William D. Howells
Part 4 out of 6
"You have amused yourself this evening?
"Oh, very much."
"I am glad. There is a letter for you.'
"A letter! Where?"
"I sent it to your room. It came just before midnight."
Mrs. Bowen sat before the hearth in her _salon_, with her hands fallen
in her lap. At thirty-eight the emotions engrave themselves more deeply
in the face than they do in our first youth, or than they will when we
have really aged, and the pretty woman looked haggard.
Imogene came in, wearing a long blue robe, flung on as if with desperate
haste; her thick hair fell crazily out of a careless knot, down her
back. "I couldn't sleep," she said, with quivering lips, at the sight of
which Mrs. Bowen's involuntary smile hardened. "Isn't it eleven yet?"
she added, with a glance at the clock. "It seems years since I went to
"It's been a long day," Mrs. Bowen admitted. She did not ask Imogene why
she could not sleep, perhaps because she knew already, and was too
honest to affect ignorance.
The girl dropped into a chair opposite her, and began to pull her
fingers through the long tangle of her hair, while she drew her breath
in sighs that broke at times on her lips; some tears fell down her
cheeks unheeded. "Mrs. Bowen," she said, at length, "I should like to
know what right we have to drive any one from Florence? I should think
people would call it rather a high-handed proceeding if it were known."
Mrs. Bowen met this feebleness promptly. "It isn't likely to be known.
But we are not driving Mr. Colville away."
"He is going."
"Yes; he said he would go."
"Don't you believe he will go?"
"I believe he will do what he says."
"He has been very kind to us all; he has been as _good!_"
"No one feels that more than I," said Mrs. Bowen, with a slight tremor
in her voice. She faltered a moment. "I can't let you say those things
to me, Imogene."
"No; I know it's wrong. I didn't know what I was saying. Oh, I wish I
could tell what I ought to do! I wish I could make up my mind. Oh, I
can't let him go--_so_. I--I don't know what to think any more. Once it
was clear, but now I'm not sure; no, I'm not sure."
"Not sure about what?"
"I think I am the one to go away, if any one."
"You know you can't go away," said Mrs. Bowen, with weary patience.
"No, of course not. Well, I shall never see any one like him."
Mrs. Bowen made a start in her chair, as if she had no longer the power
to remain quiet, but only placed herself a little more rigidly in it.
"No," the girl went on, as if uttering a hopeless reverie. "He made
every moment interesting. He was always thinking of us--he never thought
of himself. He did as much for Effie as for any one; he tried just as
hard to make himself interesting to her. He was unselfish. I have seen
him at places being kind to the stupidest people. You never caught him
choosing out the stylish or attractive ones, or trying to shine at
anybody's expense. Oh, he's a true gentleman--I shall always say it. How
delicate he was, never catching you up, or if you said a foolish thing,
trying to turn it against you. No, never, never, never! Oh dear! And
now, what can he think of me? Oh, how frivolous and fickle and selfish
he must think me!"
"Imogene!" Mrs. Bowen cried out, but quelled herself again.
"Yes," pursued the girl, in the same dreary monotone, "he thinks I
couldn't appreciate him because he was old. He thinks that I cared for
his not being handsome! Perhaps--perhaps----" She began to catch her
breath in the effort to keep back the sobs that were coming. "Oh, I
can't bear it! I would rather die than let him think it--such a thing as
that!" She bent her head aside, and cried upon the two hands with which
she clutched the top of her chair.
Mrs. Bowen sat looking at her distractedly. From time to time she seemed
to silence a word upon her lips, and in fact she did not speak.
Imogene lifted her head at last, and softly dried her eyes. Then, as she
pushed her handkerchief back into the pocket of her robe, "What sort of
looking girl was that other one?"
"That other one?"
"Yes; you know what I mean: the one who behaved so badly to him before."
"Imogene!" said Mrs. Bowen severely, "this is nonsense, and I can't let
you go on so. I might pretend not to know what you mean; but I won't do
that; and I tell you that there is no sort of likeness--of
"No, no," wailed the girl, "there _is_ none. I feel that. She had
nothing to warn her--he hadn't suffered then; he was young; he was able
to bear it--you said it yourself, Mrs. Bowen. But now--_now_, what will
he do? He could make fun of that, and not hate her so much, because she
didn't know how much harm she was doing. But I did; and what can he
think of me?"
Mrs. Bowen looked across the barrier between them, that kept her from
taking Imogene into her arms, and laughing and kissing away her craze,
with cold dislike, and only said, "You know whether you've really
anything to accuse yourself of, Imogene. I can't and won't consider Mr.
Colville in the matter; I _didn't_ consider him in what I said to-day.
And I tell you again that I will not interfere with you in the slightest
degree beyond appearances and the responsibility I feel to your mother.
And it's for you to know your own mind. You are old enough. I will do
what you say. It's for you to be sure that you wish what you say."
"Yes," said Imogene huskily, and she let an interval that was long to
them both elapse before she said anything more. "Have I always done what
you thought best, Mrs. Bowen?"
"Yes, I have never complained of you."
"Then why can't you tell me now what you think best?"
"Because there is nothing to be done. It is all over."
"But if it were not, would you tell me?"
"Then I take back my promise not to write to Mr. Colville. I am going to
ask him to stay."
"Have you made up your mind to that, Imogene?" asked Mrs. Bowen, showing
no sign of excitement, except to take a faster hold of her own wrists
with the slim hands in which she had caught them.
"You know the position it places you in?"
"Has he offered himself to you?"
"No!" the girl's face blazed.
"Then, after what's passed, this is the same as offering yourself to
Imogene turned white. "I must write to him, unless you forbid me."
"Certainly I shall not forbid you." Mrs. Bowen rose and went to her
writing-desk. "But if you have fully made up your mind to this step, and
are ready for the consequences, whatever they are----" She stopped,
before sitting down, and looked back over her shoulder at Imogene.
"Yes," said the girl, who had also risen.
"Then I will write to Mr. Colville for you, and render the proceeding as
little objectionable as possible."
Imogene made no reply. She stood motionless while Mrs. Bowen wrote.
"Is this what you wished?" asked the latter, offering the sheet:----
"Dear Mr. Colville,--I have reasons for wishing to recall my consent to
your going away. Will you not come and lunch with us to-morrow, and try
to forget everything that has passed during a few days?
"Yours very sincerely,
"Yes, that will do," gasped Imogene.
Mrs. Bowen rang the bell for the porter, and stood with her back to the
girl, waiting for him at the salon door. He came after a delay that
sufficiently intimated the lateness of the hour. "This letter must go at
once to the Hotel d'Atene," said Mrs. Bowen peremptorily.
"You shall be served," said the porter, with fortitude.
As Mrs. Bowen turned, Imogene ran toward her with clasped hands. "Oh,
how merciful--how good----"
Mrs. Bowen shrank back. "Don't touch me, Imogene, please!"
It was her letter which Colville found on his table and read by the
struggling light of his newly acquired candle. Then he sat down and
replied to it.
"Dear Mrs. Bowen,--I know that you mean some sort of kindness by me, and
I hope you will not think me prompted by any poor resentment in
declining to-morrow's lunch. I am satisfied that it is best for me to
go; and I am ashamed not to be gone already. But a ridiculous accident
has kept me, and when I came in and found your note I was just going to
write and ask your patience with my presence in Florence till Monday
"Yours sincerely, THEODORE COLVILLE."
He took his note down to the porter, who had lain down again in his
little booth, but sprang up with a cheerful request to be commanded.
Colville consulted him upon the propriety of sending the note to Palazzo
Pinti at once, and the porter, with his head laid in deprecation upon
one of his lifted shoulders, owned that it was perhaps the very least
little bit in the world late.
"Send it the first thing in the morning, then," said Colville.
Mrs. Bowen received it by the servant who brought her coffee to the
room, and she sent it without any word to Imogene. The girl came
instantly back with it. She was fully dressed, as if she had been up a
long time, and she wore a very plain, dull dress, in which one of her
own sex might have read the expression of a potential self-devotion.
"It's just as I wish it, Mrs. Bowen," she said, in a low key of
impassioned resolution. "_Now_, my conscience is at rest. And you have
done this for me, Mrs. Bowen!" She stood timidly with the door in her
hand, watching Mrs. Bowen's slight smile; then, as if at some sign in
it, she flew to the bed and kissed her, and so fled out of the room
Colville slept late, and awoke with a vague sense of self-reproach,
which faded afterward to such poor satisfaction as comes to us from the
consciousness of having made the best of a bad business; some pangs of
softer regret mixed with this. At first he felt a stupid obligation to
keep indoors, and he really did not go out till after lunch. The
sunshine had looked cold from his window, and with the bright fire which
he found necessary in his room, he fancied a bitterness in the gusts
that caught up the dust in the piazza, and blew it against the line of
cabs on the other side; but when he got out into the weather he found
the breeze mild and the sun warm. The streets were thronged with people,
and at all the corners there were groups of cloaked and overcoated
talkers, soaking themselves full of the sunshine. The air throbbed, as
always, with the sound of bells, but it was a mellower and opener sound
than before, and looking at the purple bulk of one of those hills which
seem to rest like clouds at the end of each avenue in Florence, Colville
saw that it was clear of snow. He was going up through Via Cavour to
find Mr. Waters and propose a walk, but he met him before he had got
half-way to San Marco.
The old man was at a momentary stand-still, looking up at the Riccardi
Palace, and he received Colville with apparent forgetfulness of anything
odd in his being still in Florence. "Upon the whole," he said, without
preliminary of any sort, as Colville turned and joined him in walking
on, "I don't know any homicide that more distinctly proves the futility
of assassination as a political measure than that over yonder." He
nodded his head sidewise toward the palace as he shuffled actively along
at Colville's elbow.
"You might say that the moment when Lorenzino killed Alessandro was the
most auspicious for a deed of that kind. The Medici had only recently
been restored; Alessandro was the first ruler in Florence, who had worn
a title; no more reckless, brutal, and insolent tyrant ever lived, and
his right, even such as the Medici might have, to play the despot was
involved in the doubt of his origin; the heroism of the great siege
ought still to have survived in the people who withstood the forces of
the whole German Empire for fifteen months; it seems as if the taking
off of that single wretch should have ended the whole Medicean
domination; but there was not a voice raised to second the homicide's
appeal to the old love of liberty in Florence. The Medici party were
able to impose a boy of eighteen upon the most fiery democracy that ever
existed, and to hunt down and destroy Alessandro's murderer at their
leisure. No," added the old man thoughtfully, "I think that the friends
of progress must abandon assassination as invariably useless. The
trouble was not that Alessandro was alive, but that Florence was dead.
Assassination always comes too early or too late in any popular
movement. It may be," said Mr. Waters, with a carefulness to do justice
to assassination which made Colville smile, "that the modern scientific
spirits may be able to evolve something useful from the principle, but
considering the enormous abuses and perversions to which it is liable, I
am very doubtful of it--very doubtful."
Colville laughed. "I like your way of bringing a fresh mind to all these
questions in history and morals, whether they are conventionally settled
or not. Don't you think the modern scientific spirit could evolve
something useful out of the old classic idea of suicide?"
"Perhaps," said Mr. Waters; "I haven't yet thought it over. The worst
thing about suicide--and this must always rank it below political
assassination--is that its interest is purely personal. No man ever
kills himself for the good of others."
"That's certainly against it. We oughtn't to countenance such an
abominably selfish practice. But you can't bring that charge against
euthanasy. What have you to say of that?"
"I have heard one of the most benevolent and tender-hearted men I ever
knew defend it in cases of hopeless suffering. But I don't know that I
should be prepared to take his ground. There appears to be something so
sacred about human life that we must respect it even in spite of the
prayers of the sufferer who asks us to end his irremediable misery."
"Well," said Colville, "I suspect we must at least class murder with the
ballet as a means of good. One might say there was still some virtue in
the primal, eldest curse against bloodshed."
"Oh, I don't by any means deny those things," said the old man, with the
air of wishing to be scrupulously just. "Which way are you walking?"
"Your way, if you will let me," replied Colville. "I was going to your
house to ask you to take a walk with me."
"Ah, that's good. I was reading of the great siege last night, and I
thought of taking a look at Michelangelo's bastions. Let us go together,
if you don't think you'll find it too fatiguing."
"I shall be ashamed to complain if I do."
"And you didn't go to Rome after all?" said Mr. Waters.
"No; I couldn't face the landlord with a petition so preposterous as
mine. I told him that I found I had no money to pay his bill till I had
seen my banker, and as he didn't propose that I should send him the
amount back from Rome, I stayed. Landlords have their limitations; they
are not imaginative, as a class."
"Well, a day more will make no great difference to you, I suppose," said
the old man, "and a day less would have been a loss to me. I shall miss
"Shall you, indeed?" asked Colville, with a grateful stir of the heart.
"It's very nice of you to say that."
"Oh no. I meet few people who are willing to look at life objectively
with me, and I have fancied some such willingness in you. What I chiefly
miss over here is a philosophic lift in the human mind, but probably
that is because my opportunities of meeting the best minds are few, and
my means of conversing with them are small. If I had not the whole past
with me, I should feel lonely at times."
"And is the past such good company always?".
"Yes, in a sense it is. The past is humanity set free from circumstance,
and history studied where it was once life is the past rehumanised."
As if he found this rarefied air too thin for his lungs, Colville made
some ineffectual gasps at response, and the old man continued: "What I
mean is that I meet here the characters I read of, and commune with them
before their errors were committed, before they had condemned themselves
to failure, while they were still wise and sane, and still active and
"Did they all fail? I thought some of the bad fellows had a pretty fair
"The blossom of decay."
"Oh! what black pessimism!"
"Not at all! Men fail, but man succeeds. I don't know what it all means,
or any part of it; but I have had moods in which it seemed as if the
whole, secret of the mystery were about to flash upon me. Walking along
in the full sun, in the midst of men, or sometimes in the solitude of
midnight, poring over a book, and thinking of quite other things, I have
felt that I had almost surprised it."
"But never quite?"
"Oh, it isn't too late yet."
"I hope you won't have your revelation before I get away from Florence,
or I shall see them burning you here like the great _frate_."
They had been walking down the Via Calzioli from the Duomo, and now they
came out into the Piazza della Signoria, suddenly, as one always seems
to do, upon the rise of the old palace and the leap of its tower into
the blue air. The history of all Florence is there, with memories of
every great time in bronze or marble, but the supreme presence is the
martyr who hangs for ever from the gibbet over the quenchless fire in
"Ah, they _had_ to kill him!" sighed the old man. "It has always been so
with the benefactors. They have always meant mankind more good than any
one generation can bear, and it must turn upon them and destroy them."
"How will it be with you, then, when you have read us 'the riddle of the
"That will be so simple that every one will accept it willingly and
gladly, and wonder that no one happened to think of it before. And,
perhaps, the world is now grown old enough and docile enough to receive
the truth without resentment."
"I take back my charge of pessimism," said Colville. "You are an
optimist of the deepest dye."
They walked out of the Piazza and down to the Lung' Arno, through the
corridor of the Uffizzi, where the illustrious Florentines stand in
marble under the arches, all reconciled and peaceful and equal at last.
Colville shivered a little as he passed between the silent ranks of the
"I can't stand those fellows, to-day. They seem to feel such a smirk
satisfaction at having got out of it all."
They issued upon the river, and he went to the parapet and looked down
on the water. "I wonder," he mused aloud, "if it has the same Sunday
look to these Sabbathless Italians as it has to us."
"No; Nature isn't puritan," replied the old minister.
"Not at Haddam East Village?"
"No; there less than here; for she's had to make a harder fight for her
"Ah, then you believe in Nature--you're a friend of Nature?" asked
Colville, following the lines of an oily swirl in the current with
"Only up to a certain point." Mr. Waters seemed to be patient of any
direction which the other might be giving the talk. "Nature is a savage.
She has good impulses, but you can't trust her altogether."
"Do you know," said Colville, "I don't think there's very much of her
left in us after we reach a certain point in life? She drives us on at a
great pace for a while, and then some fine morning we wake up and find
that Nature has got tired of us and has left us to taste and conscience.
And taste and conscience are by no means so certain of what they want
you to do as Nature was."
"Yes," said the minister, "I see what you mean." He joined Colville in
leaning on the parapet, and he looked out on the river as if he saw his
meaning there. "But by the time we reach that point in life most of us
have got the direction which Nature meant us to take, and there's no
longer any need of her driving us on."
"And what about the unlucky fellows who haven't got the direction, or
haven't kept it?"
"They had better go back to it."
"But if Nature herself seemed to change her mind about you?"
"Ah, you mean persons of weak will. They are a great curse to themselves
and to everybody else."
"I'm not so sure of that," said Colville. "I've seen cases in which a
strong will looked very much more like the devil."
"Yes, a perverted will. But there can be no good without a strong will.
A weak will means inconstancy. It means, even in good, good attempted
and relinquished, which is always a terrible thing, because it is sure
to betray some one who relied upon its accomplishment."
"And in evil? Perhaps the evil, attempted and relinquished, turns into
"Oh, never!" replied the minister fervently. "There is something very
mysterious in what we call evil. Apparently it has infinitely greater
force and persistence than good. I don't know why it should be so. But
so it appears."
"You'll have the reason of that along with the rest of the secret when
your revelation comes," said Colville, with a smile. He lifted his eyes
from the river, and looked up over the clustering roofs beyond it to the
hills beyond them, flecked to the crest of their purple slopes with the
white of villas and villages. As if something in the beauty of the
wonderful prospect had suggested the vision of its opposite, he said,
dreamily, "I don't think I shall go to Rome to-morrow, after all. I will
go to Des Vaches! Where did you say you were walking, Mr. Waters? Oh
yes! You told me. I will cross the bridge with you. But I couldn't stand
anything quite so vigorous as the associations of the siege this
afternoon. I'm going to the Boboli Gardens, to debauch myself with a
final sense of nerveless despotism, as it expressed itself in marble
allegory and formal alleys. The fact is that if I stay with you any
longer I shall tell you something that I'm too old to tell and you're
too old to hear." The old man smiled, but offered no urgence or comment,
and at the thither end of the bridge Colville said hastily, "Good-bye.
If you ever come to Des Vaches, look me up."
"Good-bye," said the minister. "Perhaps we shall meet in Florence
"No, no. Whatever happens, that won't."
They shook hands and parted. Colville stood a moment, watching the
slight bent figure of the old man as he moved briskly up the Via de'
Bardi, turning his head from, side to side, to look at the palaces as he
passed, and so losing himself in the dim, cavernous curve of the street.
As soon as he was out of sight, Colville had an impulse to hurry after
him and rejoin him; then he felt like turning about and going back to
But he shook himself together into the shape of resolution, however
slight and transient. "I must do _something_ I intended to do," he said,
between his set teeth, and pushed on up through the Via Guicciardini. "I
will go to the Boboli because I _said_ I would."
As he walked along, he seemed to himself to be merely crumbling away in
this impulse and that, in one abortive intent and another. What did it
all mean? Had he been his whole life one of these weak wills which are a
curse to themselves and others, and most a curse when they mean the
best? Was that the secret of his failure in life? But for many years he
had seemed to succeed, to be as other men were, hard, practical men; he
had once made a good newspaper, which was certainly not a dream of
romance. Had he given that up at last because he was a weak will? And
now was he running away from Florence because his will was weak? He
could look back to that squalid tragedy of his youth, and see that a
more violent, a more determined man could have possessed himself of the
girl whom he had lost. And now would it not be more manly, if more
brutal, to stay here, where a hope, however fleeting, however fitful, of
what might have been, had revisited him in the love of this young girl?
He felt sure, if anything were sure, that something in him, in spite of
their wide disparity of years, had captured her fancy, and now, in his
abasement, he felt again the charm of his own power over her. They were
no farther apart in years than many a husband and wife; they would grow
more and more together; there was youth enough in his heart yet; and who
was pushing him away from her, forbidding him this treasure that he had
but to put out his hand and make his own? Some one whom through all his
thoughts of another he was trying to please, but whom he had made
finally and inexorably his enemy. Better stay, then, something said to
him; and when he answered, "I will," something else reminded him that
this also was not willing but unwilling.
When he entered the beautiful old garden, its benison of peace fell upon
his tumult, and he began to breathe a freer air, reverting to his
purpose to be gone in the morning and resting in it, as he strolled up
the broad curve of its alley from the gate. He had not been there since
he walked there with one now more like a ghost to him than any of the
dead who had since died. It was there that she had refused him; he
recalled with a grim smile the awkwardness of getting back with her to
the gate from the point, far within the garden, where he had spoken.
Except that this had happened in the fall, and now it was early spring,
there seemed no change since then; the long years that had elapsed were
like a winter between.
He met people in groups and singly loitering through the paths, and
chiefly speaking English; but no one spoke to him, and no one invaded
the solitude in which he walked. But the garden itself seemed to know
him, and to give him a tacit recognition; the great, foolish grotto
before the gate, with its statues by Bandinelli, and the fantastic
effects of drapery and flesh in party-coloured statues lifted high on
either side of the avenue; the vast shoulder of wall, covered thick with
ivy and myrtle, which he passed on his way to the amphitheatre behind
the palace; the alternate figures and urns on their pedestals in the
hemicycle, as if the urns were placed there to receive the ashes of the
figures when they became extinct; the white statues or the colossal
busts set at the ends of the long, alleys against black curtains of
foliage; the big fountain, with its group in the centre of the little
lake, and the meadow, quiet and sad, that stretched away on one side
from this; the keen light under the levels of the dense pines and
ilexes; the paths striking straight on either hand from the avenue
through which he sauntered, and the walk that coiled itself through the
depths of the plantations; all knew him, and from them and from the
winter neglect which was upon the place distilled a subtle influence, a
charm, an appeal belonging to that combination of artifice and nature
which is perfect only in an Italian garden under an Italian sky. He was
right in the name which he mockingly gave the effect before he felt it;
it was a debauch, delicate, refined, of unserious pensiveness, a smiling
melancholy, in which he walked emancipated from his harassing hopes, and
keeping only his shadowy regrets.
Colville did not care to scale the easy height from which you have the
magnificent view, conscious of many photographs, of Florence. He
wandered about the skirts of that silent meadow, and seeing himself
unseen, he invaded its borders far enough to pluck one of those large
scarlet anemones, such as he had given his gentle enemy. It was tilting
there in the breeze above the unkempt grass, and the grass was beginning
to feel the spring, and to stir and stretch itself after its winter
sleep; it was sprinkled with violets, but these he did not molest. He
came back to a stained and mossy stone bench on the avenue, fronting a
pair of rustic youths carved in stone, who had not yet finished some
game in which he remembered seeing them engaged when he was there
before. He had not walked fast, but he had walked far, and was warm
enough to like the whiffs of soft wind on his uncovered head. The spring
was coming; that was its breath, which you know unmistakably in Italy
after all the kisses that winter gives. Some birds were singing in the
trees; down an alley into which he could look, between the high walls of
green, he could see two people in flirtation: he waited patiently till
the young man should put his arm round the girl's waist, for the
fleeting embrace from which she pushed it and fled further down the
"Yes, it's spring," thought Colville; and then, with the selfishness of
the troubled soul, he wished that it might be winter still and
indefinitely. It occurred to him now that he should not go back to Des
Vaches, for he did not know what he should do there. He would go to New
York: though he did not know what he should do in New York, either.
He became tired of looking at the people who passed, and of speculating
about them through the second consciousness which enveloped the sad
substance of his misgivings like an atmosphere; and he let his eyelids
fall, as he leaned his head back against the tree behind his bench. Then
their voices pursued him through the twilight that he had made himself,
and forced him to the same weary conjecture as if he had seen their
faces. He heard gay laughter, and laughter that affected gaiety; the
tones of young men in earnest disquisition reached him through the veil,
and the talk, falling to whisper, of girls, with the names of men in it;
sums of money, a hundred francs, forty thousand francs, came in high
tones; a husband and wife went by quarrelling in the false security of
English, and snapping at each other as confidingly as if in the
sanctuary of home. The man bade the woman not be a fool, and she asked
him how she was to-endure his company if she was not a fool.
Colville opened his eyes to look after them, when a voice that he knew
called out, "Why, it is Mr. Colville!"
It was Mrs. Amsden, and pausing with her, as if they had passed him in
doubt, and arrested themselves when they had got a little way by, were
Effie Bowen and Imogens Graham. The old lady had the child by the hand,
and the girl stood a few paces apart from them. She was one of those
beauties who have the property of looking very plain at times, and
Colville, who had seen her in more than one transformation, now beheld
her somehow clumsy of feature, and with the youth gone from her aspect.
She seemed a woman of thirty, and she wore an unbecoming walking dress
of a fashion that contributed to this effect of age. Colville was aware
afterward of having wished that she was really as old and plain as she
He had to come forward, and put on the conventional delight of a
gentleman meeting lady friends.
"It's remarkable how your having your eyes shut estranged you," said
Mrs. Amsden. "Now, if you had let me see you oftener in church, where
people close their eyes a good deal for one purpose or another, I should
have known you at once."
"I hope you haven't lost a great deal of time, as it is, Mrs. Amsden,"
said Colville. "Of course I should have had my eyes open if I had known
you were going by."
"Oh, don't apologise!" cried the old thing, with ready enjoyment of his
"I don't apologise for not being recognisable; I apologise for being
visible," said Colville, with some shapeless impression that he ought to
excuse his continued presence in Florence to Imogene, but keeping his
eyes upon Mrs. Amsden, to whom what he said could not be intelligible.
"I ought to be in Turin to-day."
"In Turin! Are you going away from Florence?"
"I'm going home."
"Why, did _you_ know that?" asked the old lady of Imogene, who slightly
nodded, and then of Effie, who also assented. "Really, the silence of
the Bowen family in regard to the affairs of others is extraordinary.
There never was a family more eminently qualified to live in Florence. I
dare say that if I saw a little more of them, I might hope to reach the
years of discretion myself some day. _Why_ are you going away? (You see
I haven't reached them yet!) Are you tired of Florence already?"
"No," said Colville passively; "Florence is tired of me."
"You're quite sure?"
"Yes; there's no mistaking one of her sex on such a point."
Mrs. Amsden laughed. "Ah, a great many people mistake us, both ways. And
you're really going back to America. What in the world for?"
"I haven't the least idea."
"Is America fonder of you than Florence?"
"She's never told her love. I suspect it's merely that she's more used
They were walking, without any volition of his, down the slope of the
broad avenue to the fountain, where he had already been.
"Is your mother well?" he asked of the little girl. It seemed to him
that he had better not speak to Imogene, who still kept that little
distance from the rest, and get away as soon as he decently could.
"She has a headache," said Effie.
"Oh, I'm sorry," returned Colville.
"Yes, she deputed me to take her young people out for an airing," said
Mrs. Amsden; "and Miss Graham decided us for the Boboli, where she
hadn't been yet. I've done what I could to make the place attractive.
But what is an old woman to do for a girl in a garden? We ought to have
brought some other young people--some of the Inglehart boys. But we're
respectable, we Americans abroad; we're decorous, above all things; and
I don't know about meeting _you_ here, Mr. Colville. It has a very bad
appearance. Are you sure that you didn't know I was to go by here at
exactly half-past four?"
"I was living from breath to breath in the expectation of seeing you.
You must have noticed how eagerly I was looking out for you."
"Yes, and with a single red anemone in your hand, so that I should know
you without being obliged to put on my spectacles."
"You divine everything, Mrs. Amsden," he said, giving her the flower.
"I shall make my brags to Mrs. Bowen when I see her," said the old lady.
"How far into the country did you walk for this?"
"As far as the meadow yonder."
They had got down to the sheet of water from which the sea-horses of the
fountain sprang, and the old lady sank upon a bench near it. Colville
held out his hand toward Effie. "I saw a lot of violets over there in
"Did you?" She put her hand eagerly into his, and they strolled off
together. After a first motion to accompany them, Imogene sat down
beside Mrs. Amsden, answering quietly the talk of the old lady, and
seeming in nowise concerned about the expedition for violets. Except for
a dull first glance, she did not look that way. Colville stood in the
border of the grass, and the child ran quickly hither and thither in it,
stooping from time to time upon the flowers. Then she came out to where
he stood, and showed her bunch of violets, looking up into the face
which he bent upon her, while he trifled with his cane. He had a very
fatherly air with her.
"I think I'll go and see what they've found," said Imogene irrelevantly,
to a remark of Mrs. Amsden's about the expensiveness of Madame Bossi's
"Well," said the old lady. Imogene started, and the little girl ran to
meet her. She detained Effie with her admiration of the violets till
Colville lounged reluctantly up. "Go and show them to Mrs. Amsden," she
said, giving back the violets, which she had been smelling. The child
ran on. "Mr. Colville, I want to speak with you."
"Yes," said Colville helplessly.
"Why are you going away?"
"Why? Oh, I've accomplished the objects--or no-objects--I came for," he
said, with dreary triviality, "and I must hurry away to other fields of
activity." He kept his eyes on her face, which he saw full of a
passionate intensity, working to some sort of overflow.
"That is not true, and you needn't say it to spare me. You are going
away because Mrs. Bowen said something to you about me."
"Not quite that," returned Colville gently.
"No; it was something that she said to me about you. But it's the same
thing. It makes no difference. I ask you not to go for that."
"Do you know what you are saying, Imogene?"
Colville waited a long moment. "Then, I thank you, you dear girl, and I
am going to-morrow, all the same. But I shan't forget this; whatever my
life is to be, this will make it less unworthy and less unhappy. If it
could buy anything to give you joy, to add some little grace to the good
that must come to you, I would give it. Some day you'll meet the young
fellow whom you're to make immortal, and you must tell him of an old
fellow who knew you afar off, and understood how to worship you for an
angel of pity and unselfishness. Ah, I hope he'll understand, too!
Good-bye." If he was to fly, that was the sole instant. He took her
hand, and said again, "Good-bye." And then he suddenly cried, "Imogene,
do you wish me to stay?"
"Yes!" said the girl, pouring all the intensity of her face into that
"Even if there had been nothing said to make me go away--should you
still wish me to stay?"
He looked her in the starry, lucid eyes, where a divine fervour
deepened. He sighed in nerveless perplexity; it was she who had the
"It's a mistake! You mustn't! I am too old for you! It would be a wrong
and a cruelty! Yes, you must let me go, and forget me. I have been to
blame. If Mrs. Bowen has blamed me, she was right--I deserved it; I
deserved all she could say against me."
"She never said anything against you. Do you think I would have let her?
No; it was I that said it, and I blamed you. It was because I thought
that you were--you were--"
"Trifling with you? How could you think that?"
"Yes, I know now how it was, and it makes you seem all the grander to
me. Did you think I cared for your being older than I was? I never cared
for it--I never hardly thought of it after the very first. I tried to
make you understand that, and how it hurt me to have you speak of it.
Don't you think that I could see how good you were? Do you suppose that
all I want is to be happy? I don't care for that--I despise it, and I
always hate myself for seeking my own pleasure, if I find myself doing
it. I have seen enough of life to know what _that_ comes to! And what
hurt me worst of all was that you seemed to believe that I cared for
nothing but amusing myself, when I wished to be something better,
higher! It's nothing whether you are of my age or not, if--if--you care
"All that I ask is to be with you, and try to make you forget what's
been sad in your life, and try to be of use to you in whatever you are
doing, and I shall be prouder and gladder of that than anything that
people _call_ happiness."
Colville stood holding her hand, while she uttered these ideas and
incoherent repetitions of them, with a deep sense of powerlessness. "If
I believed that I could keep you from regretting this--"
"What should I regret? I won't let you depreciate yourself--make
yourself out not good enough for the best. Oh, I know how it happened!
But now you shall never think of it again. No; I will not let you. That
is the only way you could make me regret anything."
"I am going to stay," said Colville. "But on my own terms. I will be
bound to you, but you shall not be bound to me."
"You doubt me! I would rather have you go! No; stay. And let me prove to
you how wrong you are. I mustn't ask more than that. Only give me the
chance to show you how different I am from what you think--how different
you are, too."
"Yes. But you must be free."
"What are they doing so long there?" asked Mrs. Amsden of Effie, putting
her glasses to her eyes. "I can't see."
"They are just holding hands," said the child, with an easy satisfaction
in the explanation, which perhaps the old lady did not share. "He always
holds my hand when he is with me."
"Does he, indeed?" exclaimed Mrs. Amsden, with a cackle. She added,
"That's very polite of him, isn't it? You must be a great favourite with
Mr. Colville. You will miss him when he's gone."
"Yes. He's very nice."
Colville and Imogene returned, coming slowly across the loose, neglected
grass toward the old woman's seat. She rose as they came up.
"You don't seem to have succeeded so well in getting flowers for Miss
Graham as for the other ladies. But perhaps you didn't find her
favourite over there. What is your favourite flower, Miss Graham? Don't
say you have none! I didn't know that I preferred scarlet anemones. Were
there no forget-me-nots over there in the grass?"
"There was no occasion for them," answered Colville.
"You always did make such pretty speeches!" said the old lady. "And they
have such an orphic character, too; you can interpret them in so many
different ways. Should you mind saying just what you meant by that one?"
"Yes, very much," replied Colville.
The old lady laughed with cheerful resignation. She would as lief report
that reply of his as another. Even more than a man whom she could
entangle in his speech she liked a man who could slip through the toils
with unfailing ease. Her talk with such a man was the last consolation
which remained to her from a life of harmless coquetries.
"I will refer it to Mrs. Bowen," she said. "She is a very wise woman,
and she used to know you a great while ago."
"If you like, I will do it for you, Mrs. Amsden. I'm going to see her."
"To renew your adieux? Well, why not? Parting is such sweet sorrow! And
if I were a young man I would go to say good-bye to Mrs. Bowen as often
as she would let me. Now tell me honestly, Mr. Colville, did you ever
see such an exquisite, perfect _creature_?"
"Oh, that's asking a good deal."
"To tell you a thing honestly. How did you come here, Mrs. Amsden?"
"In Mrs. Bowen's carriage. I sent it round from the Pitti entrance to
the Porta Romana. It's waiting there now, I suppose."
"I thought you had been corrupted, somehow. Your zeal is
carriage-bought. It _is_ a delightful vehicle. Do you think you could
give me a lift home in it?"
"Yes, indeed. I've always a seat for you in my carriage. To Hotel
"No, to Palazzo Pinti."
"This is deliciously mysterious," said Mrs. Amsden, drawing her shawl up
about her shoulders, which, if no longer rounded, had still a charming
droop. One realises in looking at such old ladies that there are women
who could manage their own skeletons winningly. She put up her glasses,
which were an old-fashioned sort, held to the nose by a handle, and
perused the different persons of the group. "Mr. Colville concealing an
inward trepidation under a bold front; Miss Graham agitated but firm;
the child as much puzzled as the old woman. I feel that we are a very
interesting group--almost dramatic."
"Oh, call us a passage from a modern novel," suggested Colville, "if
you're in the romantic mood. One of Mr. James's."
"Don't you think we ought to be rather more of the great world for that?
I hardly feel up to Mr. James. I should have said Howells. Only nothing
happens in that case!"
"Oh, very well; that's the most comfortable way. If it's only Howells,
there's no reason why I shouldn't go with Miss Graham to show her the
view of Florence from the cypress grove up yonder."
"No; he's very particular when he's on Italian ground," said Mrs.
Amsden, rising. "You must come another time with Miss Graham, and bring
Mrs. Bowen. It's quite time we were going home."
The light under the limbs of the trees had begun to grow more liquid.
The currents of warm breeze streaming through the cooler body of the air
had ceased to ruffle the lakelet round the fountain, and the naiads rode
their sea-horses through a perfect calm. A damp, pierced with the fresh
odour of the water and of the springing grass, descended upon them. The
saunterers through the different paths and alleys were issuing upon the
main avenues, and tending in gathering force toward the gate.
They found Mrs. Bowen's carriage there, and drove first to her house,
beyond which Mrs. Amsden lived in a direct line. On the way Colville
kept up with her the bantering talk that they always carried on
together, and found in it a respite from the formless future pressing
close upon him. He sat with Effie on the front seat, and he would not
look at Imogene's face, which, nevertheless, was present to some inner
vision. When the porter opened the iron gate below and rang Mrs. Bowen's
bell, and Effie sprang up the stairs before them to give her mother the
news of Mr. Colville's coming, the girl stole her hand into his.
"Shall you--tell her?"
"Of course. She must know without an instant's delay."
"Yes, yes; that is right. Oh!--Shall I go with you?"
Mrs. Bowen came in to them, looking pale and pain-worn, as she did that
evening when she would not let Colville go away with the other
tea-taking callers to whom she had made her headache an excuse. The
eyelids which she had always a little difficulty in lifting were heavy
with suffering, and her pretty smile had an effect of very great
remoteness. But there was no consciousness of anything unusual or
unexpected in his presence expressed in her looks or manner. Colville
had meant to take Imogene by the hand and confront Mrs. Bowen with an
immediate declaration of what had happened; but he found this
impossible, at least in the form of his intention; he took, instead, the
hand of conventional welcome which she gave him, and he obeyed her in
taking provisionally the seat to which she invited him. At the same time
the order of his words was dispersed in that wonder, whether she
suspected anything, with which he listened to her placid talk about the
weather; she said she had thought it was a chilly day outdoors; but her
headaches always made her very sensitive.
"Yes," said Colville, "I supposed it was cold myself till I went out,
for I woke with a tinge of rheumatism." He felt a strong desire to
excuse, to justify what had happened, and he went on, with a painful
sense of Imogene's eyes bent in bewildered deference upon him. "I
started out for a walk with Mr. Waters, but I left him after we got
across the Ponte Vecchio; he went up to look at the Michelangelo
bastions, and I strolled over to the Boboli Gardens--where I found your
He had certainly brought himself to the point, but he seemed actually
further from it than at first, and he made a desperate plunge, trying at
the same time to keep something of his habitual nonchalance. "But that
doesn't account for my being here. Imogene accounts for that. She has
allowed me to stay in Florence."
Mrs. Bowen could not turn paler than her headache had left her, and she
now underwent no change of complexion. But her throat was not clear
enough to say to the end, "Allowed you to stay in--" The trouble in her
throat arrested her again.
Colville became very red. He put out his hand and took Imogene's, and
now his eyes and Mrs. Bowen's met in the kind of glance in which people
intercept and turn each other aside before they have reached a
resting-place in each other's souls. But at the girl's touch his courage
revived--in some physical sort. "Yes, and if she will let me stay with
her, we are not going to part again."
Mrs. Bowen did not answer at once, and in the hush Colville heard the
breathing of all three.
"Of course," he said, "we wished you to know at once, and I came in with
Imogene to tell you."
"What do you wish me," asked Mrs. Bowen, "to do?"
Colville forced a nervous laugh. "Really, I'm so little used to this
sort of affair that I don't know whether I have any wish. Imogene is
here with you, and I suppose I supposed you would wish to do something."
"I will do whatever you think best."
"Thank you: that's very kind of you." He fell into a silence, in which
he was able only to wish that he knew what was best, and from which he
came to the surface with, "Imogene's family ought to know, of course."
"Yes; they put her in my charge. They will have to know. Shall I write
"Why, if you will."
He had taken to stroking with his right hand the hand of Imogene which
he held in his left, and now he looked round at her with a glance which
it was a relief not to have her meet. "And till we can hear from them, I
suppose you will let me come to see her?"
"You know you have always been welcome here."
"Thank you very much." It seemed as if there ought to be something else
to say, but Colville could not think of anything except: "We wish to act
in every way with your approval, Mrs. Bowen. And I know that you are
very particular in some things"--the words, now that they were said,
struck him as unfortunate, and even vulgar--"and I shouldn't wish to
"Oh, I understand. I think it will be--I have no doubt you will know how
to manage all that. It isn't as if you were both--"
"Young?" asked Colville. "No; one of us is quite old enough to be
thoroughly up in the _convenances_. We are qualified, I'm afraid, as far
as that goes," he added bitterly, "to set all Florence an example of
He knew there must be pain in the face which he would not look at; he
kept looking at Mrs. Bowen's face, in which certainly there was not much
There was another silence, which became very oppressive before it ended
in a question from Mrs. Bowen, who stirred slightly in her chair, and
bent forward as if about to rise in asking it. "Shall you wish to
consider it an engagement?"
Colville felt Imogene's hand tremble in his, but he received no definite
prompting from the tremor. "I don't believe I know what you mean."
"I mean, till you have heard from Imogene's mother."
"I hadn't thought of that. Perhaps under the circumstances--" The tremor
died out of the hand he held; it lay lax between his. "What do you say,
"I can't say anything. Whatever you think will be right--for me."
"I wish to do what will seem right and fair to your mother."
Colville heaved a hopeless sigh. Then with a deep inward humiliation, he
said, "Perhaps if you know Imogene's mother, Mrs. Bowen, you can
"You must excuse me; I can't suggest or advise anything. I must leave
you perfectly free." She rose from her chair, and they, both rose too
from the sofa on which he had seated himself at Imogene's side. "I shall
have to leave you, I'm afraid; my head aches still a little. Imogene!"
She advanced toward the girl, who stood passively letting her come the
whole distance. As if sensible of the rebuff expressed in this attitude,
she halted a very little. Then she added, "I hope you will be very
happy," and suddenly cast her arms round the girl, and stood long
pressing her face into her neck. When she released her, Colville
trembled lest she should be going to give him her hand in
congratulation. But she only bowed slightly to him, with a sidelong,
aversive glance, and walked out of the room with a slow, rigid pace,
like one that controls a tendency to giddiness.
Imogene threw herself on Colville's' breast. It gave him a shock, as if
he were letting her do herself some wrong. But she gripped him fast, and
began to sob and to cry. "Oh! oh! oh!"
"What is it?--what is it, my poor girl?" he murmured. "Are you unhappy?
Are you sorry? Let it all end, then!"
"No, no; it isn't that! But I am very unhappy--yes, very, very unhappy!
Oh, I didn't suppose I should ever feel so toward any one. I hate her!"
"You hate her?" gasped Colville.
"Yes, I hate her. And she--she is so good to me! It must be that I've
done her some deadly wrong, without knowing it, or I couldn't hate her
as I know I do."
"Oh no," said Colville soothingly; "that's just your fancy. You haven't
harmed her, and you don't hate her."
"Yes, yes, I do! You can't understand how I feel toward her."
"But you can't feel so toward her long," he urged, dealing as he might
with what was wholly a mystery to him. She is so good--"
"It only makes my badness worse, and makes me hate her more."
"I don't understand. But you're excited now. When you're calmer you'll
feel differently, of course. I've kept you restless and nervous a long
time, poor child; but now our peace begins, and everything will be
bright and--" He stopped: the words had such a very hollow sound.
She pushed herself from him, and dried her eyes. "Oh yes."
"And, Imogene--perhaps--perhaps--Or, no; never mind, now. I must go
away--" She looked at him, frightened but submissive. "But I will be
back to-night, or perhaps to-morrow morning. I want to think--to give
you time to think. I don't want to be selfish about you--I want to
consider you, all the more because you won't consider yourself.
Good-bye." He stooped over and kissed her hair. Even in this he felt
like a thief; he could not look at the face she lifted to his.
Mrs. Bowen sent word from her room that she was not coming to dinner,
and Imogene did not come till the dessert was put on. Then she found
Effie Bowen sitting alone at the table, and served in serious formality
by the man, whom she had apparently felt it right to repress, for they
were both silent. The little girl had not known how to deny herself an
excess of the less wholesome dishes, and she was perhaps anticipating
the regret which this indulgence was to bring, for she was very pensive.
"Isn't mamma coming at _all_?" she asked plaintively, when Imogene sat
down, and refused everything but a cup of coffee. "Well," she went on,
"I can't make out what is coming to this family. You were all crying
last night because Mr. Colville was going away, and now, when he's going
to stay, it's just as bad. I don't think you make it very pleasant for
_him_. I should think he would be perfectly puzzled by it, after he's
done so much to please you all. I don't believe he thinks it's very
polite. I suppose it _is_ polite, but it doesn't seem so. And he's
always so cheerful and nice. I should think he would want to visit in
some family where there was more amusement. There used to be plenty in
this family, but now it's as dismal! The first of the winter you and
mamma used to be so pleasant when he came, and would try everything to
amuse him, and would let me come in to get some of the good of it; but
now you seem to fly every way as soon as he comes in sight of the house,
and I'm poked off in holes and corners before he can open his lips. And
I've borne it about as long as I can. I would rather be back in Vevay.
Or anywhere." At this point her own pathos overwhelmed her, and the
tears rolling down her cheeks moistened the crumbs of pastry at the
corners of her pretty mouth. "What was so strange, I should like to
know, about his staying, that mamma should pop up like a ghost, when I
told her he had come home with us, and grab me by the wrist, and twitch
me about, and ask me all sorts of questions I couldn't answer, and
frighten me almost to death? I haven't got over it yet. And I don't
think it's very nice. It used to be a very polite family, and pleasant
with each other, and always having something agreeable going on in it;
but if it keeps on very much longer in this way, I shall think the
Bowens are beginning to lose their good-breeding. I suppose that if Mr.
Colville were to go down on his knees to mamma and ask her to let him
take me somewhere now, she wouldn't do it." She pulled her handkerchief
out of her pocket, and dried her eyes on a ball of it. "I don't see what
_you've_ been crying about, Imogene. _You've_ got nothing to worry you."
"I'm not very well, Effie," returned the girl gently. "I haven't been
well all day."
"It seems to me that nobody is well any more. I don't believe Florence
is a very healthy place. Or at least this house isn't. _I_ think it must
be the drainage. If we keep on, I suppose we shall all have diphtheria.
Don't you, Imogene?"
"Yes," asserted the girl distractedly.
"The girls had it at Vevay frightfully. And none of them were as strong
afterward. Some of the parents came and took them away; but Madame
Schebres never let mamma know. Do you think that was right?"
"No; it was very wrong."
"I suppose Mr. Colville will have it if we do. That is, if he keeps
coming here. Is he coming any more?"
"Yes; he's coming to-morrow morning."
"_Is_ he?" A smile flickered over the rueful face. "What time is he
"I don't know exactly," said Imogene, listlessly stirring her coffee.
"Some time in the forenoon."
"Do you suppose he's going to take us anywhere?"
"Yes--I think so. I can't tell exactly."
"If he asks me to go somewhere, will you tease mamma? She always lets
you, Imogene, and it seems sometimes as if she just took a pleasure in
"You mustn't talk so of your mother, Effie."
"No; I wouldn't to _every_body. I know that she means for the best; but
I don't believe she understands how much I suffer when she won't let me
go with Mr. Colville. Don't you think he's about the nicest gentleman we
"Yes; he's very kind."
"And I think he's handsome. A good many people would consider him
old-looking, and of course he isn't so young as Mr. Morton was, or the
Inglehart boys; but that makes him all the easier to get along with. And
his being just a little fat, that way, seems to suit so well with his
character." The smiles were now playing across the child's face, and her
eyes sparkling. "_I_ think Mr, Colville would make a good Saint
Nicholas--the kind they have going down chimneys in America. I'm going
to tell him, for the next veglione. It would be such a nice surprise."
"No, better not tell him that," suggested Imogene.
"Do you think he wouldn't like it?"
"Well, it would become him. How old do you suppose he is, Imogene?
"What an idea!" cried the girl fiercely. "He's forty-one."
"I didn't know they had those little jiggering lines at the corners of
their eyes so quick. But forty-one is pretty old, isn't it? Is Mr.
"Effie," said her mother's voice at the door behind her, "will you ring
for Giovanni, and tell him to bring me a cup of coffee in here?" She
spoke from the _portiere_ of the _salotto_.
"Yes, mamma. I'll bring it to you myself."
"Thank you, dear," Mrs. Bowen called from within.
The little girl softly pressed her hands together. "I _hope_ she'll let
me stay up! I feel so excited, and I hate to lie and think so long
before I get to sleep. Couldn't you just hint a little to her that I
might stay up? It's Sunday night."
"I can't, Effie," said Imogene. "I oughtn't to interfere with any of
your mother's rules."
The child sighed submissively and took the coffee that Giovanni brought
to her. She and Imogene went into the _salotto_ together. Mrs. Bowen was
at her writing-desk. "You can bring the coffee here, Effie," she said.
"Must I go to bed at once, mamma?" asked the child, setting the cup
The mother looked distractedly up from her writing. "No; you may sit up
a while," she said, looking back to her writing.
"How long, mamma?" pleaded the little girl.
"Oh, till you're sleepy. It doesn't matter _now_."
She went on writing; from time to time she tore up what she had written.
Effie softly took a book from the table, and perching herself on a
stiff, high chair, bent over it and began to read.
Imogene sat by the hearth, where a small fire was pleasant in the indoor
chill of an Italian house, even after so warm a day as that had been.
She took some large beads of the strand she wore about her neck into her
mouth, and pulled at the strand listlessly with her hand while she
watched the fire. Her eyes wandered once to the child.
"What made you take such an uncomfortable chair, Effie?"
Effie shut her book over her hand. "It keeps me wakeful longer," she
whispered, with a glance at her mother from the corner of her eye.
"I don't see why any one should wish to be wakeful," sighed the girl.
When Mrs. Bowen tore up one of her half-written pages Imogene started
nervously forward, and then relapsed again into her chair. At last Mrs.
Bowen seemed to find the right phrases throughout, and she finished
rather a long letter, and read it over to herself. Then she said,
without leaving her desk, "Imogene, I've been trying to write to your
mother. Will you look at this?"
She held the sheet over her shoulder, and Imogene came languidly and
took it; Mrs. Bowen dropped her face forward on the desk, into her
hands, while Imogene was reading.
"FLORENCE, _March_ 10, 18--
"Dear Mrs. Graham,--I have some very important news to give you in
regard to Imogene, and as there is no way of preparing you for it, I
will tell you at once that it relates to her marriage.
"She has met at my house a gentleman whom I knew in Florence when I was
here before, and of whom I never knew anything but good. We have seen
him very often, and I have seen nothing in him that I could not approve.
He is Mr. Theodore Colville, of Prairie des Vaches, Indiana, where he
was for many years a newspaper editor; but he was born somewhere in New
England. He is a very cultivated, interesting man; and though not
exactly a society man, he is very agreeable and refined in his manners.
I am sure his character is irreproachable, though he is not a member of
any church. In regard to his means I know nothing whatever, and can only
infer from his way of life that he is in easy circumstances.
"The whole matter has been a surprise to me, for Mr. Colville is some
twenty-one or two years older than Imogene, who is very young in her
feelings for a girl of her age. If I could have realised anything like a
serious attachment between them sooner, I would have written before.
Even now I do not know whether I am to consider them engaged or not. No
doubt Imogene will write you more fully.
"Of course I would rather not have had anything of the kind happen while
Imogene was under my charge, though I am sure that you will not think I
have been careless or imprudent about her. I interfered as far as I
could, at the first moment I could, but it appears that it was then too
late to prevent what has followed.--Yours sincerely, EVALINA BOWEN."
Imogene read the letter twice over, and then she said, "Why isn't he a
Probably Mrs. Bowen expected this sort of approach. "I don't think a
society man would have undertaken to dance the Lancers as he did at
Madam Uccelli's," she answered patiently, without lifting her head.
Imogene winced, but "I should despise him if he were merely a society
man," she said. "I have seen enough of them. I think it's better to be
intellectual and good."
Mrs. Bowen made no reply, and the girl went on. "And as to his being
older, I don't see what difference it makes. If people are in sympathy,
then they are of the same age, no difference how much older than one the
other is. I have always heard that." She urged this as if it were a
"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen.
"And how should his having been a newspaper editor be anything against
Mrs. Bowen lifted her face and stared at the girl in astonishment. "Who
said it was against him?"
"You hint as much. The whole letter is against him."
"Yes! Every word! You make him out perfectly detestable. I don't know
why you should hate _him_, He's done everything he could to satisfy
Mrs. Bowen rose from her desk, putting her hand to her forehead, as if
to soften a shock of headache that her change of posture had sent there.
"I will leave the letter with you, and you can send it or not as you
think best. It's merely a formality, my writing to your mother. Perhaps
you'll see it differently in the morning. Effie!" she called to the
child, who with her book shut upon her hand had been staring at them and
listening intently. "It's time to go to bed now."
When Effie stood before the glass in her mother's room, and Mrs. Bowen
was braiding her hair and tying it up for the night, she asked ruefully,
"What's the matter with Imogene, mamma?"
"She isn't very happy to-night."
"You don't seem very happy either," said the child, watching her own
face as it quivered in the mirror. "I should think that now Mr.
Colville's concluded to stay, we would all be happy again. But we don't
seem to. We're--we're perfectly demoralised!" It was one of the words
she had picked up from Colville.
The quivering face in the glass broke in a passion of tears, and Effie
sobbed herself to sleep.
Imogene sat down at Mrs. Bowen's desk, and pushing her letter away,
began to write.
"FLORENCE, _March_ 10, 18--.
"DEAR MOTHER,---I inclose a letter from Mrs. Bowen which will tell you
better than I can what I wish to tell. I do not see how I can add
anything that would give you more of an idea of him, or less, either. No
person can be put down in cold black and white, and not seem like a mere
inventory. I do not suppose you expected me to become engaged when you
sent me out to Florence, and, as Mrs. Bowen says, I don't know whether I
am engaged or not. I will leave it entirely to Mr. Colville; if he says
we are engaged, we are. I am sure he will do what is best. I only know
that he was going away from Florence because he thought I supposed he
was not in earnest, and I asked him to stay.
"I am a good deal excited to-night, and cannot write very clearly. But I
will write soon again, and more at length.
"Perhaps something will be decided by that time. With much love to
"Your affectionate daughter,
She put this letter into an envelope with Mrs. Bowen's, and leaving it
unsealed to show her in the morning, she began to write again. This time
she wrote to a girl with whom she had been on terms so intimate that
when they left school they had agreed to know each other by names
expressive of their extremely confidential friendship, and to address
each other respectively as Diary and Journal. They were going to write
every day, if only a line or two; and at the end of a year they were to
meet and read over together the records of their lives as set down in
these letters. They had never met since, though it was now three years
since they parted, and they had not written since Imogene came abroad;
that is, Imogene had not answered the only letter she had received from
her friend in Florence. This friend was a very serious girl, and had
wished to be a minister, but her family would not consent, or even
accept the compromise of studying medicine, which she proposed, and she
was still living at home in a small city of central New York. Imogene
now addressed her--
"DEAR DIARY,--You cannot think how far away the events of this day have
pushed the feelings and ideas of the time when I agreed to write to you
under this name. Till now it seems to me as if I had not changed in the
least thing since we parted, and now I can hardly know myself for the
same person. O dear Di! something very wonderful has come into my life,
and I feel that it rests with me to make it the greatest blessing to
myself and others, or the greatest misery. If I prove unworthy of it or
unequal to it, then I am sure that nothing but wretchedness will come of
"I am engaged--yes!--and to a man more than twice my own age. It is so
easy to tell you this, for I know that your large-mindedness will
receive it very differently from most people, and that you will see it
as I do. He is the noblest of men, though he tries to conceal it under
the light, ironical manner with which he has been faithful to a cruel
disappointment. It was here in Florence, twenty years ago, that a
girl--I am ashamed to call her a girl--trifled with the priceless
treasure that has fallen to me, and flung it away. You, Di, will
understand how I was first fascinated with the idea of trying to atone
to him here for all the wrong he had suffered. At first it was only the
vaguest suggestion--something like what I had read in a poem or a
novel--that had nothing to do with me personally, but it grew upon me
more and more the more I saw of him, and felt the witchery of his light,
indifferent manner, which I learned to see was tense with the anguish he
had suffered. She had killed his youth; she had spoiled his life: if I
could revive them, restore them! It came upon me like a great flash of
light at last, and as soon as this thought took possession of me, I felt
my whole being elevated and purified by it, and I was enabled to put
aside with contempt the selfish considerations that had occurred to me
at first. At first the difference between our ages was very shocking to
me; for I had always imagined it would be some one young; but when this
light broke upon me, I saw that _he_ was young, younger even than I, as
a man is at the same age with a girl. Sometimes with my experiences, the
fancies and flirtations that every one has and _must_ have, however one
despises them, I felt so _old_ beside him; for he had been true to one
love all his life, and he had not wavered for a moment. If I could make
him forget it, if I could lift every feather's weight of sorrow from his
breast, if I could help him to complete the destiny, grand and beautiful
as it would have been, which another had arrested, broken off--don't you
see, Di dear, how rich my reward would be?
"And he, how forbearing, how considerate, how anxious for me, how full
of generous warning he has been! always putting me in mind, at every
step, of the difference in years between us; never thinking of himself,
and shrinking so much from even seeming to control me or sway me, that I
don't know really whether I have not made all the advances!
"I cannot write his name yet, and you must not ask it till I can; and I
cannot tell you anything about his looks or his life without seeming to
degrade him, somehow, and make him a common man like others.
"How can I make myself his companion in everything? How can I convince
him that there is no sacrifice for me, and that he alone is giving up?
These are the thoughts that keep whirling through my mind. I hope I
shall be helped, and I hope that I shall be tried, for that is the only
way for me to be helped. I feel strong enough for anything that people
can say. I should _welcome_ criticism and opposition from any quarter.
But I can see that _he_ is very sensitive--it comes from his keen sense
of the ridiculous--and if I suffer, it will be on account of this grand
unselfish nature, and I shall be glad of that.
"I know you will understand me, Di, and I am not afraid of your laughing
at these ravings. But if you did I should not care. It is such a comfort
to say these things about him, to exalt him, and get him in the true
light at last.
"Your faithful JOURNAL.
"I shall tell him about you, one of the first things, and perhaps he can
suggest some way out of your trouble, he has had so much experience of
every kind. You will worship him, as I do, when you see him; for you
will feel at once that he understands you, and that is such a rest.
Before Imogene fell asleep, Mrs. Bowen came to her in the dark, and
softly closed the door that opened from the girl's room into Effie's.
She sat down on the bed, and began to speak at once, as if she knew
Imogene must be awake. "I thought you would come to me, Imogene; but as
you didn't, I have come to you, for if you can go to sleep with hard
thoughts of me to-night, I can't let you. You need me for your friend,
and I wish to be your friend; it would be wicked in me to be anything
else; I would give the world if your mother were here; but I tried to
make my letter to her everything that it should be. If you don't think
it is, I will write it over in the morning."
"No," said the girl coldly; "it will do very well. I don't wish to
trouble you so much."
"Oh, how can you speak so to me? Do you think that I blame Mr. Colville?
Is that it? I don't ask you--I shall never ask you--how he came to
remain, but I know that he has acted truthfully and delicately. I knew
him long before you did, and no one need take his part with me." This
was not perhaps what Mrs. Bowen meant to say when she began. "I have
told you all along what I thought, but if you imagine that I am not
satisfied with Mr. Colville, you are very much mistaken. I can't burst
out into praises of him to your mother: that would be very patronising
and very bad taste. Can't you see that it would?"
Mrs. Bowen lingered, as if she expected Imogene to say something more,
but she did not, and Mrs. Bowen rose. "Then I hope we understand each
other," she said, and went out of the room.
When Colville came in the morning, Mrs. Bowen received him. They shook
hands, and their eyes met in the intercepting glance of the night
"Imogene will be here in a moment," she said, with a naturalness that
made him awkward and conscious.
"Oh, there is no haste," he answered uncouthly. "That is, I am very glad
of the chance to speak a moment with you, and to ask your--to profit by
what you think best. I know you are not very well pleased with me, and I
don't know that I can ever put myself in a better light with you--the
true light. It seems that there are some things we must not do even for
the truth's sake. But that's neither here nor there. What I am most
anxious for is not to take a shadow of advantage of this child's--of
Imogene's inexperience, and her remoteness from her family. I feel that
I must in some sort protect her from herself. Yes--that is my idea. But
I have to do this in so many ways that I hardly know how to begin. I
should be very willing, if you thought best, to go away and stay away
till she has heard from her people, and let her have that time to think
it all over again. She is very young--so much younger than I! Or, if you
thought it better, I would stay, and let her remain free while I held
myself bound to any decision of hers. I am anxious to do what is right.
At the same time"--he smiled ruefully--"there is such a thing as being
so _dis_interested that one may seem _un_interested. I may leave her so
very free that she may begin to suspect that I want a little freedom
myself. What shall I do? I wish to act with your approval."
Mrs. Bowen had listened with acquiescence and intelligence that might
well have looked like sympathy, as she sat fingering the top of her
hand-screen, with her eyelids fallen. She lifted them to say, "I have
told you that I will not advise yon in any way. I cannot. I have no
longer any wish in this matter. I must still remain in the place of
Imogene's mother; but I will do only what you wish. Please understand
that, and don't ask me for advice any more. It is painful." She drew her
lower lip in a little, and let the screen fall into her lap.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Bowen, to do anything--say anything--that is painful to
you," Colville began. "You know that I would give the world to please
you----" The words escaped him and left him staring at her,
"What are you saying to me, Theodore Colville?" she exclaimed, flashing
a full-eyed glance upon him, and then breaking into a laugh, as
unnatural for her. "Really, I don't believe you know!"
"Heaven knows I meant nothing but what I said," he answered, struggling
stupidly with a confusion of desires which every man but no woman will
understand. After eighteen hundred years, the man is still imperfectly
monogamous. "Is there anything wrong in it?"
"Oh no! Not for you," she said scornfully.
"I am very much in earnest," he went on hopelessly, "in asking your
opinion, your help, in regard to how I shall treat this affair."
"And I am still more in earnest in telling you that I will give you no
opinion, no help. I forbid you to recur to the subject." He was silent,
unable to drop his eyes from hers. "But for her," continued Mrs. Bowen,
"I will do anything in my power. If she asks my advice I will give it,
and I will give her all the help I can."
"Thank you," said Colville vaguely.
"I will not have your thanks," promptly retorted Mrs. Bowen, "for I mean
you no kindness. I am trying to do my duty to Imogene, and when that is
ended, all is ended. There is no way now for you to please me--as you
call it--except to keep her from regretting what she has done."
"Do you think I shall fail in that?" he demanded indignantly.
"I can offer you no opinion. I can't tell what you will do."
"There are two ways of keeping her from regretting what she has done;
and perhaps the simplest and best way would be to free her from the
consequences, as far as they're involved in me," said Colville.
Mrs. Bowen dropped herself back in her armchair. "If you choose to force
these things upon me, I am a woman, and can't help myself. Especially, I
can't help myself against a guest."
"Oh, I will relieve you of my presence," said Colville. "I've no wish to
force anything upon you--least of all myself." He rose, and moved toward
She hastily intercepted him. "Do you think I will let you go without
seeing Imogene? Do you understand me so little as that? It's _too late_
for you to go! You know what I think of all this, and I know, better
than you, what you think. I shall play my part, and you shall play
yours. I have refused to give you advice or help, and I never shall do
it. But I know what my duty to her is, and I will fulfil it. No matter
how distasteful it is to either of us, you must come here as before. The
house is as free to you as ever--freer. And we are to be as good friends
as ever--better. You can see Imogene alone or in my presence, and, as
far as I am concerned, you shall consider yourself engaged or not, as
you choose. Do you understand?"
"Not in the least," said Colville, in the ghost of his old bantering
manner. "But don't explain, or I shall make still less of it."
"I mean simply that I do it for Imogene and not for you."
"Oh, I understand that you don't do it for me."
At this moment Imogene appeared between the folds of the _portiere_, and
her timid, embarrassed glance from Mrs. Bowen to Colville was the first
gleam of consolation that had visited him since he parted with her the
night before. A thrill of inexplicable pride and fondness passed through
his heart, and even the compunction that followed could not spoil its
sweetness. But if Mrs. Bowen discreetly turned her head aside that she
need not witness a tender greeting between them, the precaution was
unnecessary. He merely went forward and took the girl's hand, with a
sigh of relief. "Good morning, Imogene," he said, with a kind of
"Good morning," she returned half-inquiringly.
She did not take a seat near him, and turned, as if for instruction, to
Mrs. Bowen. It was probably the force of habit. In any case, Mrs.
Bowen's eyes gave no response. She bowed slightly to Colville, and
began, "I must leave Imogene to entertain you for the present, Mr.--"
"No!" cried the girl impetuously; "don't go." Mrs. Bowen stopped. "I
wish to speak with you--with you and Mr. Colville together. I wish to
say--I don't know how to say it exactly; but I wish to know--You asked
him last night, Mrs. Bowen, whether he wished to consider it an
"I thought perhaps you would rather hear from your mother--"
"Yes, I would be glad to know that my mother approved; but if she
didn't, I couldn't help it. Mr. Colville said he was bound, but I was
not. That can't be. I _wish_ to be bound, if he is."
"I don't quite know what you expect me to say."
"Nothing," said Imogene. "I merely wished you to know. And I don't wish
you to sacrifice anything to us. If you think best, Mr. Colville will
not see me till I hear from home; though it won't make any difference
with me _what_ I hear."
"There's no reason why you shouldn't meet," said Mrs. Bowen absently.
"If you wish it to have the same appearance as an Italian
"No," said Mrs. Bowen, putting her hand to her head with a gesture she
had; "that would be quite unnecessary. It would be ridiculous under the
circumstances. I have thought of it, and I have decided that the
American way is the best."
"Very well, then," said Imogene, with the air of summing up; "then the
only question is whether we shall make it known or not to other people."
This point seemed to give Mrs. Bowen greater pause than any. She was a
long time silent, and Colville saw that Imogene was beginning to chafe
at her indecision. Yet he did not see the moment to intervene in a
debate in which he found himself somewhat ludicrously ignored, as if the
affair were solely the concern of these two women, and none of his.
"Of course, Mrs. Bowen," said the girl haughtily, "if it will be
disagreeable to you to have it known----"
Mrs. Bowen blushed delicately--a blush of protest and of generous
surprise, or so it seemed to Colville. "I was not thinking of myself,
Imogene. I only wish to consider you. And I was thinking whether, at
this distance from home, you wouldn't prefer to have your family's
approval before you made it known."
"I am sure of their approval. Father will do what mother says, and she
has always said that she would never interfere with me in--in--such a
"Perhaps you would like all the more, then, to show her the deference of
waiting for her consent."
Imogene started as if stopped short in swift career; it was not hard for
Colville to perceive that she saw for the first time the reverse side of
a magnanimous impulse. She suddenly turned to him.
"I think Mrs. Bowen is right," he said gravely, in answer to the eyes of
Imogene. He continued, with a flicker of his wonted mood: "You must
consider me a little in the matter. I have some small shreds of
self-respect about me somewhere, and I would rather not be put in the
attitude of defying your family, or ignoring them."
"No," said Imogene, in the same effect of arrest.
"When it isn't absolutely necessary," continued Colville. "Especially as
you say there will be no opposition."
"Of course," Imogene assented; and in fact what he said was very just,
and he knew it; but he could perceive that he had suffered loss with
her. A furtive glance at Mrs. Bowen did not assure him that he had made
a compensating gain in that direction, where, indeed, he had no right to
wish for any.
"Well, then," the girl went on, "it shall be so. We will wait. It will
only be waiting. I ought to have thought of you before; I make a bad
beginning," she said tremulously. "I supposed I was thinking of you; but
I see that I was only thinking of myself." The tears stood in her eyes.
Mrs. Bowen, quite overlooked in this apology, slipped from the room.
"Imogene!" said Colville, coming toward her.
She dropped herself upon his shoulder. "Oh, why, why, why am I so
"Miserable, Imogene!" he murmured, stroking her beautiful hair.
"Yes, yes! Utterly miserable! It must be because I'm unworthy of
you--unequal every way. If you think so, cast me off at once. Don't be
The words pierced his heart. "I would give the world to make you happy,
my child!" he said, with perfidious truth, and a sigh that came from the
bottom of his soul. "Sit down here by me," he said, moving to the sofa;
and with whatever obscure sense of duty to her innocent self-abandon, he
made a space between them, and reduced her embrace to a clasp of the
hand she left with him. "Now tell me," he said, "what is it makes you
"Oh, I don't know," she answered, drying her averted eyes. "I suppose I
am overwrought from not sleeping, and from thinking how we should
arrange it all."
"And now that it's all arranged, can't you be cheerful again?"
"You're satisfied with the way we've arranged it? Because if--"
"Oh, perfectly--perfectly!" She hastily interrupted. "I wouldn't have it
otherwise. Of course," she added, "it wasn't very pleasant having some
one else suggest what I ought to have thought of myself, and seem more
delicate about you than I was."
"Some one else?"
"You know! Mrs. Bowen."
"Oh! But I couldn't see that she was anxious to spare me. It occurred to
me that she was concerned about your family."
"It led up to the other! it's all the same thing."
"Well, even in that case, I don't see why you should mind it. It was
certainly very friendly of her, and I know that she has your interest at
"Yes; she knows how to make it seem so."
Colville hesitated in bewilderment. "Imogene!" he cried at last, "I
don't understand this. Don't you think Mrs. Bowen likes you?"
"She detests me."
"Oh, no, no, no! That's too cruel an error. You mustn't think that. I
can't let you. It's morbid. I'm sure that she's devotedly kind and good
"Being kind and good isn't liking. I know what she thinks. But of course
I can't expect to convince you of it; no one else could see it."
"No!" said Colville, with generous fervour.
"Because it doesn't exist and you mustn't imagine it. You are as
sincerely and unselfishly regarded in this house as you could be in your
own home. I'm sure of that. I know Mrs. Bowen. She has her little
worldlinesses and unrealities of manner, but she is truth and loyalty
itself. She would rather die than be false, or even unfair. I knew her
"Yes," cried the girl, "long before you knew me!"
"And I know her to be the soul of honour," said Colville, ignoring the
childish outburst. "Honour--like a man's," he added. "And, Imogene, I
want you to promise me that you'll not think of her any more in that
way. I want you to think of her as faithful and loving to you, for she
is so. Will you do it?"
Imogene did not answer him at once. Then she turned upon him a face of
radiant self-abnegation. "I will do anything you tell me. Only tell me
things to do."
The next time he came he again saw Mrs. Bowen alone before Imogene
appeared. The conversation was confined to two sentences.
"Mr. Colville," she said, with perfectly tranquil point, while she
tilted a shut book to and fro on her knee, "I will thank you not to
Had she overheard? Had Imogene told her? He answered, in a fury of
resentment for her ingratitude that stupefied him. "I will never speak
of you again."
Now they were enemies; he did not know how or why, but he said to
himself, in the bitterness of his heart, that it was better so; and when
Imogene appeared, and Mrs. Bowen vanished, as she did without another
word to him, he folded the girl in a vindictive embrace.
"What is the matter?" she asked, pushing away from him.
"Yes; you seem so excited."
"Oh, nothing," he said, shrinking from the sharpness of that scrutiny in
a woman's eyes, which, when it begins the perusal of a man's soul,
astonishes and intimidates him; he never perhaps becomes able to endure
it with perfect self-control. "I suppose a slight degree of excitement
in meeting you may be forgiven me." He smiled under the unrelaxed
severity of her gaze.
"Was Mrs. Bowen saying anything about me?"
"Not a word," said Colville, glad of getting back to the firm truth
again, even if it were mere literality.
"We have made it up," she said, her scrutiny changing to a lovely appeal
for his approval. "What there was to make up."
"I told her what you had said. And now it's all right between us, and
you mustn't be troubled at that any more. I did it to please you."
She seemed to ask him with the last words whether she really had pleased
him, as if something in his aspect suggested a doubt; and he hastened to
reassure her. "That was very good of you. I appreciate it highly. It's
She broke into a laugh of fond derision. "I don't believe you really
cared about it, or else you're not thinking about it now. Sit down here;
I want to tell you of something I've thought out." She pulled him to the
sofa, and put his arm about her waist, with a simple fearlessness and
matter-of-course promptness that made him shudder. He felt that he ought
to tell her not to do it, but he did not quite know how without wounding
her. She took hold of his hand and drew his lax arm taut. Then she
looked up into his eyes, as if some sense of his misgiving had conveyed
itself to her, but she did not release her hold of his hand.
"Perhaps we oughtn't, if we're not engaged?" she suggested, with such
utter trust in him as made his heart quake.
"Oh," he sighed, from a complexity of feeling that no explanation could
wholly declare, "we're engaged enough for that, I suppose."
"I'm glad you think so," she answered innocently. "I knew you wouldn't
let me if it were not right." Having settled the question, "Of course,"
she continued, "we shall all do our best to keep our secret; but in
spite of everything it may get out. Do you see?"
"Well, of course it will make a great deal of remark."
"Oh yes; you must be prepared for that, Imogene," said Colville, with as
much gravity as he could make comport with his actual position.
"I am prepared for it, and prepared to despise it," answered the girl.
"I shall have no trouble except the fear that you will mind it." She
pressed his hand as if she expected him to say something to this.
"I shall never care for it," he said, and this was true enough. "My only
care will be to keep you from regretting. I have tried from the first to
make you see that I was very much older than you. It would be miserable
enough if you came to see it too late."
"I have never seen it, and I never shall see it, because there's no such
difference between us. It isn't the years that make us young or old--who
is it says that? No matter, it's true. And I want you to believe it. I
want you to feel that I am your youth--the youth you were robbed
of--given back to you. Will you do it? Oh, if you could, I should be the
happiest girl in the world." Tears of fervour dimmed the beautiful eyes
which looked into his. "Don't speak!" she hurried on. "I won't let you
till I have said it all. It's been this idea, this hope, with me
always--ever since I knew what happened to you here long ago--that you
might go back in my life and take up yours where it was broken off; that
I might make your life what it would have been--complete your destiny--"
Colville wrenched himself loose from the hold that had been growing more
tenderly close and clinging. "And do you think I could be such a vampire
as to let you? Yes, yes; I have had my dreams of such a thing; but I see
now how hideous they were. You shall make no such sacrifice to me. You
must put away the fancies that could never be fulfilled, or if by some
infernal magic they could, would only bring sorrow to you and shame to
me. God forbid! And God forgive me, if I have done or said anything to
put this in your head! And thank God it isn't too late yet for you to
take yourself back."
"Oh," she murmured. "Do you think it is self-sacrifice for me to give
myself to you? It's self-glorification! You don't understand--I haven't
told you what I mean, or else I've told it in such a way that I've made
it hateful to you. Do you think I don't care for you except to be
something to you? I'm not so generous as that. You are all the world to
me. If I take myself back from you, as you say, what shall I do with
"Has it come to that?" asked Colville. He sat down again with her, and
this time he put his arm around her and drew her to him, but it seemed
to him he did it as if she were his child. "I was going to tell you just
now that each of us lived to himself in this world, and that no one
could hope to enter into the life of another and complete it. But now I
see that I was partly wrong. We two are bound together, Imogene, and
whether we become all in all or nothing to each other, we can have no
The girl's eyes kindled with rapture. "Then let us never speak of it
again. I was going to say something, but now I won't say it."
"Yes, say it."
"No; it will make you think that I am anxious on my own account about
appearances before people."
"You poor child, I shall never think you are anxious on your own account
about anything. What were you going to say?"
"Oh, nothing! It was only--are you invited to the Phillipses' fancy
"Yes," said Colville, silently making what he could of the diversion, "I
"And are you going--did you mean to go?" she asked timidly.
"Good heavens, no! What in the world should I do at another fancy ball?
I walked about with the airy grace of a bull in a china shop at the last
Imogene did not smile. She faintly sighed. "Well, then, I won't go
"Did you intend to go?"
"Why, of course you did, and it's very right you should. Did you want me
"It would bore you."
"Not if you're there." She gave his hand a grateful pressure. "Come,
I'll go, of course, Imogene. A fancy ball to please you is a very
different thing from a fancy ball in the abstract."
"Oh, what nice things you say! Do you know, I always admired your
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