William D. Howells
Part 3 out of 6
no displeasure, "I think you may ask him to go away. But don't be harsh
with him," she added, at a brusque movement which Colville made toward
"Oh, why should I be harsh with him? We're not rivals." This was not in
good taste either, Colville felt. "Besides, I'm an Italian too," he
said, to retrieve himself. He made a few paces toward the mask, and said
in a low tone, with gentle suggestion, "Madame finds herself a little
The mask threw himself into an attitude of burlesque despair, bowed low
with his hand on his heart, in token of submission, and vanished into
the crowd. The rest dispersed with cries of applause.
"How very prettily you did it, both of you!" said Mrs. Bowen. "I begin
to believe you are an Italian, Mr. Colville. I shall be afraid of you."
"You weren't afraid of him."
"Oh, he was a real Italian."
"It seems to me that mamma is getting all the good of the veglione,"
said Effie, in a plaintive murmur. The well-disciplined child must have
suffered deeply before she lifted this seditious voice.
"Why, so I am, Effie," answered her mother, "and I don't think it's fair
myself. What shall we do about it?"
"I should like something to eat," said the child.
"So should I," said Colville. "That's reparation your mother owes us
all. Let's make her take us and get us something. Wouldn't you like an
ice, Miss Graham?"
"Yes, an _ice_," said Imogene, with an effect of adding, "Nothing more
for worlds," that made Colville laugh. She rose slowly, like one in a
dream, and cast a look as impassioned as a look could be made through a
mask on the scene she was leaving behind her. The band was playing a
waltz again, and the wide floor swam with circling couples.
The corridor where the tables were set was thronged with people, who
were drinking beer and eating cold beef and boned turkey and slices of
huge round sausages. "Oh, how _can_ they?" cried the girl, shuddering.
"I didn't know you were so ethereal-minded about these things," said
Colville. "I thought you didn't object to the salad at Madame
"Oh, but at the veglione!" breathed the girl for all answer. He laughed
again, but Mrs. Bowen did not laugh with him; he wondered why.
When they returned to their corner in the theatre they found a mask in a
black domino there, who made place for them, and remained standing near.
They began talking freely and audibly, as English-speaking people
incorrigibly do in Italy, where their tongue is all but the language of
"Really," said Colville, "I think I shall stifle in this mask. If you
ladies will do what you can to surround me and keep me secret, I'll take
it off a moment."
"I believe I will join you, Mr. Colville," said the mask near them. He
pushed up his little visor of silk, and discovered the mild, benignant
features of Mr. Waters.
"Bless my soul!" cried Colville.
Mrs. Bowen was apparently too much shocked to say anything.
"You didn't expect to meet me here?" asked the old man, as if otherwise
it should be the most natural thing in the world. After that they could
only unite in suppressing their astonishment. "It's extremely
interesting," he went on, "extremely! I've been here ever since the
exercises began, and I have not only been very greatly amused, but
greatly instructed. It seems to me the key to a great many anomalies in
the history of this wonderful people."
If Mr. Waters took this philosophical tone about the Carnival, it was
not possible for Colville to take any other.
"And have you been able to divine from what you have seen here," he
asked gravely, "the grounds of Savonarola's objection to the Carnival?"
"Not at all," said the old man promptly. "I have seen nothing but the
most harmless gaiety throughout the evening."
Colville hung his head. He remembered reading once in a passage from
Swedenborg, that the most celestial angels had scarcely any power of
"Why aren't you young people dancing?" asked Mr. Waters, in a cheerful
general way, of Mrs. Bowen's party.
Colville was glad to break the silence. "Mrs. Bowen doesn't approve of
dancing at vegliones."
"No?--why not?" inquired the old man, with invincible simplicity.
Mrs. Bowen smiled her pretty, small smile below her mask.
"The company is apt to be rather mixed," she said quietly.
"Yes," pursued Mr. Waters; "but you could dance with one another. The
company seems very well behaved."
"Oh, quite so," Mrs. Bowen assented.
"Shortly after I came," said Mr. Waters, "one of the masks asked me to
dance. I was really sorry that my age and traditions forbade my doing
so. I tried to explain, but I'm afraid I didn't make myself quite
"Probably it passed for a joke with her," said Colville, in order to say
"Ah, very likely; but I shall always feel that my impressions of the
Carnival would have been more definite if I could have danced. Now, if I
were a young man like you----"
Imogens turned and looked at Colville through the eye-holes of her mask;
even in that sort of isolation he thought her eyes expressed surprise.
"It never occurred to you before that I was a young man," he suggested
She did not reply.
After a little interval, "Imogene," asked Mrs. Bowen, "would you like to
Colville was astonished. "The veglione has gone to your head, Mrs.
Bowen," he tacitly made his comment. She had spoken to Imogene, but she
glanced at him as if she expected him to be grateful to her for this
stroke of liberality.
"What would be the use?" returned the girl.
Colville rose. "After my performance in the Lancers, I can't expect you
to believe me; but I really do know how to waltz." He had but to extend
his arms, and she was hanging upon his shoulder, and they were whirling
away through a long orbit of delight to the girl.
"Oh, why have you let me do you such injustice?" she murmured intensely.
"I never shall forgive myself."
"It grieved me that you shouldn't have divined that I was really a
magnificent dancer in disguise, but I bore it as best I could," said
Colville, really amused at her seriousness. "Perhaps you'll find out
after a while that I'm not an old fellow either, but only a 'Lost
"Hush," she said; "I don't like to hear you talk so."
"About--age!" she answered. "It makes me feel----- Don't to-night!"
Colville laughed. "It isn't a fact that my blinking is going to change
materially. You had better make the most of me as a lost youth. I'm old
enough to be two of them."
She did not answer, and as they wound up and down through the other
orbing couples, he remembered the veglione of seventeen years before,
when he had dreamed through the waltz with the girl who jilted him; she
was very docile and submissive that night; he believed afterward that if
he had spoken frankly then, she would not have refused him. But he had
veiled his passion in words and phrases that, taken in themselves, had
no meaning--that neither committed him nor claimed her. He could not
help it; he had not the courage at any moment to risk the loss of her
for ever, till it was too late, till he must lose her.
"Do you believe in pre-existence?" he demanded of Imogene.
"Oh yes!" she flashed back. "This very instant it was just as if I had
been here before, long ago."
"Dancing with me?"
"With you? Yes--yes--I think so."
He had lived long enough to know that she was making herself believe
what she said, and that she had not lived long enough to know this.
"Then you remember what I said to you--tried to say to you--that night?"
Through one of those psychological juggles which we all practise with
ourselves at times, it amused him, it charmed him, to find her striving
to realise this past.
"No; it was so long ago? What was it?" she whispered dreamily.
A turn of the waltz brought them near Mrs. Bowen; her mask seemed to
wear a dumb reproach.
He began to be weary; one of the differences between youth and later
life is that the latter wearies so soon of any given emotion.
"Ah, I can't remember, either! Aren't you getting rather tired of the
waltz and me?"
"Oh no; go on!" she deeply murmured. "Try to remember."
The long, pulsating stream of the music broke and fell. The dancers
crookedly dispersed in wandering lines. She took his arm; he felt her
heart leap against it; those innocent, trustful throbs upbraided him. At
the same time his own heart beat with a sort of fond, protecting
tenderness; he felt the witchery of his power to make this young,
radiant, and beautiful creature hang flattered and bewildered on his
talk; he liked the compassionate worship with which his tacit confidence
had inspired her, even while he was not without some satirical sense of
the crude sort of heart-broken hero he must be in the fancy of a girl of
"Let us go and walk in the corridor a moment," he said. But they walked
there till the alluring melancholy music of the waltz began again. In a
mutual caprice, they rejoined the dance.
It came into his head to ask, "Who is _he_?" and as he had got past
denying himself anything, he asked it.
"He? What he?"
"He that Mrs. Bowen thought might object to your seeing the Carnival?"
"Oh!--oh yes! That was the not impossible he."
"Is that all?"
"Then he's not even the not improbable he?"
They waltzed in silence. Then, "Why did you ask me that?" she murmured.
"I don't know. Was it such a strange question?"
"I don't know. You ought to."
"Yes, if it was wrong, I'm old enough to know better."
"You promised not to say 'old' any more."
"Then I suppose I mustn't. But you mustn't get me to ignore it, and then
laugh at me for it."
"Oh!" she reproached him, "you think I could do that?"
"You could if it was you who were here with me once before."
"Then I know I wasn't."
Again they were silent, and it was he who spoke first. "I wish you would
tell me why you object to the interdicted topic?"
"Because--because I like every time to be perfect in itself."
"Oh! And this wouldn't be perfect in itself if I were--not so young as
"I didn't mean that. No; but if you didn't mention it, no one else would
think of it or care for it."
"Did any one ever accuse you of flattering, Miss Graham?"
"Not till now. And you are unjust."
"Well, I withdraw the accusation."
"And will you ever pretend such a thing again?"
"Then I have your promise."
The talk was light word-play, such as depends upon the talker's own mood
for its point or its pointlessness. Between two young people of equal
years it might have had meanings to penetrate, to sigh over, to
question. Colville found it delicious to be pursued by the ingenuous
fervour of this young girl, eager to vindicate her sincerity in
prohibiting him from his own ironical depreciation. Apparently, she had
a sentimental mission of which he was the object; he was to be convinced
that he was unnecessarily morbid; he was to be cheered up, to be kept in
"I must believe in you after this," he said, with a smile which his mask
"Thanks," she breathed. It seemed to him that her hand closed
convulsively upon his in their light clasp.
The pressure sent a real pang to his heart. It forced her name from his
lips. "Imogene! Ah, I've no right to call you that."
"From this out I promise to be twenty years younger. But no one is to
know it but you. Do you think you will know it? I shouldn't like to keep
the secret to myself altogether."
"No; I will help you. It shall be _our_ secret."
She gave a low laugh of delight. He convinced himself that she had
entered into the light spirit of banter in which he believed that he was
The music ceased again. He whirled her to the seat where he had left
Mrs. Bowen. She was not there, nor the others.
Colville felt the meanness of a man who has betrayed his trust, and his
self-contempt was the sharper because the trust had been as tacit and
indefinite as it was generous. The effect of Mrs. Bowen's absence was as
if she had indignantly flown, and left him to the consequences of his
He sat down rather blankly with Imogene to wait for her return; it was
the only thing they could do.
It had grown very hot. The air was thick with dust. The lights burned
through it as through a fog.
"I believe I will take off my mask," she said. "I can scarcely breathe."
"No, no," protested Colville; "that won't do."
"I feel faint," she gasped.
His heart sank. "Don't," he said incoherently. "Come with me into the
vestibule, and get a breath of air."
He had almost to drag her through the crowd, but in the vestibule she
revived, and they returned to their place again. He did not share the
easy content with which she recognised the continued absence of Mrs.
"Why they must be lost. But isn't it perfect sitting here and watching
"Perfect," said Colville distractedly.
"Don't you like to make romances about the different ones?"
It was on Colville's tongue to say that he had made all the romances he
wished for that evening, but he only answered, "Oh, very."
"Poor Mrs. Bowen," laughed the girl. "It will be such a joke on her,
with her punctilious notions, getting lost from her _protegee_ at a
Carnival ball! I shall tell every one."
"Oh no, don't," said Colville, in horror that big mask scarcely
"It wouldn't be at all the thing."
"Why, are you becoming Europeanised too?" she demanded. "I thought you
went in for all sorts of unconventionalities. Recollect your promise.
You must be as impulsive as I am."
Colville, staring anxiously about in every direction, made for the first
time the reflection that most young girls probably conform to the
proprieties without in the least knowing why.
"Do you think," he asked, in desperation, "that you would be afraid to
be left here a moment while I went about in the crowd and tried to find
"Not at all," she said. But she added, "Don't be gone long."
"Oh no," he answered, pulling off his mask. "Be sure not to move from
here on any account."
He plunged into the midst of the crowd that buffeted him from side to
side as he struck against its masses. The squeaking and gibbering masks
mocked in their falsetto at his wild-eyed, naked face thrusting hither
and thither among them.
"I saw your lady wife with another gentleman," cried one of them, in a
subtle misinterpretation of the cause of his distraction.
The throng had immensely increased; the clowns and harlequins ran
shrieking up and down, and leaped over one another's heads.
It was useless. He went back to Imogene with a heart-sickening fear that
she too might have vanished.
But she was still there.
"You ought to have come sooner," she said gaily. "That red mask has been
here again. He looked as if he wanted to make love to _me_ this time.
But he didn't. If you'd been here you might have asked him where Mrs.
Colville sat down. He had done what he could to mend the matter, and the
time had come for philosophical submission. It was now his duty to keep
up Miss Graham's spirits. They were both Americans, and from the
national standpoint he was simply the young girl's middle-aged bachelor
friend. There was nothing in the situation for him to beat his breast
"Well, all that we can do is to wait for them," he said.
"Oh yes," she answered easily. "They'll be sure to come back in the
course of time."
They waited a half-hour, talking somewhat at random, and still the
others did not come. But the red mask came again. He approached
Colville, and said politely--
"_La signora e partita._"
"The lady gone?" repeated Colville, taking this to be part of the red
"_La bambina pareva poco lene._"
"The little one not well?" echoed Colville again, rising. "Are you
The mask made a deep murmur of polite deprecation. "I am not capable of
such a thing in a serious affair. Perhaps you know me?" he said, taking
off his mask, and in further sign of good faith he gave the name of a
painter sufficiently famous in Florence.
"I beg your pardon, and thank you," said Colville. He had no need to
speak to Imogene--, her hand was already trembling on his arm.
They drove home in silence through the white moonlight of the streets,
filled everywhere with the gay voices and figures of the Carnival.
Mrs. Bowen met them at the door of her apartment, and received them with
a manner that justly distributed the responsibility and penalty for
their escapade. Colville felt that a meaner spirit would have wreaked
its displeasure upon the girl alone. She made short, quiet answers to
all his eager inquiries. Most probably it was some childish
indisposition; Effie had been faint. No, he need not go for the doctor.
Mr. Waters had called the doctor, who had just gone away. There was
nothing else that he could do for her. She dropped her eyes, and in
everything but words dismissed him. She would not even remain with him
till he could decently get himself out of the house. She left Imogene to
receive his adieux, feigning that she heard Effie calling.
"I'm--I'm very sorry," faltered the girl, "that we didn't go back to her
"Yes; I was to blame," answered the humiliated hero of her Carnival
dream. The clinging regret with which she kept his hand at parting
scarcely consoled him for what had happened.
"I will come round in the morning," he said. "I must know how Effie is."
Colville went to Palazzo Pinti next day with the feeling that he was
defying Mrs. Bowen. Upon a review of the facts he could not find himself
so very much to blame for the occurrences of the night before, and he
had not been able to prove to his reason that Mrs. Bowen had resented
his behaviour. She had not made a scene of any sort when he came in with
Imogene; it was natural that she should excuse herself, and should wish
to be with her sick child: she had done really nothing. But when a woman
has done nothing she fills the soul of the man whose conscience troubles
him with an instinctive apprehension. There is then no safety, his
nerves tell him, except in bringing the affair, whatever it is, to an
early issue--in having it out with her. Colville subdued the cowardly
impulse of his own heart, which would have deceived him with the
suggestion that Mrs. Bowen might be occupied with Effie, and it would be
better to ask for Miss Graham. He asked for Mrs. Bowen, and she came in
She smiled in the usual way, and gave her hand, as she always did; but
her hand was cold, and she looked tired, though she said Effie was quite
herself again, and had been asking for him. "Imogene has been telling
her about your adventure last night, and making her laugh."
If it had been Mrs. Bowen's purpose to mystify him, she could not have
done it more thoroughly than by this bold treatment of the affair. He
bent a puzzled gaze upon her. "I'm glad any of you have found it
amusing," he said;--"I confess that I couldn't let myself off so lightly
in regard to it." She did not reply, and he continued: "The fact is, I
don't think I behaved very well. I abused your kindness to Miss Graham."
"Abused my kindness to Miss Graham?"
"Yes. When you allowed her to dance at the veglione, I ought to have
considered that you were stretching a point. I ought to have taken her
back to you very soon, instead of tempting her to go and walk with me in
"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen. "So it was you who proposed it? Imogene was
afraid that she had. What exemplary young people you are! The way each
of you confesses and assumes all the blame would leave the severest
chaperone without a word."
Her gaiety made Colville uncomfortable. He said gravely, "What I blame
myself most for is that I was not there to be of use to you when
"Oh, you mustn't think of that at all. Mr. Waters was most efficient. My
admirer in the red mask was close at hand, and between them they got
Effie out without the slightest disturbance. I fancy most people thought
it was a Carnival joke. Please don't think of that again."
Nothing could be politer than all this.
"And you won't allow me to punish myself for not being there to give you
even a moral support?"
"Certainly not. As I told Imogene, young people will be young people;
and I knew how fond you were of dancing."
Though it pierced him, Colville could not help admiring the neatness of
this thrust. "I didn't know you were so ironical, Mrs. Bowen."
"Ironical? Not at all."
"Ah! I see I'm not forgiven."
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
Imogene and Effie came in. The child was a little pale, and willingly
let him take her on his knee, and lay her languid head on his shoulder.
The girl had not aged overnight like himself and Mrs. Bowen; she looked
as fresh and strong as yesterday.
"Miss Graham," said Colville, "if a person to whom you had done a deadly
wrong insisted that you hadn't done any wrong at all, should you
consider yourself forgiven?"
"It would depend upon the person," said the girl, with innocent
liveliness, recognising the extravagance in his tone.
"Yes," he said, with an affected pensiveness, "so very much depends upon
the person in such a case."
Mrs. Bowen rose. "Excuse me a moment; I will be back directly. Don't get
up, please," she said, and prevented him with a quick withdrawal to
another room, which left upon his sense the impression of elegant grace,
and a smile and sunny glance. But neither had any warmth in it.
Colville heaved an involuntary sigh. "Do you feel very much used up?" he
"Not at all," she laughed. "Do you?"
"Not in the least. My veglione hasn't ended yet. I'm still practically
at the Pergola. It's easy to keep a thing of that sort up if you don't
sleep after you get home."
"Didn't you sleep? I expected to lie awake a long time thinking it over;
but I dropped asleep at once. I suppose I was very tired. I didn't even
"You must have slept hard. You're pretty apt to dream when you're
"How do you know?"
"Ah, I've noticed when you've been talking to me. Better not! It's a bad
habit; it gives you false views of things. I used----"
"But you mustn't say you _used!_ That's forbidden now. Remember your
"My promise? What promise?"
"Oh, if you've forgotten already."
"I remember. But that was last night."
"No, no! It was for all time. Why should dreams be so very misleading? I
think there's ever so much in dreams. The most wonderful thing is the
way you make people talk in dreams. It isn't strange that you should
talk yourself, but that other people should say this and that when you
aren't at all expecting what they say."
"That's when you're sleeping. But when you're waking, you make people
say just what you want. And that's why day dreams are so bad. If you
make people say what you want, they probably don't mean it."
"Don't you think so?"
"Half the time. Do you ever have day dreams?" he asked Effie, pressing
her cheek against his own.
"I don't know what they are," she murmured, with a soft little note of
polite regret for her ignorance, if possibly it incommoded him.
"You will by and by," he said, "and then you must look out for them.
They're particularly bad in this air. I had one of them in Florence once
that lasted three months."
"What was it about?" asked the child.
Imogene involuntarily bent forward.
"Ah, I can't tell you now. She's trying to hear us."
"No, no," protested the girl, with a laugh. "I was thinking of something
"Oh, we know her, don't we?" he said to the child, with a playful appeal
to that passion for the joint possession of a mystery which all children
"We might whisper it," she suggested.
"No; better wait for some other time." They were sitting near a table
where a pencil and some loose leaves of paper lay. He pulled his chair a
little closer, and, with the child still upon his knee, began to
scribble and sketch at random. "Ah, there's San Miniato," he said, with
a glance from the window. "Must get its outline in. You've heard how
there came to be a church up there? No? Well, it shows the sort of man
San Miniato really was. He was one of the early Christians, and he gave
the poor pagans a great deal of trouble. They first threw him to the
wild beasts in the amphitheatre, but the moment those animals set eyes
on him they saw it would be of no use; they just lay down and died. Very
well, then; the pagans determined to see what effect the axe would have
upon San Miniato: but as soon as they struck off his head he picked it
up, set it back on his shoulders again, waded across the Arno, walked up
the hill, and when he came to a convenient little oratory up there he
knelt down and expired. Isn't that a pretty good story? It's like
fairies, isn't it?"
"Yes," whispered the child.
"What nonsense!" said Imogene. "You made it up."
"Oh, did I? Perhaps I built the church that stands there to commemorate
the fact. It's all in the history of Florence. Not in all histories;
some of them are too proud to put such stories in, but I'm going to put
every one I can find into the history I'm writing for Effie. San Miniato
was beheaded where the church of Santa Candida stands now, and he walked
all that distance."
"Did he have to die when he got to the oratory?" asked the child, with
"It appears so," said Colville, sketching. "He would have been dead by
this time, anyway, you know."
"Yes," she reluctantly admitted.
"I never quite like those things, either, Effie," he said, pressing her
to him. "There were people cruelly put to death two or three thousand
years ago that I can't help feeling would be alive yet if they had been
justly treated. There are a good many fairy stories about Florence;
perhaps they used to be true stories; the truth seems to die out of
stories after a while, simply because people stop believing them. Saint
Ambrose of Milan restored the son of his host to life when he came down
here to dedicate the Church of San Giovanni. Then there was another
saint, San Zenobi, who worked a very pretty miracle after he was dead.
They were carrying his body from the Church of San Giovanni to the
Church of Santa Reparata, and in Piazza San Giovanni his bier touched a
dead elm-tree that stood there, and the tree instantly sprang into leaf
and flower, though it was in the middle of the winter. A great many
people took the leaves home with them, and a marble pillar was put up
there, with a cross and an elm-tree carved on it. Oh, the case is very
"I shall really begin to think you believe such things," said Imogene.
"Perhaps you _are_ a Catholic."
Mrs. Bowen returned to the room, and sat down.
"There's another fairy story, prettier yet," said Colville, while the
little girl drew a long deep breath of satisfaction and expectation.
"You've heard of the Buondelmonti?" he asked Imogene.
"Oh, it seems to me as if I'd had _nothing_ but the Buondelmonti dinned
into me since I came to Florence!" she answered in lively despair.
"Ah, this happened some centuries before the Buondelmonte you've been
bored with was born. This was Giovanni Gualberto of the Buondelmonti,
and he was riding along one day in 1003, near the Church of San Miniato,
when he met a certain man named Ugo, who had killed one of his brothers.
Gualberto stopped and drew his sword; Ugo saw no other chance of escape,
and he threw himself face downward on the ground, with his arms
stretched out in the form of the cross. 'Gualberto, remember Jesus
Christ, who died upon the cross praying for His enemies.' The story says
that these words went to Gualberto's heart; he got down from his horse,
and in sign of pardon lifted his enemy and kissed and embraced him. Then
they went together into the church, and fell on their knees before the
figure of Christ upon the cross, and the figure bowed its head in sign
of approval and pleasure in Gualberto's noble act of Christian piety."
"Beautiful!" murmured the girl; the child only sighed.
"Ah, yes; it's an easy matter to pick up one's head from the ground, and
set it back on one's shoulders, or to bring the dead to life, or to make
a tree put forth leaves and flowers in midwinter; but to melt the heart
of a man with forgiveness in the presence of his enemy--that's a
different thing; _that's_ no fairy story; that's a real miracle; and I
believe this one happened--it's so impossible."
"Oh yes, it must have happened," said the girl.
"Do you think it's so very hard to forgive, then?" asked Mrs. Bowen
"Oh, not for ladies," replied Colville.
She flushed, and her eyes shone when she glanced at him.
"I'm sorry to put you down," he said to the child; "but I can't take you
with me, and I must be going."
Mrs. Bowen did not ask him to stay to lunch; he thought afterward that
she might have relented as far as that but for the last little thrust,
which he would better have spared.
"Effie dear," said her mother, when the door closed upon Colville,
"don't you think you'd better lie down a while? You look so tired."
"Shall I lie down on the sofa here?"
"No, on your bed."
"I'll go with you, Effie," said Imogene, "and see that you're nicely
When she returned alone, Mrs. Bowen was sitting where she had left her,
and seemed not to have moved. "I think Effie will drop off to sleep,"
she said; "she seems drowsy." She sat down, and after a pensive moment
continued, "I wonder what makes Mr. Colville seem so gloomy."
"Does he seem gloomy?" asked Mrs. Bowen unsympathetically.
"No, not gloomy exactly. But different from last night. I wish people
could always be the same! He was so gay and full of spirits; and now
he's so self-absorbed. He thinks you're offended with him, Mrs. Bowen."
"I don't think he was very much troubled about it. I only thought he was
flighty from want of sleep. At your age you don't mind the loss of a
"Do you think Mr. Colville seems so very old?" asked Imogene anxiously.
Mrs. Bowen appeared not to have heard her. She went to the window and
looked out. When she came back, "Isn't it almost time for you to have a
letter from home?" she asked.
"Why, no. I had one from mother day before yesterday. What made you
"Imogene," interrupted Mrs. Bowen, with a sudden excitement which she
tried to control, but which made her lips tremble, and break a little
from her restraint, "you know that I am here in the place of your
mother, to advise you and look after you in every way?"
"Why, yes, Mrs. Bowen," cried the girl, in surprise.
"It's a position of great responsibility in regard to a young lady. I
can't have anything to reproach myself with afterward."
"Have I always been kind to you, and considerate of your rights and your
freedom? Have I ever interfered with you in any way that you think I
"What an idea! You've been loveliness itself, Mrs. Bowen!"
"Then I want you to listen to me, and answer me frankly, and not suspect
"Why, how _could_ I do that?"
"Never mind!" cried Mrs. Bowen impatiently, almost angrily. "People
can't help their suspicions! Do you think Mr. Morton cares for you?"
The girl hung her head.
"Imogene, answer me!"
"I don't know," answered Imogene coldly; "but if you're troubled about
that, Mrs. Bowen, you needn't be; I don't care anything for Mr. Morton."
"If I thought you were becoming interested in any one, it would be my
duty to write to your mother and tell her."
"Of course; I should expect you to do it."
"And if I saw you becoming interested in any one in a way that I thought
would make you unhappy, it would be my duty to warn you."
"Of course, I don't mean that any one would knowingly try to make you
"Men don't go about nowadays trying to break girls' hearts. But very
good men can be thoughtless and selfish."
"Yes; I understand that," said Imogene, in a falling accent.
"I don't wish to prejudice you against any one. I should consider it
very wrong and wicked. Besides, I don't care to interfere with you to
that degree. You are old enough to see and judge for yourself."
Imogene sat silent, passing her hand across the front of her dress. The
clock ticked audibly from the mantel.
"I will not have it left to me!" cried Mrs. Bowen. "It is hard enough,
at any rate. Do you think I like to speak to you?"
"Of course it makes me seem inhospitable, and distrustful, and
"I never thought of accusing you," said the girl, slowly lifting her
"I will never, never speak to you of it again," said Mrs. Bowen, "and
from this time forth I insist upon your feeling just as free as if I
hadn't spoken." She trembled upon the verge of a sob, from which she
Imogene sat still, with a sort of serious, bewildered look.
"You shall have every proper opportunity of meeting any one you like."
"And I shall be only too gl-glad to take back everything!"
Imogene sat motionless and silent. Mrs. Bowen broke out again with a
sort of violence; the years teach us something of self-control, perhaps,
but they weaken and unstring the nerves. In this opposition of silence
to silence, the woman of the world was no match for the inexperienced
"Have you nothing to say, Imogene?"
"I never thought of him in that way at all. I don't know what to say
yet. It--confuses me. I--I can't imagine it. But if you think that he is
trying to amuse himself----"
"I never said that!"
"No, I know it."
"He likes to make you talk, and to talk with you. But he is perfectly
idle here, and--there is too much difference, every way. The very good
in him makes it the worse. I suppose that after talking with him every
one else seems insipid."
Mrs. Bowen rose and ran suddenly from the room.
Imogene remained sitting cold and still.
No one had been named since they spoke of Mr. Morton.
Colville had not done what he meant in going to Mrs. Bowen's; in fact,
he had done just what he had not meant to do, as he distinctly perceived
in coming away. It was then that in a luminous retrospect he discovered
his motive to have been a wish to atone to her for behaviour that must
have distressed her, or at least to explain it to her. She had not let
him do this at once; an instant willingness to hear and to condone was
not in a woman's nature; she had to make him feel, by the infliction of
a degree of punishment, that she had suffered. But before she ended she
had made it clear that she was ready to grant him a tacit pardon, and he
had answered with a silly sarcasm the question that was to have led to
peace. He could not help seeing that throughout the whole Carnival
adventure she had yielded her cherished reluctances to please him, to
show him that she was not stiff or prudish, to convince him that she
would not be a killjoy through her devotion to conventionalities which
she thought he despised. He could not help seeing that he had abused her
delicate generosity, insulted her subtle concessions. He strolled along
down the Arno, feeling flat and mean, as a man always does after a
contest with a woman in which he has got the victory; our sex can
preserve its self-respect only through defeat in such a case. It gave
him no pleasure to remember that the glamour of the night before seemed
still to rest on Imogene unbroken; that, indeed, was rather an added
pain. He surprised himself in the midst of his poignant reflections by a
yawn. Clearly the time was past when these ideal troubles could keep him
awake, and there was, after all, a sort of brutal consolation in the
fact. He was forty-one years old, and he was sleepy, whatever capacity
for suffering remained to him. He went to his hotel to catch a little
nap before lunch. When he woke it was dinner-time. The mists of slumber
still hung about him, and the events of the last forty-eight hours
showed vast and shapelessly threatening through them.
When the drama of the _table d'hote_ reached its climax of roast
chestnuts and butter, he determined to walk over to San Marco and pay a
visit to Mr. Waters. He found the old minister from Haddam East Village,
Massachusetts, Italianate outwardly in almost ludicrous degree. He wore
a fur-lined overcoat indoors; his feet, cased in thick woollen shoes,
rested on a strip of carpet laid before his table; a man who had lived
for forty years in the pungent atmosphere of an air-tight stove,
succeeding a quarter of a century of roaring hearth fires, contented
himself with the spare heat of a scaldino, which he held his clasped
hands over in the very Italian manner; the lamp that cast its light on
the book open before him was the classic _lucerna_, with three beaks,
fed with olive oil. He looked up at his visitor over his spectacles,
without recognising him, till Colville spoke. Then, after their
greeting, "Is it snowing heavily?" he asked.
"It isn't snowing at all. What made you think that?"
"Perhaps I was drowsing over my book and dreamed it. We become very
strange and interesting studies to ourselves as we live along."
He took up the metaphysical consideration with the promptness of a man
who has no small-talk, and who speaks of the mind and soul as if they
were the gossip of the neighbourhood.
"At times the forty winters that I passed in Haddam East Village seem
like an alien experience, and I find myself pitying the life I lived
there quite as if it were the life of some one else. It seems incredible
that men should still inhabit such climates."
"Then you're not homesick for Haddam East Village?"
"Ah! for the good and striving souls there, yes; especially the souls of
some women there. They used to think that it was I who gave them
consolation and spiritual purpose, but it was they who really imparted
it. Women souls--how beautiful they sometimes are! They seem truly like
angelic essences. I trust that I shall meet them somewhere some time,
but it will never be in Haddam East Village. Yes, I must have been
dreaming when you came in. I thought that I was by my fire there, and
all round over the hills and in the streets the snow was deep and
falling still. How distinctly, he said, closing his eyes, as artists do
in looking at a picture, I can see the black wavering lines of the walls
in the fields sinking into the drifts! the snow billowed over the graves
by the church where I preached! the banks of snow around the houses! the
white desolation everywhere! I ask myself at times if the people are
still there. Yes, I feel as blessedly remote from that terrible winter
as if I had died away from it, and were in the weather of heaven."
"Then you have no reproach for feeble-spirited fellow-citizens who
abandon their native climate and come to live in Italy?"
The old man drew his fur coat closer about him and shrugged his
shoulders in true Florentine fashion. "There may be something to say
against those who do so in the heyday of life, but I shall not be the
one to say it. The race must yet revert in its decrepitude, as I have in
mine, to the climates of the South. Since I have been in Italy I have
realised what used to occur to me dimly at home--the cruel disproportion
between the end gained and the means expended in reclaiming the savage
North. Half the human endeavour, half the human suffering, would have
made the whole South Protestant and the whole East Christian, and our
civilisation would now be there. No, I shall never go back to New
England. New England? New Ireland----New Canada! Half the farms in
Haddam are in the hands of our Irish friends, and the labour on the rest
is half done by French Canadians. That is all right and well. New
England must come to me here, by way of the great middle West and the
Colville smiled at the Emersonian touch, but he said gravely, "I can
never quite reconcile myself to the thought of dying out of my own
"Why not? It is very unimportant where one dies. A moment after your
breath is gone you are in exile for ever--or at home for ever."
Colville sat musing upon this phase of Americanism, as he had upon many
others. At last he broke the silence they had both let fall, far away
from the topic they had touched.
"Well," he asked, "how did you enjoy the veglione?"
"Oh, I'm too old to go to such places for pleasure," said the minister
simply. "But it was very interesting, and certainly very striking:
especially when I went back, toward daylight, after seeing Mrs. Bowen
"Did you go back?" demanded Colville, in some amaze.
"Oh yes. I felt that my experience was incomplete without some knowledge
of how the Carnival ended at such a place."
"Oh! And do you still feel that Savonarola was mistaken?"
"There seemed to be rather more boisterousness toward the close, and, if
I might judge, the excitement grew a little unwholesome. But I really
don't feel myself very well qualified to decide. My own life has been
passed in circumstances so widely different that I am at a certain
"Yes," said Colville, with a smile; "I daresay the Carnival at Haddam
East Village was quite another tiling."
The old man smiled responsively. "I suppose that some of my former
parishioners might have been scandalised at my presence at a Carnival
ball, had they known the fact merely in the abstract; but in my letters
home I shall try to set it before them in an instructive light. I should
say that the worst thing about such a scene of revelry would be that it
took us too much out of our inner quiet. But I suppose the same remark
might apply to almost any form of social entertainment."
"But human nature is so constituted that some means of expansion must be
provided, or a violent explosion takes place. The only question is what
means are most innocent. I have been looking about," added the old man
quietly, "at the theatres lately."
"Have you?" asked Colville, opening his eyes, in suppressed surprise.
"Yes; with a view to determining the degree of harmless amusement that
may be derived from them. It's rather a difficult question. I should be
inclined to say, however, that I don't think the ballet can ever be
instrumental for good."
Colville could not deny himself the pleasure of saying, "Well, not the
highest, I suppose."
"No," said Mr. Waters, in apparent unconsciousness of the irony. "But I
think the Church has made a mistake in condemning the theatre _in toto_.
It appears to me that it might always have countenanced a certain order
of comedy, in which the motive and plot are unobjectionable. Though I
don't deny that there are moods when all laughter seems low and unworthy
and incompatible with the most advanced state of being. And I confess,"
he went on, with a dreamy thoughtfulness, "that I have very great
misgivings in regard to tragedy. The glare that it throws upon the play
of the passions--jealousy in its anguish, revenge glutting itself, envy
eating its heart, hopeless love--their nakedness is terrible. The terror
may be salutary; it may be very mischievous. I am afraid that I have
left some of my inquiries till it is too late. I seem to have no longer
the materials of judgment left in me. If I were still a young man like
"Am I still a young man?" interrupted Colville sadly.
"You are young enough to respond to the appeals that sometimes find me
silent. If I were of your age I should certainly investigate some of
these interesting problems."
"Ah, but if you become personally interested in the problems, it's as
bad as if you hadn't the materials of judgment left; you're prejudiced.
Besides, I doubt my youthfulness very much."
"You are fifty, I presume?" suggested Mr. Waters, in a leading way.
"Not very near--only too near," laughed Colville. "I'm forty-one."
"You are younger than I supposed. But I remember now that at your age I
had the same feeling which you intimate. It seemed to me then that I had
really passed the bound which separates us from the further possibility
of youth. But I've lived long enough since to know that I was mistaken.
At forty, one has still a great part of youth before him--perhaps the
richest and sweetest part. By that time the turmoil of ideas and
sensations is over; we see clearly and feel consciously. We are in a
sort of quiet in which we peacefully enjoy. We have enlarged our
perspective sufficiently to perceive things in their true proportion and
relation; we are no longer tormented with the lurking fear of death,
which darkens and embitters our earlier years; we have got into the
habit of life; we have often been ailing and we have not died. Then we
have time enough behind us to supply us with the materials of reverie
and reminiscence; the terrible solitude of inexperience is broken; we
have learned to smile at many things besides the fear of death. We ought
also to have learned pity and patience. Yes," the old man concluded, in
cheerful self-corroboration, "it is a beautiful age."
"But it doesn't look so beautiful as it is," Colville protested. "People
in that rosy prime don't produce the effect of garlanded striplings upon
the world at large. The women laugh at us; they think we are fat old
fellows; they don't recognise the slender and elegant youth that resides
in our unwieldy bulk."
"You take my meaning a little awry. Besides, I doubt if even the ground
you assume is tenable. If a woman has lived long enough to be truly
young herself, she won't find a man at forty either decrepit or
grotesque. He can even make himself youthful to a girl of thought and
"Yes," Colville assented, with a certain discomfort.
"But to be truly young at forty," resumed Mr. Waters, "a man should be
"I sometimes feel," continued the old man, "that I made a mistake in
yielding to a disappointment that I met with early in life, and in not
permitting myself the chance of retrieval. I have missed a beautiful and
consoling experience in my devotion to a barren regret."
Colville said nothing, but he experienced a mixed feeling of amusement,
of repulsion, and of curiosity at this.
"We are put into the world to be of it. I am more and more convinced of
that. We have scarcely a right to separate ourselves from the common lot
in any way. I justify myself for having lived alone only as a widower
might. I--lost her. It was a great while ago."
"Yes," said Colville, after the pause which ensued; "I agree with you
that one has no right to isolate himself, to refuse his portion of the
common lot; but the effects of even a rebuff may last so long that one
has no heart to put out his hand a second time--for a second rap over
the knuckles. Oh, I know how trivial it is in the retrospect, and how
what is called a disappointment is something to be humbly grateful for
in most cases; but for a while it certainly makes you doubtful whether
you were ever really intended to share the common lot." He was aware of
an insincerity in his words; he hoped that it might not be perceptible,
but he did not greatly care.
Mr. Waters took no notice of what he had been saying. He resumed from
another point. "But I should say that it would be unwise for a man of
mature life to seek his happiness with one much younger than himself. I
don't deny that there are cases in which the disparity of years counts
for little or nothing, but generally speaking, people ought to be as
equally mated in age as possible. They ought to start with the same
advantages of ignorance. A young girl can only live her life through a
community of feeling, an equality of inexperience in the man she gives
her heart to. If he is tired of things that still delight her, the
chances of unhappiness are increased."
"Yes, that's true," answered Colville gravely. "It's apt to be a mistake
and a wrong."
"Oh, not always--not always," said the old minister. "We mustn't look at
it in that way quite. Wrongs are of the will." He seemed to lapse into a
greater intimacy of feeling with Colville. "Have you seen Mrs. Bowen
to-day? Or--ah! true! I think you told me."
"No," said Colville. "Have we spoken of her? But I have seen her."
"And was the little one well?"
"Very much better."
"Pretty creatures, both of them," said the minister, with as fresh a
pleasure in his recognition of the fact as if he had not said nearly the
same thing once before, "You've noticed the very remarkable resemblance
between mother and daughter?"
"There is a gentleness in Mrs. Bowen which seems to me the last
refinement of a gracious spirit," suggested Mr. Waters. "I have never
met any lady who reconciled more exquisitely what is charming in society
with what is lovely in nature."
"Yes," said Colville. "Mrs. Bowen always had that gentle manner. I used
to know her here as a girl a great while ago."
"Did you? I wonder you allowed her to become Mrs. Bowen."
This sprightliness of Mr. Waters amused Colville greatly. "At that time
I was preoccupied with my great mistake, and I had no eyes for Mrs.
"It isn't too late yet," said Mr. Waters, with open insinuation.
A bachelor of forty is always flattered by any suggestion of marriage;
the suggestion that a beautiful and charming woman would marry him is
too much for whatever reserves of modesty and wisdom he may have stored
up Colville took leave of the old minister in better humour with himself
than he had been for forty-eight hours, or than he had any very good
reason for being now.
Mr. Waters came with him to the head of the stairs and held up the lamp
for him to see. The light fell upon the white locks thinly straggling
from beneath his velvet skull-cap, and he looked like some mediaeval
scholar of those who lived and died for learning in Florence when
letters were a passion there almost as strong as love.
The next day Colville would have liked to go at once and ask about
Effie, but upon the whole he thought he would not go till after he had
been at the reception where he was going in the afternoon. It was an
artist who was giving the reception; he had a number of pictures to
show, and there was to be tea. There are artists and artists. This
painter was one who had a distinct social importance. It was felt to be
rather a nice thing to be asked to his reception; one was sure at least
to meet the nicest people.
This reason prevailed with Colville so far as it related to Mrs. Bowen,
whom he felt that he would like to tell he had been there. He would
speak to her of this person and that--very respected and recognised
social figures,--so that she might see he was not the outlaw, the
Bohemian, he must sometimes have appeared to her. It would not be going
too far to say that something like an obscure intention to show himself
the next Sunday at the English chapel, where Mrs. Bowen went, was not
forming itself in his mind. As he went along it began to seem not
impossible that she would be at the reception. If Effie's indisposition
was no more serious than it appeared yesterday, very probably Mrs. Bowen
would be there. He even believed that he recognised her carriage among
those which were drawn up in front of the old palace, under the
painter's studio windows.
There were a great number of people of the four nationalities that
mostly consort in Italy. There were English and Americans and Russians
and the sort of Italians resulting from the native intermarriages with
them; here and there were Italians of pure blood, borderers upon the
foreign life through a literary interest, or an artistic relation, or a
matrimonial intention; here and there, also, the large stomach of a
German advanced the bounds of the new empire and the new ideal of duty.
There were no Frenchmen; one may meet them in more strictly Italian
assemblages, but it is as if the sorrows and uncertainties of France in
these times discouraged them from the international society in which
they were always an infrequent element. It is not, of course, imaginable
that as Frenchmen they have doubts of their merits, but that they have
their misgivings as to the intelligence of others. The language that
prevailed was English--in fact, one heard no other,--and the tea which
our civilisation carries everywhere with it steamed from the cups in all
hands. This beverage, in fact, becomes a formidable factor in the life
of a Florentine winter. One finds it at all houses, and more or less
mechanically drinks it.
"I am turning out a terrible tea toper," said Colville, stirring his cup
in front of the old lady whom his relations to the ladies at Palazzo
Pinti had interested so much. "I don't think I drink less than ten cups
a day; seventy cups a week is a low average for me. I'm really beginning
to look down at my boots a little anxiously."
Mrs. Amsden laughed. She had not been in America for forty years, but
she liked the American way of talking better than any other. "Oh, didn't
you hear about Inglehart when he was here? He was so good-natured that
he used to drink all the tea people offered him, and then the young
ladies made tea for him in his studio when they went to look at his
pictures. It almost killed him. By the time spring came he trembled so
that the brush flew out of his hands when he took it up. He had to hurry
off to Venice to save his life. It's just as bad at the Italian houses;
they've learned to like tea."
"When I was here before, they never offered you anything but coffee,"
said Colville. "They took tea for medicine, and there was an old joke
that I thought I should die of, I heard it so often about the Italian
that said to the English woman when she offered him tea, '_Grazie; sto
"Oh, that's all changed now."
"Yes; I've seen the tea, and I haven't heard the joke."
The flavour of Colville's talk apparently encouraged his companion to
believe that he would like to make fun of their host's paintings with
her; but whether he liked them, or whether he was principled against
that sort of return for hospitality, he chose to reply seriously to some
ironical lures she threw out.
"Oh, if you're going to be good," she exclaimed, "I shall have nothing
more to say to you. Here comes Mr. Thurston; I can make _him_ abuse the
pictures. There! You had better go away to a young lady I see alone over
yonder, though I don't know what you will do with _one_ alone." She
laughed and shook her head in a way that had once been arch and lively,
but that was now puckery and infirm--it is affecting to see these things
in women--and welcomed the old gentleman who came up and superseded
The latter turned, with his cup still in his hand, and wandered about
through the company, hoping he might see Mrs. Bowen among the groups
peering at the pictures or solidly blocking the view in front of them.
He did not find her, but he found Imogene Graham standing somewhat apart
near a window. He saw her face light up at sight of him, and then darken
again as he approached.
"Isn't this rather an unnatural state of things?" he asked when he had
come up. "I ought to be obliged to fight my way to you through
successive phalanxes of young men crowding round with cups of tea
outstretched in their imploring hands. Have you had some tea?"
"Thank you, no; I don't wish any," said the young girl, so coldly that
he could not help noticing, though commonly he was man enough to notice
very few things.
"How is Effie to-day?" he asked quickly.
"Oh, quite well," said Imogene.
"I don't see Mrs. Bowen," he ventured further.
"No," answered the girl, still very lifelessly; "I came with Mrs.
Fleming." She looked about the room as if not to look at him.
He now perceived a distinct intention to snub him. He smiled. "Have you
seen the pictures? There are two or three really lovely ones."
"Mrs. Fleming will be here in a moment, I suppose," said Imogene
evasively, but not with all her first coldness.
"Let us steal a march on her," said Colville briskly. "When she comes
you can tell her that I showed you the pictures."
"I don't know," faltered the girl.
"Perhaps it isn't necessary you should," he suggested.
She glanced at him with questioning trepidation.
"The respective duties of chaperone and _protegee_ are rather undefined.
Where the chaperone isn't there to command, the _protegee_ isn't there
to obey. I suppose you'd know if you were at home?"
"Let me imagine myself at a loan exhibition in Buffalo. Ah! that appeal
is irresistible. You'll come, I see."
She hesitated; she looked at the nearest picture, then followed him to
another. He now did what he had refused to do for the old lady who
tempted him to it; he made fun of the pictures a little, but so amiably
and with so much justice to their good points that the painter himself
would not have minded his jesting. From time to time he made Imogene
smile, but in her eyes lurked a look of uneasiness, and her manner
expressed a struggle against his will which might have had its pathos
for him in different circumstances, but now it only incited him to make
her forget herself more and more; he treated her as one does a child
that is out of sorts--coaxingly, ironically.
When they had made the round of the rooms Mrs. Fleming was not at the
window where she had left Imogene; the girl detected the top of her
bonnet still in the next room.
"The chaperone is never there when you come back with the _protegee_,"
said Colville. "It seems to be the nature of the chaperone."
Imogene turned very grave. "I think I ought to go to her," she murmured.
"Oh no; she ought to come to you; I stand out for _protegee_'s rights."
"I suppose she will come directly."
"She sees me with you; she knows you are safe."
"Oh, of course," said the girl. After a constraint which she marked by
rather a long silence, she added, "How strange a roomful of talking
sounds, doesn't it? Just like a great caldron boiling up and bubbling
over. Wouldn't you like to know what they're all saying?"
"Oh, it's quite bad enough to see them," replied Colville frivolously.
"I think a company of gentlemen with their hats off look very queer,
don't you?" she asked, after another interval.
"Well, really," said Colville, laughing, "I don't know that the
spectacle ever suggested any metaphysical speculations to me. I rather
think they look queerer with their hats on."
"Though there is not very much to choose. We're a queer-looking set,
He got himself another cup of tea, and coming back to her, allowed her
to make the efforts to keep up the conversation, and was not without a
malicious pleasure in her struggles. They interested him as social
exercises which, however abrupt and undexterous now, were destined, with
time and practice, to become the finesse of a woman of society, and to
be accepted, even while they were still abrupt and undexterous, as
touches of character. He had broken up that coldness with which she had
met him at first, and now he let her adjust the fragments as she could
to the new situation. He wore that air of a gentleman who has been
talking a long time to a lady, and who will not dispute her possession
with a new-comer.
But no one came, though, as he cast his eyes carelessly over the
company, he found that it had been increased by the accession of eight
or ten young fellows, with a refreshing light of originality in their
faces, and little touches of difference from the other men in their
"Oh, there are the Inglehart boys!" cried the girl, with a flash of
There was a sensation of interest and friendliness in the company as
these young fellows, after their moment of social intimidation, began to
gather round the pictures, and to fling their praise and blame about,
and talk the delightful shop of the studio.
The sight of their fresh young faces, the sound of their voices, struck
a pang of regret that was almost envy to Colville's heart.
Imogene followed them with eager eyes. "Oh," she sighed, "shouldn't you
like to be an artist?"
"I should, very much."
"Oh, I beg your pardon; I forgot. I knew you were an architect."
"I should say I used to be, if you hadn't objected to my perfects and
What came next seemed almost an accident.
"I didn't suppose you cared for my objections, so long as I amused you."
She suddenly glanced at him, as if terrified at her own words.
"Have you been trying to amuse me?" he asked.
"Oh no. I thought----"
"Oh, then," said Colville sharply, "you meant that I was amusing myself
with you?" She glanced at him in terror of his divination, but could not
protest. "Has any one told you that?" he pursued, with sudden angry
"No, _no_ one," began Imogene. She glanced about her, frightened. They
stood quite alone where they were; the people had mostly wandered off
into the other rooms. "Oh, don't--I didn't mean--I didn't intend to say
"But you have said something--something that surprises me from _you_,
and hurts me. I wish to know whether you say it from yourself."
"I don't know--yes. That is, not----Oh, I wish Mrs. Fleming----"
She looked as if another word of pursuit would put it beyond her power
to control herself.
"Let me take you to Mrs. Fleming," said Colville, with freezing
_hauteur_; and led the way where the top of Mrs. Fleming's bonnet still
showed itself. He took leave at once, and hastily parting with his host,
found himself in the street, whirled in many emotions. The girl had not
said that from herself, but it was from some woman; he knew that by the
directness of the phrase and its excess, for he had noticed that women
who liked to beat about the bush in small matters have a prodigious
straightforwardness in more vital affairs, and will even call grey black
in order clearly to establish the presence of the black in that colour.
He could hardly keep himself from going to Palazzo Pinti.
But he contrived to go to his hotel instead, where he ate a moody
dinner, and then, after an hour's solitary bitterness in his room, went
out and passed the evening at the theatre. The play was one of those
fleering comedies which render contemptible for the time all honest and
earnest intention, and which surely are a whiff from the bottomless pit
itself. It made him laugh at the serious strain of self-question that
had mingled with his resentment; it made him laugh even at his
resentment, and with its humour in his thoughts, sent him off to sleep
in a sottish acceptance of whatever was trivial in himself as the only
thing that was real and lasting.
He slept late, and when Paolo brought up his breakfast, he brought with
it a letter which he said had been left with the porter an hour before.
A faint appealing perfume of violet exhaled from the note, and mingled
with the steaming odours of the coffee and boiled milk, when Colville,
after a glance at the unfamiliar handwriting of the superscription,
broke the seal.
"DEAR MR. COLVILLE,--I don't know what you will think of my writing to
you, but perhaps you can't think worse of me than you do already, and
anything will be better than the misery that I am in. I have not been
asleep all night. I hate myself for telling you, but I do want you to
understand how I have felt. I would give worlds if I could take back the
words that you say wounded you. I didn't mean to wound you. Nobody is to
blame for them but me; nobody ever breathed a word about you that was
meant in unkindness.
"I am not ashamed of writing this, _whatever_ you think, and I will sign
my name in full. IMOGENE GRAHAM."
Colville had commonly a good appetite for his breakfast, but now he let
his coffee stand long un-tasted. There were several things about this
note that touched him--the childlike simplicity and directness, the
generous courage, even the imperfection and crudity of the literature.
However he saw it afterward, he saw it then in its true intention. He
respected that intention; through all the sophistications in which life
had wrapped him, it awed him a little. He realised that if he had been
younger he would have gone to Imogene herself with her letter. He felt
for the moment a rush of the emotion which he would once not have
stopped to examine, which he would not have been capable of examining.
But now his duty was clear; he must go to Mrs. Bowen. In the noblest
human purpose there is always some admixture, however slight, of less
noble motive, and Colville was not without the willingness to see
whatever embarrassment she might feel when he showed her the letter, and
to invoke her finest tact to aid him in re-assuring the child.
She was alone in her drawing-room, and she told him in response to his
inquiry for their health that Imogene and Effie had gone out to drive.
She looked so pretty in the quiet house dress in which she rose from the
sofa and stood, letting him come the whole way to greet her, that he did
not think of any other look in her, but afterward he remembered an
evidence of inner tumult in her brightened eyes.
He said, smiling, "I'm so glad to see you alone," and this brought still
another look into her face, which also he afterward remembered. She did
not reply, but made a sound in her throat like a bird when it stirs
itself for flight or song. It was a strange, indefinite little note, in
which Colville thought he detected trepidation at the time, and recalled
for the sort of expectation suggested in it. She stood waiting for him
to go on.
"I have come to get you to help me out of trouble."
"Yes?" said Mrs. Bowen, with a vague smile. "I always supposed you would
be able to help yourself out of trouble. Or perhaps wouldn't mind it if
you were in it."
"Oh yes, I mind it very much," returned Colville, refusing her banter,
if it were banter. "Especially this sort of trouble, which involves some
one else in the discomfort." He went on abruptly: "I have been held up
to a young lady as a person who was amusing himself with her, and I was
so absurd as to be angry when she told me, and demanded the name of my
friend, whoever it was. My behaviour seems to have given the young lady
a bad night, and this morning she writes to tell me so, and to take all
the blame on herself, and to assure me that no harm was meant me by any
one. Of course I don't want her to be distressed about it. Perhaps you
can guess who has been writing to me."
Colville said all this looking down, in a fashion he had. When he looked
up he saw a severity in Mrs. Bowen's pretty face, such as he had not
seen there before.
"I didn't know she had been writing to you, but I know that you are
talking of Imogene. She told me what she had said to you yesterday, and
I blamed her for it, but I'm not sure that it wasn't best."
"Oh, indeed!" said Colville. "Perhaps you can tell me who put the idea
into her head?"
"Yes; I did."
A dead silence ensued, in which the fragments of the situation broken by
these words revolved before Colville's thought with kaleidoscopic
variety, and he passed through all the phases of anger, resentment,
wounded self-love, and accusing shame.
At last, "I suppose you had your reasons," he said simply.
"I am in her mother's place here," she replied, tightening the grip of
one little hand upon another, where she held them laid against the side
of her waist.
"Yes, I know that," said Colville; "but what reason had you to warn her
against me as a person who was amusing himself with her? I don't like
the phrase; but she seems to have got it from you; I use it at third
"I don't like the phrase either; I didn't invent it."
"You used it."
"No; it wasn't I who used it. I should have been glad to use another, if
I could," said Mrs. Bowen, with perfect steadiness.
"Then you mean to say that you believe I've been trifling with the
feelings of this child?"
"I mean to say nothing. You are very much older; and she is a romantic
girl, very extravagant. You have tried to make her like you."
"I certainly have. I have tried to make Effie Bowen like me too."
Mrs. Bowen passed this over in serenity that he felt was not far from
He gave a laugh that did not express enjoyment.
"You have no right to laugh!" she cried, losing herself a little, and so
making her first gain upon him.
"It appears not. Perhaps you will tell me what I am to do about this
"That is for you to decide." She recovered herself, and lost ground with
him in proportion.
"I thought perhaps that since you were able to judge my motives so
clearly, you might be able to advise me."
"I don't judge your motives," Mrs. Bowen began. She added suddenly, as
if by an after-thought, "I don't think you had any."
"I'm obliged to you."
"But you are as much to blame as if you had."
"And perhaps I'm as much to blame as if I had really wronged somebody?"
"It's rather paradoxical. You don't wish me to see her any more?"
"I haven't any wish about it; you must not _say_ that I have," said Mrs.
Bowen, with dignity.
Colville smiled. "May I _ask_ if you have?"
"Not for myself."
"You put me on very short allowance of conjecture."
"I will not let you trifle with the matter!" she cried. "You have made
me speak, when a word, a look, ought to have been enough. Oh, I didn't
think you had the miserable vanity to wish it!"
Colville stood thinking a long time and she waiting. "I see that
everything is at an end. I am going away from Florence. Good-bye, Mrs.
Bowen." He approached her, holding out his hand. But if he expected to
be rewarded for this, nothing of the kind happened. She shrank swiftly
"No, no. You shall not touch me."
He paused a moment, gazing keenly at her face, in which, whatever other
feeling showed, there was certainly no fear of him. Then with a slight
bow he left the room.
Mrs. Bowen ran from it by another door, and shut herself into her own
room. When she returned to the salotto, Imogene and Effie were just
coming in. The child went to lay aside her hat and sacque; the girl,
after a glance at Mrs. Bowen's face, lingered inquiringly.
"Mr. Colville came here with your letter, Imogene."
"Yes," said Imogene faintly. "Do you think I oughtn't to have written
"Oh, it makes no difference now. He is going away from Florence."
"Yes?" breathed the girl.
"I spoke openly with him."
"I didn't spare him. I made him think I hated and despised him."
Imogene was silent. Then she said, "I know that whatever you have done,
you have acted for the best."
"Yes, I have a right that you should say that--I have a right that you
should always say it. I think he has behaved very foolishly, but I don't
"No! I was to blame."
"I don't _know_ that he was to blame, and I won't let you think he was."
"Oh, he is the best man in the world!"
"He gave up at once; he didn't try to defend himself. It's nothing for
you to lose a friend at your age; but at mine----"
"I _know_ it, Mrs. Bowen."
"And I wouldn't even shake hands with him when he was going; I----"
"Oh, I don't see how you could be so hard!" cried Imogene. She put up
her hands to her face, and broke into tears. Mrs. Bowen watched her, dry
eyed, with her lips parted, and an intensity of question in her face.
"Imogene," she said at last, "I wish you to promise me one thing."
"Not to write to Mr. Colville again."
"No, no; indeed I won't, Mrs. Bowen!" The girl came up to kiss her; Mrs.
Bowen turned her cheek.
Imogene was going from the room, when Mrs. Bowen spoke again. "But I
wish you to promise me this only because you don't feel sure of yourself
about him. If you care for him--if you think you care for him--then I
leave you perfectly free."
The girl looked up, scared. "No, no; I'd rather you wouldn't leave me
free--you mustn't; I shouldn't know what to do."
"Very well, then," said Mrs. Bowen.
They both waited a moment, as if each were staying for the other to
speak. Then Imogene asked, "Is he--going soon?"
"I don't know," said Mrs. Bowen. "Why should he want to delay? He had
better go at once. And I hope he will go home--as far from Florence as
he can. I should think he would _hate_ the place."
"Yes," said the girl, with a quivering sigh; "it must be hateful to
him." She paused, and then she rushed on with bitter self-reproach. "And
I--_I_ have helped to make it so! O Mrs. Bowen, perhaps it's _I_ who
have been trifling with _him_ Trying to make him believe--no, not trying
to do that, but letting him see that I sympathised--Oh, do you think I
"You know what you have been doing, Imogene," said Mrs. Bowen, with the
hardness it surprises men to know women use with each other, they seem
such tender creatures in the abstract. "You have no need to ask me."
"As you say, I warned you from the first."
"Oh yes; you did."
"I couldn't do more than hint; it was too much to expect----"
"Oh, yes, yes."
"And if you couldn't take my hints, I was helpless."
"Yes; I see it."
"I was only afraid of saying too much, and all through that miserable
veglione business I was trying to please you and him, because I was
afraid I _had_ said too much--gone too far. I wanted to show you that I
disdained to be suspicious, that I was ashamed to suppose that a girl of
your age could care for the admiration of a man of his."
"Oh, I didn't care for his admiration. I admired _him_--and pitied him."
Mrs. Bowen apparently would not be kept now from saying all that had
been rankling in her breast. "I didn't approve of going to the veglione.
A great many people would be shocked if they knew I went; I wouldn't at
all like to have it known. But I was not going to have him thinking that
I was severe with you, and wanted to deny you any really harmless
"Oh, who could think that? You're only too good to me. You see," said
the girl, "what a return I have made for your trust. I knew you didn't
want to go to the veglione. If I hadn't been the most selfish girl in
the world I wouldn't have let you. But I did. I _forced_ you to go, and
then, after we got there, I seized every advantage, and abused your
kindness till I wonder I didn't sink through the floor. Yes; I ought to
have refused to dance--if I'd had a spark of generosity or gratitude I
would have done it; and I ought to have come straight back to you the
instant the waltz was done. And now see what has come of it! I've made
you think he was trifling with me, and I've made him think that I'm a
false and hollow-hearted thing."
"You know best what you have done, Imogene," said Mrs. Bowen, with a
smiling tearfulness that was somehow very bitter. She rose from the
sofa, as if to indicate that there was no more to be said, and Imogene,
with a fresh burst of grief, rushed away to her own room.
She dropped on her knees beside her bed, and stretched out her arms upon
it, an image of that desolation of soul which, when we are young, seems
limitless, but which in later life we know has comparatively narrow
bounds beyond the clouds that rest so blackly around us.
In his room Colville was devouring as best he might the chagrin with
which he had come away from Palazzo Pinti, while he packed his trunk for
departure. Now that the thing was over, the worst was past. Again he
observed that his emotions had no longer the continuity that the
emotions of his youth possessed. As he remembered, a painful or pleasant
impression used to last indefinitely; but here he was with this
humiliating affair hot in his mind, shrugging his shoulders with a sense
of relief, almost a sense of escape. Does the soul really wear out with
the body? The question flitted across his mind as he took down a pair of
trousers, and noticed that they were considerably frayed about the feet;
he determined to give them to Paolo, and this reminded him to ring for
Paolo, and send word to the office that he was going to take the evening
train for Rome.
He went on packing, and putting away with the different garments the
unpleasant thoughts that he knew he should be sure to unpack with them
in Rome; but they would then have less poignancy.
For the present he was doing the best he could, and he was not making
any sort of pretences. When his trunk was locked he kindled himself a
fire, and sat down before it to think of Imogene. He began with her, but
presently it seemed to be Mrs. Bowen that he was thinking of; then he
knew he was dropping off to sleep by the manner in which their two ideas
mixed. The fatigues and excitements of the week had been great, but he
would not give way; it was too disgraceful.
Some one rapped at his door. He called out "_Avanti_!" and he would have
been less surprised to see either of those ladies than Paolo with the
account he had ordered to be made out. It was a long, pendulous,
minutely itemed affair, such as the traveller's recklessness in candles
and firewood comes to in the books of the Continental landlord, and it
almost swept the floor when its volume was unrolled. But it was not the
sum-total that dismayed Colville when he glanced at the final figure;
that, indeed, was not so very great, with all the items; it was the
conviction, suddenly flashing upon him, that he had not money enough by
him to pay it. His watch, held close to the fire, told him that it was
five o'clock; the banks had been closed an hour, and this was Saturday
The squalid accident had all the effect of intention, as he viewed it
from without himself, and considered that the money ought to have been
the first thing in his thoughts after he determined to go away. He must
get the money somehow, and be off to Rome by the seven o'clock train. A
whimsical suggestion, which was so good a bit of irony that it made him
smile, flashed across him: he might borrow it of Mrs. Bowen. She was, in
fact, the only person in Florence with whom he was at all on borrowing
terms, and a sad sense of the sweetness of her lost friendship followed
upon the antic notion. No; for once he could not go to Mrs. Bowen. He
recollected now the many pleasant talks they had had together,
confidential in virtue of their old acquaintance, and harmlessly
intimate in many things. He recalled how, when he was feeling dull from
the Florentine air, she had told him to take a little quinine, and he
had found immediate advantage in it. These memories did strike him as
grotesque or ludicrous; he only felt their pathos. He was ashamed even
to seem in anywise recreant further. If she should ever hear that he had
lingered for thirty-six hours in Florence after he had told her he was
going away, what could she think but that he had repented his decision?
He determined to go down to the office of the hotel, and see if he could
not make some arrangement with the landlord. It would be extremely
distasteful, but his ample letter of credit would be at least a voucher
of his final ability to pay. As a desperate resort he could go and try
to get the money of Mr. Waters.
He put on his coat and hat, and opened the door to some one who was just
in act to knock at it, and whom he struck against in the obscurity.
"I beg your pardon," said the visitor.
"Mr. Waters! Is it possible?" cried Colville, feeling something fateful
in the chance. "I was just going to see you."
"I'm fortunate in meeting you, then. Shall we go to my room?" he asked,
at a hesitation in Colville's manner.
"No, no," said the latter; "come in here." He led the way back into his
room, and struck a match to light the candles on his chimney. Their dim
rays fell upon the disorder his packing had left. "You must excuse the
look of things," he said. "The fact is, I'm just going away. I'm going
to Rome at seven o'clock."
"Isn't this rather sudden?" asked the minister, with less excitement
than the fact might perhaps have been expected to create in a friend. "I
thought you intended to pass the winter in Florence."
"Yes, I did--sit down, please--but I find myself obliged to cut my stay
short. Won't you take off your coat?" he asked, taking off his own.
"Thank you; I've formed the habit of keeping it on indoors," said Mr.
Waters. "And I oughtn't to stay long, if you're to be off so soon."
Colville gave a very uncomfortable laugh. "Why, the fact is, I'm not off
so very soon unless you help me."
"Ah?" returned the old gentleman, with polite interest.
"Yes, I find myself in the absurd position of a man who has reckoned
without his host. I have made all my plans for going, and have had my
hotel bill sent to me in pursuance of that idea, and now I discover that
I not only haven't money enough to pay it and get to Rome, but I haven't
much more than half enough to pay it. I have credit galore," he said,
trying to give the situation a touch of liveliness, "but the bank is
Mr. Waters listened to the statement with a silence concerning which
Colville was obliged to form his conjectures. "That is unfortunate," he
said sympathetically, but not encouragingly.
Colville pushed on desperately. "It is, unless you can help me, Mr.
Waters. I want you to lend me fifty dollars for as many hours."
Mr. Waters shook his head with a compassionate smile. "I haven't fifty
francs in cash. You are welcome to what there is. I'm very forgetful
about money matters, and haven't been to the bankers."
"Oh, don't excuse yourself to me, unless you wish to embitter my shame.
I'm obliged to you for offering to share your destitution with me. I
must try to run my face with the landlord," said Colville.
"Oh no," said Mr. Waters gently. "Is there such haste as all that?"
"Yes, I must go at once."
"I don't like to have you apply to a stranger," said the old man, with
fatherly kindness. "Can't you remain over till Monday? I had a little
excursion to propose."
"No, I can't possibly stay; I must go to-night," cried Colville.
The minister rose. "Then I really mustn't detain you, I suppose.
Good-bye." He offered his hand. Colville took it, but could not let it
go at once. "I would like extremely to tell you why I'm leaving Florence
in such haste. But I don't see what good it would do, for I don't want
you to persuade me to stay."
The old gentleman looked at him with friendly interest.
"The fact is," Colville proceeded, as if he had been encouraged to do
so, "I have had the misfortune--yes, I'm afraid I've had the fault--to
make myself very displeasing to Mrs. Bowen, and in such a way that the
very least I can do is to take myself off as far and as soon as I
"Yes?" said Mr. Waters, with the cheerful note of incredulity in his
voice with which one is apt to respond to others' confession of
extremity. "Is it so bad as that? I've just seen Mrs. Bowen, and she
told me you were going."
"Oh," said Colville, with disagreeable sensation, "perhaps she told you
why I was going."
"No," answered Mr. Waters; "she didn't do that." Colville imagined a
consciousness in him, which perhaps did not exist. "She didn't allude to
the subject further than to state the fact, when I mentioned that I was
coming to see you."
Colville had dropped his hand. "She was very forbearing," he said, with
bitterness that might well have been incomprehensible to Mr. Waters upon
any theory but one.
"Perhaps," he suggested, "you are precipitate; perhaps you have
mistaken; perhaps you have been hasty. These things are often the result
of impulse in women. I have often wondered how they could make up their
minds; I believe they certainly ought to be allowed to change them at
Colville turned very red. "What in the world do you mean? Do you imagine
that I have been offering myself to Mrs. Bowen?"
"Wasn't it that which you wished to--which you said you would like to
Colville was suddenly silent, on the verge of a self-derisive laugh.
When he spoke, he said gently: "No; it wasn't that. I never thought of
offering myself to her. We have always been very good friends. But now
I'm afraid we can't be friends any more--at least we can't be
"Oh!" exclaimed Mr. Waters. He waited a while as if for Colville to say
more, but the latter remained silent, and the old man gave his hand
again in farewell. "I must really be going. I hope you won't think me
intrusive in my mistaken conjecture?"
"It was what I supposed you had been telling me----"
"I understand. You mustn't be troubled," said Colville, though he had to
own to himself that it seemed superfluous to make this request of Mr.
Waters, who was taking the affair with all the serenity of age
concerning matters of sentiment. "I wish you were going to Rome with
me," he added, to disembarrass the moment of parting.
"Thank you. But I shall not go to Rome for some years. Shall you come
back on your way in the spring?"
"No, I shall not come to Florence again," said Colville sadly.
"Ah, I'm sorry. Good-bye, my dear young friend. It's been a great
pleasure to know you." Colville walked down to the door of the hotel
with his visitor and parted with him there. As he turned back he met the
landlord, who asked him if he would have the omnibus for the station.
The landlord bowed smilingly, after his kind, and rubbed his hands. He
said he hoped Colville was pleased with his hotel, and ran to his desk
in the little office to get some cards for him, so that he might
recommend it accurately to American families.
Colville looked absently at the cards. "The fact is," he said, to the
little bowing, smiling man; "I don't know but I shall be obliged to
postpone my going till Monday." He smiled too, trying to give the fact a
jocose effect, and added, "I find myself out of money, and I've no means
of paying your bill till I can see my bankers."
After all his heroic intention, this was as near as he could come to
asking the landlord to let him send the money from Rome.
The little man set his head on one side.
"Oh, well, occupy the room until Monday, then," he cried hospitably. "It
is quite at your disposition. You will not want the omnibus?"
"No, I shall not want the omnibus," said Colville, with a laugh,
doubtless not perfectly intelligible to the landlord, who respectfully
joined him in it.
He did not mean to stop that night without writing to Mrs. Bowen, and
assuring her that though an accident had kept him in Florence till
Monday, she need not be afraid of seeing him again. But he could not go
back to his room yet; he wandered about the town, trying to pick himself
up from the ruin into which he had fallen again, and wondering with a
sort of alien compassion what was to become of his aimless, empty
existence. As he passed through the Piazza San Marco he had half a mind
to pick a pebble from the gardened margin of the fountain there and toss
it against the Rev. Mr. Waters's window, and when he put his skull-cap
out, to ask that optimistic agnostic what a man had best do with a life
that had ceased to interest him. But, for the time being, he got rid of
himself as he best could by going to the opera. They professed to give
_Rigoletto_, but it was all Mrs. Bowen and Imogene Graham to Colville.
It was so late when he got back to his hotel that the outer gate was
shut, and he had to wake up the poor little porter, as on that night
when he returned from Madame Uccelli's. The porter was again equal to
his duty, and contrived to light a new candle to show him the way to his
room. The repetition, almost mechanical, of this small chicane made
Colville smile, and this apparently encouraged the porter to ask, as if
he supposed him to have been in society somewhere--
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