William D. Howells
Part 6 out of 6
passionate concentration of her being upon him, and he seemed to walk in
a dream of her. From time to time they peered upon each other's faces,
and then they paused, rapt and indifferent to all besides.
The young painters had their jokes about it; even Mr. Morton smiled, and
Mrs. Bowen recognised it. But Imogene did not smile; she regarded the
lovers with an interest in them scarcely less intense than their
interest in each other; and a cold perspiration of question broke out on
Colville's forehead. Was that her ideal of what her own engagement
should be? Had she expected him to behave in that way to her, and to
accept from her a devotion like that girl's? How bitterly he must have
disappointed her! It was so impossible to him that the thought of it
made him feel that he must break all ties which bound him to anything
like it. And yet he reflected that the time was when he could have been
equal to that, and even more.
After lunch the painters joined them again, and they all went together
to visit the ruins of the Roman theatre and the stretch of Etruscan wall
beyond it. The former seems older than the latter, whose huge blocks of
stone lie as firmly and evenly in their courses as if placed there a
year ago; the turf creeps to the edge at top, and some small trees nod
along the crest of the wall, whose ancient face, clean and bare, looks
sternly out over a vast prospect, now young and smiling in the first
delight of spring. The piety or interest of the community, which guards
the entrance to the theatre by a fee of certain centesimi, may be
concerned in keeping the wall free from the grass and vines which are
stealing the half-excavated arena back to forgetfulness and decay; but
whatever agency it was, it weakened the appeal that the wall made to the
sympathy of the spectators.
They could do nothing with it; the artists did not take their
sketch-blocks from their pockets. But in the theatre, where a few broken
columns marked the place of the stage, and the stone benches of the
auditorium were here and there reached by a flight of uncovered steps,
the human interest returned.
"I suspect that there is such a thing as a ruin's being too old," said
Colville. "Our Etruscan friends made the mistake of building their wall
several thousand years too soon for our purpose."
"Yes," consented the young clergyman. "It seems as if our own race
became alienated from us through the mere effect of time, don't you
think, sir? I mean, of course, terrestrially."
The artists looked uneasy, as if they had not counted upon anything of
this kind, and they began to scatter about for points of view. Effie got
her mother's leave to run up and down one of the stairways, if she would
not fall. Mrs. Bowen sat down on one of the lower steps, and Mr. Morton
took his place respectfully near her.
"I wonder how it looks from the top?" Imogene asked this of Colville,
with more meaning than seemed to belong to the question properly.
"There is nothing like going to see," he suggested. He helped her up,
giving her his hand from one course of seats to another. When they
reached the point which commanded the best view of the whole, she sat
down, and he sank at her feet, but they did not speak of the view.
"Theodore, I want to tell you something," she said abruptly. "I have
heard from home."
"Yes?" he replied, in a tone in which he did his best to express a
readiness for any fate.
"Mother has telegraphed. She is coming out. She is on her way now. She
will be here very soon."
Colville did not know exactly what to say to these passionately
consecutive statements. "Well?" he said at last.
"Well"--she repeated his word--"what do you intend to do?"
"Intend to do in what event?" he asked, lifting his eyes for the first
time to the eyes which he felt burning down upon him.
"If she should refuse?"
Again he could not command an instant answer, but when it came it was a
fair one. "It isn't for me to say what I shall do," he replied gravely.
"Or, if it is, I can only say that I will do whatever you wish."
"Do _you_ wish nothing?"
"Nothing but your happiness."
"Nothing but my happiness!" she retorted. "What is my happiness to me?
Have I ever sought it?"
"I can't say," he answered; "but if I did not think you would find it--"
"I shall find it, if ever I find it, in yours," she interrupted. "And
what shall you do if my mother will not consent to our engagement?"
The experienced and sophisticated man--for that in no ill way was what
Colville was--felt himself on trial for his honour and his manhood by
this simple girl, this child. He could not endure to fall short of her
ideal of him at that moment, no matter what error or calamity the
fulfilment involved. "If you feel sure that you love me, Imogene, it
will make no difference to me what your mother says. I would be glad of
her consent; I should hate to go counter to her will; but I know that I
am good enough man to be true and keep you all my life the first in all
my thoughts, and that's enough for me. But if you have any fear, any
doubt of yourself, now is the time--"
Imogene rose to her feet as in some turmoil of thought or emotion that
would not suffer her to remain quiet.
"Oh, keep still!" "Don't get up yet!" "Hold on a minute, please!" came
from the artists in different parts of the theatre, and half a dozen
imploring pencils were waved in the air.
"They are sketching you," said Colville, and she sank compliantly into
her seat again.
"I have no doubt for myself--no," she said, as if there had been no
"Then we need have no anxiety in meeting your mother," said Colville,
with a light sigh, after a moment's pause. "What makes you think she
will be unfavourable?"
"I don't think that; but I thought--I didn't know but--"
"Nothing, now." Her lips were quivering; he could see her struggle for
self-control, but he could not see it unmoved.
"Poor child!" he said, putting out his hand toward her.
"Don't take my hand; they're all looking," she begged.
He forbore, and they remained silent and motionless a little while,
before she had recovered herself sufficiently to speak again.
"Then we are promised to each other, whatever happens," she said.
"And we will never speak of this again. But there is one thing. Did Mrs.
Bowen ask you to tell Mr. Morton of our engagement?"
"She said that I ought to do so."
"And did you say you would?"
"I don't know. But I suppose I ought to tell him."
"I don't wish you to!" cried the girl.
"You don't wish me to tell him?"
"No; I will not have it!"
"Oh, very well; it's much easier not. But it seems to me that it's only
fair to him."
"Did you think of that yourself?" she demanded fiercely.
"No," returned Colville, with sad self-recognition. "I'm afraid I'm not
apt to think of the comforts and rights of other people. It was Mrs.
Bowen who thought of it."
"I knew it!"
"But I must confess that I agreed with her, though I would have
preferred to postpone it till we heard from your family." He was
thoughtfully silent a moment; then he said, "But if their decision is to
have no weight with us, I think he ought to be told at once."
"Do you think that I am flirting with him?"
"Imogene!" exclaimed Colville reproachfully.
"That's what you imply; that's what she implies."
"You're very unjust to Mrs. Bowen, Imogene."
"Oh, you always defend her! It isn't the first time you've told me I was
unjust to her."
"I don't mean that you are willingly unjust, or could be so, to any
living creature, least of all to her. But I--we--owe her so much; she
has been so patient."
"What do we owe her? How has she been patient?"
"She has overcome her dislike to me."
"And--and I feel under obligation to her for--in a thousand little ways;
and I should be glad to feel that we were acting with her approval; I
should like to please her."
"You wish to tell Mr. Morton?"
"I think I ought."
"To please Mrs. Bowen! Tell him, then! You always cared more to please
her than me. Perhaps you stayed in Florence to please her!"
She rose and ran down the broken seats and ruined steps so recklessly
and yet so sure-footedly that it seemed more like a flight than a pace
to the place where Mrs. Bowen and Mr. Morton were talking together.
Colville followed as he could, slowly and with a heavy heart. A good
thing develops itself in infinite and unexpected shapes of good; a bad
thing into manifold and astounding evils. This mistake was whirling away
beyond his recall in hopeless mazes of error. He saw this generous young
spirit betrayed by it to ignoble and unworthy excess, and he knew that
he and not she was to blame.
He was helpless to approach her, to speak with her, to set her right,
great as the need of that was, and he could see that she avoided him.
But their relations remained outwardly undisturbed. The artists brought
their sketches for inspection and comment, and, without speaking to each
other, he and Imogene discussed them with the rest.
When they started homeward the painters said they were coming a little
way with them for a send-off, and then going back to spend the night in
Fiesole. They walked beside the carriage, talking with Mrs. Bowen and
Imogene, who had taken their places, with Effie between them, on the
back seat; and when they took their leave, Colville and the young
clergyman, who had politely walked with them, continued on foot a little
further, till they came to the place where the highway to Florence
divided into the new road and the old. At this point it steeply overtops
the fields on one side, which is shored up by a wall some ten or twelve
feet deep; and here round a sharp turn of the hill on the other side
came a peasant driving a herd of the black pigs of the country.
Mrs. Bowen's horses were, perhaps, pampered beyond the habitual
resignation of Florentine horses to all manner of natural phenomena;
they reared at sight of the sable crew, and backing violently uphill,
set the carriage across the road, with its hind wheels a few feet from
the brink of the wall. The coachman sprang from his seat, the ladies and
the child remained in theirs as if paralysed.
Colville ran forward to the side of the carriage. "Jump, Mrs. Bowen!
jump, Effie! Imogene--"
The mother and the little one obeyed. He caught them in his arms and set
them down. The girl sat still, staring at him with reproachful, with
He leaped forward to drag her out; she shrank away, and then he flew to
help the coachman, who had the maddened horses by the bit.
"Let go!" he heard the young clergyman calling to him; "she's safe!" He
caught a glimpse of Imogene, whom Mr. Morton had pulled from the other
side of the carriage. He struggled to free his wrist from the curb-bit
chain of the horse, through which he had plunged it in his attempt to
seize the bridle. The wheels of the carriage went over the wall; he felt
himself whirled into the air, and then swung ruining down into the
writhing and crashing heap at the bottom of the wall.
When Colville came to himself his first sensation was delight in the
softness and smoothness of the turf on which he lay. Then the strange
colour of the grass commended itself to his notice, and presently he
perceived that the thing under his head was a pillow, and that he was in
bed. He was supported in this conclusion by the opinion of the young man
who sat watching him a little way off, and who now smiled cheerfully at
the expression in the eyes which Colville turned inquiringly upon him.
"Where am I?" he asked, with what appeared to him very unnecessary
feebleness of voice.
The young man begged his pardon in Italian, and when Colville repeated
his question in that tongue, he told him that he was in Palazzo Pinti,
whither he had been brought from the scene of his accident. He added
that Colville must not talk till the doctor had seen him and given him
leave, and he explained that he was himself a nurse from the hospital,
who had been taking care of him.
Colville moved his head and felt the bandage upon it; he desisted in his
attempt to lift his right arm to it before the attendant could interfere
in behalf of the broken limb. He recalled dimly and fragmentarily long
histories that he had dreamed, but he forbore to ask how long he had
been in his present case, and he accepted patiently the apparition of
the doctor and other persons who came and went, and were at his bedside
or not there, as it seemed to him, between the opening and closing of an
eye. As the days passed they acquired greater permanence and maintained
a more uninterrupted identity. He was able to make quite sure of Mr.
Morton and of Mr. Waters; Mrs. Bowen came in, leading Effie, and this
gave him a great pleasure. Mrs. Bowen seemed to have grown younger and
better. Imogene was not among the phantoms who visited him; and he
accepted her absence as quiescently as he accepted the presence of the
others. There was a cheerfulness in those who came that permitted him no
anxiety, and he was too weak to invite it by any conjecture. He
consented to be spared and to spare himself; and there were some things
about the affair which gave him a singular and perhaps not wholly sane
content. One of these was the man nurse who had evidently taken care of
him throughout. He celebrated, whenever he looked at this capable
person, his escape from being, in the odious helplessness of sickness, a
burden upon the strength and sympathy of the two women for whom he had
otherwise made so much trouble. His satisfaction in this had much to do
with his recovery, which, when it once began, progressed rapidly to a
point where he was told that Imogene and her mother were at a hotel in
Florence, waiting till he should be strong enough to see them. It was
Mrs. Bowen who told him this with an air which she visibly strove to
render non-committal and impersonal, but which betrayed, nevertheless, a
faint apprehension for the effect upon him. The attitude of Imogene and
her mother was certainly not one to have been expected of people holding
their nominal relation to him, but Colville had been revising his
impressions of events on the day of his accident; Imogene's last look
came back to him, and he could not think the situation altogether
"Have I been here a long time?" he asked, as if he had not heeded what
she told him.
"About a fortnight," answered Mrs. Bowen.
"And Imogene--how long has she been away?"
"Since they knew you would get well."
"I will see them any time," he said quietly.
"Do you think you are strong enough?"
"I shall never be stronger till I have seen them," he returned, with a
glance at her. "Yes; I want them to come to-day. I shall not be excited;
don't be troubled--if you were going to be," he added. "Please send to
them at once."
Mrs. Bowen hesitated, but after a moment left the room. She returned in
half an hour with a lady who revealed even to Colville's languid regard
evidences of the character which Mrs. Bowen had attributed to Imogene's
mother. She was a large, robust person, laced to sufficient shapeliness,
and she was well and simply dressed. She entered the room with a waft of
some clean, wholesome perfume, and a quiet temperament and perfect
health looked out of her clear, honest eyes--the eyes of Imogene Graham,
though the girl's were dark and the woman's were blue. When Mrs. Bowen
had named them to each other, in withdrawing, Mrs. Graham took
Colville's weak left hand in her fresh, strong, right, and then lifted
herself a chair to his bedside, and sat down.
"How do you do to-day, sir?" she said, with a touch of old-fashioned
respectfulness in the last word. "Do you think you are quite strong
enough to talk with me?"
"I think so," said Colville, with a faint smile. "At least I can listen
Mrs. Graham was not apparently a person adapted to joking. "I don't know
whether it will require much fortitude to hear what I have to say or
not," she said, with her keen gaze fixed upon him. "It's simply this: I
am going to take Imogene home."
She seemed to expect that Colville would make some reply to this, and he
said blankly, "Yes?"
"I came out prepared to consent to what she wished, after I had seen
you, and satisfied myself that she was not mistaken; for I had always
promised myself that her choice should be perfectly untrammelled, and I
have tried to bring her up with principles and ideas that would enable
her to make a good choice."
"Yes," said Colville again. "I'm afraid you didn't take her temperament
and her youth into account, and that she disappointed you."
"No; I can't say that she did. It isn't that at all. I see no reason to
blame her for her choice. Her mistake was of another kind."
It appeared to Colville that this very sensible and judicial lady found
an intellectual pleasure in the analysis of the case, which modified the
intensity of her maternal feeling in regard to it, and that, like many
people who talk well, she liked to hear herself talk in the presence of
another appreciative listener. He did not offer to interrupt her, and
she went on. "No, sir, I am not disappointed in her choice. I think her
chances of happiness would have been greater, in the abstract, with one
nearer her own age; but that is a difference which other things affect
so much that it did not alarm me greatly. Some people are younger at
your age than at hers. No, sir, that is not the point." Mrs. Graham
fetched a sigh, as if she found it easier to say what was not the point
than to say what was, and her clear gaze grew troubled. But she
apparently girded herself for the struggle. "As far as you are
concerned, Mr. Colville, I have not a word to say. Your conduct
throughout has been most high-minded and considerate and delicate."
It is hard for any man to deny merits attributed to him, especially if
he has been ascribing to himself the opposite demerits. But Colville
summoned his dispersed forces to protest against this.
"Oh, no, no," he cried. "Anything but that. My conduct has been selfish
and shameful. If you could understand all--"
"I think I do understand all--at least far more, I regret to say, than
my daughter has been willing to tell me. And I am more than satisfied
with you. I thank you and honour you."
"Oh no; don't say that," pleaded Colville. "I really can't stand it."
"And when I came here it was with the full intention of approving and
confirming Imogene's decision. But I was met at once by a painful and
surprising state of things. You are aware that you have been very sick?"
"Dimly," said Colville.
"I found you very sick, and I found my daughter frantic at the error
which she had discovered in herself--discovered too late, as she felt."
Mrs. Graham hesitated, and then added abruptly, "She had found out that
she did not love you."
"Didn't love me?" repeated Colville feebly.
"She had been conscious of the truth before, but she had stifled her
misgivings insanely, and, as I feel, almost wickedly, pushing on, and
saying to herself that when you were married, then there would be no
escape, and she _must_ love you."
"Poor girl! poor child! I see, I see."
"But the accident that was almost your death saved her from that
miserable folly and iniquity. Yes," she continued, in answer to the
protest in his face, "folly and iniquity. I found her half crazed at
your bedside. She was fully aware of your danger, but while she was
feeling all the remorse that she ought to feel--that any one could
feel--she was more and more convinced that she never had loved you and
never should. I can give you no idea of her state of mind."
"Oh, you needn't! you needn't! Poor, poor child!"
"Yes, a child indeed. If it had not been for the pity I felt for
her--But no matter about that. She saw at last that if your heroic
devotion to her"--Colville did his best to hang his pillowed head for
shame--"if your present danger did not awaken her to some such feeling
for you as she had once imagined she had; if they both only increased
her despair and self-abhorrence, then the case was indeed hopeless. She
was simply distracted. I had to tear her away almost by force. She has
had a narrow escape from brain-fever. And now I have come to implore, to
_demand_"--Mrs. Graham, with all her poise and calm, was rising to the
hysterical key--"her release from a fate that would be worse than death
for such a girl. I mean marrying without the love of her whole soul. She
esteems you, she respects you, she admires you, she likes you; but--"
Mrs. Graham pressed her lips together, and her eyes shone.
"She is free," said Colville, and with the words a mighty load rolled
from his heart. "There is no need to demand anything."
"There hasn't been an hour, an instant, during--since I--we--spoke
together that I wouldn't have released her if I could have known what
you tell me now."
"Of course!--of course!"
"I have had my fears--my doubts; but whenever I approached the point I
found no avenue by which we could reach a clearer understanding. I could
not say much without seeming to seek for myself the release I was
"Naturally. And what added to her wretchedness was the suspicion at
the bottom of all that she had somehow forced herself upon you--
misunderstood you, and made you say and do things to spare her that
you would not have done voluntarily." This was advanced tentatively. In
the midst of his sophistications Colville had, as most of his sex have,
a native, fatal, helpless truthfulness, which betrayed him at the most
unexpected moments, and this must now have appeared in his countenance.
The lady rose haughtily. She had apparently been considering him, but,
after all, she must have been really considering her daughter. "If
anything of the kind was the case," she said, "I will ask you to spare
her the killing knowledge. It's quite enough for _me_ to know it. And
allow me to say, Mr. Colville, that it would have been far kinder in
"Ah, _think,_ my dear madam!" he exclaimed. "How _could_ I?"
She did think, evidently, and when she spoke it was with a generous
emotion, in which there was no trace of pique.
"You couldn't. You have done right; I feel that, and I will trust you to
say anything you will to my daughter."
"To your daughter? Shall I see her?"
"She came with me. She wished to beg your forgiveness."
Colville lay silent. "There is no forgiveness to be asked or granted,"
he said, at length. "Why should she suffer the pain of seeing me?--for
it would be nothing else. What do you think? Will it do her any good
hereafter? I don't care for myself."
"I don't know what to think," said Mrs. Graham. "She is a strange child.
She may have some idea of reparation."
"Oh, beseech her from me not to imagine that any reparation is due!
Where there has been an error there must be blame; but wherever it lies
in ours, I am sure it isn't at her door. Tell her I say this; tell her
that I acquit her with all my heart of every shadow of wrong; that I am
not unhappy, but glad for her sake and my own that this has ended as it
has." He stretched his left hand across the coverlet to her, and said,
with the feebleness of exhaustion, "Good-bye. Bid her good-bye for me."
Mrs. Graham pressed his hand and went out. A moment after the door was
flung open, and Imogene burst into the room. She threw herself on her
knees beside his bed. "I will _pray_ to you!" she said, her face intense
with the passions working in her soul. She seemed choking with words
which would not come; then, with an inarticulate cry that must stand for
all, she caught up the hand that lay limp on the coverlet; she crushed
it against her lips, and ran out of the room.
He sank into a deathly torpor, the physical refusal of his brain to take
account of what had passed. When he woke from it, little Effie Bowen was
airily tiptoeing about the room, fondly retouching its perfect order. He
closed his eyes, and felt her come to him and smooth the sheet softly
under his chin. Then he knew she must be standing with clasped hands
admiring the effect. Some one called her in whisper from the door. It
closed, and all was still again.
Colville got himself out of the comfort and quiet of Mrs. Bowen's house
as soon as he could. He made the more haste because he felt that if he
could have remained with the smallest trace of self-respect, he would
have been glad to stay there for ever.
Even as it was, the spring had advanced to early summer, and the sun was
lying hot and bright in the piazzas, and the shade dense and cool in the
narrow streets, before he left Palazzo Pinti; the Lung' Arno was a glare
of light that struck back from the curving line of the buff houses; the
river had shrivelled to a rill in its bed; the black cypresses were dim
in the tremor of the distant air on the hill-slopes beyond; the olives
seemed to swelter in the sun, and the villa walls to burn whiter and
whiter. At evening the mosquito began to wind his tiny horn. It was the
end of May, and nearly everybody but the Florentines had gone out of
Florence, dispersing to Villa Reggio by the sea, to the hills of
Pistoja, and to the high, cool air of Siena. More than once Colville had
said that he was keeping Mrs. Bowen after she ought to have got away,
and she had answered that she liked hot weather, and that this was not
comparable to the heat of Washington in June. She was looking very well,
and younger and prettier than she had since the first days of their
renewed acquaintance in the winter. Her southern complexion enriched
itself in the sun; sometimes when she came into his room from outdoors
the straying brown hair curled into loose rings on her temples, and her
cheeks glowed a deep red.
She said those polite things to appease him as long as he was not well
enough to go away, but she did not try to detain him after his strength
sufficiently returned. It was the blow on the head that kept him
longest. After his broken arm and his other bruises were quite healed,
he was aware of physical limits to thinking of the future or regretting
the past, and this sense of his powerlessness went far to reconcile him
to a life of present inaction and oblivion. Theoretically he ought to
have been devoured by remorse and chagrin, but as a matter of fact he
suffered very little from either. Even in people who are in full
possession of their capacity for mental anguish one observes that after
they have undergone a certain amount of pain they cease to feel.
Colville amused himself a good deal with Effie's endeavours to entertain
him and take care of him. The child was with him every moment that she
could steal from her tasks, and her mother no longer attempted to stem
the tide of her devotion. It was understood that Effie should joke and
laugh with Mr. Colville as much as she chose; that she should fan him as
long as he could stand it; that she should read to him when he woke, and
watch him when he slept. She brought him his breakfast, she petted him
and caressed him, and wished to make him a monster of dependence and
self-indulgence. It seemed to grieve her that he got well so fast.
The last night before he left the house she sat on his knee by the
window looking out beyond the firefly twinkle of Oltrarno, to the
silence and solid dark of the solemn company of hills beyond. They had
not lighted the lamps because of the mosquitoes, and they had talked
till her head dropped against his shoulder.
Mrs. Bowen came in to get her. "Why, is she asleep?"
"Yes. Don't take her yet," said Colville.
Mrs. Bowen rustled softly into the chair which Effie had left to get
into Colville's lap. Neither of them spoke, and he was so richly content
with the peace, the tacit sweetness of the little moment, that he would
have been glad to have it silently endure forever. If any troublesome
question of his right to such a moment of bliss obtruded itself upon
him, he did not concern himself with it.
"We shall have another hot day to-morrow," said Mrs. Bowen at length. "I
hope you will find your room comfortable."
"Yes: it's at the back of the hotel, mighty high, and wide, and no sun
ever comes into it except when they show it to foreigners in winter.
Then they get a few rays to enter as a matter of business, on condition
that they won't detain them. I dare say I shall stay there some time. I
suppose you will be getting away from Florence very soon.
"Yes. But I haven't decided where to go yet."
"Should you like some general expression of my gratitude for all you've
done for me, Mrs. Bowen?"
"No; I would rather not. It has been a great pleasure--to Effie."
"Oh, a luxury beyond the dreams of avarice." They spoke in low tones,
and there was something in the hush that suggested to Colville the
feasibility of taking into his unoccupied hand one of the pretty hands
which the pale night-light showed him lying in Mrs. Bowen's lap. But he
forbore, and only sighed. "Well, then, I will say nothing. But I shall
keep on thinking all my life."
She made no answer.
"When you are gone, I shall have to make the most of Mr. Waters," he
"He is going to stop all summer, I believe."
"Oh yes. When I suggested to him the other day that he might find it too
hot, he said that he had seventy New England winters to thaw out of his
blood, and that all the summers he had left would not be more than he
needed. One of his friends told him that he could cook eggs in his
piazza in August, and he said that he should like nothing better than to
cook eggs there. He's the most delightfully expatriated compatriot I've
"Do you like it?"
"It's well enough for him. Life has no claims on him any more. I think
it's very pleasant over here, now that everybody's gone," added
Colville, from a confused resentfulness of collectively remembered Days
and Afternoons and Evenings. "How still the night is!"
A few feet clapping by on the pavement below alone broke the hush.
"Sometimes I feel very tired of it all, and want to get home," sighed
"Well, so do I."
"I can't believe it's right staying away from the country so long."
People often say such things in Europe.
"No, I don't either, if you've got anything to do there."
"You can always make something to do there."
"Oh yes." Some young young men, breaking from a street near by, began to
sing. "We shouldn't have that sort of thing at home."
"No," said Mrs. Bowen pensively.
"I heard just such singing before I fell asleep the night after that
party at Madame Uccelli's, and it filled me with fury."
"Why should it do that?"
"I don't know. It seemed like voices from our youth--Lina."
She had no resentment of his use of her name in the tone with which she
asked: "Did you hate that so much?"
"No; the loss of it."
They both fetched a deep breath.
"The Uccellis have a villa near the baths of Lucca," said Mrs. Bowen.
"They have asked me to go."
"Do you think of going?" inquired Colville. "I've always fancied it must
be pleasant there."
"No; I declined. Sometimes I think I will just stay on in Florence."
"I dare say you'd find it perfectly comfortable. There's nothing like
having the range of one's own house in summer." He looked out of the
window on the blue-black sky.
"'And deepening through their silent spheres,
Heaven over heaven rose the night,'"
he quoted. "It's wonderful! Do you remember how I used to read _Mariana
in the South_ to you and poor Jenny? How it must have bored her! What an
ass I was!"
"Yes," said Mrs. Bowen breathlessly, in sympathy with his reminiscence
rather than in agreement with his self-denunciation.
Colville broke into a laugh, and then she began to laugh to; but not
quite willingly as it seemed.
Effie started from her sleep. "What--what is it?" she asked, stretching
and shivering as half-wakened children do.
"Bed-time," said her mother promptly, taking her hand to lead her away.
"Say good-night to Mr. Colville."
The child turned and kissed him. "Good night," she murmured.
"Good night, you sleepy little soul!" It seemed to Colville that he must
be a pretty good man, after all, if this little thing loved him so.
"Do you always kiss Mr. Colville good-night?" asked her mother when she
began to undo her hair for her in her room.
"Sometimes. Don't you think it's nice?"
"Oh yes; nice enough."
Colville sat by the window a long time thinking Mrs. Bowen might come
back; but she did not return.
Mr. Waters came to see him the next afternoon at his hotel.
"Are you pretty comfortable here?" he asked.
"Well, it's a change," said Colville. "I miss the little one awfully."
"She's a winning child," admitted the old man. "That combination of
conventionality and _naivete_ is very captivating. I notice it in the
"Yes, the mother has it too. Have you seen them to-day?"
"Yes; Mrs. Bowen was sorry to be out when you came."
"I had the misfortune to miss them. I had a great mind to go again
The old man said nothing to this. "The fact is," Colville went on, "I'm
so habituated to being there that I'm rather spoiled."
"Ah, it's a nice place," Mr. Waters admitted.
"Of course I made all the haste I could to get away, and I have the
reward of a good conscience. But I don't find that the reward is very
The old gentleman smiled. "The difficulty is to know conscience from
"Oh, there's no doubt of it in my case," said Colville. "If I'd
consulted my own comfort and advantage, I should still be at Palazzo
"I dare say they would have been glad to keep you."
"Do you really think so?" asked Colville, with sudden seriousness. "I
wish you would tell me why. Have you any reason--grounds? Pshaw! I'm
absurd!" He sank back into the easy-chair from whose depths he had
pulled himself in the eagerness of his demand, and wiped his forehead
with his handkerchief. "Mr. Waters, you remember my telling you of my
engagement to Miss Graham?"
"That is broken off--if it were ever really on. It was a great mistake
for both of us--a tragical one for her, poor child, a ridiculous one for
me. My only consolation is that it was a mistake and no more; but I
don't conceal from myself that I might have prevented it altogether if I
had behaved with greater wisdom and dignity at the outset. But I'm
afraid I was flattered by an illusion of hers that ought to have pained
and alarmed me, and the rest followed inevitably, though I was always
just on the point of escaping the consequences of my weakness--my
"Ah, there is something extremely interesting in all that," said the old
minister thoughtfully. "The situation used to be figured under the old
idea of a compact with the devil. His debtor was always on the point of
escaping, as you say, but I recollect no instance in which he did not
pay at last. The myth must have arisen from man's recognition of the
inexorable sequence of cause from effect, in the moral world, which even
repentance cannot avert. Goethe tries to imagine an atonement for
Faust's trespass against one human soul in his benefactions to the race
at large; but it is a very cloudy business."
"It isn't quite a parallel case," said Colville, rather sulkily. He had,
in fact, suffered more under Mr. Waters's generalisation than he could
from a more personal philosophy of the affair.
"Oh no; I didn't think that," consented the old man.
"And I don't think I shall undertake any extended scheme of drainage or
subsoiling in atonement for my little dream," Colville continued,
resenting the parity of outline that grew upon him in spite of his
protest. They were both silent for a while, and then Colville cried out,
"Yes, yes; they are alike. _I_ dreamed, too, of recovering and restoring
my own lost and broken past in the love of a young soul, and it was in
essence the same cruelly egotistic dream; and it's nothing in my defence
that it was all formless and undirected at first, and that as soon as I
recognised it I abhorred it."
"Oh yes, it is," replied the old man, with perfect equanimity. "Your
assertion is the hysterical excess of Puritanism in all times and
places. In the moral world we are responsible only for the wrong that we
intend. It can't he otherwise."
"And the evil that's suffered from the wrong we didn't intend?"
"Ah, perhaps that isn't evil."
"It's pain, yes."
"And to have wrung a young and innocent heart with the anguish of
self-doubt, with the fear of wrong to another, with the shame of an
error such as I allowed, perhaps encouraged her to make--"
"Yes," said the old man. "The young suffer terribly. But they recover.
Afterward we don't suffer so much, but we don't recover. I wouldn't
defend you against yourself if I thought you seriously in the wrong. If
you know yourself to be, you shouldn't let me."
Thus put upon his honour, Colville was a long time thoughtful. "How can
I tell?" he asked. "You know the facts; you can judge."
"If I were to judge at all, I should say you were likely to do a greater
wrong than any you have committed."
"I don't understand you."
"Miss Graham is a young girl, and I have no doubt that the young
clergyman--what was his name?"
"Morton. Do you think--do you suppose there was anything in that?"
demanded Colville, with eagerness, that a more humorous observer than
Mr. Waters might have found ludicrous. "He was an admirable young
fellow, with an excellent head and a noble heart. I underrated him at
one time, though I recognised his good qualities afterward; but I was
afraid she did not appreciate him."
"I'm not so sure of that," said the old man, with an astuteness of
manner which Colville thought authorised by some sort of definite
"I would give the world if it were so!" he cried fervently.
"But you are really very much more concerned in something else."
"In what else?"
"Can't you imagine?"
"No," said Colville; but he felt himself growing very red in the face.
"Then I have no more to say."
"Yes, speak!" And after an interval Colville added, "Is it anything
about--you hinted at something long ago--Mrs. Bowen?"
"Yes;" the old man nodded his head. "Do you owe her nothing?"
"Owe her nothing? Everything! My life! What self-respect is left me!
Immeasurable gratitude! The homage of a man saved from himself as far as
his stupidity and selfishness would permit! Why, I--I love her!" The
words gave him courage. "In every breath and pulse! She is the most
beautiful and gracious and wisest and best woman in the world! I have
loved her ever since I met her here in Florence last winter. Good
heavens! I must have always loved her! But," he added, falling from the
rapture of this confession, "she simply loathes _me_!"
"It was certainly not to your credit that you were willing at the same
time to marry some one else."
"Willing! I wasn't willing! I was bound hand and foot! Yes--I don't care
what you think of my weakness--I was not a free agent. It's very well to
condemn one's-self, but it may be carried too far; injustice to others
is not the only injustice, or the worst. What I was willing to do was to
keep my word--to prevent that poor child, if possible, from ever finding
out her mistake."
If Colville expected this heroic confession to impress his listener he
was disappointed. Mr. Waters made him no reply, and he was obliged to
ask, with a degree of sarcastic impatience, "I suppose you scarcely
blame me for that?"
"Oh, I don't know that I blame people for things. There are times when
it seems as if we were all puppets, pulled this way or that, without
control of our own movements. Hamlet was able to browbeat Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern with his business of the pipe; but if they had been in
a position to answer they might have told him that it required far less
skill to play upon a man than any other instrument. Most of us, in fact,
go sounding on without any special application of breath or fingers,
repeating the tunes that were played originally upon other men. It
appears to me that you suffered yourself to do something of the kind in
this affair. We are a long time learning to act with common-sense or
even common sanity in what are called matters of the affections. A
broken engagement may be a bad thing in some cases, but I am inclined to
think that it is the very best thing that could happen in most cases
where it happens. The evil is done long before; the broken engagement is
merely sanative, and so far beneficent."
The old gentleman rose, and Colville, dazed by the recognition of his
own cowardice and absurdity, did not try to detain him. But he followed
him down to the outer gate of the hotel. The afternoon sun was pouring
into the piazza a sea of glimmering heat, into which Mr. Waters plunged
with the security of a salamander. He wore a broad-brimmed Panama hat, a
sack coat of black alpaca, and loose trousers of the same material, and
Colville fancied him doubly defended against the torrid waves not only
by the stored cold of half a century of winters at Haddam East Village,
but by an inner coolness of spirit, which appeared to diffuse itself in
an appreciable atmosphere about him. It was not till he was gone that
Colville found himself steeped in perspiration, and glowing with a
Colville went back to his own room, and spent a good deal of time in the
contemplation of a suit of clothes, adapted to the season, which had
been sent home from the tailor's just before Mr. Waters came in. The
coat was of the lightest serge, the trousers of a pearly grey tending to
lavender, the waistcoat of cool white duck. On his way home from Palazzo
Pinti he had stopped in Via Tornabuoni and bought some silk gauze
neckties of a tasteful gaiety of tint, which he had at the time thought
very well of. But now, as he spread out the whole array on his bed, it
seemed too emblematic of a light and blameless spirit for his wear. He
ought to put on something as nearly analogous to sackcloth as a modern
stock of dry-goods afforded; he ought, at least, to wear the grave
materials of his winter costume. But they were really insupportable in
this sudden access of summer. Besides, he had grown thin during his
sickness, and the things bagged about him. If he were going to see Mrs.
Bowen that evening, he ought to go in some decent shape. It was perhaps
providential that he had failed to find her at home in the morning, when
he had ventured thither in the clumsy attire in which he had been
loafing about her drawing-room for the past week. He now owed it to her
to appear before her as well as he could. How charmingly punctilious she
always was herself!
As he put on his new clothes he felt the moral support which the
becomingness of dress alone can give. With the blue silk gauze lightly
tied under his collar, and the lapels of his thin coat thrown back to
admit his thumbs to his waistcoat pockets, he felt almost cheerful
before his glass. Should he shave? As once before, this important
question occurred to him. His thinness gave him some advantages of
figure, but he thought that it made his face older. What effect would
cutting off his beard have upon it? He had not seen the lower part of
his face for fifteen years. No one could say what recent ruin of a
double chin might not be lurking there. He decided not to shave, at
least till after dinner, and after dinner he was too impatient for his
visit to brook the necessary delay.
He was shown into the salotto alone, but Effie Bowen came running in to
meet him. She stopped suddenly, bridling.
"You never expected to see me looking quite so pretty," said Colville,
tracing the cause of her embarrassment to his summer splendour. "Where
is your mamma?"
"She is in the dining-room," replied the child, getting hold of his
hand. "She wants you to come and have coffee with us."
"By all means--not that I haven't had coffee already, though."
She led the way, looking up at him shyly over her shoulder as they went.
Mrs. Bowen rose, napkin in lap, and gave him a hand of welcome. "How are
you feeling to-day?" she asked, politely ignoring his finery.
"Like a new man," he said. And then he added, to relieve the strain of
the situation, "Of the best tailor's make in Florence."
"You look very well," she smiled.
"Oh, I always do when I take pains," said Colville. "The trouble is that
I don't always take pains. But I thought I would to-night, in upon a
"Effie will feel very much flattered," said Mrs. Bowen.
"Don't refuse a portion of the satisfaction," he cried.
"Oh, is it for me too?"
This gave Colville consolation which no religion or philosophy could
have brought him, and his pleasure was not marred, but rather
heightened, by the little pangs of expectation, bred by long custom,
that from moment to moment Imogene would appear. She did not appear, and
a thrill of security succeeded upon each alarm. He wished her well with
all his heart; such is the human heart that he wished her arrived home
the bretrothed of that excellent, that wholly unobjectionable young man,
"Will you have a little of the ice before your coffee?" asked Mrs.
Bowen, proposing one of the moulded creams with her spoon.
"Yes, thank you. Perhaps I will take it in place of the coffee. They
forgot to offer us any ice at the _table d'hote_ this evening."
"This is rather luxurious for us," said Mrs. Bowen. "It's a compromise
with Effie. She wanted me to take her to Giacosa's this afternoon."
"I _thought_ you would come," whispered the child to Colville.
Her mother made a little face of mock surprise at her. "Don't give
yourself away, Effie."
"Why, let us go to Giacosa's too," said Colville, taking the ice. "We
shall be the only foreigners there, and we shall not even feel ourselves
foreign. It's astonishing how the hot weather has dispersed the
tourists. I didn't see a Baedeker on the whole way up here, and I walked
down Via Tornabuoni across through Porta Rosso and the Piazza della
Signoria and the Uffizzi. You've no idea how comfortable and home-like
it was--all the statues loafing about in their shirt sleeves, and the
objects of interest stretching and yawning round, and having a good rest
after their winter's work."
Effie understood Colville's way of talking well enough to enjoy this;
her mother did not laugh.
"Walked?" she asked.
"Certainly. Why not?"
"You are getting well again. You'll soon be gone too."
"I've _got_ well. But as to being gone, there's no hurry. I rather think
I shall wait now to see how long you stay."
"We may keep you all summer," said Mrs. Bowen, dropping her eyelids
"Oh, very well. All summer it is, then. Mr. Waters is going to stay, and
he is such a very cool old gentleman that I don't think one need fear
the wildest antics of the mercury where he is."
When Colville had finished his ice, Mrs. Bowen led the way to the
salotto; and they all sat down by the window there and watched the
sunset die on San Miniato. The bronze copy of Michelangelo's David, in
the Piazzale below the church, blackened in perfect relief against the
pink sky and then faded against the grey while they talked. They were so
domestic that Colville realised with difficulty that this was an image
of what might be rather than what really was; the very ease with which
he could apparently close his hand upon the happiness within his grasp
unnerved him. The talk strayed hither and thither, and went and came
aimlessly. A sound of singing floated in from the kitchen, and Effie
eagerly asked her mother if she might go and see Maddalena. Maddalena's
mother had come to see her, and she was from the mountains.
"Yes, go," said Mrs. Bowen; "but don't stay too long."
"Oh, I will be back in time," said the child, and Colville remembered
that he had proposed going to Giacosa's.
"Yes; don't forget." He had forgotten it himself.
"Maddalena is the cook," explained Mrs. Bowen. "She sings ballads to
Effie that she learned from her mother, and I suppose Effie wants to
hear them at first hand."
"Oh yes," said Colville dreamily.
They were alone now, and each little silence seemed freighted with a
meaning deeper than speech.
"Have you seen Mr. Waters to-day?" asked Mrs. Bowen, after one of these
"Yes; he came this afternoon."
"He is a very strange old man. I should think he would be lonely here."
"He seems not to be. He says he finds company in the history of the
place. And his satisfaction at having got out of Haddam East Village is
"But he will want to go back there before he dies."
"I don't know. He thinks not. He's a strange old man, as you say. He has
the art of putting all sorts of ideas into people's heads. Do you know
what we talked about this afternoon?"
"No, I don't," murmured Mrs. Bowen.
"About you. And he encouraged me to believe--imagine--that I might speak
to you--ask--tell you that--I loved you, Lina." He leaned forward and
took one of the hands that lay in her lap. It trembled with a violence
inconceivable in relation to the perfect quiet of her attitude. But she
did not try to take it away. "Could you--do you love me?"
"Yes," she whispered; but here she sprang up and slipped from his hold
altogether, as with an inarticulate cry of rapture he released her hand
to take her in his arms.
He followed her a pace or two. "And you will--will be my wife?" he
"Never!" she answered, and now Colville stopped short, while a cold
bewilderment bathed him from head to foot. It must be some sort of jest,
though he could not tell where the humour was, and he could not treat it
otherwise than seriously.
"Lina, I have loved you from the first moment that I saw you this
winter, and Heaven knows how long before!"
"Yes; I know that."
"And every moment."
"Oh, I know that too."
"Even if I had no sort of hope that you cared for me, I loved you so
much that I must tell you before we parted--"
"I expected that--I intended it."
"You intended it! and you do love me! And yet you won't--Ah, I don't
"How could _you_ understand? I love you--I blush and burn for shame to
think that I love you. But I will never marry you; I can at least help
doing that, and I can still keep some little trace of self-respect. How
you must really despise me, to think of anything else, after all that
has happened! Did you suppose that I was merely waiting till that poor
girl's back was turned, as you were? Oh, how can you be yourself, and
still be yourself? Yes, Jenny Wheelwright was right. You are too much of
a mixture, Theodore Colville"--her calling him so showed how often she
had thought of him so--"too much for her, too much for Imogene, too much
for me; too much for any woman except some wretched creature who enjoys
being trampled on and dragged through the dust, as you have dragged me."
"_I_ dragged _you_ through the dust? There hasn't been a moment in the
past six months when I wouldn't have rolled myself in it to please you."
"Oh, I knew that well enough! And do you think that was flattering to
"That has nothing to do with it. I only know that I love you, and that I
couldn't help wishing to show it even when I wouldn't acknowledge it to
myself. That is all. And now when I am free to speak, and you own that
you love me, you won't--I give it up!" he cried desperately. But in the
next breath he implored, "_Why_ do you drive me from you, Lina?"
"Because you have humiliated me too much." She was perfectly steady, but
he knew her so well that in the twilight he knew what bitterness there
must be in the smile which she must be keeping on her lips. "I was here
in the place of her mother, her best friend, and you made me treat her
like an enemy. You made me betray her and cast her off."
"Yes, you! I knew from the very first that you did not really care for
her, that you were playing with yourself, as you were playing with her,
and I ought to have warned her."
"It appears to me you did warn her," said Colville, with some resentful
return of courage.
"I tried," she said simply, "and it made it worse. It made it worse
because I knew that I was acting for my own sake more than hers, because
I wasn't--disinterested." There was something in this explanation,
serious, tragic, as it was to Mrs. Bowen, which made Colville laugh. She
might have had some perception of its effect to him, or it may have been
merely from a hysterical helplessness, but she laughed too a little.
"But why," he gathered courage to ask, "do you still dwell upon that?
Mr. Waters told me that Mr. Morton--that there was--"
"He is mistaken. He offered himself, and she refused him. He told me."
"Do you think she would do otherwise, with you lying here between life
and death? No: you can have no hope from that."
Colville, in fact, had none. This blow crushed and dispersed him. He had
not strength enough to feel resentment against Mr. Waters for misleading
him with this _ignis fatuus_.
"No one warned him, and it came to that," said Mrs. Bowen. "It was of a
piece with the whole affair. I was weak in that too."
Colville did not attempt to reply on this point. He feebly reverted to
the inquiry regarding himself, and was far enough from mirth in resuming
"I couldn't imagine," he said, "that you cared anything for me when you
warned another against me. If I could--"
"You put me in a false position from the beginning. I ought to have
sympathised with her and helped her instead of making the poor child
feel that somehow I hated her. I couldn't even put her on guard against
herself, though I knew all along that she didn't really care for you,
but was just in love with her own fancy for you, Even after you were
engaged I ought to have broken it off; I ought to have been frank with
her; it was my duty; but I couldn't without feeling that I was acting
for myself too, and I would not submit to that degradation. No! I would
rather have died. I dare say you don't understand. How could you? You
are a man, and the kind of man who couldn't. At every point you made me
violate every principle that was dear to me. I loathed myself for caring
for a man who was in love with me when he was engaged to another. Don't
think it was gratifying to me. It was detestable; and yet I did let you
see that I cared for you. Yes, I even _tried_ to make you care for
me--falsely, cruelly, treacherously."
"You didn't have to try very hard," said Colville, with a sort of cold
resignation to his fate.
"Oh no; you were quite ready for any hint. I could have told her for her
own sake that she didn't love you, but that would have been for my sake
too; and I would have told you if I hadn't cared for you and known how
you cared for me. I've saved at least the consciousness of this from the
"I don't think it's a great treasure," said Colville. "I wish that you
had saved the consciousness of having been frank even to your own
"Do you dare to reproach me, Theodore Colville? But perhaps I've
deserved this too."
"No, Lina, you certainly don't deserve it, if it's unkindness, from me.
I won't afflict you with my presence: but will you listen to me before I
She sank into a chair in sign of assent. He also sat down. He had a dim
impression that he could talk better if he took her hand, but he did not
venture to ask for it. He contented himself with fixing his eyes upon as
much of her face as he could make out in the dusk, a pale blur in a
vague outline of dark.
"I want to assure you, Lina--Lina, my love, my dearest, as I shall call
you for the first and last time!--that I _do_ understand everything, as
delicately and fully as you could wish, all that you have expressed, and
all that you have left unsaid. I understand how high and pure your
ideals of duty are, and how heroically, angelically, you have struggled
to fulfil them, broken and borne down by my clumsy and stupid
selfishness from the start. I want you to believe, my dearest love--you
must forgive me!--that if I didn't see everything at the time, I do see
it now, and that I prize the love you kept from me far more than any
love you could have given me to the loss of your self-respect. It isn't
logic--it sounds more like nonsense, I am afraid--but you know what I
mean by it. You are more perfect, more lovely to me, than any being in
the world, and I accept whatever fate you choose for me. I would not win
you against your will if I could. You are sacred to me. If you say we
must part, I know that you speak from a finer discernment than mine, and
I submit. I will try to console myself with the thought of your love, if
I may not have you. Yes, I submit."
His instinct of forbearance had served him better than the subtlest art.
His submission was the best defence. He rose with a real dignity, and
she rose also. "Remember," he said, "that I confess all you accuse me
of, and that I acknowledge the justice of what you do--because you do
it." He put out his hand and took the hand which hung nerveless at her
side. "You are quite right. Good-bye." He hesitated a moment. "May I
kiss you, Lina?" He drew her to him, and she let him kiss her on the
"Good-bye," she whispered. "Go--"
"I am going."
Effie Bowen ran into the room from the kitchen.
"Aren't you going to take--" She stopped and turned to her mother. She
must not remind Mr. Colville of his invitation; that was what her
Colville would not say anything. He would not seize his advantage, and
play upon the mother's heart through the feelings of her child, though
there is no doubt that he was tempted to prolong the situation by any
means. Perhaps Mrs. Bowen divined both the temptation and the
resistance. "Tell her," she said, and turned away.
"I can't go with you to-night, Effie," he said, stooping toward her for
the inquiring kiss that she gave him. "I am--going away, and I must say
The solemnity of his voice alarmed her. "Going away!" she repeated.
"Yes--away from Florence. I'm afraid I shall not see you again."
The child turned from him to her mother again, who stood motionless.
Then, as if the whole calamitous fact had suddenly flashed upon her, she
plunged her face against her mother's breast. "I can't _bear_ it!" she
sobbed out; and the reticence of her lamentation told more than a storm
of cries and prayers.
"Oh, you must stay!" said Lina, in the self-contemptuous voice of a
woman who falls below her ideal of herself.
In the levities which the most undeserving husbands permit themselves
with the severest of wives, there were times after their marriage when
Colville accused Lina of never really intending to drive him away, but
of meaning, after a disciplinary ordeal, to marry him in reward of his
tested self-sacrifice and obedience. He said that if the appearance of
Effie was not a _coup de theatre_ contrived beforehand, it was an
accident of no consequence whatever; that if she had not come in at that
moment, her mother would have found some other pretext for detaining
him. This is a point which I would not presume to decide. I only know
that they were married early in June before the syndic of Florence, who
tied a tricolour sash round his ample waist for the purpose, and never
looked more paternal or venerable than when giving the sanction of the
Italian state to their union. It is not, of course, to be supposed that
Mrs. Colville was contented with the civil rite, though Colville may
have thought it quite sufficient. The religious ceremony took place in
the English chapel, the assistant clergyman officiating in the absence
of the incumbent, who had already gone out of town.
The Rev. Mr. Waters gave away the bride, and then went home to Palazzo
Pinti with the party, the single and singularly honoured guest at their
wedding feast, for which Effie Bowen went with Colville to Giacosa's to
order the ices in person. She has never regretted her choice of a step
father, though when Colville asked her how she would like him in that
relation she had a moment of hesitation, in which she reconciled herself
to it; as to him she had no misgivings. He has sometimes found himself
the object of little jealousies on her part, but by promptly deciding
all questions between her and her mother in Effie's favour he has
convinced her of the groundlessness of her suspicions.
In the absence of any social pressure to the contrary, the Colvilles
spent the summer in Palazzo Pinti. Before their fellow-sojourners
returned from the _villeggiatura_ in the fall, however, they had turned
their faces southward, and they are now in Rome, where, arriving as a
married couple, there was no inquiry and no interest in their past.
It is best to be honest, and own that the affair with Imogene has been
the grain of sand to them. No one was to blame, or very much to blame;
even Mrs. Colville says that. It was a thing that happened, but one
would rather it had not happened.
Last winter, however, Mrs. Colville received a letter from Mrs. Graham
which suggested, if it did not impart, consolation. "Mr. Morton was here
the other day, and spent the morning. He has a parish at Erie, and there
is talk of his coming to Buffalo."
"Oh, Heaven grant it!" said Colville, with sudden piety.
"Why?" demanded his wife.
"Well, I wish she was married."
"You have nothing whatever to do with her."
It took him some time to realise that this was the fact.
"No," he confessed; "but what do you think about it?"
"There is no telling. We are such simpletons! If a man will keep on long
enough--But if it isn't Mr. Morton, it will be some one else--some
Colville rose and went round the breakfast table to her. "I hope so," he
said. "_I_ have married a young person, and it would only be fair."
This magnanimity was irresistible.
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