The Diary of a Man of Fifty
THE DIARY OF A MAN OF FIFTY
Florence, April 5th, 1874.--They told me I should find Italy greatly
changed; and in seven-and-twenty years there is room for changes.
But to me everything is so perfectly the same that I seem to be
living my youth over again; all the forgotten impressions of that
enchanting time come back to me. At the moment they were powerful
enough; but they afterwards faded away. What in the world became of
them? Whatever becomes of such things, in the long intervals of
consciousness? Where do they hide themselves away? in what unvisited
cupboards and crannies of our being do they preserve themselves?
They are like the lines of a letter written in sympathetic ink; hold
the letter to the fire for a while and the grateful warmth brings out
the invisible words. It is the warmth of this yellow sun of Florence
that has been restoring the text of my own young romance; the thing
has been lying before me today as a clear, fresh page. There have
been moments during the last ten years when I have fell so
portentously old, so fagged and finished, that I should have taken as
a very bad joke any intimation that this present sense of juvenility
was still in store for me. It won't last, at any rate; so I had
better make the best of it. But I confess it surprises me. I have
led too serious a life; but that perhaps, after all, preserves one's
youth. At all events, I have travelled too far, I have worked too
hard, I have lived in brutal climates and associated with tiresome
people. When a man has reached his fifty-second year without being,
materially, the worse for wear--when he has fair health, a fair
fortune, a tidy conscience and a complete exemption from embarrassing
relatives--I suppose he is bound, in delicacy, to write himself
happy. But I confess I shirk this obligation. I have not been
miserable; I won't go so far as to say that--or at least as to write
it. But happiness--positive happiness--would have been something
different. I don't know that it would have been better, by all
measurements--that it would have left me better off at the present
time. But it certainly would have made this difference--that I
should not have been reduced, in pursuit of pleasant images, to
disinter a buried episode of more than a quarter of a century ago. I
should have found entertainment more--what shall I call it?--more
contemporaneous. I should have had a wife and children, and I should
not be in the way of making, as the French say, infidelities to the
present. Of course it's a great gain to have had an escape, not to
have committed an act of thumping folly; and I suppose that, whatever
serious step one might have taken at twenty-five, after a struggle,
and with a violent effort, and however one's conduct might appear to
be justified by events, there would always remain a certain element
of regret; a certain sense of loss lurking in the sense of gain; a
tendency to wonder, rather wishfully, what MIGHT have been. What
might have been, in this case, would, without doubt, have been very
sad, and what has been has been very cheerful and comfortable; but
there are nevertheless two or three questions I might ask myself.
Why, for instance, have I never married--why have I never been able
to care for any woman as I cared for that one? Ah, why are the
mountains blue and why is the sunshine warm? Happiness mitigated by
impertinent conjectures--that's about my ticket.
6th.--I knew it wouldn't last; it's already passing away. But I have
spent a delightful day; I have been strolling all over the place.
Everything reminds me of something else, and yet of itself at the
same time; my imagination makes a great circuit and comes back to the
starting-point. There is that well-remembered odour of spring in the
air, and the flowers, as they used to be, are gathered into great
sheaves and stacks, all along the rugged base of the Strozzi Palace.
I wandered for an hour in the Boboli Gardens; we went there several
times together. I remember all those days individually; they seem to
me as yesterday. I found the corner where she always chose to sit--
the bench of sun-warmed marble, in front of the screen of ilex, with
that exuberant statue of Pomona just beside it. The place is exactly
the same, except that poor Pomona has lost one of her tapering
fingers. I sat there for half an hour, and it was strange how near
to me she seemed. The place was perfectly empty--that is, it was
filled with HER. I closed my eyes and listened; I could almost hear
the rustle of her dress on the gravel. Why do we make such an ado
about death? What is it, after all, but a sort of refinement of
life? She died ten years ago, and yet, as I sat there in the sunny
stillness, she was a palpable, audible presence. I went afterwards
into the gallery of the palace, and wandered for an hour from room to
room. The same great pictures hung in the same places, and the same
dark frescoes arched above them. Twice, of old, I went there with
her; she had a great understanding of art. She understood all sorts
of things. Before the Madonna of the Chair I stood a long time. The
face is not a particle like hers, and yet it reminded me of her. But
everything does that. We stood and looked at it together once for
half an hour; I remember perfectly what she said.
8th.--Yesterday I felt blue--blue and bored; and when I got up this
morning I had half a mind to leave Florence. But I went out into the
street, beside the Arno, and looked up and down--looked at the yellow
river and the violet hills, and then decided to remain--or rather, I
decided nothing. I simply stood gazing at the beauty of Florence,
and before I had gazed my fill I was in good-humour again, and it was
too late to start for Rome. I strolled along the quay, where
something presently happened that rewarded me for staying. I stopped
in front of a little jeweller's shop, where a great many objects in
mosaic were exposed in the window; I stood there for some minutes--I
don't know why, for I have no taste for mosaic. In a moment a little
girl came and stood beside me--a little girl with a frowsy Italian
head, carrying a basket. I turned away, but, as I turned, my eyes
happened to fall on her basket. It was covered with a napkin, and on
the napkin was pinned a piece of paper, inscribed with an address.
This address caught my glance--there was a name on it I knew. It was
very legibly written--evidently by a scribe who had made up in zeal
what was lacking in skill. Contessa Salvi-Scarabelli, Via
Ghibellina--so ran the superscription; I looked at it for some
moments; it caused me a sudden emotion. Presently the little girl,
becoming aware of my attention, glanced up at me, wondering, with a
pair of timid brown eyes.
"Are you carrying your basket to the Countess Salvi?" I asked.
The child stared at me. "To the Countess Scarabelli."
"Do you know the Countess?"
"Know her?" murmured the child, with an air of small dismay.
"I mean, have you seen her?"
"Yes, I have seen her." And then, in a moment, with a sudden soft
smile--"E bella!" said the little girl. She was beautiful herself as
she said it.
"Precisely; and is she fair or dark?"
The child kept gazing at me. "Bionda--bionda," she answered, looking
about into the golden sunshine for a comparison.
"And is she young?"
"She is not young--like me. But she is not old like--like--"
"Like me, eh? And is she married?"
The little girl began to look wise. "I have never seen the Signor
"And she lives in Via Ghibellina?"
"Sicuro. In a beautiful palace."
I had one more question to ask, and I pointed it with certain copper
coins. "Tell me a little--is she good?"
The child inspected a moment the contents of her little brown fist.
"It's you who are good," she answered.
"Ah, but the Countess?" I repeated.
My informant lowered her big brown eyes, with an air of conscientious
meditation that was inexpressibly quaint. "To me she appears so,"
she said at last, looking up.
"Ah, then, she must be so," I said, "because, for your age, you are
very intelligent." And having delivered myself of this compliment I
walked away and left the little girl counting her soldi.
I walked back to the hotel, wondering how I could learn something
about the Contessa Salvi-Scarabelli. In the doorway I found the
innkeeper, and near him stood a young man whom I immediately
perceived to be a compatriot, and with whom, apparently, he had been
"I wonder whether you can give me a piece of information," I said to
the landlord. "Do you know anything about the Count Salvi-
The landlord looked down at his boots, then slowly raised his
shoulders, with a melancholy smile. "I have many regrets, dear sir--
"You don't know the name?"
"I know the name, assuredly. But I don't know the gentleman."
I saw that my question had attracted the attention of the young
Englishman, who looked at me with a good deal of earnestness. He was
apparently satisfied with what he saw, for he presently decided to
"The Count Scarabelli is dead," he said, very gravely.
I looked at him a moment; he was a pleasing young fellow. "And his
widow lives," I observed, "in Via Ghibellina?"
"I daresay that is the name of the street." He was a handsome young
Englishman, but he was also an awkward one; he wondered who I was and
what I wanted, and he did me the honour to perceive that, as regards
these points, my appearance was reassuring. But he hesitated, very
properly, to talk with a perfect stranger about a lady whom he knew,
and he had not the art to conceal his hesitation. I instantly felt
it to be singular that though he regarded me as a perfect stranger, I
had not the same feeling about him. Whether it was that I had seen
him before, or simply that I was struck with his agreeable young
face--at any rate, I felt myself, as they say here, in sympathy with
him. If I have seen him before I don't remember the occasion, and
neither, apparently, does he; I suppose it's only a part of the
feeling I have had the last three days about everything. It was this
feeling that made me suddenly act as if I had known him a long time.
"Do you know the Countess Salvi?" I asked.
He looked at me a little, and then, without resenting the freedom of
my question--"The Countess Scarabelli, you mean," he said.
"Yes," I answered; "she's the daughter."
"The daughter is a little girl."
"She must be grown up now. She must be--let me see--close upon
My young Englishman began to smile. "Of whom are you speaking?"
"I was speaking of the daughter," I said, understanding his smile.
"But I was thinking of the mother."
"Of the mother?"
"Of a person I knew twenty-seven years ago--the most charming woman I
have ever known. She was the Countess Salvi--she lived in a
wonderful old house in Via Ghibellina."
"A wonderful old house!" my young Englishman repeated.
"She had a little girl," I went on; "and the little girl was very
fair, like her mother; and the mother and daughter had the same name-
-Bianca." I stopped and looked at my companion, and he blushed a
little. "And Bianca Salvi," I continued, "was the most charming
woman in the world." He blushed a little more, and I laid my hand on
his shoulder. "Do you know why I tell you this? Because you remind
me of what I was when I knew her--when I loved her." My poor young
Englishman gazed at me with a sort of embarrassed and fascinated
stare, and still I went on. "I say that's the reason I told you
this--but you'll think it a strange reason. You remind me of my
younger self. You needn't resent that--I was a charming young
fellow. The Countess Salvi thought so. Her daughter thinks the same
Instantly, instinctively, he raised his hand to my arm. "Truly?"
"Ah, you are wonderfully like me!" I said, laughing. "That was just
my state of mind. I wanted tremendously to please her." He dropped
his hand and looked away, smiling, but with an air of ingenuous
confusion which quickened my interest in him. "You don't know what
to make of me," I pursued. "You don't know why a stranger should
suddenly address you in this way and pretend to read your thoughts.
Doubtless you think me a little cracked. Perhaps I am eccentric; but
it's not so bad as that. I have lived about the world a great deal,
following my profession, which is that of a soldier. I have been in
India, in Africa, in Canada, and I have lived a good deal alone.
That inclines people, I think, to sudden bursts of confidence. A
week ago I came into Italy, where I spent six months when I was your
age. I came straight to Florence--I was eager to see it again, on
account of associations. They have been crowding upon me ever so
thickly. I have taken the liberty of giving you a hint of them."
The young man inclined himself a little, in silence, as if he had
been struck with a sudden respect. He stood and looked away for a
moment at the river and the mountains. "It's very beautiful," I
"Oh, it's enchanting," he murmured.
"That's the way I used to talk. But that's nothing to you."
He glanced at me again. "On the contrary, I like to hear."
"Well, then, let us take a walk. If you too are staying at this inn,
we are fellow-travellers. We will walk down the Arno to the Cascine.
There are several things I should like to ask of you."
My young Englishman assented with an air of almost filial confidence,
and we strolled for an hour beside the river and through the shady
alleys of that lovely wilderness. We had a great deal of talk: it's
not only myself, it's my whole situation over again.
"Are you very fond of Italy?" I asked.
He hesitated a moment. "One can't express that."
"Just so; I couldn't express it. I used to try--I used to write
verses. On the subject of Italy I was very ridiculous."
"So am I ridiculous," said my companion.
"No, my dear boy," I answered, "we are not ridiculous; we are two
very reasonable, superior people."
"The first time one comes--as I have done--it's a revelation."
"Oh, I remember well; one never forgets it. It's an introduction to
"And it must be a great pleasure," said my young friend, "to come
"Yes, fortunately the beauty is always here. What form of it," I
asked, "do you prefer?"
My companion looked a little mystified; and at last he said, "I am
very fond of the pictures."
"So was I. And among the pictures, which do you like best?"
"Oh, a great many."
"So did I; but I had certain favourites."
Again the young man hesitated a little, and then he confessed that
the group of painters he preferred, on the whole, to all others, was
that of the early Florentines.
I was so struck with this that I stopped short. "That was exactly my
taste!" And then I passed my hand into his arm and we went our way
We sat down on an old stone bench in the Cascine, and a solemn blank-
eyed Hermes, with wrinkles accentuated by the dust of ages, stood
above us and listened to our talk.
"The Countess Salvi died ten years ago," I said.
My companion admitted that he had heard her daughter say so.
"After I knew her she married again," I added. "The Count Salvi died
before I knew her--a couple of years after their marriage."
"Yes, I have heard that."
"And what else have you heard?"
My companion stared at me; he had evidently heard nothing.
"She was a very interesting woman--there are a great many things to
be said about her. Later, perhaps, I will tell you. Has the
daughter the same charm?"
"You forget," said my young man, smiling, "that I have never seen the
"Very true. I keep confounding. But the daughter--how long have you
"Only since I have been here. A very short time."
For a moment he said nothing. "A month."
"That's just the answer I should have made. A week, a month--it was
all the same to me."
"I think it is more than a month," said the young man.
"It's probably six. How did you make her acquaintance?"
"By a letter--an introduction given me by a friend in England."
"The analogy is complete," I said. "But the friend who gave me my
letter to Madame de Salvi died many years ago. He, too, admired her
greatly. I don't know why it never came into my mind that her
daughter might be living in Florence. Somehow I took for granted it
was all over. I never thought of the little girl; I never heard what
had become of her. I walked past the palace yesterday and saw that
it was occupied; but I took for granted it had changed hands."
"The Countess Scarabelli," said my friend, "brought it to her husband
as her marriage-portion."
"I hope he appreciated it! There is a fountain in the court, and
there is a charming old garden beyond it. The Countess's sitting-
room looks into that garden. The staircase is of white marble, and
there is a medallion by Luca della Robbia set into the wall at the
place where it makes a bend. Before you come into the drawing-room
you stand a moment in a great vaulted place hung round with faded
tapestry, paved with bare tiles, and furnished only with three
chairs. In the drawing-room, above the fireplace, is a superb Andrea
del Sarto. The furniture is covered with pale sea-green."
My companion listened to all this.
"The Andrea del Sarto is there; it's magnificent. But the furniture
is in pale red."
"Ah, they have changed it, then--in twenty-seven years."
"And there's a portrait of Madame de Salvi," continued my friend.
I was silent a moment. "I should like to see that."
He too was silent. Then he asked, "Why don't you go and see it? If
you knew the mother so well, why don't you call upon the daughter?"
"From what you tell me I am afraid."
"What have I told you to make you afraid?"
I looked a little at his ingenuous countenance. "The mother was a
very dangerous woman."
The young Englishman began to blush again. "The daughter is not," he
"Are you very sure?"
He didn't say he was sure, but he presently inquired in what way the
Countess Salvi had been dangerous.
"You must not ask me that," I answered "for after all, I desire to
remember only what was good in her." And as we walked back I begged
him to render me the service of mentioning my name to his friend, and
of saying that I had known her mother well, and that I asked
permission to come and see her.
9th.--I have seen that poor boy half a dozen times again, and a most
amiable young fellow he is. He continues to represent to me, in the
most extraordinary manner, my own young identity; the correspondence
is perfect at all points, save that he is a better boy than I. He is
evidently acutely interested in his Countess, and leads quite the
same life with her that I led with Madame de Salvi. He goes to see
her every evening and stays half the night; these Florentines keep
the most extraordinary hours. I remember, towards 3 A.M., Madame de
Salvi used to turn me out.--"Come, come," she would say, "it's time
to go. If you were to stay later people might talk." I don't know
at what time he comes home, but I suppose his evening seems as short
as mine did. Today he brought me a message from his Contessa--a very
gracious little speech. She remembered often to have heard her
mother speak of me--she called me her English friend. All her
mother's friends were dear to her, and she begged I would do her the
honour to come and see her. She is always at home of an evening.
Poor young Stanmer (he is of the Devonshire Stanmers--a great
property) reported this speech verbatim, and of course it can't in
the least signify to him that a poor grizzled, battered soldier, old
enough to be his father, should come to call upon his inammorata.
But I remember how it used to matter to me when other men came;
that's a point of difference. However, it's only because I'm so old.
At twenty-five I shouldn't have been afraid of myself at fifty-two.
Camerino was thirty-four--and then the others! She was always at
home in the evening, and they all used to come. They were old
Florentine names. But she used to let me stay after them all; she
thought an old English name as good. What a transcendent coquette! .
. . But basta cosi as she used to say. I meant to go tonight to Casa
Salvi, but I couldn't bring myself to the point. I don't know what
I'm afraid of; I used to be in a hurry enough to go there once. I
suppose I am afraid of the very look of the place--of the old rooms,
the old walls. I shall go tomorrow night. I am afraid of the very
10th.--She has the most extraordinary resemblance to her mother.
When I went in I was tremendously startled; I stood starting at her.
I have just come home; it is past midnight; I have been all the
evening at Casa Salvi. It is very warm--my window is open--I can
look out on the river gliding past in the starlight. So, of old,
when I came home, I used to stand and look out. There are the same
cypresses on the opposite hills.
Poor young Stanmer was there, and three or four other admirers; they
all got up when I came in. I think I had been talked about, and
there was some curiosity. But why should I have been talked about?
They were all youngish men--none of them of my time. She is a
wonderful likeness of her mother; I couldn't get over it. Beautiful
like her mother, and yet with the same faults in her face; but with
her mother's perfect head and brow and sympathetic, almost pitying,
eyes. Her face has just that peculiarity of her mother's, which, of
all human countenances that I have ever known, was the one that
passed most quickly and completely from the expression of gaiety to
that of repose. Repose in her face always suggested sadness; and
while you were watching it with a kind of awe, and wondering of what
tragic secret it was the token, it kindled, on the instant, into a
radiant Italian smile. The Countess Scarabelli's smiles tonight,
however, were almost uninterrupted. She greeted me--divinely, as her
mother used to do; and young Stanmer sat in the corner of the sofa--
as I used to do--and watched her while she talked. She is thin and
very fair, and was dressed in light, vaporous black that completes
the resemblance. The house, the rooms, are almost absolutely the
same; there may be changes of detail, but they don't modify the
general effect. There are the same precious pictures on the walls of
the salon--the same great dusky fresco in the concave ceiling. The
daughter is not rich, I suppose, any more than the mother. The
furniture is worn and faded, and I was admitted by a solitary
servant, who carried a twinkling taper before me up the great dark
"I have often heard of you," said the Countess, as I sat down near
her; "my mother often spoke of you."
"Often?" I answered. "I am surprised at that."
"Why are you surprised? Were you not good friends?"
"Yes, for a certain time--very good friends. But I was sure she had
"She never forgot," said the Countess, looking at me intently and
smiling. "She was not like that."
"She was not like most other women in any way," I declared.
"Ah, she was charming," cried the Countess, rattling open her fan.
"I have always been very curious to see you. I have received an
impression of you."
"A good one, I hope."
She looked at me, laughing, and not answering this: it was just her
"'My Englishman,' she used to call you--'il mio Inglese.'"
"I hope she spoke of me kindly," I insisted.
The Countess, still laughing, gave a little shrug balancing her hand
to and fro. "So-so; I always supposed you had had a quarrel. You
don't mind my being frank like this--eh?"
"I delight in it; it reminds me of your mother."
"Every one tells me that. But I am not clever like her. You will
see for yourself."
"That speech," I said, "completes the resemblance. She was always
pretending she was not clever, and in reality--"
"In reality she was an angel, eh? To escape from dangerous
comparisons I will admit, then, that I am clever. That will make a
difference. But let us talk of you. You are very--how shall I say
"Is that what your mother told you?"
"To tell the truth, she spoke of you as a great original. But aren't
all Englishmen eccentric? All except that one!" and the Countess
pointed to poor Stanmer, in his corner of the sofa.
"Oh, I know just what he is," I said.
"He's as quiet as a lamb--he's like all the world," cried the
"Like all the world--yes. He is in love with you."
She looked at me with sudden gravity. "I don't object to your saying
that for all the world--but I do for him."
"Well," I went on, "he is peculiar in this: he is rather afraid of
Instantly she began to smile; she turned her face toward Stanmer. He
had seen that we were talking about him; he coloured and got up--then
came toward us.
"I like men who are afraid of nothing," said our hostess.
"I know what you want," I said to Stanmer. "You want to know what
the Signora Contessa says about you."
Stanmer looked straight into her face, very gravely. "I don't care a
straw what she says."
"You are almost a match for the Signora Contessa," I answered. "She
declares she doesn't care a pin's head what you think."
"I recognise the Countess's style!" Stanmer exclaimed, turning away.
"One would think," said the Countess, "that you were trying to make a
quarrel between us."
I watched him move away to another part of the great saloon; he stood
in front of the Andrea del Sarto, looking up at it. But he was not
seeing it; he was listening to what we might say. I often stood
there in just that way. "He can't quarrel with you, any more than I
could have quarrelled with your mother."
"Ah, but you did. Something painful passed between you."
"Yes, it was painful, but it was not a quarrel. I went away one day
and never saw her again. That was all."
The Countess looked at me gravely. "What do you call it when a man
"It depends upon the case."
"Sometimes," said the Countess in French, "it's a lachete."
"Yes, and sometimes it's an act of wisdom."
"And sometimes," rejoined the Countess, "it's a mistake."
I shook my head. "For me it was no mistake."
She began to laugh again. "Caro Signore, you're a great original.
What had my poor mother done to you?"
I looked at our young Englishman, who still had his back turned to us
and was staring up at the picture. "I will tell you some other
time," I said.
"I shall certainly remind you; I am very curious to know." Then she
opened and shut her fan two or three times, still looking at me.
What eyes they have! "Tell me a little," she went on, "if I may ask
without indiscretion. Are you married?"
"No, Signora Contessa."
"Isn't that at least a mistake?"
"Do I look very unhappy?"
She dropped her head a little to one side. "For an Englishman--no!"
"Ah," said I, laughing, "you are quite as clever as your mother."
"And they tell me that you are a great soldier," she continued; "you
have lived in India. It was very kind of you, so far away, to have
remembered our poor dear Italy."
"One always remembers Italy; the distance makes no difference. I
remembered it well the day I heard of your mother's death!"
"Ah, that was a sorrow!" said the Countess. "There's not a day that
I don't weep for her. But che vuole? She's a saint its paradise."
"Sicuro," I answered; and I looked some time at the ground. "But
tell me about yourself, dear lady," I asked at last, raising my eyes.
"You have also had the sorrow of losing your husband."
"I am a poor widow, as you see. Che vuole? My husband died after
three years of marriage."
I waited for her to remark that the late Count Scarabelli was also a
saint in paradise, but I waited in vain.
"That was like your distinguished father," I said.
"Yes, he too died young. I can't be said to have known him; I was
but of the age of my own little girl. But I weep for him all the
Again I was silent for a moment.
"It was in India too," I said presently, "that I heard of your
mother's second marriage."
The Countess raised her eyebrows.
"In India, then, one hears of everything! Did that news please you?"
"Well, since you ask me--no."
"I understand that," said the Countess, looking at her open fan. "I
shall not marry again like that."
"That's what your mother said to me," I ventured to observe.
She was not offended, but she rose from her seat and stood looking at
me a moment. Then--"You should not have gone away!" she exclaimed.
I stayed for another hour; it is a very pleasant house.
Two or three of the men who were sitting there seemed very civil and
intelligent; one of them was a major of engineers, who offered me a
profusion of information upon the new organisation of the Italian
army. While he talked, however, I was observing our hostess, who was
talking with the others; very little, I noticed, with her young
Inglese. She is altogether charming--full of frankness and freedom,
of that inimitable disinvoltura which in an Englishwoman would be
vulgar, and which in her is simply the perfection of apparent
spontaneity. But for all her spontaneity she's as subtle as a
needle-point, and knows tremendously well what she is about. If she
is not a consummate coquette . . . What had she in her head when she
said that I should not have gone away?--Poor little Stanmer didn't go
away. I left him there at midnight.
12th.--I found him today sitting in the church of Santa Croce, into
which I wandered to escape from the heat of the sun.
In the nave it was cool and dim; he was staring at the blaze of
candles on the great altar, and thinking, I am sure, of his
incomparable Countess. I sat down beside him, and after a while, as
if to avoid the appearance of eagerness, he asked me how I had
enjoyed my visit to Casa Salvi, and what I thought of the padrona.
"I think half a dozen things," I said, "but I can only tell you one
now. She's an enchantress. You shall hear the rest when we have
left the church."
"An enchantress?" repeated Stanmer, looking at me askance.
He is a very simple youth, but who am I to blame him?
"A charmer," I said "a fascinatress!"
He turned away, staring at the altar candles.
"An artist--an actress," I went on, rather brutally.
He gave me another glance.
"I think you are telling me all," he said.
"No, no, there is more." And we sat a long time in silence.
At last he proposed that we should go out; and we passed in the
street, where the shadows had begun to stretch themselves.
"I don't know what you mean by her being an actress," he said, as we
"I suppose not. Neither should I have known, if any one had said
that to me."
"You are thinking about the mother," said Stanmer. "Why are you
always bringing HER in?"
"My dear boy, the analogy is so great it forces itself upon me."
He stopped and stood looking at me with his modest, perplexed young
face. I thought he was going to exclaim--"The analogy be hanged!"--
but he said after a moment -
"Well, what does it prove?"
"I can't say it proves anything; but it suggests a great many
"Be so good as to mention a few," he said, as we walked on.
"You are not sure of her yourself," I began.
"Never mind that--go on with your analogy."
"That's a part of it. You ARE very much in love with her."
"That's a part of it too, I suppose?"
"Yes, as I have told you before. You are in love with her, and yet
you can't make her out; that's just where I was with regard to Madame
"And she too was an enchantress, an actress, an artist, and all the
rest of it?"
"She was the most perfect coquette I ever knew, and the most
dangerous, because the most finished."
"What you mean, then, is that her daughter is a finished coquette?"
"I rather think so."
Stanmer walked along for some moments in silence.
"Seeing that you suppose me to be a--a great admirer of the
Countess," he said at last, "I am rather surprised at the freedom
with which you speak of her."
I confessed that I was surprised at it myself. "But it's on account
of the interest I take in you."
"I am immensely obliged to you!" said the poor boy.
"Ah, of course you don't like it. That is, you like my interest--I
don't see how you can help liking that; but you don't like my
freedom. That's natural enough; but, my dear young friend, I want
only to help you. If a man had said to me--so many years ago--what I
am saying to you, I should certainly also, at first, have thought him
a great brute. But after a little, I should have been grateful--I
should have felt that he was helping me."
"You seem to have been very well able to help yourself," said
Stanmer. "You tell me you made your escape."
"Yes, but it was at the cost of infinite perplexity--of what I may
call keen suffering. I should like to save you all that."
"I can only repeat--it is really very kind of you."
"Don't repeat it too often, or I shall begin to think you don't mean
"Well," said Stanmer, "I think this, at any rate--that you take an
extraordinary responsibility in trying to put a man out of conceit of
a woman who, as he believes, may make him very happy."
I grasped his arm, and we stopped, going on with our talk like a
couple of Florentines.
"Do you wish to marry her?"
He looked away, without meeting my eyes. "It's a great
responsibility," he repeated.
"Before Heaven," I said, "I would have married the mother! You are
exactly in my situation."
"Don't you think you rather overdo the analogy?" asked poor Stanmer.
"A little more, a little less--it doesn't matter. I believe you are
in my shoes. But of course if you prefer it, I will beg a thousand
pardons and leave them to carry you where they will."
He had been looking away, but now he slowly turned his face and met
my eyes. "You have gone too far to retreat; what is it you know
"About this one--nothing. But about the other--"
"I care nothing about the other!"
"My dear fellow," I said, "they are mother and daughter--they are as
like as two of Andrea's Madonnas."
"If they resemble each other, then, you were simply mistaken in the
I took his arm and we walked on again; there seemed no adequate reply
to such a charge. "Your state of mind brings back my own so
completely," I said presently. "You admire her--you adore her, and
yet, secretly, you mistrust her. You are enchanted with her personal
charm, her grace, her wit, her everything; and yet in your private
heart you are afraid of her."
"Afraid of her?"
"Your mistrust keeps rising to the surface; you can't rid yourself of
the suspicion that at the bottom of all things she is hard and cruel,
and you would be immensely relieved if some one should persuade you
that your suspicion is right."
Stanmer made no direct reply to this; but before we reached the hotel
he said--"What did you ever know about the mother?"
"It's a terrible story," I answered.
He looked at me askance. "What did she do?"
"Come to my rooms this evening and I will tell you."
He declared he would, but he never came. Exactly the way I should
14th.--I went again, last evening, to Casa Salvi, where I found the
same little circle, with the addition of a couple of ladies. Stanmer
was there, trying hard to talk to one of them, but making, I am sure,
a very poor business of it. The Countess--well, the Countess was
admirable. She greeted me like a friend of ten years, toward whom
familiarity should not have engendered a want of ceremony; she made
me sit near her, and she asked me a dozen questions about my health
and my occupations.
"I live in the past," I said. "I go into the galleries, into the old
palaces and the churches. Today I spent an hour in Michael Angelo's
chapel at San Loreozo."
"Ah yes, that's the past," said the Countess. "Those things are very
"Twenty-seven years old," I answered.
"I mean my own past," I said. "I went to a great many of those
places with your mother."
"Ah, the pictures are beautiful," murmured the Countess, glancing at
"Have you lately looked at any of them?" I asked. "Have you gone to
the galleries with HIM?"
She hesitated a moment, smiling. "It seems to me that your question
is a little impertinent. But I think you are like that."
"A little impertinent? Never. As I say, your mother did me the
honour, more than once, to accompany me to the Uffizzi."
"My mother must have been very kind to you."
"So it seemed to me at the time."
"At the time only?"
"Well, if you prefer, so it seems to me now."
"Eh," said the Countess, "she made sacrifices."
"To what, cara Signora? She was perfectly free. Your lamented
father was dead--and she had not yet contracted her second marriage."
"If she was intending to marry again, it was all the more reason she
should have been careful."
I looked at her a moment; she met my eyes gravely, over the top of
her fan. "Are YOU very careful?" I said.
She dropped her fan with a certain violence. "Ah, yes, you are
"Ah no," I said. "Remember that I am old enough to be your father;
that I knew you when you were three years old. I may surely ask such
questions. But you are right; one must do your mother justice. She
was certainly thinking of her second marriage."
"You have not forgiven her that!" said the Countess, very gravely.
"Have you?" I asked, more lightly.
"I don't judge my mother. That is a mortal sin. My stepfather was
very kind to me."
"I remember him," I said; "I saw him a great many times--your mother
already received him."
My hostess sat with lowered eyes, saying nothing; but she presently
"She was very unhappy with my father."
"That I can easily believe. And your stepfather--is he still
"He died--before my mother."
"Did he fight any more duels?"
"He was killed in a duel," said the Countess, discreetly.
It seems almost monstrous, especially as I can give no reason for it-
-but this announcement, instead of shocking me, caused me to feel a
strange exhilaration. Most assuredly, after all these years, I bear
the poor man no resentment. Of course I controlled my manner, and
simply remarked to the Countess that as his fault had been so was his
punishment. I think, however, that the feeling of which I speak was
at the bottom of my saying to her that I hoped that, unlike her
mother's, her own brief married life had been happy.
"If it was not," she said, "I have forgotten it now."--I wonder if
the late Count Scarabelli was also killed in a duel, and if his
adversary . . . Is it on the books that his adversary, as well, shall
perish by the pistol? Which of those gentlemen is he, I wonder? Is
it reserved for poor little Stanmer to put a bullet into him? No;
poor little Stanmer, I trust, will do as I did. And yet,
unfortunately for him, that woman is consummately plausible. She was
wonderfully nice last evening; she was really irresistible. Such
frankness and freedom, and yet something so soft and womanly; such
graceful gaiety, so much of the brightness, without any of the
stiffness, of good breeding, and over it all something so
picturesquely simple and southern. She is a perfect Italian. But
she comes honestly by it. After the talk I have just jotted down she
changed her place, and the conversation for half an hour was general.
Stanmer indeed said very little; partly, I suppose, because he is shy
of talking a foreign tongue. Was I like that--was I so constantly
silent? I suspect I was when I was perplexed, and Heaven knows that
very often my perplexity was extreme. Before I went away I had a few
more words tete-a-tete with the Countess.
"I hope you are not leaving Florence yet," she said; "you will stay a
I answered that I came only for a week, and that my week was over.
"I stay on from day to day, I am so much interested."
"Eh, it's the beautiful moment. I'm glad our city pleases you!"
"Florence pleases me--and I take a paternal interest to our young
friend," I added, glancing at Stanmer. "I have become very fond of
"Bel tipo inglese," said my hostess. "And he is very intelligent; he
has a beautiful mind."
She stood there resting her smile and her clear, expressive eyes upon
"I don't like to praise him too much," I rejoined, "lest I should
appear to praise myself; he reminds me so much of what I was at his
age. If your beautiful mother were to come to life for an hour she
would see the resemblance."
She gave me a little amused stare.
"And yet you don't look at all like him!"
"Ah, you didn't know me when I was twenty-five. I was very handsome!
And, moreover, it isn't that, it's the mental resemblance. I was
ingenuous, candid, trusting, like him."
"Trusting? I remember my mother once telling me that you were the
most suspicious and jealous of men!"
"I fell into a suspicious mood, but I was, fundamentally, not in the
least addicted to thinking evil. I couldn't easily imagine any harm
of any one."
"And so you mean that Mr. Stanmer is in a suspicions mood?"
"Well, I mean that his situation is the same as mine."
The Countess gave me one of her serious looks. "Come," she said,
"what was it--this famous situation of yours? I have heard you
mention it before."
"Your mother might have told you, since she occasionally did me the
honour to speak of me."
"All my mother ever told me was that you were--a sad puzzle to her."
At this, of course, I laughed out--I laugh still as I write it.
"Well, then, that was my situation--I was a sad puzzle to a very
"And you mean, therefore, that I am a puzzle to poor Mr. Stanmer?"
"He is racking his brains to make you out. Remember it was you who
said he was intelligent."
She looked round at him, and as fortune would have it, his appearance
at that moment quite confirmed my assertion. He was lounging back in
his chair with an air of indolence rather too marked for a drawing-
room, and staring at the ceiling with the expression of a man who has
just been asked a conundrum. Madame Scarabelli seemed struck with
"Don't you see," I said, "he can't read the riddle?"
"You yourself," she answered, "said he was incapable of thinking
evil. I should be sorry to have him think any evil of ME."
And she looked straight at me--seriously, appealingly--with her
beautiful candid brow.
I inclined myself, smiling, in a manner which might have meant--"How
could that be possible?"
"I have a great esteem for him," she went on; "I want him to think
well of me. If I am a puzzle to him, do me a little service.
Explain me to him."
"Explain you, dear lady?"
"You are older and wiser than he. Make him understand me."
She looked deep into my eyes for a moment, and then she turned away.
26th.--I have written nothing for a good many days, but meanwhile I
have been half a dozen times to Casa Salvi. I have seen a good deal
also of my young friend--had a good many walks and talks with him. I
have proposed to him to come with me to Venice for a fortnight, but
he won't listen to the idea of leaving Florence. He is very happy in
spite of his doubts, and I confess that in the perception of his
happiness I have lived over again my own. This is so much the case
that when, the other day, he at last made up his mind to ask me to
tell him the wrong that Madame de Salvi had done me, I rather checked
his curiosity. I told him that if he was bent upon knowing I would
satisfy him, but that it seemed a pity, just now, to indulge in
"But I thought you wanted so much to put me out of conceit of our
"I admit I am inconsistent, but there are various reasons for it. In
the first place--it's obvious--I am open to the charge of playing a
double game. I profess an admiration for the Countess Scarabelli,
for I accept her hospitality, and at the same time I attempt to
poison your mind; isn't that the proper expression? I can't exactly
make up my mind to that, though my admiration for the Countess and my
desire to prevent you from taking a foolish step are equally sincere.
And then, in the second place, you seem to me, on the whole, so
happy! One hesitates to destroy an illusion, no matter how
pernicious, that is so delightful while it lasts. These are the rare
moments of life. To be young and ardent, in the midst of an Italian
spring, and to believe in the moral perfection of a beautiful woman--
what an admirable situation! Float with the current; I'll stand on
the brink and watch you."
"Your real reason is that you feel you have no case against the poor
lady," said Stanmer. "You admire her as much as I do."
"I just admitted that I admired her. I never said she was a vulgar
flirt; her mother was an absolutely scientific one. Heaven knows I
admired that! It's a nice point, however, how much one is hound in
honour not to warn a young friend against a dangerous woman because
one also has relations of civility with the lady."
"In such a case," said Stanmer, "I would break off my relations."
I looked at him, and I think I laughed.
"Are you jealous of me, by chance?"
He shook his head emphatically.
"Not in the least; I like to see you there, because your conduct
contradicts your words."
"I have always said that the Countess is fascinating."
"Otherwise," said Stanmer, "in the case you speak of I would give the
"Give her notice?"
"Mention to her that you regard her with suspicion, and that you
propose to do your best to rescue a simple-minded youth from her
wiles. That would be more loyal." And he began to laugh again.
It is not the first time he has laughed at me; but I have never
minded it, because I have always understood it.
"Is that what you recommend me to say to the Countess?" I asked.
"Recommend you!" he exclaimed, laughing again; "I recommend nothing.
I may be the victim to be rescued, but I am at least not a partner to
the conspiracy. Besides," he added in a moment, "the Countess knows
your state of mind."
"Has she told you so?"
"She has begged me to listen to everything you may say against her.
She declares that she has a good conscience."
"Ah," said I, "she's an accomplished woman!"
And it is indeed very clever of her to take that tone. Stanmer
afterwards assured me explicitly that he has never given her a hint
of the liberties I have taken in conversation with--what shall I call
it?--with her moral nature; she has guessed them for herself. She
must hate me intensely, and yet her manner has always been so
charming to me! She is truly an accomplished woman!
May 4th.--I have stayed away from Casa Salvi for a week, but I have
lingered on in Florence, under a mixture of impulses. I have had it
on my conscience not to go near the Countess again--and yet from the
moment she is aware of the way I feel about her, it is open war.
There need be no scruples on either side. She is as free to use
every possible art to entangle poor Stanmer more closely as I am to
clip her fine-spun meshes. Under the circumstances, however, we
naturally shouldn't meet very cordially. But as regards her meshes,
why, after all, should I clip them? It would really be very
interesting to see Stanmer swallowed up. I should like to see how he
would agree with her after she had devoured him--(to what vulgar
imagery, by the way, does curiosity reduce a man!) Let him finish
the story in his own way, as I finished it in mine. It is the same
story; but why, a quarter of a century later, should it have the same
denoument? Let him make his own denoument.
5th.--Hang it, however, I don't want the poor boy to be miserable.
6th.--Ah, but did my denoument then prove such a happy one?
7th.--He came to my room late last night; he was much excited.
"What was it she did to you?" he asked.
I answered him first with another question. "Have you quarrelled
with the Countess?"
But he only repeated his own. "What was it she did to you?"
"Sit down and I'll tell you." And he sat there beside the candle,
staring at me. "There was a man always there--Count Camerino."
"The man she married?"
"The man she married. I was very much in love with her, and yet I
didn't trust her. I was sure that she lied; I believed that she
could be cruel. Nevertheless, at moments, she had a charm which made
it pure pedantry to be conscious of her faults; and while these
moments lasted I would have done anything for her. Unfortunately
they didn't last long. But you know what I mean; am I not describing
"The Countess Scarabelli never lied!" cried Stanmer.
"That's just what I would have said to any one who should have made
the insinutation! But I suppose you are not asking me the question
you put to me just now from dispassionate curiosity."
"A man may want to know!" said the innocent fellow.
I couldn't help laughing out. "This, at any rate, is my story.
Camerino was always there; he was a sort of fixture in the house. If
I had moments of dislike for the divine Bianca, I had no moments of
liking for him. And yet he was a very agreeable fellow, very civil,
very intelligent, not in the least disposed to make a quarrel with
me. The trouble, of course, was simply that I was jealous of him. I
don't know, however, on what ground I could have quarrelled with him,
for I had no definite rights. I can't say what I expected--I can't
say what, as the matter stood, I was prepared to do. With my name
and my prospects, I might perfectly have offered her my hand. I am
not sure that she would have accepted it--I am by no means clear that
she wanted that. But she wanted, wanted keenly, to attach me to her;
she wanted to have me about. I should have been capable of giving up
everything--England, my career, my family--simply to devote myself to
her, to live near her and see her every day."
"Why didn't you do it, then?" asked Stanmer.
"Why don't you?"
"To be a proper rejoinder to my question," he said, rather neatly,
"yours should be asked twenty-five years hence."
"It remains perfectly true that at a given moment I was capable of
doing as I say. That was what she wanted--a rich, susceptible,
credulous, convenient young Englishman established near her en
permanence. And yet," I added, "I must do her complete justice. I
honestly believe she was fond of me." At this Stanmer got up and
walked to the window; he stood looking out a moment, and then he
turned round. "You know she was older than I," I went on. "Madame
Scarabelli is older than you. One day in the garden, her mother
asked me in an angry tone why I disliked Camerino; for I had been at
no pains to conceal my feeling about him, and something had just
happened to bring it out. 'I dislike him,' I said, 'because you like
him so much.' 'I assure you I don't like him,' she answered. 'He
has all the appearance of being your lover,' I retorted. It was a
brutal speech, certainly, but any other man in my place would have
made it. She took it very strangely; she turned pale, but she was
not indignant. 'How can he be my lover after what he has done?' she
asked. 'What has he done?' She hesitated a good while, then she
said: 'He killed my husband.' 'Good heavens!' I cried, 'and you
receive him!' Do you know what she said? She said, 'Che voule?'"
"Is that all?" asked Stanmer.
"No; she went on to say that Camerino had killed Count Salvi in a
duel, and she admitted that her husband's jealousy had been the
occasion of it. The Count, it appeared, was a monster of jealousy--
he had led her a dreadful life. He himself, meanwhile, had been
anything but irreproachable; he had done a mortal injury to a man of
whom he pretended to be a friend, and this affair had become
notorious. The gentleman in question had demanded satisfaction for
his outraged honour; but for some reason or other (the Countess, to
do her justice, did not tell me that her husband was a coward), he
had not as yet obtained it. The duel with Camerino had come on
first; in an access of jealous fury the Count had struck Camerino in
the face; and this outrage, I know not how justly, was deemed
expiable before the other. By an extraordinary arrangement (the
Italians have certainly no sense of fair play) the other man was
allowed to be Camerino's second. The duel was fought with swords,
and the Count received a wound of which, though at first it was not
expected to be fatal, he died on the following day. The matter was
hushed up as much as possible for the sake of the Countess's good
name, and so successfully that it was presently observed that, among
the public, the other gentleman had the credit of having put his
blade through M. de Salvi. This gentleman took a fancy not to
contradict the impression, and it was allowed to subsist. So long as
he consented, it was of course in Camerino's interest not to
contradict it, as it left him much more free to keep up his intimacy
with the Countess."
Stanmer had listened to all this with extreme attention. "Why didn't
SHE contradict it?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "I am bound to believe it was for the same
reason. I was horrified, at any rate, by the whole story. I was
extremely shocked at the Countess's want of dignity in continuing to
see the man by whose hand her husband had fallen."
"The husband had been a great brute, and it was not known," said
"Its not being known made no difference. And as for Salvi having
been a brute, that is but a way of saying that his wife, and the man
whom his wife subsequently married, didn't like him."
Stanmer hooked extremely meditative; his eyes were fixed on mine.
"Yes, that marriage is hard to get over. It was not becoming."
"Ah," said I, "what a long breath I drew when I heard of it! I
remember the place and the hour. It was at a hill-station in India,
seven years after I had left Florence. The post brought me some
English papers, and in one of them was a letter from Italy, with a
lot of so-called 'fashionable intelligence.' There, among various
scandals in high life, and other delectable items, I read that the
Countess Bianca Salvi, famous for some years as the presiding genius
of the most agreeable seen in Florence, was about to bestow her hand
upon Count Camerino, a distinguished Bolognese. Ah, my dear boy, it
was a tremendous escape! I had been ready to marry the woman who was
capable of that! But my instinct had warned me, and I had trusted my
"'Instinct's everything,' as Falstaff says!" And Stanmer began to
laugh. "Did you tell Madame de Salvi that your instinct was against
"No; I told her that she frightened me, shocked me, horrified me."
"That's about the same thing. And what did she say?"
"She asked me what I would have? I called her friendship with
Camerino a scandal, and she answered that her husband had been a
brute. Besides, no one knew it; therefore it was no scandal. Just
YOUR argument! I retorted that this was odious reasoning, and that
she had no moral sense. We had a passionate argument, and I declared
I would never see her again. In the heat of my displeasure I left
Florence, and I kept my vow. I never saw her again."
"You couldn't have been much in love with her," said Stanmer.
"I was not--three months after."
"If you had been you would have come back--three days after."
"So doubtless it seems to you. All I can say is that it was the
great effort of my life. Being a military man, I have had on various
occasions to face time enemy. But it was not then I needed my
resolution; it was when I left Florence in a post-chaise."
Stanmer turned about the room two or three times, and then he said:
"I don't understand! I don't understand why she should have told you
that Camerino had killed her husband. It could only damage her."
"She was afraid it would damage her more that I should think he was
her lover. She wished to say the thing that would most effectually
persuade me that he was not her lover--that he could never be. And
then she wished to get the credit of being very frank."
"Good heavens, how you must have analysed her!" cried my companion,
"There is nothing so analytic as disillusionment. But there it is.
She married Camerino."
"Yes, I don't lime that," said Stanmer. He was silent a while, and
then he added--"Perhaps she wouldn't have done so if you had
He has a little innocent way! "Very likely she would have dispensed
with the ceremony," I answered, drily.
"Upon my word," he said, "you HAVE analysed her!"
"You ought to he grateful to me. I have done for you what you seem
unable to do for yourself."
"I don't see any Camerino in my case," he said.
"Perhaps among those gentlemen I can find one for you."
"Thank you," he cried; "I'll take care of that myself!" And he went
away--satisfied, I hope.
10th.--He's an obstinate little wretch; it irritates me to see him
sticking to it. Perhaps he is looking for his Camerino. I shall
leave him, at any rate, to his fate; it is growing insupportably hot.
11th.--I went this evening to bid farewell to the Scarabelli. There
was no one there; she was alone in her great dusky drawing-room,
which was lighted only by a couple of candles, with the immense
windows open over the garden. She was dressed in white; she was
deucedly pretty. She asked me, of course, why I had been so long
"I think you say that only for form," I answered. "I imagine you
"Che! what have I done?"
"Nothing at all. You are too wise for that."
She looked at me a while. "I think you are a little crazy."
"Ah no, I am only too sane. I have too much reason rather than too
"You have, at any rate, what we call a fixed idea."
"There is no harm in that so long as it's a good one."
"But yours is abominable!" she exclaimed, with a laugh.
"Of course you can't like me or my ideas. All things considered, you
have treated me with wonderful kindness, and I thank you and kiss
your hands. I leave Florence tomorrow."
"I won't say I'm sorry!" she said, laughing again. "But I am very
glad to have seen you. I always wondered about you. You are a
"Yes, you must find me so. A man who can resist your charms! The
fact is, I can't. This evening you are enchanting; and it is the
first time I have been alone with you."
She gave no heed to this; she turned away. But in a moment she came
back, and stood looking at me, and her beautiful solemn eyes seemed
to shine in the dimness of the room.
"How COULD you treat my mother so?" she asked.
"Treat her so?"
"How could you desert the most charming woman in the world?"
"It was not a case of desertion; and if it had been it seems to me
she was consoled."
At this moment there was the sound of a step in the ante-chamber, and
I saw that the Countess perceived it to be Stanmer's.
"That wouldn't have happened," she murmured. "My poor mother needed
Stanmer came in, interrupting our talk, and looking at me, I thought,
with a little air of bravado. He must think me indeed a tiresome,
meddlesome bore; and upon my word, turning it all over, I wonder at
his docility. After all, he's five-and-twenty--and yet I MUST add,
it DOES irritate me--the way he sticks! He was followed in a moment
by two or three of the regular Italians, and I made my visit short.
"Good-bye, Countess," I said; and she gave me her hand in silence.
"Do you need a protector?" I added, softly.
She looked at me from head to foot, and then, almost angrily--"Yes,
But, to deprecate her anger, I kept her hand an instant, and then
bent my venerable head and kissed it. I think I appeased her.
BOLOGNA, 14th.--I left Florence on the 11th, and have been here these
three days. Delightful old Italian town--but it lacks the charm of
my Florentine secret.
I wrote that last entry five days ago, late at night, after coming
back from Casa Salsi. I afterwards fell asleep in my chair; the
night was half over when I woke up. Instead of going to bed, I stood
a long time at the window, looking out at the river. It was a warm,
still night, and the first faint streaks of sunrise were in the sky.
Presently I heard a slow footstep beneath my window, and looking
down, made out by the aid of a street lamp that Stanmer was but just
coming home. I called to him to come to my rooms, and, after an
interval, he made his appearance.
"I want to bid you good-bye," I said; "I shall depart in the morning.
Don't go to the trouble of saying you are sorry. Of course you are
not; I must have bullied you immensely."
He made no attempt to say he was sorry, but he said he was very glad
to have made my acquaintance.
"Your conversation," he said, with his little innocent air, "has been
"Have you found Camerino?" I asked, smiling.
"I have given up the search."
"Well," I said, "some day when you find that you have made a great
mistake, remember I told you so."
He looked for a minute as if he were trying to anticipate that day by
the exercise of his reason.
"Has it ever occurred to you that YOU may have made a great mistake?"
"Oh yes; everything occurs to one sooner or later."
That's what I said to him; but I didn't say that the question,
pointed by his candid young countenance, had, for the moment, a
greater force than it had ever had before.
And then he asked me whether, as things had turned out, I myself had
been so especially happy.
PARIS, December 17th.--A note from young Stanmer, whom I saw in
Florence--a remarkable little note, dated Rome, and worth
"My dear General--I have it at heart to tell you that I was married a
week ago to the Countess Salvi-Scarabelli. You talked me into a
great muddle; but a month after that it was all very clear. Things
that involve a risk are like the Christian faith; they must be seen
from the inside.--Yours ever, E. S.
"P. S.--A fig for analogies unless you can find an analogy for my
His happiness makes him very clever. I hope it will last--I mean his
cleverness, not his happiness.
LONDON, April 19th, 1877.--Last night, at Lady H-'s, I met Edmund
Stanmer, who married Bianca Salvi's daughter. I heard the other day
that they had come to England. A handsome young fellow, with a fresh
contented face. He reminded me of Florence, which I didn't pretend
to forget; but it was rather awkward, for I remember I used to
disparage that woman to him. I had a complete theory about her. But
he didn't seem at all stiff; on the contrary, he appeared to enjoy
our encounter. I asked him if his wife were there. I had to do
"Oh yes, she's in one of the other rooms. Come and make her
acquaintance; I want you to know her."
"You forget that I do know her."
"Oh no, you don't; you never did." And he gave a little significant
I didn't feel like facing the ci-devant Scarabelli at that moment; so
I said that I was leaving the house, but that I would do myself the
honour of calling upon his wife. We talked for a minute of something
else, and then, suddenly breaking off and looking at me, he laid his
hand on my arm. I must do him the justice to say that he looks
"Depend upon it you were wrong!" he said.
"My dear young friend," I answered, "imagine the alacrity with which
I concede it."
Something else again was spoken of, but in an instant he repeated his
"Depend upon it you were wrong."
"I am sure the Countess has forgiven me," I said, "and in that case
you ought to bear no grudge. As I have had the honour to say, I will
call upon her immediately."
"I was not alluding to my wife," he answered. "I was thinking of
your own story."
"My own story?"
"So many years ago. Was it not rather a mistake?"
I looked at him a moment; he's positively rosy.
"That's not a question to solve in a London crush."
And I turned away.
22d.--I haven't yet called on the ci-devant; I am afraid of finding
her at home. And that boy's words have been thrumming in my ears--
"Depend upon it you were wrong. Wasn't it rather a mistake?" WAS I
wrong--WAS it a mistake? Was I too cautions--too suspicious--too
logical? Was it really a protector she needed--a man who might have
helped her? Would it have been for his benefit to believe in her,
and was her fault only that I had forsaken her? Was the poor woman
very unhappy? God forgive me, how the questions come crowding in!
If I marred her happiness, I certainly didn't make my own. And I
might have made it--eh? That's a charming discovery for a man of my
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