William D. Howells
Part 2 out of 6
warmed his heart; he did not quail even when the porter of the villa
intervened between her and her coachman, whom she was telling when to
come back, and said that the carriages were ordered for three o'clock.
"Did you ever sit up so late as that in Des Vaches?" asked Miss Graham
"Oh yes; I was editor of a morning paper," he explained. But he did not
like the imputation of her question.
Madame Uccelli accepted him most hospitably among her guests when he was
presented. She was an American who had returned with her Italian husband
to Italy, and had long survived him in the villa which he had built with
her money. Such people grow very queer with the lapse of time. Madame
Uccelli's character remained inalienably American, but her manners and
customs had become largely Italian; without having learned the language
thoroughly, she spoke it very fluently, and its idioms marked her
Philadelphia English. Her house was a menagerie of all the
nationalities; she was liked in Italian society, and there were many
Italians; English-speaking Russians abounded; there were many genuine
English, Germans, Scandinavians, Protestant Irish, American Catholics,
and then Americans of all kinds. There was a superstition of her
exclusiveness among her compatriots, but one really met every one there
sooner or later; she was supposed to be a convert to the religion of her
late husband, but no one really knew what religion she was of, probably
not even Madame Uccelli herself. One thing you were sure of at her
house, and that was a substantial supper; it is the example of such
resident foreigners which has corrupted the Florentines, though many
native families still hold out against it.
The dancing was just beginning, and the daughter of Madame Uccelli, who
spoke both English and Italian much better than her mother, came forward
and possessed herself of Miss Graham, after a polite feint of pressing
Mrs. Bowen to let her find a partner for her.
Mrs. Bowen cooed a gracious refusal, telling Fanny Uccelli that she knew
very well that she never danced now. The girl had not much time for
Colville; she welcomed him, but she was full of her business of starting
the dance, and she hurried away without asking him whether she should
introduce him to some lady for the quadrille that was forming. Her
mother, however, asked him if he would not go out and get himself some
tea, and she found a lady to go with him to the supper-room. This lady
had daughters whom apparently she wished to supervise while they were
dancing, and she brought Colville back very soon. He had to stand by the
sofa where she sat till Madame Uccelli found him and introduced him to
another mother of daughters. Later he joined a group formed by the
father of one of the dancers and the non-dancing husband of a dancing
wife. Their conversation was perfunctory; they showed one another that
they had no pleasure in it.
Presently the father went to see how his daughter looked while dancing;
the husband had evidently no such curiosity concerning his wife; and
Colville went with the father, and looked at Miss Graham. She was very
beautiful, and she obeyed the music as if it were her breath; her face
was rapt, intense, full of an unsmiling delight, which shone in her dark
eyes, glowing like low stars. Her _abandon_ interested Colville, and
then awed him; the spectacle of that young, unjaded capacity for
pleasure touched him with a profound sense of loss. Suddenly Imogene
caught sight of him, and with the coming of a second look in her eyes
the light of an exquisite smile flashed over her face. His heart was in
"_Your_ daughter?" asked the fond parent at his elbow. "That is mine
yonder in red."
Colville did not answer, nor look at the young lady in red. The dance
was ceasing; the fragments of those kaleidoscopic radiations were
dispersing themselves; the tormented piano was silent.
The officer whom Imogene had danced with brought her to Mrs. Bowen, and
resigned her with the regulation bow, hanging his head down before him
as if submitting his neck to the axe. She put her hand in Colville's
arm, where he stood beside Mrs. Bowen. "Oh, _do_ take me to get
something to eat!"
In the supper-room she devoured salad and ices with a childish joy in
them. The place was jammed, and she laughed from her corner at
Colville's struggles in getting the things for her and bringing them to
her. While she was still in the midst of an ice, the faint note of the
piano sounded. "Oh, they're beginning again. It's the Lancers!" she
said, giving him the plate back. She took his arm again; she almost
pulled him along on their return.
"Why don't _you_ dance?" she demanded mockingly.
"I would if you'd let me dance with you."
"Oh, that's impossible! I'm engaged ever so many deep." She dropped his
arm instantly at sight of a young Englishman who seemed to be looking
for her. This young Englishman had a zeal for dancing that was
unsparing; partners were nothing to him except as a means of dancing;
his manner expressed a supreme contempt for people who made the
slightest mistake, who danced with less science or less conscience than
himself. "I've been looking for you," he said, in a tone of cold rebuke,
without looking at her. "We've been waiting."
Colville wished to beat him, but Imogene took his rebuke meekly, and
murmured some apologies about not hearing the piano before. He hurried
her off without recognising Colville's existence in any way.
The undancing husband of the dancing wife was boring himself in a
corner; Colville decided that the chances with him were better than with
the fond father, and joined him, just as a polite officer came up and
entreated him to complete a set. "Oh, I never danced in my life," he
replied; and then he referred the officer to Colville. "Don't _you_
"I used to dance," Colville began, while the officer stood looking
patiently at him. This was true. He used to dance the Lancers, too, and
very badly, seventeen years before. He had danced it with Lina Ridgely
and the other one, Mrs. Milbury. His glance wandered to the vacant place
on the floor; it was the same set which Miss Graham was in; she smiled
and beckoned derisively. A vain and foolish ambition fired him. "Oh yes,
I can dance a little," he said.
A little was quite enough for the eager officer. He had Colville a
partner in an instant, and the next he was on the floor.
"Oh, what fun!" cried Miss Graham; but the fun had not really begun yet.
Colville had forgotten everything about the Lancers. He walked round
like a bear in a pen: he capered to and fro with a futile absurdity;
people poked him hither and thither; his progress was attended by
rending noises from the trains over which he found his path. He smiled
and cringed, and apologised to the hardening faces of the dancers: even
Miss Graham's face had become very grave.
"This won't do," said the Englishman at last, with cold insolence. He
did not address himself to any one; he merely stopped; they all stopped,
and Colville was effectively expelled the set? another partner was found
for his lady, and he wandered giddily away. He did not know where to
turn; the whole room must have seen what an incredible ass he had made
of himself, but Mrs. Bowen looked as if she had not seen.
He went up to her, resolved to make fun of himself at the first sign she
gave of being privy to his disgrace. But she only said, "Have you found
your way to the supper-room yet?"
"Oh yes; twice," he answered, and kept on talking with her and Madame
Uccelli. After five minutes or so something occurred to Colville. "Have
_you_ found the way to the supper-room yet, Mrs. Bowen?"
"No!" she owned, with a small, pathetic laugh, which expressed a certain
physical faintness, and reproached him with insupportable gentleness for
his selfish obtuseness.
"Let me show you the way," he cried.
"Why, I _am_ rather hungry," said Mrs. Bowen, taking his arm, with a
patient arrangement first of her fan, her bouquet, and her train, and
then moving along by his side with a delicate footed pace, which
insinuated and deprecated her dependence upon him.
There were only a few people in the supper-room, and they had it
practically to themselves. She took a cup of tea and a slice of buttered
bread, with a little salad, which she excused herself from eating
because it was the day after her headache. "I shouldn't have thought you
_were_ hungry, Mrs. Bowen," he said, "if you hadn't told me so," and he
recalled that, as a young girl, her friend used to laugh at her for
having such a butterfly appetite; she was in fact one of those women who
go through life the marvels of such of our brutal sex as observe the
ethereal nature of their diet. But in an illogical revulsion of feeling.
Colville, who was again cramming himself with all the solids and fluids
in reach, and storing up a vain regret against the morrow, preferred her
delicacy to the magnificent rapacity of Miss Graham: Imogene had passed
from salad to ice, and at his suggestion had frankly reverted to salad
again and then taken a second ice, with the robust appetite of perfect
health and perfect youth. He felt a desire to speak against her to Mrs.
Bowen, he did not know why and he did not know how; he veiled his
feeling in an open attack. "Miss Graham has just been the cause of my
playing the fool, with her dancing. She dances so superbly that she
makes you want to dance too--she made me feel as if I _could_ dance."
"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen; "it was very kind of you to complete the set. I
saw you dancing," she added, without a glimmer of guilty consciousness
in her eyes.
It was very sweet, but Colville had to protest. "Oh no; you didn't see
me _dancing_; you saw me _not dancing_. I am a ruined man, and I leave
Florence to-morrow; but I have the sad satisfaction of reflecting that I
don't leave an unbroken train among the ladies of that set. And I have
made one young Englishman so mad that there is a reasonable hope of his
"Oh no; you _don't_ think of going away for that!" said Mrs. Bowen, not
heeding the rest of his joking.
"Well, the time has been when I have left Florence for loss," said
Colville, with the air of preparing himself to listen to reason.
"You mustn't," said Mrs. Bowen briefly.
"Oh, very well, then, I won't," said Colville whimsically, as if that
Mrs. Bowen would not talk of the matter any more; he could see that with
her kindness, which was always more than her tact, she was striving to
get away from the subject. As he really cared for it no longer, this
made him persist in clinging to it; he liked this pretty woman's being
kind to him. "Well," he said finally, "I consent to stay in Florence on
condition that you suggest some means of atonement for me which I can
also make a punishment to Miss Graham."
Mrs. Bowen did not respond to the question of placating and punishing
her _protegee_ with sustained interest. They went back to Madame
Uccelli, and to the other elderly ladies in the room that opened by
archways upon the dancing-room.
Imogene was on the floor, dancing not merely with unabated joy, but with
a zest that seemed only to freshen from dance to dance. If she left the
dance, it was to go out on her partner's arm to the supper-room.
Colville could not decently keep on talking to Mrs. Bowen the whole
evening; it would be too conspicuous; he devolved from frump to frump;
he bored himself; he yawned in his passage from one of these mothers or
fathers to another. The hours passed; it was two o'clock; Imogene was
going out to the supper-room again. He was taking out his watch. She saw
him, and "Oh, don't!" she cried, laughing, as she passed.
The dancing went on; she was waltzing now in the interminable german.
Some one had let down, a window in the dancing-room, and he was feeling
it in his shoulder. Mrs. Bowen, across the room, looked heroically
patient, but weary. He glanced, down at the frump on the sofa near, and
realised that she had been making a long speech to him, which, he could
see from her look, had ended in some sort of question.
Three o'clock came, and they had to wait till the german was over. He
felt that Miss Graham was behaving badly, ungratefully, selfishly; on
the way home in the carriage he was silent from utter boredom and
fatigue, but Mrs. Bowen was sweetly sympathetic with the girl's rapture.
Imogene did not seem to feel his moodiness; she laughed, she joked, she
told a number of things that happened, she hummed the air of the last
waltz. "Isn't it divine?" she asked. "Oh! I feel as if I could dance for
a week." She was still dancing; she gave Colville's foot an accidental
tap in keeping time on the floor of the carriage to the tune she was
humming. No one said anything about a next meeting when they parted at
the gate of Palazzo Pinti, and Mrs. Bowen bade her coachman drive
Colville to his hotel. But both the ladies' voices called good-night to
him as he drove away. He fancied a shade of mocking in Miss Graham's
The great outer door of the hotel was locked, of course, and the poor
little porter kept Colville thumping at it some time before he unlocked
it, full of sleepy smiles and apologies. "I'm sorry to wake you up,"
said Colville kindly.
"It is my duty," said the porter, with amiable heroism. He discharged
another duty by lighting a whole new candle, which would be set down to
Colville's account, and went before him to his room, up the wide stairs,
cold in their white linen path, and on through the crooked corridors
haunted by the ghosts of extinct _tables d'hote_, and full of goblin
shadows. He had recovered a noonday suavity by the time he reached
Colville's door, and bowed himself out, after lighting the candles
within, with a sweet plenitude of politeness, which Colville, even in
his gloomy mood, could not help admiring in a man in his shirt sleeves,
with only one suspender up.
If there had been a fire, Colville would have liked to sit down before
it, and take an account of his feelings, but the atmosphere of a
bed-chamber in a Florentine hotel at half-past three o'clock on a winter
morning is not one that invites to meditation; and he made haste to get
into bed, with nothing clearer in his mind than a shapeless sense of
having been trifled with. He ought not to have gone to a dancing party,
to begin with, and then he certainly ought not to have attempted to
dance; so far he might have been master of the situation, and was
responsible for it; but he was, over and above this, aware of not having
wished to do either, of having been wrought upon against his convictions
to do both. He regarded now with supreme loathing a fantastic purpose
which he had formed while tramping round on those women's dresses, of
privately taking lessons in dancing, and astonishing Miss Graham at the
next ball where they met. Miss Graham? What did he care for that child?
Or Mrs. Bowen either, for the matter of that? Had he come four thousand
miles to be used, to be played with, by them? At this point Colville was
aware of the brutal injustice of his mood. They were ladies, both of
them, charming and good, and he had been a fool; that was all. It was
not the first time he had been a fool for women. An inexpressible
bitterness for that old wrong, which, however he had been used to laugh
at it and despise it, had made his life solitary and barren, poured upon
his soul; it was as if it had happened to him yesterday.
A band of young men burst from one of the narrow streets leading into
the piazza and straggled across it, letting their voices flare out upon
the silence, and then drop extinct one by one. A whole world of faded
associations flushed again in Colville's heart. This was Italy; this was
Florence; and he execrated the hour in which he had dreamed of
The next morning's sunshine dispersed the black mood of the night
before; but enough of Colville's self-disgust remained to determine him
not to let his return to Florence be altogether vain, or his sojourn so
idle as it had begun being. The vague purpose which he had cherished of
studying the past life and character of the Florentines in their
architecture shaped itself anew in the half-hour which he gave himself
over his coffee; and he turned it over in his mind with that mounting
joy in its capabilities which attends the contemplation of any sort of
artistic endeavour. No people had ever more distinctly left the impress
of their whole temper in their architecture, or more sharply
distinguished their varying moods from period to period in their palaces
and temples. He believed that he could not only supply that brief
historical sketch of Florence which Mrs. Bowen had lamented the want of,
but he could make her history speak an unintelligible, an unmistakeable
tongue in every monument of the past, from the Etruscan wall at Fiesole
to the cheap, plain, and tasteless shaft raised to commemorate Italian
Unity in the next piazza. With sketches from his own pencil,
illustrative of points which he could not otherwise enforce, he could
make such a book on Florence as did not exist, such a book as no one had
yet thought of making. With this object in his mind, making and keeping
him young, he could laugh with any one who liked at the vanity of the
middle-aged Hoosier who had spoiled a set in the Lancers at Madame
Uccelli's party; he laughed at him now alone, with a wholly impersonal
sense of his absurdity.
After breakfast he went without delay to Viesseux's reading-room, to
examine his catalogue, and see what there was in it to his purpose.
While he was waiting his turn to pay his subscription, with the people
who surrounded the proprietor, half a dozen of the acquaintances he had
made at Mrs. Bowen's passed in and out. Viesseux's is a place where
sooner or later you meet every one you know among the foreign residents
at Florence; the natives in smaller proportion resort there too; and
Colville heard a lady asking for a book in that perfect Italian which
strikes envy to the heart of the stranger sufficiently versed in the
language to know that he never shall master it. He rather rejoiced in
his despair, however, as an earnest of his renewed intellectual life.
Henceforth his life would be wholly intellectual. He did not regret his
little excursion into society; it had shown him with dramatic sharpness
how unfit for it he was.
"Good _morning_!" said some one in a bland undertone full of a pleasant
recognition of the claims to quiet of a place where some others were
speaking in their ordinary tones.
Colville looked round on the Rev. Mr. Waters, and took his friendly
hand. "Good morning--glad to see you," he answered.
"Are you looking for that short Florentine history for Mrs. Bowen's
little girl?" asked Mr. Waters, inclining his head slightly for the
reply. "She mentioned it to me."
By day Colville remarked more distinctly that the old gentleman was
short and slight, with a youthful eagerness in his face surviving on
good terms with the grey locks that fell down his temples from under the
brim of his soft felt hat. With the boyish sweetness of his looks
blended a sort of appreciative shrewdness, which pointed his smiling
lips slightly aslant in what seemed the expectation rather than the
intention of humour.
"Not exactly," said Colville, experiencing a difficulty in withholding
the fact that in some sort he was just going to write a short Florentine
history, and finding a certain pleasure in Mrs. Bowen's having
remembered that he had taken an interest in Effie's reading. He had a
sudden wish to tell Mr. Waters of his plan, but this was hardly the time
They now found themselves face to face with the librarian, and Mr.
Waters made a gesture of waiving himself in Colville's favour.
"No, no!" said the latter; "you had better ask. I am going to put this
gentleman through rather an extended course of sprouts."
The librarian smiled with the helplessness of a foreigner, who knows his
interlocutor's English, but not the meaning of it.
"Oh, I merely wanted to ask," said Mr. Waters, addressing the librarian,
and explaining to Colville, "whether you had received that book on
Savonarola yet. The German one."
"I shall see," said the librarian, and he went upon a quest that kept
him some minutes.
"You're not thinking of taking Savonarola's life, I suppose?" suggested
"Oh no. Villari's book has covered the whole ground for ever, it seems
to me. It's a wonderful book. You've read it?"
"Yes. It's a thing that makes you feel that, after all, the Italians
have only to make a real effort in any direction, and they go ahead of
everybody else. What biography of the last twenty years can compare with
"You're right, sir--you're right," cried the old man enthusiastically.
"They're a gifted race, a people of genius."
"I wish for their own sakes they'd give their minds a little to
generalship," said Colville, pressed by the facts to hedge somewhat.
"They did get so badly smashed in their last war, poor fellows."
"Oh, I don't think I should like them any better if they were better
soldiers. Perhaps the lesson of noble endurance that they've given our
times is all that we have the right to demand of them in the way of
heroism; no one can say they lack courage. And sometimes it seems to me
that in simply outgrowing the different sorts of despotism that had
fastened upon them, till their broken bonds fell away without positive
effort on their part, they showed a greater sublimity than if they had
violently conquered their freedom. Most nations sink lower and lower
under tyranny; the Italians grew steadily more and more civilised, more
noble, more gentle, more grand. It was a wonderful spectacle--like a
human soul perfected through suffering and privation. Every period of
their history is full of instruction. I find my ancestral puritanism
particularly appealed to by the puritanism of Savonarola."
"Then Villari hasn't satisfied you that Savonarola wasn't a Protestant?"
"Oh yes, he has. I said his puritanism. Just now I'm interested in
justifying his failure to myself, for it's one of the things in history
that I've found it hardest to accept. But no doubt his puritanic state
fell because it was dreary and ugly, as the puritanic state always has
been. It makes its own virtues intolerable; puritanism won't let you see
how good and beautiful the Puritans often are. It was inevitable that
Savonarola's enemies should misunderstand and hate him."
"You are one of the last men I should have expected to find among the
_Arrabiati_," said Colville.
"Oh, there's a great deal to be said for the Florentine Arrabiati, as
well as for the English Malignants, though the Puritans in neither case
would have known how to say it. Savonarola perished because he was
excessive. I am studying him in this aspect; it is fresh ground. It is
very interesting to inquire just at what point a man's virtues become
mischievous and intolerable."
These ideas interested Colville; he turned to them with relief from the
sense of his recent trivialities; in this old man's earnestness he found
support and encouragement in the new course he had marked out for
himself. Sometimes it had occurred to him not only that he was too old
for the interests of his youth at forty, but that there was no longer
time for him to take up new ones. He considered Mr. Waters's grey hairs,
and determined to be wiser. "I should like to talk these things over
with you--and some other things," he said.
The librarian came toward them with the book for Mr. Waters, who was
fumbling near-sightedly in his pocket-book for his card. "I shall be
very happy to see you at my room," he said. "Ah, thank you," he added,
taking his book, with a simple relish as if it were something whose
pleasantness was sensible to the touch. He gave Colville the scholar's
far-off look as he turned to go: he was already as remote as the
fifteenth century through the magic of the book, which he opened and
began to read at once. Colville stared after him; he did not wish to
come to just that yet, either. Life, active life, life of his own day,
called to him; he had been one of its busiest children: could he turn
his back upon it for any charm or use that was in the past? Again that
unnerving doubt, that paralysing distrust, beset him, and tempted him to
curse the day in which he had returned to this outworn Old World. Idler
on its modern surface, or delver in its deep-hearted past, could he
reconcile himself to it? What did he care for the Italians of to-day, or
the history of the Florentines as expressed in their architectural
monuments? It was the problems of the vast, tumultuous American life,
which he had turned his back on, that really concerned him. Later he
might take up the study that fascinated yonder old man, but for the
present it was intolerable.
He was no longer young, that was true; but with an ache of old regret he
felt that he had not yet lived his life, that his was a baffled destiny,
an arrested fate. A lady came up and took his turn with the librarian,
and Colville did not stay for another. He went out and walked down the
Lung' Arno toward the Cascine. The sun danced on the river, and bathed
the long line of pale buff and grey houses that followed its curve, and
ceased in the mist of leafless tree-tops where the Cascine began. It was
not the hour of the promenade, and there was little driving; but the
sidewalks were peopled thickly enough with persons, in groups, or
singly, who had the air of straying aimlessly up or down, with no
purpose but to be in the sun, after the rainy weather of the past week.
There were faces of invalids, wistful and thin, and here and there a
man, muffled to the chin, lounged feebly on the parapet and stared at
the river. Colville hastened by them; they seemed to claim him as one of
their ailing and aging company, and just then he was in the humour of
being very young and strong.
A carriage passed before him through the Cascine gates, and drove down
the road next the river. He followed, and when it had got a little way
it stopped at the roadside, and a lady and little girl alighted, who
looked about and caught sight of him, and then obviously waited for him
to come up with them. It was Imogene and Effie Bowen, and the young girl
called to him: "We _thought_ it was you. Aren't you astonished to find
us here at this hour?" she demanded, as soon as he came up, and gave him
her hand. "Mrs. Bowen sent us for our health--or Effie's health--and I
was just making the man stop and let us out for a little walk."
"My health is very much broken too, Miss Effie," said Colville. "Will
you let me walk with you?" The child smiled, as she did at Colville's
speeches, which she apparently considered all jokes, but diplomatically
referred the decision to Imogene with an upward glance.
"We shall be very glad indeed," said the girl.
"That's very polite of you. But Miss Effie makes no effort to conceal
her dismay," said Colville.
The little girl smiled again, and her smile was so like the smile of
Lina Ridgely, twenty years ago, that his next words were inevitably
tinged with reminiscence.
"Does one still come for one's health to the Cascine? When I was in
Florence before, there was no other place if one went to look for it
with young ladies--the Cascine or the Boboli Gardens. Do they keep the
fountain of youth turned on here during the winter still?"
"I've never seen it," said Imogene gaily.
"Of course not. You never looked for it. Neither did I when I was here
before. But it wouldn't escape me now."
Since he had met them he had aged again, in spite of his resolutions to
the contrary; somehow, beside their buoyancy and bloom, the youth in his
Imogene had started forward as soon as he joined them, and Colville,
with Effie's gloved hand stolen shyly in his, was finding it quite
enough to keep up with her in her elastic advance.
She wore a long habit of silk, whose fur-trimmed edge wandered
diagonally across her breast and down to the edge of her walking dress.
To Colville, whom her girlish slimness in her ball costume had puzzled
after his original impressions of Junonian abundance, she did not so
much dwindle as seem to vanish from the proportions his visions had
assigned her that first night when he saw her standing before the
mirror. In this outdoor avatar, this companionship with the sun and
breeze, she was new to him again, and he found himself searching his
consciousness for his lost acquaintance with her, and feeling as if he
knew her less and less. Perhaps, indeed, she had no very distinctive
individuality; perhaps at her age no woman has, but waits for it to come
to her through life, through experience. She was an expression of youth,
of health, of beauty, and of the moral loveliness that comes from a
fortunate combination of these; but beyond this she was elusive in a way
that seemed to characterise her even materially. He could not make
anything more of the mystery as he walked at her side, and he went
thinking--formlessly, as people always think--that with the child or
with her mother he would have had a community of interest and feeling
which he lacked with this splendid girlhood! he was both too young and
too old for it; and then, while he answered this or that to Imogene's
talk aptly enough, his mind went back to the time when this mystery was
no mystery, or when he was contemporary with it, and if he did not
understand it, at least accepted it as if it wore the most natural thing
in the world. It seemed a longer time now since it had been in his world
than it was since he was a child.
"Should you have thought," she asked, turning her face back toward him,
"that it would be so hot in the sun to-day? _Oh_, that beautiful river!
How it twists and writhes along! Do you remember that sonnet of
Longfellow's--the one he wrote in Italian about the Ponte Vecchio, and
the Arno twisting like a dragon underneath it? They say that Hawthorne
used to live in a villa just behind the hill over there; we're going to
look it up as soon as the weather is settled. Don't you think his books
are perfectly fascinating?"
"Yes," said Colville; "only I should want a good while to say it."
"_I_ shouldn't!" retorted the girl. "When you've said fascinating,
you've said everything. There's no other word for them. Don't you like
to talk about the books you've read?"
"I would if I could remember the names of the characters. But I get them
"Oh, _I_ never do! I remember the least one of them, and all they do and
"I used to."
"It seems to me you _used_ to do everything."
"It seems to me as if I did."
"'I remember, when I think,
That my youth was half divine.'"
"Oh, Tennyson--yes! _He's_ fascinating. Don't you think he's
"Very," said Colville. He was wondering whether this were the kind of
talk that he thought was literary when he was a young fellow.
"How perfectly weird the 'Vision of Sin' is!" Imogene continued. "Don't
you like _weird_ things?"
"Weird things?" Colville reflected. "Yes; but I don't see very much in
them any more. The fact is, they don't seem to come to anything in
"Oh, _I_ think they do! I've had dreams that I've lived on for days. Do
you ever have prophetic dreams?"
"Yes; but they never come true. When they do, I know that I didn't have
"What _do_ you mean?"
"I mean that we are all so fond of the marvellous that we can't trust
ourselves about any experience that seems supernatural. If a ghost
appeared to me I should want him to prove it by at least two other
reliable, disinterested witnesses before I believed my own account of
"Oh!" cried the girl, half puzzled, half amused. "Then of course you
don't believe in ghosts?"
"Yes; I expect to be one myself some day. But I'm in no hurry to mingle
Imogene smiled vaguely, as if the talk pleased her, even when it mocked
the fancies and whims which, after so many generations that have
indulged them, she was finding so fresh and new in her turn.
"Don't you like to walk by the side of a river?" she asked, increasing
her eager pace a little. "I feel as if it were bearing me along."
"I feel as if I were carrying it," said Colville. "It's as fatiguing as
walking on railroad ties."
"Oh, that's too bad!" cried the girl. "How can you be so prosaic? Should
you ever have believed that the sun could be so hot in January? And look
at those ridiculous green hillsides over the river there! Don't you like
it to be winter when it _is_ winter?"
She did not seem to have expected anything from Colville but an
impulsive acquiescence, but she listened while he defended the mild
weather. "I think it's very well for Italy," he said. "It has always
seemed to me--that is, it seems to me now for the first time, but one
has to begin the other way--as if the seasons here had worn themselves
out like the turbulent passions of the people. I dare say the winter was
much fiercer in the times of the Bianchi and Neri."
"Oh, how delightful! Do you really believe that?"
"No, I don't know that I do. But I shouldn't have much difficulty in
proving it, I think, to the sympathetic understanding."
"I wish you would prove it to mine. It sounds so pretty, I'm sure it
must be true."
"Oh, then, it isn't necessary. I'll reserve my arguments for Mrs.
"You had better. She isn't at all romantic. She says it's very well for
me she isn't--that her being matter-of-fact lets me be as romantic as I
"Then Mrs. Bowen isn't as romantic as she would like to be if she hadn't
charge of a romantic young lady?"
"Oh, I don't say that. Dear me! I'd no idea it _could_ be so hot in
January." As they strolled along beside the long hedge of laurel, the
carriage slowly following them at a little distance, the sun beat strong
upon the white road, blotched here and there with the black irregular
shadows of the ilexes. The girl undid the pelisse across her breast,
with a fine impetuosity, and let it swing open as she walked. She
stopped suddenly. "Hark! What bird was that?"
"'It was the nightingale, and not the lark,'" suggested Colville lazily.
"Oh, _don't_ you think _Romeo and Juliet_ is divine?" demanded Imogene,
promptly dropping the question of the bird.
"I don't know about Romeo," returned Colville, "but it's sometimes
occurred to me that Juliet was rather forth-putting."
"You _know_ she wasn't. It's my favourite play. I could go every night.
It's perfectly amazing to me that they can play anything else."
"You would like it five hundred nights in the year, like _Hazel Kirke_?
That would be a good deal of Romeo, not to say Juliet."
"They ought to do it out of respect to Shakespeare. Don't you like
"Well, I've seen the time when I preferred Alexander Smith," said
"Alexander Smith? Who in the world is Alexander Smith?"
"How recent you are! Alexander Smith was an immortal who flourished
about the year 1850."
"That was before I was born. How could I remember him? But I don't feel
so very recent for all that."
"Neither do I, this morning," said Colville. "I was up at one of
Pharaoh's balls last night, and I danced too much."
He gave Imogene a droll glance, and then bent it upon Effie's discreet
face. The child dropped her eyes with a blush like her mother's, having
first sought provisional counsel of Imogene, who turned away. He rightly
inferred that they all had been talking him over at breakfast, and he
broke into a laugh which they joined in, but Imogene said nothing in
recognition of the fact.
With what he felt to be haste for his relief she said, "Don't you hate
to be told to read a book?"
"I used to--quarter of a century ago," said Colville, recognising that
this was the way young people talked, even then.
"Used to?" she repeated. "Don't you now?"
"No; I'm a great deal more tractable now. I always say that I shall get
the book out of the library. I draw the line at buying. I still hate to
buy a book that people recommend."
"What kind of books do you like to buy?"
"Oh, no kind. I think we ought to get all our books out of the library."
"Do you never like to talk in earnest?"
"Well, not often," said Colville. "Because, if you do, you can't say
with a good conscience afterward that you were only in fun."
"Oh! And do you always like to talk so that you can get out of things
"No. I didn't say that, did I?"
"Very nearly, I should think."
"Then I'm glad I didn't quite."
"I like people to be outspoken--to say everything they think," said the
girl, regarding him with a puzzled look.
"Then I foresee that I shall become a favourite," answered Colville. "I
say a great deal more than I think."
She looked at him again with envy, with admiration, qualifying her
perplexity. They had come to a point where some moss-grown,
weather-beaten statues stood at the corners of the road that traversed
the bosky stretch between the avenues of the Cascine. "Ah, how beautiful
they are!" he said, halting, and giving himself to the rapture that a
blackened garden statue imparts to one who beholds it from the
vantage-ground of sufficient years and experience.
"Do you remember that story of Heine's," he resumed, after a moment, "of
the boy who steals out of the old castle by moonlight, and kisses the
lips of the garden statue, fallen among the rank grass of the ruinous
parterres? And long afterward, when he looks down on the sleep of the
dying girl where she lies on the green sofa, it seems to him that she
and that statue are the same?"
"Oh!" deeply sighed the young girl. "No, I never read it. Tell me what
it is. I _must_ read it."
"The rest is all talk--very good talk; but I doubt whether it would
interest you. He goes on to talk of a great many things---of the way
Bellini spoke French, for example. He says it was bloodcurdling,
horrible, cataclysmal. He brought out the poor French words and broke
them upon the wheel, till you thought the whole world must give way with
a thunder-crash. A dead hush reigned in the room; the women did not know
whether to faint or fly; the men looked down at their pantaloons, and
tried to realise what they had on."
"Oh, how perfectly delightful! how shameful!" cried the girl. "I _must_
read it. What is it in? What is the name of the story?"
"It isn't a story," said Colville. "Did you ever see anything lovelier
than these statues?"
"No," said Imogene. "_Are_ they good?"
"They are much better than good--they are the very worst rococo."
"What makes you say they are beautiful, then?"
"Why, don't you see? They commemorate youth, gaiety, brilliant, joyous
life. That's what that kind of statues was made for--to look on at rich,
young, beautiful people and their gallantries; to be danced before by
fine ladies and gentlemen playing at shepherd and shepherdesses; to be
driven past by marcheses and contessinas flirting in carriages; to be
hung with scarfs and wreaths; to be parts of eternal _fetes champetres_.
Don't you see how bored they look? When I first came to Italy I should
have detested and ridiculed their bad art; but now they're
exquisite--the worse, the better,"
"I don't know what in the world you _do_ mean," said Imogene, laughing
"Mrs. Bowen would. It's a pity Mrs. Bowen isn't here with us. Miss
Effie, if I lift you up to one of those statues, will you kindly ask it
if it doesn't remember a young American signor who was here just before
the French Revolution? I don't believe it's forgotten me."
"No, no," said Imogene. "It's time we were walking back. Don't you like
Scott!" she added. "I should think you would if you like those romantic
things. I used to like Scott so _much_. When I was fifteen I wouldn't
read anything but Scott. Don't you like Thackeray? Oh, he's so
_cynical_! It's perfectly delightful."
"Cynical?" repeated Colville thoughtfully. "I was looking into _The
Newcomes_ the other day, and I thought he was rather sentimental"
"Sentimental! Why, what an idea! That is the strangest thing I ever
heard of. Oh!" she broke in upon her own amazement, "don't you think
Browning's 'Statue and the Bust' is splendid? Mr. Morton read it to
us--to Mrs. Bowen, I mean."
Colville resented this freedom of Mr. Morion's, he did not know just
why; then his pique was lost in sarcastic recollection of the time when
he too used to read poems to ladies. He had read that poem to Lina
Ridgely and the other one.
"Mrs. Bowen asked him to read it," Imogene continued.
"Did she?" asked Colville pensively.
"And then we discussed it afterward. We had a long discussion. And then
he read us the 'Legend of Pornic,' and we had a discussion about that.
Mrs. Bowen says it was real gold they found in the coffin; but I think
it was the girl's 'gold hair.' I don't know which Mr. Morion thought.
Which do you? Don't you think the 'Legend of Pornic' is splendid?"
"Yes, it's a great poem, and deep," said Colville. They had come to a
place where the bank sloped invitingly to the river. "Miss Effie," he
asked, "wouldn't you like to go down and throw stones into the Arno?
That's what a river is for," he added, as the child glanced toward
Imogene for authorisation, "to have stones thrown into it."
"Oh, let us!" cried Imogene, rushing down to the brink. "I don't want to
throw stones into it, but to get near it--to get near to any bit of
nature. They do pen you up so from it in Europe!" She stood and watched
Colville skim stones over the current. "When you stand by the shore of a
swift river like this, or near a railroad train when it comes whirling
by, don't you ever have a morbid impulse to fling yourself forward?"
"Not at my time of life," said Colville, stooping to select a flat
stone. "Morbid impulses are one of the luxuries of youth." He threw the
stone, which skipped triumphantly far out into the stream. "That was
beautiful, wasn't it, Miss Effie?"
"Lovely!" murmured the child.
He offered her a flat pebble. "Would you like to try one?"
"It would spoil my gloves," she said, in deprecating refusal.
"Let _me_ try it!" cried Imogene. "I'm not afraid of my gloves."
Colville yielded the pebble, looking at her with the thought of how
intoxicating he should once have found this bit of wilful _abandon_, but
feeling rather sorry for it now. "Oh, perhaps not?" he said, laying his
hand upon hers, and looking into her eyes.
She returned his look, and then she dropped the pebble and put her hand
back in her muff, and turned and ran up the bank. "There's the carriage.
It's time we should be going." At the top of the bank she became a
mirror of dignity, a transparent mirror to his eye. "Are you going back
to town, Mr. Colville?" she asked, with formal state. "We could set you
"Thank you, Miss Graham. I shall be glad to avail myself of your very
kind offer. Allow me." He handed her ceremoniously to the carriage; he
handed Effie Bowen even more ceremoniously to the carriage, holding his
hat in one hand while he offered the other. Then he mounted to the seat
in front of them. "The weather has changed," he said.
Imogene hid her face in her muff, and Effie Bowen bowed hers against
A sense of the girl's beauty lingered in Colville's thought all day, and
recurred to him again and again; and the ambitious intensity and
enthusiasm of her talk came back in touches of amusement and compassion.
How divinely young it all was, and how lovely! He patronised it from a
height far aloof.
He was not in the frame of mind for the hotel table, and he went to
lunch, at a restaurant. He chose a simple trattoria, the first he came
to, and he took his seat at one of the bare, rude tables, where the
joint saucers for pepper and salt, and a small glass for toothpicks,
with a much-scraped porcelain box for matches, expressed an uncorrupted
Florentinity of custom. But when he gave his order in offhand Italian,
the waiter answered in the French which waiters get together for the
traveller's confusion in Italy, and he resigned himself to whatever
chance of acquaintance might befall him. The place had a companionable
smell of stale tobacco, and the dim light showed him on the walls of a
space dropped a step or two lower, at the end of the room, a variety of
sketches and caricatures. A waiter was laying a large table in this
space, and when Colville came up to examine the drawings he jostled him,
with due apologies, in the haste of a man working against time for
masters who will brook no delay. He was hurrying still when a party of
young men came in and took their places at the table, and began to rough
him for his delay. Colville could recognise several of them in the
vigorous burlesques on the walls, and as others dropped in the grotesque
portraitures made him feel as if he had seen them before. They all
talked at once, each man of his own interests, except when they joined
in a shout of mockery and welcome for some new-comer. Colville, at his
_risotto_, almost the room's length away, could hear what they thought,
one and another, of Botticelli and Michelangelo; of old Piloty's things
at Munich; of the dishes they had served to them, and of the quality of
the Chianti; of the respective merits of German and Italian tobacco; of
whether Inglehart had probably got to Venice yet; of the personal habits
of Billings, and of the question whether the want of modelling in
Simmons's nose had anything to do with his style of snoring; of the
overrated colouring of some of those Venetian fellows; of the delicacy
of Mino da Fiesole, and of the genius of Babson's tailor. Babson was
there to defend the cut of his trousers, and Billings and Simmons were
present to answer for themselves at the expense of the pictures of those
who had called their habits and features into question. When it came to
this all the voices joined in jolly uproar. Derision and denial broke
out of the tumult, and presently they were all talking quietly of a
reception which some of them were at the day before. Then Colville heard
one of them saying that he would like a chance to paint some lady whose
name he did not catch, and "She looks awfully sarcastic," one of the
young fellows said.
"They say she _is_," said another. "They say she's awfully
"Boston?" queried a third.
"No, Kalamazoo. The centre of culture is out there now."
"She knows how to dress, anyhow," said the first commentator. "I wonder
what Parker would talk to her about when he was painting her. He's never
read anything but Poe's 'Ullalume.'"
"Well, that's a good subject--'Ullalume.'"
"I suppose she's read it?"
"She's read 'most everything, they say."
"What's an Ullalume, anyway, Parker?"
One of the group sprang up from the table and drew on the wall what he
labelled "An Ullalume." Another rapidly depicted Parker in the moment of
sketching a young lady; her portrait had got as far as the eyes and nose
when some one protested: "Oh, hello! No personalities."
The draughtsman said, "Well, all right!" and sat down again.
"Hall talked with her the most. What did she say, Hall?"
"Hall can't remember words in three syllables, but he says it was mighty
brilliant and mighty deep."
"They say she's a niece of Mrs. Bowen's. She's staying with Mrs. Bowen."
Then it was the wisdom and brilliancy and severity of Imogene Graham
that these young men stood in awe of! Colville remembered how the minds
of girls of twenty had once dazzled him. "And yes," he mused, "she must
have believed that we were talking literature in the Cascine. Certainly
I should have thought it an intellectual time when I was at that age,"
he owned to himself with forlorn irony.
The young fellows went on to speak of Mrs. Bowen, whom it seemed they
had known the winter before. She had been very polite to them; they
praised her as if she were quite an old woman.
"But she must have been a very pretty girl," one of them put in.
"Well, she has a good deal of style yet."
"Oh yes, but she never could have been a beauty like the other one."
On her part, Imogene was very sober when she met Mrs. Bowen, though she
had come in flushed and excited from the air and the morning's
adventure. Mrs. Bowen was sitting by the fire, placidly reading; a vase
of roses on the little table near her diffused the delicate odour of
winter roses through the room; all seemed very still and dim, and of
another time, somehow.
Imogene kept away from the fire, sitting down, in the provisional
fashion of women, with her things on; but she unbuttoned her pelisse and
flung it open. Effie had gone to her room.
"Did you have a pleasant drive?" asked Mrs. Bowen.
"Very," said the girl.
"Mr. Morton brought you these roses," continued Mrs. Bowen.
"Oh," said Imogene, with a cold glance at them.
"The Flemmings have asked us to a party Thursday. There is to be
"Yes." As if she now saw reason to do so, Mrs. Bowen laid the book face
downward in her lap. She yawned a little, with her hand on her mouth.
"Did you meet any one you knew?"
"Yes; Mr. Colville." Mrs. Bowen cut her yawn in half. "We got out to
walk in the Cascine, and we saw him coming in at the gate. He came up
and asked if he might walk with us."
"Did you have a pleasant walk?" asked Mrs. Bowen, a breath more chillily
than she had asked if they had a pleasant drive.
"Yes, pleasant enough. And then we came back and went down the river
bank, and he skipped stones, and we took him to his hotel."
"Was there anybody you knew in the Cascine?"
"Oh no; the place was a howling wilderness. I never saw it so deserted,"
said the girl impatiently. "It was terribly hot walking. I thought I
should burn up."
Mrs. Bowen did not answer anything; she let the book lie in her lap.
"What an odd person Mr. Colville is!" said Imogene, after a moment.
"Don't you think he's very different from other gentlemen?"
"Oh, he has such a peculiar way of talking."
"What peculiar way?"
"Oh, I don't know. Plenty of the young men I see talk cynically, and I
do sometimes myself--desperately, don't you know. But then I know very
well we don't mean anything by it."
"And do you think Mr. Colville does? Do you think he talks cynically?"
Imogene leaned back in her chair and reflected. "No," she returned
slowly, "I can't say that he does. But he talks lightly, with a kind of
touch and go that makes you feel that he has exhausted all feeling. He
doesn't parade it at all. But you hear between the words, don't you
know, just as you read between the lines in some kinds of poetry. Of
course it's everything in knowing what he's been through. He's perfectly
unaffected; and don't you think he's good?"
"Oh yes," sighed Mrs. Bowen. "In his way."
"But he sees through you. Oh, quite! Nothing escapes him, and pretty
soon he lets out that he has seen through you, and then you feel so
_flat_! Oh, it's perfectly intoxicating to be with him. I would give the
world to talk as he does."
"What was your talk all about?"
"Oh, I don't know. I suppose it would have been called rather
Mrs. Bowen smiled infinitesimally. But after a moment she said gravely,
"Mr. Colville is very much older than you. He's old enough to be your
"Yes, I know that. You feel that he feels old, and it's perfectly
tragical. Sometimes when he turns that slow, dull, melancholy look on
you, he seems a thousand years old."
"I don't mean that he's positively old," said Mrs. Bowen. "He's only old
"Oh yes; I understand that. And I don't mean that he really seems a
thousand years old. What I meant was, he seems a thousand years off, as
if he were still young, and had got left behind somehow. He seems to be
on the other side of some impassable barrier, and you want to get over
there and help him to our side, but you can't do it. I suppose his
talking in that light way is merely a subterfuge to hide his feeling, to
make him forget."
Mrs. Bowen fingered the edges of her book. "You mustn't let your fancy
run away with you, Imogene," she said, with a little painful smile.
"Oh, I _like_ to let it run away with me. And when I get such a subject
as Mr. Colville, there's no stopping. I can't stop, and I don't _wish_
to stop. Shouldn't you have thought that he would have been perfectly
crushed at the exhibition he made of himself in the Lancers last night?
He wasn't the least embarrassed when he met me, and the only allusion he
made to it was to say that he had been up late, and had danced too much.
Wasn't it wonderful he could do it? Oh, if _I_ could do that!"
"I wish he could have avoided the occasion for his bravado," said Mrs.
"I think I was a little to blame, perhaps," said the girl. "I beckoned
him to come and take the vacant place."
"I don't see that that was an excuse," returned Mrs. Bowen primly.
Imogene seemed insensible to the tone, as it concerned herself; it only
apparently reminded her of something. "Guess what Mr. Colville said,
when I had been silly, and then tried to make up for it by being very
dignified all of a sudden?"
"I don't know. How had you been silly?"
The servant brought in some cards. Imogene caught up the pelisse which
she had been gradually shedding as she sat talking to Mrs. Bowen, and
ran out of the room by another door.
They did not recur to the subject. But that night, when Mrs. Bowen went
to say good night to Effie, after the child had gone to bed, she
"Effie," she said at last, in a husky whisper, "what did Imogene say to
Mr. Colville to-day that made him laugh?"
"I don't know," said the child. "They kept laughing at so many things."
"Yes; he laughed. Do you mean toward the last, when he had been throwing
stones into the river?"
"It must have been then."
The child stretched herself drowsily. "Oh I couldn't understand it all.
She wanted to throw a stone in the river, but he told her she had better
not. But that didn't make _him_ laugh. She was so very stiff just
afterward that he said the weather had changed, and that made _us_
"Was that all?"
"We kept laughing ever so long. I never saw any one like Mr. Colville.
How queerly the fire shines on your face! It gives you such a beautiful
"Yes, lovely." The child's mother stooped over and kissed her. "You're
the prettiest mamma in the world," she said, throwing her arms round her
neck. "Sometimes I can't tell whether Imogene is prettier or not, but
to-night I'm certain you are. Do you like to have me think that?"
"Yes--yes. But don't pull me down so; you hurt my neck. Good night."
The child let her go. "I haven't said my prayer yet, mamma. I was
"Well, say it now, then," said the mother gently.
When the child had finished she turned upon her cheek. "Good night,
Mrs. Bowen went about the room a little while, picking up its pretty
disorder. Then she sat down in a chair by the hearth, where a log was
still burning. The light of the flame flickered upon her face, and threw
upon the ceiling a writhing, fantastic shadow, the odious caricature of
her gentle beauty.
In that still air of the Florentine winter, time seems to share the
arrest of the natural forces, the repose of the elements. The pale blue
sky is frequently overcast, and it rains two days out of five;
sometimes, under extraordinary provocation from the north a snow-storm
whirls along under the low grey dome, and whitens the brown roofs, where
a growth of spindling weeds and grass clothes the tiles the whole year
round, and shows its delicate green above the gathered flakes. But for
the most part the winds are laid, and the sole change is from quiet sun
to quiet shower. This at least is the impression which remains in the
senses of the sojourning stranger, whose days slip away with so little
difference one from another that they seem really not to have passed,
but, like the grass that keeps the hillsides fresh round Florence all
the winter long, to be waiting some decisive change of season before
The first of the Carnival sights that marked the lapse of a month since
his arrival took Colville by surprise. He could not have believed that
it was February yet if it had not been for the straggling maskers in
armour whom he met one day in Via Borgognissanti, with their visors up
for their better convenience in smoking. They were part of the chorus at
one of the theatres, and they were going about to eke out their salaries
with the gifts of people whose windows the festival season privileged
them to play under. The silly spectacle stirred Colville's blood a
little, as any sort of holiday preparation was apt to do. He thought
that it afforded him a fair occasion to call at Palazzo Pinti, where he
had not been so much of late as in the first days of his renewed
acquaintance with Mrs. Bowen. He had at one time had the fancy that Mrs.
Bowen was cool toward him. He might very well have been mistaken in
this; in fact, she had several times addressed him the politest
reproaches for not coming, but he made some evasion, and went only on
the days when she was receiving other people, and when necessarily he
saw very little of the family.
Miss Graham was always very friendly, but always very busy, drawing tea
from the samovar, and looking after others. Effie Bowen dropped her eyes
in re-established strangeness when she brought the basket of cake to
him. There was one moment when he suspected that he had been talked over
in family council, and put under a certain regimen. But he had no proof
of this, and it had really nothing to do with his keeping away, which
was largely accidental. He had taken up, with as much earnestness as he
could reasonably expect of himself, that notion of studying the
architectural expression of Florentine character at the different
periods. He had spent a good deal of money in books, he had revived his
youthful familiarity with the city, and he had made what acquaintance he
could with people interested in such matters. He met some of these in
the limited but very active society in which he mingled daily and
nightly. After the first strangeness to any sort of social life had worn
off, he found himself very fond of the prompt hospitalities which his
introduction at Mrs. Bowen's had opened to him. His host--or more
frequently it was his hostess--had sometimes merely an apartment at a
hotel; perhaps the family was established in one of the furnished
lodgings which stretch the whole length of the Lung' Arno on either
hand, and abound in all the new streets approaching the Cascine, and had
set up the simple and facile housekeeping of the sojourner in Florence
for a few months; others had been living in the villa or the palace they
had taken for years.
The more recent and transitory people expressed something of the
prevailing English and American aestheticism in the decoration of their
apartments, but the greater part accepted the Florentine drawing-room as
their landlord had imagined it for them, with furniture and curtains in
yellow satin, a cheap ingrain carpet thinly covering the stone floor,
and a fire of little logs ineffectually blazing on the hearth, and
flickering on the carved frames of the pictures on the wall and the
nakedness of the frescoed allegories in the ceiling. Whether of longer
or shorter stay, the sojourners were bound together by a common language
and a common social tradition; they all had a Day, and on that day there
was tea and bread and butter for every comer. They had one another to
dine; there were evening parties, with dancing and without dancing.
Colville even went to a fancy ball, where he was kept in countenance by
several other Florentines of the period of Romola. At all these places
he met nearly the same people, whose alien life in the midst of the
native community struck him as one of the phases of modern civilisation
worthy of note, if not particular study; for he fancied it destined to a
wider future throughout Europe, as the conditions in England and America
grow more tiresome and more onerous. They seemed to see very little of
Italian society, and to be shut out from practical knowledge of the
local life by the terms upon which they had themselves insisted. Our
race finds its simplified and cheapened London or New York in all its
Continental resorts now, but nowhere has its taste been so much studied
as in Italy, and especially in Florence. It was not, perhaps, the real
Englishman or American who had been considered, but a _forestiere_
conventionalised from the Florentine's observation of many Anglo-Saxons.
But he had been so well conjectured that he was hemmed round with a very
fair illusion of his national circumstances.
It was not that he had his English or American doctor to prescribe for
him when sick, and his English or American apothecary to compound his
potion; it was not that there was an English tailor and an American
dentist, an English bookseller and an English baker, and chapels of
every shade of Protestantism, with Catholic preaching in English every
Sunday. These things were more or less matters of necessity, but
Colville objected that the barbers should offer him an American shampoo;
that the groceries should abound in English biscuit and our own canned
fruit and vegetables, and that the grocers' clerks should be ambitious
to read the labels of the Boston baked beans. He heard--though he did
not prove this by experiment--that the master of a certain trattoria had
studied the doughnut of New England till he had actually surpassed the
original in the qualities that have undermined our digestion as a
people. But above all it interested him to see that intense expression
of American civilisation, the horse-car, triumphing along the
magnificent avenues that mark the line of the old city walls; and he
recognised an instinctive obedience to an abtruse natural law in the
fact that whereas the omnibus, which the Italians have derived from the
English, was not filled beyond its seating capacity, the horse-car was
overcrowded without and within at Florence, just as it is with us who
"I wouldn't mind even that," he said one day to the lady who was drawing
him his fifth or sixth cup of tea for that afternoon, and with whom he
was naturally making this absurd condition of things a matter of
personal question; "but you people here pass your days in a round of
unbroken English, except when you talk with your servants. I'm not sure
you don't speak English with the shop people. I can hardly get them to
speak Italian to me."
"Perhaps they think you can speak English better," said the lady.
This went over Florence; in a week it was told to Colville as something
said to some one else. He fearlessly reclaimed it as said to himself,
and this again was told. In the houses where he visited he had the
friendly acceptance of any intelligent and reasonably agreeable person
who comes promptly and willingly when he is asked, and seems always to
have enjoyed himself when he goes away. But besides this sort of general
favour, he enjoyed a very pleasing little personal popularity which came
from his interest in other people, from his good-nature, and from his
inertness. He slighted no acquaintance, and talked to every one with the
same apparent wish to be entertaining. This was because he was incapable
of the cruelty of open indifference when his lot was cast with a dull
person, and also because he was mentally too lazy to contrive pretences
for getting away; besides he did not really find anybody altogether a
bore, and he had no wish to shine. He listened without shrinking to
stories that he had heard before, and to things that had already been
said to him; as has been noted, he had himself the habit of repeating
his ideas with the recklessness of maturity, for he had lived long
enough to know that this can be done with almost entire safety.
He haunted the studios a good deal, and through a retrospective affinity
with art, and a human sympathy with the sacrifice which it always
involves, he was on friendly terms with sculptors and painters who were
not in every case so friendly with one another. More than once he saw
the scars of old rivalries, and he might easily have been an adherent of
two or three parties. But he tried to keep the freedom of the different
camps without taking sides; and he felt the pathos of the case when they
all told the same story of the disaster which the taste for bric-a-brac
had wrought to the cause of art; how people who came abroad no longer
gave orders for statues and pictures, but spent their money on curtains
and carpets, old chests and chairs, and pots and pans. There were some
among these artists whom he had known twenty years before in Florence,
ardent and hopeful beginners; and now the backs of their grey or bald
heads, as they talked to him with their faces towards their work, and a
pencil or a pinch of clay held thoughtfully between their fingers,
appealed to him as if he had remained young and prosperous, and they had
gone forward to age and hard work. They were very quaint at times. They
talked the American slang of the war days and of the days before the
war; without a mastery of Italian, they often used the idioms of that
tongue in their English speech. They were dim and vague about the
country, with whose affairs they had kept up through the newspapers.
Here and there one thought he was going home very soon; others had
finally relinquished all thoughts of return. These had, perhaps without
knowing it, lost the desire to come back; they cowered before the
expensiveness of life in America, and doubted of a future with which,
indeed, only the young can hopefully grapple. But in spite of their
accumulated years, and the evil times on which they had fallen, Colville
thought them mostly very happy men, leading simple and innocent lives in
a world of the ideal, and rich in the inexhaustible beauty of the city,
the sky, the air. They all, whether they were ever going back or not,
were fervent Americans, and their ineffaceable nationality marked them,
perhaps, all the more strongly for the patches of something alien that
overlaid it in places. They knew that he was or had been a newspaper
man; but if they secretly cherished the hope that he would bring them to
the _dolce lume_ of print, they never betrayed it; and the authorship of
his letter about the American artists in Florence, which he printed in
the _American Register_ at Paris, was not traced to him for a whole
Colville was a frequent visitor of Mr. Waters, who had a lodging in
Piazza San Marco, of the poverty which can always be decent in Italy. It
was bare, but for the books that furnished it; with a table for his
writing, on a corner of which he breakfasted, a wide sofa with cushions
in coarse white linen that frankly confessed itself a bed by night, and
two chairs of plain Italian walnut; but the windows, which had no sun,
looked out upon the church and the convent sacred to the old Socinian
for the sake of the meek, heroic mystic whom they keep alive in all the
glory of his martyrdom. No two minds could well have been further apart
than the New England minister and the Florentine monk, and no two souls
nearer together, as Colville recognised with a not irreverent smile.
When the old man was not looking up some point of his saint's history in
his books, he was taking with the hopefulness of youth and the patience
of age a lesson in colloquial Italian from his landlady's daughter,
which he pronounced with a scholarly scrupulosity and a sincere atonic
Massachusetts accent. He practised the language wherever he could,
especially at the trattoria where he dined, and where he made occasions
to detain the waiter in conversation. They humoured him, out of their
national good-heartedness and sympathy, and they did what they could to
realise a strange American dish for him on Sundays--a combination of
stockfish and potatoes boiled, and then fried together in small cakes.
They revered him as a foreign gentleman of saintly amiability and
incomprehensible preferences; and he was held in equal regard at the
next green-grocer's where he spent every morning five centessimi for a
bunch of radishes and ten for a little pat of butter to eat with his
bread and coffee; he could not yet accustom himself to mere bread and
coffee for breakfast, though he conformed as completely as he could to
the Italian way of living. He respected the abstemiousness of the race;
he held that it came from a spirituality of nature to which the North
was still strange, with all its conscience and sense of individual
accountability. He contended that he never suffered in his small
dealings with these people from the dishonesty which most of his
countrymen complained of; and he praised their unfailing gentleness of
manner; this could arise only from goodness of heart, which was perhaps
the best kind of goodness after all.
None of these humble acquaintance of his could well have accounted for
the impression they all had that he was some sort of ecclesiastic. They
could never have understood--nor, for that matter, could any one have
understood through European tradition--the sort of sacerdotal office
that Mr. Waters had filled so long in the little deeply book-clubbed New
England village where he had outlived most of his flock, till one day he
rose in the midst of the surviving dyspeptics and consumptives and,
following the example of Mr. Emerson, renounced his calling for ever. By
that time even the pale Unitarianism thinning out into paler doubt was
no longer tenable with him. He confessed that while he felt the Divine
goodness more and more, he believed that it was a mistake to preach any
specific creed or doctrine, and he begged them to release him from their
service. A young man came to fill his place in their pulpit, but he kept
his place in their hearts. They raised a subscription of seventeen
hundred dollars and thirty-five cents; another being submitted to the
new button manufacturer, who had founded his industry in the village, he
promptly rounded it out to three thousand, and Mr. Waters came to
Florence. His people parted with him in terms of regret as delicate as
they were awkward, and their love followed him. He corresponded
regularly with two or three ladies, and his letters were sometimes read
from his pulpit.
Colville took the Piazza San Marco in on his way to Palazzo Pinti on the
morning when he had made up his mind to go there, and he stood at the
window looking out with the old man, when some more maskers passed
through the place--two young fellows in old Florentine dress, with a
third habited as a nun.
"Ah," said the old man gently, "I wish they hadn't introduced the nun!
But I suppose they can't help signalising their escape from the
domination of the Church on all occasions. It's a natural reaction. It
will all come right in time."
"You preach the true American gospel," said Colville.
"Of course; there is no other gospel. That is the gospel."
"Do you suppose that Savonarola would think it had all come out right,"
asked Colville, a little maliciously, "if he could look from the window
with us here and see the wicked old Carnival, that he tried so hard to
kill four hundred years ago, still alive? And kicking?" he added, in
cognisance of the caper of one of the maskers.
"Oh yes; why not? By this time he knows that his puritanism was all a
mistake, unless as a thing for the moment only. I should rather like to
have Savonarola here with us; he would find these costumes familiar;
they are of his time. I shall make a point of seeing all I can of the
Carnival, as part of my study of Savonarola, if nothing else."
"I'm afraid you'll have to give yourself limitations," said Colville, as
one of the maskers threw his arm round the mock-nun's neck. But the old
man did not see this, and Colville did not feel it necessary to explain
The maskers had passed out of the piazza, now, and "Have you seen our
friends at Palazzo Pinti lately?" said Mr. Waters.
"Not very," said Colville. "I was just on my way there."
"I wish you would make them my compliments. Such a beautiful young
"Yes," said Colville; "she is certainly a beautiful girl."
"I meant Mrs. Bowen," returned the old man quietly.
"Oh, I thought you meant Miss Graham. Mrs. Bowen is my contemporary, and
so I didn't think of her when you said young. I should have called her
pretty rather than beautiful."
"No; she's beautiful. The young girl is good-looking--I don't deny that;
but she is very crude yet."
Colville laughed. "Crude in looks? I should have said Miss Graham was
rather crude in mind, though I'm not sure I wouldn't have stopped at
"No," mildly persisted the old man; "she couldn't be crude in mind
without being crude in looks."
"You mean," pursued Colville, smiling, but not wholly satisfied, "that
she hasn't a lovely nature?"
"You never can know what sort of nature a young girl has. Her nature
depends so much upon that of the man whose fate she shares."
"The woman is what the man makes her? That is convenient for the woman,
and relieves her of all responsibility."
"The man is what the woman makes him, too, but not so much so. The man
was cast into a deep sleep, you know----"
"And the woman was what he dreamed her. I wish she were."
"In most cases she is," said Mr. Waters.
They did not pursue the matter. The truth that floated in the old
minister's words pleased Colville by its vagueness, and flattered the
man in him by its implication of the man's superiority. He wanted to say
that if Mrs. Bowen were what the late Mr. Bowen had dreamed her, then
the late Mr. Bowen, when cast into his deep sleep, must have had Lina
Ridgely in his eye. But this seemed to be personalising the fantasy
unwarrantably, and pushing it too far. For like reason he forbore to say
that if Mr. Waters's theory were correct, it would be better to begin
with some one whom nobody else had dreamed before; then you could be
sure at least of not having a wife to somebody else's mind rather than
your own. Once on his way to Palazzo Pinti, he stopped, arrested by a
thought that had not occurred to him before in relation to what Mr.
Waters had been saying, and then pushed on with the sense of security
which is the compensation the possession of the initiative brings to our
sex along with many responsibilities. In the enjoyment of this, no man
stops to consider the other side, which must wait his initiative,
however they mean to meet it.
In the Por San Maria Colville found masks and dominoes filling the shop
windows and dangling from the doors. A devil in red and a clown in white
crossed the way in front of him from an intersecting street; several
children in pretty masquerading dresses flashed in and out among the
crowd. He hurried to the Lung' Arno, and reached the palace where Mrs.
Bowen lived, with these holiday sights fresh in his mind. Imogene turned
to meet him at the door of the apartment, running from the window where
she had left Effie Bowen still gazing.
"We saw you coming," she said gaily, without waiting to exchange formal
greetings. "We didn't know at first but it might; be somebody else
disguised as you. We've been watching the maskers go by. Isn't it
"Awfully," said Colville, going to the window with her, and putting his
arm on Effie's shoulder, where she knelt in a chair looking out. "What
have you seen?"
"Oh, only two Spanish students with mandolins," said Imogene; "but you
can see they're _beginning_ to come."
"They'll stop now," murmured Effie, with gentle disappointment; "it's
commencing to rain."
"Oh, too bad!" wailed the young girl. But just then two mediaeval
men-at-arms came in sight, carrying umbrellas. "Isn't that too
delicious? Umbrellas and chain-armour!"
"You can't expect them to let their chain-armour get rusty," said
Colville. "You ought to have been with me--minstrels in scale-armour,
Florentines of Savonarola's times, nuns, clowns, demons, fairies--no end
"It's very well saying we ought to have been with you; but we can't go
"I didn't say alone," said Colville. "Don't you think Mrs. Bowen would
trust you with me to see these Carnival beginnings?" He had not meant at
all to do anything of this kind, but that had not prevented his doing
"How do we know, when she hasn't been asked?" said Imogene, with a touch
of burlesque dolor, such as makes a dignified girl enchanting, when she
permits it to herself. She took Effie's hand in hers, the child having
faced round from the window, and stood smoothing it, with her lovely
head pathetically tilted on one side.
"What haven't I been asked yet?" demanded Mrs. Bowen, coming lightly
toward them from a door at the side of the _salon_. She gave her hand to
Colville with the prettiest grace, and a cordiality that brought a flush
to her cheek. There had really been nothing between them but a little
unreasoned coolness, if it were even so much as that; say rather a
dryness, aggravated by time and absence, and now, as friends do, after a
thing of that kind, they were suddenly glad to be good to each other.
"Why, you haven't been asked how you have been this long time," said
"I have been wanting to tell you for a whole week," returned Mrs. Bowen,
seating the rest and taking a chair for herself. "Where have you been?"
"Oh, shut up in my cell at Hotel d'Atene, writing a short history of the
Florentine people for Miss Effie."
"Effie, take Mr. Colville's hat," said her mother. "We're going to make
you stay to lunch," she explained to him.
"Is that so?" he asked, with an effect of polite curiosity.
"Yes." Imogene softly clapped her hands, unseen by Mrs. Bowen, for
Colville's instruction that all was going well. If it delights women to
pet an undangerous friend of our sex, to use him like one of themselves,
there are no words to paint the soft and flattered content with which
his spirit purrs under their caresses. "You must have nearly finished
the history," added Mrs. Bowen.
"Well, I could have finished it," said Colville, "if I had only begun
it. You see, writing a short history of the Florentine people is such
quick work that you have to be careful how you actually put pen to
paper, or you're through with it before you've had any fun out of it."
"I think Effie will like to read that kind of history," said her mother.
The child hung her head, and would not look at Colville; she was still
shy with him; his absence must have seemed longer to a child, of course.
At lunch they talked of the Carnival sights that had begun to appear. He
told of his call upon Mr. Waters, and of the old minister's purpose to
see all he could of the Carnival in order to judge intelligently of
Savonarola's opposition to it.
"Mr. Waters is a very good man," said Mrs. Bowen, with the air of not
meaning to approve him quite, nor yet to let any notion of his be made
fun of in her presence. "But for my part I wish there were not going to
be any Carnival; the city will be in such an uproar for the next two
"O Mrs. Bowen!" cried Imogene reproachfully; Effie looked at her mother
in apparent anxiety lest she should be meaning to put forth an
unquestionable power and stop the Carnival.
"The last Carnival, I thought there was never going to be any end to it;
I was so glad when Lent came."
"Glad when _Lent_ came!" breathed Imogene, in astonishment; but she
ventured upon nothing more insubordinate, and Colville admired to see
this spirited girl as subject to Mrs. Bowen as her own child. There is
no reason why one woman should establish another woman over her, but
nearly all women do it in one sort or another, from love of a voluntary
submission, or from a fear of their own ignorance, if they are younger
and more inexperienced than their lieges. Neither the one passion nor
the other seems to reduce them to a like passivity as regards their
husbands. They must apparently have a fetish of their own sex. Colville
could see that Imogene obeyed Mrs. Bowen not only as a _protegee_ but as
"Oh, I suppose _you_ will have to go through it all," said Mrs. Bowen,
in reward of the girl's acquiescence.
"You're rather out of the way of it up here," said Colville. "You had
better let me go about with the young ladies--if you can trust them to
the care of an old fellow like me."
"Oh, I don't think you're so very old, at all times," replied Mrs.
Bowen, with a peculiar look, whether indulgent or reproachful he could
not quite make out.
But he replied, boldly, in his turn: "I have certainly my moments of
being young still; I don't deny it. There's always a danger of their
"I was thinking," said Mrs. Bowen, with a graceful effect of not
listening, "that you would let me go too. It would be quite like old
"Only too much honour and pleasure," returned Colville, "if you will
leave out the old times. I'm not particular about having them along."
Mrs. Bowen joined in laughing at the joke, which they had to themselves.
"I was only consulting an explicit abhorrence of yours in not asking you
to go at first," he explained.
"Oh yes; I understand that."
The excellence of the whole arrangement seemed to grow upon Mrs. Bowen.
"Of course," she said, "Imogene ought to see all she can of the
Carnival. She may not have another chance, and perhaps if she had, _he_
"I'll engage to get _his_ consent," said the girl. "What I was afraid of
was that I couldn't get yours, Mrs. Bowen."
"Am I so severe as that?" asked Mrs. Bowen softly.
"Quite," replied Imogene.
"Perhaps," thought Colville, "it isn't always silent submission."
For no very good reason that any one could give, the Carnival that year
was not a brilliant one. Colville's party seemed to be always meeting
the same maskers on the street, and the maskers did not greatly increase
in numbers. There were a few more of them after nightfall, but they were
then a little more bacchanal, and he felt it was better that the ladies
had gone home by that time. In the pursuit of the tempered pleasure of
looking up the maskers he was able to make the reflection that their
fantastic and vivid dresses sympathised in a striking way with the
architecture of the city, and gave him an effect of Florence which he
could not otherwise have had. There came by and by a little attempt at a
_corso_ in Via Cerratani and Via Tornabuoni. There were some masks in
carriages, and from one they actually threw plaster _confetti_; half a
dozen bare-legged boys ran before and beat one another with bladders,
Some people, but not many, watched the show from the windows, and the
footways were crowded.
Having proposed that they should see the Carnival together, Colville had
made himself responsible for it to the Bowen household. Imogene said,
"Well is this the famous Carnival of Florence?"
"It certainly doesn't compare with the Carnival last year," said Mrs.
"Your reproach is just, Mrs. Bowen," he acknowledged. "I've managed it
badly. But you know I've been out of practice a great while there in Des
"Oh, poor Mr. Colville!" cried Imogene. "He isn't altogether to blame."
"I don't know," said Mrs. Bowen, humouring the joke in her turn. "It
seems to me that if he had consulted us a little earlier, he might have
He drove home with the ladies, and Mrs. Bowen made him stay to tea. As
if she felt that he needed to be consoled for the failure of his
Carnival, she was especially indulgent with him. She played to him on
the piano some of the songs that were in fashion when they were in
Florence together before.
Imogene had never heard them; she had heard her mother speak of them.
One or two of them were negro songs, such as very pretty young ladies
used to sing without harm to themselves or offence to others; but
Imogene decided that they were rather rowdy. "Dear me, Mrs. Bowen! Did
_you_ sing such songs? You wouldn't let Effie!"
"No, I wouldn't let Effie. The times are changed. I wouldn't let Effie
go to the theatre alone with a young gentleman."
"The times are changed for the worse," Colville began. "What harm ever
came to a young man from a young lady's going alone to the theatre with
He stayed till the candles were brought in, and then went away only
because, as he said, they had not asked him to stay to dinner.
He came nearly every day, upon one pretext or another, and he met them
oftener than that at the teas and on the days of other ladies in
Florence; for he was finding the busy idleness of the life very
pleasant, and he went everywhere. He formed the habit of carrying
flowers to the Palazzo Pinti, excusing himself on the ground that they
were so cheap and so abundant as to be impersonal. He brought violets to
Effie and roses to Imogene; to Mrs. Bowen he always brought a bunch of
the huge purple anemones which grow so abundantly all winter long about
Florence. "I wonder why _purple_ anemones?" he asked her one day in
presenting them to her.
"Oh, it is quite time I should be wearing purple," she said gently.
"Ah, Mrs. Bowen!" he reproached her. "Why do I bring purple violets to
"You must ask Effie!" said Mrs. Bowen, with a laugh.
After that he stayed away forty-eight hours, and then appeared with a
bunch of the red anemones, as large as tulips, which light up the meadow
grass when it begins to stir from its torpor in the spring. "They grew
on purpose to set me right with you," he said, "and I saw them when I
was in the country."
It was a little triumph for him, which she celebrated by putting them in
a vase on her table, and telling people who exclaimed over them that
they were some Mr. Colville gathered in the country. He enjoyed his
privileges at her house with the futureless satisfaction of a man. He
liked to go about with the Bowens; he was seen with the ladies driving
and walking, in most of their promenades. He directed their visits to
the churches and the galleries; he was fond of strolling about with
Effie's daintily-gloved little hand in his. He took her to Giocosa's and
treated her to ices; he let her choose from the confectioner's prettiest
caprices in candy; he was allowed to bring the child presents in his
pockets. Perhaps he was not as conscientious as he might have been in
his behaviour with the little girl. He did what he could to spoil her,
or at least to relax the severity of the training she had received; he
liked to see the struggle that went on in the mother's mind against
this, and then the other struggle with which she overcame her opposition
to it. The worst he did was to teach Effie some picturesque Western
phrases, which she used with innocent effectiveness; she committed the
crimes against convention which he taught her with all the conventional
elegance of her training. The most that he ever gained for her were some
concessions in going out in weather that her mother thought unfit, or
sitting up for half-hours after her bed-time. He ordered books for her
from Goodban's, and it was Colville now, and not the Rev. Mr. Morton,
who read poetry aloud to the ladies on afternoons when Mrs. Bowen gave
orders that she and Miss Graham should be denied to all other comers.
It was an intimacy; and society in Florence is not blind, and especially
it is not dumb. The old lady who had celebrated Mrs. Bowen to him the
first night at Palazzo Pinti led a life of active questions as to what
was the supreme attraction to Colville there, and she referred her doubt
to every friend with whom she drank tea. She philosophised the situation
very scientifically, and if not very conclusively, how few are the
absolute conclusions of science upon any point!
"He is a bachelor, and there is a natural affinity between bachelors and
widows--much more than if he were a widower too. If he were a widower I
should say it was undoubtedly mademoiselle. If he were a little _bit_
younger, I should have no doubt it was madame; but men of that age have
such an ambition to marry young girls! I suppose that they think it
proves they are not so very old, after all. And certainly he isn't too
old to marry. If he were wise--which he probably isn't, if he's like
other men in such matters--there wouldn't be any question about Mrs.
Bowen. Pretty creature! And so much sense! Too much for him. Ah, my
dear, how we are wasted upon that sex!"
Mrs. Bowen herself treated the affair with masterly frankness. More than
once in varying phrase, she said: "You are very good to give us so much
of your time, Mr. Colville, and I won't pretend I don't know it. You're
helping me out with a very hazardous experiment. When I undertook to see
Imogene through a winter in Florence, I didn't reflect what a very gay
time girls have at home, in Western towns especially. But I haven't
heard her breathe Buffalo once. And I'm sure it's doing her a great deal
of good here. She's naturally got a very good mind; she's very ambitious
to be cultivated. She's read a good deal, and she's anxious to know
history and art; and your advice and criticism are the greatest possible
advantage to her."
"Thank you," said Colville, with a fine, remote dissatisfaction. "I
supposed I was merely enjoying myself."
He had lately begun to haunt his banker's for information in regard to
the Carnival balls, with the hope that something might be made out of
But either there were to be no great Carnival balls, or it was a mistake
to suppose that his banker ought to know about them. Colville went
experimentally to one of the people's balls at a minor theatre, which he
found advertised on the house walls. At half-past ten the dancing had
not begun, but the masks were arriving; young women in gay silks and
dirty white gloves; men in women's dresses, with enormous hands; girls
as pages; clowns, pantaloons, old women, and the like. They were all
very good-humoured; the men, who far outnumbered the women, danced
contentedly together. Colville liked two cavalry soldiers who waltzed
with each other for an hour, and then went off to a battery on
exhibition in the pit, and had as much electricity as they could hold.
He liked also two young citizens who danced together as long as he
stayed, and did not leave off even for electrical refreshment. He came
away at midnight, pushing out of the theatre through a crowd of people
at the door, some of whom were tipsy. This certainly would not have done
for the ladies, though the people were civilly tipsy.
The next morning Paolo, when he brought up Colville's breakfast, brought
the news that there was to be a veglione at the Pergola Theatre. This
news revived Colville's courage. "Paolo," he said, "you ought to open a
banking-house." Paolo was used to being joked by foreigners who could
not speak Italian very well; he smiled as if he understood.
The banker had his astute doubts of Paolo's intelligence; the banker in
Europe doubts all news not originating in his house; but after a day or
two the advertisements in the newspapers carried conviction even to the
When Colville went to the ladies with news of the veglione, he found
that they had already heard of it. "Should you like to go?" he asked
"I don't know. What do you think?" she asked in turn.
"Oh, it's for you to do the thinking. I only know what I want."
Imogene said nothing, while she watched the internal debate as it
expressed itself in Mrs. Bowen's face.
"People go in boxes," she said thoughtfully; "but you would feel that a
box wasn't the same thing exactly?"
"_We_ went on the floor," suggested Colville.
"It was very different then. And, besides, Mrs. Finlay had absolutely
_no_ sense of propriety." When a woman has explicitly condemned a given
action, she apparently gathers courage for its commission under a little
different conditions. "Of course, if we went upon the floor, I shouldn't
wish it to be known at all, though foreigners can do almost anything
"Really," said Colville, "when it comes to that, I don't see any harm in
"And you say go?"
"I say whatever you say."
Mrs. Bowen looked from him to Imogene. "I don't either," she said
finally, and they understood that she meant the harm which he had not
"Which of us has been so good as to deserve this?" asked Colville.
"Oh, you have all been good," she said. "We shall go in masks and
dominoes," she continued. "Nothing will happen, and who should know us
if anything did?" They had received tickets to the great Borghese ball,
which is still a fashionable and desired event of the Carnival to
foreigners in Florence; but their preconceptions of the veglione threw
into the shade the entertainment which the gentlemen of Florence offered
to favoured sojourners.
"Come," said Mrs. Bowen, "you must go with us and help us choose our
A prudent woman does not do an imprudent thing by halves. Effie was to
be allowed to go to the veglione too, and she went with them to the shop
where they were to hire their dominoes. It would be so much more fun,
Mrs. Bowen said, to choose the dresses in the shop than to have them
sent home for you to look at. Effie was to be in black; Imogene was to
have a light blue domino, and Mrs. Bowen chose a purple one; even where
their faces were not to be seen they considered their complexions in
choosing the colours. If you happened to find a friend, and wanted to
unmask, you would not want to look horrid. The shop people took the
vividest interest in it all, as if it were a new thing to them, and
these were the first foreigners they had ever served with masks and
dominoes. They made Mrs. Bowen and Imogene go into an inner room and
come out for the mystification of Colville, hulking about in the front
shop with his mask and domino on.
"Which is which?" the ladies both challenged him, in the mask's
conventional falsetto, when they came out.
With a man's severe logic he distinguished them according to their
silks, but there had been time for them to think of changing, and they
took off their masks to laugh in his face.
They fluttered so airily about among the pendent masks and dominoes,
from which they shook a ghostly perfume of old carnivals, that his heart
"Ah, you'll never be so fascinating again!" he cried. He wanted to take
them in his arms, they were both so delicious; a man has still only that
primitive way of expressing his supreme satisfaction in women. "Now,
which am I?" he demanded of them, and that made them laugh again. He had
really put his arm about Effie.
"Do you think you will know your papa at the veglione?" asked one of the
shop-women, with a mounting interest in the amiable family party.
They all laughed; the natural mistake seemed particularly droll to
"Come," cried Mrs. Bowen; "it's time we should be going."
That was true; they had passed so long a time in the shop that they did
not feel justified in seriously attempting to beat down the price of
their dresses. They took them at the first price. The woman said with
reason that it was Carnival, and she could get her price for the things.
They went to the veglione at eleven, the ladies calling for Colville, as
before, in Mrs. Bowen's carriage. He felt rather sheepish, coming out of
his room in his mask and domino, but the corridors of the hotel were
empty, and for the most part dark; there was no one up but the porter,
who wished him a pleasant time in as matter-of-fact fashion as if he
were going out to an evening party in his dress coat. His spirits
mounted in the atmosphere of adventure which the ladies diffused about
them in the carriage; Effie Bowen laughed aloud when he entered, in
childish gaiety of heart.
The narrow streets roared with the wheels of cabs and carriages coming
and going; the street before the theatre was so packed that it was some
time before they could reach the door. Masks were passing in and out;
the nervous joy of the ladies expressed itself in a deep-drawn quivering
sigh. Their carriage door was opened by a servant of the theatre, who
wished them a pleasant veglione, and the next moment they were in the
crowded vestibule, where they paused a moment, to let Imogene and Effie
really feel that they were part of a masquerade.
"Now, keep all together," said Mrs. Bowen, as they passed through the
inner door of the vestibule, and the brilliantly lighted theatre flashed
its colours and splendours upon them. The floor of the pit had been
levelled to that of the stage, which, stripped of the scenic apparatus,
opened vaster spaces for the motley crew already eddying over it in the
waltz. The boxes, tier over tier, blazed with the light of candelabra
which added their sparkle to that of the gas jets.
"You and Effie go before," said Mrs. Bowen to Imogene. She made them
take hands like children, and mechanically passed her own hand through
A mask in red from head to foot attached himself to the party, and began
to make love to her in excellent pantomime.
Colville was annoyed. He asked her if he should tell the fellow to take
"Not on any account!" she answered. "It's perfectly delightful. It
wouldn't be the veglione without it. Did you ever see such good acting?"
"I don't think it's remarkable for anything but its fervour," said
"I should like to see you making love to some lady," she rejoined
"I will make love to you, if you like," he said, but he felt in an
instant that his joke was in bad taste.
They went the round of the theatre. "That is Prince Strozzi, Imogene,"
said Mrs. Bowen, leaning forward to whisper to the girl. She pointed out
other people of historic and aristocratic names in the boxes, where
there was a democracy of beauty among the ladies, all painted and
powdered to the same marquise effect.
On the floor were gentlemen in evening dress, without masks, and here
and there ladies waltzing, who had masks but no dominoes. But for the
most part people were in costume; the theatre flushed and flowered in
gay variety of tint that teased the eye with its flow through the dance.
Mrs. Bowen had circumscribed the adventure so as to exclude dancing from
it. Imogene was not to dance. One might go to the veglione and look on
from a box; if one ventured further and went on the floor, decidedly one
was not to dance.
This was thoroughly understood beforehand, and there were to be no
petitions or murmurs at the theatre. They found a quiet corner, and sat
down to look on.
The mask in red followed, and took his place at a little distance,
where, whenever Mrs. Bowen looked that way, he continued to protest his
"You're sure he doesn't bore you?" suggested Colville.
"No, indeed. He's very amusing."
"Oh, all right!"
The waltz ceased; the whirling and winding confusion broke into an
irregular streaming hither and thither, up and down. They began to pick
out costumes and characters that interested them. Clowns in white, with
big noses, and harlequins in their motley, with flat black masks,
abounded. There were some admirable grasshoppers in green, with long
antennae quivering from their foreheads. Two or three Mephistos reddened
through the crowd. Several knights in armour got about with difficulty,
apparently burdened by their greaves and breastplates.
A group of leaping and dancing masks gathered around a young man in
evening dress, with long hair, who stood leaning against a pillar near
them, and who underwent their mockeries with a smile of patience, half
amused, half tormented.
When they grew tired of baiting him, and were looking about for other
prey, the red mask redoubled his show of devotion to Mrs. Bowen, and the
other masks began to flock round and approve.
"Oh, now," she said, with a little embarrassed laugh, in which there was
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