon. He went to Viesseux's reading-room and
looked over the English papers, which he did not care for much; and he
also made a diligent search of the catalogue for some book about
Florence for little Effie Bowen: he thought he would like to surprise
her mother with his interest in the matter. As the day waned toward
dark, he felt more and more tempted to take her at her word, when she
had said that any day was her day to him, and go to see her. If he had
been a younger man he would have anxiously considered this indulgence
and denied himself, but after forty a man denies himself no reasonable
and harmless indulgence; he has learned by that time that it is a pity
and a folly to do so.
Colville found Mrs. Bowen's room half full of arriving and departing
visitors, and then he remembered that it was this day she had named to
him on the Ponte Vecchio, and when Miss Graham thanked him for coming
his first Thursday, he made a merit of not having forgotten it, and said
he was going to come every Thursday during the winter. Miss Graham drew
him a cup of tea from the Russian samovar which replaces in some
Florentine houses the tea-pot of Occidental civilisation, and Colville
smiled upon it and upon her, bending over the brazen urn with a
flower-like tilt of her beautiful head. She wore an aesthetic dress of
creamy camel's-hair, whose colour pleased the eye as its softness would
have flattered the touch.
"What a very Tourgueneffish effect the samovar gives!" he said, taking a
biscuit from the basket Effie Bowen brought him, shrinking with
redoubled shyness from the eyebrows which he arched at her. "I wonder
you can keep from calling me Fedor Colvillitch. Where is your mother,
Effie Bowenovna?" he asked of the child, with a temptation to say
They both looked mystified, but Miss Graham said, "I'm sorry to say you
won't see Mrs. Bowen today. She has a very bad headache, and has left
Effie and me to receive. We feel very incompetent, but she says it will
do us good."
There were some people there of the night before, and Colville had to
talk to them. One of the ladies asked him if he had met the Inglehart
boys as he came in.
"The Inglehart boys? No. What are the Inglehart boys?"
"They were here all last winter, and they've just got back. It's rather
exciting for Florence." She gave him a rapid sketch of that interesting
exodus of a score of young painters from the art school at Munich, under
the head of the singular and fascinating genius by whose name they
became known. "They had their own school for a while in Munich, and then
they all came down into Italy in a body. They had their studio things
with them, and they travelled third class, and they made the greatest
excitement everywhere, and had the greatest fun. They were a great
sensation in Florence. They went everywhere, and were such favourites. I
hope they are going to stay."
"I hope so too," said Colville. "I should like to see them."
"Dear me!" said the lady, with a glance at the clock. "It's five! I must
The other ladies went, and Colville approached to take leave, but Miss
Graham detained him.
"What is Tourgueneffish?" she demanded.
"The quality of the great Russian novelist, Tourgueneff," said Colville,
perceiving that she had not heard of him.
"You ought to read him. The samovar sends up its agreeable odour all
through his books. Read _Lisa_ if you want your heart really broken.
"I'm glad you approve of heart-breaks in books. So many people won't
read anything but cheerful books. It's the only quarrel I have with Mrs.
Bowen. She says there are so many sad things in life that they ought to
be kept out of books."
"Ah, there I perceive a divided duty," said Colville. "I should like to
agree with both of you. But if Mrs. Bowen were here I should remind her
that if there are so many sad things in life that is a very good reason
for putting them in books too."
"Of course I shall tell her what you said."
"Why, I don't object to a certain degree of cheerfulness in books; only
don't carry it too far--that's all."
This made the young girl laugh, and Colville was encouraged to go on. He
told her of the sight he had seen from his window at daybreak, and he
depicted it all very graphically, and made her feel its pathos perhaps
more keenly than he had felt it. "Now, that little incident kept with me
all day, tempering my boisterous joy in the Giottos, and reducing me to
a decent composure in the presence of the Cimabues; and it's pretty hard
to keep from laughing at some of them, don't you think?"
The young people perceived that he was making fun again; but he
continued with an air of greater seriousness. "Don't you see what a very
good thing that was to begin one's day with? Why, even in Santa Croce,
with the thermometer ten degrees below zero in the shade of Alfieri's
monument, I was no gayer than I should have been in a church at home. I
suppose Mrs. Bowen would object to having that procession go by under
one's window in a book; but I can't really see how it would hurt the
reader, or damp his spirits permanently. A wholesome reaction would
ensue, such as you see now in me, whom the thing happened to in real
He stirred his tea, and shook with an inward laugh as he carried it to
"Yes," said Miss Graham thoughtfully, and she looked at him searchingly
in the interval of silence that ensued. But she only added, "I wish it
would get warmer in the churches. I've seen hardly anything of them
"From the way I felt in them to-day," sighed Colville, "I should think
the churches would begin to thaw out about the middle of May. But if one
goes well wrapped up in furs, and has a friend along to rouse him and
keep him walking when he is about to fall into that lethargy which
precedes death by freezing, I think they may be visited even now with
safety. Have you been in Santa Maria Novella yet?"
"No," said Miss Graham, with a shake of the head that expressed her
resolution to speak the whole truth if she died for it, "not even in
Santa Maria Novella."
"What a wonderful old place it is! That curious facade, with the dials
and its layers of black and white marble soaked golden-red in a hundred
thousand sunsets! That exquisite grand portal!" He gesticulated with the
hand that the tea-cup left free, to suggest form and measurement as
artists do. "Then the inside! The great Cimabue, with all that famous
history on its back--the first divine Madonna by the first divine
master, carried through the streets in a triumph of art and religion!
Those frescoes of Ghirlandajo's with real Florentine faces and figures
in them, and all lavished upon the eternal twilight of that choir--but I
suppose that if the full day were let in on them, once, they would
vanish like ghosts at cock-crow! You must be sure to see the Spanish
chapel; and the old cloister itself is such a pathetic place. There's a
boys' school, as well as a military college, in the suppressed convent
now, and the colonnades were full of boys running and screaming and
laughing and making a joyful racket; it was so much more sorrowful than
silence would have been there. One of the little scamps came up to me,
and the young monk that was showing me round, and bobbed us a mocking
bow and bobbed his hat off; then they all burst out laughing again and
raced away, and the monk looked after them and said, so sweetly and
wearily, 'They're at their diversions: we must have patience.' There are
only twelve monks left there; all the rest are scattered and gone." He
gave his cup to Miss Graham for more tea.
"Don't you think," she asked, drawing it from the samovar, "that it is
very sad having the convents suppressed?"
"It was very sad having slavery abolished--for some people," suggested
Colville; he felt the unfairness of the point he had made.
"Yes," sighed Miss Graham.
Colville stood stirring his second cup of tea, when the _portiere_
parted, and showed Mrs. Bowen wistfully pausing on the threshold. Her
face was pale, but she looked extremely pretty there.
"Ah, come in, Mrs. Bowen!" he called gaily to her. "I won't give you
away to the other people. A cup of tea will do you good."
"Oh, I'm a great deal better," said Mrs. Bowen, coming forward to give
him her hand. "I heard your voice, and I couldn't resist looking in."
"That was very kind of you," said Colville gratefully: and her eyes met
his in a glance that flushed her face a deep red. "You find me here--_I_
don't know why!--in my character of old family friend, doing my best to
make life a burden to the young ladies."
"I wish you would stay to a family dinner with us," said Mrs. Bowen, and
Miss Graham brightened in cordial support of the hospitality. "Why can't
"I don't know, unless it's because I'm a humane person, and have some
consideration for your headache."
"Oh, that's all gone," said Mrs. Bowen. "It was one of those convenient
headaches--if you ever had them, you'd know--that go off at sunset."
"But you'd have another to-morrow."
"No, I'm safe for a whole fortnight from another."
"Then you leave me without an excuse, and I was just wishing I had
none," said Colville.
After dinner Mrs. Bowen sent Effie to bed early to make up for the late
hours of the night before, but she sat before the fire with Miss Graham
rather late, talking Colville over, when he was gone.
"He's very puzzling to me," said Miss Graham. "Sometimes you think he's
nothing but an old cynic, from his talk, and then something so sweet and
fresh comes out that you don't know what to do. Don't you think he has
really a very poetical mind, and that he's putting all the rest on?"
"I think he likes to make little effects," said Mrs. Bowen judiciously.
"He always did, rather."
"Why, was he like this when he was young?"
"I don't consider him very old now."
"No, of course not. I meant when you knew him before." Miss Graham had
some needlework in her hand; Mrs. Bowen, who never even pretended to
work at that kind of thing, had nothing in hers but the feather screen.
"He is old, compared with you, Imogene; but you'll find, as you live
along, that your contemporaries are always young. Mr. Colville is very
much improved. He used to be painfully shy, but he put on a bold front,
and now the bold front seems to have become a second nature with him."
"I like it," said Miss Graham, to her needle.
"Yes; but I suspect he's still shy, at heart. He used to be very
sentimental, and was always talking Ruskin. I think if he hadn't talked
Ruskin so much, Jenny Milbury might have treated him better. It was very
priggish in him."
"Oh, I can't imagine Mr. Colville's being priggish!"
"He's very much improved. He used to be quite a sloven in his dress; you
know how very slovenly most American gentlemen are in their dress, at
any rate. I think that influenced her against him too."
"He isn't slovenly now," suggested Miss Graham.
"Oh no; he's quite swell," said Mrs. Bowen, depriving the adjective of
slanginess by the refinement of her tone.
"Well," said Miss Graham, "I don't see how you could have endured her
after that. It was atrocious."
"It was better for her to break with him, if she found out she didn't
love him, than to marry him. That," said Mrs. Bowen, with a depth of
feeling uncommon for her, "would have been a thousand times worse."
"Yes, but she ought to have found out before she led him on so far."
"Sometimes girls can't. They don't know themselves; they think they're
in love when they're not. She was very impulsive, and of course she was
flattered by it; he was so intellectual. But at last she found that she
couldn't bear it, and she had to tell him so."
"Did she ever say why she didn't love him?"
"No; I don't suppose she could. The only thing I remember her saying was
that he was 'too much of a mixture.'"
"What _did_ she mean by that?"
"I don't know exactly."
"Do you think he's insincere?"
"Oh no. Perhaps she meant that he wasn't single-minded."
"No. He certainly wasn't that in her case."
"He was decided enough with her--at last."
Imogene dropped the hopeless quest, "How can a man ever stand such a
thing?" she sighed.
"He stood it very nobly. That was the best thing about it; he took it in
the most delicate way. She showed me his letter. There wasn't a word or
a hint of reproach in it; he seemed to be anxious about nothing but her
feeling badly for him. Of course he couldn't help showing that he was
mortified for having pursued her with attentions that were disagreeable
to her; but that was delicate too. Yes, it was a very large-minded
"It was shocking in her to show it."
"It wasn't very nice. But it was a letter that any girl might have been
proud to show."
"Oh, she _couldn't_ have done it to gratify her vanity!"
"Girls are very queer, my dear," said Mrs. Bowen, as if the fact were an
abstraction. She mused upon the flat of her screen, while Miss Graham
plied her needle in silence.
The latter spoke first. "Do you think he was very much broken by it?"
"You never can tell. He went out west then, and there he has stayed ever
since. I suppose his life would have been very different if nothing of
the kind had happened. He had a great deal of talent. I always thought I
should hear of him in some way."
"Well, it was a heartless, shameless thing! I don't see how you can
speak of it so leniently as you do, Mrs. Bowen. It makes all sorts of
coquetry and flirtation more detestable to me than ever. Why, it has
ruined his life!"
"Oh, he was young enough then to outlive it. After all, they were a boy
"A boy and girl! How old were they?"
"He must have been twenty-three or four, and she was twenty."
"My age! Do you call that being a girl?"
"She was old enough to know what she was about," said Mrs. Bowen justly.
Imogene fell back in her chair, drawing out her needle the full length
of its thread, and then letting her hand fall. "I don't know. It seems
as if I never should be grown up, or anything but a child. Yes, when I
think of the way young men talk, they do seem boys. Why can't they talk
like Mr. Colville? I wish I could talk like him. It makes you forget how
old and plain he is."
She remained with her eyelids dropped in an absent survey of her sewing,
while Mrs. Bowen regarded her with a look of vexation, impatience,
resentment, on the last refinement of these emotions, which she banished
from her face before Miss Graham looked up and said, with a smile "How
funny it is to see Effie's infatuation with him! She can't take her eyes
off him for a moment, and she follows him round the room so as not to
lose a word he is saying. It was heroic of her to go to bed without a
murmur before he left to-night."
"Yes, she sees that he is good," said Mrs. Bowen.
"Oh, she sees that he's something very much more. Mr. Waters is good."
Miss Graham had the best of the argument, and so Mrs. Bowen did not
"I feel," continued the young girl, "as if it were almost a shame to
have asked him to go to that silly dancing party with us. It seems as if
we didn't appreciate him. I think we ought to have kept him for high
aesthetic occasions and historical researches."
"Oh, I don't think Mr. Colville was very deeply offended at being asked
to go with us."
"No," said Imogene, with another sigh, "he didn't seem so. I suppose
there's always an undercurrent of sadness--of tragedy--in everything for
"I don't suppose anything of the kind," cried Mrs. Bowen gaily. "He's
had time enough to get over it."
"Do people _ever_ get over such things?"
"It must be because he was young, as you say. But if it had happened
"Oh, it _couldn't_ happen now. He's altogether too cool and
"Do you think he's cool and calculating?"
"No. He's too old for a broken heart--a new one."
"Mrs. Bowen," demanded the girl solemnly, "could _you_ forgive yourself
for such a thing if you had done it?"
"Yes, perfectly well, if I wasn't in love with him."
"But if you'd made him _think_ you were?" pursued the girl breathlessly.
"If I were a flirt--yes."
"_I_ couldn't," said Imogene, with tragic depth.
"Oh, be done with your intensities, and go to bed, Imogene," said Mrs.
Bowen, giving her a playful push.
It was so long since Colville had been at a dancing party that Mrs.
Bowen's offer to take him to Madame Uccelli's had first struck his sense
of the ludicrous. Then it had begun to flatter him; it implied that he
was still young enough to dance if he would, though he had stipulated
that they were not to expect anything of the kind from him. He liked
also the notion of being seen and accepted in Florentine society as the
old friend of Mrs. Bowen's, for he had not been long in discovering that
her position in Florence was, among the foreign residents, rather
authoritative. She was one of the very few Americans who were asked to
Italian houses, and Italian houses lying even beyond the neutral ground
of English-speaking intermarriages. She was not, of course, asked to the
great Princess Strozzi ball, where the Florentine nobility appeared in
the mediaeval pomp--the veritable costumes--of their ancestors; only a
rich American banking family went, and their distinction was spoken of
under the breath; but any glory short of this was within Mrs. Bowen's
reach. So an old lady who possessed herself of Colville the night before
had told him, celebrating Mrs. Bowen at length, and boasting of her
acceptance among the best English residents, who, next after the
natives, seem to constitute the social ambition of Americans living in
It interested him to find that some geographical distinctions which are
fading at home had quite disappeared in Florence. When he was there
before, people from quite small towns in the East had made pretty Lina
Ridgely and her friend feel the disadvantage of having come from the
Western side of an imaginary line; he had himself been at the pains
always to let people know, at the American watering-places where he
spent his vacations, that though presently from Des Vaches, Indiana, he
was really born in Rhode Island; but in Florence it was not at all
necessary. He found in Mrs. Bowen's house people from Denver, Chicago,
St. Louis, Boston, New York, and Baltimore, all meeting as of apparently
the same civilisation, and whether Mrs. Bowen's own origin was, like
that of the Etruscan cities, lost in the mists of antiquity, or whether
she had sufficiently atoned for the error of her birth by subsequent
residence in the national capital and prolonged sojourn in New York, it
seemed certainly not to be remembered against her among her Eastern
acquaintance. The time had been when the fact that Miss Graham came from
Buffalo would have gone far to class her with the animal from which her
native city had taken its name; but now it made no difference, unless it
was a difference in her favour. The English spoke with the same vague
respect of Buffalo and of Philadelphia; and to a family of real
Bostonians Colville had the courage to say simply that he lived in Des
Vaches, and not to seek to palliate the truth in any sort. If he wished
to prevaricate at all, it was rather to attribute himself to Mrs.
Bowen's city in Ohio.
She and Miss Graham called for him with her carriage the next night,
when it was time to go to Madame Uccelli's.
"This gives me a very patronised and effeminate feeling," said Colville,
getting into the odorous dark of the carriage, and settling himself upon
the front seat with a skill inspired by his anxiety not to tear any of
the silken spreading white wraps that inundated the whole interior.
"Being come for by ladies!" They both gave some nervous joyful laughs,
as they found his hand in the obscurity, and left the sense of a gloved
pressure upon it. "Is this the way you used to do in Vesprucius, Mrs.
"Oh no, indeed!" she answered. "The young gentlemen used to find out
whether I was going, and came for me with a hack, and generally, if the
weather was good, we walked home."
"That's the way we still do in Des Vaches. Sometimes, as a tremendous
joke, the ladies come for us in leap-year. How do you go to balls in
Buffalo, Miss Graham? Or, no; I withdraw the embarrassing question."
Some gleams from the street lamps, as they drove along, struck in
through the carriage windows, and flitted over the ladies' faces and
were gone again. "Ah! this is very trying. Couldn't you stop him at the
next corner, and let me see how radiant you ladies really are? I may be
in very great danger; I'd like to know just how much."
"It wouldn't be of any use," cried the young girl gaily. "We're all
wrapped up, and you couldn't form any idea of us. You must wait, and let
us burst upon you when we come out of the dressing-room at Madame
"But then it may be too late," he urged. "Is it very far?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen. "It's ridiculously far. It's outside the Roman
Gate. I don't see why people live at that distance."
"In order to give the friends you bring the more pleasure of your
company, Mrs. Bowen."
"Ah! that's very well. But you're not logical."
"No," said Colville; "you can't be logical and complimentary at the same
time. It's too much to ask. How delicious your flowers are!" The ladies
each had a bouquet in her hand, which she was holding in addition to her
fan, the edges of her cloak, and the skirt of her train.
"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen; "we are so much obliged to you for them."
"Why, I sent you _no flowers_," said Colville, startled into untimely
"Didn't you?" triumphed Mrs. Bowen. "I thought gentlemen always sent
flowers to ladies when they were going to a ball with them. They used
to, in Columbus."
"And in Buffalo they always do," Miss Graham added.
"Ah! they don't in Des Vaches," said Colville. They tried to mystify him
further about the bouquets; they succeeded in being very gay, and in
making themselves laugh a great deal. Mrs. Bowen was even livelier than
the young girl.
Her carriage was one of the few private equipages that drove up to
Madame Uccelli's door; most people had not even come in a _remise_, but,
after the simple Florentine fashion, had taken the little cabs, which
stretched in a long line up and down the way; the horses had let their
weary heads drop, and were easing their broken knees by extending their
forelegs while they drowsed; the drivers, huddled in their great-coats,
had assembled around the doorway to see the guests alight, with that
amiable, unenvious interest of the Italians in the pleasure of others.
The deep sky glittered with stars; in the corner of the next villa
garden the black plumes of some cypresses blotted out their space among
"_Isn't_ it Florentine?" demanded Mrs. Bowen, giving the hand which
Colville offered in helping her out of the carriage a little vivid
pressure, full of reminiscence and confident sympathy. A flush of youth
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