William D. Howells
Part 5 out of 6
compliments? I think they're the most charming compliments in the
"I don't think they're half so pretty as yours; but they're more
"No, honestly. They flatter, and at the same time they make fun of the
flattery a little; they make a person feel that you like them, even
while you laugh at them."
"They appear to be rather an intricate kind of compliment--sort of
_salsa agradolce_ affair--tutti frutti style--species of moral
"No--be quiet! You know what I mean. What were we talking about? Oh! I
was going to say that the most fascinating thing about you always was
that ironical way of yours."
"Have I an ironical way? You were going to tell me something more about
the fancy ball."
"I don't care for it. I would rather talk about you."
"And I prefer the ball. It's a fresher topic--to me."
"Very well, then. But this I will say. No matter how happy you should
be, I should always want you to keep that tone of persiflage. You've no
idea how perfectly intoxicating it is."
"Oh yes, I have. It seems to have turned the loveliest and wisest head
in the world."
"Oh, do you really think so? I would give anything if you did."
"Think I was pretty," she pleaded, with full eyes. "Do you?"
"No, but I think you are wise. Fifty per cent, of truth--it's a large
average in compliments. What are you going to wear?"
"Wear? Oh! At the ball! Something Egyptian, I suppose. It's to be an
Egyptian ball. Didn't you understand that?"
"Oh yes. But I supposed you could go in any sort of dress."
"You can't. You must go in some Egyptian character."
"How would Moses do? In the bulrushes, you know. You could be Pharaoh's
daughter, and recognise me by my three hats. And toward the end of the
evening, when I became very much bored, I could go round killing
"No, no. Be serious. Though I like you to joke, too. I shall always want
you to joke. Shall you, always?"
"There may be emergencies when I shall fail--like family prayers, and
grace before meat, and dangerous sickness."
"Why, of course. But I mean when we're together, and there's no reason
why you shouldn't?"
"Oh, at such times I shall certainly joke."
"And before people, too! I won't have them saying that it's sobered
you--that you used to be very gay, and now you're cross, and never say
"I will try to keep it up sufficiently to meet the public demand."
"And I shall want you to joke me, too. You must satirise me. It does
more to show me my faults than anything else, and it will show other
people how perfectly submissive I am, and how I think everything you do
is just right."
"If I were to beat you a little in company, don't you think it would
serve the same purpose?"
"No, no; be serious."
"No, about me. I know that I'm very intense, and you must try to correct
that tendency in me."
"I will, with pleasure. Which of my tendencies are you going to
"You have none."
"Well, then, neither have you. I'm not going to be outdone in
"Oh, if people could only hear you talk in this light way, and then know
what _I_ know!"
Colville broke out into a laugh at the deep sigh which accompanied these
words. As a whole, the thing was grotesque and terrible to him, but
after a habit of his, he was finding a strange pleasure in its details.
"No, no," she pleaded. "Don't laugh. There are girls that would give
their eyes for it."
"As pretty eyes as yours?"
"Do you think they're nice?"
"Yes, if they were not so mysterious."
"Yes, I feel that your eyes can't really be as honest as they look. That
was what puzzled me about them the first night I saw you."
"No--did it, really?"
"I went home saying to myself that no girl could be so sincere as that
Miss Graham seemed."
"Did you say that?"
"Words to that effect."
"And what do you think now?"
"Ah, I don't know. You had better go as the Sphinx."
Imogene laughed in simple gaiety of heart.
"How far we've got from the ball!" she said, as if the remote excursion
were a triumph. "What shall we really go as?"
"Isis and Osiris."
"Weren't they gods of some kind?"
"Little one-horse deities--not very much."
"It won't do to go as gods of any kind. They're always failures. People
expect too much of them."
"Yes," said Colville. "That's human nature under all circumstances. But
why go to an Egyptian ball at all?"
"Oh, we must go. If we both stayed away it would make talk at once, and
my object is to keep people in the dark till the very last moment. Of
course it's unfortunate your having told Mrs. Amsden that you were going
away, and then telling her just after you came back with me that you
were going to stay. But it can't be helped now. And I don't really care
for it. But don't you see why I want you to go to all these things?"
"All these things?"
"Yes, everything you're invited to after this. It's not merely for a
blind as regards ourselves now, but if they see that you're very fond of
all sorts of gaieties, they will see that you are--they will
There was no need for her to complete the sentence. Colville rose.
"Come, come, my dear child," he said, "why don't you end all this at
once? I don't blame you. Heaven knows I blame no one but myself! I ought
to have the strength to break away from this mistake, but I haven't. I
couldn't bear to see you suffer from pain that I should give you even
for your good. But do it yourself, Imogene, and for pity's sake don't
forbear from any notion of sparing me. I have no wish except for your
happiness, and now I tell you clearly that no appearance we can put on
before the world will deceive the world. At the end of all our trouble I
shall still be forty----"
She sprang to him and put her hand over his mouth. "I know what you're
going to say, and I won't let you say it, for you've promised over and
over again not to speak of that any more. Oh, do you think I care for
the world, or what it will think or say?"
"Yes, very much."
"That shows how little you understand me. It's because I wish to _defy_
"Imogene! Be as honest with yourself as you are with me."
"I _am_ honest."
"Look me in the eyes, then."
She did so for an instant, and then hid her face on his shoulder.
"You silly girl," he said. "What is it you really do wish?"
"I wish there was no one in the world but you and me."
"Ah, you'd find it very crowded at times," said Colville sadly. "Well,
well," he added, "I'll go to your fandangoes, because you want me to
"That's all I wished you to say," she replied, lifting her head, and
looking him radiantly in the face. "I don't want you to go at all! I
only want you to promise that you'll come here every night that you're
invited out, and read to Mrs. Bowen and me."
"Oh, I can't do that," said Colville; "I'm too fond of society. For
example, I've been invited to an Egyptian fancy ball, and I couldn't
think of giving that up."
"Oh, how delightful you are! They couldn't any of them talk like you."
He had learned to follow the processes of her thought now. "Perhaps they
can when they come to my age."
"There!" she exclaimed, putting her hand on his mouth again, to remind
him of another broken promise. "Why can't you give up the Egyptian
"Because I expect to meet a young lady there--a very beautiful young
"But how shall you know her if she's disguised?"
"Why, I shall be disguised too, you know."
"Oh, what delicious nonsense you _do_ talk! Sit down here and tell me
what you are going to wear."
She tried to pull him back to the sofa. "What character shall you go
"No, no," he said, resisting the gentle traction. "I can't; I have
urgent business down-town."
"Oh! Business in _Florence!"_
"Well, if I stayed, I should tell you what disguise I'm going to the
"I knew it was that. What do you think would be a good character for
"I don't know. The serpent of old Nile would be pretty good for you."
"Oh, I know you don't think it!" she cried fondly. She had now let him
take her hand, and he stood holding it at arm's-length. Effie Bowen came
into the room. "Good-bye," said Imogene, with an instant assumption of
"Good-bye," said Colville, and went out.
"Oh, Mr. Colville!" she called, before he got to the outer door.
"Yes," he said, starting back.
She met him midway of the dim corridor. "Only to--" She put her arms
about his neck and sweetly kissed him.
Colville went out into the sunlight feeling like some strange, newly
invented kind of scoundrel--a rascal of such recent origin and
introduction that he had not yet had time to classify himself and
ascertain the exact degree of his turpitude. The task employed his
thoughts all that day, and kept him vibrating between an instinctive
conviction of monstrous wickedness and a logical and well-reasoned
perception that he had all the facts and materials for a perfectly good
conscience. He was the betrothed lover of this poor child, whose
affection he could not check without a degree of brutality for which
only a better man would have the courage. When he thought of perhaps
refusing her caresses, he imagined the shock it would give her, and the
look of grief and mystification that would come into her eyes, and he
found himself incapable of that cruel rectitude. He knew that these were
the impulses of a white and loving soul; but at the end of all his
argument they remained a terror to him, so that he lacked nothing but
the will to fly from Florence and shun her altogether till she had heard
from her family. This, he recalled, with bitter self-reproach was what
had been his first inspiration; he had spoken of it to Mrs. Bowen, and
it had still everything in its favour except that it was impossible.
Imogene returned to the salotto, where the little girl was standing with
her face to the window, drearily looking out; her back expressed an
inner desolation which revealed itself in her eyes when Imogene caught
her head between her hands, and tilted up her face to kiss it.
"What is the matter, Effie?" she demanded gaily.
"Oh yes, there is."
"Nothing that you will care for. As long as he's pleasant to you, you
don't care what he does to me."
"What has he done to you?"
"He didn't take the slightest notice of me when I came into the room. He
didn't speak to me, or even look at me."
Imogene caught the little grieving, quivering face to her breast "He is
a wicked, wicked wretch! And I will give him the awfulest scolding he
ever had when he comes here again. I will teach him to neglect my pet. I
will let him understand that if he doesn't notice you, he needn't notice
me. I will tell you, Effie--I've just thought of a way. The next time he
comes we will both receive him. We will sit up very stiffly on the sofa
together, and just answer Yes, No, Yes, No, to everything he says, till
he begins to take the hint, and learns how to behave himself. Will you?"
A smile glittered through the little girl's tears; but she asked, "Do
you think it would be very polite?"
"No matter, polite or not, it's what he deserves. Of course, as soon as
he begins to take the hint, we will be just as we always are."
Imogene despatched a note, which Colville got the next morning, to tell
him of his crime, and apprise him of his punishment, and of the sweet
compunction that had pleaded for him in the breast of the child. If he
did not think he could help play the comedy through, he must come
prepared to offer Effie some sort of atonement.
It was easy to do this: to come with his pockets full of presents, and
take the little girl on his lap, and pour out all his troubled heart in
the caresses and tendernesses which would bring him no remorse. He
humbled himself to her thoroughly, and with a strange sincerity in the
harmless duplicity, and promised, if she would take him back into
favour, that he would never offend again. Mrs. Bowen had sent word that
she was not well enough to see him; she had another of her headaches;
and he sent back a sympathetic and respectful message by Effie, who
stood thoughtfully at her mother's pillow after she had delivered it,
fingering the bouquet Colville had brought her, and putting her head
first on this side, and then on that to admire it.
"I think Mr. Colville and Imogene are much more affectionate than they
used to be," she said.
Mrs. Bowen started up on her elbow. "What do you mean, Effie?"
"Oh, they're both so good to me."
"Yes," said her mother, dropping back to her pillow. "Both?"
"Yes; he's the _most_ affectionate."
The mother turned her face the other way. "Then he must be," she
"What?" asked the child.
"Nothing. I didn't know I spoke."
The little girl stood a while still playing with her flowers. "I think
Mr. Colville is about the pleasantest gentleman that comes here. Don't
"He's so interesting, and says such nice things. I don't know whether
children ought to think of such things, but I wish I was going to marry
some one like Mr. Colville. Of course I should want to be tolerably old
if I did. How old do you think a person ought to be to marry him?"
"You mustn't talk of such things, Effie," said her mother.
"No; I suppose it isn't very nice." She picked out a bud in her bouquet,
and kissed it; then she held the nosegay at arm's-length before her, and
danced away with it.
In the ensuing fortnight a great many gaieties besides the Egyptian ball
took place, and Colville went wherever he and Imogene were both invited.
He declined the quiet dinners which he liked, and which his hearty
appetite and his habit of talk fitted him to enjoy, and accepted
invitations to all sorts of evenings and At Homes, where dancing
occupied a modest corner of the card, and usurped the chief place in the
pleasures. At these places it was mainly his business to see Imogene
danced with by others, but sometimes he waltzed with her himself, and
then he was complimented by people of his own age, who had left off
dancing, upon his vigour. They said they could not stand that sort of
thing, though they supposed, if you kept yourself in practice, it did
not come so hard. One of his hostesses, who had made a party for her
daughters, told him that he was an example to everybody, and that if
middle-aged people at home mingled more in the amusements of the young,
American society would not be the silly, insipid, boy-and-girl affair
that it was now. He went to these places in the character of a young
man, but he was not readily accepted or recognised in that character.
They gave him frumps to take out to supper, mothers and maiden aunts,
and if the mothers were youngish, they threw off on him, and did not
care for his talk.
At one of the parties Imogene seemed to become aware for the first time
that the lapels of his dress-coat were not faced with silk.
"Why don't you have them so?" she asked. "All the _other_ young men
have. And you ought to wear a _boutonniere_."
"Oh, I think a man looks rather silly in silk lapels at my--" He
arrested himself, and then continued: "I'll see what the tailor can do
for me. In the meantime, give me a bud out of your bouquet."
"How sweet you are!" she sighed. "You do the least thing so that it is
ten times as good as if any one else did it."
The same evening, as he stood leaning against a doorway, behind Imogene
and a young fellow with whom she was beginning a quadrille, he heard her
taking him to task.
"Why do you say 'Sir' to Mr. Colville?"
"Well, I know the English laugh at us for doing it, and say it's like
servants; but I never feel quite right answering just 'Yes' and 'No' to
a man of his age."
This was one of the Inglehart boys, whom he met at nearly all of these
parties, and not all of whom were so respectful. Some of them treated
him upon an old-boy theory, joking him as freely as if he were one of
themselves, laughing his antiquated notions of art to scorn, but
condoning them because he was good-natured, and because a man could not
help being of his own epoch anyway. They put a caricature of him among
the rest on the walls of their _trattoria_, where he once dined with
Mrs. Bowen did not often see him when he went to call upon Imogene, and
she was not at more than two or three of the parties. Mrs. Amsden came
to chaperon the girl, and apparently suffered an increase of unrequited
curiosity in regard to his relations to the Bowen household, and the
extraordinary development of his social activity. Colville not only went
to all those evening parties, but he was in continual movement during
the afternoon at receptions and at "days," of which he began to think
each lady had two or three. Here he drank tea, cup after cup, in
reckless excitement, and at night when he came home from the dancing
parties, dropping with fatigue, he could not sleep till toward morning.
He woke at the usual breakfast-hour, and then went about drowsing
throughout the day till the tea began again in the afternoon. He fell
asleep whenever he sat down, not only in the reading-room at Viesseux's,
where he disturbed the people over their newspapers by his
demonstrations of somnolence, but even at church, whither he went one
Sunday to please Imogene, and started awake during the service with the
impression that the clergyman had been making a joke. Everybody but
Imogene was smiling. At the cafe he slept without scruple, selecting a
corner seat for the purpose, and proportioning his _buonamano_ to the
indulgence of the _giovane_. He could not tell how long he slept at
these places, but sometimes it seemed to him hours.
One day he went to see Imogene, and while Effie Bowen stood prattling to
him as he sat waiting for Imogene to come in, he faded light-headedly
away from himself on the sofa, as if he had been in his corner at the
cafe. Then he was aware of some one saying "Sh!" and he saw Effie
Bowen, with her finger on her lip, turned toward Imogene, a figure of
beautiful despair in the doorway. He was all tucked up with sofa
pillows, and made very comfortable, by the child, no doubt. She slipped
out, seeing him awake, so as to leave him and Imogene alone, as she had
apparently been generally instructed to do, and Imogene came forward.
"What is the matter, Theodore?" she asked patiently. She had taken to
calling him Theodore when they were alone. She owned that she did not
like the name, but she said it was right she should call him by it,
since it was his. She came and sat down beside him, where he had raised
himself to a sitting posture, but she did not offer him any caress.
"Nothing," he answered. "But this climate is making me insupportably
drowsy; or else the spring weather."
"Oh no; it isn't that," she said, with a slight sigh. He had left her in
the middle of a german at three o'clock in the morning, but she now
looked as fresh and lambent as a star. "It's the late hours. They're
Colville tried to deny it; his incoherencies dissolved themselves in a
yawn, which he did not succeed in passing for a careless laugh.
"It won't do," she said, as if speaking to herself; "no, it won't do."
"Oh yes, it will," Colville protested. "I don't mind being up. I've been
used to it all my life on the paper. It's just some temporary thing.
It'll come all right."
"Well, no matter," said Imogene. "It makes you ridiculous, going to all
those silly places, and I'd rather give it up."
The tears began to steal down her cheeks, and Colville sighed. It seemed
to him that somebody or other was always crying. A man never quite gets
used to the tearfulness of women.
"Oh, don't mind it," he said. "If you wish me to go, I will go! Or die
in the attempt," he added, with a smile.
Imogene did not smile with him. "I don't wish you to go any more. It was
a mistake in the first place, and from this out I will adapt myself to
"And give up all your pleasures? Do you think I would let you do that?
No, indeed! Neither in this nor in anything else. I will not cut off
your young life in any way, Imogene--not shorten it or diminish it. If I
thought I should do that, or you would try to do it for me, I should
wish I had never seen you."
"It isn't that. I know how good you are, and that you would do anything
"Well, then, why don't you go to these fandangoes alone? I can see that
you have me on your mind all the time, when I'm with you."
"Yes, up to a certain point, but not up to the point of spoiling your
fun. I will drop in now and then, but I won't try to come to all of
them, after this; you'll get along perfectly well with Mrs. Amsden, and
I shall be safe from her for a while. That old lady has marked me for
her prey: I can see it in her glittering eyeglass. I shall fall asleep
some evening between dances, and then she will get it all out of me."
Imogene still refused to smile. "No; I shall give it up. I don't think
it's well, going so much without Mrs. Bowen. People will begin to talk."
"Yes; they will begin to say that I had better stay with her a little
more, if she isn't well."
"Why, isn't Mrs. Bowen well?" asked Colville, with trepidation.
"No; she's miserable. Haven't you noticed?"
"She sees me so seldom now. I thought it was only her headaches----"
"It's much more than that. She seems to be failing every way. The doctor
has told her she ought to get away from Florence." Colville could not
speak; Imogene went on. "She's always delicate, you know. And I feel
that all that's keeping her here now is the news from home that I--we're
Colville got up. "This is ghastly! She mustn't do it!"
"How can you help her doing it? If she thinks anything is right, she
can't help doing it. Who could?"
Colville thought to himself that he could have said; but he was silent.
At the moment he was not equal to so much joke or so much truth; and
Imogene went on--
"She'd be all the more strenuous about it if it were disagreeable, and
rather than accept any relief from _me_ she would die."
"Is she--unkind to you?" faltered Colville.
"She is only _too_ kind. You can feel that she's determined to be
so--that she's said she will have nothing to reproach herself with, and
she won't. You don't suppose Mrs. Bowen would be unkind to any one she
"Ah, I didn't know," sighed Colville.
"The more she disliked them, the better she would use them. It's because
our engagement is so distasteful to her that she's determined to feel
that she did nothing to oppose it."
"But how can you tell that it's distasteful, then?"
"She lets you feel it by--not saying anything about it."
"I can't see how--"
"She never speaks of you. I don't believe she ever mentions your name.
She asks me about the places where I've been, and about the
people--every one but you. It's very uncomfortable."
"Yes," said Colville, "it's uncomfortable."
"And if I allude to letters from home, she merely presses her lips
together. It's perfectly wretched."
"I see. It's I whom she dislikes, and I would do anything to please her.
She must know that," mused Colville aloud. "Imogene!" he exclaimed, with
a sudden inspiration. "Why shouldn't I go away?"
"Go away?" she palpitated. "What should I do?"
The colours faded from his brilliant proposal. "Oh, I only meant till
something was settled--determined--concluded; till this terrible
suspense was over." He added hopelessly, "But nothing can be done!"
"I proposed," said Imogene, "that we should all go away. I suggested Via
Reggio--the doctor said she ought to have sea air--or Venice; but she
wouldn't hear of it. No; we must wait."
"Yes, we must wait," repeated Colville hollowly. "Then nothing can be
"Why, haven't you said it?"
"Oh yes--yes. I can't go away, and you can't. But couldn't we do
something--get up something?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"I mean, couldn't we--amuse her somehow? help her to take her mind off
Imogene stared at him rather a long time. Then, as if she had satisfied
herself in her own mind, she shook her head. "She wouldn't submit to
"No; she seems to take everything amiss that I do," said Colville.
"She has no right to do that," cried Imogene. "I'm sure that you're
always considering her, and proposing to do things for her. I won't let
you humble yourself, as if you had wronged her."
"Oh, I don't call it humbling. I--I should only be too happy if I could
do _anything that was agreeable to her."
"Very well, I will tell her," said the girl haughtily. "Shall you object
to my joining you in your amusements, whatever they are? I assure you I
will be very unobtrusive."
"I don't understand all this," replied Colville. "Who has proposed to
exclude you? Why did you tell me anything about Mrs. Bowen if you didn't
want me to say or do something? I supposed you did; but I'll withdraw
the offensive proposition, whatever it was."
"There was nothing offensive. But if you pity her so much, why can't you
pity me a little?"
"I didn't know anything was the matter with you. I thought you were
"Enjoying? Keeping you up at dances till you drop asleep whenever you
sit down? And then coming home and talking to a person who won't mention
your name! Do you call that enjoying? I can't speak of you to any one;
and no one speaks to me----"
"If you like, I will talk to you on the subject," Colville essayed, in
"Oh, don't joke about it! This perpetual joking, I believe it's that
that's wearing me out. When I come to you for a little comfort in
circumstances that drive me almost distracted, you want to amuse Mrs.
Bowen, and when I ask to be allowed to share in the amusement, you laugh
at me! If you don't understand it all, I'm sure _I_ don't."
"No! It's very strange. There's only one explanation. You don't care for
"Not care for you!" cried Colville, thinking of his sufferings in the
"And I would have made any--_any_ sacrifice for you. At least I wouldn't
have made you show yourself a mean and grudging person if you had come
to me for a little sympathy."
"O poor child!" he cried, and his heart ached with the sense that she
really was nothing but an unhappy child. "I do sympathise with you, and
I see how hard it is for you to manage with Mrs. Bowen's dislike for me.
But you mustn't think of if. I dare say it will be different; I've no
doubt we can get her to look at me in some brighter light. I--" He did
not know what he should urge next; but he goaded his invention, and was
able to declare that if they loved each other they needed not regard any
one else. This flight, when accomplished, did not strike him as very
original effect, and it was with a dull surprise that he saw it sufficed
"No; no one!" she exclaimed, accepting the platitude as if it were now
uttered for the first time. She dried her eyes and smiled. "I will tell
Mrs. Bowen how you feel and what you've said, and I know she will
appreciate your generosity."
"Yes," said Colville pensively; "there's nothing I won't _propose_ doing
She suddenly clung to him, and would not let him go. "Oh, what is the
matter?" she moaned afresh. "I show out the worst that is in me, and
only the worst. Do you think I shall always be so narrow-minded with
you? I thought I loved you enough to be magnanimous. _You_ are. It
seemed to me that our lives together would be grand and large; and here
I am, grovelling in the lowest selfishness! I am worrying and scolding
you because you wish to please some one that has been as good as my own
mother to me. Do you call that noble?"
Colville did not venture any reply to a demand evidently addressed to
her own conscience.
But when she asked if he really thought he had better go away, he said,
"Oh no; that was a mistake."
"Because, if you do, you shall--to punish me."
"My dearest girl, why should I wish to punish you?"
"Because I've been low and mean. Now I want you to do something for Mrs.
Bowen--something to amuse her; to show that we appreciate her. And I
don't want you to sympathise with me at all. When I ask for your
sympathy, it's a sign that I don't deserve it."
"Is that so?"
"Oh, be serious with me. I mean it. And I want to beg your pardon for
"Yes; what's that?"
"Can't you guess?"
"You needn't have" your lapels silk-lined. You needn't wear
"Oh, but I've had the coat changed."
"No matter! Change it back! It isn't for me to make you over. I must
make myself over. It's my right, it's my sacred privilege to conform to
you in every way, and I humble myself in the dust for having forgotten
it at the very start. Oh, _do_ you think I can ever be worthy of you? I
_will_ try; indeed I will! I shall not wear my light dresses another
time! From this out, I shall dress more in keeping with you. I boasted
that I should live to comfort and console you, to recompense you for the
past, and what have I been doing? Wearying and degrading you!"
"Oh no," pleaded Colville. "I am very comfortable. I don't need any
compensation for the past. I need--sleep. I'm going to bed tonight at
eight o'clock, and I am going to sleep twenty-four hours. Then I shall
be fresh for Mrs. Fleming's ball."
"I'm not going," said Imogene briefly.
"Oh yes, you are. I'll come round to-morrow evening and see."
"No. There are to be no more parties."
"I can't endure them."
She was looking at him and talking at him, but she seemed far aloof in
the abstraction of a sublime regret; she seemed puzzled, bewildered at
Colville got away. He felt the pathos of the confusion and question to
which he left her, but he felt himself powerless against it. There was
but one solution to it all, and that was impossible. He could only
grieve over her trouble, and wait; grieve for the irrevocable loss which
made her trouble remote and impersonal to him, and submit.
The young clergyman whom Colville saw talking to Imogene on his first
evening at Mrs. Bowen's had come back from Rome, where he had been
spending a month or two, and they began to meet at Palazzo Pinti again.
If they got on well enough together, they did not get on very far. The
suave house-priest manners of the young clergyman offended Colville; he
could hardly keep from sneering at his taste in art and books, which in
fact was rather conventional; and no doubt Mr. Morton had his own
reserves, under which he was perfectly civil, and only too deferential
to Colville, as to an older man. Since his return, Mrs. Bowen had come
back to her _salon_. She looked haggard; but she did what she could to
look otherwise. She was always polite to Colville, and she was politely
cordial with the clergyman. Sometimes Colville saw her driving out with
him and Effie; they appeared to make excursions, and he had an
impression, very obscure, that Mrs. Bowen lent the young clergyman
money; that he was a superstition of hers, and she a patron of his; he
must have been ten years younger than she; not more than twenty-five.
The first Sunday after his return, Colville walked home with Mr. Waters
from hearing a sermon of Mr. Morton's, which they agreed was rather well
judged, and simply and fitly expressed.
"And he spoke with the authority of the priest," said the old minister.
"His Church alone of all the Protestant Churches has preserved that to
its ministers. Sometimes I have thought it was a great thing."
"Not always?" asked Colville, with a smile.
"These things are matters of mood rather than conviction with me,"
returned Mr. Waters. "Once they affected me very deeply; but now I shall
so soon know all about it that they don't move me. But at times I think
that if I were to live my life over again, I would prefer to be of some
formal, some inflexibly ritualised, religion. At solemnities---weddings
and funerals--I have been impressed with the advantage of the Anglican
rite: it is the Church speaking to and for humanity--or seems so," he
added, with cheerful indifference. "Something in its favour," he
continued, after a while, "is the influence that every ritualised faith
has with women. If they apprehend those mysteries more subtly than we,
such a preference of theirs must mean a good deal. Yes; the other
Protestant systems are men's systems. Women must have form. They don't
care for freedom."
"They appear to like the formalist too, as well as the form," said
Colville, with scorn not obviously necessary.
"Oh yes; they must have everything in the concrete," said the old
"I wonder where Mr. Morton met Mrs. Bowen first," said Colville.
"Here, I think. I believe he had letters to her. Before you came I used
often to meet him at her house. I think she has helped him with money at
"Isn't that rather an unpleasant idea?"
"Yes; it's disagreeable. And it places the ministry in a dependent
attitude. But under our system it's unavoidable. Young men devoting
themselves to the ministry frequently receive gifts of money."
"I don't like it," cried Colville.
"They don't feel it as others would. I didn't myself. Even at present I
may be said to be living on charity. But sometimes I have fancied that
in Mr. Morton's case there might be peculiarly mitigating
"What do you mean?"
"When I met him first at Mrs. Bowen's I used to think that it was Miss
Graham in whom he was interested----"
"I can assure you," interrupted Colville, "that she was never interested
"Oh no; I didn't suppose that," returned the old man tranquilly. "And
I've since had reason to revise my opinion. I think he is interested in
"Mrs. Bowen! And you think that would be a mitigating circumstance in
his acceptance of money from her? If he had the spirit of a man at all,
it would make it all the more revolting."
"Oh no, oh no," softly pleaded Mr. Waters. "We must not look at these
things too romantically. He probably reasons that she would give him all
her money if they were married."
"But he has no right to reason in that way," retorted Colville, with
heat. "They are not married; it's ignoble and unmanly for him to count
upon it. It's preposterous. She must be ten years older than he."
"Oh, I don't say that they're to be married," Mr. Waters replied. "But
these disparities of age frequently occur in marriage. I don't like
them, though sometimes I think the evil is less when it is the wife who
is the elder. We look at youth and age in a gross, material way too
often. Women remain young longer than men. They keep their youthful
sympathies; an old woman understands a young girl. Do you--or do
I--understand a young man?"
Colville laughed harshly. "It isn't _quite_ the same thing, Mr. Waters.
But yes; I'll admit, for the sake of argument, that I don't understand
young men. I'll go further, and say that I don't like them; I'm afraid
of them. And you wouldn't think," he added abruptly, "that it would be
well for me to marry a girl twenty years younger than myself."
The old man glanced up at him with innocent slyness. "I prefer always to
discuss these things in an impersonal way."
"But you can't discuss them impersonally with me; I'm engaged to Miss
Graham. Ever since you first found me here after I told you I was going
away I have wished to tell you this, and this seems as good a time as
any--or as bad." The defiance faded from his voice, which dropped to a
note of weary sadness. "Yes, we're engaged--or shall be, as soon as she
can hear from her family. I wanted to tell you because it seemed somehow
your due, and because I fancied you had a friendly interest in us both."
"Yes, that is true," returned Mr. Waters. "I wish you joy." He went
through the form of offering his hand to Colville, who pressed it with
"I confess," he said, "that I feel the risks of the affair. It's not
that I have any dread for my own part; I have lived my life, such as it
is. But the child is full of fancies about me that can't be fulfilled.
She dreams of restoring my youth somehow, of retrieving the past for me,
of avenging me at her own cost for an unlucky love affair that I had
here twenty years ago. It's pretty of her, but it's terribly
pathetic--it's tragic. I know very well that I'm a middle-aged man, and
that there's no more youth for me. I'm getting grey, and I'm getting
fat; I wouldn't be young if I could; it's a bore. I suppose I could keep
up an illusion of youthfulness for five or six years more; and then if I
could be quietly chloroformed out of the way, perhaps it wouldn't have
been so very bad."
"I have always thought," said Mr. Waters dreamily, "that a good deal
might be said for abbreviating hopeless suffering. I have known some
very good people advocate its practice by science."
"Yes," answered Colville. "Perhaps I've presented that point too
prominently. What I wished you to understand was that I don't care for
myself; that I consider only the happiness of this young girl that's
somehow--I hardly know how--been put in my keeping. I haven't forgotten
the talks that we've had heretofore on this subject, and it would be
affectation and bad taste in me to ignore them. Don't be troubled at
anything you've said; it was probably true, and I'm sure it was sincere.
Sometimes I think that the kindest--the least cruel--thing I could do
would be to break with her, to leave her. But I know that I shall do
nothing of the kind; I shall drift. The child is very dear to me. She
has great and noble qualities; she's supremely unselfish; she loves me
through her mistaken pity, and because she thinks she can sacrifice
herself to me. But she can't. Everything is against that; she doesn't
know how, and there is no reason why. I don't express it very well. I
think nobody clearly understands it but Mrs. Bowen, and I've somehow
He became aware that his self-abnegation was taking the character of
self-pity, and he stopped.
Mr. Waters seemed to be giving the subject serious attention in the
silence that ensued. "There is this to be remembered," he began, "which
we don't consider in our mere speculations upon any phase of human
affairs; and that is the wonderful degree of amelioration that any given
difficulty finds in the realisation. It is the anticipation, not the
experience, that is the trial. In a case of this kind, facts of
temperament, of mere association, of union, work unexpected mitigations;
they not only alleviate, they allay. You say that she cherishes an
illusion concerning you: well, with women, nothing is so indestructible
as an illusion. Give them any chance at all, and all the forces of their
nature combine to preserve it. And if, as you say, she is so dear to
you, that in itself is almost sufficient. I can well understand your
misgivings, springing as they do from a sensitive conscience; but we may
reasonably hope that they are exaggerated. Very probably there will not
be the rapture for her that there would be if--if you were younger; but
the chances of final happiness are great--yes, very considerable. She
will learn to appreciate what is really best in you, and you already
understand her. Your love for her is the key to the future. Without
that, of course----"
"Oh, of course," interrupted Colville hastily. Every touch of this
comforter's hand had been a sting; and he parted with him in that
feeling of utter friendlessness involving a man who has taken counsel
upon the confession of half his trouble.
Something in Mrs. Bowen's manner when he met her next made him think
that perhaps Imogene had been telling her of the sympathy he had
expressed for her ill-health. It was in the evening, and Imogene and Mr.
Morton were looking over a copy of _The Marble Faun_, which he had
illustrated with photographs at Rome. Imogene asked Colville to look at
it too, but he said he would examine it later; he had his opinion of
people who illustrated _The Marble Faun_ with photographs; it surprised
him that she seemed to find something novel and brilliant in the idea.
Effie Bowen looked round where she was kneeling on a chair beside the
couple with the book, and seeing Colville wandering neglectedly about
before he placed himself, she jumped down and ran and caught his hand.
"Well, what now?" he asked, with a dim smile, as she began to pull him
toward the sofa. When he should be expelled from Palazzo Pinti he would
really miss the worship of that little thing. He knew that her impulse
had been to console him for his exclusion from the pleasures that
Imogene and Mr. Morton were enjoying.
"Nothing. Just talk," she said, making him fast in a corner of the sofa
by crouching tight against him.
"What about? About which is the pleasantest season?"
"Oh no; we've talked about that so often. Besides, of course you'd say
spring, now that it's coming on so nicely."
"Do you think I'm so changeable as that? Haven't I always said winter
when this question of the seasons was up? And I say it now. Shan't you
be awfully sorry when you can't have a pleasant little fire on the
hearth like this any more?"
"Yes; I know. But it's very nice having the flowers, too. The grass was
all full of daisies to-day--perfectly powdered with them."
"At the Cascine. And in under the trees there were millions of violets
and crow's-feet. Mr. Morton helped me to get them for mamma and Imogene.
And we stayed so long that when we drove home the daisies had all shut
up, and the little pink leaves outside made it look like a field of red
clover. Are you never going there any more?"
Mrs. Bowen came in. From the fact that there was no greeting between her
and Mr. Morton, Colville inferred that she was returning to the room
after having already been there. She stood a moment, with a little
uncertainty, when she had shaken hands with him, and then dropped upon
the sofa beyond Effie. The little girl ran one hand through Colville's
arm, and the other through her mother's, and gripped them fast. "Now I
have got you both," she triumphed, and smiled first into her face, and
then into his.
"Be quiet, Effie," said her mother, but she submitted.
"I hope you're better for your drive to-day, Mrs. Bowen. Effie has been
telling me about it."
"We stayed out a long time. Yes, I think the air did me good; but I'm
not an invalid, you know."
"I'm feeling a little fagged. And the weather was tempting. I suppose
you've been taking one of your long walks."
"No, I've scarcely stirred out. I usually feel like going to meet the
spring a little more than half-way; but this year I don't, somehow."
"A good many people are feeling rather languid, I believe," said Mrs.
"I hope you'll get away from Florence," said Colville.
"Oh," she returned, with a faint flush, "I'm afraid Imogene exaggerated
that a little." She added, "You are very good."
She was treating him more kindly than she had ever done since that
Sunday afternoon when he came in with Imogene to say that he was going
to stay. It might be merely because she had worn out her mood of
severity, as people do, returning in good-humour to those with whom they
were offended, merely through the reconciling force of time. She did not
look at him, but this was better than meeting his eye with that
interceptive glance. A strange peace touched his heart. Imogene and the
young clergyman at the table across the room were intent on the book
still; he was explaining and expatiating, and she listening. Colville
saw that he had a fine head, and an intelligent, handsome, gentle face.
When he turned again to Mrs. Bowen it was with the illusion that she had
been saying something; but she was, in fact, sitting mute, and her face,
with its bright colour, showed pathetically thin.
"I should imagine that Venice would be good for you," he said.
"It's still very harsh there, I hear. No; when we leave Florence, I
think we will go to Switzerland."
"Oh, not to Madame Schebres's," pleaded the child, turning upon her.
"No, not to Madame Schebres," consented the mother. She continued,
addressing Colville: "I was thinking of Lausanne. Do you know Lausanne
"Only from Gibbon's report. It's hardly up to date."
"I thought of taking a house there for the summer," said Mrs. Bowen,
playing with Effie's fingers. "It's pleasant by the lake, I suppose."
"It's lovely by the lake!" cried the child. "Oh, do go, mamma! I could
get a boat and learn to row. Here you can't row, the Arno's so swift."
"The air would bring you up," said Colville to Mrs. Bowen.
"Switzerland's the only country where you're perfectly sure of waking
new every morning."
This idea interested the child. "Waking new!" she repeated.
"Yes; perfectly made over. You wake up another person. Shouldn't you
think that would be nice?"
"Well, I shouldn't, in your place. But in mine, I much prefer to wake up
another person. Only it's pretty hard on the other person."
"How queer you are!" The child set her teeth for fondness of him, and
seizing his cheeks between her hands, squeezed them hard, admiring the
effect upon his features, which in some respects was not advantageous.
"Effie!" cried her mother sternly; and she dropped to her place again,
and laid hold of Colville's arm for protection. "You are really very
rude. I shall send you to bed."
"Oh no, don't, Mrs. Bowen," he begged. "I'm responsible for these
violences. Effie used to be a very well behaved child before she began
playing with me. It's all my fault."
They remained talking on the sofa together, while Imogene and Mr. Morton
continued to interest themselves in the book. From time to time she
looked over at them, and then turned again to the young clergyman, who,
when he had closed the book, rested his hands on its top and began to
give an animated account of something, conjecturably his sojourn in
In a low voice, and with pauses adjusted to the occasional silences of
the young people across the room, Mrs. Bowen told Colville how Mr.
Morton was introduced to her by an old friend who was greatly interested
in him. She said, frankly, that she had been able to be of use to him,
and that he was now going back to America very soon; it was as if she
were privy to the conjecture that had come to the surface in his talk
with Mr. Waters, and wished him to understand exactly how matters stood
with the young clergyman and herself. Colville, indeed, began to be more
tolerant of him; he succeeded in praising the sermon he had heard him
"Oh, he has talent," said Mrs. Bowen.
They fell into the old, almost domestic strain, from which she broke at
times with an effort, but returning as if helplessly to it. He had the
gift of knowing how not to take an advantage with women; that sense of
unconstraint in them fought in his favour; when Effie dropped her head
wearily against his arm, her mother even laughed in sending her off to
bed; she had hitherto been serious. Imogene said she would go to see her
tucked in, and that sent the clergyman to say good-night to Mrs. Bowen,
and to put an end to Colville's audience.
In these days, when Colville came every night to Palazzo Pinti, he got
back the tone he had lost in the past fortnight. He thought that it was
the complete immunity from his late pleasures, and the regular and
sufficient sleep, which had set him firmly on his feet again, but he did
not inquire very closely. Imogene went two or three times, after she had
declared she would go no more, from the necessity women feel of blunting
the edge of comment; but Colville profited instantly and fully by the
release from the parties which she offered him. He did not go even to
afternoon tea-drinkings; the "days" of the different ladies, which he
had been so diligent to observe, knew him no more. At the hours when
society assembled in this house or that and inquired for him, or
wondered about him, he was commonly taking a nap, and he was punctually
in bed every night at eleven, after his return from Mrs. Bowen's.
He believed, of course, that he went there because he now no longer met
Imogene elsewhere, and he found the house pleasanter than it had ever
been since the veglione. Mrs. Bowen's relenting was not continuous,
however. There were times that seemed to be times of question and of
struggle with her, when she vacillated between the old cordiality and
the later alienation; when she went beyond the former, or lapsed into
moods colder and more repellent than the latter. It would have been
difficult to mark the moment when these struggles ceased altogether, and
an evening passed in unbroken kindness between them. But afterwards
Colville could remember an emotion of grateful surprise at a subtle word
or action of hers in which she appeared to throw all restraint--scruple
or rancour, whichever it might be--to the winds, and become perfectly
his friend again. It must have been by compliance with some wish or
assent to some opinion of his; what he knew was that he was not only
permitted, he was invited, to feel himself the most favoured guest. The
charming smile, so small and sweet, so very near to bitterness, came
back to her lips, the deeply fringed eyelids were lifted to let the
sunny eyes stream upon him. She did, now, whatever he asked her. She
consulted his taste and judgment on many points; she consented to
resume, when she should be a little stronger, their visits to the
churches and galleries: it would be a shame to go away from Florence
without knowing them thoroughly. It came to her asking him to drive with
her and Imogene in the Cascine; and when Imogene made some excuse not to
go, Mrs. Bowen did not postpone the drive, but took Colville and Effie.
They drove quite down to the end of the Cascine, and got out there to
admire the gay monument, with the painted bust, of the poor young Indian
prince who died in Florence. They strolled all about, talking of the old
times in the Cascine, twenty years before; and walking up the road
beside the canal, while the carriage slowly followed, they stopped to
enjoy the peasants lying asleep in the grass on the other bank. Colville
and Effie gathered wild-flowers, and piled them in her mother's lap when
she remounted to the carriage and drove along while they made excursions
into the little dingles beside the road. Some people who overtook them
in these sylvan pleasures reported the fact at a reception to which they
were going, and Mrs. Amsden, whose mind had been gradually clearing
under the simultaneous withdrawal of Imogene and Colville from society,
professed herself again as thickly clouded as a weather-glass before a
storm. She appealed to the sympathy of others against this hardship.
Mrs. Bowen took Colville home to dinner; Mr. Morton was coming, she
said, and he must come too. At table the young clergyman made her his
compliment on her look of health, and she said, Yes; she had been
driving, and she believed that she needed nothing but to be in the air a
little more, as she very well could, now the spring weather was really
coming. She said that they had been talking all winter of going to
Fiesole, where Imogene had never been yet; and upon comparison it
appeared that none of them had yet been to Fiesole except herself. Then
they must all go together, she said; the carriage would hold four very
"Ah! that leaves me out," said Colville, who had caught sight of Effie's
"Oh no. How is that? It leaves Effie out."
"It's the same thing. But I might ride, and Effie might give me her hand
to hold over the side of the carriage; that would sustain me."
"We could take her between us, Mrs. Bowen," suggested Imogene. "The back
seat is wide."
"Then the party is made up," said Colville, "and Effie hasn't demeaned
herself by asking to go where she wasn't invited."
The child turned inquiringly toward her mother, who met her with an
indulgent smile, which became a little flush of grateful appreciation
when it reached Colville; but Mrs. Bowen ignored Imogene in the matter
The evening passed delightfully. Mr. Morton had another book which he
had brought to show Imogene, and Mrs. Bowen sat a long time at the
piano, striking this air and that of the songs which she used to sing
when she was a girl: Colville was trying to recall them. When he and
Imogene were left alone for their adieux, they approached each other in
an estrangement through which each tried to break.
"Why don't you scold me?" she asked. "I have neglected you the whole
"How have you neglected me?"
"How? Ah! if you don't know----"
"No. I dare say I must be very stupid. I saw you talking with Mr.
Morton, and you seemed interested. I thought I'd better not intrude."
She seemed uncertain of his intention, and then satisfied of its
"Isn't it pleasant to have Mrs. Bowen in the old mood again?" he asked.
"Is she in the old mood?"
"Why, yes. Haven't you noticed how cordial she is?
"I thought she was rather colder than usual."
"Colder!" The chill of the idea penetrated even through the density of
Colville's selfish content. A very complex emotion, which took itself
for indignation, throbbed from his heart. "Is she cold with you,
"Oh, if you saw nothing----"
"No; and I think you must be mistaken. She never speaks of you without
"Does she speak of me?" asked the girl, with her honest eyes wide open
"Why, no," Colville acknowledged. "Come to reflect, it's I who speak of
you. But how--how is she cold with you?"
"Oh, I dare say it's a delusion of mine. Perhaps I'm cold with her."
"Then don't be so, my dear! Be sure that she's your friend--true and
good. Good night."
He caught the girl in his arms, and kissed her tenderly. She drew away,
and stood a moment with her repellent fingers on his breast.
"Is it all for me?" she asked.
"For the whole obliging and amiable world," he answered gaily.
The next time Colville came he found himself alone with Imogene, who
asked him what he had been doing all day.
"Oh, living along till evening. What have you?"
She did not answer at once, nor praise his speech for the devotion
implied in it. After a while she said: "Do you believe in courses of
reading? Mr. Morton has taken up a course of reading in Italian poetry.
He intends to master it."
"Yes. Do you think something of the kind would be good for me?"
"Oh, if you thirst for conquest. But I should prefer to rest on my
laurels if I were you."
Imogene did not smile. "Mr. Morton thinks I should enjoy a course of
Kingsley. He says he's very earnest."
"Oh, immensely. But aren't you earnest enough already, my dear?"
"Do you think I'm too earnest?"
"No; I should say you were just right."
"You know better than that. I wish you would criticise me sometimes."
"Oh, I'd rather not."
"Why? Don't you see anything to criticise in me? Are you satisfied with
me in every way? You ought to think. You ought to think now. Do you
think that I am doing right in all respects? Am I all that I could be to
you, and to you alone? If I am wrong in the least thing, criticise me,
and I will try to be better."
"Oh, you might criticise back, and I shouldn't like that."
"Then you don't approve of a course of Kingsley?" asked the girl.
"Does that follow? But if you're going in for earnestness, why don't you
take up a course of Carlyle?"
"Do you think that would be better than Kingsley?"
"Not a bit. But Carlyle's so earnest that he can't talk straight."
"I can't make out what you mean. Wouldn't you like me to improve?"
"Not much," laughed Colville. "If you did, I don't know what I should
do. I should have to begin to improve too, and I'm very comfortable as I
"I should wish to do it to--to be more worthy of you," grieved the girl,
as if deeply disappointed at his frivolous behaviour.
He could not help laughing, but he was sorry, and would have taken her
hand; she kept it from him, and removed to the farthest corner of the
sofa. Apparently, however, her ideal did not admit of open pique, and
she went on trying to talk seriously with him.
"You think, don't you, that we oughtn't to let a day pass without
storing away some thought--suggestion----"
"Oh, there's no hurry," he said lazily. "Life is rather a long
affair--if you live. There appears to be plenty of time, though people
say not, and I think it would be rather odious to make every day of use.
Let a few of them go by without doing anything for you! And as for
reading, why not read when you're hungry, just as you eat? Shouldn't you
hate to take up a course of roast beef, or a course of turkey?"
"Very well, then," said Imogene. "I shall not begin Kingsley."
"Yes, do it. I dare say Mr. Morton's quite right. He will look at these
things more from your own point of view. All the Kingsley novels are in
the Tauchnitz. By all means do what he says."
"I will do what _you_ say."
"Oh, but I say nothing."
"Then I will do nothing."
Colville laughed at this too, and soon after the clergyman appeared.
Imogene met him so coldly that Colville felt obliged to make him some
amends by a greater show of cordiality than he felt. But he was glad of
the effort, for he began to like him as he talked to him; it was easy
for him to like people; the young man showed sense and judgment, and if
he was a little academic in his mind and manners, Colville tolerantly
reflected that some people seemed to be born so, and that he was
probably not artificial, as he had once imagined from the ecclesiastical
scrupulosity of his dress.
Imogene ebbed away to the piano in the corner of the room, and struck
some chords on it. At each stroke the young clergyman, whose eyes had
wandered a little toward her from the first, seemed to vibrate in
response. The conversation became incoherent before Mrs. Bowen joined
them. Then, by a series of illogical processes, the clergyman was
standing beside Imogene at the piano, and Mrs. Bowen was sitting beside
Colville on the sofa.
"Isn't there to be any Effie, to-night?" he asked.
"No. She has been up too much of late. And I wished to speak with
"Yes," said Colville, not very eagerly. At that moment he could have
chosen another topic.
"It is time that her mother should have got my letter. In less than a
fortnight we ought to have an answer."
"Well?" said Colville, with a strange constriction of the heart.
"Her mother is a person of very strong character; her husband is
absorbed in business, and defers to her in everything."
"It isn't an uncommon American situation," said Colville, relieving his
tension by this excursion.
Mrs. Bowen ignored it. "I don't know how she may look at the affair. She
may give her assent at once, or she may decide that nothing has taken
place till--she sees you."
"I could hardly blame her for that," he answered submissively.
"It isn't a question of that," said Mrs. Bowen. "It's a question
of--others. Mr. Morton was here before you came, and I know he was
interested in Imogene--I am certain of it. He has come back, and he sees
no reason why he should not renew his attentions."
"No--o--o," faltered Colville.
"I wish you to realise the fact."
"But what would you----"
"I told you," said Mrs. Bowen, with a full return of that severity whose
recent absence Colville had found so comfortable, "that I can't advise
or suggest anything at all."
He was long and miserably silent. At last, "Did you ever think," he
asked, "did you ever suppose--that is to say, did you ever suspect
that--she--that Imogene was--at all interested in him?"
"I think she was--at one time," said Mrs. Bowen promptly.
Colville sighed, with a wandering disposition to whistle.
"But that is nothing," she went on. "People have many passing fancies.
The question is, what are you going to do now? I want to know, as Mr.
"Ah, I wish you wanted to know as _my_ friend, Mrs. Bowen!" A sudden
thought flashed upon him. "Why shouldn't I go away from Florence till
Imogene hears from her mother? That seemed to me right in the first
place. There is no tie that binds her to me. I hold her to nothing. If
she finds in my absence that she likes this young man better--" An
expression of Mrs. Bowen's face stopped him. He perceived that he had
said something very shocking to her; he perceived that the thing was
shocking in itself, but it was not that which he cared for. "I don't
mean that I won't hold myself true to her as long as she will. I
recognise my responsibility fully. I know that I am answerable for all
this, and that no one else is; and I am ready to bear any penalty. But
what I can't bear is that you should misunderstand me, that you
should--I have been so wretched ever since you first began to blame me
for my part in this, and so happy this past fortnight that I can't--I
_won't_--go back to that state of things. No; you have no right to
relent toward me, and then fling me off as you have tried to do
to-night! I have some feeling too--some rights. You shall receive me as
a friend, or not at all! How can I live if you----"
She had been making little efforts as if to rise; now she forced herself
to her feet, and ran from the room.
The young people looked up from their music; some wave of the sensation
had spread to them, but seeing Colville remain seated, they went on with
their playing till he rose. Then Imogene called out, "Isn't Mrs. Bowen
"I don't know; I think not," answered Colville stupidly, standing where
he had risen.
She hastened questioning toward him. "What is the matter? Isn't she
Mr. Morton's face expressed a polite share in her anxiety.
"Oh yes; quite, I believe," Colville replied.
"She heard Effie call, I suppose," suggested the girl.
"Yes, yes; I think so; that is--yes. I must be going. Good night."
He took her hand and went away, leaving the clergyman still there; but
he lingered only for a report from Mrs. Bowen, which Imogene hurried to
get. She sent word that she would join them presently. But Mr. Morion
said that it was late already, and he would beg Miss Graham to say
good-night for him. When Mrs. Bowen returned Imogene was alone.
She did not seem surprised or concerned at that. "Imogene, I have been
talking to Mr. Colville about you and Mr. Morton."
The girl started and turned pale.
"It is almost time to hear from your mother, and she may consent to your
engagement. Then you must be prepared to act."
"To make it known. Matters can't go on as they have been going. I told
Mr. Colville that Mr. Morton ought to know at once."
"Why ought he to know?" asked Imogene, doubtless with that impulse to
temporise which is natural to the human soul in questions of right and
interest. She sank into the chair beside which she had been standing.
"If your mother consents, you will feel bound to Mr. Colville?"
"Yes," said the girl.
"And if she refuses?"
"He has my word. I will keep my word to him," replied Imogene huskily.
"Nothing shall make me break it."
"Very well, then!" exclaimed Mrs. Bowen. "We need not wait for your
mother's answer. Mr. Morton ought to know, and he ought to know at once.
Don't try to blind yourself, Imogene, to what you see as plainly as I
do. He is in love with you."
"Oh," moaned the girl.
"Yes; you can't deny it. And it's cruel, it's treacherous, to let him go
on thinking that you are free."
"I will never see him again."
"Ah! that isn't enough. He has a claim to know why. I will not let him
be treated so."
They were both silent. Then, "What did Mr. Colville say?" asked Imogene.
"He? I don't know that he said anything. He----" Mrs. Bowen stopped.
Imogene rose from her chair.
"I will not let him tell Mr. Morton. It would be too indelicate."
"And shall you let it go on so?"
"No. I will tell him myself."
"How will you tell him?"
"I will tell him if he speaks to me."
"You will let it come to that?"
"There is no other way. I shall suffer more than he."
"But you will deserve to suffer, and your suffering will not help him."
Imogene trembled into her chair again.
"I see," said Mrs. Bowen bitterly, "how it will be at last. It will be
as it has been from the first." She began to walk up and down the room,
mechanically putting the chairs in place, and removing the disorder in
which the occupancy of several people leaves a room at the end of an
evening. She closed the piano, which Imogene had forgot to shut, with a
clash that jarred the strings from their silence. "But I will do it, and
"You will speak to him?" faltered the girl.
"Yes!" returned Mrs. Bowen vehemently, and arresting herself in her
rapid movements. "It won't do for you to tell him, and you won't let Mr.
"No, I can't," said Imogene, slowly shaking her head. "But I will
discourage him; I will not see him anymore." Mrs. Bowen silently
confronted her. "I will not see any one now till I have heard from
"And how will that help? He must have some explanation, and I will have
to make it. What shall it be?"
Imogene did not answer. She said: "I will not have any one know what is
between me and Mr. Colville till I have heard from home. If they try to
refuse, then it will be for him to take me against their will. But if he
doesn't choose to do that, then he shall be free, and I won't have him
humiliated a second time before the world. _This_ time _he_ shall be the
one to reject. And I don't care who suffers. The more I prize the
person, the gladder I shall be; and if I could suffer before everybody I
would. If people ever find it out, I will tell them that it was he who
broke it off." She rose again from her chair, and stood flushed and
thrilling with the notion of her self-sacrifice. Out of the tortuous
complexity of the situation she had evolved this brief triumph, in which
she rejoiced as if it were enduring success. But she suddenly fell from
it in the dust. "Oh, what can I do for him? How can I make him feel more
and more that I would give up anything, everything, for him! It's
because he asks nothing and wants nothing that it's so hard! If I could
see that he was unhappy, as I did once! If I could see that he was at
all different since--since----Oh, what I dread is this smooth
tranquillity! If our lives could only be stormy and full of cares and
anxieties and troubles that I could take on myself, then, then I
shouldn't be afraid of the future! But I'm afraid they won't be so--no,
I'm afraid that they will be easy and quiet, and then what shall I do? O
Mrs. Bowen, do you think he cares for me?"
Mrs. Bowen turned white; she did not speak.
The girl wrung her hands. "Sometimes it seems as if he didn't--as if I
had forced myself on him through a mistake, and he had taken me to save
me from the shame of knowing that I had made a mistake. Do you think
that is true? If you can only tell me that it isn't--Or, no! If it is
true, tell me that! _That_ would be real mercy."
The other trembled, as if physically beaten upon by this appeal. But she
gathered herself together rigidly. "How can I answer you such a thing as
that? I mustn't listen to you; you mustn't ask me." She turned and left
the girl standing still in her attitude of imploring. But in her own
room, where she locked herself in, sobs mingled with the laughter which
broke crazily from her lips as she removed this ribbon and that jewel,
and pulled the bracelets from her wrists. A man would have plunged from
the house and walked the night away; a woman must wear it out in her
In the morning Mrs. Bowen received a note from her banker covering a
despatch by cable from America. It was from Imogene's mother; it
acknowledged the letters they had written, and announced that she sailed
that day for Liverpool. It was dated at New York, and it was to be
inferred that after perhaps writing in answer to their letters, she had
suddenly made up her mind to come out.
"Yes, that is it," said Imogene, to whom Mrs. Bowen hastened with the
despatch. "Why should she have telegraphed to _you_?" she asked coldly,
but with a latent fire of resentment in her tone.
"You must ask her when she comes," returned Mrs. Bowen, with all her
gentleness. "It won't be long now."
They looked as if they had neither of them slept; but the girl's vigil
seemed to have made her wild and fierce, like some bird that has beat
itself all night against its cage, and still from time to time feebly
strikes the bars with its wings. Mrs. Bowen was simply worn to apathy.
"What shall you do about this?" she asked.
"Do about it? Oh, I will think. I will try not to trouble you."
"I shall have to tell Mr. Colville. But I don't know that I shall tell
him at once. Give me the despatch, please." She possessed herself of it
greedily, offensively. "I shall ask you not to speak of it."
"I will do whatever you wish."
Mrs. Bowen left the room, but she turned immediately to re-open the door
she had closed behind her.
"We were to have gone to Fiesole to-morrow," she said inquiringly.
"We can still go if the day is fine," returned the girl. "Nothing is
changed. I wish very much to go. Couldn't we go to-day?" she added, with
"It's too late to-day," said Mrs. Bowen quietly. "I will write to remind
"Thank you. I wish we could have gone to-day."
"You can have the carriage if you wish to drive anywhere," said Mrs.
"I will take Effie to see Mrs. Amsden." But Imogene changed her mind,
and went to call upon two Misses Guicciardi, the result of an
international marriage, whom Mrs. Bowen did not like very well. Imogene
drove with them to the Cascine, where they bowed to a numerous military
acquaintance, and they asked her if Mrs. Bowen would let her join them
in a theatre party that evening: they were New-Yorkers by birth, and it
was to be a theatre party in the New York style; they were to be
chaperoned by a young married lady; two young men cousins of theirs,
just out from America, had taken the box.
When Imogene returned home she told Mrs. Bowen that she had accepted
this invitation. Mrs. Bowen said nothing, but when one of the young men
came up to hand Imogene down to the carriage, which was waiting with the
others at the gate, she could not have shown a greater tolerance of his
second-rate New Yorkiness if she had been a Boston dowager offering him
the scrupulous hospitalities of her city.
Imogene came in at midnight; she hummed an air of the opera as she took
off her wraps and ornaments in her room, and this in the quiet of the
hour had a terrible, almost profane effect: it was as if some other kind
of girl had whistled. She showed the same nonchalance at breakfast,
where she was prompt, and answered Mrs. Bowen's inquiries about her
pleasure the night before with a liveliness that ignored the polite
resolution that prompted them.
Mr. Morton was the first to arrive, and if his discouragement began at
once, the first steps masked themselves in a reckless welcome, which
seemed to fill him with joy, and Mrs. Bowen with silent perplexity. The
girl ran on about her evening at the opera, and about the weather, and
the excursion they were going to make; and after an apparently needless
ado over the bouquet which he brought her, together with one for Mrs.
Bowen, she put it into her belt, and made Colville notice it when he
came: he had not thought to bring flowers.
He turned from her hilarity with anxious question to Mrs. Bowen, who did
not meet his eye, and who snubbed Effie when the child found occasion to
whisper: "_I_ think Imogene is acting very strangely, for _her_; don't
you, mamma? It seems as if going with those Guicciardi girls just once
had spoiled her."
"Don't make remarks about people, Effie," said her mother sharply. "It
isn't nice in little girls, and I don't want you to do it. You talk too
Effie turned grieving away from this rejection, and her face did not
light up even at the whimsical sympathy in Colville's face, who saw that
she had met a check of some sort; he had to take her on his knee and
coax and kiss her before her wounded feelings were visibly healed. He
put her down with a sighing wish that some one could take him up and
soothe his troubled sensibilities too, and kept her hand in his while he
sat waiting for the last of those last moments in which the hurrying
delays of ladies preparing for an excursion seem never to end.
When they were ready to get into the carriage, the usual contest of
self-sacrifice arose, which Imogene terminated by mounting to the front
seat; Mr. Morton hastened to take the seat beside her, and Colville was
left to sit with Effie and her mother. "You old people will be safer
back there," said Imogene. It was a little joke which she addressed to
the child, but a gleam from her eye as she turned to speak to the young
man at her side visited Colville in desperate defiance. He wondered what
she was about in that allusion to an idea which she had shrunk from so
sensitively hitherto. But he found himself in a situation which he could
not penetrate at any point. When he spoke with Mrs. Bowen, it was with a
dark undercurrent of conjecture as to how and when she expected him to
tell Mr. Morton of his relation to Imogene, or whether she still
expected him to do it; when his eyes fell upon the face of the young
man, he despaired as to the terms in which he should put the fact; any
form in which he tacitly dramatised it remained very embarrassing, for
he felt bound to say that while he held himself promised in the matter,
he did not allow her to feel herself so.
A sky of American blueness and vastness, a mellow sun, and a delicate
breeze did all that these things could for them, as they began the long,
devious climb of the hills crowned by the ancient Etruscan city. At
first they were all in the constraint of their own and one another's
moods, known or imagined, and no talk began till the young clergyman
turned to Imogene and asked, after a long look at the smiling landscape,
"What sort of weather do you suppose they are having at Buffalo to-day?"
"At Buffalo?" she repeated, as if the place had only a dim existence in
her remotest consciousness. "Oh! The ice isn't near out of the lake yet.
You can't count on it before the first of May."
"And the first of May comes sooner or later, according to the season,"
said Colville. "I remember coming on once in the middle of the month,
and the river was so full of ice between Niagara Falls and Buffalo that
I had to shut the car window that I'd kept open all the way through
Southern Canada. But we have very little of that local weather at home;
our weather is as democratic and continental as our political
constitution. Here it's March or May any time from September till June,
according as there's snow on the mountains or not."
The young man smiled. "But don't you like," he asked with deference,
"this slow, orderly advance of the Italian spring, where the flowers
seem to come out one by one, and every blossom has its appointed time?"
"Oh yes, it's very well in its way; but I prefer the rush of the
American spring; no thought of mild weather this morning; a warm, gusty
rain to-morrow night; day after to-morrow a burst of blossoms and
flowers and young leaves and birds. I don't know whether we were made
for our climate or our climate was made for us, but its impatience and
lavishness seem to answer some inner demand of our go-ahead souls. This
happens to be the week of the peach blossoms here, and you see their
pink everywhere to-day, and you don't see anything else in the blossom
line. But imagine the American spring abandoning a whole week of her
precious time to the exclusive use of peach blossoms! She wouldn't do
it; she's got too many other things on hand."
Effie had stretched out over Colville's lap, and with her elbow sunk
deep in his knee, was renting her chin in her hand and taking the facts
of the landscape thoroughly in. "Do they have just a week?" she asked.
"Not an hour more or less," said Colville. "If they found an almond
blossom hanging round anywhere after their time came, they would make an
awful row; and if any lazy little peach-blow hadn't got out by the time
their week was up, it would have to stay in till next year; the pear
blossoms wouldn't let it come out."
"Wouldn't they?" murmured the child, in dreamy sympathy with this
"Well, that's what people say. In America it would be allowed to come
out any time. It's a free country."
Mrs. Bowen offered to draw Effie back to a posture of more decorum, but
Colville put his arm round the little girl. "Oh, let her stay! It
doesn't incommode me, and she must be getting such a novel effect of the
The mother fell back into her former attitude of jaded passivity. He
wondered whether she had changed her mind about having him speak to Mr.
Morton; her quiescence might well have been indifference; one could have
said, knowing the whole situation, that she had made up her mind to let
things take their course, and struggle with them no longer.
He could not believe that she felt content with him; she must feel far
otherwise; and he took refuge, as he had the power of doing, from the
discomfort of his own thoughts in jesting with the child, and mocking
her with this extravagance and that; the discomfort then became merely a
dull ache that insisted upon itself at intervals, like a grumbling
The prospect was full of that mingled wildness and subordination that
gives its supreme charm to the Italian landscape; and without elements
of great variety, it combined them in infinite picturesqueness. There
were olive orchards and vineyards, and again vineyards and olive
orchards. Closer to the farm-houses and cottages there were peaches and
other fruit trees and kitchen-gardens; broad ribbons of grain waved
between the ranks of trees; around the white villas the spires of the
cypresses pierced the blue air. Now and then they came to a villa with
weather-beaten statues strutting about its parterres. A mild, pleasant
heat brooded upon the fields and roofs, and the city, dropping lower and
lower as they mounted, softened and blended its towers and monuments in
a sombre mass shot with gleams of white.
Colville spoke to Imogene, who withdrew her eyes from it with a sigh,
after long brooding upon the scene. "You can do nothing with it, I see."
"The landscape. It's too full of every possible interest. What a history
is written all over it, public and private! If you don't take it simply
like any other landscape, it becomes an oppression. It's well that
tourists come to Italy so ignorant, and keep so. Otherwise they couldn't
live to get home again; the past would crush them."
Imogene scrutinised him as if to extract some personal meaning from his
words, and then turned her head away. The clergyman addressed him with
what was like a respectful toleration of the drolleries of a gifted but
eccentric man, the flavour of whose talk he was beginning to taste.
"You don't really mean that one shouldn't come to Italy as well informed
"Well, I did," said Colville, "but I don't."
The young man pondered this, and Imogene started up with an air of
rescuing them from each other--as if she would not let Mr. Morton think
Colville trivial or Colville consider the clergyman stupid, but would do
what she could to take their minds off the whole question. Perhaps she
was not very clear as to how this was to be done; at any rate she did
not speak, and Mrs. Bowen came to her support, from whatever motive of
her own. It might have been from a sense of the injustice of letting Mr.
Morton suffer from the complications that involved herself and the
others. The affair had been going very hitchily ever since they started,
with the burden of the conversation left to the two men and that
helpless girl; if it were not to be altogether a failure she must
"Did you ever hear of Gratiano when you were in Venice?" she asked Mr.
"Is he one of their new water-colourists?" returned the young man. "I
heard they had quite a school there now."
"No," said Mrs. Bowen, ignoring her failure as well as she could; "he
was a famous talker; he loved to speak an infinite deal of nothing more
than any man in Venice."
"An ancestor of mine, Mr. Morton," said Colville; "a poor, honest man,
who did his best to make people forget that the ladies were silent.
Thank you, Mrs. Bowen, for mentioning him. I wish he were with us
The young man laughed. "Oh, in the _Merchant of Venice_!"
"No other," said Colville.
"I confess," said Mrs. Bowen, "that I _am_ rather stupid this morning. I
suppose it's the softness of the air; it's been harsh and irritating so
long. It makes me drowsy."
"Don't mind _us_," returned Colville. "We will call you at important
points." They were driving into a village at which people stop sometimes
to admire the works of art in its church. "Here, for example, is--What
place is this?" he asked of the coachman.
"I should know it again by its beggars." Of all ages and sexes they
swarmed round the carriage, which the driver had instinctively slowed to
oblige them, and thrust forward their hands and hats. Colville gave
Effie his small change to distribute among them, at sight of which they
streamed down the street from every direction. Those who had received
brought forward the halt and blind, and did not scruple to propose being
rewarded for this service. At the same time they did not mind his
laughing in their faces; they laughed too, and went off content, or as
nearly so as beggars ever are. He buttoned up his pocket as they drove
on more rapidly. "I am the only person of no principle--except Effie--in
the carriage, and yet I am at this moment carrying more blessings out of
this village than I shall ever know what to do with. Mrs. Bowen, I know,
is regarding me with severe disapproval. She thinks that I ought to have
sent the beggars of San Domenico to Florence, where they would all be
shut up in the Pia Casa di Ricovero, and taught some useful occupation.
It's terrible in Florence. You can walk through Florence now and have no
appeal made to your better nature that is not made at the appellant's
risk of imprisonment. When I was there before, you had opportunities of
giving at every turn."
"You can send a cheque to the Pia Casa," said Mrs. Bowen.
"Ah, but what good would that do me? When I give I want the pleasure of
it; I want to see my beneficiary cringe under my bounty. But I've tried
in vain to convince you that the world has gone wrong in other ways. Do
you remember the one-armed man whom we used to give to on the Lung'
Arno? That persevering sufferer has been repeatedly arrested for
mendicancy, and obliged to pay a fine out of his hard earnings to escape
being sent to your Pia Casa."
Mrs. Bowen smiled, and said, Was he living yet? in a pensive tone of
reminiscence. She was even more than patient of Colville's nonsense. It
seemed to him that the light under her eyelids was sometimes a grateful
light. Confronting Imogene and the young man whose hopes of her he was
to destroy at the first opportunity, the lurid moral atmosphere which he
breathed seemed threatening to become a thing apparent to sense, and to
be about to blot the landscape. He fought it back as best he could, and
kept the hovering cloud from touching the earth by incessant effort. At
times he looked over the side of the carriage, and drew secretly a long
breath of fatigue. It began to be borne in upon him that these ladies
were using him ill in leaving him the burden of their entertainment. He
became angry, but his heart softened, and he forgave them again, for he
conjectured that he was the cause of the cares that kept them silent. He
felt certain that the affair had taken some new turn. He wondered if
Mrs. Bowen had told Imogene what she had demanded of him. But he could
only conjecture and wonder in the dreary undercurrent of thought that
flowed evenly and darkly on with the talk he kept going. He made the
most he could of the varying views of Florence which the turns and
mounting levels of the road gave him. He became affectionately grateful
to the young clergyman when he replied promptly and fully, and took an
interest in the objects or subjects he brought up.
Neither Mrs. Bowen nor Imogene was altogether silent. The one helped on
at times wearily, and the other broke at times from her abstraction.
Doubtless the girl had undertaken too much in insisting upon a party of
pleasure with her mind full of so many things, and doubtless Mrs. Bowen
was sore with a rankling resentment at her insistence, and vexed at
herself for having yielded to it. If at her time of life and with all
her experience of it, she could not rise under this inner load, Imogene
must have been crushed by it.
Her starts from the dreamy oppression, if that were what kept her
silent, took the form of aggression, when she disagreed with Colville
about things he was saying, or attacked him for this or that thing which
he had said in times past. It was an unhappy and unamiable
self-assertion, which he was not able to compassionate so much when she
resisted or defied Mrs. Bowen, as she seemed seeking to do at every
point. Perhaps another would not have felt it so; it must have been
largely in his consciousness; the young clergyman seemed not to see
anything in these bursts but the indulgence of a gay caprice, though his
laughing at them did not alleviate the effect to Colville, who, when he
turned to Mrs. Bowen for her alliance, was astonished with a prompt
snub, unmistakable to himself, however imperceptible to others.
He found what diversion and comfort he could in the party of children
who beset them at a point near the town, and followed the carriage,
trying to sell them various light and useless trifles made of
straw--fans, baskets, parasols, and the like. He bought recklessly of
them and gave them to Effie, whom he assured, without the applause of
the ladies, and with the grave question of the young clergyman, that the
vendors were little Etruscan girls, all at least twenty-five hundred
years old. "It's very hard to find any Etruscans under that age; most of
the grown-up people are three thousand."
The child humoured his extravagance with the faith in fable which
children are able to command, and said, "Oh, tell me about them!" while
she pushed up closer to him, and began to admire her presents, holding
them up before her, and dwelling fondly upon them one by one.
"Oh, there's very little to tell," answered Colville. "They're mighty
close people, and always keep themselves very much _to_ themselves. But
wouldn't you like to see a party of Etruscans of all ages, even down to
little babies only eleven or twelve hundred years old, come driving into
an American town? It would make a great excitement, wouldn't it?"
"It would be splendid."
"Yes; we would give them a collation in the basement of the City Hall,
and drive them out to the cemetery. The Americans and Etruscans are very
much alike in that--they always show you their tombs."
"Will they in Fiesole?"
"How you always like to burrow into the past!" interrupted Imogene.
"Well, it's rather difficult burrowing into the future," returned
Colville defensively. Accepting the challenge, he added: "Yes, I should
really like to meet a few Etruscans in Fiesole this morning. I should
feel as if I'd got amongst my contemporaries at last; they would
The girl's face flushed. "Then no one else can understand you?"
"Apparently not. I am the great American _incompris_."
"I'm sorry for you," she returned feebly; and, in fact, sarcasm was not
her strong point.
When they entered the town they found the Etruscans preoccupied with
other visitors, whom at various points in the quaint little piazza they
surrounded in dense groups, to their own disadvantage as guides and
beggars and dealers in straw goods. One of the groups reluctantly
dispersed to devote itself to the new arrivals, and these then perceived
that it was a party of artists, scattered about and sketching, which had
absorbed the attention of the population. Colville went to the
restaurant to order lunch, leaving the ladies to the care of Mr. Morton.
When he came back he found the carriage surrounded by the artists, who
had turned out to be the Inglehart boys. They had walked up to Fiesole
the afternoon before, and they had been sketching there all the morning.
With the artist's indifference to the conventional objects of interest,
they were still ignorant of what ought to be seen in Fiesole by
tourists, and they accepted Colville's proposition to be of his party in
going the rounds of the Cathedral, the Museum, and the view from that
point of the wall called the Belvedere. They found that they had been at
the Belvedere before without knowing that it merited particular
recognition, and some of them had made sketches from it--of bits of
architecture and landscape, and of figure amongst the women with straw
fans and baskets to sell, who thronged round the whole party again, and
interrupted the prospect. In the church they differed amongst themselves
as to the best bits for study, and Colville listened in whimsical
despair to the enthusiasm of their likings and dislikings. All that was
so far from him now; but in the Museum, which had only a thin interest
based upon a small collection of art and archeology, he suffered a real
affliction in the presence of a young Italian couple, who were probably
plighted lovers. They went before a grey-haired pair, who might have
been the girl's father and mother, and they looked at none of the
objects, though they regularly stopped before them and waited till their
guide had said his say about them. The girl, clinging tight to the young
man's arm, knew nothing but him; her mouth and eyes were set in a
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